Category Archives: October 2011

Scary Stories

Happy Halloween! It’s my favorite holiday, and as a writer – and reader – one of the things I love most about it is all the spooky lore. Things that go bump in the night, spirits walking amongst us, that monster under the stairs…It’s all fair game on All Hallow’s Eve.

My son has recently become enamored of the horror genre, so I’ve been seeing the return of many of the books I loved in my horror heyday. The Stand, The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dark Half, Needful Things, Pet Cemetery…there’s a whole row of Stephen King on his bookshelf and I love seeing it there. I just loaned him my copy of Heart Shaped Box, the debut horror novel by Joe Hill (a.k.a. Joseph Hill King) and let me tell you, the scare gene runs in the family. It’s a fantastic, creepy read and it’s named after a Nirvana song – who could resist? (Not me. And not my son, who is dressing as Kurt Cobain this year. No, I’m not worried. He’s actually quite an upbeat, cheerful fellow.)

One of my other favorite horror writers is Whitley Strieber. I have read (and re-read) most of his earliest works, including The Hunger and Wolfen, and Communion scared the bejeezus out of me. I also dig his post-apocalyptic books, Nature’s End and War Day. I tried to read The Grays, the first in his new alien trilogy, and made it to page five before I freaked out and put it back on the bookshelf. (Alien abduction tops my AUGH!!! list, for sure.)

I have hardback copies of my favorite horror classics – Frankenstein, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Dracula – on the shelf in the living room, as well as a lovely volume of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and poems. You’ll also find Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles there (including a few first editions and one signed) and, I’ll be honest, I haven’t met any literary vamps (Vlad aside) who come close to Louis, Lestat, Armand and company. (Okay, maybe Miriam and John from The Hunger, especially when they’re played by Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie. Yum.) As a rule, vampires don’t scare me, with the fang gang from ‘Salem’s Lot being the exception. (But don’t get me started on aliens again! *shivers*)

As for zombies? Love them. Can’t get enough of those brain eating buggers, though most of my neural intake (sorry, I couldn’t resist) has been through movies. World War Z and Patient Zero are both at the top of my scary looking TBR pile (that’s a post for another Halloween!) and I just finished The Enemy, a fantastic zombie middle-grade book.

So, do you like scary stories? If so, which are your favorites? Inquiring minds want to know… before they get eaten by the undead hordes tonight…

A Screen-free Day

I’d never heard this term until watching an episode of Anderson Cooper the other day, but I recently had a screen-free weekend, and man! what a difference it makes.

I am not really a cell phone person, though I have it on me all of the time because I have a teenager that needs to be able to reach me. I do not have a smart phone, iPad, iAnything for that matter. But I’m addicted to checking email.

My email program is running in the background when I’m here on the computer working, and if I’m out of the house, the first thing I do when I get home is hit the Check Email button.

In defense, dealing with email is my job. As an editor, I have my authors and the editors I supervise contacting me with urgent problems that I should respond to as soon as I can—like as soon as I walk into the house…right?

I admit it though…I’m addicted. I feel a little bit of letdown when I check my email and there’s nothing new for me to deal with.

I could have been out with my daughter, having a great day doing whatever, and we walk in the door, and I’m “back on the clock.” I know this annoys her, but I didn’t realize just how much it was annoying me, until I had three solid days of no email.

My hubby and I, to celebrate our anniversary, got on a ferry, went to the Sunshine Coast of BC, and stayed in a carriage house rental for two nights/three days. The cell phone reception was bad, but enough to keep in touch with the teen when needed. There was a television, but it barely got turned on, hubby did bring his computer, but it was only used to get the pictures off the digital camera. There was no wi-fi available.

I read a whole book, we went sight seeing, we sat down and faced each other over a dinner table every night and had conversation! You have no idea how rare that is in our family, where he works nights, I work days, and the teenager is a teenager. Granted, the teen wasn’t there, which helped with the romance, but next year we’re dragging her there and making her spend a weekend without her iPod, cell phone and computer.

So, I definitely advocate a screen-free day. Anderson Cooper says to do it once a week. I’m not sure I’m ready for that, unless I’m out of the house—I have a hard time avoiding the computer when at home—but a few times a year, my hubby and I vowed, we’ll go away from home and technology and enjoy the world outside.

Anna Leigh

What’s in a Name?

Many writers choose to write under a pseudonym, I tried that for a while. Actually it wasn’t really a pseudonym; it was my name—just changed a little. And I didn’t do it to keep my true identity a secret. It’s just that I have never liked my name, Arthur Wallace Lane Jr. Well that isn’t exactly true either. I haven’t anything against Lane, in fact I am quite proud to be a Lane. And Arthur is a nobel name, King Arthur and all of that. And I once had an Uncle Art, who I liked a lot. It’s just that I never felt like an Arthur, or an Art or an Artie. It just wasn’t me.

I have always been called by my middle name, which is Wallace, as was my Father—I’m a junior you see, a II. Actually, both my dad and I were called Wally rather than Wallace. The only one who ever called either one of us Wallace was my mother when she was very angry; the rest of the time it was Wally. And Wally soon led to other nick names, or should I say add-ons, like Big Wally, for my Dad & Little Wally or worse yet Baby Wally—I had an aunt who referred to me as Baby Wally until she died, I was in my fifties at the time.

Anyway, when I started writing poetry and knew I was going to be published, I decided it was time for a proper name, one that befits a published writer and poet. Certainly Wally wouldn’t do. I mean let’s face it, the name Wally brings to mind Mr. Peepers (Wally Cox) or that nerdy brother in Leave it to Beaver, or worse yet, Wally the Walrus in the Andy Pandy comic books. Nope, none of that would do, I decided to change my name!—But to what?

I felt I had to retain something of my given name, so as not to break either of my parent’s hearts. I finally decided to just go with the first initial of my first and middle names—A.W. That coupled with my last name had a nice ring to it—A.W. Lane—Sounds distinguished doesn’t it? A proper name for a writer of poetry and pros. And, besides that, it fits, in its entirety, into those over-short places on forms that say: Sign Here. There is no possible way to squeeze Arthur Wallace Lane Jr. into one of those inadequate spaces. No mater how scrunched up or small I write, I always end up swerving between lines or up into the margin; which ends up looking like a five-year old might have tried and failed—certainly not a distinguished writer.

Anyway, I started signing my name A.W. Lane. And for a while, I really felt relieved. Signing my name became a breeze. Making reservations was so easy, and when I was paged, they always felt obliged to add ‘Mr.’ to such a distinguished sounding name. “Call for Mr. A.W. Lane.” People started treating me with an air of respect. “Right this way, Mr. Lane.” This somehow never happened when I was just ‘Wally.’

Things were great for awhile, but like all things, the newness wore off. I started getting mail that began with: Dear Mr. Aw or I got phone calls asking for Aw Lane. And people who I met didn’t know what to call me and in the end I went back to just being Wally. And you know it felt good. Wally was a comfortable fit for me, like a favorite coat or sweater. It turned out it was always me. I was Wally, not A.W., certainly not Aw, just plain and simply Wally.

Wally

Stalking the Rude Cell Phone User

As a kid, I loved when my mother talked on the phone. It meant I could misbehave, and she wouldn’t be able to discipline me because her attention was diverted.

Fast-forward a few decades and my love affair with the telephone has long since ended. I despise being on the phone for more than five minutes, and I don’t own a cell phone.

* Collective gasp * “You don’t own a cell phone, but why not?” you ask.

Well … let me preface by saying that a conversation between two people is not meant to be public. There’s a reason we call it public transit, public restrooms, public spaces—there is no privacy and we should behave with consideration for others around us. So…why am I forced to listen to annoying private conversations at every turn?

Case in point. I was on a bus last week after a concert, still reveling in the memory of the amazing Jeff Beck’s performance only to listen to a man talking loudly on his cell phone:

“Yeah, great trip in Sweden … blah blah blah. It was an awesome film to work on, and the director was wonderful! I’m starving now, gotta get something to eat … thinking of pizza … maybe some chicken, and blah blah blah.”

You get my drift. “Indoor voice” was not in his vocabulary.


To show my dislike for cell phones, or more accurately—for rude users of cell phones, I’m mounting a campaign to let them know it. Here’s my plan.

The next time I’m on a bus and someone annoys me while talking too loudly on their phone—my phone will start ringing too.

“Brrrrring … brrrrring! Brrrrring … brrrrring!”

I’ll look around, appearing confused as I continue. “Brrrrring … brrrrring! Brrrrring … brrrrring!”

Only after passengers stare at me dumbfounded will I say, “Oh! It must be me!” I’ll pull out my phone, pick up the receiver, and say “Hello!”

Of course, I’ll speak in my loudest, most animated voice. “Yes, hi, Martin! How the heck are you? I had a great trip in London, yeah … met the Queen, and we went out for tea. She’s amazing!”

Pause to let my imaginary friend respond.

“I met Prince Charles too! He’s taller than I thought and much more handsome in person!”

Pause, nod like a bobblehead, guffaw.

“Yes! I saw Sir Paul too! What a pleasant fellow he is, blah blah blah, and blah blah blah.”

I suspect by this point passengers will start moving away from me. Why? Is it because I’m talking too loudly, being obnoxious, or … is it remotely possible they just don’t want to hear what I’m saying?

I’ve run this idea by a couple of people, and they think I’ve gone off the deep end.

I consider it quite brilliant, don’t you? ;)

eden

I’m a junkie

I admit it, and although that admission is generally the first step in ridding oneself of addictions, it has never worked for me.

That may be because my addiction is, especially in the 21st century, a socially acceptable one. People congratulate me on my addiction, on the fact that I know so many trivial facts. It’s a small joy but joy nonetheless when somebody asks an unusual question and I know the answer to it.

I’m addicted to all kinds of things. I’m addicted to reading. I’m addicted to news – on TV, radio, or on paper. I’m addicted to politics (which feeds into my news addiction). I’m addicted to – I hesitate to call it information, because I’m not addicted to Facebook or Twitter or any other social media – but I suppose I can say I am addicted to information of all kinds. Good information. Bad information. Trivial information. Important information.

If I tried to define what my addiction truly is, I guess it is to anything which feeds my brain. Yes, I have preferences (see above). But if I can’t find those? I’ll access any kind of information.

So when I’m bored (which happens rarely – see above) or I’m waiting for something or someone (which happens much more often as I’m always early) I often check out what happened on that particular day in history even though history isn’t one of the things I generally read or watch for. I love the things I find out. Every day I’ve ever searched had at least one thing that fascinated me.

My April 10 birthday? In 837 (and how in the hell do they know this?), Halley’s Comet and Earth experienced their closest approach to one another. This leads me to Halley, because I’m absolutely certain he wasn’t alive in 837 and so how in the hell did he know this? I’ll follow this thread until I’m satisfied.

And October 24? In 1901 Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. It’s not the fact it happened, it’s the fact that it was a woman. And that it was her 63rd birthday when she did it. Now I want to know more about her.

October 24 also seems to be a day when a disproportionate number of wars or battles have ended, from 69 with the Second Battle of Bedriacum (don’t ask me, I don’t really care about that part of it) to 1973 with the Yom Kippur War. I want to know why. Is it because it’s the onset of winter? Is it because soldiers get paid quarterly and the generals don’t want to pay for the fourth quarter? There must be a reason. And one day, I hope I’ll find out what it is because it’s going to bug me until I do.

What’s your information addiction?

Kate

Meditation

Several weeks ago I came up with the brilliant idea of starting a routine of daily meditation to help with my creativity. That hasn’t worked out so well. Mainly because I’m not good at that whole sitting and being still thing.

What I am good at is letting my mind wander which is generally the opposite of what meditation is about. So, instead of meditation, I’m going to start doing things which allow my mind to wander while my body is doing something else.

Not just random daydreaming, but more focused meanderings. A leisurely stroll through the garden versus stumbling blindly through the darkened woods. Although, the darkened woods can be quite fun on occasion that’s more for when I’m just batting random ideas around for a new project.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to do this is by putting together jigsaw puzzles. Yes, jigsaw puzzles. The harder the better. Something about sifting through the puzzle pieces and finding their place in the larger picture helps my brain do the same thing with whatever plot problem I’m working on.

What are your secret tricks for getting your creative juices flowing?

Ana

Comrades in Arms, Part 2

The Trouble With Love Is

A casual mention by a mutual friend is what led Lisa and I to each other. At the time she needed some details on the Boulder area and I went to school there. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew we were throwing stories back and forth with wild abandon. At some point along the way I started fumbling with introductions. Because “Lisa my CP” didn’t really sum things up and “My friend Lisa” felt like it was leaving out a huge part of our relationship. (And no, for those curious I still haven’t resolved that intro beyond “my partner in crime!” :D)

Most of the time, when you write a book you spend weeks (if not months or years) immersed in the damn thing. After a while it’s really hard to see the forest for the trees. This applies equally to starting out the second book in a series. Times like this are when I think it’s really crucial to have an open an honest relationship with your CP – if you have one – because they’re going to be able to steer you away from the pitfalls.

The honesty cuts both ways, of course. As one side of the partnership you have to be able to not only voice an opinion, but back it up, AND suggest ways to fix whatever the problem might be. Otherwise it tends to create more frustration than assistance.

Katy: So. Chapter 2. I don’t like it.

Lisa: Which part?

Katy: The whole thing. It’s just … it doesn’t fit there. Everything else around it is kicking ass but this chapter is just ugh. Sorry.

Lisa: Damn. I was afraid of that. I really struggled with it. That’s always a sign. So. What’s off? What’s missing?

Katy: She’s out of character. I don’t care if she’s a teenage girl. She’s too smart to act like this.

Lisa: You’re right. What if, instead…

For Lisa, that “instead” led to deleting an entire chapter and writing a new one that was so much better and set up a crucial dynamic between three of the characters that will roll through the entire series arc. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to suggest that if I hadn’t been bold enough (or comfortable enough) to make the comment, and if Lisa hadn’t been able to take it in the spirit it was intended, it would have been a mortal blow to her book. (Lisa agrees, in case you’re wondering.)

A great critique relationship doesn’t just rest on honesty though, it helps keep you honest as a writer. You’re less likely to be lazy about what you’re putting down on paper when there’s someone there to call you on it.

Usually…

Lisa: So this chunk in chapter 23 – what’s the point?

Katy: Oh, that. *laughs* I have no clue. I was even thinking as I wrote it that you were totally going to call me on it.

Lisa: Why did you put it in then?

(Beat)

Katy: (with laughter) I was making sure you were paying attention?

Lisa: Brat.

Having a critique partner isn’t a requirement for writing. I know several authors who get along just fine without one. However, I do think for beginning writers it can be a very helpful relationship and something that grows with time. I’m extremely lucky to have not just one, but two awesome CPs as well as a handful of rocking Beta Readers. Everyone provides me with different feedback (which to me is key), and there’s no Borg-like style beyond being honest about what’s working and what doesn’t.

Plus you get stuff like this as a reward:

Lisa: Omigod, you are either rocking the hell out of these revisions or this wine I’m drinking is really good. Maybe both.

Just be aware – this is a partnership. You should be on the same page with your CP. You should be getting open and honest feedback from them. Not everyone writes at the same pace and most writers have lives outside of their writing (I know! Crazy, huh?) so it’s important to be aware that just because you finished up a chapter and sent it off the night before your CP might not get to it until the weekend. But as long as there’s communication about what’s going on, you should be fine.

For Lisa and I, we’re lucky enough to be about on the same page (sometimes literally!). We write what we call “zero drafts” and throw chapters at each other to read as we go along. This helps with things like spotting major plot gaps, brainstorming through the sticky spots, and generally being each other’s cheerleader to that mystical The End on the horizon. This doesn’t work for all writers, but it works for us and it’s saved my ass (and Lisa’s) at least a dozen times!

Feel free to ask questions in the comments section here. *smiles* We’ll be more than happy to try and answer them or point you in the right direction.

When Blogger Meets Blogger

I first came to this blog at the behest of Kate Austin, whom I met two years ago at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Summer Conference, after she had read and edited one of my novels. With that invitation, I found myself in a community of several other unique, gifted and sometimes wacky authors.


At this year’s Conference, I had the pleasure to meet Lisa DiDio and Wally Lane and realized how aptly this group had been chosen. Although we had received each other’s posts with enthusiasm and respect, I could not tell how genuine those reactions had been until four of us came face to face. It was like meeting old friends. The conversation was easy and never lagged and I resolved to meet each of my blog mates as opportunities arose. So naturally, when I decided to drive to Denver to do research, I was determined to meet K. B. Wagers who lives in Colorado. I was delighted when Katy agreed to the meet-up.

Was I disappointed? Hell, no.

Those of you who follow BIWP will recognize her posts at once. They are punctuated with *laughter* and  *grins*  and unbridled enthusiasm. It is impossible to picture this woman without a smile on her face. You can almost hear her laugh.

We rendezvoused at a restaurant in Aurora—K. B., her husband Don, her roommate and guest-blogger, Dextra Hoffman, and I. Katy was going to compete in a race over a 3K obstacle course the next morning and spending the night with friends in Aurora would reduce her morning drive.

From the moment I walked through the door, Katy’s grin was unmistakable. She greeted me with an embrace and I knew at once I had landed among friends. Over the course of the evening, we talked about T’ai Chi and Kung Fu, racing and writing, her new home—congrats, Katy—the path to publication and our respective lives. She’s enthusiastic about every bit of it.

Don, who writes for his employer, the U. S. Air Force, is a sharp, appropriately nerdy complement to his wife. Katy says he supplies, among other things, technological knowledge she lacks in her life and her writing. He’s a photographer to boot, though my camera had a glitch that threw all of us for a loop, so his work doesn’t appear here.

As for Dex: she’s a nerd, as well. Don’t mistake me. This is not a put down. This was a four-wheel bus at the dinner table—I, as much a part of it as my dinner companions. She is a comix junky who considered giving her daughters the same initials as Marvel Comics’ Justice League of America and Justice Society of America, then said she thought better of it. I have no idea why. I think it would have been cool. (BTW, she provided the head shot at the top. Would you look at Katy’s grin? The geezer’s mug reflects six hours behind the wheel.)

I really didn’t want to say good night. They’re fun people, most especially my BIWP counterpart. But she had a race to run and the restaurant was patiently waiting for us to finish so they could close. And now I’m eagerly waiting to meet the rest of you. As I said, Kate and Lisa chose well.

Raymond

Getting All Steamed Up!

I look forward to one convention every fall that is so much fun I’d pay just to go sit in the lobby of the hotel and not even attend any workshops or events.

Steamcon is a gathering of folks who are in love with the idea of a Victorian world that never existed. I’d have to say it’s the biggest adult pretend party I’ve ever seen. Even better than the elaborate Halloween party I used to attend back East, (with a horse drawn hay ride and a square dance band in the barn).

Nearly everyone dresses up for Steamcon, and by that I don’t mean just a long skirt and fancy blouse. Most of the costuming is very elaborate and extremely creative. That’s what I love most about Steamcon, that people feel free to interpret steampunk in their own way, assume personas and for one weekend each year live out their fantasy life.

What is steampunk? Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. (Here’s the Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk).

This year the theme was 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and I’ll confess, unlike last’s years Wild, Weird West theme, I wasn’t inspired to create a new costume. But I was amazed at the creativity of other people attending Steamcon… because there were people with boats on their heads, in diver’s suits, with gowns trimmed with seashells and even a person dressed like a fish with flippers on his feet!

And that’s the reason I love Steamcon, because more than anything else it feeds my imagination. As I listened to Unwoman sing, an entire storyline flashed through my head. As I snapped photos of beautiful Victorian gowns, I could see a heroine ready to attend the Opera… and when I had the opportunity to chat with fellow steampunk enthusiasts, it supported my writing efforts in that genre.

I also managed to find three gorgeous prints for my office, which is now completely redecorated in steampunk decor. But that will be for another post!

There will be a Flickr page with photos from Steamcon on their website soon, and I encourage you to visit it and enjoy the variety of interpretations of the theme.

Steamcon Link: http://www.steamcon.org/indexIII.php
Unwoman Link: http://unwoman.com/

Deborah

Comrades in Arms, Part 1

There are beta readers, critique partners, and then there are comrades in arms. K.B. and I have been working together for more than four years and at this point, I can’t imagine doing this crazy writing thing without having her down in the trenches with me. (Actually, I can’t imagine doing it without all three of my kick-butt writing partners. I know – I’m spoiled!)

K.B and I long ago passed the tentative, sugar-coating stage – you know, the one where everything is book-ended by “I think you maybe might want to” and “but that’s just my opinion” – and moved into a strategic and honest partnership that has made both of us much better writers. One day, my husband overheard me talking to K.B. about the possibility of killing off one of her characters. I didn’t think my comments were particularly blunt, but he gave me a goggle-eyed look and said, “You talk to her like that and you guys are still friends?”

The question caught me off guard and I had to laugh. The answer is yes, and she talks back to me just as bluntly, and neither of us takes it as an insult. Because it’s not. We each know exactly what the other is capable of doing, and we are as committed to seeing each other succeed as we are to our own success. So, when she tells me something sucks or needs fixing, I don’t argue. I listen. And then, we get down to the real boon of our relationship:

Brainstorming.

It’s one of the things we do best together. (Shopping for make-up and getting inked are close seconds.) We don’t say something isn’t working and leave the other hanging. We get on the phone as soon as possible, roll up our mental sleeves and go at it until we’ve solved the issue. A good brainstorming session can fix a major plot hole, talk whoever is on the ledge back down, and/or get the writing rolling hot and fast. Besides, it’s always entertaining. It usually goes something like this:

Katy: I’m stuck. Not sure what happens next. Maybe she shoots him in the ass?

Lisa: You’re running short on explosions. Blow something up. Either that…

Katy: or zombies?

Lisa: Sex.

Katy: No time. Bounty hunter is incoming, and quickies suck.

Lisa: Bar fight. Chopstick to the eye of the jerk who stole a grope. With sound effects.

(Beat)

In unison (with gusto): CHOPSTICK.

Katy: Wait, writing that down.
(sound of pen scratching)
Chopsticks. That reminds me. Your chapter 5 made me want Indian food.

Lisa: (laughs) Guess what we’re having for dinner?

Katy: Us, too. Finn’s hot. But I want to get more in his head in this scene.

Lisa: (snorts) Or his jeans.

(mad giggling from both)

Katy: Dude. We’re going to hell.

Lisa: Nah, he’s fictional. Besides, he’s an elf. He’s just pretending to be 18. He’s really like, 150 or something.

Katy: Oh, thank god.

If this sounds like a conversation between old friends, the ones who can finish each other’s sentences, that’s not accidental. In the course of cementing our working partnership, we became close friends. That’s true for me in all three of my CP relationships, and I think it makes a world of difference. If you take the time to invest in each other beyond the writing, it strengthens your partnership and makes it easier to communicate honestly. Besides, we’re not just writers – we’re people living busy, complicated lives. It’s nice to be able to support each other on many different levels, because that’s what friends and partners do.

I had a chance to get to know my CPs a bit before we started working together, but once we really committed, I made a point to chat with them frequently by e-mail or phone – and not just about writing. And I’ve had the great pleasure of spending face-to-face play time with all three of them, too. (Lucky me!) I think it’s more than worth the time it takes to get to know one another and share your lives. Let’s face it – we don’t write in a vacuum (okay, maybe some of you do but isn’t it cramped and dusty?) so what’s happening in our lives influences our writing. If your CPs know what’s going on in your world, it makes their job a lot easier.

Bottom line? Your critique partner(s) can be your biggest allies in this crazy mixed-up job. But as with any other meaningful relationship, you need trust, honesty, mutual supportiveness – and a hefty dose of fun never hurts!

Stay tuned for K.B.’s take on our partnership later this week. (Because, yes. We collaborated on these posts the way we collaborate on most everything else.)