Killing Your Darlings and other Writerly Issues

I got the edits back on Steel Rose, and was glad I had an editor look over the book. Maura Anderson has done a thorough job on Steel Rose, and Toni Rakestraw has done well by me on the stories for City of Brotherly Death. For me to edit my own work would be like a doctor treating his relatives. In both cases, we’re too close to the relatives (or book, in my case) to make wise choices.

One of my major weaknesses was inconsistency. Example: Laurel is my villain, and her negligence causes a patient’s death. The boss fires her and orders two security officers to walk her to her car. All well and good, but two pages later, when Laurel muttered a plan to kill people and dented a car on her way out of the garage, I failed to mention the guards. “What happened to the guards?” asked my editor in her thought balloon. “Surely, they would be watching Laurel.”

So I revised that scene, and upon further thought, I realized that several chapters later, when the police interview the protagonist Alexis about Laurel, they might mention that Laurel is wanted for fleeing the scene of an accident. So I will revise that section also.

It’s not enough that Laurel got fired. When negligence results in a patient’s death in a hospital, the employer is required to report this to the state license board. I know this full well, being a registered respiratory therapist. Alas, I did not include this in the scene where the boss fires Laurel, and the editor called me on it. I might have called my writers for NTD on similar issues. But like many writers, I find it hard to see my own mistakes.

Another area I struggle with is the need to kill my darlings. No, seriously. I love “cute” expressions, but I had to ditch a lot of them because they confused the reader. Example, I typed, “The essence of Laurel wafted her way.” The editor crossed out “essence of Laurel” and replaced it with “Laurel’s smell.” Toni and other editors have called me on my tendency to use too many metaphors, too. I had Yeron, Alexis’ alien lover, thinking the zombies were “wearing death like an overcoat in February.” Us humans might think that way, but not aliens. Hereafter I will save the “cuteness” for my Mylar balloons.

One thing Maura recommended was a timeline, and this advice ties in with a suggestion that author / agent Marie Lamba gave at the Writer’s Coffeehouse meeting about using a calendar to keep track of seasons and important dates for your protagonist. Hereafter I will consider outlining chapters.

I’d like to hear about your struggles with the writing process? Do you outline, and if you do, how has it worked for you? Do you find it hard to kill your darlings? Any other struggles? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Night to Dawn brings a new take on zombies and vampires

 

When the Writing I Gotta Bug Bites You

In Stephen King’s Misery, his protagonist Paul said the I gotta motivated him to keep writing despite the tortures inflicted by the villain Annie. By tortures, I mean the loss of body parts, starvation, and other horrors. But he had to keep going because of the I gotta bug.

At the time, I thought I gotta was a cool expression. I gave it no more thought until I came down with the bug.

These past weeks, I’ve been revising “One Last Favor,” a tale earmarked for my anthology, City of Brotherly Death. A small press magazine published “One Last Favor” years ago. The story opens with a horde of revenants, people returning from the dead to harm the living, invading Hartland Clinic. My protagonist Tara survives by trading sex for her life. As the story advances, the dead continue their invasion, destroying entire cities. A registered nurse, Tara continues treating the sick until the monsters who bargained with her years before return for another visit. In the original version, Tara (different name in first version) joins the dead because she hates being alone.

When I evaluated the story for revisions, I thought, how trite. Most people in their right minds wouldn’t give up humanity to join a bunch of flesh-eating monsters. Tara enjoys patient care, respect, a decent income, and a comfortable apartment. Why would she give those things up?

I kept the first half of the story, revised the second, and ditched the original ending. It never occurred to me, until I was deep into my work, that I should have outlined my revision. So I got stuck. I sat before a blank screen trying to come up with a brilliant ending. If not that (you can’t win the jackpot every time), an ending that would satisfy the reader.

The thought crossed my mind to scrap the tale and move on to something else. I couldn’t do that, not with all those zombies threatening my protagonist’s life. One of my friends suggested I put the story on the back burner and go with other activities. I tried doing that, but after a couple of hours, that story called to me, demanding that I finish it. If I told you that only the prospect of sales and a contract motivated me, I’d be lying. Diggity-damn, those zombies found a way into Tara’s house, and what was she going to do about it?

My balloons need helium. Forget that. I gotta find out if Tara will live. Will the cavalry arrive in time to save her? Two editing projects are sitting in my queue. They’ll have to wait. I gotta see where Tara will finish up if she survives. I gotta know who will mourn her if she dies. I gotta find out if she manages to destroy the zombies.

Like a pearl necklace that motivates me to save until I have enough money to buy it, the I Gotta holds the promise of a brilliant ending. Chores be damned, I’ll keep going until I find that ending.

It took three tries to get a workable ending. Raising the stakes in the middle opened things up a bit, especially when Tara finds love. However, the ending is subject to change. The tale has gone to the editor. Toni of The Unbridled Editor has edited most of my tales for City of Brotherly Love. I highly recommend her.

While I wait for the edits, I shall fill my balloons and work on the other Night to Dawn projects. Because when the edits come back, I suspect there will be another go-round with the I gotta bug.

Has any of you been bitten by the I gotta bug? How did it affect your writing? Were you satisfied with the results?

Anthology featurings zombie and revenant tales by Barbara Custer, set in Philadelphia

 

To Lie or not to Lie; that is the question.

While lying with balloons, Barbara Custer contemplates novel ways to lie to her readers.

We lay in bed all day waiting for Barbara to lie down.

I’m referring to one of the verbs that give me and other writers a lot of grief –  the difference between lie, lay, and laid. That and certain words that mean one thing when used as a compound, and something else when used separately, can mess up an otherwise well-written tale.

And so therein “lies” the problem:

Lie as an intransitive verb: I am lying down with my balloons.

Lay as a transitive verb: John, please lay the balloon tree on the table.

Sounds simple but when we move to the past tense, complications arise. For example, the present tense of lie is lie. Example: He lies on the rug. The past tense is lay. Example: Robert lay on the floor. The past participle is lain. Example: He’d lain in that bed for some time.

The present tense of lay is lay. Example: I lay my purse on the table. The past tense is laid. Example: Barbara laid her balloons in the cart. The past participle is laid. She’d laid the bags on the table an hour ago.

Looking at compound words, I found that certain words, when used separately or as a compound, mean two different things. One example is setup. Is it set up, set-up or setup? So I went to my trusty dictionary.

“Setup” is a noun, while “set up” is a verb. But it’s not quite that simple. You always use “set up” when you’re using it for a verb, so….

You must set up your computer software.

Mary set up her balloon tree.

Frank set up a bank account for his client.

As a noun and adjective, you would use either setup or set-up and each means different things. Setup is the noun or adjective used pertaining to computers and their setup. Set-up is the noun or adjective used pertaining to things unrelated to computers and their setup. So…

This PC setup screen is unique.

The computer’s setup is compact.

But:

That bag of pot was a set-up from the beginning.

Some banks charge exorbitant set-up fees

The set-up of her entertainment center is precarious.

Sometime versus some time. It sounds simple, but isn’t…quite. When “some time” is used as a certain / unspecified duration of time, use “some time.” Example: I spent some time looking for the rose balloon. When “sometime” is used as an adjective meaning “former,” it’s one word. Example: That balloon salesperson is my sometime friend. If we’re referring to an unspecified point of time in the future, either “sometime” or “some time” is appropriate. Example. I plan to travel to the islands sometime / some time next year.

As I continue my work, if I find other compound words that stump me, I will post them in a future blog. For now, I have it clear in my mind which of the above words to use in my work-in-progress. Somehow, though, when I get engrossed in the heat of the scene, I’m liable to forget and mix up the verbs. A wise instructor once told me that English was the most difficult language to learn. I think she had it right.

Do you find yourself struggling with “lie” versus “lay,” or any of the compound words? I would like to hear about your experiences with compounds and words like “lie/lay,” and how you worked your way around them.

 

Interview with Balloon Artist Turned Author Ralph E. Horner

TandemTrystSome time ago Night to Dawn Books published Heroes of Ancient Greece, an anthology featuring Ralph E. Horner’s tale, “Atalanta.” I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to learn about his brainchild Tandem Tryst and forthcoming sequel. Also fascinating is his background in magic and balloon art. He has crafted every balloon animal you can imagine and now, he has brought his experiences with him into publishing and marketing. So let’s hear what Ralph has to say about Tandem Tryst and his upcoming sequel.

BARBARA: I’ve known that you’ve written short stories for some time, having published one in Heroes of Ancient Greece. What motivated your transition to novels?

RALPH: Actually I started writing novels first. I wrote three rather short novels between 1985 and 1995. They were about fifty-five to sixty-five thousands words, and during that time I did write one short Christmas story. Even though I was a bit discouraged after none of these novels got published, the concept of Tandem Tryst seemed better than the other stories I had written. That alone motivated me to continue writing it. I also decided that extending the story to eighty thousand words would make it easier to sell.

BARBARA: Could you tell me about balloon animals and magic? How do you garner publicity for your business?

RALPH: Every year I try to make four or five new balloon creations. I’m up to around one hundred now. I used the term make new balloons rather than learn because once you’re up to making twenty-five or thirty you start creating things that aren’t in balloon books. Figures like Angels, Frankenstein, the wolfman, fairies, etc. Also with magic, I learn a new trick or two a year and try to implement comedy into most of them. If you can get the kids laughing that really helps a magic show. I now teach balloon art and magic for children and adults at a local junior college. For advertising my business I use the area phone book which also gives you an on-line listing.

BARBARA: Do you find yourself bringing your experiences as a clown to the printed page? If yes, can you give an example?

RALPH: Outside of the fact that clowning and creative writing are both considered entertainment, they are very different. With my stories usually being series in nature, I don’t often use humor, but there are exceptions. In “Pandora Spoxx” from the Startling Stories Anthology, I used humor to color my Captain Danger and the Space Rangers story. I used a lot of puns and satire in that one. Even in my novel Tandem Tryst I occasionally wrote in a humorous situation and a little joke here and there, and when the two main characters are watching a vaudeville show, I wrote an entire comedy routine that could have taken place at that time.

The sequel Midnight Mist, which I’m working on now, has the most humor of any novel I’ve done. For the first time I’ve even written in a character who is a birthday party clown.

BARBARA: Where did you get your ideas for your characters and theme for Tandem Tryst?

RALPH: I was mowing the grass one day and the concept of the story came to me. What if my wife passed away suddenly and then years later I was somehow able to travel back in time and meet her soul in a previous life. And what if she looked, sounded, and acted as my wife did? This would be the ultimate blessing for someone who lost their soul-mate.

Tandem Tryst was originally going to be a third story in my Witch’s Moon trilogy I was writing. Since the first two novels took place in MA this one would too, and the time was to be 1893. When I told my mother about this new novel she mentioned that the time was the same as the World’s Columbian Exposition here in Chicago. I’d heard of that fair, but knew very little about it. Since I live in the Chicago area I changed the story to that location. I spent more time researching the history of the fair than I did writing the story. I was only in the third chapter when I saw the book The Devil in the White City being advertised in the Chicago Tribune. I knew I’d done the right thing by putting the story at the fair. Instead of having this novel as a third story of an unpublished trilogy I decided to make this a separate story. As far as the characters, they evolved as I wrote the novel.

BARBARA: I hear you’re working on a sequel, Midnight Mist. Could you give a preview of this tale?

RALPH: While my lead characters, Jeff and Melody, in Tandem Tryst solve the problems, like revealing the stalker, another dilemma opens up as Tandem Tryst comes to a close. I don’t want to say too much about Midnight Mist that might spoil Tandem Tryst for people who haven’t read it, but the sequel gives the first story closure for the two lovers. In the first story Jeff, who is from 1993, goes back in time to Melody’s time 1893 and in Midnight Mist, Melody comes to Jeff’s time with some new and existing problems.

BARBARA: Most writers find moving from short stories to novels a great leap. What do you find the most challenging about novel writing?

RALPH: Well, since I started with short novels, and novellas, I would say the hardest part about writing a full length novel is trying to incorporate side plots and keeping the word count up, if you’re not use to writing that long of a story. The thinking process is different for a novel.

BARBARA: What advice would you give an aspiring author trying to hone his or her technique?

RALPH: Join a writers’ support group. You have to have other writers evaluate your work. Writing has so many facets involved; plot, dialogue, narrative, good descriptions, a good writing style or voice, punctuation and the list goes on. Just when you think you have these attributes down your writers group will find another flaw for you to consider. Your writing can always improve. Sometimes the criticism of the group is painful, but it’s worth it if you want to improve and get published. If the people in your group don’t find your problems, the editors at the publishing houses will.

BARBARA: “Atalanta” enjoyed a favorable review. What motivated that tales, and how did the collaborating with Tom and the other contributors come about?

RALPH: I had two stories published through Tom’s magazine Classic Pulp Fiction Stories and we had done another anthology together. One day he emailed me asking if I could write a story about Atalanta the woman warrior from Greek Mythology. I had never heard of her, but told him I’d do some research and write one. Tom was planning an anthology of Ancient Greek Heroes and also contacted a mutual friend, Mike Black to help him with the writing. Tom wrote two stories; one with Hercules and one about Atalanta. Mike wrote a Hercules story and I did a second one with the Atalanta theme. It was a lot of fun writing in a new genre.

BARBARA: Where may people get copies of Tandem Tryst and Greek Heroes?

RALPH: Amazon.com has both of them. You can also buy Tandem Tryst from my publisher, Wings-press.com, or my website www.ralphehorner.weebly.com, and the book store at the Chicago Architecture Foundation where they conduct the White City bus tours, and at their on-line store www.architecture.org. I believe now you can also order it at Barnes and Nobel.

BARBARA: If you could give one piece of advice to an author trying to promote their books, what would it be?

RALPH: I’m still learning myself, but I’d say get a website, try to get on-line reviews and schedule book signings and readings to get your name out there.

RalphTT

 

Interview with Eppie Award Winning Author Margaret L. Carter

An Eppie award winner, Margaret Carter is the author of Sealed In Blood, Crimson Dreams, The Vampire In Literature, Dark Changeling, Different Blood, and many other dark works, both fiction and nonfiction. Some of her stories have appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover anthologies. She received her MA in University of Hawaii and Ph. D. from the University of California, both in English. Her magazine, The Vampire’s Crypt, enjoyed a long run. When she isn’t creating nightmares, she works part time as a proofreader for the Maryland General Assembly.

Visit her website at www.margaretlcarter.com

BARBARA CUSTER: Margaret, thank you for being the first to join the NTD blog. Could you tell me when you first began writing?

MARGARET L. CARTER: At the age of thirteen. I was inspired by DRACULA, which I read for the first time when I was twelve. The public library didn’t have enough readily available horror fiction for my taste, and I had trouble finding any of the kind I wanted — sympathetic to and from the viewpoint of the “monster.”

BARBARA CUSTER: The Vampire’s Crypt enjoyed a healthy run. Any chance of revisiting the Crypt in the future?

MARGARET L. CARTER: Not a chance — too much work! Fortunately, NIGHT TO DAWN fills the same niche.

BARBARA CUSTER: Where may the readers order back copies?

MARGARET L. CARTER: The top page of my website, www.margaretlcarter.com, has a link for THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT. It leads to the distributor’s website and also to my own pages listing tables of contents for each issue and summaries of the book review columns.

BARBARA CUSTER: What is your favorite theme as a writer?

MARGARET L. CARTER: The Ugly Duckling — the misfit whose apparent defects turn out to be gifts when he or she finds where he or she truly belongs. My other favorite theme is the allure of the Other, expressed in relationships between human and nonhuman characters.

BARBARA CUSTER: How did you come up with the idea for your particular vampire species?

MARGARET L. CARTER: My husband, Leslie Roy Carter (see his page on my website), wrote a story, “Vanishing Breed,” for my first book, an anthology of vampire fiction. (This story is still available in the SF vampire anthology TOMORROW SUCKS, edited by Greg Cox.) Although extraterrestrial vampires had existed in movies and fiction for a long time, this is the first story I know of to use the premise that the vampires who’ve lived among for thousands of years originated on another world. I was excited by the idea of vampires as a naturally evolved species and began transforming the characters I’d already created into natural rather than supernatural blood-drinkers. As my fictional universe developed,the biology of my species was influenced by other authors such as Suzy McKee Charnas, George R. R. Martin, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Elaine Bergstrom, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (although her Count Saint-Germain is, of course, traditionally supernatural). My website link labeled “Vanishing Breed” lists all the available stories and novels in my vampire universe in internal chronological order.

BARBARA CUSTER: What do you find most difficult about your work-in-progress?

MARGARET L. CARTER: The first-draft writing process. I feel anxiety when facing a blank screen, and I’m a very slow writer compared to what I’d like to be.

BARBARA CUSTER: What do you enjoy most about the creative process?

MARGARET L. CARTER: Outlining. I love conceiving the characters and planning the story in detail. It’s the *execution* that gives me trouble.

BARBARA CUSTER: I notice that you also teach and proofread. How do you budget time for your writing?

MARGARET L. CARTER: I work as a legislative proofreader only two days a week during the nine-month interim and a heavier part-time schedule during the annual 90-day session. I try to get in at least a few hours every week on my days off. I haven’t taught any classes in many years.

BARBARA CUSTER:Tell the readers about your current work in process / latest release.

MARGRET L. CARTER: In May, Ellora’s Cave (www.ellorascave.com — or google Jasmine-Jade for their new website, if the forwarding doesn’t work to bring up the latest books) released a “Quickie,” a short erotic paranormal romance, called “Lion’s Bower.” It’s a Beauty and the Beast type of story, in which a maiden desperate to help her brother get a potion to heal his sick daughter finds forbidden fruit in a catlike sorcerer’s secret garden. I’ve just sold Ellora’s Cave a short ghost romance set at a bed and breakfast in the Blue Ridge Mountains region of Virginia.

BARBARA CUSTER:What advice would you give to a person trying to get their short story / novel published?

MARGARET L. CARTER: The annual WRITER’S MARKET always contains many useful articles on how to get published. WRITER’S DIGEST magazine is a good resource, too. A writer could also look into Internet resources, starting with the website of the professional organization in whatever genre one is interested in, e.g., Romance Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, SFWA. Polish your craft, of course, and seek a good critique group or critique partner to give feedback before submitting a story or novel. Never give up.

BARBARA CUSTER: Where may someone order a copy of your books?

MARGARET L. CARTER: My website has links to purchasing pages for each book listed. To buy directly from my publishers, go to Amber Quill Press (amberquill.com), Hard Shell Word Factory (hardshell.com), Ellora’s Cave
(ellorascave.com), and Cerridwen Press (cerridwenpress.com). Also, I have many books and short stories on Fictionwise (fictionwise.com). Search “Margaret Carter” with no middle initial to bring up all of them, including stories from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s SF anthologies and the e-book version of my Silhouette vampire romance, EMBRACING DARKNESS.

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