For Those Who Can Only Handle Being Moderately Creeped Out (2018 Update)

I’ve never been one to enjoy being scared on purpose. I don’t watch horror movies, relish psychological thrillers, or visit haunted houses.

Occasionally, however, on a long fall evening, I will curl up with a book that matches the season; or while out on a late-evening walk, I will listen to something that will creep me out–but only a little.

If you like to cover similar emotional territory, you’ve come to the right place.

I’ve been keeping a list for people like us.

Here’s the update.

Books

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman

The author had me right where he wanted me, held captive with nothing but my fear of the unknown propelling me forward. I think I read it in a day, finishing during dinner just before it got dark.

Wildfell, by London Clarke

Creepy Gothic suspense with a modern twist. Romance, travel feels, and things that go bump in the night. Yes, please.

11/22/63, by Stephen King

This isn’t the only Stephen King book I’ve read (his book On Writing is excellent) but it was the first, largely because I was told it “wasn’t too scary.” And it really wasn’t. Just super intense and psychologically twisty. Because…Stephen King.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

This is not only a vampire book for people who aren’t into vampire books, but it’s also a creepy book for people who can’t handle creepy books. If that sounds like you, go for it.

Podcasts

Lore, hosted by Aaron Mahnke

I actually gave this one up recently because it started scaring me too badly when I was out running in the early morning or late evening. If I only listened to podcasts from the safety of my home, though, I’d probably still be hooked.

Dr. Death, reported by Laura Beil

Fair warning: this is real life. You may find yourself avoiding medical care after listening to this one.

Happy Face, produced by HowStuffWorks with Melissa Moore

In 1995, Melissa Moore learned that her father was the Happy Face Killer. In this podcast, she reviews her childhood and adolescence, analyzing her life through the lens of this knowledge, understanding her past in a new way. It’s early days still (I’ve only listened up through Episode 3) but can already attest that it’s gripping.

Individual Podcast Episodes

From Stuff You Missed in History: “The Hagley Woods Murder” 

Truth is always creepier than fiction. I mean…who did put Bella in the witch elm?

From This American Life: “House on Loon Lake” 

Enjoy shivering your way through this account of one man’s lifelong obsession with an abandoned house. I first listened while road-tripping home in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm. Perfectly creepy conditions.

From Criminal: “A Bump in the Night” 

What would you do if you realized someone was living in the crawl space above your bedroom…and that he might be in the house right now…? As a single woman who lives mostly alone, I found this true story almost too much to handle.

From Fictional: “Give Him a Hand” 

A creeptastic modern retelling of the classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw.” I first listened one blustery night as I walked through my neighborhood at dusk. Palm branches flailed against low clouds and raindrops dribbled down the back of my neck as I shivered my way through this. I was never happier to get back to the house.


Are you the type who can only handle being moderately creeped out? If so, and you give any of these recommendations a try, do let me know how everything works out. I want all the shivery details.

Also, let me know what my lists are missing! I look forward to hearing your suggestions in the comments below. Remember, only medium creepy suggestions.


Happy October! While the majority of North Americans are enjoying sweaters, scarves, and pumpkin spice coffees, we here in Florida are still just sweating it out, dealing with soaring temperatures and tropical storms.

Whatever the weather, the days are getting shorter, both in terms of daylight and the number of squares left on the calendar in 2018.

So.

Two important notes:

  1. This week my debut novel Collapsible is enjoying a publisher’s discount on all major e-book distribution channels, including Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. From now until October 17, 2018, the e-book is just $.99–spread the word and snap it up!
  2. Very soon, I’ll be sending out my fall update. It will include news about my writing life, publication updates, planned appearances, and some personal stuff. Be sure you’re signed up so that you don’t miss out.

Happy Monday, everyone! May all your sweaters be cozy, your apple-picking delightful, and your favorite seasonal blend brewed to perfection.

Backstage Pass

In celebration of Collapsible‘s One-Year Bookiversary, I’m here to offer you access to a unique, never-before-published scene which was originally cut from the final draft of the novel.

It’s almost pure comedy, yet because the scene appeared early in the story, my editors thought it best to move the narrative along quickly rather than engage in indulgent silliness so soon. (My words, not theirs.)

They were right, of course, but that didn’t keep me from dying a bit inside when I had to say goodbye to the scene.

When you read it yourself, you’ll understand why.

The Scene

In the scene, which was originally slated to be Chapter 2, the girls race from the gym to the hospital. Ann decides to piggyback Rachel into the emergency room, and things go decidedly wrong. Because of course.

The Deal

Once Collapsible has reached 50+ reviews on Amazon, I’ll be releasing the scene right here on the blog.

Why It Matters

Reviews help consumers make purchasing decisions, of course, but they also move books up in Amazon’s rankings. When that happens, Collapsible will be more likely to be recommended by the algorithm when people purchase similar products. Then everyone wins.

How to Help

If you’ve read Collapsible and haven’t already posted an online review, drop by Amazon’s product page and post a short response. One or two sentences with a handful of stars is really all it takes.

Of course, if you haven’t even read the book yet, you also know what to do.

Let’s get cracking!

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Celebrating Collapsible [Events+Video!]

This week, my debut Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder celebrates its first Bookiversary!

Last fall on September 29, 2017, this little gem was first released into the world. I couldn’t have been more vomitously excited.

Join me for a week of events marking this momentous occasion.


Collapsible’s One-Year Bookiversary

Celebrations

Monday – Bookiversary Kickoff & Catch-Up Reading Day

If you’ve been meaning to read Collapsible, or if it’s been a while and you want to brush up on the story before the week’s festivities begin in earnest, today’s your day. Grab a copy and get cracking.

Tuesday – Collapsible-themed Read-and-Tweet-a-Thon

Starting at 3:00pm (EST) and continuing through the evening, I’ll be reading through the novel and live-Tweeting thoughts, insider stories, and favorite lines. I haven’t read the book since final proofs last summer so this will be a treat for all of us. Be sure you’re following me on Twitter to join in.

Wednesday – Books in the Wild

I’ll be posting a thread on Facebook asking for pics of Collapsible going through the day with you. Show us Collapsible in its natural reading habitat! Pictures that earn the most likes will be featured later in the week.

Thursday – Facebook Live Q&A at 4:30pm (EST)

Come with your questions and sassy comments about Collapsible, researching, writing, and whatever else you’d like. It’ll be an open forum. I’m ready! Be sure you’re following me there so you don’t miss out.

Friday –  Backstage Pass

Here on the blog, I’ll be posting information about how you can access a hilarious deleted scene from Collapsible‘s cutting-room floor.

It’s one of my favorite scenes, but because it fell early in the book and didn’t sufficiently advance the plot, my editors suggested its removal before the final cut. Be sure you’re following this blog to learn how you can get it in front of your beady little eyes.

Saturday – Collapsible officially celebrates its one-year bookiversary! 

Keep your eyes peeled for surprise bonus content to drop through Instagram. Be sure you’re following me there to see it!


As you can see, we have lots to look forward to this week. For everyone who’s already read the book, thank you so much. For everyone who’s intending to, thank you in advance. I know there are many great books out there. I’m grateful you’re spending some time on mine.


Happy Bookiversary, everyone! Settle in, brew a cup of coffee, and enjoy this dramatic reading from Chapter 1. (LOL, that close-up, though!)

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Bookmageddon: Confessions of a Survivor

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Recently while I was having a leisurely lunch with friends, one of them said, “You know, you’re a lot more relaxed now that your books are out.”

No kidding. A year ago this time, I was a wreck.

I blame Bookmageddon.

Bookmageddon Explained

After having written four books in four years and submitting proposals nonstop without many publication nibbles, I finally signed two traditional publishing contracts: one for a trilogy of frothy novels, and the other for a non-fiction book.

I wrote another little novella in celebration, quickly received a contract on that one as well, and then discovered that all five books were slated to release within six months of each other.

I called it BOOKMAGEDDON.

Bookmageddon Experienced

One year ago this time, I was actively preparing for the release of my first novel (Collapsible) while proofing galleys of two other books (The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles and Murder on Birchardville Hill) and doing rounds of edits on the other two (Flexible and Unbreakable).

As a new author, I’d never done a book launch in my life, and I was trying to get five books finalized simultaneously while holding down a day job and maintaining a semblance of a personal life. Add to that the disruption of a major hurricane (Irma) and you have a fair idea of what went down.

Bookmageddon Evaluated

I’ll never complain about the miracle of suddenly receiving publication contracts on five books after years of absolute rejection. But you won’t necessarily hear me recommending Bookmageddon-style releases, either.

During the height of my Bookmageddon workload, I was rising in the wee hours of the morning to fit in work before my day job and then investing a few more hours of work after work. Meanwhile, emotionally, it was all I could do to keep myself together.

The external pressure of deadlines was compounded by the internal stress of finalizing the latter books in a series without knowing how the first would be received. The stress of comparing the style of my fifth book to my first and knowing there was a noticeable skills gap; then lying awake at night convinced that no one would actually notice the gap because no one outside my immediate family was likely to buy or read my books anyway.

All was vanity and vexation of spirit.

Good times.

Beyond Bookmageddon

Once all the behind-the-scenes work and emotional hand-flapping was done and I could sit back and let the books roll out, Bookmageddon wasn’t so bad. The release days themselves were anticlimactic.

When asked if I’d ever do anything like Bookmageddon again, I have to laugh. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever have five unpublished manuscripts stacked up again; but if I do, and if Bookmageddon 2 is the only way to get them in front of your beady eyes, I’d consider it.


For those who have asked, I am working on a new book.

The first draft is done, the manuscript is now in the re-writing phase, and I’m working on finding it the perfect publishing home. Though it wasn’t a good fit for the publishers who took a chance on my Bookmageddon titles, I’m optimistic that we will have publication news early in 2019. (Sign up here to be among the first to know.)

In other news, since Collapsible will celebrate its one-year Bookiversary on September 29, next week’s blog post will be packed with bonus content. So we all have that to look forward to!

Happy Monday, y’all! May your spirits rise like the steam from your coffee.

Great Read-Aloud Recommendations for Kids [UPDATED 9/18]

My current day job involves reading aloud to kids. Every few months, I like to update this post to reflect where we’ve been spending our reading time. What we read is not purely my choice but is often responsive to what they’re learning/where they’ve been traveling/what we’ve been discussing. Please make note of the caveats below. Happy reading!


How I Choose Books 

When the time comes to start a new book with the Podlings, my decision process goes something like this:

1) Have I read it and enjoyed it? I can’t over-stress the importance of this step. I don’t care how lauded or “important” or “valuable” the book is. If you don’t care for it, the kids you’re reading to won’t care either.
2) Will they understand it and like it? I balance toward the older ones in the group. The littles get what they get — which is generally more than I expect.
3) What does the author do well? Humor, drama, storytelling, dialogue, characterization, suspense, research, twists? I require at least one standout category per book but don’t expect perfection in all areas for every read.
4) Does the book match the season? I’m all about reading the right book at the right time, which is why–as you’ll see below–we sometimes take a break in the middle of a series to read something that matches the season.

How You Should Choose Books

1) Take the advice of the readers in your life (under advisement). Definitely accept recommendations from your friends who read, but don’t take them blindly. Not every book is for every person.
2) Read the book first yourself. Don’t skip this step. No matter how highly the book has come recommended or how much your friends or their kids may have liked it, that doesn’t mean a) you will like it (which is so important, since your enthusiasm can make or break the enterprise), or b) you will find it appropriate for your bunch. So be responsible about this and only start books with them that you know you’ll have the wherewithal to complete. Stopping halfway through a book and not finishing it breaks a child’s trust.
3) Decide how you’re going to handle questionable elements. I’m not the type to throw the baby out with the bath water, but if I’m going to read children a book with a little language in it (or another brief or mildly questionable element), I definitely take some steps. First, I tell them about it ahead of time (“Jimmy’s grandpa swears a few times.”), and I also tell them how we’re going to handle it (“When that happens, I’m just going to say ‘Grandpa swore.'”) That way they don’t have a false view of the book (or of life, for that matter), but we’re also not normalizing the words themselves. Again, you may decide to take a different approach to this. Bear your approach in mind as you make decisions.
4) Don’t worry too much about whether the book is considered “important” or “educational” or “valuable.” Those categories are so subjective. Just pick a good read and get cracking. Reading aloud to kids has great value in itself.

Books I’ve Read Aloud to the Podlings

  1. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck
  2. Derwood, Inc., Jeri Massi
  3. A Dangerous Game, Jeri Massi
  4. The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare
  5. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
  6. Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis
  7. The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
  8. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
  9. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (unabridged)
  10. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
  11. The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
  12. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis
  13. A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein
  14. Summer of the Monkeys, Wilson Rawls
  15. Summer of Light, Dennis M. Van Wey
  16. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle
  17. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck (again by request)
  18. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  19. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  20. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (again)
  21. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged this time; I learned my lesson)
  22. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
  23. The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
  24. The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
  25. The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
  26. C.S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia, Sam Wellman
  27. Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology, William F. Russell
  28. Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park
  29. Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck
  30. The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis
  31. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
  32. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
  33. A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park
  34. A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck
  35. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  36. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
  37. Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo
  38. Daddy Long-Legs, Jean Webster
  39. Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
  40. Peace Child, Don Richardson (Note: Get the updated anniversary edition. Trust me.)
  41. Legends in Sports: Babe Ruth, Matt Christopher
  42. The Velveteen Rabbit and Other Tales, Margery Williams
  43. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Timothy Keller
  44. The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King, Book 1), T.H. White
  45. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  46. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (yes, again)
  47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged)
  48. The Sugar Creek Gang #1: The Swamp Robber, Paul Hutchens
  49. True Stories of the Second World War, Paul Dowswell
  50. The Force Awakens: A Junior Novel, Michael Kogge
  51. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: In the Midst of Wickedness, Janet & Geoff Benge
  52. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  53. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Alfred Lansing
  54. The Kite Fighters, Linda Sue Park
  55. Bound for Oregon, Jean Van Leeuwen
  56. Benjamin Banneker: Astronomer and Mathematician, Laura Baskes Litwin
  57. The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students, Suzanne Jurmain
  58. Heroes in Black History: True Stories from the Lives of Christian Heroes, Dave & Neta Jackson
  59. Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski
  60. The War that Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  61. Life with Father, Clarence Day
  62. Sackett, Louis L’Amour
  63. The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, Christopher Paul Curtis

Possibilities Still on Our Horizon:

  • Red Scarf Girl, Jiang Ji-li
  • Hatchet, Gary Paulsen
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry
  • The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, Wendy Wan-Long Shang
  • Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Have some great read-aloud suggestions of your own? I’d love to hear them. Share in the comments below!


In other news, I’m happy to announce that in honor of Pain Awareness Month, I’m offering a free 5-day e-mail course designed to encourage both those who suffer chronic pain and those who support them. It is written from a Christian perspective and will run September 17-21, 2018.

Chronic Pain
Lessons are short, practical, edifying, and designed for discussion and application. Be sure to sign up and refer a friend to take the course with you.

 

Happy Monday, everyone! May your spirits be high, your pain levels low, and your coffee just the right temperature for sipping.

Say What, Now?

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Please welcome my friend Emily Conrad to the blog. Today she’s sharing a story about a time she misheard her husband. Hilarity and deep thoughts ensued. Bear in mind as you read that the word brat, in addition to being a derogatory term for an ill-behaved child, can also be short for bratwurst. Enjoy!


I stared at my husband, certain I’d misheard him.

“What?” I asked.

He drove on oblivious, like no unusual sequence of words had just tumbled from his mouth. The passing countryside offered no clues to help me decode his statement. He glanced over like my cause for confusion was as much a mystery to him as his declaration had been to me.

“What did you just say?” I prodded. “Because it sounded like, ‘I would hate to live on the same brat as a crumbling world.’”

Wouldn’t we all.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m from Wisconsin, so I like brats, but can you imagine the grease we’d encounter, living on a ballpark sausage? Add a crumbling world, and the situation couldn’t get much worse.

In all seriousness, I do happen to think this world is passing away. 1 John 2:17 says it is.

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Thankfully, as believers in Christ, we’re promised a much better, more secure home than any dwelling we have now. In fact, I’d suggest that compared with our eternal homes with Jesus, our current houses will look even less appealing than the idea of a processed meat home sounds as you read this.

Do you ever think about that? How much better an eternity with Jesus will be than anything we experience here?

But back to the question at hand. Had my husband really specified he would hate to live on a brat with a crumbling world?

Sadly, no.

I was so far off that he had to stop and think for a while before he was able to recall his words.

Finally, enunciating carefully, he repeated himself. “I’d hate to live on the same property as a rundown building.”

Oh. Yeah, I guess. Not as much as he’d hate living on a brat, I’d bet, but something tells me he hasn’t put as much thought into that as I have.


In addition to spending time contemplating what it would be like to make her home on a processed German meat product, Emily also does some fiction writing. Check out her author page to learn more about her and her work. If I’m not mistaken, the paperback edition of her book Justice releases this week. I read it a few months ago, and you can find my Goodreads review here. Congratulations, Emily!

I’d like to thank Emily again for being here. Have you read her book? What did you think? Make sure to drop her a greeting and a few words in the comments.

Happy Monday, everyone! May your hearts be light and your coffee effective!

My Simple 46-Step Writing Process

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Note: An early version of this post was published in October of 2014 on my former blogging site. As my process has developed over the years, so has this list. It has been refreshed and relocated for your convenience. Enjoy!


This is how the magic happens.

Step 1: Convince myself I’ll never have another good idea.

Step 2: Idea sparks while I’m driving, working out, showering, or doing some other activity that makes it impossible to write idea down.

Step 3: Panic.

Step 4: Hurriedly complete task and rush to write down new idea before it evaporates.

Step 5: Look at idea later and decide it’s soul-crushingly stupid.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 1-5 until I have an idea that doesn’t make me want to sprint face-first into a brick wall.

Step 7: Drink 8,000 cups of coffee.

Step 8: Begin writing.

Step 9: Rip all hair out of head.

Step 10: Write some more.

Step 11: Drink more coffee.

Step 12: Resign myself that death is more likely to occur than the completion of the first draft.

Step 13: Finish first draft.

Step 14: Gallop around the apartment, yodeling.

Step 15: Call family and friends, announce the completion of the first draft of a new project.

Step 16: Try to explain plot/premise of first draft to family and friends.

Step 17: Realize that large swathes of it don’t make sense to them… or to me.

Step 18: Dread re-reading first draft for fear that it makes even less sense than I anticipate.

Step 19: Re-read first draft through one squinty eye.

Step 20: Die inside.

Step 21: Call family and friends, announce that I’ll soon be embarking on a solo hot-air-balloon tour of the world and they should come say their goodbyes as soon as possible.

Step 22: Try to buy hot air balloon online; wind up perusing help-wanted ads, paying special attention to local job openings that require neither reading nor writing.

Step 23: Eat scoops of coffee straight from the bag.

Step 24: Crawl into hyperbaric chamber stored in the closet for such a time as this.

Step 25: Listen to Mozart’s Requiem.

Step 26: Print out first draft while assembling army of sharpened pencils.

Step 27: Re-read manuscript, one hand thrust through what’s left of my hair, the other hand clutching a pencil; scribble angrily in the margins; occasionally shriek, “NO, NO, NO!”

Step 28: Listen to the Second Movement of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

Step 29: Murder my darlings.

Step 30: General flailing.

Step 31: Consume large amounts of cheese.

Step 32: Write second draft.

Step 33: Close hyperbaric chamber; seal off closet; resume sleeping in bed.

Step 34: Send latest draft to beta readers for feedback. Take cheerful jog around the block.

Step 35: Instantly feel worse.

Step 36: Alternate between hyperventilating and quietly dry heaving into a trash can.

Step 37: Receive exciting (yet horrifying) e-mails full of contradictory lists of everything that is both very right and very wrong with my manuscript.

Step 38: [gentle keening]

Step 39: Wade through contradictory lists of confusing feedback and decide what to change.

Step 40: Play Bach’s Come, Sweet Death on repeat.

Step 41: Write new draft.

Step 42: Find new readers; repeat Steps 34-41.

Step 43: Decide that the manuscript is “done.”

Step 44: Submit to agents/editors; repeat Steps 36 and 38.

Step 45: Find a publishing home; celebrate; prepare for book launch.

Step 46: Decide I’ll never have any good ideas ever again.


In addition to posting here, this week I’m also over on author Elaine Stock’s blog Everyone’s Story discussing the theological implications of running hills. Check out the post “Lift My Eyes.” While you’re there, comment to be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of my book Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder.

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee and your ideas flow freely.