Happy HallowSamhaiNaNoWriMo!

photo 3 (2)Happy Halloween or Samhain and NaNoWriMo Eve!

Kind of a crazy day really. Little monsters will be coming to the door, begging for candy. Jack-o-lanterns will burn into the night to keep the evil wandering spirits away. And tomorrow NaNoWriMo begins (with a bang or with a whimper?).

I’ve been partially dreading the start of NaNo for about a week now because the outline of the book I’m working on has been fighting me for every chapter. Probably something to do with Mercury not knowing which direction it should be going.

I thought I’d talk to you all about why I’m doing NaNo even though this book will be my ninth complete novel.

Most people join NaNo because they need the extra push, the added pressure, the camaraderie of other writers to start writing and (hopefully) finish a book – though finishing is not necessarily the end result, the goal is to write 50k words and often, that does not make a whole novel. But getting that much done will get you into the habit of writing and realizing you can find the time. Or, maybe you’ve started a book but you just can’t seem to get it finished, maybe it’s been languishing at 20-40k words, well an extra 50k would finish that.

So, if I’ve already completed eight novels, why do I need to do NaNo? For all the same reasons a brand new writer would. I want the pressure, I want the push, but especially the camaraderie. Writing is a solitary and often lonely vocation, but having friends writing with you at the same time, all working toward the same goal can do wonders for your motivation.

I did NaNo for the first time last year and I was lucky enough that a large group of my writer friends were all doing it too. Because I did NaNo I learned about writing sprints, writing as fast as you can for small chunks of time. Usually I would only ask of myself to write 1-2k words a day, it was a slow but steady pace and I would turn out a book in about 3-4 months. Not bad, not bad at all. But with writing sprints, writing for just 20-30 mins at a time (even just 15 if someone was in a jam to squeeze out just a few words), I found that I could easily write 3.5-5k words in a day. Yes, easily. In just 2-3 hours no less. It was incredible.

Since then, that is the only way I write anymore. I no longer sit and stare at my document and write until I finally see the word count creep up. Now I call out to my writing group, see who is on line and ready to do some sprinting, and we’ll go for an hour or two, breaking up the time into 20-30 mins chunks and before I know it, I’ve written a whole week’s worth of words and I can turn out a book in 1-2 months. And the more amazing part? I’m not burned out or drained by the end of it. Instead I feel like I’ve been carried away by my story or characters’ momentum and I was just along to catch the words as they came.

So, this year, I’m joining NaNo again. I started a book the first week of Oct, but only managed to outline through chapter 9 and I wrote the end of chapter 8 last Friday and crossed the 30k mark. I’ve spent this week, and will spend the rest of it, outlining the rest of the book and on Friday I’ll start up again. If I only get the required 50k words for November, I’ll crank my book up to 80k and be just a week or two away from finishing it. But, and this is my hope, there’s always the chance I’ll write more than 50k in November and I’ll actually finish the book. Fingers crossed!

So if you’ve ever been afraid to join in on NaNo, don’t be. Everyone has been where you are and knowing you’re not alone, that you’re writing with thousands of other writers, will help you. Remember, there are thousands of reasons why you can’t finish a book, NaNo will take those reasons away and at the end of it, you’ll see that it is possible. photo 1

Enjoy the festivities tonight, have your Samhain feast, pass out the candy, hide under the covers, because NaNo is coming!

The Storm Approacheth

November (Photo credit: Cape Cod Cyclist)

For a moment, I considered allowing my cat to keep typing this blog post for me. She seemed quite determined, and considering the subject of today’s post, her dogged insistence on standing on my computer seemed a bit apropos.

Alas, your eyes have escaped the inundation of kkkkkalsslsaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa;;;;; (Mostly. Willow says hello.)

This weekend, I attended my writing group’s NaNo kick-off party. That’s right. We’re only a few days away from November. Before that comes Halloween, but if you’re a writer (or you know any writers), the Halloween fun may be subsumed a little in the pre-November panic.

For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, also known as the month in which novelists replace their blood with caffeine and wear keyboards or pens attached to their digits for thirty days. The idea is to write a completed 50,000 word novel within 30 days.

Before I started participating in NaNo, I was sort of NaNo adjacent. There were several members of my Nashville writing group who participated every year, and because they weren’t particularly evangelistic about it, I only had the vaguest idea of what it entailed until I heard about it from other writers in 2011. I had a book to finish that year, so my first NaNo experience was rebel style.

The month of November may seem like merely another exercise in the self-flagellation writers are so good at, but I’m convinced it saved me from procrastination and false starts. In November 2011, I was halfway through a trilogy that I had started in the early years of college and never finished. By the end of NaNo, I had the second book completed and the third book half done.

While none of those books ended up going anywhere, they taught me something vital. When I went back and read over them, I noticed a marked fissure in style and voice precisely where I’d picked back up and plowed through the month of November in a bustling Panera with 10 or so other writers. The books weren’t consistent start to finish because I’d written them over half a decade. Even when I wasn’t actively writing fiction in a two year gap, I was blogging and reading and scribbling ideas. When I forced myself to finish something that first NaNo in 2011, it was a sobering feeling to look at what I’d written and realize the trilogy I’d spent years of my life working on was split down the middle. I’d grown too much to slap it together and call it good. I had to take it apart, or move on.

NaNo also taught me something else: I write best when I write fast. The next June for Camp NaNoWriMo, I finished a completely different book (in the question of “take apart” or “move on,” I chose the latter). That book got me my agent.

Before November, we still have Halloween (and a costumed Magetech episode this evening with the full crew!). But come November first, I’m diving into my sixth novel. For writers and other life forms, sometimes all we need is a month of intense focus. To see what words come out. To see what paintings take shape. To see what songs we can play by the end. To create a plan for a new business.

The entire pathos behind NaNo was born out of a desire to see what would happen. In a story that had sat on the back burner for years with hardly a simmer. In a life that had struggled to drive a goal to completion. In a community known for being made of solitaries.

NaNo was born over a decade ago, but each year it grows because we need that push, that oomph sometimes. I’ll be participating for my third year because I need to know what happens next. NaNo creates a forcefield, a bubble under which all that exists is the next thousand words. It’s a powerful thing, this mass of people writing alone and together at the same time. Will you join us next month?

Samhain and the Spirits of the Season

So, we’ve talked about Halloween. We’ve talked about Dia de los Muertos. I thought I’d continue Jen’s unintended theme from the last post and bring up yet another late October, early November holiday in celebration of spirits, ghosts, and things we don’t understand.

Photo by Holly Leighanne

Samhain (pronounced SOW-an or SAH-wan) is a Celtic fire festival, one that was (arguably) celebrated by Iron Age pagan societies in territories from Ireland and Scotland, down through Wales and England and into northern France. Often known as the Celtic New Year, Samhain marks the transition from the light half of the year into the dark half of the year, and honors the spirits of the dead.

In Ireland, Samhain was a time for gathering together and feasting to celebrate the completion of the year’s harvest. The fires from those feasts and ashes of Samhain hearth fires were often used for divination or even spread out over the fields to provide protection against ghosties and ghoulies and beasties.

They say the veil is thin at Samhain and its springtime counterpart, Beltane. They say the dead walk closer, that they can hear us or even touch us. Fairies and spirits lurk in the shadows, peering through the gateway that for most of the year is locked and nigh-on impenetrable.

Photo by Avia Venefica

I’m playing up the spooky aspects, of course. These days, pagans celebrate Samhain on the night of October 31 and/or the day of November 1, typically with fires, feasting, and altars set up in honor of their ancestors. While there’s an element of caution and wild magic—who knows what could come through those gates!—the focus of the celebration is on remembrance and love for those who have passed beyond our reach.

The similarities between Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, and Halloween are of course fairly obvious—but it’s fascinating that across the world, people choose this time to contemplate one of life’s great mysteries and let themselves acknowledge their fears. At Halloween, we consider the things that frighten us and the beings we can’t understand. For Dia de los Muertos, we let go of the fear and honor those who have gone before us. And for Samhain, bridging the gap between the two, we honor the dead and ward ourselves against entities that might pose a threat.

Not so different after all, huh? Then again, we all love a good feast and a party!

Do you celebrate Samhain? How do these themes work into your own seasonal celebrations?

Dia De Los Muertos

With all the talk of Halloween, I thought I’d look at another celebration that takes place around the same time. Which of course led to me researching sugar skulls for possible tattoo ideas…but that’s a whole different post!

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. The most significant difference between this time and Halloween, in my opinion at least, is that Dia de los Muertos celebrates the dead. It’s not a day to be scared of. There’s no contest to see who can make the scariest costume. I think that’s what is so intriguing to me.

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican originated holiday. Started by the Aztecs and overseen by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead. There are parades, decorations placed at graveyards, and parties. Sometimes altars will be built out of honor and they’ll have artifacts that represent the deceased.

The creative side of  me loves all of the bright colors that are used. The detailed and intricate paintings, carvings, and designs are breathtaking. I’m in awe at the imagination necessary to come up with some of the items that they do.

Here are just a few things you might see during a Dia de los Muertos celebration:

Calacas…the masks worn during celebrations
Sugar skulls may be placed on altars

What about you? Do you celebrate Halloween? Day of the Dead? Another holiday around this time of year?

AZ Central

The Great (and embarrassing) Phobia Post

Halloween. It’s a-comin’. The stores around me are filled to bursting with goblins and ghouls, headstones and skulls.

And I have to say…I love it.

It’s always fun to see all the stuff that’s scary, and all the stuff that’s not, as Halloween approaches each year. It’s also been fun to watch my child as she learns to be afraid of the things you’re supposed to be afraid of. When she was one, we recorded video footage of her dancing to the Halloween theme song…now she knows enough to shudder when that same piece of music comes on.

Halloween’s also a good time to reflect on our real-life fears and phobias, and to think about why they freak us out. I thought I’d use my time here to list some of my own. I figure this list is not only fun, but for those of us developing new characters day in and day out, it’s a good reminder: people are afraid of weird things. Don’t be afraid to give your characters a random (but well-supported) phobia or two. It can add depth and…well…possibly a little bizarre-o humor.


The look of pure evil

1. Clowns. This is not unique to me, but seems to be a trend among my generation (I grew up in the 80s). We are the watchers of Poltergeist, and the readers of It. We learned to fear clown dolls that lurked under beds, and clown monsters that lurked in sewers. To this day, the sight of a clown makes me nauseated, and I know I’m not alone.


I will eat your face!!!

2. Canada geese. *gasps in horror* When I was just a wee thing (not more than 2), my brother and cousins were watching me at a park while our mothers stepped away for a second. I was strapped in my stroller, snug as a bug. When a gaggle of Canada geese swarmed us, they all ran for cover, hopping up on a nearby picnic table, but they LEFT ME IN THE STROLLER ON THE GROUND. Apparently when my mom found me I was traumatized. Today, if Ihave to run past a group of geese in one of the dozens of ponds in my neighborhood, I struggle. I have to yell at them and make them move in order to pass.

Thank God my neck isn’t this long!

3. I can’t have anyone touch my neck. Not even my husband or child. I’m not sure from whence this little weirdness comes, but I think I harbor deep-seated fears of being strangled to death. Seriously. If you touch my neck, I jerk away. If you grab it like a hairy mad-man about to kill me, I scream and cry and it takes me an hour to recover.. It’s embarrassing.


I think she is beautiful…and terrifying.

4. Spiders. Really, I don’t WANT to be afraid of spiders. I LIKE spiders. But if they’re near me, or moving, or…well,especially if my CHILD PICKS ONE UP….yeah, I’m not happy. My heart races, my palms sweat…it’s terribly childish, but it is what it is. A few years ago, I got really attached to a spider that looks like this <——– that set up camp in our back yard. I’d watch her for hours, but always from a distance. When she died, I mourned…but I made my husband clean up her carcass. I wasn’t going NEAR that thing!


Ick. Just…ick.

5. Ticks. I had Lyme Disease as a kid and was pretty sick. The sight of a tick today will reduce me to a wibbly-wobbly, screaming pile of goo on the kitchen floor. I live in fear of the day my childcomes home with a tick embedded in her skin…it won’t be pretty.

There. Five of my phobias, on very public display. Now it’s your turn…what are yours?

Have Your Cake and Read it, too!

Happy Monday, all. I hope this makes you smile.

I was going to write about vampires since it’s close to Halloween, but then my agent RT’d this gem by Nick Harkaway, “Genres and Cake.” Go read it. Go! In case you didn’t listen to me, in the blog post he takes a hypothetical novel plot involving cake and shows how it changes as the genre changes. It’s seriously brilliant.

When I first clicked on the link, I thought he was going to show how different genres are like different types of cake. Since that wasn’t his point, I decided to make it mine. (This is supposed to be both thoughtful and funny, so I hope it ends up that way.) In my mind, if the genres of fiction were cake, they would be:

Mainstream fiction: Regular vanilla or chocolate cake, you know, like American birthday cake. There are a million ways to dress it up or down and customize it to your own tastes, yet you pretty much know what you’re going to get. A solid bet when you’re not in the mood for anything adventurous. Devils-Food-Birthday-Cake
Christian/religious fiction: Angel food cake. It’s a nice play on words, plus it really is cake without the guilt, just as the genre is fiction without the darker parts of other writing. Angel_food_cake_with_strawberries_(4738859336)
Young adult: Ice cream cake. It’s different from its adult counterparts, loved by kids (and their parents) and may even be mistaken as frivolous, but watch out, it’s addicting! Culinique_Ice_Cream_Cake
Romance: Dobos cake. Made in Hungary, this is spongecake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel slices. If that doesn’t make you fall in love, I don’t know what will! 128px-Dobos_cake_(Gerbeaud_Confectionery_Budapest_Hungary)
Erotica: While everyone probably has a different answer for this one, I’m going with the Latin Tres Leches cake. Three types of milk, plus a cake base equals sticky heaven. Make your own inappropriate jokes; I’m keeping mine to myself. 320px-Tres_leches_cake
Thriller: Opera cake. This French gateau, with it’s ganache, sponge cake and espresso syrup has an air of sophisticated mystery that will keep you wired long after you should have taken a break. Tartine_bakery_opera_cake_in_2007
Historical Fiction: Linzer torte. This Austrian pastry may look like a pie, but it’s supposedly the oldest existing cake recipe, dating to 1696. And as someone who grew up on the stuff, I can tell you there’s a yummy reason it has stood the test of time. linzer torte
Literary Fiction: Fruitcake. That’s not meant to be an insult. It’s something that takes a lot of skill and hard work to make palatable. Done well, it is an experience you won’t ever forget. Unfortunately, not everyone has the skill to make it correctly and it’s earned an undeserved bad reputation because of it. Fruechtebrot
Horror: Depression cake. Made without milk, butter, sugar, or eggs, it is my idea of a nightmare. Some people probably would say fruitcake here, too. depression cake
Mystery: Pineapple upside-down cake. Everything about this cake is a mystery. Why pineapples? Why is it upside down? Who thought of this and why? Fruit cake qualifies here as well. Pineapple-upside-down-cake
Fantasy: Black Forrest Cake. With it’s ties to Bavaria, fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm, there really is no other choice among mainstream cakes. But you can always make up your own – that’s what fantasy is for! 128px-Black_Forest_gateau
Science Fiction: Sakotis (Lithuanian). Look at this thing! It is not of this world! 166px-Šakotis_3799
Women’s fiction: Death by Chocolate or any other form of layered chocolately goodness. I know I’m being stereotypical here, but ladies, I think we can agree that most people associate us with chocolate – and for the most part with good reason. Chocolate_cake_-_be_Ehud_Kenan
Alternate History/Speculative Fiction: What if it really isn’t cake at all, but pie, or maybe even a scone?! No_calorie_French_tarts_(8437229351)

Man, now I’m hungry!

(FYI – All photos are from Wikimedia Commons, except for Depression Cake, which comes from Dinner at Christina’s)

So, what type of cake is your book (the one you’re reading or writing)? What did I miss on the cake list? Agree? Disagree? Anything you would add/change? What’s your favorite kind (book or cake)?

Cover Reveal!

Hello all! I am so excited to share my new cover with you! I hope you like it as much as I do.

World of Ash

Book Description: Paranormal Post Apocalyptic (New Adult)

There are two inherent truths in the world: life as we know it is over, and monsters are real.

The Pestas came in the night, spreading their pox, a deadly plague that decimated the population. Kat, one of the unlucky few who survived, is determined to get to her last living relative and find shelter from the pox that continues to devastate the world. When it mutates and becomes airborne, Kat is desperate to avoid people because staying alone might be her only chance to stay alive.

That is, until she meets Dylan. Dylan, with his easy smile and dark, curly hair, has nowhere to go and no one to live for. He convinces Kat there can be safety in numbers, that they can watch out for each other. So the unlikely couple set off together through the barren wasteland to find a new life – if they can survive the roaming Pestas, bands of wild, gun-toting children, and piles of burning, pox-ridden bodies.

And without further ado here is the cover:

WOA (1)

Cover artist: Stephanie Mooney


Pleasure in Fear: the Horror Genre

It’s Hallowe’en month, otherwise known as October! Hope you enjoy my take on the horror genre.

Word to the wise: don't google "under bed scary."
Word to the wise: don’t google “under bed scary.”

When I was about eight, a babysitter (who had apparently not been briefed on my parents’ ban on all things violent and scary) told me a scary story at bedtime. It was a variation on a classic theme: a young girl is left home alone with no one but her faithful dog. She is woken in the middle of the night by the sound of a leaky tap in the bathroom, but is too frightened to get up and shut it off. She reaches down to her dog, who licks her hand in reassurance. She drifts off to sleep. When her parents arrive home the next day, they find their daughter murdered in her bed, and her faithful dog gutted and dripping in the shower. A cryptic message is scrawled across the wall in blood: Humans can lick too.

With the wisdom granted by adulthood, I can now see that there are some glaring inconsistencies in this story. For instance, why would the murderer slay the girl’s dog and then hide under her bed for an indeterminate amount of time? Was he hoping for the opportunity to lick her hand? Did the message hold some kind of significance for her parents, and if not, why bother writing it? Neither the cleverest nor the most original tale, I’m afraid. But despite all that, I can say with complete honesty that this story terrified me.

Scared. Me. Shitless.

For a good year or two after hearing that story I religiously checked my closet for the bevy of hand-licking psychos I was certain were after me. The thought of what would happen if I ever actually discovered one of these palm-laving crazies never really entered into the equation. Perhaps he would stomp a foot in frustration and slink out into the night to lurk under some other little girl’s bed while I slept soundly, triumphant in the knowledge that he would never lick my hand.

But, I digress. I also proceeded to tell the terrifying story to everyone I knew. On sleepovers and camping trips. At pool parties. On movie nights. Even though hearing the story had scared the pants off me, I wanted everyone else to experience the same rush of fear that I had. Because the fear had been just that: a rush. A mix of adrenaline and terror and something like pleasure. Even though it had scared me, I had enjoyed being scared, and that was the feeling I wanted to share with everyone else.

Babies are born with only two innate fears: the fear of loud noises, and the fear of falling. Every other fear, anxiety, and phobia known to man is learned during the intervening years between infancy and adulthood. Spiders. Monsters. Murderous hand fetishists hiding under your bed.

Make that three fears: falling, loud noises, and The Ring.
Make that three fears: falling, loud noises, and The Ring.

Throughout human history, fear has been valuable. Fear is what has kept our species alive for so long. Fear tells us when our safety is being threatened, when we should be running for our lives or raising weapons to defend ourselves. Fear keeps us hunting for food so that we don’t starve come winter. Fear reminds us to light the campfire so that the darkness (and what lives inside it) stays away. Our learned fears keep us safe and keep us alive.

But most modern humans don’t have many concrete things to fear anymore. We may worry about rogue nuclear powers, or not being able to pay our taxes, or trans fats in junk food, but there isn’t much that we really fear. No sharp-toothed nasties ready to rip our throats out if the bonfire isn’t big enough. No spear-wielding tribesmen come to burn our huts and rape our women. No gut-twisting, heart-pounding, hair-raising terror.

So we search for it in other places. Alfred Hitchcock once said:

“Give them pleasure – the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”

And that is what the horror genre gives us. Pleasure in fear. That’s why Stephen King books fly off the shelves and get turned into movies and remade into newer movies. That’s why there were seven Saw movies, complete with blood and screaming and psychological torture. That’s why Psycho is Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular and infamous film. That’s why every so often I rewatch The Ring even though I know I’ll have to sleep with the light on afterwards.

Being scared is titillating. Why? Maybe now that we aren’t constantly clawing our way through life, desperately fighting for survival, we crave that adrenaline and that danger. Or maybe it’s practice, so that if you ever do meet a finger-tasting lunatic, you’ll know to run.

Well. Stick your hands in your pockets first, and then run.

Do you enjoy books or movies in the horror genre? Do you enjoy being scared? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Ichabod: A Man For The Ages

A few years ago, my fifteen year old daughter and I watched all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – a mother-daughter bonding ritual I can highly recommend. We watched the first couple seasons of Angel together, and a few episodes of Bones. Lately we’ve been trying to find another series to share. We started season one of Supernatural and watched a few episodes of The X Files, though neither really clicked for us.

And then…

We saw the trailer for Fox’s new series, Sleepy Hollow. My daughter was lukewarm about it, but I thought it looked awesome, and did some arm-twisting to get her to watch the first episode. Three episodes in and she’s already doing a little arm-twisting of her own, insisting her brother watch along with us.

I think we found our series.

And, I think I found a new fan-girl crush. (Though perhaps I won’t mention it to the children.)  Ichabod Crane, as played by Tom Mison, is one of the two best things about the show. The other best this is Abby, played by Nicole Beharie. She’s a police lieutenant, sort of an Agent Scully to Ichabod’s Agent Mulder.  The interaction between the two of them is pretty compelling and makes the show worth watching.

Because really, you can’t think too hard about the plot or your brain will break.

I’m not alone in my appreciation for Mr. Crane. In this post from StarPulse.com, the author pretty much trashes the show, but has some very complementary things to say about the hero:

Suprisingly, I loved Tom Mison as Ichabod. I had absolutely no expectations going in, but he knocked Ichabod’s contemporary Renaissance man out of the park. He’s so charming and adorable that I literally threw my undies at the screen.

And I’m right there with her.

Well, sort of. There were children in the room. Teenagers. You know.

Of course, while watching the show, I had to put my writer’s hat on. True confessions: I rarely take it off. Anywhoodle, out of the striking visuals, on-screen chemistry, and loopy plotlines, I pulled a more serious question. What is it about Ichabod that had him catching panties within minutes of the premier?

What makes a compelling hero?

A while ago I wrote a post on heroes for the Crimson Romance authors blog, and here’s how I answered that question. Good heroes rely on attributes besides their looks. They stand up for what’s right. They may break a few rules, but they get the job done. Whether they’re charming bad boys, swashbuckling adventurers, or deadly competent fighters, they face their internal and external demons to win the day.

Mr. Crane covers that ground pretty well. He died in a Revolutionary War battle, but 250 years later he comes back to life. Instead of freaking out over cell phones and Starbucks, he jumps into trying to save the world from the Headless Horseman.  Abby drinks some weird Indian potion to fight the Sandman, and he takes a swig, so she won’t have to battle alone. His wife from back in the day is trapped in some kind of purgatory, and he’s going to save her, too.

Most importantly, he works from a core of confidence that communicates itself from the moment he crawls up through the dirt. It’s that confidence that allows him to get involved in a murder investigation, when he’s not actually a cop – and totally sell it. It’s that confidence that allows him to show humor and  vulnerability and charm. It’s that confidence that makes him a leader.

It’s that confidence that pulls a girl’s panties right off her butt.

His long coat doesn’t hurt, either.

Sleepy Hollow Dude
Ichabod Crane

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it’s possible Ichabod Crane could turn out to be a candidate for the Epic Coats Club. What do you think? Have you watched the show? Are you a member of the Ichabod Crane Fan Club?

epic coat club bnw
Who is your favorite member of the Epic Coat Club?