Read the First Two Chapters of The Lost Lands!

September 7th, 2014 by Helen

The Lost LandsI have finally applied nose to grindstone and am hard at work on a the third full-length Belladonna Johnson novel. It’s called The Lost Lands (it is now, at any rate) and you can read the first two chapters over at Wattpad for FREE!

These chapters are very much a first draft, so there are probably typos – please let me know if you find some!

What is the story about?

In the past, when Spellbinders have lost their Paladins, they rarely survived for long. So when Steve disappears, Belladonna must find him as quickly as possible. The search will take her to a place that is not supposed to exist, and is rarely seen except on midsummer and midwinter eves. She needs help, and confides in a new friend, but has she chosen her ally well, or has she put herself in even more danger?


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So…Just Who Is Kickstarter For?

June 7th, 2014 by Helen

The Gloaming - At The End Everything BeginsThere has been much discussion in the national media recently about whether Kickstarter is an appropriate forum for mega-buck seeking, celebrity-driven projects. There was much discussion about it last year as well, when the Veronica Mars campaign broke all records and was followed by one from Zach Braff.

So far, most of the discussion has centered around the use of Kickstarter (which was originally intended for smaller creative projects) as a fundraising tool by wealthy people who already have access to funding sources. Questions were also raised about the big campaigns dominating the feed to the detriment of smaller projects. The founders of Kickstarter countered that the big campaigns bring many new users to the site, and that these newbies then go on to donate to smaller projects. They posted an article to their blog pointing out that 63% of those who donated to the Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects had never donated to Kickstarter before and stated that “thousands” of them went on to donate more than $400,000 to other projects, 43% of which went to smaller film and television campaigns.

However, we only have their word for this, and they do not provide a link to any studies to back up their statement. (I’m also automatically suspicious of statements that mix percentages with dollar amounts and whole numbers. It’s generally done for obfuscation.) It should also be pointed out that as Kickstarter receives 3% to 5% of all funds raised by campaigns on its site, these multi-million dollar campaigns must be like all their birthdays and Christmases rolled into one. The fact that they have so much to gain from the celebrity-driven campaigns naturally calls into question their defense of them.

These discussions race around the interwebs whenever a big campaign is launched, and fade away afterward. The subject has returned to the front pages again in the last few weeks as the result of the launch of a few more campaigns fronted by smiling celebrities, but will undoubtedly disappear until next time once the projects are funded.

Each time the discussions follow a similar path, raising the same issues. But a recent personal experience has made me realize that there other problems with these huge campaigns that are much more threatening to the whole concept of crowdfunding.

Campaigns that try to raise millions of dollars are usually run like businesses. There are a lot of people involved at all levels. There are frequently corporate backers. (Corporate backers beg the question of why they need to do a Kickstarter campaign at all, but we’ll let that one ride for the moment.) Once the number of people reach critical mass, you get to the point where the right hand is not necessarily aware of what the left hand is up to, and there are certain business practices in the corporate sector that employ hard ball tactics that, while they may be frowned upon, are nevertheless standard operating procedure.

I found this out the hard way recently, when I posted a brief comment on my Facebook page about the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of celebrity-driven Kickstarter campaigns. I have a little over 200 friends on Facebook, so my posts have a very small audience. But this time, someone projected my page to attendees of a large meeting. This was done without my knowledge or permission, but the meeting was about one of the very campaigns I had been writing about. Some of the attendees were corporate backers who were clients of my largest donor, who had (with the best will in the world) told them that he was supporting my campaign for The Gloaming.

american-psychoIt was at this point that something ugly happened. According to my donor, they phoned him and told him to rescind his donation or they would fire him and his company. As far as I am aware this threat was made without the knowledge of the people heading the campaign, who were appalled when I informed them of it. Happily, my donor did not comply.

The whole experience raises some serious concerns, however. Crowdfunding was initially founded as a way of helping people realize their creative dreams by “paying it forward.” The expectation was that you would raise money for your project, but also donate to others to help them realize their dreams. This social aspect was one of the best features about Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites. In the past year, I have donated to six other campaigns for projects as diverse as poetry books, comic books, and web series. It feels good to help other people. The idea that someone affiliated with one campaign might attempt to destroy another project simply because of an opinion that the creator expressed never occurred to me – or anyone else, I would imagine.

If hard-ball corporate practices become the norm in crowdfunding, it will quickly go the way of the dodo, because who would want to expose themselves to that kind of thing?. This would be a shame, because thus far it has enabled many people to produce wonderful products, artwork, books, and film, the vast majority of which might otherwise have never seen the light of day.

The ultimate answer to the question “Who is Kickstarter For?” is, of course, everyone. But both the big and small fish swimming in this particular pond should keep the words of the Church of Bill & Ted firmly in the forefront of their minds: “Be excellent to each other.”



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You Want To Do WHAT?

January 28th, 2014 by Helen

Greg and CameraMy big project right now is a comprehensive rewrite of The Gloaming, which I’ve mentioned here before. It’s a paranormal scifi web series with six episodes, each approximately 20 minutes long, that has elements of my vision of The Land Of The Dead from the Spellbinder books (including one cross-over character), as well as plenty of science fiction, which I was pretty much immersed in from birth.

When I tell people about it, the response is frequently surprise. Not surprise about the story, but that I’m planning on raising funding for it myself. The first issue that is generally raised is why I can’t just sell it to some production company or network. After all, I’m a published author!

There are three reasons for this.

  1. Experience. My first book, Spellbinder, was optioned by a production company. I was extremely reluctant about this, as the books are set in the UK and I knew that they’d be re-set in the US, which I wasn’t happy about. At the time, I had a veritable slew of agents and advisors, all of whom thought it was a really good idea. The main reason for this was that that they all felt that it would raise the profile of the books and bring new readers. I signed. MTV ordered a pilot script. The production company announced the deal, but omitted to mention that the story was based on a book (or who had written it). The script was written by a couple of experienced TV scribes and was competent as a TV pilot –  but in addition to setting it in the US, the 12 & 13 year old characters were aged up to 16/17 and the story Read the rest of this entry »

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Paradigm and THAT Car

January 21st, 2014 by Helen

1968 GTOBy “that car,” I mean Sam’s ’68 GTO, of course. It’s elicited a few comments, the most recent being on yesterday’s Amazon review: “…I did scratch my head about Sam’s ability to find gas but realized I so enjoyed the idea of him in that GTO that I let it go…”

I actually did quite a lot of research into mixed fuel cars but very little of it ended up being in the book, apart from a few throwaway remarks about being able to afford “real gas.” At one point there was even a whole section on gassing up the car. On the suggestion of my agent, it was cut from the book very early on as she felt that it slowed the story down. I was sad to see it go as I thought it illustrated a recurring part of Sam’s life well. I’ve pasted it below, so you can make up your own minds.

Obviously, given the future that I created for Paradigm, getting actual gas for a car would be extremely difficult. The only gas available would be domestic, and even then it would most likely only be available in areas close to oil fields. But the history of automobile fuel is not simply one of hydrocarbons, and while gasoline has been the dominant fuel for most of that history, there are alternatives. The most well-known of these are methanol and ethanol, which have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

For centuries before the automobile was even thought of, methanol and ethanol provided fuel of another kind – alcohol. A favorite tipple, it was known as the “water of life” and has been warming Scotsmen right down to their toes since at least the 14th century. By the end of the 19th century and the rise of the internal combustion engine, inventors were looking at practically anything that could be used to generate a spark. By the time Ford started producing his Model T in 1908, the jury was still out on which fuel would become the standard, so the Tin Lizzie was made to use either gas or ethanol, or a combination of the two.

The abundance of cheap gasoline led to methanol and ethanol being discarded as a fuel in most production cars until very recently, but it didn’t vanish completely. In 1964 seven cars crashed on the second lap of the Indianapolis 500, killing two drivers. The gasoline in the cars exploded, not only ending the lives of the drivers, but also sending dense black smoke across the track, reducing visibility to zero for the other drivers. One driver, Johnny Rutherford, was using methanol as fuel, and although it leaked following the crash, it burned at a much lower temperature and was invisible. The following year, the USAC Indy car competition mandated the use of ethanol in race cars on the circuit. Methanol is also used by many short track organizations, as well as in drag racing and monster truck competitions. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Best Conspiracy Theory Ever: Neanderthals, Julius Caesar, and The Red Baron of Paris

January 13th, 2014 by Helen

Notre Dame CathedralThe other day I got embroiled in a…discussion (I think that’s the right word) with someone on Facebook. It all started out innocuously enough, but it turned out that he was a major conspiracy theorist. His posts got longer and longer and more and more rambling, until he suddenly decided that I was some kind of government spy (or possibly a spy in the pay of scientists, I’m not entirely sure), at which point he blocked me. I felt quite proud – I’ve never been blocked before! Anyway, the whole thing reminded me of another conspiracy theorist I encountered a few years ago while living in LA. His theory was so wonderfully epic, so majestically off the wall, that I wrote the whole thing down the moment I got back home. So I now give you…drumroll please: The Best Conspiracy Theory Ever. You’re welcome. Read the rest of this entry »

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Q: When is YA not YA? A: When it’s a movie

October 6th, 2013 by Helen

Paradigm Front CoverA recent article in Studio System News (SSN) discussed the appeal of what it described as “YA lit” to studios and motion picture production companies. (You can read the original article here.) The writer of the article described all literature aimed at children and teens as “YA.” This is not uncommon, but it goes quite a long way toward explaining why Hollywood keeps making movies based on successful book series and ends up scratching its collective head when the box office results are disappointing. I initially wrote this article in the comments section of the article, but I think it bears repeating.

Basically, there seems to be some confusion in the entertainment industry as to what exactly constitutes a YA novel. The publishing industry sees Middle Grade (books intended for 10+) and YA (books intended for teens) as distinct markets. While there is a great deal of crossover between the Middle Grade age group and the age group that reads YA, the publisher-imposed definitions have a great effect on what actually makes it to market.

My first two novels Spellbinder and The Midnight Gate are Middle Grade. Those books feature a girl, Belladonna Johnson, and a boy, Steve Evans, who travel to the Land of the Dead. My third novel (as you know if you’ve been following this blog) is Paradigm, a scfi story with a male lead, Sam Cooper. This was when my troubles began.

Publishers love Middle Grade books with boys as the central character. The Harry Potter books, Percy Jackson, Ender’s Game, The Wardstone Chronicles, The Golden Compass, City of Ember, The Giver, and Artemis Fowl (all categorized in the article as YA) are actually Middle Grade. However, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments, and Divergent are squarely YA and aimed at teen readers. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Spellbinder’s Halloween Giveaway!

October 3rd, 2013 by Helen

The Blood Binding - Front CoverAs you go about your Halloween preparations – making costumes, buying candy, planning parties – spare a thought for the girl who can see ghosts all year round.

For Belladonna Johnson, ghosts are almost as real as living people. Real enough that she has a hard time telling them apart, at any rate. But since discovering that she is the Spellbinder and that Steve Evans is her Paladin, things have become a bit more manageable. Her (dead) parents don’t try to shield her from things quite so much, though they’re not particularly happy with all her journies to the Land of the Dead, and now that she’s discovered the identity of the Queen of the Abyss (no spoilers!), things are making a little more sense. That, and the fact that ghosts are only able to haunt a single place, makes it relatively easy for her to have a ghost-free day when she feels like it.

Except on Halloween. On Halloween all bets are off…because ghosts can wander wherever they like.

They’re on the bus on the way to school, they’re in the library and sweet shop, they’re wandering through town admiring the shop windows…they’re everywhere!

It’s like that every Halloween, but this year is different — this year Belladonna and Steve discover the ghost of a girl who has been waiting two thousand years for someone to rescue her, and it will take more than a quick trip to the Land of the Dead to set her free. She has been bound by Old Magic and people and spirits unknown to even the mighty Queen of the Abyss.

The Blood Binding is a Belladonna Johnson novelette written specially for Halloween. At 64 pages, you can read it aloud on All Hallows Eve. Just make sure you don’t say the Nine Herbs Charm out loud — you don’t want to risk awakening the Spirits of the Black Water!

Aaaand to celebrate the spooky season there is a signed Blood Binding giveaway over at Goodreads!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Blood Binding by Helen Stringer

The Blood Binding

by Helen Stringer

Giveaway ends October 15, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


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Here’s An Idea: Think Before You Type, Text or Talk

September 28th, 2013 by Helen

There was a bit of a kerfuffle over on my Facebook page yesterday. Basically, I had posted a link supporting the boycott of Barilla products because of the, quite frankly, vile remarks of that company’s CEO about gay families. Nothing unusual there, similar links are everywhere at the moment. What was unusual was the first comment left by a fan and fairly long term FB friend. It just read: “Gay.”

That’s all. No emoticon. No wink. Nothing to say “I am being ironic,” which I knew he was. I knew that this person was not bigoted, but that did not alter the fact that the comment was inappropriate. Under normal circumstances, I would have deleted it and sent him an explanation, but I was battling a cold and withdrew to bed instead. Big mistake. Big. Read the rest of this entry »

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Storytelling and The Gloaming

September 24th, 2013 by Helen

gloaming project imageThere’s a weird thing about writing. Or, rather, about what is actually considered to be “writing.” For many years I worked on screenplays, honing my craft, creating stories intended for features or television. I considered myself a writer, but most of my friends and acquaintances did not.

Then I wrote Spellbinder, a middle-grade fantasy novel, and suddenly I was a writer.

“What does it feel like to be a writer?” people asked, when I showed them the ARCs.

But it’s not like that. I didn’t suddenly become a writer. I had always been a writer, or more accurately, a storyteller. The compulsion to create stories, to observe the world around you and extrapolate a sequence of events, does not magically appear one day, unbidden. It has always been there. The medium does not dictate whether or not someone is a “writer.” Books are not more worthy than plays or screenplays or songs. Each has its own place and some stories are better told through one medium than another (one reason why movies based on novels are frequently disappointing).

Alex and VeronicaI mention all this because I recently decided to return to filmmaking for one of my favorite tales. It’s called The Gloaming, and is a paranormal scfi story that I actually first worked on while writing Spellbinder. Both stories had ghosts as major characters, but The Gloaming was intended for adults and was much darker. I worked on one or the other each day, depending on what mood I was in. But, unlike Spellbinder, The Gloaming wasn’t a novel. It was a screenplay and was intended as a television pilot. Why? Well, because there was such a strong visual element to the story and I really “saw” it in my minds eye.

I see all my stories as if they were films unspooling in my head, but some are just meant to be told in pictures rather than words. Okay, you may ask, so why a series, why not a movie? Because the best television shows tell their stories gradually, unfurling as the characters learn and grow and change.  They draw their audience into the world of the people inhabiting the tale, until the story becomes almost real. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sorry, What?

August 24th, 2013 by Helen

Buffy the Vampire SlayerAn article in the New Statesman last week has created a lot of discussion on the interwebs. The title was I Hate Strong Female Characters, a real go-for-the-jugular, in-your-face statement if ever there was one. The writer was female, which is a good thing, because if it had been a bloke all hell would have broken loose. I came across the article via Facebook and strongly suggest you read it before going any further here.

Finished? Okay…so here’s my ten cents’ worth.

While the writer makes some valid points, an awful lot of it the article is a rather labored effort to make a point. “Strong female character” here seems to actually mean “strong female character in a superhero movie,” because, with the exception of Bridesmaids, that’s all she talks about. Her knowledge of even those films seems fairly superficial. Although she doesn’t actually mention Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the editors decided to illustrate the article with a picture of the character. It’s therefore not clear if she includes Buffy in the reviled “strong female character” category, but the implication is there nevertheless. Was Buffy a “strong female character?” Well, yes, she was strong, but she was also vulnerable, which is what made her such a great character.

The thing with movies bases on comic books, of course, is that the industry (both the comic book industry and the TV/motion picture industry) has historically seen those franchises as predominantly of interest to guys. They now know that is not the case, but they also know that their audience, male and female, would have a collective coronary if they just arbitrarily changed the sex of a major character. Incorporating more women into lesser roles is certainly a great idea, but in an industry dominated by men, it’s going to take some time. Read the rest of this entry »

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