Writing Teenage Boys: Guest Post with Teri Polen

I’m not much of a horror reader since Dean Koontz scared the bejeezus out of me as a teenager. I’m also not a huge fan of teenagers. The real ones are tolerable, but the ones in books sometimes drive me crazy. They’re angsty,  dramatic, and they make dumb decisions. They remind me of me at that age.

So… when I picked up Teri Polen’s YA horror novel, Sarah, I was worried.

Well, silly me for fretting. The book was awesome. I’ll give you my review below, but first, I had to quiz Teri. One of the best things about the book was the way she dove into the experience of Cain, a 17-yr-old teenage boy. It felt totally genuine to me, and I happen to know Teri isn’t a 17-yr-old teenage boy. How did she do that with such authenticity? How did she prepare? Here’s her answer:

***

You’re not the first person to ask how I channeled the voices of 17-year-old boys, Diana. A good friend is convinced I was a teenage boy in a previous life. I have two sons—I honestly don’t know what I would have done with girls—and we’ve always had a steady stream of their friends hanging out at our house.

I spent countless hours driving them to sports and band practices, sleepovers, movies, dances…you get the picture. They trash talked each other while playing video games, compared puzzling encounters with the female species, and debated superhero movies. I’ve witnessed their heartache after breakups, their bets on when a friend would get dumped by a new girlfriend—and if it would be by text or in person, and their vehement defense of each other when challenged.

All the while, I listened. And it’s mostly been quite entertaining and enlightening. When the characters in my head demanded their story be told, it was natural they’d be teenage boys, because that’s what I know.

Cain’s pigsty of a bedroom is a near perfect picture of my oldest son’s room—or as my younger son calls it, ‘The Black Hole’. Things have literally disappeared in there, and the smells emanating from that room have been horrific at times. If a zombie apocalypse happened today, we could live on the half-empty Gatorade and water bottles, snack bags, and protein bars for quite a while.

My sons and their friends probably never dreamed some of their comments would come back to ‘haunt’ them in a YA horror novel. You never know who’s listening.

***

My Review: 

Sarah is categorized as YA horror and the book fits the genre perfectly. Sarah is a teenage ghost seeking revenge for her murder. She returns to the scene of the crime, now the home of Cain Shannon, a 17-year-old horror fan. At first, she appears shy and vulnerable, and Cain agrees to help her, but she’s not as helpless as he believes. With each bloody act of revenge, she grows in power, and her tactics increase in brutality. Before long, Cain is in the battle of his life against a ghost intent on death.

This book has some really creepy, icky, suspenseful, and scary things going on, but the scare-factor and gore feel appropriate for YA readers (as well as adults). The story grabbed my attention from the first page, and the tension and suspense escalate at a steady pace without much of a break right up to the climatic end. Even the last few paragraphs of the epilog are worthy of a few terrifying chills.

Though the horror aspects of the book were engaging, what impressed me the most was Polen’s outstanding characters. All of them felt well-rounded to me with fully developed personalities, but I was totally taken with the main character Cain and his friend Finn. They felt authentic to me in their thoughts, emotions, dialog, banter, friendship, and relationships with others. I’m in awe of the author’s ability to capture the essence of teenage boys with such expertise. I found the pair of them refreshing and likable, and therefore enjoyed the non-horror moments of the book as much as the horror, if not more so.

Another thing that impressed me was the believability of the characters’ choices. I often find that characters in horror (movies) make stupid choices because the plot would keel over and die if they acted sensibly. Polen was meticulous in building a backstory that supported Cain’s decisions, particularly his choice not to involve his mother and to stay in the house despite the presence of a murderous ghost. This careful attention to character and plot kept me enmeshed in the story from chapter one right through to the end.

An excellent book for both YA and adult readers of horror and suspense.

***

Eh, what’s one more book in your TBR pile? Here’s a link: Sarah

Connect with Teri on her book review blog: Books and Such

Author Spotlight: Magical Writing, D. Wallace Peach

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of guest posting on Colleen Chesebro’s site. If you don’t recall, she’s the fairy whisperer who advised me when my husband accidentally squashed a fairy.  I decided to share my experience of using magic to write my first book. Comments are closed here, so click over if you want to say hi.

******

Hello, and welcome to my Spotlight Author Guest posts where you can meet independently published authors and sample some of their work. My inspiration was to give independent authors another place where they could connect with readers.

I asked for posts dedicated to the themes of fairies, myths, and magic where authors could show off their writing skills by stretching their wings and stepping out of their genre comfort zones if need be. I also wanted them to tell you about their books and to share the magic it took to create them.

fairy dust wand

This week, I am pleased to introduce you to author D. Wallace Peach. I’ve just recently started reading The Rose Shield series also written by Diana. I’ve reviewed the first book, “Catling’s Bane,” and you can read that review HERE. If you LOVE fantasy, this is an author whose writing will speak to you in ways you didn’t think possible. I am enthralled by her writing, her world-building, and the magical stories she weaves.

So, grab a cup of coffee or tea and take a few minutes to meet and read the magic behind D. Wallace Peach’s first book, Myths of the Mirror.

Continue Reading: #Fairies, #Myths, & #Magic 2018 Author Spotlight Guest Posts, “Myths of the Mirror,” by Author, D. Wallace Peach

Sanctuary #Writephoto

I shook off the transportal’s disorientation and trembled with the cold. Authentic cold. Maybe not what I’d expected, but a clear signal that I’d arrived. I’d grown sick of my shipbound existence, the sensory constancy, the monotony of routine, the same faces, same pastimes, same food. The same, same, same. After six cycles, the head of Assimilation approved my placement. And here I stood.

Time to face my new world, my chosen sanctuary, I squared my shoulders, hauled in a breath, and marched through the gray arch into a landscape felted in white. I halted. Warning bells clanged in my head and reality punched me in the chest. Something had gone wrong.

In a panic, I checked my chrono. I had minutes before the ship barreled out of range. Hands fumbling, I opened my comdeck, desperate for a connection.

“Connection established. Audra receiving. You have one chron before communication terminates.”

“Audra, this is Cloe. There’s been a mistake. You need trans me back to the ship.”

“Cloe? Give me a second.”

“Hurry!” I pleaded. A gray-haired alien in a charcoal coat strolled between the white trees, and I turned my back, hiding my dread.

“Your entry was a success.” Audra’s voice crackled with interference. “…didn’t show one irregularity. What’s the matter?”

“This planet,” I whispered, “it’s not the one I approved.” Tears blurred my vision, and I couldn’t stop shivering. “The locators guaranteed an 89% match to my parameters. I saw the images. They sent me to the wrong place!”

“I’m sorry, honey. You certified your choice. The portal’s closing.”

“Audra, you have to help me. Don’t leave me here!”

“All right, I’ll try. Tell me what’s wrong with it? I’ll issue a…” The comdeck fizzled and died.

I throttled the useless thing and smashed it on the stone steps. Face raised to the milky sky, I shouted, “I wanted colors! You sent me to a black and white world.”

The gray-headed alien in his charcoal coat glanced up from where he threw black seeds on the white ground. Gray-feathered birds pecked around his black shoes.  “That’s what you get for arriving in winter.”

I frowned at him. “Winter?”

He angled his head toward the gray buildings in the distance. “They didn’t tell me either. Let’s get a cup of coffee, and I’ll fill you in on something called spring.”

***

Another gorgeous photo and fun Thursday prompt from Sue Vincent. Join the fun. 🙂

At The Mirror: Culloden

pixabay image

A powerful piece of writing I’m honored to share. This was Iain Kelly’s response to a Sue Vincent prompt: Crow.

Photo Copyright: Sue Vincent

Per the author: “The Battle of Culloden in 1745 was the last pitched battle to be fought on British soil. The defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Army by government forces was followed by the Highland Clearances and a brutal clamping down on Scots culture and way of life, an attempt to ensure no uprising could happen again.”

Culloden

By Iain Kelly

Through hard-falling rain a bird, black from beak to tail-tip, swoops and glides, buffeted by wind that swirls around the surrounding mountains.

From the elevated height, black beady eyes see across the flat, windswept moor of the valley. In amongst the heather and wild grass the eyes see something unfamiliar.

Wings angled to ride on the air current, the bird drops through the misty clouds to join the other black-feathered dots already gathered.

Similar black, beady eyes, belonging to the Duke of Cumberland survey the battlefield. Over in less than an hour. A fine mornings work. The rain batters against his cape, large drops drip from his sodden hat.

Over the noise of pattering rain the cries of the wounded hauntingly fleet across the moor. Gratifyingly, they are the cries of the Jacobite rebels, only a handful of his army have fallen.

He shouts an order to those that can hear him: ‘This is not the time to gloat and crow in victory. This is only the beginning. You have your orders.’

Cumberland turns his mount and leaves the field, banners raised high in glory. The Kingdom and the House of Hanover saved, the Stuarts and the Catholics crushed. Faintly, he thinks he can hear the cry amongst the charge: ‘No quarter to be given.’

Cumberland allows himself a smile of satisfaction. This is the beginning of the end…

 

(Continue Reading: CULLODEN)

Writing Tip: Names versus Pronouns

My guess is I don’t need to tell you what doesn’t work about this passage:

Mary rifled through the suitcase that John dropped on the bed. “John, have you seen my camera?” Mary’s hands flew to her hips and she scowled.

“I’m certain you packed it, Mary.” John scratched his head. It wouldn’t be the first time Mary had forgotten to pack something important. “I’ll check our carry-on. Mary, where did you leave it?”

“Other room, on the table, John.” Mary huffed and began stuffing shirts back into the bag.

John retreated to the sitting area of the luxury suite. The place had cost John a fortune, but Mary had insisted on a room with a sunset view, specifically for taking photos. John emptied the carry-on and sighed, certain Mary would have a fit and accuse the airline of stealing. “I checked and it’s not here, Mary.”

“Oh, crap, John!” Mary stomped into the room. “The airline must have stolen it.”

Did you notice all the Mary’s and John’s?

If you didn’t, trust me that after a few pages you’d be pretty tired of Mary and John. When I’d started writing, my publisher made me go through my manuscript and edit out first names whenever they weren’t needed. Here’s why…

1. Pronouns create a tighter POV.

Generally, we want a tight POV because it draws the reader deeper into a character’s experience.

Whether we’re writing in 1st or 3rd person (except omniscient), we’re sitting inside the POV character’s head, looking through her eyes, hearing what she hears, feeling her emotions, living out a scene from his/her perspective. Authors work hard to achieve the immediacy of a tight POV.  When clarity isn’t at stake, POV character’s will always refer to themselves with pronouns.

This is easiest to see in 1st person books where the POV character always refers to him/herself as “I.” Another way to think of this is in your daily life. When you’re hanging around the house you don’t refer to yourself by your name. I don’t say to my husband, “Diana’s going to make tea; do you want some?” That would be weird. I use a pronoun. “I’m going to make tea…”

3rd Person is subtler, but the same reasoning applies. We’re still sitting inside a character’s head, viewing the world through their perspective. Though the pronoun in this convention is a “he” or “she,” it’s still a pronoun. POV characters wouldn’t naturally refer to themselves by their names.

2. We don’t talk that way.

Next time you’re in for the evening with one other person, pay attention to the conversation or record yourselves for a short time. If names are used at all, it’s with purpose – primarily to get someone’s attention (“Hey, Randy, have you seen my keys?”) or for emphasis (“Listen, Randy. You lost them, you better find them!”). Do the same with a group of people and you’ll notice more first names, but still surprisingly few.

When are names necessary?

The answer is pretty obvious – to avoid confusion. And it’s easy to identify those situations:

  • When starting a new scene
  • When there are more than two characters in a scene and the dialog and action is jumping around
  • When two characters are talking about another character(s).
  • When two characters are the same gender.

Now, like anything in writing, this “rule” is meant to be broken, and broken for all kinds of reasons: reminders to the reader, to get a break from all those pronouns, sentence pacing, etc. This is simply something to be aware of when crafting your prose.

Here’s that paragraph all cleaned up.

Mary rifled through the suitcase that John dropped on the bed. “Have you seen my camera?” Her hands flew to her hips and she scowled.

“I’m certain you packed it.” He scratched his head. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d forgotten to pack something important. “I’ll check our carry-on. Where did you leave it?”

“Other room, on the table.” She huffed and began stuffing shirts back into the bag.

He retreated to the sitting area of the luxury suite. The place had cost him a fortune, but she’d insisted on a room with a sunset view, specifically for taking photos. He emptied the carry-on and sighed, certain she would have a fit and accuse the airline of stealing. “I checked and it’s not here.”

“Oh, crap!” She stomped into the room. “The airline must have stolen it.”

Why writing a book is like planning a dinner party

I’m hanging out with Esme at The Recipe Hunter today. Stop by for a little excursion into the joys of “research.”

*** ❤ ***

It’s a delight to be over here on Esme’s blog, and I’m going with the cooking theme. But since I can’t cook, this will be a half-baked analogy.

If you’re having a group of important people (like potential readers) over for dinner, it’s a good idea to have a handle on what you’re cooking up. Reading recipes and browsing images on the internet is a great first step, but it probably makes sense to check out the recipe yourself before you serve it to others.

Well, writing is the same way. Authors can collect amazing information online, and to be honest, there’s often no way around it, but trying things out ourselves provides invaluable inside knowledge that we can’t always get in other ways. I’d argue that the dish of details from first-hand experience is what deepens and enlivens our writing, and it’s the tasty meal that we want to serve up to our readers.

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, calls these experience-collecting excursions “Artist’s Dates.” Basically, you make a weekly date with yourself to expand your horizons, culinary or otherwise. I’ve taken the advice to heart on several occasions:

Three books of the Dragon Soul Saga take place on old sailing ships, and sailing around the lake on a sunfish as a kid didn’t cut it. So, I packed up my husband and dragged him off for a tall ship sailing adventure. While the rest of the passengers were drinking rum and listening to pirate stories,…

(Continue Reading… The Recipe Hunter)

Woodland #Writephoto

My husband and I head out in our hiking boots when the dawning sky slides from lavender to blue. He treks up the hill ahead of me, and we squint when the sun twinkles through the trees.

“Stop!” I shout, too late.

My husband shrieks and bolts behind me. “What?”

“Oh my God, you stepped on it.” I suck a breath through my teeth.

“On what?” Nature boy peers over my shoulder and then checks the soles of his boots for dog turd or deer duds. But poop isn’t the problem.

I creep forward and squat down for a closer look. The thing is squashed, imprinted with his zig-zag tread, opalescent wings mashed into the pine needles. I poke it to see if it’s alive.

“What is it?” he asks from a safe distance.

I look up at him, the horror of our situation congealing in my chest. “We’re in such big trouble. You stepped on a fairy!”

“A what?” He inches forward as if the fairy’s going to leap up, whip out a wand, and shrink him into a toad. “Is that bad?”

“Of course, that’s bad!” A wing flutters, and we share a glance. “It’s not dead. We have to do something.”

“Throw it in the bushes.”

“No! We have to help it.” I gently scoop the fairy onto a fern, and we head downhill. “We need to call someone for advice.”

“Take it to the vet,” Mr. Helpful suggests.

“The vet?” I shake my head. “I’m calling Colleen Chesebro. She knows about fairies.”

“The swamp-fairy whisperer lady?”

“She doesn’t live by a swamp anymore. I think her fairy knowledge has expanded.” We push through the screen door, and my husband fills a shoebox with toilet paper as if he’s adopting a gerbil.

“Really?” I blink at him. “Toilet paper?”

“It’s soft and fluffy,” he explains.

I rest the fern on the soft, fluffy toilet paper and call Colleen. With the phone on speaker, we chit chat our greetings and get to the issue at hand. “Colleen, my husband crushed a fairy and—”

“He what?”

Hubby jumps in, giving me the skunk eye. “I stepped on it by accident.”

“Anyway,” I say, “It’s still alive, but it’s sort of squashed, and we don’t know what to do.”

“First thing,” Colleen says, “leave it in the woods where you… squashed it.”

The hubby and I wince in unison and look down at the shoe box. “Umm…” I say into the phone.

Colleen sighs. “Okay, scrap that. New first thing, bring it back to where you found it and leave it there.”

I grimace at the phone. “That doesn’t seem very compassionate.”

“Fairies are magical,” Colleen explains. “Trust me.””

“What if the raccoons get it?” my husband asks.

“The raccoons won’t bother it?”

“Cougars?” he asks.

I worry he’s going to list off the entire contents of the animal kingdom, and apparently, Colleen does too because she nips that recitation in the bud. “Animals don’t harm fairies. Nature is symbiotic. You probably have a forest fairy, part of the same ecosystem as the ferns, moss, and trees. The Earth will heal it or transform it.”

“Oh,” I say. “Well, I guess that makes sense. Are you sure?”

“If I’m wrong you’ll only be cursed for life.” She chuckles. “Just kidding.”

Great, a comedian, but I have to ask, “How will we know if you’re right?”

“We won’t be cursed,” my brilliant husband replies.

“You’ll know.” Colleen smiles through the phone line. We give her our thanks and hike back up the hill with the shoebox. The sun shoots spears of warmth through the evergreen, and we gently rest the fairy and her fern a little to the side of the path. The least we can do.

The next morning, coffee in hand, we climb the leafy path to check on our charge. The fairy is gone, but the forest is alive with butterflies.

pixabay images

Thanks to Sue Vincent for her Thursday #Writephoto prompt, and to Colleen for letting me insert her in my story.  I hope you enjoyed my fairy tale.