Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'Tell me'

Tell Me - Wendy Hammer

Wendy Hammer is one of the first authors I knew nothing about that I took a chance on. It paid off. Here she is talking about how she worked to overcome her technical writing weaknesses while writing the Cross Cutting Trilogy.
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One of my all-time favorite con panels compared writer skills to a deck of cards. They said every writer has been dealt a hand. These cards are things that seem to come to us naturally: the ones it’s hard to talk about or teach because it just flows. Some writers may have an ear for dialogue whereas others may have speed, or amazing organization, a way with character, a strong voice, and so on. The cards we don’t have in our hand are the things we have to study, practice, pay attention to, and work hard for.

I wasn’t given an action card.

Describing the complex geometry of movement, grasping physics, and navigating my characters through spaces are all tough for me. This made writing the Cross Cutting Trilogy the best kind of challenge. It was designed to be a fast read filled with action and motion. My main character’s magic depends to a great degree on walking and there are fights and chases in all sorts of spaces. I had to learn and stretch to get it on the page.

Your mileage may vary, but here are some things that help me.

Study is always first. When I find a story that handles action particularly well, I read it for enjoyment and then I analyze it. How did they do it? What kind of detail do they include? How is it arranged? Are there changes in style, sentence, and paragraph structure? For extra help, I took a fight scene writing class and I tracked down some craft books on action.

As much as it pains me to admit, sometimes reading isn’t enough on its own. There are times I need to see something to describe it. Movies are great and YouTube is a lifesaver. Need to know what it looks like when someone takes a beanbag round to the chest or puts Mentos in a two liter of diet soda? You’re golden. I found excellent videos of kalinda fighting and cultural pieces by Trinidadians, too—so there’s plenty of thoughtful videos out there.

Any map program with street view is invaluable, especially when you’re working with a real place as your base. I’m still delighted that if you go to the right underpass in Google maps you can see the vans that inspired The Thin.

Images on a screen can only go so far so I try to explore real places. I walked the trail in Indianapolis. I’ve been in the tunnels at Purdue and in nearby parks. I’ve driven by other spots I put in the novellas.

But what happens when I’m trying to build the actual action scene? I have to dig deep into my arsenal.

When I have trouble with staging a space, I build a rough replica of it out of LEGO and use mini-figs to represent the characters. It helps me devise plans, fix eyeline problems, and keep track of who is where doing what. Also, it’s fun.

When I need to figure out basic physics (often those things that people with more coordination and common sense would immediately grasp) and I don’t want to disturb my husband (or admit how clueless I am) a big poofy stuffed animal comes to my rescue and we...spar.  “If I punch here which way would the body turn? What would happen if…” It’s a little weird, but I’m not too proud to pass up any opportunity to make the work better.

I’m really pleased I didn’t shy away from the challenge. Sometimes the things you have to work for are the sweetest.

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Wendy Hammer grew up in Wisconsin and lives in Indiana. She has degrees in English from The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ball State University. Her research focus was in gender/identity studies and bodies. Her dissertation was about the intersections of twentieth century infectious disease narratives and imperialist discourse, with a particular focus on Africa. The diss was abandoned, but her interest remains.  She currently teaches introductory literature and composition at a community college.

She reads everything. She indulges in K-drama, horror, and cooking competition show marathons (especially the Great British Baking Show). She likes geeky cross stitch projects, classic punk music, and salted licorice. And finally, she considers both Cobra Commander and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl to be kindred spirits.

 

Tell Me - Ivan Ewert

Ivan Ewert is one of those authors I enjoy hanging out with. He’s witty and erudite. He also writes some pretty horrific stuff and has the dubious honor of being the only AIP author to give the Husband nightmares with his writing.
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I’ve talked before about the seed of the Famished novels, a short story from 1920 carefully and intentionally set in an isolated, rural, quintessentially American setting. I read it in third grade and it messed me up properly, but that seed needed soil in which to grow. It needed some nightmare fertilizer, and I had just thing, because when I have nightmares they tend to come in a single flavor.

I find myself in a country which is under a dictatorship – a true, full-on fascist regime with serious secret police and border guards – and I have committed a crime. Not a physical crime, nothing which hurt anyone. A mindcrime. Wrongthink.

And somebody knows.

I’m trying to get out, legitimately, but somebody in a position of power knows what I’ve read, what I’ve said, what I’ve thought. I know they know, though I don’t know who; and I don’t know which of my friends informed on me.

Generally speaking I wake up drenched just as I’m approaching the border crossing, just as I see the guards beginning to smile at one another. I never, ever go back to sleep the night of one of these dreams.

What does this have to do with Famished: The Gentlemen Ghouls?

The insular structure of the Ghouls, the rigid adherence to hierarchy, the punishments which they mete out. I dream about them all.

Authoritarianism is a very real and very constant fear of mine. I admire and applaud people who recognize that the good of the many outweighs the needs of the individual, but authoritarianism demands the loss of the individual not in service to the many, but to the few. The blurring of lines between what’s good for a nation and what’s good for its elite.

The use of force to command obedience is abhorrent to me. The blind obedience of people unable to recognize that they are being used, or unwilling to see that they are penned in like lambs for the slaughter. The unwillingness to speak to power or break from tradition, which should be a quintessentially American trait, has been growing over time as our nation ceased to grow.

When I am afraid, I’m afraid that our country will devour itself, and has been doing so for generations. Feasting on the future to prop up the strength which is past.

Yes, on its surface, Famished is about very straightforward fears, but scratch its surface and you’ll find something more than sketchy dining practices.

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Ivan Ewert was born in Chicago, Illinois, and has never wandered far afield. He has deep roots in the American Midwest, finding a sense of both belonging and terror within the endless surburban labyrinths, deep north woods, tangled city streets and boundless prairie skies. The land and the cycles of the year both speak to him and inform his writing; which revolves around the strange, the beautiful, the delicious and the unseen.

In previous lives, he has worked as an audio engineer, a purchasing agent, a songwriter, a tarot reader, a project manager and, for a remarkably short stint, an accountant. In his spare time, Ivan occupies himself with reading, gaming, and assisting with the jewelry design firm Triskele Moon Studios. He currently lives near the Illinois-Wisconsin border with his wife of thirteen auspicious years and a rather terrifying collection of condiments and cookbooks.

 

Tell Me - J. L. Gribble

I met J.L. Gribble at one of the many conventions I've attended. She's a smart, talented, author and editor who is wonderful to talk to. I've enjoyed her writing in the past and I'm sture I'm going to enjoy reading Steel Blood. Also, I'm all about the rule breaking. :)
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Though I only officially added “author” to my credentials two years ago, I’ve been involved in the publishing industry for much longer. And one thing I’ve noticed is that, like any profession, authors really like their rules.

In order to be a REAL author, you have to write every day. Writing should be your priority above all else. You must constantly be reading in your genre. Et cetera.

Something else I’ve learned is that rules are meant to be broken. I’d love to write every day, but I manage it when my time and spoons allow. Writing is a priority, but yesterday was dedicated to hacking an IKEA media stand with my husband, because life is a priority, too. And urban fantasy is always my go-to genre, but I’ll read anything that’s well-written, whether it’s as similar as epic fantasy or as different as a cozy mystery.

In that spirit, I’d like to propose a new “author” rule—and why you should break it.

Steal from the masters.

There are multiple ways to interpret this, which is why this rule is already easy to break. Craft books written by experts in the fields of writing, editing, and publishing are a great place to start. Take their advice, but put your own spin on it. Do what works for you and your own craft and creative process. Follow successful authors online, through blogs and their social media. Find out what seems to work for them, through both writing and marketing, and adapt it for yourself.

Or we could get a little more literal.

(This does not mean plagiarize from the masters. Plagiarism is a rule that should NEVER be broken.)

Have you heard of the Hero’s Journey? It’s a storytelling structure often used in mythological, heroic storytelling, boiled down to boring academic discussion by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. You’d probably recognize it from the Greek myths of Hercules.

But you’d also recognize it from Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. Because it’s a storytelling structure that works, and it can be adapted numerous ways. Adaptation is the key word. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel, but you can, and should, put your own spin on it (pun not intended).

In my most recent novel, I realized that I’d set things up perfectly for a “Romeo and Juliet” relationship scenario between secondary characters through my previous world-building and where I wanted the political factions to go in the future. But since I’m not experienced in writing romantic story arcs, and I didn’t want the book to be primarily a romance, I decided to go right to the source. I sat down my battered college copy of Death by Shakespeare (okay, it’s really the Norton Shakespeare, but you could kill somebody with this sucker) and read the play. And read it again. And read it again, this time taking notes about what else was going on, outside of the “love” story. And discovered that I could literally craft my next novel based on the structure of The Bard’s original play, representing Nurse as my own main character (a perturbed vampire mercenary contracted to bodyguard my Juliet). Even though this wasn’t the first time I’d ever read this play, I learned so much this go-around about narrative structure and pacing, especially when adapted to the crazy alternate-history fantasy world that I’m playing in rather than a medieval Italian city.

If you’re a writer, or in any creative profession, go forth and steal from the masters. Make your own rules. And break them.

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By day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.

Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program. She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits).

 

Tell Me - Joe M. McDermott

Joe is spot on with one of my complaints about glorifying war and the military through fiction in his novel The Fortress at the End of Time. I come from a military family and background. His thoughts hit the nail on the head.
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The student loan crisis is also a spiritual crisis. We tell students this dream, sell them on the idea of a future where anything is possible. Then, we encourage them to sign up for the dream, and to take out loans. Then, after schooling and the promise of the bright, shining future arrives, it's not so bright, and not so shining, because wages have not kept up with the cost of tuition. That college degree becomes an anchor that holds aspirants down into the lower classes for the crime of trying to lift themselves up.

My family members all served in the military. (Yes, all of them. My parents met in the Army. My sister is a West Point graduate and decorated Iraq war veteran. My brother is a retired Marine. I got an MFA in Writing. I chose a different path than them. That is another story, though, for another time.) The military sells folks a dream of glory. There are all these videos of people jumping out of planes, and running, and shouting, and it's very exciting. On TV and Film, it all looks so vigorous and important and intense. Yet, that is not true to the stories I hear around the kitchen table. Even my sister, a decorated war veteran, an MP (the only combat MOS available to women at the time), who has jumped out of planes and all of that exciting stuff, will not tell you about shooting a weapon in the direction of an enemy. I will leave her stories for her to tell; they belong to her.

I just think that there's this huge disconnect between what is sold and what is experienced. In fact, from where I stand, military service looked like a lot of paperwork and a lot of training for something that, for most soldiers, never comes. The vast majority of military personnel will never stare down a gun barrel at the mythical enemy. The gunships will be kept ready, but rarely fire. What little extreme violence occurs will be rare, I hope, very short and precise. It's not a bad thing, that so few actually face down the guns and bombs, comparatively, but it is also the opposite of what is being sold to us in the stories of military service that are often not at all like 24 or Saving Private Ryan.

While I was reading Military Science Fiction, I felt that this fact of military life was not present. Very few members of the military actually train for combat. The rest live and work inside an exceptionally brutal version of a government bureaucracy. Inside this massive bureaucracy, the facade of war is maintained, and desk clerks shout HOORAH! but even in an actual war, most members of the service are not hopping between houses hunting after bad guys. The majority of the military is a bureaucratic support structure for those few and proud that do that dangerous, bloody, patriotic work. And, I did not see a lot of military science fiction about this side of the military: the soul-crushing bureaucracy that chews up bright, young, energetic people and dumps them out on the other side more broken than when they began, and nary a shot fired, nary a moment of the glory they dreamed about.

It's a hard career, and it isn't for everyone. And, everything around it, everything inside of it, sells this dream of glory; for an overwhelming majority, the glory never comes.

This is one of the things I was thinking about when I thought about writing an old-fashioned space opera. There are all these huge, beautiful exciting ships and battles and weapons. But, most of the people who spend their whole careers inside those ships will never get what they want. They will never experience the dream that they were sold when they were young.

That crisis of spirit, when the revelation comes, is what I wanted to write about inside this deep space universe, inspired by Ursula K. Leguin and Dino Buzzati and Julian Gracq. I wanted space to be the thing that strips the dreams away, to reveal the self, and the lengths that people will go to survive, mentally, the soul-crushing bureaucracy wrapped in a shell of the dream of glory. What happens at the deep space stations when the enemy is not imminent? What happens in those long stretches of darkness where nothing and everything is looking back, and you don't even know what you're looking for? What happens when you realize all those dreams you had are narrowed to a room more like a prison cell than a home?


Different characters deal with this crisis of spirit differently. Captain Ronaldo Aldo deals with this by committing a crime against every human colony in the universe, and calls his crime his triumph.

His confession is out in January from Tor.com, called FORTRESS AT THE END OF TIME, and I hope you check it out. Thanks, Jennifer, for letting me come around and talk about it.

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JOE M. McDERMOTT is best known for the novels Last Dragon, Never Knew Another, and Maze. His work has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program. He lives in Texas.

 

Tell Me - Glenn Rolfe

I've worked with Glenn in the past and I appreciate his deft story telling. I also like the way music inspired him unexpectedly. I love it when that happens.

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Three years ago, I began a short ghost story for a writing group. I was trying to come up with something when Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” came through my headphones. Bruce is one of my favorite artists of all-time, and although I had listened to this song about half a million times, I heard a line in it that I’d never really heard before:  “tell ‘her there’s a spot out ‘neath Abram’s Bridge….and tell ‘em there’s a darkness on the edge of town.” The lyrics go on to tell about how “every man has a secret” and how they carry that secret with them “every step that they take.”  I took notice. I asked myself what kind of darkness, what kind of secret was out ‘neath Abram’s Bridge?

My short story quickly turned into something larger. The deeper I went, the more the mystery aspect of the story began begging to come out. At that time, I’d never written any kind of real mystery piece, and I wasn’t comfortable trying to do so, but at the end of the day, the story dictated where it wanted to go. I took a shot and let go of the reigns.

Aspects of the book are heavily influenced by two of my favorite writers: Mercedes Yardley and Ronald Malfi. Without Yardley’s Beautiful Sorrows and Malfi’s Floating Staircase, I’m not sure this story would have ever come to fruition. Yardley showed me it was okay to write something sweet into the horror we create, while Malfi showed me how to capture atmosphere, and how to funnel that swirling danger into an explosive and effective crescendo.

When I was finished writing, I knew I had something special. Abram’s Bridge is a about a twelve-year-old boy named Lil’ Ron, and Sweet Kate, the ghost girl he meets beneath Abram’s Bridge. Ron sets out to discover who or what is responsible for her death. He discovers is that the small Maine town his father has moved him to is full of secrets. When he starts asking about Kate, he disturbs a slumbering darkness that digs deeper and closer than he could ever know.

Part ghost story, part mystery, and part coming-of-age, this novella is still one of my favorite pieces in my catalog. Not the blood and gore horror of some of my other works, Abram’s Bridge is more of a supernatural-tinged thriller. I am extremely proud of this book and happy to see it back in circulation thanks to Crossroad Press.

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Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter and all around fun loving guy from the haunted woods of New England. He has studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Hunter Shea, Brian Moreland and many others. He and his wife, Meghan, have three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness.

 

Tell Me - Jean Rabe

Jean Rabe is a friend of mine whom I adore. She is kind, smart, generous, and talented. I've just started reading The Dead of Winter and I'm in love with it. The woman can write a mystery. If I didn't have revisions and a short story due, I'd be curled up in my comfy chair with some coffee, reading. Later. Work now, play later.

As an aside, this is the 100th “Tell Me" guest blog post. Woo-hoo!
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Tell me…

…I’ll tell you that I’m worried, nervous, downright frightened.

I’ve read mysteries for years, decades. Love them. Harry Bosch, Elvis Cole, and any investigator penned by Val McDermid are among my favorite characters. My bookshelves are filled with mysteries.

And now I’m writing mysteries. I’ve written 35 fantasy, urban fantasy, SF, and adventure novels. And one mystery, The Dead of Winter, which came out in November. And which has been getting awesome reviews. It even received a glowing review by Steven Paul Leiva in The Huffington Post. Floating, I am!

I received an email this morning: “So... Good time to be reading your book. :-) I'm a handful of chapters in, and really loving it. In fact, I think -- though you've done well in many genres -- you may finally have found your "thing." So far, this sings "Jean Rabe" to me more than any of your other stuff I've read. Of course, I've never read a bad book or story by you, but something about Piper and her cast strike me as "it."

I worked really really really hard on The Dead of Winter. I wrote and rewrote and polished until my fingers ached. I “knew” I had a good book. I was pleased with it. It was a finalist for the Claymore Award. I love my publisher, who asked that it become a series. Floating, I am!

And nervous. Worried. Downright frightened.

I fret that I can’t equal that effort. I suppose a lot of authors feel that way, but I hadn’t until this plunge into mysteries. The genre is tough because there are sooooo many mystery books out there. Can I equal the effort with the next book?

I’m working on it now, 10,000 words in. I should be 40,000 words in, but I’m writing, rewriting, polishing as I go. I’m the sort of writer who can’t keep going until I’m happy with what’s in the computer so far. I fiddle. I finesse. I fret.

And I keep going. Because I made the jump to mysteries. And this is where I want to be. This is the stuff I want to write. I’m determined to win at this. Losing isn’t viable for Piper Blackwell and her fellow cast members.

I’m hoping my readers will stay with me as I meander through the sleepy little county and spice it with murders and thefts and cold cases. Here’s an excerpt of The Dead of Night:

     The old man sat in the middle of a bench under a big oak, his shoulders hunched and back curved, reminding Piper of a turtle. Hard to make out more details from where she stood under the streetlight.
     The light didn’t quite reach his perch, and she suspected he’d picked the spot for that reason; there were closer benches. The clouds hindered, a dense gray dome that coupled with the hour had turned the stretch near the bluff into a mass of twisting shadows. Lights in houses at the edge of the park were flickering dots, will-o-the-wisps, she mused, more fitting for Halloween than spring.
     She started toward him as threads of lightning flashed. Maybe the rain would hold off for a little while. Despite the frequent storms of the past several days, Piper hadn’t brought an umbrella. The ground felt spongy, comfortable to walk on. She quickened her step.
     Maybe this wouldn’t take long and she could go home and crawl into bed with the latest Harry Bosch book.


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USA Today bestselling author Jean Rabe has written thirty-five fantasy and adventure novels and more than eighty short stories. The Dead of Winter is her first mystery, a cozy police procedural, of which she was told there is “no-such genre.” When she’s not writing, which isn’t often, Jean edits. She has edited more than two dozen anthologies and over one hundred magazine issues so far. She’s a former news reporter and news bureau chief who penned a true crime book with noted attorney F. Lee Bailey. Her genre writing includes military, science-fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery, horror, and modern-day adventure. Jean teaches genre writing courses at conventions, libraries, museums, and other interesting venues. Her hobbies include reading, role-playing games, visiting museums, dog-minding, and buying books to add to her growing stacks. She lives in central Illinois near three train tracks that provide “music” to type by, and she shares her home with three dogs and a parrot. Visit Jean at her website: www.jeanrabe.com

Jean has newsletter filled with tidbits about her upcoming books, reviews of things she’s reading, and writing advice. You can subscribe here.

 

Tell Me - Jon Del Arroz

I am completely biased on this one. I edited Jon's new book, Star Realms: Rescue Run. I think it's a hoot. Especially the singing AI. A great tie-in novel.
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One topic I often am approached on for Star Realms: Rescue Run is regarding my artificial intelligence who bursts into song when he starts going haywire. I have a lot of lyrics interwoven throughout the text, and people ask if I wrote them myself, if they come from favorite bands, or if the songs in the story have any deeper meaning.
 
To the first question, yes I write all the lyrics myself. A lot of people don’t know that I write songs but I actually released an album in 2006 with the band Aprilsrain, and a couple of those songs were picked up by MTV’s Real World: New Orleans and actually play in the background of that show.
 
I love music. I am versed in piano and guitar, and can sing decently well. As of late I haven’t had a lot of time to play music, so sometimes I have to live vicariously through my characters, which I had a lot of fun with while writing this book.
 
The singing AI also served as a nod to one of my favorite writers, Anne McCaffrey, of which I tend to write a lot of references to her in my book. This particular one is in homage to her short story, “The Ship Who Sang,” which is one of the most powerful emotional stories ever written. As much as I hate to admit it, I cry every time I read that story. I wanted to have my main character have a reference to an emotionally powerful piece while she saw her best friend and AI slipping away.
 
Beyond that, I tried to put some thought into the lyrics, but wanted them to flow naturally as if randomly from an AI’s archive. Though most of the AI’s singing is couched in silly romance songs, as I imagine most pop songs from here to eternity will have those themes, I tried to have the lyrics match/mirror the story to some degree whether that be in the feel of the song or more directly what's going on around it. The AI has an awareness of what’s going on and is at least trying to communicate.
 
I started out with a longer verse to get the reader used to the fact that the AI would be singing, and then did short one-off lines from that point forward to try to highlight the glitchiness of the AI’s virus that slowly overwhelmed its programming throughout the course of the book. 
 
Lyrics and poetry have a long tradition in sci-fi and fantasy. Tolkien used them to great avail and another of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, weaves them into a lot of her work. I had a lot of fun continuing that tradition with these and hope to be able to work them into future pieces as well.

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Jon Del Arroz began his writing career in high school, providing book reviews and the occasional article for the local news magazine, The Valley Citizen. From there, he went on to write a weekly web comic, Flying Sparks, which has been hailed by Comic Book Resources as “the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with early Marvel comics.” He has several published short stories, most recently providing flash fiction for AEG’s weird west card game, Doomtown: Reloaded, and a micro-setting for the Tiny Frontiers RPG. Star Realms: Rescue Run is his debut novel. You can find him during baseball season with his family at about half of the Oakland A’s home games in section 124.

 

Tell Me - C.T. Phipps

I'm reading CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON and I have to say... Charles is an entertaining writer. His mythos inspired apocalyptic western is exactly the kind of popcorn reading I love. I think you'll love it, too.
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Developing Doomed Characters

A lot of people talk to me about how to write horror stories. I've written quite a few short stories in the genre and I've recently released my post-apocalypse horror novel CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON which does it's best to mix action with the macabre.

However, the trick of creating true horror is a tough one to master because it asks the reader to become invested enough in the storyline that they care enough about the characters that they're worried they might come to harm. Then you must convince them they will.

This is why I recommend a strategy of developing doomed characters. Basically, if you really want to sell a horror story then you had best have a selection of cannon fodder for the monster to eat which the audience cares about. It's a simple enough strategy, right? I mean, slasher movies have been doing it for years. You have a bunch of likable or semi-likable characters and only one of them makes it out alive. Should be a piece of cake, really.

Well, yes, and no.

One of the reasons which The Walking Dead, in all its incarnations, has been so successful is they're not afraid to decimate the cast in both surprising as well as heart-rending ways. However, it's a series which also has suffered from killing characters which the audience cared about while sparing those they didn't.

It's easy to drift into a dark sinkhole of apathy where the audience for your story just doesn't care what happens to the survivors. If everyone is rooting for Character A instead of Character C, Character A dying could make them tune out. Worse, Character C as the star makes the entire purpose of killing Character A pointless. So what's the best strategy for making sure you keep a careful balance of development as well as risk?

My first recommendation is you should make it so the doomed characters are ones who feel like they're going to be a major supporting character to begin with. Heck, make it so they are. You should always kill characters who feel like they have more room to grow.

If Jane, John, Jack, and Wilma go to a cabin in the woods then make it so they have a complex web of personal relationships. Jane is dating John, Jack is brother to Wilma, and Wilma is cheating on her girlfriend with Jane. The death of even one of these characters will send reverberations throughout the story which should followed up on.

Next, you should follow up on the deaths of the characters you do kill so their deaths have meaning for the survivors. A lot of novels effectively drop the dead once they leave the narrative. If you keep the loss fresh in the mind of the characters, then that will have more meaning.

It’s best to avoid making any character's fate related to their likability. Jerks shouldn't die any more than innocents unless you're making a point about behavior and that may undermine the terror of death. Likewise, deaths shouldn’t be telegraphed too much either. If you can make someone look like the hero before killing them without alienating the audience, you’ve really accomplished something special.

In conclusion, it's not just an art form to create characters. It's an even greater art form to make a character's death which exists to make the story scarier.

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C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is the author of The Supervillainy Saga, Cthulhu Armageddon, Straight Outta Fangton, and Esoterrorism. He is also a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles."

 

Tell Me - Curtis C. Chen

Curtis is one of those good guys I enjoy meeting up with at conventions. He's smart and eloquent. He's also a good writer. Here, he talks about the importance of names in his debut novel, WAYPOINT KANGAROO.

DOFF THY NAME

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose   
By any other name would smell as sweet;   
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,   
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title...

— Juliet, Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene II)


Shakespeare did many clever things as a writer, and Juliet’s “balcony speech” is one of the cleverest. The literal interpretation of her words is, of course, false: names
do matter, especially in fiction. “Humbert and Juliet” would have been a totally different story. (See what I did there? Referencing Lolita to creep you out? The power of a name, my friend.)

When I’m writing a story, I always check my character names for variety (dialogue between “Mike” and “Mick” is hard to follow), historical and cultural associations (“Monique” implies a different person than “Millicent”), and
the quality TV writer Jane Espenson calls “subliminal”—when a name alone implies things about the character.

Over several cycles of revising my debut novel
Waypoint Kangaroo, some characters changed names a lot. I was also writing more short fiction over the same period—i.e., naming lots of new and different characters—and I got into the habit of always doing a quick web search to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently Tuckerizing a real person. (TV showrunner John Rogers’ “LEVERAGE Post-Game” blogs often mention name clearance issues: network lawyers prefer either something totally unique and unreal, or something very common. That’s also my rule of thumb.) This research was why my randomly-named-in-the-first-draft characters “Alan Parker” and “Jerry Manning” had to change later.

Other names in
Waypoint Kangaroo changed because I wanted to make them more meaningful. “Andrea Jemison” started out as “Pauline Deschanel”—again, chosen at random, because we’d recently watched an episode of Bones (starring Emily Deschanel) with our friend Pauline. I renamed that character “Jemison” to honor the first woman of color in space, and “Andrea” from the Greek for “adult male”—because she does present as fairly masculine, and that’s important to her personality.

Another change was “Eleanor Gavilán,” who started out as “Ellie Sparrow”—a nod to both Ellie Arroway from
Contact and Mary Doria Russell’s book The Sparrow. There, the primary motivation was to make my cast more ethnically diverse (this is an actually post-racial future setting), and also to connote greater strength: “gavilán” is Spanish for sparrowhawk.

(Changing those two names did preclude one of my favorite dumb jokes, where Kangaroo realizes the women call each other “Polly” and “Sparrow” because they’re “a couple of birds,” but I’m
so glad I can share that bit here and now. YOU’RE WELCOME.)

And what about “Kangaroo”? I never divulge my protagonist’s “real” name, because
every name he adopts—from his spy agency code name “Kangaroo” to his current alias, “Evan Rogers”—is real. Each identity simply implies a different way for him to interface with the world. We all use different monikers in different situations, and whether someone calls you “Robert,” “Bobby,” “B-dawg,” or “Mr. DeNiro” says a lot about the relationship between you two.

So what’s
really in a name? Pretty much everything. That’s the irony of Juliet’s speech: she knows exactly how significant Romeo’s name is, and she’s trying to convince herself that it’s a surmountable obstacle (“Just change your name, dude!”). But we all know how that story ended.

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Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016.
Curtis' short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology MISSION: TOMORROW, and THE 2016 YOUNG EXPLORER'S ADVENTURE GUIDE. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers' workshops. You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of every month. Visit him online at: http://curtiscchen.com

 

Tell Me – Che Gilson

Food is a huge part of culture, everyone can agree on that. It has whole networks and TV channels devoted to it. Game shows, reality shows and competitions. People blog their dinners, and subscribe to boxes that promise healthy food in under half an hour. For a long time now I've been outside looking in on a world of food I can't eat. I'm allergic to corn, wheat, peanuts, and I can't eat sugar. I just can't (and this isn't the place to describe why).

About seven years ago I decided to write a book, back then it was a comic book, about my drink of choice tea, my favorite fantasy characters, witches, and all the food I couldn't eat. It was my ode to cake. Originally, Tea Times Three was going to be a comic book. A manga based on a genre I'm not sure exists but which I like to call "Eccentric English Village Comedy". It was going to take place in England. There would be a charming Cotswold style village at the heart of it filled with eccentric residents, none entirely sure they wanted a magical tea shop in their village.

That version of the story got rearranged and, instead, the book takes place in the made-up town of Midswich, Maine. While the setting changed, the food did not. I wrote in all the food I love but can no longer eat. I filled the pages with dessert, or as much as I could justify without turning it into a cookbook. There are cookies, cakes, and Scottish shortbread, which I can eat in a modified gluten free, sugar free form. I even have the character with the most food hang-ups, a sugar free, gluten free carob cheesecake based, again, on something I can actually eat.

Tea Times Three was written during my transition from a time I ate sugar to having – for health reasons
to giving up sugar cold turkey. Not an easy task if you've tried. I poured all my cravings and longings into the food described in that book. Years of obsessively watching Food Network went into that. Recipes I could never eat. Food I wished I'd eaten more of. I even made magical marshmallows into a climactic plot point.

My inability to eat wheat, corn, and sugar is unlikely to change anytime soon, but I have learned that writing your obsessions can not only be fun, but productive. I also learned how to have my cake and eat it too thanks to the wealth of gluten free recipes and the availability of stevia powder.

So, for everyone out there with food allergies I'd like to leave you with the recipe for gluten-free, sugar-free Scottish shortbread. One of my favorites, and one which shows up in Tea Times Three.

Shortbread
1 cup room temperature butter
1/4-1/3 cup stevia powder (I buy it at Trader Joes)
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup potato flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 cup all purpose gluten free flour
2 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
Mix and pat into an 8x8 inch pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes

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Che Gilson is the author of several graphic novels including Avigon: Gods and Demons from Image Comics, and Dark Moon Diary from Tokyopop. Her short stories have been published in Luna Station Quarterly and Drops of Crimson. She draws copious amounts of Pokémon fan art which can be found with her original work at http://spiderliing666.deviantart.com.