Fantastic Scary Books List

I *love* a good scary story. Having grown up on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Alvin Schwartz) and Alfred Hitchcock’s’ Mystery Magazine, I came to learn that stories with a twist at the end are the kind that really grab my attention. I tend to like psychological horror instead of blood and guts horror (you will never catch me at a Saw movie). I truly appreciate the books that turn a concept upside down and then put that idea in a corner of my brain to take root going forward.

scary picEvery October I put out feelers for scary stories (and no, the U.S. tax code does not belong on the list.) I’ll list a few of mine, but I also invite you to add your favorite scary stories in the comment section so that we can all enjoy.

Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo – a young man is wounded in war. He loses all limbs, his sight and his ability to speak. The book takes place in a military hospital. This is one of those books that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Dracula – Bram Stoker – I can’t tell you how much I hate vampires, but this book transcends people who sparkle in sunlight. Well written, atmospheric. Not only a scary book, but a great lesson in pacing and building action.

Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane – the movie is great, the book is even better.

Any of the Hannibal Lecter series- Thomas Harris – unimaginable which makes it that much creepier when the author turns it into reality.

Unwind – Neal Shusterman – Chapter 13! Chapter 13! You will *never* stop thinking about this book.

We Need To talk About Kevin – Lorelei King – every mother’s worst nightmare comes true in this book. Riveting and emotionally exhausting.

Okay your turn, in honor of the spookiest month of the year, what are some of the scariest books you’ve ever read?

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Be Brave, Not Fearless

Last week I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert at a book event for her new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Though the book is just out, I’ve been listening to a podcast she’s been doing, which has given me a head start. Now, I’m already a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. I unapologetically loved Eat, Pray, Love. Her TED talks inspired me. (See them here and here.)

Seeing her speak was just terrific, and timely. I am days (DAYS!!) away from my long time dream of being published coming true. And you know what, dear readers? Fear is my co-pilot on this journey. I’ve been struggling with that—what is there to be afraid of? Surely I can meditate/visualize/breath through the fear and get rid of it. (Fear laughs hard at this, and moves back in, usually around 3 A.M.)

Elizabeth Gilbert said something that is resonating with me. Don’t be fearless, be brave. She said a lot more than that (a future blog post!), but for this week, that is enough. Don’t be fearless. Just be brave enough to act anyway. Let fear into the car, just don’t let it drive, use the GPS, change the radio station, or look at the maps. But fear gets a seat in the car. It would have taken one anyway.

Writing is a brave act. Getting published is related to writing, but it isn’t writing itself. The act of writing, which I’ve been doing forever, and actively doing for fifteen years with the hope of getting published, is brave. It is vulnerable, challenging, uncomfortable. And brave. Next week I celebrate getting published. But I’ve already won, because I’m a writer.

Launch Social Media FB postIn a bit of self promotion—if you live near the New England Mobile Book Fair, my launch party is next Tuesday, October 6, starting at 5:30. All are welcome. If you do come, please make sure and say hello, and that you know me from the blog.

In the meantime, let’s all work on being brave.

Nailing The Audience When Writing For Magazines

I have begun teaching my college level Professional Writing and Presentation Skills class. Anyone who has taken a writing class with me knows that for the first two classes I spend time working on analyzing the A.T.T.P (Audience, Tone, Topic, Purpose) of several documents. The first assignment I give is always to take a good look at 3 written pieces, analyze the A.T.T.P and give supporting evidence for your analysis.

IMG_20150910_085943957Nothing, I stress, absolutely nothing can be written if you don’t understand who you are writing for, what tone you’re going to use, what you are going to write about it, and why you are writing the piece.

For this class, the discussion ends with my students being able to look at a written piece and figuring out the A.T.T.P, but if this were a magazine article writing class, I’d take it a little further.

If you want to write articles for magazines, you need to *nail* the A.T.T.P. This is done by taking a careful look at the *entire* publication. Of course you need to read the articles and figure out what the tone of the magazine is (friendly, authoritative, etc) but another important way to figure out the audience is to look at the ads. You’ll find some valuable information there.

For example, at first glance, Prevention Magazine looks to be about health. The cover always has healthy food or healthy people being active on it. The cover also shouts to eh buyer that it is about health – “21 Best Age Erasures” “Stress Eater? 10 Snacks you’ll love” and “The Trendy Diet that Actually Heals.”

If you only looked at the cover and those articles, you might assume that the magazine is all about a healthy, holistic life, and while that may be true to some degree, a quick flip through the pages shows multi-page ad after ad for pharmaceutical medication.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with medication, (it could alleviate your symptoms so that you can participate in a healthy life style) those ads are important to the magazine because they bring in money. And because all publications rely on money, you’d be best to not suggest an article for this publication along the lines of “The tried and true method of getting off your arthritis medication forever.”

You can probably find a better suited magazine for that one

Let’s take one more example, one of my favorites – the Food Network Magazine. You’d think it’s all about food right? This one seems pretty obvious. If you read only the articles, you’d at least be on the right track. But take a look at the ads in this magazine. Sure there are a lot of food ads, but there are a lot of processed foods being touted. Fruit cups, frozen chicken bites, baking mixes. What does that tell us about the audience?

Well, they certainly like food, but they are very busy and often buy precooked foods. This audience doesn’t have the time to make all the recipes in the magazine, but they have the money to buy something close.

An article for a recipe that needs to take hours to sit before you can cook it is not going to fly with Food Network. They want recipes that look and taste good, that can require *some* pricey ingredients, and that don’t take a lot of time.

Again, you can probably find a better audience for your multi-step, complicated (yet no doubt delicious) recipe.

If you’re looking to write articles for the magazine industry, you need to do your research first. Look at a few issues of the publication, read the articles and then go back and take a close look at the ads. All of that information combined will help you figure out that critical A.T.T.P. which will ultimately give you a much better shot at being published.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Use your senses in your writing

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As a writer who has extensive tech writing experience, I admit that I sometimes have a difficult time with scene description.

I blame it on my Technical Writing training. Tech writing is all about “just the facts, ma’am.” It’s all about the who, what, when, where, and how of an action. And pretty much nothing else.

Creative (and I’m including memoir writing) is all about the facts and then some (ma’am.) When you write for entertainment you need to use the senses – the smell, visual, taste, hearing and sight information that you have literally at your fingertips. You also have to add thought and reason to any action.

As a tech writer, when I write directions, I’ll write something like:

  • Add one teaspoon of cinnamon to the batter.

Quick, efficient, absolute no doubt as to want I want the action to be.

But when I write creatively, constant directives like the one above can get pretty darn boring unless you surround them with that something extra. When we read for pleasure, we want to put ourselves into the scene. We want to know what motivates the character and we also want a reason to continue reading.

Here’s a creative writing approach to the above direction of adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to some batter.

Damn it, like always, she was running late. This cake had to be started, she still needed a shower, and even now, she wasn’t sure what she had that was clean enough to wear in public. While reaching for the jar of cinnamon, she tipped over a small bottle of opened vanilla. A tiny waft of warmed vanilla fragrance lifting on the breeze from the fan in the kitchen’s corner reached her. She closed her eyes and deeply inhaled. Suddenly she was no longer in her tiny New York apartment with the leaky shower and the cracked ceiling, but rather she was transported to her grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen where she used to spend her childhood summers.

“A pinch of this and a pinch of that,” her grandmother sang and danced as she added her special combination of spices to the cake batter in the ancient jadeite bowl. “Baking is a living art, never trust a book. You have to feel and smell the ingredients to know what’s right.”

Every cake her Grandmother had made had been perfect. A blend of spices and magic that seemed to capture the beauty of a cloudless sky, the roses near the front steps, a cool glass of tea on a hot day.

Pulled back to her apartment by a car’s shrill horn, she looked out her window, to the traffic, the grey, and the noise that defined New York City. Sighing, she picked up the silver measuring spoons and tipped the cinnamon into the correct spoon’s well . After leveling it off, she added the spice to the batter in the very same jadeite bowl that had been left to her in her grandmother’s will. She refocused on the recipes, one-half teaspoon of baking soda was still needed.

There was no time to feel or smell the ingredients, at least not today. She had to get this cake done for the faculty meeting if she hoped to have any chance of impressing the new department chair.

In the first example, I’ve put forward an action. Do this.

In the second example I’ve taken that action and put it into story form by adding sensory information. It is now: This is done because.

The word count for the direction is 8. The word count for the story is 316.

They both cover the same action.

The directions tell you what to do, the story asks you to put information together to come up with what you think is going to happen.

If you want to write stories then you’ll have to up your game by adding these types of details.

Think of this when you are writing (especially those who come from a technical or reporter background.) Infuse your writing with sensory details. Sprinkle memories. Plant the seed of a plot.

Give your reader a joyous reason to turn to the next page.

 

Update: In looking over this post, I clearly used the word “she” far too often in my example. I’m leaving it as is to show you that, *everyone* needs a good edit on their work.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Clarify and Clean It Up

I am deep in the editing process of Clock Shop Mystery Book #2, which is due next week. I am in the clarify and clean it up phase of the editing process.

Clarifying is just that–does the narrative make sense? Since I write mysteries, my readers need to be kept in the dark a bit, otherwise it isn’t a mystery. That said, there is a difference between red herrings (good) and confusion (bad). Some of the clarifying I am working on includes:

  • Making sure to give enough context for local idioms so that anyone understands them. Local phrases help place the story in specific settings, but if I use the term “wicked” I need it to be clear in the sentence that I mean “excellent”.
  • Adding conversation tags. In my brain, it is always clear when Nancy is speaking as opposed to Ben as opposed to Pat. But for the reader, it is often confusing, especially if three people are having a conversation. So add tags–let folks know who is speaking.
  • Bringing the reader along with me. If I mention that Ruth likes baked goods, I need to have her eat baked goods a few times. Maybe at some point she turns down a cookie. That is out of the norm, and could be a clue to the reader that she is upset, doesn’t like the person, or is on a diet. Not the best example, but you get the drift. If you set something up, use it, and let it pay off for the reader.

After the clarifying work, I clean it up. During this phrase, I don’t read, I look at the words. Reading them sucks me into the story. Looking at them helps me clean it up. This includes:

  • Watching out for repetition. In one paragraph, I used the word “nothing” three times. Do I remember doing it? No, of course not. Now I only use it once. You’d be surprised how many times I have duplicate words circled in my manuscript. Always remember, your thesaurus is your friend.
  • Do a word search on your bad writing habits. An example, I use the word “just” a lot. Most (possibly all) of them will be exorcised before the final draft. You’ll notice them as you are reading the manuscript through. Keep a list, and then find and replace.
  • I also start sentences with “And” more often than is healthy for a manuscript. Got to fix those.
  • Make sure all the names and places are spelled and used consistently. Does River Street turn into River Road mid-novel?

Don’t rush the clarifying and cleaning up part of the editing process. I don’t find this process particularly enjoyable, but I do find it satisfying.

Now, back at it!

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J.A. Hennrikus writes the Clock Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. The first book, Just Killing Time, will be out in October.

Time Is Flying!

It was almost two years ago that I signed my contract for the Clock Shop Mystery Series, which I am writing under the pen name Julianne Holmes for Berkley Prime Crime. Last week, on Wicked Cozy Authors, I wrote about how Julianne Holmes came into being. Today, I thought I’d write about the journey of the book, Just Killing Time, which will be published October 6, 26 months after I signed the contract. In a lot of ways, that is a long time. But in others? Yeesh, it is flying, especially since there are three books to write.

Just Killing Time debuts October 6!

Just Killing Time debuts October 6!

Just Killing Time has taught me a lot about the process of writing and publishing a book. Although other journeys will be different, many of the steps will be part of the process. Here’s what the past year has been like for me:

  • Writing the first draft of Book #1 (Just Killing Time). Seems obvious, but until you write the book, which can be a slog, you can’t move forward.
  • Reading, revising, and editing it yourself.
  • Having someone else read it, to see if it is a book. My friend Jason is my first reader. He loves the genre, reads a lot, is supportive, but can also give me tough love.
  • Take those notes, make changes, and polish it a bit more.
  • Have an editor look at it. That person can help in two ways. First, to make sure the story hangs together logically. Second, with wordsmithing, grammar, and other stylistic choices. There are a number of folks on this blog who are freelance editors. Finding one to work with can be tough. You need help, but you don’t need someone to rewrite your book.
  • Work on those suggestions. Polish, polish, polish. Then take a deep breath, and hit send to your publisher.
  • Wait for comments back. This can days, weeks, or in some cases months. My editor at Berkley is incredibly attentive, and it didn’t take long for her to come back to me with her editorial letter. This is the moment where you really need to get out of your own way. I had to do a massive rewrite on Just Killing Time. The rewrite made it a better book, but my ego had to step aside so that the writer could get to work. I also had to put Book #2 aside, so I could work on Book #1. That has been something that I am still learning how to do, keep two projects moving forward at the same time.
  • Resubmit, and wait for the next round of comments. This dance can go on for a while, but at some point the work will be done, and the book will be accepted. Do not, however, lull yourself into thinking the next time you will see it will be when it arrives as a book.
  • Around this time, I got to see the cover. I love it! I was asked for some ideas for the artist, but left it in their hands.
  • Copyedits are the next phase. These edits are from another source who is looking at consistency, making sure you are following the style sheet for the publishing house, and making clarifying edits. At this phase you can add, subtract, change. But it is a dialogue. Again, there is some back and forth.
  • Ask other writers to read it, and give you quotes that can be used in marketing. I will admit, this was a vulnerable moment for me, since I had to let the public see my baby. It all worked out, and was made easier by my Sisters in Crime relationships. Knowing other writers makes all the difference in so many ways. Don’t wait to find those networks.
  • Proofs are the next step. This is what I am working on now–reading the book again, looking for mistakes. This is not a time to rewrite. One great part of this phase is that I get to see how the book will be laid out, how the chapters look, etc.

These are all the book steps I’ve gone through so far. Next up will be marketing, getting ready for the launch (figuring out what that will be!), and hitting send on Book #2 by July 15.

These days there are lots of paths to publication, but the steps are going to be very similar. I am one of the lucky ones. This is a lot of work, but it is a dream come true, and it is getting more real by the day. Now, back to the editing of Book #2…

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J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julie Hennrikus is an arts administrator. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series. They all look alike.

Starting a blog 101

As some of you may know I’m teaching a college level online course called “Writing Blogs.”

I don't have a picture of a blog, do you're getting a chicken.

I don’t have a picture of a blog, so you’re getting a chicken.

This is my first 100% online course and it’s been a little tough because it’s difficult to sense frustration unless the students write about it in the forum. And I’m sensing frustration.

It’s been 3 weeks and my class is *just* starting to create their blogs. This was intentional, as I’ve told my students you have to know how to play your scales before you can improvise.

My students had to pick a topic based on their qualifications (and a hobby counts as a qualification) and then they had to look at other blogs in that field in order to begin figuring out who their audience is. We took our time with this because nailing your audience *before* you begin writing is critical. Putting the time into the design or foundation up front will save time (and heartache) later on.

We’ll be having a lifestyle blog that will use a lot of photos, a blog that captures the angst of youth and music (and baseball), a blog about surviving a TBI (Traumatic Brain injury) one on exploring life on a philosophical level and even a teacher’s blog.

It’s all good, these are great ideas.

But designing a blog and then creating one are two different steps.

I thought I’d share my class notes on creating a blog in wordpress with you (I know that we have some readers  at NHWN who want to set up a blog …someday – why not do it now?)

For my class, I’ve created a new blog fittofood.wordpress.com where my students will be able to see real life examples of what we talk about each week. If you’re interested in blog design and you’d like to follow along on that blog please do, just be aware that it is a work in motion (on purpose) and it will be evolving.

So here are my “creating a blog” notes –

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From the discussion board, some of you have actually created the beginnings of a blog on wordpress. Bravo, good for you.

But for some of you, it may feel like I gave you a hammer and told you to go build a house.

Sooooooo, for you guys, here’s how wordpress works.

To help you, I’ve decided to create a new blog on wordpress (I may kill it at the end of this course, I may not.) My audience will be primarily women who are interested in getting back into shape. I also hope to migrate some of my readers from my personal blog to this one.

My topic is: I am going to challenge myself to get back in shape to do a triathlon next year (there is more to this story that makes it compelling but that’s it in a nutshell.) Some of my friends are going to join me. It’s a challenge girl-power tale.

But the key word is compelling. I want my readers to keep coming back.

I have my audience and I’ve created a challenge with a storyline. People will follow to see if we “win.” It’s a story with a hook – we’ve talked about this. Having a hook for your readers to hold onto is very important.

To start your blog: first create an account on wordpress (user name , email, password)

Put a name for your blog in the URL box. Here’s where it gets a little tricky, if that name has already been taken you can’t use it.

There are millions of blogs out there, so chances are you won’t get your first choice – try variations, try abbreviations – just be careful not to have your blog name be too long or too complicated.

Once you have a name that works hit enter and voila, you are the owner of that blog!

I called my blog fittofood.wordpress.com (fit2food was taken, darn it) – for every pound I and my friends lose we will donate a pound of food to a food bank (hence the name Fit to Food)

What now, right?

You will need to choose a theme. A theme is the wrapper that goes around your blog, it’s the template for how it will look. WordPress has a bunch of themes and you try them on until you find one that “fits.”

You get a chance to choose your theme when you create your blog, but if you didn’t do it then, you can always choose a theme under the Customization option in the left column.

A bit of caution – some of the themes cost money. You don’t need to use those, just look around for the free ones and use one of those. For my new blog I used that fruit banana one. It was clear after working with it for a bit that it wouldn’t work so I changed it to another theme. Not a big deal, I looked around for a theme, choose Preview (which lets you see how it will look) and when I found one I liked I switched.

You can always preview any theme (even the ones that cost money) and nothing is set (or charged) until you press SAVE.

Now you need to start defining your blog.

Under Customize (left column):

Enter a blog title – the url has no spaces so if you entered your name with no spaces that will be the default for your blog title. My original title was fittofood I changed the title of my blog to Fit to Food – notice that I chose what was capped.

Tag line – this is your subtitle and it gives your readers an idea on what your blog will be about. My tag line is “On a quest to feel bullet proof again.”

Still under Customize, if you click on Header you can upload a photo to replace the default photo that came with the theme. You’ll probably have to crop the photo so play around with a few photos. My first photo had poor resolution and so I went with the swimming photo that’s up there now. I’ll probably change that one soon.

Now you’re ready to put up a post.

On the left column, click on Posts.

If you click on All Posts, you’ll see everything that has been posted onto your blog. WordPress prepopulates your blog with a “welcome world” post. Go ahead and delete that one.

Now click on New Post and enter your new post. When you are ready click Publish.

Although you can type directly into the wordpress editor, get into the habit of using a program like word and then cutting and pasting it into your blog post. This saves you a lot of heartache when your network is unreliable.

NOTE: some word processing programs don’t paste well into wordpress and you might have to add an extra “Enter” or Return after each paragraph. If you find that the text all runs together when you cut and paste that’s why. I know it’s weird and it doesn’t always happen.

The wordpress editor acts very much like the word editor, you can bold, bullet and if you want to insert a picture, click on the photo icon and browse for the file on your system.

Remember that you need to give your post a title (you’d be surprised at how many people forget that.)

My first post is called “The Desire to do” I have a photo and a short story.

I wrote an “about me” and I put it on a new Page (not post) but I think I’m going to also put it as my second post (just because this blog is so new, people need to immediately know who I am.)

So that’s it. To get started you’ll need:

  • Theme
  • Name
  • Title
  • Tag Line
  • Header
  • Blog Post
  • Publish

Remember that there’s not much you can break. The only thing that’s permanent is the URL you choose, other than that you can change the title (in my personal blog I went from Simple Thrift to Lessons Learned from the Flock), tag line, and theme. You can add posts and you can delete them. You own this space and you can do with it what you want.

For those of you who have not created a blog, go ahead and give it a try. This is the very basics of what a blog needs. Soon we’ll be talking about things like keywords, categories, and widgets, along with many of the other options available.

Follow along on fittofood.wordpress.com where you’ll see each of the options added to the blog as we discuss them.

Any questions (at all) let me know in the discussion forum.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.