Monthly Archives: May 2012

Author Interview: Karen Kondazian


Karen Kondazian is the debut author of The Whip, a novel about Charley Parkhurst, who was the first woman to vote in America while dressed as a man. Karen’s spent the last month doing both a physical and a virtual tour to celebrate the release of The Whip. I could tell you more about her–and about Charley–but I think I’ll leave that to her.

1. The Whip is your first novel. How did you enjoy the process of writing a novel and how much of your
acting career influenced your writing?

It took me six years and 27 drafts to complete The Whip. I’m not sure you can call that enjoyment (possibly more was blissfully the morning…and for some reason that was when my best work occurred. Perhaps it was because I was 
tired and did not struggle and obsess to write well. I just let it flow, come what may. The writing process, I 
found, is so much like the acting process. As an actor, you do intensive research, you create a back story for 
your character, and you let your mind dream the character in situations. How is the character the same as 
you? How is the character different from you? There is something called ‘sense memory’ in acting where a little thing, like a smell, sound, face or music can trigger an emotion. So in emotional places in the book, as an example, I would choose a detail that triggered an emotion in me, and allow the emotion to write for me. I let myself become an instrument, a channel. Unconsciously, I used everything I knew as an actor for my writing. In fact, I recommend writers to take acting classes to experience new tools for their writing.
 
 
2. What was your creative process like when writing The Whip? What happened before sitting down to write the novel? How did you decide you were ready to write the book?
 
Twenty years ago, I actually wrote a screenplay called The Whip. It needed work but nonetheless, William Morris Agency took it on and it was optioned by a Canadian producer, Kevin Sullivan. At that time, there was no cable television, where something like The Whip would have been appropriate… so all of the big networks turned it down for content reasons. Flash forward to 2005: A writer friend of mine had been nagging me for years to turn the screenplay into a novel. I had been thinking about it and reading books about writing novels, and such. Then my mother passed away. And I needed to escape into something, so I took pen to legal pad and began to write.
 
 
3. What do you think is required for a character to be believable? How did you create yours in The Whip?
 
For me to believe in a character, I have to deeply care about what happens to them. And as in life, when someone reveals their vulnerability, their wounded child inside, you begin to understand their actions and can have compassion for them. So I always try to write from the character’s point of view, the real truth about how they feel about themselves; the part that is covered and rarely shared with the world.
 
 
4. What do you want your book to do? Entertain people? Provoke thinking?
 
I’ve always believed that a novel should be a good read. A great story. A page-turner. Something that you literally can’t put down. Something that makes you sad because you are reaching the last few pages. Something that you find yourself thinking about weeks or even years later. Something that can reveal the truth about yourself. And that can inspire and transform. The Whip is about surviving terrible things in this life, and how one woman was able to pick herself up out of the mud and manure, survive, and even thrive.
 
 
5. What kind of research did you do to write this book?
 
Anything and everything about the 19th Century and about Charley Parkhurst. Of course, I used the Internet, the library, interviews in Watsonville, California (her home and burial place), books on the language and the culture of the west. The research never seemed to end. I even went as far as having to look up many of the words in the dictionary, to see what date they came into use in America.
 
 
5. What obstacles did you have in trying to tell your story?
 
Always keeping the logic clear. I often had to rearrange characters and situations and dates, as I would discover more research about the times. For example, in one instance, I had to change where a character was going (Sacramento, California) because I found out about a devastating plague that had hit the city at that time, driving everyone out of town and killing thousands of people. I also had to keep in mind to always make sure that the character’s personalities grew through the years, but stayed within the truth of who they were and the unconscious ‘intention’ of their life.
 
 
6. Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us?
 
I’ve begun writing a fictionalized memoir called Looking For Jack Kerouac. I have had such a bizarre and fascinating life, having almost died two times and once almost killed. I’ve met some incredible people–both magical humans and monsters. And like most people, experienced dreadful losses. But I have survived it all. And through it all, have been protected somehow. And that’s what I want to write about. I believe that we are all protected, sometimes by not receiving the things we dream of. I believe that one of the lessons we must learn is to trust what life gives us and take it in our hands as a gift.
 
 
7. Where can our readers find out more about you and The Whip?
 
If you want to know more about me personally, my website is http://www.karen-kondazian.com
If you want to know about The Whip, my blog, book tours, reviews, articles, and where to buy The Whip (as a print or e-book… available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble) you can visit http://www.thewhipnovel.com.
We’re also on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thewhipnovel) and you can follow us on Twitter: @TheWhipNovel and @KarenKondazian
 
 
8. Is there anything else you wish to add?
 
Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” I suggest the daring adventure!

To purchase your copy of The Whip, click here.

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Young Markets

If you’ve ever used Duotrope’s Digest to find a market for your work, you’ll notice that beside the name of some markets they’ve put the word “fledgling”. The word indicates that the market is less than six months old. Six months is used as the marker because most new markets fold within the first six months.

Today I’ve gathered three new markets that would love to see your work and will even pay you for it.

Specutopia is a brand new magazine looking for only the best speculative fiction. Their definition of speculative fiction includes science fiction, fantasy and everything in between, but doesn’t include horror. If they like your work, they’ll pay you one cent per word. They’d like to pay you more, but starting up a magazine, even electronically, costs money and they need to pay for their bandwidth. Oh well.

Abomination Magazine is a slightly less new magazine that, unlike Specutopia, would love some horror stories. In fact, they’d prefer you to scare their pants off. So much so that they won’t accept your story if it doesn’t scare them. However, they’re still only going to pay you one cent per word because they’re broke too.

Fantastic Frontiers Magazine I think this is the oldest one on today’s list, and this market is also the highest paying. They’d like to see your fantasy and science fiction stories of up to 2,000 words. Unlike the other guys, they had some proper money to get themselves started, so they’re willing to pay you three cents per word instead of one. Don’t you feel like you’re moving up in the world? Well, that’s only if they like your work.

Don’t forget to keep submitting your work. Every time you get a rejection, send that story back out. Every time you get depressed, write something new and send it out. The only way to get published more is by writing, editing and submitting more. Quite a number of writers spend months working on the writing and editing part and never get to the submission part. Start submitting now, and you’re one step ahead of all of them.

Musa Author Interview: L.K. Mitchell

Today I’m happy to introduce L.K. Mitchell, a YA author signed with Musa’s Euterpe imprint for her novel, Keeper of Directions. She’s a lady of many hats, including writer, editor, and mother. Between wearing these hats–or perhaps while wearing all of them–she found the time to join me for an interview. I hope you’ll find her thoughts as interesting as I did.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Keeper of Directions?

Keeper of Directions is a middle grade novel about a ten-year-old boy named Lance who has Asperger’s
Syndrome. Lance discovers a whole new world of shape-shifters that have been living among humans for
thousands of years. The shape-shifters involve Lance and his teenager sister in their plans for making war
against other shape-shifters. Keeper of Directions explores two relevant current events: war and global
warming. In both these scenarios people on either side think they have all the answers. In Keeper of
Directions, Lance is caught up in the adult world for which he is unprepared. So Keeper of Directions is
also about how children are often forced to grow up before they are ready. And to complicate matters, the
main character has autism.

2. Keeper of Directions is about a boy who becomes a raven shape-shifter. Did you do much research about ravens while preparing to write this book?

I know a lot about ravens, having lived with ravens my whole life. Alaska is full of ravens. Ravens are
also a part of my children’s lives as well as my own. My children are Tlingit from a Raven clan, the
T’akdeintaan. I also studied ravens, tricksters, and oral traditions during my MA degree. I have a Master’s
in Cross Cultural Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous Knowledge Systems from the University of
Alaska Fairbanks. So when I started to write, I had a lot of knowledge already rolling around in my head
and archived in binders. However, I had to read several scientific books on raven behavior and study up
on ravens in myth. I spent a lot of time researching ravens before and during the writing process.

3. What originally inspired you to write Keeper of Directions?

I was inspired to write Keeper of Directions because I was in the middle of researching ravens for a
poetry collection I was writing about tricksters. I was exploring the trickster archetype in modern culture.
When I discovered that the Tower of London keeps ravens, I asked myself: What if the ravens at the
Tower of London aren’t ordinary ravens but something else? That led to more questions. Then the
premise for the novel formed quickly after that.

It’s also a story I wanted to tell my children. Sure my children are grown up now but it’s a story I
would’ve told them at naptime. Once upon a time there was a boy who loved ravens…

4. How much planning did you do before starting to write Keeper of Directions?

I didn’t do much planning. It was novelist and short story writer, Ron Carlson, who provided me with
the best writing tool. Ron Carlson had visited my MFA residency at the University of Alaska Anchorage
where he was a guest speaker and happened to sit at my table. He was very encouraging. We were
actually talking about poetry with one another, not fiction. So after the residency and after reading Ron
Carlson’s book Ron Carlson Writes a Story, I decided to follow his advice: sit your butt in the chair. I was armed with a lot of research, a question to explore, and a single character, a boy with Asperger’s
Syndrome. I sat myself down and wrote the novel.

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

For me the hardest part is not the initial rough draft: It’s the revision (At least as far as novel writing
goes). It seems that I can crank out a rough draft and then it’s hard for me to go back to it and revise.
Mostly, I’m embarrassed that it’s so rough. If I write in longhand I can’t read my own writing. So I have
to make sure that after every five to ten pages I type it out. Revising is the real writing process, though.
After going through the process of writing Keeper of Directions and working with my great editor at
Musa Publishing, Kathy Teel, I now have the tools to write another, even better, novel.

To make revising easier, I have to convince myself that there’s time to revise. I have to create a sense that
there isn’t anything else pressing for my time. I like to relax and revise. I also have to envision the deeply
satisfying reward at the end, which is a readable lovely draft that I can work on until it’s polished. Once
the rough draft goes through several revisions and it’s at a stage I call a “readable draft” then working on
it becomes a delight. I just keep adding more depth, more layers, until it’s polished.

6. You are also an editor for Flashquake, a literary magazine focused on ‘works of flash’. How did you become an editor?

I became an editor at Flashquake because I fell in love with flash fiction, though I’m first and foremost
a poet. I discovered flash fiction through reading the many literary journals that I submit to. With flash
fiction/nonfiction, I found that I could read a couple of stories at a time. And flash fiction tends to have a
satisfying ending. I like that. It’s also very concise like poetry. I use the same skills to write flash fiction
that I do to write poetry.

A year or two after I’d been an avid reader of flash fiction, I discovered that Flashquake, after a brief
hiatus, was recreating itself with new management. The program director for my MFA had sent an email
out to students to see if there was anyone who wanted to help get Flashquake going again. Their new
editor, Cindy Bell, had contacted the university with the request. I volunteered. I sent my resume and
sample writing. At that time I had only published two flash stories in Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots
of Alaska from the University of Alaska Press. I wanted to get experience being an editor. Flashquake
also takes on student editors who happen to be in an MFA who are doing a practicum and need hands on
experience.

7. What are some important things you’ve learned about writing from working with Flashquake?

I love Flashquake but I learned that it’s a lot of hard work. Our lead editor Cindy Bell is the brains and
creative energy behind the journal. I also learned that a rejection is very subjective and that helps when I
my own writing is rejected. I get rejected a lot but now I can see the other side of the process. But I also
get a lot of pieces published.

8. What sorts of stories are you most likely to accept for Flashquake?

When I read a writer’s work, I don’t know who I’m accepting or rejecting. I don’t know the writer’s
age, gender, name, or the writer’s experience. But I can tell if they’ve read Flashquake’s guidelines.
Flashquake is not a horror journal. We are a literary journal. Also if the writer is going to submit
speculative fiction then it should stand out from the genre somehow. I love magic realism but it has to be
done right. But we accept all types of work from all genres.

Another biggie is to avoid cliché. Something that’s considered cliché is not just a phrase, it’s a storyline
too. You’ll get more acceptances if you can write about common things with new perspectives. Fanfiction
will be rejected too.

In my opinion Flashquake doesn’t get enough non-fiction submissions. I love creative non-fiction. I love
short memoir pieces. I also love prose poetry too.

The biggest thing is that the story should have a beginning, middle, and an end. If the piece it taken from
out of your novel or memoir and you’re going to submit it to Flashquake, you might get rejected if you
haven’t revised it to fit a smaller publication. You have to take that piece and rework it into a complete
piece. If it reads like a chunk of something I’ll reject it.

We also accept poetry at Flashquake. I like poetry that I can understand and that contains some wonderful
images and language. But I like experimental poetry too. I’m open to anything as long as it’s good. If
I reject a poem it’s usually because it’s either very religious, or contains tired-out rhymes, or Hallmark
style poetry. I’m not against religious poetry but there are ways to say something about one’s faith
without trying to convert the reader. Also I reject overt political poetry that reads as a political message.
But I don’t mind if your characters are political.

9. What is the most common reason for a story to get rejected by Flashquake?

Over and over again I see pieces that have a “trick” ending. One of the signs of a beginning writer is to
write a story as a joke or a joke as a story, or to try to trick the reader. Be careful with your twist endings.

Also, I find that beginning poets send their work out too soon. I can almost tell if the poet is or isn’t
reading journals or other poets. For example there are a lot of poems about certain subjects. Take the
moon, for example. If you’re going to send a poem about the moon it better have a perspective that’s not
been written about. Something fresh.

I like poems and stories about interesting people and places. Most of all, a reader’s joy and heartache is in
the details. Be different. Take risks. And eliminate unnecessary words.

At Flashquake, editors are required to give feedback; one or two sentences about why we rejected the
work. I like to give “helpful” feedback such as how to improve the piece. I’ve gotten notes back from a
submitter actually thanking me for the rejection and the advice.

10. Finally, can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on right now?

I’m working on a contemporary young adult novel about mermaids in Alaska. And I have an outline for
the second book to Keeper of Directions. I’ll be starting on that this summer. This will be the first time
that I will be outlining a novel ahead of time. We’ll see how that goes.

I publish poetry under the name Vivian Faith Prescott. I’m working on a collection of poems about
Alaskans relationship to oil including the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the Exxon Valdez oil disaster. One
section, Slick, is published as an e-chapbook and is available online at White Knuckle Press. The other
section, Sludge, also a chapbook, is available in print through Flutter Press and Lulu.

You can purchase Keeper of Directions here.

Bio: L.K. Mitchell is a fifth generation Alaskan who was born and raised on a small island in Southeast
Alaska. She now lives in Sitka and Kodiak, Alaska. L.K. Mitchell is from a multi-cultural family and is
adopted into her children’s Raven clan, the T’akdéintaan, a Tlingit clan from SE Alaska. Her Tlingit name
is Yéilk’ Tláa, Mother-of-Cute-Little-Raven. L.K. Mitchell is a mother and grandmother and she writes
middle-grade and young adult novels in addition to poetry and non-fiction (under the name Vivian Faith
Prescott). She has won several awards for her writing. She’s also the co-director of a non-profit called
Raven’s Blanket. She facilitates writers groups for teens and adults. Her middle-grade/young adult novel
Keeper of Directions is published by Musa Publishing and is available on Amazon, Barns and Noble,
iTunes, Smashwords, Kobo, and Diesel.

Author Interview: Cecelia Frey

My first introduction to Cecelia Frey was through Lilah Cellini, the fascinating main character of her novel, A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing. I enjoyed this book so much that I took the time to review it. I also invited her to join us here at Dianna’s Writing Den, and to my joy, she agreed.

I hope you’ll enjoy this interview and find Cecelia’s story as inspiring as I have.

1. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing?

This novel was in my mind for about twenty years. When I first knew I wanted to be a writer, this was the first story I wanted to tell. A group of beloved friends I hung out with when I was young was the inspiration. As usually happens we all went our separate ways, but I wanted to pay homage to them. However, they are not the characters in the novel; the things that happen in the novel are fictional. What I wanted to do was capture in the tone and style that time of energy and exuberance, that time when your whole life is ahead of you. What better way to do that than to use my own experience as a pattern. Still, I don’t see the novel as being YA any more so than, for instance, Catcher in the Rye. It’s about a stage in all our lives, about having to leave so much behind. Then it took me about ten years to write it, off and on, going through several drafts and many changes.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I was old, late twenties. I might have had some vague thoughts about it before then. But I got a degree, got married, started raising a family, the usual life stuff kept me busy. Finally, when my babies were napping in the afternoon, I had an hour here and there. That was the start. Looking back, I would say that life itself told me what to do. I didn’t have much of a plan until later.

3. What was the first story you remember writing about?

Two, actually. I blush to think of them now. They were grossly sentimental short stories. I sent them to a CBC radio program that read short stories over the air and they were accepted. I was ecstatic.

4. How much planning do you do before starting a novel?

Not much. I jot down some notes but I don’t follow them much. Typically, for poems, stories, plays, as well as novels, I start with an image that for some reason intrigues me, I don’t always know why. Once I get that image clear in my mind, I’m away. For me, writing comes out of writing. As I write, ideas pop into my head. And I never know the end so I have to keep writing until I find out what happens. You might say curiosity keeps me going.

5. How long does it take for you to write a first draft?

It varies, but I’d give it a year anyway. Sometimes, I’ll go back and start the second draft before finishing the first. That happens if I get confused or don’t yet know the ending. I don’t let myself get bogged down for months because I run into a snag. I just start over, polishing up the beginning.

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

Sometimes, you know you need a particular scene but you don’t feel inspired to write it. It may be because you don’t know a character very well or you don’t like him/her but you have to make him/her central in a scene. It may be a situation you don’t feel comfortable with or don’t know much about. When that happens you just have to hunker down. Crank up your discipline, make yourself write for 2-4 hours a day, don’t worry if you don’t like what you’re writing. Be nice to yourself and it will come. You may have to do several drafts of this scene to get it the way you want it, but it will work out.

7. A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing is filled with great dialogue. How do you make your dialogue better?

Listen, listen, listen. And watch. Everything you need for your writing is there in front of you. Watch and listen and get it down as honestly as you can. Of course, you adjust to your own story, characters and situation. As for dialogue, you have to tidy it up and take out the ‘y’knows’ and ‘likes’ and hums and haws. Stephen King, in his book about writing, stresses honesty. I agree with him one hundred per cent.

8. What was the submission process like for you?

I was relatively successful fairly early and don’t know if that was a good or bad thing
because then came a period of constant rejection. Good advice from a fellow (successful) writer: always have about eight things out in the mail. When you get something back send it right out again (to another journal or publisher of course). This way you always have something to look forward to. You have to remind yourself that the process is more about the needs of a publisher than it is about your writing. At the same time, have an open mind. Have another look at your manuscript. Maybe you could make it better.

9. If you can give one piece of advice to inspiring writers what would it be?

Writing is a lonely slog. Be prepared for that. Find ways of dealing with it – socialize with other writers, get out to literary events, spend time with family and friends, schedule recreation and fun time, try to have a normal life. Don’t let your writing devour you. Destructive geniuses are all very well, but the trick is to survive to write another day.

If I may be permitted two pieces of advice, the other is, write every day, even if it’s just a half hour of free fall. That way you keep the warm-up to a minimum. You don’t lose the thread of what you’re doing. You keep in touch with your writing and yourself.

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

Travelling Nude, a crime detection novel, just finished. The title refers especially to the female characters and their vulnerability when exposed to a world of greed, corruption and violence. What I’m attempting in this one is to interweave the fast pace, tough attitude, and mean streets atmosphere of the noir style with a focus on character and theme of a literary interpretation.

Bio:

Cecelia Frey lives and works in Calgary, Alberta. She is the author of three previous novels as well as several volumes of poetry and short fiction. Her work has been published in dozens of literary journals and anthologies as well as being broadcast on CBC Radio and performed on the Women’s Television Network. She has worked as editor, teacher and freelance writer. A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing was short listed for the Writers Guild of Alberta Georges Bugnet award for fiction.

Cecelia’s method of working off the frustrations of writing is to go out into the back yard and dig up some good black dirt. In the winter, it’s the kitchen where, like Marie Antoinette, she whips up meringues.

To purchase a copy of Carelessness and Longing, click here.

Caring For Your Mental Health

Not long after my dad died, my grandmother gave me a book called ‘Soul Catcher’. A ‘Soul Catcher’ is like a dream catcher, but for the soul. It’s a journal full of inspiring pictures and prompts designed to help you find yourself and escape depression.

While I never really used the ‘Soul Catcher’ for its original purpose, I can’t forget that book. What I can’t forget about the book is the story of the woman who wrote it. She talks about how she reached her professional goals and wrote prolifically for the public on a number of subjects, but that her own writing, her journalling, grew more tortured even as she gained more success.

She reached the darkest part of her depression one day when she uprooted herself, moved to a small apartment in a new country, and went on a journey–through journals and crude art therapy–to find herself.

As a pre-teen suffering from severe depression, I latched on to that story. I still struggle with depression every day, and during my struggles, I often think of the ‘Soul Catcher’ and the story it contains.

Ever since I read that book, I’ve also prayed that I’d never need to isolate myself in a foreign country to figure out what my path in life is supposed to be. I often ask myself “how do I stop myself from getting that deep into my depression?”

Over the years I’ve come up with a number of ways to help alleviate the depression I suffer from. Some of them are fairly common methods, others are more unique to me. Today I’d like to share some with you, in the hopes that it will help you in your own dark times.

1. Don’t forget to write for yourself. We’ve all written things for other people. Whether they be home made greeting cards for our friends, love notes for our dates, reports for our bosses, or stories written as gifts for the people we love, they’re there. And while this is writing, and does count towards the goal of writing every day, it’s not writing for yourself.

As I’ve started to earn money as a writer and to work for the Penumbra blog, I’ve learned a lesson about this. We must not forget the projects we love. Writing ten blog posts for some company trying to market themselves might pay the bills, but it won’t soothe your soul. Don’t completely abandon your life-long novel project for paid work. Visit it every day, even if all you do is write a sentence.

This includes journalling too. It’s okay to journal every day. It’s also okay to journal sporadically. Whatever your preference, don’t forget about it. Your journal is your best friend when you’re suffering from depression, because no matter what you say, it won’t judge you.

2. Remember to go outside. As writers, our passion–and for some lucky folks, their job–involves a lot of sitting alone with a notebook or a computer. You might be an introvert, but isolating yourself from the outside world usually doesn’t make you happier. Note that I’m not saying that you need to talk to people.

What I’m saying is go outside. Go for a walk. Find a nice tree in a park to sit underneath and listen to the birds. You’ll soak up some vitamin D, which I’m told makes us happier, and you’ll get some exercise, which I’m also told makes us happier. The sounds of the birds always help cheer me up, and the change of scenery might just inspire you too.

3. Make time for the things you love. I talk a lot about how to make time for your writing, but I’m sure writing isn’t the only thing you love. We can’t just spend all our time working and writing. For one thing, we need time to read. And we all have other hobbies. I like to dance, and even if it’s only once a month or even every two months, I make sure I get to go out dancing. Some of us play video games. Some writers like to knit or sew. Others like to cook. Still others like to garden.

Make sure that you have time for these things you love. Depriving yourself of the things you love is the quickest path to depression. So don’t start. Tonight, take time to do one thing you love–I guarantee you’ll feel better for it.

4. Don’t over commit. There are only 24 hours in a day. We all get THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME. We all work at different paces, so we can get different amounts of stuff done in that twenty-four hours, but there’s only so much even the fastest of us can do. I’m really bad for this, especially with writing projects. I go, hey, I have a really high WPM, I can write a novel in three days, I can write this article and this one and three blog posts for next week and start my next edit of my novel all in one day.

Then I discover I can’t, and I get mopey because I didn’t do everything I wanted to do on a specific day. This is what we call setting ourselves up for failure. I do this all the time, and I know it’s one of my main sources of depression, but I’m always working on it and trying to really assess what I can accomplish in a day. Don’t set yourself up for failure: figure out what you can realistically accomplish in a day without burning yourself out, and limit yourself to that amount of work.

5. Reward yourself for small accomplishments. One of the main reasons why I think most people get depressed is because they don’t realize how major what they’ve accomplished is. Even small accomplishments deserve recognition. Some days accomplishments mean more than others.

So, if you’re struggling to write a single word and you get a whole page down, reward yourself. They tell me the sugary treats lead to more guilt later, so reward yourself with a cool drink and some relaxation time. If you managed to diffuse a tense situation, give yourself a pat on the back. If all you did today was get to work on time, work until the set time, and leave when you were supposed to, that’s still something worth rewarding yourself.

You should always reward your small accomplishments and remember to be proud of them, too, not just the big things like getting your masters degree, but the small things like each individual essay you wrote to get that masters. Remembering these things when your depressed can help remind you that you are an awesome person, full of talent and with many gifts to give to the world.

Most importantly, remember that these tips aren’t just for when you’re feeling down. If you take the time to treat yourself nicely and to enjoy the things you love even when your life is great and you’re happy, it will be easier to remember these things when you’re depressed–and it might even stop you from getting depressed in the first place.

How do you take care of your mental health?

Prompt Time April 11

Sometimes, life gets in the way of our writing. Some days, it’s all we can do to write a sentence. We have friends, lovers, families that all expect something from us. We are human, and like all other humans, sometimes our bodies break down and make it more difficult to focus on anything, let alone our writing.

Most of us also have day jobs or school to deal with, and how much time we have to devote to these things can vary from week to week.

Today I’d like you to do some introspection. Rather than discovering your characters, today I’d like you to discover yourself. And rather than prose, today I’d like you to make a list. A list that, I hope, will help you re-examine your life and find more time for writing.

Make a list of all the things that stop you from writing.

My first three:

1. School–This is the biggest time suck I’m dealing with right now. Not only am I expected to spend something like six hours a day on the premises, I’m expected to take work home with me and do it there. It’s frustrating, but, like the day jobs many of you hold, it’s something I have to do. I’d love to spend my whole day writing, every day, but I expect that after I graduate I’ll have to find one of those day jobs too. It’s a shame.

2. Friends–I have a lot of friends. Actually, I have a ridiculous number of friends. I have enough friends that I can barely keep track of them. Most of them don’t interfere with my writing time too much, but the sheer number of people I’m expected to keep in touch with take up quite a bit of time. I’m also the kind of person that will go to great lengths to help a friend–and sometimes I have to remind myself that my writing is at least as important as my friendships.

3. Email–No, seriously. I mean, most of my email is writing-related, but there’s just so much of it. I’m not even famous and I get about a hundred emails a day. I don’t read them all, but it still takes me an hour and a half to get through them. The amount of time I’ll have to devote to email when I actually do get famous is terrifying.

What stops you from writing? Please share your first three obstacles to writing in the comments.

Musa Author Interview: Stan Hampton

Today I’m pleased to introduce Stan Hampton, one of the most interesting authors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in my time at Musa, and the author of one of my favourite Penumbra stories, The Globe Theatre in Moonlight. He’s not just an author though–he’s also an American war veteran and a grandfather.

1. You have a variety of short stories coming out with Musa. Can you tell us about each of these in two sentences or less?

“Second Saturday” is about a Las Vegas university art student seduced by an older woman, who happens to have a secret: she is descended from an ancient European tribe called the Neuri, the Wolf People. The student is startled by this truth, and though it opens a future she never dreamed of, it is their mutual attraction to one another that determines their future together.

“The Lapis Lazuli Throne” – A horror story involving soldiers who were wounded while escorting a supply convoy in Iraq. The majority of the story takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada where one soldier is on medical leave, and he realizes something ancient reawakened in Iraq, may be hunting him.

“Dancing in Moonlight at 36,000 Feet” – Aahhh, kind of a Goth mystery or pseudo-romance, or ? A Marine returning to Iraq discovers he is haunted by a Goth girl he met while on R&R leave in Boston; over the Atlantic he discovers her aboard his plane, and she encourages him to follow her, to leave the war behind.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

Probably when I was 15 years old. That was the year that I decided I wanted to photograph, and write, for a living. The idea sounded better than spending my life working at some dead end 9-5 job.

3. Your story, The Globe Theatre in Moonlight, was published in the February issue of Penumbra. It’s definitely one of my favourite stories in the issue. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write it?

I’m not really sure. I liked the challenge of writing something about Shakespeare, though I find reading his work difficult. I’ve seen photographs of the recreated Globe Theatre, and I would like to visit the Theatre (and London) someday. After I thought about it I settled on the idea of a war-weary would-be playwright visiting his personal shrine, and encountering the ghost of William Shakespeare. The dialogue then took on a life of its own.

4. How long does it usually take you to write a short story, and what does the process look like for you?

It depends. First, everything begins with a thought, a news headline, or even a dream. Then I list Beginning, Middle, and End. Then I work on a bit of character history for a short story, and if it’s longer story, or even a novella, more detailed character histories. If research is needed, I browse the Internet, go to the college library, or even buy books and magazines if they’ll be useful for other stories. After I’m satisfied with the basic outline and research, I’ll start writing – when the mood strikes me or when a deadline is looming (my great weakness). If it’s a short story of around 2,500-3,500 words or so, I’ll write it in 3-6 hours (I tend to do some editing during the initial process), and take an additional week for editing. For longer stories, such as 6,000-8,000 words or so, I’ll usually write those entirely in one day. Editing might take another 1-3 weeks, depending on my mood.

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

Editing. It can take me 3-4 hours to edit a short story of 3,000-5,000 words the first time around, because I’m pondering commas, grammar, and even the flow of the story. Unfortunately, I tend to write the way I speak, rather than being grammatically proper when writing. (My thanks to the MUSA editor I’ve worked with – I’m sure I’ve driven him up the wall with my writing.) There really isn’t a way to make it easier for me, other than deciding I can’t put the editing off any longer. Of course, having a pot of coffee, plenty of French Vanilla or Irish creamer handy, and plenty of cigarettes available, always makes the process easier.

6. You also serve in the Army National Guard. Can you tell us a bit about why you decided to serve the military and how being a part of the military has influenced your writing life?

In the early 1970’s I was living in Muskogee, Oklahoma. First, I hate tornadoes. Second, I didn’t see any future in living and working in Muskogee. Military service offered a future. I served for 11 years, and was in the Army Reserve for 10 years (volunteered and mobilized for Desert Storm, though I never made it out of the country; I wrote for the post newspaper during the war), had a 10-year break, and then joined the Army National Guard in 2004. I joined the Guard mostly because, as I felt during Desert Storm, that I couldn’t believe my army was going to war without me. And, being a grandfather during this war, I wanted my grandchildren to understand someday that I once did more than take them to Toys R Us. The military influence is evident in the number of military related, past, present, and future, stories that I write. Even if a story is not directly military related, one or more of the characters have often served.

7. How do you balance army work, writing, and your love of painting?

As stated previously, I’m unemployed, so balancing is no problem. I only serve one weekend a month (traditional Guard Soldier) unless I’m on temporary orders for a special project for a day or two or a week. The rest of my time is divided among looking for a job at Ground Zero of the Great Recession (Las Vegas, NV), working on two college classes on-line (with an ultimate goal of a degree in underwater archaeology), writing, and painting.

8. What do you think the most important advice for aspiring writers to remember is?

Actually, I believe in two of equal importance. Read and read for the pleasure of it – especially the great writers like Hemingway, Faulkner, and Steinbeck, to name a few – and in the process, you’ll start learning a few things about how the great writers of the 20th century produced great literature. And write. Write every day (unfortunately, I don’t; I usually write when the mood strikes, or when a deadline approaches for something that I want to submit a story to).

9. Is there any question I didn’t ask that you wish I had, and if so, what’s the answer?

Not that I can think of.

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

Well, let’s see. I haven’t mentioned these possibilties to MUSA yet, even to determine if Celina and crew might be interested. But I do love the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s creation, the Cthulhu Mythos. I also like zombies, regardless of whether past, present, or future. ‘Nuff said on those at this time.

You can purchase Stan Hampton’s stories here.

Bio: SS Hampton, Sr. is a full blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. He is a divorced grandfather, a published photographer, and a published photojournalist. He is also a budding painter, and someday, hopefully, will be an archaeologist. He serves in the Army National Guard and is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle and Iraqi Freedom. His fiction has appeared in MUSA Publishing, and in anthologies from Melange Books, Ravenous Romance, and Dark Opus Press. He has a short story forthcoming from MuseItUp Publishing, another story in an anthology from Edge SF & Fantasy, as well as an anthology of his own stories forthcoming from Melange Books. His fiction has appeared in Lucrezia Magazine, Ruthie’s Club, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. As of December 2011, in Las Vegas, Nevada, he technically became a homeless Iraq War veteran.

Markets that are…Still Open

It’s somewhat sad how many literary magazines close after six months, a year, five years because of financial constraints or health problems in the people who run them. As I’m digging through a very old list of markets looking for a couple to share with you, I’ve discovered quite a number of these now-closed magazines. Some of them have kept their websites; others have sold their domains and moved on to bigger and better things–or at least we hope they’ve moved on to bigger and better things.

Luckily, there are new magazines appearing all the time, especially eMagazines like Penumbra, which give us both a place to send our work and an enjoyable reading experience.

Today, however, I’d like to share with you a couple magazines that have withstood the test of time:

Ramble Underground Doesn’t pay very much, only $15 for fiction of up to 4000 words, but the layout’s pretty and they’ve been around since 2008. They show no signs of stopping production any time soon, so your manuscript is safe with them.

The Threepenny Review I’m not too sure how long this magazine’s been out, but they don’t seem to be hurting for money and they’ll pay you more than twice as much as Ramble Underground. They pay $200-400 for pieces depending on length and quality, and they look like they’re in it for the long haul.

The Sun Magazine Has nothing to do with the Sun newspaper in Toronto, and is the oldest market on the list. They’re been publishing poetry, essays, commentary and short fiction since 1974. And they pay over $300 for fiction. This is a market to dream about seeing your name in someday.

I hope that you’ll consider submitting to at least one of these markets. Remember that we all have a story worth telling and that the world will never see our stories unless we submit them–but don’t forget to edit and polish your work before sending it off for judgement.

What was the last market you submitted a story to?

Author Interview: EJ Newman

Today I’m very proud to introduce EJ Newman, an author who I’ve been following online since a few months before she got her first publishing contract. A long, long time ago I discovered her blog, then I subscribed to her short story club, and now I’m subscribed to the Split Worlds stories. The short stories delivered to my inbox inspired me and made me fall in love with Newman’s writing.

A couple years later, I’m thrilled to say that she’s decided to join us here at Dianna’s Writing Den for an interview.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, 20 Years Later?

20 Years Later is the first in a trilogy set in London twenty years after almost everyone was
killed by something the survivors only refer to as ‘It’. The city is divided into territories run
by gangs and is a very dangerous place to live. Amongst the dust and bones, an extraordinary
friendship develops between Zane, Titus and Erin, three teenagers who come from very
different backgrounds. Titus’ sister is kidnapped by one of the more secretive gangs. As they
search for her, they meet a girl called Eve and discover a dark secret beneath London.

2. When did you first know you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

About two years ago I think. I’ve known that I will always be a writer for longer than that,
but it was about two years ago that I realised I really didn’t want to do anything except write
fiction and I needed to find a way to change my life to make that possible.

It’s been hard, scary and there have been sacrifices, but I have never been so happy and so
fulfilled as I am now as a full-time fiction writer.

3. What was the original inspiration for 20 Years Later?

The easy answer is that it grew organically, driven by the characters and the geography of
post-apocalyptic London.

The complicated answer is that I was watching my boyfriend of the time (now my husband!
) starting to play a new game on the PS2 with a very cheesy opening sequence about a post-
apocalyptic world. I remembered how much I loved various post-apocalyptic books I’d
read years before and had a sudden urge to tell a story set in post-apocalyptic London. Only
problem was that I was deep in a ten year long writer’s block. It was so deep I even forgot I
used to write. So I had to tell the story a different way: running a roleplaying game for my
partner and two friends.

There wasn’t a particular plot I had in mind right at the start. The Red Lady was the first
character who popped into my head, Jay was the second. I walked around London, looking at
potential territories and the three players described the kinds of characters they wanted to be.
I built the world around the Red Lady’s Hunters, the Bloomsbury Boys and the requirements
of the players and the story grew over about two years I think. Then I stopped running the
game for logistical reasons and a few months after that I had finally got to the point when I
could start writing the book. But that’s a whole different story!

4. How did you first get the idea of your free short story club/mailing list?

I can’t honestly say there was a light bulb moment, I think it crept up on me, like a friendly
cat. I noticed that a lot of bloggers, particularly in America, particularly in the self-help
/ business entrepreneur spheres were running monthly newsletters and I liked the idea of
building a community that I could communicate with in a different space to the blog which is
open to the world. I also wanted a way to share my stories without posting all of them online
for obvious reasons. I think those wants and being inspired by people in a different online
sphere just got chucked into the melting pot of my brain and the short story club was born.

5. Can you tell us a bit about the Split Worlds stories?

The stories are being released every week for a year and a day up until the launch of the first
book in the series on November 1st 2012. At the time of writing this, the 23rd story has just
been released.

Each story is a glimpse into the world I’m creating for my novels, some of the characters that
appear in the stories will be in the novels too, and I’m seeding little snippets of information
in the stories that will make reading the novels a richer experience. For example, in the first
novel one of the characters recalls an incident in passing which is actually one of the flash
stories released – it doesn’t have a negative impact if someone reads the book without having
read that, but if the reader has, my hope is that they’ll feel a little rush of excitement – they
know what happened in depth.

It’s hard coming up with a new idea every week, but it’s also building the world, which is a
big part of my work anyway.

6. Do you think that the short story club/mailing list has helped you market your books?

That’s impossible to tell in any real sense, as I don’t know how many of the subscribers have
bought my book and not told me! I don’t think it has hurt, but I don’t use it as a hard selling
tool anyway.

7. What advice would you give to someone just starting to write flash fiction?

As I say later on, I have a dislike of advice about writing, but if I were really, really pushed,
and that someone hadn’t written much before, I would say read a lot of flashes first to work
out what works for them. The #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter is a great way to get a weekly
sample of lots of different writing styles all within the flash discipline.

Flashes are hard to write, they need to be satisfying and tightly written. Every word counts. I
think the key is finding a relatively simple idea that doesn’t need more than one, or at a push
two scenes, and telling the story in the most simple, yet interesting way possible.

8. What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?

Writers write (as opposed to just talking about it).

I see so much terrible advice it makes me want to scream – but the thing I don’t like the most
is writing advice in and of itself. I wasted a lot of time reading about how other authors wrote
books, when I just knuckled down and worked hard to discover my own process, I made a
hell of a lot more progress.

9. What do you define ‘writing success’ as?

Wow, that’s a good question! It varies I suppose. One thing’s for certain; a satisfying
definition of success constantly shifts, it differs depending on what stage of my writing career
I happen to be at. Once all I wanted was to finish a first draft. Then it was actually writing a
decent book! Then it was getting published, and now? Well, I suppose it would be getting the
second book in the trilogy picked up, getting an award or being a bestseller.

Those are external markers of success of course. On a day-to-day basis writing success is
beating anxiety and getting the words down. The key to not going mad as a writer (or at least
more mad) is to not compare yourself to other people. I’m friends with some very successful
authors, and I have to actively rein in envy (only natural) and also stop myself comparing
how well they’re doing to my perception of my own success so far. It’s not a competition, and
as a friend said to me, the only person I should compare myself to is the person I was in the
past. So maybe internal markers of success are more important.

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

Well, from now until November 1st there will be a new Split Worlds story every week and
it seems that quite a lot of people look forward to those, which is lovely. Then there’s the
five book series for people to look forward to. I’m working very hard, have written nearly a
quarter of a million words since October last year, so there is a lot on the way!

I don’t have a date for them, but there are the remaining books in the 20 Years Later trilogy
too…

You can purchase a copy of 20 Years Later here.

Bio:

Emma lives in Somerset, England and drinks far too much tea. She writes dark short stories,
post-apocalyptic novels and records audiobooks in all genres. Her debut short-story collection
From Dark Places was published in 2011 and she’s celebrating the recent publication of 20 Years
Later, her debut post-apocalyptic novel for young adults. Emma recently secured funding to write
a new five book urban fantasy series called the Split Worlds and is releasing a short story every
week set there. Her hobbies include making Steampunk costumes and playing RPGs. She blogs
at www.enewman.co.uk, rarely gets enough sleep and refuses to eat mushrooms.

Twitter: @emapocalyptic
Sites: http://www.enewman.co.uk
http://www.splitworlds.com