Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Be a Magpie

Or a Raven. Or a Rook. Even a crow. Any of the corvids will do.

These perspicacious creatures are said to be fascinated by shiny things.

Your ‘shiny things’ as a writer are ideas. Keep an ear and eye out for peculiar sayings, idiosyncrasies, uncommon names, and unique predicaments.

The best thing I’ve done for my writing lately (besides writing) is to get back in the habit of keeping a writer’s notebook, which is, I suppose, still writing.

Ok, I have more than one writing notebook. I actually have a notebook hoard, most of which I don’t write in; second rule of writing and all.  I keep a tiny notebook in my purse and another on my nightstand. I use these for jotting down snippets of conversation, interesting words, or those flashes of genius that reveal themselves subliminally.

When I’m out and about and have forgotten or misplaced my little notebooks, I have Trello*. Trello is awesome. You can access it from any device. I have a board for writing and separate ones for each project on which I’m working.  I can make checklists, add attachments and labels to things, etc. It keeps me very organized. Trello isn’t the only app out there for writers, but it’s my favorite so far. Bear, Just Write, Evernote, Scrivener are a few others, but there are tons.

I have a regular-sized notebook as well. I use this notebook for–well, notes. It has the same function as the other notebooks and Trello (I always like to have a hard copy of things; it is convenient to keep them in one place). If I take a class on writing, I write my outlines here. I also use it for mind mapping, diagrams, character sketches, storyboarding, and goal setting–anything and everything related to my writing endeavors. I use highlighters and lots of sticky notes. Flipping back through my notes,  I often come across great ideas that get my creative mojo in gear.

Sometimes I get carried away with all the shiny things; it’s hard to focus on just one-the one on which I should be working. I often work on more than one thing at a time That is why making a list of goals and prioritizing them is imperative. When I set deadlines for myself, I’m more likely to accomplish those goals.

Your notebook can be ordinary or fancy, paper or digital–it doesn’t matter! Get yourself a notebook and get into the habit of noticing things. You’ll be glad you did.

Here are a couple other resources on keeping a journal and collecting shiny words:

How to Keep a Writer’s Journal
The Best Writing Software


Trista Herring Baughman is a proud military wife and a homeschool mama to two handsome (if she does say so herself) sons. She is the author of The Magic Telescope. Her second book, Zombiesaurs, will be available soon at Barnes & Noble Press. You can find The Magic Telescope on her website, or catch up to Trista on Facebook.

Happy Day!

From the Editor

Here in the U.S. we are about ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. This is a time that we come together to celebrate our families and friends. For me, and my family, we get together to out cook and out eat one another. Unlike the families in the comics, we have a blast exchanging stories, laughter, and, love.

As a writer, this is a great time for me to collect story ideas. There are several members of the family who travel extensively and I love to hear about the things that went wrong on their trips. One story came from a trip I was on when the toilets of the train overflowed and quit working. The carpets in the hall were soaked. When asked when they were going to clean up the mess the steward told us, “At the next station. Until then, just don’t touch the bottoms of your shoes.” This statement is gold, and at some point I’ll include it in a short story.

Thanksgiving is not the only time you can collect stories. Next week, Trista Herring Baughman will share a few of her ideas for story collecting. Until then, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, I want to wish all of you a Happy Day no matter how you spend it.


KJ Scrim, head shot

Kathie Scrimgeour writes under the pseudonym KJ Scrim. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors with PPW, she is also the Managing Editor of Writing from the Peak (PPW’s blog) and the Project Manager of PPW’s anthologies, Fresh Starts and Dream (coming Spring of 2022). Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. You can follow her on her website, KJScrim.com and on Facebook. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Arizona biking, hiking, skiing, or finding Zen through Pilates.

What Just Happened?

An Incomplete Journey of a NaNoWriMo Newbie – Part 1

By: Benjamin X. Wretlind

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 38 Days: The Decision

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting creative writing. Its main program is an annual event in which crazy people attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript during November.

My math skills tell me that comes to 1,667 words per day. That sounds simple, but if I look back, maybe not. The last novel I completed as part of a series I have been working on (super-secret information here) was 128,896 words. It took me roughly 4 months to complete it, which averages 1,074-ish words per day. Some days I wrote more. Some days I wrote two words.

Nevertheless, I believe I can hit that 1,667-word mark.

My decision to “enter” NaNoWriMo this year was driven by years of thinking “I should do this.” Therapists around the world are probably screaming that you can’t “should” your way through life. And so, as I’m married to a therapist, I have opted to omit the word “should” from that sentence.

I do this.

Okay. I’m off to a good start.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 30 Days: The Outline

I have an idea and cursory outline. The humans are ambivalent about my success, however. They do not seem inclined to bake me a cake for just my outline. Nevertheless, I am satisfied with what I have put together from just an initial glance at a brainstorming app. For the record, the app spit back at me the following: Conflict = Coming-of-Age; Style = A Hero’s Journey; Setting = Greek Islands.

From that I came up with a hastily written summary.

I entered that summary and some project details into the NaNoWriMo website and noticed the following procrastination tools right away: upload a cover image and a little spot to put in “What is the project’s playlist?” (There is also a spot for “What is the project’s Pinterest?” but I must draw the line somewhere.)

Off to play with cover tools and Spotify, because, you know, the writing site says I need this to be successful. As I have never participated in NaNoWriMo, who am I to argue?

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 29 Days: A Self-Imposed Deadline

NaNoWriMo has its own deadline, of course: between November 1st and the 30th, write a first draft. However, as I have been working on another novel, I am inclined to finished it before November comes. That gives me 29 days to write another 30,000 words on something that is 180° different. The two stories are also set thousands of years apart and they both require completely different mindsets.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 26 Days: Flesh It Out

I probably need to flesh out the cursory outline and add some details. The NaNoWriMo website says:

We welcome all writers at any stage. Outlines, character sketches, and other planning steps are encouraged, and you’re welcome to continue an old project.

This is definitely not an old project, but I will feel better if I have an outline. I’m not a pantser. Really. In fact, I may be a little OCD about the process.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 23 Days: Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater

Researching, outlining, and thinking hard about the flow of a book prior to NaNoWriMo feels like cheating, but I know it’s not (see previous). Still, I feel like doing my research under the covers to make sure no one is watching.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 21 Days: Should Have Set This in My House

I really do like research, but I’m beginning to think I bit off more than I can chew for this one. However, I have a plan: the story is what matters most, not the details of the location. So, if I write my setting more generically and worry about the details in my first rewrite (after November), I might not get so bogged down in the little things that the writing suffers.

Oh, look. An article on making olive oil in Ancient Greece.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 15 Days: Let Me Start Already

It’s hard to wait when another idea has infected your brain and keeps pushing out competing ideas or a new project like some bully. But! I have put together a cheap cover because the NaNoWriMo website says it is imperative.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 10 Days: More Ready Than Ready

I had a novella I was working on that I did not know if I could complete before the beginning of NaNoWriMo. It appears my estimation of time was off. With that project done, I can run it through one edit then let it sit through November. Things are looking up and I feel more ready than I did when I first decided to attempt this.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 7 Days: Outline? Check. Schedule? Check. Anxiety? Yep.

So I have my outline, my cover, and yes, even a Spotify playlist with one to two songs that set the mood for each chapter. I know I need to write an average of 1,667 words per day, which means I need to schedule my writing time a little better. With a day job that starts at 7 AM and because I am a writer who does his best in the morning, I need about 2 hours of uninterrupted time each day. Add in coffee for that wake up half hour, a bit of breakfast and 5 seconds to get ready for work (ah, remote work), I estimate I need to get up 4 AM each morning.

I must say, however, with one week to go, I am extremely anxious. Success for me would mean meeting the word count goal, if not completing the novel entirely.

But as my therapist wife would ask: “What would it mean if you didn’t complete your goal?”

In the words of Bill the Cat: “Aack! Thbtttt!”

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 3 Days: The Website Goes Deep

With three days left until I start this adventure, I am just now noticing that the NaNoWriMo website is FULL of content, from tips and advice to linking up with buddies to motivate you through the writing process, to joining in forums and more. Notice I said “with three days left until…”

And here I was thinking this was going to be a lonely adventure.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 1 Day: Are You Sure?

At this point, without having started the novel that I have outlined extensively, I could withdraw myself from the competition. After all, I cannot expect to spit out genius hastily over 30 days.

Yet there is a part of me that wants to try. If you do not try, you will not succeed. You may trip, fall, scrape a knee, and fail miserably. Conversely, you may surprise yourself with your commitment. Perhaps just the attempt is a success and pledging to give up 30 days under the guise of a “competition” like NaNoWriMo is just different enough from writing for 30 days without the self-imposed pressures that what you have written will be memorable even with the flaws that are certainly going to be there.

Perhaps.

Why not? We’ll just see what happens.

****Benjamin is presently bruising his fingers looking for the 50,000 mark. The last time this editor checked in, he was close to it already!! Will he survive? Stay tuned for Part II coming early December.****


Benjamin X. Wretlind

Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes, paints, uses sharp woodworking tools and plays with glue. Sometimes he does these things at the same time. A retired Air Force veteran, Benjamin currently builds and facilitates leadership courses for staff at Yale. He has penned a few novels, deleted a few novels, edited a few novels and is, of course, writing a few novels. Owing his life’s viewpoint to Bob Ross, he has also painted a few things, thrown a few paintings away, and probably has a painting on an easel right now. You can find Benjamin on his WebsiteTwitter and Facebook.

NaNoWriMo

By: Kathie Scrimgeour

Are you doing NaNo? Do you know what day it is? How are your fingers holding up? Had a shower recently? Where is your family? Are you a Wrimo? Odd questions? Maybe not. Here’s one more: Did you hit 25,000 today?

If you haven’t already heard, NaNoWriMo, (National Novel Writing Month) is an event that brings writers together from across the globe in order to write a 50,000 word novel in a single month. Today, November 9, 2021 is almost the middle. The halfway point. In one week you should hit 25,000 words.

Here are a few numbers that you might also like to know:

In 2020:

• There were 552,335 participants. If all the participants finished, with an even 50,000 words each, that’s a whopping 27,616,750,000 words written in a month!

• 906 volunteer Municipal Liaisons guided 671 regions on six continents.

• 448 libraries, bookstores, and community centers opened their doors to novelists through the Come Write In program.

• 71,832 Campers tackled a writing project—novel or not—at Camp NaNoWriMo.

Who Does NaNo?

Thousands of NaNoWriMo novels have been completed, with hundreds being traditionally published as a direct result of NaNo. Here are just a few:

Sara GruenWater for Elephants
Jason HoughThe Darwin Elevator
Hugh Howey, Wool
Marissa MeyerCinder
Erin MorgensternThe Night Circus
Rainbow RowellFangirl

The Best Part of NaNo?

The numbers are amazing to achieve, but the end result is what matters the most. If you write 25,000 words or 75,000 words, or even a simple outline of 200 words, you have started what many people only dream of…you will have drafted a novel. You will have joined the ranks of writers who are doing what they love, not just dreaming about it.

To everyone participating this year…
You are rockin’ it! KEEP ON WRITING!

Here are a couple more resources to help you get through NaNoWriMo 2021:
The Five Insurmountable Problems of NaNoWriMo
Marketing During NaNoWriMo-Are You Crazy?


KJ Scrim, head shot

Kathie Scrimgeour writes under the pseudonym KJ Scrim. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors with PPW, she is also the Managing Editor of Writing from the Peak (PPW’s blog) and the Project Manager of PPW’s anthologies, Fresh Starts and Dream (coming Spring of 2022). Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. You can follow her on her website, KJScrim.com and on Facebook. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Arizona biking, hiking, skiing, or finding Zen through Pilates.

Dear Writer, You Need a Hobby

By: Kim Olgren

Stephen King does jigsaw puzzles, plays guitar, and bowls. Emily Dickenson loved baking. Agatha Christie traveled with her husband. E. Cummings painted. Jackie Collins is into soul music and photography.

Hobbies. Every writer could use one or two.

“Why would I need a hobby? Don’t I have enough to do as a writer?” You may ask.

While writers do have full schedules (surprisingly, “other” people do too), spending time on a hobby can be beneficial in many ways.

A Healthy Hobby

Certain hobbies help keep you healthy. Stephen King is among may writers who have been know to take a daily walk. Here in Colorado many writers have outdoor hobbies such as hiking, biking, running, paddle boarding, skiing, and much more. Physical hobbies help your body release feel-good chemicals in your brain and rid your body of toxins, helps you focus better, and sleep better, and that helps you write better. Plus, expending energy on physical hobbies, actually gives you more energy for everything else, including writing. Many times, these hobbies are combined with other hobbies like photography or camping.

Allow Your Mind to Unwind

I used to help out one of my hubby’s former employers with tagging merchandise. It sounds monotonous, poking those little plastic things with a tag through item after item, case after case of…stuff. Sounds downright mind-numbing right? Wrong! I had some of my most creative ideas when I was doing this work. Why? Because my inner critic was focused on doing the job and not poking myself with the tagging gun, which left my imagination unsupervised and free to make up whatever it wanted to. The same goes for seemingly repetitive hobbies like knitting or crocheting. These hobbies allow the mind to unwind and stretch out.

Get Up and Go Out

You need to get out among the people sometimes. Yes. I said it. You have to go OUT. Look, you can’t make good stories in a vacuum. If you’re not getting out once in a while, you’re missing the opportunity to gather valuable story fodder. Hobbies like spectator sports, joining a park and recreation softball league, a dart league, or just walking the mall make you get out amongst your fellow humans and help to remind you of how people act, for better or worse.

Don’t Let the Well Dry Up

Hobbies help fill the well. When I’m relaxing with my hubby on the sofa watching TV and crocheting, just chilling, I’m filling the well. When I’m walking my dog or playing ball with her in the back yard, I’m refilling the well. When I’m chilling with a good book that I’m reading just for fun (yes, you should do this too), I’m refilling the well. Do whatever refills your well. Do it regularly. This is one of the most important things writers can do for themselves.

Let Your Hobby Help You

Finally, hobbies can help you overcome your writing problems. Have a sticky plot problem? Take a walk or play the guitar. Trying to figure out how best to get those love interests together? Go hang out at the mall and people watch the couples (but don’t be creepy about it, no one wants to be that person). Feeling stuck? Bake something, even if it’s cookies out of the refrigerated section at the grocery store, so that you can feel like you’ve accomplished something when you take the final product out of the oven.

So, my writer friends, if you haven’t already picked up the thing that helps you unwind or helps you get inspired, fear not! There are tons of things to do. Some of the writers I know do things like:

Photography
Hiking
Crochet
Video Games
Cooking
Reading (for pleasure)
Movies
Music
Playing an instrument
Drawing
Knitting
Painting
Puzzles
Camping
Board games
Role playing games
Making jewelry
Quilling
Calligraphy
Sewing
Needlepoint
Volunteer work

And many more! Think about what interests you and Google from there. The possibilities are seemingly endless. Relax and write on my writerly friends


Kim Olgren

Kim Olgren has loved reading widely and voraciously as far back as she can remember. She devours stories like other people devour potato chips. She joined Pikes Peak Writers in 2016 hoping to find like-minded people and hone her skills to write the stories swirling around in her mind, and she was not disappointed. Kim writes speculative fiction, mostly, and is a frequent victim of “shiny idea syndrome” which causes her to work on multiple projects at a time.

When she’s not writing, Kim can be found running a real estate investment business and flipping houses with her husband, hanging out with her grandkids, camping and traipsing around the local mountainous areas with her family. A fan of anything artistic or creative, she also loves crafting beautiful things out of a variety of materials.

A Passion for THIS Story

By: Donna Schlachter (previously published in Writing Nuggets of Gold)

In a recent conversation with my agent, she mentioned she talks to editors occasionally who are looking for a specific book to fit a particular publishing slot. My response? “If you get any requests, let me know. Maybe I can write that book.”

As I thought about this later, I wondered if I’d spoken hastily or foolishly. After all, what if they wanted a (gulp) bonnet story? Or a (double gulp) category romance? Did I really think I could write such a book? I came up with lots of reasons why I couldn’t – not my genre, not my area of specialty or knowledge, never wrote one before.

And then I was reminded of the wise words spoken to me at one time, not in this context, but which I will paraphrase: Don’t look for a reason not to write the story; look for a reason to write the story.

Passion to Keep Writing

So I put on my thinking cap again. Why would I want to write a bonnet story or a category romance or a western or a sci-fi or any of the other genres I don’t write? And the answer I came up with was: passion. And I’m not talking about relationship-type passion.

The kind of passion I’m talking about is the essence that starts a writer’s creative juices flowing, forcing us to work past the first What if? And deeper into the next, Then What? And the next.

I would need a passion for the setting, for the characters, or for the story.

That passion would ignite the story ideas, flesh out the characters, and help me choose (or create) a believable setting. That passion would keep me writing when the words seemed blah, would keep me plotting when I didn’t think anybody would want to read this story, would keep me enthused enough to press on until I typed, “The End”.

Passion has nothing to do with the book as a whole, but everything to do with the components of the story. Passion is also called our Muse, that je ne sais quoi that propels us to our computer and causes our fingers to fly over the keys, the words appearing on the screen as if by osmosis.

Take that Teensy Idea and Expand

Passion also helps us take a teensy idea and expand the details into a full-length novel. Let’s take an example. Cinderella is a short story fairy tale, yet in the hands of another, become the basis for over 30 movies (based on an article on Wikipedia). No doubt each one of these movies contained details that were not included in the original story.

If we take the Cinderella story, let’s go through some What If? Questions to come out to a completely different story: What if Cinderella lived with her father and siblings instead of her step-mother and step-sisters, but they were jealous of her? We’d have a story like Joseph and his coat of many colors. What if Cinderella was an orphan? We’d have a story like Oliver Twist. What if Cinderella was raised in a happy family but went her own way and left home? Prodigal son story.

So let’s take the example of the (gulp) bonnet story. First, I need to remember what my passion is: writing stories that show a God who is bigger than our past. My story might be about a woman journalist who decided to do a story on the Amish, falls in love with an Amish man, and marries him. “Accidentally Amish”. In another story, maybe my character flees to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, because she’s on the run from the mob. “Sister Act”.

What is the Common Thread in your Stories?

Your passion for the story, characters, and setting will be different than mine, because your writing passion, that thing inside you that keeps you writing, is different. Take a few minutes and look at the theme of the stories you write and the stories you want to write. What is the common thread running through these stories? Summarize that theme, or passion, in a single sentence.

My story is about a girl who runs away from home and gets involved in drugs and then gets saved. Your passion might be: I write stories about prodigals and their families.

Now, back to the plotting board. Let’s see. A (double gulp) category romance. My female lead is a bounty hunter sent to bring back a bail jumper. My male lead is the bail jumper, an angry man, who recognizes my bounty hunter as the woman seen driving away from the scene of a bank robbery that led to a fatal car crash twenty years before where his wife was killed. Nobody was ever prosecuted for this terrible accident or for the robbery. Will she be able to convince him she isn’t the person she was back then? Will he be able to see the grace and mercy of God in his own life and extend forgiveness to the woman he blames for ruining his life?

Hmmm. Might be able to make that work……

Takeaway:

If you don’t have a burning passion to write a particular story, the idea will likely fizzle out like a candle in the rain.

Exercises:

1. List the top five topics/genres you like to read.
2. Look at your most recent work in progress — does it fit with what you like to read?
3. Dig out an old project that fizzled. Did it fit with what you like to read?


Donna Schlachter

Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, Capitol Christian Writers Fellowship, Christian Women Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly for Heroes, Heroines, and History; and judges in writing contests. www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com

NaNoWriMo – Not Just for Aspiring Authors

By: Catherine Dilts

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – is primarily touted as an exercise to drive aspiring authors to write 50,000 words. Hitting that goal may mean completion of a novel draft for the very first time. At the very least, NaNoWriMo inspires confidence that hitting The End is possible.

Image provided by NaNoWriMo

But what about the published author? Is there any value in leaping into the month-long torment for those who have achieved not only novel completion, but publication?

I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time ten years ago. The experience was mind-blowing for the following reasons:

  1. Gravitas: People leave you alone when you tell them you’re part of an impressive international event.
  2. Competition: Applying butt to chair and fingers to keyboard is easier when you’re in friendly competition with yourself and others.
  3. Discipline: You learn the discipline required to finish a novel when pushing toward a goal that can only be achieved with consistent writing sessions as you strive to hit a daily or weekly word count.
  4. Realistic expectations: A first draft should be just that – a draft. The rougher, the better. NaNoWriMo pushes you to get the words down. Editing and refining take place later.
  5. Support and inspiration: Pep talks, local write-ins, on-line forums.
  6. FREE! 

2020 found many authors in the COVID doldrums. Fear was palpable. Lockdowns isolated us. Depression was rampant across all age groups. While some of us took solace in writing, for others focusing on fiction was impossible. Authors conquered the strange new world of on-line meetings, but let’s face it, a lot is lost in living a virtual life.

One definition of virtual by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition, is “Created, simulated, or carried on by means of a computer or computer network.”

Enter 2021, with the promise of a return to normal that did not materialize. Still, some social activity opened up. If authors didn’t return to critique and writing groups in person, at least they were now comfortable with virtual meetings. Some of us flew out the door at the first opportunity to be around other humans, to go to restaurants, museums, and elderly care facilities to visit family members.

The past two years, I remained productive. I’m one of those people who throw themselves into work when times are tough. Then this summer, something happened. I gave myself permission to enjoy the nice weather. To attend sporting events in which my grandchildren participated. To take my elderly mother to lunch. Friends and family dropped in for weekend visits. We enjoyed evenings at outdoor concerts. Suddenly, the spreadsheet I use to track my writing hours looked very thin.

I need to get my head back into my writing routine. While some of my work is published through a small press with less time pressure, my other publisher has strict deadlines. Besides work under contract, there are four novels I’m itching to complete. I feel out of control. I miss structure.

Since my first foray into the crazy world of NaNo-ing, I created eight projects. Only three made the finish line. Eventually, three were published, but only one was a NaNo winner. With this abysmal NaNoWriMo track record, why am I considering participating this year?

Mind-blowing reason number one: People leave you alone when you tell them you’re part of an impressive international event.

Let’s break this down.

It’s easier to say no to time-sucking people and activities when you’re involved in a global project. Sacrifices must be made if you’re going to succeed. Meeting the brisk and brutal word count of NaNoWriMo requires trimming down on entertainment and social activities for the short space of one month.

At this point, I know I can reach The End of a novel. My goal for NaNoWriMo 2021 is to slam out a draft of one of my projects currently in a state of stagnation. In the process, I hope to jump-start my enthusiasm and motivation to stick to a productive writing routine.

You can find me on NaNoWriMo as Granny_queequeg


Catherine Dilts, Headshot

CATHERINE DILTS prefers writing cozy mysteries and short stories surrounded by flowers on her sunny deck, but any day – and anywhere – spent writing is a good day. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, and the stand-alone Survive Or Die with Encircle Publications, Catherine also writes for Annie’s Publishing, contributing three books for the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library and two for the soon-to-be released Annie’s Museum Mysteries series. Her short story HazMat Holiday will appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in the January/February 2022 issue, which goes on sale 12/14/21.

https://www.catherinedilts.com/

19 Days ’til Halloween

By: Trista Herring Baughman

Countdown to the most spectacular time of the year-the Spooky Season crowning moment-has begun.  If I’m honest, it started last year on October 32nd. (Yes, that’s a thing. Didn’t you know? ;))

Take a deep breath. Do you smell that? The cool night air brings with it familiar scents; freshly fallen leaves, campfires, adventure — Ahh! — and pumpkin-spice everything! 

Your favorite creepy songs are on Spotify. Hocus Pocus is playing on some channel, somewhere, every night. The neighborhood is starting to look like a haunted forest. (Goblins and Witches and Ghosts! Oh my!) These Autumn tokens evoke the phobophilia (the love of fear) inside writers and movie watchers everywhere.

While not everyone enjoys a good horror movie or book this time of year, I think it’s safe to say most of us do. There are so many subgenres of Horror–Psychological, Killer, Monster, Paranormal–that can be further categorized into sub-subgenres. From slightly spooky to gory and disturbing, there’s something for everyone.

What is it about Horror that so many people love? What is so intriguing about menace and murder? And where might one find inspiration to write such stories? I have a few ideas.

Why we love Horror

Idea numero uno:

Curiosity. What makes a serial killer tick? Which characters will make terrible decisions and die? What would you do if you were in the same situation?  It’s like looking at that roadkill on the side of the road. (You know you’ve done it.)

Ask yourself the above questions when you’re crafting a scene to keep yourself on the right track. If you’re curious about what happens next, your readers will be. Of course, you will know the answers to these questions, but hopefully, you will keep them guessing. At least for a little while.

Idea number two:

Perhaps our love of Horror is more thrill-seeking in nature. We’ve all experienced an underlying need to prove ourselves to our peers or significant others at some point. For example, riding on one of those crazy carnival rides (that you were dared to ride). It spins you around until your guts creep up into your throat and threaten to spew all over the gyrating world below.  Fun times.

Or perhaps you find yourself on a date to see a scary movie. The lights are dim; the foreboding, anxiety-inducing music is playing. You know something awful is just around the corner and then BAM! It happens. Your date grabs your hand with a shriek. Talk about an adrenaline rush! Think about these things as you write. What makes your heart pound?

Idea three:

Could it be that we’re attempting to keep our feelings in check?

If you’re depressed or lonely, or even anxious, Horror can be a welcome distraction. Shifting the source of your anxiety can make you feel more in control. And who doesn’t have that one nemesis that they daydream about turning into a potato and gouging their despicable little eyes out with a fork? (No? Just me?)

Although it’s unlikely you possess the ability to turn someone into a spud, gouging their eyes out with a fork is doable. However, I must point out that this is frowned upon in most civilized societies. You’d likely end up in the looney bin.

That latent lynch-mob mentality lies deep within us all. Reading, watching, and especially writing Horror, allows one to “act” on their darker urges without physically acting on them.  Think of this as a form of release, if you will. And this is a terrific place for inspiration.  Take those forbidden desires, those impermissible longings, and transform them into a spine-tingling tale.

These are just a few reasons why we gravitate to Horror. I’m sure there are many. What are your reasons? What inspires you to write it? 

If your own experience is lacking, or you’re looking for inspiration to write horror, pick up a novel. There’s no better way to fill your creative psyche than to curl up with a good book. Dim your lights, leave that window slightly ajar so that your curtains billow eerily in the breeze. Now you’re ready.

Here’s a list of some well-known horror writers and their work to get you started:

  • Edgar Allan Poe – The Cask of Amontillado
  • W.W. Jacobs – The Monkey’s Paw
  • Stephen King – Secret Window, Secret Garden
  • Henry James – The Turn of the Screw
  • H.P. Lovecraft – The Call of Cthulhu
  • Bram Stoker – Dracula
  • Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House
  • Dean Koontz – Night Chills
  • Ray Bradbury – Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Neil Gaiman – Coraline
  • Clive Barker – Books of Blood

I hope I’ve given you some insight and inspiration. Happy Spooky season; don’t forget to check your backseat for serial killer contortionists.


Trista Herring Baughman is a proud military wife and a homeschool mama to two handsome (if she does say so herself) sons. She is the author of The Magic Telescope. Her second book, Zombiesaurs, will be available soon at Barnes & Noble Press. You can find The Magic Telescope on her website, or catch up to Trista on Facebook.

Creating Atmosphere with Atmosphere

By: Benjamin X. Wretlind

For 20 years or so, I studied the atmosphere and forecasted the weather. While I spent a vast majority of my time on the training side of the house, I was nevertheless embedded in all things weather.

So when I read a book or watch a movie, I’m probably more aware of the weather than most people. This isn’t to say people aren’t observant—they are—but their observations will often tend to take them someplace else, someplace that doesn’t have to do with clouds or precipitation or whatever.

To me (and I believe subconsciously you, too) weather in writing creates an atmosphere that can make or break a scene. To give you an example of this, the following two passages are the same, but different. One with the weather, one without. (This passage comes from one of my novellas.)

  1. She looked through tear-filled eyes at the shadows and the patterns the rain drew for her on the canvas of the tent. The noise—pounding, driving, beating, thrashing, drubbing—was almost muted as her mind swirled from past to present to a future she was almost certain would never come.
  2. She looked through tear-filled eyes at the shadows and the patterns on the canvas of the tent. Her mind swirled from past to present to a future she was almost certain would never come.

You can take two things from this:

  1. the weather doesn’t matter; it doesn’t help to set any stage and the second paragraph is less cluttered without expository language; or
  2. the weather fits the mood of the character (Claire) by describing how the shadows on the tent wall are being drawn in a world that’s noisy but muted by Claire’s own thoughts.

To me (and this is really all opinion), descriptions of the weather enhance the mood of the setting (i.e., the atmosphere). Good descriptions are not asides; they are part of the whole. Is it cold? Is it hot? Do the clouds create a shadowed/muted scene? Does the rain/snow/hail relate to a feeling? Is there fear in a character that’s increased by a thunderstorm (thereby increasing the fear/nervousness/anxiety of the reader)?

Tony Hillerman, who passed in 2008, wrote quite a few novels set within the borders of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona/northwest New Mexico. The country there is high desert: arid, hot in the summer, cold in the winter, full of dust and all things spiky. His characters, being Navajo who “walk in beauty,” often notice the weather from their point of view. Hillerman is so great at weaving meteorology into the story that it often sets the mood better than any character’s action/inaction or narrative could.

Chee had pointed to a little gray column of dirt and debris moving erratically over the fields across Highway 66. “Dust Devil,” she had said, and it was then she had her first glimpse behind Chee’s police badge.

“Dust devil,” he repeated, thoughtfully. “Yes. We have the same idea. I was taught to see in those nasty little twisters the Hard Flint Boys struggling with the Wind Children. The good yei bringing us cool breezes and pushing the rain over grazing land. The bad yei putting evil into the wind.   –from The Wailing Wind, Tony Hillerman, 2002

Could that brief passage been left out? It could have, but I believe it sets a behavioral tone for Sergeant Jim Chee, one that lasts for many novels to come and a moment in time that sets up the future relationship between Chee and Officer Bernadette Manuelito (the “she” in the passage).

As another example, think of a thunderstorm on the horizon, far away. Thunderstorms are created with a combination of heat, moisture and instability and we can equate that simple description to something like an exposition. Once a trigger is reached (such as air forced up a mountainside or intense heating throughout the day), a thunderstorm is born. You could call that the conflict or inciting incident, if you will. As the thunderstorm moves closer, there is rising action. Perhaps the first lightning crash and sudden deluge of rain is like the climax, and the dribbling aftermath as the storm moves on like a dénouement.

This is very simplistic in its design, and the story could move through each plot element the same as if it had never been written. However, the reader knows what it feels like to see a storm approach (anxiety); they know what it feels like to be in a downpour and hear thunder crash (fear); and they know what it feels like as a storm moves on (relief).

Writing the weather (atmosphere) into a setting is not that difficult, but you can screw it up.

Think of a sad character. Does it help your reader feel her emotion if you describe the sunrise on a clear, perfectly temperate day, or would it set a better mood if there were undulating clouds hanging over the scene like a smothering blanket?

Keep in mind that there are readers out there who have studied meteorology for years, and like anything, the genius is in the details.

Clouds aren’t likely to hang in the air like bricks, and there’s no such thing as a Category 7 hurricane.


Benjamin Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes, paints, uses sharp woodworking tools and plays with glue. Sometimes he does these things at the same time. A retired Air Force veteran, Benjamin currently builds and facilitates leadership courses for staff at Yale. He has penned a few novels, deleted a few novels, edited a few novels and is, of course, writing a few novels. Owing his life’s viewpoint to Bob Ross, he has also painted a few things, thrown a few paintings away, and probably has a painting on an easel right now. You can find Benjamin on his WebsiteTwitter and Facebook.

Remember Your Why

By: Margena Holmes

When I brought up the idea for this blog to the editor, she was all for it, saying, “Maybe it will motivate others to write their blogs.” And then…nothing. The idea sat in my head but never made it to my fingers and keyboard. For weeks. I felt like I’d let her down because I hadn’t done what I said I was going to do.

My brain didn’t want to think. I had other things on my mind, and I wasn’t even working on my novel during that time, similar to when I couldn’t write at the beginning of the pandemic. How could I find motivation to work on what needed to be done?

Where did I find motivation?

At one time, I found motivation in a Facebook group. In this writers group, everyone is always posting their successes with sales. After a while, I stopped responding to those posts. Why? It wasn’t happening to me (because I suffer from Imposter Syndrome quite often). But why wasn’t it me? Because I lacked the daily habit of writing every day. So, I started to write every day again, even if it was only for a few minutes. Seeing others’ success really got me to sit my butt down in the chair with my cup of tea (a signal to my brain that it’s writing time) and write.

Writers conferences or just reading about the craft will inspire me to write something. I love to learn and if I read something about writing, I like to put it into practice. If you’re having trouble finding your motivation, try reading about the craft or taking an online workshop or conference. It may help you over that hurdle you’ve been stuck behind.

Remember your why.

One thing to help get you out of that hole is to remember your why—your reason for writing. Take a few moments to write down your reasons for writing, whether it’s writing your novel, your article, or your next blog post. There is no right or wrong reason to write, even if it is just to make money to help pay the bills or to be able to quit your job. This was one thing that I needed to do and remember to get back to writing again.

Take things that happen during the day either at home or at your day job to give you that push to keep going. Boss at work get on you again about being two minutes late? Write that down. Are your readers asking when your next book will be out? Put that in big letters where you can see it. Anything to get you excited to write again. They will help remind you why you started writing in the first place, or to give you that kick in the pants to continue working on your stories. If you’ve been stuck in a writing rut, hopefully these ideas will help you to find your reason for writing again and your fingers will be flying on that keyboard with new stories and blogs.


Margena Holmes

Margena Adams Holmes has been writing ever since she can remember, writing her first poem in 1st grade. At her day job, when she’s not kicking young kids out of R-rated movies, she’s sweeping up spilled popcorn from the hallways and aisles (she’s not your mother, though, so please take your trash out). Her days off consist of writing science fiction, short stories, and more movie theater shenanigans. Reading is a close second to writing, and she normally has her nose buried in a book. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.