Tag: writing group

Coming soon – a new series with its own mascot!

Clyde happensFor the past year or so, most of my writing effort has been divided between short stories and The Heartsbane Saga, the new series I’m working on. I’ve been working on this series for years, actually, but it’s really gained its momentum over the last 12-15 months.

This series will be 7 novellas (so far, about 40-50k words each although I expect they’ll get longer as the series progresses) and 7 stand-alone-ish short stories, each of which is based on a different fairy tale.

Originally the series was just going to be one book, but then it morphed into 7. I had them all roughly plotted out. My writing group, Chicken Scratch QC, approved of the arc. I was all set.

I wrote book 1. So far, so good. I started on book 2. And that’s when things started to go off the rails (although in a good way, because the direction I’m going in has a lot more depth and excitement and twists to it). Specifically, Clyde happened.

Clyde is a character who wasn’t supposed to be a character, who’s kinda become a legend in my local writing groups as a way to express when things aren’t going the way you thought they would in your story. “Dammit, Clyde” is frequently heard at writing gatherings.

In book 2, my main group of characters travels to Aghlabid, a far away country, and they’re accompanied by a couple nameless huskarler (bodyguards). Or at least, they were supposed to be nameless. Our conversation went a bit like this:

Character A: We want names.

Me: No.

Character B: I’ll be Gunnar.

Me: No.

Character A: And I’m Clyde.

Me: WTF. Clyde? Clyde is not a Viking name. At least Gunnar is a traditional Icelandic/Viking name.

Clyde: Also, we’re going to be integral to the plot.

Me: No.

Clyde: F your outline.

Me: Dammit, Clyde!

And Clyde’s been uncooperative ever since. I’ve had to redo my series outline at least three times now because of him, although again, each time the story’s become stronger and better for it.

But please, don’t tell Clyde that.

Heartsbane slideI’d originally planned to have the first book to my publisher earlier this spring, but due to changes to the series I’ve had to do some retconning (dammit, Clyde) and am now waiting until most of it is done before we release all the books a month or two apart, hopefully starting this spring. If you want to read sneak peaks, please head over to Patreon, where the first short story, “The Maiden in the Tower,” is posted as well as the first chapters of the books.

An unscientific poll about romance

My writers’ group had a conversation recently about what kind of romance we like to read, sparked by a local author whose books are in the “clean and wholesome romance” section on Amazon. We discussed what that might entail, and decided it was the opposite of “dirty liberal atheist” romance.

Then, out of curiosity, I did a poll on Twitter and Facebook.

RomancePollTwitter RomancePollFB

My sample size was small (9 and 7, respectively), and there’s a good chance some of the same people voted on both of them. But still, 4 people (25%) prefer clean and wholesome and 12 (75%) prefer dirty liberal atheist, which is a thing I just made up. A couple people commented that they don’t specifically read romance but enjoy romantic subplots.

This is kinda pertinent for me because I’m not a big romance person either. The series I’m working on has maybe more romance in it than I prefer, but it has lots of different types of relationships and all are part of character development. The relationships are constantly shifting as the characters grow (or regress, in some cases). Based on my polls, it seems like my readers will be okay with this.

Are you a romance reader? What kind of love/relationships/courtship do you prefer: clean and wholesome, dirty liberal atheist, or somewhere in the middle? Let me know in the comments!

#NaNoWriMo 2018

crocheted dinosaursJust like every year, I started out the month of November with the best of intentions. For the first time since 2012, I’m not in grad school so I’d have plenty of time to write this year! I work full time but don’t generally bring stuff home with me, which would leave me 7-8 hours to write every night. I only needed 1666 words per day, which would be simple to write in just a few hours. How could I lose?

Well, it seems I could lose the same way I lose every year – life got in the way. I only managed about 10,000 words.

This year, however, it wasn’t homework or work or just pure procrastination. No, this year Etsy was my downfall.

I have a lot of interests, and one of them is crochet. I like to make my own unique creations as a way to relieve stress, and since I don’t really need a dozen octupi or aye-ayes or whatever else I’ve just made, I sell it all on Etsy. Based on past years’ experience, I know that November/December is when I’ll see most of my annual sales. I had planned to make lots of stuff year-round so I wouldn’t get swamped at the holidays, but just like with writing, life got in the way.

And whoa boy, did I get swamped this year. I have a new item, baby dinos in eggs, and they’re pretty popular. Which means all my time is going towards making them, rather than writing, because I’m kinda broke and need the immediate money from Etsy rather than the not-so-immediate money I get from writing.

The good news is, everything should calm down in a couple more weeks, and then I can get back to writing. I’ve just finished the first draft of Captive and the Cursed, Book 1 of a new series of retold fairy tales-sans magic-avec Vikings that my writing group loves, and I’m super excited to get it edited and off to my publisher, hopefully to be released this spring. I’m also super excited to get started on Sleeping Shaman, book 2, as soon as edits are done on book 1. I have two whole weeks off for Christmas break and zero plans, so maybe I’ll be able to get some writing done. Even when life gets in the way.

How to use 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.”


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?”


“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.


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
    • 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


  • 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


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.


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.”


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.

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