Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Teaching an Old Writer New Tricks

I will be the first to tell you that I am an infernally stubborn creature.  I am also often flummoxed by technology.  My profane vocabulary gets quite the workout daily as I struggle with my computer.  You’d think there was a fight worthy of Mad Max’s Thunderdome going on from the sounds of banging, cursing, and shouting coming from my desk.  Taking these things into account, you can imagine I am not far removed from writing with stone and chisel.

 I do resist change in many cases, so my husband was quite surprised by one item on my Christmas list this past year.  I asked for scriptwriting software, specifically Final Draft.  I kept hearing it was the be-all and end-all of writers both experienced and just starting out.

Scripts and screenplays follow very specific guidelines in formatting.  So specific, that if you don’t get it right, no one in Hollywood, Bollywood, or even small industrial film companies anywhere will take you seriously.  They will laugh, crumple your hard work into tiny little balls, and practice their aim with the wastebasket.

Mind you, I was perfectly comfortable manually inserting tabs, margins, and all that kind of thing.  I could format for film or television in my sleep.  Yet it is a time-consuming process, slowing the flow of idea onto screen.  So I took a deep breath, calmed my ‘if-it-ain’t broke-don’t-fix-it’ mentality, and put this supposedly amazing software on my wish list.  I was apparently a good girl last year, because Santa brought the goods. 

Trembling with nervousness as I always do before launching myself into the great unknown, I loaded up the computer with this program.  Then I opened it.  Then I started typing. 

And lo, there were no sounds of cursing.  No thuds of my fist pounding the desk’s surface in frustration.  No threats to the computer of seeing it crash through a window.  In fact, I believe I might have heard a choir of angels singing.  They should have been; this software deserves praise from On High. 

I am in heaven.  I, the woman who still doesn’t quite understand how to use her phone to text or take pictures, who only just this past Christmas got her first tablet (it was a tech two-fer this year), I was delighted with my gift.  My words poured from the keyboard and the software automatically formatted for me.  I sat there stunned.  I wept with adoration.  I’m now a true believer.  Well, where the scriptwriting program is concerned, anyway.  I’m still lost when it comes to most everything else.  Thank heavens I have an expert in the house (aka, my seven-year-old) to sort that stuff out.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday's Serving - Lilith's Return

 Lena remembered everything from the moment her parents sparked her into being.  Mere hours after sperm fertilized egg, she and Alex were in the midst of a fight for all of humanity.  She’d felt every moment of her mother’s hopelessness, terror, and pain as she battled to exile their enemy.  Despite Lena’s presence and power aiding Alex, the battle had been close, and death even closer.  Had the doomed unborn child Lilith carried at the time not rebelled against its mother, had Lena not reminded her own mother of the power of the coffin nail she carried, Lilith would have won.  Earth would be trembling under her rule right now.

The immortal succubus had come so close to winning last time.  Now Mom, Dad, and Uncle Jacob were going to face her yet again.  Lena knew how tough her family was and how committed to the fight.  They would do all in their power to fend off the great threat once more.  But she had a very bad feeling about it.

“I’m not a prognosticator, I’m a tracker,” Lena reminded herself.  “I don’t see the future.”

So why did she have such a sense of doom?

Lena couldn’t stand it anymore.  She had not fought demonkind in years.  She had forgotten more than a few things when it came to the rituals and verses.  But she needed to be with her family.  She had to face Lilith and stop the demoness, or die trying.

She picked up the phone and called the funeral home.  Aunt Marta answered before the first ring ended.  “Lasham Funeral Home.  How may I help you?”

Without preamble, Lena announced, “I’m going to North Carolina.”

“Your plane leaves in four hours.  Get packed and I’ll drive you to Miami International.”

Lena almost wept; from terror or relief, she wasn’t sure.  “How do you do that?”

“It’s a gift.  Get a move on.  I’m on my way.”

Now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Best of the Bloodsuckers: Carmilla

Vampires in literature seem to have a cyclical popularity.  Dracula makes a return every generation in film, proving he is indeed forever undead (though each re-telling seems to make him sexier and more sympathetic than the original).  Starting in 1976 and peaking in the 1990’s, Anne Rice’s vampires became the be-all in vampire lore.  Then came the Twilight saga in 2005, and yet another round of bloodsuckers were in vogue.  The Sookie Stackhouse series, with its television counterpart True Blood, has also been a hit in recent years, though the novels have ended and the show’s run is apparently about to end after the next season. 

Few know to what all these blockbuster successes have to thank for their existence.  It all started with a little novella titled Carmilla. 

Published in 1872, predating Dracula by 25 years, Carmilla is Vampire Version 1.0 in the literary sense.  Told from the viewpoint of a young woman who befriends a mysterious lady who comes to live in her father’s home, it is a tale fraught with suspense, tension, and some overt lesbian-tendencies.  Penned by Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, it is the source from which all Hollywood vampires come.

Carmilla is narrated by Laura, the daughter of a wealthy English widower.  When a carriage accident prompts the enigmatic and entrancing Carmilla to seek shelter with father and daughter, the lonely Laura is captivated.  Carmilla returns the fascination, and the young ladies become fast friends.  Their obvious attraction to one another must have certainly raised a few eyebrows in Victorian society, as that was the timeframe during which this novella was published.  The era is probably also the reason why the scenes never become more scandalous in nature than this example: 

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration.

Beyond the sensual camaraderie is a backdrop of Gothic darkness, however.  Young women all over the village are dying in the night after wasting quickly away.  Then Laura herself begins to fail in health.  Tormented by nightmares of a dark creature that lies on her body, eliciting a smothering sensation, Laura begins to fade.  Meanwhile, Carmilla grows all the more frightening to her, though for reasons she can’t name.
Carmilla is the fiend by which I judge all other vampires.  She walks during the night and sleeps most of the day.  She does appear in late afternoon with no ill effects, though she seems weakened at that time.  The original belief that people become vampires as a result of suicide is explained in this book, along with the horrifying truth of what one finds when the vampire’s coffin is opened.  It is no wonder she served as a direct inspiration for Bram Stoker and Anne Rice. 

The understated grotesqueness, sexuality, and terror are so much more effective than the many attempts at vampire fiction that have been made since Carmilla was written.  It proves that graphic depictions of gore and sex are nothing compared to the psychological thrill of a well-crafted old-fashioned horror tale.  This story sticks with you long after you close the pages.  I highly recommend anyone who has not experienced Carmilla to do so.  One warning:  you may find yourself staring into the dark corners of your room when you go to bed at night, watching for any signs of movement.
You can get this book for Kindle and Nook for only $0.99 as of this writing.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday’s Serving – Lilith


            He didn’t notice her presence right away.  He stared at the window by the bed, his chest hitching helpless sobs.  He really wasn’t much more than a child, she thought.  When she’d first brought him here, he’d been fresh and vigorous, poised between slim boyishness and virile manhood.  Now his chest lay sunken, his limbs as wasted as an old man’s.  His cheekbones stood out from his gaunt face.
            She loved the young, strong ones the best.  Her mother might enjoy dispatching men within hours, sometimes even minutes, but Naamah took pleasure in watching their lives slowly ebb away. 
            The young men in particular felt invincible.  Their helplessness against her first shocked then infuriated them.  They denied such weakness and cursed her while trying to fight.  Their fear started as a pinprick they would at first refuse to acknowledge even to themselves.  From there the terror grew until it finally devoured them whole.  Then they screamed and begged even as their bodies betrayed them over and over.
            This sweet morsel breathed shallowly, every intake of air an effort.  Naamah knew his heart occasionally fluttered in exhausted arrhythmia.  The next time she took him would be the last.  The thought aroused her, and she stepped into the room.
            He saw the movement and turned his eyes from the window.  He moaned as his gaze fell on her but he didn’t scream.  The strength for that was long past. 

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Lack of Resolution

Last year was a big one for me in many ways.  It was my best year as an author, with several books hitting bestseller status on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.  I even scored top ten status.  Pretty amazing stuff. 

I also had set myself some New Year’s resolutions for 2013, all of which I managed to meet.  I damned near destroyed myself doing it too.  I started a new book every month ... the initial goal was just to get these novels rolling, not finish them.  Yet being the OCD animal that I am, I wasn’t content to simply do character sketches and outline new projects.  Darn if I didn’t try to work on so many simultaneous projects that I nearly blew every synapse in my brain.  Big mistake.  I was writing ten projects at once by the end of summer, because I went into my challenge with a few other books already cooking.  I had to give my compulsive nature tough love and demand it back off before I stopped writing entirely...as an all-or-nothing personality, that’s what would have happened.   

I dropped back until I was only writing four projects at a time.  That’s not as extreme as it might sound to some of you.  Usually each of my pen names has one book in outline status, one in first draft, one in second draft (first edit run), and one in final edits.  Only the first draft is a major workload issue taking up most of my time.  Tamara and Alt-Tam have different writing days, so I’m never doubling up.  It sounds like a crazy system, but it works for me. 

You can imagine I have no intention of going back to starting a new book every month in 2014.  I have no writing resolutions except to carry on in my ‘normal’ way of doing things.  It’s business as usual this year. 

My other 2013 resolution was to run 5K, via the Couch to 5K program.  There were so many stops and delays in achieving this goal.  My decrepit joints, particularly the left knee, would get me within a week or two of accomplishing this feat before blowing out.  I found myself sidelined for two months at a time as I healed.  I nearly despaired of ever reaching 5K.  Yet in late October, I finally made it and shed nearly 50 pounds in the process.  I’m still running when this poor body allows me to.  I, the Grand Lady of Lounging, now love to jog.   

I'm setting no exercise resolutions this year, however.  Last year’s had me pushing the running when I knew better (there’s that OCD again).  I am working on improving my fitness through toning and strength training now, along with running and/or walking 5 miles a day.  I’m taking my accomplishments to the next level, but I’m not setting a deadline for anything specific.  I just want to look hawt and be healthy.  That’s a lifelong commitment, not something that can be arrived at in a set amount of time. 

So I'm making no resolutions for the next 12 months.  I have goals and objectives and some good sense (I hope) to accomplish them in a logical manner.  If I resolve to do anything, it’s to not drive myself crazy again.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday's Serving - Willow in the Desert

Arner jerked upright in his bed, wakened from the horror of his latest nightmare to face the horror of his real life.  The empty home of his dream vanished to be replaced by the equally desolate room of his Freetown abode.

He swallowed; surprised as always that his throat wasn’t raw from screaming their names.  Wendy, George, Tom, and little baby Pam.  But no, his echoing cries had only happened in the nightmare in which he’d run from abandoned room to abandoned room, where they had all once lived and nobody lived anymore.


His tears had long dried up, his eyes as arid as the desert he now called home.  But the ache never left never ceased to remind him that he’d gotten home too late to save them.  All the strings pulled, the bribes made, finally going AWOL to make the headlong dash from Africa to get back to Texas, all to no avail.  He’d arrived too late.

His wife had been a smart, resourceful woman.  Arner liked to imagine she’d gotten the kids out, had taken them somewhere safe and even now they were all together, all alive, getting through this.  After all, there’d been no blood, no signs of struggle in the house.  There was always hope. 

Someone had once been stupid enough to calculate the odds of any one person surviving the first two years of the invasion.  Then he’d been even dumber and told those odds to Arner.  The number had been so astronomical as to be impossible.  And the odds of a group consisting of one adult and three children, one still in her diapers? 

Arner had been too busy beating the shit out of the mathematician to find that out.   

Available from Amazon, Barnes &Noble, and Smashwords. You can get it in paperback too.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

And Now Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Program

I used to pride myself on being able to ‘roll with it’.  I once felt like the Queen of Anti-Routine.  I could answer a whim on a moment’s notice.  I was spontaneous.  Predictability was to be sneered at. 

As I’ve grown older, spontaneity has died a gruesome death.  If my schedule is left open to impetuosity, nothing gets done.  Nothing except perhaps hours trying to defeat mahjong on my tablet.  If left with even an hour of unplanned time, I flail with confusion until I find some way to fritter away those strange and empty moments.  What am I supposed to do with impromptu minutes that I didn’t see coming? 

Even worse is if my daily routine is thrown off in some way.  If dragged from my work/play/meditation/education, I react with almost violent despair.  “How can I do that when I’m not finished with this?  Oh the humanity!”  Felt with all the horror of watching Sharknado.  Yes, it’s that awful. 

I don’t know for sure how I got this way, but I have my suspicions.   I realize that the last time I was truly comfortable with a loose and open stretch of hours was when I was a teenager.  Maybe that era was the exception to my personality’s rule due to crazed adolescent hormones.  Not so now.  It could be the Asperger’s.  Many people on the spectrum feel adrift without a schedule.  Maybe it’s age and a part of my psyche is readying for the day when I have to take certain pills at certain times of the day, just like my dear old Grandma and Grandpappy.   

All I know for sure anymore is if I don’t have a set activity at such-and-such time, I am lost and in search of breadcrumbs to lead me out of the dark woods.  So I have a daily schedule.  I adhere to it.  And I love it. 

I made the schedule during the Christmas break I took from writing.  I realized there were many things I wanted to do that I never felt I had time for.  My life had pretty much dwindled to writing, walking/running 5 miles a day, getting kiddo’s homework done, and watching Netflix.  Woohoo!  What fun, huh? 

I wanted to get back to meditation and spiritual studies.  Reading books.  Playing with my child rather than just ushering him through his assignments.  Weight training.  Drawing.  Talking to friends.  Studying the subjects that fascinate me.  Those kinds of things.  Things I enjoy.  But where was I going to find all that time? 

It was there, it turned out.  I just had to schedule it in.  I found time for all of that stuff by first writing down a list of my priorities and figuring out what was most important to me.  Once I did that, I figured out how I could plug them all into my week, along with reminding myself that sometimes these things would fall by the wayside.  As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.”  I will keep telling myself that there will be days when the schedule falls apart.  I will tell myself it’s okay.  You may find it funny that I would have to console myself over such a thing, but I’ve discovered Asperger’s can put a spin on unforeseen changes that are downright chaotic.  I have to be ready when it happens. 

As I write this, I have been on my new schedule for three days.  So far, I’m feeling quite wow about it.  I am fitting in everything I’ve been wanting to do and never found the time for.  It’s awesome.  Yes, it’s rigid and I’m feeling like a boring old lady for having to put myself on a routine, but I’m enjoying life a lot more because I’m living a lot more. 

I guess I’ll never be spontaneous again, at least not on a regular basis.  That sounds so not-fun that my eyes nearly cross to write it.  Yet I feel better with my schedule.  I feel like I’m making time for fun rather than being at a loss when the opportunity shows up and I don’t know what to do with it.  It keeps my aspie brain calm and happy to have a sort of to-do list that I can check off as I go. 

I live by a routine.  It keeps me sane and productive and joyous.  In the end, I guess that’s what matters.  My life, my rules.  Figure out yours and live happy too.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday’s Serving – The Willow and the Stone


            He turned to the tree.  It drew away from him, and its shuddering fronds fled from his touch.  Leo stared; it was actually aware of him.  He reached toward it, palms up, the way one might offer a hand to a friendly but skittish cat.  The tree’s limbs drifted toward him.
            Trembling branches whispered against his legs.  He felt a hesitant touch on his cheek.
            He shivered at the shy touch of the mind that called to him.  He caressed tiny leaves with his fingertips.  "Friend," he whispered.
            A breeze sighed through the willow's branches.  Who?
            "A survivor.  I live in a safe place, a hideaway inside an old limestone mine.  It‘s called the Rock."
            "No aliens bother us here.  We’re well hidden.  It's just north of Pittsburgh in a town called Boyers."  He motioned to the corpses hanging from the tree's limbs.  "What did you do to them?"
            "The aliens."
            The tree shuddered all over.  The dead aliens jiggled an obscene dance, their limbs jerking as if under the control of a puppeteer having a seizure.  Aliens?  Where?
Leo realized only he saw the horrible creatures.  Many of his visions were filled with symbols that demanded careful analysis.  The willow was aware of him, but not the components of his vision. 
            "Hush," he comforted the tree.  "It's all right.  You have nothing to fear here."
            All fear.  Nothing else.
            He stroked a branch.  "You’d be safe at the Rock.  Can you come to me?”
            Maybe.  Fronds reached to brush the craggy stone.  Both?
            The stone was a companion then, another person.  The vision grew hazy as wisps of smoke drifted across the air.  Leo was running out of time.  “Of course.  Remember, it's in Boyers, Pennsylvania.  You and your friend are welcome."
            Heavier curls of smoke drifted between them obscuring his view.  He had so many questions for the willow, but he’d have to hope he‘d be given another opportunity.  “Come to me, Willow.  Come to the Rock." 

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