Nuggets for October

This is the very best analysis of how to write subtext that I've ever read.

Another one from KM Weiland. She's on fire with this post about how to pick the right antagonist.

Janice Hardy has a post on Anne R. Allen's blog about how to fix that unfinished novel. Good thoughts to help you analyze what wrong.

Thoughts on how get from one scene to the next

Coming up with a title can be hard. This may help.

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Snyder

But here’s my little trade secret that I put into every All Is Lost moment just for added spice, and it’s something that many hit movies have. I call it the whiff of death. I started to notice how many great movies use the All Is Lost point to kill someone. Obi Wan in Star Wars is the best example — what will Luke do now?? All Is Lost is the place where mentors go to die, presumably so their students can discover “they had it in them all along.” The mentor’s death clears the way to prove that. But what if you don’t have an Obi Wan character? What if death isn’t anywhere near your story? Doesn’t matter. At the All Is Lost moment, stick in something, anything that involves a death. It works every time. Whether it’s integral to the story or just something symbolic, hint at something dead here. It could be anything. A flower in a flower pot. A goldfish. News that a beloved aunt has passed away. It’s all the same. ~ Blake Snyder

Tuesday ~ The Haunting of Hill House

I first became aware of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson when I was about ten and saw the movie (the original 1963 version, not the remake which is total crap.) This is, in my opinion, the best of the best when one is talking about ghost stories and haunted houses. A true classic.

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Hill House has an impressive list of tragedies connected with it, but then, most old houses have. People have to live and die somewhere, after all, and a house can hardly stand for eighty years without seeing some of its inhabitants dies within its walls.

Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! To see what others are sharing on the Teaser Tuesdays, check the comments at:

Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea

Thursday Writing Quote ~ McKee

You must do it this way.” A principle says, “This works … and has through all remembered time. ~ Robert McKee

Tuesday Teaser ~ Anna Dressed in Blood

Though I'm a few years behind the curve in reading Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, I love finding something new in the horror field.

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.

Anna Dressed in Blood is a 2011 Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year title.
One of NPR's Top 5 Young Adult Novels of 2011.

The grease-slicked hair is a dead giveaway--no pun intended.
So is the loose and faded leather coat. though not as much as the sideburns. And the way he keeps nodding and flicking his Zippo open and closed in rhythm with his head. He belongs in a chorus line of dancing Jets and Sharks.

I jerk my head toward Thomas and immediately curse myself for trying to be a smartass. My head is not healthy enough for smartassery.

Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! To see what others are sharing on the Teaser Tuesdays, check the comments at:

Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea

Shopping for that Impossible-to-Buy-for Friend - the cat lover's edition

So last month, I posted about finding the perfect gift for hard-to-buy for people (like me), and I promised more posts on the subject. This month, I'm going to focus on the cat lover because I know a little something about the subject (being one myself.)

First comes my disclaimer: I've never seen any one product work for all cats. No, not even a spray bottle. (I think my cat thinks it's a game.)

Cat trees are always interesting for cats. They can range from quite simple to very elaborate. Amazon even has some for under $25. You should definitely read reviews when buying one, with an eye for something solid. You don't want one that wobbles when your cat jumps from level to level.

I only recently became aware of nail caps for cats, so I don't have first hand experience with it yet, but it's an interesting idea. The friend of a friend who has used them said she had her vet put them on her cat, and so far, she likes them. I don't know how often they'd have to be replaced. And I suspect they wouldn't work for my cat (he's a chewer. I can't imagine him leaving them alone.)

They come in all kinds of colors and are also available for dogs. Best of all they're inexpensive, so it's not a huge risk to try them. If you do, please let me know how your experience went.

Cat Scratch Guards furniture protector - I don't have experience with this particular product, but I want to. Cats have a need to sharpen their claws. The only sure fire cure is getting them declawed, but even though my cat is a strictly indoor cat who seems to have no interest in going outdoors, I can't convince myself to do it. That means I have to look for other ways to defend my furniture. This product has good reviews, so it looks promising. Even if it's not exactly what you want, you can check out the related products on Amazon's page.

The Scat Cat Mat is a product I have experience with and I love it. My cat thinks a spray bottle is a game, a race to see who's faster, him or me with the bottle. I couldn't keep him off the counters or the table. And even if I could when I was around, cats understand they can get away with things "when she isn't looking." This can be run off a 9-volt battery and has three settings (the highest will deter even large dogs) or you can buy an AC adapter. It delivers a little zing intermittently and cats don't like it. And in the training stages, it even provides entertainment.

Litter boxes aren't something I usually get excited about, but I have one of these and, as litter boxes go, I love it. You simply roll the box to the right and all the dirty litter goes into the drawer you then remove and empty. Yes, there are electric ones out there that scrape the litter every time the cat uses it, but I have a friend who bought one of those early on and it kept breaking. It was on warranty, so she got several replacement ones until she finally gave up on it. Maybe they've gotten better. I haven't felt the need to check because this is so easy to use. They also come in a larger size.

I have a food bin for my cat's dry food. Why? you might wonder. Because my cat will chew through the bag to get at the Iams. Yes, I have a chewer. Amazon delivery boxes cannot sit around my house because my cat will turn them into confetti. So I got this. It was actually a birthday present. Something I asked for because... you know... I'm that hard-to-buy-for friend.

I love that it has wheels, so I can roll it forward to fill it.

Crinkle Fish are one of those toys that I can personally attest that your cat will love. Or not. I cat-sat a cat named Walter for the better part of year who absolutely adored these things. He would effectively elbow my cat out of the way to get to them and he would carry them all over the house to play with them. Somewhere in my house, there is a pile of these, but I can't find them. Once I left the drawer where I stashed these just a little bit open and the next thing I knew, the fish, card and all, was on the living room floor because Walter had to have them. Sadly, Puss is more take-it-or-leave-it about these. Maybe because Walter never gave him a chance at them. Or probably because there really is no universal cat toy. In any case, they're cheap, so it's not going to create a financial hardship to try them.

If there IS a universal cat toy, it's catnip. I've been told that a small percentage of cats don't show an interest in it, but frankly, I've never met one.

And a clip of a catnip overdose seems like a great way to end this post.

Would love to hear from anyone who has a cat toy that's popular with your cat. Or your dog.

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Farrell

All adventure stories need antagonists to challenge the heroes. These can be natural enemies – sea storms, breaking dams, great white sharks – human enemies, or both. To add as much excitement as possible, you need to show why these opponents are so dangerous. ~ Tish Farrell

Tuesday Teaser/Opening ~ Heart-Shaped Box

There's little I like better than a good ghost story, and with Halloween on the horizon, it's the perfect time for me to re-read. Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill.

Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals . . . a used hangman's noose . . . a snuff film. An aging death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can't help but reach for his wallet.
I will "sell" my stepfather's ghost to the highest bidder. . . .
For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man's suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn't afraid. He has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts—of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What's one more?

But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It's the real thing.

And suddenly the suit's previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door . . . seated in Jude's restored vintage Mustang . . . standing outside his window . . . staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting—with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand. . . .

Jude had a private collection.
He had framed sketches of the Seven Dwarfs on the walls of his studio, in between his platinum records. John Wayne Gacy had drawn them while he was in jail and sent them to him. Gacy liked golden-age Disney almost as much as he liked molesting little kids; almost as much as he liked Jude's albums.

He understood that the ghost existed first and foremost within his own head. That maybe ghosts always haunted minds, not places. 

How about it? Are you ready for a good Halloween read?

Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Snyder

To be a screenwriter is to deal with an ongoing tug of war between breathtaking megalomania and insecurity so deep it takes years of therapy just to be able to say “I’m a writer” out loud. ~ Blake Snyder

Tuesday Teaser/Opening ~ The Harrowing

It's that time of year--the run up to Halloween--when my thoughts turn to horror. I'm rather picky with horror, so I'm mostly rereading some of my favorite scary reads. I'm especially fond of ghost stories, so that's likely to dominate my reading for the coming weeks.

I'm starting with The Harrowing byAlexandra Sokoloff. It's got a creepy eerie vibe through most of the book. I recall being less enthusiastic about the ending that I was about the rest of the book, but it has a lovely creepy vibe through most of it, and the ending wasn't all that bad (as I recall). Horror is perhaps the hardest genre to get the ending right, so I'm willing to revisit this because I really liked the eerie sensation that present through most of the book.

Baird College's Mendenhall echoes with the footsteps of the last home-bound students heading off for Thanksgiving break, and Robin Stone swears she can feel the creepy, hundred-year-old residence hall breathe a sigh of relief for its long-awaited solitude. Or perhaps it's only gathering itself for the coming weekend.

As a massive storm dumps rain on the isolated campus, four other lonely students reveal themselves: Patrick, a handsome jock; Lisa, a manipulative tease; Cain, a brooding musician; and finally Martin, a scholarly eccentric. Each has forsaken a long weekend at home for their own secret reasons.

The five unlikely companions establish a tentative rapport, but they soon become aware of a sixth presence disturbing the ominous silence that pervades the building. Are they the victims of a simple college prank taken way too far, or is the unusual energy evidence of something genuine---and intent on using the five students for its own terrifying ends? It's only Thursday afternoon, and they have three long days and dark nights before the rest of the world returns to find out what's become of them. But for now it's just the darkness keeping company with five students nobody wants and no one will miss.

---- Nominated for the Bram Stoker and Anthony Award for Best First Novel ---- 

It had been raining since possibly the beginning of time.
In the top tier of the cavernous psychology hall Robin Stone had long since given up on the lecture. She sat hunched in her seat, staring out arched windows at the downpour, feeling dreamily disconnected from the elemental violence outside, despite the fact that every few minutes the wind shook the building hard enough to rattle the glass of the windowpanes.

Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea

Real-Life Plot Holes and Fake Narrative

I have a policy that my politics and religious beliefs should not be part of my platform as a writer, but with the fuss Donald Trump's comments on immigration created when he first threw his hat in the ring, it got me thinking about the issue of illegal immigration again. I've always felt there was something a little dicey about the entire issue, but this time, I must have had my writer's hat on because I realized that there's a plot hole in the narrative.

So before I really dig into this, let me make a couple of things clear. I am by training, a cynic. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for making me a critical thinker.) I don't trust either political party. I don't trust individual politician. Too often, they say one thing in public but their votes say something else. The Democratic party gets heat from me because for most of the last sixty years or so, they've been the dominant party in congress and the country is a mess. The Republican party gets heat from me because, when they do come to power, they mill around like idiots who never expected to win and have no game plan, and then when they do settle in, they're no better at solving problems than the democrats. At the voting booth, it makes me feel as though I'm picking between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

I'm also a contrarian, which means I tend to lean away from popular explanations.

So don't think I'm coming down on the Democrats here because of party affiliation. I'm coming down on them because they've had the power to fix this problem (hey, they passed the Affordable Health Care Act [aka Obamacare] without a single Republican vote). So why couldn't they fix the immigration problem? The obvious answer is: they didn't want to.

So how does this become a plot hole?

Well, that boils down to the word "illegal."

What makes something illegal? That's simple. It's against the law. Who makes the laws? Congress.

For as long as this has been an issue, I've heard a number of argument for these people being here. The big one seems to be that they do work Americans won't. That farmers need the migrant workers to pick their crops. There are probably others, but I stopped listening to them ages ago. I'm not going to argue whether the reasons are legitimate because it's a complex issue and it has nothing to do with plot holes. But my logic says if Congress believes there are good reasons to allow these people into the country, they should hammer out an immigration policy that allows them to come here LEGALLY. (Remember, they're the ones who have the power of defining what's legal and what isn't.)

So the second question becomes WHY haven't they?

Again, the obvious answer is: because they don't want to.

So Congress wants the people here, and they want them here as illegals.

If I read that in a book, their motives would be suspect.

Here's another plot hole.

I recently read The Demon You Know: A Demon Hunting Soccer Mom Short Story (Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom)
by Julie Kenner

. Here's a summary of the book:

The Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series features Kate Connor, a retired demon hunter and mom of two forced back into business when a demon crashes through her kitchen window.

Now Mom has been retired for several years and is out of practice, so she signs up for a self-defense course to sharpen her skills. She also signs up her fourteen year old daughter, but it's almost an afterthought. Really? This is a woman who knows there are demons out there and didn't put her daughter in some kind of self-defense course long ago?

Now there aren't demons in our world, but according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 23% of women who have "experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age." ( And that's statistic doesn't even count violence from a stranger.

And yet girls aren't routinely taught self defense.

What does that tell us about how deeply we as a society really believe "our children are our future."

Lip service is what I call it.

It would be so easy to integrate self defense into PE classes and it would certainly be more useful than playing girls' basketball which is what I remember from eight grade PE.

Trust me. The youngest generation in my immediate family is going to be better prepared. I've already looked into it and you can enroll four year olds in Tai Kwan Do.

Which brings up what our farce of a justice system does with offenders.

I have a friend in Washington whose second husband molested her eleven year old daughter. Bless her, the moment my friend found out, she booted him. And then she pressed charges. His sentence? Probation. And he was told to stay away from minors. Yeah, that should teach him. But then he started dating a woman with a young daughter. They did catch him and haul him back to court, but all they did was scold him. Yes, our children are our future. And if you believe that, I have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn you can buy cheap.