Friday, 31 October 2014

Guest Blogger: J.P. Jackson on Finding Inspiration

Casting Shadows and Making Monsters
Finding Inspiration in Likely Places

By J.P. Jackson

I can definitely say that the blank white of a page staring back at me from the computer screen is a daunting vision.

What am I supposed to put there? How do I fill it with words that elegantly describe the visions in my head? And make no mistake, they are visions. Everything I write is more or less a description of the internal movie that plays over and over in my mind. But stringing together the words to describe that vision is far trickier than I had originally thought when I first put words to digital paper.

Authors who have already been down that long winding road of unabashed creativity always spout the same two pieces of advice:

    • Write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, just write.

    • Write what you know.

Okay, I can get past the first one. Sit down, turn on the computer, under no circumstances launch an internet browser, and then do nothing but type. Sometimes I write with purpose, other times, it’s a hodge-podge of unrelated thoughts that I’m quite sure would make most therapists jump at the chance of offering assistance. Considering most of my writing would fall into the realm of Dark Fantasy with a smidge of Horror, my mind is constantly filled with twisted apparitions of leathery wings, saliva dripping fangs, and blood splattered rooms. Therapists unite - there are more than enough issues for you to dissect!

Filling a blank page with the danse macabre is a challenge, but eventually, with enough thought and time the words seep out like a spreading bloodstain.

But what about the inspiration? Where is that supposed to come from? That second piece of advice looms eerily over my head like a sharpened axe: Write what you know. How would I know about ghoulish fiends and dark scary things? I can’t tell you how many demons I’ve summoned in my basement, just to get a good look at them and observe their behaviour, but I find they are not housebroken, and they hate having their picture taken. Once those imps break free of my control - and they always do- the resulting damage is devastating. After all, insurance companies flatly refuse to acknowledge and pay out claims based on “acts of the ungod.”

How do you create eloquently drawn portraits of seething demons and ethereal fairies? I cheat. Catholic confessional booth acknowledgment time: I have many sources of the undead and otherworldly to pull from, and I’ll be happy to share with you some of my favorites.

  1. Tumblr (Visualizations) – there are so many wonderful images here, from artist renderings to wildly photo-shopped photography, that it’s absolutely impossible not to find something that will satiate your imagination for the wicked. Net surfers beware however, the internet can be an evil place and there are things that once seen, can never be unseen. 

  2. Cemeteries (Environment & Mood) – I often find myself wandering through bone yards, where tombstones, grave markers and mausoleums tell me stories. Allow your mind to wander and soak up the haunted reasons behind lingering ghosts. I promise their tales will send spine tingling sensations down your readers’ backs once you harness the stillness of the atmosphere from a burial ground.

  3. A Smart Phone (Tools) – one of the wickedest inventions of this century, and nothing has done a better job of turning social creatures into walking zombies. I’m sure that traditionalists among us will always carry that pad of paper jotting down notes and ideas. I’d like to think that the smart phone can do one better. The camera function can hold images that you chance upon hostage, allowing you to see your own environment in a completely different way. Any number of various apps gives your classic notepad in digital format. Voice recorders can capture the creepy sounds of a city at night. Record videos, search the calendar for dates, use the internet for research, it’s just your notepad, but on steroids! 

  4. The Shower (Reflection) – not just a backdrop for Psycho(s). Although I am regularly berated for the length of time I spend standing motionless while scalding water beats the redness into the back of my neck, I find the shower a soothing enclosure where I can steal quiet time to ponder while the steam rises. Sometimes I draw strange angel script and hex symbols in the mist covered glass shower doors. Other times, I simply look like a soggy corpse whose brain is fussing over how to avoid becoming possessed. 

  5. TV (Ideas & Mood) – dear Lord, clutch your pearls and gasp. I know, TV. If there was one thing that sucked away endless hours of life that I will truly never be able to get back, it is this beastly device. Damn Reality TV. However, I have wizened to its life draining, brain rotting ways. I rarely watch any show as it actually airs. This way, an hour of my life is reduced to forty some odd minutes with the commercials removed (Marketing Executives, please look the other way – of course I have watched your advertisements). I have several personal favorites. The end result is that the stimulation sullies the inner workings of my mind creating the right moodiness to sit and write something devilishly clever and decidedly evil. 

  6. Music (Mood) – How could I possibly have left music for number six on my list? It’s a rare sight to see me without headphones. My playlist is eclectic, with instrumentals and vocals that perchance invite dark gnomes to take up residence in the garden. Some arias are synthesized and mechanized, others are created using instruments from the medieval ages. All of them transport me out of my current reality and allow my imagination to create.

  7. Coffee shops/Malls/Airports (Character Generation) – Any place where people will congregate are great places to go so that I can sit and watch people. That homeless man that’s talking to himself? That’s actually the demon Legion, and his private conversation is a plan on how he’s going to steal your soul to add to his mob. See? Works great.

  8. A Tarot Deck (Plot Ideas) – Do a reading for your character. Every now and then you get to a spot where you’re just not sure what to do with a particular character. Stuck? Pull a card from the deck. Ah, yes, you’ve chosen the Three of Swords. Well, if you’re not proficient with divination, a quick Google search reveals this card’s occult meanings: heartbreak, betrayal and loneliness. You should put your main character through every horrific thing you can think of. Strife adds interest. The Three of Swords just killed off the significant other of your protagonist. Maybe the dead will come back? 

  9. Travel (Ideas and Characters) – Getting out of your immediate environment is sure to place you into situations you’ve never experienced before. Experiences translate into adventure. Expose yourself to things you’ve never seen, heard, done, or eaten. What’s the worst that could happen? You might think twice however, of putting strange things in your mouth. Foreign parasites can do horrible things.

  10. Other Books (Technical Structure) – for the love of all that is held dear, read. Tear stories apart until nothing remains but a bloody mess. Understand how the author used words to bring you into their world, and identify the elements that ruined the story because you found holes in the paradigm. But beyond that, read to enjoy, read to inspire. Just read. 

I do try to limit the number of hours that each of these activities consume. After all, your time is much better spent creating than it is watching someone else’s creations. Indulging in these pastimes has allowed my mind to enter the dark and forbidding places, where long-casted shadows act on their own, and malicious monsters are made out of seemingly nice people.

Now if I could just drown that irritating voice in the back of my head that constantly says, “That’s not good enough, and you’re not seriously going to say that are you?”

I hate that voice. But then, dealing with that annoying demon of self-doubt is a tale of exorcism, and some demons I cuddle quite closely. I’m not entirely sure I want to cast it out…just yet. He may come in handy.

J.P. Jackson

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Lay or Lie? Arh!

Do you know when to lay and when to lie? Get this right, and you’ll impress an editor. It won’t make your book any more marketable, but you’ll know one thing that most aspiring writers don’t. And no wonder:

To recline:
To set down:
To tell an untruth:

These words are a bit stupid. They overlap so much that most writers will get this wrong. I could go on, showing how easily it is to get in a rut, but I’m not here to confuse. You can probably do that on your own.

First off, learn the present tense forms. One great tip is to ask Lay what? To set something down is transitive, which means you need an object. I lay the book down just as much as I set the book down. If you want to pick her up and lay her body down, that’s also fine. But if you want to be next to her, you need to lie down. If you need a nap, then you lie down.

That might make it look simpler...until you write a sentence and need to decide which term is correct. That’s when the knowledge seems to curdle and separate itself from your brain. So here are several examples of how each word should be used. If you can’t figure it out, then maybe you can match your sentence to one here:

To tell a lie is bad.

To lie on the sofa is lazy.

Did you just lay an egg?

Yes, the egg was laid.

I didn’t lie and I didn’t lay it.

She has lain on the bed for hours.

The clothes were laid on the bed.

She lay down next to her clothes and sighed.

I am not laying the clothes out.

I am lying on the bed.

Kinda sound like a naff poem, but hopefully it helps. If not, there are many others who are desperately trying to explain this mess of tenses. I recommend Grammar Girl’s explanation.

Cheers for reading mine!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Book Review: Imitation

IMITATION by Heather Hildenbrand
Verdict: There are better novels which use the same premise.
Rating: 2 stars

Don't judge this book by it's stunning cover. And I think the original blurb is powerful, but very misleading. I’ve tried to amend it in my own description.

Ven is a clone of a wealthy daughter, Raven Rogen, and is kept in a facility far away from real life. She’s seen snippets of the girl whose body she was cloned from, enough to mimic the way she walks, but knows very little about her life. When Raven is attacked, Ven is thrust into real life to take Raven’s place and become the new target for the kidnappers. She exists for Raven, but is she prepared to sacrifice herself for someone she’s never met?

The premise has been done before but, with dystopian fiction, exploring other storylines centred on the same idea can be intriguing. Unfortunately, this novel doesn’t add much to the genre.

Its starts off like The Island and other clone-type dystopian stories. There’s a bit of a Twilight instant romance (just add broodiness), a Wither botched escape, The Summoning scientists, and a Hunger Games manipulation between Ven and her ‘father’ – I could go on. Nearly every single moment of reading of this book I was thinking of another. Its kinda fitting that a book called ‘Imitation’ managed to parallel so many things I’ve already read or watched. And just like Ven, it doesn’t do a good job at it.

Okay, that was a low blow. I don’t enjoy writing bad reviews and I try to stay balanced. This did have a few good qualities. The middle is good, with lots happening and tension between Ven and her ‘father’. The cover and the blurb are hooking, but they’re insignificant details and somewhat misleading.

There are several plot holes which you have to give way to while reading. What I could never understand is how little Ven knows about Raven when I originally thought she had spent the last five years mimicking and learning about her. She’s ill-prepared for her mission, and I believe this is because the author wanted to create suspense, rather than for logical reasons; it feels messy when you feel the author’s presence on a novel. And the fact that Raven is nowhere to be found only sparks concern near the beginning of the book, and then it’s completely ignored as if insignificant.

The actual writing didn’t blow me away either. I was constantly thinking of developmental issues and even spotted a few typos. For a book that was self-published and has now been remade, it’s a bit rough round the edges.

I struggled to get into it. In early scenes there is more than a book’s fair share of walking down corridors. When we pull away from the facility and start to venture into real life, there are several motorbike rides with too much detail and various getting up or getting dressed moments that lack creativity. Scene variation isn’t a strong point in this novel. I found myself rereading sections because I wasn’t always sure what was happening. I’m not sure how much of this was due to zoning out as the narrative couldn’t always grip my attention for long.

My biggest quibble is the ending. It was a complete anticlimactic letdown (I’ll keep this bit general to avoid spoilers). The book starts to ebb towards a series of long conversations with people who have insider info, and then it ends with a new character introduction – someone who wasn’t even mentioned anywhere else in the book – and finally offers a bridge into the next book.

In my opinion, this book had no climax or resolve, just a beginning. I felt disappointed when I finished it, which is why I really can’t give it more than 2 stars.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Book Review: Perfect Lies

PERFECT LIES (#2 Mind Games) by Kiersten White
5 Stars
Verdict: Great if you’re tolerant and yearn for some fast-paced action.

Annie and Fia have escaped the Keane Foundation, the ruthless institution for those with abilities, with the help of their new allies. Now that Fia pretended to kill Annie so that she could go into hiding, the girls continue their fight against Keane without each other to rely on and without knowing who to trust.

It’s everything I hate, but I loved it anyway.

Fia has perfect instincts and a dark attitude, and will do whatever it takes to protect her sister - including killing. Annie is blind yet sees the future, and is frustrated with needing protection. Their storylines are separate yet class together, the timeline leading up to the day where Fia is predicted to make fatal choices.

At first I felt like I was being handed an anchor and told to sink or swim. If that doesn’t sound like the greatest reading experience for you, maybe try WITHER by Lauren DeStanfano which has beautiful imagery, poetic prose, and vivid descriptions...

PERFECT LIES is something different.

I can tell you now that I detest books that use a stream of consciousness as the narrative. They are hard to follow. They ignore conventions put in place that help you process the sentence. They often lack necessary descriptions which are vital to following the novel. This wasn’t much different, except I somehow latched onto the narrative and found each new twist utterly thrilling.

It’s face-paced and commands your attention. If you zone out for a second, you’ll probably lose who’s speaking – I wouldn’t recommend stopping anywhere other than the chapter breaks, even if someone’s at the door.

Premonitions are an overused premise in my opinion. I did manage to fully predict the ending mostly for that reason. Near the end of the book, there really was only one solution to all their issues, and although there’s wriggle room for book 3, the ending isn’t open. I’m a little bit fed up of sequels which are really just half a story, so for me it was a refreshing change. And if book 3 comes along, it’s definitely going to go on my reading list; this book was good enough to entice me to read on without a frustrating cliff-hanger.

So, maybe it wasn't smoothreading. Maybe it lacks description in places. The trouble was, I struggled to care. Once I was caught up in it, I was away from the world until the end. If you can grab onto White’s wavelength, you’ll enjoy this fiercely entertaining ride.

But yes, you need to grab on, and therefore I completely understand the mash of 1 star and 5 star reviews that are already circulating for this novel. This not being everyone’s cup of tea. All I can say is that it was definitely mine.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Prince of Prophecy: The Winners!

So the time has come to see which two lucky readers will receive a paperback copy of this fantastic fairy tale adventure novel by N.M. Mac Arthur. The paperback book is currently priced at £11.76 and the kindle version is just £2.41 on amazon. I used a random generator to select two winners, and here they are:

Laura Favroth and Irene Robinson

Congratulations to both! I’ll be contacting you shortly to send those copies your way. 

If you didn’t win anything this time, don’t worry. I’m in talks with several authors to make a regular thing out of this book giveaway! If you want to have your say in what giveaway comes next, take a look at the poll to the side. I can’t make any promises, but those are some of the possibilities.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Book Review: Catch Me When I Fall

Catch Me When I Fall by Vicki Leigh

4 Stars

Verdict: If you want an original spin on a supernatural romance.

At the heart of this novel is a simple, clean idea which is shockingly original. Dreamcatchers are like guardian angels of the night, protecting us regular living humans in our sleep from the Nightmares, which are vicious creatures that feed on fear.

The story is told from first person –and a male perspective for once! Daniel is a Dreamcatcher who is burnt-out from two hundred years of successfully protecting his charges while they sleep. After successfully protecting his last charge for eighty years, he needs a break. Instead, he’s assigned a dangerous case, Kayla, who is a psychiatric patient with an unprecedented amount of nightmares attacking her.

I’ll stop there. The blurb I originally read went on to reveal a few more exciting hooks, but I think it ruins the novel when the blurb mentions twists which are over 3/4 into the novel. Instead, I’ll let you know there’s plenty of action and plot twists to keep you entertained.

I was a bit wary at the start. I could tell the general direct of the book just by the cover and was a little concerned that I've basically already read this in one form or another. But this was far more original and had more to it than Hush Hush and Twilight and other books with supernatural forbidden romances. In fact, I feel like this book should have come first, and it might be appreciated more if it had.

The characters are believable, natural, with their own struggles in life (and death too, as Dreamcatchers are appointed after a person dies saving another). Leigh layers on the details softly. At first I felt a little confused, but I didn’t mind as the story carried me along. And the longer I was in the book, the clearer the concept became. That’s how books should be.

What made me know it was a great read was that it almost made me miss my stop on the train. Despite the toddler poking me and someone with headphones which might as well be speakers, I became engrossed in the story and had no idea how much time had passed. And when a novel can block out the world and almost mess up my day, you know it’s a good one.

Without talking about spoilers, there were times where I thought Hey, this sounds like x-men/Harry Potter/Supernatural/Twilight/Charmed/City of Bones... Although the idea itself is so fresh and original, the story perhaps isn’t. And the ending... well, isn’t the strength of the book, but I’ll definitely stick with this series.