Keeping Your Writing Different – Guest Post by Mitch Maiman

How Do You Keep Your Writing Different?

Mitch Maiman- author of “Every Third Night”

     The key to keep your writing “different” is being loyal and true to yourself. We are all singular individuals, and writers are no exception. We think differently, react differently, and compose our prose differently. Writing is simply transmitting the ideas that are filtered out by your brain and expressing them in flowing sentences and appropriate words. Since no two brains are alike, your fiction can only be uniquely yours, unless you violate the cardinal rule of composition and try to mimic another author’s style or live up to some biased standard that you have encountered. Just be yourself. Don’t use words that you wouldn’t use in your everyday language. Don’t invent fancy phrases that you have never heard in your entire life. And when you try to project yourself into one of your character’s mindsets, don’t deviate too far from your own paradigm. Every character must make sense to you, even if they are deviant or crazy. At times, we all are. For instance, if one of your characters is a murderer, imagine yourself as that criminal and write what you might do in a given situation. If another one is psychopath, become psychotic in your thought and transmit how your own brain interprets that pathology. Don’t let your characters become foreign to you. Intrinsically break them down through your own lens, and recite their plights in your own vernacular.

     Then there is style. Develop your own style. There is no cookbook recipe, and no blueprint that must be followed. In my own experience, I found myself ending almost every chapter with a one-line paragraph, usually an open-ended but definitive statement. Something the reader can really mull over. At first, I thought that might not be wise, that it was possibly too repetitive. But since every chapter seemed to be ending that way, I realized that this mode of writing was truly my style. It was my way of connecting my subplots, and entice the reader to continue uninterrupted to embellish my novel and move rapidly on to the next chapter. It became one my signature modalities. So, I adopted it, instead of worrying about what a critic might think. If your writing keeps leading you down a certain path, do not be afraid. That is your distinction. You may try to improve upon it and fine tune its presentation, but do not abandon it. You may become well- known for that very same tendency.

     Finally, the ratio between your works DIALOG among the characters versus NARRATIVE text is another key element that helps distinguish one’s literary expression. Some say that too much dialog might read like a screenplay or television series, OR, too much narrative might become boring literary fiction and drag on too long. Hogwash. Every interaction, every point in plot development might call for a different strategy, and your novel might vacillate between the two depending on particular circumstances. Dialog provides the reader with the most dramatic moments, and well-written narrative must support the plots essence. Don’t be overly aware of the blend between the two, any more than you should count the words in your book. It is the quality of your account that matters, and the realism that you can impart to your audience. Any part of the book might favor one or the other. Just write it as you feel it, and the pages will reflect your honesty.

    And the clarity that results from your effort will result in great fiction.



“Every Third Night” is an eye-opening yet poignant story that is set in a busy, dehumanizing and unyielding New York City residency program in Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1984. It brings the reader into the real world of medicine at a time of limited supervision and brutal duty hours through the vantage points of young physicians enduring stressful conflicts and volatile relationships.

Protagonist and chief resident Jimmy Zito seemingly has it all- brilliant clinical skills, handsome, a talented teacher, and a gorgeous girlfriend to boot- but a troubled past and a rash of new conflicts leave him struggling to survive in this, his last month of training. He desperately tries to guide his fellow residents through their own personal traumas, but is not nearly as well equipped to handle the pressure as others might think, especially considering the toxic and exhaustive work schedule, unchecked aberrant behavior of attending physicians, and the highly competitive and emotional demands of Ob-Gyn.

Intern Henry Deluca grapples with the consequences of a horrific surgical complication that he feels responsible for. Co-chief resident Greta Greenberg struggles with her personal dilemma in a busy abortion clinic. Best friend Mike O’Rourke is driven to madness by an unreasonable superior’s callousness concerning a dying patient with ovarian cancer. And Kim Clark, Jimmy’s occult but obvious love interest, is at wits end after constantly being tortured by her sadistic Chairman. Jimmy’s ultra-needy girlfriend and stubborn father do not make things any easier. The intertwined subplots all mesh together and come crashing down when an unexpected, dramatic and haunting mishap leaves the program reeling and Jimmy’s life forever transformed.


Dr. Mitchell Maiman became a physician at age twenty-four and is now retired. As a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology and sub-specialist in Gynecologic Oncology, he has had a distinguished academic, clinical and research career in medicine and served as both a Director of Gynecologic Oncology and Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at major New York City based university hospitals. He has been recognized for his numerous educational contributions in the field and his devotion and commitment to the teaching of residents and fellows.

Mitch lives with his wife, Dr. Judy Levy, in Long Island, New York and is an avid tennis player and practitioner of yoga. They first met during their residency training. This is his first novel.

Why I Chose to Start a Fiction Podcast as an Author

Why I Chose to Start a Fiction Podcast as an Author by Alyanna Poe

As an indie horror author, I’m always looking for new ways to promote my work. Having watched the first season of Only Murders in the Building, it got me thinking. There are people that listen to true crime podcasts so thoroughly that they have maps, notes, and theories about the cases they listen to. Only problem is, I’ve got no connections to get details about cases, but I do have a head full of stories.

This birthed the idea of the Indicted Fiction Podcast. I thought, “True crime but make it fiction.” I didn’t want to use the same format as a true crime podcast because who wants to listen to a fake case? Not to mention, the idea allowed for many mistakes. I couldn’t imagine writing a fake crime and investigation just to have a listener tell me it’s not possible and the whole case is clearly a sham. So came the audio diary idea. 

Season one of Indicted Fiction is called “Adam’s Murder.” Can you guess what it’s about? Each episode of the podcast is a chapter of the book I wrote under the same name, and once the last podcast episode airs, the book will be published. Abigail Drummer must work through her grief as she investigates the murder of her brother, keeping an audio diary as she points a finger at everyone she knows. I play the character I wrote, Abigail Drummer. While planning out the idea, I figured an audio diary format leaves me so much creative space. Listeners have told me that she has a quirky awkwardness about her youth and that she’s very relatable and emotional. I’ve never taken an acting or voice over class, and I think the only reason I’m able to convey this emotion is because I wrote the story and it’s so close to me. In 2020 I lost my own brother. In Adam’s Murder I worked through a lot of grief and feelings of guilt, and narrating that work only amplified my emotions. I think in episode three you can actually hear me crying. 

The benefit of narrating your own story is that you understand where to emphasize the words, where to show emotion, and how your character sounds. Abby is awkward. She’s introverted and so unsure about the world around her. Sure, a voice actor would be able to convey this, but I think my listeners/readers are not only making a connection to Abby but also to me. 

Another great benefit is, I was able to do this on a budget, and I can promote this podcast in places I could never promote my books because it’s free. Listeners get a taste of my writing and then can check out my other books or buy the book once it’s published. Not to mention, the podcast is sort of acting as a book launch, building excitement for the publication of the book.

So far, despite having a mic that’s not great and a set up that would make any voice actor cringe, I’ve gotten great feedback. Every week people are excited for a new episode, and I’m so proud of myself for having spread myself into new territory as an author. 

I think any writer could benefit from a fiction podcast. Whether you do a short story per week, add sound effects, or narrate from third person, it’s all doable. 

For anyone interested, Indicted Fiction: Adam’s Murder is available to read on my blog and to listen to on my website, YouTube, and Spotify. And if all goes well, season two of Indicted Fiction will be available to my patrons on Patreon only and will follow a serial killer in prison telling her stories of murder and why she did it.


Author Alyanna Poe: an author from Northern California with a knack for horror. Poe has been writing since a young age and self-published her first horror novel at eighteen years old. Many ask what her real name is, only to be surprised that she is a born Poe with relations to the great Edgar Allan Poe. She frequently posts interviews with small businesses and authors like herself, short fiction, and articles about writing and marketing to her website

Check out The Case of Adams Murder: Episode 1


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Where do you get your ideas? by Mark S. Bacon

Mark S. Bacon began his career as a Southern California newspaper police reporter, one of his crime stories becoming key evidence in a murder case that spanned decades.

After working for two newspapers, he moved to advertising and marketing and became a copywriter for Knott’s Berry Farm, the large theme park down the freeway from Disneyland. Experience working at Knott’s formed part of the inspiration for his creation of Nostalgia City theme park.

Before turning to fiction, Bacon wrote business books including “Do-It-Yourself Direct Marketing,” printed in four languages and three editions, named best business book of the year by the Library Journal, and selected by the Book of the Month Club and two other book clubs. His freelance feature articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Antonio Express News, Orange County (Calif.) Register, Denver Post and many other publications. Most recently he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Dark Ride Deception” is the fourth book in the Nostalgia City mystery series that began with”Death in Nostalgia City”. The first book introduced ex-cop turned cab driver Lyle Deming and PR executive Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star. “Death in Nostalgia City” was recommended for book clubs by the American Library Association.

Bacon is the author of flash fiction mystery books including, “Cops, Crooks and Other Stories in 100 Words – Revised Edition”.

He taught journalism as a member of the adjunct faculty at Cal Poly University – Pomona, the University of Nevada – Reno, and the University of Redlands. He earned an MA in mass media from UNLV and a BA in journalism from Fresno State.

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Where do you get your ideas?

by Mark S. Bacon

Do ideas for mystery novels float down from the ether? Do writers lean back in their chairs, arms resting on their heads, waiting for inspiration to strike? Sometimes. More often though, writers rely on their own experiences, their own history as the foundation for stories.

If you look at the background of many mystery/crime writers, sources of their inspiration become clear.

For example, as a young lawyer John Grisham toiled for many hours at a small, struggling Mississippi law firm. And the main character in his early books is typically a young lawyer toiling for many hours at a small, struggling Mississippi law firm.

Tony Hillerman,wrote about the southwest. In his most famous books, Navajo tribal police solve the mysteries. Before writing novels, he was a newspaper reporter in Texas. He patterned one of his main police characters after a local Texas sheriff he knew. Later he lived and taught in New Mexico for more than 20 years becoming familiar with the land and the people.

One of British writer Gerald Kersh’s most well known books isNight and the City. Al Pacino starred in the movie version. It focuses on the seamy side of the wrestling game in London. And while Kersh was learning to write he held a variety of odd jobs. For a time, he was a wrestler.

Dashiell Hammett, before he became a novelist and wrote The Maltese Falcon, worked for the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency. He used that experience as the basis for the Falcon and also for a long series of short stories and two novels that featured a private eye working for a big detective agency.

The setting for my mysteries is a theme park, Nostalgia City. Early in my career I wrote advertising at Knott’s Berry Farm, the large theme park just up the freeway from Disneyland.

Although I spent most of my time writing ads and commercials, I occasionally worked on special events in the park. I got to know some of the costumed employees who entertained visitors and had a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to keep a sprawling entertainment enterprise rolling smoothly. At times it seemed like controlled chaos.

Since my experience at Knott’s I’ve always thought a theme park would make a great setting for a murder mystery. A park can be crammed with tourists to the point of inducing claustrophobia. Or it can be dark and empty at night when the gates are closed, the rides sit motionless and the only sound is the wind whistling through the rollercoaster framework. Theme parks present many possibilities for intrigue.

In my new book, Dark Ride Deception, high-tech secrets for mind-bending new rides are stolen from Nostalgia City. My protagonists, Lyle Deming, an ex-cop now theme park cab driver, and Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, are sent on an undercover mission to search offices and workshops at other theme parks. They’re looking for the Perception Deception Effect, a remarkable artificial intelligence-controlled program that will alter theme park rides forever.

Lyle and Kate’s exploration of other theme parks is not unlike my first weeks working at Knott’s, as I tried to find my way around the grounds and learn the secrets of opening doors closed to the public.

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History of the Mystery: It Stays the Same—and Changes by Mark S. Bacon

Mark S. Bacon began his career as a Southern California newspaper police reporter, one of his crime stories becoming key evidence in a murder case that spanned decades.

After working for two newspapers, he moved to advertising and marketing and became a copywriter for Knott’s Berry Farm, the large theme park down the freeway from Disneyland. Experience working at Knott’s formed part of the inspiration for his creation of Nostalgia City theme park.

Before turning to fiction, Bacon wrote business books including “Do-It-Yourself Direct Marketing,” printed in four languages and three editions, named best business book of the year by the Library Journal, and selected by the Book of the Month Club and two other book clubs. His freelance feature articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Antonio Express News, Orange County (Calif.) Register, Denver Post and many other publications. Most recently he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Dark Ride Deception” is the fourth book in the Nostalgia City mystery series that began with”Death in Nostalgia City”. The first book introduced ex-cop turned cab driver Lyle Deming and PR executive Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star. “Death in Nostalgia City” was recommended for book clubs by the American Library Association.

Bacon is the author of flash fiction mystery books including, “Cops, Crooks and Other Stories in 100 Words – Revised Edition”.

He taught journalism as a member of the adjunct faculty at Cal Poly University – Pomona, the University of Nevada – Reno, and the University of Redlands. He earned an MA in mass media from UNLV and a BA in journalism from Fresno State.

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History of the mystery: it stays the same—and changes

by Mark S. Bacon

Who published the first modern mystery story? It happened 180 years ago.

Modern mysteries got started in 1841 when Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia published The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe. Known for grim horror stories such as The Telltale Heart, Poe beat Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie by many decades in creating a detective series. The mystery introduces Paris detective monsieur C. Auguste Dupin who used his “analytical power” to solve a series of murders. He appears again in two other stories.

Later, in 1866, Fyodor Dostoevsky published Crime and Punishment. In it, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, an impoverished student, murders a woman with an axe for her money. After he’s killed her he becomes confused and paranoid. Enter the detective, Porfiry Petrovich, head of the investigation department. Petrovfich questions Raskolnikov at length using psychological techniques to wear him down.

When I read Dostoyevsky’s masterwork several years ago I was struck by Petrovich’s interrogation style. It reminded me of the old TV show Columbo in which Peter Falk would hound a suspect with dumb questions and hypotheticals until he or she confessed. Later I read that William Link, producer and writer for Columbo, actually based his detective’s style on Dostoyevsky.

Shortly after Crime and Punishment, 1868, English writer Wilkie Collins wrote The Moonstone, considered the first classic mystery novel and one that established many of the ground rules for the modern genre. It’s a tale of murder and a stolen diamond from India.

Two years later, Collins’ better-known contemporary, Charles Dickens, started The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but died before he could finish it. Then in 1887 Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes appeared for the first time in A Study in Scarlet.

Leap ahead almost a century and a half and DNA, cell phones and myriad other advanced technologies have replaced the magnifying glass for crime novel detectives. In some mystery and thriller novels today technology almost overshadows the characters. I didn’t want that to happen with Dark Ride Deception, my new mystery.

The story takes place in Nostalgia City, an Arizona theme park where a computer genius has just invented a remarkable new technology that will transform theme park rides forever. But the plans and computer programs that created the Deception Perception Effect are stolen. My protagonists are set off on a mission to solve the theft and the disappearance of the computer genius behind the new technology.

Rather than fill the story with complex tech, however, I focus on the players including my ex-cop turned Nostalgia City cab driver, Lyle Deming, who goes undercover to spy on other theme parks suspected of corporate espionage.

Technology is important to today’s mysteries, but it’s the people, the characters, who have always made tales of murder come alive.

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Writer’s Block by Casia Pickering

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An authors thoughts on Writer’s Block

by Casia Pickering

Writer’s block. It’s real, folks. Seriously. Take right this moment as an example. I wanted to sound pretentious, informative, and intellectual, permitted to sit among the greats, but really, I’m just me- a writer with the block. The block is called “The Guest Post.”

For me, I dislike calling it a block. A block feels like a Rubix cube or a blockage in the circulatory system. One aspect is easily solvable if you know the formula or have the time to take off the stickers and place them on the cube correctly. The other image? Well, without proper medical care, that shit can kill you.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t have the patience to take off the stickers on a Rubix cube, nor do I feel like getting probed to see if I’m going to kick the bucket anytime soon. Let’s face it; neither image feels very “Author.”

Nope. I consider the block as a wall because that’s what it is. You are running through a maze made by your imagination, and you made the wrong turn, meeting with a wall- The Writer’s Wall. 

So, what do you do about the wall? It’s pretty simple. You have three options from where I stand, and all of them suck, but hey, you can get around it.

Option one is backtracking. Follow down the path you just went through and see what had caused you to make that wrong turn. There was one time I met the wall, and I backtracked. It turned out that a secondary love interest to the triangle wanted more screen time. It turns out he was a central character, that he had personality, and I needed to show it. I have to rewrite that story again because it turns out I still haven’t given him the love he needs.

Option two is breaking the wall. Just go for it. Write something completely off the wall in your story. Force the story to happen. Just grab that sledgehammer and slam it into the bricks, break the plaster, cut through the drywall, and make that small home into a beautiful renovation that will make HGTV cry tears of adoration. This is an excellent option if you are on a blank page. A great example of me doing that is at the beginning of this post. That was me taking the sledgehammer into the wall.

Option three is parkour. Come on. I know you had to have run and jumped on a jungle gym as a child. Do you remember being fearless? I do. Sometimes, I do silly things and twirl, all the while screaming “Parkour.” Yes, it does make people stare at me, but hey, it works. No, I don’t do actual parkour, but I do like to do something physical and productive to break what keeps me from writing. Usually, it is chores or just doing something silly. What matters is you don’t focus on the act of writing. Instead, you do something different. Eventually, the blood will get to the brain, and the brain will hit the imagination, thereby helping you write.

So, is the block actual? Yes, but it’s a wall, and everyone knows that if you can build a wall, you can tear it down. That’s why we made catapults, to fly over them and take over the kingdom.

Writer’s Block by Brandon Barrows

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An authors thoughts on Writer’s Block

by Brandon Barrows

Hi. I’m Brandon Barrows. Maybe we’ve met before. Maybe you’ve read my previous novel Burn Me Out, or the one before that, This Rough Old World or possibly a story of mine in various magazines and anthologies. Maybe you’ve already ordered my next novel, Strangers’ Kingdom are eagerly awaiting the chance to dive into it. If so, my sincerest thanks.

But I’m here today to talk about something else, something all three of those novels—and honestly, most of my work, has been afflicted by at some point in the past: writer’s block.

Some people don’t believe writer’s block is real. I believe those people either have never tried writing anything or are just really, really insanely lucky to have never experienced it. All three of my published novels mentioned above have suffered from it at some point or another in the writing process.

This Rough Old World took two years and more than a dozen drafts, beginning as a twenty-five-thousand-word novella and ending up as an eighty-three-thousand-word novel before it was done. In between drafts, I often went weeks or even months without touching it simply because I had no idea what came next. The same is true of Strangers’ Kingdom, but it was even longer: three years. I got stalled at around the seventy-thousand-word mark and realized I had no idea how to end the book. It sat, completely untouched, for a year and a half before I was able to beat it into submission.

It’s frustrating. It makes you doubt yourself, your ability, the worthiness of this pursuit. You wonder, could I be doing something better with my time? But I never quit. Even when I wasn’t working on this books, I was working on something else, because I just had to. Not writing is pretty unthinkable and to be perfectly honest, the times when I can’t write hurt. It’s a kind of ache that’s almost physical, knowing you should be producing but not being able to. And eventually, you just find a way to get going again because there’s no other choice.

A lot of people say they think they have a novel in them, or they want to write a book someday, and just never get around to it. A lot use writer’s block as an excuse. That’s okay, if you’re okay with it. Absolutely no judgment.

But that’s what separates writers from regular folks: no matter how hard it is, no matter how much it hurts, you keep going, because you have to. To do anything else is unthinkable.

That’s what it was like writing Strangers’ Kingdom. I knew how the story started, but had no idea how it ended and it took me a lot of brain-wracking and soul-searching and just plain forcing myself to get it done. But I did it. And when it was done, I felt great, even though I knew there were parts I would need to rewrite. But that’s part of the process, too. The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. The guts of writing comes later, in the revising and the editing stage. It doesn’t really matter what goes into that first draft, so long as there is a first draft. That’s what I kept telling myself and that’s how I learned to break through the writer’s block.

Writer’s block still happens, of course, but learning how to deal with it is something you just have to do if you want to write. And once you do, trust me, you’ll feel great.

Time Management by Casia Pickering

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An authors thoughts on Time Management!

by Casia Pickering

Time management, well, to make this simple, time management sucks ass. It does. And I suck at time management. That said, it makes juggling life an exciting roller coaster of a ride. 

I recently juggled my first full-time job (I used to work part-time and was predominantly a house-mom), going through the legal uphill of a divorce, being a mom, and writing. That means setting aside my writing. I set myself tiny writing goals and try to meet those, but I am nowhere near where I want to be.

In my ideal time management writer life, I wouldn’t have the legal stuff. Instead, I would be charging toward a full-time author deal. I already know that juggling the Bug, my son, and writing wouldn’t be an issue. If anything, the dude would be a nuisance making sure I get my writing done. 

Juggling my time with him and writing isn’t a chore. Bug makes it his job to ask me if I’m writing. He likes to tell everyone in his school that his mother is an author, he likes having my stories on his bookshelf, and he is already planning out my merch store. No, I don’t have merch. He wants that to happen. I know I’m spoiled by this kid.

If you are a writer and a parent, but finding it hard to juggle the time for both, try to include your child in what you’re doing. Tell them they get to kick your butt if you don’t write. One time, Bug forbade me Oreos until I had a set number written. I still haven’t had an Oreo. Is he evil? Quite possibly, but he is my son, and I encouraged this method of accountability. 

Ultimately, don’t beat yourself up. Choose what is more important, do those things first, and if you have time to do the less important- there you go. For me, Bug is the top priority. Therefore, for right now, it is the legal stuff and full-time work that have to be the head of the train with writing being in the caboose. Bug is my conductor, and he’s doing a great job at it.

Guest Post: Why Mix Paranormal & Dystopian?

Why mix Paranormal and Dystopian?

Guest Post by Emily S. Hurricane

Two words: why not? Okay but seriously…I really love end of the world stories. But as with most tales, I also love something with a paranormal twist. I wondered what it would be like for a set of people to have the entire world at their fingertips because there are just so little people left.

So what if a disease wiped out humanity and all that was left were immune supernatural creatures? And what if one of them didn’t even know what she was?

Daphne doesn’t know what she is, and has to navigate being potentially the last person on earth. This obviously isn’t a new idea, but I thought it would be so interesting to look at it through the lens of what on the surface seems like an everywoman. Imagine having to watch everyone around you die horribly, and somehow come through unscathed? I wanted to explore what that would do to a person, how she would deal with it (or not deal with it), and what she would do with her time.

What would you do if you were the last person on earth?

Emily hails from rural Nova Scotia, curled up on a tree stump with a bubblegum pink notebook and a steaming mug of French roast coffee. She is a thirtysomething mom of a toddler and a fur-baby. Her lumbersexual husband doesn’t actually work in lumber anymore, but he still wears the plaid and the beard.

When she’s not writing and/or momming, she’s sipping espresso, crocheting, and listening to audiobooks. She’s an established freelance writer and editor.

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The Beginning of the End  (Bloodlines Vol. 1) by Emily S. Hurricane ~ Genre: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy

Daphne Rhodes would tell anyone: being ‘the one’ sucks.

At least, she would if there was anyone left to tell. She’s the one who’d survived. The one with the magic immune system that saved her.

The only one left on this whole miserable planet.

Daphne spends her days alone and craving answers as to why it had to be her. Why did she have to watch everyone she’d ever known and loved die a horrific death?

On her mother’s deathbed, Daphne learns long-hidden family secrets that send her on a quest across Canada to not only discover where she came from, why she survived, and who she is…but what she is, as well.

Volume 1 of the Bloodlines Series

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What Goes into a Killer First Line? And How to Craft Your Own!

What Goes into a Killer First Line? And How to Craft Your Own!

Guest Post by Desiree Villena

You’ve meticulously outlined a plot, researched the concept, even started thinking about how you might go about publishing your book — now you have to actually put pen to paper and write the first sentence. This should be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, right?

Alas, it’s rarely such. But if this is the moment you’ve found yourself lost for words, you’re definitely not alone!

Great first lines come in many shapes and sizes, depending on variables like genre, aim, and the events of your opening scene. Rather than giving a one-size-fits-all approach, I’d like to analyze the art of the opener with a few examples, so that you can decide upon the most slick and stylish opening line for your story.

Option #1: Establish a simple fact or event

Sometimes, less is more. Rather than conjuring up something dramatic and unforgettable, sometimes your best option is getting something — anything — down on paper! Opening a scene in the clearest way possible establishes narrative directness, rather than appearing convoluted and overwrought. For an example of an opener that’s both attention-grabbing and fact-based, let’s look at Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend:

This morning Rino telephoned. I thought he wanted money again and I was ready to say no.”

Here, Ferrante states an event that has occurred and explains it in simple terms. In the first part of this opener, we learn of the event: a conversation, which we soon find out is between an elderly lady and a young man, about a woman who has suddenly gone missing. In the second part, we get a sense of the interesting dynamic between the two, via the protagonist’s assumption over what the call is about. Simple, yet highly effective.

Option #2: Jump into the action

Forget what you were taught at school — starting with exposition is not a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to kicking off your story. In fact, many story structures advocate for cutting straight to the action to establish pace, intrigue, and excitement early on. It also allows for more sophisticated incorporation of character development and backstory as the plot develops.

Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You is a great example of establishing the crunch point of a story in the opener:

 “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

This line is short, sparse, and shocking. The reader immediately understands the crisis upon which the story will likely hinge. It doesn’t waste any time in grabbing the reader’s attention and setting the stage for the mystery that is about to unfold.

Option #3: Set the mood with something literary

That said, a little bit of exposition can be a more appropriate way to begin your story — particularly if it’s a slowburn or a more lighthearted form of fiction, like a romance or a slice-of-life drama. This can be done through the use of a literary device, like a simile or metaphor, or a detailed description of a place or a character.

For example, John Kennedy Tooles’ A Confederacy of Dunces starts with a physical description of Ignatius J. Reilly, Toole’s unpleasant, flatulent, work-shy protagonist:

“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.”

This opening instantly establishes the humorous tone of this cult classic, and shows Reilly to be a character with silly and somewhat foolish dimensions. It also figures as a more subtle illustration of the general tone of the story — comical yet description-heavy.

To use a metaphor of my own, this approach might be considered a dimming of the stage lights, rather than setting up the props! Illustrative, expressive writing with a touch of symbolism effectively establishes the ambience of a scene and allows for a gentle build up to the action.

Option #4: Impart some thoughtful philosophy

Some of the most memorable lines in fiction take a more worldly approach. This will require more expansive thinking than the other three tactics — but, when done well, can imbue your writing with an air of authority and significance that goes beyond the relaying of a series of events. L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between is a classic, oft-cited example of this type of opener:

 “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

In this case, Hartley alludes to the regret-tinged tale of his elderly protagonist, Leo, concerning a fateful visit to the country estate of his childhood friend Marcus. Rather than expressing a point of action, this kind of opening steps back from the plot and expresses a sentiment that resonates with the narrative arc of the story. If done well, this can be a stylish and thoughtful way to foreshadow the morale of your story, affirm a particular tone, and impart some wisdom onto your readers. Creative and classy.

If you’re still stumped, fear not! You can start writing your book or story at whichever point you feel is most clarified in your mind — beginning, middle, or end. As long as you keep plugging away, you’re bound to come up with something sooner or later!

The author of this guest post, Desiree Villena, is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.

What Really Scares Me: Addiction in Horror

What Really Scares Me: Addiction in Horror by Holley Cornetto

I have a confession to make. Most horror doesn’t really scare me.

Horror writers primarily deal in fear, and what frightens one person may fall flat for another. I’ve found this to be true in my reading and writing. Some reviewers may call something terrifying, while others call it boring. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing about ghosts and monsters and deranged killers wielding chainsaws, but those things don’t keep me awake at night.

So then, what does scare me? The death of a loved one. Sickness. Grief. Insanity. Sleep paralysis. Snakes. Addiction.

Most of my fears, snakes aside, have to do with a lack of agency or a loss of control. To date, two of my short stories have dealt with the topic of addiction. It is this particular fear that I wrestle with most often. In part, because addiction is a scary thing, but also because addiction is so often stigmatized in society, that those who suffer because of it often fail to seek out help.

In his article titled “The Compassion of Addiction Horror,” Mark Matthews discusses addiction as possession. In this view, addiction to and withdrawal from substances is akin to “…being spiritually occupied and living through a painful mutation of your physical self” (2020) It is worth noting that the fear here is twofold. It manifests both in addiction and in withdrawal. People who suffer from addiction may feel a loss of control over their bodies and minds. Friends and loved ones may notice a change in the person that they attribute to the substance abuse. Withdrawal has its own set of horrors as addicts suffer a plethora of physical and psychological effects as the drugs leave the system.

Possession stories aren’t the only narratives that include elements of addition. In the article, “How the Horror Genre Helped Me Understand my Addiction,” Tabitha Vidaurri writes that “Vampires are a pretty thinly veiled allegory for substance use disorder if you swap out blood for alcohol/drugs” (2020). But the article doesn’t stop with vampires. Werewolf narratives also allude to substance abuse wherein “people are always waking up the next day, naked, in a field with fuzzy memories of the night before and a bad taste in their mouth” (2020). Whereas possession narratives focus on the changes a person may undergo while under the influence, or during withdrawal, these vampire and werewolf narratives borrow from addition itself. The insatiable need, in the case of the vampire, and in the case of the werewolf, the consequences of our actions when we are not in full control of our faculties.

Addiction in and of itself is a scary thing, not only for the above stated reasons, but also because it is something that society often neglects to discuss openly. In the past, society has stigmatized addiction, often blaming addicts for their own condition. In recent years, thanks to advances in mental healthcare, we’ve learned that there is so much more to drug addiction than bad choices. In many cases, there never was a choice. Many people who suffer from addiction also suffer from a range of other health issues, from mental illness to chronic pain.

So, how does this relate to horror? Horror has always served as a venue in which society can safely discuss and work through the fears that lurk in the shadows and dark corners of our minds. Horror does not shy away from bleak or upsetting subject matter; it specializes in it. It celebrates it. Horror serves as a safe space to work through the scary shit that bombards us each day when we walk out of our doors (figuratively speaking, for those of us in lockdown). It may seem like an oxymoron to refer to horror as a safe space, but when reading horror fiction, or watching a horror movie, you are directly in control of the situation. Unlike real life, when the book or movie becomes too much, you can choose to put it aside or turn it off. You can sample the fear in small doses, at your own level of comfort.

I firmly believe that society needs horror fiction as an outlet. Horror readers and writers are some of the kindest and most well-adjusted people that I know, and I can’t help but think it is in part because we work through our problems in fiction rather than bottling them up inside ourselves. Horror helps us learn and practice empathy, and empathy is something that we could certainly use more of, as far as I’m concerned. 

So, now that you know what scares me, go out there and write a story. One that will terrify me. One that I can (hopefully) read in small doses, and at my own pace.

In Holley Cornetto’s story in The Half That You See, “Raven O’Clock,” a  man seeking shelter from the tragedies of his life finds more than he bargained for in a mysterious cabin.

Holley Cornetto was one of 26 authors that contributed to the horror anthology, The Half That You See!