Genre of the Month, October - Horror

Alternate Media Picks: Horror

Before we close Horror Month, we’d like to share our alternate media picks with you! 

Check out some of our staff’s favorite horror games, music, TV shows, and movies!


Kayla’s Picks

Games:

Movies:

TV:

Music:

Carol’s Picks

Games:

Movies:

TV:

Music:

Mayra’s Picks

Movies:

TV:

  • The Walking Dead

Tara’s Picks

Games:

Movie:

TV:

Music:

Features

Pantsing, Plotting, and Plantsing: The 3 Styles of NaNoWriMo

When the clock strikes midnight on October 31st, welcoming November and NaNoWriMo along with it, participants will spend the rest of the month writing towards a 50,000-word goal. Each writer has their own writing methods. Our staff shares insights on the three basic styles of NaNo: Pantsing, Plotting, and Plantsing.

Pantser: Suzanne Wdowik

Panster: A writer who pantses their NaNovel (the novel, or project, they write during NaNoWriMo), i.e. flies by the seat of their pants, i.e. writes without a plan.

A pantser’s life in the days leading up to NaNoWriMo are easy, yet stressful. All we must do is wait for the clock to strike twelve, and much like Cinderella, lose our glitter and our sweet ride and transform back into a sleep-deprived starving artist. Nevertheless, we fret over what our story will end up being. Should we have at least some idea before taking the plunge? What will our characters be? Do we want names ahead of time or should we just put blanks or placeholders? What flipping genre are we even writing, anyway?

Stop. Take a breath. Look at the date. Now look back at me. Now back at the date. Now back at me. I’m riding a horse. No, wait, that’s the Old Spice commercial. Anyway. You have only a day left until November 1st. That is a good thing. Already have an idea? Great. Your job in the next few days is to keep yourself pumped about your project. I bet your fingers twitch every time you see a piece of paper or a keyboard. As long as you’re excited about your project, you can get your 1,667 words (or whatever personal daily goal you have) written that first day. Don’t have any clue what you’re doing? That’s okay, too. Take some time in the next few days to draw inspiration from multiple sources. Listen to some music. Ask a friend to suggest a song or band you’ve never heard before. Go take an hour-long walk, and look closely at the world around you. Read a book. Watch a movie. Sooner or later something will start to grow inside you. It might be a character, it might be a theme, or it might simply be an emotion. Grab onto that and don’t let go. That is going to be your driving force for your NaNovel.

So, what do you do once you start writing?

First, find out when you’re going to write. If you set a writing schedule for yourself, it’s easier to make yourself write every day. You’ll get used to sitting down and saying to yourself, “I have to rid myself of distractions now, this is Writing Time”. Inspiration may hit at any time, so keep your notebook/laptop/AlphaSmart/etc handy. Don’t worry if your muse decides to take a multiple-day break, though. This is common. You can make yourself write even when the ideas aren’t flowing out of your fingertips like melted butter. And if your inner editor tells you “this really sucks and I don’t know why you decided to write a crap novel in the first place”, grab them by the throat and chuck them out of your mind. Or, if you’re really not the violent type, find their volume dial and turn it all the way down.

When you pants a novel, it’s easy to get stuck or to feel like you don’t think your novel is going anywhere. You might experience a mid-week or a mid-month lull when your story seems to want to stop and graze for a while instead of plowing forward. Don’t be afraid to let it do its own thing for a short time. Your characters might lead you to a climax you could never have come up with on your own. Or they may try to derail your story. If the latter happens, lay down some track and gently nudge your characters towards them. If they won’t budge, skip ahead in the story. Start a new section from a different point of view. Add a new character. Kill someone off. Add a dragon. Don’t be afraid to take chances, and to write something that might not work in the long run. You can always cut things out later, but you can’t edit what you haven’t written.

Plotter / Planner: Mayra Pérez González

My muse has a lousy worth ethic.

She hardly ever shows up for work. Even when she does, she simply sulks in a corner, grumbling and groaning and refusing to be of service. She enjoys leaving me at the mercy of my own lack of creativity, taunting me with her disinterest and negligence.

While my muse is on vacation in Tahiti, I’m about to embark on the most dangerous and daunting mission: preparing myself for literary battle.

As much as the allure, thrill, and adventure of spending November flying by the seat of my pants intrigues me, approaching NaNoWriMo without a concrete plan means definite defeat. Going in without plotting beforehand, for me, is like going into battle without any weapons or protective gear. Might as well wave a white flag.

My weapon of choice? The Snowflake Method.

The Snowflake Method is the brainchild of Randy Ingermanson of Advanced Fiction Writing. His method is a way to reverse engineer your novel by starting small and expanding little by little. You start off with one simple sentence and end up with summaries of various lengths, a list or spreadsheet of scenes, and profiles and descriptions of your characters.

The Snowflake Method makes it easy to plot a novel if your muse is virtually nonexistent. You don’t have to vomit a detailed outline onto paper on your first try. You build your novel from the bottom up, giving you a chance to coax the story out of the inner workings of your mind. (Ha! Take that, Muse!)

Ironically, I am both plotter and procrastinator. Only a few days before NaNoWriMo, I stand at the foot of NaNovel Mountain and look up, trying to distinguish the mountain’s summit through the clouds. “I wish I would have started planning sooner,” I grumble.

Depending on how badly I’ve procrastinated, I might not be able to make it through every step of the Snowflake Method before NaNoWriMo—or I might not get to it at all. As a plotter, it’s crucial for me to plan—regardless of how much time I have until November. If NaNoWriMo has already begun and I still don’t have a plan, I’ll dedicate the first few days to planning and push myself a bit harder, later on, to catch up. (I refuse to go in without a plan! You can’t make me!)

While I sometimes wish I could just sit at my computer and bleed, creating a plot and characters haphazardly and watching them fall into place serendipitously, there’s something special about being a plotter: the dedication you pour into your novel even before you start writing it makes you, in a sense, loyal and more dedicated to writing and completing it. Besides, on November 30th, with 50,000 words under your belt, you’ll feel like an architect standing in front of a newly finished building. Their building and your novel will be the awe-inspiring translation of a carefully designed blueprint.

Plantser / Hybrid: DosAguilas

Now, to some people, the ideas above are out of their element. A planner will panic at the idea of a pantser just flying by the seat of their pants. A pantser will shiver unpleasantly at the rigidity of order the planner finds the most comfortable.

But there exists a happy medium, one that is ice and fire, one that combines the recklessness of one and the steadfastness of the other.

Welcome to the Hybrid.

Where planners thrive on planning and pantsers thrive on improvising, the Hybrid method of winning NaNo is the Red Mage of sorts, and is a force in his or her own right as well as a great support for the Planners and the Pantsers in your little tight-knit group.

A Hybrid person (or Plantser) will make outlines, but rather than outline every single eventuality that could go on in their novel project, they will be vague. That vagueness allows them to move around, improvise, add entire paragraphs, even make cosmetic adjustments to the outline as they go along.

A Plantser will set their limits. They will establish some railways that allow the water of inspiration to go through from one place to the next without splashing all over the place.

I’ll share with you guys my own journey to Plantsing.

I was hardcore Planner in my first few attempts at NaNo. I had outlined not just the novel I was planning on finishing, but also the two sequels and the prequel. I had created an entire world, religion, financial systems. I had fleshed out my characters and then designed them in the Heromachine program I had. I had created a plots and subplots and sub-sub plots. Everything was set so that when I tried NaNo, I was going to tear through the month like I tear chunks of tortilla de harina with barbacoa Saturday mornings.

November 1 rolls around, I write a couple of paragraphs, fail to meet the targeted 1,667.

No worries, I’ll try again the next day.

I get close to 1,000 words.

Next day, I don’t write a single word and instead find myself staring at the big mess of an outline and character sketches and plot ideas that I have created and I found myself giving up too easily. I didn’t sweat it, there’s always next year.

Next year, I realized I had built this really elaborate house and forgotten to put in doors between the rooms and so my NaNo experiment was over before it started.

So last year, I decided to do something different. I picked a new project, and rather than outline everything to the molecular level, I gave myself a very skin-and-bones outline to work with.

What I discovered was that, while I was writing, I was fleshing new ideas out. I was able to say, “Okay, that’s not going to work.” during the writing process, and fixing it on the spot rather than pulling three figurative Jenga pieces from the bottom of my project and having it all tumble down. Not only that, but also I was discovering things about my characters instead of shoehorning them into a role they weren’t born to play, and all of this added to a word count.

And I won! I broke the 50,000-word mark on November 30.

You could argue that maybe I should have just pantsed the whole thing but here’s why I don’t think pantsing wouldn’t have worked: I needed some level of structure.

Let me give you an example. I’m just going to write stream of consciousness in the next sentence:

There was once a giraffe and she saw several black and red and orange skulls and there was a voice while she sang with the muses and the angels in the jungle riverbed mechanism world religions unhooked phone is what was ringing again.

That’s why structure is important to me and why I prefer to be a hybrid.

For the rest of you, there’s no right way to do this. The only wrong way is using a method you’re not comfortable with. The important thing is getting to that goal.

In Mexico, there’s a famous folk song that has the lines: “No hay que llegar primero, hay que saber llegar,” which translates to: “It’s not about getting there first, it’s knowing how to get there.”

We hope that throughout this guide has helped give you an idea as to what path you’d like to follow. Keep us posted! Let us know if you’re TeamHybrid, TeamPlanner or TeamPantser. We’d love to know!

The 'Write' Information

Author Appreciation

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are inside a bookstore. It doesn’t matter which one, a big chain or a quaint little shop lined wall-to-wall with literature.

Books come in all sizes and shapes – some have pictures, others maps. Unless they are identical copies, each one is different from others in countless ways … except one. The common thread that links books is that a person took the time to write them.

Now, take a minute to let that soak in. All those people took the time to write thousands of words – to share their story with the world. What’s even crazier is there are thousands more that never see the inside of a bookstore. If you haven’t tried books written by self-published authors, you are missing out on a whole new world of reading.

Writing is a truly amazing thing and something that, far too often, is taken for granted. Think what the world would be like without literature: children would grow up without bedtime stories, there would be no superheroes fighting off evil to act as role models, none of the great works would stimulate our minds and imaginations, love poems meant to unite soul mates would never exist, and how many who achieved greatness would never have been inspired to do so?

It doesn’t matter what the title is, or who the author is, hundreds of hours were spent putting each and every publication together. These are real people who have all worked hard, laughed, cried, rejoiced and doubted themselves – all to share something special with an audience, the likes of whom they will never meet and never hear from. For that, they deserve applause and recognition.

If you’d like to say thank you to an author, here’s my list of top ten things you can do:

  1. Read their book(s). This seems like a silly thing to include as number one on the list, but there is nothing better for an author than knowing their work is being read.
  2. Leave a review. This isn’t something the average person thinks about. When a person buys a book from a local bookstore, the last thing on their mind is leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads or other websites. It isn’t much different for online buyers. While reviews may not make a big difference in ranks and sales, they are important if an author wants to run a promotion and for credibility. Overall, though, I think the most important aspect of a review is the self-confidence boost it gives. One short line from a reader is powerful enough to inspire new worlds and adventures that might not have otherwise been born. 
  3. Share social media posts. If you like a book, tell the world – let people know – make recommendations. Word of mouth will always be the best promotion an author can have.
  4. Ask a local library or bookstore to carry a copy. It only takes a moment of your time. Libraries and bookstores want to have books people are looking for on their shelves. The more people ask for a certain publication, the better the chance of one day finding it on a shelf. While you are there, make a suggestion to any local book clubs as well.
  5. Finding mistakes. No one is perfect, authors and editors aren’t any different. If you find a mistake in a book, be kind and send a private message to the author. We live in an age where books are corrected and new editions published with ease. Do yourself a favor, if you own a physical copy with a mistake, keep it. Being discovered is a game of chance and older versions are the ones that end up being worth the most money if it goes viral.
  6. Celebrate new books. Every author has some sort of build-up to releasing a new novel. Whether it is a facebook take-over or a celebration party, join in. The more people, the merrier.
  7. Tell the truth. If you find something that isn’t quite right, or that is disturbing, find a way to be nice, but let the author know. Try to use private messaging or emails whenever possible.
  8. Did you love the cover? Why not share it around so other people can see it too? Start discussions about what you like, by doing so you will be generating interest and new readers.
  9. Make predictions. This one is my favourite. Do you think you know everything about the series, including what happens in future books? Let people know what you think and what you would like to see happen. If you enjoy writing, take it one step further and start some fan-fiction.
  10. Let the author know you’d like to see the movie. This is the ultimate compliment.

Now you have a list, why not make an author smile today? Join me next week for another edition of “The Write Information.”

 

Genre of the Month, October - Horror

Setting the Mood for Horror

Horror is one of the few literary genres that becomes an experience as you read it.  Great horror will get your heart rate up, have you glancing over your shoulder, or suspiciously watching dark corners even after you’ve put the book down.  You can intensify this by surrounding yourself with a horror themed ambiance to make it a truly spine tingling experience.  Here are some suggestions to set the mood for reading (or writing) horror!

Music & Sound

The ambient sound in the room plays a big part in your immersion experience.  For horror, especially, music or sound effects are often very important for setting the right tone.  For reading, however, many people prefer to have the least intrusive of music or noise.  So finding the right balance between creepy background music which sets the right mood and something which doesn’t distract from the pages before you is important.  There are plenty of options out there for ambient sounds like thunder storms, cursed caves (http://tabletopaudio.com/), and haunted houses (https://goo.gl/mbzZXk).  These more “natural” sounds are likely best for those who are distracted easily because they are meant to blend into the background while still creating a nice bit of spooky white noise.  With sound mixers (https://goo.gl/cTSU9c) you can take the basic storm or forest noises and add some disembodied whispers, footsteps, wolf howls, and screams.

For those less prone to being distracted from their reading, there are literally thousands of options for horror themed music.  Plenty creepy instrumental pieces available can be found in hour long loops, which can be played back to back, avoiding the interruptions of having to change songs or jarring stops.  Options include creepy doll music, dark carnival, or sad vampire inspired music.  Check out our horror playlist on YouTube (https://goo.gl/Z7dT4D) for even more spooky music!

Lighting & Decorations

Having the right lighting is very important for reading to be sure you don’t put too much strain on your eyes.  However, horror stories are often filled with dark and gloomy settings so it can be difficult to find the right balance.  We recommend having a very good light source right next to you so you can see clearly, but the rest of the room can be in total darkness if you like.  Having some candles or flickering lights scattered throughout the room can add a highlight to your favorite creepy décor without spoiling the overall mood.  If you have access to a fireplace, a roaring fire or strategically placed candles there will certainly help the ambience.  And while none of us can control the weather, a thunderstorm always helps to set a creepy vibe, so having a lightning strobe and a sound machine can help create a faux storm of your own!

Once you have your lighting situation squared away, you’ll want to get some spooky décor set up.  There really is no limit to what you can do with decorations, and with so many horror sub-genres you’ll have some opportunities to explore.  If Victorian horror is what you’re reading, you can grab some old tintype pictures (https://goo.gl/8oM63K) in ornate frames, some amber glass apothecary bottles (https://goo.gl/LeiXy2) with mysterious contents, and flowing, black mourning material.  Or, if Lovecraft is your current read, you can get some specimens in glass (https://goo.gl/abiMtH), black books full of unreadable runes, and something with tentacles (https://goo.gl/8vypeo).  Of course, for nearly any horror sub-genre, you really can’t go wrong with skulls!  Here are some other suggestions for your creepy décor.

Oil lantern (https://goo.gl/wHcXPH), an old fashioned style oil lantern will not only offer fantastic reading light, but will help set the mood for some old fashioned horror.

Candelabra (https://goo.gl/nC460U), for a more overtly creepy light source, without the worry of an open flame.

Storm machine (https://goo.gl/W0mnLk ), who needs to wait for the weather to cooperate with your haunting reading atmosphere?  You can make your own thunderstorm with one of these machines so you can have that perfect dark and stormy night while you cozy up with a good ghost story.  This machine can also make your own lights flicker to thunder (or any other sounds, which can really add to the haunting ambience, but make sure you still have a steady light to read by!

SFX Ghosts (https://goo.gl/NM0ie5 ), these ghostly apparitions can be projected onto walls, windows, and even a holo-screen you can put up in a door way or hall!  There are several options to choose from, so these ghosts are sure to offer a nice, haunting ambience you can have looping in the dark corners behind you or in a nice window next to you while you read!

SFX Haunted Portraits (https://goo.gl/U3VcVC ), like the ghosts, these portraits will animate with various scary actions such as slowly rotting over time or jumping out to scare passer-by.  You can disguise a flat screen tv as a painting by putting a frame around it, and then set one of these creepy portraits to idle above the mantle while you read.  

Skull (https://goo.gl/ojezX7 ), a realistic human skull is always a good choice when creating a creepy setting.

Fog machine (https://goo.gl/fnG3w9 ), because fog is creepy, no doubt about it.  Just be sure to have it on a low setting so you can still read without straining your eyes!

Scents & Candles

One of the best ways to set an immersive atmosphere is with scent.  Scent associations can have a strong connection to memories or evoke powerful images.  There are several different ways you can add to your dark and creepy ambiance with scents such as incense, oils, diffusers, and candles.  The latter two have the added benefit of also providing mood lighting.  Want to conjure images of a dark, haunted wood?  Go for a musky, woodsy scent like cypress, cedarwood, or sandalwood.  How about summoning the scent of phantoms?  Airy scents like stargazer lily, moonflower, and amber can add that haunting quality.  

There are plenty of pre-made candles and oils that possess these creepy qualities, so there are likely to be options for any sub-genre of horror you happen to be reading (or writing).  Here are a few of our favorites.

Voodoo (https://goo.gl/XzkLzs), a soy candle with wood, citrus, and patchouli notes to help set that magic mood.

Spooky Mansion (https://goo.gl/yh1WDx), a musky scent with cedar wood and sage adds to that creepy, abandoned feeling of an old mansion full of secrets and ghosts.

Edgar Allan Poe (https://goo.gl/DUIBHb), a rosewood and black currant candle to help evoke that perfect mood of Victorian suspense.

Alternatively, you can get some strong oils, and add a few drops to water in an oil diffuser to fill your house with your choice of creepy scents.  Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (https://goo.gl/kNbSme) offers many complex, unique oils inspired by death, the occult, and many different books, movies, and comics.  Here are some examples that are sure to fit your desired ambience.

The Phantom Wooer (https://goo.gl/0ZkKhi), with notes of stargazer lily, bone dust, tomb mosses, and honey myrtle, this scent offers the perfect “melancholy of the grave” vibe for any ghost story.  

Embalming Fluid (https://goo.gl/XPTE8r), a lovely, clean, clinical scent with aloe, citrus and musk notes, perfect for murder mysteries and mad scientists.  

Fairy Tales and Lies (https://goo.gl/HYFqDd), part of BPAL’s Crimson Peak series; lilac water, amber, and Italian bergamot pair perfectly with any grim dark fairy tale of happily never after.  

These really are a very small selection of options, with so many types of horror, there is no limit to how far you can go in creating your own reading environment!  We hope this inspires you to turn your home into your personal, cozy nightmare, and if you do, we’d love to see it so please share!  

Interviews

Interview: Tamara Hecht

Diannika Alyse Star: Hi Tamara. Thanks for agreeing to speak with us!

Tamara Hecht: Thank you for having me as a guest.

Star: We are more then happy to have you.

Your newest book came out just in time for everyone to read before Halloween. But before we get to that, could you start us off with a little about your first book?

Hecht: My first book, “Welcome to Monsterville” is about the main character arriving in the aforementioned all-monster town.  Because she is the first human kid ever to live there, she has some trouble with making friends at first.  The whole first story is about the funny and awkward miscommunications between Jen and the monster kids as they get to know each other.  By the end of the story, readers can tell that friendships were established, so the second book picks up where the first one leaves off.  Friendship is an important theme again in “The Music Room.”

Star: That sounds very interesting. I know it’s aimed at children, but I think I may have to give it a read myself too.

Speaking of which, what age children is the series recommended for?

Hecht: Let’s say maybe 8-12.  But I know some younger kids who liked the first book read to them.  I also know some big kids – you know, big kids in their 20s and 30s – who enjoy it.

Star: Oooh perfect for my daughter. lol

I know many authors dread this question, but I really do need to ask it. Where did you get the idea for Monsterville?

Hecht: I’ve always loved monsters, I’ve always loved Halloween, and I’ve always loved the idea of there being some secret alternate world to get away to.  The first spark of the idea was initially for a cartoon series, but after pitching the series to many cartoon studios and TV channels, I decided to just write it myself.  I mean, I wrote the scripts myself anyway, but a script isn’t a finished product in the same way that a book is.  Right now, I prefer writing books to scripts: there’s no length limit, no restrictions based on other things that are currently popular, and nothing is “designed by committee.”  I still love writing scripts, but right now I feel like Monsterville is better suited to being a book series.

Star: That is really interesting. Do you feel like the story has benefited from the change in format?

Hecht: Some things were lost and some things were gained.  Any time you go from one medium to another, there are changes you have to make.  In the cartoon scripts, there were a lot of jokes that depended on timing or instant visuals.  Those don’t quite hold up in books because reading something is slower than just seeing or hearing it, and the writer has little control over how the jokes are presented in the reader’s mind.  What works very well in books is description.  You can’t do that in a script because it doesn’t show up on the screen, but description and commentary is basically what a book is made of.  So I have fun with that.  Within the text, I write a lot of silly comments about the characters or places, or I use unusual metaphors, or suddenly switch into casual language.  I’m telling jokes about the story rather than showing a story full of jokes.

Star: That makes sense.  Do you intend to pursue a cartoon based on your books in the future, once they are more established?

Hecht: I would like to, eventually, but I also have a lot more Monsterville books I want to write.

Star: Do you have some idea of how many books you expect the series to be, or do you plan to keep writing until it comes to a natural ending point?

Hecht: I plan to keep on writing them.  The worldbuilding is fairly detailed and I’ve put a lot of thought into the characters, so I imagine I can write an infinite number of stories.  I don’t have an ending point in mind as of now.

Star: So back to the newest book in particular, is there anything you wanted to tell us about it?

Hecht : With this one, I’m trying out a story that is more mystery-based.  There is some actual danger.  The conflict in the first book was Jen’s struggle to make friends, but in the newer one, there is an external force that acts more like an enemy.  Although, interestingly, both of these very different situations are solved by people learning to understand one another.

Star: Do you see that as possibly being a theme that runs through the series, or just a coincidence?

Hecht: I only realized it after the fact.  I didn’t plan it.  I only set out to tell interesting stories, but of course, my values are going to influence that.  I think empathy and communication are very important, and I prefer heroes that use kindness and intelligence to solve problems.  There is a good chance my stories will all have that as a common thread.

Star: Nicely put.

When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

Hecht: I always wanted to tell stories.  Even as a little kid, I was acting out scenarios or writing and drawing very short visual gags.  The idea of writing a whole book seemed quite daunting back then.  However, there were a lot of frustrations with trying to tell a joke or a short story in the moment – people would get distracted or interrupt or steal the punchline.  I started writing things down because a blank page is an excellent listener.  The hobby just grew with me.  By high school, I was writing chapter books.  The stories I wrote then were about me making sense of (or making fun of) all those strange social rules that people follow at that age.  I still use writing to help me make sense of the world.  Besides, writing is a skill I’ve been refining for a long time and I’m proud of it.  I can do things with it that, ironically, get people to pay attention.  So, thank you, people who didn’t pay attention before.  My not being super great at connecting with the outside world made me really, really good at making inside worlds.

Star: Other than that, who would you say has inspired you most in your writing?

Hecht : Any authors who break the rules (or at least break what I thought the rules were).  When I was little, I discovered Robert Munsch’s “Paper Bag Princess” – at the time, I was so sick of trope-filled fairy tales and insulting stereotypes, and then all of a sudden there was this hilarious book about an independent princess who was a quick thinker and it just made me realize that books can be about anything.  I could make stories about anything I wanted.

Later on, I found the works of Gordon Korman and eventually Terry Pratchett. Their humor and insights come in the form of tone and meta-commentary.  That was how I learned about using writing itself to say something with how the story is told, and not just what the story is about.

Star: I should probably let you go. One last question to wrap things up.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Hecht: Yes!  Write “you.”  Don’t write what it feels like you’re expected to write or worry about what is trending.  Write the story you want to write, the way you want to write it.  That’s what makes it important.

Star: That is great advice!

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I can’t wait to read your books!

Hecht: Thank you for the interview.


Visit Tamara’s webpage at www.turtlehill.wixsite.com/monsterville

Don’t miss her Monsterville short story airing Halloween on 600 Second Saga! 

Genre of the Month, October - Horror

Interview: Oliver Brackenbury

KAY HAWKINS: Thanks for agreeing to speak with us!

To start us off, could you tell us a little about your book JUNKYARD LEOPARD

OLIVER BRACKENBURY: It’s my first novel, after years of screenwriting, and I’ve been told it has a very cinematic feel as a result. Fair enough!

It’s about a young woman, Mary, with terrible anxiety problems…until she wakes up one morning feeling better for the first time in her life. Not perfect, but better. Her immense gratitude puts off questioning why her legs feel sore from running, or why there’s now, on the cupboard under her bathroom sink, a padlock she doesn’t know the combination to. Little does she know she’s started putting on a bizarre costume at night, heading down to the financial district, and using found tools from her job at a junkyard to slaughter entire floors of late working Lehman Brother types.

It’s about the ripple effects of doing what you know isn’t the right thing, but doing it anyways because damn it feels better to act than to be passively demoralized in the face of huge, complex forces beyond your control.

HAWKINS: That sounds very interesting. What inspired you to write about that?

BRACKENBURY: It was born largely of frustration. Like a lot of people, I wasn’t pleased by the lack of any real penalty being applied to the corrupt Wall Street types responsible for causing so much mayhem in society, especially since the crash of 2008. Even before you start the story, my dedication makes it pretty clear how highly I think of those guys.

I’d also had recently had a profoundly bothersome film set experience, which left me desperately in need of creating a story in a way that didn’t require large sums of cash or relying on others to make things happen. So, with these frustrations combined, I took a ball of research I’d been gathering for about a year, put on some music that evoked appropriate imagery for me, and started banging out the first few pages.

Now, that might leave someone thinking that the murders in the book were a source of catharsis for me. Honestly, that wasn’t their role! The cathartic bits for me were covering relatable economic concerns in the characters of Mary and James, as well as leaning into the descriptions of the dick-ishness of the finance sector characters like Gerald and his father. But if you get some satisfaction from reading about a corrupt banker getting their jaw knocked off by a homemade mace, hey, I ain’t gonna let the air out of your balloon.

HAWKINS: That sounds rather intense. Do your story ideas usually come to you that way?

BRACKENBURY: No, blessedly. Funny enough, in trying to kick off brainstorming for a new original screenplay idea, I went back through my notebooks from the past few years and listed the ways I came to past ideas. In no particular order, they were…

  • Dreams
  • Irritated by A Thing (and want to do something positive with that feeling)
  • Wanting to invert/play with a genre or trope
  • Wrestling with climate change / other social issues
  • Playing about with gender & sexuality
  • A  specific, self-made writing challenge
  • A dumb one-liner that just came to me
  •  ???
  • Easily the number one origin of my story ideas is my voracious non-fiction reading, which often leads to disparate dots being connected in my head to form an interesting picture. I’m not saying you could influence my writing via my Amazon or Indigo wishlists but, uh, you could totally influence an author’s writing via those lists is what I am getting at here… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

HAWKINS: When you started writing it was it what you expected?

BRACKENBURY: In some ways! Coming from almost exclusively writing screenplays, I expected more room to breath with things like descriptions of setting or character’s clothing, and boy howdy did the medium deliver. My experience in film taught me to scale back that stuff because, as I was literally told more than once, “You’re not writing a novel”, and because you don’t want to backseat drive the costume designer, set designer, director etc etc. As the son of two goldsmiths, who grew up reading Vogue in one hand and Batman in the other, it was very gratifying to be able to dig deeper into the fashion of the characters, and I’ve leaned even harder into that with my current manuscript.

What I didn’t expect, and was delighted to discover, was how writing this particular story led to things I was very happy to do, yet hadn’t thought about at all until I found myself doing them. Gerald, for example, is a character who acts more or less as the platonic ideal of these finance criminals – and he’s blinded shortly after his introduction. I ended up writing what I’m told is a pretty good portrayal of a person with a disability, in that he doesn’t let his new condition define him, wallow in self-pity, or constantly have to explain his condition to others. This was almost entirely a side-effect of his incredible arrogance, which causes him to refuse to acknowledge any change he doesn’t like for as long as he can.  A happy accident!

HAWKINS: Was horror a genre you planned to write in, or did it just kind of happen?

BRACKENBURY:  I can’t say as it was. I felt like I’d just write the story, then look back over the thing and figure out the genre afterward. However, while I’m not too concerned about someone imitating The Figure – the costumed killer side of Mary – in real life…I didn’t want to sell the violence as an actual solution for anything, which is how it might come off if I made it cool n’ stylish, no matter how many characters openly condemned it. So I made a point of making the violences unsettling, as horrific, as I could. This made calling it a horror novel feel correct, even if I hadn’t explicitly set out to write a genre piece.

HAWKINS:  When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

BRACKENBURY:  I fulfill that “wanting to write my whole life” cliche, even dictating a story to my mum that I got the local library to carry – with illustrations by yours truly, of course. Many years later I made a goofy video out of it. Aside from an incredibly teenage attempt at a novel, a post-apocalyptic tale set in Not My Small Hometown, about Not-Me and Definitely-Not-A-Girl-I-Liked….I wouldn’t do more than write the odd short story until early 2013.

Then, for the reasons I gave in my answer to your second question, I got properly started down this path. I’m currently putting the final touches to my next manuscript and hope to properly begin my third before the year ends. It’s safe to say I’d like to keep writing novels the rest of my life.

HAWKINS:  Who would you say has inspired you most in your writing?

BRACKENBURY:  When it comes to authors, there’s a trifecta who are rarely too far from my thoughts. William Gibson for his thoughtful, engaging descriptions, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. for his sweet & cynical humanism, and Hunter S. Thompson for the fire in his belly. The last comes easiest, but if I can touch upon all three of those qualities in something I write then that’s a real home run.

That being said, I do go out of my way to read authors who aren’t Classic White Guys, and search for inspiration from sources other than fiction. Frequent visits to the Art Gallery of Ontario, and a love of building playlists to go with specific manuscripts or screenplays, have both inspired a great deal as well.

HAWKINS: One more question to wrap things up.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

BRACKENBURY: Figure out a system that works for you, knowing it will never really stop evolving. Read about other writer’s systems for research & writing not to be intimidated by them or to copy outright, but to see if there are any parts you can pilfer to improve what you’re already doing. There’s no Perfect Way To Write, and there never will be, so don’t stress about figuring that out. Just keep a healthy headspace while periodically tweaking the knobs on your own imperfect machine.

HAWKINS: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

 



You can watch a book trailer for, and purchase, Junkyard Leopard www.junkyardleopard.com

Some places you can find Oliver and his work:
www.oliverbrackenbury.com

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Student Scribe

Looking Ahead

It seems like the entirety of the second half of this class has been all technical stuff so my apologies for being slightly off-topic again. This week I want to discuss the planning part of college. Planning ahead is a huge portion of school, especially online. To get your degree there are minimum standards that must be met and certain classes you have to take. The key is to know what you are trying to accomplish and what your minimums are so you can make the most out of your education.

Currently I have a Double Major. My main focus is a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing with a Fiction Concentration and my second Major is English Language and Literature. Part of the decision to Dual Major is that there is a lot of overlap in the programs. The three core classes for English Language and Literature are all part of the five core classes for Creative Writing. The elective credits from English Language and Literature also count toward the electives of Creative Writing. There is a ton of crossover and I only need an additional nine credit hours to complete the second Major. Knowing that there is a lot of overlap and A LOT of free electives gives me quite a bit of flexibility in my class choices.

So whats coming up? Right now I am trying to finish out my core classes that all students need to take. Thankfully those classes are also pretty flexible and offer me a chance to take elective that interest me and will aid my growth as a writer. I’ve talked a lot these past few weeks about Intro to Critical Thinking and how it is going to benefit me as a writer (and hopefully my faithful readers as well). This coming Semester I will be taking The Human Experience: Introductions to Anthropology.

It may seem like an odd class to some but to me it makes perfect sense for a few reasons. A huge one being the worldbuilding that comes with fiction. Having at least a basic understanding of how cultures develop can be a huge boon. The other main reason… I have a bit of an ‘in’, so-to-speak, with this class. My younger sister is in the middle of her Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology and may or may not have taught this class (hint… she totally helped teach this class at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte). The class is far less daunting when I have someone that can read over my papers and give me instant feedback if I feel like I need some help. I don’t think I’ll need her assistance with this class because her entire world is Anthropology. I may have picked up a thing or fifty just talking to her over the last few years.

Part of me is really excited for this class. Part of me is TERRIFIED at the work load. There is a lot of writing involved in this course and all that writing will be in the midst of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short). NaNo takes place in November and I am planning to put between 50,000 and 75,000 words on my current novel on top of all the writing I’ll need to do for school (which will consist of lengthy discussions every week and two relatively long papers). The end of this course will take me to the holiday season and my next class(es) will start after the new year.

For 2017 my goal is to finish up the core classes I need a quickly as possible. If possible I am going to attempt to take two classes at a time rather than one, that is all of course dependent on my financial aid package and what we (my husbeast and I) can afford. Yes, he is called The Husbeast and we live on his income and the small stipend we get from DCFS for our Foster Daughter, my schooling revolves around them. Hopefully my goals for this school year can come to fruition; I seriously want to dig into the coursework for my Majors.

Adult, Book Reviews

Review: Pirate Princess by Catherine Banks

When I was a little girl, I loved to pretend to be a princess, but only some days. Other days were reserved for playing pirate or wizard. Never once did I consider being all three at once. That is exactly what Catherine Banks gives us in Pirate Princess.

Join a high seas adventure. Tilia is a young girl being brought up by her pirate father. Her mother, who passed away, was royalty and heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Crilan. As per her mother’s request, Tilia goes to live with her aunt and uncle to learn the finer points of being a lady. It is soon learnt that one can put a lady in a pirate, but can’t take the pirate out of the lady.

Tilia is the best of all fantasy characters. Not only is she a strong female protagonist, but she is an enjoyable one as well. The side of her that is a pirate does occasionally overtake the magical and fairy-tale princess roles, but overall, Banks has blended the three into one well-rounded personality.

The side characters are equally as fun. The current King and Queen (Tilia’s Uncle and Aunt) are regal and proper one minute and deadly the next.

As with most young adult fantasy books, readers may find falling in love a little too easy for the main characters. Hold onto your hats though, this sets up some large adventures later in the book.

The cover art, in my opinion, is a smidgen too grown up for the story. A younger model may benefit potential readers.

The language and subject matter is geared towards young adult audiences. More mature readers may find that the outcome is a little too easy to predict. The story, however, is enjoyable for all ages.

Recommended read for pirate lovers!

Rated: 4 out of 5 stars

The 'Write' Information

The Swag King

Not only do I love book swag, I am also very impulsive – that translates into a lot of different items being purchased to promote my novels – most of which I use as giveaways or in raffles. I pride myself on having some of the most unique ideas, including: live trees, vampire fangs and fortune-telling fish. I’ve even been called the fortune-telling fish author. I may have let that swell my ego a bit – crowning myself as the self-proclaimed Queen of Swag!

After attending Ignite Your Soul, in London, Ontario, I can officially say I have been dethroned. There I was, all set up with my bookmarks and each adorned with a tassel – my face glowing amidst my offerings for the book readers and bloggers who were lined-up waiting to burst through the doors. With the few minutes left before that happened, I took a stroll to see what the other authors were giving away.

Wow! This group had it going on! It was unbelievable. One author stood out far above the others, though. I bow down to the new King of Swag, R.K. Gleason.

As I approached his table the first thing that caught my eye was a pedestal style bowl being supported by tentacles – filled to the brim with purple and green cake pops; all individually wrapped. Around the base were glow-in-the-dark tentacle necklaces. Scattered in neat piles across the table were magnets, bookmarks and postcards for all five of his books. He added in a cup of finger tentacles to complete the look. Another author kindly filled me in with the information that an octopus is his thing.

If you are wondering if swag works – I can tell you it does. I bought the first three books in his series; The True Death, The Vengeful Death and The New Death – without knowing a thing about them. I can’t wait for the surprises I will have while reading!

I admit I didn’t have an opportunity to see everyone’s swag, but there are a few that stood out to me that also deserve to be mentioned:

* Amy Ruttan’s flat doctor bookmark. Who doesn’t like a bit of eye candy while reading romance? This bookmark is even shaped like a male doctor!

* S.J. Maylee’s sleep masks. I am loving wearing the one she gave me. It was, however, a button that read Reading is Sexy that sold me on trying one of her books.

* Jean Kelso’s homemade key-chains amazed me. Writing isn’t her only talent. They are fabulous!

* Friends to the End Book Blog’s Book worms made me smile. Two individually packaged and tagged gummy worms made a great giveaway.

I may have lost my crown this year, but the game is afoot! Take notice authors, next year I plan to take it back! Game On.