Blog Archives

The Ten Commandments of a Serious Writer

Today is a very special day. It is time for me to tell you all about the ebook I’ve been working on, The Ten Commandments of the Serious Writer. The ebook is based on this post, with a slightly altered list of commandments.

Each commandment has been more fully explained, with exercises designed to help you become more fully committed to your writing. This ebook will give you all the tools necessary to plan the next stages of your writing career, including three potential schedules for you to base your own on. If you’re looking for help to make the transition from hobbyist, this is the ebook for you.

This ebook isn’t a comprehensive guide for becoming a successful writer, but it will walk you through the process of laying a foundation for your career. That said, this book isn’t quite finished yet. First, I’m looking for your help.

If you have committed to one of these commandments–you’ve written every day for the last six months and finished a book, or you’ve found and learned to work with a critique group–and it’s helped you grow as a writer, especially if it’s helped you make money writing, I’d love to hear from you. I’d like to add one short personal story from a different writer to each commandment.

This will be a free ebook given to my subscribers. Those who contribute their stories will be allowed to give the ebook to their own personal blog subscribers as well. This is your chance to be officially quoted in an ebook, and to get your name in front of my readers. If you’d like to share your success story, email me at diannalgunn@gmail.com.

I’m also looking for feedback. I’d like one or two people who in the process of laying the foundation for their writing career to give me feedback on the book and the exercises within so I can make any improvements. The ebook is now finished, but everyone needs a second pair of eyes on their writing. I’d like that second pair of eyes to belong to one of my readers. If you’re interested, once again just email me at diannalgunn@gmail.com and I’ll tell you what kind of feedback I’m looking for. Copies will be sent for feedback at the end of this week to any interested parties.

As for the new name of this blog: I’ve had such wonderful suggestions and there was a little conflict because the most popular name is taken by someone else, so I’ve decided to extend voting until Friday, when I’ll also be explaining in more detail my plans for the new site. Vote here.

What do you think of all the changes around here? Are you eager to read The Ten Commandments of the Serious Writer?

Flip Turn by Paula Eisenstein

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Paula Eisenstein is a wonderful author who I interviewed here earlier this year. You can check out that post for more information about her and the story of how we met–today I’d like to focus instead on her debut novel, Flip Turn.

Let’s start by glancing at the back cover copy:

“In Paula Eisenstein’s spare and provocative first novel, a young girl must come to terms with the discovery that her brother killed a young girl. Feeling alienated and not knowing how to ask for help, she decides that suppressing her sexual development will ensure she doesn’t do the same thing.

In Flip Turn, Eisenstein has created an unforgettable narrator whose success as an athlete leaves her conflicted about the attention she receives. She fears it will remind people of what her brother did and draw negative attention to her family. As her swimming triumphs lead her to the Olympic trials, she recounts her own sexual abuse at the hands of a swim coach and must decide if she should give up her passion to try to find a more normal life.”

My thoughts:

Flip Turn is written like a diary. The narrator goes on tangents fairly regularly, which wouldn’t work in an adult book, but helps give the book a teenage feel. On top of having a murderous brother, Flip Turn’s narrator faces the same issues as other teen girls: too much homework, moving, trying to make friends and a constant internal debate about her own self worth. Flip Turn deals with many issues common to teenage girls in an honest way without focusing too hard on any one issue. Flip Turn is also a distinctly Canadian book taking place in London, Ontario, and I’m a sucker for Canadian books.

This book is written for teens but I can certainly see an appeal for adults. It’s an interesting look at competitive swimming, which I knew very little about before reading the book, and a fascinating look at the impact one person’s crimes has on their whole family. I find this particularly fascinating because in the news they never talk about these people. We always hear about the impact on the victim’s family, but never about how violent crime impacts the perpetrator’s family.

The writing style feels very true to a teenage girl’s voice, and the editing is incredibly clean. In fact, this is the best edited book I’ve read in a long time. I noticed a few places where phrasing was weird and a sentence sounded awkward, but not a single typo made it through. This is incredible when even most traditionally published books have a couple errors that made it through.

My only complaint about Flip Turn is that it didn’t truly feel finished at the end. I can’t help but think that there’s more to the story, that something got missed somewhere or perhaps intentionally left out, something that would’ve rounded out the story more. Still, the ending was appropriate even if it felt a bit abrupt, and it wasn’t a Disney happy ending or a tragedy. I’m always happy when an author respects their story and chooses to take the middle ground with their ending, rather than conforming to formulas in the hopes of selling books.

All in all, Flip Turn is a fantastic novel. It’s a window into the life of one teen girl, and her story is powerful enough to reach across all generations. My biggest hope for this book is that nobody will turn it away because it’s about a teenage girl–this story isn’t just for teens, even if the story is about one.

I’m going to rate Flip Turn a 4 out of 5 on the Awesomeness scale(yes, ‘awesome’ is a measurement).

Would you like to read Flip Turn? If so you’ll be thrilled to know that Paula has donated a copy to be given away when I reach 400 subscribers. Don’t want to wait? You can purchase Flip Turn here.

The Beat Sheet

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Today’s post is very special. It comes from Michelle Ann King, whose short story Never Leave Me touched my heart so deeply that I simply had to invite her here. Please give her a warm welcome.

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat revolutionised my writing–or rather, my storytelling. It’s primarily a screenwriting book, but the principles apply just as well to fiction. My favourite part is the Beat Sheet: a list of elements making up the classic Three Act Structure.

Snyder is quite exacting about the timing of these elements, down to the script page number. A story can be more flexible than a film, but this still provides a great sense of timing. Your Act 1 doesn’t necessarily have to finish at precisely 25%, but if it finishes at 72% it’s a good indication that your pacing is off (or your story needs to be a lot longer.)

Some writers find the concept of structure constricting, but for me it was liberating. I would often find myself with cool characters in an interesting scenario, and then sit there wondering what should happen next. Keeping the Beat Sheet at the back of my mind helps me realise what HAS to happen next. It provides a natural progression for the story.

Snyder’s 15 point Beat Sheet can be found here: http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/

The blog section of the site also provides some fascinating breakdowns of films, which are well worth a look. Once you know it’s there, you start seeing this structural skeleton everywhere–it’s like having X-ray Vision.

I use a 12 point adaptation of the Beat Sheet, and it’s served me very well–even for very short stories. To show a working example, my dark fantasy Never Leave Me, recently published at Daily Science Fiction (free to read here: http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/magic-and-wizardry/michelle-ann-king/never-leave-me) is only 1,280 words long–but the Beats are still there:

Act 1
Normal World: MC’s current struggles, in their current environment.

The opening paragraph is a reference to fairy tales, both to set the tone for the story and to introduce Katrine’s problem: the reality of her ‘happy ever after’ hasn’t matched her expectations.

Inciting Incident: An event caused by the Antagonist that changes the situation.
The Antagonist here is Aron–even though he doesn’t know it. He provides opposition by not being the kind of husband Katrine really wants. He sets things in motion by going hunting and leaving her behind.

The Challenge: MC debates what this means & what to do about it.
Katrine makes Aron swear not to leave, but it’s not enough–she’s not satisfied. She wants to guarantee it.

Act 2.1
Start the Revolution: MC takes action towards achieving their goal.

Katrine goes to the village witch for help.

Reactions & Progress: MC learns info, gains skills, discovers problems.
Katrine learns that the spell she wants does exist, but the witch won’t perform it for her.

Midpoint of No Return: A game-changer, risk or revelation that raises the stakes.
Katrine kills the witch and takes her magic.

Act 2.2
Setbacks & Complications: Antagonist fights back, MC is demoralised.

Aron is horrified by what she’s done. Their relationship sours.

All Is Lost: Defeat. The Goal looks lost.
The marriage breaks down completely: Aron no longer loves her and Katrine no longer wants him to stay–but the spell keeps them together.
Bonus Whiff of Death: an image of rotting fruit.

Dark Night of the Soul: Emotional reaction to the All Is Lost moment.
Demonstrating the flexibility available to a short story, the whole beat here is contained in a single line: Katrine wept, and he did not comfort her.

Act 3
The Comeback: MC decides to give it a final go.
Katrine tries to break the spell.

Final Battle: MC fights the Antagonist.
Unable to loosen the magical binding, Katrine attacks Aron and kills him.

New World: MC in their new situation.
In Never Leave Me, this beat is not actually on the page. It’s still in the story, but it takes place totally in the reader’s mind–which is probably why people have found it so haunting. As is so often the case, the scariest monsters are the ones you don’t describe.

Michelle Ann King writes SF, dark fantasy and horror from her kitchen table in Essex, England. Her stories have appeared in various venues, including Daily Science Fiction, Penumbra Magazine, and Untied Shoelaces of the Mind.
She has worked as a mortgage underwriter, supermarket cashier, makeup artist, tarot reader and insurance claims handler before having the good fortune to be able to write full-time. Find details of her stories and books at http://www.transientcactus.co.uk

Author Interview: Judith C. Owens-Lalude

Today’s interview is with Judith Camille, author of The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom. Enjoy.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom?

My book is about Clarissa and her son, George Henry who suffer the indignities of bondage––bought, sold, resold, and abused. Although scarred emotionally and physically, Clarissa refuses to accept enslavement. As Clarissa struggles against time, lessons from her grandmother fuel her compulsion to be free. On the trail, Clarissa and her son are rescued by the Underground Railroad passengers. Taking the long walk to freedom, they follow the North Star.

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

I knew that I wanted to write for children when my sons left home––one to college and one to high school. When they were young I told them stories to get them into bed and it worked. When they were old enough to express a well thought out idea, they said, “Mommy why don’t you write your own books?” I shivered at the thought of putting another task on my must-do-mommy list. Fourteen years later, I saw characters from my storytellings march across my vision. I closed my eyes. I prayed I was not losing my mind. It was my first day home alone. When the visions vanished, I raised my eyelids. Maybe that was a book, I thought. I wrote a 200 word story that day. I have not stopped writing since. Today I have 75 manuscripts crammed into a file.

3. Why did you choose to write about slavery?

After spending an afternoon with my family discussing our roots I was compelled to write about Kentucky enslavement. As I began to read and research more, the depth of the pain and suffering of African Americans enslaved in North Central Kentucky, and their African ancestors became more concerning to me. Because of my love for writing manuscripts for children’s picture books, I wrote a story about a mother and her daughter who were runaways and had it illustrated. One of those illustrations appears on the cover of my book, The long Walk: Slavery to Freedom, and another on the title page.

4. How much research did you do to make sure you were historically accurate/how much did you focus on accuracy?

I applied for one of my characters to be accepted as a first person interpretive program for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior. I did extensive research to meet their guidelines. The application process took one year. Once accepted, the data gathered became a springboard for writing The long Walk: Slavery to Freedom and its related programs. This alone gave me national recognition. The research continued throughout the writing process and as questions surfaced the research answered them. The title of the interpretive program is The Long Walk: From Slavery to Freedom––slightly different from the book title The long Walk: Slavery to Freedom.

5. You also run many writing workshops. How did you get started doing this?

I conduct writing workshops, because I have found it difficult to find people welling to work with new writers. I always had to study on my own. Overtime, I realized there were other mature women wanting to write and share their thoughts. But there was no network to support them. I lead a critique group for one year, and then I applied for a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. With the grant I was able to conduct an eight week children’s picture book writing workshop (CPBWW). Woman after woman said, “We should come back next year.” In September of 2011 the CPBWW celebrated its 10th anniversary. It is now the Write for Children & Teens: Stepwise Program.

6. What advice would you give someone looking to run similar workshops in their town/city?

If a writer wants to run a program similar to the Write for Children & Teens: Stepwise Program, I would recommend that they…:

1]
Become familiar with adult group dynamics––learn what works.
2]
Know the rules for writing for children, teens, and young adults.
3]
Create lesson plans for the concepts you might present and attach references.
4]
Become familiar with the audiences they plan to write for. Each age group learns and interprets information differently.
5]
Understand what makes illustrations and words work together.
6]
Be prepared to do all the work themselves, even if they have volunteers––don’t get in over their head, and know their limits.
7]
Meet with people who have been there and done that. Invite them to be workshop or conference speakers.
8]
Learn to use the computer and its tools, i.e. Keynote, Photoshop, Powerpoint etc. When they plan to buy their next computer, consider an Apple.

This list has no end. I could go on for several more pages.

7. How long did it take you to write The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom?

It took me ten years to write The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom. It was my workshop piece. Whenever I conducted a workshop for the CPBWW, I worked on it. I applied the principles of writing that I planed to teach, ensuring they were understandable and effective.

8. How have you marketed The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom since its release?

To market The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom I…:
1]
Accepted invitations to be interviewed on radio show.
2]
Asked to be included on programs of groups and organizations.
3]
Scheduled book signings at local bookstores.
4]
Designed appealing promotional materials.
5]
Visited the city and farm where my family was enslaved, got to know the community people, and did a book signing at the city’s homecoming.
6]
Went back to school to improve my art skills.
7]
Participated in a junior college’s open mike. Afterward, the program coordinator requested that my book by ordered for their library.
8]
When The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom was formatted for publication, I also had it formatted for Kindle.

This is a partial list and the title of the first person interpretive program is slightly different from the book title.

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

I would council aspiring writers to not be afraid to make mistakes, or to start over. I would advise them to be persistent, get to know themselves, and continue to make new friends who are positive, supportive, and well grounded in their goals and ideas.

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

I am working on DUNKER, a young adult novel about an academically gifted athlete smitten for a girl who is also a star athlete, but doesn’t seem to notice him. Coming along with DUNKER is a middle grade chapter book, Wedding Drums and the Tall-Tall Tree. It is a story that takes the reader right into a village, on Nigeria’s west coast, where a young boy is distraught over his sister’s impending wedding that he is sure will take her away from him.

Bio: Judith C. Owens-Lalude is the great-granddaughter of George Henry “Pap” Johnson, who was born in 1850 and was enslaved with his mother, Clarissa. They lived on Ben Miller’s 600-acre farm in North Central Kentucky, now less than an hour’s drive from Louisville, Kentucky, where Owens-Lalude grew up and resides today. After listening to tales told by her family’s closest members about their ancestors, she wanted to know more and visited the farm where her ancestors had been enslaved. She strolled the grounds, reflected at the fireplace hearth where a slave cabin once stood, wandered along the streams and creeks, and photographed the barn and other outbuildings that were a part of her great-grandpa’s and his mother’s daily world.

Inspired to write a book, Owens-Lalude traveled to her husband’s native Nigeria for a better understanding of the history of slavery in the Americas. She wanted to know its impact on other Africans and African Americans, including her family who lived in Nelson and Spencer counties, Kentucky. From her research, and her powerful imagination, Owens-Lalude has written a compelling novel: The Long Walk: Slavery to Freedom.

What to Read While I’m Away

Next week I’ll be following one of my new rules for productivity–I will take breaks from Dianna’s Writing Den–so I thought I’d gather up some posts for you to read during the week I’ll be away. Today’s posts are all about writing fiction.

Circumlocation at it’s best or worst–at Live Write Thrive will tell you about the concept of circumlocation. Hint: It’s similar to overwriting.

Worldbuilding: Coming of Age Rituals and Coming of Age over at Marshall Ryan Maresca’s blog discusses the many different options for coming of age rituals.

Sci-Fi Deak Style is the first of a new series of posts on the Penumbra blog about “science that doesn’t work well in science fiction… But has to”. This post introduces the series and the conundrum many science fiction writers face when trying to write a great story.

Readers Owe Writers Approximately Zip-Nada-Zero over at Terrible Minds is an excellent post about what readers don’t have to do for writers. This is also one of my favourite blogs, but be warned, it’s usually very profane.

Hopefully this will keep you reading all next week. Have a lovely weekend and I’ll be seeing you on the 29th.

The Writer’s Poison

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Today’s post is a guest post written by one Joelle Fraser. Please give her a warm welcome.

Last month, I became a published author for the second time. You’d think I’d feel successful, wouldn’t you? I have two books with prestigious houses, both of which received excellent national reviews; I’ve been anthologized and gotten awards, been flown by Random House on book tours and chauffeured around by media escorts, been interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air.

And yet, like every other writer in the world, I can name a thousand others who’ve achieved more. Much, much more—whether it’s money, fame, acclaim, awards, or a combination thereof, there’s always someone who leaves you in the dust.

Success, I learned with my first book, The Territory of Men, is a moving target that can cripple you with frustration. One day, for example, 75 people would come to a reading; the next week, in another town, eight might dribble in. I’d open my email one morning to find a great review in The Washington Post or USA Today, and an invitation to teach at a prominent conference. Then my inbox was empty for a month.

The longer your book is out, the more sporadic the attention; if you don’t publish another, it can fade away altogether, like a photograph of a fabulous event no one remembers.

Two years after my first book, I started a family, and for a long while, stopped writing. Meanwhile others continued to revel in success! For years, every Sunday morning I’d sit with my empty notebook while reading the steady cascade of achievement in The New York Times Book Review.

When my marriage fell apart, and I lost half custody of my son, I moved to an isolated cabin in the Sierras. For the next year I healed by walking in the wilderness and writing words on the page. Those pages became my next memoir, The Forest House. While I loved writing the book, I wasn’t looking forward to the publication process, and all the stress over whether it would succeed.

What helped was my peer, Alison Singh Gee, whose lovely memoir, Where the Peacocks Sing, came out at the same time. Even though we were ostensibly competitors, we were also friends who had much in common: we both teach college writing and are mothers of one young child. We even blurbed each others’ books. As reviews came in we’d “like” the links on each others’ FB pages; and we’d comment on the gleaming photos of our book covers. During our book tours we’d post promotional blogs about our respective events.

Yet over the months, we emailed and called each other privately. I knew her worry, understood her hopes and disappointment, and she knew mine. We’d both taken those long drives to bookstores on school nights—all the while wondering if more than a handful of readers would show up—and felt the same weight of the piles of ungraded papers and mounting chores waiting at home.

I shared the disillusionment that comes from watching your Amazon sales rank ebb and flow, then ebb again. I’d also tasted the same bittersweetness of the mixed review.

It was as if this time, with Alison, I had a constant reality check. She helped me see through the smoke and mirrors of the author’s “glamorous” life.

Like travelers on an escalator we’d wave to each other as we moved up and down the fickle ladder of success. We both know there’s a place you have to reach—no matter what stage you’re at as a writer—where you feel that someone else’s success is your success. If you can get there, it’s a wonderful, liberating place to be—and from it your own work will soar.

And so when Alison’s book was praised in Entertainment Weekly and People Magazine, I was happy for her; and when I was asked to do a guest blog for The Huffington Post, she cheered for me.

What I’ve learned over the past decade is that envy can poison your creativity—it’ll stain your writing like blood spilled across a page. It implies not only deprivation—something is missing in our world—but someone else has what we don’t. Looked at so simply it’s not hard to imagine envy has its roots in childhood. My son is in the first grade, and I’ve seen the raw expression of envy in children’s faces: I want what you have—give it to me!

The ultimate antidote for envy, which comes from our basest selves, is gratitude—which comes from our highest.
For it’s only from a place of plenty that we have something to give. And that’s what writing is, in the end—a gift, one we have and one we give to others.

No, it’s not an easy solution. Like any good habit, gratitude takes work. I have to remind myself to do it, and then it’s often grudgingly at first. So I’m grateful to the writers who write such wonderful stories and poems and articles, who’ve enriched my world with a lifetime of pleasure and enlightenment.

I’m grateful to my friends like Alison who remind me that I’m not alone, that my best is good enough, and that most of all, the words I write are worth it.

Bio: Joelle Fraser is the author of the memoirs The Territory of Men (Random House 2003) and The Forest House (2013). A MacDowell Fellow, she has an MFA from the University of Iowa. She teaches writing and lives in northeast California with her son. Find her at http://www.joellefraser.com.

You can purchase a copy of The Forest House here.

Managing Writer’s Block

Many writers speak of writer’s block, an inability to create new work or to finish a project. They discuss a mental wall stopping them from reaching the creative part of their brain. Hundreds, probably thousands, of articles have been written about writer’s block, what it is and how to cure it.

Yet there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of writers who don’t believe in writer’s block.

I take the middle ground on this one. Writer’s block could be anything. It might be all in your head, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Often it’s a symptom of other issues in our lives or the story we’re working on. Other times it’s just an excuse for not wanting to write. What’s important is moving away from the term “writer’s block”. You have to figure out what your specific issue is and deal with that. By figuring out the underlying issue, you can overcome it and eliminate your block.

I’ve created a list of possible causes for writer’s block and how to overcome them. Even if you’re not suffering from “writer’s block” now, figuring out what usually causes your creativity to stop flowing allows you to create systems to stay creative. So take a look at this list and figure out what you can do to overcome your “writer’s block”.

Possible Causes/Treatments for Writer’s Block

Cause: story flaws– sometimes the cause of writer’s block isn’t you, it’s the story you’re working on. It could be that your story isn’t structurally sound. It could be that you’ve chosen the wrong viewpoint character. You might need to do more research to flesh out one of your ideas. There are all kinds of reasons why you might get stuck on a particular story.

Treatment: figuring it out– the first thing you have to do is figure out whether or not your main problem is a story issue. Analyze your story. Are all the events in the right order? Do they all belong to this story, or does one of them stick out like a sore thumb? Is your viewpoint character the right one to tell this story? Or are they unsure of what’s going on or just plain irritating? Have you done enough research to write about these issues/in this time period properly?

Read through what you’ve written so far and ask yourself these questions. Once you’ve figured out the issue, there are many ways to solve it. You might take out a scene that sends your story in the wrong direction, switch viewpoint characters or take a day to do research. Sometimes a story is just not meant for you and you’ll realize you can’t write this story at all, or that you can’t write it now for various reasons. It’s okay to put these stories away and move on to something else. I personally have a four book series perfectly outlined that I probably won’t write for another ten years. The important thing is that I kept the notes and that I’m always working on other projects.

You can always come back to it. If the story is really causing you heartache and you don’t know why, maybe it’s time to move on.

Cause: perfectionism– perfectionism is creativity’s worst enemy. Often we get bogged down in our desire to be “perfect”. Millions of dollars are spent on perfection, but the irony is that there’s no such thing as perfect. For one thing, nothing can please everyone, so even if it’s perfect to you, it won’t be perfect to the next person. Besides, people are imperfect, and thus our creations are imperfect.

Treatment: give yourself permission to write crap– and remember that you don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to. Remember that first drafts are always crap. Second and even third drafts are usually crap too. Some people spend twenty years editing one book. I’ve already spent seven working on one, and I know that the draft I’m working on is still imperfect and always will be.

Perfectionism can not only stop you from writing a draft, but it can stop you from submitting. Admit that at some point you need to stop editing and start submitting. I personally know that I have almost reached that point with Moonshadow’s Guardian. I’m working on a submission package and preparing to let it go, knowing that it is not perfect now and that it never will be.

Tell yourself it’s okay to write crap. Know that nothing you create will ever be perfect and instead focus on making it the best you can make it. Write a note to yourself explaining that all first drafts are crap and that it will never be perfect, and tape that to your desk. Every time perfectionism slows you down, remind yourself: you’re not perfect and you never will be. Your work will never be perfect. Neither was Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter wasn’t perfect. Twilight definitely wasn’t perfect. You don’t have to be perfect for people to love you and your work, so stop trying so hard to reach this impossible ideal.

Cause: burnout– at this point in my life burnout is the most common reason for me to feel uninspired. It’s caused by doing way too much and starting way too many projects. This is getting more and more common as people work harder and longer hours, as we are constantly expected to be available via smartphone and to take on more responsibility in order to keep our jobs which never pay enough. Sometimes burnout is caused by a demanding boss, but often it’s ourselves who cause it. We take on too many commitments. We underestimate how long things will take us. We don’t give ourselves time to recharge.

Treatment: relax– sometimes all you need to do is take a break. Go for a walk. Take a hot bubble bath. Read a book purely for entertainment. Start saying no to unnecessary commitments. Take regular time for yourself. Sometimes all you need to get creative again is a little me time. In today’s busy world, it’s hard to carve out time for yourself, but nothing could be more important for a writer.

Make yourself–and your creativity–your first priority. If you don’t care for yourself, who will?

Conclusion

There are all kinds of real issues that writers call “writer’s block”, but the important thing to remember is that all of them can be overcome. All you have to do is figure out what your problem is and get to work.

What usually causes your writer’s block? How do you overcome it?

Fiction or non-fiction?

I’m always on a quest to get to know my readers better, so today I’d like to hear from you:

Do you read primarily fiction or non-fiction? Which do you prefer reading? Which do you prefer to write?

Answer in the comments below and feel free to ask me a question of your own.

Musa Author Interview: Keith Yatsuhashi

Today’s author is debut novelist Keith Yatsuhashi, author of Kojiki, a YA fantasy novel scheduled for release on April 5th. In his youth he was a pro figure skater and now he holds one of the longest titles I’ve ever seen–Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center–as well as a publishing contract with Musa. Please give him a warm welcome and be amazed by the wisdom he’s here to impart upon you.

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

Sure Dianna. First let me thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my book. Kojiki is the story of a young woman, Keiko Yamada, who’s lost her way. Her father, her only living relative dies, leaving her rudderless. Desperate to find a new life, she embraces his dying wish, that she go to Japan and find something he calls ‘the Gate.’ Once there, ancient Japanese myths come to life around her. Monsters and powerful Spirits appear in Tokyo, and Keiko learns her father was somehow involved with them.

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

When I was a teen, I dabbled at writing but never made it very far, mainly because I didn’t have the skill or patience. In college, no matter the class, my professors routinely commented on how much style my papers had, which made me wonder if I had a talent I didn’t know existed. Then, back in 2003, after the death of my aunt, my father’s last surviving sibling, Kojiki’s story started to grow. I wrote what I thought would be a prologue. That prologue turned into chapter one, then two and so on.

3. A large part of Kojiki takes place in Japan. What inspired you to write about this location?

Family history. My father never spoke much about his family. His sister-in-law told us that my father’s family traced its roots back to the Imperial court and that my grandmother had an ancestor who fought the Mongol invasion of Japan in 1281, during the famous Kami Kaze, the typhoon that wiped out the Mongol army. At a friend’s wedding, the bride’s father, a Japanese national, when introduced, said I had a ‘noble’ name. My wife had none of it. I still have to take out the garbage. Still the stories were so wild, they fired my imagination. Hence, Keiko’s backstory and her father’s involvement with the Spirits that formed Japan–and the world.

4. What kinds of research did you do in order to write well about Tokyo?

I visited Tokyo in late 1983. I was there as a member of the U.S. Figure Skating Team, competing in the World Jr. Figure Skating Championships. Well, the actual competition was in Sapporo, but the entire team went to Tokyo after the competition. The locations are places I visited. I had my hotel, the Takanawa Prince, in an early draft, but it didn’t make the cut. I used Google maps and street view to fill in the gaps in my memory, and to make sure I was was somewhat accurate 🙂 Of course, I took some liberties. Tokyo’s just one of many locations. I set events in Miami, the Carpathian Mountains, the Himalayas and, of course, near Mount Fuji. I’ve been to all but two, the Himalayas and the Carpathians. I’ve been to the mountainous regions in former Yugoslavia, around Sarajevo. Memories of those mountains provided a stand-in for the ones in Romania. My favorite setting is fictional. I looked at an aerial map of Tokyo Bay and thought…hmmm, that’s a pretty clear oval. From there, I came up with the idea that Tokyo Bay is the remnant of a massive volcano. Today’s bay is that volcano’s caldera, destroyed and submerged. A long time ago, one key character had a fortress in the middle of the caldera. While it was active.

5. What made you the only person who could write this book?

Hmmm. That’s a tough question. I suppose, as with anything, a person’s work is the sum of his/her experiences. While none of the events in Kojiki really happened, the voice, the characters, and how they react are all part of me. Plus, I always wanted to read a big, loud, operatic version of the anime and Japanese monster movies I loved as a kid. Kojiki’s an homage to all of that. I guess, one particular piece in the story is unique to me. It has to do with the stereotype of the Japanese running from monsters in terror. I’m really sick of it, so I made a conscious decision to tackle it. In Kojiki, I have reactions from Americans, Europeans, and Japanese. The Americans can’t resist going out for a closer look at the monsters. The Europeans run in terror (see what I did there?), and the Japanese face the threat head on. No panic, no fleeing. None of that garbage. So there!

6. With a strong career and three kids, how do you find time to write?

The wonder of Dragon Dictate and a 1/2 hour commute each way! Today’s technology really makes things easy. You always have a smartphone, tablet, or computer nearby to jot down ideas. My daughter, Caitlin, loves to read and is always after me to see what I’m working on. At times, she’s like a writing partner.

7. What does your editing process look like?

First off, I want to give a BIG thank you to Lorin Oberweger of Free-expressions.com I approached Lorin after a writer’s conference and several rejections. I had no idea what I was doing, and Lorin basically taught me from square one how to look at my writing, how to turn writing into story-telling, and what to look for when reviewing. After that, it’s write, then review, review, review. I’ll rework a chapter as well as I can on the computer, but when it reaches a point that feels right, I’ll transfer it to my Kindle or iPad, so I can read it like a book. That makes all the difference. The document no longer feels like a document; it reads like any other book, which makes it easier to find mistakes.

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

Well, I researched Musa and liked what I read. I liked that they have a strong vision and a solid business plan that they stick to. Naturally, they weren’t the only publisher or agent I submitted to. They came back VERY quickly after my submission, though. And while I had full manuscripts out with agents, landing one, if that happened at all, was no guarantee the agent could find a publisher. And there I was, with one that wanted my work. Also, I’ve been to many publishing conferences, twice to Frankfurt, BEA every year since 2007. I’ve met the people at the IDPF and attended one of their conferences. I even arranged for them to do a webinar to my professional colleagues. I’ve seen the growth in ebooks, and I’m impressed. Also, from my professional experience, I know it’s often better to go with a young hungry company than get lost with a larger one. I can’t be happier with my choice; the staff at Musa is fantastic! I haven’t worked with another publisher, so I can’t speak to what the experience is like outside Musa, but I can’t image getting so much time, advice, and guidance from anyone else. It’s not just me either. Every one of their authors get top notch treatment.

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

Just one? I’ll do 1A and 1B. 1A, of course, is don’t give up. Getting a publisher is a LOOOONG, slow, frustrating process. It’s on the job learning. Which brings me to 1B. I wouldn’t be anywhere if I didn’t contact Lorin Oberweger. So, as far as that goes, hire a professional editor. One who’s willing to mentor you, who can listen to what you’re going through and offer SOLID guidance. Not platitudes, guidance. Lorin did so much more than just edit and improve my MS. She walked me through the submission process, told me what to expect, discussed trends in the industry. God–her input was endless.

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

I’m writing a follow up to Kojiki. It’s not a pure sequel in that the characters from Kojiki, if they show up at all, have cameos only. I’m doing this because Kojiki is a finished story, with–really–one loose thread that I’m tying up here. Going back and throwing the characters into another ‘cataclysmic’ event feels false, so I need to go in a different direction. It will feel familiar, though, I guarantee it. Again, it pays homage to my love of anime and Japan. This time, instead of the mysticism, I’m tackling mecha 🙂 Aside from that, I’m working on a dystopian YA novel with my daughter. It’s all her idea, her story, her characters. I’m basically helping her write it. We’ve only just started, but it has some pretty big themes for teens. The idea of feeling invisible. She’s actually titled it ‘The Invisible’. I have one thriller rattling around in my head. It’ll be a doozy. 🙂

Bio:

Keith Yatsuhashi was born in 1965 in Boston, MA.  He graduated from Northeastern University in 1989 and is currently the Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Keith was a competitive figure skater for ten years, winning the U.S. National Junior Dance Championships in 1984, a bronze medal in the 1983 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and a silver medal in 1984. In addition to his love for writing, Keith enjoys many hobbies such as golf, reading, and playing football and hockey with his sons.  Keith currently lives in Norfolk, MA with his wife, Kathleen and three children—Caitlin, Jeffrey, and Justin. 

Keith’s big release date is coming, so make sure to watch the Musa website on April 5th so you can grab your copy of Kojiki

The Great Guest Post Exchange

One of my goals for this year is to write twelve guest posts(my first one went up here last Friday). I also recently decided that I’d like to accept more guest posts here.

I put quite a bit of effort into figuring out how to accomplish these goals when I realized the answer was right in front of me. So, after some careful thought and planning, here is the solution:

The Great Guest Post Exchange

Here’s how this is going to work: I’m going to write a guest post for your blog and in return you’ll write a guest post for my blog. We’re going to commit to giving each other high quality pieces because we don’t want to ruin each other’s reputation. We’re not going to set strict deadlines because these aren’t paid pieces and life gets in the way, but we’re going to get these posts to each other within a month of making the commitment. If for any reason one of us can’t finish their post within that month, we’ll talk about it and create a new deadline.

We are going to post on each other’s blogs and promote our respective posts. We are going to respond to all the comments on our respective blog posts because that’s what professionals do.

Here’s how this won’t work: I will not automatically accept your post because it is there, and I won’t expect you to accept my post just because it’s there either. I will not publish substandard posts or posts that don’t help my readers in some way, and I hope you will follow the same standards on your blog. You will not re-publish your guest post for 30 days after it goes live on my blog, preferably not at all. I will not re-publish my guest post to your blog for the same amount of time, and if you’d like to feel exclusive I won’t re-publish it at all.

I am your colleague, not just a publicity outlet.

All that being said, to participate in the Great Guest Post Exchange, please either email me at diannalgunn@gmail.com with your proposal OR leave your email in the comments below. Feel free to also ask any questions or raise any concerns you might have about the Great Guest Post Exchange.