DreadFest 2017 – Call for Writers

I’m very excited to be involved with an upcoming event that celebrates horror and dark fiction in all its delicious forms.

W.T. Bland Public Library in Mount Dora, Florida is looking for authors to participate in its first annual “DreadFest,” an event to celebrate the darker side of fiction.  The event will focus on horror and other genres that give a creeping sense of dread.  Authors must have books available for purchase.  The event will be limited to 20 authors.

The event is being planned for January 14 or 28, 2017, at the library.  The library has large rooms for presentations.  Authors who participate will have their own 6’ table to sell and sign books and other things.  The library will promote the event and feed the authors lunch.  They will solicit vendors to provide door prizes to attendees, and may even be able to provide some musical entertainment.  There is an outdoor pavilion that could be used if an activity is better suited for it.

WT Bland Library

W.T. Bland Public Library

Since this is a new event, participating authors have the opportunity to help direct the format.  The library would love to have participating authors:

·         Do presentations on writing or elements of dark fiction (horror, dark fantasy, thriller, paranormal romance, etc.)
·         Participate in a horror/dark fiction author panel
·         Help judge a micro- or nanofiction writing contest
·         Sell and sign their books
·         Donate a book to be included in door prizes

W.T. Bland Public Library has held a popular Romance Expo (celebrating Florida romance authors and books) for several years.  At last year’s August event, they had 20 participating authors and over 100 attendees.

Bonus: The weather in Central Florida is usually beautiful in January, and Mount Dora is  a popular spot for winter “snowbirds” and tourists, so it’s a perfect time to visit and share your scary stories.

If you are interested, email me at LeavesandCobwebs@earthlink.net or send me a message on Twitter at @Leaves_Cobwebs.  Hope to see you there!

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Stephen King, Coincidences, and Dementia

I started reading Stephen King stories in elementary school, starting with the newly published paperback edition of “The Shining” after my mother was through reading it. I’d heard it was scary, and I liked scary. I saw the movie in the theater when I was ten.  I was enrapt.

SK - shelf 2

Stephen King books, stacked two deep on the living room bookshelf

And since that time, as Stephen King books came out, little bits of the stories have mirrored aspects of my life. One reason I love Stephen King’s writing is how he writes characters and dialogue; even his minor characters are complex and familiar. But the similarities I notice are always story elements that seemed to coincide with something in my life at the time.

Some are subtle at best: “The Library Policemen” haunting me as I navigated the stacks in college, or feeling a sense of déjà vu for the wild areas in “The Tommyknockers” and “It.” Others feel like uncanny Easter eggs.

Reading “The Talisman” as a teen when I was on a road trip with my relatives.

Having a terrible stomach flu while reading “Dreamcatcher.”

Meeting my future sister-in-law (who has the same name, phonetically) while reading “Lisey’s Story,”

Reading “Duma Key” as my future mother-in-law (and her caregivers) dealt with the devastating changes of Alzheimer’s Disease.SK-Duma Key.jpg

“Duma Key” is one of my favorite Stephen King novels. It’s rarely mentioned when his name is invoked. Perhaps people overlook it because it’s set briefly in Minnesota and mostly in Florida, and not in the weirder parts of Maine (though there are connections, oh yes – all things serve the beam in the Stephen King Universe, nearly).

I’ve lived in both states, and I know the west coast of Florida where Edgar Freemantle buys a giant pink house, suspended over the waves, with shells clack-clack-clacking beneath it.  The place is unnerving and compelling. It’s a place I want  to visit desperately when I read about it. I want to spend my time creating in that windowed loft looking over the changing Gulf of Mexico. And I’ve seen paintings like what Edgar Freemantle creates, with such precise details and light that you feel like you could fall through the canvas.

And Elizabeth Eastlake resonates with me, with her moods shifting like the Gulf waters, and her fear and anger as her mind slips. I read the story while seeing my future mother-in-law struggle through the same storms. Some of these moments of recognition in Stephen King’s stories are uncomfortable or sad. But the way he writes about his characters’ struggles, their desperation and redemption, is why I connect so deeply to his stories.

That, and the haunting settings that lie just past the characters, driving them mad or lulling them until they are vulnerable. The clacking is silent when the tide is out, but crunches under Edgar’s feet when he ventures out, like bones hitting each other. Which they are, you know: little exoskeletons of dead things underfoot.

I start each Stephen King book wondering what will show up in it.  I’ve wondered if I’ll see some semblance of the Dark Tower in my life someday, some real life element that mirrors Stephen King’s epic tale, rather than the other way around. If so, I hope there are roses.

Hallow-WriMo – 11 Days Until Halloween

NaNoWriMo begins at midnight on November 1. I’m often up then, closing down the house after the last trick-or-treaters and eating Halloween snacks in front of a late night horror movie. I’ve usually gotten most of the makeup wiped off, and I’ve transitioned to ghost socks. I’ll be dreaming of starting my NaNoWriMo story.

I’ve actually already started because it’s been building in my head for several weeks now. Characters are fleshing out, and I am starting to see how they look, though they haven’t all revealed their names yet. A few locations are coming together.  The antagonist is starting to talk and he’s pretty grumpy. The main character is pretty antagonistic, herself.

My writing will begin later on November 1, after the sun has come up, but I’m excited about it already. I want to get to that scene I see in my head, where the main character is exasperated about cleaning up the blood. I can’t wait to hear her pitch a fit as I write about her.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, look me up and send me a note at “Leaves and Cobwebs.” I’d love to hear how your stories are going, too.

Quiet Horror – 12 Days Until Halloween

I grew up reading Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and I still adore them. Some day their language is overblown, but I love how their lavish descriptions overwhelm me. Their stories are more horrifying for how they make me feel crushed beneath moldering walls and surrounded by alien angles.  Something monstrous is usually threatening to overtake their narrators, and I hold my breath waiting for it to come.

When I see old buildings, their windows covered, my mind runs with the possibilities of what could be lurking behind them.  The buildings may be abandoned, but somehow they don’t seem empty.  I want to see the curtain twitch.  I want to see a shadow move behind them.

One of the presentations by Sidney Williams at the Florida Writers Conference was on quiet horror, those stories with a feeling of creeping terror.  It’s the form of horror fiction that I love to write (and read).  I want a reader to sense something is off, something wrong is happening. They’ll sense something is waiting for them to come closer, but they won’t be able to identify it in time. The unknown, the inability to escape, will make it even scarier.

October Is For Writing Conferences – 15 Days Until Halloween

It is an amazing feeling to write a scene, even a sentence, that gives you a little thrill.  I enjoy writing spooky stuff, and those thrills come when I feel like I’ve written a scene that is particularly gruesome or I’ve managed to capture a character’s reaction to the horrific thing that is happening.  It makes me pull away from the keyboard and make delighted spirit fingers.

If I describe my excitement to someone who doesn’t write, they often look puzzled.  From the outside, I’m just someone sitting at a computer who suddenly gets giddy for no apparent reason.  If only they could see the events that are happening in my head!

That’s one of the important things about writing conferences for me.  When I talk about that feeling to other writers, they get it.  They get excited along with me, and they share their experiences with writing a delicious scene that defined their character or the make-believe world they are creating.

The motto of the Florida Writers Association is “Writers Helping Writers,” and the  Florida Writers Conference is this weekend.  The panels cover topics from the craft of writing and the writing life, to the business of representation and publishing.  One my favorite events is the daily Genre Breakfast.  If you come to the conference, come sit with me and the other speculative fiction writers, and we’ll talk about how to make our fantastic worlds seem “real.”

Writing In Graveyards – 22 Days Until Halloween

I was raised to love graveyards.

I was raised on classic horror movies and their eerie graveyards, filled with rolling mist.  My parents bought me horror comics and introduced me to Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King in elementary school.  We had the full encyclopedia of Man, Myth, and Magic, and I would lean against the bookshelf for hours, reading and marveling over the illustrations.

I was also raised to appreciate the beauty of cemeteries and to collect the data on the monuments.  My mother taught me the etiquette of walking between graves.  She taught me to see patterns in the death dates when a war or sickness ran through a community.

There is a stillness to graveyards.  There is a sense of a place ruminating on its past.  And it’s a lovely place to spin tales.

The Power Of Writing Conferences – Recap Of #FHBF2015

I’m very glad I went to the Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writing Conference this year. I gained insight into my writing and new ideas for telling stories.

Thursday was a writing critique session. Participants submitted their first 10 pages of a work in early September, and we brought written comments for each other to the session. There were nine of us and the session leader, and most of them were memoir writers. Just three of us, myself included, had submitted fiction. Any reticence I had about not working with fiction writers dissipated when I read my group’s submissions. My fictional characters work through conflicts, interact with other characters with differing levels of success, and (hopefully) grow through their story. Memoirs are stories of the writer doing just that, sometimes in heart wrenchingly relatable ways.

I was lucky to work with such a diverse group. Our ages ranged from a high senior to a couple of self-labeled “old guys.” We came from different parts of the United States and overseas. We had many different careers and life experiences. The alchemy of the group worked. We had commonality in our backgrounds even if the particulars were different. We took different things from each others’ stories, interpreted characters’ motivations differently, and from that we discussed how these nuances made the stories more complex.

We need diverse stories because it opens us up to different experiences. But, diverse stories also show us as writers how we can touch readers in fundamental ways, even if their backgrounds are different from those described in the storyIMG_9407.

Friday was the writing conference, and something serendipitous happened during
my first session. Elizabeth Sims, a fiction and non-fiction writer, lead an exercise in a writing method she calls Stormwriting. I’ve used her method before, and darned if a horror story idea didn’t pop up. It was so distracting, I found a gorgeous corner bench to chase down the gruesome little idea through the following session. Now I just need to figure out if the main character is going to get past her little problem, or it will just get worse.

If you live near Florida, I recommend you attend the Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writing Conference next year.  And join a writing critique session if you are working on something – the feedback will show aspects of your story to you in new and different ways.

Insights From My First Short Story Contest (II)

I’m continuing with my post about entering my first short story contest, and I’m sharing happy news. I attended the Lake County Bookfest last week, where they announced that my short story will be published in an electronic compilation along with eleven others. Though I wasn’t chosen as a winner or honorable mention in the short story contest, I’m very excited that my story will be included in the collection, and I have a couple more insights to share about the experience.

Fortune favors the brave:
For the first time in a long time, I was shy about having strangers read what I wrote. I write at work all the time. I have participated in writing groups and enjoyed sharing my writing.  So, I was surprised by how nervous I felt about submitting. It came at the very end, when I’d mostly finished editing and only felt like I needed to proof the story. Then I picked it up and suddenly had lost all perspective. I couldn’t tell whether it flowed well, or whether emotions and motivations were clear. I could blame this on being unexpectedly rushed, but it was more than that. I cared about submitting a good story, and I had to go on faith that it worked as well as I’d thought it had previously. Then, I proofed it, checked the submission guidelines again, and submitted.

Trying is the opposite of failing:
Ok, I knew this one. It’s a central tenet of my value system. I was short-listed, but I didn’t get the reward of that private meeting. I did get written critiques from the judges, though, and these were very insightful. I’m pleased that my story was selected for the electronic compilation, but I’m even more proud that I entered the contest at all.  Despite being nervous, despite feeling stressed and having to scramble at the end, I made the time and put my story out there for review. It won’t be the last time, but it was the first time.

Tell me about your experiences with entering writing contests. Do you have any insights or realizations to share?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Insights From My First Short Story Contest (I)

I’m taking a break today from poetry and spooky shorts to share my recent experience with entering a short story contest. This was the first short story that I’d submitted to a contest, and I went into the experience thinking it was a good way to push myself to do something new, to take the next step. Now that the results are in, I realize I’ve learned more than I expected, and I thought you may enjoy my insights.

Plan to submit as early as possible:
I’d worked out most of my story edits well before the story deadline and put it away to simmer a bit. A few more things came to me and I’d planned to make final edits the week before the deadline. However, life threw some surprises at me that week. Suddenly it was the last day the contest was open, and I was driving out of town to take care of some unexpected personal business. When I got back, I holed up in a coffee shop for the last crucial hours. The whole thing ran way too late for my own comfort. Despite all my planning, I submitted nearly at the end. I don’t want that frantic experience again.

Be ready for unexpected emotions:
My last minute scramble made me realize that I was surprisingly emotionally invested in the contest. I didn’t care about winning, but the finalists won an individual meeting with an agent and published author. I was hoping to have that meeting. I was hoping for the validation of being chosen, being good enough, to warrant such a meeting.  And I was hoping to get objective, professional feedback on my writing.  The agent and author work in the genre I write, and so I was especially excited for that.

I’ll finish this up in an upcoming post. Tell me about your experiences with entering writing contests. Do you have any insights or realizations to share?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

The Words

THE WORDS
by Victoria Nations

The little girl held up her hands and willed the books to come to her. When they stayed on the shelves, she wasn’t disappointed. She figured it might work someday, the way the words came to her. If the words came to her, perhaps someday whole books would fly to her outstretched hands.

She didn’t call the words to her. They just came.

When she told her parents the words crawled on the pages like ants, they took her to an eye doctor. The doctor found a minor correction at the pressing of her parents, so she wore glasses with thin lenses.

When she bent over the words, the glasses slid a bit down her nose. When they got too far, she lifted her hand to push them back up. But she had to be very careful not to smudge them with ink.

The words didn’t frighten her. Nothing she read really frightened her. Sometimes the words made her giggle, the way they scampered over her fingers. Sometimes she could feel her heart race when they startled her and all ran at once. Sometimes they made her sad, the way they stumbled after running for too long. They moved slower and slower, until they lost their shape and covered her fingers.

She tried to keep the words with her as long as she could, until her parents clucked at the dirt under her nails and made her wash them clean.