Guest Post – A nice piece of Wensleydale Cheese, please


I’m an American…. *sigh* and I’ve always wanted to try Wensleydale.

Originally posted on HarsH ReaLiTy:

Most of OM’s authors get invited on here to talk about their books. The blood that has poured from their fingers as they hammer frantically on their abused computer keyboards, the rivers of tears and sweat (yuk!) that have dripped from their faces as they reveal their tortured souls on screen: the agony and ecstasy of rejections, acceptances, and seeing their work in print… You are probably all bored to tears with that, so I’m here today to talk about cheese.

You see, I’m a fantasy author. Not a fantastic author, but a fantasy author. Stop panting there at the back, I didn’t mean *that* sort of fantasy either: OM doesn’t have that sort of thing on here. Or so I’ve been led to believe. You regular readers might know better. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of the posts on here, so maybe I should know better. Sorry, back…

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2014 Fall YA Book Preview:: via Bookish

August 29, 2014
Between school, extracurriculars, and having a social life, teen readers are stretched thin when it comes to finding time to settle down with a book. Plus, with so many books piled on as required reading, the precious free time given to reading for pleasure makes the books selected by choice even more important. Thankfully, this fall has no shortage of thrilling and addictive reads. Whether you’re looking for diary entries on blooming sexuality and Latina identity, or if you prefer star-crossed lovers of the dragon/dragon slayer variety, we have your reading tastes covered!

Hands off

Caddie’s struggled with anxiety since her parents divorced, convinced that if she doesn’t touch another person’s skin her dad may come back. Harmless at first, the obsession becomes a problem when her crush Peter is cast opposite her Ophelia in her high school production of Hamlet. With her dreams of becoming an actress and her growing feelings for Peter on the line, Caddie must find a way to battle her fears and take back control. Rachel M. Wilson’s debut sheds light on how the stigma of mental illness can hurt teens seeking help, and readers who struggle with anxiety of their own are sure to find understanding and solace in Caddie’s story.

On shelves: September 2



Living outside the box

Comic artist Liz Prince grew up feeling as though she just didn’t fit in. She didn’t like anything she perceived as being girly, but the coach of her Little League team also proved she couldn’t seamlessly fit in with the boys either. Tomboy is Prince’s graphic memoir of her years of challenging the stereotypes others attempted to put on her, while attempting to pin down her own identity within the confines of a society that prefers for boys and girls to be neatly defined. Relatable, hilarious, and insightful, Tomboy is a must-read for anyone who feels like a square peg in a round hole.

On shelves: September 2



Stranger than fiction

Ever wish your life was like the books you read? Finn Easton doesn’t. He shares a name with a character in his father’s sci-fi novel, and most of his real life is spent attempting to convince himself that he’s more than a subpar version of a novelization. When the only girl he’s ever loved moves away, Finn and his best friend Cade embark on a journey that proves he is worthy of his own story. Penned by Winger author Andrew Smith, 100 Sideways Miles presents the high school dramas of friendship, love, and academia with sly humor and genuine heart.

On shelves: September 2




It seems like years since you’ve been here

Once-inseparable twins torn apart by betrayal each share their story in Jandy Nelson’s shining second novel. Noah reveals their early years of close friendship, inside jokes, and secret language. It was a time when Jude did most of their talking and he’d prefer to draw and daydream about their handsome next-door neighbor. Three years and one unspeakable incident later, the twins are strangers. Jude takes the reigns of the later story, giving the reader deep-seated emotion where Noah gave artistic visuals. While the twins pass the narration back and forth like ball, Nelson brilliantly guides the reader through the tragedy that ripped them apart.

On shelves: September 16



Eliminate the impossible, believe the improbable

Season 4 of Sherlock is still a long way off (2016 can’t come soon enough), but fans of the series may find William Ritter’s Jackaby can help to pass the time. Supernatural investigator R.F. Jackaby has an eye for seeing what others miss. When it’s revealed that a serial killer is on the loose, police suspect an ordinary man, though Jackaby’s convinced that there’s something more going on. With the help of his new assistant Abigail Rook, Jackaby sets off to solve the case and save the good people of New Fiddleham.

On shelves: September 16



Light ‘em up, up, up

What to read, what to read now that Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy has ended? Perhaps it’s time to start a new fantasy series about a girl who can start fires with her mind? A member of a magical mafia, Ava refuses to use her powers to kill a family friend and soon finds herself on the run from her former boss. Set in a vivid magical world filled with adventure and danger, the snarky Ava finds herself surrounded by a cast of strong characters that help to flesh out Lish McBride’s fantastical new world.

On shelves: September 23



Pulled apart, put together

In this debut novel, a young girl chronicles her life and the struggles she experiences during her senior year of high school. From body image and coming out to addiction and rape, Gabi transcribes the world around her through diary entries that reveal a raw portrait of a teen struggling to figure out how she fits into the turbulent world around her. Through authentic prose and poetry, Isabel Quintero gives readers a glimpse of a girl discovering ways to embrace her modern desires and stay true to her Latina identity.

On shelves: September 23



Got a hook on me

A deadly virus is sweeping across America and national security is convinced that Emily Bird, the daughter of two black scientists, knows something about the disease that she shouldn’t. After an encounter with Roosevelt David, a security agent, leaves her without memory of the night she met him, Bird knows that something is wrong. The only person she finds she can trust is Coffee, a diplomat’s son and conspiracy theorist who believes that Bird is right. A perfect blend of suspense and science fiction, the novel also delves effortlessly into topics of race and class at Bird’s elite D.C. prep school. Fans of the cyberpunkThe Summer Prince will devour Alaya Dawn Johnson’s latest.

On shelves: September 30



I need feminism because…

As high school comes to a close, most seniors begin thinking of the future. Glory can only focus on the past. After her mother’s suicide, she’s been haunted by the idea that she might one day go down the same route. Then one night she discovers she has the power to see a person’s infinite past and future, and the future looks bleak. As she watches women’s rights disappear and war breaking out, Glory has to find a way to change the world’s future, even when she can’t see her own. With women’s rights never far from the media, curious and passionate feminists alike will find strength in A.S. King’s heartbreaking and powerful novel.

On shelves: October 14



Slayers and dragons and drama—oh my!

A new Julie Kagawa series? Yes please! Filled to the brim with her usual mix of supernatural and romantic elements, fans old and new are sure to sink their claws into Talon. After dragon slayers drove them to near extinction, dragons began hiding in human form to escape the slaughter. Dragons Ember and Dante are siblings destined to help the dragons of Talon take over the world, though everything Ember has ever thought or known is thrown into question when she meets Garret, a deadly dragon slayer. October seems too long to wait to meet these fiery star-crossed lovers.

On shelves: October 28



Baptism by fire

The fall is off to a flaming start with the release of Talon, Firebug, and True Fire. While all share fantasy elements, 16-year-old Megan’s story is far different from Ember and Ava’s. Focused on telling her family that she’s pregnant, Megan never sees the attack on her village coming. When her twin sister Gwyneth is taken by witches, she sees no other choice but to set out to rescue her. A prophecy that seems to connect to her unborn child looms over Megan, as she teams up with new friends Damon and Eleanor to face down certain peril, save her sister, and discover the truth.

On shelves: November 4


27 Books Parents Should Read to Their Kids Before They Grow Up :: via BuzzFeed Books

27 books to read to kids27 Books Parents Should Read to Their Kids Before They Grow Up

Awesome list from BuzzFeed… I’ve read the majority of books on this list, and they’re all fantastic, but my favorites are The Giving Tree, the Miss Nelson books, and the Louis Sachar books!  And read them now, even if you’re a grown-up without kids.  – sld


Storyville: Ten Ways to Avoid Cliches and Stereotypes :: LitReactor

walnutWhat’s worse than Writer’s Block?  Well, I’ll tell you: It’s called Cliche Diarrhea.

Yes, it’s worse.  Trust me.

I’m having a flare up today, so I asked the Internet for ways to slow the flow.   I found this helpful column via LitReactor.


Storyville: Ten Ways to Avoid Cliches and Stereotypes

by Richard Thomas

One of the ways that you can stand out as an author is to write original fiction, to have original ideas. There are a lot of different genres that have traditions rooted in certain content and form, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick with them. Here are ten suggestions for how you can avoid stereotypical stories, characters, plots, formats and other aspects of great fiction. Take a look at your writing and ask yourself if you are just regurgitating what has been done for years, writing the same stories that have been told over and over again, or if you are trying to evolve, to update the current short story, to make it contemporary and compelling—and original.


Take a look at your writing and ask yourself if you are just regurgitating what has been done for years, writing the same stories that have been told over and over again, or if you are trying to evolve…

I can remember when I wrote my first novella, originally titled The Outskirts, part of a collection that Nik Korpon, Caleb Ross, Axel Taiari and I are currently shopping. I had a scene where a bouncer stood in an alley, arms crossed, a long line of kids waiting to get into this hip underground club. Nik suggested that I make the doorman anything other than a large, muscled black man or a big white guy with a thick neck. And I thought, “You know what? He’s right. Why am I being so lazy?” So the next time you create a situation, think for a moment about how you’re setting it up, who you are “casting” as the actors, and what you make them look like. Why not have your serial killer go out in the morning, instead of the dead of night? What would it look like if your serial killer was a young woman instead of a hardened criminal, some discharged Marine looking for revenge? Black is white, day is night, up is down. Play around with it and see what happens. Oh, and that doorman? I ended up making him a very short guy with a Napoleon complex, very gnome-like, with a goatee and an attitude, a long stick with a taser at the end of it, and I think it turned out pretty well.


It can be as simple as choosing the color red. I took a class with Monica Drake at The Cult back in the day. We were assigned a photograph as our prompt. I decided that I wanted to figure out who was looking at that barn every day—a mother, a father, a son, or a daughter. Would they all use the same language, the same words? No. Where one might call it red, another might say crimson—one might say it looked like a persimmon, where another saw it as a bloody jail. In the end it turned out they were all the same person, a schizophrenic young woman off her medication, and that story became “Released.” As long as it doesn’t stand out, try using different adjectives instead of the first ones that pop into your head. By juxtaposing new combinations you can create a unique voice, where the red of a barn is velvet, a memory of a scarf that ended up strangling a brother, the physical depiction leaking over into strong emotions.

You’d be surprised how many phrases you use (and I do it too) that are really clichés. It was as dry as a…it was colder than a…he sobbed like a…and on, and on. When you are writing, try to catch it while it’s happening, or when you edit—tweak those phrases and make them your own. Don’t rely on the familiar, but instead, take us in new directions, and paint new visuals, set new scenes where the poetry of your phrasing is something we’ve never seen before. You’ll own it that way.


I know that in the past I’ve written my share of weak women, objectified them, and made them flat. But I’d like to think that with some of my more complicated female characters such as Annabelle in “Victimized” and Cinder in “Transmogrify” I at least tried to create a history, a set of emotions and experiences that informed their present day situations, dilemmas—and allowed them to breathe, and be unique. Look at what Gillian Flynn did with Gone Girl. I’ll try not to spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet, but she creates a female protagonist in Amy Dunne that is very complicated. Amy starts out as one kind of person, while she is in New York, and Gillian changes her over time, makes her testimony unreliable, painting her with many shades of grey (see how easy clichés slip into your writing?) until we don’t know if she is the victim or the aggressor, a woman in trouble, or a woman stirring it up. That’s how you get depth, that’s how you create a fully realized woman. Sure, the femme fatale is a standard character in crime and noir fiction, but put a twist on it, like Flynn did. Or look at Chelsea Cain and her Gretchen Lowell thrillers, which started with Heartsick, one of the few female serial killers in contemporary fiction. Resist the urge to make all women whores and prostitutes, to reduce them to emotional messes, mothers and daughters, secondary characters on the periphery. In Paula Bomer’s Nine Months she shows us a woman that is pregnant, but totally unhinged, desperate to find herself, to connect with someone, chasing her fantasies, abandoning her family, in a really interesting and dark take on motherhood—very original.


In a dramatic structure the inciting incident is that moment, a conflict, that begins your story and causes your protagonist to act. It is a moment in time, a tipping point, beyond which things will never be the same—a crossroads of sorts. These are those pivotal scenes in your stories and novels where you see what your characters are made of. One way to be original and unique is to get rid of everything that lead up to this event, and start right there, in media res, Latin for “into the middle of things.” So don’t give us the whole coming of age story from A to Z, start us at F or M where things really get weird and intense.

I wrote about the grotesque in a previous column here at LitReactor, but what you may not remember, or may have missed, was the way that Flannery O’Connor talked about the grotesque not only as a character, a person, traits and behaviors, but as moments, as events. In her article, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction,” she says, “…we find that the writer has made alive some experience which we are not accustomed to observe every day, or which the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life.” This is what I’m talking about. Do not write about the cliché, the common, the everyday—write about the spaceship your protagonist saw in the desert, that one time two girls came home with him, the night he took what he thought was an aspirin and it turned out to be LSD. My professor at Murray State University, Dale Ray Phillips, used to encourage us to “put a damn Sasquatch in that story,” and he wasn’t kidding. It took me until now to realize that while he was serious, and he literally meant put a damn hairy ape in our fiction, I think he was also alluding to the idea of putting something strange and unique in the story—making it grotesque.


It’s much easier to do something original when the format is different than what you are used to writing, what your audience is used to reading.

Yes, I said earlier to do the opposite when considering what to write about—what does your cop look like, what does hell resemble, how do you portray your women? But why not start with a unique combination from the beginning? Don’t just go against the grain, start out with something totally new. I know, that’s going to be difficult, but just keep pushing yourself, making one decision after another until you arrive at a unique place. Let’s say you want to write about a serial killer. First, is that idea even new? Not really. How many serial killers have we read about over the years? Why not start with somebody who is killing people against his own will, possessed? What is possessing him—a demon? No, too easy. What about an alien? No. What about one of his own previous lives, or souls? We’re getting a bit Looper already, but maybe that’s a good start. And instead of the typical white male, why not a shy Indian girl. Better. Now, what else—maybe she is mute? And that means the entire story is in her head. Look at a novel like Room by Emma Donoghue, which is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy named Jack. Now, maybe I’m a lazy reader, but I wasn’t a huge fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s Pygmy—but that’s an original POV and use of language. Can you see where I’m going with this? Think outside the box. How can you be cliché when everything you’re doing is foreign and new to you, the author? I’m sure it’ll be familiar to somebody in the world, but it’s a good place to start.


We’ve talked about the standard dramatic structure here before, about Freytag’s triangle (or pyramid) where you start with a hook, the inciting incident, fight against a conflict, finally reaching a climax, and eventually, a resolution. I’m not saying you need to abandon that structure, but why not play with form? I’ve done this a few times, with my choose your own path story, “Splintered,” which ran at PANK, as well as a list story, “Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave,” which was almost a poem, with twenty answers that all started off ,“Because…”. I also wrote a story called “Interview” where sprinkled throughout the narrative there are items from a grocery receipt, such as “1 BOX OF HEFTY CINCHSAK TRASH BAGS, LARGE 30 GALLON, 32 CT: $7.99.” By itself it doesn’t mean much, but when you add in lye, a handsaw, work gloves and Astroglide lubricant, well, something sinister is going on. Write an epistolary story, one told only with letters (or e-mails, perhaps). I think Roy Kesey once wrote a story that was nothing but the answers from a job interview; you never hear or read the questions. Again, it’s much easier to do something original when the format is different than what you are used to writing, what your audience is used to reading. Play around, have fun, see what you can come up with—you’d be surprised.


Another way to avoid writing clichés and stereotypes is to create a society that is totally new and different. Why not set your story so far in the future (or an alternate history) where nothing is the same? Whether you want to write A Brave New World or 1984, if you make up all of the rules, you can avoid the conventions, cultures and norms of contemporary society. In your world, what is the commodity that has the highest value—gold or corn; sex or purity; dreams or water? Your world can be science fiction, or it can be literary. It can be horrific or it can be peaceful, but it’s up to you to fantasize and make something your own. One of the reasons I loved reading Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, and Robert A. Heinlein growing up (and today as well) is that I never knew what was going to happen, where I was, or how the rules would change. And that’s a lot of fun, both as a reader as well as an author.


One of the reasons I love writing neo-noir is I don’t have to subscribe to the rules of classic noir—detective, femme fatale, and a crime to be solved. While I like solving mysteries, and making my characters fight to resolve conflicts, I never feel the need to be formulaic in my depiction of their lives and problems. When you think of what a fantasy story is, what comes to mind? Do you think of hobbits and dragons (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein) or do you think of gods from a long time ago living amongst us now (American Godsby Neil Gaiman)? What scares you, what is horror fiction all about? Is it vampires, werewolves, and demons or is it the terror of waking up to the same day over and over again, or a violence that lands on your doorstep, something you summoned through your own dark actions? It’s whatever you want it to be. Think of the genres you write, and then find a way to twist them, update them, and make them your own. Build on the mythology, fairy tales and fables you know, and make them contemporary and new.


What you might think when I present that dramatic structure, and Freytag’s ideas, is that you have to wrap everything up in a bow, when you have that dramatic climax and resolution. That’s not entirely true. Your protagonist can change, she can fight against her conflict, get through it, and win or lose, and come to a resolution that is not complete or happy or even defined—it can be open-ended. The resolution might be that even though she seeks men that are dangerous and not good for her, and struggled to survive the drama and dangers of whatever story you’ve just written (cannibals, a violent ex-husband, or maybe a rabid dog) she still knows that she has to work hard to change, to stay on track, and the ending of your story may just be that understanding she has finally come to—a resolution to change. She stands by the burning wreck of her 2001 Toyota Camry and sticks out her thumb, hitchhiking west, adamant to be a different person. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or happy—your endings can leave us wondering what comes next.


Some of the ways that authors create clichés and stereotypes are by being unrealistic about how they portray their characters, their emotions, and the situations they get themselves into. Observe life in the real world, document it, and put it into your writing. Life is not a soap opera, so be careful that everything you write about isn’t elevated to an unrealistic height. Some days, life can be boring—but the way you show your characters going about their lives, how they get up in the morning and interact with their families, what job they have and how they go about it, what they eat, their sex lives, their hobbies—all of that can reveal character, build emotion and tension, and pull your readers in. I’ve written several stories that I’d call “suburban noir.” They are set in the suburbs, where I live, and unfold in these little cookie-cutter houses, and it’s all very vanilla—except for the part where the mother and son buy an eight-foot tall plastic lobster, pour a truckload of sand in their living room, and sit down at a Ouija board to see what they can uncover. The setting is realistic, the life they live is pretty common, but by sprinkling in a bit of the surreal, or magical, I can create something different, while still honoring the emotions and truths that we all experience—love, hatred, apathy, loss, hope, and desire. That’s why the greatest “genre” authors can be collected in “literary” tomes like The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, a bible for many academics. They include Ray Bradbury next to Flannery O’Connor, Ursula K. LeGuin with Shirley Jackson, Tim O’Brien alongside Ralph Ellison. They all speak the truth, that’s the realism these authors bring to their writing, always based on something true, that we can relate to, and can honor.


I hope these tips help you to take your writing to a new level, one where your stories are unique, unexpected, and honest. Best of luck.

Two of the authors I refer to at the end of this column have stories I’m linking to this week. Please go read Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” and Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”

TO SEND A QUESTION TO RICHARD, drop him a line at Who knows, it could be his next column.


Visit this story on LitReactor.


- sld



“Devil in Disguise” takes 2nd in the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition

11584-WDAN-AWI’m overjoyed to announce I am a winner!  Although I’ve been writing for many years, I’ve only entered two contests.  Ever.   So this win is a gigantic deal to me.  I’m ecstatic, and completely shocked!  I welcome you to check out my winning entry Devil in Disguise.  It’s a scary one, and it is far from perfect… but please enjoy!

Thanks for reading!

- sld

29 Short Stories You Need to Read [NOW] :: BuzzFeed Books

BuzzFeed thinks you should read these in your 20s.  I say you should read them right now.

BuzzFeed thinks you should read these in your 20s. I say you should read them right now.

I’m working on more short stories these days, so today’s post from BuzzFeed Books arrived at an opportune moment.  I can’t wait to start reading.  What do you think:  any stories you would add to their list?

Read 29 Short Stories You Need to Read in Your 20s via BuzzFeed Books.

- sld