Monthly Round-up: July 2014

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

And I’m back for a look at what’s been going on writing-wise in my world for the past month.

COMING SOON:

Edits continue apace on both DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL – in fact these have been keeping me extremely busy for the last few weeks. DEAD COOL is currently at a more advanced stage than DEATH SCENE.

It is looking likely at this stage that DEATH SCENE will have a mid-September release, and DEAD COOL will follow a month later. The good news is, pre-orders will be able to be placed and logged ahead of release date. The bad news is, I think this facility is only available to people in the US & Canada. My British fans are going to have to hold off until Autumn.

PROMOTIONAL NEWS:

I’ve been rather busy making guest appearances over the Internet over the past month. Here is a list of where you can find me, along with the links.

16 June – Susan A Royal (interview & blog swap)
17 June - Heather Fraser Brainerd & David Fraser (interview)
24 June – Heather Greenis (guest post)
25 June – The Poet’s Fire (interview)
8 July – Helena Fairfax (guest post)
10 July – Mary Waibel (interview)

Convention-wise, I went to the Theakstons Old Peculier crime writing festival in Harrogate earlier this month. I met up with a lot of other crime writers, and handed out postcards with the cover image of DEATH SCENE on. I also left a pile of them on the book swap table, where everyone seemed to be leaving their promotional cards, and I was happy to note that they all disappeared. Whether or not this interest will manifest into sales I don’t know, but I am happy that the cover is attracting people’s interest. That’s the first step, anyway.

Next up is the Nineworlds Geekfest convention in London in August, where the writing group is running a workshop of writing exercises designed to beat writers’ block, and I will be participating in a panel on ‘Noir’ fiction in all its forms.

WORK IN PROGRESS:

I’ve actually got three, and they are all at a bit of an impasse.

1) The Collaboration:

This is the 1960s crime thriller I am working on with hubby. We worked on the plotting together, and I have finished the first draft, which I have since passed to him to read. He is presently working on plot holes that we need to work out how to fix.

2) The horror novel:

I believed this one to be finished, and earlier in the year I was sending it out. But identical comments were coming back with the rejections, which made me realise it needs another polish. I have yet to sit down and redraft it.

3) The third Shara book:

This began life a number of years ago as the second Shara book, and lurched to a halt because I had not plotted it properly. I abandoned it and started writing the novel that would eventually become DEAD COOL. Recently I’ve hauled it out in an attempt to dust it off and give it another go. But I need to fix the plot problems first, and take into account the fact that Shara starts this novel in a different place than she original did, after the events of DEAD COOL. It has been calling out to me to get back to it. But I know that if I start writing it again without working out the plot problems first, I’m going to stall in the same place I did the first time around. I will say that it’s not that I don’t know who the murderer is, because I do. It’s the middle bit that’s giving me problems with this one, and the logistics behind how Shara solves the murder.

I am ashamed to say that in spite of having three works on the go, I haven’t done much work on any of them for nearly three weeks. My excuse is that having two books to edit has been keeping me busy. But that’s not a very good excuse.

I am setting a pledge to myself. By the time I come to you with August’s update, I must have made progress on at least one of these WIPs.

Till next time, then…

Monday’s Friend: Barbara Ehrentreu

Today I am pleased to welcome MuseItUp author Barbara Ehrentreu to the blog to talk about her latest release and why she writes about teens with problems. When I was in high school I used to devour books like Barbara’s – books about teens who think the most important things in the world are to be pretty and popular, especially with the boys, but who learn that there are other more serious problems to deal with. It’s been over 25 years since I finished high school but the years melted away when I read Barbara’s extract. Perhaps things haven’t changed all that much after all.

Take it away, Barbara!

Thank you Sara-Jayne for inviting me to your blog. I thought it would be interesting for your readers to see why I write in this genre and what you go through to write a problem YA story.

 Writing a Problem YA Story
By Barbara Ehrentreu

Barbara photo at Muse booksigning editedYou might wonder why anyone would want to write a problem story, especially for teens, who live with problems every day. I think the reason I did use the eating disorder as a problem here was my daughter’s experience. I had read many stories where the eating disorder was the main character’s problem, but I didn’t know enough about it to write that way. So I had to do a lot of research to find out the mind set of people with this problem. I asked people over the internet to send me their stories and people did that. I have included a lot of what they said to me in here. Plus I haunted the eating disorder sites and read some of the posts.

But having a problem isn’t enough. My main character, Carolyn Samuels, in If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor also has a problem that causes her embarrassment. It is the reason why she is being bullied by Jennifer Taylor. My main character hyperventilates when she is nervous to the point where in the beginning of the book she faints. Did I ever have this problem? No. But I read about this too and made sure it could happen. People who have this problem cannot control their breathing and have episodes similar to what my main character, Carolyn Samuels, has to go through.

In this story, though, the problems aren’t the main focus. They are the reasons why characters act the way they do. Jennifer’s problem causes a lot of complications and Carolyn’s needing to keep her problem a secret causes even more difficulties for her. She has to hide it all from both her parents and her friends and she has to juggle the lies so no one learns about anything. Her situation is not easy and as the book continues you can see the kind of person Carolyn really is. If you want to know what happens in the story you will need to read the book.

My second book, After, is also about a problem, but the main character has to deal with one more serious than Carolyn’s. Her father has had a heart attack and suddenly her whole life changes with one phone call. The reality is her father will need bypass surgery and Lauren Walstein, an athletic fifteen-year-old girl, has her world turned around so much it affects all of her relationships. She has to juggle school and her father in the hospital with her changing feelings for her best friend Joey. Her other problem is Joey is going out with her enemy Amber and this is added to her situation. My own husband had a heart attack and went through bypass surgery so this was very close to my own life. There are whole passages in this book that came straight from my own experiences. However, Lauren’s story follows a different path as she tries to make sense of what is happening to her father and what is happening to her. Why is she suddenly having feelings for the boy who has been her best friend since kindergarten? Though Jennifer Taylor was a mean girl, Amber is so much meaner than she was.

Many people who read my first book told me they identified with Jennifer Taylor. I wonder how these same people will feel about Amber? This book, After, is not available now, but it will be this fall. Keep checking my blog and my Author page for updates on its release date. It is so new it doesn’t even have a cover yet.

You can find my book here:

The Muse Bookstore

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Find me here:

My blog: Barbara’s Meanderings:  http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com

Facebook Author Page

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/barbehr

ICBLJT CoverBLURB

Carolyn Samuels is obsessed with the idea of being popular. She is convinced that the only thing keeping her from happiness is her too heavy for fashion body and not being a cheerleader. Hyperventilating when she gets nervous doesn’t help. When she is paired for a math project with the girl who tormented her in middle school, Jennifer Taylor, she is sure it is going to be another year of pain. With Carolyn’s crush on Jennifer’s hunky junior quarterback, Brad her freshman year in high school looks like a rerun of middle school. When Jennifer is the only student who knows why she fell in gym class, Carolyn is blackmailed into doing her math homework in return for Jennifer’s silence. Jennifer takes on Carolyn as a pity project since she can’t be seen with someone who dresses in jeans and sweatshirts. When Jennifer invites Carolyn to spend the night to make her over and teach her to tumble, Carolyn learns Jennifer’s secret and lies to her own friends to cover it up. Will Carolyn become a cheerleader and popular? Does she continue to keep Jennifer’s secret? Or will she be a target of this mean girl again?

EXTRACT

Feeling my old hatred of gym, I glance across the locker room and see Jennifer in red designer shorts and a tight sleeveless shirt to match. She’s standing in front of the only mirror in the room turning back and forth.

Becky and I slide into our loose camp shorts and a T-shirt, and once they’re on, we race onto the gym floor. Always better to be early for gym the first day.  You never knew what kind of teacher you’d have. My athletic ability is zero, so I don’t take chances. Once I was a few minutes late, and the gym teacher in middle school made me run around the gym ten times. It took me the whole gym period.

Becky and I sit on the low seats in the bleachers, but Jennifer and her group saunter into the gym and choose the highest seats avoiding the rest of us. Miss Gaylon, the gym teacher introduces herself and gives us a few minutes until the last stragglers come from the locker room.  For those few minutes, I almost feel comfortable. My breathing returns to normal. I hear giggles from Jennifer and her group, but I ignore it.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad this year, Carolyn.” Becky always tries to cheer me up now. This wasn’t true a few years ago. I had to cheer her up a lot. Becky’s brothers are just turning five, and they’re both in kindergarten. Her mom remarried after being divorced for ten years. Becky was just getting used to her new stepfather when her mom got pregnant. I remember how miserable Becky was the first year of middle school when her mom spent so much time with her twin brothers and didn’t have enough time to help Becky with her homework. Luckily, Becky’s stepfather is a history teacher, so she got very interested in history and current events

“Right, Becky, and maybe I’ll learn to be a gymnast in ten minutes. Reality check, remember last year?”

“Okay, I’m hoping it won’t be so bad.”

“You mean like the dentist finding you only have one cavity and filling it the same day?”

“You’re so lame, Carolyn. Since we’re all older, maybe she’ll treat us differently. People change over the summer you know.”

“Look at her, Becky.”

Becky turns to look over at the group at the top of the bleachers and then turns back to look me in the eye. “You know you have to put that stupid day behind you.”

I pretend not to know what she’s talking about. “What stupid day?”

Like I don’t remember every detail.

“The zip line day.”

“Oh, that day,” I say with a combination grimace and smile. “The day I wound up having to climb off the platform. I wanted to bore a hole into the ground so I wouldn’t have to walk past them but couldn’t, and everyone screamed at me: ‘Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.’”

“You have to admit it was funny the way the gym teacher ran up the ladder like a squirrel to rescue you. Everyone laughed at how stupid she looked. Jennifer got the whole class going with that ridiculous ‘breathe, Carolyn, breathe.’” Becky looks behind her to Jennifer. “You know I wanted to run over and punch her, but I couldn’t because I was still on the platform, and it was my turn to go.”

“Yeah, if I had a few more minutes, I would have been able to get up the courage to grip the zip line and hook myself to it. Stupid teacher didn’t give me a chance. This not breathing thing when I get nervous really sucks.”

Becky nods because she knows me so well.

“So then Jennifer started with that horrible chant, and of course, the whole class followed her, like always.” My eyes fill with tears as I remember, and my breathing is getting worse by the minute.

“I thought it was a dumb idea to do ropes course stuff in school. We did it at my camp the summer before, and no one was forced to do it. Anyone could get nervous with Jennifer in front of them,” Becky comforts me.

I continue talking as if I’m in a trance. “Remember how last year whenever I ran into Jennifer she would whisper ‘breathe, Carolyn, breathe,’ so no one could hear it except me. Once she did it just before I had to go up in front of the class in math.   Sometimes she would do it in front of everyone and, of course, get a big laugh while I wanted to turn into a piece of furniture.”

Becky grabs my arm.  “Do we have to go back over this again? You need to forget about it.” She takes her hand away from my arm as I continue to speak.

“Becky, I can’t. The thing is it’s this bad movie in my brain looping the same horrible scenes. The funny thing is, most of the time, she would ignore me. I would never know what she was going to do. You have to admire someone so single-minded she managed to get to me at just the right time.

You remember don’t you? And today did you see how she wore the same outfit as me? It’s spooky.”

My funny breathing returns as Miss Gaylon tells us to line up on the yellow line alphabetically. I hope there will be someone to go between Jennifer and me. No luck. Jennifer is going to be behind me all year. I hold my breath. I couldn’t stand more of the same this year. I pray for the day to end soon. A glance at my new watch shows me fifteen more minutes left of the period. Is Miss Gaylon’s voice getting lower?  What is that pounding in my ears?

Jennifer turns to face me, and I hear, “Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.” Then my world turns black.

Monday’s Friend: Stuart West

Today I am pleased to welcome fellow MuseItUp author Stuart West to the blog.

Stuart WestSJT:  When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?

SW:  I don’t know that destiny had anything to do with it, but I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in third grade.

SJT:  Who would you cite as your influences?

SW:  It depends on if I’m writing YA or adult (I like to flip-flop back and forth), but I’d go with a hodge-podge of Stephen King, Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, and let’s toss in some Joss Whedon while we’re at it.

SJT:  What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?

SW:  Make sure your liquor cabinet is well-stocked. No, I’d probably tell them to be prepared for a marathon rather than a sprint. Don’t expect overnight success. Write because you love to. Stay in school and drink milk.

SJT:  Tell us about your latest novel.

Elspeth 200x300SW:  Elspeth, the Living Dead Girl is a paranormal mystery, drama, comedy, thriller, romance what’s-it. Elspeth, a rebellious dead girl, is summoned from Limbo to uncover the identity of a murderous drug dealer at a suburban Kansas City high school. The only problem is she has to share a body with Elizabeth, an extremely uptight, preppie student who wants to attend an Ivy League college, win the title of prom queen, and marry her Prince Charming with picture-perfect posture. Hijinx and trauma ensue.

SJT:  Your books seem to be part paranormal drama, part mystery, part something else. How would you describe the genre you write in?

SW:  Good question, Sara. I don’t know… “Kitchen Sink Genre” maybe? I do like to mix a lot of genres together and shake ‘em up. It keeps writing interesting (I don’t know what’s going to happen half the time until it does) and hopefully, the reader off-guard.

 SJT:  Your main character, Elspeth, is a ghost. What inspired you to write a book about a ghost who solves mysteries?

SW:  I wouldn’t necessarily call Elspeth a ghost. She’s just as alive as Elizabeth is. She just can’t bring her body with her when she leaves Limbo. I introduced Elspeth and Elizabeth in my second Tex, the Witch Boy book, Tex and the Gangs of Suburbia. At the time, I never suspected they’d get their own book. But Elspeth threatened to steal my book away from my protagonist, Tex, practically begging for her own book.

SJT:  Have you got plans for a series featuring Elspeth?

SW:  I’m never going to say never, but I think I ended the gals’ stories in a good place. However, I did leave it open. We’ll see.

SJT:  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

SW:  To my wife’s befuddlement and I suppose, my shame, I’m an unabashed fan of absolutely awful horror films of the ‘70’s through the ‘80’s, the golden era of cheese. Sometimes it’s an endurance test viewing these, but it’s my duty to sit through every bad flick I can find.

Neighborhood Watch 200x300SJT:  What’s next for you, writing-wise?

SW:  I have lots of things percolating in various stages. There’s a historical horror epic told in the ‘30’s and ‘60’s detailing the downfall of a once prosperous mining town. I’m working on a darkly comic tale about serial killers. And my own take on zombies.

Blurb for ELSPETH, THE LIVING DEAD GIRL:

If you’re dead already, can you die again? Elspeth’s been summoned from limbo. Her new assignment? Track down the culprit in the mysterious death of a student at Clearwell High. And incidentally, uncover the identity of the new drug dealer prowling the halls. Only one problem—the body she has to co-inhabit has a different agenda. Elizabeth just wants to be prom queen, marry Prince Charming, and graduate with perfect posture. Both girls, alive and dead, will have their separate worlds rocked before the killer is unveiled. Nothing is as it seems. No one can be trusted. Being dead has never been so dangerous.

 LINKS:

All books available at MuseItUp Publishing: http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/search?keyword=stuart+r+west&limitstart=0&option=com_virtuemart&view=category

And Amazon:

Elspeth, the Living Dead Girl: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LBG4VKM

Tex and the Gangs of Suburbia 200x300Tex, the Witch Boy: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B3U5OWU

Tex and the Gangs of Suburbia: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E5RWBGA

Tex and the God Squad: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H9HPIA4

And my adult horror tale, Neighborhood Watch: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA6ZTIO

 EXCERPT:

Chapter One

Elspeth

“So, Susan, have you ever made out with a girl?”

“What?No! Ewww.”

I knew she never had. Truth be told, I hadn’t either. But I enjoyed busting my roommate’s chops. Her expressions were always well worth it. I took my kicks where I could find them.

“Relax. I’m kiddin’!”

Susan stood by the door, her fingertips pressed against her lips in horrific contemplation. I rolled over on my bed, my leather jacket creaking like a tree limb in the wind. “It’s not like it was an offer or anything.”

“Elspeth, honestly!” She practically vanished when she sat on her bed. Only Susan would color coordinate her sweater with the ugly aqua-colored bedspread. “Have you, um, ever kissed a girl?”

Guess I had unleashed her inner beast.

“No.” I kicked my feet into the air. “I’m bored. Bored, bored, bored!” Everything about my living arrangement was boring. Our small bedroom was a simple dorm room, decorated in bland pastel colors—a sixties nightmare. The walls were constructed of cold, harsh cinder blocks at odds with the decor. A few paintings of doe-eyed children hung on the walls, attempting to spruce the joint up. Delivered the opposite effect.

Ho-hum. As I said, boring.

Thirty years ago, when I first woke up, I honestly thought I’d gone to hell. I encountered Ms. Pillows first. The name fit her to a T. Tightly packaged into her purple dress, her lumps bulged everywhere. And I remember thinking, the devil’s an overweight, blue-haired woman wearing cat-eyed glasses.

* * * *

Tex The Witch Boy 200x300“Am I dead?” I had asked.

“Well, child, that’s a hard distinction to make here.”

“Okay.”

“I’m Ms. Pillows. I suppose you can say I’m the welcoming committee.”

I sat up and studied the room. “So, hell is pastel colored?” Whether it was hell or not, it may as well have been. I absolutely despised light colors, preferring everything dark.

“Oh! Oh, my!”

I had shocked the devil, probably not an easy thing to do.

“No, Elspeth, not at all! You’re in a very special place now.”

“Heaven?”

“Let’s just say it’s somewhat of a way station.” She beamed at me in a grandmotherly fashion, waiting for her nonsensical words to affect me. “Tell me, Elspeth, what’s the last thing you remember?”

I closed my eyes, attempting to erase dark memories. But they came flooding back with a vengeance. “I was at a nightclub in New York. I glommed onto some guys. They took me out into the alley. They beat me, robbed me and…” My voice grew ragged. I fought back tears. I didn’t want to appear weak. Since there was no way I could finish my tale without breaking down, I just shook my head and embraced silence.

“It’s okay now, Elspeth,” she said, patting my hand. “Those days are behind you.” She smiled sadly, knowingly, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Everything’s fine now.”

I sacked up and pulled my act together. Couldn’t keep me down for long. “Okay. So, what is the deal anyway?”

“Elspeth, you’ve been given another chance. Your life was forfeit before your natural time. It happens sometimes.” She shook her head apologetically as if bureaucratic incompetence were to blame for my death.

“So, what does that mean, exactly? Am I alive? Did the doctors save me? Or what?” I rose from the small bed and grabbed my jacket from the back of a chair. Feeling woozy, I immediately crashed back onto the mattress.

“Now, now. It’s going to take you a little while to become acclimatized to your new existence.” She placed her hand on my forehead. “Just relax. You’re not going anywhere for a while.”

“Ms. Pillows! Would you please tell me what the hell is going on?”

Ms. Pillows blinked her eyes at my blasphemy. But I felt the fate of my soul was kinda’, you know, important.

“Oh, my! Language please, Elspeth.” Her lips turned white and all but vanished into a tight grimace. “As I said, you’ve been given a second chance. I’m afraid you have left the mortal world as you know it.”

“All right.”

“However, there are certain individuals we encounter from time to time whom we feel are worthy of a second chance. Sometimes, it’s because a mistake was made and as a consequence, they’re taken before their previously scheduled time. Other times, we feel a person has special qualities—talents—that can be used to make the mortal world a better place.”

“Which kind am I?”

“A little bit of both.”

“Well, let’s get going, then!” I swung my boots over the side of the bed. “How’s this work?”

“Patience, Elspeth, patience.” She grabbed my feet, attempting to hoist them back into bed. After huffing and panting, she gave up, leaning back in her chair. “Youth today. No patience.” She clucked disapprovingly. “I’m afraid it’s not as simple as your going back to the mortal world and picking up where you left off. You’ll be assigned a host body.”

“A ‘host body’?”

“That’s correct, Elspeth!”

Where’s my damn gold star?

“Your host will be someone your age, sharing similar physical qualities. It will be up to you to make her understand what’s happening. We can’t have an unwilling host body, after all.” She giggled toward the ceiling as if sharing a private joke with God.

“Yeah. We can’t have that.”

“Anyhoo. You’ll have to share the host’s body. And, mind you, it’s just a temporary thing. We can’t be expected to inhabit your host full time!”

Tex and the God Squad 200x300“Of course we can’t.”

“Yes, well…”

“So. What’s the catch?”

“Excuse me?” She pushed her glasses up along her nose.

“I know damn well…”

Ms. Pillows gasped.

“There’s gotta’ be a catch. You guys aren’t doing this just because you’re nice! Whoever you are!”

“So cynical. Yet, in this case, you’re correct. You will be asked to do certain things. Sometimes, they might even prove to be dangerous.”

“Kick ass!”

Friday Fears: Two Sentence Horror #4

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for more two-sentence horror stories.

I have no guest author stories to feature today, so here are a couple from me.

#7
I went to visit my mother on Sunday, as I always do. Standing next to her grave was a bloated corpse, wearing the tattered remains of the clothes we buried her in.

#8
I had a nightmare about being buried alive. I woke up in darkness, realising I was sealed inside a coffin.

If you want to have a go at these yourself, see my blog page for guidelines and past examples. If you send them to me, I shall feature them in the next Friday Fears feature.

Happy Friday everyone, and don’t have nightmares!

Monday’s Friend: Mary Waibel

Today my guest blogger is fellow MuseItUp author Mary Waibel to the blog, to talk about one of her favourite subjects – romance. Welcome, Mary!

Romantic at Heart
By Mary Waibel

Sara-Jayne, thank you so much for letting me come and visit with you on your blog to talk about romance.

Mary Waibel 1I’m a romantic at heart. No matter what I read, I want a touch of hearts and flowers, sweet kisses, and romantic evenings under the stars. Even in my fairy tales, I’m enchanted by a prince waking a princess with a kiss, or two strangers dancing at a ball, and then falling in love and living happily-ever-after.

Mary Waibel 2A heated glance across a crowded room, the touch of a hand, a special endearment. Watching all these things play out as the hero and heroine fall deeper in love keeps me turning pages well into the night, my heart fluttering in anticipation of the time they confess their love.

Last week I released a new novella on the world, a Cinderella retelling titled The Mystery Prince. Fascinated with fairy tales, I decided to take this familiar tale and twist it a bit, hoping my love of romance shines through in this tale.

The Mystery Prince, a novella

Mary Waibel 3

Cover by C K Volnek

Book Blurb:

Tristan enjoys being in the shadows as Prince Rand’s bodyguard. Similar in looks, the two often exchanged places in their youth, but he never expected the king to order him to impersonate the heir to the throne in order to win the hand of a princess.

Princess Zoe needs to find a husband. After a year of searching with no success, her father insists on hosting a masquerade ball for the eligible princes of the nine kingdoms. Not one prince piques her interest, until she meets the mysterious stranger who won’t tell her his name.

When Tristan meets Zoe he finds the girl of his dreams. The only problem? She’s a princess and he’s impersonating a prince―a crime punishable by imprisonment and floggings. Unable to tell Zoe his real name, he gives her a special navigation device. One that leads to the owner’s true love. Will this magic device lead Zoe to Tristan, or will her true love forever remain a mystery prince?

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KU6TSY8

Author Bio:

Author Photo- Mary WaibelMary lives with her husband, son and two cats. When she isn’t twisting fairytales, she enjoys reading, playing games, watching hockey, and camping. Her Princess of Valendria series (Quest of the Hart, Charmed Memories, Different Kind of Knight) are available from MuseItUp Publishing and other major retailers. Her novella, The Mystery Prince, is available at Amazon. Her Faery Marked (book 1 in the Faery Series) will be available from BookFishBooks this summer.

You can find Mary Waibel at:

http://marywaibel.blogspot.com

https://www.facebook.com/authormarywaibel

https://twitter.com/mewtweety14

Friday Fears: Two-Sentence Horror #3

I’m back with some more two sentence horror stories to give you a chill on Friday.

First I present a contribution from last time:

Friday Fear #5
By Jim King

The wind was making the branches of the tree tap against my window. But the sound was coming from the mirror on my dresser.

And here’s one from me:

Friday Fear #6
By Sara Jayne Townsend

I climbed to my feet, amazed that I had survived the crash. Turning to see my broken body lying in the road, I realised I hadn’t.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Monday’s Friend: Susan A Royal

Today I’m doing a blog swap with fellow MuseItUp author Susan A Royal.  So she’s chatting to me here on my blog, and I’m reciprocating over on hers (do go there when you’re finished here!).  Welcome, Susan!

SJT:  When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?

SAR:  It’s really funny. I don’t think I ever really spent much time thinking about it. I’ve just had this compulsion to put my thoughts down on paper ever since I was a child. I even have my first attempt at writing. It’s and written on notebook paper and bound with a red ribbon. I even illustrated it. I think I was about five or six at the time.

I have this long-time love affair with words and how they can be woven into stories that spark the imagination.

SJT:  Who would you cite as your influences?

SAR:  Ray Bradbury painted pictures with words. I yearned to live in his fictitious Greentown, Illinois. Mary Stewart’s Merlin series created ‘real’ characters living in the middle ages, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series made time travel very believable, Susanna Kearsley has the ability to engulf the reader in a love story, and Maggie Stiefvater has a unique talent for reminding the reader what it’s like to be young. They are all my inspirations.

SJT:  What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?

SAR:  Write, edit, submit, learn about the craft, join a critique group, rewrite, edit, learn some more and never EVER give up.

SJT:  When it comes to your writing projects, would you describe yourself as a meticulous planner, or a ‘seat-of-the-pantser’?

SAR:  Most of the time I’m a fairly organized person. I have lists and goals. I have schedules. You would think I’d be the same way about writing, wouldn’t you? Nope. I try. I start out doing research to get the setting. I gather ideas. I even write an outline. But somewhere along the line, the story will veer off the tracks when one of my characters decides she/he doesn’t like what I planned and goes off in an entirely different direction. What can I say?

SJT:  Tell us about your new release.

SAR:  FROM NOW ON is a time travel adventure with romance and is the stand alone companion to Not Long Ago, the story of how Erin’s travel to a medieval world where she meets Sir Griffin, her ‘knight in shining armor’

FromNowOn_200x300Griffin has traveled across centuries to reunite with the woman he loves, but he and Erin may not get their ‘happy ever after’. Not if Lady Isobeil has anything to do with it. She forces Griffin to leave Erin behind and travel to eerie Manx Island. When he goes missing, Erin and his friends set out to find him. Followed by his strong-willed sister, Kateryn, they ride to Swansea and secure passage with the notorious Captain Akin.

Erin sees firsthand how the island earned its dark reputation when she battles freakish weather, encounters a race of little people known as “Prowlies”, and experiences ghosts of the long departed. She discovers “ley lines” crossing the island’s mountain peak and making time travel possible.

Yet these obstacles pale in comparison to the secrets Erin uncovers while determined to rescue the man she loves.

Mini-Excerpt:

I am a stranger in this world, even though I’ve traveled this way before.

Fate and not design brought me the first time. It hurled me into a distant future, with no idea how or why, taking me from an existence dependent upon modern technology to a place where people fear such things and those who use them. While searching for my way home from this harsh and sometimes violent world, my admiration for its inhabitants who valued honor and duty above all else grew into admiration and respect. I found myself drawn to one in particular, a man who saved me more than once. Only I never expected to fall in love with him.

Torn between my feelings and a longing for home, I returned to my time with only vague memories of my experience. My life went back to normal, but part of me sensed the loss of something more precious than anything I’d regained. Until one day, I saw him again.

This time I’ve come by choice, and it is where I’m going to stay.

Fate willing.

SJT:  Your bio says you live in a house with a ghost. Has this inspired you to put ghosts in your stories?

SAR:  I love ghost stories, don’t you? The unexplained always gives me goose bumps and the circumstances that make them come about are sometimes even creepier. I do have a ghost in FROM NOW ON. It takes place in an abandoned church on Manx Island and is the story of Moirrey and why she haunts the graveyard there.

SJT:  Yes, I love a good creepy ghost story too! Your time travel romance series must have required a great deal of research. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

SAR:  Nothing weird, not that I can remember. But I do a lot of research because I don’t want my reader to find something that takes them out of the story because it’s inaccurate or misleading. I’ve researched details about medieval fashion, wedding customs, the food and how it’s prepared, what a squire is required to do, what a seneschal does, common phrases and religion. In From Now On, I did research on ley lines, legends, the Isle of Man, radar and hand-held explosives. Above all, I want my story to be believable and in order to do that, I have to do my research.

SJT:  You were born and raised in Texas, but your latest novel takes your characters to the British Isles. Is it the location, the history or the mythology that attracts you to this part of the world?

SAR:  How about all of the above? I love reading about medieval times. There’s something about imagining what it was like, living then. It boggles the mind. I love history. Reading about the people, their customs and how they lived. It’s fascinating.

SJT:  What’s next for you writing-wise?

SAR:  I’m in the final stages of a young adult fantasy titled XANDER AND THE MISSING PRINCESS. Xander is a little person and former constable of Battington, who comes out of retirement to investigate the disappearance of Princess Mena. Rumors of romantic entanglements lead him in circles, trying to discover what happened. For one thing, there’s the love potion she bought from the apothecary. Who was it for? As if all that isn’t bad enough, Xander has to deal with secrets, half-truths and outright lies.

SJT:  Thank you for stopping by, Susan!

You can buy all of Susan’s books from the MuseItUp book store, and find out more about her writing from her website and her blog.

Monthly Round-Up: June 2014

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

In an attempt to try and be more diligent in my writerly blogs – which are technically supposed to happen once a week, on Wednesdays (sorry, I’m a day late) – I am endeavouring to make the round-up post a monthly feature.  This will be a regular update on forthcoming releases, works in progress and promotional appearances.  Without further ado, here is the news for this month.

COMING SOON:

The MUI re-release of DEATH SCENE is at line edit stage so progressing well. Still no confirmed release date, but likely to be end of June.  Watch this space for more news.

Edits on DEAD COOL are also progressing.  This is scheduled for release in the Autumn, so it’s likely to be September/October time.  My editor has been enthusing about what a good read it is, so I am feeling encouraged.

PROMOTIONAL NEWS:

I’ve been busy with the publicity train this month, with two guest appearances in the first half of June, and I’m talking about DEATH SCENE and my writing process in both.  Marsha West features me as her Tuesday author chat and I’m also chatting to fellow crime writer Joan C Curtis this week on her Joan Says blog.  Joan and I are clearly on the same wavelength – not only do we both write crime, but we have both got the same idea for blog names (since mine began life as Sara Says).

Next month I will also be attending the Theakstons Crime & Mystery Conference at Harrogate, Yorkshire, to hang out with other crime writers.

WORK IN PROGRESS:

I am nearing the end of the first draft of the 1960s crime thriller.  As this is a collaboration with my husband, I will be handing it to him once the first draft is done, for him to do some work on it.  We’ve never collaborated on a project before and this one is in an early stage, so it will be a bit of a learning curve for both of us.

And the third Shara Summers book is currently demanding quite loudly to be written.  So I would like to get started on that soon.

That’s about it for this month.  Further updates to come in July!

Books, Books and E-books

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Ever since I first learned how to read, I have spent much of my time with my nose in a book. I was starting to read by myself by age seven, I think. That’s a good 37 years ago. I have devoured a great many books in that time.

In recent years there has been much debate about the format of books – hardback; paperback; e-book. In my own personal library, there are more paperbacks than anything else. But this is largely because I have been a commuter for the last 25 years, and most of my reading has been done on the train to and from work. Paperbacks are much more transportable than hardbacks. In the last four years or so I’ve had an e-reader and have been collecting e-books, and it won’t be long before they overtake the number of paperbacks, even given their relatively recent appearance on the market.

I also possess a number of hardbacks in my library. Most of them have come my way as gifts, from someone who wants to buy me the absolute latest novel by one of my favourite authors, and who feels that a hardback is a more substantial gift than a paperback. I also have hardbacks that are personalised and signed by the author, because I went to their signing session and bought the book.

Ultimately the format is not as important as the words in the page. Books can transport you into another world. They are an escape from everyday life. They are the key to you becoming someone else, even if just for a few hours.  A dashing and brave hero. A magician with superior intellect. A hard-bitten cynical cop. The daring captain of a spaceship. Whatever you want to be, the words of a novel can take you there.

And yet the format of a book still matters, even though it shouldn’t. Many people insist they don’t like the idea of e-books because they prefer the feel of a ‘proper’ book. As if e-books are somehow not ‘proper’ books. I must admit I was a tad suspicious about them myself, until I got my first e-reader and realised how wonderful they were. No longer do I have to weigh down my suitcase with half a dozen books when I go on holiday for two weeks – all I need is my Kindle, and I have all the books I want. If I finish reading a book on the way into work, I don’t have to lug another around another for the journey home, I just open up another book on the Kindle. My handbag is much lighter with the Kindle in, instead of a paper book. I am someone who has a book with her at all times, no matter where she is going. And a Kindle is so much easier to transport. It will practically fit into a pocket.

My e-reader has also allowed me to buy more books.  I browse the 99p books in the Kindle e-book store almost daily.  Quite often if I am intrigued by a book’s cover and blurb I will decide to take a chance on it because it’s not a lot of money to part with, and it might lead me to discover a wonderful new author.  One click is all it takes to buy that book and transfer it to my Kindle.  It’s ready to begin reading mere seconds later.  And best of all, I don’t have to find shelf space for all these new books because they don’t take up physical space.

Yet in spite of this, I haven’t stopped buying paper books. I will go to signing sessions and buy hardbacks. I will browse second hand book shops and buy books that take my fancy. I still browse book shops, heaven forbid, and take a punt on a new author’s paperback simply because the cover and blurb on the back attract me. And I don’t think this will ever change.

As a lover of books in all formats, it worries me there’s still some resistance to e-books – occasionally even from publishers, though this is getting better. Only this morning I was reading an article in the news stating that e-book sales are predicted to overtake paper book sales in the UK by 2018.  And a spokesperson for a particular publisher was quoted about how e-books have revitalised the book market, with the technology to make e-books available on tablets and so forth making reading accessible to people who never used to be book buyers.

I’m not someone who gives books to charity shops when she’s re-read them.  Maybe this is a selfish attitude, but I like to have books available to re-read at a future date.  Going back to a favourite book is like visiting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while.  Hardbacks do make this a bit problematic, though, when most of my reading is done on the move.  I’m in the process of re-reading Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski books, and the next book on the list is BODY WORK. My copy of this is a hardback, signed to me personally by Sara because I met the great lady herself at the UK launch for this book. And as she is one of my favourite authors of all time, I will treasure it. Having paid £15 for this signed copy, I don’t particularly want to have it bashed about in my bag on the train, or dropped in the bath, or whatever. Ideally I’d like to keep the hardback on the shelf and have a electronic version to re-read, but this would mean having to pay for a second copy of a book I already legitimately own.

I’m sure I’m not the only reader out there who likes to have shelves surrounded by books, whilst enjoying the convenience that an e-reader brings to the reading experience.  I’d like to see publishers bundling a free e-book version of a novel with every hardback edition sold.  That would certainly encourage me to buy more hardbacks to fill up my bookshelves at home, and I’d still get to enjoy the convenience of my e-reader on my daily commute.

A few years ago there seemed to be much suspicion in the publishing world, and a widely held view that e-books would see the end of paper books.  I maintained then, and still maintain now, that there is room in the world for e-books and paper books to exist together, and there does seem to be more people acknowledging this now.  But there’s still a way to go before e-books and paperbacks are truly equal.

The End In Sight

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I got the early train into London this morning for an early-morning Starbucks writing session – something I have not done in a while, it must be said.  In fact looking at my writing log made me realise the last writing session was dated 16 April – over a month ago.  I will say at this point I am rather anal about logging my writing sessions, noting word count and date of every one.  It helps me keep track of my monthly word count, and also how long it takes me to finish each draft.  But it also makes me aware of how long it’s been since the last session.

Why the gap?  The end of April and beginning of May was manically busy in the day job, and I was also working on edits for both DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL, which made it hard for me to get my head around working on the WIP as well.  And then I was away for two weeks.  I did actually take the Netbook away with me, with the idea that if it was raining I might get some time to sit in the hotel room and write, but well…the weather was glorious and the writing didn’t happen.

Anyway.  Now I am back home again and trying to get back into my usual routine, including the early-morning writing sessions.  The current work in progress is the 1960s crime thriller, and this morning was a good session.  I’ve been wrestling with the climax of this one, but now I feel that the end is in sight.  The novel still needs a great deal of work – I am not deluding myself about that.  But I am nearing the end of the first draft.  And I’ve always seen the first draft as putting the scaffolding in place.  Once you’ve got that, you can start the real building work.

The main issue with this novel will be research.  It’s set in 1967, and spans San Francisco, London and Vietnam.  This is not an era I was alive to witness, but there are plenty of people around who were, and they’ll notice if I get it wrong.  The parts of the novel set in Vietnam – which is effectively the final section of the story – is proving particularly tricky.  This was a very emotive point in history.  In particular I want to know what Long Binh looked like in 1967.

Research has never been my strong point, and I’ve never let a mere thing like getting the facts right stop me from getting stuck into the first draft.  Of course, this generally means a great deal of changes between the first draft and future drafts.  Fortunately, the Internet has made doing research a great deal easier than it used to be.  A quick search has revealed that there are a lot of personal accounts and photos from soldiers who lived through the Vietnam war are out there in the public domain, and careful research will help me ensure I get it right.

For me, the most important thing is to get to the end of draft 1.  I’m not there yet with this WIP.  But I can just glimpse the light at the end of the long tunnel.

After that, the real work starts.  Doing the research, getting the facts right, sorting out the plot holes, working out what’s not working and what’s not in the novel that should be.  But all that will come later.  For now, I’m focusing on getting to the end.  And I feel like I’m almost there.

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