On writing my first novel

October 27, 2016

We return to Costa Rica in less than two weeks! Once I get home, work on novel number two goes into high gear. This is a thriller set in the little village I live in near Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. The seed was planted in my head by David Morrell (yes, THE David Morrell). He asked what I do in Costa Rica and then asked “have you ever written about that?” He suggested a protagonist, and we brainstormed details that would add pizzazz to the story. After our chat I couldn’t wait to get going on it, and have already got an outline, and a title…LOW SEASON. Of course, things may change. (and it has…the book is now called BENEATH PARADISE).

As I embark on writing this second novel, I’m looking back on how I wrote my first one. My ‘system’ is still evolving, for sure. Here is what I did–

1. OUTLINE: A scene by scene outline, with plot points that needed to be in the scene to move the story forward. My outline was more like a ‘beat sheet’, with all the essential scenes in point form, and I added to it as I went along. I didn’t start writing the book until I had the ending decided.

A note about the ending. I was stuck on what it would be. One of my writing mentors said “Think about how you want the reader to feel at the end of your book. Then, write an ending that makes them feel that.”

SO I thought and thought and thought. I wanted the reader to feel wonder, awe, shock, sadness…and possibly hold their breath, maybe gasp. An image struck me while I sipped my rum drink in my hammock, and I promptly bubbled with elation and then burst into tears. I had it. The perfect ending.

2. BUTT TO CHAIR: Yup. I am one of those who isn’t a strong believer in writer’s block as such…unless you define writer’s block as life intruding on your writing time, procrastination, and just not sitting down and writing. So the second thing I did to get ‘er done was sit down every day and write. As I wrote I made notes about research I would need to do…later, after the writing was done. As I neared the end I was writing 6 – 8 hours a day. I nearly blinded myself, but I got the first draft done in under 4 months, so it was worth it!!!

I really do think it’s that simple. Sit down. Write.

3. SURPRISE: I had an outline, and I worked from it…some of the time. In my outline the death count was 2, maybe 3 people…I actually can’t remember. As I wrote I discovered new characters, people essential to the story who had been lurking in the shadows. I killed most of those.

The outline was totally essential for me, but the story has a life of its own, and needs. Those juicy surprises keep things fresh and fun. Discovering something, or someone, in the story and bringing it/them to life was one of the delights I found in the novel writing. Short stories offer some chances for surprising me as a writer, though usually it’s in a moment, an image, a revelation for the character or the reader. Not entire scenes where I get to send a character walking naked through the streets of Manhattan singing a fabulous opera ditty to the delight of onlookers so that he can put off going home and dismembering his children.

4. EDITING: This is the part I am still struggling with. How to be most efficient/effective at the editing phase. And so I will write a whole ‘nother post about this most important and most difficult (for me) process!!!

I loved every moment of spinning my first mega-yarn! Can’t wait to do it again!! LOW SEASON here I come.


Reviews and Recommended!

April 9, 2016

“Gramma Tells a Story”, in Black Static #49 has received some great reviews:


Given a hard act to follow, Erinn L. Kemper’s Gramma Tells a Story comes up next, with something sufficiently lighter in imagery to clear the gruesome flavour of Hargadon’s effort from your mouth. Here, a young woman called Nissi is spending some time living in a rented casita in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, the casita appears to be haunted at this time every year by the grandmother of the owner’s family. Fortunately, she’s friendly.

Opting to stay in the hut throughout, Nissi finds herself rapt in conversation with the wizened old ghost (whose phantasmal appearance is wonderfully realised in Kemper’s prose) as the tragic reasons behind her Costa Rican jaunt come to the fore – giving her the opportunity to make peace with what she left behind, her own mistakes included.

Gramma Tells a Story isn’t a frightening, nor even particularly unsettling, piece of work – it feels distinctly bereft of malevolence – but it hits hard on a human level. Kemper drip-feeds Nissi’s history and motivations as the story unfolds, building to an emotional gut-punch that is simultaneously tragic, upsetting and uplifting; an otherworldly revelation of undying love and forgiveness in even the worst of circumstances.”


(unable to copy here, but here is a taste) “I have not come across a passage as powerful about being a ghost among other ghosts as this one: “It’s a strange feeling being dead, a spirit roaming around, fueled by anger and vengeance. When they crawled up in me, joining their ghost flesh to mine, I was almost solid.” That will likely stay with me forever.


“Nissi is living in a little house in Costa Rica and is visited by the owner’s grandmother. Gramma tells Nissi her life story and helps her come to terms with hers. Poignant and touching.”


Being reviewed is a very new and interesting experience. I’ve also received two lovely notes regarding this story. One from a reader who said he wasn’t ashamed to admit the story brought a tear to his eye.

Thank you!


I am also thrilled that my story, “The Claim”, wh8ch appeared in A Darke Phantastique, edited by Jason V Brock, made the long list for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year Volume 7.

Here is the full recommended reading list:  http://ellendatlow.com/full-rec-list-best-horror-of-the-year-volume-seven-a-l/




Time flies…

December 20, 2015

untitled.pngStarting the New Year’s resolution early.

Thrilled that my story set in Costa Rica, “Gramma Tells a Story” is in issue #49 of Black Static Magazine.

This is particularly exciting for me because the first ever rejection letter I received was from Andy Cox at Black Static. A lovely and very encouraging letter…and two years later I’m in!

Other new news in writing: Chiral Mad 3 is coming early 2016, with my story, “A Flash of Red”, alongside an amazing TOC of writings including Stephen King, Gene O’ Neill, Ramsey Campbell, Jack Ketchum and Gary A. Braunbeck.

Also, 2016 will see a story of mine published in Cemetery Dance Magazine, and possibly some more fun surprises!

I’ve finished the second draft of my first novel, “The Patrons.” Can’t wait to get it polished up and out to my beta readers. It was so much fun to write!

And now for some pretty pictures…

Check out this fantastic art for Chiral Mad 3 and Black Static!

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November 22, 2014

FINAL_Cover_600_DARKE__75890.1405382115.380.500A Darke Phantastique is out! With new writing from Ray Bradbury, William F. Nolan, Greg Bear, Ray Garton, Dennis Etchison, Gary Braunbeck…so many favorites. Thrilled my short story “The Claim” is nestled in these gorgeous pages.

With stories coming in The Library of the Dead, Cemetery Dance Magazine, Our World of Horror and a still to be disclosed but super awesome magazine, 2015 is going to be a good one!

Both Kathy Ptacek and Eunice Magill sent these questions to me. I am late answering. Bad Girl.

1) What am I working on?



I am at the editing stage with a weird western and two dark fantasy stories. Getting them ready to send to beta readers. I’m working on a couple of stories, “Gummi Bears”, “The Experiment” and “The Sound Proof Room”. I’m also plotting the novelisation of my short story “Seed” that will be in Cemetery Dance Magazine later this year. But this is all being shoved aside for a novella about a weird underworld that I want to write for a particular market. I’m hoping it turns out well. I wrote another story for the same market, but it ended up at the 4,500 word mark…not nearly enough.




2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?


 I write stories that draw on my own fears, regrets, mistakes. I know a lot of writers do that, so that’s not different. I really like a lot of old-school horror/classic literature, and write more in that direction, rather than being experimental in structure or style. Also not different. The only thing I can think of that’s ‘different’ is my own perspective. I write about the things I care about, that concern me, anger me, freak me out. I try to come at them from a different perspective than my own. I don’t try to write like anyone. When people ask ‘who do you think your writing resembles?’ I don’t have an answer. I also try to push myself. No matter how weird an idea, I try it. In fact the weirder the better.



3) Why do I write what I do?


I write horror because it’s so personal, intense, emotional. Sometimes there a blend of some fantasy or scifi, just to mix it up, but ultimately I like to ransack the darkest corners of my brain, drag out the worst scenario lurking there and run with it. A lot of the stories end up sad more than scary. A couple are even funny. My goal is to write stories that resonate and entertain. If they are scary too…bonus! 


4) How does my writing process work?



I am trying to write a bit every day. 2 hours minimum. But it’s never enough. Writing time gets eaten up by managing submissions, editing. But my process can be summarized as:

  • I get an idea, either from a dream, a ‘what if’ scenario, a character or situation that tickles me, or some memory that tweaks, and then I want to write that more than anything, so other projects get pushed aside. I have a whole slew of stories near completion that have been relegated to the back burner because they weren’t as fascinating as the NEW IDEA. I pick those up again usually when I find some new angle that makes them too exciting to ignore anymore.
  • I don’t really outline too much. I write down a list of scenes that I feel the story needs. Really minimal. Sometimes I brainstorm ideas for the direction of a story. This often helps me step away from the ‘logical’ direction of a story into funky new territory. I go back and look at these lists of ideas and add things, circle things I like, transfer ‘keeper’ ideas over to new lists when things start looking messy. I usually have a final scene in mind, but that can change.
  • I try not to edit as I go. When I’m writing a scene, if I can’t figure out where to go with it, I call that scene done and move on. During the editing phase, when I look back, I usually realize that scene was done, cut the last sentence or two, and that’s that.
  • I try to wait a week (or two) before editing. That’s a tough one for me. I’m pretty excited about a story when it’s done and not ready to leave those characters. I often experience a mourning period where I can’t move on to a new story easily because I want to live with those characters a bit longer.
  • Then I edit edit edit…send to beta readers…edit a bit more. I read the stories out loud. I look at paragraphs, sentences, the page, the words.
  • Finally I agonize over the title. Sometimes it’s an easy choice…something with “The” like “The Claim” or “The Garden”, other times I have noooo idea.

So Many Updates…

May 25, 2014

It’s been quite a while since I posted. Things to catch up on:

1. New stories coming out.

2. By-line changes.

3. World Horror Convention 2014 in Portland, Oregon!

4. The Mary Shelley Scholarship from the HWA!!!


First: New Stories Coming Out

So far this year I have 3, maybe 4 stories that will be published.

The first is “The Claim”, which will appear in A Darke Phantastique from editor Jason V Brock and Cycatrix Press. I’m delighted to be included in this anthology. Many of my favorites are in here too: Gene O’Neill, Gary A. Braunbeck, Lucy Snyder, Ray Garton, William F. Nolan, Dennis Etchison…it’s an amazing lineup. But the olive in the vodka for me is the introduction by the great Ray Bradbury. I’m serious. A never-before-published essay by Mr. Bradbury. It’s going to be a gorgeous book.

My most recent acceptance is for the scifi/horror anthology Qualia Nous. Michael Bailey and Written Backwards are putting together another amazing book (Chiral Mad 2 came out in December with my story “Versions” huddled in amongst some great chiral-y yarns). I wrote “Night Guard” with this anthology in mind. It is the most ‘horrible’ story I’ve written so far. And for the third time I’ll be in the same table of contents as Gene, Gary, and Lucy.

Then I’m not sure which will come out next. [Nameless] Digest with my story, which is either titled “The Garden” or “The Space Between”, or Cemetery Dance Magazine with the third story I ever wrote, “Seed”.

Jason Brock pulls together some amazing talent and publishes some of the highest quality books on the market. I’m so thrilled to be in two of his upcoming releases.

And Cemetery Dance. Come on. I thought I’d be chasing that market for years.

I’m thrilled and numb and can’t wait to share the next round of news. There is something on the horizon… just you wait.


And the By-line changes:

Yes, I’m going by Erinn L. Kemper now. No more hiding from The Man. No more pen names and being all shy. This is it. I’m writing what I am meant to be writing.

Thank you to Gene and John L. and Jason B. for kicking my butt and telling me what’s what.


I’ll write on the WHC and the scholarship update in short order!!! It’s Happy Hour here in the Jungle, dammit!


November 4, 2013

We are over a month into building our new house in Costa Rica. There have been the usual issues. It’s been tough to get an internet account, but the process is well under way. The flow of construction materials hasn’t been totally smooth, but we’re well used to all that and taking it in stride.

Soon the house will be done and the first renters will come. Then my real reason for all this hassle and fuss will get going. I’ll be writing for at least four hours a day. I’ve been able to keep a writing schedule off and on over the past couple of years, but only for a month or two months, then life erupts and other things take over. But this time I won’t let that happen. This whole endeavor is designed around getting me at my desk and on to a routine. 

What better way to begin than by making a hugely important sale!!! The fourth story I ever wrote has sold! I sent it to Cemetery Dance Magazine about eight months ago when they had an open call. Time passed and I waited for the rejection letter I was sure would come. And it did. A form rejection that came as no surprise at all to me, after all, this is one of the top markets in the genre. Then a few hours later another email came with an apology for the glitch in their system and an acceptance! I cried fat happy tears and called my mom. 

I’m beyond thrilled about this sale. Soon I hope to be announcing another sale that has me sooo excited. When I think about it I get a tingling all over. It’s an amazing one that I’m honored to be a part of. I know. Brutal tease. Sorry. 

So with all this time that I’m going to spend writing, I can really only manage one blog…and this one’s it. I have another old blog festering out there in the inter-world…if anyone wants to have a look back at our previous struggles with building in sunny Costa Rica it’s at eanddincr.wordpress.com

Off now to do some more writing and compulsive email checking. Got a story on the short list that I can’t wait to hear about. More soon…


Gettin’ to it!

August 1, 2013

Couch surfing is the best kind.

Two months until the move south. I have much to do. Get the dog injected and ready to fly. Meet with the tax man to make sure we have our affairs done right (by which I meant get the t’s crossed and i’s dotted with our accountant as we finalized our affairs!). Visit with all my loved ones at least once. It’s grueling.

But all I want to do is write.

Since my first writer’s conference, The World Horror Convention in New Orleans (come on! could it get any better?) I’ve been jazzed up, on fire, rockin’ the keys. Ready to Rumble.

I’ve sold five stories now, and am waiting on a few short lists as we speak. I’m feeling some momentum.

Taking the Leap

May 29, 2013

It’s time.

I’ve been struggling with my schedule, with finances, with my mental state. Life is giving me lemons and I’ve been letting them rot and chucking them in the compost.

So we are very reluctantly selling our house and moving to Costa Rica, where if I sell a short story it will feed us for two weeks, where I’ll have plenty of hours every day to focus on writing (not 3 hours a week), where I’m never cold, never lonely, don’t have TV—just the beach, the toucans, and all the coconut water I can drink, straight from my trees.

It’s time to see this writing thing through.

I have two more stories coming out and it has got me all jazzed. Many of my goals have been realized. I’ve got a mentor, and he’s wonderful. I’m going to the WHC in New Orleans and will meet so many people that I’ve been corresponding with. I’ve got a writing group that words beautifully for me. Now I just need to sit and write. That’s all.

It’s time.

Do Zombies Cry?

March 26, 2013

I certainly cried when I saw the Table of Contents for this anthology. My name among such wicked company.

http://www.prime-books.com/shop/print-books/zombies-shambling-through-the-ages-edited-by-steve-berman/  (Available for preorder now for $10.85, follow the link to Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Releasing August 14, 2013)

Thank you Steve Berman for liking my story!!!!

Look at this cover!

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