It’s almost October 31st, and that means only one thing…Hallowe’en’s coming! Unless you’ve been on another planet for the last few months, you’ll know that The Write Romantics are publishing an anthology of short stories, all with winter or Christmas themes. It’s called Winter Tales and will be launched on November 8th. We found writing short stories very different to creating the novels we usually work on, and it’s made us look at other short story writers with even more respect and interest. The recent release of a short story anthology entitled Hocus Pocus ’14, really caught our eye. It’s a collection of thirteen tales, each with a spooky twist, ideal for this time of year. We decided to find out more about the anthology and who was behind it…
It seems that Hocus Pocus ’14 was the brainchild of writer and QVC presenter Debbie Flint. She got together a group of authors including Lynda Renham, Lizzie Lamb and Tina K Burton and asked them to visit their dark side. The result is this creepy collection of shorts. We risked life and limb to prise information from these surprisingly obliging ladies to find out all about the book. Believe me, when you’ve read it you’ll admire our bravery. These people have seriously warped imaginations…
So, Debbie, what gave you the idea to put together an anthology, and why for Hallowe’en in particular?
Last year fellow authors Carolyn Mahony, Mary Jane Hallowell and I found ourselves suddenly challenged to run a Facebook online party by ourselves, with a guest visit from published Mills and Boon author Isabelle Goddard – also from our Tuscany writing group. We’d all just self-published our first titles and wanted to raise awareness of our books. The plan was to do it on Hallowe’en since that was the plan we’d inherited, having all agreed to participate but not run it. Then suddenly we were in charge and we had to make it up as we went along, but the feedback was amazing, the sales of our own books lifted slightly, and everyone taking part gave great feedback. It worked! We found it was the most fun, fulfilling day – especially because being Hallowe’en there was a whole host of different options for subjects to post about, making the day really diverse and compelling. We ran it on our specially created event page on Facebook. We had pics of ‘finger food,’ favourite spooky hunks, songs and films, plus real life supernatural experiences to name but a few. We found there weren’t that many others going on on the same day, nor was there much on Amazon if you searched the word ‘Hallowe’en.’ We know that self publishing nowadays is all about discoverability, so the idea for a new event this year was born.
How did you select the authors to take part?
Initially it was just our little group, and then having mentioned it to a few other authors on other writing groups/retreats, many others stepped up and submitted stories to us for approval. Most would have been a shue-in, as they are award winning or best selling established authors, but we still used the process I rely on to gauge a story’s potential – my beta readers group. Facebook is a magical thing, and two years ago, it put me in touch with around two dozen avid romance readers who regularly review and ‘mark’ the work we submit to them. They’ve been instrumental in helping me bypass those frustrating early stages with a SFD where you think you know what to do but you need validation from true readers. Now ‘Debbie’s Readers’ occasionally take other work to read too and all seem very keen to help and have their opinions counted! Funnily enough my publisher Choc Lit (still sounds funny to hear myself say ‘my publisher’ – I only signed with them in the summer, first book out next Spring!) also use a ‘tasting panel’ for exactly the same reasons. I highly recommend doing so to new authors – and established ones!
Anyway, with the help of co-editor Mary Jane Hallowell, one of my best pals and writing buddies, the ‘approved’ stories mounted up and soon we had nearly 13 which I figured would be perfect for this anthology, so I contacted a couple more authors to reach the magical number! By the end of August it was clear we could make it the magical 13, of varying lengths, which Adrienne Vaughan and Lizzie Lamb pointed out would form a meaty paperback, and could they have some copies. So we expanded our plans to include Createspace too, and I got my lovely cover designer in Canada, Angela Oltmann to polish up the design one of our beta reader’s sons had already submitted. The POD covers (print on demand- that’s how they do paperbacks on Amazon via Createspace) which she creates, takes a lot more work than eBook covers ever do, so it was an investment, of around £130 overall. I also used a formatting expert in San Diego, Yvonne Betancourt, to ensure the finished POD interior was right. But if we sell copies outside of the freebie promotion period it’ll hopefully eventually cover it. Plus I will do one next year too, Hocus Pocus ’15, and possibly a Valentine’s anthology of romantic short stories, so ‘Hocus Pocus ’14’ will be part of a series! If anyone is interested in taking part in the next ones just email me firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m looking forward to reaching a whole new audience via the other authors and via the fab Hallowe’en party on 31st – I do hope you’ll join us!
Welcome Lizzie Lamb, Lynda Renham and Tina K Burton. How did you all get involved?
Lizzie: One of the New Romantics Press, Adrienne Vaughan, was contacted by Debbie who was looking for contributors and Adrienne put my name forward. I was a bit worried about getting side-tracked from finishing book 3 but already had a spooky story on file so I said yes. I’d written it a few years back for a competition ‘Heaven Can Wait’ run by Writers’ Magazine and (I think) Cally Taylor. She had just published her novel Heaven Can Wait and was running the competition to promote it. I was glad I’d kept the story on file because it only needed a bit of tweaking, et voila.
Lynda: I got involved with the anthology when Debbie asked me if I was interested and did I know anyone else who would be. I was unsure at first as short stories aren’t my thing really. I always find my short stories end up as novels and I don’t think Debbie would have been too happy with that!
Tina: My friend, Lynda, put me in touch with Debbie, who was putting together the anthology. Debbie asked if I’d like to get involved and, as it happened, I had a story that I thought might be suitable.
How did you find writing short stories as opposed to novels?
Debbie: I like writing short stories – my first ever was for my QVC blog (I work on the shopping channel as a presenter) and my blog gets around 13000 views a week, so having just returned from the Tuscany writing course – my first ever experience of romance writing – I thought I’d do a 5000 word story for Feb 14th – so The Valentine’s Surprise was born. Three years later, having been inspired into self-publishing by Emily Harvale, I played around with KDP and uploaded it for a three day freebie. Immediately several hundred people downloaded it, and my journey into being a novelist was born. I then finished my WIP, Hawaiian Affair, followed by books two and three in that trilogy of steamy romances, all around 80-90,000 words. I finished a Bridget Jones style tale set in shopping telly at Easter this year, also full length. But my second short story, When Dreams Return, was written with the intention of running a freebie promotion for Mothers’ Day, which I did. However, being set at Hallowe’en I’d always intended that it would be my contribution for the Anthology – we’d been planning it since last October you see.
Lizzie: I would rather write a novel than a short story. Why? Because all my short stories read like the start of a novel. It’s a genre I need to work on if I’m ever going to feel more relaxed about writing one. Sue Moorcroft gave me a tip once, which was to think of the short story as an ‘incident’ with a beginning, a middle and an end – rather than a chapter in a novel. After I’d taken that advice on board it was much easier, but I don’t think I’ll ever be a natural short story writer.
Lynda: I disciplined myself and wrote my contribution which is titled ‘Clarissa’. I didn’t find writing a short story easy so I very much admire writers who can do it. I have written a few short stories in the past but find them difficult. If I have the choice, give me a novel to write any day.
Tina: I wrote and sold short stories before writing novels. I like the challenge of short stories – writing a whole plot and credible characters within a limited number of words. But I also like novels because you have more scope to develop your characters fully.
What is your story called and what’s it about?
Debbie: It’s called When Dreams Return. Chelle’s hubby Andy disappeared mysteriously and she stopped painting. Her talented artwork is her livelihood, inspired by her elaborate dreams. Finally she decides it’s time to accept his death and move on, by renovating a spooky Victorian House with a secret in the attic. Her pal Sara who lives nearby is married to Andy’s brother but she has secrets of her own. It’s a ghostly tale with humour and pathos, and ended up becoming a short novella, at 14,000 words. I was very pleased that the freebie helped it to get 4.6 avge stars on 29 reviews! Very chuffed!
Lizzie: It’s called Jumping the Queue. As I said, I more or less wrote it to order for the competition Heaven Can Wait. That theme decided what I was going to write about. I’ve also written a ‘true’ spooky story for the promo day when the Hocus Pocus event takes place on Facebook – 31st October. It’s called Knock, Knock, Who’s There? And concerns a real life spooky event which happened to me when I was a child. I’ll probably be posting it on my website, too, as part of the promo.
Lynda: Clarissa is a car that the main character, Frank, becomes obsessed with. However, the obsesion becomes quite creepy when the car begins to control Frank’s behaviour. I don’t know that anything inspired the story. It just seemed to jump onto the page and I very much enjoyed the process of writing it. I’m always fascinated when that happens.
Tina: My story is The Soul Stealer, about a doll who borrows souls. I used to work in the funeral business, and whilst I’m not religious, I do believe that our soul – the essence of what makes us, us – leaves the body and goes somewhere after death. It was thinking about that a while ago that gave me an idea for the story.
Our thanks to Debbie, Lizzie, Lynda and Tina for dropping by and telling us all about their venture into short story writing. Hocus Pocus ’14 is available to buy here and you can read Sharon’s review on Goodreads here
The short stories included in the anthology are:
Seed of Doubt by Adrienne Vaughan
Letter for Ray by Carolyn Mahony
Heaven Must be Missing an Angel by Jules Wake
The Last Leg by S A Edward
Lovespelled by Jane O’Reilly
Clarissa by Lynda Renham
Orange Blossom by Mary Jane Hallowell (short novella)
Jumping the Queue by Lizzie Lamb
Haunted House by Alison May
The Soul Stealer by Tina K. Burton
Green Man Rising by Litty Williams
Insubstantial Evidence by Tracy Burton
When Dreams Return by Debbie Flint (short novella)
Bonus Material -– true life spooky tales & poem
Join in the fun on Facebook on October 31st and prepare to be spooked!