#SHURES June 2013 Residency for Writing Popular Fiction – Day 3

I never sleep very well when I come to residency.  However, exercising for the last few months and especially every morning of the residency has helped….. a little.

Here’s what happened on Day 3 of the residency.

  • My short story piece is up in the workshops

The good news is that they all felt exactly the right way about the main character.  They hated him and didn’t feel bad for him when he dies in the end.  That’s awesome for me as it was written for the horror module of last semester.

  • Lunch with critique partners

My two critique partners are guys I already know.  We all came into the program at the same time and have worked together enough to know how we work and what we can expect.

  • Afternoon module “Perk up that Plot”

This was a very popular module.  We were in one of the larger room because of how many people signed up for it.  First, it is comforting to see how many people suffer from the same problems I do in my writing.  So I really feel like I belong.  It was a three hour module so I’m not going to post even a fraction of everything that was taught.  But I am taking away a lot of helpful information and exercises to keeping my plot going and how to get myself out of a stuck part.

  • Thesis presentations this evening

All I can say is that each graduating classes impresses me more and more with their creativity and proficiency in the craft.  I hope that next June, when I graduate, that I won’t ruin the tradition and standard.

  • My first public book signing :0

Every June, the Alumni of the program hold a writing conference during the day and have a book signing on one of the nights.  They’ve been nice enough to open it to those of us in the program that have books out.  I sold a few copies of my Non-fiction work and the novel that was published in 2009.    Overall, a fun night.  Thanks to all that attended and thanks to my wife for supporting me in this endeavor.

Day 4 Saturday

Morning workshops and Teaching Modules

Guest Speakers in the Afternoon and Evening where I get to have my query letter critiqued by the quest speaker.

Day 5 Sunday -Final day

Final Module

Final Workshops

Graduation Ceremony

#SHURES June 2013 Residency for Writing Popular Fiction Day 2

First day of workshops.  I tried my best to scare the noobs.  Just kidding.  They seemed to take the whole process rather well.

The afternoon module that I took was on Scene craft.  If I retain nothing else from it, I know that I’ve got to have conflict in every scene.  Right now, the only conflict I have in many of my scenes is that I don’t have any conflict.  Bah!  Lots of reworking to do.

Last night I met with my mentor and got great feedback on how to move forward.  Here are the bullet points:

  •  There’s always more research I could be doing regarding the subjects I use in my work.
  • I’ve got to work on my self confidence otherwise my writing will suffer.
  • My characters have to make stronger choices
  • I need to show that I’ve weighed out their choice instead of just having them make choices because I said so.
  • Got to rework the injury of my main character so it’s more clear.
  • And I’ve got to not be so scared of my own darkness so I can write the tale that needs to be told.

I didn’t sleep much last night.  I don’t sleep very well normally.  I especially don’t sleep well in hotels.  Last night, I had the added problem (which I haven’t had in a long time) of having too many ideas for my thesis running around in my mind to be able to relax and sleep.  That actually felt good.  I’ve been stuck since the last submission in May.  It’s nice to have ideas flowing again.


  • My short story piece is up in the workshops
  • Lunch with critique partners
  • Afternoon module “Perk up that Plot”
  • Thesis presentations this evening
  • My first public book signing :0

#SHURES June 2013 Residency for Writing Popular Fiction – Day 1

The first day of residency is always fun because we are mixed together to discuss the common reading and get to greet each other.  It’s nice to see old faces and greet the new crowd.

The first module I took was a reading your own work out loud course with none other than my mentor Scott Johnson.  The best part of the module was when we were required to get up and read our own work for four minutes and get critique feedback from our classmates.  Very nerve wracking because I have no problem reading something that is not mine.  But get up and read my own stuff, no thank you.  I learned a lot.  Especially about what I have to work on.  Awesome first day!

#SHURES June 2013 Residency for Writing Popular Fiction – Opening Reception

Last night was the Opening Reception for the June 2013 residency for the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction group. This is my fourth time.  Which means a year from now I will be attending my final residency.  After a bit of socializing since we mainly see each other online, we began the program with the director Al Wendland. As is customary, he presented the theme for this residency.

What would you change about the genre in which you write?  With the follow-up question of how will you make that difference?

I believe that Dr. Wendland would be proud to see that these questions carried us into the night well after the reception.  What were my answers? I don’t like the super villains of scifi and fantasy that want to destroy the planet and everyone on it.  It really seems stupid to me that you’d want that of all things.  You’d be dead as well.  To keep it more general, I don’t like the weak villain because that’s not what you see in the world.  I want someone cunning and charismatic who blurs the line.  That’s what I’m trying to do in my writing and how I will make a difference in the genre.  I want to stay clear of the ridiculous villains.


I had a discussion with my classmates on YA in relation to these questions.  I’ve written middle-grade and YA and always thought of them as sub-genres to the scifi or fantasy genre I was working in.  However, Tonya Burrows, a romance author with two books recently released, brought up an excellent point.  Focus on the main part of the story.  If the main part of the story is romance then it is a romance novel with the other elements in it.  So what I wrote were YA novels with scifi or fantasy in them.  That would support the argument that YA needs to have its own genre with the sub genres being mystery, scifi, fantasy, romance, etc.

Today is the first day of residency with our first modules.  Wish us luck!


How sad is it that I’m one of the last generations that new what the cards are for in the opening sequence?  I remembered the toys for this movie and I remembered the Stay Puft marshmallow man.   It was therefore, not only a pleasant end to the course, but a wonderful refresher.  Yep, I’m hoping the rumors are true that they’re getting back for a third one just because the first is so funny.

Let’s see, what makes this a ghost story?  I’ll try to recount as many as I can.

  • Moving objects
  • Mist creature
  • Ectoplasmic
  • Exploding eggs
  • Demonic voices
  • Demons in the fridge
  • Creepy guy going after the girl
  • “Psychic” medium
  • Possession

So much fun.  Oh, thank you for assigning this at the end of the course.  I needed some Bill Murray to liven it up from Lovely Bones and Ghost Story.


Response to A Christmas Carol

I’m actually pleased to read this again and outside of the Christmas holiday.  Of course the lessons within the story are just as present and effective now as ever.  But it was fun to analyze this for the Ghost story aspect.

My favorite element of the ghost story in A Christmas Carol is that no only do we have the spirits of past, present, and future, but Scrooge becomes a ghost to haunt those other times.  It’s the best of ghost stories and Lovely Bones mashed together.

Including this story in with the required readings just drives home one of Scott’s points from the beginning of the class.  We were asked to talk about what makes a ghost story for us and most of us fell into the trap of saying it had to be scary.  A Christmas Carol is not scary to the reader.  At least not thriller scary.  You could argue that it is morally frightening for Scrooge and the reader because that’s the point.  But being afraid because a ghost is haunting you? No, that wasn’t the point of the book.  But it is a great end to the course of readings.  Ghost stories are another facet of genre fiction that can be used to teach a moral.  That’s how I would write ghost stories.

Real Haunted House

The assigned post for this week is to blog about a real haunted house.  Yep, had to research this one.  I’ve never spent the time “researching” haunted houses before.  Most of what I found aren’t real haunted houses.  Instead they were haunted house attractions for Halloween.

While not a house, there is one location out here in Utah I’ve heard about.  It’s a haunted hospital.  The hospital is in Tooele (pronounced To-will-ah), Utah and is now used for ghost hunts, tours, and they also have a fright tour.  Here’s a picture of the hospital.

Haunted Hospital in Tooele, Utah. Photo from Asylum 49

I only knew about this place because a lady I new at my last job went on a ghost hunt.  Sadly their group didn’t see anything when she went.

As you might expect, as a hospital there are many spirits that have apparently found their eternal residence there.  In looking this up I’ve learned that the hospital featured in Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel.  And it apparently was used to film The Stand by Steven King.  Huh, how about them apples?

It has the (to someone like me) seemingly common mists, orbs, EVP recordings.  However, there is one part of this place that sounds really interesting to me.  A portal.  Yep, there is a spiritual portal where apparently they dead want to go to thinking it is the way to heaven.  The story goes that a spirit by the name of Maria guards the portal to keep others from crossing it.  Mighty helpful lady.

But there’s also a dark entity there believed to be the spirit of Wes, a former patient who passed away there.  He apparently doesn’t want to cross over.


I picked this place for the post for two reasons:

1) It’s local and probably not as well known by my classmates (you never know)

2) I can see the idea that a hospital would have many instances of paranormal activity and could provide for quite a story for someone living and sensitive to such activity.  I also think it’s interesting that while so many people do not like the feel of hospitals that there would be spirits that hang around it.  That could be interpreted in different ways depending on what you want to happen in a story.  With the plethora of instances in the hospital, it would be interesting to write a story about someone who (unlike most of the visitors) does not use technology in any way to communicate with the spirits.  Personally that’s a hangup I have with ghost stories.

Let me know if you have heard of this place or have or will visit it.  I’d like to read actual accounts.

Thoughts on the movie Paranormal Activity

If I could get away with a one line response to the movie for class I’d say: Some things you just shouldn’t mess with. The recent attacks in Boston and attempts to poison political officials should remind us all that there is enough negative and evil stuff in the world that why does anyone need to invite more of that into their life.

I think that one of the qualities of ghost stories that is so effective is the unknown. Most of the time you aren’t going to see anything. Whereas monsters and killers you have a higher chance of actually seeing them. Both types of stories can use the surprise jump out at your ploy. But ghost stories don’t have to show you what it was and still scare you.

I’ve posted before what I don’t like about ghost stories. I really have a hard time accepting that departed people will come back to haunt and scare us. As a religious guy, I just think that our loved ones move on to other things. They may come see births and weddings, but I expect that they’ll be busy most of the time. As for the evil people who lived here? I hope in swift eternal judgment and punishment.

Having said that, this is what worked for me in the Paranormal Activity movie. I like that the psychic came and said there are spirits and then there are demons. Again, as a religious guy, I believe that Satan has his followers that, due to their rebellion, are unable to have bodies so they prey on those that would either welcome their presence or play around with stuff they shouldn’t. There are stories in the bible about people being possessed by evil spirits. I don’t believe that those spirits are deceased beings, rather they are those beings who never came to earth and are now trying to deceive mankind.

I don’t believe that they are just waiting around haunting places. I don’t think that’s how it works. I think they’re waiting for those that engage in negativity and play around with dark things that no one should play around. If someone opens themselves to that influence they yes, I can see how they’d be possessed or have weird stuff happen to them.

Other than the concept of the story, the rest of it I didn’t like. Like I said, why invite more of that into your life. If you haven’t seen these movies I don’t think you’re missing anything.

Thoughts on Grave’s End by Elaine Mercado

While the program is in writing fiction, this book was non-fiction. I don’t have a problem with that because it showed how fiction mirrors life. There is something interesting that I have been noticing in the stories we’ve read for this course. It is the presence of anger and contention.

The first book of the semester was The Haunting of Hill House. While there wasn’t a whole lot of anger between each other, it was still present. The main character leaves her sister’s place under less that amiable circumstances and while at Hill House is filled with jealousy. Those aren’t good feelings and did lead to contention.

The second book was Hell House and there is all sorts of ill feelings towards each other and their methods of working. So again, anger and contention.

Next was Ghost Story. Grudges, arguments, resentment, etc were there as well.

Then, the Shining. Jack has anger issues.

The Lovely Bones. This is a different type of story from the previous. It’s a story from the dead watching their family.

The Others. Definitely resentment, anger, and contention in that one.

Amityville Horror. The first thing I noticed was how the father acts immediately after getting into the house. He’s angry and snapping at everyone and refusing to help settle the house.

So by the time we get to Grave’s End, I’m not at all surprised when she admits they are having problems with the marriage. In the stories listed above (with the exception of Lovely Bones) they all have differences in what happens in ghost story part of it, but they also all have anger and contention. Having not been a horror reader before this program, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about horror other than it’s meant to scare you so you can’t sleep. But I find it interesting that in both actual and fictional accounts, the people involved are not the happiest of people going into the story nor do they “play well with others.” If I had to make a list of aspects required in a horror story involving the paranormal or ghosts, I’d have to list anger and contention at the top of the list.

Thoughts on Amityville Horror

I often find myself going back and forth between belief and skepticism whenever I hear stories of hauntings. I believe that everyone has a spirit and that we do pass on after these life. And I do believe that there are devils and demons or at the very least angry spirits who can’t accept their fate. But something I’ve never understood, is if there really are spirits, good and bad, why would they care about us? Okay, so I can kind of see why previous owners of the house would be attached to their home and not like someone else there. But I don’t see how or why powerful demons would go after individuals living in a house. Wouldn’t they have something more important to be doing? I know, those of you who have read my work in progress might be ready to scratch their heads at what I’m saying. But I’m working through that.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some serious scary moments in this book. But because it’s a “true story” it read too much like a deposition than a story. The majority of the book, to me, felt like someone just relaying the events without having me experience them with the characters. Others may not have felt that way. But it did feel that way to me. The wording in the book is a great example of filter words with how often we see “George could feel” instead of “George felt.” That’s a big problem I always have to go back through in my own work and something I still miss often. I did try to keep an open mind which is why many of the events did freak me out when I imagined myself in their situation. But too often I was pulled out of the story so that I wasn’t experiencing it with them.

That said, let me repeat that the events they experience would be incredibly scary and would be an interesting study for parapsychologist and others. I can even see how it would spur such a following in film. Yeah, pretty sure I wouldn’t like my little girl talking to a devil pig. That’s just messed up.