Tag: writing group

How to using writing to process your experiences

sad faceLast month, I was invited to give a short presentation at a writing conference for social workers. I’d previously done a panel on using writing as therapy, and my research interest is the effects of trauma on students, so this was my topic this time:

Writing can be a form of self-care for human service workers working with clients who have experienced trauma. Explore ways to process secondary trauma through writing, as well as how to balance accurately telling clients’ story while respecting their confidentiality and dignity.

Because participants said they found my presentation helpful, I thought I’d share it here too.

Therapeutic Sentences: Processing Through Writing

“A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”
– Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

This quote strongly reflects the approach I take to writing. Many of my stories are based on composites of people I’ve worked with across my various education, criminal justice, and social work jobs, and while they’re not exactly true, their themes and messages seem to resonate with readers who’ve experienced similar situations. At the same time, however, as I write about the trauma my clients have experienced, I need to be careful to protect their identities as well as minimize the secondary trauma I might experience while writing about what they’ve gone through.

What is trauma?

SAMHSA (the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) defines trauma by the three E’s:

Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.

This is similar to a story arc – a character experiences an event, and how that character deals with the effects of that event (either short-term or long-term) makes up the rest of the story.

That said, there are six types of trauma, and which type is used can lead to different types of stories:

  • Acute trauma results from exposure to a single traumatic event (eg, a hurricane, an armed robbery by a stranger)
  • Chronic trauma results from extended exposure to traumatic situations (eg, growing up in chronic poverty, experiencing chronic hunger, the whole plot of Room)
  • Complex trauma is “the experience of multiple, chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an interpersonal nature…and early life onset” (eg, abuse by a parent)
  • Identity trauma (historic or collective trauma) which is the result of traumatic events that affect an entire group (eg, the Holocaust for Jewish people, pretty much the entire history of Native Americans since Columbus)
  • Continuous or ongoing traumatic stress (CST) occurs “in contexts in which danger and threat are largely faceless and unpredictable, yet pervasive and substantive” (eg, the abuse or trauma right now, with no possible end in sight)
  • Secondary traumatic stress is due to vicariously experiencing trauma through the primary victim’s descriptions of the traumatic event or experience (eg, hearing a client describe his or her traumatic experiences)

Writing as a means of processing trauma

For me (ie, someone who hasn’t experienced much trauma but works with clients who have), writing is a way for me to put into words what my clients have experienced, when they don’t have that chance themselves. It’s about making these “salt of the earth people,” as a reader once described them, real so that people can understand them as people and not caricatures. It’s about highlighting a problem so that others can identify with it.

But this is just me, as a social worker/teacher/advocate. I surveyed a writers’ group about how they use writing to process trauma, and here’s what they said:

Roleplay what could have happened

  • “I’ve taken real events and environments that happened to me as a child, placed a character in those events, and tried to make it so that she doesn’t come out completely screwed up.  I’ve tried to give her the allies she needs, the character traits she needs, and the merciful intervention she needs so as not to end up homeless and in a mental institution by age 21.  I’m finding the experience extremely satisfying.  It’s like going back in time and giving my young self a second chance.”
  • “I turned to writing as a means of trying to process some of the actions and reactions of people, creating truly fictitious characters with created reasons that would lead to the same kind of outcomes as I experienced as sort of a roleplay on what might have caused what I experienced.”
  • “To sort those feelings, I wrote a very short fictional story about a character in my situation magnified. I gave her a back story worse than my own, raised the stakes, and put her though hell…. But writing about it in a fictional setting gave me the freedom to untangle those emotions from a safe distance.”
  • “Fictionalizing real events gave me control over how I see them, how they play out, and what the result is going to be. I don’t have control over what happened, but I can change the what-happened-next.”
  • “Sometimes, I get a kind of fictional revenge on people and situations that have been less than helpful to me, when I would never seek revenge in real life.”

Coping with death

  • “I turned back to writing after a family friend died from cancer last November. I found it was a way to process my emotions after I had to be ‘the strong one’/ referee at the hospital the night he died.”
  • “A close friend committed suicide a few years ago, and he keeps finding his way into my short stories/flash fiction. Often they’re not directly about him, but more about grief/coping with loss, and I keep finding myself writing his personality, looks and characteristics into my characters. I think it’s an unconscious attempt to both to process his death and to keep his memory alive.”

Coping with general emotions

  • “When I experience something traumatic or emotionally draining, I find it much less overwhelming if I am writing.”
  • “A lot of writers have personal issues – Stephen King, to name but one, was a long-term alcoholic. If you read The Shining, you’ll see the story of a man tormented by his demons and slowly falling apart. But what makes a writer good, and readable, is the ability to harness personal emotions and turn them into something bigger, more creative and more ‘universal.'”
  • “I came to realize the whole book was about mourning my childhood.  Each of the characters who deal with emotional wounds could be me, but especially the main character whose story arcs across the book.”
  • “The feelings attached to my problems, some of the thoughts and very few aspects flow in my WIPs.”

Broader social issues

  • “I have at times used fiction to process my personal issues with things like cultural identity and patriotism. But these are broad concepts, not specific incidents or people in my life. I could explore these issues easily enough while writing fantasy.”

How to write about trauma (yours or others’) ethically

When telling a story that’s based in truth, whether it’s your story or one that you’re telling on behalf of others, there are ethical considerations to take into account. First off, how will others react if they’re portrayed as the villain, or if you change the story to make it “better” but make them come across worse? What about potential legal ramifications?

The authors I surveyed also shared their tips for writing a story based on trauma, without causing problems for others.

Change names or traits

  • “All you have to do is change gender, race, and/or age. writing about your female cousin? turn it into an octogenarian black man…. Funny side note: after my first steamy novel came out, several men from my past came forward to claim the MMC was based on them. no one has yet claimed to be the overbearing sister, the philandering ex, the pervy boss, etc…”
  • “I keep getting so much feedback about how “one note” one of my “villain” characters is, and so I’ve had to really stretch my empathy to find ways to make her more human. So…maybe my mother WON’T recognize herself by the times it’s through lol. Or she’ll be a more likable character and it won’t matter.”
  • “The people and the events get scrambled in my fiction. What happened to someone unrelated and younger than me happens to an older family member of my main character.”

Use bits and pieces of real people

  • “Use real people but swap their stories, or spread theirs out to others, a piece here a piece there, the real barista gets a part of the real bartender gets a part of construction worker.”

Focus on emotions and themes

  • “The core of the story is real but the specific events were fictionalized. It focuses on how I processed my own feelings at the time, that was the important part I needed to get out. Specific events didn’t matter, only that they engendered the same emotions I felt.”
  • “But there in that imaginary world, there are many of the issues that plague us today. Racism, sexism, religious extremism and bigotry, even some environmentalism and conservation issues are there. It isn’t ‘in your face’ but it is there. I don’t preach, nor do I really provide much in the way of ‘answers’ for all those ills. I just plant the questions and hope readers are prompted to think for themselves. I hope they recognize the issues and come to their own conclusions of what should/could be done about them.”
  • “The underlying themes seem to reflect what I’m feeling about real world events, but the events themselves bear no resemblance to reality.”

Change the genre

  • “It helps that it’s a bit of magical realism. Taking a sideways approach to reality put some distance between what happened and what I wrote.”

Use a pen name

  • “What would I do to maintain anonymity? . . . well this is where me not telling friends and family (who most likely would surface in my stories in some way, if i did that sort of thing) what I write or anything about my pen names.”

Conclusion

Everyone experiences and reacts to trauma, and writers are no exception. We write about our trauma and that of others, as a way to process what we’ve experienced and share experiences with others.

If you’re a writer, how do you use writing to process trauma? What techniques do you use to write about it ethically? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Weekend Writing Warrior 6/18/17 #8Sunday

It’s been awhile since I’ve participated in WeWriWa! This week, I’m posting a micro story I wrote for a contest on a writing critique site I use.

The prompt was, “Shootout at the the Alrighty Corral.” My story is titled, “Return of the Revenge of the Resurrected.”

* * * * * * *

“Yeah, I’m hideous,” I told the sympathetic barkeep, “but I didn’t ask to be like this.”

He nodded.

I knew he didn’t care, was just being professional, but alcohol made me loquacious so I continued, “All I wanted was acceptance and love; is that so wrong?”

“Nope.”

“So maybe I kinda murdered his girlfriend, but I still maintain he deserved it.”

The clock outside chimed noon.

“He didn’t die on that boat, you know. He faked his death so I’d leave him alone, but it didn’t work. I tracked him here, and now….” I slammed down my glass and went out to meet my maker.

* * * * * * *

Post a link to your eight sentences blog entry, or join the fun at the Weekend Writing Warriors website.

And if you’re a writer, sign up to be a Friday Five author, which gets you and your latest work featured on my blog.

So you want to write a book…

My first novel, Yours to Keep or Throw Aside (previously released as The Lone Wolf), came out a couple years ago. After hearing about it, I’ve had several people tell me, “I’m not a big reader, but I’ve been thinking about writing a book too. I have a really great idea.” Which is great, but….

Before I go any further, watch this video.

It’s been said that for every overnight success, no one saw all their late nights and early mornings. Writing is no exception. It’s hard work, and it take a lot of time.

Here are the things I think are necessary to write a publishable book:

1. READ!!!!

I’ve been an avid reader since I was five (25+ years), and I read everything – fiction and nonfiction, children and adult, Nobel laureates and NY Times bestsellers, US and international, classics and modern, literary and fluff, genre – you name a category, and I’ve read something in it. I’ve taught high school literature and analyzed it in college lit classes. So, I think it’s fair to say I have a good idea of what’s out there, what works and what doesn’t, and why. But that doesn’t mean I’m qualified to write a book.

2. Develop your writing skills.

I’m currently a PhD student and I’ve worked as a professional researcher in several fields, meaning I’ve written a lot of analysis/explanatory papers, some of which I’ve won awards for. And I’ve taught writing at the high school level, so I think it’s fair to say I have well-developed writing skills. But that doesn’t mean I’m qualified to write a book.

I wrote one anyways, for NaNoWriMo ’09. And, it sucked. It sucked bad. I’d like to revisit it someday, but as for now it’ll stay locked away.

3. Get feedback from people you don’t know, who know what they’re talking about.

I kept writing, though. In October 2010, after eight months of writing, I finished the first draft of Yours to Keep or Throw Aside. Yay me! It was good, but I knew it wasn’t good enough. So I joined FOUR online writing groups (and I’ve since joined a local in-person writing group and a local writing association). Two were worthless and provided absolutely no feedback. One was filled with people who said it was great, and would I please tell them how great theirs were too so they could win a popularity contest? The fourth, Scribophile, ripped the novel apart. Not only were there story and character issues, but the writing was subpar – POV mistakes, filter words, telling instead of showing, too many tags and adverbs. And you know what? They were right.

4. Learn more about the craft of writing.

So I set out to learn about what I was doing wrong. I read books on writing. I follow a couple dozen blogs about writing. I read about what to do, and what not to do, and billions of examples and explanations of each. I talked to other writers. I’ve attended writing workshops.

I also wrote (and continue to write) short stories. While the depth is minuscule compared to a whole novel, it’s a great way to try out techniques, hone your voice, and finesse your understanding of the language.

5. REVISE, then Revise, then revise again. When you’re done with that, revise.

Armed with all that knowledge, I rewrote my novel. I got more feedback. I rewrote it again. I got more feedback. I nitpicked with edits for two years until finally I was ready to send it out into the big scary world.

6. Learn about the publishing industry.

While I’d been editing, I’d also been reading up on the publishing industry. I’d tested the waters with short stories, both with publishers and self-publishing. So when it came time to send queries, I knew who to send them to, what to say in them, and what to expect in reply.

Conclusion

When people tell me they want to write a book, but they don’t like reading, and they’ve never written anything other than stories in elementary school and short papers in high school, and they don’t know anything about their audience or the publishing industry, and can I put in a good word with my publisher for them? – the answer is NO.

It’s not that I’m trying to be mean. I think everyone has great (and not so great) ideas for books, and these people are no exception. But they need to put in the work, because writing a book involves much more than an idea.

Writers – what’s your experience with publishing? Any points you’d add to my list?

Marketing for Writers and Readers

At this week’s meeting for my local writing group, I presented on the topic of marketing for writers with a focus on readers. Here are my notes.

RARE – respect, authenticity, reciprocity, expertise – FROM THE READERS’ PERSPECTIVE

Why focus on marketing:

  • Short-range – sell books
  • Mid-range – get reviews
  • Long-range – build a fanbase to sell more books

Who to market to:

  • Family and friends
    • Pros: feel happy/obligated to buy your stuff
    • Cons: Amazon cracking down on reviews by people you know, not as believable because people think they’ll be positive no matter what
  • Other writers – very common
    • Pros: often reciprocity with reviews, sales, and promos
    • Cons: hard to jump from writers to readers with content, reciprocity expected even if you don’t like what they write/different genre
  • READERS!!
    • Pros: readers want to read good books
    • Cons: hard to find, already bombarded by tons of ads/spam

Where to market:

  • In person
    • Direct sales to family and friends
    • Book fairs and readings
  • Online
    • Social media
      • Followers – real vs numbers
      • Comments on other blogs (indirectly only)
      • Targeted ads
      • Who’s seeing these posts?
    • Website
    • Newsletters/mailing lists
      • Your own
      • Group’s

When to market:

  • Daily – buzz about your books on social media
    • 20% formula (only 20% of posts about your books)
    • 5-3-2 formula (5 should be content from others, 3 should be content from you, 2 should be personal status updates)
  • Pre-launch
    • Snippets
    • Cover reveal
    • Pre-orders
  • Sale
    • Acceptable to buzz more frequently

What to market:

  • Your books
    • Snippets/excerpts
    • Random facts/research relating to your books
    • Links to purchase
  • Yourself
    • Blog posts
    • Social media posts that show your personality
  • Other people’s stuff
    • Reciprocity principle
    • Set your own personal guidelines for what you’ll share

How to market:

  • Social media
    • Twitter – quick status updates, links
    • Facebook – longer posts
    • Pinterest – images related to your works
    • Other sites – Google+, Tsu, etc – who’s there??
  • Website
    • Central place to send people to
    • Include link in signatures and blog comments
    • Provide meaningful content for your target audience
  • Ads
    • Newsletters/mailing lists
      • BookBub, Ereader News Today, etc – how big is their reach vs price
    • Facebook
      • Who are you targeting?
      • Impressions vs sales
    • Goodreads, Amazon
      • Expensive
      • Check conversion rates
    • Giveaways
      • Rafflecopter
        • Multi-author vs one author
        • Cost of prizes related to how many people enter
      • Goodreads giveaway – lots add to TBR, but few reviews
    • Mailing list
      • Frequency
        • set number vs something to share
        • too often = annoying, too infrequently = forget who you are
      • Mailchimp
    • Book fairs
      • Very low RTI – cost vs books sold; publicity?
      • Iowa City Book Festival, Midwest Writing Center events
    • Swag
      • Bookmarks
      • Business cards
      • Trinkets/widgets related to your book
    • Free books
      • Pros – new readers, possibly more reviews, push you up in rankings for later
      • Cons – too many free books to read, don’t see a bump later, only one book out
      • Most common with series book #1, short stories

Branding

  • Consistent look
    • Same picture for everything
    • Same bio
    • Similar color schemes/layouts on covers and across online
  • Tagline
    • “Writing stories of love and betrayal, sacrifice and redemption”
    • “Adventure romance”
  • Similar genres/themes
    • Pen name

Role of reader

  • “Don’t be a dick.” – Will Wheaton
  • How is your content benefiting them?
    • Entertainment
    • Information
    • Free stuff
    • Not annoying
  • Engagement
    • Social media – conversation
    • Ask them what they want – survey/poll
    • #QOTD

Resources

Friday Five: Edward McDermott

headshotThis week’s Friday Five focus is on Edward McDermott, author of books and short stories in just about every genre except romance: fantasy, historical, horror, contemporary, mystery, horror, Western….

Edward McDermott, born in Toronto, has a professional day job but spends his spare time pursuing a writing career. Aside from taking writing courses and participating in writers’ groups, Edward takes time for sailing, fencing, and working as a movie extra.

Some of his works include “A glass of Emeralds” in Wisdom Crieth Out, “Hell’s In Session” in The Western Online, and
” Jack Won” in The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir.

* * * * * * * * * * *

1. What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre, that you think they need to know?

The villain has to be a person too, and most people do not think of themselves as villains.

2. Where do your inspiration and ideas for your stories come from?

The newspaper, poetry, random sentences. Let me give an example of a sentence that begs a story, which I have not written yet.

“Everything I have I got by lying,” Burton said, “Even your wife.”I’ve been playing with that opening for a decade. When I do write it, I’ll really enjoy reading it.

3. If you could pick just one book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Damn, so many. Metamorphoses by Ovid.

4. What are three things on your bucket list?

See Greece. See France. Appear on Wikipedia.

5. What literary character are you most like and why?

Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island. He not the strongest, or the one in charge, or the smartest, but he knows what is right and wrong and sticks to it.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Two of Edward’s short story collections, Crossing the Lake and Other Stories and The Horse Thief and Other Stories, are available through Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author.

Writing Exercise #1: Character Development

I’ve recently joined a local writing group. We start most of the bi-weekly meetings with a quick writing exercise. This week’s task was to select a random picture from a stack, imagine that the person was in front of us, and write his or her backstory. I’ve been thinking about my characters for NaNoWriMo, and so I decided to write about one of them.

shortline

Houston Jones sits across from me, his gaze darting around the diner.

“Want a drink?” I ask, hoping to calm him down.

He shakes his head. His hands, at first clasped tightly in his lap, clutch the edge of his chair, then drum a beat on the table.

“So…” I prompt him.

“It’s tough, ya know?” My expression must say clearly that I don’t know. “Being here. All this.” His hand sweeps at the patrons, the tables, the whole city.

“You need a job.” No sense wasting time. His agitation is only increasing, and I don’t know what will happen when he reaches his breaking point.

“We didn’t have cell phones. The internet. Think about that. You wanna meet up with someone, you call from a payphone. Plan ahead. Now everything is available, immediately. People ain’t planning no more. They’re in such a hurry, but they ain’t got nothing to hurry to. I learned, the last thirty years, there’s never nothing to hurry to.”

He takes a deep breath, as if to go on, but remains silent. His chest heaves slightly, like he’s been running, and maybe he has, only it’s his thoughts been running for the last thirty years he was locked up, and now they’re out but the world has changed and maybe he’s right; where do you run to?

“I need that job. No more running. I lost thirty years. I ain’t got no time to waste being like this.”

“It’s working in a garage, hauling scrap, general maintenance. Think you can do that okay?”

He laughs, a biting sound that hurts my heart. “I ain’t got much choice.”

shortline

This book will be about five people coming together in the face of tragedy. I’m toying with the idea of making it twenty-five short stories, almost like episodes of a sitcom, that are loosely linked and come together with the equivalent of a season finale. Thoughts?

Author Interview: Jonathan Brookes

This week I chatted with Jonathan Brookes, author of the thriller novella Relic.

Warfare has entered a new era. The cold war is long over. Battleships, bombers, and tanks, the big iron of twentieth century military might, have taken a back seat to unmanned drones, IEDs, and suicide bombers. Fueled by cutting edge biotechnology, in a world where Dr. Strangelove politics and Jurassic Park science collide, the military embarks on a desperate project to seek out and destroy enemy combatants on their home turf.

Disturbingly close to the truth, Relic describes a world in which human soldiers are replaced with something much deadlier, and much more uncontrollable, with consequences that could spell the end of humanity as we know it.

reliccoverMe: Your book focuses a lot on genetic research. How plausible do you think your story is?

Jonathan: I believe it is plausible based on the research I’ve done. There are currently efforts in the scientific community to clone/resurrect wooly mammoths and perhaps other extinct species of animals. It’s not a stretch to clone a complex mammal like a human or Neanderthal.

Me: Do you think the government and private contractors are attempting it as we speak?

Jonathan: Perhaps not today, but in 10 years maybe. Certainly, cloning a mammal has been done before some years ago with Dolly the sheep. There’s a small team that was advertising for a volunteer surrogate to carry a Neanderthal to term. It’s a fringe group and most scientists don’t support the effort for moral ethical reasons. I can get you the specifics if you like.

Me: No, that’s okay. I’m not planning on cloning anything or anyone. And my readers can research it themselves.

Jonathan: Okay. I don’t know how much detail you need. Harvard geneticist George Church is the scientist who was trying to do this

Me: Let’s discuss your characters. It seems like none of them are completely good or completely bad; rather, they’re driven by a goal, and they’ll do anything to reach it. Is that something that was intentional, or did it just turn out that way?

Jonathan: Okay, the characters… Goal oriented characters was intentional — most real people are like that. There’s always some motivation that drives a person to do something. Even someone who believes they’re all good or all bad never really are like that all the time.

Me: I felt like I could identify with just about all your characters, even with how diverse they were. Have other readers voiced that?

Jonathan: I’m still waiting for a reader, any reader, to comment on the story. You’re the first, not including my editor.

Me: I definitely enjoyed it. While it had a lot of sciency stuff in it, it was really accessible for a layperson who doesn’t have a genetic or military background.

Jonathan: Yes, one of my goals was to make the science accessible. I dislike sci-fi that delves so deep into the science that I feel like I’m taking a college course. I want science to enable the story, not be the story.

Me: I think you captured that well.

Jonathan: Thank you.

Me: Next question: Jonathan Brooks is a character in your story. Why did you choose to write yourself in?

Jonathan: I’m thinking of sequels.  I wanted to have enough loose ends to go in a few different directions with the next books. Originally that wasn’t the plan, but as I wrote it made sense to me to have this rogue character who leaks the project info to another author. Now he’s on the run.

Me: One of my questions for you was going to be about sequels, because just about all the characters could have one. Are you currently working on one, or is it just something to look for in the general future?

Jonathan: I’m in the planning stage for the next sequel. I probably will start writing after the new year. Right now, I would like to write a book per year. It took me less than a year to write this first book. I think I should be able to pull it off. Of course, I may be optimistic.

Me: I think we all set optimistic schedules for ourselves, and then life gets in the way.

Jonathan: I tend to write in bursts. For example, this novel relic was mostly written over a two-month period.  Then lots and lots of editing after that. Yeah, life, mine is getting less complicated. My son is heading off to college next year so my wife and I will be empty nesters.

Me: So plenty of time to write.

Jonathan: I hope so.

Me: Will you be writing more political thrillers like Relic and its sequels, or do you plan to focus on another genre?

Jonathan: For now I plan to stay in this genre, but who knows, I may write something else. I didn’t originally plan to write in this genre; it just sort of happened. It feels comfortable for me.

Me: What did you initially want to write?

Jonathan: What did I originally want to write? …. hmmmm. Not sure how to answer that. I’ve spent many years writing technical documents, etc. I wanted to see if I could write something entertaining. I used to write when I was in college. I got my B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering and computer science, but I minored in theater arts. I really enjoyed theater but knew I couldn’t make a living at it. Now, thirty years later, I have the financial luxury of being able to slow down my career and do some writing.

Me: I had a college math professor who minored in creative writing, but felt the same way – he couldn’t make a living at it. It definitely made him a more rounded person, not focusing just on numbers.

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s like scientists and engineers who are also musicians.

Me: Have you kept up with the theater arts/creative side of yourself, or did you focus solely on technical stuff?

Jonathan: I happen to be an engineer who writes. For about ten years after I graduated college, I stayed active in theater by being involved in community theater. I was mostly involved in lighting design but also did scene construction.

Me: The technical parts.

Jonathan: I acted only once. I had the part of Steve in “Say Goodnight, Gracie” by Ralph Pape my senior year at Northeastern.

Me: Any plans for more acting, or will you stick to writing? And any desire to write scripts?

Jonathan: Screenplays perhaps. I had that in mind as I wrote Relic. There’s a lot of dialog

Me: Yeah, the story moves quickly.

Jonathan: I imagined the story sort of in movie form as I wrote.

Me: I could see it making a good film.

Jonathan: Got to find a studio, eh?

Me: Yeah, if only it were that easy.

Jonathan: Ha. When I first started writing I was much more descriptive. Lots of narration. The critiques shot it down, said I needed to do more showing and less telling, so I switched to dialog.

Me: I think for a thriller like Relic, more action and dialogue works better. Although introspection would’ve been interesting too, to see how the characters view their actions. But you could probably show a lot of that in sequels focusing more closely on various people.

Jonathan: Yeah, my editor wanted me to delve more deeply into the minds of the characters, wanted me to explore what made them tick. I thought that would make the story drag. It’s a balancing act.

Me: Definitely. Why did you go the self-publishing route?

Jonathan: Good question…Not sure if I have a good answer. I can get impatient

Me: It’s a personal decision, so whatever your answer, it’ll be a good one.

Jonathan: I wanted to write a quality book, but I didn’t want to shop it around for 5 years. Since it took me less than a year to write, I didn’t want it to sit on a shelf. I ‘m not in this for the money; It’s a personal endeavor. I’m doing it for my pleasure

Me: That’s a great reason to write.

Jonathan: If folks read it, then that’s good. In fact, I’d even be happy if folks hated the book; at least they read it.

Me: How easy did you find the process? Would you self-publish your next book?

Jonathan: The mechanics of self-pubbing is very easy, especially for ebooks, kindle. I focused on publishing as a paper book first. I went through CreateSpace because they have top-notch tools and support for creating the finished product. The process also slowed me down so that I would not “pull the trigger” prematurely and publish without first reading and rereading the text. It made me think. Going straight to kindle is too easy.

Me: Do you think you’ll have the same hesitation next time?

Jonathan:  Hesitation?

Me: Checking and rechecking.

Jonathan: That wasn’t hesitation. It was the right thing to do. I found a lot of mistakes by doing all that rereading.

Me: It paid off; I don’t think I caught any mistakes in the version I read.

Jonathan: There’s one grammatical error, very subtle.

Me: Shh, don’t tell me if I didn’t notice.

Jonathan: But I know it’s there. I had several other folks read the manuscript before pubbing. Beta readers. They found mistakes and stuff. Having several folks read it was good. Each person found different problems and had different opinions. However, none of them read the final version.

Me: They did a good job. Any final thoughts to offer about your book?

Jonathan:  One thing we didn’t touch upon in the interview was why I gave the book that title “Relic”. What do Neanderthal DNA and Morse code have in common? They’re both artifacts of bygone days that somehow still capture our attention and imagination.

All through the book there are references to historical artifacts: Morse code, Neanderthals, General Holbrooke’s personality, sailing ships, out-of-date warfare tactics and equipment, people who are past their prime but still exerting an influence. Artifacts like that are all around us in real life and still capture our attention and imagination. Artifacts that not only claim our attention but can alter our lives. There’s some mystical power that certain artifacts have. Some folks call it nostalgia. Whatever it is, these artifacts still exert some power over people.

Me: Okay, last question: what tips do you have for writers who want to publish?

Jonathan: Tips? Hmmmm. Make sure you have a quality product. Be proud of what you write, what you deliver.

Relic is available through Amazon as both an ebook and in print.

NaNo’s over – now what?

This year I got involved in the local NaNoWriMo group, which we’ve decided to keep going throughout the year. While I didn’t come close to finishing, many people hit the 50k mark and were wondering what the next step is. I recently presented the following information; hopefully you’ll find it useful too.

NaNo’s Over – Now What?

 Before you even think about publishing…

  1. Self-edit your manuscript.
    • Length – is it long enough according to industry standards?
    • Show vs. tell – if your book were a movie, would you rely on the actors or voiceovers to convey emotions and plot points? (BUT you don’t need every detail)
    • Plot, subplots, and themes – identify these and make sure that everything in your story relates to them. Take out or rewrite scenes and characters that don’t fit
  1. Beta readers
    • Find someone who will give you constructive feedback on what works and what doesn’t in regard to theme, characters, plot, etc.
    • NOTE: your mom/significant other/best friend will generally not be objective or specific.
  1. Revise.
  2. Repeat steps #1-3, as many times as necessary.
  3. Line edits (no point until you have a well-written manuscript)
    • Grammar, I-bombs, filter words, repetition, etc.
    • Consider hiring an editor because spell check is not enough!
  1. Publish!

 Publishing

  • Generally selling exclusive first rights
    • Not published elsewhere – non-password protected sites Google/anyone can access (your website)
    • Generally less than 10% public is okay – snippets, 1st chapter
  • No matter what option, you’ll be doing the majority of the marketing
  • Options
  1. Self-publishing
    • You do all the work (or hire someone) but maintain all control.
    • $ = as much as you want to spend
    • Smashwords, Book Baby, Kindle, Createspace, Lulu, etc
  1. Vanity
    • You pay someone to publish your book on their terms
    • $ = generally thousands of dollars, plus you pay inflated rates for your own books
    • Tate, Publish America, generally any company that solicits you
  1. Traditional
    • Someone does all the work and pays you (flat rate or royalties; advance)
    • $ = generally nothing but depends on contract
    • Two types:
      1. Big Five – generally 15% royalties, need an agent
      2. Indie/small press – higher royalties (30-50%), don’t need an agent
    • Querying process:
      1. Find an agent who does your genre or a small press. Pay attention to books/authors you like to see who they use. Follow industry people’s blogs and on Twitter.
      2. Send a query exactly as instructed – 200-word blurb, first x pages or chapters.
      3. Repeat ad nauseum – expect dozens of rejections/nonresponses.
  1. Hybrid
    • Mix of self-publishing and traditional
    • Whatever works for you – varies from writer to writer, story to story

Author Platform

  • Essential no matter how you publish
  • Relationships, not advertising – do NOT spam!
  • Polite to follow back but don’t feel obligated to become king/queen of [platform] – better to have engaged, interested followers than high numbers.
  • Best engagement – ask questions people can answer, then respond
  • Social media
  1. Twitter
    1. Follow people you find interesting – agents, writers, celebs, etc
    2. Try to tweet at least once a day – something interesting, not necessarily always about writing
    3. All about engagement – retweets, favorites, responding
    4. 140 characters
    5. Hashtags to get noticed: #amwriting, #amediting, #amreading; be creative
  2. Facebook
    1. Author page – people can like it, can’t see their info; easy to separate from personal
    2. Author account – friends with fans, can see their info and they see yours; technically not allowed to have 2 accounts
    3. Easier to have conversations
    4. FB limits who sees your page posts unless you pay; 10x more views for FBTwitter than TwitterFacebook, so try to use 140 character posts
  3. Not as popular (yet?)
    1. Google +
    2. Pinterest
    3. Goodreads
  • Website
    • Essential central spot to send people who may not be on FB, Twitter, etc.
    • Consider buying your own domain – looks more professional
    • Layout
      • Main page
      • Bio – same for everywhere (long and short versions) + 1 pic for everywhere
      • Novel/stories – titles, novel summaries, covers, publication dates, links to full text or place to buy
      • Contact info – form/email address, mailing list, social media links
      • Blog
        • If you have one, update regularly: daily, weekly, monthly, whatever works for you
        • Blogger, Weebly, Wix, WordPress.com (free but limited customization), WordPress.org (on your own host; more flexibility)

If you’ve published, is there anything you’d like to add to this? If you’re an aspiring author, is there anything you need clarification on? Let me know in the comments!

Us, Together: A Short Story Collection

While looking through a folder of finished stories, I realized I had a handful or so I’d written about teenagers and adolescents. A writing group to which I belong has been reiterating the importance of getting more works out there, so I decided to put six of the stories together on Amazon.

Us, Together: A Short Story Collection

Six stories about the problems teenagers face, from relationships and unplanned pregnancy to absent parents and poverty, loosely based on stories and students I encountered while teaching at-risk kids.

It’s just 1 cheeseburger ($.99) on Amazon.

The Next Big Thing — Blog Hop

Author George Wells has tagged me to answer some questions about my Next Big Thing, which is a collection of short stories I’m releasing at the end of May.

1. What is the working title of your story?

The collection is called The Futility of Loving a Soldier, with eleven stories in it.

2. Where did the idea for the story come from?

Like most stories I write, I look at the people around me, at their experiences, and try to guess their thoughts and motivation. One of these stories came from a conversation I had with a homeless veteran; 5 of the stories are connected and are roughly based on the military history of five generations in my family.

3. What genre does your story come under?

I aim for literary fiction, as I focus more on character development than fast-paced plot, but probably just general fiction.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Since they’re all short stories, I haven’t thought about it. It would be wonderful though if someone made them into short films.

5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The physical and psychological effects of war on both those who serve and those back home who love them.

6. Will your story be self-published, published by an independent publisher or represented by an agency?

A couple of the stories have already been published in various webzines and sites. The book will be self-published, but if my novel gets picked up by a publisher I might look into having them reissue this as well.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ve been working on these stories for a couple years, with each one taking anywhere from a day to several months to write.

8. What other books would you compare your story to within your genre?

Probably Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis, which is a collection of shorts and novellas with connected characters and themes. In addition to the military theme of my stories, two are about the same characters at different places in their life, and five show the effects of the military on five generations in a family. So, lots of connections.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this story?

As a writer with a psychology background, I’m fascinated with people’s stories and motivation for how they live their lives. And it seems like everywhere you turn, you run into people who are connected to the military, each with a story to tell: a fellow teacher whose son was killed in Afghanistan; a classmate who was a nurse at Landstuhl, the US military hospital in Germany; as well as coworkers, friends, and relatives who’ve served.

So many veterans come back and say they’re ignored. I wanted to try to tell their stories because so often I think civilians take for granted the sacrifices service men and women and their families have made, sacrifices that affect them for the rest of their lives.

10. What else about your story might pique the reader’s interest?

Even if you’ve never been in the military or been close to someone who’s served, chances are you’re connected somehow. These are stories everyone can relate to.

11. What has been the hardest part about writing this story?

Getting the details right. I have no military experience, so all my knowledge comes from books I’ve read, movies and documentaries I’ve seen, and people I’ve talked to. Fortunately I have quite a few people I’ve been able to go to for questions and they’ve been more than happy to explain everything to me, as well as add their own insights. To that end, however, I’ve decided not to write about actual combat because I don’t want to mess anything up.

12. What has been the most fun?

Hearing from readers that I perfectly captured an experience they had or could relate to, especially veterans.

13. Has writing this story illuminated any of your own strengths or weaknesses for you?

Yes, that if I pay attention to details, to what someone isn’t saying when they talk about their experiences as well as what they do say, I can pick up on their motivation well enough to tell their story accurately.

And that I procrastinate way too much; I’ve been working on finishing these stories right up until the deadline, rather than making myself work on them sooner.

14. What misconceptions do people have about your genre, and do you think your story addresses them?

My mom once asked me what kind of stories I wrote: horror, sci-fi, etc. I told her contemporary fiction, about everyday people and events, and she responded, “Who’d want to read that?”  A lot of people read for the escapism value, and that’s missing in stories about ordinary life.

However, I think that reading contemporary stories is extremely important because they give insight into the lives and experiences of the people around us, people who often aren’t willing or able to share with us, but whose stories are no less valid.

People don’t exist in a vacuum; at more than one point in your life you’re going to have to deal with people who aren’t like you. And you’re going to have a much better outcome if you can get inside their head, which is something I think contemporary fiction can help with.

15. What is your favorite scene you’ve written for this story?

Scenes don’t really apply, so I’ll comment on the stories instead. Two of them are about a pair of friends, Abby and Eli; the first, “Burger Run,” is set during the summer after they graduate high school, and the second, “A Wedding,” is ten years later, when they’ve come back to their hometown.  They’ve been best friends since they were babies, so they have this powerful bond between them that they’re not really consciously aware of.  I love how it gradually dawns on them when they need each other most.

So that’s my Next Big Thing. There are so many authors that read my blog, rather than tag anyone in particular, I tag whoever’s reading this. So you. Yes, you! What’s your Next Big Thing?

The Musings of E.D. Martin © 2011-2017 Privacy Policy Frontier Theme