Tag Archives: writing craft

The Ins and Outs of Historical Paranormal

Today I am thrilled to provide another Halloween Treat in the form of guest blogger Jana Denardo. Jana writes historical paranormal, a growing sub-genre and one that I find particularly interesting. Don’t forget to leave a comment for Jana to enter my month long Halloween Treats Contest in celebration of my upcoming release Little Red Riding Wolf from Passion in Print Press.

The paranormal and urban fantasy subgenres are heavy on modern day stories, but the genre has begun to grow up and down the time line. One notable series that’s moved paranormals from the current era is Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, set in the ever-popular Victorian era. Using a historical setting adds another level of difficulty to the world building and plot.

The first level, of course, is typical of any paranormal story. Who are you your paranormal entities? Are they good, evil or, like humans, both?  For me, the real consideration is what are their abilities and weaknesses. Any bobble in what you establish early on can destroy reader faith and I’ve seen it happen to the best of them. I remember a scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where a vampire didn’t go to dust. They passed it off as him being so old, that he reacted differently than usual. Later in the series, they came up with another even older vampire and he dusted fairly normal. A little slip like that can make the blogs light up as fans nitpick away.
For me, the easiest way to keep their abilities straight is to keep records of how the paranormal aspects work. I’m not an outliner, and while this sometimes leads me into blind canyons that I’ll have to write around if there’s a sequel, I am a good note taker when it comes to character attributes and supernatural abilities. This way if my vampires don’t burn up when hit with holy water, I don’t have them blistering three chapters after I’ve made that announcement. It is embarrassing to get called on a mistake like that by an editor.

Still, coming up with the paranormal attributes is the fun part. You can world build and bend things to fix your story. You can take an old creature from folklore and twist it into something new and exciting. However, when adding the layer that is the historical setting, you lose the ability to bend certain historical facts. Regardless of genre, most readers who enjoy historical settings are sticklers for accuracy. The exception to this would, of course, be alternative histories and steampunk. Even with those, historical research is necessary. You can not believable create an alternative history without first knowing the actual facts.

Nothing makes me run faster than reading an author’s blog and seeing them proclaim they hate research but are going to write a historical story anyway. I’ve seen that more times than I want to think about. A quick look at Wikipedia might be enough to say, knock out a short Buffy the Vampire Slayer  fan fiction with Angelus and Darla cheering on Jack the Ripper  – might – but it is not enough, by itself, to be the foundation for a historical novel.

However, this blog entry isn’t really about how to do the research. Most of us have experience in that if only from high school history classes. I’m more concerned about considering the possibilities inherent in a historic setting. In the 1800s, the belief in vampires was stronger than it is today, so it could impact your story in a variety of ways. Prey with built-in paranoia and armed with crosses and holy water, which were often part of the household goods, could present difficulties for a vampire. Ever see a vampire hunting kit from that time? They are very interesting and would make a fun addition to a story.

Go back a hundred years earlier, and almost everyone would believe in ghosts and spirits.  This could work for or against you, depending on what your story needed in way of the characters’ belief system. Heck, even going back a mere twenty-five years could take the tension up a notch, because it would be easy to isolate the protagonist from potential aid, leaving them at the mercy of a paranormal entity by the mere fact no one had cell phones and couldn’t just place a call out.
Another concern is the morals and cultural stigmas of the time period and the country in question, or even what part of the country you are in. I came up against this when I started my 1930’s era demon hunter series. Without thinking about it, I knew I wanted a world-wide organization and pulled the characters from all over then assembled the team in my hometown of Pittsburgh. These demon hunters included Hindu and Chinese men, and all four are homosexual, which ran me smack up against the prejudices of the day (and to what degree of prejudice they faced would vary depending on where in the country they are). A minority or female protagonist would have to face very different circumstances and have even more hurdles to clear.

I could keep on going about the pitfalls of trying to cram too much research into the story, or getting caught up in the lingo of the day but we’d be here forever. The historic paranormal story may be a bit more work up front, but if you enjoy the research like I do, you won’t mind that one bit. It’s fun to play in various points of history. Thanks to Jessica for allowing me the time to talk to you all. I hope this was help. If you’d like to find my blog, I’m at http://jana-denardo.livejournal.com/ and if you’d like to read my 1930’s demon hunter series, you can find them here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=55_202&osCsid=8dlkb1ua7verd7mcgid4uug4o5 and they are Snowbound (which includes Temple, urban fantasy/historical) in the anthology Necking  and  A Brief Respite is hidden on my author’s page as a piece of ‘Halloween candy’

In celebration of my upcoming release from Passion in Print Press, Little Red Riding Wolf, I am running a contest for the entire month of October! Leave a comment for Jana and enter to win a copy of Demon from the Dark by Kresley Cole!

Monday’s winner of my Halloween Treats contest in celebration of Little Red Riding Wolf is Kerri. Congratulations Kerri, send me your address through my contact box on my contact page and I’ll ship you your book!

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Filed under paranormal inspiration, roots of paranormal romance, Thursdays Bite

Interview with a Synesthete

Moonday Madness

a blog on the craft of writing

Welcome to Moonday Madness on Jessica Aspen Writes. Today we have a special treat, author Brinda Berry shares how she did research for her very interesting YA novel The Waiting Booth. I’m just going to whet your whistle by saying it’s about “A missing boy, government agents, an interdimensional portal…” and as you’ll read here Brinda has included so much more.

Interview with a Synesthete

by Brinda Berry

Find The Waiting Booth here

There are many types of research that I conducted while writing the first book in the Whispering Woods series, The Waiting Booth. In today’s technological environment, most research can be conducted in the privacy of my own home. I have a library of information at my fingertips through resources found on the internet.

In a recent writer’s group meeting I attended, one author mentioned that she missed the days of interviewing people for information. Before the widespread availability of online resources, a writer would either telephone or visit an individual face-to-face and learn about a certain occupation or experience. The writer in my group mentioned being totally charmed by the helpful nature of one such person when she did some research about cowboys. (Get your mind out of the gutter. This was all very innocent.)

People love to share their knowledge and experiences, and it may be within reason to locate those experts. On the other hand, there is an alternative. I used YouTube to find interviews that would help me develop the main character in The Waiting Booth. I had already located written resources online about a condition called synesthesia, but I wanted more. Synesthesia is a neurological condition where two or more of  the five senses are intertwined.  For example, a person with synesthesia may taste colors and see musical notes.

I haven’t met anyone with synesthesia, but my main character, Mia, is a seventeen-year-old synesthete. I wanted to have a “feel” for her point of view as the story is written in first person. So, I went to YouTube.com and typed “synesthesia” in the search bar. How many videos are online about this topic? As of 9/27/2011 at 11:54 CST, there are 14,600 results. Are they all relevant? No, of course they aren’t. Did you know there’s a band called Synesthesia? I didn’t either.  To filter those videos out of my search, I changed my search term to “synesthesia condition.” The results of that search listed 101 videos. Now, it’s a much easier task to browse the documentaries and other short clips that are more relevant to my research.

You can see by the number of views whether the video is a popular one or not. You can also determine if you think the source might be a reliable. Anyone can upload a YouTube video. The owner will be listed along with the number of videos uploaded by that person.  Another interesting aspect was reading comments to certain videos. A warning here for you- comments may be not be moderated.  Here’s a terrific example of a short video I came across today on synesthesia: http://youtu.be/KApieSGlyBk

In The Waiting Booth, I did take liberties by embellishing Mia’s condition of synesthesia with an extra ability to sense portals. The video listed above demonstrates how the synesthetes could see some things more easily than the non-synesthete, so I took that a step further. The YouTube videos gave me some great ideas on how synesthetes view the world.  There’s a chance to see the emotions that might be tied to the subject’s answers, and I would miss that in a written piece. Seeing and hearing the video interviews made a huge difference in my understanding and the development of my character.

I’ve already used YouTube again in research for the second book in the Whispering Woods series. It’s a fun way to learn about people and experiences. The biggest risk for you as a researcher is getting sidetracked. YouTube videos can be so darned entertaining.

BIO:

Brinda Berry lives in the southern US with her family and two spunky cairn terriers. She has a BSE in English and French and a MEd in Learning Systems Technology. She’s terribly fond of chocolate, coffee, and books that take her away from reality.  She doesn’t mind being called a geek or “crazy dog lady”. When she’s not working the day job or writing a novel, she’s guilty of surfing the internet for no good reason.

                              Facebook       Twitter       Website and Blog

We’re still celebrating October and my upcoming novella Little Red Riding Wolf (soon to be released from Passion in Print Press) with my Halloween Treats Contest! To enter just leave a comment for Brinda and I’ll draw a winner for today’s book Enemy Lover, by Karin Harlow (drawing announced Thursday October 13th). Don’t forget we’ll be drawing for 3 grand prizes on Halloween!

Saturday’s winner is Elaine Cougler! Congratulations Elaine and send me your address through my contact page and I’ll get your book to you!


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Bijou from the CRW retreat, Margie Lawson

Sensational Saturdays

where I blog whatever I want

I’m thrilled to see so many new commenters on Jessica Aspen Writes! I love communicating with everyone. Those who know me know I am pretty talkative, so thanks for jumping in and feeding my conversational need. Once again this was confirmed at the CRW writers retreat I attended in September where we were lucky enough to have the talented Margie Lawson helping us figure out our personalities and our self defeating behaviors. Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in today’s contest!

Are you riding the horse, or is the horse riding you?

Self-knowledge is one of the things Margie Lawson teaches in her Defeating Self Defeating Behavior courses and she was only able to cover a teeny tiny portion during the retreat, but I could still spot the wheels turning in everyone’s brains as they looked a little deeper into themselves and their various reasons for not getting the job done.

Are you like me? Very social and liable to be caught up in too much tweeting or blogging and never having enough time to finish your project? Or are you caught up in repeating the self defeating, it’s never going to happen so why bother. Whichever you are you have a problem. Either the work doesn’t get finished or it doesn’t get sent out. Whichever one is your problem, or if it’s something altogether different, Margie has it covered in her course. Margie is the woman with the solution.

If you’ve ever taken a Margie course, you know she fills it with tons of wonderful information. At the retreat we only had enough time to take a quick peek at our personalities and what might be holding us back as well as make lists of doable goals for the retreats. I discovered I’m pretty balanced on three out of four of the personality styles in the survey she had us take. This means that my talent for organization and my ability to socialize are just as strong as my positive enthusiastic side. What I’m lacking is the self-confidence and forceful pieces that might push me to say, submit my work?

Once again, Margie is the woman with the solution!

Her terrific system of goals have helped me tremendously since I started her Defeating Self Defeating Behaviors course. Making two lists, winner and superstar, keeps me on task and keeps me from beating myself up when I don’t get everything done. It also lets me reward myself with something fun, say Tweeting, when I have to do those tasks that are not so fun, say sending another letter after the first query asking “what happened to my query?” Rewarding my efforts that are difficult has helped me to achieve the things that are hard for me. Thanks Margie!

If you haven’t take a course from Margie Lawson I highly encourage you to do so. Her online courses have a tremendous amount of information and she has several for each stage of writing. We only had a taste of Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors at the retreat, but I know (from my personal experience with Margie’s courses) that you will discover things about yourself that you never knew. And address those issues that hold you back. Even if you feel that you’re on track, you can still find a wealth of information to get you organized and over any issues you might have.

You can find Margie’s courses like Defeating Self Defeating Behaviors, and many more, at her brand new online school, Margie Lawson Academy!

What kind of self defeating behaviors do you struggle with? Have you ever taken Margie’s course? What strategies work for you?

Leave a comment and enter to win today’s Halloween Treat book, Kate Moore’s To Save the Devil. All entries go into the final drawing for the three grand prizes! Thursday’s winner is Sharon Clare! Send me your address through my contact box and I’ll be mailing prizes out next week! Congratulations Sharon!

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Filed under Sensational Saturday's, Uncategorized, writing craft

New to the Rodeo

Moonday Madness

a blog about the craft of writing

It’s a wild ride.

From the first moment I decided to write for publication, that was my goal- publication. Now that may sound obvious, but I know many authors who say they are interested in publishing, but they never seem to do the things they need to do to get there. I understand this. It’s easy to let yourself slide into all the myriad things that need to be done and never actually do the few things that will get you to publication.

Why is that? It’s because actually publishing is scary.

It’s scary for me too. From the moment I sent off my first manuscript and received that first rejection I was on a wild ride. First the anticipation and hope of sending it off. Then the deep depression when it comes back, rejected.

Some authors get thrown off and never get back on. They want to publish, even have a deep desire to be published, but the thought of receiving another rejection letter is overwhelming. It’s tough to get back on that horse when your spine is bruised and your ego shaken.

But the reward is great. When I opened the email from Passion in Print Press and saw that it had not just a letter, but an acceptance letter and a contract for Little Red Riding Wolf…well let’s just say I was higher than the top of the stands.

But it’s not over with the acceptance. Then, as a newbie, I’m worried about everything. Is the contract what I think it is? Should I sign? Should I send it certified mail or pay the extra five bucks for Priority? Did they get it? Will they send it back signed? What do I do next?

And worst of all. I can’t stop here. I have to keep writing, keep submitting, and maybe even court another one of those rejection letters. Up and down and up and down, authors have to have wills of iron and buns of steel. Because I know the ride doesn’t stop here, it’s just beginning.

It’s October and my first annual Halloween Treats Contest in celebration of the acceptance of my spicy paranormal novella Little Red Riding Wolf (soon to be released from Passion in Print Press). To enter leave a comment for me and I’ll be announcing the winner of today’s free book on Thursday October 6th when Keridak Kae is my guest blogger. Today’s free book giveaway is Liz Carlyle’s The Bride Wore Scarlet.

And the winner of Saturday’s book is Casey Wyatt! Please email me your address through my contact page and I’ll be sending out books next week! Congratulations!

The winner of The Bride Wore Scarlett is Brinda Berry! Congratulations Brinda, send me your address through my contact page and I’ll send out your book next week! Congratulations!

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Filed under Moonday mania, Writer's Journey, writing organization

Campfire Ghost Stories Round Robin

Thursday’s Bite

a paranormal blog

Do you remember sitting around the fire, in the dark, telling scary stories?

In honor of the Third Writers Platform-Building Campaign I’m opening up my blog to all commenters. Did you ever try a round robin? Where one person starts a story and the next person adds a line, then the next? Well if you didn’t, now is your chance. I’m starting the story off, each reply should extend it. I’ll wrap it all up at the end of the day.

The fire crackled and popped, putting out so much heat that Rachel’s face burned, but her back stayed icy. She’d never been anywhere this cold or dark or remote. But Chad had wanted to show her the back range of his ranch. When she’d agreed, she’d thought they’d be staying in a nice cozy cabin, but when they got there she realized they only had a tent.

“Is the moon going to come out?” No bathroom and just a flashlight. She wanted the moon to help her find her way to the bushes in the dark.

“Nope, no tonight the moon stays dark.” He pulled her closer. “We can see the stars better.”

It was a hopeful statement. Dark clouds scudded across the sky and the wind had picked up. Rachel shivered.

She’d never been anywhere this quiet. Then….

Tag, you’re it!

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Wasting Time to Make Time

Moonday Madness

A blog about the craft of writing

This is the third in a series of blogs about organization and what keeps me on track. The first post, Goal Setting Survival is HERE and you can learn about Flying Past the Lure of the Toilet HERE.

It’s crazy.

Insane.

But one of the things that keeps me writing, and keeps me organized is not writing.I know, I know, you are wondering how I could possibly get more writing done by not writing?

This is going to be a tough one for most readers and authors to swallow, because ulike goal setting or organizing a clean house, this one seems to be a time sucker. Not a time free-er. But I have found that the more I take care of myself, the better I feel, and the better I feel, the more I can get done and that frees up my time. Doing something that feels like wasting time actually is benenficial.

Here is a list of time wasters that I need to do when writing that, instead of cutting my writing down, infuse it with energy.

1. Take breaks

Taking a break every forty-five minutes to an hour refreshes my muse. I run up and down the stairs doing laundry. I set the time for fifteen minutes and get a snack, a cup of coffee, sneak a bite of chocolate. I dance, do yoga or pull weeds. Anything that is different from the act of looking at the computer and gets me out of the chair. The most important piece of this is to not check emails or tweet or look at the next fascinating blog. The idea is to get away from the computer and refresh.

2. Take time for a nutritious lunch

I cook my lunch. Yes, I do. On those days when I’m lucky enough to be home, writing full time, I have a real honest-to-goodness meal. My favorite meal is whole grain (real whole grain, not that fake stuff the bread companies tell you has whole grain) bread, topped with humus and sauteed onions, garlic and spinach. Brain food.

Yes, it takes time to make it. I do have some time saving secrets: I saute my onions and garlic ahead of time and just add those to the pan with the spinach. That cuts the cooking time down to about five minutes. And I actually take the time to sit down with a cloth napkin and eat it. Okay, it’s frequently in front of the TV or with a book, but it’s away from the computer. And, despite the TV or book I find it something relaxing and rejuvenating.

3. Exercise

This is the one that I think most people think will drain them. Make them tired and hence unable to work efficiently. But I have found that waking up and getting out of the house, taking a bracing walk (not so bracing with summer here) with the dog, has me coming back to the computer rarin’ to go!

I walk every morning, unless the world conspires against me. And I go to the gym twice a week to do the elliptical and lift weights. You’d think I’d be in fantastic shape! I’m sure my heart thanks me and maybe, in a few years, my body will too. Meanwhile the walking is great for my working. The weightlifting and elliptical, well, I do those at night. I come back ravenous and exhausted, so I sleep well and wake up ready for the next day.

This may sound like  preachy post. A list of all the things  you “should” be doing. I want you to know I didn’t just jump up one day and start acting like a fitness guru, eating right and doing yoga in between my writing stints. This has been a hard-won battle forced upon me by exhaustion and my body saying “I give up!”.

You need to find what works for you. But for me, these are the things that I have to make time for to make my writing really work for me. When I slack off, don’t exercise, don’t eat right and try to push things through…those are the times I have writing frustration. I sit in front of the keyboard zoning out, distracted and un focused.

What works for you? Do you take breaks? Schedule time off with your friends? What things do you do that take time away from writing, but send you back to the computer refreshed and rarin’ to go?

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HOW PARANORMAL SEEDS GROW, Part Two

Moonday Mania

a writer oriented blog

This morning I’m happy to welcome guest author Sherry Isaac back to Moonday Mania. Sherry is a talented author from Toranto whom I met at Margie Lawson’s house during a fabulous week of Deep Editing Immersion. Sherry is continuing her blog, How Paranormal Seeds Grow from last week and giving us insight as to where the ideas for her short stories in her new release Storyteller spring from. Welcome Sherry!

***

 I love ghost stories, stories that make me wonder where the soul begins and where its journeys leads once it leaves the body.

There are ghost stories on both sides of my family tree, none of them frightening in a white sheet and clanking chains kind of way, but stories that prickle along the spine with the knowledge that there is something more.

And I believe that there is more than one way to be haunted.

Settled in the 1850’s, Streetsville is a tiny hamlet on the banks of the Credit River, not far from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The city of Mississauga has grown up around the village, yet Streetsville retains its small town feel. A stroll down Queen Street can easily transport one to an earlier time.

A graveyard filled with crumbling stones dates back to the founding days. One plain headstone was erected in memory of a child. Isabella.

Isabella died when she was four. I have no idea who Isabella was and can’t even say why her stone impressed me. Not far away is another stone, more ornate, commemorating the life of another little girl. But it was Isabella’s stone that captured my imagination and held it fast. I doubt Houdini could have escaped.

On the summer day that I meandered through the grass, the shade, and the stone monuments, another place and time became reality. Cars and busses and trucks rolled by on another plane.

Maybe I’d watched too many episodes of Little House on the Prairie in my impressionable years, but I could not shake the image of a young girl, 15 or so, leaning from the upper window of any one of the original buildings that remained, a silent testament to the early days of the pioneer settlement. A girl who held up her skirts when she crossed the dirt road. A girl who rubbed the nose of her favourite horse. A girl who picked pussy willows on the riverbank, not far from the grave where I stood.

What might it be like to give Isabella life, if only on the page? I pictured that girl walk out of the general store with a friend, giggling over new ribbons for their hair, ribbons they would wear to a fair in a neighboring town, ribbons they hoped would catch a suitor’s eye.

When I sat down to write Isabella’s story nearly ten years later it worked out differently. Left on the back burner of my mind to simmer, Isabella’s story had taken root, its branches stretched in another direction, the blooms took on a different shape and hue. Isabella’s story was claimed by a brother I never imagined she had. His name was Alistair and he’d been instilled with the gift of storytelling.

I handed the keyboard to Alistair and let him tell the story, let him bring Isabella to life in a way I was powerless to do.

I think he did a pretty good job.

~~~

STORYTELLER

Short Story Excerpt

Sherry Isaac

Alistair crept through another crowd in another town, late the next afternoon, shoulders hunched, hands clenched like claws, a predator ready to pounce.

“I was a fool to go out on my own and without my gun, but the bite of hunger overpowered my senses. If you’ve never seen the jungle then ye cannot imagine the trees that grow so tall and thick they block can out the sun, or shield a wild panther.

“The ground was soft, I made my way forward, stalking a bird with feathers of colours so brilliant and rare not even a rainbow has seen them, unaware the giant cat was stalking me. Slowly, slowly I inched closer to my prey, my mouth watering at the thought of its succulent meat roasting on a fire. I stepped on a twig. The bird took flight, the cat roared, terror shook my spine. I looked above me, my eyes wide as I met the cat’s yellow stare.

“My bare arms made a hopeless shield. I closed my eyes, ready to become the big cat’s dinner. A gunshot rang through the air. The cat landed at my feet with a thump, so close I could smell its breath.”

Alistair straightened, his head cocked and his smile easy. “And do ye know who my rescuer was?”

“Isabella!” the children cried.

“Isabella!” their parent’s echoed.

Alistair put his hands on his hips, swayed back as if slapped. “You’ve heard this story before, then?”

“No!” The children’s voices a chorus.

“Aye, you’re right. It was my little sister who came to my aid, with more stealth than any feline hunter, and an eye sharper than an eagle’s.”

Winner of The Alice Munro Short Story Award, Sherry Isaac’s tales of life, love and forgiveness that transcend all things, including the grave, appear online and in print. Her first collection of shorts, Storyteller, debuts July 2011. For more information, or to order an autographed copy, click HERE.

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How Paranormal Seeds Grow, part one


Moonday Mania

A writer oriented blog

Please welcome guest blogger, Sherry Isaac. Sherry and I met at an amazing week up at Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class. I was stunned by Sherry’s writing and unsurprised at her success in the publishing world. Thanks Sherry, for being my first guest. Please check back on August 8, 2011 for part two of How Paranormal Seeds Grow.

***

Want to see a writer cringe? Ask him, or her, where their ideas come from.

I know that cringe, I’ve felt that crinkle in my nose that must, I’m sure, make me look like I’ve just caught a whiff of an overripe diaper.

It’s a tough question to answer. Snippets of conversation, a line from a song, an interesting character on the subway. Any obscure thing can be the source. Those little nuggets, snippets and images simmer in our subconscious and take on a life of their own. A plaid jacket with one ripped pocket doesn’t belong to the wearer once that jacket ignites a spark in a writer’s imagination.

For the most part, I can’t tell you at what point the seed of a story was sown in my fertile, murky little mind. Crowning Glory started with the title, a turn on the phrase. How Glory ended up on the street, a lost soul picking through food court leftovers and searching for redemption, beats the storyline out of me.

But some of my stories have a definite root. Like a genealogist with a fine tip pen and a family tree, I can track their development from conception to completion.

Stories from my life, stories that were hard to market, until I realized the common theme that threaded its way through each tale like a knotted vine. Stories with a paranormal twist.

The Visit was not an easy sell. My hometown Winnipeg in winter set the scene: The isolation of a stormy day, the house locked tight. A hooky-playing pre-teen all alone. But it didn’t quite work as a memoir, didn’t read like young adult and certainly not middle-grade. An eerie hit at coffee house readings convinced me that my odd yet ordinary experience was not so ordinary.

The premise is simple. Simple as the question at it’s core. If someone you loved touched you with their presence, would you recognize their spirit?

On a wintry day in November when I was twelve, one of my sisters came home. It was not until much later that I realized she could not have come home, it was not possible that she was ever there. She could not have come in the front door because she moved out in a fury days before we moved to a new house in Fort Rouge, an older area a short bus ride from the downtown core, but a long way from our old neighborhood. My sister and mom weren’t speaking. My sister didn’t move with us, she had never been to the new house.

She did not have a key.

Though I know all these facts, I am as certain she was in the house that day as I am certain of the floor beneath my feet, the computer screen in front of my face, the cat determined to snooze on my lap.

And I am just as certain she was not there, for there was no possible way she could have been. Every shred of evidence confirms that she was not there: logic, reason, and the physical world.

I never saw her but heard her, smelled her. Felt her presence.

Did I take literary license? A little. In the recorded version the revelation comes quickly. In real life, it took a few hours to find out where my sister was, physically, in those moments that haunted me with her spiritual presence. And a few hours more to realize what I’d experienced was unusual, impossible, out of this world. A realization that jerked my dozing mind awake and filled me with toe-tingling wonder as I lay tucked under warm blankets. Out of this world. Ordinary. All at once.

Cool-headed reason battles with what the heart believes. My sister wasn’t there. She was not in the house. She was not in the kitchen, shirking her jacket and lighting a cigarette. But part of her had come home. Part of her that breathed and moved and smelled and coughed and stopped by for a visit.

For several silent minutes on a winter afternoon, part of my sister’s spirit was with me. And then the magic was gone.

~~~

THE VISIT

Short Story Excerpt

Sherry Isaac

            I held my breath, frozen in place by fear. Fear and one too many paperback murders. A chill ran through me, deeper than the chill outside. I sat still and listened.

            A tap of boots on the mat. Whoever came in the door was polite enough not to track snow through the house. Another small grunt of effort echoed up the stairs as someone bent to unlace a pair of boots. Snap, snap, snap, small sounds amplified by our narrow stairwell.

            Boots removed, socked feet padded into the kitchen. A zipper slid down its track, a clink as it released, and a rustle of material as a jacket was shrugged off shoulders. A series of small ‘ahems’, loose phlegmy sounds as a closed throat was cleared. Another clink as the zipper hit wood, the jacket thrown over the back of a kitchen chair.

            Jenny.

Winner of The Alice Munro Short Story Award, Sherry Isaac’s tales of life, love and forgiveness that transcend all things, including the grave, appear online and in print. Her first collection of shorts, Storyteller, debuts July 2011. For more information, or to order an autographed copy, click HERE.

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Filed under Moonday mania, paranormal inspiration

Getting Lost Taking the Scenic Route

I have been caught off of the main highway of writing and slowed down by the tempting editing side roads along the way. As I have learned to write I keep hoping the editing will get shorter, but now I’m not sure. I thought the fix was in plotting. You see I am a natural pantser. In fifth grade when Mr. Brown was trying to teach us how to write a paper, he showed us how to research, write note cards and formulate an outline. Then and only then would he give permission for us to begin the writing process.

I, naturally, was resistant to this controlled way of writing. Already enamored with story writing I didn’t love the idea of non-fiction, but was willing to give it a try. Research, that was fun. Can’t remember the subject, but I’ve always loved finding out facts. Note cards, yes I liked those. Short sweet and able to shuffle in any order I pleased. Note cards could even be color-coded, that was even better. But the outline, ah yes, the outline. There I failed.

I tried writing an outline, but I didn’t know how things would go together. How could you write a map of where you were going when you hadn’t been there. I struggled with it. Then I gave up. I ended up writing the paper in secret and drawing the outline from that rough draft then turning in the outline. Mr. Brown approved, I waited a day or two and handed in my rough draft. Sneaky.

Already a closet pantser I stayed that way through college, whipping up decent papers the night before or sometimes, if they were short, the morning they were due. I could have been a better student. I could have written better papers had I taken more time, or known how to really do an outline that worked for me. But once again, I found ways around it. And muddled through.

So now I am an adult. No one is asking for the outline, no one is grading me on it. My desire for good grades is enormous. I want that A. I want that editor or that agent to hand it to me on a silver platter. And now I know writing a novel on the cusp of the due date isn’t going to get me there. No, to do that, I need to hand in my best work. But how is a life-long pantser supposed to change?

My perfectionism forces me to edit. And edit. And edit. I have heard, and I’m sure its true, that plotting saves time in the editing stage. And I badly want this. So I started my new story (working title Blood Were) by Snowflaking. Randy Ingermanson of Advanced Fiction Writing fame is the author of this method and when I heard him speak last October at the Heart of Denver mini-con a light bulb went on. This was structure without structure. This was like the note-card shuffle. At this, I could be successful.

I started out well, but soon petered out. I could write a small character sheet, get my main plot points down, but when it came to filling things out I was stuck. It turns out that I can come up with inciting incidents, major plot points and even black moments, but when it comes to anything in between I need to write.

I need to write to really understand my characters, and I need to write to know why my plot goes the way it does. I like having some structure. I now have a sort of a road map in the Snowflake method. Lets call it verbal directions. “Turn right at that drugstore, you know the one with the blue roof, take your third left and when you see the Dairy Queen you’re almost there.” (I always navigate by food, DQ and donuts are the best.) I truly don’t understand the nuances of my characters or how they will interact until those words start flowing.

So here I am. I was hoping to become a reformed pantser, but instead I am embracing it, with a little dip into the plotting pool. I still like the idea of plotting out the main points. I like to know the general idea of where my road trip will take me, but I’ve found out that what I really like is the journey. Even when it means my newest 1,000 plus words need to be cut and re-written from the heroine’s point of view and not the hero’s. What can I say? I’m a sucker for roadside attractions.

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Filed under Optimisim, writing craft