Category Archives: Writing

Darkly Gothic Poems for Halloween

Welcome to my new WordPress blog!

My Blogger blog is now an archive, but you will find all my old posts dating back to 2010 here as well as there. As a reader, I find WordPress blog posts so much easier to read and comment upon — I hope you enjoy this new interface. Now, on to a little “warm up” for Halloween. . .

Way back in 2006 I found the Goth-O-Matic Poetry Generator and created a Feeling Very Sorry for Yourself Darkly Gothic poem entitled “Alone in Darkness.” With Halloween just around the corner, this seemed the perfect activity to resurrect from the past, especially because the link still works. I’d love to see your Goth-o-Matic poem!

Here’s my new poem of Supernatural Horror & Violence:

Dark Betrayal

Around, all around, the shadows gather.
My dread grows as the Dark One’s touch falls against my neck.
It smites me, and darkly my
essence drips
to the broken ground.
In horror I call your name
while Death’s shadow looms.
Now alone, my cry of mercy falls upon darkened eyes.

This is my doom

So fun! Do try it yourself and post in the comments if you like. Teachers, I think this activity would be great fun to use in the classroom.

STAY TUNED — my 2017 edition of Spooky Film Recommendations is coming soon.

The PAPER HEARTS blog tour: Some Marketing Advice

I am so excited to be a part of the Paper Hearts blog tour! And it’s not only because Beth Revis is a friend and a wonderful human. She’s also a NYT best selling author and a font of information about the business of publishing.

A few months ago I read Beth’s first Paper Hearts book, Some Writing Advice, and I found it wise and reassuring. I’ve published three novels, but there’s always SCADS more to learn, right? Beth has a brilliant way of cutting to the heart of matters and waving off the “noise” that is distracting rather than helpful.

Of course I was eager to read her book on marketing strategies, since this is something that brings me a great deal of stress. To my relief and amazement, Beth has broken it all down and provided reasonable options for getting the word out. So writers, whether you want to be traditionally published or you’re taking the reins to self-publish, you really need to be reading this book ASAP.

***And now . . . a marketing tip from Beth!

Beth says: Work with friends.

No matter what you do in promotion, it’s better to do it with friends.
Holding a giveaway? Grab other author friends, get signed copies of their
books, and add them to the giveaway. Better yet, cross promote and do join
giveaways with several authors. Doing a live event? You could stand up
there and be boring, or you could invite other authors to come talk with
you and make it into a fun conversation about books. Chatting online? Get
other authors to help host a Twitter chat or Facebook party.

Doing things with other authors is not only more fun, but it brings your
audience to theirs and vice versa. It lowers expenses—if you each provide
one signed book to a winner, then the winner could get five books, but
your personal expense is only one. If you’re doing live events with
others, you can get varied responses and also have a break from being

The key here: don’t think of other authors as your competition. People
will buy more than one book. Other authors are your colleagues, and, if
you’re lucky, your friends.

***Also, Beth and I answer a couple of questions about marketing:

1. How did you decide which social media platforms to use and which to avoid?

Beth’s answer: Use the ones you enjoy. Avoid the ones you don’t. That’s all.

My answer: I agree 100% with Beth. Don’t force yourself to use a social media platform just because it’s supposedly cool or the new thing. If it’s fun for you, great — people will recognize that and want to interact with you. If it’s a drag for you, or if you’re only using it to constantly remind people of your book, please stop. I, for one, have given up particular platforms because they just weren’t a good fit for me and it felt like work to keep them up to date.

2. Does promoting your own books get any easier over time?

Beth’s answer: I think it does actually–one of the few things that does! Because it’s
not until you’ve self promo’ed for awhile that you start to realize how
much of it you can let go. How much the advice to just write the next book
really is the best advice. Of course I feel like I always have to do so
much to sell my books–I always feel that pressure. But I give it up
quicker now. Because there’s only so much you can do. And the longer I’m
in this game, the more I know that the only thing I can really do to make
a difference is write the next book. So it’s easier, because I’m able to
let go more and write.

My answer: Again, have to agree with Beth here, particularly about learning what to let go. Keep in mind that Beth is a very creative person and has pretty much investigated every option before choosing what works well for her. I’ve just locked on to a few marketing tricks that are comfortable (if not entirely effective) for me. However, now that I have her book, I might try a few new options. She’s done a lot of the work for us, folks!

***Finally, enter to win signed books!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Learn more at
Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice on Goodreads

Purchase Paper Hearts, Volume 3: Some Marketing Advice
AmazonKoboBarnes & NobleThe Book Depository

Follow along with the rest of the tour at the Paper Hearts Tour Headquarters, or follow Beth Revis on Twitter!

Setting in fiction

Recently I participated in my first Twitter chat! One of the questions I barely had time to answer properly was “Any tips for setting in a historical novel?” (Thanks, Abigail!)

Well, I love to talk about setting, because all my stories start with place. As soon as I encounter an intriguing setting, I am eager to know more about its history. An exploration of this history often makes me wonder what sort of people might have inhabited that place and time. Then I wonder what conflicts the setting might create for a character. At this point a story begins to take shape in my imagination.

So, YES, I have tips! And they are very straightforward.

Tip #1: If at all possible, spend time in your setting. This is true for contemporary and historical fiction. For historicals in particular, be sure to visit historic buildings, museums, and historical societies. Living history sites are the best! Take photos and video footage (so easy with a phone these days), grab maps and brochures, and maybe even talk to the locals (especially if it’s recent history). Very often the physical experience of a place will spark all sorts of story ideas. On the other hand, actually being there might lead you to realize that a potential plot point is not realistic after all.

Tip #2: Know your setting so well that you could write a detailed pamphlet or give a tour. Along with visiting the setting, read nonfiction accounts of that place and time. Read other fiction with the same setting—I promise it won’t “pollute” your own story. If you can find diaries of people who lived in that place/time, you’ve struck gold. Take notes as you read—I find that handwritten notes stick in my brain much longer than typed ones. Pretty soon you’ll have quite a stack of information. However, keep in mind that 95% of that information, awesome as it is, won’t show up in the pages of your story. And none of it should show up in passive description. Instead . . .

Tip #3: Treat your setting like a character in the story, and show your protagonist interacting with it. For example, some ideal moments to describe your setting might be:

— when your protagonist encounters it for the first time. It’s just like meeting another human character for the first time. Is this setting welcoming or hostile? Beautiful or depressing? Familiar or alien? We learn about a character by his or her reaction to a new location.

— when your protagonist is in conflict with it. Does the character feel contained or smothered by the setting? Does it give her the heebie jeebies? Is your character battling the elements? Corralling cats or small children? A setting that creates conflict can be a source of horror or humor.

— when it is teaching/inspiring/soothing your protagonist. (This is one of my favorites!) Is there a place that inspires or comforts your character—a place of escape? A place to dream or cogitate? What if that place is under threat somehow? What would your character do?

Above all, don’t just tell us how this setting affects your protagonist—show the character’s awe/alienation/inspiration/comfort through a scene. (See this blog post from Writer’s Digest for examples of showing vs. telling.)

PLEASE feel free to comment with more suggestions about setting in fiction!

Friday Favorites: Writing Retreats

A couple of days ago I returned from a seven night Kindling Words West retreat in Marble Falls, TX. The Retreat at Balcones Springs offered cozy cabins and beautiful scenery, and our workshop leaders Nancy Werlin and Karen Romano Young provided guidance on how to find “unseen visuals” in our stories that could help transform our writing.

The goal for our morning workshops was to work on visual poems and other graphic representations of our stories, but Nancy and Karen encouraged us to follow our own path as much as we liked. As it turned out, I got caught up in this (not great) watercolor painting. I started with a random tree, added to it each day, and ended up understanding so much more about my protagonist and her relationship with nature. (Also, I got to live inside her brain in a new way, for she is an artist who works with pencil and watercolor.)

The bulk of each day was spent in silent retreat, and this was my main work station from 10am-5pm. Working on a bed is a little unorthodox, I know, but it turned out to be a good shift for my brain and body. (And strangely enough, I never napped!)

We didn’t spend all our time working. Each morning we had the option of yoga, and during the day there were always opportunities for long walks. We encountered bluebonnets and other wildflowers, live oak and mesquite trees, insects, snakes, lizards, and for one group, a herd of wild boars! I really, really need to remember that when I’m blocked, a good walk can shake things up nicely. (I’ll steer clear of the boars, however.)

I so appreciated all the time for writing (without the usual distractions), and I treasured the opportunities for communion with other writers. You artistic types out there — give yourself the gift of a retreat! It doesn’t have to be Kindling Words (though I strongly recommend it). You could take a day alone, or gather with friends for a weekend or longer. No matter how or with whom you arrange it, I really urge you to set aside silent work time.

For those who make a regular habit of retreating, what sort of activities, formats, locations, etc., inspired you?

Friday Favorites: It started with a photograph

A couple of things to share today, and though it may seem like a stretch, they actually are related.

Favorite thing #1. More than thirty years after first seeing it, I re-watched Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), starring the late David Hemmings.

I first saw this film as a child during a weekend visit at my dad’s house. Dad had that wonderful new invention called “Cable TV” and through its magic I was introduced to all sorts of interesting movies, current and classic. Unfortunately I didn’t catch Blow-Up from the very beginning, but I managed to tune in at a critical moment — Hemmings’ character, an arrogant and affected photographer (parodied delightfully in Austin Powers years later) wanders London with his camera and ends up taking photos of a couple embracing in a park. The woman approaches him, agitated, and asks for the film back. But when she comes to his flat later, he gives her the wrong film. He then develops the actual roll from the shoot, and through a series of blow-ups, discovers that something sinister may have happened at the park.

The scene depicting his discovery is so beautifully shot and compelling, but the resolution (or lack thereof) was incredibly frustrating to me as a kid. I thought maybe I’d missed something at the beginning of the film, and I’ve been wondering for decades what it all meant. Well, in re-watching it this past weekend, I realized the film really isn’t about the mystery of a possible murder. Rather, it is a fascinating character study. Roger Ebert described it best:

The film is about a character mired in ennui and distaste, who is roused by his photographs into something approaching passion. As Thomas moves between his darkroom and the blowups, we recognize the bliss of an artist lost in what behaviorists call the Process; he is not thinking now about money, ambition or his own nasty personality defects, but is lost in his craft. His mind, hands and imagination work in rhythmic sync. He is happy. (See the entire review here.)

As a kid (who really wasn’t old enough for the film anyway) I wanted the story to be about the mystery, and I desperately wanted that mystery to be solved. 30+ years later I appreciate the film for its ambiguity.

Favorite thing #2, in which we come to the related topic (yes, really!) of Ghostlight and the fact that ARCs are out in the world!

First of all, Weeeeeee!

Now to the connection . . . we have a film for adults (considered nearly pornographic in its day — take it from me, those scenes are the least compelling element) and a book for middle grade readers (& up). What could these two things possibly have in common? Well, somewhat like in Blow-Up, the mystery in Ghostlight starts with a photograph. This photograph features something it logically shouldn’t, which leads to a project, a betrayal, and, ultimately, an investigation. Though this “clue in a photograph” idea is not particularly unique, I know the seed for it was planted in my brain all those years ago when I watched Blow-Up and really wanted that mystery to be solved. Also, strangely enough, I think one of the characters in Ghostlight was probably, subconsciously, inspired by the main character in Blow-Up. Julian Wayne isn’t quite as reprehensible as Thomas (though he was darker in earlier incarnations of the story). He is similar, however, in that he’s arrogant and obsessive and grows pretty impatient with people who don’t appreciate his passion for filmmaking.

And look here — we have official flap copy!

Isn’t that creepy image of the window SO COOL? Please allow me to type out the plot blurb, in case you can’t quite read it in the image:

Nothing ever happens on Avery’s grandmother’s sprawling farm, where she and her brother spend the summers. That is, until Avery meets Julian, a city boy with a famous dad, whose family is renting a nearby cottage. When Julian announces his plan to film a ghost story, Avery jumps at the chance to join him.

Unfortunately, Julian wants to film at Hilliard House, a looming, empty mansion that Grandma has absolutely forbidden her to enter. As terrified as Avery is of Grandma’s wrath, she finds the allure of filmmaking impossible to resist.

When the kids explore the secrets of Hilliard House, eerie things being to happen, and the “imaginary” dangers in their movie threaten to become very real. Have Avery and Julian awakened a menacing presence? Can they turn back before they go too far?


So there you have it! I no longer have to ramble nonsensically about the premise of this book, for that sums it up pretty nicely. Perhaps I’ll give one of these ARCs away before too long? Stay tuned! And HAPPY FRIDAY!!!