Category: Guest Post

Guest Post: The NaNoWriMo Problem By Marc Watson

The NaNoWriMo Problem

By Marc Watson


I’d like to offer an opinion that likely flies in the face of a lot of the things you’ve read about the craft of writing: writing prompts and word goals can be harmful, and run the risk of being creatively abusive.

Writing goals and prompts can absolutely be an effective method of motivating a lapsed author back into a proper habit-formed writing routine. Check almost any social media group regarding writing and you’ll find an individual declaring their 3000-word a day goal was passed! Or maybe it wasn’t reached and the rest of the community heralds the accomplishment or consoles the failed attempt with upbeat sentiment and praise. Don’t get me wrong, sentiment and praise are incredibly useful and inspiring, but the machine of the writing goal itself can absolutely be harmful.

Writing is like parenting; if there was just one way to do it there would only be one book on how and we’d all walk away with a copy. However, just as a story or poem can be as individual as a snowflake, so to can the person who wrote it. One needs to find the method that works for them and roll with that. One needs to accept that a great story, one really worth telling, may take personal sacrifice and struggle that could very easily be uncomfortable for the author. It may take an ungodly amount of patience. This fact, particularly in new authors, seems to be lost at times.

But why do I say it can be harmful, or creatively abusive (which seems like shock-writing but hear me out)? Through my own experience, I’ve let a story simmer if I didn’t like where it was going. Maybe it meant I had to come back to it later. Once or twice I’ve abandoned perfect acceptable stories because at some point I realized I didn’t have the time or talent to really tell the story I wanted to tell. Could I have rushed it and put out something perfectly acceptable? Absolutely, but how happy would I have been?

A rushed story runs a very high risk of being undercooked. Maybe it will work! An undercooked steak can still be tasty, and some people like that meat bloody! I like to say that there’s an audience for every word ever written, but maybe you have an audience that wished for medium or well-done. Or maybe you’re making chicken, and now surprise! Everyone has salmonella.

If you want to put out the best work you possibly can, a creative endeavor you can be really proud of, what will rushing it, or pushing your creativity, or forcing your hand bring you? I’m certain it will bring you a story you can sell and print, but will it absolutely be the story you wanted to tell? You may get steak, but you run a much higher risk of chicken.

I’d like to address NaNoWriMo specifically, an internet-born writing prompt contest that runs through our circles every November. There are variations throughout the year, but let’s focus on this one.

The goal is 50,000 words in a month. Daunting, but absolutely possible. That’s only 1,667 words a day! Get to those keyboards and write that dream novel or book of poetry you’ve yearned to put out into the world!

…Unless you work full time, or are a single parent. Maybe you’re a member of a perfectly nuclear family, but the kids have soccer and your spouse goes away and you’re on your own for a day or two. Maybe you just don’t write well in the evenings, or mornings, or lunch breaks. Your rhythm may be interrupted by life. Suddenly the words from days you’ve missed pile into the ones you have available. But this is your dream and this is how you’ll do it!

…But now it’s the 15th of November and you’re only at 18,000 words. Do you celebrate this amazing accomplishment, or lament the fact that you’re so far behind? 18,000 words of anything is a joyous event, but will you appreciate it? 

I’ve created this perfectly reasonable scenario and ended up with an author who runs the risk of being disappointed or depressed or, worst of all, stifled with what many would consider success. How motivated is that author now? How likely are they to rush and push themselves to get to the finish line? I’m not saying they can’t or shouldn’t. It is absolutely possible to get there, to shake off the anchors and sprint. There are those that live for that pressure, and come out stronger for living through it. The creative fire cooks their food exactly how they like it, and how their audience likes it as well.

And yet, there are those that run the risk of getting run over by the expectation machine. Those that see the success of others and measure it against themselves regardless of how healthy or realistic that is. Never fool yourself into thinking that art doesn’t have its own culture of keeping up with the Joneses. Sure, maybe that author you like reached their goal, but do they live your life? Do they live in your brain and struggle with your struggles? No, and it can absolutely be harmful to put yourself up against them. Some do even if they fight it. And that’s where the harm comes in. That’s where creativity gets abused. That’s where the fire that cooked the previous author’s steak to perfection ended up burning your house down with you in it.

It is absolutely alright to not have a writing goal. Maybe you wrote 5000 words in a day. Astonishing! Maybe it was 500. Great! Maybe it was 50, or 5. Maybe it was none because the world doesn’t stop just because you want to write something. If you really have a story worth telling, do not be afraid to write it in your own time. It may take years. Or it may take weeks. Poll a room full of one hundred authors on how they make time to write and you’ll likely get one hundred different answers. It’s also just as likely that not one of them would work perfectly for you, because you are not them, and you shouldn’t try to be.

I’m not saying avoid writing prompts and challenges and NiNoWriMo. Try them if you like. Tweak them. See what sticks and what you can throw back. They are the loud and the easily celebrated. There is no contest for the author who took twenty years to finish their first novel, but their accomplishment is just as strong and valid as the one who took twenty days in a feat of finger flying fury. Neither of them is right, and that’s a truth lost on so many. Although I’d say I see it a lot more in new writers and young, fresh faces, I can’t say the veterans are totally immune either. As I said, each story is unique, and maybe the one you’re writing can’t be told by adhering to the styles that have previously brought you success. Maybe this one needs to simmer. Is it not somewhat foolhardy to assume every adventure into our creative selves will come out the same?

We all want success, regardless of what we see that success as. No one’s success is any more valid than another’s. The writing collective, the group hive-mind, is an inexhaustible resource for us all, but the sexy ideas aren’t always the right ones for you. Opening your mind to every possibility, even if it’s an uncomfortable one, is the surest way to get a story you can be proud of.


In the world of Ryuujin, heroes rise and fall, but there are always stories that slip through the cracks. The tales of the people who shape the years to come. Heroism and betrayal. Conversations between friends and enemies that will change the course of the world.

These are nine stories from a world that is historic, modern, and terrifyingly futuristic. A world where science and magic intertwine, and give birth to the unknown souls who become heroes, and the legends who fade away into history.

From the author of the renowned dark comedy Death Dresses Poorly, and from the world of his hit science-fantasy duology Catching Hell comes a collection of adventure, drama, joy, and terror as we look into the lives of the powerful, the meek, and the people who make the world turn over the course of centuries.

Marc Watson


Marc Watson is an author of genre fiction of all lengths and styles. His works include the novels Death Dresses Poorly, Catching Hell: Journey, and Catching Hell: Destination, as well as having short stories in the collections Enigma Front 5: The Stories we Hide, and A Land Without Mirrors. His newest release, a collection of science-fantasy short stories Between Conversations: Tales From the World of Ryuujin, is available now! He began writing at the age of 15 and continues to be a part-time writing student at Athabasca University. He has been published on flash fiction site (find his stories here) as well as comedy site


Marc lives in Calgary, Alberta. He is a husband and proud father of two. He is an avid outdoors-man, martial artist, baseball player, and lover of all Mexican foods.  He can be found at online, as well as on Facebook at, and on twitter at @writewatson.

To Reap The Spirit Blog Tour: Writing with ADHD

Writing with ADHD

By: Sarah Lampkin

Around the age of 14, my mom took me to a behavior therapist for the first time and that was when I was officially diagnosed with ADHD. After many fights and arguments over grades and studying, we finally had an answer as to why I couldn’t do things the same way as my older sister. It also explained my day dreaming.

Being a young teenage girl, daydreaming is a common occurrence and not something that would raise alarm. But my ability to be so completely lost in thought and in my own world happened far too often and during situations that got me into trouble. For instance, I was constantly lost while in school, as my brain believed my own world was more interesting. 

While using my sketch book as my outlet, I started to describe to my parents the stories behind my terribly drawn people…but I wouldn’t stop. There were times when I would start telling a story and no matter what my parents did to change the subject or stop me, I had no control over my own voice. 

That’s when a suggestion was made: Write your stories. 

I don’t remember who suggested it. I just know that I was never motivated to finish anything until I started writing. It became the perfect outlet for the ideas that were always in the forefront of my mind, distracting me from everything else. That’s when my life began to change for the better. I was finally learning how to live a healthy and productive life with ADHD without medication. 

With each new story, I was able to hyper focus on my writing. So, when the time came to go to school or work on homework, I was suddenly able to focus on the work at hand without getting easily distracted by everything else going on. Somehow, writing became the therapy I needed to be successful at everything in my life. Of course, I still struggle with some things, but not as much as I did before as a young teen or child. 

Writing was my life saver.

To Reap the Spirit (Dead Dreamer #3)


Publication Date: October 13th, 2020


Genre: New Adult/ Urban Fantasy


Sanguis daretur. Ignis invocavit.


The third installment in the haunting Dead Dreamer series.


Somehow Brenna Whit has survived to her junior year at Nephesburg College. Despite all odds, she’s fought against the Gatekeepers and lived. But the battle for the Fade has only just begun.


New pieces have been added to the board.


The Fade opens to the Veil.


And a Shade from the past returns.


With Brenna’s secret out, everyone is after her: dead and living alike. Those from across the sea have come and they’re determined to regain control of their broken faction.


Questions will be answers


Fires will be lit


Chaos will reign




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Sarah Lampkin

Sarah Lampkin


A native of Richmond, Virginia, Sarah Lampkin is a 2015 graduate from Lynchburg College [University of Lynchburg] with a master’s degree in English. Since graduation, Sarah now lives in Northern Virginia working in the IT field as a Technical Writer while continuing her research for her graduate school thesis. When she isn’t working, Sarah continues her Celtic mythology research and Gaelic studies, while working on the Dead Dreamer series.


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Guest Post: How I Fell (Back) in Love with Vampires

How I Fell (Back) in Love with Vampires

By Nicole Givens Kurtz


I fell in love with vampires by reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. It was on a bright, sunny day in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I had been banished from the house to go outside (like normal kids my dad would say). At 13, I didn’t like being hot and sticky, so I rode my bike during the early mornings. I attended high school on the other side of town, so my friends didn’t live in my neighborhood. It was the 1980s and cell phones were expensive fanny packs with a telephone receiver. No worries, I had my horror in a pile of mass market paperbacks and I was fine.

Prior to reading Salem’s Lot, I didn’t care much for vampires. They seemed silly, cartoonish, and a bit overdone. Then I read Dracula. It was okay, but I loved Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, and felt more horrified by Dr. Frankenstein’s actions than Count Dracula. As it was, Dr. Frankenstein had a choice. Not so much with the count. As I read both of these classics, one thing was painfully obvious: They were very pale. White. European.

It can’t say if that is why I didn’t groove to vampire the way I had other paranormal creatures in horror, but I can tell that once someone recommended L.A.Banks’s Vampire Huntress series, I devoured all things vampires. Sure, there had been movies like A Vampire in Brooklyn and Black vampires in cameo spots in vampire films, always background dressing. Eddie Murphy and Angela Bassett’s movie was comedy, and that didn’t scratch my horror itch deeply enough.

But, Banks’ work did. Suddenly, vampires were Black. Hunters were black. And we weren’t in the 1800s or Europe. We were in Philly and in those urban parts that I recognized.

I was seen. Someone saw us. I was in love.

When L.A. Banks passed away, a void emerged. That’s not to say Black vampires weren’t being written. After all, Marvel in conjunction with Sony released Blade. The daywalker gave rise to the superhero movie, and while I love the original film, the sequels eroded his role and diminished him as both a vampire and a Black male, not to mention the erase of the Black doctor who saved him.

There were other vampire films, especially after Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. Even the use of Aliyah as Queen of the Damned didn’t quite capture my interest and my horror-loving heart like L.A.Banks did. Perhaps it was the medium. Perhaps it was the writing

I’m going to go with the latter. 

And I stopped loving them. By the time big budget vampire films came along and sparkling vampires emerged, I was over them, like a boyfriend that betrayed me. At the mention of vampires, I got a bitter taste in my mouth.

All of the above films lacked the one thing Banks included in her vampire stories. Their Blackness, the characters’ connections to their neighborhoods and to being a Black person in America. That’s what I wanted to recreate with SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire.

But I wanted more than just the Black American experience, though that in and of itself is a varied, diverse stories from a diverse populace. I expanded the call for submissions for SLAY to include those stories from the African diaspora. We received many submissions, and the result is an anthology of 29 stories of vampires and hunters. 

These stories helped rekindle my love for vampires. These stories are rooted in African and African American diaspora experiences, legends, and myths. Some of the stories are subversive and glorious. 

There’s so much to love in those short stories. 

I was swept off my feet. 

And in doing so, I fell in love.


Mocha Memoirs Press is proud to present SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire — a revolutionary anthology celebrating vampires of the African Diaspora. SLAY is a groundbreaking unique collection and will be a must-have for vampire lovers all over the world. SLAY aims to be the first anthology of its kind. Few creatures in contemporary horror are as compelling as the vampire, who manages to captivate us in a simultaneous state of fear and desire. Drawing from a variety of cultural and mythological backgrounds, SLAY dares to imagine a world of horror and wonder where Black protagonists take center stage — as vampires, as hunters, as heroes. From immortal African deities to resistance fighters; matriarchal vampire broods to monster hunting fathers; coming of age stories to end of life stories, SLAY is a groundbreaking Afrocentric vampire anthology celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the African Diaspora.

Featuring anchor stories by award winning authors Sheree Renée Thomas, Craig L. Gidney, Milton Davis, Jessica Cage, Michele Tracy Berger, Alicia McCalla, Jeff Carroll, and Steven Van Patten.

Additional Contributing Authors: Penelope Flynn, Lynette Hoag, Steve Van Samson, Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, Balogun Ojetade, Valjeanne Jeffers, Samantha Bryant, Vonnie Winslow Crist, Miranda J. Riley, K.R.S. McEntire, Alledria Hurt, Kai Leakes, John Linwood Grant, Sumiko Saulson, Dicey Grenor, L. Marie Wood, LH Moore, Delizhia D. Jenkins, Colin Cloud Dance, and V.G. Harrison.

Nicole Givens Kurtz

Nicole Givens Kurtz


Nicole Givens Kurtz is an author, educator, and publisher. She’s written stories for Serial Box, Baen, White Wolf, Draco Gaming, Inc. Her novels series have been finalists in the Dream Realm Award, EPPIE Awards for SF, and other recommendations. She’s the publisher of Mocha Memoirs Press, a small publishing company dedicated to amplifying marginalized voices in speculative fiction. You can find her via social media or at her site,
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Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women Blog Tour: Part four of four

Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women blog tour Sept 21st – Oct 12th  Part four of four.

By Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn


Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women is an anthology of Southeast Asian horror which subverts expectations of Asian women and their place in society. It brings to light the furious and restless spirits which sometimes lie behind the smiling facade of quiet submissiveness and familial duty. 

Edited by award-winning author and editor Lee Murray, and published short story author and editor Geneve Flynn, the anthology was released by Omnium Gatherum on September 26th, 2020, and features esteemed authors of dark fiction such as Rena Mason, Angela Yuriko Smith, and Christina Sng. 

It has been called an “instant classic” by Nightmare Feed, and “one of the best anthologies of 2020” by Pseudopod.

This series of four blog posts introduces the editors and contributors, and reveals the inspiration behind the fourteen dark stories which feature in Black Cranes. In this post, we meet Rena Mason, Rin Chupeco, and Gabriela Lee.


Rena Mason, born in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand, is an American author of Thai-Chinese descent, and a three-time Bram Stoker Award® winning author of the The Evolutionist and “The Devil’s Throat”, as well as a 2014 Stage 32 /The Blood List Presents®: The Search for New Blood Screenwriting Contest quarter-finalist. She’s had nearly two dozen short stories, novelettes, and novellas published in various award-winning anthologies and magazines and writes a monthly column. Her dark speculative fiction often crosses and mashes genres and subgenres. 

She is a member of the Horror Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, The International Screenwriters’ Association, and the Public Safety Writers Association. 

An avid scuba diver, she enjoys traveling the world and incorporating the experiences into her stories. She currently resides in Reno, Nevada but can also often be found visiting her home in the Great Pacific Northwest. For more information visit her website: www.RenaMason.Ink or follow her at: Facebook: rena.mason 

Twitter: @RenaMason88 Stage 32: Rena Mason Instagram: rena.mason 

Rena’s story “The Ninth Tale” is a dark retelling of the legend of the nine-tailed fox, showing the proud and calculating side of woman. Set in historical China, the story follows Ju as she seeks out the final human heart that will help her to ascend to heaven, and is rich with beauty and betrayal. 

Here’s how “The Ninth Tale” came about:

RENA MASON: I don’t think it’s ever one thing that inspires me to write any story, and the same is true for “The Ninth Tale.” With the popular resurgence of a modernized huli jing, (Pinyin – húlijīng) or fox demon/spirit portrayed in anime and video games with a blending of cultures and added superpowers, many of the original stories get muddled and lost to younger generations. Because of my mainly Chinese heritage, I wanted to write a folktale-style story using the Chinese mythos versus the versions from other countries like the Japanese kitsune, or Korean kumiho. I also wanted to take a character traditionally seen and feared as a “powerful” woman, and set her in a time when women suffered from the sexist practice of foot binding; whether it was for sexual purposes or to keep them sedentary for work, or not, it was wrong. I’ve always been fascinated by the contrast between the reverence for, and fear of, women in Chinese mythos compared to the treatment of Chinese women by their male counterparts throughout history. I also grew up watching a lot of historical Chinese drama and martial arts movies, am a huge fan of Zhang Yimou (minus The Great Wall), and I wanted to write a story that had a similar visual vibe and feel, to the extent of using the importance of different colours to set the moods in scenes. 

Rin wrote obscure manuals for complicated computer programs, talked people out of their money at event shows, and did many other terrible things. They now write about ghosts and fantastic worlds but is still sometimes mistaken for a revenant. They are the author of The Girl from the Well, its sequel, The Suffering, The Bone Witch trilogy, The Never Tilting World duology, and the Wicked As You Wish series. A Chinese-Filipino who grew up with Filipino superstitions, Catholic guilt, and Buddhist traditions, yet somehow overcoming them all to become a nonbinary liberal atheist, they were born and raised in the Philippines and, or so the legend goes, still haunts that place to this very day. Find them at


Rin’s tale “Kapre: A Love Story” is set in rural Philippines, where monsters such as the kapre, tikbalang and aswang reside and feed at the edge of the forest. Kapre falls in love with a baby girl and follows her as she grows from a child to a woman, rising above his monstrosity.

Rin shares what inspired the writing of “Kapre: A Love Story”:

RIN CHUPECO: Myths and legends played an important part in my upbringing, and I grew up with more books than friends, enchanted by fairy tales of singing mountains and benevolent enchantresses. Ghost stories, however, were my first love; the more subversive and eerie the tale, the more I enjoyed it, and my own books wind up becoming an odd amalgamation of both.

Gabriela Lee was born and raised in Metro Manila, Philippines. She earned her MA in Literary Studies from the National University of Singapore (NUS), and currently teaches literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, focusing on science fiction & fantasy and children’s literature. She has received the 2019 PBBY (Philippine Board on Books for Young People) Salanga Grand Prize for children’s literature, writing about her grandmother’s experiences as a child during the Second World War. Her fiction has appeared internationally in publications such as LONTAR: The Southeast Asian Journal of Speculative Fiction, Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, Heat: An Anthology of Southeast Asian Urban Writing, Kaleidoscope: Speculative Fiction for Young Adults, and The Dragon and the Stars. She has also been published in the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthologies, the Filipino Fiction for Young Adults series, and in Philippine literary journals such as Kritika Kultura and Likhaan Journal. Instructions on How to Disappear, published in 2016 by Visprint, Inc., is her first collection of short fiction.


“Rites of Passage” is set in the Philippines and tells of the tiyanak, a vampiric baby. Three separate stories of three different young women intertwine with the mythology of the tiyanak, examining the secret and bloody rites of sex, pregnancy and childbirth beneath the heavy eye of morality and religion. 

Gabriela shares the background to one of the darkest stories in Black Cranes:

GABRIELA LEE: “Rites of Passage” is a story rooted in the Philippine mythological creature called the tiyanak. According to legend, the tiyanak was a shapeshifter, a creature of the forest, a monster that took the form of a baby, except for its red eyes and skin, and its sharp teeth. It would mimic the cry of a child, leading hapless people into the forest to look for it. Once it was picked up by the man or woman who sought to comfort it, it would attack the person and consume them. Other people say that it was the abandoned foetus from abortions – one of the many reproductive rights denied to women in the Philippines. I wanted to write a story about the horrors of motherhood in the Philippines, without sounding moralistic or antagonistic, and using the device of the tiyanak seemed like an appropriate way of exploring the cycle of the experience without directly confronting it; telling it slant. 


Thanks for joining us for the final post in the blog tour for Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. If you’d like to read the stories covered in the tour, you can click on the link below.

BLACK CRANES: TALES OF UNQUIET WOMEN edited by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

RELEASE DATE: 26/09/20

GENRE: Horror

PUBLISHER: Omnium Gatherum


Skythane Blog Tour: Imposter Syndrome Can Be Brutal

Skythane Blog Tour Guest Post By: J. Scott Coatsworth

Sometimes it sucks being an author.

I’m in the muddy middle of my current WIP, a novel tentatively titled “Twin Moons Rising.” I reach a point in every story where my belief in myself as a writer fails me. It’s called imposter syndrome, and it can be brutal for any writer.

For me, it manifests in that muddy middle. All of a sudden the brilliant idea I had seems like so much derivative drivel. I suck as a writer. My characters are flat, my plot boring and pedestrian, and I’d be better off as an accountant. A fireman. Anything but a writer.

The first time this happened, I spent five years writing and rewriting a novel until I just about literally wrote it into the ground.

It’s become a bit of a tradition, along with the consuming of writing chocolate every morning (that’s totally a thing) and the book release celebration. I pass the halfway point and my inner critic shows up, ready to trash my latest work.

Here’s the thing. I wasn’t able to overcome Imposter Syndrome until I accepted it as a part of the job of being a writer. It’s like the critical parent who pushes their kids to be better, or the editor who murders your story with a red pen, but in the end makes it so much better.

My internal critic is what drives me to be better, even if he’s a bit of an asshole about it.

So I greet him like an old friend. I let myself feel sick for a little bit. And then I push ahead and write through the mud. Eventually I come out on the far side, and it all works out.

So embrace your critic. Let your imposter flag fly. And keep writing until you’re flying.

Book Blurb:


Jameson Havercamp, a psych from a conservative religious colony, has come to Oberon—unique among the Common Worlds—in search of a rare substance called pith. He’s guided through the wilds on his quest by Xander Kinnson, a handsome, cocky skythane with a troubled past.

Neither knows that Oberon is facing imminent destruction. Even as the world starts to fall apart around them, they have no idea what’s coming—or the bond that will develop between them as they race to avert a cataclysm.


Together, they will journey to uncover the secrets of this strange and singular world, even as it takes them beyond the bounds of reality itself to discover what truly binds them.


Series Blurb:


Oberon is unique among the Common Worlds – a half-world with a strange past and an uncertain future.


Jameson Havercamp and Xander Kinnson are thrust into the middle of a world-ending event and have to scramble to save the world – and themselves.


Along the way, they peel back the layers of the onion to discover secrets wrapped in secrets that will eventually take them to where it all started – and may provide the key to saving Oberon and everyone on it.

J. Scott Coatsworth


Scott lives with his husband Mark in a yellow bungalow in Sacramento. He was indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine. He devoured her library, but as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were.


He decided that if there weren’t queer characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.


A Rainbow Award winning author, he runs Queer Sci Fi, QueeRomance Ink, and Other Worlds Ink with Mark, sites that celebrate fiction reflecting queer reality, and is a full member member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).


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Guest Post: WEIRD IDEAS: Ways to Find Ideas for Your Writing BY Tim Waggoner

WEIRD IDEAS: Ways to Find Ideas for Your Writing

BY Tim Waggoner, Author of Writing in the Dark


In order to write effective – and original – horror, you need to dig into your own psyche and find out what scares you, what disturbs you, what hurts you. It’s what Jack Ketchum used to refer to as “writing from the wound.” Worried that no one will be frightened by the same things you are? Don’t be. As Aristotle said, the only way to get to the universal is through the particular. By focusing on your own personal fears and giving them shivery life on the page, you’ll be connecting to your audience – guaranteed.

What were you afraid of as a child? The dark; thunder and lightning; the barking German shepherd next door; Mommy and Daddy yelling at each other? Make a list of your childhood boogeymen, and write at least a paragraph about each item. Don’t think in terms of story, just write whatever comes to mind. Try to focus on your feelings and what sparked those feelings – remember, horror is an emotion.

Next – and this might be difficult – make a list of any disturbing events in your childhood. Encounters with schoolyard bullies, severe illnesses, deaths of friends and family members. Again, write at least a paragraph on each item.

Pay attention to the events in the news which upset and anger you. Collect newspaper and magazine articles and keep them in a folder. Don’t merely collect every article on murder you find. Look for stories which arouse an emotional reaction in you, stories which fascinate you.

One of the news stories I’ve collected over the years concerns an apartment house near Ohio State University which had a replica of an electric chair perched on the roof. According to the article, the building’s occupants had no idea who put the chair up there and why. It was there when they moved in. As they said, “It’s always been there.”

Now there’s a story waiting to happen!

Another area you can explore for ideas is the realm of dreams. Every morning, as soon as you get up, record your dreams in a journal. A friend of mine in college had been keeping dream journals for years. When he first started, he only remembered having two or three dreams a night. But after a couple years of faithfully writing in his journal, he routinely recalled fifteen or sixteen. And while many of them weren’t more than snatches of everyday life replayed on the mind’s dream-screen, he always had at least a couple that were quite surreal and disturbing. Added up over the course of a year, that’s a lot of potential story ideas. In our dreams, our defenses and pretenses are swept aside, and we are most ourselves. Your dreams are unique; use them to write stories that are uniquely yours.

Stephen King once said that he comes up with ideas by looking at an ordinary object and telling himself that something is wrong with it. You can do this too. Take a look around you and let your imagination run paranoid. Choose a minor aspect of your life or an ordinary event and tell yourself that something is wrong with it. Seriously wrong.

Ask yourself what’s most important, most dear to you. What do you treasure? Who do you love? Now ask yourself what if these things were threatened, removed, altered, turned against me? How would you feel? And most importantly, what would you do about it? Your answers to these questions will provide some of your best and most personal story ideas.

I get a lot of my ideas from interacting imaginatively with the world around me. I’ve always had a strong imagination, and I spend most of my time living in my head. So if I see something that strikes me as odd, it sparks ideas. For example, a couple years ago, I found a large wooden stake in my yard. I know the stake was left by people doing construction on the street, but my imagination immediately thought: This was left by a vampire hunter during the night. This is how I think all the time, so whatever I’m doing – taking a walk, reading a news article, watching a TV show – I’m constantly responding to whatever stimuli are around me. I also get ideas from misperceptions. A word I misheard, or something I saw out of the corner of my eye that I mistook for something else. Once when I was driving home, I saw a woman in her front lawn. As I passed, I caught a glimpse of her face, and it looked as if she had the skull of some prehistoric beast for a head, with long, curved upper and lower fangs. I write down these kinds of details because I experience so many of them throughout the day that I’ll forget them if I don’t. Not all of them become inspiration for stories, but a lot do.

When you walk in the world as an imaginative person, you notice all kinds of weird things, and you wonder at their origins and possible (hidden) meanings. For example, years ago, in the space of a week, I saw two different men walking backward at two different locations. I had no idea why these men would be walking backward. It was so strange! I wrote a note about it on my phone’s notepad app, and sometime later, when I was searching for a story idea to use for an anthology, I read over my list of ideas and found The Backward-Walking Men. I used that image as the basis for the story.

I try to make my stories unique – both from each other and from what other people write – in several ways. One is by drawing inspiration from the world around me, as in the above example. I was likely the only person on Earth who saw those two men in that week and wrote it down in his phone. Then I combined it with another idea, one that at first might not seem to fit. The anthology I was writing the backward-walking men story for was Heroes of Red Hook. The book’s concept was Lovecraftian fiction featuring diverse heroes. I made the backward-walking men into one man, and I chose a young autistic man as my hero. His special perception of the world allowed him not only to see the Backward-Walking Man – who was walking backward as he unmade reality – but to defeat him.

I also try to make sure each story has an emotional core. For “The Backward-Walking Man,” the emotional core is that my hero has been treated all his life as if something’s wrong with him, that he’s lesser. But through the events of the story, he realizes the way he looks at life is special and valuable, and so is he. So I guess my story formula would be Weird Observation + Seemingly Unrelated Idea + Emotional Core. If I can nail down those three things, I can usually come up with what I hope is a decent story.

In the end, it’s simple: If you want to write truly effective horror, don’t merely recycle the imaginings of others. Write the stories only you can tell. And in the process, scare the crap out of the rest of us.

Writing in the Dark – 


In this comprehensive textbook devoted to the craft of writing horror fiction, award-winning author Tim Waggoner draws on thirty years’ experience as a writer and teacher. Writing in the Dark offers advice, guidance, and insights on how to compose horror stories and novels that are original, frightening, entertaining, and well-written.


Waggoner covers a wide range of topics, among them why horror matters, building viable monsters, generating ideas and plotlines, how to stylize narratives in compelling ways, the physiology of fear, the art of suspense, avoiding clichés, marketing your horror writing, and much more. Each chapter includes tips from some of the best horror professionals working today, such as Joe Hill, Ellen Datlow, Joe R. Lansdale, Maurice Broaddus, Yvette Tan, Thomas Ligotti, Jonathan Maberry, Edward Lee, and John Shirley. There are also appendices with critical reflections, pointers on the writing process, ideas for characters and story arcs, and material for further research.


Writing in the Dark derives from Waggoner’s longtime blog of the same name. Suitable for classroom use, intensive study, and bedside reading, this essential manual will appeal to new authors at the beginning of their career as well as veterans of the horror genre who want to brush up on their technique.


From Raw Dog Screaming Press, it published September 16, 2020. It’s available in hardback and paperback for pre-order before that date, and usually mail early.


Praise for Writing in the Dark


“More than just a generalized survey of spooky stuff, this book addresses horror in all its many manifestations, from Quiet Horror to Extreme Horror to Country Horror. Beyond discussions of plotting and character, Waggoner also offers helpful advice on interacting with agents and publishers, as well as best practices for marketing your work.”—Booklist


“I was in the final edits of a novel that I believed to be solid. Waggoner’s advice suggested I dig deeper. I did and now the story feels so much more alive and relevant…Enroll in this fine course with Professor Waggoner. You won’t mind the homework—even if the monster does eat it.”—Dave Simms for Cemetery Dance

For more information or to order go to, purchase at usual online retailers, or order from your local bookstore.

Tim Waggoner

Tim Waggoner


Critically-acclaimed author Tim Waggoner has published over fifty novels and seven collections of short stories. He writes original dark fantasy and horror, as well as media tie-ins, and he’s the author of a book on writing horror fiction called Writing in the Dark. He’s won the Bram Stoker Award and been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award, the Scribe Award, and the Splatterpunk Award. He’s also a full-time tenured professor who teaches creative writing and composition at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio.



Twitter: @timwaggoner


Instagram: tim.waggoner.scribe

Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women Blog Tour: Part three of four

Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women blog tour Sept 21st – Oct 12th  Part three of four.

By Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn


Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women is an anthology of Southeast Asian horror which subverts expectations of Asian women and their place in society. It brings to light the furious and restless spirits which sometimes lie behind the smiling facade of quiet submissiveness and familial duty. 

Edited by award-winning author and editor Lee Murray, and published short story author and editor Geneve Flynn, the anthology was released by Omnium Gatherum on September 26th, 2020, and features esteemed authors of dark fiction such as Rena Mason, Angela Yuriko Smith, and Christina Sng. 

It has been called an “instant classic” by Nightmare Feed, and “one of the best anthologies of 2020” by Pseudopod.

This series of four blog posts introduces the editors and contributors, and reveals the inspiration behind the fourteen dark stories which feature in Black Cranes. In this post, we meet Angela Yuriko Smith, Elaine Cuyegkeng, and Christina Sng.

Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher and author of Okinawan descent. Her first collection of poetry, In Favor of Pain, was nominated for a 2017 Elgin Award. Her novella Bitter Suites is a 2018 Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist. In 2019 she won the SFPA’s poetry contest in the dwarf form category. She has been nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize. She co-publishes Space and Time Magazine, a 53-year-old publication dedicated to fantasy, horror and science fiction. For more information visit or


Angela has two stories in Black Cranes: “Vanilla Rice” and “Skin Dowdy.” 

In a society where technological cosmetics are the latest craze, “Skin Downy” examines the pressure for women to be beautiful, and to have their worth tied so intimately with their appearances. Desperate to keep her husband’s attention, Leilani demands bigger and better upgrades until she is a glittering goddess. But appearances aren’t everything, and revenge isn’t always best served cold.

“Vanilla Rice” is set in a future world where Asians are second-class citizens and DNA can be manipulated to create babies who look white. Meiko, an expectant mother, wants a better life for her baby and installs an Attribute Chip. As her daughter grows, it seems that everything Meiko dreamed of has come true. Then Katsue begins to sense that she is different. 

Here’s what inspired both stories:

ANGELA YURIKO SMITH: Like my character Katsue in “Vanilla Rice”, I’m a blend of races. My maternal grandmother was Okinawan and my father is descended from the Kentucky Scotch-Irish. The two cultures were an odd match but it worked for them. I’m positive the in-laws never met.

Growing up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I had no concept of diversity. Everyone was from the same Mid-western pot. I learned quickly not to divulge private details. The day I mentioned I liked seaweed on rice doomed me socially. It didn’t help that I was ugly and awkward with a broken front tooth and taped-up coke-bottle glasses.

My grandmother was my angel. One day I told her I would name my first girl baby Yuriko after her. She made me promise not to, saying that Americans would always look down on a child with an Asian name. She always used the name “Mary,” a name given to her as a child by authorities because it was easier to say. She’s the inspiration behind Katsue’s mother, Meiko. I’ve been outraged for her my whole life

We shared the shame of being different, but, where she wanted to be all Caucasian, I wanted to be more Asian. She wished to be admitted to the world I inhabited, but it was a world I didn’t quite understand. It wasn’t until I learned to accept and celebrate my position caught between two cultures that I learned to be comfortable with myself and with others.

In “Vanilla Rice,” Katsue becomes a monster in pursuit of authenticity. In “Skin Dowdy,” Leilani is stunning but false. Someday I hope we can move beyond labels and artificial standards of beauty and accept ourselves “as is.” Then there will be no such thing as monsters.

Elaine Cuyegkeng is a Chinese Filipino writer. She grew up in Manila where there are many, many creaky old houses with ghosts inside them. She loves eusocial creatures both real and imaginary, and ’80s pop stars. She now lives in Melbourne with her partner, and their two small cat children. She has been published in Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, The Dark, and Rocket Kapre. You can find her on @layangabi on Twitter and on Facebook.


Elaine’s story “The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter” is set in a future Philippines, where children can be made and remade in secret until they are flawless. Leto is her mother’s perfect right hand: the very image of everything that Chua Mercado Genetic Alchemy promises. But things were not always that way, and soon, Leto finds out why.

Here is how the story came about:

ELAINE CUYEGKENG: If I had to comp this short story, it would be Crazy Rich Asians meets Brave New World. I grew up in a culture that mythologises its founders, is deeply invested in legacy, and what descendants owe that legacy and their families. But I was the weird kid who never really fit (like so many of my SF peers!), and grew up morbidly fascinated by Huxley’s universe, everyone carefully designed and conditioned to be exactly what their world needed them to be (the horror and bleakness didn’t really hit me until I was older).

Fast forward years later—I’m living in Melbourne with the love of my life, and Crazy Rich Asians hits the theatres. And the film, which grappled with diaspora, with identity and family, things I was grappling with too, ended with a fairy tale ending that left me unsettled instead. 

All of these things percolated, I guess, into the strange Frankenstein story of Leto, her mother, the push and pull between them, and Leto finally rebelling, and finding a way to make herself heard.

Christina Sng is a fourth-generation Singaporean-Chinese. Her paternal grandparents were Peranakan and Teochew-Cantonese, while her maternal grandparents were Hakka and Cantonese. She was born and raised in Singapore, and lived in Canada and Australia for several years.

Her award-winning poetry, fiction, and art have been widely published and exhibited around the world. She is the author of Bram Stoker Award winner A Collection of Nightmares, Elgin Award runner-up Astropoetry, and A Collection of Dreamscapes

Christina lives in Singapore with her children and a menagerie of curious pets. Visit her at and connect on social media @christinasng.


Christina’s story “Fury” is set on a near-Earth planet in the future, where a deadly virus has killed thousands, turning them into super zombies. Kate, a young, highly trained operative, escapes an attack and boards a plane, only to crash-land in a small town. She is heartbroken to leave her father behind but must find Chandran, a doctor who is rumoured to have a cure, before the town is overrun.

Christina shares the story behind “Fury”:

CHRISTINA SNG: “Fury” is Kate’s origin story. She is an outlier, thanks to her unconventional father who raised her and elevated her in a deeply authoritarian world. Her fury fuels her right from the start to survive; first in a world where status and gender rule, and later, in an apocalypse which levels the playing field.


Stay tuned next week for final part of the blog series, which will feature Rena Mason, Rin Chupeco, and Gabriela Lee.

Thanks for joining us for part three of the blog tour for Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. If you’d like to read the stories mentioned here, head to the link below.

BLACK CRANES: TALES OF UNQUIET WOMEN edited by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

RELEASE DATE: 26/09/20

GENRE: Horror

PUBLISHER: Omnium Gatherum


Guest Post: Process and Sound

Process and Sound

By: Robert P. Ottone  


I’ve always been the kind of writer who needs to be in a particular frame of mind when writing. My most creative times are my mornings, post-shower, post-breakfast and in the evenings, around dinner time. That said, to help get into this frame of mind, I like to assemble my own take on the concept of a “mood board” if you will. 

Webster’s defines a mood board as “a board used by designers on which samples of various colors and textures are mounted to help in deciding which elements complement each other.”

Fair enough, but I’ll leave visual representations to the folks on Pinterest. For me, creating a “mood board” has more to do with an auditory connection than it does to a visual one. Creating a soundscape of tunes that propel sequences and narrative beats forward has always helped my writing. Back in the days of cassette tapes, I used to put together “soundtracks” to my works, all music that had to do with either the theme, the characters, scenes I had planned or whatever else that I was “feeling” at the time.

I did this with my first collection of short stories, People: A Horror Anthology About Love, Loss, Life & Things That Go Bump in the Night, and I did it again for my new book, Her Infernal Name & Other Nightmares. The songs provide the connective tissue to serve as links between the written word and the mindset I was working with in crafting each tale. 

For example, I reference Grimes’ song “Oblivion” in the collection’s title novella, Her Infernal Name, knowing that while the song’s message has to do with the singer’s personal experience of being attacked, in my story, it connected to the very real insecurities that one of the lead characters felt, that allowed her open to a monumental and supernatural change. I felt that song provided a skeleton to build the meat and muscle around, and I’m particularly proud of that novella and its overall dark message centered around the economic concerns of an entire generation.

Nothing excites me more than hearing a song that gets my creative juices flowing. Often, they come from an eclectic mix of sources, from 1983 Italian disco-pop tracks to Fleetwood Mac to the band Tanlines. Sometimes a song will provide such a deep sense of mood and atmosphere that I’ll be able to build an entire world, visualizing and creating every nook and cranny. 

In my last collection, People, the prevailing theme of grief resulted in the soundtrack featuring songs that one might not immediately think of in terms of “horror,” but to me, resonated more with human experience. It was through the interpretation of those experiences, with grief and other emotions, that the playlist I built included songs by an eclectic group of artists whose work lent power to the very real emotions I was trying to explore. 

The soulful guitar plucks of a song by Mac DeMarco or The National helped me find the emotional connection between two damaged people falling in love after each experiencing a personal loss. 

The pulpy anger coursing through a Modest Mouse track helped realize the world of a man avenging the death of his friend at the hands of a monstrous bear.

Death Cab for Cutie helped provide the emotional touchstones needed to bring a ghost and a Japanese record store worker together.

Music is a powerful thing, and one that can make or break your mood. Having the right balance of tracks that function to bolster one’s narrative is key, but including a few filler jams will help clear your mind, while also having the added benefit of hopefully re-centering the narrative or shedding new light on a scene.

Of course, taste in music is subjective. What works for me won’t work for you. You may feel that your horror story would be benefitted by some Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen, two artists that I can’t ever imagine using, but can absolutely see the value of for another writer. Being able to extrapolate concepts and ideas from not only lyric, but also the music itself is the key. 

Let me explain that a bit better, Akira Yamaoka, the musician and producer behind the scariest franchise in video game history, Silent Hill, crafted four soundtracks that are amazing all in different ways. Taken as a whole, each soundtrack works for each gaming experience, however; I’ve found myself cherry-picking certain tracks from certain games to help in rounding out the world I’m building. Taking “You’re Not Here,” arguably his strongest track, and placing that on the wrong playlist could derail the entire narrative.

It’s like being at a party, and fun, propulsive tracks are fueling the entire evening. Then, all of a sudden, someone changes the playlist to a low-energy band like Oasis. Great band, but not party music. The same applies to whatever you’re writing. The playlist for Her Infernal Name & Other Nightmares features songs that lean a little further into the electronic territory circling the aforementioned Grimes track, but also some alternative and indie artists to help round out the “feel” or “vibe” of the other stories. It also has a Fleetwood Mac needle drop that’s very much connective tissue between the artist, the song and a particular character in the title novella.

By marrying music with written narrative, to create a soundscape and audio storyboard of sorts, I find cobbling stories together comes a bit easier. This won’t work for everyone, but I think it could be an interesting experiment for you to try. If you like it, send me the playlist on Instagram (@RobertOttone) or through my site (, I’d love to hear what world you’ve crafted and where your mind takes your story, or, more specifically, where the story takes your mind and tastes.

Her Infernal Name & Other Nightmares is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and wherever fine books are sold.

Robert P. Ottone

Robert P. Ottone


Robert P. Ottone is an author, teacher, and cigar enthusiast from East Islip, NY. He delights in the creepy. He can be found online at, or on Instagram (@RobertOttone). His collections Her Infernal Name & Other Nightmares and People: A Horror Anthology about Love, Loss, Life & Things That Go Bump in the Night are available now wherever books are sold.