Inspired by C.S. O’Cinneide

Sunday afternoon, I attended the “How to Write Frightening Fiction” workshop facilitated by author C.S. O’Cinneide (Carole) at the University of Guelph. A former IT business analyst with 25+ years of technical writing experience, Carole has written Petra’s Ghost, a novel that resonates with both literary and horror communities.

Carole’s Backstory

From an early age, Carole enjoyed writing fiction. While she enjoyed her IT career, she hoped to write a novel someday. At midlife, Carole decided to seek inspiration and direction on the Camino di Santiago.

Her supportive husband looked after their two teenage daughters and a German exchange student while Carole was away.

Walking 30 kilometers each day, Carol completed the ancient five-hundred-mile pilgrimage that crosses Northern Spain in one month. During that time, a woman was abducted and killed on the Camino.

When Carole returned to Canada, she spent two years writing and editing Petra’s Ghost, a novel loosely based on that tragedy. Intrigued by the storyline, Dundurn Press offered Carole a contract within three days of receiving the manuscript.

At Sunday’s meetup, Carole shared information and advice in an entertaining and interactive session. A short Q & A period followed.

Here are seven nuggets that captured my interest:

• Terror and horror are not mutually exclusive—most scary fiction is a mixture of the two ends of the spectrum that has terror on one end and horror at the other.

• Horror gives people a safe place to face their fears. In one of the exercises, we were asked to list 10 things that frightened us. In the sharing session that followed, a number of “fears” emerged, among them sharks, earthquakes, and shame/embarrassment.

• Don’t terrify readers the entire time. Use a balance of light and dark to give the reader a break from the tension at regular intervals.

• Develop an inner struggle to match the external one. Publishers and readers want a deeper story to go with the thrills and chills.

• Make the threat real and present for the reader. Writing in the present tense can add to the immediacy of the danger.

• A “hook” is essential when writing frightening fiction. Write the first chapter and then find the place where the “hook” occurs (often halfway or near the end of the chapter). Rewrite, starting from the hook. The earlier prose can be reused as backstory or flashback.

• Speak the language to get your book published. Do your research and decide on the best descriptor (magical realism, psychological suspense, speculative fiction, etc.) for your manuscript.

Blurb

A man’s pilgrimage becomes something from his darkest nightmares when secrets arise and ghosts haunt his path.

A woman has vanished on the Camino de Santiago, the ancient five-hundred-mile pilgrimage that crosses northern Spain. Daniel, an Irish expat, walks the lonely trail carrying his wife, Petra’s, ashes, along with the damning secret of how she really died.

When he teams up to walk with vibrant California girl Ginny, she seems like the perfect antidote for his grieving heart. But a nightmare figure begins to stalk them, and Daniel’s mind starts to unravel from the horror of things he cannot explain.

Unexpected twists and turns echo the path of the ancient trail they walk upon. The lines begin to blur between reality and madness, between truth and the lies we tell ourselves.

Amazon (Canada) | Amazon (US) | Indigo | Barnes & Noble

Books on Horror

Danse Macabre (Stephen King)
Monster, She Wrote (Editors: Lisa Kröger, Melanie R. Anderson)
Horror: A Literary History (Xavier Aldana Reyes)
Writing Horror (Edo Van Belkom)

Helpful Links

Horror Writers Association (http://horror.org)
Ladies of Horror Fiction (https://www.ladiesofhorrorfiction.com)
Carole’s Website (https://www.shekillslit.com)

Thanks to Karen Ralph and Marion Thorpe for organizing this event.


How to Overcome Writer’s Block

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

In her book, How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, Janet Evanovich recommends writing something every day, even it means just a few sentences on the screen. And not getting too hung up on rewriting the first page or chapter. Rewriting and polishing should be done only on a completed manuscript.

Here are Janet’s suggestions…

Do it by time. Start with five minutes and increase the time by five minutes a day. In two weeks, you will be sitting at your desk for about an hour a day.

Do it by pages. Start with one paragraph a day and work towards a page a day. By year’s end, you will have written 365 pages.

Do it by word account. Plan to write a specific number of words each day. Hemingway wrote around 500 words a day–approximately 2 pages. Those two pages a day produced nine novels and a number of short stories–with plenty of time out for game hunting and fishing.

Do it by appointment. Carve out a place and a certain time of each day for writing. Then show up for work.

About Janet…

Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the co-authored Fox and O’Hare series, the Knight and Moon series, and the Lizzy and Diesel series as well as twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels, Troublemaker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author.


Inspired by Sue Williams

Yesterday, I attended the “Crafting of a Memoir” workshop facilitated by author Sue Williams at the University of Guelph. An occupational therapist with over thirty years of experience, Sue has written a memoir, Ready to Come About, the story of a mother’s sailing adventure on the high seas.

Sue’s Backstory

For most of Sue’s life, fibre arts (appliqué) was her primary creative outlet. In her fifties, she experienced a perfect storm of personal events, among them her husband’s health crisis and his sudden job loss, her sons’ tumultuous road to adulthood, and her struggle as a parent to let go.

Sue decided to help her husband realize his dream to cross an ocean. Together, they set sail for the North Atlantic. Toward the end of their journey, Sue realized she had a story to tell, one filled with drama, plot, emotion, and interesting people.

At yesterday’s meetup, Sue shared anecdotes and insights from her life-changing trip and advice about the memoir-writing process. A short Q & A period followed.

Here are eight nuggets that captured my interest:

• Take note of the difference between narrative nonfiction and creative nonfiction. Biographies and autobiographies are written using narrative nonfiction. This approach is fact-based and includes more telling. Creative nonfiction involves many of the elements—plot, imagery, setting, dialogue—used in novel writing. The writer can also inject personal thoughts, feelings, or opinions into the manuscript. This approach is recommended for memoir writing.

• Write from your real self, not how you would like others to see you. Include your strengths and insecurities. You must be believable if you want readers to relate to your story.

• At the editing stage, ask yourself: “Does it matter?” Sue took 30K words out of the first draft.

• Don’t repeat the same story twice. In the first draft, Sue shared details of all the storms encountered. After receiving input from a beta reader, Sue decided to limit herself to one “storm” story.

• Don’t write as a vanity project. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s interesting.

• Use a journal if you need to vent about a failed marriage or other crisis. Get rid of the bitterness before writing the memoir.

• Prepare yourself to face the risks involved in writing a memoir. Do the opinions of others concern you? You may tick off the people who appear in your memoir and those who aren’t mentioned.

• Be patient and persistent. After six years and many drafts, Dundurn Publishing released Ready to Come About in May of 2019.

Blurb

Three hundred nautical miles from shore, I‘m cold and sick and afraid. I pray for reprieve. I long for solid ground. And I can‘t help but ask myself, What the hell was I thinking?

When Sue Williams set sail for the North Atlantic, it wasn’t a mid-life crisis. She had no affinity for the sea. And she didn’t have an adventure-seeking bone in her body.

In the wake of a perfect storm of personal events, it suddenly became clear: her sons were adults now; they needed freedom to figure things out for themselves; she had to get out of their way. And it was now or never for her husband, David, to realize his dream to cross an ocean. So she’d go too.

Ready to Come About is the story of a mother’s improbable adventure on the high seas and her profound journey within, through which she grew to believe that there is no gift more precious than the liberty to chart one’s own course, and that risk is a good thing … sometimes, at least.

Amazon (Canada) | Amazon (US) | Indigo | Dundurn Publishing

Memoirs Mentioned

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell
All the Wrong Moves by Sasha Chapin
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Swing Low by Miriam Toews
All My Puny Sorrows (a novel based on real life) Miriam Toews

Thanks to Karen Ralph and Vocamus Press for organizing this event.


The Right Character Names

“How attached are you to the name Anna May?”

Sandy Isaac’s question took me and six other members of the critique group by surprise. While I appreciated most of the suggestions I had received, I wondered about Sandy’s question. Anna May Godfrey is the villain in A Season for Killing Blondes. I had spent several years in Anna May’s company and wasn’t prepared to change her name.

Sandy noticed my hesitation and explained her resistance to the name. Said quickly, Anna May becomes “anime,” a style of animation often featuring themes intended for an adult audience. Two of the other members nodded while five of us merely shrugged. But Sandy’s concern raised several questions in my mind.

How would my readers respond?

Would they make the same connection as Sandy?

Would Anna May’s name suit or hinder her villain status?

Continue reading on the Sisterhood of Suspense blog.


How to Get Your Story Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

Yesterday, Chicken Soup for the Soul released Angels All Around, a collection of 101 fascinating tales about miracles, divine interventions, and answered prayers. I was thrilled to have my essay, “Prayers and Positive Thoughts,” included in the anthology.

Since 1997, more than 250 Chicken Soup for the Soul books have been published and over 500 million copies sold. Each volume receives thousands of story submissions from writers worldwide.

Here are Publisher Amy Newark’s best story writing tips:



To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Whenever I’ve asked a writing instructor or workshop facilitator about prologues, I’ve encountered a variety of negative facial expressions—everything from a wince to a frown to a quick shake of the head. And the following responses:

Prologues = Information Dumps.

Agents hate prologues.

Readers will skip to the first chapter.

One instructor offered a ray of hope: Use only if the prologue adds an interesting and integral layer to the narrative.

Continue reading on the Sisterhood of Suspense blog.