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Meet the Authors Behind Writing Bloc’s Escape! An Anthology

Cover for Escape! An Anthology by The Writing Bloc

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”

Photo Credit: Steven Murashige

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!).

Jason’s “Women Like Us” on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/womenlikeusnovel/

Buy Women Like Us in our store!

Susan Hamilton, Author of “Chrysalis”

Photo Credit: Dean Cerrati Photography

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.

Susan Hamilton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RealSKHamilton

Susan Hamilton on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hamiltonsusank/

Michael Haase, Author of “Cedric”

Photo Credit: Margaret Haase

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

Michael Haase on Twitter: https://twitter.com/authormikehaase

Michael Haase on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMichaelHaase/

Michael’s blog: https://talltalestold.com/

 

 

Peter Ryan, Author of “The Time Behind Dying”

Photo Credit: Neil Cole

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.

Peter Ryan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SyncCityJack

Peter Ryan’s website: http://www.synccityjack.com/

Buy Sync City in our store!

 

Deborah Munro, Author of “Ambition”

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.

Deborah Munro on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DebMunro_Author

Deborah Munro on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DeborahMunro.Author/

 

Durena Burns, Author of “I Wish It Happened”

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.

Durena’s “Call Me Whitehead” on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CallMeWhitehead/

Ferd Crôtte, Author of “Captiveedom”

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.

Ferd Crôtte on Twitter: https://twitter.com/FerdCrotte

Ferd Crôtte on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FerdCrotteMission51/?ref=br_rs

Christopher Lee, Author of “The Gilded Tower”

Photo Credit: Stacey Eichenauer

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.

Christopher Lee on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChristLeeEich

Buy Nemeton: The Trial of Calas in our store!

Mike Donald, Author of “Something In Mind”

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.

Mike Donald on Twitter: https://twitter.com/smokingkeys

Mike Donald’s website: http://www.touchwoodpictures.com/

Buy Louisiana Blood in our store!

 

Christopher Hinkle, Author of “Cowboy For A Day”

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.

Christopher Hinkle on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christopherhenckel

 

 

Evan Graham, Author of “Breach”

Photo Credit: Plain Jane Photography

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.

Evan Graham on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorEvanGraham/

Tahani Nelson, Author of “The Faoii Of Ashwood”

Tahani Nelson is a Writer, Teacher and Nerd in rural Montana. Her debut series, The Faoii Chronicles focuses on strong female warriors in epic fantasy.

Tahani Nelson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TahaniNelson

Tahani’s “The Last Faoii” on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheLastFaoii/

Buy The Last Faoii in our store!

 

 

Michael James Welch, Author of “Convict 45”

Photo Credit: Annette Sargent

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.

Michael James Welch on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mikexwelch

 

Cari Dubiel, Author of “Art Imitates”

Photo Credit: Ed Dubiel

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.

Cari Dubiel on Twitter: https://twitter.com/caridubiel

Cari Dubiel on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/caridubielauthor/

Becca Spence Dobias, Author of “Aspirant”

Photo Credit: Linda Abbott Photography

Becca Spence Dobias grew up in West Virginia and now lives in Southern California where she writes hard and moms harder. Her debut novel, Rock of Ages, is in production with Inkshares.

Becca Spence Dobias on Twitter: https://twitter.com/totallynotbex

Becca Spence Dobias on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BeccaSpenceDobias/

 

 

 

 

Grace Marshall, Author of “The Marking”

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”

Photo Credit: Megan Annis

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

Daniel Lee on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dannyboylee

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

Buy Space Tripping in our store!

 

 

Kendra Namednil, Author of “Catching”

Photo Credit: Arthur Koch

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.

Kendra Namednil on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Kendra1337

Buy Borehole Bazaar (A Vow Unbroken) in our store!

Jason Chestnut, Author of “Like Clockwork”

When not working on computers to pay the bills, Jason Chestnut is a writer, musician, avid reader, and gamer. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina with his wife Shannon, their two kids and lazy pug.

Follow Jason Chestnut on Twitter: @atomicboywonder

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget to preorder “Escape!” NOW!

Price goes up to $5.99 on New Year’s Day, so preorder your copy NOW for 50% off!

Just click here for Amazon or here for all other ebook readers. Only $2.99 for the ebook!

Thank you for your support!!!

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Writing Life

Why You Should Not Write a Novel for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is Coming!

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.

Just write!

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.
Happy writing, my friends.

Relevant/interesting links

NaNoWriMo website: https://nanowrimo.org/
15 Online Tools to Help Get You Through NaNoWriMo: https://www.wisestamp.com/blog/15-online-tools-for-nanowrimo/
5 Types of NaNoWriMo Participants and the Tools You Need: http://thewritepractice.com/nanowrimo-tools/
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Writing Life

Review: Margaret Atwood’s Master Class

When Masterclass.com offered me an all-access pass, I was thrilled! I’d had my eye on the Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing course for a while and was so excited to take it! Atwood is a legend, and especially as a woman novelist, a role model.

I was not disappointeded– her Master Class is an amazing opportunity to glimpse her creative process and hone your craft.

This being my first Master Class, the first thing I noticed as I began the first of the 23 video lessons was the production quality. The videos are much like short documentaries and include music, photos from Atwood’s life, drawings, and visuals of her books as she speaks about them. These are no simple tutorials, but rather high quality mini films.

The next thing I noticed was Atwood’s laugh. Equal parts wise, mischievious, innocent, and reassuring, her thin lipped grin accentuates her cheeks in a way that makes it impossiblle not to smirk with her. It appears at the best moments throughout the course, when Atwood imparts wisdom that feels a bit conspiratorial. I loved it.

Things slowed down a bit then, and it took me a while to ease into the flow of the course. As I watched the first two lessons, the information felt basic, not unlike other writing courses I have taken before. I wondered if the course would just be several videos of generic writing advice and frankly, felt a little disappointed.

As she began lesson three, on story and plot, though, I realized that the issue was not the course but rather my expectations. Since finishing graduate school in 2011, I’ve approached learniing from a pragmatic standpoint. I want information, steps, and practical tips. Much of this Master Class, though, is more like my liberal arts background. Atwood discusses a technique and then suggests examples of literature, everything from her own work to classics to modern works, that you can read to get a sense of that technique.

I quickly realized that this was not a Ted Talk, meant to expose a quick secret to improve my writing, but rather a channel for deep study and contemplation, guided by, that’s right– a master. Once I understood this, I fell in love with the course– I hadn’t realized how much I had missed this kind of learning– the reading and discussing kind.

Further into the course, Atwood does get into those technical, more straightforward details, so those who really are just looking for that will be happy too.

The class workbook, with a chapter for each lesson, is a fantastic addition. The PDFs summarize the lesson and offer exercises and readings. The student discussion area is active and supportive, though at the time I took the course, it seemed Atwood had not yet responded to any questions submitted in the “Office Hours” section.

Really, I’d suggest taking this course at least twice– once to take it in, to get a feel for it, and then again more slowly, taking the time to do the assignments and the suggested readings, as if you were taking a college level course.

I finished the class a few days ago and already, after a chat with my editor this morning, I’ve thought, “Oh, I need to go back to the lesson on descriptive prose. And the one on switching points of view!” These are lessons you will return to again and again as a writer.

In her farewell video Atwood tells us, with one of her signature smiles, that she is nearing the end of her trajectory. She hopes her class is a way to collect and share the knowledge she has learned over her career. I am so grateful to get to learn from her.

 

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Writing Life

Writing Complex Children: We Need Better Arcs!

There’s something we might be overlooking in our character development as writers.

We all know about character arcs. Characters need to change over the course of a story. When I received my developmental edit letter for Rock of Ages, my editor conveyed that even the jerk boyfriend in my story needed to have more depth, to show an arc. It could go downward, certainly, but he needed to change. Protagonists certainly have to learn or grow or change in some way. In good writing, all of the characters have arcs and end up at least a little different by the end of the book.

But what about the children?

I’m not talking about children’s or young adult books, obviously. So many of those authors are amazing at creating complex characters and showing these characters grow, learn, develop, and change. I’m talking about books written for adults with adults as the main characters but that  have children as supporting characters. It’s hard enough to think of adult fiction that features kids meaningfully, which is strange because there are a lot of kids around us, but it’s even harder to think of examples of adult fiction with kids who show growth and change over the course of the book.

Children in books should not function only as accessories or a plot device. Children are just as complex, have just as much depth, as adults. More importantly, they change a lot faster. Their development happens simply as a matter of time– it doesn’t depend on external circumstances.

So here are some tips for adding complexity to young characters in an adult-centric book.

Read About Child Development 

The human brain is amazing and the ways we develop early on are absolutely fascinating! How much time passes in your book? How old is the child in your book at the beginning and how old are they at the end? Do some research! Read about child development at those ages. Demonstrate those changing abilities in your writing. Maybe at the beginning of the book a baby doesn’t understand object permanence and cries whenever her mother leaves the room but by the end, she understands she’ll return shortly. Maybe a child who doesn’t grasp the difference between fantasy and reality is starting to comprehend this by the end.

Talk to a Kid

If you’re writing about a child but haven’t spent much time with one their age, see if you know one you can visit or speak to on the phone. Take note of their mannerisms, pronunciations, and sentence structure. 

Let Them Surprise You

Kids in books can do things that would be more out of character for adults because they are changing constantly. Just because a child in a book sleeps with the lights on every night for the first half of the story doesn’t mean they can’t suddenly decide to turn them off. A five year old who is outgoing may become a five and a half year old who is more reserved. I’m not saying to make your young character do whatever you want. They should have a personality and mannerisims and tendencies, but they can diverge from those more easily than you could get away with with an adult character. You can have the adults around them react with surprise, astonishment, or reflection to highlight this difference.

Read Good Kids

Get inspired by books with good young characters. This may mean reading children’s, middle grade, or young adult books, but try to find adult-centric books as well. I recently read Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward and was impressed with the character Kayla (or Michaela, depending on who you ask.)

Oskar of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a fantastic character, though this book is a little different since he’s the protagonist. Jonathan Safran Foer does this well in another of his books, Here I Am, too, in which the kids are secondary characters but still complex.

I have a hard time thinking of other good examples, which might show what a gap there is. What have you read with good kid characters?

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Categories
Author Interview illustrator interview Writing Life

Interview with Phil Rood, “That Illustrator Guy”

Phil Rood is someone you should know.

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.

cowboy and lady standing by piano

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.

judgmental cat illustration

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…

cowboy gunslinger illustration

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?

Write or draw every day. Lack of time is not an excuse. If it’s truly important to you, you will find the time.

Related Links:

Phil Rood’s website: http://philrood.com/

Phil Rood’s Facebook page: Phil Rood, That Illustrator Guy

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Best Of This Month's Reads

Writing Bloc’s Best of July: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads July Edition. Welcome to the third post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of July, we hear from Becca, Jacqui, and Michael.

 

Becca’s Recommendation – We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

I came across We Are Okay on a list of the best young adult books of 2017. It lives up to the recognition.

 

Most of the book takes place over the course of three days as Marin, a young woman struggling with the passing of her grandfather, is visited over winter break at her college by her best friend Mabel, who Marin has ghosted– left behind without notice, ignoring all her texts.

 

I didn’t know this was the premise when I downloaded the audiobook, and if I had, I would have been even more eager to check it out. My own best friend of over 20 years “ghosted” me, leaving me grasping for music or literature that describes the painful experience. We Are Okay conveys the situation from the point of view of the person ignoring her close friend, which I found strangely comforting. It is not, the book makes clear, about a lack of love for her friend. It is actually the opposite, as Marin loves Mabel so dearly she aches.

 

My only complaint about We Are Okay is that it didn’t explain clearly how Mabel planned her visit to Marin. LaCour makes it seem like Marin has ignored all of Mabel’s attempts at contact and yet they somehow coordinate a cross-country visit. In spite of this, though, LaCour has crafted a lovely, moving novel.

 

We Are Okay explores themes of grief, loss, family, and home, in a touching and realistic way, and for many, these themes will shine most brightly. For someone who is grappling with the loss of a friendship and coming to terms with that relationship ending without answers,  LaCour has created a novel that allowed me to do vicariously what I have imagined so many times– show up on my friend’s doorstep, not to demand an apology, but to tell my friend that I love her.

 

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood has been on my to-read list since it hit shelves in 2016. The story delves into some intense and eye-opening subject matter – taking place in South Africa during the fall of apartheid and educating the reader on the complexities of politics of South Africa and race relations during that time. Trevor Noah’s father was Swiss, and his mother Xhosa, and Trevor’s very existence was considered illegal at the time of his birth, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Noah delivers his story of struggle and navigating a dangerous society with a brilliant mix of comedy and humility, bringing the listener from laughing to crying and back again many times over as he tells tales of kidnapping, abuse, pirated music, and celebrity impersonation.
 
The book is laid out as several personal essays and Noah’s relationship with his mother is a continuous thread throughout the book. It is heartwarming and inspiring what the two of them made it through together, and through many of the events are atrocities that none of us would ever hope to live through, Noah delivers his story without bitterness and instead fills it with strength, comedy, and hope.
 
While I almost always opt for reading a physical book over listening to an audiobook, I generally make it through about one audiobook a month. This is one of those rare stories that I have to recommend experiencing in audiobook format. If you are a fan of Noah, you won’t want to miss him narrating his own story.

 

Michael’s Recommendation – Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

I first heard about this book from author Peter Ryan, who said that it was one of his favorite science fiction stories. Fast forward about a year later, suddenly I’m having people ask if I’ve seen Altered Carbon on Netflix. Trust me, I’d like to, but I promised myself I’d read the book first. And I just finished it. Wow. This book is no joke.

Hard-hitting, thought-provoking, and thrilling, Altered Carbon delivers. Written in a fast-paced first person from the perspective of ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs, Altered Carbon presents a unique and haunting future in which consciousness itself is transferrable between bodies (or sleeves), making death itself something of the past. That is, if you can afford the procedure.

The story takes place in a 25th century San Francisco (now dubbed “Bay City”), where Takeshi Kovacs wakes up in a new sleeve hundreds of light years from his home. He was brought to Bay City by Laurens Bancroft, a wealthy man who has re-sleeved himself enough times to live for hundreds of years. Laurens hires Takeshi to investigate his “suicide,” as he is convinced he was actually murdered. Under circumstances that make it difficult to refuse, Takeshi Kovacs takes on the assignment, and is launched into a dark conspiracy he never could have anticipated.

The story is compelling, violent, and incredible. I enjoyed reading it even more than I anticipated. And now that I’m finished, I can watch the show and see what everyone is talking about. But, probably not before I read the next novel in the series…you know, just in case. I hate spoilers.

 

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Author Interview Uncategorized Writing Life

Interview with Susan K. Hamilton: On Her Upcoming Release Shadow King, and Writing Dark Fantasy

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.

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:

Website: www.susankhamilton.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hamiltonsusank/

Twitter: @RealSKHamilton   /    https://twitter.com/realskhamilton

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/870122.Susan_K_Hamilton

 

Preorder Shadow King Today!
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?
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Author Interview

Interview with Peter Ryan, Author of Sync City

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.

Author photo final.jpg

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.

Sync City Links:

Peter Ryan’s website: http://www.synccityjack.com/

Peter Ryan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peterryanauthor/

Inkshares page for Sync City: https://www.inkshares.com/books/sync-city

Sync City on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1942645457/ref=nav_timeline_asin?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

Sync City at Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sync-city-peter-ryan/1125339887?ean=9781942645450

Sync City at the Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Sync-City-Peter-Ryan/9781942645450

Sync City on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33377334-sync-city?ac=1&from_search=true

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Author Interview

Interview with Author Michael Gaudet

Michael Gaudet is not your typical author.

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”.

michael gaudet holding book while receiving dialysis

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.
michael gaudet reading at a podium

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.
michael gaudet in photo session

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.
Please visit me at www.mrgaudet.com to read more.

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Adapting Books to the Screen (And Vice Versa) by Liz Kerin

“Adapting Books to the Screen (and vice versa)”

by Liz Kerin

“To be honest, I liked the book a lot better.”

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.

camera and coffee in front of a screenplay

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.

clockwork gears on screenplay

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.

Photo of Liz Kerin

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

She’s also the co-founder of Script Prescriptions, a story consulting service. More info at www.ScriptPrescriptions.com

Twitter: @Liz_Kerin

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