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Know Your Local Writer: Katiedid Langrock

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

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

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

I have one of those amazing stories of superb teacher intervention. I was eleven years old, combating a rough spell of pre-adolescence and lost my drive to succeed. I wouldn’t do my homework or take any tests. Rather, on the back of the forms I routinely refused to fill in, I would write stories about a rebellious young girl who could do no right.

I should have failed that year. I was practically begging to fail. But rather than seeing a flunkee, Mr. Patrick saw a kid in need of a little special attention. He called me after class one day to make me an offer. If I could muster the ambition to ask him for an alternative to the homework or tests, he would give me a unique story-based assignment. However, if I ever asked and then failed to hand in the work, the deal was off.

From that day on, I never answered math equations, but rather, wrote word problems that proved I understood the lesson. I never took another scantron exam about ancient Egypt, but rather wrote stories from the point of view of King Tut. Mr. Patrick saw potential and put the pen in my hand. He could have failed me that year. Many other teachers would have. Instead, he gave me my career and a creative outlet has never let me down.

 

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

No book shaped me more as a writer than Catcher in the Rye. That book inspired my foray into screenwriting. I had never read anything written in that way; in the first person with such a command of voice and such a unique world-view. As a fifteen-year- old, Holden Caulfield was my heartthrob of choice.

I was so smitten by CITR, that – in my free time – I wrote monologues from the perspective of the other characters in the story who didn’t get a fair chance to speak. The monologue I wrote from the perspective of the prostitute won an award the following year when, at sixteen, I attended summer-college at Syracuse University. It was there that a professor told me for the first time that I could write professionally. If only I were brave enough to try.

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

Oh man, I have no idea. When I am writing for myself, I always like to push myself to try something new. I will tackle a new genre or story-telling style. Anything to force myself to learn and adapt and mold language in new and exciting ways. A few of these attempts have ended in miserable failures, but each of these experimental babies are loved equally. I can’t pick a favorite because, since they were each equally out of my comfort zone, they each equally taught me something profound.

The accomplishment comes not from believing I have a new style or genre nailed down, but rather, in knowing that I don’t have to be afraid of it. In learning that now I have yet another arena in which I can play. And isn’t that the best part of being a writer, getting to play?

All this being said, getting to go to the Emmys when Project Mc2, a show I helped develop and write, was nominated for Best Children’s Program, was a pretty spectacular experience.

— Walt Whitman

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?”

As stated in the previous question, I love to play and try new things. However, I will say I have two passions and though folks find them quite dissimilar, I couldn’t disagree more.

I love to write for kids, particularly around the preteen age, and to give them stories full of complicated emotions. It is so important that we tell kids, “I see you” and offer them stories in which they see themselves and their feelings are validated. Superheroes and dystopia are fun and have a place, but to take a story that walks along the school halls with them and shows the complicated inner-workings of young friendships is key to a kid’s self-esteem and understanding of their placement in the world.

My other passion is female raunch-comedy, such as Bridesmaids or The Heat. And though it seems like an odd departure, I love it for a similar reason. Women, for too long, have been silenced. Our humor is silenced. Our sexuality is silenced. Our emotional wants and needs are silenced. We are currently in another wave of the feminist movement and I love being a part of it. I have spent my entire life (not just career) being asked whether I think women can be as funny as men. Duh! Now, finally, this is changing. Of course we are just as funny.

The true question was never whether women are funny, but whether men are willing to laugh. And the answer we see now, is yes!! Male allies are supporting funny women. And through these stories, women can talk about things we were never allowed to talk about and show off talents that, before, many felt uncomfortable with us showing off.

Just like with writing for kids, this is a genre that helps women see themselves reflected in media in a way they haven’t been allowed to see before. For as silly as it can be, it is also important because it validates and helps women find their footing and their voice. I love them both.

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?

I majored in Creative Writing at Miami University. Two teachers stand out above the rest: Steve Bauer and Dave Kajganich, both excellent writers. They were hard on me. They were clear on what makes a story and what is just fluff. They didn’t give a whistle if you used pretty words. They cared about conflict, about stakes and about emotional connection. They geeked out to authors who did it differently; they encouraged me to try new things. They didn’t get annoyed or dismiss your talents if you failed, but kicked you in the butt to try again. I’m so lucky to have had them as my mentors.

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.

I am a TV writer and I have a syndicated humor column that appears in newspapers every week around the country. My television work is primarily for kid/teen shows: Lalaloopsy, Project Mc2, etc. Before moving to Athens from LA, I also worked on the network-side of things as a story development executive. I’ve been fortunate enough to keep getting work writing for television since I moved here 10 months ago. I’m currently writing for three TV programs (including a live-action show coming out of Atlanta), but due to the NDAs [nondisclosure agreements — Ed.] I can’t disclose more. Other fun scripted work comes in the form of writing scripts for games and apps. A Disney game I wrote should be coming out soon. I’m also a columnist for Script magazine. Last year, my book was published, titled, Stop Farting in the Pyramids.

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

My number one must-do is finding my emotional connection to the story. Emotional connection is everything. When people ask me what is the one thing publishers and producers are looking for, my answer is always this: all they want, is to feel something. And here’s the trick, when you feel while writing it, your readers will feel it to.

So the challenge now becomes, how, during the writing process, do you, the writer, get out of your head and into your heart? Whenever I coach writers through my company, Write in the Wild, one of the first things I have them do is take a walk in the woods with me. There is a lot of science behind this that I won’t get into here, but suffice it to say, nature provides a quick access road to emotionally connecting with your story and characters in a way that can’t help but show up on the page.

It’s probably the most unique thing about the way I work and has never failed me. It took a girl with no film school experience, only $86 to her name and no Hollywood connections in one of the most competitive industries in the world, and provided the career of a lifetime. I love what I do, and getting my readers, specifically the publishers and producers, to feel is what earned me my career.

What is the most challenging area of writing for you?

Dialogue is my forte, so I often get so wrapped up in what my characters are saying, that I forget (or neglect) to account for what they are doing. This is particularly bad when it comes to the cartoons I write, because cartoons are visual and rely far more on action than words spoken.

What are you currently writing?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently on 3 shows and ghostwriting a really awesome book about service dogs. I also have my weekly humor column. But, man, I really can’t wait until things slow down a bit and I can write some stuff for me again. I have 3 books I want to write and a deliciously cheesy Christmas movie that would be perfect for Hallmark channel. It’ll pour some sap right into your eggnog.

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

Good question! Take the time to read about and learn structure and character archetypes. It’s important to have this in your arsenal. But do not, under any circumstance, feel beholden to them. Humans have been telling stories since the dawn of our existence. It’s a species gift and a special gift. You have storytelling in you. So study it, then put it on the backburner and really consider what it is that you want to say.

What is the message you are trying to send out into the world? People always like to say, “It’s true that every story has been written, but no one has written like you would.” But this statement is only sorta true. You can only add something new to say if YOU actually show up. If the unique YOUR shines through. So, get in there. Get dirty. Find your emotional connection to the story, to the characters. Let them surprise you, inspire you. Let them make you cry. Let them make you laugh. Let yourself feel all of this.

Because you can’t write anything worthwhile if you are simply following someone else’s mile-markers. Set off on this new trail and see it as an adventure. Don’t force the course, or your story, in any particular direction. Once you are tuned in to your craft and into your characters, you can let them lead you. Writing is hard, but it is oh-so fun.

And lastly, be brave and be kind to yourself. If you want to be a writer it takes guts to put stuff out into the world and then you have to be prepared to accept that rejection will come. It does for all of us. Bravery is a must to get started. Being kind to yourself is a must for having a long career.

How has being a writer changed your life?

I don’t even know how to answer this; it’s given me my entire adult life, my entire career. I get paid to jump into the mind of a teenager saving the world, and then into the mind of a bumblebee out to become a princess. How cool is that!? And, I believe, if you are doing it right, writing anything can be a healing experience. When you breathe emotional truth into your characters, the actions and decisions they make, give you pause. The connectedness creates a mirror from which you can see how you personally respond similarly or dissimilarly. You are able to play with choices and thus get to know yourself better. By empathizing with characters, you can better empathize with, and forgive, yourself.

Writing is such an amazing tool that utilizes your complete mind, body and spirit. Your imagination leaking down into your fingertips, your brain and heart communicate in open dialogue. It’s a wondrous thing.

Cheers to everyone who has chosen this path, it is a winding, twisting road, but the views are amazing and the adventure is oh-so worth it.

A NOTE FROM Katherine Cerulean: I’m very excited to have such an experienced TV writer teaching here in Athens and I’ve signed up to take Katiedid’s special 8-week screenwriting / TV writing class which will begin mid-September! She’s offering it at a one-time only introductory price and it will go over the basics and then get into the tips, tricks, and nitty-gritty that made her – someone with no connections who didn’t go to film school – a successful working  professional writer – even from here in Athens. Come be my classmate and we’ll learn together!

She also has a writers retreat that she will hosting along with Silver Compass Tours – known for their fine wine and food tours – in Italy in spring 2018 (!).

Find out more at WriteInTheWild.com

What Are Your Writing Priorities?

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

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

from Bloglovin'

from Bloglovin’

WRITING PRIORITIES

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

    from Thoughtjoy

    from Thoughtjoy

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

    from Bloglovin'

    from Bloglovin’

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

from movenourishbelieve.com

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

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

from advancehappynewyear2017.com

from
advancehappynewyear2017.com

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.

Know Your Local Writer: Katherine Cerulean

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Welcome to the first 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, inspire you on your path — or at least tickle your funny bone when you learn your AWA founder was a fan of both ‘SeaQuest DSV’ and shōjo manga.  I started with the easiest writer to corral (myself), but I’m super-excited to learn about a wide range of Athens writers.  Please contact me if you’re interested in answering our writing questionnaire and being featured here as a future ‘local writer’.  Now, I apologize for the length of this post (‘she’ was a talker!).

NOTE: Special thanks to AWA co-founder Jill Hartmann-Roberts for supplying us with these wonderful questions.

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

A: I have been making up stories all my life and never really ‘grew up’ in that regard.  Stories with He-Man and My Little Ponies became running through the fields near our home pretending to be a wild horse surviving in a vast wilderness then became making up stories about humans (!) based on the TV shows ‘Sisters’, ‘Earth 2’, and ‘SeaQuest DSV’.

But I believe I became a writer at about age 16 when I started an unfinished novel inspired by ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.

As for how I knew I wanted to be a writer — I knew I never want to stop telling stories, never wanted to pack away my playmates, my inspirations, and my heroes and become a normal adult.  Stories to me bring out the best, most thoughtful, most beautiful parts of ourselves and our world.  I have always wanted to be a writer.  Or a horse trainer.  Something dealing with unruly mammals.

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

A: That’s an all-day-to-answer question.  I’ll give a few examples.  My mother read ‘The Secret Garden’ to me as a child.  I loved other stories but there was a wonderful plot and sense of character progression to that book, as well as a feeling that magic exists hidden in the everyday and that we transform our lives for the better if we have the courage and dedication to seek it.

‘Misery’ by Stephen King was another important book that shaped my progression as a writer.  A fantastic book that I appreciated even more when I reread it years later.  It was plot AS character, character AS plot.  I loved how Paul and Annie’s conflict felt natural, evolutionary, and destined toward doom.  Annie is one of the clearest, most memorable characters I have ever read.

Lastly, ‘Maurice’ by E.M. Forster came quite along far into my education but pretty much blew the doors off everything.  Perfect love story.  Great character study.  Bold, accessible writing.  Fearlessness.  It comforted me by helping me believe my stories and viewpoints were not too small or simple to be meaningful.  And it challenged me to write outside my comfort zone and use every bit of my intelligence and love in each word and line.

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Other authors include —

  • Dennis Lehane for the absolute beauty and economy of his sentences
  • Nick Hornby for the most relatable, flawed human characters
  • Jane Austen for defining (and redefining) perfect love stories amid human fallibility
  • J.R.R. Tolkien for writing the perfect adventure and then upping the game by adding a spirituality that breaks my heart and encourages me forward
  • Natsuki Takaya for her take on humor, romance, courage and forgiveness. And for writing an incredible novel with over 20 main characters that just happens to also have in it drawings of hot boys (manga comic ‘Fruits Basket’)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald for creating the perfect literary novel (my favorite kind of novel) and putting the words together in such a way that I’m in awe. Every.  Damn.  Time.

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

A: My latest novel ‘Society & Civility’.  Honestly, I’ve become a better writer than I ever thought I’d be — and it’s only taken eighteen years!  ‘Society & Civility’ started out as a lark, my own take on the regency world of Jane Austen.  Through a LOT of hard work though, it became my most coherent piece — one filled with characters I love and scenes that speak to the challenges of being human — whatever your century or class.  And I’m not gonna lie — the love story gets me every time.  Actually, one line is my favorite and gives me hope as a writer for the future.  Our heroine to a suitor —‘Perhaps my happiness is a great mystery to you, Mr. Barnes, but I could give you a few pointers as to how to obtain it.’  So proud!

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: Honestly, I gravitate toward good writing.  What I mean by this snotty-sounding answer is that I’m drawn to interesting setups with great characters but HOW the story is told, and how the lines are written, is really what draws me in when I’m reading — and writing.  You can call it literary fiction, though I recently learned about a new publishing term ‘upmarket’.  It’s kind of like adding literary to your favorite genre.  ‘Upmarket fantasy.’  Upmarket women’s fiction.’  Maybe that’s my ‘passion’.

My novel and screenwriting history goes mystery, fantasy, fantasy, love story, coming-of-age, love story, ghost story.  I am drawn to fantasy because I feel there is more to life than the obvious.  Also, I’m probably secretly a TV writer because I love characters, dialogue, and scenes SO MUCH.

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’m pretty self-taught.  As someone home schooled, I didn’t have a lot of connection to the idea of advanced education — but I had a lot of passion to learn on my own.  The sum of my experiences in that realm is —

  • A two-day screenwriting class — I learned a LOT about format and plotting. As a youngin’ I gained a lot of confidence and I still use things I learned from Michael Hauge today — like that you should make your hero funny, great at what they do, or a good person.
  • Conferences — I went to about three of the Harriett Austin conferences in Athens. Great experience but one with diminishing returns.  I learned to be more outgoing, that agents and editors are real, normal human beings, and I learned more about the publishing industry.
  • A novel critique group — this is where the majority of my education took place. We were together only a few years but I wouldn’t be here without them.  Highly recommended, but you have to keep looking to find the right fit, and nowadays I’ve reached the point where I’m happier to experiment and grow without constant feedback.  But I learned so much from them.
  • Patrick LoBrutto — if you guys ever want to build a shrine to this man, I’ll be first in line to help. I took one day-long class he and Michael Seidman taught about character and at a conference I paid for a fifteen minute critique of my first novel.  Love, love, LOVE him.  He was the perfect mentor, a little challenging, encouraging (there was a scene he called quite good — still proud!), and mostly, he was super-enthused about storytelling and it was palatable and transferable.  I owe him a lot.

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Other than that, everything has come from books and articles.

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

A: I’ve always been happy that, while learning my craft, I had a ‘day job’ that was the opposite of writing — lots of walking, up and about, physical (stocking/merchandising at a Best Buy).  That way I always came to writing fresh instead exhausted.  And it’s taken a while to achieve my goal of being able to write at a professional level.

I’ve just written a couple of pieces for BE.magizine, which is a good challenge.

I’ve self published two books —

  • ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’ — a novel about a young estate owner imprisoned by his servant in 1800s England. I tried to entice agents by calling it ‘a love story about a man trapped in a cage.’  For some reason, they weren’t biting.
  • ‘How To Come Alive: A Guidebook to Living Your Dreams’ — a self improvement book based on my 35+ years of living and constantly seeking to improve myself.

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

A: I don’t know if it’s unique, but my process is (in general) to think about a story idea for a looooong time before I actually start writing.  I find the more pre-work I do — ‘hearing’ conversations between characters, building playlists of songs that inspire me, even wearing jewelry that the hero might wear — all that really helps me know who these characters are what I actually start writing.  Mostly, I don’t do a lot of pre-writing though.  Character profiles and anything longer than a couple-of-page outline can stifle the movement of actually writing the novel.  I want a general idea of events and then I want to discover and experience the book as I write it.

Once I’m writing, I actually purposefully don’t think about where the plot is going.  I have my two page outline, but I want to keep as much spontaneity and freshness as possible while writing.  I want the characters to lead me to new discoveries.

As long as I make sure every scene and line is interesting to me, I find I don’t have to go back and cut a lot later.

But I do have to edit a lot.  I do at least five drafts.  It’s just a lot of work and I don’t know any way to make something great without pouring over every word, line, and comma (shout-out to other Oxford Comma fans!).

What doesn’t work is writing anything I don’t care about.  It’s been pointed out that pretty much every idea I’ve ever had is ‘un-commercial’.  When I write to the best of my abilities, I think I can make fascinating worlds, great characters, and unforgettable dialogue — all things I think can be commercial.  But I do have very little interest in playing it safe and doing what’s been done to death before.  I’m invigorated by possibility and discovery and showing the audience something they didn’t know they needed.

from 'A Caged Heart Still Beats'

from ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’

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

A: Self-doubt.  I sometimes hesitate to write for fear I can’t do my ideas justice.  That leads to long breaks between stories (ironically, I’m much more confident when in the middle of writing).  I also don’t know when something needs more editing and when I’ve done all I can.  Lastly, this self-doubt sometimes leads me to not ‘hearing’ positive feedback and instead only focusing on minor criticisms.  I’m working on these issues, but it’s the work of a lifetime.

On a more practical level, plotting has been something that’s taken time to hone (characters come much more naturally to me).

The other big challenge is figuring out how to combine the touch-the-stars-magic of writing with the idea of making money from it and transforming it into my full-time job.

Q: What are you currently writing?

A: After a break of 18 years, I’ve returned to my first love — screenwriting!  I’m currently working on ‘Beaumont Lake’, a ghost story about a teenage girl forming a friendship with two ghosts while trying to avoid becoming their murderer’s next victim.  It’s a big challenge but finishing this story has been a dream of mine for a long time.  An inspiring song that sums up the mood of the piece — ‘Once Upon a Dream’ by Lana Del Rey.

Later this year, I also hope to finish the first draft of my in-progress novel TRIad, a young adult story about three brothers with superpowers.

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

A: Trust yourself.  Read Brenda Ueland’s ‘If You Want to Write’.  The craft side will come along naturally as you read a lot and write a lot.  Remember that ‘Talent’ is a myth — there is only love and hard work — that’s what makes great writing.

Remember that you have amazing potential and you can do it — you just have to believe and fight and work hard and never stop following your own crazy star.  No one deserves to be here more than you.

Also, read classics, read other genres and types of entertainment.  Graphic novels, non-fiction, web cartoons — you can learn so much about dialogue from the masters of the comics page (Bill Watterson, Charles Schulz, Berkeley Breathed).

Write what you like, not what others tell you to like.  There something the world has never seen before — alive and dwelling within you — and it is something the world desperately needs.  Share your vision with us.    And remember this quote by Ira Glass —

KMBA-Ira Glass Quote

Q: How has being a writer changed your life?  

A: In every conceivable way possible.  It’s made me more curious, kinder; it has brought me friends and confidence.  It has filled my days with the most wonderful discoveries and triumphs.

Mostly though, it has allowed me to continue playtime far beyond when most people settle down and ‘become adults’.  I get to travel everywhere, meet the most amazing people, see fearsome and amazing sights, and watch the human spirit overcome every attempt to thwart it.  And then I get to transcribe those experiences and hopefully bring to readers a fraction of the joy that other peoples’ books have brought me over the years.

Another thing writing has given me is the feeling that I’m only getting started.  At 36, I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting the hang of this — let’s go knock the world off its axis!

by October Jones

by October Jones

 

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 anytime 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 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 involved 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 behind a picture in a frame my grandmother had painted for me many years ago.  Her message —

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

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

All the best,

Katherine

blog.zerodean.com

blog.zerodean.com

So You Want To Write a Fantasy Novel?

from fantasy-faction.com

from fantasy-faction.com

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

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

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

How to Write a Novel

By Katherine Cerulean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So You Want To Write a Fantasy Novel?

By Katherine Cerulean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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