Monday, September 30, 2013

My Wife's A Serial Killer!

I woke up this morning angry at my wife. When I got out of the shower, I told her as much.

"Why?" she asked. "Did I flush on you again?"

"No." For once it wasn't that. But she does have an uncanny knack of flushing the upstairs toilet as soon as I enter the shower downstairs. Makes for an eye-opening, genital-shrinking, freezing way to kick off your morning. "No, you woke me up at four A.M. because of what you did in my nightmare."

In my dream, a friend of hers called, asked her if she'd be interested in killing someone. All in the name of science, of course. At first she declined. But I saw the spark in her eye, her killer cogs turning. Soon, she said she'd like to do it, wanted to know if I'd like to join in on the weekend excursion. I hemmed and hawed, then gave into her. It went against my better judgment, but I saw how much it meant to her. So six of us got a motel room (three couples, three double-size beds) and proceeded to collect three people to murder. I chickened out, lay on the bed with the pillow over my head while the wacky antics ensued around me. At some point my in-laws showed up. The next morning it was time to check out. But there was a strange Hawaiian-shirted cop in the room, asking questions. The cops were closing in and...

I woke up. Couldn't believe my wife put me through that.

But that's unfair, I feel you thinking. You have to understand, I'm the guy who grounded my daughter years ago because of her behavior in one of my dreams.

The weird thing is, this is a variation on a recurring nightmare I have. I'm always somehow involved in a murder (usually an accident), I try and cover it up using the most convoluted methods in the world (yet at the time, they make perfect sense), and the cops are ready to nail me.

Huh. I told my daughter about these nightmares a few days ago. She launched into full-on psychoanalytical mode. She said, "Dad, either you feel guilty about something or...all of the macabre events you write about are getting to you."

Maybe I am taking my work to bed with me.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Strolling Down The Dark Side With L.J. Holmes

Groundhog L. J!
L. J. Holmes is a long-time author of romantic and erotica fiction, practically one of the cornerstones of our publisher, Muse-It-Up Publishing. But I'm especially taken with her shorter works of dark fiction. They're extremely evocative and well-written. Always expect the unexpected. Please give a big ol' welcome to L. J. Holmes!

*Hi, L. J., thanks for stopping by. I think you'll fit right in here at "Twisted Tales."

Thank you Stuart, for having me. I'm honored, and I'm blushing. Thank you for your generous description.

*In your story, "She's Gone," you've written one of the best mystery set-ups I've read in some time. Tell our readers a little about it.

This is a story about a man who comes home from work at the end of the day, expecting to find his wife and her cat waiting to greet him and his life to be what it was yesterday,

the day before and so on...but it's not. The house echoes with
its emptiness. There's no sound of life, no scents of dinner being made. It like he's walked into a tomb of the home he knows. A quick search tells him something is wrong...very wrong. His wife is gone. Her side of the closet is empty, but he can't wrap his head around it. Before leaving for work that very morning they'd made passionate love. So where is his wife? Backtracking he starts to see odd things slightly out of place and begins tallying up the clues...but the solution nearly drives him to his knees.

*What I like about the plot is it's so simple, yet brilliant. I defy anyone to not finish the tale! In fact, I think it'd be a great tale to teach in a creative writing course. You could withhold your ending, see what your students come up with.

I love writing stories with surprise endings. Most of my short stories have surprise endings that haunt and surprise me, the author, and those who've read my work. One of my best surprise endings takes place in another short I wrote called FOREVER WITH YOU. No one has ever anticipated the ending to that one.

*It's hard to talk about the story without giving away the ending (NOT what I expected). But it's a powerful ending. Without getting into specifics (it's hard, I know), does the ending hold special significance for you?

Yes, but as you said, talking about it would give it away.

*The writing is deceptively simple, yet clever. It develops its own rhythm, almost free-form jazz style. The recurring refrain "She's gone" almost plays like a drum riff punctuating the protagonist's thoughts. Was this intentional? Or, um, do I have a lot of spare time on my hands?

No you're absolutely right. I wanted the continual reciting of the title and of course the dilemma and mystery he's facing to ratchet up the tension.

*Having read "She's Gone," the first thing that struck me is I bet you'd write a great mystery noir, full of tough guys, double-crossing women, and snappy patter. Have you ever given this genre any thought?

I actually never thought I could write any kind of mystery. I'm a big Agatha Christie fan. She was brilliant. The way she incorporates the clues throughout the story so you really don't catch on who she's aiming her finger at until you reach the very end and then go back and reread it takes my breath away. I don't think of myself as clever enough to do that.

*Let's move onto "Twilight Comes." What starts out
as an interesting character study about a rather self-involved stockbroker soon turns into, um, something quite different. Almost did a spit-take with my morning coffee! Thoughts?

Yeah...this is one of the hardest stories I've ever written and the most difficult for me to figure out how to promote and/or discuss, but life is filled with things that are hard to discuss...but we can't run from them either. It is a very powerful story, and one I'm very proud to have written.

*Then there's "Life's Journey." The tale details a woman, perilously close to death, who is guided through her past life by her grandmother's spirit. Then she has a tough decision to make. Now your protagonist certainly had a tough life. My question to you is how much of it is autobiographical?

99%. The only fiction is the leg injury. I did not lose my leg.

*What's your personal take on the afterlife?

I've had several surgeries throughout my thirties and forties. I don't do well under anesthetics and have had a few cardiac arrests while on the table. I also drowned when I was four. To date, I've had three Near Death Experiences, and each one showed me another aspect of the After-Life.

I know there are those who will say what I experienced was caused by lack of oxygen, and they may be right...except, what I experienced changed me, and if lack of oxygen can bring peace and absolute belief in a Father/Mother capable of loving me the way I felt loved, give me more lack of oxygen, please.

Because of my experiences, I don't fear death, but I also know I'm here for a purpose and that is to be the best me I can figure out how to be.

*Do you feel your protagonist made the right decision?

Since it's about me...and I DID make the decision, sometimes yes, sometimes no.

*What compels you to go to the "dark side?"

The same thing that drove me to get my Bachelor's Degree in Psychology. I was married to a very violent, controlling man who carried a Federal Badge he thought gave him absolute rights over everyone. It took me eleven years to find resources willing to stand behind me in the legal system so I could get myself and my children away from him. I needed to understand how a human being could say he loves me and do the things he did. I'm STILL trying to figure it out. Through writing about the darker side of life, I'm able to explore all kinds of motivations, and I'm hoping to make the path easier for someone else.

*How much of your life is reflected in your writing?

It depends on what I'm writing about, but a great deal of who I am comes through in the journeys I have my characters go through. At least 85%.

*What's up next for L.J?

I have four releases coming out between now and the end of this year. Two of them are sequels...the first coming out in September is a sequel to a story I wrote tongue-in-cheek for our Publisher here at Muse It Up because I wanted to cheer her up. It's erotica with humor and called SUC-U TOO. (Book One is SUC-U).

Another one I wrote again, tongue-in-cheek and is coming out in October is DIAMONDS FROM THE ROUGHAGE. Ever wonder where diamonds REALLY come from? Well, I tell all.

In December I have TWO releases...the first is the final book in my Christmas Miracles Series called CHRISTMAS GOES GREEN with a heroine who's half leprechaun-half witch, and a hero who's half elf-half human. My first in this series, SANTA IS A LADY amazed when it won the 2010 Preditors and Editors Readers Poll. It took fifth place in its category less than two months after its release. I'm hoping CHRISTMAS GOES GREEN will be as well received.
My second December release is a short called THE END OF TOMORROW and is somewhat dark...but does have a Happy Ending.

There you have it, folks. Thanks, Lin, these are great answers and you're a very interesting person. Please do seek out her tales, they're well worth your time.

Here's her Muse-It-Up Publishing page:

And Amazon:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Doggy Dreams

As I sit here watching my dog go through the rituals of REM sleep, I have to wonder what exactly do dogs dream about?

His eyes flutter beneath his lids.  His paws, first back, then front, kick out and shake.  Maybe he's in a vast field,  pursuing the most delectable bunny ever. But the whimper tells me otherwise. Could be a doggy nightmare: vacuum cleaners roaring and coming at him, no way out, surrounded on all sides.

Or perhaps it's a heavenly dream. Shredding the mailman like an industrial-strength mulcher. Sitting back afterward, working a toothpick between his teeth, and sighing. "Ahhhh, that was a particularly tasty mailman. Hate those guys."

Either way it's gotta' be less frightening than our dreams. Right?

A few nights ago, I had a nightmare. Woke up in a cold sweat. Sure, it's a cliché, but sometimes clichés are more truthful than we'd like to admit. I was in college again, forced to take an advanced dance class. First session (and we were all required to bring uncooked meat as an introductory token), the professor asked every student to demonstrate "what we got." Well. I ain't got nothin'. Talk about horrifying. My idea of dancing is planting my feet, swiveling my hips, and thrusting my arms out, hoping not to hit anyone. Every student was exceptional. My turn was crawling closer. I prayed for the class to end before my turn. Then I'd go straight to the office tomorrow and drop the class. But there was still plenty of time left. What to do, I wondered, as I held my blood-dripping pound-and-a-half ground beef? "The chicken dance?" The "Macarena?" Gyrate like an epileptic madman like I did in college?

I woke up before I had to show "what I got."

Maybe I'm not being fair to dogs. Who's to say their nightmares are less frightening than ours? All I ask, is next time you see your dog dreaming? Give him an extra pat on the head, tell him, "I know, I know," and toss him a bone.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Reaping Good Fiction With Dorothy Dreyer

With a huge ol’ drum-roll (please supply that yourself. Just put your lips together and water-boat), I present to you my good friend, and awesome author, Dorothy Dreyer! Her debut book, My Sister’s Reaper, is really a great YA supernatural thriller, gang. Buy it, already.

*Dorothy, okay, you’re dipping into the supernatural pond. Personal beliefs?

 I’ve always believed in magic. Maybe not outright magic magic, but a little of that unexplainable that always remains a mystery in life. As for the supernatural world, I’ve read a lot of evidence (and even heard from close relatives) of ghosts or some other entities that “interfere” with our world now and again. Though it’s spooky, I tend to believe it’s out there.

 *So...what's up with "reapers?" They carry your book. Tell your new readers what they're in for.

 I think the idea of writing a book involving grim reapers stemmed from episodes of Supernatural. Except in Supernatural, the reapers took human form. In my books, they’re out and out reapers, tattered cloaks and all. I thought it would be interesting to delve into that kind of world, where one (or two) would have to battle death.

 *Hm. Wondering if you're a Sam or Dean gal. But I digress. Zadie’s a great, strong female character. Don’t wanna’ hit you up immediately with a stupid question (when has that ever stopped me?), but what’re her origins?

 My protagonist couldn’t just be fighting death with no weapons at her side, right? In MY SISTER’S REAPER, Zadie discovers that she’s no ordinary girl. Her roots lie in the supernatural worlds of faeries and witches. What she does with this information, and the power that comes with it, is up to her.

 *Along these lines, Zadie’s sister, Mara? The sister Zadie risks everything for? Curious how you view her. Personally, I thought she was rather awful, alive or dead. Maybe it’s just me. Always hated “popular” girls.

 To me, Mara is just a girl who’s made bad decisions, like all teenagers are prone to do. She wanted to be popular and get the cutest boy in school to be her boyfriend, and then just went about it the wrong way when she figured out she could. After the Reaper gets a hold of her, however, her actions were not entirely her own. I like to think Zadie understands this. And Zadie, who has a huge heart, remembers all the good things about her sister, and so it comes naturally to want to risk everything for her.

*I was particularly taken with several scenes in the book that were downright spooky! Great job! I love the spooky. Are you a fan of horror fiction?

 The funny thing is, I’m not! I have read Stephen King books, and though I admire his writing, I tend to go towards books with “magic” rather than books with “horror.” My husband, however, loves horror. I used to fight him when he wanted to see a scary movie. Now I just think of it as research, lol.

*Well, can I hang out with your husband? My wife's the same way. Not a fan of horror films. Now quit derailing this interview, Dorothy! Your tale’s practically a cousin to my books. We share a lot of the same sensibilities it would seem. I can see our characters interacting easily. Even in the same universe. So…who would win in a fist fight? Mickey or Lilura, your witchy mentor character?

 That would be a tough one. They’re both pretty crafty and know they’re stuff. Mickey is probably physically stronger. But Lilura is clever enough that she’d think to distract Mickey with some fried chicken, then she could take her down.

*I’m sure I’m in the minority (maybe not. A tribute to your well-fleshed out characters), but I was sorta’ pulling for Zadie to hook up with Chase as opposed to the hunk Gavin, who she has her sights set on. Hope you follow up with this in the sequel. Don’t leave me hangin’! Um, there IS going to be a sequel, right?

 Though it’s not an all out love triangle, I did enjoy toying with the Zadie/Gavin/Chase aspect of the book. It gave the story a fun (or maybe dramatic) facet that I thought would work well in a young adult book. To answer your questions: yes, there will be a sequel (coming out in spring 2014), and yes, we follow up with this trio in the next book.

*I may be the only one who’s absolutely thrilled about this, but I LOVE that the two main characters share a passion for bad “B movies.” Hobby of mine, actually. Elaborate.

 B movies are something I remember growing up with. The love of these “bad” movies had to take place in my book. I thought it was also ironic, seeing as how Zadie is dealing with terrible things happening, just like in the movies she loves. And then to have that as something she has in common with Gavin makes it even sweeter.

*Please watch a horrible film entitled, "Winterbeast." Then get back to me. And I'm apologizing ahead of time. I, too, grew up with B-movies. Sadly, I STILL haven't outgrown them. Okay. Back on track.

This is something I just recently discovered. Which is way cool. But you do music videos, yeah? Guys, check this out:

 *What’s up next on Dorothy’s awesome keyboard?

 I’m revising book two, which I’m getting really excited about. And working on some other things that may be revealed in the future. ;)

Told you guys Dorothy’s awesome. Read her book. You’ll like, you will.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Man Of My Dreams With Faith Andrews

My friend, Faith Andrews, has written a great romantic epic entitled Man Of My Dreams. Dreams details a young housewife forced to face the shocking realities of her life. Has she made a mistake in marrying her first love, the father of her two daughters? Or should she have held out for her unrequited high school crush, who is suddenly in her life again? It sounds like a hand-wringing Harlequin tale, and it most definitely is a romance tale. But it's so much more. Extremely well written, Andrews takes us deep into Mia's awakening--uncomfortable, raw, and real, somewhat of a late-blooming feminist manifesto. (I know this sounds weird coming from me, right? The original Kansas curmudgeon himself. But there's no denying Andrews's fantastic writing.). Faith has been brave (naïve? stupid?) enough to come aboard for a chat.
*Faith, I'm dying to much of this is autobiographical? Is (was?) there a Declan, Noah, and Grace in your life? 

First of all, I just want to thank you for so many things. I’m so happy we’ve had to a chance to become friendly and share each other’s work. You’re one of the coolest people I’ve met in a long time and I am so grateful for all the insight and advice you’ve passed along to me in these last few months.

Okay so on to the nitty gritty…There are definitely parts of this book that have been picked and plucked from my real life. I am a stay at home mom of two very spunky little girls while life is never truly boring when you’re home day in and day out manning (er, womaning) the ship, life does get monotonous. Shout out to all the stay-at-homes out there…this is hands down THE hardest job there is. Yes, it’s rewarding and precious and priceless watching and experiencing everything first hand, BUT it can also suck the life out of you sometimes, make you feel like you’ve lost your sense of self, like all you are is Mrs. So and So, Julia and Leah’s mom. Which leads me to why I even started writing in the first place…I decided I was too young to let my dream slip away. So when these stories starting talking to me and begging to get out, I wasn’t at all surprised that the characters emulated so many of the real life people I’ve grown to love throughout the years.

Declan—definitely based a lot on my husband. Gorgeous, dreamy, has all the it-factors, although, my hubby doesn’t sing and better yet, he doesn’t cheat.

Noah—everyone has a Noah, whether he’s an old flame, an unrequited love, a “what if” or just a man in your dreams. I, personally, dream a lot about the past and high school and all that good youthful, carefree stuff…I can’t help who pops up in those dreams and sometimes I’m surprised by my own subconscious and wake up like, “Really?” But I do want to set the record straight by saying that I am not pining over any lost love. Noah for me represents wanting to stay young and all that teenage angst that, in hindsight, feels so damn good. He’s a trip down memory lane and a heart thumping reminder of youthful crushes.

Grace—my real life BFF, Tara, and so many of my other close girlfriends rolled into one. What girl doesn’t need a Grace…the voice of reason, the confidant, the shoulder to cry on, the person you can laugh with until your sides ache. I’m lucky enough to have some pretty first-rate, amazing girlfriends. So, yeah, Grace…even if she pisses Mia off with some of her “butting in,” she is essential to the story.

 *While you were writing the book, did you have a clear vision of how it would end? Or did you change your mind several times? As a reader, I changed my mind several times of how I'd like to see it end.

 Clear. As. Day. I knew from before I even started to write it that it was going to end the way it did. I wanted Mia with who she ended up with for so many reasons. That’s not to say that I wasn’t heartbroken for the other guy. (I’m being vague, I know, sorry, but I don’t want to give anything away).

*Did you consider having Mia shun both the "men of her dreams" and forge her own path before committing to a serious relationship?

You’re not the first person to bring this up, in fact, two of my critique partners wanted me to do this. This would have made it more of a women’s fiction than a romance. Mia’s growth was very important to me and even while juggling her emotions for both Declan and Noah, I think she was able to find herself. But staying true to myself as a writer and reader, I’m a sucker for a happily ever after. Again, without giving anything away, I believe Mia needed to experience IT ALL for the final outcome to be worth it. I hope that makes sense…does it or am I just defending Mia because I hate to put her out there as a girl who got to have her cake and eat it too. Regardless, by the end of Man of My Dreams, Mia knows who she is and what she wants, but I believe the man she ends up with is an integral, engrained, molecular part of the make-up of who she is.

*Music plays an important part in your book, deftly dredging up a sense of '90's nostalgia (wait, the '90's are already nostalgic?) by mentioning several songs and bands from the decade. (And thanks for banging on Chumbawumba's "TubThumping!" That's one of those damn songs that worms its way into your head and won't leave). It's funny how music can sometimes evoke a sense of time and place better than a handful of pretty words. Comment?

I get knocked down, but I get up again…sorry, did I just get in there for the rest of the day??? Isn’t it INSANE that the ‘90s are considered nostalgic? Talk about making a person feel old. I absolutely love music, all types, styles and genres, for the most part, but the soundtrack to Man of My Dreams is, essentially, the soundtrack to my teenage days. Killing Me Softly by the Fugees was on at EVERY house party at least 2 times a night. I remember sitting around at a friend’s house and literally belting out the words with all of my classmates. Listening to that song is like traveling back to that night in a time machine. It’s so crazy how a song can do that to you and almost all of the songs I mentioned in the book have made some kind of mental impact.

*Gotta' talk about the sex scenes! A while back you told me the sex scenes weren't that graphic. Um, maybe I need to read some erotica to see what those are like! HooWEE! Steamy! You pull no punches and put us right in the middle of the, ah, action. Very raw and real, I thought. Not a question, but what have you to say for yourself?

I’m blushing! Like seriously, fifty shades of red. What do I have to say for myself? Can I quote Austin Powers here…I don’t even think I can do that (blushing again). In all seriousness, I actually despise writing sex scenes. I don’t feel I’m any good at it. I’ve read a lot of romance and erotica since the breakthrough of Fifty Shades of Grey and my scenes from Man of My Dreams don’t even hold a (semi-stiff) candle to what some are capable of. If I got the point across and made you feel something and wasn’t clinical about it then thank you! Seriously, I can’t believe I’m talking about this. I just hope the reader gets the warm and fuzzies (and maybe some butterflies and tingles) when they read those scenes…alls I’m sayin’.

*Four-fifths of the way through the book, you pull off a very interesting writing choice. You switch the narrative point-of-view to that of a first-person male character. Now, did you have any males read this part? Is this the way you see men? If so, we're in trouble. I thought he came off as sort of an arrogant, self-centered, petty, foul-mouthed lout! Was this your intention? Or was it to gain sympathy for what was happening in his mind?

This question kept me up pondering, worrying, over thinking, slapping myself in the head. I really do NOT see all men as fowl-mouthed, arrogant, self-centered fools. Some definitely are though…you can’t deny me that. But this is Declan and I had SO much fun writing him. My girlfriends who read the book loved these chapters; they liked getting in his head, seeing inside the mind of a horny college guy, someone who is so confident outwardly and possibly inwardly, but who has a lot of little faults and insecurities. Deep down Declan is a loving, caring, charming man who loves his wife, his kids and the life they have together. BUT and this is a big BUT and where he may come off as a jerk, he’s put all his eggs in one basket and like Mia, feels unappreciated at times. I do hope that the female readers (and heck, you male readers too) empathize with Declan in these chapters and finally understand what he is all about.

*What's next on Faith's writing plate?

I’m working on something really fun, and sexy and dramatic all at the same time. It’s called Little Brother. Talk about an arrogant, alpha male…Marcus Grayson is for all intents and purposes a man-whore but when his older sister’s childhood friend, Tessa Bradley, comes back into his life (with a whole lotta baggage) Marcus finds himself battling with his bachelor-for-life motto and his newfound intrigue with Tessa, the forbidden fruit. This book has been so much fun to write…I’m about halfway through and I’m aiming for a January/February 2014 release.

*When and where can we read Man Of My Dreams?

Man of My Dreams is scheduled to be released on September 19, 2013. I will be self publishing through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and CreateSpace so keep a look out and hey, add it to your to-be-read list if you think it’s something that might tickle your fancy.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Living Like A Pioneer!

We came home from a vacation recently to a very unwelcome surprise. Our electricity was out. Being stuck in the Midwest, occurrences like that aren't uncommon, pesky weather always the culprit. But after sleeping in a hotel bed for several nights, I was looking forward to getting reacquainted with my own bed. Except it was, like, ninety degrees or something in the house. Grumbling, we unpacked, then repacked, prepared to head off to my mother's house, where the beds are lumpier than a sack of potatoes.

But I decided to take a stand.

"You know what?" I said to my wife while getting into the car. "I will NOT give into terrorism! Forget it. Let's rough it and stay. If the early pioneers lived without electricity, so can we!"

My wife agreed. So we cracked open a bottle of wine and sat out on the back deck. I do believe pioneers drank a lot of alcohol.

After the first glass of wine, I suggested to my wife that perhaps we could stream a movie on our Kindle Fire. Then when the battery ran dry on that, I had an elaborate back-up scheme in motion involving using several laptops to watch a DVD.

"Not very pioneer-like," was her answer.

Huh. How'd the pioneers do it again? Just what in the world did they do for entertainment? I mean, I know Daniel Boone wrestled bears or something for fun, but that's not really my style. And the bear-wrasslin' was no doubt an off-shoot of alcohol drinking. I mean my idea of roughing it is having a hot tub and cable TV in a cabin. Ooh, and air conditioning. I don't think we were meant to live outside. Bugs and sticks that walk and wrestling bears and Jason...

Soon, fatigue set in. We got out a card game, played it outside by candlelight, and the bottle of wine drained. The darker it grew, the more I missed electricity.

Finally, the power and light man strolled into the neighbor's yard. We cheered him, hoisted our wine glasses high. And we finally had something to watch, better than a movie, real bonafide entertainment! And just like the pioneers, we truly had a stake in the outcome.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Novel Openings With Katie L. Carroll

Today  Katie L. Carroll, author of YA book, Elixir Bound, is going to tell us the do's and don't of good novel openings. Take it away, Katie!
When I started writing my first YA novel, which eventually turned into Elixir Bound, I really had no idea what it meant to write a good novel at all, never mind one with a good opening. To land a publisher or agent, though, a great—not good—opening is crucial.

Over the course of the nine years until my first book was published, I’ve learned a lot about how to write a solid opening, mostly by learning what not to do.

Don't Open with an Adult POV

One of my first professional critiques by an editor from a big house taught me this important lesson. It may seem pretty obvious now, but at the time I felt justified starting from the point of view of the main character’s father. He was passing the torch of the Elixir’s guardianship to his daughter, so shouldn’t the story start from his point of view? Umm…no. Start with the character you most want your reader to care about.

Don’t Open with a Cliché                                  

Some things have been done so frequently, readers (and editors) are tired of them. Avoid opening with weather (“It was a dark and stormy night”), having a character look in the mirror and describe herself, or having a character waking up.
Don't Open with Backstory

You’ve spent months developing an intricate fantasy world, complete with magical creatures, evil villains, and full languages J.R.R. Tolkien style. Awesome! All the details will help enrich the story and immerse the reader in your world. Just don’t throw all of it into the beginning. Weave it in gradually as it pertains to the main character and the conflict. Even in contemporary novels, you have to be careful of too much backstory. The reader doesn’t need to know what your main character was like growing up, her whole family history, or what she had for breakfast.

Don't Open with Gratuitous Action
In an attempt to grab the reader’s attention right, you open with your main character into a dark forest at midnight with an animal chasing her. The reader’s probably thinking What a great start to this paranormal romance. I wonder if she’s going to fall in love with the creature. If it turns out your story is actually about a high school senior who has one more chance to score high on the SATs to get into college, you’ve got the wrong beginning. Only start with action that pertains to the main conflict.

Don't Open with Generalities
An ideological rant or a general statement about life isn't a good place to start a novel. Openings like this can sound preachy (a huge no-no in YA); they are often somewhat obvious; and when it comes to divisive issues, they can alienate a reader who may have the opposite opinion. Long narrative descriptions fall into the generality category as well. You can paint the most beautiful scene with your words, but if a reader doesn’t have an emotional connection to latch on to, you might lose them right from the start.

Setting It Up Right
So now that you know what not to do, you’re probably asking, “What should I do?” My advice is to try out a few different openings. Work on fleshing out the voice of the character, establishing the main conflict of the story, and setting the tone of the piece. Have a professional critique done (if you can afford it) or have other writers look at it to. Then look deep inside yourself and see if the opening feels right to you. Does it accomplish what you’ve set out to do?

Admittedly, I didn’t follow all these rules with Elixir Bound, but it was a long process of critical thinking and compromise that got me to a point where the story landed a publisher. After revising it to start with the main character’s point of view instead of her father’s, I had another professional critique done of it. The editor thought it was too heavy on backstory and description. She was right: I had this long passage with a snowstorm and descriptions of two different forests.

So I cut all that and started right in with action from the main character. I read both the old beginning and the new one to several other writers during an impromptu critique session at a conference. They agreed the new opening was too abrupt and had lost some of the dark tone the descriptive beginning had provided.
I didn’t scrap either one but combined them. I included one strong descriptive image of the trees and the snow, and then got right down to the action of the character. The snowstorm, a possible weather cliché, was important to keep because it was the inciting incident of the story.

My Favorite Openings
“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” from Feed by M.T. Anderson
“Gram is worried about me. It’s not just because my sister Bailey died four weeks ago, or because my mother hasn’t contacted me in sixteen years, or even because suddenly all I can think about is sex. She is worried about me because one of her houseplants has spots.” from The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
“When he grabs Mama’s wrists and yanks her toward the wall-hanging like that, it must hurt. Mama doesn’t cry out. She tries to hide her pain from him, but she looks back at me, and in her face, she shows me everything she feels.” from Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
“I greeted his tombstone the way I always did—with a swift kick.” from Colors Like Memories by Meradeth Houston

Elixir Bound blurb:

Katora Kase is next in line to take over as guardian to a secret and powerful healing Elixir. Now she must journey into the wilds of Faway Forest to find the ingredient that gives the Elixir its potency. Even though she has her sister and brother, an old family friend, and the handsome son of a mapmaker as companions, she feels alone.

It is her decision alone whether or not to bind herself to the Elixir to serve and protect it until it chooses a new guardian. The forest hosts many dangers, including wicked beings that will stop at nothing to gain power, but the biggest danger Katora may face is whether or not to open up her heart to love.

Buy Links:

Author Bio:

Katie L. Carroll began writing at a very sad time in her life after her 16-year-old sister, Kylene, unexpectedly passed away. Since then writing has taken her to many wonderful places, real and imagined. She wrote Elixir Bound and the forthcoming Elixir Saved so Kylene could live on in the pages of a book. Katie is also the author of the picture app The Bedtime Knight and an editor for MuseItUp Publishing. She lives not too far from the beach in a small Connecticut city with her husband and son. For more about Katie, visit her website at, friend her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter (@KatieLCarroll).

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Stuckey's: A Childhood Dream Shattered

Last weekend, my wife and I were out of town driving across the vast wastelands of Missouri. Off the highway and nestled between "Pyro City (Just take a right at "Decapitation Station," then it's right next to "Klepto Caverns." Ya' can't miss it.)" and more adult mega-stores than you can shake a stick at, sat a "Stuckey's."

Ah, Stuckey's. For those unfamiliar with the glories of Stuckey's, please let me elaborate. As a child, Stuckey's held a nearly Christmas morning-like magic aura about it. They were giant, junky stores packed with all sorts of tourist trap crap (although, at the time, that "crap" seemed like hidden treasures to my wide eyes). The stores were sprinkled across Midwestern highways, a beacon of wonderfulness to break up the monotony of long, boring highway trips. It was a joy when my parents would pull into Stuckey's. Such golden memories!

There was a vending machine where you cram your money in and, before your eyes, a plastic molded dinosaur would form! Awesome! There was another vending machine dedicated solely to practical jokes and impractical stuff all of which I just had to have! Mexican jumping beans, itching powder (which turned out to be tiny metal shavings! Cool!), black and white schnauzer-shaped magnets (the kids at school wouldn't believe it!), and more stuff that was absolutely worthless and totally priceless! There was even a mysterious, forbidden machine in the bathroom that sold cards of naked women! Viva La Stuckey's! Disneyland on a budget!

But best of all? The allure of the sweet-looking, ginormous Stuckey's Pecan Log Roll. Yet my parents never let me have one. The log was one of life's mysteries that would remain just that, a sugary concoction to be dreamed of, never tasted.

Taking pity on me, my wife pulled into Stuckey's and said, "Let's get you a Pecan Log Roll."


And then it all went to Hell. The first thing I noticed upon entering Stuckey's was, um, the odor drifting out of the bathroom. Rank, very much at odds with how I expected the elusive log roll would smell. And where was all the cool crap? Sure, there was a John Wayne bobblehead, but that was about it. Gone were all the toys, magic tricks and must-have items. In their place? Cigarettes, energy drinks, lousy C.D.'s and just about everything else you could find at a typical road-stop. And the store looked different, too. The aisles were all slanted as is today's norm, with boring pre-fab, mass manufactured candy crammed in them.

As my soul sank, I grabbed a log roll, whispered to my wife, "I think I've had enough."

And the log roll itself? Wasn't worth the thirty-five year long wait.