Sharon L. Clark, Author

Author: Sharon Clark Page 1 of 10

Writing Prompt: A Strange Request in a Piano Bar

A while back, I was given a book of writing prompts and decided I’d try to use a new one each week. Sadly, I didn’t get too many written, but it was a great challenge.

The prompts included a story title and a list of words to use. I shared this story here back in 2020, but I thought it might be fun to revise it and post it again. It’s silly and kind of fun, and I hope you enjoy it!

Title: A Strange Request in a Piano Bar

Words: carnival, sprained, mask, oxidation, awkward, apple, juvenile, controversy, twirl, sassafras


Sitting in the corner, trying to hide in the shadows, I watched him. He was handsome, a little awkward as he sipped a cola and tapped his fingers in time to the music. But he’d do nicely.

This hotel piano bar was one of the best places to find what I needed. People were always coming in and out of town, rarely staying more than a couple of days. And on any given Sunday night, this watering hole was full of the lonely, desperate souls looking for any form of attention and anyone resembling a friend.

He glanced around, looking at every face, perhaps trying to determine who he might approach for a little anonymous fun. Poor dear. Smooth skin, fidgety, he couldn’t have been more than 21, if he was even that old. Recklessness emanated from him in waves, giving off the stench of a juvenile delinquent. I tapped a finger against my chin. Was it worth the trouble he would undoubtedly give me?

I leaned forward just enough for the light to hit my eyes and his head whipped around in my direction, his aura glowing as he offered me a shy smile. Oh yes, he would be worth every ounce of headache that came with him.

Melting into the dark, I waited. He’d come to me – they always did. These children who had no idea what they were getting themselves into, thinking their stones were bigger than any who had come before them. I loved being the one to teach them a lesson. And if I made a little money along the way, so be it.

“Ahem.” The voice startled me out of my thoughts, and I was surprised to see the bartender standing in front of me, brandishing a tall glass full of dark liquid. “This is from the…gentleman…at the bar.”

I peered around him and the young man lifted his own glass in salute with a waggle of his eyebrows. Ugh. Disgusting. But I accepted the drink and raised it, winking as I took a sip.

“Jesus, what the hell is this?” I spluttered.

The bartender snorted. “That, dear lady, is a bona fide sassafras root beer.” He glanced over his shoulder and narrowed his eyes at me, wagging a finger. “Don’t be too rough with him. He’s young and stupid and naïve. Actually, you should just let this one go.”

“Fat chance,” I murmured. Glaring at the bartender, I waved him away, watching the young man approach. He rubbed his hands on his slacks, steps unsure as he drew closer. “Hello.” My voice was smooth as glass and full of promise. “I’m Delphine – won’t you join me?”

The smile that lit up his face was darling and I had a moment’s pause about what I was about to do. My life had seen its fair share of controversy, and many would call me a witch or a whore or just a criminal. Growing up, my entire family lived this way. Luring in unsuspecting men and women with a coy look and the whisper of potential – for love, or sex, at the very least – just to enchant them into giving up anything we wanted. Sometimes it was cash or a vehicle, other times it was information and their deepest, darkest secrets. It was power, and it was how we survived. But we never devastated anyone, left him or her destitute or in danger. We weren’t monsters.

“I’m Jim.” He took my hand eagerly and pressed his lips to it. “I saw you over here and I swear on all that’s holy that I’ve never seen anything as wondrous. Do you believe in fate, Delphine?”

I raised an eyebrow. Very interesting. He was already enamored of me without a drop of magic being used. Perhaps this would be easier than I anticipated. As I fully took in his features – the blond curls, plush, soft lips, caramel colored eyes – I realized I would enjoy this much more than usual.

“I do indeed believe in fate, Jim.” I patted the seat next to me and twisted just enough to accentuate my curves. “I see no other reason we would have both turned up at this dingy piano bar on this very night, unless the stars were aligned in my favor. Thank you so much for the drink. It was quite unusual but very refreshing. Sassafras, is it?”

He scooted closer to me and picked up the glass, holding it to the light. “Oh, yes. Truly a magnificent plant, you know, and delicious to boot! Now, I know what you’re thinking.” He held up his hands. “Wasn’t this stuff banned way back in 1979? It was, but don’t you worry a bit; you see, the safrole is the only thing that was potentially dangerous and this root beer contains a specific oxidation of the bark that is absolutely safrole-free. We are safe to consume as much of the stuff as we want!”

“Aren’t we the lucky ones.” I tried really hard not to roll my eyes. He handed the glass back to me and raised his own, clinking them against one another. Taking an enormous glug of his drink, he seemed surprised when I only sipped at mine.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Don’t you like it? I should have asked before sending it over.” Jim raked his hands through his hair and frowned. “I’m so stupid, always doing things like this. Not everyone likes this kind of drink. You’re so beautiful and sophisticated I should have ordered you something much classier, like a martini or a glass of champagne. I’m really, really sorry.”

He looked so distraught I was afraid I’d lose him before I’d even had a chance to begin. Laying a hand on his knee, I tried to reassure him. “Oh that’s not it at all, I adore sassafras! See?” I choked down a big swig of the garbage but he still looked unsure. Steeling my resolve, I downed the rest of it in one swallow. It gurgled in my stomach and threatened to come right back up. But that brilliant light was back in his doe eyes, so perhaps it would be worth it.

“Oh, Delphine, I’m so glad you like it!” Looking at my hand on his knee, his cheeks blazed pink. But he didn’t try to remove my hand. Instead, he wriggled his chair even closer and threw his arm across the back of my seat, leaning in close. “Did you know that the sassafras plant has been used for centuries by many diverse cultures?”

His breath was warm on my cheek and although the topic of plant usage through time sounded boring enough to almost make me abandon this mark, I found myself being drawn toward him. “You don’t say? That sounds fascinating. I’d love to hear more about it.” What the hell? Did I actually say that?

Tilting his head and narrowing his eyes, his smile grew broader. “You know, I think I’ll wait a little bit longer to share that information.” Glancing around he lowered his voice and trailed his fingertips along the bare skin of my arm. “How’d you like to get out of here?”

Now he was speaking my language. “What did you have in mind, Jim?”

He sat back and slapped his hands together. “Hoo, boy, have I got just the thing! Across the street, there’s a little traveling carnival that comes through here every few years.”

“A – a carnival?”

“Oh, yeah! I’ve never been to one, my parents wouldn’t allow it when I was growing up. But I’ve always wanted to go. The rides, the food, the games – it seems like so much fun! And I would like nothing more than to win you a prize, Miss Delphine.”

I frowned. What the hell was this nonsense? Throughout my long life there had been many men that asked me to do many odd and degrading things. But a carnival? My initial assessment of this mark had been that he was adorable and young and taking him to bed to get what I wanted would be a distinct pleasure. Had I been wrong about him? I shook my head; I was never wrong.

“That sounds wonderful! Are there any games you think you’ll be particularly good at that you’d like to start with? Perhaps the milkcan toss or climbing the rope ladder? I was always a fan of the ones where you shoot water at a target to win a horse race.”

Jim threw his head back and guffawed loud enough to make all the other patrons shoot annoyed looks our way. “Gosh, no, Delphine! When I called it a carnival, that wasn’t really the right word. It’s more of a medieval fair than what you’d strictly consider a carnival. Oh no, these games are a bit different – and require a bit more skill than luck. There is one that I’m most excited to try out, if you’re up for it.”

A medieval fair? Well, shit. When I said I’d been doing this for a number of years, the number is much higher than one might expect. I look to be in my late twenties – early thirties at the very most. But the truth is that I remember the first medieval fairs of the world, the ones that involved true knights and deadly feats of strength and prowess. Those were also the days when many of my loved ones were lost to the fear and ignorance regarding witches. While there were those who had sold their souls and their bodies to satan, Delphine and her kind were more closely related to Wiccans. The difference was that they used their affinity for nature to punish the evil and stupid men and women who deserved a little retribution.

“Oh honey, I’m up for just about anything,” I told him. “You only need ask.”

Now his cheeks started to burn a darker pink, and he cleared his throat. “Okay, but it’s going to sound like a strange request…” He took a deep breath. “You’ve heard of William Tell, right? There’s a booth that lets you shoot an apple off your partner’s head with a bow and arrow, and I’ve been dying to try it! I know I’d be good at it if I just had the chance! But so far, I haven’t been able to convince anyone to come with me. How about it, Delphine? Will you be my mark?”

Before I even truly registered what he’d said, I was nodding my head and laying my hand on his cheek. Wait – did he say mark? There was a pinprick of concern at the back of my mind, but it was quickly overshadowed by something else, something lighter and joyful and accepting of anything he said.

“Oh Jim, I’d be delighted!” I threw my arms around his neck and pressed my cheek against his. Wow, he smelled good. My fingers found their way into his curls, and having him in my arms lit a fire in my belly that I hadn’t felt in…well, in centuries.

He stood, bringing my hand to his lips yet again as we made our way to the door. I was enthralled with the shift of his shoulders and the way the light played across his smooth skin and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I had a vague understanding that we were going to do something dangerous but somehow I knew in my bones it would be okay if I was with Jim.

The lights of the carnival flashed and glowed as we approached hand in hand and I honestly felt giddy. Giddy. He wasn’t lying about this being a medieval setting. There were wenches and knights, jesters, lords and ladies. A small group was gathered around a booth where they were throwing axes at a target. Badly, but they were having fun. There were stands selling everything from chainmail to swords to trinkets, and the people milling about were eating it up.

“Oh, there!” I pulled Jim’s hand and tried to drag him to the line of archers I spotted on the edge of a lighted field. The workers were dressed as Robin Hood’s merry men, but the patrons wore shorts and sundresses. Smiling, they rubbed the skin on the inside of their arms, as ugly purple bruises appeared where the string landed in the wrong place.

His warm arm wrapped around my shoulders, I felt him chuckle as he steered me away. “No, no, sweet Delphine, that’s not for us. That attraction is for the weak and the childish. People like you and me are destined for excitement and deserve so much more.” Jim stepped back and raised his arm, leading me in a little twirl and I honest to God giggled.

Good lord, a giggle? I was nearly 400 years old and a powerful being; I was not supposed to giggle. Coming out of the spin, I stumbled in a hole and my ankle twisted with a painful pop. “Ow!”

“Delphine!” Jim immediately stopped and scooped me into his arms. “Are you all right?”

His face wavered and wobbled in my vision and I frowned.  That’s odd. There were wards and protections on me to keep me from getting injured – or inebriated. But there I was, my ankle throbbing and swelling even as my head swam. “Do you think it’s broken?”

Jim pressed a kiss to my cheek. “No, I doubt it. It may be sprained, but I think you’ll be just fine.”

“How am I supposed to help with your game if I can’t stand on it?” Were my words slurring?

Laughter rumbled up in his chest as we approached a tent filled with flickering candlelight. “I wouldn’t worry about that, darling Delphine. You have been a delightful mark already tonight.”

Once the tent flap closed behind us, all other sounds ceased. It was almost like we were in a different plane of existence, separated from the real world by that relatively thin stretch of canvas. My head lolled back against Jim’s shoulder as he carried me deeper into the tent.

“Remember I was going to tell you more about the sassafras and how it was used throughout the centuries? I think now is a good time for that.” When he set me down and I gasped, he clucked his tongue. “I nearly forgot.” Then he wrapped his large palm around my wounded ankle. With a quick squeeze, I felt a sharp pain, then it was gone. I rolled the joint around, testing it, and found that the swelling had disappeared, as well. He leaned close, his warm breath tickling my ear. “Better?”

The daze had already begun to fade but, it appeared, just a bit too late. As my faculties returned, I realized that my wrists and ankles were tied tight and secured to the wall behind me. Even my fingers were wrapped in gauze and completely immobilized. Well that was inconvenient, as I couldn’t cast my spells without moving them.

Jim’s voice changed as he checked and double-checked my bonds, losing the tone of innocence. “Sassafras was used widely to build ships and furniture, the twigs for oral hygiene, and the leaves in cuisine around the world. Did you know that you can cure meat and treat wounds with the leaves, too? And burning the bark has been known to protect and ward off evil. My family has used it this way for many, many years.”

I watched him back away, one side of his enticing mouth curled up. With surprise I noted that he no longer looked young and naïve, inexperienced and awkward. Those golden brown eyes had a wisdom deep in them that hadn’t been there earlier.

“Okay, that’s enough now, Jim. I agreed to come play your game with you, but this seems a step too far. What kind of game is this, anyway?” I batted my lashes in an attempt to turn the tables back to my favor. “I know some other games involving bondage that we could play…privately.”

That made him pause, and I could see the idea taking root and starting to grow. I had no idea what he had planned, but I’d survived more dangerous and much kinkier encounters than this one. Before I could say anything else, he shook his head and smirked, wagging a finger at me.

“Ah, you are very good, Delphine. I was warned about you but I had no idea just how enticing you could be.” He turned to me, tossing and catching an apple with one hand, a swath of fabric in the other. “My family used sassafras for generations, but most frequently it’s been used on and by the people of the villages we lived in. You see, it is a very potent ingredient in love charms and potions. While we were persecuted for being…magical…the same people who feared us also wanted to use us to their own ends. Our love potion recipe was handed down through centuries and perfected by way of trial and error. You, my sweet witch Delphine, drank down a small dose earlier tonight, just enough to let your guard down so I could get you here. Alone.”

He stopped in front of me, his eyes searching my face before capturing my lips in a searing kiss. To my mortification, it left me breathless with my toes curling inside my very expensive shoes. When the kiss ended, I gasped when I saw his face. No longer was I looking at the awkward young man with blond curls I had tried to pick up in the piano bar. Instead, I was staring into the violet eyes of an aged warlock, the aura I had spied much earlier blazing wildly around him.

“Oh my, has my mask fallen away?” His eyebrows lifted as he checked my binds. “I was never very adept at maintaining such a façade when my ire – or passion – has been riled up. And you, Delphine, have definitely tested my limits.”

My lips were on fire with a very unpleasant tingling. That bastard! He’d had a potion on his lips when he kissed me; I knew it well. It rendered the recipient immobile and unable to speak, and it worked very, very quickly. Unable to spit my vitriole, I glared with all the hatred I could muster.

“We’ll have none of that, dear,” he grumbled. “This has been long coming, you must know that.”

He perched the apple on my head, and I willed my muscles to shake it off, but I had zero control over any part of my body. Jim – or whatever his real name was – retreated, no longer afraid to take his eyes off me. With a grin he turned his gaze on me, nocked an arrow in the bow, and took aim.

“Let the games begin.”

Writing Process: Which Came First?

A friend asked recently how I go about writing my stories. Do I create characters and build the story around them? Or is the plot first, building the characters to fit into the situation?

Every author I know goes about writing differently. One friend starts with a rough idea, builds a music playlist, and then lets it inspire the direction of the plot. Another uses Scrivener and works out each character and scene before she writes a sentence. A couple others create their outlines in a linear order, another uses a snowflake type of format, spiraling out from one point, building on each idea and connecting from one to another.

And they are all perfect, valid ways to write a story.

My upcoming novel, I’ll Call You Mine, started from people-watching and letting my imagination form personalities for various folks who passed by me. One such person kept catching my attention, and I was curious about how he might behave in certain situations.

Another of my stories started from a wandering thought I had as I struggled to fall asleep; how would I react if I were to hear the closet door slide open in a house I knew to be haunted, when I was absolutely not in the mood for any nonsense?

So, a little bit of both for me, it seems.

All of my stories sort of spiral out from a first point, sometimes character-driven, sometimes plot-diven. When you have an inquisitive imagination in overdrive, the stories will be told, no matter how they start. If the character comes first, I need to know what led to them being who they are. If the plot is the initial point, how would different people behave in that situation?

Then I just sit back and go along for the ride. And that is the most fun.

Do you have a formula for story building? How do your ideas manifest for you? Leave a comment or send me an email and let’s talk!

 

Have You Met…Sharon Clark, Author

Okay friends, you’ve signed up to follow me and maybe to receive my newsletter, too. The time has come for you to learn just what you’ve gotten yourselves into.

First of all, thank you for being here. It’s always so surprising to me that anyone would want to read what I write, whether it’s a silly blog post, a short story, or one of my novels. People not only liking something I’ve written but coming back for MORE, well…that’s kind of the dream, isn’t it?

Stay with me a little longer and I’ll tell you a bit about myself, about my writing, and about my upcoming novel. Then I want you to ask me the questions you’re burning to know.

So buckle up and let’s dive in.

Me, In a Nutshell

Image courtesy of www.maggiegphoto.com

I grew up smack-dab in the middle of five girls, two older and two younger, and we got along great. For the most part. As I’m sure you can imagine, things got loud, or eerily silent, and there was always some type of psychological warfare under way.

Report cards bore good grades coupled with phrases like, “Talks too much” or “Needs to apply herself” pretty much throughout my school career. I played the flute, was in show choir and in theater, was a cheerleader and a member of the dance team. What? I got bored easily.

College and I didn’t get along as famously as I’d hoped we would. Don’t get me wrong; I had a GREAT time. I just didn’t get a degree and left, chastened, after only four semesters. When I came home, I floundered a bit before meeting the man who has been my husband for the last thirty years and with whom I have raised three amazing humans. I’m just glad I remembered to feed them, and that they all turned out only slightly damaged.

My Writing Journey

Growing up, I always loved to write. I know that’s how most authors start their origin stories, but I was honestly spinning tales for my sisters and kids I babysat before I was in high school. Mine was a life lived vicariously through the characters in my favorite horror, romance, and adventure novels. An overactive imagination inside the mind of a major drama queen inevitably couldn’t just finish a story. What happens next? Do they really live happily ever after? Does the bad guy get punished? How would this end if I was the author?

Of course, the next logical step was to write out what I wanted to see happen. I took creative writing courses in high school and college, and loved every challenge thrown at me. But as so often happens, life takes precedence and writing became something I did only sporadically and just for fun. When my children were older and had their own lives, I joined a local writing group on a whim, and that changed the trajectory of my life.

It sounds dramatic, but I swear it’s the truth.

Every member of that group was welcoming, encouraging, and willing to share their knowledge freely. Through their friendship and generosity, I learned world building and plotting techniques, I read about and practiced writing, joined critique circles and took their comments to heart. I’m still constantly learning and I hope that my skill continues to grow and change with me, but I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be looking toward having my first novel published in the next year without the help I received along the way.

Three Things You’ll Find in My Book, Call You Mine

  1. Charming, small-town vibes
    The story takes place in a fictional city in central Iowa, full of tree-lined streets, a local pub where everyone knows your name, and a helping hand from your neighbors when you need it most.
  2. Steamy, butterflies-in-the-stomach romance
    Katie literally runs into charming Ben her first night back in town, and sparks fly instantly. Sure, it’s partially from the impact of butting heads, but the electrical charge Katie gets being near Ben proves to be hard to ignore.
  3. Terrifying, heart racing danger
    Katie came home for a reason: to escape a mysterious admirer who had evolved from love letters to desperate, delusional ravings. But her stalker won’t be thwarted by mere distance. He’s followed her to her hometown and comes after her harder than ever, putting everyone she cares about in the crosshairs.

Which Author Would I LOVE to Blurb My Book?

There are many options, of course: Jayne Ann Krentz, Sandra Brown, Simone St James, Jeneva Rose, Riley Sager. But for me, the ultimate dream would be the Queen of Romantic Suspense herself, Nora Roberts. I’ve always loved her writing, found it to be so rich and sensual. Having her read my work and like it enough to write a blurb for it would probably go along way toward making me spontaneously combust. No, seriously. Literal flames.

My Favorite Compliment

Hm, that’s kind of a tough one. I gobble up every kind word and adore them all, hoarding them like a dragon with its cache of jewels and gold. But the one review that sticks out in my mind came from an editor we submitted my manuscript to earlier this year. She confessed to her boss that she knew she was only supposed to read a couple of chapters, but couldn’t stop at the designated point because she needed to know what happened hext. I heard that and floated away on a dreamy cloud, feeding off that praise for weeks. Favorite compliment ever.

Still with me?

So there’s a little snapshot of who I am, how I got to this point, and what you can expect from me moving forward. The year ahead holds some exciting things for me and my writing career, and I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

Now it’s your turn to ask me questions or to tell me what’s on your mind. Leave a comment below, send me an email, or find me on my social media channels.

Let’s chat!

The Year in Review: My Favorite Reads of 2023

Somehow, while I wasn’t looking, 2023 sped past, and here we are in the final weeks of the year. It’s inevitably time for looking back at what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve learned, and what we can improve upon.

Don’t worry, this isn’t that post.

With a full-time job and a renewed focus on finishing stories that have been languishing on my computer for far too long, my reading goal for the year was modest, to say the least. But I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey I’ve been on during this spin around the sun and thought I’d share some of my favorite reads of the year.

The books I read are, largely, for entertainment. I choose to be drawn into other worlds and to fall in love all over again and to cheer for other (fictional) people. So this certainly isn’t a high-brow list of recommendations, and I fully admit I’ve read far more spice this year than I have in the past.

In no particular order, here are my top book reads of 2023:

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez

The dialogue is so clever, the love story organic and not forced, the hard stuff handled perfectly, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at a scene in a book that revolved around taking a photo! (iykyk)
There were times I had to walk away and give it a few days because I knew there were difficult things coming, and I had to prepare myself for them. That is how invested I got in these characters.

Mr. Wrong Number by Lynn Painter

I was giggling at the banter as soon as the book started and didn’t stop. This was a spicy read that I’ve recommended to many of my friends, and a few strangers as well. The story was engaging, the dialogue hilarious and smart, the characters well-developed, and the sex HOT. One of my top faves.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

This was so delightful and heartwrenching and romantic, and I swear I nearly passed out at the end. These characters and the choices they had to make felt so real that I agonized right along with them. The fact that the story takes place over a decade only adds to the romance and beauty of it as these people grow and mature, come in and out of each others’ lives, and as their relationships change. The longing and love and heartbreak is so well done. I. Loved. This. My hopeless romantic heart grew three sizes after reading this book.

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

In case you were thinking I read nothing but romance this year, I submit to you The Hacienda. This was so very beautifully written. I read it quickly and didn’t want to put it down, veritably snarling at my coworkers when they interrupted my reading during lunch. The themes in this book are big, regarding racism, misogyny, the casta system, and religion, to name a few. Beatriz was strong, smart, and brave and I loved the way Padre Andrés was able to reconcile and meld together the two parts of himself. This was a wonderful read and I thought the ending was glorious.

The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Okay, not going to lie, this was easily my favorite read of the year. I have been pushing this book onto my friends and family like a drug, and they have all fallen in love with it, just as I did. This was an audiobook version and an outstanding listen. The narrator, Rebecca Soler, was very good, and I cried when she cried, my heart raced with her, my anger flared with hers. I can’t think of the last book I was as emotionally invested in! This story was crafted incredibly well with so many compelling storylines, and I bow to Rebecca Yarros and her ability to weave so many threads with such grace. I loved the romantic elements, fully fell in love with the love interest, and the heat between the characters is something that I think about almost daily. Enjoyed this immensely.

What are your favorite reads of the last year? Do you have a particular genre you gravitate toward?

Drop a comment below or send me an email, and let’s talk about BOOKS!

Support Indie Authors This Holiday Season!

Black Friday is only a couple of days away and the holiday season is officially upon us! Are you struggling to find a gift for your coworker, neighbor, sister, nephew, random gift grab bag? Don’t panic!!

Give the gift of BOOKS and support your local and indie authors!

There are a ton of options out there and even looking through various best-seller lists or celebrity recommendations can be overwhelming. How on earth do you find something good by an author you’ve (likely) never heard of before?

You let me make some suggestions.

Following is a collection of books from different genres written by people I personally know who are self-published or independently published and don’t have the marketing clout of one of the major publishing houses. I have read almost all of the books listed – I haven’t finished all the series, unfortunately. Take a look!

Laura A. Barnes is a Des Moines area author I met by doing NaNoWriMo in 2017. (Turns out we were on the same United Nations trip when we were in high school but never met – small world, right?) Laura writes steamy period romances and currently has three series available for purchase. Whether you’re looking for pirates and spies, noble scoundrels, or matchmaking madness, Laura has got the goods to get your pulse racing.

Sarah Latchaw lives near me and is one of the most delightful people I know. Her Hydraulic Series is full of relatable characters, swoon-worthy romantic moments, humor, and a view of mental illness from a place of true love. Her writing style pulls you in and her characters are so real that you can’t help but laugh and cry right along with them. This trilogy isn’t the spicy type, but will get your heart racing.

I met Jethro Weyman through the writing platform Channillo and we became friends via the Twitter #WritingCommunity. I was struck by the amazing prose of his writing and the unique and wickedly clever ways he explores some dark and existential themesBang to Begin is a gorgeously written collection of stories that seem unconnected on the surface. Kind of mind-bendy deep stuff.

Taylor Hohulin is a local radio celebrity and all-around terrific human. the first time I read his writing, I was pulled in and have devoured pretty much everything of his since. I met him through NaNoWriMo, as well, and was lucky enough to get encouragement from him through a small critique group and I learned a lot from him.

  • The Marian Series follows a young man who gets unexpectedly transported to a pirate ship in another world where water is the ultimate prize. This trilogy is kind-of steampunk and has both human and supernatural dangers and lots of terrific science fiction gadgets.
  • TAR is probably my favorite, though. If you like cybernetic body modifications and a dangerous, living infection that ravages anyone it comes in contact with in horrific ways, set in a post-apocalyptic alternate future, you’ll dig this. It’s a tale of a traveling wizard with a shotgun but told through the exploits of a sometimes-likable survivor.
  • Your Best Apocalypse Now will have you chuckling almost immediately. In this humorous light fantasy novel, a struggling author jumps on the bandwagon of best-selling doomsday books, making it up as he goes along. Or so he thinks. When he correctly predicts the end of the world, a group of other-worldly beings take him on a journey that he could never have predicted.

Kelly Fumiko Weiss is another tremendous talent that I discovered through Channillo. I have read two of her books, from vastly different genres.

  • Her science-fiction-esque novel, The Cube, is set in an alternate near future where a mysterious cube has changed the way the world works. The main character and his best friend, Molly, start out on a fun treasure hunt for a series of mysterious symbols, but the fun turns to unexpected romance and danger for them and their friends.
  • Her other novel, The Stories We Choose Not to Tell, is a story of familial relationships and racial identity for a Japanese-American woman who learns about herself and the roots of her strained relationship with her mother by exploring the life story of her late Obachan (grandmother) who lived in a World War II Japanese internment camp on American soil. Well-written characters that had me crying along with them at the end of the book.

I am lucky enough to know many other talented authors with terrific books available, even if I haven’t read them all yet. Inspirational romance, memoir, poetry: If you don’t see something listed here that tickles your fancy, comment below or send me an email with the genre or type of story you’re looking for and I will give you a suggestion based on my own personal knowledge of the book and/or the author.

Do YOU have any recommendations of books written by indie-published or self-published authors? Share them below

Happy Holidays from my family to yours!

Laptop, coffee and diary on autumn landscape as background

October Means Prep Time

It’s fall y’all!

This is my favorite time of year for a slew of different reasons. I love the change in weather, the cool nights and comfortable days, the end of sweltering heat and oppressive humidity, and ‘sweatah weathah’. September also celebrates several of my favorite people: my oldest sister, my daughter-in-law, one of my best friends, my daughter, and my husband.

Now it’s October, and I love it even more.

October is my (and my younger sister’s) birthday month, the leaves are changing color, I can put up my silly Halloween decorations, it’s chilly enough to pull out soup and stew recipes, and it’s time for Preptober.

Never heard of it? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Next month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and October is the time to start getting ready, to start plotting, and to reconnect with all the friends I’ve made through writing. I get to help organize events for November and to draw more authors into the fold of our local writing group.

The other day I held my first Preptober event of the season and even though I was awkward and weird, I think it went well. The goal of Preptober is to help authors gather the tools, community, and confidence for a successful and fun November. Don’t get me wrong, it is fully self-serving. I need the encouragement and the kick in the pants to get ready to write next month.

And cheering on other writers is the best way I know to cheerlead for myself.

This will be my seventh year participating in NaNoWriMo and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it changed my life. Not only did I meet my best friends through the group, but I can now see a future in which I can have a career as an author, doing something I love for the rest of my life. Every year in the fall I get to meet new people, develop new skills, and draw ever closer to reaching my dreams.

What’s not to love?

Will you be participating in National Novel Writing Month? Do you use October to prepare? Leave a comment, ask me questions about NaNoWriMo, or send me an email and let me know!

How to Build a Whole (Fictional) Human

Think about your favorite books, the stories you’ve read over and over again, that have stayed with you long after you’ve finished them. What is it about them that pulls you in? Why do you keep turning the pages?

Sure, sometimes it’s nothing more than morbid curiosity, a need to just get to the end at all costs. Maybe it’s the setting, somewhere exotic or fantastical that takes you to a different world. Any of those may play a part, but for me, it’s all about one thing:

The characters.

Creating imaginary people that the reader truly cares about is a challenge and a whole lot of fun. The reader has to want the good guys to win, to be happy, to get the thing they want most. The villain also has to have you rooting for them: either to get their comeuppance, or to defeat the protagonist. Building a villain is almost as much fun for me as writing the cinnamon-roll men and strong women in my stories. Plus, it’s a great way to exorcise any personal demons by living vicariously through the bad guy on the page.

Not that I do that.

Every author has their own system that works for them, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. My personal process is honestly far less organized and rational than it should be (think Jeremy Bearimy). It probably doesn’t even qualify as a ‘process’, but it works for me.

  • Not gonna lie – I usually start with an imaginary conversation I’ve had inside my head. Whether it’s from a real-life encounter or a ‘what-if’ scenario, what the people say to each other is my first step in building the lives I want to be part of. (And then ultimately destroy, before giving them a happily-ever-after.)
  • Once I have the basic, superficial idea, I dive deeper. Why do they do what they do, want what they want? What do they believe in? There are some fantastic templates out there that help build the backstory. I have the best of intentions when I start one of these character sheets, but I never finish them. Partially because I don’t know the characters very well before the story is written. But mostly because I’m just far too impatient.
  • Creating a villain is one of my favorite things and I frequently cackle maniacally while I breathe life into him or her. This is where my True Crime obsession finally pays off; I start with what the villain does and then work backwards, like a BAU team does. Are they villains because they use unreasonable tactics to do what they think is ‘the right thing’? Is it because they want revenge, love, money? Or are they just sociopaths?

    There are so many delicious possibilities.

Some authors will keep a diary from a character’s point of view, create a vision board, build a playlist, or design a wardrobe. I will search for the picture of an actor, musician, or model who most resembles how I see the character in my mind. ALL of these ways are valid, and brilliant, and useful, and will contribute to the creation of an entire sort-of person.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your process is wrong. Who decides that, anyway? I can pretty much guarantee that no two authors create their characters using the same tools. Find what works for you and stick with it!

What is your process? Do you know everything about your characters before you start or, like me, do you let them tell you about themselves along the way?

Comment below or send me an email and lets talk about it!

 

A humanoid robot artist paints a picture in an art workshop.

Artificial Intelligence in Creativity: Blessing or Curse?

Does anyone else miss the days when artificial intelligence was used strictly for goofing around? Those ridiculous scripts created by feeding 100 hours of romcoms into a system definitely cracked me up, and my son generated some serious fever-dream images by inputting weird phrases into a different program. It was all fun and games, right?

Then the programs started ‘learning’.

I do not claim to know much of anything about AI other than it’s an atomic topic. From my understanding, programs pull bits and pieces of existing works of art or literature or academia to create something ‘new’ and shiny. Do I use it? No. Do I think it can be helpful? Sure.

Do I think it’s a dangerous, slippery slope? One hundred percent yes.

On one hand, work created by other people is being copied and used without permission or acknowledgement in something cobbled together by another person who then takes credit and possibly gets paid for the result. Maybe the people using it don’t realize that’s what’s happening, or they have no idea how to find the author/artist to give credit. No matter what, it’s already a difficult world for artists of any kind, where talent isn’t appreciated or rewarded.

‘Starving artist’ is a well-known phrase for a reason.

On another hand, artificial intelligence can be a useful tool for lightning-fast research and putting a concept into visual form. Programs like ChatGPT will find the information you ask for quickly, and will even build something with the word count and topic emphasis you want. Or if you have a rough idea of the image you want for a book cover but can’t draw to save your life or feel like the artist may not understand what you want, an AI image generator can build your idea visually. People who need to output a lot of content would find this gadget to be a lifesaver.

With a few caveats, of course.

There are limits to what a computer can do, even when using the most advanced AI. Using ChatGPT as an example again, it is limited to only what is available through the internet and will never know everything that humans know. Because it has access to only what has been digitally catalogued, the information generated may be outdated and incorrect. AI doesn’t have common sense or emotional intelligence, and can’t decipher sarcasm or humor. It will draw in ‘facts’ from anything and everything available on the internet – and I mean EVERYTHING. We know how reliable that can be. It doesn’t have the capability to differentiate between an article from The Onion or NPR or some delusional manifesto-writing lunatic.

Is it that helpful if you still have to vet every source? You may as well do your own research from the start.

There are a lot of opinions about using AI, and this is only one, only mine, and only that: an opinion. I can’t say whether we are heading toward humanity’s future as depicted in Disney’s Wall-E or in the Terminator franchise; that remains to be seen. What I can say is that I am going to continue creating the best way I know how and hope that it continues to make me happy.

What do you think about Artificial Intelligence? Is it a god-send or a device from hell? Will it make creating easier or render humans obsolete? Share your thoughts in the comments!

NaNoWriMo, novel writing

Snippets and Stuff

My first novel is coming out this fall, and I am working toward finishing the next one – ‘finishing’ as in getting ready to send to editing – by the end of the summer. I’m learning a lot about myself through this endeavor.

Examples include:

  • I do my best writing in the morning, before my brain has a chance to be mushed up by the 1001 other things that will whirl like a cyclone through my mind the rest of the day.
  • My plots are very fluid and will change as I write, necessitating a lot of RE-writes before I even get to the end of the story. It’s frustrating and stressful and most likely the reason I do NOT have another book quite ready yet.
  • Writing snippets from daily prompts is both the BEST and the WORST. I love letting the word marinate for an hour or so before I try to write a 240-character scene around it. But then I have a scene with so much potential for a full novel that I get distracted by the new shiny thing.

It’s a sickness, I tell you.

While I am continuing to plug away on my next book, I wanted to share some of the snippets I’ve written in the past month or so. I created graphics – very rudimentary graphics that I’m sure actual artists will cringe at – for most of the prompts, so I’ve created a little gallery of some of my favorites.

Writing around these words is pretty challenging. And I find it really interesting to see what each one conjures in my mind, what connotation it holds for me, who I envision using it or being described by it. I use these exercises to stretch my brain and keep my creativity from becoming stagnant.

*If there are any that particularly pique your interest, leave a comment or send me an email and let me know; it just might be worked into a short story a future novel if enough people like it!

Book Review: Haunted Ground by Cailyn Lloyd

Thank you NetGalley and Land of Oz LLC for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book. I am giving this honest review freely. 

 

Cailyn Lloyd, NetGalley, Land of Oz LLCShrewd ex-con Kat Lundquist has made mistakes – big ones – but she’s done her time and takes full responsibility for her poor choices and the followout from them. But she doesn’t feel she should die for them,.So she skips parole and goes on the run from the bloodthirsty cartel she testified against and that wants her dead.
Strange things begin to happen at the abandoned farm where she’s holed up, and she’s no longer sure what is the biggest threat: her old mentor and his new boss? Or the restless spirits and haunted past of the old house itself?

There is a lot to love about this book! Cailyn Lloyd has done an exceptional job of creating believable characters that you want to root for. From the beginning I wanted Kat to win, to survive, and to thrive in a new life. I really liked the way each new character was introduced independent of Kat and how they were slowly woven into the fabric of her story. Ms Lloyd skillfully built suspense and kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen next. It was exciting and well-executed.

I do feel there were a few aspects or plot points that had terriffic potential but that were left hanging without any resolution. Repetition from chapter to chapter made it feel more like a serial that had been cobbled into novel form, like the author was reminding the reader what had happened in the last installment, and the way characters kind of shared knowledge was a bit convenient.

All in all, I really enjoyed the story and hope to read more from Cailyn Lloyd.

Haunted Ground: The Ghosts of Laskin’s Farm is available for preorder and will be released on April 25, 2023.

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