Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Things were done by us differently then," she said trendily...and other ancient horrors.

I've read a couple of books recently that were written about 15-20 years ago and I'm cracking up over the difference in writing style as compared to today.

First of all, the books use a plethora of passive voice. These days it is DRILLED into us to never, ever use it (although I happen to believe there is a time and place for passive. Every now and then, that is). Some writers all but have nightmares over passive voice, and look upon the use of "was" as a publishing death sentence. Attack of the killer WAS! Yes, dear authors, run screaming!

Another is the use of -ly adverbs. These were not just accepted, they seem to have been encouraged. I doubt there has been a single sentence without them in the book I'm reading now. I don't think -ly adverbs are the horror most people make them out to be UNLESS they are over-used. Kinda like, one spider skittering across the floor is not a big deal. Spiders serve their purpose in this world, but it would be a different story if spiders were teeming through the house.

Well, actually, I suppose the kind of spider makes a difference, too. A "slowly" or "unsteadily" here and there is like finding a common house spider in the corner of the back porch. But, as in the book I've been reading, if you find "feelingly" or--and I'm not kidding here--"wonderingly" it's a bit like coming face to face with a tarantula perched on your cereal bowl.

The third and final difference I want to point out is the dialogue tag. Today, editors tell writers to use as few as possible (essentially enough to keep the speakers straight), and to never use a tag that restates the tone of the dialogue itself. If what the character says doesn't convey his anger, writing "he shouted angrily" is not going to grab the reader either. In other words, make the dialogue punch and stick to "he said" or "she asked" as tags.

From the last book I read--or, tried to read--I couldn't make it all the way through--I compiled a list of dialogue tags that ALL appeared within a two-page span:

said, adding her approval (the dialogue showed that. duh)
whined (again!)
said firmly
whispered under her breath angrily
pleaded softly
countered, with a pointed look
shot back defiantly
whispered angrily (was this one over her breath?)

If an entire book had this list of tags in it these days, the author would be duly reprimanded. This many is JUST TWO PAGES would be grounds to have the author drawn and quartered.

(Come on, I wouldn't actually post a picture of that! Even if it is Halloween!)

So, I'm wondering what the writing trends will be twenty years from now. Will we use dialogue tags at all? Will trends reverse, and writing become more fluid and verbose? Will I be teaching writers to do all the things I was told not to do?

Eep, nearly forgot this! I was digging through my notebook of short story ideas and came across a page of limericks I wrote (must have been trying to dredge up some creativity). It's sort of on the subject of writing least as applies to fantasy. And for some reason I don't see this as one that will ever go away:

When first inspired, the number's three,
but soon discovered more will be.
Five, seven, or nine
is what you will find
in fant'sy writer's trilogy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review--"The Tallest of Smalls" by Max Lucado

A friend recommended this book to me--for my kids, of course--after reading Max Lucado's Fearless. As a Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogger, I decided to request the book for review. Glad I did.

It's a little too young for my nine-year old son, but my six-year-old daughter loved it. She asked me to read it several times in a row the day it came in the mail. She really adored the pictures, too.

I found, as a parent reading out loud to my daughter, that the format of the wording was well thought-out. The fonts and print size helped me emphasize the right words and keep the beat of the story.

The message is a simple but important one--we're special because we're God's children and not because the "populars" approve of us. I recommend this highly to any parent of a young child--from the wee, early years (because the pictures are interesting and the book is the "right" length) through about first grade (pictures still interesting and message relevant).

Check out the first pages here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Necronomicon 2009

Well, I promised a post on this, and I guess I should deliver. The Necronomicon is a sci-fi/fantasy/horror/gaming/anime convention in St. Petersburg, FL. Guest speakers included authors, artists, professional gamers, and even a rocket scientist. I sat in on mostly writing panels, with topics like self-pubbing, working with small presses, and horror writing. There were games--like guessing the name of a movie based on a line of dialogue or a score of music. I did HORRIBLY at those, btw.

But the real fun was people-watching. Gobs of people wore costumes through the whole weekend, even though the costume contest was only Saturday night. Here are some of the better costumes featured in the contest (at least, they're the ones I liked the most):

There were several Harley Quinns, but this one was the best IMHO. Those boots were killer--easily 7 to 8 inches. I couldn't walk in those to save my life (course I'm also 5'9" and would have been smacking my head every time I went through a door). They're nothing compared to what this guy wore....

You should have seen him going up and down the stage steps. And treading across the marble tile.

These girls were a major hit! Anyone for a zombie cookie?

OK, so this one isn't part of the contest. But, come on. It's YODA. Can't pass up that photo opp. The guy to the left (with the pony tail) is a writer I met at the con. His name is Chris Jackson and I bought one of his books (and got a free t-shirt with it!). Check out his site at and look at the cover of Weapon of Flesh. The cover art is phenomenal.

And I had JUST asked my friend, "So, where's Alex from A Clockwork Orange? Can't have a sci-fi fest without A Clockwork Orange!" Then, lo and behold, look who comes ambling by....

And finally, the ultimate in horror, the evil of evil, the monster of monsters....

Yes, it's cardboard Cthulhu :). Actually, probably plywood. This cracked me up. I was watching as they were bolting on his, um, appendages, and laughed as I thought, Lovecraft most surely did not imagine Cthulhu with "some assembly required...."

OK, I know you're thinking, "Where are the pictures of Kat?" Well, I was the one behind the camera of course. But I did take a moment to pose with Cthulhu:

I really did try to scream, but it came out as a laugh despite my efforts. The only horrifying thing is how unflattering this picture is :P. And yes, that is a "Rio" shirt. Totally retro, eh? (Sure it has nothing at all to do with sf/f/h--I just love Duran Duran. The first night I wore my "DragonKeepers" shirt.)

So, there you have it. My first "Con." I had a blast and I'm already pondering costume ideas for next year...any suggestions?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Contest for Vampire Lovers

There are a few days left to enter the contest for a free copy of the Vampyr Verse poetry anthology that will include a limerick by yours truly :). Visit here to enter.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My History with Horror (or, Making Mountains Out of Slashers)

When people ask me if I ride roller coasters I tend to say "no." Although, technically, that is not true. You see, I actually LOVE roller coasters. What I hate are drops.

For example, at Disney's Magic Kingdom there are three "mountain" rides: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. About 99% of Splash Mountain's ride is "kiddie"--floating along in a "log" boat watching animatronic animals sing and tell the story of Brer Rabbit. The other 1% (really, only about 3 seconds of the ride) is a steep plunge into the "briar patch." I rarely ride Splash Mountain because of that drop. But I ride Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain without hesitation because despite the fact that they are true roller coasters they do not have any big drops. The reason I tell people I don't ride roller coasters is that Space and Thunder Mountains are the exception and not the rule. Most roller coasters boast big drops, so I stay clear.

I realized I've been telling people for years that I don't like horror for a similar reason. I came to associate blood and gore with horror movies because of the string of slasher flicks that really hit big back in the Eighties (when I was a teen). I had grown up on old black and white horror movies--Dracula, Frankenstein, Swamp Thing...My Saturday mornings were spent in front of the TV watching "Creature Feature," a local show hosted by "Dr. Paul Bearer."

And then one day, at around the age of fourteen, someone invited me to watch Nightmare on Elm Street. I think my young mind must have made this association: What I've been watching was not actually horror. THIS is horror. I do NOT like horror.

Yet, looking back on the list of films that have been my faves over the years, I see titles like: Bram Stoker's Dracula, Interview With a Vampire, The Terminator, Alien(s), The Crow, Pet Sematary, Misery, The Sixth Sense, Silence of the Lambs, etc. All of these have a bit of gore in them, but it's not the main feature the way it is in the slasher movies. I actually like scary movies, creepy movies, psychologically intrusive movies. I just don't like deranged and disfigured psycho-killers bent on mass murder and dismemberment. I want movies with a certain level of intelligence--not just bloodfests meant to gross out the viewer or inspire cries of, "Cool! Did you see that! I didn't know your skull made THAT sound when hit with one of those..." Ick.

My point? I've been thinking about the "horror" label that has been placed on some of my writing. At first I didn't quite agree with it. I preferred "dark fantasy" or "thriller" because I was holding on to that old idea of horror meaning nothing but blood and guts and "Don't pick up the phone..." :P. But lately, I've begun to embrace the label. And this weekend I had the priviledge of attending the Necronomicon, a sci-fi/fantasy/horror/anime convention in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I met other horror writers and sat in on some cool discussions about the genre.

My next post will probably be some of the pics and such from the Necro. I haven't had time to download them yet. I had a LOAD of fun there. And I even got to meet the ultimate in horror, Cthulhu. He's really not so scary in person.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Anatomy of a great acceptance letter.

Oh, right...ALL acceptance letters are great! And guess what? I just got another one last night :).

My short story "The Gift" will be published in Digital Dragon, an online, Christian-friendly magazine. Yay! I'm so excited.

And actually, not all acceptance letters are the same. Sometimes they are much like the form rejection letters, but the forminess of them isn't quite the bother when the answer is "yes." The letter I got last night, though, went the step above and included some really nice comments about the story--here's what the editor said:

Thank you for your submission of The Gift. We are happy to inform you that your piece has been accepted for our November issue of Digital Dragon Magazine.

I really enjoyed your story, I could truly feel the characters, and maybe even shed a tear. We are happy to introduce our readers to your work.

What is so super-cool about this is that I have another story due to come out in November in Mindflights--"The Artist"--and both stories are off-shoots from my novels. They're sort of back-story, events that happened years before the time frame of the novels themselves. They're nothing that will spoil the plots of the novels once they're published (someday....), but they actually do involve events that are integral to the plots.

I've posted before about writing short stories based on your novel characters to help get a better grip on their histories and personalities. And that is exactly where these stories came from.

I'll post as soon as they are online. In the meantime, you can always check out the current stories at Mindflights and Digital Dragon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anatomy of a great rejection letter.

I got a rejection letter today. This is what it said:

Thank you for sending us "(my story named here)". I've reviewed the story and decided not to purchase it. It was a little too much on the horror
fantasy side for us, we generally like to see horror stories that are
more grounded in the real world. You may want to try submitting it to
(named their sister mag).

Thanks for submitting, and I hope my comments have been at least a
tiny bit helpful.

THIS is the kind of rejection you want to get from a magazine. The editor actually said he READ the thing and commented on the specific reasons it didn't work for him. Nothing to indicate that my writing was the problem (yay!). And he ended it with an encouraging statement.

Now some magazines will tell you when there is a problem with the writing, and that is a good thing, too. What that generally means is that the problem is something fixable. I had a magazine tell me once that the pacing of my story was off. I reread it and cut some unnecessary passages. Problem fixed, and soon the story sold!

Any time you get a letter like this, take the comments to heart. And save the letter! This kind of letter is a step away from acceptance. It says that your writing was worth some time to the editor, and most editors are outrageously busy, so time is very valuable to them.

I'm of course bummed that the story wasn't accepted. And to be honest, I've already tried the sister mag. They didn't send a personal note, but their submissions state specifically that they don't take much dark fantasy, so I wasn't at all surprised.

Anyway, you have to keep plugging away when you get rejections. You may go through gobs of them, but you only need ONE acceptance. It's kinda like the old saying about finding something in the last place you look :).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Waiting--the Other Side

OK, so there's the other side of waiting, which is the getting of what you've been waiting for--a response from the magazine/agent/publisher you have submitted to. Sometimes that response is good, and sometimes it's a rejection.

There are different types of rejections. If you're lucky, you get a letter with a personal note that specifies a particular element of your story/book the editor/agent feels needs work or makes your piece incompatible with them. I've gotten a few of those, and it's actually a good feeling. It lets you know the editor/agent took the time to read your work, and that they feel it has enough merit to be worth a few minutes of their time. Sometimes (oh, happy dance) there may even be an offer to look at the work again if you revise.

At the other end of the spectrum is what I call the "ignore rejection." An agent/editor simply never responds and you are supposed to take that as "no." Fine, I can understand this to a point. And some agents/editors at least post something like, "If you have not received a response from us within 12 weeks assume we are not interested." Not the most polite way of doing things in my opinion, but such is life. What I CANNOT stand, however, is when they do that but don't give a time limit. Oh, look, the sun has super-novaed--I suppose I can now safely assume they're not interested...

In between these two forms of rejection is what is known as the form letter. (Ah, I see from your expression you're familiar with this--hee, hee.) I've received my share of these, of course. Some are more politely written than others, and could ALMOST be taken as a personal response. Others are blunt. "Sorry, not for us." Really.

Today, I got a rejection from a publisher--a form letter. Like some others, this one had my name plugged in, as though they were trying to make it appear less form-y. Well, I have two things to say to that. One--if you're going to do that, make sure the name you plug in is in the same font as the rest of the letter. And, two--ditto goes for the color of the type.


I guess this is a good place to throw in the limerick I wrote some time ago on the very subject of rejections. I've mentioned before that this is the only form of poetry I've mastered, but until now I don't think I've ever posted any. It's not like you can get them published all over the place--especially ones about something as obscure as rejection letters. So, let's (hopefully) end this post with a laugh:

The bitterest juice of the vine
Is a letter that offers decline.
To tears I succumb,
And relinquish aplomb
By drowning my sorrows in whine.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I'm feeling extra antsy today. I have so many short stories submitted right now, and three of them should--according to the response times listed on the magazines' sites--be getting responses NOW. I'm fairly good at submitting and moving on to the next story, but when it gets to the end of the estimated response time...well, let's just say the "Send/Recv" button gets a workout :P.

At least the other day I got a letter from a magazine that wants FOUR of my personal essays. Yay! The waiting does pay off :).

Quick update (Oct 16th)--
On the topic of short story repsonses...I have a story that was accepted five months ago by Mindflights, but I hadn't been given a date for publication. I wrote the editor today, and she wrote back right away (Thank you!) and told me the story is slated for November! Yay! I'll post as soon as I know the exact date :).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Unlikely Limerick

Well, on a whim I submitted a limerick to an anthology of poetry about vampires...and guess what! It got accepted :D.

Check out Vampyr Verse for info on the antho. There's a few days left to submit, if you are so inclined. The book is scheduled to release on Halloween. And you can enter to win a free copy of the book in a couple of different ways if you follow the link.

Obviously because they have rights to the poem now, I can't print it here or anything. But I will tell you--if you've read any of my old posts about a certain book series that shall go unnamed, you'll have an idea of what/who I'm making fun of!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More coming soon...

I got the news today that another of my short stories has been accepted by The Absent Willow Review! I'm very excited--it's a story I really loved writing. It will be out in January 2010, which is amazingly right around the corner :). The title is "A Day Better Spent"--I'll let you ruminate over what kind of story that might be in a magazine that features horror writing...

In the meantime, check out the current issue of The Absent Willow Review...the stories this month are great. I've read several of them at this point, and my favorite so far is Cravat of the Damned. You will die laughing. Or undie, as the case may be.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Guest Spot

Today Shawna Williams featured me as a guest blogger. She's doing a series on writers and posting their "writing journeys." If you're curious about mine, take a hop over to Shawna's blog, My Father's Oldsmobile, and check it out.

Shawna just signed a contract with Desert Breeze Publishing for her first novel, No Other. I've had the honor of reading No Other, and it's awesome. (You all know how I feel about romance novels, but this one won me over, totally.)

And take a close look at the very last line of the blog. That made me smile more than anything!