Thank you for being a friend, PBW turns eight

Long-time readers probably knew this was coming. Today is the eighth anniversary of my writing weekly posts for this little corner of the internet we call Paper Beats World.

I just read through the last six anniversary posts, and I don’t want this post to be just another thank you and I don’t know how the hell we got here post. 

I mean, thank you for sure. While I would keep writing stories no matter the response, I for sure wouldn’t be posting here every week unless someone was out there consuming it. Every time you read my work and like it, it feels like a virtual hug. 

At this point, it seems pretty clear that I’m going to keep showing up here. So let’s not waste any time today talking about how amazing it is that my Gemini brain didn’t get bored yet. I’m here to stay. So let’s talk about something worth our time.

How have you leveled up in the past year? 

Remember last year, when I challenged all of us to level up together? Well, here’s how I did. 

I went to Nebula Con, and have been participating in weekly writing dates with other con attendees. 

I’ve published another book, maybe my favorite so far. It was also my first horror novel, which means I finally made the Speculative Fiction hat trick. 

I’ve been focusing on writing better. I’m doing more writing exercises and working on upping the literary merit of my work.

I was included in a wonderfully creepy podcast

I published a review of every single episode of American Horror Story on Haunted MTL. It was a massive project that was incredibly important to me.

I co-hosted a new podcast

I’ve tried my best to write posts that would help you level up your writing. I hope it’s helped.

And I’m not done leveling up. Over the next year, I’ve got big plans. I’m working to find an agent, of course. And I’m trying to join SFWA. While I’m doing that, I’m going to be bringing some self-published to you.

Here’s what you can expect from me between now and the next PBW anniversary.

1. Season two of AA is on its way. In case you haven’t heard season one yet, it’s available here

2. The very last Station 86 book will be coming out within the next twelve months. Don’t know when yet, but it’s coming. (You can get the first book for free on Smashwords right now.) 

3. The good news for Station 86 fans doesn’t stop there. I’m currently working to convert the books into audiobooks and relaunch the whole series.

There will be other goodies coming your way. Short stories exclusive to PBW. New content to make you a better writer or just live a better life. Reviews of speculative fiction content. Next month, of course, we’re going to be celebrating Banned Books Week. 

Writing for this blog continues to be one of the most uplifting projects in my week. Thank you for being a friend, and showing up with me every week.

I’ll keep showing up as long as you do. 

Why This Is How You Lose The Time War Works

This book might as well have been titled This is How You Win All The Awards. In 2020, This Is How You Lose The Time War won the Hugo and Nebula award for best novella. I finished it in one day, laying in bed crying.

Needless to say, everyone should read this book. And every writer can learn something from it. 

Just in case you haven’t read it, the book is set up as letters between time travelers, on opposite sides of a war. Red and Blue are manipulating the future so that their side will have an advantage. Their letters to each other are at first mocking, then playful. Then, they become love letters scrawled out over trees and mountains. 

This is a story that took chances. I don’t read a lot of books that are just letters back and forth. This is an example of two authors (Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone) knowing their craft well enough to do something like this. To write a whole novella in letter form, you have to understand what you’re doing. You don’t have dialog. You don’t have a third-party description. You have a limited point of view. With all of these restrictions, you’ve got to know how to use what you’ve got left. (This is something I’m learning as I write the second season of my audio drama, AA.)

This book is also an example of trusting the story enough to tell it the way it needed to be told. Not every story could be told in a letter format. Not every story could be told in a journal format, like so many of my favorite books from childhood. 

But some stories can. Some stories won’t work any other way.

Don’t be afraid of writing your story the way the story wants to be written. Be it a series of letters, or even tweets. If you have a story that isn’t working, this might be a great way to fix it.

Another thing that was striking about this book was its literary flow. The words are beautiful, they flow like a poem. And that’s something I wish more speculative fiction authors would embrace.

There’s still a disconnect between genre writers and literary writers. While one focuses on pure storytelling, the other wants the writing itself to be pleasurable. Both of those things can work together, but you’ve got to put the work in to make it happen. 

Now, a warning. The story should always come first. I’ve read some truly bad writing because of a damn good story. I’ve yet to sit through a boring story because the paragraphs were just so beautiful. 

Finally, This Is How You Lose The Time War was an achievement in co-writing. Each of the authors wrote for one of the characters. This worked wonderfully because it allowed both authors to bring their own voices and style to the story. In an episode of Writing Excuses, Amal El-Mohtar talked about writing in a gazebo with Gladstone, sending chapters back and forth to each other. This sounds like a blast. This is probably part of why the book was so fun to read. 

This could only be done because each writer trusted the other. They respected each other enough to follow along where the other one lead. Clearly, it worked out very well for them. 

To wrap things up, here is what you can learn from This is How You Lose The Time War. 

– Trust your craft enough to try something different.

-Trust your story to tell you what format it needs to be told in.

-Don’t be afraid of literary writing, even in speculative fiction.

-When you’re working with others, let both of your styles and voices shine. 

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Why The Travelling Cat Chronicles Works

Spoiler warning! I’m going to ruin the ending of this book for you. Proceed with caution.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is not a speculative fiction novel. (By the way, that is the correct spelling of the title. It’s the UK version of travelling. My spellcheck is not happy with me right now.)

It is from the point of view of a cat. But it’s not a magical cat. It’s just a regular cat, traveling around Japan with his regular person. 

As someone who usually reads only speculative fiction, with the occasional dive into historical fiction, this was a step out of the norm. 

And I’m honestly glad I did. It was a great story. By the end of the book, I was crying on a public bus. Just, you know, as a warning.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles cover

As writers, we should never restrict ourselves to reading our genre. We should read as widely as we can. If a book catches your attention, read it. There’s always something we can learn from a story, no matter the genre.

One of the things that kept me turning the pages was the vivid descriptions of Japan. This is a country I’ve long been fascinated with. I loved hearing about Nana, the cat, and Satoru, his person, exploring the country. I was fascinated by the stories of Satoru’s childhood, his school tales, and descriptions of trips with friends. They had such rich detail. I loved every single second of it.

If your work takes place in a fantasy world, then it’s easy to talk up the details. But if you’ve got a story set somewhere real, it can seem less important. But it’s still just as crucial. Your hometown is probably boring to you because you see it all the time. But for someone who’s never visited, it’s fascinating. 

It didn’t take me long to realize that this story wasn’t going to have a happy ending. I’m willing to bet you can guess what happens. I guessed around page four. 

But that didn’t stop me from bursting out into tears when it was happening. Because by that time, I was connected to the characters. There’s only so much you can brace yourself. 

Your ending doesn’t have to be a shock for a reader to enjoy it. Yes, there should be questions. Yes, it’s better if someone can’t guess the ending by reading the blurb, which I’ve done on multiple occasions. But the main ending doesn’t have to be a huge surprise. 

I knew pretty soon that Satoru was going to die. (I did warn you that I was going to spoil the ending.) But I didn’t know what would become of Nana. And I desperately needed to know.

That I won’t ruin for you, by the way. Trust me, the book is worth reading to find out. 

I will tell you that the book has a happy ending. It wasn’t all syrup and perfection. It was great, though. Satoru doesn’t live, but he does touch the lives of the people he cares about for the better. He leaves the world a brighter place. And that’s a realistic happy ending. And a fully satisfying one at that. 

Some other good examples of this can be found in Pixar movies. This has been pointed out before, and by lots of fans. The toys in Toy Story go to a new home, so they’re not with Andy anymore but they’re still happy. Sully from Monster’s Inc doesn’t get to keep Bo, but he can visit her. There are lots of ways to have a happy ending. I love that we have so many that go beyond our expectations. 

To wrap it up, here’s what you can learn from the Travelling Cat Chronicles. 

  • Read outside of your genre. Read anything that sparks the slightest bit of interest.
  • The description of your story’s location can and should be a selling point. 
  • Your ending doesn’t have to be a shock to be satisfying.
  • You don’t have to have a traditional happy ending for it to be a happy ending.

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Announcing a new podcast starting tomorrow!

I have a surprise for all of you today. 2022 has been a bit of a slow year for me, publishing wise. I mean, I did launch an awesome horror novel, but that’s been about it. 

Until tomorrow, that is, when a new podcast launches on Haunted MTL. 

It’s called Bite Sized Horror, and it’s the newest Haunted MTL podcast to join the family. And it’s the first to be for younger listeners. 

Here’s what you can expect from Bite Sized Horror. You’ll get three short stories read by myself and my co-host, a rather hard to handle little one (little what I don’t know) named Mick. Some are written by me, some by Mick, and some by listeners. You’ll also hear about a scary book that is perfect for younger horror fans. 

Some of the books we’re covering this season include Coraline, Ms. Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, and The Witches. 

I had so much fun with this podcast. And if you have a little horror fan, I know you’ll love it. Check it out tomorrow, when the first episode premieres. 

(By the way, I have two other podcasts on Haunted MTL. One is Off The Bone, a true crime podcast. The second is my science fiction/horror audio drama, AA.)

Why Practical Magic Works

As a witch, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman is required reading. I’ve of course seen the movie countless times. But I only recently cracked into the novel.

It was a far different journey than the one I was expecting. I’m not the only person to mention this, but the movie is far different than the book. Normally when this happens, one or the other is more enjoyable. Most of the time, like with the Giver or Hunger Games, the book is better. On rare occasions, like with Forrest Gump, the movie is better. But in the case of Practical Magic, both are great. Just in very, very different ways.

First, let’s discuss what the two have in common. Both are about two women, sisters named Sally and Gillian Owens. After their parents die, they’re raised by their aunts. Gillian, the wild child, runs off as soon as she’s old enough. Sally finds a good man, has two baby girls and is widowed when the girls are still little. Then Gillian brings back trouble, in the form of an abusive boyfriend she accidentally poisoned. When a detective named Hallet arrives, Sally and Gillian try to hide their homicide. But soon Sally finds herself falling in love with him.

The movie, on the off chance you’re one of three women in the world who hasn’t seen it, is a feel-good film about sisterhood. The townswomen have hated the Owens family for generations. But in their time of need, they come together. 

The book isn’t that sort. Sally Owens, after being ostracized her entire life, decides to leave. This is after her husband died, and she spent a year in a depressive fog. 

The book is a bit more episodic. Yes, Gillian does bring her troubles and her abusive boyfriend to her big sister for help. But then the two bury him in the backyard and go about their lives.

Their lives revolve largely around raising Sally’s daughters. 

And this is where the book shines.

Sally and Gillian fight over how to live their lives and, by an extent, how to raise the children. Gillian undermines Sally’s parenting, and Sally in return blows up at her.

The girls bicker like teenagers, fall in love with boys, and are threatened by drunks. It all feels real. It all feels like the lives of girls all over the world right now.

The same can be said for Sally and Gillian. They’re both struggling with the fact that, despite The Aunt’s best intentions, they never felt wanted. Sally handled that by growing up to fast. Gillian handled it by not growing up at all. 

In the end, though, The Aunts prove that they love the sisters more than they ever realized. They come to their aid, after years of neglect by both girls, might I add. 

I know I keep saying this, but it all feels so real. And through it all, we see notes of magic that feel attainable. It feels, in short, practical. 

In short, here’s why Practical Magic works.

It’s honest. That’s it. The book talks honestly about depression. It talks honestly about a woman’s relationship with her parents, her sister, and her daughters. It talks honestly about romantic relationships, both good and bad. It talks about loss, and it doesn’t sugarcoat a damn thing. Sometimes Sally and Gillian are just fucking mean to each other. Sometimes they do stupid things. Sometimes Sally isn’t a good mother. Sometimes the girls are also fucking mean to each other. And I love that none of them are right all the time, none of them are wrong all the time. They are, only and entirely, family.

I loved this book, and I’ll be reading it again soon. I hope that if you haven’t read Practical Magic, you do soon. Because it works. 

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Here to go, writing characters you plan to kill

Note: I’m going to be going into one big spoiler for the latest season of Stranger Things in this post. If you haven’t seen it yet and you plan to, maybe click away and read this later.

This title is inspired by an issue of Transmetropolitan. In it, the main character was talking about a boy his assistant was dating. He said the boy wasn’t planning to stick around. He was here to go.

There are times when writing that we’ve got to kill someone. Not for real, hopefully, but on the page. Maybe this doesn’t have to happen in all books, but it happens in all my books. 

In speculative fiction, not everyone’s getting out alive. 

In some cases, you might want to write a character that you know you’re going to kill off. Maybe to bring the team together, like in Avengers. Maybe to clear the way to a throne, like in Tamora Pierce’s Tricker’s Queen. Maybe just to make sure that the battle costs something, like in the latest season of Stranger Things. 

Joseph Quinn in Stranger Things.

Knowing that you’re writing someone that isn’t going to make it to the last page is kind of a bummer. So if you’re going to do it, wring everything out of that death that you can. 

What a here-to-go character isn’t

When I talk about a here-to-go character, I’m not talking about people like Snape. These are not characters who have been a part of the main cast and die in the last book. We expect to lose some of the main cast at the end of a series. I’m talking more about characters like Eddie or Bob.

I’m also not talking about red shirts. A red shirt is a nameless extra character, usually, one who goes along with some of our beloved main characters on a dangerous mission. They might also be considered cannon fodder for a writer. Someone’s gotta die when we’re facing a rock demon, and it’s not gonna be this MC that I spent three months writing journal entries for to get into their head. 

What we’re looking for is something in between. Someone who has a name, a background. This should be a fully fleshed-out character. You want your readers to have an attachment to this person. You want them to feel like this person has been around since the start, even though they haven’t. 

You want this character to fit right into the group. You want them to feel like they could be an addition to the long-lasting cast. 

There are several ways to do this, depending on what sort of story you’re writing. In our example, Stranger Things, they involved Eddie in the main cast’s favorite pastime, D&D. Bob was a friend of Joyce’s in school. They fit right in. 

Have two (or more) characters in this role

In season three of Stranger Things, two characters felt like here-to-go characters. There was Bob, who did eventually go. But there was also Robin. And Robin could have gone as well. She was new, but we were able to form an attachment to her right away. 

Sean Aston and Winona Ryder in Stranger Things.

By having two new characters, one to stay and one to go, your audience isn’t sure which is which. And that builds up the tension. 

It’s never a good idea for your audience to know who’s going to die. If you’re writing speculative fiction, they have to assume someone’s going to die. But they shouldn’t be able to tell who. 

If we don’t care that this character died, he might as well not have been there.

This is probably the most painful part. When you write a here-to-go character, you have to write them with as much care as you would the main character. Remember, you want to write every character as though they’re the MC of their own story.

You want your audience to care about the characters. I liked Eddie. I liked Bob. They were good friends. They were brave. They were funny. 

Their lives and deaths changed our main cast. And that’s the point of these here-to-go characters. They aren’t here for a long time, but they’re here for an influential time.

Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. 

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You don’t have to do Nanowrimo in November

Camp Nano is more than halfway done, and this is the first post I’m doing about it. What is this, who even am I?

So I was talking with some fellow writers during a writing date a few weeks ago. I, all bright eyes and ready for some writer bonding, asked if anyone else was doing Camp Nano.

The response I got, almost universally, is that more people would like to do Nanowrimo if it wasn’t in November.

Which is understandable. For those of us in the states, November is the start of the holiday season. Decorating, baking, traveling, shopping, and family time quickly eat up your month. If you’re a student, this might be the end of your semester, which means finals. Finals, I understand, eat up your month and your mental stability.

July holds many of the same obstacles. It’s peak vacation time. Kids are out of school. There’s not a ton of time free if you’re a parent. 

Then, of course, there’s always the change life’s just going to hit you in the teeth. House fires, divorces, job losses, health issues. Any of these and lots more I didn’t mention might come up. Or, you know, something good might happen like a big move or a marriage or a baby. Life is going to keep right on life-ing around you, and it doesn’t give a damn about your plans to write 50,000 words in a month.

It also doesn’t give a damn if you have a blog post to write. Case in point, this post should have been up at six this morning. Best laid plans and all. 

Some people say that this is kind of the point of Nanowrimo. If you can write a novel during November, with all the festivities and finals, then you can do it anytime.

But maybe you don’t need to amp the difficulty level up to eleven. 

Then I have good news for you. You can do Nanowrimo any month of the year. 

I’ll grant that doing Nanowrimo outside of November does lack the cool winner prizes. But I’ve honestly never heard of a writer doing Nanowrimo for the half-off Dabble subscription. (Not bashing Dabble. It’s my preferred writer software.)

So let’s set that aside. 

To do Nanowrimo yourself, consider what it is about the contest that appeals to you. Make a list of all the reasons you’d like to do Nanowrimo. 

There’s the writing community. The challenge of getting in 50,000 words in a single month. The video game-like joy of watching your word count go up on a scoreboard. 

Whatever it is, consider how you can replicate it. If you love getting together with your writing peers, get together! Post your daily word counts and cheer each other on. If it’s that sweet chart that shows you how much you’ve written in a month, I have wonderful news for you. The Nanowrimo website is always there, and you can set up a monthly word count goal anytime you want. 

And if you ever need a cheerleader, hit me up on Twitter or Instagram. I’m always happy to be in your writing corner. 

There are so many barriers to writing a novel. What month it is shouldn’t be one of them. Take your life into your own hands, and do Nanowrimo whenever is best for you.

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Nine things I’ve learned from nine years as a professional writer

Some of you who’ve been around a long time know that July 20th is an important day for me. It’s the anniversary of the day I came up with the idea of Woven

Nine years, ten books, and two podcasts later, I’m still here. Still going strong. And it’s honestly kind of baffling.

I’ve gone into detail before about how this book saved my life. How the universe came together to bring me to the place of being a writer. So I’m not going to get super mushy today. At least not on here. In real life, I’m sobbing. Because I can’t believe I’ve been a professional writer for nine whole years.

Honestly, I am not the same person I was nine years ago. I hope you’re not the same because that would be kind of sad.

I wanted to do a bonus post today, sharing nine things I’ve learned in the last nine years. Then, I realized that I wrote an advice post a few weeks ago when Quiet Apocalypse came out. 

Then, I realized that all of the advice in that post was about being a writer. It’s not craft advice. And after all, it’s all about the craft. I didn’t offer bread to the birds in Diamond Park and pray to be good at marketing. I prayed to be a writer.

So today here are the nine most important pieces of writing advice I’ve learned in the last nine years.

Use cheap notebooks

Listen to me on this one. I love beautiful notebooks, expensive notebooks. I bought two Archer and Olive notebooks for my 2022 bullet journals, and those puppies ain’t cheap. I just bought a real leather-covered book for my Book of Shadows, and clearly, that was some money. But when I’m doing freewriting or rough drafts, I use cheap college-ruled notebooks as one would use in school.

The first reason is that I fill a freewriting notebook every two months and my rough drafts usually encompass up to five notebooks, and that would be money. But the more important reason for this is that it allows me to write shit. 

And you’ve got to have the freedom to write shit. Especially when you’re working on your rough draft. You’ve got to sit down, look at the page, and say, “I’m going to fill you. And because my only goal today is to fill you, most of what I fill you with is going to be pure, unfiltered garbage.”

That is not happening in a twenty-dollar notebook. That book will stand up and walk off your desk.

If you’re worried you went too far, write it anyway

I have written some things that frankly, scared me. I’ve written about gruesome murders, rapes, and tortures. I’ve written about people doing things that horrify me. I’ve killed characters who didn’t deserve to die. I even wrote about a dog being ripped apart.

It was fucking hard to do that. But I didn’t do it for shock value. I did it because it fit in the story. Because while I was writing, I felt like this is what needed to happen. And those scenes, hard as they are to write or even really think about, make for a richer story. And yes, it might upset some people. But that’s the next thing we’re going to talk about. 

Don’t worry that you’re going to piss people off

I’m in the process of writing a nonfiction book that’s going to piss people off. I talk about politics a lot on this website, and sometimes people don’t like that. Sometimes when things happen to me, I write about them in fictional settings. Some of those things are messed up, and I’m going to write about them anyway. 

And I’ll never, ever apologize.

My stories are mine. Your stories are yours. If you want to write about your life, write about it. You don’t need permission to talk about anything that happens to you. 

Writing exercises are crucial

I do writing exercises every day. Some days I’m bored by it. Some days I write some of the best shit I have ever written. Every day I come to the page. Because you can’t do something every day and not get good at it. 

It also helps with writer’s block. If you’re just used to doing writing exercises every day, the blank page just doesn’t hold a lot of fear for you. 

90 percent of writing books are bullshit

I love every single book Natalie Goldberg has ever written. I have worn out multiple copies of Stephen King’s On Writing. And I have a copy of Elements of Style that came to me in such a serendipitous way that God sent it to me.

I have never read any other writing book that was worth my time. If you have any book recommendations for me, leave them in the comments. But most of them are shit. Sorry. 

This isn’t to say that a good writing book isn’t worth twice its weight in gold. Good writing books are worth wading through bad writing books to find them. Just don’t feel like you’ve got to take everything in one of those books as gospel. 

Be honest while telling lies

I write about dragons, ghosts, and spaceships. That’s my catchphrase. I don’t write about things that happened.

But I also do.

I write about people dying at political rallies.

I write about postpartum depression.

I write about real things I’m really afraid of or things that have happened in the guise of fiction.

And it’s not always on purpose. My husband is an actor in AA, and he’s frequently found my work familiar in ways that I didn’t even realize. “Oh, this character is like our asshole landlady. Oh, I remember when this happened to you. I know the horrific political thing you’re referencing here.”

And half the time I hadn’t realized that’s what I was writing about until he pointed it out. 

Do you have to make your fiction a political statement? No, of course not. But the truth will come out of your fiction if you care about anything at all.

Make friends with other writers

My writing life blossomed when I started making other writer friends. Yes, it’s great to have someone to network with. Yes, it’s great to have people to swap beta reads with. But the best thing about having writing friends is having someone who speaks your language. The best thing is finding your tribe. 

Finding people who get the weird shit we do. Who understands why we can agonize over one word for days and then write 4,000 words in an hour. Who gets what it feels like to launch a book to lukewarm applause, and how awful/awesome that is. Because yes, no one seemed to care, but it’s also the best thing you’ve ever done.

It’s great to have people who can hold you accountable, with who you can pitch ideas, and who you can cry over rejection letters.

Find your writing tribe. 

You can learn from literally everybody

I have become a better writer by listening to advice from other artists. Not just writers. Poets, visual artists, photographers, and stand-up comedians. Everyone who creates has something to teach us.

Actually, everyone has someone to teach us. I heard the best advice from the CEO of Hooters in a podcast once.

Read autobiographies from creative people. Watch interviews, and listen to podcasts. Learn from creative people, writers or not.

Write for you first

Finally, this is something I learned from Quiet Apocalypse. I’ve mentioned this before, but this book is the most selfish book I’ve ever written.

I love haunted house books, so I wanted to write one. I am a witch, so I wanted to write a main character who’s a witch. I love demonic stories, so I wrote about demons. I wrote the story that I wanted to read. And it is my favorite book I’ve ever written. 

I think other people would agree. But even if no one else read it, I still had a blast writing it. Hell, I might sit down and read it myself someday. 

I would love to know if you’re a long-time fan who read and loved Woven. I’d love to know which one of my books you’ve read or want to read. Let me know in the comments so I can cry out of gratitude.

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you found something of value in this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.

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Writing a Gothic for your hometown

I am in love with a good, dark gothic story. The kind of story that’s as much about the setting as the serial killer. 

You might think of a Southern Gothic, with massive plantations, kudzu and overt racism all crisping in the unending heat. Or maybe a Midwestern Gothic, with cornfields big enough to swallow you whole, scarecrows that move around and have a taste for flesh, and snowstorms that are out for blood. Or Mexican Gothic, which is one of my favorite horror novels in the last few years and encompassed the feel of an eerie small town perfectly.

It’s easy to think that to write a Gothic you’ve got to write them about one of these twisted places. But I have bad news. Unless you live in one of these places, your Gothic is going to lack the soul that a native writer can bring to it.

But fear not! Whether you live in a small town in the south or smack in the middle of LA, you can write a gothic story about where you live. And we’re going to talk about how today, with the help of three questions.

Where are your town’s shadows?

When you’re a kid, the world seems scary in a different way. There are parts of our town we don’t want to go to. Stores that don’t pass our vibe check. Houses we don’t ride our bikes in front of. 

No one knows those stories better than someone who lived them. I can tell you about standing in the middle of Ames while my mother looked through discount clothes racks, my heart about to burst out of my chest because I was sure I’d seen a person in a Mickey Mouse foam costume watching me. There wasn’t any promotion that day, he was just there. Watching me. I can tell that story. 

So, what are the scary places in your town? 

What is your town known for?

My hometown is known for jeeps. We’re the place jeeps were invented. We’re also a steel town, with a steel mill that still exists and employees hundreds of people. 

Alright, it might be hard to write a story about a scary jeep. But I can work with a steel mill. That used to be an inherently scary field to be in. 

It’s better now, but those wounds run deep. 

There are other wounds in my town. Fires that took lives, businesses, homes, and memories. Wars sent men back broken to walk our streets like the living dead. 

There are wounds in your town. I can tell you that without ever knowing where you live. Because there are wounds everywhere. Write from those wounds.

What legends already exist in your town?

Every town has legends. Cryptids, famous mass murderers. Unsolved crimes that are truly chilling.

A woman in my town was once strung up between two trees and gutted. 

There have been so many fires on Main Street without a whole lot of explanation. 

There’s a glass factory that everyone agrees is haunted. I have pieces of glass from it.

Then there’s the Butler Gargoyle.

Surely your town has stories. Things that outsiders might not know, but you’ve heard since you were a teenager. 

Draw on these tales for inspiration. 

There is no place in this world where you can’t write a Gothic story from. It just takes an understanding of your town and a little (twisted) imagination. 

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Defending True Crime

I’ve loved true crime since I was a little girl. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who got hooked watching Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack. My great-grandma and I used to watch it together. I still think of her any time I hear that theme song.

Now True Crime is everywhere. Documentaries, tv shows, podcasts. I even co-host a true-crime podcast.

Recently I’ve found a reason for guilt over my enjoyment, though. The latest Scream movie pointed out that there’s a darker side to these stories. These are real stories. People died. Families were left shattered. The very last thing I’d ever want to do is belittle someone’s loss. The second to last thing I’d want to do is make a killer into a celebrity.

It’s not like mentally ill people need another excuse to kill innocent people. 

Are we just encouraging killers to think of themselves as rock stars? Are we dehumanizing victims for the sake of entertainment?

I’ve spent some time thinking about this. This world’s in a bad enough place right now, I don’t need to make things worse with some insensitive little tale.

And after some consideration, I don’t think True Crime does much harm. Dare I even say it might do some good? If, of course, it’s done right.

The good true crime podcasters don’t glorify the killers

On my podcast, Off The Bone, we don’t glorify killers. We tend to mock them. Most serial killers, by the way, wet the bed way longer than anyone else.

The killer is never the good guy, and the victim is never the punchline. To talk about True Crime in any other way is disrespectful and dangerous. 

We say their names

So many True Crime stories are unsolved. That’s part of the fascination, at least for me. We don’t know who the Somerton Man was, so we can’t let his family know what happened to him. Same for the Lady of The Dunes (Though Stephen King’s son might have helped solve that one.)

We’re all going to die someday. And most of us hope to be remembered by our loved ones. We want friends and family to share stories about us. And we don’t want a bunch of question marks hanging over our coffins. 

When we talk about unsolved murders, there’s a chance that someone might recognize the victim. That maybe, by saying their names, someone who loves them might hear. 

And even if they don’t, we remember them. 

I remember Bella in the witch elm.

I remember the Lady of The Dunes.

I remember the Somerton Man.

And I’ll be you do too.

If you have any information regarding this case.

Remember how each episode of Unsolved Mysteries ended? 

“If you have any information regarding this case, please call us.”

Well, people did call them. And because of that show, at least 260 cold cases were solved. 

Crowdsourcing mysteries gets results. And in the age of the internet, we’re even better at it. 

Because of consistent attention, the Keddie Cabin murder case was reopened. And as I mentioned earlier, Owen King might have helped solve the Lady of The Dunes mystery. He recognized an extra from Jaws who just might be her. 

True Crime done badly isn’t moral. But True Crime done well might actually solve crimes. And even if you’re not one of those who helps solve a cold case, you still enjoyed a damn good story.

And that’s worth something. I hope that when I go, I leave a good story behind.

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