Monday, March 17, 2014

Wordcraft -- The dark, the deadly & the dead

It was an interesting weekend of panels from genre authors and publisher, sponsored jointly by the Barnes & Noble bookstore at The Parks Mall in Arlington, Texas, and the Rising Phoenix Press small publishing house. In one morning, the audience of writers learned how to kill people from retired chemical engineer and forensics consultant David Ciambrone; how to add realistically ghostly characters to our pages, from North Texas paranormal investigator Brandy Herr; and find publishing outlets for these dark imaginations from C.L. Stegall, JoAnna Grace and Jonathon Black of independent Dark Red Press.

The afternoon lineup included panels on romance writing, Westerns and general fiction from nearly a dozen additional Texas authors.

For mystery writers itching for ways to kill victims quickly, easily and cheaply, Ciambrone gave a lesson on the deadliness of common plants and household chemicals. Many of these, he stressed, don't require access to anything more exotic than a grocery store, plant nursery, or pet store--or even our own kitchens and back yards.  Dr. Ciambrone’s Poisons Handbook for Writers stresses that the information is intended only for use in writing fiction. Don’t try these at home!

For those of us who prefer our fictional characters already dead, Herr’s Haunted Granbury details the surprising number of paranormal events haunting a small North Texas town, and the major ways in which haunting can occur. Poltergeists and other “intelligent” haunting involve entities who are able to interact with observers--in some cases, seem actually to enjoy such interactions. "Residual" hauntings, on the other hand, are simply reenactments of a scene, whose participants are not able to interact with the living. Her book is part of the Haunted America series from The History Press,

And whether we’re dealing with the dead or the merely deadly, C.L. Stegall, JoAnna Grace, and Jonathon Black of independent publisher Dark Red Press offered suggestions for turning these dark secrets into stories in a variety of thrillers.

Stegall’s definition of dark fiction is anything that keeps “the thrills and the chills coming. After the first sentence--not the first paragraph, but the first sentence, the reader can’t put it down.”

How to write like that? The specific methods vary from the loglines and detailed index cards of Black, who writes paranormal suspense and romance under the name John J. Smith to the seat of the pants method of confessed “binge-writer” Grace (“I have to say, index cards put me in the fetal position”).

“If anyone tells you there’s a formula for writing a book, you can tell them they’re a liar,” Stegall said. But no matter what the method, the first thing is writing the story.

“It’s not a matter of finding time to write,” Grace said. “It’s a matter of making time, (even) if that means the laundry doesn’t get done for a few days.”

For more about Dark Red Press, its authors, books and events, see

And for more about Rising Phoenix Press and its author events, see

Want to learn more about publishing? The 2014 SMU LitFest opens tomorrow, March 18, at 4:30 p.m. with a free panel discussion by representatives of local small publishers Matthew Limpede of Carve magazine, Joe Milazzo of the journals (out of nothing) and Black Clock, Will Evans of Deep Vellum Press, and Ronald Moore of Baskerville Publishers. The panel meets in the DeGolyer Library on the SMU campus.
The SMU LitFest continues through Saturday, March 22, in various locations on campus. For a complete schedule of events, authors, and a map of the campus, see

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