Tag Archives: writing challenges

Geez, Who peed in your Pepsi?: Typo Causes Uproar

I wanted to start my column off with a topic that is very familiar to me and to other writers, editors and publishers. It’s the dreaded typo. I never could have guessed a typo would cause such a problem for one publisher.

Due to a typo that caused outrage, a publisher had to reprint 7,000 copies of a cookbook called The Pasta Bible. The pasta recipe called for ‘salt and freshly ground black pepper,’ but instead, due to a typo, it was printed as ‘salt and freshly ground black people.’

Wow, I didn’t know that cannibals ate pasta.

The article did not reveal the identity of the enraged party.

This story really got to me because I know how difficult it is to find every typo or grammatical error in a manuscript even after reading it over and over again. A great editor will find most errors, but editors are human and can miss something. And spell check would not have caught this type of error because ‘people’ is an accepted word and spelled correctly. Sure, this is an embarrassment for the editor and the publishing company, but to make it more than that is ludicrous to me.

Mistakes happen. Live with it. The typo in The Pasta Bible is a silly, unintentional error, and I don’t understand why someone would become upset over it. I doubt that a group of cannibals are trying to push their recipes on unsuspecting individuals. As a society, are we really so sensitive that we cannot just laugh this off? Whatever happened to the days when we just brushed off a negative comment? Now, we cause a stink over every little thing that happens, suing people over trivial matters like this.

The reprint cost the publisher $18,500. What a waste of time and money. The good side to this situation for the publisher is that due to the typo, this book is sure to be a best seller. The books that were already shipped out with the typo will probably be a collector’s item someday. I am sure there will also be some people that will demand a replacement book because the typo bothers them.

Do you think people are just too sensitive these days and are too quick to get angry, especially over something so ridiculous as a typo? Are there any cannibals out there offended by this?

Kelley Heckart

‘Timeless tales of romance, conflict and magic’





Sparkling vampires?

Okay I’m going to go out on a limb here and discuss why in the wide, wide world of sports it means that Stephanie Meyer’s vampires “sparkle”?  I looked it up and found out that Bella is taken into a field in broad daylight and Edward “sparkles”.  So instead of him bursting into flames and igniting this mealy mouth heroine he sparkles?  Geez, what a convenient plot device to allow Bella and Edward to “walk amongst the daisies and frolic”.  Pardon me my gorge is rising…

…okay much better now. 

Before I get 1,000,000 emails of hate-spewing people who want to defend this I’d like to start by saying this.  I do not begrudge Ms. (or Mrs.) Meyers her millions of fans or commercial success.  Good for her.  However I really do miss the good old days when vampires were bad, women were terrified and heroes climbed out of the woodwork to defend them.  Now it’s all mixed up. 

Let’s take a moment and ponder this much, what is the ecology of a vampire?  Everything on this planet (as Wiccans all know) has a purpose.  Lycanthropy is a curse, zombies are the result of bad science, and Nancy Pelosi is obviously allergic to Botox.    Let us use the one animal that consists entirely on a blood diet…desmondus rotundus or the common vampire bat.

Average weight: 30-40 oz/ blood intake half their body weight ever 3-4 days/nocturnal hunters/bad eyesight/excellent hearing/thermal sensors in their nose/interior of their mouths lined with teeth (to shave away fur)/must urinate half their intake before being able to fly (it’s funny how nobody talks about how much vampires must have to go to the bathroom with that liquid diet and all). 

Their job?  Thin the herds of over populated wildlife. Side effects–very susceptible to blood borne pathogens and diseases.

Let’s do the math.

I weight 165 pounds.   This means I’d have to take in almost 82.5 pounds of blood during 3-4 days and the average human has over a gallon.  That means I’d have to kill (drain fully) almost 7 people in a feeding frenzy.  Although an average of nearly 1 million people go unexplainably missing every year it boils down to a vampire problem of there  being about 125,000 vampires in the United States (minus the occasional serial killer body count or extremely obese bloodsuckers okay).  Can you imagine Ralphie May or as a vampire?  I shudder to think of the carnage.  Either way it’s food for thought, isn’t it? 

The problem is I can’t find anything in nature that “sparkles” in the daytime or that sweats something to coat themselves from sunlight.  Most nocturnal animals just sleep during the day–it’s easier than evolving some sort of diamond-dust skin.  Ooh!  I just had a thought!  Is this how come vampires are rich?  They sell off their flaked skin at the jewelers?

“Damn I’m molting again,” Edward says.

“Cool,” Bella replies, “now I can buy that Mercedes-Benz.”

That’s dialogue I’d like to see.   Oh and that reminds me, can you just imagine what a vampire’s breath must smell like?  Have you ever had bloodstained clothing?  Can you picture what your teeth would look like as a vampire?  I think a great marketing concept would be “Twilight Toothpaste”

Cut to a Victorian reading room with Edward sitting in a chair sparkling for the sunlight pouring in from a nearby window.  Turning to the camera he flashes his pearly white fangs and begins to speak.

“After a hard night trying to keep Bella out of trouble,” Edward says, “I find my breath less than fresh.  Thank goodness for Twilight Toothpaste with it’s minty fresh scent and grime and stain removing action.  And for those hard to reach places try Sparkling Vampire Dental Floss.”

He holds up a crimson and white colored tube of toothpaste and a small box of floss–the camera zooms in for a better look.  Then it pans back out where Bella is sitting across his lap with those half-opened eyes and lazy smile.

“So before you go out to find a vapish and morose girlfriend don’t forget to stop by the drugstore and buy some Twilight Toothpaste–you’ll find it next to the feminine hygeine aisle.  Remember Twilight Toothpaste–make your fangs sparkle!”

…let’s not even get into what kissing someone who drinks blood must taste like, and you thought your hubby or girl’s cigarette breath was bad to savor.

Okay we’ve had a little fun with this.  It’s all in good fun.  Let Bella be and Edward sparkle–I don’t care.  I just wonder if we’ll see Werewolf untangling shampoo, Creature from the Black Lagoon Swimsuits, or Zom-Be-Fresh deodorant?

Sparkle on!


How to build a better villain…

How to Build a Better Villain by Christopher Newman

Ask any actor and they’ll tell you the heavy (i.e. villain) is the meatiest role.  So we, as Pagans, know the cruelty of such characters from history, film, novels and real life.  But how do you build a better, believable villain in your books?  Well lucky you…I can help.

Oh it’s not ego, just a matter of observation and practice.  They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  Cunning cads, disturbing demons and lovely fem fatales.  Hey, it isn’t easy being evil, that’s the best part.  Evil for evil’s sake is too bland and blasé so you have to be creative.  Here’s a recipe I use occasionally.

1.  Stubborn to a fault is the base of our stew.  Nothing beats an antagonist who is both firm in his/her beliefs and knows the ends justify the means.  No matter of logic or counter-argument can sway him/her.  He/She’s not dumb, the villain has thought this through to it’s “logical” conclusion.

2.  A sense of humor is always nice, let’s add that too.

3.  Choose between darkly charismatic, foully unkempt, military (or quasi-military) strict, hideously ugly or several other options…grade it properly as to not become to cliché.

4.  Avoid stereotypes!  A ponytail wearing evil magician has been done to death…

5.  Nervous mannerisms (always pushing up his/her glasses), eye twitches, etc make all characters unique, but in a villain it can announce to the reader that mayhem is going to follow.

6.  Stir gently and bring to an even heat.  A villain’s sanity/power/plans must not rush too fast in the pace unless the manuscript calls for the heroes to be unbalanced.

7.  Scoop out the ridiculous (eyes opening at the end of the novel like some poorly written 1980s horror film).

8.  Accomplices sparingly dripped in to the mix.  Oh and by the way nothing adds to the spice of a villain as someone (or thing) that admires him/her greatly—for all the wrong reasons.  Or one that hates him and wants his job….

9.  Name him/her… everything, and I mean everything, the very success of the character can hang on a name.  Flopsie the Ghoul Master just doesn’t cut it…

10.  Ladle in a great back-story…why is he/she this way?  Is it believable?  Too much fantasy will make your scoundrel stew curdle.

11.  A pinch of “who does he/she serve?” for as Bob Dylan sang, “Everybody serves somebody” (or at least I think that’s what he sang…)

12.  Vampires don’t sparkle…oh wait that’s another topic.

13.  Taste it… would you be afraid of him/her?  If not add a dash more cruelty and liberally sprinkle in socially inappropriate beliefs.

14.  Almost done now… take another taste.  Afraid yet? No, add more of ingredient 13.

15.  Twist in a twist (somebody’s gonna hurt somebody—before the night is through!)  Eddie the Homicidal Manic has a soft spot for puppies… and removing the heads of nurses.

16.  Pour this steaming cauldron over your manuscript and watch the steam rise.  Ah! Smell that?  Scoundrels are the spice of a manuscript’s life.

In closing you have to remember that the good guy/gal is bound by several rules and moral conditions.  He/She will walk the righteous path, follow most laws and take the heroic stand.  Villains are not so restrained.  If you feel that “Whoa I don’t think that’s fair” happens when you pen an act by a villain…you’re on the right track.  Consider this, poor Bob Ziegler gets fired at a film shoot on recommendation of an actress who he turns down for a date.  Then he goes home to find his girlfriend in bed with his best friend.  Ousted out of his apartment now he needs cash and most of all a camera to shoot his masterpiece, get famous and get the girl back.  Enter the villain… smiling, knowing and ready for him.  You need that old Super-8 recorder?  Oh you’re broke?  Hey I’ll give it to you if you film that hottie next door tomorrow morning.  She likes to work out in skimpy attire and I’m too old to hold the camera steady.  You’ll do it?  Great!

Later on…

Oh you say you have hideous painful tattoos all over your body from using it?  I know just how to get rid of them, darn I’m so sorry this happened.  How?  Well my research shows that if you shoot the scenes of demonic pleasures depicted on your flesh I bet they’d disappear off.  Good question, where ever are we going to find such willing actors and actress?  Of course you’re right!  The porn industry!  My mama taught me how to brew up a special brew that’ll make ‘em forget what they’re doing.  Inhuman?  Not in the least they’ll be just fine.  Immoral?  Well I hate to break it to you friend but those tattoos are going be there until you die.  They hurt?  I bet they look painful!  I know you think it’s kind of perverse but they’re only porn actors, who’ll miss ‘em?….for more on this see “Get Into the Spirit, Baby” from Dark Roast Press.

NaNo, NaNo – It’s Off to Write I Go!


Every year since 2005, I’ve participate in NaNoWriMo, or for those acronym-challenged folks out there – National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write at least 50,000 words (actually this puts it at large-scale novella) for a novel in 30 days. If the writer wins, they don’t get a prize other than a glowing feeling of self-achievement, a banner for their website and, in the last year or so, order winner-specific t-shirts and get a free proof of the novel from CreateSpace as well.

NaNoWriMo started small in 1999 with a handful of writers, and has grown into a huge phenomena encompassing a similar script-writing month, and the Young Writer Program and over 100,000 participants. They’ve even relaxed a bit and allowed a forum for folks who don’t want to write fiction, but want to ‘rebel’ and write non-fic, or poetry or short stories instead of long. The community is simply wonderful.

It’s amazing. Everyone starts out strong, and watches as the over-eager finish in three days (I’ve often wondered about those people… o_O) while they see their own plots drop out, their muse take long coffee breaks or they sit fantasizing about vacations on sunny beaches. Eventually they either pull it together, or give up to try again the next year.

Danserak NaNoWriMo Royal

I won the first year. I was thrilled, I had a novel that was absolutely not finished – only half the story was told – but I had made it over 50k. I participated in the forums the entire month, mostly in a thread that involved horror writers and ‘adopted’ fornits*. My fornit’s name is Danserak, and he used to live in my old computer. My friends and family thought I was crazy, but I was grabbing hold of the fun side of it and making him my mascot. I even bought him a antique Royal typewriter to live in, where he and my muse have since set up house and much to my chagrin, have produced a gaggle of really ugly munits.

NaNo that year was cathartic for me. Things had gone bad in several ways and it felt like my world was crashing in on me. I was fired, I was having legal issues revolving around family court/divorce/custody, I was beyond broke with an ex-husband that refused to pay child support and a daughter who seemed to be having a nervous breakdown. My former bosses and some of the other staff, my ex-husband and his new family, and one or two other people died horrific, nasty, splattery ways in that novel.

I had no problem churning out 1667 words or more per day.

A weight was lifted at the end of that month and I was free of most of the anger I was feeling towards the universe in general.

And then I tried the next year only I was far more cocky. I figured if I could do it with one novel, I was going to do my second year with two novels. I was wrong. I managed to finish one of them, but didn’t have the file formatted for verification in time and just missed the deadline to verify. The sophomore year curse bit me, and bit me hard. I was humbled. Year three saw another win for me, but I celebrated in far more subdued ways, and didn’t share it around too much. Last year, publishing drama had me quit before the end of the first week.

This year I start NaNo with an outline – maybe. With characters and plots and sub-plots and… well, maybe. Like many others, I’ve been through numerous ideas and plots and outlines and I never know if I’ll just ditch it a the last minute. I don’t know if my muse and my fornit are going to be there to share their wisdom and fornus—gifts of sparkly things and bread crumbs will be left out nightly, I’m sure.

So, if you have nothing better to do, or just want to add one more challenge to your day, why not give NaNoWriMo a try? Trust me… you’ll like it. If you are already a member or join this year – I’m Jodi-Lee if you want to buddy up. Good luck!

Jodi Lee

* Fornits are a creation of Stephen King, and made a starring appearance in the short story “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet.” They are described as ugly little gnome like creatures. Personally, I think Danserak is kinda cute….

Creating Memorable Pagan Characters

Writers are artists, in the truest sense of the word. Painters have the benefit of their audience being drawn in by the most immediate sense: sight. Regardless of whether or not the viewer understands the piece, they can see the colors, the intent and mood the artist is attempting to display.

Other artists use charcoals, clay, paints, and carvings, while writers have only our words to express ourselves, to drive an idea or a mood across. We have to use our language to seduce a reader’s mind; we create art and paint pictures with our words.

It is the details of a scene, the description of our character’s that draws a reader in, enwraps them in our fantasy world. And as an author, it’s very difficult at times to know when you are giving too much, or not enough description to satisfy the reader. You want to give enough so that the reader can see your vision of the character, but not so much that the reader can’t personalize the picture. The goal is to leave clues about the character’s looks, personality, etc; not to just tell the reader “this is who this person is.”

For example, if I were writing a story about a man who is insecure about his looks, I could say:
Trevor is a heavyweight boxer. His last fight had broken his nose and left a huge bump on it. The fight before that had cracked his front teeth. To top it off, he also had bushy eyebrows. He had a shaved head and a muscular body. Trevor liked his neighbor Geraldine and was trying to hook up with her, but he was self consciousness about his looks.

Now, this section gets the point across, but it’s not exactly interesting. These sentences don’t pull a reader into the story, or make them want to continue. I’ve laid it all out, and left nothing to the imagination. In this example, I am simply telling the reader what I want them to know.

Now, let’s try the same thought, but in an active voice:
Trevor ran his hand over his face, wishing the bump of his nose was slightly smaller. He brushed down his eyebrows as he ran his tongue over his teeth, wondering if the dentist would be able to correct them as promised. He was sick of not being able to smile at Geraldine when he passed her in the hallway. Not that it matters, he thought. After last night, the only thing that can help my face is surgery.

See the difference? In the first example, the author uses a passive voice, and tells the reader everything they need to know about the character. In the second example, the author uses an active voice ie, showing the character in action. The author doesn’t give all the information about Trevor, but leaves subtle clues to his personality and looks, as well as the plot of the story. Now the reader is wondering: “What happened to him last night?” “Who is Geraldine?”

The author has used words and language to create a picture, to draw the reader in. Now the audience wants to continue the story, to find out more about Trevor and Geraldine.

One of the biggest issues I have faced in writing fiction is learning how to use an active voice in the description of my characters. I’ve learned how to let the information slide into the story and plot without the big neon signs (HEY! THIS IS WHAT HE LOOKS LIKE!! HE’S CUTE, RIGHT?) I’ve also studied how to make my fantasy/pagan deity characters more personable – as odd as it sounds, I had a habit of making them too Godly, which then made them completely distant from other characters, as well as my readers. What helped me clean up my character writing was completing weekly assignments. I’ve included the one that served me best, in hopes that it helps some of you out there!

The assignment:
Choose one of the following pagan characters/deities: Isis, Odin, Merlin, Aphrodite, Medusa, Shiva . Write a paragraph describing this character, using active language and imagery. Your goal is to make this fantasy character seem real and alive; with real life, real problems. It doesn’t matter if you usually write fantasy/paranormal or not – the purpose is to create a true to life character. And if you can do that with one of these suggestions, you can do it with any character you create.

Good Luck!

Stumbling at the Crossroads

I’ve been very troubled lately. I wrote about it in Pagan Culture and asked for advice. I’ve come to a point where I have to make life changing decisions. I have the opportunity to go to school for 3 years, everything paid, and study pretty much whatever I want. My first choice was creative writing of course, then I started thinking about the future… will I be able to support myself, a family, with these type of work? Also, am I serving my fellow man by making such a selfish decision?

I know that sounds a bit extreme, but when I think about writing, I don’t see it as work. Don’t roll your eyes just yet—I write too, so I know that it is a whole lot of work and then some. What I’m trying to say is that my writing makes me so absolutely happy that I could care less if I don’t eat, as long at I can tell my stories. And the day they get published—and they will—then it will be glory! Regardless of how much many I make, or if I don’t make any at all.

All that would be fine, if it was just me; I could eat paper and drink ink and feel completely nourished. But would I be able to look at my kids (when I have them) knowing I could have done so much more for them? Would they resent me? Would I be able to live with myself if I don’t write? Would I be me if I go back to my traditional 9 to 5 and forget about fulltime writing?

I asked similar questions in the post I mentioned above. I wanted the readers of Pagan Culture to help me decide my future—huge request, I know. Not very many of them are writers, but they are all excellent people; their answers showed that much. I asked them if I should pursue a religious justice degree, for one of my other passions is the study of Paganism and religious fairness. They all said that writing could always be a part time job.

If you are a writer, you already know that there isn’t such thing as “a part time writer.” I read “It is a Jungle out there” on  C.H. Scarlett’s blog. I was almost in tears when I finished the short piece of truth. She explained that she was a writer because she wouldn’t know how to be anything else. Then I started laughing when she said that it wouldn’t be uncommon to find her “hiding in a break room jotting down a new idea for a book or adding to an old one” when she used to have an office job. I thought of the time I wrote a super sexy scene during a staff meeting and had to take a bathroom break because, like I said, the scene was just that hot. I need to write all the time.

So now I’m asking you the same questions I asked my Pagan Culture readers: “Is my path right in front of me and I just don’t see it clearly yet? Should I forget about a Masters and PhD in Creative Writing and pursue religious justice? As it is, I can always write fiction part time [Could I really?]. Should I think of myself, for once, and follow my artistic dreams? Will I be able to live with myself knowing that I could have done so much more? I know the decision is mine to make, but I really want your advice.”

No Violence as a Writing Challenge

Zollocco: A Novel of Another Universe
Zollocco: A Novel of Another Universe

An acquaintance reading Zollocco said, “This book has no sex, no violence, and no profanity, but it is a very good book! How is that possible?” That is a comment I am very pleased about because it was a writing challenge I had set myself. Good stories do not have to have violence, sex, or profanity to be good. Victorian literature, which consists of some of the world’s greatest stories, is notoriously free of graphic violence, sex, and profanity as are the wonderful novels of Jane Austen.  However, this does not mean I object to graphic sex in stories.  Not at all. I like a good erotic tale as much as the next lusty adult.  My purpose in writing Zollocco, though, was to create a story that has a different thrust than erotic stories tend to have. I wanted to write a novel where sex could be suggested and violence condemned to absence. In writing Zollocco I was interested in predicating a way of life that was inherently peaceful and in balance with Nature even in the face of threat, danger, and malicious manipulation. Therefore, not only did I eschew scenes of violence, I also forbade myself the many turns of speech that are based in violent metaphors. I found as I wrote that this was a difficult task because the American use of the English language is riddled with violent imagery: “We beat them!”; “When push comes to shove”; “Take a stab at it”; “Killing time”; “Kick around an idea”; etc., etc.

            As for profanity, it seems to me profanity has two main purposes: one, to relieve moments of stress, the other to insult someone. Here, too, I was trying to imbue the story with my peace-rendering  ideal. What sorts of words would be used by people to relieve their moments of stress in a world governed by forests? Insulting people, of course, is not such a good idea ever. So when my heroine was angry with someone I had her use a different tactic than insult. The antagonists, being less idealistic sorts could use insult all they wanted. I think these sorts of language choices helped to create the tone of Zollocco, at least that is what I was trying to achieve.

            Whenever I write, I set myself certain challenges. It is, for me, part of the fun of writing. I think you will have as much fun reading Zollocco: A Novel of Another Universe as had putting my heroine and my writing to challenges.

Electronically Published Internet Connection
Electronically Published Internet Connection