Tag Archives: writing

Unreliable Narrators, or A Character Study on Charlotte Grimly

Charlotte and I have been spending far more time together lately. Part of my struggle with getting back into The Killing Type was the distance I’d formed between Charlotte’s narrative and the world I created in my second manuscript. We needed to reconnect, but I didn’t know how to reach her again. It’s not like I can call her up and ask her out for tea. Rewriting means needing to go back and rediscover who Charlotte is, and why.

Charlotte first appeared in my college fiction writing class in the short story, The Waiting Room. Though “Waiting Room” Charlotte and Killing Type Charlotte are two different characters, I loved the idea of an unreliable narrator. After all, my childhood mentor, Edgar Allan Poe, used them frequently.

She reappeared in my college thesis on the portrayal of madness in literature. My advisor made an offhand comment about writing a series of “Crazy Charlotte” stories, and the idea stuck. The decision that Charlotte should be schizophrenic seemed organic to her character. In my thesis, Charlotte is effected by what she reads, her hallucinations stemming from literature. In The Killing Type, Charlotte’s hallucinations are repressed memories.

I devoured everything I could find on abnormal psychology. I wanted to get it right.

I’m almost always nervous that I will get it wrong. I’ve a limited experience in dealing with mental illness personally, and I don’t want to criminalize or mock those who deal with it on a daily basis. Charlotte is more than a mentally ill narrator, more than merely unreliable. She’s a person (albeit fictional.) She has hopes, dreams, goals, and yes, secrets.

I was talking Cat about character development and diversity, about my concerns about my characters.

Charlotte is a blonde, green-eyed white girl from the midwest. Cat asked me why.

On the surface, it’s because that’s how Charlotte showed up in my head. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Then I realized Charlotte is this way because in order for the story to work, she would need access better medical care, the ability to see a therapist regularly, to afford the proper medications, to be in a nice, clean facility when the levee breaks.

If Charlotte were Mexican, or Indian, or any other race, it would be a different story. Though schizophrenia occurs equally in all races, the proper attention and care is not always available. The social stigma changes. That’s why The Killing Type didn’t work in its orignal setting (1920.) I didn’t have the materials I needed. Charlotte didn’t have what she needed. She needed to be informed, to be able to take care of herself.

She’s more than an insanity plea.

She’s a veracious reader. She’s interested in her own chemistry. She’s not afraid of how she is, but she still feels like an outsider. She’s still “other.” She loves her job. She grows flowers. She’s schizophrenic, but I’ll be damned if she’s not more than a diagnosis.

I still worry over how Charlotte will be seen, especially considering the things I dredge up from her past and the threat of a serial killer leaving bodies around town. I’m not a doctor, nor am I claiming to be. I took Psych 101 and read everything I could on mental illness, but that doesn’t equate to experience. I can only hope I’ve done Charlotte justice.

If you haven’t read it, and would like to, “The Waiting Room” is linked above. You can also find it under the “Short Stories” tab on the menu bar.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more of these character-centric ramblings, leave a comment below!


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It’s Sleeping with Roaches and Taking Best Guesses*

As you know, dear reader, I’ve been having a bit of a rough time. A few weeks ago, blogged over at Pen and Muse about writing and depression, and though I’ve come out of the darkness, I find myself stressed out and exhausted. The Day Job has been relentless (I’m just coming off of six days in a row, most 9 hour shifts), and even my days off aren’t truly days off. I finally, FINALLY realize what’s wrong.

I’ve fallen into the same pattern of neglecting myself, and this has thrown the metaphorical wrench into my writing life.

I slated writing as another line on the epic “to do” list that is my life. Once I finished the draft of my second MS, it was all about needing to fix the first. I sat down to this task and fried my wires before I’d even started. I tried drawing plot maps, outlining (that’s when I know I’m out of it), and though I could talk about the changes I wanted and why I wanted them, doing it was fucking impossible.

Kelly, my darling CP, suggested I take a break. Don’t think about it. Don’t open the document. Rest.

I need to listen to Kelly more often. For the last few days I’ve done nothing because I stopped berating myself over NOT doing it. Sometimes you need glut yourself on other things:

  • Plug in and rock out: I’ve listened to A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out by Panic! at the Disco so many times, it’s borderline obscene.
  • Read books that aren’t your own: I finally cracked open Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds. I cannot express to you in words how in love with this book I am. If you’re not reading him, get your ass to a bookstore or buy it off Amazon. Immediately.
  • Get out of the house: I have trouble with this one. It’s usually work-home-bed-work, but I was off by 2pm Saturday and I took my happy ass to the mall. Tax returns AND a 15% off coupon for Sephora? A deal I will not pass up. Nothing revives me like shiny new makeup and kickass lipstick.
  • Get out of your head! This, too, I struggle with. Recently, my friend Delilah hopped on her Twitter Soapbox about what it means to be a writer, which you can read here. You don’t need a fancy degree or a muse or a ritualistic blood sacrifice to Satan. If you write, you’re a writer. That doesn’t mean you’ll never feel insecure, even after getting an agent or getting published. Part of you will always wonder if you’re good enough, if your That’s okay. “Complacency is the enemy of growth.” I’m ridiculously lucky to have her as a friend.
  • Fuel something you enjoy: It’s no secret by now that I LOVE weird medical history and when I stumbled upon Sawbones podcast, it was like creep girl heaven! I listened to the episode on Reanimation (ok, I MAY have cheated on the not thinking about your own work rule with that one), and not only are Justin and Sydnee hilarious, I learned some amazing new things about 1700-1800 theory and practice, and what and WHOM may have inspired Mary Shelley to pen Frankenstein.

I feel SO MUCH BETTER. The narrative style of Blackbirds helped me realize the direction I’m going with The Killing Type is the right direction. I’m going to be fine. Feeding my mind with different writers, better writers, helps me better myself. Drink it up!

Effective immediately, writing is no longer relegated to the “to do” list. Writing needs to be what it always has been: my escape. I’m not on deadlines. I have no one to answer to. Sure, that’ll change when I’m agented, but for now, I’m not racing against a clock and shouldn’t make myself crazy over nothing.


You can find Delilah on Twitter @DelilahSDawson, and at WhimsyDark.com. I strongly suggest you follow her, and not just for her Labyrinth references.

You can find Chuck Wendig at @ChuckWendig, and at TerribleMinds.com, especially if you like profanity-laced advice.

I’ve got a book to revise, darlings, so let’s play a game. Let’s play… murder.

*Title taken from “Build God, Then We’ll Talk,” by Panic! at the Disco. I might just really love that song. Go listen to it.

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Playlist for a Serial Killer

I can’t write while listening to music, but that doesn’t mean I don’t rock out in my car every chance I get or that songs haven’t inspired my writing. And honestly, what’s for fun than making a playlist for a book about a serial killer?

I may have had too much fun day with the Pulp-o-Mizer.

I may have had too much fun day with the Pulp-o-Mizer.

Music plays a huge part in helping me visualize scenes, develop characters, and you know, I have to dance around to something.

Even though I can’t focus enough while the music is playing, I have a list of songs to help me get into that world and my character’s mindset. Since I’m back to working on THE KILLING TYPE, I’ve been indulging in Marilyn Manson’s cover of “Sweet Dreams” on repeat.


The songs aren’t in any particular order, but I wanted to make sure I had a balance of “character” songs and “scene” songs, this way if there was something I needed, I could plug right in. As fun as my visual representations on Pinterest are, music activates a very different part of my writer brain. I feel emotions clearer, and occasionally solve plot and development issue.

Plus, it’s fun.

Charlotte Grimly, MC and local schizophrenic, has Egypt Central’s “White Rabbit” as her main theme, along with Lauren O’Connell’s killer cover of “House of the Rising Sun.”

Elizabeth Géroux, bored musician and would-be femme fatale, gets “Rock ‘n’ Roll Sweetheart” by The Creepshow and Panic! at the Disco’s “Hurricane.”

Jonathan Gale, my darling detective, rocks MCR’s “Thank You for the Venom.”

“Danse Macabre” is dedicated to a costume gala while “Sweet Dreams” is relegated to a filthy, smoke-and-lust-filled night club.

Every song fits an aspect of the character, including his or her personality. Charlotte is often torn between eerie quite and foreboding and a mad rush she can’t control. Lizzie is a whirlwind, excitable and volatile. Jonathan has a bit of an edge to his outer analytical detective.

I can’t tell you all the secrets behind the songs, but if you ask nicely, I might drop a hint or two. There’s also a playlist for THE MORTALITY VICE, but that, for now, is a secret.

What are your favorite tunes to get you in the writing mindset?

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Tooth and Nail

Writing a novel is hard. You sit and pull words and characters from your brain and shape them into something like a story. You revise and edit and change and eventually end up with a finished draft.

Rewriting a novel is even harder. I finally finished the rewrite on the first chapter of The Killing Type.

I’ve been fighting with myself mentally for weeks. I’ve been in a state of suspended animation, not looking back but unable to move forward. I had a death to deal with, a memorial service, the swing of mourning to readjusting to mourning again, and finally everything seems to have settled down.

I spent last Saturday with Cat. I realized I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have fun. We had lunch, spent all day at the outdoor mall with her husband, his brother and tiny nephew, went a series of student plays, and then watched a movie and drank tea on her couch. I’ve spent so much of the last few weeks internalizing and shifting, that I’d neglected letting myself have fun. We talked about writing and where we were in revisions.

I felt better about where I was headed, but when I sat down to gut my novel, I couldn’t. I stared at it, I watched makeup tutorials on YouTube, I thought about the changes I wanted. I edited it, little by little. As difficult as it was to pour out those first 80,000 words, this rewrite felt like I was sinking my nails into a beast and scraping at bone to find the better story. And it sucked.

Confession: It’s terrifying. I’m afraid. Afraid that it’s just a lost cause, that the story sucks, that I suck, that it will never be good enough, that I’m wasting my time, that I’m wasting my life. What if I can’t fix it?

I’m lucky that I have an amazing group of friends who listen to my worries and support me. I don’t blame myself for being out of sorts. I don’t blame myself for recognizing the “writer’s slump.” I unchaptered everything and dissected it. It’s waiting to be rebuilt. I’m not out of it yet, but I’m still fighting, tooth and nail.

And I finished it. The new first chapter is sent to my CPs and I await their judgement. I feel good about it. It’s not perfect, and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be. I’m starting again, starting over. It’s okay that I’m afraid, it’s okay that this will be difficult. I know where I’m going and I’m determined to get there.

Now let’s cut up chapter two.

Other news: You may (or may not) have noticed that my blog has a new name! Inspired by my favorite quote from Edgar Allan Poe: “There can be no exquisite beauty without some strangeness.” I’ll be slowly revamping the blog. If you have suggestions on content you’d like to see, please leave suggestions below or feel free to message me on Twitter @ExquisitelyOdd

Unfortunately, I have not been able to make any vlogs lately due to my built-in camera refusing to play well with iMovie. Hopefully, I can fix this because I really miss making vlogs. For now, it’s just one blog a week.


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#WriterProblems: Google Search Edition

This morning I had a chat with Nicole Sciortino about writer problems and the things we have to research.

Fact: I often wonder what people think of me when they see me reading up on surgical procedures and poisons while sipping a chai latte in the middle of the coffee shop.

I’ve been less than stellar at blogging lately due to some family stuff, so I thought this would be a nice, light-hearted topic. Until I actually looked at my search history and realized all my fears were justified. In the last month, I’ve looked up:

  • How to remove a brain during autopsy
  • How open-heart surgery is performed
  • Aconite root
  • 19th century surgical tools
  • Ether bottles
  • What an ether high feels like
  • Post-mortem photography
  • Blood infections
  • Popular Victorian poisons
  • Cadaver prep and storage
  • How to exsanguinate a cadaver in the 1800s

I’ve also seen a collection of students at medical colleges in the 1800s, skeletons, bone saws, and reviews of Urban Decay’s Naked3 palette. According to Kristen Strassel, my Twitter feed is all “cremation and Starbucks.” An accurate assessment.

I do wonder what people who catch sight of my laptop think, not necessarily about me, but what random thought flies through their heads when I’ve got “Vivisection in 10 Easy Steps” sitting open on the screen. We all know we do it. A casual glance and you walk past, looking “at the clock” when you really want to know what was in that photo.

What crazy/creepy/out of the norm stuff is lurking in your search history?

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Examples of My Insanity, Or Getting Into Character

The line between being a writer and having a personality disorder, for some, is about as thin as sewing thread. I am indeed one of those people. In fact, when I was in middle school, I managed to convince my friends I had Dissociative Identity Disorder (which is not to be confused with schizophrenia), 1) because I thought it would be fun, 2) to see how long they’d humor me, and 3) because I enjoy messin’ with people.

Why, thank you, Dr. Lector.

Apparently, things haven’t changed much, except that I channel my hellbent energy into writing novels. These days, I prefer to think of it as method acting to get into character. It’s challenging to be another person, especially one who lives in an alternate version of the 1800s and cuts people open for a living.

Don’t worry, Henry’s a surgeon, not a serial killer.

I like to joke that you can ask me anything about a character of mine, and I know the answer immediately. I talk about my characters as if they are people I know (technically, they’re all me, so yeah), and they have thoughts and actions outside the pages of their books. They will also text you if I’m bored enough and/or surrounded by a group of people I don’t know.


The gray text on the left is from Anna and the gray text on the right is from Henry. You never know who’s feeling chatty. I think I might actually continue to text the unsuspecting parties in different characters, just for the hell of it. YOU WERE WARNED.

It’s important to get to know your characters because you’re going to be spending a ridiculous amount of time with them. In college, I had a professor teach Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith. She wrote to Smith once about Ivy, her narrator, and Smith replied that Ivy just came to her and started rattling off her story so quickly she almost couldn’t keep up. That’s what it’s like for me. Henry showed up in a restaurant in Manhattan, sat down across from me, and started rattling things off while constructing a fox skeleton.

He’s not the most social of people.

I was writing a scene the other night that involved a seedy, underground surgical cult society where members are required to arrived masked, a sign of their inclusion in the club. Henry was invited, but Anna borrows Henry’s best friend’s mask. Though the book is told from Henry’s POV, I needed to know what Anna would do and how Henry would describe it.

Since this scene is my lovesong to Sleep No More, I donned my mask and a pretended I was looking at myself in a mirror, wondering at the sight of being so altered. I ran my hands down the contours of the mask, moved as though I were in a gown, and tried to feel what Anna felt. She looked horrifying, and she looked beautiful. Henry’s words, not mine.

Sometimes the only way to get through a tough scene or figure out the next plot point is to become your character. Not everyone goes as mad as I do, but not everyone has as much fun as I do. Constants and variables.

In other news, if you missed it last week (because I didn’t blog), I have a new short story up on The Midnight Type, AND I’ll be releasing another short story at the end of the week. It IS a Valentine’s Day story.

It’s not a RomCom.

So what do you guys do to get into character? Do you playact like I do, or do you have another method?

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Something Else to Panic About

If any of you have paid attention to the national weather lately, you’ve probably heard that the state of Georgia was shut down today. Princess Elsa has cursed us with eternal winter, and someone didn’t deploy the salt trucks until it was far too late, added to the suprise of the storm that was supposed to hit south of us smacking us in the face. There were over 700 accidents due to the roads icing over faster than anyone could prevent, plus several of my friends and coworkers were trapped in the gridlock for hours. Some slept at their jobs, some slept in their car.

Luckily, I made it home safe and sound. The worst thing I faced was driving an hour home when it usually takes 15 minutes. I’d intended to use my day off as a beta-reading, writing awesome day.

Instead I marathoned Sleepy Hollow with Julie.

Afterward, I decided to finally clean up my laptop, which had gotten cluttered from my penchant to drag and drop things I like. Everything was peachy until I went to organize the Scrivener file for THE KILLING TYPE so I could make a new draft file for revisions.

Something terrible happened.

I deleted the file.

“But couldn’t use just remove it from the trash can?” you ask.

Yeah. If I hadn’t emptied the trash.

See, I’d kept the file in Dropbox in a private folder. When Dropbox was hacked, I removed the files to… THE DESKTOP. Which I’d just been rearranging. This was bad.

Luckily, I downloaded a Word Doc that I’d sent to one of my Beta readers and I cut and paste the chapters into a clean Scrivener file. The good news is: I really didn’t lose anything. I have the previous drafts saved as Word Docs, I have my file back and separated for revisions, and I have a new draft waiting for me. I even separated the files for THE MORTALITY VICE. Turns out I had TWO of them, one at 65k and the other at half of that. I’ve since saved everything. In seven locations.

This, however, does not mean I didn’t have a heart attack. The thought of losing something I’d spent so much time writing almost killed me tonight. I then panicked about potentially losing my other book, and I’ve checked multiple times to make sure I have all the correct files. I am highly paranoid now.


Even smart, pseudo-professional people make ridiculous and foolish and costly errors. Let this be a warning to you all.


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Writing Dark

It’s no secret that I’ve been actively querying THE KILLING TYPE since Spring last year. I still have two partials out in the wide world, but so far, all I’ve received are rejections. They were polite, some had advice to offer, but a handful of things were common: They had trouble connecting to my main character, Charlotte, and the beginning wasn’t working for them.

I’ve already confessed that I’m terrible at beginnings, but something else occurred to me: when I started TKT, I didn’t take the time to get to know Charlotte. I simply ran with my concept. It’s also not my voice.

When I started the first draft, I tried for a 1920’s noir feel. It wasn’t a fit. The story settled into modern-day, and I bashed out a few openings. I got so frustrated writing them that I skipped to the middle and the end, which were more fun. I wanted it to be cool.

I was trying too hard.

I realized the issue wasn’t in the words, but in me. I tried for a light opening; I didn’t let myself go dark, and dark is what I do.

The answer’s been staring at me for weeks, from friends asking advice on making their books creepier to actively taking about brains and autopsy on Twitter.

The opening to The Killing Type is too… commercial. It’s too inauthentic for me. It doesn’t have the edge or the grit I love. My first fifty pages are MUNDANE and that’s not at all who I am!

I needed to sit down with Charlotte and get to know her because I’d rushed into writing this book. I need to stop worrying about how other people will see her and just convey her as she is. I need to not be afraid to embrace the sort of writer I am. I’m a macabre fairy princess, and THE KILLING TYPE is fertile soil for my brand of dark magic.

I see a lot of people worried about writing what will sell instead of writing the story they need to tell. Finding the voice to tell it in is just as important as finding the story. You shouldn’t be afraid to be yourself, outside in the real world or on the page. Charlotte and I are going to get to know each other, and then you’ll all get to know her.

I’m wrapping up THE MORTALITY VICE, slowly. It’s been a whirlwind romance with that one, and I’m going to be heartbroken when it’s done, but it’s time to get back to my first love. I’ll be rewriting my opening pages and giving TKT an overhaul. I’ve got ideas, dark, wicked ideas, and for the first time in months I feel like myself again.

And damn does it feel good.


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Writing Beginnings and Corpse Construction

Especially if you’re me.

It’s no secret that I’m terrible at writing beginnings to stories. Sure, sometimes I get a killer opening line, like the one for THE MORTALITY VICE:

“My name is Henry James William Hyde, and today I forfeit my life.”

But the whole… start of the story is usually beyond me. I cobble together something to get my through, then skip to the ending chapters. Writing is a weird process to begin with, and it’s even weirder when you struggle to write linearly.

I’ve used this simile before: writing a story is like reconstructing a body.

You’re taking an idea and giving it substance. There are many ways to set up your specimen: Some begin with the skeleton (outlining) and fill in the organs (major plot points) from there, connecting it with ligaments and muscles.

As a pantser, I have a planogram of a skeleton tacked to the wall, but I’ve dumped all the bones in a box and gone straight for the organs. Since I can’t write forward, write backward. It takes the pressure off having a perfect beginning and I get to feed my impatience for getting to all my favorite scenes.

This, of course, may panic those of you who love and need outlines. I frolic through my own narrative flinging horror like paint and stitching in veins as I go. I install the bones when I need to.

There is no wrong or right way to start reconstruction.

First drafts will always suck. Will starting from the end give you a perfect opener? Nope.
But it will take the pressure off and let you move past it. It’s skirting around the wall and helping you collect the tools you’ll need to break it down.

You get better with practice. I’ve rewritten the beginning of THE KILLING TYPE five times. I’m about to do it again. The trick with beginnings is you have to make those first few pages count. In my case, I lack clarity. Read your manuscript backward to pick up the tools again. Where do you want to start? What’s the most important thing you want to give the reader to make them want to invest in your story?

Not all skeletons are rebuilt from bones to skin; don’t be afraid to experiment. There will always be something you struggle with, whether it’s the beginning, the mushy middle, or knowing how to end it. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty or ask for advice. Stick your hand in that pan of organs and see what you pull out.


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Dealing in Death

Let’s kick off this shiny new year of blogging with everyone’s favorite topic: Death.

Ok, cake was a close second.

I’m slowly winding down the first draft of my second book, The Mortality Vice. I had the idea for this book back in April while I was visiting NYC, but I didn’t start writing it until NaNoWriMo came about. I churned out 50,000 words in 30 days and fell in love harder than I’d ever thought possible.

The Mortality Vice was a book of firsts for me: First Person, writing from a male POV, alternate timelines, SCIENCE!, and a major character death.

It’s true I killed a lot of people in The Killing Type. With serial killers, it’s kind of essential. I have never, however, killed a main character. I wrote the scene in my NaNoWriMo frenzy, forcing the words out. It wasn’t a quick death. It was slow, and painful, and I wrenched it out of my head and threw it into the document. I had to stop halfway through because I couldn’t breathe. I picked it up again another night and had to stop because I couldn’t see through my tears.

I hated myself. I hated what I’d done.

I asked a friend’s opinion about it. I wanted to renege on my decision and bring the character back. She told me no. If I undid my action, the initial death would have no meaning. She was right.

But I still struggled with myself over it. I realized I was grieving for this fictional person. I’d cried, I’d trying to bargain, I got angry with myself, I was depressed that it had to be done. Now I’m finally accepting it for what it is.

It’s not just that this character’s life ends; I killed someone I cared about. Horribly. There was no peaceful deathbed gathering of loved ones. This character wasn’t old, wasn’t sick. It hurts because this person I invented mattered to me.

The thing about killing a major character is that there needs to be a reason. It has to matter. To the other characters, to you, to your readers. I knew this character had to die the moment I started writing the ending. It didn’t make things easier. I tear up thinking about it. The other day I figured out another scene, a scene that makes what I’ve done hurt more. It has to be written. I’m going to hate it.

Secretly, I’ve always wanted to emotionally devastate my readers. I think this is it.

Kill your darlings, but make it count.


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