Happy Halloween

Many years it rains on Halloween, here in Western PA. We parents have learned to plan costumes around the bad weather. When I was a kid, they had to be planned around snow suits, most years. But it doesn’t snow as much as it used to anymore.

My kids costumes are ready. One’s a zombie, the other is a vampire. Simple costumes this year, but that’s alright. There’s nothing wrong with the classics.Soon I’ll be fixing their makeup, and we’ll head out for trick or treating. It’s probably the last year they’ll want to go. They’re thirteen now. They might just hand out candy next year. Their turning into women, in that bitter-sweet way all children do.

No matter how old they get, though, they still watch It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. They’ll leave out candy so that The Great Pumpkin will leave them presents. We’ll watch Thriller and Rocky Horror Picture Show. We’ll watch Nightmare Before Christmas and all of the other horror movies we have time for.

Our pumpkins are out on the front porch for everyone to enjoy. They were carved with care, then the seeds were baked with salt and oil. They’d filled our house with the good, clean smell of fresh pumpkin. In a few days they’ll be in the garbage, but right now they’r eout there, grinning their wicked grin.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Using weather to set the scene in your novel

One of the first things I do in the morning, after getting up and grouching at the day, is check the weather. It’s going to have an impact on my day, from what I’m getting dressed in, to where I’m writing after work.

Do you consider what the weather’s like in your book? I imagine that it’s not something that you want to go into too much detail, of course. The weather’s fodder for boring small talk, after all. It’s nothing that anyone wants to write about unless it’s deadly.

But then, what about the fact that it’s one of the first things we check up on in the morning? If it’s so boring, why do I check that before I check the Penguins score?

Because it has an impact on my day, that’s why. And it’ll have an impact on your characters day, too. At least, it probably should.

Setting the time of the year

As the season’s change, so do our lives. In the winter, we’re celebrating warmth. We bundle up, go skiing, watch movies at home and make stews. When it’s summer, we go camping and swimming. We eat lighter foods. We garden.

Your characters lives will be different depending on what time of year it is. Are they getting ready for a Winter holiday? Are they plotting to overthrow the king while preserving vegetables in the fall? Are they falling in love while planting in early spring? All of these things help give a sense of realism to your book.

Making things harder, or easier for your characters

If your character needs to get through a mountain pass, they’re not going to get too far in the winter. If they accidentally start a fire in the city, it’s going to cause more damage during a dry summer month.

You get the idea. The weather can be a mild irritation, a huge inconvenience, or downright deadly depending on what’s happening in your book.

You can absolutely use this to your advantage, especially if things are just a little too easy for your characters right now. (Things should never be easy for your characters.) So maybe your character needs to get errands done, and they’ve now got a flat tire. Maybe it should be raining while they have to change their tire. Just to make it a little worse, and kick them when they’re down.

Mirroring, or contrasting your characters emotional state

One of my favorite lines from the second Men In Black movies is when Kay (played by the amazing Tommy Lee Jones) says to the character we’re just now realizing is his daughter, says, “It rains because you’re sad, Baby.”

That line hits me, not just because of the one moment of human emotion in it. (I mean, I could write a whole post about that. It’s the one time in three movies we see Kay. We see his emotions falling out. Maybe we even see real regret, for this child that he didn’t ever get to know. That he now has to send away for the good of a planet he’ll never get to see. Is that why he never tried to raise her? Because he knew she’d have to leave and he’d never see her again? Those movies don’t get enough credit.)

Anyway, it makes rain something more than just water falling from the clouds. It becomes symbolic of tears, both those of Laura and her mother on the day that she died. Perhaps Kay’s as well.

But in Broken Patterns, Lenore and Victor share their first kiss in the pouring rain. She’s just tried to fire him because she can’t stand that she’s falling in love with him. Instead, he begs her not to send him away, and they share their first kiss, terrified and excited. In this scene, I used the rain as a misdirection. Hopefully, upon first reading it, a reader will believe that he’s about to leave her life.

Do you have to start every new scene with a description of the weather? Of course not. But it’s one of the many tools you have at your disposal. So you should learn to use it effectively.

How I’m improving my descriptions

As a writer, I’m always learning. We need to be, as writers and artists, always learning and trying new things.

Or, in some cases, you need to go back and learn how to do something sort of basic. Like writing descriptions.

I used to be really bad at writing descriptions, both of characters and of action scenes. Quite frankly, my description of the scenes needed some work too.

For a long time, I just avoided it as much as I could. But I realized that I couldn’t do that forever, and I needed to get these descriptions down if I wanted my books to get better. So here’s what I’ve been doing to improve my descriptions.

Freewriting practice

Here’s the freewriting practice I’ve been using to help my descriptions. I find a picture on google of either a place, building or person. Then, I describe them for ten minutes.

I might also sit somewhere public, and ‘sketch’ a stranger. This is a really fun thing for me to do, actually. I feel quite artistic.

I do this over and over, until describing things is almost automatic. Until I find my mind describing things without even thinking about it. That’s where I want to be so that when I’m describing something that only exists in my mind, I’m ready.

Eye color probably doesn’t matter

When I was first writing Broken Patterns, I sent a few chapters to a review site. It was the first few with Devon, in a chapter that didn’t end up making it into the book. He and the other young noblemen were practicing archery. I described them down the line with nothing more than their hair and eye color. It was kind of like in Sailor Moon, where all of the girls have the exact same shape and facial structure, with nothing to tell them apart but their outfits and hair.

Needless to say, I was politely informed that this was a dumb way to describe someone. And I mean, really, aside from your significant other and your children, do you really know anyone’s eye color? I know some characters eye colors, but that’s only if it’s a big point. I sure as hell know that Harry Potter’s eyes are green, like his mothers. But that’s about it.

What’s more interesting are the details that a character doesn’t share with a large number of the population. Visible scars, tattoos. Things that you notice first when you look at a person.

Reading action scenes more thoroughly

I have to confess, I don’t care for action scenes. I usually skip them in books and let my mind wander during them in movies.

Gee, I wonder why I had so much trouble writing them!

Over the last year or two, I’ve made a point of seeking out books that have more descriptive fight scenes, to see how other artists do things. To get a feel for what works, and pinpoint what kinds are the reason I skip scenes like that to start with.

In doing that, I’ve started developing an ear for such things. So I can tell better what’s working when I write it, and what’s not.

Researching actual medical responses to injuries

Recently my Pinterest board should be titled, “I’m not planning a mass murder, I’m a writer!” because it’s been full of shot and stab wound info. Also, there are detailed graphs explaining what happens to a body when it falls from a high distance, what certain poisons can do to a person and how long snake venoms take to kill someone.

I don’t want to write a fight scene or death scene only to find out that it’s totally unrealistic. That defeats the whole purpose. I want to write good scenes that are honest, not pretty scenes that don’t make sense.

This is where research even if you’re writing pure fiction comes in. Unless you’re writing totally non-humanoid characters, you need to understand a little bit about what our bodies realistically go through during a crisis. You’ll be better able to describe them if you, you know, know what you’re talking about.


The longer you write something, the more often you write a certain kind of scene, the better you’re going to be at it. That’s just all there is to it. So long as I hated writing descriptions, and therefore avoided them, my descriptions didn’t get any better. When I decided that I needed to get better at them, and started putting actual effort into them, they got better. Go figure.

My descriptions have always been the weakest part of my writing. I’m thankful that I’m finally seeing some progress in it. If it’s a problem with you, I hope that these suggestions help you as well.

What do you do to improve your descriptions? Let us know in the comments below.

My advice for self editing

If you’re serious about being a professional writer, you’ve got to get good at editing your own work. I actually run my own freelance business editing, and I can promise you one thing; editing starts with the writer. Otherwise, the editor isn’t going to be able to handle the job.

In addition to that, there are always going to be documents that you don’t want to send to an editor. I sure don’t have someone else edit every short story and blog post I write. (I don’t know that an editor could keep up with me.)

Here’s what you need to know about self-editing your work.

Give yourself some time

I actually have to be very careful as I write this, to not plagiarize anyone. Literally, everyone believes that this is the best piece of advice for writing. Write your story, be it a short story or novel, then put the damn thing away.

First off, you probably need a break. Go play cards with your kids, walk your dog, take a long bath.

This allows you to gain some perspective on the document. You can see it for what it really is, not for what you meant it to be. Because maybe it’s better than you meant it to be. Maybe it isn’t. But the fact of the matter is that your document is a living thing. It may have fallen short of what you wanted it to be or gone in a whole new direction. Either way, you’ll be able to tell better if you wait.

Don’t get too attached

Yeah, I know that I just called your document a living thin, but I didn’t mean the kind of living thing that you should get attached to. There are going to be parts of your story that you love but just don’t work. There are going to be lines that are brilliant, but just don’t go anywhere.

Cut it. If something is in your document that doesn’t add to the story, cut it. Save it, tell yourself you’ll use it some other way. Then cut it.

Print it out

I write my first draft out longhand, which forces me to type the whole damn second draft. This forces me to rethink every single part of it, rewriting all of it. Then, when I’m ready to do my third draft, I’ll print that out.

There’s something about having that draft that causes magic. I can find errors that I wouldn’t be able to if I just looked on a screen.

But in the final draft, I go over it right on the screen. So every draft is looked over on a different medium, which means every draft feels fresh.

Read it out loud

Want to write good dialog? Read it out loud. Want your descriptions to not overflow or sound unrealistic? Read it out loud.

Yes, you’ll feel a little silly at first. Sorry. But writers aren’t generally considered sane to start with. So accept it. Just do what you’ve got to do.

Don’t worry about grammar until you decide you’re keeping the chapter

When you first start editing, your grammar and spelling mistakes are going to be glaring. You’re going to want to fix them.

Don’t bother. You might not even keep this chapter! That’s why you’ve got to start with major issues. You’re going to write new chapters, cut whole paragraphs, move things around. Grammar is something you need to worry about later. Just worry about the big stuff first.

In fact, I usually don’t worry about grammar until the final draft. The second draft is for the really big issues. The third draft is to hone the story and fix anything I missed in the second draft. The final draft is when I worry about fixing grammar and spelling.

You want to give your editor as clean of a copy as possible. Don’t worry, they’ll still find things you missed. But the more you find, the more likely they’ll find the more confusing and difficult parts.

Controlling Your Life, The Email Course, comes to PBW

If you’re trying to find time to write, you know it can be a nightmare. Your time’s ususally devoted to your family and your day job.

At least, that’s how I used to be. I have kids and a family, and I always put them before my writing.

That was killing me. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was thirteen. But it was constantly being put aside so that I could take care of what I thought that I should be doing.

Even when I finally did start writing again, it was a secondary thing. I still didn’t devote time to it, because I felt guilty. I was taking time away from my kids to write, ignoring them.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I finally realized that I was taking time from the wrong activities. That I spent most of my time on stuff like keeping up with the house and running errands. It wasn’t anythng meaningful, you see. I wasn’t not writing to listen to my kids tell me about their day. I was not writing so I could wash dishes and fold laundry!

I’ve learned to streamline my every day to create time to write. It’s taken time, learning and practice. It’s taken setting simple yet powerful habits in place.

I want to help you do the same thing. I want you to be able to have time in your day to write your book.

So, I’m sharing an email course to help you get control over your life, starting November 13th.

The course will help you get control over your household, your food, your obligations and your goals. It’ll come to you in five emails, from November 13th to the 22nd.

Click here to sign up.

If you’re already recieving the PBW Update, you’re already enrolled.

Brevity is the soul of horror

Brevity is the soul of wit. There’s a reason why everyone says this. It’s because it’s, duh, true. Good comedy works best when it’s brief. While some comedians do quite well with longer jokes, the best ones are always the quickest.

I poured spot remover on my dog, now he’s gone.

-Seven Wright

I often find that humor and horror have a lot in common. They both tend to have a bad reputation for catering to the lowest common denominator in our society. Critics hate them, considering them vulgar and not worth their time.

Obviously, I think anyone who looks down on an art genre as a whole is lost in their own elitism and wouldn’t know a good story if it bit them in the ass. (Sorry, is my vulgarity showing?)

But that’s not the debate I want to get into here. What I’m trying to say is that I believe that the horror genre, like the comedy genre, works best when it’s brief. Social media is flooded with these eerie little horror stories that I’ve become quite addicted to. Here’s one of my favorites.

A young girl is playing in her bedroom when she hears her mother call to her from the kitchen, so she runs downstairs to meet her mother.

As she’s running through the hallway, the door to the cupboard under the stairs opens, and a hand reaches out and pulls her in. It’s her mother. She whispers to her child, “Don’t go into the kitchen. I heard it too.”
-Not mine, but I couldn’t find anywhere who wrote it first. So here’s a link to the Creepypasta page I found it on originally. If anyone knows who wrote this, please tell me.
Here’s a link to a whole post about them from Thought Catalog. You can also read through Creepy Pasta to your heart’s content, or search #twitterhorrorstories. But the love of the brief horror story has existed for a long time before the internet. Think of the urban legend, the campfire stories. R.L Stein is the master of horror stories for kids, and not one of his books are over 100 pages.

You don’t need to build as much of the world

When you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, you’ve got to build that world up. You’ve got to create a world that feels different from the one we walk around in every day, and it needs to feel real. That requires your characters to eat things, look around at their surroundings and experience the ways their world is different than ours.

Most good horror is set in the real world. Unless you’re reading period horror, it’s set in current time. Except for some flashbacks and origin stories, at least.

There are pros and cons to setting your world too solidly in the present time. It will age and can make your book laughable later.

Or not. Stepford Wives is a classic horror, and it’s definitely a creation of its time.

The benefit of setting your horror story in real-world surroundings is simple; it makes it more believable. If I write a horror story about a man who is murdered after going to a Chinese restaurant, I bet you don’t order take out tonight. If I write about a young boy who’s possessed by a demon on his television and kills his whole family, it feels like something that might happen. Maybe not during the day in the sun, but after dark everything seems more believable.

So, since you can assume that you don’t have to really explain too much about your characters surroundings, other than to set the mood, you can save a whole lot of time.

Too much fluff will kill the mood

There’s something behind you. Can you feel it? It’s there, just past your line of vision, in that dead space your eyes can’t reach. You know, that place you can’t see unless you really turn around. And by the time you do that, the thing might have moved? That’s assuming you can even do it at all. I mean some people can’t really turn around that well.

Can you tell when that stopped being creepy? Right about the time I started way over explaining things!

You don’t need to explain as much in a horror story. In fact aside from the description of the big bad evil, I’d be as sparing on detail as possible while still making sense. For one thing, too many details will kill the mood. For another, it’s not a terrible thing for the reader of a horror story to be not fully aware of what’s going on.

Don’t forget, the scariest thing is always what we don’t know.

Suspense can only be sustained for so long

Think of it like tightening a string. You can only tighten it so long until it breaks.

This is the same for your story. It will only hold up to so much tension. You can only do so many awful things to one character. You can break them, sure. Strip them down to nothing, chase them alone through a nightmare scenario. Force them to do something horrific just to survive. Get them naked, covered in blood and guts, some of theirs and some of others.

It’s a horrific fact that you probably don’t have to do that much to your character to get them to that point.

It’s a less horrible fact that there’s only so much terror and gore one reader probably wants. There’s a fine line between terror and murder porn. It’s one that gets thicker and thicker for me as I get older. When I was a kid I loved gore. The more horrific the better. These days, I don’t have as much of a stomach for such things. Maybe it’s something about having kids, I don’t know. But I just don’t love it as much anymore, and most adults do go through that change.

Maybe it’s something about living in a world where a man can take somewhere around 26 automatic and semi-automatic guns into a hotel room and murder roughly 60 strangers in cold blood for no discernible reason. So I keep the blood flow and guts to a minimum.

As one last thought, on the genre of horror in general, let me leave you with a quote from Joss Whedon. I think it applies to all writing, but horror most.

Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough. But then, for the love of God, tell a joke.


Let’s talk about magic for a little today. Let’s sit down together, and talk about everyday magic.

I love writing about everyday magic, practical magic if you will. (I freaking love that movie.) Witches who keep potions in mason jars right along with pickled eggs. Amulets that help a modern witch keep away computer hackers built into a screen saver. I eat that shit up!

I think I do eat it up because I believe in a certain degree of magic in real life. I think all of us but the most depressingly rigid do.

There are certain things I do that make no good sense. Silly traditions and talismans, like Dumbo’s magic feather, that I depend on if I’m tired or stressed out. I don’t think there’s anything really to these things. Of course, I say that as I sit here on my couch, relatively comfortable. Ask me about any of these things when I’m tired, hungry or trying to avoid a depression spiral,

My lucky stone

I have this chunk of amethyst that I carry with me all the time. Amethysts are supposed to do all kinds of great things for you, like cleaning your crown chakra, increasing your creativity and help keep you calm.

I know that there are people who actually believe all of that. I believe that everything has the power I chose to give it. So if I have this amethyst and I’m stressed out, and I believe that this amethyst is going to help me calm down, then it does.

Really, though, it’s just that I’m choosing to focus on the stone instead of whatever duchbag just cut in front of us without his damn turn signal on!

The magic in meditation

Before you start in on me, I’m the first person to tell you that there are hundreds of good, logical, scientifically backed up reasons why meditation is really good for you.

But I don’t think that I really have to sit in strict Padmasana with my hands in Gyan Mudra for meditation to be effective. It’s part of the experience, part of the tradition. That’s it. Once again, it’s the power I give to the actions.

Freewriting/automatic writing

Here’s my personal favorite form of magic. Have you ever heard of automatic writing? It’s the theory that some mediums can write words that aren’t their own. Either the words of the dead or of the spirits.

I don’t believe this is a real thing. I don’t mean to offend anyone who does. I honestly why people think this because I’ve experienced free writing when I’m in a real groove.

I’ve written realizations that I’d been searching for. I wrote out story ideas that never touched the forefront of my brain on the way from the subconscious to the pen. I don’t know if it’s just that I put away my inner critic, or if I really always knew the answer. Maybe God sees me putting in the time and decides to reward me. I don’t know. I know that free writing works like magic.

The power of rituals and habit

I really enjoy coffee, but caffeine doesn’t really have that much effect on me. I’ll swear to you that I can’t start my day without a cup. I have happily had a cup of decaf and had no issues being awake.

Think about the rituals we’ve set up around going to bed and getting up in the morning. We’ve trained ourselves that these things mean sleep. The washing of the face, the dimming of the lights. The white noise or lack of any noise.

What about the rituals we use when we write? The same pen, the same place, the same drink or snack. Even the same music. All of these things can shut us into the worlds that we’ve created. This is a powerful ritual to me.

What powerful rituals or talismans do you have in your life? Tell us about them in the comment section below.

What scares people

I mentioned last week that I didn’t know how to write a horror novel. I’ll try, eventually. I love horror too much to never try.

But I’ll tell you what I do know. I know what scares people. Years of reading and watching, endlessly devouring the horror genre have taught me what works and what doesn’t.

It’s not blood and gore. It’s not the monster lurking in the dark. It’s not spiders, deep caverns, escalators or under-cooked chicken. (All fears of mine.) This is what people really fear. And if you can stay away from the knife carrying psychopath and steer toward more psychological horror, you’ll write a pretty good horror story.

The unknown

My husband doesn’t watch horror movies much. But I talked him into watching one. I’m not going to tell you the name because I’m about to trash it hardcore.

It’s about these women who go spelunking in a cavern. This is a scary as hell premise for me, I’m super claustrophobic. Then, something starts killing the women off one by one. What is it? It’s gruesome and jumpy. It does everything I want a horror movie to do. I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what was killing them.

Finally, we saw the monster! And I started laughing. It was floppy, pale, not scary at all.

To be fair, though, I don’t know what would have lived up to my expectations. Not knowing what happens, what was killing these women, was scary as hell.

Stephen King feels the same way, by the way. If you’ve ever read Dance Macabre, he clearly said that you should wait as long as possible to show the monster. Because we’re all scared of what we don’t know.

The ‘bad death’

This is another lesson I learned from Mr. King. No one’s scared of dying peacefully in bed, with your husband of fifty years sleeping next to you. We don’t fear the heart attack that makes it quick, right after a BBQ celebrating your 87th Fourth of July.

We fear the car accident that grinds the victim’s body up before they die. We fear the house catching on fire, burning the homeowner alive. We fear a death full of pain and fear.

Losing the ones we love the most

I don’t fear dying. I fear my husband dying. I fear my mother dying. I fear my children dying most of all.

Many of us see death itself as the end of a journey. Some of us, like myself, believe that there’s a reward for a life well lived waiting for us. So our own death isn’t as frightening as living on after the death of our loved ones. I fear the day that I have to continue on after I bury my husband. I can’t imagine what I would do if I lose one of my kids. That’s what scares me.

Innocent deaths

It’s not just the deaths of our own children that we fear. We don’t like to see the innocent die. I think that’s why it’s so common for guilty people to suffer and die in horror movies. We want to think that the good will be rewarded and the evil will be punished. Because we generally feel that we’re in the right, that we are innocent, it makes us feel far more vulnerable to see another innocent person suffer.

This one makes my skin crawl. But it’s realistic. Terrible things don’t just happen to the sinful. Terrible things happen to everybody. Even the innocent. Even children. And that scares the hell out of people.

Being helpless

This, I think is the fear that’s at the core of our soul. We fear having control of our lives taken away from us. We fear being unable to control our own lives. We fear not being able to protect ourselves. We fear that no matter how good we are, how hard we try, how much we work, we’re going to fail. We’re going to suffer. We’re going to lose.

It’s not true, really. There are a lot of things that we do have control over. But if you’re writing a horror book, you should make your character as helpless as possible. It works better when you have a competent character who should succeed with no problem who finds themselves failing anyway.

So what do you think? What really scares you?

Cliches in horror that need a stake through the heart.

Who’s doing some serious horror movie watching this year? We are in my house. I can’t even list all of the movies we’re watching. We love them.

Well, we love them for the most part. There are a lot of things that I don’t love about the horror genre. Actually, let me be clear. There are a lot of things that I loved just fine the first two or three times I saw them. Now that we’re on about the nineteenth time, they’re played out.

I write horror, and I know I’ve fallen into these pits myself. There are so many horror stories, and so few plots. I’m endeavoring to write better, more unique horror stories. I hope you can avoid them, too.

Overdone characters

The screaming dead blond. It was quite unique when the master Hitchcock slaughtered Janet Leich in the first twenty minutes of Psycho. By the time Scream came around, Drew Barrymore’s death was no shocker. Also not surprising, the scrappy brunette character who manages to use her wits to win is done and dead. As a brunette I love it, but it’s still done!

Let’s have some real people in horror books. I know it sucks, because we’re just going to kill them. Probably brutally. But an honest character is always a better choice.

I’ll be right back, Is someone there? And other stupid character traits.

It used to be that horror movies relied on a strict set of morality clauses. We can see that in the three rules of surviving a horror movie from Scream.

Don’t have sex

Don’t drink or do drugs

Don’t say ‘I’ll be right back’.

Bad people almost always died, while the good people generally survived. Recently, there’s been a growing trend of characters acting stupid. Walking into the dark yelling, “Is someone there?” Wandering around in the woods in bathing suits. Locking themselves into creepy ass houses that are probably haunted. Or at least structurally unsound and dangerous. Just saying, a demonic spirit is one thing, but falling through a floor and landing in a basement is no joke.

Can’t we see smart people? Genre savvy characters, who die anyway?

Think about it, that’s so much scarier! No one’s freaked out by some dumb blond running into a freak with a chainsaw. We all think that we’d never be that person, and we’re probably right. But what about a smart person. Someone who snaps some pics with their smart phones, locks the damn door, keeps with the group, and keeps a firearm nearby. How much shorter would some of these slasher movies be if the main characters were packing?

This is why I loved the first Nightmare of Elm Street movie. There was no escaping Freddy! He haunts the dreams of the children who killed him. Even better, they were right to kill him, he was a child murderer. These people were in the right, morally speaking, and their children still suffered. (By the way, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is my favorite horror movie. The actors, including Robert Englund, being haunted by Freddy? Wes Craven’s my hero.)

The dark creature in the creepy house, creepy forest, creepy dark place. Did I mention it was creepy?

Let me tell you about my favorite haunted house book. It’s called The House Next Door, by Anne Rivers Siddons. It’s about a couple who lives next to a brand new house, beautifully built. No one’s died there, it’s not born on cursed land. It’s just evil. It just wants to destroy people who live there, physically and emotionally. It’s a dark, horrifying story.

It’s not set in a place where the floor creeks. No mass murders have happened here. There’s not blood on the wall. There’s no rotting bodies under the floorboards. Sometimes horrible things just happen, and that’s so much scarier.

Anyone can write a good horror story in a haunted woods, creepy supper camp or terrifying train. Write a story that terrifies people set in a brightly lit shopping mall on a random sunny Saturday. Write a story that makes people afraid to finish the book that takes place in a prep-school. A well taken care of prep school.

Predictable beginnings, middles and endings

Let me outline the vast majority of horror movies and books.

A terrible origin story, either how the monster was born or how the place became haunted. Lots of blood, lots of screaming. Lots of gore.

Now we meet our MC. Poor smuck, down on her luck. High school student, broke gal or guy. Someone who’s life is kind of shitty.

Let’s throw them in with a group of people who are all kind of bad. Drug addicts, wrecks. Maybe one or two who are actually responsible for the whole nightmare to come.

Now we’ll see people drop off, one by one. In increasingly gruesome ways. Until we are left with just one or two people who rely highly on Deus Ex Machina to survive. Suddenly their shitty life doesn’t sound so bad.

But the creature isn’t really dead, bwahahahaha!

Can we shake this up a little? Really, do literally anything else!

Look, I don’t know how to write a successful horror novel. I write short horror stories that I feel are pretty creepy. Even the king, Stephen King, doesn’t know how to write endings until he gets to them. So I can’t tell you how to write a great horror novel.

But I can tell you that if you want to write a bland, overcooked novel, with all of the flavor and pleasure of an overcooked steak, then write a novel just like all of the other horror stories.

Second hand stores, a personal essay

I don’t feel like I do enough personal essays here. So here’s one that I’ve been thinking about for awhile. It came up in a free writing session, my love for thrift shops. My memories of them, from my childhood into my adulthood.

This might seem really weird to some people. Maybe the thought of wearing someone else’s clothes grosses you out. Maybe you think there’s nothing there but old outdated clothes with other people’s sweat stains in the armpits.

Maybe you grew up with expendable income. Good for you.

I grew up broke. Hell, let’s be fair, I’m still broke. We’ve got four people, a dog, a cat, one income, and I’m a self-published author. Sometimes, in order to have money to print my books, I have to get some jeans second hand. When I was growing up with a single mom who was a waitress, it was a similar issue.

But it’s really hard to feel like I was ever deprived. I always had nice things, quality things. I had Areopostal hoodies, Abercombie t-shirts. Even to this day, I get some awesome name brand stuff. My first pair of Clark shoes were from a second-hand store. They were $2.50. I also found a Thirty-One bag once. So, you know, maybe give the second-hand stores a little more credit.

Getting things at the second-hand store, you have to remember that this item lived a whole life with someone else. Sometimes, people leave reminders behind. Especially in books. I’ve found bookmarks, old shopping lists, coins, sticks of gum. For some odd reason, I also find that people like to hide things inside of yarn balls. I’ve found ashtrays, figurines, rubber balls. I have no idea why people make yarn balls around these things, but it makes things interesting.

I often find just what I need at second-hand stores. I mean, it’s kind of eerie. When I’ve needed clothes for my ever growing daughters, I never come away disappointed. When I needed good work shoes, I’ve found them. When I needed a coffee pot after my old one broke and I couldn’t afford to buy a new one, there was one left there for me. I even found the exact Thirty-One bag I’d been drooling over, for way cheaper than brand new. I can’t think that’s a coincidence. I absolutely believe that God stocks thrift shops.

I’m not the only one who’s had this experience! My best friend once found the exact decorative plate her grandmother used to have and was horribly lost in a move.

The best thing that ever happened in a second-hand store actually involved said best friend. We were hanging out just a few days after I was fired from my old day job. I was depressed as hell, and she was trying to cheer me up. I’d gotten my severance pay, and I was just hoping to find some nice Christmas gifts for my girls.

What we found was a copy of Elements of Style by EB White and William Strunk. I wasn’t going to buy it. I didn’t know when the next time I was going to have any income.

“I’ll buy it for you,” my friend said. She wasn’t in a much better situation. She was a college student with a little one, living entirely on grants.

Then, the lady who owned the store refused to take any money for it. Apparently, it had been there too long for her liking. Or maybe she’d just overheard us talking about what that book meant to me. One way or another, I took it as a sign from God that I was on the right path.

See, I knew I could bring this back around to writing.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever found at a second-hand store?

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