Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Screenwriter Mark Sanderson Interviews...Yours Truly!




Fellow screenwriter Mark Sanderson 
interviewed me recently about not only 
my screenwriting career 
but also my new-found novel writing career! 
If you'd like to give it a read (and why wouldn't you?), 
visit Mark's great website here!


Sunday, March 26, 2017

INDIE AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: PHILLIP THOMAS HOPERSBERGER

Phillip Thomas Hopersberger




Q: Phillip...what made you become a writer?

A: I had no choice. From a very early age it was a natural gift that came very easily to me.  In 7th grade, my teacher thought my essays were too good and were being written by someone at home, either by my parents or older siblings. In order to catch me cheating, she changed the day’s entire lesson and had each of us write an impromptu essay at our desks. Of course, I had no idea about any of this, and it was only revealed later at a Parent-Teacher Conference when she explained the trap to my mother. She told her that I wrote an even better essay than any of my former ones on that particular day, and thought I was destined to be a writer. No one at that age could write like that! As a result of this stunt, that’s all my beaming mother ever said to me when a career choice came up, “You should be a writer.” I’m sure that made her day to hear about my abilities from my teacher, but I can’t really take any credit for a gift from God. It’s innate. I have no idea how it works. I will say that, despite such accolades, I was slow coming to the writing table. I became a pastor out of college and did ministry for over 20 years, but I always knew I was a writer and eventually gave in to His calling.

Q: What is your typical writing day like?

A: Routine bores me. I appreciate discipline and schedules, but it doesn’t help me to be creative. For me, “variety is the spice of life.” It sounds contradictory, but I need to have lots going on to stay focused. It also depends what my project is that day. A screenplay is different from a newspaper column, a novel, a blog post, or an article. Usually I start late and write late. I am not a morning person and all the dribble about “up at dawn” doesn’t work for me. I usually write for a while, a couple of hours, and then take a break and walk around outside or post something on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Then I’m back at it for another couple of hours. If I’m on a deadline, the breaks are fewer. If I’m writing for myself (not being paid), then it’s a slower process with lots of time to percolate ideas. That is critical, to let ideas simmer and form themselves. I like to have several things going at once so I can jump around between projects. (If I get bored or stuck on one thing, then I can go to something fresh and this makes for a continuous flow of ideas.)

Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?

A: I hate outlines. If I do one, it is very sparse. I have a general idea of where I’m going with a scene or chapter, and so I just write it. I do know the overall story, and I usually have a synopsis of it (one page and then a longer version of 8-10 pages), but not anything too detailed as far as an outline.

Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?

A: I’m not like most writers, I think. I don’t move on until it is absolutely the best it can possibly be (for me, at this stage of my abilities). I will rewrite and revise until it’s perfect, and only then will I go on to the next chapter or scene. The first chapter or two gets polished so many times I can’t even say with certainty how many passes it gets. I go by the “five and dime” rule. Any reader will read the first five pages and the last ten to see if it’s any good before buying or recommending it, so I spend a good deal of time on the front and back end of my stories. So an actual number of revisions would be hard to nail down. Maybe 50-100 per chapter?  They say easy reading is hard writing, and I think that’s true for me. I revise it until it’s just right.  

Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?

A: Ignore it when you finish it. Put it away for several months and let it rest. You can’t see the forest for the trees after being in so deep on every decision; your objectivity is shot. Your brain needs to relax and get recharged with other things before you can really see what’s wrong with it. If you did your best, when you read it again it should impress you. If it doesn’t, then you’re not done. Your first read of it in this period should get this reaction: “That was pretty dang good!” If you don’t like it, neither will the reader. You are not writing for you, you are writing for them. Important lesson.

Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?

A: Write the scene you see. You do not have to know everything about your story. Sometimes you get stalled by not knowing what the next scene should be. Forget it. Write the ones you know. Don’t be a perfectionist initially. The first step is just to get some “clay” on the page that you can mold later on. That’s when perfectionism comes into play, later in the rewrite. For now, just get the clay on the page. Stay in the chair [and] resist the urge to get up. Keep writing. Find a mentor when you’re first starting out. Go to writer’s conferences and make friends with writers who are further along, network with them, and ask them if they’ll look at just one chapter. Try to keep those relationships alive. Learn to say no to things. It may be TV, events, people, appeals for your help, etc. You cannot do everything. I always pray and ask God for help. If He’s really my Creator, and I think He is, then how stupid of me to think I can do what He does (create something out of nothing) without His help. I only look dumb.

Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?

A: No. It’s a fallacy. The real issue [is] fear. Stephen King said, “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.” The magic is still in you, despite what you feel. If not fear, then it’s just being lazy. You can write. The question is: Do you want to write today? Either you’re afraid or you’re not ready. Writer’s block is an excuse. To think you cannot write when you obviously can write (you’ve already proven that) is absurd.

Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?

A: Overall, [it was] movies, especially war movies, and books that I was exposed to as a kid. Seeing history on the screen or in my mind just fascinated me. There’s something about true historical stories, like the Wright brothers, and Civil War heroes like Mosby. The history of the world is so amazing when you realize these people really walked the earth.  Alexander the Great, Jackson, Napoleon, and Lincoln were real men. I’d also say becoming a Christian led to my enjoyment of supernatural thrillers. The spiritual element of life, how God fits into history, fascinates me—and truth is stranger than fiction, right?

Q: Do you utilize beta readers?

A: Sparingly. I will show what I’m doing to a select few folks I trust. But I’ve found that most people are not writers so they either say things your mom would say that doesn’t help you improve (“This is the greatest thing I’ve ever read in my entire life!”), or they don’t have any idea what they’re talking about and give you criticisms that only depress or confuse you. The best thing to do is find someone who can write or who reads a lot and ask specific questions of them after they read your stuff (one chapter at a time or they’ll never finish it). My biggest question with them is: Did I wake them up from the dream of my story world?  I don’t want anything to jar them awake to the reality that they’re just looking at a piece of paper. The other option is to join, or start, a writing group, the smaller the better, where you review each other’s stuff. That, of course, takes time, so you lose that aspect of it having to read other’s stuff.

Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?

A: That is a hard one to answer, but if I were honest I’d have to say there are three of them: the Prologue to Xposure because I spent a lot of time on it and it really rolls, and you feel like you’re in the Vatican; the following chapter because I love turkey hunting and it captured the thrill of it so well; and the very next chapter on Stan being activated as a sleeper agent in Ybor City’s pawn shop. That last one really smokes. You can visualize what I write in all three, which is my strength as a writer, but the last one admittedly seems so very real.

Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?

A: I guess it’d help to know the gist of the Xposure story first. Xposure is about a conflicted Soviet “sleeper” agent—Stan Stanislaw, a US Navy SEAL—who reneges on a deal his parents made during World War II, and now without a country, tries to survive long enough to expose a plot that threatens more than an antiquated Cold War agenda. He discovers that the future of the human race is up for grabs after stumbling onto a UFO aspect to his activation as a spy. Stan is special because he was inspired by a real Navy SEAL that I know, and the research involved with who a SEAL is made him very genuine to me. I did make him fit my story and who I wanted him to be, but the core of Stan is very real. The other aspect is that it uses some theology theories I have on the Book of Genesis…so it has a personal appeal to me regarding demonology and UFOs.

Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?

A: Make a short video trailer for your book. That does more than almost anything because then you have something to share on social media. You can see two of mine for Xposure and Something Gray on my website [linked in name caption above]. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are also very helpful to get the word out. You can join groups on Facebook that relate to your genre, and give away free chapters to members there, or create a page for it or a related field like archaeology or some aspect of your book. (I have two FB pages on Civil War history and supernatural events with periodic promotional stuff posted on my writing.) Write articles on LinkedIn about writing tips or your genre with related news/articles. You can also promote it for free on certain book sites, as well as through Amazon’s KDP Select program. Just Google free books and lots will come up. Sometimes it has to be scheduled well in advance, so don’t wait too long to contact them about your giveaway. You should also include writing samples on your website. I have several chapters and articles there for folks to read. Also add your website link to your signature on your emails. Or you can skip all that and just pay someone a lot of money to do it for you. 

Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?

A: I think of Clark Gable in It Happened One Night when he says, “Don’t make me laugh.” It’s easy to criticize, but unless they have some credibility, ignore them. You’ll sleep better. Same principle as beta readers. One “writer” posted a negative review that bugged me initially, until I went and read some of her stuff. It was absolutely awful. I felt much better after that because she couldn’t write…at all. So just because someone has an opinion, it doesn’t mean they’re right. You need to value the right opinion because the person has credentials. Tolkien said,“I am dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at.” No matter what you write, somebody will not like it. So be it.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: The money! Ha! Seriously, I’ve never thought about that. The freedom is nice when you hear friends complain about their job or not getting time off to go somewhere. It’s just who I am and what I do. I will say that it’s pretty rewarding when people read stuff you made up and your words make them cry (in a good way), or they compliment you profusely. It’s nice to be liked, but I write because I can and never thought much about adulation or perks.

Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: It’s nice to be paid for putting words on a page, but it doesn’t pay a lot. Not unless you have some big platform to promote yourself. In life, you usually have time or money, but almost never do you have both. I guess I’d say a guaranteed paycheck is nice every two weeks, but that steady income will come eventually if you’re good.

Q: What is your current writing project?

A: I have three screenplays going; two are paid gigs and one is my own spec script. There are also two more books on the slate in the Xposure trilogy. And regular things like my newspaper column or some freelance stuff always seems to come in, too.   

Q: What are three of your favorite novels?

A: JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is hard to beat, but The Chronicles of Narnia still works on so many levels, and on several that are just being discovered now with Lewis’ love of planets coming to light. I’m not sure which of those would make a desert island easier to take, but Tolkien has three versus seven for Clive, so I’ll say LOTR (if I can have The Hobbit tossed in). Seriously, LOTR is epic and still stands up pretty well.

Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?

A: Charles Dickens, hands down. I’d ask him every question I could think of about A Christmas Carol, which is a timeless classic that changed so much about the world’s view of Christmas and the Industrial Age abuses of the poor and children. Like LOTR, it holds up even today, and it’s nearly perfect in so many aspects. That is a classic that holds a ton of skillful writing in very, very few pages. If you have not read A Christmas Carol, do so immediately.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?

A: Read every book you can on writing before you go to a good writer’s conference. Then repeat that advice for the next year. If you can afford it, repeat again. Be friendly and outgoing; meet and eat with as many people as you can; walk with speakers to the next session, ask questions, give away business cards and get as many as you can in return.

Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

A: “Don’t fool yourself. You cannot create without knowing the Creator. Read the Bible, still the number one bestseller of all time.”


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No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about a guy trying to live the Hollywood dream...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Guest Blog by Damario Morris



I used to be a troublemaker in my early years. I spent most of my teens and twenties in and out of juvenile facilities. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life and that contributed to my troubles. I got arrested at the age of twenty-four and was sentenced to ten years with six years suspended. That turned out to be pivotal [moment in time] for me. I was sent to M.C.I.J.—a medium security prison in Maryland—where I ran into a childhood friend I had seen maybe three times in ten years. He worked in the kitchen at the prison. He was transferred to my section and my writing career started shortly thereafter. 

I’m a fast reader. I used to read three, sometimes four novels a day. I was reading so fast that after a month I’d read all the books on the tier. I asked my friend Ronald Wilson, "Do you have anything to read?" That's when he gave me a book he'd written. After a few pages, I was hooked. Of all the crime dramas I've ever read in my life—and I've read hundreds—his book was by far one of the best. I hate to say it, but after I finished, I became jealous. I thought "if this person can write a book, so can I.” 

After [reading Ronald's book], I started writing. I attempted to write a crime drama as well but I never sold a hard drug a day in my life, so I didn’t feel my story would be authentic. So I changed the direction and decided to try a comedy. It took eleven months, but I finished my first book called County Bounties. I passed it around to be read. I was sitting in the day room, watching someone as they read it on their bunk, without them knowing. The guy leaned in, furrowed his eyebrows, slammed the book on his bed and laughed until tears came out of his eyes. At that moment, I knew this was my calling. I came home and started typing my book. After formatting, [the manuscript] was so long that I was able to turn it into two books. After that, I began writing in my spare time. 

My writing process is pretty simple. I make myself write a minimum of one page per day for each book. Usually it’s more than a page; but on those lazy days, I do the minimum. My influences, believe it or not, aren't authors. Growing up, I was a big fan of the Farrelly brothers. I’m a big fan of There's Something About Mary, Me Myself & IreneKingpin, as well as their early movies. [I'm also a fan of] early Adam Sandler. I prefer to write dark comedies and my novels are reflections of those movies. I write slapstick comedies that have situations that would never be allowed in real life. I've been told my first novel reads like a black South Park or Family Guy. 

Now I’m working on my sixth and seventh books. I’m also trying my hand at screenwriting. I went through doubts with my other books as I'm sure other authors do. No matter how down or how little I believed in my novels, the responses [to them] have been overwhelmingly positive. I look back now and remember writing books and reading them to myself when I was in elementary school; or, as a teen, making my mother a birthday card that made her cry and laugh at the same time. I realize it was always in my future to write. I just had to learn it the hard way.


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No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about a guy trying to live the Hollywood dream...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

INDIE AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: NICK BROWN





Q: Nick...what made you become a writer? 

A: I’ve always written contributing articles and book reviews to periodicals, mainly archaeology related ones. I’d always wanted to write novels and my head began to fill with ideas until I got to the point where I sat down to write the first words of my first book. Once I realized I’d be able to finish the book I decided to leave my job and become a writer.

Q: What is your typical writing day like? 

A: I have two typical types of day. The first is to get up and have breakfast while I read the paper. After about an hour or so something tells me I need to write. I listen to music as I write and write for as long as the ideas flow and the writing isn’t forced. The second type of day is when the ideas don’t come and the writing doesn’t flow, in which case I do something completely different until it begins to happen. I also need many days to research, make notes and prepare for writing. This preparation creates a structure that allows me to write.

Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?

A: I find I need an idea of the story line to provide me with a structure that shapes the novel but provides space to accommodate the flashes of inspiration that all writers get. In this way the inspiration changes the dynamic but stays within the overall intention of the book. I write novel cycles and this demands discipline to prevent one novel subverting the others. The only way I can do this is by starting with an idea of where the series is going to end and the only way that works for me is to road test the validity and integrity of this before I begin. Once the structure is in place I know I have plenty of freedom in how I deliver the story and action.

Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?

A: I constantly revise and revisit as I write. Then I try and leave the book for a period without thinking about it. Once it’s out of my head I return and do a full scale revision of the plot after which I give it a final revision for style and mistakes before it goes to be edited.

Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?

A: I have two tips. If you have the slightest hesitation about anything then cut it. The second is that the first draft, however much revised, is always too long and will require pruning, often quite savagely. It helps if you try to view your writing from the perspective of a hostile critic.

Q: What habits and tricks have made you a better writer?

A: I am fortunate to have someone who reads my books and comments critically as I am writing. It is very easy to become too wrapped up in your creation and complacent about it. I also pay attention to criticism of previous books where it is helpful. I think after one book has come out it is a good thing to consider what I could have done better before starting the next.

Q: Do you suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?

A: When I get blocked, which happens periodically, I stop and do something else. I find that going for a walk, or other exercise helps. If I set out to walk the fields for a few hours I take a note book with me as once my head clears the ideas come....and the ideas are back.

Q: What drew you to your preferred genre(s)?

A: I was an archaeologist and ancient historian and the ancient Greek books came out of a question which was difficult to understand through research. The feeling grew that the best way to try and explain the reasons why the Athenians invented and then defended, against all the odds, democracy was to try and fill in the gaps and that included the psychology of the individuals concerned. The best way to approach that was through imagining their situations; from that it was a short step to a novel. The supernatural thrillers were inspired by a love of the more subtle, atmosphere-driven examples of the genre and also, and there’s no way to get around this, by my own experience.

Q: Do you utilize Beta readers

A: No.

Q: In your most recently published novel, what was one scene you really enjoyed writingand why?

A: I enjoyed writing the scene where a disoriented Jed Gifford is hunted across the moss in Dark Coven (book 3 in the Ancient Gramarye series). It deals with the demise of a particularly unpleasant minor character and is written from his perspective. It is a particularly dark scene and very fast moving. I felt the sense of strange atmosphere as I wrote and because of that managed to inject an element of sympathy for Jed I hadn’t anticipated, and even a touch of dark humor. After all everyone has their own story to tell. I think it is a genuinely ambiguous and frightening few pages

Q: What makes the characters of your most recent novel so special?

A: I finished Greenman Resurrection last night (Halloween). It is the last in the Ancient Gramarye series. I think the characters are special because they have loved, suffered and evolved over the best part of twelve hundred pages. The longer you spend with a character, sharing their feelings, the more real they become. This is particularly difficult in the case of the less flamboyant, ordinary characters so necessary in delivering a believable cast. If the characters don’t work, the book won’t.

Q: What is the best advice for author self-promotion.

A: I’m not really the person to answer that as I don’t think I’m very good at it. I’ve taught myself social media, etc., but the best advice I can give is persevere with the writing. It took me a long time to build up a readership. I also think it helps to promote and help other writers; it’s a very lonely occupation.

Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?

A: We all get them, they are a fact of life. I have three points on this. If they hurt too much, stop reading reviews. Otherwise try and differentiate the spiteful from those that make a serious point. Once you have got over the upset consider that point and see if you can benefit from it. The best help I ever got was when I was writing my first book. I showed a draft of it to a friend who was an experienced author and then sat back expecting a shower of praise. She eviscerated it, told me some home truths about how much hard work it takes to write well and then gave me some very good advice on how to start again. It is the most significant help I’ve ever had, based as it was on honesty.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: The freedom that comes with it and the feeling of self worth when you begin to succeed. By succeed I mean acquire a readership who love your books.

Q: What is the least favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: Having to learn everything for yourself, no book promotion, and the isolation of the role.

Q: What is your current writing project?

A: I’ve just finished the Ancient Gramarye series of supernatural thrillers which began with Skendleby and I think for a few days I will sit emptily and miss them. In mid November I’ll start writing 
The Sacrifice of Athena, the third of the Luck Bringer series. I’m looking forward to inhabiting my favorite character, Mandrocles, again.

Q: What are three of your favorite novels?

A: It is so hard to choose and I’m constantly reading, but three that come to mind are Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Waterland by Graham Swift, and probably, because I loved it when I was at school, Lord of the Rings. However apart from the Dickens, although it’s a tight thing between Bleak House and Great Expectations, on another day it could be a different list.

Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be and what would you talk about?

A: Not quite a novelist because there were no novels when he was writing, but I’d like to have lunch with Aeschylus, the Greek poet and dramatist from the fifth century BC. He was the first war hero poet who fought at Salamis and Marathon where his brother bled to death next to him. He invented modern drama and managed to write about women as strong characters and not just ignore them like the ancient historians did. He is a major figure in the Luck Bringer series and I’d like to talk to him about how my portrayal of him could be improved. I’d also like to share experiences about how facing violence and dealing with death affects writers. I think there is plenty of that in his writing and there’s a little in mine.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?

A: Do it because you love it, not for money or celebrity.

Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

A: The final words of the politician Lord Palmerston. “Die, my dear doctor? That’s the last thing I intend to do!"

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No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about a guy trying to live the Hollywood dream...
Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen by Jim Vines




Thursday, September 15, 2016

INDIE AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: JENNY GRAHAM-JONES





Q: Jenny...what made you become a writer?

A: I don't remember becoming a writer. Perhaps it would be better to say, I don't remember becoming a storyteller. As far as I or any of my close family can remember, I have always been telling stories. My memory being somewhat hazy, I don't remember when I first sat down and put one of those stories into writing. I suppose it would have been at school, in a creative writing lesson. Since then, I haven't ever stopped. I've been scribbling in notebooks and filling word-processor documents with ideas ever since.

Q: What is your typical writing day like?

A: I don't know if there is a typical day for me, to be honest. I fairly frequently have a long bus journey to and from work, so I may spend part of that journey either working over ideas in my head, or getting something basic down on my laptop. If I'm at home, I like to have a cup of coffee on hand and some mood music playing. By mood I mean something that evokes whatever place or feeling the scene I'm about to write should convey.

Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?

A: Not a huge amount. I can't write from the seat of my pants, as the saying goes, but equally I don't like to map every scene out in advance of writing it. I've actually just this week started a blog post series exploring the ways that I am applying frameworks from my day job, as a software developer, to the writing process.

Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?

A: That's hard to say. As many as it needs, I should think. My first pass at anything I write is inevitably littered with grammatical errors and needs a thorough scouring for any misplaced apostrophes. After that, there's always plenty to consider in the editing process.

Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?

A: Get someone else to look at it for you. Multiple someone elses, in fact. Not that I don't think there is a lot to be gleaned from setting aside then returning to your own work, to review and revise, but a fresh pair of eyessomeone else's eyes— is an invaluable tool.

Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?

A: I'm not sure that you could call it a trick, but the word-processing program Scrivener has served me especially well, when it comes to being able to plot and plan in a structured but flexible way. In terms of habits, I'd say reading out aloud what I've written. It's often a great way of getting a feel for whether a sentence is structured well, or testing whether dialogue sounds believable.

Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?

A: I do, and I envy any writer who doesn't. One technique that I have found useful in clearing the blockage, so to speak, is to work on something different. I know it sounds a little counterproductive, but sometimes spending a couple of hours
—or days—working on a different creative writing project, or on something not related to writing at all, does wonders for me. If in doubt, though, going for a run has become a sure-fire way of jiggling the blockage out of my brain.

Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?

A: It never occurred to me to chose a genre to write. Fantasy and science fiction are the genres that I love to read, so it was natural for me to write in those genres too. I can't think of any other genre that I would want to write. Not that I don't like to read outside of sci-fi and fantasy, but I definitely have no inclination to write, for instance, a thriller or a piece of literary fiction. I know where my interest and strengths lie.

Q: Do you utilize beta readers?

A: I haven't so far, but it's definitely something that I would consider for projects in the future. The concept makes a lot of sense to me, since I work in the software development profession, where we release software into various stages of alpha and beta before letting it loose on a wider audience. I've seen firsthand how the feedback of beta users has been key in refining a product into something better, so I can only imagine the same would be true of using beta readers on a novel.

Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?

A: I'm not published just yet, but I can answer this in reference to my novel Witherfist, which is currently in "funding" on Inkshares. In the very first scene, the reader is introduced to the central character, Irusai Daud. This introduction has to do a lot in the way of establishing what the world and its people are like. I enjoyed writing it, and I'm proud of it, because I think it struck the right balance between building the readers' understanding of the world, and progressing the narrative. There is a lot of backstory in place, for the characters and the setting, but the scene is never weighed down by any of it. Instead, it's sprinkled here and there with hints and teases in a way that, I've been told, keeps the reader wanting to know more.

Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?

A: I'd like to think that they're both something you've not seen before. Irusai is a woman in her late thirties, a mother and a wife; but also an incredibly accomplished warrior. She was once a provincial governor, in the same vein as the Samurai lords of feudal China. When a political coup threatened the country, she and a number of her peers made pacts with spirits to gain the upper hand in combat. Now, Irusai finds herself permanently bound to a creation that feeds upon the life energy of others. She is effectively in self-imposed exile, and to return home she must not only find a way of ridding herself of the spirit tied to her, but also potentially come to terms with the knowledge that going home means accepting an illegitimate ruler, if only so that she can be reunited with her husband and young daughter.

The other central character is Arren, a princess of the Empire that Irusai was sworn to protect. Her father was overthrown by her mother in the political coup that drove Irusai into exile. Arren sided with her father in the conflict and consequently is also a fugitive. At the time of the coup, Arren was outside of Imperial territory, leading diplomatic and trade negotiations in the desert sultanates of Isherban. She's an incredibly capable woman, who has been well educated since childhood, but doesn't have a huge number of friends in the Imperial court. She is also a lesbian, something that perhaps shouldn't be so special but to me, as a gay woman myself, actually is. Her sexuality is only a small part of her character, but it's an important one to me, as someone who grew up surrounded by images of Disney princesses who never quite represented me.

Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?

A: Make it personal. As I'm taking part in a publishing contest for the first time, a lot of what I've been doing is feeling out what works and what doesn't. I've tried all sorts, from placing adverts both in print and online, to joining networks of readers and authors. What has been the most successful, without a doubt, has been engaging on a one-to-one basis with potential readers.

Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?

A: I'm always happy to receive constructive feedback, or feedback that amounts to not much more than "this just isn't my thing." So far, touch wood, I haven't had any majorly negative reviews from readers. If or when I do, I'm not sure how I would deal with them, other than to accept that not everyone will like what I do, and not let that knowledge become a burden.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: I'd have to say the supporting community. There are so many of us, all trying to make our voices heard and share our stories with the world. It can be daunting, but sharing the experience with others makes it less so. On top of that, I have found there is a real willingness to help not only promote within the community, but offer frank and honest feedback on any work you might have in progress.

Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A; Dividing my time between writing and promotion. Though having a support network in place is fantastic, you ultimately have to be a one-person promotion machine, unless you're willing and/or able to sink a bunch of cash into getting someone to promote for you.

Q: What is your current writing project?

A: My current project is the epic fantasy novel Witherfist, which is part of Inkshares. Witherfist is an epic fantasy, the first in a series of novels. The story revolves around two women, both of whom have been expelled from an empire they once either fought to protect or, in time, stood to rule. 

Q: What are three of your favorite novels?

A: This is such a tricky question to answer. After mulling it over for far too long, I've settled on three by some of my favorite authors.

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?

A: I think it would be a toss up between two. The first would be George R. R. Martin, since I'm eagerly awaiting his next release and would love to pick his brains. The second would be Brandon Sanderson, whose work I admire and draw a lot of inspiration from. Failing that, Hemingway. I feel like he'd show me a good time!

Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?

A: Start writing. Start getting involved with communities of like-minded writers and potential readers of your fiction. These networks will become invaluable for you.

Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

A: "Do or do not, there is no try." Can't go wrong with the wisdom of a Master Yoda!

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No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about a guy trying to live the Hollywood dream...

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016

INDIE AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: DAN ABSALONSON



Q: Dan...what made you become a writer?

A: My love of books. I've always loved reading. Books are so awesome! I have been on so many great adventures and have received so much enjoyment out of reading other people's stories that it just seemed like way too much fun to not try writing my own stories. I found out that writing was even more fun than reading, which is saying a lot for me.

Q: What is your typical writing day like?

A: I usually write while commuting to or from work using speech to text on my iPhone. I have a very easy commute with little traffic on the freeway. It's a great time to think and it's a great time to write. Writing with speech to text takes a while to get used to but I think my dialogue is better for it. If I happen to find some free time in the evening I'll get some words in then. Anytime my wife goes out with friends, or if I find some time for myself, I get some writing done. I usually do my first drafts in an app called Simplenote because it autosaves to the cloud. I can use the app on my phone or write in my browser on my laptop. It's great to pick up where I left off on another device and know it's been saved automatically. 

Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?

A: I am an outliner. If I know where the story is going in the first draft, my next draft requires less revision. I usually write down any ideas I have about the story. My subconscious works on it for a while and then the first scene comes. It often comes out all at once; even if I don't end up using it later it informs me about who the characters are. Then I write down the main plot points. I start with the 3 act structure following these headings: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr. 

In act 1 my character is an Orphan, either figuratively or literally. Once his world has changed and I'm in act 2, he's a Wanderer. Once he's passed the midpoint of the story and has gone from reacting to the problem to actively fighting against it, he's a Warrior. In act 3 he's
 come to a place where he is willing to be a Martyr to accomplish his goal. This gives me a rough shape to the character's story. Then I use the 7 point system for the structure (search on YouTube: "Dan Wells, Story Structure"). It uses: Hook, First Plot Point, Pinch Point 1, Mid-Point, Pinch Point 2, Second Plot Point, and Resolution. I also use Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet. Knowing these story points and where they go really helps me further flesh out my story. 

Once I have these story points down I decide on how long I want my book to be and how long I want the chapters to be. Then on a piece of paper I write down a line or two for each chapter using the story points. When I'm done I move this to a digital file. Granted it's only a sentence or two for each chapter but seeing the whole story on one piece of paper gives me the confidence to move forward. Sometimes filling out this page takes several sessions over the course of a few days. It's kind of like putting a puzzle together. I put each story point (or beat) in the chapter they go in because they all go at a certain point in the story. Then from there I fill in a few lines for the remaining chapters. Once every chapter is done, I usually write a paragraph or two for each chapter. I use this as a reference while I write. I often do a few of these paragraphs before writing them as full chapters. They're only a paragraph or two so I'm still able to discover a lot about my story while writing, but I always know where I'm going.


Outlining and learning story structure has helped me go from stories that meander and don't have a good flow, to stories that, at least I think, are worth publishing. The story may change and grow as I write, but I just keep fleshing out the next chapter in a paragraph or two before I write it. I'm not chained to the outline
but man, does it help me write better stories! [Note: A sample chapter outline page is included below.]

Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?

A: Short answer: as many as it takes. I've only written 3 novels and a novella, so I'm still learning. It seems after a first draft I need one revision to make the story work better and fix the plot elements. Then another revision to make sure each chapter makes sense. Then another revision to clean up the prose as best I can before giving it to beta readers. Then another revision after beta readers have given me feedback. Then I'll read it again with all the changes and make notes as I find things to fix. I'd say I need 3-5 revisions because I'm still learning a lot about writing a great story, but I'm hoping that number will go down as I get more novels under my belt. Using the outlining methods I described above seems to help me skip the first revision where I make huge sweeping changes to fix the plot.

Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?

A: When editing your manuscript read it in a different format than the way you wrote it. Some people print it off, others read it in a different program. I am used to reading e-books in my Kindle app on my phone so I make my book into a Kindle file and read it on my phone. In the Kindle app you can highlight things and make comments. I have found these tools to work perfectly for marking things that need to be fixed. I make a note and then just keep reading. Once I've built up a bunch of comments I go back into my manuscript and make those edits. But reading your book in a way that looks different from the program you wrote it in helps your brain see mistakes that it might otherwise overlook. Another great tip is to read your work out loud. It's pretty easy to have Siri read an e-book to me on my iPhone, so that's what I do. It helps me hear all kinds of mistakes my eyes might have skipped. 

Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?

A: In sixth grade my teacher used to have us do timed writes. At the beginning of the year she had us write for 5 minutes. It felt like forever. She just said "Write about whatever. Just write." By the end of the year she had us writing for 20 minutes. When she said stop it felt like we had just started. Now when I sit down to write, the words just flow. I'm forever grateful for that teacher. Do your own writing sprints. Start with 5 minutes. Write about whatever. Just get used to writing. Once that feels like nothing, do 7 or 10 minutes. Work your way up to 20 minutes. If you do this you will build the habit of sitting down and writing and the words will flow. Now I can just sit down and start writing immediately. The other best tip I ever heard was to turn off your internal editor while writing the first draft and keep writing until you finish your story. A lot of writers have been rewriting the first chapter of their novel for years trying to get it perfect. You might end up cutting the first chapter once you're done with the book. Don't worry if everything you write seems like it's crap. Even the pros feel that way sometimes. Keep going and finish your story. You can always go back and edit it as many times as you need to make it perfect later, but you need to finish your stories.

Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?

A: I used to. But now that I outline and know where I'm going, I don't. That said there are times when I'm outlining and can't figure out a part of the story. I just keep thinking about it and trying to figure out what would work best. I keep thinking about the problem of what should happen next throughout my day. Eventually my subconscious figures it out and at a random point in time it comes to me and I write it down and continue outlining. 

Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?

A: Science fiction and fantasy are my favorite genres to read so that's what I usually write. I occasionally write thrillers and literary fiction too but have only done those in short story form. I've really enjoyed the few thrillers that I have read but I mostly stick to science fiction and fantasy. I just go with whatever genre my story ideas fit in. I'm not one of those authors who only writes in one genre. Maybe I will someday if I find success with a series or something, but I'm still learning what my preferred genre is. More than likely I'll just keep writing in all the genres my story ideas suggest. 

Q: Do you utilize beta readers?

A: Yes, and I wish I would have early on! I tried making a manuscript the best it could be on my own and then handing it to an editor, only for the editor to point out big things that beta readers could have caught that needed fixing. It's great getting different perspectives from different readers. 

Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?

A: The last scene. I felt like it was a very emotional and satisfying scene. I had a lot of fun coming up with imagery that the main character recalls as he's remembering his dangerous journey. It's sad but I think it leaves the reader in a good place. It's probably the scene I am most proud of in any of my published books to date. 

Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?

A: I would have to say the fact that he's brave and resourceful. Also that he literally has a little magic up his sleeve. He's also the only one who knows of the great danger facing his family and the only one who can warn them of it. He's no one special but he is an everyman who has to conquer some pretty extraordinary circumstances, and I like stories about people like that. In my humble opinion, the hero shouldn't always be the chosen one or a prince. In my story he's just a village merchant on a quest to save his family and fulfill the dying wish of a loved one. I'd like to think he becomes a man along the way.

Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?

A: Write the next book. The best marketing is to have more books available. It also doesn't hurt to try and get the word out about your book by being a guest blogger. (Thanks, Jim!) Getting on podcasts is great too. I've found a lot of authors by hearing them being interviewed on podcasts.

Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?

A: I try really hard to learn from them. If I can't I try to ignore them. I'm not saying it's easy. I will get a review that praises my story for a certain reason, and then another review on that same story that leaves a negative review for the same reason others loved the story. You can't please everyone. Maybe if you get tons of negative reviews that mention the same issue, it's a clue that you might need to revise something in your story; but you will always get negative reviews no matter how good your story is. Some authors say they never read any of their reviews. I find reviews encouraging, so I read mine. 

Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: Being in control. I can't imagine finishing a story and not being able to pick the title, the cover, make the interior design decisions, or choose the release date. I'm sure many authors would want nothing to do with formatting or choosing the right font for their cover but I love every aspect of making a book. It would be so frustrating to wait months or a year for your book to come out once it's ready to go; or to have a cover or title you don't like put on the story you spent so much time on. I also love making covers and I have come to love doing the interior design. I'm lucky I'm a digital artist for my day job, so working in Photoshop is something I've been doing professionally for years.

Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: Not having a free professional editor. Not having distribution in physical book stores, even though that seems to have become much less important these days.

Q: What is your current writing project? What's it called?

A: A children's chapter book. I'm calling it The Case of the Missing Snowman (A Barnabas Thackeray Mystery). It's going to be about 10,000 words long and have fun black-and-white illustrations inside that I'm really excited to draw. If things go well it will be the first in a series. I'm a quarter of the way through the first draft as I write this. This year my oldest son started to love reading. This made me want to write a book he would love. I hope he likes it. Him and everyone else! 

Q: What are three of your favorite novels?

A: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; Wool by Hugh Howey

Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?

A: Stephen King. I would talk to him about characters and ask him how he makes them so real. I think his characterizations are some of the best out there.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?

A: Finish your stories. Don't worry if you feel like you're writing crap. Just keep writing. Turn off your internal editor and just keep writing until you finish your story. Even though we all thought we would—none of us will write The Great American Novel on our first attempt. Most authors don't even write a novel worth publishing until they have already written several terrible novels. Do some research and you'll find that most authors' "debut" novels are really like their fifth or sixth novel and they have a whole trunkful of awful novels they'll never show anyone. It takes a lot of writing to learn how to do it well, so get to writing! The best way to get better at writing is to write a ton. Get inspired, get your butt in the chair, and get your fingers on the keyboard. Or, as in my case, get your voice dictating so your smart phone can turn your words into text.

Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

A: Honestly I don't have a favorite inspirational quote so I looked one up. But I really like this one: "Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on." — Louis L'Amour






A page from one of Dan's chapter outlines 

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No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about a guy trying to live the Hollywood dream...
Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen by Jim Vines