Monthly Archives: June 2011

Paranormally Speaking

By Tina R. McSwain

On the road again…

This time to Ohio.  My CAPS team members and I are off to our first haunted destination, Prospect Place in Trinway, OH.  We should arrive for our investigation around 7pm Friday evening.  This family mansion is quite imposing as it sits alone on a hilltop.  A most foreboding and outright creepy place.  It was built in the 1850’s and was used as part of the underground railroad, offering the escaping slaves a safe haven as they made their way to Canada and true freedom.  It is reported to be the ghostly home of the lady of the house, as well as a young girl.  The barn is said to harbor a more sinister presence, a bounty hunter who found himself on the end of a hangman’s noose in a mock trial followed by swift local justice.   We’ll try our best to capture some evidence of the spirit world.  Maybe the essence of a fleeing slave or an injured passenger from a horrible train wreck that occurred nearby. 

We’ll then make our way on Saturday to Mansfield, OH and investigate the Bissman Building in downtown Mansfield.  This family owned business has a few ghost stories of its own.  A mysterious ghost girl named “Ruthie”, as well as an unfortunate gentleman who lost his life on his last day of work at the building.  On the day of his retirement, he had forgotten an item and got back on the elevator to return to his office to retreive it.  The elevator malfunctioned and fell, beheading him. 

There’s an old theatre just across the street, and we’ve been told we’ll get a shot at it too.  Almost every old theatre you hear of is said to be haunted.  This one is no exception.

Finally, we’ll end our “Ghosts of Ohio” tour at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield. OH.  For some of us, this will be our second trip to this infamous prison.  I for one, had an encounter in the Assistant Warden’s living quarters.  I heard footsteps coming from the room to my left, then they walked right up to me.  I also saw a series of lights near the ceiling of the room for which I have no explanation.  This is the facility that was used in the filming of The Shawshank Redemption.  Prisons are famous for their paranormal activity.  Hopefully, we have a few new experiences of our own.

Stay tuned for our results…

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Why Aspiring Writers (Should) Love Cons

by Gail Z. Martin

So you want to be a writer?  Get thee to a convention!

Conventions are fantastic networking and educational opportunities, and they cost a fraction of what many writing conferences charge.

Most conventions have some kind of writing track where you can hear published writers talk about writing and ask them questions.  This is a golden opportunity to learn about the craft from people who are already doing it successfully.

Writing track panels also often include panels on creating characters, writing a good plot,  building dialog, etc.  There are panels with agents and editors sharing tips on how to find an agent or submit a manuscript.  And if you’re lucky, there’s Alan Wold’s wonderful two-day writing workshop.    There are also panels on promoting your books,  publishing e-books, self-publishing and other aspects of the writing life.

Cons are also a great way to meet authors and get to ask your own questions.  Make it low-key, and don’t be a stalker, but you’ll find that many writers are very approachable at cons because they go to connect with people.  Use common courtesy, but don’t be afraid to approach someone and ask a question (try to make it a reasonably quick one).  You’ll do best if you’ve obviously done some homework ahead of time, so don’t ask obvious questions like “how do I find an agent?” (Writers Digest Books have whole books on the topic—read these first and ask a more advanced question.)  Don’t ask a writer to read your manuscript (he or she really doesn’t have time), but it’s OK to ask short technical questions.  Many genuine and long-lasting fan/writer friendships have begun with a conversation at a con!

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What is your kind of Porn?

by Crymsyn Hart

Now I know what you’re thinking and get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not talking about sex or anything kinky unless you think it is. LOL

This week two houseguests have taken over every available living space I have. Cohabitating with one another has been interesting when I’m not a morning person and they are. One is a relative and the other is a friend of ours. We all got into a discussion at the kitchen table, while they sipped coffee, and I made faces at them, about the coffin in my dining room. While being perfectly zombified, I told them the coffin was my friend and one of my favorite things. They suggested it should end up in one of my books. Of course the obvious would be in a vampire novel, but I’m not all about the obvious. So I fired back that it was part of my porn collection. The comment got me a snarky comment and coffee shooting out of my relative’s nose. But then I explained.
Porn, as defined by one of my hubby’s friend, is anything that gets him going, meaning his favorite thing which for him is remote control cars. So I ask you, what is your kind of porn?

Do you enjoy reading romance? Or maybe just reading about steamy firemen who have to hose you down? Is the crime drama your thing or something completely different?

Some of my porn actually does end up in the erotica I write. Cause well you know I write a lot of sex. But besides the vampires, I go for a good horror novel with lots of blood. So when I write that in a way is also my porn because it’s my favorite thing to do. So if you love to write, I say embrace your porn and make it your own.

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Revising a Time Traveling Vampire

By J. F. Lewis

I’m working on the revision letter for BURNED (Void City, Book 4) which will hit the shelves in February 2012, so my mind has turned to things like edits. As a result, we’ll skip ahead a bit. Let’s say that THE TIME TRAVELING VAMPIRE has been written and sold pseudonymously under the name I. M. Spartacus to Reilly Kool Editor at Big New York Publisher. Maybe foreign rights have already sold.

This applies a certain amount of pressure. Things have progressed from the land of “tee hee, I can have a scene where Mr. Garret fights a steam punk laundromat in chapter seventeen” to a revision request like: I love this chapter, but it does not work for the book. Maybe rewrite it with sentient mango people?

Welcome to the job portion of the process. You thought the butt-in-seat time was hard? Ha!

If you are like me, you hate revisions. In my Void City books, the edits I get usually aren’t things to which I object. They are quite reasonable, insightful, and they make the end product a much more enjoyable read. But that doesn’t mean revision requests are seen that way initially.

(As an aside, even that’s not why I hate revisions. I hate doing revisions because usually, when I’m done with a book, I don’t like it anymore. I’m sick of the characters and I want a break from them. It’s like the second week of a two week vacation with your best friend. At some point, no matter how much you love spending time with them, you still want their heads on a spike,)

But back to Mr. Garret and the mango people. (It should be noted that there is no analogous revision request in my rev letter for Burned). The inner writer almost always instantly rejects revisions on the first run through. Your inner writer may be more civilized than that, but mine is a whiny fussy baby.


(Never mind that Mr. Garret encounters Mango People four other times in the book and it’s clear that he fought them at some point in the past, so actually showing that fight might foreshadow the later events and make those chapters work better. Further ignore the fact that the laundromat sequence never comes up again and is really a vignette that belongs on the writer’s website as an extra. The inner writer doesn’t care about any of that at first.)

When you hit this point, my suggestion is a simple one: sleep on it. You may be surprised at how reasonable some of the requests seem in the morning or how you develope other fixes that are even better than the suggested ones. I never bounce anything back to my editor regarding revisions until three days have passed (unless time is of the essence). Give your inner writer time to calm down and stop being offended. Then you can sort the requests that are quite good from the few you really do have heartburn over.

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by Michael A. Ventrella

Jeremy Wembley grabbed the broom by the handle.  He took forceful steps toward the back of the room where Patrick stood unaware.   Patrick paid no notice as Jeremy shortened the distance between them, and seemed completely oblivious to Jeremy’s presence.

Jeremy raised the broom just as Patrick turned around.

“I’ll sweep the stockroom now, Mr. Brenner,” he said.

Jeremy knew that if he continued to impress his boss, it would not be long before he could get that promotion—and soon after, get the real reward he desired:  night manager of the Fredricksburg 7-11 on West Norton Avenue.

Unless his arch-nemesis, that kiss-up Eric Stoher got there first…

All the elements are there.  There is a goal the main character wishes to reach, and an obstacle that can prevent him.  There is character development and conflict.

But, you know, who gives a flying you-know-what?

The fact of the matter is that we want to read stories about people and events that are larger than life.  We want to read about heroes to do great things, make clever comments, overcome great odds.

This is nothing new.  The ancient Greeks didn’t do plays about the guy who cleaned the stables.

And I am no exception.  My books have been about wars and world-shaping events and the heroes whose presence made a difference.

However, at the same time, I have consciously avoided the standard hero that is a mainstay of much of fiction (and especially fantasy).   You know the type – the Chosen One from Prophecy who is the seventh son of the seventh son who is the only one who can wield the magic sword Noonah because he has surplus midichlorians and blah blah blah.   Maybe this hero starts off the book as a nobody, but he or she ends up as the World’s Greatest Swordsman or Most Powerful Wizard by the end and thus, being superior to us lowly humans, saves the day.

In my two published novels (ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL) and in a short story in the soon-to-be-released anthology TALES OF FORTANNIS:  A BARD’S EYE VIEW, my main character is a teenager named Terin.   His problem is that, thanks to a mistake, everyone thinks he’s the Chosen One Who Can Save The Day.

By the end of ARCH ENEMIES, Terin is still running when a fight breaks out and still can barely cast a minor spell.  So what makes him the hero?

To me, what makes a real hero is someone who doesn’t have all those skills and yet, through bravery and intelligence, rises above what is expected and does the extraordinary.   Terin is the hero because he figures out a solution – he finds a way to solve the problem that is more than merely “hitting the bad guy with the weapon until he falls down.”

I like these kinds of heroes because they remind us that we all can be heroes sometimes.

Oh, I don’t mean to knock down the more traditional heroes:  I love Batman and Luke Skywalker as much as the next fan.  But when I create a hero for my stories, they tend to be average people put into extraordinary circumstances who must then find something special within themselves to make things right.

In the sequel THE AXES OF EVIL, people are now thoroughly convinced that Terin has wondrous powers, even though he doesn’t.  Now he’s confronted with a trio of barbarian prophecies which, he later discovers, contradict each other.  On top of this, his liege wants him to get all the barbarians off his land, and a bunch of silly goblins think Terin’s the one who will lead them to victory over the evil humans who oppress them.

These are problems that cannot be resolved by being the biggest fighter.  Terin solves them all by the end of the book through his cleverness and resourcefulness, and by being brave and willing to risk it all.

That, to me, is very admirable.  It’s what I admire about my real life heroes (Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King, to name two).   And it’s the kind of hero I like writing about, because I can identify with him and understand his fears and worries.




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Paranormally Speaking

By Tina. R. McSwain

They come to get you when its time…

I have a friend who is dying.  (The reason you did not see a blog from me last week).  She is currently at a hospice facility.  I spent all day with her on Saturday of last week, and yesterday.  I can tell she doesn’t have long.  She asked me to check out her room.  I asked her what she meant by this statement.  She said, you know, do that thing you do and see if anyone is here with us.  I began a short meditation, and did pick up on a man; rugged, tall and was wearing a hat.  I kept this to myself.

She continued and said, well I am seeing people.  I asked her what people, she said she was seeing her dad.  I knew her dad had passed many years ago, but I had never met him.  I asked what he looked like and did he favor wearing hats.  She said that he did, and that he was a tall, rugged man who had been a farmer all his life.  That confirmed what I had suspected.  Her time is drawing near, and her father is there to help her cross into the afterlife. 

What a comforting thought, that you don’t have to make that journey all alone.  Someone who loves you will be there to help, and allieviate any fears you may have. 

Godspeed, my friend.  I will miss you

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Freebie Friday from Alethea Kontis

Alethea Kontis, our guest blogger this week, has a fun podcast project going where she reads aloud the original Grimm’s Fairy tales. Here is the link to “Cinderella”, :

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Are magical objects cheating?

by Gail Z. Martin

Imagine that you live in a world where magic is commonly known to be a force of nature.  People and other creatures have the ability to work magic, large and small.  Some natural places concentrate (or repel) magic.  In such a world, is it really such a stretch to believe that natural and created objects could possess their own magic?

I’ve heard some people claim that giving a character a magical object like a ensorcelled sword, a spelled amulet or a rabbit’s foot that really is lucky is cheating.  Funny, but no one ever says the same when a character in an action movie pulls out an AK47.  To my eye, enabling an action movie hero to fight off an entire good army with one automatic weapon and limitless rounds of ammo strikes me as highly improbably, if not downright magical, and yet no one cries foul.

I write about worlds where magic is operative, so obviously I have a dog in this hunt, as they say.  And as with magic itself, I believe it’s important to have rules to keep magical objects and supernatural powers from becoming a “god in a box” type of power to  cheat and take the easy way out.  So here are my “rules” (actually, they’re more like guidelines) for magical object fairness.

#1  Warn the reader ahead of time what the object’s power is.  You can be oblique as to its full power, but the reader needs to know the magical object has limits and isn’t a whatever-the-character-wishes-it-to-be all-purpose magical Swiss Army knife.  Unless it is, in which case, rule #2 applies.

#2  If you’ve got the magical equivalent of a Swiss Army knife (a single object that can do a bijillion things), then there has to be a cost to use it, and the cooler the task the object does, the higher the price for the user.  In fact, the cost should be high enough to give any rational person pause about the danger of relying too much on the object.

#3  Give the hero reasons inherent to his/her character that makes them reluctant to use the magical object except in an emergency.  It can be pride, fear of magic, suspicion as to the object’s true nature, etc., but the hero/heroine should want to be self-reliant until all else fails.

#4  Even when circumstances leave the hero no choice except to pay the price and use the magical object, the hero should still be doing everything he/she can to save the day.  No fair sitting back and lounging while the magical object saves the day, even if you’ve just sacrificed your soul in order to get the object’s assistance.

If you think about magical objects with the same skepticism you have about “helpful” freeware programs for your computer, you start to get the picture.  Sure, the program is “free”, but does it upload malware, a virus, a trojan or some other hidden nasty that will crash the power grid, transfer every last penny out of your bank account or fry your system?  There’s no such thing as a “free” lunch, a free program or a free magical object.  Caveat emptor.

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Does it turn you on?

by Crymsyn Hart


One of the most important things for marketing a book is the cover. I particularly love what’s between the book jacket, but the first thing a reader sees is the picture on the front cover. Hopefully that cover can give you some idea of what you might be getting yourself into.  Then again, a person might read a book, look at the cover and wonder what in the world had they read. I’ve done that a few times. I’ve grabbed a book that looked like something I had wanted to read and the blurb was pretty good, but after reading the book it had nothing to do with the cover. I’m sure that everyone’s done that.

One thing about working mostly with small e-publishers, I am lucky I can browse the various stock art sites and choose who or what I would like to be on the cover. I recently had a conversation with one of my cover artists. She did a wonderful cover for me, but I needed the model added to the cover to show it was an Interracial Romance. She countered that it would be shown as an IR from the blurb and the page it was one. However, my response was that I look at covers first before I read the blurbs especially when shopping online. I’m sure there are others who do the same thing. But it’s nice to have an input. I spend hours looking over different models who I think are a good representation of what my characters look like. Then that goes to the cover artist and they perform miracles with the stock art.

Many people don’t realize that e-books do have covers. But they do, and like their print counterparts, they turn people on or off.

What do you think about covers? Do you judge a book by it?

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More Time Travel. More Vampires.

By J. F. Lewis

When I was a kid, time traveling vampires were everywhere. (That’s a lie.)

I couldn’t walk out of my house at night without seeing them waiting to spring upon me in the dark. If only Mr. Garret (the time traveling gentleman from last Tuesday’s blog) hadn’t broken everything. Everyone knows the story, right? How he travelled to the future one time too many searching for blood of those he considered less moral than himself and encountered other vampires? (I’m making this all up, of course.)

Imagine his surprise when one of the vampires he meets is not just any old vampire, but his beloved wife? What might our Victorian vampiric gentleman do then?

In case you haven’t picked up on it, these time travel blogs are actually an attempt to explain in the strange nonsensical way available to me…how a writer as organic as me tends to work. I’ll be taking you through the process more each week and maybe manage to answer the question: where do your (meaning my) ideas come from? And maybe when we’re done, it will all make sense, I might even make this blog time travel a little itself.

But let’s focus on Mr. Garret a bit more first.

How would he react? Knowing your character enough to answer that question is vital when you’re a “discovery writer”.

How would he react to seeing his beloved wife changed into a monster like himself? If I know our Mr. Garret, he might travel back to try and discover what happened, to find the exact moment she changed and correct it. What havoc might that unleash across his own personal history?

As a writer, there are many ways to play with the terrible consequences that a (doomed or maybe not doomed… It’s hard to say this early on) quest like this might entail. What if the reader gets to notice that Mr. Garret’s wife is intact a different woman each time he travels back… That somehow Mr. Garret’s beloved Emma (or Jane or Rose) is being affected each time he travels and the vampire himself doesn’t even know it because his own personal history is being rewritten as well.

Great fun can be had when the reader knows something the character does not, but all that fun gets buried if the reader doesn’t think the character is behaving as he or she should. More next time…

And I wasn’t kidding about the time travel. 😉

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