New LGBTQ horror/gay romance novel available now for purchase
Today’s the day! I just released my latest LGBTQ horror novel, The Covenant Sacrifice, into the world like the winged beast that haunts the cover!
I’m excited about and grateful for the journey it took me on as a writer and as a human being. The Covenant Sacrifice was a long time coming. Here’s the story—and my thoughts on the book.
Developing the idea for The Covenant Sacrifice
I first got the idea about a “dead cemetery”—one whose available plots are all filled and from which the dead return to abduct the living—back in 2008. It took me five years to fully develop many disparate scraps of ideas and reach the point where I could begin plotting. (Here’s my plotting spreadsheet from 2013.)
I had a positive character arc—a hero’s journey structure—already planned, so I needed to come up with a ghost of and old wound from the past for my protagonist, Jarod Huntingdon, to overcome. I chose a traumatic experience of homophobia that broke Jarod’s relationship with his childhood best friend, Scotty. Story circumstances would wedge Jarod between a rock and a hard place in resolving this festering issue at the climax of the tale.
And, I thought, what better way to raise the stakes for Jarod if I threatened his primary desire to start a family by endangering his identity, as well as people he loves? This situation would force him to make an impossible choice: a choice between giving up what he wants most in life in order to spare a loved one from a terrible, deadly fate.
Jarod’s character arc, then, would involve repairing a romance gone wrong. Not his relationship with his girlfriend, Kelly, but with another gay man. Yet, my work on the book stalled.
I was ecstatic when Obama took office in 2009 but because the political climate had changed for the better toward LGBTQs (I ain’t complaining, I assure you), making (I thought) Jarod’s struggle with his orientation and coming out less relevant. So, I back-burnered The Covenant Sacrifice for years—until Trump came to power. Relevancy returned. I resurrected the book and began working on it diligently again.
Drafting and editing The Covenant Sacrifice
In 2019, I made a draft available for beta reading and got feedback from readers and an editor. I incorporated all this, worked on the manuscript a few more years, and sent it off for developmental editing in 2022.
That led to a lot of work that I didn’t relish doing—rewriting and adding scenes. I thought all my revisions were complete but, in reality, they were only beginning. However, all that heavy lifting made for a better book. I upped the wordcount by 10,000 words to the final 81,600 (392 pages in trade paperback).
Readying the book for publication
Next came the nitty-gritty of line editing and copy editing. After I finished making my editor’s suggested changes, I went over the manuscript again (for about the twenty-fifth time, and I’m not exaggerating the number of drafts I ultimately produced).
I finally laid out the book in Adobe InDesign, using 12.5-point type—big enough for geezers like me to read. Fans over forty will appreciate this, I hope. I think the book looks beautiful. Let me knopw what you think in a comment below.
I thought I was done with the book. I wanted to be done with the book. Apparently not. Things I’d missed in countless manuscript printouts seemed to jump out at me. I corrected the errors in both the paperback source files and ePUB versions.
I ordered another proof, and found more freaking problems! I wanted to scream and tear my hair out.
Marketing and promotion are the least favorite aspects of my novel-writing process. But they’re essential if you want to sell books as an independent author–publisher. (I do, I do!)
I submitted the novel for book tours and social media promotion, wrote press releases (here, I made the The Bradford Era), and made a virtual whore and general nuisance of myself, posting links and sending emails everywhere I could think. I’m still beating the promotional bushes and will continue into the fall.
Now, it’s release day. I can take a little breather (but not much of one because I still have much left to do) to consider how far I’ve come with the book.
Horror and gay romance share the spotlight in The Covenant Sacrifice
In early reviews, some readers shared that they didn’t care for the romance in it. (When it’s clearly marketed as #LGBTQhorror and #GayRomance, I wonder why they would read it in the first place, but…)
In short, the romance in TCS isn’t a subplot, but rather a dual plot, along with the horror spine. That’s the way it turned out. The resolution of the horror plot depended on protagonist Jarod Huntingdon making his impossible choice and accepting himself as a gay man. It definitely upped the stakes for him to resolve the issue in order to find a chance at ultimate happiness.
There isn’t much hardcore horror in the book. It’s a bit tame according to current standards. (But things could get much worse in a sequel…).
And I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t exactly push the bounds of horror with this story or take new ground for the genre. But the subject matter was sentimental and the writing style nostalgic for me. Let me explain.
Written for sentimental reasons
Considering when I first got the idea for The Covenant Sacrifice—two years after I came out as gay—the book deals with a young man from a conservative Christian background who wants to start a family of his own. But he can’t connect with his girlfriend and finally discovers why.
This situation is decidedly biographical. But I think it will speak to many who have been in (or are still in) similar circumstances. I want to encourage LGBTQ readers to come out and remain true to themselves as unique human beings, loved and accepted by God.
I wrote this story to process my life change and memorialize where I’ve come from, with marrying a woman, divorcing amicably, and coming out. Although it’s way too late for me to start a family, I always wanted children. So I put much of myself into the development of Jarod Huntingdon and his struggle.
Written with a nostalgic style
At one point, when I was proofing the printed copy of the novel, it struck me that the POV, the voice, the narration I adopted in the book was different from what I’d written before (except for maybe Death Perception), and different from how I write today. It was like I was reading someone else’s work. (If any other writers have experienced this, please start a discussion with me in a comment.)
I was going for third-person limited POV, but at times I rose to a distant height that verges on omniscience. I’m still studying omniscient POV, so I hope what I accomplished in The Covenant Sacrifice works for readers.
In no way am I trying to brag here, but over the years, more than one reviewer has remarked that my writing reminds them of Stephen King’s (see the comments in Praise for The Covenant Sacrifice).
I don’t know whether everyone who reads the book would say this about my writing (I doubt it, truthfully), but I took it as an enormous compliment, and I do feel my writing style in The Covenant Sacrifice harks back to the horror fiction published in the 1970s and 80s.
This book, then, is my love letter to King and all the writers who were published during the first explosion of horror back in those days, when I fell in love with the genre. Some won’t like my book because it doesn’t push the envelope or accomplish anything especially new or daring in the horror universe.
But I like The Covenant Sacrifice for the simple things it is—spooky, romantic, sentimental, and nostalgic. I hope you do too.
If you’re interested, get the book
Okay, I’ve blathered long enough. If you want to know more about The Covenant Sacrifice, visit the book page and click the links beneath the cover image.
If you’re interested in LGBTQ horror, creature horror, supernatural horror, cult horror, folk horror, religious horror, occult horror—with an equal helping of gay romance—check out The Covenant Sacrifice. You can read a brief excerpt here.
Thank you much. I appreciate all my readers more than you know.
Could I ask one more favor? Scroll down and share this post on social media or email. And, while you’re at it, why not subscribe to my monthly email newsletter to stay abreast of future book news? Thanks again.
I was excited to see a Douglas Clegg title included in our class reading. Years ago, I’d read Goat Dance, The Halloween Man, and Isis, a creepy novelette I especially love. When I saw that Isis was a prequel to the Harrow series, I was intrigued to dig into Nightmare House (1999, 2017), the first installment.
I admire Clegg as a gay writer (I considered him an early role model) and appreciate his accomplishments. He won the 1999 Bram Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award for his collection The Nightmare Chronicles. More at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Clegg#Writing_career. Clegg is great at characterization, dialogue, and action. And in Nightmare House, his gothic/romantic voice fits the book. But for someone so skilled at developing and sustaining mood and atmosphere, Nightmare House proved to be a disappointment for me.
In the first scene of the prologue, Esteban (yet unnamed) shares in first person a memory of his loving grandfather, who built Harrow house. The remembrance is so warm, I was puzzled by the penultimate paragraph, which came out of the blue and fell flat:
Some believed that a great treasure was buried within its walls; that screams came from Harrow more than once; that a madman built it for his own tomb; that no one willingly remained overnight in the house; that a child could still be heard keening from within on damp October nights.
Likewise for the second scene, about his naming. And the third, of his coming of age and being disowned. The paragraph at the bottom of page 9—“I felt I should be pursuing my dreams and ambitions. I went to live in New York, and my life as an adult began.”—provides no examples, like many other passages. If the opening pages should set the tone off the book, the prologue failed.
Chapter 1, section 1 failed to draw me in. Section 2 provided such a brief history of Ethan’s early life that I didn’t connect or care. In section 3, the writing is understandable enough but comes off as under-seasoned summary that barely scratches the surface of the statements it makes: “…my grandfather… collected ancient things and did not much of anything for the rest of his entire life” (15). This says so little to characterize the man.
In section 6, Clegg takes almost no opportunity to show or describe such a magnificent old house, for example: “…in the grand kitchen that seemed made to serve banquets” (21). That’s it. No more. The same for Wentworth: “Wentworth was a round woman whose eyes never seemed to close as she spoke of missing the old man and of the days when he was his usual self” (21).
Chapter 2, section 1: “I… am writing this as a warning to you…” (39). But I felt no sense of foreboding before or after this. Nothing had happened so far to instill a drop of dread. “And then, something happened, and the land where the house would be built acquired a sense of being unclean” (42). Something happened. Such vagueness neither inspires nor moves me. “Harrow… taught him much. Harrow changed him” (44). What? How? This is more bland, indefinite summary unsupported by examples.
In section 2 the POV changes to third, narrated by Ethan, with much filtering (felt, seemed, knew, imagined, heard) (45). But it never comes off as omniscient. It’s close, limited third with filtering.
Section 10 (62–64), Ethan encounters the apparition of a girl on the stairs and whiteness. While odd, it wasn’t frightening to me. In chapter 3, section 2, the strange phenomena continue, but Ethan has little emotional response except the urge to scream at the end. Maggie admits in section 7 that Harrow is haunted: “‘Everyone in the village knows it’” (74). Yet the statement tastes flat as week-old soda pop.
Chapter 4, section 2 – “Pocket Tells a Story Between Puffs of a Cigar.” Here, Clegg switches gears and has Officer Pocket tell a story in first person, revealing his philosophy and sagacity through comment. Pocket’s character (narrator) voice is individualized but becomes tedious despite the third-person/Ethan interludes in sections 3, 5, and 7. In chapter 7, Ethan reverts to first person “to tell you more about myself” (159). We’re back to third person in chapter 8. The change in POV lends variety, but I was never sure why Clegg was doing so.
Toward the end of chapter 8, random oddities happen in the house, but so what? Chapter 9, section 1, Pocket and Ethan shout at each other. This behavior is unmotivated and nonsensical. Maggie calls on the phone for help in section 3, where Ethan says, “The Devil is in this house.” Again, so what? Lake of detail, lack of example, lack of characterization make such statements ineffective. The characters have become puppets enacting a crude script.
By chapter 10, the book disintegrates into a quagmire of more nonsense—Isis Claviger and relics and a séance and Mathilde, who killed people. The brief investment in the story and characters I had gained by the middle I now lost altogether. Ethan says of the basement: “‘It’s a complete world beneath the house’” (198). But since so little of it is shown, it’s not believable or interesting. Pocket and Ethan find the symbol of the “Chymera Magick” (200), the mark of the spiritualists. I laughed. If you’re going to toss tropes in willy nilly, they should make some sense.
Ethan reverts to first-person narration in chapter 11, where he passes through an Egyptian pharaoh’s tomb. Then he forgets Maggie due to a drug mist in the air. Huh? Finally, Ethan encounters Mathilde, who is—gasp!—his mother (210). Mother possesses him, and he kills Pocket.
Epilogue: “…the house itself… has a will, endowed by the magic my grandfather practiced…” (234). Justin Gravesend wasn’t well-characterized as either a wicked or occult man. The mentioned visits from Crowley and Borden? (235) Unconvincing, which is one word that describes the whole book.
Although I’m disappointed in this one, Clegg has other terrific books. Bad Karma (originally published under the pen name Andrew Harper) is a favorite thriller I heartily recommend.
If you subscribe to my private email newsletter, I’ve kept you posted on my novel-writing progress. (If you’re not subscribed, you can subscribe here.) But here’s the past, present, and future of my writing projects. I’ve also got some short stories in the works not listed here.
Can you teach yourself to write a novel through a reading program? I did. Here’s how.
Back in 2006, I earned a master’s in Writing Popular Fiction, producing Death Perception as my thesis novel. But the greater part of my literary training came from self-education, through which I learned many things I didn’t in school.
For over thirty years, I’ve read and studied hundreds of writing craft books, many pertaining to aspects of novel-writing. Some books were better than others, but most offered something to improve my writing. (I maintain a growing list of what I consider the best books at Lee’s Favorite Writing Texts.)
The self-education process
If you’ve never written a novel before or want to improve your current process, here’s a self-education plan to get you started:
Understanding the hero’s journey as a prerequisite for further study
Developing an idea
Structuring the external plot
Mapping the protagonist’s inner story of change (character arc)
Weaving plot and character arc into a properly structured narrative
Writing effective scenes
Incorporating theme to enrich your narrative
Revising your work
Editing to polish your prose
1. Understanding the hero’s journey
Many fiction craft books refer to the “hero’s journey,” popularized by mythologist Joseph Campbell. As a prerequisite to your journey of self-education, I recommend boning up on mythic story structure.
I’ll admit I’ve never read Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Instead, I heartily recommend the latest edition of Christopher Vogler’s 🌟 The Writer’s Journey – 25th Anniversary Edition: Mythic Structure for Writers. Highly accessible, it will teach you what you need to know about the hero’s journey—and provide a basis for understanding the next books included in this self-education program.
(By the way, I followed Vogler’s blueprint for Death Perception, which was well received.)
2. Developing a novel idea
Fashioning an idea into a full-blown plot has been one of my biggest challenges the past three decades. There are precious few books out there that lead you through the process of getting, brainstorming, and developing an initial idea into the basics of a workable plot.
Along with external plot events, great novels include the main character’s inner story of change, or character arc. Character arc maps the lead’s development from a person with an inner need who, through challenges and conflict, learns to become a stronger, better person (or fails to).
Now that you’ve arrived at this point, a book that weaves the hero’s journey, plot structure, and character arc into one how-to is Susan May Warren’s The Story Equation: How to Plot and Write a Brilliant Story from One Powerful Question. It’s a bit convoluted in its presentation and won’t make sense if you read it earlier in this process, but it nicely wraps everything together and will help cement the previous concepts into a workable story.
Every scene needs conflict. And every scene must “turn.” Here’s some insight about the turning point, a crucial ingredient of every scene.
What’s a Scene?
A scene is a discrete story segment in which your characters engage in conflict and take significant actions that you portray memorably as if the events were happening in real time. Robert McKee in his seminal STORY recommends that every scene be a story event. And every scene must “turn.”
What’s at Stake for Your Character?
A scene is like a story in miniature: it has a beginning, middle, and end. “No matter locations or length,” says McKee, “a scene is unified around desire, action, conflict, and change.”
A scene begins with a problem or goal that’s based on some value at stake in your character’s life at the moment. What’s at stake? Love? Truth? Safety? Honor? Justice? Meaningfulness? Action genres turn on values such as freedom/slavery or justice/injustice. Educational stories turn on interior values such as self-awareness/self-deception or life as meaningful/meaningless.
In chapter 1 of THE SIXTH SEED, my protagonist Tom Furst’s freedom is at stake, both personal and financial.
Examine each of your scenes and identify what’s at stake for your character.
What’s Your Character’s Objective?
Tom’s goal is based on a desire to change the current state of his freedom.
In each scene your character pursues an immediate, short-term desire. This scene goal must be sub-goal of his or her greater story objective. In a scene, your character goes after this scene goal by enduring conflict or opposition to make a decision or take a specific action.
The scene portrays this push and pull. The process is built on beats, individual units of action and reaction. Your character says, “Stop doing that.” The opposition says, “I won’t.” Beat by beat, this dance of behaviors escalates progressively. The last beat must end with a turning point.
Deliver the Unexpected
In this process of mounting action/reaction between your characters, their conflict produces a big reaction that your character failed to anticipate. McKee explains that:
The effect is to crack open the gap between expectation and result, turning his outer fortunes, inner life, or both from the positive to the negative or the negative to the positive in terms of values the audience understands are at risk.
Your character asks, “Why won’t you stop doing that? It’s hurting me.” The scene antagonist replies, “Because your best friend likes what I’m doing. And I’m in love with him.” BAM!
In this way, a scene creates change in a minor yet significant way. So how do you set this up?
Polarity Must Change
Once you’ve highlighted the core issue, state the charge of that value at the start of the scene: positive or negative.
For example, with Tom Furst in THE SIXTH SEED, the value of freedom at the start of chapter 1 is negative. He’s between a rock and a hard place and needs to increase his freedom to gain some financial breathing room. His goal is to undergo a vasectomy (a procedure so intense you have to read it for yourself!), a small step in gaining that freedom back—or so he thinks.
Your characters begin the scene with two things: the current charge (+/-) of their core value at stake, and their immediate goal. Then, they:
Encounter the opposition (who also has a goal and value of their own)
Engage in conflict (exchange escalating behavior beats)
Finally experience an outcome
This outcome is the turning point of the scene—the moment where your character’s value changes polarity.
The effects of turning points, according to McKee, include: surprise, increased curiosity, insight, and new direction. The turning point provides new information and a goal for the next scene.
At the end of the scene, what is the state of your POV character’s value? Is it positive, negative, or both? Compare the charge at the beginning and the end. If the value doesn’t change polarity, then why is the scene is in your narrative? McKee points out:
If the value-charged condition of the character’s life stays unchanged from one end of a scene to the other, nothing meaningful has happened; it is a nonevent. If a scene is not a true event, cut it. If the scene is only there for exposition, it needs more justification. Every scene must turn.
How to Make Your Scenes Turn
Craft your scenes using the following process:
Begin with a value at stake in your character’s life. Base a scene goal on that value. (You could also start with the goal and discover the value at stake.)
Determine the motivation and goal of your scene’s opposition. (Your antagonistic force cannot exist merely to give your character an ass-pain.)
Over the course of the scene, challenge and threaten the state of that value through conflict between your character and the opposition. Beats should escalate logically and progressively (not leap a chasm from rationality to absurdity or from laxity to high tension).
Determine the final beat that is the turning point, the reaction that bears the fruit of surprise, increased curiosity, insight, or new direction.
Evaluate whether the beat process and turning point have changed the polarity of your character’s value. If not, keep working.
What is the outcome of the turning point—the surprise, curiosity, insight, or new direction? This is the starting point for your next scene in this plot line.
Note: If you’re a pre-plotter or outliner, you might find it useful to map the value/goal/turning point/outcome for each scene to ensure that your scenes are linked logically in a greater chain of cause-and-effect over the course of the narrative. Just as beats escalate to a turning point in each scene, so do scenes escalate to major turning points or reversals in the broader narrative.
Test this process by analyzing scenes from well-written books. Apply the process to your own scenes. If you find it helpful, I’d love to hear from you. Please like this post and subscribe. And spread the word!
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 (as of 2013).
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 as a writer.
There was nothing wrong with me. 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
I talk about the idea development process, plotting, and drafting of my forthcoming 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 [The Covenant Sacrifice as of 2021]), 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 going be one of my bigger books….) Not 100% of those pre-writing exercises will end up in the book, but they contain 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 (in a 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) software to create taglines for each scene in the book. For example in The Bedwetter, “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.)
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 a 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: Journal of a Budding Psychopath between February 15 and April 4, 2013. 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 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 The Bedwetter 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!
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.
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…)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
As readers, we’ve come to expect the fully developed protagonist. After all, if the main character is a pasteboard creature, who wants to read the story? So writers spend a lot of time developing their protagonists, and, perhaps, their “helper” characters.
But one thing I’ve learned to do is to give my antagonist equal treatment. Early in my writing career, I created antagonists—what I called “villains”—for the sole purpose of frustrating my hero and his goals. This led to “cardboard villain syndrome.”
Your protagonist and plot are only as strong as your antagonist. He or she (or it or they) must also have a backstory that has led to the development of certain weaknesses, strengths, fears, desires, and goals. He might be an evil bastard, hell-bent on destroying your protagonist, but he also might be a decent guy who just wants the same thing your hero/ine wants, and has the gumption to compete for it. Or he wants the exact opposite of what your hero/ine is striving for, and is willing to fight for it.
Your villain cannot be a skeleton (unless we’re talking about that story I wrote in second grade). He/she/it/they must be fully fleshed using the same development tools you used for your protagonist.
The best information I’ve encountered in 20 years of reading and writing fiction—and reading about writing fiction—I discovered recently in Robert J. Ray’s The Weekend Novelist, in the sections “Weekend 1” and “Weekend 2.” (If you buy this book, be sure to get the original 1994 version, not the revised version.)
Ray leads you through the process of writing a brief character sketch (the broad strokes), plotting a timeline for life and story events, developing a backstory by asking “what if?” to probe motivation, and building a wants list—for your protagonist, your helper, and your antagonist, exploring where desires mesh and clash.
I followed such a process in DEATH PERCEPTION, my latest supernatural thriller tinged with horror and peppered with dark humor. My tag team of antagonists turned out to be well-developed and interesting characters equal to (well, not quite) the hero, Kennet Singleton.
By devoting as much effort to your antagonist as you do to your protagonist, you will have a stronger story, one that readers will love. Flesh out your villains, and you’ll flesh out your fiction.
Supernatural Thriller DEATH PERCEPTION Now On Sale!
At long last! DEATH PERCEPTION—my latest novel full of supernatural crime, horror, and grim humor—is now available for Kindle, Nook, and in trade paperback from a variety of sources. (See “Purchase Options” below.)
In celebration, I’m throwing an online release party. Want to win nifty prizes?
*Once your PayPal order is received and payment clears, your file will be sent by email (or paperback posted) to the address that was used to purchase within 48 hours. 7% sales tax is collected for residents of Pennsylvania (6% +1% Allegheny County tax).
About DEATH PERCEPTION
DEATH PERCEPTION is a supernatural crime story corrupt with horror yet preserved by a sprinkling of dark humor like those mini marshmallows in your Lucky Charms.
Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.
He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, Kennet must bring the killers to justice.
“Dastardly devious, cleverly conceived, and just a whole lot of fun to read, Death Perception is Lee Allen Howard on fire and at his finest. Rife with winsome weirdness, it’s like the mutant stepchild of Carl Hiaasen and Stephen King, mixing a truly unique paranormal coming-of-age story with a quirky cast of offbeat noir characters into a novel that’s simply unforgettable… and hilariously original. A supernatural crime story, blazing with creative intrigue… don’t miss it.”
—Michael Arnzen, author of Play Dead
“Lee Allen Howard’s Death Perception is a red hot union of Gothic crime thriller and grim humor that burns with supernatural tension. Beneath the sickly sweet scent of caramelized sugar lies the wildly entertaining tale of a man who delivers justice to the dead while fanning the fires of the living. Ever hear the expression, ‘laughing in a morgue’? Death Perception feels just like that. Howard has a gift for crafting eccentric characters and clever plots. This is dark fun at its best.”
—Jason Jack Miller, author of The Devil and Preston Black and Hellbender
“Death Perception has officially made me envious of Lee Allen Howard. It sings like a choir of angels, yet weeps like a ghost in winter. Everyone should have this in their collection.”
—Trent Zelazny, author of To Sleep Gently and Butterfly Potion
“Part ghost story and part murder mystery, Howard’s clean prose and spot-on timing make for a compelling read. If you enjoy ghosts, revenge tales and mysteries this book is for you.”
—Jennifer Barnes, Managing Editor of Raw Dog Screaming Press
“Part crime novel, part supernatural thriller, part… funeral pyre ‘n smores (I kid you not), this is Howard at his very best—putting you in the front car of the roller coaster, careening you past memorable characters, jostling you through hairpin plot twists, and trying his darndest to scare the bejesus out of you while managing to satiate the most macabre of sweet tooths. …A really fun read!”
—Mike Mehalek, Writing is Tricky
“Lee Allen Howard has seamlessly joined the characters in this book, and you find yourself hoping that good prevails and that Kennet doesn’t meet the same fate as some of the customers he cremates. I highly recommend this book to anybody who is looking for something a little bit different and offbeat. Lee Allen Howard is definitely going on my favourite author list!”
“Lee Allen Howard’s Death Perception is a novel in the likes of a mellow Stephen King.”
—Bruce J. Blanchard
“This is enjoyable and dark—a real good read.”
—Sandra Scholes, SF Site
“Outstanding! … Death Perception is a brilliant twist of the paranormal. It has everything a reader would desire, suspense, twists and turns galore. I urge you to read this one.”