How to Escape a Vampire Assassin: A few survival tips for Halloween from guest-blogger Samantha Warren

Please join me in welcoming my first guest-blogger, the lovely fantasy and sci-fi author Samantha Warren. Today, Samantha’s character Jane is offering us a few survival tips in case we ever find ourselves face-to-face with a vampire assassin. (Hey, it’s Halloween; anything can happen.)

So, I hope everyone has a great day stuffing themselves with candy corn and other assorted goodies. Happy Halloween! (Or, if you walk the Wiccan way, blessed Samhain.) The surprisingly chilly last few days, complete with sleet on Friday, have pretty much dampened the last blast of fall color that remained on the leaves, but those cold, rainy days are perfect for dreaming up mystery, I suppose…

And now, I’m handing the blog over to Samantha’s leading lady, Jane.

***

Hi folks! I’m Jane, your resident vampire assassin, here to give you a few tips for surviving the Halloween season. Ah, Halloween. The time of year when you carve pumpkins, eat way too much candy (or is that Christmas?), and dress up like scary movie villains. Ghouls, goblins, werewolves, and blood-sucking vampires are all popular choices. Luckily for you, it’s unlikely you’ll ever really be mistaken for one of those creatures and hunted by someone like me. But what do you do if you draw the ire of a vampire? Well, if I’m the one hunting you, you may as well give up. I always get my man (or woman, or big bad evil thing). The tips below should help you escape the clutches of the lesser assassins of the vampire ilk and allow you to wreak havoc on the world for another day. If you’re a werewolf or other baddie, please look away now. Save us both some trouble and head to the nearest church to turn yourself in.

Separate the myth from the truth.

There are numerous vampire myths out there that have been perpetuated by one Mr. Bram Stoker. Why would he do such a thing? Well, he was a vampire himself. It was in his best interest to mislead the masses about what could and couldn’t hurt a vampire. I’ll address a few of the more popular misconceptions.

Garlic: While I would love to let you all run around wearing garlic necklaces like they’re the next fashion, I have to dissuade you from doing something so ridiculous. It will just make you look silly and smell horrible. Garlic does nothing but add flavor, and if you don’t want to be sucked on, don’t make yourself more tasty.

Crosses: Another falsehood. A large portion of the vampire population actually works for the church in some form. Many of them can even be found on the pulpit. If you’re being hunted by a vampire assassin, there’s a good chance it’s because a church elder hired one. Yeah, a cross isn’t going to help you there.

Holy Water: See above.

Silver: *looks at silver rings* Nope. Not effective. It does work against a werewolf if you can get it in their bloodstream or under their skin. I always keep some handy.

Running Water: Vampires like a good shower as much as anyone. Getting one wet will do little aside from make them madder. I advise against making a vampire angry if they’re already hunting you.

Wooden Stakes: Stakes are great, and not just for vampires. They hurt like the dickens and will take out almost anyone if used properly. The biggest problem is keeping the stake in the heart long enough to cause serious damage and blood loss.

Fire: Like stakes, fire is fantastic for defending against anything but a fire faery. Fire hurts, but, more importantly, fire destroys. Once you’ve got your vampire attacker staked, pull out some gasoline and a match and set that baby aflame.

Sunlight: Yes, we are allergic to sunlight, but it has to be direct sunlight. And we don’t fall asleep once it rises. Full vampires will develop a nasty sunburn within moments of direct exposure and if forced to stay in the sun too long, blisters will form and expand, our skin will smoke, and eventually we become a raw mass of roasted flesh. It’s really disgusting and a very cruel thing to do to even your worst enemy.

Decapitation: Along with stakes and fire, decapitation works on almost anyone or anything. Very few beings have the ability to regrow the loss of something so important as their head.

Coffee: Mmm… coffee… Coffee is a drug to vampires. We love it. The stronger, the better. Almost all of us drink coffee. But we have to drink it very slowly and in small amounts, or it can incapacitate us. No venti quadruple-shot lattes for us. Once we’re incapacitated, any of the other methods will be a lot easier to apply and that will be the end of the line. It is also possible to take down a vampire by dousing them in the stuff, but it requires a lot more of it and if you don’t do it quickly, you’ll just have an irate killer on your hands.

So there you have it. Some of the myths are just that—myths. But there is truth buried in the lies, as always. Now I’ll give you the No. 1 foolproof way to avoid being taken out by a vampire assassin:

Don’t be a bad guy.

Simple, right? And surprisingly easy. Be a decent person and you won’t have to worry about me breathing down your neck at any point. But if you decide to try to take over the world, know this: I will find you, and I will destroy you.

Have a lovely day!

***

Want to know more about how I became a vampire assassin? The first book in my aptly-titled memoir series is free everywhere, and books 2-4 are 1/2 price on Kindle. I’m working on book 5 (Til Death) right now and it should be out in December, so keep your eyes peeled!

Vampire Assassin (Available on Amazon.)
Jane (Books 2-4) (Available on Amazon.)

Samantha Warren is a fantasy and science-fiction author who spends her days immersed in dragons, spaceships, and vampires. With her pet dragon, Anethesis, she ventured to the ends of the universe, but the cost of space travel cut into her sock fetish fund, so she sold her ship and returned home. When she isn’t writing, she’s milking cows or trying to feed them Pop-Tarts. She spends a lot of time in her weed patch (aka: garden), watching any show featuring Gordon Ramsay, or posting random things on her blog.

Big Decisions: Sitting out a dance

pretty in pink photo from www.sxc.hu.When I was twenty, a journalism professor gave me some of the best career advice I’ve ever received: “You’re the belle of the ball. Dance with everyone.” He meant, “If an opportunity comes up, you take it.” When it comes to your job, take every opportunity you’re given.

And I have. And you know what? It’s served me well in the years since then. So well, in fact, that (*knock wood*) I’m finally in a position I never thought I’d be in. The position to say, “No, I’m gonna sit this one out.” I never thought that day would arrive.

For the time being, I’m putting my teaching career on hold. (For those of you who don’t know, I have taught an advanced PR writing course at a university for the last few years.) I finally told the department yesterday that I wouldn’t be teaching in the spring. This decision has been weighing on me for a while now. I’m making serious progress in my fiction writing career. I’m finding my voice as a blogger, my footing as a social-media user, and revising a few manuscripts to query. I have a plan, specific goals, and a path. And I’m really, really freakin’ happy about it.

ballet dancerBut I had arrived at the point where I was dancing the tarantella instead of waltzing. And long-term tarantella is bad on the body, the mind, and the soul. My brain was turning to mush, which was killing my creativity and taking a toll on my health.

That’s not to say I’ll never teach again. I’m fairly certain that I will, because I consider teaching to be a very fulfilling vocation. Saying no to teaching—even temporarily—was a difficult choice. It’s a short-term sacrifice for a lifelong dream and long-term goal: pursuing my writing career. But there will be other dances.

I can’t help but feel that I’m setting out on a new path, starting a new chapter in my career. New chapters are scary, but also exciting. And I’m excited to see what words I will pen—and oh, yes, the places I will go.

Thanks to all my blogging buddies, Twitter peeps, and Team WANA1011 for sharing your writing experiences, thus helping me screw my courage to the sticking place and make this decision. Y’all rock! 🙂 (And yes, I went from Seuss to Shakespeare in under 10 seconds. Is that a record?)

Have you ever reached such a turning point in your career? What big decisions have you made in order to follow your dreams?

4 for Fall: 4 random things to rock your autumn season

1.)    Caramel Apples: They rot your teeth and stick to the roof of your mouth. Nothing says fall decadence like goo-covered apples on sticks. I haven’t made caramel apples in ages, so I decided to try my hand at making them earlier this week. They tasted yummy, even if most of the caramel ran off. I think I’ll need to purchase a candy thermometer before my next attempt. Still, I love caramel apples. They remind me of being a kid. Do you have a yummy fall snack that does that for you?

2.)    Pumpkin Stencils with Heart: Why draw your own crude triangle eyes and jagged teeth on a pumpkin when you could support a good cause? Better Homes & Gardens offers these printable stencils on its website. For each download, BHG will donate $2 (up to $5,000 per stencil) to various charities, including March of Dimes, the Humane Society of the United States, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Check them out below (I’m thinking of going with the butterfly…):

pumpkin stencils for a cause--bhg.com

Photo from bhg.com. See link above for more details.

3.)    Running with Zombies: My hubby came home one day last week buzzing about this new iPhone/Android app called Zombies, Run. Some brave soul and techno-genius came up with the idea to combine exercise goals with zombie-apocalypse survival skills. The app doesn’t hit the streets until early 2012, but hey, we might as well start practicing now, right? 😉

4.)    Tea: And to think, I almost made it through an entire post about fall without mentioning tea. No such luck, I’m afraid. Twinings Teas has a few good offerings for those chilly autumn nights. Though English Breakfast Tea will always hold a special place in my heart—it’s my Monday-morning pick-me-up slash coffee substitute—they’re now offering Citrus and Cinnamon Spice Tea that’s 100 percent organic and fair-trade certified. Sounds yummy; I’m adding it to my shopping cart!

And no, I’m not being paid to advertise or endorse any of these products. I just thought I’d spread the word. Have any yummy new products or recipes for fall that you’d like to share?

What I’ve learned from love: How to build a writing life—and a life, period.

In 2009, I lost my grandfather to pancreatic cancer. It was a short battle. He was diagnosed a few weeks before my wedding; he died two months later.

In the way he lived his life, he taught me how to love, how to be a good person, how to lead a good life. He wasn’t wealthy or famous. He’d worked in a coal mine, fought and was wounded in WWII, and worked in maintenance at my future alma mater.

But the day of his memorial service, the funeral home was packed with people. Some hadn’t seen him in thirty years, but they remembered when he’d helped them rebuild their house after the flood; they remembered the kind of man he was. He wasn’t perfect, but he was generous, and he had a strength of spirit, a contagious warmth and happiness, and a sense of pride that came from everyday, simple things. No one was ever prouder of their family than he was; no one ever loved deeper than he did.

In life, it’s easy to get caught up in the game. We want to be published writers, achieve some measure of financial success, or save up for a rainy day or our golden years. And those are all important things. But they can’t be end goals.

A year ago, I first started seriously researching my path as a writer. I found out about the indie writer scene via writers like Kait Nolan. I joined Virginia Romance Writers, where I met writers like Shara Lanel and Nara Malone, who taught me about small epubs and the world of digital publishing. I learned about POD, which allows smaller publishers to offer print versions of books without having to do large press runs. I bought a Kindle and got hooked on the digital book scene. I learned more about how the publishing industry works and what I should expect.

What I’ve learned from my family is that work is important, but it’s only one part of our lives. We have to choose the writing path that works for us as individuals, one that allows us to meet our personal and professional goals. I’ve put in some long, hard hours of introspection. I’m still finding my path, and I know that my journey will be full of changes and surprises I didn’t anticipate.

Whether my book sells a hundred copies or a million, my grandfather would’ve been equally proud. I know my husband will rejoice for me the day I sell my first book, but my worth in his eyes and in that of my friends’ and family’s is not based on my rank in sales.

Author Michelle Davidson Argyle wrote in a blog post entitled “Publishing is Like a Hot Love Affair”:

In the end it all depends on what you want as an author. Don’t kid yourself thinking there’s only one way to publish or that any path is easier than another. And don’t jump into that hot love affair with your eyes closed. It’s a wild ride and one that could end really ugly if you don’t research, gain a great amount of patience, and work hard every single day. Luck only happens to those who put themselves in its path.

Art matters. Writing matters. Craft matters. But we write about life. That’s why having options as writers is so important. Whether you go Big Six, small press, indie, or a combination thereof, your path will be the one that you feel is right for you.

It’s not about doing what’s the easiest or hardest, what’s most ambitious or most comfortable. Your writing goals have to align with your personal goals. If the rebel in you screams indie and you believe you can pull it off, go for it. If you say it’s Big Six or bust, pursue it. We have to be true to ourselves and our values. We have to know what’s truly important to us or else risk getting caught up in the rat race and losing ourselves.

Accessed at stock xchng.Springsteen was born to run; I was born to write. But I live for late-night laugh fests with my best friends, for Saturday morning family breakfasts, for kisses and stargazing, and for the tiny moments that bring me happiness or deeper awareness. My stories and publishing journey will always incorporate those things.

And what about you? What’s your path? How does it align with your personal goals? What guides your footsteps on your writing journey? And how have the ones you love inspired you?

The trouble with being a perfectionist

Are you a writer-perfectionist? Here are some ways that I knew I was:

  • I had to ask one of my bridesmaids for a pen five minutes before I walked down the aisle because two sentences in my wedding vows were “redundant.”
  • I once copyedited the text on a napkin. That’s right, a napkin. (I resisted the urge to tell the waitress, “Do you know there’s a typo on your napkins?” But just barely.)
  • I develop facial tics when I find errors or formatting inconsistencies in my work post-publication.
  • I have trouble letting go of work because it’s not as good as it can be. Nothing is ever “done.”

It’s almost a joke that, when asked by an interviewer what we consider to be our greatest weakness, many of us respond, “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” That’s usually followed by a laugh and a look from the prospective boss that says, “No, seriously.”

We often equate being a perfectionist with being a hard worker and having high standards. Neither of the latter two is a bad thing. Making a career as a writer, deciding that, in fact, this isn’t a hobby but a genuine and feasible vocation, is hard work. It’s not for the faint of heart. And readers, editors, and agents will have high expectations for our work, so we need to hold ourselves to those same standards.

But sometimes perfectionism is an excuse. We keep piddling with a work revising and revising and revising, until our brains seem to be made of Jell-O or we feel like a dog chasing its tail. We don’t query agents, submit to editors, or even send work to beta readers or critique partners because the WIP isn’t the best it can be. Or maybe we do share it with our trusted critiquers, but hold off on sharing it with the larger world. Is it really perfectionism that’s holding us back? Or is being a perfectionist really a stand-in for fear: fear of success, of failure, of being judge?

WARNING: Unnecessary, crazy-making perfectionism can lead to hair-pulling, premature wrinkles, and a general sense of angst.

Here are two scenarios in which perfectionism stood in the way:

One of my friends is working on her thesis. She spent years working on it before finally sharing it with her thesis committee, holding off until the very last minute. Why? Because when she writes something, she wants it to be perfect. I urged her to just write a crappy first draft and then revise, but every page she wrote, she revised as she went. It took her longer to write this way, in my opinion, because she constantly had to switch roles from writer to editor, back and forth. Being a perfectionist meant she took the long route.

I was once charged with writing an article about our university’s role in the wine industry. A lot of higher ups were very excited about the article and had high expectations. I’d written for a few issues of the magazine, but this was the biggest project I’d worked on to date. Deadline arrived and I had a ton of quotes and background research, but no finished product. I was frozen, paralyzed by the thought of disappointing readers and my bosses. Finally, a friend told me, “I think if you settled for what you consider to be mediocre, your standards would still be five times higher than most people’s.” Huh. Her words allowed me to let go of expectations and just write. And you know what? To this day, I’m proud of that article and consider it one of my best. I gave myself creative freedom and wrote a strong, engaging article. My department VP even gave a rave review—and he’s not someone who doles out compliments easily.

Perfectionism can be the mask worn by plenty of other creatures. It can really be self-doubt, or it can be that we’re not sure how to proceed. We allow ourselves to get lost muddling through details because the big picture or the next step overwhelms us. In short, perfectionism can be procrastination. And procrastination can be fear in disguise because, let’s face it, it’s easier to admit that we’re lazy than it is to admit that we’re scared.

Overachievers will always be overachievers. And there’s nothing wrong with high standards–as long as they don’t prevent us from writing, finishing a manuscript, sending it to agents/editors, or even posting on our blogs. Not even the best book is “perfect.” A book can be riveting, suspenseful, well-crafted, engaging, provocative, excellent–an all-around great read–but it can never be perfect.

Somewhere inside of us lurks a a perfectionism beast. If it escapes from its cage, it can slow us down or, even worse, derail us. I’m starting to learn that if left untamed, this creature can, at the very least, be a one-way ticket premature wrinkles and stomach ulcers.

How do you confront your inner perfectionist?

And the winner of the Autumn Reads contest is…

Congrats to Cgirl for winning my Autumn Reads contest. Yay!

Thanks to everyone who submitted to the contest or shared word about it. Here are a few new books I’ve added to my reading list for chilly, blustery autumn nights:

  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Washington Irving; Kindle users can download a free copy to their device.)
  • The Witching Hour (Anne Rice)
  • Scary Stories Treasury (Alvin Schwarz)
  • Christina’s Ghost (Betty Ren Wright)
  • The Dollhouse Murders (Betty Ren Wright)
  • Sister Light, Sister Dark (Jane Yolen)

Yet another confession from a lifelong paranormal junkie: I used to be a vampire slayer.

This is how much of a dork I am: When my brother, cousin, and I were younger (I’d so, oh, about ages 10-11), we started our own vampire-slaying business.

Buffy

Okay, so I was no Buffy...

The trouble had started long before then. It started as an innocent interest in fireside ghost stories and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and progressed to an addiction to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books. In the years to come, I’d discover his Fear Street series and the works of L.J. Smith, and my obsession would be solidified for life. But once my brother and I started buying up books about vampires, zombies, and other bump-in-the-night phantasms and creatures, we knew that there was only one solution. Vampires couldn’t just roam the streets of our town, preying on unsuspecting old ladies who mistook them for encyclopedia salesmen or on giggling teenagers completely unaware of the dangers that lurked in the dark recesses of the high school gymnasium. Did I mention we were Buffy fans? (The movie, that is. My addiction to Joss Whedon’s works for television came later.)

And so Vampires Inc. was born. Armed with freshly gathered stakes, cloves of garlic, and jars of “holy water,” we were at your service, ready to meet any and all of your vampire-slaying needs. We even wrote a manifesto including tips for how to protect oneself against the pale-skinned, smooth-talking undead. (In my defense, we didn’t have cable, and this was in the days before Internet. We had to do something to keep ourselves entertained.)

Eventually, our mother made us take down the “vampires not invited” sign from the front door, our dog chewed up all of our stakes, and we moved on to less lofty endeavors. But I can’t help but think that somehow, it’s all my brother and cousin’s fault that I became an incurable geek with an insatiable interest in the strange and unusual. Thanks, guys.

Are you a writer or fan of the paranormal or fantastic? When did this interest take hold for you? Please share your story below.

Side note: Free stuff! Something about autumn makes me feel generous. Must be all the candied apples. 🙂 I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card. Click here to enter. And my crit partner Kathleen Foucart is offering two chances to win a free first-chapter critique. Click here to find out how to enter.