Research Road Trip: Ozark National Forest, AR

The first three books of my grimdark, urban-fantasy series, The Slaughter Chronicles, are set in rural Arkansas. But not just any part of rural Arkansas…THE FORESTS. So, State Parks and National Forests are of great inspiration to me.

One of the most brilliant things I ever did with one of my writer friends (Kathy!) back in 2019 was go into the building where one of her protagonist’s worked. It was so cool looking at what kind of carpet was on the floor, how the buttons were arranged in the elevator, what kind of marble statues they had in the lobby, etc.

Putting eyes on your actual setting is one of the most important pieces of writing advice I can give. But being out in nature, in general, is so restorative for the creative spirit. Even if you hate nature, get out in it. Let bugs bite you and write about how much you hate it. It’s inspiring.

I had several inspiring things happen to me this trip.

This might not be a big deal to you, dear reader, but a few weekends ago I got to ride in a side-by-side.

I had no idea what I was missing.

Seriously, utility terrain vehicles ARE. THE. BEST. Even if they can tip over. I have a new dream now. It’s name is Polaris RZR.

And the forest itself was gorgeous.

Naturally, this experience had to find its way into my book. I re-wrote the first three chapters of Havoc’s Moon based on this little adventure.

Addendum: I realize it’s not always possible to physically visit your project’s setting. Pandemic. Finances. Etc. etc. But if you can’t visit, you can RESEARCH 🙂

Love Your Characters

Love what you write. Much of how I look at writing/craft/process comes from years and years of poetry. My thoughts on imagery and diction are fueled by my medium. It is this lyrical perspective that gives my prose writing its unique voice. That and my brain is just weird. As a new writer to the […]

Love what you write.

Much of how I look at writing/craft/process comes from years and years of poetry.

My thoughts on imagery and diction are fueled by my medium. It is this lyrical perspective that gives my prose writing its unique voice. That and my brain is just weird.

As a new writer to the world of genre fiction (specifically urban fantasy) there are things that I don’t actually see or realize until I write them and then I have the, “Oh, that’s where that went wrong,” moment.

One thing I learned while reading fiction and learning to write fiction is that you have to love your characters. Not just like them. Not just tolerate them. Not just the main character or even the side characters.

Because if you don’t they won’t sound or look genuine on the page. They’ll look like cardboard stand-ins for real people and, most importantly, they won’t talk to you and tell you what they are doing in your story.

And if you don’t enjoy reading what you write after you’ve written it, like if you finish the “final draft” and never want to look at it again—not because you’re tired of the story because you’ve read it literally 1 million times over and over again—but because deep down you’re embarrassed or you think no one will want this but you’ve worked so damn hard and you want it out in the world for people to read…guess what! It’s not good enough. Because you haven’t put your heart into it.

And yes, I speak from personal experience. I never wanted to look at the first book (of fiction) that I self-published.

Continue reading “Love Your Characters”

Research Road Trip: Queen Whilamena State Park

(I’ve edited and re-published this post from last year because I wanted to add more pictures and remember a fun road trip while I am sheltering in place. I hope all of you who read this are safe and healthy and I wish nothing but the best for you during these difficult times. I love you all!)

Last Summer (as I write this) I drove down to Mena, Arkansas with the intention of hiking in the morning at Queen Whilamena State Park and driving around in the afternoon exploring the teeny-tiny towns surrounding the state park.

The drive down was really pleasant. But then it started raining. Thankfully, by the time I got to the Queen Whilamena Lodge and Restaurant the rain had stopped BUT there was fog EVERYWHERE!

I had not checked the weather on my phone. I didn’t even think about the possibility of anything but clear skies and humid air (Summer in Arkansas, y’all). But that is not what I got.

There was a fleeting moment where my heart sank and I thought, “I drove all this way and now I have to go home…”

But then I took another look at the fog, which was literally getting thicker by the minute and I thought, “HOLY SHIT THIS IS PERFECT WEATHER FOR A HORROR NOVEL!”

I mean look at that! That’s amazing!

If I’d gone on a “normal” day I’d have hiked, got some nice pictures of trees and buildings, and gone home with nice things to think about but this–the fog, the rain–gave my setting character. Or my setting looked at me and said, “Acknowledge that I am a force of nature!” while slapping me in the face.

And there was this really nifty fungus on the trail that was all glistening and fleshy. I almost walked face first into a MASSIVE spider webs trying to photograph it.

A new beginning to Havoc’s Moon bloomed in my mind. I got to make rough stage blocking for an action scene and took pictures of this one specific outcropping from multiple angles for reference later. I was so inspired IT WASN’T EVEN FUNNY!

So the moral of this story here is think about what your setting is like in bad weather. You never know what will happen. But also, it’s important to visit, if you can, where your book is set because you’ll get to think about concrete details you may not have considered from your chair at your writing desk.

And I learned that my main character’s favorite food is not pizza like I thought it was, but fried green beans.

You never know what’s going to happen when you go out on location.

Good luck and happy writing!

Finishing my Master’s Degree and What is Hybrid Poetry Anyway?

I was waking up at 4:30 a.m., cursing my alarm clock. Awake before dawn, cold, sick/hungover, I’d trudge to the bus stop with frost crunching beneath my boots to get to work. It was an hour long bus ride if the traffic was good. I used that time on the bus to read and write poetry. I earned my MFA, start to finish, on that bus. Crossing the lines, riding over the river, circling the familiar pathways.

But before the bus was the dead kitten. My anchor.

2010-2012. Nearly 10 years ago, as I write now.

See, while I was thinking about my graduating thesis, my “masterwork” of poems I was walking to the bus stop. A rooster crowed. There was fog, there was sleet, there was ice and the wet cold soaked into my marrow. My bag was too heavy with books and not heavy enough with food. I didn’t have enough alcohol/I had too much.

There was this image in my head of this ghost-woman under the foggy streetlight but that wasn’t reality. She was orange and I thought she was my speaker, the thread that would connect everything in my collection, but she wasn’t. I don’t know where she’s gone now. Maybe she wasn’t real to begin with.

I know she wasn’t real because the poems didn’t feel real. They weren’t working. I was stuck.

And then I was walking to the bus stop and there, in the grey concrete gutter at the edge of the dark, early morning road, was the dead kitten. Nothing ate it and its body was frozen. I walked by that little broken body for a MONTH and watched it get flatter and flatter, the fur and skin seemed to be dissolving into the road, the bones were sinking, slowly, into the concrete.

It was like the road was eating the body since none of the carrion feeders would touch it. It was too cold for the insects. Most insects.

And that made me think about borders and barriers and bodies dying on the road. Animal bodies, human bodies. There are borders between countries, borders between places within countries, borders between roads and rivers, roads and houses, roads and bodies.

I began to explore those places.

And then in the spring a flash flood killed my car. My most loyal, bestest friend in the world. We’d been on so many adventures together and I cried when I had to turn him (yes, him) in to the dealership. More debt, more stress. More mistakes made with the man who is now my ex-husband. I wrote the Echo of Something Hitting because I needed to tell myself specific things about the way I was living that I could not see. Rather, my sub-conscious/my reptilian brain needed to tell me. Go look back at your old poems and see if there’s something you might have realized sooner than you thought.

I began to explore those places too. The flood and transformation. Transformation from catastrophe. (As far as catastrophes go it was a small one but the water sloshing over my boots and then the firemen pushing my car out of the road, all of them wearing grey shirts and water up to their thighs, frolicking in the water like otters. Sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to put them into the book. If any of you are reading this now, all these years later, thank you.)

There’s lots of bird imagery, lots of water imagery, lots of grey. The kitten was grey.

(I tell people my favorite color is green but I think, secretly, it is grey. Grey and the weird pink/periwinkle/grey of some ballet slippers. Is it okay to have more than one favorite color? I don’t mean to imply in any way that green is inferior. I really like green.)

I’m running out of things to say about the book. It began as a collection of poems but as I wrote about the kitten and the road and the river the borders of the poems dissolved and it became what I like to think of as a “lyric essay.”

I got my degree in Cross-Genre and Hybrid Poetry. Hybrid is where prose and lines blend and mutate like sick proteins but they’re not sick. Things unfold and knot up. Things flow freely but they also flicker and disappear. Think deep sea fish and you’re good. The Cross-Genre is not merging “romance” and “fantasy.” Where I went to school, genres were prose and poetics. Genres were how you actually wrote, not what you wrote about.

So a lyric essay, to me, is formatted like an epic poem but has zero meter, too many long pauses, random chunks of prose that float like globules of crude oil in the ocean–they’re soft, not like plastic–

Here’s an article from the Los Angeles Review of Books about lyric essays…and how they can be…banal…(awesome selling point).

The Writer’s Alliance of Gainesville says, “Writing the lyric essay offers the author a frolic in the pool of memoir, biography, poetry and personal essay mixed with a sprinkling of experimental.”

What is interesting?

What is over-the-top batshit crazy?

What is self-important pontification?

Maybe it’s all those things. But I feel that poetry is WAY more than just verse and form. Poetry is more than lines and stanzas, more than meter, rhyme, and syllable counts. I guess you could say that lyric essay is the ultimate free verse but free verse is already free verse so…I’m rambling now. I should end this post.

I wanted to say all that because I want to get back into poetry. I want to start working on another poetry collection, one that’s been hanging out in my head since 2007, like dust piling up in the corners.

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Photo by Imthaz Ahamed on Unsplash

In the Voice of My Poetry

My poetry is about finding lost things.

If drinking makes you sick, don’t drink.

Find a clean puddle and dip your cup in that; drink the moon on the water.

My grandmother never wanted my grandfather to leave (he was an alcoholic). She had one sister who thought she was prettier than everyone else. Her grave has dead plants on it. And pink marble.

My poetry is about falling across the road as a bloody smear and making a new boundary, a new border.

My poetry is about an imaginary map.

Borders blur and the ink runs when it rains.

Wild roses are my favorite. The ones with all their petals falling off and thorns everywhere.

My poetry is about rotting and returning to the earth.

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This post is inspired by Bhanu Kapil’s Blog

Photo by Felipe Santana on Unsplash