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Papillion Book Fair 2023

I had a great time at the Papillion Book Fair in Papillion, Nebraska. It was my first author event, so I had no real expectations. I had my nose to the grindstone trying to complete “Until We Sleep” so I could offer it at my table. Between that and getting supplies for the event, there was no time to worry. Turns out, there was no need to.

The day started with a gully-washing rain and thunderstorm that went directly over us—lightning, booming thunder … I really couldn’t have asked for a better entrance. My fellow authors and I took shelter until the rain passed. It finished just in time for us to get set up before the fair began. It was well-attended. I had a constant stream of people passing by. I made some sales, signed some autographs, and enjoyed talking about books and stories. So many people came by that I couldn’t leave my table. So, I didn’t get a chance to go around and meet some of the other authors.

Here are some photos. Thanks to everyone who came out and bought books and said hello!

James Christensen

10 Great Short Reads for Halloween

-Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

We have now passed into fall. While it’s still pretty hot where I live, the color and chill evenings and mornings will be here anytime. If you’re like me, it is time to break out the horror and goth books and films (more than we usually do). I relax in my recliner with my black cat curled up on my lap and read the night away. If you’re looking for some good stuff to read this Halloween that you can get through in an evening, here are some of my favorites–some more well-known than others. I’ll try not to give too much away:

  • The Hound, by H.P. Lovecraft. This might be my all-time favorite Halloween read. Very atmospheric and creepy, with plenty of Halloween tropes present. Two grave-robbing friends keep a ghoulish museum of various bodies, skulls, and other gruesome artifacts in their basement. In true Lovecraftian fashion, they go too far when they open a grave and steal an amulet that unleashes a curse.
  • The Small Assassin, by Ray Bradbury. Kindly, nice guy Ray Bradbury offers a startling tale of a killer baby.
  • The Summer People, by Shirley Jackson. A city couple decide to stay at their summer house past Labor Day. This is a bad idea. I don’t know why. Indeed, I can’t even offer a spoiler because I don’t know what is happening or threatening to happen. My favorite Jackson story. Pure suspense. Enjoy a master storyteller at peak power.
  • The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe. This one may be too obvious, but it’s one of the best for a creative, spooky atmosphere. Prince Prospero and his wealthy guests lock themselves inside his castle for a masked ball. One reason I read this several times yearly is that I can never picture the layout of the colored rooms. By now, I wonder if I’m not meant to.
  • The Shunned House, by H.P. Lovecraft. It is a unique take on vampirism that explores possible scientific explanations/investigations of the phenomena in the moody, spooky manner you’d expect from Lovecraft.
  • Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Fur, by Tanith Lee. It is a lush, gorgeous tale of forbidden lovers during a vampire siege. Highly original and unpredictable.
  • Mrs. Amworth, by E.F. Benson. A vampire haunts a small English village. This is a reasonably scary story with some frightening visuals that, I’m guessing, influenced vampire films that came later.
  • The Room In the Tower, by E.F. Benson. Another vampire tale from Benson, this time centering on a young man who lives in a room that gives him bad dreams. You could read a book of Benson’s ghost stories and be entertained for hours.
  • Born of Man and Woman, by Richard Matheson. This story is told from the perspective of that which was born. You know right away that something is off when it describes its environment and relationship with its parents. A short, chilling tale by one of the best.
  • The Horla, by Guy de Maupassant. An unseen supernatural entity torments a single man. The man questions his sanity and tries to reason his way to release.

You should get a few evenings’ worth of good reading from that list. I might do a few others throughout the month. If this isn’t enough for you, you can check out my three volumes of weird tales, the “October Nights” series. You can read them in any order. Click the image below, and you’ll find them on my book page:

James Christensen

New Release! “Until We Sleep”

I’m happy to announce a new work. “Until We Sleep” is my third novel.

It follows an older woman and a younger man in the aftermath of an alien attack that has wiped out everyone but those with a specific blood type.

Colby Swanson, 19, is on vacation at his family’s beach house on the Washington coast with his parents and two younger sisters.

Kimberly Maris, 45, is also at the beach house with her husband, son, and daughter.

Colby and Kimberly are the only survivors of the attack. They are isolated at the beach house and do their best to survive as they mourn their lost loved ones. As they face the escalating dangers of a transformed world, they sense a growing love for each other that will not be held back by fear.

While death waits for them around every corner, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

James Christensen

Dictation: Speaking It Into Existence

I took a new path writing my latest novel, “Until We Sleep.” I had learned of an upcoming book fair and decided to claim a table. I wanted something new to offer, but I was between projects and had nothing ready. I had under two months to get through the entire production process—brainstorming, outlining, first draft, revisions, polishing, formatting, cover design, and listing. There was no way to make the deadline by tapping away at the keyboard.

I decided to try dictation. The idea had intrigued me for a long time. I had the software and headset mic. After several attempts at using it on past projects, I gave up. It felt too awkward, and I was unwilling to take the time to get used to it. Now, under the gun, I had to give it another try.

It was still awkward initially, but I stuck with it and soon found a rhythm. Dialogue scenes were a lot of fun this way. It became like a performance. Emotions rose to the surface, allowing me to dig deep into my characters’ motivations and fears. Words came fast, sometimes too fast, as I had to return to some passages during revisions because I had hurried along, bypassing details I needed to unpack.

Speed is the definite selling point of this approach. I finished a 61,000-word first draft in fifteen working days, averaging 4,000 words daily. When I say “daily,” I’m talking about two hours of writing time, give or take. I dictated in half-hour sessions divided by fifteen-minute breaks to hydrate (drink lots of water if you do this!) and walk around. Two hours was a good day of work—lots of words and my voice was just on the edge of exhaustion. There were days I went for three hours, but I reached a point of diminishing returns by then and risked poor quality work and a sore throat.

There were challenges to this method. You have to speak punctuation commands, which is a mouthful. It takes some getting used to, but by the end of the book, I barely noticed I was doing it. We don’t notice how we type individual keys, either. In time, our minds and hands become accustomed to the process. You don’t have to speak punctuation. You could add it in during revisions, but I really don’t enjoy the revising process and don’t care to prolong it.

Homophones—words differing in spelling but pronounced the same—are tricky and easy to miss while revising. “See/sea.” “To/two/too” “There/their.” And so on. You’ll have to watch for those, since editing programs won’t always catch them.

Will I continue to dictate my books? I’m undecided. I enjoy the peaceful, contemplative calm of tapping out passages and dialogue. Dictation has a more urgent, speedy vibe that doesn’t suit my personality. In time, I would get used to it, I’m sure. There’s room to improve my endurance and daily average. I’ve read of writers dictating 10,000 words daily. That’s a first draft in a week or so. It’s hard to resist that level of productivity.

Either way, I reached the finish line by trying something new. It’s nice to know I have the option if another time crunch rears its head.

James Christensen

Welcome to My Idiotic Nightmare

I use that title because my dreams are neither profound nor revelatory. Some people are told in their dreams to take the Son of God to Egypt, others (ahem) spend their nightly sleep in a bizzarro-world of stupidity, staring in wide-eyed disbelief at the trash their brains are forced to unload every night.

Only once can I remember a dream revealing a really great story idea that actually stuck. It’s on my list and I hope to write it in the next couple of years. In the meantime, I’ll have to get by as one who finds meaningful dreams in the waking world. This isn’t hard to do, considering the absurdity of what passes as “normal” these days.

I’m in my sixth decade on this beautiful ball. I know better than to act like any of the craziness surrounding us is anything novel. There is nothing new under the sun, and I’ve seen enough suns come and go to vouch for that.

This is the new version of my website. I’ve decided to share more content and maybe build a tribe of like-minded travelers. There are links to subscribe to my weekly newsletter, and also links to purchase my books. They aren’t expensive, and I like to dabble in different genres. If you’re an omnivorous reader like I am, maybe we can be friends.

It’s a crazy world. We just live in it. I try my best to make sense of it. Hope you’ll come back once in a while.

James Christensen