Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fear Factor: Four Ways to Scare Them!

A post for Halloween Eve. How could I not discuss what scares us? Thinking about scary scenes from books and movies, brought back a vivid memory of a movie my cousins introduced me to when I was eleven. “The Beast with Five fingers” was made in 1947 and it was the last movie Peter Lorrie ever made with Warner Borthers. A famous pianist dies, his hand is severed and the hand commits murders. When the hand is thrown into a fire, it manages to crawl out and still strangle its victim!  And at the sound of piano music, the audience knows the hand is on its way to the next victim.  For months after seeing that movie, I made sure my covers didn’t touch the floor. I knew the hand could climb, but I was pretty sure it couldn’t jump. What scared me was the most was the possibility of what that hand could do. 

While I don’t write horror, I do have scenes that I create to scare my readers, so I’ve spent some time analyzing what makes a scary scene work.  

Build dread through details:
A scene that terrified me as a young reader was in The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. She builds an atmosphere of dread word by word. On mid winter eve Will Stanton is alone in his room. He lies awake in the dark listening to every sound, recalling the strange events of the day, certain he is going mad. Up to this point, she’s seeded the story with foreshadowing...The walker is abroad..this night will be bad…. Her description of the moaning wind, the strange behavior of animals, the palpable presence of the dark increases our tension. We don’t know what will happen in that room but when the snow crashes through the skylight and a single rook feather lands on the bed, we are as startled and horrified as Will. 

Master of horror, Stephen Kings says:
“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything. Or a broken billboard. Or weeds growing in the cracks of a library’s steps. Of course, none of this means a lot without characters the reader cares about (and sometimes characters—‘bad guys’—the reader is rooting against).” 

Focus on character response:
Cooper builds dread not only through the details, but in Will’s response to them. If Will’s response isn’t real fear, ours won’t be either. Our heart rate escalates, our palms grow sweaty along with the protagonist if the author shows us what the character is risking. The reader’s response is in proportion to the protagonist’s. Which leads me to…
Make it worth the sweat
The dark  must be worth fearing. Readers gauge their fear by understanding consequences. If the antagonist isn’t a credible baddie, if the reader doesn’t understand the potential of the night in the woods, the severed hand, the discarded revolver, the scene loses power. Think about Hannibal Lecter who “once ate a census taker's liver ‘with fava beans and a nice Chianti.’”
Leave it to the imagination:
What scares us most is in our own imaginations, the possibility rather than the actual. The unknown is scarier and more enticing than the known. The skillful writer will already have cranked the tension up with foreshadowing. Fear comes from the tension of not knowing the outcome, but expecting the worse. Perhaps the protagonist is about to do something stupid: go into the cellar, spend the night in a haunted house. Readers know bad things are coming, but we don’t know how those bad things will play out. Our own minds can be scarier than a graveyard on Halloween night. It’s the author’s job to lead us there and then blow out the candle.


What’s your favorite scary scene from a book or movie?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bye Bye Brady!


Home is where the heart is, and my heart certainly resides with my incredible family. My mom has always been, is always, and always will be my best friend. the first person I turn to when I need support or even just a hug. She is the only one I want to pamper me when I am sick and most likely the only person who I can argue with for hours and at the end of the day laugh and giggle with one another like school kids. My mom is the type of person that will have a broken ankle and still be doing stuff that needs to be done. She is my role model if you will.

My dad is the person that motivates me. He pushes me to do better by expecting more out of me than anyone else which makes me work harder. He has the driest sense of humor (you would swear he was British) and the best cooking skills ever. My dad is the guy who will let me know when a plot is south bound or when I have begun to look sickly from a lack of the outside world (we all have been there at some point, don't try and deny it). He is a jokester, a friend, a confidant, and the best dad I could have ever wished for. Both of my sisters are artistic and bright and make me a happier person (generally, sometimes not so much in the morning though).

And recently as a family we made a HUGE decision! We have decided to move from Eureka Springs, Arkansas to Denver, Colorado! That is over 1,000 miles to trek across with our belongings.

Though my heart is with my family, I couldn't help but over the years I have lived in this incredible town lose a little of myself to the incredible atmosphere and people.
Eureka is a small town of only 2,000 people. Artistic people that love any excuse there is to throw a parade and dress up! The old Victorian town has been filled with colors and laughter of generations of families who have found their slice of heaven on earth in the Ozark mountains.
All of the old buildings are works of art in an d of themselves, fantastic stone work and hand etched windows line the shops of downtown Eureka Springs. The stars shine above the buildings peeking through the vast amount of trees that line our little windy town.

Eureka also happens to be home to the Crescent Hotel, the third most haunted hotel in North America. Creepy right? Built in 1886 it has been everything from a hospital, a bowling alley, a school, and now a hotel. It has gone through murders, fires, suicides and tragic accidents. And now people pay on a regular basis to have their weddings there. :)

I have made life long friends and made memories that are forever etched inside my head.

I have been eaten by vicious zombies ( also known s my little sister) amidst a zombie crawl.

Stunning scenery that lifts your spirit with the wind.
Halloween is never a boring sight. Colors and lights can be seen lighting up the night sky.

Eureka is a town fond of parades, and I am fond of the people in them.

Eureka! Means I found it, and for many people they have found their home. They have found a town that is all about expressing themselves. A town that celebrates creativity and being unique. Eureka to me is a place that will always make me smile, a place I know is enveloped in love and bright colors.

Eureka is the birthplace of most of my novel ideas, and my inspiration for a few of them. I am grateful to have called it my home for the past five years. But I am looking forward to filling my head with brand new memories I can carry with me wherever I go.

Hello Denver.

Until Next Time My Friends
Lexi Brady

Friday, October 25, 2013

Neil Gaiman and Chinese Sci-Fi

Last week, renowned author Neil Gaiman gave a speech for The Reading Agency in which he defended the idea of books and libraries in the digital age. His argument hinges on 3 points: 1) books are crucial to our development as thinking creatures, 2) it doesn’t much matter what a child chooses to read so long as that child grow up passionate about reading, and 3) librarians are essential because they’re in a unique position to introduce new books to readers. His words are inspiring and profound, and definitely worth reading in their entirety.

To support his position, Gaiman recounts an experience he had at a Chinese science fiction convention. He approached one of the organizers of the event and asked, given that the People’s Republic has traditionally frowned upon fantastical fiction (and even went so far as to ban stories about time travel), why is China now suddenly so interested in sci-fi?

The answer given to Gaiman was startling only in that it came from the mouth of a government official. The event organizer stated that Chinese technologists have always excelled at implementing other people’s ideas, but not at coming up with their own. So they created a task force to examine creative professionals in science and industry around the world and discovered that they all had one thing in common: imaginative fiction. You don’t have to be a Ph.D. to see that reading inspires imagination, and imagination means creative problem solving and new ideas that drive our world forward.

The idea that imaginative literature is more than mere escapism is certainly a validation for someone like me, whose greatest joy is writing about robots and jet packs. And I don’t think it’s just science fiction that can take credit, because fantasies, thrillers, and all other genres can serve equally well to get us thinking, predicting, and imagining.

Once upon a time, I visited China and had an experience which might confirm the notion that fiction improves us. I was a college student travelling abroad, and two friends and I decided to take a detour for Tai Shan, a mountain famed for its amazing sunrise vista—and the seven thousand steps one needed to climb to see that sunrise. We had trudged along all day and into the night, and we were so tired that we felt ready to give up. We went so far as checking into an inn and taking off our shoes.
Only a thousand steps up, we were already beat
Then a funny thing happened. The three of us had been passing around a book about a dragon slayer—I think it was by Barbara Hambly, but it was so long ago I can’t even remember the title. The important thing was that the protagonist was both brave and clever, and we started talking about how he would never spend the night in an inn while the peak awaited. We agreed to emulate the hero’s courage by pressing on for the top that very night, so we resumed our march in the dark. We also decided to be wise like the hero by improvising warm ground covers and stools so that we wouldn’t freeze on the rocky ground as we waited for dawn. We made it, and we didn’t even die of hypothermia in the process (which was a real, if remote, danger).

The sunrise on Tai Shan had not been oversold by the generations of Chinese philosophers, poets, and artists who praised it. As the first vermilion rays crept into the sky (China’s pollution has added some amazing pigments to the celestial pallet), I realized that I was seeing it through my eyes, and also the eyes of all those poets who had put its beauty into verse. At the same time, I saw it as the dragon slayer in our shared book would have seen it: a reward for hard work and sacrifice. And as Bilbo might have seen it: the promise of a new day and new adventures. And as Mr. Spock might have seen it: a roiling mass of fusing helium atoms, all the more beautiful for being measurable and understandable.

Viewing that sunrise through all those different lenses didn’t distract me from the majesty of the event, but rather multiplied my appreciation for it. Fiction helped me see reality more clearly, and it helped me reach the peak of the mountain, both figuratively and literally. This, I think, is only one part of the power of books. I wholeheartedly agree with Gaiman’s argument, and I wish the Chinese great success in their public campaign to stimulate imagination.

How about you? Has a book ever inspired you to do something? If so, I’d love for you to leave a comment below to tell me about it.

Be good, and dream crazy dreams,

Sechin Tower is a teacher, a table-top game designer, and the author of Mad Science Institute. You can read more about him and his books on and his games on

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Girls & Monsters Halloween Giveaway

It's no secret: autumn is my favorite time of year, especially because of Mother Nature lashing out her brightest colors before killing everything for winter. And then there's Halloween, the celebration of the Dead and the Un-Dead. So pretty the skulls and spiders adorning the neighborhood, the pumpkin grins and the skeleton dances, so inspiring for future stories to come.
And so I want to spread the dark joy of scaring people, of making people squeal in disgust and hide in fright by giving away a signed copy of my collection of dark tales for young adult, Girls & Monsters, as well as The Monsters Collection of Skellies. Of course, I won't be celebrating alone, so please visit my fellow Coffin Hoppers blogs and websites for other scares and goodies by clicking the sexy zombies, up above.

Coffinhopgiveaway*Girls & Monsters Giveaway*

1st prize winner gets a signed copy of Girls & Monsters plus The Monsters Collection of Skellies, made by moi.

2nd prize winner gets a digital copy of Death By Drive-In, an anthology featuring stories written by 24 horror authors/Coffin Hoppers.

To participate, click here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Beginning on Octobre 24th and ending on Halloween at midnight (east), the contest is international, the winners will be picked by, and the prizes shipped the next day. Good luck♥

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Three Essential Tools a Writer Needs (and it's not what you think)

When I first started sitting on writer panels and faced the classic question, what are the essential tools every writer needs--I would reply with appropriately calibrated gravitas:  a deep passion for the written word, a willingness to search beyond the shadows of your soul, and a keen appreciation for the spirit that defines how we, and others, view the world. 
                That was then.
                This is now.
                I've been lost in the Forest of Futility enough times to know exactly what I need to survive.  But having these three essential tools isn't enough.  Yes, passion and soul searching and emotional connection are important--but they are like the granola in your trail mix.  Very good to have, but they won't sustain you.  They won't get you out of the forest, up the mountain, through the clouds and into the sun.  I'm talking the basics of wilderness survival: knife, flint, and fifty feet of para chord.

Survival Tool Number One:  Hope
A writer without hope is like an explorer without a horizon.  For me, that hope is defined by the projects I have out there in the wild being considered (or not) for publication.  That means I need to be in constant motion, putting words on a page and sending them out.  But the mere existence of hope won't do the trick.  You have to know where it is.  If you let hope get behind you, then all is lost.  It has to be in front of you, preferably up high where you can always see it.  Send out those manuscripts, then allow them to populate your dreams.

Survival Tool Number Two:  Persistence
In the real world, survivors might call this the will to live.  To crawl out of the cave, to eat bugs and tree bark, or saw your arm off with a dull blade when you are trapped by a rock in a crevasse in the middle of the desert.  For scribes, this is the will to write--to put words on the page even when the clouds of rejection are raining on your creative soul.  If Hope is your north star, Persistence is the drive to finish the damn book, to polish it till your fingers bleed,  then send it out and out and out.  And when it comes back, all beat up and pleading for mercy, send it out again.  Keep Persistence behind you, but close.  You want to feel it's firm hand on your back.

Survival Tool Number Three:  Luck
This is arguably the least, and most essential, tool you have.  Luck is out there, happy coincidences of fate that lead to treasures unseen.   Most people view luck as a random event--sometimes it happens, and when it does it happens to someone else.  I remember interviewing a champion poker player for a magazine article.  I asked him how much luck plays into the game.  He replied that luck is huge, but if you wait for luck it will burn you every time.  The good players, the ones that keep winning, know how to make their own luck.  So my view is every writer needs luck, to submit the right manuscript to the right editor at exactly the right time--but those odds, if you calculate all the other manuscripts out there and how quickly market trends change, are oppressively long.  So I say keep luck in your orbit.  You can't see it or feel it.  You just have to know that it is out there, and when tools one and two are in doubt, that shining pinball of good fortune will bounce your way and change everything.  It has happened to me more than once and I know that it will happen again.  But here's the thing about luck.  It won't find you. 

You have to get in its way.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Hike Through MONSTERS

On my blog last week, I took us through some of the mines that inspired my take on Rule's mine in SHADOWS.  Do check that out if you're into arcane effluvia, like gold mining in Michigan (for real, folks).  This week, though, we look at a couple real locales that figure prominently in MONSTERS: Houghton, MI and Isle Royale.

Houghton really is a college town, home to Michigan Tech University

The Keweenaw Peninsula was also very big in terms of copper mining back in the day, and as I pointed out in my SHADOWS post last week, you can still visit the old Quincy Copper Mine and Hoist.  After a day of touring around (or to give you that necessary jumpstart), you can't go wrong with a great cuppa at the Cyberia CafĂ©,

whose owner was nice enough to open up early for a caffeine-deprived writer AND let her hang out on his internet because hers wasn't working.  And that brownstone synagogue Tom talks about near the end?  Yup, Temple Jacob, with its very beautiful copper dome, is there, too--

to the right of the lift bridge.

Michigan Tech's real claim to fame is that the university's home to the Isle Royale Wolf and Moose Project, the longest running, continuous study of predator-prey populations in the world.   Over forty miles long, Isle Royale is isolated and remote, the largest island in the largest inland lake in the world, and a place you really have to want to get to.  Most people come by ferry (about 5 1/2 hours from Houghton, 1 1/2 from Thunder Bay, Ontario, or 3 hours and change from Grand Portage, MN),

or--if you can scrape together the change and spring for it--about 45 minutes from Houghton by seaplane (after a 5 1/2 hour drive to the town).

There is nothing on Isle Royale other than a very small National Park Service lodge (with a grill and tiny restaurant), a lookout tower, a former fish farm (and a place that Rolf Peterson, one of Isle Royale's premiere wolf researchers, calls home)

some cottages from the days before the island was made a national park,

a couple water taxis, the research station (on the southwestern tip of this forty-mile long island), and a whole lot of backcountry with some of the most spectacular scenery and fabulous flora and fauna you'll ever see.


Why do research here?  In brief, the island's home to a number of isolated populations, and research has focused on moose and wolf populations, beginning back in the 1950s.  Now, moose can swim between the mainland and the island, but wolves can't.  So how did they get there in the first place?   Ice bridges: Lake Superior typically freezes over at least a few days every year, although the thickness of this ice varies from a few centimeters to several inches (enough to support vehicles on an "ice highway" between Bayfield, WI and Madeline Island).  Animals can cross ice bridges if they're thick enough, which is how the wolves got to the island in the first place.  Unfortunately for them, the last ice bridge anywhere thick enough existed between Thunder Bay and the island happened in 1985.  So the wolves are trapped, making them a pretty interesting population for study, and one that's been as high as 24 individuals in three different packs to where they are now: just eight wolves, in two packs, with a single female in a three wolf pack (The West End Trio), another three wolf pack (Chippewa Harbor) and two loners (one of which might be a female).  There's been lots of debate on whether or not we ought to interfere to save the population.  In a way, we already have; the wolves were decimated by parvovirus brought over by a tourist's (illegal) dog; and in 2012, a stunning seven wolves (including a female) died, three of them after falling into an abandoned copper mine shaft that has since been closed off.   So things have looked pretty bleak for the wolves. As I recall, either no pups were born or survived as of two years ago--but researchers at Michigan Tech have recorded evidence of a few pups this past year.   Study on these populations is year-round, but the most fruitful time for wolf study is during the winter, when there's no one on the island other than the researchers; Jon Vucetich, a wildlife ecology from Michigan Tech, leads the team and did a lovely series of blog entries on the research for the New York Times in 2012.

On the other hand, if you ever want to get into the act, you can volunteer to scrounge for moose bones during the Summer Research Season (but bring plenty of mosquito repellant).

Me, I just like to lace up the boots and hit the trails.

Because really, with vistas like this, no wonder Peter decided that, for him, this was heaven on Earth.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Slaughter House Four; Horror Story Villains At Their Finest

It's getting close to Halloween which means plenty of scary movies to fill up my evenings. I love horror movies almost as much as I love the characters that bring them to life. Being strange and whatnot, I categorize my the films into five different types of madmen; you have your psychotic masterminds, then the strong and silent ones, also the children who seem to be from the deepest caverns of despair, and the great and wonderful bumpkins from the backwoods.

1.  Those Estranged Ones With PhDs
My favorite horror sub-genre, the ones that really speak to my inner maniac. Dr. Lecter, portrayed best by Anthony Hopkins, is by far the best example of a highly intellectual loon. (And my favorite one at that...) He is a renowned psychiatrist, with a heart-renching childhood that would explain and somewhat support his psychotic tendencies that pertain to his meal choices. Who doesn't enjoy an eloquent plot line featuring a smooth-talking cannibal? Not only are the films very entertaining, but I am hoping that the novels are just as lovely--I am waiting for Half Price Books to have a copy of Silence Of The Lambs. 

2. Silent But Deadly
If you did not immediately think of Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, then we need to have a heart-to-heart about what movies you should be watching. These two iconic slasher stars never utter a sound during their films; strange but effective. Can you imagine the dialogue? No. Because the fact that they do not take the time to babble about why they are about to end your life makes them all the more frightening. I mean, they do not even acknowledge the fact that they are about to gouge your organs from your chest. And their masks! Oh the masks! The definition of fear is a blood-stained hockey mask. Very impressive screenwriters. Very impressive...

3. Corn Kids, and the Like
They do not have to be in corn to qualify as "corn kids"--my mother has been referring to me as one for years-- but also anyone named Damian, or orphans who seem too sad and needy; ones who always appear when a building mysteriously burns down, etc. They scare me more than any other "villain"; not only because I have an irrational fear of children, but they just seem more violent in a sneaky manor. They are the ones who usually stab people whilst asleep, or worship a plant that tells them to sacrifice adults for their salvation. Shifty little things, never trust someone under five feet tall.

4. The Hills May Have Eyes, But He May Be Missing One
These are the least fun of horror movies--as in I only experience these when I am attempting to spend time with other monstrosities around my age--because there is no rhyme or reason for the blood and limbs that are scattered throughout the settings of these films. The guys who star in these two-hour intervals of "relations", then stabbing, then some more "relations", then someone prevails to kill the toothless wonder with an icepick. These were not meant to be viewed by the public, and yet they seem to be the most popular. Pop culture, why can I not understand you?

So, no, these do not categorize every scary flick out there; ghosts and aliens and vampires and werewolves. Those are the better side of horror, I prefer the ugly step-sister that is full of fake blood and incompetent policemen. It's like choosing a greasy cheeseburger over a nice steak, I am aware, but old habits die hard.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Key Essentials For an Authentic YA Voice

Jordan Dane

Purchased from Fotolia by Jordan Dane

On Oct 17th at the KILL ZONE blog, I critiqued the first page of an anonymous author’s work –A Game of Days. Some interesting comments on the YA voice came from this post and I wanted to share more on what I’ve learned from writing for the teen market. My personal epiphanies.
Writing for the Young Adult (YA) market and capturing the voice of YA is less about word choices (and getting the teen speak down) than it is about getting the age appropriate decisions and attitude right. Urban fantasy or post apocalyptic plots can build on a world that is unique and unfamiliar. Books like the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or the Divergent series by Veronica Roth can have its own voice, so teens are familiar with reading books like this.
When I went looking for solid examples of teen dialogue or introspection to share at a workshop, I searched some top selling YA books, only to find the voice I expected wasn’t there. Sure there are YA books where authors can sound authentically teen, but to keep up the realism for a whole book can be a challenge and an overabundance of “teen speak” can date the banter or be too much for adult readers to catch. (Yes, adults are HUGE readers of YA.)

As you read through this list, think about how each of these tips might also apply to writing ANY voice, even book intended for adults. Many of these tips work for cross-genre writing.
Key Essentials for An Authentic YA Voice:
1.) Use First Person or Deep Point of View (POV)—This technique of “deep” POV, or “close third” person, is used in fiction writing as a glimpse into the head of your character. In YA, I think of deep POV or close third as conversational thoughts deep inside your teen. First person POV is like reading someone’s diary.

2.) Don’t be afraid to mix POVs—You can mix POVs (for example, first person for your storyteller and third person for other characters), but since it’s your story, only you can decide how you want it to be told. Many YA stories are in first person, but more authors are exploring a mix. By adding in the element of third person for other characters, you can let the reader in on what is happening outside your character’s head and add twists to your plot more effectively. Plus if you have secondary characters or villains who may threaten your protagonist, letting the reader in on what’s in their head can make the reader more fearful for your hero/heroine. (Most adult books are not in first POV, but first POV is very intimate and fun to write. My current adult book project has first POV for the main character, but third for everyone else. Very liberating.)

3.) Don’t worry about your vocabulary. Today’s teen reader can handle it. There’s no need to simplify your choice of words or sentence structure if the character warrants it. Just be mindful of the experience level and education of the teen in your story. A homeless kid without much education won’t have an extensive vocabulary unless there’s a good reason for it. If you’re writing a futuristic dystopian book, you’ll be world building and perhaps coming up with your own vocabulary or teen life choices or social customs that would be different from a contemporary YA.

4.) Character first or story first? In my adult fiction thrillers, characters usually come at me first, but in YA I think it’s important to conceive a plot then fit the best characters to the premise. This may help you conjure the most fitting character and voice for the story, without creating a cookie-cutter teen that follows you from book to book.

5.) Don't force it. As many kinds of teens there are, that’s how many varied “voices” you can create. As long as the story is compelling and the characters draw in the reader, the voice of YA only needs to match the tone, age, and character of that story. Don’t force voice or language that doesn’t seem real to you. Your protagonist’s voice should come naturally from the story premise and the conflict, filtered through your head as the author. If you force it, it will show.

6.) How does the story and character motivation affect your storyteller’s voice? One of the biggest mistakes writers make in YA usually has to do with the sarcastic voice. Biting sarcasm alone does not make a YA story. Without a reason for this behavior, the author runs the risk of making their character unbearable, unlikeable and a real turnoff for the reader. The manuscript must have a cohesive story with solid character motivation to go along with the attitude. Even if the voice is great, what happens? Something needs to happen. And if your character starts off with a good reason to be snarky, give them a journey that will change them by the end of the book.

7.) Know your character’s motivation. Sarcasm, voice, and maturity of your character must be driven by a reason in your story to add depth. Provide a foundation for the “attitude” your character has and don’t forget a liberal dose of poignancy. A reader can tolerate a sarcastic teen if a scene ends with brutal honesty or catches the reader off guard with something gripping to make the whole thing come to a real point.  

8.) Beware of stereotypes—Avoid the clichĂ© character (the geeky nerd, the pretty cheerleader, the dumb jock). This doesn’t only apply to YA.

9.) Can you relate to your storyteller? Peer pressure, dating, zits, kissing, sex, being an outsider, not fitting in—these are teen concerns that, as adults, we have to remind ourselves about. With each of these words, what pops into your head? Does it trigger a memory, good or bad? Sometimes the best scenes can come from these universal concerns that haven’t changed for decades. Filtered through your own experiences, a scene can carry more weight if it’s still relevant and relatable.

10.) What is your storyteller like emotionally? What effect can raging hormones do for your character? Is everything a drama? Not all teens are like this. Some are withdrawn in front of adults or in social situations. It’s important to ask yourself: What are they like around their friends and who are their friends? I would resist the urge to create a character based on a teen you know if it’s at the expense of your plot. Certain aspects or perceptions of “your teen” can influence your character, but your book is fiction. That’s why I recommend devising your plot first before you place the right teen in it.

11.) Who or what has influenced your storyteller most? Like in the movie, JUNO, the teen girl had a dry wit that sometimes referenced an older person’s humor. Not everything was “teen speak.” She was influenced by the adults in her life, using references she heard from her dad and step-mom. Her pop culture references were peppered into the humor of another generation. She still sounded young, but her dialogue appeal was more universal. Don't be afraid to make up a word or phrase to suit your character's world.

12.) What journey will your storyteller take in your book? Getting the voice right is only half the challenge. Your YA book must be about something—a plot, believable world building, and the reaction and journey of a real teen amidst it all.

13.) Don’t forget the imagery. Teen readers have great imaginations and can picture things in their heads like a movie. Give them something that triggers and engages their imaginations. Picture your book scenes on the big screen and write them that way, but don’t go overboard and slow your pace. Teens get it. Give them a glimpse and move on. They’ll roll with the imagery.

14.) Turn off your parent switch—If you’re an adult and a parent writing YA, you may find it difficult to turn off your mother or father switch, but you should consider it. Kids can read between the lines if you’re trying too hard to send them a “universal parental” message about conduct and behavior. Simply focus on your story and tap into what your teen experiences were—without censorship—and without the undertone of sending kids a special message. Your story will read as more honest, without an ulterior motive.

HERE is a link on a video about one teenager’s story from The Onion News (DISCLAIMER: I had nothing to do with making this video):

For Discussion:
1.) Any other writing tips to make your YA voice read as authentic?
2.) What books have you read where the teen voice seemed very real and please share why you thought so?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cover up!

You saw it on ADR3NALIN3 first. 

March will be an exciting time in my little writing office. Two books are coming into the world and today I'm revealing their covers to you. The PB cover of The Peculiars features Lena and her impossibly long hands. My favorite detail is that wonderful Victorian glove. It’s quite different than the  HB cover which featured a side character, Merilee. Both covers are beautiful and arresting, but they make different promises to the readers.

And the question I've been mulling over is will this cover attract a different kind of reader? We all know that covers are powerful. They're a preview of what readers might expect in the pages. And they're eye candy, meant to intrigue and seduce us into buying. How will I know if a different cover attracts a different reader?

PB's are less expensive than HC's, so, I can't count on numbers sold to tell the story.  I'll have to depend on reader comments as my data points. This is a grand experiment many authors never get to participate in.

The second cover is for Beyond the Door the first in the Time Out of Time series. The cover artist is Victo Ngai and it’s worth exploring her incredible website. 

Notice the small hatch marks next to my name? That's the primitive Irish script, Ogham. Clues about this book are coming. And here is the first one.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Looking Up

By Dan Haring

I've always been enamored by the skies. Whether it's shooting stars or sunsets or rainclouds, I've always loved looking up. I don't know why. Maybe it's some desire to escape, to soar above this world. Maybe it's just the vastness of it all. Maybe it's the inability to measure what's in a cloud, or to imagine that the moon is shining down only for me. For whatever reason, I've always loved it. Before digital cameras, I'd routinely fill up rolls of film with pictures of the sky. Now I just fill up my phone.

I was riding down the freeway with my family the other day when I saw a massive cloud churning across the sky. I tried to snap a picture, but a wall of passing trees was too quick and obscured everything. So I had to wait a few miles before I caught sight of it again. When I finally did, it had changed to this:

I know it's not a perfect likeness, but my first thought was, "It's FALCOR THE LUCKDRAGON!" Now, The Neverending Story might be one of those movies that people love because they grew up with it. But being one of those people who did grow up with it, I'm proud to say I love it. If you haven't seen it, you should still check it out. It's a fantastic tale, even if the filmmaking effects don't quite hold up. But back to the point, if I hadn't been looking up, I would have missed this pretty spectacular cloud. 

There's an Ani Difranco lyric that goes "When I look down, I just miss all the good stuff. And when I look up, I just trip over things." I'm not saying we should wander around with our heads in the clouds all the time. Everyone has responsibilities and I'm not advocating we abandon them. But once in a while, take a break from checking Facebook on your phone and look up, look around. See what beauty and inspiration is out there.

You're probably going to trip over more things. But I'd rather do that than miss all the good stuff. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why We Need Creative Writing

With each passing year, greater numbers of students arrive at Day One of my high school writing classes already questioning the value of what we do. Even in the honors classes, I’ve noticed a growing trend of students seemingly waiting to pounce on the moment when they can boldly declare how much they hate reading novels or how useless it is to practice writing.

“It’s fine for you,” a student told me just a few days ago. “You write books about robots and adventure and stuff, but I don’t care about that. I already write good enough. [sic] I’m not going to be a writer, so none of this will help me in real life.”

These doubts deserve honest analysis. What if novels and fiction and essays really have been made obsolete by video games and texts and Facebook posts? If these new media are the future of human communication, is it really worth students’ time and taxpayers’ dollars to teach them such outdated forms? Or even that it’s worth spelling “you” with three letters?

The answer can’t rest on mere tradition. Just because we’ve always done things this way doesn’t mean we always should. If that were the case, we’d still be boxing children’s ears every time they emerged from the coal mines before the end of their fourteen hour shifts. And it should also be noted that these students aren’t arguing for illiteracy, just that they’ve already learned the rudimentary mechanics of reading and writing, and they believe that’s enough. Why learn more?

Across this country, Teachers of literature frequently find themselves answering this question, and not just to students. They must explain to parents and school boards and legislators that literature is more than an idle pastime because it teaches us different perspectives from our past, present, and future. Furthermore, students who regularly read also score higher on every important exam, including those outside the humanities. Scientific research also confirms that reading challenging literature strengthens the brain.

I wholeheartedly agree with all those arguments, but I feel that there’s at least one more point that needs to be made in defense of writing, and specifically creative writing at that.

Naturally, reading and writing can’t be split apart any more than you could yank the north pole off the top of a magnet. They are Yin and Yang, and every author knows that to be a writer, one must also be a reader. But most classes still revolve around which books you’ve read and how much you remember about them. Maybe this is another artifact of past educational systems, or maybe it’s because English teachers are always passionate readers but not always passionate writers. Whatever the case, the skills of writing for different purposes, different audiences, and in different forms are all too often forgotten or assumed, and then teachers and professors are shocked when even graduate-level students struggle with structuring their essays, let alone with forms of writing other than the essay.

Writing takes practice, but even in our world of texts and emails it’s still worth taking the time to master some of the skills required to be better understood. We don’t have to write like Shakespeare, but we should have the power to express ourselves in writing so that others can understand us—or, at the very least, so that others won’t think we’re idiots.

Anyway, that’s what I’d like to tell the kid who thinks writing is a waste of time. I  know he’ll never read this (and I won’t assign anything I’ve ever written because it just seems too narcissistic), but as final proof of the power of the written word, far more people will hear my side of the argument because of this post than will ever hear his opinion. And if he disagrees, he’s more than welcome to leave a (written) comment on this post!

Be good, and dream crazy dreams,

Sechin Tower is a teacher, a table-top game designer, and the author of Mad Science Institute. You can read more about him and his books on and his games on

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Recipe for (mis)Adventure

I like to cook.  I like to write.  These two passions have a lot in common.  When I cook, occasionally I follow a recipe, most of the time I just throw the ingredients together willy-nilly.  When that happens the results range from good, to very good, to not worth the energy it takes to throw the meal away.  So it goes with my writing.  My tendency is to write like I cook--by the seat of my pants.  I'm thinking it may be time to change my approach to one of these passions.  And it isn't my cooking.

When I cook by the seat of my pants the basic assumption is worst case scenario is this: the meal is awful, in which case I call Dominoes and no one starves.  The risks are the ingredients, the time I spend cooking and the time I spend cleaning up.  When I write that way, the risks are essentially the same if you allow that the ingredients are my creative juices.  The key difference involves the question of time.  It takes me thirty-minutes to an hour to perfect or ruin a meal.  Clean-up is twenty minutes depending on the pans I use.  It takes me a year (or more) to cook a novel.  And the clean-up?  Well, I'm learning the hard way that it can take years to recover from a book that doesn't sell, or in keeping with the analogy:  from writing a book that no one wants to eat.
When I cook and stick with the recipe, two things happen.  For one, the process is streamlined because I have all the ingredients I need in the proper quantities.  The meal gets on the table faster and no one goes hungry.  The other thing that happens is the finished product is reliably good, sometimes amazing.  But rarely awful.  And nothing is more heartbreaking in a kitchen than cleaning up a mess from a meal that no one ate.  On the other hand the rewards of seat-of-the-pants cooking are potentially profound.  You never get the same meal twice, and no one can say, "This was better the last time you made it."
George R.R. Martin employs a different analogy, using architects and gardeners.  One is meticulous with every stage and step defined, the other favors the randomness and discovery of nature.  Since I am neither an architect nor a gardener, but I do like to cook and eat--I'll call this my recipe for (mis)adventure.  Without going into the gory details, I find myself in the kitchen cleaning up the writing mess of a less than satisfactory meal.  So this time around I am following the recipe.  I have outlined the heck out of my next book.  Every plot point is mapped, every beat of tension in acts I, II and III is identified, every character arc is defined.  I know I'm going to miss the delicious surprises that come with writing by the seat of my pants, but I'm hoping that the end product will be just as good, maybe even better.

So the table is set.  I'm at the stove, apron on and spatula in hand.  The garlic is starting to brown.
Dinner will be served in, oh, six months.