Friday, October 29, 2021

Scary Scene from a WIP

Horror is not my happy place. I've tried to learn a little about how to write it. I've had classes in the language of horror and in some of the psychological tools used in horror. But honestly, I don't want to make you afraid. I'd rather creep you out. Fine line, I know, and I'm not sure I have the knack of it just yet. I'm not after terrified. I'm more interested in haunted. So I'll offer up a snippet from a book called Curse of the Lorelei. The book still needs some major rewrites to hop up the creepy and the tension.

The story takes place in the very early days of the Civil War. It's just after the fall of Fort Sumter. It'd be bad enough with just the start of the war. Unfortunately for our heroes, their version of New Orleans is haunted by more than Confederates and Union spies. Charlie is a young woman (and a Union spy) disguised as a boy. Hunt is a British spy bent on destabilizing the situation in the US with the notion that the British crown might be able to recover the errant colonies. They've rowed out to what appears to be a ghost ship that's anchored off shore in quarantine. Hunt boarded the boat. Charlie is standing to under the ship's rail aboard the row boat. Monsieur Foucalte is the dockmaster who won't let the ship dock for fear of disease.


            Charlie forced her shoulders down. Rocked her head on her neck.
A shrill scream, broken by sobs, wrenched her gaze upward. Every muscle in her body clenched.
“No!” Hunt shouted.

A body hurtled into the water three feet from the bow of the skiff.
Water sprayed her. Charlie yelped and crouched low to steady the boat as the impact waves tossed her. Heart a gripping pain in her chest, she gasped, and scanned the surface of the river.

“Can you see him?” she hollered to the two men still clinging to the side of the larger ship.
The man surfaced. Flailing. Sobbing. “Help! Help me! Please – ulp!” He floundered toward shore.
            Charlie shot to her feet. The boat swayed in warning.
            “Turn around!” she shouted. “I’ll pull you aboard! Turn around!”
            Caught up in whatever terror had driven him over the rail, he either didn’t hear, or he ignored her. He struggled closer to shore.
            Shouts from the dock caught her attention and she glanced at the men on the wharf. The group roiled and waved, arms swinging in clear ‘go back’ gestures. It did no good.
            The man in the river, yammering a steady stream of pleas for aid, kept heading to shore.
            Monsieur Foucalte, recognizable by size alone, shoved through the knot of dock workers, a rifle in his hands.
            Charlie gasped.
            He raised it. Sighted.
            Her blood ran cold. “Wait! What –”
            The tenor of the swimmer’s cries changed. Climbed. Panic resonated in the sound, shaking her.
            Around the man, the water of the turgid Mississippi frothed. It took several seconds to register what her eyes tried to show her.
            Snakes. Dozens of snakes, wet skins glistening in the sun, surrounded the man. Slithered over his back. Tangled in his kicking legs.
            He hesitated, fell silent.
            As his legs sank and he came upright in the water, the first snake struck. She couldn’t see the fangs, but the big, black snake’s stiff pull back and launch forward was unmistakable. As was the man’s strangled shriek.
A shot rang out.
            The cry died mid arc. The sailor slumped.
            Snakes - and something much larger, black, gleaming hide, fangs, and blood-red eyes - swarmed him. Kelpie. It surfaced. Made eye contact with her. Sneered. And took a bite out of the dead man’s poisoned flesh.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Scene from The Mars Strain - Happy Halloween!

Dark, hazy background with red smoke swirling through the center behind the audiobook cover for The Mars Strain banded in Recorded books red and an image of Mars in the background. A quote in white typing is below the audiobook cover: We've colonized Mars...but we never should've come back.

 This week we’re promoting our scariest book or scene…and, well. I’m a wuss when it comes to scary. I don’t write horror, though some creepy does sneak into my writing. 

So here’s a snippet from The Mars Strain to help you get your Halloween creep on! Enjoy!


 Juliet’s in isolation due to a supposed contact 

with the first strain victim—and she’s been watching the clock.

The Mars Strain - Chapter 18


My palms and fingertips touch the cold glass and rings of foggy moisture surrounds each contact point. 

There isn’t anyone in the room between mine and the pod with the girl who’s writhing on the bed. She tosses and turns. Her silky black hair sticks to her face and her sheet covered arms and legs strike out again and again. 

Hazmat suits surround her and block her from view. The staff frantically press sensors to her skin, trying to get a vitascan, and two nurses administer injections. 

The man in the pod on the other side of her room has mirrored my stance. My gaze darts between hazmat helmets to him. His eyes bulge and he takes a step back. He holds up a hand to ward off the sight of what’s happening to the other patient and crosses himself. 

The girl lurches up off the bed, breaking through the hazmat suits.

A scream sticks in my throat.

The nurses grab her arms to keep her from landing on the floor. The girl’s knees buckle, her feet are solid purple, like they’ve been bruised. She holds up her petite hands, her fingers are shaking, and they’re bruised just like her feet. The purple of her fingers fades to a dark blue that has crept up her hands and I can see the lines of her veins on her forearms because they’re a dark, angry red. 

Not even her face has been spared. The tip of her nose is dark, and red thorny branches cover her cheeks.


She screams. 

Not a scream I can hear through the walls, but a scream I can see and feel. Her neck strains, her mouth is open wide and horror fills her eyes. Every part of her is screaming. My hair stands on end and a prickle chills the skin between my shoulder blades. 

I stumble away from the wall and wipe my hands on my pants. I can’t look away. I can’t look at anything else. All I can look at is the girl who’s stopped screaming, the girl who’s stopped moving, the girl who’s now a lifeless pile on the floor. 

Time of death: 02:59 AM. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A Glimpse of Dark Wizard

This week at the SFF Seven, we're sharing our scariest book or scene. No, mine isn't from DARK WIZARD, although I love how creeptastic that image is. The thing is, I can't yet share what I think is the scariest thing I've ever written.

See, I never think of myself as writing all that scary. James is the horror writer. KAK delves into the twisted psyche. Usually I see my books as being occasionally dark, but not all that creepy. Readers may disagree. But in general I'm kind of a fragile flower. I don't like being scared. I don't watch or read horror. I'm the one who leaves the room during the scary scenes in a movie, or - far worse! - the gory ones. You guys know me - I'll write all the sex scenes and I advocate for closed-door violence.

Why can't that be a thing?

But this New Thing I've written, the Sekrit Project, is pretty scary. It's tense and twisted and... I already told you I can't share it yet!

Yeah, I hate violence, but I love a tease. 

So, though it's not all that scary, and because I couldn't resist using this creepy image with DARK WIZARD, I'll share an unsettling scene from that book. Enjoy!


Having to deal with the inn, the askance stares at his appearance, the averted gazes when they took in his wizard-black eyes, the shocked ones at his white hair—all of it broke him out of his circular thoughts. He tipped the stable girl well to walk Vale cool, rub the gelding down thoroughly, and give him an extra portion of feed. And he tipped the boy in the pub well to bring himself an extra portion of feed, also. Gabriel sat alone in a shadowy corner, using a simple moon spell to reflect curiosity away from himself.

He was more tired than he’d realized, feeling sleepier by the moment as warm food settled into his stomach. He wasn’t used to winter’s bite. And he’d pushed hard to reach House Elal, thinking he’d have days of rest after the wedding. Sopping up the last of the rich mushroom gravy with the excellent fresh bread, Gabriel settled back to savor the rest of his wine—an excellent, robust Elal red, though not as good as Veronica’s special reserve—and watch the room.

Thus, he was in the perfect position to see the hunters arrive.

He knew them for inhuman even before they fully entered the busy tavern. The air seemed to bend before their passage, adjusting to the presence of that which should not exist in this world. There were six of them, slinking into the room like an amalgam of a jackal and a weasel in vaguely human shape, arching like hounds to sniff the surfaces they passed. Nobody else seemed aware of them, so Gabriel made sure to look past the hunters also, focusing on the minstrel blithely singing a song nearby, exhorting the crowd for coins.

He needn’t have bothered, for one of the hunters lifted its snout in the air as if scenting something interesting and fastened one eye on Gabriel. It slunk in his direction, pausing to steal a handful of coin from the oblivious minstrel’s tip basket. It tossed one on the table before Gabriel, an insolent sneer on its distorted face.

“Wissard,” it hissed, revealing inhumanly sharp teeth—several rows of them.

“Hunter,” Gabriel returned. He readied himself, though his water and moon magic seemed unequal to dealing with a creature like this. The books in the House Phel library, at least the legible ones, were short on spells for martial application. Under the table, he loosened his sword in its scabbard, a far more reliable defense.

“You know what I am. Good. I ssseek a familiar, on behalf of the Convocation. Have you ssscented one?” It pushed the coin toward him with a sharp, curving claw.

“This place reeks of sweat and ale,” Gabriel replied. “I’m sure any good familiar would turn tail and hide in their room.”

The hunter sniffed the air all the while Gabriel spoke, barely listening. “You have no familiar.”

“Unfortunately, no. I am but a minor wizard.” Gabriel drew more moon reflections around himself, just in case any of his power leaked through. On the advantage side of being a moon-based water wizard, it was a quiet magic, and often overlooked.

The hunter fixed one ochre eye on him—the length of its snout making looking forward with both eyes at once impossible—and made an unpleasant choking sound. Laughter? “Why are you here, wissard?”

Gabriel gestured at his cleaned plate. “Best mushroom gravy in all of Elal.”

The hunter eyed him for another excruciatingly long few moments. Without another word, it slunk out again, its cohorts streaming to join it, pouring out the door again like smoke. Gabriel blew out a breath, quaffed his wine, and went to his room for the night—dropping the coin, plus a few more, back in the minstrel’s basket.


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Burned: The Scary Scene

Our scariest book or scariest scene...Weeeeeeeell, I'm not a horror writer so I reckon I have to go with the scariest thing to me, which is reclaiming your sense of self and your soul's strength after enduring an emotionally abusive relationship. To that end, I'd have to say the first book in my Immortal Spy urban fantasy series, The Burned Spy is probably the scariest...emotionally.

In the clip below, we have a classic moment of power disparity being abused between Jörmungand (yep, the Norse World Serpent in humanoid form) and Bix the Gatekeeper. She's broken free of his thrall, but not the god himself. They're in a nightclub. She has no idea he's there until... 

From THE BURNED SPY, Immortal Spy Book 1

Bix headed for the railing overlooking the raucous floor show.

“You reek of Greek,” hissed a too familiar and unwelcome voice.

Her stomach lodged in her throat. “Go away, Jör.”

“You’re under contract with my pantheon.” He trailed a finger up and down her arm. “I want to know why there’s an archangel in our embassy.”

“First, my contract is with your sister. You’re just a witness.” She slanted away from him and drew her shoulder up to her ear. “Second, it’s a condo, not an embassy. Third, fuck off.”

He spread his arms to either side of her, pinning her against the railing. “Hel wants an update on your progress.”

The darkness rippled along her spine. This time, she didn’t fight it as it tore out the back of her dress.

Jör’s eyes widened. He tipped her over the railing until her feet no longer touched the ground, one hand heavy on her nape, the other firm on her hip. She bucked against his grip, but he held her fast.

Fear, thick and heavy weighed her down as every eye in the bar fixed on her. Shame stilled her thrashing and burned her cheeks.

The darkness retracted.

“Finally,” Jör whispered.

Light sizzled and burst.

Jör skidded across the floor in a trail of smoke. A friendly hand grabbed Bix’s feet and pulled her back to the surety of solid ground. Her date wrapped his arm firmly around her waist and hauled her up against his side. An orb of raw electricity crackled in his palm.

She tried to stop quaking. Couldn’t.

Jör regained his feet and smirked. His tongue lashed out and extinguished the smoldering of his chest pocket. He causally doffed his nonexistent hat to Ashtad, even as his gaze shifted to her. His lips moved. She didn’t need to hear his voice to know his words.

“Tick, tock.”

What an asshole, right?  Don't worry, part of Bix's character growth in the book is about no longer being a victim. For more about the Immortal Spy Urban Fantasy Series, click here!

Monday, October 25, 2021

Everyone loves a clown,,,

So the subject for this week is What's the scariest thing you've ever written.

Well, first and foremost, I'm a horror writer. It's what I do. I drink coffee and I write scary things. Just off the top of my head there's  the BLOOD RED series of vampire novels, CHERRY HILL (Haunted asylum), HARVEST MOON (witches and curses), The SERENITY FALLS trilogy (small towns, curses and worse) THE HAUNTED FOREST TOUR with Jeff Strand (Jurassic Park with monsters), The GRIFFIN & PRICE BOOKS (Small town crime and monsters), any number of short stories that could qualify,  BOOMTOWN (Weird Western Horror), UNDER THE OVERTREE (Puberty and monsters), the CHRIS CORIN Chronicles (Lovecraftian horror) and DEEPER (sea monsters and ghosts). There's a plethora of books. and tat doesn't include my work for Roleplaying Games or comic books. 

So. yeah kind of my forte. 

I'm going to set all of those aside, however, because the one that seems to disturb people the most is my novel SMILE NO MORE, and the main character of the tale, Rufo the Clown.

Now, Rufo has been around for a while. he first showed up in Grease painted Smile, a tale written specifically for a friend of mine who invited me to a Halloween party where the price of admission was a scary story. Said friend confessed to me at one point that he suffers from coulrophobia, a deep and abiding fear of clowns. I mean, how could I not write a story just for him? 

I have to say, I still like the opening paragraph of the tale: I remember the long lashes, the startling blue eyes, the thick, dark hair, and the red, red lips drawn back in a wide, friendly smile. but mostly I remember the bloodstained teeth.

He liked it so much that he bought it for his online magazine the Stillwaters Journal. The tale is a first-person story of a man who has multiple encounters with Rufo the clown throughout his life. It doesn't end well for him.

after that, when I needed another clown in the SERENITY FALLS trilogy, I used Rufo again, with an entire carnival of dead clowns and hauntings. And te response? Well, several people suggested I employ Rufo in his own tale. So I did.

Know what's funny to me? There are a lot of people with a fear of clowns. I mean, I had NO IDEA. I have never been afraid of clowns. Not even for a few seconds. 

So I had to come up with enough of a tale to make a full novel about an undead, insane clown with a penchant for extreme violence who happens to have a very twisted sense of morality and justice.   

The back cover text: There's nothing quite like a circus. The Carnivale de Fantastique is an acrobatic and musical phenomenon, a show based on the legends of a circus that vanished mysteriously half a century ago. Every season the numbers grow, the merchandising expands and the ticket sales explode. This year things are a little different. This year the star of the show was murdered and shipped to the next city in a cardboard box. This year the acts are running into all sorts of troubles, and even the police and the F.B.I. are trying to figure out what's causing all the troubles. Once upon a time there was a kid named Cecil. He ran away, joined the circus and then got murdered for his troubles. Fifty years later, he clawed his way out of Hell, found the people who killed him and his circus and had his bloody revenge. Since then he's been trying to find something to do with his time and now he's heard about the Carnivale de Fantastique, a show based on the disappearance of the circus he traveled with. Of course it's not a traditional circus. This one has acrobats and dancers and actors and a story. It's only missing one thing and it's just not funny. When in doubt, send in the clowns.

I tend to think it's an interesting take. I also tend to think it's one of the most violent stories I've ever told, and I am pleased with the number of people who apparently developed a serious problem with clowns while reading the story and simultaneously I am delighted by the number of people who found themselves rooting for the clown and were then disgusted with themselves.

Listen, anytime as an artist, you manage to elicit an emotion of any kind, you've done your job. I'm good with fear, but the guilty reaction? That's an extra tip of the hat. 

Rufe has also been popular enough to have his own fan following, which is about as flattering as it gets.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Not So Scary


This week's topic is our scariest book or book with the scariest scene. I don't feel like I write anything super scary. Intense, perhaps, and slightly evil, but not scary. At least it isn't to me. I may be a poor judge since it's my own work, but I'm definitely no horror writer. 

For me, the scariest thing to write was in The Witch Collector. I can't say what that scene is without spoiling things, but the imagery certainly gave me eerie vibes. It takes place in an enchanted frozen forest and involves an unexpected occurrence that endangers the main characters. While the book has a romantic subplot, the main plot takes a few turns into darker territory.

If you're curious, you can snag The Witch Collector now. There's even a hardback available for pre-order and there's a Goodreads giveaway going on through 10/31.

Here's the blurb:

Every harvest moon, the Witch Collector rides into our valley and leads one of us to the home of the immortal Frost King, to remain forever.

Today is that day—Collecting Day.

But he will not come for me. I, Raina Bloodgood, have lived in this village for twenty-four years, and for all that time he has passed me by.

His mistake.

Raina Bloodgood has one desire: kill the Frost King and the Witch Collector who stole her sister. On Collecting Day, she means to exact murderous revenge, but a more sinister threat sets fire to her world. Rising from the ashes is the Collector, Alexus Thibault, the man she vowed to slay and the only person who can help save her sister.

Thrust into an age-old story of ice, fire, and ancient gods, Raina must abandon vengeance and aid the Witch Collector or let their empire—and her sister—fall into enemy hands. But the lines between good and evil blur, and Raina has more to lose than she imagined. What is she to do when the Witch Collector is no longer the villain who stole her sister, but the hero who’s stealing her heart?

The Witch Collector is book one in a thrilling romantic fantasy trilogy, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik, Sarah J. Maas, and Jennifer L. Armentrout.


"If you like your fantasy with complex magic, an intriguing protagonist, a powerful romance, and a great cast of supporting characters, I highly recommend The Witch Collector. Charissa Weaks's high-stakes storytelling will leave you waiting eagerly for the next installment." — Juliet Marillier, award-winning author of the Warrior Bards series

A romantic, fraught and fantastic journey through war-torn lands and a deliciously malevolent enchanted forest. I loved the voiceless heroine who wields magical sign language and the tormented hero determined to keep her alive and save an empire. Welcome to a compelling new fantasy world and a truly epic tale!

~ Jeffe Kennedy, award-winning author of The Forgotten Empires and Dark Wizard

"The Witch Collector is a magical, enchanting, fantasy romance whose pages are filled with threads of love, loss, and healing. Highly, highly recommended for anyone who loves fantasy romance, fantasy with strong female leads, unique magic systems, and beautiful writing." — Alexia Chantel/AC Anderson, Author of The Mars Strain

I hope you have a blessed All Hallows Eve and a great week leading up to it!

Friday, October 22, 2021

Banned Book Week: Censorship

Nobody likes the notion of censorship. Artists of all kinds knee jerk when we hear the word. Yet we'd all probably agree there are bridges too far. Lies too egregious. Charissa and KAK mulled over the difference between censorship and quashing disinformation. Jeffe considered how we as writers censor ourselves. Alexia looked at how characters censor their worlds

I'm here to challenge you to consider the potential career benefits to being censored. Or, at least, having someone *attempt* to censor your book(s). I'm willing to bet you can rattle off a list of books that have been banned at one time or another. 

* To Kill a Mockingbird
* 1984
* Harry Potter (all of them)
* Animal Farm
* Fahrenheit 451 (our dose of irony)

I'm also willing to bet you've read several of these books and can name the authors for most of them. Why? I attribute it to spite. What happens when someone attempts to ban a book? Usually, it's some well-meaning, if ill-advised parent trying to protect a kid. This parent (or many of them) aren't just okay with opting their child out of reading the book. Instead, they decide no child should read the book and try to erase it from libraries, schools, and stores. 

You know what happens next. Maybe no kid was excited about the school reading list, but now. NOW. You've just told them they *can't* read something. That book flies off the shelves. The media gets involved. The author's name and book title are bandied about on national TV and discussed on major radio shows. And here's the kicker. It doesn't matter whether the conversation is critical or complimentary. It's free marketing. 

Is it possible that a book deserves to be banned? Most of us remember what it was like when Amazon finally went after the people writing pedophile porn. Not many of us would defend those books. I guarantee none of them show up in Banned Book Week. Banned book week is an awareness campaign undertaken by the American Library Association and Amnesty International. Bookstores across the US participate in the event, featuring recently and historically banned books. High schools and colleges across the land hold challenges for reading banned books that week. 

Moral of my rant: Censorship = bad. Until censorship = not so bad when it puts a dent in active, demonstrable harm or criminal activity. But even if the worst happened and your book was banned? You'd very likely be crying all the way to the bank.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

How do our characters censor their world?

black and white image of a hand drawn cursing emoji with a pen, taken from Alexia's novel notebook's curse words section

 I’m with Charissa on this topic…hmmm, f*ck. Instead, let’s all sit and watch Geralt together, shall we? 

That would be far more entertaining than discussing censorship. It’s both good and bad…which is also a bit like Geralt. Censoring is a benefit and hinderance in our society because it all depends on the personal opinions of who holds the power. And like the rulers The Witcher comes across, benevolence never seems to be the driving force behind what’s censored. 

To an extent, anyone with power/responsibilities censors what is revealed or passed down the chain. So, how do our characters censor what’s around them? 

Choosing an action based on personal goals is human. Choosing an action based on the good of others is heroic. And that’s why we write our characters with a mix of human and heroic traits. 

Who wants to read about a Captain America who never errs? He’s the good guy who will censor the bad guys to protect the innocent…until Cap’s intentions cross the line and his censoring ends up hurting people. 

We want to read about the ones who save the day, but we don’t want them to be perfect because then we can’t see ourselves in them. And as a writer you want your reader to connect with your MCs and be able to imagine themselves in their shoes. 

No, this isn’t anything new. But bring bits and pieces of the real world into your writing and give your characters flaws. Let those characters with power censor away, and give your MCs the power to deflect or protect.

And now, let’s all go watch Geralt!

Seriously, if you haven’t read this series and are into high fantasy…HERE!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

What Would You Write If You Weren't Afraid?


 I'm working away on my novella for the FIRE OF THE FROST midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology! The story takes place in the Bonds of Magic world more or less at the same time as the events in DARK WIZARD. You can preorder now for the December 2 release!


Also, this is really cool! THE ORCHID THRONE is on this amazing Book Riot list: 20 OF THE BEST ENEMIES-TO-LOVERS FANTASY BOOKS. Fair warning! This list might have you click-buying. It sure did for me. 

At the SFF Seven this week we're talking censorship. Charissa and KAK already provided excellent discussions of the difference between censorship and blocking disinformation and hate. So, I'm going to take the topic in a slightly different direction, which is looking at the ways we censor ourselves. 

A perennial problem for writers - perhaps for all creatives - is getting rid of the other voices in our heads. Something new authors often seem to ask is how to write about topics their families consider off limits for one reason or another. They can be concerned about dealing with sexual topics or gender-related ones, politics, family secrets, etc. It's not easy to free ourselves to write when there's that persistent worry that someone we love will read it and be angry. And so we censor ourselves, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. 

On a larger scale, we live in an era of loud voices. In an attention economy, where businesses thrive or fail based on clicks, the loudest, most persistent voices can be the most lucrative. This kind of environment isn't conducive to the silence creatives need in order to coax new art into being. Those loud voices can drown out the quiet whispers of something fragile and newly born to the world. The voices can also leak into our thoughts and dictate what we should and shouldn't write. Thus we censor ourselves, killing those new sprouts before we even have time to discover what they are.

What's the solution? There are no easy answers. I can offer that I have a poster hanging over my desk, one I made myself. It says:

What would you write if you weren't afraid?

I look at it often when I hesitate, when voices leak into my head, when I start worrying about the final story and how it will be received. It keeps me going. 

Write through the fear. You can always edit later. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Abuse of Censorship

Should censorship be a four-letter word?

Eeeeuhm. There's a loaded question. We have a knee-jerk reaction to the term "censorship" because we see it being abused as a political weapon and a tool of suppression for civil rights and social progress. What we tend to forget are the instances where censorship is beneficial and necessary. There are reasons How To Be A Pedophile and Maintaining The Upper Hand: The Benefits of Beating Your Wife aren't readily accessible to the mainstream. One has to go deep into the troll dungeons to find that shit. 

There are different types of censorship: government, religious, and free-market being the most obvious. While we want to chafe against any institution trying to control what we can and cannot access, we do so from within a space that's already been protected from the deluge of horrific crap. When the crap barriers weaken, we get things like Facebook and YouTube with their enabling and promotion of bad actors. 

So, short answer, no, "censorship" is not a four-letter word. Censorship is built upon the gray wobbly foundation of "morality." Alas, mortality is gleefully exploited by those lacking it. The ways to combat censorship abuse...would require me to write multiple doctoral theses. The shortest and most glib answer is "follow the money then take it away."

Sunday, October 17, 2021


This week's topic here at the SFF Seven is 'Should censorship be a four-letter word?' My response when I read that was very much a Geralt of Rivia moment--Hmm, F*CK.

I'll be honest. I'm not sure what this topic even means. I think it means--Should censorship be something we don't say or talk about? But I like four-letter words, so my entire understanding of this question is probably different from what it should be. Also, this subject can get really expansive, so I'll be brief.

What I'll say is this: Censorship means different things to different people, usually based on their politics and sometimes (often) religion. Someone might fight the school board to remove a book with gay characters from the school library. This is an attempt to censor what people read based on personal beliefs. It is not a danger to expose and educate kids on diversity and tough topics--people and parts of the world they live in. It can build empathy and understanding--these are good things. If parents think it's harmful, they can discuss that with their children. What IS dangerous is promoting hate speech or books that promote hate against marginalized communities. 

It really isn't hard. If So and So Author wants to publish a book that promotes neo-Nazi activity, it shouldn't be a surprise if this is prevented or the book rejected or removed from libraries or schools. Decisions should be based on certain professional judgments and standards, not government or religious beliefs and not even on personal taste or because someone doesn't like the ideas presented. 

Also...people. Not educating your kids about the real world around them is doing them a tremendous disservice. 


I'm announcing a couple of cool things this week on Instagram, so if you don't follow me, come say hi! 

One cool thing that I'll post here is that I received an author blurb from the AMAZING Juliet Marillier, who I admire so much. I was so nervous the entire time she was reading my book ;) But I think it turned out okay!

"If you like your fantasy with complex magic, an intriguing protagonist, a powerful romance, and a great cast of supporting characters, I highly recommend The Witch Collector. Charissa Weaks's high-stakes storytelling will leave you waiting eagerly for the next installment." — Juliet Marillier, award-winning author of the Warrior Bards series

If you'd like to pre-order the ebook or purchase the paperback, check here for links. BUT, that cool news? It might be about another reading option, so check out my Insta tomorrow!

I hope you all have a fabulous week!

Friday, October 15, 2021

What I Write Before I Write


I can tell you all about what I write before I start writing a draft of a book. But the fact is that I'm in the market at the moment. What I've been doing is inadequate to the way my life works right now. Flux is the kindest word I can conjure. Here's what I've done in the past, though:

Nothing. I jump in. I usually have a concept. From that concept, I see if I can write three chapters as a proof of concept. If I can do that, THEN I stop and go back to pre-writing work. That comes in the form of super in-depth character templates. I use the ones from Break into Fiction by Mary Buckham. They begin and end with what drives your characters. It's a lot of psychology and delving into old psychic wounds. It's really great if you're a character driven writer. It worked brilliantly for me for years - years I didn't have an overwhelming full time job, and aging parents living with me. It worked when I had time and brain space for staying immersed in the characters and their feelz.

Those days are gone for the moment. I can either admit that, or I can go on wasting my life waiting for it to 'get better'. What I need now is a means for adding a plot outline or a necessary scene list so I can maximize the tiny windows of writing time I do have. The downfall of the character templates is that they leave your story open - you can still pants your way through a book with character drives and emotions and wounds. That's fine - it's just a bigger investment in time, in my experience. Lovely if you have the privilege. Less so if you're working three jobs.

Maybe this is where writing goes from being self-indulgent fun thing to wallow around in and explore. Maybe under duress, it grows up into something a little more -- I don't know. Packaged? I feel like I'm asking for creative briefs for my own content. Oh hey, did I mention I'm a technical writer for the day job? Yeah. That's all packaged. It's my job to interview the person who hired us and find out what they want in a piece of writing (and when and for how much). Then I find out what source material they have to teach me and the other writers about the product we'll write about. I'm proposing using the character templates as my source material to teach me about my own content. My goal now is to come up with a clearly defined definition of what's required in the end product based on what I know from the source material and what I know about what I'll find fun and interesting about the story.

I mean it *sounds* like a good idea.

Here's hoping it'll do the job. Cause what's happening (or not) right now, just ain't working.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Before Chapter One: Outline

close up image from Alexia's spiral bound notebook where she's drawn out a three act graph to fill in with plot details

 How do you start a book? 

That seems to be the most common question I get asked once it becomes known I’m a writer. And it also happens that this week’s topic is Before Chapter One: What do you have in place before you start drafting?

I may not physically be a laboratorian any longer, but inside I’ll always and forever be a lab girl. And lab people follow the procedure! Each step of the way. 

Step one, for me which means YMMV: outline

It seems like I’m in the minority when talking to others in the writing community. I love having an outline. I love knowing the main plot points from beginning to end. I love being able to see the story’s loose form right away and watch it tighten into a solid novel. 

I’m going off the before you start drafting here. Because technically before I do an outline or being my detailed synopsis, I have a scene in my mind. It’s always in full technicolor—meaning I can see, smell, feel, and hear everything in that scene. 

Preferably, I want that key scene to marinate in my brain for a good 3-6 months before I explore it further. And I really want to have a story idea for a solid year before I start writing it. I find that the words flow out of me much easier if I take the time to do that. 

Once I have the scene and MCs (main characters) formed, I do a three act outline and from there I start my synopsis which usually rounds out around 6 pages. From there I break the synopsis into chapters so I have at least one sentence for each one. As this process is happening I’m researching names and places and adding images to their respective folder in Scrivener. 

Does anyone else pre-plan the crap out of their novel? And if you do, how much do you put into your program/Scrivener? 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Cover reveal!!!

I'm super excited to share the cover for FIRE OF THE FROST! Out December 2, 2021, this midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology includes stories from the fabulous Darynda Jones, Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven and myself. You can preorder the ebook now from all the major retailers (iBooks coming soon) and the print preorder through my webstore. (There will be print available from the other retailers eventually, but not until release day.)


From Darynda Jones, a standalone novella set in a world where vampyres are hunted for sport. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation is Winter, a warrior bred to save them from extinction. Forbidden to fall in love, Winter cares only about her oaths… until she meets the devilish prince of the underworld.

Amanda Bouchet transports The Kingmaker Chronicles to modern-day New York City. An exiled warrior finds himself in the Big Apple just before the holidays. On a vital mission for Athena, he meets an imperiled French teacher from Connecticut, and soon they’re knee-deep in inexplicable phenomena.

Grace Draven brings a novella-length expansion of a stand-alone short story in which a cursed mage-king from a frozen kingdom is obligated to marry a woman of high-ranking nobility but meets his soulmate in a lowly scribe.

From Jeffe Kennedy comes a standalone novella in the Dark Wizard world, where an ancient holiday is resurrected and clandestine lovers find the courage to pursue forbidden joy.


This week at the SFF Seven our topic is: Before Chapter One. We're asking each other, "What do you have in place before you start drafting? Inspiration board? Top-level plot bullets? Full outline? Flushed out Character Profiles? Etc."

This is kind of funny for me to answer today because I'm starting Chapter One on the novella for this anthology. And yes, it will be Chapter One, because I'm a linear writer. What do I know about the story at this point? I know this: 

It's set in my Dark Wizard world (Bonds of Magic), where an ancient holiday is resurrected and clandestine lovers find the courage to pursue forbidden joy.

Heh. I had to figure out that much so I had something to say for the reveal.

At least I know the world? That's because I've already written and published the first two books in the Bonds of Magic series, DARK WIZARD and BRIGHT FAMILIAR. My as-yet-untitled story in FIRE OF THE FROST occurs away from the protagonists of the main arc, but I don't know yet who the characters will be. This is a departure for me as I start with character 99% of the time. So, this will be interesting!

But my short answer to the question is: nothing. Pretty much all I have before I start drafting is a twinkle in my eye, as it were. 

Let it shine, baby. Let it shine!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Before Chapter One: Skeletal Plotting

Before Chapter One: What do I have in place before I start drafting? Inspiration board, plot bullets, full outline, character profiles, etc?

Hello, my name is KAK, and I'm a skeletal plotter. That means before I start drafting I have something between plot bullets and a full outline. I know if the book is a stand-alone or part of a series, and the respective story arcs. I know my primary and secondary character names, dominant attributes, and points of introduction. I know what relationship and purpose those characters have with the main character. I have a vague idea of setting/environment. I know the highlights of the magic system and if there are magical creatures. I know the plot's three arcs and the ending. I have a primary theme/purpose for every chapter, thus I know the path of the primary plot. I also highlight relationship milestones/changes/challenges chapter-by-chapter.

I also know that 60% of that outline isn't going to reflect the final story once it's drafted. It's okay. The 40% that remains is what keeps the story on track. The 60% isn't wasted effort; it's the flexibility that still allows me the wonder and enjoyment of discovery without jumping off the rails.

Monday, October 11, 2021

How to get started

So this week's subject is how to get started on yiur next novel. What do you have reeady to go before hyouremready to go as it were.

Wel, that's an interestintg question, especially since Im a pantser. I basically just sit down ad start. I don't have a list of prepared character names. I don'tnusually do outlines. I have never even once filled out charcter cards, though the idea always sounds interesting to e. No 3x5 index xards, no tree of possibe scenes. It just isn't my thing.

I have nothing, ecept a vague notion of what I want to see when it's all said and done. I MIGHT have a few vague ideas for scenes in my head, but the closest comparison I cn give is a few stepping stones to help e across the river as I start my walk.

Here's the thing: for me, half the fun is the mystery. I know that I'll need a town before it's all said and done. I often prefer small town settings, because there' a certain level of intimacy to them that is washed away in big city settings. I know I'll ned a few character, but I like to learn about them the same way that readere learn about them. That is to say I like to learn abot them as I move throgh the story. It is eceedingly rare for me to have a well deeloped notion of what a chaaracter will become as the story progresses, because I DO think chaarcters should change as they move through a tale. Like all of us, they shouod be shped by their surroundings by their past, and by what happens to them in every day events.

Let me put thT in a slightoy different way. When I strted writing I was a very different peron than I am now. My beliefs were different, my lifestyle was certainoy different, and I promise you the me from 25 years ago would have never expected the me that lives in my skin now. I have eveolved as a result of life events, changes in my environment, and incidents that reshaped me in commpketeoy unexpected ways. I bet if you look back even a decade, you can say the same and if I am wrong, yu are very much an exception to the rules.

Oh, some things haven't changed much. I still love Halloween and I think Stephen King is about he best writer out there these days. I think my writing has evolved immensely, and I know that my opinions arent what they were half a lifetime ago. I have, in some ways, become jaded. I have, in other way, remained remarkaboy the same.

But what has n9t changed is my preference to go into a story with onoy a seed of an idea. I find the mysteries that unfod as I write are haof the fun. I can look back at my very first novel, UNDER THE OVERTREE, and I can remember how surprised I was by some of the charctes. Lisa Scarabeeli comes to mind. I made her to be a throaway. She was supposed to die horribly in the story, but she surprised me No matter what I hit her with, and I hit her ith a LOT, she simply would not die. If I had outlined the novel as thoroughy as some writer I know, that wouodnt have happenede She'd have asted two scenes and then she wouod have been gone I would have lost tht element of surprise. A writer I knew for a long time. Rick Hautala, once had a long debate with me about that Rick outlined everything meticulousy, effectively writing so detiled an outline for himself that it wouod tke 20,000 words to finish the outline he wouod then flesh out that that outline and have a finished novel. I toold him then, and I still hold to it, tht for me, the element of surprise is removed by having a detailed outline. I can no longer surprise myself, so how can I expect to surprise the reader?

He never quite got that. That's okay, I couod never quite work my wy through his form of outlining, either.

The thing to remember is that there is nio right ot wrong in writing. There is only what is right or wrong for YOU.

Do you need an outliune? Maybe you do. All I need are my aforementioned stepping stones Brief snippets of scenes thT might or might not actually take place in my stories. I had one scene in y head when I started writing that first novel. It was a scene tht wouod not leave me alone and I wrote un til I had that scene fleshed out properly, which was roughoy fifteen thousand words in three days. By the time I had finished writing that scene, I knew what the next few importaant beats in the story wouod be and that was how I kept writing. 178,000 or so words later, I had finished my first novel's first draft.And I was happy with it, and I still am. Oh donpt get me wroing, I'd have written a very different story than what I wrote then if I were to start with the same seed as I did back in the day. I am, as I have already sid, a very different person than I was back then. Different aspects of the sme tle woulde ahve been moe important to me if I wrote the book today instead of in the pst.

Here's what I really need to get strted i need an idea. I need at least one scene that I a desperately eage to write, and I need to hav4 a vague notion of what I want to have hapening somwhere near the end of the book. That's it. everything else isw done spur of the moment. i do not have a list of nakes, when I start. I make them up as I go. Those names will be added to a one or two page leicon as I go along. Especially in a fantasy settting where the names are markedly different than the common names I find in my world. That lexicon will include the naes of characters, often with a one sentence description to help me remembr imortant things about them. Tyler wilso-smart ass-nerd-very near sighted, wears glasses. Mark Howell--overwight, dremer, holds a grudge. cassie Monroe, athletic, jogs every day, is adrift emotionally. Thaat's three chrcters and as fleshed out as they were when I started.

I do the same with locations: Summitvikle, small town, near a big lake, xenophobic atmsphere.

How much mire do you need?I want enough to fire my neurons and remind me of the peron/place. That's all. I don;t outline.I ask myself questions. I don't answer them diretly. I answer them in the story. I might add in the name of good friends or family member as I go. Cindy Howell, Narks mom, was fifteen when she had her son. Blonde hair.

The rest is details, The notes are the clay I'm sculpting from as it were. I don't want more than tht I want the shpe and teture nd design to suprise me as I go along.

Probaboy thtt isnpt a helpful pile of inforation I know most of the writers I deal with hve very different processes than I do. I collaborte with riters with fair regularity and most of them outline much more than I do, The exception is my friend Chrles rutledge, with whom I regularly collaboraate. Charles is as weird s me, and whoile we ahve written several novels and novellas together, the closest we've ever come to an outline is about three sentences worth of story idea, followed by a luch meeting ot two when we were halfway through a book. But as I have waid before, I'm not normal and neither is Charles.The first novel we worked on together, BLIND SHADOWS, took us three weeks to write. The second novel we worked on together, CONGREGATIONS OF THE DEAD took us two weeks. The third, A HELL WITHIN, was about five months, The thing is we had three books and a novella come out of bout hree sengtences. We should do a story with the local cop and a detective who run across a monster when they're just going abiut their normal days. Mayne set it in the mountains. Do it sa a crime story, but there's also this supernaatural thing going on, too.

That was enough. We had a blast firing chptes back and forth on each and every tale.

I say again, and with feeling, tee is no right or wrong way, theres onoy the way that works for you.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Queries, Synopses, and Taglines, Oh My

If the question is are queries and synopses bane, benefit, or both, my answer is yes. All the things. I have a decidedly love/hate relationship with them. 

I've spent months (possibly years, to my dismay) thinking in terms of broad strokes, long arcs, interwoven threads, and the details that build a complete sensory world in a book. It took me way too many words to do so. Now you want me to boil it down into a single page synopsis? This is bane. It's bane because of the cognitive shift that has to happen from writer to marketeer - a shift that apparently comes at emotional cost for a lot of authors, including me. 

However, synopses done well are absolutely a benefit. They really do force you to distill the main conflict, emotion, and themes. From that synopses, a query can be born. From that synopses, pithy one liners about the story and the characters can be used as teasers across social media and ads if you're so inclined. If you'd asked me what was good about a synopses a few years ago, I'd have said, 'when they're over'. But somewhere along the way, a critique partner relayed a message from her editor at a large house - learn to love synopses because it's how the big trad houses sell you and your story. Did you think anyone other than your editor read your book? Doesn't happen. The cover art skims the synopsis. Marketing skims the synopsis. If that synopsis is a toss off, it shows. Love that impossible quest to write a synopsis. It's what gets you where you want to go. 

I'm aware of a couple of schools of thought on synopses. One is that synopses are nothing more than a point by point logical flow through the plot. The second says that synopses are a story in and of themselves that should reflect the voice and feel of the book. My synopses tend to fall into that second category. I want the feeling in the synopsis. I want all that character angst sitting on some marketing person's chest, staring into their eyes. That means I select for melodrama when I undertake a synopsis.

Don't think there aren't several false starts, hair tearing, and wails of 'why is this so hard'? I usually end up with a couple of half done versions full of stilted phrases around what happens in the book. Then I get mad, say 'melodrama, stupid' and go for a paragraph describing the heroine and her goal, one for the hero and his goal, and then the rest is how those goals collide and how everyone's gonna die if the two of them can't get it together. It's not a patented formula or anything, but it does seem to work well. 

I also only speak in terms of the synopsis because for me, the query is the teaser for the synopsis and is derived from it. Some authors start with a tagline and then build longer and longer focused content until they hit synopsis length. I go the other direction. Long form that boils down farther and farther until I have a single tagline. But by the time I'm done, I have a query, a synopsis, and a back cover blurb all ready to go in a media kit that I can pull from easily. 

But ye gods, I still dislike having to stare at a blank page and a flashing cursor after having written 'The End' on something else.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

An Author's Bane: Writing a Query & Synopsis


a close up shot of the ? and @ keys on an old typewriter, they're round and worn at the edges

This week we’re talking about a common bane to all authors…writing queries and synopsis. 

The topic actually asks if these are a bane, benefit, or both—but if you’re a writer, and if you’re honest with yourself, they’re both stressful and challenging. Writing a query or synopsis does not use the same mind-tools as writing a novel, you need to switch gears and view your book from a marketing standpoint and how best to leverage its saleability. Thus, bane! 

If you’re scratching your head right now, I’ll give you some background:

Query: a query is roughly one page in length and its purpose is to entice an agent or editor to want to read your work. 

If a writer desires to work with an agent there’s a high chance they will contact them with a query letter. And if an author has an agent or wants to sell their book to a smaller press they will need to present a query—which equates to a proposal if your agent is sending it—and synopsis. 

the Guts of a Query:

  • a hook, one sentence that summarizes your book
  • title in all caps
  • genre and word count
  • comp titles (list a few books that are comparable to yours)
  • one to two paragraphs describing your plot/characters
  • writing credentials, if you don’t have these, don’t make any up
  • thank you, the most important thing to remember is be respectful
  • complete within 300-400 words

Please do not blanket copy your query letter. You are sending it to different people, right? Does everyone like the same kind of pizza? Nope, and they’re definitely not going to be hooked by the exact same query. Personalize, at the very least address it with the correct name, and stick to their listed requirements. If you do not have any stated requirements, go with your gut, but be respectful

Are your palms sweaty and your stomach cramping? It happens because: stressful writing here! If you’re struggling with writing a hook check out Publishers Marketplace, they list book deals with their one sentence hook, or peruse Goodreads, sometimes the blurb starts out with a one sentence hook. 

I honestly can’t recall anyone ever saying they enjoy writing a query, but I’m sure there is someone out there that loves it! Though I have heard a few authors say they like writing the synopsis. 

What’s a synopsis?

Synopsis: an overview of a book from beginning to end that reveals the entire plot. 

Include in a Synopsis:

  • present tense third person narrative
  • capitalize your characters’ names the first time you introduce them
  • only use Main Characters’ names
  • emotions!
  • simple writing—don’t get wordy, you don’t have enough room
  • pages: 1 (short) to 2 (2-4 is considered long)

Yes, you must include your entire plot and the ending. Twists and all. Agents and editors read the synopsis to ensure your story has structure and is free of plot holes. And they need to know how everything comes together at the end. Why? Well, you don’t want to be pitching a romance that ends in one of the characters dying or a sci-fi that wraps up with an out-of-the-blue, magical miracle.

#WritingTip: write a short and long synopsis because, like pizza, 

different people will require different lengths and you don’t want to be unprepared.

The thing is, love them or hate them, suck at it or excel, there’s pressure when you write a query or synopsis. Work at it and perfect it. It’s worth the time because you get one shot to hook someone. So, writers. Embrace the bane and go sharpen those hooks.