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Movie Review: Little Evil

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Little Evil is a 2017 American horror comedy film released by Netflix at the beginning of September. It stars Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly, and a host of other known and not-so-known actors. But standing in the spotlight and delivering a great dramatic and almost non-speaking role, is Owen Atlas. Owen plays Lucas, the young son of Samantha, who has recently married Gary Bloom.

Gary is your all-around good guy. He wants to be a husband and father to Lucas, even though he isn’t the boy’s biological father. He enters the marriage, having not had a lot of previous contact with Lucas because (as Samantha explains) she “wanted to make sure Gary was the one” before she allowed her son to meet and become attached. Now, as a parent, I can understand that. Divorce and stepchildren and everything that comes with that is hard, and that’s exactly what Gary keeps telling himself.

Throughout the movie, weird things keep happening around Lucas. Weird and violent things. Despite all the evidence that keeps pointing Gary toward the revelation that Lucas truly is the antichrist (including an awkward – yet hilarious – conversation with Samantha where she reveals how she was impregnated at a ritual cult gathering) he continually tries to play it off as the hardships of being a stepfather, and wants to do everything in his power to rise above the challenge.

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Things go so far that eventually Gary finds himself tracking down Lucas’ biological father to try and get some answers. Cults, a demon hunter, natural disasters, and being buried alive by Lucas all follow. Gary, now believing that his young stepson is the spawn of Satan, agrees that he must kill him to save the world.

Now this is where something amazing happens. Don’t get me wrong, up to this point I am loving this movie and there’s a million reasons why: the stepson/stepfather aspect, the transgender character as Gary’s co-worker and partner while he’s trying to figure out what’s going on with Lucas, the dedication Gary has to his new wife and stepson, the fact that Lucas doesn’t talk and yet this youngster gives an utterly fantastic performance, the supporting cast of characters – social workers, and other stepfathers who are in a support group, all of whom are having trouble connecting with their new families. It’s terrific. But, it’s when Gary takes Lucas to a water park (where he is supposed to kill him) that something magical happens.

As Gary is trying to summon his courage to do the task in front of him, he actually starts to bond with Lucas. For the first time he (and we the audience) sees Lucas smile and actually act like a child. We hear him speak. We see the two of them together as they play in the water, and Gary teaches him to swim.  It’s the moment that Gary has been waiting for – he’s getting to be a father.

But there’s still that whole antichrist thing, which is when the message of the movie shows up. Gary is about to send Lucas down a water slide to his death (he’s filled his floaties with sand)  but he hesitates. In front of him, he sees a person – a little boy underneath all the violence and ritualistic disasters. In that moment Gary begs God for a sign: am I doing the right thing? He looks up in desperation to see the word “LOVE” in the clouds. Love. Not hate. Not murder. Not death. But love.

That’s all it takes. Gary doesn’t have to think twice. It’s not violence that will save the world, but love.

I won’t give away the ending, but let me tell you that it’s completely worth it. Little Evil might be listed as a horror comedy (and it is those two things, no doubt) but it really struck my heartstrings.

I give this movie as many stars as allowed. The actors are fantastic, the storyline is both serious and funny and yet relatable. It’s clean, as far as things go – language and adult situations are kept on the low side of the scale. Diversity flows through it, and most importantly, the message of this horror comedy is that love is the answer.

In our world where there is so much violence and death, it’s comforting to see a reminder that love conquers all. Don’t give up on your family, reach out for support, and remember that people are worth the risk.

You can watch Little Evil now on Netflix.    

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On Writing: Creating A Chapter

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I’ve had a lot of people ask me about my process when it comes to writing chapters. Chapters, much like every other aspect of writing, is something I think every writer has to figure out for themselves. What works for me won’t necessarily work for someone else. But something I have learned over the years is that it’s okay to piecemeal together your own system. It’s okay to take ideas from your fellow writers and smash them together until you find your own comfort zone. We all learn from each other, and so here’s a short breakdown of how I write a chapter for a novel.

I’ve become a big fan of outlines. Before any chapter is written, I plan out a very generic set of events for the novel, which typically consists of an opening, the middle part, and how it will end. Once that’s established I go about planning each chapter. Sometimes I plan them out from beginning to end, and other times I plan out as many as I can and then start writing because I can’t take the anticipation anymore. My current project, Horns & Halos 2: All Of Them Criminals, has been like that. I have a total of six chapters planned out, and I’ve already written three of them. I know what will happen in the other chapters, but the order is still not quite there, and so I’ll probably do the rest as I go along.

Outlines and pre-planning chapter events can be a scary thought for some people. I’ve heard people talk about such things as being a sterile way to go, that it’s less creative and even less authentic. But this isn’t true. Just because I have plans for a chapter or even the entire book, that in no way stops the characters from doing what they want, even if that means changing my plans. An outline is a guide. I like to think of it like a map – it’s there to keep me headed in the right direction. My end goal is to get my characters to the climax of the story, and to do it in the most direct and entertaining way as possible. That map – or outline – will help keep me on course.

I usually try to visualize the events of a chapter in my mind as well. Running things through in my head, helps me to transfer them into words. It helps to make it real, in a way. Once I can visualize the chapter, it’s almost like I’m writing about a memory rather than something that never happened. 

Once I can “see” how things will go (especially the opening of each chapter) I set out writing. Sometimes I can sit down and write a complete chapter in one shot. Other times, it’s days or even weeks to get through one chapter. Not because of length, but because sometimes my flow is there, and sometimes it’s not. When it’s not, I can spend thirty frustrating minutes on one paragraph and still not be happy with it. When this happens, I usually call it quits for the day. Trying to force flow when it’s not there doesn’t work for me.

I usually break my chapters up into scenes. A chapter may have one scene or three. Sometimes four, but I never take it over that limit. Even four is a lot. I use Scrivener, and it matches this style perfectly. Scrivener was love at first sight for me. It works using the system of chapters and scenes (which equals super easy formatting for all us self-publishers out there!) which has been ideal for me. Scrivener also gives you plenty of spaces to keep your notes and character sheets right on screen with your project, which I abuse relentlessly. 

Once I have all the scenes of a chapter finished, I go back through and edit. I’ve heard a lot of people speak against this – that you should write as much as you can as fast as you can and then save the editing for when you’re done. I can’t work like that. I edit through each chapter as I go, which I’ve found to be a very valuable part of my process. Usually my first draft of a chapter is thin and bare. It’s the outburst. And so I go back through and put meat on its bones. I tighten up my pros, add detail to my description (making sure to run through the five senses to make sure I’m hitting a handful of them) and double checking that I’ve included everything I wanted. Sometimes I’ll have plans of putting comment C or action D in a chapter and I’ll get to the end and realize those things didn’t happen. So then I’ll go back through and work them in.

I typically comb through each chapter three or four times, and that includes one round of reading it out loud, before I move on to the next. At the end of the book, the entire thing will get many read throughs, along with a professional once through with my editor. But when it comes to chapters, I like to make them as full and as close to finished as I can as I do them.

Lastly, I think length is an important topic. For me, I make a very concentrated effort to keep chapters within a certain word count, and that changes depending on the project. For young adult pieces, I try to keep the chapters shorter. I’d rather have forty short chapters than twenty super long ones. Thrillers and mysteries are the same way – I keep them short, so as to send the reader through the story as quickly as possible. For other genres like historicals or high fantasy (as long as it’s not YA) I think longer chapters are okay. I’m not an expert when it comes to this and I don’t think there’s an exact science. With length, it’s a matter of knowing your audience. And even then you won’t make everyone happy. I’ve actually heard people complain about short chapters. Or even short novels! But to each his own, right?

In general, I try to keep every chapter under 5k words and if it’s a YA project, I aim more for like 3k a chapter.

No matter how you work out your own writing process, the key point is make it your own. Don’t think you have to follow my advice/tips or anyone else’s. Try things out, pick and choose what feels right to you, and run with it.

Happy writing everyone 🙂

Check out the trailer for the first book in the Horns & Halos series and get your own copy in paperback or on Kindle here! 

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On Writing: The Pros Of Fantasy

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I’ve always been one for variety. My reading library spans the realms of everything from fantasy to family dramas and children’s titles. There’s even some non-fiction in my arsenal; I’m a sucker for a good biography, especially when they’re about serial killers or mob bosses. Just sayin’.

When it comes to my own writing, this is still the case: variety is in my blood. Later this year I’ll be releasing my first stab at the horror genre (check out And Then Came A Spider this summer!). My Kindle short story MACHINES is a Hitchcockian thriller featuring a gay couple and some suspicious tea. The first book in my YA fantasy series, Horns & Halos: Against The Giant, follows a group of teenagers who are segregated according to their horns and halos. They live in a world of hate and punishment, but now they’re fighting against it in the name of friendship, truth, and the freedom to date whoever they want. And my first novel, The Flames of Guilt, is an adult fantasy with a fairy tale twist. Kings, queens, a curse, a seer who goes blind, a slobbering monster dog and a gang of bandits all included. Not to mention, it’s a love story with just a drizzle of sappiness to make you go, “awww”.   

But when it comes to picking a favorite genre to dabble in, I have to say that I LOVE writing fantasy the most. I will always have stray stories pop up in my collective works – a little horror, a murder mystery, some thriller and science fiction and maybe even a contemporary romance one day. But my heart will always fall back to fantasy.

Fantasy is an awesome place for me to live as a writer because anything can happen. Whatever I dream, whatever insanity festers in my imagination, I can incorporate it. With fantasy, I’m not just placing characters into a situation, I’m also creating the world and all its rules and inhabitants. Fantasy is the place of monsters, trolls, giants, one-legged snakes, wizards, and sea creatures named Earl. It’s where elephants fly and dogs talk. It’s the place of no boundaries or rules, other than the ones you create.

Of course with all this creative freedom, there’s also responsibility involved. Since I create the fantasy world where my characters live, I also have to make sure it all makes sense within its own system; this is called world building. But that’s a different topic for another blog.

Fantasy is great because it gives me the chance to take crazy characters and completely fictional settings and issues and inject the human condition into them. Chances are my readers can’t relate to being attacked by giant, man-eating plants (check out the Horns & Halos free short story Boy Eating Plants here!) but I bet they can relate to being accused, found guilty and sentenced to punishment, which is exactly the case when Allyster Williams finds himself standing in front of the queen of the massive, carnivore plants who can not only eat you, but they’ll tell you why before they do it.

No matter which genre you choose to write in, it’s important to build a bridge between your characters and your readers. In fantasy, this can be a little more challenging, since situations with dragons and tooth fairies and a leopard who writes poetry will never happen in real life. But I’ve always been one for a challenge, and since my brain naturally thrives in the world of poetry writing leopards, the fantasy genre is a safe, happy place. With chocolates on the pillow.   

Check out the trailer for Horns & Halos: Against The Giant. Get your ebook or paperback copy here!

Check out the trailer for The Flames of Guilt. Get your ebook or paperback copy here!

And if thrillers are your cup of tea, don’t miss MACHINES.

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When Research Changes Your Life

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Conventions are all the rave lately. For example, there’s the infamous Comic con, which hits all the major cities. But conventions or “cons” as they’re called, don’t stop with the comic book world. There are cons for anime series and video games and even television shows. And if I was more hip and more into the world at large, I would probably be able to list a dozen more sub categories of cons. But I’m not. I know they’re a big deal and that people spend lots of money, time, and resources to go to them, but I’ve never taken part.

Until now.

At the beginning of April, me, my husband, and our daughter Meadow went down to Denver (that’s a two hour drive!) to go to Repticon. That’s right – a convention for reptiles.   

I spent most of last year working on my third novel And Then Came A Spider. It’s slated to release later this year, but the point about that novel that matters to this blog post is that last year while I was still hashing that book out, I decided that it needed a spider (this was before it was titled And Then Came A Spider – tarantulas weren’t in the original plan). Now, at first the tarantula was going to play a minor role. But, having never owned a tarantula or even seen one in person, I was at a loss of how to write about it. I wanted it to be realistic – its movements, its habits, the enclosure it was going to be kept in – everything. So, like any good writer, I decided to do research.

I looked online at first, but in the end I bought a book. According to everything I read and or watched about tarantulas and how to care for them, The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide is the Bible of the hobby. It turned out to be interesting, and informative and before I even got halfway through, my curiosity over these things that I’ve always been afraid of, started to grow. Soon, I was no longer just reading so I could make my fictional spider come off as real in my latest book. No, at some point I realized that I was reading because I wanted a tarantula of my own.

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And so for my birthday last year, my husband bought me my first tarantula. We named him Giles, after the British food critic Giles Coren. Having Giles has been a learning experience from day one. Tarantulas aren’t like any other pet. Their list of oddities could span the ocean, which is beyond fascinating to me. And that’s probably why on Valentine’s Day this year, I got my second tarantula – a little curly hairball we named Wednesday. 

Now we’re up to present day. Or almost present day via a few weekends ago. Having never been to Repticon (or anything like it) before I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured there would be lots of snakes and lizards there, which wouldn’t be all bad. Before we had kids, my husband and I kept snakes. Secretly, I think my husband misses having one of those slithering darlings around. But for tarantulas, I wasn’t sure how many would be there, if any.

To my great delight, there were more eight-legged bundles of joy than I figured. There were also baby pigs, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, turtles, and there was even a rescue organization that brought in owls, pigeons, and hawks. The owl was the cutest.

Back to the tarantulas, I had my heart set on finding my first arboreal species. My two tarantulas at home are terrestrials, and for the week before the show, my husband had been working on making me a custom-made enclosure for our hopeful new addition. I had a list in my head of which tarantulas I’d be looking for. I won’t go into them, but let’s say that I found two out of the five on my hit list.

The first one I found was way too small. The little guy was maybe half an inch (diagonal leg span is how tarantulas are measured) or smaller and that’s too small for me. I’m not ready for that kind of responsibility, and so I moved to the next table. And the next and the next. We saw dozens of tarantulas, but none of them were what I was looking for. There was the “Skeleton tarantula” on one table, which I’ve always wanted. Ever since I started into the hobby, the Skeleton (aka Ephebopus murinus) immediately caught my attention, but since it’s not recommended for beginners, I hadn’t yet gotten one. But on this day, my first thought was that it’s not arboreal, so I passed it by. That’s when I saw one that was on my list. But it wasn’t the one I was really searching for. I knew my husband would not appreciate me buying two tarantulas at once, so I wanted to be careful which one I chose, and so I decided to keep looking before buying.

After not finding anything else, I decided to go back for the one I saw earlier, but by the time I got there (it was crowded!) someone else had already taken it. I tell you, I was heartbroken. I cursed myself for hesitating and in desperation I took Meadow with me and we started circling the tables to see if maybe we missed something. We walked around a good three times before we gave up and went to sit with my husband.

His words to me were, “So you’re going to go home without one?”

It took me all of three seconds after that to turn and look at Meadow and say, “Let’s go buy a spider.” And so we did. We went straight to the table where the Skeleton tarantula had been. There was actually two of them, but the one was full grown and was kind of intimidating looking, since they have the reputation of being a little on the pissy side. The other one – the one we bought – was little, maybe an inch and a half or so, which is smaller than both Wednesday and Giles. But it was big enough that I felt confident in my ability to care for him.

And so we paid for the little spider that looked like it was wearing a skeleton suit. He’s not an arboreal species, so the custom cage my husband made is still sitting empty. But overall, I think the trip went well. Our new little guy (who’s not only a burrower but is also classified as a swamp dweller…so lots of breaking new ground for us in terms of husbandry) is doing well so far. He’s already eating like a pig and making webs in his new home, which is a good sign. And, for the record, he wasn’t pissy with me at all when I moved him from the deli cup I bought him in to the enclosure that is now his. 

We named him Sebastian. 

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And Then Came A Spider isn’t all about tarantulas, but my reading about this incredible species had a huge affect on the story. Look for its release this summer. Until then, check out the book trailers for my other two novels: The Flames of Guilt and Horns & Halos: Against The Giant.

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Creating A Book Trailer!

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I LOVE movie trailers (and movies, of course!). Often times they are the deciding factor if I watch a movie or not. So this week I successfully made my first book trailer. And I have to admit that it was more fun than I thought it would be. It actually turned into quite the creative process. Although I’ve never been the most up on technology, a simple Google search on ‘how to make a book trailer’ led me to find out that my Mac already had the software on it to do everything I needed. So totally lucked out on that one.

After that, it was a matter of finding the right public domain pictures, choosing the wording to go in each frame, and learning how to use the studio software. In the end, I’m very happy with the way it came out. I’ve seen a handful of book trailers over the last few years, and some are better than others. I based mine off of one that I saw recently (which inspired me to try and make my own). I really liked the feel of it, and how it was classy looking and not too cheesy.

Below is my finished trailer for my young adult fantasy novel Horns & Halos: Against The Giant. Now I’m excited to see what else I can do for my other two published works: The Flames of Guilt and MACHINES.

Get your copy of Horns & Halos: Against The Giant HERE! It’s available in paperback or on Kindle. And it’s FREE on Kindle Unlimited.

And here’s the one I made for my first novel The Flames of Guilt. You can pick up your copy HERE! 

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Infusing the Classics

While I was working on the first installment in the Horns & Halos series, I decided that I wanted my teenage characters to be reading a book for their Lit class. I remember being in high school/middle school and having to read the classics: To Kill A Mockingbird. A Separate Peace. The Scarlet Letter. And the list goes on. Even now my children are in middle school and they’ve both been down that same road of reading classic pieces of literature for their English classes.

One of the things I remember most about my own school days, is discussing whatever book we were being forced to read and take tests on, with my friends. It’s this concept that I fused into the Horns & Halos world. Allyster, Jasper, and Harper are reading the classic George Orwell novella Animal Farm. As they’re discussing the plot and characters, they realize that their current situation isn’t too far off from the repressed world of barn animals in Orwell’s work. It was a way to include a story I love into a story I created, and it worked out well. My characters were able to go through the experience of reading Animal Farm, even though they’re fictional. And in the end, that little bit of classic literature opened their eyes and helped them piece together the nature of what they were really up against.

Now it’s time to start on the next book in the series. Horns & Halos 2: All Of Them Criminals will again see my main characters taking on a classic for their high school Lit class. I ran through a handful of ideas about which book it should be, but I ultimately settled on the John Steinbeck gem Of Mice And Men.

I read Of Mice And Men when I was in high school. I loved it then, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the movie (featuring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise), which does an excellent job portraying Steinbeck’s characters. In Horns & Halos 2, one of the biggest internal obstacles that my main character, Allyster Williams, will face will be that of feeling responsible for his friends and the guilt that sits on his shoulders about what happened in book one (no spoilers here!) when he took a risk and his friends believed in him enough to follow him. Now he’s faced with the choice to take another HUGE risk, and his friends’ well-being and even their lives will be put into danger.

Much like George Milton in Steinbeck’s classic, Allyster is cubbyholed into a situation of being responsible for someone other than himself. Even before danger enters the room, Allyster is in the seat of being in charge of those around him on a slew of levels, and he struggles to handle what exactly that means. While he wants to protect his friends, he feels frustrated, and waivers between taking on that responsibility and shrugging it off in an attempt to not carry it. This is where Of Mice And Men comes in as Allyster relates deeply to George Milton’s struggle throughout Steinbeck’s novella.

Currently I’m working on chapter three of Horns & Halos 2, and already Of Mice And Men has made an appearance. I’m excited to see how much of an impact this classic will have on my characters as they head into yet another adventure against the powers that be, segregation, coming of age, relationships, a trek through the wilderness, facing old rivals, and the Christmas that forgot about them.  

Check out book one in the Horns & Halos series now! Available in paperback or on Kindle. Clicky  

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MACHINES – Homage to Hitchcock

alfredhitchpresentslogoI remember watching old black and white episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents when I was a kid, and then as a teenager and even now as an adult. Then there are the movies that I love – Psycho. The Birds. Rear Window. Vertigo.

Whether it’s a full-length movie or a twenty-three minute short story, one thing they all have in common is eeriness. Each one brings you into a seemingly normal situation with normal people living their lives, but then strange things start to happen. Unexplainable things. Creepy things. Murderous things.

As Hitchcock so famously said, “I think everyone enjoys a nice murder, provided he is not the victim.” But it’s not always just a murder. Sometimes it’s the mere threat of such. The looming knowledge that something’s wrong. Something’s lurking and escape is limited or, even worse sometimes, unknown. When the person isn’t sure how they’re going to get out of a situation, yet they know it’s imperative that they do, panic can ensue, and with it a great drive to do something – anything to fix what’s gone so horribly wrong.

Enter Felix Todd. When I started writing MACHINES, I had those old black and white, twenty-three minute episodes from Alfred Hitchcock in mind. I wanted to tell a short story that had the punch, suspense, looming terror, and the sickening twist of something Hitchcockian.

It wasn’t just about putting Felix in danger. It was about showing his world and then adding an element of worry. Of panic. It was dabbing suspicion throughout his life to make him doubt the people around him and their motives.

And so MACHINES was born. Felix Todd is living a happy life. He has a career going. He has a stable relationship with a man he feels he owes everything – a man he’s endlessly loyal to. Even when the media labels Nigel Maxton things like “mad scientist” and “recluse mastermind”, Felix is supportive of the inventor’s endeavors and the machines he spends so much time working on, even when the one starts to become a little too life-like for Felix’s taste. But then sickness enters their house and their somewhat secluded lives. Shortly after, Felix finds out that there’s a murderess on the loose. The infamously named Murder Maid takes advantage of – and eventually kills – her employers, which leaves Felix wondering if maybe their new maid isn’t who she claims to be. Now it’s a race against time and the poison he knows has invaded the life he cherishes so much.

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Coming out on Valentine’s Day 2017: MACHINES – dedicated to everyone who ever LOVED a night in with Alfred Hitchcock.

*Update* MACHINES is out now! Get your copy HERE!