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



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