Monthly Round-up: August 2014

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

We’re over halfway through August already.  Where is this year going?  This means it’s time for another report on what I’ve been up to writing-wise over the last month.

COMING SOON

I now have release dates for both the forthcoming Shara Summers novels.  DEATH SCENE is to be released on 22 September, and DEAD COOL on 25 November.  Though both books are e-book only, they will be available for pre-order through the MuseItUp website.

PROMOTIONAL NEWS

I’ve made a couple of guest appearances online since the last update. Details below:

13 August – I appeared on Kat Holmes’ blog as part of her Summer Bash, talking about cultural displacement.
20 August – I was on Anne Stenhouse’s blog with Five Fascinating Facts.  Well, I hope they were fascinating…

Con-wise, I went to the fabulous Geekfest, and had a fine old time.  Next up, FantasyCon in York, which will also be the last Con in my calendar.  At least for this year.  I’m already lining up my Con schedule for next year.

WORK IN PROGRESS

I have made a start on what I will hope be the final rewrite of the new horror novel, which is entitled THE WHISPERING DEATH.  I’ve worked out what I need to do with this, and feel happy with the way the rewrite is going so far.

September is looking like a horrendously busy month, with a lot of personal and day-job related stuff going on.  But with the release of DEATH SCENE on the horizon, there’ll be plenty of writing-related stuff going on as well.  Catch you next month!

Monday’s Friend: Mary-Jean Harris

Today I’m pleased to welcome fellow MuseItUp author Mary-Jean Harris to my blog.

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

MJH: I can’t think of any specific time, but I have loved to write ever since I was in elementary school. In high school, I started to write novels, and I realized that I wanted to continue to write even if it wasn’t my full-time job. I wouldn’t want to be a full-time writer (currently I am a student in theoretical physics and philosophy, and hope to pursue a career in that area), but I always want to write on the side, and in this way, what I do as a career can give inspiration for my writing.

 SJT: Who would you cite as your influences?

MJH: Mary Stewart, David Farland, and Tolkien are all some of my favourite authors, and have influenced a lot of my work. All of them write beautifully, and the plots and characters of their novels are crafted really well. I also include a lot of things from philosophy I’ve read, especially ancient philosophy and esoteric traditions.

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

MJH: Be inspired. Most writers say you just have to sit and force yourself to write, which is definitely true, but I find that you can’t get real inspiration by just forcing yourself through it. You have to dream about your story, look up in the clouds (literally!) and let your imagination take you on an adventure. I think if you love to write and you have fun with it, then anyone can write good stories, because if you love to do it, you’ll find the time and make it work, just as we find the time to do things like eating and sleeping because if we didn’t, we’d be miserable (or dead!).

 SJT: Have you ever been inspired to put people you know in real life in your books?

MJH: Yes, I do that a lot actually. I don’t put people in that I know really well, because I want to create a new character for them, and it’s harder to do when you already know how they “should” behave. So what I do is “snatch” people I don’t know really well or just see on a walk or something, and make them into a character in my book. I basically just use how they look and a few general observations to make a character out of them. I find it difficult to imagine a character’s face unless I have something to base it off of, so using someone in real life is helpful for this.

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

MJH: I’m a mix of both. When I wrote Aizai the Forgotten, I started it out without any knowledge of where it was going to go. In fact, I thought it would just be a short story, something fun to do after I had finished writing a long novel (that wasn’t published). But it grew and grew, and I eventually realized that this was going to be a novel, so then I went and planned some of it. Though even with some planning, I modify things a lot as I write. I make up new plans and don’t fit in some of my original ones because the events and the characters lead me elsewhere. For short stories though, I try to plan them more so that I can keep them to a reasonable length. Though it’s fun to sometimes just start writing and see where it goes without any planning whatsoever!

 azaitheforgotten333x500SJT: Tell us about your latest release.

MJH: I’ve recently released Aizai the Forgotten, which is my first published novel. It’s the first novel in The Soul Wanderers series. Aizai is a young adult historical fantasy novel that takes place in the seventeenth-century, following the adventures of a boy named Wolfdon who tries to discover magic and the lost realm of Aizai, and in doing so, plays an important role in the land of Aizai that he couldn’t imagine was possible.

 SJT: Any other writing projects in the works?

MJH: I’m writing the sequel to Aizai, which takes up where the first book left off. This is slightly different to the first book in that there is an extra point of view character, as well as different time periods (the seventeenth century in Spain and the twelfth century in Scotland). This involves much more research, but since it is fantasy, most of my books are only loosely historical, so I make up a lot of things myself.

 SJT: You are inspired by images. Do you already have an idea of an image in your head when you search for images to fit the character, or do you create characters around images that inspire you?

MJH: I usually base characters on pictures of people, or people I know only partially. Though when it comes to images of things within my novels, such as the scenes or special magical devices, I usually make them up as I go along, adding little neat elements to them as I’m writing along. It’s as much a discovery for me as for the characters going through the story!

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

 MJH: School! At least during the year. It’s quite busy because I am now doing physics and philosophy at Carleton University. I really enjoy it, and am hoping to do something in particle physics and cosmology when I’m finished. I also enjoy travelling, especially to places with ancient buildings like castles and with places I can go hiking and exploring. Someday I hope to live in the country or (ideally!) on an island in Scotland. I’ve been to the Isle of Skye last summer and it was beautiful there and very remote. The perfect place for a writer, actually.

SJT: Thank you for being my guest today, Mary-Jean!

Learn more about Mary-Jean and her writing at her blog The Soul Wanderers.

Her book AIZAI THE FORGOTTEN is available to buy from the MuseItup book store.

 

Friday Fears: Two Sentence Horror #5

It’s Friday, and time for more two sentence horror stories.

Here are two contributed by others

#9
This morning I woke up covered in blood. It wasn’t mine…
By Jez Thorpe

#10
The Storm driven wind was howling round the house like the moans of the restless dead. That was when I heard voices speaking my name.
By Jim King

And here’s one from me:

#11
This morning there was a note stuck on the fridge saying, “I love you. Dx”. My husband used to leave that note for me every morning, until he died five years ago.

Happy Friday. Don’t have nightmares…

Monday’s Friend: Jeff Chapman

Today I am pleased to welcome Jeff Chapman to the blog, revealing some of his plotting secrets. Take it away, Jeff.

Visualising your Plot
By Jeff Chapman

Jeff_chapman-headshot-small-221x300 (2)I spent a month this spring editing a thriller novella, fleshing out the characters, getting into their heads more, and tweaking the scenes to make the story more … thrilling. Not sure if I succeeded. I’m still waiting to hear back from the publisher, but I did develop a technique that helped me to target my revisions.

Stories typically have scenes of low tension that build to high tension. You can imagine these as waves. A longer story will have more of these waves. I defined a high-tension scene as one involving violence or a dramatic change to a character’s status, either good or bad. Winning the lottery, being arrested, or a gun battle would be high-tension scenes. In low-tension scenes, characters might be planning their next move or discussing or contemplating what has happened. A medium-tension is somewhere in between. This is not an exact science by any means, so you’ll have to measure your scenes against each other.

I’ve never written a thriller before so I was worried the plot wouldn’t be exciting enough. I needed a way to see how the different parts of the story were working together. That’s when the idea came to create a graph. I listed the thirteen scenes on a piece of paper and wrote a few words to remind myself what happened in each scene. I then ranked the scenes as low, medium, or high. The story is about the kidnapping of the President’s daughter and how this event intersects the lives of an adviser and his family.

Here are the scenes and their ratings. (I’m being a bit vague in some of the descriptions so as not to give the whole plot away.)

M Scene 1: late night in oval office, introduction to problem
H Scene 2: kidnapper’s house, violence between hostage and kidnapper
L Scene 3: adviser’s house, he and wife discuss situation and their own daughter
M Scene 4: cabinet room, president receives call from kidnapper
M Scene 5: FBI raids a house
H Scene 6: oval office, adviser learns that the kidnapper requested his daughter’s involvement
L Scene 7: kidnapper contemplating past while watching the hostage sleep
M Scene 8: adviser’s house, the president has contacted the advisor’s daughter directly
H Scene 9: oval office, the adviser confronts the president, ends when the advisor throws a punch
L Scene 10: kidnapper’s house, feeding the hostage and tending her wounds
M Scene 11: adviser and wife plan to remove daughter; attempt fails
H Scene 12: someone dies violently
H Scene 13: months later, kidnapper confronts adviser in a bar
plot-graph (2)

 Note that low-tension scenes always follow a high-tension scene and there are never multiple low-tension scenes in a row. Initially, I ranked scene 9 as medium. When I saw how it related to the neighboring scenes, I revised it to raise the tension. The visual representation clearly paid off in that case.

Author bio:

Jeff Chapman writes software by day and speculative fiction when he should be sleeping. His tales range from fantasy to horror and they don’t all end badly. He lives with his wife, children, and cats in a house with more books than bookshelf space. His latest title is Last Request: A Victorian Gothic, available on Amazon.

LastRequestCover300x186 (2)

Find him online at the following links:

What Am I Doing at Geekfest?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It’s nearly time for the Nineworlds Geekfest con! Last year was the first time this London-based convention – celebrating all things geeky – ran, and it was a fabulous event. This year sees it a bit more streamlined, but with just as packed a schedule, and I have no doubt it will be just as much fun.

Saturday I and other members of the T Party writers’ group will be running an ideas-generating workshop entitled ‘How to Beat Writers’ Block’. This will be a series of exercises designed to trigger story ideas. Don’t really want to say much about it at this stage (spoilers!) but we hope it will inspire people to go away and start writing something. In order for this to work we’ve limited it to 30 people so if you are attending the Con and fancy it, turn up early – it’s on at 3:15 pm in the County A room.

After that I hope I get a chance to catch some panels before I am appearing on one myself – the intriguingly-entitled ‘Noir – the Dirty Streets of Fiction’ panel at 6:15 pm in County C&D. The only description we’ve been given of this is a quote from Raymond Chandler: “it seemed like a nice neighbourhood to have bad habits in”. I’ve been thinking about this since I was asked to do the panel and I’m really looking forward to it. With noir finding its way into so many other genres, I think I can find a lot to say on this subject – assuming I don’t get tongue-tied from the impressive line-up of Serious Writers on this panel (which include John Connolly, Will Hill, Daniel Polansky and Francis Knight).

I am also quite impressed with the Con’s online schedule app, which not only allows each Con-goer to highlight individual sessions to create their own personal programme, but allows participants to see all of their activities all at once (here’s mine).

There’s also going to be a table for independent authors and small presses in the dealer room, so I shall take along a pile of SOUL SCREAMS to (hopefully) sell.

If you’re at Geekfest do come and say hello – it’s going to be a Con to remember.

 

Cover Reveal: DEAD COOL

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Dead Cool 200x300
I am happy to be able to reveal the cover for the forthcoming Shara Summers mystery DEAD COOL, once more designed by the talented Charlotte Volnek.

Unlike DEATH SCENE, which was a re-release, DEAD COOL is a brand new title and the cover was previously uncharted territory. Trying to imagine what should be on the cover of a new book is always a challenge. You want something eye-catching, which will attract readers, and which will give a hint of what the story is about. I liked some of the features Charlie came up with for the DEATH SCENE cover and wanted some of the same things on this one – the clapperboard with ‘Shara Summers mystery’ on, and the same font for the title, for instance.

I wasn’t initially happy with the first cover model. I was rather hoping for the same model as on the DEATH SCENE cover, in a different pose, but apparently that’s not always possible with stock images. So on this cover Shara looks different than she does on the first cover. I am trying not to fixate too much on this. It’s sort of like changing actresses for the same character in a soap. But that always bugged me, too.

Anyway, despite that it is a cool image. Shara has an appropriately ‘rock chick’ look in this, and I like the purple-tinted empty drum kit and microphone in the background, looking stark and sinister under the single spot.

DEAD COOL is scheduled for release by MuseItUp Publishing in mid-October. Woo hoo!

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!

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