Your favorite word

words

WORDS. Writers love ’em. And what power they have. Power to inspire, comfort, engage, infuriate. They can cause war. And bring peace.

Words refine our thinking. They give us pause to examine ourselves. They are the machinery that runs the enterprise of civilization.

Consider this: God spoke the world into being. Not a bad advertisement for the power of words.

Do you have a favorite word? I do. Mine is kinestatic. You won’t find it in the dictionary because it hasn’t made its way into popular usage. Yet. The word was coined by my husband several decades ago when he invented and patented an imaging device and named it the Kinestatic Charge Detector. (You can google it.)

Of course, I’m proud of Frank’s work, but I’m also amazed at the word he came up with. You see, kinestatic is an adjective describing something that is moving in one frame of reference, but at rest in another one.

Think of walking up a down escalator. Or running on a treadmill. In both cases, you’re moving in relation to the escalator or treadmill, but you’re still in relation to the surrounding area. That’s pretty interesting, but it gets better.

The word kinestatic describes so much more. Have you ever thought that you spent all day rushing around, but didn’t get anywhere? That’s a kind of kinestasis (using the noun here). How about climbing the corporate ladder, but never succeeding in accomplishing your goals? Same thing. You can probably come up with quite of few examples of kinestasis yourself. What a great word!

Do me a favor and post your favorite word or words below and let us know why you like them.

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – JUNE 2020

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – JUNE 2020

Staying on the Vine

This month I’m happy to welcome Gordon Castelnero to the blog. Although Gordon had previously published two non-fiction titles, his first fiction work, Staying on the Vine, was released in April 2019 by CrossLink Christian Publishers.

Staying on the Vine is the story of Lindsay and Nick, two divorcees who have sought fulfillment in everything but God. Their individual journeys lead them to a second chance at marriage and a better life in Christ.

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Castelnero (1)

Gordon Castelnero is a native of southeast Michigan.  He left his hometown to attend California State University, Long Beach where he graduated with a BA in Radio/Television/Film in 1990.  Upon his return to the Midwest, he worked as a producer at an adult contemporary station, WNIC-FM, for four years.  While in radio, he successfully transitioned into television as an independent writer and producer of multiple documentaries for the Detroit market.  His productions were recognized by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences – Michigan Chapter with an Emmy award and several nominations.

In 2006, Castelnero’s first book, TV Land Detroit, was published by the University of Michigan Press.  He later collaborated with his former banjo instructor to co-write Earl Scruggs: Banjo Icon, the first authorized biography of the famed country/bluegrass musician, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2017.

Staying on the Vine is Castelnero’s third publication and first novel.  His faith in God compelled him to chronicle the “ordinary everyday” events in his life, as well as his wife, in a character-driven story reflecting their kindred journeys to Christ and each other.  Gordon resides in a suburb of Detroit with his wife of ten years and their eight-year-old daughter.

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Welcome, Gordon, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay.  Good to be with you.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in writing?

Writing is something that I kind of fell into unexpectedly.  It was never an aspiration, as I wanted to be a television producer.  When I was in college, I discovered that my ability to write good essays and papers is what attributed to my graduation.  Afterward, I produced and wrote a few local television documentaries, which received some accolades.  I then wrote a few trade magazine articles, which brought me a lot of personal joy.  From there, I took the next step into books.  My first two projects were biographical non-fiction.  Staying on the Vine is my first novel.

After having written non-fiction pieces, what made you decide to write a novel?

The novel came out of a series of disappointments in my pursuit to write another biography.  Even though I could write an unauthorized book about any public figure, it’s not my style to do so without their permission—all of my documentaries and non-fiction books are authorized works.  Well, I didn’t want to stop writing so I thought it best to write a book about something that I have exclusive rights to, and that’s my journey in coming to Jesus Christ.

I originally drafted Staying on the Vine as a screenplay back in 2011.  Since it didn’t pan out as a movie, I decided to rewrite it as a novel.  It’s kind of funny the difference in constructing a screenplay versus a novel.  The screenplay was completed in a few weeks, while the book adaptation took about nine months.  A lot more material needed to be added, not to mention the extra attention to detail.

As I mentioned, it’s mainly based on my spiritual journey, plus my wife’s faith walk too.  There are many elements to the story that required the compositing of characters and events, along with streamlining them into a compelling story that moves quickly.  I tend to write for the easy reader so anyone and everyone can breeze through the story.

Give us a short synopsis of Staying on the Vine.

Like so many Americans, Lindsay Kish and Nick Robinson grew up as Christians in name only. Their perceptions of life mirrored the idolatry of the world in rejection of God. Both of them nurtured appetites for their biggest vices, which tainted their judgment in romantic relationships. Their spiritual darkness ultimately led them down the aisle to childless marriages besieged by never-ending sins. Yet, during their trials of tribulation, God always threw them a lifeline of grace through revelations they routinely ignored but would come to embrace after hitting rock bottom.

Based on a true story, Staying on the Vine is portrayed through character-driven backstories depicting the doubtful romance between two mid-life divorcees who ignored God’s many calls, until they came together as the result of answered prayer.

What was the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

Aside from staring at a blank page, I’d say, keeping your ideas fresh.  I learned early in my career that no matter how original you think your ideas are, there’s always someone else who’s done the exact same thing, or gotten eerily close to duplicating your grand designs.  The difficulty is how to spin them out of the realm of predictability so the reader can say, “Wow…I didn’t see that coming!”

Another difficulty is finding adequate time to write—not always easy to do when juggling a job and family.  I always tell people that creative writing isn’t like painting a house or mowing the lawn.  That kind of work can be started and stopped without missing a beat.  Writing on the other hand, at least to me, doesn’t work that way.  Once you’re on a roll, you can’t stop until your thoughts have been completely transferred from your brain to the page.  Interruptions cause me to forget the ideas I was just about to type, and they rarely come back to me.  When I sit down, I like to know that I’ve got plenty of uninterrupted time ahead of me, so the creativity can pour out of me freely.

Describe your path to publication.

It took me three drafts before I felt the manuscript was ready for solicitation.  Once completed, I worked on a synopsis, and then a query letter.  I had no idea just how competitive the Christian book market is until I threw my hat in the ring.  I’m not a pastor, I don’t have any kind of platform, so I really felt that the deck was stacked against me.  What I did have going for me were my previously published books.  Even though they were not in the same genre as the novel, they were published by reputable publishers: the University of Michigan Press and Rowman & Littlefield.

I had hopes of securing an agent for this project, but the process was taking a very long time.  I must’ve queried over twenty literary agencies, and was either declined or never received a response.  Rejection is not an option with me, so I decided that I’d have to seek a publisher directly, which is what I did with my previous books.  In fact, I contacted my editor at Rowman & Littlefield for assistance.  She was kind enough to send me a vetted list of Christian publishers.

I queried a few of the publishers on the list, and it was Rick Bates at CrossLink Publishing who gave me the most favorable response.  He’s been great to work with and my experience with CrossLink has been an absolute pleasure.

What lessons learned can you share with our readers?

Don’t be preoccupied with what competing authors are doing.  When I started my first book, TV Land Detroit, I was convinced I had a concept that no one else had ever done.  During the research phase, I learned that someone else was doing a similar book, which took the wind out of my sails.  The “someone else” had name recognition, credentials, and industry contacts way above my pay grade.  Thinking his was going to be much better than mine, I seriously thought about aborting the project.  But since I had already made commitments to people who agreed to participate, I felt obligated to continue.  And was I ever glad that I did—my book turned out to be much better and outsold the “other” book, which is now out of print.

The same thing happened again with Earl Scruggs: Banjo Icon.  Not too far into the project, I stumbled upon another author who was working on an Earl Scruggs biography.  In the same respect to my previous comment about original ideas, you’re bound to cross paths with another writer pursuing the same subject matter as you.  Never let it distract or deter you from completing your book—the end result may surprise you.  The worst thing you can do is constantly worry about something you have no control over.  By doing so, the quality of your work will suffer.  Just stay focused on your material as if you are the only one in the world doing it, and it will be great.

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

The story is relatable to everyone who reads it.  All of the disastrous choices made by the protagonists are typical of most non-believers who seek fulfillment in everything but God.  I think readers will see a part of themselves in the characters of Lindsay and Nick.  Their second chance at love, marriage, and a better life, in Christ, is an inspirational testament that failure is not final!

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Have faith in your work.  If your project is something you really believe in, don’t give up.

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I try to get outdoors as much as possible—there’s nothing like fresh air and sunshine to put me in a good mood.  I enjoy long walks, bicycle rides, and a good book with a cup of coffee.  I look forward to church every Sunday, sermons online during the week, and of course, spending time with my family.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a new G-rated novel in the romance genre.  It’s an original story I’ve kicked around in my head for over twenty years now—one of those ideas you get but just don’t know where to go with it, so it goes nowhere.  Last fall seemed like a good time to revisit the concept and develop it into a novel.  I’m almost done with the first draft.  By the time the revisions are completed this summer, I will be ready to query it in the fall.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I don’t have a website.  Just type in my name on any search engine, and my books come right up—I’m the only person on this planet with the name Gordon Castelnero.

Thank you, Gordon, for sharing your expertise with us!

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – MAY 2020

SITUATIONAL AWARENESS IN THE WORLD OF PUBLISHING

By Kay DiBianca

 

Did you know the deadliest aviation accident in history happened on the ground? It occurred in 1977 when two 747’s collided in dense fog on a runway in the Canary Islands. Here’s how it happened:

An air traffic controller in the tower had instructed a KLM plane to taxi to the end of the runway in preparation for takeoff. He had also told a PanAm plane to taxi on the same runway and then exit at a certain taxiway. Because of the fog, the crews of the two planes could not see each other, and the air traffic controller could not see the planes. They were relying on accurate communication to guide their movements. If the crews of both planes had obeyed the controller’s instructions, the accident would not have happened.

The tower never gave the KLM flight clearance to take off, but the captain of the KLM plane thought he had been given the okay. Because of his misunderstanding and his inability to see clearly, the giant 747 began barreling down the runway, unaware that the other plane was in its path.

The takeoff plane was traveling at approximately 160 mph when the crew spotted the other plane dead ahead. They were only one hundred meters apart. There was no time to stop or swerve to avoid the other plane. The captain of the takeoff plane pulled the nose up sharply in an effort to “leapfrog” over the other one. He didn’t make it. The lower part of the KLM aircraft struck the PanAm plane and crashed onto the runway, exploding in a huge fireball.

Although the crews of both planes were experienced, five hundred and eighty-three people died in that accident. All the people on the KLM flight perished, and most of the passengers on the PanAm plane also died. And it happened because the captain of the KLM plane lacked “situational awareness”, or the ability to understand his environment clearly. He acted on an assumption that the runway was clear. He was wrong.

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10PublishingMyths3D

Situational awareness applies to many aspects of life, not just flying. Authors need to have a clear picture of the publishing landscape in order to be successful. Even though an inability to see clearly won’t endanger our lives, it just might endanger our livelihoods!

If you’re a pilot, you depend on the air traffic controller to direct your flight. When you drive, you may use your car’s GPS system to get you to your destination. For those of us who are new to publishing, we rely on experts in the field to lead us. Experts like Terry Whalin.

In his book “10 Publishing Myths,” Terry has identified a list of beliefs that can mislead an author on the path to publication. Terry not only shatters these myths, he provides practical exercises to help us as we continue on our writing journey.

So don’t go wandering in the vast publishing labyrinth unassisted! Be aware of your situation. Pick up a copy of “10 Publishing Myths,” and you’ll see more clearly how to get where you want to go.

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TerryWhalinW. Terry Whalin knows and understands both sides of the editorial desk–as an editor and a writer and a literary agent. A former literary agent, now Terry’s an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 Christian and general market publications plus he’s written more than 60 books for traditional publishers. His personal site is located at: https://terrywhalin.com.

A journalism graduate from Indiana University, Terry writes a wide spectrum of subjects and topics for the magazine and book marketplace. His latest books include Billy Graham, A Biography of America’s Greatest Evangelist (Morgan James) and Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams (Morgan James). He is an active member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Also, Terry is the creator of a popular site for writers: www.right-writing.com. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Colorado.

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Welcome, Terry Whalin. Thank you for joining us!

 

Why did you write 10 Publishing Myths?

I’ve worked with hundreds of authors and spoken with many more over the years. Many of them have unrealistic expectations about what will happen with their book. I wrote 10 Publishing Myths to help authors have practical ideas about how to succeed with their book. There is much that can go wrong in the publishing process. Many of these things are outside of the author’s control. My book is focused on practical ideas every author can do to reach their readers.

What would you tell a novice writer is the most important attribute (s)he must have to be a successful author?

It may sound cliché but writers need to learn the craft of writing and telling stories. Storytelling is a skill that can be learned but takes time and practice. I know people want to write books but I recommend writers begin with a magazine article. If they write fiction, then begin with short stories in magazines. Why? In the process of creating such stories, you learn the craft of storytelling. Plus you are working with a shorter form of writing than a lengthy book.  In general print magazines have a high standard and you will have to work hard at the craft of writing to get published in magazines.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing? Which method would you recommend for a new author?

Publishing is a complicated business and I don’t know I can capture these in just a few sentences but I will try. Traditional publishing is the path in most people’s minds about publishing. They find a literary agent who shops the book to publishers. These publishers pay an advance and give a royalty contract. There is no cost to the author. The publisher does the editing, the design work, the distribution to bookstores and some marketing. They take over the control of your book too so you as an author have little say on the title, the cover design, the cost and many other factors.  The process of getting a literary agent or an editor of a traditional house interested in your book to give you a contract is complex. I wrote a book for writers called Book Proposals That Sell to help in this process. I have all of the remaining copies of this print book and discounted the price. The book has over 130 Five Star Amazon reviews and has helped many writers. Agents and editors in traditional publishing make cautious decisions because the decisions are based on book sales. Thousands of dollars are involved in this process and the authors who get contracts are ones that have a market or the ability to touch their readers and sell books.

Self-publishing is a huge area at the moment with 1.6 million self-published books last year. The author has complete control for their cover design, title, etc. I’ve met self-published authors who have spent $20,000 on their book (a scam). The average self-published book sells about 100 to 200 copies during the lifetime of the book. The reality is there is still a lot of poor books produced in the self-published market.

The best publishing in my view is a collaborative process. I work for Morgan James which is one of the top independent publishers in the U.S. We pay traditional royalties and have a small advance but there is a partnership in this process. Our books have broad distribution and have been on the NY Times list 29 times during the last 18 years. To explore the system is free and something I recommend authors do. Just reach out to me terry@morganjamespublishing.com is a way to get started.

How important is it to have a professional editor?

Every writer needs an editor—even someone like me who has published a great deal. Each of us have blind spots and our writing can be improved with a professional editor. The key word is “professional.” Often finding the right editor is like trying to find the right spouse. You have to check them out, look at their references, see what it will cost and when they could get it done, etc. There are some terrific professional editors but select the right one is my caution.

Why should an author take 100% responsibility to sell his or her own books? Isn’t that somebody else’s job?

As the author, you have the greatest passion for selling your book—whether you publish traditionally or self-publish or use something in between. Your excitement and energy to market your own book will last longer than anyone else (an editor, a publisher, an agent, a PR person, etc).

How does a new author get connected with others in the publishing industry?

Who you know in publishing is almost as important as what you know. People connections are very important. I encourage authors to join an online group but also to get to a writer’s conference. You can also network with others on LinkedIn. A lot of publishing is about being in the right place at the right time with the right stuff in front of the right person. It takes a lot of persistence to get those rights to line up but it is possible.

There are so many books coming onto the marketplace every day, how can a new author maximize his or her chances to be successful?

One of the most important things any writer can do (new or experienced) is to build their connections to their readers or audience. In publishing we call this building your platform or tribe. Yes people love to tout Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn as where they are building their readers—but there is a caution about these sites many people forget—they are rented space. You don’t control Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn and in fact could be banned from there in an instant. It’s much better for you to build your own website and your own email list because they are under your direct control.

You are both an acquisitions editor and an author. How do you find time to handle both of those demanding roles?

I’ve worked for Morgan James Publishing for eight years and it is my third publisher in an acquisitions role. It is a matter of finding balance between my acquisitions work and my work at an author. Often the two intersect and I promote both of them—like this recent podcast I did with Christine Kloser.  Some of my editor friends do not write and only edit. I believe being both an editor and a writer helps me have a greater understanding for my authors.

What are you working on now?

I have a variety of projects in the works—and something I recommend others do as well. It’s called diversity or creating multiple streams of income. I write books for other people and have a couple of those projects in the works. Also I’m a part of a small team helping shape Bible studies for The Passion Translation (Broadstreet Publishing). I worked on the study guide for Isaiah which will come out later this year. Also I’m continuing to devote time to promoting my newest book, 10 Publishing Myths.

Do you have any other guidance for us that I haven’t asked here?

People wonder how I’ve been able to write and publish so much material over the years. Several years ago I stopped and figured it out. It’s not that I’m the best writer in the room. I am one of the more consistent and persistent people you will meet. I go to conferences, listen to editors and meet them and pitch my books like everyone else. After I pitch, sometimes the editor will show interest and ask me to send them something. I immediately make a little note, go home and follow-up and send them what they requested. It doesn’t mean that I get published from it—but I at least give myself a chance to get published. What I realize from going to conferences as an editor, I often will hear a good idea and ask them writer to send it to me. In fact I will email them and at times call them asking for it. But I’ve learned that only about 10% of people that I meet will actually send it to me. My main guidance would be to keep pitching, listening to the editors and their needs, then sending them what they request and what they need. It is that simple. Just look at the Foreword Mark Victor Hanson wrote for my Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams book.  Everyone forgets Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected many times.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My blog, The Writing Life has over 1500 searchable entries. Also my website is located at: https://terrywhalin.com. Others can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Thank you, Terry, for being with us today!

TerryWhalin2

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – APRIL 2020

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – APRIL 2020

AFirmPlaceToStand

 

This month I’m delighted to welcome debut author, Lori Altebaumer, whose novel, A Firm Place to Stand, is the story of one young woman’s journey through difficult circumstances to a place of forgiveness.

I had the great pleasure of being one of the beta readers for Lori’s book, and I highly recommend it.

 

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Lori Altebaumer and I met in 2019 through a blog and have become friends through our shared experience with writing. I am thrilled to welcome her to the Craft of Writing blog.

LoriAltebaumerA life-long Texan, Lori lives in a small rural community not far from the rugged West Texas landscape she loves to write about. The mother of now grown twins, she has learned the secret to survival is a well-developed sense of humor. After years spent working in the insurance business, Lori now uses her time to educate, inspire, encourage, and entertain through the written word.
A Firm Place to Stand is her first novel.

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Welcome, Lori, and thank you for joining us!

First, give us a short synopsis of your book.

A Firm Place to Stand is a book about finding forgiveness in a world where things aren’t always black and white.  A long list of poor choices has driven Maribel Montgomery to the rustic (and fictional) Texas town of Turnaround.  Blaming herself for the death of a teenager, she wants nothing to do with other people and the responsibility of caring for them. Unfortunately, a young girl who is lonely and scared and an elderly woman dying of cancer take up residence in her heart. When Maribel finds the dead body of someone connected to both of them, she’ll have to risk trusting herself again in order to protect them. But can she trust herself with good-looking born-again believer, Conner Pierce? He wants to help and may be the only source of help she can find, if only she didn’t think he was stalking her.

What made you decide to write A Firm Place to Stand?

I always dreamed of writing a book. I have also always believed that was all it was or could be—a dream. But as I neared my fiftieth birthday, I found myself at a turning point. I had worked in my husband’s business for years, but when we decided to sell so he could pursue another opportunity I found myself needing to decide what I wanted to do with my time as well. My children were teenagers about to go away to college and I was about to have a lot of time. I needed to figure out how it was meant to be used. My dear husband told me that after all these years of working for him, he wanted me to do what really made me happy. He encouraged me not to just find a job, but to take a leap of faith and write (did I mention he is my #1 fan?). And I knew he was right. If I really believed God had given me a desire and passion to write, then now was the time to take it seriously.

As for the story itself, the original idea that started me on Maribel’s journey came about in a dream. After writing and rewriting, fine tuning the plot, and exploring the characters, the final story bears little resemblance to the dream that started it all. But the dream was the match that lit the tinder. The breath of God just blew the fire it started in a different direction than I expected. The end result was a journey and message of forgiveness that was as much for me as for my readers. God is so good like that.

How did you get interested in writing?

I have apparently loved stories for even longer than I can remember. My mother tells me that when I was a child, my great grandmother kept a stack of children’s books beside her rocking chair and in the evening she would set in that rocking chair next to the wood burning stove in her kitchen, and with me in her lap, read to me. That kitchen was one of my happy places growing up.

I don’t remember the exact moment when I became interested in actually writing, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t formulating some sort of story in my head. Probably from the moment I learned to turn letters into words and words into sentences, I have loved expressing my thoughts and ideas through writing. The love of story is wired into my DNA. I see story in everything around me—old houses, tall trees, park benches, city sidewalks, and gravel roads. Perhaps that is what it means to understand that we, too, are a part of the greatest story ever told—God’s story.

What was the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

You say that as if there is might be only one! For me there were a thousand things, and on any given day it could be a different one. Of course, just the commitment and perseverance to finish is a challenge. It takes a long time and often feels like you are trying to walk through wet cement–you don’t see very much forward progress but you sure are making a mess.

For me though, I’ll say the overall most difficult thing was to be fearless. To write thoughts that were raw and real, and then to let others into that private place in my head. It felt very vulnerable and I don’t think many of us really like feeling vulnerable.

Describe your path to publication.

My path to publication looked a lot like the crazy wandering path you see in the Family Circus cartoons. There are so many options for authors these days and finding the best one for you can involve some trial and error, especially as you are just getting started.

I set out with the intention of finding an agent and going the traditional route. I won a few contests and got some really good feedback from agents on my work. But I soon learned what the word “platform” means and the effect it can have on which path you take. Marketing is something that an author will have to do whichever publishing route they choose, but learning the ropes of marketing and platform made me slow down and really consider my purpose in writing. What were my goals? My strengths and weaknesses? Why did I even want to write in the first place. Once I understood who I was as a writer, I made the decision to indie publish my first novel and my first book of devotions. There are still many options and choices to make in how and where to indie publish. It is an ever-evolving process for me in which my absolute goal is to do a bit better every time.

What lessons learned can you share with our readers?

While writing this book, I really had to think about and consider how the consequences of the things we do don’t always match the intent of our actions. Often those consequences bring pain not just to us but to others we never intended to hurt. Working through this forced me to think about people I had trouble forgiving. I had to look beyond their action and the result, to see why they might have done what they did. What I learned is that I can trace the root cause all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the fall of Adam and Eve. It doesn’t seem reasonable to me now that I understand this, to hold onto a grudge for something that was set in motion so very long ago. It has changed my perspective on how I view others and what I allow myself to believe about their actions towards me.

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

The power to change your life, and indeed the world, lies in forgiveness, not bitterness, shame, or regret.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

If you believe you are called to write a book, then write the book. Don’t wait until you feel you know enough about writing a book to write a book. So much of the craft of writing must be learned by writing. For years before I started writing, I read books about writing. But sitting down and actually working through the mechanics of completing a novel taught me more than all the books I’d read combined. Studying the craft is important, but applying it to your own active process of constructing a novel is crucial to mastering those teachings. Going through the process gave me understanding of what the books were teaching. Don’t worry if your first attempt looks like a big nasty mess. If you’ll stick with it until the end, you’ll be surprised at how much more clarity you have when you start the next one.

A bonus piece of advice (since the question asked for just one) … I received this gem of wisdom from a publishing industry veteran and author. He told me to always be mindful of where I am seeking validation. Am I looking for validation from being published by a traditional publishing house, winning awards, achieving a sales rank, etc…? I try to ask myself that question every time I’m faced with a decision concerning my writing.

What are some of your favorite works of fiction?

Ughh… one of the hardest questions I’m ever asked to answer. We live in an amazing time due to the richness and availability of reading material now. Invariably, I’ll remember others I wish I had mentioned. Reading is a major love of mine, so the list is quite long. However, I think A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers always ranks well toward the top. The entire series is great, but that first book pulled me deeper into my relationship with God than just about any other novel I’ve read. The Mitford Series by Jan Karon holds a special place in my heart. Recently I fell in love with A Vast and Gracious Tide by Lisa Carter and The Love Letter by Rachel Hauk. A Love Restored by Kelly Goshorn was a surprise debut novel that I’ll never forget. And The Jealous Son by Michele Chynoweth made me a fan of her work as well. Okay, should I stop now…?

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I don’t view writing as work, and since I write full time, I don’t know that I ever truly want to get away from work. Let’s be honest, as a writer I am constantly harvesting material from the world around me and concocting scenarios in my head (which is admittedly where most of them need to stay). I haven’t figured out a way to turn that off. Also, for me writing is a time of exploration and creation in the presence of and with God. I’m constantly asking things like: Okay God, what would you like me to say about this? How should I express this thought or feeling? What is true about my characters, their world, their faith, and how they see each of those things? What are you revealing to me in this?

Therefore, it’s not something I necessarily want to get away from, but sometimes I do need to take a break so I can let God speak to me. I can get so caught up in the story it becomes a distraction to what He is trying to say.

Sometimes my characters can drain me emotionally, especially when writing a serious scene and going through the emotions with them. That usually does require some downtime afterwards.

When that happens, the best thing for me is to go for a walk. I enjoy being outside and watching the seasons come and go. Sometimes reading a good book helps me recharge. And of course, sometimes a good old-fashioned nap is just what I need to get things going again.

And when I really want to recharge and refresh, I go to the mountains.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on the second book set in Turnaround, TX.  In it my protagonist is learning that keeping secrets can be as damaging as telling the truth. She’s built a new life based on holding it all in, but she’ll find it just might be worth letting go of the secrets she keeps in order to have the life she really wants.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can visit my website, www.lorialtebaumer.com to find out more and sign up for my newsletter. You can also follow my Facebook page Lori Altebaumer Writes. I enjoy hearing from others so feel free to reach out and just say howdy.

Thank you, Lori, for sharing your expertise with us!

 

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – MARCH 2020

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – MARCH 2020

 

HowToMakeALivingAsAWriter

 

HOW I AVOIDED KINESTASIS BY READING “HOW TO MAKE A LIVING AS A WRITER” 

by Kay DiBianca

In the 1980’s, my husband, Frank, invented and patented a medical imaging device which he named the Kinestatic Charge Detector (KCD). If you’re interested, you can read the abstract of the original paper here.

The KCD worked on the principle of ions moving in one frame of reference, but stationary in another. To illustrate this principle, Frank coined the word “kinestatic” by combining “kinetic” (moving) with “static” (still). What a great word! To our knowledge, this word had never been used prior to his conceiving it.

Frank has often compared kinestasis (the noun form of the word) with walking up a down escalator. You’re moving in relation to the steps, but you’re stationary in relation to the outside world.

There are lots of other situations in everyday life that are kinestatic.  Do you walk on a treadmill? You’re kinestatic. In another context, do you ever find yourself rushing around all day doing things but accomplishing nothing? Kinestasis!

As writers, we can identify. I often start the day rarin’ to go with my to-do list propped up next to my laptop. I can hardly wait to start pouring my soul into the keyboard at hundreds of words per hour. But first I check my book’s sales rank, then I respond to emails and read my favorite blogs. Time to take a break, get a cup of coffee, and check my sales rank again. Oh yes, I better click over to Amazon, Goodreads, and Kobo to see if my book received any new reviews. And then there’s social media to catch up on. You get the picture. On those days, I become kinestatic — rushing through the day and getting nowhere.

* * *

In order to have the discipline to stay the course as a writer, you have to know the course. James Scott Bell’s book “How to Make a Living as a Writer” lays out practical steps to navigate the labyrinth of the publishing world and become successful.

This book is an entire library of writing information, from creativity to business acumen. Goal-setting, publishing, branding, marketing. It’s all here.

Whether you intend to make writing your primary source of income or not, get off the treadmill and pick up a copy of this book. It will enhance your writing life.

* * *

JSB Author Photo 2015

I am doubly thrilled to welcome James Scott Bell as my guest today. Mr. Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure (Writer’s Digest Books). His thrillers include Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way and Romeo’s Hammer (the Mike Romeo thriller series); Try Dying, Try Darkness and Try Fear (the Ty Buchanan legal thriller series); and stand-alones including Your Son Is Alive and Final Witness (which won the first Christy Award for Suspense). He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written several popular writing books, including Just Write, Conflict & Suspense, and The Art of War for Writers (all from Writer’s Digest Books). He’s also published How to Write Dazzling DialogueWrite Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structureand How to Make a Living as a Writer.

* * *

Welcome, James Scott Bell. Thank you for joining us!

Thanks for having me, Kay.

Why did you write How to Make a Living as a Writer?

For a couple of reasons. First off, I know there are many writers out there who dream of making this a full-time occupation. It’s not easy to do, but it’s especially hard if you don’t have a strategy. I wanted to lay out a strategic approach any writer can use.

Second, I wanted to give writers the basic business principles they need to succeed. This is, after all, a business, whether you publish with a traditional company or go out and publish on your own. This book helps on both counts.

What would you tell a novice writer is the most important attribute (s)he must have to be a successful author?

Production and growth. You have to be able to produce the words, the books. That’s why I’ve always been a quota guy. I tell people to figure out the number of words they can comfortably write in a week, then up that by 10%. Divide that into days. If you miss a daily goal, you can make it up on other days. I usually take one day off from writing every week, to recharge.

And keep growing in the craft. Read books and blogs (like KillZoneblog.com), go to conferences, get feedback. Apply what you learn to your writing. Write practice scenes to try things out. Just like a golfer who goes to the range on his days off.

Do you recommend traditional publishing or self-publishing?

There are pros and cons to each, of course. Traditional publishers know how to design a book and get it into bookstores (those that remain, that is!). But in return a writer signs away rights to his work that can be difficult to get back should things go south. This is where a writer needs to be aware of contract terms so he can discuss things with his agent.

An indie writer keeps his rights and can publish more frequently, but also has to learn how to produce a good-looking product—formatting, cover design, and so forth.

Marketing is another skill a writer will have to work on, because most of that effort now falls upon their shoulders, whether they are traditional or indie.

Eventually, it always comes down to the books themselves. They have to be good, they have to please readers.

How important is it to have a professional editor?

A good, experienced editor can help a new writer. It’s expensive, but if you look at it as an investment in your career, it can make sense. Do some research, get a recommendation, see if the editor will do a sample edit with you before you sign up.

An alternative is a good group of beta readers. After all, you’re writing for readers, ultimately. Advice on this option can be found by going to KillZoneBlog.com and searching for “beta readers.”

Are audio books worth all the trouble and expense?

Audio is definitely the growth area in the book industry right now. Long term, it’s a good asset to have. ACX from Amazon offers writers the opportunity to team up with narrators and split the royalties 50/50. This is perhaps the most cost-effective way to go about audio. The alternative is to shell out the money up front to hire a narrator and keep all the royalties.

A new outfit called FindawayVoices.com has come on the scene. I don’t know much about it, but it is worth checking out.

I purchased my own equipment and am doing my own audio versions. The big challenge is time. It takes a long time to record and edit an audio book. On the plus side, all royalties flow directly to me.

So each author needs to take an objective look at their time, ability, desire, and wallet to sort this through.

With so many resources available: podcasts, blogs, email loops, how does an aspiring author decide which ones to join?

Research and recommendations. Just make sure that none of these overtake your main priority: writing and producing the work.

I hear a lot about branding. How does a new author go about establishing a brand?

A brand is a set of reader expectations. You want to build a readership. You want that readership to become a fan base. That means giving them content they like, which is usually a specific genre. Stephen King specialized in horror. Grisham in legal thrillers. They only deviated from their brand when they were big enough that their publishers allowed a one-off. Then they got back on brand.

So I would advise finding the genre you love and specializing in it. If you’re an indie writer, you have some freedom to try new things, especially in short form. But for the most part, sticking to a brand makes building a fan base easier.

Do you have any other guidance for us that I haven’t asked here?

I like what a writer named Michael Bishop once said: “One may achieve remarkable writerly success while flunking all the major criteria for success as a human being. Try not to do that.”

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

JamesScottBell.com and Patreon.com/jamesscottbell.

Thank you, Jim, for being with us today!

My pleasure.

 

 

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – FEBRUARY 2020

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – FEBRUARY 2020

 

AllInImageThis month we’re adding a new element to the Craft of Writing blog series. Every other month I will feature an author whose first novel has been published within the last couple of years.

This month’s author is Lisa Simonds whose debut novel, All In, is a story of one young woman’s journey through a worldly life to redemption.

 

Link to book trailer video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIHzCM20cnU&t=62s

* * *

Lisa Simonds and I met in 2019 through a blog and have become friends through our shared experience with writing. I am thrilled to welcome her as the first debut novelist to the Craft of Writing blog. Writing as L.K. Simonds, Lisa’s novel All In was published and released in 2019.

LisaSimondsImage

L.K. Simonds is a Fort Worth local. She has worked as a waitress, KFC hostess, telephone marketer, assembly-line worker, nanny, hospital lab technician, and air traffic controller. She’s an instrument-rated pilot and an alumna of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas.

All In is her first novel.

* * *

Welcome, Lisa, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay! I’m thrilled to be with you and your audience today. It’s such an honor to be your first debut author interview.

First, give us a short synopsis of your book.

I’ll let you in on a secret—a synopsis readers won’t find on the back cover or Amazon. But if they read All In with this synopsis in mind, I’m sure by the time they finish they’ll agree it’s spot on.

All In is a love story about a Man’s pursuit of a young woman named Cami Taylor, whom He loves desperately. This Man is all in to capture Cami’s devotion, even though she is completely oblivious to His existence. Enter the Man’s agent, his go-between, Kate Davis, who comes on the scene in Chapter Two. Kate is all in too, even though Cami doesn’t make it easy for her. The entire story is about Kate’s undercover work, as directed by Cami’s ardent suitor. Who is this Mystery Man?

Some readers might not recognize the REAL story right away because they’re seeing events unfold through Cami’s unreliable POV. But there’s a BIG clue in the novel’s front matter: An epigraph from the prophet Isaiah, “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by My name.”

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

God loves you with an everlasting love.

What made you decide to write All In?

I was sitting in Trinity Writer’s Workshop in Hurst, Texas, on a Tuesday evening in the mid-1990s, when the idea occurred to me to write a story about a person who makes the journey from not believing God exists to falling in love with Jesus. At the time, I was writing unpublished children’s chapter books about a cat named Rodney, so this idea was quite a departure. I wasn’t sure how to even go about tackling such a book.

Around that same time, I vacationed in NYC with friends, and we got out the Manhattan phonebook in our hotel room to see if there were any people with our last names. We traveled together often and did this quirky thing on trips. There was one person, just one, whose listing had initials and a surname, as single women often listed their numbers in those days. We said we should call and see if she’s a long-lost relative who might show us around town. We laughed about it. Of course, we didn’t call.

But the idea stuck with me. What if you did call? What if a friendship formed? And what if the person you called was about to have a crisis and the friendship became a lifeline? All those “what ifs” became the basis of All In.

I chose to write the novel from the POV of the person who received the call, Cami Taylor. One reason was that I wanted to portray all the conflict happening inside Cami, even though she never tips her hand to the people around her, at least not until the end. For Christians who read the book, I wanted to show that our words and actions may have a lot more impact on people than they let us see, which is why it’s so important to say yes to those little prompts from the Holy Spirit. He knows everything about everyone.

What steps did you take to have your book published?

Kay, I may have taken almost every step a writer can take between completing the first draft in 1999 and the novel being published in 2019.

When I finished the manuscript twenty years ago, I queried agents and publishers like crazy. No one was interested. After a couple of years of rejection, I decided to go indie. Only indie wasn’t indie back then; it was vanity publishing. But I believed in the book enough to brush aside the stigma. With the help of Xlibris Publishing, the book released in 2002 in paperback and hard cover—no eBooks back then—under the title A Lifetime Ago. The self-published book was a sort of test ship to see how readers responded. “Test ship” is slang we used in air traffic for the first aircraft to go out and find a passable route through weather.

The book got some good reviews and feedback, including the attention of a senior editor at Harvest House. He pitched it to the pub board there—unsuccessfully, but still he pitched it. That was so validating. An author named James Baldwin once said a writer needs someone early on to let them know the effort is real. Nick Harrison, who is an agent with WordServe Literary now, was that person for me.

But writing is time-consuming work, and I was very busy with my FAA career. Alas, writing slipped away for quite a few years, but I still imagined I’d return to it one day.

But when I retired in 2012, it wasn’t writing I thought about. I was into flying and had every intention of becoming a flight instructor. I have a natural bent toward teaching, so instructing seemed like a great way to scratch the flying itch without spending an arm and a leg on airplane rentals. But then I really thought it through. How fun does it sound to sweat out hot Texas days crammed in a Cessna with a student pilot who’s trying to kill us both? Not very. Plus I needed to relearn a whole bunch of technical stuff that I’d forgotten and had no interest in anymore. No thank you.

What to do now? Hello, writing! Long time no see.

I dug into craft again and started writing a historical novel inspired by my aunt’s life. I even made half-hearted revisions to A Lifetime Ago and published an Amazon Kindle edition through Create Space. It got a very nice review from a judge in a Writer’s Digest contest, even though I didn’t feel the novel represented my writing style anymore.

By 2016, I had a complete—though rough—manuscript of the historical novel, and I had learned a heck of a lot more about writing. You know who my best teachers were and continue to be? Other authors. I truly believe reading a variety of novels by other authors has done more for my craft than any other single thing. Reading others’ work is like flying with other pilots—you pick up all kinds of new tips and tricks.

I believed the historical novel I had just written would be my debut. My real-live-I-am-not-fooling-around-anymore debut. I began querying agents.

Then one day in 2017, without thinking too much about it, I walked into the garage and looked at the half-dozen copies of A Lifetime Ago stacked on a shelf. “This is a good story, a God story,” I thought, “but it will never go anywhere if I don’t rewrite it.” And that’s exactly what I did. I took everything I had learned and spent six months cleaning up the manuscript, slashing almost 20,00 words, strengthening the characters, and sharpening the prose. The novel as it exists today represents the best craft I can offer readers at this time in my writing career.

When I finished, I found a freelance editor in my writers’ group, Leslie Lutz of Elliott Bay Editing. Leslie gave the manuscript a beautiful line edit, offering suggestions that focused the story even more.

I very much wanted a traditional publisher for the newly minted, newly titled All In, but the book was problematic. The narrative departed from accepted conventions for the Christian Fiction genre. But it was way too evangelical—and I admit “Charismatic”—for general market publishers. I knew this. I could have changed the novel to fit either of these markets, but I felt the story would lose too much.

I was not looking forward to indie publishing, believe me, and I prayed earnestly for help and guidance.

By then it was 2018. I’m in an online group called the Writers View forum. One week, in response to a “Writing Journey” topic thread, I talked about All In. The next thing I knew, an acquisitions editor named Terry Whalin contacted me about submitting the manuscript to Morgan James Publishing. MJP partners with entrepreneurial authors to get their work to the marketplace, pairing the benefits of traditional publishing with the author control of indie publishing. It was a match made in heaven, and by June 2018, I had a contract.

My debut novel, All In, released in August 2019.

Twenty years from first draft to debut.

What lessons learned (positive or negative) would you like to pass on to other new writers?

Respect your readers.

If you’re writing for yourself, buy a journal.

If you’re writing for readers, please, please, please consider their valuable time before asking them to invest 6-8 hours in your flight of fancy. A good place to start is Elmore Leonard’s Tenth Rule for Good Writing: “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

And be sure to let readers know up front what they are getting into. I’ve discovered readers like surprises, as long as the surprise isn’t the kind of book they’re investing their time in.

What is the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

Unequivocally, getting started. Everything about beginning a new novel is challenging: Finding the story. Finding the voice. Finding the characters.

I believe a novel has its own voice, which is unique to that particular story. Music influenced the voice of All In. I was deep in a personal revival—listening to worship music all the time—when I wrote the first draft. There’s one particular song that I think of as Cami’s theme song: “Sing of Your Great Love” by Hillsong Worship. Particularly the lyrics, “It’s You alone Lord Jesus Who can cause the coldest heart to find Your love and everlasting peace.” To this day, I’m overwhelmed by those lyrics. They really are the “elevator pitch” for the book, but this is the first time I’ve shared that pitch. Coming up with an elevator pitch is the worst, isn’t it?!? The pitch I came up with for All In was, “This is the novel you give to your friend, your sister, your daughter, who needs to know God loves her.”

I have a playlist on my phone for my second novel too. When I listen to that music, much of which is Bluesy, I’m immediately transported to the times and places in the story.

I never listen to music while I’m writing, only when I’m ruminating.

Another hard part about getting started is finding the characters. I’m still such a rookie, even after thirty years of practice, practice, practice. Finding the characters takes me a LONG time, months even. I had several false starts when I began to write All In, but when Cami finally clicked, she was there in totality. I knew what she would think, say, and do in every situation and with every person.

The same was true for my second novel, Stork Bite, which is in the revision phase. I wrote all over the place before finding those characters—in this case, five characters. But when I finally found them, they were as real as living people, or more accurately, they are as real as memories of living people.

And finding the story? That happens over writing the first draft, at least for me. It happened with All In about halfway through writing the first draft. In Stork Bite, one of the characters had been waiting in the wings as little more than an extra. But when he walked on stage, he immediately shouldered the others out of the way. He created a story from what I realize now was only an idea when I began to write.

What are you working on now?

Stork Bite. I’m scheduled to have the manuscript to that wonderful editor, Leslie Lutz, by the end of March. I really need to hit that deadline because Leslie has her own debut YA novel, Fractured Tide, coming out in May and she’ll be very busy then.

What are your favorite craft books?

My all-time favorite craft book is Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy Here’s an example of the practical wisdom Mr. Percy offers:

“When a reader first picks up a story, they are like a coma patient – fluttering open their eyes in an unfamiliar world, wondering, where am I, when am I, who am I? The writer has an obligation to quickly and efficiently place the reader in the story.”

I’m currently in an intermediate novel writing class at Writing Workshops Dallas that uses Thrill Me as the textbook.

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I have a full-time job, so writing usually feels more like an escape than work. My manager, a friend of twenty-five years, occasionally asks me how my “other job” is going. I answer, “Are you talking about my nonprofit?” and we both laugh. For me, writing is not profitable work, money-wise. At least not yet.

This is a really good spot to bring up a book I recommend for writers and Christians. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde. Mr. Hyde explores the differences between gift economies and barter economies. God’s kingdom is a gift economy in which a few fish and loaves of bread can feed thousands. God’s kingdom is an economy in which a writer may not be able to measure her success in profits and reviews. Success may be measured by a book’s effect on individual readers, which the author only learns of anecdotally, or not at all.

But I digress. I’m not one to kill myself with work—paid or unpaid—and I do like to have fun. Fun for me is hanging out with friends and family, which almost always involves eating. Okay, I admit it. I’m a foodie from a long line of foodies.

I’m a reader too, more so with each passing year. I’m active on GoodReads, and anyone can see my reading lists and reviews there. I like to swap books with other authors. I have enjoyed some beautiful books from writers I’ve met, including The Watch on the Fencepost by Kay DiBianca.

My favorite hobby has been flying, but I had to give it up when I made a serious commitment to writing. There simply wasn’t enough time for both, and a pilot who isn’t proficient is dangerous. I haven’t flown in several years, but maybe I’ll return to it someday. My dream aircraft is the Citabria 7ECA. It’s a friendly, nimble pleasure plane.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Do. Not. Stop.

Keep going through the rejections and disappointments. Celebrate every victory, no matter how small. Thus you’ll encourage yourself. If you must fall back to regroup or to lick your wounds, give yourself some time and then get back in there.

Terry Whalin, my acquisitions editor at Morgan James, sends me little notes from time to time. “You’re doing great, Lisa. Keep going!”

Keep going. Keep going. KEEP GOING!

In due season, you will reap the benefits of your endurance.

Hey, Kay, that sounds like a marathon metaphor!

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I have an author website http://lksimonds.com where you can find a link to Leaves of Grace. Leaves of Grace are essays I write monthly (theoretically) about spiritual topics that are on my mind. Sometimes the essays are about writing.

All my social media links are on the author website. I’m most active on Facebook.

I do want to share a video about the experience of sharing All In with women who are incarcerated in Texas prisons. It’s under 5 minutes long. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ63dBwUBH0&t=43s

Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Kay. It was my sincere pleasure, and I look forward to responding to questions and comments from your readers.

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – JANUARY 2020

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – JANUARY 2020

StoryStakes

 

26.2 STORY STAKES

by Kay DiBianca

January 13, 2020

If you want to learn something about story stakes, run a marathon. Anyone who’s trained for a marathon will tell you that you commit your life to the race. For months, everything else – your job, meals, sleep – becomes secondary. A good performance equals success. A slow finishing time means disappointment. And having to drop out of the race amounts to devastation.

When I secured a place in the 2010 London Marathon, I was thrilled. Frank and I were celebrating a significant anniversary that year, and I intended to honor our marriage by running my fastest marathon ever. I put together a 4-month training plan to guarantee success.

Obstacles popped up like adventure-killing jack-in-the-boxes. Our treadmill broke. Then I suffered a knee injury and had to lay off training for a while. No problem. Get healthy. Work harder.

Then disaster! Our flight to London was canceled when a volcano in Iceland erupted and sent a cloud of ash over Western Europe. It looked like I wouldn’t make it to the starting line, much less the finish!

After a few days, the skies cleared, and we caught another flight. But we were days behind schedule, and there was little time to prepare. After only a few hours of sleep, I woke up on race day exhausted and jet-lagged. I hauled myself to the starting area and felt a tired sense of relief when the gun sounded.

Everything went wrong. My GPS watch malfunctioned, and I couldn’t rely on it to pace myself. I got a side-stitch and had to stop occasionally to stretch. When I finally reached the 20-mile marker, way behind my scheduled pace, my back hurt and a blister was forming on my left heel. I was so hungry I would have snatched a sandwich from a spectator if I could have, but all I had were a couple of Gu gels.

But nothing hurt as much as my pride. I decided to drop out. Maybe I could save a little face by telling people I had to quit because of injury.

But give up? This was the race to honor our commitment to our marriage, and the marathon is an excellent metaphor for that very thing. With six miles to go, I made up my mind to cross the finish line even if I had to crawl. Even if I was the last person to get there. Even if the organizers had rolled up the mats and gone home, I knew one person would be waiting. And no matter how bedraggled I looked, Frank would smile and say, “Great job, honey!”

I trudged on, fantasizing about hamburgers and chocolate milkshakes, until I reached the finish line. It was my slowest marathon ever. A volunteer handed me a medal and a T-shirt, and I walked into the finishers’ area and saw Frank. He smiled, jogged over, and hugged me. “Great job, honey!”

It was my best marathon ever.

***

When I read H.R. D’Costa’s book “Story Stakes,” I immediately thought of my London Marathon experience.  D’Costa includes eleven types of story stakes in her book and shows how to use them to increase tension and reader engagement.

I zeroed in on Stake Type #11: Hero Happiness. D’Costa defines it this way: “If he succeeds at the climax, and wins this prize, then his future happiness is ensured. If he fails, he will be devastated.” In reflecting on this definition, I began to see how we (and our characters) can easily set up a stake for ourselves that isn’t the real key to happiness, but we can use the resulting journey to shine a light on our own misconceptions.

No matter what genre we write in, the ability to keep our readers interested is fundamental to our success. Check out “Story Stakes” for yourself. It’s much more informative (and a lot easier) than running a marathon!

***

I’m excited to welcome H.R. D’Costa, author of Story Stakes, to this blog series.

HRDCosta

 

A graduate of Brown University, H. R. D’Costa is an author and writing coach specializing in story structure and story stakes.

Through her website scribemeetsworld.com, her “deep dive” writing guides, and online course Smarter Story Structure, she provides novelists and screenwriters with practical tools to create stories that readers can’t put down.

Her popular resource, the Ultimate Story Structure Worksheet, has been downloaded over 37,000 times by writers from around the world.

***

Welcome, HRD, and thank you for joining us!

Hi Kay, first let me say thanks for inviting me to participate in your Craft of Writing series. I’m excited to be here!

How did you get interested in writing?

My interest in writing stems from all the reading I did as a kid. I loved the days when my dad would take me to the library. He’d hunker down at a table with a newspaper, while I would amass a stack of books. I’d gather so many that it was an adventure to get them to the checkout desk (and then to the car) without dropping any.

From all of that reading came a love for storytelling—and a desire to create my own stories to share with the world.

What made you decide to write books on the craft of writing?

That’s a long story!

Here’s the short version: I gave up an incredible opportunity and took a low-paying job with flexible hours so I would have enough time to write. However, I did anything but.

At the time, it was terrifying to face the blank page, so I kept putting it off.

Years later, I realized that to overcome my fear, I needed to (1) work on my inner critic and (2) improve my plotting skills.

Writing craft books emerged from item #2. Although I had read several writing guides, there were still some missing pieces. For example, I knew that a strong midpoint and “all is lost” moment would prevent the middle of my story from sagging…but when it came time to plot, I didn’t know exactly what to put in those places.

So I analyzed novels, screenplays, and films to look for answers, and to discover why some stories were so gripping—while others were easy to walk away from.

It seemed only natural to share what I had learned, whether that was through my blog at scribemeetsworld.com or through the more organized format of a writing guide.

What prompted you to write Story Stakes?

Interestingly enough, I didn’t initially set out to write a book on stakes at all.

I was actually working on a writing guide about how to craft a killer climax. When conducting my research, it became clear that stakes—the negative consequences of failure—were pivotal to creating a story climax that would thrill and delight readers.

As a result, I started to explore them more deeply. Frankly, I was startled by what I found. A lot of ink has been dedicated to plot, character, and theme…but hardly anyone talks about the stakes.

And yet, without them, readers won’t be emotionally invested in your story. You can have the most intriguing premise in the world, but without stakes, no one will feel like finishing your book. Along with structure, they’re the key to creating reader “glue.”

If your story feels flat or your beta-readers’ reaction to your book is lukewarm (but your character and plot seem solid), there’s a good chance it’s a stakes issue. Check to see whether you’ve:

  • included stakes (they’re omitted more often than you might think!)
  • formed a connection between readers and the stakes
  • periodically reminded readers about the stakes
  • raised the stakes

If you don’t know what to use for stakes in your story, and you’d like a convenient list of options, you can download this cheat sheet with 11 types of story stakes from my website.

What is the most difficult concept to get across to new authors?

I’m going to interpret difficult as meaning something new authors don’t want to hear, which is this: your readers come first, before even you.

If you do a quick search for speechwriting tips, you’ll come across advice to think about the big takeaway that you want your audience to have.

If you do a quick search for copywriting tips, you’ll encounter similar advice. The sales pages with the highest conversions focus on the pain points of the customer, and how your product will solve them.

The way I see it, novel writing is no different. If you want readers to buy your books, you need to take their expectations into account at some point—if not when you’re writing, then at least afterward.

To sum up the above three paragraphs: audience before speaker; customer before product; reader before author.

By putting readers first, it doesn’t mean that you write by committee or cater to the lowest common denominator. It just means that before you send your story out into the world, you ask yourself, Okay this was fun for me…but will it be fun for my readers?

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

The advice I’d give is to make sure that you work on cultivating the right mindset. In fact, I’d put that above even developing plotting and marketing skills.

With a healthy mindset, when you run into a thorny plot problem, you won’t give up on the manuscript (or perhaps on writing itself). Instead, you’ll persevere. You’ll power through.

Do that enough, and eventually you’ll become so good that your work can’t be ignored. Literary agents will reply to your query letters; the Amazon algorithms will show your books some love.

Put another way: they say overnight success is 10 years in the making. You need grit to make it through those 10 years.

Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?

I really like Write Away by mystery novelist Elizabeth George. It emphasizes the importance of connecting your scenes through cause and effect, which is a good lesson to learn early on. Also, her book will train you to avoid writing scenes that are heavy on dialogue, but low on concrete details, so it just feels like two heads are talking to each other.

I’d also like to recommend Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s a great book to help you learn how to overcome the inner critic and enjoy the process of creating art. (I know you said one craft book, but because mindset is so important, I wanted to add it to the mix.)

What are some of your favorite works of fiction?

My all-time favorite book is Pride and Prejudice.

In terms of genre, currently I’m into YA romances like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han and The Distance Between Us by Kasie West.

I’m also a fan of mysteries, especially Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series (which is another reason why I love her writing guide—it explains how she plotted the books in the series).

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

When I want to take a break, I like to watch Graham Norton clips on YouTube.

The best episode is the one with Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and Hugh Bonneville. Search for it now; thank me later *wink*

I also like to bake, but since I’m trying to reduce my sugar consumption, I bake a lot less than I used to. I need to find a new hobby…green smoothies perhaps?

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can find more about me and my writing guides on my website scribemeetsworld.com.

If you want to develop your structure skills, check out my article on the 8 essential plot points in a script outline (don’t worry, the essential plot points are the same for novels).

After that, download the Ultimate Story Structure Worksheet. At 18 pages, it’s comprehensive, but not overwhelming. And it’s free 🙂

If you want to explore story stakes, read this article on what stakes are and how to raise them. You can also download the cheat sheet with 11 types of story stakes that I mentioned earlier in the interview.

Thank you, HRD, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thanks again, Kay, for having me today. I wish you and your readers lots of luck with all your writing endeavors!

 

CLIMB THAT MOUNTAIN IN 2020

alpsCropped CLIMB THAT MOUNTAIN IN 2020!

Kay DiBianca

December 30, 2019

 

People occasionally ask why I have a banner with a photograph of mountains on my website and on my personal Facebook page. Am I a mountain-climber? No. But there’s something about that picture that symbolizes for me the challenge of writing.

After all, we authors know what it’s like to look up at a goal that seems unrealistically far away and wonder if we’re up to the task. We share the doubts and fears climbers have when taking on a major quest. Am I willing to push myself beyond my shortcomings? Suppose I don’t have the talent to succeed? I’m not sure I can make it to the top. What if I fail? With so many things in common, maybe we can learn something from the way our mountaineering friends prepare to start their adventure.

So, what do you think? Ready for a literary workout in 2020? You don’t even have to buy an expensive plane ticket and travel to the other side of the world. Just grab your laptop and join the expedition.

  • Decide which mountain you want to climb. Whether It’s a short story, a novel, mystery or romance, choose your goal. Read books in the same genre to get an idea of what’s selling in today’s marketplace.
  • Get a guide. There are tons of books and blogs that address the “how to” of writing. I’m running a series on my own blog entitled “The Craft of Writing” to equip and encourage new authors. Make use of all of the expert guidance available.
  • Gather your gear. Fortunately, we don’t need backpacks, climbing boots, ropes and picks! A good laptop and word processor are enough. But there are plenty of other tools to help the aspiring writer along the way. Scrivener, Grammarly, and Reedsy are just a few. Research and grab the equipment you feel will help you in your climb.
  • Train. Many of the experts I’ve interviewed say the same thing: if you want to write, you have to spend time writing. Give yourself a daily or weekly word quota. If you don’t practice climbing the small hills, you won’t be able to take on a full mountain.
  • Join an expedition. Attend a writer’s conference and meet editors, publishers, and other writers who can help you up the mountain. Network through email groups, comment on blogs, and post to social media.

Most of all, let’s accept the challenge in 2020 to go beyond our comfort zones. And let’s support our fellow climbers through the ups and downs of trekking to the mountaintop.

I’m setting up my tent at base camp now with a continuation of my website blog series “The Craft of Writing”, where I plan to alternate monthly blog posts between craft experts and new authors. Be sure to join the discussion on January 13 when H.R. D’Costa will be my guest, and we’ll take a look at her craft book “Story Stakes.” In February, my guest will be L.K. Simonds whose first novel, ALL IN, was released in 2019. Don’t miss the opportunity to interact with these two. They have a lot of good information to share.

2020 is almost here. Come on over, and let’s climb that mountain together.

Do you have a writing goal you’re targeting for 2020?

What new challenge are you taking on in the new year?

What advice do you have for fellow writers?

WALKING WITH THE WISE

wisdomWALKING WITH THE WISE

Kay DiBianca

November 18, 2019

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” – Proverbs 13:20a

Six times in 2019 we had the opportunity to walk with the wise, experts in various areas of writing and publication. It was a great pleasure and privilege to have welcomed these folks to my blog: James Scott Bell, Kathy Ide, Steve Laube, Randy Ingermanson, Renni Browne, Dave King, and K.M. Weiland.

I encourage you to read or re-read the complete interviews and their comments.  Here’s a sample of the responses each person gave when I asked what single piece of advice they would give to new authors.

James Scott Bell (Plot & Structure) “It’s the same answer every time: write to a quota. Get in the habit of writing a certain number of words every week, week in and week out. You have to practice what you learn in craft books and classes. You have to exercise your imagination. You have to produce the pages if you want to make it in this game.”

Kathy Ide (Proofreading Secrets of Best-selling Authors) “View what God has called you to write as a calling—every bit as important as if He had called you to be a pastor or serve on the mission field.”

Steve Laube (The Christian Writers Market Guide) “To quote a line from the movie “Galaxy Quest”: Never give up. Never Surrender. Seriously. This is an industry that demands excellence. Few writers are born as a perfect writer. Instead, most writers are marked by a dogged determination to improve their craft, learn the industry, build relationships, and create great ideas.”

Randy Ingermanson (How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method) “Create a habit of writing every day. You can analyze author success mathematically, and there are four crucial factors. One of the factors of a successful career is production. A habit of writing every day drives production. One of the other factors is quality. A habit of writing every day builds quality. So write every day. Every single day.”

Renni Browne (Self-editing for Fiction Writers) “Don’t self-edit your first draft. Let the story pour out, unimpeded by self-editing points, grammar, anything you’ve read or heard from famous writers, and so on. Story first, style later.”

Dave King (Self-editing for Fiction Writers) “Writing is hard.  It doesn’t take long to learn the basics of writing well enough to write competently, especially if you have the help of a professional editor (ADVT).  But to really develop the writer’s gifts – the insight into people you need to create layered characters, the awareness of how your readers will react to your story, the ability to make all the different aspects of your novel work together – takes time to develop.”

K.M. Weiland (Creating Character Arcs) “Find the process that works best for you. Explore and experiment and figure out what best unleashes your creativity. For example, outlines aren’t one size fits all. My outline won’t look anything like someone else’s outline. So just because one outlining approach doesn’t do it for you, don’t give up right away. Play around and see if you can find the right blend of tools and techniques for you.”

That’s a lot of great information! And there’s so much more in each of the interviews.

Now it’s your turn.

What did you enjoy about these interviews and comments?

Would you like to see more Craft of Writing blog posts in 2020?

Would you like to hear from new authors as well as experts?

Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for the blog for the coming year?

 

I look forward to hearing from you and continuing this blog as we grow together to become great writers!

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – PART 6

The Craft of Writing – Part 6

Creating Character Arcs

 

What My Horse Taught Me About Character Arcs

 by Kay DiBianca

 

 

It was a day for speed. A wind-at-your-back, smile-on-your-face day when a youthful gallop overruled frumpy caution, so we barreled down the dirt trail into the park and around a blind turn. As the bushes on our right gave way and the road ahead came into view, a terrifying specter suddenly loomed up in the middle of the trail, no more than fifty yards in front of us.

Dixie, my high-strung, prone-to-panic filly, slammed on the brakes. I had no idea a horse could stop like that. Two stiff-legged hops – thump, thump — to a dead halt.

I went straight over her head. Turns out an English forward seat saddle is particularly ill-suited to sudden deer sightings.

As I was flying through the air, anticipating an unpleasant reacquaintance with the earth, Dixie began some kind of crazy cha-cha in reverse, trying to flee the tiny deer creature. I was still holding on to the reins, however, so she couldn’t turn and run. Instead, she made a determined dart backward, dragging me along in her wake.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just let go of the reins and save myself from a mouthful of dirt and a painful awareness of my sudden change in circumstances. I’ll be honest with you. I would have let my horse drag me into the next county before I allowed her to return riderless to the barn. I have my pride, you know.

Body-surfing down a dirt trail at the whim of a frightened animal is an excellent way to focus one’s mind.  I’m older now, but sometimes I still get that urge to gallop furiously into the next adventure, no matter what form it takes. But when I recall that day in the park, the awful taste of grit in my mouth, the look of terror in Dixie’s eyes, and the acrid scent of fear in the air, I pull back the reins on my emotions and proceed at a deliberate trot.

***

Whether dramatic or not, we each have a set of experiences that have transformed the way we view the world. We all know the characters we write about must change from the beginning of the story to the end, and the change must be meaningful. But how do we accomplish this metamorphosis in a way that will grab our readers?

This is the essence of K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs. Ms. Weiland argues that structure, plot, and character development are dependent on each other and must work together as an integrated whole to create the novel. She goes on to describe different character arcs and how to create them.

In the “Craft of Writing” blog series, we’ve talked about plot & structure, editing techniques, aids to finding publishing information, and overall outlining techniques. This conversation with K.M. Weiland is an excellent way to gain insight into another part of the writing and publishing world: character development.

***

K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally published author of acclaimed writing guides, as well as the Gaslamp fantasy Wayfarer, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Stormingthe portal fantasy Dreamlander, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called OutlawWhen she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors. She makes her home in western Nebraska.

***

Welcome, K.M, and thank you for joining us!

How did you get interested in writing?

Stories have always been my mode of interpreting and communicating with the world around me. I made up characters and told myself stories from a very young age, but I didn’t start writing them down until I was about twelve. During high school, I edited and published a small newsletter that featured short stories and informative articles. From there, it was a natural progression to novels.

Stories are like breathing. Life without a story in my head is one-dimensional, stagnant, vapid. I love the life God has given me, but I think I love it better because I’m able to live out so many other lives on the page. I’m more content to be who I am because I’m not trapped in that identity. When I sit down at my computer and put my fingers on the keys, I can be anyone or anything, at any time in history. I write because it’s freedom.

What made you decide to write books on the craft of writing?

I kind of stumbled into it. I was just publishing my first novel and all the marketing gurus were telling writers we needed to have a blog if we were going to build a readership. Like so many other writers, the only thing I felt qualified to blog about was writing. I started chronicling my writing journey as an effort to sell fiction, and it ended up becoming an adventure all its own.

What prompted you to write Creating Character Arcs?

For me, the crystallization of the thematic dichotomy between the Truth and the Lie the Character Believes is what suddenly made the concept of character arc click on an applicable level.

It was while working on Jane Eyre: A Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic and charting Jane’s Positive Change Arc—which is just so perfect and so powerful—that I gelled my own understanding of how inextricable plot and character are from one another. Character arcs and plot structure are intertwined at every beat of the story.

I can’t say it was unexpected, but it was explosively eye-opening. Creating Character Arcs grew out of that experience.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Find the process that works best for you. Explore and experiment and figure out what best unleashes your creativity. For example, outlines aren’t one size fits all. My outline won’t look anything like someone else’s outline. So just because one outlining approach doesn’t do it for you, don’t give up right away. Play around and see if you can find the right blend of tools and techniques for you.

Besides your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend?

Hmm. It’s hard to narrow them down. I’m going to have to go with three:

  • The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.
  • Write Away by Elizabeth George
  • Story by Robert McKee

The first and the third are aimed more at screenwriters, but their take on structure and story theory are insane. Absolutely insane. (In all the most awesome ways.)

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I’d love to have you visit me at HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com.

 

Thank you, K.M., for sharing your expertise with us!

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – PART 5

The Craft of Writing – Part 5

 

Self-EditingForFictionWriters

 

What the Book of Proverbs taught me about SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS.

 by Kay DiBianca

Every morning I sit down with my bowl of oatmeal and cup of coffee and read a chapter in the Book of Proverbs. I can’t remember when I started doing this. Maybe somebody recommended it to me, or maybe I just came up with the idea on my own.

Now, I’m all about doing things the easy way, so since there are thirty-one chapters in Proverbs, I read the chapter whose number corresponds with the date. Therefore, I go through the entire book each month. (Okay, chapter 31 doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, but it’s still a pretty good system.)

The thing about the Book of Proverbs that interests me is the wealth of wisdom found in its pages. Practical wisdom. A soul-searching, character-changing experience in less than five minutes every morning.

 “Good sense makes one slow to anger,
    and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” – Proverbs 19:11

 “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” – Proverbs 22:1a

 “Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18

 “A dishonest man spreads strife,
    and a whisperer separates close friends.” – Proverbs 16:28

I could go on, but you get the idea. The Book of Proverbs is surely self-editing for the soul.

***

I may not remember exactly when I started reading the Proverbs every morning, but I remember precisely where I was when I first heard about Self-editing for Fiction Writers. I was attending a panel discussion for new authors at my first writers conference. The subject was how to improve your writing, and one of the speakers said the book Self-editing for Fiction Writers was an essential addition to any writer’s library. So I bought a copy and started reading.

Talk about practical wisdom!

“To write exposition at length … is to engage your readers’ intellects. What you want to do is to engage their emotions.” – Chapter One, “Show and Tell”

“When you make the point of view clear at the beginning of a scene, you get your readers involved right away and let them get used to inhabiting your viewpoint character’s head.” – Chapter Three, “Point of View”

“Don’t open a paragraph of dialogue with the speaker attribution. Instead, start a paragraph with dialogue and place the speaker attribution at the first natural break in the first sentence.” — Chapter Five, “Dialogue Mechanics”

“The greatest advantage of self-editing … is the kind of attention you have to pay to your own work while you’re doing the self-editing. It demands that you revise again and again until what you’ve written rings true. Until you can believe it.” – Chapter Twelve, “Voice”

This was the kind of advice I needed to self-edit my manuscript before I sent it off to a professional editor. If you’re reviewing your work, take the time to get familiar with the lessons in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. You’ll be glad you did.

***

Renni Browne

Renni Browne has been editing fiction and nonfiction for over 50 years. Before she became an editor for Scribner’s in 1966, she was a copyeditor for Time-Life Books, co-author of a novel, and assistant fiction editor for Woman’s Day. When she left Scribner’s, she worked part-time for a paperback publisher and a literary agent while reviewing books for Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly.

In 1968 she became senior editor at Stein & Day, where a number of books she acquired and edited over her seven years there landed on the New York Times bestseller list. She next became a senior editor at William Morrow, where she was encouraged to spend a great deal of time helping market her titles and cultivating relationships with literary agents but very little time editing the manuscripts she acquired—a trend, she realized, that was beginning to pervade the industry.

She left mainstream publishing in 1978 and in 1980 founded The Editorial Department, so named because it provided the services publishers had once routinely provided. In 1991 she and Dave King wrote Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, still the bestselling title on editing, now in its fifth printing and second edition from HarperCollins.

 

DaveKing

 

In addition to having co-authored Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Dave King enjoys editing everything from YA to harrowing memoirs, with romance, mysteries, and historicals in between. An independent editor since 1987, Dave is a former contributing editor at Writer’s Digest. Many of his magazine pieces on the art of writing have been anthologized in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing and in The Writer’s Digest Writing Clinic.

He’s also the organist at a local church, which gives him the chance to explore the connections between writing and baroque music. The independent musical voices of a fugue act in much the same way as the characters in a novel — intertwining to produce an artistic whole. Being able to hold several musical threads in his head at the same time has helped him untangle more than one complicated plot.

***

Welcome, Renni and Dave, and thank you for joining us!

DAVE:  Thank you for having us.  And for your introduction.  It’s not often I get compared to Solomon.

How did you get interested in book editing and publishing?

RENNI:  I started editing in college. I typed students’ papers for extra money and if I saw a phrase or word that could easily be made far more effective if it was already good or good if it wasn’t, I put a suggested change in the margin. I didn’t do this often and I did it only on papers where I felt the student was a good writer to begin with. I loved doing it.

DAVE:  From the time I was about twelve, I developed the habit of rereading favorite books several times.  I was also a habitual tinkerer from an early age, taking apart model trains and lawnmowers to see how they worked.  I found that, on my third or fourth pass through a book, I started taking apart the story to understand how the writer created the moments I loved so much.

Then I rented an apartment in Renni’s home.  At the time, I was writing science fiction short stories, which she was editing in return for yard work and repairs to the washing machine.  (I was still a tinkerer.)  She handed me a science fiction novel to read to see if it was worth working on.  I wrote three single-spaced pages on how the writer could improve his plot.  That’s when she began training me as an editor. 

What made you decide to write Self-Editing for Fiction Writers?

RENNI:  Literary agent Carol Abel saw me give a self-editing workshop in Manhattan and said, “Renni. That’s a book!”  I was eager to do it once Dave King agreed to coauthor. He was a brilliant editor for The Editorial Department, he had the kind of mind that could turn SELF-EDITING into a self-help book (which I couldn’t have done in a zillion years), and he was a fine writer. Dave made massive creative contributions to every chapter in a voice so like mine I don’t think the writing style would help anybody (including me) figure out who wrote what.

DAVE:  Self-Editing started life as a two-page workshop handout, covering the twelve most common stylistic mistakes that beginning writers make.  I was actually brought into the project after the decision was made.

What was the most difficult thing about developing the book?

RENNI:  Making fresh what would be obvious to many of our readers. Take our first chapter: Showing and Telling.  I doubt there are many fiction writers who haven’t read show-don’t-tell hundreds of times. We had to write the chapter, even start off with it, because it’s so important. Of course, we were going to begin by showing. Dave backwards-edited a scene from Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, showed it to the reader, then showed the scene the way Fitzgerald wrote it. Point made. Brilliantly, in my opinion.

DAVE:  There really wasn’t anything really difficult about developing the book.  It just came together nicely.

You’ve both been in the editing / publishing business for a long time. How has it changed over the years?

RENNI:  The most obvious change was the invention of the computer, which made the physical process of writing a novel easier. Writers could move a scene from chapter seven to chapter three, or make all sorts of changes without having to do a little retyping—or a whole lot of retyping if this was the final draft. But the biggest change to me is more interesting. The first big publisher to hire me was Scribner’s, where authors had editors because Scribner’s (like most publishers) had an editorial department. That was fifty-plus years ago. Over many decades I saw the withering of editorial departments at publishing houses, followed by their virtual disappearance. There are exceptions, like Farrar, Strauss, but most publishers do very little if any editing. Yet writers need editing just as much now as they ever did, and many fine editors had left publishers. And so, in 1980, I founded a book-editing company and named it The Editorial Department.

DAVE:  The most obvious answer is the rise of e-publishing, but I suspect that’s just a symptom of something deeper.  Major publishers used to maintain a solid midlist – writers who weren’t blockbusters, but who sold enough books to turn a comfortable profit.  The search for good midlisters meant acquisitions editors were willing to take a risk on a new voice.  It also made them the gatekeepers, who stopped books that weren’t yet ready for print.

Then the big publishers decided that there was more money in buying a book from an established writer for a million dollars, putting another million into promotion, and making five million in sales.   It’s not bad as a business model, but it leaves midlist and beginning writers with no good platforms to launch their careers.  There are still respectable smaller presses looking for the midlist guys, but they’re often understaffed and underfunded.  Then there’s e-publishers, who are drawing in beginning writers with the promise of an instant book, for just a couple of hundred dollars down.

I understand the temptation e-publishing offers – your book is out in the world!  The problem is, there are no gatekeepers.  So the market is flooded with books that aren’t yet at their best.  So a lot of writers e-publish, then spend immense amounts of time and money promoting their books and only selling a couple of hundred copies.  It’s a frustrating system.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

RENNI:  Don’t self-edit your first draft. Let the story pour out, unimpeded by self-editing points, grammar, anything you’ve read or heard from famous writers, and so on. Story first, style later. 

DAVE:  Writing is hard.  It doesn’t take long to learn the basics of writing well enough to write competently, especially if you have the help of a professional editor (ADVT).  But to really develop the writer’s gifts – the insight into people you need to create layered characters, the awareness of how your readers will react to your story, the ability to make all the different aspects of your novel work together – takes time to develop.  It’s probably not going to happen with your first manuscript, and maybe not with your second or third.  Again, a professional editor can help, but it still involves a lot of work.

Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?

RENNI:  STEIN ON WRITING.

DAVE:  Actually, I don’t read other writers on the craft of writing fiction.  I’m a little concerned about getting into an echo chamber, where what I write reflects what other writers on writing think is important.  (I think there’s currently too much emphasis placed on the first five pages, for instance.)  So the writing books I draw the most inspiration from are about non-fiction, starting with The Elements of Style.   I rely on my work with clients to understand what writers need most.

What are some of your favorite works of fiction?

RENNI:  Oh dear. I love murder mysteries and so many of them nowadays are well written and have terrific characters–I read so many I can’t remember their names. I also read a lot of southern literature–I’m particularly fond of Lee Smith. And last year I reread Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady.

DAVE:  The Nero Wolfe books, if only for the dialogue.  (“You’re Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin.”  “No, I’m my Archie Goodwin.  I work for Mr. Wolfe.”)  C. J. Cherryh is brilliant at dropping readers into the middle of a complicated world, explaining nothing, and yet making things clear.  And Sue Grafton is always fun.

I’ve read some of your blog posts. Which one would you recommend to readers of this blog?

RENNI:  Can’t help you here. I don’t remember my blog posts.

DAVE:  Just one?  Hmmm.

I still find this one the most fun to read.  And to write.  Incidentally, that Poul Anderson example is going to show up in the next edition of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

http://www.davekingedits.com/blogarchive/tonguishness.html

Okay, just one more.  This one was also fun to do.  And the Stephen King example is going into the book I’m currently working on.

http://www.davekingedits.com/blogarchive/different.html

What do you do when you want to get away from writing and editing?

RENNI:  Take walks, play with my cats, or—most often—read a novel I picked up somewhere that looked appealing.

DAVE:  Garden.  We’ve got a 50’ by 50’ kitchen garden, where I grow most of the vegetables we use during the year.  I’ve also put a gallon of wild blueberries in the freezer so far.

My pleasure reading is also a little offbeat.  C. S. Lewis once said that, if you want to understand humanity, read great writers.  If you want to understand a particular era, read the second-rate guys, especially those who were popular at the time and are now forgotten.  The idea is that second-tier writers were popular because they fit their times perfectly.

Years ago, I found that you can purchase seventeenth and eighteenth century collections of essays or sermons fairly cheaply – I picked up six volumes of The Spectator, published in 1756, for about $5 each.  Reading one of these books is like time travel, taking you back to an era when people thought very differently than we do today.  And the second-tier writers are often interesting people.  So when I want to relax, I pick up one of these books and settle back into Stewart or Queen Anne England for a while.  My current reading is a collection by Jeremy Taylor, once chaplain to Charles I, who was known in his day as “The Shakespeare of preachers.”  This when there were still people alive who could remember the Shakespeare of theater.

Actually, I’ve written a blog post on this, as well.

http://www.davekingedits.com/blogarchive/head.html

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

RENNI:  www.editorialdepartment.com

DAVE:  My website, www.davekingedits.com.  I also write a column the third Tuesday of every month for Writer Unboxed.  (www.writerunboxed.com)

Thank you, Renni and Dave, for sharing your expertise with us!

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