Thursday, October 23, 2014

Once more into the fray, dear friends... NaNoWriMo tips!

It's once again that time of year - when writers tear their hair out and twist their guts into knots over the challenge that is NaNoWriMo... but first, a refresher for those poor souls who don't know what this is!

National Novel Writing Month is exactly that - a writing challenge for anyone who wishes to take it up. All you need to do is write 50,000 words between November 1st and November 31st and you win... well, nothing but bragging rights but it's a wonderful way to jumpstart that novel you've been wanting to write. It's an exercise that thousands have joined in over the years and has its own website where you can meet others in your area and be inspired and encouraged to Get It Done.

I've done this challenge and won twice - this year I'll be passing because it doesn't fall into the right time for my writing. I've got one book in edits (Tales from the Edge, book 3!) and waiting to hear on another big project and can't dedicate myself to a whole new book but I do encourage those of you who can to give it a try.

Why? Because it's a great way to teach yourself to get that Butt In Chair and get writing! 50K words is approximately 1613 words a day... ah, but don't get all smug thinking that it's an easy goal to meet! Let me toss some issues out there before you settle down for what you think is going to be an easy run...

First that's SEVEN days a week. No days off for church, work, shopping... did you notice that Thanksgiving is in there? AND Black Friday? Hmm... so you're still going to slam down 1600 words a day while stuffing that turkey or waiting in line for that great sale?

Suddenly that 1600 words seems a bit more daunting, yes?

The worst thing about NaNoWriMo, in my opinion, is that there's a major holiday smack dab in the middle of it - and if you don't plan for it this speed bump can send you right off the road and into the bushes no matter how much planning you do to complete your novel.

First - OVERWRITE every day! Don't settle for just 1613 words and walk away from your keyboard feeling smug about it. Write, overwrite, keep writing until you don't have any time left. Don't forget this is a first draft and the important thing is to get the words down on the page - there's no restriction here on good grammar, spelling or anything else other than what you make it. Get ahead of the count so that when you DO have those bad days where you end up spending the entire day working on fixing the oven so you can make that pumpkin pie or waiting at the airport for a late flight or trying to grab that great deal for Black Friday and not end up floundering in your wordcount. Get ahead at the start and you'll be prepared for those stumbles that are going to happen no matter what you do.

Don't fret over the phrasing too much - as I said above, this is a First Draft and IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE LOUSY WRITING. Any author who claims their first draft is ready for market is a wee bit loopy to start with. The important thing about NaNoWriMo is for you to get the words down on the page, not prepare it for submission. It's fine for you to go back over the previous day's work and give it a bit of a polish but don't get obsessed with making it perfect out of the gate - that's what December and all of 2015 is for. Get your fingers on the keyboard and get writing and don't fret too much about the spelling or the grammar. It can all be fixed later on.

The only thing you have to worry about and I've gotten trapped in this, is bad planning. Don't wait until after you start the book to have some idea of where your plot is going or what your ending is. You may not know all the bits and details about what happens but know where your characters are going to end up and what's going to happen at the end of the book. Free range writing is fine on your own but when you're committed to 50K words within a single month you don't have time to have your story wander off track.

Finally, and this is important - on November 1st pat yourself on the back no matter whether you've finished your work or not and walk away for a week or two to recover. You can go back and either finish your book or start editing it later on - give yourself that break to recharge the batteries and get a fresh look at your work.

If you intend to pursue publication you need to get that bit of space to go back to your work with a keen eye toward editing - and don't even think about sending it out to agents and publishers until 2015 and months after finishing (and hopefully winning) NaNoWriMo. Your work needs to breathe and you need to refresh your mind and body before beginning the next stage of editing and rewriting to prepare it for submission. Please give yourself that break to recharge your writing batteries and you'll find your work benefits from it.

Me? I've sold two NaNoWriMo books. Blood of the Pride and Blaze of Glory were NaNo novels that I sold after months of rewriting and editing so yes, it can be done. But even if you never sell your book NaNoWriMo is an excellent mental exercise to get your writing skills honed and test your endurance and organizational skills. If you're serious about writing I encourage you to consider this great way to join a huge writing community and have a good time doing it!

And plan for that turkey coma!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

To the Stars

Maybe it is my love for the Big Bang Theory that got me thinking about writing sci-fi. After all, those loveable geeks are all about maybe I developed a new love through an established love....or maybe I was just in the mood to hum a song about twinkling stars while I wrote. Who knows?

What I do know--the cover of Starlight Cowboy is gorgeous.

See? Beautiful!

I also know that it has two of my very favorite characters. Here's a little bit about them.

From the storybook of the stars.
A groundbreaking mission to the moons of Jupiter should have been Annalina's big ticket for advancement, but instead of captaining her own ship, she's second fiddle to Shields Albright.

Playboy, adventurer, immature.
Shields has been called it all, but really, he just wants to fly and hasn’t spent a lot of time on his social skills. Mutual attraction grows as the walls of the space ship close in, and they come to an arrangement that satisfies them both, while allowing them professional distance. The distance doesn’t last, not as they grow to understand themselves…and each other as someone who just fits.

Not all is as it should be among the stars.
Their ship is attacked, and the moons of Jupiter are not exactly untouched when they finally arrive. The little world they’ve built high above terra firma is about to smack down in the middle of a dangerous, maybe even deadly, reality. If Shields didn't attract trouble like fireflies on a bug zapper, the two might have an actual shot at true love.

See what I mean? They are so fantastic and I just love them.

You can fall in love with them too. Starlight Cowboy is available now!


Barnes and Noble:


Happy Reading!!
Stephanie Beck

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

To Veronica Scott, with thanks

This is going to be short, because the first part of it's a little hard to talk about.

About a year ago, I received some bad news. I took it badly.

I broke down, just about completely.

Since then I've mostly been mailing it in. Going through the motions, hoping no one notices.

Except here. Veronica poked me every time it was time for my post here, gave me ideas about what to write, and generally kept me from sinking into my self-imposed hole.

Over the past year, I've written more here than every place else combined.

I'm finally coming back out of that long slump, and the one of the few reasons I'm still in any shape to write are the monthly posts I've put up here.



Saturday, October 18, 2014

What Voodoo Has Taught Me

In my second necromancer book, The Necromancer’s Betrayal, I explored a little bit of voodoo albeit a more fictional/fantastical approach. I debated whether to include voodoo in my books because my representation of necromancers and their power over the dead is very different than that of a fictional voodoo practitioner, but once I started writing about my voodoo priest or Bokor, I realized the interaction between Ruby, the necromancer, and the Bokor created some interesting fodder for comparing how the different supernatural characters manipulate and control the dead.

But real voodoo or Vodun isn’t about raising the dead and is often misrepresented in movies and literature. Sure I loved The Skeleton Key, Serpent and the Rainbow and a multitude of books, including a great read, Darkfall, by Dean Koontz. Yet, how did voodoo become so maligned? Partly, the U.S. feared that the effects of the Haitian revolution of 1791 would spill over to the U.S. (According to legend, the Haitians beat the French using voodoo.) In addition, an unfortunate book was published and widely disseminated in 1886 called Haiti or the Black Republic. The book described voodoo as evil and influenced some of the beliefs held today.

In reality, voodoo is a complex cultural practice, a religion. Most of the voodoo in Haiti and New Orleans are syncretic religions that evolved from the West and Central African Vodun traditions. The slaves brought to the new world had to hide their beliefs and used the Catholic and Christian religions to disguise their practices and their deities.

Vodun dancer costume.
When I was in the Peace Corps in West Africa, my fellow volunteer and I took a whirlwind trip on cramped mini-vans from the Ivory Coast, through Ghana and Togo to Benin. While wandering around Ouidah, the spiritual center of voodoo, we stumbled upon a Vodun dance. While unsure exactly the nature of the ceremony, we likened it to some of the mask dances we’d become familiar with in the Ivory Coast. A brilliant, colorful, somewhat chaotic experience driven by percussion. We also walked the slave route previously tread by captured Africans to the beach where they were imprisoned on slave ships. Called La Porte du Non Retour, or the path or door of no return, the four mile stretch is lined with amazing statues, Vodun symbols, like the one pictured below.

My picture of a Vodun statue along
the Long Walk in Ouidah, Benin.
Besides Haiti, African Vodun left its mark in Brazil. My parents are Brazilian and I lived in Salvador, Brazil for a few years. Salvador is a beautiful coastal city heavily influenced by the Portuguese settlers and African slaves they brought over. The slaves and their ancestors developed their own versions of Vodun called Candomblé and Umbanda. The slaves came from different parts of Africa, including Benin, Togo and Angola, and blended their different gods to create the polytheistic Candomblé. You see a lot of reference to the Orishas (or Orixas), the dieties, in Brazilian music and art. In December, in Salvador, people gather at the beaches and make offerings to Yemaya or Yemanja or Iemanjá, the Orisha, or diety representing the essence of the ocean. Iemanjá was born from a syncretic blend of the Catholic patron saint Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes (Our Lady of Seafarers) and West African Vodun and is often represented in Salvador as a mermaid. I was fortunate to observe the December ceremony as people loaded boats with flowers and candles and set them afloat in the ocean.

Music and dance are important parts of Candomblé ceremonies and heavily influence Brazilian Carnival. I experienced three carnivals during my time in Brazil and unlike the parade spectacle in Rio, Carnival in the Northeastern cities are more like huge streets parties. Sure in many instances you feel like a human sardine, but the energy, the music and food and drink…there’s nothing quite like it. One important Carnival troupe is the afoxe, a group that draws upon Candomblé percussion rhythms and song. One famous afoxe, The Filhos de Ghandhy or Sons of Ghandhy, formed in 1949 in Salvador to promote peace and fight discrimination. They appear during Carnaval dressed in white flowing robes and sing songs with multiple references to the Orishas, sometimes in in the Yoruban language.
My picture  of two Carnaval performers in
Candomble inspired costumes. Recife, Brazil.
So while I can still enjoy my zombie scares and draw upon the rich voodoo mythology for stories, I can appreciate the beauty of voodoo and its influence across cultures without worrying about said zombie rising from the grave. Have a great Halloween!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cloud Atlas - How Genre is Ultimately Irrelevant

I'm utterly thrilled beyond belief that RT Book Reviews gave the second book in my Twelve Kingdoms series, The Tears of the Rose, their highest possible review rating of a Top Pick GOLD.

Still in shock, frankly.

Especially since the first book, The Mark of the Tala, received their Seal of Excellence earlier this year for a compelling book that pushes genre boundaries. It's a neurotic writer thing, but when great things like that happen, we always figure the next book will fail to measure up. Alas.

The question of genre has long interested me, not only because my books "push genre boundaries" - a nice way of saying people are sometimes unsure how to categorize them- but because genre categories have such a profound influence on writers, readers, booksellers, librarians and so on.

Quite remarkable for what is essentially a false construct.

Something ably demonstrated by the movie Cloud Atlas. I finally got around to streaming this movie the other night and found it utterly brilliant. It's a complex movie requiring close attention, that tells six interweaving stories from different time periods. The spoiler-filled full synopsis is here. The shorter, vaguer one is:

Everything is connected: an 1849 diary of an ocean voyage across the Pacific; letters from a composer to his lover; a thriller about a murder at a nuclear power plant; a farce about a publisher in a nursing home; a rebellious clone in futuristic Korea; and the tale of a tribe living in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, far in the future.

What's fascinating is to break these six stories into genre categories. I checked the genre classifications for the movies each story thread most reminded me of. They'd come out as:

1. an 1849 diary of an ocean voyage across the Pacific - Action, Adventure
2. letters from a composer to his lover - Historical, Romance
3. thriller about a murder at a nuclear power plant - Thriller, Mystery
4. a farce about a publisher in a nursing home - Comedy, Drama
5. a rebellious clone in futuristic Korea - Science Fiction, Action
6. the tale of a tribe living in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, far in the future - Post-Apocalyptic, Adventure

So what genre is this movie? Well, they settled on the very neutral "Drama" and threw in a "Science Fiction" secondary genre. Likely as a warning. The book is categorized on Amazon as Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction and Fantasy. Quite the hodgepodge.

Of course, not every story is this complex or difficult to define. However, I think it provides an interesting case study that shows genre really is a semi-arbitrary classification system. I'm particularly fascinated that the genre drifted so much from book to movie.

Any other examples you can think of where that's happened?

Monday, October 13, 2014

The October Sky by Diane Burton

I’m not usually a skywatcher, but October will probably convert me. So much goes on in the sky this month. We can see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, which reminds me of the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider when all the planets aligned.

Last week, we had a total eclipse of the moon—and a blood moon at that. Isn’t this a fantastic sight? Instagramer @johnnyqphoto took this outstanding photo of the Grand Haven (MI) lighthouse and shared it on the Pure Michigan Facebook page.

Next Sunday, Comet Siding Spring will barely miss Mars. Although we won’t be able to see that “close encounter” in the sky, we will on our computers, thanks to all the probes in area. Can you imagine what that will look like from Mars? The robots will get quite a view.

As if that isn’t enough, the Orionid meteor shower is coming next Monday/Tuesday. If the sky isn’t cloudy, I might just take a blanket to the Lake Michigan beach around midnight. I’ll have to convince Hubs to go with me. Sounds like a romantic evening, if we can stay awake.

Then on the 23rd, we’ll have a partial solar eclipse. Protect your eyes, folks.

Now for a fun factoid. The gang from “Firefly” are going to reunite to provide the voices for an online interactive game that will be released next year. Now I’m not a gamer, but I might be convinced to play this one and indulge my fantasy of crewing for Captain Mal. For more info on the game, see

I’ll bet I could come up with several stories based on an October sky. How about you?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What's haunting my TiVo and my Nook

It’s October, and that means one thing and one thing only: SyFy’s 31 Days of Halloween. (Okay, two things: it also means Pumpkin Spice Lattes.) Oh my goodness, how I love stupid (and not-so-stupid) horror movies. I can’t resist watching them all.

Last week, I watched Children of the Corn and all four of the Omen movies. Then I had a sudden yen for the original Fright Night, so I streamed that one on Netflix this past weekend—ah, Chris Sarandon’s over-the-top vampire mugging; is there anything better? And yesterday (on mute, peering over my monitor while writing at the standing desk), I watched bits of Stephen King’s Rose Red mini-series and glimpses of some awesomely bad slasher films. (Wonder how that’s going to affect my MC's disintegration into madness scenes?) I’ll watch just about any and every horror and paranormal movie there is, except torture porn.

But there is one thing I really hate in this genre, and that’s zombie movies. I appreciated the classic Romero movies and enjoyed some of the remakes, and loved Shaun of the Dead, but I am so over the zombie fetish that seems to have overtaken the world. The Zombie Apocalypse isn’t coming, it’s already here, come to bore you to death with endless iterations of shambling-and-yet-fast-moving, face-eating, rotting bodies, and heads being blown off. Ugh. Why is this a thing?

I know. It’s not fashionable to hate zombies. I’m not a fan of The Walking Dead, for which I am clearly going straight to hell. (Where there will probably be zombies.) But I just don’t get it. I prefer magical monsters, ghost stories, superhuman lunatics, and improbable beasts. I want a little sexy in my scary. (But do not even think of recommending any zombie love stories to me. Do. Not. It’s not happening.)

Tomorrow, unfortunately, appears to be “All Zombies, All the Time” day in the 31 Days lineup, so I’ll be skipping that one. But Wednesday? A full day of Ghosthunters! I’m a sucker for ghost hunting. I can’t say I believe in ghosts—but I want to believe. I eat up every dubious EVP track, every REM Pod and EMF monitor beep and scree, and every blurry shadow that moves across the IR camera’s field. So along with the return of some of my favorite SFF shows—Doctor Who, Sleepy Hollow, and Haven, to name a few—it looks like my TiVo has its hands full for the month.

Yet somehow, I do still find time to write (Idol of Blood is about 85% finished), and even to read. On the literary front, I recently started reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and I want to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein before Halloween. I’ve seen these classics of horror filmed a million ways (and I am SO stoked—no pun intended—to see the new Dracula Untold coming out this weekend!), but never got around to reading them. I’d heard Dracula was horribly flawed, but so far, I’m pleasantly surprised. I love the very proper and flowery Victorian wording, and Stoker weaves the dark mood in every physical setting and detail. It’s long, of course. Books used to be. It’s also refreshing not to read a book riddled with the infuriating grammatical errors of confusing “lay” with “lie” and “led” with “lead” that seem to plague all modern fiction. So, yeah, maybe Stoker’s no Dostoevsky, but I’m enjoying the read. ;) And even if it turns out to be a dud, it’s October, and it’s horror, so I win either way.

So what's haunting your devices this month? What are your favorites to watch and read during the season of ghosts, ghouls, and goblins? Will you be lining up early with me to see Dracula Untold?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

I See Pumpkins!

For me, it's hard to believe Summer is past, but waking up in the northeast this morning proved I am right. BRRR! I am already sad and looking forward to the next heatwave. :)
I found this short, short story in my archives, so I pulled it out because Halloween is upon us -- enjoy!


Gone… all gone.
Years, he’d waited years to prove himself by taking his father’s place, and if his truck hadn’t broken down, he would have made it. Shoulder to shoulder with others like him, he’d have stood with the best of the best.
Clouds covered the full moon casting ghostly shadows across the barren patch of land. His chest heaved up and down, lungs burned with each labored breath of air. He’d run for over three miles dragging the cart behind him. But there was nothing left.
Still wheezing, trying to catch his breath, he climbed the highest peak and looked across the flat land. The glow of light from the building, easily another two miles away, teased him. They’d all be there, working their magic, preparing to be judged. Another year, he’d have to wait another whole year. It was his turn to carry on the family tradition, but he stood gazing forlornly across the patch. His father’s words echoed in his mind, drenching him in sadness.
“We’re better than the best, we’re better than the rest.”
A scurrying sound to his right drew his thoughts back to the present. Still grasping the handle of the heavy cart, he turned, moving slowly down the hill, back to his truck to stow his cart. It would be damn near a fifteen mile trek home. Home to give father the bad news.
Stopping dead in his tracks, he cupped his ear. Nothing. He was hearing things.
He’d distinctly heard the word this time. Following the direction it came from, he headed back up the embankment. Dragging the cart behind him, he went to the right side of the hill and peered over the edge. Air hitched in his throat at the sight before him.
There was one left. And it was perfect.
But he’d run out of time. No way could he drag his monstrous find to the judging place and complete his task before midnight. Again, his father’s words rang in his mind.
“We’re better than the best, we’re better than the rest.”
A sharp gust of wind moved the clouds and bathed the hilltop in moonlight. Enough light for him to work his magic. Loosening his backpack, he pulled out all his tools. His knives were sharp, his chisels ready for the hard work ahead. Maybe he wouldn’t make the judging but if it killed him, he take his finished prize to the building anyway.
Digging, cutting, shaping, he performed his magic, did what came naturally to him.
A sense of calm washed over him as he finished fashioning his piece. It weighed close to two hundred pounds but with strength and agility he’d never felt before, he hoisted his prize onto the cart and eased it down the hill. Years and years of this very same competition had left a well worn, but rutted, path to the building he needed to reach before midnight. Glancing up at the moon, seeing its position in the sky, he knew there was little time left. Running as fast as he could without toppling the cart, he began the trip along the winding path.
His lungs were on fire, air wheezed through his lips, but he didn’t let up.
Turning the final corner, light blazed through the open barn doors, voices filled with awe seeped into the night. There must be great works there to cause such adulation. Would his measure up? Was he truly part of these people and did he have what his father had, and his father before him? At least he wouldn’t have to wait another year to find out.
Tonight he would know if he could carry his ancestor’s last name.
The clock tolled midnight as he wheeled his heavy load through the doors and dropped to his knees in exhaustion. A hush fell across the room. Standing, he hauled his cart to the circle and removed his prize, placing it in the one spot left. Reaching into his bag, he pulled out candles and began lighting those he would need. Careful not to blow them out, he put each one in place. He stepped back, out of breath and unable to speak. He was last to be judged.
Elders, men who had earned their name long ago, walked around his work, peeking through the tiny windows he’d so lovingly carved. They touched the orange pointed spires and whispered to each other.
“We’ve never seen a cathedral carved so intricately and so perfect.” The head judged looked at him hard and then smiled. “Welcome Mr. Carver.”
Jack had earned his name.

J Hali Steele

Growl and roar-it’s okay to let the beast out.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The frightening mind of a paranormal writer

Twin, frightful (or funny) ghosts
by Maureen L. Bonatch

October’s here, which can only mean one thing…no, look away from the turkey napkins and Christmas decorations and out to the colorful leaves falling from the trees….that’s right, it’s Fall and Halloween isn’t far behind.

This means a little more to me than raking leaves and gorging on Halloween candy. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…the candy, not the leaves—throw on a costume and you’re entitled to eat ALL the candy you want. I think they’re supposed to put less calories in the Halloween stuff, don’t quote me on that because I’m not certain. That’s just my theory and please don’t tell me differently.) 

I figure I’m entitled to the candy because I wear a costume everyday— that of being a normal person— when in reality...I’m a writer, and not just any kind of writer, but a paranormal writer.

That’s not a costume you say? Hmmm….have you ever looked closely into the mind of a paranormal writer? Do you really want to go there? Okay, if you can handle the scary stuff and you insist…it’s the result/curse/blessing of an overactive imagination. 
Some examples, just from today…

  •           Every. Single. Time. I pull a plastic fork from the box, and the tongs scrape against each other, I begin to question if I really need to finish the work I'm doing because I’m obviously asleep and it’s only moments before I’m pretty darn sure that Freddy Krueger is making his way into my office to begin his reign of terror and I frantically start plotting for potential methods to evade him or…
  •          While driving through a dense fog today, I emerge only to become confused on a familiar route. I'm fairly certain I may have passed through a parallel universe.  Maybe it wasn't even the same year? Or I'm in a different world all together...and if so, perhaps chocolate was now calorie free... 

 Okay, I may have digressed and I don’t want to frighten you too much…

I must admit, my warped imagination may have been influenced by my early readings of Stephen King, John Saul, Dean Koontz, JR Tolkien and Anne Rice, etc. 
I moved to many of these stories after reading my first taste of the paranormal…the Sweet Valley High books

I loved the books, but as an awkward, young teenager reading intro after intro, and dreaming of being the perfect blonde haired twins with perfect smiles, perfect size six figures, perfect…perfect…perfect…I was like…wait a minute…these girls can’t be real. 
Give me hobbits, vampires and other creatures of the night…now those are real to me. 

 Then when television began to embrace the paranormal with shows like The X-Files, Ghost Whisperer, Medium, Millineum and Charmed, they drew me in like no other. (I must admit, I might've wrote my novella, That Magic Moment, when I may, or may not, have been watching a marathon of the television show Charmed and there is the slightest possibility that I may, or may not, have played the theme song repeatedly. (Come'on...It's a good song and a great intro!)


For those of us who like to write paranormal, this time of year inspiration can be found around every corner and paranormal reads move front and center (yeah!). 

Readers---Look around because opportunities abound to win some free reads and talk about just what we love about this season. To name a few:  

If you want a sweet, short, treat to get you into the mood of the season, check out my novella, 

Can love cross the boundaries mortals have erected to reject all that cannot be explained?

I don’t always write, but when I do, it’s a paranormal…

Stop by my website or Facebook page to find out about my upcoming release Destiny Calling

What's your favorite part of Fall? 


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