Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Scary Books For Stormy Nights

I usually enjoy a good bump in the, I mean scare. This time of year as the evenings get cooler and Halloween decorations appear around the neighborhood, a suspenseful thriller is the perfect companion for my bedtime cup of tea...okay whiskey.

For nights when the wind whistles under the eaves and the shadows of the bare trees look like witch fingers reaching for the window, may I suggest a few reads that will get you in the, for reading a scary book.

Plus, if you make it to the end of the post there's a surprise!

The Spiral Staircase by Ethel Lina White

Hitchcock brought it to television and Dorothy McGuire starred in the movie. If that doesn't impress you, nothing will.

This is a classic slow building suspense novel complete with an isolated mansion and a stormy night. At it's heart is a poor servant girl trapped in a house with old family secrets while a killer prowls outside looking for an unlocked door.

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Stephen King admits it's one of his favorite horror stories. Enough said.

Here's a tip, read the book first THEN watch the movie—the original black and white, forget about the Catherine Zeta Jones version.

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Pet Semetary by Stephen King

How can I pick just one Stephen King title? It's tough but this book explores the power of grief and how it can make people act in a way that others would consider insane.

I read this over twenty years ago, but the last line has stayed with me all this time, and still gives me goosebumps.
"Darling," it said. 
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Ghost Story by Peter Straub

There's nothing better than a group of old guys in tuxedos reminiscing about one summer fifty years ago when they were all in love with the same woman.

You think you know what's going to happen, but you're wrong. You think you know who is to blame, but you're wrong. You think you'll be able to sleep after reading this, but you're wrong.

Holy graveyard spookfest! Keep the lights on.

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Stranger With My Face by Lois Duncan

This is the cover that caught my teenage eye in the Chester Book Mobile (ahem...many years ago) and introduced me to the awesome Lois Duncan.

It's light on the gore by contemporary standards, however this suspense filled, paranormal teen drama has all the voice and angst of today's younger generation with clever dialogue and pitch perfect emotions.

A horror story that's full of clever twists with a heroine you'll be cheering for until the heart stopping finale.

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The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins

One of the best openings you'll read. A working class man falls in love with a gentleman's daughter, only to find she has a mysterious connection to a local family tragedy. A must for any mystery lover!

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What are some of your favorite spooky reads?

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Top 5 Book Boyfriends I Wish Were Real


Let me just start out by saying that Edward Cullen is NOT on the list. Any guy who tells me on our first date that he's constantly fighting a centuries old craving to kill me is NOT good boyfriend material—even if he is the cutest and richest dude in school.

Counting down from "makes my face all smiley" to "let's make a family tree together" are my picks for top 5 fictional boys I wish were real.

#5. Holden Caulfield from
Catcher In The Rye

All through this book, I just wanted to reach into the pages and hug him. Yet, he had a confidence that I found intriguing. I was certain that all his troubles would disappear if he could only meet a girl like me.
Best Quote: “I don’t give a damn, except that I get bored sometimes when people tell me to act my age. Sometimes I act a lot older than I am - I really do - but people never notice it. People never notice anything.”

#4. Ponyboy Curtis from
The Outsiders

He was polite, but tough at the same time. I liked how he never backed down, even when he was scared.
Best Quote: “It's okay, we aren’t in the same class. Just don’t forget some of us watch the sunset too.”

#3. Gilbert Blythe from
Anne of Green Gables

That farmer's boy with the quick wit and country manners, not only got under Anne's skin, but he was also the smartest boy in their one room school house, and hence Anne's fiercest competition. He may have called her carrots, but he remembered the 'e' on the end of her name, and that ladies, is something.
Best Quote: 'Gilbert had also sprung from the boat and now laid a detaining hand or her arm. "Anne," he said hurriedly, "look here. Can't we be good friends? I'm awfully sorry I made fun of your hair that time. I didn't mean to vex you and I only meant it for a joke. Besides, it's so long ago. I think your hair is awfully pretty now - honest I do. Let's be friends."'

#2. Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series.

Goofy, clumsy, fearful but loyal at the same time. He was always facing his greatest obstacles when he was helping Harry. Yet, he was comfortable playing the sidekick.
Best Quote: "...from now on, I don't care if my tea leaves spell 'die, Ron, die,' I'm chucking them in the bin where they belong."

#1. Fitzwilliam Darcy from
Pride and Prejudice

Fancy, prudish, but in the end, a hero. After Elizabeth turned down his proposal, he continued to assist her family without her knowledge, citing he felt responsible for the Lydia/Wickham situation, but we all know he was still in love with Elizabeth. Most guys would text you to death, or say bad things on facebook.
Best quote: "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

Who are some of your book boyfriends?

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Five Literary Inventions I Wish Were Real

I'm convinced my life would be so much easier with the following:

The Invisibility Cloak from Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone.

Think of the sneaking around you can do! Be careful of eavesdropping though, sometimes you don't want to hear what others really think of you (especially Professor Snape).

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Pixie Dust from Peter Pan and Wendy.

Imagine having the ability to fly on your own, without aid from a broomstick or a magic carpet!
Rush hour traffic? Not for you. Late for a date? No worries. Need to get to class before the bell rings? Easy peasy.

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3. The Everlasting Gobstopper from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

It's candy. No explanation needed.

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4. The Blade from The Subtle Knife.

Slice through parallel universes and bend the space/time continuum? Sure, okay. Plus, I bet you can make a salad in seconds.

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5. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.

Okay, he's not technically an invention, but he is made up and totally awesome. And since it's my blog, I'll bloody well put him here if I want. And yes, I want Mr. Darcy.

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"You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."


What other literary inventions would you like to have?

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Ka-Boom! How To Write A Nail Biting Climax

Elliott and ET race to his spaceship
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In most cases it's the climax and resulting conclusion that stay with the reader long after the book is shelved, and therefore has the greatest impact. For a writer, the goal is to provide an ending that makes sense of everything but also generates a deeper understanding.

Every successful novel has three elements; a beginning that hooks the reader (the unreachable goal for the protagonist), a middle that sets up the crisis (what prevents our hero from obtaining his goal), and the climax (what he's forced to do to reach the goal) which leads to a resolution.

Harry discovers Quirrell not Snape is the two faced villain
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Simply put, the climax is the moment of crisis when the protagonist has no way out and has to make a decision or act in such a way to reach the story goal. Up to this point, the reader has observed the hero struggle to reach the story goal and is familiar with his particular behavior or pattern of problem solving. It's this personality trait that either helps or hinders him.

Deckard barely hangs on in Blade Runner
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The moment the stakes are highest our hero is faced with the toughest situation. In order to solve the story goal he must choose to stick with the same behavior or switch to an alternative. However, each choice comes with the risk of failure or loss of whatever he values most.

Sheriff Brody running out of boat in JAWS
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Think 'danger and opportunity'. Our hero has to make a decision to save the story goal, but we don't know if it's the right one until the very end. All we know is that he's doomed if he does nothing, but at the same time there's an unseen/unexpected potential for growth or new beginning.


Depending on how you want your story to end, helps determine what questions or issues need clarifying. Once you've established what should be answered, imagine an extensive, irreversible event that will force those issues to be addressed.


Like bacteria that continue to live and grow, your protagonist should have evolved from who he was at the awesome beginning that hooked us in the first place. It's imperative to show how our hero's behavior is challenged by pursuing the story goal. Ultimately, it's the decision the hero makes in the end that leads to personal growth and showcases the moral or theme of the story.

A reader will invest hours of time into your novel, make sure their last impression is the greatest one.



How To Keep The Middle Of Your Story From Sagging

Does this sound familiar?

Your novel opens with a scene that grips the reader by the shoulders and pulls them face first into the story. But then, around 40,000 words or so, things slow down. The story starts to drift along, bobbing aimlessly on meaningless dialogue. You can see the ending far on the horizon, but you're not sure how to reach it.

SOS is right, brother.
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If this rings true for you, you may be suffering from SMS or Sagging Middle Syndrome. Stop looking down at your stomach—I was talking about your story.

The middle is often the most challenging. It has to bridge the awesome beginning (which I posted about here) and the spectacular climax (which I posted about here).

It. Can't. Be. Boring.

The middle shouldn't remind me of this.
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Here are some tips to help you chart a course through the current, back to the white-water river raft ride.

Raise the stakes. Make your protagonist's original crisis more complicated.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry's original goal was to survive Hogwarts (especially Potions class with that horrible Professor Snape) and prove he really belonged there. However, once we reach the middle of the book, Harry discovers the school is hiding The Philosopher's Stone and thinks Professor Snape is trying to steal it.

New Event. This should send your protagonist in the opposite direction of his original goal.

When Harry finds the Mirror of Erised, he forgets about Snape and the stone, and becomes consumed by images of his late parents.

Bring the Subplot to the Forefront. Use information from early chapters to throw another complication into the protagonist's way.

Helloooo, Norbert. Earlier in the book, Hagrid mentions always wanting a dragon. He tells a shocked Harry that he bought him in a pub from a mysterious stranger. This sets up two events. Firstly, Harry and Hermoine are caught with the dragon after hours and are given detention. Secondly, Hagrid ends up telling them information about a certain three-headed-dog they will need later in the lead up to the climax.

Unexpected Twist. Reveal just enough secrets to change the protagonist's course of action. This also creates more tension.

While Harry is in the forbidden forest as part of his earlier detention, he sees something drinking the dead unicorns blood. He is saved by Firenze who foreshadows Lord Voldemort's return to power. Now Harry believes Snape is planning to steal the stone not for his own immortality, but for The Dark Lord's instead.

This leads into the climax. Knowing none of the other professors will believe him, Harry takes matters into his owns hands when Dumbledore is suddenly summoned away from Hogwarts. With Ron and Hermoine following, he races to the trap door and...well you know the rest.

I hope these exercises will help you get the middle of your novel back in shape!

Do you have any suggestions for a taut, lean middle?


Five Reasons To Keep Writing...Even When You Want To Quit

Self doubt kills creativity.  

I've had my share of moments when I wondered if all the hours upon hours I spent writing would ever matter, and that maybe I had wasted all that time on nothing.

I was wrong. It did matter. Every word mattered.

We all need a little encouragement now and again so I hope this post finds you when you need it the most.

You Should Keep Writing Because ....

#1. The characters you love need you to exist. Do it for them.

#2. If you didn't write you'd be miserable or totally lost or felt like you'd slept too long and couldn't remember what you went down into the basement looking for.

#3. People going through horrible things in their lives need books to escape. Someone, somewhere, someday will NEED your book.

#4. It will be so gratifying to prove the doubters wrong.

#5. Let's face it, you started writing for a reason, so why stop?

No go sit your butt back in the chair and WRITE WITHOUT FEAR.
Why do you write?

Thursday, 22 September 2016

How To Make Your Characters Jump Off The Page

Conflict is essential to any good story, however, it's the emotional connection to the characters that drive the reader to keep turning the pages. Honestly, did anyone else stay up all night reading Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, worried who wouldn't make it out alive?
The possibility of Ron's death was my biggest fear.
So how do you create characters that people will care about?

Make them seem real, in other words flesh them out.

Donald Maas, President of the Donald Maas Literary Agency, regularly tweets tips on writing. Here are some of my favorites in regards to 'fleshing out' your main character.

1.What’s the big thing your MC must do at the end? Make it the one thing he/she has sworn never to do.

2. The thing your protagonist can’t let go: what’s the deeper reason why? Who grasps that reason before your protagonist does.

3. What’s the biggest thing your MC needs to know about himself? Give him five good reasons not to care. Tear each down, in steps.

4. What do you like most about your MC? How soon can we see that one the page? How often? Add more than you think.

5. What does your MC know about themself to be true? What don't they *see* that's even more true? Hit 'em with it.

6. What's a foundational attribute of your MC? Create an odd tick or habit that implies the opposite. Add six times and voila, a quirk.


What Every Villain Needs

As writers we're sometimes so preoccupied with making our protagonist tangible enough to jump off the page that we forget about the antagonist. Villains create conflict, therefore they are essential to any good story, and deserve to be fleshed out as much as your hero.

There's nothing more unsatisfying than reading about a bad guy whose only purpose is to be...well bad. Even though he-who-must-not-be-named was truly evil, J.K. Rowling made sure to show how his past explained his cruelty.

So, does your evil doer have the right stuff? Scroll down to see what every villain needs.

1. A diabolical plan. There has to be a reason for their nastiness—being mean isn't enough.

Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians
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2. A mysterious past. People aren't born evil, they're made.

Count Dracula
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3. A slimy sidekick. Usually with dependency issues. However, it's more interesting if their loyalty is from fear, and consequently unreliable.

Scabbers aka Peter Pettigrew with baby Lord Voldemort
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4. An arch nemesis. It's the hero of the story who represents what the villain secretly fears the most.

White Witch from The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe
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5. High tech gadgets/special powers. Okay, not totally necessary. It's cool and it helps raise the stakes against the hero.

The Joker from Batman, The Dark Knight
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6. An irresistible charm. A cool demeanor coupled with a handsome figure always helps.

Mrs. Coulter from The Golden Compass
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There you have it, now go make some bad guys and watch your story explode!

Who are your favorite villains? Cheers!

How To Write A Query Letter

Ah, the query. Your five second, foot stuck in the door, give it all you got, audition. Writers have lost sleep and hair follicles trying to get it right. Since subjectivity plays a huge role, each agent will be intrigued or discouraged by certain elements. However, there are definitely things you need to AVOID in your query letter.

1. Never write 'dear agent', or worse, another agent's name. And please, check the spelling.

2. Never mention how many rejections you've already received. Why would you do this? It's like asking someone to the prom by saying they were the only one left who hasn't said no.

3. Never say your book will be the next...
Harry Potter or Twilight. That's why people don't sing Celine Dion or Barbara Streisand songs on American Idol. That's putting a lot of pressure on the rest of your query. It's fine to put in comp titles, but please avoid saying your book will blow away the planet as the next best seller.

4. Avoid rhetorical questions in your opening. It distracting, and the agent is going to assume your manuscript is the same. Also, it takes up precious word count. Just tell what the story is about.

5. Only add credentials that are pertinent to the story. It's great that your Aunt Mary loved the book, but unless your Aunt Mary is senior editor at a publishing house, leave it out.

A good query should have three things.

CHARACTER—your MC's age, name, and a sense of what they're like. Are they popular? Bossy? Superstitious? A total EMO but secretly crushing on the high school football star?

CONFLICT—what your character wants but can't have.

CRISIS—what will happen if your character does/doesn't go for what they want.

The first sentence should be the hook. Think of a tag line from a movie that's similar to your book. Then follow with the 3 C's and end with the cliffhanger. But the number one rule is BE SPECIFIC. After reading your query I should be able to answer the 3 C's.

Let's use
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone as an example.

Magic can change everything. Living with his spiteful Aunt and Uncle since his parents were killed in a car accident, eleven-year-old Harry Potter doesn't think being bullied by his cousin is inescapable, until he receives an invitation to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

He leaves his neglected home life for a castle full of moving staircases and secret passageways. Clueless about magic wands and spells, Harry desperately tries to fit in, and is shocked to find the other students already know his name. He learns his parents died protecting him from the most evil wizard in the world, The Dark Lord. Since that night, The Dark Lord had been rumoured to have died, unable to defeat baby Harry.

Harry's new found stardom—and natural skill with a flying broomstick—make him an instant hero at school. But fame comes with a price as Harry uncovers one of the professors is working to bring to Dark Lord back to power, and to finish what he started eleven years ago by finally killing Harry.

There are so many ways to write a great query for this story, this was just my take. Try it yourself.

One of the best things you can do for your query is give it to someone who knows nothing about your book. 
Querytracker is an excellent site...and it's free. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Best Place To Start Your Story

In The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews said it best, “Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

Sounds easy, right? But the most common mistake among new writers is to put waaaaay too much back story in the first few paragraphs.


That's valuable real estate. Let go of the notion your MC won't be interesting unless we know all about them on the first page.


Stephen King says, “Good books don't give up their secrets at once.”

And neither should your character. Let us learn about your MC slowly, as the story progresses.

Let's say your MC is stuck in traffic.

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Lenny pulled on the steering wheel and leaned forward. He craned his neck, trying to see around the cab in front of him. He checked his watch and swore under his breath, then began to jab the stereo buttons, changing the radio channels.

Then you fill in the space with the fact he's a hit man—make that newly retired hit man, soon to be engaged to his high school sweetheart—but he's breaking his promise to his girlfriend by doing this one last job.

But when he finally arrives at the location of the assassination, his stomach drops. The only way to get to the penthouse is by taking the glass elevator that runs up the side of the one hundred story plus building. Lenny's last hit will be one of the city's most notorious mob bosses. This one will pay off big time, and Lenny needs the dough. He has to hire a big shot lawyer to help him get custody of his kid from his ex-wife and her alcoholic boyfriend...blah, blah, blah.

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Still here? You don't have to lose all that stuff, but instead slowly add the elements of Lenny's story as the story unfolds. Make the reader wonder why, instead of telling them right off the bat.

Get out your WIP and go to your favorite part of the first few chapters. Now start the story from there. Yes, right there! The stuff you had at the beginning can be threaded into the later chapters or chucked out all together.

Deep breaths. It's all about playing with words, relax. It's not brain surgery, that's easy compared to writing.

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Let's check back in with Lenny. By this time he's entered the building and started to take the elevator. Why not the stairs, you ask. Duh—over a hundred flights!

Lenny made sure the elevator was empty before he stepped inside and pressed the button to the penthouse. When the doors closed behind him, it was as quiet as a tomb, then there was a jolt. Lenny felt himself being lifted up, but the ground fell away so smoothly it seemed like he was still, and it was the earth that was moving instead.

He breathed in through his nose and focused on the horizon, just like his shrink told him. And it worked—for the first ten floors, then Lenny made the mistake of looking down.

His stomach knotted painfully and his balls tried to crawl up inside his gut. Lenny swallowed, setting off a series of painful spasms down his throat. His gloved hands gripped on the brass handrail.

Lenny froze, afraid to move even a step, hyper aware of how reactive the elevator was to his weight. His eyes traced up the panel, all the way to the one hundred button, then finally the top one labelled PH—penthouse. At least he made sure to put on the gloves before he pressed it. First rule; leave no fingerprints. Lenny stared at those two letters, trying to focus, he needed to get a grip.

Isn't that a better beginning compared to Lenny driving in the car thinking about EVERYTHING in his past, present and future?

Keep your reader guessing. Give little tidbits and hints about Lenny a bit at a time. Why the heck is this guy taking a glass elevator to the penthouse if he's so afraid of heights? Also, the mention of the fingerprints hints to something illegal, and therefore more interesting than a trip to the dentist.

And why is he afraid of heights? Is there a childhood trauma you can start to thread into the story? How has it affected his character? How does it affect the choices he makes in his life?

Donald Maas, President of the Donald Maas Literary Agency, regularly tweets tips on writing. Check this one out, What's the big thing your MC must do at the end? Make it the one thing he/she has sworn never to do.

Another reason a good beginning is essential to any story—is because it also helps with the ending. Since we've established Lenny is afraid of heights, we can use that for the finale.

What if Lenny botched the hit in the penthouse because his fear of heights incapacitated his ability to follow through with the job? And what if that set off a violent series of events leading to the mob bosses rise to power, taking innocent lives along the way—including Lenny's girlfriend?

This nicely sets up a confrontation scene between Lenny and the mob boss. Put them on the scaffolding of an unfinished skyscraper. What will it take for Lenny to win? What has Lenny learnt about himself that will help him defeat his own fears?

I hope this helps your writing.

For kicks and giggles, leave the first few sentences of your WIP in the comments!
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