An interview with Alistair about strip clubs, the importance of following your dreams, thoughts on God and the devil, writing emotional scenes, my favorite characters from the latest book, and much, much more at We Love Quality Books!
Archive for the ‘writing’ Category
Tags: Angels, books, developing chracters, Devils and Demons, God, strip clubs, writing fiction
Tags: fiction, Publishing, Writing a Book, Writing Tips
Tags: vacation, writing a novel
I’ve been in the writing dungeon so long that the sunlight streaming from the windows has begun to burn my eyes and an evening trip to Wal-Mart – or some other dreadful place – is starting to feel like an outing, a night on the town, rather than the necessary evil it actually is.
With reviewers waiting for proof copies, editors expecting the next round, and readers anticipating the finished product, the work has been non-stop. For weeks, Tamara and I have stumbled from our beds, gone straight to our computers, and pecked the keys without pause until sunset. We’ve even been doing some moonlighting, too. Tonight, after hours, Tamara kept at it, finalizing the details of the uncorrected proof copies. After eating – and taking a much-needed shower – I got back to it as well, sorting out upcoming interviews, guest posts, and various writing-related events – all the little things that need to happen when a book is edging release.
But we’re in the final stages of edits: the touch-ups. This is when we tighten the narrative, cut the fat, and sprinkle a little glitter over the prose. Tomorrow our dark psychological thriller, Mother, will be ready for reviewers. Then, after another round of revisions and a final read-through, it will go to publication.
Mother has been one of the most intense and multi-layered stories we’ve ever told … but I also believe it’s our best. The hard work is really paying off, and I’m proud of the balancing act we’ve managed to maintain. Though first conceived in 2013, we weren’t able to begin Mother in earnest until last year, and considering the many projects we’ve undertaken throughout the writing of this book, I’d say we’ve done our jobs with balletic grace – and in record time, too.
But the energy depletion is extraordinary. We’re both ready to drop, and I’m getting that snippy-little-Chihuahua tone in my voice that says I’m overdue for a breather.
So, I’m taking a mini-vacation this weekend – I’m suspending the pen.
Thursday night after the radio show, I’m getting in the car and going … somewhere else.
Maybe Wyoming – I’m not sure yet.
Yeah, probably Wyoming.
I’ll rent a hotel room and just be for a few days. I’ll take long, hot baths, eat things I’ll regret, and do plenty of joy-reading. Then Sunday – or maybe Monday – I’ll come home.
Tuesday, I’ll dig back in with both hands, and make sure that Mother is as polished as a diamond, ready to be introduced to the world in April – as planned.
Tags: Mother, Publishing, Writing Tips
Tags: Clive Barker, Drama, Drama Queens, on writing, writing, Writing Tips
Writing is a calling. It’s something we feel compelled to do whether or not we make money, whether or not anyone reads our work, and whether or not we win any awards. As much as it is a calling, however, writing is also a job, a profession that requires unwavering determination, unshakable dedication, and lots and lots of time. There is no time to waste.
There is an endless array of time-wasters out there, things that distract you from writing such as playing on Facebook and watching television or YouTube videos, but there’s one distraction that we feel needs more consideration: Drama. Drama is perhaps the biggest time-waster of all. Whether yours or someone else’s, drama is writing’s worst enemy – it is the rain on your creative parade.
Clive Barker said, “Be regular and ordinary in your life that you may be violent and original in your work.” We live by this philosophy, and add to it our mantra, “drama belongs on the page.” We simply don’t have time to engage in histrionics.
We all know those people who seem to feel alive only when the stress is high and the chaos is rampant. These people stoke the coals of tension and tragedy everywhere they go, creating it themselves when there’s none to be had, and usually attributing their chronic crises to unavoidable circumstances inflicted upon them by outside forces.
These people claim that drama is unavoidable, but we disagree. We’ve both fallen victim to drama-mongers in the past, and when we met, our mutual aversion to soap opera lifestyles was one of the first things that bonded us. We shared the priority of living and working in a calm and peaceful environment, and neither of us was willing to compromise on that. We both know firsthand that while some discord is certainly a part of life, the vast majority of it is caused unnecessarily and is absolutely avoidable. We’ve learned that our lives ebb and flow according to what we choose to give our attention to, whom we choose to associate with, and where we choose to focus our intent. We prefer to focus ours on our work.
We get plenty of drama from our writing. On the page, we can gossip, create conflict, begin and end scandalous love affairs, and even wage our very own wars, wreaking havoc upon the general populace if that’s what we want to do – but we keep it on the page. We’ve both gone to great lengths to extract the drama – and all of its sources – from our lives. Fiction is an escape from the real world and all its petty horrors. It’s a place where writers can create far more tantalizing theatrics than you’ll find in social media or on the street. A drama-monger’s cry for attention is far less interesting than the chaos an effective writer can create on the page. This is probably why you don’t see many real professionals whining on Facebook: they’re pouring their emotions into something that matters – their work.
We have a no-drama policy and it serves us well. For one thing, we haven’t fought with each other once in the three years we’ve been working together, and don’t expect to start. We compromise and respect each other. And we listen. For another, we’ve managed to complete three to four novels per year, seen them to publication, and been able to spend our free time plotting the next novel, marketing the new releases, and having fun rather than engaging in agitation and discontent. On top of writing, we’ve been able to host our own horror-themed radio show, Haunted Nights LIVE!, where we talk to other authors of dark fiction and learn what their methods are. Since laying down the no-drama law, we’ve been able to enjoy our lives, our work, and be far more productive.
There’s another aspect of abiding by the no-drama policy that’s important to professional writers: airing your dirty laundry on social media is unprofessional. It simply makes you a spectacle rather than a writer. Most of us enjoy checking out drama kings and queens occasionally. We ourselves are guilty of going over to Facebook and having a chuckle over old Connie Drama-Monger’s latest woes, but we don’t get involved. We steer clear of these folks, lest they try to draw us into their self-absorbed little soap operas. No thank you.
There’s only so much time in this life, and we work very hard to spend ours in ways that help us write and grow, and pay the bills. When we aren’t working, we believe in spending our down time relaxing to the max, enjoying ourselves, and not getting caught up in chaos. Life throws all of us bad things, but we prefer to concentrate on the good stuff, whether it’s hanging out with our cats, our friends, or each other.
Drama, as we said, belongs on the page.
Tags: Creative Writing, Point of View, The Ghosts of Ravencrest, Writing Tips
We’re nearly finished with the first volume of The Ghosts of Ravencrest and are already planning the next. We love Ravencrest because it allows us to stay current or to hop into history. Every lord of Ravencrest and his family has a story that plays into the tale of its current master, Eric Manning. Finding out what those stories are, what made his ancestors tick – and how this history affects our modern-day governess, Belinda Moorland – has become a game of literary Hide-and-Seek for us.
We couldn’t write these stories without shifting points of view.
Experiential differentiation is our thing. Imagine a red rose. To a young woman in love it reminds her of the bouquet she received last Valentine’s Day. It may bring a smile to a murderer’s lips because it reminds him of his last victim’s blood. If you’re writing an historical, an early Christian character may see the rose as a symbol of the wounds of Christ, or the blood of martyrs.
To a man with allergies, the rose is a hated bringer of sneezing, watery eyes and stuffed sinuses. To a jilted woman, it inspires fury because it reminds her of the man who left her at the altar. Someone else might avoid the rose because they dread the painful thorns. For a widower, it reignites great sorrow over the loss of his beloved wife who used to tend their garden. It makes him weep, so he tears the roses out. Or shoots himself among them to join her. But to the professional gardener, a rose might symbolize prosperity because where there are roses, there’s work.
And it doesn’t end with roses. To one little boy, a baseball bat might represent play and joy while inspiring dread and embarrassment in a less athletic child. To a grown man, it brings nostalgia, and to an abused housewife, abject terror. The rose may squirt water on an annoying mother-in-law, or a threatening bat might be foam rubber, turning tragedy to comedy.
In a mystery novel, knowing the differences in suspects’ feelings lends the detective more clues about the criminal. In a story of survival, individual knowledge about something most perceive as ordinary, may save a life.
Considering that such innocuous objects as a rose or baseball bat can inspire so many emotions, we’re like kids in a candy store when it comes to exploring the loves and fears, the prejudices and motives, of our characters. We want to find out what the baseball bats and roses to each character. And this is why we prefer the third person point of view.
We enjoy taking on viewpoints that are new to us. One of the most difficult things to do is to come from a point of view you don’t yet understand and when you attempt this, you either fall on your face or grow. For Tamara, the Prophet Sinclair in Thunder Road was a true growth experience. She saw him as a sleazy evangelist using his good looks and persuasive voice to grab money and bed women. But Sinclair insisted on growing and did something so foreign to Tamara’s own nature that to this day, she’s blown away.
For Alistair, coming from the perspective of Gretchen VanTreese in his upcoming novel, The Crimson Corset, was a major stretch, too. He had to learn to view the world through the eyes of a woman who uses sex (much of it creepy), manipulation, and murder to attain her objectives.
As confirmed character writers, we like rummaging around in different psyches, and as readers we prefer third person narratives for the same reason. That being said, a few of our favorite books have been written in the first person, leading us to believe that, when done well, this is a powerful and effective approach to storytelling… if that’s your preference.
It’s a matter of writing what you love, and we love multiple points of view. We’ve both written in the first person and found ourselves bored and switching to third.
In fact, when we began The Ghosts of Ravencrest, our initial intention was to stick to Belinda Moorland’s point of view, but immediately found ourselves itching to get into the heads of Mrs. Heller, Grant Phister, Eric Manning, and all the other characters we found so fascinating. If we’d maintained our original plan, we’d have grown tired of Ravencrest after one volume, but as it is, we have countless storylines to explore and we can’t wait to dig deeper into the myriad characters, both contemporary and historical, living and dead, who roam the halls of Ravencrest Manor.
Tags: Alistair Cross, Annie Wilkes, Candle Bay, Misery, Psychic Vampires, Stephen King, Tamara Thorne, The Cliffhouse Haunting, The Crimson Corset, Writing Tips
If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve no doubt run into a psychic vampire or two. These passive-aggressive hangers-on will, if allowed, suck your life force away, all the while paying you compliments, asking for advice, and creating drama meant to suck you into their world and make you worry about their well-being.
The most famous psychic vampire in the horror genre – and most others – is Annie Wilkes, Stephen King’s nightmare of a number one fan. While she is extreme, you can take some tips from her that will help you recognize a vampire who wants you to be her very own Paul Sheldon.
While most readers who ask a writer to personalize a book with “to your number one fan” are utterly innocent and would be horrified if they realized what alarm bells this phrase sets off, there are others who are anything but innocent. They are narcissistic and the goal of any narcissist is to be paid attention. Annie Wilkes is the perfect example. Annie wanted Paul Sheldon to write for her, to her specifications. It was all about her. He was there to amuse her, to serve her, and no one else — including Paul Sheldon – mattered.
Take this down a few ruined ankles and glassfuls of urine and you’ll still have a milder version of this same dysfunctional personality. Once you accomplish anything notable, such as writing a book, they come out of the woodwork with unbelievable speed and frequency. They want your time, they want your attention, and they want you to apologize for having worked hard and found success.
Psychic vampires are passive-aggressives who suck the energy right out of you. Shoot, they can suck the energy out of a whole roomful of people. You’ve undoubtedly experienced it: you come away from a chat or function that should have been enjoyable absolutely exhausted. You feel like you’ve run a marathon, only worse because you probably have a headache, too. They are truly vampiric, but not in the good fictional way we enjoyed writing about in Tamara’s Candle Bay or Alistair’s The Crimson Corset. We’re talking about the nastiest kind – the real kind.
(Tamara’s vampire novel, Candle Bay)
(Alistair’s upcoming vampire novel, The Crimson Corset)
And the very worst of these psychic vampires are aspiring writers, ones who, for whatever reason, have not done as well as you. They seem to feel you owe them something and they are jealous, oh so jealous. If they ask you to review their book and you decline, they think you’re a snob. If you don’t have time to answer their basic questions about writing, they think you’re a snob. And if you actually write back and suggest that they can find the answers they seek via many excellent websites, organizations, and critiquing groups available online, they are sure you’re a snob. Somehow, to their fragile egos, this is a personalized rejection; it never even occurs to them that you took time out of your workday to reply. They just end up pegging you, once again, as a snob, and will probably whine about it on Facebook. As much fun as we had with Constance Welling in The Cliffhouse Haunting, these kinds of writers are toxic in the real world.
(Tamara and Alistair’s collaborative novel, The Cliffhouse Haunting)
At the beginning of her career, a well-known writer advised Tamara that when someone gives you something, your only obligation is to say thank you. This author was referring to fans sending gifts, but this also is applicable to a published writer – no matter how sketchily published – who takes you under his or her wing – or seems to – early on and answers a few questions. If they are of the vampiric persuasion, they will try to exact gratitude from you for the rest of their lives because damn it, they deserve it. They’ll also take full credit for your talent once you achieve success; that’s annoying but it’s nothing but the equivalent of a fly trying to land on you – it’s not worth your attention. They’ll never have your talent and they know it.
Don’t get us wrong, there are some great mentors out there. If someone has truly helped you, they find pleasure in the very act of aiding and don’t expect you to sing their praises. These are the people who deserve to be in your acknowledgments or have a book dedicated to them. But never buckle under and do it for someone who demands thanks. That person is bottomless pit of need and you’ll never, ever hear the end of it. They will tell everyone, forever more, how much you owe them, how you would be nothing without them. This is the type of person who posts the same two or three fan letters on Facebook over and over for years.
If, in the course of your becoming a professional writer, someone offers you help, go ahead and accept it if you want it. And just say thank you. You owe them nothing more.
How to spot a psychic vampire who isn’t as obvious as Annie Wilkes? Here are some things to watch out for:
Someone – a would-be writer, a collaborator, an interviewer – insisting that the only time they can meet with you is during a time you’ve reserved to (a) write or (b) be with your family or (c) are otherwise engaged. Decline, and a normal person will understand. A vampire, on the other hand, will simply become more insistent. Or sulky. Usually both. Here’s a tell to watch out for: If you inform a vampire that you take Sundays off – or Mondays or alternate Thursdays – they will tell you it’s the only day they can talk to you. It’s all about power and manipulation. They especially need to drag you away from family and friends to prove how important they are. They’re trying to own you: don’t let that happen.
Guilt trips. This is drama. It includes sulking, crying, and self-righteous indignation when you won’t do what they want, no matter if it’s giving up personal time, changing something in your writing (because they think everything you write is about them) or anything else. This kind of emotional behavior is nothing but manipulation of the most childish kind. There are only a couple of behaviors even more reprehensible and outrageous. What are they?
One is feigning illness, physical or mental. Sure, we all get sick, we all get tired. Most of us make a joke, get some rest, and move on. Not the vampire. Nope. The vampire who plays illness like a fiddle has a constant list of ailments, from headaches to explosive diarrhea to strange growths in places you don’t want to hear about — but trust us, you will hear about every last one. No anal polyp is too embarrassing, no perimenopausal flash flood too personal. They throw it all out there. Because – yep – it’s all about them. They are shameless. They will tell you they may be fatally ill, they’re always waiting for test results, and their meds are making them ill (this includes meds for mental problems – it’s no fun being normal, damn it!) They will offer to show you things you don’t want to see. Beware the sickly vampire.
And when all of that doesn’t work, they go straight to threatening suicide or bodily harm (to themselves, we hope). This is the ultimate manipulation, designed to coerce you into doing whatever it is they want. It’s bullshit. It’s an attempt to draw you into their drama. The only answer – if you give one at all – is to tell her/him that if that’s what they choose to do, good luck with it. It’s not your problem. Those who want to commit suicide don’t talk about it because they don’t want to be stopped. Those who threaten it on a regular basis will only commit it by accident. (We’ll keep our politically incorrect commentary about that to ourselves.)
How do you operate among the psychic vampires, then? It’s not easy to deal with them, true, but it is possible. First, learn to identify them. Your own instincts will inform you if you listen. Don’t let them flatter you, be cautious. And read Gavin DeBecker’s excellent book, The Gift of Fear. It will teach you to listen to your instincts and not give every potential Annie Wilkes the benefit of the doubt.
When you have a vampire stalking you, how do you stop them? You wear Teflon armor because the shit won’t stick.
We’ve both had numerous psychic vampires try to interfere in our lives and Teflon is the ultimate answer. The Vampire, being narcissistic, wants only one thing: to be center stage. They’re like toddlers – any attention, no matter how negative, is better than none. Don’t give them what they want. Delete their emails unread, return their snail mail unopened, change your phone number. The worst of them will keep trying, perhaps for years, but hopefully they will get sick of being invisible and go find a fresh neck to suck on.
The only good psychic vampire is a dead psychic vampire but since we can’t legally stake them, we must make them invisible. Attention is what they feed on. Attention is what they live for. Don’t give them either. If they piss you off, write it out, but don’t mail it to them; instead call a real friend and vent until you’re both laughing, maybe even until you pee a little bit. You can also kill them horribly in your stories, but don’t make them even remotely identifiable because that would be giving them attention and that would make them happy. Give them no energy. Eventually you will find that they’re rarely on your mind, even if you’re on theirs. Making them non-existent in your universe is your ultimate goal.
And watch your ass. Some of them are as batshit as Annie Wilkes.