Office politics from the seclusion of my desk chair

angst, HWA, personal, publishing, World Horror, writing life April 19, 2016

Who knew that one would have to deal with office politics even when one works alone?

I didn’t.

Okay, I mean, I know I don’t live in a vacuum, and do still deal with people, so it couldn’t go away completely, but I did hope that the DRAAAAAHMA would be minimal. It trickles in. Last week was more of a deluge. And it was a thousand times worse for some of my friends and fellow writers.

Once I started seriously writing, it didn’t take long for me to realize what a huge place the writing world really is. I decided to join a couple writers’ organizations. At the time, the Mystery Writers’ of America and the Romance Writers’ of America were my two choices (my graduate thesis was a mystery with a bit of romance). I ended up writing horror and mystery, so here I am now… a member of MWA since 2010, Horror Writers’ Association since 2011 (I still have my welcome email from then-president Rocky Wood), and International Thriller Writers since 2014.

I consider the HWA my “home” organization.

I am not going to pretend that I have been around in these organizations as long as many other writers. I started writing later(ish) in life than many writers. There are folks who have been involved for a lot of years. I tip the hat of respect to those who have weathered some of what has come before me.

I’m not sure what I expected when I joined the HWA. There have been some really wonderful opportunities– pitch sessions at HWA-sponsored events, panels and seminars, classes, other programs I have not taken advantage of. However, I see a few things that make me go hmmm.

Two of these hmmmm things share space: exclusivity/non-transparency and conflict of interest. To a lesser degree, availability and dissemination of information is another problem, mostly because the website is such a pain to navigate.

Please don’t accuse me of being merely a hanger-on. I volunteered during one of our conferences. It was not a good experience, which speaks to the exclusivity problem the HWA is facing. I was not made to feel as if I was a part of the organization. I didn’t go into volunteering even expecting a pat on the back (from other volunteering I do, I know that doesn’t happen), but it would have been nice to have questions answered when I asked them.

Before I go any further, I would like to recognize and show appreciation for current HWA president, Lisa Morton. She removed her work from Stoker consideration while she serves. Given the rumors that abound (and as far as I personally know, JUST rumors) regarding nominees and winners relationship with the board, she did the right, if painful, thing.

Many of the processes the HWA uses are not transparent. There was recently a problem with a juror for the Stoker awards. Chaos ensued after this juror himself made public his position. If the jurors were listed on the website, those concerned enough with who makes up those juries could check and then communicate with the board directly and potentially avoid the public flap we just saw. We (“we” in the grand sense of “we”) would have nothing to complain about if we don’t catch it. I understand that the identities of the jurors are kept on the down low  in order to help prevent people from harassing them, but I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the organization.

I’m also talking about people in positions of power who could possibly damage, or at least put up some roadblocks to, careers. Being put in infuriating situations that I can do absolutely nothing about without potentially being blacklisted. In the last week, I’ve watched that happen and I’ve watched some of the fallout. It’s not easy being a writer not firmly established in a genre. There’s no room for mistakes or perceived insults. It’s terrifying. And when someone in that position of power takes advantage of their clout… well, it’s a game changer.

More transparency and fewer influential people at levels of authority would go a long way in making the HWA more useful to authors in general.

I know these things are very difficult, given the scarcity of volunteers. Finding new ways to attract volunteers is another issue. I’m not talking about money-oriented things. Something like a pre-registration gathering for volunteers interested in one would be great. It would be a way to get questions answered and familiarize everyone with faces. When I volunteered, I didn’t even know who I could turn to with questions.

HWA is an organization poised to be able to do a lot of good for writers. I think the org needs to decide what the top priority really is and make that clear.

Because I, for one, really hate the office politics.




book review, paranormal, reading March 31, 2016


Hello everyone! I’m back after a break during which my sprogs have been off school for spring break. Mixed feelings, people, mixed feelings.

I want to jump right back into the swing of things with a review of a book I enjoyed while we traveled to and from Austin (which was great fun and included much people watching).

Woman in White is not my first time reading the work of Kristin Dearborn. I enjoyed her debut novel, Trinity, loved her story Sacrifice Island (my review of it here), and I’ve had the privilege of listening to her read “Spider Cheese” on a couple occasions. Woman in White  maintains Ms. Dearborn’s reputation for weaving an excellent tale.


(I hate spoilers.)

At the beginning of the story, we accompany poor Dennis to his girlfriend’s house in the backwater town of Rocky Rhodes, Maine. A blizzard rages as he makes his way along an isolated road and, to his surprise, finds a woman in the storm. He offers the silent (creepy) woman help, and it’s the last we hear from Dennis. Remaining is a great deal of blood, but it cannot be linked conclusively to Dennis… nor anyone else.

When big-city forensic scientists arrive in Rocky Rhodes for what they think will be an open-and-shut case, they’re shocked by what and who they don’t find.

What follows is a story bathed in blood, missing men, a startling lack of forensic evidence, and women determined to stop the disappearances. Three women from differing backgrounds come together to solve the mystery and, possibly, save their town.

This is a different take on the classic “white lady” urban legend. Unlike a typical ghost story, Dearborn’s woman is tangible, in very surprising ways. I was delighted to find that Dearborn upends the trope with something new and fresh.  Her characterization brings the residents of Rocky Rhodes alive, and gives them authentic struggles in the small-town atmosphere.

Dearborn describes the blizzard raging in Rocky Rhodes to perfection. There’s something so effective about a horror story set in the snow… it muffles normal sounds and makes communication and travel difficult. The blanketed town feels stifled and claustrophobic.

I particularly liked the forensic angle Dearborn adopted by rendering the evidence unusable. If a substantial amount of blood doesn’t seem to belong to anyone, not even the person to which it is assumed to belong, then the presence of the blood merely adds to the mystery. What’s going on when fatal amounts of blood are found at crime scenes, but no one knows who the blood belonged to? Good questions, and ones that the scientist side of me appreciated.

Highly recommended read.

You can find Woman in White here for your Kindle. More information about Woman in White is available at DarkFuse.

Find out about Kristin Dearborn at her website:





People watching

character creation, genre fiction, personal, voices in my head, writing life March 11, 2016

I am currently sitting in Dallas International Airport, waiting for a connection to Austin, Texas. My entire family is headed to Austin for the weekend to attend the wedding of my BFF. The wedding is at a Renaissance Festival and all the groomsmen will wear kilts. I love men in kilts.

I also love people watching, and there is no better place than an airport. So many different kinds of people use airports. I’m looking around here, and I see the typical business type, with his laptop (looks like a MacBook Air) open, headphones in, file folder at his side, stuffing his face with a slightly nasty looking deli sandwich all the while yammering on the phone. Multi-tasking at its best. Or worst. I’m not sure.

In the same row where I’m sitting are two grandmother-types, one working on crossword puzzle and the other knitting. No joke. It’s like a cliche was born.

On the other side of me is another business kind of guy. He’s got his laptop open on his lap, but he’s also wearing sunglasses, and since I’m sitting next to him, I can see that he’s actually dozing. Not quite as dedicated as Business Dude A.

Families have come in to watch the planes at the window, since I’m sitting near a very large one. The kids are all properly awed by the big flying machines. I like watching kids. They’re unabashedly excited about this travel thing and I’m so disillusioned by it. It’s refreshing and helps me remember not to take everything for granted. Most of the time.

There are couples and individuals. One woman looks to be studying– she’s got a workbook with post-it notes and a highlighter. Most of the carry-on baggage around me is black or gray, but the studying lady has a loud, leopard-print bag. I think I’d like her.

I could take any one of these people and drop them into a story. I look at mannerisms and memorize new things, like the guy eating a soft pretzel by biting all the crust off first and then eating the softer inside (equal parts fascinating and repulsive).

Honestly, some people are so cliche I couldn’t use them without being accused of creating a stereotyped character, typed as I stare at the woman with perfectly coiffed hair and Manolo Blahnik stilettos paired with skinny gold pants (on a plane??).

Business Dude B’s chin just hit his chest.

I’m definitely using the guy who just ate an apple, core and all.

Dallas 031116.jpg

Movie review: Crimson Peak

marketing, movie review, movies March 1, 2016

600full-crimson-peak-posterIt took me a bit longer than usual to get to Crimson Peak. I am a big del Toro fan, especially the super-fun Hellboy installments, the haunting Pan’s Labyrinth, and the TV series The Strain (based on novels written by del Toro and Chuck Hogan). I’d read mixed reviews of Crimson Peak, and other movies always seemed to take precedent, so I’m a bit late for this one.

Premise: a young woman is swept off her feet by a handsome man and taken to his gothic mansion that sits atop a mountain of red clay. Sinister goings-on reveal a terrible (SPOILER! Lannister-esque) secret and she wonders if she will leave Crimson Peak alive.

I noted that most of the critical reviews of Crimson Peak mentioned that the movie was inaccurately billed as a ghost-centric horror movie but behaves more as a gothic bodice-clutcher.

I agree with that assessment. Stylish and bloody, but not particularly scary. It’s got plenty of tropes, a conventional plot line, and melodramatic woes, but there’s not a disturbing bone in the mix.

Del Toro never fails to deliver a visually stunning film. Crimson Peak is beautiful to watch. The ethereal Wasikowska is lovely and Tom Hiddleston by turns devastatingly handsome and creepy. The costumes are beautiful and the sets intricate and detailed. Del Toro also clearly paid attention to events during the time the story is set, from a cholera epidemic to a Mary Shelley reference.

Despite the eye candy, this movie focuses more on the interpersonal dynamics than the horror elements. I think it would have only taken a few shifts in perspective to make this more of a horror story. One character is slowly poisoned by another, but it almost feels as if the poisoning is an afterthought (not to mention so predictable).

Bottom line: see it for the pretty pictures, but don’t expect to have trouble sleeping.

Crimson Peak (2015)
Guillermo del Toro
starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Huddleston, Charlie Hunnam, and Jessica Chastain

Derailment and getting personal

angst, avoidance, intellectual property, personal, publishing, writing life, writing peeves, writing process February 17, 2016
train derailment

Oh no!

This is a tough blog post to write. There’s nothing inherently negative… nothing catastrophic has happened in my life to change things irrevocably… but I’m not good at personal. I tend to be fairly private, especially where emotions are concerned. They make me… uncomfortable. But no anxiety, friends, I have no terrible, life-altering news.

This is also tough to write because I have so much to say and so many ways I could approach it. And some things that are at the heart of my problems I can’t say much about. I’m surprised and grateful that I’ve had a few people approach me about resuming blogging (mostly the reviews… who knew?), some of whom I don’t know at all.

The third reason it’s so painful is that I feel like I’ve failed. I’m not good at admitting this. I’m also not good at compartmentalizing. When I feel anxiety, it bleeds into much of the rest of my life. The recent stressors in my life made feeling joy in creating a little difficult.

But I have to start somewhere, right?

Here’s my biggest problem: I haven’t been writing as much as I need to. I am still working on Theo’s next story, and I have had a few new ideas pop up, but I’ve allowed discouragement and distraction to really get in the way. It’s not exactly writers’ block, I don’t think, it’s more like writers’ avoidance. And using the excuse of being incredibly busy and not commanding my writing time.

Busy-ness first. Two years ago my husband and I started talking about making Pittsburgh our permanent home. We’d always imagined living somewhere on the coast after the sprogs leave home, but the longer we stay here, the more we love it. If we were going to commit to da ‘Burgh, we needed different living arrangements. And if we were going to commit to new living arrangements, we wanted to move closer to the sprogs’ school and build a house. We bought 30 acres north of Pittsburgh and began the process of designing our house. After working with our first builder for almost a year, we fired them. This summer we found a new architect and builder. The new builder folded in December. So we’re on our third build team and still barely have a foundation for our beautiful home. This is a full-time job. I have never experienced anything so frustrating. I don’t know if it’s just that I’ve finally given up on trying to control the build process or somehow I sense that the third time is a charm, but I feel like I can allow this build team to take some of this off my hands. It’s still a lot of work, and a HUGE source of stress, but I can’t go on as preoccupied as I was with the project. Building a house is a temporary endeavor… writing is for the rest of my life.

And the icing on this shit cake… is something I can’t really discuss. Let me just paint this picture… Imagine you’ve created something you are very attached to. You kind of love this thing you created and you are a smidge protective of it. Then someone comes along, changes one tiny detail of this thing you love, claims to base it on something it really has nothing in common with, slaps a different name on it, and sells it. Somethingsomething intellectual property. I believe this is the biggest source of my avoidance. Why create when it can be taken from you?

There are some colleagues who know the details of this situation. The hardest thing to hear was that I have to get over it, stop being so sensitive, suck it up, etc. That stung (partially correct, yes, but not helpful in the least). A bit of my support system shattered that day and I’ve struggled to rebuild it. It became abundantly clear to me that although writing is my dearest love, the business of publishing and protecting one’s property is something I despise with the ferocity of a thousand thousand suns.

Let me be very clear on something: this is in NO WAY reflective of Blood Bound Books. They have been supportive throughout, and I am still grateful to work with them. (Hi, Marc and Joe!)

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m aiming at updating this blog twice a week. One review, and one update on what I’m doing or writing-related discussion. I’m also reinstating my daily word count goal on any project. My priority is Theo, but if I can’t summon him, I’ll work on anything.

If you have advice for me, leave it in the comments. I welcome it. If you’ve gotten this far, you have my gratitude.

Fun stuff! A writing process blog tour!

blog tour, genre fiction, Habeas Corpse, marketing, Mistresses of the Macabre, Uncategorized, voices in my head, writing life, writing process March 10, 2014

Hey folks!

Today’s post is a stop on a blog tour! I’ll be chatting about my writing process and sending you, dear readers, in a couple of directions to read about the writing processes of some other very incredible writers. Take a look back at Mackenzie Lucas’ blog and how she produces her paranormal and contemporary romance and then look forward to see how a few other writers manage theirs.

First up is my thank you to the talented Mackenzie Lucas. She writes titles like Essence, The Megiddo Mark, and one of my favorites, Pompeii Reawakened. PR_cover

If you enjoy steamy romance, either paranormal or contemporary, I promise you’ll love Mackenzie. Go read about how she manages her writing at her blog here.

On to the questions!


I’m actually working on several projects right now.

My thesis needed rewrites before I could send it off to an agent, so I’ve been tackling that. It’s been much harder than I anticipated. It’s not horror, it’s more of a cozy-ish mystery, and my voice changed a lot in the time since I finished it. I’m finding it a challenge to go back and write something that is a lot less edgy and graphic than Habeas Corpse. It’s a quandary for me and I’m slogging through. An agent expressed interest in seeing it, so I have to get the rewrites finished and plan out five more books in the series. I will keep you all posted, naturally, if something comes of it.

I joined a Facebook group that challenges me to write 52 short stories this year, one per week. Some weeks I’ve written two, some one, some none, so I’m always playing catch-up with it, but I think it’s a great exercise in finding new ideas for stories and putting them into a story quickly. I often find an idea and let it simmer (procrastination at its best, really) before I start writing. The 52 in a Year has been a good way to get around that.

I’m also working on the sequel to my published novel, Habeas Corpse. In the tentatively titled Edas Corpse, the second book in the Corpse series, Theo is confronted with several problems. Detective Gavahan needs his help to uncover what is possibly a blackmarket for human flesh and the murders surrounding it. Should Theo work with his nemesis, or should he stay with his kind? If he agrees to work with the cranky detective, can he resist eating again? What is on Shelby’s newly undead mind?

To grab a copy of Habeas Corpse, published by Blood Bound Books, head to Amazon.


It really depends on which piece of work we’re talking about. My short story, “Black Bird,” published in Dark Moon Books’ Mistresses of the Macabre, is a very atmospheric piece. It’s been described as semi-literary. Rather than going for the gross-out horrific in this piece, I went for the feel of brooding sorrow, anxiety, and paranoia. It’s subtle, and honestly, one of my favorite of my own works.

Habeas Corpse is different in that my protagonist is a zombie. Most zombie fiction is post-apocalyptic and centers around the survivors struggle against the undead. Theo is the undead. He’s also not a typical male protagonist, particularly for the post-apocalyptic fiction. Think of Rick Grimes of The Walking Dead or Tom Imura of the Rot and Ruin series. They’re strong males, kind of the silent, swarthy type. They know how to handle weapons and take care of their family. Theo? Not so much. He good with a game controller and in the next book he’ll ride a Vespa. He breaks the stereotype of the male in zombie fiction.


I write what I do because I love it. I write in multiple genres: mystery, horror, and a smidge of fantasy. Each genre satisfies something for me. Mystery, something I believe is in every story, satisfies my love of puzzles. The classic “whodunit” will always be a favorite for me, and I love reading all mysteries from cozies to police procedural to true crime. It makes me think and gets my neurons firing. Horror touches the darker side for me, the side that loves the chill that runs up my spine when something truly frightens me. It makes me appreciate that I am alive and allows me to reconnect with the most primal of all emotions– fear. I’m also a fan of morbid and graphic writing, so describing how Theo feels when he eats is such a sensory experience. If I’m not grossing myself as I’m writing, it doesn’t work for me. Fantasy is an extension of horror, in a way. Both genres are often lumped together as speculative fiction. It’s writing about things that don’t exist as if they do. I have a short story about a wizard named Wendell. It’s based in a traveling carnival and Wendell has a troupe of sideshow freaks. It’s solidly a fantasy story, and I love it because it allows my brain to go places that I can’t in real life. Writing is a form of escapism for me. There’s nothing I love better than spending a day with my characters putting them in impossible situations.


Setting daily goals is integral to my writing process. My goals vary depending on what I’m working on and existing deadlines. If I’m producing new work, I have a word count goal for each day. I record my word counts in a calendar to track my output over the long term. If I’m editing, I usually have a page number goal or chapter number goal. I also have to account for marketing and social media so I can maintain (and hopefully increase) my community presence. I have a checklist of things I need to do over the course of a week to use social media. I will admit this is the first thing I allow to slide if I need time for my word or page counts.

I am a pantser (a writer who writes from the seat of their pants, just lets it flow without much planning) at heart, but because most of what I write has a mystery thread, I have to be a planner to some extent. My stories almost always begin with the characters. I will come up with the idea for a character or several characters, usually from something I read or see, and try to figure out where they fit in a story. Once I decide what their story is, I write a basic outline with plot points so I have a very rudimentary road map, and I start writing. Often during writing, those plot points change, but that’s fine. I usually know how the mystery element will play out and I have that pretty well figured out, but the characters can grow and develop however they’d like. I didn’t start Habeas Corpse with the intent to kill off an important character, but partway through the writing I knew I had to. I love how organic writing can be and that the characters really do sometimes dictate their own fates.

And now I’d like to invite you to visit these other authors to see how they view their work and learn more about their writing process.

Scott A. Johnson writes in several genres including nonfiction and horror. Visit his blog at Write Stranger.

Kerri-Leigh Grady is an editor and a writer of dark fiction. She blogs here.

Ann Laurel Kopchik writes fantasy, both of the elvish and bedroom kind. Go see her blog here.

Lyn Gala blogs about one writer’s journal through one version of reality. She writes some spicy, yummy, sexy goodness. Got check her out here.

Madeline Price writes dark and sexy fantasies. Find out more about her books and her writing process here.

Playing favorites… horror movie edition

movies, playing favorites February 18, 2014

Playing favorites is a new topic I’m going to try here. If you’re reading, please play along! Leave your favorites in the comments or drop by my Facebook page to let me know. I love to discover new books, movies, and ways of entertaining myself through sick and twisted storytelling!

So… here’s the horror movie edition of “playing favorites.”

You know those nights when you’re done with all the “stuff,” or you just make the decision to be done for now, and the kids are in bed, and the corgis are snoring… or however those evenings go in your house, and all of this has happened in anticipation of a tiny bit of down time and your favorite movie?

I love those nights. Often, though, I don’t use those nights to go back to my favorites, but rather watch something new, preferably obscure and maybe indie so I can review it and share it with everyone. I’ve got a few reviews in the queue I’m looking forward to sharing.

But sometimes I do relent, most often if I’m by myself and I can watch something to just chill. My husband is usually amused by my relaxing movies choices, because they’re something like Jaws, [Rec], Evil Dead (either version) or… my favorite… Saw.

The original movie is my favorite of the franchise. Cary Elwes is one of my favorite actors and he does a great job in the bathroom. Tobin Bell makes a creepy Jigsaw. The traps are clever and his motive is clear… appreciate what you’ve got or lose it. I’ve enjoyed all the movies in the franchise, but the first remains my personal favorite.

I’ve also enjoyed a few related movies, spin-offs like Panic Button.

What’s you favorite movie to relax with, horror or not?

I heart Jigsaw.

I heart Jigsaw.

Book Club for Horror Enthusiasts

book clubs, book review, genre fiction, mixed genre, publishing, reading, reading with a purpose February 7, 2014

Hey everyone!

For a last several months, I’ve been a member of the DarkFuse Book Club. For a flat fee, you receive many, many titles delivered to you for your ereader. If you enjoy horror, particularly horror that isn’t mainstream, and if you enjoy supporting a great publisher and its authors, please do check this out. This has been a really great bargain and I’ve received some titles I’ve truly enjoyed (I will be reviewing some of them in the coming weeks).

I am in no way affiliated with DarkFuse, nor did they ask me to write this. I’m just really pleased with what they’ve offered and I don’t want it to go away. If you love horror and want to support the community, check it out. It’s 100% worth it. I linked to it above, but here’s the link anyway:

Have a great weekend and happy reading!

Tropes, cliches, and stereotypes, oh my

genre fiction, reading with a purpose, writing life, writing peeves February 4, 2014

I’ve seen this quote making the rounds lately…

“The three types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there …” — Stephen King

I like this quote very much and I agree with Mr. King. The issue for most horror writers is how to write those terrors without resorting to cliches and stereotypes. Tropes are too easy. The lazy writer uses tropes (unless it’s for camp, and that’s something entirely different and can be done exceedingly well).

Pennhurst Asylum

Pennhurst Asylum

There are many horror tropes… from settings (abandoned hospitals/mental hospitals/islands/houses) to characters (creepy kids, mad scientist, animated puppet/doll, clown) to character traits (ankle dragger, mouth stitched shut, evil hand THIS IS MY BOOMSTICK!! I digress) to manners of death (chainsaw, wood chipper, attack of the killer whatever LOOK AT THE FANGS! More digression).

Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog

Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog

See what I mean? I bet you can think of a novel or TV show or movie that relies too heavily on one or more of those tropes. I was unfortunate enough to watch Wrong Turn 3 last night. Dear god… tropes, tropes, boobs, tropes, cannibal incest West Virginia natives. More boobs. It was so bad it wasn’t even entertaining.

So what’s the best way for a writer to not fall into the trap of tropedom?

Know the tropes. Read your genre, watch your genre (but mostly read it). Recognize when an author is falling back on the tropes. If you’re writing and you find yourself using something because you know that the reader will understand the cue, don’t use it. Break out of that and keep the reader guessing. Even if you feel like you need a trope to explain something, don’t. Give your reader more credit than that, and surprise them.

What are your favorite genre tropes (all genres!)?