Writing Tip Blog Swap with Sara Jayne Townsend

Sara Jayne Townsend and I have swapped blogs to share writing tips today. She stopped by in June to talk about writer insecurity. You can read that post here. Today she’s talking about the struggles she had finishing her first novel and getting it published. Along the way, she drops several lessons she has taken from her experience.

I’ll also give some writing tips on her site. My post focuses on what I’ve learned writing a series. So after you finished reading this post, hop over there to see what I have to say.

 

LEARNING CURVE

By Sara Jayne Townsend

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My newest release with MuseItUp Publishing is a supernatural horror novel called SUFFER THE CHILDREN that will be hitting the virtual book shelves in late spring. This particular novel is a re-release and has a special place in my heart. Not only was it my first published novel, but it and I have been on a very long journey together.

 

The journey began in the early 1990s when I wrote a short story called ‘Kiddiwinks’, inspired by a creepy-looking abandoned house I used to pass on my way to work in those days. The story was about a group of children who dare each other to break into the neighbourhood’s creepy house, telling stories about the witch that allegedly lives there, and they discover too late it is indeed occupied by an old lady who eats children. I put the story to my writing group and they encouraged me to turn it into a novel. Which I did. I started the novel in 1994, and it took me ten years to finish.

 

I learned a lot of lessons in writing that novel, one of which was that anyone who wants to be published shouldn’t take ten years over one novel. One of the main reasons that it took me so long was that in those days I didn’t plot properly. I’d started with a concept and a set of characters. I knew where I wanted to begin, and I knew vaguely where I wanted to be at the end, but I’d given no thought as to how I was going to get there. Unsurprisingly, I got halfway through and had no idea what was going to happen next. I put the manuscript away in a drawer and got on with writing other things. Then I got to a point when I decided I was going to finish this accursed manuscript if it killed me. I went back through what I had and made copious notes, and then I wrote a three-page plot summary, detailing everything that had to happen, from beginning to end. From there I broke the plot down even further, into a chapter-by-chapter summary. Between that and having some time off from work one Christmas, during which time I was able to hammer out 10,000 words, I was able to get to the end of the first draft. And this was another important lesson: plotting. I am now a meticulous plotter, drafting out plot summaries and chapter breakdowns before I even begin writing chapter one. And I no longer get ‘stuck’ halfway through a story.

 

SUFFER THE CHILDREN was finally finished in 2004, and I started sending out the manuscript. Unfortunately, by then horror had fallen out of favour in the UK. Many of the rejections I collected claimed that the novel was YA, which I didn’t agree with – after all my inspiration was Stephen King, who has written many books with kids as main characters, and he’s not a YA author.

 

At the beginning of the 21st century, the increasing popularity of e-books saw an increase in the number of small e-presses who did not require an agent as gatekeeper and were more likely to take a chance on a new writer. I started submitting to them, and there’s another lesson: literary agents are not the only way to go. Eventually the novel got accepted by Lyrical Press, but they gave me a condition: the character of Leanne had to be 18, because they didn’t deal with YA. I eventually relented, re-wrote the novel and signed the contract. You have to pick your arguments – another important lesson.

 

SUFFER THE CHILDREN was released by Lyrical Press as my first published novel in 2010, but the contract was for three years. When the rights were returned to me I commissioned an artist friend to design a new cover, and self-published it. Finally, when I signed on with MuseItUp for the Shara Summers series, they expressed interest in more of my work and I sold the rights to them. SUFFER THE CHILDREN will once more be available later this year – and with the label of YA I resisted for so long. And there’s possibly the most important lesson. Don’t get too hung up on labels, especially if your publisher is suggesting how to market your novel.

 

SUFFER THE CHILDREN – blurb

 

Orphaned at eighteen, Leanne’s life is adrift in a sea of grief and drug use. She washes up on the shore of estranged relatives, the Carver family, struggling with loss of their own. The transition from her South London council estate to her new home in the Surrey middle-class suburbs is difficult for Leanne.

 

But beneath the respectable veneer of the quiet neighborhood, something terrifying lurks. Displaced and troubled teenagers are disappearing. Leanne recruits her cousin Simon and his girlfriend Carrie to help get to the bottom of the sinister mystery. Can the three of them stop a creature of unimaginable evil before Leanne becomes a target?

 

About the Author:

Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror, and someone tends to die a horrible death in all of her stories.  She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there.  She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her guitarist husband Chris.  She co-founded the T Party Writers’ Group in 1994, and remains Chair Person.

 

She decided she was going to be a published novelist when she was 10 years old and finished her first novel a year later.  It took 30 years of submitting, however, to fulfil that dream.

 

Learn more about Sara and her writing at her website (http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com) and her blog (http://sayssara.wordpress.com). You can also follow her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/sarajtownsend) and Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3500282.Sara_Jayne_Townsend), and buy her books from Amazon (UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B003QROE8S and US: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003QROE8S).

 

My New Horror Story, Trimixer, Now on Lightning Quick Reads

I’m warning you right now, this is not a light-hearted, feel-good story. Advance at your own risk.

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Scary does not need darkness.

It doesn’t require monsters, ghouls, or ghosts.

Not all evil lurks in human form.

The most ordinary day can become a horror story.

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Aiden’s childish screams pierced the humid air as he ran through his sprinkler. Water warmed in the inflatable pool. The cool, cloudy morning had turned into a bright, hot day.

Steve stood on the edge of the wet grass watching his son play. Matted hair dripped water from his head, and his soaked green and blue swim trunks clung to his legs and made a sloshing sound as he ran. Steve’s wife, Annie, sat on the front porch step. She looked striking in her cutoff denim shorts and maroon bikini top. He could think of a handful of things he’d like to do with her instead of work, but none of them would happen during the day with Aiden awake. Oh, well. Nothing wrong with planning ahead for tonight.

Once they wanted to have another kid; a girl would have been nice. A boy and a girl, what more could they ask for? But after three miscarriages in a row, the hurt became too much, and they decided Steve should get a vasectomy. With Aiden turning seven, they didn’t want to start over with a baby. This would mark the last time Steve would wonder what it would have been like having two children.

A dull, splashing sound brought Steve out of his daydream. He looked down to see water droplets splatter the toes of his work boots turning the tan leather a reddish brown.  He remembered he had work to do. As he walked to the silo shed, Annie’s phone rang. “Hello. Oh, hi Clarisse. Thanks for calling me back. Hold on, I have to run in the house to find the paperwork.”

He passed the barn door and remembered he needed to take another bale of hay to the orphaned calf. He had thrown several bails down, so as not to half to climb the rickety latter to the hayloft more than every couple days. After carrying a hay bale to the stall where he kept the calf, pulling off the twine, and breaking the bale apart, he checked the water tub and found the calf still had plenty before setting off for the silo shed again.

He found the light on in the shed. He had finished chores at dusk the night before; had he left it on? Mistakes like that happened when he hurried. He flipped the switch off, turned on the fuel to his old tractor and worked his way to the rear of the Trimixer to open the silo shoot. He turned on the silo unloader and gave it a few minutes to fill enough for the cattle.

When silage piled to the opening of the shoot, he started the tractor and turned on the power-takeoff (PTO) to bring the silage to the front of the wagon. And earsplitting screech cut deep into his sole. Something must be grinding. He reached for the PTO lever, but the noise stopped.  The shrill screech happened again, this time much shorter, and stopped. The sound couldn’t have come from metal grinding metal as he first suspected. It came from a living creature.

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Continue reading the rest of the story here, if you dare.

Bullies, Witches, and the Supernatural: an Interview with Stuart West

It’s always exciting to meet a new friend. I had the good fortune of getting to know Stuart West this past week or so. Sure, our books are with the same publisher, so I had come across him on message boards and other people’s blogs, but this is the first time I’ve interacted with him directly. And let me tell you, our similarities don’t end with writing for the same publisher. We live in the same geographical region. We don’t care for cats. We love horror movies. We even both prefer the Spanish version of Dracula… I didn’t know anyone else had seen it.

So today we’re doing a blog swap. We’ve read each other’s books. Now, I grill Stuart about his book here, and he puts me over the coals about Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud on his site. And to increase the incentive to read these posts, and because we are generous, he has a copy of Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud to give away, and I’m offering up Tex, the Witch Boy. You have to leave a comment to enter, but we made it a bit more interesting than that. Read on to learn the details.

_MG_0556 - Version 2Hi, Stuart. Tell us a little about yourself. Where you grew up, where you live, how many countries you’ve visited, why there are so many cats in your book.

Dang it, Eric, first of all, I don’t like cats. Like my protagonist, Tex, I’m allergic to cats. Plus they’re just too danged independent, thus making not for making good pets. And they can scratch you without notice. Okay. Had to get that out of the way. But you can’t have a book about a witch without cats.

I live in Kansas. It sucks.

I’ve only been to the Kansas City/Overland Park area, but I didn’t have such a bad time. I had some good Bar-B-Que at B. B.’s (on the Missouri side) and some ice cream at the best Cold Stone Creamery I’ve been to. I know some people go to that area to shop. I’m not much for shopping, but I can hold my own when it comes to eating.

Other than the cats (I’m not a fan, either. We have two indoor, two outdoor, and that’s at least four more than we need), what else can you tell us about your books?

Eric, the Tex, The Witch Boy series are all murder mystery, paranormal, suspense thriller, romantic comedies. Whew. And they all deal with current topical issues teens deal with. In a non-preachy manner. The first book tackles bullying (a large part of which is based on my high school life, as awful as it was).

I’ve only read Tex, The Witch Boy, but Tex and the Gangs of Suburbia is available (I’ll be getting it soon) and Tex and the God Squad comes out Friday the 13th of December (working for Muse is going to break my piggy bank).

Yes, indeed. Tex and the God Squad is actually based on an incident that happened at my high school two years ago. It’s about the sudden and shocking violence that happens in high schools. It’s awful, very frightening. But, it’s not all doom and gloom. This book introduces my stand-out character, Elspeth. She’s a fan favorite, even gets her own book next year. Can’t tell you too much about her now as she’s shrouded in mystery.

Tex and the God Squad is out in a couple weeks, actually. This one I’m a little concerned about. My bad guys are obviously based on the heinous Westboro Baptist Church. Bring it! It’s about teen suicide, gay and lesbian issues, and, the daddy of ‘em all, religion. Hope I do the topics justice. It’s the biggest and baddest-a** book of the trilogy, I think.

The best way I’ve learned to offend someone is to start talking about religion. I think it even outweighs politics–though in recent years, the two terms have almost become synonymous. Good luck with that.

In Tex, The Witch Boy we learn Tex is somewhat dissatisfied at being a witch, as opposed to a warlock or wizard. Without giving anything away, do we ever learn a reason why he’s a witch, or is that just how it is?

Eric, I actually did some research (I know, right?). Witches, regardless of gender, are all called “witches.” Warlocks are apparently the thing of fiction. One witch liked what I did; the other? Not so much.

You learn something new everyday. I even worked with a Wiccan  once. We had some interesting conversations.

Speaking of a Friday the 13th release date, and you writing books about witchcraft, do you believe in the supernatural? As Dr. John Markway said in The Haunting, “Look, I know the supernatural is something that isn’t supposed to happen, but it does happen.”

Well, thanks for name-dropping one of my favorite horror films. But, alas, no, I’m not a believer. I’d love to be, though. So, if any ghosts are out there, waiting for a house to haunt, come on and get me. Please?

I’ve never seen anything to make me believe in ghosts (human spirits walking, or floating, around), but I did have an extremely strange experience once. When I recount it, most people think I’m making things up (writers get that a lot), so I won’t go into all the details here. The short version goes something like this:

Either my senior year of high school, or sometime when I came home from college, I got off work from the evening shift and went home. My parents and sister were all asleep when I got there so I quietly headed to my bedroom in the basement. I got about halfway down the stairs when I felt something… evil. It was like the air grew too thick to walk through. I couldn’t take another step down, so I went up and slept on the couch. I didn’t feel anything bad upstairs, and I didn’t feel like I was in any kind of danger. I just knew I couldn’t go downstairs.

A few hours later I awoke. I felt the strangeness pass through the house and leave. There was no question in my mind it was gone. I went to my room and slept the rest of the night there. The next morning, in the family room adjacent to my bedroom, I found a Ouija Board my sister and her friends had been using the night before. I’ve never experienced anything like that again, and I’m not saying the Ouija Board caused it, but I’ve stayed clear of them since… just in case.

Sorry, I feel like I tried to steal the show there for a minute. Let’s get back to you, Stuart.

I’ve always been a huge fan of horror (books and movies), and the scene where Tex conjures the spirit of a murder victim is straight out of classic horror. Are you a fan of the horror genre?

Oh, believe it, brother. My favorite genre. Can’t get my wife to watch horror films but I definitely subverted my daughter at an early age. Father and daughter bonding time is sitting on the sofa, freaking out. Not much into gore and the new-fangled torture films, but the classics? Yeah.

I’m with you 100%. I don’t do ‘gorror’ but I love the classics.

Did you ever consider making the Tex, The Witch Boy series a horror series?

As much as I love horror, I couldn’t do it. I think it would’ve detracted from the story and characters. And, really, that’s what the books are about—the characters.

Yes, I think characters are the most important part of a story. In my mind, the plot doesn’t matter a bit if it’s not happening to people you care about.

I’ve been pondering a historical fiction book about the Salem Witch Hunt, and this book did nothing but stoke that fire. To write it like I want would require extensive research, some of witch (get it) I started years ago. How much research into witchcraft did you have to do for this series?

Talked to a couple of witches. The internet is a writer’s best friend.

Tex, The Witch Boy is about bullies. You’ve mentioned before that all of the examples of bullying are taken from real life experiences. Does that include the examples of adults as bullies?

Yeah. Sadly, bullying doesn’t stop at the high school level. Maybe the physically violent level of it does. But having spent most of my life in corporate America, they’re still an unwelcome presence.

Red is an interesting character because we’ve all known those adults we felt attached to as kids. I even remember a few school janitors I respected and learned a thing or two about life from. Did you base Red on anyone from real life?

Yep, Red was a janitor who did, indeed, bust me for egging my school, just like Tex does. Now, he was a junior high janitor, but still…

Finally, just for a silly question and for a nice number like ten… Do you like the Wicked Witch of the West? (Hey, I had to. You played a question on my last name.)

No, I think she’s a total beeyotch. Always’ve been more partial to the bubbly witch. Oh, crap, who am I kidding! Yes, I like the green witch! Especially when she melts.

Thanks for visiting us today Stuart. I invite everyone to leave a comment telling Stuart what you think. And for extra fun, tell us a little about your favorite witch. Who is she, or he, and why? Someone who does will be taking home a copy of Tex, the Witch Boy. And if you don’t win, for a limited time Muse it Up is offering Tex, the Witch Boy for FREE if you buy Tex and the Gangs of Suburbia. And it’s even on sale for $4.50! Seriously, you can’t go wrong with this.

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