Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Just in time for the holidays...Dark Things II - Cat Crimes -




Hi everyone,

Here’s some great end-of-the year news!

The anthology, DARK THINGS II: Cat Crimes: Tales of Feline Mayhem and Murder has just been released.

Everyone knows I’m a cat lover and author of three non-fiction cat care guides. Now I’ve combined my love of cats with my love of horror stories, and I found a way to benefit cats across the country.

My horror short “Just an Innocent Little Cat” appears in this anthology. This collection of tales (tails?) features feline mayhem, murder, and other things you always suspected cats were doing when you weren't looking. Cats you don't want in your worst nightmares and cats you might want on your side against evil. (My story falls into the latter CATegory.)

All proceeds from sales go to several cat sanctuaries across the USA. Enjoy over twenty-one cat “tails” and give a needy cat a new leash on life. (You’d think someone with such a bad sense of humor couldn’t write horror stories, huh?)


And here’s an excerpt:


“Just an Innocent Little Cat”

Chester sat on the bathroom floor with his tail wrapped around his body. He arched his neck and lifted his nose high in the air. Eggs and bacon. Betty was making food downstairs. That left him alone with Danny.

He leapt onto the side of the blue bathtub and sat on the rim, just outside the shower curtain. The hot water was running inside the tub, and he twitched his nose at the harsh-scented detergents filling the room. He studied the shadow of the fat man as he moved around behind the thin curtain.

Last night, he’d decided that Danny had to go. Before Danny came, Betty used to have her lady friends over to visit. They played something called “Scrabble.” Sometimes, the little brown pieces of tile landed on the floor and he swatted them under the couch. It was a fun game. But now, the nice ladies didn’t visit anymore. Danny wouldn’t allow them to come here. This made Betty sad.

After a few minutes, Danny turned off the water and opened the shower curtain. He yelped and stepped back.

“Damn thing! Get the hell out of here!”

Chester riveted his gaze on Danny, then hissed.

“Ma, hey, ma!” Danny screamed and covered himself with his hands. “Get this cat outta here!”

***

For the record: Chester was based on a real-life highly intelligent orange cat my parents owned. And isn't the cover cool?


Enjoy the holidays!

Kelli A. Wilkins



Friday, December 2, 2011

Something Spooky for the Holiday Season!






Hi everyone,


In this week’s blog I’m sharing a short and sweet promo for a new horror anthology! As most everyone knows by now, I not only write sizzling erotic romances, I also write short horror fiction.


If you’re looking for a gift for someone who likes to read horror stories - or if you’re a horror fan who wants to tune out the cutesy holiday cheer and explore the dark side, Frightmares is just for you!


My flash fiction horror story, “Death is Just a Tick Away” appeared in Dark Moon Digest’s e-magazine (Issue #1) this summer. And it now appears in the Frightmares: A Fistful of Flash Fiction Horror paperback anthology published by Dark Moon Books. The story is based on a real superstition!


The book is a compilation of dozens of flash fiction horror stories. Each tale is under 500 words and is a quick read. The authors weren’t limited to a central theme (vampires, zombies, or haunted places), so each story is completely unique.


The link to the print book on Amazon is: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0983433550/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=shadara-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0983433550


And you can still order a Kindle version of the magazine here: http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Moon-Digest-Magazine-ebook/dp/B005BSSL66/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_7

(Note: These links are for Amazon. However, these titles are also available at Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores.)

Next week on the blog I’ll be taking a look back at my 2011 Amber Quill Press romances!

Until next time,
Kelli

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Writing Horror Fiction - Just in time for Halloween!




Greetings!



In a previous blog, I talked a little about horror stories in general. Now I’ll get more specific. How does a person write a horror story? What makes a great one? How can you make a convincing story about a monster if monsters aren’t real?



First, it’s important to realize that horror can take many forms — gore-filled splatter-punk with buckets of blood… mysterious, cursed people living in isolated Gothic castles (or even tropical islands!)… psychological, unsettling horror that makes you feel uneasy… or your ordinary “classic monsters” such as vampires, ghosts, zombies, and werewolves. Each kind of horror story has its fans, probably because everyone is scared of different things (heights, monkeys, bridges, etc.). But whatever type of horror story you write (or read) there are a few universal elements that should go into any horror tale.



An important element in writing horror is to invent a believable horror universe where monsters, angels, vampires, and other paranormal elements are possible – and conflict with the characters you’ve created.



The TV show “Supernatural” is an excellent example of horror world building. The Winchesters go around hunting “things” for a living. They were raised believing that paranormal creatures were more than legends – to them, they’re 100% real, no question. That’s what every horror author has to do – make the reader believe in the element of horror (whether it’s a nightmare-invading serial killer, a 60 foot sea-creature, or a ghost) and take the reader on a journey with the main characters. The situations need to be plausible and told in a way that grips the reader, even if the premise seems a bit far-fetched (at first).



As with any story, the author has to establish a believable setting. Whether your tale takes place in a gritty, post-apocalyptic city or a foggy rural graveyard, you need to give your readers a concrete foundation of where the story is taking place. Use lots of details and props to make your descriptions come alive. Ask yourself why your story has to take place where it does, then take your reader there. My story, “Kropsy’s Curse” makes great use of setting. What’s better than a horror story set in a graveyard on Halloween? It’s available on www.fictionwise.com. The link is: http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/eBook17627.htm



Remember that all characters (even the monsters) need to have a purpose. Why are your zombies in Wegmans? Your readers will want to know why (and how) the events in your story are happening. Your job as a writer is to get readers to suspend their (dis)belief and buy into your story. This is done by giving characters a goal and following it up with in-depth characterization and details. You don’t have to go into a lengthy explanation, just give your readers a reason, have your characters believe it, and move on. In my story, “The Man in Apt. 3-A”, the main character really didn’t believe a vampire lived upstairs…until he met him. (Read it for free in the horror section of my site!)



And try to avoid clichés like the plague! Masked killers hunting campers in the woods, serial-killing cannibal families, miserable Goth vampires in ruffles, and mindless zombie attacks have all been done to… well, death. When writing horror, don’t be afraid to break patterns, make your characters different or have them go against the stereotype. Give readers something unexpected, turn a cliché on its ear, or use a different point of view — it’ll make your story stand out. Why not set your werewolf story in Hawaii? My flash fiction story, “Guest of Honor” uses setting, mood, and purpose to deliver a clever ending. It was featured in The Best of the First Line. Read more about it here: http://www.kelliwilkins.com/horror01.html



My flash fiction story, “Death is Just a Tick Away” appeared in the premiere issue of Dark Moon Digest’s e-magazine (Issue #1) this summer. The story is based on a real superstition! You can order a Kindle version here: http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Moon-Digest-Magazine-ebook/dp/B005BSSL66/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_7



Remember, when writing horror, the only limit is your imagination!


Want more horror? Visit the horror section of my website: http://www.kelliwilkins.com/horror.html

 Look for a special Halloween-themed blog next week, then exciting changes in the new year!
Happy Haunting,
Kelli

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Horror Short Stories - The Ape & Whispers from the Past





Hi everyone!

Happy October!

To celebrate my favorite month, my blogs for October will be devoted (in some way) to the horror and paranormal genres.


As most everyone knows, I write in several genres, including romance and horror. For some, that might seem an odd combination, but it works for me. One half of my brain writes the horror, and the half writes the romance.


Although I write hot and spicy romances for Amber Quill Press, I actually started out writing short horror stories. Since I grew up reading horror fiction and watching horror movies (the whole horror movie thing is a blog for another day) it only seemed natural. (After all, Halloween is my favorite holiday!) Later, I branched out into science fiction and published 40 or so pulp fiction-style sci-fi stories for the Sun.


In horror fiction, I get to explore different settings, plots, and characters that I couldn’t develop in romance. Sometimes after working on several romances, I’ll switch moods and write a horror story to give my brain and writing muscles a change of pace.


My horror short stories are more psychological/spooky/creepy than gory, and I like to explore the darker aspects of a story and not always give the characters a happy ending, as I do in my romances. It’s fun to take a seemingly normal situation (a Halloween party, a man living in an apartment, a boy with a grudge) and add a supernatural/horror element.


Recently, two of my short stories appeared in horror anthologies published by Pill Hill Press. (Both books are available on www.Amazon.com)


Haunted: An Anthology of the Supernatural - contains 42 short stories about haunted places. Set in a haunted house, “Whispers from the Past” blends the paranormal with a startling bit of reality.

Here’s a short excerpt:


Paul rolled over in the narrow twin bed and tried to ignore the faint whispers. No matter what he did, they invaded his mind like silvery moonbeams.


He closed his eyes and counted to fifty, hoping to focus on anything but those quiet sounds on the edge of his sanity. Ghosts did not exist, yet he was hearing eerie noises in the dead of night.


The whispers grew louder, more insistent. Now and then, he could make out a word or two in the hushed voice he recognized from long ago.


It can’t really be him. It’s just my over-stimulated imagination, or maybe the contest people are playing tricks on me.


“Stop it!”

He snapped back the bedclothes and stood up. The whispery voice fell silent.






To order an electronic copy, click here:





The Four Horsemen – An Anthology of Conquest, War, Famine & Death – This anthology of twenty-five short stories is based on The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In “The Ape” a young boy in South Carolina uses an unusual “toy” as a tool for revenge. Here’s a snippet:



South Carolina, 1961


Billy wrinkled his nose as he entered the dimly lit shop. The air smelled funny, like a mix of spices and smoke. He closed the door behind him, cutting himself off from the outside world.

His mind fired a jumble of warnings. Nobody knew where he was… he wasn’t supposed to be here… who knew what might happen to him?


He fought the urge to yank open the door and run, but he couldn’t. He had work to do. It had taken every bit of courage he had to get this far, and he wasn’t going to give up now. Everyone in town knew where the voodoo-lady practiced her magic—but no kid in fourth grade had ever been brave enough to come inside before.






In my next blog, I’ll share an inside look at my paranormal romance, Beauty & the Bigfoot.


Links and excerpts from my other horror tales are on my website www.KelliWilkins.com



Until next time,
Kelli

Thursday, September 22, 2011

5 More Fun Writing Tips for Anyone!




Hi everyone!

Whenever I do an interview, I’m usually asked if I have any advice or tips for aspiring writers. Well, I sure do! Today, I decided to share five more writing tips. (In a blog earlier this summer I shared five other fun tips.)
Writers will (hopefully) find them helpful, and readers will get an inside look at some “secrets” that go in to making interesting and sexy stories. These writing tips are based on advice I received in my writing classes and discoveries I made as I wrote. I included brief examples from some of my Amber Quill Press romances to illustrate a few points.

Divide by Three: As a writer, you should be doing one of three things: writing new material, revising/editing what you’ve written, and submitting. Divide your writing time into thirds and get to work. Some days I’ll work on outlining a new story, then I’ll spend a day sending out submissions, and then go back to revising an existing story. Someone once said that you should never not be writing, so don’t wait around to hear about a story you’ve just finished before you start another project—especially if inspiration strikes.

For example, when I was halfway through editing my book Trust with Hearts, the entire plot for A Perfect Match popped into my head. Not wanting to lose a scrap of the story, I put Trust with Hearts aside for two or three days and wrote a very detailed outline for A Perfect Match. Juggling projects/stories/ideas may seem hard, but every so often it’s a good idea to switch up and do something different for a day or two.

If you’re already published, you’ll also have to make room for a fourth element: promotion. Getting your name out there on blogs and websites, participating on guest author days, doing interviews, and contacting review sites is like a job itself. So make time to promote all the great things you’ve written!

“Someday” I’ll Use That: Keep a folder for ‘someday’ story ideas, characters, settings, and anything else that sparks your attention. File all those notes, scraps of plots, bits of dialog, and photos of scenic views that you’ve accumulated in one place. If you’re ever stuck on your writing, open the folder and see what inspires you. Long before I wrote A Most Unusual Princess, I had scribbled down the name “Elara” to use as a character’s name, along with the description “unusual princess.” At the time, I had no idea where I would use it. The idea for the pleasure palace and nasty Emperor Salizar in Dalton’sTemptation came from a hastily scribbled idea I wrote down on a scrap of paper. If I come across a catalog with interesting clothing, jewelry, furniture, etc., I tear out the page and file it away in case I can use in a story. Periodically, it’s a good idea to go through the folder and review what you’ve saved. Often you’ll find yourself muttering, “What the heck did I save that for?” or you’ll uncover a gem of an idea just when you need it.

Keep a Writing Resume: This is an excellent bit of advice I received from my writing teacher. Note the date of publication, the title of the piece, where it appeared, and include a link to the publication or story (if it appeared online). If you want to set up a website, having this info readily available in one place will help you locate your writings (and links). I also note reviews and interviews on my resume (with links) to help me with my newsletter and website updates.

A writing resume is also a great motivational tool for when you’re not feeling 100% confident in your work. You can look back and see all that you’ve accomplished over time. (I like to revisit all the sci-fi and mini-romances I wrote for The Sun.) If you haven’t been published yet, start a resume anyway. List any degrees you have, writing classes or workshops you’ve taken, contests you might have placed in and writing organizations/groups you belong to.

Don’t Be Afraid to Cut: Suppose you have a great story that’s 2,500 words and you find a contest that has a 2,000 word limit – what do you do? Cut! Don’t be afraid to edit your story to fit a market or contest guideline. Yes, you may have to lose a bit of the back-story, details, dialog, or condense a scene, but it might just get you published. (Be sure to save the “long” version, too. If the shorter story is rejected, you’ll still have your original.)

I did this with my gothic historical, The Dark Lord. The Amber Heat contest limited stories to 15,000 words. My original version of The Dark Lord came in around 20,000 words or so and included a few extra scenes. To make it fit the rules of the contest I deleted and condensed a few scenes and the book worked just fine.

Sometimes you need to cut scenes to make the book “work”. Believe it or not, the original version of Trust with Hearts was an additional 20,000 words long. I had at least four more chapters and a completely different ending to the book. (It still had a HEA, but the characters got there via a different path.) Why did I cut it? Several readers didn’t like it and said that it felt too contrived. I figured that if more than three people thought the same thing, they might have a point, so I changed the ending before I submitted it to AQP.

Take Writing Classes: Whenever I’m asked if I have advice for writers, I always advocate taking writing classes. Writing classes (or workshops) are an excellent way to learn storytelling techniques, explore different genres, and understand the basic mechanics of writing. (I started out taking one little writing class for “something to do” and it blossomed into a writing career.)

In most cases, writing classes will require that you finish a piece and share it with the class. It’s a great way to overcome any fear or shyness about sharing your work with others, and it’s always helpful to have different readers give you feedback and critique what you’ve written. Making the commitment to sit in a class for a few hours a week and actually write and share a story will give you an idea of the work, challenges, demands, and rewards involved in being a writer. (Trust me, it’s not as easy as people think!) If there are no “live” writing classes available in your area, consider taking online classes or attending workshops at writing conferences.

I hope you enjoyed these writing tips and learned something about the process of being a writer. If you’d like to catch up on all of my writings, visit my website: www.KelliWilkins.com

I’ll be sharing another batch of tips in an upcoming blog, so stay tuned!

As a side note, this blog could use some more followers. I’ll be running a mini-contest in November, but feel free to tell your friends to sign up now and and follow along. I’ll be showcasing horror and paranormal writings all through October!

Happy Reading,

Kelli A. Wilkins

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wading Through Job Hell…and Coming Out the Other Side Part 3 – To Thine Own Self Be True

Hi everyone!

Here's part 3 of my "jobs from hell" blog. I originally wrote this as a writing exercise to vent my frustrations. I hope you enjoyed reading it.


Wading Through Job Hell…and Coming Out the Other Side

Part 3 – To Thine Own Self Be True

Several years ago, I left a job that was emotionally draining and making me utterly miserable. Everyone was shocked, but the moment I left the place behind, I felt free.

After a few months, I decided it was time to look for another job. I quickly discovered that my old job had given me a skill I couldn’t put on my resume I was an expert at identifying potentially unhealthy work environments.

Here’s just one example:

After being screamed at by the boss for putting someone into his voicemail when he was on his three-hour lunch, I was told by a female secretary: “Don’t worry. He yells at all of us all the time. You’ll get used to it. You’re new here. If you like your job, you won’t make waves. This is how we do things here. You have to obey him."

Excuse me? Did she say obey him? When did I go back in time to the 1800s? I really wanted to ask her what the punishment was for not obeying. Beatings? More screaming? Did he have a whip? Did her husband know that her boss verbally abused her on a daily basis? Was he fine with it? Because I sure as hell wasn’t.

I couldn’t leave the building fast enough. But I really shouldn’t have taken it to heart (at least that’s what they told me). After talking to a few of the salesmen in the office (women weren’t allowed to be salespeople) I was told that the boss: “…yells at everyone and treats everyone like crap, but the women get it worse. He doesn’t pull that kind of crap with the guys because he knows we won’t take it.” Lovely! And here I was hoping for Equal Opportunity Misery.

If you like your new job except for a few minor things, great! Stick it out and see how it goes for a few months. But if the boss threatened you (“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay past six and type this letter, or else.”), or insulted you (“What are you, stupid?”), then it’s probably time to go.

And go. Don’t be afraid to leave. Leave for lunch, then call them and tell them to stick it if you have to, but go. Leaving doesn’t hurt. Being out of a bad environment is much better than staying somewhere filled with worry, anxiety, stress, and fear every day.

Give two week’s notice if you feel you won’t be further abused once word gets out that you’ve resigned. Otherwise, quitting on the spot after a public humiliation (or other inexcusable affront) will work just fine. It won’t matter what they say about you once you’re gone, and if you’ve only been there a week or two, you’re not listing the job on your resume anyway.

When I questioned things at my job, I was accused of “putting ideas in people’s heads” and “starting trouble” in the office. Was I advocating a revolution? Only a personal one. Everyone has different boundaries. Ask yourself: What will you stand for? What is your limit? How much is too much? And when do you know when you’ve had enough?

We all have different tolerance levels. Some people are afraid to leave or stand up for themselves. Granted, leaving is easier if you have someplace else to go, but if you find yourself trapped in a bad job, don’t feel like you’re bound by indentured servitude to stay there.

Once, I started a new job right out of college. When I walked in the door on my first day I saw the owner screaming at a female employee. His exact words have stuck with me all these years: “Are you so stupid you can’t remember to empty my garbage can when you vacuum my office?” The grown woman was in tears.

Later, when I asked about the incident, I was told: “He does that all the time. She’s been here three years, she’s used to it.” At that moment, I swore I’d never end up that way. After three days of endless shouting, I left unemployed, but wiser.

Oddly, it was always the women who told me to “accept it” for “the way it was” and not to “make trouble” and “get used to it.” A few times I asked them why. Why should we blindly accept bad behavior and tolerate abuse just because we work there? The men aren’t yelled at and they certainly aren’t forced to vacuum.

They looked at me like I had just landed a spaceship on the front lawn.

Over the years I’ve learned a valuable lesson: When it comes to difficult interviewers and/or employers, you have two choices: rise up and be respected, or leave. There’s no harm in utilizing self-preservation and demonstrating self-respect.

If anything, it’s a liberating, empowering feeling to know that you’re doing what’s right foryou, regardless of what anyone else tells you. Everyone has to decide what’s best for themselves in their own time and in their own way. You may not get others to follow your lead, but in the end, you’ll be on a much better path.

*****

Until next time,

Kelli

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wading Through Job Hell…and Coming Out the Other Side Part 2 – Always Trust Your Instincts

Hi Everyone,

This week I'm sharing part 2 of my "jobs from hell" blog. It's an amusing (and true) account of ridiculous things I've been asked during interviews, at jobs, and how I managed to come out the other side with my Self intact.

I wrote this "essay" ages and ages ago, mostly to vent and let off steam about the crazy people I had encountered. It was good therapy and goes to show you that writing something down (even if it's for your Self and not for publishing in the world) can certainly put things in perspective and make you feel better.


Enjoy!

Wading Through Job Hell…and Coming Out the Other Side

Part 2 – Always Trust Your Instincts

What’s a woman to do when she discovers that she’s on the Interview From Hell? Run? Laugh? Lament? No, just be aware and beware. Some interview questions should tip you off that something is seriously wrong.

Two questions on the top of my “beware” list: “How do you react to being yelled at?” and “Are you okay with cursing and swearing in the office?” (I didn’t tell the woman interviewing me that I generally react by leaving, because the person is obviously irrational and might be better suited to working in the monkey house at the zoo – he’d blend right in.)

If you’re on an interview and anything sets off warning bells in your head, don’t second guess yourself. Always trust your instincts. Take heed if you see people complaining loudly, bosses screaming at employees, managers throwing things, or the interviewer says (while you’re waiting outside her office): “Let me just get rid of this person and I can go to lunch.” (Yes, that's a real quote!)

Take these signs to heart. You won’t be happy there.

And always, always take a tour of the building on an interview. If they don’t offer one, ask and see what happens, but don’t accept any job without one. If the interview went well and you like the place, ask to use the bathroom before you leave and nose around.

I know, it sounds silly, but the state of the office will tell you volumes about the employer. Maybe you should be concerned if the bathroom has overflowing toilets and they tell you: “Oh that happens all the time.” And if there is one bathroom the size of a closet for both men and women that reeks to high heaven – run don’t walk – to the nearest exit.

While you’re investigating, try to check out the kitchen area. A refrigerator, a microwave, and a sink with hot and cold running water are not unheard of office luxuries.

If there’s no place to sit and eat your lunch (if you bring it every day instead of going out) what will you do? I once was told: “Everyone sits at their desks and eats – but you still have to answer the phones.”

Thanks! Did I tell you I’m on the raw carrots and celery diet? Crunch, crunch, crunch!

Remember, every interview is a two-way street. You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be wary if they balk at answering a “normal question” or seem uncomfortable with you asking any questions. Watch out for seemingly innocent phrases sprinkled into the interview, like: “It’ll be nice to have a pretty young woman at the front desk.” (Yes, it’s a real quote again!) “How old are you? You don’t look old enough to be…”

Ask yourself if the place is somewhere you want to be every day for eight hours. What perks (if any) apply? If the best (or only) good thing you can say about them is that “They’re close to home.” or “It’s a paycheck.” it might not be a good move.

Of course, if you want the job, by all means do your best to get it. But don’t settle. You don’t want to trade your peace of mind (or your whole mind) for a paycheck. You can afford to be at least a little bit choosy. After all, it’s your life and you decide how and where to spend your time. Do you want to be in a positive environment where you’ll be happy, or suffering in a hell-hole because you were afraid to say no?

So what happens if you take the job from hell like I did (Actually, I took three, but they were short-lived and gave me these great stories to tell!), and after three days find yourself crying at your desk wondering what the heck happened? Do you blame yourself for making a bad choice?

The answer is complicated. Sometimes the job is not what it seems. Maybe you didn’t realize it would be this bad, or they outright lied to get you to work there because nobody else wanted to. (That happened at all 3 of those jobs from hell - another sign that the inmates are running the office!)

In my case, the truth started to leak out after a few days. I found out from the office gossip that the position I took wasn’t open for two weeks because a woman left to have her baby and never came back. The real story was that six people were in the position over the last six months. They all left after three or four weeks because they couldn’t stand it.

All-too-soon I found out first-hand why people left. After being screamed at by the boss for putting someone into his voicemail when he was on his three-hour lunch, I was told by a female secretary: “Don’t worry. He yells at all of us all the time. You’ll get used to it. You’re new here. If you like your job, you won’t make waves. This is how we do things here. You have to obey him.”

Oh really? That was all I needed to hear.

***

I have more to say on this topic - and I know you won’t want to miss the conclusion of this blog next week!

Until next time!

Kelli

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Wading Through Job Hell…and Coming Out the Other Side – Part 1

Hi everyone!

This month I'm devoting my blogs to "other" types of writing - not romances or horror - but things that I wrote because they needed to be written. Sometimes writer's don't write a piece to sell - they write it for their self.

Every so often, writers break out of their genres or modes and just write something for themselves. It can be anything - a poem, a rant about a personal or social issue, a humorous story, a nostalgic reflection - or just anything that's in their heads that needs to be expressed. Some people might even consider it a form of therapy!

I start things off this month with Part 1 of a blog entitled "Wading Through Job Hell" - it's an offbeat look at actual events that took place during job searches and interviews.

I'll be sharing Part 2 next week.

Kelli

Wading Through Job Hell…and Coming Out the Other Side – Part 1

Part 1 – Still No Kids, But Thanks For Asking

By Kelli A. Wilkins

Several years ago, I left a job that was emotionally draining and making me utterly miserable. Everyone was shocked that I made such a bold leap, but the moment I left the place behind, I felt free. I took the summer “off” and devoted my time to writing.

After a few months, I decided it was time to look for another job. I quickly discovered that my old job had given me a skill I couldn’t put on my resume I was an expert at identifying potentially unhealthy work environments.

It seemed that every time I went on an interview, something strange happened or the interviewer asked a bizarre question. I started paying attention to this new “trend” and wondered if it was just me. Did I have the ability to draw out insane questions from hiring managers? Or did I just apply to “weird” places where nobody else wanted to work? Some of the questions I was asked surprised me, some amused me, and some made me wonder what the heck I was doing there.

What follows is my unusual (yet practical) advice to anyone going on an interview. There are hundreds of books and websites offering interview tips (bring a resume, wear a suit, etc.) but here are a few things I’ve learned first-hand from wallowing in the trenches. For obvious reasons, I won’t give out company names, but all of the quotes and situations are real.

Let’s start with the biggie:

As a woman in the 30-something age bracket, I’m often asked (mostly by other women) if I have children. Now we all know this isn’t a politically correct question, but how does one handle it? Several ideas came to mind, with: “I’m not answering questions you’re not allowed to ask” being the most polite. (I figured “None of your business” might be considered rude.) Interviewers decided to sneak around the issue by giving the “forbidden” question a preamble: “I know I’m not supposed to ask this but…” Well then, why are you asking?

I generally ended up following the old “just say No” advice. But many times, after hearing that I didn’t have children, the interviewers seemed overly concerned about a population decrease and followed up with: “Why not?” or “Are you planning to have any?”

Part of me wanted to answer: “Yeah, as soon as I get home and take off my pantyhose, I’ll start working on that.” Once I asked: “What does that have to do with this job?” The woman didn’t know how to respond.

After numerous rounds of defending my childless state, a friend suggested that I stop wearing my wedding ring to interviews. After all, if they didn’t see the ring, they wouldn’t be curious, right?

Wrong. The question changed to: “Are you married?” If I confessed that I was, then I got the usual “Do you have children?” as a follow up. My friend suggested I try a new answer: “I’m in a committed relationship with my life-partner.” And let them wonder.

Some of the jobs I applied for wanted a salary requirement. Almost everyone knows this is a warning sign. I played it safe and included a minimum salary requirement, thinking that employers knew the definition of the word minimum. Oops, wrong again!

After sitting through a dull interview (Nope, still no kids, but thanks for asking!), the woman interviewing me said: “You indicated your minimum salary requirement in your cover letter, but that’s not in our range. Is that the lowest you can go?”

I wanted to ask her if she knew what minimum meant, but instead I replied, “Yes, actually it is. I need to pay the bills.” (What if I had kids? I wondered. Would they pay more?)

Her response: “And what do you hope is included with that salary?” (I thought money would be nice…)

Since I was on a roll, I decided to ask what benefits were available. I was told: “We have benefits for employees only and it costs $730 a month. You pay for it yourself. We don’t provide anything.”

Wait! My mind shouted. Where’s the benefit in taking their benefits? With that extra-low salary that’s beneath my minimum, I won’t earn anything!

The woman followed up with: “Since you’re married, you can use your husband’s benefits.” Thanks! We’ve come a long way, baby!

******

(Horror and romance author Kelli Wilkins has more to share about her experiences – check back next week to read Part 2 of her article!)


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Writing Words of Wisdom… 5 Fun Writing Tips for Anyone














Hi everyone,

Whenever I do an interview, I’m usually asked if I have any advice or tips for aspiring writers. Well, I sure do! Today, I decided to share five writing tips. Writers will (hopefully) find them helpful, and readers will get an inside look at some “secrets” that go in to making interesting and sexy stories. These writing tips are based on advice I received in my writing classes and discoveries I made as I wrote. I included brief examples from some of my Amber Quill Press romances to illustrate a few points.

So, let’s started…

1. Lights, Camera, Action!: Always start your story with an interesting hook to capture the reader’s attention. Begin either 5 minutes before, during, or 5 minutes after “the big moment” that gives the character a problem and draws the reader into the character’s world. Keep the action going in the first few paragraphs. Don’t waste the first page describing the weather or how a character got dressed in the morning. (You can add supporting details into the back-story later.) Jump into the story and take your readers with you.

For example, in my paranormal-comedy, Beauty & the Bigfoot, (http://www.amberquill.com/AmberHeat/BeautyBigfoot.html) I started the story about 5 minutes before Tara’s father brings home Bigfoot. (Yep, you read that right.) The reader is instantly absorbed into Tara’s experience as she meets (and falls in love with) Bigfoot, and then has to deal with her wacky father’s quest for fame.

In my fantasy romance novel, The Pauper Prince, (http://www.amberquill.com/AmberHeat/PauperPrince.html) I started the story just after Prince Allan learns that he’s been banished from the kingdom and must live as a pauper. It sets the stage for what’s to come and gives Allan a big problem from the outset of the story.

2. What’s Your Sign?: One of the keys to writing a good story is creating a believable cast of characters. But before your characters can step onto the page and come alive for readers, you have to create them. As the author, it’s your job to know your characters better than anyone. (After all, they’re your inventions.) Before you write your story, spend some time with your characters and learn everything you can about them so they come off well-rounded and “real” to readers. (And no, it’s not “cheating” if you write down the physical descriptions of your characters and keep them near your keyboard. It saves you from going back through the manuscript and hunting down a detail.) Some of the details you should know are:

· Hair and eye color, general build/body shape

· Left or right handed (great detail to know if there’s a gun involved in the story!)

· Birthday and astrological sign. (You can develop character traits based on the sign. An astrology reference book is an excellent tool for this.)

· Distinguishing marks (scars, missing limb, tattoos – and the back-story behind each)

· Family life (brothers, sisters, adopted, parents together or divorced, raised by uncle, etc.) Have children? Wants children or never even considered it?

· Pets (cat or dog person? reptiles? raises bees? or no pets at all?)

· Foods they like, dislike, any food allergies?

· How much of a dark side does he/she have and how does it show?

· Recreation (likes sports on TV, hates all sports, plays hockey, hikes, swims, surfs)

· Fears and phobias (water, dolls, monkeys, wasps, falling, fire – and why!)

· Wears glasses/contacts/braces, any medical conditions?

· Where and how did they live/grow up? Poor, middle class, member of royal family?

· What kind of car and house do they have? What are the furniture/decorations like?

· Religion and general opinions about social issues/politics

· What secrets do your characters have? What would happen if people found out about them?

· Dreams, aspirations, goals, and regrets. Are they happy with their lives or do they wish they had done things differently?

· Sexual history (straight, gay, experiments, virgin, non-virgin with regrets, loose, never been in love, had heart broken, etc.) Knowing this is VERY important for romances!

The more you know about the characters in your story, the more you can make the reader (and other characters) identify with them through details. You can also build on these details and/or use them to move the plot along, add conflict, build dramatic tension, or liven up a love scene.

In my contemporary romance, Trust with Hearts, (http://www.amberquill.com/AmberHeat/TrustWithHearts.html) Sherrie has recently left her abusive finance. Curtis notices her odd behavior and immediately identifies with her based on his own experiences with an abusive parent. Knowing these details about the characters helps them bond and adds to the plot. (Curtis is also keeping a whopper of a secret from Sherrie, but I won’t spoil the surprise!)

You don’t have to use everything in the story, but knowing that your character has to overcome her fear of water to save a child trapped during a flood will bring her to life.

3. Do Your Homework: I once tossed a book across the room because the author had tulips blooming in October. (Nope, sorry. Didn’t work for me. On my planet, they bloom in spring.) Maybe it’s a small detail that a non-gardener wouldn’t notice (or care about) but a little research could have fixed that problem.

Whatever you’re writing, it pays to do your homework and research a topic. This is especially true if you’re writing historical fiction, and it’s essential if you’re writing non-fiction. Research provides interesting details the reader might need to know for a part of the story, but in the very least, it lends itself to the believability of the setting, characters, and plot.

If you write historical fiction, find out about the time period you’ve set your story. What did people eat, where did they work, and what did money look like? How did they live? What did they have around the house? (Wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, butter churns, cast iron skillets?) What was invented then? If you’re writing about a character living in the 1800s, you have to know everything about the time period and “live” through the character to show the reader what that person’s life was like. (For example, don’t surround your Revolutionary War-era fort with barbed wire – it wasn’t invented until the late 1800s.)


Sometimes you have to do research for contemporary stories. If you live in the Northeast and set your story in the springtime in Arizona, you should find out what the weather is like during that time of year, what flowers are blooming, etc. (It’ll be different from where you are.) Ditto if you’ve set a story in another country – find out all you can about the food, culture, housing, what time the sun sets, what kind of trees, flowers, they have, etc. The Internet’s a great place to do some quick detail-related research. Personally, I like to wander through the library and check out books on the different states, or read some travel books/brochures to give me a good idea of setting and culture.

When I wrote my contemporary romance, Four Days with Jack, (http://amberquill.com/AmberAllure/FourDaysWithJack.html) I ordered several vacation brochures from all-inclusive resorts to get a feel for the setting, types of activities offered, layout of the resort, etc. You never know what will inspire you!

4. Gotta Have a Goal: No matter how grand or simple, everyone has a goal. When you’re writing a story, you have to know what your characters want most – at least for right now. Different characters will have different goals, and along the course of your story, goals may change or a character will develop secondary goals.

Goals can, will, and should, vary depending on the type of story you’re writing, but they generally fall into two categories: emotional, or internal goals, and physical, or external goals. An internal goal is something the character needs or wants. (This can be meeting a soul mate and falling in love or healing grief after the loss of a loved one.)

An external goal is something the main character physically must do, such as steal a magic ring from a dragon or climb down into a cave to rescue his beloved. Sometimes goals start out simple (like buying a house or getting to a wedding on time), and your job as a writer is to make it hard for your character to achieve his/her goal by throwing in conflicts and obstacles that force your character to work harder.

Vinnie Valentine’s goal in A Perfect Match (http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/PerfectMatch.html) was pretty simple – hide his knee injury from everyone and make it through the most grueling wrestling match of his career. He had a lot at stake both personally and professionally, and needed to stay focused despite all the distractions around him. When he learns that Danni is involved in his match, his secondary goal of protecting her adds to his burden. (Remember, the worse you make things for your characters, the more they have to grow and that adds drama and tension to your story!)

But writers don’t just give their characters goals, they also have to motivate them to reach those goals. Ask yourself “what’s at stake?” for the character. What if he/she doesn’t reach the goal, then what happens? If the answer is “nothing, he just moves on” then you need to up the stakes and get your character motivated. It will increase the action and keep the plot moving.

In Dalton’s Temptation, (http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/DaltonsTemptation.html) Princess Elara starts off with a simple goal of spying on her husband while he’s at a pleasure palace. Over the course of the book, the stakes get higher for all the characters. Spying on Dalton while hiding her identity starts out as a game for Elara – but it soon becomes a matter of survival.

5. Sex is personal – for your characters!: No AQP guest blog would be complete without talking about sex! Readers always ask me sex (or love scene) related questions. Some people want to know how to keep the sex fresh from story to story, or wonder how much graphic detail is the “right” amount, and others want to know “how hard” it is to write a love scene (pun perhaps intended!) Here’s the best advice I have:

My Amber Quill Press romances run the gamut from a Heat Level of 1 (mild) to a 3 (scorching hot). I let the characters in each story determine the sexual content, graphic details, and overall heat level. Every story is different, and so are the sexual lives of the characters.

Writing in different romance genres also influences the sexual content. In The Dark Lord, (http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/DarkLord.html) Katarina is innocent, so I approached her character as curious, yet eager to learn. Lauren in The Sexy Stranger (http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/SexyStranger.html) is a modern, sexually experienced woman. Writing for the different characters and their individual situations helps keep things interesting and fresh.

When I write love scenes, I stand back and let the characters do what comes natural. I generally know how far the scene will go ahead of time, but I let the characters take over and enjoy themselves. (After all, it’s their story, they deserve to have fun.) Later, when I edit/revise the story, I go back and cut anything that doesn’t work with the scene. I think love scenes have to flow naturally from the plot and the characters.

As for “how much to show” within a book or a scene, I think it depends on the book and the characters. Sometimes it’s nice to give the characters some “privacy” and imply what goes on; and yet, other times, readers want to see the passionate (fully detailed and repeatedly consummated) side of the relationship. I blend a little of each into my books.

No matter what kind of love scene I write, I try to keep most of the focus on the characters and what they’re thinking and feeling emotionally—how the experience makes them more connected to their lover—rather than focus on what their bodies are doing. In Four Days with Jack, (http://amberquill.com/AmberAllure/FourDaysWithJack.html) David and Jack discover their long-hidden attraction of each other and explore their sexual feelings while building a romantic relationship. (Want more examples? Check out all of my Amber Quill Press romances here: http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/bio_Wilkins.html

I hope you’ve enjoyed this “inside look” at the writing process. I’ll be sharing more writing tips, advice, and writing prompts in future blogs.

Happy Reading!

Kelli

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kelli's Quill Newsletter - Sizzling July/August Issue


KELLI’S QUILL
The Official Newsletter of Author Kelli A. Wilkins
Sizzling Summer July/August 2011 Issue (Vol. 4 Number 4)
Hi everyone! It’s been a busy July, so I decided to get this newsletter out early. This issue is filled with links to interviews, reviews, guest blogs, and more! Enjoy!


FOR READERS:
NEWS & REVIEWS: Kelli’s first Amber Allure romance, Four Days With Jack was a top 10 Amber Allure bestseller for May 2011! This spicy novella has received three excellent reviews:
“4 Gold Crowns! Four Days with Jack by Kelli A. Wilkins is a great story about best friends Jack and David. Two friends who have been in love with each other for years, and, for various reasons, afraid to let it out, finally give in while on vacation. David and Jack are beautifully created. They both have their faults but love each other enough to want to try. Kelli A. Wilkins’ Four Days with Jack is a great story about accepting who you are and going after what you really want.” - Jaymes, Reviewer, The Readers Round Table (Read the full review here: http://thereadersroundtable.com/erotic/?p=390)


“Four Days With Jack was exactly as promised. Hesitation, longings, risks, fears, and in the end, taking love the way it comes. The sex is hot, the characters likeable and the writing was easy to read. The peaks and valleys of the story come from David and Jack coming to terms with their relationship. Their secrets are exposed but those secrets and actions come with consequences. Their journey is a pleasant read and one I’m sure you’ll enjoy as well.” – Seriously Reviewed (Read the full review here: http://seriouslyreviewed.blogspot.com/2011/06/four-days-with-jack-by-kelli-wilkins.html?zx=cb3786698a471e82)


I thought that (Kelli) Wilkins did a very good job portraying the confused David and the wary, but hopeful, Jack. David’s inner turmoil and fears about outing himself were so heartbreaking. I definitely felt for him. Overall, I believe that FOUR DAYS WITH JACK is a strong romance with very likeable characters. I’m quite glad that I went ahead and read this story. I learned that as a romance fan I can definitely appreciate and enjoy those that feature two male heroes. FOUR DAYS WITH JACK is an emotional, yet sexy coming-out story about two men finally opening themselves up to the possibility of a great love. It was an excellent introduction into the world of m/m romance.” – Jennifer, Reviewer, Romance Novel News


Here’s a short summary :

FOUR DAYS WITH JACK

When David invited his best friend along on vacation, he never expected them to fall in love…
Spending four days in a tropical paradise with Jack is a dream come true. For years, David lived a lie and denied his attraction to Jack. Now that they’re together in an isolated Caribbean resort, he finally sheds his denial and admits what he really wants—to be Jack’s lover.
Jack is more than willing to introduce David to the life he has always fantasized about. Their sizzling nighttime encounters confirm David’s long-hidden desires. But what will happen when they leave the resort? Will David sacrifice everything to start a new life with Jack? Or will he go back to his old ways and risk losing the best friend he ever had?
KELLI’S NEW HORROR STORY: It’s not all just about romance! In July 2011, Kelli’s flash fiction horror short, “Death is Just a Tick Away” appeared in the premier issue of Dark Moon Digest e-Magazine. The magazine is available in Kindle (Amazon.com) and Nook (B&N.com) formats.

Here’s the link to order a Nook version:




Q & A with KELLI
Here’s an excerpt from Kelli’s interview with Novelspot. She shares info on the writing process and her sizzling romances, Midsummer Night’s Delights and Midwinter Night’s Delights.

NS: Several of your romances have won writing contests. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you really enjoy writing romances and erotica. What is it about these genres that you like so much?
Kelli: Yes, I do enjoy writing romances. Writing in general appeals to me because it lets me create characters and entire worlds from out of nowhere. It’s fun to make up a setting, add characters, and then give the characters a problem or issue to solve. Romance (whether it’s erotic or traditional) is interesting to write because in most cases the hero and heroine are strangers at the beginning of the story (or don’t like each other much), but by the end of the book they’re in love and living happily-ever-after.
I write in several romance sub-genres (fantasy, historical, contemporary, and paranormal) so there’s always something different going on in my romances. Writing in various sub-genres lets me experiment with plots, settings, and characters. I like mixing things up and switching romance genres, I think it helps stretch my writing muscles and keeps the stories and characters interesting.
NS: Non-fiction, horror, romance…you write in many different genres. Are there similarities that draw you to them or is it the differences that you like?
Kelli: I pretty much write everything and anything. If I have a good idea for a fiction story, I’ll go with it, regardless of the genre. I think writing in different styles/genres helps writers grow and keeps the writing fresh. You don’t get stuck in a rut with the same settings, time periods, characters, or expectations. One thing I like about diversifying my writing between horror and romance is that I get to entirely change the way I approach (and write) the story. When I’m writing horror, I can create an utterly repulsive lead character and let him/her do things that a character in a romance wouldn’t do. I can also explore different settings (graveyards, haunted houses, etc.) that aren’t normally found in romance. After writing a few romances, I like to switch it up and write a few horror stories for a change of pace.
NS: You introduced your readers to Julian and Annabelle in Midsummer Night’s Delights and now you’ve brought them back in Midwinter Night’s Delights. For those NovelSpot readers who aren’t familiar with Julian and Annabelle, could you introduce us?
Kelli: Sure. In Midsummer Night’s Delights, Julian and Annabelle started out as repressed newlyweds. They were virtual strangers trapped in an arranged marriage. To loosen them up, Julian’s father sends them to the Marquis of Demby’s estate to attend a Midsummer Ball. (Well, let’s just say, this type of ball isn’t for dancing!) Julian and Annabelle meet the Marquis, Vincent, and his wife, Sabrina. Over the course of their visit, they learn how to open up and explore their sexuality. When they attend the Midsummer Ball, they shed their inhibitions while indulging in their wildest fantasies.
Midwinter Night’s Delights picks up six months after the first book. Ever since the summer ball, Annabelle and Julian have been overindulging in all sorts of naughty activities. They give into their newfound wanton desires whenever (and wherever) the mood strikes even if it’s at a formal dinner party. Julian’s father sends them back to Vincent’s estate to be disciplined and learn self-control.
Although the novellas are companions to one another, each story stands alone as a separate read.
FOR WRITERS

Writers, are you hanging on to old stories that you’d swore you’d fix up “someday” and submit? Maybe you have a half-finished novel or you’ve been saving up guidelines for markets that you “might” try… Well, it’s time to make a commitment. Spend an hour (or more, depending on your schedule) revisiting the old and neglected stories. You know, the ones you abandoned because they weren’t going anywhere, or you got stuck on the plot, lost interest, the phone rang, whatever. Now’s the perfect time of year to keep the best, get rid of the rest. (Yes, that’s my very own motto.)

Cut the old stories loose or add them to your schedule. Read them over and make a serious evaluation. Are you really going to finish the three-quarters done sci fi story? Will you develop those scrawled notes into a novel? Perhaps you have old “almost-done” stories that just need a little help. If you like what you’re reading, fix up the story and send it out. (You may discover a gem you’d forgotten about.) If the stories aren’t any good, let them go. And really, if you’ve been collecting market guidelines to use someday, but never submitted anything, let them go, too – especially if they’re over a year old. When you have a story to send, you’ll need new guidelines anyway.

And what if you don’t have any old stories hiding out? Now’s a good time to write some! Here are a few writing prompts to use for a fun writing exercise. Spend 5-10 minutes on each one and see what you come up with.

A woman buys a house with a haunted swimming pool in the back yard.
“I only hit him once. I didn’t think it would kill him.”
The man stood next to the wall, watching and waiting.
Jane screamed as the mouse ran across her desk and under the wall.
Nobody knew where he was. If he didn’t get help soon, he’d die.
Take some time to clear out the old writing projects that haven’t gone anywhere and make room for the new stuff – you never know where they might lead you!


I hope you enjoyed this issue. If you know people who like to read (or write) please pass it along. Until next time,
Happy Reading!

Kelli A. Wilkins