I’m sorry to say that the obstacles and road blocks I mentioned in my April post have brought my memoir writing process to a screeching halt before it had truly begun, and thus, this bi-monthly blog series must come to a halt, as well, until I can find answers to the problems related to writing about real people and organizations which is necessary to telling my son Michael’s story, as well as my own. Losing Michael: Teen Suicide and a Mother’s Grief has been shelved, at least for a while due to legalities. This book project is based from my personal experience and is dear to my heart, and it great saddness that I make this decision, but I’m not ready to face the trials that forging ahead with it would require.
On the other hand, there are exciting things on the horizon. My efforts for the near future will turn to working on the issue of re-issuing Delilah, which Dusty Saddle Publishing has so graciously offered to do. Once this is completed, I plan to pick up where I left off on the drafting of the second book, Delilah: The Homecoming. I just got Delilah back on track in this story with considerable revisions and I’m a little sad to have to delay the completion of this book, but also confident that the story will be better for it.
I will be getting the WordCrafter website up and running and ready for launch. Get ready folks, because WordCrafter Writer & Author Services is coming soon. Services will include Editing and Copywriting services, online courses, and WordCrafter Press.
I’ll also be compiling and publishing the two great anthologies to be released by WordCrafter Press. The Ask the Authors anthology will feature the collaborative interviews from the 2018 “Ask the Authors” blog series right here on Writing to be Read. This book will be filled with writing tips and advice from authors who are out there doing it, a valuable writing reference for authors in all stages of the publishing journey.
The other anthology, Whispers in the Dark, will be a short story collection harvested from the WordCrafter Paranormal Short Story Contest held at the beginning of 2019. It will feature several of the submissions from the contest, including the winning entry, “A Peaceful Life I’ve Never Had”, by Jeff Bowles. These anthologies are still in the preliminary stages, but I plan to have them both out by the end of the year. I have cover ideas for each one, but only Whispers has a final version at this time. I plan to release it in October.
To keep up on the latest with my writing endeavors and with Wordcrafter, sign up for my monthly newsletter in the pop-up. When you do, you’ll recieve a free e-copy of my paranormal mystery novella, Hidden Secrets.
After writing an excerpt of Delilah for an assignment in grad school, I remember thinking, ‘this could be a book’. But I also remember thinking that a western by a female author probably wouldn’t sell. Women weren’t supposed to write westerns. After all, the western frontier was for rugged men. I knew there were women in the west, but I guessed that they weren’t protagonist material. Then, I wrote and published Delilah anyway. It was a story that wanted to be told. My character, Delilah spoke to me and the writing of the tale was too important for me to let the idea that it might not be a best seller stand in the way.
In the meantime, I was happy to learn that there are other female western authors out there. I’m pleased to have one as my guest today. Her books are set in the historical New Mexico landscape based on factual historical people and places. Western fiction author Loretta Miles Tollefson will share her thoughts on the matter of gender in the western genre and other aspects of writing and her books.
Please welcome Loretta Miles Tollefson.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Loretta: When I was fifteen I won a writing contest in a Sunday School paper and that triggered a deep desire to continue to see my words in print. I published a couple more pieces in that same paper, then branched into short stories and poetry in my 20s and 30s. I had a few things published and received a co-publication offer for a novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the financial resources to follow up on that. I continued to write and had some poetry published in my 40s and early 50s. I self-published a couple novels in my mid-50s and then The Pain and the Sorrow was published by Sunstone Press in 2017. I was frustrated by the lack of opportunities to advertise a novel that had been traditionally published and went back to the self-pub route with Not Just Any Man.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Loretta: I was 15 but, because I come from a very practical family, I chose to take the pragmatic approach of going into newspaper and magazine work instead of stepping into the uncertain waters of fiction. Eventually, I became a Special Projects Manager for a regional planning organization here in New Mexico, a job which utilized both my writing and research skills. I didn’t realize my dream of writing full time until I retired about five years ago.
Kaye: What is the most enjoyable part of writing westerns for you?
Loretta: For me, the most enjoyable part of writing is finding ways to bring the historical details, my characters’ personalities, and the storyline itself together. It’s like weaving a tapestry. And then there’s always the sudden inspiration that seems to come out of nowhere, when my characters seem to be telling me what they want to say. Although I, as the author, always have control, I’m sometimes surprised at where the story takes me.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing western fiction for you?
Loretta: I think my biggest challenge in writing historical fiction set in the West is feeling like I need to double check all the details. Even though I grew up on a small farm and we had horses and cows and chickens and hung the clothes on a line and pretty much all the rest of it, there’s a great deal I don’t remember or took for granted at the time. And, of course, I didn’t actually live in the early 1800s. I have to be careful not to assume certain ways of doing things or specific pieces of equipment were common back then. I’m always concerned that I’ll slip into an anachronism.
Kaye: You follow the old adage “write what you know”, setting your books in areas where you have lived and are familiar with, yet you must envision those settings in another time period. It seems perhaps your own setting acts as inspiration for your stories?
Loretta: It does. Very much so. I’ve lived in New Mexico almost thirty years and was fortunate enough to travel all over the state in connection with my job. Then, after I retired, we moved to Eagle Nest, New Mexico, on the northern end of the Moreno Valley. We lived there five years and that experience really brought together my love of history and my desire to write full time. There’s so much history here in New Mexico that I don’t think I will ever run out of ideas. We recently moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that will continue to inspire me and to provide me with great resources for my research.
Kaye: Your novel, Not Just Any Man, was recently released. Would you like to tell us a little about that book?
Loretta: Not Just Any Man is about a black mountain man in 1820s New Mexico named Gerald Locke, Jr. It’s an adventure story, as Gerald traps in Northern New Mexico and then joins a fur trapping expedition across the Arizona desert and up the Colorado River. The group includes Enoch Jones, the only mountain man in the West who seems to have an issue with Gerald’s skin color. Jones has a few other issues as well, and the conflict between the two men is a crucial plot element.
But this isn’t just an adventure story. Gerald has met a young woman in Taos who seems far above his station in life and he can’t stop thinking about her. Even if he can survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as Enoch Jones, can Gerald prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?
Kaye: Do you think western readers are more receptive to male protagonists?
Loretta: There certainly are a lot of male protagonists in the western genre. I think this is because the traditional Western initially reflected the cultural assumption that only men played an active role in events in the West. As we broaden our understanding of the historical West, both before and after the United States was the primary actor there, we’re realizing just how often women played critical roles on the frontier. Life was harsh. Any family that was going to survive needed everyone in it to be fully engaged. Women had to take on roles they hadn’t necessarily played before. If anything, I believe their experiences on the frontier helped to begin breaking down the barriers that we’re still disassembling today. As we do that, I suspect Western readers will become more and more receptive to all kinds of protagonists.
Kaye: You have wonderful covers with beautiful landscapes that cry out ‘western’! Where do you get your covers?
Loretta: Well, thank you! I’m glad you like them. I worry about my covers. Other than The Pain in the Sorrow, I’ve designed them all myself and created most of them using a combination of Publisher and Gimp. The pundits’ advice is to have someone else do them, but I tend to have very specific ideas about what I want, and I haven’t yet discovered anyone who can quite catch my vision.
Loretta: The Pain and the Sorrow was strongly inspired by New Mexico history. Its characters actually existed and the primary incidents in the story are based on historical artifacts.
The plot of Not Just Any Man is also strongly situated in actual events. While the protagonist and villain are both fictional, most of the mountain men in the novel, are based on actual people—Old Bill Williams, Milton Sublette, Ewing Young, etc.—and much of the story line is based on their first-hand accounts.
Kaye: The Pain and the Sorrow has historical basis, as do all your books as I understand it. And it’s obvious that you strive to make your details as accurate as possible. Do you weave the history into your stories or is it the New Mexico history that inspires the stories?
Kaye: The Pain and the Sorrow is based in New Mexico history and a historical figure of legend, but the story about your female protagonist. Not all of your novels have female protagonists though. Was the female protagonist easier to write since you have a natural female perspective?
Loretta: The Pain and the Sorrow was a very difficult story to tell because of the abuse my teenage protagonist suffers at the hands (and other body parts) of her husband. I think that writing Gregoria’s story may have been more difficult for me precisely because I am female. My emotions were very raw during the entire process. I might have found it easier to tell Gregoria’s story if I didn’t have a “natural female perspective” and felt less connection with her.
Kaye: Do you think it’s more difficult for a female to make it in the western genre than it is for male authors?
Loretta: I think it’s difficult for any author to break into any genre today, regardless of their gender. However, it seems to me that more women are writing Western-style stories and getting them published than has been true in the past. For example, of the fourteen authors showcased in Five Star Publishing’s recent The Trading Post and other stories, four or five are women. In early December 2018, the twenty top-sellers in Amazon’s Western category included at least two women. There may have been more, publishing under a male pseudonym. We’ll really know that women have made it in western fiction when no one finds it necessary to use a male, or male-sounding, pen name when they do so.
Kaye: My publisher slapped Delilah into the romance category, listing it as a frontier romance. While there is a romantic element to the story, I didn’t make it the major focus of the story. I guess they thought it was more marketable as a romance, and I do think that because my protagonist is female, the book might have a stronger appeal to a female audience. Do you think western readers are more receptive to stories with a male protagonist?
Loretta: That’s hilarious. I really liked Delilah and I enjoyed the romance element in it, but classifying it as a frontier romance seems to me to diminish its marketing potential. I never search for frontier romance. As a result, I would have missed Delilah entirely if that’s the only place it could be found. I feel strongly that the current way the market is being sliced into finer and finer categories does us all — readers and writers alike — a disservice because it makes it more difficult to find the well-written, well-conceived books like Delilah that transcend easy categorization.
Kaye: Do you feel that it is harder for women authors to be taken seriously in the western genre?
Loretta: To a certain extent, this may be true. After all, as I mentioned above, some women authors of Westerns apparently feel that it’s necessary to use pseudonyms to obscure their gender. But I think that as we persist, this will become less and less of an issue.
Kaye: You are also a poet and you have out several poetry books. Would you talk a little about what inspires your poetry?
Loretta: My poetry is very personal, especially But Still My Child, which contains the poems I wrote after a miscarriage over thirty years ago. The poems I wrote during that time and afterwards helped me process that grief and I hope publishing them will support others in that same process.
My other volumes of poetry were the result of an attempt to blend my interest in poetry with my love of story. For historical stories, now that I think of it. The poems in But Then Moses Was There and Mary At The Cross try to get inside the heads of Biblical characters to express what living their experiences might have felt like.
Kaye: You’ve also written other non-western novels. What other genres do you write in?
Loretta: I’ve written an urban fiction about coming of age/homelessness in 1980s Seattle and a chick lit novel about a New Mexico couple who wins the lottery. I’m not working in either of those genres now. I’m focusing my energies exclusively on historical fiction set in Old New Mexico.
That focus on historical fiction has also resulted in two short story collections set in New Mexico: Valley of the Eagles and Old One Eye Pete. Valley is a collection of micro-fiction. The stories are all 500 words or less. Old One Eye Pete contains longer pieces, with stories featuring the mountain man Old One Eye Pete acting as the narrative thread.
Kaye: What is the working title of your next book?
Loretta: It’s called Not My Father’s House. It’s a sequel to Not Just Any Man and (spoiler alert!) focuses on Suzanna’s struggle to adapt to living high in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains. I’ve just finished the second draft, so it should be out by the middle of 2019.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Loretta: I research material for my upcoming books — or at least I tell myself it’s for my upcoming books. Hah! And I read fiction: historical, mystery, suspense, Westerns, and pretty much anything else that looks interesting to me at the moment. I review most of everything that I read, unless it has 100 reviews or more. I would love to review more historical fiction set in 1800s New Mexico and Southern Colorado, since Southern Colorado was part of New Mexico at one time.
Kaye: Would you tell us a little about your blog? What will readers find there if they visit?
Loretta: My blog is at http://www.LorettaMilesTollefson.com. About once a week, I post a short piece about a historical event or a flash fiction story set in Old New Mexico, which I define as anything prior to statehood in 1912. The site also includes news about, and links to, my books.
Kaye: Which author or poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
Loretta: I have so many favorites. This is a hard question to answer. I think right now, given the work I’m doing, the person I would most like to have lunch with would be Paulette Jiles. I really enjoyed her News Of The World and the way she brought actual events to life in that book.
Kaye: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Loretta: I read and explore the region with my husband. Ultimately, it’s all research.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Loretta: My writing process consists of writing the first draft, letting it sit a month, revising, letting it sit a month or so, then revising again until I feel it’s really ready. This process seems to be becoming more unusual in today’s fast-paced writing environment.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (research, marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
Loretta: At the moment, I’m doing all my own research, marketing, promotion, book covers, and so forth. I’m stretching myself pretty thin with all these different activities, but doing it all gives me a lot of control. I may have to start farming some of the non-writing work out as I move along in my journey.
Kaye: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Loretta: To tell you the truth, I watch so little television and so few movies these days, that I’m not sure who would be the best actor to play Gerald or Susanna in a movie based on Not Just Any Man or Gregoria or Charles Kennedy in The Pain And The Sorrow. I’d love some input from your readers on this question.
Kaye: I can and will reach out to readers for input on who should play your leads were your story made film, but now you have to answer another question: Since many of my readers may not have read your books, can you tell us what characteristics these characters would have so they can better imagine who would be a good fit?
Gerald: square forehead, gray eyes. Half black/half Irish. Late 20s.
Suzanna: slim, tall for a woman (about Gerald’s height). long black hair, dark brown eyes. Half anglo (WASP), a quarter french, a quarter Navajo. About 16.
Alright readers. Here’s your chance be heard. Who do you think would be good for the roles of Gerald and Suzanna? Please comment with your suggestions. Loretta and I would both love to hear the possibilities.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Loretta: In a nutshell: read, revise, revise again.
If you plan to write fiction, read fiction. Especially classic fiction: Hemingway, Steinbeck, Austen, Dickens, and so forth. Also, read contemporary fiction, and not just books in your genre. Some of my favorite authors right now are Louise Penny and Donna Leon. They teach me pacing and character development. I’m especially fascinated by the way their protagonists develop over the course of the series. Everything’s research, even the books you don’t like. And don’t be afraid to express your opinions and trust your instincts. It’s okay to not like a book even if everyone else is saying how wonderful it is.
Most of all, revise! As Anton Chekhov said, “rewrite everything five times.” Well, maybe not that many, but you see what I mean. I would add “but not immediately” to that advice. Take the time to let your work rest, and then go back and look at it again. When you start changing sentences back to the way you had them in a previous version, that’s when you should stop. But not until then.
Revise it, let it rest, then revise it again. There’s a popular saying that “Perfection is the enemy of done.” I am uncomfortable with that statement. While no work is going to be absolutely perfect, rushing to publication is the enemy of quality work. Try to get your story as well-written as possible. Producing quality work is what will keep your readers coming back for more.
I want to thank Loretta for joining us today and sharing a glimpse into the world of western writing from a female author’s perspective. I have admired her work since I reviewed The Pain and the Sorrow last May, and it’s a thrill to have the privelage of interviewing her. It’s a real treat to hear from another female author in the world of western fiction.
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Ask the Authors (Round 2)
Well, we’ve come to the final segment of Ask the Authors (Round 2) and it’s time to wrap things up. Today, our author panel will delve further into many of the topics from the previous segments. I’m pleased to have participation from almost all of our original panel members for this final segment. Included are authors DeAnna Knippling, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Dan Alatorre, Cynthia Vespia, Margareth Stewart, RA Winter, Lilly Rayman, Art Rosch, Amy Cecil and Mark Shaw. We didn’t get any reader questions this round, so the questions here are all mine. And with that said, here we go.
Building in Conflict
For the most part, we like our characters. Of course we do. We created them, they are our children. We even create villains that we love to hate, but there’s always a very story must have conflict. Conflict makes the story interesting. We’ve talked about creating characters readers can relate to and this is where we use that to our advantage. There has to be something at stake in order for readers to want to know what happens next. If there is no possibility of something bad happening and we know it will all turn out okay, then there really is no point in finishing the story. So, even though we love our characters, at times we need bad things to happen to them.
How do you feel about killing off your darlings? What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?
I sometimes feel embarrassed about how much crap I lay on my characters, but oh well 🙂
I think every scene should end up worse for the character in some substantial way than the one before. It depends on the book, of course, but even a slow idyll should end with some level of train wreck by the end of the scene, even if the bad thing that happens is just a false sense of security setting up the characters to get hurt worse later. I have four methods (so far): 1) the character tries to do something but fails. 2) the character tries, succeeds, and makes things worse. 3) the character’s efforts are interrupted by some other thing going wrong. 4) the character tries something…but you don’t get to find out how it comes out yet.
I write a fair amount of horror; one of my favorite techniques there is that a character tries to find out something, does, and totally regrets having left behind their blissful ignorance!
If I kill someone off, I usually bring them back as a ghost, haha. Seriously, though, I don’t always use death as a way to build conflict. I like to add emotional drama through something devastating, like a shattered dream, or by throwing the character into an unexpected situation. Adding a new, but related, bad guy helps too.
In Carnival of Death, the villain, Spider is back in town. She is a master of martial arts, but she had fought the Black Ghost in The Spider’s Web, and found him a superior fighter. This time she has help dealing with him while she goes after one of his aides, a Korean girl. Spider plans on beating the information out of the girl, but the Korean is a fighter and now one must die. The Korean has never had to kill before, while Spider has killed many with her martial arts. Will the young Korean be able to defeat this ninja in a battle to the death?
In the Spider’s Web, the Ninja had selected another aide, newspaperman George Freeman, an ex Army Ranger, tough and fearless, but she was beating him and was at the point of killing him when the Black Ghost arrived to challenge her. This time the Black Ghost was in a fight of his own, and could not reach his aide in time. The Korean girl is his electronic eyes and ears, not an active field agent, and must face this challenge alone.
If the story needs for my character to die, sorry! Boom, gone. It’s that simple. What’s best for the story? Do that, no matter how painful.
But conflict can be done in lots of ways before we get to that. Just put little obstacles in the way of your character – any character – and his or her goal. We need to track a serial killer? Let’s use one of our detectives as bait. Then make him nervous because a few years back, his partner died in front of him, and instead of thinking about catching the killer, he’s thinking about when his partner died, while he’s supposed to be bait for THIS killer. Then a man approaches that he’s sure is the killer and he’s all nervous and ready to spring into action – and it’s a false alarm. Which nearly causes him to blow the sting. Which causes him to get yelled at. Now his new partner is nervous about working with him… ALL of which was added JUST to add conflict. There are lots of ways to increase conflict.
If it’s necessary to the story I have no problem with it. But too many authors are trying to emulate George RR Martin and killing just to kill. First, build your character then, if there’s just cause, you kill them off to move the story.
What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?
Depends on the story, depends on the characters. There’s alot of variables that go into answering that question. For instance, in my latest novel Karma I didn’t kill anyone, but there was a horrible accident that put someone in jeopardy.
I don´t mind, my stories are full of conflict, and I write not to praise the anyone. Characters must do what they must do and feel what they feel, I follow that all the way through the path of writing the whole ploth, it does not matter if I like it, dislike or disagree with it. It is not the role of the writer to judge their characters. Full stop.
In my Unexpected series, the first book begins with the fact that my main character’s mother, and her half-brother’s mother were both deceased. This was a situation that was already developed, so I never gave much to either of these women, who in fairness, had been defining influences on my main character and her brother during their childhood. I then made a choice, to write a prequel, a story that investigated both these women and their influences on my main characters father and his children. I found it very hard to write the demise of both these women, since I had connected to them as I looked into them during their life. Unfortunately, it was always their fate to end up dead, and there was little that I could do about it.
I really don’t mind killing off a character. I worry more about the reaction I’ll get from my readers. I always have an antagonist and they work to supply conflict
In segment six, we talked briefly about how to write an action scene clearly and keep action moving smoothly, especially when there’s a lot going on in the scene in the discussion on action scenes and pacing.
Can any you elaborate on how you keep the action flowing smoothly in a fight scene, specifically?
Professional fighters learn to read their opponent’s strengths and weakness. Their full attention is on the moves, their minds evaluating, their eyes fully engaged on the person in front of them. Each is studying the other for a sign of weakness. Moves are like reflex action, lightning fast, with follow through automatic. There is no time to think about your next move, it has to come with mind-body coordination. And for this to happen they need to train and train until those reflexes are faster than their thought processes. The boxing tournament in my novel, Cold War Heroes has a number of good fight scenes.
I hope so; I wrote a whole book called A Is For Action, to describe just that. Envision it, and lay it out in big chunks, then address each chunk for what it’s supposed to do. Then cut each chunk into littler chunks and address what they are supposed to do. Little by little it’ll come together, but it takes a lot more explanation than I can do here – which is why I needed a while book to explain it, but it’s inexpensive and will show you everything you need, common rookie mistakes like run-on sentences, and all the rest.
Pacing, short sentence structure, mapping out the fight like you would any other scene, being aware of the POV you’re using, the setting, the weapons involved. I often block out the fight the same way a choreographer does for a movie.
Samurai movies. I have immersed myself in Samurai movies for decades and that immersion has influenced everything I’ve written about combat and battle sequences. It doesn’t hurt to know martial arts. I don’t know anything about martial arts beyond the basics. In my fantasy novel, The Gods Of The Gift there is an extended combat sequence that encompasses every combination of fighting, from single to double to mutliple and then to mass formation fighting. I was inspired by a fight scene in the Samurai Trilogy (made in the 50s, see it!). A swordsman squares off against a master of a weapon called the Kusarigama. This device consists of a razor sharp sickle mounted on a staff. There is attached to the staff a heavy spiked ball attached to a twelve foot length of chain. The ball and chain are swung in overhead circles and used to trap an arm, a leg, a sword, thus allowing the weapon’s user to charge in and finish his opponent with the sickle. Nasty! Fascinating!
The Japanese and Chinese have arsenals of bizarre weapons. A bit of research into the Google archives will inspire some good ideas.
Then there’s the sensory impact of combat itself. Writing a fight scene involves all the senses. Feet moving, the sound of gravel spraying, the whine of metal on metal, the sweat and heightened perceptions of the fighters. Adrenaline. Terror and triumph. A good fight is seldom resolved in a single blow. In REALITY this often happens, but in fiction we need to have our heroes staring into the abyss of defeat, almost losing the fight, almost dying, then calling upon some last bit of strength to find a way to survive.
I read some accounts of medieval battles, taken from contemporary sources. The descriptions of thousands of men charging and clashing have much in common. I adapted that perception to describe a battle between large forces colliding in The Gods Of The Gift. Here it is:
“The two masses of people came together with a groan of animal rage. There was a sound like the wrinkling of a giant metal plate. Garuvel was only aware of pushing and being pushed. His shoulder was dug into someone’s brittle shield, someone who was pushing at him as mightily as he pushed back. All around him, this pushing of two giant forces wavered this way and that, the front of the two masses of people snaked, bent, briefly ruptured, re-formed, pushed again. Garuvel could feel himself gaining ground as he pushed at the shield. His feet were digging trenches in the soil; soft wet earth oozed up around his ankles. He was able to take a single step forward and his opponent’s shield broke in two. The face of a startled snarling Djoubiat appeared before him, and Garuvel used two fingers of his left hand to poke his enemy’s eyes out. He grabbed the man’s sword as it began to float away on the waves of the crowd. He tossed it to Jaramine, then got another sword for himself. Back to back, they let themselves be swept into the berserk trance of combat”.
I hope this helps. I’m barely on my first cup of coffee. I recommend that you locate The Samurai Trilogy directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Tohiro Mifune. Great films. Then, of course, there are the Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations. Enjoy!
When I’m writing a fight scene I usually close my eyes and picture the scene then type what I see with every detail. Once the scene is complete then I go back and polish it up
Editing and Revision
In the week seven segment on editing, DeAnna Knippling talked a little about the editing process from the editor’s side. Her comment was that you have to like the type of book you’re editing, so you can be a champion for the story. And like Dan Alatorre pointed out, our stories may not be for everyone and not everyone will like them. As long as some people do like our stories, that may be all that matters as far as building a platform and following, but when it comes to editors, you have to be sure they get our work and like our writing styles. So, my follow-up questions are:
What do you look for in an editor? How do you know when you find an editor who’s a good fit for you?
I tend to find editors online, so I tend to ask questions that are in line with the book I’m writing. If the editor can respond in the same tone, that’s a good sign. “Do you solemnly swear not to try to change the rash behavior of my Y.A. fantasy characters?” That kind of thing.
I look for an editor with experience, and one who isn’t afraid to say what they like and don’t like. Some editors will read anything for the money, but not do a good job because it isn’t a genre he/she is passionate about. I like the editors who tear my work apart while understanding the vision behind it.
This is not always up to the author. When dealing with publishers you have to deal with their editors. When I was writing for NBI my publisher was a pulp fan, and knew what I was writing, so we hit it off great. Other publishers were not so cooperate. A number of them were romance and erotica editors, and were not fans of my writing style. They wanted sex and profanity, and I refused to give it to them. In one scene my hero and a bad guy are fighting in a room high above the street when they crash through a window and are about to fall, and my hero says, “Oh, hell!” My editor wanted something stronger, but I refused. Of course, my hero catches the window frame and doesn’t fall, but we argued about what he should have said, or not said. As the author, I thought I had the final say and that didn’t please the editor one bit. I also had an editor that automatically did a search and destroy for all “ly”s in the story and deleted them. That created more problems than it solved. When you find a good editor, keep them. There are some out there that won’t listen to you, the author.
A good editor can edit anything, like it or not; I do it all the time. But it’s better if they like it. I mean, commas don’t appear or disappear based on if I like the story, but content will be handled differently. What do I look for? Someone who gets it. Gets the story, gets the jokes, gets what I’m going for. Someone who writes or has written, because a bad story with all the commas in the right places is still a bad story. A great story makes its own rules. I love it when an editor or beta reader is so engrossed in my story they forget to edit it. When the fit is right, you know it because they get the jokes BUT they are willing to chuck it all to help the story be the best it can be. We call it the Hemingway standard. They hold me to the highest standard possible and catch every microscopic issue, and I do the same for them. We might not get to Hemingway but by God we’re gonna try.
At this point if I were to look for an editor I’d do my research on what they’ve edited in the past and get some recs from other authors.
I was lucky enough to meet my editor, Karen Freeman, on Scribophile.com. She crit my story, then read everything I’ve written and had a lot of great insight. She knows my style and understands my prose. I love an editor who does a full developmental edit, proofreading, grammar, and character development. Usually, she reads the first draft then waits until my edits and other crits are done before she comes back and rereads everything. As an editor, Karen Freeman goes above and beyond for me. I’m so glad that I have her!
I look for an editor who is easy to work with, answers my questions on why they made editing decisions. At the same time, I like an editor who is prepared to ask me why I made the decision to write a sentence or a scene the way I did.
I want (and have) an editor that will make me a better writer. Someone who will make me step out of my comfort zone and make me write more. Over the years I’ve learned so much from my two editors. They are awesome.
Today, authors can create their own publishing house, putting out their work under their own imprint. I’ve been told that this is a relatively easy thing to do. Some of our panel members have done just that, so let’s ask them.
Can you share with us a little about what the process of creating your own imprint entails?
We created the FADING SHADOWS imprint in 1982, and published a hobby magazine until 2004, as well as genre magazines from 1995 to 2004. We did all the proofing, editing, setting up and printing for most of those years. Today, we still use the FADING SHADOWS imprint on my self-published books. However, we no longer do the printing. Thankfully, with POD technology anyone can be a publisher today, you just need the know-how of modern technology. In 1982 we were young and energetic. In 2019, we’re not so young and energetic, so can’t do it all like we once did. My wife is a good editor for my books. She catches the errors I miss. But she also knows that I write in the pulp style, 60 years in the past.
Liken it to a winemaker. Are you going to grow your own grapes and make and sell the wine? Then if you are a bad farmer, you’ll get crappy wine, so you have to be an expert farmer AND expert wine maker AND expert marketer… most people aren’t experts at all that stuff and aren’t willing to become experts; many won’t be able to even if they knew what to do. There are a lot of moving parts. Essentially, if you mess up on any of those steps, you are toast. Now, having said that, even if you don’t manage to become an expert at everything, you’ll know enough to manage the people you hire and you’ll have respect for what they do.
What are the advantages of having your own imprint? Would you recommend authors do this?
I have multiple pen names, so I do it to keep things organized. If you didn’t have a pen name, and you didn’t plan to ever edit an anthology or something, then I can’t see a lot of material benefit. But as soon as you have multiple names involved, then I’d say you should go for it. It’s hard to claim that your writing business is “DeAnna Knippling, Author” for tax purposes if you’re in either case. BUT I am not a lawyer, so don’t take that as legal advice 🙂
Yes, a lot of authors are using their own imprints today. And some have good editors.
The advantage is, if there’s no market for an original work, it can still see the light of day and maybe find its audience.
Authors, especially those who chose the more traditional routes of publishing, have to be thick skinned. If we take them all personally, they can be devastating, perhaps even deterring an author from continuing the pursuit of their dream.
For those who have tried to publish traditionally or via small press, where your work must be submitted in hopes that someone else will deem it publishable, and how many rejections did you receive before acceptance? And how did you handle the rejections?
I’m still submitting to short story markets. I submit all over the place for that. I think I submitted like fifty queries for novels, but I really wasn’t ready for novels back when I was doing that (I started out as a short story writer). When I started out, it got to me. Then I heard Julie Kazimer talk about how many rejections she had, and I was like, “Right, I like her writing, and she still gets that many rejections, so whatever.” I made a goal to get 100 rejections my first year of serious submissions. Got 125 🙂 I don’t track the number anymore, though.
I received well over one-hundred rejections on COGLING, and now it is my second best-seller. Readers send me emails raving about it. At first, rejection hit hard. I wanted to curl up in the corner and cry. It took a while for rejections to roll off my back. As long as I love what I wrote, then that’s all that matters.
My first novel was submitted in 1970 to a dozen SF publishers, and I received a dozen rejection slips. One famous SF editor said he didn’t even know where the story took place. Well, he must not have even read it (LOL). But to be honest, I needed an editor. In fact, I also sent the story to what I thought was a publisher, but was an editing service. I was living in Riverside, California at the time, and two men came down from L.A., California to interview me. My book, they said, was something special, but they wanted to help me learn to write, and gave me several options, all of which would cost me money that I didn’t have. So I stuck the manuscript in a drawer where it stayed for three decades. In those thirty years I learned to write.
I have fulfilled my dream. Yeah, I read a lot, and see what the traditional authors are writing. Sometimes it’s disheartening to see what is being hailed as the best books on the market, and the size checks they are getting for what I consider junk, and seeing good independent writers having trouble selling copies of their books that are ten times better than those best sellers.
But I think about the writers-for-hire that turned out stories for publishers selling a million copies of each title, and the author only getting $1,500.00 for that book back then. When Stephen King was paid a million dollars for Carry, one of those writers-for-hire took a .45 and blew a hole through his computer. The writer-for-hire was bringing big bucks to the publisher for very low wages, and the publisher was paying King, McMurty, Clancy, and a few others the big bucks. The writers-for-hire didn’t think it was fair, and I still don’t think it is. I like martial arts, and I heard about a “best selling” series called The Ninja that has been receiving such great praise and a New York Best Seller, so I bought it. After fifty pages I threw it in the trash where it belonged.
The movie Rocky won best picture back in 1976. It got turned down a LOT, but Stallone stuck with it and it won best picture. The lesson isn’t tenacity, although that’s part of it. The lesson is, the people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Tom Brady, possibly the best quarterback in the NFL’s history, was a 7th round draft pick. That means EVERY TEAM passed him over 6 times – and he’s the best to ever play the game. Steven Spielberg, the most popular and most successful movie maker in history was turned down by USC film school. The people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Lots of people turned down every successful author at some point, and rejection letters are going to come by the hundreds. Each “no” puts you closer to a “yes,” so expect 200 of them for each version of your book you are querying. If the publishers don’t want it, don’t be afraid to go indie.
In business there’s an expression. It goes like this: If the product is good, it will sell. Of course, I’m crap at business. In 1980 I had a writing career in the palm of my hand. I was a guest of honor at Playboy‘s Writer’s Award banquet. I sat between Alex Haley and Saul Bellow. My short story had won Playboy‘s annual award and I was whisked to New York City to hobnob with the literati. Agents and publishers were handing me their cards. I signed a two year contract with Scott Meredith Agency. I just had one little problem. My writing hadn’t yet matured. My books were earlier versions of themselves and I hadn’t mastered the finer points of story telling. I had another twenty years to grow up and become a polished writer.
Now we, as writers, are struggling through an era in which books are common as pennies and it’s virtually impossible to gain traction. In 1980 the world’s population was half of today’s population. There was room to get noticed. Now, today, go to Twitter, Facebook. Drown in titles, covers, blurbs. Not all of these books are good. I’ve written six hundred query letters to agents. The reply? “Though you write very well, unfortunately your novel is not right for us at this time.”
I don’t quit. I believe in my work. I believe in it so much that I can easily describe it as something like being in love. I’m in love with the things I write, and photograph, and music that I play. And so forth and so on.
Only did this with my first book and only sent to three publishers. All three were rejected. That’s when I learned I could self publish.
During week 8 on publishing platforms, RA Winter gave the following advice for new authors, “Series make more money or at least have all of your books branded in the same genre.”
This sounds like good advice, but what does the multi-genre author do as far as branding goes? Do we have a separate brand for each genre, or can a single brand for your works encompass all the genres that you write?
I write under different genres, so I can’t really use the same marketing/branding for each genre. What works for gothic horror novels doesn’t do so well for cyberpunk. I feel like I have to start over every time–but that’s okay. I’m happy with my choices from a writing perspective. It’s just a pain to deal with from a marketing perspective.
I use the same brand for each of my books. It works for steampunk because it is a gear, and it works for my fantasy novels because gears turning can symbolize the imagination working.
Well, I have to admit, my SF novels have done well, but so, too, have my pulp novels. I like writing in different genres. Westerns sell good, and I have a few in that category also. When I go to town people say, “Oh, he’s that science fiction writer.” That’s nice, but SF doesn’t sell in this town, and a science fiction writer is about as popular as sidewinder. I even told a teacher once that science fiction was a western. You just trade the cowboy’s six-shooter for a ray gun, his horse for a rocket ship, and Indians for red Martians. And some people here know I collect and write pulp, but they don’t know what pulp is. I was at the Post Office one day and a fellow was mailing a big package out. He recognized me and said, “I bet if you thought this box contained comic books you’d take it away from me.” Brand? I don’t know how good a Brand is. Me, I want to write whatever genre grabs me at the time. I’m tickled when someone calls me a children’s author.
Lots of authors don’t do that and are very successful, but I suppose it makes life easier if you do it. The problem is, you might have a crappy series no one wants to read. Then what? You wasted years on a dead end. I write what I want to read. I write in a daring style. I can make you laugh or cry in every story, sometimes on the same page. When you start my story, I own you, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a series or if each book is different. John Belushi never repeated himself; why should I? Genius has a way of being discovered of you are willing to put enough work into it. There are no shortcuts and no magic recipes.
There’s no one magic formula. Train your readers that whatever you deliver, it will rock their world. Books and movies are entertainment. The best directors don’t do the same movie over and over in a series because they want to challenge themselves to find another great thing and to keep pushing themselves.
My work can, and has, fallen under different genres. I find it gets confusing to the reader especially in terms of branding and finding your niche audience. So now I try to incorporate a little bit of fantasy in every book I write be it urban, dark, or adventure so that my books stay under a similar umbrella.
Still working on this.
If you have published independently, what challenges have you faced – in getting your books into brick and mortar bookstores, and libraries?
Nobody likes or wants to work with Amazon/CreateSpace. That’s my biggest challenge in one. I need to expand away from them, but I haven’t reached that far yet.
I’ve personally donated my books to the surrounding libraries, and some of my books have been on the shelves of Books A Million and Hastings in Wichita Falls, Texas, but that was in the past. I doubt seriously that any are still in the brick & mortar bookstores.
Doing any of that requires time and effort. That same effort can get me more sales of eBooks, so I concentrate there. 90% of my marketing time or more is marketing eBooks. If I have time leftover, I’ll see if a library wants a copy or if a brick and mortar bookstore does. I went to an author event where the bookstore manager at the event derided me about bringing so many of my 25 titles. I sold a whopping 6 books that weekend with her. As I was packing up, she kinda laughed at the effort I made in bringing in 25 titles and only selling 6. I mentioned that I’d moved over 1000 eBooks that week. She shut up after that.
They absolutely will not accept POD versions of your book.
Marketing is my biggest challenge.
Building Your Author Platform
Have you ever used paid reviews?
Nope. I don’t feel like it’s ethical, by which I mean “long-term smart.”
I used one company once. It cost a lot of money and promised at least 10 reviews. I got 1. After that, I never paid for another review company.
No, but I have thought about it. Reviews are hard to get.
No. I know some people say Kirkus and others like them are great; I don’t see the value. When I see a Kirkus review, I say: that person isn’t successful enough to get reviews without paying for them. I could be totally wrong about that, but that’s what I think. Spend that $500 or whatever on marketing and getting reviews from readers.
No, there’s no point in it for me. I’d rather here what readers genuinely think rather than someone I paid off to give a glowing review. Besides, I’ve talked to a number of other authors and they’ve all said the amount of reviews you have really doesn’t mean that much in the long run.
No. One I don’t believe you receive a genuine review if you pay for it.
Two. I believe they are unethical.
Three. I can’t afford to pay people to review my work.
I probably have more fans than I realize. Unfortunately, I get very little feedback. A comment on one of my blogs, an appreciation of a book, a review…any kind of review…is a major event. I don’t pay for reviews. There are so many authors, so many reviews, it’s like spitting into a fast moving river. It’s here, then gone.
My novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won Writer’s Digest Honorable Mention. There were almost four thousand submissions. WD wrote a glowing review of the book. Without that review I’m not sure I would even believe the book exists. Without Kaye Lynn’s reviews of my work, I would feel like a ghost. I’ve sold less than a three hundred books. I can’t even give away my books. My memoir, The Road Has Eyes has eleven hundred free downloads. That’s four years worth of promotion. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? A little.
In your mind, what are the pros and cons of paid reviews?
A) They’re not really honest. B) They’re trackable, so your distributor may bust you for them and punish you according to their terms of service. Goodbye review! And that’s generally a best-case scenario.
The biggest con is what happened to me – no one reviews and you just wasted a lot of money. I think the service I used cost $60. $60 for one review (a one-sentence review at that) didn’t feel worth it. I didn’t even know if the reviewer genuinely liked the book or felt compelled to give it 4 stars.
Paid reviews are probably not going to appear on Amazon or GoodReads, or anywhere else. If they weren’t bought on Amazon, the review won’t be published on Amazon.
I guess the pros are you get a review. The cons are, that’s less money you have for marketing.
No author should have to pay for a review.
How effective have you found interviews to be in bringing new followers?
I think the effectiveness of an interview depends on how open the author is willing to be. If the author personally appeals to the audience, then an interview can be great. But if the author is stiff and over-controlled, then people aren’t going to get a very good idea about whether they want to read your book. I’ve both interviewed and been interviewed. The interesting thing to me is that that type of post is more of a long-term investment than a short-term boost. It’s like, people kind of hear about your book somehow, then they look up your name and the book title, and they end up searching for you on Google years after the book is published.
Honestly, I haven’t seen a correlation. No one has told me they read my book or started following me after reading an interview I did.
I don’t think any one thing does a lot by itself, but doing a lot of interviews and a lot of other stuff gets the internet to find you better, and together it all helps. Basically, I do almost every interview I’m asked to do because I can use it on my social media to remind my followers that I’m out there and they should read my next book. That’s not the interviewer’s job. That’s my job in doing the interview.
Interviews have given me exposure to new people…not alot…but enough. Also, they’re fun to do.
Not effective at all.
Has there been one interview you feel was most effective? If so, why do you think this interview was more effective than others?
Unfortunately, I don’t know for sure! I feel like an audio interview with Bill Olver (of Big Pulp at the time) was the most effective, because I saw an upswing right after that, but I have no actual idea.
Here’s the interview: http://www.podcasts.com/big-pulp-audio-435ce9688/episode/Big-Pulp-Audio-May-22-2016-31da
Interviews where I include a giveaway usually get the most comments.
I had a great interview with Cathleen Townsend. It was a blast. I don’t know if it sold any books but I had fun doing it. I did a video interview of bestselling author Allison Maruska (The Fourth Descendant) and we laughed the entire time. We had a great time. Again, did those efforts sell books or did they show a different side of me to an audience? Mark Twain said, sell yourself, not your product.
I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by the owner of COS Productions Sheila English alongside Heather Graham! That got me some attention for sure.
This question is for those of you who have blogs. As we all know, I use WordPress. I found Blogger to be too limiting, and I’ve been playing with WIX for the new WordCrafter site I’m building, but I’m having difficulty in setting it up the way I want and I’m considering creating a second WordPress site instead.
Which blogging platform do you use and what do you see as benefits and drawbacks of it?
I use WordPress. The big benefit is that everybody uses it, so it’s easy to find templates and other goodies for it, and it works well enough. The not-so-big benefit of it is that you have to modify the heck out of it before it feels like home, because it kind of looks like everyone else’s!
I use BlogSpot for my blog, and it is okay, but a lot of tends to be finicky and doesn’t always do what I want. I use Wix for my website, and that too can get finicky. It doesn’t always look the way I want it to look. Maybe its just me not using programs correctly!
I use Blogger, and have found it works well enough. I have half a dozen Blog Sites. Many Groups will not allow the posting of Blog Links for some reason, so I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately with getting the word out on new Blog entries.
I use WordPress for one reason: it’s easiest for people reblog, comment, share, and follow. The end. I want sharing and reblogging and I want one click to make you a follower. WP does that. That’s all I need. I recommend them to everyone. It’s the fastest base from which to build a following at basically zero cost. That’s hard to beat.
I’ve used Blogger and I currently use WIX. I know everyone swears by WordPress but I tried it and I didn’t like it at all. My websites are built on WIX and the blog has everything I need.
Marketing and Promotion
Last week we did a segment on marketing and promotion, yet we didn’t talk at all about book covers. This was a huge oversight on my part, because the covers of our books may be our single most valuable marketing tool. Some people buy books just because their interest is captured by the right cover, even if they’ve never seen one advertisement for the book or read one review. Finding, or creating the right cover can be tricky and different authors handle it in different ways.
Please tell us how you come by your covers: DIY or hired out or prefab?
I’ve done DIY design (from art that I licensed on stock art sites or directly from an author on DeviantArt in one case) and hired out two covers. The ones I hired out for weren’t successful for me, possibly because I did those when I had a much weaker understanding of the market. The artists produced what I asked for 🙂 A third custom cover is for an anthology that’s going to go out soon; I think that one will be a great help in selling the anthology. But Jamie Ferguson (my co-editor) and I did a lot of research on what kind of cover we wanted, even before we commissioned the artist. You can find out more about the anthology, Amazing Monster Tales, here.
My covers are all made by the publishers. I give them an overview on what I’m looking for in a cover and their cover artists go at it.
I’ve hired several covers done for my books. Plus, I do some myself. I agree, the cover is the first thing readers see, and it better catch their eye. The second thing is the Blurb. Both have to attract and interest the reader. I recently saw this in effect, a writer has a very nice cover for his book, but the Blurb stinks, and I wasn’t surprised when he said he wasn’t selling any copies of his book.
Most DIY book covers look home made. Authors should hire someone, and before they hire someone they should see what the top 25 of 50 books in their genre look like and ask to emulate that, then let the artist do their thing. Try to get a few (3-4) mockups and showcase them on Facebook. Even if you are brand new and have zero followers, for $10 you can put together a Facebook ad that will be shown to readers of that genre and let THEM choose the correct cover for you. The fans are never wrong, but I almost always am! Whatever cover I like never wins, and whatever cover the fans like always sells well. Another cool thing to know: after about 12-20 votes, you’ll have a clear winner, and if you get 100 more votes or 1000, the winner won’t change. Remember: you are probably not the target audience, so find them and let them choose. I and friends have spent as little as $50 to $100 for covers that became bestsellers. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to have a winner, but a loser costs a ton – because you have to overcome its crappiness by way of additional marketing expense.
I make my own covers. Awhile back I had the rights to my Demon Hunter saga returned to me. At the time, the publisher had used stock photos that made them look like romance covers. When I got the rights back I had a very specific direction where I wanted to take the books for a relaunch. So I began dabbling in Photoshop and eventually I produced some stunning covers. Now I mostly do all my own unless I need specific art work drawn out.
I use Kreativecovers and use Kayci Morgan exclusively. She’s wonderful. I can give her an idea and she runs with it. Here are my two favorite covers that she did. The first one, Twisted, you can immediately tell the genre. The second one, Demise, gives you a taste of what’s in the book. I’m so pleased to have her on my team.
Instead of asking what makes a great cover, a question that has been asked a thousand times before, with answers dependent on as many variables as there are books on the market, I’m going to ask you each to include the image of what you consider to be your best book cover and tell us what you think makes it a great cover.
I have a lot of great covers, but will pick NEW PULP HEROES as an example. This is a non-fiction book with essays on the New Pulp Heroes. It’s a book that every New Pulp writer, and every researcher should have. And the cover is pure pulp. The girl is in danger and the hero coming to rescue her. It’s perfect for the subject matter within the pages.
A great cover is what fans say is a great cover and you figure that out using the method I just described. Most authors can’t be objective enough to do that, though. They let their intentions cloud the process.
My best cover is Double Blind, a murder mystery. I look at it and I feel the intensity of the killer. Second is the new cover for The Navigators, same reason – intensity. They just look professional.0
I went through several variations of Demon Hunter Saga for the print book. What makes this a great cover? When I’m at conventions among the thousands of talented artists there this cover stands out in a crowd. When people see the book on my table they always stop to look at it. I’ve been told more than once how amazing the cover looks and I’m really very proud.
This may be my favorite cover. I use my own photography and do all the design work. I love this cover because it describes what’s in the book. It’s loaded with narrative, mystery and incorporates one of the best design devices in the world, the “S” curve. The eye is drawn down that oddly green road towards the RV. There’s fog, stars and a homely thirty year old Winnebago. Who’s in that RV? Where are they going? Where have they been? This is a very cool book cover.
I would say my latest Ripper cover is the best. It is totally eye catching.
Sometimes life just gets in the way of things. This round of Ask the Authors panel members have been great, but unfortunately Mark and Kym Todd had to drop out early on when Kym was injured while they were traveling. Art Rosch, as well, has been absent from several segments due to a series of unforseen circumstances starting with a tree falling on his home, being in the middle of all the California fires, and other issues which prevented him from participating in many of the previous segments. Fortunately, Art was able to join us for this last segment, enthusiastic about being back in the game. He wrote me a lovely piece discussing many of the things which we cover here and he also had this to say about social media book promotion and branding.
Social media. Where else do you promote books? I’ve spent every day for the last five years on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus and half a dozen others that I can’t remember. I’m so sick of social media that I’ve tried another tack.
I published Confessions in paperback, ordered a box of fifty and started giving away copies. It may be a slow method of marketing but it gets the book read. People talk to me about the characters, they ask questions. That’s what I want: engagement with an audience. Whether my audience is ten people or ten thousand people, I want to hear from readers. If I had a ton of money I’d buy ads on Amazon and Facebook. I’ve heard they don’t work either.
All the conventional wisdom about branding is so much noise. I am my brand. The literature of Arthur Rosch. My platform is made from Popsicle sticks.
Just for Fun
Authors are just ordinary people in so many ways, no matter the level of success we’ve had. So if you will, share with my readers a little about things that make us real by answering at leeast one of the following questions.
What’s one thing most of your readers would never guess about you?
I often wear other colors than black?!?
That I was an awful student in high school, Purdue University (six years), IU law school (4 years not three) and never have taken a writing class in my life.
I love coconut. Coconut pies, coconut cake, anything with coconut. I’m addicted to coconut like most people are with chocolate.
I’m terrified of people in costumes. Think Minnie Mouse at Disney. If I see a person in a costume, I’m running the other way.
I used to do fitness competitions.
I’m a shrink (lol). People guess all sorts of professions for me, never a shrink. Maybe, it’s because I´m very talkative and I’ve never done clinician activities.
I have five, yes, five boys. Now you know why I have such an odd sense of humor.
They’d never guess that I’m a drug addict.
Listen to me: this is true. I’ve had a year in which I felt like committing suicide. I began to write suicide notes in my head and then I would stop myself. “You’re writing suicide notes in your head,” I told myself. “Stop it right now.” I had a spell of depression. I’m doing much better now. One of the things that kept me wanting to live was the existence of my books. I thought, “If I don’t fight for these, they’ll vanish. I’m obviously the only person who will fight for my books, so I’ve got to hang around.”
When I was worried about running out of a particular genre to read (because I was obsessed) my best friend said, “write your own.” And I did!
Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Eat and wander around in scenic locations. And read, of course, although that probably goes without saying.
Sit in my Mini Cooper convertible by the beach, listen to the waves, and read a good mystery.
I love to read (obviously, haha), paint, and make jewelry.
Workout, paint, relax.
Sports & cooking, plus reading, traveling, and talking to people.
Watch the stars at night, play drums and watch TV.
If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
The normal stuff, like paying off debts and setting up college funds and traveling and buying a house up in the mountains 🙂 But I think I would be going to my library and finding out what they needed.
Live in the south of France.
I would quit my day job to focus on my son and writing. I hate sending him to daycare. I love the daycare he goes to, but I want him home with me for adventures
Rich would be a load off, famous I don’t ever want. I would keep writing though, resting in the knowledge that at least now I knew people would be reading my books.
I always think about that…I will do everything the same, maybe I´d buy some fancy chocolate and coffee. That´s all!
I’d start a foundation promoting education in third world countries.
What is the one thing you hope to teach your children?
That other people have valid internal lives of their own. That’s the foundation of empathy–the rest of being an actual worthwhile human is all gravy 🙂
To listen better than I do and be more patient that I am.
To be patient. Whenever I drive and someone ahead of me does something weird, I feel sorry for them. I think they made a mistake. I’ve been in the car with, say, my husband, and he’s furious at the other driver.
I guess I´ve already done that and that is authenticity. There is nothing like being ourselves and moving forward!
I hope to teach my grandchildren how to think correctly and to revere life.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Please send cheese.
The most blessed man on the face of the earth (Sorry for length)
I just asked my toddler and he said, “Ew, ew, ew.” I guess I’m yucky!
I’m a warrior.
Cheerful, busy, project-driven.
Deep, very deep.
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given or offered?
It wasn’t phrased this way, but: “Make someone else make you fail.”
Afraid of what might happen if you send out a book before it’s ready? Afraid of going straight to an editor and skipping the agent? Terrified of indie publishing? What’s the worst that could happen? You could be ignored. Oh well.
Never give up trying anything new
Its okay to take a rest. People need to recharge their inner batteries too.
This is one that everyone can learn to do, and it will help most of the writers out there. Write as if a disinterested 3rd party picking it up had no reference point for what you’d written. You must bring them from point A to B to C. Most writers will use that as an excuse to over write in so much detail the story become unreadable, so here’s this, too: 1. Get to the good stuff as fast as you can. 2. Most writers are too afraid to really bare their soul on the page, so their work isn’t as intense and immersing as it could be.
So many because I’m always learning. My best advice is from myself as I’ve learned that life is short and not to waste time.
Go for it!
You can’t heal yourself alone. Ask for help.
What makes you laugh or cry?
Everything. One of the reasons my spouse was interested in me was he kept hearing me belly laugh to myself in a college computer lab.
When I hear of injustice, of people being denied their rights.
Tickling makes me laugh. I cry when I see costumed characters.
Cute animals do both!
I laugh and cry very easily, but what really hits me are those unique and anonymous experience that never happen twice, like hugging a homeless guy in the street, finding a pencil in the middle of a supermarket when I just needed to take a note in pencil.
What is your favorite food? Color? Song?
Cheese, green, and I haven’t picked one yet because mostly people want to know my favorite book.
Macaroni and Cheese, Purple, Imagine
My favorite food right now is cheese, haha. I love the color black, with blue as a close second. My favorite song is a mashup of Light ’em Up and Radioactive. It makes the perfect theme song for the Treasure Chronicles.
Pizza, Black, Right now I like “Get Up” from Shinedown
Food is my homemade pasta, of course!!! Color = all of them. Song: Ella Fitzgerald “Bewitched…”.
Favourite food – Steak – particularly Scotch fillet.
Favourite Colour – Red and Black
Favourite Song – American Pie by Don Maclean
Cheerios. Blue. Lonnie’s Lament by John Coltrane and You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen.
In a future where you no longer write, what would you do instead?
[Glares at interviewer.]
I would teach. I’m currently a teacher; its what I’ve always wanted to do, other than write.
That future doesn’t exist, I would always write. However, if you’re asking what I would do instead…I wanted to be an animator for Disney.
Audio books (lol).
Sit in an urn on the fireplace.
See. Ordinary people. Nothing unique or odd about authors. We’re perfectly normal. Hehehe!
Thank you all for joining us for Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Thanks to our author panel members for sticking with it and putting up with all my probing questions and reminders and fitting AtA into their busy lives for the last twelve weeks. They’re a great bunch of authors and I can’t thank them enough for sharing here.
This has been a great blog series and I think we put out a lot of useful information. I’m thinking of doing a Round 3 sometime next summer. If you enjoyed this series and would like to see more, please let me know in the comments. Mention which panel members you enjoyed and why, to show appreciation for their efforts.
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I recently made the acquaintance of the energetic, sassy author, R.A. Winter. She writes in several genres, including fantasy, magical realism, dark fantasy, , time travel romance, contemporary Native American romance, and paranormal Native American western. And it seems she never rests when it comes to writing. Please help me to welcome R.A. Winter to Writing to be Read.
Kaye: Hello and welcome. Would you start by sharing the story of your own publishing journey?
R.A.: I started out writing genealogy nonfiction books under my married name. I love research and old libraries! I also love reading romances. With so many ideas flirting around my head, I thought I’d give creative writing a go.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
R.A.: I write the raunchiest first draft, the humor is way over the top. Then I cut it down, and my crit circle cuts it down further. My editor slices more. They say that a bit of humor goes a long way.
Kaye: You have sites on both WordPress and Wix. Can you give us the advantages and disadvantages of each? Which site do you prefer? Why?
R.A.: Wix is easier to deal with, super simple to navigate and change. WordPress is a bit of a pickle to deal with, and every time I change something, I mess up the page. I do prefer WordPress because I can easily share review and pages on a whim. Wix doesn’t give you that option.
Kaye: You’re on the review team at The Naked Reviewers, where authors can submit a book and request an honest review. Would you like to tell us a little about that site and what the review process is?
R.A.: We have a group of published author on Scribophile.com who formed the group. Right now, I think there is twelve of us. When someone submits a book, we all read the first chapter, the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon. Then we rate the writing, the blurb, and the cover. If two of us agree, we review the book. Each Wednesday, two of us leave our review as a feature, if anyone else read it, they leave their thoughts in the ‘comment’ section. It does mean that most books that we review get a 4.0 or higher rating, usually. We wanted to show off the best books.
R.A.: I ordered products from Amazon.com. A coffee grinder, a milk frother, and a small coffee taper, they just happened to be from the same company in China. Now, I review every product I receive, but when I went to upload my reviews, Amazon wouldn’t allow it. After contacting them, they said that I had a ‘relationship’ with the company in China and that I’d violated their terms. Apparently, I ordered too many things from them. I just don’t understand. They ask you to review, you review… then they’re like… you review too much! They banned me for LIFE for writing any reviews.
My point to them was- IF I was screwing reviews, wouldn’t my books have like 300 hundred reviews instead of each of them having less then 10? I mean seriously. THAT’S what would have benefited me!
Kaye: What is one thing that your readers would never guess about you?
R.A.: I have five children… all boys. I’ve lived in 5 different countries too. I don’t know which one was harder to live through. And all my boys look like my husband.
Kaye: What are your secrets for juggling writing with family?
R.A.: My kids are older, so they don’t need me. I like to write at night, when the house is quiet and no one interrupts. My earbuds are essential, and a song list that corresponds to my writing mood.
Kaye: You have some really great covers, some of which you’ve shared here. What do you do for cover art? DIY, or hired out, or cookie cutter prefab? Do you have a great cover designer you’d like to recommend?
R.A.: Some are creations of Kayci Morgan, from KreativeCovers.com. A few I did myself, which you can probably tell. Kayci is wonderful to work with and very reasonable. I am learning Photoshop and I’m doing my own teasers. I’m getting better but I just don’t have the finesse to do covers well.
Kaye: You have a paranormal romance fantasy novella, Twisted, which I’m excited to be reviewing here on Writing to be Read. (So watch for that review on Friday.) What can you tell us about that story?
R.A.: Twisted is a novella, and one of the hardest things I’ve
It’s a Freaky-Friday, body switching piece… full of adult humor. A witch’s land is cursed. Males are no longer born to the vampires, nor are females born to the wolves. To end the curse, the witch must solve a riddle, and she has to have the cooperation of the vampires and the werewolves.
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?
R.A.: My Spirit Key series was a way to keep my cat alive in my memories. He’d just past away, and Dingle had the oddest personality for a cat. He always reminded me of an old man, you know the one. The spunky old guy in the nursing home who’s constantly bugging the pretty nurses and running behind them with his walker, never able to catch them. Occasionally, he’d pinch their behinds, but act like he didn’t do it. I taught Dingle how to wink, but usually he had this grumpy look on his face. He used to love to jump out and scare me, then give me that ugh, you’re-stupid-to-fall-for-that-again look. He’s now a ten-thousand year old spirit who has a bit of trickster in him.
Kaye: Your Spirit Key series are westerns with a bit of a different twist to them. Would you like to tell us about them?
R.A.: Contemporary Native American’s in a western setting with magical realism is the gist of the Spirit Key Series. In book 1, we follow young Sara, as the ghosts of ancestors haunt her days and try to keep her away from young RedHorse. There’s a new spirit in town, a nefarious one who has his own agenda. The Old One wants the land for the dead and he’ll do anything to have it, including taking away what Sara loves most.
Kaye: There are two books in The Spirit Key series: Painted Girl and Redhorse. What type of research did you do for these books?
R.A.: The first two book are contemporary, set in modern day Kansas on a farm. Books 3 and 4 (which are almost finished) go back to 1950, and we delve into Grandfather’s life, and that of the ten-thousand year old spirit who watches over them. My research centered on the old Indian Schools, and the horrors that the children underwent. It’s all to stop the spirits from invading this world, and to give grandfather his happy ending. The Native American research is from my family.
Kaye: You also write contemporary romance with a Native American twist. What about Little Sparrow, A Kiowa in Love or Red Dress, Two Wives?
R.A.: Those were my early books. I’ve taken the ebooks down, and now I’m writing those into the Spirit Key Series. Everyone is related, so it made sense to do that. I kept the hard copies up because a few people really liked them the way they were. My writing evolved, and I thought those two would be great as part of the Spirit Key Series with some rework.
Kaye: What is the attraction for adding a Native American element to your writing?
R.A.: Two fold. My grandmother was ‘found’. It was assumed that she was Native American. This was in the 1880’s, a time when the tribes had to travel west and were forced onto reservations. Our family farm was near one of the routes and my grandfather brought home a baby girl one day, saying that he’d found her. My cousins are Sioux. I barely remember the eldest two girls but I do remember their beauty. One day, when I was only six years old, they disappeared. Just up and gone. Our family went nuts, as you can imagine. It wasn’t until twelve years later that we learned that they had been taken west to different orphanages and divided up. (This was the early ’70’s when the government still took NA children on a whim.) Anyway, my stories revolve around finding your identity when you don’t know who you are, when you have no memories of your family. My Native American family is rooted by my life stories. You know that you’re different, but you feel the same as everyone else. You just have to find your own special, because it’s there, you don’t have to go looking for it. It just may be hiding in plain sight.
Kaye: I’m also very interested in your time travel romances, As Long As I Have You and Always With You. What can you share with us about them?
R.A.: These were part of an anthology, and part of a series inside the anthology. The rules are simple, Cupid owns a bar, and his mate has a special tattoo that glows when soul mates are touched. In book 1, Ann Paolo comes to the bar with her dog. Unbeknownst to her, the dog, Han, is the spirit of a long dead Native American, who has been cursed to follow Ann through time, always to love her, and be loved, but never to be with her. Cupid sends them back in time, so Han can erase his curse. In book 2, Ann’s back, because so many lifetimes couldn’t be rewritten. This time, Cupid calls on the fates to bring Han to life in this day and time. The fates have a bit of trouble writing him into time-line, so they turn to Netflix for ideas. Han is now, Dan Winchesty, from the TV show Super-Unnatural Killers and Revealers Suckers for short. You know, Dan Winchesty- the one with the perky nipples? It’s a spoof on Supernatural, and I think it’s hilarious, but that’s just my opinion.
Kaye: What is your favorite genre to write in so far? Why?
R.A.: I love magical realism and fantasy. Creating my own world, and rules, takes a lot of thought and design. You just can’t pop something on paper, it has to make sense, have rules, have life, and you have to bring a reader into your world and make them happy.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
R.A.: I do all my own marketing, which isn’t much. Word of mouth is my best friend, because lets face it, my works are different. I just had a review from a guy, who said that someone at work bullied him into reading it and he loved it, even with the romance in the book. I think that was a compliment.
Kaye: If one of your books was made into a film, which book would you want it to be? And who would you like to play the lead?
R.A.: Hmm, I’d love the Spirit Key to be a series on Netflix, but for a movie, I’d chose Twisted. Sam Witwer and Meaghan Rath. They had great chemistry in Being Human. Now, however, Meaghan would be a vampire, and Sam would be a wolf.
Kaye: What’s next? What does the future look like for R.A, Winter?
R.A.: Oh, I have at least six books in various stages of completion. Twisted will be turned
into a series, readers have asked for that. I’m also writing a series about Death Takers
coming alive and finding love. It’s a dark romance series that takes the reader on a
journey to Tartarus and the bowels of hell. Book 1 is finished, book 2 is halfway. Once
book 2 is ready I’ll publish.
Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
R.A.: I’ve done a lot of things on my bucket list. I’ve traveled the world, lived in five different countries and enjoyed most of my life. If I had a lot of money, I’d pay off my family’s student loans. Right now, it’s around 200k, and I’m serious. It would be life changing for them to pay off their debts. BTW, I have one family member, with 100k debt who graduated from Pitt with a bachelor’s in psychology. Anyone have any job prospects for him? E-mail me.
I want to thank R.A. Winter for joining us today and putting up with my interrogation. Seriously though, she was really a good sport about answering all of my questions with open, honest answers. You can find out more about her and her writing on her website, her Spirit Keys site, or her Amazon Author Page.
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