Guess What I Did with Gene Simmons Last Night

Last week a family emergency found me spending several nights at a hospital in a neighboring town. The room had a recliner that, while certainly better than the Flintstones-era char found in rooms at the hospital in town, was no sleep number mattress.

Sleeping in strange places is a good way to have strange dreams, especially when you’re already sleep-deprived, forget to eat dinner, and people are in and out of the room at all hours. This unexpected adventure did not disappoint.

The dream started out fairly normal, with my husband and I arriving at the home of one of my clients. The Christmas holiday was in full swing and twinkling fairy lights lit up a large stone patio that greeted us at the end of the driveway. 

Our host and my husband found common ground quickly and began discussing guns. Had my husband ever tried the newly modified gun from the NES game, Duck Hunt? My husband had not! Our host immediately invited him to come into the backyard to try it out on his skeet shooting equipment.

I was invited to join other guests in the basement rec room, where our teenage sons had retired to play authentic 1980s arcade games. Upon entering the rec room I was impressed to see it looked more like a hotel lounge with white leather sofas and light fixtures of shiny brass and sparkling crystal.

And who was sitting on the sofa with a glass of bourbon? Gene Simmons! I wasted no time striking up a conversation about an interview of his I’d recently watched, in which he discussed his mother, a holocaust survivor. 

Gene Simmons then invited me to play foosball. Every time he got a point, he’d stick out his tongue and wiggled it like a worm. I could feel my cheeks blush as I laughed.
“That’s what I do when I get a point,” he explained. “You want me to do it again? I need to get another point.” 

When I let him get another point he continued, “This is how I win. I seduce women into letting me win.”

Then I woke up.

As the day went on I realized the dream’s message. If I want my books to be popular and “win”, then I’m going to have to seduce my readers with a fabulous plot, interesting characters, and creative conflicts that will keep them glued to the page.

So tell me what you like in a book and, more importantly, what you don’t like. Let’s talk about it in the comments section!

Why I Kissed Blackbeard Goodbye

Here’s a plot twist I never saw coming.

During the 2015 MAFWI conference, I attended a workshop led by Jim Rada, an author who hails from Pennsylvania. He stressed the importance of research when writing historical novels. This is also important, however, when writing any works that mentions a real person, trademark, or other type of brand.

I knew this would mean quite a bit of rewriting for HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, my collection of 13 strange and inspired by true stories, but surely I’d be smart enough not to let it happen again. Right? Absolutely!

It was more like absolutely not. It started when I read How to Use Brand Names in Your Fiction (Just Like TFIOS), a guest blog article written by Kathryn Goldman on the Better Novel Project blog.

Imagine my dismay at realizing the way I displayed Blackbeard in my book could bring up some serious issues. The fictional character based on the real person didn’t show in the best light. There was only one thing to do.

I kissed Blackbeard goodbye.

Then I went in an exploration into the past to find a new pirate. Hours later, when complaining about the dilemma to my husband, he asked, “Why don’t you just make up a pirate?”

Excited, I returned to my research. Because I’m only about 1/3 of the way into my book, I don’t need to rip it out and start over. And because my new pirate is a fictional female with a sweet back story, I won’t feel obligated to force my plot to follow someone else’s facts.

I’m more excited about my book every day, and can’t wait to share the final product with you all.

How a Rainy Night Cured my Writer’s Block

I was smack dab in the middle of the first draft of my first full-length cozy mystery when I fell into a rut. This wasn’t an “I’ll be over here playing Candy Crush for a few days” kind of rut. This was an “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up and I’ll be over here until someone comes along with a crowbar to wedge me from this space” kind of rut.

Everywhere I looked, there were problems. The writing seemed stilted. The characters felt flat. And the plot? Boring with a capital “B”. Every time I opened the file, I groaned and closed it again. I went on like this for a couple of weeks.

Then I was driving home from my shift at our community center’s local volunteer-run library. It was pouring down rain and my oldest son, who is 18 and also a member of my writing group, was with me. As it usually does, our conversation turned to writing and our current projects.

I rounded a corner and the headlights of my truck swept over a cluster of rocky brush at the edge of the woods bordering the road. For a split second, it looked like a body lying there in the rain. Suddenly, I had an idea. And this idea led to so many other ideas.

  • What if it was raining during the opening scene of my book?
  • What if it rained that entire weekend?
  • What if the body was found in the rain?
  • What if the rain washed away some of the evidence?
  • What if…?

The ideas rained down until they formed a stream of thought that spilled into the rut and, as a result, ejected me right out of it. I got home and started writing up a storm, making small tweaks that added up to big changes.

Now my characters have a reason to be excited. The story directs the plot. And I can’t wait to find out who killed off old…well, you’ll have to read it to find out!

What do you do when writer’s block hits? Are you likely to sit and wallow in it? Do you have any tried and true tips to share? Let’s discuss them in the comments section!

Gloria Gossip

This is my entry for Morning Rain Publishing‘s Annual Freaky Flash Fiction contest. Contestants write up to 1,000 words and for an extra challenge, they use four bonus words. This year’s were: axel, metal, dragon, and brimstone.

Last year I won, so it was with high hopes that I went into this year’s competition — a few hours before the deadline.

Edit: On October 26, 2015, Morning Rain Publishing announced the winners. I already knew I wasn’t in the top five — but it turns out I placed in the top eight! Go me!

Here’s the story in its entirety, bonus words in bold. After you read it, please let me know what you think in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

GLORIA GOSSIP
by Becky Muth

Nine-year-old Annie ripped the gift wrap from the box and exclaimed, “Yay! A talking Gloria Gossip Doll!”

“What do you say?” Her mother prodded.

Without taking her eyes from her gift the child sighed happily. “Thank you! I love her so much. Mommy can I take her to my room?”

“Yes, but just until time for supper and then I want you to leave her upstairs.”

Piper Evans waited until she heard her daughter go up the stairs, slowly counting them one at a time, and then race down the hall and slam her bedroom door. She turned to her sister and admonished, “You spoil her, Samantha. Is that the same kind of doll we had at her age?”

“It is, and I can spoil my goddaughter all I want.” Her sister replied, her tone teasing. “It’s cute the way she counts out the stairs.”

“Blake taught her to do that when we first moved in. I’m terrified she’s going to tumble down them.” Turning back to the topic of her daughter’s gift, she asked, “Where did you find it? I looked on eBay last Christmas and the prices were ridiculous.”

Samantha sipped her coffee. “A thrift store in New Orleans, run by this old Creole woman named Axel. Most of what she sold was old clothes and household items alongside fire and brimstone paraphernalia and voodoo tchotchkes. But then I saw Gloria and couldn’t believe my luck.”

“Hopefully you didn’t pay a fortune for her.” Piper grimaced.

“Surprisingly, I didn’t,” Samantha replied with a smile.

#

Piper finished listening to her husband complain about his job as a supervisor at a nearby metal works factory and then turned to their daughter. “Annie, did you tell Daddy what Aunt Samantha brought you from her trip?”

Annie grinned. “A talking Gloria Gossip doll just like Mommy and Aunt Samantha had when they were little girls.”

“Oh yeah? Just what we need around this house, another gossipy woman.” Blake Evans playfully winked at his wife. Turning to their daughter, he asked, “So what’s Gloria gossiping about? Anything good?”

“Daddy!” Annie giggled. “I can’t tell you because you’re not in the girls’ club like me and Mommy.”

Blake pretended to look hurt. “You can’t tell me one little thing?”

Annie looked from her mom to her dad then leaned forward to whisper, “Okay, just one thing. Her name isn’t really Gloria. It’s Josephine.”

Annie’s parents chuckled, amused at their daughter’s vivid imagination.

#

Annie lay in her princess canopy bed, her head on one pillow while Gloria rested on the other. She was supposed to be sleeping, but she was having too much fun gossiping. “I’m glad you’re my friend, Josephine.”

“I’m glad you’re my friend too,” the doll’s mechanical voice whispered. “Since we’re friends, can you help me with something?”

“Okay, sure.” Annie whispered back.

“I want to go home to my mom. Can you help me do that?” The doll continued.

Annie frowned. “I don’t know how. I don’t know how to help you. You’re just a doll. You live with me now.”

“It’s okay.” The doll reassured the little girl. “I’ll tell you what to do. First pick me up and take me to the top of the stairs.”

#

Piper finished boxing up her daughter’s belongings. At the last minute, she added the Gloria Gossip doll.

“Are you sure?” Samantha asked.

“Yeah.” Piper nodded. “Let it go to the thrift store. If I was going to do anything with it, I’d have put it in her casket. Now it’s just a reminder of the night she died. I still don’t understand how she could have fallen down the stairs. She was always so careful.”

“I know. I heard her counting them the day I was here.” Samantha choked back a sob, the grief from her niece’s accident draping like a heavy cloak around her body.

Piper wiped away fresh tears and sighed. “It’s weird, but sometimes when Blake is at work and the house is quiet, it’s like I can still hear her counting.”

#

Cecily McDowell watched Helena, her ten-year-old daughter, pull the Gloria Gossip doll from the reusable shopping bag she used to carry home her thrift store finds.

“Cool!” Her daughter exclaimed.

“I had one when I was ten. Hopefully you aren’t too old for dolls.” Cecily smiled. “She was at the secondhand store where I found you a good ski jacket for winter. I thought you might like the doll since you’ve opted out of trick-or-treating this year.”

Helena beamed. “She’s so cool mom, and no, I’m not too old for her. What does she do?”

“When you squeeze her hand, she gossips with you.” She went on to demonstrate how the doll worked, but frowned when the toy failed to produce the mechanical voice she recalled from her childhood. “Well that stinks. I should have checked that before I bought her.”

“It’s okay, mom. Can I take her outside?”

Cecily nodded. “Sure, but stay in the yard so you can hear me call you in for dinner.”

#

Helena sat cross-legged in the tree fort with the Gloria Gossip doll cradled in her arms. She ignored her younger brothers, who romped about the backyard, dressed in their knight and dragon Halloween costumes, a good ten feet below her. Giving the doll’s hand a firm squeeze, she was surprised when the toy’s eyes blinked open.

The doll’s mechanical voice squeaked out, “Hi, I’m Gloria Gossip. You can share all your secrets with me.”

Helena giggled. “Well, okay. My friend Tonya likes Jason from Mrs. Noland’s class.”

“That’s a great secret!” The doll squealed. “Do you want to hear one of mine now?”

“Um, sure, okay.” Helena nodded.

“First, I have to make sure we’re friends. Are we friends?”

“Yeah, we’re friends.”

The doll continued, “My secret is, my name’s not Gloria. It’s Annie, and I need your help with something. Can you help me get home to my mom?”

~fin~