Interview: John Grover, Horror Writer

Horror writer John Grover lives in Massachusetts, not far from Boston, where he was born and raised.

“I first started taking writing seriously around the age of eighteen,” Grover says. “I’ve always loved telling stories ever since I was young. I used to staple paper together to make books and would write into them and draw pictures to go along with the story.” But it wasn’t until high school and his English classes that he really started to write real fiction. “My work is mostly horror with some dark fantasy on the side. My stories tend to have a Twilight Zone flavor or a bit of a creature-feature vibe.”

Which book inspired you to begin writing?

John GroverI was lucky that my English classes in high school introduced me to a lot of gothic and horror fiction. Most people would say they were influenced by Stephen King to write horror, but I was excited to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.

The author I remember inspiring me most early on was Shirley Jackson. Her story “The Lottery” amazed me at the time, and my favorite book growing up of hers was We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I still remember everything about it today and the class discussions we had in school.

How hard is it to sit down and actually start writing something?

Sometimes it can be very hard, but I try to manage it every day. I have no shortage of ideas but sometimes the motivation isn’t there. In those cases I try not to force it because I feel the work suffers if I do. I do something else or take a couple days off to recharge and then get right back to it. Most of the time the story flows and I’m in the zone.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I have. I actually wrote one book under a pen name. It didn’t really take off or do much in the way of sales. I had a hard time trying to market something under a different name and keep it a secret, LOL. Despite that, I have another book in the works under the same pen name and I’m going to give the experience another try.

What are your favorite literary resources (magazines, websites, etc.)?

I used to have a subscription to Writers Digest when I was younger. I learned a lot using that as a reference while I was growing as a writer. For fiction over the years I’ve enjoyed Cemetery Dance, Shroud magazine, Flesh and Blood, and others. I also regularly visit Dark Markets and Ralan.com to stay up-to-date with the writing markets and publishing news.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

The ability for it to take you away from the world for a little while. It’s all about escapism, and I really feel books do that for us.

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

I check out my reviews but I never respond to them. The reviews aren’t really for me; they’re for other readers, but I do try to learn from any negative ones.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

There’s a good part of me in all of my books, but I tend to pull from the people around me as well. I love to people-watch and observe everyday life. So I use a little bit of my friends’ and family’s quirks, habits, humor, and use a lot of my own experiences from traveling, reading, and going through daily life.

Which of your books took you the most time to write?

I’d have to say my dark fantasy book Knightshade: Perdition Bleeds. It has a very rich world and mythology, and I wanted to make sure I really got it right and it delivered the experience I was looking for.

Are there any recurring themes in your horror fiction? If so, what are they, and why do you think they keep cropping up?

Family ties seem to come up a lot for me. In my novel Let’s Play in the Garden, the central plot is about the children in the family playing a cat-and-mouse game with the adults as they try to uncover their family’s dark secrets.

In many of my short stories I have a theme of parental betrayal or something the parents are trying desperately to keep from their children. But it’s not all dark family secrets. In my “Underground” series, a post-apocalyptic story filled with zombies, family drives my main character to keep going and to protect those he loves.

In my new Kaiju book Behemoths Rising, the hero keeps his family in the forefront as he tries to save the world from a monster mash-up and the terror that comes with not knowing if his loved ones made it out of the crumbling city in time.

Has COVID affected your writing routine this year? If so, how?

I lost my job due to COVID in late March, but I didn’t let it stop my creative endeavors. I decided to use the time to throw myself into my writing. So it has actually lit a fire under me to write more and got me really excited about my writing again. I feel lucky that I’ve had the free time to dedicate to my books and be a lot more productive than I ever dreamed.

Tell us about your current project.

My newest book is a supernatural thriller set in the eighties called Goddess of Bane that is part of my “Retro Terror” series. It’s about a malevolent entity who seems unstoppable rising up in a small town to seek revenge for her defeat at the hands of the town’s ancestors. It’s filled with mythology, eighties schlock, and some gooey fun. I’m doing edits on it now and hope to have it up on Amazon at the end of this month.

You can learn more about John Grover at http://www.shadowtales.com/. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/johngroverdarkfictionauthor and Twitter @JGroverWriter. His Instagram is @jgroverwriter. His Amazon author page is https://www.amazon.com/John-Grover/e/B004B7MHG8.

SubscribeGoddess of Bane by John Grover

Interview: Mark Allen, Horror Writer

Mark Allen was born and raised in rural Texas in the 1960s and 70s. “I grew up watching the classic Universal monster movies and 50s scifi ‘Big Bug’ movies,” he says. “I wrote my first short story in third grade at age ten as part of a homework assignment. I got an A+, and I’ve been writing in one form or another ever since.” He’s concentrated on horror throughout his writing life.

What does horror mean to you, and why do you write it?

Mark AllenIn my opinion, horror is not a genre, per se. Horror is a feeling. It is creating a sense of tension and dread in the reader, getting that sense of creep under their skin. And then when you’ve got them where you want them for dramatic purposes and they’re begging you for release, you spring your trap and outright terrify them. I personally love when a novelist or a filmmaker can completely sweep me up in their story and take me somewhere I’ve never been, and somewhere I never expected. All really good horror does this.

As for why I write horror, it’s simply my first love. I work in other genres occasionally, especially when I’m writing feature film screenplays. But I never stay away from horror for very long. I personally love taking classic tales or classic monsters and trying to bring something new and different to their particular mythos.

I understand the conventions of the genre, and I get a kick out of trying to turn some of those tropes and conventions on their heads and see what shakes out. Further, I love to write stories that have something more to them than just blood and gore or sex and nudity. While I have no problem using these elements (sometimes quite liberally!), they must serve the story; otherwise they become gratuitous and boring. Boring the reader is a cardinal sin for a writer.

Ultimately, my goal as a horror writer is to use the genre to actually talk about deeper themes and discuss topics important to me. And within the wide parameters of the genre, there’s so much fertile ground to plow. I can’t just throw blood and gore and sex and nudity at an audience and expect them to take me seriously as an artist. I must have something to say. To paraphrase the late George Romero, I don’t really write horror stories. I write stories with horror elements in them so I can talk about other things.

Some writers believe in a muse. What are your thoughts on inspiration, and how does it fuel your writing process?

Inspiration certainly has its place in the creative process, but it’s a minor one for me. I firmly believe that success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Inspiration is where I get my ideas or concepts for new work. I have to make sure I get the ideas jotted down, then I come back to them later.

I agree with Stephen King’s quote that “Some people wait for inspiration. The rest of us get up and go to work.” When I’m working, it’s all about getting the seat of my ass into the seat of my chair and doing the grunt work to make it happen. I have a word count I want to hit every day. When working on a screenplay, it’s about hitting a certain page count per day.

Do you have a daily habit of writing?

I write every day. Every. Single. Day.

Do you plan a plot or prefer going wherever a story takes you?

Sort of both. I start with creating character sketches/bios for my main characters and key support characters. Since my work is character-driven, I have to know who these people are before they trust me enough to allow me to tell their stories. I’ll write a logline so I have my theme clearly defined, and I usually write a general synopsis. By that time, I usually know how I want to start, where I want to end up, and maybe two or three major plot points. That’s it. My characters tell me how to get there once I begin writing.

What’s a favorite novel that you think is under-appreciated? Why?

Transfer by Terry M. West. Damned fine story that creeped me out. But he’s an indie author (like me), so the masses don’t know who he is or know his work.

What’s the most effective way you’ve found to market your work?

Facebook ads, and absolute blanket advertising across all my social media platforms. I am relentless. I know most people need to see your ad at least seven or eight times before they decide to buy. So you have to keep at it.

And don’t skimp on review copy. Get glowing reviews in magazines and online sites that your audience goes to. And give your reviewers a three- to four-month lead. For instance, if you plan to release your book in September, be sending out review copies in May and June. Reviewers and bloggers have a ton of material to read. It takes them time. If you get a glowing review on a few sites that get 100,000 hits a month (or more), that can really push sales.

Have you ever attended a literary event or conference? If not, are you interested?

Yes, I’ve attended book festivals as a vendor. My work has sold well at these events.

Name one book or story that you like most among all the others you have written. Why is it your favorite?

Among my finished works, it’s got to be Nocturnal because, at its core, it’s a story about love—a love that transcends the earthly boundaries of life and death.

Has COVID affected your writing routine this past year? If so, how?

Not really. I’m sort of a semi-hermit type guy to begin with. Writing is usually a solitary pursuit, so keeping to myself is simply how I approach the craft. I’m also retired military and a combat vet. So keeping to myself was already a lifestyle choice for me.

Tell us about your current project.

My upcoming novel is Blood Red Moon. I’m attempting to shake up the werewolf mythos much the same way I tried to shake up vampires in Nocturnal.

In Blood Red Moon, a lone, noble werewolf battles a global conspiracy to butcher half the human race, enslave the survivors for food and sport, and establish werewolves as the dominant species on the planet, thereby plunging mankind into an eternity of darkness.

You can follow Mark Allen at https://thishorrorwriterslife.wordpress.com/, Facebook, Twitter @horrorwriter61, Instagram @horrorwriter_mark_allen, LinkedIn, and IMDB.

Nocturnal by Mark Allen

Blood Red Moon by Mark Allen

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Interview: Natalie Edwards, Horror and Crime Writer

Natalie Edwards (aka TC Parker) hails from a UK town in the East Midlands called Leicester, where she now lives, though she works mostly in London and the US.

“I haven’t actually been writing fiction very long at all by the standards of many people in the horror community,” Edwards says. “I only really started a few years ago in my mid-30s, and only started publishing this year. ” She admits she was evidently trying on some level to compensate for the earlier lack. She has published four books in 2020 and a fifth is ready to come out in January 2021.

Nat Edwards“That said, I’ve done a few jobs that are fiction writing-adjacent: I’ve worked as a copy-writer and copy-editor, taught media and communications at university and college level during and after grad school, and now run a semiotics and cultural insight agency, which involves producing a fair number of written reports for clients.”

In terms of fiction… “I write predominantly crime and horror.” The horror tends to feature a lot of grisly death and mythical creatures (though she’s currently working on what’s rapidly evolving into a sort of cosmic splatter Western), and the crime tends to be more heist-focused. “I’ve just wrapped up a trilogy about a gang of London-based con artists, though even they ended up populated with more than their fair share of serial killers and sociopaths, which suggests I can’t get away from horror, whatever genre I’m writing in!”

Edwards promised a friend that she would try her hand at a romantic comedy sometime in 2021—”though I think we both secretly know there’ll be at least one murder in there somewhere, if I do.”

“Possibly the other thing that characterizes what I write is its queerness,” she says. “I have a lot of very strong opinions about increasing the visibility of LGBT+ characters in fiction, especially lesbian characters—so queers tend to pop up in central roles in almost everything I write, and I suspect always will. They’re not always pleasant, but they’re always there, and not just on the peripheries.”

Are there any new authors that have captured your interest? Why?

God, so many! From the horror community, I absolutely love Hailey Piper, Laurel Hightower, Steph Ellis, Kev Harrison, Ross Jeffery, Wayne Fenlon, Alyson Faye, Zachary Ashford, Sonora Taylor, and a hundred others—all fantastic writers and incredible people. E(dward) Lorn is a gifted writer, terrifyingly prolific and a wonderful human being to boot. Quite honestly, though, every one of the horror guys I’ve come to know over the last year has been prodigiously talented. Getting to know them has really been one of the highlights of an otherwise quite dismal 2020.

Beyond horror/dark fiction, I’ve been loving Lucy Bexley and Bryce Oakley, who write lesfic, and am excited to see where they go next—especially since they’ve already released one horror/lesfic crossover.

What authors did you dislike at first but grew into? Have they impacted the way you write now?

I wish I could say there were some! My undergrad degree was in English Lit, and I suspect I was slightly inoculated against taking any real pleasure in some of the “classics” I had to study. (Looking at you, anglophone novels of the mid to late eighteenth century.) That said: A lot of the MR James and Robert Aickman I’ve read has left me cold—but I’m conscious of how much of an impact they’ve had on a lot of the writers I love and admire, from King onwards. So when the opportunity arises, I’ll probably give them both another go.

What do you see as the biggest differences between horror and crime fiction? Where do the genres intersect in your work?

In practical terms, the sort of crime fiction I write (labyrinthine mysteries with a lot of twists and turns) tends to need slightly more rigorous plotting than the horror fic. (Though I’m an assiduous plotter anyway, so I kind of like it.)

In terms of the content itself, there’s often a huge overlap. The horror novels and stories I’ve written tend to have elements of mystery/thriller, and the crime stuff often gets quite dark. So I don’t necessarily consider them radically different beasts. (To the extent that I now slightly regret using a pseudonym to separate one from the other!)

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Finding time to do it! I run a business, have two young kids (one pre-school) and not a lot of spare time to play with—to actually being able to sit down somewhere quiet to just write can sometimes be a challenge. Thankfully, I think it actually helps here that I’m a plotter: I rarely write anything without a full outline in front of me, so I don’t often lose time worrying about what comes next and how I’ll get there.   

What are common traps for aspiring writers? Are these things you’ve overcome in your own writing?

I wouldn’t want to comment—I’m probably still stuck in them myself!

Has COVID affected your writing routine this year? If so, how?

As for a lot of people, the primary impact has been on the amount of time I’ve had free to write at all. The kids have been in the house a lot more, since a lot of nurseries and schools here have been closed and classes quarantined, so I’ve been spending more time on childcare and trying to juggle that with my day job. And previously, I traveled quite a lot for work, so was able to do bits and pieces of writing on longer train and plane journeys—which obviously hasn’t been possible this year.

On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot less time commuting back and forth between cities so probably have more time at home in front of the laptop than before.  

What does literary success look like to you, Nat? What goals do you have to reach that aim in 2021?

2020 has been in some ways oddly wonderful in terms of writing. It’s been incredible publishing books and seeing people I love and respect read and enjoy them. So my primary goal is to keep writing and to keep producing publishable fiction that people will want to read.

Beyond that… I love my day job, so I wouldn’t necessarily want to give it up, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find the idea of writing full-time (or even part-time) quite attractive.

Are there any recurring messages in your work that you want readers to grasp?

There are definitely recurring themes and ideas. Queerness, obviously—and perhaps difference more generally—and what that means in terms of the social construction of identity. I’m very interested in social/cultural environments and technologies as determinants of individual and group behavior, so both of those probably crop up often too.

And, probably more specifically, I’m fascinated by what Marc Augé calls non-places and what Foucault calls heterotopias: spaces in which the conventional rules of conduct and behavior, and even conventional understandings of things like time, are temporarily suspended, and where—therefore—unexpected things might happen. So places like airports and transit zones, hotels, hospitals, prisons, abandoned buildings, shopping malls, even casinos (and probably Vegas as a whole, come to think of it). These sorts of heterotopic spaces lend themselves well to horror especially, I think. It’s probably not a coincidence that so much horror fiction plays out in them.   

Tell us about your current project.

I’ve just started writing the horror Western, with the first two chapters down and twenty or so more to write. I suspect it’ll net out at something like novella length, though I tend to write long, so who knows?

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Mostly… if you’ve read anything I’ve written: thank you. I’m exceptionally grateful, and honestly still a little stunned that people actually sit down and read things I write. It’s the best feeling in the world, knowing that the weird ideas that live inside your head have taken on a life of their own in other people’s.

Follow Natalie Edwards/TC Parker at https://www.tcparkerwrites.com/ and on Twitter @WritesTC.

You can find crime written as Natalie Edwards on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Natalie-Edwards/e/B08BXZLJL6/.

For horror written as TC Parker, on Amazon, go to https://www.amazon.com/T-C-Parker/e/B08CGLZPFW/.

Published books:

As Natalie Edwards (Crime)As TC Parker (Horror)
The Debt
The Push
The Remembrance (coming January 2021)
Saltblood
A Press of Feathers

Nat Edwards books

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Seeking Beta Readers for THE BEDWETTER

I’m seeking beta readers for a 52,000-word psychological thriller/horror novel.

Pay is involved. Contact me if you’re interested in being a beta reader. Thanks.

THE BEDWETTER by Lee Allen Howard

Journal of a budding psychopathPanties Ad
Armed with electric hair trimmers and a military fighting knife,
Russell accepts his dark commission.

Russell Pisarek is twenty-six years old and still wets the bed. He grew up different from other young men because his vicious mother punished him for wetting by shaving his head. When he confided this to his girlfriend Tina, she betrayed him, advertising his problem to all their high school classmates, who turned on him mercilessly. He took out his frustration by skinning neighborhood cats.

Now fixated on paying women back, Russell fantasizes about finding just the right girl—so he can shave her bald. He struggles to overcome his dark tendencies, but when his sister discovers he’s wetting again, she kicks him out of her house.

During this time of stress, the mythical Piss Fairy appears in his dreams, and Russell is driven to satisfy his twisted desires with his innocent coworker Uma, who also needs a new roommate.

When his plans go awry, the Piss Fairy commissions him for a much darker task that graduates him from shaving to scalping—and worse.

Warning!

This novel depicts intense violence, hardcore horror, and disturbing psychological terror in the vein of such works as Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, Joyce Carol Oates’ Zombie, and Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me.

Although THE BEDWETTER is a fascinating in-depth character study into the mind and actions of a misogynistic and homophobic psychopath, the story events are vicious and brutal, the language coarse, and the approach to their reporting is cold and unflinching.

This book is not for the faint of heart or those easily offended by language, sex, or violence. Read at your own risk.

Read the first chapter

How I Write Novels

Readers, have you ever wondered how a novel is developed and written? If you’re a writer, you might be curious about how other writers make their books. Here’s some insight into the process I follow.

Why My Early Attempts at Novel-writing Led Nowhere

When I was a fledgling writer, I would get a wild idea for a story or novel and rush to the keyboard. Excited and inspired, I would sit down and bang it out. Maybe I went on to the next scene, but soon enough, my inspiration fizzled or I didn’t know what was coming next and, unable to see my way, I got confused and quit writing. Then I wondered what was wrong with me.

There was nothing wrong with me as a writer. It was my process—or, rather, lack of one—that was running my efforts aground.

It’s only with my last two novels that I’ve used a new process to ensure that my initial idea becomes a workable story that doesn’t collapse when I go to draft it.

Pre-writing Reveals Characters and Story

CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY by Lee Allen HowardI talk about the idea development process, plotting, and drafting of my forthcoming bizarro psychological thriller in Progress Report on THE BEDWETTER. I did a lot of pre-writing for that book, meaning, beyond preliminary 12-point plot questionnaires and character sketches, I jotted down inspired snippets as they came to me—descriptions, events, scraps of dialogue—mostly written in the voice of my first-person protagonist Russell Pisarek. About 45 pages. I was just writing about the writing.

When I reviewed that information, a story started to emerge. I rearranged those lines and paragraphs of information into a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then I filled in events and information I felt were missing.

I used a similar process with novel #6 (working title: DEAD CEMETERY), doing the first 29 days of exercises in Alan Watt’s The 90-Day Novel.

For each daily writing session, Watt poses six questions of the protagonist and antagonist. Questions such as, “My first love was…,” “The person I hate the most is…,” and “The greatest loss of my life was….” I answered each question in a five-minute segment of free-writing. A month of this grew tedious, but by the time I finished the exercises, I knew my characters, and a story was emerging. I had character backstory; I had motivation.

All in all, I came out with 250 pages of pre-writing for DEAD CEMETERY. (It’s gonna be a big book…) Not 100% of it will end up in the book, but it contains many priceless nuggets that form the core of the story.

During this stage, I also do any necessary research and include my findings in my pre-writing (or Scrivener project file) so that it doesn’t interrupt me unduly during drafting. (Of course, I will still need to check facts when I’m writing.)

Plotting Prevents Stalling During Drafting

Once I had my narrative outlined into three acts, I then used John Truby’s Blockbuster 6 (BB6) to create taglines for each scene in the book. For example in PISS FAIRY, “Russell asks Uma to lunch, but a rabbit ruins his plans.” Just the basic event or revelation.

For DEAD CEMETERY, I used an Excel worksheet to track information and events for five characters through the beginning, middle, and end. Here’s a labeled printout of the 24-page spreadsheet, blurred to prevent spoilers. (Yeah, it’s gonna be a big book.)
Printout of plotting spreadsheet

Plotting Includes Detailed Scene Planning

For THE BEDWETTER, I planned a scene for each one of the tagline events, answering such questions as:

  • My challenge in writing this scene
  • My strategy for writing this scene
  • The scene goal (POV character’s immediate desire)
  • The character’s plan to achieve the goal
  • The opponent in the scene
  • The scene’s conflict
  • Any twist revealed
  • The scene’s moral argument (value A vs. value B)

I copied the pertinent snippets of information from my pre-writing document into each scene’s plan (a document in BB6). What resulted for BEDWETTER was 60 one- to three-page scene plans. It took me from Christmas last year to Feb. 15 to do all my pre-writing and scene planning for BEDWETTER—seven weeks.

For DEAD CEMETERY, I’ll review and rearrange the spreadsheet cells into proper story order. (Each cell contains a reference ID to a numbered paragraph in my pre-writing document.) When I get all the storylines as told through the POV characters in proper order, I’ll turn each cell into a tagline for Blockbuster 6, which will yield a list of scenes from the beginning of the novel to the end. (Note: You don’t need BB6 to do this. You could do it in spreadsheet, word processor, or Scrivener.)

Truly, I don’t understand how pantsers do it—sit down and write by the seat of their pants. That approach has almost always led me to stalling during the course of writing. Planning narratives in detail beforehand reveals most story and logic problems before I invest time and effort writing myself into a corner. If the elements work during the scene plan, I’m confident I can write the draft.

Once I have my scene plans written, I don’t have to worry about whether my scene is revealing the right information or whether it has enough conflict. I’ve already determined those things during the planning process.

Drafting Like Gangbusters

Now, with my stack of scene plans, I sit down to write the first draft of the book. During a writing session, I’m not concerned with what happens next—I know what comes next because this work is already done. All I need to do is focus on the material in the plan and write one scene. Just one scene. Two, if I’m on a roll. Three if I’m on a baguette.

I write a scene by copying the tagline from Blockbuster to a file card in Scrivener. Then I open the file and write the scene, making sure I include everything from my scene plan, which contains the pertinent pre-writing snippets. Some of this info I’ll cut and paste.

After all my scenes are written, I print it. As I review, I note any rearrangements that need to be made and indicate where chapter breaks could occur. I do the actual restructuring in Scrivener, and then I’m on my way to a second draft.

My Novel-writing Results and Goals

Following this method, I wrote a 51,000-word draft of THE BEDWETTER between February 15 and April 4. It has only one POV character and is not a big book. (But it packs a severe wallop, I’m told by beta readers.)

Because DEAD CEMETERY is a much bigger book, it’s taking me quite a while longer to do the pre-writing and plotting. I hope to start scene planning September 1 and finish by the end of the year so that I can begin drafting in January. With my stack of scene plans, I’ll write like gangbusters from beginning to end. I’ll probably go on a motel writing binge or three.

My Novel-writing Process Sets Me Free

Some writers may say that all this pre-writing, plotting, and scene planning kill the spontaneity and fun of writing. I’ve found that it sets me free.

I expect to be inspired during pre-writing, and I am. I expect to be inspired when I’m arranging those snippets into a storyline, and I am. I expect to be inspired when I’m doing the hard work of scene planning, ensuring that my character has a goal and there’s conflict over something worthwhile at stake, and I am.

And when I finally sit down to write, all my channels are open, and I’m free to receive my best inspiration to tell the story from my heart to the reader’s. And that’s what I do.

Following this process, I’m able to develop and test my ideas, get to know my characters, discover what’s happening, arrange everything in the right order, plan powerful scenes, and then write without stalling. My first draft of PISS FAIRY was surprisingly clean. I’m hoping the same for DEAD CEMETERY.

Will you still find holes in your story? Probably. But they won’t be big enough to drive a Buick through. And you won’t get snagged by “I don’t know what comes next.” This approach, I’ve found, makes the revision process much easier.

If this article was helpful to you, please let me know in a comment. And feel free to share what process works for you!

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The Motel Writing Binge

For the last seven years, I’ve worked full-time from home, and by the time my work day is done, I’m ready to get the hell out of the house. Most evenings, Saturday afternoons, and Sunday mornings, I camp out in one of the many coffee shops on the east side of Pittsburgh. But even this routine is wearing on me.

So I decided to do something new and adventurous: the Motel Writing Binge.

This is where I go somewhere—sometimes for research, sometimes just to get away—find a cheap motel, and binge-write for an evening and a morning.

Research in Clarion and Oil City, Pennsylvania

For instance, last weekend, I needed to do some research at Clarion State University for novel #6. A friend who lives in this quaint little town took me for a tour of the campus while I snapped pics with my iPhone and we caught up with what’s going on in our lives. Here are a few photos from the campus.

Clarion University Clarion University

Clarion University Clarion University

After dinner, I fired up my laptop in the junky little room and wrote til 11:00 p.m. (This particular Super 8 Motel room was more like a Crappy 2…)

Writing at the Super 8 Motel

I woke at 5:30 a.m. the next morning, snagged some unspectacular yet complimentary foodies and COFFEE in the motel office, then went back to writing til 10:00 a.m. Then I traveled to Venango College (now a branch of Clarion University) and checked out the tiny campus. (My protagonist in novel #6 gets his nursing degree there.)

Venango College Grounds Venango College

I drove in to Oil City, which I’d never been to before. I discovered the Venango County Museum of Art, Science, and Industry, so I made a donation and learned about the historic oil boom in the area—and about Rattlesnake Pete.

Angel of the House Pennzoil Signs

They happened to be holding a street fair, so I listened to the live music, visited the vendors’ booths, and bought some jewelry. Then I devoured half a barbecued chicken and came home pleased with my weekend adventure and the work I got done.

At the Terrace in Brockway, Pennsylvania

I had no research to conduct in this little town in northern PA, but I always pass through there on the way to my parents’, so I parked my carcass at the Terrace Motel on Main Street last night. Better digs than last weekend’s Super 8. I brought leftovers with me, which I ate cold. (I’m a tuff sumbitch.) Then I wrote for three hours on novel #6.

Terrace Motel Main Street (PA 219), Brockway, PA

I woke at 6:30 a.m. this morning, hiked across the empty highway in the drizzle and got myself some breakfast and a huge COFFEE at the Sheetz. I wrote til 9:30, when I threw my stuff in the car and then drove further north to my family reunion, where I laughed too loud and ate too much. Breakfast of Champions

My take on the motel writing binge experience

I would say that anything that jolts me out of the familiar routine helps to fuel my creativity.

Motel binge-writing doesn’t cost a whole lot ($46 for the Terrace), but it’s not free either, so I want to get my money’s worth. I have all my basic needs met (bed, bathroom, reading lamp and electrical outlet), but there are none of the distractions that seem to lure me away as they do at home. It’s hard to believe I get distracted by things like laundry and watering the plants, but I do. Usually it’s Facebook…

If your cheap motel is in the middle of nowhere, there’ll be nothing out there to distract you, either. Except maybe for the yahoos in the room next door. Just make sure you bring shampoo, any writing resources you may need, and that you have access to COFFEE if you need it.

I had a couple of great weekends, and I can’t want to do it again. If you’re considering this option, all I can say is, give it a try!


We Write Creative Writing Workshop: Self-edit Your Way to Publication

WE WRITE! Creative Writing University to Hold Writing Workshop at Monroeville Public Library

WHO: Pittsburgh writers:
     Lee Allen Howard
     Sharon Lippincott
     Monroeville Public Library reference staff
WHAT: WE WRITE! Creative Writing Workshop
WHEN: September 21, 2013 – 9:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
WHERE: Monroeville Public Library
WHY: Writers of all levels learn from experiences of published Pittsburgh Writers and experts
HOW: Registration at library

WE WRITE! Creative Writing University @ Monroeville Public Library will conduct the second in a series of an ongoing series of workshops for writers of all genres and skill levels on Saturday, September 21, at the Monroeville Public Library. This event will feature two Pittsburgh authors: Lee Allen Howard, professional editor and author; and Sharon Lippincott, author of five published books, teacher and layout consultant; and Mark Hudson and Marlene Dean, professional reference librarians at Monroeville Public Library.

In session 1, Self-Editing for Publication, Lee Allen Howard will explain the importance and demonstrate basics of effective self-editing. Structured exercises will reinforce his points.

In session 2, Research Tools for Writers, Mark Hudson and Marlene Dean will demonstrate library and other resources to help writers track down crucial details that breathe life and authenticity into stories of all genres and eras.

In session 3, Make Your Pages Picture Perfect, Sharon Lippincott will demonstrate the basics of page layout, demystifying styles, as well as page setup tools, selecting readable fonts and more.

The event runs from 9:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. at Monroeville Public Library, located at 4000 Gateway Campus Blvd. in Monroeville, PA. The cost is $30, which includes lunch. Registration is required, and seating is limited. Register early to ensure your place. Please visit or call the library at 412-372-0500 for further information and to register.

WE WRITE, Sept. 21, 2013