Hero(in)es with Issues

crazyladyWho doesn’t love a hero or heroine with issues? I know they’re my favorite kind of protagonist. There’s nothing more annoying or off-putting than a perfect caricature character because they don’t exist in real life. We read to find out more about the world, and there’s not much to be learned from unbelievable perfection.

In my upcoming paranormal romance serial novel, Possession, Cara Beaumont is the protagonist who falls in love with a man with issues of the otherworldly kind. But even though Dax Allard has his share of issues, Cara’s far from squeaky clean. She has a past she’s been running from–something that was really fun to write (er, in a weird “writers like to torture their characters” kind of way).

One of my favorite shows of alllll time is The Walking Dead. I was heartbroken when Shane became a bad guy because I thought he really had a lot of potential as an anti-hero. He truly loved Lori, but we automatically wanted her to get back with Rick because he was her husband and the father of her child. Still, we could understand Shane’s point of view as well. I would’ve loved to have seen that dynamic play out further.

So, what about you? Who’s your favorite damaged heroine or anti-hero?

A Hankering for Demons

Supernatural creatures—how we love them. There’s something about escaping into a fantastical world where (almost) anything’s possible, isn’t there?

the-outlaw-demon-wails-the-hollows-kim-harrisonI’m not currently working on anything supernatural, but I’ve had a major hankering to read about demons. Why demons, you ask? Well, I love a character with a flaw. And what’s more flawed than, um, being intrinsically evil? It’s likely the same reason that motivates me to read about serial killers or psychopaths. It’s voyeuristic and informational at the same time. And I have to admit, I love learning bits and pieces about demonology. Constantine is one of my favorite movies EVER.

Possibly one of the most interesting things about demons and demonology is how writers create their own spin on it. For instance, in the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, even vampires are said to be demons. Basically these demons take over a person’s body, “evict” the person’s soul from his or her body, and then inhabit that body until they’re killed. There are also demons that freely roam around the supernatural plane and occasionally step into our plane, which makes for some interesting and kick-ass moments.

Personal Demon

As far as literature goes, I’ve read some of Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, and I love the demons as she portrays them, too: with different types of powers, and differing levels of those powers depending on what kind of demon they are. There are good demons (oxymoron?) and bad demons, and they’re well-portrayed, for the most part.

I’ve had two other suggestions on what to read to cure my demon hankering: Kim Harrison’s Hollows series and Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong (one of the Otherworld books I haven’t read as yet). Do you have any others to add? What’s your favorite supernatural creature?

New Year, Same Old Me

From The Graphics Fairy.

Every year, I get into this mad frenzy around the end of December. Feeling rather virtuous, I solemnly vow that the next year I’ll be a body-builder in my spare time/run five miles before breakfast/force my curly hair to go straight using nothing but willpower/[insert other incredibly preposterous goal here]. I have even made these commitments out loud on occasion.

This year, since I’m older and wiser (snicker), I decided to tone it down and make goals that I might actually be capable of keeping. So, without further ado, I do solemnly pledge to:

1. Write and publish four full-size novels.

1. Write and publish three full-size novels and two shorter works.

1. Write the first drafts of three full-size novels, and publish at least two of those novels.

2. Not complain or whine even once about my circumstances, because they are damn good.

2. Complain no more than once a month  week day about my circumstances, because they are damn good.

3. Workout every single day without fail. if I can.  

3. Workout three times a week.

3. Workout at some point.

4. You know what? This is exhausting. I’ll do what I do, dagnabit.

What about you? Any high-flying plans this year? Or are you going to be anti-goal, like me?

Four Holiday Gifts for Book and Zombie Lovers!

Ah, the holidays. I love them. My kids and I nagged sweet-talked my husband into dragging our Christmas stuff in from the garage, and now we already have our tree up. I love walking into stores and hearing holiday songs. Yes, I’m weird.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely a lover of books and the paranormal, so I thought in the spirit of helping others get some Xmas shopping knocked out of the way, I’d do a fun-gift post.

This year I’ve decided to either hand make my presents or buy them from artists in the U.S. A GREAT place for this is Etsy. You can even sort artists by region, if you want to support people from your country, or if you’re from the US, your state (or states that had the most damage from Sandy).

Click on the pictures to go to the artist’s Etsy store.

by storiarts on Etsy.com

This scarf is cute and meaningful! From a distance it looks like it’s printed with random words, but they’re actually from Jane Eyre, which is kind of awesome.

by NeverlandJewelry on Etsy.com

Here’s a breathtaking pendant that looks like an old book. I love miniatures (told you I’m weird), so this really, really appeals to me. It’d be great for author friends or bookworms in the family.

by dougfx on Etsy.com

If you’re into more of the creepy stuff, here’s a kick-butt zombie garden gnome! Seriously, who wouldn’t want one of these in their garden? Or even an entire horde?! I might just buy a couple for myself.

by BombshellKitty on Etsy.com

Oh, and look at this! An heirloom to treasure through the generations. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, in ornament form. Which self-respecting zombie lover wouldn’t want that, I ask you!

Comment here and let us know what book-related gift you’d like to give or receive, and you could win a $50 Amazon gift card and books to fill up those cold winter nights ahead!

Happy holidays!

On Writing Creepy Stuff

I love writing the dark stuff. Some writers say it’s too much, that writing brooding, deep, dark stories makes their moods correspondingly brooding, deep, and dark. I live for the macabre, and have since I was little.

That doesn’t mean my stories are unrelenting pages of creepiness or woe, though. (It just means all the other little girls thought I was a wee bit…strange. Anyway.) There has to be balance. I like to think of my stories like the rhyme about the little girl with the curl on her forehead:

“When she was good she was very, very good

And when she was bad, she was horrid.”

If you’re going to write in the paranormal genre, I think you should give it your all. If you want to venture into creepy territory, do it with abandon.

Enlightened, my urban fantasy which will be out in February 2013, deals with demons. I’d never written about demons before, so I broke out many a research tome (including ye olde standby, Google) to learn all I could about them.

Subsequently, I came to love them so much that I had a couple of ideas for prequels and side stories for major characters in the novels. This meant more research and more demon-creation.

People, let me tell you, I had fun. Maybe a little too much fun, because I began to have nightmares about my bad guy. In my head, he looks a bit like this:

Via aaronsimscompany

Needless to say, sweat-soaked pajamas had to be changed. And yes, that’s the demon from Constantine. (Which, by the way, is one of my all-time favorite movies. Watch it if you’re a horror fan like me—your life will be enriched.)

If you want to write scary stuff, you have my full support. Even if you’ve never done it before, I recommend jumping in with both feet. Read some of the masters like Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Shirley Jackson, but don’t be afraid to take risks and really make the ghouls your own. Once you set foot into el creepo territory, you’ll never look back.

Happy writing, and Happy Halloween!

Plotting with Scrivener (With Pictures!)

(c) exDigita

Plotting is a strange beast. It’s a requirement for all writers—even the ones who write by the seat of their pants, the “pantsers,” plot on the fly. Yet, it can induce much teeth-wringing and hand-gnashing. Er, wait.


A plot is simply a map of where you want to go with your story. Some writers like to do detailed maps, many pages’ worth. Others, like yours truly, like to write loose scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter outlines that change as the story develops. Still others like to keep these maps in their heads and leave all the writing for the story.

There’s really no right or wrong way to plot, but this is what I do.

First, get yourself a copy of Scrivener. You can do this without Scrivener, but trust me, Scrivener makes life easier. 🙂 You see, Scrivener has a virtual corkboard, on which you can pin index cards. You can then open these index cards to reveal a document! Don’t know what the feck I’m talking about? Here, let me demonstrate:

So, in the picture, you see the Scrivener document for the novella I’m writing. It’s set in the same universe as my urban fantasy series, but uses all different characters. Each of the index cards above has a title (the bold black words), describing what happens in the scene. On the card itself, I jot notes about what I want to happen in the scene, or something I want to make sure I don’t forget while I’m writing the scene.

If I double-clicked a card, it would open up to the document, in which I write the scene in detail. See? It makes it all very neat and organized. Don’t worry about things being disjointed. At the end of the project, Scrivener has a nifty “compile” button you can hit. It combines all your index cards into one document in whatever format your little heart desires. You can add transitions if you feel like it’s still a bit bumpy from one scene to the next. An easy fix during the editing phase.

For my novella, each index card represents roughly 500 words. This helps me estimate the word count at a glance, too. If you look closely, or click the picture to zoom, you’ll see that I’ve marked certain word “milestones,” like 5,000 words. This is helpful because it shows me where I might need to add a significant event—especially helpful when writing longer lengths, like a full-size novel—and it helps counter the Meddlesome Middle syndrome which plagues a lot of writers.

So, what do you think? Do you/would you use Scrivener or another tool to help you plot? Why or why not?

Know Your Villain Like Yourself

(c) samlavi

The other day, I saw a post in a writer’s forum. The writer wanted to know what the allure of villains was. She said she didn’t particularly like any villains, let alone the one she herself was writing.

It gave me pause, because writing and reading villains is one of my favorite things to do. Although… I am a psychology nut, so perhaps my views should be taken with a giant heaping of salt. Still, I say villains help us see deep into the writer’s soul; far deeper than the heroes do. What does the author consider despicable? What does the author think the world will see as unforgivable? And also, why is the villain the way he or she is? In other words, what is the “excuse” the writer gives for the villain’s behavior?

Ask those questions as you read your next novel. I guarantee you’ll be seeing your author in a much more intimate light than before. And if you’re a writer, ask yourself those questions before you write your next novel. What is your villain’s motivation? Why is he a rapist/child killer/spoon thief? Diving deep makes for a fascinating study of the human psyche, and a much more three-dimensional book.

And just for fun, here are some of my favorite bad guys: Anthony Hopkins in the movie Hannibal (isn’t this one on everyone’s list?), the Commander in the book The Handmaid’s Tale (talk about a three-dimensional antagonist!), and Ashley in J.L. Bryan’s Jenny Pox series of books (pure evil in such a lovely form).

If you love villains as much as I do, who are some of your favorites? I’m always looking to add to my list!

When Characters Take Over…

*Ominous music cues* Characters taking over, you ask? Whatever do you mean?

Well, there’s this assumption that writers always have a solid handle over their characters. That we know, at any given moment, who they are, what they’re doing, and how it will all turn out in the end. I am here to tell you, not so, my friends!

When I first began to write Enlightened (which will be out February 2013), my protagonist Nisha Moore was supposed to be a little bit flighty, funny, and someone you could gulp down in a couple of sips and really not worry about again. I was going for a humorous paranormal novella, about 20,000 words (70 pages) total. Clearly, that was not to be. Enlightened is now the first in a trilogy, and Nisha has turned out to be this multifaceted, dynamic character who has a very steep learning curve/character arc to contend with.

Since Enlightened was only my second attempt at writing a full-size novel, I learned a lot on Nisha (poor girl; it’s no wonder she has such issues). At first, I refused to listen to her when she banged on the inside of my forehead going, “Hey! I’m not flighty and fleeting! I’m here to stay! I want a longer story!” Then, I refused to listen when she insisted–rather huffily, I might add–that she wanted to tell the story from her perspective. None of this deep 3rd person nonsense. So I had to put the book away for a bit.

I came back to it months later, when I felt like I’d had enough breathing room. I decided to listen about the 1st person thing. It was liberating. Next, I did a character analysis. Who was Nisha, exactly? What does she want most from life? How will she change in this book? And that’s when I realized she wanted to come back over and over. The idea for a trilogy was born.

Nisha is one of my favorite characters of all the people I’ve written because she changed so much, and because I gave myself license to really listen to that internal voice that wouldn’t shut up about her. It was scary, uncharted territory because I wanted to write a funny-yet-deep story about this character who had a lot to contend with. And also, this character is nothing like me. In fact, I did a personality test on her for fun just to see what she was all about. It helped immensely.

If you’re a writer, or dream of writing something someday, I suggest you keep your ears wide open for any pearls of wisdom your characters may want to drop in there. Apparently, they really know what they’re doing. I’m learning to shrug and say, “Hey, I just work here.”

Have your characters ever pulled the rug out from under you? If you’re a reader, have there been characters in books who turned out to be different than you were expecting?

Four-Step Writing Ritual

Image credit: Crilleb50 on DeviantArt.com

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

Ah, how I love that quote. I shared it with my husband (who’s not a writer) and he looked at me for a long moment before going, “Huh?” I guess to truly appreciate it, you have to know what it’s like to sweat blood onto paper and then think your blood isn’t red enough.

So, in an attempt to get you to understand our “process” (or possibly to show you just how strange we writers are), this go-around we’re talking about weird writing rituals. I’m working on book two of my urban fantasy series (tentatively titled Entangled), and I’ve done my fair share of weird “ritualing.”

When I was writing my first book—only my second full-length manuscript; the first will never see the light of day—I did everything short of standing on my head to get the words to flow.

I Skyped with one of my writer friends who swore by writing longhand. I tried that, and it worked for a short while. A very short while.

Then I read somewhere that someone else “wrote” while taking walks around her neighborhood. She’d dictate notes into the voice recorder on her phone. I tried that one night while lying in bed. My husband, who was taking a bath, poked his head out of the bathroom.

“What’s that creepy sound?” he asked, looking around with shifty eyes. I sighed and told him it was just me, talking softly into the recorder. After that I was too self-conscious to continue with the dictation plan.

What I’ve consistently stuck with, though, are the steps that lead up to my writing.

Step one: Get a giant tumbler of coffee.

Step two: Open the blinds in the study.

Step three: Turn on my sun lamp (even if it’s bright outside, I have to have my sun lamp on).

Step four: Write! Something about lots of bright light makes me write more productively.

If we ever move to some place like Seattle, I’ll have to buy stock in one of the sun lamp companies. At the very least, one whole wall of my study would have to be lined with them.

If you write, do you have a weird writing ritual you’d like to share? If you’re a reader, do you have a reading ritual?

On My Bucket List

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that one of the things on my bucket list (i.e. list of things to do before I die) involves visiting a haunted place. But the haunted place itself might be met with many a raised eyebrow, maybe even a few head scratches. Where do I want to go?

Toys ‘R’ Us.

Yes, yes, I’m fully aware that Toys ‘R’ Us is a toy store, and the spooky attractions there during Halloween are all battery-operated. Well, almost all of them are. See, there’s this one particular store in Sunnyvale, California that boasts a haunted attraction that is all real, all year round. His name is Johnson.

Apparently Johnson died in the 1880s of an ax wound. Why he hangs around the old toy store, no one knows. He’s actually a rather famous ghost, and has appeared for TV cameras and psychics like Sylvia Browne.

You want proof, you say? How about this?

See that dude, just jauntily hanging out in the left corner of the picture? Yeah, apparently he wasn’t there during the filming. He was caught by the infrared lights that were on during the session these people were having in the store. All of them later said there was no one visible to the naked eye in the actual moment (and as you can see, he doesn’t seem to be involved in the group’s tete-a-tete).

Johnson has also pushed books and toys off shelves during sessions with TV cameras in the store. It seems he likes to perform when there aren’t any kiddies around to be scared. Employees say he’s harmless. Maybe he just wants to be acknowledged?

For more on the Toys ‘R’ Us ghost, see this Snopes article. Pretty neat, eh? Any haunted places on your bucket list?