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Know Your Local Writer: Eric McMurtrey

Welcome to the third in a series of interviews with Athens-area writers.  The hope is to inform you about new techniques you might want to try, increase your knowledge of the individuals in your community, and inspire you on your path.  Please contact me if you’re interested in answering our writing questionnaire and being featured here as a future ‘local writer’.

NOTE: Special thanks to AWA co-founder Jill Hartmann for originally supplying us with these wonderful questions for the series, and to the author below for supplying the photos and memes.

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Question: At what point in your life did you become a writer and how did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Answer: I actually became a writer because of two episodes of a science fiction television series called Star Trek : Deep Space Nine. One of the characters, Jake Sisko, found that his passion was writing and it became a story line that followed throughout the entire run of the series. Jake’s mother had been killed early in his life, so it was just him and his dad, Ben. Ben was very supportive of his son’s hobby turned profession – particularly early on, it was something they bonded over. I’d recently lost my own father when I saw this, and I decided that by writing, I might bond with him as well, so I took it up.

Q: What books have you read that shaped you as a writer? Which authors’ work do you admire and why?

A: My favorite author is Lee Child. I have read several of his ‘Reacher’ series of books. In particular, his book ‘The Enemy’ is my favorite. It was written in a first-person perspective that I found really inspiring. It gave an intimacy to the story that I had never really run into before. I’ve since adopted first-person as my primary perspective for storytelling. ‘Star Trek: Best Destiny’ is my other favorite. In the story, a young (and troubled) James T. Kirk connects with his father while having an adventure and saving the day. While I definitely connected with the book on a personal level, a friend called it ‘a commentary on people’. That phrase has really stuck with me – my dearest hope is that I’ll one day write a book that is referred to in that same way.

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Q: Which piece that you have written are you most proud of and why?

A: The honest answer would be the one I have thought up but not written yet. The truth is, I don’t feel like I’ve developed yet to a point where the reality of my work meets my dreams, so… The dream is more fun. But, as I said, I assume you are looking for a different answer. “Ben and the Snow”, one of the stories from my Christmas anthology, is my favorite. In the story, a man is trying desperately to make sure his wife can make it home after she’s been gone for longer than either of them would have liked. Near the end, he believes he failed, and to be honest, my eyes still tear up when I read that moment of profound sadness as he lives it – he just wants to see the woman he loves again. And then she shows up. How can a story get any better than that?

Q: Do you gravitate toward a particular genre(s) and/or format when you write?   Tell us more about which genres and/or formats are your “passion?”

A: *Grin* I’ll be honest, a lot of my stories are ‘Chick Flicks’. I also definitely gravitate toward short fiction – very few of my stories even make it to twenty pages. In fact, I’ve been flirting extensively with my version of ‘flash fiction’ where a given story is about 250 words, and I really enjoy it. My passion? It would be the stories that surround ‘The Ticonderoga Project’. We’ll see if I pull it off, but it’s the story of Earth’s first interplanetary spacecraft. In its whole vision, I’d like to see it tell the entire tale of the ship’s life, from the conception of the idea to her trip to the scrapyard once her day is done.

Q: Have you studied writing and/or attended writing seminars, workshops or conferences?  Where and what did you learn from your classes/sessions and other writing teachers?  Did any of them stand out to you and why?

A: My wife sent me to a writing conference at DragonCon. There were several speakers – it was a great experience. The two things I learned that I consider to be the most valuable were (first) HIRE A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR! I took this advice, and it was an incredible experience. Sure, I learned a lot about my bad habits as a writer – grammatical errors, plot issues, annoying habits… The one-on- one personalized interaction was very helpful, plus, I have the comparison of my version of the work to compare with the edited version so I can go back and learn from the changes a professional advised. But, moreover, to hear someone I respect tell me that if I logged the hours to improve, I could really succeed as a writer was incredibly motivating. The second piece of advice was ‘Develop Your Brand’. There were a multitude of ideas presented, but the thrust of it is, get your name out there. Build a website. Interact with people. Join groups. Support people. Accept support from people. My ‘Brand’ is Ticoproject, as an example. I even have a little story drafted to explain where that exact name comes from. Some day there needs to be a ‘Crest’ or ‘Symbol’, maybe toys… But… Yeah… Develop your brand.

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Q: Have you had any formal writing jobs and/or published any of your work?  If so, tell us about your jobs and/or your publications.

A: Nothing formal. Most of my work so far has been given away in one form or another so far. Honestly, I don’t feel like my work is far enough along to expect people to pay for it yet, so the bulk of it is released on my website, while I have been able to join an anthology for a writer’s group I was a part of in Wisconsin. Getting people to read something for free is much simpler than expecting them to pay, and some of the feedback I have received has been most encouraging. So… It’s been great. But, I’ve also grown to the point where I’m ready to think about how to publish some of the things I’m working on. It’s exciting to think about the future where I can really see my work in a book somewhere. Self-Published or traditional is still up in the air, but it will happen.

Q: What is unique about your writing process? What works for you, and what doesn’t work?

A: I’m a little ADD (Undiagnosed – *Grin*), but I’ve learned that if I don’t stick with one project, I’ll pretty much never finish it. So, I might peel off to do a bit of flash fiction which happens in a few hours, but I try hard to work one thing until it’s done. One draft, one rewrite, whatever. I don’t do well typing straight into the computer. I think for me, there are too many distractions, and paper both looks less intimidating and feels great, so… I write most everything out longhand and then enter it into a word processor as my first editing step. I listen to a variety of music, and it seems to serve as an inspiration for many of my story lines. Trust me, the fact that I’ll never sing publicly is a service to humanity, but I really respect the art form. As a point in fact, I was just listening to some Eminem on the way home. There is some great rap out there, and ‘Stealing the Enterprise’ has more plays on my iPod than most anything. It all helps.

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Peanuts by Charles Schulz

Q: What is the most challenging area of writing for you?

A: Ah, finally, an easy question. Editing. I don’t like it at all. It’s painful to re-read some of my earliest efforts in particular. Working with an editor taught me how much I can improve from the process. I’m the first to acknowledge that I’ll always need the help of a professional, but I’ll learn more if I improve my editing.quote-there-is-hope-in-honest-error-none-in-the-icy-perfections-of-the-mere-stylist-charles-rennie-mackintosh-73-30-03

Q: What are you currently writing?

A: I’m working on the second draft of ‘The Deeds We Do’, which is my tale of Captain Allison Mackenzie’s adventure aboard the U.P.E. Ticonderoga, Earth’s first interplanetary spacecraft. I like to believe she’s a strong leader that my wife would approve of, and you wouldn’t mind if your daughter admired. Just for fun, I’ll tell you this – I created her on a dare from a friend.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is just beginning to write?

A: I was really bad when I started. I am better, but I still have a very long way to go. Two things have helped me to improve – I’ve sought out the support of others, and I’ve practiced. I’ve read a few books, gone to one seminar, but when the writing hit the paper it was because I picked up a pen and started writing. Start writing anything and just don’t stop. I wouldn’t have believed it, but it will come. You’ll figure it out as you go along.

Long exposure photo of the night sky taken by the author

Q: How has being a writer changed your life?

A: I’m pretty anti-social when it gets right down to it. I have to force myself to want to be around other people, so you’d think writing would be all reclusive for me. It has actually been very much the opposite. I think a lot about things before and during the process of writing. That thought process has helped me to see when I should have turned left when I went right (a great number of times), when I shouldn’t have said something (again, a great number), and when I should have (let’s not even get into that). All of that introspection has made me more considerate of the trials and tribulations of others in the world. I see people differently because I write about people, and it’s made me a more understanding person.

The other change has been because of the people I have connected with. I’ve been involved with writer’s groups in two different states, and off and on, and received comments on my work from complete strangers around the world. Those interactions have been amazing. The people that have allowed me to exchange ideas with them, supported me, and allowed me to support them are the best. I’m a much better (and happier) person because of the people writing has put me in touch with.

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Join ‘Indie Author Day’ at the Athens-Clarke County Library

from OnlineAthens

from OnlineAthens

The ACC Library is presenting an Indie Author Fair that will be held on Saturday, February 18, 2017, from 11 AM to 3 PM. One table will be provided to each author. You will be permitted to sell your books, and the Library will provide seating and snacks. Following the marketplace, you are invited to attend an author symposium.

This is an amazing FREE opportunity to get your name out there, interact with the public, and meet like-minded writers.

The deadline to reserve your table is February 10, 2017.

Full details here.

UPDATE: Here’s some pics of the successful event!

An overview of the event (while standing on a chair!)

An overview of the event (while standing on a chair!)

 

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The Tuesday Writing Critique Group

 

The AWA table

The AWA table

 

AWA founder Katherine Cerluean's table (who couldn't stop talking about her new orange tablecloths ;-)

AWA founder Katherine Cerulean’s table (who couldn’t stop talking about her new orange tablecloth 😉

It was a lot of fun and hopefully the library will do it again!

Call For Submissions! We Need Your Funny Stories!

from eBaum's World

from eBaum’s World

The Athens Writers Association is pleased to announce its third collection is in the works.

We need you! We are looking for the finest FUNNY songs, poems, non-fiction essays, and short fiction. Whether your piece is just LOL funny or about making people grin and think at the same time, we’re looking for bold, polished, and wonderful pieces that bring a smile to the face and laughter to the world.

Submission Guidelines: Poets can submit 1-3 poems, and prose must be 5,000 words or less. Super-short pieces are welcome. Please send your best, most polished, completed work. Please no offensive, hateful humor that belittles anyone — be it a gender, race, identity, or even just the cashier at the checkout line. Heartfelt, more emotional pieces will be considered but please let the takeaway be a smile, not just a tear. A panel of editors will decide the winning entries.

Deadline: Midnight, March 12th, 2017. The expected publication date is late summer/early fall.

Note: There are no fees for entry. By submitting you understand that, if your piece is selected for inclusion, you will receive one copy of the Createspace-published collection for free (to be picked up at an AWA meeting). You will also have the opportunity to purchase books at the wholesale price to sell on your own and keep the profits. But the proceeds from online sales and sales by the AWA will go to support the running cost of the AWA. We very much appreciate your support!

The world need you!

Send us that piece you love and can’t stop grinning about. Make the planet a happier place!

SEND YOUR SUBMISSIONS TO: katherinecerulean@gmail.com with the subject heading: AWA Book Submission

from Whisper App

from Whisper App

What Are Your Writing Priorities?

New Year’s is just around the corner and for many of us, one of our resolutions will be to write more. But what are we actually seeking to achieve or experience in 2017? Better quality, or just more quantity? A paycheck or becoming part of a community?

You might say ‘All of the above.’ But Jim Collins said, ‘If you have more than three priorities, then you don’t have any.’ With that profound thought in mind, let’s explore some options so you can pick the most important places to put your time and attention in the new year.

from Bloglovin'

from Bloglovin’

WRITING PRIORITIES

  1. Devote more hours to writing-related activities. For a lot of writers our ‘day jobs’, family, and other commitments push our hobby, our passion, out past the margins of our lives. We can even feel guilty calling ourselves writers when days, weeks (or even months) slip by without us producing anything new. Be assured you are writers but you also have to prioritize your life to allow more time for classes, writing groups, and especially the butt-in-chair work.
  2. Finish ‘The Thing’. For some writers next year (and almost all of us at one time), the most important goal is to cross over to the other side of a big project and declare it ‘done’. This could be a final draft, a first draft, or self publishing a piece. Whatever it is, if your project has started to take on epic proportions in your writing life, please consider making 2017 the year you complete it. You’ll feel empowered and amazing on the other side, I promise.
  3. Make money at writing. This one is tricky because most of us would love to ‘go pro’ or see our efforts pay off. That said, if you really want to make a meaningful amount of cash from writing in the next 365 days, be aware that you’re probably talking about a lot of job hunting, networking, resume polishing, and submitting offers online. Most of us hope to make it one day when the writing’s good enough, the wind’s at our back, and luck at our side — but if you want money now, then you have to realize that next year’s writing time may look more like an office job than creative bliss. Nothing wrong with that — just be ready to get to work.
  4. Start the scary thing. For a portion of us, our priority is doing what’s never been done — by us, at least. If you are starting a blog (email me!), beginning a novel, or teaching your first class, just be aware that perfection, accolades, and cash aren’t your goals. You are doing something incredibly brave, and you should just have as much fun as you can while patting yourself on the back for attempting something new. Perfection will come in time; you are here now for the experience.
  5. Get freakin’ amazing —quality-wise. Maybe you have come a long way in terms of your writing but you’re not quite there yet. Whether you want to improve enough to get published, get a job offer, or just create work you’re really proud of, 2017 is a great time to ‘take it up a notch’. But be aware that it’s work. The same as with a fitness program, becoming a better writer is a long journey with few shortcuts. That said, if you are already producing good work, you may just need to hone that last 5% of your process — polish more, take a class, improve your weak spots, and let your true passions come out more often.

    from Thoughtjoy

    from Thoughtjoy

  6. Be part of a community. For a lot of writers, joining a group is an important way to feel encouraged, inspired, and even ‘real’. You can engage in a critique group to improve your writing, read your work out loud on stage or at a table to experience being a true storyteller, ask questions about everything from plot to formatting, and meet others who are also on this crazy journey. You may even find yourself teaching a class, organizing meetings, or putting on an event.
  7. Get your dream job. If you know exactly what you want to be doing as a writer, then learn everything you can about the people who are already there. Meet these people, ask questions online, read blogs, follow them on Twitter. It also helps to imagine your success story: you’re being interviewed about how you ‘made it’ and you talk about the insane work ethic and bold choices that launched you into the life of your dreams. And if you need to go write 20 scripts, then go write 20 scripts.
  8. Find your joy, your voice, and your passion. On the flip side of money and job offers, there’s using 2017 as a way to discover who you as a person and who you are as a writer. Learn about yourself — who are you since the divorce? Since turning sixty? Since graduating college? And what is your passion and potential as a writer? Could you write a blog post that would save a life? Is it time to return to the poetry of your youth? Could you write the funniest graphic novel ever? This can be the year you can find out.
  9. Get serious. For some, the writing’s easy, but the rest of it is hard. Are your files straight, your work submitted on time, your office at least clean enough to find something when you need it? And especially, can you tell people you’re a writer when they ask what you do? This is real, this is happening. Own your talent, respect it, and don’t get in your own way.

    from Bloglovin'

    from Bloglovin’

  10. Learn how to write. I’m a big believer in learning to write by writing but there are also many wonderful books and teachers out there. It’s very true that we don’t know what we don’t know. If you really want to become a great writer, then invest in yourself and buy some books or take a class. There’s also a ton of free blogs, youtube videos, and groups online that can help you for free. And don’t forget to read a lot too!
  11. Find your fans. Austin Kleon’s great book ‘Show Your Work!’ says ‘Do good work and put it where people can see it.’ Maybe you want 200 people following your blog, or 15 Amazon reviews, or just to get a letter from someone who ‘absolutely adored’ your novel (I got one of those this year!). Maybe the writing’s going well and you’re ready to find your tribe. It will take time and dedication but if you love your work, others will too.
  12. Put your work out in the world. One of the tremendous things about being a writer is the giving and receiving of inspiration. You learn and are inspired by great writing of the past and you write the next chapter in our ongoing, collective, creative story. You spend time alone — months or years — crafting a book and then you let it out into the world. To me, releasing is important. Whether you self publish, traditionally publish, blog, or submit to contests, magazines, and websites, it’s a good feeling to let your work go and see what happens. The point isn’t to make it big, but it make it small — find one fan here and there, a kind word, a touched heart. Your writing can make another person say ‘Oh wow, I thought I was the only one who felt that way.’
from movenourishbelieve.com

from movenourishbelieve.com

So which three of these twelve are your priorities? Or are yours not even of this list? For myself, devoting more hours, improving myself quality-wise, and finding my voice and joy are my resolutions. That last one I didn’t even know was a priority until I starting writing this piece.

And in the end that’s what I hope for you all in 2017 — may your writing lead you to revelations you never expected and to the wonderful destinations you’ve always dreamed about.

from advancehappynewyear2017.com

from
advancehappynewyear2017.com

Come See Us at Lickskillet 2016!

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Baby table! Our first little setup at Lickskillet 2013 — this year it will be much bigger.

The Athens Writers Association hasn’t done many public events this year (we’ve all been busy writing!) but even introverts like a moment or two in the spotlight so…  We will have an official table at the Lickskillet festival at Lyndon House in downtown Athens, GA.  This event is FREE.  We will have books for sell by Katherine Cerulean, Jennifer Innes, Elsa Russo, Rob White, Phyl Campbell, AWA collections, and more!

There will also be several OTHER booths run by AWA members —

  • Par Ramsey will be debuting the newest book from the AWA offshoot, the Tuesday Writing / Critique Group, at the festival
  • Daniel Galt has a Halloween-themed, spook-tac-u-lar new kids book as well as his earlier books and beautiful photography prints for sale
  • New member Sara Winick Herrington is selling her just released book Bee Happy 
  • And others!

Our table will also offer free handouts about both writing and living your dreams that have been gathered from the best of our classes.  AWA founding members will be staffing the booth all day and will be happy to answer any questions they can about the AWA, self-publishing, and writing in general.  Katherine Cerulean will be giving free life-coaching sessions at the booth, and we’ll be having a free drawing for 15 pages of professional editing from Jonni Anderson.  PLUS chocolate!

Come join in the fun!  It’s also not too late to get your book added to our booth — contact Katherinecerulean@gmail.com if you’re interested.

October 22, 2016 

10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

 Rain or Shine; Free Admission

Lyndon House Arts Center, 293 Hoyt Street, Athens

About Lickskillet

The Lickskillet Artists Market and Festival is a FREE Community Event hosted by the Lyndon House Arts Foundation. Currently in its seventh year, Lickskillet has become one of Athens’ most unique and exciting events, drawing over 1200 attendees from a ten county region. The Lickskillet Artists Market and Festival showcases the talents of over 100 local artists and musicians and offers a full range of activities for everyone.

Event Highlights

  • Athens area artists displaying and selling paintings, photos, prints, jewelry, clothing, ceramics, glasswork, woodwork and sculpture
  • Musical performances by well-known local talent including The Heap, Monsoon, The Lucky Jones, Norma Rae, Clay Leverett, Dixieland 5, Qamar Tribal Odyssey dancers, Larry Forte, and David Court
  • Self-guided tours of the historic Lyndon-Ware House
  • Children’s activities, including:  chalk art, giant bubbles, face painting, portrait gallery, cardboard village, building and design projects with Home Depot volunteers
  • Local food trucks and vendors: Taza Mediterranean, The Savory Spoon, DaMunchiezz, Nedza’s Waffles

About the Lyndon House Arts Foundation

The Lyndon House Arts Foundation, Inc (LHAF) was created to advance the arts and support the development and operation of the Lyndon House Arts Center. This is accomplished through a coalition of artists, businesses, local schools, government and the community at-large.

In addition to sponsorship of special events such as Lickskillet, LHAF offers several membership levels and the opportunity to contribute to an endowment fund named after co-founder Ronnie Lukasiewicz. LHAF is a 501 (c)(3) organization and contributions are tax deductible.  More information can be found on the Foundation website: LyndonHouseArtsFoundation.com.

Lyndon House

Lyndon House

About the Lyndon House Arts Center

The Lyndon House Arts Center (LHAC) is a community visual arts complex serving Athens-Clarke County and neighboring areas. The two-story late Greek revival structure incorporates the Ware-Lyndon House (c. 1856), gallery spaces, art studios, meeting rooms, a research library, event spaces, and festival grounds. Activities of the LHAC are designed to encourage creativity and provide area citizens with a positive experience in the visual arts.

Formatting a Book Manuscript with MS Word

This piece comes to us from local author and teacher Phyl Campbell.  Discover more about Phyl and her work at her website www.phylcampbell.com.  Also, formatting can be stressful, so please enjoy a few pictures of beaches while you work. — Katherine Cerulean, Founder

from wonderfulengineering.com "Formatting is stressful; please enjoy these pictures of beaches." -- KC

from wonderfulengineering.com

If using a POD service like CreateSpace, there are things a writer needs to do to prepare a manuscript for upload.  While each step is not difficult, there are a lot of moving parts or things that change when a writer may not want them to.  For example, increasing the font size will add pages. So will adding headers. All these moving parts can make a writer-turned- formatter into an angry heap of wet noodles, which is why a lot of people are willing to pay vanity presses thousands of dollars to prepare manuscripts for them. However, with a good guide, and a better chunk of TIME (two weeks or more is optimal), any willing writer may format his or her own material for POD.

from d-beach.com

from d-beach.com

Some things should be done during the writing process. Inserting page breaks (not the same as hitting ENTER/RETURN until hitting the next page) between chapters, applying styles to chapter headers and body text, and setting page size. A typical mass market book size is 5×8, so a proper page layout would be 5 wide and 8 tall.
Yes, writers can take the above steps after manuscripts are complete. It is my personal preference to have as many steps already done as possible.

from play.google.com

from play.google.com

Another step I’m always meaning to do as I go, but don’t because I’m frequently adding, removing, and re-arranging chapters, is to create each chapter as a separate section (LAYOUT > BREAKS > SECTION BREAKS > NEXT PAGE). Writers that have 10 or fewer long-ish chapters probably aren’t as bothered by this as writers who have many chapters that are only a few pages long. I fit the latter category.
Insert Page Numbers (I insert page numbers as footers because it is less complicated than adjusting the spacing to include my name, book title, and page numbers at the top)
Create mirror margins (LAYOUT > MARGINS > MIRROR MARGINS).
Create headers.

Writers should pick up a mass market paperback from their genre or that they enjoy and plan their headers to match. This is where sections come in handy. Writers will notice that popular mass market industry standard does not have headers on the same page as a new chapter. Formatters achieve this by clicking a few boxes in the Header Design tab. Add a header. Go to that header. The MSWord command ribbon will change to show options for the DESIGN of the Header. Find and check the boxes for different first page and different even and odd pages. As the writer-
turned-formatter gets used to the bugs of MSWord, they may have to click these boxes for each section several times as they move about pages and chapters.

Check progress by saving often, then selecting FILE > PRINT > Print to PDF. A separate dialog box will come up for the writer to name the PDF being saved. I name my files with the Book title, date, and time – no punctuation.
This allows me to see my most recent save most easily. Then I open CreateSpace, go to Interior Files, and upload the latest PDF. I have to wait a few (up to 10) minutes for processing, but then CreateSpace will tell me about any errors or inconsistencies.

from 7-themes.com

from 7-themes.com

Create front and back matter. Interior title pages, previous works by page, copyright page, about the author/artist page, upcoming book page, dedication page – looking at other mass market books will help writers determine where all these pages should go. Using the CreateSpace check as a guide, writers can choose where to insert pages, including blank pages, into their manuscript (back in MSWord) to preserve page placement.
Because headers and page numbers are not supposed to be seen on front and back matter, I create each page of front and back matter as a separate section and click the header box “different first page.”

from beaches.com.au

from beaches.com.au

This guide comes as a result of publishing more than 10 books using MSWord. I know more after the tenth book than I did after my first. I will know more after publishing book number 15 or 20, undoubtedly. Any writers who are aware of mistakes I am making or other shortcuts, easier or better ways to achieve the same results, feel free to educate me. I’m as happy to learn as I am to share what I know.

Quick and Dirty Book Publishing Guide

Today’s post comes to us from member Phyl Campbell, who recently moved here from Arkansas.  She’s published several books and teaches writing.  Please check out her AWA page as well as her website to learn more.  — Katherine Cerulean, founder

 

My way is not the only way to publish an Indie book. These steps are my best advice for creating a print book (paperback) that can be made available on Amazon or purchased wholesale by the author for resale at book buying events.

  1. Create a manuscript using a word processor.
  • Use sections (Page Break, Section Break) for each chapter or section
  • Use Headers and Footers to create page numbers and to write your book title and author name on each page (I keep another published book in front of me as a guide)
  • Create the front matter (title, copyright page, dedication). Again, use a previously published book to see the industry standard.
  • Create the back matter (acknowledgments, author note, about the author, preview of next book)
  • Front matter and back matter should not have page numbers, headers, or footers. I use section breaks to do this, but my brother recommends applying white text boxes where text should be hidden.
  • Use Styles to establish one font and font size for chapter headers and a different font and font size for basic text. You can also use it to select indents, spacing between lines and other text features. It’s tricky to learn, but will save any many steps.
  • In my word processing tool bar, there is a paragraph mark symbol. Select it to see all hidden formatting symbols like spaces and hard/soft returns.
  • Learn how to use Find and Replace. Especially MORE/FORMAT
  • Save document (OFTEN!)
  1. Create an account for or log into CreateSpace (www.CreateSpace.com)
  • Under the My Account tab, select Add New Title
  • Follow the instructions to select book size, paper, and other attributes
  • Skip the step of adding an interior file
  • Create a Cover (Create and upload the PDF, or use their template and images – I do a combination)
  1. Go back to your word processor document.
  • Adjust paper size or margins to fit the selected book size.
  • Add the CreateSpace assigned ISBNs to the copyright page
  • Export to PDF (sometimes this is “print to PDF” or “save to PDF”)
  • Open the PDF file to check for correct placement of headers, footers, and page numbers. Select “view two page” with “separate title page” (2 boxes to check)
  • Without a PDF editor, make changes to the PDF by making the changes in Word and repeating the Export to PDF/Print to PDF/Save as PDF option.
  1. Go back to CreateSpace
  • Go to the Title created in Step 2.
  • Go to the step of uploading an Interior File.
  • It is possible to upload files from a word processor without the PDF step. I don’t think the files come across as cleanly — some formatting is lost (fonts, margins, page breaks). This has been my experience.
  • Choose sales channels and set book price(s)
  • Submit files for review
  1. The file review check takes 24-48 hours. It will determine whether all the content from the submitted file fits within the margins of the selected layout.
  • Make changes to the review file until CreateSpace (and you) are satisfied, either by making changes to the CreateSpace review file (when applicable), changing book attributes in CreateSpace, or making changes to the PDF/ word document.
  • Repeat the file review steps each time changes are made.
  • When the review comes back without errors, and the book is acceptable to you, select Publish.

Published titles are available immediately on CreateSpace, and within 1-5 days on Amazon (if Amazon was selected) or other channels.

  1. My way is not the only way to publish an Indie book. Some people buy their own ISBNs (See LightningSource instead of CreateSpace), hire out cover artists and layout designers, formatters, editors, etc. Some people only publish to Kindle. These steps are my best advice for creating a print book that can be made available on Amazon or purchased wholesale by the author for resale at book buying events.
  1. Timeline. On average, creating the manuscript takes me a year. Preparing a cover takes me two weeks (over a month with reader input). Formatting the interior (for me) is a two-week job minimum. I try to format as I go, but best laid plans sometimes go awry, and I have to undo formatting to add pages, delete pages, or fiddle with margins. Can someone else do it faster and better? Undoubtedly. I encourage people with tips or tricks to share their knowledge.

A Work of HeART: Bringing Soul-Level Beauty & Meaning Into Your Writing

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In art, as in life, there is a strong pull to go with the flow.  Even that line you just read — ‘go with the flow’.  It trips off the tongue well, most people know that phrase, and it sounds like something you’d put in a self-improvement article.  And follow me for a minute — that doesn’t mean it has no value.  As part of a whole, such a line can serve a purpose, it can be a functional piece of the structure (if not a load-bearing one), and that first line does provide clarity, which is certainly a good step from the mud toward the stars.

‘From the mud toward the stars’?  What does that mean?  The long answer that, all through my teenage years, I had a little, old framed quote I had bought while browsing for antiques with my mother.  On browned, chipped paper it said — ‘Two men looked out from prison bars,One saw the mud, the other saw stars.’  This quote from Dale Carnegie inspired my line in the last paragraph.  Now, my line was okay, and you probably got the intent of it, but I kept most of the meaning of it — the old paper, memories of Mom and childhood, my room decorated with Breyer horses and my Simpsons quote-a-day calendar, the effect positivity has had on my life — my ‘good step from the mud toward the stars’ didn’t share any of that with you.

from The Anthropology Of Giving

from
The Anthropology Of Giving

I said all that to say this: That is your challenge with soul-level writing.  You seek the wide and fertile valley between the ridge of platitudes — of mediocre, well-tread thoughts  — and the distant other ridge, rich with experiences and feelings, but un-accessed — like a dream, it is a puzzle of potential.  Your goal is to travel well beyond your comfort zone, past all the clear road signs, and find the things that truly live inside your heart — and on that mountain.  And then move it onto paper in a way that shares your deepest feelings and darkest fears.  The bad news is that it’s never easy — the good news is that you are stronger than any challenge and you’re going to get some amazing writing out of it.

Step One: What lives in your heart?

My ‘my mud and stars’ line didn’t move me, probably a clue that it didn’t move you either.  Not that it was terrible, it simply was the first thing that came to mind, didn’t require any thought, and sounded like something I’d heard before.  Now, I don’t want you do go around worrying about being COMPLETELY UNIQUE because you’re you and no one else has ever the exact thoughts and feelings you do, and as the great writer Brenda Ueland said, if you write from your true self you cannot help but be unique.

That said, the stuff that comes to me too easily is to be questioned.  This is different than ‘flow’, that place where you lose time and become completely absorbed in your work — that thing is great, you should write from there whenever possible 😉  But what I watch out for is glibness, the feeling that my own work isn’t touching my soul, but sliding past it onto the page.

from weheartit.com

from
weheartit.com

Soul-level writing by definition is going to get under your skin, it’s going to unsettle you.  Whether you’re trying to express a murderer’s remorse in a novel, a newlywed’s first dance in a song, or your own emotions about your mother’s death for a memoir, you need to go beyond ‘elevator conversation’.  This isn’t the canned 30-second response you’d give your co-worker, this is about what you really, truly feel in your heart.

Let’s say the idea of a ‘first dance’ at a wedding — what if that idea makes you think of how happy they are now, but how sad they’ll be at the end of their lives together, when they are old and sick and one of them dies.  WOAH.  But you mustn’t think, ‘Boy, I suck at writing love songs.’  Because you don’t — that’s a potentially powerful perspective.  I say potentially because you need to bring that emotional feeling down from the distant ridge and pull it into the valley of connection, leading it toward the well-trod ridge — but only far enough for people to understand what you’re feeling and feel it too.  For me, loss is just about loving something so much that you never want to miss a moment of it.  I was home schooled and my mother didn’t work, so when she was alive I always said, ‘I could never say we didn’t have enough time together.’  But when she suddenly died in middle of the most beautiful April I ever saw, all those words fell away — you always want more time.

So maybe you dig into your soul and start writing about that wedding day dance, and how there’ll never be enough dances with the ones we truly love.  If what you write honestly moves you, then it WILL move someone else.  I wouldn’t worry about how many someone elses.  For me, I’m often just looking for at least one other soul who feels as I do.  After I finished my 1950s coming-of-age story ‘Fall Street’, fellow writer Jill Hartmann-Roberts read it and wrote me a ‘fan letter’ talking about the characters and moments she really enjoyed.  My private thought was ‘Whew!  Someone understands, someone gets it.  Now I can go write the next book.’

I often think about ‘The Writer’s Journey’ (a great book) when I think about this sort of heartfelt work.  Based on Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero With a Thousand Faces’, the book talks about the 12 stages of the hero’s journey.  And I think any time we journey inward — past the platitudes and the ‘safety’ of our hard shells — we are the hero of our own story, and we are going into a place few dare to venture.  So be kind to yourself as you travel toward the things that really move you, rest often, and know that —

from piccsy.com

from
piccsy.com

A word about difficult stories: People often want to write about the toughest, hardest parts of their lives and that’s great.  But those parts often involve other people, people who might get mad, or upset, or even sue you to keep their stories from being told.  So you’re faced with a choice.  Anne Lamott said “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”  I agree with this but you must be willing to deal with what you create.  For myself, peace and tranquility are highly valued commodities and so I wish to ‘First do no harm’.  My realm is fiction so I don’t feel a great need to name names and share my past.  If I wanted to write something factual, I’d probably change names, release it under a pen name, or alter details and release it as fiction.  I think you have the right to write anything you want, and writers worry too much about being sued.  But people probably don’t worry enough about WHY they want to expose other people’s faults in public writings — it will hurt feelings, may even feel like lies to some involved, and it won’t make you ‘even’ or vindicated.  If possible, write difficult factual stories for yourself first, then maybe ask a trusted third-party who knows the situation you’re writing about to read it and give you their opinion.  You do own your stories, and they are a powerful, sharpened sword — just make sure you use it to cut the bonds that imprison you and others who are suffering and not to take arms against those who have wronged you — you’re the hero, and you’re better than that.  And the world always needs more heroes.

Step Two: How to let this dangerous thing out into the word.

Now, first you want to be able to think and delve and dive into what really matters to you.  But you’re a writer — you don’t just want to travel into that wild land of the interior to experience, you also want to take photos, record audio, and hopefully even trap the beast and bring it back for exhibition to the masses.

This is where inspiration meets craft.  While there is no wrong way to write and express your feelings (especially with journaling and private work), if your intention is to move others, you’re gonna need some moves yourself.  Bad-ass writer-extraordinaire moves.

from buzzfeed.com

from
buzzfeed.com

I LOVE this quote.  Partly because it illustrates for me how the writer’s job is twice as hard — we both need to discover true meaning AND write about it in such a way that it speaks to others.  Firstly, I believe writing things that matter and move you is imperative to connection.  But craft has to be right up there too.  To quote Branda Ueland again, you need to work with all of your love and imagination.  To me that means with all your ‘soul’ + ‘knowledge’.

Moving from pure feeling to great writing reminds me of a awesome section from Stephen King’s book, ‘On Writing’ — “Others hold forth at open mike poetry slams, wearing black turtlenecks and wrinkled khaki pants; they spout doggerel about “my angry lesbian breasts” and “the tilted alley where I cried my mother’s name.”  Writers form themselves into the pyramid we see in all areas of human talent and human creativity. At the bottom are the bad ones. Above them is a group which is slightly smaller but still large and welcoming; these are the competent writers. They may also be found on the staff of your local newspaper, on the racks at your local bookstore, and at poetry readings on Open Mike Night. These are folks who somehow understand that although a lesbian may be angry, her breasts will remain breasts.”

Good soul-level writing is created much like all good writing — by reading a lot of awe-inspiring work, writing a lot, and always seeking to improve oneself (like by attending a class or reading a how-to blog!).  But I’ll share a few things related to craft (and inspiration) that I’ve learned:

How to Write a Work of HeART:

  • Figure out what moves you.  This involves a lot of patience.  You may have to let your mind wander, stalking the gaps, and figuring out the very thing you don’t want to think about (like death in our ‘first dance’ example).  You may not cry, but you’ll probably feel like you want to — that’s the sweet spot — follow your feelings.
  • Trust.  My mother Dell Ratcliffe said (about animal communication) “Above all, TRUST.  Trust that the process is real, that it works, that the information is valid.  Go easy on yourself.  Besides trust, important words are IMAGINE, OPEN, ALLOW, EXPAND.”  She also said that “Language is just the symbolic way we communicate, not the communication itself.  The communication is always heart based, made up of feelings that we then have to put into words to share with someone else.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself!
  • Balance.  You want to be able to go deep — but honestly going deep should just be part of the ebb and flow of a story, song, or memoir.  Even a poem, full of feeling, builds to its moments of impact.  Imagine being pummeled with a blunt weapon, like a thick tree branch — you would feel it a lot at first, then less and less as you sank into unconsciousness.  If you pile one emotional bombardment after another, your audience will become dulled to the pain — or stop reading altogether from exhaustion.  Instead, soul-level writing should be about connecting and feeling everything more, higher highs and lower lowers.  Instead of clubbing them with intense emotion, use it like a rapier — they look down, surprised at the tiny wound, almost shrugging it off, and then the blood runs red across their clothing, and they stagger to the ground, punctured, incapacitated by the tiniest of motions.
  • Look to your favorites.  Try to figure out what makes a book special to you.  Often it comes down to moments and lines of emotion.  One small scene can imprint itself over a whole work — even a single line can turn a work into a favorite.  Readers often desire what they’ve seen before, but what they really desire is something that goes beyond what they’ve seen.  They want to connect and experience the world anew, they want someone to show them they’re not alone, and that the world is as broad and deep and beautiful as they hoped and feared.
  • Go too far.  We often self-censure, afraid of upsetting people, or looking stupid, or not ‘playing to our strengths’.  But everything of value I’ve written and done has been (at least partially) outside of my comfort zone.  Heartfelt storytelling isn’t just about sadness and pain — it’s about crazy, silly comedy; great love stories; and sharing your uncommon beliefs.  Believe me, sometimes you’ll fall flat on your face, but far more often you’ll connect with people in a startling way.  I tell the story all the time of being in my first critique group, and reading a section that ‘wandered’ and gave a couple of pages of back story about one of my villains.  I thought I’d be chastised and told to ‘Get back on track!’  Instead, everyone praised it and loved it.  The lesson: Trust that if it interests you you should write it.  And then you should have the guts to share it.  Readers get underestimated every day — give them MORE than they’re used to.  And you can always keep in mind the Hemingway quote — “Write drunk, edit sober.”  I’m not suggesting actual imbibing, but instead writing as uncritically and with as much passion as possible with your first draft and returning with a clear head and a cool eye to edit and improve later.
  • Be subtle and leave things unsaid.  One of my favorite new concepts is ‘wobble’, the idea of pushing storytelling almost to an unsustainable point — a spinning plate or top that starts to shake — and keeping the audience engaged at that spot with you.  At its best, you are taking them to places and experiences they haven’t often seen.  Another important tool is leaving things unsaid.  We can be so excited to share our feelings that we tell everything, but in writing, don’t forget the power and connection of less.  I just heard an amazing exchange on ‘To the Best of Our Knowledge’ on NPR.   Anne Strainchamps was speaking to Marwa al-Sabouni.  Marwa al-Sabouni and her family have chosen to stay in Syria during the years of fighting and bombing of her country. Marwa al-Sabouni has her PhD. in Islamic architecture and wrote a memoir about architecture and destruction in Homs, Syria called “The Battle for Home.”  At the end of the interview Anne Strainchamps said, “One last question: We’ve talked a lot about destruction and loss; I’m sure there are still moments of beauty.  I’m sure there are still things that are beautiful.  Can you tell me about one thing, something you’ve seen that makes you happy?”  Now that was a good, thoughtful, end-of-the-interview question — I was interested.  But what happened next blew me away.  There was dead air, a long pause, something you so rarely hear on the radio.  Then Marwa al-Sabouni replied, “Frankly, I can’t think of one.”  There was another long pause, then Strainchamps said,”I’m so sorry.”  Marwa al-Sabouni said, “Me too.  But hopefully, there will be again.”  A common answer about a lone, beautiful building caught in the sunlight or birds flying or children laughing — I would have probably forgotten, but I might never forget these few words about the reality of living in a war zone.  An amazing example of the power saying less.
  • People want more.  And finally a story about sharing your soul with people through writing —
from STYLECASTER

from
STYLECASTER

Society & Civility was a novel I started as a lark — I love BBC movies and Jane Austin books set in the early 1800s, especially those with romance and strong heroes.  The idea had been floating around in my head for only about six months (I’ve worked on some stories for ten years) but in fall of 2014 I started to tell the tale of Ann, who was raised as a gentleman’s daughter in the country and then challenged and changed by her first social season in London.  The novel also involves several suitors vying for her hand and her heart.

Well, I did my damndest and thought I’d written a quite good story (I even re-read it several times just for fun over the winter months).  By next summer I was ready for my first three bata readers to tell me what they thought.  Yeeouch!  They were of one mind, really enjoying the story as a whole, but hating the modern ‘twist’ of having Ann start a sexual affair with one of the men in the middle of the book.  Now, I could have just stood by my work and called it finished, but their feedback intrigued me (after making me gnash my teeth and question my abilities as a storyteller).  I had thought it was great, but they were looking for more.  Beyond.  Their other comments were so positive that I wanted to create a story they’d enjoy from first to last.

But altering the middle changed my feelings about what happened in the last third of the book — the threads leading out of their (now chaste) relationship changed everything.  I started writing a new ending, and was often frustrated that I couldn’t make the suitor who was ‘supposed to’ propose.  He just wouldn’t do it — wouldn’t tie up my story in a neat little bow.  I trusted his reaction, rolled around with the problem, and eventually my frustration became the feelings of another suitor in the story — and that pushed the love story to interesting, challenging new places.  It became a book I loved much more than my first — unchallenged — take on Ann’s life.

My final lesson of trust still lay before me.  I had a last scene in mind, a shift in time and place.  But originally I thought the final emotion might be a revelation of Ann being pregnant.  I’ve certainly seen some sweet endings that hold on that hopeful note.  But it felt wrong — it didn’t tie into Ann’s hopes or struggles.  More importantly, I’m not having kids and I lot of my female friends might not be either — and yet we are dogged by endless images that perpetuate the myth that the emotional and societal apex of a woman’s life is becoming a mother.  That felt wrong.  It doesn’t jell with my and my sister’s life — full of adventure and discovery — and it does a disservice to the accomplishments and spirit of my friends without children (male and female).  ‘Well, shit,’ I thought (this statement is often the predecessor of hard work and good writing).

So one morning while my sister was working the morning shift at Best Buy, I went to Starbucks to work on my final draft.  As I got to the last few pages, I felt tired of being in one place and left, climbing a super-steep hill behind the Best Buy to sit on the edge of the woods, in the middle of the city and yet apart from it in these couple of acres of pine trees and old barbed wire fences stretching back to the 1950s.  I sat against a giant fallen tree.  I had two hours till I picked up my sister.  I had an ending to write.

I had begun to feel that I had moved on to a new awareness in my writing.  Society & Civility finished up an unofficial ‘love stories’ trilogy and my next novel would be very different from those three.  I felt like I’d already moved on and yet here I was, ending this story anew.  I had decided to dig deep and evoke some of what I was feeling about life in these last few pages.  It seemed a terrible idea on the surface — this was a light, romantic story and I was about to change course and dump some self-improvement mumble-jumbo into the last few pages.  Terrible idea.  And yet.  It was my book, and the worst that could happen was to be told that it didn’t work and try again.  And I’d already heard that before so — big deal.  My grandmother Bernice always said of crocheting — ‘Be a cheerful ripper,’ when you have to take out mistakes, so I just trusted myself and gave it a shot.

I looked from my high, high vantage point out at the piercing blue skies, the birds, the bugs crawling under my legs.  The soft needles and the hard bark under my fingertips.  I thought about what mattered most to me, how lucky I felt to alive here in this moment doing what I loved.  I thought about the characters’ journeys and what they’d learned.  I thought about the people I loved and the people I’d lost.  And I wrote — imperfectly, full of emotion, and sometimes through tears.  I thought it was all silly and a waste of time, bound to be thrown away when I read it later.  But I wrote on.  My time dwindled — I was in ‘flow’ as never before — 1 hr left, 30 min, 5 min.  I raced the clock.  I finished my words, my thought, my story.  I was spent and unsure.  I still believed it to be a supreme waste of time — but an enjoyable one on such a beautiful day, and a harmless indulgence.

A few days later I returned when the heated words had cooled, already planning how I might chuck them and leave an abbreviated, more standard ending in their wake.  But there on the page — amid dust and debris I would wipe away and polish in the next few days — there on the page stood something real and meaningful.  Whether or not anyone else would find significance in what I had written would not be known for weeks.  But somewhere on that windy hilltop, straddling the massive shopping center below and the wild woods behind, I had caught a piece of my soul, and my characters’ souls and twisted them together onto the page.  It felt like luck but I also knew I had climbed long and hard to end up in a place to be so lucky.

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Writing from the heart is a lifelong pursuit.  Trust yourself, your instincts, and write your first drafts with passion.  Then edit your stories using all your experience and judgement.  Never settle and never forget that the world becomes more beautiful every time you let us see what you’ve been hiding inside your heart.

I will also say that great writing is too hard.  Every single time.  If you are pushing against the limits of what you can do, then by definition it will never be easy.  When I wrote my first novel ‘Other Gods’, I didn’t think much about the editing process.  But once I’d been through multiple edits, two things stood out in my mind: the story was getting better than I ever thought it would be and — I must be doing it wrong — because it was too hard.  The professionals didn’t have to go through this, did they?  Surely there was an easier way, a shortcut?  But as Beverly Sills said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”  And if being a great writer is your goal, you can handle a little ‘too hard’.  In fact, you’ll eat ‘too hard’ for breakfast because, to paraphrase a popular fitness quote, “Great writing is hard.  Being a lousy writer is hard.  Pick your hard.”

By serendipity, the final thought on this topic comes from my grandmother Mary, who passed away exactly a week ago as I write this (she passed on April 6th, 2016).  My sister Sarah was cleaning out her (Sarah’s) room and discovered a message in a frame behind a picture my grandmother had painted for me many years ago.  Her message —

“April — 1994  To Katherine — Well, I had so many mistakes making this “duck?” that I was rubbing the paper away!  This is a reminder that all gifts aren’t perfect — but full of love —- Love you, Grammy”

May you share all your gifts, even the imperfect ones, with great love.

All the best,

Katherine

blog.zerodean.com

blog.zerodean.com

So You Want To Write a Fantasy Novel?

from fantasy-faction.com

from fantasy-faction.com

We recently had two classes at the library.  The first was an AWA round-table event about ebooks and self publishing, which had a great turnout and turned into a lively discussion.  Click here to learn more about How to Create and Publish an Ebook.

Our second talk was a ‘Lunchtime Learning’ event the library asked us to do on the topic of writing fantasy.  As the audience included wee newbies as well many-times-over published writers, it presented a unique challenge.  Below are the handouts for the class if you’re interested.  The first is ‘How to Write a Novel’ — a brief overview for the utter newbie.  Then, having taught them everything they could possibly need to know about that topic (in one page, no less!), we moved on to the second handout ‘So You Want To Write a Fantasy Novel?’  We had a great group and a lot of fun.

Our last class of the season is ‘A Work of HeART: Bringing Soul-Level Beauty & Meaning Into Your Writing‘, and it will take place on Saturday, April 16, at 4:00 PM at the Athens Regional Library meeting rooms.  All AWA classes are free.  More info here.

How to Write a Novel

By Katherine Cerulean

Come up with an idea.  Read a lot, especially books outside of your favorite genre (fantasy, crime, young adult etc).  When you have an idea, ask yourself — who has the most to gain (or lose) in this situation?  A little fish goes on an adventure across the ocean.  Who — besides him— has the most to lose?  His dad, who wants to find his only child and bring him home safely.  It’s been said that the best book to write is the one you want to read  — but can’t find because it hasn’t been written yet.  Go write it!

Really think about your characters.  Who is living in your world?  Who’s the hero?  Do they have flaws like we all do?  The ‘ordinary world’ of the Hero’s Journey storytelling model has the hero ‘making do’ — they think things are fine, but really their world is about to change in big ways.  Think about Rick in ‘Casablanca’ — he needs to confront his past, and become a more whole person to move forward.  Find songs, make playlists, buy jewelry that you think your character would wear — get into their heads and discover their voices.

Outline your story.  This will help you know where you are and inspire you to keep moving forward.  You can outline every scene and plot development but you don’t have to.  Google the ‘Snowflake method book outline’ if you want a very detailed outline.  Otherwise, work on a 1-2 page outline or synopsis.  Writing down the major plot points of a favorite movie (is if you were telling the movie to a friend) can help you learn the process.  Just remember, a good outline is a roadmap — not a blueprint — and like any roadmap, if something interesting catches your eye you should follow it and forget the plan.  Just get back on track with the roadmap after your side adventure.

Your only goal is getting to ‘The End’.  As a beginning novelist, the idea of completing a book can be daunting.  On your first draft, don’t worry about perfect spelling, editing, etc.  Follow your outline — as long as it’s still exciting to you — and head for the finish line.  Set aside some time every week to write.  This is your dream — and you can make it happen!  A novel is usually at least 75,000 words long but it can be as short as 45,000 words (Think of ’The Bridges of Madison County’).

Go through a second draft.  After you reach ‘The End’ pop a bottle of bubbly, enjoy a fancy dinner, and put your manuscript in a drawer.  Leave it there at least two weeks, maybe even a month, and then pull it out and reread it.  Look for big problems: did one of your characters disappear halfway through the book?  Add them into the later sections — or cut them entirely.  Does the beginning make sense now that you’re written the end?  Does the book start too soon — can you cut the opening?  And what about ‘theme’?  If your story became a coming of age story while you were writing it, is that clear from the beginning?  The second draft is a great time to add in or cut large sections of the story if need be.

Do a third draft.  Time to polish.  Run ‘spellcheck’, then read it carefully to check all those  wrong words it missed — then/than, there/their/they’re.  Consider reading your work aloud to yourself — sentences and especially the way characters speak will sound right or wrong when heard out loud.  Do any last research you need.  Basically, make it the best book you can write.  Then…

Find some beta readers.  Beta readers are your first ever readers (yay!) and they are doing you a big favor.  As proud as you are of your book, they don’t know anything about it and are probably really busy in their own lives.  So appreciate them.  3-5 beta readers are the ideal number.  Try to find people who are kind, your friends, smart, and hopefully will give you honest feedback.  It helps if they like your kind/genre of story.  Take feedback cheerfully.

Do a fourth draft.  Good golly!  Yes, that’s a lot of rewrites.  But good readers will point out issues and problems you might want to fix.  I say might because in the end, it’s your call.  Also, read the whole thing again, checking for spelling and grammar errors.

Sent it to agents, publishers, or self-publish.  You did it!

Write another book!  Check out the Athenswritersassociation.wordpress.com for help. 

So You Want To Write a Fantasy Novel?

By Katherine Cerulean

Fantasy is a genre of novel and it includes such sub-genres as ‘Urban Fantasy’ (modern day and set in the city), ‘High Fantasy’ (elves and dwarves and wizards — oh my!), ‘Young Adult Fantasy’ (Hunger Games/The Maze Runner/Twilight), and even ‘Magical Realism’ (usually a character-centered drama with the merest hint of magic [her grandmother caused it to rain every time she baked gingersnaps]).

Fantasy is exceptional because it allows us to dream bigger, hope more, live greater adventures, and experience things that could never be in this world.  When we are young, fantasy stories fill our lives — animals talk, drive, solve mysteries.  And even as older children — Neverland, Narnia, OZ, and Hogwarts are as real as Main Street and our school.  And in the last 15 years fantasy has blown up as a mainstream category for adults — with books, TV shows, and movies full of vampires, werewolves, post-apocalyptic trials, and superheroes are becoming more and more common.

So what do you need to know about this unique form of storytelling?

World-building in fantasy is paramount.  You get to make the rules!  But the flip side is that the drama, plot, and character growth is only as strong as the world you build.  Think about all the details in Harry Potter — often the most important storytelling devices were tiny aspects of magic.  And you have to know what your hero can and can’t do (and explain it to your readers) so they can enjoy the story and the world you made.

Readers want to connect to your character.  This may be true in all fiction, but in fantasy you’re asking the reader to take a leap of faith into a strange, new land where everything we know may not apply.  That’s a lot to ask.  But a great lead character can help suck readers in, and often learn about the new world at the same time your hero does (think about how many fantasy stories start with the lead character embarking on a journey, entering a new, dangerous land, or discovering a power/family/purpose they never knew they had).

Go for the ‘WOW!’  The only limits in fantasy are the limits of your imagination.  So don’t settle for what you’ve seen done before; give us new creatures, devastating choices, weird powers, unusual rules, and awesome fight scenes.  Expand your mind — if you read only 100 young adult fantasy novels, your work will sound like the rest.  Instead, read Shakespeare, watch ‘Spongebob’, listen to murder ballads from the 1920s, play ‘Portal’, and read the comic ’Fables’.  The more influences you have, the most interesting your work can become.

Find a plot that MOVES.  Tolkin said, ‘A journey is a wonderful thing for a writer.’  Most fantasy is plot-based versus character-based which means that what the characters do is more important that who they are.  This isn’t to say your characters don’t matter, but they have to be taking an active role in their world and trying to change things.  Think of Katniss in the Hunger Games: in the very beginning she’s hunting to feed her family, saves her sister’s life, and starts working to survive the games.  She’s active from minute one — and we can’t wait to see what happens next — what she makes happen next.

Know the rules, then break them.  If you want to make every character in your story named something like Xaxzxa Axzxaxzz, then you need to ask yourself two questions — Are the fantasy books I love doing this?  And if not, why not?  Very strange names, 68 main characters, a 1,000,000 word count (most books are between 75,000 and 150,000 words), and other out-there ideas aren’t necessarily bad, but they are all very challenging for readers.  Even the best, most experienced writers would hesitate to make their book hard to read, so just ask yourself if you can do anything to make the reader have a more enjoyable time.

Remember that fantasy is often about INNER conflict.  Sci fi tends to be about the outer/other — what’s in space, on other worlds, and how we treat those who are different than ourselves.  But fantasy is about US, who we really are, what destiny lies out there waiting for us, and what good and evil powers reside within our souls.  While the plot (action) is most important, characters who learn, are challenged, and grow are why this genre is so memorable.  You can also make the implicit explicit — the boy who doesn’t want to grow up, the girl who discovers ‘There’s no place like home’, the boy who makes his father proud by taming a dragon instead of killing one, and the young man who carries his father’s ‘sword’ and says ‘I am a Jedi like my father before me’.  Anything going on in your life, anything that hurts and makes you feel, can probably be turned on its head and become a great fantasy curse/power.  As any scholar can tell you, vampire and werewolf stories are really about our animal natures vs. our civilized world.

Fantasy is a part of our history, our heritage.  Almost all of us grew up hearing fairytales.  And myths and legends, from The Odyssey to the alligators in New York sewers, have been popular for thousands of years.  ‘Once upon a time,’ invites everyone in, and the human mind often welcomes the chance to hear something beyond belief.

 You are unique.  Therefore, your story is unique.  No one in the history of the world has ever thoughts the same as you, enjoyed the same things as you, or liked the same triple-decker ice cream cone flavors as you (you freak!).  So don’t worry about all the other fantasy stories out there.  They call it ‘stalking the gaps’ — look for the story you wish existed but that you can’t find.  Then think of a plot and characters that make you excited, and write the story you wouldn’t want to stop reading (hint: it’s the one you can’t stop writing or thinking about).  As writer Brenda Ueland said, ‘Everyone is original, unique, and has something important to say.’

You can make the world a better place.  Good writing, and great storytelling, is far too rare.  And you never know how many people might desperately need your special, magical story in their lives.  J.K. Rowling was out of work, and surely very busy, but she took the time to write down little Harry Potter’s first story, and millions of lives are better for it.  Fantasy readers are people who believe in the power of magic — some are young, and some simply never stopped believing that the world is full of great and beautiful things.  I think that makes fantasy novels unique because its readers believe that the book you write can change their life, can alter their path, sometimes — it can even save a life.  You should have the most fun you can while writing your fantasy novel, but you should never, ever — even for a second — think that it’s a silly thing to do.  You might just change the world, for the better, forever.  At least you’ll be able to say you made one dream come true — yours.  Best of luck.

Please contact me at Katherinecerulean@gmail.com with any questions and get more support for free by joining the Athens Writers Association — athenswritersassociation.workpress.com.

Literary Elements — How To Write a Book

We have a lot of new members (and new writers!) who have joined the AWA in the last few months, so I wanted to share a ‘Beginner’s Guide’ that I wrote for an Athens Regional Library class a few years ago.

Alright newbies — allons y!

tylerbasu.com

tylerbasu.com

Literary Elements —

How To Write a Book

by Katherine Cerulean

  Somewhere in your heart you know it.  Maybe this is a recent dream, but quite likely it’s been kicking around in your subconscious for some time and every once in a while, when reading a new book, or hearing an author interview, or thinking about your lifetime goals it comes to the surface — you want to write a book.  Maybe you dream of being a fulltime, famous, professional writer or maybe there’s just one idea or story that begging you to expound on it and send it out into the world.

Whatever your dream project is — a memoir, non-fiction, children’s book, or novel — there are some common elements needed to move from Chapter 1 to ‘The End’.

Elements of Success in Writing:

  • Figure out what you want to tell and why. Before you write a word, get a good idea of why this book?  Toni Morrison says ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’  That’s always been my driving force.  Figure out what makes it special and different than similar books.  Don’t worry about originality yet (we’ll get to that part), just envision who your book is for.  Sometimes it helps to think of a person you know who is also your intended audience.
  • Plan (a little). Finding a similar book can help you get an idea of number of chapters, number of pages, type of words (for children’s books) etc that your book might have.  The internet has acted to level the playing field and let you acquire ‘insider knowledge’ of the book business. Did you know there are four categories for children’s fiction?  Simply do a Google search for ‘books how many children fiction categories are there’ and you can find the answer.  Just remember that ten ‘Wikihow’ articles don’t necessarily equal the depth of one good how-to book.  This is the ‘know the rules so you can break them’ phase.
  • Make a roadmap, not a blueprint. I wish I remembered what writing book this was from, but never the less it’s still important advice: make a roadmap not a blueprint of your book.  A blueprint is exacting and unchanging, but a roadmap lets you decide to take a detour when you see something interesting and you still know where you’ll be at the end of your book.  A lot of beginning writers start without a roadmap, and begin with a flush of excitement but can lose their way after a few chapters.  To me, a good road map is only a couple of pages long but will let you know the next ‘beat’ of your book if you get lost.  The outline for my novel ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’ was two pages long and explained the main plot from beginning to end — just like you were telling a best friend the plot of a movie you saw.  For my self help non-fiction book, I decided to focus on five areas of improvement (Inspiration, Freedom, Peace, Energy, Strength) and then decided to have five little chapters in each area and named them (i.e. Do Yoga).  These outlines kept me moving forward while giving me the freedom to discover better ideas along the way.
  • Make your goal to finish. Believe me — there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finishing your first book, of knowing you’ve done what a lot of people will talk about but will never do.  You can always edit and polish on later drafts but just getting finished should be your first goal.  I started with screenplays and just told myself that whether or not the plot made any sense, I would reach page 100 (the length of a screenplay).  I knew one writer who kept rewriting chapter one of his novel over and over again.  I met him again years later and he was still writing chapter ones.  Now, each person must follow their own path and it’s great he’s still writing, but if your goal is a finished book — look toward that finish line.
  • Remember — you have potential. My belief is that LOVE + TIME = TALENT.  If you keep writing, and reading, and learning you will get better and better.  The book ‘Talent is Overrated’ has some wonderful stories about how being born ‘talented’ might mean you get out of the starting gate before everyone else, but if you’re trotting and everyone else is working hard and galloping along you’ll soon be left in the dust.  If you love the book you’re writing, if you’re excited by it, the feeling will pass right along to the reader.  And you are the only you who has ever been, so your work (if it’s true to you) will be original and one-of-a-kind.
  • Just keep writing. Even a page a day will get you to your goal.

How to Write — a Practical Timeline

Here’s the nitty-gritty of how I get to ’The End’:

  1. Get an idea. You might be reading a news article, or another novel, watching a film, or daydreaming a ‘what if’ and it gets you — this is a good book idea.
  2. What kind of book? If you want to explore organic farming, is this a non-fiction investigation?  A ‘how to’?  A novel set on an organic farm?  Figure out what first drew you in — that’s your passion.
  3. Who lives there? In a novel, for me, the people arise from the idea.  In ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’ I ‘saw’ a cage in the middle of a Regency England estate and started asking ‘Who would be put in such a cage and for what purpose?  In a memoir you might be writing about your grandmother but who influenced her?  Who were her heroes?  Her nemeses?  Even a non-fiction book may need examples of people who succeeded — be it in building a birdhouse or starting a business.
  4. Make an outline / roadmap. A couple of page document, meant just for you, that hits the main points of what you want to tell.
  5. Research (if the spirit moves you). Some people LOVE research, others can’t stand it.  Depending on the story you’re writing, you may eventually need to do some, but whether or not you like it, don’t let research slow you down too much from actually starting writing.
  6. Boldly begin. Start a chapter one, and make time to write.  I also don’t believe in writer’s block.  If something isn’t interesting to you, set it aside and write something else.
  7. Edit (a little) as you go. I know this runs counter to what a lot of people do but my way is to start each day rereading the pages I worked on last session and making spelling/grammar corrections along the way.  I don’t worry about making big changes though; I mainly read just to get back to the flow and excitement of what I’m doing last time.
  8. Finish the first draft. Hit the last page and celebrate.  Buy yourself dinner or a nice bottle of bubbly.  Then put your book aside for two weeks or a month.  This time is crucial to getting some distance and seeing your work with new eyes.
  9. Do a second draft. Reread the book, see how you feel about it — is there anything BIG you want to change?  New chapters, love interests, and ideas can be worked in now.  Once the ‘big picture’ looks good . . .
  10. Do a third draft. Start looking at the little things — each line, each word.  You may feel like an extra scene is needed to explain a growing friendship, or you may discover new data to share in your ‘how to’.  Reading aloud to yourself is also a great tool for ferreting out awkward sentences.  The third draft is about making it as good as you can make it.  Then . .
  11. Find trustworthy readers. This is super-important: only use people you trust, love, share your idea of a good book, and WANT to read it.  If you can’t find that, it might be better to go it alone.  But getting these outside opinions is valuable, provided you remember it’s your book at the end of the day and the most important person to please is yourself.
  12. Do a forth draft. Take feedback from your readers (try to find at least three) and decide if you need to make a few changes.  If all your readers mention something, you might want to look closer at it.  Most of the great feedback I’ve gotten has been about beginnings (orient the reader about the world better), little side endings (couldn’t they get away and get the money?), and lackluster areas (the ‘food’ section of my self help book eventually became ‘Energy’ after reader feedback).
  13. Do a final draft (and copyedit). Go over your book again, seeing how it strikes you now.  Are you happy with everything or is there anything that still sticks out and bothers you?  Take the time to fix it.  And you do need to copyedit a lot, catching all the grammar and spelling errors you can.  It can be hard to do this on your own, but there are a lot of inexpensive copyeditors out there, or you might be able to do an exchange with another writer (you’ll catch their errors easier than your own).
  14. Cerebrate! You just became an author!

Some common questions —

How do I get published?  It’s pretty confusing these days and only you can decide what ‘published’ means to you.  The traditional way is to get an agent, who in turn will try to sell your book to a traditional publishing house.  You can also query a small publishing house, self-publish, or hire someone to ’self publish’ your book for you.

Say I want an agent — how do I get one?  First you’ll need a very good query letter and/or proposal.  There are whole books about how to write them — in a nutshell, they should recapture in a few pages what made you excited about this book and let the agent know what to expect.  Queryshark is a great site about queries for fiction writers.  You can find an agent on agentquery.com or by googling your favorite writer and the word ‘agent’.  But, it’s super hard to get an agent right now, as their whole industry is changing and they’re not taking on a lot of new clients right now.  So don’t be discouraged if you’re not chosen.  And always remember, you don’t pay for an agent — instead, they get a percentage of the book sale.

How do you ‘self publish’?  You can pay a printer to print up copies of your book.  But the best option for a lot of people (if you book doesn’t have many pictures) is to create a paperback and an ebook using services like Kindle Direct Publishing and Lulu.  You’ll need a program like Microsoft Word, and then Kindle Direct Publishing will give you a template that helps you design the book.  The upside is that Kindle Direct Publishing is free (you only pay for the books you buy), and puts high quality paperbacks (of yours!) into the hands of Amazon customers (and you get a percentage of the profit [higher than traditional publishing] from each sale).  The down side is that it doesn’t work for books with a lot of pictures, and EVERYTHING is on you.  You control how good the cover, editing, format, and marketing is — that’s a lot of power and responsibility.

What about companies that ‘help’ you self publish?  The best examples of these companies really are invested in making your dream come true.  The trade off is usually that you give them several thousand dollars and they take back a lot of that EVERYTHING responsibility that self publishing pushed into you — editing, formatting etc.  Different packages are different prices — just be sure to do a lot of research if you go this way.  And remember, it’s not anything you can’t learn to do yourself — but then, neither is making your own clothes.  You just have to decide if it’s worth the cost.

I have a great idea for a book.  Can I get someone else to do the ‘writing the book’ bit?  Yes — if you pay them.  Yes — if you want be part of a writing team and do half the work.  Yes — if you’re famous in your field and have a big built-in audience.  But if you have an idea (especially for fiction) and you just want someone else to do the work of writing — you’ll find writers already have too many good ideas and won’t take on some else’s.  So pick up that pen!

Can I get rich and famous doing this?  Of course; we’ve all read the success stories.  But the most important question is What do really want to get out of this?  Don’t just lump your book in with your job, the painting you found in the attic, and the lotto ticket you bought this morning at the Quik Trip.  To paraphrase Fight Club — you are not your get-rich-quick-scheme.  If you spend time with your grandmother, learn her life story, and self publish it as a treasured family heirloom — does it really matter if every book club in the country isn’t reading it?  If your great new plan for paying off student debt faster helps 100 kids have better lives, is that not a success?  If the characters that seem as real as day to you suddenly find a home in a second heart — have you not succeeded spectacularly?

Some Tips —

  • Use a computer if at all possible (it will save you a lot of time later)
  • Use 11 or 12 point Times New Roman font
  • Use format>linespacing>Between Lines 2 SP (or something similar in your program). This is double spacing your lines — it’s easier for editing)
  • If you only have one backup of your book file, you don’t have a backup. Keep several copies on different flash drives, hard drives etc.  And emailing yourself the file is a good way to keep it ‘in the cloud’.
  • Name different saves along the way — yourbook010414.doc — might be a good name for an extra copy you made on Jan. 4th. That way, if you don’t like changes you made, you can go back to the older file.
  • Remember to find inspiration — songs, paintings, picture, articles, jewelry etc that can inspire your book and your characters. Put the pictures around your work area (or on a Pinterest.com board to inspire you).
  • Printing out a chapter, editing it with pen in hand, and reading it aloud to yourself can really make a difference in your finished product.
  • Don’t worry about copyrighting your work. It’s yours from the moment you write it.  If you’re concerned, you can always print out the pages and mail them to yourself.  Don’t open the package; the postmark now serves as a date of when you began the work.  If anyone later tried to claim it, they couldn’t.  But honestly, I’ve never worried about it.  And if you’re afraid of someone stealing your once-in-a-life-time Matrix-like idea — then keep it to yourself until the book is written.
  • Read different things. Don’t read only romance and write romance, or only self help books and then write one.  Instead, try all sorts of things and let them inspire you.  Graphic novels, rap songs, 500 year old poems, British TV shows, documentaries!  Your work will be better and more original if you have more interests and express them in your work.
  • Get excited. There has never been a better time to write, to publish your own book, and/or to share your work online.