New Novel Inspirations – Carnival Horror

The new novel I’m working on, titled Carni, will be my first attempt at writing carnival horror, a sub-genre that includes killer clowns, freak shows, and tunnels of love leading straight to hell.

My story is set in South Jersey, specifically Burlington Island, 300 acres of wilderness wedged in between Jersey and PA on the Delaware River. The island has an interesting history that I’m using as a springboard for my creepy carnival story.

Burlington Island from the PA side

Called Matennecunk by the Lenape natives, the island became the location of New Jersey’s first recorded murder when two Dutchmen were slain by Lenape braves in 1671. No, my story will not include an “old Indian burial ground” filled with vengeful ghosts. I think that cliché has been done to death by now. That’s not to say I won’t be using established genre tropes because I always do. Creepy clown anyone? But I will be attempting, in my own way, to give them a fresh merry-go-round spin.

Island Beach Amusement Park

What inspired my story, besides the island itself, was that it was once the location of an amusement park called Island Beach. Judging by the old photos, it was quite a popular attraction. A fire in the 1920s ended the fun, however, and the island changed hands and purposes. It is currently owned by the state of New Jersey and is used for mining sand and gravel, thus the man-made lagoon at the island’s center. Clean-up efforts persist to this day, as do occasional exploration into the rusty relics of the island’s past lives. I’ve never set a foot on its banks, but I hope to soon. I want to absorb its essence for my story. I’ll probably absorb plenty of mosquito bites and Poison Ivy as well, but it’s all in a day’s work.

I begin my story with the fire at the carnival and who set it (all fictional). My villain is the Island Beach mascot called Carni, a killer clown inspired by Coney Island’s Steeplechase Jack—can’t tell me that grin isn’t creepy, and Alfundo, the Dorney Park mascot featured on this wonderful sign I remember from visiting Dorney as a kid. A fire in the mid-1980s destroyed most of Dorney’s original small-town charm, but the park is still there.

Dorney Park’s Alfundo
The Dorney Park fire

Creaky wooden rides erupting into sudden flames, roller coasters becoming derailed, creepy clowns with Glasgow grins, that persistent legend of the kid who lost his arm in the fun-house machinery—these are what adds those extra chills to the carnival thrills. As part of my story mapping, I’m not only recalling my own fond memories of being deliciously scared at carnivals and amusement parks, but I’m also revisiting some carnival-themed works like Dean Koontz’s The Fun House and classic horror films like Freaks and Carnival of Souls. From the unsettling strains of the calliope to the rough-trade roustabout who just might mess with the gears on that ride, there is always danger lurking within, and just outside, the midway’s colored lights. Isn’t it fun!

My latest video, adding to the discussion.

 

Read What Thou Wilt

Last week, I wrote a blog post about intuitive writing, a concept I’m finding useful while working on my current writing projects.

Yesterday, I finished a short story for a new BookTuber anthology that will be coming out in a few months. It took me about a week to get it to where I needed it to be. As many fiction writers know, short stories can be more challenging than full-length novels. I’m never completely satisfied, but when I find myself changing back things I already changed in the editing process, I know it’s time to let it go. Also, finding a reliable proofreader is always a challenge. Anyway, it’s gone through the internet chute and now I’m back to writing my new horror novel, which I will be attacking this week with a daily 3,000-word count—my goal is to finish it by the fall. But Sunday is my blogging and reading day so here I am.

Yesterday, I posted a video about what I’ve been reading lately, bemoaning the fact that I’m no longer accepting ARC copies to review because I don’t want my reading to feel like a chore. I want to support indie authors, but at the same time, I’m not really a reviewer. Or rather, it’s not my ambition to establish myself as a book reviewer per se. I’m just a lifelong reader who likes to discuss books. I like to hear what other people are reading too. I’m an emotional reader and I’m not ashamed of it.

Just recently, one of my favorite BookTubers with a popular channel put out a statement to defend his right to “pleasure read” after being criticized for not reading the books authors sent him. As an indie author myself, I empathize with trying to draw attention to one’s book. A positive review from someone with a large platform can create a real buzz. As someone who does both, writing and BookTubing, I am flattered when one of my books gets reviewed by a peer. But I don’t push it because I know what it feels like from the other end. Nothing makes me resist reading more than feeling forced into it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. If I wanted to subject myself to compulsory reading, I’d go back to school.

My reading tends to be all over the place and I’m okay with that. To illustrate, I am currently reading Moby Dick in tandem with a V.C. Andrews pulp novel. I love them both! Like many of us, I think of reading as my great escape. I can get into a seafaring adventure story as much as a family melodrama. As a commenter on one of my videos recently pointed out, if someone can watch several TV series at once (and most of us do) then why not read several books at once? He’s right, of course. Sometimes you want a little pulp, sometimes something more substantial. Both are valid if you enjoy them.

It’s good to remember the readers’ bill of rights: read what thou wilt.

Intuitive Writing and Why I’ll Never Go Back to Plotting

What Lies Beneath

The surrealists were on to something when they discovered automatic writing. By shedding the constraints of the rational mind, they were able to tap into the visions dwelling in the well of the unconscious and thereby discovering new truths to explore. Party games like Exquisite Corpse (lovely name) where artists collaborate blindly, perhaps with just their id’s as their guides, show how creativity unleashed is always interesting and often amusing. The “quality” of the results may vary, but what’s useful (for me anyway) about the intuitive approach is it feels like a direct line into the creative brain. This is exactly where I want to be when I’m writing fiction and especially poetry.

Spend any time trawling the internet for writing advice, and you’ll encounter the inevitable plotter vs. pantser debate. Pantser—the name sounds unappetizing—refers to writing by the seat of one’s pants as opposed to working from an outline. I used to be a great proponent of outlining until I just recently tried the intuitive approach on my last few projects. And the results were surprising.

Ain’t gonna lie, I was scared at first. I was an explorer sailing my ship into uncharted territory. But soon I discovered hidden treasures along the way which caused me to release my grip and just allow the story to guide me. Trade winds of fresh ideas filled my sails and I was gliding along freely, not thinking, not planning, just going with the flow. It was lovely. And fun! And before I knew it, three hours of solid writing had zipped by and I didn’t want to stop. Any writer who’s ever forced themselves to push through a writing session knows the difference.

Okay, you might say, that sounds great, but what about the results? Sure, you were having fun, but exactly what kind of unreadable drivel did you produce? Would you be surprised to hear it was some of my best work? Reading it back was a surprising delight. Yes, I had to go back and reshape, but the ideas were there—good ones— and buried not too far beneath, the structure.

Artists like Picasso knew how to paint “realistically” before they became masters of modernism. In other words, the structure may have been abstracted, but it was there. Not comparing myself to Picasso here (ahem) but I’ve studied story structure extensively, including reading Robert McKee’s Story several times and taking his seminar. In other words, I know it well enough to let my thinking side relax a bit, confident that my knowledge of story structure will be residing in my subconscious when the intuitive side takes over.

When embarking on a new writing journey, which side (intuitive or thinking) should be at the wheel and which below deck? After trying both, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to being a plotter.

Which type of writer are you? Have you ever attempted intuitive writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Kindle Vella – a Writer’s (and Reader’s) Perspective

Amazon’s new episodic fiction platform, Kindle Vella, launched last week, and a lot of writers have already jumped on the bandwagon, myself included. So, let’s take a look at how Vella is stacking up against what I imagine is its chief competitor: Wattpad.

As a Wattpad star and Watty winner, I’ve had a lot of success on that platform and have enjoyed the experience every step of the way. I especially enjoy the social interaction on Wattpad. It’s fun to chat with readers in the comments and offer suggestions to other writers via book clubs and contests. Politeness and positivity are encouraged.

Wattpad started as a free reading platform and has slowly adapted its business model to include a paid membership (no ads and a choice of profile color) and now offers paid stories redeemed with purchased “coins.” The latter seems to be Amazon’s inspiration for Kindle Vella, an app where readers may access stories (the first three episodes are free) by purchasing tokens. Additional features include author’s notes at the end of each episode. Readers may voice their approval with a thumbs up or by rewarding their favorite story with a coveted crown by redeeming tokens.

Caught up in the hype and eager to get in on the ground floor like many of my fellow authors, I uploaded the first eighteen episodes of my epic fantasy Starlex to Vella. The multi-character POVs and various plotlines seemed ideal for serialized fiction. For my launch, I did the requisite email blast and ran some Facebook ads. But after all the effort, my story is pretty much dead in the water. Not even a crown! (cue sad queen face).

Scrolling through the comments on some of the Facebook groups I belong to, I see that I’m not alone in my struggle to find readers. Part of the problem, for me perhaps, is that I’m trying out a new genre. I usually write horror so there hasn’t been much reader transfer. It’s also possible that readers haven’t yet discovered the new platform despite all the promotion authors have been doing, or maybe there is just too much damn competition. I’ve already detected notes of despair among some authors’ comments, some already expressing a desire to give up. Maybe there is too much expectation to strike Amazon gold. I went in with the attitude of experimentation so I am fine with diligently updating my story every few days along with a Facebook post boost expecting little returns and being pleasantly surprised if someone discovers my story.

Depressing? I suppose that depends on one’s perspective and is a topic for another blog.

On to the Vella reading experience. Stories are divided into episodes (akin to Wattpad’s parts vs. chapters). Leading up to Vella’s launch, there were plenty of discussions in the Facebook groups about how serial fiction differs from a standard novel approach. From the stories I sampled there doesn’t seem to be much distinction. There is, however, a lot of talent on display here. The stories I read were decent genre fiction I hope will attract a readership.

Comparing my reading experience on Vella to Wattpad, I have to say Wattpad wins out on two fronts. One, Wattpad offers a clever feature where the reader is shown how much time is left in the chapter. This is useful, like Kindle’s progress feature, for readers to gauge if they want to stick out the chapter (part, episode) or put it down for now. Vella’s episodes vary from 500 to 6,000 words so there is a lot of range. Coins are redeemed according to word count.

The second drawback is the reader’s inability to leave comments. After giving a thumbs up, I found myself returning to the Facebook groups to give a quick take on what I read and to offer words of encouragement, the same type of give and take that is part of the Wattpad experience. There are many conversations happening on Facebook that could be taking place on Vella. Vella does offer readers opportunities to leave a review (stars and comments) in typical Amazon style and there is apparently a return policy where readers may redeem their tokens if they’re unhappy with the story. Authors understandably are already taking issue with this feature given readers may read the entire story before requesting a return. Obviously, there is still some tweaking to be done.

So, what is your opinion? Are you checking out Kindle Vella as a reader or writer, or both? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you have any favorite stories to share, please let me know. I believe online fiction sites will continue to develop, hopefully offering more opportunities for writers to share their stories. But is there any real money to be made? Time and talent may tell.

Vella Story Launch and Mid-Year Reading Wrap-up

Kindle Vella

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.

Beach Reads, Baby

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.

 

 

 

 

 

For more beach read recommendations according to your zodiac sign, check out Batida’s July Horrorscope

 

More Writing Advice: Believe in Yourself

Because no one else will.

At least not at first.

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.

Look for rainbows and you’ll find them.

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.

Read UNMASKED

Ten Writing Tips

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Rock n Roll Horror

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 Roll by 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!

Reading and Writing for Pleasure

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.


From Regina’s Haunted Library