Mama Robin calls as morning’s dew captures light … Never mind writing haiku without coffee is hard.
‘Tis July first! The year is officially halfway over, and with all that’s happened in the world, I know many would prefer to wash their hands of 2020 and be done with it.
But then there are folks like me, who see a half-year of potential rather than a full year wasted. Lamenting opportunities lost only breeds bitterness and anger. Now is the time to grow onward and upward with whatever we have.
Even if all we have is a page of fantastical hopes.
Fellow Young Adult author K.M. Allen posted a couple articles recently about her own struggles with time management during the lockdown life and balancing the writing we do for our platforms vs. the writing we do for, you know, storytelling and whatnot. (Allen used a much better term–“The Art of Authoring.”) Her posts got me thinking about my writing mindset, and how I’ve tended to lump aaaaaaaaall the writing together into this single act. Writing a blogpost? Still writing. Writing notes on history? Still writing. Writing an actual honest-and-true story? Still writing.
Were my extra teaching jobs and graduate school work still a part of my life, this kind of writing would be enough. Heck, I’d be ecstatic if I found time to blog while writing term papers. But these extra factors are not a part of my life right now. Sure, University work still is–I even presented on nonfiction writing at the Lit Fest earlier this month. While researching I stumbled across a Writer’s Digest article called “The 9-Minute Novelist,” and that got me thinking…
Why not me, too?
I know I’ve bemoaned my struggle with time before–when my kids were toddlers, when they attended school but only part-time, when everyone’s home on summer break, etc etc etc. When lockdown life began, I thought for sure I could do do a little, just a little, writing. But too often I allowed blogging, researching, plotting, and those other -ings replace the actual DRAFT-ing that needed to happen.
With the coming school year’s attendance procedures impossible to predict, parents like myself have to be prepared for more of “School at Home” while also working in or out of the home. (And of course, just as I type this, Bash has come into the room. “What is it, dude? I’m trying to work,” I say. “But I wanna be by you,” he says with the smallest possible voice, and moves all my materials to snuggle up by me. Oh, little kiddo.)
Some days the kids are great at occupying themselves, and other days not. Parent-Writers, we know setting aside “hours” to write, even once a week, just isn’t realistic. Heck, I’m amazed when the kids leave me be for twenty minutes in a row.
And that’s the key here: working with the minimum amount of time, not the maximum. Let’s consider what non-kid stuff requires our attention in the day, and where we can find those nine–or ten–minutes to write.
Risky thing, setting aside an hour. Either a movie better be on that ALL the kids will watch, or someone else needs to be in the house with the kids. My online classes are an hour long in the evenings when Bo is home. If I do a movie during the day, that is my one chance at an hour block. This time’s usually needed for grading, a task that I can safely break from and start back on when kids intervene. Writing-wise? That hour better be had outside of the house.
(Aaaand now Biff is in the room, poking Bash with his toes. “Why don’t you two read something?” *Two pairs of eyes continue staring off into space as toes continue poking legs*)
Done right, half an hour can be a very productive time. One can write proposals for a conference, respond to a few students, or catch up on the late grading. As a writer, thirty minutes is perfect for looking through research, scoping out potential publishers, or drafting.
(Aaaaand now Blondie pokes her head in with a page she just has to read from Dogman: For Whom the Ball Rolls. “Yes, kiddo, thank you. Now go and occupy YOURSELVES. I am not here to entertain you!” Three bodies sluff off, complete with drooping shoulders and groans of “I’m too tired to build Lego.”)
This is probably where one can feel the sprint effect–that is, there’s not a minute to waste. Good! Too often I fall down the social media hole with Twitter or YouTube. We must make every minute of that twenty count, be it drafting, editing, grading, or…gasp…exercising.
Again, being realistic with myself. I know I won’t set aside an hour for it, not even half. Twenty…yeah, I could swing that, if the mood strikes. Plus I can drag the little “what are you doing nooooow?” buckos right along with me. Win-win.
Okay, THIS has to be the golden number for one who’s got kids and job AND writing in life. Even my attention-lovers can be occupied by books, drawing, or Snoopy Monopoly for ten minutes.
So many lovely moments can be made in just ten minutes: reading a story aloud to kids. Drafting dialogue. Answering student questions. Editing a scene. Playing catch outside. Prepping for class. Networking on social media. Writing a Goodreads review.
Maybe it hurts a little inside to think I’m only spending ten minutes with my kids/story? I can’t do that! They deserve better! We need to remember this important point.
The day is no mere ten minutes.
I’m usually up from roughly 4:30am to 9:30pm. Want to guess how many minutes there are in seventeen hours? 1,020 minutes. Or, 102 slots of Ten Minutes.
You are not giving your kids 1 slot out of 102 and you know it. You are not giving your writing 1 slot out of 102 and you know it. Don’t beat yourself up over organizing your time. If you don’t organize your time, then you will always feel like something is being set aside for the sake of the other, and that fear will lead to nothing but bitterness, anger, and the Dark Side.
Nothing has to be sacrificed here. Honest and for true. You just need to jigger those expectations over what you want to do and when. Take me, eager to publish the sequel to Fallen Princeborn: Stolen before 2020 ends. If I set aside 10 minutes to edit every day, I can make that goal. I want to expand and re-publish Middler’s Pride, too. 10 minutes a day can get me there. I’d LOVE to get “Hungry Mother” in an online magazine, finish the novella What Happened After Grandmother Failed to Die, work on the OTHER Princeborn novella I’ve sketched out–
And I can do all those things. I will do all those things. And you can, too.
Ten minutes at a time.
STAY TUNED NEXT FORTNIGHT!
Yup, two weeks. Part of this “jiggering” of expectations means blogging can’t overwhelm the story-writing. I’m going to follow K.M. Allen’s idea of blogging every other week, scheduling my own posts for the first and fifteenth of every month.Thank you all so much for your patience, kindness, and encouragement, and I hope you’ll be back when I share the interviews, analyses, music, and doodles waiting in the wings!
Hello, everyone! I’m slowly finding my way back to the balance of teaching, parenting, and writing. Let’s start this balancing act right with an interview, shall we? Here’s a fine fellow whose fantasy adventure has recently been published by the small press of the masterful Lady of Wit and Conflict of the Heart, Shehanne Moore. Hello, Paul Andruss!
Thank you for having me over. It is a pleasure to be here. I am up for any questions you to care to ask. Fire away.
Let’s start with where the writing life begins for all of us–our reading lives. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
The Story of Your Life tells of first contact. It was made into the film Arrival. Here’s the elevator pitch: We learn to think in an aliens’ language and see time is simultaneous not sequential. Past, present and future exist together, making us observers in our own lives, unable to change a thing. In other words, imagine being up on a hill looking down at your child on a road. You see the speeding car. Know what will happen. There is nothing you can do.
A great idea, but how do you turn it into a story?
I’ve seen new authors produce stories that are no more than info dumps. We are force fed blocks of imaginative scenarios rather than left to experience the highs and lows, tension and excitement of a story unfolding. Characters are rough sketches whose actions do not move the story along. Plots are loose, falling apart when closely examined. There is too much clutter. Unnecessary characters and background details overwhelm the narrative. Turgid sentences roll endless on. You find yourself counting pages to the end.
Chiang avoids this by telling the story in the first person, non-sequentially which fits with the new time sense developing in the narrator — a linguist learning the alien language. Seeing the story unfold through her eyes we are pulled into her world.
She opens by telling her daughter how she identified her body after she died, aged of twenty-five in an accident. Two stories run parallel. One is how she learned to think in the language. The other reminisces about her child’s life. At the end we discover she is reviewing her daughter’s whole life on the night of conception — echoing the story’s parallel time theme; the linguistic past and the maternal future.
Chiang gives hints of a bigger story behind the one told. She and her husband are divorced. Perhaps when she told her husband of their daughter’s future death he could not accept his failure to protect his child, nor the guilt that came with it? Perhaps he blamed her for having their daughter, already knowing her fate. Even though every life is pre-destined.
Through his storytelling choices, Chiang turns cold hard science into something exciting, tender and ultimately, uniquely human. A story that stays in your mind long after you finish reading, as you explore the implications.
I’ll have to check Chiang out! I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries lately to get into the feel of finding the best point of view for a story. I’m also tempted to dig into some historical fiction to help me find the voice for another WIP. What kinds of research do you do for your own storytelling, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I normally I don’t do a lot of research beforehand. I just jump in. I do lots while writing though. I fact check endlessly. If a reader spots even a niggling gaffe, it can destroy the illusion.
I recently wrote Ollywoodland, a faux-noir murder mystery set in 1949, the twilight of Hollywood. Not so much a who-dun-it, more a who-the-hell-wouldn’t-want-to.
Every single thing was checked: the history of the Hollywood sign, studios, highways, Las Vegas, the impact of WW2 on Hollywood, armed forces demobilisation, where academy awards were held, what newspapers were popular, local radio stations. Every libellous rumour had to be a quote in public domain. It was hard work, but a huge amount of fun.
Things are different with the new novella Porcelain, set in the UK’s glam rock era. Because of work commitments, I was unable to get on with the story and so ended up researching and writing copious notes. I now have 50 pages of material and almost the entire story in my head. It’s frightening and exhilarating because I have never started this way before.
I know just what you mean about all those notes. When I was working my own fantasy novel, I needed to get a feel of the current animal life of Wisconsin as well as some ancient history from which my shapeshifters could grow. I even wrote up notes on various names to work with, working out origins of names for various groups, even plant names for a certain class of creature. I suppose this is something you wouldn’t want to intimidate your younger writing self with. If you could tell that Young Paul Andruss anything,what would it be?
Nothing. Not because I’m a genius, believe me. I just wouldn’t listen. How do I know? Because I went back in time AND I DIDN’T LISTEN!
Okay, if you want to be pedantic, I didn’t exactly go back in time, but I might as well have. Others told me much the same and I ignored them. What is more, I’m glad I did. If I knew what was in store in terms of the hard graft and knockbacks ahead, I never would have written a word.
I came late to writing. Out of the blue, I thought, write a short story — how hard can it be? The story was what you’d expect. Naturally, I thought it the best story in the whole world and modestly basked in my genius. Are you beginning to see why I would not want to hear anything as inconvenient as the truth?
Drunk on overconfidence, I started a second story. A short Sci-Fi romp inspired by a history book that said the Celts went naked into battle. What if they were biker gangs?
Six years, and 180,000 words later, I had the 2nd draft of Finn Mac Cool. (Let’s not talk about 1st draft, shall we?) To be fair the 2nd draft wasn’t bad, just not good. I spent the next 2 years sending it out, while attempting to write a play (abandoned) and another novel (never to see the light of day). It was rejected by 30 publishers and agents. I then spent another six years rewriting Finn Mac Cool.
When I sat down to write that short story, if someone told me it would take the next 14 years of my life, I wouldn’t have bothered. It is lucky that when we first leap out of the nest and spread our wings, we are too exhilarated to give much thought to the way down.
Noooo kidding. I loved making that first draft of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, but if you would have told me it’d take eight years to actually publish, I’d have worked out some other projects before dedicating that much time to a single story. What would you say are some other common writer’s life traps for aspiring writers?
I can’t speak for others, but for me writing is like peeling an onion.
Because it makes you weep?
Good one. And yes it does. I was thinking more that when you peel one layer you find another underneath. As we see from Ted Chiang, each layer: plot, characters, story twists, even the language we use, contributes to a good story.
There is no trick to writing. It is a result of time, effort and a lot of difficult choices. Because the writing process is long, and solitary, we cannot be blamed for seeking instant reward.
If I did go back to young me, I would say, Don’t be in too much hurry. Remember the old cliché: there is no second chance to make a first impression.
Instead of rushing out your latest piece, put it away for a couple of weeks. When you come back, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. In the old days I thought, “That will do.” These days, I want to write something that will stand the test of time. I know a story is finished when I read it for the fifth or sixth time and do not want to change a word. Like that proverbial onion, the story has developed layer by layer.
Never forget we become authors when read by others. Like literary hookers we ask readers to spend time and money on us. Yet, as readers, how do we feel when a writer doesn’t deliver? New writers often think they are special cases, especially after busting a gut to write a story. But readers don’t see you. They only see what’s on the page. Family and friends might lavish praise, but such praise can be poison. If you think you are as good as they say, where is the impetus to improve?
And yet we struggle on, don’t we? No matter what readers say, we must write our truest, or strongest, our brightest, our darkest, our best…est. We keep on keeping on no matter how difficult the subject matter. What would you say was your hardest scene to write?
A while ago, I’d had enough of people spouting doggerel blank verse. I’m no poet but do appreciate good poetry. When poetry is good, you have no choice but to appreciate it. Firmly on my high horse I wrote According to the Muse – A dialogue. Naturally enough, it started with ‘poem’ …
There are people who,
Aspiring to be considered poets,
Devise mundane sentences
Usual to any written piece
And arranging them in verse
Claim it is a poem
According to the muse
Swiftly followed by a quote from the poet Marianne Moore … ‘Poetry is a matter of skill and honesty in any form whatsoever, while anything written poorly, although in perfect form, cannot be poetry.
The Muse discusses poetry and illustrates points with some of the greats, from Emily Bronte to Alan Ginsberg’s Howl. The argument goes that poetry should intoxicate the senses, leaving us drunk on loquaciousness. As the Muse’s mouthpiece, I needed to conclude with something really special.
I decided the Muse’s closing monologue should be loosely based on Molly Bloom’s 50,000-word stream-of-consciousness soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Molly’s gorgeous monologue is divided into 8 sentences without punctuation. It allows each clause to be constructed differently depending on which word you start. It is also a bugger to read.
The Muse’s monologue took me four weeks to write.
She requires it to be read aloud.
Under gods, man thought me tamed. Then man forgot the gods. But poetry remained. A poet seeking to invoke no longer knows how. He thinks to flatter and seduce and if he succeeds in blind fumbling excuse, believes I allow because he understands a woman’s needs. As if setting a rose in my hair like I were an Andalusian girl kissed breathless against a Moorish wall under a hot Alhambra moon was enough to make me acquiesce to his urgings for my yes, putting hands on me and kissing my neck while I thinking as well him as another draw him down to the perfume of my breasts with his heart drumming like mad in the expectation of my yes. The bloom and the breast is not his to possess or caress until my liberal yes, for this is woman talking and I am sick of love. Yes. I am no more his than a snatch of song heard on the jessamine breeze or a flower of the mountain born to die. So let me be. Yes. Set me free from the inky bars of this prison page to roll off a tongue careless as a lover’s air whistled on Palma Violet scented breath, let loose in an empire of senses where guileless yes is yes. A paradise garden of delight. A sensual world pregnant with life.
Beautifully put, Paul. Thank you so much for taking time to chat with me and all my fellow creative souls! Folks, you can check out Paul’s latest right here.
Paul Andruss’ first novel, the young adult fantasy Jack Hughes & Thomas the Rhymer is published by Black Wolf Books.
When 12-year-old Jack Hughes sees a sinister fairy queen kidnap his bother Dan, he knows his parents will never believe him. Nor will the police. Not when he says Dan vanished into thin air. If Jack wants to see Dan again, he has to save him. And not just him …
If he ever wants to find Dan, first he must save Thomas the Rhymer from a wicked enemy.
Bravely embarking on a rollercoaster adventure into the dark fairy realm, Jack and friends face monstrous griffins and brooding tapestries with a life of their own, learn to use magic mirrors and travel on ley lines that whip them off faster than sound.
Jack knows even if he returns Thomas the Rhymer to his selfish fairy queen, she might make Jack her prisoner. With the odds stacked against him, can Jack succeed in finding and freeing Dan? Or will he lose his brother forever?
If you enjoyed reading this, or even if you didn’t, Paul asks you to kindly send him all your money. If you are not quite gullible enough to fall for that one, then visiting his website will please him almost as much. http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/
I’m excited to get back on track with my writing goals! We’ll take a look at them to make sure I’m not burying myself too deep (as I am oft prone to do). This will include sharing my work on writing book proposals to see if this approach could also help you meet your own writing goals. There’s another swinging interview coming your way, plus I’ve also got some keen ideas on selecting point of view for writing thanks to my summer book binge as well as mellow music for calming the soul.
Oh, and hopefully I can get Blondie off her summer sliding duff to get creating for you, too. 🙂
Yet another spring day of sunshine, robins, aaaaaaaaaaaand that s’mores cake just sitting in the fridge, callin’ my name…
How are you, Friends? I’m not quite as grumpy as I was last week, but honestly, I’m still feeling pretty downtrodden. The extension doesn’t allow for nonessential travel, and…gosh, can’t time outside’n’elsewhere be considered essential? Please?
Escape through photography is one thing–there are plenty of amazing nature photographers out there capturing intimate moments in the wilderness.
Unfortunately, we can’t just take my family on a walk through the park. Parks have playgrounds, and playgrounds are still off-limits. This led to Bo and I brainstorming our day-trip to the graveyards–four, to be exact. We visited the graves of grandparents and parents buried in dilapidated Catholic plots, forgotten farmland sites, suburban stone-less grids, and MANSIONS!
Doesn’t that look like a mansion? It’s got this huge church in it, and castle-like sitting room, and crypts, and statues, and a Hall of Presidents, and I’ll stop rambling so you can just see for yourself in the gallery on their page. The kids actually had quite a bit of fun on this graveyard run, looking for the really old graves, checking out all the unique names in the mausoleums, admiring the veteran statues, and simply loving the warm, windy day.
Brighter days have led to Biff’s pleas being answered at last: I got the bikes down. After a couple of weeks with training wheels, Biff’s soaring off on his two-wheeler…
Bash is so, so close to Biff as far as speed and balance, but once again anxiety has been rearing its ugly head, and Bash panics the moment I let go of him and falls. He’s made his feelings quite clear on the subject.
Bash’s teacher sent a phone book’s pile of worksheets to be completed this month, while Biff’s teacher simply emptied the boy’s desk into a plastic bag aaaand that’s it. So…is Biff done, but not his brother? Oh, Biff’s expected to keep doing stuff online. Soooo is Bash. Then do we both with these worksheets or not?!?!
The school crap’s getting old, people. I’m not going to just throw in the towel like a professor with just one first-grader, but the utter disconnect between expectations from the boys’ teachers is frustrating. I’ve tweaked the school schedule yet again to try and get through as much of their work in the morning as possible, with Bible History, Math, Reading, and Writing as our daily core and then ending on a special, like Science, Geography, Art, or History. I overlap whenever possible–drawing maps, for instance, or building something like people did in the olden days (they want to build a fort like a cathedral now–thanks, Nova!)
But because the boys each have such different things they’re supposed to do for each subject, even these few things take time with the play breaks they need throughout the morning. It’s all I can do to keep up with them while, yes, once again Blondie has to tend to herself. Thankfully, this doesn’t perturb her too much; she chats with her friends online via the school computer while completing assignments. Any connection to friends beats fighting with little brothers any day, yes? I’m also impressed with a theme in her writing over the spring involving these dog/dragon/ghost folk building their own planet for alien tourism.
Now I just need to get her back to her Alley Heroes, am I right? 🙂
Speaking of writing: yes, I’m doing my best. I’ve submitted a short story to my university’s literary journal, and I’m still writing another I hope to share with you. The idea came from a very vile looking park bench and a pair of towns I’ve passed through many times in my life; Ashippun, and Old Ashippun. Two communities, very near one another, and yet they have very different feels about them. The idea of a town starting in one place only to be abandoned for the sake of progress stuck with me, and I hope to put that sense of (dis)place into my WIP, “Hungry Mother.”
Nicole carefully places the Bella Café sticker over the tell-tale yellow arches. “My coffee,” she tells the child. “Want some?” Please don’t want some, Christ your teeth look like rocks.
The girl tucks a few greasy strands of hair behind her ear, revealing the rest of her lopsided face. No doctor could save that face. “Nah. I’m waiting for the water.” She points to the old water pump in the middle of the park.
Nicole looks past the water pump. Beyond the road and wall of arborvitaes is a trailer park full of people, poor and desperate people praying for easy answers. And Nicole’s bag is just full of easy answers, priced to catch and never release. All it takes is one yes, and that yes is due any minute.
“Don’t you have water at home?” Nicole can’t imagine allowing her own daughter to play in this rundown park, let alone drink water from some forsaken pump. Carl and his skank Sandra probably would. I bet they don’t even follow my rules for brushing her hair.
The child plucks a centipede off Nicole’s bench. With all the bird-crap and graffiti littering the park’s picnic shelter, Nicole had been forced to pick a bench out among the tired, mushroom-eaten pines, and even this bench has quite a few cuts and words scrawled on it. “It’s not the same,” the child says, watching the bug travel from one muddy hand to another.
Nicole brings her Serenity Cloth to her face as though to dab a drop of coffee, but really she just needs to breathe the lavender oil and think, Christ kid stop touching that thing and take a bath. Where is your mother? “Would anyone across the street be able to help?” Not that there’s much to look at across any street in Old Sanctuary. Crawling vines of small red flowers cover almost every building surrounding the central park—post office, gas station, all of it. Only the trailer park sign looks new:
THERE’S NEW LIFE AT OLD SANCTUARY ESTATES! JOIN US TODAY!
New life. What a joke.
Two people stand by the sign in casual conversation: an old man as grimy as the child, and a woman around Nicole’s age…clean, that’s all Nicole knows without seeing the woman’s face. The dress looks like some over-bleached 90s relic cut and sewn for a slightly better fit. A woman like that’ll value her dollars, will try to take care of things herself, won’t bother with big names telling her what to do, like stores or doctors. Perfect.
The child releases the centipede on the bench. It crawls over the words MY PRETTY GIRL IN RED AND CURLS and stops next to Nicole’s left thigh.
Nicole sweeps herself up, dress spinning as she grabs her ___ bag and laughs nervously. “Well you have fun with…” she almost points to the centipede, then spots CURLS. “Say, maybe your momma can put your hair in curls today. Won’t that be pretty?”
The child shakes her head. “It’s talking about you.” The child hobbles over to the broken swings and flops forward to lay her stomach on the seat, her legs and arms dangling like a spider from a thread.
Hopefully I can keep this piece under 1.5K so it fits more easily with magazine submission guidelines. In the meantime, I’ve pulled Middler’s Pride off of Channillo and hope to revamp it for an ebook later this year…or 2021. I should probably be realistic with my timeline here, as I, too, am going to be in school.
I’m going back to school.
In order to make myself look more awesome for a full-time gig, I’m going back for another Masters degree, this time in instructional design. It’s an accelerated track, which means I’ll be in the crunch for eighteen months or thereabouts. I’m praying this won’t hinder my ability to blog too much, buuuuuuut I better be realistic with myself here.
Still. This academic journey doesn’t start until June, so we have some time to edit a novel. Write a story. Email a friend. Discover new music. Hug a child. Trade fart jokes. Wash a chalk-covered stuffie. Steal Easter candy. Read a book. Drink coffee. Savor tea.
Take one day at a time, and pray for things to change for the better.
It’s high time I share something from something I’ve read, wouldn’t you say? ‘Tis the month of Wyrd and Wonder, after all!
Or perhaps we shall return to that Star Wars swamp. We’ll see what the kids allow me to do. x
Happy Saturday, one and all! I’m reveling in the last bit of springtime sunshine before rain and snow slush their way through Wisconsin in the next 48 hours. I can only imagine how fun it would be to hide the kids’ eggs in the snow…
(No, I’m not evil, but I may be driven to that evil if the kids can’t stop fighting for %^@$&# minutes.)
Yeah, it’s been a rough week. I had hoped to update everyone on Wednesday, but between teaching my kids and teaching my own university students, the time to write you wasn’t there.
Plenty of time to ponder, though, especially as I cleaned Biff’s puke out of the car. (No, he’s not sick. Apparently the string cheese from one of the community lunches must have been bad, because he puked two minutes after eating it and was totally fine afterwards. I’ve smelled a lot of puke in my days, but cheese puke is right up there as one of the worst.)
Anyway. As one who sits on both sides of the educator’s desk–
–we gotta talk.
Teachers EVERYWHERE are overwhelmed and frustrated. Unless you’ve been trained to teach online and have a class structure that functions online, you are flying by the seat of your pants to make what were paper assignments doable online. You’re having parents take pictures of homework in the paper packets you had to send home because many of your kids don’t have the technology or Internet capabilities to submit anything online. So many of your lesson plans depended on in-person classroom time, and now you have to learn how to mediate an online meeting with kids who may or may not have any other person in the same room with them, which can make it impossible to reign in behavioral issues.
And even if you ARE one of the lucky ones who is already trained to teach online in a well-established online classroom, you’re STILL dealing with students not logging in, not reaching out, not submitting work. And for all you know these students are sick, or have loved ones suffering, or simply don’t care. Without any communication, you have no idea. And that terrifies you.
Parents EVERYWHERE are overwhelmed and frustrated. It’s like the teachers assume parents can just pick up the lesson plans where teachers left off. They expect students to accomplish 6-8 subjects in a day with or without any meeting via phone or chat. They expect parents to create picture-perfect photos of completed work, and God forbid the kid uses a pencil like she’s supposed to because the pencil never shows up in the photos. And even though you hear from teachers not to push the kids too hard, they assign several daily tasks to be completed online–you know, on the computer YOU are supposed to be using for YOUR job if you still have one. Not tiny tasks, either–30 minutes on this program, 30 minutes on that program. Make sure they take this quiz, read this book, complete X squares of Phy Ed. Bingo and show, SHOW they completed those squares by videotaping them, and don’t forget creativity! Make this chalk! Make these toilet paper tube animals! Make this clay!
And this is all assuming your teachers are on the same page. God help you if you have twins with different teachers, who despite teaching the same grade in the same school assign COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THINGS. One has to spend time on Program A while the other’s supposed to check out Program Q and fill in a story diagram, but the one needs to go to Program H and learn this song and sing it back while the other has to recite poetry from Program T and identify diaphrams and ENOUGH.
We gotta take a moment, and we gotta breathe.
While I am desperate to create school days that keep my three Bs engaged and excited to learn, I know I am not the same as any of their teachers. Even my three do not fit into any sort of one-size-fits-all learning mentality; while Blondie and Biff can both self-motivate to accomplish school jobs, Bash constantly struggles to focus his ideas, all of them brilliant, but always “too much work” to put down. He sees his brother and sister make it all look so easy, and he gets even more stuck in how he’s not yet done. He’s not done yet because he must be stupid. He IS stupid. He’s always stupid.
Anxiety’s not the only emotional struggle, either. Blondie keeps hearing the boys on their programs and asks why SHE doesn’t get to do any fun computer games like they do. Biff sees how short his work list is and complains I’m making him do extra stuff–though all I’m doing is having him follow the same work schedule as Bash.
All the while I fear that if I don’t push them at least a little, that if I solely leave them to whatever the teachers have dumped into my inbox, that they will lose the learning stamina they’d slowly gained over the school year.
Surely there is a calm somewhere in this storm.
So far, I’ve found success–small, but consistent–with establishing themes for their school day. No matter what the teachers assign, we will gather to read a little, write a little, and explore a little. I will have them practice handwriting with cool facts about outer space, go on a virtual field trip with an astronaut or to facilities like Boeing via Discovery Education, and then do a space-related experiment through Mystery Science. We’ll read a couple bug books together, write neat bug facts, watch an episode of Monster Bug Wars, then check out bugs with Blondie’s microscope. We’ll listen to the birdsong outside and try to spot who’s chirping and draw the birds for science, then read about nests and write bird facts. We’ll tour Washington DC, read about a president, and then design our own monument for the capital. We’ll visit the Lego House in Denmark, write facts about Lego, and then experiment with building Lego boats.
You may see that in all my themes there is one task running throughout: handwriting. No computer game, video, etc. is going to make a kid work on his handwriting, such a vital fine motor skill that could easily atrophy if left out of the plan.
Am I overloading the day? I probably ain’t helping it much. But I know that school should be more than just a bunch of computer games and worksheets. Even one hour of these themed activities sprinkled throughout the day gives the kids a chance to feel like they’re together learning something. And any learning community is better than no community at all.
Click hereand herefor a mix of online and printed resources I’ve been using to keep the homeschooling humming along.
So parents and teachers–take a sec to breathe. We’re all of us overwhelmed. We’re all of us scared. We’re all of us praying our children’s futures aren’t lost to the lock-down. So long as we show our students of all ages that yes, we care, yes, we want to see them succeed, and yes, we can only do our best until things change for the better, then just maybe we can keep that spark of curiosity alive while the school windows remain dark.
A blessed Easter to you all! May your day be one of peace and hope and not, well, this…
The whole cartoon is here, in case you’re in the mood. 🙂
Darnit, I almost forgot! The whole “Write at Home” thing and how that’s coming…weeeeell it’s slow. Very, very slow, but it’s there. Fellow teacher, mom, and indie author Anne Clare recommended keeping the goals in easy reach; unlike many writers on social media who speak of how much writing time they now have because of the lock-down, we parents in the crowd are all–
–so yeah. No “I can write my whole novel at last!” going on here, let alone a bunkerin’ down at Camp NaNoWriMo.
Writers, there’s always SO much we want to do, but if we don’t pace ourselves our eyes’ll never stop twitching.
I’ve narrowed myself down to three projects–not to complete, per say, but to at least develop.
Fallen Princeborn Series Arc. YES, yes, I still want to make progress on that series despite all that’s happened after the first book came out. The problem is that I still don’t like how the series itself wraps up. Until I create a series synopsis with milestone events that both fit the characters and my vision, then I can at least finish the edits for the second book.
Academic article. Creative writing is nice and all, but universities want to see professional writing from its teachers, too. My department chair has said in no uncertain terms that if I want to advance my career, I must publish something for academia, sooooo I need to get that started.
Short Story Submission. I already have one short piece out for consideration, and I’d like to complete one more before spring is over.
Speaking of short stories, thank you to all who’ve voted for my revamped “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer”!
If you haven’t had a chance to vote yet, please do so–every tally counts in increasing the story’s chances for acceptance into a local anthology. Click here to vote!
Unsure what you’re voting for?
In a few days I will share the worldbuilding process of this story with you, showing that even when confined to one’s home, there are entire lands of magic and mayhem just outside one’s window.
Later on, I’ll recommend some of the books that the three Bs and I have enjoyed reading together. I also want to tune you in to some amazing music (har har) to help you escape those same ol’ four walls and find yourself in a blissful Other-Where.
Hullo hullo! I hope you’re healthy and safe, wherever you are. Today was…well, it was a Monday, make no mistake. But we did get through the morning, and I did get to work this afternoon on revising a short story to be submitted to local publisher Something Or Other Publishing (SOOP).
For those who recall my Free Fiction installments from oh so long ago, there was a tale called “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer.” I’ve been spending some time revamping this tale for a submission to one of SOOP’s anthologies, and the submission is now complete! All that’s left is for you, dear readers, to vote.
I didn’t just want this post to be a “meet MY needs” kind of post, though. Tonight while slurping down some reheated beef soup I was paging through Donald Maass’ The Emotional Craft of Fiction and came across a page that all writers could appreciate.
(Well, all writers could appreciate this entire book, but that goes without saying.)
This excerpt comes from the chapter “Inner versus Outer” discussing that ever-nasty writer problem of showing vs. telling. Enjoy!
Writing out what characters feel ought to be a shortcut to getting readers to feel that stuff too, shouldn’t it? You’d think so. After all, it’s through characters that we experience a story. Their experience is ours. Actually, the truth is the opposite. Put on the page what a character feels and there’s a pretty good chance that, paradoxically, what the reader will feel is nothing.
Here’s an example: His guts twisted in fear. When you read that, do your own guts twist in fear? Probably not. Or this: Her eyes shot daggers at him. Do you feel simmering rage? Meh. Not so much.
Such feelings fail toexcite us because, of course, we’ve read them too many times. Thosedaggers have dulled. What gets readers going are feelings that are fresh and unexpected. Yet those feelings also need to be real and true; otherwise, they will come across as contrived–they’ll ring false and fail to ignite the reader’s emotions. ….
Human beings are complex. We have emotions on the surface and emotions underneath. There are emotions that we minimize, hide, and deny. There are emotions that embarrass us, reveal too much, and make us vulnerable. Our emotions can be profoundly trivial or so elevated that they’re silly. What we feel is unescapably influenced by our history, morals, loyalties, and politics.….
We’re clear. We’re vague. We hate. We love. We feel passionately about our shoes yet shrug off disasters on TV. We are finely tuned sensors of right and wrong, and horrible examples for our kids. We are walking contradictions. We are encyclopedias of the heart. ….
With so much rich human material to work with, it’s disappointing to me that so many manuscripts offer a limited menu of emotions. I want to feast on life, but instead I’m standing before a fast-food menu, my choices limited to two patties or one, fries or medium or large. …They work only with primary emotions because that is what everyone feels, which is true, but this is also a limited view.
So how does one create emotional surprise? …
Be obvious and tell readers what to feel, and they won’t feel it. Light an unexpected match, though, and readers will ignite their own feelings, which may well prove to be the ones that are primary and obvious. third-level emotions. That’s the effective way of storytelling.
Gosh, I love this book. I’m going to keep stealing time away to re-read Maass whenever the kids are busy with school stuff. Craft-talk like this does wonders to the creative fire, especially when it’s revision mode. Do you have any craft books you’d like to recommend? Please do in the comments below!
Stay tuned! I’ve a lovely indie author interview coming! No, I didn’t forget about the homeschool lesson plans or music. We’re getting there. 🙂
Hello, everyone! Yes, I’m still alive, and so are my kids.
The past few days have been quite the learning experience for the three Bs and myself regarding patience, kindness, listening…maybe some science in there too, but honestly, at this stage it’s all about learning to live with one another every waking hour of the day. Hopefully some of the school stuff is sinking in, but as I say whenever I sub in a classroom: So long as no one hurts themselves or each other, it’s a good day. 🙂
On top of learning to learn together, I still need to find time to teach my online university students. I’m going to try something Thursday and Friday to see if it’ll help bring a little balance to my teaching load…and hopefully free up time to write, too.
In the meantime, I wanted to share a few freebies with you. Aionios Books, publisher of my first novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, has made a number of their ebooks free through the end of April!
Be sure to visit them for books of Young Adult, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. Because these downloads are through them and not Amazon, I do hope you’ll make a separate trip to my Amazon Author page and leave a book review when possible. Those reviews make a HUGE difference for indie authors such as m’self.
I did manage to sneak in a quick couple of hours this past weekend to write. It wasn’t enough time for my short story, but it was enough time to answer the prompt for my university journal’s microfiction contest: create a story of 300 words or less featuring a famous woman from literature. This rough draft is a few words shy of 300, but I feel like there might need to be a little trimming done to make room for other details, depending on your feedback. I hope my choice in fictional character counts, too!
Title? Not sure yet. I’ll take any ideas you have!
Sally blew a perky blond curl out of her eyes. Every stitch had to be perfect.
“You sure you didn’t send it off with Marbles?” He called. “I know it’s all torn up, but it’s still mine.”
“Of course not, darling,” Sally cooed. The sewing machine needle pulsed up and down with the rhythm of their high school’s favorite slow song. She hummed as she shifted the pieces of delicate blue cotton beneath the point, her thread blending in perfectly.
“You don’t think someone walked off with it during the party, do you?”
Sally bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Maybe.”
“Look, I know it’s dumb, but I am not going on vacation without it.”
“Oh, I know, darling, I know.” Dim sunlight fell through the glass blocks near the ceiling and washed out a picture Sally had taped to the wall of a Christmas pageant from their childhood. The moment he held her hand to go out on stage, she swore she’d never let him go.
“Lucy probably snitched it. Damn, I knew she was pissed about the new realty job.”
There. Sally’s chair made a nasty scraping sound against the concrete as she stood to hold up her work: a sport coat. He could wear it every day without any stupid dog or sister or anyone else stealing it away.
Sally lay the coat over her chair and glanced over at the computers. There he was, pacing with his phone while that slut Violet packed lingerie.
Sally had a bag, too, only it contained plastic sheets, duct tape, and a hammer. She took it with her up the stairs and out her cottage door. Pumpkin vines roped the entire yard, their yellow flowers filling the air with sincerity.
Nobody takes Sally’s Sweet Baboo.
It’s not much, but it’s fiction, and it’s storytelling, and with all the staying at home and teaching 7 to 57-year-olds, it’s nice to create a little mayhem. 🙂
More homeschooling tips, writing, and music are on the way!
Happy March, everyone! Spring is coming slow and steady to the Midwest. Let’s celebrate a new month with two amazing indie authors who’ve founded a literary journal currently open to submissions.
Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourselves, please!
Cendrine: My name is Cendrine Marrouat. I was born and raised in Toulouse, France, and now live in Winnipeg, Canada.
I am a photographer, poet and the author of 15 books in different genres: poetry, photography, theatre, and social media. In my career, I have worked in quite a few other fields, including translation, teaching, social media coaching, and journalism. I was a content curator and creator, as well as an art critic for a while too.
David and I launched Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal and the Poetry Really Matters show in 2019. I am also the co-founder of a photography collective called FPoint Collective. Finally, I created the Sixku (a poetry form) and the Reminigram (a type of digital photography).
David: Hello, my name is David Ellis. I am a British born and raised, I live in the South-East of England.
I am the author of several collections of poetry (my debut collection won an international award in the Readers Favorite Book Award Inspirational Poetry Category). I also have authored a short story collection, co-authored several books with Cendrine and co-founded Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal with Cendrine too.
I have interviewed hundreds of authors about their creative drives and what has inspired the writing in their lives.
What was an early experience where you each learned that language had power?
Cendrine: My mother was a teacher. She was adamant that I learn to read, write and count before the end of kindergarten. My father is an avid reader, like she was. As I discovered the world around me, I realized that words mattered, that the way a person spoke or wrote had an impact on people’s perception of them. Then I studied English and (some) Spanish in school and at university. My understanding of the power of language increased tremendously as a result.
David: I think for me, my epiphany with the power residing in language started with and will always be indebted to the late author Terry Pratchett. I remember when I first started reading his books that I needed a dictionary to keep up with some of his turns of phrase. What I believe was happening was that he was planting seeds that were evolving into the more humourous aspects of my writing. My English grades actually went up higher than any other subject at the time, due to Pratchett forging a love of language inside of me, as I devoured his fantasy Discworld series.
Furthermore, it has been through the act of writing poetry for many years that I have discovered my passion for crafting inspirational and motivational verse. The reactions from people regarding how I have encouraged them over the years with my words have given me even more respect for the magical power that language can have, along with how words can heal people and bring them closer together.
Who are your favorite under-appreciated writers/photographers? Let’s spread the word on them, here and now!
Cendrine: My favorite poets: Kahlil Gibran and Alphonse de Lamartine. The Prophet is loved worldwide. But very few people actually know that Gibran wrote many other stories. His drawings are also beautiful.
Lamartine was a French writer, poet and politician whose most famous piece, The Lake, also contains his most famous words:
“Oh, Time, stop your flight! Hours, don’t run away!
Allow us to savor this delight, the best of life’s brief day!”
My friend Isabel Nolasco, the other co-founder of FPoint Collective, is a very talented photographer. She hails from Portugal and the world is starting to discover her images.
David: If we are talking poets, I would definitely have to go with Edgar Allan Poe, since I wrote an entire book of poetry inspired by all of his poetry! I would say that Poe is remembered more for his short stories but probably less well known for some of the unique gems in his poetry collection. Leonard Cohen is another hero of mine, who I think gets more focus on his music than his poetry, which I find to be really sensual and compelling.
I have a few favourite indie writers who could always do with more reader love any day of the week. Christie Stratos (www.christiestratos.com), who has her own podcast interview show and writes really unique fiction books (check out her Dark Victoriana collection). JD Estrada is another amazing author who has a ton of brilliant books covering fiction and lots of incredible poetry, you can find him at https://jdestradawriter.blogspot.com/. Finally, I would also like to put out a quick shout out to Anais Chartschenko, who is a fabulous musician, poet, author and fellow lover of tea! She can be found at https://anaischartschenko.weebly.com/. All of them are extremely friendly, multi-talented and very inspirational to me in many different ways. They are definitely very groovy people, so go check out their wares soon!
Cendrine, you also regularly update your growing collection of photography. How does visual expression differ from written expression? What does a composition need to contain before you feel ready to hold your camera up for the shot?
Cendrine: Photography and poetry are the same to me. Whether I pen a piece or take a photo, it is all about telling a story but in the “show don’t tell” fashion.
Composition is in the mind before it ends in an image or a poem.
David, you find inspiration in the classic writers of the past, including Edgar Allen Poe and William Shakespeare. What is it about such writers that brings the poetry out of you?
David: I’m fascinated with the poetic language that they employ in their writing works. I remember at school being overwhelmed by having to work out what every sentence of Shakespeare’s plays meant, line by line, I actually ended up feeling it was quite a tedious process. It wasn’t until years later that I developed a real fondness for the bard (I’m glad my school years didn’t completely put me off!) when I discovered how he was playing with the language he was using and inventing many idioms that we commonly use to this very day.
I’ve felt that Edgar Allan Poe combines the art of storytelling with his poems magnificently. ‘The Raven’ stirs up such vivid imagery and emotions in me, when I read it and listen to it being read aloud.
There is so much inspiration in the past, providing that you have unique ways of navigating it, appreciating its splendor and inherent beauty. I draw a lot of energy and writing experience from these authors because of what they are describing and the filters they interpret the world through in their own eyes. I find it a privilege to be reading the classics of the past, absorbing them and reinterpreting them for an appreciative future audience.
For me, I’ve actually reached a point where I’ve realised that I can literally find infinite inspirational material from the past and that is an incredible feeling to have in your life. Now, I just have to find the time to keep writing and publishing all of the ideas that I have!
Together you two have created a poetry journal, Auroras and Blossoms. Are you currently accepting submissions? What does it take for a piece of writing to be featured in your journal?
Cendrine: We accept submissions all year long. Our magazine promotes inspirational and uplifting poetry and poetry-related content, no matter the topic. We accept everyone (adults and teenagers alike), as long as they have something positive to say.
Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal is family-friendly, which means that the poetry has to be clean. No swearwords and no erotica / political pieces. The poems we select come from people who understand two things: the meaning of the word “positive” and the essence of poetry as an art form. They have a great message to share, a message that can help readers see the world in a different way.
David: Cendrine and I joined forces together on Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal because we both have a vision to share more inspirational poetry with the world, written by very talented people from all around the world. This specific type of poetry is the main reason why we both started writing and publishing books.
We encourage people to submit to us from all walks of life, we do not judge people on whether they have been published in previous journals. We prefer to instead look at the quality of the poetry a person writes and whether it could deliver an inspirational theme and message to our readers.
We don’t really have a specific type of poetry style that we are looking for, we will accept short and long pieces. As long as you take us on an inspirational journey with your writing and give us reasons to believe that your poem was written to be positive, uplifting, and/or motivating then you have an excellent chance of being published with us.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better poet/photographer as an adult, what would you do?
Cendrine: I would not do anything differently. I had a difficult childhood followed by challenging teenage years. I learnt a lot from my experiences and that is what makes me the artist I am today.
David: As a child, I think I ignored my literary instincts for quite some time, until it became apparent that I was excelling at English Language and English Literature more than any other subjects I was studying. I also developed a passion for song lyrics, in addition to poetry but I refrained from attempting to make music for many years. So, my advice to my younger self would be to start writing and refining your craft as soon as possible because it will take you many years to discover what you are truly good at and what motivates you to write every single day. That’s when the really exciting part of your life begins!
What is the most difficult part of your artistic processes?
Cendrine: Nothing, really. I am just a slow writer. But I have improved over the years.
David: I think for me it is having too many ideas to deal with at once and engaging in the necessary discipline to sit down and list out all of these ideas. This can extend to listing down ideas that I have about the project itself. When I find my focus, I can keep going for hours, often at the expense of not noticing where the time has gone. So yes, focus is the most difficult part for me in the artistic process, once you nail it down and commit to a project, that’s when you can ignore all other distractions and get on with completing a project to the best of your ability.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Cendrine: It energizes me greatly!
David: I used to find writing exhausted me when I worked on many different aspects of it at the same time. Take National Poetry Writing Month for example. When I participate, I tend to write and edit poems every day for a month, make a professional looking blog post and share many other poems that I find too and then attempt to read them all as well. When you are looking at tens, possibly even a hundred posts at a time, in addition to trying to write your own polished post, it is easy to get burnt out.
I’ve therefore learnt to be more considerate of my own time and not to try to cram too many things into one day. Writing has become a lot more fun for me as a result and I can do much more of it, when I appreciate and reflect on how much I have achieved in a single day.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Cendrine: Strongly? I’m not sure. But you cannot be a writer if you are afraid of sharing your voice and emotions (even indirectly) with the world. Because every word you leave on a page bears your mark one way or the other.
David: I think it is imperative for writers to be empathetic and to feel emotions strongly because they can then act in ways that people would do in real life. They can get under the skin of a character or subject matter and write in a way that emotionally connects with the reader.
All I know is that I write deeply, emotionally stimulating poetry and it creates a magnetism that helps me connect with like-minded people. When this is lacking in writing, whether it be the passion, focus or drive from the writer, if this emotional distance is conveyed to me as a reader, I am not going to be compelled to read more of their work, plain and simple.
Cendrine: Most of the aspiring artists I have met lack self-confidence and compare themselves to others way too much. How do you avoid those traps? Do NOT listen to naysayers.
Just know that you cannot please everybody. Do not take negative criticism personally. But pay attention to constructive feedback. Compare yourself to others only to understand your own style.
David: Read the kind of books that you would like to write. Think of the kind of things that you would like to see written but can’t find and then go write them yourself.
Take advice from “How To Guides” as a means to enhance your own creativity but just take what things work for you and discard the rest. Don’t buy many guides and spend all your time reading them as an excuse to neglect your writing.
By all means be prepared but only do enough research to get yourself started. Starting is always the most difficult part in any endeavour. Find a theme, think a bit about it, do your research and get writing as soon as you possibly can. The rest will follow soon enough. If you need guidance, write a short outline of what you want to achieve and then work through all of those points but don’t spend all your time planning and get writing!
Try to write every day, even if it is only a few lines. I have been told constantly in any artistic profession that anyone, no matter how busy they are, can spend at least ten minutes a day indulging in their own creative expression. You will make more time as your passion grows. Diligently find the time to fuel your creative passions, watch an hour less TV a day, shut yourself away for small periods of time, turn off the computer or put aside your mobile phone if you have to and make time in your life to create, your soul will thank you for it.
Be sure to share your work with friends and other writers. Be willing to take constructive (not negative) feedback for your work. Write until you have so much good material that you simply have to publish, then work to get it published!
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
It’s high time for some powerful music, especially since it was such a joy to use music to welcome spring last year. I am finally, FINALLY working on a bit of short fiction, and would like to share it with you! We also need to consider the dangers of altering characters mid-story, and how those changes cause disconnect among fans…not to mention plot points.
Hello hello, everyone! Once again, it’s been…oh, it’s been a week at the good ol’ American public schools. Between tweens yelling at me that they don’t have to do their homework because I’m not their mom, to kiddos my sons’ age hitting each other because the other “was going to do something bad”….well, it’s no wonder I have some of the university students I do. Eeesh.
So, let’s focus on something lovely and positive, shall we? Let’s celebrate one another with a delightful indie author interview. Colin Garrow is a FABULOUS writer of mystery and spine-tingling adventures for adults and children alike.His latest for tweens, The Curse of Calico Jack, and his latest for adults, A Tall Cool Glass of Murder, are available now on Amazon and Smashwords. Check’em out! (After the interview, of course.)
Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourself, please!
You might think from some of my previous jobs (taxi driver, antiques dealer, drama facilitator, Santa Claus impersonator, fish processor, etc) that I’m a bit of a Jack of all trades, but let’s just say I like variety. When I left school, I had a vague idea of becoming either a rock star or a novelist. At the time, I was too timid to strut my stuff on a stage, and instead spent many hours churning out short stories and poems. In those days (late seventies), there were hundreds of what were called ‘little press’ magazines on the go, all looking for talented writers.
So, sending my scribblings out to such literary tomes as Stand Magazine, Envoi and Staple, I managed to collect a huge pile of rejection slips, and though I did eventually get a few poems and a short story published, it was studying for a BA in Drama that really made the difference to the quality of my writing. After that, I spent a few years writing plays, some of which were eventually performed by my theatre company in Aberdeen, but I didn’t start trying to write novels seriously until 2013, after a failed relationship left me living alone in a damp, mould-infested hovel, with little money and a lot of spare time. That summer I decided to try and finish a book I’d started a few years earlier. It was called ‘The Devil’s Porridge Gang’ and was set in a fictionalised version of the town where I grew up.
I suppose I started writing for children because I didn’t think I had the talent to write for adults, so my Terry Bell and Watson Letters books didn’t get under way until a few years later. Now, having recently published my 20th book, I’m feeling a lot more confident about my creative abilities.
TWENTY BOOKS, my goodness! I tip my hat to you, Friend, and admire your years of experience in this publishing jungle.As a book reviewer and writer, what do you see as the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Aside from Kirkus reviews which, at several hundred dollars a pop, should never be considered by any sane person, I think the practice of paying a reviewer for his or her opinion is dodgy, to say the least. Even if you believe the individual is completely unbiased, you’re never going to know for sure. Readers too, are aware of this practice and if a book has too many five-star reviews on Amazon, it can give the impression someone is taking backhanders, even when that’s not the case. I’ve also seen books with six or seven reviews that sound so similar they could have been written by the same person.
Indie authors often give away free books in the hope of prompting readers to buy some of our other wares, or at least to leave a review. While I don’t have a problem with this, it’s not the same as someone actually handing over hard-earned cash in exchange for a book. My own reviewing practice is to buy a copy of any book I intend to review, which puts money in the author’s pocket, and eans they also get a ‘verified’ review on Amazon. Even so, I do sometimes accept a free copy in return for an honest review, though this is mostly due to my being on Amazon’s Vine programme.
It might sound odd, but the hardest part is coming up with a title and a cover for the book. With these in place I then have the motivation to write the book and discover what it’s about. As an example, the cover for the second Terry Bell mystery, A Long Cool Glass of Murder had to fit with the design of the first book, so it took me a while to come up with something that made sense. It also gave me a title that suggested poison, which was a good starting point.
On the other hand, I’m currently working on a horror novel for adults (as opposed to children), which doesn’t have a title or a cover. I do have a working title of Witch Moon (which may end up as the actual title), and a vague idea of what the cover will be, so there’s enough to get started with but I’ll need to finalise both before progressing much further with the plot.
One of the reasons I jive so well with you is because you’re a HUGE SherlockHolmes fan, just like me! Tell us about The Watson Letters.
I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes for years but not being a particular devotee of ‘fan fiction’ had never thought of writing about him. Several years ago, a friend and I started emailing each other under the guise of a variety of fictional characters, usually centred around toilet humour and fart gags. Our favourite roles were Holmes and Watson, so when I started a website in praise of Arthur Conan Doyle and the associated books and movies etc, I included a spoof blog called The Watson Letters inspired by our musings. Some years later, my friend having taken to producing fewer and fewer emails in response to my attempts to create actual stories, I often found myself writing both parts of whatever adventure we were ensconced in, and when she eventually gave up altogether, it occurred to me I might take selected episodes of the blog and knock them into some sort of book.
The first book, The Watson Letters vol 1: Something Wicker This Way Comes was a bit of a hotchpotch and I didn’t really expect it to catch on, particularly as it jumped around a lot and didn’t exactly have a ‘through line’ in terms of the plot. It’s also very short, at around 23,000 words. But considering a second book, I opted to write three complete adventures and continued with that idea for books three and four. The current book, Murder on Mystery Island is different, in that it’s one complete adventure, and the next book, The Haunting of Roderick Usher will probably be the same.
By this time, I’d scrapped the original website and started a new Watson Letters Blog, so what hasn’t changed, is that I still write each story on the Blog first, before putting it into book form. I’m aware that this practice limits me to what I’ve already written, but it’s good to have a challenge.
Hmm. This is an interesting one, as obviously there are tons of books written about Holmes, Watson and several of the other characters created by Conan Doyle. I think if you’re going to be true to the characters and attempt stories that reflect ACD’s style and character traits etc, then that’s great, but since the original books are perfect as they are, I wanted to do something different. Taking a bunch of well- known characters, moving them off into a parallel universe, having them swear and do battle with villains like Hannibal Lecter and Bill Sikes, I hoped readers would go along with it, recognising I’m not trying to copy the original, but to create something different, though with a generous nod to the originals. Of course, one or two readers have complained that Holmes doesn’t use the F word, and Watson would never urinate on a pair of ne’er-do-wells, but when you’re in a parallel universe, anything can happen!
Ha, eeeeexactly! One of the fun things about writing fiction is that you don’t HAVE to follow “how things work.” I recall Colin Dexter saying as much about his Inspector Morse mystery series. Still, writing historical fiction is going to require some sort of research. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
In general terms, I don’t do a lot of research for my books, as I believe it’s a writer’s job to make stuff up. However, there are some things you just can’t make up and need information or detail to give the writing an authentic feel. Usually, I leave it until the point in the story when I need specific information before I’ll start looking for it. In the case of my middle grade series The Christie McKinnon Adventures, the first book begins in Edinburgh in 1897, so I used an old map of the city to work out Christie’s routes between one place and another. I did the same thing with The Maps of Time series which is set in 1630s London. In that instance I also wanted to use the old street names, like Cheap Syde and Fanchurch Streete.
For the Watson Letters books, which often use dates on letters and telegrams etc, there came a point when I confused myself and had to resort to using an online calendar to work out when things happened. This was particularly noticeable with The Curse of the Baskervilles adventure. The book starts in 1891, but the first story actually goes back to 1884, with the adventure following it beginning in 1889. For other books, there have been times when I’ve needed to know about air rifles, handguns, specific types of period clothing and how to use skeleton keys. Anything that requires lots of research is probably something I’ll avoid writing about.
That’s a great piece of advice. Would you like to close out on any other important writing tips for aspiring writers?
I think the advent of eBooks and the ease with which virtually anyone can become a published author, has also created its own set of problems. It’s not so much of an issue now, but a few years ago there were an awful lot of people churning out books that were nothing short of abysmal—packed with clichés, typos, poor sentence structure and a lot of really bad writing. I’ve had a few people approach me for advice on their own work and overall, they thank me profusely for pointing out their mistakes, realising no-one can produce a perfect novel all by themselves. Of course, there are those who think their immense talent should be obvious and the only motivation for asking my opinion is so I can tell them how wonderful they are. I know it’s hard for newbies to get started and forge relationships with other writers, editors, beta-readers etc, but I do think it’s essential, especially for indie authors, as we all need to know how other people see our work. As well as having two editors, I have several writer pals who proofread my books, while I do the same for them, so even if you can’t afford a professional editor, there are always people who can help out. It’s the same with book covers too—unless you happen to be Stephen King, a rubbishy cover will never sell your books. I have a reasonable ability with Photoshop, so I create my own covers (though I’m aware some of the early ones need updating). If you’re not gifted in that area, there are plenty of generic cover creators who can adapt a cover with your name/title etc for a reasonable price, so your book at least looks professional.
As Smashwords boss Mark Coker says, ‘…it’s the readers…who decide what’s worth buying. Bad books will sink.’
So, essentially, you need to write a good book, get it proofed, edited and pop on a good quality cover that tells us what the book is about, and off you go.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights, Colin! Folks, you can find Colin all over the place–go, visit, see, read!
However, as book reviewer and author S.J. Higbeehas often noted, many authors and/or publishers feel compelled to stick waaaaaaaaaaaay too much information into the book blurb. (Click here for just one of MANY reviews where Sarah touches on the problem of chatty blurbs.) Where is the line between too much information and too little? We want to give readers a taste of the story inside, but we don’t want to ruin their appetites. We want to engage readers without killing all the story’s surprises or subverting all the expectations.
Which got me to thinking about M*A*S*H. Yes, the TV show.
I never watched M*A*S*H as a kid, nor did I know about the original book on which the film and television series are based. I only knew that whenever the theme song started playing on the TV, I went off and did something else.
Just listen to that mellow song played alongside these doctors and nurses treating soldiers near enemy lines. The show’s opener had the look and feel of some medical drama, the last sort of show Little Me would want to watch.
Then I learned after marrying Bo that this show was a comedy. A COMEDY?! How the heck is someone supposed to catch the comedy vibes from that opener? The melody’s a sad one; heck, the original song’s called “Suicide is Painless.” We see no happy or positive expressions on people’s faces, only the urgency of aiding the wounded. There is absolutely nothing present in this theme to tell one that they’re about to watch a comedy. Imagine if a book tried to pull this same stunt with their cover art and blurb. How do you think the ever-watchful Goodreads community would respond?
As writers, we need that blurb to give readers a genuine sense of the story-world they’re about to enter. Usually just a few elements of the genre are enough to tell readers, this is what you’re in for. If you dig X, then you’ll love this.
Since television themes are always held to a similar degree of requirement (unless it’s M*A*S*H, apparently), let’s use a few more for examples: Bonanza, Twilight Zone, and Dragnet.
Not one of these theme songs is all that long, but we get enough out of the music to know the genre of each show: the twang of the western guitar, the dissonance of an eerie suspense-filled horror, the stalwart drums of justice. With just a few seconds, these themes accurately and concisely provide the audience a sense of the stories that will accompany the themes.
Now I’m not saying that chattiness is always bad. Heavens, Rod Serling’s speech for Twilight Zone’s theme is iconic. Then you have shows like Dukes of Hazzard and A-Team, which just so happen to be Bo’s and my favorite TV shows from childhood. Both are spot-on with their carefree guitar and military snare, and both directly address the audience with the premise of the show (only the A-Team don’t need no Waylon Jennings to sing because they got Mr. T, fool!). These themes are slightly over a minute long, but they don’t overwhelm the audience with information. We only get what we need: Protagonists and Problems. It’s up to us to stay tuned for more.
So what happens when that blurb of a theme does give us more?
This is where I think we enter the “chatty” territory, the “too much” territory. Allow me to force more of my 80s upbringing on you for examples.
Okay, I’ll let the monotonous “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sung over and over in the background slide because it’s like a companion to the drums. But do we really need to hear the traits of every main character in the opening of EVERY episode? She-Ra and Masters of the Universe did that, too, always breaking down every damn character so you would know just who the good guys and bad guys are, and who knows the secret identity stuff and who doesn’t, because apparently you, you snot-faced lump of Cheetos-dusted child, are too dumb to catch on to any of this when watching the show.
And I think this is what really gets to me about those chatty blurbs on books today. It’s like the publisher/writer thinks they have to talk down to the reader to ensure they understand the story’s premise and conflict. Sure, no one wants the reader to feel confused, but the consequence of over-talking is that we make the reader feel inferior.
Yes, there are some that like having all the dots connected for them, but not this gal, not this gal’s kids, and I have a feeling that you don’t dig being babied, either. Plus, it says something about us as writers when we don’t trust our own storytelling skills to adequately show readers who’s who and what’s what inside the story itself.
There simply comes a time when all we can–all we should–give readers are duct tape, a lemon, and a broken magnifying glass. If they’re intrigued with the few pieces you leave for them to find, then you can bet your MacGyver-lovin’ boots they’re comin’ into the book for more.
Anyone else have a favorite television theme to share? I was trying to figure out how to squeeze in Hawaii Five-0, but I just couldn’t make it work, dammit.
Greetings, lovely readers! An unexpected flood of school work’s swamped my desk, and there’s a threat of storms severe enough to send animals hunting for an Ark. While I float upon the course prep and stare at our sump pump for the next 36 hours, please welcome the amazing indie author and filmmaker Mansu Edwards!
You are a creator in many forms: I love seeing how you weave in and out of genres like science fiction, young adult, and suspense. Do you feel the genre definitions in today’s market limit writers or help them?
Thank you Jean. I never focused on genre definitions. I use my instincts. I think Writers should create their own definitions. Genre definitions can limit Writers because it can prevent the Creator from producing a unique story. Readers don’t care about definitions. They care about good storytelling. Then again, not having a specific genre definition can hurt Author sales. People want to know what their reading and won’t spend money on surprises. However, there have been many instances where my story didn’t fit a specific genre or the genre didn’t reveal itself until midway in the story.
Your bio also mentions you recently created a short film, Texting in New York City. What challenges did you face as a storytelling in a visual medium? Does your experience as a filmmaker help inform your craft choices as a writer?
Texting In New York City is based on my book under the same name. The book consisted of random text conversations between New Yorkers. When creating the short film, I developed an idea and wrote a script. I understood the significance of brevity and pacing in film due to my Screenwriting background. I showed the 1st draft to an Exhibitor at a Trade Show. She explained the parts of the story that were unclear. I rewrote it and began hiring actors, actresses and a production team. The cinematographer, John Morgan pitched a couple of ideas; I watched a ton of short films and a popular webseries: Money And Violence to improve pacing and storytelling. The series made me retool the script. I eliminated and shortened certain scenes. It was a huge mental shift working on the visual version of Texting In New York City because I normally work alone when writing a book. Of course, I outsource certain parts of the process. Since, I have a Screenwriter’s mindset, I do my best to get to the point as quickly as possible. I don’t want to lose my audience.
You’ve been publishing works since 2009. With ten years of experience as an author, what would you say is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry, and how can we as the writing community overcome it?
Unscrupulous companies charging writers exorbitant fees to produce a book. I think its unnecessary and a terrible experience for novice authors. We can overcome it by offering writers a discount or providing advertisement for a reduced cost.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Yes, I read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. It interweaves the present and the past between two lovers. How their personal strengths and weaknesses affect their relationship. Also, the importance of making the correct decisions in life.
Let’s talk about your YA series, Emojis vs. Punctuation Marks. What a great concept of a story to share with young adult readers—especially those who forget punctuation even exists! (I teach writing, so I notice this problem. A LOT.) What first inspired you to write this series?
Thank you Jean. The Most High (God) inspired me. I’m sitting at the counter and an idea flashes in my mind. I hear the title Emojis Vs. Punctuation Marks: Battle Of The Keyboard . I’m thinking this is a cool and unusual concept. Also, I noticed the change in online communication over the years. Senders and receivers using Emoticons to express feelings and emotions. And the story sounded fun, so I knew I had to write it.
Book 2 of the series, Land of Refrigeration, expands the universe of these wee characters to include insects and produce. I would love to hear you breakdown the worldbuilding process you went through to create this new level of the EPM universe!
I had an incomplete version of Emojis Vs. Punctuation Marks: Land Of Refrigeration. I decided to have the Emojis battle the fruits and vegetables for territorial positioning while trying to find a way back to their unique world. I rewrote the story a few times. I wanted to show the survivors of Emojis Vs. Punctuation Marks: Battle Of The Keyboard attempting to adjust on Planet Earth. But, their ultimate goal is to return to their digital world. Also, I provided a backstory on the relationship between the Punctuation Marks and Danna’s father, Menelik which began during his adolescent years. Then, I began reread another story I wrote, but didn’t quite finish. It was completely different concept. The story didn’t have a title. I decided to incorporate it with the Emojis story. The tale takes place in Outer Space. So, I thought why not have the Insect, Centipede McGhee design a portal for the Emojis and Punctuation Marks to travel to a exciting, unfamiliar, digital world.
Where do you see the third entry of this series taking you—and readers? Any other projects you’d like to highlight for us?
Very good question. The third entry is a work in progress. I may change the story’s trajectory. I haven’t decided yet. Nevertheless, I have a new Ebook entitled Plush Couches. It’s about a young man who has a serious gas attack on his way to a job interview. I’m currently working on an untitled piece about a Superhero.
Lastly, please expand upon the age-old storyteller conundrum: Does writing energize or exhaust you, and why?
Writing is both energizing and exhausting. It uses mental, emotional and spiritual faculties. It’s a relationship that has its ups and downs. You never know what to expect. Sometimes your pen is sailing on calm seas and other times it’s swimming in turbulent waters. It’s a gift from God. People’s positive responses to my story energizes me. Of course, all the responses aren’t positive, but, I can’t let it demotivate me. I write the story. Finish it. Then work on the next book.
Thank you so much for your time and thoughts, Mansu! Godspeed to you on your upcoming writing adventures.
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
Would you believe there’s an important lesson to be learned in TV theme songs? Yes, I’m serious. Then we’re going to ponder the structure of the fairy tale and how it can help add a darkly magical chapter to a story-world’s history.