Category: writing peeves

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.

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!)?


Book Review Wednesday: Under the Dome by Stephen King

book review, writing peeves February 15, 2012

I haven’t read a Stephen King book since high school, when I had a summer job that afforded me a lot of time to read. That summer was filled with King, John Saul, Dean Koontz, and others. I worked at a state park, and the stormy days were my favorite times to read horror.

I’m not actually sure what prompted me to pick up Under the Dome. It’s a long read, my electronic version came in around 850 pages. I’d not heard anything about the novel before I picked it up. It was an impulse purchase based on an Amazon recommendation, and I just went with it.

Brief synopsis: The small Maine town of Chester’s Mill finds itself literally cut off from the rest of the world when a semi-permeable, invisible barrier drops down around them. Several residents lose their lives immediately, other deaths follow quickly. The Second Selectman (a New England brand of town official), Big Jim Rennie, a corrupt used car salesman, drug dealer and politician quickly takes advantage of the situation to grasp control of the town. An Iraq war veteran, Dale “Barbie” Barbara, who was on his way out of town when the Dome dropped, quickly finds himself in an unwanted position of power opposing Big Jim and the rest of the corrupt local government. Big Jim and Barbie, and their respective factions, butt heads on a epic scale and the drama unfolds as the people of Chester’s Mill struggle to survive under deteriorating conditions.

Under the Dome is an editorial on American politics and environmentalism. King makes his views of past and current political figures quite clear. Since I’m pretty closely aligned with King’s own opinions, I enjoyed recognizing the parallels drawn between the bullies and the good guys, but for a work of fiction, I found most of the characters fell too neatly into the stereotypes. The lines of good and evil are very sharp, and I found that most characters lacked complexity. Most of them were so far in one direction or the other that I disliked almost all of them, even those I should have related to.

I honestly kept reading just to see some of the characters that I despised get their comeuppance, and the deaths of the worst offenders were not hideous enough to satisfy me. I’m not sure I can recommend this book, based on it’s length. I spent a lot of time reading about characters I couldn’t stand. If you’re someone who really enjoys watching the GOP get shafted, and revels in the blatant use of stereotypes, you’ll enjoy Under the Dome.


angst, voices in my head, writing life, writing peeves February 6, 2012

After having worked my through several novels now, I realize where my weaknesses lie. Some people struggle with the right place to start a novel. Some of us dread the muddy middles.

I love starting a new novel– it’s like making new friends with all the lightheaded happiness of a new relationship. I’m just getting to know my characters, just finding their flaws and strengths, listening to them reveal themselves. It’s my favorite part.

The middle can be overwhelming, particularly if I haven’t planned my plot carefully enough or if something has happened to alter the course of my original plan. But I usually still have confidence in my characters in the middle, and we can plod through the swamp together, no matter how thick it is.

Writing the end of a novel is torture.

A novel should end with a bang, not whisper, it should leave the reader saying “Wow! That was a great read!” I’m perpetually afraid I’m selling my endings short. I’m very, very close to the end of my zombie novel and reaching not only the climax of the novel, but a scene that should be prove challenging to write based on the physical disabilities I’ve given my characters. There are questions to be answered before I can write the ending, and because this novel began as a short story and grew, unexpectedly, into a novel, some of the details are still a little hazy. I’m finding myself forging on, knowing I’m going to rewrite a lot, but also knowing that getting out what I can will give me the basis to finish.

One of my New Years’ resolutions was to get my work out of my computer more. As a result, I’ve entered two contests so far this year and set up my pitching session at World Horror Convention. I wrote a synopsis for one of the contests, so I know how this novel ends. I just have to get behind it and push.

NaNoWriMo Woes and Word Counts

angst, writing life, writing peeves November 7, 2011

I always get discouraged during the month of November. I’ve been a chronic NaNo loser. I always feel a tremendous amount of angst about this, as if finishing those 50K words in one month somehow determined my proficiency as a writer.

Recently, someone I know said something like this: “I don’t know why everyone bitches about NaNo. We’re writers. It’s what we do. We should be cranking out at least 50,000 words in a month, every month, or the writing is pointless. You can’t be a successful writer without NaNo output every month.”

Can I have one of these, please?

This statement has haunted me since.

I do not put out 50,000 words in a month. My average goal is 30,000-35,000 GOOD words in a month, along with revisions, which sometimes means my output is less because I delete more words than I write in any given day. Sometimes I drop below that number, depending on the month, but rarely ever go above it. I usually write 1000 words each weekday, sometimes more. I usually do not have the opportunity to write on weekends, because of family obligations. I also have to find time for planning my plot, outlining, research, blogging, and reading.

In the month of November, not including weekends, I would have a potential 23 days to write. This could equate to, if I bust my behind, 34,5000 words. My children are off school a total of four days, which changes my potential number of days to 19. I will have guests in my house twice this month, so that will subtract another, let’s estimate three days from that tally, bringing it down to 16, which is 24,000 words if I can keep up my pace. I would estimate I could get more written because I will be able to write on the days my kids are off school, at least for a little while, and my husband is really good about helping me find time if I’m struggling. Given this, let’s estimate 30,000 words for November, which is just over half of what’s required to “win” NaoNoWri Mo. And this is pretty much if I do nothing but write during the time set aside for me to work.

This is all assuming, of course, that I don’t have any kind of writer’s block or need to rip out a significant portion of my manuscript (which has only happened to me once, and that completed novel is sitting under my desk awaiting a full rewrite). I’m also assuming that my kids don’t get sick, that the dogs stay healthy and I can avoid any and all forms of housework or other responsibilities except those I’ve mentioned here.

December will be worse.

What am I getting at ?

I do not have NaNo output every month. Does this mean I cannot be a successful writer? I hope not. I may never write more than one book per year. Does that mean I should stop writing? I don’t think so.

Book Review: The Killing Room, John Manning

book review, genre fiction, mixed genre, paranormal, poor editing, writing life, writing peeves November 15, 2010

Okay, here’s my new attempt at blogging! I’m shooting for three times a week. Someone poke me if I’m not back on Wednesday. Monday will be book review day. This is good for me, since it will prompt me to read at least one book per week. Sometimes that’s hard because I’m balancing school with kids with house with pets with husband with life… but it’s important for a writer to also be a reader.

Anyway, I finished my assignment for my Writing About Popular Fiction class and went looking for something to read. I ended up in the sunroom with the cat on my lap. This book happened to be within reach, so I grabbed it. Can’t make the cat move.

On to my  review of The Killing Room by John Manning.

A friend loaned me this book, so I’m not sure where it was shelved in the bookstore. Horror? Nah. Nystery? Not really. Thriller? Maybe.

Premise: a generations-old family curse is killing off the Youngs. Once every ten years they must meet for a reunion at the family estate in Maine. One person, whose name is chosen from a lottery, must spend the night in a basement room. Only one family member has ever lived the night, and she’s catatonic. Howard Young, the family patriarch at 98 years old, has hired a former FBI agent, a specialist in paranormal cases, to break the curse once and for all. Carolyn Cartwright arrives at the Young estate skeptical, but ready to do business. Many factors come into play here, including Carolyn’s own tormented past, family secrets, greed, and pride.

So what exactly is this book? The mystery of the killing room is a good one, but the details of what happen in the room remain a little fuzzy throughout the book. The answer is revealed in the end and a resolution is found. There are some elements of horror, including a little gore and some violence. The mix of mystery and horror may classify this as a thriller, but I’m not convinced. There is also a romantic element, but it’s sweet, not edgy, and does not lend itself to the thriller classification. I expect more tension from a thriller or a horror, and if there’s a romantic element in either of those genres, it’d better be incredibly tense with some amazing sex. Not here.

One issue I have with paranormal elements is that they remain consistent. If a writer introduces a paranormal element, like ghosts, then the other paranormal elements have to fit in with that “genre” of paranormal, or there better be a really good excuse as to why it’s something different. This novel (and this might be a bit of a spoiler, so stop reading now if you don’t want to know more) uses ghosts/malicious spirits as the main type of paranormal and then brings in a zombie. If there was a good reason for the zombie to make an entrance, I might have bought it. But in this novel it feels like the author ran out of ideas and brought in an element just for the scare factor. The zombie yanked me right out of the story and I threw my hands up.

I was sorely disappointed by the amateurish writing style.
“Inside the linen closet Ryan slowly lowered his hands from his ears.The house had fallen eerily quiet. The screaming and crashing and the gunshots had stopped. When the commotion had begun, Ryan had looked over the bannister into the foyer below and seen a scar-faced man on Douglas’s back raising a knife. Without even a moment’s hesitation, Ryan had turned on his heel and run down the hall, scurrying into the nearest hiding space he could find. For the next hour– or had it been less than that?– he had kept as still in the closet as possible, his hands clamped over his ears to drown out the sounds of his family being murdered, one by one” (p. 322).

I count seven “hads” in that paragraph. Someone very wise once told me most “hads” can be eliminated from writing. This section is representative of the book, lots of grammar errors and typos, just things that the writer should know better than to do and things that an editor could catch.

I give this book a C. It’s a fun read and I like the idea of the family curse, but the ends were not neatly tied and the errors in writing and publishing really detract from the book.

Work cited:

Manning, John. The Killing Room. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2010.