The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘horror

I’ve found that different creative projects require new ways of brainstorming and opening channels for getting inspired. For the last few weeks, I’ve been playing around with two different items that have kickstarted my brainstorming sessions for my horror novel.

One was already on my shelf, bought years ago. It’s called The Observation Deck: A Tool Kit for Writers by Naomi Epel. Published more than 20 years ago, I remember using it for stories I wrote a long time ago. It has been fun to rediscover its usefulness now. A new edition is available on Amazon.

It includes 50 fun and innovative cards that offer techniques to bust through writer’s block. The cards match to short chapters where Epel draws on her experiences as a writer and advice gleaned from many best-selling authors.

I love the design of the cards. Some of the approaches will feel familiar (like what I drew recently which was to ask ‘What If’ questions; still a good prompt as I made myself come up with 50 plot ideas), others offer fresh approaches that I haven’t seen elsewhere like ‘Follow a Scent’.

I heard about Caroline Myss’s Archetype Cards through the fabulous How Do You Write podcast (a new favorite of mine), by Rachael Herron when she interviewed W.L. Hawkin, a writer of edgy urban fantasy. The idea of an archetype was theoretically developed by psychologist Carl Jung. Archetypes are recognizable human patterns, signs and symbols that are found all over the world and across time (e.g. ‘the witch, ‘the maiden’, ‘the hero’, etc). Many writers and storytellers have drawn on Jung’s work to understand how archetypes figure in storytelling.

Hawkin said that she uses the archetype cards to help her brainstorm aspects of her story, especially in developing characters. Here’s the episode. I thought this was a brilliant idea and immediately bought the deck. I’ve done a lot of reading on my own about archetypes but have never thought to apply them to fiction.

There are 74 archetype cards and each description includes light and shadow attributes. She also includes  6 blank cards for your own creations. Although the deck was designed for personal use (i.e. to discover how you embody certain archetypes), it adapts beautifully to storytelling.

The artwork is compelling.

For the horror novel, it’s currently looking like I will have at least six viewpoint characters. And, I’m far enough along to know some things about them including their fears, secrets, needs and wants. But, I was interested in how might they interact with each other (especially under stress), and what could cause conflict between the characters based on how they were expressing aspects of their archetype.

I was able to easily pick out dominant archetypes for each character! So, for example, I have a stunt woman character and it made sense to connect her to the Athlete archetype and use that to explore what aspects of this archetype might she express both consciously and unconsciously. When people are less conscious of how they are acting out of these patterns, it can lead to inner and outer turmoil. And, of course turmoil adds heat to a story!

It’s fun to think about how to update archetypes, too. You can do so by emphasizing lesser known characteristics of the archetype. One of my characters will have a combo personality of the femme fatale and bully. That should be fun!

I had so much fun looking through these cards and making notes, I lost track of time. I’m keeping these cards close as I write.

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I’ve started preliminary research for my horror novel. I know that some of it will take place in the Great Dismal Swamp.

The Great Dismal Swamp is one that extends across southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Some scientists estimate that it once consisted of over a million acres.

Over the past several centuries, however, due to intensive logging and the building of the Dismal Swamp Canal (completed in1805), the area shrank to 112, 000 acres.

Books from the library.

I got interested in the history of this swamp, several years ago, when I learned that many African American runaway slaves formed maroon societies in this very harsh environment. There are also lots of tales and folklore about the Great Dismal Swamp that involve eerie lights, ghost sightings and other strange phenomena. There are also true stories about people going into the swamp and never being seen again.

Although swamps can be beautiful places because of the biodiversity, they also lend themselves to a horror landscape.

The swamp has its own unique ecosystem and that includes critters that would be fun (so to speak), to highlight in a horror novel.

To that end, I’d love to know what kinds of fears the swamp might invoke for you. If you have a moment, I’ve created a poll to gather just such information.

 

 

Photo Credits: http://www.virginialiving.com/travel/the-great-dismal-swamp/

https://www.hhhistory.com/2016/09/the-great-dismal-swamp.html

https://www.ncpedia.org/great-dismal-swamp

When I originally signed up for Samantha Bryant’s ‘Finish Your Novel’ workshop, I thought I would either be working on a parallel novel set in my Reenu-You universe or the urban fantasy novel I’m co-writing with my sister. The workshop meets for five Saturdays for three hours. Samantha’s a great instructor and I’ve taken her classes before through CCCC’s Creative Writing Program. She is most well-known for her superhero menopausal series, which I adore. See my interview with her about Going through The Change, her first book in the series.

I loved when Samantha asked us to place ourselves as writers on the spectrum of Explorers (i.e. Discovery writers) and Architects (i.e. Plotters) in how we begin projects.

Everything changed last weekend when I attended Illogicon, the local sci-fi convention that I’ve been attending since 2015. I had scheduled a meeting with a publisher that I was hoping to get to know better.

Although I can’t release all the details yet, suffice it to say I pitched this publisher a horror novel idea that’s been rolling around in my psyche for a few years. They loved it. So much so, they are offering me a contract. I will have a soft deadline of turning in the novel by October and a hard deadline of January 2020.

I literally have only about six pages of notes on my horror novel idea. Getting published is often a mysterious processes defined by things both in and out of one’s control. As I have often said, there is no one route to publication. And, although I still have to write the book (no small feat!), the way this opportunity has unfolded has been marked by a wonderful feeling of synchronicity. I also believe that all the other pathways of the writing life that I have been contributing to (e.g. blogging and using social media, building relationships with other writers, and submitting work) has contributed to this moment of serendipity.

I’m still both gleeful and stunned at the ease of how everything unfolded. When I met with the publisher, I didn’t have the slightest intent on pitching this novel idea, but during the conversation it felt right. I had studied the company’s catalog and surmised that they might want to continue to develop their horror line.

After the conversation finished, I immediately thought—OK, WELL THIS CHANGES ALL MY WRITING PLANS FOR 2019! and, I NEED SOME SUPPORT IN GETTING THIS NOVEL WRITTEN! and, CLEARLY THIS STORY WANTS TO BE BORN!!! and, YIKES! AND, OMG, I’VE NEVER WRITTEN A HORROR NOVEL!!!!!

I took a deep breath and told myself that I would figure it out, as all writers do.

This brings me back to the Finish Your Novel workshop. We met yesterday and I think it’s going to provide a helpful model for accountability. Samantha will discuss key issues about novel structure and all the participants will have at least one opportunity to receive feedback on their work. My goal is to develop a detailed outline for our Feb meeting.

There is nothing like getting a new notebook when starting a project. My writing teacher got me hooked on these colorful and inexpensive composition books.

I can’t wait to share more details. I’ll do that once the contract has been signed, etc. I can tell you that my story will be set in North Carolina, in the present. I will be updating you right here about the joys, triumphs and struggles of writing this novel.

One question for the fiction writers:

What’s your favorite book on plotting and novel structure? I’d love to know!

One question for the horror lovers among us:

I haven’t read that many classic European and early American horror writers like Lovecraft, etc. What are some classics that I should read?

In my recent newsletter, I wrote about how fun it has been to break some WRITING RULES during the month of November. You might want to consider breaking some writing rules, too.

I’ve been taking inspiration from Durham author and podcaster Mur Lafftery. She is creator of the delightful podcast called I Should Be Writing.

Like many folks, I am working on a NaNoWriMo project and juggling other writing projects, work and life. Also, like many folks, I recognize that we’re moving into a time of the year where it can be harder to get creative work done due to holiday travel, holiday plans, increased expectations about spending time with family and/or friends, etc.

I won NaNoWriMo in 2014, but I used an outline and prepared for months. This year, I don’t have an outline, so I’m “pantsing it” and to boot my NaNoWriMo project is an urban fantasy novel co-written with my sister. Complicated!

Mur typically does a special NaNoWriMo series on her podcast. This year, she’s been posting daily using the metaphor of The Purge (which was a series of horror movies). The NaNoWriMo Purge suspends and breaks “all writing laws/rules” in service of getting more writing done.

These movies look scary!

Hearing her encouragement on breaking writing rules has been a lot of FUN and given me PERMISSION to try new things. A writing rules purge every once and awhile is probably good for us. It builds a sense of excitement and rebelliousness when we come to the page.

So, here are some writing rules to consider breaking—just for the month of November, because well, you know how this month goes. You might be doing NaNoWriMo and trying to get more words written or you just might want to get writing again. Anyway, without a bit of fortitude it’s cold turkey sandwiches, sticky leftover cranberry sauce, the last slice of pumpkin pie, a retail headache and a lot of regret by November 30th.

Writing Rules to Break in November according to Mur (with my interpretation)

Write every day. Nope! Now usually this is a good rule to have because it helps with our consistency. Well, as Mur notes, a major American holiday intervenes in the midst of November which usually includes lots of cooking, eating and retail adventures. You can break this law! Instead think about what writing might realistically fit in your schedule. Plan to be interrupted. Find time to steal. Maybe you will write in the car (assuming you aren’t driving) on the way to Thanksgiving dinner. If you are used to doing a specific word count, consider what it would take to write just a little bit more when you can—so plan to make your word count up over six days, knowing that you will probably not be able to write during the holiday weekend.

Don’t write dream sequences. Nope! Many writers are absolutely terrified of putting a dream sequence into a novel. OK, sometimes they are overused, but that’s not always the case. A dream sequence can be just what you need to get your writing juices flowing—it can always be cut later. Put on your Freudian or Jungian hat and write a dream sequence. Use it to foreshadow an event, get into your characters’ subconscious, and show us their desires or their fears.

Don’t head-hop. Nope! So the rule goes don’t go head-hopping between characters in the same scene. You can confuse the reader and it is not as common in literature as it once was. Though as Mur points out Agatha Christy did this within in a scene and even within a paragraph! So, head-hop all you want. Tell us what Janelle thinks about Damon and then tell us what Damon thinks about her. Tell us what the server in the restaurant that is watching them thinks. Give us all the points of view possible in the very same scene!

-Don’t start a scene with dialogue. Nope! This is one of my additions. Common writing wisdom frowns on starting with dialogue as it disorients the reader. Readers need context. I think it depends on what the characters are saying. Read the fantastic mystery writer Walter Mosely, and you’ll find that he often starts his scenes off with dialogue and trust me, you are immediately hooked. I would have never finished my first NaNoWriMo if I stuck to this rule. Starting with dialogue can be a way to get the reader quickly involved into the emotion of the scene.

Can you think of more writing rules that you’d like to break? I bet you can.

You can listen for free to the first of Mur’s NaNoWriMo Purge series here. The rest of her series is available through her Patreon page. Patreon is a platform that lets you directly support artists and creators.

Break some rules, people! It’s really fun. We will return to our writing law-abiding selves after November. Promise.

Hi dear readers,

I’m planning a fun event. If you’re local, come hear me and several other speculative fiction authors read on Oct 5! I’d love to see you there. Feel free to share!

I got to know Ashleigh Gauch last year through our connection being published in the ‘UnCommon’ anthologies by Fighting Monkey Press. In the summer, I invited Ashleigh to write a guest post sharing her insights about being an indigenous speculative fiction writer writing across communities. Ashleigh is passionate about writing and we quickly found ourselves having spirited late night conversations about speculative fiction, trends in publishing, our favorite authors, etc. via Facebook Messenger. That’s how I found out about her intriguing new novel, Covenant of the Hollow. [check out her pre-order special at the end of the post!]

Ashleigh Gauch is a Haida author living just south of her hometown of Seattle, Washington. She went to college for nutrition but found her passions lay not in science, but in the genesis of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Her aquatic friend Odin and feline companion Luna love to watch her work!

Her work has been featured in the online periodical Bewildering Stories, the Fighting Monkey Press collections UnCommon Minds and UnCommon Lands, the Manawaker Press collections Starward Tales and Starward Tales 2, and the online periodical Teaching Tolerance.

Blurb for Covenant of the Hollow:

Would you give up your ability to fear in exchange for your deepest desire?

Across centuries, the lives of two young women with vastly dissimilar ambitions collide.

Annalise Silva is a 21st-century nineteen-year- old mayoral hopeful in her small city. Between dealing with abusive parents and not being taken seriously as a candidate, she has a lot on her plate. When she investigates mysterious prophetic dreams, she discovers an extradimensional alien who offers her the office in a swap for her fears.

Elizabeth Bathory’s noble birth in 1500s Hungary did not guarantee her happiness. Needing help to catch a husband to secure her family’s position, she accepts the alien creature’s whispered promise of her place in history if she will gift him her inhibitions. She didn’t know she’d be branded as the most prolific serial killer in history.

With lives running in reverse and time running out, will their attempts to stop each other’s descent into madness via shared dreams succeed—before the creature destroys the world?

I’m delighted to welcome Ashleigh Gauch back to The Practice of Creativity!

 

– Tell us about your recent novel, Covenant of the Hollow. What are you hoping readers will connect to in this story? 

Covenant of the Hollow was both a challenge and a joy to write. It follows the twin stories of Annalise Silva, a nineteen-year-old Puerto Rican girl living in the fictional town of Qualicum, WA, and Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific female serial killer in history. They encounter an extra-dimensional creature who promises them their greatest desires (consequence free) in exchange for their ability to feel fear. Given the constant state of anxiety in which many (dare I say most) women live their lives, such an offer would seem like the easiest decision to make in the world.

One of the things I really tried to capture in both story lines was the omnipresent feeling of powerlessness women feel even as they take steps to seize power over their own lives.

Annalise’s story was based in large part on interviews with a good friend of mine about her uncle and aunt and some of the problems their daughter faced after the family moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland U.S.

Although the cousin in question didn’t run for political office, they did face several of the situations in the book, including pressure from their mother to stay in the household as a caretaker rather than starting a life of their own and having to deal with their father being extradited back to Puerto Rico, leaving the family without a steady income.

Elizabeth’s story was inspired by the article in the collection Rejected Princesses on the historical figure. In it, the author suggested that Elizabeth may have committed atrocities, but not on the scale she was convicted for and not entirely without reason. Sadism or not, she was a widow from the highest-ranking family in all of Hungary who had to hold onto her lands, and the man entrusted with care of her family had his eye on her power. Taking on a familiar horror story from that point of view brought questions to my mind about what that would be like, and what it would be like to be told that the only value you had as a person, from birth, was what you could give to the court.

She has to face many hard choices, including dealing with post-partum depression and vulnerability following an abortion, dealing with her husband’s death and a near-immediate proposal from the man he had assigned their care to, and fears that her barony will fall to Ottoman invaders before she even gets a chance to see if she’s taught her son enough to succeed his father.

That claustrophobic there-is-no-way-out-of-this feeling is one MANY women face on a daily basis, and I’m hoping that my readers find a bit of themselves both protagonists.

-Your story moves back and forth in time between two main characters. Were there any challenges in plotting or characterization that you grappled with as you worked on the book?

Well, I can tell you this book converted me from a pantser to a plotter pretty quickly!

One of the big challenges came from having to change the historical events to fit part of the story I wanted to tell. For example, Elizabeth was 10 years old when she married Ferenc and had her first child at 12, possibly with a lover from the peasantry. Understandably uncomfortable with this, I aged her up to 14 during the opening scenes of the book when she woos Ferenc (a fact contested in various references) and has her abortion (also contested, some sources say she gave a daughter up for adoption).

As far as lining up the story went, I tried to allow the dream sequences they connected with and some of the base events happening in each of their story lines carry similar themes, so the transitions between chapters and points of view felt smooth.

One of the biggest challenges was making Elizabeth relatable. Most people have only encountered her story as the “Blood Countess,” hammed up for horror purposes with her bathing in blood and ripping pieces of flesh off her victims. Although some of those things were alleged in her trial, the historical accuracy was dubious for many of the claims listed. And beyond that, making a sadist relatable at all is a challenge, especially a feminine one.

Trying to showcase her struggles, her reasoning and internal debate for each choice she made, solved some of those issues, but the fact remains that many people struggle to have empathy with flawed female characters. I hope that my book can be another plank on that bridge.

-What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching Hungary in the 1500s for your character, Elizabeth Bathory?

The first was that she and her husband most likely tortured girls together at first, and that he tempered her during his visits home from the war. That was a pretty big shock for me!

The second was that (again, changed in the book for story purposes) he was actually illiterate, while Elizabeth spoke over 4 languages, could read and write, and had a knack for governance. She really was a more educated and prepared ruler than he, and handled much of the court work in his absence. Her son ultimately failed as a successor because she was so afraid of having her power stripped she didn’t adequately prepare him to take over, which ended her bloodline as rulers.

-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

My first poem was published at 10 years old. It was about 9/11, and my teacher was so concerned about the contents she ended up calling my parents in for a conference. When she determined they hadn’t helped me write it (and didn’t even know about it), she sent it in to a youth writing contest and it ended up in an anthology.

From then on I wrote obsessively growing up, about anything and everything I could get my hands on. I even used the templates in the old version of Word to create a pseudo-newspaper I sent to my grandmother every month. The Storypaper. It had some running stories in parts and some complete ones, and she saved all of them before she died.

I wanted to be an author when I grew up from 10 onward, by my parents were the opposite of supportive. My stepdad thought that I’d be a starving artist if I went to college for creative writing, so I ended up majoring in nutrition when I got to school despite the fact they never ended up helping me pay for it. It wasn’t until some complications happened in school and I ended up bedridden for 2 years following a severe back injury that I picked up the pen again.

I will never put it back down as long as I live.

-What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your e-reader)? What are you reading right now? 

J.G. Follansbee gave me an advance release copy of the third book in his Tales of a Warming Planet series, City of Ice and Dreams. I’m reading it for fiction, and a book called Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman for nonfiction. I tend to read one of each at any given time.

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Every project hits a stagnation period. A place where you’re stuck in the mud despite your best planning, where the idea of sitting down to write brings more pain than joy in your mind. Where you no longer know if the idea you’re working on is worth it, if any of it is worth it, and something shinier and prettier looks easier and beckons you away from everything you’ve done up until that point.

For Covenant, it was when a couple of people in my writing group told me that the concept couldn’t work and that I needed to completely change the way I approached the book. That horror readers wouldn’t dig it and it wasn’t sci-fi enough for the science fiction crowd, either.

Don’t listen to any of those voices, human or internal. Because the new shiny pretty thing will have the same swamp waiting for you, and another newer, shinier, prettier thing will beckon, and you’ll leave a stream of unfinished projects in your wake. Give yourself the gift of done, and even after the first draft is finished, the gift of time and perspective. It’s worth it, the work is worth it, and as an author, you’re worth it, too.

No matter what any of the voices say.

Ashleigh Gauch is a writer. Her first novel is Covenant of the Hollow.

Pre-order/Buy Link ($0.99 for the e-book until 2/22): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079NNYRJZ/

Buy Link for Prequel (Diary of the Hollow): https://www.amazon.com/Diary-Hollow-Chronicles-Drowsy-Book-ebook/dp/B078RFBYW5/

Hi folks,

Happy holiday weekend to all my U.S. readers and for those not in the U.S., I hope you are well wherever you are in the world. In a few days, we move into ‘Cyber Monday’. Many publishers, along with other businesses, are offering great deals on Monday. This is an excellent time to find holiday gifts and stock up on personal reading for the season. I wanted to give you a heads up about one publisher in particular—Fighting Monkey Press.

Fighting Monkey Press, publisher of the amazing ‘UnCommon’ anthologies is having a GREAT sale on Monday. On Monday (and for a very limited time), you can get ALL 4 anthologies for just $4.00, or one book for 99c! I’m published in the UnCommon Origins anthology and have truly been impressed with the phenomenal writing in each collection. My urban fantasy story, ‘The Curl of Emma Jean’ is about two sisters, race, fairies and the God Faunus.Check out the UnCommon Origins trailer.
Each anthology is themed and features short stories that fall into the categories of horror, magical realism, fantasy, slipstream, science fiction, steampunk and more. Your imagination will truly be sparked by the UnCommon anthologies!

Get 4 books for 4 dollars, or 1 book for 99c! 

UnCommon Bodies

Step right up to the modern freakshow — We have mermaids, monsters, and more. You won’t be disappointed, but you may not get out alive.

UnCommon Bodies presents a collection of 21 beautifully irreverent stories that blend the surreal and the mundane. Together, the authors explore the lives of the odd, the unbelievable, and the impossible. Imagine a world where magic exists, where the physical form has the power to heal or repulse, where a deal with the devil means losing so much more than your soul.

UnCommon Origins

UnCommon Origins presents 22 depictions of moments on the precipice, beginnings both beautiful and tragic. Fantastical stories of Creation, Feral Children, Gods and Goddesses (both holy and horrific), and possibilities you never dared imagine come to life. Including stories from some of the most talented Speculative Fiction and Magical Realism authors around, UnCommon Origins will revisit the oldest questions in the universe: Where did we come from? and What comes next?

UnCommon Minds

Enter into the hidden world of the mind, where the laws of nature don’t apply and nothing is as it seems.

Straight from the minds of 20 UnCommon Authors come tales of tragedy, triumph, and bittersweet gratitude. You’ll find augmented realities and mental persuasion that force you to question everything. Stories of military suspense, psychological horror, dream walkers, and psychic mediums await their turn to crawl into your head.

UnCommon Lands

Enter into the hidden world of the mind, where the laws of nature don’t apply and nothing is as it seems.

Straight from the minds of 20 UnCommon Authors come tales of tragedy, triumph, and bittersweet gratitude. You’ll find augmented realities and mental persuasion that force you to question everything. Stories of military suspense, psychological horror, dream walkers, and psychic mediums await their turn to crawl into your head.

 

 

 

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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