Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The joy of writing

There are times, as an author, when I feel stuck in a rut. Some folks might call that writer's block, but me? I don't believe in writer's block. For me, it's more like mood of the day. Hey, sometimes I wake up ready to take on the world, and other days I feel like the world is dragging me down. Writing isn't much different. You push forward, because that's really your only option.

By now, you'll know that the next Hillendale book went on sale early (Woo-hoo! Did you get your copy of THE HIDDEN GRIMOIRE?). I have had a great deal of fun writing those books, but after three in a row, it's a little like hanging out with the same person every day for a year-- and we all know what that feels like right about now! I love Brynn and Nora, but I need a little vacation from them, so I started off on something different for my next book, and just like being on vacation, I'm having a ball "visiting" the Cascade Mountains in Washington State!

I've written a novella that is a stand-alone romance and is inspired to a certain degree by recent events. The characters spoke to me and insisted I tell their stories, but as I was writing, the story began practically writing itself, which is energizing. I hit a point where I stopped to wonder if people would think I was writing about myself. My main character is an author and she writes books "on the fringe" of supernatural. So as to clear up any doubts - IT IS NOT ABOUT ME. There's always someone who thinks my books are autobiographical, no matter what occupation my heroine is assigned. Imagine living all those lives - but that's the point. Imagine living all those lives!

So what about Hillendale? Are Brynn's adventures over? I don't think so. She and I have become BFFs, and judging by reader feedback and sales, there need to be more stories there. Now. With that being said, I can hear you wondering if I'm bored with Hillendale, which would most certainly reflect in my writing. The quick and easy answer to that is no. More ideas for Brynn and friends are crawling around in my head, and taking a break from them provides me the time I need to approach the next story with fresh enthusiasm. I have forward-thinking threads yet to be addressed that you will see after reading THE HIDDEN GRIMOIRE. So will there be a Hillendale 4? Yes, I can confidently say so. How long will you have to wait? Judging by the extra time I've had to write over this past year and by the ideas pouring out of my fingertips, there's better than half a chance it could be by the end of the year.

For now, I'm still on vacation with these new characters and rediscovering the joy of a fresh story. Have I mentioned how much fun I'm having? Just wait til you read what I've come up with!


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Researching the Unknown - Bigfoot

One of my friends asked me how I researched my "ghost" books. I mean, it isn't as if there are real ghosts, right?

This, my friends, is what we call artistic license. I've been reading scary stories and watching scary movies since I was a kid. I've seen dozens of incarnations of vampires and ghosts and mummies, etc. Add in a touch of my own proclivities, and that constitutes research.

For the book I'm currently working on, I had a wild hare to write about Bigfoot. I'm taking a quick detour away from Hillendale to write my version of a pandemic story (without the pandemic, because we don't know how that story ends quite yet). It's a romance, but you know me. I like a little something extra thrown in. A "lagniappe" as they say in Louisiana (learned that term writing The Twins!). Well, I have very little experience with the Bigfoot phenomenon, so I started into research. What documentation is there? What are the stories, the folklore? One of the amazing things is that all the sightings are fairly consistent. Another amazing thing is that there are actual scientists studying said animal. Sufficiently convinced it was worth pursuing, I tuned into a couple of documentaries done by people tracking the elusive Bigfoot. Elusive being the operative term.

What did I learn researching "the unknown?" Welp, it seems Bigfoot is extraordinarily smart. It knows how to avoid detection. Imagine that. The folks who have seen it? Let me put it this way. I have an open mind. I'm not going to doubt their stories, but the documentaries? (insert skeptical sigh here).

Let me go back to ghosts for a minute. I have always enjoyed the ghost hunter shows. They treat their topics seriously, and if they always filmed in the dark with people talking in hushed, spooky voices for dramatic effect, well, that sort of fits the theme, don't you think? Campy? Sometimes. Realistic? Not necessarily, but they always leave room for the imagination. "What was that?" And usually there's something that triggers their response.

Now. Back to Bigfoot. One of the documentaries showed how the scientists are researching traces--the things they've found. But the Bigfoot hunters? I watched two installments in the series and gave up not only watching, but also trying to incorporate the animal into my story. Bigfoot is NOT nocturnal, and yet they went out at night with heat vision goggles in search of their prey. They talked to witnesses who they said had credible stories, and yet they said the stories weren't necessarily credible... contradicting themselves. Bigfoot avoids human contact, apparently, and is always moving, and yet they went to the places it had been seen. Again, contradictory. The hunters appeared to be taking their job seriously, and yet I felt like I was watching Scooby Doo. Zoiks! Campy. Silly. Illogical. So silly, in fact, that I couldn't even come up with a credible "stretch my readers' sense of belief" scenario. If I couldn't buy into it, how am I going to convince a reader of the possibility?

via GIPHY

So now what? How do I incorporate a little something extra into my current work in progress? Here's a spoiler. One of my characters sticks to science and logic and the other is an author with a vivid imagination. I'm still in the early stages, but I'm thinking the supernatural/preternatural discussion will carry the day without presenting them with an actual "sighting." Then again, it is early stages. You never know what might show up when they least expect it!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The New Release - Hillendale 3

Surprise! THE HIDDEN GRIMOIRE went on sale early! For those of you eager to find out what happens next*, now's your chance. Available in paperback and e-book wherever books are sold.

*Each of the Hillendale Novels stands on its own and can be read separately.

Here's a little snippet for you:

Someone pounded on the door and my heart jumped in response. “Who in the world…?” I rose to answer and was surprised to see my cousin standing on the doorstep. Although I hadn’t seen him in more than five years, I recognized his mother’s blonde hair and his father’s dark blue eyes. “Jason?”

Nora hovered at my shoulder.

“Good. You’re both here,” he said, barging inside.

I didn’t remember him as rude, but there wasn’t much I did know about him. “I didn’t realize you knew where I lived.”

“Jeannine told me.” He glared at Nora, and then at me.

His sister, Jeannine, and I had reconnected on amicable terms. Jason’s attitude indicated he wasn’t interested in being friendly. What could Nora and I possibly have done to warrant such animosity? Then again, his parents hadn’t spared much love for me despite taking me in after my own parents had died.

I fought to find my manners, even if he seemed to have lost his. “Nora, this is Jason Hanson. Uncle Jerome and Aunt Theresa’s son.”

Her voice was subdued. “So I gathered. How lovely to meet you, Jason.”

He leaned toward her, shaking a finger. “I know all about you. Stay away from me and my family. Both of you.”

 
What are you waiting for? Click here to buy your copy

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Unpleasant Surprises

While I was doing a bit of recordkeeping the other day, I went back to visit my old blog site. As I was reviewing some of my old posts, I stopped to read the comments. I don't know about you, but people have a tendency to pop in and out of my life for a variety of reasons. I've met some lovely people who were kind enough to leave me comments and encourage me on my writing journey. (Special shout out to Mary in Green Bay - I miss you!)

I migrated the old blog about 11 years ago to here, which was also close to the time I joined Facebook. When I moved, I guess I didn't pay attention to the fact one of my regular commentors had stopped commenting - she hadn't made the move with me. That happens sometimes, and according to some of my blog posts, that was when I made a major move at the day job that actually took me away from my writing for a while. We didn't have all the social media and easy ways to connect with people at the time. Long story short, looking back on the old posts I thought it would be good to reconnect with her now. I was NOT prepared for what I found.

Marsha Brantley was another author, and I can't even look up what she wrote anymore, because around the time my blog migrated she disappeared. Not just from commenting--off the face of the earth. She has been a missing person for 11 years. I watched a 48 Hours Mystery presentation called "Missing Marsha" because the last comment she posted for me was just a couple of months before she disappeared. Her comment? "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

I didn't know Marsha in the "real" world, but you do get a feel for people you interact with in the virtual world. There are several authors I've never met in person, people I communicate with regularly who are always ready to lend a hand or reach out when things get tough. We don't hesitate to exchange phone numbers or chat online. Some I've connected with "in person" and we've maintained a friendship for a number of years. The rest fall into the realm of "work friends," but they're friends nonetheless. This is one of those instances of "if I only knew..." I certainly would have reached out to her to extend a helping hand and maybe, just maybe, she could have escaped the situation that resulted in her going missing. Then again, maybe she didn't know what was coming. The possibility that she is still out there somewhere is pretty slim, especially after all these years.

So here's my PSA for the day. If something in your life isn't right, reach out to your family, your friends, a healthcare professional. Even to an online acquaintance if that's the only place you feel comfortable. Reach out to *someone.* You'd be surprised by the number of people whose lives you touch and who care about you.


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Critter Wars


I've had lots of time recently to watch the wildlife running through my yard, which brought to mind my adventures with squirrels (and other critters). Aren't they cute? I used to think so...

When the Big Guy first moved into the house, he had a chipmunk for a roommate. He figured it must have darted inside while the doors were open, while he was moving in. We escorted it outside inside a large carpet tube. Later, mice found their way in. At the time, we lived near an open field and mice? Well, they get cold in the winter. After we all moved in with the two cats, we woke up one morning to find a poor, unfortunate chipmunk dead on the basement floor. I'm attributing his demise to one of the cats playing with him. Small animals who could squeeze into small spaces.

I was still kinda thinking that the wildlife was cute until an event with a squirrel in my attic. We'd chase it out and it would stand on the roof and stare at us. The Big Guy threw a tennis ball at it to chase it off the roof and it did the equivalent of sticking out its tongue with a "nah-nah." It didn't like that we were always sticking our heads into its space, so it moved out of its own accord. And we fixed the spot where it was getting in (An eroded grate on the attic fan). We were incredibly lucky that no damage was done.

Then there was the day I was sitting at my computer contemplating the next chapter in the current book and I heard a noise. My son is in the house "somewhere" so I didn't think too much of it. Then I hear the noise again. The cat that guards me when I'm writing stood up and stared at the wall behind me. So I got up to ask my son what he was doing and found I didn't have to. He was sitting quietly in the next room, checking his email on his laptop. So I asked if he heard the noise. No one ever hears the noises but me. While I was asking him, there was a crash in the basement. He heard that! We stared at each other trying to decide who the brave one was. Well, I'm the parent, so I ventured down, but my son followed behind (so he could get killed second, I guess). And then another crash! From the Big Guy's workshop. Now I knew it likely wasn't a person since it was stumbling across the stacked wood (which is mounted on the wall). I peeked in and saw a tail, which made me run right back out. I didn't want to come face to face with a raccoon, but then I mustered up another ounce of courage. I needed to know what I was up against. I stuck my head back into the shop and there it was. Another squirrel, staring me in the face before it ran for cover.

The first thing I tried was to open the door to the outside world. Just maybe it would want to scuttle out, but not squirrels. They run for higher ground when they're scared, so off he went into the ceiling. {sigh} I called the Big Guy and asked what he recommended, but this is the same man who wouldn't believe me when I heard the squirrel in the attic. He was annoyed that we had yet another critter in the house. My next call was to wildlife control. Again. Last time we came up empty because the squirrel moved out when it saw the trap. Maybe we'll get lucky again, but I'm good and tired of the darn things! And, of course, my cats are dying to get into the basement now to see what's down there. Long story short, wildlife control captured him and transported him somewhere he might be happier.

A week or so later, same scenario with me and my son. Ever feel like someone is watching you? I turned from my computer to find a possum watching me. What the heck! As I let out a shriek, my son says, "Mom, stop doing that!" Welp, in the time it took him to scold me, the possum disappeared. Somewhere in the house. The old cat was sitting on the loveseat a couple of feet from the sighting, so I asked the cat (as one does) where the possum went. Wouldn't you know, the old guy jumped off the loveseat, walked to the door of the utility room, looked at me over his shoulder and returned to his spot on the loveseat. I flipped on the light. Nothing. "Thanks, a lot, cat." Cat gives me a look (as cats do), jumped off the loveseat and once again walked to the utility room. He stopped, sat, made sure I was paying attention. Okay. I'll try again. I looked behind the washing machine and what do you know? There was the possum. I thanked the cat. My son, the hero, grabbed a broom and swept the possum out the back door - THANK HEAVEN. But how are these guys getting into my house???

The Big Guy returned home from his business trip (funny how these things happened when he was out of town) and looked for points of entry. We had holes beside our front porch, which logic dictated gave the animals a place to hide, and following said logic, he discovered a small hole into the house under the cement porch. Needless to say, he patched the hole, and we have been without wildlife critter roommates since.




Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Where to start? And a sneak preview.

As I embark on my next writing project, there's always the question of where to start.

Books need a strong first chapter, something very few authors can get right on the first try. I need to portray the goals, the motivation, and the conflict - something that will immediately invest the reader into the pages that follow. Too often, I start with backstory, which is ALWAYS a problem. Nothing like getting my feet stuck in the mud with details that would be better filtered in along the way at more relevant junctures.

As I started off, I wanted to set the mood. Show what my hero was up against. And then I realized it was very similar to the beginning of another book, but not as immediate. So while my hero was stewing along the road ahead of him, I ran into "who cares" territory. The action comes in at the end of the chapter, but I slogged through a thousand words to get there. On the plus side, I didn't drown in backstory. On the minus side, it's still boring.

Finding the right balance is a challenge on the best of days, and every time I begin a new book, I understand that the first chapter is going to take a couple of tries before I get it right. What is the right starting point? I need an inciting incident. I have that. I need conflict. I have that. But the other thing I need to do is invest the reader in my characters. What about them is likable? What about them turns a reader off?

Over the past year, I've had the privilege to judge two writing contests. In case I didn't read enough already, it forced me to get through several books in a short time frame. As a writer, we also need to read, not just for enjoyment, but also to see what works for me as a reader and what doesn't. Sometimes an author provides a brilliant illustration of what to do right--and also what to do wrong. For instance, I read one book that got hung up in the character's occupation. For the first half of the book, we walked in her shoes, saw what she had to do, watched her do it while also juggling her home life. That would have been fine if I wanted a book on that particular occupation, but this was supposed to be fiction, and while she had a goal, she had no motivation and no conflict for the whole first half of the book. The blurb on the back told a story that was absent for that first half. Lesson: Let the reader know what this story is about right away.

Which brings me back to the proverbial square one, looking for the right place to start my new story. I'm close, but it needs some refining.

In the meantime, let me take this opportunity to let you know the next book in the Hillendale series, THE HIDDEN GRIMOIRE is done and will be on sale August 11 and is available for preorder now. Here's a look at the cover!

And here's a snippet to whet your appetite:

Someone pounded on the door and my heart jumped in response. “Who in the world…?” I rose to answer and was surprised to see my cousin standing on the doorstep. Although I hadn’t seen him in more than five years, I recognized his mother’s blonde hair and his father’s dark blue eyes. “Jason?”

Nora hovered at my shoulder.

“Good. You’re both here,” he said, barging inside.

I didn’t remember him as rude, but there wasn’t much I did know about him. “I didn’t realize you knew where I lived.”

“Jeannine told me.” He glared at Nora, and then at me.

His sister, Jeannine, and I had reconnected on amicable terms. Jason’s attitude indicated he wasn’t interested in being friendly. What could Nora and I possibly have done to warrant such animosity? Then again, his parents hadn’t spared much love for me despite taking me in after my own parents had died.

I fought to find my manners, even if he seemed to have lost his. “Nora, this is Jason Hanson. Uncle Jerome and Aunt Theresa’s son.”

Her voice was subdued. “So I gathered. How lovely to meet you, Jason.”

He leaned toward her, shaking a finger. “I know all about you. Stay away from me and my family. Both of you.”


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Audiobook - THE TWINS

Woo-hoo! The new audiobook is available for sale! There's a lot of hurry up and wait involved in the process, but the waiting is finally over. Narrated once again by the talented Jane Oppenheimer, this is the second book in the Epitaph series. In an effort not to spam people, I won't be sending a newsletter until next month, to coincide with the release of the next Hillendale novel, THE HIDDEN GRIMOIRE. So feel free to share this post with everyone you know who likes audiobooks!
"The Twins is just the story for any reader who wants a love story mixed with a little hair-raising suspense.  Jared and Siobhan are two broken people: him physically, her emotionally.  She helps heal his wounds and he helps her to believe, not only in spirits, but in herself. The main characters in this story are lively, complex and very likeable, as are the host of minor characters who carry over from the first book in the series.  Ms. Brandenburg masterfully weaves the paranormal plot elements into the story with subtlety so they feel organic and believable, and the cold icy Illinois winter is the perfect setting for a ghost story."  -- InD'Tale Magazine

Listen now at Audible

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