Novel #7 Finished!

Yesterday, I wrote “The End” on novel #7, a horror mystery set here in my hometown in western New York State.

I began from a #StoryStarter that I originally tweeted on January 21.

I started outlining February 15, did a little research, began writing March 21 and ended April 18 (29 days actual writing).

In a little less than two months, I spent 7% of my time researching, 53% outlining, and 39% writing.

The first draft came out at 40,553 words, my shortest book yet—101% of my preliminary 40K-word goal.

I averaged 1398.4 words per day, although that number is skewed by the higher amounts I wrote on Saturdays and Sundays. I averaged 526.66 words per scene. (I like short scenes and chapters. Do you?)

Today I took a much-needed day off from writing to (of course) write this and catch up on some reading.

Tomorrow I’ll think about what’s next!

The End

Using WordKeeper to Track Fiction Writing Progress

In keeping with my 2021 writing goals and my ramped up writing process, I’ve been using an iPhone app—WordKeeper—to measure my daily fiction writing progress.

You can enter different projects, such as short stories or novels. I’m in the early stages of working on novel number seven: plotting and outlining. My project page is below. WordKeeper displays my daily target word count based on the completion date I set. It shows daily progress as well as total progress toward my projected word count. It also provides stats about time, sessions, words, writing phases, and locations (which I don’t use). (Scroll down past the image for the rest of this post.)

WordKeeper Project

When I sit down at my laptop to write, the first thing I do is open WordKeeper and start the timer. Then I write for an hour or two, stopping the timer when I’m done. Last evening, I got home late from dinner and only got 50 minutes in.

WordKeeper Timer

WordKeeper then displays the Session page, showing my stats for that session: start and end times, any pauses I made, and the duration of the session. If I were writing, I would enter a word count. But right now, I’m still outlining.

WordKeeper Session

WordKeeper is helping me track my fiction writing progress so that I can be more productive.

When I get to the writing phase, hopefully in a week or two, I will start racking up the word count. WordKeeper will keep me on track to meet my deadline.

I like WordKeeper. It’s easy to use and has more features than I have time to explore. It’s $2.99 a month—the cost of a cup of coffee.

If you’re looking to track your fiction writing progress and productivity, you can learn more at https://wordkeeper.app/.

Ramping Up My Writing Process

Productivity ChainA few weeks ago, I posted my 2021 writing goals. Toward that end, I’m ramping up my writing process. Here’s the well-greased chain I’m shooting for to increase my fiction-writing productivity:

Ideation > Brainstorming > Plotting > Outlining > Drafting > Editing > Marketing

Ideation: This is generating a story idea. I do this purposely several times a week on Twitter. For example:

You open the front door to get the mail. In the mailbox is a severed hand. Who put it there and why. How do you find out?

Brainstorming: Great idea. (I’ll write it someday.) But it needs a little—okay, a lot—of work. Here’s where I go through a process of answering questions about my character and his or her goals. I do a lot of work before I tackle structure. After all, I need events and motivation to plot.

Plotting: I develop character arcs for all my major characters and conform the brainstormed material into classic story structure. More at How to Write Stories that Sell.

Outlining: Here, I sort the information into a sequential scene-by-scene list from which I’ll write. I like my ducks in a row so that when I plant my butt in the chair, I can write without interruption.

Drafting: Using my outline, I write from beginning to end, incorporating all the information from my brainstorming, plotting, and outlining. I use Scrivener to build my manuscripts.

Editing: After one or more days, I’ll print the draft and edit it, making sure all the necessary information is in place and that I’m using the best language to tell a story. I go through at least five drafts before I consider the story ready for the reading public.

Marketing: I now have everything beta read. (If you’re a published writer and are willing to beta-read my fiction, contact me.) After final changes, I submit it to markets. If I don’t place a work after a while, I publish it myself.

This is my process, and I hope to perfect it this year so that I’m regularly churning out story after story, novel after novel. Expect to see more published this year. If learning about my process has been helpful to you, please leave a comment. I’d like to know your process, too.

Book Review: Writing in the Dark by Tim Waggoner

The Best of How-to-Write Horror

I’ve read a ton of how-to-write-fiction books including a number of texts on writing horror, but Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark is the best of them all.

Writing in the Dark by Tim WaggonerIt opens with an intro by Tom Monteleone of Borderlands fame demonstrating why Waggoner is qualified to write the book. He’s a prolific writer of both horror/dark fantasy and media tie-ins. In the preface, Waggoner reveals why he writes horror. We’re of roughly the same age, and his journey in many ways mirrors mine. (It’s great to meet a new member of the Horror Family. Weirdos unite!)

He progresses through chapters such as “Why Horror Matters” and “Things Unknown” and turns a corner with “Everything You Know Is Wrong.” He covers various subgenres of horror, generating unique ideas for stories, and building one-of-a-kind monsters. I especially enjoyed the chapters “The Horror Hero’s Journey” (Poor Bastard’s Descent into Hell) and the importance of including an emotional core relayed through immersive POV.

Every chapter is insightful, helpful, and entertaining. Each ends with exercises to enable eager writers to implement what they’ve just learned as well as three or four “voices from the shadows”—accomplished horror writers—who discuss what makes good horror and best advice for beginning writers.

Waggoner teaches college-level writing, so you’re getting a college course in a book. I love to study, so I consider it a textbook that’s also a tasty morsel of how-to darkness.

My rating is 4.6 stars. The book lost a few tenths because the type is so small. As I read through, I was hoping for a workbook that expanded the exercises. Well, Guide Dog Books/Raw Dog Screaming Press recently announced a companion workbook is coming, so I’m excited about that. I’ll be buying it, too, when it comes out. But I hope the type is a little bigger for those like me over fifty.

I can’t recommend this text highly enough. Whether you’re a beginning, intermediate, or advanced horror writer, you’ll get something useful to take your writing to the next horrific level.

Follow Tim Waggoner on Twitter @TimWaggoner. Check out his website at http://www.timwaggoner.com/.

My 2021 Writing Goals

Writing CalendarI hope it’s not too late to set some goals for the new year. It took me the month of January to get clear on some of them, but here’s what I’m shooting for in 2021.

  • I will master the art of storytelling. I will continue to study and apply what I learn to my writing process until I’m able to plan, plot, and write captivating stories with ease.
  • I will generate ideas and turn them into stories, writing prolifically. I will write story after story, mining my idea folder and #StoryStarter ideas I’ve posted on Twitter.
  • I will write faster. Having planned and plotted stories beforehand, I will be able to write them at least 2500 words per hour.
  • I will write to market each chance I get. Having mastered the art of storytelling and writing much and more quickly, I will write stories for open calls to increase my chances of getting published (instead of writing only my ideas and trying to place them offhand in markets).
  • I will write flash fiction. I will turn poems I’ve written into flash pieces or short stories.
  • I will develop and write a self-editing text, reading and compiling source notes, outlining, and writing chapters until I’m finished. I will submit a proposal to a publishing company.
  • I will revamp my backlist so that I win steady sales. This will include creating new covers for my one-off short stories and shorter collections.
  • I will learn how to market books on Amazon, including placing ads.
  • I will read a book on writing craft monthly. I will continue my writing studies, reading at least one craft text each month.
  • I will redesign my website and launch it. Leeallenhoward.com needs a facelift! Stay tuned.

I plan to make progress on all these goals in 2021. Have you set goals for the new year? What would you like to accomplish? Perhaps more reading? 🙂

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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