Monday, February 25, 2013

Dr. Heath Sommer on Horror and Psychological Thrillers

Horror is worse when it has pigtails.

When one comes home and sees a questionably unsanitary male lurking in the hallway--blood-stained knife, twitching snarl, camo pants, tattoo of El Diabolico covering his face--one is going to be scared, energized. Fight or Flight is going to kick in. But that’s just horror. Terror occurs when one comes home and sees a tiny child draped in a cutesy bear outfit, hair descending beyond her pale white face, motionless, unapologetic, and unexplained, standing in the hallway.

Uh, little girl? Why are you staring at that carpet stain, clutching a tattered Teddy Ruxpin?

That is creepy. But why does that fill us with terror? The answer is because we have no label for it, which makes our arousal (see: terror) climb. This is what old experimental psychologists call “two factor theory.” The idea that arousal leads to a feeling that needs a label, and vice versa.

In the tattooed butcher situation, we get anger, fear, action. Either the hero or the victim’s blood is spilled, the problem is resolved, and we go home and forget it instantly. In the innocent-looking girl situation, we get multimillion-dollar blockbusters like The Ring, Firestarter, Watcher in the Woods, and on and on. Why? Because we have no box in which to put a creepy little girl and still feel safe when our spouse goes to sleep and we are left to ascend the dark stairs alone.

Recently I have turned my hand from psychological thrillers and entered into the world of terror. A fan of all kinds of suspense, terror-based suspense, to me, is the freaky sherbet. Though I love writing psychological thrillers and am close to completing my fourth novel in The Manufactured Identity Series, I have also been developing a YA horror novel called, tentatively, Bull Trout Lake.

Juxtaposing the styles of the two has been interesting, and I find myself using a lot of psychology to try to suit the stories to each market. For instance, in our arousal-label thinking, the arousal (e.g., blood pressure, dry mouth, a tingling spine, shallow breathing) is going to be fairly similar regardless of age. What drives the arousal, however, is profoundly different, and theory can assist a good writer in ruining the reader’s perceived comfort for the next several days.

For an adult, terror can sizzle when it is connected to the developmental crisis the adult is experiencing at the time, but because we play different roles in our 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond, that is really, really hard to do. We are just too abstract and cognizant to make many things believable fears. On the other hand, an adolescent, who is still unsure how a metaphysical presence pushing on the floorboards differs from age-related decline in lumber, is perhaps more likely scared when the fear object is simple and personally relevant.

The word here is egocentricity. YA fiction has to be centered on the adolescent. The teen’s life is in danger. Her protectors (whose job it is to potentially die while saving her) are not home. She pulls the sheet up to protect herself, and it doesn’t matter who is coming to get her or why they are there. She is in danger...period!

Good, pervasively frightening adult terror often has to have larger implications. Has to grab you in the darkness of your soul and whisper that you are not strong enough to make it through what you are about to see, hear, smell, and touch. The fear might not be death (anyone raising kids can appreciate the escape that death might bring!) but preserving life. It might be about being big enough and strong enough to help the helpless, to save the vulnerable.

Speaking of fear, I think many writers are afraid of dabbling in this domain because it can be hard to perfect the language of terror. Start with the plot and velocity of the story first, comforting yourself with Salvador Dali’s reminder that we should “have no fear of perfection--we’ll never reach it.” Once you have yourself nice and freaked out, then go back and add the d├ęcor of nuance of prose, grammar, and presentation, and you’re ready to scream. Add a five-year-old and Teddy Ruxpin staring back at you vacantly in the hall, and your friends will never invite you to a dinner party again.

About Dr. Heath Sommer:

Author Heath Sommer’s debut novel, The Manufactured Identity, surprised critics with its plot twists and psychologically rich characters in 2009, and books two and three of the suspense series have met with similar acclaim since their publication in early and late 2010. Heath is currently writing book four of the series, crafting a tale of forensic psychology and, of course, murder. He is also drafting his first YA thriller, a forest mystery set to ruin camping for all his children.

A native of Sacramento, California, Heath earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology with an additional degree in the family sciences. He is a regular public speaker, adjunct professor of psychology, and CEO of Seasons of Hope. Currently an Idahoan, he spends his time with a mixture of metropolitan intensity and country living, presiding over a clan of junior novelists who are never fully impressed.

The Manufactured Identity at Goodreads, Amazon and Facebook.
Visit Dr. Sommer's website.
Also catch him on Twitter

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Storm Gathers Across the Galaxy…

The time has finally come to reveal the cover for a book written by one of the most awesome people I know: Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The series began with CassaStar, continued with CassaFire and now concludes with CassaStorm. Please join me in congratulating Alex and wishing him much success with the coming release.

A storm gathers across the galaxy…

Byron thought he’d put the days of battle behind him. Commanding the Cassan base on Tgren, his only struggles are occasional rogue pirate raids and endless government bureaucracies. As a galaxy-wide war encroaches upon the desert planet, Byron’s ideal life is threatened and he’s caught between the Tgrens and the Cassans.

After enemy ships attack the desert planet, Byron discovers another battle within his own family. The declaration of war between all ten races triggers nightmares in his son, shaking Bassan to the core and threatening to destroy the boy’s mind.

Meanwhile the ancient alien ship is transmitting a code that might signal the end of all life in the galaxy. And the mysterious probe that almost destroyed Tgren twenty years ago could be on its way back. As his world begins to crumble, Byron suspects a connection. The storm is about to break, and Byron is caught in the middle…

Release date: September 17, 2013
Science Fiction - Space Opera/Adventure
Print ISBN: 9781939844002
E-book ISBN: 9781939844019

Visit Alex at

Monday, February 18, 2013

I Love My eBooks

Some people give me the strangest looks when I tell them one of the main reasons why I prefer eBooks.  It's not a reason you'll find at the top of most people's lists.

There are numerous advantages: no bulk, no weight, no folded corners or lost bookmarks, and definitely no additional space required on the bookshelf.  They're usually cheaper than printed books and many can be found free.

My Kindle App's "Bookshelf"
The Kindle app I use on my Android tablet enables on-the-spot definitions, highlighting, embedding of notes and a host of other little perks. I can browse the Kindle store right from my tablet and download a chosen title instantly.  No driving downtown, fighting crowds and traffic. I just point and click and read.

And while I enjoy all those things, the reason I've come to prefer reading eBooks over traditionally printed books is that I can do so more easily.  And that's what causes those strange looks from people.

By "easily" I mean that my middle-aged eyes, even aided by bifocals, can focus on the back-lit beige screen with far less strain than on printed paper.  Perhaps it's because I spend the bulk of my day using or programming computers.  I don't really know the reason why, I just know what my eyes prefer.

My tablet is not a dedicated eReader. I use it to keep tabs on email, manage my schedule, browse the web, and even as a GPS when necessary. (Oddly enough, I've had it for over a year and have yet to play a game on it though.)  But it is first and foremost, my preferred means for reading.

I've always loved the feel of paper in my hand when I read. And I always will. But I've now come to the point when I must choose functionality over feel.

What about you? Which do you prefer?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Settings With Meaning by James Wymore

Where a story is set can carry a great deal of significance. We've all heard of stories where the setting can change with little difference to outcome. For these stories, the setting only offers a flavor. It’s just a palette for the characters and plot to be splashed across. For other stories, the setting is vital to the entire construction and theme of the story. Those are the settings with meaning.

People differ on their opinions of what makes a good book. Somebody interested only in entertainment tends to find a preferred genre and stick with it, venturing out only occasionally to read something else just long enough to confirm they really like their favorite genre. However, other readers want meaning in the books they read. They want a different perspective or commentary on life. Those readers will tend toward literary fiction and books with higher meaning. That isn’t to say genre fiction has no meaning at all, just to say books come with different levels of meaning to suit all readers.

For me, meaning is inherent to the fabric of a book’s construction. The themes I want to deal with and the situations I want the characters to face are integral to my stories. In fact, the setting of my books are dictated by the ideas in it. Consequently my first book is futuristic Sci-fi, my next book is Urban Paranormal, and the one after that is Medieval Fantasy. In each case, the ideas and themes of the story dictated the setting needed to best express them.

For me, it feels the art of meaningful setting is integral to the art of writing. Tolkien’s Middle Earth existed to make possible the powerful message of the one ring. The masters always craft settings which drive the characters and stories to the greatest depths. These stories stand out in stark contrast to those written just to be a part of a given genre.

In Theocracide, people wear computer glasses, which scan the world and then overlay images right over the top of what they see. It literally allows them to see the world any way they want. Consequently, people have become so addicted to the virtual realities they live in that they don’t even care about “real” life. They all wear gray sweats. Many never leave their homes at all if they have a choice. The buildings are in disrepair. So many of them were in accidents for distracted driving that cars are all on rails now and driven by computers. This setting not only conveys meaning of its own, but it provides a unique background for a story, which could not be told in any other world.

About James Wymore:
Born just south of Alcatraz in the heat of an unpopular foreign war, James Wymore spent his formative years moving around like a gypsy on the run. His family settled in Utah before it was hip. James wrote two books in high school, but those books have been sealed in a secret facility for the protection of readers everywhere. Although he adopted the name Shin Min-kyu during his two years in Korea, his exceptional height and blond hair made it impossible to blend in.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in chaos, James Wymore became a teacher, because he loves animals. He spent the decade after college co-building a dream world with a close friend and fellow writer. Tethered to the real world by his amazing family, he eventually realized these stories needed to be written, returned to the aspiration of his youth, and began writing seriously. He has several short stories available in print now, and even won a few awards for one. His first book, Theocracide, is available now. His next book, Exacting Essence, will be out in 2013!

Somewhere along the line he realized how funny death is. A few art classes shy of real illustrating skill, he nevertheless began drawing a line of comics called parting shots. Now they are in featured in a print magazine and online.

A voracious gamer, James loves Video games, board games, miniature war games, collectible card games; you name it, he loves playing it. He has a vast collection of miniatures he painted which he features from time to time on his blog. Since he first used sheet rock to draw circles in the road and throw frisbees at his friends and family like they were on the grid, he has always enjoyed creating games. Now he has a few he made available free on his website. Find him in person and he’ll give you an exclusive signature card to make your game even better.

Author Blog:
Theocracide on Amazon and other formats here

Friday, February 8, 2013

...And POWER Emerges! (Theresa M. Jones)

There is POWER on the horizon. Can you feel it? It's emanating from the imagination of Theresa M. Jones and rising like the sun! No longer is POWER an elusive wish. It's real. And it's here! Grab it! (And enter the giveaway too!)

POWER (The Descendent Trilogy #1) is Theresa's debut New Adult (Mature YA) Paranormal Romance novel.

Thousands of years after the battle between the angels, when Lucifer was defeated by Michael in the Heavens, the war is still being fought on Earth by the humans who have their Power, the Angel’s Power.

Allison Stevens is a 21 year old single mother who gets thrown into the middle of this battle when Damien, the Leader of the Rising, decides to hunt her down and kill her because he fears she is the descendant prophesied to save the world.

David, a member of the Order, takes Allison under his wing in order to show her the ropes, and hopefully groom her into being the one they have been waiting for. The only problem is that they start to grow more attached than a teacher/student relationship should allow.

But that isn’t all. Damien wants to open the Seven Seals and bring about the apocalypse and it’s up to Allison to not only save herself and her family, but save the world, all while trying to keep her heart from breaking.

No problem… right?

POWER is the first book in a New Adult (Mature YA) Paranormal Romance Trilogy and is the debut novel for author Theresa M Jones

About Theresa M. Jones:
Theresa M Jones is just a regular small town, Texas girl. When she isn't at work at a local Medical Equipment provider,you can find her at home with her husband and two beautiful (and rambunctious) kiddos.

In her spare time- as if there ever was such a thing as "spare time" - she reads and reviews books on her book blog, and writes paranormal romance novels.

Theresa's Contact Info:
Twitter: @MrsTheresaJones
Goodreads: Author Theresa Jones
Blog: Keepin Up with the Joneses In the Book World
Facebook: TheresaMJones

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Authors Reviewing Authors - Feb IWSG Post

I see it all the time: authors requesting reviews of their books from other authors.  It's understandable.  There are many benefits to having a decent number of well-written reviews.  Authors (as well as readers) do deserve reviews.  And most writers really do want to help.

So why do I have such a problem obliging these requests?

I believe that, for me at least, it's largely due to the potential for a conflict of interest.  It's a valid concern because the conflict can be quite real. I worry too much about the oddest of things.

Should my reviews overlook or forgive shortcomings simply because I know the person and their efforts to overcome the insurmountable?  Am I to hold a gifted high school student to the same standard that I'd use for a Robert Jordan review?  What about the struggling single mom who dropped out of school and now self-publishes paranormal romances?  Would my five-star for her be a three-star if Nora Roberts had written it?

The conflict of interest could also be nothing more than someone's erroneous assumption or perception.

Does anyone take seriously one author's review of another author's book?  Do they assume that a favorable review means that the reviewing author is a friend of the reviewed?  Or that they're soliciting a favorable review in return?  Or if both authors are published under the same imprint that their publisher is requiring them to promote each other?

Doesn't everyone with a Kindle view the self-published masses as a unified armada that would never sabotage another indie with a bad review?  Wouldn't the indie armada consider that nothing short of treason and punishable by the heretic's excommunication? (Please forgive my hyperbole; I'm merely showing how my mind makes mountains of molehills.)

And what about the negative reviews written by authors?  Do people perceive them as the author's attempt to eliminate competition? Retribution for some slight? Ego run amok?

How can anyone dismiss these doubts with any degree of confidence?  Isn't a buyer supposed to rely (at least to some extent) on ratings and reviews?  Must readers research the reviewer to determine if that glowing or scathing review was warranted or habitual?

It doesn't really matter if I do my dead-level best to review everything fairly and honestly.  How can I compensate for biases I'm not even aware I have?  Or different standards?  Should I even try?  A review is, after all, essentially little more than an opinion.

I have no problem critiquing--even reviewing--an author's book.  My hesitation is in making that review public.  Besides, I will tell an author something privately that I would never write in a public review. And until that changes, I just don't think I'll be comfortable writing public reviews.

And all other things being equal, I may still be a little insecure about how much weight my personal opinion should carry, whether I ever publish my own novels or not. :-)

How about you?  Do you have the same reservations?  Have you overcome them?  Please share!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday Surfing

Peggy Eddleman talks turkey: Pub Talk: Of Money and Book Deals

Jolly Fish Press reveals What We're NOT Looking for in a Manuscript and tips on Writing the Ultimate Query Letter

The YA's Dogtown is compiling The Ongoing List of Writing Round-ups which lists blogs that regularly link to other blogs' writing-related articles. (And yes, Sunday Surfing is included! Am I blushing?)

Short Fiction contest at The Kenyon Review (1,200 words max)

The One Thing An Author Should Never Do On Social Media...

A Special Thanks and Final Call:
I want to extend a most special thank-you to Lauren, Laura, Al and Liz. You read the initial version of The Bonding and provided valuable feedback.

I had planned to begin querying or submitting The Bonding by the end of January.  However, I feel a final round of proofing and critiquing is in order before I do so.  So, if you're interested in beta-reading The Bonding and providing honest feedback, please let me know.  (And I am happy to reciprocate.)