Back to Class

Just a quick update today to remind you that spring is here, which means it’s time for the next round of online writing classes. Time is ticking, but there’s still time to register for Writing Horror: The Dark Side and Crafting the Short Story. Dark Side kicks off this Monday, April 12th, with Short Story a few days later, starting Thursday, April 15th.

What are these classes all about, you ask? From UNB’s registration site:

“Short story creation is an art form that is often neglected and overlooked. Related to – but entirely separate from – novel writing, short story creation can be a tricky art to master but also fun and rewarding. It has been suggested that writing short stories can even be more difficult than novels. Impossible? Take this course and judge for yourself!

Here’s an opportunity to focus on writing effective short stories, covering many of the basics of short story writing. You’ll learn how to set the scene, create and develop believable characters, avoid common pitfalls, and much more.

With an emphasis on developing the craft through good writing practices and habits, the course offers tips and advice on discovering the joys of short speculative fiction.

The course also covers important topics such as editing and preparing your work for publication. There is a segment that focuses on submitting for publication, publishing contracts, identifying and avoiding scams, and more, to help avoid the worst of the potential pitfalls in the publishing world.”

As for Horror: the Dark Side:

“The word “horror” often conjures images of masked, machete-wielding monsters doing unspeakable things to innocent teenagers. That’s definitely part of it, but there’s a lot more to the story.

Horror is a genre unlike no other. Its purpose is to unsettle, to elicit a strong emotional response from the reader through “safe scares”. It’s also perhaps the most misunderstood genre of all.

Horror is hack and slash, blood and guts. It’s creepy ghosts and haunted houses. It’s psychological thrillers, gothic tales, atmospheric tension, human drama, and of course, monsters. It spans generations and appeals to a wide audience – from Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe to Neil Gaiman and R.L. Stine, horror brings joy (and scares) to kids and adults alike.

In this course, we’ll dispel some of the myths surrounding horror, and explore the key elements including, what turns an ordinary story into a spooky tale, how to build and maintain suspense, developing strong characters (human and otherwise), how to write an ending with maximum impact, and more.

This course shares some basic elements with Crafting the Short Story, and emphasizes developing the craft through good writing practices and habits.”

Just a few days left to register, but there are still spots in both classes. Just follow the links above. If you or someone you know has an interest in learning the basics of creative fiction writing, or a specific peek into the world of creating scary stories, I’d love to have you come along with me this spring.

-JP

Tying Up Loose Ends

March is slogging its way to a close, and has apparently decided to end on a snowy note this year. After several days of weather in the high teens this weekend has dipped back below the freezing point and today is the third in a row it’s either rained or snowed, or both. Our newest grandchild is just a little over a week old now, and hopefully the warmer weather isn’t far behind her arrival.

It’s a rare down time for me in terms of writing. The forthcoming Seventeen Skulls and Old Bones are still in the pipeline, and the winter sessions of my classes have all concluded. With the spring classes still a couple of weeks away from kicking off, I’m cleaning up a couple of projects that have taken a back seat lately.

First on the docket: edits on my next novel, Putting Down Roots. This is one of those projects that feels like it’s been on my to-do list forever. In a way, it has been kicking around for a long time. I came up with the original idea for this about five or six years ago and wrote the bones of the first draft, then put it aside for a while to let it marinade. Time went by and other projects pushed it down the list of priorities, but it’s always been a good enough story that it was never entirely forgotten. So the skeleton became a more complete body as I put meat on the bones and fleshed out the story. Now it’s more or less finished, albeit very rough and in need of a lot of polish.

About a year ago I started work on another novel idea I had. I started the fleshing out process, worked on developing some of the characters and researching the settings and such. To date it isn’t finished, but it will be. I’m usually loathe to work on too many projects at once – I prefer to finish one before diving into another for fear I’ll abandon the first one unfinished. But what this means is that I have two novels in various stages of completion, and it’s time to close one of them out.

The editing process is a lot less fun than writing, no question. It’s probably why I procrastinate and put it off as much as I do. But the fact of the matter is, whenever there’s an incomplete project waiting for me, I think about it pretty constantly until it’s off my plate. So the process now involves setting aside a block of time with as few distractions as possible and just push through a chunk of what needs to be done. Each time I do that, the sense of accomplishment pushes me to press on and get through to the end.

Of course, getting to the end isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning of the next round of edits. But that’s another story…

Anyway, that’s what’s new here. As much as I enjoy this novel, it’s time to lay this old friend to rest. The sooner it’s done, the sooner I can share it with the world and give the next big project the attention it deserves. Thanks as always for reading and following along with me. Until next time,

Be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Horror in the Books

Just a few notes to bring everyone up to date on what’s new in my little corner of the world. We’re mere weeks away from the first day of spring! If you’re in a part of the world that’s still clinging to the daylight savings thing, it happens this weekend.

The inaugural offering of Writing Horror: The Dark Side concluded tonight. I have to say, it went extremely well, even as I worked out the kinks and smoothed out the syllabus. What are the key elements to writing horror? How do you write for maximum emotional impact? At the same time, as with Crafting the Short Story, my emphasis is always on good writing habits and practices. So the challenge is to fit everything in, cover some of the basics while keeping it fresh for those who have already taken the short story course. I was thrilled and very proud as I watched my students, some of whom hadn’t written anything in years, churn out some chilling and creepy stuff. I’m already looking forward to the next session, which kicks off April 12th.

Seventeen Skulls and Old Bones are on the horizon, still working their way through the arduous process of becoming books. Next on the docket: the first draft of the next novel is done, now the process has begun to repair all the fissures and cracks and transform it into something that resembles a finished product. This one’s still several steps down the road before it sees the light of day, but it’s never too early to throw out a teaser!

Finally, thanks to everyone who read my post about the Donnelly massacre last month. It garnered a lot of interest and generated lots of positive feedback. It’s a subject of great interest to me, and a story I always enjoy recounting to anyone who isn’t familiar with the history. I suspect there may be more such entries in this space along the way.

That’s all for now. As always, thanks for stopping by for a visit. Feel free to sign up for updates via email through my contact page. Until next time,

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Winter Semester Starts Soon!

Winter is in full swing – actually, I take that back… it really isn’t. I have to admit, as Canadian winters go this one has been rather mild, which doesn’t exactly break my heart. It’s still pretty chilly out there, but at least for the time being we’re not eyeballs-deep in snow. I’m speaking solely from my Maritime perspective though, so depending on where you’re reading this from your mileage may vary. If your locale isn’t getting off as lightly as we are here, my condolences.

Nevertheless, the onset of winter does mean the beginning of a new semester of online classes at UNB. And as always, it means Crafting the Short Story (which has moved from Mondays to Thursdays and now run for eight weeks) along with the latest addition to the lineup, Writing Horror: The Dark Side which takes over the long-standing Monday time slot. And the hour is nearly upon us! Classes begin next week, so if you’ve been on the fence about signing up, there’s no time like the present. There’s still room in both classes, so if you or someone you know is interested in learning/improving their writing skills – and filling some of those wintry COVID lockdown hours – you can kill two birds with one stone and come hang out in my virtual classroom.

Lastly, as I frequently do here, I would like to remind you that reviews for Terror in High Water are always welcome on any and all platforms it’s available on. Reviews are always welcome but they’re especially helpful now with not one but two new titles coming soon, to generate and draw interest in anticipation of the forthcoming Old Bones and Seventeen Skulls. Teasers, blurbs, and cover art when available can be seen on my World Castle Publishing author page, here. Also, for updates on new posts and news check out my contact page, fill out a few boxes, and voila! Emailed updates sent right to your inbox.

That’s all for now. Thank you as always for dropping in to see the latest goings-on, or catch up on some of the history around here. Whether you’re a first-timer or daily visitor, I’m always pleased you’ve taken some of your time to spend here with me. Until next time,

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Course Correction

Just a quick update to my (currently online, hopefully not forever) courses: An Introduction to Publishing is no longer being offered as a standalone class. We’ve now consolidated this as part of Crafting the Short Story, which will now have an extra two classes added. This makes more sense than forcing you guys to sign up for a second course to get information you really should have included as part of the main course. So for anyone who signed up for the February 2021 session (and I don’t think there was anyone yet), you should be aware of the change and contact the office to get that sorted.

Also, it’s official: the first run of Writing Horror: The Dark Side is a go for the winter session, beginning on January 25th. The class had already begun to fill up within days of the announcement, which is really cool. I’m really looking forward to seeing some old friends mixed in with the new faces. It should be a fun class.

I realized, as I was looking back at some recent posts, that it seems my writing classes are almost all I talk about lately in this space. I did mention recently the new anthologies with my stories in them, I guess. I’m also currently shopping my second novel, Seventeen Skulls, as well as a collection of my shorts called Old Bones. Hopefully we’ll see one or both of those available not too far down the road.

In a bit of writing/writing class crossover news: in the latest installment of CTSS I decided I would try something new. For the first time since we introduced the course many moons ago, I would write the weekly assignments along with the class. There were a few reasons for doing this, but a large part of it was that I wanted to show everyone that it was indeed possible, even by my own unorthodox methods. So I did write alongside my fellow writers, and shared my work with them as they did with me. It was interesting to see the process from the other side of the glass, so to speak. But in a plot twist even I didn’t see coming, my budding short story grew legs of its own and morphed from standalone story to what I’m tentatively calling ‘chapter one’. Yeah, I did it to myself – took something quick and easy, and turned it into a lengthy project for myself. I already have a few irons in the fire that need tending to, and I’ll get to them for sure. But this is just interesting enough to intrigue me, so I owe it to myself to see what (if anything) can be done with it. I’ll let you know what I find out!

That’s all for today. Just a few quick notes to keep everyone up to speed. As always, feel free to pop over to my contact page and sign up for email updates whenever new posts drop. Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

The Dark Side of Writing

It’s November – early days, but November nonetheless – and it feels like spring out there. Sixteen degrees today, and a reported 20 tomorrow. High teens the rest of the week (That’s mid to high 60s, for my American friends). It’s as if I accidentally slipped into hibernation during last week’s sub-zero temperatures and arose from my slumber to happily discover I’d skipped ahead to April. I suspect these temperate days are destined to be short-lived, but considering what November usually feels like around here, we’ll take it.

On to more writerly matters: as of about two hours ago we wrapped up another successful run of Crafting the Short Story. It was a great group and we had a lot of fun, and everyone really impressed me with the cool stuff they came up with for the finale. It seems like a good time to plug the next offering, which moves to Thursday evenings for the winter session and beyond. The next round kicks off on January 28th and runs through March 25th (no class March 4th).

Why have we shifted to Thursdays after such a long run in the Monday slot? Oh, I’ll still be grinding away on Monday, fear not. But now, I’m pleased to introduce the debut of Writing Horror: The Dark Side. It’s an all-new course which, I’m told, was heavily requested by former and prospective students alike. So the good folks at the CEL asked if I’d be interested in offering such a course, to which I quickly agreed. This will occupy my Mondays beginning January 25th through March 15th (no class Feb. 15th and March 1st). I’m excited for this one – as much as I love teaching CTSS this is right up my alley, more in my wheelhouse, whatever tired cliche works for you.

Just before I go, I wanted to remind you that Scary Snippets – Campfire Edition is now available in Kindle and paperback. It’s my second time working with these publishers, along with Mother Ghost’s Grimm Vol. 2. Unlike MGG, which was written primarily for the little ones, Scary Snippets is aimed at a more mature audience. It’s filled with spooky stories that are on the shorter side (hence the ‘snippets’ thing) in there, including two of mine that are both loosely based on real events.

There, I think we’re mostly up to date now. If you’d like to have the latest blog posts delivered directly to your inbox, drop by my contact page and let me know, and we’ll make it happen. Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Step Right Up!

I want to take a slightly different approach with today’s post. It’s a little on the long side, but I think it’s a worthwhile read, especially if you’re a writer or potential author, regardless of skill level or advancement. Think of this as a public service announcement.

Some of you may not be aware that besides being my first line of defense and primary editor my wife, Sheryl, is an accomplished writer in her own right. She’s got a few publishing credits under her belt and sends her stuff out just like most of us, in the hopes that a publisher she’s identified as a potentially good fit will like what they see. This week she received an acceptance email from one such publisher. To avoid any potential legal ramifications I won’t name the UK-based publisher in question. Let me just say that they’re named after a winged horse that rhymes with “Megasus”.

While it’s always exciting to receive an acceptance, this one caused Sheryl’s antennae to twitch. Something didn’t seem quite right, and she showed it to me. I read it over, and was delighted to see that they’d offered to send a contract. I glanced over at her and said “Please have them send you a contract.” I really wanted to have a copy of it to avoid any heresay or slander accusations. Once I had it in hand I chuckled and told her to reply with a ‘thanks but no thanks’. She did reply, in her own inimitable, colorful style.

Why, you might be wondering, would anyone do such a thing? Isn’t a publishing contract the goal here? Well, as it turns out, “Megasus Publishing” is what is known as a hybrid publisher. That’s a fancy way of saying they’re a vanity publisher. Essentially, the author pays the publisher for the privilege of having them publish his or her work. In this case, the asking price was a cool 1,900 GBP (or roughly $3,200 CDN). Just send us this money, the acquisitions editor said, and we’ll take care of everything. Hell, we’ll even pay you royalties on any books we sell!

Now, the difference between a hybrid publisher and a true vanity is that the hybrid claims to be a legitimate publisher that also offers what they call “inclusive contracts”. In other words, even though we offer real, legit contracts that guarantee actual payment to some authors, in your case we’d rather you pay us to “help defray some of the costs”. The difference, of course, is that there is no difference. In neither case do these hucksters operate in any legitimate manner, it’s all a ruse. Just smoke and mirrors, designed to ensnare starry-eyed would-be authors with the idea of seeing their name in print. Sadly, many still fall for these scams, which is how they manage to stay in business.

I discuss vanity publishers and other such scams more in-depth in my Introduction to Publishing course, but here are a few of the highlights of this particular contract. For starters, of course, is the matter of shelling out over three grand under a clause they’ve sneakily called “advances”. Advances, for the uninitiated, are monies paid TO authors in advance of sales BY publishers, against future royalties earned. For this price they will perform edits, cover art (all at the publisher’s discretion, with them having final say in all matters), and a bunch of other stuff that any reputable publisher pays for. They lay claim to subsidiary rights and draconian percentages. They will send you also 25 complimentary copies of your book, “completely free of charge” as the contract makes a point to specifically note – which, for your $3,200, comes out to about $130 per “complimentary” copy. The duration of these contracts is often ridiculous, too. There is literally no part of it that benefits the author in any way.

Oh, and in case you become disgruntled at your handling by your hybrid publisher, there’s also a clause that prevents you from saying, writing, or doing anything disparaging or that “may adversely affect the production, promotion, and sales of the work.” Unbelievable. And just for fun, they’d like first refusal on your future works. You know, just in case you happen to have another few thousand dollars left.

What the contract won’t tell you about vanity publishers is stuff like: horrible editing (often worse than it was in the first place), poor formatting, shoddy book quality, and maybe best of all, unrealistic cover prices to ensure few if any copies are ever sold. They’ll do zero marketing, nor will they make any attempt whatsoever to sell your book – they’ve already made their money from it, from you. So now it’s up to the poor author to sell as many copies as they can on their own (purchased from the publisher, of course) to try and make back as much of their sunk investment as possible.

I mentioned before that people still fall for these types of scams. Additionally there are still people who, for whatever reason, will defend their decision to publish with these slimy operations. I happen to suspect that in many cases they’re just too embarrassed over being scammed to admit what a bad experience it was for them. For the record, $3,200 isn’t anywhere near the top of the scale of what these scam artists will try and charge. The highest I’ve heard of was north of $15,000. Just incredible, the temerity it takes to run this kind of con with a straight face.

The long and the short of it is this: never pay anyone to publish you. Ever. If you plan to self publish, pay an editor, sure. Pay an artist for cover art, absolutely. These are part of the cost of doing business, which are generally covered by a legitimate publisher. But under no circumstances should you ever pay a publisher. The money always flows from the publisher to the author, not the other way around. Anyone who tells you different is wrong. And possibly a vanity publisher.

In case it isn’t obvious at this point, Sheryl did not sign and return the contract. She will not be working with Megasus Publishing on this or any future project, a fact she made abundantly clear in her final correspondence.

The next installment of An Introduction to Publishing runs on November 7th. For more stories about scams like this one and how to avoid them plus a host of other fun topics, click the link and drop on in.

Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

(Even More) Online Learning

The unseasonable weather continues here in my little corner of the world, which I find delightful. I’ve heard it said we’re in for a mild winter this year. I freely admit this doesn’t upset me.

Weather-related happiness aside, I wanted to take a minute to let you know about another course I’ll be offering starting this winter. At the request of the college, I’m pleased to announce that “Writing Horror: The Dark Side” will debut in January. It will run simultaneously with Crafting the Short Story, and there will be a few overlapping topics since a big part of the focus is on structure and developing good writing practices. But we’ll also delve deeper into the horror genre specifically. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to offer this class, which along with An Introduction to Publishing brings us to three in total. I’ll fill you in on all the details in the near future.

You know, this writing thing has a lot of ups and downs. But despite the highlights that always end too soon, and the lulls that always seem to go on forever, on the whole there’s never a dull moment. It’s a rewarding experience that continually teaches me as much as I, hopefully, pass on to my students.

Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

A Necessary Detour

This week I had to take a short break from working on my novel. I didn’t want to, necessarily, it just worked out that way. Something I hadn’t seen much of in a while wandered across my path and drew my attention.

Ideas for stories come to me – to most writers, I suspect – in the oddest ways, unannounced and when least expected. In this case I was taking my dog, Daphne, for a late-night stroll around the property. I often talk to her as we walk, and on this occasion something I said sparked a little idea in my head. Just an innocent little phrase, but my mind took it and ran with it into darker places. By the time we came up the stairs and back inside for the night, the basis for a short story had been born.

I came inside, and once everyone else in the house was bedded down for the night I sat down at the computer and decided I needed to get the basic idea down before it got away. I sent a message to a friend that outlined the story in a few lines. I wanted an outside opinion – sometimes ideas that sound cool at first, in my head, make less sense once they go from concept to execution. In this case I got the thumbs up and forged ahead.

It isn’t finished yet, but it’s outlined. In my own vernacular, the skeleton has been assembled, now it just needs meat on the bones. I’ll pick and putter with it for a while until I’m happy with it, put it through my usual routine, and call it done. It’s nice, because after hammering away at novels almost exclusively for the last three-plus years, writing a short story is a recent rarity for me.

So, why was it a “necessary detour”, as the title implies? While I often stress the need to finish projects and not leave them lying around in various stages of disarray and disassembly, sometimes when something you’re working on feels like a struggle a step back can be a blessing. It’s not a long term thing – I’ll go back to the grindstone soon enough. I feel I may have needed a little pause, without pausing. In this case it came in the form of a new project. Just a brief side road to renew my enthusiasm, and maybe a little reminder that I’m still capable of pulling out a short story once in a while.

On a related note, Crafting the Short Story  kicked off this week. I always look forward to working with a new group, and so far this one has a fun dynamic. It should be a good run.

Time to get back to it. Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Friday Tidbits

As another week winds down I wanted to send out another reminder that the next session of Crafting the Short Story kicks off this Monday, May 4th. For me, it’s the first online edition of the class – although I have done online sessions with individuals in the past. So it should be an interesting experience.

I was pleased to learn the platform we’ll be using is Zoom, as opposed to the far inferior option that was initially floated. This allows for everyone to appear on screen simultaneously instead of just a few at a time. My classes tend to be interactive with a lot of class participation so it’s important for everyone to be as involved as possible.

I’m looking forward to the experience, though I’d be lying if I said I’m not eager to get back into the actual classroom. However, until such time as that’s an option it’s great to have an alternative such as this.

In other writing news, my novel is slowly but surely approaching completion. I had initially planned to wrap it up by the end of April, which obviously didn’t happen, but I’m optimistic I’ll be finished a draft that satisfies me sometime in May. I’ll discuss it further in a later post, this is just a little note to let everyone know I’m still plugging away at producing the finished product. Until then, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP