Author of Dark Fiction
I’m just realizing that I’ve never written a post about the “Cellar Door Anthology” in which one of my stories is published. Edited by Shawna L. Bernard, the book is a compilation of tales of beauty and terror about what may lie beyond the cellar door.
I wanted to write something involving weird architecture for this anthology. My result was my short story, “What Grows In Between.”
My inspiration for this story came from doing research on the Dupli House, which is located in Marbach, Germany. It was in disrepair and had to be torn down. Here’s a photo of the original house.
The architectural firm of J. Mayer Arquitectos took on the task of building a new modern house in the footprint of the old house. Actually, they came up with a new footprint by duplication and rotation of the out line of the old house:
The result is breathtaking:
I thought, what if the spirit of the old house wanted to come through the framework of the new. That idea gave birth to my story, “What Grows In Between.”
Here’s the synopsis: Emily and Daniel have ditched high-powered jobs for a more low-key life. Though Daniel actually prefers more traditional architecture, Emily falls in love with an ultra-modern house that is situated out in the woods in Massachusetts. They’ve been waiting all their lives for this. He’s going to start painting and she’s going to do freelance architecture from home. That was the plan, but when the house grows an old-style cellar door, they start to realize that it has motives of its own.
The following is an excerpt from a review written by Dr. Robert Curran, psychologist and author of several works on folklore and the paranormal:
“There are some places in my mind where I seldom go. They are rooms of imagination, impression and memory that are often better left undisturbed because they are full of old fears and terrors which still have the power to grip me. They are better off left to moulder behind locked doors. This anthology tells me that I’m not alone in this respect.
“There are too many stories and poems within this anthology to review comprehensively–and I’m not going to try–but each one reflects the horror of some dark world, lying around the foot of the descending cellar steps or up in that shuttered attic. And they are brilliantly illustrated in paintings and drawings which are evocative of each tale.
“This is definitely a book for the winter, when the nights are dark and the wind makes strange houses through the house. It is a book to be savoured and shuddered at. It will take you to places in your mind where you really shouldn’t go.”
This post by Patrick Keller about a Halloween party in 1911 caught my imagination. It’s a fun read about celebrating my favorite holiday in a bygone era. I can picture myself there somehow. I have an urge to spin it off into a horror story.
As many of you are no doubt planning themes for Halloween get-togethers next month, I thought maybe Ms. Ruby Ross Goodnow could help you plan. Actually, the party below, held on “Hallowe’en” at “eight o’ clock” in 1911, was also meant to be a housewarming party, for a brand new home, perhaps a bungalow or craftsman like the one pictured below. I found this article, originally published in the October 1911 issue of The Delineator, a few years ago and I just love it! (Note that a yearly subscription was $1. Sweet!) I’m considering planning a Halloween get together myself, and using this retro article as a starting point for a turn of the century theme!
From the October 1911 issue of The Delineator:
Entertainment in October
Conducted by Ruby Ross Goodnow
Mrs. Goodnow will be glad to help you with any kind of entertainment. Write…
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What makes a best selling novel? James W. Hall, a creative-writing professor and crime novelist, did a study of “megabestsellers,” and found that they all share 12 common elements — to such a degree, in fact, that they are all “permutations of one book, written again and again for each new generation of readers.” You’ll find some of the elements surprising.
1. An Offer You Can’t Refuse:
- Plot is high concept and can be stated in a log line (which can also be called the dramatic question.)
- Protagonists have emotional intensity that results in gutsy and surprising deeds. They act decisively.
- Pity and fear are the great emotional engines for tragedy.
- The character has an intense commitment to his or her cause.
- Backstory is minimal. References to the past are pared-down to essential information.
- There is a serious threat of danger or failure. Some form of peril, physical or psychological, appears within the early pages of the novel. Red flags are planted.
- There is a ticking clock.
2. Hot buttons:
- Find hot topics that are perennials. It must express some larger, deep-seated, and unresolved conflict in the national consciousness
- Examples are: women making it in a man’s world, small-town morality, sexploitation, exploration of the illicit side of family life, religion vs. secular humanism, evildoers, military secrets, and greed.
3. The Big picture (Scope):
- The main characters should be the embodiment of people of their era.
- Address the ways in which men and women work out their destinies within large groups and communities rather than alone.
- A small story told against a sweeping backdrop.
- Characters are not self-absorbed or contemplative.
- Stories on a large scale that feature a wide assortment of social classes.
- Social mobility; racial, gender, and class fairness; the struggles and triumphs of the poor set alongside similar conflicts of the powerful.
4. The Golden Country:
- America-as-paradise shapes mega best sellers.
- Sense that childhood innocence can’t last.
- The Golden Country is a blend of place and time.
- A nostalgic, wistful zone, a faraway Shangri-la pulses at the core of best sellers,
- A vague awareness that something crucial slipped away when we weren’t looking, our childhood, our purity, our dreams, our sexual innocence, our national idealism.
- Nearly every character will go through a shift of awareness, whatever illusions they once held are eventually stripped away.
- We are all skating on slippery ice.
5. Nothing But the Facts Ma’am:
- Large doses of information make the novel seem real. Seduces the reader into suspending disbelief.
- Audiences are hungry for information.
6. Secret Societies:
- Expose the inner workings of a secret society.
- A secret society is any group that has isolated itself from the rest of the world by creating a collection of rules, rites, sacraments or covert behaviors that reinforces its separation from the larger population.
- This can be a secret society of two, such as a love story.
- Conspiracy or secrets. A series of Chinese boxes. Open one and you have another.
- We have a natural suspicion of institutions.
7. Bumpkin Versus Slickers:
- A central character sets off on a journey that takes her from rustic America into turbulent urban landscapes or vice versa.
- The hero’s journey. A character is called to adventure.
- “Fish out of water” story.
8. God is Great, or is He?
- Best sellers often critique orthodox religious practice and the dangers of zealotry.
- Hypocrisy is often outed.
- Main character often doubts his faith or loses faith.
9. American Dream/American Nightmare:
- Person achieves the American dream, but finds it hollow.
- The dark side of the American dream
- Immigrant narrative.
- Character raises herself by her bootstraps.
10. A Dozen Mavericks:
- The heroes are rebels, loners, misfits or mavericks. They reject the pressures and deadening effects of conformity and strike out for new territory.
- Sometimes they want a normal life but are forced otherwise by circumstances.
- Books, reading, writing, and literary references are an important story element.
11. Fractured families:
- In each of the twelve novels, a member of a broken family finds an ingenious way to transcend his or her crazy stress.
- We mostly all come from dysfunctional families, so we can relate to them.
12. The Juicy Parts:
- One key sexual encounter plays a decisive role in the outcome of the plot and the transformation of the protagonist.
- The sexual moment stirs a watershed event, but tends to be more life altering for the female than for the male.
It isn’t really that we’re going to try to fit all of these elements into the novels we’re writing, but it is interesting to think about, and I did get some inspiration for my work in progress by reading James W. Hall’s book, Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers.
I’m pleased to reveal the cover of a new book, Greenshift, by science fiction author, Heidi Ruby Miller.
Heidi uses research for her stories as an excuse to roam the globe. Her novels include GREENSHIFT, AMBASADORA, and the upcoming ATOMIC ZION. She also co-edited the writing guide MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT. In between trips, Heidi teaches creative writing at Seton Hill University, where she graduated from their renowned Writing Popular Fiction Graduate Program the same month she appeared on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. She is currently an editor at Dog Star Books. You can read about her at http://heidirubymiller.blogspot.com and tweet her @heidirubymiller.
A tale set within the world of Ambasadora.
Mari’s rare eye color makes her a pariah within Upper Caste society, which is why she prefers plants to people…except David, the former Armadan captain who shuttles scientists around on a refurbished pleasure cruiser.
But someone else is interested in Mari and her distinctive look–an obsessed psychopath who tortures and murders women for pleasure.
When the killer chooses Mari as his next victim, the soldier inside David comes alive, but it is Mari who must fight for her own life and prove she isn’t as fragile as the flowers she nurtures.
Cover Art by Bradley Sharp
Foreword by Dana Marton
Space Opera/Science Fiction Romance paperback coming from Dog Star Books in August 2013
I’m pleased to take part in the cover reveal for my friend and Seton Hill classmate, Jason Jack Miller’s new book, The Revelations of Preston Black! See links to reading samples below.
Coming June 2013 from Raw Dog Screaming Press
Cover Art by Brad Vetter
Preston and Katy face a new darkness….
Sometimes a battle between good and evil doesn’t look much like the ones they show in movies. The good guys don’t always wear white, and they don’t always walk away with the win.
And sometimes you’re better off with the devil you know.
The last time Preston went down to the crossroads, his best friend died and he nearly lost his brother. But Old Scratch doesn’t take kindly to fools, especially not those who come knocking at his front door. And before all is said and done, he’s going to teach Preston a thing or two about what it really means to sacrifice.
Read the first 100 pages of The Revelations of Preston Black – http://jasonjackmiller.blogspot.com/p/the-revelations-of-preston-black.html
Pre-order The Revelations of Preston Black at Raw Dog Screaming Press – http://www.rawdogscreaming.com/books/the-revelations-of-preston-black.html
I’m very happy to post this guest blog from the fabulous Lee Allen Howard!
Using Your Day Job in Your Writing
Very few fiction writers earn enough from their creative efforts to support themselves. I don’t—yet. So we have day jobs (or night jobs). Anthony Trollope, one of the most prolific English novelists of the Victorian era worked as a clerk at the General Post Office. Stephen King once labored in an industrial laundry and later taught school while he wrote.
I’ve got a day job, too. Since 1985 I’ve been a technical writer, primarily for the software industry. Although I’ve made a good living at it, writing user manuals and help systems ain’t the most exciting work, let me tell you. But my day job has:
- Taught me advanced use of writing and publishing tools
- Enabled me to work with huge amounts of text (one of my many user guides is 1300 pages)
- Required attention to detail
- Honed my writing and editing skills
- Made me work to schedule and deadline
- Forced me to write whether or not I “felt like it”
On the other hand, all this time working has kept me from pursuing my love of fiction writing full time. Sometimes, after 10 hours of slaving over complicated technical material, I’m brain-fried and have little left to devote to creative pursuits.
But I appreciate the value of my day job (as well as the benefits it provides, like healthcare). And I’ve used it in my writing. In The Sixth Seed, protagonist and family man Tom Furst is a technical writer for a software company.
My technical writing abilities came in handy when researching and writing DEATH PERCEPTION, my latest supernatural thriller tinged with horror and peppered with dark humor. It’s about a young man who runs the crematory at the local funeral home and who discovers he has a gift for discerning the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.
I actually spent an afternoon at a crematorium learning the process. I took copious notes, drew diagrams, and made charts. These notes were invaluable in writing the technical material related to cremation.
If you’re a writer, don’t curse your day job. Use it to fuel your desire to write fiction. And, whatever kind of work you do, you can leverage it to lend realism to your stories. I did.
DEATH PERCEPTION is available in trade paperback, Kindle (.mobi) and Nook (.epub) at http://leeallenhoward.com/death-perception/.
Lee Allen Howard writes horror, dark fantasy, and supernatural crime. He’s been a professional writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction since 1985. His publications include The Sixth Seed, Desperate Spirits, Night Monsters, “Mama Said,” “Stray,” and DEATH PERCEPTION, available in various formats at http://leeallenhoward.com.
You can keep in touch with Lee on his Facebook author page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lee-Allen-Howard-author/117844011639457. Follow him on Twitter @LeeAllenHoward.
The girl jolts like she’s been dropped into this body from thirty thousand feet. Her eyes flutter and her heart hammers on an arrhythmic beat. The breath catches then rushes in too fast causing a choking fit. Where is she? What’s she doing here? Who is she?
Lying prone she’s almost afraid to open her eyes. She curls one hand flexing its fingers. The skin feels dry and cold. Alien. She digs her fingernails into the palm and feels a sharp pressure.
The rushing pulse of this body feels dangerous. Dangerous like it might explode.
Deep breaths. Get the systems under control.
Her eyelids drift open and she sees a light fixture, nothing more than a bare bulb overhead.
She’s aware of a scratchy blanket beneath her.
Looking down she sees that the body is wearing a thin tee shirt and shorts.
When she explores the body with her hands, she feels railroad track ribs poking through paper skin. When she sits up in bed dizziness overtakes her, and she lies back down panting.
One more try, and her feet are on the floor, and her hands are clutching the edges of the thin mattress.
She stands, nearly falls over and catches the nightstand.
She makes her way to the bathroom afraid of what she might see in the mirror.
To soften the blow she explores her face with her hand, feels taught skin, slightly oily.
The bathroom is dark. All the better to allow her to see her form gradually.
The mirror shows her the outline of a small thin girl with long hair.
She closes her eyes and flips on the light switch.
Her heartbeat again feeling dangerously fast she opens her eyes a crack. The light is blinding so she closes them again. Screws up her courage and opens them again. Just a crack at first, then wider.
Her heart is beating uncontrollably now and she can hardly catch her breath.
When she opens her eyes fully, she doesn’t recognize the face, not an inkling, not an ounce. It’s long thin nose and solemn lips are unrecognizable to her.
She gets up the nerve to look in the eyes. They are brown and unremarkable.
But when she looks into them something catches. Something snaps into place.
And she remembers why she’s there.
I feel like I had a successful binge. My Day One total was 15,000 words, but I had written the beginning chapters and some of the middle.
My Day Two was the least productive with 5,600 words, but I had some distractions and ended up writing mostly at Starbucks.
Day Three, my day at Tampa Airport, turned out to be very productive. I wrote 7,000 words, but more than that, I had some interesting turns of events in my novel. Some relationships emerged that I didn’t know were there, and one of the characters turned out to be somebody quite different than I thought he was in the beginning.
Though I did follow my outline, I found myself filling in with scenes I hadn’t planned before. I subconsciously knew I had to get in some backstory or add plants for things that will come later on in the book. As these weren’t written down anywhere, they came from my subconscious.
This is the advantage of binge writing. The writing is organic and all one piece. The story doesn’t have time to get cold. It’s all right there in your head.
During my first 3 day writing binge I naively believed that I could complete a novel in 3 days. It’s obvious to me now that that isn’t going to happen, but at close to 30,000 words I now have a damned good start.
I don’t think I drove myself quite as hard this time. I took more care in forming my sentences and paragraphs, and sometimes I’d go back and correct things. Now I know that finishing my novel in that time frame isn’t the point. The point is getting into that white-hot creative state that will propel me to the end of the book.
If any of you are thinking of doing a writing binge, and have the time to do it, I would highly recommend it.
This is the poem, The Thin People. It’s hard to read, but if you click on it, it’s more legible.
This is day one of my three-day writing binge for my new novel, The Thin People. This novel is my homage to Sylvia Plath. (The Thin People is a famous poem of hers.) That, combined with my love of alternate dimensions, doppelgangers and houses that have different dimensions on the outside than on the inside will make this an entertaining write for me. This is also exciting for me because it’s my official return to horror! Yay!
Here’s my blurb: A failed anorexic who’s obsessed with Sylvia Plath finds herself living out the details of Plath’s poem, “The Thin People,” when she discovers shadow people from another dimension coming through a vortex in her backyard.
I’ve completed my mental preparation, which is to get psyched and think generally positive thoughts.
I’ve completed my writing preparation, which is:
- Come up with ideas for a story.
- Research, but don’t get bogged down
- Create a log line
- Keep a story bible with character sketches, locations and important facts.
- Write the back story.
- Write biographies for the main characters.
- Figure out your opening and closing images.
- Outline the story in detail. This means that all of my scenes are outlined.
- Write the first chapter.
I’ve done some of the physical prep such as stocking up on food, but I didn’t go as crazy on the cleaning and organizing part, finding it not that necessary.
Doing a writing binge when I’m just beginning a novel gives me a jump-start, and lets me feel as though I’ve accomplished something quickly.
But now I need to stop blogging and start writing!
My short story, The Double, is in a new anthology of which I’m really proud. It’s called Hazard Yet Forward. Seventy-six writers connected to the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program have created a multi-genre charity anthology.
This anthology is special because all proceeds will benefit Donna Munro, a 2004 graduate of the program, and my dear friend. Donna, a teacher living in St. Louis, Missouri, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. An active member of the SHU WPF alumni committee, Munro helps organize the school’s annual writing conference, the In Your Write Mind Workshop.
To aid Donna and her family, faculty members, alumni, students and friends of the Writing Popular Fiction program came together to compile this massive anthology. The book features flash fiction, short stories and even a full-length novella. In total, there are 75 works from various genres, which makes this anthology one that features something for everyone.
Genres represented in the book range from horror to romance to mystery – and everything in between. Some of the notable writers in the anthology are World Fantasy Award winner Nalo Hopkinson, Bram Stoker winners Michael A. Arnzen and Michael Knost, Bram Stoker nominee Lawrence C. Connolly, ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults winner Jessica Warman, Rita finalist Dana Marton, Spur winner Meg Mims, Asimov’s Readers’ Award winner Timons Esaias and WV Arts and Humanities literary fellowships winner Geoffrey Cameron Fuller.
This large volume is an electronic book for the popular Kindle platform and is available for purchase through Amazon for $9.99.
For more information about the book, click Here.
To purchase Hazard Yet Forward click Here.