Tag Archives: Mary Pletsch

“I Need Protection from the Things In My Head”

Jimmy Buffett sang “I need protection from the things in my head” in his song “Vampires, Mummies and the Holy Ghost.”  In the song, the character’s imagination proves to be far more frightening than any real-life horrors–even the murderer who lived on the character’s block!

downloadThe key to writing a great horror story isn’t buckets of gore or even necessarily a creepy new monster.  It’s the ability to make the reader’s imagination your ally.

Few things are as terrifying as the unknown.  When you leave gaps in your story for the reader’s imagination to fill in, they will almost always imagine something far creepier than you could describe, unless your phobias and reactions are identical to theirs.  Over-familiarity breeds contempt, taking horror into camp.  Sometimes this takes place because a description is too detailed, too unbelievable, and crosses the line between spooky and silly.

Use suggestion.  Hint, rather than stating outright.  Make your readers and your characters consider multiple possibilities.  Which ones are true–if any?  What if it’s something else entirely?  Build suspense by describing sounds, shadows, scents, movements, and leave readers and characters wondering for a while what is causing them.  Maybe it’s nothing.  This time.

By leaving spaces like these for your readers to use their own imaginations to “fill in the gaps,” you’ll not only have readers flipping ahead to see if they were right, or to find out what happens to your characters–you’ll also give them the opportunity to project their own worst fears into those spaces, to imagine their greatest terror, or to struggle to conceive of a horror so great it defies description.

We all know what a vampire is, and a werewolf, and a zombie…these monsters are hard sells in certain markets, now, because they’ve been used so often and become so familiar to the general public that it’s a lot more challenging to make them fresh and scary.  We’ve all seen movies where the “monster” is obviously a person in a suit, and instead of screaming, we laugh.  Or when the topic of shapeshifters turns to were-bunnies and were-deer, we giggle.

Except.  fossil

Imagine the anxiety, the constant panic attacks, seizing you out of nowhere and causing your skin to twitch.  You can feel the claws under your fingernails, the stretch in your tendons.  You can smell your great-aunt cooking a pie that reeks to you of corpses.  You are prey, constantly, and you can never relax, never calm down, even though you know that the mere act of being picked up off your feet can be enough to kill you.  To keep it together, you chew.  Constantly.  It helps.  A little.

…I think being a rabbit would be terrifying.

Again, your reader’s imagination is your ally.  If your readers can identify with your characters, see through their eyes, feel what they feel, then suddenly were-bunnies aren’t humorous at all, not next to the horror of constant panic attacks and the feeling of being an animal underneath your skin…a skin that threatens to shed itself without warning….

Buckets of gore and gruesome-looking beasties will never be as frightening as wondering what it might be like if something scary happened to you.  Wondering what might be lurking out there in the dark, or worse, what might be lurking inside your own skull, waiting for some unknowable cue to activate and change your life forever.  What could be the cause?  And what might happen to you next?

You don’t know.  You have to imagine.  And often, the things your own mind comes up with are the scariest things of all.

About Mary: 

Mary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats.

Ad Astra and Can Con

As a Canadian, travelling out of the country to attend cons involves a big trip with advance saving and planning, and most years it’s just not affordable for me to travel internationally.  Fortunately, there’s some great cons in Ontario that have offered me some opportunities closer to home.

adastraAd Astra is held in April each year in Toronto.  Can-Con is an autumn convention that’s taking place this year in Ottawa from October 30 – November 1.  It’s my pleasure to be a panelist at Can-Con 2016 and for anyone reading who’s going to be with us in Ottawa this fall, I look forward to seeing you then!

Ad Astra is Toronto’s sci fi and fantasy convention with a focus on authors and other creative professionals.  Can Con, the Conference for Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature, invites writers, editors, and academic professionals in fields that range from physics and astronomy to Renaissance Studies to speak in their areas of expertise.

Both of these conventions are different from the typical Comic-Con in that they put a special focus on writers and creators.  While these cons are still fandom-friendly, their focus isn’t on TV actors, cult film or licensed merchandise.  Both conventions offer a good variety of panels that include how-tos for hopeful authors, advice for new authors, discussion of issues of interest to or affecting the speculative fiction community, book launches, and more.

Since the focus of these conventions isn’t on commerce, I find the dealer’s rooms to be significantly smaller than at conventions such as Ottawa Comic-Con, GAnime, or HalCon.  However, the people who do go to those dealer’s rooms are going to be specifically interested in buying books (as opposed to licensed merchandise).  Getting a table is something I’ll be looking at doing in future when I have full-length novels to sell (right now, my stock consists of anthologies in which I am one of many contributors).


The last time I was at Ad Astra, I volunteered to sit at the Dragon Moon Press table with copies of When the Hero Comes Home 2, the anthology that published my first professionally-sold story.  Helping out was important to me for several reasons.  Because the publisher had paid for the table, there was no financial cost for me to meet people and help sell books.  I was able to watch and learn from my fellow contributors who’d worked at con tables before.  While I was sitting there, I got to form friendships with my fellow authors.  And as a matter of professionalism, in the future, I know the editors and publishers would rather work with someone who’s ready and willing to lend a hand, rather than someone who prefers to avoid work and responsibility.  It was easy to approach and talk to fans with a shared interest in speculative literature.

The down side of this arrangement was that since it was a specific publisher’s table, we couldn’t use the table to sell books or anthologies by other publishers.  Trying to sneak other books onto a table someone else had paid for would have been extremely disrespectful; we didn’t, and I don’t recommend it to anyone.  One of my fellow authors got around this restriction by volunteering to cover another author’s table while he was at lunch, panels, etc.; in exchange, the other author agreed to host her books at his table.  Another author held a book launch event at a restaurant off-site.  For my part, I talked about the different things I’d written and had a few interested buyers asking to purchase my other anthologies, which I was able to direct them to online.

Ad Astra was a valuable experience for me because I was able to meet my first publisher and editors face-to-face, and also network with my fellow authors.  The writing community is a relatively small one, which can be both to your advantage and your disadvantage.  Advantage, in that this little bit of networking has already opened up some excellent opportunities (more on those later, when I’m at liberty to discuss them!)  Disadvantage, in that news of poor manners and bad behaviour will circulate quickly.  Make sure the reputation that precedes you is a good one.

After only two years people are already beginning to recognize who I am and what I write.  How often do you get to build your professional career and have fun doing it?

Your Support Net (Work)

A writing community is made up of lots of different people with different life experiences, different skills, and different connections.  If we were all the same, maybe community wouldn’t be so important.  If writers were all interchangeable, we might only need community for social time.

But because we’re all different, our community can offer so much more.   Nobody can be an expert on everything, and sometimes hours of research can’t make a character or plot point as realistic as a conversation with someone who’s been there.

I’m a pilot.  I’ve been contacted by writers wanting to know how airplanes work, whether the maneuvers they were describing would be possible, whether their story “felt real.”

I’m not a doctor, but my husband is.  If I’ve got a character with a brain injury or a medical student who wants to date his former patient without breaking professional boundaries, I’m going to run my story by him.  And he’s not only my personal resource, either.  He’s had a long conversation over coffee with another friend of mine, discussing the physiology of werewolves for her novel-in-progress.

These connections aren’t limited to stories, either.  When I said I wanted to do a launch party for some of the anthologies I had stories in, I’d never done a launch before.  But Marie Bilodeau had.  And using her contacts in the Ottawa sci-fi community, my desire for a launch party turned into On the Brink, a series (that’s right, more than one) of launches for up and coming new authors in the Ottawa area.

When I first started submitting my stories for publication, I felt a little nervous.  Much to my surprise, an editor I knew from my fandom days was taking submissions for an anthology.  Had I not submitted a story that was of equal quality to the others she selected, I wouldn’t have gotten in.  But if I hadn’t known the editor–if I hadn’t kept in contact with her via Facebook–I would never have known that she was taking submissions.  (I discovered the Open Call facebook groups, Duotrope, and other market listings, later on!)

In fact, the only reason I went to Superstars–and met the Tribe, became a Fictorian, and appeared in the Purple Unicorn anthology (and upcoming Red Unicorn anthology) was because another writer friend of mine–not a Superstars instructor–posted about it on her blog.

And what goes around comes around–when the same person really needed to talk to a police department in Maine to get correct information for her recent novel, I was able to use my personal contacts to make that introduction happen.

Writers share information.  Opportunities.  Feedback.  Advice.  Maybe you don’t know how to do something, but someone else you know does.  Or maybe someone else has a main character who’s about to climb Mount Everest, but he doesn’t know a lot about mountain climbing.  If that’s what your mom does for a living, you can help that person out.

As with all things, moderation is key.  You won’t win yourself long-term support if you’re the person who’s always demanding help without ever giving anything in return.  Equally, you won’t build yourself a career as a writer if you spend all your writing time helping other writers instead of writing your own stuff.  But when everyone contributes fairly, the writing community becomes a big support net(work), and it lifts us all up.

Women in Practical Armor

One of the great things about the writing community is that no matter what you write, there’s probably a group of like-minded people out there.

For decades, fantasy stories have been filled with willowy warrior babes in chainmail bikinis and dragon-hide loincloths…the kind of armor that might stop traffic, but wouldn’t stop arrows.  Some of us have wished for the opportunity to read about the sort of warrior women who’d wear practical armor.  The sort of characters who are less concerned with what they look like and more concerned with getting a bloody job done.

Wishing is one thing, but now the writing community has stepped forward to make this happen.

The name of the anthology is “Women in Practical Armor.”  The contributors are people (both women and men) who wanted to write about the kind of warrior women who don’t grace pinup posters.

If you’re one of the people who’ve wished that you could read a fantasy story about women like that, then you can get in on the ground floor.  Evil Girlfriend Media is running a Kickstarter with all kinds of great rewards for Women in Practical Armor.

My contribution to this anthology is called “The Blood Axe” and it stars two women who aren’t the typical female leads.  One is an elder; the other was designated a boy when she was born.   After a lifetime of war, career warrior Agrona wants a legacy beyond just enemy corpses in her wake.  Young Niall just wants to be accepted as the woman she knows she is.  Together, they will challenge both the traditions inside their village and the enemies at their gates.

If you’re tight on money now, the anticipated launch date of the book is April 2016.  But if you’re one of the people in the speculative fiction community who’ve been wishing for fewer cover girls and more badass ladies with real grit, then this anthology is for you!  You can show your support at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1054836899/women-in-practical-armor and reserve your copy as well as some awesome perks.

Let the battle be joined!