Jeff’s Pep Talk: “Doing the MFA Thing”

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“Doing the MFA Thing”

By Jeff Bowles

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

When I was deciding to go back to school for an MFA, I noticed that a lot of writers—particularly those working in Science Fiction and Fantasy—looked down on the need to earn a secondary degree in what is essentially a field dominated by outsiders and formerly independent upstarts. Most successful writers have no MFA, after all. They learned to write successfully on their own. Teachers and professors need MFAs, but not writers. That’s the general feeling out there.

And I had no intention of becoming a teacher. I did, however, have a strong desire to tell stories at a higher level than I was capable of at that time. The thought of going back to school was both exciting and nausea inducing. Like many writers, I’ve got a touch of anxiety and isolationism. Meeting new people, lots of new people, it can be tricky for me. I also knew if I chose the wrong program, it’d set me back in my career rather than push me forward.

If you are considering a creative writing MFA, know there are basically two categories these kinds of programs can fall into: literary and traditional vs. everyone else. I write genre fiction. I’m a hopeless pop culture nerd and it never occurred to me to write anything else. Luckily, that made my decision much easier. Sensing correctly that most traditional master’s programs can get snobby about what and how you write, I knew I needed to place myself among like-minded people. At the time I decided to apply, the early part of 2013, there were only a few programs in the United States that specialized in genre fiction (that is to say, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Crime; you know, the good stuff). Two of these were clear across the country, and all had a ‘low residency’ requirement, which is just another way of saying students have to live on campus a few weeks of the year.

The third program I found was a fairly new entry into what has since become a growing category of alternative MFA programs and certificates. It was also in my home state, Colorado, about 150 miles west of the little prairie town where I live with my wife. Western State Colorado University is a small but growing mountain college nestled in the Gunnison Valley, absolutely beautiful place, especially in the summer. The setting is rustic, but I’m a rural Colorado guy anyway, so it suited me just fine. Like I said, I was pretty nervous about meeting a whole new group of people, but I was hopeful in the very least that I’d come out of the program a much better writer, ready to take on the literary world in all its many serpentine manifestations.

During the two years I attended Western, I wrote an enormous amount of material, the majority of which I published. Actually, I started publishing it in the middle of my coursework, which impressed my classmates. I’d already been writing seriously for seven or eight years, and that’s kind of a stereotypical calibration mile marker at which point writers ‘stop being just okay’ and ‘start getting good’. Anyway, maybe the timing was on my side. Make no mistake, writers can be a jealous and fickle lot, and many who doubt their own abilities fall victim to popular whims and the nasty habit of clinging to others who, ehem, smell like success. That’s actually a constant in entertainment industries far and wide, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that nastiness and in-fighting can and do occur in MFA programs.

So while I can honestly say I produced a large amount of quality (and more importantly, saleable) work, the sum total of the experience was perhaps not exactly what I expected. For one, if you find that you’re a bit of a loner—as many authors are—you may consider other avenues. The notion of community is indeed important, but in programs such as these, group dynamics are a factor. You may experience interpersonal drama as the natural course. Heck, you may even participate in it. Some people think competition is good, that it breeds character, dedication, and an overall positive, can-do attitude. I don’t agree. I think it usually brings out the worst in people. The problem is that folks get into the mindset there is only so much success to go around, a grand lie if there ever was one. And really, a high-stress creative environment can only exacerbate insecurities, anxiety, and small-minded thinking. It’s entirely possible you’ll experience nothing of the sort during your time at an MFA, but then again, you may find yourself crawling through a big stinking pile of it.

The other thing worth mentioning is that if you as a writer are prone to overwork or burnout, you may consider getting a certificate or simply attending a really good writing workshop or two. There are plenty of those to go around, and they don’t require tens of thousands of dollar to attend, either. I wouldn’t trade my time at Western for anything. Really, I wouldn’t. The experiences I had, the people I met (even the ones I ended up disagreeing with), shaped me in unexpected ways. Pressure cooker situations can make you better at what you do, but they can also cause a slowdown or even complete stoppage of your natural creative drive. Ultimately, this is what happened to me, though luckily, writer’s block is perfectly surmountable given enough time and patience.

As I’m sure you well know, creative writing can be pretty difficult, especially when we as writers are put into situations or contracts under which we’re required to maintain constant output. But writing isn’t like most other creative professions, in that it doesn’t just require your creativity and imagination, but also your intellect and higher reasoning skills. To string one word after another, continuously, until a fully realized narrative emerges, that’s pretty hardcore, right? So again, if you are prone to periods of overwork or burnout, if you make a habit of pushing yourself too hard or of not being forgiving or gentle enough to allow yourself time to recoup your creative energy, an MFA may not be for you.

Yes, you can teach with one, and that may be the most useful outcome. Not every writer wants to teach. In fact, I think most don’t. But if you’ve been doing this a while, I’m sure you’ve also recognized the very real truth that superstar authors are few and far between, and even fewer simply got lucky on their paths, as opposed to agonizing over their craft for years and years before anyone showed even the slightest interest. So to teach or not to teach? Well, a paycheck is better than an empty bank account under any circumstance, and since reality is (unfortunately) rather persistent, you may find you need to pay some bills before your incredible new urban fantasy novel sees the light of day.

At the time I attended Western State, the school’s Genre Fiction program was still pretty new, and as such, the faculty still had a few things to iron out. This led to an uneven learning experience at times, but as far as a basic academic progress went, I always felt satisfied. Some of my classmates had a bad habit of complaining about certain aspects of our coursework, but I was always of the opinion that you get out what you put in. In other words, I never even bothered second-guessing individual assignments or their value. I simply treated them as writing challenges, opportunities for me to have fun and excel. And I loved to write, so I committed myself to telling the best stories I could, and at least in the short term, it paid off for me.

One thing is certain, if you go into an intense learning environment with a bad attitude, you’re already behind the eight ball. I had a great attitude, though my somewhat imbalanced mental health picture (at the time I suffered from some pretty bad depression) set me apart from my classmates, in that I occasionally needed extra help and time in order to get my work done. My teachers were more than willing to accommodate me, and thanks to them, I graduated on time and with (mostly) straight A’s. I used that lovely piece of frameable paper to bounce myself into some editing and freelance work, but if I’m being honest, sustained productivity become an issue after that. Perhaps I was just dog tired. Can you really blame me?

When all is said and done, the choice to pursue an MFA comes down to what you value and what you think you can accomplish on your own. An intense, focused experience like this can make you a better writer. I know it made me better. But it’s also true that you can get better on your own, through dedication, persistence, and a healthy work ethic. I think I was open and ready for something that allowed me to hone my abilities in a safe, nurturing, and output-driven environment. I’d like to thank all the faculty and staff at Western State Colorado University for their generosity of spirit and willingness to pass on their considerable knowledge and expertise. Don’t forget, folks, this is your story. Tell it how you want to sell it!

Until next time!


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

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


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Final Segment: Follow-up Questions

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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Well, we’ve come to the final segment of Ask the Authors (Round 2) and it’s time to wrap things up. Today, our author panel will delve further into many of the topics from the previous segments. I’m pleased to have participation from almost all of our original panel members for this final segment. Included are authors DeAnna Knippling, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Dan Alatorre, Cynthia Vespia, Margareth Stewart, RA Winter, Lilly Rayman, Art Rosch, Amy Cecil and Mark Shaw. We didn’t get any reader questions this round, so the questions here are all mine. And with that said, here we go.

Building in Conflict

For the most part, we like our characters. Of course we do. We created them, they are our children. We even create villains that we love to hate, but there’s always a very story must have conflict. Conflict makes the story interesting. We’ve talked about creating characters readers can relate to and this is where we use that to our advantage. There has to be something at stake in order for readers to want to know what happens next. If there is no possibility of something bad happening and we know it will all turn out okay, then there really is no point in finishing the story. So, even though we love our characters, at times we need bad things to happen to them.

How do you feel about killing off your darlings? What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I sometimes feel embarrassed about how much crap I lay on my characters, but oh well 🙂

I think every scene should end up worse for the character in some substantial way than the one before.  It depends on the book, of course, but even a slow idyll should end with some level of train wreck by the end of the scene, even if the bad thing that happens is just a false sense of security setting up the characters to get hurt worse later.  I have four methods (so far):  1) the character tries to do something but fails.  2) the character tries, succeeds, and makes things worse.  3) the character’s efforts are interrupted by some other thing going wrong.  4) the character tries something…but you don’t get to find out how it comes out yet.

I write a fair amount of horror; one of my favorite techniques there is that a character tries to find out something, does, and totally regrets having left behind their blissful ignorance!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan If I kill someone off, I usually bring them back as a ghost, haha.  Seriously, though, I don’t always use death as a way to build conflict.  I like to add emotional drama through something devastating, like a shattered dream, or by throwing the character into an unexpected situation.  Adding a new, but related, bad guy helps too.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture In Carnival of Death, the villain, Spider is back in town. She is a master of martial arts, but she had fought the Black Ghost in The Spider’s Web, and found him a superior fighter. This time she has help dealing with him while she goes after one of his aides, a Korean girl. Spider plans on beating the information out of the girl, but the Korean is a fighter and now one must die. The Korean has never had to kill before, while Spider has killed many with her martial arts. Will the young Korean be able to defeat this ninja in a battle to the death?

In the Spider’s Web, the Ninja had selected another aide, newspaperman George Freeman, an ex Army Ranger, tough and fearless, but she was beating him and was at the point of killing him when the Black Ghost arrived to challenge her. This time the Black Ghost was in a fight of his own, and could not reach his aide in time. The Korean girl is his electronic eyes and ears, not an active field agent, and must face this challenge alone.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre If the story needs for my character to die, sorry! Boom, gone. It’s that simple. What’s best for the story? Do that, no matter how painful.

But conflict can be done in lots of ways before we get to that. Just put little obstacles in the way of your character – any character – and his or her goal. We need to track a serial killer? Let’s use one of our detectives as bait. Then make him nervous because a few years back, his partner died in front of him, and instead of thinking about catching the killer, he’s thinking about when his partner died, while he’s supposed to be bait for THIS killer. Then a man approaches that he’s sure is the killer and he’s all nervous and ready to spring into action – and it’s a false alarm. Which nearly causes him to blow the sting. Which causes him to get yelled at. Now his new partner is nervous about working with him… ALL of which was added JUST to add conflict. There are lots of ways to increase conflict.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy If it’s necessary to the story I have no problem with it. But too many authors are trying to emulate George RR Martin and killing just to kill. First, build your character then, if there’s just cause, you kill them off to move the story.

What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?

Depends on the story, depends on the characters. There’s alot of variables that go into answering that question. For instance, in my latest novel Karma I didn’t kill anyone, but there was a horrible accident that put someone in jeopardy.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I don´t mind, my stories are full of conflict, and I write not to praise the anyone. Characters must do what they must do and feel what they feel, I follow that all the way through the path of writing the whole ploth, it does not matter if I like it, dislike or disagree with it. It is not the role of the writer to judge their characters. Full stop.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman In my Unexpected series, the first book begins with the fact that my main character’s mother, and her half-brother’s mother were both deceased. This was a situation that was already developed, so I never gave much to either of these women, who in fairness, had been defining influences on my main character and her brother during their childhood. I then made a choice, to write a prequel, a story that investigated both these women and their influences on my main characters father and his children. I found it very hard to write the demise of both these women, since I had connected to them as I looked into them during their life. Unfortunately, it was always their fate to end up dead, and there was little that I could do about it.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I really don’t mind killing off a character. I worry more about the reaction I’ll get from my readers. I always have an antagonist and they work to supply conflict


Action Scenes

In segment six, we talked briefly about how to write an action scene clearly and keep action moving smoothly, especially when there’s a lot going on in the scene in the discussion on action scenes and pacing.

Can any you elaborate on how you keep the action flowing smoothly in a fight scene, specifically?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I break everything, both action scenes and otherwise, into beats.  In theater terms, a “beat” kind of translates down to the smallest possible conflict. (In a scene, there can be many different conflicts as the characters try different tactics to reach a goal.)  A beat is one clear step in attempting to achieve some goal.  Say a character is attempting to convince another character to sign up for a yoga class.  The character might try:
–Asking directly.
–Telling the other character they’re out of shape.
–Promising they’ll go with the other character.
–Lying to the character and saying they’re going to go shopping.
Each attempt during the conversation would be a beat.
Same thing goes for fight scenes.  The second character might realize that the first character tricked them into going to a yoga studio.  A battle begins!  The second character wants to escape the yoga studio.  They might:
–Point toward the hallway, saying “Look! Baby wolf!” while making a break for the door.
–Wrestling with the yoga teacher, who is blocking the door.
–Abruptly turning and trying to run toward the hallway.
–Rolling to their feet after being tripped by the first character.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I picture what’s going on in my head and sometime sketch it out.  I like to keep my sentences crisp and short.  It keeps the pace moving and makes the action punchier.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Professional fighters learn to read their opponent’s strengths and weakness. Their full attention is on the moves, their minds evaluating, their eyes fully engaged on the person in front of them. Each is studying the other for a sign of weakness. Moves are like reflex action, lightning fast, with follow through automatic. There is no time to think about your next move, it has to come with mind-body coordination. And for this to happen they need to train and train until those reflexes are faster than their thought processes. The boxing tournament in my novel, Cold War Heroes has a number of good fight scenes.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I hope so; I wrote a whole book called A Is For Action, to describe just that. Envision it, and lay it out in big chunks, then address each chunk for what it’s supposed to do. Then cut each chunk into littler chunks and address what they are supposed to do. Little by little it’ll come together, but it takes a lot more explanation than I can do here – which is why I needed a while book to explain it, but it’s inexpensive and will show you everything you need, common rookie mistakes like run-on sentences, and all the rest.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Pacing, short sentence structure, mapping out the fight like you would any other scene, being aware of the POV you’re using, the setting, the weapons involved. I often block out the fight the same way a choreographer does for a movie.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Samurai movies. I have immersed myself in Samurai movies for decades and that immersion has influenced everything I’ve written about combat and battle sequences. It doesn’t hurt to know martial arts. I don’t know anything about martial arts beyond the basics. In my fantasy novel, The Gods Of The Gift there is an extended combat sequence that encompasses every combination of fighting, from single to double to mutliple and then to mass formation fighting. I was inspired by a fight scene in the Samurai Trilogy (made in the 50s, see it!). A swordsman squares off against a master of a weapon called the Kusarigama. This device consists of a razor sharp sickle mounted on a staff. There is attached to the staff a heavy spiked ball attached to a twelve foot length of chain. The ball and chain are swung in overhead circles and used to trap an arm, a leg, a sword, thus allowing the weapon’s user to charge in and finish his opponent with the sickle. Nasty! Fascinating!

The Japanese and Chinese have arsenals of bizarre weapons. A bit of research into the Google archives will inspire some good ideas.

Then there’s the sensory impact of combat itself. Writing a fight scene involves all the senses. Feet moving, the sound of gravel spraying, the whine of metal on metal, the sweat and heightened perceptions of the fighters. Adrenaline. Terror and triumph. A good fight is seldom resolved in a single blow. In REALITY this often happens, but in fiction we need to have our heroes staring into the abyss of defeat, almost losing the fight, almost dying, then calling upon some last bit of strength to find a way to survive.

I read some accounts of medieval battles, taken from contemporary sources.  The descriptions of thousands of men charging and clashing have much in common.  I adapted that perception to describe a battle between large forces colliding in The Gods Of The Gift.  Here it is:

“The two masses of people came together with a groan of animal rage. There was a sound like the wrinkling of a giant metal plate. Garuvel was only aware of pushing and being pushed. His shoulder was dug into someone’s brittle shield, someone who was pushing at him as mightily as he pushed back. All around him, this pushing of two giant forces wavered this way and that, the front of the two masses of people snaked, bent, briefly ruptured, re-formed, pushed again. Garuvel could feel himself gaining ground as he pushed at the shield. His feet were digging trenches in the soil; soft wet earth oozed up around his ankles. He was able to take a single step forward and his opponent’s shield broke in two.  The face of a startled snarling Djoubiat appeared before him, and Garuvel used two fingers of his left hand to poke his enemy’s eyes out. He grabbed the man’s sword as it began to float away on the waves of the crowd. He tossed it to Jaramine, then got another sword for himself. Back to back, they let themselves be swept into the berserk trance of combat”.

I hope this helps. I’m barely on my first cup of coffee. I recommend that you locate The Samurai Trilogy directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Tohiro Mifune. Great films.  Then, of course, there are the Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations. Enjoy!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil When I’m writing a fight scene I usually close my eyes and picture the scene then type what I see with every detail. Once the scene is complete then I go back and polish it up



Editing and Revision

In the week seven segment on editing, DeAnna Knippling talked a little about the editing process from the editor’s side. Her comment was that you have to like the type of book you’re editing, so you can be a champion for the story. And like Dan Alatorre pointed out, our stories may not be for everyone and not everyone will like them. As long as some people do like our stories, that may be all that matters as far as building a platform and following, but when it comes to editors, you have to be sure they get our work and like our writing styles. So, my follow-up questions are:

What do you look for in an editor? How do you know when you find an editor who’s a good fit for you?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I tend to find editors online, so I tend to ask questions that are in line with the book I’m writing. If the editor can respond in the same tone, that’s a good sign. “Do you solemnly swear not to try to change the rash behavior of my Y.A. fantasy characters?” That kind of thing.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I look for an editor with experience, and one who isn’t afraid to say what they like and don’t like.  Some editors will read anything for the money, but not do a good job because it isn’t a genre he/she is passionate about.  I like the editors who tear my work apart while understanding the vision behind it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture This is not always up to the author. When dealing with publishers you have to deal with their editors. When I was writing for NBI my publisher was a pulp fan, and knew what I was writing, so we hit it off great. Other publishers were not so cooperate. A number of them were romance and erotica editors, and were not fans of my writing style. They wanted sex and profanity, and I refused to give it to them. In one scene my hero and a bad guy are fighting in a room high above the street when they crash through a window and are about to fall, and my hero says, “Oh, hell!” My editor wanted something stronger, but I refused. Of course, my hero catches the window frame and doesn’t fall, but we argued about what he should have said, or not said. As the author, I thought I had the final say and that didn’t please the editor one bit. I also had an editor that automatically did a search and destroy for all “ly”s in the story and deleted them. That created more problems than it solved. When you find a good editor, keep them. There are some out there that won’t listen to you, the author.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre A good editor can edit anything, like it or not; I do it all the time. But it’s better if they like it. I mean, commas don’t appear or disappear based on if I like the story, but content will be handled differently. What do I look for? Someone who gets it. Gets the story, gets the jokes, gets what I’m going for. Someone who writes or has written, because a bad story with all the commas in the right places is still a bad story. A great story makes its own rules. I love it when an editor or beta reader is so engrossed in my story they forget to edit it. When the fit is right, you know it because they get the jokes BUT they are willing to chuck it all to help the story be the best it can be. We call it the Hemingway standard. They hold me to the highest standard possible and catch every microscopic issue, and I do the same for them. We might not get to Hemingway but by God we’re gonna try.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy At this point if I were to look for an editor I’d do my research on what they’ve edited in the past and get some recs from other authors.

RA Winter

RA Winter I was lucky enough to meet my editor, Karen Freeman, on Scribophile.com. She crit my story, then read everything I’ve written and had a lot of great insight. She knows my style and understands my prose.  I love an editor who does a full developmental edit, proofreading, grammar, and character development. Usually, she reads the first draft then waits until my edits and other crits are done before she comes back and rereads everything. As an editor, Karen Freeman goes above and beyond for me. I’m so glad that I have her!

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I look for an editor who is easy to work with, answers my questions on why they made editing decisions. At the same time, I like an editor who is prepared to ask me why I made the decision to write a sentence or a scene the way I did.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I want (and have) an editor that will make me a better writer. Someone who will make me step out of my comfort zone and make me write more. Over the years I’ve learned so much from my two editors. They are awesome.


Publishing Platforms

Today, authors can create their own publishing house, putting out their work under their own imprint. I’ve been told that this is a relatively easy thing to do. Some of our panel members have done just that, so let’s ask them.

Can you share with us a little about what the process of creating your own imprint entails?

 DeAnna Knippling

deannak
–Deciding to do one.
–Coming up with a business name that nobody else is using.
–Researching what laws are applicable for your state on the secretary of state website for your state (usually).
–Doing that (usually just registering the name).
–Rah!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture We created the FADING SHADOWS imprint in 1982, and published a hobby magazine until 2004, as well as genre magazines from 1995 to 2004. We did all the proofing, editing, setting up and printing for most of those years. Today, we still use the FADING SHADOWS imprint on my self-published books. However, we no longer do the printing. Thankfully, with POD technology anyone can be a publisher today, you just need the know-how of modern technology. In 1982 we were young and energetic. In 2019, we’re not so young and energetic, so can’t do it all like we once did. My wife is a good editor for my books. She catches the errors I miss. But she also knows that I write in the pulp style, 60 years in the past.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Liken it to a winemaker. Are you going to grow your own grapes and make and sell the wine? Then if you are a bad farmer, you’ll get crappy wine, so you have to be an expert farmer AND expert wine maker AND expert marketer… most people aren’t experts at all that stuff and aren’t willing to become experts; many won’t be able to even if they knew what to do. There are a lot of moving parts. Essentially, if you mess up on any of those steps, you are toast. Now, having said that, even if you don’t manage to become an expert at everything, you’ll know enough to manage the people you hire and you’ll have respect for what they do.

What are the advantages of having your own imprint? Would you recommend authors do this?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I have multiple pen names, so I do it to keep things organized. If you didn’t have a pen name, and you didn’t plan to ever edit an anthology or something, then I can’t see a lot of material benefit. But as soon as you have multiple names involved, then I’d say you should go for it. It’s hard to claim that your writing business is “DeAnna Knippling, Author” for tax purposes if you’re in either case. BUT I am not a lawyer, so don’t take that as legal advice 🙂

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Yes, a lot of authors are using their own imprints today. And some have good editors.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre The advantage is, if there’s no market for an original work, it can still see the light of day and maybe find its audience.

Authors, especially those who chose the more traditional routes of publishing, have to be thick skinned. If we take them all personally, they can be devastating, perhaps even deterring an author from continuing the pursuit of their dream.

For those who have tried to publish traditionally or via small press, where your work must be submitted in hopes that someone else will deem it publishable, and how many rejections did you receive before acceptance? And how did you handle the rejections?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’m still submitting to short story markets.  I submit all over the place for that. I think I submitted like fifty queries for novels, but I really wasn’t ready for novels back when I was doing that (I started out as a short story writer). When I started out, it got to me.  Then I heard Julie Kazimer talk about how many rejections she had, and I was like, “Right, I like her writing, and she still gets that many rejections, so whatever.” I made a goal to get 100 rejections my first year of serious submissions.  Got 125 🙂  I don’t track the number anymore, though.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I received well over one-hundred rejections on COGLING, and now it is my second best-seller. Readers send me emails raving about it. At first, rejection hit hard. I wanted to curl up in the corner and cry. It took a while for rejections to roll off my back. As long as I love what I wrote, then that’s all that matters.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My first novel was submitted in 1970 to a dozen SF publishers, and I received a dozen rejection slips. One famous SF editor said he didn’t even know where the story took place. Well, he must not have even read it (LOL). But to be honest, I needed an editor. In fact, I also sent the story to what I thought was a publisher, but was an editing service. I was living in Riverside, California at the time, and two men came down from L.A., California to interview me. My book, they said, was something special, but they wanted to help me learn to write, and gave me several options, all of which would cost me money that I didn’t have. So I stuck the manuscript in a drawer where it stayed for three decades. In those thirty years I learned to write.

I have fulfilled my dream. Yeah, I read a lot, and see what the traditional authors are writing. Sometimes it’s disheartening to see what is being hailed as the best books on the market, and the size checks they are getting for what I consider junk, and seeing good independent writers having trouble selling copies of their books that are ten times better than those best sellers.

But I think about the writers-for-hire that turned out stories for publishers selling a million copies of each title, and the author only getting $1,500.00 for that book back then. When Stephen King was paid a million dollars for Carry, one of those writers-for-hire took a .45 and blew a hole through his computer. The writer-for-hire was bringing big bucks to the publisher for very low wages, and the publisher was paying King, McMurty, Clancy, and a few others the big bucks. The writers-for-hire didn’t think it was fair, and I still don’t think it is. I like martial arts, and I heard about a “best selling” series called The Ninja that has been receiving such great praise and a New York Best Seller, so I bought it. After fifty pages I threw it in the trash where it belonged.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre The movie Rocky won best picture back in 1976. It got turned down a LOT, but Stallone stuck with it and it won best picture. The lesson isn’t tenacity, although that’s part of it. The lesson is, the people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Tom Brady, possibly the best quarterback in the NFL’s history, was a 7th round draft pick. That means EVERY TEAM passed him over 6 times – and he’s the best to ever play the game. Steven Spielberg, the most popular and most successful movie maker in history was turned down by USC film school. The people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Lots of people turned down every successful author at some point, and rejection letters are going to come by the hundreds. Each “no” puts you closer to a “yes,” so expect 200 of them for each version of your book you are querying. If the publishers don’t want it, don’t be afraid to go indie.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 In business there’s an expression. It goes like this: If the product is good, it will sell. Of course, I’m crap at business. In 1980 I had a writing career in the palm of my hand.  I was a guest of honor at Playboy‘s Writer’s Award banquet. I sat between Alex Haley and Saul Bellow. My short story had won Playboy‘s annual award and I was whisked to New York City to hobnob with the literati. Agents and publishers were handing me their cards. I signed a two year contract with Scott Meredith Agency. I just had one little problem. My writing hadn’t yet matured. My books were earlier versions of themselves and I hadn’t mastered the finer points of story telling.  I had another twenty years to grow up and become a polished writer.

Now we, as writers, are struggling through an era in which books are common as pennies and it’s virtually impossible to gain traction. In 1980 the world’s population was half of today’s population. There was room to get noticed. Now, today, go to Twitter, Facebook. Drown in titles, covers, blurbs. Not all of these books are good. I’ve written six hundred query letters to agents. The reply? “Though you write very well, unfortunately your novel is not right for us at this time.”

Sound familiar?

I don’t quit. I believe in my work. I believe in it so much that I can easily describe it as something like being in love. I’m in love with the things I write, and photograph, and music that I play. And so forth and so on.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Only did this with my first book and only sent to three publishers. All three were rejected. That’s when I learned I could self publish.

During week 8 on publishing platforms, RA Winter gave the following advice for new authors, “Series make more money or at least have all of your books branded in the same genre.”

This sounds like good advice, but what does the multi-genre author do as far as branding goes? Do we have a separate brand for each genre, or can a single brand for your works encompass all the genres that you write?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I write under different genres, so I can’t really use the same marketing/branding for each genre.  What works for gothic horror novels doesn’t do so well for cyberpunk.  I feel like I have to start over every time–but that’s okay.  I’m happy with my choices from a writing perspective.  It’s just a pain to deal with from a marketing perspective.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use the same brand for each of my books.  It works for steampunk because it is a gear, and it works for my fantasy novels because gears turning can symbolize the imagination working.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Well, I have to admit, my SF novels have done well, but so, too, have my pulp novels. I like writing in different genres. Westerns sell good, and I have a few in that category also. When I go to town people say, “Oh, he’s that science fiction writer.” That’s nice, but SF doesn’t sell in this town, and a science fiction writer is about as popular as sidewinder. I even told a teacher once that science fiction was a western. You just trade the cowboy’s six-shooter for a ray gun, his horse for a rocket ship, and Indians for red Martians. And some people here know I collect and write pulp, but they don’t know what pulp is. I was at the Post Office one day and a fellow was mailing a big package out. He recognized me and said, “I bet if you thought this box contained comic books you’d take it away from me.” Brand? I don’t know how good a Brand is. Me, I want to write whatever genre grabs me at the time. I’m tickled when someone calls me a children’s author.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Lots of authors don’t do that and are very successful, but I suppose it makes life easier if you do it. The problem is, you might have a crappy series no one wants to read. Then what? You wasted years on a dead end. I write what I want to read. I write in a daring style. I can make you laugh or cry in every story, sometimes on the same page. When you start my story, I own you, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a series or if each book is different. John Belushi never repeated himself; why should I? Genius has a way of being discovered of you are willing to put enough work into it. There are no shortcuts and no magic recipes.

There’s no one magic formula. Train your readers that whatever you deliver, it will rock their world. Books and movies are entertainment. The best directors don’t do the same movie over and over in a series because they want to challenge themselves to find another great thing and to keep pushing themselves.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy My work can, and has, fallen under different genres. I find it gets confusing to the reader especially in terms of branding and finding your niche audience. So now I try to incorporate a little bit of fantasy in every book I write be it urban, dark, or adventure so that my books stay under a similar umbrella.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Still working on this.

If you have published independently, what challenges have you faced – in getting your books into brick and mortar bookstores, and libraries?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Nobody likes or wants to work with Amazon/CreateSpace. That’s my biggest challenge in one. I need to expand away from them, but I haven’t reached that far yet.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve personally donated my books to the surrounding libraries, and some of my books have been on the shelves of Books A Million and Hastings in Wichita Falls, Texas, but that was in the past. I doubt seriously that any are still in the brick & mortar bookstores.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Doing any of that requires time and effort. That same effort can get me more sales of eBooks, so I concentrate there. 90% of my marketing time or more is marketing eBooks. If I have time leftover, I’ll see if a library wants a copy or if a brick and mortar bookstore does. I went to an author event where the bookstore manager at the event derided me about bringing so many of my 25 titles. I sold a whopping 6 books that weekend with her. As I was packing up, she kinda laughed at the effort I made in bringing in 25 titles and only selling 6. I mentioned that I’d moved over 1000 eBooks that week. She shut up after that.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy They absolutely will not accept POD versions of your book.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Marketing is my biggest challenge.


Building Your Author Platform

Have you ever used paid reviews?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Nope. I don’t feel like it’s ethical, by which I mean “long-term smart.”

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I used one company once.  It cost a lot of money and promised at least 10 reviews.  I got 1.  After that, I never paid for another review company.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture No, but I have thought about it. Reviews are hard to get.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre No. I know some people say Kirkus and others like them are great; I don’t see the value. When I see a Kirkus review, I say: that person isn’t successful enough to get reviews without paying for them. I could be totally wrong about that, but that’s what I think. Spend that $500 or whatever on marketing and getting reviews from readers.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy No, there’s no point in it for me. I’d rather here what readers genuinely think rather than someone I paid off to give a glowing review. Besides, I’ve talked to a number of other authors and they’ve all said the amount of reviews you have really doesn’t mean that much in the long run.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman No. One I don’t believe you receive a genuine review if you pay for it.

Two. I believe they are unethical.

Three. I can’t afford to pay people to review my work.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I probably have more fans than I realize. Unfortunately, I get very little feedback. A comment on one of my blogs, an appreciation of a book, a review…any kind of review…is a major event. I don’t pay for reviews. There are so many authors, so many reviews, it’s like spitting into a fast moving river. It’s here, then gone.

My novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won Writer’s Digest Honorable Mention. There were almost four thousand submissions. WD wrote a glowing review of the book.  Without that review I’m not sure I would even believe the book exists. Without Kaye Lynn’s reviews of my work, I would feel like a ghost. I’ve sold less than a three hundred books. I can’t even give away my books. My memoir, The Road Has Eyes has eleven hundred free downloads. That’s four years worth of promotion. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? A little.

In your mind, what are the pros and cons of paid reviews?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak A) They’re not really honest.  B) They’re trackable, so your distributor may bust you for them and punish you according to their terms of service. Goodbye review! And that’s generally a best-case scenario.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan The biggest con is what happened to me – no one reviews and you just wasted a lot of money.  I think the service I used cost $60.  $60 for one review (a one-sentence review at that) didn’t feel worth it.  I didn’t even know if the reviewer genuinely liked the book or felt compelled to give it 4 stars.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Paid reviews are probably not going to appear on Amazon or GoodReads, or anywhere else. If they weren’t bought on Amazon, the review won’t be published on Amazon.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I guess the pros are you get a review. The cons are, that’s less money you have for marketing.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil No author should have to pay for a review.

How effective have you found interviews to be in bringing new followers?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I think the effectiveness of an interview depends on how open the author is willing to be.  If the author personally appeals to the audience, then an interview can be great.  But if the author is stiff and over-controlled, then people aren’t going to get a very good idea about whether they want to read your book.  I’ve both interviewed and been interviewed.  The interesting thing to me is that that type of post is more of a long-term investment than a short-term boost.  It’s like, people kind of hear about your book somehow, then they look up your name and the book title, and they end up searching for you on Google years after the book is published.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Honestly, I haven’t seen a correlation.  No one has told me they read my book or started following me after reading an interview I did.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I don’t think any one thing does a lot by itself, but doing a lot of interviews and a lot of other stuff gets the internet to find you better, and together it all helps. Basically, I do almost every interview I’m asked to do because I can use it on my social media to remind my followers that I’m out there and they should read my next book. That’s not the interviewer’s job. That’s my job in doing the interview.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Interviews have given me exposure to new people…not alot…but enough. Also, they’re fun to do.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Not effective at all.

Has there been one interview you feel was most effective? If so, why do you think this interview was more effective than others?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Unfortunately, I don’t know for sure! I feel like an audio interview with Bill Olver (of Big Pulp at the time) was the most effective, because I saw an upswing right after that, but I have no actual idea.

Here’s the interview:  http://www.podcasts.com/big-pulp-audio-435ce9688/episode/Big-Pulp-Audio-May-22-2016-31da

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Interviews where I include a giveaway usually get the most comments.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I had a great interview with Cathleen Townsend. It was a blast. I don’t know if it sold any books but I had fun doing it. I did a video interview of bestselling author Allison Maruska (The Fourth Descendant) and we laughed the entire time. We had a great time. Again, did those efforts sell books or did they show a different side of me to an audience? Mark Twain said, sell yourself, not your product.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by the owner of COS Productions Sheila English alongside Heather Graham! That got me some attention for sure.

This question is for those of you who have blogs. As we all know, I use WordPress. I found Blogger to be too limiting, and I’ve been playing with WIX for the new WordCrafter site I’m building, but I’m having difficulty in setting it up the way I want and I’m considering creating a second WordPress site instead.

Which blogging platform do you use and what do you see as benefits and drawbacks of it?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I use WordPress.  The big benefit is that everybody uses it, so it’s easy to find templates and other goodies for it, and it works well enough.  The not-so-big benefit of it is that you have to modify the heck out of it before it feels like home, because it kind of looks like everyone else’s!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use BlogSpot for my blog, and it is okay, but a lot of tends to be finicky and doesn’t always do what I want.  I use Wix for my website, and that too can get finicky.  It doesn’t always look the way I want it to look.  Maybe its just me not using programs correctly!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I use Blogger, and have found it works well enough. I have half a dozen Blog Sites. Many Groups will not allow the posting of Blog Links for some reason, so I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately with getting the word out on new Blog entries.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I use WordPress for one reason: it’s easiest for people reblog, comment, share, and follow. The end. I want sharing and reblogging and I want one click to make you a follower. WP does that. That’s all I need. I recommend them to everyone. It’s the fastest base from which to build a following at basically zero cost. That’s hard to beat.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ve used Blogger and I currently use WIX. I know everyone swears by WordPress but I tried it and I didn’t like it at all. My websites are built on WIX and the blog has everything I need.


Marketing and Promotion

Last week we did a segment on marketing and promotion, yet we didn’t talk at all about book covers. This was a huge oversight on my part, because the covers of our books may be our single most valuable marketing tool. Some people buy books just because their interest is captured by the right cover, even if they’ve never seen one advertisement for the book or read one review. Finding, or creating the right cover can be tricky and different authors handle it in different ways.

Please tell us how you come by your covers: DIY or hired out or prefab?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’ve done DIY design (from art that I licensed on stock art sites or directly from an author on DeviantArt in one case) and hired out two covers.  The ones I hired out for weren’t successful for me, possibly because I did those when I had a much weaker understanding of the market.  The artists produced what I asked for 🙂  A third custom cover is for an anthology that’s going to go out soon; I think that one will be a great help in selling the anthology.  But Jamie Ferguson (my co-editor) and I did a lot of research on what kind of cover we wanted, even before we commissioned the artist.  You can find out more about the anthology, Amazing Monster Taleshere.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My covers are all made by the publishers.  I give them an overview on what I’m looking for in a cover and their cover artists go at it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve hired several covers done for my books. Plus, I do some myself. I agree, the cover is the first thing readers see, and it better catch their eye. The second thing is the Blurb. Both have to attract and interest the reader. I recently saw this in effect, a writer has a very nice cover for his book, but the Blurb stinks, and I wasn’t surprised when he said he wasn’t selling any copies of his book.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Most DIY book covers look home made. Authors should hire someone, and before they hire someone they should see what the top 25 of 50 books in their genre look like and ask to emulate that, then let the artist do their thing. Try to get a few (3-4) mockups and showcase them on Facebook. Even if you are brand new and have zero followers, for $10 you can put together a Facebook ad that will be shown to readers of that genre and let THEM choose the correct cover for you. The fans are never wrong, but I almost always am! Whatever cover I like never wins, and whatever cover the fans like always sells well. Another cool thing to know: after about 12-20 votes, you’ll have a clear winner, and if you get 100 more votes or 1000, the winner won’t change. Remember: you are probably not the target audience, so find them and let them choose. I and friends have spent as little as $50 to $100 for covers that became bestsellers. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to have a winner, but a loser costs a ton – because you have to overcome its crappiness by way of additional marketing expense.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I make my own covers. Awhile back I had the rights to my Demon Hunter saga returned to me. At the time, the publisher had used stock photos that made them look like romance covers. When I got the rights back I had a very specific direction where I wanted to take the books for a relaunch. So I began dabbling in Photoshop and eventually I produced some stunning covers. Now I mostly do all my own unless I need specific art work drawn out.

RA Winter

RA Winter I use Kreativecovers and use Kayci Morgan exclusively. She’s wonderful. I can give her an idea and she runs with it. Here are my two favorite covers that she did. The first one, Twisted, you can immediately tell the genre. The second one, Demise, gives you a taste of what’s in the book. I’m so pleased to have her on my team.

 

Instead of asking what makes a great cover, a question that has been asked a thousand times before, with answers dependent on as many variables as there are books on the market, I’m going to ask you each to include the image of what you consider to be your best book cover and tell us what you think makes it a great cover.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’m going to use one of the draft covers from the anthology that I mentioned before (this one isn’t final). The art is by Paul Roman Martinez, who is AMAZING. He also designed the logo for us. We started out with probably at least a dozen hours of research into what pulp magazine covers looked like, what we liked, and what we didn’t. Then we had to figure out how to communicate that to Paul 🙂 After a few missteps (totally on my part), Paul did a tentative sketch and, because we had done so much research, we knew it was a winner. We gave him the go-ahead to do the finished art. The logo was actually more trouble–it got to be too close to the existing design on another magazine, and had to be redone.
Best Cover - Knippling
There are a lot of details that go into cover design, and I don’t have the time to get into them here. But we talked a lot about both the content of what the art should be, although we did not actually tell Paul what to create, only what kind of thing we were looking for, and how we wanted that laid out so that there would be enough room for text later.
[Hey, if you have more questions on that, ask – I’m drawing a blank on what to say that isn’t a whole book on covers.]
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan The most popular cover is TREASURE DARKLY. Readers at book signings gravitate to it without knowing anything about the book. I’ve heard people say they love how dark it looks or that it has a sexy girl.
Treasure Darkly
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I have a lot of great covers, but will pick NEW PULP HEROES as an example. This is a non-fiction book with essays on the New Pulp Heroes. It’s a book that every New Pulp writer, and every researcher should have. And the cover is pure pulp. The girl is in danger and the hero coming to rescue her. It’s perfect for the subject matter within the pages.

New Pulp Heroes

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre A great cover is what fans say is a great cover and you figure that out using the method I just described. Most authors can’t be objective enough to do that, though. They let their intentions cloud the process.

My best cover is Double Blind, a murder mystery. I look at it and I feel the intensity of the killer. Second is the new cover for The Navigators, same reason – intensity. They just look professional.0

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I went through several variations of Demon Hunter Saga for the print book. What makes this a great cover? When I’m at conventions among the thousands of talented artists there this cover stands out in a crowd. When people see the book on my table they always stop to look at it. I’ve been told more than once how amazing the cover looks and I’m really very proud.

 

Demon_6x9DustJacket_Front_EN copy

 

Art Rosch

Art 2001 This may be my favorite cover.  I use my own photography and do all the design work.  I love this cover because it describes what’s in the book.  It’s loaded with narrative, mystery and incorporates one of the best design devices in the world, the “S” curve.  The eye is drawn down that oddly green road towards the RV.  There’s fog, stars and a homely thirty year old Winnebago. Who’s in that RV? Where are they going?  Where have they been?  This is a very cool book cover.

The Road Has Eyes

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I would say my latest Ripper cover is the best. It is totally eye catching.

Ripper


Sometimes life just gets in the way of things. This round of Ask the Authors panel members have been great, but unfortunately Mark and Kym Todd had to drop out early on when Kym was injured while they were traveling. Art Rosch, as well, has been absent from several segments due to a series of unforseen circumstances starting with a tree falling on his home, being in the middle of all the California fires, and other issues which prevented him from participating in many of the previous segments. Fortunately, Art was able to join us for this last segment, enthusiastic about being back in the game. He wrote me a lovely piece discussing many of the things which we cover here and he also had this to say about social media book promotion and branding.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Social media. Where else do you promote books? I’ve spent every day for the last five years on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus and half a dozen others that I can’t remember. I’m so sick of social media that I’ve tried another tack.

I published Confessions in paperback, ordered a box of fifty and started giving away copies. It may be a slow method of marketing but it gets the book read. People talk to me about the characters, they ask questions. That’s what I want: engagement with an audience. Whether my audience is ten people or ten thousand people, I want to hear from readers. If I had a ton of money I’d buy ads on Amazon and Facebook. I’ve heard they don’t work either.

All the conventional wisdom about branding is so much noise. I am my brand. The literature of Arthur Rosch. My platform is made from Popsicle sticks.


Just for Fun

Authors are just ordinary people in so many ways, no matter the level of success we’ve had. So if you will, share with my readers a little about things that make us real by answering at leeast one of the following questions.

What’s one thing most of your readers would never guess about you?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I often wear other colors than black?!?

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) That I was an awful student in high school, Purdue University (six years), IU law school (4 years not three) and never have taken a writing class in my life.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I love coconut. Coconut pies, coconut cake, anything with coconut. I’m addicted to coconut like most people are with chocolate.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I’m terrified of people in costumes.  Think Minnie Mouse at Disney.  If I see a person in a costume, I’m running the other way.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I used to do fitness competitions.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I’m a shrink (lol). People guess all sorts of professions for me, never a shrink. Maybe, it’s because I´m very talkative and I’ve never done clinician activities.

RA Winter

RA Winter I have five, yes, five boys.  Now you know why I have such an odd sense of humor.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 They’d never guess that I’m a drug addict.

Listen to me: this is true. I’ve had a year in which I felt like committing suicide. I began to write suicide notes in my head and then I would stop myself. “You’re writing suicide notes in your head,” I told myself. “Stop it right now.” I had a spell of depression. I’m doing much better now. One of the things that kept me wanting to live was the existence of my books. I thought, “If I don’t fight for these, they’ll vanish. I’m obviously the only person who will fight for my books, so I’ve got to hang around.”

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil When I was worried about running out of a particular genre to read (because I was obsessed) my best friend said, “write your own.”  And I did!

Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Eat and wander around in scenic locations. And read, of course, although that probably goes without saying.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Sit in my Mini Cooper convertible by the beach, listen to the waves, and read a good mystery.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I love to read (obviously, haha), paint, and make jewelry.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Workout, paint, relax.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Sports & cooking, plus reading, traveling, and talking to people.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Watch the stars at night, play drums and watch TV.

If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak The normal stuff, like paying off debts and setting up college funds and traveling and buying a house up in the mountains 🙂  But I think I would be going to my library and finding out what they needed.

Mark Shaw 

MarkAtSFTS (1) Live in the south of France.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I would quit my day job to focus on my son and writing.  I hate sending him to daycare.  I love the daycare he goes to, but I want him home with me for adventures

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Rich would be a load off, famous I don’t ever want. I would keep writing though, resting in the knowledge that at least now I knew people would be reading my books.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I always think about that…I will do everything the same, maybe I´d buy some fancy chocolate and coffee. That´s all!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I’d start a foundation promoting education in third world countries.

What is the one thing you hope to teach your children?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak That other people have valid internal lives of their own.  That’s the foundation of empathy–the rest of being an actual worthwhile human is all gravy 🙂

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) To listen better than I do and be more patient that I am.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan To be patient. Whenever I drive and someone ahead of me does something weird, I feel sorry for them. I think they made a mistake. I’ve been in the car with, say, my husband, and he’s furious at the other driver.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I guess I´ve already done that and that is authenticity. There is nothing like being ourselves and moving forward!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I hope to teach my grandchildren how to think correctly and to revere life.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Please send cheese.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) The most blessed man on the face of the earth (Sorry for length)

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I just asked my toddler and he said, “Ew, ew, ew.”  I guess I’m yucky!

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’m a warrior.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Cheerful, busy, project-driven.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Deep, very deep.

What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given or offered?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak It wasn’t phrased this way, but:  “Make someone else make you fail.”

Afraid of what might happen if you send out a book before it’s ready?  Afraid of going straight to an editor and skipping the agent?  Terrified of indie publishing?  What’s the worst that could happen?  You could be ignored.  Oh well.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Never give up trying anything new

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan  Its okay to take a rest.  People need to recharge their inner batteries too.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre This is one that everyone can learn to do, and it will help most of the writers out there. Write as if a disinterested 3rd party picking it up had no reference point for what you’d written. You must bring them from point A to B to C. Most writers will use that as an excuse to over write in so much detail the story become unreadable, so here’s this, too: 1. Get to the good stuff as fast as you can. 2. Most writers are too afraid to really bare their soul on the page, so their work isn’t as intense and immersing as it could be.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy So many because I’m always learning. My best advice is from myself as I’ve learned that life is short and not to waste time.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Go for it!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 You can’t heal yourself alone. Ask for help.

What makes you laugh or cry?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Everything.  One of the reasons my spouse was interested in me was he kept hearing me belly laugh to myself in a college computer lab.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) When I hear of injustice, of people being denied their rights.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Tickling makes me laugh. I cry when I see costumed characters.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Cute animals do both!

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I laugh and cry very easily, but what really hits me are those unique and anonymous experience that never happen twice, like hugging a homeless guy in the street, finding a pencil in the middle of a supermarket when I just needed to take a note in pencil.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Dogs.

What is your favorite food? Color? Song?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Cheese, green, and I haven’t picked one yet because mostly people want to know my favorite book.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Macaroni and Cheese, Purple, Imagine

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My favorite food right now is cheese, haha.  I love the color black, with blue as a close second.  My favorite song is a mashup of Light ’em Up and Radioactive.  It makes the perfect theme song for the Treasure Chronicles.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Pizza, Black, Right now I like “Get Up” from Shinedown

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Food is my homemade pasta, of course!!! Color = all of them. Song: Ella Fitzgerald “Bewitched…”.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman

Favourite food – Steak – particularly Scotch fillet.

Favourite Colour – Red and Black

Favourite Song – American Pie by Don Maclean

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Cheerios.  Blue.  Lonnie’s Lament by John Coltrane and You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen.

In a future where you no longer write, what would you do instead?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak[Glares at interviewer.]

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Surf.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I would teach. I’m currently a teacher; its what I’ve always wanted to do, other than write.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy That future doesn’t exist, I would always write. However, if you’re asking what I would do instead…I wanted to be an animator for Disney.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Audio books (lol).

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Sit in an urn on the fireplace.

See. Ordinary people. Nothing unique or odd about authors. We’re perfectly normal. Hehehe!


Thank you all for joining us for Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Thanks to our author panel members for sticking with it and putting up with all my probing questions and reminders and fitting AtA into their busy lives for the last twelve weeks. They’re a great bunch of authors and I can’t thank them enough for sharing here.

This has been a great blog series and I think we put out a lot of useful information. I’m thinking of doing a Round 3 sometime next summer. If you enjoyed this series and would like to see more, please let me know in the comments.  Mention which panel members you enjoyed and why, to show appreciation for their efforts.

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Writing for a YA Audience: School is in Session

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I might be a writer, but I’m also a teacher.  Ever since I took my first class – ballet, age 3 – I wanted to teach.  I taught my dolls whatever I learned.  I taught my maternal grandmother.  Beneath the expert tutelage of a child age 5, she learned yoga, tap, jazz, and Spanish.  I contribute a lot of my success in Spanish (as in, I passed) to the hours spent teaching it to her.  Teaching was what I wanted to do.

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Photo by Abel Tan Jun Yang on Pexels.com

I went to college for elementary education.  I imagined a classroom of eager faces mirroring my grandmother’s.  We would do the best projects and everyone would love learning.  I walked in with my arms filled with my favorite books, materials for astronomy models, and a skip in my step.

Instead, I was faced with mandatory testing and parents angry that their child had homework on the night when they watch reality TV.  After college, I switched to teaching young adults in a collegial setting.  I fell in love with teaching all over again.  They were eager to learn.  (Well, most of them.)  I didn’t have to deal with parents who used foul language while screaming at their kid for using the same foul language.  There weren’t days spent learning how to pass a mandatory test instead of mastering the material.  Anyway, I digress…

I went from teaching adults at a local community college to teaching  adults for a financial institute.  On the side, I started teaching classes in one of my passions: writing.  Libraries in the area were willing to give me time on weekends or weeknights to teach writing to anyone who wanted to come, free of charge.  The classes ranged from general writing tips to fantasy-specific discussions to how to get published.

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Still today, even though I’m no longer teaching as a day job, I lead classes at local libraries.  The classes are always small and intimate – five people to ten.  This gives us the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions and to have the attendees share selections of writing for feedback.  Most recently, in August, I got to teach a two-part fantasy workshop to youth for a library summer program.  The ideas they came up with were complex and original.  They weren’t afraid to write out of the box.

The best part about teaching a writing class is observing the passion in everyone’s face.  Whereas my grandmother’s passion came from helping me better myself, these students have a passion for the written word, and I’ll do anything I can to help them expand that passion.

Jordan Elizabeth is a young adult fantasy author.  If you’re a teacher or librarian, she would love to talk to you about leading a workshop or giving a presentation.  You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com.


Interview with author Alexandra Forry

Alexandra Forry

I have the pleasure today of interviewing romance author Alexandra Forry, whose latest novelette, Deepest Elements is scheduled for release on November 17. Alexandra is a lovely young author who writes her stories in spite of being afflicted with cerebral palsy. She’s agreed to share with us today a glimpse into her life and a little about her books. Please help me welcome Alexandra Forry.

Kaye: You have written in multiple genres and formats, but you are primarily a romance author. Why romance?

Alexandra: I’m hopelessly romantic, from way back. I loved a good romance that ends not happy with the man rides off in the sunset with his soul mate. I love forbidden romance the most. I write real-to-life romance because I think people can relate to it more than a fairytale romance. There is sometime about witting romance that fulfills my soul like I meant to be a romance author. If you get what I mean. Thank for asking this question, it really makes me think. No one has asked me this before you, Kaye.

Kaye: On October 12, 2014, you promoted your work at a ladies tea at Louisa Voisine’s Showroom in Las Vegas NV. How did you manage to get an invite for this opportunity? Do you feel it was successful? In what ways?

Alexandra: That was the best promoting event I’ve been to and it was very successful in every way. I met Ms. Senior United States of 2018, while I was there. I was purely a fairytale afternoon!!!

Louisa Voisine Millinery is a award winning famous Hat and Fashion Designer. Her designs are like a work of art. Louisa’s hat’s are Kentucky Derby Winning Design, Emmy Awards featured designer Pre-Emmy Event. I encourage you to check her website out!!! I had the honor to meet Louisa at Mob-Con back in 2014 and became good friends.

Mob-Con was a 3-day event Meet Real Mobsters and the Lawmen who put ’em away, with speakers and the authors like myself selling their books. Not to add, it’s not every day you get to see Mobsters, FBI, CIA news reporters and true crime authors in one ballroom talking about the good old days, acting like old friends.

Sorry to get off track. Louisa was there selling her hat’s at Mob-con and we got to talking a bit. After Mob-Con I got a Facebook message from her inviting me to sell all of my books at her high tea. Also, she’d give me two invites so I could bring whomever I wanted. I chose to take my dear and beloved Grandma. We always wanted to get all dressed up and go to a high tea. I shall never forget that tea because it really was truly made one of my grandma’s dreams come true.

Kaye: What writing groups are do you hold membership in? Would you recommend that other authors join similar writing organizations? Why or why not? What are the benefits for you?

Alexandra: I’ve got to tell you the truth. I need to re-join RWA. A few years I got out of the whole writing scène because of personal reasons but now I am back. A fellow author and friend told me this when I was first starting out he told me to join real writing groups to be taken seriously and make contact and friends. He was right. Now I’m apart of a top Authors Dinner Group in Washington, D. C. They help me out hugely. In the writer’s business, it’s whom you know. I got damn lucky at age 23!

Kaye: What can you tell us about your children’s books?

Alexandra: The Troop 740 books were based on my own Girl Scouts experience. In fact, I had a tycoon Girl Scout leader, let’s call him LL, when I lived in Portland Oregon. LL rented out a major radio station for us be on the radio, and once rented out a delta airlines aircraft for us to view what first class and the airplane cockpit look like. LL even flew in fresh flowers from Hawaii for us to learn about. I want to make my book’s leader a man, but in today’s age I didn’t want to take a gamble on it, so the leader is a woman. I hope to go on more adventure’s with Troop 470, someday! 😉

Kaye: In spite of many obstacles which life has placed in your path, you have overcome them and reached for your dream of being an author. The Omerta Affair was your debut novel. How did it feel when that book was published and you could finally say, “I made it! I’m a published author?

Alexandra: Oh hell YES!!!, I was jumping with over joy, tears of joy. It was a super amazing, wonderful feeling “I really did, I’m a published author.” It’s all began on my 22 birthday, I went to the newly open Mob Museum and to my shock, Frank Cuttolla was there signing his book. I meet him and told him that I want to be a Mafia-Romance and he told me that if I need help just let him know. I said okay thinking he has better things to do than helping me a young CP girl at the time. I found him on Facebook weeks later and we began to talk, he always inviting me to this and that. I base my fist book “Omerta Affair” off on Tony Spilotro’s reign as The Las Vegas Mafia Boss, in the 1970s. He had it all, running the Crime underworld. He could have any woman he wanted in Las Vegas, instead, he became romantically Geri Rosenthal. At first, it was a Casino’s FanFic to the 1995 move, that I was witting and putting online for free, but my family and friend told me it was way too good to be a FanFic. After I was done with my book Frank hooked me up with some people and that how my book came to be. Now he’s Uncle Frank to me. ❤

Kaye: One of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome is Cerebral Palsy, and you haven’t let it stop you from doing what you love. Have you given any of your characters disabilities to overcome?

Alexandra: YES! I really hope to write a romance that the leading woman has CP and falls in love. It makes me mad that there no disabilities romance books. Like we are still people with romantic feelings. People beg me to write my life story, I tried and give all my might, but I stopped writing it because I was up to a painful point in my life that I don’t care to remember. Sorry it’s the way I feel. Who knows maybe someday I will finish it.

Kaye: What challenges does cerebral palsy pose for you as a writer specifically?

Alexandra: I use up 3 to 5 times the amount of energy that people use without
Cerebral Palsy. My muscle spasms sometimes act up and slow down my typing.
Other than that, it doesn’t present any challenges to my thinking process
about my storytelling. I have CP but CP dose NOT have me! 🙂

Kaye: Timeless Omerta: With Beauty Comes Danger is the follow-up for that first book. It’s kind of a sequel, but not, and it launched you into the world of romance authors. Can you talk a little about the differences in the two books?

Alexandra: TIMELESS OMERTA Is a lighter version of Omerta Affair. After Omerta Affair came out for sale, a few months went by, I began to wonder what if I took out the harsh, colorful language making the story’s main love scene more romantic. With that idea, why not rename it something that a woman would really want to pick up to read when they saw it. I’ve re-titled it TIMELESS OMERTA. Making it more for women.

Kaye: Why did you choose to write Pit Boss: A Screenplay as a screenplay, rather than a novel? Why did you feel it was a better fit for the screenplay format? Do you have other screenwriting experience?

Alexandra: Pit Boss: A Screenplay was the very first writing piece that I’ve completed. Back in July 2011, my birth father passes away from stage 4 cancer. He didn’t catch it before it was way too late. I was very devastated by his fast death.

I bought a book and a screenwriting program on how to write a screenplay because I needed something that I never done before to take my mind off of my father’s death. I’ve locked myself in my room (in a way) for a month to learn and wrote “Pit Boss”

In 2016, I felt that I wanted to publish it, even if I didn’t make a penny for it. Just to showcase my work. Then with help with a ghostwriter, I turned the Pit book into a novel.

Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

Alexandra: Every night, I love to sit down and relax in my chair (my comfort zone) watching a movie with my dad. That’s is my favorite part of the day> I love coloring, I have a lot of adult coloring books. 😉 I enjoy listing to audiobooks. walking outside, having a blast with my group of friends here in Williamsburg.

Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?

Alexandra: I don’t have a time that I prefer to write. When I start writing, I can go until I am wiped out. LOL 😉

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer for you?

Alexandra: My spelling and grammar for sure. Being slow at typing, I can’t type 1,000 words a day, I wish. The biggest thing is that I get writers’ block or I lose interest in my writing and stop. I need to find a way to fix that.

Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?

Alexandra: Okay, so one of my friends once dared me to write a very XXX romantic, erotic, sex scene! Let’s just say that I blew him out the water when he read it. Ha, ha, ha!

Deepest Elements1

Kaye: Your book, Deepest Elements is scheduled for release on November 17. Can you tell us a little about it?

Alexandra: To my astonishment, all of the Beta and Test reads really love it! Saying that Deepest Elements is worth your time. Truth be told, I haven’t felt this way about one of my books coming out since Omerta Affair. I had this book idea tucked away in my mind since I was a teenager in high school!!! Have to tell you, that this book will be a kick off for a big series set, to be called Deepest Elements Series!

Here’s a brief synopsis:

My worst fear was those woods; my greatest fear had once been him.

She was an innocent, heading for her illustrious private boarding school in the best tradition of the grandmother who raised her, and with the blessing of the father who adored her. Forsaken by her mother soon after birth, she had made lifelong friends in a protective, privileged,Portland society.

Arriving in Radcliffe Heights, Rhode Island, freshman Peony “Poppy” Calloway admired the picturesque small town. But deep in the shadows of the woods near Blue Bell Boarding School, and along its hallowed halls, lurked illicit sex, murder, and harrowing danger.

Seduced by Jordon Dashwood, the handsome, blue-eyed, white blonde Headmaster, Poppy enters a world of love, ecstasy, heartbreak, betrayal, and death.

“Deepest Elements” is by the well-known author of “Wildflower,” Alexandra Forry.

Thank you so much for reading my in-depth interview. Also, thank you so very much, Kaye, for having me on your wonderful blog Today! Best wishes, Alexandra!

I want to thank you Alexandra, for sharing with us today. It’s been a pleasure learning abouot your books and the challenges you face in creating them.

Readers can learn more about Alexandra and her books here:

Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/cpgalauthor/?hc_location=group

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Alexandra-Forry/e/B00JBGRIKO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1540486609&sr=8-1&fbclid=IwAR3pSojbhA9lhk_0UHBQtIKidymGevYFAA_7orO8hBlEPWgJZktqtsBJxRA

Website: https://cerebralpalsygal.wixsite.com/cpgalauthor?fbclid=IwAR0UydGRJ1Enl7EjU-EztQ4Nyjp0nKMrrWDdUlGOlE7Ysj9ZbP9UFl6vjIo

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexandra-forry-6a0bb192/https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7191842.Alexandra_Forry

Don’t forget, Deepest Elements is scheduled for release on November 17, so be sure and grab your copy.

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Setting the Tone with Point of View, Tense, Narrative Distance and Voice

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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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?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre 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.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy 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

Todds - Copy 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.

RA Winter

RA Winter  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.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak 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!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture 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.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart 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.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan 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.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman 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.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil 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?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre 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.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy 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

Todds - Copy Sure. And it’s why we answered the above question like we did! We think we lived-and-learned from the experience.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak If I have, it’s been long ago that I don’t remember.  I’ve tried two different 3rd person tight POVs before, but not lately.  I tend to have pretty specific reasons why I pick a character and a voice before I sit down to write.
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture No, never, I stay with the form I’ve used from the start.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan 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?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre 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.

RA Winter

RA Winter 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.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak 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.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Third person, always. I agree, first person can feel awkward at times, and I prefer to broaden the view, so to speak.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan 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.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I use both first and third, depending entirely on what I am trying to get across to the reader.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil 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?

Dan Alatorre 

Alatorre 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

Todds - Copy 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.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak 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?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre 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

Todds - Copy 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.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak 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.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Single. Though I have used multiple POVs before, when I wanted my readers to see what was going on in both camps.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan 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.

L Rayman 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.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil 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?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre 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

Todds - Copy 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.)

DeAnna Knippling

deannak 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.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Always in scene breaks, not necessarily chapter breaks, though. We must have a clear break in the scene if we switch POVs.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan 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.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman 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.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil 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?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre 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.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy 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

Todds - Copy 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.

RA Winter

RA Winter Most of the time I change chapters for different POV’s.  However, if the scene isn’t finished and there is another character who could add a different depth, stakes, or a call to action for a character, I use a scene break symbol, a *** in the middle of the page.
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I don’t do it often, but sometimes that’s just how it has to go.  I pull back on the POV depth on character one, so you might be inside their head or outside of the their head, then switch over to the second character’s POV, again at a very light depth.  I only add a personal, internal POV to the second character if I have to, too.
Nettie felt that she would never be able to understand her cousin Matthew.  She flipped several pages as the candlelight flickered.
Matthew walked around the outside of the room.  To see him, you would never know that he was suffering.  A black despair always fell over him at this time of year, at the memory of his wife.
Nettie said, “Would you like me to read to you?”
“Yes, please.  What are you reading?”
She paged back to the beginning of the story, considering whether the story was an appropriate one for the moment, or not.
–Like that.  We hopped from Nettie to Matthew and back again.  Neither POV is all that rich with observation, but sometimes you have to at least suggest what’s going on in the other character’s head so the reader doesn’t misinterpret the subtext.  But I’m still new enough at being able to do it that I just about have a panic attack every time I have to try to pull it off.
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I won’t ever jump from head to head with POVs. It might work in comic books, though.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I break up the screen, making it clear that the previous scene is over, or I start a new chapter.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman 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.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil 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?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre 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.

RA Winter

RA Winter 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.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan 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.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman 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?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre 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

Todds - Copy 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.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak 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.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Third person throughout the story, I never change this format.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan 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.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman 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?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre  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.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I prefer present. To me it feels more active, like the story is unfolding right now in front of the reader.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy 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.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak 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?!?

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart 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.”

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I prefer past tense.  It flows better for me.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman 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.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Present tense.  I find it easier.

How do you avoid the use passive voice in your writing? Or do you?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre 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.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Editing…lol.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy 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.

RA Winter

RA Winter 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.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak 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.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture 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.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Spell check finds a lot of it!  I always send my stories by multiple critique partners to make sure nothing slips by.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I guess plenty of re-reads and editing rounds to make sure the passive voice is weeded out if it does make an appearance!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil 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.

In the nofiction that you write, you tell the stories of others. In The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, you took a third person investigative approach, in Courage in the Face of Evil, you took a different approach, telling the story from Vera’s POV, and in Beneath the Mask of Holiness, you told the story in third person as a narrator. In each of these cases your story telling skill was spot on. If told in a different way, it wouldn’t have been the same story. How do you choose the right voice in which to tell your stories? 

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Regarding “voice” and the storytelling method utilized, three of my books illustrated different methods of doing so. In Beneath the Mask of Holiness: Thomas Merton and the Forbidden Love Affair that Set Him Free, I chose to be the narrator, the guide to telling the story of how late in life the famous monk finally found true love through an affair with a student nurse half his age. While doing so, however, I wove into the story excerpts from his diary so that his “voice” was apparent to the reader as he expressed strong emotions about the love affair and what it meant to him, most important of course.
In Courage in the Face of Evil, based on a true story as captured from a Holocaust diary, I told the story through the main character Vera’s voice since I wanted readers to learn of the horrors of the Holocaust with a firsthand account as she wrote it in the diary. This also permitted the inspirational aspect of the story to come forward, the part where she trusts a German prison guard whom she hated to help her save the life of a little Russian girl who would have been killed otherwise. Vera’s own words indicate her courage and permit the reader to become emotionally involved in the book start to finish.
In both The Reporter Who Knew Too Much about Dorothy Kilgallen and the upcoming follow-up book, Denial of Justice (Nov. 20), I tell the story as the narrator, but weave in as much of Dorothy’s own words in her columns and what she said to others about how she was investigating the JFK assassination. Using as many images of Dorothy and never-before-exposed government documents, I enhance the story and provide the reader with the path Dorothy took to learn the truth just as prosecutor would do for a jury. Once again, though, the key to TRWKTM becoming a bestseller with hopes Denial of Justice will just as successful, is that the story touches reader’s emotions by their bonding with the famous reporter who did not receive justice when she mysteriously died in 1965. Many readers have told me they grew to respect and love Dorothy, emotions on their end that warm my heart.

It seems the story itself, determines the number of POVs used, and what tense it is told in, and sometimes a change in POV can make a world of difference as to how the story comes comes out and what tone is set. Finding the right tone can be the difference between a really great story and a mediocre one. Although fiction is different from nonfiction in many ways, you can see from Mark Shaw’s answers on nonfiction how important finding the right view point and voice is to the story.
Most of our panel members avoid headhopping, although a few find it useful at times and make a purposeful effort to do it well, when they do use it. Also, in most cases, narrative distance is close and personal, drawing the reader right into the thick of the story. Although I felt second person might distance the reader, DeAnna Knippling feels it brings them in closer, decreasing their narrative distance from the story. I suppose it might depend on how well it is done.
Most of our panel members give much credit to editors, critique partners and beta readers to help weed out passive voice and accidental head hops. I think it really helps to get additional sets of eyes on our work. One technique that I have used that works very well to find these errors as well as others, and helps you to know if the tone is that desired is reading your story aloud. This helps in knowing if the flow is smooth as well. You don’t even have to have someone to read to, although you can and then you have an additional opinion, but I’ve read it aloud to myself or even to my dog. (He’s a good listener, but he doesn’t give a lot of feedback. Lol.)
That’s it for this week. I hope you all will join us next Monday, when our panel members will discuss character development. 

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It’s All a Matter of Time

Time

Time. It fascinates us, captures our imaginations with the possibilities of time and time travel, so much so that our literature and the entertainment industry are filled with stories and songs which follow that theme. There have been countless movies on the subject: the Back to the Future series; Time Cop; The Terminator; Groundhog Day; Planet of the Apes; Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey; The Butterfly Effect; Land Before Time; and Timestalkers, to name a few.  And of course, television series: Dr. Who; Quantum Leap; Sliders; Time After Time; Outlanders – not to mention series with one or more episodes that involve time travel. Books and stories about time travel include: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain; The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells; Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving; A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens; “The Langoliers”, by Stephen King (Four Past Midnight); Timeline, by Michael Crichton; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowlings; The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger; and more recently, All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai. Even the music industry has gotten in on the theme: Fleetwood Mac can’t stop thinking about tomorrow; Tim McGraw deals with it in segments, so he only worries about the next thirty years; Bad Company is ready for love and figures better things are bound to happen looking forward; Jim Croche wants to save it in a bottle; Cindy Lauper comments on the repetitiveness of it, as things tend to happen time after time; and Stevie Nicks would do it all again, even though it’s not always a breeze. These lists don’t even scratch the surface. So, why is it that time so fascinates us?

I had a little Australian Shepherd named Dorchester. I got her when she was a pup. When she was young, she was agile and fast. Man, was she fast. She could smoke both the male Blue Heelers she grew up with to get a Frisbee. Then, she’d run off with it and wouldn’t give it back. She never was much for playing by the rules. But, as she got older, of course, she slowed. Age affects dogs in many of the same ways that it affects people: it gets harder to get up and down; movement is slower, more careful; the senses are not as accute as they once were, etc… Dorchester began to lose her eyesight first, even before her she lost her speed and her agility, so I had to become her seeing eye person. I began carrying a walking stick on our walks, thunking it down firmly on the ground with each step I took, so that she could hear where I was and follow. We walked this way for several years until eventually she was no longer able to go on walks with me anymore due to poor eyesight and other effects of aging.

IMG_2263

Dorchester isn’t with me anymore, but I still go on walks with both of the Heelers. We all walk a little slower these days. Our walks are shorter and there’s not a lot of rabbit chasing anymore, but they are are enjoyed, never the less. My son’s dog, Zaar, was Dorchester’s mate. They were the same age, each joining our family at about the same time. As Zaar ages, he is not only losing his sight, but his hearing, as well. He is very frightened of thunder and storms always gave him major anxiety attacks, so his not being able to hear so good hasn’t been a totally bad thing, but it does pose new problems on our walks. Zaar grew up walking on our property, so he thinks he knows where he’s going and doesn’t always pay attention to where his walking companions are headed. He gets into ‘the zone’, nose up, sniffing th air, and no matter how loud I yell, he doesn’t hear me, causing me to have to chase after him, touching him to get his attention and get him back on track. Zaar was also raised around a Heeler who was deaf, so he learned hand signs and once I have his attention, he will follow, but it’s getting his attention that’s the trick.

SUNP0224

The exercise he gets from his walks is what keeps him healthy and mobile. As I watch him getting older, I feel a sense of urgency, knowing that time may be running short for our walks and I want to enjoy my time with him while I can. I guess I just don’t know how to be a seeing eye person for a dog that can’t hear. He doesn’t hear my stick. I must figure out how to adapt and rise to the challenge, because left to his own devices, Zaar would soon be lost, especially after dusk, when his eyesight is at its poorest. It seems none of us are as young as we used to be.

It’s easy to look back and see what we’ve lost. ‘Hindsight is better than foresight’, and all that. Looking to the past, all our regrets become vividly obvious, but we tend to embellish the good times, as well. I think happy moments may be remembered as euphoric, more so than what they actually were, because those are the times we wish to hold onto. When I look back, there’s a dividing line to my timeline, seperating my life before my teenaged son died, and post-death, signifying the time when he was no longer in my life. That’s my loss. The time when Mike was alive seems brighter, more vivid in my memories. He was my biggest fan, with aspirations and the ability to be a writer himself. He was a unique soul and a source of inspiration for me.

These days, I feel a sense of urgency to make this writing for a living thing work while I still have time to do so. I have certainly taken enough time making it happen. I was 52 when I finally earned my M.F.A. and 53 before I became a published author. I’m sure I have some good years left, but I have to wonder if there will be enough for me to realize my dream. I wish I could go back in time and do things differently, but of course that’s only possible in my fiction.

Last Call Diner with Mug2 200 smallNow, with time travel, there’s the possiblity of doing things over, making things turn out different. Granted, it doesn’t usually turn out well when you go messing around with time, but things can, on occasion turn out better. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at MY time travel short, Last Call. Things aren’t going good for Derek, but he finds a way to make his life better. Maybe I could go back and get started on this career path a lot earlier in life. That’s not Derek’s solution, but it could work.

I don’t live in Derek’s world and there is no Last Call bar for me. I know I can’t just sit back and wait for things to happen, so if I want to reach my dreams while I’m still alive to see it, I have to take action. I must market what I already have published, but even more importantly, I must keep writing. So, my plan is to just keep at it. Eventually, my efforts will pay off. I have to believe that.

So what if I didn’t earn my M.F.A. until I was 52 and wasn’t published until I was 53? I’m not the only one to get a late start on their dream. After all, according to an inspirational Facebook post by Karen Caron, Stan Lee’s first big comic came out at age 40, Morgan Freeman had his first major movie role at age 52, and Julia Child didn’t make her cooking show debut until age 51. That puts me in some pretty good company.

Young or old, all we can do is look to the future. (There’s that time thing again.)

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With that in mind, I’ve begun the writing and compilation of my memoir about my son’s life and death, finally, after nine years. I’ve decided that it’s time to reunite the two time periods that divide my life and my thinking. After his death, I wrote poems and stories about him, pouring my grief out onto the page. I compiled all the photos of him into a slideshow for his memorial dinner. In addition to that, I plan to contact some of Mike’s friends and request them to contribute writings of their own about who Mike was for them. It’s going to be a massive amount of work, but his story deserves to be told and there is no one else who can tell it. It will be my first non-fiction work of book length.

I’ve always said that I never have less than three works in progress. Michael: How my son became a teen suicide statistic, will make the third one, as I’m also writing the first draft of the sequel to my western novel, Delilah: The Homecoming and I’m revising the first book in my science fantasy Playground for the Gods series, The Great Primordial Battle. Writing is an integral part of my life, past, present and future. I may be an old woman, but there is no other direction in which my life can go. Mike would be proud of my accomplishments so far and I think he would be glad that his story will finally be out. After nine years, it’s about time.

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Writing for a YA Audience: CLICK YOUR CONVERSE HEELS TOGETHER

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When I write contemporary young adult stories, I draw on my own experiences growing up.  A huge part of my childhood involved wearing Converse sneakers.  Okay, you’re probably thinking that’s a sad childhood, but bear with me.  I was always obsessed with shoes.  I liked the old-fashioned ankle-boot style.  I liked the shiny Mary Janes.  I hated regular sneakers.  They weren’t cute enough.  I endured sneakers only for gym class.

In Junior High, I started seeing the other children wearing Converse sneakers.  They came in all sorts of patterns and colors, and they went over your ankle.  They were unique, and even though almost everyone had a pair, everyone had a DIFFERENT pair.  Some kids even wore mismatched sneakers or used fancy laces.  I went home to tell my grandmother I just had to have my own Converse sneakers.  (If you aren’t familiar with Converse sneakers, you have got to check out their incredible selection.)

She took me to the coolest sneaker store in the mall (I don’t remember the name of this wicked awesome store) and got me…a pair of knock-offs.  They were black and came below my ankle.  I fell in love with them because they had a side-pocket.  I wore those sneakers until they fell apart.

In the meantime, my grandmother and I went to the nearby outlet mall.  We would go once or twice a year.  At their shoe store, I saw a beautiful array of colorful Converse sneakers.  She bought be an official, high-top pair.  They were black with white pinstripes.  I wore them so much they started to fall apart…so now I don’t wear them much to preserve their life.

After that, I got a pair each time we went to the outlet mall.  I even got a pair that reached up to my thighs!  I now have twelve pairs altogether in my collection.  Converse is still my favorite brand of sneaker.

Why am I talking to you about my Converse obsession?  Well, Converse sneakers were a huge part of my childhood, from shopping for them to wearing them almost every day.  I loved wearing them to gym class with fishnet stockings.  I always write about my young adults wearing Converse because that’s what I wore.  I didn’t realize how prevalent the brand featured in my writing until an editor called it to my attention.  I went back through my writing and almost every girl character has a pair at one point in their individual stories!

If you were writing about shoes, what shoes would you mention?  What shoes are most important in your life?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Jordan Elizabeth is a young adult fantasy author.  Her latest book, a post-apocalyptic novella entitled ROTHAM RACE, released July 14th fron CHBB.  If you’re wondering if it features Converse sneakers, you will have to read it to find out.

You can connect with Jordan via her website, JordanElizabethBooks.com.