Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Urban Legends

[Congratulations to the winners of the drawing for an autographed copy of Wicked Cruel: Ann Finkelstein and Carol Baldwin!]

by Rich Wallace

So after a couple of dozen sports books I've become a ghost writer.

A few years back I had a notion to explore an urban legend. You hear those things from time to timethe thumb someone found in a can of Spaghettios, or the hitchhiker who vanishes from the backseat when you cross a certain bridge. The stories show up all over, purported to be true because "It happened to my cousin's best friend's uncle."

But I knew one legend that seemed to be unique to the town I grew up in: the kid who got bullied all through elementary school, then moved away and died. Rumors drifted back that he died of a brain hemorrhage
inflicted slowly but surely over the elementary school years by everyone who had ever smacked him around or bombarded him in games of dodge ball.

I remember that shared guilt from junior high school after the rumors began. Did I ever hit him? Was I part of the reason he died?

In Wicked Cruel, which Random House will release August 6th, I take that guilt a step further. What if the dead kid started interacting with my main character? He shows up in a video Jordan is watching, then starts texting him late at night.

Jordan's seen the obituary. This is a ghost. And when the ghost starts showing up for real, Jordan questions his own sanity.

The book is actually a trilogy of scary urban legends like that one. I've set them all in the small New England city of Cheshire Notch, which is an awful lot like the town I live in: Keene, New Hampshire. Keene is the home of the world's most spectacular pumpkin festival each October, and that event plays a big role in one of the stories. We also have a restored pre-Revolutionary War tavern right up the block here, and I used that as a setting for the third. I love to use the places I know best in my stories. Keene is a very cool college town, with great cafes, a classic theater, old cemeteries, and everything that's historic and spooky about new England.
rows of pumpkins
Here's a short excerpt from the title story. That night, Jordan is in the attic of the abandoned house where the deceased kid used to live, surreptitiously going through a box of papers he found:

It looks like a form for a prescription, with Douglas Schuter, MD, at the top and the doctor's address, dated just before the Bainers left the country. 

I scan it. Cheshire Medical Center...Lorne Bainer...male, 11 years...

And then I hear my name. Clear. From the second floor. It's not a voice I recognize. Not Scapes or Gary or any guy. It sounds like the tone of a bell .Or a song. Just my name. "Jordan." 

I freeze and slip the paper into my pocket.

I've heard no footsteps. No one entering the house or climbing the stairs. I listen hard, but there's nothing. 

But there must be something. Something called my name. My breath is short and cold and the back of my neck is sweaty.

An attic step creaks every so slightly. I back against the wall, crouching behind the box. 

Those stairs are the only way out of this attic.

More to come? I hope so. I've started writing a second volume of these stories, and obviously I'm hopeful that this will take off as a series. I love writing them, and that's certainly an important part of the deal.

Cool cover, huh?

I'm giving away two signed copies of my new book here in a Swagger giveaway for US and Canadian residents. All you have to do is be a follower, and leave a comment. And you'll get an additional entry for each day that this post is up and you:
1. share an urban legend in the comments
2. Like my Facebook page. After the initial like, comment on my FB page
3. Tweet about the giveaway
4. Blog about the giveaway
5. Mention the giveaway on Facebook
6. Don't forget to let me know in the Swagger comments, or leave a message on my FB page about what you did

Two random winners will be selected on August 8th.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

High Adventure

by Kim Van Sickler

I just returned from a four-day high adventure trip with two Girl Scout troops of high school students. We whitewater rafted a Level III (difficult) river and spelunked (caved) as deep as 46-stories underground. The girls in my troop kept running journals including their thoughts pre-and post-adventures.

They are so fun to read.

From Carli's first entry: I'm not sure if I should be excited or terrified. I have been looking forward to rafting for a long time. I hope I don't fall out of the raft. That would not be fun! :-)

Carli's next entry: Wow, I had a blast! Rafting was so much fun! I was in a raft with my mom, Megan W., Tina, and John, our attractive guide. He kept telling other rafts to "follow me unless we crash and burn." Every time we went on a rapid I would burst out in laughter. My butt hurts!  My mom and I could not stop laughing when we had to go on a rock and if she tried to relax she would fall out...I really want to do the harder level.

From Carli's pre-spelunking entry: I am terrified [of caving]. I feel like I would be the person who would need a twelve-hour rescue. Or that I would fall and bring someone down with me. Hopefully no one gets hurt. I hope I don't scare myself too much. That e-mail was really scary. [She's referring to the caving permission slip, filled with caveats.] No matter what, I will go in the lower caverns.

From Carli's next entry: Wow, that was awesome! I feel like I can do anything! My clothes got so dirty, I am very tired, and I have a huge smile on my face. I slipped here and there, but nothing major. It was quite an experience. It was also a challenge...This camping trip was a great idea.

From Amy's first entry: Rafting: should be fun, slightly worried, excited. Caving: REALLY excited, scared and worried. I couldn't stop thinking about the Cuban miners stuck for months :-(. I've already thought out my farewell speech.

From Amy's post-rafting entry: Whitewater rafting was AMAZING! Our guide was Phil. He was the best. In my raft was Nicole, Bethany, Megan R., Tracey, Phil, random lady, and me :-). We had raft 830. It is DEFINITELY something I want to do again. Except maybe Level IV or so instead of Level III. And the weather was SUPA cool; thunder and some rain.

From Amy's post-caving entry: We went on a Lower Caverns/Upper tour at 9:30. At first I didn't know what to expect from it. But afterward I found I really enjoyed it. Laurel Caverns is more for adventure and not really for sights. It was a three or so hour tour. We toured untouched parts of the cave. We had our hard hats and flash lights. The temperature down there was always about 55 degrees and the humidity was 100 percent.

It was definitely an adventure, but if you're more for sights, Ohio Caverns is better. On our way there (in the cavern) we ran into a group of 47 boys. On our way out they sang some very girly songs: Taylor Swift, Call Me Maybe, California Girls, I Kissed a Girl, and so on. :-)

What's the most adventurous thing you've ever done? Were you nervous beforehand? Did you feel empowered afterwards?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Camp

by Kim Van Sickler

I'm over at Carol Baldwin's blog today. Please drop by here to visit.

This week I've stepped back in time--returning to summer camp. A magical time when I was empowered by campfire skits, games and challenges, and making friends out of strangers. I can't be the only one.

Here's a taste of what we've done so far at Girl Scout art camp.

Cooked hobo pies over coals.

Scooped out an orange and added cake mix, cooked then frosted, for a tangy dessert.

Pressed fallen leaves into fabric paint to create these nature t-shirts.

Acted out stories.

Played games.

Designed covers for our journals that we draw our activities in.

Designed tote bags.

What's your fondest camping memory? 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

I was introduced to blogs several years ago by friends who invited me to follow theirs. I enjoyed checking in a few times a week to see what was going on in people’s lives or get their take on events.

Some were flawlessly written and carefully edited, others on display with their typos uncorrected. It didn’t matter.

Some were short and to-the-point. Others were long posts filled with details. I love details, but while I am not a get-to-the-point-quickly kind of writer, one friend’s posts were endless. Yes, I want details of your road trip, but you don’t have to tell me that you showered and shaved, had bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast, washed and put away the dishes, and stopped at Walmart for toothpaste before you hit the road.
However, if you eat breakfast this way, I wouldn't mind hearing about it. 
The all-too-often disappointment with reading blogs came when I checked in week after week to find the most recent post still the one I read last Christmas. Eventually, I realized that you lost interest in blogging. And I miss you.

I never planned to have a blog. I knew it would be hard to come up with posts continuously, and I didn’t want to become one of those posts-never-change bloggers. I am also a very low-tech person, who just never figured I could handle it. Leaving a comment was enough of a challenge. (Yes, that low-tech.)

When Kim Van Sickler suggested our group begin a blog, I had my doubts. But I climbed on board the Swagger excursion to see where it would lead. I have enjoyed it immensely. I have “met” other bloggers and feel part of this online world, even in my low-tech capacity. Being “part of” a blog is much easier than “having” a blog.

I took part in blog challenges where the Swaggers were responsible for a new post every day. Whew! Luckily, I have Kim and the other Swaggers to share those duties with. I could never have done the October (2012) Age 1-25 posts in the Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge or the April (2013) alphabet posts in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge on my own. Never. But many of you did, and I applaud you for meeting the task. One blogger didn’t finish the A-Z challenge in April, but has continued her posts into July, and promises not to quit until she reaches Z. (Hurray for you, Dana! Keep it up!)

I have also been invited to be a “guest blogger” on occasion, and that introduced me to even more of you in the blogosphere.

Checking in on blogs is now one of my favorite things to do. I read about your families, your jobs, your faith, your day-to-day challenges. I read your poetry, your chapters, your opinions, your book reviews, your tips on cooking, gardening, or just facing the next day.

I feel there’s a circle of friends out there, all across the globe, who share their joys and struggles, who support each other with their comments, who have welcomed me into their world. I salute each and every one of you (even those whose posts go on and on and on and on…)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Staying the Course

by Kim Van Sickler

This is Swaggers first post as part of the Insecure Writers Support Group.  We're eager to get around to other participants' blogs and get to know even more of you. You can read all about it and sign up to participate if you're a writer here.
First Wed of Every Month

A few years ago, when I really began focusing on fiction writing, I was so open minded and accommodating that I incorporated everyone's well-meaning suggestions into my work. 

I appreciate every word of advice I received. And I continue to appreciate them. They are like dark chocolate kisses.

But nowadays I'm developing actual game plans for my work. I come up with ideas I'm eager to experiment with. For instance, I noticed how Jennifer Egan and A.S. King, successfully told their stories from multiple POVs and using time as a fluid concept. Those concepts really excited me and seemed appropriate to my WIP, so I'm writing my first draft in first-person POV, with three POV characters, in alternating chapters that jump backward and forward in time.

 Two weeks ago, I submitted my drafted chapters and book outline upon request to an author running a day-long writing workshop I would be attending. Then I waited my turn during the day of the workshop for her to give me individual feedback.

 Her advice was to write from one POV and make the story chronological. Exactly the opposite of my plan for this story. She had good reasons for suggesting this and I was happy to hear them. Fortunately another experienced author was at this workshop and she thought it could be accomplished. She suggested I finish writing my first draft the way I envision, then take a stab at writing it more conventionally and see which version I like better. 
It was also recommended that I read this book and I've already checked it out of the library.
I'll never protest reading a suggested book!!!!
A few years ago I would have been devastated and given up on my idea. Who knows what will happen down the road, but for now, I'm going to keep chugging along, bringing the idea that excites me to fruition. Wish me luck!

Have you ever received advice that conflicted with what you were trying to do from a writing professional? How did you handle it?