“Discrete” Use of English

Night to Dawn features zombie tales among other horrors.

During my current WOP, I ran into major problems with the word discrete, and my fellow scribes called me on it. My manuscript read: “People so we have to be discrete with our conversation.” Wrongies. “Discrete” pertains to separate or distinct, and the appropriate word for caution is “discreet.” The noun version for discrete is discretion. For “discreet,” you’d write “discreteness,” which causes more confusion.

Example: I bought a discrete number of balloons for my home, but if there’s a zombie invasion, I’d better be discreet.

Here is an oldie but goodie verb, lie versus lay, one that confuses writers. I see it in my NTD tales all the time. Yes, Yours Truly has gotten caught on this one, too. If you’re talking about someone who’s reclining, “lie” is used for the present tense, while “lay” is used for past tense, and “lain” for past participle. If you’re setting something in a given place, choose “lay” for present and “laid” for past and past participle.
Examples of reclining: The zombies are gone, so lie down and rest. He lay in the tree all afternoon. He’d lain in bed all morning.
Examples of placing something: Lay the balloon tree on the table. I laid my watch on the drawer. She’d laid her clothes out on the sofa.

“Lead versus led” can cause confusion and frustration. Lead, rhyming with bead, means to be in charge or in front. The past tense is always “led.” Confusion arises because “lead” when you’re referring to the metal is pronounced “led.” So to make it simpler…lead rhyming with bead means taking charge or being in front. Lead rhyming with bed is a toxic metal element. Led is the past and past participle of the verb “lead” (rhymes with bead).
Examples: He leads the soldiers on a quest to capture the zombies. She led her soldiers to the cemetery. They stole the lead from the church roof to pay for the guns.

Do you find yourself stumbling over words like this? I’d love to hear your experiences.

WordPress.com versus WordPress.org: a First Time Experience

I did it! I changed the CSS on my website to make the body text larger without balling up the rest of the website. This was my first time using CSS, and I did a LOT of reading before attempting the change. I’m feeling good about this, but now I’m thinking I want to change other things, like the font size on the headers, and the fonts themselves, at least on the body. But I made a start.

Last month, I signed on with www.godaddy.com, imported two plug-ins, and purchased spam filtering from www.askimet.com and backup services from www.vaultpress.com.  Every so often, I check my website for updates and install when one is available. www.typekit.com was offering free services to spare me the learning curve of CSS, but their instructions on how to install their proffered fonts went over my head.

Up until last month, I did my website through WordPress.com. They gave me the hosting, the spam filter, the backups, and for a small fee, fonts of various sizes that I could pluck and use on my website without bothering with CSS. Since I switched over to WordPress.org, I’ve had to do these things myself. It’s kinda like growing up and putting away my toys.

WordPress.com made a great site for my blog and Night to Dawn magazine. So why then did I make the change? Because Night to Dawn is much more than a bi-yearly magazine now. The Night to Dawn books, including the ones I write, demand a more genre-specific theme than the ones provided by WordPress.com. WordPress.org has a lot of nice plug-ins, including search optimization that I couldn’t get with WordPress.com. Ditto with genre-specific themes. As it was, I did a lot of tweaking with the background of the theme before the transfer. Also I found that a lot of public places used web filters that blocked my access to the WordPress.com and other blog sites. Not so with WordPress.org.

For me, the worst part was the transfer. I used WordPress.com guided transfer. They were great. In addition to the transfer, they provided two weeks’ worth of guidance. Al Sirois, my webmaster, demonstrated a lot of good humor during the process, including sitting beneath two enormous balloon trees while poring through the labyrinth of WordPress.com code.

I’m going to keep my background the way I have it for the next couple of years. But my writing mentors have suggested that I alter my theme every two to three years. Hopefully by the next theme change, I will have more than a nodding acquaintance with CSS.

WordPress.com was very good to me, and I strongly recommend it for a blog and beginning website. Since I’ve gotten into publishing and more writing, I had to move on. One thing has not changed, however. I still get waylaid by the Mylar balloons at the supermarkets.

Have you ever thought about trying WordPress.org?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Night to Dawn 23 features zombies, vampires, and dark fantasy.

Writer Bewares and Watchdogs

Over the last year, I’m seeing a lot of small press book companies set up shop, accept work for publication, and then close without communicating with the authors / artists, let alone paying royalties. In June, 2007, Triskelion Publishing Company filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. And sometime in 2011, Aspen Mountain Press folded after five years of publishing. Operations formally suspended in April, 2012, but the breakdown in communications and payments happened way before that. Other names have come up; the list runs long, including Dorchester Publishing, and self-publishing companies like Publish America (aka AmErica House).

Do these publishers open up their company with the intention of cheating authors? I doubt it in the majority of cases. Generally, the company is headed by one person who develops serious health problems. Perhaps the publisher began without adequate knowledge of formatting or distribution. Perhaps he took on too many projects too soon. No doubt the economy had a lot to do with it, especially if the publisher worked a day job that provided the capital for his venue. Mostly I contemplate Night to Dawn and conclude, there by the grace of God go I.

In the end, the authors / artists are left stranded. Folks, your works are important. You’re sharing part of you on the printed page. Whether you sketch or write about soldiers, monsters, priests, families, a part of you will show, and that’s priceless. You owe it to yourself to research your company before submitting, reading the contract carefully before nodding your okay, and promoting the book once it goes to press. With that in mind, I’m happy to list several watchdog sites that will give you the skinny on your prospective company. Keep in mind as you visit these sites that the bad boy companies have a way of changing their names to cover tracks.

Preditors & Editors:  an oldie but goodie company, P&E will list most companies and will give a thumbs up or down. You won’t get much detail, but you’ll have a ballpark idea of where your company stands.

Piers Anthony gives a concrete explanation for his opinion on given publishers. He focuses on e-publishers, and that’s a great thing since eBooks are now outdoing print books. To get his ratings, click on the “publish on web” link.

Absolute Write gives a thorough rundown on recommended sites, bewares, and advice to the newbie writer. That also includes advice on what to do if your publisher goes incommunicado. They discuss agents who charge fees (a no-no), and recommend publishers (yeah!).

Victoria Strauss works with a watchdog group, Writer Beware, a service mark of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. When it comes to publishers who change their names, she doesn’t miss a trick, and she will edit her blog accordingly. However, her blog can be used by anyone, regardless of genre. She will also refer you to other sites that might make the submission process go smoother.

The alternative is self-publishing, which means you do your own editing, art, formatting, distributing, and marketing, or pay to get these services. The upside is that if you get a generous royalty per sale, especially with CreateSpace and Smashwords. The downside is that some reviewers and bookstores shy away from self-published books. A lot more authors are turning toward self-publishing.


JoAnna Senger’s Interview

I first became aware of JoAnna Senger through her short stories for Barbara Custer’s Night To Dawn magazine. Her writing style easily pulled me into the stories. Recently, I read her first published novel, Betrothal, Betrayal, And Blood, and was blown away by her writing technique and storytelling ability.

Tom: JoAnna, thank you for sitting down with me for this interview. First, how about telling your fans a little about yourself, your family, and where you live?

JoAnna: I still consider myself a Midwestern girl despite decades in California and now Arizona, still root for the Kansas City Chiefs even though I can’t remember the last time I saw them play in a stadium.  My family consisted of a mom, dad, little brother and a half-sister. Only my brother and I are left. Although I still own my home in California, I have to say that I much prefer living in Arizona in the City of Surprise, a small city around 120,000 in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

I went to Stephens College, a girls’ college in Columbia, Missouri, where I received a Bachelors in a double major, French and Economics. I attended graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley and earned a master’s degree in economics.

The world of words and the world of numbers are equally comfortable for me.

Tom: From reading your short stories, and now your novel, it is easy to tell you are an experienced writer, how did you get your start, and what is your background?

JoAnna: You’re really taking me back.  When I was in the fourth grade, we had a choice about a project, and writing a story was one of the choices. I wrote and illustrated (Lord help us) my first story:  Roo-lah and the Elephant Herd. No doubt influenced by my thorough attention to Tarzan comics. I have worked as a financial analyst, a computer programmer and systems analyst, a compensation specialist, a Human Resources consultant, and recently earned a paralegal certificate. So I’ve written just about everything from technical documentation through legal briefs into fantasy.

Or, maybe it’s all a fantasy.

Tom: What writers influenced you, if any, and whom would you say your writing style most resembles? And are your stories more plot driven or character driven, do you think?

JoAnna:  When I was seven, my parents gave me my first book that I could read myself: “The Tin Woodman of Oz” for Christmas. Smitten with the Land of Oz, I went on to buy all the books in the series, and I still have them. L. Frank Baum was followed by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling), William Faulkner, Ann Rice, Agatha Christie, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King and many others.

I strive for a style similar to Faulkner’s with respect to the abrupt pace change and like Christie’s for subtlety. With respect to mysteries, I particularly like those where “who-dun-it” becomes almost beside the point, given the extraordinary discoveries made along the way.

As for plot versus character, I suppose I would put character first.  It seems to me that the characters act according to their nature, and their actions become the plot.  Yet, I usually think of a broad plot outline before I refine the characters.  Once refined, the characters become real to me and, often, I can’t give them up.

Tom: Tell us about your short stories, and a bit about your recent novel, and which do you prefer writing, novels or short stories? Or do you have a preference either way?

JoAnna:  The novel is most natural to me. A few of my short stories are standalones, and in the future, I will submit only standalones to magazines such as Night To Dawn and save the continuous stories for a novel. I think of writing a novel as similar to making a quilt, which I also do. Sometimes you need to take a break, and the short story or a table runner does the trick.

Tom: You point out that the human monster is worse than any imaginary creature, and I agree. There is a touch of horror in your recent mystery novel involving a human monster. But besides horror and mystery, do you consider writing other genres down the road, and if so, what would they be?

JoAnna:  I have written a few children’s stories, as yet unpublished, as sometimes wonder what it would be like to write a column for a newspaper.  So many challenges ahead!

Tom: In your novel, Betrothal, Betrayal, And Blood, you have some very interesting characters, in particular the police investigators and a certain female P.I., are these based on anyone you know (lol)? As you know, I’m already a fan of your lady P.I., and hope to see more of her!

JoAnna: In truth, I see myself, family, friends, and acquaintances in every character I write. I’ve heard it said that writers just write about themselves and use different disguises.  A former colleague read a very early version of Betrothal, Betrayal, and Blood and saw me clearly in the lady P.I. I was so flattered!

When I have strong feelings about someone, that person will definitely wind up in my writing.

Tom: What do you find to be the most exciting part of the creating process to either novels or short stories?

JoAnna:  Ideas come over me and demand my attention, nag at me, give me no peace until I start writing.  The flow of words and the images in my mind invite me into another world, the world I am putting down on paper and yes, I often do write my very first drafts in long hand, a chapter at a time.  This first act of writing, the very beginning of a novel, transports me to another world where I am all-powerful and everything will be as I have said. Then, I discover myself writing something completely different from what I was thinking, and we’re off to the races. If I’m using my laptop, I don’t even look at the screen and just write what I see in my mind’s eye.

Weird?  You bet.

Tom: Along the same subject as above, what do you find to be the most difficult area in the creating process?


JoAnna:  Making sure that what I see so clearly in my mind’s eye actually becomes words on the page. I have absorbed the characters and events so thoroughly that I sometimes forget that the reader has not.

Tom: Are you working on anything special right now, perhaps a sequel (I hope) to Betrothal, Betrayal, And Blood?

JoAnna:  I have completed the first draft of the next book in the San Tobino series: Holistic Death.  I can guarantee you that you’ll see some folks you know.

Tom: Besides family and writing, tell us about any hobbies or community services you may be involved in, and any other activity you would like to mention.

JoAnna:  I am currently volunteering in the Prosecutor’s Office in the City of Surprise.  The Chief Prosecutor is similar to a District Attorney.

I love to quilt and embroider, maintaining the traditions of the women in my family.  I am the first to be raised in suburbia rather than on a farm or ranch.

Tom: What advice would you give other aspiring authors hoping to break into the writing field today?

JoAnna:  Remain open to all opportunities.  There are so many how-tos, and each of them worked for somebody. It’s all so easy once it happens, and so seemingly hopeless before it happens. The activities I thought would lead somewhere usually didn’t, and then a casual note led me to a bit of success.

And throughout it all was the writing, the world of the imagination, and that is an incomparable experience.  When you realize that you would rather fail at writing than be successful at anything else, you know you’re in the right place.

Tom: Where can fans find and buy – your stories, and do you keep copies on hand for autographs? Please include website and Blogs.

JoAnna:  My novel and short stories can currently be found in Night To Dawn magazine at www.bloodredshadow.com/ My novel is also available at Amazon and B&N.

Tom:  And now a question from left field.  If you could, would you choose to live in a parallel universe as one of the people in the places you create?

JoAnna:  In a heartbeat.  I would go to San Tobino and live forever having safe adventures with Emma, Hermione, Karl and Vito.  Writing about them is the next best thing.

Tom: JoAnna, thank you very much for consenting to this interview.

JoAnna:  It’t been a real pleasure.




Tom Johnson’s Interview with Illustrator Teresa Tunaley

Night to Dawn features zombie fiction along with vampires.I first became aware of Teresa Tunaley’s illustrations in Barbara Custer’s Night To Dawn magazine a few years back. In fact, I was so taken with Teresa’s art I went to her website and looked at the many pages of fine illustrations she had already done for book covers and magazines. It was no surprise to see the many Awards she has received for her art and website design. When it came time for a new edition of “Jur: A Story of Pre Dawn Earth,” I naturally thought of her for the cover. The previous three editions of my book sported some pretty horrible covers, I assure you. But I felt Teresa had the right technique to capture the scene I wanted. She did!  Let me now introduce you to a very fine lady who has been fun to work with on several projects so far.

Tom: Teresa, to begin, please tell the readers a little about yourself, where you are from, and where you are now living.

Teresa: Many moons ago, I was born in the United Kingdom in a small village called Wigston, in Leicestershire.  In my mid 20’s I had the opportunity to holiday in Tenerife, one of seven small islands off the West coast of Africa (governed by Spain).  I fell in love with the tranquil way of life and found myself spending every summer here; so, after dozens of holidays, I decided in 2002 to move and make it permanent.  So much easier having your Mum, sister and cousins already out here!  They had made the decision to move much earlier than I had.

Tom: How did you become involved in art creations, and has this always been your life’s dream?

Teresa:  I recall painting quite early before my teens, but didn’t take it up as a hobby until much later.  I worked initially in Watercolors and felt quite proud as I sold a few of my paintings to co-workers.  Monet’s works adorned my lounge walls at this time.

I could spend hours in Art Museums; I was fascinated by art especially large pieces painted by the Masters.  The detail even in the background was stunning, fine lace, jewelry and clothing painted so well, every fold was real to me.

I experimented in Oils, Acrylics and left behind watercolors.  Oils became my favorite as it allowed me more time to add and blend.

Tom: Were there any inspirations or artistic influences early on, or later in life. I’m sure you have grown in your fantastic talent over the years. Did you attend art schools, or are you self-taught?

Teresa: No one person inspired me to paint; it was the creation of something new, something entirely familiar or even alien.  To put paint to paper meant you could imagine a scene, in any time, another reality or planet; put yourself and the onlooker right there.  There are no boundaries.

Tom: I’m sure that art is a big part of your life, but do you have other interests? Family and associates, or hobbies that you would like to talk about?

Teresa: Art is a big part of my life because I need to do it.  I have images going around in my head all the time and need to get this on paper; some of my best paintings have been conjured up late at night between wake and sleep and I must say, most of these would be best placed in the Horror Genre lol.

Besides art, I do the normal day to day things around the house: cook, sew and clean.  I don’t dislike any of this but sometimes find it difficult to pull myself away from my art.  I could sit at my easel at 9.00am just to touch up one section or fine tune another; before I know it literally hours have gone by.

Weekends I try to spend with friends and family.  My partner Stefano is Italian and paints as much as I do but only in Acrylic.  The lounge is mainly our studio with easels for each of us.  There are canvasses leaning everywhere, the walls are strewn with art.  We sit in the early evening talking about our work and commenting on each others. (Gently, as we are both sensitive to negativity) each to their own we say…we have differing styles but lovely all the same.

Tom: I noticed several Preditors & Editors Awards, as well as other awards listed on your website. Please tell us about them, and how they came about.

Teresa: I had forgotten about these until you mentioned them as they are quite a few years ago. Some have been won for my work appearing in certain publications. Others for the art website that I have www.artstopper.com.

My most recent award was July last year here in Tenerife.  I entered a competition along with hundreds of other artists from all over the world.  I produced a lady on a large 1.5 m sq canvas. I painted the contours of her body in various colors which represented the heat source.

Well, I was both surprised and overwhelmed to win the Public Vote award. The certificate hangs in my office, its very special; being recognized as an actual Artist makes me feel special.

Tom: What do you find is the most enjoyable aspect of creating art/covers?

Teresa: The fact that others can enjoy my work as much as me gives me the inspiration to create on a daily basis.

Tom: Would you say there is anything you find difficult with creating art, or working with authors/publishers?

Teresa:  I can’t really say that I have worked with any difficult authors or publishers.  I have worked with the same people time and time again; after 10 yrs of working with dozens of publishers, I have made many friends.  Perhaps, I have found it easy. I try to paint a cover or design that the Author/Publisher actually wants, not what I want.  I haven’t written the book, the author has.  They want a cover that depicts a scene and I create it.

There are times I get a full script to read but there are also times I only get notes from authors, one or two phrases to explain their needs.  Either way, I’m neither happy or done, until the client is happy!

Tom: Is there any advice you would like to give aspiring artists and creators who are just starting out, or on their way up?

Teresa: My advice would be: never lose your own style, although you may have to tweak and vary it a little for particular assignments.  Don’t get put off by rejections because they will come thick and fast (they never stop). It’s only the acceptances that count and when you get one, put your heart into getting it right!

Tom: Are you working on anything special at the moment? And most important, where can viewers find your website and contact information?

Teresa: I have just completed “Eden’s Planet” for you Tom, which is always a pleasure.  I have constant assignments from SamDotsPublishing. I am currently creating a piece that features strange planets and aliens for Tyree Campbell, scheduled to appear in the next Drabble issue.

I enjoy receiving copies of each and every book or magazine I illustrate. Especially as I live on a Spanish island with little or no reading matter available in English. I have a huge collection over the years and love to go to my book shelf and pick one up at random, read through the wonderful stories that take me to places afar.

Tom: Teresa, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Your art has really impressed me, and I know it will others. I love the work you’ve done for my books, and I look forward to working with you again in the future.

Teresa: Tom thank you.  I am proud to have been a part of your venture; I still get a buzz when a piece is complete, the author loves it and its ready for print even after creating art for the last 30 years.


When Your Tales Contain Too Much Clutter

horror & sF about aliens and zombies

Yesterday, I learned about the evils of clutter when I purchased an outdoor trash can and attempted to load it into my Honda Fit. It looked so easy. Folding down the back seats would give plenty of room for my purchase, but so much stuff had congregated in the back seats and floor. Bending the trashcan wasn’t an option; I had to move all my stuff into the front seat. A Christopher Columbus expedition followed where I discovered books, throw rugs, pillows, magazines, tools, bags of old clothes, and more. All up, it took ½ hour to clear enough space for the trash can.

Then I got to thinking about the clutter in my stories and the way I try to jam my characters so that they’ll fit into the clutter, and then wonder why the story doesn’t make sense. In any novel, you have your central plot, with the subplots revolving around it. Let’s say a vampire flees his land and attempts to live among humans until his enemy catches up with him. Then you add subplots – perhaps the vampire falls in love with his neighbor, then he gets a night job, perhaps his enemy tries to steal his girlfriend. The clutter starts if you throw in werewolves, aliens, and a plethora of “walk-on” characters without duly preparing the reader for them. And whatever goes down, your character has to act true to his role. You can’t have someone with a phobia of heights climb the side of a building unless you’ve motivated and prepared him to do this way in advance. If your character prays in a monastery on one page, and then on the next, he commits a mass murder, you’ll lose your reader unless you’ve set up the story in a way that your reader might expect this.

At the last writer’s conference, a workshop leader gave me wise advice. Don’t just write a resume for your character. Take your character out to dinner. Watch TV with him at home. Bring him to work and family functions. Observe in your mind how he might interact with family members, what foods he might like, etc. Then let him tell you the story. This will help you avoid extraneous scenes that clutter your story, and the reader will keep turning the pages.

With the lessons at the conference and shopping trip in mind, I’m cleaning out the clutter from my present work in progress, and scolding myself in the process. That is my biggest challenge – the mess! It will take longer than ½ hour to clear it, but clear it I will.

What do you find most challenging about rewrites? Does clutter creep into your tales? How do you address it?


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