Archive for September, 2009

Saturday, September 12th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
Excerpt: More Than Life Itself

This is the opening chapter of a novella that was released a few years ago by Telos Publishing in the UK.  I’m going to be podcasting the entire story soon on my website and also making it available again as a digital work, so I thought it might be interesting to see what folks had to say about it.  I always try to add a hook right into the opening chapter of my works and I think this has a pretty decent example of one.

Wednesday Evening

Death’s messenger was a short, balding fellow with too pale skin and a barbecue stain on his white lab coat.

Sam Dalton stared at him for a long moment after he had finished speaking, then, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I understand what you just said.’

‘Your daughter is dying,’ replied the doctor.

‘I know that!’ Sam answered hotly, the weeks of frustration and lack of sleep finally getting the better of him. Realising that his younger, larger frame loomed over the doctor’s, he made a conscious effort to calm down, lest he frighten off his only source of information. He stepped back and ran a hand through his dark hair before continuing in a more reasonable tone. ‘What I don’t understand is why.’

The doctor’s expression never changed. ‘She’s infected with some kind of virus. Something new, something we’ve never seen before. We’ve had the best epidemiologists in the country looking at the samples we’ve collected over the last several weeks. None of them can make heads or tails of it. The disease, the virus, is attacking her internal organs at a cellular level, breaking them down from the inside out. Little by little the organs themselves are starting to decay. In a few weeks, her system will have hit a critical juncture and she will go downhill rapidly from there. Once she reaches that point, it will become a matter of days, maybe only hours. The destructive power of this thing is amazing.’

A touch of awe had crept into the man’s voice and Sam suddenly felt like strangling him. With a real effort he kept himself in check.

‘Can’t you do something for her?’ he asked.

The doctor nodded, but his grimace was plain to see. ‘Yes, yes, of course we’ll do what we can to make her comfortable with the pain. And we’ll continue our tests, try and find the cause of the illness. But these things take time and that just isn’t a luxury your daughter has right now. I’m sorry.’

Sam sank into a nearby chair, his legs suddenly weak and unsteady. He’d been expecting the news, but hearing it spoken aloud was difficult, to say the least. He’d tried to stay positive, tried to believe that everything would turn out okay. Even when the days in the hospital had turned into weeks, he’d made sure to keep his game face on whenever he was around Jessica. But by now even she had to know that something had gone seriously wrong.

The last two years hadn’t been kind. When Denise had been taken from them, he’d thought the world had ended. His grief had been overwhelming; his downward spiral had ended only when the bank had threatened to foreclose on the house after he’d lost his job at the plant. It had been Jessica, or rather her desperate need for him, that had saved him. Saved them.

Still, they hadn’t escaped unscathed. Jessica had gone from a playful, inquisitive girl to a shy introvert who was afraid of anything new almost overnight. She’d cried herself to sleep for weeks after Denise’s death, with Sam unable to do anything but hold her close and desperately wish he could do the same. He, too, had been affected. For months, he’d awoken in the middle of the night, suffocating from an overwhelming sense of impending doom. Something was coming for them. Something that couldn’t be reasoned with, couldn’t be bargained with, couldn’t be avoided, turned aside or outrun. Sooner or later, it was going to get them, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. Every night, he’d burst out of sleep, alone, slick with sweat, his heart racing madly in his chest as he frantically searched for whatever it was that was threatening them.

Then Jessica had gotten sick, and he’d finally understood.

Understanding hadn’t done a damn bit of good, however.

The waiting area where he was seated was at the other end of the hallway from Jessica’s room. Knowing she’d just had her nightly medication, Sam had no fears that his daughter could overhear what was being said, so he asked the tough question. ‘What happens next?’

‘We’ll keep pumping her full of antibiotics; try to keep the risk of pneumonia and other secondary infections down while we fight the primary one. Her immune system is wiped out by the virus; right now, she’s in serious danger from something as simple as the common cold. We’ve also got some new synthetics we’re going to try, stuff they developed for the Ebola war down in the Congo. There’s a chance they might interact with the virus, slow it down some. But other than that, there isn’t much more we can do.’

‘And then?’ asked Sam wearily.

Unwilling to speak the inevitable, the doctor side-stepped. ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, Mr Dalton. For now, we make her comfortable. And we keep looking for answers. That’s all we can do.’ He clapped a hand to Sam’s shoulder in an attempt to be compassionate. ‘If there’s anything we can get for you, you let us know.’

A cure for my daughter would be nice, Sam thought, with more than a hint of derision as the other man stepped away, but he left the comment unspoken, the rational part of him knowing that the doctor was only doing his job and that there wasn’t much anyone could do. Not any more.

It was only a matter of time now. It was going to take a miracle to save his precious little girl.

And he was long past believing in those.

Feeling a hundred years older than when he’d entered the building earlier that morning, Sam got up and made his way down to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. The place was practically deserted; visiting hours were long since over and only a handful of night staff and the occasional family member staying over with a loved one were present. The harsh fluorescent lighting made everything seem starker, edgier, and the effect just heightened Sam’s sense of dislocation. It was another world here, a world reserved for a select, miserable few, and he knew that only those who had endured this hellish existence would ever understand.

At no other time in his life had he felt the crushing weight of responsibility so strongly. And never had he felt more alone than he did now. He stared at the other people in the cafeteria, wondering if even they could understand his situation. His wife was dead. His only child was dying. He hadn’t been able to go to work since he’d brought Jessica here and he was sure they wouldn’t hold his job for him much longer, no matter how trivial the position. Not that it mattered much; who could work when their family was dying around them?

He paid for his coffee and wandered over to sit at an empty table. The drink was horrible, the sludge factor practically off the scale, but he hadn’t had anything for hours and he sipped at it, not caring.

He didn’t even know he was crying until a passing orderly laid a pack of Kleenex on the table in front of him in a simple gesture of kindness.

Jessica was still asleep when he returned to her room, and for that he was grateful. The last few times they’d changed her meds she’d been up for all hours of the night, which, of course, meant he had been, too. This time, whatever they’d given her had worked, for she was out like a light, a slight smile on her narrow face.

He stood next to her bed for several long moments, just drinking in the sight of her. He ignored the IV, the heart monitor, and the electronic data feeds taped all over her body, and just looked at his little girl.

Her once cream-coloured skin, now slightly yellowed with the start of jaundice.

Her thin, little arms, the insides of both bruised horribly from the weeks of moving the IV back and forth.

Her thin lips and pert little nose, so like her mother’s.

Her dark hair, once long and full of ringlets, now hanging limp and all but lifeless as her body abandoned supporting it as it routed all the nutrients it could to her vital organs.

God, she’s beautiful, he thought, and just like that the tears started again. He couldn’t help it. During the day he was her lifeline, her means of gauging just how bad things were getting, and he’d be damned if he gave her any reason to worry or be afraid. But here, in the depths of the night, with only the beeping of the monitors and the quiet shuffle of nurses in the hall for company, he couldn’t keep up the charade. In the dark of the night, he purged himself of his despair and pain, if only to be ready to smile again in the morning for his little girl.

In the lonely quiet of that hospital room, Sam’s tears continued to fall.

Friday, September 11th, 2009 by LViehl
Ask Not

I know it’s theme week again here at Genreality because I’m struggling to put together this post. This is the fifth sixth seventh draft I’ve written, and if I don’t nail it this time, I think I’m going to have to resort to sock puppets or card tricks.

What is it about themes that kills my desire to write? I’d love to know. Sasha has to be tired of seeing all these different drafts pop up on the Posts board. I have to quit behaving like I’m going to break out in hives every time I try to do a group activity. I can play nicely with others. As long as they don’t try to tell me what to do. Or hand me a bunch of rules. Or say I can’t do it my way–

Okay, okay. I’m going to do it this time. I swear.

At what moment did writing for you turn from being just a hobby to play around in to something you took seriously enough to create a salable novel, and a resulting career?

I think it’s the question. And that word: hobby. Like Sasha, writing was never my hobby. For the last thirty-five years in varying degrees it’s been a dream, an obsession, an addiction, a compulsion, a life-changing, soul-wrenching test of strength and endurance and patience. It’s also proven to be remarkably effective psychotherapy, a travel agent that charged nothing for the most amazing guilt-free trips I’ve ever taken, and the exercise yard that permitted me to bring my demons and run them around until they were utterly exhausted. Toss in a couple of kitchen sinks, a cryptograph machine and a large mountain range of obstacles, and you get the general idea of what it means to me.

But a hobby? God, no. Hobbies are nice, fun things you do when you have a little time on your hands and you want to play. Not this.

Then there was the moment in question, the day I made the decision to seriously pursue publication. It was November 7th, 1989. I can retype the fifteen hundred words I wrote to describe what happened to me on that day, but I don’t want to. It was pretty awful. So was that draft. It made me sniffle, remembering. I don’t want to make you cry. Let’s skip that part.

That leaves us with what convinced me (which isn’t actually part of the question, but it’s implied by the phrasing.) Nothing did. Everyone and everything, including the odds, were against it. In retrospect I didn’t have a single damn good reason to pursue a professional writing career. Except the one that ties in with that awful day story, and then I have to get into that nightmare again, and we really don’t want to go there unless everyone brings a box of tissues, their favorite wubby and maybe some chocolate-covered Valium.

I need about four hundred more words to make this a proper post. Let’s see. I could tell you some funny anecdotes about my family and what they thought of my brilliant idea to become a professional writer. Only I tried a draft of that, too and it turned out not so funny. In fact, I think I’m going to call a few of my family members tonight and remind them of some of the snotty things they said to me when I really could have used their support.

Or I could drop a few jewels o’ wisdom, like that stupid one about how when a door closes a window opens, or that we have to accept the things that we cannot change. You know, any decent collection of self-help quotations will give you all you need in that department. You don’t need to hear that nonsense from me. I don’t believe it anymore, why should you?

So, want to see a picture of the spider nesting in my oak tree? Her web is really cool:

I’m going to try to duplicate the web on the next crazy quilt I work on. Spiders and their webs are traditional embellishments for crazy quilts, dating back to Victorian times, when . . . okay, yes, I’m trying to distract you from that question by making this about quilting. But you have to admit, it’s more interesting and far less stressful that having me sob all over you, right?

The truth is that I don’t like looking back in this particular direction. Too much heartbreak and hardship and harrowing moments happened at the beginning of this voyage. I honestly think surviving it was mostly dumb luck and blind determination. I was never a proud captain sailing some beautiful writing ship into the sunset. I was more like the clueless idiot on a leaky raft who rowed and bailed, rowed and bailed. I didn’t know any better. And instead of getting better as time went by, it got worse. I prefer not to think about that too much. It makes me want to quit doing this, and you can’t let anything get between you and the work, not even bad memories.

Also, certain things have to be experienced firsthand before they can be wholly understood and respected, and I think pursuing publication is one of them. It’s different for all of us, too — I know a few writers who have had joyful, lucrative, memorable careers from day one. And then there are writers who have thicker skins or simply don’t let it get to them. I wish I’d met a few more of those back in the day.

Other writers’ delightful anecdotes and success stories don’t make me envious. They give me hope. I only wish it could be like that for every writer.

The question that inspired this rendition of theme week is a good one, and I apologize for not producing much of an answer. As much as I think it’s a good thing to share experiences with other writers, the answer isn’t something I can give you like a writing method or a motivational insight. This one I think you have to find out for yourself.

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Candace Havens
A Funny Thing Happened…

At what moment did writing, for you, turn from being just a hobby to play around in to something you took seriously enough to create a salable novel, and a resulting career?

I actually have two stories one for non fiction, which lead to a 21-year career as a journalist. The other of how I came to be an author. I’m going to tell you the latter.

I was at the TV Critics Press Tour about seven years ago. At an ABC party I had a slight mishap (read: I tripped on my flip flops and almost did a face plant in the middle of the horseshoe gardens at the Ritz in Pasadena, now known as the Langham). I was completely mortified and ran to the corner near some bushes where a friend of mine stood surveying the party.

It was the normal network soiree with lots of celebrities standing around wondering which one of them was the most important. It really is like that. My friend, Paulette Cohn, who writes for ET online, started talking about books. My non-fiction book “Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy” had just come out, and she made the comment that I should try my hand at writing fiction.

I told her she was crazy, I could never do anything like that. She told me that if I ever did, she knew a great editor at a publishing house.   I returned home a week later and wrote my first novel in about two weeks. It was God awful. No, I mean, really, really bad. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time.

I’ve never told anyone this story, but I actually emailed her friend, the editor, with a brief query, something I hadn’t a clue how to write. He was quite kind and told me that he didn’t really have a place for a 35,000 word novel, that might be a romance. Yes, I’d actually said those words in the query. Sigh. My only saving grace was that years later he didn’t remember what I’d done, and I never said a word.

With that one rejection I decided my career as an author was over. Then something crazy happened. A new family moved in next door. The mom of the family happened to be a columnist, just like me, and she too had written a book. We agreed to swap manuscripts.

After reading the first three pages of hers, I called and told her I wanted mine back. She declined. A week later we swapped again. I had a found a few typos on hers, but the prose was nearly perfect. My manuscript was red from the first page to the last. But she wrote something that kept me from giving up: “You are a great storyteller and have an amazing voice.”

From that moment on, everything sort of went on a fast track. I polished that manuscript and then began another one. I only slept about four hours a night for more than six months. Within the year I had an agent and my first book sold to Berkley. My friend had sold her book, about five months earlier to Warner.

The truth is, it might have been a higher power. It could have been a lucky string of coincidences. But from the time I decided I wanted to write a novel, until I was published was about 14 months. Now, I can’t imagine not writing fiction. I live for it. My second book, Charmed & Dangerous, was the first one to sell. The very first book I wrote, was completely revised and became “The Demon King and I,” which was my fifth published novel.

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 by Sasha White
Boredom leads to…

At what moment did writing, for you, turn from being just a hobby to play around in to something you took seriously enough to create a salable novel, and a resulting career?

Writing has never been a hobby for me. From the moment I started writing I wanted to be published. I wanted it to be a permanent career.

That said, I didn’t start writing until around 2002. That doesn’t mean I’d never given it any thought before though. I can remember laying in bed when I was sixteen years old, trying to decide what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to own a clothing store, I wanted to be a radio DJ, I wanted to be a travel agent, but somewhere in there was the thought that I also wanted to write a book. A book. I never thought of actually being a professional writer or of writing more than one book, or even what kind of book I wanted to write. It was just a sparkle of an idea amongst many.

After a year of doing nothing after high school, I went to college for Business Admin because I still couldn’t decide what I’d wanted to do. All I knew for sure was that I wanted a job where I would have some control over what I did. I wanted to be the boss. Then I discovered bartending. I quit college and never looked back.

When I was 24, I took a 6-part night class on non-fiction freelance writing, mostly because I still liked to learn. It was more about research and how to use the same research to write several articles that you could sell to various publishers. I never did write anything after I took that class though. I was too busy traveling and living life to write about it.

Then when I was thirty I took another 6-part night class. This one was on writing romance. I was excited about it, and I even started a story. Well, I outlined one-as that’s what they said was the first step. It’s very telling that after that first outline was written I never did write that story. In fact, after that I stopped thinking about writing again for a couple more years. Then finally when I was almost 33 years old, I was sitting in the bar (at work) bored out of my mind waiting around for customers to show up so I could make some money. I was thinking I was getting too old to depend on tips to pay my mortgage so I was searching the want ads for a better job when an ad that said “Make Money with Your Writing” caught my eye.

I checked it out and signed up for the correspondence course that promised I would make my money back by the time I’d finished the lessons or they’d give me a 100% refund. (If you want to know more about the course I took, you can find a link to it in the comments from this post ) The rest, is history. I decided to go after a career as an author, and I did.

I think there’s a lot to be said for determination.

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
Accidentally on Purpose

At what moment did writing for you turn from being just a hobby to play around in to something you took seriously enough to create a salable novel, and a resulting career?

This is an interesting question for me, most likely because my road to publication and a career as a novelist was actually a bit of an accident.  You see, I didn’t grow up with the idea of being a writer.  I didn’t dabble with short fiction or work for the school newspaper.  I didn’t major in English or get lost in creative writing classes.  In fact, I didn’t seriously consider the idea of being a writer until after I had sold my first novel.

I am, and always have been, a voracious reader.  While in college I happened to read a novel by a bestselling writer.  It had been praised by all the usual sources and was one in a long line of very success full novels from this writer.  I figured I was in for a good read.

A few hours later I was throwing the now finished book across the room, absolutely disgusted at what I took to be a rather hackneyed effort.  The plot was predictable, the characters boring and I had the whole thing figured out within the first several chapters.    After listening to me complain and boast that even I could have written a better book, my roommate bet me a case of beer that I wouldn’t even be able to complete a full novel, never mind write a better one.

To make a long story short, I wrote a complete novel long hand on legal pads over the next two months, won the bet, and happily drank the case of beer in celebration with my roommate.  The novel, the first draft of what was to become RIVERWATCH, went into a shoe box and was quickly forgotten.

For whatever reason, I held onto that shoebox over the next several years as I moved from place to place.  Years later, when I got married and moved into a new home with my wife, she discovered the rough draft and encouraged me to do something with it.  Taking her advice, I typed it into a computer, cleaning it up as I went, and submitted it to several small presses.

Much to my surprise, I quickly had an offer and sold the manuscript for $2,000.00 to a now defunct small press.  A few months after that, the book ended up being nominated for both the Bram Stoker Award and the International Horror Guild Award.  But it was when the mass market paperback rights sold to Pocket Books that I started giving some serious consideration to the idea of being a writer.

Over the last several years I’ve discovered that not only do I have some talent for telling stories but that I enjoy it too.  And I hope to continue doing it for many years to come!

Monday, September 7th, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
Theme Week: Or, This is what happens when you praise a small child for her Black Stallion fanfic

This week’s theme answers the following question:

At what moment did writing for you turn from being just a hobby to play around in to something you took seriously enough to create a salable novel, and a resulting career?

Hooo, boy.  This has a complicated answer.  Well, simple and complicated.  The simple answer:  I always knew.  I never just played around with writing.  I sent out my first story to a pro magazine when I was 16.  But, as most things are, the truth is more complicated.  Let me give you a timeline:

Second Grade:  We had an assignment:  write a story.  I’m not sure what the other kids did, but I turned in four pages (of that cheap beige grade school paper, but still) of a thing called “Sally the Horse” that was something of a feminist retelling of The Black Stallion, which I had just read, and which had no girls in it.  It needed girls.  Apparently, the teacher, Mrs. Garnett, was very impressed.  She was in the habit of giving kids M&M’s as rewards.  Get a perfect score on a spelling test?  Have an M&M. (I’m not sure she could get away with this now.)  I got a whole handful of M&M’s for “Sally the Horse.”  The class was scandalized.  So early on, I got a message:  write well = get paid.  (Hey, I was 8, that whole handful of M&M’s was a fortune.)

Second Grade on:  I was blessed with teachers who gave lots of creative writing assignments.  I loved every single one.

Eighth Grade English:  I got the best creative writing assignment ever.  The teacher (Miss Stufft this time) hadn’t finished describing the assignment and I was already plotting and scheming and figuring out what I was going to do.  I came up for air long enough to realize that everyone else in the class was complaining:  “Oh man, this is so hard, why do we have to do this, waaaaaaaaaah!”  And I’m thinking, What do you mean this is hard?  Would you rather be diagramming sentences? (I think I was one of the last generation to have to diagram sentences.)  I had a huge epiphany:  Not everyone likes to write.  But I like to write.  Writing is something I can do that other people can’t.  I embraced writing with a white-hot passion that burns to this day.

Eighth Grade through the end of college:  I entered every writing contest I could.  I won two big ones, a statewide thingy for high school students ($25 gift certificate for the Tattered Cover, woot!), and the Military Lifestyle Magazine Fiction Contest in 1994 ($700.  I used it to buy a saddle and bridle for the horse I had just accidentally bought.  Long story.)  It was just enough validation to encourage me to send my work out to magazines, to try to become a “real” pro writer.

As a scrawny geeky kid who had trouble making friends and was no good at sports (I wish someone had told me I would get good at sports later, after I stopped growing and being all awkward.), writing was a refuge.  I walked into bookstores and realized that writing was also a business.  People got paid for it.  Maybe I could, too.  I was probably fifteen when I started telling people I wanted to be a writer.

By the end of college, I hadn’t found a career.  There was nothing I wanted to do but write fiction.  So, I had to figure out how to make a living at it.  (Answer:  Write novels, publish them with major publishers, wash rinse repeat.)  It would be about 11 years before I quit working any kind of day job.  But the goal was always there:  make a living at it, because I had no passion for anything else.

Saturday, September 5th, 2009 by LViehl

I’m very happy to see the sort of writer fish we have swimming by here (and some of your descriptions made me nod and chuckle at the same time.) The winner of our Don’t be Koi giveaway is:

Andrea McElwain

Andrea, when you have a chance please send your ship-to info to, and I’ll get this bag of books out to you.

Thanks to everyone for joining in.