Kindle’s new reader platform, Vella, launched today and I have a story on it. Check out Starlex, my interstellar fantasy. I’ll be adding new episodes every week for what will eventually be a two-season epic! Be sure to give it a thumbs up to help more people discover the story in this brand-new app.
I belong to several Vella authors groups on FaceBook and there are over 2,000 writers involved! Obviously, it is competing with Wattpad. I knew when I joined Wattpad that it was pioneering an excellent idea. I don’t plan to transfer my stories from Wattpad to Vella any time soon, but I thought I’d dip my pen in and try it out.
Speaking of Wattpad, I have a new gothic romance story I’ve been uploading regularly. The first draft is finished. I wrote that story consistently for most of the summer. It’s my first foray into vampire romance so exploring that genre and mixing it in with classic gothic tropes has been fun. I may even develop this story into a series depending on the reader response I get.
Do you plan on using Vella as a reader or writer, or both? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Mid-Year Reading Wrap-up
I can’t believe I’ve read thirty-four books so far this year! I discuss all the highs and lows in my latest BookTube video.
It’s the Fourth of July weekend. My poor dog is hiding beneath my desk from the a-holes lighting firecrackers in the street, and I’m wishing I were down the shore with one of my favorite paperbacks, the more well-thumbed the better, sand stuck between salt-stained pages. Whether it’s a bodice ripper romance or an old-school horror classic, dog-eared and dirty evokes a certain nostalgia.
One of my favorite Jersey Shore retreats has a stack of well-worn books I revisit each year like old friends. Some books may have been swallowed by the sea, left on the sand, or absconded in a piece of luggage, but another one is always left in its wake. When it comes to beach reading, my taste leans toward the sleaziest romance or horror offerings. Monsters or monster c***s hit the sweet spot every time.
A few recommendations:
Lace by Shirley Conran
No matter what beach rental I stay in, I always seem to find a copy of Lace. It doesn’t matter if I already know which bitch is her mother, I zip through the pages as if they’re greased with Coppertone. If rain ruins your day at the beach, you can always pop in the Lace mini-series.
Once is Not Enough by Jacqueline Susann
Forget Valley of the Dolls. When the sleaze includes a daddy-obsessed heroine, drug-filled orgies, a nipple-pinching Dr. Feelgood, and the rape of an entire convent of nuns, your sleaze bases are covered. One New York Times critic groused that the 1966 bestseller was, ” populated by “a cast of obscure, unpleasant, implausible, stupid, or sly characters who lurk in the mind for weeks only because one wants to meet and kick them.” For quality like this, one read is definitely not enough.
Jaws by Peter Benchley
Benchley reinvented the classic sea monster story with a realistic spin that made us all afraid of the water. The film is superior on many levels, but nothing says beach-read quite like a well-thumbed copy of Jaws. Just look at that cover!
The Jersey Devil by Hunter Shea
If you think sea monsters are scary, try driving through the New Jersey Pineys a night. The Garden State wilderness contains its own thrills and chills among the scrubby pines. Shea’s flying maneaters will keep you well-entertained as you bake in the sun.
Late last night, after working my “day job” as a theater “roustabout,” I received the fantastic news that my screenplay, Unmasked, was chosen as a finalist for the Best Horror Feature Screenplay Award at the Oregon Scream Week Horror Film Festival. A few months ago, on a whim, I entered my screenplay into a bunch of film festivals. So far, I’ve heard back from two. It won fourth place at The International Horror Hotel, and now it’s up for another award.
I’m thrilled! Unmasked was the first feature-length screenplay I ever attempted to write, the first draft produced in a weekend fever dream over a decade ago. Since then, I’ve written many novels and other works, but Unmasked convinced me I could do it.
I don’t think there is one writer, professional or novice, who doesn’t feel a level of terror when facing the blank page. I’ve written about this before. There is always trepidation, the fear that you can’t do it. The only way to prove to yourself that you can do it is to sit down and do it.
Easy right? Not really. I think what holds most creatives back, and I’m certainly not immune, is that it takes a great deal of self-belief even to attempt a creative endeavor, let alone complete it and work it to some level of competence. Framed another way, you’ll never prove to yourself how incompetent you really are unless you try. The dreaded I suck! fear is probably the number one reason most of us make excuses about why we can’t do something.
I’m telling you, you can. But it takes work. And practice. Most of all, it takes belief in yourself. We’ve all seen examples of mediocre talents who’ve gone on to have tremendous success because of their unwavering confidence in their abilities. They shake off criticism like a dog after a dunk; they keep pushing forward no matter what. As annoying as some of these creatives are—Madonna, I have you in my sights—you have to admire their tenacity.
Conversely, there is another type of which many of us are all too familiar. You may count yourself among them. I’m referring to the creative person with immense talent who never seems to complete any project, or worse, has a self-destructive bent. I’ve seen it manifest in many ways. In fact, I’ve explored that destructive messaging myself in my work, including UNMASKED, which is essentially a horror story about a dysfunctional family. I know the territory all too well.
If you can turn your pain into art, people will respond to it.
Believing in yourself means showing up for work every day without expecting any accolades. Keep working and keep pushing forward. People will start to notice. You’ll gain fans and maybe even turn it into a lucrative venture. I’m still waiting for the latter, but in the meantime, I’ll keep working on it every day because I love it. If you are struggling with your creativity, start with self-belief and let the rest of the world catch up.
I tend not to give writing advice because I’d rather leave it up to the true experts, but I thought I’d share Ten Writing Tips that have worked for me in my writing development. Most of these are not original (I’ll try to give credit where I can), but I’ve found them helpful. Here goes:
Writing as Practice – I got this idea from Dean Wesley Smith’s YouTube channel, and I couldn’t agree more. Musicians practice every day, so why shouldn’t writers? Think of writing as practice and take the pressure off yourself. Learn while you practice and develop good writing habits.
Daily Word Count – Set a daily goal and try to reach it. I keep a spreadsheet of my word count, and I’ve been averaging around 2000 words a day. If I keep it up, I’ll have a 60,000-word manuscript by the end of the month. That’s a short novel! It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Don’t wait for inspiration (see tip #1). Just sit down and write every day.
Immerse Yourself in Language – You won’t improve if you don’t read. Read for pleasure, read for entertainment, but read every day. I read for an hour a day at least, and lately, I’ve become obsessed with audiobooks. Immersing myself in language makes me a better writer because I’ve learned to discern good prose from bad, to hear the musicality in a graceful turn of phrase. I may not be as good as (most of) the books I read, but they’ve given me a target for which to aim.
Keep a Reading Journal – This sounds a bit nerdy, but I always try to keep a notebook handy, and when I read an interesting phrase or clever use of an active verb or mind-blowing description, I’ll stop what I’m doing and jot it down. Later, that verb that I never considered may find its way into my manuscript. Read (and listen to) good fiction and learn from the best!
Keep it Active – I didn’t realize how much I was using the passive voice in my writing until I read Stephen King’s book On Writing. Now, I see it everywhere. He also advised against using adverbs, although I see he uses them quite often, at least in his early fiction. The problem with this type of advice is that there seems to be an entire generation of writers who now live in fear of the dreaded adverb or passive voice. Both have their place in the English language. Just don’t overuse them.
Develop Your Own Style Naturally – One of my reader’s pet peeves is overwritten, purple prose that is trying too darn hard to be “fancy.” If I can’t find the story for all the filigree, I’ll put down the book. Each one of us has a unique voice. An excellent place to start developing yours is by writing clear and clean sentences that advance the story.
Use All the Senses – Of all the five senses, I tend to neglect the olfactory variety, which is why I place a written reminder at my writing desk to add a smell every two pages or so. Nothing evokes emotion like a scent.
Mistakes Are Inevitable – When you think of writing as practice, you’ll worry less about making mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, so is bad writing at times. I once read a book on skiing that advised to always try to ski just at the point where you are falling. I was bruised by the end of my skiing adventure, but I think I improved more than if I hadn’t pushed myself to the edge. When I sit down for a writing session, I try to force myself to write a little beyond my skill level. Sometimes I surprise myself.
Write a Clean First Draft – This tip may seem like it’s a contradiction of the previous one, but if you write a sloppy first draft, you may not be able to repair it in the second (or third) go-around when you can’t even remember what you were trying to accomplish in the first place. This is why I believe that setting an unrealistic word count can be counter-productive.
Banish the Critical Voice – Nothing kills the creative spirit like that nagging, critical voice telling you how badly you suck! Save your inner “Karen” for polishing your prose, not in the creation of it. One way to beat the inner critic is by becoming so emotionally involved in your story, feeling it through all your senses, that there’s room in your writing space only for creative discovery!
Do you have any writing tips you’d like to share? Please leave a comment.
Summer is the time for outdoor rock concerts. But lest you get bored between set-ups, make sure your day-pack includes a well-thumbed horror paperback. Horror and rock go together like coffee and cream, but with a lot more bite—especially if it’s a vampire story. Lestat de Lioncourt infamously became a rock star in the 1980’s.
I’ve just kicked off a summer BookTube series highlighting some of the best in Rock Horror. The first video looks at rock and the occult, a subject with deep roots indeed. Luckily, the book Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Rollby Peter Bebergal is available to guide us into the underworld. The book is a treasure trove of rock and roll lore, and I drank it down like black mass communion wine in two days. Bebergal traces the roots of rock n roll’s connection with the occult from the crossroads of Mississippi to the flashy Hermetic images pulsing from the latest Hip-Hop videos. The book is an excellent read.
Postscript: a day after posting my video, the author Peter Bebergal contacted me to thank me for my review and graciously offered to send me a signed copy of his book for one of my giveaways. Just goes to show you, authors do read their reviews. Please tune to for my rock n roll horror series this summer for more book and film reviews and a chance to win a signed copy of Bebergal’s book!
The unfortunate shift occurred when I decided to take my writing “seriously.” Like many of us scribblers, I began reading and writing at an early age. I filled reams of notebooks and diaries. I wrote because I needed to. The same with reading. I didn’t think about it. I just did it.
However, after I had several novels and writing awards under my belt, I noticed an unfortunate shift not only in my attitude about my own writing but also about reading. Suddenly, it felt like work. For a while, I deluded myself into thinking this critical approach would enhance my writing skills. After all, I was now developing a greater appreciation of important concepts like flow, plot structure, and style. My critical brain loved to dissect a paragraph as an editor might, often jotting notes in the margins or using my Kindle highlighter to mark certain passages. My critical brain loved highlighting eloquent prose and brilliant turns of phrase. But more often in was the shitty passages that would get my attention, a note to self of what not to do. With all that highlighting, I frequently missed the pleasure of getting lost in the story.
My critical eye turned on my own writing like an exacting tutor, hovering over my shoulder during my writing sessions. You call that a paragraph! Awkward! or even You suck!
Overnight, I became my own worst critic to paralyzing effect. I quickly discovered that work produced this way, if you can manage to get any words to stick to the page, is often stilted and boring and blah. Pablum par excellence and no fun to produce. No wonder it felt like work. When the things I enjoyed most in the world became chores to cross off a list, I knew things had to change.
As if Google read my mind (I’m pretty sure it does), a video appeared in my YouTube recommendations, and I spent the next several days devouring the videos of veteran author Wesley Dean Smith. Smith, who mostly writes Westerns, looks and sounds like he just stepped through a swinging saloon door. He’s written over one-hundred books, brags of making a good living at it, and lectures new writers on how he does it. His advice centers around Heinlein’s Rules. Robert A. Heinlein was a prolific pulp fiction writer who offered the following deceptively simple advice to aspiring authors:
You must write.
You must finish what you write.
You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
You must put the work on the market.
You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
Most of us writers will come up short at that third rule, but there’s a lot here to consider. Smith also wrote a book about the method titled Writing Into the Dark. I discussed it in a recent YouTube video.
While binging on Dean Wesley Smith’s YouTube playlists, I came upon a video that supported my recent revelations about how I needed to shake my critical approach to reading and writing and return to doing both for pleasure. Smith asserts one should only read for pleasure. At least the first time through the book. Then, if you want to go back and note the author’s genius technique or dissect it for information about what not to do, you may. He advises one write the same way too, with the creative voice, NOT the critical eye.
My instincts agree wholeheartedly. I’m reading for pleasure again, and writing that way too. I’m not sure if it’s improving my technique, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun.