Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Interview With Lilly Gayle

Interview with Lilly Gayle

Today we welcome Lilly Gayle, the author of the phenomenally popular paranormal, Out of the Darkness, and a very good friend. I’m so privileged and happy to host this interview. I’ve known Lilly for many, many years and she is a valued critique partner and talented writer. So without further ado, here is Lilly Gayle!

Amy: I’m so pleased to interview you today, Lilly. Can you tell us a little something about what inspired you to become a writer?

Lilly: I guess it started in the 8th grade. My teacher, Miss Black had us use our spelling words in a short story. My story filled a spiral notebook. I was hooked on writing until I started college and life got in the way. I didn’t get the writing bug again until after my two girls were born. I began by writing stories for them. And I mentioned to my husband that I’d once wanted to be a writer. I must have mentioned it more times than I realized because in 1995, he bought me my first computer and told me to stop dreaming and start writing. My first attempts were half-hearted and aimed at children’s literature. But I realized I had to write what I loved to read. I completed my first novel in 1997 and it was so horrible, not a single copy exists today. But after 13 years of pursing publication, The Wild Rose Press released Out of the Darkness in May of this year. And it would never have happened without your valuable input and critiques or your suggesting I submit to TWRP. So, Thank you Amy!

Amy: What made you write about vampires? Is there anything about that myth that particularly resonates with you?

Lilly: When I was little, I loved Dark Shadows. I remember thinking Barnabas Collins wasn’t such a bad guy. He was just miserable and all he wanted was to be human again. After Dark Shadows, most other vampire movies were about evil vampires. Except Blade, but Wesley Snipes wasn’t really a vampire. He was a damphyr. Then there was the TV series, Angel. Angel was a vampire with a conscience but he still had a dark side. Cool premise. And it didn’t hurt that David Boreanaz is HOT. But I didn’t decide to write about vampires until the genre became popular And Barnabas kept whispering in my ear that he wanted to be human. Eventually, I listened to Barnabas and created Vincent Maxwell.

Amy: If you had to give one piece of advice to someone thinking about writing, what would that be?

Lilly: In the words of Jason Nesmith, aka Peter Quincy Taggart, aka Tim Alan from the movie, Galaxy Quest; “Never give up. Never surrender.” In the writing business, it isn’t always about talent. Sometimes, good stories never get published because the market is flooded with similar stories or the genre isn’t “hot” at the moment. Timing really is everything and timing and luck are co-conspirators. The only way to make it in this business is to keep writing and keep submitting and never stop learning the tools of your craft.

Amy: I love Out of the Darkness. How did you ever get the idea for that story?

Lilly: I have to credit author Dean Koontz. I loved his character Chris Snow in the Moonlight Bay trilogy. Chris has XP (xeroderma pigmentosum) a disease I knew nothing about until I read Mr. Koontz’s book. Then the Twilight series came out and everyone wanted to read about vampires. I put the two together and came up with Dr. Megan Harper, a woman seeking a cure for XP, the genetic light sensitivity disease that killed her sister and Vincent Maxwell, a vampire with conscience seeking a cure to his dark hunger. Then throw in my love affair with old movies and that movie Universal Soldier with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren where the government used dead Vietnam vets to create the perfect soldier, and you get Out of the Darkness.

Amy: Tell us about your writing process. Are you plot or character driven?

Lilly: Definitely plot driven. In fact, my trouble with characterization is the main reason I was rejected so many times before I was finally published. It took me some time to figure out that I couldn’t just make something happen to a character and then have the character react, I had to show (and not tell) why the character reacted the way he/she did. GMC. Goals, motivation, and conflict. I didn’t even know what that was when I first started writing.

Amy: If there’s one thing you hope readers will “take away” from your books, what would that be?

Lilly: That humans are fallible and imperfect and those who hold grudges carry an impossible burden. And that faith, hope and love can overcome just about any obstacle.

Amy: If this isn’t too personal, do you think your battle with cancer has changed you, or changed the type of story you choose to write?

Lilly: It definitely changed me. I used to have a bad temper. I never carried a grudge but if I was pissed, everyone knew it. I still have a tempter, but I’m slower to blow hot than I once was. And I forgive more easily than I did before. Life is too short to be angry or miserable. But I don’t think my battle with cancer changed the stories I write. It just made it easier for me to get into my character’s heads.

Amy: What are your working on, now?

Lilly: Into the Light, the sequel to Out of the Darkness.

Amy: Can you give us a brief taste of Out of the Darkness?

Lilly: Vincent Maxwell is a vampire with a conscience searching for a cure to his dark hunger. But when a scientist looking to create vampire soldiers captures and kills a fellow vampire, Vincent seeks out Dr. Megan Harper, a researcher seeking a cure for xeroderma pigmentosum, the light sensitivity disease that killed her sister.

When Megan meets Vincent, she believes he suffers from XP. Sensing a deep loneliness within the handsome man, Megan offers friendship and access to her research files. But they soon become more than friends and Megan learns she's entered the dark and unseen world of vampires and Vincent is her only hope of survival.

Here’s an excerpt.

EXCERPT From Out of the Darkness
“It’s been a long night,” she said. “I’d ask you to stay, but...” she glanced nervously up the stairs.

The knot in his gut loosened. He stepped closer. Her shoulder pressed into his arm just above his elbow. She tensed but didn’t move. “But you knew I couldn’t accept?” he asked softly.


“Yeah. Something like that.” She glanced nervously upward, finally meeting his eyes. She
looked wary. Afraid.

And oh so vulnerable.

He leaned in, his arm snaking around her waist, pulling her closer. Her muscles strained, but she didn’t resist as he drew her in and slowly lowered his head. “And would you have put me in your sister’s bed?” He raised a finger to trace the outline of her mouth.

She trembled, her breath escaping her parted lips in a breathy sigh. Warm air brushed his fingertips, stirring his senses. Heating his blood.

“I don’t know.” Her breasts rose and fell with each shuddering breath she took, her soft curves brushing the hard wall of his chest.

She pulled her plump bottom lip between her teeth and looked up with pleading eyes. Eyes that begged him to make the decision for her.

OUT OF THE DARKNESS: Available now from The Wild Rose Press-- Her research could cure his dark hunger if a covert government agent doesn't get to her first.

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A Final Note from Amy
Thanks Lilly! I loved having you here and hope we can "trade blogs" again soon.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Smelling the roses

Recently I took a two-day mini-vacation that was much needed due to heavy overtime demands, in addition to the usual, well, life events. While visiting the seashore, I was able to do a little bird and nature watching, and it occurred to me how many folks are simply unaware of their surroundings.

Or perhaps that's too harsh. It may be safer to say that often folks are so busy on their computers, cell phones, smart phones, televisions, and radios, that they've become divorced from nature. And that's too bad. It's dismal to think that the only "nature" they are involved with is that which is beamed out of their television set or computer via the Discovery or Travel channel.

But as I mentioned, my chessie, Molly, and I had the grand opportunity to get eaten alive by mosquitoes and explore North Carolina's magnificent Outer Banks. And we saw all kinds of cool and interesting stuff. I'll bet the folks who live there full time may not have even noticed some of it, so I thought I'd share.

We saw Salicornia or Saltwort in the salt marshes around Beaufort. Saltwort is normally green, but in the fall it turns a rich and vibrant red, as shown in this picture.

By one of the boat ramps, Molly and I were also surprised by a Marsh Rabbit hopping up to our car. After a few minutes it obviously decided we weren't that interesting after all and it went back into the fringe of woods by the ramp. Even Molly was too surprised to bark.

So take some time from your busy schedule and go outside, even if it's just to do some cloud gazing. You'd be amazed at "whats out there" and this time of year is vibrant with tons of color and interesting plants, animals and birds to watch.

With luck, I'll be able to cut myself loose again from work and get another mini-vacation by the sea. Even if my first chance comes in the dead of winter, it's worth it. Every season has its own beauty and surprises.


PS: on a final note, my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, just sent me my pre-release note for my paranormal, Vampire Protector, which will be out Nov 12! The paperback is already available for pre-order, so if you're looking for a spooky book for Halloween, you've come to the right place! There's a haunted house, vampires, and an old family secret that just won't stay buried...

If you're interested in watching the trailer, here is a link.

And finally, don't forget the CONTEST! You've only got one more week to enter the NOL Web Hunt. I'm offering a lovely heart necklace as one of the contest prizes, so be sure to check it out.

Good luck and spooky dreams!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Guest Blogger: Nancy Lynn Jarvis

Welcome Mystery Writer Nancy Lynn Jarvis...

Why would a Realtor turn to a life of murder and chocolate chip cookies?

I’m a real estate agent who is having so much fun killing people that I’ll probably never sell another house. I never planned to kill anyone and never intended to write anything other than enticing advertising copy for my listings, but in 2008 when the real estate market tanked and I couldn’t dispassionately tell clients their homes might not sell for what they owed on their mortgage, I decided to run away from the too-real world of foreclosures and short sales, take a time out, and pretend to be retired.

I quickly got bored and missed all the interesting people I met in real estate. Maybe because of that or maybe because my fallback mode was avoiding reality, as a purely time-filling intellectual exercise, I began to toy with the idea of writing a mystery.

The logic and careful structure of mysteries has fascinated me since the days when I sat in a wicker rocking chair at my grandmother’s house and read Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, sworn to secrecy in case my mother wouldn’t approve of a young girl reading something other than Nancy Drew.

Writing a mystery would be like solving a logic puzzle—Sudoku on steroids— and if that wouldn’t be fun enough, mystery writing would give me an excuse to delve into a world of fascinating but unsettling things like decomposition, accidental mummification, and how ligature strangulation and death by hypothermia work. Researching those topics would be akin to being a four-year-old playing with rubber dinosaurs: the game would be enjoyable, and I could control what might otherwise give me nightmares.

The idea of writing mysteries kept getting more appealing. I could take my twenty-plus years of situations—that’s a polite term for all those things that happen in the world of real estate that makes agents say, “I could write a book”—and use them for background. I could create a real estate agent protagonist named Regan McHenry who could be kind of like me, only younger, thinner, and more daring, and get back in touch with my favorite agents, clients, and associates by using them as inspiration for characters.

The murders in my books are made up, but the real estate stories are real—yes, Realtors do come across bodies in the course of doing business—so a Realtor who solves mysteries isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem.

And the cookies? Well, Realtors often bake cookies at open houses to entice buyers. It’s an old trick-of- the-trade. In the first book I wrote, The Death Contingency, Regan baked homemade cookies at an almost lethal open house. In Backyard Bones she baked cookies to take as comfort food to a client accused of murder. After Regan’s cookies appeared in two books, there had to be a recipe. When people visit my website they can not only read the beginnings of the books, they can also pick up a free recipe for “Mysterious Chocolate Chip Cookies.” The cookies make a cameo appearance in Buying Murder, the third book in the series, and will be in all future books.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis
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Thanks Nancy--I'm so glad we had a chance to find out about your books. I love mysteries, especially cozy ones, and these sound just like my cup of tea!
Amy Corwin

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tarot with Tina Whittle

I'm so honored today to have Tina Whittle as a guest. Tina is a brilliant mystery writer, as well as a professional tarot reader! Please welcome her and leave comments--I'm sure you'll find her as fascinating as I do...

Mystery Writer Tina Whittle and Reading Tarot
Mystery writing is not my only paying gig. I’m also a mother (although the paycheck doesn’t come in dollars), a freelance journalist, and a professional tarot reader. That last one may seem out-of-place, but it’s really the linchpin that holds the other two together, for while reading tarot for strangers enriches the pocket, reading for myself enriches my creative potential. After all, tarot accesses the subconscious wisdom available to each of us, the wellspring of human creativity, and I can’t think of a more necessary — and more versatile — tool in my writer’s toolkit.

Take the daily reading, for example. Among tarot readers, one way to keep in practice with the cards is to pull one card every morning and ponder it for a bit. I find that as I progress through my day, I notice all the little ways that each card’s special energy affects me. If I’m having a rough time writing — say, wrestling a bloated WIP into submission or pondering a particularly tricky plot point — tarot offers the clean lens of a new perspective.

Take the Seven of Cups, for example (pictured here as illustrated in the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck). The Seven of Cups depicts a situation any writer can relate to — that dreamy voluptuous reverie when the imagination is allowed free rein. Most of the time this card features a rather dumbstruck individual surrounded by clouds of fantastic images. Some of them look enticing: others appear mysterious, even frightening. None of them are real, however — they’re just the swirling, seductive raw material of the human mind.

As any writer will tell you, such expansive free-flowing exploration is a necessary part in the writing process. It primes the pump and stirs the creative juices. It’s also incredibly fun. For my novel The Dangerous Edge of Things, this meant soaking in the ambiance of Atlanta — sipping mojitos in Little Five Points, meandering the galleries of the High Museum, sinking into the supple leather of a Ferrari coupe. All decadent, but utterly necessary.

Of course, the Seven of Cups sometimes warns that you’re indulging in too much of a good thing. When this card shows up reversed — that is, upside down — I have to consider that it might be time to put down the highball glass and pull up the word processor. Inspiration can only take you so far — the rest requires good old-fashioned perspiration.

Sometimes if my morning card is particularly relevant, I’ll keep it displayed on my desk, as a reminder. One card that always inspires me is The Star (pictured here from Thalia Took’s tarot illustrations, which you can find at ). A card of hope, optimism and rejuvenation, The Star reminds me to keep my eyes on the horizon. It reassures me that while corrupted files and writer’s block and recalcitrant protagonists are certainly frustrating, this writing life also promises joy. Head up and eyes forward, says this card. And breathe. Breathing would be nice.

For me, tarot isn’t fortunetelling — it is, however, an excellent way to keep me on a productive and fulfilling creative path. The tarot’s symbols and images give my subconscious something to play with, and in return, it rewards me with knowledge that I didn’t know I possessed.

Try tarot for yourself. You don’t have to be a professional to reap the benefits; you just have to be open to your own intuition.

And a Brief Word About Tina...
Tina Whittle is a mystery writer living and working in Southeast Georgia. The Dangerous Edge of Things, her first novel, debuts February 2011 from Poisoned Pen Press. Set in contemporary Atlanta, The Dangerous Edge of Things is the first book in a series featuring gun-shop owner Tai Randolph and corporate security agent Trey Seaver. When not writing or reading, Tina enjoys golf, sushi, and spending time with her family (one husband, one daughter, one neurotic Maltese and three chickens). You can find her at

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Characterization and Plot

Characterization and Plot

Some of the writing groups I belong to have recently brought up the question of how to prevent the dreaded "sagging middle" in their stories. This is where the book stops being a page-turner and becomes something you read to put you to sleep at night.

Strangely enough, the most common method of trying to correct for this doesn't really work. Often, a writer will  just throw more danger at the hapless heroine or hero. For example, if the hero is fighting with a bunch of bad guys, the author may just add a few more bad guys or one more bigger-and-badder fight.

Other writers hear the advice "upping the ante" and layer on an "Oh, my gosh, they're going to blow up the world!" moment. Which, while logically you would think would make it more exciting because everyone might die, "everyone" is sort of vague and faceless, and frankly, we don't really care. Interestingly, that's why in the Big Disaster Movies, they always focus on the life-or-death of individual characters and their loved ones--in the midst of the world coming to an end. Because it's the individuals we care about, emotionally.

So really, what can you do?

Here's what I do. I ask a really simple question: What's the worst that can happen to the heroine? (Or hero--depending upon your story.) Hint: the answer isn't: she might die. Nope. The worst is what gives that character nightmares. It's probably easiest if I give you a stupid, but fairly concrete example.

You have a heroine who is painfully shy. I mean painfully, agonizingly shy. She stammers when she tries to talk. Stammers horribly. And the sad part is, she's a brilliant biologist, and can write papers that are wonderful, but she just can't talk in public. Or even very well one-on-one. She can't think on her feet. Fortunately, she doesn't have to worry about it, because she gets a fantastic job for an articulate scientist who can present her information and do the glad-handing necessary to get them grants for their research, etc.

So...what's the worst thing that can happen to her?
Her boss comes down with laryngitis right before he has to present their research at a symposium, and their next critical grant depends upon that presentation. If someone doesn't do the presentation, they'll not only lose face at the symposium, but they'll lose the grant and she'll potentially lose her job (and you know she's horrible at job interviews because she is so inarticulate).

And guess what? She's the only one available to do the presentation.

Now THAT's upping the ante and creating tension. And if you really want to be cruel and make the big dark moment even darker--make her flub up that presentation. They think they're going to have to shut down their research. Then give her a sliver of hope that if she and her boss can talk to Mr. Big, they might get enough money to continue. But then, they have to face a worse horror. Something happens to her boss (he has a heart attack? Grabbed by an evil dude?) and it's now up to her to talk their way out of the situation and get the grant--whether that is to get help or talk a bad guy out of killing them...whatever. And what if she's in love with her boss? If she can't talk eloquently enough, she'll lose everything...the grant (her job), and possibly her boss's life.

Guess she'd better get to that speech therapist, after all.

You'll notice with this last twist that it doesn't work if you just have her speaking in front of another large group--even though she may be even more jittery after failing the first time. No. You can't do the same thing a second time. You have to present a different opportunity to fail--an opportunity that is different (and preferrably more personal) than the first challenge.

What you should be picking up from this is that creating tension and that "page turner" quality is all about identifying the worst thing that could happen to a character, and making it happen. And then twisting it to make it worse.

And each of these "opportunities for magnificent failure" has to be different. If it's the same, even if it's rife with bigger-badder-ness, it's going to just feel like more of the same. These challenges must come from unexpected directions. You're looking for that "Where did that come from?" and "I didn't see that one coming" reaction from your reader.

Conversely, in order to have a successful (and happy) ending, you need to know What is the best thing that can happen to this character? What does he or she really, really want? And then figure out how to let her earn that ending.

So all you need when you sit down to write a novel are the answers to these two questions:
  1. What is the worst thing that can happen to this character?
  2. What is the best thing that can happen to this character?
From those, you'll be able to write a story that grips the reader and keeps her turning pages long into the night.