Foundational Books: Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

(What, they made a movie of this too? I missed that completely. Wonder if it was any good.)

You know I love ghost stories, squiders. And Mary Downing Hahn is perhaps the best children’s ghost story/horror author out there. (She was, at least, when I was a kid. I mean, I read the Goosebumps books, but they always felt a little silly, unless I was reading them in the dark, and then maybe it was completely plausible that the Christmas Tree was going to eat my family. Was that a Goosebumps book or a different, unrelated book? I don’t remember and it doesn’t matter.)

And she’s still putting out new books, so maybe something has eclipsed Wait Till Helen Comes, but when I read this book as a kid, it was the pinnacle of paranormal horror.

(I re-read it a few years ago. It’s pretty dang terrifying even as an adult. Holds up well.)

The book is about Molly, whose mother has recently married Dave. Dave has a daughter from his previous marriage, Heather, and her mother was killed in a fire when she was little. Molly (and her brother) do not get along with Heather, who seems hellbent on getting her father back to being hers only, and the discord between the children eventually begins to strew discord between the entire family.

(Oh, it was a made-for-TV movie. That’s why I missed it.)

This is compounded when the family moves to a remote house that was once a church, complete with attached graveyard. Heather is befriended by the ghost of a young girl, Helen, who is more than willing to help Heather in her goals.

And if she has goals of her own, well, Helen makes that clear that it’s none of Molly’s business.

Aside from being creepy as all get-out, the book also hits on family secrets, which is a sweet spot of mine, as well as sibling relationships and making your own family.

I read other books by Mary Downing Hahn when I was a kid, though none have stuck with me quite like Wait Till Helen Comes. I’m considering picking up some of her newer stuff as well. There’s always a few books of hers in the Scholastic Book Fair when it comes through, and they’re always very tempting.

(Behind Wait Till Helen Comes, I think The Doll in the Garden was my next favorite of hers. We’re talking books from the 80s/early 90s, though. She’s been publishing consistently since then, including books coming out this and last year.)

Read Wait Till Helen Comes, squiders? Read Mary Downing Hahn (and if you have, what’s your favorite book of hers)? Who’s your favorite children’s horror author?

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Prepping for NaNoWriMo

I’m going to do Nano this year, squiders.

(NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, and this is its 20th anniversary, which is insane. My first one was 2003, the fifth year it existed, and there were only about 3000 of us. Now there’s hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Madness!)

I’m really, truly going to do it. I’m going to sign up, I’m going to maybe go to write-ins, and hopefully I am going to get my 50K and win.

I haven’t done so since 2014.

I did Nano every year 2003-2011, but then the small, mobile ones arrived, and it’s been near impossible to get the focus/time necessary to do so since then.

The years I didn’t do it, I always tried some sort of unofficial challenge, which has traditionally failed miserably. There’s something about the energy and community that surrounds Nano that makes it infinitely more doable than trying on your own.

But I’m going to do it. And I’m excited for it.

Of course, the first step is to pick a story. I’m behind on that–one of my writing groups is already doing planning parties for their stories–but it IS September, and this is traditionally the month I pick what I’m writing and then proceed to do nothing until Nov 1 hits.

In 2014 I made a long list of various novel ideas and then slowly whittled them down until I was left with the Space Dinosaur story. Most of those other stories are still on the table.

Yesterday I started going through my idea file, which quickly became unwieldy, because there are a TON of ideas in there and a lot of them looked pretty dang good, and the thought of adding more ideas onto the other list (which has 16 perfectly good ideas on it anyway) was terrifying, so I gave that up.

It’s all moot, really. I feel like I should be making an informed decision, looking at my options and logically deciding which story to write, but the fact of the matter is that I’ve already made up my mind.

The looking at ideas and lists is all for show.

I knew before I started looking at lists and ideas that I wanted to work on a story project related to a story I’ve already written. I have a couple plotted out for Shards, sequels or prequels, and those were very tempting, because I’ve been writing short pieces in the Shards universe lately for practice. I’ve got some other sequels as well, but the first books in those still need work before they see the world, so it’s maybe not the best to work on succeeding books that might never see the day.

But even that list is just for show.

You guys know about my high fantasy trilogy that I’ve been working on forever. About eight years ago, I had an idea for a “prequel”–but not a true prequel. A story set in the same world, about 700 years earlier than the trilogy. Almost five years ago I sat down and wrote the first chapter. And now, damnit, I’m going to write the freaking book.

I’ve already done a lot of work on it, actually. Most of it will take place on a sailing ship, so I did a lot of research on types of sailing vessels (how big, what era, whether or not they’d be able to make it across an ocean the size of the Pacific, how many crew, how much they could hold, etc.) and drew several pictures of rigging and whatnot, because I remember, when Hidden Worlds came out, a family member noting the vagueness of sailing terminology in the section that took place on a ship.

(Which is fine in context, Margery, the MC, knows nothing about sailing terminology. But for this story, where the sailing portion is much more substantial and the characters–though not the viewpoint character, at least at the beginning–much more experienced, I need to know my stuff.)

I will need to do some better plotting and work on my character arcs, but hey! We’ve got time.

I’m trying something new here as well, as I typically do with Nano stories, and that’s a non-protagonist narrator. That’s always been the plan, since I first conceived the story. Think what’s-his-face in Wuthering Heights, or Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories. They’re there, they’re telling the story, but they’re not driving the story.

Could be a disaster, but we’re going for it anyway.

I re-read that first chapter this morning, and I am excited. It’ll be fun to explore a different section of the world I’ve spent so much time in, I’m already super in love with the main characters, and it will be interesting to try something new and see how this story unfolds.

(I may need to do some conlanging before we get going, though, and that is not my strongest skill. Oh well.)

Got other non-protagonist narrator stories I should look at, squiders? (Especially anything more recently than 100 years ago.) Doing Nano yourself? Anything else interesting going on?

Foundational Books: Two-Minute Mysteries (and The Society of Misfit Stories)

(As an aside, does anyone have ideas for testing out the temporary tattoo pen I bought? My stupid brain is stuck on the dark mark from Harry Potter, and since it is hot and I am around other parents a lot, it’s not necessarily a good idea, especially if it doesn’t wash off in a reasonable amount of time.)

Today we’re going to talk about another foundational book series from my childhood, the Two-Minute Mysteries series by Donald J. Sobol (who I just learned, by researching this post, also wrote the Encyclopedia Brown series). There’s three books in the series, each of which is a collection of several short mysteries that can, in theory, be solved through logic.

Now, as an adult, I love mysteries, and I especially love ones where, if you’re paying enough attention, you can figure out whodunnit. (I am eternally proud of myself for figuring out And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.)

(As another aside, did anyone watch the Whodunnit? murder mystery show on ABC, like, five years ago? That was good times.)

At least the first book is still available through Scholastic.

These were some of the first mysteries I read, though it does probably warrant noting that these were meant to be solved by the reader, rather than what you typically see in the mystery genre. Kind of more logic puzzles, really. In theory, you’d be able to solve the mystery pretty easily (each story was about two pages long), and the solution for each was printed upside down at the end, so it was easy to check.

That being said, I remember some of the mysteries not making any sense, or not being easy to solve, and from looking at Goodreads, it sounds like I wasn’t the only one.

Still, the books were lots of fun, and I had a good time working through them. (And I did go through all three, over the years.) I don’t know that they would hold up at all for an adult audience, but if you know an elementary-aged kid who likes mysteries and/or logical puzzles, they might be worth it.

In other news, look what I got in the mail yesterday!

I’ve got a story in the Society of Misfit Stories this month! I tried to take a picture of the spine to show how substantial this issue is (it’s almost half an inch thick) but alas, I am not a good photographer.

The story in this one is called “The Good of the Community” and was actually written for the Seasons Eternal anthology Turtleduck Press put out some years back. However, when the stories were turned in, it ended up that KD and I had been pretty similar in themes and tropes, so I got the short end of the stick and had to pull my original story and write a new one for the anthology. It’s nice to see the story find another home, because I had a good time writing it and have always been fond of the worldbuilding.

(Also, I got the nicest, most complimentary acceptance email ever from them, so I’m feeling pretty good about this all around.)

Did you read the Two-Minute Mysteries, squiders? How easy did you find them to solve?

Cosplay Update

Ahahaha, so I realized I briefly mentioned working on a cosplay a few weeks ago without actually talking about the costume at all. Good job, me.

Anyway, I’m doing Crowley from Good Omens, and have even roped a friend into being Aziraphale for me. (I didn’t have to rope very hard.) Hopefully it goes better than the last time I cosplayed with a friend.

(I’m not making any more costumes last minute, I tell you what. Sewing the trim on in between people when working registration at the con. Bah!)

(Also not doing much sewing at all on this one, honestly, so.)

(Also also if you have not seen the miniseries and have access to it, I recommend it. Otherwise, there is also the book, which I am re-reading, which is very similar except they’ve expanded some of the character/emotional arcs for the miniseries.)

(I am also reading Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett. It is a lot of Pratchett all at once.)

I am doing a female version of Crowley for a number of reasons, which include:

  • Aziraphale and Crowley are canonically genderless beings
  • Crowley at least twice in the miniseries presents as female
  • I haven’t cosplayed a male character (or “crossplayed” as it’s called when you cosplay a character of the opposite gender) in a decade and who even knows where all the supplies for that went
  • Also I have procreated since then so they probably don’t fit anyway (and they are uncomfortable)
  • Trying to stuff long hair into a short wig sucks
  • I want to

I made myself a plan. (I sketched this in about five minutes, so, you know.)

(And it scanned crooked. Sorry.)

All in all, it goes well! Except for the boots. We’ll get there. I’ve ordered the contacts (there’s literally one place on the entire Internet where you can buy prescription FX contacts that look at all right, so we’ll see how that goes). I have the glasses, but I need to modify them. My mom found me some snake earrings (though I also have star earrings and I realized those would work too) though I haven’t gotten them from her yet.

I’ve been looking at tutorials for tattoos, so this morning I went to get supplies at my local drug store. (I’m not a big make-up person–I’m just not good at it. There are cosplayers out there who can do amazing things to their faces with make-up, but I am not one of them. And even in every day life, I rarely go beyond mascara and lip gloss, so… Anyway I don’t own any make-up brushes or sealing powder or whatever else was on the list of supplies.) I found a tattoo marker while there, and the reviews on the Internet for it were promising (a couple even compared it to the methods I’d been looking at), so now I have just that. Have to test it out too.

(Not on my face, though.)

The boots continue to be problematic. In the miniseries, David Tennant wears black ankle boots with a snakeskin pattern on them. Now, I am taking some liberties with the general costume, so I don’t feel like I need to get anything exact. That being said, black boots in snakeskin prints are a bit rare, and I don’t necessarily want to spend a ton of money on costume shoes.

An alternate is to just get black ankle boots. I need a pair anyway. Decisions, decisions. Too many shoes in the world.

Anyway! Costume goes. I’ve got about a month and a half to get it ready, so I’m not too concerned. Slow and steady and what have you.

What are you up to, squiders?

Pondering Pen Names and Horror

Hi squiders! It’s stupid hot here and I am getting nothing done except watching ghost stories on YouTube.

(I love ghost stories. As long as it is day time.)

If you guys have been around for a while, you know that I am…confused about the idea of pen names. I mean, not what they are or anything, but whether they’re worth using, and when you might use one if they are.

I think I might have finally figured out a decent use for one.

(Though I am still waffly on the subject.)

I write a wide spectrum of stuff, from science fiction to fantasy satire to romance (of a speculative bent, of course) to children’s, and I’ve never quite seen a good place to break things up. Is fantasy mystery far enough away from urban fantasy to deliver a break? Children’s stuff vs. adult stuff? (And where does the YA stuff then go in that break?)

(I’m still pondering about the children’s/adult split. Oh well.)

But I’ve been working on a lot of horror lately, specifically science fiction horror, and it came to me the other day that maybe THAT should be the split. Horror vs. everything else.

People either like horror or they don’t, and it might make sense to have a pen name where horror people know they’re getting horror and not anything else I come up with. I mean, there’s some leeway between fantasy and urban fantasy and science fiction, especially if you tend toward a common core, and readers are probably fairly happy to ride along that spectrum. But a horror reader may not like to read urban fantasy (or vice versa, honestly).

The question then becomes…is this worth a pen name? And if it is, what do I do with the other horror things that have been published under my normal name? (My very first sale was a ghost story, and there was that Lovecraftian anthology from last year, and…) Can I republish them under my new name? Is that a logistical nightmare?

Once again, everything is clear as mud. Any thoughts, squiders?

If you have any final thoughts on the nonfiction covers, please let me know! My hope is to have the first nonfiction book released by the 20th. It’s mostly done, so I just need to finalize everything and get it up.

And the Landsquid book is also going well–I should be ready to start querying by the end of next week at the very latest.

See you next week!

WriYe and Publishing

Oh good Lord, it’s September.

I mean, I like September. Autumn starts, in theory, which is my favorite season. But it also means we’re getting into holiday season shortly, which is always a bit hectic.

Also my normal con gave me an Authors’ Row table, which I don’t think I signed up for, so I do need to email them and make sure I’m on the co-op table list instead.

Anyway, new month, new WriYe prompt.

Publishing: Is it something you aim for? Why or why not?

Ha! The easy answer is yes. And I have done so. Because…why not? I honestly think that’s what I thought before my first story came out in 2007.

Bonus:
Which route would you choose, self-publishing or traditional publishing? Why?

I do a mixture of self and traditional publishing, because there’s benefits to both, and while I have been publishing for a while, I still consider myself to be in an experimental phase.

The nice thing about self-publishing is that you have full control of the final product–the cover, the price, the distribution channels–and can set your own schedule. If I want to publish every two months, great! As long as I’m maintaining quality and so forth, I’m free to do that.

The nice thing about traditional publishing is that you have other people helping you to put out the best product you can, and, in theory, you have people helping you with the less intuitive stuff, like the marketing. Plus there is still a small stigma attached to self-publishing in some circles, so there is a bit more legitimacy.

Will I settle on a single one at some point? Probably not!

Big plans for September, squiders? If all goes according to plan, my first nonfiction book and its associated workbooks will come out this month! (Which means the outlining one will be out next month, just in time for Nano.) Plus I’ve got to get ready for MileHiCon and cosplaying for next month and then, fingers crossed, I think I’ll actually get to do Nano this year.

Oh! And if you missed Friday’s post with the nonfiction covers, please pop over there and let me know your thoughts. Thank you!

See you Thursday!

Sample Covers Continued

So, I got a lot of feedback on the covers, and none of it was consistent, aha.

(I am aware I posted yesterday. Shhhhh.)

So I made covers for the first three books so I (and everybody else) had a better idea of what they’d look like as a series, and here’s what I have now:

But I also realized that I wasn’t 100% on the titles for the first two books. Which do you like better:

  • How to Find Story Ideas
  • An Easy Guide to Finding Story Ideas

And:

  • How to Outline
  • An Easy Guide to Outlining

I unfortunately was not consistent in my titling when I was doing the revisions, so most of the books are one or the other (Easy Guide goes with Story Ideas, Outlining, and Working on Multiple Projects, How to goes with Consistency, just plain Guide goes with Submission and Publication, and then Common Writing Mistakes and Writing Around Life are just off on their own anyway). I should probably pick on or the other.

I like “How to” cuz it’s straight and to the point (and probably what someone will type into the search bar). But I also like “Easy Guide” because it implies that these are easy, short reads (which they are, except for the submission book which is a monster) so people know what they’re getting.

Minutiae, gets you every time.

Anyway, I’d love your feedback!