All of a sudden, I seem to be a very busy writer. In December, I had stories published in two different anthologies and in January I released my new story “Lily Dean” on Amazon. Yesterday, February 2, I found out my story “Tumbling Down” was accepted for the Sirens Call Publications’ Women in Horror Month ezine.

I’m tickled pink of course and energized to write even more, even better stories. I’m working on a re-do of the story Mesmer which is also part of the Freaked Out series, and has a new cover created by Jeffrey Kosh. Also, I’ll be re-releasing Marie, the first story in the series, with a new cover by Kosh. Eventually, six stories about circus freaks, all with beautiful coordinating covers made by Kosh. Hurray!

I’m also trying to write a chapter for a possible collaboration with my good friend, Robert Rumery. Rob’s writing a nifty story about demons, vampires, demon hunters and all kinds of battles and violence. We’re trying to see if I can work with him on this project. It sounds like a good match but we shall see!

And of course I’m working on the fourth story for the Freaked Out series. This one is called Smudge, about a tattooed man whose tattoos tend to fade away then reappear elsewhere on his body. Plenty of oohs and aahs and how’s that happen? And then one little tattoo gets  a mind of its own and puts Smudge through hell.

My goal with the Freaked Out series is to have all six stories released by mid-summer, then hopefully, combine them into one novel-length book, and try to get a publisher interested. If not, hey, I still will have six entertaining short stories out there!

But the biggest project for 2014, and one I have done very little work on, is a novel. Yes, this is the Year of the Novel in Lori’s World. I’m planning to write a zombie novel, set in the prairies of my home state of Nebraska. Trust me, I’m tired of the same old zombie stories, too, so this one will have quite a few  twists. I’ll let you know how it’s progressing!

In addition to writing, an author has interviews, release parties, helping other writers out with beta reading, and much more to do. Just keeping myself organized is a big job and I wish I had a secretary. Dream on! Writing is not lucrative and the last thing I’d be able to afford is a secretary, but a girl can dream!

I’ve also been discovering oodles of awesome new authors lately. It’s like I walked into a brand new bookstore and voila! every book is wonderful! My writer friends and their beautiful words keep me inspired.

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Tough love and chocolate

Do you want to know what strikes fear into the heart of your intrepid horror writer? The woman who writes horror stories about zombies and serial killers? The woman who rubs her hands in glee at the idea of the Zombie Apocalypse? What scares HER? Well, a little thing called backing up her computer files.

Hey, how could you know? I didn’t know it myself until some writerly friends were talking about how vital it was to have not just one backup, but two or even three. They had gone through external hard drives, zip drives, thumb drives, etcetera and then they started talking about the “Cloud.” I had to come clean. I raised my hand tentatively. “I’ve never backed up my files.”

It was as if I had finally admitted I’d never learned the alphabet. Everyone was aghast, making “tch, tch” sounds and clutching their pearls. There were varying degrees of heat to their reactions, but it boiled down to “Get thee to your backup system, post haste!” I did much promising and explaining and feeling rather backwards.

My computer holds all my writing, all versions of every piece of work I’ve done. Sometimes, I can’t find the “perfect” edited copy of a story. I can only find the one where I spelled my character’s name wrong or the one where I left out six paragraphs. Sometimes, I print out my writing, for editing purposes, but I usually just trash the print copy when I’m done editing. So, as I said, no backup.

And of course, being me, I am a little too embarrassed to ask anyone HOW to backup my files. Even though it’s important, even though I know I stand to lose so much should my computer commit suicide, even though I know I promised my lovely friends I would do it, I haven’t had the guts to ask someone how to backup my files. Is it a one-by-one process? Do you just copy your whole documents folder? Does it involve bloodletting or anesthesia? Do I dare wear white after Labor Day?

I’ll probably google it later today, because I’m determined to backup my files. Not just my writing files, but also the hundreds of photos I have on my computer. I may have skewed values, but those photos would be a huge loss, maybe bigger than my writing. At least most of my writing is either published or not that far along in the process that re-creating it would be a huge effort.

But this is the year I write a novel, so I better freaking learn to backup my work, right? Imagine losing an entire manuscript? I’d end up in the happy house, wearing that fashionable snug white jacket I’ve had my eye on lately.

My friends are invited to bully me into getting things backed up. Call me an idiot, wish ill upon me, tell me about your best friends’ uncle’s neighbor who lost his entire twelve-volume fantasy epic and DIDN’T HAVE A BACKUP! I need tough love, man. Tough love and chocolate.

About that writer’s group

My latest experiment in writing was to join a writer’s group. At this point, I consider it a mistake, or maybe the better way to say it is “it just wasn’t for me”. 

It was a small group, just two other people, who’ve been meeting for a year, working on each other’s writing, polishing up their words and enjoying it, it seemed to me. They told me right off that they are tough and they were not kidding. The first sample I gave them came back so full of red marks, I could barely read my words.

Let me tell you about me: I was a kid who loved school, loved writing essays, never minded writing that 10-page report. I loved it. At college, I received one B in my major (communications, journalism), the rest were As. I’m not used to seeing my writing riddled with edit marks.

I won awards for my writing while in college and as a professional newspaper reporter. I was told over and over that I could write.

So, based on that flimsy evidence, I figured I could write. I’ve sold a couple short stories, and I’ve published two on Amazon. I’ve had good reviews. Still, I’m thinking I can write, you know? I had a few rejection letters, but none said, “you can’t write”.

Then I went to writer’s group and found out I don’t write very well after all. I mean, I write OKAY but not well. I tell a good story, but my writing ain’t too swell. My characters are good, but I just need to work on my writing. The other writers were looking forward to reading the rest of the story, but I really needed to fix a lot of things.

The first night I took it pretty well. Even in the car on the way home, I thought, “wow, I am really learning a lot.” And then the second week, my REVISED copy got the same red ink treatment.

I’m not a quitter; I’m really not. But I had to quit the writing group. I’m not built to take a weekly beat-down. I’ve been criticized as being too sensitive and you know what? I am sensitive. I don’t just sit down and peck a bunch of keys and consider it good writing. I work on my stories. They’re read and re-read. An experienced author had even edited the particular story I shared with the writing group.

So I was frustrated that I missed all these “mistakes” in my story and I was frustrated that the editor missed them, and I was just plain fed up with writing and editing and to hell with it.

I’m still beating myself up a bit over quitting the group, but it’s just not helping me. In fact, I found myself doubting every word I wrote and rethinking some things I’ve written that I’ve sold. I’ll never get anywhere with that amount of self-doubt hanging over me. So I have to shake it off and go back to thinking “I can write”.  If I can’t believe in myself, I can’t write.

I’d love to hear from other authors about their experiences with writing groups. I know they work great for some folks. Please share your experiences here.

 

I’ll think about it

I don’t know what went wrong. Maybe I was too needy, maybe I just missed that day in learning to be a person class? Who cares? The problem is that I’m an overthinker. I think twice, I think again, I muddle it over, I brood, I fret, I stew, I look at it from a different angle, then all the other angles and then I make up some angles. The glass is half-full, half-empty, empty with lots of sludge in the bottom that I ain’t drinking, no way! 

Buying our house was an exercise in overthinking brought to a whole new level and, not to brag, but I think I might have mentally broken my therapist, my realtor and several close friends. We had a house, but I hated the house. It was upside down, no, not sitting on the peak of the roof, silly, the mortgage was upside down which meant we had to sell it for a tad more than it was worth. HA! Well, we hated the place, it was hard for us to imagine that happening. After killing ourselves emotionally over that issue, we decided to buy this house — my dream house, by the way. Long story short, last night, seven months after moving in, I asked my husband, in all seriousness, “Are you sure we should have bought this house?” There was a brief struggle where I pried his hands from around my neck, then some talk of a divorce, but ultimately he  reassured me that we made the right choice. And he fell back to sleep since it was 3 a.m. and he had been sleeping. 

I did the same thing about starting writing and still do it now that I am officially a writer. I read a lot of books about how-to-write, which by the way, is the greatest gig in the world. Stephen King’s On Writing is considered a great example of a how to write book. You know what you could ALSO do? Read his books. Because they are how he learned to write. He wrote those books. Anyway, I love to read how-to-write books and so I did. And I still didn’t write. When I felt like writing, I read one of those books. And if I got REALLY revved up about writing, I took a writing seminar/course/conference. I took notes, I listened to how other people learned to write and I heard all about people who wrote for 25 years before selling one stinking word. I would go home definitely un-revved up and rethink the whole writing idea. Maybe I couldn’t do it after all. No matter that I wasn’t working on it, didn’t have my ass in the seat in front of the computer, putting down words. No, I was thinking it over. And over. Because I did not want to fail. 

I have failed many times. I’m kind of tired of thinking about how many times I fail, but, yeah, I have that overthinking problem. So I was afraid of failing. I still am. I send out a story to an anthology, I wish I could take it back and fix it. If they accept it, I wonder if maybe it’s not such a great anthology if they accepted something I wrote. Sigh. You would think all this thinking would make me stupid and yes, it has, at times. I’ve not submitted to anthos, out of fear. I’ve erased entire stories because I think they’re not  good enough.

Ultimately, I do take a wild leap of faith and send out my stories, or publish them on Amazon myself. That’s the right thing to do. The over-thinking is not good. I see people do it all the time, reading a lot of how-to-write books, talking about writing, talking to writers, but not writing. Or not sending their little babies out into the world for others to read and enjoy. Life’s short and there are too many other things vying for our attention. Writers have to just make the move and send that sucker out there. And forget about it until you hear from the editor. Then you are allowed to think about it again. Now, go write and stop thinking so much, already. 

Back to the Beginning

I always think of selling my first story to an epublisher as the point where I became a writer but my parents remember it differently. They say that I became a writer the day I found out I’d won the local newspaper’s annual short story contest, way back in junior high.

My English teacher, whose name I have totally forgotten, brought the contest to my attention and she had to do a lot of talking to even convince me to enter the contest. She was pleased for me when I told her I had won, and she said “You’re a writer!”

Anyway, she had edited my story and deemed it ready to submit. I sent it in and a month passed, and I gave up. My mom kept saying “I think you’re going to win! Just be patient!” But the deadline passed and I hadn’t been contacted. Then one day the phone rang and HELLO! You are our winner!

I screamed like most teenage girls do when they’re excited, then gave the caller (probably some poor reporter stuck doing the story) all my information and was told to come to the paper soon and get my photo taken. I did so and about a week later, there I was, in the newspaper! I was actually a published writer, with a short story, byline, even a photo. Okay, about that photo. Obviously, someone smudged the negative or something, because I swear I have never been that ugly in my entire life. It was like winning the team ball and it deflates before you get it home.

But I did not let it get me down, I was still proud of myself for winning.

And when that poor reporter asked me “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I didn’t stutter — “A journalist.” Waaaait a minute! Where did that come from? Never thought of it before that day. But I kinda liked this writing thing and having my picture taken sucked, but the little interview was cool. I could do this.

So that’s what my parents see as the beginning of my writing career — the day I screamed “I won! I won! Mom, I won!” while still holding the phone by my mouth so that the reporter probably suffered a hearing impairment forever after.

It was a cute little story about our dog at the time, Max. He was a “Cockapoo,” which we were told is a combination cockeer spaniel and poodle. He had extremely curly fur and hated to be brushed, bathed, trimmed or basically touched in any way. We all had plenty of funny stories about trying to groom the little furball, so I kinda mushed them together and it made everyone laugh and I won.

So a long time ago, I was encouraged by ONE teacher! And my parents! and 30-some years later, I really am a published author. I was going to scan the story in here, but then I remembered that dreadful picture. You all can just use your imagination, it was an awesome story.

Oops! I almost forgot to tell you about the prize! I received a princely sum of $25 for my story. I was beyond impressed! That seemed like a lot of money back then! I bought some gaucho pants with the money, much to my mom’s chagrin. She wanted me to save the money wisely. Not this shop-a-holic! I got clothes!

 

Everyone has a story

Working as a newspaper reporter, I learned that everyone has a story to tell. Everyone is interesting in some way or has had interesting things happen to them. Sometimes, they would just as soon keep their story untold, but most people, I’ve found, need little more than a “how are you today?” to spill their guts. 

In my hometown, it’s not unusual to meet a senior citizen who worked at the bomber plant where the Enola Gay was built. The former owner of our new house worked there and I have his tool box from those days. My husband’s grandfather worked there too. 

So you meet these men and women who spent their days building planes that would drop bombs on the enemy in World War II. The Enola Gay would ultimately drop the atom bomb on Japan. I like talking to the old folks about Martin’s Bomber Plant, but I hate the idea that I know people who, usually through necessity, worked to put planes in the air that would eventually kill so many in such a horrific way. 

OK, we’re all entitled to our opinion, but if you want that story, put your opinion on the back burner and just let them talk. Try to put yourself in that time, in that person’s shoes. Jobs were scarce, we were at war, we had been attacked, for the first time, on American soil. So shut up and let them talk. You already know your story, you want to hear a new one. 

So now I just told you my story. I used to be a reporter and I love finding new stories and writing them down, kind of spreading the story around so it doesn’t get forgotten. I hear writers say all the time “Write what you know.” I guess I would agree with that. It would be easier, that’s for sure, for me to write about a female newspaper reporter than it would be to write from the viewpoint of a Buddhist monk. Or a man. 

But I’m hanging on to all those stories I gathered, the stories I wrote for the paper, as well as all the stories I’ve heard throughout my life. My dad is a wonderful storyteller. He’s got a good ear for dialogue, and he knows how  to hit the dramatic moments just right. I learn from him every time we talk. 

I just took one of my dad’s family legends (a story I’ve heard many times over the years) and changed it into a horror story. It sold, too! Writing that story is a proud moment for me, because that legend never had an ending. One night my father (age 14 or so) and some other men went searching for a woman who, for no reason anyone ever discovered, took off running through the woods. She was pregnant and there was a lot at stake, so everyone was out in the dark Ozark woods looking for her.

The group of men my dad was with went to an abandoned farm to look for her. Before they could get to the house, the old cellar door started opening and shutting, scaring the search party half to death. They went to check if  the woman was in the cellar and she wasn’t. Nothing was in the cellar. They went on home, creeped out of course and discovered the woman had been found safe and sound. But I always wanted to know, why the heck did that cellar door flap open and shut? And how? A cellar door is heavy, a wind doesn’t just set it to flapping. So I sat down and made up some big lies and I had a nice horror story.

My dad liked the story, by the way, except “you got a little carried away there at the end.” By which he means the parts I added to HIS story. That’s okay. I like my ending, and I’ve been holding onto that story all my life. 

Stories don’t always lead to a good writing experience, sometimes they’re just annoying and small-minded. Or as boring as watching the grass grow. So I just collect most of them, keep them tucked away in my brain. Friends know I like to talk and I like to tell a good story, like my dad does. 

Now I’m just learning and finally accomplishing my goal of taking those bits and pieces of stories and writing what I know. Maybe add some made-up stuff, a few little embellishments, maybe make a coward into a brave man, or a housewife into a zombie hunter. 

All I know is that just like everyone else, I have stories to tell. I hope I get to send those stories out into the world for more people to read. That’s the  goal of every writer, to get that book or story out there for others to read. So wish me luck. I’m feeling feisty this week, after selling that story I built on top of my dad’s old legend.

This coming week, I am writing a story about a snake charmer who was raised in the snake-handling churches back in the Appalachian Mountains. No, I’m not afraid of snakes, but I am a bit afraid of people who think it’s a good idea to pick up poisonous snakes for the purposes of worshipping God. So let me get back to writing and see what I can do with this story.