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Know Your Local Writer: Jill Hartmann

Welcome to the second 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.

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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: When I was in first grade, my elementary school held a writing contest for Grades K-2.  All of the classes were asked to respond to the following writing prompt: “What will you ask Santa Clause to bring you for Christmas this year?”  (Nowadays this subject would be taboo for a public school wide writing contest, but it was the 1970’s and it was a private school.  None of the parents complained, as far as I knew).  There were several winners chosen, enough to fill two pages in the school’s quarterly magazine.  My response was one of the winning entries.  I wrote a short paragraph asking Santa for peace and happiness for all of my friends and for my family, and for everyone in the world – and for a special best friend.  (Although I’m Jewish, we celebrated Christmas when I was very little, and I loved Santa Clause.  I think I believed he was real until I was eight or nine years old).

Artist: Elizabeth Goodrick (?)

Artist: Elizabeth Goodrick (?)

I’d have to pinpoint this accomplishment as the moment when I had the epiphany that I was a real writer and that I wanted to keep writing. I received a lot of praise for being among the published winners for that holiday writing contest.  I was six years old, and it didn’t take long for my love of writing to grow exponentially.  When I wasn’t writing stories for school, I would carry my mother’s electric typewriter into the hallway and start writing stories off the top of my head, while sitting right in the middle of the floor.  (I have no idea why I didn’t just carry the thing over to the kitchen table and sit in a chair like a regular kid, but then again, I was not a regular kid).  When I wrote in my diary every night, I usually sat on the floor, also.  What can I say, we had very soft carpet in our house when I was a child!

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

A: As a child, the books that fired up my imagination were: the Little House books, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Oz books, written by L. Frank Baum, all of the books written by Judy Blume, Island of the Blue Dolphins, written by Scott O’ Dell, To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, and all of the stories from Greek and Roman mythology.  My favorite authors in my adult years, whom I’d like to emulate, are: John Steinbeck and Jane Austen. Steinbeck’s novels resonate with me because of the way he seamlessly weaves his profound messages into stories about real, everyday people.  I gravitate toward character-centered writing, which I think is Steinbeck’s signature, as well as his talent for painting vivid pictures of the places where his characters are battling inner, and outer, conflicts.  When it comes to Jane Austen’s books, I can’t say enough about how beautifully she writes: her characters, her dialogue, her descriptions, are exquisitely crafted. She has created a portrait of an English society long gone that to this day, is not only remade into films over and over again, but also has been taken on by modern day authors with sequels and other stories that recreate that status driven society of early 19th century England.  Both authors have inspired story ideas of mine, and I wish they had written and published many more books than they lived to write in their respective lifetimes.

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

A: My short story, “To Ride the Wind.”  I wrote it in 7th grade for an English class assignment (It was inspired by John Steinbeck’s novel, The Pearl, incidentally).  My English teacher encouraged me to enter my story into the middle school’s first annual creative writing contest.  My story won first place, which was one of the greatest moments of my life.  “To Ride the Wind” was published in the school newspaper that summer, which I consider to be my first real publication.  Although we all have to work hard, as writers, to develop our talent and to hone our craft, that story is a symbol of what I’m capable of, and a reminder to never give up on my writing, no matter what.

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: In the past seven years, my focus has been on writing memoirs.  I also continue to write poetry, which I have always gravitated toward as a means of expressing my personal thoughts and emotions about life.  Writing memoirs is challenging in that it requires a high degree of vulnerability and also enough emotional distance to imagine what audiences will be able to identify with when reading about my life story.  I’ve spent a lot of time editing and revising my memoirs, as well as reading others’ published memoirs, to guide me in creating books that read like a fictional character-driven novel, even though the stories are non-fiction.

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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: I attended the USC Film School Graduate Screenwriting Program in the 1990’s, which was eye opening as far as how the television and film industry works.  Before then, I took playwriting classes in college.  I have not attended formal writing conferences, yet.  I have taken advantage of as many of the Athens Writers Association’s workshops as I’ve been able to attend in the past 3+ years, and the members of my critique group have made the most significant difference in my becoming a better writer.  They have been my best writing teachers these past 3 years, hands down.  I have learned so much from everything they’ve taught me.

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: Currently, I work as a freelance copyeditor – I proofread, copy edit and revise both non-fiction and fiction manuscripts, and in some cases, Power Point and website copy.  I’ve written articles for publication in the Congregation Children of Israel Temple Times monthly newsletter.  I continue to apply for other freelance writing jobs.  In addition to articles I’ve published in the Temple Times, my work has appeared in three publications in the past three years: Writers After Dark, The Journey Home and Slackpole (the annual holiday issue of Flagpole Magazine).

 

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

A: I’m not sure if this is unique, but I work on writing multiple pieces simultaneously and divide my writing time among those projects.  It is harder for me to write at home than in a coffee house, but I’m working on spending more time writing at my house (while my dogs lay peacefully at my feet).  I work best with a “soundtrack,” which varies, depending on my mood. I tend to listen to a bundle of albums I associate with a particular writing or editing project.  It doesn’t work for me to write in a doctor’s waiting room, or on an airplane, though I have managed to write at a table at the car dealership for several hours, so I’m getting better at writing in less-than-ideal surroundings.  I keep a notebook in my purse at all times so that I can write ideas as they come to me throughout the day.  I used to always write by hand, and nowadays, I usually write on my laptop.  I’ve been thinking of writing shorter pieces by hand in the future because I had a great experience recently when I did that – it was like finding a long lost old friend.

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

A: Not editing as I go while I’m writing my first draft.  I still have trouble just free flow writing without going back and rereading and rewriting as I go along.  It slows me down, a lot.  Breaking this habit is a work in progress.

Q: What are you currently writing?

A: My primary current writing project is a memoir about a tragic life-changing event that occurred in 1992, which resulted in a complex life-changing endeavor of mine over the next three months. Events that occurred during that time in my life substantially shaped the rest of my adult life, for the better, in my opinion. My hope is that this story of my journey from heartbreak and grief to activism and healing will inspire others to triumph in the wake of their own tragedies.

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

A: I meet people all the time who tell me about how they are “just dabbling” in writing, whether it be a short story or poetry or a novel, and I always encourage them to not sell themselves short as writers.  Everyone has to start at the beginning and many people who are prolific writers start late in life, not realizing how much talent they’ve always had.  It’s never too late so I say, don’t underestimate yourself and just be willing to learn and get feedback from other writers whom you trust.  Keep writing, don’t give up and join our group. We’re a great source of peer support and encouragement – I know for a fact that it has made a significant difference for many of our members.

Q: How has being a writer changed your life?

A: The real question is how has being a writer not changed my life!  I have believed for a long time, since I won that first contest in 7th grade, that writing is what I was born to do.  I gave it up for 15 years and took the safe route in life, becoming a teacher and then working in administration at a major university.  My dog, Toby Hartmann, inadvertently led me back to writing, and moving to Athens gave me the opportunity to spend the time writing Toby’s story that I used to spend at my brick and mortar job in San Diego, California.  It’s hard to explain how being a writer has changed me except to say that now I remember who I am – not to use a cliché, but it’s true that, “I once was lost, and now I’m found.” I know that this is my purpose in life.  I cannot feel fulfilled if I cannot write – it is what I need to do for myself.  I can no longer imagine not being a writer.  It is scary to open myself up to my readers, but it’s worth it to me to share my voice with the rest of the world.

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AWA at ‘Lickskillet’!

We had a great time, met friends old and new, and sold a few books.  Check out the pics below!

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Katherine Cerulean’s ‘dream board’, our drawing for a gift certificate, a red dalek in the donation box, a Philips ‘Hue’ light, and — of course — chocolate.

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So many beautiful books!

Dac Crossley at his booth.

Dac Crossley at his booth.

The Tuesday Writing / Critique Group debuting their newest book 'Tuesday's Tales'

The Tuesday Writing / Critique Group debuting their newest book ‘Tuesday’s Tales’.

Daniel Galt at his booth

Daniel Galt at his booth.

Sara Winick Herrington at her BEE-you-ti-ful table

Sara Winick Herrington at her BEE-you-ti-ful table.

Sara Winick Herrington at her table with Phyl Campbell, Katherine Cerulean, and Amanda McMurtrey.

Sara Winick Herrington at her table with Phyl Campbell, Katherine Cerulean, and Amanda McMurtrey.

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.

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

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.

The Villain’s Viewpoint

Just before Halloween, as darkness fell, a secretive group (AWA writers) met in a large, intimidating building (the local library) to discuss a gallery of murderers, psychopaths, and all-around bad eggs.  A great time was had by all, and we came away with some new perspectives on one of the most important characters in any novel.

Below is a short handout I made for the class — hopefully it will inspire some deviant thinking of your own.

 The Villain’s Viewpoint

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First, some terms —

  • VILLAIN — a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot
  • NEMESIS — a long-standing rival; an archenemy.  A function of the Nemesis character (in the Hero’s Journey) is to embody the Hero’s inner conflict
  • ANTI-HERO — a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes
  • THRESHOLD GUARDIAN —  A figure or event that tests the resolve of a Hero as he pursues his destiny and/or his goal
  • ANTAGONIST — a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary

When thinking about viewpoints, it’s important to remember some villains don’t have them — the aliens from the Alien series, tornadoes and other disasters, dangerous animals, and even total personifications of evil like Sauron (from The Lord of the Rings) — they don’t get human personalities and weaknesses (though characters like Saruman and Sméagol do).  They may still be a character in your novel though, just in a way in which their unfathomable, unstoppable nature is their forefront characteristic.

To explore why our villains do what they do, you must have empathy for them, or at least sympathy.  Who were they as children?  Even if someone was ‘born evil’ would that not arouse your sympathy and make you wonder how they grew up, who they loved, who could never love them back?  Even an evil you can never understand still can arouse a feeling of compassion — their lives (if only their internal landscape) must be a terrible place to live.

Also remember that the villain’s journey is the reverse image of the hero’s (one’s victory is the other’s defeat).  Who are they when no one’s looking?

Here’s some examples —

  • GlaDOS (Portal) is a killer robot but she believes she’s just ‘testing’ our hero through a series of life-and-death trials. GlaDOS represents a ‘lawful evil’ (an alignment from Dungeons & Dragons) who believes she’s following the rules and being a good employee.  She’s also very funny, which is good since the hero doesn’t talk.6e72a8de5dfa3668281cd8cfea6831a2
  • Professor Moriarty (Sherlock) is of superior intelligence and illuminates the path Sherlock could have taken (shadow self) if his beliefs in the ‘moral law’ had not prevented him. These types often see themselves as above society (Magneto’s homosuperiors from The X-Men) — they believe that they have either freed themselves or been born exempt from the rules others must follow.  If everyone is trying to achieve money, safety, and happiness they reason, shouldn’t the smartest (strongest etc.) win the biggest piece of the pie?85170947a9c72916ee5b5c6fa6a2f026
  • Harvey Dent (Batman) represents chaos (as Batman does order) but he also shows a good man transformed by loss into a villain. Chance turned Dent evil and chance is what he gives his victims via the coin toss.  The overprotective father who limits his younger son’s actions while mourning his elder son’s death could have the same reasoning.  The sense that retribution is necessary can create villains where heroes once stood.66b122ce13521ae8465d4a4f1184d673
  • Ursula (The Little Mermaid) is a pretty simple villain and yet she also stands in for an important archetype — the villain as guardian. Changing from a mermaid to a person is not something people should take lightly.  Any time your hero seeks out magic, money, or power they don’t understand, they may be striking a ‘Faustian bargain’.  Even though Ursula wants revenge on the sea king, her role is an important one: she is the holder of great magic.  Cerberus, guardian of the underworld and many other Threshold Guardians also challenge the hero, temping them to make a choice that will change their lives forever.  The villain may feel the hero deserves the price they pay for their foolishness.bd70b46e58e8760f895a77b53149cbe6
  • Loki (Thor) is the brother of Thor, God of Thunder.  Loki seeks the approval of their father Odin and to protect his homeland of Asgard.  He and his brother are alike in their desires.  But Thor is a strong, brave warrior in a culture that honors those traits, whereas Loki is sly, smart and good at magic.  One could argue that ‘chance’ turned Loki into a villain, but unlike Harvey Dent, cruelty and neglect (from Odin and Thor) were what changed Loki, not an accident.  Loki truly believes that Thor is the wrong man to lead Asgard and so acts from a hero’s POV — he’s trying to prove himself while saving his people.  His actions are more interesting because what he is doing is so wrong while he believes that he’s doing right.  Some antagonists will also work against our hero while believing they are doing it for the greater good.  Agent Sadusky (National Treasure) knows our hero wants to steal the Declaration of Independence and so is pursuing our hero, not knowing that the hero is trying to keep the Declaration from a group of thieves who will destroy it.  Sudusky’s limited POV makes him work against our hero — much as Loki’s inability to imagine Thor growing into a great leader limits his perspective.8951e6104707d54b865cf972803cdf1b
  • The Joker (The Dark Knight) also represents chaos in Batman’s life, but he has no sympathetic back story — in fact he tells many versions of ‘how I these scars’. One may be true, or none.  The Joker just wants to watch the world burn.  He is ourselves turned loose — instead of using his unmooring from society to achieve power or money — he just does what brings him glee at the given moment.  There is something very appealing in letting ourselves go — this kind of character is enjoying every minute of the ride — and even the end may not bother him.  For this type of character just remember to dig deep into their happiness — they may be doing the most appalling things but loving it.f8ebd12ed0f285adc863002cec7344a9
  • Hannibal Lecter (Hannibal) is smart, cultured, polite — and he eats people. He also is interested in our hero Will Graham and honestly believes that he can help Will break out of his shell as a ‘good person’ and become more —  more like Hannibal — and self actualized.  While Hannibal makes some choices just ‘to see what would happen’, he seems to sincerely want to help Will transform.  That Will neither wants nor may survive such attention is of little matter — Hannibal sees himself as giving Will a chance to better himself — the rest is up to Will.  The tough drill sergeant who tries to ‘break’ our hero, or Annie Wilkes’ (Misery) desire to improve her favorite author (and his writing) are other examples of mentor/villains ‘helping’ our heroes, even to the edge of death.873a5f419fe71362ae6c840364dc0d1e

In the end, villains are some of the most colorful, exciting characters to write.  They don’t have to play by the rules and they give us writers a chance to explore the shadowy underside of the human psyche.

But remember to make them human first and foremost.  If a motivation wouldn’t be good enough for your hero (‘he likes money’) then it’s not good enough for your villain.  They may act crazy, but a good villain is using logic — no matter how skewed — to try to achieve his aims, be it for order, respect, illumination, teaching others a lesson, protecting what he loves, having a good time, or changing our hero into a better person.

That the villain should fail will be your story, to know that his failure is a tragedy shall be your goal.

Lord Vader by Marie Bergeron

Lord Vader by Marie Bergeron

Note:  We have now completed our fall schedule of free writing classes.  Please look at our ‘Upcoming Events’ page to see what we have planned so far for Winter/Spring 2016.  And as always, anyone interested in teaching a class is encouraged and appreciated.  Please contact me at Katherinecerulean@gmail.com to arrange a time and date.

Let Your Characters Plot Your Novel

For those of you who couldn’t make it to AWA founder Katherine Cerulean’s class at the Athens Regional Library in August, please enjoy this handout — 

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Plot is one of those words that can strike fear in a writer’s heart –at least, it does for me.  Especially when I was a beginning writer.  Characters I like, dialogue is fun, words are magic — but plot, plot is tricky.  Plot is so bold, so important.  Plot’s what happens, what surprises people, what keeps people reading until they fall in love with your characters.

It is said that there is really only one plot – the resolution of a problem.  It’s also been said there’s 2, 3, 7, 20, and 36 plots — just so you know, options.  Before we talk about our characters, let’s talk a little about plot.

What is a plot?

The main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.

Ernest Lehman said —

  1. ‘In the first act, it’s who are the people and what is the situation of this whole story.
  2. The second act is the progression of that situation to a high point of conflict and great problems.
  3. And the third act is how the conflicts and problems are resolved.’

What does character-driven and plot-driven mean?

‘Character-driven writing is focused on the characters and the internal change, more so than the events and situations that take place while plot-driven writing is focused on the actual happenings and the external changes of the story.’ — from thescriptlab.com

More ‘literary fiction’ is character based, while some genre fiction is action-packed and the characters don’t learn or grow as much.  In an action-filled story, your characters may still make important decisions that change the plot, but they are less likely to change themselves in major ways (think about Indiana Jones or James Bond: they don’t change [much] but their choices and actions still save the girl, the day, or the world [the external challenge].)

Do I HAVE to plot out my novel?

No.  In ‘On Writing’, Stephen King writes, “Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort, and the dullard’s first choice.”

From nybookeditors.com — ‘But for writers striving to create something unique and surprising, the kind of work that will grab the attention of agents and editors, the thorough plotting and planning can be a matter of life and death. By that, I mean that planning your novel ahead of time increases its likelihood of being dead on arrival.  It may fly in the face of your tried and true approach, but I’m going to ask you to consider a different tack: Don’t plan. Write.’

Having a couple of page outline can help you understand the major ‘beats’ of a novel, and give you a distant landmark to head toward, but too much planning can ruin the moment.  Do what feels comfortable to you, but be open to feeling uncomfortable as well.  I was recently writing the last third of a novel when a conversation with my sister led to a stunning revelation about my story.  I HAD to go in an entirely different direction than I’d been planning.  I was quite concerned that I was ruining my book, but I trusted myself, kept writing, and now it’s my favorite novel I’ve written.

When in doubt, trust yourself.  Or, as I’ve had written on an index card on my wall for almost 15 years — ‘Trust the story’.  The true, beating heart of your story will never lead you astray.

How do I let my characters ‘plot my novel’?

Basic-plot-structure

The idea here is to relax and trust.  If you think about your story, the story world, and each of your main characters, you have all the ingredients needed to plot your story as you’re writing it.  It’s been said that ‘In life, one thing happens after another.  In fiction, one thing happens because of another.’  Your life is being plotted out all the time, sometimes intentionally by you (the protagonist), and sometimes by others (supporting characters), and sometimes by acts outside human control (your two page ‘blueprint’).

Just remember that we are in control a lot more than you’d think.  Look at these scenarios —

  • Car broke down?  . . . and your hero hadn’t changed the oil in the last 6 years.
  • He had a heart attack — after decades of a two-Big-Mac-a-day habit.
  • Your hero got turned down for admission to Princeton for having bad grades.
  • His wife leaves him.

In the first three, the hero made choices (somewhere along the way) that led to these seemingly out-of-their-hands situations.  But what about the last one?  Did he take his wife for granted?  Stop saying thank you and asking how her day was?  Or did she meet someone else, become wrapped up in a daydream, and leave a great life and husband?  Maybe they were both in a life-changing car crash, or won the lottery, or just grew apart.  The important thing is to remember that even in an external action, ‘plot-driven’ story, characters are making choices all the time.

Liam Neeson’s character in ‘Taken’ has no control over the fact his daughter was kidnapped (that was the writer’s big picture ‘blueprint’ of the story they wanted to tell).  However, when he says ‘I do have are a very particular set of skills’, that is pure character.  He’s not mouthing these words so we can jump from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ in the story, that character is speaking from personality, anger, and experience.  He won’t just go to the police.  He will find and hunt the perpetrators down.  Bryan Mills (the character) had no other choice in that moment — it’s a character-driven action.

Trusting and following your characters, step-by-steps

  1. When you first develop your story, trust your landscape even if it looks like a half-finished jigsaw puzzle.  Leave room for more characters to appear.  And believe that the whole story exists out there, complete, and that in time you will discover it.
  2. Envision scenes with your characters talking to each other.  Watch for clues — why does he change the subject when she asks about his past?  Why does she call herself Mrs. Callaway when we know she’s never been married?  What made him become a doctor when he just said the law was his first love?  You want to observe these things quietly, and investigate them surreptitiously, as to not impose or change the story world — just watch, ask questions and probe deeper.
  3. Pick a great hero (or know you’ve been picked by one).  Honestly, half the battle of plotting is won by an interesting, inquisitive, and active protagonist.  You should keep digging and working with your hero until you can really hear and see them, and then hopefully they will talk and act in ways that will move your story forward.  Even if your character was told to sit in a bare chair in a empty room and wait, you should know (see) what action they would take next.  How long would they wait?  Would they light a smoke?  Pace?  Sleep?  Sneak out of the room and spy on others?
  4. Keep writing forward.  In your first draft, don’t keep polishing.  I allow myself to re-read what I wrote last session, correct a few typos, then move forward.  That’s it.  If you have those few, big events planned out, start writing toward them (i.e. she leaves for college) and just watch what she does.
  5. Don’t skip ahead.  Once you start writing, stop thinking and plotting it out in your head (work on future stories instead).  If you’re excited to see what happens next, discipline yourself to wait till you can sit down and write what happens next.
  6. Let your character Choose Her Own Adventure.  Ever read those charming second person stories like ‘Cave of Time’?  Now it’s time to put your fourth grade skills to work — only now your hero is doing the deciding.  In the example of someone leaving for college, what might happen?  Her mom suggests a going-away party.  Look closely at your character.  Is she — excited about any party?  Annoyed at her mom for mentioning it?  Wants to spend all of her remaining time packing and planning?  Little choices will tell you a lot about your character, and may lead to big choices (even ones you didn’t plan on) later in the story.
  7. Gage your excitement level.  When your plot goes one way (huge blowout going-away party!), think about how you feel.  Are you excited to read/write this part?  If not, skip it and just have your character bring the reader up to date (‘The worst party of my life.  And then HE showed up’).  Now you’re interested, right?  Write that encounter.  Since you’re not plotting out every little scene, it’s important to feel that internal compass — and be willing to throw out a page or two and back up if you find yourself getting bored.  As my grandmother use to say about crochet — ‘Be a cheerful ripper!’
  8. When you and your characters disagree, you yield to them.  Say you plan on your hero meeting the love of her life, a shy CompSci major, in college and getting engaged fast (which brings on troubles with the mom back home).  And so you start writing it that way, only you’re getting bored writing about their first date and then your hero wants, after using the restroom, to sneak out of the restaurant and never look back.  NOO!  You try to write it right, but your character’s whole personality suggests this other action.  She wants to run out.  You kind of want to see what would happen if she did, but it will ruin your whole plan.  Or would it?  If your story is about growing up, confrontation with parents, and becoming the person you’re suppose to be, then shy Derek doesn’t matter — you just thought he mattered.  Tell yourself you’ll just write a few pages to ‘see where this goes’ and you’ll probably find more interesting, and more original, ways to get her to the point of the big blowup/confrontation with her mom.
  9. If you get stuck, wander.  We are not a wandering world anymore.  You’re either hard at work or hard at play.  We have become allergic to dawdling, saunters, and the meandering path.  But if you lose the flow of your story, think on different locations and people, flip forward in time, even change viewpoints.  Search for the heart of your story, and let what’s interesting guide you back to the trail.
  10. Trust the power of the rewrite.  Your second draft (and third and forth…) is an easy place to cut, add, and polish.  I have never had to change much, but I have made stories immensely better by adding a couple of little scenes, wrapping up characters arcs for characters who disappeared after page 50, and getting voice stronger from beginning to end.  Just have fun with the wild ride of a first draft (follow your heart), and know you can make it more perfect in later drafts.
  11. Let it wobble.  This is a strange concept.  But as you move away from a perfect, detailed structure and start following a real, breathing world full of characters that make weird choices, resist the urge to tie up all the loose ends, make the world pristine, or only leave in lines that are related to your through plot.  Like a bowl spinning but not tipping over, let your story have some odds and ends that don’t quite match and meet up.  Obviously, you want your story to be building tension, and be mostly tied together, but I believe you also want space, room to breathe, and little gaps where a reader might stop and ponder — ‘Why didn’t he finish school?  He just left and we never found out why.’  Or ‘It was pretty cool when her dad talked on and on about space and the planets.  It didn’t tie into the story, but it made me think of my own dad.’  Or ‘Why did he say London reminds him of Paris when he hates London and loves Paris?’  In life we don’t have all the answers in front of us — shouldn’t fiction be the same?

“Follow the light of your intuition, and keep away from the darkness of convention.”
                                                                             ― Michael Bassey Johnson

When you plot out your novel, you are using your reason and experience.  But you’re not creating in the same way.  You’re guessing, and you may get scared and conservative.  You’ll do what you’ve seen done in stories before — and that would a great shame and a repetition.  But if you trust yourself, believe that you know the characters and the world well, and listen to your character’s heart and voice, you can find you’ve written a story wilder than you had planned, more twisty than you could conceive of, and more refreshing (and exciting) than you’ve ever dreamed.

And isn’t that what a plot should be?  

from manhattancouture.tumblr.com

from
manhattancouture.tumblr.com

 

Ten Reasons Why Writers Should Network (and one reason why they shouldn’t)

Like many other writers, I spend a lot of time alone.  And I like it.  A lot.

But I also founded the Athens Writers Association.

Why?  What pulls us writers out of our shells, away from our peaceful little nest-like abodes, and out into the public eye, the uneasy conversation, or even onto the (gasp!) center stage?

A lot of reasons, obviously.  It would be very false to attribute just one explanation to us all.  That said — whatever draws us out — what we often find is a network.

That word still reeks of business-ese to me, and makes me envision lots of men in ill-fitting suits pressing business cards into each other’s hands, and yet I’m sure networking is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself as a writer.

Found on professionalartistmag.com

A little background: home schooled off the grid in the 80s and 90s, I had very little contact with other writers ’til I started going to classes and writers conferences in 1998.  Even then, I was very shy, somewhat nervous, and thought I didn’t have anything to say that people would want to hear.  But…  I also had a burning desire to become a great writer.

So in 2002 I joined a novel critique group that met at the local Borders bookstore and made my first writing friends.  In the four years we were together, I eventually became co-moderator.  The most fascinating thing to me though, was watching my writing get better as I moved from being the baby newbie writer of the group to one of the most experienced (it also taught me about the high turnover of groups 😉 ).  I am forever indebted to those writers, because they helped me become better than I had even been before, and I’m not sure if I would have ever gotten to where I am now without their help and opinions.

Found on professionalartistmag.com

After the first critique group ended I tried to start another one called (cough, cough) Novel Journeys but that didn’t take (someone in the group actually hated Tolkien).  Fast forward to 2012.  I had been meeting with other creative types for a few months through Meetup.com, but I felt the need for more.  I knew there had to be lots of writers in the Athens area, but it was hard to meet them, and by that point I had visited a few more critiques groups and decided that wasn’t the place for me (and my writing) right then.

So the Athens Writers Association was born, born of a desire to connect — I just didn’t know how or why yet.  Sixteen people showed up at that first meeting, and let me tell you, it was pretty intimidating to talk in front of them.  But in one night I had almost doubled the number of local writers I’d ever met.  We were on to something.

But this isn’t about me or even about AWA.  This is about you, and why you should (if you feel the distant call) journey outward, at least as far as to touch our hands, make contact, and know you’re not alone in the crazy thing called the writing life.  Here’s why —

Ten Reasons Why Writers Should Network (and one reason why they shouldn’t)

  1.    You are not alone.  One of the best reasons to connect with any group of like-minded or similarly-experienced people is to understand how universal your feelings and problems are.  My sister is my closest confidante and yet in writing, the other AWA members ‘get’ me in a way non-writers, even an artist, cannot.  My issues are their issues.  Just knowing others are out there on the same journey can help immensely.
  2. Your writing will improve.  Even if you’re not in a critique group, exposure to others will sharpen your game, help you ferret out old troupes and worn-out plots, and inspire you in new directions.
  3. You get to do scary things again and again and again.  I know, sounds great right?  But talking to strangers, reading your work in public, teaching classes, editing collections, and more all become much easier with practice.  Believe me — I have had to become much more outgoing.  I can’t promise that it gets easy for us introverts but I can promise you that it’s worth it.  Being outgoing may not become natural, but it becomes a tool in your toolbox, so that when you want to approach your favorite author, write to a potential agent, or give a talk on something you’re passionate about — you can.  And you’ll know how to feel the fear and do it anyway, because you’ve already done it before, many times.
  4. You’ll meet the best people.  Congratulations!  You have picked an interest with some of the kindest, smartest, and funniest people you’ll ever meet (even if they are sticklers for things like ‘Oxford Commas’).  These people are the kind you’d hope to find one of, and instead you get a roving pack of them.  Take the time to find some favorites, and you might even find yourself new friends to do things with like see movies, go to parties, and have picnics (maybe you extroverts already have a ton of these people, but it’s a big find for quiet folk like me).
  5. You’ll find all sorts of new opportunities.   It’s the beating heart of business networking and it turns out to be true: knowing more people means you get to do things you never dreamed of.  I have read poetry at UGA, met Georgia Hall of Fame writers, read a zombie story at Cine theater, met the founder of Rabbit Box, and more all because of putting myself out there.  And the same opportunities are available to you: I will personally tranq dart and drag to the Athens Regional Library meeting rooms anyone who expresses even a mild interest in teaching a writing class (watch out, you could be next).
  6. Beta readers!  Now, a word of warning: no one really has time to read your new manuscript.  They don’t know if it’s any good, and as writers, AWA members are already living full lives AND are trying to find time for their own writing.  But, that said, as you make friends and people learn about your work and style, you may find sweet, awesome people who will help make your novel better.  If so, listen to them, thank them, ply them with chocolate and gifts, and hold no grudges if they don’t finish it/read it/like it.  They are still an invaluable part of your writing education.
  7. You’ll learn that you aren’t as good (or bad) as you think.  In dog showing, they call it ‘kennel vision’.  If all you see is your baby, Lord Crestwoods Roving Rover, day in and day out, you’ll start planning the outfit you’ll wear when you win Best In Show at Westminster.  When I came to my first group, I was the worst writer and it made me want to improve.  That group also had a guy show up (for a couple of meetings) who had written a chapter one that made you want scream with envy — I don’t know what he’s doing now, but I know he made me better.  On the flip side, it’s great to see how far you’ve come: you see the little baby writers (of any age) teetering about and you help them get better and feel proud of all you’ve learned since you were their age.
  8. You won’t take scary people as seriously.  “Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” –Gilbert K. Chesterton.  Editors, agents, traditionally published writers — up close, they look shockingly like you and me.  They are afraid of talking to their idols, they worry about sucking, and they hate rejection too.  And if you never meet important people, you may never realize that you have all the right ingredients to become one of them.
  9. You’ll get (even more) excited about writing.  I have never left a writer, or group of writers, without a renewed sense of joy, inspiration, and a deep desire to get my butt in a chair and start writing.
  10. You will realize you are part of something larger.  Whether in a social or spiritual way, writing is connection.  We may write alone, but we are not alone.  Others have come before us, others will trail after.  Some shall inspire us and others will be inspired.  In our own lives where we see confusion, others will find symmetry.  In our work where we see a wandering exposition, others will find their favorite passage.  And when we see only darkness, others will show us the light and lead us back to the path.  It’s not easy to meet strangers, but strangers are the scared keepers of our best friends, if we have only the courage to go forth and meet them.

Found on coleenpatrick.com

Oh, and the one reason NOT to network?  Because you truly don’t want to and it offers you nothing.  That’s fine.  Because, after all —

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1st Annual AWA Writers Picnic!

wordwomanpartialellipsisofthesun.blogspot.com

Come one, come all!

  • Saturday, June 20, 2015

    2:00 PM

  • Ben Burton Park

    Mitchell Bridge Road, Athens, GA

 

The Athens Writers Association invites all Athens-area writers (including screenwriters, songwriters, poets, etc) to join our five founding members — Katherine Cerulean, Jill Hartmann-Roberts, Jennifer Innes, Elsa Russo, and Rob White —  for an afternoon of fun, food, and fellowship. Come meet the other energetic, creative, and friendly wordsmiths who are living right in your hometown. If you haven’t gotten to come to an AWA meeting before — now’s your chance!

New writers are welcome. This event is FREE!

Note: The picnic is a potluck-style event, so if you arrive hungry, please bring a dish. If you can’t afford a dish or are not hungry, please bring just yourself!

Ben Burton Park is free but has limited seating, so bring a chair or a blanket if it would make you more comfortable.
Feel free to bring Frisbees etc, for even more fun!

 

How To Create and Publish an Ebook

black android smartphone beside black ceramic mug on brown wooden table

Photo: @felipepelaquim

For those of you who couldn’t make it to our ebook class, here’s the handout.  Enjoy!

By Katherine Cerulean

NOTE: Most of the information below is about how to publish an ebook on Amazon.com.  That’s what I first tried and it’s worked so well for me that I haven’t looked further.  But for those opposed to Amazon, lulu.com and nookpress.com/ebooks are other popular ways to bring your ebook into the world.  Gumroad.com is another option — it allows you to sell files directly to your readers.

First of All . . .

Creating a great ebook begins long before you start an Amazon Kindle account, create a book cover, or hit the ‘upload’ button.  Like everything we do, it starts with great writing.

Deciding to publish your own ebook is the first step in one of the most dramatic examples of ‘you get out of something what you put into it’ that you’ll ever experience.  And on one shoulder you’ll see the angel of ‘professional, traditionally-published books’ — inspiring you and disheartening you by turns with their high level of perfection (more specifically formatting and proofreading than necessarily content).  On your other shoulder is the devil of ‘DIY {shrug} good enough books’ — temping you to give up and accept a ‘sort of’ professional book that’s still better than 50% of stuff out there (BTW — I think in any venture you should shoot for [and can hit] the top 90% to 95% percentile of awesome).

The best way to rise above the ebook crowd is to have a great book to start with.  An amazing story, interesting or helpful information, or unforgettable characters.  You want to have the same high standards a traditional book publisher would have, and press yourself for another rewrite if it’s not quite up to par (actually, we’re aiming for birdies and eagles here, if you remember).

Now, I know what you’re thinking — “I know about writing.  I came here to learn about creating an ebook.”  Fair enough, but understand this: sending out an unpolished, error-filled, ‘good enough’ ebook into the world will do no one any favors.  Instead, honor yourself and spend the time, effort, or money (if you decide to hire an editor and/or proofreader) to get it right.  I promise you that the feeling of pride you get will make your effort worthwhile.

So to sum up: Remember to have a perfect copy first — PERFECT.  Every tiny mistake, added line, and misspelled word can make a huge headache later.  Every time I’m like ‘I wish I’d edited more’ — every time.

What are You Publishing — and Why?

If you’ve ever submitted a query letter to an agent or publisher, you know things like word count and genre are integral parts of that communication.  But what about when you are in charge; do those things matter at all?

The short answer is: Somewhat.  The long answer: They should matter to you for the main reason they matter to traditional publishers — audience expectations.

Ebooks allow total freedom in word count.  You can publish a 80,000 word self help book, a 2,000 word short story, or a 1,000,000 word epic fantasy novel — but should you?  You have to charge at least 99 cents on Amazon for your book, so something as short as this blog would probably be a disappointment to most readers.  Conversely, I might also want my 99 cents back after slugging through a novel nearly twice as long as War & Peace.

So don’t worry too much about length, but don’t use your freedom with word count to become unprofessional.

As for that other language of query letters, what about genres?  Here you’ll get to decide, and you should educate yourself about different genres and find the books most similar to your own.  Don’t call your book ‘young adult’ just because it’s a hot category.

The last question you should ask yourself is ‘Why do I want to publish an ebook?’  Some people want to be as successful as J.K. Rowling.  Well, sure.  But in the here and now, wanting to share your story, or your grandmother’s story, is a more attainable goal.  Wanting to make a beautiful, polished ebook and doing something you’ve never done before is a wonderful thing to want, and a very satisfying thing to achieve.

How to Format Your Manuscript

Everything from this section is from Catherine Ryan Howard’s wonderful book Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing (now in its 3rd edition).  I really can’t recommend this book too strongly to anyone interested in self publishing.  This is just a taste of the details and steps she takes you through — I really wouldn’t do a project without it!  Spending $15 is a very worthwhile investment in your ebook.

First make two copies marking one ebook and one paperback (e.g. ‘othergodsebook.doc’).  Make another called othergodsebook2.doc or something just in case things go horribly wrong.

Keep it simple, something that it can easily convert and look good on many different devices.  No crazy fonts, line breaks, bullet-lists etc.

Some books don’t work as ebooks (photography, cooking, etc).  Novels are a little easier to convert than other types of books.

Turn off ‘Track Changes’.

Things that have to go (if you’re using Microsoft Word)–

  • Headers and Footers (the numbers that tell us what page we’re on and what book we’re reading)
  • Title page
  • Copyright (we’ll change it for the ebook)
  • Tables, columns, and other non-fiction elements

Go ‘nuclear’ by taking away all formatting by copying your file and pasting it into NotePad, TextEdit.

Copy and paste that back into Word.  Eliminate blank lines (two at the end of each chapter is fine).

Copy all and go to Format -> Style then modify it to Times New Roman, 10 Point, left-aligned and single space.

Then go to Format -> Paragraph and set it to left-aligned with first line indent to 0.3″.

Add front matter like this —

OTHER GODS

By Katherine Cerulean

Kindle Edition | Copyright 2015 Katherine Cerrulean

All rights reserved.  No part of this e-book may be reproduced in any form other than that in which it was purchased without the written permission of the author.

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.

Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

http://www.KatherineCerulean.com

Then create a new style called ‘Front Matter’ and center your text, and use Paragraph to not have indents.

You’ll eventually have two files, one for Smashwords and one for Kindle, but you can do that at the end.  The ‘Kindle edition’ section in the front matter will be the only difference.

Only insert page breaks after the front matter and after each chapter.  Place one paragraph before and after the page break.  Create the break by going to Insert ->Page Break.

Go back and add in italics and bold.

Then add end matter like this —

THE END

###  — always end your ebook will these three marks

(Other Possible End Matter) —

Author’s Note

Something very important about your book, such as historical clarification.

Acknowledgements

In an ebook these go at the end.  Time to thank all the good folks that got you here.

About the Author (should look something like this)

Katherine Cerulean grew up in the countryside, home-schooled near Athens, GA.  She has been writing seriously for sixteen years, starting with screenwriting and then moving into novels.  Her completed novels are Other Gods (a fantasy) and A Caged Heart Still Beats (a love story).  She is the founder of the Athens Writers Association.  She is also the author of How to Come Alive: A Guidebook to Living the Life of Your Dreams.  Her next novel Fall Street, a coming of age story, is in progress.

Read the first chapter of Fall Street at http://www.katherinecerulean.com/my-novels/fall-street.com

http://www.KatherineCerulean.com

You can also create a ‘live’ table of contents.  I did not bother with this for my self improvement book, but for a longer non-fiction it could be an advantage.

Your Ebook Cover

The best cover I could make . . .

The best cover I could make . . .

. . . and the cover my sister, who is an artist, made.

. . . and the cover my sister, who is an artist, made.

Your cover should be a JPEG image that is at least 1,000 pixels wide on the longest side and ideally a height/width ratio of 1.6 and Amazon recommends 2,500 pixels on the longest side for best quality.

You can make an easy little cover with Word or Publisher but remember to buy  a picture from the stock image websites or use your own — never anyone else’s.  You could also get written permission (say, if you wanted to use an old photo your mother had taken of your grandmother).

BUT — You get what you pay for.  I learned the hard way that you really need a professional’s eye (or at least an art or design student’s).  In Athens it should be easy to find someone who has the skills you’re looking for.  Remember, you have skills too; maybe you could proofread their term paper in exchange for their time and effort.

Uploading To Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

Creating an account is super easy and free.  You will need to enter your name, address, and social security number (for tax purposes).

Then Add New Title  — (getting exciting here!)

Add your cover photo, description, and book file.  Search my name and ‘amazon descriptions’ if you would like to read my three-part series about writing a good listing.  BAM!  You’re done and your ebook listing should appear on Amazon in a few days.

Other Info

Smashwords.com is a free site where you can also sell your ebook and get in on Barnes & Noble’s website, Kobo website etc.  It’s harder to get a ‘passing grade’ than with Amazon, but if you’re serious you should eventually do it.  It’s also can be hard to get your book off those sites if you decide you want to take it down to do an exclusive Amazon promotion.

Quick Notes About Creating a Paperback:

Createspace.com is the perfect venue to use if you want to publish a paperback and an ebook.  It’s a part of Amazon and for free you can create both a paperback and an ebook (you’ll still be uploading two different files so it’s still twice the work).

The paperback is a separate beast, but one only somewhat more gnarly (and snarly) than its ebook cousin.  Paperbacks add in page numbers, fancier chapter headings, white pages to denote new sections, and more appealing lists.  All of these can make a self published book look very professional.  And all can make you want fall on the floor weeping.  A book like Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard, can teach you how to format your paperback and in the end, a few day’s work is well worth it when you see how beautiful your book can be.

In the End

The most important takeaway is that you CAN publish an ebook.  It’s not magic.  It doesn’t take a million dollars.  What it takes a little time, a little practice, and a whole lot of patience (or coffee).  But you’ll come away with a powerful new skill, a beautiful book, and a wonderful way to share your story with the world.  Let me know if I can help.

For questions — contact me at katherinecerulean@gmail.com.  Or visit —      Katherinecerulean.com