What’s Your Back-up Plan?

Before the creation of thumb drives and ‘clouds’, we had 5.25” and 3.5” floppy discs. The 5.25” were actually quite thin and, well, floppy. Hence the name, I suppose. The 3.5” had a much more rigid outer casing which made them much less likely to become damaged. I mainly used the 3.5” for storing and saving my writing works. I could save a lot of data on one of those bad boys. I still have a few kicking around my writing space.

Back in the day, I used to carry a large plastic folder that held the printed version of whatever I was working on at the time. I’d write, do a quick proofread, then print it out and add it to the folder as I progressed. I’d also save it on the carefully labeled floppy disc. There were times I’d fall behind on having an up-to-date printed version as I didn’t have my own printer at home. I’d bring the disc in to work and have it printed in the library’s printing center for about 2 cents a page. The 3.5” floppy traveled safely in a pocket on the inside of the plastic folder. This was my back-up plan and it worked great.

Until one fateful night …

As I got on the bus that night to head home from work and settled into my seat, panic and dread suddenly washed over me. My folder was not in my book bag. SHIT! I looked out the bus window just in time to see my beloved work in progress, printed version and the saved floppy disc version, dwindling away, left behind in the bus shelter on the bench. There was no stopping the bus.

Back then I took a regular commuter bus that only made two trips per day. Once in the morning to drop riders off at work and once in the evening to pick us all back up and take us home. (Oh, the joys of rural American living where public transit is almost non-existent.)  Needless to say, I was nearly in hysterics! My book! My precious book!! There was nothing I could do but pray to every infinite power of the universe to somehow keep all that hard work safe until I could return the next day. Sleep wasn’t easy that night.

In the morning, the plastic folder and all it contained was gone from the bus stop bench. Someone had found it. Buy who? And what did they do with it? How would I ever find them if they had it? My name wasn’t anywhere on the folder or the floppy disc. I could only think of one thing to do – send out a message via the library’s list-serve and hope … hope against all hope, that someone out there had seen it and taken it somewhere safe.

This all made me give serious thought to my methods of backing up my work. The idea of writing almost an entire book all over again from scratch was mind-numbing. I could never get it all back. Since then, I’ve added more layers to saving my work. I still print as I go and I still save it on a jump drive, in fact I double save it – meaning there are two copies of the work on the same jump drive in case one of the versions becomes corrupted. (Yup – I’ve almost lost a ton of work for that reason, too).  I also email the most current version of the file to myself at least once a week. I keep another final draft in a file on my home computer. The printed version and the jump drive are almost never kept in the same place and of course, and both are marked with my name and contact information just in case.  The emailed version is stored somewhere within that mysterious mega-file cabinet in the sky. 

This new method has worked very well over the years. I’ve never experienced that same level of utter panic and horror as I did that night on the commuter bus. Back-up, back-up, back-up! By the time all is said and done, I have five copies of the piece to go to should things go awry.

As to the fate of that plastic folder and 3.5” floppy disc left at the bus stop – both were recovered. They were found by a student who happened to work in one of the nearby libraries who took it to the main desk. Another person who worked at that desk was the daughter of a woman who worked in the same library I do. My cry for help to the campus-wide library list-serve was heard. I had my precious novel back in my arms on my way home the very next day.

What’s your back-up plan?

Seeking The Symbolic

Years ago a friend of mine who spent some college time as a film student, told a story about a final short film project he done as part of a class. At the end of the viewing, discussion, critiques and questions took place. A certain blue chair was used repeatedly in various scenes. This chair became the focus of the use of symbolism and how its color clearly represented the mood of whichever character happened to use it in various ways and scenes throughout. The class was impressed by my friend’s genius! This all helped his grade on the project.

My friend then laughed, as he was telling this story, because, the chair had no symbolic meaning whatsoever in the film. It was just a blue chair that they happened to have on hand. They used it a lot because they were short on chairs. That was it. He did nothing to correct the impressions that his fellow film students discussed. Why would he? It was working to improve his grade. He would merely smile and nod as if in agreement with them.

I first observed this same phenomenon in high school English classes. The symbolic intentions of the authors were shoved down our throats by various teachers over the years. What did Hawthorne really mean when he described the enclosed garden behind the House of the Seven Gables? What items were symbolic in The Great Gatsby? Ad nauseam. Even then, I was puzzled about this kind of analysis of literature. As a blossoming writer myself, I questioned the conclusions draw by my instructors. What if the garden was just a suitable setting for the characters to interact in? What if Dr. Eckleburg’s spectacle sign was just the most genius way for an optometrist to promote his shop that the author could think if?

There’s a review for my book “Dark Hollow Road” out there written by someone who had recently completed his PhD degree in Sociology. He put a lot of thought behind the events of the book and by a lot I mean, way too many. The book isn’t a study of human sociology, seriously, it’s not. He wanted more symbolism while at the same time seemed to put down the symbolism he imagined to be there. There wasn’t any. I know – I wrote the thing. I don’t do symbolism.

That isn’t to say I haven’t tried! In the late 90’s I wrote my first novel. It’s a fantasy piece with trolls and fairies and shape shifters and the like. No symbolism. However, I did try to write a sequel to that first novel and decided I was going to give this symbolic things a shot. Very quickly the story became bogged down with my efforts to keep things straight. What’s that supposed to mean again? How can I make the color of the flowers in the pot on the window sill in the kitchen represent Lady Greyson’s lost childhood? It was ridiculous and resulted in my giving up on the project entirely.

I’m not saying the use of symbols doesn’t happen in literature. It most certainly does. What I am saying is that not all authors use it, including me. What you see is what you get. I can’t be bothered coming up with all that. It’s hard enough to write a book without them; why make it more difficult for myself?I guess I’ve always felt symbolism should be more obvious than people trying to guess what the author meant. Unless a writer specifically explains later on these hidden meanings, as far as I’m concerned, there aren’t any. And how many times have we heard the phrase, “Never assume. It makes an Ass of U and Me.”

When it comes to authors (or anyone of a creative mind) and symbolism, remember a garden can be just a garden, glasses may just be an ingenious sales gimmick, and a blue chair could have been handiest chair available at the time.

My Worst Kept Secret … ssshhhhhh….

It’s a secret I don’t talk about all that much – though I’ve posted about it on Twitter and a wee bit on Facebook. There’s mention of it over at LinkedIn. And, it’s on my resume. There’s even a link from my official website. My parents know. My close friends know. Even my kids know, though the thought of them actually KNOWING is a bit uncomfortable. They’re adults so I guess it’s okay, plus, as their parent it’s still part of my job to embarrass them now and then, too, even if they are Growed-Ups. 🙂

I won’t deny it. I’ve written and had published some rather racy erotica. We jokingly call it The Porn around here. We’re not just talking about one book, or a couple of short stories, either. This is five full-length novels. When most people ask me how many books I’ve written, I usually only confess to the four mainstream titles.

So, how does one find themselves writing about the literary sexual adult playrooms and bdsm dungeons of the world? It started out as a dare. A friend challenged me to write out one of my fantasies. So, I did. Then I wrote another. And another and another and found out I was pretty darn good at it.

A couple years later, I found myself getting involved in the US Civil War reenactment scene. I knew the Victorians weren’t all quite so proper and prudish as they appeared on the surface and so were born Lucy, Beau, & Vivianne – the stars of what would become The Greenbrier Trilogy. My knowledge about the time period in general and further research into the Civil War, allowed me to make it as historically accurate as I could. And for those who know me, I really do love doing research.

Starting in 2006, and under a pen-name, they each found a home with Pink Flamingo Media and are still there to this day. In 2012, the company underwent a re-org and asked if I’d like to re-issue the books as an official trilogy. It gave me the opportunity to do a bit more editing, make any minor changes, and update the covers if desired. I said, SURE!

But, Pam, you say, a trilogy is three books. You said there were five. What gives? During the re-org I was also given the opportunity to pull any of my titles and take back all rights. I pulled one that I am hoping to one day work differently, to make it less ‘porny’ and more ‘horror-y’. The fifth title is still there, but you’ll have to go to the publisher’s website to see what it is.

Curious? HERE’S THE LINK. Your secret is safe with me.

 

Writing From An Alternate Reality

Every writer gets asked, “Where do your ideas come from?” at least a thousand times. The short answer for me is, “I don’t really know.” Another answer could be, “Everywhere.” In my upcoming Psychological Horror novel, Dark Hollow Road, a partial answer is from a simple road sign we passed while traveling through Eastern Pennsylvania several years ago. It was the catalyst, but from there even I am forced to ask myself, “Where did this come from?”

However, the answer that intrigues me most would be, “An alternate reality.”

It’s said that belief can be a powerful thing. In Mathew 17:20 of the Bible, Jesus says: ‘He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’ The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale contains the same kinds of messages. “Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture… Do not build up obstacles in your imagination.” One of his most popular quotes is, “Change your thoughts and you change the world.” Today, Notes From The Universe are sent out daily from Mike Dooley author of Infinite Possibilities. “If you know what you want, if you’ve made up your mind, if you can see it, feel it and move towards it in some way every single day… it has to happen.” His most popular quote seems to be, “Thoughts become things. Choose the good ones.”

All this leads me to the next question. “Which way is the creation process actually flowing?” My characters and the worlds they live in become very real in my mind during the process of storytelling. I can see them and their surroundings. I can hear their voices. I’ve often said they are the ones who pester me into writing. They won’t be quiet until I write down what they are telling or showing me. Are they already in existence waiting to get their stories out or am I creating their stories and in some metaphysical way, bringing them into a type of reality by the act of believing in them and their worlds?

If you’ve talked to any number of authors, they will likely all tell you at one time or another the characters took over. They did things and said things that the author never dreamed of. Stephen King tells the story of a very minor character, a waitress, who, over the course of the novel, became a major player. It was completely unplanned. Apparently she had a lot more to say than he’d initially thought. Who is actually telling the story here?

Last week I found an article at Myths of the Mirror called Why Books Are Living Things. It raises some intriguing ideas and I strongly encourage you to read it. In it the author states, “I believe, on an energetic level, that books are more than paper and ink or digital symbols. On some level, our creations are new entities with the ability to enter into relationship with others on a personal and emotional level, just as we do.” She also raises the questions, “What if, when we create worlds and characters, we create something that exists? How do we know that the myths we fashion in our heads don’t coalesce into something real and measurable? Simply because we lack the brain capacity and technology to perceive and quantify, doesn’t mean something can’t be.”

To this I add and ask, “How do we know we aren’t tapping into an already existing plane of reality, an alternate universe full of people with stories to tell? And for whatever reasons, they have chosen us to tell their tales.” I honestly don’t feel like I am the creator. I feel like a parapsychologist roaming the halls of some great haunted mansion, listening for the voices of those who came before me, asking them, “Who are you? What is your name? Why are you here?” And the answers come in the form of my stories. Is it their belief in me as a storyteller or my belief in them as actual entities that gets the job done?

Maybe it’s a combination of both. Maybe it’s not any of it. Maybe I’m completely nuts. Perhaps Edgar Allen Poe had it right when he asked, “Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream?” Chances are no one will ever know what the real answers are. Either way, it’s certainly an interesting path to explore.

 

Resolving Into The New Year

The sun is slowly starting to brighten the sky on this cold, January morning. It’s a character-building 10F here in the my part of the Finger Lakes. I’ve downed half of my first cup of coffee, checked and replied to some emails, and tossed a load of laundry into the dryer.

It’s been a pretty busy week for writing. Not everything I did had to do with making progress on The Witch’s Backbone, but there’s some of that, too. My one and only New Year’s Resolution was to make more of an effort to reach out and get to know more authors. I don’t know many in-person so I decided to start with the long list of them I am connected to on Twitter. It started out by simply paying more attention to their Tweets instead of trying to be clever with my own. I started to ‘love’ more, to ‘comment’ more, and to ‘retweet’ more. I follow a good number of writers who blog, too. Again, time for me read more of their posts and learn about who they are and what they are about. And, of course, to comment if I enjoyed their posts. Both efforts have proven to be quite a nice experience and something worth continuing to do.

It wasn’t enough to just read and like and love and retweet and comment though. It was decided to do some interviews. Again, I turned to Twitter for ideas and names. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with this endeavor and figured one interview per month would be good. That, combined with any book and movie reviews I will get out, along with my random ramblings about events and working on my own writing should keep this blog pretty active for the year. I selected the authors (most of them of the Horror variety)  who most often interact with me on Twitter and sent them private messages. The response was swift and entirely positive. The calendar filled up in less than 24 hours! Not only that, I’ve already got back filled out interview questions for those who will be featured this and next month. If you’re a published or soon-to-be published author and I didn’t approach you, don’t feel bad. The list I had was long and I just couldn’t get everyone in. I didn’t expect everyone I asked to give me such a quick and positive response, but then, we’re writers and we do love to talk about our work, don’t we?

On top of this, I’m going to be a featured blogger next month for another writer and I’m waiting on a list of ’20 Questions’ to appear in my inbox for me to answer from a second author.

As if all this weren’t enough, the website is getting a complete makeover. As much as I liked the old version, I felt it was time to make a change. I sent my ideas to my web guy (aka The Husband) and off we went. He’s been working diligently all week on it and it’s shaping up very, very nicely. It still needs a bit more, but it shouldn’t be long until it’s all said and done and he can get back to being a Computer Gamer instead of a Graphics & Web Designer. I’ve no doubt he’ll be a happy man when I can stop saying, “Honey… can you change something else on there for me?”

This first week of the New Year has been pretty darn busy now that I look back, but it hasn’t for a moment felt like work. I like that.

And now, with a second cup of coffee fresh and hot by my side and the crows fed, I think it’s time to look at what I wrote yesterday on TWB, do some quick fixes as needed, and see what today holds for my five youngsters stuck in the woods at night with something not quite human.

Write on!

 

Book Giveaway – FINAL COUNTDOWN!

There are only 10 days left of the book giveaway going on over at Goodreads!

People have this to say about No Rest For The Wicked

Hunter Shea (author of Island of the Damned & The Jersey Devil) – “If you’re looking for a chilling ghost story filled with mystery and escalating tension, look no further. No Rest for the Wicked is the real deal – an expansive, unfolding riddle between the living and the dead. It’s a true haunted house tale with a delightful twist.”

J. Williams – “It’s hard to scare me, but all three books I’ve read by this Author have managed to give me nightmares.”

S. Cobb – “I couldn’t read it at night….It picks you up from the very beginning and you don’t want to put it down until the end.”

Click Here To Enter: NO REST FOR THE WICKED GIVEAWAY!

 

 

Creating An Urban Legend

With Dark Hollow Road out of my hair for the next couple of months, I’ve been working on The Witch’s Backbone. Thanks to NaNoWriMo last month, I was able to buckle down and decide on the opening scene and yesterday wrapped up Chapter 10. Many of you will be happy to hear that we’ve moved back to Barnesville and surrounding areas for this one. The big difference is, we’ve taken a step back in time to the summer of 1980, where Nell’s knowledge of the macabre, magic, and witchcraft probably isn’t going to be of much use.

I’ve always had an interest in old legends and folklore, especially ones that relate to a specific location or things like Bloody Mary, where you stand in front of a mirror and say her name three times to summon the spirit of Mary Worth, a woman who is reputed to have been hung for witchcraft. What happens after that, I’ve no idea. We tried it as kids. Nothing happened. There’s one about a phantom hitchhiker who vanishes from the back seat of the car of anyone who dares pick her up. Usually she’s found walking some lonely stretch of highway in the rain. Where I come from, she’s wandering around Devil’s Elbow.

Folklore takes me back to the dark old days where fairy tales are born and stories of vampire, werewolves, and witches capturing children with houses made of candy to entice them in for a sweet snack. Things like the Scottish Kelpie that normally looks like a sort of water horse, but has the ability to shape shift to fool its victims, are pretty cool. There’s Black Shuck, a ghost dog, who roams the wilds of England and the Strigoi that you might know better as a vampire. And who doesn’t love to hear the eerie and lonesome scream of the Banshee at night? Ah, what beautiful music she makes!

I toyed with the Shadow Man (or the Hat Man, as he’s also called), in my murder-mystery, That’s What Shadows Are Made Of. While doing research on that, I chanced on The Night Hag or simple just The Hag and something called Old Hag Syndrome. The name of the phenomenon comes from the superstitious belief that a witch – or an old hag – sits on the chest of the victims, rendering them immobile. Old Hag Syndrome is often used as a way to explain a medical condition called Sleep Paralysis, which is reported to also happen when The Hat Man is paying a visit.

This poem also came to mind. I can’t say who wrote it, but judging by the wording, it seems pretty old.

If at night ye dare t’roam,
along the twisted, witch’s backbone,
avert thy gaze, meet not her eye,
or cursed thy life and soon t’die.

Thee won’t find her flying o’er the trees,
but lurking amongst the molded leaves,
and crawling in the stony crags,
in the stagnant filth, this loathsome Hag.

She’ll seek you out forever after,
making thy death her cruelest laughter
as sits she upon thy sleeping chest,
to draw from thee thy final breath.

Avoid the dangerous paths she treads.
Stay safe and sound within thy bed,
for ‘tis always best to neither walk nor ride,
along the witch’s backbone at night.

I liked the whole idea of The Hag and having had some firsthand experience with Sleep Paralysis as a teenager, thus knowing the amount of terror it can generate, decided I needed to put my spin on that piece of ancient folklore in the form of a small town urban legend. Thus was born The Witch’s Backbone.

Every kid in the area knows the rhyme associated with the witch and when twelve-year-old Tara Fielding finds herself staring back into the eyes of what she believes to be that loathsome hag, she freaks out. She and her friends decide the only way to know if the legend is true or not, (and to learn if Tara is about to meet an early death) is to spend the night camping near where she claims to have made eye contact with the creature. It’s an area in the woods, halfway between the county dump and the rocky ravine the witch is reported to haunt known as The Witch’s Backbone.

Good times, my friends, freaky good times!

Write On!

That Boy Needs To Build Some Character!

Not so long ago a friend asked how I go about creating characters. Her son is an aspiring writer and she’s noticed he puts a little bit of himself into at least one character in everything he writes. It’s not always a main character, but he’s in there. I told her I do the same thing.

In a sense, my stories are my children and as such, the characters are natural extensions of myself.  Why wouldn’t I put part of who I am into everything? With some characters it’s very obvious. For others, it may not be detectable to anyone but me. There are, of course, the characters that do not resemble me in the slightest but may be based on family and friends or no one at all. None of them are exactly like the real people. A look is borrowed from one, an attitude from another, a fear, a past, or a quirk may come from yet a third.  I don’t go into a book knowing everything there is to know about my characters any more than you would know everything there is to know about someone you meet on the street. Who they are unfolds page by page, moment by moment. But how, exactly, is a character, especially a totally fictional one, created? To be honest, I don’t have a real cut and dry answer for that, but I can give you an idea of the process that I go through.

You’ve Got The Look

First impressions are often based on physical appearance. Even without speaking to a person or knowing anything about them, you can see them. You can see the way they dress and move. There’s always body language to consider. You can hear their voice. You can smell the scents that waft around them, for good or bad. You may, if you get close enough, even be able to taste that individual. It’s no different when creating a fictional character. Sometimes looks mean absolutely nothing holding true that old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when writing you need to consider how a person comes across in these ways and the impression you want to give to your readers.

What’s Your Story?

Creating characters involves creating stories within your story. For my novel “No Rest For The Wicked”, I use the tagline, “Every ghost has a story. Not all of them want it told.” This may be true for ghosts, but when it comes to creating your characters, you better know their history if you want to give them any depth at all.  Why do they act like they do? Why does he walk with a limp? Why is that fifty-year-old man still afraid of the dark? What happened to this person before you came along to make them say and do the things they are saying and doing now? You can find Character Sheets online to help you sort all this out. These will ask you questions about your character that you may never have considered. I’ve only filled out a few of these that, in the end, I never referred back to once I got into the story. Some people swear by them and their use really can’t hurt. I tend to work a lot more organically.  Don’t think of your characters as just characters. Think of them as people. Listen to them. They’ll tell you everything you need to know… eventually.

Becoming An Environmentalist

The setting of the story plays a huge part in what sorts of people are going to populate your world. And those people will play a role in who your specific characters are.  Past, Present, or Future? Rural or Urban? Poverty, wealth, or somewhere in between? A loving home or one full of violence and pain?  Are they messy or a neat freak? What is your characters relationship to the other members of the family, their neighbors, and where do they fit in to the community as a whole? Are they native to the area or a newcomer? Does your character even like where he or she lives? If not, maybe that’s part of their problem and their motivation. Use those things to find out more and propel your plot forward. I do a fair amount of research on the settings in my books. I want my readers to BE THERE! I want them to see where all this is going on as vividly as I can.

Lastly, Show Don’t Tell

I’m told there are no rules when writing, but I firmly believe that “Show, Don’t Tell” is a rule and it’s something EVERY writer of fiction needs to understand and do. Years ago my daughter had to write something for English class and she came to me for help. Her story started out something like, “Ethan Havoc walked down the road. It was raining. He had headphones on listening to his favorite band. He sang every word of the song out loud not caring who heard him.” This is an example of TELLING the reader what’s happening. It doesn’t show me much. I asked her a few questions about Ethan, his appearance, posture, how he’s walking (body language).  Then I asked about the rain (environment). Is it raining hard or just misting?  Does he have an umbrella? Next, we moved on to what kind of music Ethan is listening to. It could be anything from Anthrax to Beethoven. We can’t tell from what is given and knowing a character’s choice of ‘favorite band’ is going help us understand him better (backstory). After our talk, she came up with this, “Aiden Havoc scuffed his feet as he walked home. Water dripped off the ends of his hair and soaked the back of his hoodie. School had just let out for the day and his headphones blared loud shreds of The Misfits in his ears. He sang every word of the song out loud not caring who heard him or saw him shake his greasy black hair to the music.”  Ah, ha! We know Ethan and his surroundings a WHOLE lot better now, don’t we?

So, there you have it, my take on character creation. There’s a lot more to it than this, but that’s something that I can’t explain in words without sounding certifiably insane. As the story moves along, the characters reveal more through their thoughts and actions based on whatever it is they are facing in their environment. It’s not always something I consciously decide. It just happens. And that’s when the real magic of writing takes place. I hope this has answered some questions for readers and if you’re a writer, I hope it helps you become a better one!

Write On!

NaNoWriMo – The End

As I mentioned a little bit ago, I’ve had a NaNoWriMo account for three years, but this was the first year I actually used it. Seeing as all the blog rage today seems to be to announce if those participants won or lost the race, I figured I may as well jump in with my two cents worth.

I didn’t make the 50K word count in the allotted time. I didn’t even make 25K, but I don’t consider that a loss. I had started work on “The Witch’s Backbone” last spring (or maybe even before that) and wasn’t making much progress. I had three opening scenes along with a good deal of content, but other writing things (One book talk for a local book club and three signings – plus finishing up writing the first draft and the first round of edits for “Dark Hollow Road”) took priority as well as the whole business of planning a wedding slated to take place at the end of August. I told myself I’d get to TWB after the honeymoon, right after finishing the second round of edits for DHR after letting it sit for a month which is standard procedure for me.

My final 2016 signing was in October and it was then I finally took a breath and started looking at TWB again. Where was I going to go with this thing when I couldn’t even decide on a beginning?! NaNoWriMo to the rescue!

No, I didn’t make the win, but I made progress. I decided my original opening was perfectly fine. I also ended up deleting almost everything I’d written before. Previous characters were either wiped out completely or they had their names and genders changed. The urban legend behind it all solidified. One of the local small town papers provided fodder for weird happenings that I could bend and twist into my own versions of history for my fictional small towns. My mother mentioned a story her mother had told her long ago about a murder that was covered up that I may end up using, too. It all started to gel together and though I didn’t make the 50K mark, I have a destination I’m writing towards and that’s really all I wanted to get out of it.

Beyond the 50K words goal, NaNoWriMo is also meant to get aspiring authors into the habit of writing on a daily basis. In November I realized that I DO write every day or at the very least, I work on something writer-related. I may not be working on a novel, but I find myself working on research notes, blog ideas, or even doing some Beta Reading for someone else. It’s all related. I’ve been trying hard to read and comment on the blogs of other writers more this year, too, giving them encouragement and praise as I can, because that kind of thing is important to me as well. Lack of feedback is killer.

And there you have it, my NaNoWriMo update and with it I managed to write over five-hundred words today.

Write on!