The Horror of BS

Last week I posted on The Sarcastic Muse about the importance of research.  I am reposting that post here because I cannot stress enough that the key to a successful story includes having all the correct facts.  Authors cannot make up a load of BS and expect the reader to be accepting (unless that unsettled, distrustful feeling is what you want the reader to have).

Research is what pushes an author’s work that extra mile.  In the end, research saves on the horrifying experience of being called out on made up facts.


Don’t Make Me Call BS

We are human, which enables us to inherently perceive bullshit.  Hemingway once said that a writer must develop an internal bullshit detector.  In other words, a writer must be able to look at their work and distinguish that it is not flat out full of mumbo-jumbo.  One small piece of BS could figuratively force a reader to throw out a book.  A reader must feel like they can attribute factual merit to a writer’s work.

A sure fire solution to prevent a piece of writing from being, well, a load of crap is research.

Ah, I see I now have the attention of the fact checkers!

To read the full post, please click here.


Silence in the Library (c) Kevin_P

Silence in the Library (c) Kevin_P


As a special note, there is less than one month until the Shore Leave convention!  As a special tribute to the release of the Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity anthology, author Phil Giunta will be posting a weekly interview with all of the authors from the anthology.

Last week, Phil posted his interview with yours truly, which can be read here.

This week, he posted an interview with the talented Susanna Reilly, which can be read here.

Keep an eye out on his blog for the weekly interview post with each anthology author.  The posts will occur up until the release of Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity at the Shore Leave convention on August  1st, 2014.

Haunting Ends

Terrible thoughts have been plaguing my mind for the past three days.  So much so, that my synapses cannot fire without thinking of this situation that I now find myself consumed by.  I have been obsessing over this dilemma that I was unable write this blog post on Sunday… or Monday.  And I am struggling to write it now.

The dilemma:  I have no idea how to end the current story that I am writing.

Wait… let me rephrase that.  I know exactly how I want to end my story, but I am being told by some beta readers that it is the wrong ending.  Yet, let me just note that none of these readers are horror aficionados and this story is not one they enjoyed because it gave them nightmares.

The sun is setting on this grim ending (c) phaewilk

So to my loyal blog readers, I am turning to you and seeking your sage advice, for I am in great turmoil.  Do I follow my heart or write how I am being told to write?

Without divulging in the story’s secret, this one specific piece I am ending in a standoff between the Protagonist and Antagonist (and for my macabre kin – yes it is a tale of horror.  And yes, only one of them is “human”).  The final few lines detail an attack by one of the characters against the other character who holds his ground, weapon in hand.  And that is it.  That is where I am ending it.  The story does not divulge who survives or who perishes.

So I am robbing you, as the reader?  Do you feel cheated by this ending?  Do you need a solid conclusion?  Also, please answer with the thoughts on if the story length (short story vs. novel) has any affect on your feelings toward this open ending.

What draws me to horror is the unknown.  To dredge the abysmal depth of horror is the epitome of cosmicism.  I feed on how the genre sends my imagination reeling into uncharted dimensions in an attempt to fathom the complexities that are unfolding before my eyes as I try to associate the imagry with a human experience.

To me, the end to the entire tale is justifiable.  It leaves the wondering of “who is the real human?”, based on the open ending.  Mingled with an air of mystery, the reader is forced to come to his or her own conclusion.  To close the story with THEIR interpretation.

However, if I am truly wrong in my thoughts, and a solid ending is needed, I have already plotted out closure for this tale.  But be careful for what you wish for.  My imagination is more horrific than most in this realm.

You may just be safer with coming to your own conclusion…



The Enlightenment of Escape

(c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

(c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

Last week, I had the pleasure of escaping reality and hiding away at the When Words Count Retreat in Rochester, Vermont.  For an entire week I stopped answering emails, texts, and phone calls. I minimized my social media interactions and focused wholly on my novel.  You know, the one that I have been struggling to kick off for about a year now.

What I love about When Words Count was that from the moment I stepped inside the door, the spirit of famous authors surrounded me.  Various pictures of authors and book covers decorate the retreat’s walls and enhance the old farmhouse charm.  It is a bibliophile’s (and writer’s) heaven.  Each room within the retreat is themed after an American author.  I had the pleasure of staying in the Flannery O’Connor room, where each night I fell asleep under a gorgeous portrait of one of the most prolific short story author that has ever existed.  Before the sweet embrace of REM overtook my slumber, I said a short sweet prayer to Ms. O’Connor to influence my dreams and guide my writing hand.

She must have heard me because on my first full day, I could not think of anything BUT writing.  I spent the entire day handwriting an outline for my novel.  Outlining, if you read my last post, is one thing I never do.  I finally felt like I had direction for my story.  Unfortunately, later that night, I found I was going in the wrong direction.

One of the perks of staying at the When Words Count Retreat is the hash session that occurs in the evenings after dinner.  The hash session is lead by two industry experts, Steven C. Eisner and Jon Reisfeld, and involves all of the writers who are staying in the house.  That night, I explained that my novel is being based off a short story I wrote last March.  However, not being satisfied with the short story, I wanted to expand it to novel length.  The outline that I had worked on earlier in the day was the expansion of the original short story.

During the hash session, I read out loud the short story.  While reading, I realized the front half of the tale had so much back-story that it took forever to get to the gruesome action. I was actually getting bored reading the tale out loud.  My hosts echoed my thoughts.  When I explained the progress made that day, they made some suggestion where I would need to revise my outline to make the story more engaging.

(c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

(c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

I went to bed a little frustrated in myself.  I live for horror and it is that thrill that keeps me on edge.  That is what draws me to the genre.  How could I have “missed” that in my story and novel outline?

The next morning I woke refreshed and went to rewriting my entire outline – from scratch.  Another day spent handwriting; another hash session later that evening was spent discussing where tension and character development was needed.

On, Tuesday (Day 4) and Wednesday (Day 5), I continued to outline and received additional input and praise from my coaches.  They, as well as the other writers, seemed to enjoy where the story line was now heading.

By Thursday morning (Day 6), I had my entire novel outlined (by hand) and it equaled about 90 pages.  I, quite frankly, have my entire novel scripted out in short hand.  That afternoon, I locked myself in my room and had a little cry – of happiness.  I was in awe that I outlined (in excruciating detail) an entire novel in only four days.  I had travel almost 350 miles away from my home and closed myself off from LIFE to get my novel to finally pour out of my head.  In all honestly, there is no way I could have executed this at home within this timeframe amid my regular life “schedule”.

This visit to the When Words Count Retreat has been the most inspirational and enlightening “vacations” that I have ever experienced.  The atmosphere just gives bloom to creativity.  It is pure magic from the moment you step foot through the door.  Being there during the winter was also a great benefit to the prosperity of writing.  There was about 3 feet of unmarred snow that covered the retreat’s acreage.   The cold kept me from venturing outdoors.  Had it been warmer weather, my writing outcome may be a little different.  The area is prime for hiking and apparently there is an old graveyard nearby, which would make an excellent outdoor writing location.

Flannery inspired dreams! (c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

Flannery inspired dreams! (c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

Retreats are a fantastic way to build your fellow author network.  I made three new writer friends who are all involved in different genres of writing.  They breathed new inspirations into my novel as we discussed our current projects. I cannot wait to see where their work takes them.  I know they are going to be just amazing.

And the food… Oh my God, the food, it was phenomenal.  Words cannot even begin to describe the culinary experience that the When Words Count Retreat has to offer.  Chef Paul is by far the best chef whose food I have had the pleasure of eating.

To all the writers out there reading this blog, make yourself take a retreat this year.  Retreats can span from a weekend getaway to a two-week stay.   It is a great way to escape daily life and focus solely on your writing.  Take advantage of the option to have a session with a writing coach.  Another writer’s perspective is always helpful.  And if you are at a retreat with other writers, make new friends and get to know their stories.  It is a rewarding experience.  You’ll never know what they have to teach you or what ideas they can stir up in your vast imagination.

I am obviously very partial to When Words Count Retreat, and plan on making at least a yearly excursion to Vermont.

For more information on the When Words Count Retreat, click here for the website.

Also, be sure to like them on Facebook as they hold several sweepstakes throughout the year.

Happy writing!!


The breathtaking scenery (c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

The breathtaking scenery (c) 2014, Amanda Headlee


Neil Gaiman on the Value of Ghost Stories

A fantastic 2014 TED conference audio clip where Neil Gaiman speaks of how ghost stories greatly benefit our lives.

Click here to be directed to the GalleyCat website to listen to the Neil Gaiman clip.

It is my personal belief that stories of the weird and ghastly have been around since the beginning of time and will continue long since we pass. It is the true soul of a ghost story that keeps our hearts beating on the edge.


(c) Dystopos

(c) Dystopos



The Drudgery of Outlining

Outlining.  It was the one thing that always annoyed me about writing.  I absolutely hated it.  I remember the long ago days when I was studying to be a Marine

Biologist, each every research paper that I wrote had to have scientific outline.  Each outline followed the same mundane rules of proper format, proper heading, and et cetera.  In the classes where the professor never checked the outline before the paper was handed in, the outline would be written after my research paper was complete so as to use the final paper as the defining guide.  For the classes where the outline was mandatory to hand before the paper was due, I would find myself in a place of pure and utter hell where I would languish long nights away with my head in my hands sobbing about how to structure some asinine outline.

Outlines annoyed me.  I found them tedious and mundane.  As a professional in Quality Assurance and Regulatory Control, you would think I would revel in the worlds of organized outlines… but you are dead wrong.

I found them completely pointless and detractors from the completion of the finished product.  I never saw the benefit of them.  So when I turned to creative writing, I nixed them.  Outlining was one and only “brainstorming” tool that I never utilized with short story writing.  I brainstormed by drawing diagrams, write down a couple notes, and then start banging at the keys, allowing the story just to flow on the paper.

The days of outlining were dead, and since graduating college I never wrote another one…  until last night.

(c) Amanda Headlee

The snowy inspiration of my week at the When Words Count Retreat. (c) Amanda Headlee

As a birthday gift, I treated myself to a writing retreat to help get me on track with my novel.  One of the perks of this retreat is to have a constructive critique from two well-established writers, Steven C. Eisner and Jon Reisfeld, who are the proprietors of the When Words Count Retreat.

One large take away that I received from them, after they critiqued the short story that I am trying to adapt to novel length, is that they both agreed that I needed to first outline the novel.   The outline didn’t have to be the typical, dreary scientific format.  It only has to be what I needed to get my story into the right flow.  In other words, keep it in check.

With a novel, I am finding that it is extremely difficult to get by writing a structured story without an outline.  You need an outline everything on track; characters, plot, settings, the little minute details.  I attempted to write my first novel without an outline and it became so scattered that I threw my first draft in the trash (shredded first, of course).

After the critique last night, I stayed up until 4 am this morning outlining the first few chapters.  Today, I spent another seven hours on the outline.  I am about a quarter of the way through at this point.

I know that seems a bit excessive – time wise – but I have found my style of outline to say, “Ok, here is chapter 1.  It will have this happen with these details and then this will happen with these details…” and so on.

Several writer friends have commented that it seems like I plot out my novel in short form before I plug in the details of the setting, characters, and plot.  In a way I do.  However, I like to think of it as more of a checklist.  I can’t move on to the next point until I covered what is in the current point.

As this is my first true, non-academic outline along with my first novel, I am hoping that this scheme works out.

So far I think it will.  My novel has already taken some sharp turns that I had not event planned out.  Turns that I wasn’t even thinking about last night as I was plotting it out into the wee hours of this morning.  Some terrifying turns that, as of this moment, has me wide awake where I will most likely be sleeping with the lights on in my room.

Now, I would like to know how many of you, my readers, outline your works before you begin drafting?  And what is your style?  Do you follow a systematized method or the free-for-all approach?  I personally don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer here.  It is all in what works for you.

Be sure to check in next week, as I will be discussing the benefits of writing retreats.