Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Prodigal Blogger

I hope some of you are still following my blog. I realize I haven't posted for a long, LONG time. If I had seen it coming, I would have given you a heads-up, but I didn't.

To sum it up bluntly, I was getting frustrated with my efforts in writing and I took an impromptu sabbatical. I put everything away and didn't even think about them (at least not actively--I often found my WIP puttering around the back of my mind, but I just let it be for a while). Once my stock of interviewees started drying up, I didn't have much to say, so my blog went on hold as well. I apologize for not explaining at the time.

Now, I have a question for all you experienced outliners: do you finish your outline entirely before you start writing, or do you allow yourself to start writing the early parts before your outline is 100% complete?

The reason I ask is this: a couple weeks ago, I finally started jotting down, in outline form, some of the ideas that came out of all the puttering my WIP has been doing for the past couple/few months. I've got a basic outline for about half (maybe two-thirds) of the entire story. The problem is that I'm getting tired of outlining! It's been a huge help, but I want to start writing!

So I guess I'm looking for opinions and/or advice. Do I leave off outlining for a little and start fleshing out what I've got? Or do I stick it out and finish the outline before I do anything else? What do you think?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Another Friendly Conversation: Melanie Fowler

Today I have Melanie Fowler here. She actually agreed to this interview last week, but she came down with the stomach flu. So, we rescheduled for this week!

How did you get started as a writer?

The honest truth? I was bored. Living in the mountains, no electricity and no transportation. Only trees surrounded my thoughts. So I started writing.

Actually sounds kind of nice! I grew up in Colorado and we were always going camping or hiking or something. What I want to know is why you were living up there (that sounds like a long-term deal).

What was your first complete story?

It was called The Four Seasons.

Ooh, sounds mythological!

What made you decide to write it?

At the time, it was the only thing that I thought anyone would want to read. It is a childhood game that my sisters and I used to play, and I knew they would enjoy the interpretation of it.

Ha! A lot of times, those turn out to be the best stories!

Do you free-write or outline?

Both. This time around I’ve outlined like crazy.

This time around? Is that for The Four Seasons?

If you outline, do you plot the entire story first, or bits at a time as you write?

I have the whole story plotted out.

Well done! I'm interested to know just how you did it.

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

Reading other books seems to help the most. It cultivates other ideas.

Truer words were never spoken! I honestly can't say which I enjoy more, reading or writing.

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?)

I try to find quirks that makes them believable. Some are from me, and other quirks I have picked up from friends and family.

I love quirks! They make people so interesting.

What exercises to you use to develop your characters?

I know their back story: how they were raised, what they believe, what they would do if there was a pie thrown in their face.

Pie in the face! That's awesome! I never thought of asking myself how my characters would react to something like that.

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

I feel that the best way to build a world is to create one that is most like our own. It’s the world that we all live in and if we create it similar to what we know, (but with the unexpected) it feels real. Like Harry Potter. He lives in our world, but it is an extraordinary world that muggles can’t see.

Here here!

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

I often write the slow stretch, and get to a fun part. Then I cut the slow stretch to a few paragraphs instead of a few pages.

A delicate art if ever there was one! To get all the same information in fewer words is a lot, lot, LOT harder than it most of you probably know.

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference; if so, which one(s)?

WriteOnCon, which is a free online writers conference. And the upcoming LUTE at UVU in Utah

Ooh! I've heard LTUE is awesome! I hope I can make it this year, at least for part of it.

What did you learn from it?

From WriteOnCon, lots about publishing, and about plotting and developing characters.

I'd like to find a conference that has a session about the actual writing part. I want to learn to make my writing (grammar, syntax, diction, etc.) more refined and mellifluous. 

Who is your favorite author?

There are just too many to name!

Seriously! Although every now and then you find one who is a cut above the rest. Any come to mind?

Favorite book?

The book that captured my love for reading and writing was Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede.

I remember my sister reading that when I was a kid. I've always been kind of curious about it.

Favorite genre to read?

I think that Fantasy takes the cake. I’ve read Sci-fi, and lots of adventures. Mainly YA I love.

I go back and forth between sci-fi and fantasy, but I'm trying to branch out a bit.

Favorite genre to write?


I've realized that I need to wait and gain a lot more experience before I can tackle the fantasy story I really want to write (Dathan the Sorcerer). I know I'm not good enough right now and I refuse to sell it short. So, on to other things for the time being!

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

I play the piano, or do other music related things. I crochet, watch movies, read, camp, hike and most importantly take care of my family.

Wow, you should meet my wife. She's into all of those things (except crochet...I don't think she's ever tried that). You could be great friends!

What are three interesting facts about you?

I’m ambidextrous, I’m half Chilean, and I LOVE Disneyland.

Hey! My niece is half Chilean! My sister-in-law came to the U.S. for college...and ended up meeting my brother :D

Well, I hope you have enjoyed getting to know Melanie. I sure have! It's always fun when you find out you have something in common with someone else! 

Oh, and FYI, if there's anyone you would like to get to know better, I'm open to requests/suggestions for these interviews!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Digital Self Assessment

I realized something the other day: my online presence and social interaction is surprisingly similar to my presence and social interaction at a big party.

When I go to a big party, I tend to do one of two things: latch on to someone I know the whole time, or meander endlessly until the party is over. I'm very much an introvert. Now to clarify a little: introversion is not shyness! Shyness stems from a lack of self confidence and/or self esteem; introversion, on the other hand, has to do with how your body and mind recuperate and spend energy. Introverts gain energy best through quiet or solitary activities; extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy through social interaction: the more the merrier!

On the other hand, introverts tend to lose energy very quickly in large social settings. We tend to be the quiet ones, the ones who stay out of the fray as much as possible. There's a simple reason for it: the hustle, bustle and din of social settings exhaust us! That's not to say that we can't or shouldn't participate, we just have to take periodic breaks, retreating to a quieter locale for a few minutes to recharge our batteries.

And extroverts, if you haven't guessed, lose energy in quiet, solitary activities. They fall asleep when they read books or watch movies; they (generally) prefer hobbies that involve other people (like team sports, etc.). These are the people who thrive in a crowd. They tend to pester us introverts to accompany them to a party or something like that because they're bored staying at home. :)

Now that I've rambled on for a while, I've noticed that I tend to interact online in much the same way that I interact in large social settings. I read a lot of blogs, but I don't comment on every post. In fact, I don't comment on very many, especially when there're already a bunch of comments. However, I am more likely than others to send the blogger in question a quick email to share my opinion. If I've done this to you and it bothered you, I'm sorry; to me it feels more personal and I wanted to make sure your read my note. (when I see a long list of comments on a post, I always think the blogger will have stopped reading comments by that time.)

I've found that being a consistent blogger is a real challenge for me. I don't have a long-term plan for how my blog is going to run; I don't plan my posts before hand (other than to try to find an interviewee). You will, undoubtedly, have noticed that my own posts (not counting guest bloggers and interviews) are rather sporadic. That's because I often don't have something worthwhile on my mind. But I think you'll also appreciate that the posts I do write, with a very few capricious exceptions, are very important topics to me that I really want to talk about. And I really appreciate the comments that so many of you leave. They totally make my day!

So, through my meandering train of thought, we come down to this: I know I'm a bit eccentric in my blogging habits, and I really appreciate all of you who read and comment on this blog. I hope you enjoy talking with me too. I really do enjoy being a small part of this little community.

So, what's your digital social bent? Introvert or extrovert?

OH! I almost forgot! If you want to learn more about introversion, I recommend The Introvert Advantage, by Marti Olsen Laney. This book taught me more about myself than I ever thought possible!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Another Friendly Conversation: Sarah Lofgren Neumann

So, after a couple/few weeks of floundering on the interview front, I'm finally back! And as my guest today, I've invited Sarah from Glissades and Gabble. Sarah is a dance instructor (ballet, I assume?) from the Seattle area. I was actually really confused when I found her blog for the first time because I come from a very outdoorsy-type family (none of whom, to my knowledge, know anything about ballet); so, when I saw the word 'glissades' in the title of her blog, I was really thrown for a loop because glissading is somewhat reckless outdoor activity in which a mountain climber slides down the face of a glacier or snow field, using only his/her ice ax to avoid a very cold and painful maiming and/or death at the bottom. If you haven't guessed, I've never been a fan of glissading. But I digress! Let's talk to Sarah!

How did you get started as a writer?

Creative writing was one of my favorite classes in school. I’ve always had a big imagination. It tended to get me in trouble, but writing was a place where my crazy brain could be an asset and not a hindrance. I drifted away from writing as I became more serious/obsessed with dance, but in recent years I’ve rediscovered my love for it.

Hooray for rediscovery! I really don't think we can ever have too many writers in the world. It just means there's more stuff to read!

What was your first complete story?

My very first was a complex, action/adventure story about a sandcastle that came to life. I wrote it when I was nine years old and it had eight bazillion chapters and about fifty different characters.

Sandcastles always remind me of Scrubs. If anyone knows the episode I"m talking about, *high five*
What made you decide to write it?

In all honesty, it’s a compulsion with me. I get the itch (an idea) and I have to see it through. It’s always been that way, in dance and in writing. There are other reasons, such as trying to make sense of the universe, trying to add beauty to the world, proving to myself that I’m capable of doing it, but primarily it’s about the itch.

I hate that itch sometimes! Like when you're really tired and just want to sleep, but your brain won't shut up about this cool new idea...or when something terrible has happened and you feel guilty because you can't get your brain to stop saying things like "how would Character X deal with this situation?" ...stupid itch.

Do you free-write or outline?

Outline! Every time. I know as a consumer I appreciate work that has direction and a master plan. I love when things add up, as opposed to trailing off, losing focus, or leaving me disappointed. I want to provide the most meaningful experience for my readers that I can. Every word is there for a reason and I’m not organized enough to do it without extensive planning.

Yeah, my powers of concentration aren't strong enough for me to sit through a book that has no focus or direction. ...or to deal with purple prose, for that matter.
Do you plot the entire story first, or bits at a time as you write?

It depends on the story. I need an overarching plot in order to begin, but many of the story elements will reveal themselves as I’m getting to know the characters and their world on a more intimate basis. The more I write, the more detailed the outline becomes.

Ah, I see! I really need to sit down and talk with someone about this phenomenon: that your outline gets more detailed as you write. When I think of an outline, I think of something you hammer out before you start writing...I guess I don't understand why the outline would change after you've started the actual writing... please don't judge me for being a literary simpleton! (seriously, it seems like most writers who outline say the same thing)

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

For me writer’s block is less of an issue than blatant procrastination. I usually know what I need to write. I just have to make myself write it. It’s true that writing is a habit you can fall in and out of. The more you do it, the easier it is to keep doing it. Because my goal is publication, I’m working hard to develop good habits now, to find a process that works for me. Treating it like a job is a major way to get my butt in the seat and my fingers typing.

I also believe in allowing myself brain breaks, meaning time to sort through the trickier story elements. So, yes, if something is giving me trouble, I might take some time off from writing to think it through, but I don’t consider that writer’s block as much as necessary and allowable brainstorming.

Necessary cerebration is certainly not writer's block! I think writer's block is when you can't get things flowing...lack of ideas, lack of motivation, etc. 

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?)

Reading helps. Reading a pile of books and really analyzing what makes the characters unique. A psychology class here and there doesn’t hurt and I highly recommend the book “Creating Characters” by Marisa D’vari. In many cases, those who write are of an observational bent and tend to spend a lot of time watching and analyzing the people around them. Living consciously, you know? We used to talk about that in acting class, learning how to live in such a way that we’re really processing all the little things that make people tick. Writers tend to be good at this.

Ooh, I like that last bit about observing people...just don't be creepy about it ;)
What exercises to you use to develop your characters?

Somewhere around the second draft (the second draft is when many things happen for me) I start writing character sheets. The sheets are simple – just cues, habits, responses that I pick up from the character as I’m rewriting. As I go through the draft, I start crossing some of them out and adding others. The characters starts to grow more complete and there are moments when I realize, “Oh, he would never respond like that,” and I have to change it. I never really know these people until the second draft. Yes, that means some scenes in the story have to change. Some get cut and others get expanded or added. You can tell how significant/complex the character is by how much is going on with their sheet.

I would love to see one (or some) of your character sheets. Every writer does these differently, and it's interesting to look at those differences and see what others do that might be helpful in your own writing.

How do you build a believable world within your stories? 

This is something I’m working on. Since I tend to write sci-fi/fantasy, world building is a major deal and there are moments when I’ll have to ask my audience to believe something incredible. Getting to that point where they’re willing to suspend their disbelief and just go along with it is a major goal. A lot of it is about adding texture. I think if the world has texture and grit to it, if it’s truly visceral, then that helps. Descriptions that utilize all the senses and manage to evoke a unique universe. Also – I try to be smart. I’m really, really hard on myself, asking tough questions and not letting myself get away with lazy answers. I try not to do things just because they might be cool or interesting. They must have a purpose (a logical one) within the world. I’m a big proponent of everything existing for a reason.

I like to get other people (especially sci-fi fans) to ask me questions about my world. I'll start by giving them a rundown of the plot and whichever element of the world I'm struggling with and see what they say. Some people are better at this than others.

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

I’m still learning this one. Apparently I find some things very interesting that are boring to other people. It’s important for me to check in with my betas to find out where the story started losing their interest, because it isn’t always where I would have guessed. Solutions? Well, usually I have to dig a little further into the scene and ask myself what is interesting about it. How can I emphasize and explore that? Sometimes things are dull because I’ve switched over to telling instead of showing. Sometimes the stakes are too low within the stretch and I need to do something to increase suspense. Sometimes I need to incorporate more action into the story to break up the dialogue and description. Sometimes I need to take a break from the action. Sometimes there’s too much detail, other times too little. Sometimes it’s merely a matter of prose. It tends to vary a lot, but if I can determine an accurate diagnosis, then I can usually figure out how to fix it. In some instances, there’s a lot of cutting that needs to get done.

You know, I've had a lot of different answers to this question, but I think yours is probably one of the most basic and dependable. There is no substitute for an outside opinion/perspective.

How does your own life inform your writing?

How doesn’t it? In truth, everything is fodder for the blender. Most moments show up somewhere. If not in a dance, then probably reworked within a story. Not that anyone would ever recognize that the dragon is actually my evil, elementary school teacher who called me “slow”. :p

Ha! Love the bit about the teacher! That's awesome. And who cares if nobody else knows the little details like that. In a lot of ways, it's probably better if they don't.

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?

Sadly, I have not. I’d like to, but when the opportunities arise, I’m usually booked or broke. I do haunt readings and bookfests from time to time.

Yeah, I know what you mean. I can never seem to find the time and the money in the same instance.
Who is your favorite author?

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m horribly indecisive when it comes to picking favorites. There are too many brilliant, amazing writers out there. A few I love and admire are: Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Connie Willis, Henry James, John Fowles, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Young adult authors I’ve just discovered and adore are: Laini Taylor, Nova Ren Suma and Markus Zusak

Ooh! New names! Now I have some new territory to explore. :D

Favorite book?

I have a strange fascination with “The Crucible”. I find it agonizing and impossible to put down, even in rereadings. I’ve always had a strong connection with “Peter Pan”, weird as that sounds. It’s probably the one book I’ve read the most. I also love “The Virgin Suicides”, “The Prophet”, “Jane Eyre”, “Lincoln’s Dreams”, “Hyperion”, “Lord of the Rings”, and… lots more.

The Crucible is also one of my favorites. So good! Oh, and Jane Eyre is my wife's all-time favorite.
Favorite genre to read?

Fantasy, sci-fi, magical realism, horror, YA and children’s lit.

Agreed! Though I think I need to branch out a little over the next few months. I'm getting in a rut.

Favorite genre to write?

See above. J (with a little humor thrown in)

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

I’m the director of a nonprofit dance company called Chimera Dance Theater and that keeps me busy. Then, there’s work and looking for work and all the “real job” things I have to do. I read a lot, blog a bit and tinker around with graphic design. My hubby is a tremendous movie fan and he drags me out to see anything that might be even halfway interesting. I think I’ve seen over sixty movies this year. Crazy. Right now I have a foot injury, but I’m looking forward to the time when it is healed and I can get back into dance class.

Aw, I hope it heals quickly! Being out of commission is the worst!

What are three interesting facts about you?

I don’t eat meat.

I don’t have a real belly button. ...but you have one of those new artificial ones that are all the rage in cosmetic surgery these days? (sorry, I just couldn't resist. I'm just a little confused)

I am a tetris god.

This was a lot of fun! I hope you all enjoyed getting to know Sarah. I certainly learned a couple/few things that might come in very handy in my own writing.

Thanks Sarah, and keep it up!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hooray! A Response!

Hey, I finally got someone to respond to my request for an interview! Woohoo! I'm so excited! So, I will have an interview posted on Thursday.

Also, I've tentatively diagnosed myself with acute sci-fi withdrawal. Pretty much all weekend, all I've wanted to do was read, watch, and play various manifestations of science fiction (Star Wars, Dr. Who, Farscape, Star Trek, Kris Longknife, Vatta's War, etc. etc. etc.). I wonder if there's some sort of support group for sci-fi junkies like me. The funny thing is, as much as I love science fiction, I've never been to any sort of convention; neither do I own any regalia or speak any alien languages! Although, my wife has recently started giving me small pieces of sci-fi memorabilia as gag gifts (a Darth Vader bobble-head, a pack of Star Wars playing cards, etc.). She sticks to Star Wars because that's practically the only science fiction universe she knows anything about (except Dr. Who, to which some friends of ours recently introduced us. I'm happy to report that my wife loves it!). I dare not let myself become enmeshed any further...I don't want to become like Captain Sweatpants! (Bonus points to anyone who gets that reference.)

So, which genre is your guilty pleasure? And how deeply do you allow yourself to be immersed in it?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

It happened again...

I really have to apologize, everyone. Once again, no one I asked for interviews ever got back to me. I really like doing these interviews, but apparently not everyone likes being interviewed. I started posting interviews because I thought it would be a fun way to get to know people and maybe help them make some new connections. I'll keep trying though. And if you get an email or a comment from me, please respond! Even if you're not interested!


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Big News

Hi everyone!

In my last post I told you I had some big news to share today, so here it is: my wife and I are starting an editing service! We've been kicking around the idea for several months and have finally decided to give it a shot.

Now, given our two backgrounds (mine in journalism, technical writing, and amateur fiction; my wife's in literature, academia, and private tutoring), we're going to cast our net fairly wide, offering a variety of services for fiction, non-fiction, technical, business, and academic writers. I know that last one sounds a bit odd, but you'd be shocked at how many glaring errors makes it into academic writing (especially in the hard sciences). Our plan is to offer a range of editorial services, from light copy editing to intense substantive editing, with rates calculated based on word count and level of edit. (Higher-level edits take significantly more time than simple copy editing, so we charge more to compensate.)

I can't say too much more right now (for obvious reasons, the most prominent being that we're still working out the details), but I will be posting periodic updates on our progress for the next few weeks. Our goal is to officially open for business in early to mid March.

I'm really excited about this because editing is what I do best and enjoy most! I genuinely love editing the nearly-incomprehensible gobbledygook the programmer at work send me :D

What are your thoughts on our plan/idea?