Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Monsters--by Ellen Jensen Abbott

As a fantasy writer, monsters are my stock and trade. I love them. I’ve used lots of classic monsters in my books: hags, minotaurs, trolls, and some monstrous centaurs who like to eat human toes. (They’re crunchy.)

But the most fun of all is making up my own monsters--letting my imagination run to places that I usually edit out. Here’s a sampling, The first is from Watersmeet:

“Abisina stood transfixed, the image that had pursued her through so many nights embodied on the battlefield: the White Worm, black eyes ringing its head, open mouth dripping with poison, thick forearms lifting its segmented body from the ground as it searched for Rueshlan.

“It spotted him as he galloped in for a blow, sword flashing in the sunlight, and it spun to confront him, razor claws stabbing the air.”

And then from The Centaur’s Daughter:

“A hiss echoed overhead: the whistle of swords dealing blows; the whisper of chains rubbing torn flesh; the wind over barren lands; the dying breath of multitudes. A shadow fell over [Abisina]. It was like night without stars, without hope of day. She looked up.

“Three creatures. Many times larger than centaurs. They flew on black wings. Their heads were naked with ridges of blistered skin. Cruelly hooked beaks jutted from between yellow eyes. Their thick legs ended in huge gnarled feet, each toe tipped with a barbed talon….The creature carried the reek of raw meat and blood. It landed within paces of her--it’s beak open to reveal a hard black tongue. Its head shot forward. It drove its beak into the ground, missing her by a breath. The earth shook, and when the bird raised its head for the next blow, it left a crater where its beak had landed.”

And finally, from The Keeper:

“‘Help me!” [Abisina] cried, and the cave filled with blinding light.

“The necklace!

“Fingers of light emanated from the pendant, illuminating dozens of white eels rising from the pool’s surface. One grasped Abisina’s leg, and more were coming. Their bodies--some as wide as Abisina’s thighs, others as slender as twigs--ended in gaping, toothless mouths. Translucent white skin covered eye hollows on each side of the creatures’ heads. Though they seemed blind, they reared back from the necklace’s light. The eel on Abisina’s leg released. Two of the eels, caught directly in the beam form the necklace, opened their mouths in silent screams and sank back under the black water.”


This year, I took the indie plunge. The scariest part of doing independent work is that it’s 100% yours. There’s no publishing house making decisions about category or cover. Everything—from the concept to the execution, first line to jacket copy, is you. 

Once you’ve opened the door to being a hybrid author, it also generally means you have no excuses for not tackling that project dangling out there. You know the one—that one you’ve ALWAYS wanted to explore but never have, because you know there’s no slot in the traditional marketplace for it. 

That was the case with the sequel to my YA romance, PLAYING HURT. When PLAYING HURT released, readers immediately started asking me what happened during Chelsea and Clint’s second summer. But I knew, even then, that I really wanted to pick up with Chelsea four years later, rather than the very next summer…I wanted to explore the possibility of whether that youthful romance—you know the one…that hot short intense fling you had that’s never really left your mind completely—if THAT could ever become a lasting relationship. 

But that was always problematic, for a hundred different reasons. PLAYING HURT featured an eighteen and nineteen-year-old. Four years later, they were twenty-two and twenty-three…and the house that released PLAYING HURT is a strictly YA-only house…and then HarperCollins (rather than Flux) started publishing my YAs, and…

You see where this is going. One excuse piled on top of another. Well—maybe not excuses. They’re all valid reasons not to tackle a book that’s never going to see the light of day in the traditional world. Once I opened the hybrid door, though, all these reasons really did become excuses. As a hybrid author, if I didn’t do the PLAYING HURT sequel, that was also 100% on me.

…Was picking up with a story I hadn’t touched for four years frightening, too? Absolutely.
Was it scary to release a sequel to a book that readers were emotionally attached to? Yes. 

But fear, if viewed at the right angle, is fun, too. After all, that’s what Halloween is for. 

Happy Halloween!

Star basketball player Chelsea "Nitro" Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college—and everyone's admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.

As a graduation present, Chelsea's dad springs for a three-week summer "boot camp" program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she's immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who's haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Will an unexpected romance just end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain—or finally heal their heartbreak?


A Second Chance at First Love (A Playing Hurt Novel)

Four years ago, Chelsea and Clint had both seen their share of tragedy. Will their second chance at love end in triumph…or will it be yet another heartbreak?

Chelsea was a teenage small town celebrity—a basketball star with the promise of a free ride to college…until an accident on the court shattered her hip and her dreams. Clint was a high school Minnesota hockey player whose first love died in a car accident on the way to one of his pond tournaments; head no longer in the game, Clint was forced to hang up his skates.

On a family vacation to Minnesota, Chelsea met Clint, a fishing guide and personal trainer at her resort. Through their overwhelming, inexplicable, and undeniable whirlwind romance, they began to heal each other—to discover their own strength and resilience. Their summer together was short, but it bubbled over in intensity: stolen kisses, passionate meetings under starlit skies, lovemaking to the beat of a cascading waterfall. And it ended with the promise of a second summer.

Life got in the way, thwarting their plans. Now, four years later, the compass of Chelsea’s heart is pointing her back to Minnesota—toward the strongest love of her life. But can that original heat be reignited, or will old wounds snuff out any chance at rekindling their original passion?

Play It Again picks up as Chelsea’s and Clint’s paths cross again to explore issues of forgiveness and second chances, and to ask whether true, lasting adult love can grow from the fires of youthful passion.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Most Frightening Monster Movie Ever (Brian Katcher)

My mother likes to relate that one night, when I was about four years old, she found me crouched behind the living room couch, watching a horror movie, too scared to leave, too entertained to look away. In spite of my terror, I refused to let her turn it off. The movie?

Originally titled 'The Halloween That Almost Wasn't', it dealt with a motley assortment of monsters trying to save Halloween in a world that no longer scared so easily. That's Judd Hirsch of 'Taxi' fame as Count Dracula.

The whole thing was slapstick. The film opens with Dracula startling Igor, who's watching TV and spills his bowl of popcorn. Frankenstein's monster tap dances. The mummy keeps running into things. The movie ends with a leisure suited Dracula disco dancing with the witch.

And yet to my young mind, a zany Dracula was just as frightening as any scary vampire. And I guess that's what makes Halloween great.

That, and it keeps Walmart from moving Christmas season into October.

I tried to watch this movie the next time it was on, but it was cancelled for some stupid Carter/Reagan debate.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Monster Within (by Margie Gelbwasser)

 My favorite shows are those that deal with our world, only altered. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Grimm. There’s something fascinating about dealing with life’s events like death, depression, drug addiction, anxiety and more by viewing them through a new lens.

To me, it reveals the truth about human nature. It’s easier to deal with the ugly things in life if we can attribute them to a Big Bad. We want to believe people are not awful on their own. There has to be a reason they’re violent or horrible. Who can forget the Buffy episode after Buffy and Angel have sex? He takes the stereotype of jerk guy to the extreme and becomes an evil killer. Then there was the episode with the ghost children (actually a demon) turning the town against itself. Grimm deals with social issues weekly. There was the episode with the abusive spouse who was a bad Wesen (a kind of creature within is the simplest explanation—there are good and bad Wesen). His wife excused his behavior by saying it wasn’t his fault. It was the Wesen within. Then, there was the time a couple (both Wesen) married out of their Wesen order. They endured discrimination, violence, and torture because of this. The group responsible for purity wore cloaks.

I have always wanted to write a story like this, but my brain doesn’t create in such a way. However, I do love watching and reading others’ creations. The concept of monsters around us is not a new one. I remember a show from the 1980s called Amazing Stories that played with this idea too. So why the fascination? Why are such shows or stories hits? Maybe it’s because we all have different sides to us. What caused our demons? How do we choose to live with them?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Where Monsters Reside (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Monsters are Other, the Other we fear.

Monsters are what—who—we don’t understand. Monsters are the enemy.

Lord of the Flies has always been one of my favorite books, because I believe one of its themes is this: Monsters are not external to us. Evil is not an outside force. We all have the capacity to be monsters, the capacity for evil. In Lord of the Flies, they call evil “The Beast,” and they think they can identify it in a single entity that can be killed. But the real beast is within them; the real danger is unleashing their own potential for violence. The real danger is their ruthless response to their own fears.

Monster stories show us this: the beast intent on hurting us, the beast who must be conquered. It is a zombie, or a vampire, or a giant lizard, or even just a blob. It is a killer shark, or an evil genius, or a wicked witch, or a vengeful ghost. It makes us feel good, and temporarily safe, to think that evil can be consolidated in one form and destroyed, ended, overcome.

But there is always another beast to replace that one.

A subset of monster stories lets us see the good within the alleged monster. King Kong has his gentle side. Beauty’s Beast has inner nobility. The Cullens have trained themselves not to hunt people. If the monster is not wholly evil, then the monster is just like us: a mix of selfless and selfish impulses, a mix of love and hatred.

 Certainly there are characters, and people, who behave monstrously, whose actions must be checked. They have stopped checking their own actions, have allowed the beast inside to take over. Our only mistake is in thinking of them as wholly Other, as monolithic embodiments of evil completely separate from ourselves.

Our responsibility is to keep an eye on our own inner monsters.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Monsters I Am Not by Courtney McKinney-Whitaker

When I first heard the theme for this month, I couldn't think of anything to write about. Then there was another school shooting, and a (thwarted, thank God) knife attack on a children's chess club at a library about twenty minutes from my house, and my home state flooded, and my facebook feed gave me the impression that people I otherwise like and respect felt we'd be okay as long as we could just shoot the floodwaters, and all of a sudden I had far too much to say about monsters.

So I'm not going to say anything about the real monsters, because it's close to Halloween and the fake ones are much more fun.

I'm going to give you a laugh, I hope, by telling you about my friend Michelle's* deep and sincere belief that I am a vampire.

Every writer should have a friend like Michelle. Michelle is a librarian, so she knows her books. Michelle is very smart, and she is also a very generous reader. Many a time we have tried to explain a book to each other and stopped, saying, "Every book sounds ridiculous when you try to explain it." Michelle has a love for vampire books, broody (fictional) boys, and The Vampire Diaries. "More brooding," Michelle will say when she beta reads for me. "You know it needs more brooding." One of Michelle's proudest moments in our friendship came when I admitted to binge-watching Reign on Netflix. She's also partial to werewolves, and to those unfortunates who somehow manage to become both werewolves and vampires. Michelle delights in stories, and in letting herself believe, and don't we all need readers who will believe our stories are true?

No relation to me.

Over the years, Michelle has built up a large body of evidence for why I am one of the undead. Very shortly after we met, in the summer of 2010, I headed off to Montreal for three weeks for a French immersion program. I think this is what started it. It was a summer of record-breaking heat, and I got the worst sunburn of my life in Canada. I'm talking second-degree burns and changing the dressings on my back myself because I didn't know anyone in Montreal well enough to ask them to help me with that. Turns out it was not just a sunburn. I am in fact allergic to the sun. ("Oh, yes," said my great-aunt, providing information that would have been helpful to have twenty years ago, "I am, too.") That one very bad sunburn tipped the allergy over the edge, apparently, so now I wear sunscreen all the time, like a good girl. The fact that I can literally feel the sun broiling my skin and sometimes yelp, "Ooh, it burns!" does not help my case with Michelle. She just nods sagely.

I also have celiac disease, so I often can't eat food at parties and dinners. I usually bring my own. "Special vampire food," says Michelle. "The celiac is a good cover. That's smart of you. Vampires have eternity to think these things up."

Speaking of eternity. "You know a suspicious amount about history," says Michelle. "It's almost like you were there."
Never seen him before.
"Actually," I say, "that would be the coolest part about being a vampire. Wouldn't it be cool to see the whole sweep of history? To watch things change and see cause and effect?"

I don't always help my own case. Also, how big of a nerd am I if I think that would be the coolest thing about being a vampire?

Who even is this guy?

Two years ago, I went to my mailbox one November evening. I never get the mail, but I knew a Christmas present for my husband was in there. Wouldn't you know, that was the one night two random dogs came out of nowhere and bit me on the ankle. The bite wasn't that bad, but we couldn't find the dogs, so we had to treat it like the dogs had rabies. Which meant me in the ER, getting rabies shots, just in case.

I texted Michelle from the ER to let her know what was up.

"It's a full moon," she texted back.

"It's not a full moon."

"Close enough. You'd never seen those dogs before, right? And then they bit you. Now you're like Klaus!"

"Who's Klaus?"

"On The Vampire Diaries. He's a vampire and a werewolf."

"I'm not a werewolf."

"I'm so happy right now!"

"You do know I'm in the ER getting rabies shots, right?"

"But werewolves can have babies."

I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant.

"Vampires can't have babies. We've discussed this. But werewolves can."

"Mmm, right. Okay. We'll see."

"I'm sure this will fix things!"

Bless Michelle's heart, I know she was trying to distract me and make me laugh during a stressful, scary, painful process. But the weird thing is that I got pregnant the next month, which didn't at all help my case with Michelle for being a totally mundane one-hundred-percent human. 

"I told you," said Michelle. "I'm not surprised at all."

Thank goodness for werewolves, right? We never did find those dogs.

And now I have to wrap this up and take care of some things. It's a full moon tomorrow night.

I saw on Facebook one time that Remus Lupin and I are the same Myers-Briggs type, INFJ, but that's as far as our similarities go.

*Totally her real name.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Of Monsters and Men - Delilah S. Dawson (writing as Lila Bowen)

All my books share one theme: Take something normal and ADD MONSTERS.

Whether those monsters are refined blood-drinkers in top hats, rabbits with fangs, fox-eared demons, yarn bombers with guns, or Comanche myths come to life, I love turning regular folks into badass heroes.

My latest book, WAKE OF VULTURES, is billed as Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Lonesome Dove, and the villain was inspired by that pic, up above. Basically, I wanted to write a Western in which a half-black, half native slave girl could become a monster-fighting cowboy. I originally thought the bad guy would be a wendigo, but as I dug around into myths of the American West, I couldn't shake the strange terror inspired by a single line about Pia Mupitsi, the Cannibal Owl, the only thing the Comanche people feared. Legends say the Cannibal Owl stole children in the dark of night, storing them on a giant spike in a basket. And it sounds a little crazy... until you see the pictures of a similar Scottish monster, the Cornish Owlman, as imagined by Scottish filmmaker Lawrie Brewster in his 2013 movie, Lord of Tears. That two cultures across the world would put an owl's face and a man's body on their fear is telling. It's both alien and familiar. And it's all too easy to imagine that scratching on the window at night to be a monster man-owl's elongated claws.

When I consider why monsters obsess me so, I can't help considering that all the real monsters I've met have worn a man's face. On the outside, they seemed good and kind, their true evil hidden. That's why my monsters have tells, outward signs that they're not truly human. Fangs, ears, antlers. When the monster can be identified before he's committed villainy, he's easier to fight.

Of course, in Wake of Vultures, one of major questions is: Who is the true monster? A man with a hate-filled heart or a monster who wants to save people? You'll have to read it to see how Nettie Lonesome deals with the Cannibal Owl--and the humans who hate her for being different.

WAKE OF VULTURES is out this Tuesday. 
Delilah S. Dawson is the writer of the Blud series, Servants of the Storm, HIT, and Wake of Vultures, written as Lila Bowen. Find her online at

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The most frightening monster is the one inside us (by Patty Blount)

I'm a huge fan of the TV show, Supernatural. Main character Dean Winchester often says, "Demons, I get, but people? Not so much."

I recently started watching AMC's The Walking Dead, binge-watched all episodes to get caught up to the current season and have decided I'll be among the first to get killed. If you haven't seen the show, it's humans vs. zombies and civilization has pretty much died out...It's every man for himself.

Are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse?  This month's YA Outside the Lines theme is monsters. Though the show is about zombies, they are not the real monsters. The real monsters are the humans who are left. Every episode portrays a new ethical and moral conundrum that leaves me shaken to my soul, searching that soul for answers to the question, "What would you do in that situation?"

And my answer is always the same -- "The same thing they just did -- if I wanted to survive."

In the first season, we watched two best friends -- partners -- fight to the death.

Then we met The Governor, a natural born leader. Handsome and charismatic. Also seriously messed up. And just when you truly hate this guy's guts, the show clues you in to his origin story. You realize he was a regular guy once with a regular family who loved him -- a regular life.

Binge-watching a series lets you see insights and connections you might miss in real time. And the one thing I've connected is that the show's main character, Rick, has become exactly the person his best friend had been in the first season... and he killed him for being that person.

There's an old author adage.... every bad guy is the hero of his own story. Watch The Walking Dead to see this concept applied. There are no monsters more frightening than those of the human variety and the horrors we are quite capable of inflicting on one another when sufficiently pushed is the stuff of nightmares.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Envy Monster (by Nancy Ohlin)

Last Wednesday marked eleven years since my mom’s passing.  Two days before that was my twelfth wedding anniversary.  When my mom died, from a sudden illness, I thought she’d deliberately picked that day so my wedding anniversary would be sad and heavy forever.  Because that’s how powerful she was in my head—she could will herself to die in a manner most suited to cast a shadow on the living.  Center stage forever.

Magical thinking is a thing.  Wikipedia defines it as “the attribution of causal relationships between actions and events which seemingly cannot be justified by reason and observation.” Children engage in it often, and some adults, too (*raises hand*).  Sometimes, it’s about wish fulfillment. Other times, it’s about conjuring monsters out of psychic table scraps.

In life, my mom was a huge and complicated presence.  One of the most striking things about her was her envy.  She was so envious of other people—people with more money, better husbands, nicer houses, younger-looking skin—that she boiled with rage whenever she spoke about them.

Her envy was such that I wrote a novel about her in which she was Snow White’s stepmother, except even darker and creepier.  Like my mom, that character was an envy monster who wanted to destroy the objects of her envy.  In my most magical-thinking moments, I told myself that my mom might destroy me, too, if I became prettier or happier than her.  Even after her death, whenever something bad happened in my life, I was convinced that she was responsible—reaching out from the other side, making sure I didn’t become too content or too successful.

These days, when these crazy thoughts flit through my head, I tell myself that that’s all they are: crazy thoughts.  Writing a novel (or two or three) about her was also highly therapeutic.  But if I have to be honest, I think I’ve inherited more than a little bit of that envy thing, especially professional envy.  He got a seven-figure advance … she scored a movie deal … really, it’s so easy to start fantasizing about poisoned apples.

I won’t go there, though.  I may kill off some characters in future novels—oh, no, that super-famous author plummeted to his death!—but I promise to keep my envy monster in check.

(Cue evil laughter here.)