The Girl from the Dream: JO

Ever wake up from a dream and think, “Hey, that’d make a killer story/character/movie?”

Ever actually attempt to write that story/character/movie?

I did it. It…wasn’t easy. But I now know anything is possible, and today I’m celebrating the release of JO, the story of the girl from the dream that started it all.

So first…the dream. It was of those early morning ones, where you know you’re waking up soon, and yet somehow it’s vivid and clear. In the dream, I was in my first college dorm room. My bed was across the room from the door beneath the only window. I was sitting on the bed.

There was a knock at the door, and it opened inward. There, in the doorway, was a girl. She had long, tangled hair, and a serious expression.

Beside her stood another girl, and she couldn’t stop giggling. But it was a nervous giggle, you know? Not at all a joyous, mirthful one.

The tangled-hair girl looked at me, sitting across the room, and she said something to the effect of, “I’m dead. Can you tell? Can you smell it on me? The death?”

And then I woke up.

Let me tell you, those two girls stuck with me like white on rice, and I found myself wondering for days and weeks: why was the girl dead? Who killed her? Why? And how was she there to tell me about it?

I can still see them standing there if I close my eyes. I grew obsessed with these two girls, and I spent countless hours trying to figure out the answers to the questions posed above.

It soon came to me that Jo was a mangled science experiment, a walking corpse running on a dying battery, and that she was desperate to find a way to save herself. That the story would take place on a college campus was never in doubt, but where and why was a bit trickier.

Where took shape in the form of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a place I visited and fell in love with many, MANY moons ago. Why? Well, I couldn’t exactly set the story in Charleston, where I currently live, could I? Jo was a walking corpse, for God’s sake! In the heat of South Carolina, she’d surely rot!

So no, I needed somewhere colder, somewhere with nooks and crannies in which the girls (and the bad guys) could hide. So a remote mountain college, then, in the dead of winter.

Thus, my snowbound story found a home.

It took a lot more time to figure out the answers to all the questions posed in those early days following my dream, and I’m certainly not going to answer them all here! I want you to find the answers for yourself! Because the girl with the tangled hair became Jo, the title character in my modern-day re-telling of the Frankenstein monster that releases TODAY OHMIGOSH I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S TODAY!!! The giggling girl became Lucy, Jo’s best friend. Their story, in part, begins here:

From behind the door, Lucy groaned. “Come on,” she said, in a voice so muffled I could practically see her head buried under her fluffy, ragged comforter. “It’s too early. Leave me alone. Please.” Always polite, in her own, special way. That was Lucy.

I banged on the door, still afraid to trust my voice.

“Please please please go away, I said.” She was grumbling, whining, but at least she sounded more conscious.

I moaned. I couldn’t help it. It slipped out. But then I tried out my voice again. “Luce!” I said. “Lucy! It’s me!” I didn’t sound like me, that was for sure, but it was enough.

The door jerked open. “Jo? Is that you? Jo, what the fuck! Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick about you! Come in, come in! What are you doing? Whose coat is that? Eli’s been by seventeen times looking for you, he’s so worried. I didn’t call your mom, but I almost did. Where the hell have you been?” A mile a minute, that was Lucy. Finally she stepped aside to give me room to pass. “Ugh, you smell like ass!”

I looked at my friend as I stepped into her room. She was still muffled, wrapped up in her favorite blanket, with big, fuzzy pajama pants peeking out the bottom. From the way she squinted, it was obvious she didn’t have her contacts in. She was blind as a bat without them.

No wonder she let me in. I didn’t think it would be this easy to get inside.

“Get your glasses,” I said. “Please.”

“What’s wrong with your voice?” she said as she shuffled back toward her nightstand, where her black-rimmed glasses sat on top of a philosophy textbook.

“Put them on.”

She did.

“Now look at me.”

She did. Her eyes flew open, her own mouth dropped wide, and she stared. Stared. “Jo? What’s going on? What’s wrong with you?” Her voice rattled like tree branches in a wind storm. She stepped back, closer to the wall.

“Luce,” I said, my voice gravely and wrong. “Luce, I think I’m dead. Can you help me?” I reached for her. I wanted to be held, to be told everything would be okay. I stepped closer, arms still outstretched.

Lucy’s mouth opened wider as if to scream, but no sound came out. She stumbled away until the backs of her knees struck her bed frame. Her legs gave out and she wobbled dangerously. I reached a hand out to catch her and the parka slipped from my shoulders, revealing all of me.

Lucy fainted.

Naked again, I caught her and lowered her gently to the bed.

I should have expected that, I thought as I headed to the bathroom. After catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I realized I’d faint too, if faced with a walking corpse.

JO by me, Leah Rhyne, releases today! For more information on her tale, visit Goodreads, Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, or Barnes & Noble. Or you can visit my web site any time and say hello! I’d love to hear from you!

 

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So you won NaNoWriMo! What’s next?

Hi there everyone! It’s December 5th, which means I’m putting up my Hanukkah menorah and pulling out the Christmas decorations. It also means November is over…by five days! And since I know for many of you November included many, many, MANY hours of writing as you participated in National Novel Writing Month, I thought I’d do a quick primer called: So you won NaNoWriMo! What’s next??

To do this, let me share my experience, from many moons ago.

In 2010 a friend challenged me to participate in NaNoWriMo. I’d never even considered writing a book before, much less writing one over the course of a single month…and I had a two-year-old child and a full-time job…so of course I said, “Sign me up!!”

Over the next six weeks (alas, I did not “win,” so to speak, but wrote into the middle of December to accomplish about 60,000 words), I put my heart and soul onto my little pink netbook computer (not kidding). I wrote a zombie story, and I thought it was a doozie. A genre-bending delight. The best story ever.

Right? Right.

As soon as I was done with the first draft and done a cursory round of “edits” (in quotes because I barely even scratched the surface with that first round), I sent the book off to my two brothers. “Hey, look you guys!” I wrote in my cover email. “I wrote a book, and it’s great and I love it and you should read it.”

And they did. And they suggested changes. And then my husband read it and suggested more changes. And I edited. And edited. And edited.

I sent my first query letters off in July of the following year. Yes, that is a full seven months after I finished the novel for the first time. I received a slew of rejections, and then I did a complete re-write again, adding two more narrators and blending and merging timelines for the next three months.

In January of 2012, over a year after finishing the book for the first time, I queried again, and in April of 2012 I received two offers from small press publishers. In short, my book found its home…a year and a half after that initial frenzied writing.

In short: this writing shit takes time, y’all.  But it’s worth it. Because:

zombiedays333x500 noangels333x500 (2)

Worth every minute. I promise.

So, now that you’ve finished your (first? second? ninety-seventh??) novel, here’s my advice:

1. Throw a party. You wrote a book. Be proud of yourself!

2. Do your best to avoid the “Hey you guys I wrote this thing now you have to read it” syndrome. Trust me. You will want to edit and edit before you let anyone read (even your most trusted, loyal friends). Trust me. Early drafts are best put away for a couple months, then pulled out from the mothballs and edited with a clear head.

3. Edit. Edit. Edit some more. Edit until you think every word is crap, and then edit until you think each word is gold. Then edit it one more time.

4. Give it to trusted readers. People who won’t just say, “Wow, this is great,” but who will give you helpful feedback.

5. Edit one more time, based on their helpful feedback.

6. Now you’re read to move on. Do you want an agent, to publish your book the traditional route? Great, go learn how to write  a query, write it, and good luck! Same goes for small press publishers. If you need to learn how to do this, start with the Query Shark web site. Trust me on this – that place is golden. And if you want to self-publish (there’s money to be made there, and readers to be found!!), hire a great cover artist and a great freelance editor to polish your manuscript and make it shine. Trust me. You don’t think you need them but you do. I promise.

7. In the words of my five-year-old: Never give up. Never surrender. You will get rejected. Some will hurt. Some will not. But it will happen. Bad reviews will happen. But just keep on going. The only writers who don’t succeed are the ones who stop trying.

So there you have it. My brief overview of what to do with your shiny new novel. Congratulations on writing it, and I wish all you NaNoWriMo-ers of 2013 all the very best of luck!!

Why zombies?

At a cousin’s birthday party last night, a funny little eight-year-old boy came running over.

“Can I read your book yet?” he asked while his mother looked on.

I wrinkled my nose and shook my head. “No, buddy,” I said, and his face fell. “Well, not yet anyway.”

“When?”

“Up to your parents, really, but my guess would be somewhere around sixteen.”

“But I love zombies!”

I smiled. “Me, too. This book’s just a little too grown up for you still. I’m sorry.”

He frowned and pouted a little, but then he looked back up. “Why do you write about zombies, anyway?”

And isn’t that the question of the hour??

I actually get asked that a LOT. People look at me and expect me to write YA contemporary romance, or even fantasy. They don’t expect horror, mainly because I don’t look like Anne Rice, I think. I mean, aside from a preference for black nail polish, I look more like…well…a soccer mom, I guess. So why horror? Why zombies?

Here’s my response:

In the first place, zombies are pretty generally evil. There’s no chance for redemption. So with zombies, the ultimate goal is to kill them, and since they usually attack with numbers on their side, you get to be really creative in how you kill them. My favorite method from my first book included a gas station nozzle through the eye socket….my protagonist then blew up the whole place. Sort of fabulous, right?

But then there’s the real reason, and it’s that when you totally mess up the world around a group of people…when you push them to the brink of starvation and civilization, you really get to dig into human dark sides. I ask you this: if you had guns and food during the zombie apocalypse, but just enough for your own family, what would you do if your neighbor came calling for help? Would you help him?

Or what if there was someone wreaking havoc within your little camp. What would you do? Would you set up some sort of jail system, complete with trial by jury? Or would you simply kill the rabble-rouser?

These are the questions I love to explore, love to dig into, within my zombie stories. As I like to put it, in my Undead America series, it’s not the zombies you need to fear; it’s the people.

For more information on the Undead America series, check out the books on Amazon.

Zombie Days, Campfire Nights

No Angels

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.

Enjoy!

clown
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.

 

geese
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.

neck
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.

 

spider
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!

 

tick-1
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?

Undead America: No Angels Cover Reveal!!

Hi there!

Many of you already know me as a girl who writes random posts here at the lovely Spellbound Scribes blog. But did you know I write books, too? (Actually, most if not all of us do…you’ve got a bunch of writing junkies managing things ’round these here parts!) But today I have a fun cover reveal to share with you, and also an introduction to my Undead America series as a whole.

Undead America: Zombie Days, Campfire Nights released last October as an ebook via MuseItUp Publishing. I like to think of it as a zombie book for people who don’t necessarily love zombies…because in Undead America, it’s not the zombies you need to fear. It’s the people. To check out more from Zombie Days, hop on over to my personal web site, where you can see the book trailer (Note: the “zombie mom” in the second scene? That’s me!!), put together last year by my extraordinary friend, Charlie Thiel.

Next month, Zombie Days will be released in print!! This is truly a dream come true for me, so keep an eye on my own site for upcoming events and contests and things.

BUT!!! Today is about the sequel, Undead America: No Angels!! Here’s what No Angels is all about:

Jenna, Sam and Lola were lucky to survive the horrors of a zombie-filled New Orleans, but they still have a lot to learn about living in Undead America.

First, you can never let your guard down.  Even when you think you’re safe, dangers lurk around every corner. Sometimes the dangers are from the undead, but more often they’re from the living.

Next, it’s easier to inspire a group to fight for their lives than to lead them through everyday hardship. For Jenna, the pressure of managing an ever-growing group of survivors may be too much to survive.

And finally, in Undead America, no one is quite what they seem. Everyone has something to hide.

From the bowels of a rundown farmhouse to the plains of Nebraska, from a leather-clad human monster to the tiniest of child zombies, there are truly no angels.

And now…the cover!!!

noangels1600x2400

I’m thrilled with this cover.  Marion Sipe, cover artist genius, handled both, and she had fun playing with the blacks/whites/reds that I requested for both. I think it turned out fabulous!

Please, let me know what you think!! I’d love to hear!

About Cliches….

Hiya, Scribes and Scribe-friends! Good to see you all again. I hope you enjoyed our Story in the Round – I know I did!

As I pondered what to write in this, our first post-story-post, I tried to come up with something that might be interesting to readers and writers both. I tossed around ideas like Cool Books I’ve Read Lately, or Cool Things I’ve Written Lately.

And then? Well, and then I received the NICEST EVER rejection letter for a short story I submitted to a magazine months ago, and all other thoughts went out the window.

I know you’ve probably heard before that a writer’s life is full of rejection and it can suck. It can beat you down and make you want to not only quit writing, but also…just…quit. Everything. The idea of crawling into some hole in the ground with just a pillow and a blanket and chocolate and wine (DON’T FORGET THE WINE) can suddenly be so appealing, nothing but, well, a pillow and a blanket and chocolate and wine (above ground) can snap you out of it.

But rejection can sometimes, occasionally, also be incredibly helpful. This particular letter was for a story that came quite close to being accepted. In the end, they turned it down, but because they were kind they and wanted to help, the editor included actual notes from their editorial staff about where it fell flat.

A letter like this is a gem. A diamond (albeit in the rough, since it can still sting a little). Insight into what editors think as they read your stuff is exactly what you need so you can learn to write better.

In this case, I learned: I write in cliches. Seriously. Three of the five comments included that nasty little word, letting me know that for all my self-assumed originality, I am still relying on that old writer’s crutch – the cliche. The overused phrase. The hands shaking, the adrenaline coursing, the heart pounding.

The cliche.

Ugh.

This is bad. Cliches are…they’re…well, they’re cliche, right? Readers want writing that’s new and exciting and fresh, not old and tired. And the problem is, most of us write in cliches without even realizing we do it. Phrases that come from our typing fingers sound good to us because they’re familiar…because we write what we know.

After reading the comments, I pulled out another older story, one written around the same time, and holy cow, it is chock full of generic writing. Deep sighs and watery eyes, sweat dripping and lips trembling…I’m not going to say it’s terrible (I love this particular story, I really do!), but there they are, clear as day. Cliches. And as painful as it is, I’m going to have to fix them ALL if I want to find the story a home.

This may all sound obvious. It certainly does to me now that I’ve had it pointed out. But it’s hard to recognize cliches in our own writing, because they usually sound so right. And when you have friends reading your stuff, and they’re giving you friendly feedback, they might not notice them either.

Sometimes it takes a super-disinterested third party to point out the obvious.

Lesson learned.

The good news here, for me anyway, is that I’m about to dive headfirst into a huge novel manuscript, and I feel refreshed. There’s a ton of work ahead of me, but now I’m on the lookout for this, my writer’s crutch.

And sometimes knowing is the hardest part, right? (Go, Joe!!)

Oh! And since this is about writing, I have to share the BEST essay EVER about avoiding “thought” verbs in your own stuff. Penned by Chuck Palahniuk (of Fight Club fame and fortune), it provides the best examples I’ve seen of “showing” instead of “telling.” Because everyone knows we should “show” and not “tell,” but it’s hard to understand without examples. Palahniuk provides them in spades in this piece, and even gives you a great writing exercise to try.

It’s another thing to keep in the very tippy-forefront mind as I edit my beast.

So. Cliches = bad, even though they often feel good. And show, don’t tell. It’s age-old writerly advice, but it’s true and it’s solid and it’s right. Good luck moving forward!!

Story in the Round – Part 4

The air whooshed from my lungs in a single heartbeat, and I remembered Danny’s warning once again.

Watch out for fairies and wraiths.

I opened my mouth to speak, but Danny pressed a finger to my lips. His eyes were wide, vacant; his mouth hung slack until his own lips parted in speech.  He turned to Aria and dropped to his knees. “We’re at your service,” he said, bowing his head.  “We must obey your king.”

I gasped. What is he doing?

Aria’s lips curled into a satisfied smile. Moments earlier I’d have called her beautiful. Now she was intimidating.  Frightening. She seemed to have grown taller, more solid. Her eyes burned into Danny’s, steady and unblinking.

“Danny,” I hissed, knowing the fairies could hear me, wishing they couldn’t. “Danny, what are you doing?”

He ignored me, and reached for Aria’s hand. She gave it willingly, and he pressed his lips to the fine, white flesh of her inner wrist, his eyes never leaving hers. The fairy’s skin pulsed with light from within, her tattoos dancing as though alive. Their steps matched almost exactly the steps Danny and I had danced moments before.

Alek stepped closer to me. He smelled of cinnamon and something else. It was a rotten, carrion scent, and I resisted the urge to cover my nose. His hand gripped my shoulder. “And you?” he hissed, his mouth suddenly too close to my ear. His breath was hot and wet.  “Are you at our service as well?”

Get away from him!

A voice – my mother’s voice, emerging  as though from a long-forgotten dream – pierced the chaotic hum of my sudden panic, commanding me to obey. I stepped back, out of the ring of smoke, away from the thump-thump-thump of the drums, away from the dancers, the fairies. Away from Danny.

Alek hissed.

The world trembled as I emerged from the smoke. It blurred. When it came back into focus, Danny and the fairies were gone.

“Danny,” I cried, peering into the smoke. My cry was swallowed whole by the drums, by the fire.

“Danny!”

The dancers continued dancing to the beat of the drums, and I was left alone in the darkness.

****

Our shoebox house sat at the foot of the hill atop which the bonfire burned. It was to there I ran, hoping to find Danny sitting on the front stoop, waiting for me, as if the whole night had been nothing but a terrible dream.

As I sped toward the glow of the single-bulb porch light, the fireflies around me ceased their nighttime frolic. The thrum of cicadas quieted and the rhythmic calls of bullfrogs silenced.The stars winked out one by one by one, and, finally, the porch went dark.

The warm, velvet air of the summer night turned cold.  My skin blistered with goose flesh and I shivered against the breeze. My house  – our house, mine and Danny’s – became shadow in the night, nothing more than a darker spot against the darkness.  I approached, and saw a flicker, a movement on the front stoop.

“Danny?” I called. My heart leaped. Maybe it was just a dream.

Then the flicker began to glow. It took form, shape, and my mouth dropped open.

“Mom?”