Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Beautiful Nightmares

I enjoy dark, twisted paranormal stories, but almost everything has been done in some shape or form. What’s a writer to do when Dracula has been beaten to death, and every ghost story has been told? Then halfway through your 100K manuscript about a wizard, you’re told the market is soon going to be flooded with sorcerers?

Consider delving into the subconscious. Sorry, I don’t mean eating those questionable mushrooms your cousin gave you in a baggie. I mean using the same inspiration that 5 of the most famous horror and paranormal writers of all-time used: dreams. Twilight, Frankenstein, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were all based on the dreams of their authors. Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe are two more writers who owe some of their most enduring works to dreams.

So what’s going on when you’re able to think so creatively while sleeping and not when you’re awake and TRYING to be creative? According to Wikipedia, “a lucid dream is any dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming.” Lucidity.com says “the brain is highly active in REM sleep and unconstrained by sensory input, which together may contribute to the novel combinations of events and objects we experience as dream bizarreness.” And these dreams can be controlled with practice, techniques, and certain devices. Lucid dreamers can harness their dreams and use them for art and inspiration.

I recently woke up from the most beautiful nightmare. I couldn’t wait to share it. Unfortunately, my hubs wasn’t as keen on my awesome, horrific idea at 6 a.m.! If you think some of your dreams would make great fodder for fiction, consider keeping a dream journal by your bedside to collect the details as soon as you wake, because the longer you wait to write them down, the less you’ll remember. Your significant other will thank you for it, too!

Further reading about lucid dreaming techniques can be found at http://lucidity.com/

Have any of your dreams inspired your writing?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Strategies for Choosing a Critique Group

Writing in solitude is like asking the old question, "If a tree falls in the woods..."

If you're writing for publication and no one's proofing your work before you query, well...you're not helping yourself. Joining my critique group was the best thing I've ever done for my writing. Not only are my critique partners my moral support group for the r's and cheering for my successes--they also know how to shore up my shoddy habits, kick me in the butt when I'm not posting enough work, and they can spot a run-on a mile away. Having joined other critique groups that were less successful, I'm sharing the 8 best things I've learned to look for in a critique group.

Choose a group that:

1. Has members with some prior industry experience: published writers, contest winners/finalists, unpublished writers with reputable representation. If nobody in the group has more experience than you, then you won’t be able to learn much.

2. Has members who write in the same genre/subgenre as you. If you write contemporary romance, you’ll want at least one critique partner who writes contemporary romance.

3. Has members who write other genres/subgenres. If you write historical romance, for example, you can learn a lot about tightening from the series romance folks.

4. Offers the kind of critiques that would benefit you the most. For example, if your strength is grammar, you’ll probably want a group that doesn’t focus on line edits, but more on overall feedback, pacing, characterization, etc.

5. Allows you to control the number of critique partners you keep. If the group has an open door policy, you could be gaining/losing more partners than you can keep up with.

6. Requires a 1:1 critique ratio. Give a crit, get a crit.

7. Has active members. If the last chapter posted was two months ago, you shouldn’t expect much productivity on your critiques. Look for members who post regularly.

8. Provides honest feedback, not just a mutual-admiration society. The sandwich method works best for most people: a tough comment, a compliment, and then another tough comment.

Have a critique group tip to share? Please post it below.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the Darker Side

Photobucket"> How did horror become so ingrained in some romance novels? Since the topic of dark YA novels has been debated lately, I put together a partial list of influential dark & edgy fiction. These are classics, or simply well-read favorites, but they all inspire many of today’s writers of teen horror, gothic, and paranormal novels.
Authors: Stephen King, Christopher Pike, Dean Koontz, Mary Shelley, R.L. Stine, Edgar Allan Poe, Darren Shan, Anne Rice
Books/stories: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Schwartz, Beauty & the Beast, The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Dracula, Wuthering Heights, And many, many more…
For me, this list feels like a warm blanket or a blissful afternoon escape—time spent cradling a much-loved tale of doom, gloom, and fright. Also in my opinion, some horror IS romantic. Many of the authors and books above have used romance in their tales of horror. In the old classics, such as Phantom of the Opera, the heroine is the target of the dark evil antagonist and it’s her being in danger that creates tension. People loved to be afraid FOR the heroine. In today’s writing, authors usually strive to put the female in a more independent role, but the woman-in-jeopardy device often reappears, nevertheless. Or, as in Poe’s works, the romance is represented by the death of one of the main characters. For Poe, nothing was more romantic than a love that went on beyond the grave and a hero who was left to face the evil antagonist alone. What is your favorite dark tale of horror and romance?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When Educators Think YA Is Too Dark

In recent weeks, young adult literature has been under scrutiny by everyone from readers to writers, parents to media, and any customer who walks past the book section in Wal-Mart. No one can deny YA sells. Its authors have sometimes surpassed bestselling adult authors on New York Times lists. But when Wall Street Journal columnist Megan Gurdon wrote her now infamous article about how violent YA fiction has become, teens and adult fans of YA jumped to their feet in defense of the dark, edgy writing. Millions heard their battle cry, YA SAVES, as it echoed across Twitter and the news, as people spoke out about their experience with why YA literature was so important in young people’s lives.

I wonder how long the support will hold out. Last weekend I attended a session of a state librarians’ conference in which YA fiction was discussed. Many of the librarians in the audience were devoted readers of YA. They spoke favorably of beloved dystopian novels and gushed about their favorite new fantasy stories. Yet some complained that recent ALA and School Library Journal recommended YA novels had content that was inappropriate for 8-9th grade readers. Granted, this audience had many librarians who worked in the pre-Judy Blume days when Little House on the Prairie ruled the shelves, and students didn’t see a printed four-letter word until they reached senior English class. But this particular group is my state’s main defender of censorship. One of the most progressive leaders of the state’s ALA and educational factions stood before this particular session and said she thinks YA is “becoming too dark.” Now I’m left wondering: are we losing some of our best advocates of YA fiction?

As a writer, I know I want educators in my corner. I want them promoting my future books to teens, sharing their passion for my stories with youth. But have we painted ourselves into a corner with our increasingly edgy stories? At what point will teachers and librarians say, “Hey, this is too violent and realistic for our youth to read in school?” As one public librarian at the session noted, “If you’re uncomfortable putting it on the shelf in school, send the kid to the public library,” and then the student will have access. However, as an educator, I want the joy of being the one to put the book in the student’s hands, and to be able to say, “here is the key that will make you a reader for the rest of your life.” If we, as educators, buy lighter books, would our students balk at reading them, saying they’re too unrealistic? It’s a fine line. I walk it daily—in both the library and as a writer. Will the darkness in YA eventually eclipse the value of the reading?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Classics We Love to Hate

In researching for my new novel, I wanted to know what was the most boring classic book or poet anyone was forced to read in high school. A few authors came to mind...well, to be quite honest, many names came to mind. Looking back on my HS education now, I'm very pissed at myself for having been a Cliff Notes reader in those days. I'd been lucky enough to be in an advanced Lit class, but instead of reading all the assigned works, I took the easy way out. Of the few works I actually forced myself to read cover to cover, I remember Gatsby being a great yawn-fest (sorry, Ms. Creel). However, in my research I found many online fans of the work. Further along, I noticed for every classic book I recall hating, there was a large following. And the classics I actually enjoyed were often mentioned by folks who hated them. Come on, The Canterbury Tales rocked! How else are you gonna see that much sex and dirty humor in a high school class?

So, my question still lingers unanswered: What is the most boring classic book/author/poet for required reading in high school?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Getting Inked

LA, New York, Miami--doesn't matter where you live. We're seeing ink slingers on TV and seeing their designs on celebs. Some of my favorite book characters have tattoos. Lately, I'm even seeing a big trend of tattoos in the high school where I work. It seems like most people I know are getting inked, whether they're 14 or 40!

I got my first tattoo just a couple years ago for an anniversary present. My hubby got one too. Yeah, we waited many, many years to get inked. When my students ask me about that, I tell them this: I was afraid I would get something I'd someday regret. So I waited & waited until the design I wanted STAYED the design I wanted. You know what? The same design I dreamed of at age 16 was what I got after all these years!! Go figure. But my hubby would've wound up with the cover of a Guns-N-Roses album!

With the inconsistent nature of personal relationships, it takes a lot of bravery, trust, love, or maybe even recklessness! to put a person's name on your body. My tattoo had 3 words written around it & they morphed within a year, becoming unreadable. Lesson learned: get a reputable tattoo artist & DON'T get small letters.

The trend seems to be ever-increasing, so we can expect to see more tattoos on more of our book characters. Many covers are already adorned with swirling black designs. Do these covers turn you off or on to a title? If you have a favorite tattooed character, who is she/he?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Last July, I sat in a college classroom listening to my professor telling me to give up everything for a year. No more writing, book club, travel, vacations, family events, etc. This was all due to my becoming a candidate for National Board. I soon found out why. Certification for National Board Teacher is very, VERY hard! Turns out, I had to submit 2 videos (I made 7!), a written portfolio of multiple projects I made with teachers and students (thanks, everybody!), and a nasty, hard freaking test!

Meanwhile, I'm a writer, so I can't turn this stuff off. It just happens. The characters stay with me until I write their stories. So now that I've submitted all the National Board stuff, I have LOTS of new material.

Check the blog daily for announcements and contests!