A New Normal

The Cat's Eye Nebula, a planetary nebula forme...
The Cat’s Eye Nebula, a planetary nebula formed by the death of a star with about the same mass as the Sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s almost three in the morning, though you won’t see this until later. It took me this long to realize that I knew what I needed to write about. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about stories. What makes me engage with them. What makes me back away like I’ve touched a pane of bees with stingers at the ready.

Last week’s episode of Game of Thrones sort of prompted it, because it reminded me why I’d stopped reading the books. They’d violated something I felt they were obligated to maintain. I read a lot of fantasy growing up. Heaps of it. My favorite stories were always fantasy. As I grew older, those stories evolved.

I’ll be frank and say that I’ve had a severe case of reader’s block in the last year. I’ve been flailing at A Memory of Light for months. I have A Gentleman’s Game sitting next to my bed when it should be getting back to its owner. Maybe it’s circumstance, maybe it’s weariness, but television has been where I get my stories lately. There are any number of stories I engage with on a weekly basis, and even more every year. Dexter. How I Met Your Mother. The Vampire Diaries. Buffy (always). Supernatural. Star Wars. Breaking Bad. Game of Thrones. Two Broke Girls. The Bachelor/ette. True Blood. Homeland. New Girl. Workaholics. The Walking Dead.

On any given week, our DVR is filled with different stories. Some of these stories I’ve kept with for years. There’s something that keeps me coming back to them over and over.

I have managed to read a few books through in the past few months, and they share a common thread.

When you ask a storyteller to tell you lies, you’re asking her to make you believe them.

A great story replaces the world around you with a new one. A world with new rules, whether those new rules allow for gravity-defying pixy dust or simply a group of four friends always managing to sit at the same booth at their favorite bar.

They create a new normal.

The great stories make you sob when a character’s mind reaches out to touch a tainted power source because you know it will drive him mad. Even though no such thing is happening or even possible — that is the normal of his world made yours.

The great stories make you crow with glee and feel pangs of loss alike when a suffering, grieving vampire shoves the world’s only cure for vampirism down the throat of her enemy instead of using it to take back a life that was reft from her. Even though there are no vampires, and you can’t go home again — that is the normal of her world made yours.

The great stories allow you to destroy a Death Star or fly a broomstick or fight an ogre or make love to a god because they are making their normal yours.

Some people call it suspension of disbelief, but I think it’s more than that. Perhaps in the mediocre tales we suspend disbelief. The great tales leave us no say in the matter.

What worlds gave you a new normal? What universes would you choose to visit — or go to stay?

Real life: So Much Scarier than Fiction

I know a child – a five-year-old – who is so very different from what I was when I was her age. I was terrified of my own shadow. I screamed and ran from strangers. I couldn’t even talk about vampires for fear that one would hear me and come take a chomp out of my neck. To this day, I can’t handle the sensation of *anyone* touching my neck – it makes me want to hurl.

But this five-year-old? She is so very brave. She laughs in the face of zombie conversations. She stared down Space Mountain and Darth Vader in Disney World, and she won.

But she does have one fear: fire. I mean, within reason, right? Show the girl a campfire and she’ll ask for the marshmallows. But show her something bigger – an explosion, maybe, or a bomb detonation – and she’ll run for the hills.

It’s like, even at five, she gets it: once something is turned to ash, it’s permanent. Remember Johnny-5 in Short Circuit? When a butterfly gets crushed? “No disassemble?” That is this child when faced with fire.

johnny5

Seriously – she almost had to leave Disney on Ice when the Cars part had a couple of explosive backfires. She sat, rigid, not enjoying herself at all, until the Cars had left the ice.

At first I didn’t understand this fear…I mean, I understand not wanting to get burned, but WHY, when she’s fearless everywhere else, do fires make her cut and run?

Then I started to think about it. She’s very aware that I write books about pretend things: zombies, monsters, aliens, whatever else. She’s very aware that these pretend things cannot hurt her because they’re just that: pretend.

We often read and write scary things to escape reality, telling tales of ghosts and goblins that bring chills up and down our spines to avoid talking about the news at ten. But to me, one of the scariest movies ever made is still The Silence of the Lambs. Serial killers haunt me at night. It’s the terror based in reality – Hannibal Lecter was supposedly created to account for crime scenes Richard Harris covered working as a crime reporter in the 60s. 

Heyes

I mean, what writer could have preemptively imagined the devastation of the Holocaust? Of deadly nighttime killing raids through ancient villages? Of crematoriums built for thousands of bodies? Of mass graves, filled with the dead, the still living, and covered over with lime that didn’t even begin to hide the stench?

What writer could have ever preemptively imagined the destruction of a single atomic bomb, let alone two? Of the lingering effects of radiation on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Of the fact that Chernobyl is still uninhabitable, all these years after the disaster?

What writer could have preemptively imagined the recent spate of terror in the United States, with crazy gunmen mowing down dozens in movie theaters and elementary schools?

I haven’t told the five-year-old about any of these things yet. I’d rather let her think the real world is safer than fiction, at least for now. Let her fear fire, and fire alone. Let her think the monsters are only in her dreams.

The real world is scary, and bizarre, and it’s utterly unpredictable.

And when the real world gets rough, and you need to find me or that five-year-old girl…you can find us immersed in an analytical breakdown of what makes a zombie tick. And we’ll be laughing about it.

Sampling Serials, Part I: What the Heck Are Serial Novels and Why Should You Read Them?

© Miflippo from Stock Free Images.
© Miflippo from Stock Free Images.

If you’ve been paying very much attention over the past year or two, you’ve probably seen serial novels cropping up everywhere. Amazon has a program called the Kindle Serial where you pay a one-time fee of $1.99 (in the U.S.) and are mailed a new episode every week. Websites like JukePop Serials and Tuesday Serial attempt to deliver the best of serial fiction on the web to readers waiting hungrily for their latest “fix.”

So what, exactly, is a serial novel? Science fiction writer Susan Kaye Quinn describes it like this on her Facebook page:

A serial is a story told through a series of installments, or episodes, released on a regular schedule. … TV series are the most common form of serial storytelling today.

It’s been done before, most notably by Charles Dickens. So the real question is, why should you choose serial episodes when you have everything from flash fiction to short stories to novels available?

Because sometimes you want a story with an arc that continues on, like a novel, but you don’t have the time to finish a whole novel. You’d like a nice, clean break between stories, but novel chapters leave you with giant cliffhangers, begging you to stay awake for another half an hour. With serial fiction, authors generally wrap up the episode nicely. Yet, you know the characters you love will return for more shenanigans the following week (or month, depending on the author’s release schedule).

It’s the best of both worlds. And, when you’re done, you can always buy the box set so you have all the episodes in one place to read later. Another thing that’s really, really cool is reader participation. Since authors are writing these episodes by the seat of their pants, most of them welcome reader feedback on the plot. Want a certain character to die? Get pregnant? Go to jail? Weigh in on the author’s Facebook page or website and see if you get your wish.

I, personally, didn’t think I’d much enjoy the serial fiction format. I like my stories meaty and I like them all at once. Or so I thought. When I began to write full-time, I found that I sometimes needed a break from reading full-length works. I wanted a snappy, fast-moving story I could keep coming back to (unlike short stories). Enter the serial. It’s the perfect-sized read when I have a few minutes to spare before bed or while I’m at a kid’s gymnastics class, waiting. And if I absolutely fall in love with the characters, I know there’s more coming (also unlike short stories).

So, what do you think? Would you give serial fiction a try? Or do you like your fiction in novel format?

This is a two-part series of posts on serial fiction. Coming on June 18th is Part II, The Best Serial Fiction Today: One Reader’s Opinion. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss it!

We’re Back!

Hello everyone! Did you miss us? Of course you did. We missed you too!

We’ve been working behind the scenes to bring you a much more entertaining and informative blog. We have decided to reformat everything. We’ll be posting more often, a minimum of three days a week, and our posts will veer away from all of us weighing in on the same topics. We became a little stagnant while we tried to balance this blog with six, very busy writer schedules. We all have our own blogs (some of us, more than one), day jobs, families, writing schedules, planning world domination. You know, all the things you have to do before the end of the day. So we found ourselves just trying to keep this thing alive rather than thriving and awesome.

And for that, we apologize.

We are dedicated to doing better. You can look forward to flash fiction pieces, stories in the round, cover reveals, sneak peeks, hot topics and so much more.

We encourage our readers to reach out to us, talk to us here, make comments, ask questions. We want you to contribute to this blog just as much as we do. Help us make this better. If there is something you’d like to see us talk about, a blog activity you want us to participate in, just give us a shout in the comments! We read every single one of them.

Look for new posts every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. For those of you who’ve stuck with us from the beginning, holding on while we lost our way for a little while, thank you! You rock our socks and you will not be disappointed for hanging in there with us. That’s our promise to you.

And to end on a couple of happy notes, first we’d like to wish a very happy birthday to Leah Rhyne! Her birthday is this Friday! Join with me in throwing confetti at her and singing until her ears bleed! HAPPY BIRTHDAY LEAH!

In honor of her birthday, she’s doing a book giveaway on her blog, go check it out! Leah is giving away a copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. 

Miss-Peregrines-Home

And yesterday the awesome S.K. Falls released a new title! Granted it is not the usual Paranormal/Fantasy book we would normally promote here, but it is pretty awesome. If you’ve been wanting to give New Adult a try, check this one out!

A Secret for a Song

      Blank white book w/path

Alright kiddos! Hope you’re as excited as the rest of us!