Zombie Blues Giveaway, & Where do writers get their ideas?

First (and most importantly), time is running out on snagging a free ebook of my short story collection Zombie Blues. The giveaway ends tonight at 11:59pm PDT. So head on over to Amazon and get your copy.

Got it? Okay then. So now onto what I promised in my last post: some insight into how writers get their ideas…or at least how I get mine. In the introduction to Zombie Blues I answer the question: why zombies? Here I’ll answer the question: why these stories?

Back in 2010, the zombie story ideas started popping up so fast (no doubt due to a little TV show called The Walking Dead) that I decided to use NaNoWriMo to help me get them all down.

The first idea I had sprang from a scene I envisioned: a young woman runs down the deserted street of a small town, chased by zombies, and looks for some place to hide. She comes upon the unexpected: a store window ablaze with neon lights and a note on the door that says: “HELP DESPERATELY NEEDED! No pay. Safe Environment. Only humans need apply.” Inside zombies are seated at tables with plates of junk food placed before them by a living human wait staff and old sitcoms play on the TVs mounted to the walls. The scene, dark street versus colorful neon and brightly lit window, stuck in my head and the mix of scary plus weird humor definitely fits into my cup of crazy. I ended up with the first draft of a story called “Zombie Café”, one that’s not in this story collection. (More about that later.)

Z Café, being set at a time when the zombie apocalypse has been on for quite awhile, got me thinking about how the whole thing got started. The first when that popped into mind was Christmas. Or rather, how the Christmas season in retail starts earlier and earlier each year. (This year commercials for Christmas sales have started airing the week before Halloween. Oy vey!) That set the scene for “The Stress of the Season,” the first story in Zombie Blues. I saw in my mind a busy grocery store parking lot, a soon-to-be-zombie bell ringer trying to carol at the donation bucket, and a wary, discredited scientist who had been trying to warn the government about a zombie virus. That got the story rolling for me and gave me an idea for the next one.

For the next tale of pre-zombie takeover, All Gone”, I had in mind a Twilight Zone-like story where the main character finds much more than he bargained for during a pest control job. The setting had to be innocent looking, a contrast with the first hint of creepy, something where I could almost hear Rod Serling off in the corner saying something like, “Portrait of an unsuspecting pest controller, an ordinary Joe who shows up at a typical suburban home where a mom and her two kids lead a quiet life, maybe too quiet. For down in the basement lurks a more than usual pest, one that comes not from the backyard or sewer line, but from a little place called the Twilight Zone.” With that in mind, I was off and writing.

As you can tell, I often get my ideas from a first scene that pops into my head. I see these like the glimpse of a movie that gives me the tone of the story and the setting right from the get go. Usually the main character pops up, too, though sometimes their name eludes me until I get into the actual writing. Sometimes, though, it’s a name that gets me hooked. For example, the story “Even Death” came about because of names and a first line that I couldn’t get out of my head: “Alice Cavanaugh’s husband Horace….” For a long time that was all I had. I didn’t know who these people were or what they had to do with zombies, but I had to figure it out; that line wouldn’t leave me alone. Which ended up being the key to Alice, a wife who won’t let go of her husband even when he turns into a zombie. She’s determined to make him fit into her well-ordered home no matter what’s happening to the world outside.

By this point in NaNoWriMo, I realized that I had a bigger goal than racking up the word count: to create stories that would take the reader through year one of my version of the zombie apocalypse. Whether or not they would stay separate stories or gel into a novel was a question for another time, but for that November I kept writing stories to propel the apocalypse along.

During this time Paris Hilton and Hilton wannabes were trending so I began to wonder what a girl of that ilk would do if she turned into a zombie. That’s where “And Her Little Dog, Too” came from, a story about socialite Mila, her little dog Mr. Bitsy, and her confusion over why she’d not getting the customer service she’s accustomed to at her favorite restaurant. So, yes, current events and trends are sometimes springboards for stories, or at least they provide me with a basis for drawing characters.

The fashionista scene is not mine, so that soon brought me back down to a more familiar place: somewhere out in the suburbs where we buy our makeup on sale and often at the corner drugstore. I had also started wondering about how all the women on The Walking Dead were looking so good in spite of makeup and hair styling not being a priority in the apocalypse. TV land, I know, but still…. Enter Evelyn, or Evie, a girl who refuses to let go of all her standards even when zombies run amok. For me, the last makeup item I’d want to let go would be mascara, but for Evie it’s lipstick. Therefore the story “Lipstick in the Time of Zombies”. This story really started going when I got the title. I could see Evie in the dark, nearly demolished drugstore searching the makeup section, but I didn’t know what the story would be until I asked myself why the lipstick was so important to her. Of course, it was because of her boyfriend. Because this would be a dark love story I riffed on the title Love in the Time of Cholera.

I liked writing about women dealing with the zombie apocalypse, different kinds of women from vastly different backgrounds. So, who next? So far all of the women characters had been brave and resolute, facing the new reality head on. None of your weak kneed, screaming, ingénues here. So what if….Nope. Couldn’t do it. Instead I came up with “Diary of a Professional Screamer” about a pre-apocalypse movie star known for scary flicks who turns into one kickass zombie hunter and still has to battle those who objectify and treat her like a weak kneed, screaming ingénue.

The story “Looking Back” is a character study. One of my favorite aspects about disaster films and shows like The Walking Dead is how vastly different people are thrown together and how they work with each other to survive. In this story R. Ace Timmons, aka Race, a blue collar guy (actually a pest controller mentioned in “All Gone”) and James Aloysius Taylor, Jim, is white collar and wealthy are my odd couple. Both had appeared as minor characters in other stories I’d written and I became intrigued with the question of whether or not they could survive against zombies and the coming winter.

The last story I wrote for the collection (and long after NaNoWriMo) was “Stages of Awakening.” This is a case of the pure what-ifs used to start a story, me wondering what goes through the mind of someone who knows they are going to turn. How do you cope with it? What does it feel like? What thoughts come into your head?

The last story in the book is “Jasper Wills and the Zombie Blues,” the one that gave me the idea for the title of the collection. This one came about because of the main character. One day I imagined an old Chicago blues musician, tattered clothing, holding tight to his guitar case, shambling down Wabash Avenue, talking to himself. I pictured his walk and his half-whispered speech as being so slow and rhythmic that it blended in with the zombie hoard moving around him. I could almost hear his voice. I fell in love with the character and so what could I do but write a story for him? Jasper’s my favorite character in this book. The setting ranks high, too. (After all, I am a Chicago girl born and raised.)

Which brings me to setting as the springboard for story ideas. The more zombie stories I wrote, the more I asked myself why some many of them seemed to want to go together. On analysis, I came up with two factors: location and my quirky choice of weapons (junk food, sit coms, disco music) to ward off the zombies. The first led me to write more stories set in and around where I’ve lived: Chicago and its suburbs. The next led me back to “Zombie Café” and then I came to the idea of weaving most of the stories into a novel of the same title.

By the way, starting tomorrow my novel Zombie Café will be offered on a Kindle countdown. November 1st to November 8th you can pick it up at a special price for as low as $0.99 or £0.99. I hope you take advantage of the sale. And as ever, if you like either of my books, posting a review on Amazon would be very, very nice. Thanks!

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Annual Halloween Book Deal

Yep, it’s that time of the year again: almost Halloween and time for a scary good deal on my book of short stories Zombie Blues!

Starting tomorrow, October 27th 12:00am PDT, the Kindle version of Zombie Blues will be free over on Amazon until October 31st at 11:59pm PDT. That’s nine short stories about zombies all for free.

But as they say…wait…that’s not all!

Later this week look for another blog post in which I’ll offer some insight into how those stories came about. That’s right, I’ll try to answer that question forever asked of writers: where do you get your ideas? (Now that may be really scary!)

And…there might be news of another great deal coming your way.

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Trick or Treat, Shuffling Feet, & Books Deals for Zombie Fans

It’s been a scary year. Maybe the ghosts, goblins, vampires, and werewolves that usually fill our minds when calendars are turned to October aren’t as frightening anymore. But then again…they may still provide a distraction from real life woes, entertainment, and hopefully some fun (all sorely needed these days).

In honor of our usual Halloween traditions, I’m offering up the second annual Zombie Blues & Zombie Café Kindle countdown.

From October 25th to October 31st over on Amazon.com the Kindle versions of my zombie books will be on sale. Both will start off at the low price of $0.99 on October 25 (at 8am PDT). Grab them while you can! The price on both kindle books will go up little by little through the week until by November 1st they reach their regular prices. The sooner you grab a copy, the sweeter your treat!

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Halloween, Gardening, & A Great Deal

It’s scary that Halloween is almost here and unlike other years I haven’t pulled out all my inside decorations yet. Seems like I get around to that later and later every year. BUT…I do have my exterior decorations up: orange lights mixed with multi-color spider lights strung along the railing of the deck in front of the house and big fuzzy spiders hanging from the siding, the mailbox, and the light next to my front door. It always makes me happy to see them at night, warming my spirits as the nights get chilly!

It was still warm enough today to get out to work in the garden. It was time to put away the chairs and table from my back deck, empty the planters, and looking ahead to the spring, I planted some more tulip and hyacinth bulbs as the dog followed along wondering why I can dig in the garden but he isn’t allowed to do that. As an experiment I brought in some of my water garden plants to see if I can nurse them through the winter. I now have a couple of water hyacinth in a bowl and a small papyrus in a pot in my kitchen window. I’m not sure how that will work with the holiday decorations, but thought I’d give it a try this year. (And of course…gardening is such good procrastination.)

Speaking of writing…or not , as the case may be, I’ve been working on two story ideas lately, bouncing from one to the other as the plot ideas pop up. Did I work on either today? No. My other excuse for procrastinating is that I have to finish the David Baldacci course over on Master Class before my year long membership is up and get it out of the way so I can buckle down for NANOWRIMO, which is right around the corner. This year I’ve already knocked out a detailed outline for both new novels (thanks to Baldacci, R.L. Stine, and Dan Brown’s guidance and inspiration in their courses) so I’m hoping to have a very productive November indeed.

Now, to the great deal. If you haven’t gotten my books Zombie Café or Zombie Blues yet (and the season is right for some zombie stories) perhaps your spidey sense was telling you to wait. I have lowered the paperback price on both. Over on Amazon, Zombie Café went from $12.99 to $9.99 and Zombie Blues from $9.99 to $7.99. Great gifts for stuffing your nightmare before Christmas stockings hung up by the coffins with care.

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Bad News, Good News, and Stress

Had a scare yesterday when one of my close friends, who is over 70, told me she thought she might have Covid-19. Turns out her handyman’s mother has Covid and he got tested but wouldn’t know the results until today. His results are negative and my friend is in the clear. For now.

That “in the clear for now” factor is what still has me stressed out, as I’m sure it has all of you stressed, too.

Yesterday, when I was full of worry about her, I thought I was coping, but I kept making stupid mistakes. Luckily I was at home, not at work, so they didn’t have any effect on other people (accept for my dog and cat thinking I was crazier than usual). By afternoon I broke down and cried for a few minutes, which made me realize I wasn’t coping well at all.

This morning I got her good news and felt a good portion of my stress melting away. I figured out why a few of the things that had gone wrong yesterday went wrong (due to my foolish mistakes) and fixed them. I saw clearly today what I couldn’t see yesterday in my stressed-out state. And, due to the fact that I am a major nerd, I remembered that adage from Frank Herbert’s Dune: “Fear is the mind killer.” So. Very. True. And it explains so much about the state of our country right now, doesn’t it?

Now, if you’re a nerd like me you might decide it’s time to re-read Dune. Reading is still a great escape from our everyday woes. But if you don’t have time or aren’t inclined to read scifi, then here’s something that will take just a couple of minutes and may help immensely…

Watch Dr. Laurie Santos’ Top Five Coping Tips. Short sweet, and very helpful. You may have recently spotted her on the second episode of the PBS series “Hacking Your Mind”, which I also recommend for those of you who have the time.

Hope that helps. And here’s hoping everyone out there is having a good day and that we have more good than bad days ahead.

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Writers, Reviews, and A Very Good Day

If you follow this blog then you’re aware that I’m working on a new project. You also know that this summer I joined the Clarion West Write-a-thon . My goal was to work on my new novel 1 hour each day no matter how tired I was after my nine-to-five job. Though that doesn’t sound like a big deal, believe me, it was tough to pull it off.

By the time I get home, play with the dog, feed the dog and the cat, make dinner, eat, and unwind enough to write, it’s usually around 9 pm. So I ended up writing from 9 to 10, or 9:30 to 10:30, or 10:00 to 11, or…you get the idea. That’s okay. I am a night owl by nature so I’m more productive when I write in the evenings. A few nights I got so caught up in the new characters and story that I spent more than the allotted hour writing. The drawback, of course, was that the later I stayed up the harder it was to drag myself out of bed in the morning for work.

The more tired I became, the greater my doubt that it was worth the effort. Don’t get me wrong: I love writing and I love the new characters who are coming to life as I write. But doubts do creep in. It’s a writer thing. I got confirmation of that through one of the Clarion updates I received. Along with some great suggestions and resources given to help keep the participants on track, the email stated, “They say that week four of the Clarion West summer writers workshop is the toughest,” and went on to say that you might “find yourself doubting your talent and/or the work you’re creating.” (Wise people, those at the Clarion West.) And yes, I had gotten to that point. But a promise is a promise, so on I wrote.

Then at week 5 of the write-a-thon, while procrastinating, I checked my email and spotted a notice from Amazon about an upcoming royalty payment on my books. Now, you need to know that I never expect much of a payment. My books are self-published and I’ve had little time to promote them. Nevertheless I’m compelled to check the sales ranking of each book and, what the heck, check to see if there are any new reviews. And there it was. A review for Zombie Café.:

“This is one of the most unusual and extraordinarily uplifting books I have read in a long time! 5 thumbs up!”

Wow.

I have never used the word “elated” to describe my mood before, but that’s what I was…elated. This review came from someone I don’t know who seems to be a big reader of apocalyptic fiction and who liked my book enough to take the time to write a review. And the description fits Zombie Café so well. Again: wow.

I’ll never forget reading this review and the lift it gave me. Thanks! You kept me going through the rest of the write-a-thon and well beyond.

And thanks to anyone who takes the time out of their lives to read one of my books or the books of other writers out there. I hope that the stories we tell provide some enjoyment and distraction during these strange days of 2020.

And now…it’s 9:55 pm and I need to put in an hour’s writing on my new novel.

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Clarion West Write-a-thon! (Or What I’m Doing on My Summer Vacation)

This summer, aside from pulling weeds in the garden and trying to stay cool, I’m writing for a good cause—and it would be great to have your support.

I’m writing for the six-week Clarion West Write-a-thon, the yearly fundraiser that helps keep this fantastic workshop going.  Clarion West is a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing some of the best speculative fiction workshops in the galaxy. I’ve mentioned it before in my reminiscences about Harlan Ellison who recommended the Clarion Workshop to me as a great way to develop as a writer. Clarion is run by volunteers and a small, hardworking paid staff, and it depends on the support of the community.

So what’s a write-a-thon? It’s like a walk-a-thon with words—six weeks of writing to help raise money for this workshop.  My goal? I’ll work at least 1 hour a day on my latest project, a new fantasy novel with the tentative title Second Fate.

Here’s the hastily cobbled together blurb for the new novel:

Cassidy appears to be a middle-aged waitress at the Lo-Cal diner, but her real job is being the latest soul to fill the position of Lachesis the second Fate, dispensing and weaving the threads of human lives until her sister Atropos cuts them. One problem: she and her friend Death discover a backlog of souls entering the afterworld. Threads are dangling, the great tapestry is tangling, and the world of the living is nearing a critical overload. Is this chaos part of the divine plan or is someone messing with the natural order­—and if so, why?

Of course I have an ulterior motive. This Write-a-thon isn’t just about giving money to sustain an amazing workshop, but also about helping me to become a better writer and sustain my writing spirit. Dedicating 1 hour a day to a new writing project may not seem like a big deal, but oh boy, is it! When I get home from work my energy is nearly non-existent these days, so I’ve been spending the night watching TV, getting depressed over the news, and generally not being productive. My write-a-thon goal is a chance to regain my discipline and get back to writing everyday. With your help and encouragement I know I can achieve it. (And hopefully get well on my way to producing a good story along the way!)

If you’d like to sponsor me, please visit my page on the Clarion West site. It takes only a few minutes to donate, and any amount makes all the difference in the world to both me and Clarion West. And you can also have a bit of fun and maybe fame by supporting me! For a $25 donation,  I’ll mail you a physical copy of one of my books, your choice of what I have here at home. (I even have a few copies of my out-of-print Kat Duarte novellas.) And for a $50, I’ll name a character after you in my new fantasy novel. Be a lost soul haunting Cassidy’s diner! Join the crowd waiting to cross over into the afterworld! Become one of the Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse! Who knows what the Fates have in store for you!

So, I hope you’ll consider supporting me this summer. Spread the word to friends, family, and coworkers. And look for updates on my progress here and on Twitter.

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My Covid-19 Stay At Home 2020 Diary

Hello fellow nerds!

Hope you are all well and playing it safe.

The resale shop where I work closed as of March 24th and I’ve been home ever since. Just seven days, but it already feels much, much longer. How is it going for me? Well, as I told a friend of mine (phone call, not in person, social distancing and all) my moods seem to rotate among these three:

#1: “Oh, God, oh God, we’re all going to die,” which makes me think about Joss Whedon’s shiny Firefly ‘verse and helps to calm me down

#2: appreciating/enjoying time at home to catch up on reading, writing, and whatnot, and

#3: feeling guilty about enjoying anything with all that’s happening.

There is also the whole stressing over no incoming income going forward and the whole big circus of hoops that have to be jumped though to sign up for unemployment and any other help I can find to keep the lights turned on and the pets fed.

There’s also the feeling (maybe I’ll add a #4) that I am not being as productive as I could be each day. And so the decision to keep a daily list of what I have actually accomplished to help me feel less like I’m in limbo.

I won’t bore you all with a day-by-day account, but I thought I’d share today’s list of activities as an example of how one isolated, currently unemployed, writer is spending her days during this crisis.

March 31, 2020:

  • hug dog, pet cat, get out of bed
  • make breakfast (tea and oatmeal)
  • eat breakfast while working through two lessons of Dan Brown’s MasterClass on writing thrillers (Note: a year’s access to MasterClass was a Christmas gift to myself)
  • play with dog in back yard
  • complete audit of week 1 of CalArt course “Story and Narrative Development for Video Games” (a skill I might need to apply for a remote job I saw on Indeed.com)
  • make lunch (soup) and watch a Hallmark channel mystery while I also…
  • did laundry (two loads)
  • have small panic over paying bills (similar to #1 mood mentioned previously)
  • hug dog, feed cat (she’s very demanding and vocal), play with dog in back yard
  • mend old pair of sweatpants while watching PBS NewsHour, leading to…
  • another tiny panic over the state of the pandemic in our country
  • 1/2 hour on treadmill (I’ve been pretty good at doing that and have only slacked off one day so far. But, considering’that at work I’m on my feet for 8 hours moving and lifting merchandise, it’s not my usual amount of  physical activity.) The soundtrack for today’s workout? Rick Springfield’s Venus in Overdrive. Hey! No booing out there. Springfield’s music always keeps me moving.
  • dinner (1 piece of leftover pizza, celery sticks, cauliflower florets, and a small dish of dry roasted peanuts) Not great nutrition, but not bad. And crunchy foods lessen stress, at least in my case.
  • re-watched one episode of Chuck while eating dinner
  • wrote blog post

Tomorrow and the days to follow will bring much of the same with the addition of auditing another Coursera course for a TESOL certificate (while waiting to see if I can get financial aid to actually get certification) for yet more jobs I’ve seen online. And writing? I’m averaging an hour or so every other day, so I really need to step up my game in that corner.

  • next up: hot chocolate and Hallmark Christmas movie, then
  • re-read one chapter of The Da Vinci Code before bed to study structure for that MasterClass with the added benefit that Langdon stories always bring to mind Tom Hanks and who could ask for a more comforting image to help me get to sleep?

So…how are your days going?

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#StayAtHomeAndRead & #SongsOfComfort

Hi, everyone!

Hope you are all playing it safe and staying well during these trying times.

Since a lot of us are staying home, I’m calling on all authors to help out by giving away free copies of our books and to start a StayAtHomeAndRead campaign on Twitter. Please post your giveaways on Twitter with that hashtag. 

zombie blues 3

I’m definitely no YoYo Ma, but I do love my blue guitar!

I figured this small act of kindness is the least I can do to give support to others as we all cope with the new normal of Covid-19 life. Thanks to YoYo Ma for giving me the inspiration because of his fantastic #SongsOfComfort idea. (Hope you all are looking into that. Music is so important to heal the spirit, as are all the arts.)

The Kindle version of my novel Zombie Cafe is free on Amazon now through Sunday March 22nd. Then of my short story collection Zombie Blues will be free on Amazon starting Monday March 23 through Wednesday March 25th.

I hope other authors will join in with giveaways of their books! And, of course, that books lovers will find comfort and support in this effort.

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Strange Days, Free Reads, and Hanging in There

Anybody else wondering how to get through these strange and trying times? I’m thinking a show of hands would be unanimous on that. I’ve also been thinking about how I could help others who, like me, are looking for ways to pass the time and distract ourselves from the itsy bitsy panic-stricken moments we might be experiencing.

One tip is to not lose track of the good things we still have. For example, the first day of Spring arriving this Friday! We’ve got more sunshine, more daylight hours, and my daffodils are starting to green up the flower beds in my backyard making me anticipate the beautiful spring colors that will soon arrive. So let’s celebrate spring!

My contribution is to give away free copies of my Amazon Kindle books.  Now I realize zombies might not suit everyone’s reading appetites right now (or at any time), but for those who are so inclined…

Zombie Café, my novel, is free on Amazon starting Friday March 20 through Sunday March 22nd

and then…

Zombie Blues, my short story collection, is free on Amazon starting Monday March 23 through Wednesday March 25th.

I hope these free reads help to entertain some of you during these very strange days!

To keep my brain occupied with something other than unnerving news and empty grocery store shelves I’ve been throwing myself deeper into writing, taking Dan Brown’s Master Class, hugging my dog a lot, and re-watching Chuck seasons 1 through 5. (Ah. Happier days.)

How is everyone else coping? I’d love to hear from you here or on Twitter!

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