Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Stuff of Legends (by Patty Blount)

I'm a huge fan of the show, Supernatural. For those who've never seen it, it's a series now in its twelfth season and stars two brothers who travel the country hunting monsters that the rest of the world believes are just folklore and legends.

You've probably heard about a lot of these legends. Bloody Mary, The Hitchhiker, scarecrows coming to life, ghost stories, grim reapers -- you name the beast, and Supernatural's probably done it. And done it so well, I never watch this show alone. 

I've often wondered if the show's creators ever traveled the country like the main characters, searching for legends to inspire the next script? 

Doesn't it seem that every group or every town has their own scary legend? I grew up in Queens, NY. When I was a teenager, there was one such legend that terrified us all...but not enough to stay away. 

The legend of the Pin Man. The story was passed on from older teens to younger ones and often required a car trip to the Pin Man's House while someone told the story: 

Don't ever drive through the town of Douglaston on the night of a full moon. 

Wearing high heels. 

That's Pin Man bait. 

There's a narrow cobblestone road that twists and turns through the woods and passes an abandoned cabin. 

That's where it happened. 

That's where the Pin Man took his victims -- a young girl and her boyfriend, whose car broke down. They ignored the signs that said No Trespassing. They knocked on his door. They opened it when no one answered. They walked in, looking for a phone. Her high heels echoed on the rotting floor. 

The cabin had no furniture. No lights. Covered in dust and cobwebs, it stank like something had rotted there long ago and was still there. The couple found an old stick telephone, tried to make it work, but it was futile. 

This place was forgotten long ago.

Not just cold, but so icy, they saw their breath as they each decided it was time to leave this horrible place. The girl turned first but froze when she heard it. 

A soft snick sound followed by a gasp. She spun around, found her boyfriend staring at her -- through her -- his eyes already clouding in death. She ran to him, tried to help him, tried to fix whatever was wrong but she couldn't see anything or anyone. He just stood he was suspended by -- 

Another soft snick and this time, she saw it... the large knitting needle that had pierced straight through him from behind -- first his heart and now his throat. 

She ran, her high heels slowing her down. She kicked them off and ran barefoot through the woods and back to the cobblestone road where they'd left the car. Safe! 

She was safe. She wrenched open a door, flung herself inside and made sure all the locks were fastened before she leaned on the horn, praying help would come. 

They found her the next morning, still leaning on the horn, two knitting needles protruding from her body -- one through the heart and one through the throat. 

The car doors were still locked. 


Well, I won't be sleeping tonight. Who's up for some Words With Friends? 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What Makes Something Scary? (Alissa Grosso)

Some years back when I worked for a small newspaper publisher, I was given the assignment of writing about a local haunted house. This was not an actual haunted house, but a Halloween attraction that a local fire company ran as an annual fundraiser. In order to write my story, I was given a private, guided tour of the haunted house. Unlike the paying customers I toured the house during the day, with the lights on. The creepy music had not yet been turned on and the volunteer actors whose job it was to pop out of coffins or materialize out of dark corners were not yet on duty. The result was that I could enjoy my tour and write my article without fear.

You probably aren't all that scared by this photo taken inside the haunted house thanks to the bright light and the lack of scary of music.

I don't really do scary. My boyfriend can attest that even in mildly suspenseful films I've been known to watch half the movie with my eyes closed or uncomfortably grip his arm during particularly tense sequences. Scary isn't my thing. If I hadn't been working for a newspaper, there's no way I would have toured the local haunted house, because there is no way I would walk around there in the dark with the spooky music going. That I was able to breeze through there painlessly during the daytime, shows that scariness requires just the right set up.

In a 2014 article, showed 7 Iconic Horror Film Moments That Are Totally Normal Without the Sound. By using different YouTube clips of traditionally scary scenes and instructing readers to watch them both with and without sound, they showed how creepy music and sound effects have a huge impact on our perception of a scene. For example, here's a scene from Twilight Zone The Movie. Watch it without the sound first, and you'll see it isn't really that chilling, but it becomes much more tense and spooky when the volume gets turned on.


Of course, when it comes to creating scary stories and novels, we can't use the tricks of music and sound effects to spook our readers. So, how do we go about creating genuinely scary horror fiction? We can use the power of words to set the mood, describing a setting in a way that makes it seem dark and creepy, choosing words that highlight the ominous nature of things. You can unnerve your readers by giving them glimpses of the uncanny and bizarre.

And glimpses, may be the key to making things genuinely creepy. Sometimes the shadow just at the edge of one's vision or the predator we can only partially see from our hiding place, is far more terrifying than the monster described in minute detail. A hint of something untoward or just a bit off can make even ordinary settings or objects seem terrifying.

I still think one of the scariest works of fiction I ever read was The Langoliers by Stephen King. It's about people who survive a mysterious plane journey only to find themselves in an eery and empty world. These are ordinary passengers on an ordinary plane. It's not as if the world is teeming with zombies or other monsters. In fact the world is completely empty, which is what makes this such an unnerving and spooky story. With just a little twist, just a hint of wrongness the ordinary can become frightening.

Stephen King is considered a master of horror because he knows what can unnerve us. Perhaps more than a few of the creepy clowns out there were inspired by his novel It.

We've seen that in the real world this year with an outbreak of creepy clowns. While a small segment of the population has always suffered from coulrophobia or fear of clowns, this year because some folks dressed in clown costumes have appeared in unexpected places and acted vaguely menacing, clowns are creeping out a lot of people. In response, McDonalds has said they will limit appearances by their Ronald McDonald mascot and national chains like Target and Goodwill have said they will not sell clown masks this Halloween. My guess is there won't be a lot of parents hiring clowns for their children's birthday parties, either. Clowns, something normally associated with comedy and lighthearted jokes, have become the stuff of nightmares.

A certain amount of realism is needed to make a story scary. If the world and the creatures who inhabit it are too fantastical, it's not likely to spook readers. The story will entertain them, but it will not haunt them. Readers should feel like your story is real, even if they know it's a work of fiction. If things seem too over the top, if your description is too heavy-handed, you run the risk of creating the literary equivalent of Troll 2.

This cult classic movie is widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, and is even the subject of the brilliant documentary, Best Worst Movie. It's supposed to be a horror movie, but a ridiculous and confusing premise, campy special effects and some comically bad performances makes the movie into an inadvertent comedy.

If you want to make your readers prickle with fear instead of roar with laughter, you're going to want to turn down the lights and strike up some scary music, at least metaphorically. Subtlety is your friend. Reveal details sparingly and keep things realistic and recognizable, just slightly off. Finally, borrow a trick from the fire company haunted house. Just when your audience is starting to get comfortable, lulled into complacency by the stuffed dummies that sit in chairs in dimly lit rooms, scare their pants off, by having one of those presumed dummies suddenly come to life and jump up from the chair. A well timed shock or twist, will get the pulses racing far more than pages and pages of heavy-handed description.

Alissa Grosso is too much of a scaredy cat to write horror, but she is the author of three mostly-unscary (really, it depends on what frightens you, but there are no creepy clowns!) YA novels Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. You can find out more about her and her books at

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Walking While Female (by Jody Casella)

We were eight years old.
We were twelve. Sixteen. Twenty. Thirty-five. Eighty.

We were walking.
We were jogging. Dancing. Drinking. Not drinking. Riding the subway. Swimming. Stepping onto an elevator. Carrying groceries. Sleeping.

We wore short, tight skirts.
We wore bikinis. Sweatpants. Pantsuits. Prom dresses. Pajamas.

We were assaulted.
We were molested. Groped. Degraded. Raped. Silenced.

We are your mothers.
We are your daughters. Your wives. Girlfriends. Sisters. Co-workers. Strangers.

We are Women.
We speak for ourselves.

And we say:
No more.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Each Story Inspires Its Own Fears (Sydney Salter)

Every time I sit down to write, I experience a slight shiver of fear. I've learned not to analyze the feeling, but to ignore the twanging little wah-wah-wah and start putting words onto the page. Just move the story forward, fix it later, don't think about readers right now.

Upon finishing a novel or story, I allow myself to think about the particular fears haunting that work.

Jungle Crossing was the first novel I wrote, so I mostly worried that I would not know how to write a novel. Yet each writing session grew the story--I was doing it! I should have feared revision (and rejection). Instead, I made the classic newbie mistake and sent that raw flawed manuscript out to all the editors listed in my backlog of SCBWI Bulletins. Writing four other manuscripts and learning to love revision taught me what I needed to know to fix the story.

I wrote Not A Doctor Logan's Divorce Book quickly before attending a writing workshop. The words flowed easily because I'd been waiting to write that story ever since my parents divorced when I was nine years old. Maybe I should have feared the marketability of a book about divorce, but I didn't worry about that. If it never got published, my dad would never read it. Oh, how I dreaded having my dad read that book! After safely sitting in my file cabinet for years, my little divorce book was published by a small press. So my dad did read the book, and he loved it, maybe more than any of my other books. I realized that while my emotions were very real, I had written a fictional story, and my dad understood that too.

My first published novel (4th written) was the one I feared the most. It took me months to tell people the title: My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters. I dreaded having to talk about big noses, my nose, essentially admitting that I had a nose, maybe a big nose, maybe a big nose that I hated. Oh, did I end up talking about my nose. Over and over again. I learned that there's nothing like repetition to end a dumb fear.

Swoon At Your Own Risk was my sixth manuscript. I put a lot of my mom into the story, but she loves attention of all kinds, so I never worried about her reaction. I had, however, based the love interest on a teenage boy in my neighborhood who skateboarded to high school, gracefully weaving down the street, sometimes holding a coffee in one hand.
A real hottie! Sure, I felt like a creepy old lady, but I was sure no one would ever really know. But then right as the book hit the presses, my youngest daughter became best friends with my inspiration's little sister. Best friends! Soon we were getting together as families for BBQ's and sitting together at biweekly soccer games. Awkward! I'm not sure that my inspiration has read the book, but his younger siblings loved it--and likely did not see much resemblance aside from skateboarding because I'd turned their physicist brother into a poet.

Right now I could swamp myself with all the fears involved with the current story I'm telling--what if X? What if Y? What if Z? But I've learned that most of my fears turn out okay in the end. So I'm going to ignore that wah-wah-wah and just move the story forward, fix it later, and not think about readers right now.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

I Am Not the Jackass Whisperer--by Kimberly Sabatini

This month we are writing about things that scare us.

Let's be honest.
There's an epic ton of things that make me go...

So, I've tried to narrow it down. Neither one of us has the time.

 But do I pick THE scariest? What does that actually mean?
Longest held fear? Newest fear?
Writing fears? Young Adult Fears?
Which direction should I go?

In the end, I decided on the fear in my life that is yelling the loudest at the moment.

The Homo Sapiens.

Yup. I'm bat shit scared of people right now. 

If your looking at me and scratching your head, clearly you haven't been following the election. 

But it's not just that. Although, clearly--that is enough.

I'm not ignorant, hate is a staple in our world. But right now, it feels like there is so much darkness out there. So much more than usual. It's like someone gave hate permission to wave it's freak flag. And it's not just the onslaught of this ugliness that's getting to me. It's also the perception that it's coming at me from so many different directions. Some days it's overwhelming. And it doesn't just scare me, it makes me sad--deeply sad. 

And as I watch so many heroes stepping up, fighting for love, kindness, light and all those other good things in life, I want to be doing that, too. I am against ALL THE BAD THINGS. At least the ones I can think of. Heck, I'm even against the stuff I inadvertently do wrong, the crap I'm too ignorant to understand about my own mistakes. Sometimes I mess up, but I want to be better. 

I want to step upon the battlefield of life and do my part to fight the good fight. I long to be another sandbag on the front line, stopping the flood of haters, even when they keep coming in endless waves.

But some days I don't even know where to begin. Some days I'm overwhelmed and I feel insignificant and not up to the task of saving the world. And often that scares me as much as the haters do. And then I run the risk of shutting down completely and rocking in a corner while eating chocolate ice cream. It's not an attractive picture.

So, I've been thinking about it a lot lately--you know while I've been downing the chocolate. And I've come up with a solution that appears to be working better than anything else I've devised up until now. 

I figure I can't be the only one feeling this way. 
So, I thought I'd share it with you...

There you have it. My plan is NOT to be the Jackass Whisperer.  
Well, that's at least part of the plan. 
Step one.

I think of it like putting my oxygen mask on first. I can't help anyone else if I'm unconscious. I can't be anything good for anyone else if I've been "infected" by the haters. If they make me loose my cool, stoop to their level or just doubt who I am and what I'm about--the haters win by default. 
And that just sucks.
 And even worse, when the haters get inside my head and heart, I'm no good at implementing step two.

And step two is all about understanding who you are. Knowing what YOUR super powers are and figuring out how to use them to your best advantage. To everyone's benefit.

Lately, I've been thinking about what I bring to the table. 
I provide words in the form of books. 
Not everyone can do that. 
But I can. 

So, I've opted to stop trying to win over the haters and instead I'm focusing on my writing.
It probably isn't the bravest, most earth shattering thing that can be done to change the world. But it is what I can do. And what I CAN do is probably a lot better for the world than listening to me whine about what I CAN'T do.
And maybe when my words are in the world, there will be readers who find me and are sparked into seeing the possibilities of what they CAN do. 
Perhaps they will find something between my pages that will help them to feel less scared.

So, here's my plan moving forward:

I'm done trying to win over the haters. 

I'm dedicating myself to the people who are worth my time, love and attention.
I can not fix you. 
You can only fix yourself. 

And because of that, I'm taking my gifts and giving them to the people who aren't screaming hate. 
I'm giving the best of me to those whispering...find me.

I AM looking for you. 

Now I ask you...
if you stopped being a Jackass Whisperer, do you know what you could do?

Friday, October 7, 2016

What Scares Me Now (Joy Preble)

The things that scare me have changed over the years. I'm assuming that's true for most of us. I've got some constants, sure, like spiders and snakes and rodents and ghosts (some, not all!), but those probably don't make me top ten list these days, nor do they generally consume much of my thought process. Okay, the other day while walking the dog I somehow got bitten by what I assume was a spider and the huge red splotch gave me some momentary loop of "Hey maybe it was a brown recluse. Remember that teacher I used to work with who got bitten by a brown recluse and had to have a chunk of her leg dug out? Is it that? Are there red streaks? Should I do something? Is this tube of cortisone cream expired?"

But mostly, I worry about other, more complicated and harder to avoid things. (I couldn't even avoid the spider because I never saw him. But I digress)

What scares me when I let it? A list of the top four, in no particular order:

1. I'm scared that I won't sell another book, that the ideas will dry up, my 'it girl' factor-- limited as it may be--will blow away, my agent and editors will just keep saying no, no, no. This is not a constant worry, but lately as it's been taking me a verrrry long time to finish this one project, it is one of those things that gets my brain all swirly in the middle of the night. Returning to a part time day job has helped take the pressure off-- as Elizabeth Gilbert promised it would in Big Magic-- but I still worry about this, worry the usual author fear that everyone will discover that I'm just a fraud and not talented at all or whatever, and that worry is scary.

2. As a thyroid cancer survivor, I am sometimes afraid that the disease will return. This happens, I know. And disease doesn't discriminate. It came the first time just as I had hit a larger sort of success with my debut and so yeah, I worry about that and that worry is scary.

3. I'm afraid of the societal and political ugliness that seems larger these days. I don't know if it really is larger but certainly the conversation has gotten less civil and the causes are complex and the things I suddenly know about how some of the people in my life feel about issues also scares me. A lot.

4. I'm scared of random things happening randomly. Just last week, there was a mass shooting only blocks from where I work. A lawyer went crazy and went out to the street in his neighborhood and started shooting people on their way to work/Starbucks/the gym.  At least nine people were injured, a couple very seriously. I'm also scared that because no one was killed, the news cycle moved on very quickly from this.

What are you afraid of?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Night of the Bats (Bill Cameron)

Writer Bill was born when I was about seven years old. My aunt and uncle gave me an old, but well-maintained, manual typewriter, and I used it to create newspaper “Extras” recounting the depradations of one Herman the Ant, a giant arthropod with a thirst for blood and masonry. I carefully typed each issue in a three-column layout under a newspaper masthead, with hand-drawn “photos” of the monstrous Herman eating buildings and people. Those were grim times in the world inhabited by Herman.

That was Writer Bill in larval form though. Herman’s stories, while gruesome and dramatic, lacked narrative structure. They also lacked spelling and grammar, but what can I say? I was seven. A couple of years later, I would grow into an actual storyteller when I wrote “The Night of the Bats” for English class. The assignment was to write a three-paragraph essay on what we liked best about Halloween. I turned in a six-page — front-and-back — tale of Halloween horror.

The story opens on Halloween afternoon with a boy arriving home from school to put on his costume: a custom-made bat outfit with realistic wings, head, and a fur body. He can’t wait for his best friend to arrive to go trick-or-treating, but is he ever in for a surprise. His friend, it turns out, is wearing a bat costume as well, complete with similar fur, ears, and flappy wings. Outside, they quickly realize they aren’t the only bats out that Halloween. Everyone, it seems, chose to be bats. Even people who answer the doors and pass out treats are dressed as bats. Frustrated and sad, our hero takes off his bat head and decides to go home. But with his human head exposed, the others in the neighborhood suddenly turn on him — and that’s when he realizes they are all actual bats! He flees as hordes of swarming, human-sized bats pursue him, screaming for blood. Even his friend is in on the chase. Fortunately, he’s able to evade capture by sneaking into an old shed. There, he puts his bat head back on. When he comes out again, none of the other bats pay any attention to him, so he runs home. Unsure what else to do, he climbs into bed falls into a troubled sleep. He awakens the next morning, sure it was all a dream — until mom and dad come into his bedroom and he realizes they’re both giant bats. The end.

The main thing I remember my teacher saying was that the story was too long and didn’t follow the assignment, but since it was creative I got full credit.

That story has stuck with me over the years. In high school, I rewrote it for a creative writing class — doubled the length and added lots of gore. Gore is always good, right? Later I did another version that actually submitted to a few magazines. No luck there, I’m afraid. The editors were probably all giant bats who didn’t want their secret to get out.

Sadly, those early versions are lost. Too many moves, including a cross-country jump in 1990. But the story stuck with me. From time to time, I’ll have a nightmare that rather closely follows the plot of the original story. It’s not always bats, but people turning into other things which then try to eat me is pretty common. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “fear” of mine, but there is a consistent theme at work.

As for “The Night of the Bats,” it did inspire a story that actually has found its way into print. Originally published in Anne Frasier’s Deadly Treats anthology, “Sunlight Nocturne” will be available at on October 15th if you want to see what I did with the original idea forty some odd years later.

Monday, September 26, 2016

"You Know Nothing, Jon Snow" (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

I'm going checklist style with my top tips for researching historical fiction.

·         First and always, remember this: 

·         Even if you think you know things, trust me, you do not know things. I don't know anything. Whenever I start researching, I am shocked by how little I know and how much I learn.

·         Don't assume anything. Like my dad says, assuming makes an ass out of u and me.

·         Pick a setting you can live with for all the years it will take to do the research, write the book, revise the book, find a publisher (we hope!), revise the book some more, promote the book, and live with the fact that you wrote this book for the rest of your life. If you're getting bored by your research or even if you're not really, really excited, quit while you're ahead and go with something else.

·         Start with the secondary sources to get a sense of your setting's overall structure and context. If they exist, start with the books written for laypeople and not professional historians. While I am a formally trained historian and have deep love for a good scholarly article, I always start with the layperson's history if I can. They tend to be more general, which is good for this phase, and they tend to be written with your entertainment as well as education in mind, which means you'll have more fun.

·         As you study secondary sources, pay close attention to their bibliographies and acknowledgements. This is where you find more specific resources and experts.

·         You can probably write a first draft at this point. It will be only a bare bones story structure, but from this you can get an idea of where you need to focus your research.

·         As you're writing your first draft, check out primary sources from your setting: letters, images, etc. Go to university and historical society sites from your setting and check out their online collections. If you can't find what you're looking for, ask one of their experts. Email is a great tool. Don't be shy! Most people love to talk about their areas of expertise.

·         Read books and other significant documents written in your setting. These can help you get a sense of the time and place.

·         Read other historical fiction from your setting. You can be very sneaky and make other people do some of the research for you this way. This also helps you avoid writing books that are too similar to everything else on the market.

·         Several drafts in, I do a "research draft." I print the manuscript and go through it, circling every detail that needs clarification and drawing a line out to a bubble in the margin where I write my research question. Better people than I can do this digitally, no doubt, but I am visual and tactile and this helps me.

·         Choose your beta readers with care. Find someone who lives where you've set your novel or who's an amateur expert or a professional expert in some element of your novel. They can help you avoid embarrassing mistakes. (Example: I read a novel set in South Carolina and the author referred to palm trees throughout. I gritted my teeth through it for about a hundred pages, and then I just couldn't take it anymore. The novel had other problems, but we have palmetto trees in South Carolina, and it drove me crazy.)

·         Beware of stereotypes about your setting. They're probably significantly less prevalent than pop culture would have us believe. (Example: In another novel set in South Carolina, which I literally threw across the room, erryone et grits and aigs and pork fat fer brekfust all the time and somehow the book was not about people having heart attacks. Further example: I did not see a single Scottie dog in the whole month I was in Scotland.)

·         Which brings me to this: You should probably actually visit your setting. I have a personal rule about this. It might seem a bit limiting, but in fact it's a useful tool for narrowing and choosing settings.

I know we can add to this list. What are your top research tips?

But remember:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Ups and Downs of Research -- Jen Doktorski

I’ve done “research” as I was writing each of my books. I feel the quotes are necessary because I have friends who write historical fiction and others who’ve written doctoral dissertations, so I hesitate to call what I do research.
One of the coolest things about writing fiction, from my perspective at least, is that while I’m writing I get to live my characters’ lives for a little while. And because of this, if my characters are experiencing something I haven’t, or know something I don’t, I do research to fill in those gaps. Sometimes that research involves contacting a lawyer to better understand how a restraining order works. Other times it means reading about identity theft.

Sometimes, the research is more frivolous.

For example, in HOW MY SUMMER WHEN UP IN FLAMES, the main character Rosie goes on a cross country road trip with three guys. I took a very similar road trip and shared many of Rosie’s experiences, but when I visited Dollywood it was closed. (It was January, what did I expect?) So for that section of the book, YouTube helped me fill in some gaps. Riding this roller coaster was an important moment for Rosie, so I had to know what it felt like.

In THE SUMMER AFTER YOU AND ME, the main character, Lucy, wants to be a marine biologist and volunteers with a group that is helping to reclaim the bay waters by “reclamming” them with oysters and clams. Each chapter in this novel opens with an excerpt from Lucy’s research paper on the dating and mating habits of sea life. I loved doing the research for these excerpts! Here’s an example.
“Clams don’t fall in love. There are no courtships, fancy dinners, grand proposals, or family planning. For them, it’s all about the weather. When the water temperature rises above sixty-eight degrees, clams release gametes into the water leaving a union and the creation of baby clams to chance. It’s broadcast spawning. No attachments.” 

From “What’s love got to do with it? The dating and mating habits of North American sea life.” A junior thesis by Lucy Giordano.

I renewed this book from the library so many times I grew attached to it and wound up buying my own copy.
My latest novel, due out in spring 2018, is called AUGUST & EVERTHING AFTER. It’s named for one of my all-time favorite albums by the Counting Crows, so seeing them in concert this summer felt a bit like research. I wonder if my accountant will see it that way.

The main character in this book is a drummer. She plays the snare in her high school marching band and eventually learns to play a full kit. So far this book has required a fair amount of research about drumming (I’ve interviewed drummers and have been taking lessons on YouTube). This was my Mother's Day gift this year.
Maybe my next main character will travel solo throughout Europe or work on a cruise ship? I’m already looking forward to the “research.”

Thursday, September 22, 2016

For the love of verisimilitude by Patty Blount

Verisimilitude is such a fun word. I can hardly pronounce it, but it's a fun word.

I love doing research. Finding the right facts, the right nuances, the right flavor for a story adds that touch of verisimilitude. Even before we had an internet, I loved going to the library, plowing through the card catalog, the microfilm readers, the periodicals, following different threads to see where they'd lead me.

Card catalogs are gone now and we have the entire internet accessible through cell phones. Maybe that's why I keep hearing how libraries are no longer relevant.

That comment makes my vision go red.

Libraries are relevant and always will be as long as there are people with open minds willing to learn. Libraries are havens for kids like I used to whose friends existed mainly between covers. Libraries are centers of their communities, reflecting the culture and interests that make that community thrive.

All of my novels require research, even the novellas. How I perform that research depends entirely on the subject. But yes, I start with Google.

But -- and this is important -- I never end there.

If you haven't yet read Alissa Grosso's post, go do so now. As I said in my comment on her post, my hometown library is Sachem Public Library.

Libarians are absolutely the best source you have when you need to do research. I'm quite fond of this Neil Gaiman quote --  "Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one." 

When I was researching bullying for SEND, Google kept giving me news but I wanted information about laws. For SOME BOYS, I needed information on rapists, not victims -- specifically, why they do it. My Sachem librarians found me a number of valuable resources I never could have found on Google. 

But here's the best thing.... remember what I said about communities? When I was researching firefighting for NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, the libarians at Sachem suggested I speak to one of their employees. Turns out her dad was the chief at one of the local volunteer departments. I contacted him, got a tour of the facility and a whole bunch of inside information I would not have found on Google without first knowing where to look. 

And that's the key -- knowing where to look. Librarians are experts at that. 

So to everyone at Sachem Public Library, I couldn't write a word without you. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


1. MY OWN WORK - In the indie market, I've done a sequel (PLAY IT AGAIN) as well as a short story series (FOREVER FINLEY). It's essential to mine your own work when you decide to do any kind of follow-up to a previous release--and not just to remind yourself of the order of events or minor characters' names. It's essential to get back into the feel of  previous book--to remind yourself of the rhythm of the sentences, the overall mood. Those seemingly "minor" details will make your readers feel as though they're picking up where the story left off--which is exactly what you want a sequel to do (it's far tougher than you'd think it'd be).

2. OTHER AUTHORS' WORK - This is all about mining for new technique. I love, love, love authors that make me think about my work in a new way--maybe a book's not told in chronological order, or it's got a great pace or cool plot twists. The ways other writers put their work together constantly give me new ideas, push me to be better.

3. GOOGLE / YOUTUBE - I'm not talking about the usual fact-checking we all do for our books. I'm talking how-to. I've become the queen of how-to Googling in the past couple of years, especially as I went indie. I've Googled how to format an e-book, how to compile using Scrivener, how to do page numbers InDesign, how to create a cover for a print book...the list goes on and on. I've also begun to illustrate my own work--but my previous experience with any artwork had been with pen and paper, paints and canvases. Digital art was brand-new to me. So I've been watching a ton of illustrators' and artists' vids on YouTube.

There are so, so many talented people out there. Who are not content to hide the brush strokes--who want to show the process of making art, not just the final product. I'm grateful for their willingness to do so, every single time I begin to type a new "how to..." phrase in Google's search box.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Card Every Writer Needs (Alissa Grosso)

It's nearing midnight and I am in bed with my trusty laptop fighting off sleep so that I can finish writing a chapter, when a question arises. Google can't quite deliver the answer I need. I can hear my dog snoring, and I wonder if maybe I should shut the computer and catch some z's myself. Then I have a rare midnight brainstorm: the library! Of course the physical building is closed at this hour, but thanks to my local public library's digital subscriptions I'm able to download a book that has the information I need, and I'm reminded of how awesome libraries are.

September is National Library Card Sign Up Month, so it seems appropriate that we're covering research this month at YA Outside the Lines, because libraries have always been my go-to place when I need to do research. Whether I need the cold hard facts of history or science texts that will make my writing factually accurate, need to read comparable books in my genre or need information on the business of publishing, libraries have served me well over the years.

Every once in awhile some idiot writes some clickbait article about how libraries have outlived their usefulness and are no longer needed. Usually this is someone who hasn't owned a library card in years or set foot inside one since they were a child, so the article writer ends up sounding like a fool.

For most of us, we know that libraries are places that are filled with books. There are some people who think that books are no longer needed or that thanks to their Amazon Prime membership, they already have access to all the books they could ever need. There are two things I would like to point out. First off, not everyone has an Amazon Prime membership (raises hand) and second of all, there are a lot of books that for whatever reason aren't available on Amazon Prime. The books alone that are available to people of all ages and all income levels for free from their local library, make libraries a tremendously valuable resource. It's also worth noting that librarians have gone to school for and spent a great deal of time curating their collections to ensure that a wide assortment of high quality reading material is available for their patrons. Amazon has no curators.

If you love libraries, you must read the web comic Unshelved.

If all libraries had were books, they would still be valuable, but it's 2016 and libraries have a lot more than books. Other physical items available for free from libraries include video and audio products, both entertaining ones like feature films and popular music CDs and educational ones like how-to videos and language learning programs. These are the basics that are offered by nearly every public library in the country. Libraries, though, continue to innovate and many offer their patrons the opportunity to borrow all manner of physical items. I can borrow a huge assortment of cake pans from my public library. A library that I used to work for has educational toys and products to help children with sensory processing issues. Games and passes to visit local museums are also available at many libraries.

Free wi-fi and internet access computers at libraries mean that even when you're financially strapped you can use technology for research, communicating or job hunting. For those that have computers or tablets at home, the library's subscriptions to different databases and digital products mean that you can enjoy around the clock access to information and entertainment.

I'm such a library-lover that I have a an old card catalog in my living room. Picked it up for $10 at a yard sale. The doggy, on the other hand, was free to a good home. 

Recently, my boyfriend and I took advantage of my library's Heritage Quest subscription, to do some genealogy research. We sort of (his family lost their second "O") share a last name and have always been curious about just how closely we're related. We still haven't found the connection, though we did learn a little more about our lineage by examining some old census records.

Libraries also provide lots of services for patrons. At the most basic level there's access to low cost printing and photocopying, but many libraries, especially larger county branches go well beyond this. Maker's spaces with things like 3D printers and binding machines are pretty awesome. My own county library has VHS to DVD conversion services and patrons can have access to an Ellison die-cut machine.

Finally, there's the programming. We all know about library storytime, but there are lots of programs for grown-ups, as well. Things like writing workshops, art classes, lectures and entertainment are held at many libraries that anyone can attend for free.

One of my first author gigs was speaking at a library just before my first book, Popular, was published.

I'm sorry if this post sounds like nothing but a big advertisement for libraries, but the fact is, that libraries deserve more advertisements. Unlike most advertisers, libraries don't want your money, just your patronage. I feel like not enough people realize all the things that libraries can do for them. Long before there was Siri, there were librarians ready to answer all your burning questions, and no offense to technology, but librarians do a better job of tracking down the answers you need.

So, if you are a writer or hope to become one, there is a card that you absolutely need in your wallet. If you don't already have one, go down to your local public library and sign up for a library card. It just might help you write your next book.

Alissa Grosso is a one-time library employee and regular library user. She encourages you to seek her three novels Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular at your local library or to find out more about her and her books by visiting

Friday, September 16, 2016

You Are Researching a Crime...

Okay. It's possible that a crime did not occur.

When people talk about it now, many years later, they refer to it as a "thing that happened." You have also heard the word "incident."

You don't have many facts to go on. The year. The date--within a week or two. The place-- a patch of woods at the edge of a family campground. There was only one witness, a ten-year-old. And you only know her first name.

The suspect ran away.

Somebody called the police, so there might have been a police report filed. Perhaps a small article appeared in a newspaper? These are the details you're trying to figure out as you do your research. A librarian you know has good suggestions about internet searches. How to track down digital records and microfiche collections.

It may take some old-fashioned sleuthing. Calling a library in another state. Visiting a police station and hoping they've kept old records on an incident that occurred almost forty years ago.

And what would be written in such a record?

Notes from an interview taken at night in the woods? The words of the traumatized ten-year-old witness?

The victim.

Unfortunately, she has no recollection of what happened.

She was ten too. Going on eleven. She has a clear memory of the first part of the afternoon. It was supposed to be a short walk in the woods to look for sticks to roast marshmallows. She'd just met the other girl that day. That's why she only knew her first name. She didn't really like the girl all that much. She didn't like the woods. She wasn't a huge fan of marshmallows.

She saw the man first. Or rather, she heard him. A rustle of leaves. A snapping of twigs. And then he was standing there, several feet away, in the center of the path. His legs spread. His hands on his hips. He was smiling.

One more detail: he was naked.

The witness giggled. But our victim knew something wasn't right. Maybe some kind of survival instinct kicked in. What to do when you encounter a predator. No sudden movements, she thought. Don't let him know we see him. But don't turn your back on him...

She nudged her new friend, putting herself between the man and that silly giggling girl, and slowly slowly backed them out of the woods. Slowly. Slowly. And wasn't it strange how time slowed down further? How slowly her new friend seemed to move?

Another rustle of leaves and snapping of twigs. The man came running. The giggling girl, no longer giggling, tore out of the woods and left the victim behind.

The research is slow-going. An internet search of the towns surrounding the campground. A scroll through other crimes in the area at the same time, near the same place. Assaults. Kidnappings. Murders. Unsolved cases. Reports on sexual assaults. All dead ends. Did you know you can jump on the Library of Congress site and see a listing of all U.S. newspapers from the 1690's to the present?

But you won't find what you're looking for there. The truth is you're not sure what, exactly, you are looking for. Or why you are doing this research.

What will you make with it? Is there even a story here?

A blink, and the girl was curled in a ball, hands around her knees. The man was gone. Strange, that her flip flops had flown off her feet and were dropped in the brush off the path. Strange, how quiet the woods were now. She got up shakily and retrieved the flip flops, hardly noticing the cut on her leg.

But this was nothing. Probably just a scratch from the marshmallow stick.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Something New

by Tracy Barrett

Interrupting your regularly scheduled programming to announce the publication of my twenty-first book, and my very first to be self- (or indie-) published!
The Song of Orpheus: The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard is a collection of retellings of little-known Greek myths, intended for the young fan (upper MG to younger YA) who’s tired of reading the same stories over and over again. Readers who aren’t so familiar with the subject won’t feel left out, though—I included a glossary of characters and places. (In order to make this section appealing to the Greek-myth geek too, I made sure there was at least one little-known fact in each definition.)

Kirkus Reviews says: "Accessible and entertaining, these stories provide a thoughtful, fresh take on a classic subject."

I’ve revived my own blog to discuss why I chose this route, why I chose this book to be my debut indie, what work I farmed out, and some financial aspects.

Post 1: A new (ad)venture! (Why indie publish? Why this book?)
Post 2: My self-publishing adventure: Part II (Agency-assisted self-publishing)
Post 3: My self-publishing adventure: Part III (What services I farmed out)
Post 4: My self-publishing adventure: Part IV (The business side, including costs)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Research (I love it but it makes me weird) by Sydney Salter

I love research so much that the first time I started to write a novel, I ended up enrolling in classes at the University of Utah and finishing most of a second Bachelor's degree. Writing college papers is much easier than writing novels! But that idea is still on my To-Be Written List.

Now I set research deadlines.

Writing keeps me from collecting degrees. I love how I can learn about any topic for the sake of writing. Curious about jewelry-making, I gave that hobby to my main character in My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters, and enrolled in a few classes. I ended up with a couple of cute necklaces that I still love to wear.

A story about Hawaii gave me the courage I needed to take surfing lessons.

Look at the size of that wave!

Not quite big wave surfing like my character, I earned a true appreciation for the strength required by the sport.

Research also makes me weird. I read really odd books. The kind you don't really want anyone asking you about on the soccer sidelines.

Not exactly a book most soccer moms are reading!

Right now I'm in the midst of another weird book phase while doing some enhancement research for my WIP (since it's past the deadline, I'm technically done with research and prioritizing writing, I swear!). Yet I'm still sneaking around, not letting anyone see the titles or book covers. Sometimes I wonder if the government tracks the weird stuff I read...?

My family is used to me by now.

But the other day I was writing in the Toyota waiting room during my car's oil change, and my husband, sitting in a boring meeting across the country, texted me: "You're Googling how to remove dead bodies. Should I be worried?" (For some reason my Googling shows up on his phone, making for many interesting conversations).

I started laughing crazy loud, drawing attention to myself.

Ah, the hazards of research!