Monthly Archives: February 2013

Author Interview: Paula Eisenstein

I meet most of the authors I interview online through Musa’s author group or other online writing groups. Sometimes I read a book and I’m so stunned by it that I simply have to interview that author. Today’s author, Paula Eisenstein, I met in a very different way–I just so happen to go to school with her son. She’s a generous lady who has even sent me a print copy of her novel, Flip Turn, for review(I usually only get ebook copies), so you can expect to hear more about her soon.

Please give Paula a warm welcome.

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1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Flip Turn?

Flip Turns’s narrator is a young teenager, who is also a competitive swimmer. She is dealing with the death of a young girl that was caused by her brother. It is written in the first person in short episodic bursts or vignettes. The voice is distinct. Flip Turn touches on a lot of different issues but I think it especially looks at the difficulty a family faces, internalizing and trying to take responsibility for impossible levels of shame and guilt, when when one of its members commits a crime.

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

I always had that ambition. The real impetus to act on it came when I was studying astrology (with renowned psychological-needs astrologer Noel Tyl). While working with the inherent symbolism of my horoscope, I found myself in a funny bind. The more I developed my astrological prowess, the more what I was seeing in my horoscope was telling me to stop with the horoscope studies and get on with my passion for writing!

3. You’ve lived in Canada your entire life. How do you think your Canadian heritage influences your writing?

When I discovered Canlit in high school I was instantly a fan. Here was literature about me (and us), I thought. I love writing to place and time, so inevitably, since where I am is mostly Canada, I write about Canada. Flip Turn is set in Canada, and there are a couple of funny vignettes I think of as being particularly Canadian, one is about the relationship of my mother’s side of the family to Sir Isaac Brock and another is about how my father chose to come to Canada.

4. Flip Turn is a YA novel. Is there any particular reason why you chose to write YA?

YA was more of a label that came after the fact. Flip Turn is told from the perspective of a young adult hence it has a natural appeal to young adults. I wouldn’t say it is only a YA novel, not only young adults are interested in what goes on in the minds of young adults. The shift from childhood into adulthood is one of the biggest developmental adjustments in human lives, or at least the biggest thing we remember. So, naturally, to my mind it makes sense that everyone relates to the theme of the passage into young adulthood.

5. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why does your chosen method work for you?

I think how I wrote Flip Turn was neither, or both. I didn’t want to use a conventional plot strategy, which I find prescribed and not in touch with real human development. Or if plotting is in touch with true developmental passages, I think the kind of passage it describes is more of a traditional male oriented one. Instead I used my personal development as a guide, I tried to stay pretty faithful to its passage, hoping that a different kind of truth or structure would emerge. It was, for me personally, most evocative. I kind of didn’t realize what happened to me, what was really going on for me, until after I wrote it. So if that “found” structure is plotting, then I’m a plotter, or alternatively if the acting of not imposing a structure, but rather finding one is pantsering, then I would be the latter.

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

I really enjoy editing my work. I love working in Word, honing and rearranging, trying different ways of writing things, and in the editing playing with and finding the voice, and as well playing with the grammar. For me, the editing is a part of the creative process.

7. How did you find your publisher?

I have to say I have a great “how I found my publisher story.” I had befriended writer and editor Stuart Ross through taking a writing workshop of his, and he actually, of all things, posted a request for novel submissions on facebook! Of course I had tried more traditional avenues previous to this, but it was through this unorthodox submission request that I found my publisher Mansfield Press.

8. What strategies are you using to market Flip Turn?

I am learning as I go about marketing and promotion. Even prior to its publication, I guess you could call attending readings and getting to know people in the literary community, the beginning of promoting myself, or at least putting myself out there as a writer. Flip Turn launched with the three other fall Mansfield books at a reading here in Toronto, then went on the road to Ottawa and Kingston. Plans are in the works for a London launch. I started tweeting. My publisher is applying for prizes. I’m going into a high school in February to talk to some students. I’m doing this interview with you!

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

The thing I’m struggling with right now is finding writing time. So my advice to aspiring writers is my advice to myself; find/make/create the time to write. It will make you feel so good.

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

My husband and I collaborated on a project comprised of his drawings and my writing. It is based on a family trip to the Pinery Provincial Park. The writing is funny and my husband’s drawings are beautiful (and strange). I am also slowly starting the beginning mulching of another novel which picks up where Flip Turn ends.

Bio:

Paula Eisenstein is a grown-up woman who lives in Toronto with her husband, son, and the vitally necessary two cats for families with writers in them. She was born and came of age in London, Ontario, and received a Bachelor of Arts from Mount Allison University. If a teacher were making comments about Paula on a report card, the teacher might say; Paula fails to understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

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Disturbances in Your Writing

Last Friday I asked you guys three questions, and one of them was about what you struggle with most in your writing. Several of you said that your biggest challenge is actually finishing projects, so I’ve decided to tackle this problem. Today I’ve compiled a master list of all the things that have ever prevented me from finishing a writing project, and over the next few weeks I’m going to discuss in detail how to overcome these obstacles, dealing with one or two obstacles per week.

If you have some obstacles that aren’t on the list, feel free to mention them in the comments and I’ll see if I can help you with those, too.

But first, take a look and see if your biggest obstacle made my list:

Interrupting family.

Ringing phones/messenger programs.

The internet.

School/work.

Writer’s block.

Urge to jump to a new project.

Illness/repetitive strain injury.

These are all the things that have ever slowed me down. When you’re not used to them and you’re just getting started, it’s easy to let these things stop you from finishing a project. But with the right strategies you can overcome all of these obstacles so they barely even slow you down. I’ll be delving into those strategies in detail over the next few weeks, and if you implement the strategies I suggest I guarantee you’ll have a long-term(think novel) project finished within the next two months.

Is there anything stopping you from finishing your projects that didn’t make the list? Post it in the comments below and I’ll make sure to tackle it in the coming weeks.

Three Questions

Today’s post is a little different: rather than discussing my writing process or questions you need to ask yourself when writing, I’d like to ask you about you. I spend a lot of time working on this blog–and it becomes harder and harder to fit into my schedule–and I’d like to get to know you a bit better. After all, you’re the reason I’m here at all. Some of you are new, others have been lurking, and I know others quite well, but these questions are designed for all of you.

Since it’s always best to have equal participation in the conversation, I’d like to invite you to ask me three questions in the comments.

But first, here’s what I really want to know about you:

1. How did you discover your passion for writing?

2. What kind of writing do you love most?

3. Which aspects of writing do you need the most help with?

Please answer these questions in the comments below, and feel free to ask me three questions of your own!

Author Interview: Charles Suddeth

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Please give a warm welcome to today’s author, Charles Suddeth.

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1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Neanderthal Protocol?

It is a thriller, but it has a strong dose of science fiction. It is set in the near future in Louisville, Kentucky. The Supreme Court has ruled that Neanderthals are not human beings. Greg is a physicist working on cold fusion. He gets the results of his DNA test back, and he’s not pleased.

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

It just snuck up on me. First it was fun. Then, you mean they’re going to pay me to have fun? More ideas flooded me, and I chose the ones I thought people would enjoy the most.

3. What inspired you to write Neanderthal Protocol?

I’ve always been fascinated with the disappearance and fate of Neanderthals, but I know human nature. Someone, somewhere “married” a Neanderthal. I wrote a short story about a present-day Neanderthal. A friend made a few suggestions, but it took the plot in an entirely different direction and to a novel. I operate under an old principle: Take the reader where the reader is not expecting to go.

4. Your main character, Greg, is working on hydrogen fusion. What exactly is hydrogen fusion?

Hydrogen fusion is the fusion of two hydrogen atoms to produce one helium atom plus energy. Hydrogen bombs and stars produce vast amounts of energy this way. Greg was working on a method to control that fusion and produce heat for electric power. There are several methods under research, but none have been perfected yet.

5. How do you take an idea from a basic concept to a finished manuscript?

Long story. I need to have a good idea of the beginning and the ending of the story before I start writing. Research, lots of research. Once the rough draft is finished, I begin editing, revising and submitting the manuscript to critique groups. I read it aloud until I’m hoarse and my cats hate me.

6. Why did you choose an ebook publisher instead of a print publisher?

My children’s books are print only, so this is an experiment for me. I don’t want the world to pass me by, so I like to try new things. I just bought a Nook. I think that in a few years an equilibrium will be reached, with both print and ebooks taking a stable share of the market.

7. What steps do you take to make your submission package shine?

I edit and revise it over and over again, then I let critique groups and beta readers help me. The first chapter has to go WOW! Then I find something unique about my manuscript, and I write a hook for it, something to catch a busy editor’s eye.

8. How did you market your work?

I am just learning to market ebooks. I am trying social networks, blog tours, and websites for readers. I also belong to organizations like SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) and International Thriller Writers. I go to conferences like Killer Nashville (for mystery/thriller writers & readers).

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

Write what’s inside you, and don’t worry if it’s adult, children’s, fiction, poetry, and don’t try to decide if it’s good or bad right away.

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

4RV Publishing will release two of my books this spring: SPEARFINGER!, a picture book about a Cherokee witch—the illustrator has this. Experiment 38, a young adult thriller that my editor says is almost done. If Neanderthal Protocol is a success, I have a manuscript that I would like to submit to Musa Publishing when I’m through editing it. Whistle Pig is set in 1955 on the rural Kentucky/Tennessee border. A man and woman try to clear each other’s names. She’s accused of armed robbery and murder. He’s accused of killing a couple in a lover’s triangle. The title is a long story.

Bio: Charles Suddeth was born in Indiana, grew up Michigan, and has spent his adult life in Kentucky. He lives in Louisville with his two cats. He is a graduate of Michigan State University. He belongs to the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), International Thriller Writers, and Green River Writers. He likes to spend his days hiking and writing in nearby Tom Sawyer State Park. His first book, Halloween Kentucky Style, was published in October 2010. His second book, Neanderthal Protocol, was published in November 2012.
http://www.ctsuddeth.com
Twitter:@CharlesSuddeth

You can purchase Neanderthal Protocol here.

More On Overwriting

A couple weeks ago I discussed the concept of overwriting, the use of needless words in your writing. Having known about overwriting for years, it seemed like basic stuff to me. So I was stunned by how many of you told me you’d never thought about it before. I was even more stunned when I asked Twitter what to blog about today and RedParrot told me she’d like me to talk more about overwriting.

My goal has always been to help you become better writers, and since there’s high demand for advice on this topic, I thought I’d discuss a few more examples of overwriting to give you a better feel for it.

Last time we discussed overwriting I gave you a handful of specific words/details that can be left out of your work. Today I’m going to show you how to cut overwriting by showing the editing process I’ve used on one of my own stories.

To do this, I’ve grabbed the first paragraph from one of my currently-in-editing stories, Brothers.

Original Paragraph:

When my father sent my thirteen-year-old brother to live with the Byrnes, I was jealous. I’d only ever been allowed out of the city twice, both times with my parents and a hundred armed guards to attend a wedding. Of course they were training Andre to be a Noble Slayer—the elites of our army, whose job is to kill the undead—while they taught me to be a king, but back then, I would’ve done anything to switch places. At least a Slayer had some freedom. They could walk down the hall, even out of the castle, without anybody watching.

Edited Paragraph

When my father sent my thirteen-year-old brother to live with the Byrnes, I was jealous. I’d only ever been outside Moon Spire twice, both times with my parents and their guards to attend a wedding. They were training Andre to be a Noble Slayer—the elites of our army—while they taught me to be a king, but back then, I would’ve done anything to switch places. At least a Slayer had freedom. They could leave the castle without anybody watching.

The changes

You’ll notice that the original paragraph is five lines, whereas the edited paragraph is four. How did I achieve this? When I could turn two words into one–such as turning ‘out of’ into ‘outside’–I did so. By removing the word ‘some’ from the second last sentence, not only did I shorten the sentence, but I made it stronger. Too many words weakens the sentence and distracts the reader from the point you’re trying to make.

I also took out some of the details because they’re not important to the story. This story has little to do with the Slayers, so it’s not necessary for the reader to know that they battle undead. When Jacob says he was jealous of Slayers for their freedom, saying they could leave the castle without anybody watching is enough. We don’t need any more details to know how constricted Jacob feels within the life he’s been given as heir to the kingdom.

If you’re really paying attention, you’ll notice that not all my changes shorten the work. In the second sentence I traded “the city” in for “Moon Spire”, which is still two words. Why did I do this? Because “Moon Spire” is more specific. It gives you a better idea of where you are–a specific city rather than just any city–and doesn’t use any extra words. Being specific gives your readers a better feel for your setting and characters, and is more important than shortening your sentences.

Applying this to your own work

To eliminate overwriting from your manuscript, start by looking for places where two words can be shortened to one. This includes contractions, but it also includes things like changing ‘next to’ into ‘beside’.

Once you’ve found all the places where you can turn two words into one, start looking for extra words and phrases. Words like just, very, some, and most words that end in -ly can be cut from your manuscript to make it stronger. Remove these from your manuscript whenever possible. Keep them only when removing them alters the sentence beyond recognition.

Even after you’re familiar with the concept of overwriting and you’ve ruthlessly cut unnecessary words and phrases out of a dozen manuscript, you’ll find that you still end up overwriting. That’s fine. Everyone does it. No writer is perfect, and that’s why nobody should ever send out a first draft. Your job is not to make sure everything’s perfect–it’s to make sure that you only send out the best possible work.

Where have you found instances of overwriting in your work?

Was it Me or Technology?

Hi guys,

You might have noticed that I didn’t write any posts this week. This is true–I had a ridiculously busy week, and I spent very little time at home. I’m even three days behind on email. But, foreseeing that I would be extremely busy this week–lately I’ve had little time to write during the week–I wrote some posts last week that I planned to publish on Monday and Wednesday.

One of them stayed in my system, ready to go but not scheduled. The other didn’t even make it into the system.

I’d like to remain optimistic and say that WordPress simply failed to register it when I scheduled the post, but it’s more realistic that I forgot to schedule it. To be honest, I’ve spent so little time at my computer this week that I didn’t notice the failure of my post to go live until just now.

Let me start by saying that I’m deeply sorry guys. I have been extremely busy this week and last week, but that isn’t an excuse. I made most of those plans myself. The only thing I have no control over is the hours I spend at school–which should leave me enough time to post regularly and work on my other projects. The rest of the time I’m visiting friends or going to events which I don’t have to say yes to.

This week is a prime example of why I need more discipline in my life and I need to follow a schedule. I’m an adult now and I need to move out by the end of this year. It’s hard, and it means cutting back my social life even more than I already have, and that’s a painful decision. But I have to do it.

I also have to cut back on my commitments. I’m committed to too many things right now. There are so many projects I want to start, so many things I want to do. But I can’t do them all at once, and right now my focus needs to be on my career. I need to start asking myself the hard questions about everything I do: what does this do for my career in the long run? In the short term? Will this project make me money? Will it help me support myself by the time this year is over? And I need to focus on the projects that will help me become self-sufficient by the end of the year.

What does this mean for Dianna’s Writing Den? I’m not sure yet. For now I am going to stick with my current posting schedule and cull my social visits. But there might soon come a time when I cut back my blog posts to two per week, because so far, this blog isn’t my best money maker. I love running this blog, I love the connections I’ve made and the community I’ve created, but I can’t let blogging come at the detriment to my other writing projects.

So here’s the plan. For the next month I’m going to continue with my regular posting schedule and cut back on my social visits, and I’m going to see if this gives me enough time to do the work required to lay a foundation for my career. This time next month–March 15th, also a Friday–I am going to assess my progress and make a final decision on my blogging schedule. If I find that blogging is doing me more harm than good by eating up all my time for other projects, I will cut back on the number of posts I write each week. If I find that blogging isn’t damaging my time for other work, I’ll continue with this schedule.

All I know today is that it’s time to create a big change in my life. I hope you’ll stick with me on this journey and I want you to know that no matter what, I won’t abandon this blog completely. I love it too much and I’m too committed to you guys. I just need to make sure that my commitment to helping you become better writers doesn’t damage my own writing career.

Thank you for reading and being part of the community I’ve worked so hard to create.

~Dianna

Have you committed yourself to too many projects? Do you need to renew your commitment to your writing career? And how would you feel if I cut back from three to two posts per week?

Snow Day

There’s a big snowstorm here in Toronto, and while everyone else may be miserable about it, I’m thrilled. Why? Because snowy days make for the best picture prompts:

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The storm from inside…

Please post the first sentence of your response in the comments below.

Get Out There and Read

Right about now you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “I’m not famous, who would want to listen to me read?” And while being famous or published at all certainly means more people will come to an event you’re reading at, you’d be surprised at how many people want to hear amateur writers read their work, particularly if that work is poetry.

For example, I’ve only published this blog and a handful of articles around the web, but I’ve read at several events and been incredibly well received. A couple of these events have been reading events put on by my writing group or someone connected to my writing group. Others have been run by Nanowrimo participants, some during Nanowrimo itself. They’ve varied in size, but all of them have been lots of fun.

So today I’d like to talk to you a bit about the why and how of public amateur readings.

The Why

1. Practicing reading to groups now will make you a pro when you’re published. Reading the work that is closest to your heart will never be easy, but it gets a little bit less painful every time. If you start attending amateur reading events now–which are often low pressure gatherings of supportive people–by the time you’re a published novelist doing a book tour, you’ll be used to reading your work out loud. You’ll be more confident and less likely to misread due to anxiety.

2. You meet awesome people. I’ve met some pretty awesome people at the events where I’ve done readings, most of whom I’ve never seen again but who I’ll remember for a long time. Not only will you probably meet people who like your work, but you’ll meet other writers as well, and it’s always great to make new writing connections.

3. You’ll be exposed to awesome writing. You’ll also get to hear other amateurs reading at these events, writers whose books are still unpublished and thus impossible to find. I don’t know about you, but I always love hearing other writers read–especially when I know that it’s an exclusive party where work that nobody else will see for a long time is being read. When some of those other amateurs get famous, you can say “I heard him/her read before he/she was even published”. And if they don’t get famous… well, at least you still heard some awesome stuff you wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

The How

1. Find a local writing group. I’m part of a weekly writing group called the Toronto Street Writers, where each week a different author presents a workshop and participants do writing exercises. Often people are asked to share their responses to different exercises–although nobody’s ever forced to read–with the group. Finding a similar group in your area provides you with a safe space to practice sharing your work. Not only that, but these groups are usually great for recommending other opportunities to you–I’ve read at two events which I never would have been connected to without my writing group.

2. Search the Interwebs. I found my writing group online, and while searching for it I also found tons of open mic events for spoken word poets and a handful of other reading/writing events that seemed cool. You never know what you’ll find until you’ve looked it up. Make sure to do an area specific search when you’re looking, as it’s kind of pointless to know about writing groups halfway around the world. I found my writing group through Google, but you can also check out Meetup.com. They’ve got all sorts of group listings and you’re bound to find something local eventually. It might take a lot of searching, but it will be worth it.

3. Make an effort to meet local authors. Most published authors still have some sort of connection to an amateur writing group–whether it be a group they run, a group they used to be part of, or a group one of their friends runs–and by connecting to these people and having candid conversations, you can often find a group where you’ll fit right in. Don’t be shy when approaching published authors. They were amateurs just like you once, and I’ve yet to meet an author who looked down on unpublished writers.

Conclusion

Amateur readings are a great way to practice reading your work, find like-minded people and connect to other authors. Remember that you can read in front of large groups of people–you just need to build the confidence first by reading to smaller, supportive groups in a safe space. If you start building that confidence now, by the time you’re published, you’ll be ready to do readings wherever you might go.

So go out and find a place where you can read today.

January Progress

This year my main goal is to build the foundation for a writing career and to help you do the same. With this in mind, I’ve decided to share my progress on the goals I set for this year at the end of each month. I’d love to hear about your own progress in the comments below. Remember, we’re all on this path together. Not only is it important to help each other figure things out, but it’s important to celebrate our successes as a community.

I’m going to start by addressing each of my goals in order.

Finish Editing Moonshadow’s Guardian– I kind of hit a snag with this where I thought I’d printed the whole thing, but when I reached the end of my printed manuscript, it wasn’t the end of the book. So I got frustrated and worked on other stuff for a while, but now I’ve printed the rest of it and started working at it again.

Write Twelve Guest Posts– I have a whole bunch of ideas, a list of blogs to pitch, and a first draft for one of these blogs. I’ll be editing and submitting my first guest post next week, and with any luck you’ll be hearing about its publication soon.

Query 12 Articles– I’ve been having a lot of trouble developing specific article ideas to the point where I’m comfortable querying them, so I’m already behind. But I’m going to work hard to catch up over the next week or so.

Launch 10 Commandments– I’ve typed this whole thing up now, so all I need to do is lengthen it a bit and then add some writing exercises and it’ll be finished. It’ll still be a bit before it’s formatted and ready for sale, but I’m proud of my progress on this.

Create Dear Diary Workbook– I haven’t really started working on this yet, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want it to look like.

Edit Some Secrets Should Never Be Known– Since I’m behind on editing Moonshadow’s Guardian, I haven’t started editing this yet, but I’m hoping to get started early next month.

Write One New Novel– This one’s special for November, so I haven’t started it yet.

Analysis of Progress

I was a little bit less focused this month than I should have been, and I’ve been doing poorly with the planner I decided to try for the year, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished this month. I also did some other work, including editing and submitting a short story that I hadn’t touched in a while.

My main concern in the month ahead is adjusting to the new planner. I’m hoping that I can teach myself to stick with the plan in order to increase my productivity. I’ve never been someone who likes rigid routine, but if I am to succeed in this business, I need to put the hours in and I need some sort of routine. I need to practice staying at my computer even when it’s much more tempting to go somewhere.

Right now spontaneity is the biggest thing standing in my way. My goal is to balance the routine and the spontaneity so that I don’t feel stifled but I get the most work possible done.

What progress have you made on your goals? What is your plan for the month ahead?