Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cool Questions from 8th Graders

I was privileged to be allowed to read to students at Bowie Junior High school a few weeks ago. Here are some things they asked:

What themes do you write about? I write about people who struggle. In the Phantom series, the two main characters struggle with loneliness and with growing up. In All For Love, the woman struggles with so many things from infidelity, to alcoholism, to abortion and suicide. And in Stutter Creek and Lilac Lane, the protagonists struggle just to stay alive.

Who inspired you to write?  Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Mary Stewart (The Crystal Cave); in other words, all my favorite authors

How long does it take to write a book?  From a few weeks to a few months. Writing in first person (like in my Phantom series) is much easier than third person like my adult series (for me, at least).

How do you get over writer's block?  If I get stuck on a story, it usually means my brain is fried, so I’ll go for a walk, or go to Sonic for a diet vanilla Coke. If I write myself into a corner from which I can’t possibly escape, I put that tale aside and start a new one. I have a file of hundreds of ideas for stories.

Were you excited when your first book was published?  Yes! I was also very excited the first time I had a short story published (way back in the dark ages). I remember getting a letter in the mail and literally screaming my head off inside my truck. I think I had picked up the mail and was sitting in there to open it.

Who is your favorite author?  Stephen King — although I have to say his earlier work excited me more than his recent work. I love Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Body (Stand by Me) and stories like that. I also loved The Dead Zone and The Stand. One of his newer works that I like is Joyland.

What is the hardest part of writing a book? Staying off Facebook and/or other social media. I also spend hours just reading articles on MSN, etc. I’m a very nosy person.

How do you decide on titles?  Sometimes the title comes right away, but sometimes it’s later, in the story. And then sometimes, it doesn’t come at all and I depend on friends and readers to help me find it.

Do you have other people help you with ideas?  Hmmm, no. I’m sort of close-mouthed about my ideas, but I do have a writing group (eh, Ms. Harris?) to help with rough drafts.

Do you have places you go to write?  No. Just my computer (s). Or if I get an idea away from them, I write in my iPhone notes or my handy dandy mini spiral that lives in my purse.

How many kids do you have? 2.5 (I inherited a beautiful daughter from my husband’s ex, but she isn’t actually my husband’s daughter. It’s complicated. LOL.)  I also have 5.5 grandchildren ;-)

Do you use symbols? Yes. And I usually don’t even know it until later, when I read it through.

What method do you use to brainstorm? Free writing — I just write without stopping and without thinking. It works best when I’m really tired. Which is most of the time.

What is your writing process? Catch as catch can. I love to write in the morning with a cup of coffee. And I always write the best parts first. I don’t outline, but I do write the ending as soon as possible. It’s like my goal, to get to the finish.

How do you choose your words to create a better mental image? The muse does that. My very best work doesn’t come to me consciously, but subconsciously. I really loved this line from ALL FOR LOVE, “The moonlight was seductive, it lay across the water like a transparent veil across a woman’s hair.” But I have no idea where that line came from. I wrote it out just like that, without stopping. And then I thought, well, I like that.

What is your favorite type of figurative language? Oh, I love metaphors, but similes are easier and they often pop into my work unbidden. I have to cut them out frequently. I also love onomatopoeia. Poe was the expert at making up his own sound words like susurration and tintinnabulation—I try to do that from time to time. I also fall into the alliteration trap sometimes—I love it, but it has to be seeded into sentences sparingly or it sort of starts to suck.

Why did you write Chems?  Awesome question! Chems came from an image of a boy finding a zombie in his dad’s toolshed. But I didn’t want just any old zombie—I wanted a zombie hero. So that’s what I wrote. I decided the government could make one using chemicals. Funny thing is, my cousin and I wrote an entire novel based on this blue pseudo zombie. We wrote every night sending the pages back and forth via email (she lives in Washington DC), but alas, the book somehow devolved into a zombie romance (I know, I know, it really was a horror story then) so it’s now simply lurking about in my Mac seeking asylum from the land of the dead novels.

Thanks for the cool questions kids. Take care and thanks to  your teacher for allowing me to come and invade your classroom!

AfterthoughtThank you, ToysRUs for coming back from the dark side. And thanks to the mom in Florida for helping them see the light. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

ToysRUs Has Gone to the Darkside

And I don't mean the Darth Vader darkside. If only life were still that simple.

Nope, this time the toy giant has gone plumb overboard.
Have you seen this article? 

It says ToysRUs is now selling Breaking Bad characters complete with pretend bags of crystal meth and cash.

They admit they are doing this because sales have been lagging. So yes, it is true Virginia, there is no Santa and the all mighty dollar is the anti-Christ.

My question is, how did we get from Mickey, Minnie, and Barbie to this?

I'm not going to preach long. I just want to say one thing about this ridiculous ploy to make money. My niece is in jail. She, too, thought crystal meth was the ticket to the ball. She will probably not get out of prison until she's in her forties or fifties. This is her second or third time. She once told me meth is so addictive it makes heroin look like candy cigarettes. My once beautiful niece has not only lost twenty plus years of her life, she has also lost custody of her three year old daughter. That sweet baby can't understand why her mommy won't come and pick her up from her dad's house. She says she's visited him long enough, she's ready to go home now. But she no longer has a home with her mommy. Meth took care of that.

Wonder what that sweet girl would say about these wonderful new toys?

Afterthought: What's your opinion? 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Time and Bitty

It's Fall. I love this season - allergies and all. But this year it's especially poignant because I'm privileged to be in charge of the last grandchild not yet in school. Yes, I'm that old, but don't tell my inner child, she thinks we're still in our teens.

Bitty is three. He wants to go to school like his Mama, the teacher, and his two big brothers and big sister. On the other hand, he loves being the only one let out of the car at Audie's house in the cool-dark of predawn each weekday morning. Makes him feel oo-oo special (that's super-special in Bitty speak).

He has a slight speech imperfection if you hadn't noticed. We think he's simply imitating his older brother, Dawson, who has a major speech imperfection. They both call their Grandpa, Ah-ha. Do you see the pattern? Audie is Granny, Ah-ha is Grandpa. There is a technical name for this problem, leaving off the front sounds of words, I believe it's called Apraxia. It seems to be inherited. We'll blame it on Ah-ha.

I can't believe time has gone by so quickly that out of the four grandchildren who live nearby, this is going to be my last school year to keep one at home. Technically, he could go to preschool, he actually attends a speech class there twice a week, but I'm going to be selfish. I'm going to keep him with me so we can play and take walks and gather acorns and pine cones, read books and collect tiny black beetles and have paper airplane wars. It may be our last chance to act like children before the world gets us in its immutable grasp.

Afterthought: Thank goodness he's such a good napper. I wrote this while he was sleeping. Now, on to my book.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Interview with Denise Vitola, Science Fiction Author

Hi Denise:  Thank you for agreeing to share yourself with my readers today. I know you are an author and an editor, but please tell the readers what sort of books you write and how many you’ve had published.

I’ve published 12 novels and several short stories. I write dystopian science fiction mostly, but many would say I stray into fantasy and definitely into horror. My books would be considered cross genre, because most of them are also detective mysteries.

That’s a fair number of novels in publication. Which one would you say changed your life?

My first novel, Half-Light, sold back in 1991 to TSR, Inc., the makers of Dungeons and Dragons. I spent eight years teaching myself to write. There was no such thing as the Internet in those days, so I practically lived at the library and read old issues of The Writer to learn my craft. Half-Light was an old-fashioned space opera, but it was a love story, too.

When it was bought, I was actually on the phone with my agent. We were celebrating the fact that I’d sold, just that day a short story to Amazing Stories Magazine. Along came the call, she put me on hold, and returned breathless!

From there, it was no stopping me. I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted out of the 9 to 5 world as badly as anyone could ever want it. Half-Light fired my engines like no other book. I would get up at 4 a.m. and write until 6 a.m. Find a quiet office at lunch and write for an hour. I would come home at 5:30 p.m. and write until 9 p.m. I would write all weekend and every holiday. (I had a very understanding husband.) It was because of my early success with Half-Light that I realized my life was all about writing.

That sounds wonderful to me. Can you think of a book—written by another author—that had some sort of impact on your life?

There were many, but the one that cried, “You love science fiction and you know it!” was Frank Herbert’s DUNE. I got so lost in his universe that it was hard to find my way out again.

Being both a traditionally published author, and an indie author, are there any insights you can share? In other words, what do you see as the pros and cons of each?

I think the only pro of traditional publishers is the monetary advance when you sell your book. Everything else is the same. You have to write the best story you can and deal with an editor, and if you’re an indie, I strongly advise finding a good editor to make your words shine. Many new writers think that traditional publishers will give you the book tour and publicity, but unless you are one of the privileged elite, you can forget that. You are on your own. The one big pro of indie publishing is that you get to be your own boss. You don’t have to worry about bringing your book into line with the publisher’s policies. You can write whatever you please.

That is a big plus, isn’t it? So speaking of Indie publishing, which do you think is more important for catching the reader’s eye: cover art, the blurb, or reviews? Or is it something entirely different?

A great cover and a strong blurb are always important. Reviews never really tell you if you will love or hate a book because art is subjective. I think the most important thing for catching a reader’s eye is the first page of the story. If those first couple of paragraphs wow ‘em, then they’ll buy the book and keep reading.

I know you are also an artist. Do you design your own covers? Or do you design for others?  

I design my own book covers, but I know so many digital artists now that my next book cover will probably get worked over by a great illustrator.

What was your very first written work? (I think mine was a story when I was twelve or fourteen years old.)

I wrote a complete detective novel when I was about eleven or twelve. It was about 50,000 words and my dad diligently typed it up for me. It wasn’t a kid’s novel, either. I used cursed words and shot people, laid in clues and red herrings. I was determined to be the next Mickey Spillane.

I know from experience that you are also a top-notch editor. Please tell us how you got into editing and give us a brief description of what a good editor can do for a book.

I started editing books about 37 years ago after I did a stint as an assistant editor for a newsletter written for the United States National Commission for UNESCO. My boss taught me everything she knew. I took several English courses and suddenly, out of the blue, people started asking me to edit their novels. From that point on, I was inundated with clients.

I think a good editor is a good writing teacher. I try to help my clients understand why certain changes need to be made. If they need a bit of a refresher on various areas of writing, and if they are open to it, I will give them ‘assignments’ to write something a bit differently.

A good editor doesn’t just correct your grammar. A good editor will help you develop a book by showing you how to get the best out of the story, the language, and the characters. He doesn’t write the book for you, though. A good editor can only suggest changes. He should always remember that the book belongs to the writer.

I totally agree. You taught me so much with my first two books. So tell me, just how many incarnations of Denise have there been in this life? By that I mean what were your previous jobs, or have you always been an author/editor?

For many years, writing was my avocation. My day job was with the Department of State and the United Nations, and then in the late ‘80s I moved over to the Department of Defense. I’ve always worked in the higher echelons of the government—the Office of the Secretary of State or the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I was an Executive Secretary, which meant I kept the admin pool running while pouring coffee for dignitaries and generals.

I’m always interested in what drives a person. Give us your favorite life-quote and share the significance if you will.

The 20th Century mystic, Edgar Cayce, once said, “You’ll not be in heaven if you’re not leaning on the arm of someone you have helped.” I have always tried to maintain this simple philosophy in my life, and I hope that it is reciprocal.

Oh, I absolutely love that quote. How about treating us to a favorite scene or passage from one of your books. 

I think my favorite passage comes from my latest book, THOMAS TALKS TO ME, How to Create Your Own Muse. Thomas is an angel who brought the gift of writing to the world. He ends the book by saying:

“Words are the gift for Humanity, one I paid a high price to bring. I beg you not to forget that. Placing your truth before the world is vitally important for a writer to remember and honor. You are not just writing for money. You’re writing for a legacy. You’re writing to bring people hope, inspiration, and freedom of thought. Whether you are crafting fiction, non-fiction, flash, poetry or essays, your words have impact. They are the only real magic in the Universe.”

That’s true, words are magic. And speaking of magic, if you could be any kind of animal in the next life, what would it be, and why?

I want to be a cat with opposable thumbs, who knows how to type.

Haha! That’s a scary thought, Denise. Is there anything in the world that scares you?

The thing I am most afraid of is that folks will stop reading my words. Seriously. It scares me more than death, itself.

Spoken like a true writer. Thanks for playing Q & A with us today. I look forward to working with you again one day.

To find out more about Denise and her books, check out the link below.

My website is You can find book covers and links to my books, as well as icons that take you to my Facebook page and my Twitter Feed.

Afterthought: The winner of the Banned Book from last week is Leah
leah(@)  Congrats, Leah. I will email you!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Banned Books Week - Giveaway Blog Hop 9/21 - 9/27

This blogpost is dedicated to bringing attention to the idea that certain books should be banned because of questionable content or language. Many books are pulled from public schools and public libraries because a few people want to impose their beliefs upon the majority of the population. I personally think that is dangerous. 

I was brought up with the idea that if you CAN read it, then you MAY read it. So I read anything and everything that piqued my interest. I raised my own daughter the same way. Now here's where I may differ from others in this campaign: I don't believe the same ideas extend to other forms of entertainment such as video games and movies. Those are passive pasttimes. They don't require any brain power. That's a huge difference if you ask me.

Books make you think, and if you aren't able to read and understand the words in the book, then you probably aren't going to attempt the material. Visual media, on the other hand, doesn't require one to have a working vocabulary. Quite the contrary, images on a screen are "fed" into your brain at warp speed whether you are "mature" enough for them, or not. I think this is dangerous, too. But that's another topic.

For this post, I'll just conclude by saying that some of my favorite reads were (or still are) on the banned books list (according to the American Library Association's website). These books are:
The Grapes of Wrath
To Kill a Mockingbird
Call of the Wild
The Color Purple
Animal Farm

More recent additions are the kids books, Captain Underpants, and the YA series, The Hunger Games.

I could go on an on, the list is very lengthy, but I think you get my point. Yes, there is controversy in all of these books, that's what makes them "good reads." 

If you would like to win an electronic copy of any banned book, just mention that book in a comment on this blog post (along with your email address), and at the end of the week, I will let select the winner. I will then email you the electronic version of that book.

Also sponsored by I Am A Reader:

Afterthought:  To learn more about banned books, check out this website BANNED BOOK WEEK 

Here are the other participating blogs: 

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bullying Leads to Suicide

"It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong." -Abraham Lincoln
I don't often voice my opinions on current events, but every now and then I have to speak up. In light of something that happened in our little corner of Texas, the above quote seemed especially relevant.

You see, a little twelve-year-old girl took her own life this past week. No, I did not know her, but apparently she was being bullied both at school and on social media. Her profile picture shows a smiling face befitting that of an angel. And now--NOW--students are flooding her page with messages of love.  
I can't even begin to express the sorrow and anger I feel, and yet child suicide is no longer an infrequent occurence. Some news reports stated that suicide is the third most common cause of death in children ages ten to fourteen. 
Why am I writing about this in my usually book-laced blog? Is it because suicide has touched my own life? Not really, although it certainly has. This time it's because I taught this age group for many years
--ages ten to twelve--and I know how easily this sort of thing can happen. It only takes one or two ugly comments to ruin a child's day. Pile comment on top of comment and over time, it can obviously ruin a child's life.

Besides, I had to write about it. Writing is what I do. When something bothers me, or hits too close to home, I write about it. I only wish that sweet little angel had lived long enough to develop such an outlet. Maybe another child will be touched by her death. Maybe that other one will cease to be a bully. Or perhaps that other one will open up and let someone else share his/her burden before it's too late. 

If we keep talking about it, maybe it will happen.

  • If you or someone you know is battling depression or have ever considered taking your own life, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free service for anyone needing help. Their number is 1-800-273-TALK.

For Valrie Stover, Rest in Peace little angel. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Who Should Play Ella, Anson, Chet, and Nick?

Lilac Lane, my new suspense novel, would make a fantastic movie. No, that isn't hubris talking. I write what I like to read and also what I would like to see on the big screen, (or the small screen for that matter. Big Lifetime fan here.)

So, who would I want to play the main characters in the movie? First, a little synopsis of the book: Ella and her son, Nick, escaped her ex-husband's drunken wrath once. They made a new life in a new town, Stutter Creek. But now Anson is out of jail. Is that him driving by the house late at night, causing the strange noises in the attic, making the lights flicker on and off? And if it is him, can they survive another round with a madman?

Okay, so we've got Ella, the young mother. She is trying to make a go as a restaurant owner and single parent. I think a young Sandra Bullock would be perfect to play Ella. Girl-next-door tough, that's what she'd need to be.

As for Nick, there is a young actor named Ty Simpkins. I think he has that slightly haunted quality my Nick would need.

Chet Boone could be played by Mark Wahlberg. Tough, tender, handsome in a goofy sort of way, and a good father. That would be Chet's character to a T. I would have chosen Paul Walker. He would have been the PERFECT Chet.

Now, as for Anson--the bad guy--check this out and tell me what you think. 

Yep, that's Robert Pattinson. I think he's supposed to be a good guy in this movie, The Rover, but he looks crazy to me. I could definitely see him busting through a door with murder in his eye. The question is, does he wear a size twelve boot as in this little snippet from the novel:

         He shattered the old wooden door from the inside with one well-placed kick from his size twelve boot.

         The chair was still beneath the knob, but the entire top panel of the door had splintered. In the moonlight coming through the kitchen window, Ella could see his massive silhouette.
         With another kick, the entire door disintegrated. Shards of wood flew in all directions. The red kitchen chair went scooting across the floor until it hit a piece of debris and flipped over on its side.

Afterthought: Okay, tell me your thoughts. Where have I gone wrong? Who would you cast in the movie?