Writing itself should be a simple task. All you have to do is put one word after the other, form sentences, form ideas, and make everything you’ve done come together into one great work that is sure to express your heart and soul exactly as you intended. But that’s not really writing. That’s writing and editing put together.
With all of the details, heart, emotion, ideals, characters, love, and everything in between that is invested in even the simplest of fiction pieces, sometimes the task of writing can feel so insurmountable that simply getting started can seem impossible. Other times, continuing an idea that has already been started is even more difficult.
Some enjoy calling these difficulties “writer’s block,” and most proposed solutions involve doing things other than simply writing. What keeps those first few words, no matter how flawed they may be, from flowing onto the page is simple doubt. Doubt is the writer’s worst enemy; however, doubt is simply a large amount of misplaced energy. If the writer could take the energy being put into doubt and convert it into an outrageous stream of productivity, then that would be something.
Getting the words out is the only true form of writing. You are either writing or you are not. If you are unable to write because you want the words to be perfect right out of the gate, then you are trying to write and edit simultaneously, and this can cause writer’s block, a lack of productivity, and doubt. Staring that blank page down and allowing doubt to wash over you prevents the all too essential first draft from being born. If only there were a way to force a writer to quit stalling and dish out that first draft without looking back…
Most writers might think it insane to use an app that erases everything you have written if you stop writing for five seconds. And at its core, that’s all Flowstate does.
That’s right: Everything you’ve written, no matter how long you’ve been writing for, gets permanently erased if you stop writing in Flowstate.
It might be disguised in what sounds to be an evil premise, but I maintain that Flowstate is the first draft’s best friend. Flowstate is simple in both its layout and its function. Basically, it’s a basic, yet beautifully sleek, word processor. The program gives you five fonts to pick from and a blank page. No other frills or distractions. What makes Flowstate unique and, in my opinion, wonderful, is that there is only one other main function you must choose prior to writing a document: how long you will be writing for. The timing starts at five minutes and goes for as long as 180 minutes (for the truly crazy ones out there). So once you title your document, pick a font and a time, you are ready to go.
Simple setup, horrifying premise, but great results.
Flowstate gives you a blank page with the time you’ve chosen in the upper right corner. As soon as you begin writing, the timer begins counting down. Type away as quickly or slowly as you’d like, but if you stop making keystrokes, your entire document begins to fade away and will disappear completely if you do not press a key within five seconds. Let five seconds run out, and all of your work is gone. There’s no safety net, no autosave. It’s just gone. Forever.
Why would anyone in their right mind do such a thing? Because it’s brilliant. Do you need to write and you keep putting it off? Do you need to complete your first draft but you keep questioning your story? Are you easily distracted when you should be writing? Well, then Flowstate has a tremendously effective answer. As opposed to other software that simply attempts to block out distractions, Flowstate directly threatens your progress should you not keep going and get to your work. It forces you to focus by holding your work hostage.
You earn the right to save and edit.
Once the timer runs out you can continue typing, knowing that all of your hard work will (thankfully!) be saved. You can then return to it and edit it, or export your work to another format altogether. Go on, you’ve earned it.
Although being threatened while being creative might not be for everyone, I find it to be exhilarating. If I only have ten minutes to write, then I can set my timer in Flowstate and know that I will use that ten minutes to its fullest.
The app is available in the Apple Mac Store for $9.99 or in the App Store for $4.99, and both apps synchronize together over the iCloud so you can edit any of your drafts anywhere. While $5-$10 can seem like a bit of money for a simple app, you are making an investment in your creativity that can certainly payoff quickly and change what you thought you knew about your writing process.
Here is a helpful video that shows how the app basically works:
Writing Bloc’s Escape! An Anthology is available for preorder now for your favorite ebook format (the Kindle link is separate, just click here)! The ebook is only $2.99 during this preorder phase, which is a steal for all of the stories you get from the amazing authors below. On New Year’s Day, the price goes up to $5.99, so grab your ebook today! Be sure to check out all of the author bios below, visit their sites, preorder Escape! An Anthology, and get the book to download automatically to your e-reader on New Year’s Day! Keep your eye out for the upcoming announcement about the print version…details coming soon!
For now, cheers to all these wonderful authors for their contributions to this amazing collection of short stories!
Jason Pomerance, Author of “Mrs. Ravenstein”
Jason Pomerance has written film and television projects for numerous studios and production companies, including Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, FremantleMedia, and Gold Circle Films. His first novel, Women Like Us, published by the Quill imprint of Inkshares, debuted in 2016, and his novella Falconer was published in four parts on Nikki Finke’s site for showbiz fiction, Hollywood Dementia. He’s currently working on a new novel. Visit Jason at www.jasonpomerance.com, or on Instagram (@whowantsdinner), and Twitter (@whowantsdinner — and yes, Jason is always hungry!).
Susan K. Hamilton is the author of Shadow King, Darkstar Rising, and the forthcoming The Devil Inside. She lives outside of Boston with her husband, Jeff, and their cat, Rio. An avid equestrian, when she’s not tapping away at a computer, chances are you’ll find her at the barn. She loves fun movies, pizza, and pretty much any furry creature on the planet, and is currently working on a new, follow-up project to Shadow King.
Michael Haase is the author of the forthcoming book, The Man Who Stole the World, to be published by Inkshares. Michael is a happy husband, father, musician, and spontaneous comedian who does nerdy stuff like study computer programming in his spare time. He lives intentionally near Cleveland, believe it or not
Peter Ryan is a sci-fi lover, motorbike rider, darts player, and T-shirt designer, as well as being an English professor at a university in South Korea. He grew up in Perth, Western Australia, and has traveled much of the world. While on the move, he has done a variety of jobs, including sales support at an insurance company, laborer on the building sites of London and Melbourne, chauffeur/minder for an English lord, and business English consultant in Shanghai.
Deborah Munro is a scientist and biomedical engineer from Oregon who recently expatriated to New Zealand. She is passionate about writing, especially hard science thrillers that engage readers on current issues.
Durena Burns currently lives in Southern California and has worked for special education in elementary. She mostly writes biographical stories about her family. Her first published book ‘Call Me Whitehead’ is about her late uncle’s experiences as a black man in the Vietnam War.
Ferd Crôtte is an Internal Medicine hospitalist physician and is the author of ‘Captiveedom’ in this anthology. His debut novel, Mission 51, is currently in production by Inkshares. Ferd and his wife Gail live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Christopher Lee is the independent author of Nemeton and Bard Song. Outside of his gig as an author, he is an avid history buff, amateur mythologist, bardic poet, Holistic Life Coach, Reiki Master/Teacher, Mindfulness Practitioner, and keeper of the old ways.
Christopher lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife and two cats.
Mike worked for the BBC as a sound mixer, wrote for comedy sketch shows, and developed sit-com ideas. Brought up in Scotland and England, he worked as a script analyst for gap finance company Aramid Capital, and has written many award-winning screenplays.
Born in the backwoods of West Virginia, Chris Hinkle is a country boy down to his molecular structure. He now lives in New Zealand where he works for the Government and puts forth a reasonable effort at masking his inner-hick for the benefit of those around him.
Evan Graham is the author of upcoming science fiction thrillers Tantalus Depths and Proteus. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Education Studies from Kent State University, where he triple-minored in English, Writing, and Theatre. He currently lives in rural Middlefield, Ohio and is extensively involved in local community theatre, both on the stage and behind the scenes.
Michael James Welch is a proud Western New Yorker, an even prouder snowflake, and above all, husband and father to a wonderful family. His first novel, PrOOF, will be published by Inkshares in 2019-20. He feasts on your derision and bathes nightly in your disdain.
Cari Dubiel juggles writing, librarian-ing, mom-ing, and bassooning in Northeast Ohio. Her novel, How to Remember, is in production with Inkshares. She is a past Library Liaison to Sisters in Crime and the co-host of the ABC Book Reviews Podcast.
Grace Marshall is an author, mother, and TV enthusiast. She writes technical documentation as her primary profession but has also been known to post randomly on her site escapeoftheinnermonlogue.com.
Daniel Lee, Author of “A Grave Ordeal”
Daniel Lee is the author of the novel AFTER DEATH, which won First Place in the Nerdist Sci-Fi Contest and is forthcoming from Inkshares. He lives in Los Angeles, where he makes his living as an editor of movie trailers. See more of his work at Dan-Lee.net
Patrick Edwards, Author of “Wendell, Wendell, & Wendell”
When he’s not busy mushing words into silly stories, Pat spends his time battling inter-dimensional shadow monsters and having tea parties with his two daughters. His debut novel, Space Tripping, is currently available wherever books are sold. Check him out on Twitter @ThePatEdwards
Kendra Namednil was born in Northern California and began writing when she was 26, publishing her first full novel at 30. She has volunteered for many organizations, though her greatest joy was working with behavior-plan dogs with the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
NaNoWriMo is an event that keeps getting larger and more popular each and every year. And it’s no wonder. There’s something romantic and wonderful about writing a novel. Most of the times I’ve told people that I’ve written novels, the conversation inevitably turns toward how they have an idea for a novel as well, if only they had the time to write it. And it’s true that the writer’s greatest enemy is making the time to write. Writing a novel takes creativity, persistence, timing, and commitment.
Enter NaNoWriMo. Every November, this worldwide event opens its doors to allow a seemingly endless community to gather online and support one another as they trudge their way through an average of 1,667 words per day, hopefully crossing that finish line of 50,000 words. After that, it’s official: you’ve written a novel. What a great feeling. Mission accomplished.
Except, every year, the same problem keeps arising. Only about 10% of those who sign up for NaNoWriMo actually cross that 50,000 word mark and “win.” So what happens? Why are nearly 90% of potential novelists “losing” NaNoWriMo? I’d say it’s because of one great problem: writing a novel is quite difficult.
Why do writers fail NaNoWriMo?
Of the people I’ve spoken to who have tried and failed, the reasons they have failed have been either one of two things: 1) they did not actually have the time, or 2) they got caught up in a snag in their story and quit, because there was no way to finish after running into such a block in progress. Perhaps these are common problems, the excuses of the 90%. If so, then I’d like to do something to correct this, because getting a “win” during NaNoWriMo is a personal accomplishment. There’s no reason why every single person with the urge to write shouldn’t be able to cross that finish line and get the “win.” So, let’s address these two major problems that keep people from winning.
First, if you do not actually make the time to write, then you will not be able to write. That sounds silly to say because it’s obvious. Of course, things happen that we cannot foresee that steal our time. If any of these things happen while you are on your way toward 50,000 words, then forgive yourself. But keep your head up and keep moving. However, if nothing out of the ordinary happens during your month and you simply do not make the time to write, then perhaps your heart wasn’t in your material to begin with. But this also does not mean you should quit.
If your difficulty in finishing falls under the second category, that you reach a snag in your story, then you are hardly alone. Actually, you are in great company, because just about every writer I know hits several points during the process of writing in which the words simply do not come. Carrying a story across a few hundred pages is no easy task, and even without writing, most of us experience plenty of self-doubt within a month’s time. So, what is a writer to do with such great odds against them but a drive to finish something as great as a novel?
Don’t Write a Novel
My solution: don’t worry about the “No” in NaNoWriMo. The novel part is sitting there, just telling you “No” right in the title. If you’re struggling to produce the word count this November, then just forget all about the novel. Make it National Writing Month. Write about anything.
Write down your own stories. Write poetry. Write lyrics. Write down everything you know about any subject you consider yourself an expert in. Write a series of love letters. Write down a list of everything you want to accomplish between now and next November. Write down everything you ever wanted to say to someone but never had the courage to. Write about your favorite day ever from top to bottom, with as much sensory detail as possible. Write a long-winded explanation of why people who eat pickled herring are wrong for doing so. Write down a collection of all of the great recipes in your family. Write about all of the above.
You get the point.
Whether a lack of time or a problem in your story is your excuse for not finishing, I believe that the real problem is the novel. It’s difficult to write a novel, to commit that amount of time to creating, developing, and finishing a story that was born of your own imagination. There’s plenty of self-doubt to get over and commitment to make in order to cross that finish line.
I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo for the past few years, and it has yet to produce a grand career as a novelist for me. I write a novel because I love writing stories. I’m driven toward writing stories. When I’m deep into NaNoWriMo, I’m getting up at 5am and writing until everyone else wakes up. And then I’m sneaking off to write little bits here and there until I’m either too tired to write or otherwise committed. It takes a lot of energy. And it also takes a willingness on my part to keep pushing forward, even when I know a story is “bad.”
But if you’re drawn toward NaNoWriMo, then I believe what you have is an urge to write. It doesn’t have to be a novel. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a novel. Perhaps it should be fifty different versions of the prologue to the novel you will eventually write. The point of NaNoWriMo is to accomplish something, to get something down that bears a part of who you are. Isn’t that what we’re all striving for when we want to write a novel? So maybe, if you’re struggling this NaNoWriMo, you should push the novel aside for a while and write something else. Get it down, whatever it is. Just write. Put yourself out there. And win.
Mike Donald is a UK-based novelist and screenwriter. His current novel, Louisiana Blood, started out as a multiple award-winning screenplay that earned him some great attention in the Hollywood scene. Mike adapted the screenplay into a novel, and Louisiana Blood was published late last year. The novel is an incredible and thrilling mystery involving alternate history (more specifically, an intense conspiracy involving Jack the Ripper never having existed), and it is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike about how his novel came to be and his perspective on writing. Enjoy.
When did the idea for Louisiana Blood first strike you?
Louisiana Blood was really an amalgamation of ideas. I’d been filming in New Orleans and found the whole place really atmospheric, so subliminally this is where the location came from. I went to quite a famous restaurant there called The Court of Two Sisters, which became Crawdaddy’s in the Novel. I’d also loved the film “There will be Blood”, and “All the Kings Men.” Which gave me more atmosphere, and the governor Huey Long as an important figure who believed in doing whatever it took to get the job done…a big picture man, not bothered by the niceties of sticking to the law.
I was working with a couple of producers at the time and from them I knew that a lot of productions were being set up in Louisiana so that gave me a nudge to that location for more practical reasons. I had recently read a book about one of the main Ripper suspects called Tumblety who fled England to the US and wound up in St Louis…so he became the way of linking Victorian London to modern day Louisiana. With all of these components whirling around like some sort of creative tinder, it only took a creative spark to ignite the fire that would end up being my crazy idea. That being…What if Jack the Ripper never really existed? At which point I imagine it was around 2008.
Once I had the general idea in my head I read as many Jack the Ripper books as I could get my hands on. My idea was to absorb all of the theories and suspects and blend perceived reality with fiction to produce a dramatic story, rather than to try and add to the supposed canon of authors claiming to have discovered the Ripper’s true identity.
How long did the process take to get from idea to novel?
Between 2007/2008 I was working on the research and screenplay. My producers were involved with a large Canadian film fund with access to around $600m in funding. As well as setting up a project with Ferrari to do the life story of Enzo, they were also budgeting $10m and $30m for two of my projects. I had written a supernatural cop film called DEADEYE in conjunction with a Jake West a director friend of mine who produced cult hits like Razorblade Smile and Evil Aliens.
Along with Louisiana Blood I had been commissioned to write a screenplay re-imagining Pumpkinhead as a militarised character to relaunch the franchise for producer Brad Krevoy (Dumb and Dumber.) So things were busier than normal. As happens all too often in the screentrade, the Canadian film fund fell out with our co-producers and this coincided with the 2008 financial crash which hit the fund badly. This left the project in hiatus.
In 2010 I took Louisiana Blood the screenplay to Hollywood via many contests and film festivals. It won or placed in about 20 of them and I got invited to L.A to tout my wares. Despite numerous meetings I couldn’t get anybody to option the script and so it went on the backburner. A few years passed and I decided that Louisiana Blood was too good an idea to for it die on the vine, adapted it into a novel. I’d heard about a new publisher called INKSHARES which was a mix of traditional publishing and crowdfunding. You had to demonstrate public enough interest to convince them it was a worthwhile project and they would publish. It took six months to raise the money and I finished off the manuscript in 2016. I had the cover designed to my spec and submitted the whole package to Inkshares. The novel was published in Dec 2017.
I’m hoping the success of the book will help me back-engineer the book into a film and I’ll get a second chance to get it onto the big screen. The feedback so far is amazing, mainly from female readers which is very satisfying as in my experience women are looking for a more emotional experience from a book than men. I think they are surprised that it isn’t as graphic as the word BLOOD in the title might imply. The phrase Louisiana Blood cropped up in my research as a description of the oil business as it was back in the days of the first oil strikes where money was made and lives were lost. One of the most fascinating images I saw during my research was of Huntington Beach…all along the coast oil derricks soared into the sky giving it a sort of demonic feel and bringing to mind the phrase Satanic Mills.
What is it about your characters that inspired you to carry them into a series of stories?
Well, it was part my love of the characters belief their longevity, and part fiscal prudence in wanting them to live on maybe in the small screen arena. Nowadays there is more money spent on Netflix and Amazon than some feature films. The budgets for boxed sets such as Westworld, The Man in the high castle and Game of thrones is huge. Looking forward to the second in the series, Bruges Blood, with Detective Hoog and Katja, I think it’s high time to plunder the ashes of Van der Valk and kick start a Bruges based detective series.
When I started writing Bruges Blood I imagined a series of catacombs beneath the police station where Hoog decimates cardboard cutouts on the firing range to the sound track of Dua Lipa’s “Be the one.” No one was more surprised to discover that there really are catacombs beneath the station! The police were very generous in letting me nose around.
And on that note VENICE BLOOD is another series I’d like to spin off. I’ve never heard of a Venice based police series and the place is really atmospheric. Controlling the interaction of all the detectives and countries they live in will be a challenge, but that’s all part of the fun.
Are there bits of yourself in your characters?
Mmmm, difficult to say. I think there’s parts of me reflected in Chandler and maybe the technical side of Roxie. But I generally try to remain omnipotent. I suspect that most writers are under the skin, control freaks.
Give us an idea of what your writing process is like.
I generally try to be down at the gym by 04:00, do some cardio till 05:00. Then back for breakfast, before going to the cabin down by the lake where I’ll write until the sun comes up which is when I do a jog round the lake. Then I’ll usually write straight through until I’ve done my 5000 word total for the day…is what I’d like to say! In reality my day is totally unstructured. I usually have around 2 Hrs a day during the week and longer over the weekend, but that is unfocussed time. I’m marketing Louisiana Blood at the moment and itching to continue with Bruges Blood and research Venice Blood. Once I can dedicate a specific time to write I’m pretty fast. When I was writing Pumpkinhead I was on holiday in Scotland and I was told they needed the script done in 2 weeks…I remember sitting down by the loch which was the only place I could get Wi-Fi at the time and sending stuff back and forwards. Once I’d finished I was told that the project was for the Sci-Fi channel…as a result my epic was way over their budget and they ended up doing a story which was pretty much featured an actor in a rubber suit. Like most writers it’s a constant battle to get momentum on a finished project while getting the next one up and running.
You are a screenwriter as well. What is the greatest difference between writing a screenplay and writing a novel? Do you prefer one over the other?
The greatest difference between a script and a novel for me is the amount of description and backstory you can add into a novel. That and the time scales. By that I mean in a script a man pulls up outside a house and we cut to the gun battle or whatever inside. In a book we follow our character as they head to the house, maybe ruminating about what he thinks he’s heading into. Show what the weather’s like, what the traffic’s like, show him checking his weapon, maybe a bit of internal thought on his choice of gun etc…on the one hand this is great because you can really give an atmosphere to the piece…on the other hand you have to write three or four times as many words as a script. Louisiana Blood was way too long as a script, probably around 130 pages, and I had to cut that down to 100 once I started showing it around L.A. This meant I had to lose a whole sub-plot that I was able to reinstate in the novel. Also because I was writing a book I was able to plot in all sorts of clues and characters that were going to interweave through the next two books in the series. But if I’m blunt the most important difference is that if you write a novel and get it published, that process isn’t governed by budget or an actors availability. It’s also a piece of creativity that is more permanent than a screenplay. A screenplay is like a blueprint to build something. It gives birth to a film and it’s the film that lives on through history. The script that begat it is consigned to the vaults and held in awe by nascent writers who read the work of their peers so they can see the nuts and bolts of the master at work.
Who are some of your influences?
From a screen-writers point of view, I’d say Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.) and Christopher Nolan, (The Prestige, Inception.) From an author’s perspective, I’m going through a Jack Reacher phase, also Michael Connelly and his Bosch series on Amazon. Growing up I devoured everything Sci-Fi, and was a big fan of William Gibson, Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. I’m also dipping into some of the more recent novelists that I’ve been introduced to on Inkshares. Sync City published by Pete Ryan, and another one he has in the works Destiny Imperfect, are both great reads in the hard boiled sci-fi genre.
What are some of the projects you’re currently working on?
I always have a selection of screenplays going out to producers and on top of that there’s obviously the Trilogy of novels Louisiana, Bruges, and Venice Blood.
I’d like to thank Mike Donald for the interview. Please visit the links below to explore more of his work or to purchase the incredible “Louisiana Blood”.
He is an illustrator out of Florida, and his work is marvelous. He is a master of body language, and each individual illustration of his tells a story. In my adventures as a writer, I’ve stumbled across uncountable talented people. Phil Rood’s talents left an impact on me almost immediately. He was recommended to me by fellow authors Rick Heinz and J.F. Dubeau, and so I started following Phil’s Facebook page. I recommend you do the same.
Not only are Phil’s illustrations carefully detailed and just downright fun, but the man is a study in dedication. He illustrates every single day and posts his work for all to enjoy. Often he will post videos of his illustration process using Facebook’s live feature, putting himself on the spot without hesitation.
He has a website (which I encourage you to access by clicking here) where you can peruse his portfolio, check out his latest creations, and purchase his books as well as individual hand-drawn works. Not only is he talented, but he is also an easy fellow to talk to. And he responds to any fan comments or questions with great efficiency. I had the pleasure of interviewing him. I hope you enjoy the result. A few of his works and a video of his process can be found below.
When did you first discover your love of illustrating?
Probably around 12 years ago when I finally got around to going to college. I’ve always drawn, but when I went to school and studied graphic design, I started to really see the ability for me to practically apply drawing and illustrating.
Who are some of your greatest influences?
Bill Watterson and Gary Larson influenced me early, both in aesthetic ways and in the way their art carried so much humor. Stylistically, I’m influenced a lot by comic artists Jake Parker and Skottie Young and illustrator Ralph Steadman, who is able to cram so much energy into his drawings that they practically move on their own. That’s the kind of thing I keep looking for. From a career overview, I think comedian Marc Maron has been very influential to me as well. He’s spoken a lot about how he found success by not trying to please everyone, by staying true to his voice, and letting his audience find him. I think there’s a lot to be said about that and I’ve tried to walk that line.
Do you have a favorite illustration or story that you’ve completed?
Generally, my favorite illustrations tend to be whatever is most recent. I’m constantly trying to improve and if I’m doing it right, I’m happiest with the newest thing off my desk. There are some that have stuck with me over time as being favorites, like a drawing of three demons I drew for my “Monster Alphabet” series. They are modeled after my three sons. As for stories, I recently finished a really simple 14-page comic called “Sally” and I’m very proud of a lot of the work I did in that.
Give us an idea of your process from concept to complete.
I basically do a couple rough sketches of an idea to try to get an idea of composition and how it’s going to be executed. After I’m happy with that, I pencil the drawing on a sheet of Bristol, then I ink right over top of it. That’s it. The entire process is pretty laughably simple, but keeping things simple is pretty key for me. If I’m doing a longer form project, like a comic, it gets a bit more complicated, but that’s just because there’s more things than drawing going on.
Storytelling, pacing, layout, and visual storytelling with clarity all have to be taken into consideration. The entire comic/book gets planned out in sketch form, just like I would do for a single illustration. It’s pretty much the same process on a bigger scale. When the actual drawing is done, I scan it in, usually at a healthy 600dpi, and open the scan in Photoshop where I can clean it up and get a nice, clean high-resolution bitmap version of it.
Do you have a routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike?
I tend to be of the school of thought that thinks if you sit around and wait for inspiration to strike, you’ll be staring at a blank piece of paper for weeks on end. You have to draw something every day, even if it’s a 5-minute sketch. If that’s all the time I have, then I put all the effort I can into that 5-minute sketch, but I do it and it’s something I stress in the classes I teach.
Do your illustrations inspire your stories, or do your stories inspire your illustrations?
There’s no hard and fast rule for me either way, but I’d say the tendency is for a drawing to inspire a story, which in turn spawns more drawings, whether that be a written piece or a comic. The initial drawing may just be a character or vehicle I sketch or scribble, but it’s enough to get the ball rolling. Sometimes it takes and I get a full illustrated story. Sometimes it ends up in a pile of nothing… the ever growing pile of nothing…
What tools do you use for illustrating?
I’ll start with paper since that’s an easier answer: My go-to is basically just industry-standard Strathmore 300 Series smooth Bristol. It’s heavy and stands up to the abuse I can sometimes put a sheet of paper through. My pens are sort of shifting constantly because I’m a giant pen nerd. At the moment, I’m using Copic Multiliner and Micron tech pens because I’m loving the simple line I get from them, but I also employ various brush pens, markers, and crow quills. I am constantly experimenting with new pens and seeing what kinds of lines and results I can get from them.
What software do you use?
Digitally I just use an old copy of Photoshop Elements for cleanup and color. I’m not much of a colorist, so when I do use it, it’s very simple and Elements meets my needs for it, as does the ProCreate app on my iPad. I have played around with that quite a bit in the last year and colored almost all of my “Ink & Sunshine” illustrations with that. As for straight-up digital line drawing, I don’t do much, but when I do, I use Sketchbook Pro. It’s an older program. Kari Simms and I are developing a video podcast right now that involves live sketching and that is likely going to be our go-to software for that.
Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve created?
Not really… I have some affinity for a lot of them that I’ve told stories with. Some have just been drawings I’ve made in passing, then put into a folder with the idea “I’ve got to tell a story with this guy”, but as you probably know, the idea file grows fast and we’re forced to pick and choose what we have time for. I like a lot of my characters very much, but it’s tough to pick a favorite. If I keep drawing them, there’s something I love about them, and it’s different in each one.
What kind of story are you working on right now?
I have a couple ideas kicking around in my head, but I’m not really working on a story at the moment. I got into the podcasting world about six months ago and have been working with the crew at Blazing Caribou Studios. I have a few shows coming up with them and have been doing an illustration per episode for their “Varmints!” podcast, which I am finding to be all kinds of fun. It’s nice to take a break and do some stand-alone illustrations for right now.
Do you ever get into slumps or have periods of creator’s block? If so, how do you get out?
Of course I do, the trick is to not let it stop me from getting to the desk. For me the key is to keep showing up, even if no quality is coming out of it. If you want to get over creator’s block, you’ve got to create. You’ve got to draw something. You’ve got to write something. I think for me, a lot of it lies in forgetting that I have creator’s block and being open to ideas, even simple ones. If I see a person who looks interesting to me, I remember them, I go home, and I draw an exaggerated version of them in my sketchbook…I make something out of something I see. I take it the next step away from reality. That’s creating and it helps get the flow moving again.
Any advice for other illustrators or storytellers?
It’s rare to be able to get excited for a new book to come out when it’s from a first-time author. Peter Ryan is an exception. His novel, Sync City, is a powerful, hard-hitting sci-fi romp through a dystopian future, and I have been patiently waiting for this book through its early production stages. Sync City grabs the reader from the opening lines and does not let up. If you enjoy hard-nosed science fiction, this is a book you do not want to miss. Here’s the book’s pitch:
“In a post-apocalyptic future, fractured timelines are wreaking havoc on the world. Only a tough, hard-drinking enforcer named Jack Trevayne can hold things together. This is gritty, hard-boiled sci-fi with attitude. The future is complicated. Jack is not.”
I had the opportunity to interview Peter Ryan about Sync City, being an author, and what it takes to be a writer.
How did you come up with the idea for Sync City?
I love sci-fi and hard-boiled detective fiction. I’m also a huge fan of dystopian/post-apocalyptic settings. I wanted to combine all three of these. The main character, Jack, came first. I was in Saskatoon, Canada at the time, and this provided the initial backdrop. Then I just started to write. The idea evolved as I went along.
What inspired you to pursue novel writing?
A party with a few mates of mine – we were lamenting the lack of originality in TV and movies. The next day, November 27th, 2013, I started writing a story titled Godspiracy. I’ve pretty much written every day ever since. Before this, I’d never even written a short story.
Who are some of your influences?
For Sync City, Richard Morgan in terms of concepts, William Gibson in terms of background/technology and James Crumley (a fantastic hardboiled crime writer) in terms of characters. My influences seem to change depending on what I write.
Did you have any moments while writing Sync City that you thought you might give up?
No, quite the opposite. I loved writing this story. So much so it’s ended up as a trilogy.
Give us an idea of your writing process.
Generally, in my writing day, I start writing strong and finish weak. So the first thing I do is tweak the stuff I’ve written the previous day. With my stories, I don’t work to a plan, so I don’t say no to any new ideas. I just write them until I write myself into a corner. The next day I find a way to write myself out of the corner and keep the story going. Some of my readers have commented that Sync City is almost serial in nature, which makes sense given the process.
Did anyone in particular inspire any of your characters, particularly Jack, Sync City’s protagonist?
Jack pretty much jumped fully formed into my head. In retrospect, he’s a combo of few people I know and a few characters from stories and movies. Clint Eastwood’s character William Munny in Unforgiven has to be a significant inspiration, as well as Mel Gibson’s Mad Max. The voice in my head when I write Jack is a mix between Harrison Ford in Blade Runner and Edward James Olmos in Battlestar Galactica. Hmm, lots of movies there and not many books.
What were you doing when the idea for Sync City first struck you?
Sitting at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table getting slightly stuck on another story I was writing. I wrote the opening passage to Sync City imagining the events to be happening in her basement. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t look at the basement the same way anymore.
What other stories have you written or are you working on?
I’ve just finished the first draft of Destiny Imperfect, a video game based story. I’m doing the second draft of the follow-up to Sync City (working title: Sync City Jack), and I’m going to take a look at my very first story attempt (Godspiracy which is an American Gods-meets-The X-Files type thing) and see if I can hammer that into shape. I like to work on two stories at once if I can.
What advice do you have for writers working on completing their first novel?
Have an understanding partner or be single. Seriously, you have to have a lot of time to write. There’s no way around this. Stick your butt in front of a computer on a very regular basis and just keep writing.
What quality do you have that makes writing such a great fit in your life?
A strong enough ego?? Is that a quality? Deliberately or not, you put a bunch of yourself into a story. You then need to be confident enough that people are going to read it. You also need to be confident enough to deal with criticism of your work.
In what ways has your experience living in a country where the native language is not your first language shaped your writing?
Interesting. Probably not so much the language – my Korean is terrible, but definitely the culture. A few sections of Sync City are based on the experiences I’ve had while living in Seoul and the interactions I’ve had with Koreans in general. I also do a lot of writing in Sri Lanka. If you read Sync City and the background is all gray and urban, then I wrote it in Seoul. If it’s all leafy and green, then I wrote it in Sri Lanka – I only realized this after I finished the story.
All of the books on the planet are being destroyed. You can only keep three hidden and safe for you to read. Which three do you choose?
Right now? Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. Burning Chrome by William Gibson. The Mexican Tree Duck by James Crumley. I owe them all another good read.
Sync City is released upon the world. Follow the links below to learn more and pick up a copy.
Peter Ryan’s bio:
Peter Ryan is a sci-fi lover, motorbike rider, darts player, soju drinker, and T-shirt designer, as well as being an English professor at a university in South Korea. He grew up in Perth, Western Australia. He has traveled much of the world and done a variety of jobs along the way, including sales support at an insurance company, laborer on the building sites of London and Melbourne, chauffeur/minder for an English lord, and business English consultant in Shanghai. Peter lives with his Canadian wife in Seoul, and has done so since 1999. There is no synchrotron in Seoul, though there is plenty of soju.
When Mr. Gaudet approached me to talk about his book, I was immediately intrigued. He is a unique author to me, as he is someone who has suffered kidney disease for most of his life, to the point of requiring organ donation. Mr. Gaudet writes frankly and openly about his experiences, and his message is clear and important. Organ donation is a vital need for so many people out there, but it is something that has a strange stigma attached. Mr. Gaudet has taken his time and energy to write about his experiences to help educate the public about his personal journey and health for the betterment of all. Please enjoy the following interview and pick up a copy of his book, “Dancing with Rejection”.
Tell us a little bit about your book, “Dancing with Rejection”.
I particularly admire the review that was written by best-selling author Eldonna Edwards:
“Intriguing story of an enterprising muralist with an appetite for the mystical. Part magical realism, part biography, part how-to guide for the aspiring artist — Dancing With Rejection offers a unique narrative, embellished with spiritual and metaphysical undertones that border on the ethereal. Michael’s saga takes the reader on adventures that include his formative childhood, bohemian lifestyle, a near-death experience with kidney failure and eventual success as a renowned mural artist. This inspirational tale is tenderly painted with brush strokes of resilience and hope that will alter your heart’s canvas long after you put the book down.”
–Eldonna Edwards, Living Donor Advocate and Author of Lost In Transplantation: Memoir of an Unconventional Organ Donor.
As I like to say, “If you believe what you are reading, I offer irrefutable proof of ‘life after death’ in my writing. Dancing with Rejection: A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality explores the phenomenon of “After Death Contact” in a visceral, sometimes shocking way, that springs out of seemingly ordinary scenarios. Not for the feint of heart, this book can be very jarring, but always written with a loving nature that pleads for understanding and compassion.
What made you decide to write a book about your experiences with your health?
I have always written about my thoughts and observations since I was a teenager. So, I had a thick raft of long-hand on loose-leaf. I wrote about my “Near-Death Experience” at age 19, and the powerful influence that my deceased father had on my life over the years. Might sound strange, but my personal encounters with his spirit are undeniable, if not inexplicable. My brother Steven donated a life-saving kidney to me in 1979, after I was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Failure. His “Gift of Life” sustained me in excellent health for over 34 years. In May of 2014 I returned to dialysis. I purchased a laptop and began to transcribe all of my hand-written notes into a digital format. I was very determined to make the best of my twelve hours per week tethered to a machine. After all, there is no guarantee that a dialysis patient will survive the rigors of the treatment. In fact, many patients succumb to the precarious life of dialysis. So, the sense of urgency was top of mind, as I toiled away on the project to polish up my manuscript and get my story out to the world. I would not be deterred! Within about eighteen months I had succeeded in publishing my first book. About a year later, I succeeded in publishing my second book, called “A Work in Progress: The Life my Brother Saved”.
What sort of feedback have you had from others in similar circumstances?
Generally speaking, my books have been very well-received by my friends and colleagues that have experienced extreme health challenges, especially my fellow Dialysis Warriors and kidney transplant recipients, and living kidney donors. I think the big appeal is that they see their own stories reflected in a literary setting. I take this whole business very seriously, so treat the fairly delicate themes of “Near Death Experience” and “After Death Contact” with a lot of graphic detail. However, I do not mince my words; but rather, I forge head-long into that rather harrowing subject matter with unflinching honesty.
Has speaking out about your health changed you or made things easier for you in any way?
I won’t lie. It was not easy to put down in writing all of the sometimes painful memories of my long, slow decline to the point where I came so close to an early demise. I really believe that my readers have appreciated my candor. Some people have told me that they see themselves in the more “difficult” passages, and also can share my celebratory tones in the chapters that extol the human triumphs of renewed health and vitality. Now, reflecting on these places, times and (extraordinary) people can be a saving grace in and of itself. I am truly blessed that I had the opportunity and determined spirit that enabled me to record all of this for posterity.
Tell us about why it is so hard to receive organ donation.
Probably the most daunting aspect of living organ donation is dispelling the myths around the health challenges involved. Really, once the rigorous testing is completed for the potential living donor, it’s pretty smooth sailing in most instances. The actual surgery is often done “laparoscopically”, which means there are only tiny incisions, assisted by ultrasonic viewing. The recovery time is dramatically reduced, compared to the former, long incision used to harvest a kidney from a living donor. Having said that, it is still major surgery, so the willingness for a person to donate must be tempered by this knowledge. The reality is, once a willing candidate to donate a life-saving kidney to person who is dialysis-dependent is identified, a perfect tissue match is not a prerequisite! There is a protocol called “Paired Match”, where a willing, qualified donor can be paired with the best possible match in a National Recipient Pool. This activates the best possible donor from the pool to be paired to the original recipient. In some instances, the “Paired Match” protocol has brought over a dozen paired matches together!
What is it like having to go through hemodialysis?
Hemodialysis is a life-saving therapy that both cleans the blood of accumulated toxins and also, helps rid the blood of the fluids that add up between treatments. Generally speaking, the duration of treatments are prescribed to alleviate the threat of kidney failure, providing a fairly healthy lifestyle. Having said that, there are times when the dialysis patient feels “off”. Examples of this are “brain-fog”, shortness of breath, general fatigue, elevated blood pressure and of course, swelling of the extremities. In extreme cases, certain toxins such as potassium, urea and sodium accumulate and cause their own world of trouble.
I am one of the rare birds that self-cannulate, or, in other words, insert my own needles in the venus and arterial parts of my “fistula”, which are the sites on my left arm that have been surgically prepped to allow the therapy. Usually the pain involved in initiating the therapy is fairly minimal, mostly due to the fact that I am the one in the driver’s seat. Sometimes, when things go awry, the needles can “blow”, which means they pierce the fistula to allow blood to escape into the surrounding tissue, resulting in a sudden “ballooning” and then, fairly extreme bruising. The only relief is to apply an ice-pack over the site, and then move away from the spot for the next treatment, if at all possible.
My doctor has told me the my fistula is a) my lifeline, and b) the Gold Standard for dialysis. So, any tests, like blood-work or blood-pressure, must NEVER be using my left arm. My Medic-Alert bracelet states that salient fact clearly, in the event that I cannot speak for myself.
What do you think is the most important thing you want people to learn from reading your book?
I want my readers to appreciate that a healthy and very productive life can spring from out of the chaos and confusion of a near brush with death. I can only thank my loving brother Steven for insisting that he donate a life-saving kidney in my dire time of need all those years ago. “Dancing with Rejection” not only describes my own near-fatal experience, but also chronicles the heroic “Gift of Life” from my brother, and goes on to assure my readers that Steven went on to live a full and rich life in the aftermath. It is my (fervent) hope that this story will inspire many others to take the step to become a living donor, and also to reassure the millions of us living with the insidious condition of kidney failure that their day will come, when they are restored to vibrant health and wellness.
What other books have you written/are working on?
I have published my second book called, “A Work in Progress: The Life My Brother Saved”, that tracks some of my significant mural projects, portrays the “love of my life” and introduces the indomitable “Pearl”… who is my daughter. This second book terminates at the moment when I discover, after over thirty-four years of life with my “Gift of Life”, that I must return to thrice-weekly dialysis. Now, I am marinating a third book, that will constitute the complete “trilogy” of my memoirs. The third book, as of yet untitled, will be written in “real time” as I enter the next phase of my life with second “Gift of Life”, that will gain me back my seven days a week, God and all the angels willing.
Adapting books to the screen is always tricky business.When we read, we’re given the freedom to imagine something that fits perfectly into our preferred worldview. Violence is as visceral as we want it to be. We might picture our romantic lead with a few personalized characteristics. The world just feels a certain way in our minds. A good author allows their audience imaginative space to do this. But a good screenwriter or director needs to make bold, specific visual choices. And sometimes, those choices come at the expense of something you might have really loved about that book. It’s always a balancing act.
A few months ago, I was asked to put together a pitch to adapt a series of YA novels in which the main character’s inner monologue really drove the narrative. Because of this, there was a distinct “voice” in the book, and a lot of the practical information about our world and how people felt about each other was conveyed this way. It was all very internal. My job would ultimately be to make that internal external—to make the story cinematic. And it turns out that can be really, really tough sometimes.
Sometimes you just can’t capture the essence, the voice of a good book. Hollywood loves mining IP from literally anywhere, and if a book is popular for any reason, someone is likely to snatch up the rights. Producers and studios don’t always consider the challenges of the adaptation.
It’s a strategic dollars-and-cents move: fans of the book will come out to see the movie. The property has a built-in audience. The writer (often writers plural) and director of the project often participate in a “bakeoff” of sorts. The person with the most cinematic, exciting take on the material gets the job. And, by the way, that’s not the “most exciting take on the material” as determined by fans of the book. It might not even be a decision the author has any say in. Tweet about your dream cast/director all you want. This decision is being made by whoever bought the rights to your favorite book.
Okay so, you’re an author. Cool, so am I! Nice to meet you. If you’re anything like me, you want your book to one day become a beloved movie that defies the odds and is received just as warmly as your book was. If that’s an end-goal for you, keep your future screenwriter and director in mind as you pen your manuscript. Make their job easier. Make sure your book feels cinematic.
“What does that even mean, though? How do you make something feel cinematic?” Well, simply put, it’s externalizing the internal. Novels, particularly literary fiction for adults, are often deeply introspective and character driven. They run the risk of meandering and feel more like a rhapsody on a theme than a hard-and-fast narrative. But take, for example, something like “Gone Girl,” a novel for adults whose suspenseful twists and turns translated perfectly to the screen. Gillian Flynn is a master at this, and she’s got a successful dual-career as both an author and a screenwriter.
Now, I’m not the authority on what goes on inside Gillian Flynn’s head when she writes, but I’d imagine it has to be similar to my own process. If I can’t write a book that also feels like a movie, I can’t write it at all. I consider setting—is this a world we’ll want to live in, onscreen? I think about my characters and how they move about this world—are they active and motivated at all times? Do they have a key objective, and is that objective something we can get invested in? Where’s the drama?
Three-act structure is king in screenwriting, and I also apply it to my book writing. The most successful book-to-screen adaptations I’ve seen are successful because the book and the screenplay had the same structure, the same DNA. It just makes sense.
“Well, what about when screenwriters go and change everything about a book that I liked! What gives?” This one is tough. We change things for all sorts of reasons, but you can usually trace it back to this whole question of what makes a story cinematic. Here’s an example: I was hired to adapt a book (and this project is still in progress, by the way, so you’ll forgive me for not naming it). The producers purchased the rights to this book not because the book itself was insanely popular, but because they saw potential in a very specific demographic.
When I first met to pitch, I was told I had free range to alter anything I wanted in the adaptation. The buyers weren’t satisfied with the story as it stood, and once I read it I agreed with a lot of their misgivings. It felt “soft,” which is a Hollywood way of saying the stakes were too low. I knew we had to up the ante and the tension. Our main character (who was super intriguing and cool!) had to face some really serious obstacles. It had to feel dramatic and dangerous. You know—cinematic.
I’m not sure how this project will be received once it’s produced, but I have faith that fans of the book will feel like we did right by our main character. We gave her an engaging world to inhabit with serious, emotionally complex challenges. Fingers crossed.
As for my book, I’m hoping I’ve managed to follow my own rules. My forthcoming novel “The Phantom Forest” was actually written as a screenplay first, when I was in my early 20s, new to LA, and knew nothing about anything. I saw it as a darkly whimsical animated film, like Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke.” Upon completing a first draft, however, I knew it needed to be a book before it could be a film. IP rules Hollywood, and I had the potential to create my own IP instead of waiting for a producer to dump somebody else’s into my lap.
I’m now writing my second book and planning for “Phantom Forest” sequels, as well as watering my screenwriting garden. For me, it’s been hugely beneficial to play both sides. If you’re an author, try adapting 10 pages of your book to screenplay form and see what sticks. If you’re a screenwriter with a script that just isn’t gaining traction, maybe that script is meant to exist as a book first. Try both! Try them at the same time! Wear all the hats! Worst case scenario, you’ll conduct a fun creative experiment and become a stronger writer.
Liz Kerin is an author and screenwriter. Her debut novel The Phantom Forest will be released by Inkshares in late 2018 and was shortlisted for the 2016 Launchpad Manuscript competition. To pre-order, visit: https://www.inkshares.com/books/the-phantom-forest
The internet is brimming over with writing advice. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it is negative. Instead of building writers up, the advice tends to send “you can’t ever do this if you’re a writer” messages. It’s disheartening, because we are all writers. We are all storytellers. Sure, some of us are better than others, but improvement comes with discipline and practice. Whenever I see an article tearing down certain practices or habits as not being those of “serious writers,” I roll my eyes. Why scare people away? There’s always room for more stories, and Pixar knows this.
What I’m learning in my writing journey is to talk to other writers, especially ones you respect. Writers learn from one another. If you can find writers who have the privilege of doing so as a career, definitely pick apart their brains. I have spoken to many writers over the past several years, and the happiest and most successful have one thing in common when it comes to advice: they lift other writers up. The best writers I have met even take the time to teach when they can.
Pixar is here to help!
The Pixar team is no exception to this rule. They are a team of quality storytellers. I’m still angry with them for making me cry within the first five minutes of “Up.” Yes, I cried. You did too, if you saw it. Don’t lie. Tears in five minutes. They’re THAT good.
Pixar has already been open with their creative secrets with their “Pixar In A Box” series. But now they’ve extended the willingness to reveal their secrets to include the art of storytelling, and I couldn’t be more excited. Their course in storytelling is available for FREE at Khan Academy online. It is a series of videos and activities all geared toward improving your ability to tell a story.
Here’s the introductory video to the series, to get you as excited as I am:
I am thrilled to see this series available. Not only is the Pixar team celebrated and awarded masters of storytelling, it seems that they are quite amazing teachers as well.
And if storytelling isn’t quite what you’re looking for, then choose from any of their other generous offerings. From Color Science to Animation, Virtual Cameras to Rendering, Pixar wants us all to succeed at making our stories become the very best they can be.
Are you lacking confidence in your art? If so, chances are you are lacking the support of an audience.
I know that hard work and patience have been driven into the ground as far as advice goes, but what is your plan if you aren’t going to be patient? What happens if you refuse to work hard? Does this mean your dreams have an expiration date?
If you’re trying to get your art out into the world, then you must know it is a frustrating process. All the while, you must love your art. You must believe in your art. And, you must keep pushing forward.
Unfortunately, you must also believe in the competition. And everyone is competing for attention. I’d like to boil my point down to focus on the world of writing, as this is where I am the most familiar; however, this same lesson can be applied to any dream. Whether you are hoping to be a schoolteacher, a lawyer, a physician, a painter, or a writer, if you have something in mind that is a dream for you, something that would make work not work at all, then you are trying to be noticed in a sea of other dreamers. It takes hard work. And patience.
You cannot quit if you wish to succeed.
There are millions of people out there writing. Almost too many to count. Every time someone decides writing is not for them, three more people pick up a pen. The first step is not to back away, ever. Write every day, even if it’s only a few words. If that sounds like hard work for you, then you might want to reevaluate whether writing is your passion. Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” wrote every single day and received rejection after rejection for over eight years before finding success. That might sound like a long time, but it’s not nearly as long as if he had decided to quit.
But what every publisher on the planet rejected you? In this day and age, self-publishing is an option, but uncountable authors walk away because they are afraid that no one will notice their book if it is not attached to a publisher. On top of that, self-publishing means you are running a business by yourself, essentially. Well, if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes. Get on with it. Work hard. I’ve heard people concerned that nothing self-published ever becomes popular. Ever heard of The Tale of Peter Rabbit? Of course you have. And the reason you’ve heard of it is because Beatrix Potter put in the time and hard work to publish it herself. Why? Because no one else would publish it. Seriously. No one wanted that book.
Not convinced? What do Dr. Seuss, William Golding, Isaac Asimov, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, and James Patterson all have in common? That’s right: multiple rejections. In some cases, the rejections were even quite brutal. Even the Diary Of Anne Frank received rejection…fifteen times.
Success is a matter of persistence.
The authors you know are popular because they persisted. Because they believed in their work. And they worked hard. And, of course, they were patient.
If you are unwilling to take rejection, then you are going to have a bad time in any field you take on. Writing is a journey of rejection. But climbing that mountain getting to the top is all the more sweet with a difficult climb ahead. Embrace the resistance to your work. It means you are original, and you simply have to find your audience. Along the way, expect rejection.
I can’t find the source of this quote, but it’s not mine, and I’m paraphrasing:
“An author unwilling to accept rejection is like a boxer unable to take a punch.”
You will have to duck, jab, block, and punch your way through the world of publishing. You will fight because you believe in your work. Listen to constructive criticism. Throw out useless insults. Fight off the negative thought. Always improve.
And you must find your audience. Your audience is out there, you just have to hand your work over to a ton of people who don’t appreciate it until you find those who do.
And that will take…you guessed it, hard work and patience.