Saturday, May 6, 2023

Two-a-Day Writing Sessions to Speed Up Your Writing

By Scott D. Parker

For those of us with a day job that is not fiction writing, we have to choose to carve out time in our day to write our stories. But there’s never enough time, is there?

Optimizing one’s time becomes crucial in our day-to-day writing experiences. You want to ensure you are making visible progress despite wanting more time to write and not having any.

I’m pretty sure most of us know what a writing sprint is. You set a timer for any length of time and then you go, go, go and write until the timer sounds. Fifteen minutes is cited as a good number, and, depending on how fast you type and how quick your imagination is, you can reach 500 words.

I fell out of the timed-sessions habit mainly because I type fast and my imagination’s on the ball. But I’ve been bumping up against a number of obstacles recently and decided to return to the sprint. With a new wrinkle.

Okay, so it’s not really a wrinkle, but it sounded good in my head so we’ll just go with it, okay?

Two-a-days is a concept usually associated with sports. The athletes practice in the morning, wait hours and then practice a second time in the afternoons. It’s designed to give the body rest and, when it’s time to practice, you give it all.

This past week, I’ve been doing two-a-day writing sessions. In the weekday mornings, I know I can get at least fifteen minutes of writing done before I have to stop and get ready for and commute to work. In nearly every instance, I am not finished with a scene, but the timer’s beeping and the clock on the wall’s telling me I have to get ready for work.

So I close the laptop and do that.

Then, later on at my lunch hour, I open the laptop up again and do another fifteen minutes, picking up right where I left off.

But here’s the actual wrinkle to this process: even at my lunch time, when I have an uninterrupted hour to write, I still do the fifteen-minute bursts. When that timer sounds, I stop typing, stand up, and walk the conference room. I look out the window and soothe the mind. Sure, I might mull over the next line but for the most part, I don’t. That’s the rest time, usually a three-minute span. What that three-minute timer goes off, I sit back down, reset the phone for fifteen minutes, and go.

With this concentrated focus time of three writing sessions in a lunch hour, I can get 1,000-1,400 knocked out in an hour. For my work-from-home day, I do this process in the morning before my work day.

The progress I made this week was eye opening, so I think I’ll keep on this “workout” until this book is done. Our imagination is a muscle, so give it a good workout twice a day and see how far your book will go.


Thursday, May 4, 2023

Eryk Pruitt on what he reads, writes, and owes

“There are storytellers who seem to come to us fully formed. Bards who create worlds and characters that captivate us instantaneously. Eryk Pruitt is such a storyteller, and Something Bad Wrong is such a book. A kaleidoscope of Southern Gothic traditions seamlessly combined with an incredible murder mystery, all told with Pruitt’s unique, indomitable style. Something Bad Wrong is some very, very good writing.”
—S. A. Cosby, bestselling author of Razorblade Tears and Blacktop Wasteland


By Steve Weddle

So, like many of you, I've been reading Eryk Pruitt's work for years. Something Bad Wrong, which published from Thomas & Mercer this week, is what everyone will now refer to as his "breakout" novel, and with good reason. It's fantastic. 

As I type this, this book is in the Top Ten for police procedurals and, by the time you're reading this, it might be in the top 100 or top 10 overall books on Amazon. 

It's no wonder, then, that his publisher has already snapped up the next book in the series.

But we're here to talk about Something Bad Wrong. (We'll talk about the next one next year.)

To catch the killer who eluded her detective grandfather fifty years ago, a true-crime podcaster must contend with outdated evidence, ulterior motives, and the dark family secrets that got in the way.

True-crime podcaster Jess Keeler has returned to Deeton County, North Carolina, to pick up where her grandfather left off. Sheriff’s Deputy Big Jim Ballard, her grandfather, was a respected detective—until it all came crashing down during a 1972 murder investigation.

For Jim, solving the murders of two teens should have been the highlight of his already storied career. Instead, he battled his own mind, unsure where his hunches ended and the truth began.

Working from her grandfather’s disjointed notes, Jess is sure that she can finally put the cold case—and her family’s shame—to rest. Enlisting the help of disgraced reporter Dan Decker, Jess soon discovers ugly truths about the first investigation, which was shaped by corruption, egos, and a family secret that may be the key to the crime.

Told in a dual timeline that covers both investigations, Something Bad Wrong explores human folly, hubris, and how sometimes, to solve a crime, you have to find out who’s covering it up.

Eryk and I chatted last week over email. 

Steve Weddle: You know, I'm starting to get the feeling that Lake Castor might not be such a fun place. The setting for some of your other novels plays a role here. What, if anything, should readers know about Lake Castor and the area across the state line?

Eryk Pruitt: Lake Castor is a very fun place for the right people, especially those carrying a copy of Things to Do in Lake Castor Before You Die. It's had a hell of an evolution. When we first meet it in DIRTBAGS, it is a dying mill town, where the June River Fabrics had left years earlier, which dramatically reduced the population and many opportunities. This results in people resorting to crime in DIRTBAGS and my second novel, HASHTAG. In HASHTAG, the town's sole deputy is allowed to commit some crimes due to the remoteness of the outpost and the fact that the police department had been decommissioned. WHAT WE RECKON's protagonist had left Lake Castor, only to return by the book's end. Half of the short stories in TOWNIES are set there, and it's a lot of fun to revisit in SOMETHING BAD WRONG, because the dual timelines allow me to feature when the mill was still up and running and Lake Castor was the jewel of the region (1972) and later, (Present Day) when revitalization efforts have led to a rejuvenation in the former mill town.

SW: You worked on a true crime podcast a couple years ago and have now written a "true crime" novel. This isn't just a novelization of your podcast, of course, so how did one lead to the other?

EP: My experience working on THE LONG DANCE enabled me to see firsthand how a so-called "cold case" investigation takes place, as well as the role of a citizen journalist. My previous stories and novels featured the experiences of criminals, because at the time, that's all I knew. However, I was fortunate to work with Major Tim Horne of the Orange County Sheriff's Office for 2.5 years as I observed him pursuing leads on a 50 year old case. That offered me insight on law enforcement, which I hadn't previously experienced, and it enlightened and informed my writing. There were several things in my own investigation as a citizen journalist that I found dramatic and entertaining (the monkey cage scene was based on a real life experience that still gives me goosebumps) but it was also very interesting to have access to the notes of original investigators and to be frustrated with how differently murders were investigated in the 70s as opposed to now.

SW: You have two timelines in this story -- the present and 1972 -- but more than two POVs. Was that always the case? Why did you decide to tell the story this way instead of simply staying in 1972?

EP: During the writing--and later the editing--process, I tried many things. I believe my first draft was told in two parts, where all of 1972 was laid out, and then we jumped forward to present day for the back half. Later I alternated it in blocks. Then we interspliced. I always knew the questions would remain unanswered in the 1972 version, much as these cases remain in real life. My own experiences plus the current zeitgeist of true crime podcasts meant that the ability to look back from the vantage point of fifty years later would come into play in SOMETHING BAD WRONG. I was hoping the audience's frustration from knowing more than the present day protagonist would be palpable in my telling of it.

Eryk Pruitt
SW: What are some of the good scenes or characters you had to cut from this book because they didn't work for this story? Do you keep these in a folder for later use?

EP: I had an entire subplot featuring an overambitious ADA who wanted a piece of the main villain and would stop at nothing to get it. He teamed up with the laser-focused Jack Powers to falsify evidence against the main villain, which would later trouble our protagonist in the future. This was based on something that happened in real life, but just like in real life, it required some leaps of faith. Overall, the book was already coming in long, so somewhere in the early drafts, that story was lost. But yes, I'd love to revisit. Who knows?

SW: Who are some authors writing today making you a better writer, either when you read their work or when they read and comment on your work?

EP: I've always been a fan of yours, Steve, and COUNTRY HARDBALL is a forever reread. I swallow up anything written by Tana French, William Gay, Chris Offutt. Lately I'm on the lookout for whatever Lisa Taddeo and Danya Kukafka write next. And I'm fortunate to have Jordan Harper, SA Cosby, Rob Hart, Kathleen Kent, and Jamie Mason on speed dial so that when I finish reading what they write, I can call them up and stan them for hours.

SW: You've based this book on real places, real crimes, real people. What, if anything, do you owe those people and places?

EP: This is an important question. When I wrote this book, I had two readers in my head. I hoped, of course, that other people would read it, but I only truly cared about the reactions of two people. I dedicated the book to them. They trusted me with their stories and they always told me "This would make a good movie." So, as a gift to them, I took their stories and gave them an ending that they were denied in real life. When I got my ARCs, I took them to dinner and gave them the book. I had never been more scared in my life. I have no idea how it must have felt to have someone translate their stories the way I have, but I can testify to the pressure one feels when trying to do that. All I thought while writing this book was that I wanted to be honest by them. I wanted them to understand that I respected their experiences wholeheartedly and I hope every day that I might make them proud to have trusted me.

SW: Where do you, as a reader, hear about good books to read?

EP: I really appreciate the "Best Of" lists at the end of each year, as well as the award nominations. I am very busy with my own research and reading in my own lane. I have a great fascination for contemporary Irish crime fiction, as well as works from the American South. I am grateful for those lists because, after an entire year of vetting books, they are presenting you with what they think stands above the rest of the crop and I can choose them, ride outside my lane for a bit, then (silently) agree or disagree with their tastes. Also, there are people whose tastes align with mine and I read their articles or even get a text sometimes with a recommendation, like Jed Ayres of HARDBOILED WONDERLAND, or the ATLANTIC's Sophie Gilbert, etc

SW: Without spoiling anything, of course, what scene in SOMETHING BAD WRONG was the toughest to write?

EP: The "connective tissue" scenes are hard for me because we have to lead the audience to a scene with the right amount of buildup and emotional stakes so that we earn whatever big moment we are preparing to unveil. There are several scenes throughout the book that are designed to break your heart or give you a moment of victorious joy, but I have to build to those. So this means a scene written here or there to connect the dots, or, a worse word might be "filler." I hate those scenes. They are hard and all I'm wanting to do is get to the tough one. There is one near the end of the book which is our past timeline's protagonist's emotional arc and I probably wrote that in ten minutes, even though it is a difficult scene to read and one that often gets labeled as "heartbreaking." It was the building to that moment and the earning of it that was twenty times more difficult than writing it.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023


The post I had planned for this week is going to have to get pushed back a bit. 

Instead, this week, we're talking about something else. Something important. 

The way we consume art has changed over the last decade. Sitting here now, honestly trying to remember, I truly can't recall the last time I told myself, your ass has to be on that couch at this time, and the TV has to be set to this channel. It might have been the finale of season 1 of True Detective. Maybe the season 4 premier of Game of Thrones? It might have been the finale of Breaking Bad. Doesn't matter. The point is, streaming services (and, to an extent, DVR before that) has changed the way we watch our favorite shows and movies. Our favorite art is served to us at our convenience now. It comes in to our homes when we're ready for it. And because we can engage with our favorite art at our convenience, it becomes something even more to us. Something there for us when we need it. We can rewatch the same episodes over and over. We can start a series again the moment it ends. We can share our favorites and recommend them on Twitter or Blue Sky or Instagram, picking out clips and blasting our favorite moments to thousands of our followers at once. 

We have more ways of engaging with our favorite art than ever before, but our engagement is not free. We pay more for the privilege, every month. 

In 2007, I had a cable bill. In 2023, I have a cable bill, and the monthly Netflix charge. The Hulu/Disney+ package. Peacock. Paramount. AppleTV+. Prime. (Okay, I don't have all of those every single month, the last few get rotated in and out... but you get what I'm saying). 

And all this money goes somewhere. The studios and the streamers and the stockholders. They're all raking it in. 

But you know where all that extra money doesn't go?

The writers. 

It's Tuesday night, and the Writers Guild of America is on strike. 

The people who make the things we love the most have been being starved while the C-class stuffs their pockets. The people who make the things we love put down their pens to walk a picket line today. They stopped creating the things they love, the things you love, because they're not getting a fair deal. Even the Studios acknowledge this.

I'm not a member of the Writers Guild. I'm not in Hollywood. I have some things I've worked on that have gotten a few sniffs of interest from people with money and cameras, but, as of now, I'm just a dude writing his sad little crime stories two thousand miles away. In other words, I'm not really qualified to discuss the specifics of what the writers want, or what the studios are insisting on in defiance of the writer's demands. I know the broad outlines, enough to know the writers are right, but I'm not the guy with all the answers. 

But I AM a writer. And though I don't really have any aspirations of writing scripts, as someone who loves reading and writing, this will effect me. And if you've found your way to this site, you're a person who loves stories, storytelling, and storytellers. Which means this will effect you too. 

So what can you do to help? 

Step 1. Take a long look at that list of streamers up there. Been meaning to cancel one of them? Do it, today. And on that little box when they ask why you're cancelling? Tell 'em. IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE WGA. 

Step 2. Make sure you're following the WGA on Twitter. As of now, there is not a strike fund, but when one shoes up, you'll want to make sure you know about it. 

Step 3. Make a list of your favorite shows. Look up the writers on that show. Do some googling. Do they have a book? Buy it. 

Step 4. Some of you are going to get thirsty producers in your DMs in the next couple of weeks, asking if you have anything you want to pitch. Leave 'em on read. Seriously. Don't even reply. 

Step 5. Don't be this guy: 

I try not to get too political on DSD that often (though it explains a lot about our society that discuss labor and labor practices might be considered "too political), but like I said at the top, this is important. The writers deserve their fair share. The writers deserve our support. The writers have given us countless hours of entertainment and joy. The writers need us.  

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Jessica Leonard on CONJURING THE WITCH

Horror stories centering around witches, whether in books or film, have always been among my favorite horror stories, so when I saw that Jessica Leonard, author of the eerie Antioch, had a new book coming out called Conjuring the Witch, I was eager to read it. It's a short novel centered around a rural church congregation, and when odd things start happening in the congregation, their reverend speaks of witches being among them.  Do the women in the group believe this? The men sure seem to. Tensions rise and the creepiness deepens, and if there is actual witchcraft happening, is it truly evil as the reverend says or something else, like a symptom of rebellion against the church's power structure?

I talked with Jessica about Conjuring the Witch, which is published, I should add, by Ghoulish Books.


Scott Adlerberg: I'll start with a basic question. Conjuring the Witch is a creepy, atmospheric rural horror tale, and though it's contemporary, it has a timeless feel to it, maybe because you derive a lot of your mood from how you evoke nature, specifically the woods. The woods border on the story's central location, a church, and they're like a character in their own right. The entire woodland seems sentient. Classic horror stuff.  Did you grow up close to nature and see it early on in your writing life as something you'd incorporate in a major way in your stories?

Jessica Leonard: Absolutely. I grew up on a tobacco farm and our home was surrounded by thick woods. As I grew up I started to resent being so far away from civilization. My friends could walk places and had friends in their neighborhoods - I wanted that! So when I bought my first house as an adult it was in a little subdivision where we had trick or treaters and my son could walk to his friend's houses and all those things I felt like I'd missed. It didn't take long for me to reconsider. I missed the space. We lived in that neighborhood for about 15 years, but when it was time to go, I knew I needed to get back to the woods. Nothing is more inspiration for me in my writing than having the opportunity to be still and look out into the woods. Because they absolutely are sentient! It took me awhile to come back to the woods in my writing, just as in my life, but I think it was always in there trying to break free. 

Scott: The witches kind of follow naturally from the presence of the woods. Which goes with a lot of witch stories where the whole practice of witchcraft is linked to nature, the Earth, something against established human structure, or more specifically, a male-dominated structure. That’s what you have here, with the whole story revolving around a church and its congregation. You set up an almost primal opposition between the traditionally minded men running the church and their wives. Witches in that scenario almost by definition represent pushback against male authority, a subversive force.

Jessica: It creates an instant juxtaposition. The church is the most human of all structures. The woods are pushing up against it, literally and figuratively here. So often witchcraft in literature is a symbol of evil, but I'm much more interested in seeing it used as a symbol for freedom and independence from oppression, which is what I hoped to do here. 

Scott: You definitely did. Did you have a religious upbringing you delved into here at all, or was it more using a church and its members as the sort of embodiment of repression, conformity and so on? 

Jessica: I'd say a little of both. I was raised in a Methodist church and honestly it was a very mild and kind experience for me. The first pastor I had was a woman, the sermons were mostly about love. I can't claim it felt necessarily oppressive there, but it also never felt quite right. I had too many questions and there weren't enough answers to suit me, so I searched elsewhere and no longer practice Christianity. 

But I also grew up in the Midwest/South and went to other churches that were the exact opposite. All the hellfire and brimstone and exclusion that goes along with the most organized religion. When you think about groups that can and do oppress women, well, the church is probably in your top three if not the first. The book begins by describing a neon cross on the outside of the church, something I swiped from a church not far from where I live. I think that's such a powerful symbol for everything wrong with the power of a church — bright and glaring and alien.

Scott: What kind of research did you do, if you’re big on research, connected to witches and especially to how  witches are viewed now? You read a novel or see a movie about witches set in the past, that’s one thing, but to do a plausible story now about a group of contemporary people who use cell phones and everything else but still are prone to literally believing evil witches with powers exist, is something else. Certainly the isolated, cult-like quality of the church in Conjuring the Witch helps make the beliefs, fears, and behavior of the characters believable. 

Jessica: Most of the research I did was centered around submissive wives. I knew the idea existed and had seen a few things, but delving into it I found quite a bit of Christian blogs from women who chose to "live a submissive life" and I took a lot of notes from those. I also found Christian websites that had online teachings about how they believe a family is supposed to be setup - with the man as the leader of the household and all that. It was pretty wild to me how prevalent it really was. And from there it wasn't a far leap to finding other accounts of large churches that talk about witches in a very real way. 

I remember when I worked in a bookstore and a woman came in and was very upset we sold Dungeons and Dragons books because she said they were satanic. It's that kind of mindset I had to look for and immerse myself in. Which wasn't much fun. But it was important to inform where these people were coming from.

Scott: An odd thing about certain kinds of horror stories is how often the repressive characters are often actually right factually about key things. In this day and age, a rational reaction to the accusation that there are witches among a church congregation would be to say, "Yeah, right.  Stop trying to drum up hysteria."  I mean witches with genuine powers, not just women who call themselves witches and do things like "commune with nature".  But of course, in a horror novel, these are witches with real powers, so in a sense, the repressive forces are not entirely incorrect in warning against them. But I'm curious. Witch stories work well when you have witches with actual powers and they also work well when the emphasis in the story is psychological, like a Salem witch trial type story, where you have the patriarchy with its fears and cruelty that is labeling certain women witches when at worst those women do things like "commune with nature". When you were dreaming up Conjuring the Witch, what was some of the thought process you had about how to approach witches and how to portray them and how far to go with the "supernatural" element?

Jessica: When I initially came up with the idea for the book I wasn't going to include any supernatural elements. But honestly, I just really love the supernatural and couldn't resist. For so long a witch in horror was a symbol of evil - cut and dry. I wanted to explore the witch as a symbol for independence and power, and whether you view the power as good or bad depends on which side of the fence you stood on. Also if you're dealing with a Christian church, the Bible is completely full of things we'd describe as supernatural, they're just choosing to view those powers as good instead of frightening. I liked exploring the different viewpoints there. 

Scott: What are some of your favorite witchcraft books and movies, whether portraying malevolent or not malevolent witches? Ones that may have influenced you, ones you just enjoy...

Jessica: There are so many! I recently saw She Will starring Alice Krige and completely fell in love with it. I can't recommend that one enough if you haven't seen it. Others that I enjoy are Autopsy of Jane Doe and Return to Oz - which is a horror movie, you can't convince me otherwise. For books I'll always say White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi. I love how it takes something based in reality and twists it into something else entirely, something chilling and bizarre and beautiful. It's an absolute favorite. 

Scott: I don't know She Will, but that sounds very good. I'll watch it. Alice Krige has always been very good in roles like that, with something uncanny about them.  I take it, you've been a big reader and follower of horror since you were young?  Did you come to the genre more through books or films or a little of both?  What are some of your earlier encounters with horror that made a big impact on you?

Jessica: I definitely came through books. I grew up without cable TV, so reading was what I could do if I didn't feel like watching The Victory Garden on PBS. Although I will say I watched the movie Pet Sematary at a friend's birthday party in 5th grade and it basically ruined me. I was terrified and didn't watch another scary movie for years. But books I had no problem with. I didn't start with Goosebumps like a lot of kids, I went straight into Fear Street. I have incredibly fond memories of those stories and my first "book", written in 6th grade, was a Fear Street rip off through and through. I wrote it a few pages at a time and would pass them out to my friends. From Fear Street I graduated to Stephen King. The Stand was my first and I loved how enormous it was - a full world I could drop into. I was always excited for a scary book, but the movies took me a little longer to warm up to. 

Scott: I liked how you made your points about patriarchy and marriage and male-female relations organically within the fibers of the story. Nothing felt forced in or tacked on just to make a thematic or social point. That’s not always true, I find, even in genre fiction. If you could talk a little about how you wrestled with all that when writing the book.

Jessica: I found that it came sort of naturally. These are issues that are a part of a lot of folks everyday life so I tried to present them that way. As normal as getting groceries. One thing I wanted to do was show who these people were and what had led them to be who they were, the experiences and moments that shaped them, and if we're talking about women, the patriarchy is part of that. Even if they accept it or deal with it in different ways, it's still this larger system that informs much of who they are. 

Scott: Realism is so important in a horror novel. That grounding for the weirdness that occurs.  And you did that well, developing the weirdness from the everyday. I'm curious, in terms of that and things such as craft. Who are some of the authors you'd say you learned from about writing horror, whether of the quiet and more atmospheric kind, the more graphic kind, what have you?

JessicaThis might sound odd, but JD Salinger is one of my major influences. He's one of my favorite authors and I adore the way he wrote dialogue and people in general. It's very honest and open in a way we don't see in a lot of writing currently. But in a more modern sense, I think I learned so much from authors like Lindsay Hunter, Jac Jemc, and Paul Tremblay. Authors that can put horrible things, people, and situations on the page in a way that's compelling and beautiful. 

ScottInteresting about Salinger. I still like his short stories a lot, if less so The Catcher in the Rye, but I agree about the openness and emotional honesty in his fiction.  

Well, it’s been a pleasure talking. I guess I’ll wrap up by asking a standard last question — what’s on the horizon for you next? Working on anything now?

Jessica: So, I'm working on another book now. It is hopefully a little bit of a monster story but with supernatural moments. I like to throw every idea into every book. A monster, a ghost, a family drama. We'll see how that ends up! 

You can pick up Conjuring the Wish directly from Ghoulish Books here: Ghoulish Books.

You can pick it up from Amazon here.