Dragon’s Blood, Black Magic, Night Queen, Liquid Moon…

phrases like these tango on the tongue and rumba with your senses…and share page space in Book 2 of my trilogy. (Book 1 is out on submission.)

A few months ago I spent two days at a Gypsy fair. It was all in the name of research for my Cursed trilogy. Although I have always been fascinated by the Gypsy or Romani culture, I had not had an opportunity to go to a Gypsy fair. Wasn’t it just my luck or perhaps winds of fate and chance that blew a gypsy fair into my village by the sea – and just at the time that I was finishing up Book 1 of The Cursed trilogy and plotting Book 2. I love it when life synchronizes itself with your daily rhythms and a Zing! goes off in your brain.

Sometimes it is impossible to travel to a place where your story is set or explore a culture in your story…but other times life lends you a hand and takes you on a real trip into the imagination of your story. This is when the magic happens.

Human beings are sensory beings. Our imaginations ignite when our senses are stimulated. It is not enough to just imagine what a place looks like through our character’s eyes or in the view of the reader but to taste, hear, smell and feel a place through the richness of our senses. Sensory memory from smells, tastes and sounds ignite a world and a place for us. We can taste something and it immediately takes us back to the first memory of that place. We can smell something and the brain synapses start igniting and sparking with a remembered place and a remembered time. We can hear something and our memory acts as a porthole to another time and place where we first heard that sound.

Our minds and imaginations are not just cameras. We don’t just see. We hear, we smell, we taste, we touch and we sense. For me this is vital to putting a person in your story as if they were experiencing this place and this world for themselves. A story comes alive for me when all six senses are used. I don’t just want to know what a place looks like. I want to experience it and the fullest way for me to experience it is to use my six senses.

For me, I had a good idea of the Romani culture after months and months of research as well as a years-long fascination with the culture. But it was not until I went to the Gypsy Fair that my brain synapses really started firing and sparking. I bought essentials oils and essences with the names of: Dragon’s Blood, Black Magic, Night Queen and Liquid Moon. When I open these little wooden vials now I am immediately transported to the world of my story. When I play the music of the Romani (YouTube is very handy here) I am immediately transported to that place where my story takes place.

I spent one of the afternoons chatting to someone who is a pure Romani and whose family have been living this nomadic and exotic lifestyle for many generations. He spoke of the difficulties and the pleasures of this lifestyle and shared anecdotes and adventures with me. It made the world come alive for me more than any mere encyclopedia or Wikipedia entry could.

The world is a magic place full of the exotic and the worlds of our stories should be such a magic place. That is what first made me fall in love with stories and then fueled my need to create my own stories. Stories allow people to travel to exotic places, experience ancient cultures, fuel imaginations and teach us about the joys and horrors of life…all without leaving our chair through the magic portal of turning the pages.

How important are the six senses to you?

Which sense evokes the strongest sense of place for you? Smell/Taste/Sound/Touch/Sight/Intuition

Do you have a favourite story where the writer has used all six senses to build their world?

Writing Epiphanies in the Brushstrokes of Picasso

This last weekend I had the rare pleasure of attending an art exhibition of the Modern Masters “Degas to Dali” that called my city a temporary home on loan from The National Galleries of Scotland. With 79 works by over 60 Modern Masters from Renoir to Monet, Degas to Dali, Picasso to Warhol and Van Gogh to Matisse it was a feast for the creative senses.

You are probably wondering what an art exhibition of The Modern Masters has to do with writing and Wrestling the Muse. Everything. Writing is just another form of art. Where the great Masters of the art world used exquisite brushstrokes to create pictures and stir the senses, writers use ink blotches and words to create worlds that a reader can step into. Writing, Painting, Sculpture, Music are all forms of Art. If you are a writer, you are a creator of worlds and an artist of words.

What struck me during my tour of the exhibition was how alike a painter wrestling with his creation is to a writer wrestling with his. We both have a very specific vision of the completed work but at times the journey to get to that point of writing The End or framing that completed canvas is fraught with struggle. There was a room where the quotes of these great Modern Masters had been displayed on a wall. These are some of the quotes that stood out to me. These same quotes could directly be used for us writers.

  • I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else. – Pablo Picasso
  • I have a horror of people who speak about the beautiful. What is the beautiful? One must speak of problems in painting  a story! – Pablo Picasso
  • If there were only one truth, you couldn’t paint write a hundred canvases stories on the same theme. – Pablo Picasso
  • Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working. – Pablo Picasso
  • It took me four years to paint write like Raphael (insert a Master of Literature here), but a lifetime to paint write like a child. – Pablo Picasso
  • Action is the foundational key to all success. – Pablo Picasso
  • An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought. – Pablo Picasso
  • Are we to paint write what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it? – Pablo Picasso
  • Art is the elimination of the unnecessary. – Pablo Picasso
  • Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone. – Pablo Picaso
  • Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. – Pablo Picasso
  • Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.– Pablo Picasso
  • Painting Writing is a blind man’s profession. He paints writes not what he sees, but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.- Pablo Picasso
  • The hidden harmony is better than the obvious. – Pablo Picasso
  • The more technique you have, the less you have to worry about it. The more technique there is,the less there is. – Pablo Picasso

Just like the great artists, us writers have to get messy with our creations. We have to be willing to be ink-splattered. We have to be bold and unafraid. We have to let the story take control over the technique. We have to disappear so our characters can talk to the reader. We need to remember to tell stories like a child does. We need to let loose our passions into the story. We need to remember that up close we the artists may see only brushstrokes and mess but from a distance our audience the reader needs to see the full picture. We need to step back and look at our work with the eye of a reader to truly see if we are consistent in the path our story has taken. Remember to not only read but to look at beautiful art, listen to beautiful music, touch a beautiful sculpture. Seek out inspiration and it will show itself to you.


My muse is a tease

My muse has been distracting me this week. I have been teased with images of exotic locales that want to be settings in new stories. This happens to me every time I open my mind up to creating, which is what I have been doing this week. Suddenly I am teased by random pieces of inspiration whether they be, images, words, articles, media – you name it but the doors to inspiration are wide open.

I read an article today that says the average brain has 12 000 thoughts every day and it can run to having up to 60 000 thoughts a day. This does not come as a surprise. Our brains are always off on tangents even when and especially when we are supposed to be concentrating and working. I know mine is.

People always want to know where story ideas come from. It is the no. 1 question that readers like to ask writers and even writers like to ask other writers. My ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, the ordinary, the mundane, the strange and the extraordinary. I have had ideas come to me in vivid dreams. I have heard something on the radio, watched something on television or read something and it has sparked an idea. But the main thing that always starts me on the scent of a new story is: What if? I love teasing out the answers to that mysterious question.

I am lucky enough that I am never short of story ideas. I have two huge lever arch files of story ideas and story inspirations. But the annoying part is that my story ideas come to me while I am working on another current story idea. They never wait their turn politely. Unfortunately too I have a low patience meter so the minute a new idea comes to me I really, really want to drop everything and play with the new idea.

Is this wrong? Should I rather ignore it?

No, ignoring it does not make it go away instead just the opposite. If I actively try to ignore the new story idea, I can think of nothing else. Believe me I know this from experience. Even if I fill my waking hours with work and distraction, the idea will enter my sleep. It tugs at me constantly.

So I have now learnt that the most effective way to deal with new story ideas, to quieten their cries of need just long enough to hear myself think is to write them down and then file them. This way they feel acknowledged and don’t take their creative anger out on me or my sleep. Instead after writing the idea down, I can get to work on the story I am meant to be working on and that new idea has a chance to percolate in the to-be-done file of my imagination.

  • Pinterest is a fantastic tool to accomplish this. I can pin an image from the post that caught my attention and that way I can go back to that article when I am ready to play with it. Pinterest is also fantastic if you are more a visual thinker than a verbal thinker.
  • Evernote is fantastic for quick note taking/idea filing. I have the application downloaded onto both my laptop and my iPod so that even if I get an idea from a dram I can roll over, pick up my iPod and without turning on the light type in the note.
  • Then I also have my trusty Moleskine notebooks: I have a bright green version for my new story ideas and a deep blue one for my current WIPs. (Any excuse to buy more stationery 😉 )

I am truly thankful for an abundance of story ideas but I need to teach my muse to be more disciplined and to wait his turn in bringing me the ideas. But it is a catch-22 because I would hate to get to the spot that I don’t get ideas any more. So for this week, I have shelved the new story idea (it is a very tantalizing one) to percolate and see what comes of it.

Now it is back to work on the stories that need to be written and worked on.

Do you find you have too many ideas clamoring for attention?

How do you handle the new ideas that you just don’t have the time for?

Where have your ideas come from?

Hello June…I am going all Jackson Pollock on You

It’s June!

It’s time to get a little crazy, go a little wild, ride the winds…

I am going all Jackson Pollock on this month!

As stated last week… “I am going to do more than play Hookie with Tattoo. I am going to have a full-blown affair with Tattoo. The urge to write must take control over the urge to edit. I cannot wait for that delicious feeling of playing hookie and that first blush of the first draft.”

For the first time in months I am going to be flinging my creative ink at the canvas of my new WIP without thought of editing and embracing the freedom and unadulterated joy in WRITING that First Draft!

“A dripping wet canvas covered the entire floor … There was complete silence … Pollock looked at the painting. Then, unexpectedly, he picked up can and paint brush and started to move around the canvas. It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished. His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white, and rust colored paint onto the canvas. He completely forgot that Lee and I were there; he did not seem to hear the click of the camera shutter … My photography session lasted as long as he kept painting, perhaps half an hour. In all that time, Pollock did not stop. How could one keep up this level of activity? Finally, he said ‘This is it.’

Pollock’s finest paintings… reveal that his all-over line does not give rise to positive or negative areas: we are not made to feel that one part of the canvas demands to be read as figure, whether abstract or representational, against another part of the canvas read as ground. There is not inside or outside to Pollock’s line or the space through which it moves…. Pollock has managed to free line not only from its function of representing objects in the world, but also from its task of describing or bounding shapes or figures, whether abstract or representational, on the surface of the canvas.”

– Hans Namuth 1950

I love the first blush, the illicit intimacy and the head-rush of a First Draft. First Drafts are all about the Writer, the Creative, the Artist. I love simply getting lost in a first draft and a new story. I love meeting the new characters and watching their scenes in my mind’s eye like a movie. I love that the story can and will go anywhere and everywhere.

What do you love about first drafts?

________________________

In other exciting News just in from this weekend…The anthology that could…

WooHoo! I am now a contributor to an AWARD-Winning anthology! “Tales for Canterbury” just scooped the 2012 Sir Julius Vogel Award in NZ for the Best Collected Works in Speculative Fiction-SciFi/Fantasy/Horror. This is a national award awarded annually at the NZ National Science Fiction Convention to recognise achievement in Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror.  Congrats to our editors: Cassie Hart and Anna Caro on scooping the win! The editing team did a brilliant job in pulling together a great crew of authors, who all contributed incredible stories all for an amazing cause. Once again, I am so proud and pleased to be part of a fantastic crew of authors and editors who helped get this anthology  out there.
There are still print copies available on the current print run of Tales for Canterbury. You can buy them here. *All profits* will be donated to the NZ Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. See talesforcanterbury.wordpress.com for more details. (* ie after we’ve paid any applicable transaction fees, printing, and shipping costs – neither Random Static nor the authors are keeping a cent)
A little background on the Sir Julius Vogel Award: The awards are named for Sir Julius Vogel, a prominent New Zealand journalist and politician, who becamePrime Minister of New Zealand in the 1870s. He also, in 1889, wrote what is widely (though erroneously) regarded as New Zealand’s first science fiction novel, Anno Domini 2000 – A Woman’s Destiny.[1] The book — written and published in Great Britain after Vogel had moved from New Zealand — pictured a New Zealand in the year 2000 where most positions of authority were held by women – at the time of writing, a radical proposition. In 2000, New Zealand’s Head of State, Governor General, Prime Minister, Chief Justice and Attorney General were all women, as was the CEO of one of the country’s largest companies, Telecom.

Confessions…and I want to play hookie

I want to play hookie…with my new WIP that is. I have been stuck in an editing foxhole for months now on my current WIP and really I am getting fed up with myself. I have a problem. I am a perfectionist and I cannot stop myself editing and editing and editing… Is there a perfectionist anonymous group out there or an editing anonymous group? Maybe there should be! There could be a 13 step recovery process…OH and I detest synopsis writing! Does anyone else have a love/hate relationship with the editing process or with a perfectionist gene?

One of the first steps of curing a problem and recovering from it is in accepting the problem and admitting that you have a problem.

Confession: I am a Perfectionist and my problem is that once I start looking for errors and editing…I cannot stop.

I have no idea if there is a group called Perfectionist Anonymous but I have decided that writers like me desperately need a group like this for recovering editing addicts. We need an intervention and we need people we can call when the urge to continue editing ad infinitum hits us. It is a quagmire of sinking sand that sucks us in even as we try to clamber out. The more we struggle against it, the deeper we sink.

So every recovery program and intervention has a step by step list of dos and don’ts in the steps to becoming cured. So I have come up with a 13 step recovery program for all writers who suffer from Editorix Perfectionist.

13 Steps to Overcoming Editorix Perfectionism

  1. Say the Words: I am a Perfectionist and suffer from perfectionism – the neurotic need to find error and fault and correct and recorrect and still recorrect.
  2. Ask for an intervention to be held by more saner individuals than your neurotic self.
  3. Step away from the manuscript, now on it’s umpteenth draft.
  4. Close the folder entitled WIP – Nth edit.
  5. Repeat to yourself ” Perfectionism is a sly form of Procrastination” – stick this note on every available surface.
  6. Type “The End” on current Nth draft of WIP – and mean it.
  7. Hide all red pens, correction fluid and erasers.
  8. You are a writer not an editor. You have no sane moments nor objective moments when it comes to your WIP. Doctors are not allowed to treat their own family members so writers should not be allowed to edit their own works without assistance and intervention.
  9. The first edit is allowed, the second edit is treading on dangerous ground and the third edit is an edit gone too far.
  10. Surround yourself with notes telling you: You are not useless. You do not write rubbish. Your work is fit for more than a trash can – both on the computer desktop and near the desk. Perfectionism is an unattainable myth as it is as the opposite of humanity – since you are a human, you are imperfect anyway – pointless to fight it.
  11. Surround yourself with critique partners, writing buddies and other writers who know what you struggle against and who know that the writer’s fragile ego is our own worst enemy. Do not be afraid to say you need help before you destroy both your sanity and your manuscript.
  12. Step away from the edited WIP and take a walk with a notebook. Write down the plot for the next manuscript.
  13. Begin writing the new manuscript and find refreshment and creative fulfillment in throwing yourself head-first into a creative binge. (No editing allowed at least until You have typed “the End” on the first draft!)

So this week I am going to be closing the editing folder on Ring a Ring o’ Roses (Nth draft). I am submitting the synopsis and query and then I will leave the rest to the fates that be. I am opening my notebook and starting work on The Tattooist. Editor Kim is going away – she had no business being here for so long anyway. Writer Kim is returning. I am a writer. I am not an Editor. Saner individuals than me become editors, I will stick to what I do best and that is WRITING not EDITING. To be clear I am a recovering not a cured Editorix Perfectionist. This is a continuing struggle.

I am going to do more than play Hookie with The Tattooist. I am going to have a full-blown affair with The Tattooist. The urge to write must take control over the urge to edit. I cannot wait for that delicious feeling of playing hookie and that first blush of the first draft.

Does anyone else have a love/hate relationship with the editing process or with a perfectionist gene?

Sign up here _______ if you would like to become a member of Editorix Perfectionism Anonymous.

Watch Brene` Brown on The Power of Vulnerability

Excerpts…”I am surrounded by people who kinda believe that life’s messy love it, and I am more the “life’s messy: clean it up, organize it and put in into a pinto box.” [👍 ]

“…lean into the discomfort of the work and I am like, you know, Knock discomfort upside its head and move it over…”

“I want to separate bravery and courage for you for a moment. Courage: The original definition of courage when it first came into the English language; it’s from the latin word “cor” meaning “heart” and the original definition was: is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart…and so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect…”

Writing is that for me…the courage to be imperfect and to be comfortable in my own skin while being naked in my vulnerability. 👌

I have been Wrestling the Muse for 1 year…It’s my Blogoversary!

It’s my first Blogoversary on Wrestling the Muse!

It’s also my Anniversary on quitting the day job and going full time writing!

It is a double anniversary for this writer!!

So how would I sum up this first year of full time writing…

  • A journey…this first year is only the first step on the ladder to success.
  • I held my first published fiction under my own name in my hands – my first short story.
  • I finished the full first draft of my manuscript and I am submitting my novel this month.
  • I took the bull by the horns, gathered my nerves and pitched my novel in a face-to-face session with a top agent. (Though nerve-wracking I realised that agents are just people like you and I and this particular agent was lovely and very encouraging as well as giving me some great advice.)
  • I plotted out Book 2 and Book 3 in The Cursed trilogy.
  • I plotted out the second trilogy and am busy working on the first draft.
  • I strengthened many friendships with other writers and started new friendships…too numerous to mention everyone by name but you all know who you are.
  • I have learnt a lot about the publishing process, and the options we writers have available to us.
  • I found and commissioned a brilliant cover artist.
  • I was asked to host a weekly writing chat on twitter – #storycraft

What have I learnt or found challenging this year?

  • I have learnt that writing is a marathon not a race and we set our own pace.
  • I have learnt that although I thought I would be able to write a full 8 hours a day, it is more like 4-5 hours a day in practice.
  • I have learnt that there is no absolute right choice when looking at publishing options, there is only the right choice for me.
  • I miss a steady paycheque but am also happier than ever.
  • I work 7 days a week every week and there are no weekends for me but because this is the path I CHOOSE, it enriches me and fulfills me.
  • I feel constantly challenged and never bored.

All in all this first year has been a huge learning curve as I found my feet in the world of full-time writing. I realised that I am hardest on myself. This is something that has always been an issue in my day job but in writing it has become a monster that I am slowly learning to cage. I have found support and encouragement in people who believe in me. I have also come across the naysayers and the scoffers who wonder when I will get a whack from the reality stick and stop this “hobby” of writing.

Well in response to my friends, supporters and encouragers: Thank you and please continue in your encouraging because this is one year and counting. I will still need your support and your encouragement. You don’t know how much it has meant to me and how much it has bolstered me on those days or weeks when my writing was fighting me.

In response to the naysayers and the scoffers: This is not a hobby, this is my career. I don’t need a whack from the reality stick because for the first time I am being ME by following and committing to my goals and dreams. I don’t plan on stopping because this is the path that feels most right to me. I don’t need your permission to do what I need and what I want to do with my life. I am happy and I am in control of my own future, how many people can say that. I am my own boss and I work harder at this role of full time writer than I have ever done in any day job. 

I cannot wait for Year 2 of this adventure I am on. I know I am on the right track and I am ready to take the next rungs on the ladder to my success. This first year I took a slower beat because I believe I needed to know more about the publishing industry and also more about where I wanted to truly go in my writing. I also took this first year to learn about author branding and online presence. I don’t regret anything from this first year and feel that my life is the richer for taking the plunge into the adventure of full-time writing. 

So thank you to my 170 blog followers, my 1155 twitter followers and my 669 facebook friends. Each one of you has been there through this first year and have cheered and supported me. You all ROCK!

Now Raise your glass with me and let’s drink to fighting for your dreams and living life with no regrets because at the end of the day we have one life to lead – I am not wasting mine.

Shivers down my spine…

We all have had those moments of spine-chilling fear…when the shivers of chill make their way slowly down our spine, every hair on our body rises, our bones seem to turn to water and the back of our necks prickles. Our bodies surge with adrenalin and we fight the instinctive response to flee or fight. Fear is one of the core base emotions. We all know what it is. We all know when it has struck…

Sleep, those little slices of death, how I loathe them. – Edgar Allen Poe

I am a part of a stellar group of authors called TESSpecFic ** We are “The Emissaries of Strange: A Speculative Fiction Writer’s Collective” is a group of writers whose fiction fits under the speculative fiction umbrella. Our captain, the lovely Marie Loughin set us a question that stirred in each of our hearts this week: What is Horror?

This is a question that I faced at the end of 2011 when I was getting ready to pitch my WIP to an agent. Genre can be a tricky question. Especially these days when there are so many variations on the classic genres and so many sub genres to further muddy the genre waters. When I set out to write my WIP, I was not thinking in terms of genre. I was thinking STORY and CHARACTER. I wrote the story that poured forth and decided to leave the question of genre until it was absolutely necessary to come up with an answer.

Right up until the moment that I sat before the agent, I was second-guessing how to genre-alise* (Yes, it is a term I made up.) my story. The days before my pitch I researched other stories similar to mine to see how those authors had genre-alised their stories. One term kept on cropping up: Horror.

There is a quake that rips the soul asunder. . . it is the pain of remembering. – Nrb

The day of my pitch arrived and as I sat before the agent and she asked me what genre the WIP was, out came the word: Horror. She allowed me to continue with my allotted 10 minute pitch and then kept me talking because she was intrigued and wanted to know more. After I had basically given her the synopsis, she sat back, clicked her pen on the table-top between us and told me that though she could see how I genre-alised the plot into HORROR, she thought it would sound better as a Paranormal Historical. She was concerned that the term HORROR would limit the marketability of what she thought was a very marketable story.

We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones. – Stephen King

Mmmh I wonder what Stephen King  would have said if someone had told him HORROR would make his market limited? Seriously, who has not heard of a Stephen King story  whether in books or movies. I think the HORROR genre has served Stephen King very well and he has done more than ok with finding a market for his work.

So what is HORROR and why are so many people afraid of that term? Pun intended*

I think Hollywood and B-Horror movies have given us a vision of blood, gore, guts and general grossness. But that is just one variation of HORROR. Below is the Dictionary.com definition of HORROR…

horror |ˈhôrər, ˈhär-|noun1 an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust: children screamed in horror.• a thing causing such a feeling: photographs showed the horror of the tragedy | the horrors of civil war.• a literary or film genre concerned with arousing such feelings: [ as modifier ] : a horror movie.• intense dismay: to her horror she found that a thief had stolen the machine.• [ as exclamation ] (horrors) chiefly humorous used to express dismay: horrors, two buttons were missing!• [ in sing. ] intense dislike: many have a horror of consulting a dictionary.• (the horrors) an attack of extreme nervousness or anxiety: the mere thought of it gives me the horrors.2 informal a bad or mischievous person, esp. a child: that little horror Zach was around.ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’ (see horrid) .

I think the very origin of the word answers the question: What is Horror? Horror is an involuntary trembling and shuddering from sheer terror. For me however, true horror is those scenes that play with your mind. Psychological fear is far more intense and horrific than mere physical fear. The mind is a scary place. It’s capacity for imagining the worst and the darkest is scary. Think of your favourite horror movie, the imagined monster behind the shadow at the foot of the door that is ajar is far scarier than the monster that is seen and can be fought. What is unknown is far scarier than the known? For me, that is true HORROR.

We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe. – Johann von Goethe

So I take the stand on my trilogy. It is HORROR Paranormal Historical. It deals with death, ghosts and revenge. There are scenes that gave me the creeps as I was writing them. There are scenes that I still don’t like reading after midnight because they literally have me seeing the ghosts I have written become real.

It is dark. You cannot see. Only the hint of stars out the broken window. And a voice as old as the Snake from the Garden whispers, ‘I will hold your hand. – John Wick

Horror is the difference between the UNKNOWN vs the KNOWN and the UNTHINKABLE vs the IMAGINED. Horror is those shivers down my spine, that prickling on my skull and the bone-deep chill that makes my heart want to stop.

This is how Stephen King defines Horror:

“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…”

What is Horror to you? Is it a misunderstood and misaligned genre-alisation of a core human instinct? Is HORROR just a label or is it more a style of story-telling?

Join my fellow TESSpecFic members on their blogs below as they delve into: What is Horror?

Schedule for blog tour: What is Horror?

Marie Loughin – Wednesday, 9th May

Jaye Manus – Thursday, 10th May

Paul D. Dail – Friday, 11th May

Aniko Carmean – Sunday, 13th May

Jonathan D. Allen – Monday, 14th May

Penelope Crowe – Tuesday, 15th May

Always Trust Your First Instinct

Have you ever had a piece of advice that has translated into everything you do? Many years ago a junior school teacher gave me just such a piece of advice. Her advice:

Always Trust Your First Instinct

This is a lesson that I have returned to over and over again in my life. Sometimes a little seed of doubt – damn that doubt – creeps in and I second-guess myself. But time and time again I have to do a 180 or a 360 turn back to that first instinct.

This last week has been one of those weeks where I had to do a 360 turn back to my first instinct in my WIP. On advice, from an agent and from a few authors, I had second-guessed a key element of my WIP’s story structure. After much tweaking and re-tweaking I made the new way work. But the entire time while working on the 2nd draft, this new style kept on grating on my nerves. I couldn’t figure out why this 2nd draft was not jelling with me and why this WIP was so determined to fight me every inch of the way.

Then I was asked a question by my cp that jolted me into a massive A-HA (no, I don’t mean the Oprah saying, I am talking about a huge ballad ala AHA the 80s pop band) moment. What was the question? She asked why I had ever changed styles from the 1st draft to the 2nd draft. Bells and whistles went off in my head! Why indeed? Well, there is no reason I can’t change back, is there? No. That is what editing is about. We can change our minds. We can make 180 or 360 turns. We can cut out, add in and re-splice scenes and chapters.

So here are my writing tips for today in #lessonslearnedwhenediting …

  • Always trust your first instinct & Always trust your story
  • The story is your own, hold your own pen and write the story you must write the way it needs to be written because the writing is not done until you type The End.
  • You can always do a 360 and return to your first instinct…It is never too late until it is too late.

Have you ever second-guessed your first instinct & then ended up doing a 360 back to that first instinct?

Has a WIP ever fought you and just not jelled? – What did you do?

Talk to me…It’s not in your words, It’s all in the way you move…

People are communicators. We love to communicate. We want to communicate. We need to communicate. But what about when words don’t get your full meaning across? What about when talking is just not enough? Have you ever traveled to a country where you did not speak the language there or did not speak it well enough to communicate? What did you fall back on to communicate? You used body language. You used facial expressions. Words can sometimes only go so far and even if you speak the same language, words may have different meanings to different people. So people use body language or non-verbal communication to get their meaning across.

Non-verbal communication is 90% of the way we communicate and verbal communication (words) is only 10% of the way we communicate. So it really is true: Actions speak louder than words.

When a reader picks up your completed novel, they are visiting a new country that is foreign to them. They are entering the world of your characters that you as the writer have created. You may know all the rules. You may see all the scenes in your head. But just because you can, don’t assume your reader can see them too without you communicating these scenes to them. Yes you can use descriptions to describe scenes and you can use dialogue to give a presence to your characters. But how do you show what the character is thinking or feeling in action? You use non-verbal communication, body language, facial expressions and micro expressions.

Ok, so how do you learn to write body language? Before you get to that question, you should first ask how do you learn to understand body language in the real world? We have all heard the expression: write what you know. Body language definitely comes under this. If you don’t do some research on body language you as a writer will be forced to either have the talking-head syndrome or you will be using clichéd phrases and descriptions to communicate your character’s body language. Clichés sometimes are avoidable and they do have their place but it is far better to try for something original.

So who are the experts in body language? Who can you talk to, to find out more? Here are some options for you:

  • The Police
  • Lawyers/Judges
  • Jury Members
  • Medical People
  • Psychologists/Psychiatrists
  • The Military
  • The Airline Industry – Pilots, Flight Attendants
  • PR (Public Relations) Experts
  • Communication Experts
  • Sales People

Off the top of my head these are just a few of the industry experts who need to read, and understand body language. From my day jobs in both sales management & training and my days as an international flight attendant (especially in this role) body language was key to doing my job correctly. In terms of my airline experience we were taught by two police detectives and a psychologist how to read body language. A lot of the most missed body language comes under micro-expressions. Below is a short video detailing the basic micro-expressions all people use to communicate various emotions.

The other layers that make up the linguistics of body language are voice tone, body posture, sign language and then individual “tics” that are unique to each individual. Think of it the next time you are in a room with someone. Think what body language you are using. Does it contradict what you are saying or does it add to it? Think of the other person. What does their body language tell you? Like most things in life, learning to read and recognize body language needs to be practiced until eventually it will become an unconscious habit.

Writing

So how do you add your new-found linguistic skills in body language to your scenes? Let’s take a simple expression that we all can recognise and all have used: smiling

Eliza smiles.

The above sentence is fairly self-explanatory. You have a character named Eliza and she smiles. But 10 people could read that and get 10 different images in their minds explaining the smile. As a writer you have a choice to either let the reader choose their own interpretation or you can open up the scene for them.

Her lips curve slightly before she can pull them straight.

Now I have opened up the scene a bit. I have told you in one sentence that she smiles but is trying to hide the smile. Perhaps she is nervous or perhaps she is shy.

In the doorway he stares at me and smiles.

Again there is nothing “wrong” with that sentence but it lacks emotion and falls flat as a result. How does he smile? Why is he smiling? What does the doorway look like? What is he thinking/feeling? The above sentence does not tell the reader any of that.

Standing in the shadowed doorway, his eyes crinkle at the corners and his lips twitch into a knowing smile.

Now the reader can picture the doorway. The reader can picture the man. They can imagine him perhaps leaning against the doorway. The reader can see his smile is a teasing smile, perhaps with a slight twinge of arrogance or confidence.

These are just two twists on using body language to open up a simple expression of smiling. You could come up with 100 others.

Here is a simple exercise: Go to a mirror and smile. But think something when you are smiling. Perhaps you are thinking of something embarrassing and the smile that comes to your face will be a nervous one. Look at what your eyes are doing, how are your lips curving. Are you smiling with your teeth showing or are you smiling with a closed mouth?

A myriad of micro-expressions can come into a simple smile depending on the person’s mood or the circumstance or the person they are with. Using these skills of describing these micro-expressions will bring a scene to life for your reader.

Two television shows that are fantastic for learning to recognise body language are Criminal Minds and Lie to Me. Criminal Minds is a television show based on the cases of a team of behavioral specialists & experts in the FBI. Lie to Me is a television show about a man who makes a living from being an expert in body language and micro-expressions. Most police shows are very educational with learning how to recognise body language but these two series are my favourite go-to series.

Do you make a conscious effort to use body language in your writing?

What is your most challenging “simple expression”, like smiling, to write using body language?

Go wandering… Get lost a little…

Are you ready to lose the map?

I love road trips. Always have. It started when I was a babe in my mother’s arms and the minute the vehicle started I was in “happy-land”. I love road trips with no clear destination in mind. You know, those times when you get in the vehicle and just drive following the road as your only map. Travelling fuels my sense of adventure, exploration and discovering the great unknown. The best adventures don’t usually happen on the main highway. They usually happen when you take that pothole-ridden abandoned side-road. There’s a sense of risk maybe even danger. Your adrenaline is fizzing through your bloodstream. Anything can happen. It might not all be good but it will be an adventure.

So what’s road trips got to do with this post. Everything. To get very profound, life is a road trip: unpredictable, risky, mapless, pitstops unknown, destination murky and a complete adventure. But this is not a post on the profound meaning of life. That is for another day. This is a post about writing, story, creativity and inspiration.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

Writing both as a vocation and the act of writing individual stories is a lot like a road trip. As a writer, words are my vehicle and inspiration is my driver and gritting-your-teeth-clenching-your-knuckles persistence is the fuel that makes this trip possible. With writing even if I start with a map, I usually tend to veer off the main road and take that tempting side-road. Sometimes these side-roads turn out to be dead ends or cliff tops but the beauty of a vehicle is that it reverses as well so I can always turn back. But more often than not these side-roads tend to give me nuggets of pure gold. They give me the little twist in the tail in my plot, they work out that ugly knot you may have written yourself into and sometimes they change your whole plot into something even better.

I am on just such an adventure right now with my two WIPs. One of them is in the final drafting stage and the other is new and shiny and keeps on catching my eye. I had a map with the first WIP, all neatly outlined. But something was not working, some magic was missing. So I figured the map was holding me back. I threw the map away, refueled with some gritty persistence and took the pitted side road. I am about 2/3 way through edits and the characters are driving it. I stopped thinking and directing so much and just let them take the wheel. It does mean that Book 2 is going to change a little from the original map but that is the beauty of a side-road: Change. When you edit a draft, you need to tear it apart, change it up, stretch it thin and then do it again. You have to get brutal with your plot and you have to get brutal with your ego. You have to buckle up and just keep going, hold on through the rocky patches and speed wobbles but stay in the driver’s seat.

As for my new and shiny WIP, this one is going to be a road-trip completely off the map and off the highway. My creative synapses are sparking off major electric sparks of excitement. The story is gritty, the characters are raw and I am ready for this road trip. I am also ready for a new adventure. I do love the final draft WIP but I know what happens on that road trip, I have seen the destination in the distance. This new WIP is a trip into the unknown but so far the landscape is stripped down to that raw and natural beauty you find in a vast desert where the horizon seems endless. It is just the beginning of this story’s road trip and I have already thrown the map away. I am ready for the adventures these characters are going to take me on. My adrenaline is buzzing.

So what about you?

Do you love road trips?

Are you one of those people who has to have a map and navigator?

Are you ready to lose the map and get lost?

Have you ever found you had to change up the whole plot of your story, you had to get muddled to get found?

Always extra room in my closet for some…Dress me Inspiration

“Fashion is as profound and critical a part of the social life of man as sex, and is made up of the same ambivalent mixture of irresistible urges and inevitable taboos.” – Rene Konig

I know that I have been lax in posting on the blogs but hopefully this post of inspiration will make up for it. Though I am a writer and should be more focused on words than anything else, I am also a very visual person. I have spoken before about how I create vision boards for each of my WIPs and even for future works. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but for me one picture can spark off a whole manuscript. One of my favourite forms of vision boards are when I find clothing for my characters. I never need an excuse to stroll through fashion magazines/sites but when I can mark it off as “work” in research, the satisfaction is doubled.

"Everything you own should have value, either because it's functional or beautiful or you just love it."-- Peter Walsh

A week ago I was invited to sign up to a new social network: Pinterest. I had heard about it for a while beforehand and had even had friends who signed up but I resisted the lure of another social network. The resistance proved futile and my curiosity finally won out. I wanted to know what all the cool “kids” were on about. I wanted to be in on the secret too. So a friend kindly invited me (like most deliciously secretive societies, Pinterest membership is by invite/request for the time being) to Pinterest and within a few moments I was in and had my own Pinterest boards.

 “Fashions fade, style is eternal.” – Yves Saint Laurent

Pinterest is fantastic for a person like me who is a vision board junkie. It is set up much like a regular cork board vision board you would set up at home. You create all these boards, title them, describe them and then you “pin” your interesting images, either your own from your computer’s drive or pinned/linked from other online sites. The great thing with Pinterest is that the original creator of the image is credited and you also have the original link from where you found the image in the first place. This cuts down on your web-browser bookmarks and keeps all your visual inspiration in one tidy place.

” ‘Style’ is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma. Fashion is something that comes after style.”           – John Fairchild

So here for example is my Pinterest board for my current WIP trilogy – The Curse`d. So on this board I have a few of the images that I have used for inspiration for my WIP, whether it be settings, culture types, clothing and characters.

“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel

Which brings me to CLOTHING and STYLE. Two of my favourite interests but also vital to a story. I don’t know about you, but if I can picture the characters the way they are dressed it really gives me a picture in my mind. The type of clothing worn by some characters can tell me much about who they are. It also tells me when and where the story is set. Clothing/Style of characters can tell me about whether the character is a businessman/woman, a lady/man of leisure, a woman/man of action and it can also tell me what the character wants me to know about them. Clothing can also be symbolic of a character’s emotions. Memorable outfits by literary characters/film characters come to mind at the drop of a hat and we can recall the stories behind these outfits. Think of the green dress in Atonement or the fire dress in The Hunger Games. Clothing can make a character stand out from all the others. In a sense the fashions in a novel are characters in and of themselves.

 “Fashion is born by small facts, trends, or even politics, never by trying to make little pleats and furbelows, by trinkets, by clothes easy to copy, or by the shortening or lengthening of a skirt.” – Elsa Schiaparelli

I love the societies that my current trilogy is set in: a mix of contemporary urban, early Victorian society and Romany Gypsies. The inspiration for the clothing is almost limitless. You have the exquisite formality of the Victorian era, the romanticism of the Romany Gypsy culture and the simplicity and understated sexiness of the urban-contemporary.

“What I really love about them… is the fact that they contain someone’s personal history…I find myself wondering about their lives. I can never look at a garment… without thinking about the woman who owned it. How old was she? Did she work? Was she married? Was she happy?… I look at these exquisite shoes, and I imagine the woman who owned them rising out of them or kissing someone…I look at a little hat like this, I lift up the veil, and I try to imagine the face beneath it… When you buy a piece of vintage clothing you’re not just buying the fabric and thread – you’re buying a piece of someone’s past.” – Isabel Wolff

So here for your pleasure are some style/clothing images that have been the inspiration behind my WIP.

This is the inspiration for one of my MCs.

This dress is the dress that my MC will mean in a key moment in her story.

This is another key piece worn by my MC later in her story.

The inspiration for the debonair man who catches my MC’s eye and heart.

This is inspiration for my second MC but later in the trilogy.

This is my inspiration for my hero.

This is inspiration for my second MC.

Writers: What do you use for fashion inspiration in your novels?

Readers: What are your favourite outfits from the pages of fiction?

 

April…It is all about the “A” in Attitude

March is over and we are already into the second quarter of 2012. Don’t look now, the year is flying by. So how are those goals, ambitions, resolutions and aims looking? You know, the ones you made in that fresh first blush of 2012. Some of you may be feeling pretty damn happy with how the year is going so far but then some of you will be wanting to throw up in your hands in frustration and just bury your head in hibernation… For me, this year has been a mixed bag so far … I have taken steps forward and I have wanted to step back and throw things. But this is not a moan or a groan… You don’t have the time for that and I don’t have the energy for that. Three months are done. Three months are gone. No point in complaining. If you stumbled off the path to success, it is not too late! You just have to keep walking and when you don’t have strength to walk, keep crawling as long as you are moving FORWARD! So say it with me now: Goodbye March, Hello April!

Make April all about the “A” in ATTITUDE. My April is about being a FIGHTER. No, fighting is not wrong at least not if it is done the right way. The FIGHTING I am talking about is the Fight to put your own stamp on this world. Personality can’t really change but ATTITUDE can. You can choose what Attitude you are going to begin April with. Don’t give up just because you are behind. Behind is a good place to start from, it motivates you to kick some ass and get ahead. Fight for your goals. Fight for your dreams. Fight for your wins. 

Think of 2 boxers in a boxing match. (I meant the human kind not the dog kind.) The fight is not always won by a knock out. It is won by the fighter with the most guts who gets the most “right” hits in. The point is to keep fighting until that whistle blows. So are you going to be the fighter who backs away or are you going to keep swinging and stay in the fight? It’s your choice. Nobody can make it for you.

Over the last few months I have been doing battle with one of manuscripts. It had got to the point that I wanted to give up fighting for it and wanted to just give it up. I was very close to hitting the delete button on the whole thing. But I have this stubborn streak in me that just won’t quit and won’t give in or give up. I think my ms has a little of that too. One of the people in my life, a writer, friend and mentor, got “real” with me and told me to quit “bitching” about how much I hate this manuscript and to send it to her for a second opinion. She told me I was not allowed to delete it, was not allowed to do anything to it until she had read the whole thing and offered me her thoughts and opinions. So reluctantly I sent it though in the back of my mind I was still going to delete it but this time I would have even more reason because she would tell me what I knew all along: this manuscript sux! She read it. She skyped me. She told me she loved the story and was super p…ed off that I had not sent her the ending as she was left wanting more. (I had deleted the whole ending because the ms was not feeling right to me.)

HOLD ON! What! She “loved” it. This turned my decision on its head. We skyped some more and she convinced me that there was something special in this ms. It took a long conversation (ok it was more of a pep-talk) to remind me why this story and these characters had called to me in the first place. So I agreed to her kind offer that she would walk the edits through with me chapter by chapter. This is what I have been doing the last couple of weeks.

You know what? The manuscript’s beautiful layers are being revealed bit by bit. I am back in love with the story. I can see the holes and I know what will fill them. I still have quite a bit of work to do but I am now excited because I am back on the path and walking up that hill. But the great thing is that when I get too caught up in doubts (or ego as she likes to say) I have another pair of eyes on it. Sometimes working on your own manuscript is a bit like looking in the mirror. You don’t always see the truth or the beautiful parts because you are examining the faults too closely. Sometimes you have to look at yourself through another’s eyes to appreciate the “real” you. I think it is the same way with a manuscript. And this is why it is important to have a writing BFF or two. 

What’s a writing BFF? Let me start by what they aren’t. Writing BFFs are not YES People. Writing BFFs are not jealous of your success. Writing BFFs are not your mothers or your puppies. Writing BFFs are honest. Writing BFFs will not pander to your particular brand of head-crap. They are the people who will tell you the truth about your writing. They are the people in your corner who will wipe your brow and then push you back into the ring even when you want to leave the stadium. They are the people in your corner that stop you from hitting delete just because you can/want to. They are the people who are there, whether you are flying high with success or at the end of your tether over the edge. They are the people who understand my particular brand of self-doubt/ battle against perfection because they are running the same marathon. I am lucky to have a few writing BFFs, each vital for my sanity. A thousand thank you’s to you!

Writing is hard. This is not an easy thing we have chosen to do. We put ourselves and our work out there for people to judge and sometimes the judgements (though not personal) feel very personal and feel like a kick in the gut. I was asked the other day whether I regret quitting the day job and doing this writing thing full-time. The writer who asked me was thinking of doing the same thing. I was honest. I told them that it is hard work and it is an uphill run most of the time. But I also told them it was the best choice I have ever made. I don’t regret it not one bit. Writing is also not a race: not a race against other writers or a race to finish. It is a marathon. You are the only runner on this marathon. It is your path and only you can run it. Success might take time but that is ok. You have time. Don’t waste the time you have. I may never make millions from it (if wishes were gold) but this is not why I am on this path. Millions of dollars might make life easier but it doesn’t grant happiness. Chasing your dreams gives you a reason for happiness and obtaining those dreams makes you happy. I write because this is what I love to do. It is not the only thing I can do but it is the thing that makes me happiest. 

Maybe you have been in the same spot as I found myself a couple of weeks ago. Maybe you have been tempted to hit delete or worse to think you are not a writer and want to give up. STOP. Get honest with yourself. Lose the EGO. Get yourself a writing BFF you trust and let them get “real” with you. You may be surprised like I was. You may be talked down from the edge like I was. So make this your month to get real with your dreams and get back to the reason why you started in this fight in the first place. Don’t step out of the ring just because you got scared. There is nothing wrong with being scared. But there is something wrong with fear stopping you in your tracks and knocking you down. I am sure even if we speak to the best of the best in any industry, they all have moments of fear. But it is FIGHTING through that FEAR that is the important difference between failure and success. Try for success, you have nothing to lose!

Have you had doubts fill your head? Have you had an MS you wanted to/did delete? What got you through it? Tell me, I would love to know. After all we’re all just dreamers chasing a fantastic dream. How many people really get to say they chased their dream, win or lose, they did not give up? That is true success. The rest is just icing on the top.