Thursday, September 6, 2012


Or, How I Turned My Inner Demons In To Some Not-Too-Bad Stories
By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
This week over at Flash Fiction Friday, instead of posting a writing prompt, Flannery Alden invited everyone to share a little bit about how and why we write… what inspires us?  What kind of fiction do we write?  What kind of fiction do we read?  Hmm…
I need to go back in time for a moment… back to a guest blog I did for Paul D. Brazill some time back…
Why do we write?  The three “E’s” come to mind… express… explore… entertain.  When we write, we usually have a specific purpose or goal in mind… to explore an idea… express a feeling… entertain an audience.  When I first began writing seriously, it was as part of therapy… the fourth“E”… exorcism.  As painful as that often was, what I came to refer to as “Dr. Kay’s torture” helped me to develop beyond the rudimentary skills left over from my formal education, and gave me a certain confidence that perhaps I was not as “literately-challenged” as I had once thought.
I write primarily noir fiction, dark and twisted stories of not-so-nice people doing not-so-nice things to one another.  I am told that I do a “fair job” at writing in this genre.  I could blame my ‘predilection’ with crime and noir on the influences of Carole Parker and Paul Brazill, but that wouldn’t be fair to them.  They weren’t my only influences.  And of course, I completely blame Lily Childs for getting me on the horror/urban fantasy ‘bandwagon’… even if it’s only been in hundred word flash bursts so far.
Richard Godwin, author of Apostle Rising, Mr. Glamour [and TONS of other writings] and a friend and mentor, asked me this in an interview –
Is there a particular incident that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
In the waning days of the summer of 2005, on my way to morning classes at university, I was kidnapped and for the next six months, I endured brutalities that would have made the Marquis de Sade vomit on his bedclothes.
I know it’s a little fucked up… hell, it’s a lot fucked up… but that’s pretty much why I write mostly dark noir and not children’s stories.  You don’t go through something like that and walk away without a few scars and if my writing reveals some of those scars… well, maybe that’s just the way it is supposed to be.  Six years of therapy and two years of writing noir fiction have quieted my demons… for the most part.
Sometimes I wonder if my writing will eventually erase those memories, at least some of them.  And then there are times when I am afraid that is exactly what will happen and I think maybe I should just put my pen away.  Sometimes I wonder if the madness wouldn’t be better than the memories.
Yeah, like I said… a little fucked up.
So it came to be that in August of 2010, I turned from writing in my personal journals about those dark days I had endured five years earlier and the horrors and demons that… * cue ominous music*… very nearly claimed my life, and penned my first noir fiction story… about 10,000 words of fiction ironically titled ‘Revenge Will Wait For Another Day’.
I shared ‘Revenge…’ with a few friends but never submitted it for publication, either online or in print.  My first ‘published’ story was a short little 800 word flash piece for Patti Abbott’s “Scarry Night” Challenge.  Penance was part fiction and part auto-biographical.  It would not be the last story that I would write in which I drew on those six dark months of captivity.  I have already written a little of that ordeal and its aftermath, in two other short stories, both non-fiction… Nyquil Dreams (which appeared in Pulp Metal Magazine), and Hello Darkness, My Old Friend.  Several flash fiction pieces that I have written for F3 were influenced by that ordeal.  I am currently on the third draft of my memoir, which will tell ‘the rest of the story’; as I believe Paul Harvey used to say.
What inspires me?
What doesn’t?  Haha!

The prompts on Flash Fiction Friday are always fantastic and have given me much inspiration.  F3 has helped me hone my craft and the people who ‘hang out’ there are amazing and very supportive.  They inspire me as well.  Unfortunately, the demands of life and several writing projects have kept me away from F3 lately.
A great place for inspiration can be found on any of the social networks.  On Facebook alone, I have gotten inspiration for several stories.
A writer friend made a comment once about the unseasonably warm weather and problems with the AC.  Someone else remarked that she worried about the power going out (brownouts) and all the ice cream in the freezer melting.  I turned that into a 4,000 word story on obsession.
Another Facebook friend and I were discussing what we might do if a lover betrayed us.  From a little ‘vignette’ I suggested, Revenge Will Wait For Another Day was born.
I also watch people.  I ride mass transit a lot and I have met some very interesting people.  I’ve also observed some ‘very interesting’ people.  Conservatively, half of the fiction I have written was inspired by someone I encountered, a bit of conversation overheard – sorry, apparently my ears don’t have an ‘off’ switch, or some other such random act of human nature.  A chance encounter with a streetwalker (have you ever been asked for a ‘date’?) kindled the fires of my imagination and led to One Man’s Burden, a twist on Jack the Ripper.
I look at people and I observe their reactions... and I say “what if”?  That staid, straight and undoubtedly celibate (yeah, watch the eyes) nun on the train?  Let’s make her a roller-blading, poker playing lesbian nun who teaches in the orphanage pre-school when she isn’t traveling to Las Vegas to meet her lesbian lover showgirl and fleece some high-rollers out of their money.  It’s for the kids, don’t worry… Sister Veronica does have her morals!
It isn’t just strangers that give me inspiration… that feed the dark and sometimes wicked ‘turnings’ of my mind.  When it comes to fiction, family, friends and co-workers are ‘fair game’.  Even one’s own spouse needn’t be spared, as evidenced in Late Isn’t Always A Bad Thing and Non Sequitur.
I wrote two stories which dealt with domestic abuse, specifically, spousal abuse.  Without divulging confidentiality, This Is How You Remind Me and Mothers and Daughters drew on events in the lives of two people very close to me.
To varying degrees; I put myself in some of my stories.  Physical attributes, sexual orientation and obsessions… all things used to build characters.  Like me; many of my female characters are strong, independent, goal-oriented women with a strong sense of justice… even if their actions sometimes indicate the contrary.  Justice isn’t always found in what the law says is ‘right’.
We are told to ‘write what you know’.  I know me… I know what I want… I know how I will react in a situation… I project that into some of my characters.  It also allows me to engage in a little fantasy, as seen in Revenge Will Wait For Another Day.
Some might think that my ordeal gives me an ‘edge’ in writing… a reservoir of emotions and memories to tap into… it does; I won’t deny that.  My lesbianism and views on feminism also influence my writing.
We all have experiences… crosses to bear… burdens to carry… that determine to a certain extent how we live our lives.  Those things that influence my writing also allow me to put them in some perspective.  For me, it’s all part of a process.
We write what we see… we write what we do… we write not to be alone.
We spend our whole life trying, with varying degrees of success, to be more than the sum of the parts of our lives.  That is human nature.
Writing allows us to be more than the sum of those parts…
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Portland, Oregon
4 September 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Honesty and Integrity in Independent Publishing and Promotion

 (Note – The original post is from the “A Knife And A Quill” blog. Thank you -vmls)


No More Sock Puppets Please

by "A Knife and A Quill"
These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended on-line, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large. British author Stephen Leather recently admitted that he used fake identities online to promote his work. The American bestseller John Locke has revealed he has paid for reviews of his books. The British author RJ Ellory has now confessed to posting flattering reviews of his own work and to using assumed names to attack other authors perceived to be his rivals.
These are just three cases of abuse we know about. Few in publishing believe they are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well.

We, the undersigned, unreservedly condemn this behaviour, and commit never to use such tactics.

But the only lasting solution is for readers to take possession of the process. The Internet belongs to us all. Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving,­ can drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance. No single author, ­ however devious, ­ can compete with the whole community. Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?
'Signed' by - 

Linwood Barclay, Tom Bale, Mark Billingham, Declan Burke, Ramsey Campbell, Tania Carver, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, N.J. Cooper, David Corbett, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Stella Duffy, Jeremy Duns, Mark Edwards, Chris Ewan, Helen FitzGerald, Meg Gardiner, Adèle Geras, Joanne Harris, Mo Hayder, David Hewson, Charlie Higson, Peter James, Graham Joyce, Laura Lippman, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Roger McGough, Denise Mina, Steve Mosby, Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, Ayo Onatade, SJ Parris, Tony Parsons, Sarah Pinborough, Ian Rankin, Shoo Rayner, John Rickards, Stav Sherez, Karin Slaughter, Andrew Taylor, Luca Veste, Louise Voss, Martyn Waites, Neil White,  Laura Wilson, Darren Sant, Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw.

Monday, September 3, 2012

BOOK REVIEW - darlenne susan girard: freefalling

freefallingfreefalling by Darlenne Susan Girard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Reviewer's note – In my junior year of college, I suffered a six month ordeal that nearly ended my life and even now, almost seven years later, still has me looking in the back seat before I get in any car and still wakes me in the middle of the night, the dying echo of tortured screams floating on the night air.  After reading freefalling, I find myself asking if I really know what true suffering is?  I am in no way mitigating the trauma of rape and the ordeals of myself and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of women, young girls and children; don’t get me wrong.   But, I do have my life… my pain and suffering is mostly memories now.  The girls who live on the streets?  Pain and suffering is their life… it isn’t just a memory.

I have received no compensation for this review, nor do I know the author personally.   My five-star rating is based solely on the merits of the book.   freefalling is available in e-book and trade paperback.  Thank you. vmls)

“please dear God I ask of thee
send four angels down to me
one to watch and one to pray
and two to carry my soul away”

With those spare words, thus begins a story that is both transformative and unforgiving.

Darlenne Susan Girard's freefalling is the heart-breakingly poignant, breathtaking and tragic story of a young girl's 'journey' from innocence lost at the tender age of 14, to her death two and a half years later... the victim of circumstance and the unbearably crushing weight of an all too often heartless and cruel world, filled with takers and users, to whom compassion and empathy are nothing more than words on paper… lofty ideals of a civilized society that these unfortunate souls… the streetwalkers… now live on the edge of.  Although, perhaps ‘living’ is too polite a term.

I will try not to put too much of the story in my review, but this is probably a good place to caution the reader about spoilers.

Forced to leave by an impossible situation at home, the protagonist, 14 year old Melinda, finds herself on the 'mean streets', virtually penniless and with little more than the clothes on her back... and woefully unprepared to face a less than certain future.  A future so bleak in fact that any Las Vegas bookmaker would give long odds indeed that Melinda would last a week, let alone 30 months in the unforgiving, harsh and at times utterly ruthless, world the young girl has 'tripped' into.

It is only her chance encounter with perhaps the one person in this new 'world' - Angel - who thinks of more than just herself, that Melinda finds a fighting chance.   Angel takes Mouse, whom she has 'christened' Melinda as, under her wing, showing that even when life seems at its darkest, a candle of hope still flickers.

Will this unlikely friendship be enough to save Mouse?   And what will happen when she discovers that the unthinkable has happened to her?   What will she do… this once innocent girl who has yet to reach the age of 15?  Who can Melinda turn to for the love and understanding, the guidance and wisdom she desperately needs?  Is her fate now to be determined by the whims of a psychotic streetwalker, who is at times so immersed in her own pain and suffering that she cannot help anyone else?

As we soon find out, it is street justice and street wisdom that are the girls ‘guiding light’… their ‘beacons of survival’, if you will.  And like countless thousands of girls before her, Melinda finds herself doing ‘whatever it takes’ to survive.

freefalling is probably the hardest book I have ever, or will ever, read.  This is a testament to the incredibly powerful and moving writing of Ms. Girard and her keen insight into the human condition.  I cried most of the way through this book and had to put it down several times... I simply could not go on, having become completely overwhelmed at the tragedy unfolding on the pages in front of me.   Even now, it is hard to take my mind back to the story.

freefalling is written with such uncompromising clarity and brutal honesty that one wonders if it really is the product of a prolific imagination or is a story told so well and so real because the author lived it?  It is truly the mark of a great story-teller who knows her craft, when readers ask such questions.

Melinda (Mouse) and Angela (Angel) are without a doubt two of the most unforgettable people I have ever read.   The author had me craving a burger and fries more than once when I would read one of the diner scenes.  Darlenne - may I call you Darlenne? Ms. Girard seems so formal - weaves a story rich in detail and filled with characters drawn with the creative brilliance of a master storyteller.   I actually found myself shivering at times, when Darlenne would describe one of the countless street scenes with Mouse or Angel standing curbside in the rain or in whatever meager shelter the street offered… the wet and cold soaking through to the bone.

The author’s unique style… the pace and tempo of her writing… conveyed the pain and despair… the desperation and hopelessness of the girls all too well.  As I said earlier… their pain was all too real as I struggled through the pages… palms sweaty and heartbeat racing as the brutal words of Darlenne’s narrative brought forth images of the street life these girls endured.

What kind of life is it… on your knees trying to coax a little life into some stranger’s flaccid flesh, just to earn enough money for a meal, maybe a bottle and some cigarets?  Or, lying on your back on a filthy bed in a filthy hotel room… legs spread… dignity and hope only distant memories… as some poor bastard spills his seed… adding to the soil around you and reminding you of your own worth… barely less than zero.

A life where violence is the only ‘gratuity’ you will ever receive for services rendered.  And even in that, there is a bitter irony.

Of all the men in this story, only one seems to engender any sympathy, and even Al has his own agenda… something a new girl on the streets, like Melinda, soon enough learns.  Everyone has their own agenda… everyone looks out for number one.

The acerbic Carla is another character in the book, a ‘tough’ girl whose philosophy is ‘fuck or be fucked’ and who fails to see the irony of her own situation.  Angel sees the irony of her life, yet is helpless to change it. And Mouse… poor little Mouse?

The power of Melinda’s own life was taken from her before she fully realized what she had.  That is the real tragedy.   That is a tragedy that happens every single day… everywhere.   That is a tragedy that crashes through every social strata of every society

You and I have ‘avenues’… means of escape… when life around us gets ‘rough’, more importantly; we have support systems – family and friends – who care about us, and us about them.   The girls on the street have neither.  They can’t afford friends… friends will only disappoint them and hurt them.

For Angela, Mouse, Carla and the others… friends are a burden they cannot bear; the weight of reciprocity is too much.  There is more than enough tragedy and despair in these young girls’ lives and a friend is only someone else they will use and then disappoint, in their own search to fill the void in their lives… a void that only one thing can fill, because they’ve given up on everything else.

Well, there are two things… but a quick death isn’t something anyone on the street seems to want.  They prefer a slow, painful death; seeing it as a sort of redemption for what they’ve done… for what they’ve allowed themselves to become.  These girls gave up long ago believing that it was anyone’s fault but their own for the bleak existence that they now endure.  Some of them may still believe in love and even think they have found it… but in the end, they will only chase it away with a needle or a pill or a bottle.  And sometimes… all three.

The girls exist on the streets… little more than a ‘fingerhut’ for some other tortured soul… as penance for something they did or something that happened to them.   But, penance isn’t enough… without redemption, penance is an empty gesture.   For these girls, the only redemption is the slow death of giving up their lives… piece by piece… everything human about them.  These girls become little more than ‘the walking dead’, riding a freight train of drugs and alcohol that gains speed every day, until one day it takes a curve too fast.   And in a heartbeat… the closing credits of a life they no longer recognize, flash before their eyes… then… silence.

Despite all the promises she makes to herself and all her good intentions, Melinda finds herself on that freight train.  Yet one more tragedy in an already tragic life, only… she’s brought an unwitting passenger.  Can Mouse get off of that train before it runs away… before its speed takes her around that curve… and all of her promises disappear… like tears in rain.

There is a passage from a song on one of my playlists that would run through head at times, while reading freefalling -

Still falling
Breathless and on again
Inside today
Inside me today
Around broken in two

~ Mazzy Star

I recommend freefalling without reservation.  It isn’t pretty and it isn’t for the faint-hearted.  And, unless your heart is carved from stone, you’re going to get angry… you’re going to cry... you’re going to be made uncomfortable.  Good!  And just maybe you’ll do something about that.

freefalling is uncompromising and unapologetic.  Anything less almost seems dishonourable.

Thank you, Darlenne, for a story that is going to stay with me for a very, very long time.

What’s that you say?  How does the story end?  Well, I can’t tell you that; now can I?  I will leave you with one final word –


Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Cannon Beach, Oregon
2 September 2012

View all my reviews