Bad habits in my writing that annoy me.

Bad habits in my writing that annoy me.

As a writer, I pride myself on knowing my strengths and my weaknesses. My strengths include my ability to organize myself and to research quickly (it really is a necessary talent some days). My weaknesses include my ability to fall down research rabbit holes, an addiction to social media, a need to edit while writing, and my personal favorite a list of annoyances that appear in my writing. Below you’ll see a list of things that constantly appear in my own writing. Things I actively have to seek out and remove from each manuscript (and still manage to find after editing, proofreading, formatting, and uploading…every bloody time).

  1. LY words – I hate them, and they hate me. It makes my writing less vivid and during revision and self-edits I spend days trying to fix weak writing.
  2. Big words – I love them and use them when I shouldn’t. It doesn’t make me a better writer and often it can make me come across as pretentious.
  3. So at the beginning of a sentence – I use it a lot when I speak in the real world, now Siobhan does. In Golden Parachute, I removed approximately 300 of them. I have to actively stop myself now when writing. It’s annoying.
  4. Commas – I’m a junkie
  5. Parentheses – See commas.
  6. Ellipses – See commas.
  7. Information dumps – Practically meth to me.
  8. Crutch words – If you don’t know what these are, I feel for you. Here’s a small list of my worst offenders: Almost, just, that, was, seems, feel, appear, see, quite, look, felt, can, decide, couple, and the list goes on and on and on. 
  9. Filler words – This is a horrible habit of mine. I use them a lot. Filler words are words that take space and have no meaning. Such as um, er, ok, and hmm. I use them all the time and I haven’t managed to convince myself that they aren’t necessary.
  10.  Overusing a word – I love the sound of the word cacophony. Yes, I have my books read to my using text-to-speech. The problem is that I sometimes find myself using words, such as cacophony, too many times in a novel, novella, or even a short story. I now keep a notepad by the computer filled with words to check counts on so that I don’t overuse them in a single work.
  11. Dialogue tags – I was taught to keep tags simple. Said/says, asked/asks, answered/answers, and replied/replies. If I was feeling freakish, I might use yelled/yells. I’m not so stuck on that anymore. I’m tired of simplicity with dialogue tags. 
  12. Overusing pronouns – This is my biggest annoying bad habit and the one that is currently annoying me the most as I’m revising Black Gold. When writing, I have to actively work to ensure that I make sure to tag people regularly with their names in dialogue and in scenes, so I don’t lose people. It can become challenging with such a large cast of characters.

I’ve shared my list of personal annoyances and writing challenges, what are yours? Let me know in the comments.

V. L.

When I knew I wanted to be an author.

When I knew I wanted to be an author.

I knew I wanted to be an author when I was very young. As my mother told it, I tried to “correct” story endings from the time I could read, and my paternal grandmother taught me to read at two and a half. When I was a child, I wrote all the time. I had notebooks filled with stories and had originally planned on studying creative writing and English in college after I graduated high school. However, life had other plans for me, and I went to work after high school rather than college. 

Working coupled with someone I admired above everyone else in my life telling me that my writing was never going to be good enough for publication and that women just don’t sell books as well as men (this was long before J. K. Rowling) and I was gutted. This was a person I trusted implicitly and if they said my writing was hopeless it had to be true. So, I put up my childish dream of wanting to see my name in print and focused on work. 

Fast forward, twenty plus years and I am unable to work in my career thanks to health issues. I’m back in school hoping to make changes that will allow me to find a new career. I happen to make one snarky comment too many about perfect heroines needing rescued by men and both my sister and niece dare me to write something better. Never one to back down from a dare, I spent months working up a plot and now here we are: A series of books self-published, an MFA in Writing, and while it’s not quite the path I thought I would take at eighteen, I’m proud to say I’ve done what I set out to do with my life.

When did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up and how did you set about achieving your dreams? Let me know in the comments.

V. L.

How I Find Inspiration

How I Find Inspiration

Inspiration—it’s a word that can drive many authors to have sleepless nights. How do we find what inspires us to write? I don’t know about other authors, but I can find inspiration in just about anything. Its staying inspired that I have difficulty with, especially right now.

When I came back to writing after twenty years of not writing, I did it because my niece and my sister dared me to do it. The dare was because I complained about a lack of novels with a heroine I could connect to, for want of a better word I was “uninspired” by the heroines in urban fantasy at the time. However, you can’t just write a novel without some idea of where you’re going and who you’re writing. Without a starting point how would I know where I would end? For me, my inspiration always comes from questions (I ask a lot of questions). Since I adore all things paranormal and urban fantasy, I started with the basic premise how would a woman in her forties react to learning that the things we’re told are myth or legend truly exist? Then I took it several steps further and gave that woman an over the top personality that was exceptionally melodramatic (I kind of regret that now) and who had serious self-esteem issues (also regretting that decision, but it’s far too late to change her now). 

For me, the biggest inspiration for the Custodian of the Golden Assembly series was the location, the Pacific Northwest. I adore Western Oregon and the Willamette Valley specifically. I wanted that area to play a part in the story, but I also wanted to show other areas of the state, the coast, Central Oregon, Washington state, and more. Even after moving the series out of Oregon to South Carolina was a deliberate choice. I wanted to throw Siobhan and company off their game and make them become less complacent (or me, choose your adventure on that one since Siobhan and I are very similar). 

I guess what I am saying is that for me, inspiration may be found anywhere. It can be found in a dare from your sister and her sassy daughter. It can be found in remembering two beloved pets. It can be found exploring both a much-loved old home and a new home. The whole point is the journey and the exploration. And questions; notebooks full of questions. I have so many questions that I am so glad my sister gave me the reusable notebook just to keep me from killing more trees. Honestly, the joy is in the journey to finding what inspires you, or me, to get ourselves writing and creating. Because after all is said and done…

How do you find what inspires you? Do you enjoy the journey? Let me know in the comments.

V. L.

Which of my characters is my favorite and why.

Which of my characters is my favorite and why.

I’ll admit I play favorites with my characters. It also varies from day-to-day as to which character is my favorite. I adore Siobhan, she’s been my favorite from the beginning, but there are days when she gets on my very last nerve. She’s too over-the-top melodramatic, she’s hung up on her way, and her self-esteem needs work. That woman could use some serious time in a therapist’s office. Yes, that’s my professional opinion and it was my decision to write her that way. I wanted her to be a little ridiculous. A lot of Siobhan’s personality traits mirror my own except they are bigger more extreme examples of my own personality flaws and those of people I know. Lorelei represents a different side of my personality. She represents the side of me that cares for my family and friends. The person who cooks, bakes, and does all the little tasks to show I care. As for Charlie and Michelle, they are the women I think I would like to be if my life were different and I lived in a world where supernatural beings existed. That doesn’t make any one of them my favorite.

Now for the men, Donal was the first male introduced in the series and always holds a special place in my heart. He isn’t modelled after anyone in my life (although if you were to ask my cousin, he’d say Donal is modelled after him). In fact, none of my male characters are modelled after anyone in my life, they are caricatures of extremes. Donal is an extremely overprotective, rigidly formal, alpha male dragon. Becker is the same, except he has a sense of humor to offset some of his overprotectiveness. Then we have Norman. Norman is my little perv, and I adore him. Of all my characters, this one holds a special little piece of my heart. Yes, he’s annoying and a little bit of a perv, but there are aspects of his personality that remind me of my father, and I will always love him because of it. 

Finally, we have the character I will always love above all the rest Marvel/DC. Yes, my favorite Hell Hound is based on two dogs that I owned and lost. Marvel/DC is my way of memorializing both dogs. Both died very young at three and a half years old and I miss them horribly. DC is based on a Labrador Retriever named Duck (don’t judge on the names there’s a long story behind it) he passed away from an epileptic seizure. Marvel, on the other hand, is based on a Great Dane/Labrador Retriever cross named Moose. Moose passed away from cancer about eighteen months after Duck and losing them both so close together nearly broke my heart. 

So, I guess I have to say the Hell Hound is my favorite because he’s keeping two dogs from my past still alive in a small way. Norman is probably my second favorite because he holds some tiny aspect of my deceased father. How crazy is that?

Let me know if you have favorites in the comments. I would love to know.

V. L.

IT’S TIME FOR A SNEAK PEEK AT THE PROJECT I’VE BEEN HIDING.

IT’S TIME FOR A SNEAK PEEK AT THE PROJECT I’VE BEEN HIDING.

I thought I would share a sneak peek at the project I’ve mentioned a little but never shared anything about except a few comments. So, here is a chapter from Spectre of a Chance, AKA my thesis project. My thesis advisor called this “a cool hybrid story, Southern fantasy/horror with a noir humor to it all. It feels cutting edge and modern. It reminded me of Men In Black, Harry Potter, True Blood, with some real Stephen King horror elements thrown in. That is memorable.” I call that amazing praise from someone I truly admire.

This is six pages (nearly 3,400 words) of unedited material from my manuscript. If you don’t wish to know anything about the work that has yet to be published, then please read no further.  I feel I have to warn you that Hattie is a much darker character than Siobhan, she speaks her mind, and lives life on her own terms. Now, without further ado, I give you chapter one of Hattie Spectre’s world. I hope you enjoy it (If possible, I may love this character even more than Siobhan)…

CHAPTER ONE

The pungent aroma of rotting Chinese food, pounding bass of rap music, and the humid North Carolina summer night filled my senses where I hid behind a dumpster in a dark alley in Asheville, North Carolina waiting for my prey to arrive. Six men and women have disappeared near this club over the last few months, and my reconnaissance showed signs of demon activity in the alley earlier. The strong sulfurous odor and gelatinous puddles indicative of a Luxuria Demon’s feeding habits showed me that Cass, my PA, was right when she sent me the information packet in her last email. The missing had all gone out partying with friends, drank heavily, and had been looking for love in all the wrong places. Unfortunately, they found it in the form of one hungry Lust Demon looking for a meal. The human police didn’t have a clue. It was my turn to become the predator and stop the demon from preying on innocent humans. Most demons are smart enough to stay away from public areas when looking for prey. They target the people that society ignores. Not this guy, he decided to target the ones that society pays attention to the white suburban yuppies. Even the police would figure out something was hunting people eventually. 

A movement at the mouth of the alley caught my eye. I perked up with the hope it was my mark and not some horny young adults looking for an alcohol-fueled quickie. When did I become so jaded? When was the last time I had sex that didn’t involve batteries? A man shoved a woman against the stucco of the nightclub as their mouths mashed against each other and their hands grasped at each other’s clothes and bodies…great, option number two. Why couldn’t the demon show rather than the sex-crazed couple? I avert my eyes and contemplate my life choices while the children violate public decency laws performing sex acts in public against the wall of the nightclub. Lucky for me, the man finished quickly. The couple adjusted their clothing into normality and scurried out of the alley like cockroaches when a light is turned on. Another movement at the mouth of the alley has me prepared to avert my eyes, but this was different. The people entered but move further into the alley away from prying eyes. Both are male, one is much larger than the other approximately the size of a small mountain while the other is petite and slender. I can hear one making nervous conversation.

“I’ve never done anything like this.”

The other man didn’t speak, but rather grunted in response.

Halfway into the alley, they stopped.

“You don’t say much, do you?” 

The giant lifted the smaller one so they were eye to eye. 

“Wow, you’re strong.” Unbidden my hand moved to the hilt of my katana, I slid out from my hiding place. My soft-soled shoes made no noise as I walked. The demon unfurled his wings, his prey began to scream. The only way to send a demon back to Hell is to remove its head and perform a minor ritual to send its soul back where it belongs. I couldn’t do that without hurting the human. I needed the demon to drop his prey, I was desperate for a distraction. Wing-clipping would work. I unsheathed the sword and drew it upward in the same motion, I swung it down swiftly separating one of the demon’s wings from his back. The beast howled in agony, dropping his prey.

“Go home, Keeper. This is no concern of yours.” The wing dissolved into a puddle on the ground at the Lust Demon’s feet.

“I’m not Keeper, I’m a demon hunter, and you’re breaking the rules.” I swung my sword in a wide arc toward his midsection. He dodged the sword jumping toward the opposite side of the alley. With his back against the wall, the demon realized his mistake and came out at a run knocking me on my back and my sword out of my hand. Air whooshed out of my lungs while the demon pummeled my head and chest with his gargantuan fists.

“When you get to Hell, tell Ephraim I said hello.” 

My fingertips touched the hilt of my sword. The demon took another swing at my face, and I slid away. My fingers felt the katana closer and closed around the handle. I pulled it to me, swinging the sword wildly upward. The punches to my face stopped. I looked up to see the demon stared at me, missing half his face. I swung again, aiming for his neck, the well-honed blade separated the demon’s head from his neck, and he fell to the side off me. I rolled away. The smell of hot chocolate filled my senses. I crawled to the wall of the building to pull myself up. The song Demons by Imagine Dragons pierced the air of the dark alley. I leaned down and grabbed my pack from behind the dumpster. I pulled out my phone, spit the blood from my mouth, and answered the call.

“Hey, Cass. The demon’s dead. I need you to do something for me.”

“What do you need, oh Great One?” the voice of my best friend and personal assistant snarked in my ear through my cell phone.

“Look through my phone numbers and find one for my great uncle, Ephraim. When you find it, could you call him and see if he is okay? If there is no answer, contact Nettie Blackmoor in Shade, South Carolina and ask her to check on Ephraim Spectre, please.”

“Then, what?”

“Once you find out about Ephraim, call me and let me know—please. A friend on the local police force mentioned some other signs of demon activity that I’m going to check out before I head to the hotel for a much-needed shower and sleep.”

“Okay, Hattie. I’ll make the calls and get back to you ASAP.”

“Bye, Cass.”

“Bye, Boss Lady.” I put the phone back into my pack and pulled out the supplies I would need to send the Lust Demon back to Hell and make sure there was no pesky body left behind to make local law enforcement ask any questions.

***

Monday was an evil day with a deviant sense of humor. First, I wake up next to man who appears to be half my age in a motel room that probably hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned since Eisenhower was President. After a perfect night’s hunt where I send a Lust Demon and a Wrath Demon back to their respective bosses in Hell that ended with a minor celebration in a sketchy dive bar with one too many body shots of tequila off my current bed partner. 

I was lucky enough find all my clothing, put it on, and get out of the room to begin the walk of shame to my Ford F150 before Studly Do-Wrong woke up and wanted me to take another go on his purple-headed yogurt slinger. His words, not mine. Of course, Monday wasn’t going to let me get away that easily. With the sun overhead trying to make my eyes bleed, I barely made it to my truck’s door when someone yelled at me.

“Bitch, you killed my brother!”

Please, allow me to introduce myself, I’m Hattie Spectre. On January 17, 1981, when I was almost five years old, I had an unfortunate meeting with two demons in the basement of my great uncle’s house. They wanted to steal my life essence and take it to Hell to sell it and gain status within the legions of demons. Obviously, they failed. Now, I’ve made it my life’s mission to send as many demons back to Hell as I can.

 There are seven species of demons, each species answers to a specific leader of Hell. Each of the species is tied to one of the seven deadly sins of Christian belief. That’s about where the similarities end. I’m not sure who this guy’s brother was, nor am I convinced that I killed him. It’s not like I’m the only demon hunter on the planet. I had sent more than my fair share of demons back to Hell, and if this guy thinks I killed his brother, he could be right. The demon in front of me was a Greed Demon, last night’s demons represented the Wrath and Lust side of the family tree. I hadn’t killed any other demons since I’d arrived in North Carolina. 

“Unless you come from a mixed-race family and your brother was a Wrath or Lust Demon who died last night. I have no clue what you’re talking about,” I said. 

“I know you’re the Demon Hunter, Hattie Spectre. You killed my brother when he had only been Earthside six weeks,” the demon answered. “He only wanted to get to know the locals and have a little fun.” 

A slip of a memory tickled my brain from three years before. As my mind struggled to pull the memory to the surface, I cocked my head to the side and stared at the Greed Demon who stood in front of me dressed in jeans, a light blue button-up shirt, and the ever-stylish Chelsea boot. Greed Demons use a lure to convince unsuspecting humans that they can use the information the Greed Demon has to earn large sums of money. It’s like a mental pyramid scheme that never pays off. The demon feeds off the greed the human feels until the human is an empty husk. Eventually, the human dies. Greed Demons are rare Earthside, and in the twenty plus years I had been hunting, I had seen less than five. 

In Miami, eighteen months earlier, I spent three weeks tracking a Greed Demon using his lure to prey on greedy real estate developers. He drained eighteen victims in six weeks where most demons feed on one victim every three to four weeks and rarely kill which keeps them below the radar as much as possible, this guy liked to make sure he killed which hit the news media. I remembered that Greed Demon very well, and there was a strong family resemblance.

“Maybe your brother should have learned how to feed without killing or feed less often,” I said. I dropped my leather duffel bag to the ground with my left arm while my right arm reached slowly behind my back for the gun in the holster at the small of my back.

“He was young! He hadn’t had time to learn everything he needed to know to live Earthside!”

“So, I should look the other way while humans die?” I asked.

“You could have explained that he was doing something wrong.”

“Do I look like I’m the professor of Demon 101? It’s my job to stop the ones who are preying upon humans, the worst of the worst. I was sent to Miami to stop him, not teach him what not to do. If you wanted him taught, then that was on you, not me.” My hand touched the warm metal of my Sig Sauer P226 semi-automatic pistol loaded with a clip of custom rounds. The bullets can’t kill a demon, but they will cause the guy extreme pain. 

“Then maybe it’s time someone stops you.” He leaped forward, I pulled my hand out from behind my back and fired three rounds into his chest. The Greed Demon screamed in agony thanks to my custom holy water filled bullets. I grabbed my bag and rolled under my pick up, coming up on the other side, leaning against the front wheel. With my right hand clutching the pistol my left hand rifled in the duffel and came out with my kit I used from the night before and dropped it on the ground before diving back into the bag. The demon’s screams were less forceful. I yanked my arm out of my duffel dragging my katana out, looking around for one seriously pissed off demon. As the demon’s scream ebbed into silence, I pushed myself off the ground throwing the sling of the katana over my head and grabbed the small satchel of my demon-go-home kit. I duck walked between my truck and the car parked next to it as I listened for the demon’s next attack.

“Did you think bullets could stop me?” The demon yelled. His voice echoed around me and gave me no indication of his location. I moved forward slowly. My hair snagged on the dented fender of the car parked next to my truck. Temporarily immobilized, I reached back to untangle it from the fender and found my ponytail caught in the iron grasp of a fist. Some days it just doesn’t pay a woman to try to sneak out of a cheap motel room. I heaved a heavy sigh and let my hand fall to the ground.

“I don’t suppose you’d accept a heartfelt apology,” I said. The demon yanked my hair and pulled me up so that my head was next to his mouth. 

“Do you think an apology would make up for the loss of my brother?” He asked. His mouth was next to my ear. 

“Do you think I would apologize for sending a demon that killed sixteen innocent humans back to Mammon in disgrace?” I asked. 

“I’m going to be a legend. I will be the demon who killed the demon hunter from the Spectre family. I wonder what your soul will taste like?” The demon turned me to face him putting my feet firmly on the ground. He leaned in to press his lips gently against mine. His tongue traced the crease of my lips, I leaned toward him. My right hand raised toward his chest. Eleven blasts filled the air. The demon dropped to the ground, air wheezed from his lungs.

“Rule number one: Remove weapons from your opponent’s hands.” I wiggled my gun in the air before putting it in my holster. 

“Rule number two: Humans are not expendable food sources. Be sure to tell that to your brethren when you get back to Hell.” I slide my katana from its sheath. The blade shined brightly in the sun.

“Rule number three: Don’t interrupt a woman’s walk of shame when she’s almost made her escape. It’s rude, Asshole.” I glared at him as I swung the sword upward.

“One last thing, tell Mammon Hattie says ‘Stay in Hell.’” I brought the sword down, separating the Greed Demon’s head from his body. Black vapor ebbed from the neck of the demon’s body. I opened my Demon-Go-Home kit. I’ve known hunters that use all kinds of rituals to send a demon’s spirit home. Me, I like to stick to the basics; salt, holy water, a rosary, and a simple prayer. It hasn’t failed me yet.

I sprinkled salt over the body, clutched the rosary in my left hand, and began to pray. “St. Michael, the Archangel of God’s army, help me send this soul of the Fallen back to the Abyss where it belongs. Please make this body purified and untouchable by the denizens of Hell. Let it be cleansed by holy water.” I sprinkled it with water from the vial. “So that it cannot be used for evil work. I pray that if I have committed a sin in God’s eyes, I will be struck down and be stopped from doing this work now and forever more. For I would never want to do evil as those whom I have hunted do. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.” When I finish, the body sinks into the asphalt and disappears. 

I’m not a particularly religious person, but that prayer is one that I believe in with every fiber of my being. I have seen the damage demons can cause first-hand. I never wish to become what they are. I gathered my gear and placed it behind the seat of my truck before climbing behind the steering wheel. The dulcet tones of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell stopped me from starting the engine and moving out of the parking lot. I dragged the phone out from the console and answered without a glance at the caller ID. 

“Hello, Cass.”

“It’s about time you answered. I’ve been calling all morning,” Cass Pendleton, my personal assistant and general pain in the butt berated me.

“I left a message after I had dealt with the Wrath Demon situation that I had found out about from my cop friend. I felt I deserved a little rest and relaxation.”

“You didn’t need to drink your weight in tequila or have sex with whatever hot bodied, no-brained, barfly you took to the motel room last night,” Cass said. She was right on that one. My head was killing me thanks to the tequila, and Studly wasn’t worth my time. I reached to the floor of the passenger’s seat and the cooler I kept there hoping I had some orange juice left in my beverage stash to help derail my hangover from last night’s celebration. 

“Cass, I’m forty-two years old. I don’t need a mother,” I said. My search was rewarded with one bottle of nectar. In the console, I found my bottle of ibuprofen, and after placing my cell phone on speaker mode, I dumped two of the tablets into my hand, taking them with the orange juice. “I’m sure you didn’t call me to berate my lifestyle choices. Because if that’s the case, let’s discuss when was the last time you took a walk outside your apartment, my agoraphobic bestie.”

“You win. We won’t discuss our lousy life choices.” I could almost hear Cass’s lip jut out in a pout. I know I hit a nerve by touching on her agoraphobia, and I need to fix it—fast. 

“I’m sorry, Cass. I shouldn’t have said that. Your agoraphobia isn’t a choice, my debauchery is most definitely a choice. Please forgive me. If there’s nothing that needs my immediate attention, maybe I could swing by for a while, and we could hang out. Order in some food, watch movies. Hey, I could even let you and your hairstylist have fun with my hair.” Cass would love to get her hands on my hair. I haven’t had it professionally cut in years, I just hack it off with scissors when it annoys me enough.

“I wish. Unfortunately, I called for a reason. I made the calls like you asked. I couldn’t get in touch with Ephraim, but I managed to reach Nettie Blackmoor in Shade, South Carolina. She wanted me to tell you that your Uncle Ephraim passed away. She also wanted me to tell you something else. She said I had to say this verbatim. I am supposed to tell you, “It’s time you stop running, child. You are the Spectre Keeper now, and you belong to the Spectre Estate.” What does that mean, Hattie?”

“It means nothing, Cass. If anyone from Shade calls again, tell them I have a different job, and they can damn well find a different Keeper. Do I have any hunter jobs that need my attention, or do I get to come to see my favorite person?”

“There’s no jobs, Hattie.”

“Good. Make some plans for us, Cass. I’m on my way to you.”

Damn it, Ephraim picked the absolute worst time to die! I finally had some spare time to go see Cass and maybe convince her to try therapy with a therapist who knew the world was filled with more than just humans. Cass shut herself in her tiny single bedroom apartment after being attacked by a Wrath Demon five years earlier and only had contact with the people who delivered things to her, her hairstylist, and me. Cass deserved more out of life than a few fleeting glimpses of the world through the monitors of her computers. It had taken me almost two years to find a therapist who knew about the supernatural world, lived near Cass, and was willing to make house calls. Now all I had to do was convince the patient to try therapy and pray they were a good fit. Decision made I point the truck toward Virginia, and I’m on my way to Cass in Richmond. Screw the family legacy, Cass came first, then I could sort the rest out.

My relationship with criticism and critique.

My relationship with criticism and critique.

I think I handle critique, criticism, and rejection fairly well…now. I can guarantee that I won’t argue with someone who tells me my work is awful, even if I disagree with their statements. Part of this stems from the way my parents, mostly my mother, raised me and partially because my MFA program killed any residual issues with critiques, I may have had thanks to workshopping pieces of writing. Trust me when I say workshopping a piece of urban fantasy in a master’s program class filled with horror, romance, adventure, and literary fiction authors will kill any sense of pride and break you down rapidly. I learned to get over my preconceived notions about my work and do this most amazing thing…listen. 

My MFA program was probably the single best thing I could have done for my writing. Not because it improved my writing (it did), but because it broke through my personal vanity and taught me to pay attention to what others said about my work. I still have reams of critique feedback from classes on various short stories I wrote along with feedback for the first three chapters of my thesis. Right now, I would kill to have a group of people willing to rip any of my work apart to the degree those men and women did weekly, because they made each of my stories a million times better than they were. 

That doesn’t mean I changed everything they suggested, it means I read what they wrote and then stepped back to see if I agreed before I made changes that I felt made sense with what they said and what I felt made the story better. One of the hardest things for me was when the entire class told me my prologue was hard to handle because the character was too young during the first week I workshopped it. I knew I needed the character to be young, because it was integral to the way the story would happen later. Three weeks later I would post the chapter again adjusting it as I saw fit. I implemented some of their suggested changes, lessened some of the language they felt drew people out of the story, but the age of the character didn’t change much I made her a year older. In the end, all I did was change the point of the narration from being told by a little girl to a being told by an adult reminiscing. Even my professor told me to keep it that way and to ignore the naysayers about the age.

There are times when criticism is crucial to improving our work and ourselves. The trick is to know when the criticism is good and when it isn’t. I had a friend who paid an editor to help them improve their books. The editor didn’t understand the point behind my friend’s writing style and the way their main character spoke. The editor was needlessly harsh and brutal and almost made my friend give up on her dream of writing. That wasn’t positive criticism, it was destructive. As writers, we need to know how to tell the difference.

Another problem is when we want to publish in the traditional manner. I know that before I chose to self-publish, I sent query letters to several publishers. I was rejected outright by most within a month. I had five partial requests. The instant rejections were standard thanks but no thanks rejections, no big deal. It was the partial request rejections that almost made me give up on writing entirely. One told me my character was “not the type of character they could sell.” Another told me they didn’t like my writing voice. Two told me the manuscript was unsellable. The fifth told me the manuscript needed a complete overhaul with a character who was younger and smaller. Um, the whole point of the manuscript was the character is supposed to be older and overweight, Numskull. 

That was when I realized trad publishing wasn’t ready for Siobhan and company and it was up to me to learn how to get my story out there. I just wish I had waited to learn a lot more before I had published.

How do you relate to criticism and rejection? Does it roll off your back or crush your soul? Let me know in the comments.

V. L. 

Music when writing/reading: Yes or No?

Music when writing/reading: Yes or No?

I’m kind of weird when it comes to extraneous noise when I write (or read). Sometimes I can handle it, but then there are other times when I absolutely can’t. I have soundtracks for certain types of scenes (action, death, et cetera), but I only bring them out when I need to make sure that I’m in the right frame of mind to evoke the emotions I hope my readers feel when I’ve finished with the scene. For the most part, I don’t use music when writing because I don’t want to be distracted. This is probably why I do most of my writing late at night.

I also don’t subscribe to the trend of creating playlists for my novels because I prefer readers immerse themselves in my world in their own way. I’m not saying that it is wrong if an author does it when they do, it’s just not something I feel comfortable doing. It feels like I’m telling readers how they have to enjoy my books. What’s next giving them a list of prescribe snacks, drinks, and lighting that’s conducive for fully enjoying my work? No thank you, I’m not a control freak.  

What is your opinion? Do you enjoy it when authors put play lists of songs that they used while writing their novels in their books? If you’re an author, do you listen to music when you write, or do you need total quiet to be comfortable creating? Let me know in the comments.

V. L. 

THE BOOKS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE.

THE BOOKS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE.

We authors all have a book or twelve that changed our lives. They were the ones that first introduced us to new worlds, the power of the written world, or were books shared by someone special in our lives. I’m no exception to this rule. Most of the books who have influenced me the most come from my childhood, but that doesn’t make them any less important to my developing an urge to be an author. Here’s a brief list of the books who have made me who I am today.

Dr. Suess’s ABC by Dr. Suess aka Theodor Geisel – is probably the first book from my childhood I can remember well. My grandmother was an English teacher and geologist and she taught me to read when I was two and a half years old. This is the first book I memorized (I still know most of it).

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson – This book was first published in October of 1977. I read it for the first time in the spring of 1982. The reason this book makes my list of books that changed my life is because it was the first novel I read that was able to make me have an emotional response. In this case it made me cry like a baby, and it still does every time I read it. 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson – Okay, technically this is a short story, but this book has stuck with me since I first read it in eighth grade (I was thirteen then too). I remember getting incredibly angry at two girls who made a comment about how they wished the girl of the family didn’t win then I couldn’t understand why the town behaved the way they did it made no sense to me. I also remember none of my classmates understanding that the woman died in the end. The story broke my heart and was life altering at the same time.

Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway – Yes, another short story. I have a love/hate relationship with this story. I had to read it in high school and actually received a disciplinary action because of my comments on this story and the fact the teacher and I debated what the story was about in class. I refused to believe the two characters weren’t discussing abortion while the teacher tried to convince an entire class of sophomores that the “surgery” was something entirely different. I found the whole story incredibly misogynistic and my teacher didn’t like my word choices and felt my parents needed to know. My parents were told, and I guess you could say the school was surprised to find out that abortion and misogyny aren’t words that my family shied away from. Well those, and several more words that were a lot shorter and more colorful. Since then, I have had to read that story for nearly every American Literature class, and it boggles my mind how many people honestly cannot understand what the two characters are discussing as they sit in the dingy little bar by the train tracks. 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling – Recent political debate aside, you have to admire the work of J. K. Rowling and the devotion it inspires. I read this and all the other books to my nephew every night when I wasn’t working. I waited in the Oregon rain for each new book to come out so he could have it as soon as it was available. These books were a bonding experience for us, but more than that it was a way for me to help teach a young boy to love the written word almost as much as I do. These books helped introduce him to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice Series, and so many more. 

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – I’m not going to lie; I despise this series of books and I’ve read every one of them except the most recent one. I read them because my niece wanted to read them, and her mom wanted to make sure they were safe for a thirteen/fourteen-year-old to read after an incident with another series a couple of years earlier. I read faster, so it was up to me to get through the books before my niece could start them. It was because of this series that I crack jokes about sparkly vampires in my novels and why I’ve never watched the movies (that’s for my sister and niece to bond over). However, those books have had a great deal to do with how I write my worlds. There’s nary a sparkly vamp in the bunch. 

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony – This one may seem like it is coming out of nowhere, but this was the first book that taught me the joy of a good pun and word play. It also showed me writing could be fun for the author and fun for the reader. I want to be like Piers Anthony someday.

What books have had an impact on your life? It doesn’t matter if the impact was positive or negative, let me know in the comments.

V. L. 

How I develop my plot and series bible

How I develop my plot and series bible

I apologize for the exceptionally long post this week, but there was a lot of information to share.

This week I thought I would talk about plotting and my series bible. I know not every author does it the way I do, nor would I tell every author to do it the way I do. However, this is what works for me and if it can help anyone then I have no problem sharing what I know to help someone else. 

It all started with an illness, a gift, a contest, and a head filled with stories. I was at a loss. No longer able to work in my profession as a blackjack dealer and thanks to a compromised immune system and chronic pain, I had recently started receiving disability pay (which I absolutely hated, but that’s an entirely different story). My doctor had already discussed finding a new career with me which is how I came to be a returning college student at forty-five years of age. I’d mapped out a career plan, but I was still not feeling fulfilled. My mother and sister knew I needed to find something to occupy my mind and they knew I’d always loved writing. One advertisement for a class on writing kept coming across the television and my sister and mom decided to buy the program for my birthday. The author wasn’t my typical style of writing, but I decided to see what he could teach me. From him, I took the outline style I use to this day.

In the class, there was a contest for a chance to write a book with this author. All we had to do was submit a 2000-word sample of our writing. What I submitted would eventually become the opening scene of Golden Opportunity. I knew I didn’t have a chance of winning because the author sponsoring the contest wrote thrillers and I submitted a scene about a rescuing a gnome, but the scene stuck with me. I set it aside and during NaNoWriMo I worked on a different project, pantsing no less. It was horrifically bad. I couldn’t forget about my little gnome friend and the character who rescued him. I stumbled upon a Facebook ad for a free product that claimed it could teach how to develop and test story ideas. I figured it couldn’t hurt so I signed up. Of course, it was followed by a workshop on plotting which was also free, but in that workshop I learned several things which I use to this day all of which I’m about to share with you.

Develop an inspiration list – It sounds kind of silly, but it works well to get me in the right headspace for my writing and to let me know what my book is going to be about. I do this for each novel, even if they are in a series. It’s usually a list of 10 to 20 items and can be books, movies, people, creatures that are representative of themes or things that will be in the book.

Create detailed character profiles – I’m not talking basic height, weight, hair color, eye color worksheets. I’m talking about their lives, their motivations, what type of person they are in a fight, who they love, who they hate, how they handle a crisis, what their family looks like, how they’ve been hurt, what flaws they have, what they do for fun, where they live, what makes them heroic (even if it’s the antagonist because they are the hero of their story), their hobbies. Basically, everything I know about the character even if it won’t appear in the story. It all matters.

Know your setting – How it matters to the story, how the main character and the setting are linked, why the setting is important, any scenes I know will happen in specific locations, whether or not the setting changes during the story. If the setting matters, I document how and why.

Background (aka the ordinary world) – I always like to know where my main character’s starting point is as it helps me know where they are coming from and where they’ll end up at the end. This is where I detail this information. I start with a title, what I think the opening of the story might be, what my main character is motivated by, what themes I’ll be using throughout the story, how all of my characters are damaged, and something Christopher Vogler calls the story’s dramatic question (the question my main character will be striving to answer).

The call to adventure – As you may have guessed, I use a lot of the plot points from Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. The call to adventure is how I get the hero into the story and is often called the inciting incident. In the case of a series, my heroine has been answering this call several times already, but for a new story we need to see if my main character has what it takes to be a hero it usually starts by asking a few questions. For example, what happens to alert the main character to the fact that there is an adventure out there, what choice do they have, what is my main character afraid of, do they think their life needs to change, and will they refuse the adventure?

Drag them into the story – Vogler mentions Threshold Guardians and a good story will have someone who tries to stop the main character from answering the call to adventure. As an author, I have to decide if I will be having a Threshold Guardian and who they are. The questions I answer here are very important is there a physical or mental barrier keeping the main character from answering the call to adventure, is the main character willing to answer, do they have any experience in their past that may make them refuse, when do they accept the call? I also have to decide how they will answer the call to adventure, how they deal with their Threshold Guardian, and what they learn from crossing into the story.

Mentor – Next I have to decide if there will be a mentor and if there will be false mentors. This goes hand-in-hand with determining my main character’s internal code of ethics. 

The five critical scenes – There are five major scenes that I need to have figured out before I start plotting these scenes are crucial and I try to have them figured out in advance of writing the scenes for the rest of the book. Those “Big Five” are the call to action (aka inciting incident), the lock-in (aka crossing the threshold), the mid-point crisis (aka the ordeal in Vogler’s book), the main climax, the third act twist for more information I highly recommend checking out the Script Lab and their series on the five major scenes from movies. 

The world of the story and meeting the antagonist – Once the main character finally crosses into the story, I have a lot of questions to answer. How different are the two worlds, how does the main character handle the differences, who will be my main character’s friends and enemies? It’s important to detail who they will meet and when.

Yes, there is a lot more to my writing process, but I’ve gotten really long for this post and I want to get through a bit more before I sign off for this week. I write approximately 30 to 60 scenes for each act of my book and I use the three act eight sequence plot board method (you can find more information on the eight sequence method here and the plot board method here) I personally no longer use a plot board since I prefer portability. Instead, I use Post it notes and a hardcover notebook that I found on Amazon (link here, I’m not an affiliate). I also outline in a paragraph form and color code it so I know what I’ve finished, what I’m working on, and what still needs to be completed. Although to be honest, I don’t stick to the outline too religiously as my characters like to go off the rails a lot.

As for my series bible, I use Excel to keep my information straight (see picture). I use it to keep tabs on characters and their unique quirks, creatures I’ve used, and even my watch out list of words that I try to avoid.

V. L. 

How I celebrate when a book is completely finished…

How I celebrate when a book is completely finished…

I love to celebrate my small, and not so small, wins. Especially now. This means when I finish a writing, editing, and revising a book I celebrate. My celebrations aren’t big, I’m not going to take myself out to a fancy dinner because I don’t enjoy that sort of thing and I’m considered high risk for that nasty virus. What I am going to do is order dinner for the family at one of the local restaurants we love, complete with dessert (I will probably not feel like cooking). Our small town has a great little restaurant that makes one of the best steak dinners and it is really easy to order take out.

Then I’ll probably order a few new movies off of Amazon for the family to enjoy and we’ll eat dinner on the sectional, watch movies, and if it is the right time of year watch the fireflies light up the yard which is one of my favorite things about where we live in South Carolina because Oregon doesn’t have them. 

After that, I’ll probably take a long, hot soak in the bathtub complete with bath bomb or bubble bath, because what celebration is complete without smelly bath stuff? Then I’ll retire to my bed and read some of my favorite authors.

How do you celebrate, especially during a pandemic? Let me know in the comments.

V. L.