Words to Live By: The Kid in the Machine

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The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

The Kid in the Machine

When I was a kid, science fiction was everything to me. Partially because my family instilled a deep love of the classics (you know, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, basically anything with the word Star in it), I watched movies and read comic books, collected toys and built model spaceships. At some point I decided I’d like to tell my own sci-fi stories, and at a relatively young age, I began writing my first novel. I didn’t finish it, of course, didn’t even get past page twenty, but you know, intergalactic star port descriptions are real tricky.

Even now, I still love a good space opera. I never stopped being a fan, never stopped dreaming of distant galaxies and intergalactic wars. In fact, my appreciation for all things speculative and nerdy only deepened, especially once it became clear sports and girls were out, but Lord of the Rings marathons were in. I love that epic fantasy stuff, that twisted horror, that magical realism and those far flung futures, and don’t tell anyone I went to high school with, but I’d rather read a good comic than indulge in any kind of respectable adult activity. Bill paying, for instance. Never did get the hang of that one.

That’s me, I suppose, but I know for a fact on some level it’s you, too. In many ways, the things we’re fans of help define us. I know you’re still a dorky kid on the inside. I bet the inner you still wears braces and drinks juice from a box. What really does it for you? What gets you excited as a fan? Classical literature? Hard-boiled detective stories? The biggest mistake I see many established authors make as they transition from nobody to “somebody” status is that they stop being fans. It’s almost like the red curtain to the whole show gets ripped away from them, and they’re left staring into the cold, mechanical under-croft of the modern storytelling machine. Jaded, I think is the word. You must make me a promise, guys. If you ever get to that place, have yourself a good movie marathon or read a book series that has always been your favorite. A storyteller who no longer likes stories? Criminal.

Ancient sages and modern neuroscientists agree, our personalities are not exactly what we think they are. More of a patchwork, really, a cobble of external influences, internal pressures, beliefs, both valid and invalid, mixed with a healthy dose of daily psychological wear and tear and deeply recessed emotional ideation we’ve tried hard to suppress or which has simply faded into our subconscious minds during the natural course of things. In some lesser known systems of mysticism (since we’re clearly on the subject), our conscious minds are more or less counterfeit anyway, are in fact the byproducts of heretofore unseen spiritual forces that influence our thoughts, our actions, even what kinds of truths we cling to, as essential and impressively ordered as they seem. In concrete terms, you are a body, you are a mind, but you are so much more. You’re the hidden watcher, the presence behind the eyes, the witness and willing participant of the little dramas and tragicomedies happening all around you. If you’re a storyteller, you exist in even stranger terms, because you’re both the creator and the created, and the work you produce is not really yours, but rather is divinely inspired and orchestrated to flow through you.

I mean, all well and good, right? Philosophy and practicality are poor bedfellows. Because while you’re sitting in your cramped home office in the dead of night, staring with hollow eyes at your ten-year-old computer monitor—you know, the one with the cracked screen you can’t afford to repair because you chose to be a “divinely inspired” writer—the work is never as easy as you’d like it to be. I gotta tell you, for people who literally conjure something from nothing on a regular basis, writers can be a grumpy and sour bunch. Sometimes all the passion and love and internal lexiconic fandom in the universe isn’t enough to kill that 2:00 AM headache you acquired from yet another impossible deadline. Life is life, reality is staggeringly persistent, and even the most grounded and stable amongst us can have epic bare-knuckle freak-outs. That’s an industry term, by the way.

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To wit, I recently stumbled across a long and uncharacteristically honest social media thread that got my wheels turning. I’m Facebook friends with a lot of people in the writing business, and though I don’t personally know the vast majority of them, I’ve always felt a certain kinship with like minded individuals who’ve chosen paths very similar to my own. The original post asked the question, Have you ever quit writing long-term? Did you regret it? Now people in our culture are often inclined to save face and amass a front when it comes to their careers. Somehow, we’ve gotten it into our heads that the way we make money says more about us than our emotional or mental states, our long-term habits and behavioral matrices, or even our unerring innate natures, who we were before we became. After all, nobody asked you when you were five years old, Who is the essential you? They asked, What do you want to be? Like, can’t I just be the kid with a juice box who likes Saturday morning cartoons? No, teacher says, you’re an astronaut, Cindy. Next!

The responses to that Facebook post surprised me. I expected a lot of business about I’m a writer this, it’s what I do that, and there were some comments to that effect, but by and large, most respondents had to admit that if they hadn’t actually quit, they’d sure thought about it once or twice. One older gentleman actually said he gave up his very lucrative writing career years before and hadn’t looked back since. Good riddance, that was the gist. Now why would that be? Is this the norm? Isn’t writing supposed to be a joyful act?

It is, purely so, but only when a person is free to pursue it without constant worry and stress. That thing about writers tending to become alcoholics? It’s a tad overblown, but it has a ring of truth. And that gentleman, he wasn’t the only one to chime in with similar enthusiasm. Now I am not what you’d call a seasoned professional, not really. I’ve published, I’ve faltered and thought I’d quit (several times, actually), and I’ve gotten back on the horse, back to the business at hand. Not because I had deadlines. There was no external pressure for me. Because I had something to say, new experiences I wanted to share, truths I wanted to communicate. And you know what gave me the courage to do it?

Star Wars. Star Trek. Battlestar Galactica. I hadn’t written in several years, long enough I found I was ready to be a fan again instead of a base, lowly, underdog creator. And being a fan, just like when I was eight years old, I found once more the desire to tell my own stories. I don’t begrudge a professional who is sick to death of the business and wants out for good. Truth be told, I’ve never been in that position. But I am intimately familiar with the love of these things, the passion, the unabashed joy. I’ve stoked those fires within myself my whole life, and I can’t imagine a day at least some part of me won’t thrill whenever I see Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star. Sure, it’s nerdy as hell, but it’s home, it’s the place I do my dreaming.

My advice to those who want out before they’ve said everything they want to say: go home. Go and be the dreamer awhile. Maybe even a long while. Dreams can manifest as surely as dawn follows dusk, Spock follows Kirk, Jimmy Olsen is Superman’s best pal. If you as a very impressive, very professional adult can’t touch base with the kid in the machine, apart from having my pity, you have my condolences. Rest in Peace, the guy or gal you really are. Consider the possibility the world is the lie, and that you were always the truth. Drive and the creative impulse are not inexhaustible. This is very true. It’s also true they can be recharged and brought back to tip-top fighting shape as certainly as Green Lantern charges his power ring.

Plus, you don’t have to lug around an alien lantern and swear an oath every time you do it. Unless you’re into cosplay, and in that case, why waste time reading some dumb article? You’re clearly needed elsewhere, space cop. Hi, my name is Jeff Bowles. I’m old enough for beer, but today of all days, I’d like a juice box, please.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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What is your writing process?

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Back when I began my M.F.A., one of the first questions I was asked was, “What is your writing process? To put the words in my head down on the page, right? I just write what I think and then revise, revise, revise until it comes out, hopefully, to something someone will want to read. That was my writing process, or so I thought. But, I learned that there is so much more to writing, especially if you are undertaking a novel length work, and every author has their own way of doing things. There is no right way to create story. We all have to find the ways that work for us.

Some writers are plotters, and some are pantsters, just letting the story flow, so they can be surprised right along with their readers at how the story turns out.. Those who are plotters find fabulous and creative methods to work out their plots, from using a whiteboard, to taping note cards on the wall above their desks, to good old fashioned outlining. While some authors, like Barbara Chapaitis, who was my “Chatting with the Pros” guest last January, are binge writers, who get an idea and then locks themselves in a room alone for days on end until the story is written.

Some like to do their writing at night, some in the morning hours when their creativity is at a high. Some write with their favorite music playing, while others require quiet in order to write. Some writers write everything out in longhand, while others type it out on their keyboards. Still others, like Kevin J. Anderson and Martin L. Shoemaker in their book, which I reviewed this month, “On Being a Dictator“.

Ask the Authors

Coming soon

It is a subject that has fascinated me, and questions on the writing process are commonplace in my author interviews, because everyone does it different. In fact, back in 2018, when I was running the “Ask the Authors” series, I ran a segment on it in both rounds of the series, which is soon to become a chapter in the Ask the Authors book, scheduled to come out later this year from WordCrafter Press. I think it fascinates me because there are so many different ways to approach writing, and some of them are very creative.

Like many things, writing processes change and grow as we do. Back then, I carried a notebook and wrote stories out in longhand if a computer wasn’t handy. I just wrote from off the top of my head and let the words fall as they may. I loved to write while my favorite music played, and since there were others in the house, it was usually blasting into my head through a set of earbuds. But now… Now I carry my laptop everywhere and do a lot of pre-writing activities in my head. (The writing process begins long before the words ever hit the page.) I seldom listen to music while I write because I too often catch myself singing along instead of writing. (I’m seriously considering giving dictation another go, because many ideas are lost because I can’t get them down right away.) And I outline, especially for novel length works, but even a little on short stories, too.

What is your writing process? I would love to hear about your own unique approaches. Let me know in the comments.


The Making of a Memoir: Obstacles and Roadblocks

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Losing Michael: Teen Suicide and a Mother’s Grief

 

“The Making of a Memoir” is a bi-monthly blog series which explores the stages of writing a memoir as I write the story of losing my nineteen year old son, Michael, to suicide, through his story and the tale of a life without him and the grief I experience every day, even after he’s been gone for a decade. Some progress has been made toward the actual writing of the book since the last segment. I made a final decision on the title above for the book, and work on the cover is in progress with Art Rosch at Starrts Creative. Although there is still a lot of material still to sort through and compile what I want to include, I managed to work through a considerable amount. The going is slow, as I knew it would be, due to the emotional nature of the material and the memories some of it awakens.

In the last segment, “Stage 1: Prewriting Tasks“, I said I expected this book to be the most difficult story I have ever attempted to write, and that has proven to be true. In fact, it has proven to be difficult in more ways than I had imagined. This segment was supposed to be titled “Stage 2: Selling the Story”, but alas, unexpected “Obstacles and Roadblocks” has become a more appropriate title. Over the past two months, I run into several and I’m still trying to find a way around, over or through one huge one in particular – legalities.

Memoir can and should be a work of creative nonfiction. It is a true story told creatively, so as to capture and hold the readers’ attention. What memoir is not, is a work of fiction, with fictitional characters and places. You are telling a true story, something that actually happened, something in which other real people played different roles, and to tell the story, their parts must be told as well, even if the tale doesn’t portray all of them in a positive light. A good memoir must be told with honesty, from the heart.

As I sorted through the plethora of material I have gathered and saved since my son’s death: his poetry, writings and artwork; my poetry and writings; and oh so many photos, I couldn’t help but think about the other people involved, directly or indirectly with the story of the events leading up to Mike’s death and also the events that came after, and I realized that there were more than a few, people associated with Mike, and law enforcement officers, who might not want this story to come out because of the manner in which they might be viewed for their parts in his death.

It normally wouldn’t be a problem at all. I’m writing the story of events as they happened to the best of my knowledge. Many facts surrounding Mike’s death were suspicious, and for a time I believed that Mike might have been murdered. Things didn’t add up, but the proof to back up what I know to be true was withheld from me by local law enforcement. I no longer entertain the idea that Mike’s death was anything other than suicide, without the proof that the events happened the way I claim they did, I could be open to liable in telling this story.

The individuals involved wouldn’t really be a problem. The obvious solution is to change the names. Even in a true story, real people can have fictitious names, without damaging author credibility. Authors do this all the time; you just state that some names have been changed and readers won’t feel cheated.

The law enforcement agency and certain individual agents present a bigger problem. Do I change the names of the law enforcement agents? Do I change the name of the area they represent? How much can be changed before a true story becomes a work of fiction? The proof I lack wouldn’t portray the local law in a positive way and they know it, so they aren’t likely to have a change of heart about sharing it with me for the book. They play major roles in the events leading up to Mike’s death, and the story really can’t be told without their inclusion.

Although this issue has presented a roadblock that appears it might be unsurpassable, I have a couple of ideas on how I might be able to get around it. I need to let it play out and see. If not, I’ll look for a way to go over, or under if I have to. This is a story that must be told, and I’m determined to tell it.  By the next segment, in June, I should be moving forward once more. I’ll let you know how it gets resolved. I do hope you’ll join me then.


Join me in my writing journey through “The Making of a Memoir” the second Monday every other month on Writing to be Read: February, April, June, August, October and December. To be sure not to miss one segment, subscribe to email or follow on WordPress for notification of new content.


Interview with western author Loretta Miles Tollefson

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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?

Not Just Any Man ebook cover.final 11 5 18.150 dpiLoretta: 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?

9781632931849-Perfect w shadow.inddKaye: 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?

Loretta: Hmmm,
Characteristics:

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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Jeff’s Pep Talk: Permission to Quit Granted – Alternative Means of Expression: Part II

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Permission to Quit Granted – Alternative Means of Expression: Part II

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

A couple months ago, I talked about YouTube and alternative ways writers can express themselves in order to clear out writer’s block or perhaps simply gain perspective on career or creative issues. I consider the writer’s life a long-haul experience. Very often, we go through bursts of creativity and sheer writing bliss, only to end up in a long, slow burn of doldrums and low output. The first five to ten years of any writing career are all about figuring out our voices, our skill-levels, our likes and dislikes, and most importantly of all, our individual thresholds for, let’s say, soul-crushing rejection. After that, ultimate longevity is kind of a crap shoot, right? Well, sort of.

The workhorse model for professional writing doesn’t suit everyone. You may not believe me on that, but trust me, pragmatic holistics matter. Yes, in general it’s best to stay productive and avoid periods of low output, but it’s also a bare bones fact people seek and find inspiration in their own unique ways. For instance, it’s not uncommon for some very successful authors to disappear from the literary scene for years or even decades at a time, only to return in incredible, blinding flashes of brilliance. What do they get up to during those so-called creative droughts? Mostly, on an internal level, they live and experience a few more things until they feel they have something new to say.

If you’re the kind of writer who must hit the brakes every now and then, and by the way, I count myself among you, it may come as a surprise that there doesn’t exist a whole lot of information and support for your way of doing things. The workhorses of the world would have you believe you’re failing if you don’t put down your 2,000 words every single day. But you aren’t. Trust me on this. You’re still doing the job. Even quitters are doing the job. You’re smelling the roses, paying the mortgage, getting married, divorced, remarried, having kids, whatever it is. In essence, you’re telling the story so you can, you know, tell some more stories.

Quitting is a misnomer anyway. I’m not sure good writers ever actually quit. We say we want to, go through the motions, but sooner or later, the bug bites us again. Shamefully, we may disappear into our little domiciles and caverns and pine away for all the stories we never got to tell. But this attitude is borrowed, I can assure you, from a culture that sees reflection and seclusion as things slightly lower than sin.

Just quiz yourself for a moment. The last time you got yourself into a writing funk, wasn’t it because you had something bigger to do? You had to work on your insecurities or your fear of success, or maybe your great aunt died and left you a billion coupons for that buffet place she loved so much but that only serves your favorite brisket on Sundays. An unlikely scenario, sure, but you get the point. Writing doesn’t occur in a vacuum. As much as we may dislike the idea, every word we lay down reflects who we are, who we’ve been, what we believe and value, and the places we yearn to go.

It all depends on your purpose as a storyteller. Does anyone really have a purpose in this world? Yes, I believe we do, though you may feel free to disagree. As an avatar of the workhorse archetype (Family: workhardimus, Genus: unflappabilititus), your purpose may be to write whatever, however, whenever, and for as much money and prestige as possible. A worthy fate if there ever was one. If, by way of alternate example, your countenance and mean represent the BIG IDEA archetype (Family: trickleinspirationmaximus, Genus: deletekeywornout), you may make a habit of cooking a single manuscript for fifteen years before realizing it was good enough to show people eight years ago.

Is there a wrong or right answer here? I don’t think so. Is one of these writers lazier than the other? Arguably, but I don’t think dedication is the ultimate watch word. We’re looking at the sum rather than the parts here, and that makes all the difference.

Art, like life, is a product of time and gestation, and some ideas simply can’t be rolled out in the span of a few months or a few years. Let’s say all you want to write about is a clan of trolls that need to hatch a plan to infiltrate the King’s armory (why not? Substitute a diatribe for or against the Trump Administration, if you like). Every one of your writer friends tells you to plug away until the damned thing is finished, but instinct screams at you to put the story away because you don’t fully understand family dynamics during wartime, social patterns in relation to ground-dwelling malcontents, or the trials and tribulations of Diet Coke-swilling Presidents. I’m telling you to follow the instinct.

The relative complexity of the story you want to tell and your ability to execute it depend entirely on where you’re at as a person and a creator. An eighteen-year-old could write her magnum opus as easily as a fifty-year-old, it’s just the soul of one finds itself prepared many years prior to the soul of the other. So prep your soul a little. Here’s my recommendation if you’ve tried the 24/7, 365 model and found it wanting: live a little between projects. Forget what you’re working on right now, shelve it; yes, I’m giving you permission to quit. Here’s a real test of mettle. Can you forget all about your big dream? Can you go back to being a regular civilian non-writing-combatant? Knowing in the back of your mind when you return to work at some distant point in the future, you’ll be changed, the world will have changed, you’ll have packed on a few years, losses, wins, regrets, and that your stories will thank you for it?

Sometimes alternative means of expression require us to express nothing at all. To me, making something from nothing is a lot like breathing. The inhale, the brink, and then at last, the release and relief of a nice grateful exhale. Take in oxygen like a prize fighter or a Buddhist monk. Breathe until your belly fills with all the desire and longing you can stand, and then let it rightfully explode. Awaken to the possibility of laziness. I mean that. Sit on your butt and watch The Price is Right, or go to work every day and pretend to care about earning a living. In one hundred years you will be dead. Sorry if that’s a bit of a spoiler. Now did you write two books or forty? Would you rather have written fifty? No doubt, but tell me, was it your role to do so? Were you driven to do it? And can you really call that life of yours a waste because you lived how you were compelled to live?

To be blunt, don’t live by other people’s standards. Just in general, don’t do it. If you’ve got the drive and the nerve to chase your star, chase it as hard as you can. But if survival and struggle are all you know and you’re damn tired of it, understand there’s nothing to be gained by producing a mountain of crap for your name to sit atop as you relax into a neat pile of old bones. Individuality is far more central to our world than most people have the ability to recognize. One-size-fits-all only works in plumbing fixtures and baseball caps. Don’t knock yourself out with this story or even the next. Put it down if you need to. Put it down. Put it down. Put it down.

Then go for a walk and pick up a winning lottery ticket, meet the love of your life, or get an autograph from the leader of the free world that sends you reeling back through space and time to meet the man who invented Diet Coke. Stranger things have happened. I’m sure of it. Until next time, everyone.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!


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The Writing Process: You’ve Got a Story Idea, Now What?

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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This is the first segment of Ask the Authors (Round 2), and the topic of discussion is, as if you couldn’t guess from the title, the writing process. You can meet each of our panel members in my introductory post from last week. For those of you who didn’t catch the first round of Ask the Authors, here’s how this series works. Our panel members are published authors and they offer their answers to my questions on the topic each week. If one of their answers piques other questions for you, please leave your questions in the comments, and we will respond to them in the final segment, or sometimes indivual panel members may respond to you directly on the blog. (It has happened.) The point being that comments are welcomed and even encouraged.

The writing process. Hmmm. Let’s see. That could encompass a lot of different things, from inspiration and developing an idea into a story, to pre-writing activities, to plotting, to everything that comes right up to setting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. It can include rituals to get into the writing zone, or how we set atmosphere before we begin.

There is no right or wrong to this, and every author does things differently. There is no secret recipe or magic potion that garuntees a good book will result from your efforts. What works for some may not work for others. With that said, we have fourteen authors who have taken the time to answer some of our questions regarding the writing process and what works for them. Lets find out what they have to share.

Why do you write?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I’ve always had a calling for reading and telling stories.  I briefly considered going into computer programming or psychology, but I really don’t have the patience for either.
As my daughter approaches college age, I watch her taking on different ideas about what she wants to do with her life.  I’m starting to think that people should find a job that uses the skills they spend a ton of time on when they’re bored.  My boredom skills are daydreaming, what-if-ing, people watching, and exploring.
Mark Shaw 
MarkAtSFTS (1)  To make readers stop and think about important issues.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy Depends on who we’re writing to. We both write for love but also for money. For love, it’s when we have an idea in our heads that won’t shut up until we write it down. If we’re lucky that might fit something we decide to submit on spec. For money, it’s often service journalism and then the deadline determines when we write and when we’re done.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne Like a lot of girls, I kept a journal/diary when younger, detailing my hopes, dreams, pain, and fears. I found writing poetry came naturally and helped me release pent-up emotions. The same is true today in my writing, which allows me the opportunity to share with an audience things I hold near and dear to my heart.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Mainly because I enjoy it. There are so many stories running through my head that writing gives me an outlet to share them.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I have no choice. My mind is analogous to a cow’s udder.  It fills every day with words and I have to milk it or I go insane. This insanity takes the form of depression, anxiety and the delusion that I am a nuclear submarine commander. So…as  you may perceive, writing is imperative.  I am forced to write or my brain will burst like an udder that has not been milked for weeks. I assure you, it’s very painful.
The preceding paragraph is a joke, I confess. I was born an artist who uses music, photography, words and dance to produce material that, if fortune smiles, will confer fame upon me, albeit most likely after I’m dead. I’ve examined this drive all my life and I’ve come to a few conclusions. One is that I have a strong desire for attention. I want to be noticed by other people. When I was young I thought that attention was the same thing as love. It’s not. Love brings a much higher form of emotional pleasure than mere attention.
Still, it’s essential to get attention if you want to attract readers to your work. In a world populated by seven billion people it’s difficult to get people’s attention without committing a heinous crime or running naked through the Guggenheim Museum shouting “All Whores Are In Heaven!” I don’t want to do either of these things.
That leaves me with social media as my vehicle for gaining attention. I’m a complete flop at using social media. For more than a decade I’ve been spending huge swathes of time haunting the pages of Twitter, Facebook, Zifflenook, Instagrab and Crapchat. No matter how much time I spend posting interesting content, my numbers remain anemic. I have never broken a thousand Twitter followers. I’m serious! I’ve noticed that buffoons and cretins of every stripe are capable of attracting hundreds of thousand of followers. My highest Twitter following was nine hundred sixty two. My platform is made of popsicle sticks. One of my favorite tweets is this: “If you aren’t crazy there must be something wrong with you.” Still, no retweets, no Favorites, nada. I admit that I’m crazy. Therefore I must be okay.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I write for the joy of telling stories. I’ve been creative my entire life and without using that creativity in some manner life just seems dull. Building worlds and developing characters that I bring to life on the page, that resonate with readers, that’s why I write.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I write because I have to. The stories keep pummeling me all day until I can finally sit down to get them all out.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I blame that on my mother. She read fascinating fairy tales to me as a child, and they must have tickled a writing bone somewhere. If I’m not writing, I’m reading.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Gratification.

For a long time, I wrote posts on Facebook that were like very short little vignettes, and they were pretty well received. People kept telling me I should write a book. Eventually I did, and without getting into too much detail, I learned this is something I can do – and do well. Not everyone can. Something like 80% of Americans want to write a book and never do. The ones who start, most of them don’t finish. The ones who finish, most of them don’t get it published. So I realized I was in a unique position to do something that most people would like to do and probably would never do, but also the people who read what I wrote found it really entertaining and they wrote me letters to tell me that – and that was very satisfying.

Once I did that for a while, I wanted to try different things to see if I was any good at them. So I wrote a time travel adventure story (The Navigators) and I wrote a romance (Poggibonsi) and a paranormal mystery (An Angel On Her Shoulder) and children’s books (The Zombunny series, Stinky Toe, Laguna the Lonely Mermaid)… I recently was invited to be part of a 20 book anthology with a bunch of New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors, so I had to write a murder mystery (Double Blind) for that. My critique partners say it’s my best work to date! So in the ensuing years from my first book to now, I learned a lot and my writing has improved, but it’s still about reaching out to one person and trying to entertain them. Connecting. And so I write because I feel like I have stories to tell and they’re worth telling, but it’s just a way to entertain and I like it.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I write for mainly for the pure enjoyment that I get from putting together a story that my readers enjoy. I also write for my own pleasure and the stress release that I get from writing. As a fiction writer, I can escape from the reality of every day life and relax in the world and characters that I create.


My Muse

By Kaye Lynne Booth

 

My muse is always trying to inspire in every way.

She dances and sticks out her tongue, enticing me to play.

She knows just what inspires me

And she tries to make me see

A world that’s filled with beauty, everywhere I go.

Inspiration is all around, my muse does surely know.

 

On days when I am feeling down or am busy as can be

I don’t always take the time to see what she wants me to see.

By the time I’m ready to be inspired,

Of this game, she has grown tired.

She may be sulking in the corner, or in the other room

Seeking inspiration, she might be staring at the moon.

 

Listening to my muse is the wisest choice, I’ve learned.

She knows how to stir the inspiration, which within me burns.

The miracles of nature; a flower or a bird

Are brought to my attention, but she never says a word.

She shows me how the morning dew, on the grass does glisten

She fills my head with great ideas, if I will only listen.

 

Where does your inspiration come from? What can you tell us about your muse?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I was unsure of my muse for a long time. I’ve heard other writers talk about that, but in different terms.  “I don’t know what to write.” “This story isn’t working and it doesn’t really feel like me.” That kind of thing. But I’ve taken the time to really sort through what connects me to a story, and it’s simpler than I thought it was: in order for the inspiration to flow, I have to find a way to care about the things going on in the story.  I kept trying to force myself to write things that I didn’t really feel connected to, or that I didn’t have strong feelings about. I care about a lot of things, but somehow I was managing to find a million story ideas that I didn’t care about, and stories kept dying as my muse helpfully derailed my imagination in order to work on something–anything–that I did care about.
When I have feelings about a story, then it takes off, and I hardly notice the effort of writing it. Thinking won’t really get me anywhere in a story. It has to be driven my emotion.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) With The Reporter Who Knew Too Much about Dorothy Kilgallen and Denial of Justice, the follow-up book to be published In November, she was my muse, my inspiration, my guiding light leading me to details about her life and time and her mysterious death.
Mark & Kym Todd 
Todds - Copy We both come from journalism backgrounds, so we learned a long time ago not to count on inspiration to carry us through. For our last project, which was a creative nonfiction book, the publisher gave us a one-year turn-around deadline for street release. (Our muse was more of a harpy in that instance, but we got it done on time.)
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I draw most of my inspiration for a story from real events. All it takes is one little spark and the wildfire of words follows!
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil My husband. He is the perfect idea man. And his ideas take me outside of my comfort zone and allow me to venture into different genres.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I don’t use the term Muse. I get inspiration from ideas which are all around me. Snips of conversation, a quote, a name, those can all spark what we call a “plot bunny” that I either develop or it falls to the side.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Most of my inspiration comes from dreams. I wake up in the morning, think back to the wild adventures of the night, and know what my next book is going to be about. I also draw inspiration from real life. Something will happen and I just stop to blink. Yes, that would be perfect for a novel.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Inspiration has come from many areas. Dreams come to mind. When I’m not dreaming about the military, I have some real doozies. Aliens, UFOs, and spaceships filtering into my dreams will give me many plots. TV is another inspiration. I’m sure all of us remember The Equalizer. One episode featured a young boy with AIDS living with his grandmother, and the local rednecks wanted them out. After harassing them, the boy calls Robert McCall, thinking he is his comic book hero. That episode sparked a three-novelette story arc. I wondered why the pulp magazines never had a hero that protected children. The Masked Avenger was born after that episode.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre My inspiration comes from all kinds of places. Hmm… that’s not really helpful, is it? They say that there are 20 good story ideas around us every day and a good author will see two or three of them. I think that’s right. I think if you are looking for things to inspire you, they will. But I also think there’s a lot of hard work that forces a person to sit down and write every day whether they feel like it or not, because atrophy is real and writers block is real for some people, and the more you let things affect you, the more they will affect you. If you instead say, “I’m just gonna muscle on through,” you learn a certain discipline that really helps you find more inspiration.

So my strength has always been prolific and being able to find what’s funny or unique in the normal situations that we are all extremely familiar with, so that my reader finds themselves suddenly turned on their head over things that they that are commonplace to them.

As far as a muse… Well, it’s like this. I believe several things make a story really powerful. Being able to bare your soul and put it on the page – that will allow your pain or love or passion or whatever, to connect with the reader. I actually think we even choose different types of words and different sentence structures when we are emotionally “in” the mood the scene needs. The word choice somehow seems to carry the spirit on the page and converts to the reader. You want to write to one person, so that he or she gets it; then everything else seems to fall in place. It’s a way of being disciplined and not trying to do as Vonnegut warned: don’t open the window to make love to the whole; you’ll only catch pneumonia.

I write to one person. That’s my muse.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I often joke that if I knew where the ideas came from I would turn off the tap. In all seriousness though, I love that my mind is so active that my imagination can be sparked from any number of things. I shake my head that my two little girls (3 and 5) enjoy watching a particular movie again and again, and then suddenly I’m hanging out the washing and a whole new story idea drops into my head based on a retelling of a Disney classic. Sometimes my muse can be my fellow authors, they approach me with a story idea that would be fun to explore for an anthology and then I find myself with the story half written in my head before I can blink. I then have to find the time to sit down and write. My readers themselves can be my muses. They ask me questions about the characters that I write about, “what would they do if…”; “What would happen….” And then I find myself exploring those ideas further and my stories evolve, and my series grows with bonus content.


Research is a part of the pre-writing activities for most authors, whether it is historical research for setting or time period, traveling to location in order to write about it, or people watching to observe behavior. It can be reading all the works of a given author in order to immulate their writing style, immersing oneself in a culture or subculture or digging deep to uncover the facts for a nonfiction work. 

What kinds of writing do you do and what types of research are required?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I mainly write fiction. Most of my research is reading a book on some subject before I start the story, or even as I’m writing the story. I used to be really intimidated by having to do research, but I decided to make a habit of reading more nonfiction that I found interesting, just completely outside of the need to research something for a story. I used to rarely get around to nonfiction, despite having good intentions to do so. Now nonfiction books are in my regular rotation. Somehow this has made me more comfortable with research in general.
I’ve also made a habit of doing more research just because I’m curious. If someone makes a comment like, “And that’s why Benjamin Franklin had a different lover in every zip code,” then I have permission to go, “When did ZIP codes get invented anyway?” and I’ll go find out. (ZIP codes were first used in 1963, although there were postal zones for large cities in the U.S. starting in 1943. So, Ben Franklin didn’t have a different lover in every zip code. I’m not sure why the person made that comment in the first place, because the comment thread was about something else entirely.)
I’ve given into my inner nerd in general; specific research seems to be categorically easier when you practice your research skills in general. Or something.
If I’m writing nonfiction about writing advice (which I often do on my blog), then I’ll often test the theories involved on other writers. “Does this even make sense? How would you do it?” Sometimes that stirs up trouble with people strongly disagree with me, though!
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy Even for fiction, we generally situate our stories in realistic locations and try to maintain enough verisimilitude in our world-building so reader’s don’t shatter their willing suspension of disbelief. That means we spend time researching and fact-checking the plausibility of our scenarios. Our novel All Plucked Up quickly developed into a story that needed a protagonist who was an antiquities black market con artist, which we knew nothing about. But we soon became knowledgeable about this (appalling yet fascinating) racket.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne How much, if any, research I conduct depends upon the story. For example, I did extensive research for my post-apocalyptic series yet nary a search for other books.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil The genres that I mainly write in are historical, contemporary and erotic romance. I’ve dabbled in fantasy and want to do more of it. Depending on the story, my research is extensive. I read a lot about the topic, watch movies and documentaries that pertain to that particular subject matter.

Art Rosch 

Art 2001 Every writer should be…no..MUST be…a psychologist. I don’t mean a shrink or doctor, I mean a keen observer of human nature. When sci fi writer Philip K. Dick was asked what he wrote about he had a concise response. “I write about two subjects,” he said.  “I write about what is real, and I write about what is human.” That pithy reply has guided me since I first read it many years ago. Whatever the genre, whether I’m writing fantasy, science fiction or literary fiction, I’m always writing about people. I write about their behavior and their motivations. I write about the secrets they keep and the fears that dominate their lives.

My research begins with myself. My own behavior has been like a laboratory experiment. The genres of fantasy and science fiction draw me repeatedly to the creation of new worlds and the testing of new concepts. I’ve been using myself as a research subject since I began to behave in ways that I perceived as abnormal. I didn’t think that taking LSD at age sixteen was abnormal. I thought it was a reasonable response to a world gone mad. I grew up in the aftershocks of World War Two. I grew up viewing images of concentration camps, charnel houses and smudges that were once people before they were vaporized by atomic bombs. I didn’t think I was crazy to take risks with my fragile mind using powerful drugs.

I only began to think I was crazy when I started to eat vast quantities of food when I wasn’t hungry. I was suffering from bulimia. In the late sixties this wasn’t in the vocabulary of psychiatric afflictions.  There was no awareness of eating disorders. I had a monstrous eating disorder that lasted several years and still hangs on with vestigial persistence. I knew that something was wrong with me. I looked for help, but couldn’t find help that didn’t resemble control and imprisonment. I read Freud, Jung, James Hillman, Alice Miller and Heinz Kohut. I read obscure occultists and classic Buddhist literature. I read everything on the subject of Consciousness. It seemed like the most important subject to study.

I also did more conventional research. When I was creating the world of my fantasy novel, The Shadow Storm, I read about The Balkans, Albania, Russian history and the civil wars in Yugoslavia. By this time I had the Internet, a vast magic trove of information. Got a question? Ask the internet, the ultimate research tool.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I write mostly urban and high fantasy, but I have different genres cross through the threads of each novel…it just happens that way, I don’t plan it. Any research I do would be based on a specific story. For instance, alot of the work I’ve been doing lately revolves around advanced weaponry so I’ve been researching alot of sci-fi and fantasy movies, books, and TV shows to see what others have come up with for example. Also, you’d be surprised what’s already in R&D in the real world!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Most of my writing involves a fantasy setting, so I don’t tend to do research when working on one of those manuscripts. I do write some historical fiction, and I’m obsessed with research then.  I don’t want anything to be inaccurate (if I can help it).  When I’m done with a piece of historical fiction, I try to find people who are into that time period to read it for anything that seems off.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture As a pulp magazine collector I have read all the hero pulps. While writing for ALTUS PRESS, the publisher asked me to collect all my research into half a dozen books. They became some of my best selling books. I also wrote Intros and Forwards for ALTUS PRESS books, plus I wrote fiction stories for the publisher while doing my research into the pulp magazines. Remember, my wife and I had published a pulp hobby magazine for the 22 years, so I had plenty of data on hand.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I write everything, and I research as much as is required for the book I’m writing, but a lot of that research has kind of been going on my whole life. For example, figuring out how to tell a joke to a group of friends, they’re your friends, so they kind of know your sense of humor – and you know what makes them laugh. Writing a scene so that a joke turns out funny to a reader who has never met you and doesn’t know your sense of humor, and you don’t know theirs – that requires a lot more in the product development phase of the writing!

When you write a detective story, you have to research what kind of guns detectives carry, and how they check their clip to see how many bullets they have before they kick in a drug dealer’s door, that kind of thing. But, while that is important, that’s not as important as caring about the characters. And that’s what I say is the lifelong study thing. Why did you care what happened to Harry Potter? Why did people care that Oliver’s heart was breaking at the end of Love Story? Why was it tragic that Leonardo DiCaprio drowned at the end of Titanic? You had to care about those characters or nothing else mattered. So part of that is your lifelong experience, what you care about and how you convey that to someone you’ve never met. How do you do that? Practice. You bare your soul, and you put it on the page, and you put it out there with the full expectation that everyone in the world might laugh at you – but you summon the courage to do it anyway. Some of the best stories in the world never make it out of the desk drawer. Writers swallow hard and show that intensely personal piece of themselves again and again and again, until the next thing you know, people are telling you that something you wrote changed their life. Which is freaking awesome.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I write paranormal romance and historical romance. I’ve also touched on other genres by working with others in anthologies. My Unexpected series involves vampires, wolves and faeries. My research for this series included looking into the history of Rome and setting the “birth” of my wolf nation within the whole myth of Romulus and Remus, the twins suckled by the she-wolf Lupa, who later went on to be the founders of Rome. My vampires are set within ancient Egypt and their many gods. I like to bring in an element of ‘this could totally be true!’

My research also falls into the mundane of simply seeing what trees and other fauna are indigenous to the area my story is set.


Which writing groups do you belong to? What are their benefits to you?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I belong to Pikes Peak Writers, which is the writing group that I “came up” in. They took me out of being a baby writer into a writer, if that makes sense. I got to meet my first ‘Real Writers’ and listen to them talk about what they did and how, and just to grasp that they were people and not mythological figures. I gained a lot of basic knowledge there and always end up meeting new people at their events.
I also have a group that I started on my own, called Colorado Tesla Writers, which is a networking group for science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers. I got jealous of romance writers and mystery/crime writers having their own groups, and SF/F/H writers kind of just meeting each other only by chance. It turns out to be a great way to force myself to get out of the house and hang out with people, which, if you’re a freelancer, gets to be an issue after a while. People still keep going, so I still keep doing it.
I’m also in a few other writer groups that are mainly on Facebook or Yahoo groups, that are just general information sharing groups on various topics. I’m not sure how writers get by without staying involved with a variety of other groups. The gossip network is pretty vital in this business.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I belong to groups on Facebook and in the past (as in before my current day job), I was into CritiqueCircle.com. I enjoy connecting with other authors and sharing experiences. I’ve learned marketing methods I never would have considered.
RA Winter
RA Winter I joined Scribophile.com a few years ago while looking for feedback on a novel. I browsed other sites but Scrib blew me away. Over time, I’ve gained friends, colleagues, and collaborators. Scrib has a sense of community where authors connect with like-minded individuals with one goal in mind- the best product an author can produce. The forums provide a vast amount of knowledge, resources, and experienced authors’ input.
The amount of support I’ve received from the community, and especially the Uber group, continues to amaze me. Uber focuses on the craft in small contained groups. Different readers point out aspects of my writing and search for those pesky little flaws that derails a good novel. My stories are read from start to finish by the same people, whether it is at the Alpha or Beta stage. The plot, setting, characters, arcs, and prose are broken down and taken apart, providing me with the opportunity to build the best story for my skill level, knowledge, and research.
I recommend every author or aspiring writer join a writing group. I’m partial to the Scribophile family because that’s what it is to me. And gasp! I’ve met a few of the authors. They are just as wonderful in person as they are on the internet.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My wife and I started a writer’s group in town, most of the members were retired teachers, and the majority wanted to write poetry. I could handle that, no problem. What I didn’t like was the attitude of the members. The writing group was something they came to if there was nothing else going on. We tried to make them understand that writers needed to be dedicated to the craft, but so many meetings consisted of just my wife and me. We finally quit and turned the group over to another member, but it didn’t last long. Unfortunately, where I live doesn’t have good pickings. Let’s face it a turtle crossing the yard is more interesting than the writer’s club.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre This is gonna sound bad, but I don’t belong to any writing groups. I used to belong to an online critique group, and I learned a lot there and met some good writers there, so I asked those people to work with me and left the group. I kind of outgrew the group, and I really felt like I was doing a lot of teaching and not a lot of learning after a while. But that may just be arrogance on my part.

Since then, some very impressive bestselling authors have come to me to critique their stories, and they critique mine, and we kind of have our own little group. I would say there are three or four people who, if they read and like my story, everybody in the world is going to read and like my story. If you can belong to a writing group and draw some benefit from that, terrific. That works for you. That didn’t really work for me after a brief period (although you could say in a sense I just created my own writing group) and the biggest difference is, we in my group know all the basic stuff, so we don’t waste time teaching each other the rookie stuff to avoid or fix. We are pushing each other to keep going to the next level. We’re not worried about hurting feelings or anything, we are worried about trying to write great stories.

There are benefits to being in a writing group, though, and the biggest one is this: by pointing out how other people need to improve their stories, you will develop a sharp eye to help you make yours to be better. For that reason alone, it’s worth it to join a writing group. Online or in person, you’ll figure out what the garbagey comments are, and you’ll learn to dismiss those, and you learn to seek out the people who aren’t just giving you undue praise but who are actually trying to help you become a better writer.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I am a follower of Booksgosocial and try to remain an active participant within their regular blog tours and newsletter content sharing programs. I am also actively involved with a newly established Hybrid Publishing company and enjoy the interaction that comes from discussing not only our craft, but elements of our every day life. I’ve found myself with a support network of people happy to share my posts and retweet me on social media. They also share in my celebrations and support me in my endeavours.


Do you belong to any writing forums? Tell us what their value is.

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I don’t use ’em. I just lurk in FB groups. Writing forums seem like an invitation for “experts” to harass other writers in order to feel good about not getting any actual writing done. I may just be bitter after a couple of bad experiences with online writing forums. But that was a long time ago, and people may have learned from mistakes in order to build something better by now.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne At one time I was a member of a few online groups yet found the entire “online” community too impersonal.

A professor of mine once said, “You should read at least 100 books a year to get a good idea for your genre.” Author and Freelance Writer De Anna Knippling claims to like to read at least 100 books in any genre before trying to emulate it in her own writing.


How much do you read? What do you like to read?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak Hey, that’s me! I’m shooting for 200 books this year. I’m already pretty close, but some of those are graphic novels and manga. I’m strongly of the opinion that if you don’t like to read, you’re going to have disadvantages as a writer. You won’t know how stuff gets done with the written word, you won’t know what expectations you’re meeting or missing in a genre, and you won’t know what kind of writing you really, truly love.  That doesn’t leave you with a big toolbox for writing different types of stories. You can really end up writing yourself in a rut, especially in series, if you’re not packing in a variety of stories.
I’ve been reading a lot of books to catch up on areas where my reading is thin or inconsistent. A lot of what I’ve really been enjoying lately are more literary reads with a dark sense of humor. The Round House by Louise Erdrich, After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh, The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemison, Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo, and Double Indemnity by James M. Cain have been recent favorites.
Something to think about:  I have friends on Goodreads who read a book a day or more. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you how many books they read. Some of them are disabled and reach out to the world through books. Books are their lifeline.
Mark Shaw 
MarkAtSFTS (1) During the past year or so, my reading has been restricted due to completing three books. When I am able to read, mysteries are a favorite genre.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy We’re both avid readers, and always have a couple books going on the side at the same time. Fortunately, our pleasure reading usually coincide with our genre-writing habits, so we treat that as market research and a way to keep a handle on what’s trending. A hundred books? No way, but we do each read about a book a week. Mark likes hard(-science) SF, and Kym likes adventures, and we both love mysteries and noir (which we don’t write).
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne As a wife, mother, employee, and writer, my free time is nonexistent, yet when I snatch a few minutes here and there, I read from many genres except erotica.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Oh, I easily read 100+ books a year. But I can’t read when I am in writing mode. It just doesn’t work for me.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I would write a hundred books a year if I could, but it seems more like it takes a hundred years to write a book. My revisions are so extensive that some passages are written a  hundred times. I’m serious! Read the first chapter of my Confessions Of An Honest Man. That passage was revised so many times that I couldn’t possibly speculate on a number of iterations. Yet…and here I become utterly shorn of modesty…I got where I needed to go. It’s beautiful! It does what must be done for the first chapter of a novel. It evokes a sense of danger, reveals characters, excites curiosity, elicits a bit of laughter and swings open a gate on the narrative that is to come.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by crime novels. I think that Patricia Cornwell is one of the most brilliant writers I’ve yet encountered. I’m in the unfortunate situation of having read all of her novels in a short period of time. I’ve run out of Cornwell! So, now I read Robert Crais. He’s very good. I love James Lee Burke. I’ve read all of his books, too, and he’s so old that I’m not sure how many books he has left in his gorgeous literary soul.  The element that all three writers have in common is their emotional honesty. Their soulful-ness. They write with passionate intensity and their prose contains bits of profound wisdom. They are writing about the human condition by utilizing themselves as models, probing their own condition. They are, after all, human beings. I think….

The writer who has had the most influence on my work is fantasy writer Jack Vance. No other writer captivates me in quite the same way. Every five years I re-read the work of Jack Vance. I never grow tired of it. I remember reading his classic “The Dying Earth” when I was ten years old. I was reading in the family car as we drove from St. Louis to Mexico. It was an ambitious family vacation. I spent most of it reading science fiction and fantasy. Mexico, itself, proved sufficiently weird that I looked up from my books from time to time, absorbed the ambience, then returned to Vance, Heinlein, Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov. In more recent years I’ve read and re-read David Foster Wallace. There is so much pain in his dense, highly intelligent fiction that it may as well be an extended suicide note. Losing DFW was tragic. As was losing Robin Williams and Anthony Bourdain. Depression has no respect for success, wealth, fame or achievement.  It strikes wherever it wants to strike.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I don’t read as often as I should but I’m trying to rectify that. When I do read I stick with fantasy, self-help, or biography.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I used to read a book a day, but with my current day job, its more like a book a week. I’m obsessed with young adult novels, any genre, and I’ll gobble up historical fiction in any form. Recently I’ve been into religious historical fiction. There’s something about the sweet, romantic plots that make the books the perfect end to a busy day.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I usually read a couple books a week, although books are constantly getting longer every year. The 120-page novels I grew up with are now four-and-five hundred page monsters. Every time I get one of those monsters I pray that the author writes so smooth the book will read like a two hundred page novel. Age has one advantage, and it’s this: I’ve been reading for 65 years or more, and I’ve always read genres I wanted to write.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Pfft. That’s crap. Stories are about connecting with characters and going on a journey. If I had to read 100 books a year – two a week – I’d never have time to write anything.

I read a lot only because I do a ton of critique work for other authors, but I’d be happy not reading at all. I pick up on insights very quickly, and TV shows and movies are just as good at giving us the keys to amazing storytelling. The answers aren’t only in books. I don’t need to see something dozens of times to get it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t study the heck out of something when it connects with me, regardless of the method in which I received it. People say reading a 5000 word chapter of mine is like reading 3000 from someone else. That’s pace. That comes from seeing Steven Spielberg cram 400 pages into 2 hours. I can’t often get that in books.

But!

I work with people who read a ton, so it’s a little like cheating off the smart kid at school. They gain those insights and hold my work to that standard. I bring other stuff to the table. The collaboration works.

What do I like to read?

My critique partner says I read stuff to learn how to be a better writer. Not “How To” books, but other writers: King, George R R Martin, Rowling, Portergirl. I study the masters in storytelling, on Tv and books and movies.

But what do I LIKE to read? Hmm. I’ll go with Green Eggs and Ham. Everything you need to know about storytelling is there. Pace. Lack of back story. No rambling prologue, just jumps into the story. It has great conflict and plot… and it shows how to wrap it up as fast as possible after the climax. If you can’t say it in 32 pages, you need to rethink your story (said the guy who writes 90k consistently).

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’m not sure how many books I read, honestly. I do read as much as I write though. And I enjoy immersing myself in someone else’s craft, especially well constructed craft.


What goals do you set for yourself in your writing?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak Ugh, I used to set myself daily personal wordcounts, which was lovely. But I’ve gotten so far behind in getting stories submitted or published on the indie side that I’ve had to cut back on that a lot. I’m at 500 words a day now for my own writing, which feels like a snail’s pace. I write a lot more than that for my ghostwriting clients, but I don’t track that right now.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1)
To tell a good story about important subjects whose lives are important in an historical sense.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy
Logical and organic plots, quirky but believable characters, and the hope that readers have as much fun reading as we did writing our stories.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne
I don’t. The story needs to unfold naturally without any outside influences.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil My #1 goal is write 60k words in a month and I track it daily.  I know how many words to write in a day and make sure that I keep myself on track.  If I don’t discipline myself in this way, I’d never get anything written.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy At the moment I have a specific time frame in mind for when I want to finish the sequel to my superhero novel Karma. My other goals probably reflect any other author. I want to be able to write full time, land a publisher, and agent, a simple dream of mine is to get published in the traditional paperback that you see on most bookshelves. But I guess my main goal is to just finish writing all the ideas I currently have waiting for me in my notebook.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan My goal is to finish the book and have people enjoy reading it. I get a bit twitchy if a book takes longer than usual to finish just because of things going on in my life. I don’t want to set the book aside and suddenly lose my place in that world.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture To write a thousand words a day. I usually end up writing two thousand words a setting.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Keep the reader from falling asleep!

Really, I just want to connect with my reader. I want them to realize that all of a sudden they are completely immersed in a world that I created and they care about these characters so much that when the character laughs, the reader laughs. When the character cries, the reader cries. And I have a goal of getting you really involved and then BOOM it turns out that what you thought all along was wrong. I give you a plot twist, and all of a sudden you’ve been pulling for the bad guy. I have a goal of always giving you and ending that has you sitting there saying, “Holy cow!” in complete satisfaction. That’s my goal. That, and a yacht in the Caribbean.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman To write something that is entertaining as well as thought provoking. I also try and improve my writing each time I write. I take note of faults that reoccur in my manuscripts from my editors, and then do my best to avoid them when I write again, or at least to take note of them and be able to self-edit as I write.

Ultimately though, my main goal is to provide a story that the read can sink into, feel like they are a part of the story and can relate with each and every one of my characters, whether that be to love them or hate them. I want to evoke the reader’s sense of smell, sight and touch as they read.

 


What is your favorite setting to write in?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak At first I thought you meant what historical era!!!
It doesn’t really matter where I write, because I’m not really there–I’m in the story.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1)  A corner of our dining room.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy The world falls away when we become immersed in the writing zone, so ambience is irrelevant. Long ago, we started writing on our bed (in a small, cramped house) away from the kids when they were smaller. That’s pretty much stuck even now the house is larger and the kids gone.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne My computer room is downstairs which offers a lot of privacy. At night when everyone is asleep and my kitty is curled up purring next to my keyboard is the
best!
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil That’s a tough one.  I really don’t have a favorite setting.  But I fully immerse myself into whatever setting I am writing in.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Anywhere quiet.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I used to need to be alone in my room, with the door shut, and everything silent.  Now my house is filled with my husband watching TV, my toddler running amok, and my cat begging for food.  I’m satisfied with whatever time I get to write.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My bedroom, with the door closed, and no sounds from outside sources.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I have the most awesome writing office. I have rich mahogany furniture and dark green walls and a chandelier; book cases lined with the classics and a window that looks out onto a lush green yard filled with massive oak trees. One door opens into my daughter’s play area. It’s the best.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I actually do the majority of my writing at my local library. The library manager jokes that she is lucky to have a writer in residence. There is something inspirational about being surrounded by so many literary works, and it certainly makes research easier, I just jump up and grab the required book from the shelf.


Atmosphere is important. What do you do to get into the writing zone?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I disagree; atmosphere stopped being important to me after a certain number of deadlines forced me to write (and EDIT) when I didn’t want to. (Trying to get into the editing zone on my own writing is harder than writing, in my opinion.) But because I don’t always write in the same place or I have to write when I’m in a bad mood, I’ll have specific music to remind me of what world I’m writing in and what I like about it. It’s funny, because sometimes my brain will play that music for me when I’m supposed to be writing and I’m putting it off, or when I’m brainstorming.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Focus on the task at hand blocking out all the noise of the world.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I make sure I have coffee, my computer and either music playing or the TV on.  I can’t write without some type of noise in the background.  And most importantly I stay away from social media.

 

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart This is as important as the writing process in itself. I have to get my coffee or tea ready, make sure I also have my mobile next to me and a bottle of water. Besides all that, I usually need the living room to be clear either with sunshine or artificial light, plus a comfortable pillow at my back. I sometimes have some background classical music – only classical music with no words or lyrics as for me they interfere with the voices within the narrative. Under the table, I keep a kid´s chair that I use to elevate my legs, otherwise they go dormant. The word font must be 12 and never enlarged, or I lose track of the text. Then, I write two or three pages and I stand up for coffee or toilet every fifteen or twenty minutes. And, that may go on for two or three hours, and even more if possible. There are weekends that I take a whole Saturday or Sunday to write, and that rhythm is kept for eight hours at least. Once when I was talking to a friend who is painter, she summarized it all: “It takes more time in the get-in-the-mood-get-ready process than it takes to actually paint or write”. I felt that was so true for me-and once we are there into a scene, into the book: nothing else matters. For instance, I am usually late to pick up my kids, and the fault is all due to my characters; they love to start acting when I really must go (lol).

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’m usually in the mood to write. I don’t watch TV any more, and I only listen to music at night before going to bed. So if the mood hits me I close myself off from everything else and write.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Treadmill. Nothing gives me ideas to write faster than when I have to run a mile on my treadmill. It’s magic.

Other than that, I get up early, like 4:30, and write when it’s quiet. I’m always in the writing zone. I can dash off insightful pieces on a whim, and I’ve done so. But like training for a marathon, that came from practicing and building up to it – and from having the confidence to know when a piece is finished and ready to be seen.


Some authors outline, others use a screenwriting tool called a whiteboard, where you place all your plot points on the board and then maneuver them until you have them in an order that works for the story. Some authors use the same concept with notecards, and others use a graph to plot out their story.

What planning tools do you use to prepare before actual writing begins?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak Depends on whether I’m writing for a client or for myself. If a client’s involved, I’ll usually have an outline I’m supposed to be following, although it doesn’t always work out that way. (I try to deliver the same emotional content, but mysteries often balance on such delicate clues that the order stuff gets put into the book can vary greatly, especially in the last third or so.) For myself, it depends. I’ll often test an idea by plugging it into a short outline, then ditch the outline before I start writing. On short stories, sometimes I’ll have a certain short story in mind before I start writing, so I can explore a certain plot technique, but I haven’t been able to do that with novels yet.
Here’s my short outline (mostly based on Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder):
1.  Set up the situation.
2.  The fun side of the situation (Fun & Games).
3.  WTF!!! (Crisis or Reversal).
4.  The not-fun side of the situation (Bad Guys Close In).
5.  The last big push (Storming the Castle).
5a.  Wrap up.
Where a lot of people get stuck is going, “I have an idea!!!!” and not having a plan to turn that into a sequence of events that can be experience by a character. A plot outline or a beat sheet is just a way to check that the idea is good. The exact plot may not be important, as long as the idea can be transformed into a plot. An example.  “There was an enchanted toilet!!!” is an idea that goes nowhere. You can’t plug it into any plot outline.  “The enchanted toilet only works for people without the imagination to use it.”  Now, you can start building a plot with that. Just plug it into the outline…
Other times, I can tell that the idea is plot-able, so I just run with it. Logic will carry me to a complete story sooner or later.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1)
Chapter headings are my guide once I have settled on the story I want to tell.
Mark & Kym Todd 
Todds - Copy
We’ve had luck with notecards to arrange the beats, but we generally outline anyway.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I don’t use any sort of tools. I let the story flow organically. This works for me yet does have a few pitfalls. Sometimes I have to re-read through sections to recall the eye/hair color of a character, or the sex of an animal. In one of my older books, I inadvertently changed the sex from male to female in the main character’s cat, and hawk-eyed readers caught my mistake!
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil  I use a storyboard.  Similar to the whiteboard, but it’s just handwritten on a form that I created with boxes that signify each chapter in the story. My story doesn’t always stay on target as sometimes it has a mind of its own, but it definitely gives me a starting point.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I’m lazy. I don’t use outlines, story boards, notes, prompts, post-its, diminutive butlers or portable tape players. I just write. I have a goal, a broad concept of what I hope to achieve and I simply begin to write. I start off rusty, clumsy, impaired. I write at my desk, where my computer sits and a stack of USB drives snake their cables under my feet. Some day my mummified cadaver may be found, strangled by USB cables, swathed in black and gray wires running out the window and across the carpet. My fictional detective, Dizzy Tilton, will solve the mystery of my demise with his sidekick, Haakon Wyre. “His fiction killed him”, they will declare. “We must arrest his fiction and put it on trial. No doubt a clever lawyer will find a loophole and get his fiction off the hook for murder, or cop a plea for the lesser crime of Authorcide. We can’t bring him back. Let his genius speak from beyond the grave!”

I write from scene to scene. So long as I know what the next scene is to be, I can move the plot forward, I can develop my characters. My books take decades to write. I’m now seventy and my most recent book has already taken ninety years to write. I hope to finish it before my next incarnation.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I don’t like over planning because it kills the spontaneity for me and then I don’t enjoy writing the story. I want to be surprised like the reader will be. So the most I plan will be major plot points and then a heap of descriptive elements for the character including backstory. These things I’ve laid out on note cards or even just a sheet of paper. For characters I’ll often find a picture of an actor I could see playing them in the film/TV version and I save it for inspiration.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I’m horrible at planning. I start off with a general idea of the plot and just go for it. Characters evolve as I write. The setting takes shape before me. The only time I write down notes is if I want to remember an obscure character.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I don’t outline. Once I have my plot I create my characters, and I know what the beginning and ending is before I start writing. I am in control, and my characters become chess pieces that I move about the board. They move on my command, not theirs. I always have the end in sight and move the pieces accordingly. When writing continuing characters, however, I have file cards with descriptions. I’ve seen too many blondes become redheads by mistake, or men five foot nine become six foot two from one book to the next.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Wow, all that stuff sounds like a lot of work. I’m don’t use any special tools; they aren’t necessary. What I do to come up with a story is I definitely, definitely, definitely create an outline. Too many writers think an outline stifles their creativity. It’s just the opposite. An outline channels your energy so you stay on track and don’t wander all over the place and you end up where you’re supposed to end up.

Now, just because you say we’re going to go from here to there, that doesn’t mean that’s the only places you go, and it doesn’t mean that’s where you have to end up. But having AN ending doesn’t mean it has to be THE ending. It’s just when you start, that’s the direction. Halfway through, if you decide you have a better ending in mind, change it and use the better ending! But if you don’t have that moment of brilliance, you’re at least going to end up in a good place. Too much “writers block” – a condition that doesn’t usually exist – comes from not having a destination you were writing towards. By having an outline, every day you have a series of writing prompts.

My process is, I’ll get a story idea and I’ll dash off a few lines about it. Three or four things that give you the essence of what the story is about. Then I throw it in a file, and as I am doing things throughout the day/days, I’ll keep getting good ideas about the story. Like maybe in a murder mystery, the guy who’s running for mayor, his opponent committed the murder. Or it’s his campaign manager, and the campaign manager wants it to look like the opponent did it. Something like that. So I’ll just list all these ideas down, one after the other, and I just kind of collect them for a while. They don’t come in any particular order; I’ll get a great idea for an ending, and then I’ll get a great idea for a beginning.

Right now I have the great idea for a political murder mystery called Primary Target. It starts out with an assassination attempt. So that’s how that’s chapter 1, but that’s all I know about chapter 1. Chapter 2 will probably be with the detectives who get called to check out the assassination attempt. But I know I’ll want three or four other things to happen in the story (subplots) so I’ll think about those and eventually write them down, but for now that’s my outline, those handful of bullet points.

Here’s what people don’t understand about outlines. Here’s the outline for Romeo and Juliet:

  1. Boy and girl want to get together
  2. their parents don’t want them to get together
  3. the boy and girl get together anyway
  4. everybody dies

That’s it. Those four points are an outline. Nothing stifling there. You know what’s going to happen and you know how it’s going to end. Go ahead and start writing.

My process starts out with about four points, and then I’ll realize I have 10 good ideas that can go on in that first major point. So I’ll flesh those out, and as I do, my outline evolves. Sometimes I look at one of minor points and say, “No, that doesn’t work anymore” and it comes out. My outline gives me total creative freedom, but I’m guiding and funneling my energy. That’s why everybody should outline.

I read lots of stories every year from lots of new authors. Usually, he ones where they didn’t outline end up wandering around and getting BORING because they lose their way. You don’t want that.

Use an outline, keep your chapters short, keep your characters interesting, and keep the dialogue witty. But using an outline is probably one of the most important things you can do for yourself.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’m a bit of a pantser – I write from the seat of my pants – I don’t always plot, unless I have a tight word count and need to plot how my story runs. Sometimes I simply write a short synopsis of my story plot, something I can refer back to, especially when I have several different works in progress at once. Surprisingly though, I haven’t found any of them overlapping.


Some writers can take an idea and run with it, while others need to have a good portion of the story worked out before writing can begin.

How much of the story do you know before the actual writing begins?

Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Nearly all of it, the beginning, middle and end and how I want to touch the emotions of readers, the single, most important aspect of any writing.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy We verbally explore for a week or two if we think we have enough story to make a novel. Then we write a five-page outline to see if the idea leads where we think it’s going. After that, we outline no more than a chapter or two before we start fleshing it out. Doing any more is, for us, a waste of time since the actual writing often changes where we thought we were going.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I know the general idea. For example, with GOAT CHILDREN, I knew that I wanted to write about a girl taking care of her grandmother with dementia. The first chapter would be about the girl discovering her grandmother’s diagnosis. I started writing and suddenly, I was on the last page.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Once the idea hits me, the story unfolds so fast inside my head it is like watching a movie, so I just close my eyes and type what I see inside my mind.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil As long as I know how it’s gonna begin and how I want it to end, I usually can run with it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I take the idea and run with it.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Uh… both. I take an idea and run with it, yes, but I usually also bring in some ideas I’ve been kicking around.

For Double Blind, my new murder mystery, I knew it was going to be a murder mystery – which is new ground for me – but I wanted some nice twists. So the murder mystery idea was new. Then I said okay, I’m gonna have readers think THIS – and then pull the rug out from under them later, so I had to plan how to give certain pieces of information without tipping my hand. I’m pretty good at that, but since I’d done it before, I kind knew how to do that, so that was an existing thing for me. Then I also had the idea of having a man and woman working together who had lots of rapport like two good friends, but who were not romantically involved. I’ve been kicking that around for a while, so when the murder mystery came up I had the detectors be a man and a woman who were good friends.

So on one hand, the murder mystery was a short idea that I ran with; on the other hand, I brought in these characters that I have been working on for a while. The whole first draft of 92,000 words took about six weeks to write. I spent probably another three or four weeks refining it with input from critique partners. It’s an amazing story, and it’s available as part of that 20+ book anthology called Death and Damages, with all the New York Times bestselling authors.

For The Navigators, another simple premise: some people discover a time machine. From there, I wanted to have as much conflict as possible and not do a conventional time travel story. So there’s lots of intrigue and action, because the fun part of the time travel story is actually going back in time. But the other fun part of storytelling is having lots of conflicts happen that get in the way of the characters’ goals, and each of the characters in The Navigators had different goals, and a different story arc, so it was really nice combination.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I need a character and the idea and then I simply run with it. I’ll mull the idea over in my mind throughout the day, either whilst washing dishes, or milking the cow, and then I find the words dropping into my mind. I then can’t wait to find the time to sit down at the computer and get those words out. On the rare occasions that I take a couple of days until I can stop and write, then those scenes simmer away in the back of my mind until they are so well developed that my fingers fly over the keys as soon as I have my manuscript open.

 


How many drafts do you make before considering a manuscript ready for publication? What are the differences as you write each one?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak One draft and one cleanup pass to address issues and infelicitous wording, unless there’s something off about my assumptions about the story. Then it can become a real train wreck. With ghostwritten books, you generally have to write pretty cleanly the first time or the client will lose patience.
Mark Shaw 
MarkAtSFTS (1) With most of my books, there have been at least 200 drafts or more. Each time the story is enriched in some manner.
Mark & Kym Todd
Todds - Copy Usually three or four drafts: We write a scene in one sitting, and then revise it before we go on to the next scene (on the next day). A read-through when we put it all together, fixing typos. A revision after beta readers have at it. And then another draft if a publisher wants something added or changed. By then, we can’t see typos or missing words anymore, so we feel useless with galleys, and let the publisher’s copyediting eyes give it the final go.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Just one.  Once I am done writing, I send it to my BETA readers.  I make their suggested changes to the storyline and plot.  They also help with continuity and then it goes off to my editor.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy So, here’s how I do it and it might seem a little weird. But, I write the first draft long hand on a legal pad…it’s just easier that way, it always has been because to me it doesn’t feel as permanent. I’m not distracted by Word telling me something is misspelled, etc. Once I have a first draft, then I’ll go in and put it in the computer. At the same time I’ll be doing edits on what is essentially a second draft. But I couldn’t give you a definitive answer on when it will be ready for publication…its ready when its ready.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I write it all, then I read back through, editing as I go.  I show it to my critique partners, edit based on their comments, and then off it goes to my agent or publisher.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Hmm. I write the first draft, then I go over it line by line. Then I turn it over to my wife who runs a grammar check and looks for words I may have wrong. I might go over it again after my wife is through. We try to make all necessary corrections before we submit the manuscript to a publisher. But I’m not using publishers any more. We are doing our own publishing, and we are the editors. I can use verbs, if I want. We do make mistakes. On one of my recent short novels we did all the above, and I ordered 25 paperback copies for book signings. By mistake I uploaded a first draft for the paperback printing! Money wasted. We heard from a reader that there were several typos. I checked and found the first draft was used instead of the final edited version. It was a costly mistake. I’ve been trying to give the paperbacks away, with a note about the typos. I can’t sell the darn things!

Dan Alaltorre

Alatorre Ha! None. I usually think my manuscript is ready for publication after the first draft – even with the typos and things in there. I always think what I’ve written is awesome. The differences I make between the drafts? I try to find the typos.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’m a perfectionist as I write to begin with, so even my first raw draft tends to be fairly free from errors. I see those red or blue squiggly lines and I fix them up. That said, I still like to at least have three read throughs of my work, saving each one as a separate draft at the start. The first read through might catch wrong words, and maybe tweak synonyms to get the best feel for the scene. I might remove sections or add more. I then like to do a typo and grammar check. Then a final proof read before it goes off for editing.


What’s the hardest part of the story for you to write: beginning, middle or end?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak The wrap-up after the climax. UGH. Suddenly I have to remember the entire story and every plot point I ever mentioned and wrap that all up in some kind of interesting fashion. I sometimes wish I could just write a checklist:
–The thing that ate the bad guy got indigestion, but is feeling better now.
–That one guy you hated got killed by a cement truck but it was just a coincidence.
–The main character decided to move but took the haunted urn with her because she kind of likes the ghost now.
–The cat likes the new house, but keeps trying to tip the urn over anyway, because he’s a cat.
–They got it all wrong on the news, but in a funny way, and at least the phrase “sewer gas explosion” wasn’t used.
–Too bad about the noodle restaurant.  The main character hopes they’ll reopen.
–Maybe next time, she’ll just ask the ghost for help from the start and the whole thing with the ear infection can be avoided, hahaha.
–The main character, the cat, and the ghost decide to watch Stranger Things on TV.  They all jump at the scary parts.
–The end.
Usually it’s write one sentence, wander around the house moaning about how hard this all is for ten minutes, write another sentence. A list would be much easier. I’ve actually started to jot down notes as I write the climax. “Oh, make sure you wrap up the thing with the gun.” Maybe I should write the ending first, then figure out what the rest of the plot was and write that. I wonder if that would be easier.
Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne The first sentence is the hardest.
Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Luckily, I have not encountered a hard part yet.  I’m sure I will some day, but for now, once I have the beginning and end worked out, I usually have no problem getting from point A to point B.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 The hardest part for me is just to begin. To sit, put my hands on the keyboard, and write a few pages. Once the cobwebs clear I can write quickly and the story develops as if I am a psychic medium, a channel. I get dictation from an entity called WaldWen. He writes most of my fantasy material. The number of drafts is endless.  A manuscript is never finished. I merely succumb to exhaustion. “Good enough,” I think.  “It will do. Or…..maybe another revision…no…leave it alone….the manuscript has peaked….but…but Chapter Two Thirty has a clunky feel to it….no..forget it. No one reads your stuff anyway.”

Let me be honest.  Sometimes it seems as if someone is dictating chapters to me. Seems.  It’s actually just me and my compulsion to write. It feels as if I’m channeling something mysterious and when I read back my material I wonder, “How the hell did I do that?  Where did it come from?”

The answer is quite ordinary. It came from years of reading, researching, experiencing, filtering, transforming, warping, skewing, observing and participating in the activities of human beings. I find these activities sometimes incomprehensible. I view myself as if I am an alien from another world and this life is a fiction, a script that was crafted as a method of instruction. My life is a work of fiction designed to teach me about consciousness and the intelligent control of matter. Who fashioned this script? A guide, a spirit, a Being, a WaldWen? An Arthur Rosch. A man who writes with a modicum of coherence and has thus far been able to avoid imprisonment for my strange behavior. I sure as hell haven’t sold many books, but some day I will. Some day.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Seems like I always get stuck in the middle. I lose momentum, start to doubt myself, or I have written myself into a corner. In that instance its good to do some rereading and figure out how to jump back in.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan The end is always the hardest for me.  There’s so much more I want to write, but I know I need to cut myself off before it evolves into 900 pages.
Margareth Stewart
Margareth Stewart I guess it is the beginning, I think, or at least for me! The beginning is the starting point, when everything is set and must interest the reader. The book should capture the reader´s attention at once. It is the “do or die” kind of thing, just like “love at first sight”. The opening sentence of a book is that element that we should pay lots of attention to – to make the reader willing to turn and read the next pages.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I have to say the beginning. I want to capture the reader’s attention, and sometimes you really have to work those beginning words to enter the adventure.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre The beginning the story is the hardest for me to write, but not for the reason you probably think. For most writers, the middle gets mushy. They have lots of good ideas that get everything set up, and maybe have an idea of how it’s going to end, but tying all that together in a cohesive manner without getting boring is the mushy middle that you’re always trying to avoid.

For me, how I avoid that is I just try to get through it as quickly as possible, and make something interesting happened in the middle of the mushy middle. Maybe a plot twist, maybe somebody dies, but that keeps the mushy middle from getting mushy

But the reason the beginning of the story is hardest to write is because it’s also the easiest to write. Like I said, in my next murder mystery, the opening chapter – the opening sentences – are going to be something like “The assassin watched his prey through the rifle scope” – something like that. So right away, your first sentence is gonna be somebody’s about to get killed and we’re watching it happen!

But the reason the beginning is hard is because most the time you are starting a new story with new characters, and you don’t really know those characters until you are a few chapters into the story. And by the time you end the story they’re gonna be different (because the story arc). For that reason, you have to go back and look at the first three chapters and have the characters be fully formed on page 1. That’s a little harder to do, to give them their personalities on the first page, and most writers don’t do that, so that’s why I say that’s the hardest – for me and for everybody else. But once you realize that, you know you need to do that. Then it’s like proofreading. Is the character fully developed on page one? No? What do I need to make him or her be there? Write that.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Depends on the story. I like to continue writing in sync – in other words, from beginning to end. I know some people like to write a scene as it comes to them, but for me I find that can cause too many plot holes as the story is stitched together. If I have a specific scene in mind and it’s stewing away in my mind, I sometimes find the hardest part is not rushing through my story to get there, to make sure my story is of a consistent strength the whole way through.

Mark & Kym Todd 
Todds - Copy It’s all fun, right? 🙂

As a writer, what is the biggest challenge for you? What’s the biggest reward?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak
Biggest challenge: Marketing.
Biggest reward: I play make-believe all day 🙂
Mark Shaw 
MarkAtSFTS (1)
Biggest challenge: To tell the story I want to tell, to write the book I want to write.
Biggest reward: The reward is hearing from readers and their reaction to my book. With The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, I have heard from nearly a thousand readers and have been humbled by their kind words about Dorothy’s story.
Mark & Kym Todd 
Todds - Copy The biggest challenge is knowing when to stop. We don’t want to wear out our welcome, so we try to trust the reader to get where we’re going without beating the ending over their head. Our first book in the Silverville Saga, Little Greed Men, saves the most important clue until the very last sentence. But once we published the book, our publisher wanted to know if we were going to take the next logical step in the sequel. But we held firm and said no – that’s up to the reader to see where they wanted to take that final, surprising information, not us.
Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne

Biggest challenge: Marketing. Marketing. Marketing! (Spoken in the Marsha Marsha Marsha tone from The Brady Bunch!). I detest that side of writing so much I really don’t delve too much into it.

Biggest reward: The biggest reward is knowing something born inside my head connects to the heart of a reader!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil
Biggest challenge: My biggest challenge would be marketing.  Right now, I mainly rely on social media, but I believe there are so many other advertising and marketing avenues out there.  I’ve recently started looking into them and plan to have an advertising budget next year to explore my options.

Biggest reward: The biggest reward would have to be the fans.  When I see the reviews start to cumulate on a release or when a fan messages me saying they loved a book that I have written totally makes my day.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 My fantasy epic, The Gods Of The Gift revealed its ending to me as I was driving home to my North Bay mansion. I knew the ending, and then WaldWen began speaking in my head, so I drove and took notes simultaneously.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge was writing the book.

Biggest Reward: The biggest reward was writing the book.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy
Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge at the moment is balancing everything. My writing has taken a back seat for too long. Once I get going again its usually a challenge to market a new book in a sea of other authors all clamoring for the spotlight.
Biggest Reward: The biggest reward is when I get a reader tell me how they enjoyed the book
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan
Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge is negative criticism that doesn’t come from a good place. Some people just want to tear you down, and its hard to disassociate from that.
Biggest Reward: The biggest reward is hearing from a reader who has genuine criticism or praise. I love that someone took the time to become immersed in my story.
Tom Johnson
Tom's Back Cover Picture

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge is to write something that will attract readers.

Biggest Reward: The biggest reward is to see a nice review, or have someone say they were entertained by my story. My main goal is to entertain.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge? The biggest challenge is marketing. Sorry. If I can get somebody to read two pages of my story, they will read the whole story – and love it. Getting more people to figure out how to find me to read those first two pages? That’s the hardest part for almost every writer. All the hard stuff about writing the story is actually the easy stuff. The marketing is the hard part.

Biggest Reward: The biggest reward is definitely writing something funny and having people email you or see you and tell you how funny it was. Writing a scene that made you cry while you were writing it and having tears dropping on your keyboard, and having people come up to you later or email you and say how emotional they got during that scene. Putting a little Easter egg type of thing in there and having a reader “get it.” You’re like, “Yeah!” and you’re fist pumping, because they got it. Those rewards are huge. Just making that connection and putting something out there and having it having work.

Another big reward is, and I love this, is having a plot twist. Like, in chapter 10 there’s a big twist, and your critique partner is going along, and they read chapter 8, and they read chapter 9, and then all of a sudden you get this email that says OH MY GOD. That’s awesome. That’s so much fun – for the writer and the reader. That’s the rollercoaster they want, and that’s what I give them.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge for me? That would be find enough time in the day to actually sit down and write. I have to balance my home life as a wife and mother with my life as a writer. And that can be a challenge when my mind is brimming full of story ideas and scenes begging to be written.

Biggest Reward: The biggest reward? To hear that a reader couldn’t get enough and wants more. I love those 4 and 5 star reviews, where the reviewer is practically begging for more. But most especially, I love it when they have picked up on the subtly of a plot line and pulled it out from the story.


It seems we all write for different reasons, draw inspiration from different places or experiences, and our writing processes are varied. We differ not only in where we like to write, how we get into the zone, and the prewriting activities we partake in. There are all types of authors, as there are all types of people, because after all authors are just people from all walks of life who have chosen to embark upon a writer’s journey. But, we all choose different paths to get to our ultimate destinations.
I particularly liked the idea DeAnna Knippling mentions for getting into the writing zone, the one about selecting specific music for each of her different works, so she can easily slip into the proper story and get busy. As an author who always seems to have multiple WIPs in progress, I found this to be a great idea. I already associate certain songs with certain people, memories or life events, so this seems like a technique which might work well for me, and I am definitely going to give it a try. 
I also found Dan Alatorre’s accumulative process for building a story idea into a workable storyline to be very interesting. Sometimes if you just let an idea simmer, you’ll be surprised what results from it with very little effort. At times it can be as if the storyline develops all on it’s own, and Dan’s process seems like an organized method of gathering your characters and plot events to shape up a basic outline.
One thing that’s obvious though, is that one of the biggest rewards of writing is knowing people are reading your work, through reader feedback or reviews, it seems there’s nothing like learning that what you were trying to do worked and your readers ‘get it’.
I think this was a great first segment for Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Your comments are welcomed, so feel free to let us know what you found useful or interesting. I hope you all will drop in next week  to catch  the segment on Plot/Storyline.

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Ask the Authors: Final Answers

Books and Coffee

We’ve reached the final segment of Ask the Authors, which will bring our series to a close. This has been a fun series and we’ve covered a lot in regards to writing. In this segment, our panel members will answer follow-up questions for each segment and wrap things up, so let’s get started. We’ll skip over the introductory segment, as there are really no follow-up questions as to the panel members identity, but if you missed that one, you really should pop in and check it out.  Our panel had a great line up, with DeAnna Knippling, Chris Dibella, Carol Riggs, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Janet Garber, Art Rosch, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili and Jordan Elizabeth.

I want to thank each and every one of our panel members for their participation. This blog is a labor of love for me, which means I can’t pay for guest posts, etc… The time and energy each author took to respond to all of my, sometimes lengthy and open ended questions is greatly appreciated. When asked if they would be up for another round in the fall, many said yes, so it looks like we have another round of Ask the Authors still to look forward to.

Our first segment takes A Look at the Writing Process, where each of our panel members found different things most challenging, from sharing and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to self confidence, to marketing and finding readers, to the actual act of writing. The process is never the same for any two authors. Some prefer to write without distractions, while others like to write with music or other things going on in the background. Many authors like to write in public places, such as coffee shops, while others like Tim Baker find this too cliche or just need their privacy for writing, like Carol Riggs. We approach our writing in different ways, as well. While Janet Garber writes in vigenettes, Cynthia Vespia writes her first drafts by hand, and authors like DeAnna Knippling just let the characters go and see what happens, and most of our panel members are morning writers, like Chris Barili. Most of our panel members claim to lean toward character driven stories, but I’m with Cynthia Vespia in thinking that all stories must be a little of both. Most, like Art Rosch and Chris DiBella say the titles of their books just come to them, usually before actual writing begins, while the book is still in the design stage. Be sure to check it out and see what each of our panel members’ best pieces of advise for upcoming authors.

The follow up question for this segment is: What are your top five writing rules for success?

Cynthia Vespia: 

1. Write what you want, don’t follow the trends

2. Characterization is key

3. Have fun with world building

4. Think outside the box

5. And of course show don’t tell

Chris Barili

1. Learn your craft. Whether through college studies, mentorship, reading a lot, whatever. Learn what makes good stories.
2. Learn the business of your craft. All the writing in the world does you no good if you don’t know how to get it sold.
3. Find your writing tribe. A support crew of fellow writers is crucial for keeping you going.
4. Submit. Everywhere. You don’t get published if you’re not submitting.
5. Get your ass in the seat and do the work. Don’t wait for the stupid inspiration fairy or muse to sit on your shoulder and whisper bullshit in your ears. Write. Then write some more.

Janet Garber: 

1. Jot down phrases and ideas when inspiration hits no matter where you are.

2. Work on making the language sing.

3. Submit like crazy

4. Don’t take rejections personally. Just move on.

5. Don’t ever give up!

 

Art Rosch: 

One, be yourself.  Write to please yourself.  There is no other way to achieve authenticity other than to make your writing a means of exploring yourself, your humanity and the nature of your life experience.

If you’re writing fiction you need a great villain.  Nothing propels a story like a character that you hate, someone whom you want to see brought to justice.  I pay special attention to writing my villains.

Write with feeling or your readers will not feel anything.  Emotion is the fuel of story.  Be a storyteller, engage readers with plots that invoke high stakes.  The ultimate investment in a story can be the life or death of the characters, or the survival of a society, or the triumph of a civilization.  All the elements of story break down into conflicts of virtue versus destruction.  What makes a story interesting, however, is when it’s difficult to tell who is good and who is evil.  Things aren’t always simple.

A good book has three attributes.  It should be entertaining, informative and inspiring.  I can loosely define inspiration as the evocation of insight.  Insight feels good and you know when a writer provokes an understanding of the human condition.

That’s not exactly five rules, but it’s an overview of things I put in my writing.

Tim Baker: I really only have one rule…keep writing. If you want to be succesful as a writer you have to keep writing. Not only is it the best way to hone your skills, but the more you write, the more chance you have of being succesful.

Chris DiBella: I don’t have any rules for writing “success” because the term success will vary from person to person. What works for me may not work for other writers, and vice versa. There are a million blogs posting the same 5 to 10 rules for how to be a writer, but none of them seem to be putting out any books themselves, so why take advice from someone who isn’t successful doing what they are trying to tell you to do? There’s no secret magic formula, but you can’t be successful if you don’t write…..so just go write.

Carol Riggs: 

1. There ARE no rules.

2. Everyone writes lousy first drafts; get the words down on the page and learn to revise.

3. Always have other people check your work for inconsistencies, grammar, punctuation, etc.

4. If you truly love to write, never give up!

5. Not everyone will love your book; it’s subjective and there’s no way your writing will speak to every single person.

Margareth Stewart: 

1. Write. Don´t stop.

2. Don´t copy anyone else. Find your own voice.

3. Craft your stories.

4. Be humble. Be proud.

5. Keep it up.

P.S. Just write if you have something to tell, and then forget about it all. I don´t believe so much that we can predict success though we need to do our best for it. I see authors who might be famous, and they might not be the best ones, or even the most influential ones, or the ones that are still going to be recalled a century from now. I would rather quote Jorge Amado and say that writing is like living: 

“The world is like that – incomprehensible and full of surprises.” Jorge Amado – Brazilian Author. 

Jordan Elizabeth:

  1. Never give up on your dreams.
  2. Write what you know.  Write a book that you would want to read.
  3. Don’t write a shocking scene just for the shock value.
  4. Don’t write in a genre just because its selling; write in that genre because you’re passionate about it.

DeAnna Knippling:

1. Read.
2. Study what you read.
3. Practice what you study.
4. Get what you practice published.
5. Honor the people who read what you published.

The second segment was on Character Development. Many of our author panel develop characters from real people and composites of people they know, or at least give them realistic qualities and flaws to make them feel more human, easier to identify with, and most admit to having a little of themselves in their characters. Chris DiBella, Jordan Elizabeth, Janet Garber and Art Rosch even offer up real life examples. None of them openly admited to creating characters from archetypes, but I maintain that all characters fit into archetypes, whether the author does it consciously or not. Chris Barili offers his method of character development using a character triangle to determine what the character’s motivation is, what the character’s fear or flaw is, and what it is the character truly needs. It is clear that for all of our panel members and myself, our characters often come alive and take over what happens on the page, surprising even their creators at times. While Art Rosch and DeAnna Knippling like to take a more psychological approach to character development, authors like Tim Baker use life observation to ‘keep it real’. And I don’t think any of the panel members would disagree with Carol Riggs when she stated, “The more rich development you can give to a character, the more the reader can identify with them.” After all, that is what we’re striving for – characters that readers can relate and identify with.

Emotions

The follow-up question for this segment: How do you evoke emotion in your readers?

Cynthia Vespia: This is one of the most important parts of storytelling, and one of my favorite parts as well. Developing characters that readers resonate with is what stirs emotion. If they can see part of themselves in the character they will gravitate towards them more and that makes them care what happens to them in the end.

Chris Barili: You do that by creating a character they empathize with, then killing him or her, usually. No, wait. That’s the George Martin approach. Seriously–build a character about whom readers care, then put them in situations where they are threatened.

Janet Garber: This is admittedly not always easy. I concentrate on creating relatable and sympathetic characters.

Art Rosch: If you write with feeling your audience will respond with feeling.   Fiction is mostly about overcoming obstacles.  You cause your heroes to act bravely and unselfishly and your villains to act with malice and manipulation.  If you create a lovable hero, (that is, someone with flaws who intends to do a positive thing) your readers will respond. I don’t know if emotion can be taught.  Writing is a very psychological pursuit, and our emotions are unpredictable and all but uncontrollable.  So…be a psychologist.

Tim Baker: By giving my characters real emotion and letting the reader see it. Whatever emotion the characters are feeling in a particuklar scene I try to have them think and react the way any of us would (as much as allowable for the story anyway).

Chris DiBella: I just try to make my characters as real as possible and hopefully my readers like them enough to care about what happens to them.

Carol Riggs: I write in first person for (what I think is) the most close, personal experience. I also try to include a lot of sensory images—smell, taste, sounds, and sights to make things more real. With crying and sobbing and sad emotions, often less is more; otherwise it starts feeling melodramatic. And if the character is going through general experiences the reader can relate to (betrayal, loss, anger at a friend or parent) that helps make an emotional connection.

Jordan Elizabeth:  I rely on my own experiences when writing.  Many of the emotions I write about are ones that I have experienced, so I’m able to write from the heart.  If its a funny scene, then I’m laughing out loud.  If its a sad scene, I have tears drenching my cheeks.

DeAnna Knippling: One of my pet peeves is when an author is obviously playing for my emotions rather than letting the combination of plot, character, etc., do the work in a more logically consistent fashion.  You’ve seen it every time a beloved character gets wiped out and it really doesn’t affect the narrative, other than to “inspire” the rest of the characters to carry on or set the grounds for “anything could happen!!!!!!!”

If I want a reader to cry, I better have already wept bitter tears over the manuscript as I was writing it.

Our third segment was on Action and Dialog. While all authors want dialog that flows smooth and sounds realistic, different authors take different approaches to the task. While most of our panel members agree that listening to people and being able to hear the dialog spoken in your head are great ways to approach this, Carol Riggs offers the really great advice to read your work aloud, and Art Rosch offers the advice that dialog should always serve a purpose, rather than being just a space filler. In true life, we tend to talk just to hear ourselves sometimes. In writing, that sort of thing just takes up space on the page and the only purpose it may serve is to bore the reader, and of course, we don’t want that. Achieving a balance between action and dialog seems to come natural for many of our panel members claim the only trick or secret is to keep the story moving and not let it get too bogged down with details. Tell readers what they need to know, but keep things moving. If you missed this segment, be sure to drop in and check it out, because it features excerpts of dialog scenes from authors Chris Barili, Janet Garber, DeAnna Knippling, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Art Rosch and Margareth Stewart.

The following is a reader comment left regarding Dialog. While a couple of our panel members replied directly in the comments, DeAnna Knippling’s reply seemed spot on to me and I wanted to include it here.

Reader Ken Hughs said:

Lots of excellent advice there.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to analyze dialogue a bit deeper than that. For instance:

Who talks more? Does she say a lot on her favorite subject (an expert, or just concerned about it) and less on other things, or is she nervous or social enough to chime in a little after everything– or so full of herself she does both?

How organized are his sentences? A longer sentence can mean he has a more complex complete thought, unless it’s a run-on; several short sentences could each mean new thoughts still coming in behind the last ones. Or the most eloquent person might be the one with the simple line that says it all.

Adjectives and adverbs? Someone passionate, or more in tune with their senses, is more likely to pile on the modifiers, while others are plainer-spoken. Similes and metaphors take this even further– if you can keep someone from becoming cliche about using their job or background to compare things too.

DeAnna Knipling: It sounds like the commenter, Ken Hughes, is doing some good things with pacing.  Huzzah!  Once you get past the point of being able to make dialogue that sounds natural and gets the point across in a scene, the next step is to start working on the pacing of the dialogue–and all the issues Mr. Hughes mentioned are relevant there.

To back up a bit for writers who aren’t quite down in the weeds of studying pacing yet:

  • Pacing is the art of connecting content (what you’re writing about) to form (the layout of the little black marks on the page, for writers).  When the word lengths and patterns, sentence lengths and patterns, scene lengths and patterns all line up with the meaning of the story somehow, the story is “paced well.”  Pacing is about building your story like a woodworker, choosing your material and construction techniques to fit the final purpose of the project.  Any element of a story can have pacing.
  • Each character’s dialogue will also have its own pacing, just as Mr. Hughes says, and it should depend on the nature of the character.
  • The examples that Mr. Hughes gives are excellent examples of what to consider with pacing dialogue.
  • I’d like to add that anything that you add between pieces of dialogue also reflects the pacing of the dialogue, so if you have chunks of description between bits of dialogue, the reader will take them as pauses in the conversation, or as the POV character’s mind wandering during the conversation.
If you can handle the things Mr. Hughes brings up, you’ll be doing well indeed 🙂

Mr. Hughes and DeAnna bring up another issue here, which we haven’t really touched on.

Action

Naturally my follow-up question is:What methods do you find effective in controlling your pacing?

Cynthia Vespia: I don’t. I just write what comes to me.

Chris Barili: I don’t know. I just go with what the characters are feeling, I guess. Their tension tells me how to pace a scene.

Janet Garber: Ah. You must make every scene count. Have it lead readers somewhere, to the destination you intend.

Art Rosch: I’ve watched a thousand Samurai movies.  They’re great for offering templates for action sequences.  Samurai didn’t waste effort in useless display and they were completely focused on surviving the next duel or battle. Unless you’re writing about super-heroes your characters need to operate within reasonable physical parameters.  I act out movements and gestures at my chair in front of my computer.  Does this look reasonable?  Can my characters do this-and-that?

In my novel Confessions Of An Honest Man, I have a 70 page battle sequence that takes place in Afghanistan.  It’s a much admired passage with editors and readers. It has an arc, or several arcs.  There’s the build-up to an initial confrontation.  A mini-climax occurs early in the scene.  But it doesn’t end there.  A greater threat appears unexpectedly and my hero must cope with expanded dangers.  Each time a resolution seems to occur another and greater threat appears.  The point of this sequence is that my hero learns things about himself, learns that he has more courage than he thought. There’s outer action but there’s also my hero’s thoughts and emotions as the scene(s) unfold.  This pendulum between action and a character’s inner dialogue offers a means of pacing.

Tim Baker: When writing action I try to write only the action. By this I mean if I’m writing an action packed scene I don’t stray away from the action with anything that will slow the reader down. I want the reader to be able to be in the action.

Chris DiBella: I’ve never thought about trying to control my pacing. When I get to action scenes, I just try to write them in a way where I’m describing enough that it paints a picture for my readers. I don’t have a formula for how many pages an action scene should be. I just write them until I feel it’s time to move on with the story.

Carol Riggs: I try to keep some sort of tension, question, or compelling forward movement on every page, whether internal for the characters or external to them. I use cliffhanger-type chapter endings to keep the reader turning pages. It’s also important not to rush the “big moments”—sometimes the pace needs to be drawn out on powerful scenes to heighten the impact or emotions. In an action scene, short punchy sentences help move the pacing along.

Margareth Stewart: Word count and daily targets; otherwise, it does not flow. Sometimes, I feel like I am a General to myself: “for instance, no chocolate if I don´t finish 2.500 word count today”, and there it goes. Other times, I need to be a little more flexible because things do happen in between word counting, not with the plot or story itself, but in terms of living – ordinary living – bills to pay, a tire to fix, and so on. Another good and productive management is during November Writing. Besides that, I use the same method for editing – this week I have to review 50 pages and by the way I am late, so I will have to do extra work at the weekend. Therefore, I have told my kids, we can only go to the cinema if I can complete the goal before Sunday. By the way, that´s another point about being a writer, we feel quite weird and funny.

Jordan Elizabeth: I tend to just write, write, write.  I don’t plan my stories ahead; I just go off a basic plot idea in my mind.  Pacing falls naturally into place.

In our third segment, our author panel members discussed Setting,  where author Carol Riggs suggests basing fictional worlds on real life places as a good method of world building, and travel for authors is recommended in order to expand on their true life experiences that shine through in their writing, although most of our panel members have written about places they have never been or don’t really exist, like Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA fantasy. DeAnna Knippling loves to write about Victorian England, and all agree that sensory details should be added to make the setting feel more real. This segment also features setting excerpts from Cynthia Vespia, Art Rosch, Chris Barili, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber. (Strangely enough, I just realized I gave no follow-up question for this segment, although we could do a whole series on world building and setting. Wow!)

Our fourth segment covered the topic of Publishing, which many authors opt to do themselves these days. Our panel members were a nice blend of traditional, small press and self-published authors, with three strictly self-published authors: Art RoschChris DiBella, and DeAnna Knippling; one author who is strictly small press: Jordan Elizabeth; and five who have done a hybrid combination of small press and self-publishing in one form or another: Cynthia VespiaMargareth Stewart, Tim Baker, and three authors who have done a combination of traditional and self-publishing: Janet GarberChris Barili, and Carol Riggs. Together, they bring their own experiences to the table to talk about the pros and cons of each publishing venue.

I have two follow-up questions for this segment: 

Are your books available in print or digital format, or both? Why?

Cynthia Vespia: Both. Because I like to have my work available in as many formats as possible to appeal to different readers. Next I’ll do audio books.

Chris Barili: Both. And why wouldn’t you do it that way? You’re robbing yourself of readers if you ignore one medium.

Janet Garber: My books are in print and in digital form and the first traditionally purchased book is on audiotape as well.

Art Rosch: I need to emphasize a huge fact with regard to the whole publishing venture.  It takes money to market books.  I don’t have money, I’m living on a fixed income.  I started my enterprise by going to Smashwords.com and e-publishing three of my books.  I did the same at Amazon.  An author can publish digitally for free.  I designed my own book covers, using my stock of personal photography and my skills in Photoshop. Such as they are.

I am now about to turn my novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man into a paperback on Amazon.  I have no illusions about getting sales.  I just want to have a physical object, MY BOOK, in my hands and have it be available to people in my environment.

Tim Baker: My books are available in print, digital and audio (not all of them are currently available in audio, but the ones that aren’t are in production.) The reason why is simple…give more options to people and increase your chances of being read.

Chris DiBella: Both. There are still people out there (somewhere) who like to read physical copies of books.

Carol Riggs: All my books are available in both print and digital formats. This is important, because some readers prefer print and some prefer digital.

Jordan Elizabeth:  Both (except for Kistishi Island.  I have to sell 500 ebooks before it will be in print).  I like having a combination of formats.  Some people prefer print and some prefer ebook.  I’ve heard from a lot of readers that they have to use ebooks because of eyesight problems.  Print books are great for book signings.

DeAnna Knippling: Yes and yes.  See writing rule #5.  I really ought to be working on audio as well.  Readers should be able to read conveniently.

Which publishing platforms do you use? Which do you recommend? Why?

Cynthia Vespia: I’m focused on Amazon at the moment because that’s where the majority of buyers/readers go. I’ve also used Smashwords and Barnes and Noble for digital.

Chris Barili: Amazon and Smashwords for my self-published stuff. I prefer Smashwords because they distribute to a bunch of other retailers, saving me time.

Janet Garber: I used Lulu.com and was satisfied with their speed and the look of the final product.

Art Rosch: I think Smashwords is great.  There’s all the support and information you need.  Amazon is, of course, the giant, but as with everything in digital publishing, it’s all automated.

Tim Baker: I use CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing and ACX (for audio). Since those are the ones I use – those would be the ones I recommend.

Chris DiBella: I use Amazon and CreateSpace. It’s easy to set up and get my books out to potential readers from those sites.

Carol Riggs: Three of my books are traditionally published, and the publishers distribute in various ways (Entangled Teen uses Macmillan, for instance). For self-publishing, I use CreateSpace and Amazon KDP; it’s relatively easy to release a book on these platforms.

Jordan Eizabeth: My publishers use Ingram and CreateSpace.  I can’t speak to the ease of use.

DeAnna Knippling: It’s not so much which ones, as how you decide which ones to use.  I’m starting to look at these things as, “How does this company treat its readers?  Are the readers happy with the experience?”  Another good set of questions is, “How does this company treat its writers?  Does it pay them promptly? Does it have good reporting?  Do they have good avenues for books that aren’t bestsellers to reach readers? Is the damn site hard to use?”

I’ve dropped a number of publishing platforms that don’t adhere to these things, or at least stopped using them directly, but approach them through other distributors.  [Cough] Barnes & Noble [Cough]

Our fifth segment of Ask the Authors covered the topic of Genre Differences. Again, we had a nice mix for this topic. Among our author panel members we had: Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA Fantasy and Steampunk; Carol Riggs, who writes both Fantasy and Science Fiction; Tim Baker, who writes crime action adventure novels; Cynthia Vespia, who writes speculative fiction for adults and teens; and those who dabble a little in all of them: Janet Garber, Chris Barili and DeAnna Knippling. They discuss the use of tropes when writing in the different genres, and also the differences in the creative process, the different types of research required, and the differences in audience and marketing. No follow-up questinos for this segment.

In the sixth segment, our author panel discusses The Business of Writing. According to Jordan Elizabeth and Carol Riggs, marketing can make or break you in the world of writing, and in today’s digital world, much or all of those duties fall upon the author, requiring us to treat writing not only as a job or a passion, but as a business. Today’s author may be responsible for everything about their book, from writing the book, to editing and cover art, to publishing, to marketing and promotion, and everything in between. While many of these tasks can be hired out, not all authors can afford to do so. I didn’t have any follow-up for this segment, mainly because the next two segments were follow-up to this.

For the seventh segment of Ask the Authors, our author panel discusses the many ways there are to Building an Reader Platform.  Most of our panel members prefer face-to-face events, over online activities, but it seems they continue to use the Internet and social media to promote their books, feeling that both are needed. Some panel members come up with some very creative ideas, like Tim Baker, who had a tire cover made for the spare on his Jeep with his logo on it, or Chris DiBella, who had customized tee-shirts made telling the world that he is their next favorite author. Who knows? It might work.

Book Reviews

The follow-up question for this segment is: What methods have you found successful for obtaining reviews?

Cynthia Vespia: Asking. I ask other writers, or I seek out bloggers who do reviews.

Janet Garber: Approaching authors who write in a similar humorous fashion; writing reviews myself as a pay-it-forward tactic; bugging people who enjoyed the book.

Art Rosch: I completely suck at this and it’s my own fault.  I must have social media halitosis.  There are billions of people who don’t know about me.  I’ve been hammering at this for many years and haven’t cracked the code yet.  I do recommend one author-marketing guru (among the many who haunt my email inbox).  That’s Mark Dawson.  He refunded my money long after the expiration date for one of his courses and he didn’t have to.  He teaches at a good pace and he has much to offer to authors who want to market independently.

Tim Baker: I haven’t found a successful way to get reviews. People generally don’t like to write them. I’ve done everything from blog posts, social media requests and even offered to include people in a book if they wrote enough reviews. It’s the thing I find most discouraging about writing.

Chris DiBella: I don’t like to hound people for reviews. There are some authors who post constantly about it, and I find it annoying. We all want reviews, but it seems some authors will only ask for reviews from people they know will give them a favorable review. I simply do not like that approach. The way I look at it is the reviews will come in time – or maybe not. They’re nice to get, but I don’t stress about it. I also have my own little rule of thumb of not to trust any book with less than 15 reviews of all 5-stars (unless there’s some bad reviews in there too). Anyone can get 15 friends or family members to write a good review. It’s that first bad review I usually trust the most. Same goes for my books. My first bad review was actually pretty spot-on with the critique. She liked the story, but drilled me on editing. No friends or family members would have left a review like that. I pulled the book and re-edited it. Of course it sucks to get bad reviews, but they can be turned into a positive. And for the love of everything you consider holy, please stop arguing with readers who give you a bad review. Let your fans battle it out for you.

Carol Riggs: My publishers used NetGalley for obtaining reviewers from bloggers. A newsletter also works decently for requesting reviews. I try not to ask for reviews too much, however, because it’s off-putting. Either a reader will leave you a review or he/she won’t. No one should be obligated; an author doesn’t get honest reviews that way anyway.

Jordan Elizabeth: Author friends have told me they have good luck when posting free books on Facebook in exchange for reviews.  I haven’t had luck that way.  I usually reach out to bloggers.  Most of the time, they are willing to review.

Just a note: I also see the other side of this issue, as I do honest reviews in exchange for ARCs right here on Writing to be Read. The problem I’ve run into is that since I’m supplied with a free copy, at times Amazon will not aknowledge my reviews because they can’t verify the sale. I imagine those exchanging reviews on Facebook might run into the same type of issues. So, even if you can give away some e-copies in exchange for a review, there is no gaurantee that Amazon will acknowledge it.

DeAnna Knippling: Asking nicely.  I was using Instafreebie for a while, but I think that exhausted its readers fairly quickly, because it was mostly a platform for trading newsletter subscribers, not a sustainable model.  What new readers was Instafreebie bringing to the table?  Not as many as the authors themselves had brought.  I did well by it, but I think that was a matter of getting in at the right moment and not “what a great site for reviews!”

I think your best bet is to treat reviews like a pyramid.  At the base, write good books and make it easy for readers to read more.  Next level, make it easy for your newsletter subscribers to get review copies.  I have an ARC list.  Up from that, whatever social media sites you’re on, keep an eye out for ways to attract reviews OR newsletter subscribers.  At the top of the pile is a review that will be seen widely, a review on a radio show or in a newspaper, things like that.  Go for it when you see it.  But be more loyal to your base of writing good books and making them easy for readers to read them.

Don’t put all your eggs in a basket that’s essentially just moving piles of email addresses around, or reviews that you have to pay for (and that Amazon will delete as soon as they get a chance), begging for reviews from your writer-friends (which screws up your also boughts something fierce), or whatever short-term solution everyone is chasing at the moment.  Play the long game, take advantage of what you can when you can, then drop back into your long game.
Believe me, I know how freaking slow this all goes.

 

In the last segment, our author panel members discussed many of the issues involved in Book Marketing and Promotion. This is a big topic for many authors, including me, because unlike writing, it does not come natural to us. It is such a big issue that a couple of our panel members, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber, bowed out of this segment, rather than express the frustration of not having the answers. But those panel members who did participate had some insightful things to share. They talk about their favorite social media sites for promotion, marketing and giveaway sites, marketing platforms, the effectiveness of author websites and blogs, newletters, press releases and interviews. Be sure and catch this segment, or you’ll never know why Chris DiBella’s mother is his greatest marketing tool.

Book Sale

The follow-up question for this segment is: Many of you said in last week’s segment that you preferred face to face events over Internet and social media marketing and that you found face to face marketing to be more effective. What type of face to face events have you found to be effective?

Cynthia Vespia: The reason conferences don’t work is because there are waaaayyyy too many writers all vying for attention at these things. Also, the majority of the writer conferences only alot 1-2 days for signings and sales that are usually only a few hours long. That is not enough time to make a dent in sales or really do any type of networking with your readers, especially when there are so many other authors there doing the same thing. Some of the more popular ones get all the attention. So imagine you’re a little fish in a sea of whales…how do you get noticed? I’ve run into some very bad etiquette at some of these things before, as well. The guy next to me would skate every sale I tried to make by talking over me and offering a free book. How do you compete with free? You don’t.

So the face-to-face events I prefer are my own individual signings, smaller book fairs, or (and I hate to mention this because it was a well guarded secret before) but I do the comic conventions and they work the best. Plus, they’re alot more fun.

Chris Barili: I’ve found genre cons to be MUCH more effective at selling books and gaining followers than writing conferences, and if you think about it, it makes sense. A genre con is full of fans of whatever genre you like. They’re LOOKING for genre stories. At a writers conference, writers are there looking to SELL stories.

Janet Garber: I find book fairs and readings most enjoyable as I get a chance to speak with the potential readers. Being a guest at a book club meeting is great too because you hear your characters discussed as if they were real people and you learn what readers liked and didn’t like.

Carol Riggs: I personally like/prefer book fairs or festivals over bookstore signings, because they’re more informal. I feel less “on the spot,” and I don’t have to make a microphone presentation. Instead, I can conversationally chat with people who come up to my book table. It feels more like a relationship that way, instead of a “buy my book” spiel. For instance, last summer (as well as this coming summer) I will be participating in the Lane County Fair in Eugene, Oregon, with a book table. Last fall I was also part of the Literacy for Libraries author event in Eugene, and I enjoyed schmoozing with fellow authors and with the crowd who wandered through the building. Sometimes authors can band together and create their own events at libraries and bookstores; it’s less intimidating than going it solo. The purpose of these events aren’t to sell as many books as you can, but rather get to know your readers and get your name out there—that’s an important marketing tip that a seasoned author shared with me.

Jordan Elizabeth: I prefer craft shows and library events.  The crowds are manageable, and as I write young adult, many teenagers and children come with their parents.  Parents and grandparents are also eager to buy gifts.  Because these events are smaller than most conferences, you’re able to have a one-on-one conversation.  You get to really understand what types of books these people read and you can gear them toward the book like might like the best.

DeAnna Knippling: Some people are great salespeople.  I am not.  That’s not some kind of subtle insult or anything.  I’m learning.  But I’ve always found networking more valuable to me than selling per se.  If a sale comes out of it, great.  And I’m not like, “Here’s my business card, call me!”  To me, a face to face event means that people are far more likely to put their hair down and tell me things.  Interesting things.  Gossip.  Rumors.  Scandalous lies!  And I love connecting other people and providing a safe place to talk.  I have a SF/F/H writer group, the Colorado Tesla Writers, that is basically just a Facebook page and a monthly meal for people to hang out and feel like Real Writers(tm) and let our hair down.  That’s it.  I’m not sure what it’s effective at, but people tell me that it is, so I keep doing it.

To wrap up this last segment, I want to thank our panel members for the great writing rules. If you create characters who are not only realistic, but who the readers can identify and empathize with, and if you write with emotion which comes from your soul, you can evoke in your readers and make them care about your characters and your story. And while pacing is important and can be controlled with tension, conflict, action and dialog, most of our author panel don’t consciously write with pacing in mind, but rather it seems to come naturally. Also, we may need to pace ourselves to get the story out, as well as controlling the pacing of the story itself.

It does make sense to offer your books in as many formats as possible, because readers aren’t all the same. Amazon and Smashwords appear to be the favorite for digital publishing and CreateSpace was preferred for print publishing, although I believe they have made some changes and now Amazon is also providing print books as an option, so that may change.

Reviews are an author’s calling card these days, and it seems the best way to get them is to ask, whether in a newsletter, in person, or in the book itself, but it’s best not to be pushy. Genre conventions, book fairs and festivals, book signings, and library events are the preferred face to face events to make connections with readers. 

Well, it’s time to bring our time with our Ask the Authors panel members to a close. I do hope we’ve provided some helpful information and advice for all you authors out there, and maybe even made you smile once or twice. Thank you all for joining us. Be sure to watch for round two, this fall, where we will have several of these panel members back, as well as inviting other authors to join our panel. The best way to be sure not to miss out on this and all the other great content here on Writing to be Read is to sign up for email notification of follow me on WordPress. I hope you all will drop in frequently.

Next Monday, on Writing to be Read, I’ll be interviewing author Mark Shaw, who has optioned his book, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, for film. Something all authors dream of and some actually get the opportunity to do. How exciting. We’ll also be talking about his new book, Courage in the Face of Evil, which is to be release in June. Don’t miss it!

I want to extend a big thank you to our panel members, Carol Riggs, Tim Baker, Jordan Elizabeth, DeAnna Knippling, Chris DiBella, Art Rosch, Janet Garber, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili, and Cynthia Vespia. You guys and gals were a great panel and together we created a great Ask the Authors series. I feel it was very successful and I had a lot of fun with it. I hope all of you did, too. Until next time.