Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Author Interview

I got interviewed!

Find the original blog post (and the rest of the interview) on Far-Sight Fiction here:

How exciting!

Tell us about your writing process and where the beta readers come into it.

Well, my writing process can be rather fluid. Generally, though, I come up with an idea and do all of my research at the front. A lot of brainstorming happens during this time with my editor. I’ll throw ideas around, we’ll discuss plausibility and whether or not something is too far-fetched, and eventually I’ll have between 20 and 30 pages of strict resources and randomly generated thoughts. For the most part I don’t outline extensively. I have a formula that I use for the number and size of my chapters to help me reach and then stay within my page/word counts. I jot down a paragraph or some bullet points of what needs to happen in each chapter, if I know, and then I start writing.

I have two beta-readers who read each chapter as it is finished in its full, messy, first draft goodness. They don’t edit for style, grammar, or functionality, unless there is something seriously egregious that I let slip by. Mostly they ask questions, verify that they understand the story correctly, and provide feedback, maybe a few thoughts if something isn’t very clear. They keep me honest about my goals (where’s the next chapter, eh?!) and they also help nudge me along if I seem to be straying from the path.

After the book is written, my editor will do a complete read of the raw draft. At this time the grammatical and stylistic errors will be notated and corrected, and any last tweaks to the flow of the story will be suggested. By this time, though, most of the major story flaws have already been noticed by the chapter-by-chapter beta readers. The goal is to send as clean and correct a manuscript to the editor as possible; extensive rewrites should occur during the writing process beforehand. If I did my job correctly, editing should always just be editing.

What are some concrete benefits that you have experienced by having beta readers?

No one lives in a vacuum. And even if you think it, you don’t always have the best ideas. Sometimes you can stagnate with no real resources for how to get out of this plot hole you’ve created. Sometimes you just don’t like a character, and a beta reader can tell you that character is their favorite and you’d better not touch anything—or their least favorite and yes, you do need to change it. Basically, beta readers help get you out of your own skull and to see things from a fresh perspective. Your readers are going to be forming opinions on your book anyway—what author wouldn’t want to know what some of those thoughts might be as they’re going along?

A beta reader may have a good suggestion, or they may say just the right thing, turning on that light bulb and getting you working again. Beta readers also, as I said before, keep you honest. You can’t do much dithering if you know your readers are waiting at the end of the line for that next chapter you promised them. Procrastination is a writer’s worst enemy. In my own experience, writer’s block, lack of inspiration, plot holes, anything that causes a delay in writing has nothing at all to do with the book. It’s all a hidden form of procrastination that then ends up in twenty games of lost Solitaire. Writers may not write every day; they may not write every week. What they write may not be good, it may be amazing. But writers do write, and beta readers help me get that writing on the page, good or bad. Rough drafts are allowed to stink. But you can’t finish a book if you don’t just giddy up and write it.

Another benefit is that, personally, I have the tendency to over-rewrite. If I could, I’d edit forever and end up getting nowhere. Beta readers have allowed me to throw that perfectionism to the winds—and as a result, my production timeline has gone through the roof. I wrote three books in the last two years and I have another planned to begin later this summer. And it’s the best writing I’ve ever done.

When you have a beta reader, there’s no time to agonize over perfecting the book the first time. Do your job and let them do theirs. Once that chapter is finished, don’t reread it, don’t edit it, don’t even look at it. Just send it along. They’ll let you know what’s what, and then you can go back and make tweaks. But at the same time, you have to keep pushing forward. They’re waiting for that next chapter.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nocturne Final Review

Hello all! Here I am, finishing up the book review that I started in last week's post--


Amanda DeWees' newest book, Nocturne for a Widow, is vastly entertaining and consuming. It took me about two days to read the first half, and as such I decided to write a "pre-review". Blame moving and wedding planning and other "responsibilities" on how long it took me to get through even that much...can reading 8 hours a day be a responsibility? I will gladly take that one on.

In any case, the second half of the book took me about three hours to read, as I could not put the novel down.

Ms. DeWees has a tendency to do this to me. Her first book I purchased when I read the intro that was available on the Amazon.com webpage, finished, and thought "Wait! What? That's it!? No! I need more!!!" And so my readership of gothic romance novels began.

Ms. DeWees certainly hasn't disappointed with her newest book. The two main characters are witty, sharp-tongued, and intricately likable. Although the main hero is not without his punch-able moments.

I guess that was the thing that attracted and intrigued me most about Nocturne. Sybil Ingram, the heroine, is vastly engaging, unique, and funny throughout the story. Her struggles and yet indomitable will to put up with all that life throws her is appealing. Roderick Brooke, the hero, is included in that list of struggles. He is proud, loud, and infinitely determined to get this actress woman out of his life. He's so frustrating that there were several moments I wanted to throttle him. And even more, I couldn't put the book down. How was Ms. DeWees going to bring these two together?

In most stories of this nature, the head-butting couple end up being thrown together in their love for each other all in one moment. In Much Ado About Nothing Beatrice and Benedick are caught when letters declaiming their potential love for each other are read aloud-- even when not five seconds previously they were declaiming the exact opposite. It's very quick and sudden. While effective, I've always found such a method rather unconvincing (and don't understand me: in my mind, Shakespeare is the highest of all theater). If ever someone annoyed me that much, you can be sure I wouldn't spend enough time with them to fall in love in the first place.

But Ms. DeWees captured a believable, seamless, and absolutely convincing progression of romance between the hero and the heroine. Their repartee turns from pointed and biting-- to sardonic and understanding-- to finally even a bit playful. Throughout the book, their level of understanding of each other as one and the same species is not only amusing but also revelatory...giving new weight and also new gentleness to their teasing. In the end it is absolutely clear that there is no other way their relationship could be...and Ms. DeWees depicted it splendidly.

I am already anticipating the next novel in the DeWees repertoire, and I know it won't disappoint. For now, I suppose I will have to be patient.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Coming Up...

Hey Guys!

So I was going to write a book review this week, but the business of going to press at work in combination with a birthday and the long process of moving made it so that I only got about halfway done with the book in question. Still, I figured I'd give you a bit of an "in-progress" preview before completing the full book review next week.

The newest from author Amanda DeWees (the first writer to teach me that "gothic romance" was not the overly dramatic spook stories I had previously supposed but a genre that I could enjoy), Nocturne for a Widow is a tie-in book to her earlier With this Curse -- although the two books can be read completely separately as stand-alone. Nocturne picks up with a character who was introduced on the side in Cuse (which I devoured in a matter of two days...it was one of those moments where I read the few pages available online and, as I reached the end, realized I could not wait a minute more without reading on):

Ms. Sybil Ingram, actress extraordinaire, is now a newly engaged retiree. However, her nuptials are not as purely happy as one would wish them to be. She leaves England for America trailed by rumor, only to find upon her arrival that her husband and her new home are not what she had thought or hoped. Alcott Lammle, the wealthy hotel magnate to whom she was promised, has fallen into financial ruin and declining health during their engagement and Sybil's journey across the sea -- and dies on their wedding night.
Widowed, nearly penniless, and unable to return to England, the determined diva sets out to stake a claim on Brooke House, an eccentric neo-Gothic manor in the wilds of the Hudson River Valley. She soon finds, however, that a ghostly presence wants her gone. Even worse, her claim is challenged by the most insolent, temperamental, maddeningly gorgeous man she's ever met: Roderick Brooke, a once-famous former violinist whose career ended in a dark scandal.
What follows is a battle of wits and steel between Sybil and Roderick as both attempt to retain their claims upon the house, made tenuous by the presence of the other. Their chemistry can easily be described as Shakespearean, darting barbs and pertness back and forth under a guise (sometimes not) of politeness. They are the Gothic Petruchio and Kate, or Benedick and Beatrice.

I haven't yet seen how this battle will unfold, nor how this ghostly presence will resolve itself. Some very spooky action at a distance occurred with a valise and a staircase. Being alone at night while reading some of Ms. DeWees' work -- although not graphic, overt, or gratuitous in any way -- can be a tad hair raising, and I found myself sinking a bit further beneath the blanket under which I was huddled. Ms. DeWees does follow, of course, with just the right amount of recovery for the reader, without dampening that ghostly mood, and I cannot wait to continue the exploration of the haunted Brooke House and the fiesty Roderick and Sybil.

Until I do finish, here are some other reviews by avid readers of Nocturne for a Widow:

"[DeWees brings] delicious humor to the forefront, creating characters and a plot that balance classic Gothic suspense and lighthearted humor so deftly that she nearly creates an entirely new genre -- the cozy Gothic romance." --Sweet Rocket
"Amanda DeWees is a gothic romance gem. In many ways -- the suspense, the humor, and the light, sweet romance -- DeWees reminds me of classic Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels that just isn't written anymore. The writing is elegant but doesn't detract from the atmosphere and characters it builds, who (aside from the totally evil single-minded villain in classical Gothic fashion) are very believable and multi-faceted." --Volatilisanguis

And a sample of the wonderful, witty, and winsome writing of Ms. Dewees? I thought you'd never ask:
No longer was I confined to the purgatory of solitude waiting. She who has an enemy, after all, is never lonely.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Longest Hiatus Of All

Wow!

So hey guys -- it's been a minute since I've posted. I'm almost ashamed to look at the date of my last letter to you all. Er, that. Yeah. You have a blog, remember? A blog? That thing you write in about books and publishing and editing and the imaginative world? I could get a dictionary for you. I'm sure Merriam Webster has it these days.

The things that have happened in the past 6 months (gah! Really?!). Well there have been holidays, and Saturdays, and other days that end with the word "day". There has been sunshine and storm, and many plates spinning to keep it all together. To my credit, there have been some very hectic, very amazing, very time-consuming things.

For one, I got engaged. Let me tell you, planning a wedding and a life is pretty intensely involved. But wonderful and incredible and the most exciting journey I've ever set out on! He loves books, he loves music, he loves The Lord of the Rings -- a match made in heaven. And I thank God every day.

The conclusion in The Hobbit trilogy of films came out in the last 6 months. I saw it in theaters at least 5 times with my fiance, and I have to say it's the best of the three. Yes, there are things I could and do and have criticized heavily about the films, being such a strong fan of the first LOTR trilogy and of all of Tolkien's works in general. And yet, watching them again and again (and back to back, which also happened in the past 6 months!) I can really appreciate just how good they are, despite and indeed because of all their foibles. I want Peter Jackson to do The Silmarillion next, or Unfinished Tales. How about Turin Turambar and Morgoth (you know, only the guy that Sauron, the dark lord, the master of the rings, worked for...!) and the beginning of the world?

For two, I wrote another book. You all know about Shifted and Roaring Boys, which I finished before I went dark on this blog. Old Blood, a 13th-century retelling of Red Riding Hood, is in what I would call "post-production" right now. Final edits, final tweaks, all in all polishing and grooving. I really went to town on this one, and its the darkest of the three, really exploring the line between good and evil and the nature of a sympathetic villain-- while still remaining undeniably a villain. You know when you see a person going towards a closet or a basement in a horror movie, and you're just yelling and throwing popcorn at the screen "DON'T DO IT!!!"? Well what if you could do that while watching a villain make each wrong move that leads them inexorably to their own villain-ness and ultimate destruction?

The word "literally" also officially became defined as "figuratively" in the past 6 months...which means that it's a meaningless word, all in all, and so that's pretty note-worthy. Literally (or do I mean figuratively?).

For three, I got a literary agent. So many posts of mine are about searching for, preparing for, and contacting a literary agent, how to deal with acceptance and rejection, and yet I didn't have the time to make myself write the one post -- of my own "yes"! As of October 2014, I am represented by a literary agent of my own, and we are working on getting some books in the world. How amazing is that?

Only my life dream made real. You know. No biggee.

I still have to 1) get married 2) move 3) finish my latest book, officially 4) plan my next book 5) start my next book 6) keep breathing...but I've missed you all and I've missed keeping up with this blog. So from here on I'm turning over a new page (again) and will be back with you all on a regular basis.

Weekly barefoot news, coming right back up!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ten Tolkien Tips...and a Ten Cent Alliteration

I feel like I could just leave this here and be done with it. Why do you need to listen to me, when you have J.R.R. Tolkien right here giving you advice.

Suddenly I feel rather superfluous.

But! It keeps me humble, helps me learn (you never stop that, surely), and gives me an excuse to use the word "superfluous," which is, really, the answer in the question. Talk about a self-defining word.

Like floccinaucinihilipilification.

The estimation of something as valueless.

For a $10 word like that, it's rather an ironic definition.

But to Tolkien. The man was a prolific writer and the founder (in my humble opinion) of Modern Fantasy as we know it. Of course, he built a lot on traditional tales, old cultures, languages, etc. But using those tools he built a world and a series of worlds that have forever changed the way we look at high fantasy.

On a purely personal note, it was reading The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien that first gave me that *ding*, that epiphany:

I want to be a writer.

My life has never been the same ever since, and after putting down Fellowship of the Ring I was forever hooked. I read the trilogy (literally) to pieces, acquired every Tolkien book I could put my hands on, including a biography about Tolkien. I never read biographies. But I read that one, and by gum I enjoyed it. I need to re-read it, thinking of. Including the stack of Tolkien books and Tolkien-related books that are currently piled next to my bed.

I also very happily collect editions of The Lord of the Rings. I'm missing just one of the '60s edition and two of the original edition I read for the first time. I'd love to get my hands on the cloth-bound editions that have Tolkien's original concept art, as well as the new leather-bound editions.

And yet...and yet...Tolkien continues to amaze. His published works are a study in literature and history and writing in and of themselves, but here today I stumbled across this compilation of Tolkien's tips for writers, and they could not be more accurate from what I have observed and learned on my own writing journey.

He starts, of course, with the most important ones first. Pride. The first three tips all have to do with overcoming personal pride, stubbornness, and sensitivity. You need all of these to be a good writer, but you need to know when to set them aside to take edits, critiques, and criticism. Sometimes they'll be hard to hear. But you must hear them out and then you can go through them later with a keen eye and decide if you want them or not.

That's a key point -- I always tell my editor to give whatever comments she has, because in the end, the final decision is up to me. I can always say, "No, I don't agree with that change." But I can't agree with an edit she doesn't make, nor can I disagree with it. It could be she has a brilliant suggestion to make, but if she held back out of fear of offending me, then that would be a shame and a crime to the creative piece.

And if someone gives me advice that I don't want to use, then that is my own decision. But to immediately react without first analyzing the suggestions is unwise. Write them down, copy them down, whatever you need, and then go through them again, perhaps with another editor or beta-reader. Talk them through. If they are worth something, then you can integrate them-- either altered or verbatim. Edits can always in turn be edited, and mayhaps they will spur another thought of yours. Or, if they are not a direction you want to take, you can happily be confident in your own decisions and put the suggestions aside.

I have only written on the first three (out of ten!) of Tolkien's suggestions and tips, but read them all and put a leaf in your book on them. Each one has something you can think on and learn from.


If you're having trouble in your writing, try something new out.

If you're feeling downcast about your writing and insecure, draw some encouragement from these tips.

If you need some prompts to get you over that writing hump, go and look at your neighbors.

That sounds odd. On second thought, maybe just go to a cafe or something. Get a latte. Surreptitiously take notes. Drink your tea. Enjoy putting funny hats and bizarre languages on the people you see around you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Picking Up an Old Classic

It's sort of a book review, and sort of not a book review at the same time...

Because I'm writing about a book I'm rereading, but haven't read in about 8-9 years (wow, really?). I'm in the middle right now, so does that count as a review of a book I've already read, though I don't really remember what happens?


The novel in question is a slender, library-edition The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White. This is the same author who wrote The Once and Future King, a much lengthier, denser novel that defeated me at a much younger age. I wonder where my copy got to...perhaps I should pick up another and give it a second go.


T.H. White also must not be confused with E.B. White, who wrote The Elements of Style, which is also an excellent book. The two bear, as far as I can tell, no relation.

The Sword in the Stone is a small, comical, beautiful book written with glorious descriptions and a healthy dose of irony and the kind of humor that glimmers out of the corner of a grandfather's eye. Merlyn is more of a powerful-buffoon of a character (In fact I wouldn't be surprised if Peter Jackson either was consciously or subconsciously influenced by the character for his recent version of Radagast in The Hobbit) who carries mice in his hat and has bird excrement in his beard (hence the vision of Radagast). But, like Gandalf the Grey, he can be fearsome and terrible when he needs to be.


The Wart (our young Arthur who will one day be King when he draws the sword from the stone) is a clever, unassuming boy who sees things with such open purity that the whole book feels fresh and clean, like rainfall and moonlight. That is of course terribly poetic of me, but I don't care. The book is not written in a "poetic" style, but it has moments, glimmers where something truly beautiful peeks out. And there are many poetic or beautiful scenes that hide behind plainer, more comedic speech, but they are there if you take the time to see them.

It's the kind of book that tells a classic story that everyone knows-- or, at least everyone should-- but in a way that you would never expect. You may well know the 1963 cartoon version of The Sword in the Stone. I won't speak to the movie's accuracy, having not seen it in well over 15 years, but the sense of what I remember is near to the mark. Solemn in some moments, curious always, and sometimes slightly ridiculous.


It's a joyous book (reminds me of reading J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan for the first time) and I would recommend anyone interested in Arthurian literature-- or not-- to give it a go.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Momentum

What do you do when you feel like you could keep running forever?

Why, keep on running, until you can't anymore!

Right after I finished writing Roaring Boys, I was as high on the mountain as you can possibly imagine. I had just written two books -- Shifted was the precursor to this entire adventure, the first full-length book I had written in a long time and the first book I had self-published in my writing career -- in the space of a year and a half, after spending a long, dry four years without much creative productivity at all. It was the best feeling ever, that creative genius burning away, and I didn't want it to end.

So, I started on the next one. I wasn't even done with the final edits of Roaring Boys, I hadn't even uploaded it for publication, and yet I had already begun the idea, major research, outlining, and character development of my new book.

Now, less than a week after Roaring Boys came out on all platforms, I have four chapters of my new book written.

Another one by Christmas? Challenge accepted!

I don't know how long this momentum will last. Surely I cannot keep the stories flowing, the energy levels up, and the diligence steady -- all the things it takes to write a single novel, much less two in 18 months, or three in two years. I must hit a wall at some point. I will inevitably need a break, a vacation from words.

But I can tell you right now, that time is not yet upon me, and I'm going to keep writing until I simply cannot any longer.

Will that be five months down the road? Five years? Fifty?

Either way, I can tell you this for certain, that no matter how long this bizarre energy remains with me, any hiatus from it that I take will certainly not last. I live to write, I love to write, and I will keep writing until I'm so stooped over my keyboard that I can barely see the screen.

You should never stop writing just because your brain tells you that you think you should. Take a break after each book, it says, don't burn yourself out.

Ridiculous! If you have another book in you, get going! If you have more ideas, more stories, keep them flowing out until every inch of you says you need to rest. Don't rein yourself in because you think that's what you're supposed to do. Because the longer you keep writing in one, continuous, unbroken stretch, the faster and better you will improve. Each book I have written so far has been better and better than the last, and my beta readers, looking at the next one I am working on, are already saying that it's better than all the others. I want to keep honing my skill, keep growing my writing style. And this is the road to success by sheer, ridiculous momentum!

There are hundreds of books in me, ladies and gentlemen, and I want to see them all come to the light of day.

Keep your eyes peeled for news and updates of my next book, which will surely be upon us very soon.