Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Vacation!

Hi everyone,

First, I apologize for being MIA this week. I had a multi-day training at work (we're about to release a the latest version of one of our software packages and, since I'm a technical writer and do all the documentation, I had to sit through the whole thing) and my sister-in-law has been staying with us this week as well. All that translates to me not having a single spare moment with the computer. I really didn't bail on you guys.


Christmas is this weekend! This afternoon, my wife, her two sisters and I are all packing ourselves into my little Honda Civic, along with all our luggage and Christmas presents (I defy any troupe of clowns to do better) and making the 10–12 hour drive to my in-laws' house in California. We won't be coming home until next Thursday, so I'm giving you all fair warning that I have no intention of blogging next week.


I will say that I have an announcement to make on Tuesday, January 3, 2012. (No, I haven't signed with an agent or editor, and neither am I self-publishing a book.) So, now that I've eliminated the three conclusions to which most of you are likely to jump, I will say that it is good news and leave you all to stew in your own wonderment. MWAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!! :D

Anyways, Merry Christmas! And a happy New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Perfectly Normal, Not-at-all Fanboyish Conversation with Dan Wells

Hi everyone! I had about three heart attacks before getting this weeks interview set up. I had emailed two people about doing interviews and, as of this morning, still haven't heard back from them. However, some of you will remember that several weeks ago I announced that I would be hosting an interview with Dan Wells in the near future. Well, the near future is here! I got an email from Dan yesterday, neatly solving my little interview problem!

Dan Wells is one of my favorite authors, partly because I listen to his podcast, WritingExcuses, which he and his friends Brandon Sanderson and Howard Tayler started before Dan's first book was published (throughout the early days of the podcast, Dan's take on writing and publishing was really interesting because he hadn't actually been published yet). Dan's first books were the John Cleaver series (I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster, and I Don't Want to Kill You), about a sociopathic teenager who wants to make sure he doesn't become a serial killer. I know that sounds terrible, but that honestly is the basis for the series, and they are fantastic! Dan is currently working on several other, non-serial killer related projects which I am very excited for.

So, my friends, I'm excited to introduce you to Dan Wells!

When did you first start writing?

I told my parents in second grade that I was going to be an author, and I've been writing most of my life. I didn't start working toward professional publication until college.

You know, I think Dan has most of us beat. A lot of us have been writing since we were kids, but probably not since we were that young.

When did you start writing I Am Not a Serial Killer?

I started planning IANASK in early 2006; I started actually writing it the second week of January in 2007, and finished it about six weeks later.

You spent a whole year just planning? Wow! No wonder those books are so good. I'd love to hear about your planning process.

Where did they ideas for the John Cleaver series come from?

Like all normal, well-adjusted people, I read about serial killers for fun. I find them fascinating, especially their psychology. One day, riding home from my writing group, I was talking about serial killer predictors, and my friend Brandon said, "That would be a great first line for a book: There are three traits in common to 98% of serial killers, and I have all them." That's not the first line of the book, though it's still a very cool line and it got my thinking about what kind of character would say it, and what kind of life he would lead. I made him a teenager because I wanted to show his psychology while it was developing, rather than fixed, and I threw in some supernatural monsters because I thought they were cool, and there you go.

This is why it's so important to have someone you can talk to about your writing! Every writer needs a sounding board, and I don't mean crit partners and beta readers. You need someone you can bounce your ideas off of before you ever start writing. I recently lost my sounding board and I basically haven't made much progress since.

How long did it take for you to find an agent who was willing to represent you? An editor?

I found my editor first, about two or three months after the book was finished. I found my agent just a few weeks later. That sounds fast, but keep in mind that I'd been writing and submitting books for about 8 years prior to that with nothing. It's like they say: it takes years of hard work to become an overnight success.

Haha! I like that! It reminds me of something I heard on Writing Excuses: that most writers complete four or even five books before their first novel is accepted for publication (and that's often their sixth book, not their first).

What advice do you have for aspiring authors about finding an agent a/o publisher? (other than patience and persistence)

Find books you love, that your book is similar to, figure out who the agent and editor was, and query them. Not only are they more likely to carry your type of book, but you're more likely to be happy with an editor whose work you already love and respect.

That sounds really simple, but I bet a lot of us never thought of it. ...I didn't.

How have writing conferences and conventions influenced your career as a writer? (Do you recommend any in particular?)

The one my friends and I chose to visit when we first started networking was World Fantasy, and I still think that's the best networking convention in genre fiction—the ratio of pros to aspiring authors is better there than anywhere else, and it's pretty easy to meet people and get into great conversations. That's where I met my editor. Of course, every person who takes this advice changes that ratio for the worse, so you have to be careful. WorldCon is also good, and the Nebula awards, and possibly World Horror if you write dark fiction. DragonCon is hands down the most fun convention I've ever been to, but it's hard to make it a business opportunity unless you really know what you're doing.

Dan and the others mention these conventions repeatedly on Writing Excuses. They sound amazing, but Dan and the others always point out that you have to do a lot prep if you want them to be productive.

What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned about writing since you started your career?

I've learned to try new things. There's absolutely no need to pigeonhole yourself into one genre or even one style—try everything, write everything, and find what works for you.

I feel like a lot of writers pigeonhole themselves because they get started in one genre or sub-genre and then think that's all they're good at. Admittedly, it would take some adjustment to switch to something else, but it's really not different that starting that next book anyway!
How many books have you written that haven’t been published?

So far, six, though I hope to get that sixth one polished up and sent off to an editor sometime this year.

Very nice!
How do the books you read influence your own writing? (stylistically as well as thematically)

It's hard to say. Sometimes I'll choose a book specifically because it has a certain tone or diction that I want to emulate in my current project, but most of the time I just read whatever—which usually means I'm not reading my own genre. I read very few thrillers and horror novels, which makes my horror novels a little different because I'm making it up as a go. My next book, coming in February, is a YA, and I don't read a ton of YA, so I kind of made that up, too. That doesn't make my books better or worse than the rest of the genre, just different. Most of what I read, honestly, is historical fiction, with the occasional dip into fantasy or SF. If that's lent a specific flavor to my writing I don't know exactly what it is, but I wouldn't be surprised.

That's really interesting because usually people tell us to read what we write (or vice versa). On the other hand, it's smart not to let yourself get locked into a single genre, whether reading or writing. The wider your range of literature, the more ideas you can generate.

How do you keep yourself organized?

Mostly just by setting goals. I used to set work hours for myself, like I had when I worked in an office, and that helps to a point, but the more valuable organization came when I just looked at my deadline, calculated backwards, and told myself how much I had to write each day to hit it. That makes my life more structured but my day-to-day work far less regimented, which works really well for me.

It's good that you know how to pace yourself like that. I think it's a skill that every writer should have.
How do you deal with writer’s block?

If I can't write, it's because there's something stopping me, so the simple solution is to figure out what that something is and fix it. Is my outline broken? Am I not ready for the next scene? Am I just tired or hungry? Solve that problem, get it out of the way, and move on.

Plain and simple.

How do you keep your whole story interesting? Or, how do you avoid slow stretches?

The slow stretches are the fun ones for me; I could write act two forever, it's starting and ending a book that are hard. The way to keep it interesting is to go back during revision—revision is the key to good writing, hands down—and tighten it/tweak it/pump it up.

When I finished my first book, I had to force myself to go back and revise. I thought I was done with the story and I just wanted to send it off. But I'm glad I did, because going back over it, I realized there were still some major problems with it.

How does your own life and experience inform your writing? Is it intentional?

That's another hard question. Sometimes it's not intentional at all—the John Cleaver books, for example, include a lot of my moral outlook that's obvious in hindsight, but which I certainly didn't include on purpose. My SF books, on the other hand, tend to have a very incendiary, fight-the-power political slant, and that's definitely on purpose. So I guess the best answer is that it's different from book to book.

I bet it's kind of fun for authors to look back at their work and notice what sort of stuff they slipped in without realizing it.

Who’s your favorite author?

My favorite book of all time is Dune, by Frank Herbert, but I didn't love his others as much so I don't think I'd say he's my favorite author. I'm a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and Bernard Cornwell and A. A. Milne, but again, I don't think I'd say any of them is my favorite author. I'm going to say Victor Hugo, because I have yet to read a single word of his that isn't brilliant. Even the big non-fiction essay portions of Les Miserable that everyone told you to skip are amazing—don't listen to those people, they're stupid. Read the entire book, and then read his other stuff. You'll be glad you did.

You should meet my wife. You could start an "I Love Victor Hugo" club!

Favorite book?

Dune, as I said. Start to finish, that is simply an astounding piece of work. Close runners up are American Gods by Gaiman and Perfume by Patrick Suskind.

Absolutely LOVED Dune! Not such a fan of American Gods, though I am a huge fan of most of Neil Gaiman's work. I haven't read any of Patrick Suskind.

What’s your favorite genre to read?

Probably historical fiction, though I still read a lot of fantasy and SF.

My wife is a big historical fiction reader and, I must admit, it's becoming more and more tempting all the time. I'm particularly interested in ancient Egypt.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I'm one of the biggest gaming geeks you will ever meet. I have a massive collection of board games, a ton of collectible card games, thousands of dollars worth of tabletop miniatures (both pre-painted and ones I'm painting myself), and I'm in three different ongoing roleplaying campaigns, one of which I GM (Legend of the Five Rings, for those curious). I play games pretty constantly.

Fun! I never got into gaming myself, but not for lack of interest. I've never had any friends who could show me the ropes (I'm too shy to just jump in on my own).

What are three interesting facts about yourself?

1. I used to live in Mexico, and still speak mostly fluent Spanish.

2. I skipped middle school, did a ton of AP credit in high school, and started college as a Junior.

Holy smokes! How old were you when you finished college? Seventeen? Got to admit, I'm kind of jealous.

3. I have five kids, two cats, and up until last week I had an English Bulldog. My house is pretty chaotic.

I want to thank Dan for taking the time to do this interview. On blogs like mine, it's always nice to get some perspective from someone who's already gone through all this and figured out how to make it work. Incidentally, if you haven't read his books, I highly recommend them (I never thought I'd read a horror novel...EVER, but I really like Dan's work). Also, if your interested in learning more about Dan, visit his web site at

See you next week!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A New Challenge: Middle Grade

So, I've been kicking around a question in the back of my mind for the past two or three months: what separates middle grade literature from YA or adult literature? (You know, apart from the obvious: age of the intended audience).

The reason I ask is because at first I was inclined to think the major difference was that middle grade literature can't delve into more serious issues that apply to the real world. But I've decided that's not true; just look at some of the more popular middle grade titles if you don't believe me. Quite a few of them deal with such things as death, loss, grief, ambition and betrayal, broken homes, love, friendship, etc. And what's more, some of them do a lot better with those more serious themes than a lot of YA and adult literature.

So, the difference isn't in the theme, necessarily.

There's another obvious answer: reading level. Middle grade is, supposedly, written in simpler, easier to understand language by definition and necessity. But again, I'm not so sure this is entirely accurate. One of my favorite authors, Garth Nix, wrote a fantastic middle-grade fantasy series called The Keys to the Kingdom. One of the things I love about Nix is that his prose is absolutely beautiful. I don't mean flowery or anything like that; it's eloquent in how easy it is to understand without being simplistic. Also, I've learned several new words from him!

When it comes to the actual writing, I think middle grade might actually be harder to write that YA or adult literature, precisely because it has to be so easily understood. I think it's the mark of a true master to write a sophisticated, meaningful story that's easily understood by 10–13 year old children. It reminds me of a movie called A River Runs Through It. I saw it when I was young (it's one of my dad's favorites) and I didn't understand this scene until I was in college. A scene toward the beginning of the film shows the main character as a boy, being educated by his father; the boy brings a paper (presumably an essay or report) to his father, who reads it and then tells him to write it again...this time only half as long. That's the essence of good writing: to be able to reduce it down to the shortest, simplest form possible, without losing meaning, power, or impact. It's harder than it sounds.

So, my friends, what do you think is the difference between Middle Grade and YA/Adult literature? Also, if any of you know of good resources (online or otherwise) for writing middle grade literature, please share them!

Have a great day!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: E.J. Wesley

Hi everyone! After I read EJ's post last week (the one I reposted on Tuesday), I decided I had to know more about him. EJ runs a blog called The Open Vein, which I really enjoy. If you didn't check it out after Tuesday's post, I hope you will now. Anyway, on to EJ.

How did you get started as a writer?

I didn’t start writing fiction (seriously) until 6 or 7 years ago, and hadn’t even entertained the idea until I started reading the Harry Potter stories a couple of years before that. At the time, I worked at a counseling agency specializing in adolescent groups. We used the HP books as a tool in therapy, as a means of getting the kids to open up about their own difficult experiences. It worked marvelously! I decided then that I wanted to write fiction. I guess it was the first time that I understood how truly powerful words can be.

I know what you mean! My father-in-law is a therapist and he is constantly recommending books to his clients. I'm generally much more escapist in my own reading (no judging please!), but my wife isn't. I actually love hearing what she thinks of books because she has a much more cathartic experience than I do. So, to sum up my rambling: books are great and they can really help people!

What was your first complete story?

It was a young adult novel with a sword and sorcery vibe. I drafted it, edited it, read a few chapters to a  riting group and succinctly put it away—maybe for good. I haven’t gone back to it in over 4 years! The writing was bad, but it was an important first step, I think.

Tell me about it. They say, on average, authors don't get published until they've written three for four books. It all comes down to experience! There may be absolutely nothing wrong with the ideas, but every author has to learn the craft.

What made you decide to write it?

It was my first idea for a novel-length story, and I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. It wasn’t about publication; it was about seeing something through to completion. A major life goal accomplished.

My first book was the same way. Maybe someday I'll revisit it and fix it up, but in the meantime, I have other ideas to explore.

Do you free-write or outline?

I’m a soft outliner. I tend to free-write the first few chapters and then outline a few chapters ahead of my current place. If I get too far ahead (in terms of outlining) everything gets a little stiff, and if I completely wing it—well, it feels like I’ve completely winged it.

If you free-write, how do you keep things organized?

I usually start outlining at the point I feel I’m getting disorganized or the story is getting too big. Most of my stories start with only one or two characters in focus. So it’s pretty easy to keep up initially.

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

I usually have a solid idea of how I want to start, and a fair idea of how things will end. My mileage varies, as they say.

I can unequivocally say that you are the first person to answer all three parts of that question. Kudos!

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

Not sure I truly believe in writer’s block. That stuff is for hobby writers! Lol If you’re serious about writing, you have to do it every day, rain or shine. Sometimes the words come easily, sometimes they don’t. If I’m stuck—really stuck—I’ll jump to a new part of the story or next chapter. I’ll go back to what I was stuck on later. It usually works itself out by then. Generally I just keep putting words down even if I don’t feel like it.

In terms of general inspiration, music and coffee are my motivators of choice. I’ll slap something appropriate on Pandora, get something warm to drink and I’m off to the races!

Sadly, I'm still in the hobby phase. I write as often as possible, but from time to time things get out of hand and my writing gets put on hold. I hate that!

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?)

To be completely honest, I don’t usually worry about it. The initial concepts for my stories tend to be all over the place, so I’m not starting with even remotely similar characters. One story is about a girl in middle school in Chicago, for instance, and the next will be about a college-aged guy in small town Texas. They couldn’t sound the same even if I tried to force them.

What exercises to you use to develop your characters?

I really just draw off of conversations and the people in my day-to-day life. Friends, family, etc.

So if any of you know EJ personally, look for yourself in his writing! :D

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

As crazy as it sounds, mostly by making engaging and believable characters. My ‘real’ world is 99% about the people in it and 1% about all the other stuff. If the characters in your story behave realistically and are enthralling, you can have talking cats or just about anything else going on in the world around them and pull it off.

That being said, I think layers help add depth and realism, just like in painting and drawing (which I also do!). You don’t need to have razor sharp detail on the stuff in the background, but it needs to resemble something familiar, if that makes sense. Add a bush (coffee shop, etc.) here, a small mountain (government, etc.) there to give your characters some aspect of space/perspective in the world.

Hey, good analogy! I'm going to keep that one in mind!

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

I really do try (honestly I do, beta readers) to cut out the extraneous. It gets really difficult to do on your own, though. Everything feels important when you draft. However, in the end no one really cares about your main character’s affinity for bran flakes but you. Cut it and forget it, just like that magic oven thing (I think).

It's amazing how much doesn't make it into a story that still has an impact on it. Everything the writer knows informs the story somehow, even if the actual facts/events don't show up in the end.

How does your own life inform your writing?

See #4

'Nough said.

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?

Do grant writing conferences count? Lol I’ve actually been a member a several fiction writing groups both online and ‘live’ and attend some workshops associated with those. I’ve attended an online writer’s conference (WriteOnCon), and it blew me away. I mostly learned that there are TONS of writers out there who struggle with the same things I struggle with and that writing really is a craft. Meaning if you work at it you’ll get better.

Another point worth remembering: you will get better!

Who is your favorite author?

Growing up it was Stephen King. In fact, he was really the only non-assigned fiction I read until college (or so). Now? Tolkien, JK Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Charlaine Harris, Orson Scott Card, Neil Gaiman, Sir Arthur Doyle, C.S. Lewis, Paulo Coelho…

I've read at least one book by each of these except Martin and Harris (and they're on my list, so someday...) and I have to say ... you have great taste!

Favorite book?

Stephen King’s The Stand, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter 1-7, Night by Elie Wiesel, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, …

Ooh! New titles! How exciting!

Favorite genre to read?

Not a genre, but young adult fiction is my favorite. I just think the stories are so much more imaginative and inspiring for that age group. You can really write any genre in YA, and you can also tackle subjects from serious to goofy and get away with it.

Agreed! The funnest books are predominantly YA in my opinion.

Favorite genre to write?

Same. Like my reading tastes, I tend to write all over the place. I’ve been writing more paranormal stuff of late, though.

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

Play guitar, paint/draw, listen to music, watch sports, play with my dogs, love my family and friends, get outside, drink wine and eat!

Wow, it sounds like you have it pretty good! Kudos!

What are three interesting facts about you?

Hmmmm, I was voted “most shy person” by my high school classmates (my friends still laugh about that one). I had never flown on an airplane until graduate school. (Now I’ve been all over, including Europe, Mexico, etc.) I started college wanting to be an optometrist, graduated with degrees in counseling and psychology instead, and subsequently spent several years working as a grant writer. Go figure!

I got a degree in print journalism (no laughing!), intended to get into magazines and wound up as a tech writer for a local software company. "Best-made plands of mice and all that" (if anybody gets that reference, I will be overjoyed.)

Thanks for talking with us, EJ! You've made a couple of good points here and I hope we see your work in print soon!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Guest Post: EJ Wesley on ePublishing

I have another exciting guest blogger today. I just realized this will be my third guest blogger in as many weeks (not counting Thanksgiving), which may sound a bit excessive, but I just love what these people are saying!

Today I'm hosting EJ Wesley, from The Open Vein. Last week he wrote a wonderful post that I want to make sure all of you see. It's a real gem!

An Observer's Tale—10 Things I've Learned about ePublishing

As we race toward 2012, I thought it would be a good time to share my observations on e-Publishing. The publishing world is evolving at lightening pace. A bevy of attractively priced new reading gadgets *cough* KINDLEFIRE*cough* and a huge commercial push promises to make 2012 the year of the eBook.

I keep up with tons of self-published (and otherwise) authors on the Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the like--trying to learn what I can. As such, I thought it would be appropriate for me to regurgitate my knowledge in the form of An Observer's Tale - 10 Things I've Learned About ePublishing

This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive tutorial on the process, nor should it be taken as gospel. Just my take.

1. eBooks are like so hot right now:

This might be the understatement of the decade, but this digital media stuff is a big deal. In the last ten years we've witnessed the digitization of every major form of entertainment from music to movies. Now it's time for written entertainment to share the stage. Some have labeled it a fad, some a revolution. Whatever your take, I think we can all agree that this is now at the very least a movement--a shift--to a new way of "doing" books. Who knows if paper and pixels will be able to coexist, but I'd bet the family farm that the pixels aren't going away.

2. Fit and finish don't just apply to car shopping:

Hop over to your local online monster retailer and browse the eBooks. Do it like you would browsing for cars at the auto dealership. Why? You'll quickly get into the head of the average book shopper, that's why. It's the shiny exterior (i.e. the cover) that draws them in, the awesome stereo and smooth interior (blurb or back jacket verbiage) that gets their imagination going and the salesperson (reviews) that seal the deal. In an increasingly cluttered book market, presentation makes the difference.

 3. It's a slow burn, baby:

That tune doesn't apply to ePublishing. There are no golden tickets. Much like in traditional publishing, there is a constant effort to figure out the purchasing habits of fickle readers. eAuthors are scrambling to try to figure out how Amanda Hocking, John Locke, etc., etc. managed to become Kindle millionaires seemingly overnight.

I follow both of the afore mentioned authors on Twitter and blogs (One of them follows me, but I'm not namedropping or anything... OK, it's JL and I nearly blew a gasket when I saw his name pop up as a new Twitter follower! Name.Dropped.) and I can tell you neither of them truly claims to know exactly how it all happened. One thing both say: it took some time and they worked hard to promote their stuff. They didn't instantly sell 10,000 books a month. Word of mouth had to build. The Interwebs had to weave its magic. Just like in traditional publishing, expect to have to pay your own dues before you get much payment in return.

4. Skinning cats and publishing electronically have a lot in common:

There are many, many ways to get a book published electronically, and many more yet to come.

Total DIY: You can study Kindle/Apple/Barnes & Noble/WhatHaveYou and learn to format and upload yourself. You can get free pictures online and create your own covers with free photo editing software. It's not rocket science, but it's also not without frustration. If budget is a concern, you can definitely do it on your own. Knowing your limits is important, however...

Hire out some of it: Don't have an artistic eye? Cool. There are oodles of folks online that will design a good cover for you. Got a great cover, but don't care to format? Cool. Lots of folks out there will format your book so it reads nice and pretty on the nook, iPad, Kindle, Kobo reader things. See # 2 if you're not sure why it matters.

Hire out all of it: Specialty ePublishing companies are ALL freaking over the place. Go to any online writing community and you'll see their ads. Hangout in the writing dens of Twitter and you'll get a half-dozen follows a day from someone offering to publish your book for a fee. (That and maybe a few unwholesome offers, but I digress ...) Heck, some of them even promote your book in various places. Prices vary. Quality varies. Choose wisely.

5. One is fun, but 8 is great:

Only got one great story in you? I'm sorry to inform you that self-publishing isn't going to pay your next electric bill. Nor will it likely pay any electric bill. Ever. Here's the thing, just like in traditional publishing you have to build a readership in the eWorld. That typically doesn't happen with one great book. It takes several. It takes building a reputation.

eReading is like any other electronic media thing, which is to say it's about consumption. Unlike Sam the Business Man who buys one non-fiction book every year at the airport to read on layovers, the owner of that Kindle plans on getting her money's worth. When she finishes one book, she's going to immediately jump into another. If you only have one book in the store, she can't buy your next. It's science--or math--or something.

The best anecdote I've read on the subject relates virtual shelf space to actual store shelf space. The more space you occupy the better chance someone is going to 'find you' and buy you.

6. Traditional rules don't necessarily apply...:

Suburban cat vampire fantasy doesn't sell you say? WRONG! There are no hard rules when it comes to ePublishing. All those agents and editors in the traditional world aren't wrong (just aggravating) when they shoot down your 'Hamster Falls In Love' picture book idea. In the paper world there are all kinds of upfront production costs that force the publishing machine to make hard choices about what they invest in. That doesn't exist online. If you want to publish it, you can. If you can connect with the people who are interested in what you've written, you'll probably even sell a few copies. And unlike a paper bookstore, even if you're only moving 6 copies a month it'll stay on Amazon's shelf forever.

Heck people are even publishing poetry again. That should really be all you need to hear to understand that up is now down, and that cats now sleep with the dogs.

7. Well, except for these:

Don't read 6 and assume everything has changed. These basic principals must be observed for any kind of publishing success:

You must have a great story.

It must be extremely well-written.

It must be gleamingly edited. And edited. And edited. And edited ....

You can never shortchange a reader with a poor product. Readers will drop you like a bad habit, even if your book is only .99 cents.

8. Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising!

I'm not talking about action figures (but that would be AWESOME!); I'm talking about selling your story and yourself. Understand where your story fits in terms of genre. Make sure your cover looks better than those 'other books' that pop up in the product search. Know where your readers hangout online--go to them. Use Twitter, Facebook, etc. to their full potential. Learn and heed the rules of responsible, non-D-Bag marketing. Make friends by promoting other authors more than you promote yourself. Make sure your story is available to every kind of reader for every kind of reading device. Make sure your website, Twitter page, Facebook, etc. say, "I'm a pro, not a schmo."

Self-publishing means you're now a small business owner. That business will sink or swim based upon your effort and nothing else.

9. All the cool kids are doing it:

ePublishing isn't just a game for the little guys to dabble in. J.K. 'I could buy your country' Rowling is self-publishing her Harry Potter books electronically. So too are many, many highly successful traditionally published authors. Some are completely abandoning the traditional route, others are simply supplementing their paper efforts, using it as a vehicle to explore things that wouldn't normally fly in the trad-world. Regardless of the reasons, don't assume that your too big or too small to make a go of it. It sure looks like there's room for everyone.

10. No one has THE answer:

There is a lot of advice from super-helpful authors out there. They might tell you to Tweet this way, never pay for XYZ, or never use XYZ font--you get the idea. They're all right to an extent. ePublishing is still very much a baby in the grand scheme of things. As such, each individual experience is a valuable learning tool. However, I've learned you'll find more conflicting answers than definite methods of success. Does this mean you should tune them all out? Absolutely not. Just understand that the path to success seems to be different for just about everyone.

Keep your ear to the ground and be willing to adjust your expectations and tactics as needed. That should keep you on track at least until next year. :)


BTW, big WAY TO GO for all of you who reached your NaNoWriMo goals! I'll buy you the frosty beverage of your choosing should we ever cross paths! :)

And, of course, I'd like to thank EJ for letting me repost this. I think he makes some really good points. And if you'd like to get to know EJ better, you're in luck! I'm hosting an interview with him on Thursday! Come by and check it out.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Guest Post: Brooke Johnson and "The Clockwork Giant"

Hi everyone! I know it's been a long time and I'm sorry for that. Also, I'm aware that today should be an interview day, but today is a slight deviation from the norm. I got sick on my way home from Denver and have been inoperative for the past few days (i.e. I didn't get an interview lined up). However, I have something just as exciting! Another friend of mine, Brooke Johnson, is releasing her first novel. Like Melissa, Brooke also decided to self-publish. If you read her blog, you'll know that Brooke went back and forth for a long time on this decision, so I've asked her to share with us what her reasoning was and why she decided to self publish The Clockwork Giant. So, take it away, Brooke!

Reece kindly asked me to share why I chose to self-publish in this changing industry. I know a lot of writers are sick of the debate, and other writers hang on every word, wondering what they should do when the time comes. I used to be in the latter group. I read every relevant blog post, weighing the pros and cons. For a long time, I sat on the fence. I saw the good and bad of both sides and waited for the decision to make itself. But before that decision came, there was a long, drawn out battle.

For my entire college career, I was taught that the only way to be a real writer was to publish a book through a publishing company. From the moment I entered the blogosphere, I was told that the only way to become published properly was to go through an agent, and then, if I made it that far, get signed on with a publishing house. Writers, agents, publishers, college professors… everyone, said that self-publishing was taboo. There was no validation in self-publishing.

So I disregarded it as an option.

My idea of success, at the time, was landing an agent. Obviously that changed, but let me walk you through it.

My first foray into the publishing industry was with a young adult adventure story that I wrote while in college. I finished the first draft, edited, sent to beta-readers, and edited some more. Before this, I had written numerous half-novels, ones that never got past 25,000 words, if they got that far. I thought that by finishing the adventure novel, I had accomplished something great, and that was true to an extent. That accomplishment, however, wasn’t ready to be published, and I didn’t realize that. Still, I queried widely. Two agents out of thirty-something asked for partials, and while they both had nice things to say about the novel, they ultimately passed.

Fast forward a few months, and I was halfway through my steampunk novel. It was then that I made the decision to self-publish. When I started the novel, I still had it in mind that I would seek traditional publication. But with the ever-changing industry, my resolve weakened, and after a lengthy discussion with writer friends and my husband and a ton of research, I decided that self-publishing was for me. Several things contributed to that.

E-readers were a big factor in my choice. As the e-reader market grew, and the ease of authors getting their work to readers became easier, the more I leaned toward self-publishing. Family and friends constantly asked why I didn’t self-publish, and when I was still on the fence, I explained how there was no validation in self-publishing. No one would take me seriously as a writer… etc. I reiterated everything that had been drilled into my brain for my entire writing career thus far. But as much as I tried explaining why self-publishing wasn’t the way to go, no one understood why. I chalked it up to ignorance of the professional writing world.

With the rise of the e-reader, the everyday reader can browse the Nook or Kindle shopping page, find a book that piques their interest, and buy it on the spot. They aren’t going to stop and see if the writer published with Penguin, Simon & Schuster, or HarperCollins. They’re going to see the cover, the title, and the blurb, just as they would with any other book. Most readers don’t care whether a book is self-published or traditionally published. They’re only interested in a good book. And when I realized this, I finally realized why no one outside of the publishing industry understood why I didn’t self-publish. In their eyes, it was just as legitimate as traditional publication.

Self-publishing first won the debate in my mind, because in the eye of the reader, it doesn’t matter.

So I continued writing the book, and in another few months, I had finished the first draft. This was about a week or two before this year’s WriteOnCon, and I was hoping to get some feedback on my pitch and first few pages to kind of test the waters. I was so confident with my story that I even joked with my husband: Hey, I bet that when I log in to WriteOnCon on Tuesday, I’ll have a message from an agent, requesting the book. It was a joke. But I believed that the book was good enough to go the traditional route and succeed. I had no doubt that it would be a success.

Well, to my utter, speechless surprise, I logged in to WriteOnCon that Monday evening and, sure enough, there was a message waiting for me. An agent had requested a partial from me, based entirely on my first five pages. I giggled like a slightly insane, silly little girl. I had dreamed of that moment for years. Yes, an agent had requested my first novel, but this novel was so much better than that one. I had faith that it might actually pan out traditionally. But after the initial hysteria wore off, I grew afraid. What if the agent did want to represent my work? And with a whole new basket of dread and fear and uncertainty, I reconsidered my stance on self-publishing and traditional publishing.

I believed I could find success with either of them, but I wanted as much success as I could. Which one would offer me that? I went back to the reader argument. Most readers just want a good book. That much is true. But I reasoned that most readers choose books based on word of mouth. When a friend reads a book, or two friends, most people who enjoy reading don’t want to be left out of the discussion. Why do you think Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games did so well? People talked the books up to their friends.

But how did they find the book in the first place? Maybe another friend recommended it to them. Maybe Amazon decided that they’d like it. But what about the person that just finds it in a bookstore? Bookstores don’t stock self-published books, and as far as I know, Amazon doesn’t recommend self-published books unless you’ve purchased a self-published book through their website. And, I reasoned, the majority of people who read don’t read self-published books. Why? Because they find their books at bookstores. Maybe, for every one-hundred readers, there’s one that just happens to search for a certain type of book online, and they find a self-published one. They like it. They recommend it. But for every one of those readers, there’s ninety-nine others that will never find that book. That thought process was slightly construed, but at the time, it seemed to be a valid argument.

So I swapped sides. I knew that my book was good enough to make it in the industry, as slow and convoluted as it is. In the meantime, I received a full request from that agent. The goal was in sight. If I could only land an agent… that’s all I ever wanted, right? I could be a successful writer. I could have a publishing contract. My book could be in bookstores. At the time, that felt like success to me.

Still, I had the mindset that if I didn’t get a writing contract with the steampunk novel, I would self-publish it, after querying more agents.

And only a week later, I decided to self-publish again. It just felt right.

Here’s why:

Disregarding sales numbers and royalties and all that, self-publishing and traditional publishing come down to two things: control and distribution.

For a while, I thought I wanted the latter. I wanted my book to be in bookstores, where readers would see it. Traditional publishing could give me that. But no matter how good distribution is, what if my publisher gives me a bad cover? What if they don’t market the book properly? What if my editor or my agent decides that I need to change an integral part of my novel, which ends up making it worse? What if my publisher decides not to publish my second book? What if a huge bookstore chain decides not to carry my book? Even before all that, do I spend a year querying, and then another year to two years submitting to publishing houses, and then another year or two waiting for the book to come out? I couldn’t release control like that. I couldn’t depend on a business to have my best interests in mind.

Now, with self-publishing, I have so much more control. I design the book cover. I am in charge of marketing. I decide when the book releases. I decide whether or not to make changes to my book. I decide when and what I want to publish next. I make my book available for purchase. And I don’t spend years waiting for my book to reach bookshelves. I wait months. I don’t have to deal with the middle men. I have control over every aspect of the business, except distribution. I can’t guarantee that the random reader will stumble upon my book while wandering the Ocean of Kindle or the smaller Sea of NookBooks. It’s a risk on my part. There’s no way of knowing if my book will even find readers. But, the same can be said with traditionally publishing. I could be one of the unfortunate many who never see their book take off.

Publishing is a risk. It’s a matter of finding ways to reduce the impact of that risk. With traditional publishing, I would invest years of time before a book is even on a bookshelf, and I would undergo several cross-my-fingers-and-hope situations along the way. With self-publishing, I invest a fraction of the time, and I undergo only one cross-my-fingers-and-hope situation—when my book goes on sale. Whether my book sinks or floats depends entirely on me and the reader. If it fails, I have no one to blame but myself. I learn from it, and when I release the next book, I have a better chance of success. In traditional publishing, if my book fails, I fail. There is no second book.

The way I see it, there is less risk in self-publishing. And to be perfectly honest, I’m happier with that choice. Since I began, my goals changed. Originally, I wanted an agent. Now, I just want a reader. And I already have that. People have read my book and loved it. Maybe someday in the future, I will write a book with the goal of traditional publication in mind, but for now, I’m happy being self-published.

I'd like to thank Brooke one more time for putting together this post for me. The Clockwork Giant will be available December 13 from Amazon,, and Smashwords. I'm currently in the middle of an ARC of the book, and it's really good!

Have a great day!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Holiday!

Hi everyone,

I thought I'd let you know that I'm going out of town this week, so I'm not planning on posting as usual. That doesn't necessarily mean I won't be posting, but I thought I'd give you all a heads-up just in case I don't.

I'm planning on being back to normal next week. Enjoy the holiday!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guest Post: Melissa Pearl on Self-Publishing!

Hi everyone! I'm really excited for today's post. As I said before, Melissa Pearl just released her first novel. She decided to self-publish and has graciously agreed to stop by and talk a little bit about why she chose to self-pub and what it involves. So, let's see what she has to say!

It's All a Matter of Opinion

Writing is a subjective industry. You might love the book you're reading while someone else is ready to give up after chapter three. You might rave about an author while someone else lists multiple reasons why they'd never touch one of their books again.

The same goes with agents and publishers ... and trying to find that agent or publisher who wants your work can be the hardest thing in the world.

I had been trying for three years. I knew I had something that was good. My beta readers loved it and I even had an agent ask for a full manuscript. But nothing was coming to pass and I couldn't help feeling a sense of hopeless frustration.

Picking myself up after yet another rejection, I decided I would just keep at it, sending one query after another until someone finally accepted me. But then my brother suggested I investigate self-publishing. I rejected the idea immediately. Self-publishing was a cheater's way... or so I thought. He listened to my complaints and then said, "Personally, I think it's the way of the future for publishing. Have a look at some of the success stories and see if you change your mind."

And so I did.

And then I changed my mind.

I took my time researching every aspect of self-publishing. There are so many blogs out there! Smashwords was particularly helpful. After two months, I decided this was the path for me. In spite of this, I was scared of the idea. This could be an epic fail. I could sell ten copies and that's it. It could be a complete waste of time, but so could trying to find an agent.

You see, it's all a matter of opinion. I could either wait five years trying to find a publisher or agent who thought my book was right for them, or I could put my work out there and let the general public decide.

Actually putting a book online is not hard, especially if you are lucky enough to have a fantastic graphic designer who is willing to produce an awesome cover for you. (Amanda Crane, you are fantastic!). All you need to do is set up an account, edit (SO important) and format your book correctly, then upload your work. The instructions are there to help you and I followed them to the letter with no issues. It took less than an hour to upload my book and have it ready for sale.

Now, it's not quite that simple. I have a long, hard journey ahead of me. Marketing is REALLY hard and getting exposure is going to take a lot of work. But I can share that after only one week I've had four excellent reviews on Amazon, two 5-star reviews on Smashwords and four friends e-mail me to tell me they loved the book.

My main motivation for writing is offering people that chance to escape into another world and have a fun ride. So to hear that these people have had that experience already is a total thrill!

Don't get me wrong, I know that there will be people out there who hate my novel, but hopefully the percentage of fans will outweigh them.

Self-publishing takes a lot of work and effort, especially if you want to produce quality material. I chose this path because it meant I could get myself out there in my time frame. I am my own boss. I chose what to publish, when to publish, where I publish and how much to charge. I decided to go for 99c, because I figured that it was more important to get my work out there than make millions. Don't get me wrong, I'd LOVE to make a million, but I didn't feel I had the right to charge a higher price when I'm still just making a name for myself.

I am determined to keep improving my writing and therefore earn the right to charge more. I want to make sure that each book I produce is just as good, if not better than, the one before. I'm looking for reader loyalty—another right I have to earn.

So, give indie authors a go. You'll find some you love and some you'll never touch again, but it's a pretty inexpensive risk to take.

Golden Blood is a YA paranormal romance filled with fast-paced action and excitement. If you want to escape into a world of time travel, adventure and passion, it will only cost you $0.99USD :)

Gemma Hart never knows when her father is going to whisk her back in time. Her toes start tingling and she has a few minutes to find a secret haven where she can disintegrate and appear in another time and place. While “across the line,” her training and skills are put to the test as she completes a mission that will change history for the lucky few her father has selected.

Gemma's parents are adamant that secrecy is paramount to her family’s safety. If people knew what they were capable of, they could be "used and abused", as her mother always 
says. Afraid she might accidentally utter the truth and break the ancient oath of her people, Gemma spends her school days as a loner. Only one thing can throw her sheltered life askew... Harrison Granger.

Harrison never expected to talk to the strange Hart girl, but after a brief encounter he can't stop thinking about her. He begins a campaign to chisel away her icy veneer and is met with unexpected consequences. As he slowly wins this girl over, he enters a surreal world that has him fighting to keep his newfound love and his life.

Golden Blood can be purchased from Smashwords and Amazon Kindle.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share this book with you. I hope you enjoy it :)

Melissa Pearl

A quick note from Reece: if any of you have or will soon publish a book (self- or traditionally-published), I'm happy to host you and have you discuss your experiences and your book. Just drop me a line at reece dot hanzon at gmail dot com. See you soon!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Unscheduled Post: EXCITING NEWS!!!!

Hi everyone! I know I don't normally post on Mondays, but I wanted to pass along the news. My friend Brooke is hosting a give-away! She's giving out ARCs of her steampunk novel The Clockwork Giant. Go visit her blog for more details. Sounds fun!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Melissa Pearl

Hi everyone!  Today I have the privilege to have Melissa Pearl here. Melissa just recently released her first book, Golden Blood. I'm especially excited to have her here because she's decided to self-publish her work and I'm hoping to get a guest post on the topic (nudge nudge). So, let's talk about Melissa!

1. How did you get started as a writer?
All my life I've had stories buzzing in my brain. I'd spend hours making up stories, acting out scenes, inventing characters. I had a whole book of ideas. One day I was telling my friend about one of them and she told me I should write it. So I did. Man, it was SO much fun, I wondered why it had taken me so long to get around to it.

I've never acted out any of my writing...which is probably a good thing. I like not having a criminal record!

2. What was your first complete story?
It's called The Bigger Picture. It's about a girl who has a one-night stand at a graduation party and gets pregnant. She manages to hide it from her parents and then leaves for college with this huge burden. She then meets up with the guy who got her pregnant and lucky for them, they fall in love.

3. What made you decide to write it?
My best friend told me to :)

Ha! That's awesome. I don't think I've ever had that response before. But whatever it takes!

4. Do you free-write or outline?
I used to free write, but I'm up to my tenth manuscript now and from everything I've learned, I think I get a much better story if I really plan it out. There's still room to move within that plan, but it does stop my story from heading down the path of drivel.

On the other hand, it seems like most people give a similar response to this question. Makes you think there might be something to this 'outlining' thing after all...

5. If you outline, do you plot the entire story first, or bits at a time as you write?
I usually construct most of the story in my head first. I have all these different scenes floating around and I'll jot down random notes. By the time I have most of the story done, I have this huge long document of varied scenes, which I then organize. Some of the scenes are dropped in this process, so that saves me editing them out later. I read an amazing book by Robert Mckee called STORY. It has taught me so much about how good stories move and flow, where they should climax and how the beats of a story work. I feel like my writing has improved big time since implementing some of his suggestions.

Brooke Johnson, my second interviewee, does something similar, but she writes them out on note cards and plays mix-and-match with them. I actually really like the idea you both use.

6. What do you do to counteract writer’s block?
Take a shower or go for a walk with my iPod. I find some of my best ideas come to me in the shower, maybe it's because it's the one chance in my day where I can lock the door so my kids can't reach me :) Walking is good for me too; I usually just need to find space enough to get my mind working again.

I like the walking idea...though it's getting a bit too cold in my neck of the woods. :(

7. 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?)
That's really hard. I often find myself writing similar male leads in particular. I guess I'm attracted to a particular personality type :) For the story I'm currently planning in my head, I've really had to force myself to change my characters, make them different to everything I've done before. It's really fun, forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. I'm really having to think about this one in order to make it good.

I think about the main characteristic that really defines the character (at least as far as the story is concerned). Then I think about the kinds of experiences might help a person develop that characteristic. From there I try to think about other ways those experiences might influence a person. It has made developing characters a lot easier! Oh, it also helps you figure out how a character might realistically react in different situations.

8. What exercises to you use to develop your characters?
I'm a big fan of character profiling. I like my characters to have a detailed history, things in their childhood that define them and make them who they are. I also use the personality types quite a bit and look at how that affects their reactions Another thing I like to do is find a picture of an actor that I think they look like. I paste that up while I'm writing so I can look at them and imagine how they move in the story. scratch my last comment. You're basically doing it already. Now I feel dumb. *shakes fist*

9. How do you build a believable world within your stories?
I do a lot of research about the area that the story is set. Even if you've never been to a place before, I think you can make the story believable by using photos and a little info so you sound as though you know what you're talking about. Understanding the culture of the setting is important too. Part of a believable world, for me, is having minor characters that represent the culture of the setting through their dialogue and attitudes.

Culture is HUGE!!!!! I think a lot of authors forget that. And it's true no matter what genre you write. Remember that, people! It will be on the test!

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

I'm going to refer to the book STORY by Robert McKee again. He suggests that each scene in your story needs to change from a positive beat to a negative beat and then from negative to positive so the story is always moving. I think this helps to avoid slow stretches. In saying that, I think it's important for a high-paced story to have a little down time every now and then. I actually really love those happy moments thrown into a story for a little, light relief.

I agree. I'm also a fan of comic relief. Often the jokes that make people laugh the most aren't even the funniest ones...they're the ones timed just right to break tension.

11. How does your own life inform your writing?
I draw a lot from the emotional things I've experienced in life. In the second book of my trilogy (due out in December), my character goes through a really hard time. I drew from my own experience of heartache in order to capture her emotion. Drawing from past experience can hopefully bring a little realism and believability into the story.

They say 'write what you know.' Sounds like you do that pretty well.

12. Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?
Yes, one. It was SOOOOOO awesome. I attended the NZ Romance Writers conference.

Oh yeah! I forgot to mention Melissa is from New Zealand. Isn't that cool? It's in my top 5 places to visit.

13. What did you learn from it?
So much. I took screeds of notes. It was a very satisfying experience and I recommend that anyone who is serious about writing attend a conference if they can. You make amazing connections. I now belong to an awesome writers group. Three other fantastic girls who are just as passionate as me about writing. I also learned a whole bunch of stuff about the current market. You get to meet published authors who are amazingly generous with their time. The writing world is a cool place to hang out.

Agreed! I haven't met a ton of authors (yet), but the ones I have met never seem to forget what it's like being an unpublished, aspiring writer. I think that's why they're so willing to talk to you and help you out. Writers are good people.

14. Who is your favorite author?
Hmmm - that's tough. I like so many. Probably my favorite YA author is Simone Elkeles.

... ... ... yeah, I've never heard of him. Add another one to my list of authors to investigate!

15. Favorite book?
Again - hard question. How do I just choose one? The first trilogy I read and could NOT put down was the Mark of the Lion trilogy by Francine Rivers. I've read those book so many times the glue on the spine is disintegrating :)

I love finding books like that! It's one of the most satisfying things in the world, I think.

16. Favorite genre to read?
YA Romance. I particularly like anything with a little action as well, but romance is the key. I devoured the Twilight series.

Yeah, I'm the other way around. I have to have action, but like a little romance to round it out. Also, I saw a t-shirt the other day that said "Team guy-who-almost-hit-bella-with-his-car." It made me laugh!

17. Favorite genre to write?
YA Romance. My trilogy is a YA paranormal, but I don't want to get stuck in that genre. I also have a whole bunch of other stories to write. Most of them are YA action/adventure with a strong romantic element.

Yay action/adventure! My favorite kinds of stories!

18. When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?
Being a mother of two young boys, I don't really have much spare time, but if they bless us by going to sleep early then my husband and I love to watch a good movie. We are both total movie buffs. When I do get the chance to go to the actual cinema and see one, I still get that excited buzz as the theater goes dark and the movie trailers begin.

I think I've been to the movies four times in the last....oh, probably four or five years. Yeah, doesn't happen that often.

19. What are three interesting facts about you?

My husband and I spent 9 months travelling around North America, living out of a Chevy van. The best road trip ever!

The longest road trip I've ever been on was two weeks. I'm kind of jealous.

I spent three years of my life as a missionary kid in Pakistan - an awesome experience.

Hey cool! Tell me about that!

I love to sing :)

Thanks to Melissa for stopping by! All you romance fans out there can find her book, Golden Blood, on smashwords and It sounds like a fun idea!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A plug for outlining...if I can get the hang of it.

Hi everyone! Sorry for the late post. Today I'm actually reposting a post written by Teralyn Rose Pilgrim a while ago. I really appreciated it then, so I am sharing with all of you. Take it away Teralyn!

Why Outlining is soooo Awesome

I’ve said before that I hate to brag. I still do, though it’s a lot easier when all my dear readers congratulate me. Regardless of how special you all make me feel, I try to only demonstrate my awesomeness when it’s useful to my readers. Ergo, even though this is going to sound conceited, there is a point. I promise.

On November 1 from midnight to midnight the next day, I wrote 10,000 words.

I started to wonder how high my word count was when my fingers started to hurt at 6,500 words. After that, I kept typing and thinking to myself, “Holy cow, am I really still writing? Do I still have stuff to say?” I basically stared in amazement at my furiously typing fingers.

How on earth did I go from taking five years to write Sacred Fire to writing 10,000 words in one day?

Here is the point:

I came up with the idea for Fierce ten months ago and have been stewing on it ever since. Two months ago, I started to prep for the book. At one point it got boring and I started to wonder if writing 18,000 words of notes would be worth my time.

Totally worth it.

I’ve never had an outline so thorough, and I’ve never typed faster in my life. Some books don't lend themselves to this pace, and some authors just have a different style. That's okay. However, if you can do the prep work I talked about in my How to Prepare for a Novel series, I highly recommend giving it a try. I’m going to do this from now on.

Here's a more important point:

Last year, I struggled to get in my 50,000 words. I ended up writing almost exactly the right amount, and getting in those last words felt like wringing out a rag.

I would look at people on the Nano forums who had 100,000 words and wonder how it was even possible, and then feel like trash. It was silly; as if writing 50k in a month is such a failure!

If you write at all, you're doing something amazing. If you even attempt Nano, it will help your writing. If you win, you will have achieved a great feat that a hundred thousand writers lust after and only a third of them reach. If you feel you're able to push yourself harder...

...go for it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Angela Brown

Hi everyone! I'm really excited about this interview because I don't know anything about my guest, Angela Brown, other than the fact that she let me edit the first few chapters of her WIP Uncommon. So, enough from me; let's get on with it!

How did you get started as a writer?
My first foray into writing happened during my gifted & talented class when I was in elementary school. My teacher wanted us to write different stories, fables and poems. I remade the fable about Paul Bunyan and wrote a poem. She even took it to a printer, chose a pink cover and we called it the Hodgepodge. My favorite story was a dream sequence by another little girl. She wrote about our favorite boy band – on pain of dating myself and showing waaay to much age, I’ll refrain from naming them. From that day forward, I kept the idea of writing in the back of my mind. My first completed story was during my whimsical early 20’s, a fiction based on many painful events of my past. It was my form of therapy and a few friends really enjoyed it. But some things were best left in the past, so I moved on. It wasn’t until I went to a writer’s conference in 2006 to test the waters that I knew this writing thing was something I wanted to pursue as more than a hobby.

It was New Kids on the Block, wasn't it?

Do you free-write or outline?
I started as a pantser. That first novel? Not an outline in sight. Since then, I’ve been more of a loose outline kind of person when it comes to the story, however, when I’m dealing with my YA fantasy stuff, like my WiP AMONG DRAGONS AND MEN, I do detail outlining of the world structure, from ruling government down to extremely rough map of my world. Thankfully, a stretched out ‘S’ makes a fine river and unintelligible marks for mountains and forests can later be interpreted by someone with real artistic ability. I also started a glossary for special language words. For my current YA paranormal WiP UNCOMMON, I did a loose sketch of the plot, short character bios and have taken my time with it, following the detours my muse has taken me. And the muse has been nice lately. I must thank her. Smooches! Muah!

Dibbs on editing Among Dragons and Men. :-D

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?
Eat chocolate. After that, I play with my daughter, or as I usually call her, my chipmunk. Her laughter is intoxicating and invigorating. Then, I’ll just scribble on paper. That tends to leadto a ramble and then to a string of incoherent thoughts. Soon, the block is frightened away by the weird goings on in my mind. Sounds a bit odd, but it works for me J

Mmm, chocolate... I think I like you're method!

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 find a character bio is a must. It helps in getting to know the character but also in comparing them to other characters to ensure I let each one develop their own way. Because I tend to take my time writing, I have conversations with them, especially if I find I’m unsure of the true way the character would react to a situation. Weird? Cha, but it allows me to get to know the Who, What, When, Where and the Why of their being, their purpose in the story. It also gives the characters a foundation to use me as their vessel to voice what they have to say. As much as I claim to own them, the story really is theirs. I just happen to be the lucky darling chosen to share their tale with the world.

Actually, not that weird. As I recall, David Powers King said he did something similar when I interviewed him (the post is here). And I think it's a pretty useful tool, too!

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

World building is something I detail out, especially fantasy. But whether it’s another world or an urban setting, I try to integrate the world building into the story and make it part of the dialogue, planting information in smaller doses to allow the reader to transition to the believability of the story. I also like to share certain activities or thought processes of the main character so bits and pieces of the world are introduced through their eyes, their senses. This is certainly more entertaining than an info dump.

This is a good technique, though I find you have to balance it with actual description and narration, otherwise it's easy to end up with a butler-and-maid situation.

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?
“Sagging moments” can be a bit bothersome, but I try to address them by first writing them out. Afterwards, I try to revise by including some action or something that helps to give the feeling that the story is moving forward, thus losing that “long stretch” feeling.

For perhaps the thousandth time, I'm going to refer everyone to my friend Shallee's post on the Action/Reaction principle because it's just golden (the post is golden...but then again so is the principle).

How does your own life inform your writing?
I like writing about things that, by some accounts, don’t exist. I suppose I just use the interactions I have with others to flip the script and see things in an oddball way, sort of turn a team meeting at work into a secret meeting of NEO (a group of preternaturals I’m building for my paranormal writing).

Nice! And, if nothing else, that will certainly liven up your meetings at work (at least for you)!

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?
I’ve participated in the Writer’s League of Texas Agent’s and Editors Conference, twice. The first time, I felt sooooo out of place but I also met some wonderful people, like Maria Zannini and Evelyn Palfrey, an author of “Marvelously Mature” romance. The main thing I learned is that I have a WHOLE lot to learn. And that I’m not alone. There are people I can help and people who are willing to help me. If it weren’t for learning that, I might have given up on my dream. But the people I’ve met have been very supportive. This was made evident when I had the honor of working in a critique group with Will Greenway and several other writers during my short stint in San Diego, CA. Good times, man, good times.

I have yet to attend a writing conference or convention of any sort. I'm going to try to attend a couple of local ones next year though. I'm really excited!

Who is your favorite author?
C.S. Lewis will always have a special place in my heart. His stories provided me with the ultimate feeling of escape and how the everyday norm can be transformed into something fantastical. Le sigh.

Nice choice! He has some excellent books. Apart from Narnia, I am particularly fond of Til We Have Faces and The Great Divorce. I've also been meaning to read his sci-fi series, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

Favorite book?
The Narnia Chronicles

Of the Narnia books, I think The Horse and His Boy is the best, but most people disagree with me.

Favorite genre to read?
My favorite genre to read and write is dualistic: fantasy and sci-fi, from steampunk to dragons, and space opera to trolls falling in love, take me away J

Here here! Science fiction is my ultimate favorite, but it's so hard to find really well-done sci-fi. Fantasy is much more common, if you ask me, and therefore produces more quality titles.

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?
I’m not sure what this “spare time” is. I’ve heard of sparing a moment to steal a nap or running out of time, which I do often…but this “spare time”…hmmm…curious.

Hey! A fellow no-timer! Nice to know there are more of us out there. We could start a support group! ...but nobody would come.

What are three interesting facts about you?
  1. I self-published a novel under a pseudonym, mainly because I had a few friends interested in it and I wanted to learn more about what publishing entailed. However, it was a completely different genre and not for the 17-and-under crowd. I penned it as Rayven Godchild. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. It’s our little secret.
  2. Anime + Hayao Miyazaki = Happiness!!!! Heck yeah it does!
  3. Meeting Johnny Depp in person would be a guaranteed faint, on my part of course.

Thanks so much for the interview Reece. You are a blog star!!!

*blush* Aw, now you're just trying to embarrass me!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Editors Anonymous

My name is Reece, and I'm an editor.

I was up until 2:00 last night editing an excerpt from my friend Angela's book, Uncommon. The worst part is I would have kept going if I hadn't looked at the clock. I thought it was around 11:00 or 11:30.

Editing is one of those activities that is always more enjoyable than I remember it being. I don't know why, but I love going through a manuscript and making comments and suggestions. At the same time, I'm always afraid the author will be offended by my comments; I try to make them as polite and tactful as possible, but there's no way to put my tone of voice into writing.

As I was working my way through Angela's manuscript, I had the most fun time pointing out things that she might not realize are unclear. I like doing that because it happens to me all the time and I'm always grateful to my friends who point it out and help me fix the problem. As writers, it's easy for us to remember that our readers don't know everything we know (probably only 30% of my ideas for a particular story actually make it into the book; everything else is just background information that helps me create the story).

I also like being able to make recommendations to help writers learn about their genre. One of the notes I made last night was to recommend a book to Angela because I felt like it might round out her understanding of certain aspects of her genre. She may well have read it already, but the suggestion can't hurt.

Anyway, I'm just rambling now. So, to sum up: I like editing and totally lose myself in it!

Are any of you editors at heart? What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

And most importantly, do you need any critiquing or editing done?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Teralyn Rose Pilgrim

This week I have the honor to introduce Teralyn Rose Pilgrim to all of you! I got to critique the first chapter of her most recent book a little while ago and I loved it! She has a real talent for writing and bringing her world to life. So, here we go!

How did you get started as a writer?
When I was eight years old, my teacher assigned us to “write a book.” We typed them up on the computer, we illustrated them, we made covers, and the teacher even bound them. She put our books on the shelf for us to look at during reading time. Kids would come up to me and say, “I love your book.” I had so much fun, I decided I wanted to do that for the rest of my life.

THAT. IS. AWESOME! What a fun thing to do in school!

What was your first complete story?
It was called The Hair Cut. Twin girls get in a fight because one is jealous of the other’s rabbit. She threatens to cut her hair (their long hair is symbolic of their relationship, so this is a betrayal). They eventually make up. In the sequel, robbers steal the rabbit and attempt to kill the twins. Their friend has to solve the mystery of who-dunit; we find out in the third book he wanted the rabbit because it was actually an alien.

Alien-rabbit abductor who-dunit! It actually sounds kind of fun.

What made you decide to write it?
Heck if I know.

Blunt honesty is so refreshing sometimes!

Do you free-write or outline?
I’m experimenting with different structures, actually. I’ve winged it with one book, outlined as I wrote with another, and this time around, I’ve meticulously outlined every scene. I like outlining as I write the best; it keeps things organic.

Ooh, please let me know how that turns out! I've never heard of someone doing it one piece at a time like that.

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?
You’ll have to be more specific. Some people have a day or two where they can’t think of anything to say and they call it “block.” That just means you need to do something else and try again tomorrow.
I went through a real writer’s block for two years. I believe when you can’t write for that long, it’s a sign that something’s wrong in your life and you need to fix it before you worry about writing.

I'm glad you finally got through it. Thankfully, I've never had a slump that long. (the longest I've ever been stuck is about 6 weeks.)

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 ask myself, “This character is different because…” Example: she’s loud and obnoxious, she’s nervous and bites her nails all the time, she’s grumpy and constantly scowls at people. Once I have a starting point to work from, they flesh themselves out.
Free writes are essential to me and developing characters. I write three or four pages about each character as quickly as I can, and when I’m done, the character is usually pretty solid in my mind.

I agree with you about free writes. Mostly mine are little scenes that I thought were really fun but don't fit into the book anywhere. Even though I can't use them, I hang on to them because they're still experience for the character.

How do you build a believable world within your stories?
I write historical fiction about ancient Rome. Readers have already seen everything I’m trying to describe. Instead of describing the entire scene, I use triggers. Marble columns, togas, mosaic floors. Then I add in something unique to make the scene interesting. When you trust your readers enough to fill in the blanks, painting a scene is easier.

To quote Howard Tayler, "Luxury!" That's one of the hardest parts about writing Sci Fi and fantasy.

 How does your own life inform your writing?
I’ve noticed my religion has a great influence on my ideas (I’m LDS); for example, I identify heavily with Vestal Virgins because they had to remain chaste and modest, just like me when I was a teenager. I’m a somewhat emotional and intense person, so there’s a lot of variety in the pacing of my books. The more I grow to love my husband, the sappier my writing gets.

Surprisingly, my marriage doesn't really have much influence on my writing. However, my values and world view have a very distinct impact on my writing. I'm also LDS, by the way!

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?
I did! I went to the Historical Novel Society in San Diego last summer. I learned a ton; I wrote a month-long series of articles about that conference on my blog. Probably the most important thing I learned was to understand your genre. Read everything you can in your genre, make friends with writers in your genre, and be familiar with new books coming out. I also learned how to make and keep writer friends, which has been invaluable!

I remember when you were trying to figure out a way to get to that conference. I was so happy you got to go!

Who is your favorite author?
Toni Morrison. She can get away with anything. I need to stop reading her books though, because the last thing I need is encouragement to break rules.

Confession time: I've heard of Toni Morrison, but I have no idea what she's written. Also, I'm still learning what the rules are. Getting away with breaking them is a LONG way down the road.

 Favorite book?
The Phantom of the Opera. It’s a million times better than the movie.

So I've heard.

Favorite genre to read?
Historical fiction, literary fiction, and the classics.

I think it's safe to say the chances of us ever running into each other at a book group or writing conference are slim to none. I make it a point to read classic literature (at least a couple of books each year), but the vast majority of my reading material falls into the science fiction and fantasy categories.

 Favorite genre to write?
Historical fiction.

'Nough said.

 When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?
I’m on a roller derby team where I am known as Cleofracture. I own a blog which I adore and spent way too much time on: (see the link above). Besides that, I spend most of my time with my husband.

Roller derby? Like for real? That's so cool! You're the only person I know who's even been to a roller derby, much less participated. 

So, since you write historical fiction, I have a new question for you: how do you do your research?
When I wrote my first book, I made one big document where I kept all my research. Whenever I found a fact, quote, or a paragraph of information, I pasted it in the document along with the source (web page, book title, whatever). Then I made a table of contents so everything would be easy to find. I regret this more than I regret any other mistake I made with that book.
Now I save every web page in its entirety, print it out, highlight it, and organize it into a notebook. I also have to own all my books. This might seem tedious, but if you’re going to spend years on this project, you’ll want to have the complete info readily available.

Not going to lie, I'm imagining what you're home library must look like, and I am MAJORLY jealous!

A big thank-you to Teralyn for being my guest today! I hope you all enjoyed getting to know her as much as I did. I'm still waiting to get Dan Well's responses back, but you'll know when I do. Seriously, expect multiple elated posts on the subject ;)