7 things to do when you’ve finished a novel

If you follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my newsletter you’ll know that I finished the first draft of the sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian, my dark fantasy novel currently being edited by a professional, last week. Finishing a book is one of the most amazing feelings in the entire world but it’s also kind of daunting. After all, you’ve been carving out an hour(or three in my case) of every day to work on this thing for months. What the hell do you do with that time now?

Personally my brain was immediately flooded with about a million things I could do with those hours, but here are 7 things you absolutely must do after finishing a novel:

1. Celebrate

This one is obvious, but it bears repeating. Most writers(realistically most of the people I know) have a terrible habit of downplaying their achievements. They fall into the trap of comparing themselves to writers who have already finished dozens of books or who finished their books before their 20th birthday. This is the absolute worst thing you can do to yourself, especially if you already have depression or other mental health issues. So stop and remember that finishing a book deserves a celebration, whether it’s your first book or your fiftieth.

How should you celebrate? That’s up to you but I have one suggestion: go big, especially if this is your first or second book. Don’t have a single drink by yourself to celebrate. Take yourself out for a nice meal and invite some friends out for drinks afterwards. You deserve it.

2. Take a week off

When you’re working on a book it tends to take over your mind at all times of day. No matter what you’re actively doing some part of you is always focused on the book, examining the problems and delivering solutions. As much as you might want to jump straight into a new project most of us have to put some distance between ourselves and the last book we worked on before we can really devote our attention to the next project.

During your week off you should do everything in your power to get the last project out of your head. Read a different book(or three). Watch movies that are as different from your last book as you can possibly imagine. Your goal is to put as much distance between yourself and your last novel as you can before starting the next project. Some writers even take longer periods of time off in between books to do this.

3. Thoroughly clean your house

The closer I am to finishing a book, the less I clean, and I know I’m not alone in this. In the last couple weeks of a project almost all the cleaning falls to my fiance, so when I finish a book I do a thorough clean of my house(although my desk always stays a mess).

Which reminds me, I really need to clean the bedroom when I finish this blog post…

4. Narrow down your options for the next project

Another common problem us writerly folk have is a plethora of ideas and a limited time frame in which to complete our projects. I’ve got entire binders full of partial outlines and notes for worlds I’ve never actually written a book in.

So how do you narrow them down? You have to pick your own criteria. For me I’ve narrowed it down based on which projects are closest to publication because I’ve decided to self publish my work. You might want to narrow it down based on which projects have the most complete outlines or based on something like project length. You might even narrow down your ideas to the most challenging ones because you want to break out of your comfort zone and learn new techniques.

Whatever your criteria is, I want you to narrow your entire list of possible projects down to three.

5. List all the pros and cons for potential projects

Once you’ve picked your three projects, make a list of pros and cons for each one. As an example I’ll share some of the pros and cons for one of the projects I’m considering, the third book in the Moonshadow’s Guardian trilogy(which will eventually have a better name):

Moonshadow’s Guardian Book 3

Pros

  • I’m extremely comfortable with the voice of the main character right now
  • Since I’ve worked on both the other books this year my brain is still kind of immersed in the world
  • I’m excited to further explore the mythology of the world in the third book

Cons

  • This book actually has the loosest outline of the three projects I’m working on: I know what I want the main character’s story arc to look like, but not much else
  • There will be complicated repercussions from events in the second book that I haven’t decided how to approach
  • If I write this book it will have a new POV character who is extremely mentally disturbed, and I’m not sure I’m stable enough mentally to sit in her head for very long at the moment

Your pros and cons can be anything that influences how well you’ll be able to work on the project. The important thing is to be completely honest with yourself.

6. Read a book about writing

The writer’s journey is an endless path of learning. And there are thousands of books to help you along the way. Some of my favourite books about writing are DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

You can get your books about the craft from the library or buy them so you always have a copy to refer to but the important thing is that you actually take the time to read them. Keep a notebook beside you while you’re reading them and write down anything particularly useful or interesting. You’ll always learn more from actually writing and receiving feedback on your work but if you want to learn quickly you need to get information from every possible source.

7. Start working on the next book

Every single blog and book I’ve ever read about writing sooner or later says the same thing: the best thing you can do for your career is write the next book. It doesn’t matter whether you’re giving the first draft of your first book some time to settle before you dive into edits or you’re waiting to hear back from an agent/publisher. Taking a week or two off to reset your brain and catch up with all the friends you’ve been ignoring is great but if you’re serious about building a career in writing you can’t wait long to start your next book.

Of course, working on the next book doesn’t necessarily mean jumping head long into a first draft. In fact, I have a whole list of things I like to do before I start a novel. Outlining is obviously one of them but I also often have extensive worldbuilding to do and I always do a series of character exercises. The character exercises are particularly important for me because I write in first person and they allow me to get used to a new character’s voice before I jump into a project.

What are you planning to do when you finish your current project? Let me know in the comments section below!

Author Spotlight: James Stryker

Assimilation_coverIt recently came to my attention that I’ve read a disturbing lack of books about LGBTQ+ characters and that my recent reading list contained a total of 0 transgender characters so I reached out to Twitter looking for books with LGBTQ+ characters to review. James Stryker was the first author to respond to my call for LGBTQ+ characters with his novel, Assimilationa story about a person who is resurrected in a body with a different gender.

But don’t let me attempt to explain the book, here’s a blurb to do it for you:

She was far away, this woman he’d been. He knew her child’s and husband’s names. He could see their faces. But Natalie was a ghost.
Natalie Keller was a happy, attractive woman in the prime of her life: a mother and a wife. The kind of woman some people are jealous of. When a fatal car accident ends Natalie’s life, a new technology allows her husband to bring her back. Except it isn’t Natalie who wakes up over a year after the accident. It’s Andrew.
Andrew is not the only one who has returned from death profoundly changed, and he soon finds a group of misfits who share his fate. They include the brilliant and reckless Oz, who decides to make Andrew his project. The closer they become, the more Oz pushes Andrew into a carelessness that jeopardizes both of their lives.
Having paid for the procedure, Natalie’s husband Robert has control over Andrew’s body and legal identity. In order to get his life back, Andrew must play a dangerous game, keeping Robert in the dark and preserving his own sanity until he can legally revoke Natalie’s identity. But Robert is not the only threat. CryoLife, the company behind the new procedure, is eager to cover up any “mistakes.”
In a world where a new life is possible, there are still those who would tell Andrew and Oz how to live theirs. When the truth of who they are is on the line, what are they willing to sacrifice for their freedom?
A dystopian sci-fi thriller for fans of Ann Leckie, Lila Bowen and Kameron Hurley.

Now on to the interview:

1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Assimilation

Assimilation takes place in a not-so-distant future where technology has developed to the point of being able to bring individuals back from the dead through cryonic preservation. The book is told from three points of view; however, it mainly focuses on Andrew after he has been reanimated following a fatal car accident. As Assimilation opens, an error in the medical procedure has impacted Andrew’s gender identity and he’s essentially a man waking up in the body and life of a woman. He then has to navigate his feelings of gender dysphoria in a struggle with the previous identity’s husband, and the cryonic corporation who’s looking to cover up any mistakes.

2. What part of Assimilation came to you first?

Cadaver preparation (embalming, cremation, plastination etc.) has always been interesting to me and I was researching cryonic preservation theories. In reading about current processes/challenges, an inherent part of such an invasive procedure would be significant impact on brain tissue – if/once cryonic reanimation becomes successful, there is a very real possibility that a person could return with different personality traits. While we still have a limited understanding of the exact structures that play a role, brain anatomy has more to do with gender identity, possibility, and expression than genitalia. I had the image of a young man paralyzed in a hospital bed opening his eyes to a man expecting his wife and a child waiting for his mother. The story built itself from there.

3. Your main character passes away as a woman and is revived as a man. Did you set out wanting to write a book that tackled trans issues or did it just sort of happen?

From its inception the idea of Assimilation centered around transgender issues. I thought the book’s concept would be a unique platform to explore a couple pieces of the transgender experience that I feel are often eclipsed in media sensationalism – managing the history of another gender identity and the struggle of a closet transgender youth.

For the first, essentially Andrew lived as a woman for 27 years – investing and building relationships as a woman. Coming back into the world as a man, that history doesn’t disappear. In choosing to pursue their true identity, a transgender individual has to manage and/or sacrifice the prior gender identity’s role. When gender is closely tied to our society and interactions, transition (even once complete) letting go of previously held images, expectations, and dreams is a painful, grief-filled process for family and friends.

Another twist in Assimilation is that while Andrew is 28, a guideline of the reanimation procedure has placed him under a conservatorship. He has limited rights and is under strict control of the woman’s husband, Robert. Leaking his struggle could result in being sent back to CryoLife, the organization responsible for the reanimation or worse punishment. As in the case of many transgender children and teens, Andrew is forced to deal with his gender dysphoria silently, with no options. He goes through a litany of emotions from trying to fit in as the woman to fighting thoughts of suicide.

4. Did you do much research into gender dysphoria and the trans experience before starting Assimilation

I’ve always been passionate about promoting a greater understanding of the transgender experience. I’ve attended TransCentralPA’s Keystone Conference, which hosts workshops, seminars, and other programs regarding gender identity (keystone-conference.org). Another great resource has also been Laura’s Playground, a support site for a variety of gender identities and expressions (www.lauras-playground.com). Laura’s Playground offers live chat, forums, and additional information. I’ve been friends with many of the moderators and site visitors for years.

5. What is the hardest part of the writing process for yourself and how do you make it easier for yourself?

For me, the hardest part of the writing process is finding adequate time to accomplish it. I write quickly, but I need dedicated time. To get through a first draft, I end up taking vacation time and barely leave my kitchen table for a week or so, writing continuously for upwards of 20 hours/day (can usually manage around 10K words/day). The result is usually a completed first draft, but it’s physically and emotionally taxing, so not something I can regularly do.

I try to make it easier by intermixing longer works with short pieces or editing. I still feel productive, but these smaller sprints aren’t as draining and are great creative exercises.

6. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why/why not?

I believe in writer’s block in the context of “what I’d currently like to write about isn’t coming easy for me,” but I’ve never seen it as a completely closed door to writing in general. While Assimilation was my first completed novel, my second novel, Boy, was in the works for about seven years due to periodic “writer’s block.” If a story is lacking expressional fluidity it’s not that there’s a bad story, a bad writer, or that the writer has “writer’s block” – it’s just an indication that additional development for that particular idea is needed. When I hit this feeling, I try to focus elsewhere and trust that the piece I’m stuck on will unravel itself when it’s ready.

7. What advice would you give to a writer setting out to write about their first transgender character?

Take the time to consider details. Elements of gender are woven into so many aspects of everyday life that often go unnoticed. For example, in Assimilation the idea of just getting a haircut is a huge ordeal for Andrew. What if the stylist refuses to give him a man’s haircut? What if it ends up botched and looking even more feminine? Even walking into a salon with an interior of mirrors reflecting an image he hates, is terrifying. If a writer is going to accurately portray a transgender character, they need to bring in the finer points, and the thousands of worries that accompany even seemingly small actions.

8. Can you recommend some other awesome books about transgender people?

Most of transgender books I read are biography or other non-fiction; I really enjoyed Dhillon Khosla’s account of his transition in Both Sides Now: One Man’s Journey Through Womanhood. On the fiction spectrum, there were several elements of gender explanation in Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex: A Novel that I found fascinating.

9. If you could give an aspiring author only one piece of advice, what would it be?

When you finish the first draft, remove yourself to edit ruthlessly. Editing is more than spell-check and comma placement. A writer has to be willing to detach, and treat the thing they’ve created as a body of work.

10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

I have four other standalone books looking for homes – two of which have specific (though different) transgender themes:

In Boy, my second novel, after his father’s death a young man is shocked to discover that his father had a hidden past as a transgender man. To find out why this secret was kept from him, Luke must go through a journey of self-discovery which involves convincing his father’s terminally ill best friend that he can be trusted with the truth.

My third novel, The Simplicity of Being Normal, follows Sam, a transgender teenager stuck in an environment of religiously justified bullying at school and abuse at home. After confiding his gender identity to his only ally, a teacher hiding secrets of his own, Sam tries to survive the increasing violence at school in order to graduate and begin transition.

James Stryker lives in small-town Pennsylvania, though he grew up in Ogden, Utah. He relocated 2,000 miles to be with the love of his life, and he also shares a residence with a pack of pugs. James enjoys writing both short and novel-length pieces of speculative and literary fiction. Themes in his work focus toward diversity in the LGBTQ spectrum and the voice of underrepresented or misunderstood points of view. When not writing, James can be found reading, listening to opera at obscene decibels, wearing pedantic vests/sweaters with large buttons, and trying to figure out who in his neighborhood has fabric softener that smells like Dr. Pepper.

Purchase your copy of Assimilation now! 

Did you find this interview helpful? Want to see more like it? Let me know in the comments section below!

 

Author Spotlight: Brittany M Willows

The Calypsis Project - Book CoverToday’s author is a fellow Canadian who enjoys traversing worlds in a variety of genres but is here to chat about her debut science fiction novel, The Calypsis Project

Please give Brittany M Willows a warm welcome.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, The Calypsis Project?

Certainly! It’s a military science fiction novel set in the midst of a war waged between the United Nations Planetary Defense and an alien organization known as the Drocain Royal Empire. Told from both human and alien points of view, the story follows an unlikely team on their mission to save the galaxy.

And here’s the blurb:

The year is 2438. Ten years ago, an ill-fated encounter on a human mining colony triggered a devastating war between the United Nations Planetary Defense and an alien organization known as the Drocain Royal Empire.

After a decade of fighting with no sign of a conclusion in sight, the men and women of the UNPD find themselves faced with the reality that mankind’s very existence could be at stake.

When Corporal Alana Carmen stumbles upon an encrypted communications device, she learns there is more to the conflict than a simple war-for-worlds. But to uncover the truth, she must make allies of those she once considered enemies.

And now, the fate of the entire galaxy may rest on the shoulders of a single alien warrior . . .

Following a public shaming at his own Coming of Age ceremony, Kenon Valinquint enrolls in the Drocain Royal Empire with the hope of one day redeeming himself. Unbeknownst to the young Drahkori, this decision has set in motion a staggering chain of events that could very well change the direction of the war, and the known history of the universe, forever.

  1. The Calypsis Project is the first novel in a series. Did you set out to write a series or did you simply realize at some point that your story was too big for one book?

I set out to write a series. A trilogy, to be specific. But I ended up squeezing the main storyline into a nice tight duology instead, because I didn’t have quite enough material for three books based on this specific story.

However, I do have several other books planned for the series. Aside from the main duology, I have two other novels, a collection of short stories, and a couple of novellas planned. So I won’t be leaving this little fictional universe any time soon!

  1. How much planning did you do before actually starting the first draft of The Calypsis Project?

A lot. This story has actually been with me for . . . almost eleven years now, in some shape or form. It started out as a video game design all the way back in 2005, so everything from then until 2012 was pretty much planning. Long-time development. It’s changed drastically over that time, and I was ecstatic when I finally realized where I wanted to take the story.

  1. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?

I was a total pantser with my first book. Just hopped straight in and made it up as I went. Nowadays, I like to write up a rough timeline to follow, then jump in to the actual writing part. After the first draft is done, I go back and fill out any scenes I summed up, then move on to the first round of revisions. Then it’s just editing, editing, and more editing until it’s ready for publishing.

I also do that thing people tell you not to do, which is editing as you write. Personally, I find it helps. It cuts down on the amount of fixes I have to face later. Plus, I usually have a pretty solid idea of the story in mind when I’m writing it, so I don’t skip out on any details (meaning I don’t do “skeleton drafts”).

  1. What is the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?

I think it’s a tie between the first draft and the first round of edits. There’s not a whole lot I can do to make either stage easier, except take my time, think things out, and maybe sprinkle some Youtube in between writing/editing sessions. 😉 Sometimes reading another author’s book also sparks my motivation.

  1. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why/why not?

I do, because I’ve experienced it. To me, writer’s block is when you are experiencing a lack of motivation or you’re simply too exhausted to write. Or when you write yourself into a corner and you literally block yourself from proceeding with the story. The latter can be solved with some edits to the preceding content. The former issues are rather a lot harder to tackle, because sometimes you just can’t muster that energy to write.

  1. Why did you decide to self publish The Calypsis Project?

I like freedom. I like to be 100% in control of my projects at all times. That was the main allure of self-publishing. I also just wasn’t keen on the idea of waiting around for a publishing house to accept my book, because I know it can take anywhere from months to years for that to happen, and I wanted to get it out there as soon as possible.

  1. Do you hope to eventually work with a publisher or are you planning to self publish all of your novels?(I’d love to know why/why not)

I have considered becoming a hybrid author in the future, after I’ve made a bit more of a name for myself. I like the idea of having one foot in traditional publishing and one in self. It would still allows me to have freedom with some projects, and it’d be nice to have that little boost from an established publishing house.

But that all depends on how fast I write and which projects I don’t mind waiting on.

  1. If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice, what would it be?

No matter how much you hate your writing, or hate writing in general, keep moving forward. You’re not alone. We’ve all been there at some point or another. Sometimes it gets easier the more you write, and other times it simply gets easier to accept.

Either way, if this is really something you want to do, just don’t give up. It’s worth it in the end. I promise!

  1. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

The sequel to The Calypsis Project and the final installment in the Echo-Alpha duology, Rebirth! It’s nearing the final stages of editing, and I’m gearing up for a big release (the biggest release I’ve done, anyway). And if all goes according to plan, it should be hitting the digital shelves this October!

Brittany M. Willows is a self-published author and freelance digital artist living in rural Ontario, Canada. She has been creating fictional worlds for over a decade, spanning such genres as science fiction, post-apocalyptic, fantasy, and steampunk.

The Calypsis Project is her debut novel, and the first in a series of the same name. The final installment in the main duology, Rebirth, is slated for release Fall/Winter 2016.

 

Book Review: Daughter of the Sun

DaughteroftheSun_coverA few weeks ago I got an email from an author I had never heard of before asking if I would participate in the tour for her new book. Ordinarily I don’t take review requests, but since Daughter of the Sun is the first book in a series called Cult of the Cat and I am a crazy cat lady I simply had to read this book.

I’ll let the blurb tell you a bit about the book:

Sixteen-year-old Trinity was born during a solar eclipse and left at the doorsteps of a convent along with a torn piece of papyrus covered with ancient symbols. Raised by nuns in the English countryside, she leads a quiet life until she’s whisked away to the Island of Cats and a grandmother she never knew.

But before they can get to know each other, her grandmother dies. All that Trinity has left is a mysterious eye-shaped ring. And a thousand grieving cats. As Trinity tries to solve the enigma of the torn papyrus, she discovers a world of bloody sacrifices and evil curses, and a prophecy that points to her and her new feline abilities.

Unwilling to believe that any of the Egyptian gods could still be alive, Trinity turns to eighteen-year-old Seth and is instantly pulled into a vortex of sensations that forces her to confront her true self—and a horrifying destiny.

Daughter of the Sun is a wonderful novel filled with fascinating mythology, history and of course cats. Hundreds upon hundreds of cats. As a crazy cat woman, I honestly feel like I have been waiting my entire life for this book full of cats.

As someone who is fascinated by ancient religions and has spent a lot of time studying them I was particularly thrilled to see how well researched Daughter of the Sun is.  The mythology is quite accurate(with just a touch of fudging to allow for the ongoing cult) and the actually taught me a couple new things about ancient Egyptian culture. And if you know something about Egyptian mythology coming in it gives you fascinating insights into where the book will go next.

I’m also a huge fan of the Seth character in this book, which kind of surprised me because I’m always nervous about characters named after that particular god(Seth is a common name for Set, a god with a specialty for causing trouble). This Seth, however, reminded me of the god in many ways despite being significantly kinder.

Trinity, the actual main character of Daughter of the Sun, has a lot of spunk and a great narration style. I get tired of overly sheltered main characters in YA sometimes but Trinity’s reactions to being introduced to the world are so much fun I never minded it in this book.

All in all Daughter of the Sun is one of the best books I’ve read all year, with an excellent story, good pacing, fun characters and lots of interesting mythology. I’m happy to give this book a 4 out of 5 star rating and suggest that you purchase Daughter of the Sun now. As for me, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next one.

This Review is a part of the Blogger Outreach Program by b00k r3vi3w Tours

My reading list

ReadingList

The most important thing a writer can do–other than establish a consistent writing habit–is read, and read widely. You can do this by picking random books off a library or bookstore shelf or by strategically creating a list of books you want to learn things from. The random approach is a lot of fun but your writing will advance more quickly if you strategically pick books.

DIY MFA suggests that your reading list be divided into four categories, and this week Gabriela challenged the DIY MFA street team(us lucky folks who got to review the book in advance) to blog about their own reading list. I’ll be honest and tell you that my reading list is almost book length itself, so this is going to be just a snapshot, but I hope you’ll enjoy it all the same:

Competitive Titles

These are books in a similar genre to your own or focused on a similar theme. I’ve actually got a lot of books from my childhood I want to reread on my personal list but for this post I’ll focus on books I haven’t read yet.

  • The Tiffany Aching Sequence(starting with Wee Free Men and ending with I Shall Wear Midnight) by Terry Pratchett. Although I’m really tempted to just make this item “every Terry Pratchett book ever” because the man’s a bloody genius
  • The Godsland Series by Brian Rathbone, an intensely successful indie author who also happens to be the funniest guy I follow on Twitter(and he’s agreed to do an interview here this summer! SQUEEE!) The last book in this series will also fall under my contemporary reading list.

Contextual Titles

Contextual titles help you put your own writing in perspective. This includes any/all media you use for research while you’re working on a book. It can also include books that use a similar storytelling technique or style of writing.

  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman, which focuses on out-of-body experiences and near death in a rather unique way that I think will help me contextualize the experiences of a POV character in my current novel who also happens to be a vampire
  • The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau and the other Books of Ember — The first two are rereads but there’s a prequel I haven’t delved into yet. These books are kind of slow but they ask some very interesting questions about humanity.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynne, definitely the most famous book I know of that uses multiple first person POVs. One character’s POV is actually letters, but it’s still two first person POVs.

Contemporary Titles

Even if you’ve only just started outlining your first book you should know what’s being published in your genre at any given time. Books in this section of the list should have been published in the last three years.

Classics

The term classics might instantly conjure up images of Jane Austen and J R R Tolkien, but there are a great many classics in every genre. Gabriela doesn’t really define how old a classic should be, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say anything published 20+ years ago can qualify as a classic, if it is well respected enough. Read many classics in your genre and a selected few outside of it. Most of the classics on my list are rereads, things I read when I was 8-13 that I want a better understanding of.

  • Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien
  • The Silmarillion, also by J R R Tolkien — I’d like to publish the mythology for my own worlds as a series of short audiobooks
  • The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, which I read so many years ago I don’t even remember what year it actually was. It left a deep impression on me but I’m sure I’ll understand it more and be able to actively study the writing techniques this time

What’s on your reading list?

Author Spotlight: EJ Wenstrom

176657621

176657621

I was introduced to E.J. Wenstrom by the wonderful Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA and as soon as we started talking I fell in love with the concept of her debut fantasy novel, MUDLuckily she agreed to do an interview and chat about how she came up with it.

Please give E.J. Wenstrom a warm welcome!

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, MUD?

My debut novel, MUD, is a dystopian fantasy that follows the quest of a golem who is so desperate to get a soul he’s willing to do almost anything. So when an angel comes to him offering to make him human, he takes his chance and doesn’t ask questions. The deal they make takes him on a quest into the Underworld to steal a soul … and puts the whole realm in jeopardy in the process. It’s a character-driven story with a soulful narrative and a lot of great action.

  1. What part of the story came to you first?

The main character’s voice. I was flipping through some lesser-known monster descriptions—as one does—and came across golems among them. Something about golems just grabbed me. As I mulled it over, Adem’s voice started talking to me in my mind, showing me little pieces of his heart. It was so sad, so desperate, I just knew I had to tell his story.

  1. How much planning did you do before starting Mud?

Not much! Wish I’d done more, honestly. I tried to outline before I started drafting, but inspiration took over. So I ended up writing as far as I could see the plot, pausing to plan, and then writing some more.

It was not the most efficient process, and one I don’t home to repeat. But it was my first novel, and I think on some level planning out an entire novel felt like too much to take on all at once.

As I work on MUD’s sequel and another sci-fi novel now, I’m trying to plan out at least the big tentpole moments of plot and character development better, ahead of the actual writing. I’m more a punster than a plotter naturally, but I think the best approach is somewhere in the middle.

  1. What is the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?

I’m a VERY slow writer. MUD took me five years to write. I get frustrated with how long it takes, feeling like the work I put in doesn’t even make a dent into what still needs to be done.

It helps when I write every day though, because even if my daily contribution is a tiny drop in the bucket, I can at least take comfort in the knowledge that those drops are adding up to something.

I’ve also been working to increase my daily word count—I used to only be able to write for about 45 minutes before work, so I’d average 250-500 words a day. Now that I’m freelancing, I have a little more flexibility, so I make myself stay put until I hit 1200 words.

Interestingly, it usually only takes 60-75 minutes to hit my word count, even though it’s proportionally much more words than that. I guess that’s either evidence that I’m becoming a better writer … or (more likely) just the psychology of setting goals and making yourself stick to them.

  1. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why/why not?

I don’t. Coming from a career in the creative industry, you don’t get that luxury of waiting around for an idea when there is a client deadline coming up—you learn ways to make creativity a habit and tap into that inspiration regardless of your mood. I’ve applied the same mentality to my personal work, including writing fiction.

If I feel stuck, I just start asking myself questions—why do I feel stuck? What’s missing in the story? What’s the logical next step? When faced with an open-ended question, my brain can’t help but try to answer it, and the wheels start turning again.

  1. You’re also the social media mastermind at DIY MFA. How did you get involved with this awesome community?

This is something I love to talk about, because it ties back to being involved in the writing community. I first got involved with DIY MFA by guest posting. I loved the site and the perspective on writing it advocated, and so I read it. Then I pitched a guest post in an effort to build an audience for my own blog. Then I guest posted a couple times more.

When the blog posted that it was looking for columnists, I knew I wanted in, so I pitched a concept that brought together my passion for writing with my professional experience (social media platforming). Now I run the social media for DIY MFA, too. All because I was engaged in the writing community and platforming for myself years before I had a book to promote.

This is only one of many incredible relationships I’ve grown that started with guest posting. I wish I could tell every author—just get involved, just start giving to the online writing community. Start your own blog, even if only as an excuse to approach other blogs with guest post pitches. When you finally reach a point where you have a book releasing or something else to get out to the world, you’ll be amazed how those posts you’ve contributed come back in dividends.

  1. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned working at DIY MFA?

It’s been so cool to watch how Gabriela works. She’s got such an incredible community built around DIY MFA, and as I’ve collaborated with her more, I’ve gotten to see behind the scenes a little at how she does it. I’ve learned the importance of sharing your passion, only offering the highest quality resources, and protecting your brand rigorously.

  1. How do you balance leisure time, working for DIY MFA and your own personal writing/marketing?

Right. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

But seriously—for me, it’s come down to knowing what’s most urgent, and also knowing what’s most important, and what can be put off or cut altogether. I try to do certain types of work at the times of day I’m in the best mindset for it.

For creative writing, that means 5:30am; for workouts that means about 7pm; I freelance now but I’ve mostly maintained my old office work schedule because it helps me to have the structure of maintaining “open hours.” Most of all, I rely on the power of habit.

And honestly, it’s not uncommon for me to work some long hours. It’s been said to death, but it really does help when you love what you’re doing.

  1. If you could give an aspiring author only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Usually I’d want to say simply, “write,” but that advice is out there already, so I’ll go to my expertise and say, start platforming NOW. Act like you are published. Create an author website, get a professional headshot, and start collecting an email list. It seems like it’ll never come, but once that publishing contract comes through, or your novel is ready for self-publishing, everything is going to start moving in fast-forward. You’ll really wish you had these pieces already in place—so just do it. The earlier you start, the more time you have a to grow an audience (and learn).

  1. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

A few things! I’ve got a novella in the works that will be a fun little prequel to MUD and offer some backstory to the larger world the series is set in. That will be free for my email subscribers, probably starting in May.

I’m also working on the sequel to MUD, and while I was waiting to get MUD published I started a totally separate sci-fi YA story about two sisters in a world where your death date is printed on your wrist when you’re born, and how that world starts to unravel when one of them doesn’t die on their assigned date.

It sounds like a lot when I type it all out like that, but it doesn’t feel like it when I’m working on them.

Wenstrom EJE.J. Wenstrom is a fantasy and science fiction author living in Cape Canaveral, FL. Her debut book, the dystopian fantasy novel MUD, was published by City Owl Press. When she’s not writing fiction, E. J. drinks coffee, runs, and has long conversations with her dog. Ray Bradbury is her hero.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have more questions for E.J.? Think MUD sounds like a great novel? Tell us in the comments section below!

Attitudes towards LGB characters in your fantasy land

Image free from PixabayFantasy is a genre full of tropes, many of which I love: castles, dragons and magic are just a few of my favourites. Some of the tropes, however, aren’t so pleasant. Many fantasy societies closely resemble the medieval English culture they are modeled after, including not just the castles but the strict class structure and the oppressive laws. Main characters tend to rebel against these structures(even when it makes no sense for them to do so) but they are almost always there.

But… Why? Why can’t our fantasy societies have different morals? They can still have castles, can still have kings and courts of nobles, without needing the entire moral code. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t make sense for most of these societies to have such identical morals. Most fantasy societies are already so radically different from our own histories that it only makes sense for them to have completely different morals. There’s one huge difference:

Magic

Magic is found to some extent in pretty much every fantasy story, but few people really explore its full implications. The implications of healing magic are simultaneously the most profound and the most under explored. You see, advanced healing magic probably means a lot less infant and child mortality. Things like compulsory heterosexual marriages made a lot more sense when you’re dealing with a 30%(or higher) infant mortality rate. Survival of the species takes precedence. At that point sex is 95% about creating the next generation and 5% about pleasure if you’re lucky.

A world where magic has allowed your civilization to flourish much the way science has allowed ours to flourish–and to do so much earlier in their development–will likely have totally different attitudes about things like work, relationships and sexuality. If they’ve figured out how to heal your character’s mortal wounds with magic they’ve definitely figured out how to save children from common yet deadly illnesses and extend the human lifespan at least a little bit. This makes the need to have children less desperate, making sex more about pleasure the same way it happened in our world.

Maybe I’m just an optimist but I believe cultures become more progressive as their lives get easier. It’s why we’re seeing a huge swing back to conservatism in so many places right now: one country after another has been thrown into financial turmoil and we’re all so screwed we can barely help ourselves, let alone each other.

And hey, if your fantasy culture has different attitudes about sex it actually makes sense for your main character to have even more progressive views. What doesn’t make sense is how every woman living in a near copy of medieval Europe seems to be obsessed with the idea of marrying for love when they have literally lived their entire lives under the assumption that they will have an arranged marriage. These women have often also been taught love is a learned thing, something achieved through marriage rather than a reason to marry, so why the hell does every single one turn away from their entire upbringing?

You don’t even have to change the morals completely. With the histories of many fantasy worlds it doesn’t make sense for them to be totally accepting of everything. There will still be taboos. People who are different may simply be tolerated rather than actively accepted. No culture is perfect and I’m not saying yours should be either–that would probably take most of the fun out of it.

What I’m suggesting is that our fantasy worlds don’t have to match our own history so closely. The possibilities of our genre are literally endless. Yes, many fantasy tropes are wonderful, but we need to move beyond them and expand the genre into new territory. The world is changing and so should our stories, because the world changes faster when we change the stories we put into it.

Have you ever read a fantasy novel about a culture where they’re more open about sexuality? Have you written one yourself? Tell me all about it in the comments section below!

Editing dialogue to make characters stand out

DSC_0289One of the biggest challenges of writing good dialogue is making characters stand out from each other. Sometimes this is easy, like when you’re writing a conversation between people who have markedly different accents, but most of the time it’s incredibly difficult–and the more people you have in the conversation, the more difficult it becomes.

This is still one of the things I struggle with most when writing, especially when my novel takes an unexpected turn and unplanned characters appear. So between drafts I take the time to develop these new characters further, asking the following questions:

Where are they from?

This question is obviously important because people from different parts of the world have different accents, but there are many other ways location alters speech. Slang, for example, can vary wildly from one city to the next. And where they live will probably influence the answers to the rest of these questions.

How much education do they have?

Somebody who’s never spent a day in the classroom will use a very different vocabulary from a university graduate, even in a society much less advanced than ours.

Are they religious/what religion do they follow?

I’m just going to assume there is some form of religion in whatever world you’re writing about, but that doesn’t mean everyone follows it. Even if there’s one main religion and all others are illegal people will find a way to practice something else. There are also many different levels of devout. Truly devout characters may quote holy texts to prove their point; characters who don’t really believe might make semi-blasphemous comments. And others will deliberately blaspheme, especially when there’s a devout person around.

What is their rank in society?

Since myself and most of the people reading this blog have the pleasure of living in countries without super strict caste systems it can be easy to forget how people from different classes would actually speak to each other in such a world. The stricter your class system is, the more this matters. Just take a look at Etiquette in Victorian England. Your system obviously doesn’t need to have as many rules for social interaction but it should definitely have some.

What do they do when they’re nervous/stressed?

Here’s a simple truth: EVERYBODY has some kind of nervous tick. I bite my lips until they bleed when I’m really stressed or nervous and during an extreme bout of stress I’ll also bite my nails. Some people run their hands through their hair, tap their fingers impatiently against the nearest hard surface, pace in circles, or start stuttering. Really nervous people might even carry something(like stress balls) around to play with.

Even if your character is a member of the nobility who has spent their entire life learning to suppress their emotional responses they can be pushed to the point of breaking. Gradually increasing the rate of these nervous movements is a great way to grow tension and add physical beats to your dialogue so you don’t suffer from the infamous talking head syndrome.

 

Once I’ve answered these questions for all of my characters–my major characters often end up different than I originally imagined them–I’ll create a dialogue cheat sheet. This simple piece of paper lists every character’s name, education level, religion, nation of origin, and nervous ticks. Some characters also have a favourite phrase or gesture that gets added and others have little personality notes like “most sarcastic”.

For characters who appear only in one scene, people like guards who are there primarily to get beat up, this is often all the background work I’ll do. Of course, this probably only works because I’ve thoroughly developed all the places they come from and can therefore assume certain things about their lives. You have to understand the class system, religion, education system, and the place your character came from before you can understand how those things impact their speech.

This dialogue cheat sheet is something I can easily pull out when I’m editing a dialogue scene so I know exactly what to add. It’s been so useful that I’ve now created a similar cheat sheet for all the POV characters in my current project(pictured above — yes, I know that’s a lot of POV characters).

New Twitter Chat for Writers & Readers: Dark Lit Chat!

dark-lit-promo#DarkLitChat is a monthly Twitter chat for writers, authors, or readers who appreciate dark fiction. Writers and authors at all stages are welcome, and encouraged to join in. Whether you’re plotting, procrastinating, or published, you’re welcome to join us!

When is #DarkLitChat?

Tuesday, June 21st at 8pm EST, on Twitter. (You can find us for subsequent chats every 3rd Tuesday of the month, at 8pm EST)

Why #DarkLitChat?

Writing dark fiction can be hard — and it can be lonely. Many times it’s difficult to find other writers who appreciate a good blood bath in a world filled with happily ever after. Network with other writers of Dark Fiction while we discuss the ups and downs of writing dark fiction.

Who’s hosting #DarkLitChat?

D.H. Poirier, (@PoirierPages) Young Adult Author of dark historical fantasy, and horror. And Elesha Teskey, (@e_teskey) Urban Fantasy Author, and Publicist for Pen And Kink Publishing.

What is Dark Lit?

Any genre or market covering darker topics. Thrillers, horror, suspense, urban fantasy, mysteries, etc. Dark Lit would include murder, crime, abuse, drugs — things of that nature. Dark Lit is subjective, if you think you write Dark Lit, chances are — you do.

How can I help?

Help us get the word out on your blog, and on twitter.

#DarkLitChat Future Chats

We’re looking for published authors open to doing Q&As for future chats. If you’re interested, tweet at @PoirierPages on Twitter, or DM.

Need a reminder for #DarkLitChat? You can sign up for an email reminder for the chat here.

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I can’t wait to see you all at the #DarkLitChat!

Author Spotlight: Jessica Marie Baumgartner

embracing-entropy (1)Jessica Marie Baumgartner is a multi-published author whose most recent novel, Embracing Entropy, came out in March 2016. I’m really excited to introduce Embracing Entropy as it’s a space opera(something you won’t find much of around here) centered around a family trying to survive on a new planet. There’s a real lack of families who actually care about each other and help each other in genre fiction so I was thrilled to chat with Jessica about this novel and her writing process.

Please give her a warm welcome.

 

 

  1. Can you tell us a bit about the Embracing Entropy series?

Of course. This is a space opera novella trilogy, printed as one serialized novel, but also available as individual ebooks. It’s about what happens to a family when they have to leave Earth. The planet’s dying and they are at the mercy of a seemingly friendly alien race.

Here’s the actual blurb:

As Earth dies, leaving its inhabitants struggling to survive, an alien race offers an unimaginable option: to relocate humans to their own planet on the far end of the universe. The Campbells, one of the last surviving families, quickly realize humanity’s hope for survival may come with a price. Accepting a new way of life, acclimating to a new atmosphere, and trying to fight against a universe that seems set on tearing them apart offers many struggles. Can the Campbells make it through, together?

2. What part of the story for the Embracing Entropy series came to you first?

I’m a chronological thinker so I started at the beginning and worked my way through it. It wasn’t supposed to run as long, or be more than one story originally.

3. Why did you decide to publish the series as three novellas rather than one novel?

Haha great question. I had this crazy idea to try and bring back the serialized novel, like Dickens and most of the greats used to do. The idea of publishing the three novellas as ebooks, is still something that I think will catch on in the future, but it’s always fun to see your name in print too.

4. How much planning do you usually do before starting a book length project?

I used to try and outline everything, but this project especially refused to follow any directions I tried to give. The more I write, the less planning seems to help.

  1. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why/why not?

Not a bit. I believe in uninspired periods where life gets in the way of creativity, but I myself am always bursting with new ideas. I have notebooks full of stories I’ve been dying to write for ages.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your editing process?

I have had to learn to like editing. Used to hate it. I totally disagree with Hemmingway, I prefer to write sober and edit tipsy, it’s the only way to survive the terror of going through my own work. Now when editing other people’s work, I love it and being sober is easy.

  1. What did you learn about writing while working on the Embracing Entropy series?

I learned to forget outlines and let the story direct me. Writing this was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life and it’s a bit hard to know that it’s completed.

  1. How do you define success as a writer?

I love this question. Some people measure success by popularity or sales, maybe I will too (if I ever become a best seller haha), but for me success is reaching out to your readers and really sharing your experiences; exploring the human connection. I constantly get messages from readers who love my work and I always respond. To me, that is writing success.

  1. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice what would it be?

Reach out to other writers. Learn what you can, help who you can, and know how to take criticism. The writing industry is rough. You have to learn to take a punch.

  1. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

I am currently wrapping up my short story collection. The insanely talented Dash Crowley is doing some artwork for it, and I hope my publisher will have it ready late this year/early next year. I’m also polishing two older novels that need reworking, and a couple of children’s books that will be fun to get out.

JessicaB&W13 Jessica Marie Baumgartner is the author of: The Embracing Entropy Series, Siren’s Snare, Tale of Two Bookends, and My Family Is Different. Her stories have been featured in numerous publications such as Everyday Fiction, The Lorelei Signal, Fiction on the Web, The Horror Zine and many others. She is a member of the St. Louis Writer’s Guild and is always weaving new worlds in the webs of her tales. You can check her out at www.jessicamariebaumgartner.com

Purchase Embracing Entropy here! If you enjoyed this interview or have a suggestion for an author I can interview, please leave a comment below!