Friday, August 19, 2011

When Destiny Spoke

At a very early age, I knew I would write novels because I loved reading books.  I had a huge pile of Dr. Seuss and "I Can Read" books.  Each day I took the pile and read through them, sometimes seeing how fast I could read the stack, and eventually I knew them by heart.

The first time my mother took me to the library, I was mesmerized at the shelves stocked full of wonderful books.  I loved books so much that once I had read one, I attempted to write it down on paper so I could read it again later.  However, that daunting task bored me, so I began writing my own stories.

In first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Brown, had a closet filled with thick storybooks.  She allowed me to take one home each day.  Rather than watch cartoons, I sat down and read the books straight through.  I did this each day until I had read every book in that closet. 

So I used a small corner of my dresser to write my stories and draw my comics.  I loved having that creative flow when ideas came, and I obliged my muse by writing them out on pages.  Writing is sometimes a lonely endeavor, especially if the flow is broken or not moving, but I find this time of isolation to be enriching.  I love when I don't know what is about to happen in my novel, and suddenly, out of thin air, the crisis is solved.

Somehow, long ago, my destiny was established by introducing me to my muse.  I'm grateful this is my path and journey.  I'd love for you to follow the works that drop along the way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ant Farms

When I was about seven years old,  Dad took us down the red-dirt road behind the house to get our first ant farms.  He carried a shovel while we took mason jars and the hunt for an ant colony began.

We found a colony of large red ants under a pine tree at the edge of the road.  Dad plunged the shovel into the earth and flipped over the soil.  To our surprise, a ring-neck snake slithered out with the ants.  Apparently the snake was eating the fat pupae stored deep in the tunnels.

After the snake disappeared, we scooped handfuls of angry ants with loose soil and clamped the lids on tight.  I really didn't know what we were supposed to do with the ants or why we wanted them sealed in glass jars, but about an hour after they settled down, they started digging tunnels to rescue trapped ants and eventually make a new home.

Watching the ants build their tunnels was fascinating.  Not only did my interest in ants increase, but my love for science grew as well.  A few years later, my father was finishing his degree at the local junior college.  For part of an assignment, he was supposed to start an insect collection.  His instructor had a collection at a nursery and asked us to go view it.  Since I was already interested in ants, I was excited to see what this man's collection looked like.

While I thought ants were incredible, I was amazed when I looked at the dozens of giant moths and butterflies, beetles, and lots of dragonflies.  I was suddenly hooked on Entomology.  I went to the college library with my father and pulled a dozen insect books off the shelf.  One book stood out to me more than the rest and drastically changed my interests even more.

Paul Villard's "How to Rear and Raise Moths" taught me how to raise moths from eye to adult stage.  No longer was I bent on just catching and pinning insects, but I now wanted to witness the life cycles of some of the most unusual moths and butterflies, which expanded my knowledge about the world of insects and prompted me to get my B.S. in biology.

This is why I embed science into most of my novels.  There is so much more to biology than what one views on the surface.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Banana Trees in Alabama

When my siblings and I were young, my dad and uncle used to tell us they were flying down into the woods and would bring back bananas.  Of course, we weren't allow to follow them. 

A red clay dirt road split the woods and a neighboring pasture.  They'd take off running down the dirt road, flapping their arms as if they'd take to flight.  They returned about fifteen minutes later with a bunch of bananas.  Being under seven years old, we believed they were really doing this until finally, my oldest brother told us what they had done.

About thirty minutes beforehand, after they left the grocery store, they drove up the dirt road, put the bananas in the woods, and then they drove back around the loop and entered our driveway, as if they had come straight home.  Since they were practical jokers, they got a kick out of tricking us.  Even though it was a joke, this stirred our imaginations.  Other similar events sparked our imaginations as well.  I miss those days.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Stomping Grounds

Growing up in DeKalb County, AL, was perhaps the best place I could have been raised.  I had the good fortune of living near a large woods, which wasn't too far from steep bluffs and a couple of small caves.  From the time I was seven years old, perhaps a bit younger, I spent a lot of time exploring those woods, the open fields and pastures, and ever expanding my imagination.

Living in a suburban area now is difficult.  I miss the nature walks, the quiet mornings where all you can hear are the birds and insects, and the absence of heavy traffic.  I miss being able to go outside and not be quartered into a small yard with houses on every side of me.  I also miss seeing the stars.  I would have never thought that all the street lights would have such a negative impact on stargazing, but they do obscure the view.

Now, if I wish to do either, I have to drive about forty minutes or more to find the luxury of nature and all she offers.  I hope to soon be able to find a house nearer to the countryside again.

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Efforts Ignored

I whole-heartedly set out to make a difference for something dear to me by offering 50% of all my royalties to aid my high school's library after the EF-5 destruction.  I thought the media would help awareness for the tornado damage to my high school, but only the two newspapers in DeKalb County, Alabama, let others know.  I contacted the Huntsville Times (twice), Chattanooga Times, Gadsden Times, Birmingham News, and The Weather Channel as well.  None of these ever contacted me back.

There's only a couple weeks left, and I truly hoped a bigger interest than what it's at currently.  I guess if I were Steven King, this would be news worthy.  Of course, if I had the bankroll King has, all I'd have to do is write a check.

I guess the other question is "Why not 100%?"  Simply put, I've been looking for an outside job for the past two years.  My resume is posted through three different agencies.  There just aren't many jobs where I live.  And I apply for those that do become available.  So that's why I can't go 100%, though I'd love to.

Here's from my July post: Giving Back to my Alma Mater:

As previously mentioned in a blog, Plainview High School (my Alma Mater) was hit and partially destroyed by an EF-5 Tornado on April 27th, 2011.  In an effort to help raise money for the school library I'm donating 50% of my royalties for the next six weeks.

Currently all Kindle versions of my novels are priced @ $2.99 each and will remain as such for the next six weeks.  Nook versions are also $2.99 each.  All new paperback novels under my publishing imprint, Deimosweb Publishing, are available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or through your local book store.

For those of you who'd be so kind as to share this with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, or your blog, I'd be forever grateful.

Blessings to you all!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lights, Camera, ACTION!

Novels don't have a visual effect like a movie, so an author has to invite readers into a world developed on the page without lights and without dramatic sounds pacing the story along.

One reason I love to write and read thrillers is the building of action that makes you turn the pages.  When effective done, a reader will keep reading with such intensity that they don't even think about turning the pages, and they lose track of time.  I've had readers who have told me that they stayed up most the night to finish one of my novels because they simply couldn't put it down.  Those are comments any author loves to hear.

But for action to be effective, the characters have to be three-dimensional and people that the readers care about.  If readers cannot connect or identify with the characters, most won't finish the book.

One way action can be packed into a novel is for the end of a chapter to compel the reader to begin the next.  Leave a tidbit of mystery or suspense as the chapter concludes.  This entices a person to see what's going to happen next or say, "I'll read just one more page."  Doing this keeps readers reading.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Banshees and Ghost Tales

My grandfather passed away in 1984, and along with his passing were the tales he used to tell us.

Where I grew up in Alabama there was a woods behind our house.  Thick with trees and a small dark swamp I often thought it was a spooky place when I was young.  My grandfather often spoke of a woman with long, stringy white hair and long fingernails.  She was stooped over and if ever we encountered her, certain doom would befall us.  If she screamed and we heard no sound, death was our destiny.

While this was certainly a frightening story for us as kids, he had other stories of the supernatural that he swore to be true.  One such tale was about the time when he was a young boy.  He was walking home before dusk when he saw a friend of his running down the dirt road.  He called out to his friend, but his friend ignored him, crossed between the barbwire fence and ran across the field to get home.  He found out the next day that his friend had died (drowning, I think) not long before he saw his friend on the dirt road.  A ghost?  He believed so.

As a child you never realize the importance of the tales your grandparents tell, until you're older and often too late to ask them.  I wish I could sit and listen to him tell those tales now.  It's no wonder why I have a vivid imagination.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Photographs and Memories

Etched in my mind are images of my past that present themselves to me periodically.  I have memories of my youth so clear that even my late mother was astounded when I asked, "Do you remember when . . ."

It's odd that these memory bursts come when I hear certain songs, encounter different smells (like rain on a plowed field or wet leaves in the fall), the shape of a tree as I'm driving down the highway, or simply when I allow my mind to drift back through time.

Did you ever watch Kung Fu with David Carradine?  He allowed his mind to carry him back to when he was a child.  Now, I don't have a Shaolin Master to visit while in meditation, but I do vividly recall events of my past with clarity.

My brother and I found an injured water crane hiding in our thick grapevines when we were kids.  This bird had a huge, long beak and legs so tall that it was almost my height.  My brother, David, noticed its wing was broken.  "It needs our help," he said.  "Let's catch it."

Catch it?  This thing was huge!  To me, at least.  He grabbed the crane and held its legs together while I held its beak because we were afraid it would peck us.  We took the bird to the house and showed my mother.  Being kids, I guess we convinced her it needed our help.

We kept the crane in our house for several days.  My dad fed it bologna, which it enjoyed eating.  But, the bird was in worse shape than we thought and died a few days later.

Fast forward:  A few years before my mother passed away, she was telling some family members about the crane SHE caught.  I quickly corrected her, but she argued that it was her that brought the bird home.  But, I remember my fear while holding its beak all the way across the yard to the house.  That's not something you forget.

Then, not long after while visiting dad, he said, "You remember that crane I caught when you and David were little?"

I said, "No, I remember the one we caught.  You were at work when we caught it."  Which was the case.

My guess is that both of them had told the tale to others about how they caught the crane for so long that they actually believed they had.  My brother and I know differently.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Writing in Layers

As artists paint on canvas, writers have to paint pictures with words.  But I often write in layers as painters will do touch ups on their pictures to make the colors blend better.  The same goes in adding detail to a scene or a character by returning to read and revise previous text.

The other day, I went back several chapters to revise.  Here and there, I added this, condensed that, but slowly the scenes became clearer.  By the time I finished, I had added two more pages to the novel while fleshing it out.

While I never write out an outline beforehand, I often find that the first run through is like the skeleton of the story.  As I go back, time after time, more clarity and direction unfold until the skeleton becomes its own person with a unique identity.  Exactly how this occurs is still a mystery for me, but that's my process and it works.  Believe me, there are days when I don't think it will work, but I keep plugging away.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Horror Comics

My father used to buy stacks of comics once a week when we were kids.  I remember, Haunted Tales, House of Horror, The Witching Hour, House of Secrets, Unexpected, Ghosts, Weird Tales, just to name a few.   The comics cost $0.15 to $0.25 each.  Find the same ones on eBay now, and you'll pay much, much more.  (Had we only known!)

My brother and I awakened well before sunrise during the summer to read these.  I was six-years-old but I never found the tales actually scary.  The artwork for the ghosts and skeletons was captivating, often making me develop my own stories in my mind, molding my early creativity.  As people say, "A picture is worth a thousand words."  While this is true, a picture also has other tales that can be siphoned from it.

We all see things differently and it's good to breakaway from the cookie-cutter mentality and be different.  And that's what I hope readers come away with after reading my novels.  Originality.  Something different from the norm.  If they have, I hope they tell all their reading friends.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cloudy Rainy Days

My creativeness tends to thrive on days when the sun is hidden behind clouds.  Rain is a bonus.  I believe this correlation comes because without the sunshine, I have little outside attractions and I also have this sense of shelter, as the clouds are a cushion that surround and enclose me.

I am also a huge fan of thick fog, as long as I don't have to drive through it.  I love how sheets of fog roll in and make familiar areas mystical.  Once, when I was about six years old, I awakened to see our yard swamped in by thick fog.  I've yet to encounter another day quite like this one.  You couldn't see more than a foot ahead of you, and as a child I found this frightening and fun at the same time.  It's strange when swirling mists flow around you and moisture drips from leaves and buildings.  I believe this sensation is why such fog hung over Pittsburgh in Predators of Darkness: Aftermath.  Add blood-thirsty monsters to the mix, and you have a page-turning scare ride.

Today it's raining, so time to get busy working on my novel.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fischer-Price Memories

I don't understand why my mind seems to recall so many instances from my youth, but a lot of my imagination developed during that time.  In part to escape how we were raised by an overbearing father and in part because my sister and I grew up in the time when "kids were to be seen, not heard."  Understand, this was also before cable networks took over television broadcasting.  We had three stations, one of which might come in clear enough to watch if the wind blew properly.

So television had little hold or control over us.  My sister and I spent countless hours playing with Fischer-Price Little People.  We created, for us, what we believed the perfect family life should be.  It was our little place to dream our dreams without outside interference telling us we couldn't.  We had a lot of great adventures together that time has not erased.

Lately, I keep having dreams of my old homestead where my sister and I were raised.  The dreams are pleasant, as are a lot of my memories.  Unless a time machine is ever invented, we cannot travel back to our past physically, but mentally, we can.  Not all memories are great, but I've learned to take the bad and apply those lessons to my life.  I believe I'm a better person for the experiences I've had.

I believe I've always been destined to be a writer because I've always tried to figure out why people do bad things to others.  Whenever someone deliberately did me wrong, I'd review the situation over and over in my mind, trying to figure out why they did what they did.  It never gave me a direct answer, but it developed my craft of seeing how others might think.  And perhaps this is why I am able to get into the minds of the characters in my books.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Writer's Notebook

As part of class requirement as I pursue my MFA in creative writing, I am supposed to keep a writing notebook journal.  This nifty idea is something I used to do.  It's really a great idea.  There are many times when an idea hits and you don't have anything to write it down on.  The old mentality is that "I'll remember it."  But, sadly, this doesn't seem to happen.

I would have never written Predators of Darkness: Aftermath had I not immediately put down words to paper the night the opening line came to me.  This gift from the Netherworld was a mere piece I could have easily lost if I had not realized its true importance.  However, I never imagined the series would be up to four books, either.  That is something the characters decided, and I've listened.  I've not been disappointed with the outcome, and honestly, I cannot wait to get back to working on the fourth book.  But, Devils' Den has to be finished.  Just has to be.

The current struggle within my mind is when I keep hearing my characters in Death's Valley wanting their due attention.  And I tell them, "I'm coming.  You'll be heard."

Devils' Den set in a musty box for nearly eleven years.  The book needs its chance to be read.  To find readers.  I have to admit though, due to so many years unread, and how I've matured both as a writer and a person, this book will be a LOT different than what it initially was.  The characters have had time to grow, new outlooks, and new decisions.  These unique characters have already promised to play out their own series as well.  This is great and refreshing but demands a lot of time, too.  Time that I love to give to these works, characters, and of course, to you, my reading audience.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kindle Boards--A Place for Kindle Authors/Readers to Meet

For those of you who own a Kindle and have yet to discover the Kindle Board community, I invite you to check it out at: Kindle Boards.  There are lots of interesting topics and discussions about books, authors, writing techniques, quirks, etc.  A great place to connect with other authors and readers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lap Cat vs. Laptop

Yesterday marked the first day of my Masters course in Creative Writing.  Since my classes are online, I have to use an Apple laptop instead of any of our Windows computers (not compatible with my classes).  However, I soon discovered a little problem.  My black cat, Slinx, is very jealous of the laptop as it has taken priority over him.  Well, at least over his seating arrangement.

Slinx is different than most cats.  His mother has 25 toes, and he was born with 22 toes.  He's a lonely kitten.  The only sibling he would have had was stillborn.  Once his mother went into heat again, she has had absolutely nothing to do with him.  So, he adopted me.

He's the most unique cat I've ever had.  You can see the jealousy in his attitude, which cats are known for, and now he follows me from room to room more than ever.  He is the first cat I've seen that begs for you to play with him (feathered toy on a stick is his favorite).  He knows where the toy is kept and stares at it, crying until you play with him and tire him down.

Of course, if you've read my series you know I have a soft spot for cats.

Just a note, but Morton says you'll see him again.  He's already plotting to get into the fourth book in my series.  Hmm.  I wonder what he'll do this time.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Devils' Den Progress

I have passed the 50,000 word mark for Devils' Den.  This is the first book of my dark fantasy series, and quite a different genre for me, too.

One of the best compliments I get for the Darkness Series is the originality of plot and characters, which is good because it apparently works.  I have no doubt that Devils' Den is filled with originality of its own.  In fact, it's so different that I hope I don't alienate my audience.  Perhaps it's my self-doubt that makes me question the uniqueness of the story.  I don't know.  But in The Game of Pawns, I introduced a quartet of new characters that I almost cut from the story because I didn't believe my audience would like them.  Feedback has been overwhelming at how much they are LOVED.  So cutting them would have been like cutting my own throat.

Being a novelist is a lonely occupation because I sit and write what I hope will become a great story, but yet, I will question myself unmercifully until the end.  I actually held off sending Beyond the Darkness to print an additional six months because of this inner doubt.  I believe other authors experience this as well.

At the rate Devils' Den is progressing I believe I should be finished with the novel this month.  However, that's in what I consider the first draft.  I will have my editing friend, Ann, take a read through and possibly one other.  When I am writing a novel, I start back with the previous three pages from the day before and revise them.  I do this to refresh my mind on what I've written, plus tighten up the prose and dialogue.  At each 15,000 word point, I will go to the beginning of the manuscript, read and revise until I reach the end point.  This way I keep polishing the novel until I've finished the first draft.

Once I've reach the end of the novel, I will reread the entire manuscript two more times, and sometimes more than that.  Even after it goes to print, I still wonder if I've done enough.