Tag Archives: Guest Posts

Liar, Liar! Pants on Fire!

A Guest Post by Tonya L. De Marco

It’s probably no secret if you’ve read any of my material or heard me speak on panels at conventions that I enjoy creating dark and twisted characters. I’m fascinated with what makes them tick and how they morally justify doing the things they do.

Lines between heroes, villains, and anti-heroes can become quite blurred to nearly invisible at times in the story. I recently participated on a panel at StarFest Convention in Denver on the subject. The intended discussion was meant to be about creating strong antagonists, however I kept steering the conversation back in the direction of this haunting question: What is the difference between the good guy and the bad guy when they each break the rules?

Fellow authors and panelists Kal Spriggs and David Boop, along with moderator Peter J. Wacks and I bantered back and forth without actually solving this dilemma. But the general consensus seemed to be, if the character is breaking the rules for the greater good or for revenge, he is seen as the good guy. An example is a police officer who brings in the criminal by whatever means necessary.

These characters are justifying their wrongdoing. They are lying to themselves and often those around them. Villains do it. Heroes do it. Masterminds do it. I do it. You do it. We all lie to ourselves. A psychopath that only kills criminals is rationalizing murder by telling himself that he is making the community safer without these criminals. But what really drives him is a need, a hunger to kill. The thrill of the hunt, the power of holding a life in his hands, the satisfaction of seeing the light slowly drain from his victim’s eyes – these are the true reasons, not the lies he tells himself.

In my short story, Offspring, the main character breaks the law for monetary compensation. Indeed, she does need the money to help her family and accomplish a specific goal but she hides behind the lie. She justifies her depraved acts as necessary, not admitting she enjoys the power and the adrenaline rush from the danger, often even enjoys the acts themselves. Will she stop when she reaches her goal? Or will she find another lie to tell herself so she can continue?

Creating characters that lie adds another level of relatability. Lying to themselves and others helps to show them as human. Whether you create human monsters or super cops, the justifications and rationalizing they do throughout the story is something they have in common with each other and with most of the population.

The lines between good and evil when writing dark characters still remain blurred to me. Perhaps it’s because most people are a blend of both.  Whether writing protagonist or antagonist, hero or anti-hero, allow your characters to tell their own stories – even if they’re liars.

Visit Tonya L. De Marco at http://www.TonyaLDeMarco.com or stop by her modeling and cosplay page on Facebook: http://www.Facebook.com/VintageSteamtrunk.

Don’t “Find” Time, Make the Time

A Guest Post by Wayland Smith

I was asked to write about finding a balance between work, life, and writing. Instead of talking about my writing credits, I’m going to run down my weekend as a way of showing what I know about the struggle to find time to write. It’s something I understand.

My regular shift is a long, overnight one. Thursday I went in to work with my shift starting at 6 PM. I was supposed to get off work at 6:30 AM, but there were some issues and our usual shortage of staff, and I ended up being released at about 12:30 in the afternoon. By the time I got home, I had been up for 24 hours. I had the rest of Friday and Saturday off, then worked a different job Sunday from 4 in the morning until 9 at night with one break in that stretch. With all that, I still got a few thousand words done over the weekend, and finished a chapter of one of my current works in progress. That’s not, “Hey, I’m cool,” that’s me showing that it doesn’t matter how busy you are, you can write if you chose to.

I hear people asking all the time, “When do you find time to write?” The answer is a simple one, but it’s one a lot of people don’t like. You fight for it. You make a commitment to yourself and you stick with it. Some people write every day, some have a word count per week, or month. It doesn’t really matter what you set for yourself. What matters it that you DO it.

Sometimes that means you don’t get to watch the game with your friends. Sometimes you don’t get to the movie you wanted to see. But, as I’ve heard many other people who are much more successful than I am so far say (and this may be part of why they are successful): Writing is a job. If you’re at all serious about it, you have to approach it like that. Jim Butcher has said, “I don’t have a muse, I have a mortgage.” That’s the attitude you need to get the words down.

So how do you find the balance? Well, that’s something you have to think about carefully. I believe the usually accepted statistic is that something like ten percent of writers manage to actually make a living off their writing. The rest of us have jobs in addition to writing. And, if you’re fond of eating, not living in a relative’s basement, and occasionally going out (or to cons), you need to keep the job.

Family is important, whether it’s a traditional tied by marriage and blood kind, or people who have become your family over time. You need these people in your life. If you don’t have them, you’re not well balanced, and that comes out in your writing, which suffers.

You need to manage your time, and you need to do it carefully. It’s going to be full of compromises. Occasionally, you’re going to have to go to work when you’d really rather be chasing the latest story idea. Sometimes, you’re going to have to tell your nearest and dearest and that you have a deadline coming up and you need some uninterrupted writing time. And sometimes, the voices in your head, or your imaginary friends, or however you like to think of it, are going to have to take a back seat so you can spend some time with the people you love. Or at least like.

You need to manage to be nice about it, but really firm. If you’ve promised time to your family, don’t slip out and start writing. If you have a goal that’s important to you and you need to put in a big push to get there, turn off your phone, shut off your internet connection, and write. It’s both the simplest and the hardest thing about writing. Writers write. Not talk about writing, not say, “I really should get some words down.” They write. And then write more. And revise and edit and rewrite. And while they’re doing all that, they have to keep a job and relationships with the people who are important to them.

All that said, I can offer a few suggestions about making some time. Note, making, not finding. You’re not going to suddenly trip over an extra hour somewhere. If you do, let me know how that happened. A few standbys that a lot of people I know use are either getting up half an hour earlier and/or writing during your lunch hour. If you bring your lunch to work, then A) it’s generally cheaper and B) the time you spent going somewhere, waiting in line, buying something, and then finding a table to eat it is time you can write. Yes, this requires some planning and dedication. So does writing. Remember those bits about it’s a job and making the time?

If your writing is really important to you, if you’re going to pursue a full time writing career no matter what, find a job that lets you write. I’ve heard Brandon Sanderson say he got a job as the night desk man at a hotel for just that reason. Night time security guard works, too. Yes, those are really radical changes to make to your life to get time to write. But then you’re back to the balance issue again. What are you willing to give up to move forward with your writing?

I’m not trying to scare anyone, or paint a picture of doom and gloom. I have a full time job, and work a few part time ones, and have a decent social life. I also managed to write just shy of 500,000 words last year. It can be done. You just to plan your time carefully. It’s worth it to me. Whether it is to you or not is something only you can decide.


Wayland Smith:

WAYLAND SMITH is the pen name for a native Texan who has lived in Massachusetts, New York, Washington DC, and presently makes his home in Virginia. His rather unlikely list of jobs includes private investigator, comic book shop owner, ring crew for a circus (then he ran away from the circus and joined home), deputy sheriff, writer, and freelance stagehand. Wayland has one novel out so far, In My Brother’s Name, and short stories in the anthologies “This Mutant Life: Bad Company”, “HeroNet Files, Vol 1,” “SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror,” and “Legends of the Dragon,” among others. A black belt in shao lin kung fu, he is also a fan of comic books, reading, writing, and various computer games (I’ll shut Civ down in one more turn. Really). He lives with a beautiful woman who was crazy enough to marry him, and the spirits of a few wonderful dogs that have passed on.

Mixing Horror With Other Genres

Guest Post by Petra Klarbrunn

Horror is more than just a genre on a tiny shelf at your local bookstore. Horror is an emotion, a revulsion, a reaction to something that triggers the baser instincts. After you read something that got under your skin, you have physical reactions. Your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens, and you might even get some goosebumps. Every sense is heightened, to the point where you hear things such as the house settling, where you see little shadows out of the corner of your eye, where your mouth gets dry, and when your skin feels oddly chilled. They’re caused by your natural instincts ramping up to a possible threat.

It’s this reaction that separates horror from other genres. Romance, with its chocolate-like endorphin rushes, comes in at a distant second place. Some even say horror and romance are the flip sides of the same coin, but I’m not that cynical to declare it true, perhaps because I’m a hopeless romantic.

Horror and romance also have something in common — they can be used within any other genre. There are arguments that the movie Alien is a horror movie first and foremost. It certainly has all the hallmarks — life and death struggles with an unknown monster that just won’t die, people who disappear, shocking events and revelations caused by man’s inhumanity towards mankind. Many folks liked the sequel, Aliens. More of the same, plus add in a kid in trouble and wave after wave of monsters attacking. The folks who saw the movies in the theatre probably left exhausted from having their bodies in a two hour fight-or-flight state, plus the ultimate shock at seeing how much a popcorn and soda would cost for each member of the family.

One can mix in horror or romance to shift the tone of the book. Romance can be used sparingly to build tension, such as the creepy love triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han Solo. Be careful not to let it derail the plot. If you’re writing a western, make sure westerny things go on while the characters woo each other. The same goes for horror. One can mix horrific things into the plot to build tension, to raise the stakes for the protagonist, or to even show how desperate some of the characters are.

“I don’t think we should unleash the world-devouring creature because your rival king made a remark about your nose, Sire.”

Releasing the Kracken should be reserved when all seems lost, and you want to add in one straw to your camel’s overburdened back at the end of the novel. Of course, make sure your heroine also has a way to defeat it, even if it means they fall in love…but that drifts off into hentai territory, which you should think long and hard about before venturing there.

No matter what genre you write, horror is something that can change the dynamic of your story. If your protagonist’s opposing army general too blah? Have the leader send in some assassins equipped with poisoned arrows — to kill the heroines love interest. Have the general unleash a paranormal entity that can’t be stopped. Those will push the general up the “evil villain” scale and certainly ramp up the tension for the heroine we’ve all come to love over the last 200 pages.

And if you really want to cause panic, add in a romance to the middle of your seven-volume military hard sci-fi epic. That should scare most of your readers to death.


Writing Emotional Dark Fiction: A Letter to My Estranged Father

Guest Post by Matthew Warner

Dear Dad,

I never told you the details of my one-week stint in a psychiatric unit while in college. You frankly don’t deserve them, but they’re good fodder for this column about how to write emotional dark fiction.

I’m too old to care that this is too personal of a thing to share publicly. I own my skeletons, unlike you. It’s what gives the stories I tell an emotional engine. Characters who connect with readers on a gut level are more compelling than any supernatural horror I can imagine.

Your fecal screed to me of 2003 — the last time you ever spoke to me — sits in my craw. You couldn’t understand whymatt warner - dominoes-lg I was so angry with you for cheating on Mom and divorcing her, so you attributed my reaction to mental illness. You wrote, “The mental breakdown that you had in college was when the bull should have been taken by the horns. But, like always, it was brushed under the rug to ‘go away.’ . . . It is clear that when you were medicated during the incident at JMU, the change in your personality was obvious and positive.”

Yeah. A short-term prescription for Navane, an antipsychotic, is what fixed my wagon. What a wonder drug.

You believe that in 1993, I had a psychotic episode, rooted in mental health issues I inherited from your own father. (Of course, you never said you suffer from any issues yourself. I guess manic depression is a recessive gene, huh?)

Here’s what really happened. I was having a hard time adjusting to university life. I felt like an outsider. I was always lonely, desperate to fill the romantic void. I had deep feelings of social inadequacy that dated back to being bullied in elementary school. The things that gave my life shape — my studies, my writing, my piano playing — weren’t enough. Religion might have filled that void, but I was too turned off by the ugly Christian fundamentalism I encountered on campus.

Worst of all, I was terribly anxious of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Although I couldn’t establish a long-term romance with anyone, I sometimes lured women into the sack. But I would stupidly not use protection, and then I would spend months driving myself down chasms of fear about whether I’d contracted AIDS. I couldn’t tell you about any of this. How could I? You were so judgmental.

You know what? I hadn’t grown up yet. I had issues. I didn’t exit puberty until age twenty-five, just in time for you to leave Mom for your aerobics partner. That’s my excuse.

Shortly before my twentieth birthday, a friend and I went skiing in Canada during spring break. We smoked a little weed and hit the slopes. One day, he brought out some psychedelic mushrooms, which I’d never had before. “These are really good,” he said as I ate them, not revealing that they were laced with amphetamine. Soon, I was not only skiing down the slopes, I was damn near doing cartwheels down them.

When we got home, I came down with bronchitis. And I didn’t take good care of myself. I kept attending classes and not resting. I became sicker.

Finally, I fainted during a music rehearsal at the Methodist youth fellowship. I fell backward off the piano bench and gave myself a concussion on the floor. The paramedics took me across the street to Rockingham Memorial Hospital. They did a blood test, and guess what they found? They assumed I was a drug addict. The ER doctors said they wanted me to get some “mild” counseling, and they would pursue legal channels if I refused. Next thing I knew, I was in the fifth floor psychiatric unit.

During the next week, the concussion and bronchitis improved, and as I came off the heavy medications they gave me, I started to feel like my old self. But something else positive happened during those thrice-daily group therapy sessions with people who’d attempted suicide or who were recovering from overdoses. I seized the opportunity to talk about my problems. I opened up about my anxieties and insecurities. I had private talks with a psychiatrist, who helped me browbeat myself into behaving more responsibly. Over the subsequent months, I may not have transformed into a happy, bushy tailed college boy, but I became a slightly more self-accepting one.

You never considered the possibility I may have taken a step toward maturity. Instead, this episode went onto your scoreboard, detailed in your letter, for Reasons Why Matt Is An Ungrateful Mentally-Ill Son And I’m A Good Father.

We have issues to work out, you and I. If you’re brave enough to read my new collection from Thunderstorm Books and Cemetery Dance Publications, DOMINOES IN TIME, you might appreciate how complex and passionate my feelings are about you. When a writer taps dark emotions, it makes for better dark fiction.

Maybe, Dad, you’ll understand how my stay in the psychiatric unit informed the story “At Death We’ll Not Part.” Maybe you’ll see how your divorcing Mom influenced “Second Wind.”

And hell, maybe you’ll grow up, too.

“Of all that is written, I love only what a man has written with his blood.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

Visit Matthew Warner at matthewwarner.com.