Guest Post: Kimberly G. Giarratano

Ghostly YA Reads To Keep You Up At Night

Happy Halloween mystery lovers! I thought in honor of Halloween, I’d offer up some of my favorite haunting and creepy young adult novels. Now, I’m the first to admit that I am a scaredy cat. I don’t read horror, but I love to be haunted. And I love suspense. The following are a list of books that I’ve read that have given me chills and heart palpitations. What more can you can’t ask for on October 31st?

The Diviners by Libba Bray
It’s 1926, and flapper girl Evie O’Neil has a special gift for divination. Sent to live with her her uncle who runs an occult museum in Manhattan, Evie becomes embroiled in several murder investigations surrounding the sinister dealings of a ghostly serial killer. Uber chilling and suspenseful, The Diviners was one of my most favorite reads of 2012 — just don’t read this book at night. Or when you’re home alone. If you love the Jazz Age and New York City with a hefty dose of the macabre, you’re in for a frightening good time.

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman
A young teenage boy is walking alone on a stretch of highway when he meets a boy who died decades ago on that same stretch of road. Haunting and romantic, Vintage is memorable because it contains one of the scariest, creepiest scenes I have ever read in any novel. I won’t ruin it by telling you more.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Set in San Diego in 1918 during the deadly Spanish influenza epidemic, Mary Shelley Black, 16, is heartbroken when the boy she loves inexplicably dies shortly after returning from war. When he comes back to haunt her, Mary Shelley must uncover his murderer if he is to move on. The horrors of World War I coupled with the high death toll from the Spanish flu make for a haunting and atmospheric read. And the mystery will keep readers guessing until the end.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Okay, so this isn’t a ghost book, but a vampire one. And this isn’t just any vampire novel. Holly Black is one of the most recognizable names in YA literature and for good reason — she is simply a beautiful writer who explores the grittiness, bleakness and harsh realities of adolescence. I will read anything this woman writes and you will too.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Maureen Johnson is best known for her well-written contemporary YA fiction, but in this novel she ups the sinister. An American teenager moves to London right when a Jack the Ripper copycat killer wreaks havoc near her school. I’m a sucker for anything Maureen Johnson writes, and this departure was no exception. It was creepy and chilling and fast-paced. My heart was racing toward the end.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Admittedly, I have not read this book. But I am dying to (no pun intended) because it’s on everyone’s must-read-creepy-YA list. So I must include it here. A ghost hunter enters a Victorian house in order to kill the murderous ghost who haunts the place only she spares the boy’s life. I just bought it for my Kindle and I can’t wait to read it …and then sleep with the lights on.

So while you’re snacking on your kids’ bite-size Snickers (cuz that’s what I’m doing), check out some of these spooky YA books and report back. Tweet me at @KGGiarratano or find me at kimberlyggiarratano.com. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

***

Kimberly G. Giarratano lives in the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and small children. BeGrungeGodscoverfore staying home with her children, Kimberly was an ESL teacher and a YA librarian. One day Kimberly hopes to move to Key West, Florida where she can write in a small studio, just like Hemingway. Grunge Gods and Graveyards is her first novel.

Website: kimberlyggiarratano.com
Twitter: @KGGiarratano
Facebook: /KGGiarratanoAuthor
Email: kggiarratano@gmail.com

Happy Halloween

‘Tis the season of werewolves, zombies, and vampires. Slasher movies on the television. Books and short stories about all manner of paranormal creature. Dressing up as some fantasy character and terrorizing the neighborhood, demanding candy or tricks will result. Going to work in a costume. Horror reigns at Halloween.

What’s the origin the idea that the eerie and otherworldly come out the night of Halloween? The Druids, the spiritual leaders of the Celts. Halloween is the Pagan New Year. Hallow’e’en is Hallowed Eve. The Druids had a lunar calendar and in that kind of a calendar, the days begin at sunset. There are thirteen months (or full moons) in a lunar calendar. (Oooh, yes. The scary 13.) But the earth’s trip around the sun takes 365 days (give or take). One lunar cycle is 28 days, so 13 cycles is 364 days. That leaves one day extra. (Didn’t know you’d have to do math, did you?) That day was considered a day out of time.

It is said the veils are thin during this day out of time. It is easier to see into the other world. It is easier for other worldly creatures to come into our world. Thus the custom of dressing up like a goblin or other creature to fool them into thinking you are one of them. But the Druids did not fear this night. It was considered sacred, a time to see into the deep spiritual source, to contact guides, gods, the fae, and ancestors. It was called Samhain.

Samhain falls halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. It’s a cross-quarter day. The equinoxes and solstices divide the year into fours and the cross-quarters (Halloween, Groundhog’s Day, May Day, and Lamas) divide them again.

Samhain also marks a stellar event. On this night, the star cluster called the Pleiades or Seven Sisters crown the sky at midnight. They climb to the highest point in the sky on this night—or they used to. Because of the precession of the equinoxes, or the earth’s tilt and how it changes our relationship to the stars, this now happens a bit later, maybe around November 21. The Pleiades held an important place in Celtic mythology, as well as many other cultures.

What will come to you through the veils this Halloween?

Falling Splat—Do Workshops Really Pick You up Again?

I am a workshop junkie.  There, I said it.

In my writing career I have attended so many writing workshops I can’t begin to tell you how many.  (Dear Hubby probably could.)

A workshop—unlike a fun-filled conference—is a focused class, complete with homework and exercises and lots of learning.  Workshops don’t come cheap.  There can be quite an investment of time as well as money.  Here are some of my conclusions about workshops in general:

The time is right for a workshop when I start to:

  1. Develop bad habits—otherwise known as getting lazy.
  2. Develop doubts—how can I finish my WIP if I unwrite more words than I put down?
  3. Develop a critical voice that tries to tell me my remaining words are sludge.

The way I choose the right workshop to attend:

  1. Word of mouth—when someone recommends a great workshop, and then I see evidence of the recommendation in that person’s work.
  2. Location—if it’s too enticing a place (Hawaii in winter comes to mind), I’ll go to the place but not attend the workshop.
  3. The workshop focuses on what I need to learn, and when in my career I’m ready to hear it.

Once I get to the workshop, here’s the process:

  1. Going splat—finding out how much I don’t know turns my writing upside down and inside out.
  2. Unlearning—clearing out the stuff that doesn’t work and/or misinformation.
  3. Picking myself up—being willing to try new experiments takes me to new levels of writing.

Some possible side-effects:

  1. Dumbfoundedness
  2. Emotional battles, ranging from hopelessness to anger to elation
  3. Thick skin-itis

Advantages of a workshop:

  1. Camaraderie among like minds
  2. An explosion of ideas
  3. The little engine syndrome—I think I can, I know I can.

Disadvantages:

  1. Sleep deprivation
  2. Potential hazards, such as letting negativity creep in
  3. Fried brains

So, yes!  Workshops can definitely pick you up.  But you have to be ready to fall first.

Beware The Scarecut

Stylist: What can I do for you?
Me [indicating longish, past-the-shoulders hair]: I’d like a trim, please.
Stylist: Ok, what would you like?
Me: It’s all the same length, so how about just a half-inch all around?
Stylist: Great.

[two minutes later]
Stylist: Um, the back is longer than the front, so is it ok if I cut an inch off there?
Me: So that it’s all the same length?
Stylist: Yes.
Me: Sure.

[seven minutes later]
Stylist: I’m done.
Me: Ok, is it all the same length now?
Stylist: Yes. Except for your bangs.
Me: My what?
Stylist: Your bangs. In the front.
Me: I haven’t had bangs for decades.
Stylist: Oh.
Me: Where do you see bangs?
Stylist [gestures toward my face]: There?
Me: Yeah, that hair was the same as the rest. Because it’s all the same length.
Stylist: No, those front pieces were already shorter.
Me: And now they’re much shorter.
Stylist: Well, the front of your hair is curlier than the rest.
Me: Not really.
Stylist: Maybe it just looks shorter.
Me: Actually, I’m pretty sure that now it is shorter. Since you just cut it.
Stylist:
Me:
Stylist:
Me: Could you please cut my hair so that it’s all the same length?
Stylist: Yes, but normally people like it longer in the front.
Me: But you just cut it shorter in the front.
Stylist:
Me:
Stylist:
Me: Ok, whatever. Please, I would like my hair ALL THE SAME LENGTH.
Stylist: All the same? All around?
Me: Yes. ALL THE SAME LENGTH.

[five minutes later]
Stylist [looking horrified at chin-length fiasco]: Wow, that’s short.
Me [wanting to shriek]: I’m not…uh, super happy about that.
Stylist: I wouldn’t be either.
Me: [jokingly]: You’re making me feel pretty good about it.
Stylist: Well, it’s really short.
Me [sadly]: Yes, it is.
Stylist:
Me:
Stylist [brightly]: Will that be cash or charge?

And…scene.  This doesn’t have anything to do with writing; it does, however, have to do with things falling (and the feeling of sitting there helplessly whilst our tresses rain down unexpectedly, which is a minor sort of horror since we know that whatever remains after all the wild scissoring is what we’ll have to deal with).  Can anyone relate to getting an unwanted “scarecut”?  And, in the name of all that is good and right, does anyone have a solution?

Falling Plot Dominoes

I’m currently in the midst of majorly revising my latest cozy mystery and I’m all too aware of the hazard of falling plot dominoes. Even though I’m barely a third of the way through my revisions, I’ve already heard the clickety clack clack of toppling dominoes several times. Usually that sound (so loud in my mind) threatens to send me into panic mode because when you see the pattern of your previous plot getting destroyed in your mind’s eye, it’s more than a little scary and overwhelming.

However, instead of freaking out every time the dominoes start to topple, I do my best to remind myself that it’s unlikely that every single domino will fall over. It’s also unlikely that I won’t be able to find a way to pick the dominoes up and slide them back into position or, in some cases, slide them into a new position. In fact, experience has taught me that a few minutes of brainstorming will typically solve the problem and stop the cascade of plot pieces.

It’s still overwhelming at times to know that changing one element of the plot can have such an effect on so many other parts of the story, but the fact is that panicking doesn’t solve anything. So now when my plot dominoes start to clickety clack clack, each one hitting the next, I put on my hardhat, wade in amongst those plot dominoes and find a way to solve the problem, whether the solution is to switch some dominoes around, take some out altogether or substitute some with new ones.

As long as I stay calm and keep the big picture in sight, I know I’ll end up with a new and complete plot pattern. And, hopefully, at the end of the revision process I’ll find that my new plot pattern is much better than the one I had before.

Thank you so much for having me here at the blog for the past two months! I’ve had a great time!

Interview: Wendy Tyson

We are delighted to welcome Wendy Tyson, author of the Allison Campbell mysteries and other works.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Up early to write (undisturbed), followed by a leisurely breakfast with my husband and a day outside with my husband and the kids—at the beach or maybe touring a new city. More (undisturbed) writing time in the late afternoon, followed by dinner and a movie with my family in the evening. My eleven-year-old twins love “family movie night”—and I love that they still love it.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My husband and I have a huge organic garden—it covers most of our small lot. I suppose I’m deadly-assetsknown for my cooking, which usually includes vegetables picked from the yard. We live near Philadelphia, and we’ve even begun to grow vegetables in hoop houses over the winter. It was fun to pick fresh spinach and arugula last February when there was a foot of snow on the ground.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Linda King and Carol Lizell, two third grade teachers. Both made an indelible impression on me—pretty impressive considering that was 30+ years ago. And my first creative writing instructor in college. In addition to being a great teacher, she sent my short story, which counted as our final exam, to my house after the term was over with a note encouraging me to consider pursuing writing as a career. I was a bit lost in college, and that note (and the A on the story) meant a great deal to me at a time when I needed a boost. I still have that letter.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Absolutely, although the music I listen to while writing changes for each novel (and is different than what I would typically listen to). It’s kind of like pregnancy in that way—the cravings are odd, seemingly random and vary with each “kid.” With KILLER IMAGE, I listened almost exclusively to Vivaldi. With DEADLY ASSETS, it was a combination of Gregorian chant and Celtic music—go figure. And with DYING BRAND, due out in May, it’s been Bach and the Australian singer Sia.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Really good quality dark Italian chocolate. You’ll have to read DEADLY ASSETS to find out why. Trust me, it fits.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I had an idea that I couldn’t shake: What if two of Allison Campbell’s clients disappeared on the same day and there was no obvious connection between them? This concept became the basis for DEADLY ASSETS.   When I started writing, I had no idea what the connection would be, which made writing this novel particularly challenging.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The ability (or inability) people have to change. Image, and what exists under the façade. Family, and how we define that word. Redemption. I had a pretty happy, well-adjusted childhood, but you might not know it from some of the darker themes that exist in my novels.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today? 
Allison Campbell is an image consultant on the Main Line of Philadelphia. She spends her days helping others reinvent themselves, but she’s a product of her own reinvention. A dissertation shy of a PhD in psychology, Allison left graduate school a decade prior after a tragedy with a patient. The tragedy continues to haunt her, as does a troubled childhood. The Allison we meet now is polished and successful, but it’s her experiences as an outsider that allow her to see below the façade and help people find the best in themselves (and solve crimes!).

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Maura Isles, Alex Delaware and Dear Abby (Abigail Van Buren).

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
What fun! I say let’s mix it up—I’d invite Ernest Hemingway, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, P.D. James, Shakespeare and Toni Morrison.

What’s next for you?
I am about to hand in the third book in the Allison Campbell mystery series, DYING BRAND, which is due out May 26, 2015. I’m working on a few additional projects, including a standalone thriller and a cozy series.

***

Wendy Tyson is an author, corporate lawyer and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. Wendy has written three crime novels. Her latest, DEADLY ASSETS, the second Allison Campbell mystery, was released on July 22. The first Campbell novel, KILLER IMAGE, was named one of the ten best mysteries for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com. Wendy has also authored THE SEDUCTION OF MIRIAM CROSS (under W. A. Tyson). Wendy is a member of International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Committee and a contributing editor to THE BIG THRILL, International Thriller Writers’ online magazine. Wendy lives near Philadelphia with her husband, three sons and two muses, dogs Molly and Driggs. Visit Wendy at: http://www.watyson.com

Lessons from Falling

This post is going to play off some of the earlier posts by other Mysteristas this month, namely Kait, Diane, and Pam. If you haven’t read those posts, do so. Great posts.

Anyway, last time I was here, I’d suffered a bit of a fall myself. I’d sent my latest manuscript, something I’ve been working on for about a year (not continuously), the first draft completed as part of NaNoWriMo in 2013. I was expecting changes. I really was. Because hey, that’s what a writer pays an editor for, right?

I wasn’t quite expecting the amount of changes I got. Don’t get me wrong, there are parts the editor loved (and some of those parts I really slaved over, so that’s good). But her take on my love-interest was, um, not what I wanted to project. So, I allowed myself a couple of days to sulk and feel sorry for myself, then I got back to work.

The revision has been pretty extensive. The manuscript as returned was about 92,000 words. My “cut” folder now has scenes totaling about 13,000 – but the overall count has stayed steady. Referencing what Kait said earlier this week, a lot of words have fallen away. I loved those words – especially one scene that was dear to me. But it no longer served the story. It had to go. And they’ve been replaced by better words (at least I hope so).

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to let stuff that doesn’t work fall away because it frees up space for things that do work and will make your story better.

As I read the editor’s comments, I was initially really hurt and dismayed at the perception of my love-interest (if you can have a secondary protagonist in a story, she’s it). I wanted her to be a smart, strong, capable woman who wanted a relationship, but wasn’t defined by that relationship. And she’s not afraid to stick up for what she believes in, even when it goes against the grain.

But that’s not how the editor saw her. The editor saw a petulant, manipulative child determined to get what she wanted at all costs.

Yeah. Not Good.

As I read and thought, I realized I’d fallen victim to not letting my character hurt enough, not pushing her down (as Pamela wrote about). I’d hidden her back-story, failed to uncover the wound that was making her do these apparently irrational things, and explain her driving need to be right. I hadn’t let her hurt enough on the page. Which meant I was denying her the opportunity to heal – for readers to root for her.

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to expose your character’s deepest fears because that’s what’s going to make the emotional connection work.

I’ve been at this rewrite/revision for two weeks. I’ve been asked, “Why are you letting this upset you so much?” And the answer, as Diane so poignantly said yesterday, is that I love these people. Okay, yeah, they came out of my brain. Technically, they don’t exist – not in flesh and blood. But they’re real to me. I’ve had short stories published with them, and readers have told me Jim and Sally are real to them. And just as I’d do anything to help the flesh-and-blood children I have, because I love them, I’m willing to do what needs to be done to help my characters. Even if that means another rewrite.

Lesson: Writing is hard work; to do it well, you have to fall in love with the story you are telling.

With fall in full swing here in southwestern Pennsylvania, it seems fitting to be where I am. This story was born in the fall (November). It is set in the fall (during the month of October), and it’s reaching it’s conclusion in the fall.

At least I really love fall.