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[Chapter Preview] Asleep from Day

“Simply riveting from start to finish… a captivating, literary piece that winds a path somewhere between mystery, romance, and psychological thriller.” — D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Astrid can’t remember the best day of her life: yesterday. She’ll risk her sanity navigating a maze of eccentric Boston nightlife in search of a mystery man who can help her recover lost memories.  Read the first chapter of Asleep from Day below.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

What’s the last thing you remember?

A rumble, a static rush, the world on a dimmer switch.

Outside, everything was gray.

But inside, a galaxy of color and light. Fireflies behind my eyes, neon in my bones. A nerve net of bioluminescence.

Radiant with hope. Glorious.

Do you know where you are?

In the heart of a storm. Give me lightning. Give me the flood. I’ve bled the sky of pigment, devoured its clouds. They remain like honey on my tongue, crystalized with promise. Nothing was ever sweeter.

What happened?

Something incredible.

Something terrible.

No more color. Fade to grey.

I’ve been robbed of this elation.

Stay with me.

BlackFeather no background SMALL

I have the weirdest taste in my mouth. Metallic, like I’ve been sucking on pennies, and spicy—no, not spicy. Stinging. Blood. What the—? I move my tongue and feel tiny pebbles. They’re sharp, cutting my gums and the insides of my cheeks. Not pebbles. Teeth? No. Glass.

I turn to spit out pieces of broken glass, but there’s something around my neck and I can’t move it. Okay, don’t panic. I push the glass out of my mouth with the tip of my tongue and pieces roll down my chin on a trail of saliva and blood. Now let’s turn on a light in here.

I open my eyes. Huh.

What is this place? There are shelves of equipment, strange monitors, dials, wires. Some kind of . . . storage room? The image blurs and wobbles. If my head is a handheld camera, whoever’s operating it has a serious case of the shakes. I can’t get a steady picture and I have no idea what this place is.

Have I been kidnapped?

That thought should trigger some modicum of fear. But it’s like I’m trapped in a block of ice and fear is on the other side of it. I can barely muster any curiosity to figure out where I am. The rest of it—how I got here, if I’m safe, hurt, etc.—will have to wait.

So let’s see. The room is tiny, and moving, and noisy. There are beeps, the hiss and tinny chatter of a walkie-talkie, the looped bellow of a siren.

Seriously, where am I?

Nowhere good, a black whisper warns, and a fog in my mind parts, clearing a path for fear, the belated guest.

The image finally snaps into focus and it registers: an ambulance.

Why the fuck am I in an ambulance?

I sit up with a—nope, I can only lift my head maybe an inch.

Why aren’t you panicking more?

Because it’s getting foggy inside my head again and blurry outside of it. I could really use a nap. It’s so chilly in here. And bright. Might as well close my eyes and deal with this in the morning. Ah, the dark is much better.

Hang on. Let’s get some questions answered first, maybe make sure I’m not missing any limbs. I try to sit up again and a hand on my shoulder prevents me from rising any further. No, it’s not just the hand. I’m strapped in.

“Nice to see you coming around, but don’t try to sit up. My name is Leo and I’m a paramedic. Do you know today’s date?”

I squint but can’t make out the face above me.

“September ninth, 1999,” I mumble.

“It’s actually September tenth,” he corrects me. Close enough.

“What happened? Am I hurt?” Of course you’re hurt, genius. I doubt you’re tied to a gurney, with a mouthful of glass, just joyriding in an ambulance.

“It’s going to be okay, Astrid, we’re almost at the hospital.”

How does this guy know my name? Why am I going to the hospital? Because that’s usually the drop-off destination of ambulances. Try to keep up here. What happened to me?

My head is so damn heavy. Back down it goes, more blood, more spit trickling out of the corners of my mouth. I form words but can’t speak them. I manage a garbled whisper, but it’s drowned out by sirens, rattling noises, and the tapping of heavy rain on the ambulance roof.

I need to take stock. I’m mostly immobile, but am I paralyzed? I try to wiggle the toes. Okay, those work fine. Fingers? The ones on the left hand move then seize up in pain. Blinded? Obviously not, but my vision is still fuzzy at the edges. Obviously, I can’t move my head much, but I shouldn’t anyway, in case I have a concussion. Or worse. Go away, black whisper, I don’t need you scaring the shit out of me right now.

Back to my self-assessment. Do I feel pain anywhere else in my body? Now that I mention it, hell yes. Where? Everywhere, especially my left side.

Why can’t I remember how this happened? I keep asking the paramedic, but he won’t tell me. Why won’t he answer me?

Oh yeah, because he can’t actually hear me. Because my lips are barely moving and no sound is coming out.

It’s an effort to form any more words or keep my eyes open. Is there a cold, heavy blanket over me? Uh-oh, those blurry edges are going dark. It’s like someone pushed me into a deep well and I’m falling in slow motion.

“Try to stay awake, Astrid.”

Fingers snap in front of my face.

Cut it out, ambulance man. You’re messing up my nap. It’s so much nicer with my eyes closed. All you do is boss me around with “Don’t sit up” this and “Stay awake” that. The darkness is quiet and doesn’t make annoying demands.

“Astrid. Astrid!”

His voice is like a megaphone in my ear. Where is your mute button, ambulance man?

I think I found it. It’s here, further down in the dark.

I hear two voices, growing fainter as they speak.

“She’s out again, but vitals are stable.”

I’m not out, yet, ambulance man. Give a girl a break, would ya? It’s not my fault I have anvils on my eyelids. Besides, the light in here is too bright. And you are too loud. But I can still hear you fine . . . Mostly . . . Kind of . . .

“You’d think people would know not to drive like assholes in this kind of rain.”

“What is this, third one today?”

“Fourth. You hear about the wreck by the BQE? Five cars and a motorcycle. Two fatalities.”

“This one got lucky.”

“So to speak.”

“So to speak.”

“Want to get breakfast after this?”

“It’s lunchtime.”

“So? I want breakfast. Couldn’t you go for some French toast or pancakes?”

“Maybe eggs. Some strong coffee, bacon . . .”

“Extra bacon.”

How about taking my order, ambulance man? I’ll have—

Darkness.

 

Asleep from Day available in paperback and ebook January 10, 2018. Pre-order here.

writing, writing tips

What I “Learned” about Storytelling from The Room

I’ve been wanting to see The Room for years, ever since I heard it was the Citizen Kane of bad movies. It got so I couldn’t ignore the hype, so I finally watched it the other night. Did it make it into my personal canon of so-bad-they’re good films, joining gems like Ishtar and Showgirls? No. But The Room‘s subversive—at times jaw-dropping—approach to storytelling taught me a lot. Apparently, I’ve been doing it all wrong. Here’s what I learned:

Establishing Characters and Motivations is for Suckers
Traditionally, a story introduces characters and gives them some goals and obstacles, and takes it from there. The Room spits in the face of such traditional narrative. Who is the (26-year-old) teenage boy at the beginning and why does he creepily follow Lisa and Johnny to the bedroom? Why does Lisa lie about Johnny hitting her yet stay with him while continuing an affair with Mark? Why did Denny get involved with buying/selling drugs when Johnny pays his rent and tuition? Who’s that guy we’ve never met before at the party who’s deeply invested in not only Lisa and Johnny’s relationship but the integrity of their friend group??? IT DOESN’T MATTER. The who, the why, these things are irrelevant.

Dangling Plotlines are Your Friend
Are you trying to tell a story people will be able to reasonably follow? Why would you do that? Why not leave people confused and unsatisfied instead? The secret is to introduce story elements… and then abandon them! Or not explain them! Allow The Room to enlighten you. Lisa’s mother “definitely” has cancer! Don’t worry about her, though, because it won’t be mentioned again after it’s revealed. Denny almost gets killed by a drug dealer! Rest easy, we won’t see that baddie again, nor will he be mentioned. Mark shows up at Johnny’s clean-shaven and it’s A Big Deal, but then the boys go outside to play football wearing tuxedos! What does that have to do with anything? Don’t bother your pretty little head about it. Coherent narration is so yesterday.

The Flatter the Dialogue, the Better
If your characters are at risk of sounding too much like real people, consider taking a page out of The Room‘s playbook to remedy that. Have conversations meander and pepper them with phrases like, “I don’t want to talk about it” to ensure zero character development or plot progress. Make sure characters use each others names way too much (“Why, Lisa? Why, Lisa?… I couldn’t go on without you, Lisa”). Add non sequiturs and abrupt segues, like when Johnny decides he no longer wants to discuss work with his friend so he asks him about his sex life. Make sure to repeat bits of key information, like Johnny not getting  his promotion, but for heaven’s sake, don’t offer any context, analysis, or implications in terms of the larger story. Try to start conversations the same way all the time (“Oh hai” being an obvious choice) and give characters a similarly banal way of exiting a scene (“I gotta go”). Still worried your dialogue might be too realistic? When in doubt, interject creepy, inappropriate laughter or chicken noises (“chip-chip-chip-chip-cheep-cheep!”).

Speaking of Repetition, Let’s Talk About Repetition
Got a love scene featured in your story? First, make it as awkward, dull, and unerotic as possible. Next, feature it again a few scenes later, provided it does absolutely nothing to move the story or characters forward. Got a fight scene? Good. Now add another fight scene, between same characters, right after it, only make it longer. Be careful you don’t make the story too exciting, though, so add lots of random dialogue-free scenes where characters repeatedly engage in recreational activities like jogging or football to offset all that heart-pounding action.

It’s Okay if Your Story is Boring and Baffling
In fact, if you follow the tips outlined above, it’s almost guaranteed. And if your story starts slipping into a coherent plot or your characters become too well-developed, just watch The Room and learn.

I gotta go.

writing

The Fear is Real

I love all things dark and spooky. I can’t resist a good thrill or chill. So of course I love this time of year. I thought about doing a post about my favorite scary books and movies, but I felt like there weren’t many original recommendations I could make. Instead, after waiting until the last possible minute, I decided to focus on a different kind of scary. The kind that gets to the very core of who we are.

The horror, the horror…
One of the big trends I’ve noticed book-wise these last few years is more attention given to thrillers, but less to horror. Which I find odd considering both explore dark themes. So I looked up what distinguishes the two genres and discovered something interesting. Yes, there is some overlap, though horror is more about dread/terror and thrillers more about suspense/menace. Yes, horror often includes supernatural/gory elements whereas thrillers are often more realistic and crime-oriented. But there’s more to it. In a thriller, the narrative tends to be about evading a threat, while horror makes you confront it head on.

I think there’s something compelling about putting a spotlight on your fears and facing them. So in honor of the scary season, here are my top fears as a writer:

1. I’ll never write another book.
This one is haunting me big time at the moment. Ever since I left the corporate world to write full-time, I’ve averaged a novel a year. I was on track to complete a fourth book this year, but a third of the way into it, I stopped. I knew the hook wasn’t strong enough and that my previous books were better, so I didn’t see the point in finishing something that would be less than. After tinkering with some other ideas, I have a seed of a concept I like, but it’s too soon to say whether that will be enough to produce a book. Meanwhile, I’m itching to work on something new, even as I’m putting a lot of my creative energy into marketing and promotion for my forthcoming debut. Which brings me to:

2. People are going to hate my book.
Writing is a tricky thing, because you have to do it for yourself, but you also can’t do it in a vacuum. You need to tell your story in a way that’s true to your vision, but also remember you’ll (hopefully) have an audience. Since I tend to write stories that are a bit off-kilter, I know they won’t have universal appeal, but I’d like my work to be generally well-received. Negative reviews will still happen, but it could be worse…

3. People are going to ignore my book.
With TV, movies, video games, social media, and countless other forms of entertainment/distraction, it’s tough enough to get through the white noise and hold people’s attention, tougher still to do it with a book. And there are a countless number of great books out there, so how can I ask someone to set aside hours to read mine? And yet, that’s what I’m doing, even as I also worry…

4. I’m not talented enough.
Oh, imposter syndrome, you persistent fiend, you. I’ve been writing for decades. I studied it in school, endured countless workshops, worked with editors and other writers. I write and revise, write and revise. And still, there’s always a nagging fear that I don’t have the goods. And the notion that you suck at the thing you love doing most is soul-crushing. No matter how much praise my writing gets, how much I convince myself that my hard work and ability will pay off, that doubt might go away, but it always comes back to linger. And speaking of paying off…

5. I won’t find success as a writer.
This is a tough one, because this fear is rooted in the harsh reality that is the publishing industry. Getting an agent is hard, getting a book deal is harder, publishing a successful book (whether through traditional or indie means) is hardest. And even if you have a hit book, making a living off of being an author is… not impossible, because it does happen, but definitely unlikely for the majority of those who try. It’s like expecting to win not one, but a series of lotteries. And yet, that’s my aspiration: to be—in effect—a professional lottery winner. The odds are slim to begin with and slimmer still for me because I don’t write in a popular genre like romance or thriller and I don’t write multiple books a year. This is the one I grapple with the most.

So what do I do with all this fear?

Yeah, good question. With no easy answer. For every fear we conquer, a new fear is waiting in the wings to take its place. And there are times that it can overwhelm and cripple. But sooner or later, you have to stop cowering and get on with things.

Looking at the list above, makes things weirdly less daunting. Writing is the thing I love most and I hope my passion for storytelling will overcome the doubts. I’m always getting new ideas so I have to believe I have more books in me. Some people might hate my work, but based on early readers, I know other people definitely love it. My book might not be a best seller, but it won’t be for a lack of hustling and trying to get it out there. There will always be writers more talented than I am, but the thing I can count on is that I’m always trying to improve as a writer—if nothing else, I suck less today than I did yesterday. And as for that pesky notion of success? That comes down to defining it for yourself. Sure, I’d love the kind of writing success that lets me take care of my family and not worry about money. In the meantime, one of my biggest dreams is coming true: I’m going to have a book out in the world early next year. For me, that feeling of fulfillment is a writing success right there. That makes me want to write more books and shoo away the fears.

So that’s my plan. I’ll acknowledge the scary stuff, but then I’ll focus on the inspiring and awesome. I’ll keep working and improving. I’ll keep sharing stories. I’ll be so busy making my creative dreams a reality, I won’t have time to be afraid.

books

[COVER REVEAL] Asleep from Day

I’m super-excited to reveal the cover of my debut novel, Asleep from Day. Before we get to the main event, I want to share a little about what inspired this book:

Back in the ‘90s, I came across this human interest news story that stuck with me ever since. A guy met a woman on a bus in Boston, they chatted for a few minutes, and the woman left before he could get her number. The guy was so taken with her and eager to find her, he plastered fliers all over the city with details of their brief chat (which, at one point, mentioned Kevin Bacon—insert Six Degrees joke here). Remember, this was in the 1990’s, back before Missed Connections and social media. He didn’t have online tools to help him find the woman. The fliers got so much attention, news outlets picked up the story and the guy ended up on TV talking about his search for this woman. I don’t remember if he ever tracked her down, but I was fascinated by the lengths this man went to for a woman he met for only a few minutes. It was romantic, sure, but also a little crazy and strange.

Many years later, the seeds of that story took root and grew into something different as I found my premise: What if a girl met a guy and spent a seemingly perfect day with him, then got hit by a car the next day and completely forgot him? What if, as she started to remember, she wondered if those memories were real? What if she had strange dreams and surreal experiences that made her worry she might be making him up and question her sense of reality? Add a 1990’s Boston setting and Asleep from Day was born.

It had to be the ‘90s, because technology makes it easier to find people and back then, it was easier to lose track of someone. It had to be Boston because I lived there during my college years and wanted this book to be my love poem to that city.

In terms of genre, here’s the thing: I like stories that aren’t one thing. I get more excited when a book or movie or show has layers of different genres. And I got more excited about this story when adding layers to it; I wanted it to be realistic yet surreal, romantic but twisted, with darkness and uncertainty to balance out the sweetness. It’s not psychological suspense or romance or mystery, but it has elements of all of those.

For the cover of Asleep from Day, I was hoping for something dreamy and a little strange, but still beautiful. I love the final design Terry Montimore came up with:

The Cover

ASLEEP FROM DAY_COVER_1600x2400 FINAL FULL 5.25x8_Color_COVER

About The Book

Astrid can’t remember the best day of her life: yesterday.

A traumatic car accident erases Astrid’s memories of September 9th, the day she spent with an oddly charming stranger named Theo. Ever since, she’s been haunted by surreal dreams and an urgent sense that she’s forgotten something important. One night, she gets a mysterious call from Oliver, who knows more about her than he should and claims he can help her remember. She accepts his help, even as she questions his motives and fights a strange attraction to him.

In order to find Theo and piece together that lost day in September, Astrid must navigate a maze of eccentric Boston nightlife, from the seedy corners of Chinatown to a drug-fueled Alice-in-Wonderland-themed party to a club where everyone dresses like the dead. In between headaches and nightmares, she struggles to differentiate between memory, fantasy, and reality, and starts to wonder if Theo really exists. Eventually, she’ll need to choose between continuing her search for him or following her growing feelings for Oliver. Astrid might go to extreme lengths to find what she’s lost . . . or might lose even more in her pursuit to remember (like her sanity).  

Asleep from Day will be released January 10, 2018 (paperback and ebook). Pre-order it here and add it to Goodreads.

For more updates, sign up for my newsletter. You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram. 

 

writing tips

And so it Begins… [How to Start a Story]

It’s probably a holdover from my school days, but I always associate autumn with beginnings. This fall in particular has been full of them: I created a new website, Facebook page, newsletter, and announced the release of my debut novel. I’m also starting this new blog, where I’ll share what I’ve learned in my professional experience as a book coach and editor along with my personal experience as a writer and avid reader.

So let’s get to it. It’s only fitting for this first post to be about story beginnings. In order to engage and retain the reader, that introductory chapter has a lot to accomplish. Some issues to consider:

The Hook
It all begins with that opening line. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a book, read the first sentence, and set the book aside (sometimes never to return). You know what they say about second chances and first impressions. So hook ’em fast and hook ’em early. Here are a few first lines I love:

“What do you pack for the rest of your life?” (So Much for That – Lionel Shriver)
“I’m like, I don’t believe this shit.” (Story of My Life – Jay McInerney)
“I have never looked into my sister’s eyes.” (The Girls – Lori Lansens)

Granted, I prefer a shorter opening line, but length is not as important as content. What all three of these have in common is that they immediately raise my curiosity. Right away, I have questions. Why are you packing for the rest of my life? What is this shit you don’t believe? Why have you never looked into your sister’s eyes? Once I have questions, I’m going to keep reading until I get the answers. Which leads me to…

Intrigue/Conflict
“Every life is a mystery. And every story of every life is a mystery.” – Cornell Woolrich
Regardless of your genre, at its core, every story is a mystery. No matter how beautiful the prose, secrets, problems, and surprises are what keep us glued to the page. Set up tension in the opening chapter, whether internal or external (ideally both). Your story is a puzzle, so make sure the first piece you reveal makes the reader want to solve it.

Inciting Incident/Decision
This is the big one. When beginning a story, ask yourself: Why here? Why now? Why this main character (MC)? What does your MC’s life look like right now and how is it about to change? No matter what kind of story you’re writing, there needs to be a reason for why it begins where it does, a catalyst that sets the story in motion. And one of the biggest issues novelists face, especially those starting out, is not beginning the story in the right place. Sometimes it actually begins a couple of chapters in. In one manuscript evaluation I did, the story didn’t begin until 100 pages into the book. That’s when the inciting incident occurred, the turning point that shifted the MC’s everyday life and set her off on a new course. Often, this turning point is accompanied by a choice. In Gone Girl, newly unemployed Nick and Amy Dunn move from NYC to Missouri. In The Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers as tribute. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet is cajoled by his wife to visit a prospective suitor to marry off one of their daughters. All of these decisions are the first domino that knock down the rest. Find your first domino and you’ll discover where your story really begins.

Backstory
Any time you pause to offer background info, if it’s not directly related to what’s happening in your story right now, you risk slowing down the pacing. Keep it to the essentials. The reader needs to know just enough about the who and the what. You can weave in additional backstory later on, once you’ve hooked the reader.

Character Intro/Desire
In order to care about what’s happening, the reader needs to know the key players of the story. Depending on your genre, liking them is not crucial (and I’ll write a separate post about character likability at some point), but being interested and invested in them is. As with backstory, you don’t want to overdo it with personal history, but give the reader enough to get a sense of who your MC is to care about what happens to them next. And be careful about introducing too many characters early on—more than three and you’re verging on character soup territory and may make it tough for the reader to keep track. What’s more important is to know what your MC wants. What will they be in pursuit of throughout the course of the novel? Speaking of pursuit…

Action
Let’s say you want to grab the reader in the opening pages with a chase scene. You’ve got action and excitement right from the get-go; what can go wrong? Well, consider why such a scene is effective when done right: because we’re invested in the character(s) and want to see them get away (or catch whoever they’re chasing, depending on who we’re meant to root for). If we don’t know why we’re supposed to care about who’s involved in the chase and what’s at stake, chances are, we won’t. It’s fine to tease a bit of action early on, but that action requires a stronger foundation.

Dialogue
Yes, I want to hear your characters talk, but consider what they’re saying and why. Are you using dialogue to create intrigue, develop character, show emotion, and move the story forward? Great, carry on. Are you using dialogue to convey everyday life without any real conflict or personality? That’s a problem. Are you relying on dialogue for info-dumps? Also problematic (see note above about too much backstory).

Theme
What’s your story really about? What’s the connecting thread that runs through the narrative? Survival? Loss of innocence? Love/lust? Good versus evil? Alienation? Once you know the central theme, make sure your opening reflects it.

Start as You Mean to Go On
Considering all the elements necessary to balance when you begin a story, you’re likely to spend a lot of time fine-tuning that first chapter. Keep at it until you get it right. But don’t stop there. I’ve read countless manuscripts with strong openings that quickly grew lackluster. The same diligence with which you fine-tune your first chapter must be applied to all the subsequent ones. Once you hook a reader, keep them hooked up to the very last page. Write, revise, get reader feedback, revise some more, lather, rinse, repeat. It may be tough and frustrating and tedious but hey, so is being a writer. And when everything falls into place in your story, it’ll may just be sublime. So is being a writer (okay, not always… but sometimes?).