Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - What a Year

I just want to say on this, the last day of 2015, that I have had a wonderful year. A bumper year. A banner year.

To all my friends and fans, family and fugitives, thank you for you support and affection. You're in my thoughts and in my heart. Couldn't do what I do without you.

I'll see you on the other side.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Shadows of Angels and Gnomes

Laura "L.G." Rollins
Today at the Blog Mansion we welcome Laura “L.G.” Rollins author of the new book Shadows of Angels. The Blog Mansion was snowed in that day. It was a miracle she made it at all.

Johnny: What is that four feet? Five feet of snow? My usual people haven’t been here to shove the snow.

Laura (LG): Who do you use?

J: I hired gnomes this year. They dropped off a pamphlet last summer and the price was right. But now when I need the, where’s their snow removal.

LG: Gnomes?

J: Yeah, they’re supposed to be hard working little guys. Sorry you got so wet.

LG: It was a long cold hike from the gate. My driver wouldn’t dare the drive.

J: That’s my fault. Not everyone gets out of the Blog Mansion.

L: Really?

J: Have some Christmas cookies.

L: Thanks.

J: So tell me about your new book, Shadows of Angels.

LG: Shadows of Angles is a YA Fantasy. It's about a girl, Aerbrin, whose father is murdered. But, just before he dies, he slips into her hand a small, magical Zaad Stone. Problem is, the people who killed her father to get it know she has it, and she can't access the magic inside it to save herself.

J: So fantasy. Tell me, what’s the advantage of writing fantasy over, say, something I like better?

LG: Haha, I love fantasy because it leaves so many options open. I chose not to stick with a classic fantasy world—you know, dragons, elves, etc. And instead, I opted to create my own mysterious and strange creates. For example, the Orchal named Yinn, who eats people's minds, except for the memories, she keeps those to enjoy at a later time. Or, The One With No Name. Called that because she doesn't have a name, and is cursed so that no name sticks to her. She's quite fun to talk to.

J: Shadows of Angels a young adult title, but I understand it’s dark, very dark. Tell me how dark is it?

LG: Well, truth be told I never considered it very dark, but several reviewers have come back saying it's dark. So I guess that really depends on who you ask. There is a lot of pain, evil demons, and monsters. But my main characters are good, as in morally good, as in want to stand up for what's morally right. It's just the bad guys are the opposite. Does that make a book 'dark'? I guess in today's literary market, it does. The short answer: my book is not all sunshine and daisies.

J: Wait. Was that a knock on the door? I’ll be right back.

<10 minutes later>

LG: Who was it?

J: The gnomes. They finished. I had to pay them.

Gnomes - buy local 
LG: That was fast. Maybe I should use them.

J: Yeah, you could. You’re local. You live in Salt Lake. What do you think of the Utah writing scene?

LG:I really love the writing scene here. There are so many fantastic authors who are very willing to help out and share advice. There's no way I would be published right now if I hadn't joined in the tribe.

J: Tell me about your fantasy world?

LG: It's old world. No printing press, no guns. Just bows and arrows, hunting knifes, and good ol' grit.

J: That’s a good answer but I was referring to your private life. How did you choose to be a writer?

Image for Fantasy WorldLG: Oh, that fantasy world. I've wanted to be a writer ever since I was 6 or 7. I started by writing silly little poems and small books. You know the kind, where a chapter takes up half a page (because you have to leave the other half for a picture) and then you staple seven or eight pages together and say, "hey mom! I wrote a book!"

J: Where did you learn your craft?

LG: I started by copying, word for word, my favorite authors. I still do that exercise sometimes, and I always learn something more. Then I took a community class and a few years later joined ANWA, a local writing critique group.

J: This is your first book. Tell me how it came to be, what was your journey from writer to author?

Cedar Fort Publishing & MediaLG: Well, I pitched my story to an editor, in person, at a writers conference and that's how I got my contract with Cedar Fort. But that really was just the start. Then came the cover art, the edits, more edits, plans for marketing, last edits, and tweaks on the cover art. It was mostly a blast, sometimes stressful, but on the whole a great experience.

J:  How is it to work with Cedar Fort?

LG: I love working with Cedar Fort. I feel they listen to me, and are behind me 100 percent. My editor, Emma, is exceptionally awesome!

J: Where on the internet can people find out more about you and your book?
Barnes & Noble
J: Looks like it started to snow again. You best head out.

LG: Wait. I thought you said the gnomes did your snow.Your driveway’s untouched.

J: That’s what I said, but they showed me the obious issue.

LG: What?

J: Gnomes. They’re like ten inches tall. They can’t shovel that much.

LG: So what did you pay them for?

J: The managed a tunnel. So just get down on your belly and squirm you way to the road. It’s really the only way. The windchill would kill you in minutes. And you can’t stay here. That wouldn’t be fair to all my other guests.

LG: Why not?

J: Shhhh. Your car will be there to meet you when you come out.

LG: That’ll take hours. What if I don’t make it?

J: You’ll freeze but you’ll make a fine lawn ornament.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thoughts on Writing Books

I'm going to ramble a bit today. I’m boning up writing curriculum. I’ve been offered an opportunity to teach a class on writing mysteries with Lifelong Learning at the University of Utah. It’ll challenge me. It’s one thing know something well enough to do it, but it’s another to understand the process well enough to teach it to someone else. Things that are instinctive and never scrutinized must be pulled out and dissected. It's like needing a mechanic’s knowledge to drive a car.

I’ve raided libraries and bookstores for tomes on the craft, with particularly direction toward writing mysteries. Because reasons I also picked up books on writing horror which I consumed in October.

What I’ve learned from all this study is that it's easy to be intimidated by writing books.

Not the act writing books, I'm good at the, but books on how to write books.

Books about writing necessarily lay out a code rules. I have to remind myself that these rules are, as Captain Barbossa so elegantly said, “Are more like guidelines.”

But they’re not presented that way. They’re presented to avoid doubt in the novice, They’re presented as firm and fast laws.

Which means I am a criminal (or at least a rule breaker). 

The irony is that I’m doing all this writing research on the heels of my new book THE FINGER TRAP, which intentionally breaks so many rules. Compared to the tight narrative suggestions of writing advice books, my story is performance art. The theme is contained in the book itself - holding it your hands, seeing it in reality is the climax of the thematic drive which wanders and wanes to ridiculous (but hopefully entertaining) levels.

But Tony Flaner is only the most egregious of my writing crimes. Everything I write breaks this or that rule. I write to theme, a thing I’m beginning to realize is strange and untoward. I outline, but not completely. I don’t have a stable of professional and trusted beta-reader editors to steer me right in the later drafts. I often delay placing the setting of a scene until it’s almost too late. I deliberately confuse readers with dialog attribution sometimes so they consider the same idea coming from several sources. I routinely have dialog scenes with more than two people. I avoid stage direction, blocking and business as much as possible.

It's worse too. The rules are a type of cannon. Publishers and editors read these rulebooks and use them to pick their titles among slush piles. Some of them make sense, “the opening should grab the reader,” others are more arbitrary like “use only third person limited POV,” and “each sentence must serve either story or character,” but what about theme and setting? or my favorite “avoid anything that makes your book sound literary.” Wha?

I built my style loosely on Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. These make sense to me, but I also recognize their limitations and break them whenever I need to, knowing I am breaking them. The class I teach about them is called “There are No Rules - Here are Ten.” The Zen is right there in the title - There are no Rules. There really aren’t. Some things work better than other things. Some things that work now didn’t work a century ago and vice versa. This is art, not science. But it’s hard to remember this when an authority tells you the way it should be, and means it.

Stephen King, for example eschews theme and symbolism unless he finds it in his own work after writing it. He doesn’t put anything there deliberately, but he’s not adverse to finding something later and making the most of it. I however put them there. He also writes from situation instead of outline. Most authorities will grant, mostly because of King I’d wager, that outline isn’t always necessary, but in the books I'm reading they are highly recommended. This makes sense because these authors have written a non-fiction book. They think in outlines. That’s how non-fiction books are. Makes sense.

Outline or not outline—that’s inside baseball, beneath the hood mechanics, so to speak. The test of anything is the product. Does it work? Is it interesting? Does it say something? Very often the positive answer to these questions comes not because a book followed the rules, but because it broke them. Formula is consistent but seldom great. 

One day computers may be able to produce books to formula. It’s possible. Plug in enough rules, change the variables, and pop, you have a new thriller or mystery or romance (the most cited formulaic genres). But they’ll never be great because they’ve followed the rules.

That’s doesn't help my feeling of intimidation from the voice of authority speaking to me from the ivory pages of how-to books. I keep most of the rules instinctively because I’ve been influenced by books that used most of them. But I break the rules. I break them hard and deliberately sometimes—see THE FINGER TRAP for an example of my playful disregard for convention. Sometimes I can’t follow the rules because, frankly they’re boring and cliche and though they might work in the aggregate, they didn't work in this situation, or in that book, or from this point of view. 

All this recent study has made me very aware of the arbitrary “rules” of writing and I’ll be able to share them coherently with an eager class of mystery authors next year. I’ve known them for a long time, absorbed them and disregarded them in turn. Now, I can catalog them all. Bully for us.

But, of course, being so deep in advice books, I can’t help but readdress my own work, past and present, by their guidelines. Like I said, it's making me honest. Luckily, from the safety of published authorship, I can apply them like any piece of advice or criticism; “you’re right, I’ll change it,” “you’re right, I can’t/won’t change it,” or “you’re wrong.” And going on, I'll continue to feel my way ahead as I always have.

No one gets all the rules right, even the rules that are right like grammar, passive voice and punctuation. Stephen King admitted in his On Writing that it’s a matter of “do as I say, not as I do.” That’s authoritative writing advice in a nutshell. 

But I prefer Pablo Picasso's quote: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

When the only way out is deeper in…

A genre-bending, voice-driven, modern noir, comedy, 
coming of age, mid-life crisis, social satire, detective mystery. 
With quiche.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Short Stories In Plain Sight with Mimi Williams

James Ward Kirk Publishing just released a new anthology called HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT.

Here’s the blurb:
Often times, horror hides in open view. We’ve all heard the stories of the quiet neighbor whose basement became a chamber of evil; the kind woman who slipped her foot into her slipper and discovered a brown recluse spider; or the young child who lured a classmate into the woods. Every day, in the bright light of our lives, evil happens. It comes from the most ordinary places, the most ordinary circumstances, and the most ordinary people. These stories will pull back the curtains, throw open the doors, and reveal the truth of the evils that hide in plain sight. Sometimes evil is sitting in the next seat over. Sometimes it looks like a freckled face boy, or the kindly old woman, or the sweet puppy. Pull back the curtains on the creepy house or see where the Brown Recluse lies in wait for the unsuspecting victim. Be wary of the person next to you, that cat in the tree, or even that thing that lurks in the dark of your mind. Sometimes you just have to look, and you'll find the horror around us.

Within its pages is my story, THE LOST CURSE OF THE WITCH’S NEST, which is a freaking fantastic tale unlike anything you've ever read. Really. HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT was edited by Mimi Williams, a really nice and talented person who’s been to the Mansion before, though under a different name (Kim Williams-Justesen)

I invited Mimi by the Blog Mansion to celebrate the anthology launch, toast its success and chat about writing.

Johnny: Have some champagne and cookies to celebrate.

Mimi: No. I’ll pass. You have a reputation for killing visitors at the Blog Mansion.

J: Can’t argue that. So, is this the first anthology you’ve edited?

M:: It is! It's not the first editing I've done, but I've never developed the theme, collected the stories, done all the edits, and put the collection together.

J: How was it? How long did it take?

M: From start to finish, about 3 months. That's from the time James hired me, we developed the concept, to the release this week. A very quick pace, but I think that kept things fresh. Like fresh meat. Mmmmm.

J: How’d you get involved with James Ward Kirk Publishing? Tell us who they are?

M: I met James through Facebook (how else do you meet people these days?) and then learned about his publishing business when I had a story accepted for the TOYS IN THE ATTIC anthology. JWK publishes horror, sci-fi, and fiction by both individual authors and in anthologies. James is a very knowledgeable publisher and editor, as well as a talented writer himself. 

J: Short stories are challenging for me. I prefer long form. I have a hard time writing my name in under a page. What do you think are the strengths of the format?

M: People today are in a time crunch. Many read on their phones or tablets when they can squeeze a few moments in. Short stories allow you to get a rewarding read compressed into a small space, and if you have to put down an anthology, you don't lose track of where you are in the story. You can pick up anywhere! Short stories are also great because they take less time to write than novels, so an author can feel they've achieved an excellent result without the arduous undertaking a novel can be. A good writer can pack a lot of detail and value into a short story. They've been around for ages, and it looks like they are still growing in popularity.

J: I'm sure happy with my contribution to the anthology, THE LOST CURSE OF THE WITCH’S NEST.

Erin Britt's newest novel
M: Was that a question?

J: No, a plug for my story, THE LOST CURSE OF THE WITCH’S NEST in the new anthology HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT.

M: We already said that.

J: Can’t hurt to say it again. in the new anthology HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT.

M: Yes it can. There are other stories in the anthology too.

J: But none as good as mine.

M: Not while you’re holding a crossbow leveled at me.

J: There’s poetry in the book too isn’t there?

M: Can I talk about it since you didn’t write it?

J: Sure as long we remember that my excellent story THE LOST CURSE OF THE WITCH’S NEST is in the book. Tell us about the poetry.

M: There are some wonderful, creepy poems. Your good friend Erin R. Britt contributed two of them! Each of them is a different style and completely awesome. I love that I got to read and edit so many excellent poems for this collection.

J: Sounds like a great anthology that includes my—

M: Yeah... we know your story THE LOST CURSE OF THE WITCH’S NEST. You know you’re not getting paid any more for your story right? You’ve been paid. That’s it.

J: I know, but I love that story. I want people to read it.

M:. Level the crossbow at them, then! You know, you could put an eye out with that thing. Like, specifically, one of mine!

J: You began your career with Middle Grade books, KISS, KISS BARK and HEY RANGER. Then you went to horror with BEAUTIFUL MONSTERS before crossing into Young Adult with THE DEEPEST BLUE. Now you’re an editor. Is this a journey of discovery, necessity or happenstance?

M: Sheer stupid luck! And a desire to try different things. I love words, I love language. I'm a self-professed word nerd, so anything that involves words is my thing. I love alphabet soup, I play Scrabble, I love anagrams . . . you get the idea.

J: You look green.

M: I don’t feel well.

J: Oh, that’s because poisoned you. With a micro-needle in my ring when we shook hands. But don’t worry, I left the antidote in plain sight.

M: Oh… the cookies? The champagne?

J: No. The bottle marked “antidote” on the table.

M: That would have been the last thing I”d have thought.

Available Now
includes my story