Inspirations for Creepy

I love creepy. The spookier the better. In trying to figure out what to write next, I decided to give the Cobalt world a break and work on something dark and eerie (like Cobalt wasn’t?). I’m still working out the details, and trying to decide between two different story ideas that are taking shape.

Like many people, I’m inspired by other stories, music, and imagery. The following are a few of my favorite spooky inspirations. For some reason, I find myself really looking forward to Halloween now.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is just like an old-fashioned ghost story complete with nightmarish illustrations. The movie didn’t disappoint either. Would have scared the crap out of me as a kid.

I just finished reading this one. The Ocean at the End of the Lane had its creepy moments, but was, overall, a beautiful story written by an amazing author.

I read this book as an adult and had nightmares. I can’t see the upcoming movie being as creepy as the stories in this book and its sequels, but maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Stolen Babies knows how to do creepy when it comes to music and costumes. Heavily influenced by Oingo Boingo and Tim Burton, this band brings graveyards or nightmare carnivals to mind. Grubbery is about a couple of hillbilly cannibals who get a dose of karma when they find out their dinner doesn’t like being dug out of their graves. 🙂

One of my friends on Facebook posted this great link on a gorgeous photo project that brings Grimms’ fairy tales to life, and provides more than enough inspiration for surreal settings and spooky forests.

And then…

Like her sister before her, this creepy 8-year-old left a bunch of scary photos on my phone that she edited herself.

She also touched up this one of her sister, which is creepy in a different way.

Do you have any other spooky or disturbing books, movies, or pictures to add to my list?

Meanwhile, Cobalt is on an editor’s desk awaiting approval or rejection and my fingers are cramping up from weeks of crossing them. Cross some of yours for me too, please!

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All Work and No Play…

I’ve been a boring person lately. I write for a living, and it’s at home – so I rarely make myself pretty anymore. And often I find myself pulling all-nighters to make a deadline (when the kids or appointments have been keeping me busy during the day) or when it’s close to payday and I want to get in a few more assignments. The result is a crazy ugly lady in Spongebob pajamas who loves her job, but has pretty much forgotten about her fiction dreams. It looks a little like this:

I don’t have an ax, and I won’t get one. 😉

So I put Cobalt on my Nook for Emily to read last week. I thought it would make a good incentive for me to lighten up and do more of what I love – writing the fictions. You see, Emily inherited my tendency to become a raging fangirl of epic proportions when she develops a passion (or an obsession) for something. The following individuals, whether they’re fictional characters or not, should beware. Make sure Emily never finds out where you live.

Now what happened was Emily read Cobalt in two days, knowing that I’m still a few chapters out from being done. I asked her to keep me motivated to finish it. I knew she’d like the story…but I’d forgotten how she can get scary obsessed.
With my WIP cutting off at a cliffhanger chapter ending just before the book’s climax, she kind of freaked out at 4:00 in the morning and woke me up with a tantrum, then took my laptop and made a Facebook fan page for me! I wasn’t expecting that. But look what she did with my blog’s banner! I seriously love it.
Well, now that I have a 14-year-old coming up every time I’m at  the laptop, staring at me with her creepy eyes and asking if I’m writing, I have a really good reason to finish the book! Or else I might be facing this:
I am not even joking.
I know it’s a rare author who has all the time in the world to do only what he or she loves. Do you make writing your first priority, or do you get work done before rewarding yourself with writing?

This time last year:
Oh Never Mind, I Can’t Stay Away, Y’all! – So very much can change in a year! A blessing in disguise has given us the opportunity to reform our broken family stronger and happier than ever. Part of this drawn-out struggle will be over next week, when we go to court. We still have a long road ahead of us to break away completely, but 2013 looks full of hope.

Young Adult vs. Middle Grade

So until about three years ago, I’d never heard of the term “middle grade.” Young Adult fantasy had always been my favorite genre – or so I’d thought. Until I started researching agents and discovered a whole new freaking genre that I’d been reading all along and never knew it wasn’t YA.

To me, the lines dividing Young Adult and Middle Grade can be fuzzy, although most agents and publishers are pretty firm on distinguishing one from the other when you’re submitting a manuscript. Here’s a little of what I learned when looking to define the two categories. These are the points that matter the most to me in identifying whether a story is YA or MG – like I said, it’s not always clear to my strange little mind, but others might have entirely different opinions.

  • Age of the characters. MG characters are around pre-teen age or even early teens, while YA characters are usually 16 or 17.
  • Romantic elements. Although there can be romance in a MG story, it’s usually just lightly touched upon, while the main focus is on the action. YA books usually have some sort of romance, with the romantic element being a main theme for many YA stories.
  • Story and plot. This is where it sometimes gets fuzzy for me, and I’d think I was reading a YA book when in fact it was MG. Younger readers are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for, and you might be surprised at some of the themes that MG books touch on. A few can get pretty dark, and most are quite complicated. What I think should be the line that divides the two categories is the way the themes are presented. Some particularly dark, violent, or disturbing themes should really be saved until the reader is older and better able to handle them.

Other writing elements, like voice and length, can also define a YA or MG book, but to me the above three are what I look at the most. And I really do have a point to all this rambling: recently I’ve had to look carefully at The Moongate to decide if it’s really the YA book I’ve always thought it was – or if it fits more into the MG category. (I’ll also include Cobalt, because I meant for that one to be MG from the very beginning.)

  • Age. In The Moongate, the main character Nissa is 16, and most of the supporting characters are the same age or older. (In Cobalt, Kate’s almost 13. Her friends are a little older, 15 and 16. I purposefully wrote it that way so the story might appeal to older readers as well.)
  • Romance. An editor told me the lack of romantic tension in The Moongate (as well as Nissa’s voice) confused their readers as to my intended target audience. She told me that as a rule there should be at least some hint of romantic tension in a YA story. Originally, there was some romantic tension between Nissa and Theryn, which I simplified to just plain tension. I have to respectfully disagree with her on that point, with at least some books. I’ve read plenty of obvious YA series that don’t have any romance until at least the second book, sometimes even the third. What this editor couldn’t know is that in The Moongate‘s sequel, romantic tension suddenly ambushes Nissa like nobody’s business and she’s like what the crud(In Cobalt, there’s romance between the older characters and even kissing! *giggles*)
  • Story. Plenty of action and suspense in The Moongate that could work in either genre, I guess, although I don’t feel some of the violence in the sequel is appropriate for the MG category. (Cobalt gets pretty dark and spooky, but that’s on purpose. Scary stories are fun!)

Because of the editor’s feedback, I’ve planned out a complete rewrite of the first half of The Moongate – I’m not talking your general revisions and junk, but a literal do over. I’m changing the whole story so it fits more into the YA mold, because I’m just digging in my heels where that’s concerned – even if it does seem that MG fantasy is my favorite genre. 🙂 I’m excited about the change, and my toughest critic (besides myself), Lia, also approves.

Here are a few of my favorite stories that are either strictly MG or, in my opinion, sit on that fuzzy line between the two genres:

In 13 Treasures, the characters range in age from 12 to 14, and they all age about a year in the course of the trilogy. It’s a well-written, adventurous Middle Grade story about fairies who aren’t all sweet and pretty like they are in fairy tales. The climactic scene in the first book would have given me nightmares as a 12-year-old!

The main character is 11 or 12 at the beginning of this series, which I haven’t finished reading yet. Time passes as the books continue, and at the point I left off, there were hints of romance. As you can tell by this cover, the books are deliciously scary, with themes that many kids have to face, like the death of a parent, betrayal, and confronting your worst fears.
You can tell just by the prologue in Bones of Faerie that the story is going to be heartbreaking and mature. This is one of those stories that hovers between MG and YA; the main character, Liza, is 15 in the first book. By the end of the second book, the romantic “requirement” for YA catches up quite nicely. The dark horror elements in this story inspired the bloodthirsty Forest in Cobalt.

As most people know, Harry’s 11 when he gets his Hogwarts letter. The first few books fit right into the MG mold, with intelligent, dark, and scary plots. Romance is introduced as the characters age, and as the plots get darker, more mature, and more dangerous, I think the books themselves shift to YA. But of course, Harry Potter is loved by readers of all ages.

12-year-old genius protag Artemis Fowl fits the MG age, but because he’s so intelligent, the story’s voice follows suit. The result is a brilliant series that crosses the border to fit comfortably into both MG and YA worlds. Artemis ages throughout the series, but there’s little romance (although there are hints now and then). Instead, the amazing action, wit, and genius carry the plot for the entire series.

What are your thoughts on how Middle Grade compares to Young Adult?

Any favorite Middle Grade books, or examples of some that could go either way?

Do you have any opinions on the rule of Young Adult always including some sort of romantic tension?

This time last year:

Cobalt Gets the Lia Treatment – Again – My 8yo was reading out loud over my shoulder, almost doubling up with laughter. “Did you write this?” he gasped. Lia became his new favorite author when I told him who really wrote the scene.

Happy Steampunk Christmas!

The Disney Trap: Cute Critter Sidekicks

I’m almost done with the first draft of Cobalt! Early on with this book, I discovered the story was kind of writing itself as a middle grade, rather than young adult. (More on that in a future post.) On a whim, I wrote an animal character into the story: Ruby, a cute-at-first-glance, venomous flying squirrel. I really didn’t have any reason at first for writing her in, other than I thought it would be cool to have a smart animal sidekick to add to the fun – and I was fully prepared to hack her mercilessly out of the story if she ended up being too cartoonish (a term my dear friend and beta reader Ryan brought up, and which he also pointed out that I’ve managed to avoid with Ruby so far).

I liked Pascal, but was he really necessary? He’s cute and spunky,
but did he contribute anything to the story?

I think some authors, especially whimsical hopeless romantics like me, might find it too easy to fall into the Disney trap by trying to work in sweet but unnecessary animal sidekicks. How many popular middle grade and young adult books are there with precocious pets as main characters? A few, sure. Not a lot. And do they work? I’m betting very rarely. What’s the trick to making them fit into a story? I’m trying to be really careful with this, because I like Ruby and don’t want to have to delete her. I will if I must, but here are a few of my arguments for animal characters that could work in a story. (And I’m not talking about books with animals as the only characters, which is an entirely different sub-genre.)

They’re integral to the plot. Sure, I could write around some of the problems my characters face without Ruby, but she’s gotten them out of a couple jams already, and in entertaining ways. How? She’s a bad-a flying squirrel with fangs. And she won’t hesitate to bite her favorite people as well as the bad guys, if they tick her off enough.

They’re either believably smart, or perfectly normal animals. Critters who can talk or understand human language perfectly might get a little too cutesy for a story. Ruby’s more intelligent than the average squirrel, partly because she has Cobalt in her blood and it changes a creature, and partly because her owner has her well trained. In the end, she’s still an animal, and doesn’t understand the things her human friends are up to – however, like most pets, she does realize when her people in pain or in danger.

Just try this with Ruby! Really, in a book, an animal
sidekick has to be more than just a cute pet.

The action doesn’t revolve around them. If the animal sidekick is getting the main characters out of every single sticky situation, it’s a lazy way to write a story. What use is your protagonist if her pet is the hero all the time? (Unless that’s the whole point of the book. Ruby: Steampunk Action Squirrel! In that case, the book would not be middle grade or young adult.) However, if you need a distraction and just happen to have a flying squirrel with a mischievous streak, that might work…only once or twice, though.

Add fangs and fur, and this is more like Ruby.

I’m just going to stop my list here, because I’m on cough medicine with codeine and I can’t words very much anymore. And speaking of the words and all of their confusions, I’ll leave you with this just for fun, before I pass out completely:

Read it out loud. Hilarious!

Feel free to comment with anything you’d like to share on animal sidekicks! Can you think of any that worked for you? What about some that didn’t, but made it into a published book anyway?

Buy A Moose For Your Mantel

It’s been two months since our move, and today I’m celebrating cable TV and internet at home! I’m also celebrating a new job as a freelance writer for an internet marketing company. I write content and custom articles for their clients. Finally, after writing for over 20 years, I’m able to support my family doing what I love! I work primarily from home, setting my own hours, but for right now I’m still at Denny’s one night a week. Waitressing for over five years has taken a bad toll on my shoulders and wrists, so I needed to severely cut my hours. Getting this writing job has been a miracle, because the pain I had from working three and four nights a week was almost unbearable.

I haven’t posted anything funny in a long time, but Lia helped me with that last night, when I stepped away for a few minutes from an article I was writing on mantelpieces. Because any content I write belongs to the company, I can’t post parts of the actual article – but I will post Lia’s additions. Note: Take her advice at your own risk. And if you do, send pictures! (Just don’t post them on Facebook.)

If your mantel has a chicken on it, you should probably remove it. If your mantel doesn’t have a moose on it, get one. Always wear clothes when decorating your mantel, as you never know where someone has hidden a camera. Don’t post pictures of your mantel on Facebook. That’s annoying.
Fine, I’ll post a picture on my blog instead!

My mantelpiece is a little narrow for a moose, but at least I don’t have a chicken on it. I think I’m good.

I have two more articles on mantels to write, so my fun blogging break is over. I wonder if I should include any tips on where to put those chickens that won’t look good on your mantelpiece?

Change to my blog: The spammers in my comments have been really amusing lately (I got an invitation to a site on getting rid of man-boobs, and I just love the attempts on coherent English), but I think I’m done with spammer fun now. So I’m changing the settings on who can comment on my posts. Let me know if you’re having trouble commenting!

A couple posts from this time last year:

Deadlines Are Great! So Are Parties! – No Halloween party this year, because my mom owns our townhouse and won’t allow it. (Kristin breathes a secret sigh of relief.)

Derpy Mistakes and Horrible Sisters – Funny how I can barely remember things that seemed like huge emergencies a year ago. But seeing those pictures again made me laugh! Emily still does that troll face, and she’s perfected it even more.

Inspirations (a blog post inspired by an award)

Well! I’ve received an award from the lovely Tonja Drecker, and I’m loving this one because it’s all about inspirations – a vital part of being a writer. This fits in nicely with a post I was going to do anyway, so I’m just going to go for it.

The rules of receiving this award are simple: I give an acceptance speech, then list five things that inspire me, as well as a song.

So my acceptance speech…um…I get stage fright really bad! Um…Y’all like, really love me? I’ll also accept gifts in the form of chocolate and sushi, and I have a Paypal account! Thanks, Tonja!

Okay, anyway…on to the stuff that inspires this crazy lady!

1. Being a fangirl. Yes. All of these. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, The Hunger Games, and even Star Wars (hey, I wanted a Princess Leia hairstyle in kindergarten which totally dates me but oh well), although if I knew how to use Photoshop I’d replace the light saber with a pirate sword and horrify all my Star Wars geek friends. :B Because one of the most important rules of keeping your imagination alive: Get crazy about something! Turn into a total geek about the things you love, attend conventions, wear costumes, fill your head with enough useless trivia about your passions to worry your relatives…At the very least, people will think you’re interesting. (Or weird. But weird counts as interesting!)

2. Books. Books are a big time inspiration for my own stories! Cobalt was partially inspired by the book pictured here, Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner. Not only could the trees in her world move, they were also deadly. I started thinking of ways I’d use the idea of a dangerous, sentient forest in my own writing, and ideas popped into my head: Murderous trees and mutated forest creatures. Airships because they’re the only safe way to travel. A girl changed by the same kind of curse that affects the forest. Pirates. Steampunk!!

3. Smells. Scents unlock memories and emotions like nothing else. My very favorite smell, one that always gets me in the mood to create new stories, is fresh rain on dry ground. (Petrichor – thank you Doctor Who for teaching me that awesome word!) Other favorite scents: Vanilla, the ocean, fresh brownies, new books, evergreen forest, lemon, rosemary. What’s your favorite smell?

4. Pictures. Sorry for the scary image there; my daughter Lia sent that to me and freaked me out! (I’m easily scared; also, one of my worst phobias is a forest after dark – although it’s mildly creepy now, if I saw something like this at night I’d lose my shiz). It immediately got me thinking about what kind of a story I can make out of this. If a picture hits me a certain way, I’ll save it on my computer so I can go back to it later and see what kinds of stories pop into my head.

Another good way to use pictures for inspiration is to look up scenery and actors for your WIP; I was always gazing at forest pictures like this when I was working on The Moongate. It puts your mind in the right place.

5. Pirates! That’s right. Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the biggest inspirations for me EVER. In my life. I dress like a pirate almost every friggin’ day, and after Cobalt I want to develop a book series with even more pirates. Love ’em. I just can’t get enough pirates!!

So now I get to share a song that inspires me. Ugh, just one song?? That’s hard, because music has always been a huge inspiration to me…I guess it’ll be one of the new ones by Abney Park – a really cool pirate shanty, one of my very favorite types of music. 😀

Rather than pick people to give this award to, I’ll invite any and all of you to take it and post it on your blogs, and share the things that inspire you!

Music For Writing: Book Soundtracks!

I always thought the idea of a soundtrack for your WIP was kind of funny, because I usually listen to the same playlist no matter what I’m writing. Then I realized, I actually do unconsciously put together a small soundtrack for each of my WIPs. Usually it’s just a few songs that I end up listening to more than the others in my playlist, that hold some special kind of significance to me while I’m working on a particular project.

I was on a huge Evanescence kick when I was writing The Moongate. Not because I thought the band matched the book, but because Lia had just discovered them, and when she discovers new music, she saturates the house with that music for weeks. (Right now it’s Florence and the Machine that I constantly have stuck in my head thanks to Lia – not that I’m complaining or anything!)

So when I started listening to this song by Evanescence, I was surprised at how well the lyrics match Nissa’s predicament.

And then for a while, I thought this song worked for The Moongate too, but after I’d written the sequel, Blood Moon, I felt it fit that book better.

And with the steampunk Cobalt, I’m enjoying a lot of instrumentals that evoke the feel of flight or old-fashioned sci-fi. Like Vernian Process’ instrumental version of Unhallowed Metropolis:

And, since there’s a strong dark fantasy theme, I think this spooky, atmospheric one from Myst fits:

This is a current favorite. I listened to it over and over again while writing an airship battle scene. You can’t hear it and not feel epic with whatever you’re doing. At one point I just sat there and picked my teeth with this song playing in the background (an unconscious activity when I’m stuck on a sentence, hehe), and it was the most epic tooth-picking I’ve ever done.

Do you listen to music while writing, or do you find it distracting? Do you make playlists for your WIPs?