May 31, 2014

Guest Post: Shana Festa

I love zombie books, and I love helping out friends in the literary world. Shana Festa is near-legendary in the book review community, and she's been kind enough to take on Undead America and host me on her blog, The Bookie Monster. Now she's got her own zombie series set to release TOMORROW, and I'm excited to have her here to talk writing (and offer some great advice) and, of course, zombies!!!

Thanks, Shay, for stopping by!!

Show vs. Tell – The Importance of beta readers for new writers
By Shana Festa, author of the Time of Death series

When I received the request to create a guest post, I immediately knew what I wanted to share with readers, because it is an issue I faced as a new writer. If you’ve heard my name before, it’s because I write and review horror…specifically the zombie genre. I guess you could say it’s where my heart is.

As I got further into TIME OF DEATH: INDUCTION, I asked a few authors to beta read through my work and tell me if I had anything worth finishing. Thankfully, the consensus was a resounding YES. But a few times I received the feedback of “show, don’t tell”. I scratched my head a bit on this and found it to be the most challenging aspect of writing. I needed to figure out how to convey a scene without just merely putting words on a piece of paper, but doing so in a way that allowed the reader to form a mental picture of what was happening.

So I got to work on making some edits. Before editing, I had written:

We hit the bridge, Seth making some wild hand gestures I didn’t understand.

After ruminating over the suggestion; my one liner morphed into this:

The entrance of the bridge loomed before us like a gaping mouth. Seth’s hands began moving in rapid succession like he was having a Tourette’s attack in sign language. With eyes so intensely focused on the group, his hands moved like he was cranking a handle. This was answered with a thumbs-up from the men. So, I followed suit, deducing this must be him asking if we were ready to move. 

He shimmied up about ten feet and pancaked himself behind a minivan, looked around and patted his head. He pointed at Sanchez and brought his thumb to his eye like he was looking through a spyglass. The group, myself included just following the leader again, moved up to Seth and stopped. Only Sanchez continued past him, crouched low and weapon at the ready. 

Seeing my obvious confusion, Seth then tugged his ear, patted his forearm, made a finger-twirling motion, and followed it up by sticking his finger up his nose. I was totally lost; I could almost feel the question mark bouncing over my head. Every man in uniform had a shit-eating grin on their face, attempting to maintain composure and not laugh. Mouth agape, I snapped my head back to Seth with the realization that he was completely messing with me. He stood there, hands on hips, and chest puffed out in pride at his little practical joke. I won’t lie. It was damn funny. Completely the wrong time, but a well needed tension breaker.

The second version paints a much more vivid image for the reader. Showing something to a reader instead of just spitting out words engages the reader’s imagination. A writer may have a clear picture in their mind as they write, but often times it may fall flat with the assumption that a reader will know what’s in your head. Not the case. 

Having multiple eyes on your work along the way will help writers hone their story to something that leaves a reader with less questions and makes for a more well-rounded story.

I learned (very quickly) that friends and family do not make good beta readers. No matter how much you tell them to give it to you straight, they won’t. The have an intimate connection with you as a person and have difficulty being impartial. This translates into you just having your ego bolstered and, in the long run, will only hurt the quality of your work but also the end result: a successful piece of fiction that readers will love and relate to.

Spread the Plague. Read Time of Death: Induction

See you on the other side!



For more information on TIME OF DEATH and Shana Festa, see:

The Bookie Monster Facebook:

And finally, the TIME OF DEATH Release Party on Facebook, at which she'll give away prizes of hundreds of books (including Undead America)!!!!! 

May 30, 2014

Two Sentence Horror Shorts

There've been a couple of posts making the rounds lately, featuring two-sentence horror stories that are super-creepy.  Here's BuzzFeed's version.

Of course I see this as a challenge, and had to come up with a couple myself. Just for fun and giggles.

What do you think?


Have you ever bitten off a hang nail and swallowed it whole, letting your body re-consume the cells that once belonged to it. That's what this virus does - it consumes your body, from the inside out - and I'm sorry to say your test came back positive.


"Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear," or so the saying goes. Which sucks, since the gnarly hand on the passenger seat headrest, the hand holding the knife, already looks pretty damn close in the rearview mirror.


Hope you enjoyed!

May 28, 2014

I have a sad

You guys. I know you think I'm, like, this bad-ass zombie writer (you do, right?), but the truth is this: I'm a mush. I cry all too easily, and seeing things scared or injured really breaks my heart.

Today while I was running a little squirrel caught my eye. He was near a tree, on the ground. Ordinarily this isn't a thing of note - squirrels are prolific around here, to say the least. But normally, as soon as they see me, they scamper off into the trees.

Not this one, though.

He was hurt, probably bumped by a car or beat up by a hawk. There was no obvious blood on him, but his front foot didn't seem to work. He tried to get away from me, moving himself along the ground by pushing with his back feet, moving in an uncoordinated semi-circle. His eyes were huge and round and black and shining. They were terrified. I don't care what anyone says; animals have feelings, and this little guy was hurting and frightened.

I wanted so badly to help, but my hands were tied. I have no car (our Jeep is still in the shop, where it's been for almost two weeks now). I was a mile from my house. I could have run home to get a bucket or something to carry him with me, but what then?

I called my vet - they could only euthanize him.

It was obvious he wasn't going to make it - he couldn't get into a tree, and when he turned his back to me, I finally saw blood, oozing slowly from his back end. His injuries were apparently internal, then, and I lost hope.

I wanted to stay with him until the end, but every time I tried to check on him, he tried to move away. I inspired more fear than comfort. It was awful.

In the end, I left him there, beneath the tree, to die alone, in peace.

Had Charles been there, he'd have ended things in a quick and humane way for the little guy, but I couldn't even bring myself to do that. I know it would have been the merciful thing to do...but in the end I let him suffer longer, in a quiet, circle-of-life sort of way.

I feel like a bad person right now. I let him suffer. It sucks.


I don't want to spend my day thinking about the little squirrel. Poor little fella. He's breaking my heart, even now. I'm fairly certain he's already dead, and will be food for the dozens of vultures circling overhead this morning. But still. I have a big sad.


Can you help me out? Can you send me happy thoughts? I'd love to hear them. Happy memories, nice things going on in  your life, anything positive you want to share. Pretty please? I could use some cheering up. You can leave comments here or you can tweet them at me or Facebook them to me. Whatever. I just want to think about something happy.

May 13, 2014

The New Black: An Anthology

Good morning, and happiest of happy book birthdays to my friend and colleague, Richard Thomas, on the release of The New Black, a short story anthology he edited and released through Dark House Press!!

You guys. I'm really excited about this book. I've had an advance copy on my Kindle for a while now, and it's....amazing. So good. Chock full of writers I admire, some of whom I'm lucky enough to know. The stories all fall under the loose category of "neo noir," or, "new black." They're dark. They're heady. They're they kind of stories that will reach inside, yank out your heart like Mola-Ram, and then they'll stomp all over it.

They're that good. 

Noir heavyweights like Stephen Graham Jones and Craig Clevenger grace the pages of The New Black. So do newcomers like Rebecca Jones-Howe, whose writing is so damn fresh and enticing and heartbreaking you'll regret reading her....for ten minutes, before you come back for more. If you want to hear more about each of the authors included in the anthology, read Richard Thomas's intro: he's grown to know all his writers. He admires and respects them, and he's not afraid to tell you why. 

That's the kind of editor Thomas is. 

I'm still reading my way through this anthology. I have to take my time with it. I have to take breaks, to come up for air. I have to come back into the light from time to time.

Thomas does a fabulous job arranging the stories so each has its moment to shine, framed by other tales so different and yet so intrinsically alike it's hard to imagine one without the other.  It's the kind of anthology that begs to be enjoyed, to be read with a glass of dark red wine and a bit of quiet jazz in the background. Or maybe, for some stories, you'll want to switch to 80s punk, or the theme music to Halloween. 

It's that kind of anthology. You don't want to read it all in one sitting. You want these stories to stick with you for as long as possible. You want to hope, for as long as possible, that everything will come out okay in the end.

But I'll give you a hint: the anthology isn't called The New Black for no reason. Most of the time, things won't turn out okay in the end.

Perhaps the Forward by award-winning writer Laird Barron says it best: "Rules are out the window, the physics of morality, ethics, and fair play smashed to powder and in the wind. Reality is on a permanent vacation. The universe is more about guidelines in sand, passwords that are randomly overwritten, splinter cells and half-enunciated shibboleths." 

That's the kind of book this is.

May 9, 2014

Getting LOUD on Censorship and Discrimination in SC

My adopted state of South Carolina has hit national news twice this week. Both times, at the heart of the discussion we find the same ugly, infuriating issue: blatant, unmitigated homophobia, and the use of that homophobia to make choices that effect everyone in this state.

Really? This is happening here? I thought...well....ugh.

You see, last year I hit a point where I felt like a broken record: I was all "support marriage equality" this and "end discrimination against same sex couples" that. While my views didn't change (and, let's face it...they're CORRECT), I hit a wall. I needed to take a step back. I felt like I was preaching to the choir, and I was tired. No one was listening anyway, right?

Ugh. Bad Leah.

I took a break. I've been writing about less controversial topics, hiding my head in the sand, and hoping things would...just get better.

Guess what. They didn't get better. Silence is no longer an option. 

Now it's time to get LOUD.


Because people! I love this state! I love living here! I love the natural beauty that surrounds me. I love the rivers and the beaches and even swamps and alligators.

I love the opportunities this state has provided me. I love that I found my husband, and in turn, his family, after moving here. I love writing for the BEST newspaper in the region. I love the relationships I've forged with friends and colleagues in this city I call home.

I LOVE living here.

But this shit? This holier-than-thou one-way-under-a-judgmental-god I'm-better-than-you-because-I-was-born-straight garbage has got to STOP.

Because in this state we have local politicians firing a hardworking town sherif because (allegedly, though the case seems pretty clear-cut) she's a lesbian.

In this state we have state politicians cutting funding to PUBLIC universities because they assign books with LGBT themes as summer reading for incoming freshman.

In this state, we have local figures who stand in the middle of a country forged on EQUALITY who say: No. You can't have these books. No. You can't have this job. You're different, and therefore, you're wrong. 

It makes me want to puke.

So what can we do?

Well, in the first place, there is a silver lining, small though it may be. Most writers I know would actually love to have a book of theirs hit national headlines for being censored. Because do you know what happens when a book gets censored? PEOPLE BUY IT! They buy it to see what's so titillating. They buy it to see what all the fuss is about. But mostly, they buy it because they CAN! Because this is a free country and censorship has no place here!

So help me out, ok? 

Buy the books that caused all the ruckus! Buy one! Buy both! Show these authors you care. You SUPPORT.

College of Charleston's issue was with FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel. You can buy FUN HOME from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or at your favorite local bookstore.

The University of South Carolina had a problem with OUT LOUD: THE BEST OF RAINBOW RADIO by Ed Madden and Candace Chellew-Hodge. You can buy OUT LOUD from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or at your favorite local bookstore.

What else can you do? Because this isn't just about the writers and their books. This is also about a sherif who's lost her job, and about a state-run effort to silence those who would speak out against them.

Well, for one, you can stop being silent. That's the hard part. That's where I struggle. 

You can call your congressmen and tell them you won't stand for this kind of censorship or harassment. You can call the mayor of the town of Latta, South Carolina, and let him know you won't stand for his homophobic actions. 

And you can take a stand against everyday discrimination, too. If you hear someone spouting vitriol, don't do what I've too often done in the past. Don't just hang your head and walk away. SAY SOMETHING. STAND UP FOR WHAT'S RIGHT. MAKE A CHOICE TO HAVE YOUR VOICE HEARD.

It's easy to be quiet. It's easy to walk away. Trust me. I know.

But now it's time to GET LOUD AND FIX THINGS HERE IN SOUTH CAROLINA! Are you with me???

May 7, 2014

Kids' games and books and stuffs....

People ask me about what books I recommend all the time...which baffles me because I don't know any more about books than anyone else. But it's fun to talk books, so I try to answer as best as I can.

That said, stay tuned for a few good, classic kid recommendations at the end. But first....let's talk about kids, and their imaginations.


For the past week or so, Zoe's been coming home from school with some truly harrowing tales. You see, she and her buddy, Patrick, have been going through some stuff. They've been enduring. They've been fighting to SURVIVE.

(Her words. Not mine.)

This is not a game, mind you. They are truly battling against evil agents for the Overlord of the Underworld.

Every day during recess, she and Patrick get together and solve riddles (most of which involve writing small poems...that RHYME!), find secret tunnels and a magical root (??), and work to stop the bad guys from KILLING ALL THE THINGS!

I love listening to her stories. They're hilarious. Sometimes their other buddy Sammy is a good guy; other times, he's bad. They all get tummy aches when the bad guys are nearby, trying to steal their super-powers (Zoe has the power of wind...but that's a secret. Don't tell her I told you.).

Apparently all the kids' dads are the bad guys, including Charles. Charles is...remarkably ok with this (surprise, surprise!).

Last night Zoe and I went for a walk around the block, and she was all caught up in telling me about the game (of course, in her mind it's not a game but is REAL and SCARY). She had a constant stream of chatter going for the entirety of our walk. It went something like this:

Wait. Mom, wait. Oh no. The bad guys are at it again. I can feel it. Something is very wrong.

Wait. Mom. Oh no. I have to leap over this grass, and land on that metal thing, in order stop them. Wait, here I go. Ok, phew. I stopped them.

Wait. Mom. Oh no. See this footprint in the sidewalk? This was made by my dad, a hundred years ago when the street was made (!!). It's a clue. It means...oh no. It means we're all...going to....DIE.

Wait. Mom, wait. Oh no. I solved the riddle. The kids above are going to break, if this stick you do not take. Oh no. I need to tell Patrick. RIGHT NOW.

Wait. Mom. Oh no. I think Sammy's a bad guy. But Patrick! He's here! And here's Maya too! They're here to help! 

This went on and on and on, accompanied by dramatic gestures, and leaping and climbing and hopping.

Best. Walk. Ever.

I love how kids commit to a story. I love their imaginations, their ideas. The absolute abandon with which they give themselves over to a world of their creation. 

As a writer, if ever I decide to really write some kids' stories, I hope to write like that. With utter abandon and commitment. In the meantime, I'll enjoy Zoe's tales, and be inspired by them.


But books. I promised you books. These are of the middle grade/kids' book variety. One of my very favorite things about life right now is that Zoe's reading non-stop (especially at night). She's found all kinds of books, and I'm going to keep introducing her to some of my favorites as well. Here are a few of my enduring loves:

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume: Zoe started this classic last night, and already she's telling me all about baby turtles, and fish, and Fudge, and what a troublemaker he is. I think this weekend, if I have some free time, I'm going to try to read it. The nostalgia brought on just by hearing all the names was intense; re-reading it should be a trip. But she's in love already, and so am I.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsberg: This was one of my FAVORITES as a kid, and I ordered it for Zoe today. It's about a couple of kids who run away from their suburban home to hide out for a few days in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since that was one of Zoe's favorite places we saw in NYC last month, I have a feeling she'll love this book as well.

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell: Another childhood favorite of mine, and another one I just ordered today. I don't remember much about it, but there are worms, and mud, and all kinds of hijinks. I think Zoe will love it. I know I did. 


There. I think that covers it for today. I hope you have a GREAT hump day, and I'll talk to you soon!! 

May 2, 2014

The Writer's Voice BlogFest

Good morning, friends! Happy Friday!

I'm kind of excited this morning - and nervous. I'm taking part in a bit of a BlogFest, hosted by some amazing writers.  Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, Kimberly P. Chase, and Elizabeth Briggs are each scouring the blogs of 150 different writers, looking to make "teams" to showcase on their own blogs.

This means I'm about to do something I've never done here on my blog: I'm about to post an unpublished bit of my work, for EVERYONE to see!!! RUN AWAY!!'re about to see one of the two novels I've been working on for the past two years, whenever I'm not writing about zombies or doing my freelance thing. This is my science fiction novel, and you're going to get to see my pitch (i.e. what I'd send to an agent or publisher when trying to get them to read my book) as well as the first 250 words of the novel itself.

This makes me terribly nervous. It's funny - I'll share just about anything, writing-wise, with strangers. I have no fear about sending my stuff out to agents and editors. But sharing with you, my friends, my family, my readers, pretty much makes me want to pass know that this is actually kind of a big step for me.

So. Without further ado. Here's THE BEAUTY THAT REMAINS.



Laidy is growing weary. Her world has been ripped apart by war. Her husband left years ago to fight among the stars, and her city crumbles beneath an endless storm of falling bombs.

As a City Elder, it’s up to Laidy to keep the women and children around her safe, but her job grows ever more difficult when the government tightens its grip on its surviving citizens. Fencing streets with razor-wire and hanging innocent women in newly-constructed gallows, the government wants to make a point: there's no escape during wartime. There is only survival, from one air raid to the next, a bleak existence amid the devastation.

Desperate to save her family – headstrong, adventure-seeking Elani, and Kiel, who’s a year shy of mandatory military service - Laidy flees with her children and her closest friends to the barren desert Outlands. There she finds only death. Despair. Trapped in the battle between her government and the planet’s mind-controlling native creatures, Laidy is forced to choose a side on which to fight. If she doesn’t, the planet of her birth will become a tomb – not just for Laidy, but for the women and children she loves.

THE BEAUTY THAT REMAINS is a story of survival and perseverance, of finding hope and love in unexpected places, inspired by the tales of mothers who fought to save their children during the London Blitz and the Holocaust of World War II. It's science fiction, with a distinct women's slant - a little bit of love, and a whole lot of powerful women, taking care of one another through thick and thin. The manuscript is complete at 98,000 words.



When the air raid siren unleashed its wail in the cool of the pre-dawn hour, Laidy’s first impulse was to bury her head in the rocky Outland soil like a ring-tailed desert skink. Ignoring the cries of a diving hawk, however, was never an effective strategy for the skink. Neither was ignoring the war for the women of Taremu. It always found them in the end. Laidy glanced over her shoulder at the city, its sleepy shadow broken in the darkness.

Maybe it’s a mistake.

By the light of the full twin moons, Laidy scanned her list and found most of the items unchecked. Her basket was light, almost empty. She looked back again. The sirens howled, but so far no bombs were falling. She took a few steps further into the darkness.

This was Laidy’s time to forage, when the harsh desert heat stood tempered by soft breezes, and the city’s constant hum lay silent. This was the place where Laidy found the roots and herbs to augment the meager supplies provided by the government.  Yet here, outside the city, was forbidden territory.

Surely the sirens are wrong tonight.

As if on cue, punishing Laidy for a lone, hopeful thought, a flash burst across the sky, illuminating the Taremu skyline. Followed by a low rumble and a quaking of the ground, the flash quickly darkened. But the first bomb of the day had fallen, and it was close.

Her children, Elani and Kiel, would be waiting at the house.