They think we can't reach them from within this iron fence. "We're safe out here," they say. "No ghosts can get us." And each day they come closer. Soon, someone will grab the fence to peer through the bars. We can wait.
Oh yes! The Creep Factor is important to my writing. I worried that I wouldn't find it in my new home in Florida, but all I had to do was look around. I'm very visual. Lush foliage is everywhere. It's beautiful--I love it... Of course there's a "but". It's in the density of the bushes and the types of critters they hide. Sometimes it has to do with the presentation. For instance, my husband and I went on a paddle boat ride in a nearby park. Pretty tame, huh? I wasn't expecting to be spooked. That's when it's the worst--when you least expect it. In the middle of this sweet little pond/lake we came across a chilling sight.
Well, maybe chilling is a little strong, but I thought it was spooky with all those roots tangled in the water and the moss dripping from the trees, sometimes touching the roof of the boat. There was even a raven-like bird watching us.
That was it. That was all it took to get my muse back into action. I simply changed the sunny day to a moonlit night and added some eerie sounds to give me a nice backdrop for a lively little horror story.
Whew! I have a moment to breathe. My husband and I are
middle of a move from MA to FL. It’s been crazy! Picture a little blue
Prius with a black canvas rooftop carrier and two stressed individuals scanning
the road for turnoffs. In the back, you can see the seat folded down to
accommodate a large black animal carrier, dishes for food and water, and a box
with kitty litter. Wait a minute. Where are the kitties? If you stretch your
imagination just a bit, you can hear the sound of two terrified felines mewling
underneath my seat.
The trip lasted eight days, five of which were spent
trying to drag the cats back and forth from the car, a tricky exercise at best.
At the very beginning, not 15 minutes into the 1400 mile event, we discovered
we were missing one cat. On the last day, that same cat, Sammy, dug his claws
in. almost taking out the rug under the bed. They were not happy campers,
although they now seem content in the place we rented. Of course we haven’t
told them that it’s only temporary. Hopefully, Sammy (color of midnight) and
Jasper (our Maine Coon boy) will survive one more
We’re presently in limbo, living between two places. A
break in unpacking at our new house gives me time to squeeze in some much-needed
writing time. One of my first Florida purchases was a new desk, and here I sit.
It feels good to relax and write for a bit. All alone. Not even the cats. Mmm.
My mind has been in turmoil with all we have to do for
this relocation, but one day at a time we are getting things done. As I prepare
to write this, just me and my laptop, I feel a little lost. My buds, my pals,
my trusted friends—the people who make up my writing group are back in
Massachusetts. No more cozy discussions on Friday night at Barnes and Noble. No
more brainstorming plot, character arc, motivation. No more caring critiques.
Okay, we can still email, but it won’t be the same. How am I ever going to find
a new writing group? It hurts to think about it.
So, the move to Florida has been tough, but, did I
mention the heat? No more snow! I love the swimming pool, and there’s plenty of
room for me to ride my bike (no hills). We’re both retired now, so no
deadlines. We’ve met quite a few really nice people, and we love our new home.
That brings me back to being able to breathe.
Right now, I’m looking out the
window in my soon-to-be office. The fan that’s whirring above my head feels
heavenly, and the view fills me with comfort. I can feel my Muse grinning.
If it’s scary—nerve endings screaming, heart banging
against your chest, cross your legs to keep from wetting yourself scary—I want
to write about it. I’ve penned stories about ghosts, physical possession, mind control,
demons, black magic, psychic powers, and even fairies. And, most of the fodder
for the dark places in my mind has originated with stories about the area
where I grew up. For instance, a ten minutes’ drive from my home brings me to
Salem, MA. No reason to think anything dark or scary ever happened there!
Then there are the stories. I’ve grown up hearing
kinds of stories about haunted happenings in Salem as well as my own home town,
Marblehead. Ideas percolate as I drive through the neighborhoods, where some old
house with multiple gables will pique my sense of horror. I can absolutely
believe that something unsavory existed or still exists inside. Sometimes, the
sight of a creepy house or place will trigger my memory about some old ghost
story. And my imagination is off!
Writers like Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft have
also been a huge influence on my horror and paranormal writing. Again, both men
wrote about the North Shore where I live, so I have no problem believing that
the unbelievable here could be real.
I’m a very visual writer. Before I write about a
setting, I have to be able to picture it in my mind. The houses in my stories
are usually based on actual places or a mixture of places I’ve seen. My choices
are endless. But all that is going to change, soon. My
husband and I are moving
to Florida! Southeast Florida! We’ve driven around the neighborhoods looking at
real estate for sale, and have even found some we love. My dilemma? Have you
ever looked at a villa, condo, or home in Florida and gotten chills?
Goosebumps? A feeling of being watched? Don’t think so. And I’m not a
light-hearted kind of chick. What will happen to my writing?
I went online looking for help. Where were the creepy
places in Florida? Swamps! All kinds of creatures live in swamps. I found some
stories about a Swamp Skunk, like a smelly Big Foot. That didn’t really get my
fingers twitching, although a story with dark humid bogs of muck might work.
Or, graveyards. I can always get a few shivers about graveyards. Okay, but
wait. There was also something about St Augustine and the most haunted hotel. That
sounded promising. Picture an old hotel flanked by trees dripping with moss.
Imagine what might happen there in the dark when souls are helplessly asleep. Oooh!
Maybe all I have to do is travel a bit and find a new
horror channel for my mind. Once I see a few places and connect them with
creepy stories, I might be able to come up with ideas. Of course, I know that
any place can be a conduit for mind-altering terror. That's always a possibility. And, if that doesn’t work,
I guess I
can always go to my heroes Edgar and H.P. I’ll just picture them
sloughing through the sand with a beach chair and umbrella. Wherever they land,
can horror be far away?
If you know of any places in Florida where I might get
inspiration, please let me know. In the meantime, keep writing!
Yikes! It’s a new year and I’ve been so busy editing that
I’ve neglected this wonderful blog. Never mind. I’ll bring you up-to-date. I
finished off the year with a writing conference. Every writer should avail
herself or himself of the chance to mingle with like-minded individuals, and published
authors who offer educational insights as well as personal advice. Some conferences for 2016
Once again, the November
conference put on by Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America was
wonderful. Elizabeth George, the guest author, proved to be witty, friendly,
and happy to share her writing knowledge and experience. All the authors made
themselves available and the panels were informative and humorous. The Master
Classes provided up-to-date information on a variety of subjects and made time
for Q and A. It was also a great time to catch up with all those writers I
haven’t seen for a while.
Opportunities: One of the perks of conferences is pitching your
manuscript. This year, Crime Bake held a pitch slam or the chance to pitch
to multiple agents. What an opportunity. Two agents asked me to send in
partials. Another perk is a manuscript critique. I had an excellent twenty-page
critique with Lucy Burdette, who gave me an in-depth review and a written assessment.
Contests: For the Crime Bake Flash
Words contest, a story having to do with crime, and no more than 150 words with 10 chosen from a list of 20 (ashes, blood, body, careless, consequences, death, deception, edge, enemy, evil, hiding, memory, missing, murder, payment, pursuit, shadows, traitor, vengeance, witness).I was a winner for the fourth year in a row. What an exciting moment, especially sweet after reading all the other excellent submissions. Here is my
I was at the River’s Edge
Café when he spoke to me—the same chilling words that dogged my nightmares,
“Hey there, sweet thing.”
Memories flooded my
mind. I was thirteen years old, hiding to spy on my sister and her date. She’d
always been careless about boys, and Mom had warned her of the consequences.
That night, payment came due, and I was the witness. From the shadows, I’d listened.
I’d listened as she laughed. I’d listened as she died. Since her death, I’d
thirsted for vengeance.
I blinked and looked
at him. The fire in his eyes almost undid me. His honeyed tongue dripped evil.
“I was just headed outside for a smoke. Care to join me?”
I sucked back the fear
and followed him. Tonight would be different. Tonight I was the one with the
gun and the badge to back it up.
I’m beginning the new year on a high note with a Submission. On the heels of Crime Bake,
I sat down and began re-editing my manuscript, Trace of Evil, to send in to a Ghostwoods Books, as they were
accepting submissions until the end of the year. That done, I’m working on a
synopsis for the same book to send to RWA’s Golden Heart contest. Once that is
out (before 1/11/16), I will work on the changes one of the agents suggested in
“Watcher Clan”. Some excellent free writing contests
This is the year! I'm going to be published. All I have to do is keep on writing.
One of the most important steps in selling your novel is the
pitch. If you’re sending your manuscript to an agent or publisher, then the
pitch is your query letter. A query letter differs from an actual face-to-face
pitch in that you have time to run it by others to make sure it’s perfect. With
the face-to-face pitch, my biggest concern is trying to keep idiocy and
desperation at bay. Let’s face it, trying to fill three or five minutes weaving
an enticing and unique story description with a complete stranger is, at best,
daunting—at worst, terrifying. What’s a lowly writer to do when faced with her
First, if you’re pitching, you have to be
prepared for the request. You know, that coveted goal where someone asks for a
full manuscript. If you don’t have a finished or nearly finished product, you
shouldn’t be pitching. Trust me. My initial pitch experience was great. The
publisher asked for a full manuscript. I floated out of that room, accepting
accolades from my fellow writers. The only problem I had was that the story
wasn’t finished. Instead of trying to finish it and send it in later with
apologies, I gave up.
So, maybe you think you could pitch it and
finish it later and send it in. You could, however, think about how many others
pitched to that same person that day, and those people probably sent their
manuscript in immediately. Now, the agent/publisher selects one or more
stories. By the time your manuscript arrives, the slots that were available to
that agent/publisher have been filled. No matter the quality of your story,
there is no more room. So, do yourself a favor and be ready.
Remember that the person to whom you arepitching wants to hear what you have to say. They are
actively looking for their next book and hope you may be its author. They’re
rooting for you to succeed.
Next, have a good grasp of your work. It’s all
well and good to have memorized a catchy paragraph about your story, but what
happens when the agent asks about your character motivations or story arc? Oh
no, not the blank face! If they’re interested, you need to be prepared to field
questions and flesh out your story. What sets your story apart from all the
thousands out there?
And that catchy paragraph needs to not only outline your story, but tell the listener what will pull the reader in. What is unique about your story? Is the protagonist famous? Remember Eleanor Roosevelt solving mysteries? Does the story take place in a different setting like the Supreme Court? Was the body found in highly unusual circumstances, i.e. the locked room? An agent or publisher is looking for fascinating situations that will pull the reader in. Whether your protagonist belongs to a witch's coven or is the wife of the president of the United States, mention it in your pitch. Throw in a hook at the end that will prompt questions from the agent/publisher as well as the reader.
Most conferences have a class to help you
perfect your pitch. Take it!
The last piece of advice I have is the one I
find most difficult. And that is to relax and be yourself at the session. By
the time I sit down at the table to begin my pitch, I’m in such a frenzy, I
want to throw up. It doesn’t help to know I’m not alone in my terror. Of course,
by the end of those few minutes, I feel much better and can even smile. I wish
I could be more relaxed, but I’m sure the person across from me is used to the
nervous writer. I can tell you that if your pitch is part of a fest where you
get to pitch to more than one person, then it gets much easier to be yourself.
Multiple pitches? If you are lucky enough
to pitch to more than one person, you need a plan. I learned this at Thriller
Fest two years ago. First, make sure to research all the agents/publishers
ahead of time and choose the ones who will value your work. Rate them in order
of your preference. Then, make your first pitch to the person least important
to you. Why? Because you will shower the worst of your nerves and mistakes on
that person and learn from the experience. By the time you speak to your number
one option, your pitch will have become much better.