Today’s guest post comes from Kimberly Hunt, freelance developmental editor with Revision Division.
Let’s set expectations from the start. I am NOT a writer. Through extensive reading, professional training, and my experience as a developmental editor, I’ve learned the essentials of genres. A novel can contain elements from multiple genres but three components distinguish mystery, horror, and suspense.
They are: Timing, Revealed clues,and the Appeal, of the story to the reader’s emotions.
Any novel needs structural
elements with tension provided by formidable conflict and character growth, but
when you’re ready to pass your manuscript to a beta-reader, knowing your genre
will help you know how best to describe it. Use the following key components to
quickly identify if you’ve written a mystery, horror, or suspense novel.
It’s all about the chase. Drop the reader in after the crime and
let the story unravel – revealing the why and who at a moderate pace.
The hook in the beginning should establish a question that must be
answered by the end.
Solve the mystery in the end or there is no story. Even if the
criminal gets away, you’re expected to solve the crime.
Along the way, your style of writing characters and plot should
make demands of the reader’s brain to figure out the puzzle. To help them, leave
subtle clues so that it all falls into place in the end.
No cheating – waiting until the end to present a tidy wrap up is
not satisfying for readers.
It’s all about fear.
Often, a horror story includes themes of bad people or actions (or
both) and usually leans toward the morbid.
Shocking plot twists are great, but it should be believable. In
fact, that’s what makes it so scary.
Character motivations are still important even if horror is
usually more plot-driven than character-driven. In order to evoke a strong
emotional response, the reader must strongly like or hate the character.
The sought after emotional response is intense whether it be from fear
or shock. Readers should be screaming at the book as they see the evil plot
Many authors embrace disgust head-on without flinching, unafraid
to turn your stomach with graphic depiction, but use grossness sparingly as
this can be perceived as a lazy trick, much like leaning on coincidence to
solve a mystery or fate to wrap up a romance.
It’s all about tense uncertainty. Suspense involves a main
character trying to prevent something from occurring.
A reader of suspense novels should feel tightly wound and worried
about what may happen.
Some authors leverage time limits to increase tension and speed up
If Mystery is about what already happened, and horror is happening
now, then suspense is danger about to happen.
Similar to Horror, the reader is aware of the danger, perhaps even
more aware than the main character.
Use your biggest fears against your
characters slowly and subtly, leaving a little to the reader’s imagination.
New authors often struggle to categorize their work, but these guidelines should help. A blend of genres is great as strict rules are nonexistent. However, it’s beneficial to know early in the publishing process what your target audience hopes you’re about to deliver. And it’s absolutely mandatory later for marketing effectively when you’re querying or self-publishing.
Kimberly Hunt is a freelance
developmental editor with Revision Division, specializing in fiction for
self-publishing authors. She’s happy to answer questions about writing and
editing but beware as she can go on at length about her passions: reading,
running, and volunteering.
We all need an editor. Sure, asking friends or family can help, but sometimes you need an impartial set of eyes to look over your work. Having someone else to catch those simple errors or mistakes in flow is necessary for any writer. Many apps have arrived online over the past few years to help. A mainstay has been the Hemingway App, and with good reason.
The homepage of hemingwayapp.com greets you with beautiful simplicity. Everything the app does is explained in neat text on one screen. Read everything there, and you know how to use the app. Proceed, and begin editing.
Hemingway Keeps it Simple
At its core, the Hemingway App is a simple word processor. You can turn off all its editing tools by clicking on “write” in the upper right-hand corner. Once you do, the app gives you a simple distraction-free place to compose. Simple formatting tools line up across the top of the screen, and the composition area is in the center. The simplest options are the only ones available, though. No extensive font choices, no limitless point sizes, no colors. If you want more extensive for your writing process, you are welcome to copy and paste the text from any other file. Once you do, though, your text will revert to Hemingway’s font and size. This may annoy you, but it shouldn’t. The editing process is about the words, not the frills. You can reinsert all the fancy stuff after you pass through this process.
Once you finish writing, no matter where you do it, it is time to click on the “edit” button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. This will engage the real power of the Hemingway App.
The Power of Editing Mode
With editing mode engaged, your text becomes colorful, and a stats bar appears on the right side. This area of the screen displays the value of the app. The first thing you see is the “readability” of your writing, measured in grade level. This is based upon sentence structure and level of vocabulary used. Contrary to what you might think, the lower the grade level, the better. Ernest Hemingway’s own writing and books have been analyzed, and the consensus is that his most popular works are at a 4th to 6th grade reading level.
Why is this important? Why not try to make your writing be at a 12th grade level? The answer lies in your audience. Just because you are writing at a simpler level to read does not mean that your message has to be simplified. For example, why say “I am attracted to you in such a manner that is virtually unidentifiable in description other than to say that I feel this way toward no other human being on this or any other planet in the universe, past or present,” when you can say “I love you”? Keep it simple. If more people can understand your writing, then more people will read your writing. It’s as simple as that. The app only gives you a warning when your writing is at the 12th grade level, which should be reserved for academic papers.
A Plethora of Useful Stats
Below the readability analysis, a drop-down box of basic stats appears. This gives you facts about your writing that you may or may not find useful. If you do not find these stats useful, everything but the word count can be hidden from view.
Below the stats area is the bread and butter of the Hemingway App. A legend of five colors appears, corresponding to the highlighted portions of your writing. These are five important areas to focus on when reviewing and editing. The app can discover adverbs, use of passive voice, phrases or words with simpler alternatives, hard to read sentences, and very hard to read sentences. These areas are highlighted in your text, and the color-coded boxes on the right display statistics with suggestions inside.
For example, the app is not telling you to cut all adverbs, but it will suggest that you bring your count of adverbs down below a certain number relative to the length of your writing. Sometimes, the app misses things. Other times, the app highlights words that end in “ly” that are not adjectives. It’s not quite perfect, but it catches at least 95% of these typical problems in writing.
You Still Have Control
The app will not correct things for you. You still have to do the work, which is how it should be. It will suggest simpler alternatives for the words and phrases highlighted in purple, but that is the most direct way in which the app will intervene. Whether to take the app’s advice is completely up to the writer. But chances are, you will perform many edits based upon the Hemingway App’s suggestions.
The app can handle a tremendous amount of script, too. I’ve copied and pasted up to 75,000 words of text into the editor and it analyzed it in seconds. Quite impressive.
The online app is free to use, as well. The only drawback is that it will not save your work. To get that feature, you can buy the desktop version of the app, which goes for $19.99 and works for both Mac and PC. The desktop app comes with many benefits, including the ability to import and export to and from the most popular types of text files. Also, the app now has the option to publish your writing directly to your account on either Medium or WordPress.
With its simplicity and power, I find the Hemingway App to be an essential tool in my writing arsenal.
Here are before and after shots of this very article, as I used the Hemingway App to edit it:
If you’re curious to learn more, here is an incredible video about Hemingway’s style and how it influenced the creation of the Hemingway App:
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.
Though you’ve likely heard of NaNoWriMo, you may not know about NaNo Rebels. These are writers who participate in the month-long writing marathon, but don’t follow the rules. They may write essays or nonfiction instead of novels, they may set a word count other than 50,000. They may work on more than one project at once. Or they may revise instead of writing something new. Since I’m knee-deep in the edits for Rock of Ages, if I participate in NaNoWrimo this November, it will be as a rebel. I love the excitement of the month and the tools the program offers, but other than posts on the site’s forums and a few blog posts, I haven’t found tons of resources for participating as a rebel. If you’re planning to use the month to revise, read on for my plan.
Using the Word Tracker
This is the main topic of discussion amongst revision rebels. How do you translate 50,000 words into editing? People tend to do one of a few things:
Words processed- Count each word of your old manuscript that you go through
Words in the new version- Count the words in your revised work, even if some are copied and pasted or only changed a little bit. These first two are useful if you’re working on a new vomit draft.
Daily work- Some people aim to work on their revisions each day for the month. Each day you work, add 1667 words to your count.
Time- 1 hour= 500 words, 1 hour= 1000 words, 1 hour= 1667 words, etc. Since I’m trying to slow down and be more deliberate for this draft, this is likely the way I’ll go, though I haven’t decided my time to words ratio yet. A bonus to using this method is that you can count things like research toward your goal. It also leaves room to go over the same passage multiple times without hindering your word count.
Word sprints are one of the most helpful tools for me when I’m aiming for quantity. These timed sprints often take place on Twitter, but you can do them with a writing friend, too! They help you circumvent your inner editor and get the words flowing. If you’re trying to summon your inner editor, though, you don’t want to suppress her. Here are some ways to harness the energy of a word sprint if you’re revising:
If you’re counting words processed or words in your new version, go ahead and race! You can always go back and edit your edits whe the sprint is done.
Use it as a focus tool. Ban yourself from looking at or doing anything else for the five, ten, or twenty minutes of the sprint. Even if you just sit there staring at your manuscript, don’t give in to distraction for the set amount of time. Maybe you’ll get something done, or maybe you’ll give your brain enough of a rest that you’ll be able to focus more afterwards.
Use it as a break. Give yourself the time of the sprint to work on something new or to do some stream of consciousness writing. You won’t feel guilty that you aren’t getting your revision done because, hey, it’s just a few minutes, and the excitement of writing will likely re-energize you when you return to your draft.
Use it for character or world building work. Use the time to write freely about a character’s arc, a scene from their childhood, or a discussion between two of your characters. Write a scene from your world that isn’t in the book. Describe how part of it looks, feels, smells, sounds, and tastes. Write one of your scenes without people. Write one from a different character’s point of view. All of this will help you shape your actual manuscript even if it doesn’t end up in the final version of your book.
Don’t feel guilty about being a revision rebel. NaNoWriMo is a tool to help with your writing. If it’s working for you, then you’re participating, even if you aren’t doing the classic 50,000 new words in 30 days. One of the best parts is the community! So gather your friends, attend a write in, enjoy the forums and the Twitter chat. Sense the buzz in the air that is the worldwide writing community feeling motivated and excited. Happy Almost NaNoWriMo!
We know it’s possible to have too little description in our writing but what about having too much? Today we have a guest post from Pagan Malcolm on finding the perfect balance.
Description is one of the first things you learn about when learning to write stories in school.
My teachers always encouraged us to use adjectives and to avoid the word ‘said’—resulting in stories from my peers that probably could have rivalled dictionaries.
It appears that good description is something a lot of people struggle to write and teach—and funnily enough, description always seemed to be my downfall when it came to querying.
The very first time I queried my novel, Lanterns In The Sky, I got a knockback from the publisher (Lycaon Press). They liked the story, and they were interested—but they wanted to see if I could add more description first.
So I went ahead and did that, and they accepted the manuscript.
This was back in 2014—I was 17 years old, still in high school, and it must have been maybe the 8th or 9th draft of that book I’d been working on.
I quickly discovered, going through this process, how much of a difference adding more description made to my story. There were missing actions that needed describing, settings that needed more support, and other various areas that needed tightening up.
After the company went bankrupt, three more years passed, and about 10 more drafts went by before I got my second point of interest from The Parliament House. However, this time, they wanted less description.
So I went back to my story, toned a lot of it down—and they accepted the manuscript.
Once again, these changes made a massive difference to the (now) 18th draft of the story. There were parts where I’d repeated actions unnecessarily, times where the descriptions dragged on almost poetically, and parts where the description killed my most tense scenes.
So, this raises the question: what should writers aim for when it comes to descriptions?
I’ve outlined a couple of points from what I’ve learned from my experiences to help aspiring authors with this tricky aspect of writing:
Make sure everything is explained clearly
For example, if a character is approaching, note their footsteps, or have another character detail how they enter the room.
The worst thing in a novel is choppy, jumpy scenes where characters appear out of nowhere, and the only indicator that they’ve joined the scene is their sudden dialogue.
Also, pro-tip: Just because you can see everything happening, doesn’t mean the reader can.
When it comes to describing settings, choose the most important aspects for that scene
For example, if you want to describe a busy, bustling city—detail the skyscrapers, the hordes of people, and the beeping cars to help the reader visualise it. You don’t need much more for them to get the picture, and you don’t need to describe everything down to a tee.
Action scenes need to be quick and fast paced
Think punches, scrapes, and describe what they’re feeling instead of detailing orchestrated fight sequences that last for pages and pages. You’re not teaching a karate class, you’re telling a story.
As for emotional scenes, dig deep into your character
Get clear on character expressions, body language, and the sound of their cracked voice, their pounding heart, their heavy, dragging footsteps, etc.
Think about how you can describe what’s happening both externally and internally, in a way the reader can relate to.
Spend some time practising your writing and creating a distinct, writing voice
For example, my writing style is very melodic and poetic at times, but can also be light-hearted and fun, or dark and mysterious. Each of these aspects of my writing usually result in different descriptions—they can be metaphorical, or they can be to the point.
When it comes to tightening everything up, you want to be clear on the kind of voice you want to put out there so that you know how to go about editing your descriptions.
I knew I wanted to keep the poetic side of my writing, so I was very careful in how I cut down and changed prose. Even if it didn’t read quite as poetic, the point still got across—and it read a lot smoother after some editing.
Overall, balanced description is just about knowing when to expand on, and when to condense your prose. Key indicators to help you figure this out will be the type of scene, the people and actions involved, and whether you’re deep into the scene already or just ‘setting the scene’, so to speak.
What do you struggle with most when it comes to writing description? Drop a comment below and let us know!
Pagan is the YA fiction author of The Ryan Rupert Series and The Starlight Chronicles Series. She is also a writing coach & business strategist for Paperback Kingdom.
Today we have author Susan K. Hamilton with us to discuss her upcoming novel Shadow King, releasing on October 2nd. Susan’s manuscript for Shadow King finished in the top 10 for the 2016 LaunchPad Manuscript Competition, which received over 1,000 entries from over 24 countries.
Welcome, Susan! Your book Shadow King is currently in production and set to release on October 2nd. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about Shadow King and what inspired the story?
Thank you! In Shadow King, the world of Faerie has been destroyed by a corrupt, dark spell and all the Faerie races are forced to live in our world. Aohdan Collins is the Fae patriarch of Boston’s criminal underworld, and has worked relentlessly from the shadows to expand his empire. Everything changes, however, when he shares a shot of whiskey with Seireadan Moore. But Seireadan has her own secrets, and she’s looking for revenge against the person responsible for killing her family—and to get it, she may end up betraying the one she loves.
The inspiration for this story really came from one of the main characters: Aohdan Collins. I’d been trying to think of an idea for NaNoWriMo a few years back, and while raking leaves in my yard, the idea for his character popped into my head. From there I started to think about who he was, what he’d do, how he would move through our own world, and everything else came from there.
Aohdan Collins rules Boston from the shadows, and nothing stands in his way… until he meets Fae Seer Seireadan Moore. A shared shot of whiskey changes everything, but Seireadan is bent on finding the man who destroyed her family. And revenge always demands a high price. #bookspic.twitter.com/vTnXXVOh1W
You describe Shadow King as Dark Fantasy. For those who many not know, can you explain some of the differences between Fantasy and Dark Fantasy?
That is actually a much harder question than it seems, and I have to confess, before Shadow King, I’d never written a dark/urban fantasy before. My work had mainly been more traditional fantasy.
But to answer your question, I would define dark fantasy as a story that takes elements of traditional fantasy and ties them to darker themes. In more traditional fantasy, you find mythically-inspired characters who occupy the moral high ground, and the story tends to have a very optimistic feel. Dark fantasy still has the fantasy themes but they’re often shown in a darker, grittier, more realistic light even if they happen in a fantasy world. If you change the setting of a dark fantasy to our real world, you also start adding the urban fantasy aspect to it.
Many people seem lump dark fantasy and horror together as well. I think the edges of both these genres bleed into one another but each also has very distinct and unique qualities, so I don’t think they’re the exact same thing.
Dark fantasy is also defined somewhat by the characters and their behaviors. In Shadow King, the heroes are dark heroes, and they do unsavory things. Aohdan is not a knight in shining armor—he’s a dark knight, but he has a very strong moral code that he lives by. He has a very strong sense of loyalty, responsibility, and of right and wrong—at least right and wrong as he views the concepts, which may be a little different than how readers perceive them.
Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day? In a perfect world, I try to do some writing every day, but things don’t always work out as planned. After finishing my manuscripts for Shadow King and The Devil Inside, I was “written out” and needed a break. I spent quite a bit of time catching up on my “to read” pile. However, recently I’ve been getting back to writing and working on some new projects.
What books by other writers have had the biggest influence on you? The first would be Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. I read her Keltiad series years ago. I’m not sure they’re even in print anymore, but there was something about those books that I loved. They blended fantasy, science fiction, and Celtic mythology in a way I’d never seen. I loved her characters, the plot, the world she built… all three books just delighted me, and made me want to write something that (fingers crossed) would make people feel the same way.
Next would be JK Rowling. I’m sure lots of people would list her but what I admire about her work is her ability to take themes and make them not only understandable for children but engaging for adults as well. Plus her ability to craft a character like Snape. For so long in the book he is part of the darkness, the villain, the character you love to hate, but in the end, when his motivations become clear, it adds such depth of character. I aspire to have my characters be that three-dimensional.
And lastly, I would say both Donna Grant and Karen Marie Moning. Both write in the romance genre, but they have very strong fantasy/dark fantasy elements in their stories. They’ve built magnificent worlds that, for me, transcend a single genre. I love how they’ve built their worlds and constructed their stories. And then there’s the sex. Personally, I struggle mightily with writing sex scenes… finding that balance where it is steamy without being overly graphic, but also not skirting around the subject either. I find both Moning and Grant have a keen eye for this balance and reading their work has helped me more clearly define what I want my voice to sound like in this area.
Okay, one more. I’d also include David Eddings in here. I devoured his Belgariad series, and while I appreciate the foundation that Tolkien laid for the entire fantasy genre, the characters in the Belgariad were, for me, so easy to relate to and care about. He also, in my opinion, does a wonderful job drawing his story out over several books without it feeling forced.
All books say that characters are fictional, but are they really all made up, or do you base them on people you have known in your own life?
To this point, I’ve never fully based a character on someone I know, although in The Devil Inside—which will come out after Shadow King—I had jokingly told an old high school acquaintance that I’d write him into the book. I used part of his name for a character, and the number of his football jersey is incorporated into an address that factors into the story. I did not, however, base the character on his actual personality.
A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it? Because Shadow King is a dark fantasy, my primary characters have some traits that you usually ascribe to a villain. Aohdan is an underworld mob boss, and he didn’t get where he was by keeping his hands clean and following the rules. As someone notes in the story, “Bad things happen to people who cross Aohdan Collins.”
So it was important to me to find that balance between embracing Aohdan’s dark side but also the role he plays as a hero in the story. He’s not always a good guy but he’s got a very clear moral compass.
To create him I tried to keep in mind how characters were portrayed in TV series like The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy. When you look at those characters on the surface, they are criminals. They do bad things. They hurt people. They also live by clear codes of loyalty and honor. So while you might not like the things they do, you become invested in them as characters and dive into what motivates them to behave the way they do. Hopefully that will come across to people when they read Shadow King.
Did you ever have a rough patch in writing, where nothing in the story seemed to fit or make sense? I have them. All. The. Time. I even had one time where I ripped up 250 pages worth of work and started over from scratch because I was so frustrated with the story.
In Shadow King in particular there was one point where I was trying to do more of the story from the perspective of Seireadan, my female lead, and it meant rewriting some scenes that had previously been in Aohdan’s POV. Sometimes getting things from her perspective, because she’s not part of his inner circle to start, was hard.
And during my development edit, I had a definite writer’s tantrum where I knew—based on the editor’s advice— that I had to push the story out further, but it didn’t come easy. I ended up sending my editor probably a two page email just ranting about my frustration and how this didn’t work and that wasn’t lining up and I hated the whole story – and so on and so forth. Definitely had my “drama queen” crown on that day!
But the act of just dumping all that emotion and frustration out there, solved the whole problem. Halfway through the rant I had that, “ohhhh, that’s what I need to do” moment. I gave myself the next day off from rewriting and when I went back to it, things worked out great.
Did you have any differences with your editors while you were still becoming used to getting your work edited? How did you work through those differences? Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of major differences but we did have a few disagreements. It can be hard to get feedback on your book, especially about changing things. The important thing to remember is the editor is trying to be your ally, not your adversary. They want to take your already great book and make it an amazing book.
The big key to working through those things is communication. You need to be able to express why you made some of the choices you did, but you also need to really listen to—and understand—why the editor is questioning certain things in your story.
There were a few places in Shadow King where I looked at feedback and (I confess) I got a little defensive. When that happened. I put the manuscript away for a little while and then went back and looked at the comment again. Most of the time, after I’d allowed myself to noodle through what had been said, it made more sense. If it didn’t, I asked for clarification.
In a few cases, there were some things I held firm on because they were important–and because I was able to explain my reasoning, the editor also had a better understanding of the point I was trying to make and we were able to reach a point where I felt I stayed true to the story while finding a way to improve it.
My favorite question – If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?
Some of these names will sound familiar, but I would say Lloyd Alexander, David Eddings, Kim Harrison, Donna Grant, JK Rowling, Karen Marie Moning, and Patricia Kennealy-Morrison because they’ve all written books or book series that have meant something special to me. I would love to hear their perspectives on other books and on writing.
Are you working on something new? And can you tell us a little bit about it? I am working on something new. A couple somethings, actually. The first is a short story that I’m planning to submit for consideration in an anthology. I’m having a lot of fun with that, especially since I’m writing in first-person which is something I normally don’t do. It’s got some dystopian aspects and probably leans a bit towards supernatural fantasy.
I’ve also started tinkering with two new manuscripts. One is another urban/dark fantasy involving witches—the title right now is The Cardinal Witch. Along with that, I’ve also started some work on a follow up to Shadow King. Both are pretty new so I don’t have a lot to share yet, so I apologize for not having more details!
Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?
Most definitely! From a writing perspective I would tell myself to start writing sooner than I did. I loved to write as a little kid and then got away from it. I didn’t really get reacquainted with writing until I was in college. The other advice would be to be braver. Easier said than done, I know, but I wish I’d been more comfortable being bold when I was younger.
What advice would you like to give writers who are working on their first novels?
First thing is be persistent. Things don’t happen overnight. There will be people who reject you and people who don’t like your work. Learn from those things and get better because there ARE people out there who do like your work and who will support you.
Second, make friends with other writers and authors. They understand what you’re going through as a writer. They’ll support you when you hit a rough patch but they’ll also call you out on BS as well, and that’s important.
Third, learn to love imperfection. No story is 100% perfect in every respect. Make your work the very best it can be, but when you get there, let it go and let it be what it is. It won’t be perfect, but it is yours so love it just the way it is. I learned this after self-publishing my very first novel many years ago. I couldn’t afford an editor or anything professional really other than the cover (and even that was a big favor from an artist friend). I know if I went back and read that story now, I’d be horrified because I’m a better writer now than I was back then – but that book was the absolute best I could do at that point in my life, and I love it for all the things it taught me.
What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?
Probably the best sites are Facebook or Twitter, and I’d love to hear from readers! You can find me all of these places:
Ambition. Betrayal. Revenge.
Centuries ago, the Faerie Realm was decimated by a vile and corrupt spell. To survive, the different faerie races―led by the Fae―escaped to the Human Realm where they’ve lived ever since.As the Fae Patriarch of Boston’s criminal underworld, Aohdan Collins enjoys his playboy lifestyle while he works from the shadows to expand his growing empire, until one night when he shares a shot of whiskey with the lovely Seireadan Moore…A Fae Seer, Seireadan is haunted by a vision of the Fae responsible for destroying Faerie and murdering her family. Common sense tells her to stay away from Aohdan, but his magnetism and charm are irresistible.As their passionate affair intensifies, Seireadan is pulled into the center of the underworld. And while her heart is bound to Aohdan, she cannot let go of her lifelong quest to hunt down the Fae who haunts her visions… especially when she realizes Aohdan might be the key to helping her find him.But is revenge worth betraying the one she loves?
Finding people locally who are immersed in the writing community on both a local and national level fills me with joy. In my local networking efforts, I had the pleasure to meet with a professional editor who was willing to let me pick her brain for an hour. I left our conversation feeling happy and better equipped to finish the first draft of my novel with confidence. Naturally, it seemed only right and proper to spread the wealth and share some of the advice I received with all of you. The following are four good take-away points, and certainly not a complete list:
Learn to love the dreaded red pen…
1) Your story is not perfect. It needs an outside editor.
This is good news, actually. It means that even the best, most popular writers out there submit drafts to their editors with continuity errors, grammatical errors, and even spelling errors. It is quite daunting to put together hundreds of pages of story and make every single detail match, sound perfect, and basically look like what will ultimately end up on a bookshelf for people to buy. This is why there are editors, after all…they exist to help shape your work into a wonderful final product. Editors are to writers as George Martin was to The Beatles, if you need an analogy. If you don’t know who George Martin is, that’s okay. You probably don’t know the editors of your favorite books, either. But you should get to know both, and now.
2) Although it won’t be perfect, you still need to submit your best work.
Yes, editors expect that there will be errors involved in your draft, but your story does need to be written well enough to be worth editing. Don’t fill your draft with low-hanging fruit that will distract your editor. You must continually improve upon your grammar and language mechanics, as these are part of your craft. And when you submit your draft to an editor, make it the best it can be. The less work you give your editor to do, the easier it is for them to help make your story the best it can be.
3) Be flexible and easy to work with.
Once again, your story isn’t perfect. You might have, in the hours, days, and weeks that you spent alone staring at a computer screen writing your story, neglected to realize that you aren’t very good at writing dialogue in a Creole accent. Perhaps this needs to be changed in order for your story to work, and your editor is the one who cares enough to point this out. Editors are on the front lines, defending your book from being torn apart after it’s published.
You will get feedback that hurts and might make you feel angry, but it’s best if you move forward as quickly as possible and take their advice. Your editor has seen a ton of books, and they know what makes books successful. If they send you back a copy with a lot of red ink and remarks on how certain items need to change and/or be rewritten, then bask in the joy that you get to keep writing your beloved book! Make it the best it can be!
4) Keep a calendar while you’re writing. Plan. Keep track of your characters.
Create a separate calendar for your story. You can avoid common mistakes and continuity errors by simply keeping track of your story as though it has its own life and schedule…because it does. If you write a story that has a scene taking place on Thanksgiving, write that on your calendar. This will help you avoid making the scene happening “the next day” occur on a Saturday. If you describe your main characters in how they look, keep track of that somewhere so you don’t describe them with completely different hair color seventy pages later. Continuity is important. Your story is already fiction, but losing track of your own characters gives the reader a poor impression.
The moral of the story: Work hard, write well, but don’t think you’re finished until your editor is finished with you. Editors are your friends. If you get the opportunity to work with one, appreciate the fact that someone is helping your story become the best it can be.