I am so excited to have these two authors, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd, as my guests today. They are both really great people and our conversations are always interesting, to say the least. Although I’ve never met Kym in person, Mark was my professor and mentor, and later my co-worker at Western State Colorado University. They also were a part of one of my 2018 “Ask the Authors” blog series and will be featured authors in the anthology of the same name, which is taken from that series and is planned for release in 2020.
You’ve heard of those couples who have been married so long and know each other so well that they can finish each other’s sentences? Well, these two really do that, both in speech and in writing, and they have co-authored several books together. We’re going to talk today about their nonfiction collaboration, Wild West Ghosts, which documents their paranormal research, (which was of course, carried out as a team). Let’s welcome them now and see what they have to share with us today.
Kaye: You’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. What are some of the major differences that you see between the two types of writing?
Kym-n-Mark: We both began as journalists, so we cut our eyeteeth writing nonfiction. Lots and lots of straight news stories.
Kym: For years my job as a newspaper features editor gave me plenty of practice at bringing out the lives of interviewees to readers by applying creative writing techniques such as scene dramatization, dialogue, setting, and “character” description.
Mark: This may sound flippant, but my favorite description of the difference is this: nonfiction is writing that pretends it’s true while fiction is writing that pretends it isn’t! Okay, that even sounds flippant to me. But I think there’s a kernel of truth in there.
Kaye: In Wild West Ghosts, although the material is nonfiction, describing ghost hunts that you have been on, the historical characters which inhabited the locations in the past were very real and they had lives. How did you help those characters come to life for your readers?
Kym-n-Mark: We did a lot of research for each hotel and often found first-hand historical accounts either by the people we wrote about or about those folks by others from the time. During and after our paranormal investigations, we tried to be mindful the entitles we seemed to contact were once real people and respectful when we told the stories they had to share – or at least our encounters with them.
Kaye: What is the most unusual ghost hunt you’ve ever been on? Why?
Kym-n-Mark: We’d have to say the Norwood Hotel really stands out for all the things that happened. A cup flew off a table in front of us, we encountered a cold spot, and multiple pieces of equipment reported the same readings. In one room, there seemed to be a pathetic presence who identified herself as “Leah” who asked us to help her, and when we reviewed out digital recorder later asked us to remember her. In another room at the hotel, all our equipment red-lined and then shut down at the same time. We decided it was time to go.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Kym-n-Mark: Ha! As journalists we learned to write to deadline, so any time is good. But we also pick whatever time we’re both free to write together.
Kaye: You’ve been a college professor and Kym is a graphic designer, in addition to being authors. If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
Kym-n-Mark: Probably what we’re doing right now. We write because we enjoy it. Besides, we’ve turned a number of hobbies into businesses through the years, and it somehow kills the joy. We’d never want that to happen to our writing if that’s all we had to do.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge when writing with a co-author?
Kym-n-Mark: For us it’s never been a challenge. But we’ve talked to other authors who found it hard. Most use “over the transom” writing, where each writes drafts and passes it to the other to revise back and forth. But all a matter of compatibility – in writing style, in work ethic, and in commitment.
Kym: Writing style and values are important. If either one of us had large egos, we’d either stop writing together or else we’d be divorced.
Mark: Yes, dear.
Kaye: What is the best part of writing with a co-author?
Kym-n-Mark: We’re sure there are others out there who do it like we do, but we can’t name anyone.
Kym: I start a sentence…
Mark: …and I finish it.
Kym: Or vice versa. Then before we finish a session, we reread and rewrite until –
Mark: — until we can’t tell who wrote what.
Kym: You’d think were married or something. Oh wait, we are!
Kaye: What is your favorite channel for book promotion?
Kym-n-Mark: That’s a toughie. We’ve tried most of them, and we ended up taking the sage advice to focus on just a handful that seemed to fit us best. Like you, Kaye, we like blogging, and have had a fair amount of success with that channel when cross-promoting with FB and Twitter.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?
Mark: I’ve always liked Natalie Goldberg’s advice from her book, “Writing Down the Bones: “Always give yourself permission to fail.”
Kym: I’ve always liked this: “Just start writing. If you don’t like it, that’s what the delete button is for.”
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Kym: Don’t quit your day job. Until you make it, the electricity still needs to be paid.
Mark: I agree. I usually takes time to break in to publishing. Don’t put the pressure on yourself or your family. You’ll either find yourself blocked or you’ll crank out something that’s a waste of your time and your readers.
Kaye: Are there more books in the future for Mark and Kym Todd? What are you currently working on?
Mark: We’ve both really gotten into genealogy – we even have a blog dedicated to the more interesting skeletons we’ve each discovered in our closets. I’ve also always wanted to finish a memoir (one of those drafts-in-a drawer kinds of thing) about growing up in in a family mortuary business. A comedy, of course.
Kym: Our last book about ghosts happened because we were celebrating with our publisher the publication of our the third book in the Silverville trilogy. I never drink but had two Cape Cods that night. When our publisher asked us what was next, I blurted out a book about haunted hotels. Two days later, he called us and said he’d publish the ghost book. Maybe we’ll plan the next one when I get drunk again.
I want to thank Kym & Mark for joining us here and sharing today. As always when talking with them, the conversation was unique and entertaining, as well as being informative. I, for one, can’t wait to learn what that next book will be about, so I think Mark should take Kym out more often. You can learn more about Mark & Kym and their books on Mark’s Amazon Author page or on his Goodreads author page. To learn more about their paranormal investigations, visit their blog, Write in the Thick of Things.
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Ask the Authors (Round 2)
Every story has a distinct tone. Some are light hearted, while others are grim, while still others are sad and heartbreaking. The tone of the story is created by a combination of elements: point of view, tense, narrative distance and voice. Today our Ask the Authors panel discusses how they use those elements to create the tone needed for each particular story. On our panel today, Dan Alatorre, DeAnna Knippling, RA Winter, Mark & Kym Todd, Tom Johnson, Jordan Elizabeth, Margareth Stewart, Mark Shaw, Cynthia Vespia, Lilly Rayman, and Amy Cecil.
Tone is what determines the mood of the story. Is it a humorous story with a light, playful tone? Or are you aiming to create a dark story, with scary elements? Or perhaps a sense of mystery? The tone of the story doesn’t just occur on the page. It must be crafted with precision just like all the other elements of story, and the choices the author makes will determine if they are sucessful in achieving the desired tone, and if it is effective for the story.
Who is telling the story? There are basically four different points of view the story can be told from: first person (I), second person (you), third person limited (narrator with access to a single character’s view), or third person omnicient (narrator with access to the thoughts of multiple characters).
Do you have a preference between first person, second person, third person limited and third person omniscient, or does it just depend on the story you are telling? What do you see as the advantages or disadvantages of each?
I prefer writing in first person because it forces you to pay attention as a storyteller. You don’t know what’s going on in a room you aren’t in. I also enjoy third person limited, because it’s fun to be different people instead of “I“ all the time. The big advantage is, they make you be disciplined. You’re much less likely to do head hopping in first person.
I’ve dabbled in first person but I prefer third person, especially since I like telling multi-viewpoint stories. This way I can get in the heads of each character rather than one single character mindset as you do in first person.
Mark & Kym Todd
We have a definite preference for third-person limited POV. We like the distance it gives us (and readers) from the story and the opportunities for weaving in dramatic irony. We never use first-person because it’s too intimate for the kind of stories we tell – plus it makes it harder to surprise readers without resorting to what feels to us like storytelling gimmickry.
I always write in third person limited with a deep point of view. It brings out each character’s quirks, reactions, fears etc adding depth to the story. As far as third-person omniscient, I don’t like the distance from the characters and it’s very hard to pull off properly. First person point of view isn’t something I read for pleasure, so I’d never try to write in that niche. I know that it is the ‘in’ way of writing, but for some reason it grates on my nerves. I’ve noticed that the setting, descriptions, etc, usually lack in first-person stories and other characters aren’t as developed as they could be. I’ve only written in the second person once as a writing prompt with a crit circle. It was too hard to get into and not for me.
If you’re going to lie to your audience or have an unreliable narrator, do it in first person. I write in all three. The second-person stories kind of require some kind of hypnotic element to them, one that you want the reader to be hyper aware of. “I’m mind controlling you, see? Mind controllling!” Third person stories are for when you just want the reader to sink into the narrative with as much trust of the narrator as possible. It’s one of those things where the way you write the story should reflect the content of your story. The contents of my stories sometimes lead me into weird POVs. I do like books where mixed POVs are used, too–try to imagine The Fifth Season without the POVs!
I prefer third person omniscient, that’s how I learned to write, and it has stuck with me throughout my writing career. I don’t find myself limited in scope.
The easiest way to write is in the third person. The first person may get boring although I used that in a self-help book-guide I wrote while trying to avoid by all costs sounding egocentric. I also did some experimental writing on the second person. I tested it and it worked fine. It is a critical piece in which a subconscious voice dialogues with the main character while pointing out how she does not change her life, and keeps repeating the same mistakes. The narrative is dense in this short story called “Acid: a view from below”. I publish it for free at facebook.com/AuthorMargarethStewart. The main character is silent all the time, and the reason I used this technique was to lead people reading it to change their own. The silence holds the potential for change. My novels are all in the third person as that is the safest path. Nobody feels intimidated or bored with them and I recommend it for long novels and first-time authors.
It all depends on the story I’m writing. I usually stick with third person because I can explain more about what’s going on, but sometimes it just has to be told in first person. The main character wants to tell it her way.
Depending on what I want to convey with my story, depends on whether I write in the first person, or whether I write in a third person omniscient point of view.
My Unexpected series is written in 3rd Omni – with a couple of 1st person mini scenes to add a little intrigue to what is actually happening as that character is an unknown entity at that point of the story.
I have other works in progress, or in anthologies that are written in 1st person, simply because I needed to have a more in-depth thought process for the character that I follow, for example “A Reluctant Roxana: An Unexpected Short Story – Dare to Shine: Anthology” – The anthology was to raise funds for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation – a young woman who was killed for looking different in the way she choose to dress. I wanted my character, Roxana, to have some deep internalising about how important it is to be who you are and comfortable in yourself. I felt a 1st person point of view allowed for that kind of in-depth writing, something that a 3rd person would be hard to pull off.
3rd person omniscient is a great style for a lot of character and action that would get too complicated for a 1st person to follow.
I used to write in third person, past tense, but now I prefer first person present tense. I really don’t see any advantages other than I find it easier to write.
Have you ever written a story in one POV and then later rewritten it in a different POV to see if it worked better? Did it? Why or why not?
I started one story in one point of view and then rewrote it to change the point of view. I did it because I needed to be able to be multiple characters in the story, and I thought that worked best in third limited versus first. And it worked out really well because the story was a big hit.
Actually yes, twice. I started my Demon Hunter series in third person then decided to switch and tell it from a 1st person perspective because I wanted it to be Costa (my main character) telling his own story. When I started writing Lucky Sevens the opposite happened. I began with Luca “Lucky” Luchazi telling his story in 1st person and decided it didn’t work. So halfway through I switched to 3rd person and added in a multi-viewpoint approach. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to 1st person as its not as fun for me to write in.
Mark & Kym Todd
Sure. And it’s why we answered the above question like we did! We think we lived-and-learned from the experience.
No, never, I stay with the form I’ve used from the start.
I haven’t done that yet, but I have taken a story told entirely from one POV and added in another chracter’s POV. It made the story feel more well-rounded.
Most fiction is written in third person, allowing the author to define who their narrator is, and whether they are omniscient, having access to the thoughts and actions of all or at least several of the characters, or have access to the thoughts and ideas of one specific character. In the first person, the protagonist becomes the narrator and the story is told from a single point of view. The most prevalent example of this that comes to my mind is Hunger Games, and even though well done, there were places where the first person felt awkward.
Do you prefer to write in first or third person? Why? Or does it just depend on the story? How do you decide what POV to use?
Readers want to climb into your story and get lost in the fantasy. They don’t necessarily want to be the main character. That’s why third person is so appealing. However, certain types of stories lend themselves very well the first person. Humor, for example. Or when the author is intentionally messing with you. Ishmael was not the main character of Moby Dick; he was the narrator. He was a small player. I used that device in my book The Navigators to great effect; as you go along, you’re thinking the narrator is just a nice, quiet guy and all of a sudden you get surprise after surprise because he’s being surprised – and he pulls a few surprises. That makes it fun for me and the reader. Other books like Poggibonsi are written in first person because I wanted “you“ to be all these things and find yourself halfway through kind of rooting for the bad guy and then put yourself back out of it.
But I don’t like first person present tense. I do this, I do that. Can’t stand it. I like first person past tense: I went here, I went there – as if you’re sitting down at lunch or over a cocktail with somebody who is telling you their story. They are saying, then I did this, then I did that. First person present? I run, I jump – no thanks. I have read several books that are written that way and the first few chapters are almost impossible for me to get through. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me.
My first draft is usually in present tense as I work my way through the story but I change it to past tense. Present tense for me just doesn’t work and the voice becomes passive. I’ve also notice that while trying to write in the present tense that I will automatically switch tenses and that leads to reader confusion.
Depends on the story. I like to mislead the reader, but I also like to be fair about it. If you see me writing in the first person, you are 95% guaranteed an unreliable narrator. I’d say that’s 100% for second person, and maybe 50% for third. The third person narrators tend to be less unreliable, too.
Third person, always. I agree, first person can feel awkward at times, and I prefer to broaden the view, so to speak.
While I’m brainstorming, I try out different ideas in my head. One or the other will always stick, and the story starts playing out. I’ll hear it in third person or first, and I just go with it. I’ve only had to switch once. GOAT CHILDREN was originally third person and my original editor had me change it to first person.
I use both first and third, depending entirely on what I am trying to get across to the reader.
Basically the answer to this is noted in all the questions above. I prefer first person, because it is easier, but in some stories, I’m required to write differently because of the story or the particular character.
Seldom do you `see anything written in the second person, because it’s hard to do. This technique decreases the narrative distance between the reader and the character, because the reader is placed within the story in a way. Essentially the reader becomes the character, using ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ or ‘her’ or ‘him’. I tried it once, and it’s a very difficult thing to do well. It usually comes off feeling rather awkward.
Have you ever tried to write anything in second person? What did you find most challenging about it?
I don’t mind writing things in second person, because it’s like anything else; you have to practice it for it not to be awkward. If you don’t like it or you’re not practiced at it, it will be awkward to write and therefore it will be awkward to read. If you work at it, it can be very smooth, and a very satisfying reading experience. I don’t prefer it, because I think the types of stories I tell work best in other deliveries.
Mark & Kym Todd
French authors pretty well worked second-person POV to death in the 50s and 60s, and there’s not much unturned earth left in this POV, so far as we’re concerned, within traditional narratives. So we’re content to let video games and choose-your-own-adventure stories keep this technique.
I feel like using second person increases, rather than decreases, the narrative distance. It’s begging the reader to scream, “Don’t tell me what to do!!!” I write a number of stories in the second person. What you have to do is give the reader a story that they’re feeling especially cynical about, something that they want to react to in a negative manner. If you write a story from a bad guy’s point of view as they justify themselves, then a second-person narrator can sometimes be very effective. Another technique is to address the story to a universal “you,” an impersonal “you” that the reader won’t take personally at all, much as in this paragraph that you read just now.
Also? If you’re going to write a choose-your-own-adventure type book, you have to do you. I love Ryan North’s To Be or Not To Be and Romeo And/Or Juliet.
A story can be told from a singular perspective in the first person or with a limited narrator, or it can be told through the eyes of multiple characters, with an omnicient narrator. Each has benefits and drawbacks. Multiple points of view offer the author more options as to how much to reveal to readers and open up opportunities for subplots to be played out more fully, whereas a single point of view can create a more focused story. Multiple POVs may be necessary when the reader needs information that the protagonist isn’t privy to. (Super hero comic books use this technique to increase tension, by making readers privy to the perils the victim to be saved faces if the hero is not sucessful.)
Do you prefer single or multiple POVs? Why?
If you can have multiple, have multiple; it’s more fun. I prefer multiple POVs as far as what I write because it gives you the ability to get a scene to a very dramatic point and then jump away to a different story or a different person, in a different place. And then you build that story segment up to high point of drama and then jump back to the other story. If you do it right, people can’t stop turning the pages because they have to find out what’s going on with the other stories.
Mark & Kym Todd
We love third-person limited shifting. It’s our POV device of choice and probably why we usually write for ensemble casts. Little Greed Men uses 3p-limited-shifting in spades and by the story’s close, the characters each think they have the story figured out whereas only the reader knows what really happened – maybe.
Depends on the story. I tend to revolve around a single POV, because I find sagas and epics to be kind of frustrating to read at times. But I don’t worry too much about popping over to check in with another character now and then.
Single. Though I have used multiple POVs before, when I wanted my readers to see what was going on in both camps.
I love multiple POVs. The story opens up in a new way when you explore other thoughts and feeling, and see the world through different eyes. Plus, its fun to play around with split personalities! I realy have to force myself to write in first person if a story calls for that voice.
It depends on the story I’m writing. If I’m writing in 1st person, I keep my story to one POV. When I’m writing in 3rd person omniscient, there tends to be multiple POV.
It really depends on the story. Some of my books are multiple POVs and some are single. It just depends on the story I am telling what fits best.
When using multiple POVs, does each character get equal page time? Do you switch POVs within chapters, or on the chapter break?
Equal page time? No. Not a chance. You have stars and you have bit players. The stars get the limelight and the majority of the pages. Everybody else only gets as much as is absolutely required.
I will switch point of view within the chapter, at a chapter break, however often as needed. I’d do it midsentence if I could.
Mark & Kym Todd
We use additional page time with a given character as the way to signal to readers who our protagonist(s) is (are). But we also sometimes give extra page time to an antagonist – either to make characters hate them or else to make readers like them despite what the antagonist does. And we stand by the dictum that an antagonist is simply a character who opposes the intent of the protagonist. We never paint characters into villains for our stories – too simplistic for us.
As for POV shifts, we often change scenes to switch POVs within a chapter. It largely depends on whether or not it serves the story arc. Also, we love switching POV scenes with mini-cliffhangers. (We do it to keep readers from being able to go to bed.)
NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOO. The main character or the main narrator gets the most page time, period. Then again, I have to admit that I don’t write a lot of romance–that’s a situation where often (not always) the two main love interests get approximately equal page time. I’m fine reading that. But I generally loathe the “rotating POVs of calculated fairness” book structure. That one thing that I’ve been in suspense to read for the last four chapters? I no longer care. Book, meet wall on other side of the room.
Always in scene breaks, not necessarily chapter breaks, though. We must have a clear break in the scene if we switch POVs.
It depends on the progress of the story. I never decide when the POV will switch. As I’m writing, the other character sneaks up on me, demanding his/her turn.
Depends on the story and its flow. I try to keep to individual chapters where I can. Usually though, its my characters that dictate to me their story and how it should go.
Not always. I usually switch POVs at the beginning of a chapter, but in some instances, its important to add the alternate POV within the same paragraph.
One of my pet peeves is head hopping, switching back and forth from one character’s head to another without clear indication to the reader.
How do you indicate to readers that a switch in POV has occurred?
I don’t think I mind head hopping as much as a lot of other people. That’s kind of like people who drink beer AND wine versus people who ONLY drink wine (and then the people who can only drink robust read deep with lots of tannins… ) Head hopping is usually a writer making a mistake. It often lessens the reading enjoyment for the reader. If you’re not writing for an audience, then it doesn’t matter, but if you have an audience that’s going to pay money for the show, they need to get their money’s worth. Most of them won’t feel they did if you head hop. Of those who don’t mind, I think they won’t feel the story is as good as it could’ve been, even if they can’t articulate why.
Oh boy head hopping really bothers me too! I try never to do that and the way I make sure is to start a new chapter whenever I want to switch a character, or at least put in an obvious break in the current chapter so you know it’s a different character POV.
Mark & Kym Todd
We agree with you, Kaye. We hate head-hoppers. We feel like it’s a cop-out and the resort for lack of craft control. To shift POV we use the time-honored convention that ellipses mean one or more of three things: change of POV, change of place, or change of time. Most readers intuit this just fine, and we’ve never had complaints from fans.
I won’t ever jump from head to head with POVs. It might work in comic books, though.
I break up the screen, making it clear that the previous scene is over, or I start a new chapter.
As an omniscient writer, it can be hard to strike the right balance between an omniscient pov and a head hopper. My chapters might follow one particular character for the duration of that chapter, with a touch of another character’s perspective, but, I’ve never had any complaints, and a really good editor is a god-send to pull up any head hopping moments. I try to provide clear indication within the first sentence or two as to which character is the main lead for that chapter.
I use a heading with their name on it.
How close are we to the story? Do you want your reader to feel as if they are at a distance, watching the story unfold or do you want them to be right up in the action. Each approach has a different effect. You must be careful not to distance readers so much that they loose interest, yet there are times, such as when your character needs to remain unaware of certain aspects of the story, when you may not want them to be right in the thick of things. This can be manipulated through the narrator, using past or present tense, or through voice.
How much narrative distance do you like to give for your readers?
I don’t know what that is, so I’m gonna say none. * Looks it up. * If it means what I think it means, how much space you allow between your reader and your story, the answer remains the same. None. I want them immersed up to their eyeballs, unable to stop reading, unable to put the book down, and their hearts broken when they have to close the book and after the ending and leave these people they have come to love. If a character gets cut, I want the reader to bleed. I want the reader so close, they feel the killer’s breath on their neck.
I start each chapter with setting the scene to orientate the reader. This is done by a more distant narrative, but as soon as possible I draw readers into the character by delving deeper inside the scene and the motivations behind the actions. I want the reader to be inside the story, know where they are in time and place, what’s going on, the motivation, the stakes, the hidden agendas. Each character’s action should be clear and logical with the scene painted in- to add depth to the story. A deeper POV has the pull to bring a story to life.
I try to suck the reader in as much as possible. Even if they aren’t exactly like the narrator, I want them to feel the same emotions and sensations, and hopefully identify some part of themselves in the main character.
Whatever is required for the story as it flows along.
I recently read Webs of Perception, by Darlene Quinn, (you can read my review this Friday, October 19). Darlene used the first person POV for her main character, but used third person for the multple POVs used in her story. The character had amnesia, so in a way, it was what made the story work, but I had never seen this done before and found it an interesting technique.
When using multiple POVs, have you ever used multiple narrator’s voices in the same story? Was it difficult to make that work? Why?
Sure. I did this in The Navigators. It was first person as the narrator, but whenever the narrator wasn’t present in a scene, it was third person limited. It works fine. I think one or two reviews mentioned it, but they didn’t ask for a refund so I guess it wasn’t that bad.
Mark & Kym Todd
It can be a useful exercise, we suppose. But we find this sort of POV slight-of-hand a bit gimmicky. By its very nature, first-person is the most intimate but also the trickiest since readers have to learn to trust the author when getting so close to a character. And switching POV modes feels heavy-handed, more flash than substance in most instances. Our stories are already as complicated as we want them to be.
Eh, I’ve seen it done and I’m fine reading it, but when I do that kind of thing, it’s a prologue in third and the rest of the book in first. The prologue sets up the crime for the rest of the book, and then the rest of the book is the investigation by the (unreliable narrator) detective.
Third person throughout the story, I never change this format.
I haven’t done that exactly, but PATH TO OLD TALBOT is written in first and third person for the same main character. When Charity is adventuring in Old Talbot, the story is in third person. She’s detached from the emotional trauma of real life and just living in the moment. When she’s in the present dealing with her father, the story is told in first person, showing all of her hurt.
Only on occasion has I slipped a scene or two in for characters POV in first person when the rest of the story has been written in third person. This has been a deliberate choice when planting in certain little plot bunnies to tease at the reader until it all comes together at the end.
We are taught to use an active voice, leaving passive ‘to be’ verbs like ‘were’ or ‘had been’ by the wayside. It’s difficult to write in an active voice when the story is in the past tense yet, using the Hunger Games example, being first person, present tense may have been the reason it was awkward at times. (I think first person, past tense may be a little easier.)
Do you prefer to write in past or present tense? Why?
I prefer to write in past tense only because the vocabulary is much more limited in present tense. When you start thinking about your verb usage, there’s about 10 times as many when you use past tense – and people are more used to telling things that way, therefore they are more used to hearing things that way. But it’s all personal preference. If your story kicks butt in first person present tense, then stick with it.
As far as active or passive, I really don’t worry about it too much. There’s so much going on in my story, and the characters are so lively and the dialogue is so engaging, I could probably use all the passive verbs I want and nobody would care. The simple fact is, words are like paint strokes on a painting, and you dip into whichever one is going to suit your purpose best for that section.
Once you know how to write an engaging story, you get to choose which types of words you need to deliver it best. When you were learning to drive a car, it was all you could do to keep the car on the road. Now you drive with one knee while you’re eating a cheeseburger and talking on the cell phone. You don’t even think about it. That comes with practice. Hone your craft. And there’s something else I notice a lot, which is: the really great storytellers don’t pay that much attention to the rules because they’re telling great stories. A great story hides a lot of sins.
I prefer present. To me it feels more active, like the story is unfolding right now in front of the reader.
Mark & Kym Todd
Almost exclusively in past tense. We use dramatic present very sparingly and only when we want a sense of suspenseful immediacy for a short burst.
I hate present tense for fiction. I find it comes across as breathless and melodramatic, especially in YA fiction. That being said, if a story needs a breathless tone of voice, I’ll use present. I’ll complain about it to myself the entire time. Why, subconscious, why?!?
I prefer to write in the past tense, but I use lots of dialogue and that is all in the present. Writing in active voice is also a great choice as it makes narratives direct and straightforward. Thus, the writing narrative is kept clean and clear avoiding redundancy and lack of objectiveness. We should use words as precious things and avoid using them merely to fill in the blank space or getting into details that make no difference to the story. So, my tip is: “write as you were opening fields in the jungle with your words, cut, chop and do not get stuck if things are not perfect, move forward and take the reader with you – on top of all that – enjoy the journey.”
I prefer past tense. It flows better for me.
I tend to write in the past tense when in 3rd person POV, this feels more comforatble to me. Yet I slip into present tense when writing in the 1st person. Although, I have written 1st person in past tense as well.
Present tense. I find it easier.
How do you avoid the use passive voice in your writing? Or do you?
I write such awesome stuff, nobody’d notice if I used a passive verb. They might even be grateful I let them catch their breath.
Seriously, I don’t worry about “avoiding” using the passive voice, because I’ve just realized that most people don’t write stories that are engaging enough, so the passive voice weighs the story down. If the story is engaging and the characters are lively and the dialogue is witty, some passive voice here and there isn’t going to hurt anything. I don’t worry about using it. I don’t use it much, but I wouldn’t worry about using it at all. If a reader sees it and notices – not an editor, but a regular reader – then your story sucks anyway. Write great stories and you can do whatever you want – and nobody will care. Here’s a great example. Star Wars didn’t win best picture. Critics said it was a space cowboy movie. But it changed our whole culture. A great story makes its own rules.
Mark & Kym Todd
Simple, we never use it. Passive only has two functions – 1) when you don’t know who the subject is (e.g., the initial JFK headline “The President has been shot” and no one knew at the time the name of the assassin), but in fiction, we know such info already and can control such revelations in other ways; and 2) when you don’t want to reveal who the subject is. In the latter case, we always construct other storytelling strategies to avoid revealing identity.
Crit cycles. My writing undergoes numerous drafts. There are between seven and eight critters who comb over my writing at every stage and thankfully they stay with me until the end. My editor helps with the development of my story and is a huge help at with every draft, I don’t know what I’d do without her expertise and input. Each crit brings another depth to the story and every draft focuses on one aspect including passive voice.
I don’t. The use of passive voice in writing is often a necessary element. Breaking rules is something that writers get to do when it provides a specific benefit to the reader. I spent a lot more time breaking long, convoluted sentences into smaller parts so they’re more readable. That’s my sin.
Oh, passive voice is easy. When I went to school we learned all about verbs and adverbs, and how to use them, past tense and future tense, etc. That’s what learning was all about. Only now do we find out that passive voice and “ly”s are not wanted. I’ve got an idea our language is even changing as I write this. Soon we may be replacing “you” with “u” and other single letters replacing words. Who knows what writing will be like in thirty years – or fifty, or a hundred years from now? I’m reminded of writers in the 1930s and ‘40s that wrote for a penny a word, and had to fill their stories with adjectives and verbs to make a living. It was called purple prose back then, and if you could sneak a “had been” in there for an extra two cents, you did it. Cowboys didn’t just turn and draw their revolver; they turned quickly and drew their six-shooter lightning fast. Anyway, it was all about words, and how many you could get in a sentence.
Spell check finds a lot of it! I always send my stories by multiple critique partners to make sure nothing slips by.
I guess plenty of re-reads and editing rounds to make sure the passive voice is weeded out if it does make an appearance!
I rely on my editor to fix that.
Writing fiction and nonfiction have many similarities, but in the case of nonfiction, true life stories, such as those that author and panel member Mark Shaw writes, the story determines the tone, so the above questions don’t really apply. Yet each of Mark’s works carry a distinctive voice and tone. So, I asked Mark how he decides which elements of voice to use and what tone to take in his story telling.
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Ask the Authors (Round 2)
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?
Mainly because I enjoy it. There are so many stories running through my head that writing gives me an outlet to share them.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
To write a thousand words a day. I usually end up writing two thousand words a setting.
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.
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?
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.
My bedroom, with the door closed, and no sounds from outside sources.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Boy and girl want to get together
- their parents don’t want them to get together
- the boy and girl get together anyway
- 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.
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?
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.
As long as I know how it’s gonna begin and how I want it to end, I usually can run with it.
I take the idea and run with it.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As a writer, what is the biggest challenge for you? What’s the biggest reward?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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I’m excited to tell you that Ask the Authors is coming back to Writing to be Read starting next Monday. And wait until you see the great line-up of authors we have for our Round 2 panel. We’ve got an interesting mash up of talent just waiting to be shared and I’m going to delve in with the important questions, which could help other authors along the way.
Round 2 of Ask the Authors will include twelve segments, includining this introductory post and the final round of quetions, one every Monday. Topics include:
- The Writing Process: You’ve Got a Story Idea, Now What?
- Plot/Storyline: Where Do We Go From Here?
- Setting the Tone with Point of View, Tense, Narrative Distance and Voice
- Creating and Developing Character: Writing a Character Readers Will Relate To
- World Building: Making it Real with Effective Dialog and Sensory Details
- Action Scenes: Keeping the Story Moving
- Editing & Revision: The Finishing Touches
- The business segments will include: A Discussion on Publishing Platforms
- How and Why You Should Build an Author Platform
- Marketing and Promotion.
Fourteen great authors who all write different genres and for different audiences, both traditional published and self-published, all with expertise to offer to you, my readers and fellow authors. They will each weigh in on the weekly topics with writing tips and advice on the business of writing. So, without further ado, let’s meet the authors.
We have Margareth Stewart, who emerges from academia to write her first novel, Open: Pierre’s journey after war. One unusual thing I know about Margareth is that her book is not on the Big A, Amazon, and I can’t wait until the publishing segment to discuss that decission and see how the publishing platform she’s using is working out for her. Margareth was on the first AtA panel, and I’m thrilled to have her back for another round.
Bio: Margareth Stewart is the pen name for Mônica Mastrantonio, debut author of Open/ Pierre’s Journey After War published by web-e-books.com. She has also compiled and published three international Anthologies featuring global authors: Whitmanthology, Womenthology, The Pain that Unites us All.
She holds a PhD in Social Psychology, and she has been teaching and tutoring students over 22 years. This zen-mother of 3, loves life and her tattoos. She spends her time between Sao Paolo, Miami and writing residencies.
When asked about her favorite form of exercise: “Jogging – that´s kind of an obligation for me. As writers, we tend to sit for long hours, so every single day, I do try to keep that up and go out for a short run of 4 to 5 kilometers. If I have more time, I go round a park nearby and that makes 6 kilometers. I do recommend it – it keeps our mind sharp and our ideas bright.
Links: You can learn more about Margareth and her book on her Facebook page.
DeAnna Knippling is another return panel member, who I’m thrilled to welcome back. I made DeAnna’s acquaintance through the Pike’s Peak Writers and have been learning from her ever since. Besides writing her own wonderful stories, she freelances full time and makes it all work. You can read my interview with her here. Her books which I’ve reviewed include: How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys; Clockwork Alice; and Something Borrowed, Something Blue. I also interviewed her for my 2017 Book Marketing series, and did an author profile on her, in addition to her being a panel member in Round 1 of AtA. She is a fantastic resource.
Bio: DeAnna Knippling writes across many different genres, both under her own name and under several pen names as a ghostwriter, and has written over thirty novels and a hundred short stories. Under her own name, she is the author of The Clockwork Alice and A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters & the Macabre. She lives in Colorado.
Links: You can learn more about Deanna and her books by visiting the following sites:
I’m happy to be working with Cynthia Vespia, a.k.a. Original Cyn, once more in AtA: Round 2. Cyn has turned her many talents including design, video, and promotional skills into a lucrative promotional service, as well as writing dark fantasy, suspense and paranormal thrillers. I reviewed the books from her Demon Hunter Saga, all the way back in 2010, completing the series a couple of years later with the review of Hero’s Call. I reviewed Resurection, when it was only Life, Death, and Back, now the subtitle. My first interview with Cynthia was back in 2012. She participated in my 2017 Book Marketing series, as well as being a panel member in Round 1.
Bio: Cynthia Vespia an award nominated speculative fiction author, cover designer and promotional content developer. She also teaches internet advertising classes and marshal arts workshops. Her speculative fiction encompasses fantasy, the paranormal, and magic realism.
Links: You can learn more about Cynthia and her books at her website: www.cynthiavespia.com/
Another AtA panel member in Round 1, who I’m pleased to say, will be returning for Round 2, is Art Rosch. Art also does a monthly segment, The Many Faces of Poetry, here on Writing to be Read, the fourth Wednesday of every month. I’ve known Art for many years, I’ve reviewed all three of his published works: his science fiction novel, The Gods of the Gift; his autobiographically based fiction, Confessions of an Honest Man; and his memoir, The Road Has Eyes: An RV, a Relationship, and a Wild Ride. Art always gives lengthy, well thought out responses. In fact, during the first round of AtA, Art gave me one lengthy reponse which, I felt, warranted a post all its own, and I gave it to him here. In addition to being a writer, Art is a photographer and a musician with an ear for jazz music.
Bio: The greatest thing that ever happened to Arthur Rosch was his awful childhood. He had no choice but to get angry, rebel and follow his path to becoming an artist. His first duty as an artist was to cultivate obsessions. He proceeded to do this with gusto and learned that there is no substitute for a good obsession, compulsion or addiction to gain insight into human nature.
Of course it was a girl who inspired Arthur to write poetry. It wasn’t until he was twenty six that he realized he could write novels. Prior to that he had been a jazz musician. He changed direction after winning Playboy Magazine‘s Best Short Story Award. Arthur has appeared in Across the Margin, Exquisite Corpse, Shutterbug Magazine and several online venues. His novel, Confessions of an Honest Man won Honorable Mention from Writer’s Digest.
Writing is the refuge of his life after forty. It took him that long to wear out the obsessions. They had really gotten out of hand. Not that he regrets a single one. Part of a writer’s apprenticeship, he believes, is to spend at least twenty years being mentally deranged. It took twelve years of intense therapy to pull himself back into the functioning world.
One of Arthur’s passionate interests is astronomy. He got some lovely recognition as a photographer by doing creative work at night with cameras. He loves science fiction, literary fiction, Rumi’s poetry, travel, history, dogs and cats and his wife, who is half Apache. She can be very eerie when she goes dipping into the shaman’s world. She invokes the spirit helpers called “The Grandmothers”. Those ladies have helped Arthur and his spouse out of a lot of jams.
Stories of weird miracles are told in the travel memoir THE ROAD HAS EYES, AN RV, A RELATIONSHIP AND A WILD RIDE. This book is available at Smashwords dot com. Arthur’s younger and musical life is described in CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN, which has appeared in both paperback and e-book form. Everything else he either know or doesn’t know is in the sci fi epic THE GODS OF THE GIFT. Then there’s the new trilogy, THE SHADOW STORM.
Links: You can learn more about Art Rosch and his books at www.artrosch.com
Also returning is young adult fantasy author, Jordan Elizabeth. Jordan has been featured on Writing to be Read several times. Always willing to jump in and help out, I’ve interviewed her and she participated in both my 2016 Publishing series and my 2017 Book Marketing series. Currently, you can find her on the third Wednesday of each month with her segment, Writing for a YA Audience. I have reviewed most of Jordan’s books, including: Kissed by Literature, Rotham Race, Kistishi Island, Wicked Treasure, The Path to Old Talbot, Runners & Riders, The Goat Children, Victorian, Treasure Darkly, Cogling, and Escape to Witchwood Hollow, in addition to several anthologies in which her stories were featured.
Bio: Jordan Elizabeth is a young adult fantasy author of more than fourteen books. She writes down her nightmares in order to live her dreams.
Links: Learn more about Jordan and her books at the folowing links:
Tom Johnson is one author who will be new to the Ask the Author panel. He has published multiple novels, which I think are reminescent of Edgar Rice Burroughs or the pulp fiction novels of times past. I reviewed of his book, Pangaea: Eden’s Planet or you can find my interview with him here.
Bio: Tom Johnson’s dad was a cowboy and cook, giving his family an itinerant lifestyle. Tom changed schools often, as his dad’s jobs were relocated. His dad wanted him to follow in his footsteps, but a cowboy’s life didn’t appeal to him. Instead, during his high school years, Tom dreamed about becoming an entomologist. He loved biology and math, but was weak in other subjects. He read every book he could find on insects, reptiles, and arachnids, as well as paleontology.
Years later, he and his wife, Ginger, started the publishing imprint of FADING SHADOWS, and published a hobby magazine for 22 years, and several genre titles for nine years. He was a voracious reader from an early age, and has never stopped reading for pleasure, though his interest in genres have often switched from SF to western, to hardboiled detectives, the classics, and back to science fiction again over the years. In his own writing readers will often find something about his love of zoology, whether insects, reptiles, or saber-tooth cats. Now retired, they devote their time to keeping Tom’s books in print, as well as helping promote other writers.
With over 80 books in print which he has contributed to, Tom has slowed down now. He is still writing children stories, while promoting his books still on the market. Plus, he still has hopes of one day seeing his short novel, The Man In The Black Fedora, made into a film.
Links: You can learn more about Tom and his books at the following links:
Tom’s Blog http://pulplair.blogspot.com
Tom’s Face Book Page https://www.facebook.com/tomginger.johnson
Tom’s Books http://jur1.brinkster.net/index.html
Tom’s Amazon Page http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008MM81CM
ALTUS PRESS http://www.altuspress.com
Another new panel member will be RA Winter, whom I only recently met. She is a multi-genre author who writes fantasy, science fiction, contemporay and paranormal romance. Most of her work contains Native American elements which reflect herheritage. You can find last week’s interview with her here or check out my review of her Vampire Werewolf Freaky Friday novelette, Twisted. I believe she will be a welcomed addition to the AtA Round 2 panel.
Bio: RA Winter loves to create magical worlds with strong female leads who grow into their love. Humor is a big part of her life and she brings a touch of it into all her stories. She promises a smile, a look beyond reality, and interesting characters in all her novels.
RA grew up in a small town in Indiana, surrounded by lakes, creeks, and woods were she stomped around as a child. She’s traveled the world and has called Germany, Turkey, Egypt, Jodan, and various US states home at one time or another.
Links: If you like to stay updated on discounts, new releases, and exciting finds, please subscribe to her mailing list: http://eepurl.com/dbCIE5
You can learn more about RA and her books at the following links:
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/By-RA-Winter/e/B00PMF26SC
Spirit Keys site: http://rsch881.wixsite.com/rawinter
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9869268.R_A_Winter
I’m extremely pleased to welcome author duo, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connel Todd. Mark was one of my graduate program instructors. He and his wife Kym write books and talk as a team. (Seriously, they finish each other’s sentences both on the page and in their speech.) They have been published traditionally and also self-published, so they should have great stuff to add, particularly in the publishing segment. I interviewed them for my 2017 Book Marketing series, and I’ve reviewed many of their books, including: Wild West Ghosts; Strange Attractors; and, (as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner), their Silverville Saga: Little Greed Men, All Plucked Up, and The Magicke Outhouse.
Bio: Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd are writers and novelists who have collaborated on four books: the paranormal-comedy Silverville Saga trilogy as well as the nonfiction book Wild West Ghosts, the latter an exploration of frontier haunted hotels in Colorado. Their research for their books has included their experiences as U.F.O. investigators and ghost hunters, including a guest spot on Ghost Adventures in 2017.
Links: You can learn more about Mark & Kym and their books at the following links:
FB page: facebook.com/WriteintheThick
Twitter page: twitter.com/WriteintheThick
Google+ page: plus.google.com/+KymnMarkTodd
YouTube page: youtube.com/c/KymnMarkTodd
Amy Cecil is another new face to Ask the Authors. She writes both historical and contemporary romance. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing her twice: one was a regular author interview, and she also participated in my 2017 Book Marketing Series; and I also reviewed Ice on Fire, the second book in her Knights of Silence Mseries.
Bio: Amy Cecil writes contemporary and historical romance. Amy has published seven books which include three Historical Romances that are Pride and Prejudice variations, A Royal Disposition, Relentless Considerations and On Stranger Prides. She also has an MC series, Knights of Silence MC, which includes, ICE, ICE on FIRE and Celtic Dragon. Her latest release, Ripper is her first attempt at a new genre, Erotic Thriller/Romance. She has several works in progress, including additions to the Knights series, a new mafia romance series and hopefully more on Ripper.
Amy has held memberships in the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and the Published Authors Network (PAN). She was a winner in the 2015-2017 NanNoWriMo writing contests and a nominee in Metamorph Publishing’s Indie Book 2016 contest in historical romance, and her books have won multiple awards.
She lives in North Carolina with her husband, Kevin, and their three dogs, Hobbes, Koda, Karma and Katie. When she isn’t writing, she is spending time with her husband, friends and her dogs.
Links: Learn more about Amy and her books at the following links:
I want to welcome paranormal romance author, Lilly Rayman to the Ask the Authors panel, as well. I had the pleasure of interviewing Lilly earlier this year. I don’t know her well, but I’m sure she will have a lot to share.
Bio: First and foremost, Lilly describes herself as a wife and mother. She was born in England where she had a dream at the age of fourteen. That dream was to chase cattle on horseback across the Australian Outback.
In 2008, Lilly had the opportunity to follow that dream and found herself travelling to Australia on an Outback working holiday, and she’s chased cattle, on horseback, across the Outback. Lilly met her soul mate, while on her working holiday, married him, and now they have two beautiful daughters, and she is still in love with life in Australia.
Lilly loves to read, much to her husband’s dismay sometimes when she has her head metaphorically buried in the pages of a book (after all, how can that be literal since the dawn of e-books?)! She love’s fantasy; she used to take herself away from her nasty world of bullies and appear in some beautiful land of dragons and magic! Pern was her all-time favourite hide out world, and Lilly is often heard saying “God bless Anne and Todd MacCaffery”.
Whenever Lilly immersed herself in her fantasy worlds, she would re-write the plots in her head, starring herself as some great, sword drawn character who wouldn’t give two hoots what the local bully thought! That eventuated in Lilly’s first foray into writing down her stories at the age of fourteen.
More recently Lilly was inspired to start writing again, and picked up on the whole craze of werewolf and vampire. She has had the most enjoyment writing AN UNEXPECTED BONDING, the first book of An Unexpected Trilogy.
Links: You can learn more about Lilly and her books at the following links:
Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9866872.Lilly_Rayman
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Lilly-Rayman/e/B00X5CR5QC
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/LillyRayman0007/
Dan Alatorre is a well-versed independent international best selling author with a sense of humor. Dan was the first author I actually interviewed and it was a fun one. He has written many books, including one called 25 eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew, so I’m looking forward to picking his brain in the marketing and promotion segment. I’m pleased to welcome him to the AtA: Round 2 panel.
Bio: International bestselling author Dan Alatorre has published more than 22 titles in over a dozen languages.
You’ll find action-adventure in the sci-fi thriller The Navigators, a gripping paranormal roller coaster ride in An Angel On Her Shoulder, heartwarming and humorous anecdotes about parenting in the popular Savvy Stories series, an atypical romance story in Poggibonsi, and terrific comedy in Night Of The Colonoscopy: A Horror Story (Sort Of). Dan’s knack for surprising audiences and making you laugh or cry – or hang onto the edge of your seat – has been enjoyed by audiences around the world. And you are guaranteed to get a page turner every time.
“That’s my style,” Dan says. “Grab you on page one and then send you on a roller coaster ride, regardless of the story or genre.”
His unique writing style can make you chuckle or shed tears—sometimes on the same page (or steam up the room if it’s one of his romances). Regardless of genre, his novels always contain unexpected twists and turns, and his endearing nonfiction stories will stay in your heart forever.
He has also written illustrated children’s book and cookbooks, as well as stories for young readers. 25 eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew, co-authored by Dan, has been a valuable tool for upcoming writers of any age (it’s free, but only available to subscribers of his newsletter) and his dedication to helping authors of any skill level is evident in his wildly popular blog “Dan Alatorre – AUTHOR”.
Dan’s success is widespread and varied. In addition to being a bestselling author, he has achieved President’s Circle with two different Fortune 500 companies. Dan also mentors grade school children in his Young Authors Club and adults in his Private Critique Group, helping struggling authors find their voice and get published.
Dan resides in the Tampa, Florida area with his wife and daughter.
Links: Learn more about Dan and his books on his blog: www.DanAlatorre.com
I made the acquaintance of multi-genre author Ashley Fontainne after I reviewed her book, Zero Balance. She is talented and vivacious, with a killer smile, and I just had to interview her. She’s an independent author who writes in several genres, including: thriller, science fiction, mystery, suspense, post-apocalyptic, romantic suspense and coming of age. I was thrilled when she accepted my invitation to be on the AtA Round 2 panel.
Bio: Ashley writes in multiple genres ranging from mystery/thrillers to suspenseful paranormal to dark comedy. The recipient of numerous awards for her gritty, no-holds barred style of writing, her stories will captivate and pull you inside the lives of her characters and intricate plot lines.
Links: You can learn more about Ashley and her books at the following links:
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/ashley.fontainne/
Our final addition to the AtA Round 2 panel is a traditionally published author of non-fiction with a background in journalism, Mark Shaw. His investigative research has resulted in controversial books, one of which, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much is now being produced through visual media. I began reviewing Marks books as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner and have reviewed a couple here on Writing to be Read: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, and Courage in the Face of Evil. I also had the privalege of interviewing him this past year and he participated in my 2016 series on Publishing. His work raises historical questions and touches the heart, and I am thrilled to welcome him to the AtA panel.
Bio: The bestselling author of The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen, and the follow-up book, Denial of Justice: Dorothy Kilgallen, Abuse of Power and the Most Compelling JFK Assassination Investigation in History, to be released November 20, 2018, Mark Shaw is an investigative reporter who has written more than 20 books including The Poison Patriarch, Miscarriage of Justice, Beneath the Mask of Holiness, Courage in the Face of Evil, and Down for the Count. A former legal analyst for USA Today, CNN and ESPN, Shaw, a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, has written for Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, USA Today and the Aspen Daily News. He lives with his wife in the San Francisco area.
Links: More about Mark and his books at:
I hope all of you will join us for Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Pop in on Mondays to find out what tips and advice our panel has to offer. I’m very excited about this round and hope that everyone else is, too. It should be a really good series and I can’t wait to see what our panel members have to say. Be sure and drop in next Monday, when our topic will be The Writing Process. See you there!
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