Friday, April 27, 2012

Writing in the Information Age...

It used to be that a writer sat down with pen and paper in hand, or maybe s/he pulled a chair up to a cozy typewriter and the writer scribbled or pounded away at story pieces in the wee dark hours. Writers still spend hours writing, although now we have computers, Word documents and spell check, and writing has become so much easier for us. Or has it?

Thirty to forty years ago, when a writer hit a mental block or couldn't breach the wall of a plot or story-line, there was little to do except maybe turn on the television, read a book or head out to a bar or a late night diner for inspiration. Today, computers wired in to the Internet provide writers with a number of distractions to pull him or her away from the unwritten page. There's facebook and Twitter and a host of community websites. There's online games, video games, Netflix and Clicker.

Mired in a quicksand of unproductive thought? There's Farmville and many other cyber-games that can pull you away from your writing task at hand, and there's nothing to stop you except the writing deadline that either your publisher, your agent and you yourself have imposed.

Don't get me wrong. There are endless benefits to the Internet for a writer. Social media sites allow an author to promote their novels and allow infinite connections with other writers, readers and potential publishers. But it is ever so easy to be pulled into the cyber-world and put off that novel unless you learn to set limits and craft a personal schedule.

Writing requires thought and time, and for some it demands a great deal of research into topics both familiar and foreign. Writing is a process. And it doesn't happen with incessant blogging, tweeting and facebook chats. In order to pump out those words that will eventually be your completed work, you need to devote time and effort toward it, but how do you do that? I say the answer lies in learning how to unplug. Consider cutting the time you spend on the Internet. If you have a hard time doing this, then just shut your Internet off for a certain period of time on your computer. Each day, set time aside some time just for writing, and DO NOT turn the wireless on, or plug in, until you've achieved your desired word count, or until you've written for a certain number of minutes.

If you hit a wall, or run into that feared 'writer's block'... take time to read your manuscript from beginning to end, or choose a few chapters you know will galvanize you. Or better yet take a trip to the bookstore (alone), and go through magazines that deal with the topic on which your plot or subject is built. Science Fiction crafters will find a world of great ideas in Popular Mechanics or Popular Science, and other genre writers will find much the same in their genre style magazines. Bring a pen and paper to the bookstore, or your i-Pad or computer. Buy that cup off coffee, sit down and read and when you've got some good ideas start writing them down. Do NOT turn on the Internet. Do NOT answer the phone. Set aside time for yourself and for practicing your craft and you'll find that the words WILL come, and the ideas will flow, and you won't be mired in the muck of Internet traffic. Instead, you'll be on your way to finishing your piece and you'll be proud of the work you did that day.

As for me, after sitting to write this short piece, I'm turning of my wireless and getting back to my novel. I try to set aside two twenty-minute intervals with a ten minute break in between to stand up, stretch and/or do some research, then off goes the Internet once again. I finish another twenty minutes and by the time I'm done I end up with a five to ten pages of useful material. The journey of 100,000 words begins with that first word, but you'll never make it if you stop and camp out on a page for too long. Keep on crafting. Keep on writing.  And know that with a little self discipline you will achieve your goal, and you'll be proud that you did.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Get a Read and Critique of Your Published Work...

Do you have trouble getting your horror novels or short stories reviewed? Do you want an honest and forthright critique from an experienced writer and reader?

I'll review your horror novels and short stories and then send you my critique. I'll give you both the good and the bad news as both a reader and a writer. My foundation background is in forensic nursing, midwifery and Public Health, as well as in creative writing. I have a MSN in nursing/midwifery, a Masters of Public Health and PhD (c)  in Public Health and I'm currently working on a Master's of Fine Arts (MFA). My first novel is in the works, but I've had poems and short stories published in places like 69 Flavors of Paranoia and I've reviewed many stories.

For a sense of how I construct my reviews, take a look at my blog and critiques of horror novels and short stories. Only you can decide if you think my review is worth what my fee. I'll dig into your story and send back a full critique for $1.00 per page of an already published novel or short story. If you like the critique, I'll publish it on my blog, Amazon and Goodreads and other websites of your choosing. If you don't like the critique, then it stays in your hands and I'll never post it. The critique stays with you. My stipulation is that if you want my review posted, then the entire review (both praises and criticisms) is placed on the Internet for all to read. I'm objective and fair, and my reviews need to read exactly as I write them.

Some writers have great difficulty getting their stories recognized, but some good reviews can help push you toward that coveted Stoker's Award. If you're interested then contact me and I'll put you into my schedule. First come, first served and I only have room for a couple of novels a month!  I can be reached at

Quirkily Yours,

Querus Abuttu "Q"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review of "Supernatural Noir" (Stories 1-4) edited by Ellen Datlow

Welcome Reader,

Please join me as I travel on a journey through the anthology titled, "Supernatural Noir." My review will be in stages as I read through the shorts. I'll try not to include any spoilers, but share my impressions instead. If I fail, my apologies in advance. I'm not supernatural. Just a humble reader, consumer of horror and avid writer.

This anthology starts out with an "Introduction" by the editor, Ellen Datlow. I enjoyed her description of "Noir Fiction." She paints it as, "...notably dark, brooding, cynical, complex, and pessimistic." Datlow describes Noir Fiction as "...thick with criminality and rife with betrayal," and states she feels there are only a scant number of Supernatural Noir stories. The editor highlights her love for dark edgy tales which contributed to her desire to edit this book.

As I started reading the first story, "The Dingus," by Gregory Frost, what hit me dead on was that this should not have been the starting story of the anthology. It was a fairly enjoyable read, but not the page turner that should have set the tone for the book.  Frost's story was rather slow paced at the beginning and picked up toward the end, and there were places where 'passive voice' made the prose too cumbersome. The last paragraph of page 15 took me right out of the story with several "had" and "had been" phraseology in the text. This error (I call it an error) occurred in other places as well, and I noted an overuse of the pronoun "he" on pages 27 and 28. Aside from that, I thought Frost's story was solid and creative. I loved his monster creation, which you simply must read to appreciate. Still, this story would have been better presented in the middle of the book, and would have read better if it were just a bit cleaner.

Paul Tremblay's "The Getaway," was the second read in this anthology. I admit up front that I'm not a fan of stories written in present tense, and there's a ton of narration in these pages that make it a stiff piece to read. The main character visualizes and reminisces quite a bit, and then finally on pages 35 to 38 we get to some dialogue, but it's an overly verbose argument as to whether or not one of the other characters is actually in the trunk of a car during a getaway. I found myself skimming through the story, through what seemed like nothing but a perpetual state of confusion among characters, and when I finished the tale I felt as if I'd gone on a wild car ride that ended up at a dead end. I guess I expected more, and perhaps it's there and I missed it, but after reading this story three times I can't really say I found anything intriguing about it.

I took a gulp and another chance at reading the third story in this book titled "Mortal Bait," by Richard Bowes. It takes the Private Investigator route in this piece, and at this point I'm trying to remember how many stories I've read that have P.I.'s as a main character. But I easily know the number. Way too many. Passive voice creeps into this story on the first page. It's about as subtle as a 2 ton brick dropped on a gallon of jello, and again I found myself skimming. By page 50 I was more than a little disappointed. I expected a description of hours old coffee to be something other than "old and tired." Day old coffee could be 'blatantly bitter, festering like the anger of a woman waiting for her cheating husband to come home late from work again.' But "old and tired coffee?" And this piece included elves and fairies in it, which (to me) didn't fit the definition of 'Supernatural Noir.' With all of the writers out there who probably submitted to this anthology, I expected something much more "noiry."

A couple of writers I really respect told me this anthology was very good, but by the time I finished the third piece I began doubting their judgement. "Mortal Bait" didn't hook me, and could have seriously benefited from a shave and a haircut.

While reading, I began to wonder if this anthology suffered from a pressing deadline. Passive voice and excessive pronouns in the stories made the work in this book seem like a mish-mashed compilation of rushed prose. Maybe my standards are too high, or maybe because I spent $19.99 on this bound copy I expected my money's worth. But by this point, I wished I'd just borrowed a used copy from someone instead.

Only because my previously mentioned writer friends stated an approval for this anthology, did I choose to press on to the fourth story in the group titled, "Little Shit," by Melanie Tem. FINALLY, here was a story worth reading! Definitely a tale worth my $19.99! This piece of work should have been the first story in the group. It started out at a fairly rapid pace and it kept me reading...not skimming...but actually reading. Pedophilia, psychosocial schemes and themes, borderline entrapment entangled in mind-reading webs...these ideas hit the pages with an intense wave that grabbed me as a real 'noir' story. Tem's pages gave me guilty pleasure and made me want to rip out the first 72 pages of the anthology in order to give it a proper start. Her work is a gem among ordinary stones, and it was a wonderful read. Because of her brilliance, I decided to keep this book instead of tossing it into my recycling, and I will brave reading more. What will I think of the rest? Stay tuned and I'll let you know. I'm not ready to give up on this anthology, yet.

"Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure" (Chapters 7-14) by Jack M. Bickham

As I finished "Scene and Structure," (from Chapters 7 to 14) I concede that it had some nice tidbits in places.  Still nothing stood out so me as all encompassing "Yoda" wisdom of prose, but instead it had chapters with 'nice to know' info that may or may not apply to your own style of writing.

What I got out of this text was that there is a method and madness to a general style of writing. But what I know from experience is that Bickham's guidance is not the "end all--be all" to the process of novel writing. Basically Bickham used what his mentor (Dwight V. Swain) taught him, and put his own twist in the text. Linking scenes, tricks to control pace, variations of scene writing and how to fix problems in scenes are his focus in later chapters of the book. These are techniques that I think are intuitive for one style of writing but do not mesh with other styles or author preferences. 

Bickham's method works better with a linear style novel where the protagonist (ONE protagonist) starts out on a path, climbs a mountain and ends up the hero at the finish line. It's very simplistic and perhaps that's what bothers me. The dull formula can be used to tell any story and it's pattern is utterly and completely predictable.

I also felt that chapters 13 (the structure of chapters) and those following should have actually been at the beginning of the book (The Scenic Master Plot..."). If these chapters had come earlier, the book would have made more sense if I were using it to really write my novel.

Overall, "Scene and Structure" was an OK 'how to' book but I finished it feeling like I'd just attended a Republican convention. It's outline was one-sided. It's waters were stagnant, and I would have liked to see Bickham show riskier elements to the scene and structure of a novel. Instead, his narrative remains a well-worn roadmap with a brand new cover, and I (personally) want something that travels beyond the Yellow Brick Road. I'm searching for a path that goes over the field of poppies and takes flight far past the view of the ordinary rainbow. Still, for those who like concrete, this book is for you.

Just don't step on the cracks.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure" (Chapters 1-6) by Jack M. Bickham

I didn't start to get into this book until Chapter 3. Chapters 1 & 2 were more introductory, covering topics such as, "The Structure of Modern Fiction" and "Strategy: How to Start Your Story and End It." Chapters 3 and 4 really gets into the produce of what a mid-level writer needs to know. "Structure in Microcosm: Cause and Effect," really helped me think about cause and effect in my novel, and Chapter 4 ( Structure in Larger Elements: The Scene) helped me to analyze each scene in my story.

Chapter 5 (Structure in Macrocosm: Scenes with Results) resonated with me, as I have done what this author warns against which is to write a grand scene and end up in a blind alley of manuscript with no where to go. This action reminds me of that science cartoon where the guy is writing an equation on the board and in the middle of it he writes *then a miracle happens* and the rest of the equation follows. I'm actually in a tough spot with my novel right now because some of the choices my characters have made put them all in a particular place with the need to get a specific thing done and I can't quite figure out how to do it without the *miracle* in the middle. Either I'll have to scrap some chapters or be clever and figure out something that's plausible.

Through Chapters 5 and 6, Bickham's techniques suit those who plan and who outline ahead of time but is not exactly for the 'pantsers' in the crowd. Chapter 6 deals with "Planning and Revising Scenes for Maximum Effect," and so as a part time pantser I could see where his technique wouldn't necessarily work for certain writers. However, if one were to go back later and apply some of what Bickham suggests it may be helpful. As of now, I"m on to Chapter 7 and will give more reviews later. So far there isn't much in this that I haven't been told already. It's a good review for general creative fiction novel writing but there's nothing that has completely rocked my world as a writer. More soon!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"The wooden door frame was scored and gouged into a welter of fresh splinters...

Mbwun by caramitten (deviantArt)

" if something with claws had been scrabbling at it."
 ~ The Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (1995)

I read this story years ago, and when I read it again this month I had a weird sense of deja-vu. Not because I'd read the novel once more, but because there was a film that was oddly similar to it in comparison. Then it hit me. The movie "Hell Boy" (2004). The museum, the overall description/vision of the monster, were much the same. 

Regardless, I have to say I loved this novel. It reads like a well researched tale, from descriptions of the museum to the autopsy scenes. There wasn't much I found unbelievable on the pages except for a couple of autopsy and death investigation missteps. For example, the pituitary does not come out when the brain is removed. It's located in a very small space inside the skull and has to be manually extracted with a long handled scalpel (Personally done it, so I know...). The medical examiner would have to be looking inside the skull for it, not at the brain (page 61). In addition, hands on dead bodies are not covered with plastic when they are recovered and sent to the morgue from a crime scene. Plastic degrades DNA and ruins good evidence. The hands would be covered with paper bags instead.

One other mistake I noticed was on page 80, there is mention of 'ballistics analysis,' but there were no 'ballistics'/bullets to analyze. The correct term would be "blood-spatter analysis," I believe, also termed 'bloodstain pattern analysis' by some. Blood-spatter analysis is the term that's been used since the 1950's, and I was surprised at that mistake. Ballistics is the study of things related to gunfire, trajectory of bullets, examination of patterns on casings, etc. Blood-spatter analysis looks a patterns of blood in relation to a crime (or suicide). Arterial spurts, splatters from hammers or other tools used on human bodies or other 'bleeding' episodes, constitute blood-spatter analysis.

There were some lovely made-up tidbits such as the "Callisto effect," Callisto being one of Jupiter's moons, or (in Greek mythology) the nymph Artemis turned into a bear and set into the stars, but that was an enjoyable piece of fun to read amid real scientific information such as "convergent evolution."
There was a lot of research put into this book, and I enjoyed much of it.

There were some parts of the novel that dragged for me. Some of the anthropological discussions were long winded and unnecessary, and slowed the pace of the story (example page 55, Kindle version). I think the long winded pieces were merely a case of trying to incorporate too much hard earned research into the text. Some of these pieces could have been edited out for a punchier tale.

Still, there was a lot of intrigue, fast action and suspense in the prose. The monster becomes more and more real, until we actually see it through the eyes of agent Pendergast. It's evolution is still in doubt until the truth of it's origin is uncovered in the epilogue. (I still have trouble understanding how it made it back to the U.S./New York undetected.) And I loved how the ending left room for several continuations of the story. Kawakita: possibly infected (his asthma gone/his shoes too tight). Possible infection of drug users in New York city, as Kawakita doled out what he thought was a 'controlled' substance (pun intended). And what IF there were other connections to the virus-plant that were loose in the world? Many possibilities!

Overall, a very fun book, and I look forward to reading "Reliquary" in the future.