Author #Interview: Let’s Chat with #IndieAuthor Bryan R. Quinn!

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! I’m thrilled to continue sharing some lovely indie authors I’ve met in our community. This month, please welcome the mysterious Bryan R. Quinn!

You have a unique history in the publishing industry as well as in technical writing. From your experience, what do you consider to be the most unethical practice in the publishing industry, and what can be done about it?

Vanity publishing scams that milk naïve and, perhaps, desperate writers dry who haven’t done their due diligence are concerning. I hate to see writers, or anyone for that matter, get swindled. Writers need to investigate online publishers before trusting them with their hard-earned money.

Do you see your work as a technical writer influence your prose style as a fiction writer? Technical writing must be precise and concise, so I apply this precision and concision to my prose. At least I believe I do. I try to make my sentences lean as possible, even when they are long.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? Sandra Johnson and Wendy Waters, who I met on Twitter, reviewed NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED before I published it. They gave me valuable advice about some of the characters and their motivations.

What is your writing Kryptonite? (Mine is a call from my sons’ school principal.) When my wife tells me to find a real job. I’ve been out of the workforce for eight years now, so it’s real tough getting back in.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block? Original question. There are times, and they are rare, when I don’t feel like reading a book, whether fiction or non-fiction. In those moments I’ll watch a DVD or surf the Web.

I think it’s safe to say we all have those moments when we need that visual stimulation over the written word! Still, that doesn’t mean language has no hold on us. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? Way back when I wrote a young woman a farewell letter that had sprung from my heart. We lived far apart at the time. Through a mutual friend I learned she felt my letter read like poetry. That was a real surprise to me. I wish I had a copy of that letter.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? Fields of Grace by Wendy Waters. Sublime writing and original storytelling.

How about your favorite childhood book? I know I always loved to adventure the fantastical lands in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader time and time again. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I received a copy of it from my parents on my 8th birthday. Many years later, I studied the hidden themes in this novel in an American literature course at university. It was a fascinating intellectual journey.

You have written both short fiction as well as novels. What process do you undertake to see how many words a story truly requires in order to be told? I look for gaps in the story much as one would look for missing pieces in a puzzle. Conversely, just like a puzzle, every piece in a story must belong there. To that end, I look for fat, that is, if I remove a chapter, would the story improve or worsen? I like to keep my stories as lean as my prose.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? I always know how my stories begin and end. How the story moves from beginning to end without seeming contrived is the difficult part.

Oh yes, that’s a familiar trouble. Goodness knows I’ve had my share of mishaps in plotting my way from first scene to last. Still, you’ve successfully conquered this journey recently for your new noir thriller. Congratulations! Please tell us all about it and what inspired it. The germ of NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED, a tale set in New York City, was planted by a sister. I polled my sisters for story ideas. My youngest sister suggested a story about the Mob’s treatment of its foot soldiers. The Mob is always good fodder for a story, so I combined that premise with the premise of a Manhattan billionaire falling into the clutches of the Mafia. But more than that, this is a cautionary tale about wealth and its seeming guarantee of protection from the vicissitudes of life; it is this false sense of security, this chink in the armor of the wealthy, that evil, in the guise of a Mafia don, exploits in this story.

Sounds like a delightfully dangerous read, Bryan! Thank you so much for stopping by for this chat. May your future storytelling take down other alleys unknown of mystery, murder, and mayhem.

~STAY TUNED!~

I’m still waiting on that frickin’ copy of the new Death on the Nile, but that’s okay. I’ve been finishing a trilogy a friend recommended, and it’s got me wondering about yet another problem many writers face: worldbuilding vs. character-building. Let’s discuss, shall we?

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#WritingLife: The Neglected Garden

Gardening is really an extended form of reading, of history and philosophy. The garden itself has become like writing a book. I walk around and walk around. Apparently people often see me standing there and they wave to me and I don’t see them because I am reading the landscape.

Jamaica Kincaid

My love of nature is great, though my show of it is meager. The shadow of expectation, I suspect–my mother is an avid gardener with a number of bird feeders for the cardinals, orioles, woodpeckers, chickadees, and various other breeds flittering among Wisconsin’s trees. Those feeders are always stationed outside a window near the kitchen table, where no matter the season, my mother can enjoy her meal with the company of the nature she tends so lovingly.

My mom had a setup similar to this when we lived in the country. Noooo idea how she pulled this off.

Meanwhile, the bushes around my home have withered and died. Hostas–I think they’re hostas–have grown so wild and tangled in the back that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rats of NIMH had made a second home beneath their roots. Our single shade tree’s losing its bark and many of its branches refuse to bud. Even the small potted cactus my mother had given me years ago for some sort of greenery in the house has long since died.

Years ago, I would simply blame all this botanical death on motherhood. I couldn’t focus on a garden with Biff and Bash running rampant. I couldn’t afford to garden when the basement flooded and we had to replace things like the furnace and air conditioner. I couldn’t afford to garden when the kids were in school because I was only working part-time and money’s needed elsewhere. I can’t afford to garden because I’m working full-time and time is always needed on the computer, not outside.

Yet my mother worked full-time all my life, and her gardens surrounding any home always thrived. Why?

The love was there. The passion. Just as she loved the beauty in growing things, I love the beauty of stories, of helping them grow. What has one to do with the other?

When I’m writing, I think about the garden, and when I’m in the garden I think about writing. I do a lot of writing by putting something in the ground.

Jamaica kincaid
This book is the inspiration for this post. 🙂

We do our damndest to bring nature to us through artificial means–ambiance videos of forest sounds, for instance. Pretty desktop pictures of gardens.

Yet no matter what pretty picture or sound we acquire on our screens, we’re drawn to our windows, to our doors, our porches. We want to feel the breeze that lifts the dandelion seeds to the air. We want to smell the fresh earth tilled by farmers beyond our borders. We want to see those first bright shoots of green reach for sunlight. We want to reach for that sunlight. We want our senses to revel in Nature because we want our readers to feel the worlds we create for them to explore.

We must break through that thick dark that buries us, and reach. We must break through, and grow.

The gardener just has to accept that gardening is not a set-it-and-forget-it activity…A gardener must know his plot. He must think about what he wants it to look like. Then it is the daily cultivation that leads to beauty, in a landscape and a life, too.

Laura Vanderkam

No small feat, this.

The soil and all its mysteries, the shadow of my own mother’s accomplishments–I find myself taking small steps into tending nature. Caring for birds felt a safer, easier place to start. After all, it’s just a matter of supplying birdseed, yes? Plenty of wild birdseed to be had. But then there’s all those specialized suets and seeds for special birds, special feeders for different breeds. Damn, there’s a lot to work out. I begin with a general birdfeeder and a suet holder for the woodpeckers.

I need this birdfeeder!

Chickadees, sparrows, cardinals galore! The children especially love to spot the pairs of cardinals and guess where their nests could possibly be. Mornings are filled with birdsong outside our front window. I can stand with coffee in hand to watch the sun rise above houses and farmland, the sky awash in orange and pink behind those early risers perched upon the feeder. It’s a daily joy to see so many birds make themselves at home on my porch. The morning doves have even taken to hanging out upon the roof. Of course, this also leads to hawks occasionally stopping by for breakfast and leaving their leftovers in our yard, but that just creates a fresh science lesson for the kids.

No woodpeckers, though.

Not a one.

And still, I leave the suet in hope one comes.

Bo kisses my head as I once again stare at the suet holder. He shakes his head. “That suet’s getting moldy out there,” he says, and hooks a plastic bag on my fingers. He’s right, of course. Only a few small steps into nature, and I’m already stumbling.

But is that not the way with writing, too? Even the safest, smallest of steps into story-worlds isn’t without some risk of falling. We’ve all the unfinished prose and poetry that pain us to think on. Does the pain prevent us from writing?

Perhaps for a while. But never forever. We find new words, new worlds. We peer into the gifts from loved ones and find new seeds, a new feeder.

New life.

New hope.

~STAY TUNED!~

Since Death on the Nile is coming to video in early April, I’m just going to save my next Christie post for when I can rent the film and watch it. I refuse to be foiled by a lack of a babysitter! More indie author interviews are also on the way, and Blondie’s just about done with the third chapter of her Elementals story.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Author #Interview: Let’s Chat with #IndieAuthor Alan Scott!

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! I’m thrilled to continue sharing some lovely indie authors I’ve met in our community. This month, please welcome the fantastical Alan Scott!

Let’s begin with your journey as a reader before you embarked as a writer. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

It’s been long and winding path. As a dyslexic, I was constantly told that I was thick and stupid, and that I should leave anything to do with being creative with the written word well alone. (Which is quite funny as I later learned that Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, F Scott Fitzgerald were all Dyslexic) Hence, although I read a lot in my youth, I never did any writing nor was encouraged to. Throughout my twenties and thirties, I continued to read a lot, mainly Fantasy or Science Fiction. It was not until I was in my early forties that I decided to sit down and write Echoes of a Storm and from there I have written 8 books in the Storm Series, 2 sci-fi books and of course my semi-autobiographical novella about being dyslexic in the modern world called. The Rain Dancer. I have spoken to library groups about being dyslexic and being an indie writer. I have also done The Lost Explorers Club podcast. I am now 52, so it has been a long journey. However, it’s one that has been very positive.

What a discovery of such a connection with your favorite writers! It’s wonderful to hear you are now sharing this journey with readers…and hopefully, inspiring other writers, too. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

You are not thick nor stupid. You will just have to wait 30 odd years until technology allows you to tell your tales. Keep reading all those books, it will pay off in years to come.

Let’s continue exploring your reading self a bit more before we explore your current writing self. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

For me it’s a book by an author called Hugh Cook. It was called The Wizards and the Warriors and was the first book in a 10 book fantasy series where all the books had very similar titles for example book two was The Wazir and the Witch. I just loved the way Hugh created his world and the way each book whilst self-contained, built upon the last.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

Yes, Richard Matheson’s book I am Legend. We mention short stories later; I am Legend is only about 175 pages, but within those pages it deals with so much and raises so many questions about society, what are monsters and the twist at the end is one of the all-time greats.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Being Scottish, I love Billy Connolly (A comedian) and here in the UK in the 80’s they was a series of shows called an “An audience with….” And a popular star of the time would come and preform to a celebrity audience. An Audience with Billy Connolly has gone down in history as a master class of storytelling and making people laugh. His use of language, timing and showmanship is impeccable. He had people crying with laughter. Not the fake polite laughter you get with some show, but with real howls of laughter. That, to me, was language and storytelling at its most powerful. As writers, I think sometimes we forget that our tales are there to entertain and for people to enjoy. Yes, you can slip in the occasional social commentary (I’ve done it myself) or create 7 new languages each with their own sub dialects. But if your story is boring then no one will read it. If your story is difficult to read, no one will read it.

I LOVE this point! Readers will forgive much if the story engages and intrigues; that’s why I enjoy working on my own podcast, You’ve Got Five Pages…To Tell Me It’s Good. If we as writers cannot engage readers from the get-go, all the flowery prose and profound ideas in the world will not keep them.

So at this juncture, let’s venture into your writing life. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I self-published Echoes of a Storm over 10 years ago and don’t get me wrong I am very proud of that book and it holds a very special place in my heart. However, I made a lot of mistakes, which most likely cost me over the years. Since Echoes I got myself a really good proofreader, my writing style has improved a 100 fold, and the pacing of my stories is a lot better.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I don’t do a lot of research as such. However, I served 12 years in the Royal Air Force, so I have all that experience to draw upon when writing military characters. I’ve been that guard, standing in a guard box at 0200hrs with the raining pouring down on a cold Novembers night. I’ve also got a commendation in the New Years honour list for my work the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2000 . I have been dyslexic all my life and drew upon my experiences of that for The Rain Dancer I have also read a lot of very good fantasy authors like James Gemmell, Richard Matheson (when are they going to do a film that does justice to that fantastic book – I am Legend), Franz Lieber, Terry Pratchett, and many more. All of which have influenced my writing.

I can see by your Storm Series that you enjoy writing both novels and short fiction in a single universe. What is your process for choosing which stories are told in which form?

I started to write short stories and publish them on Amazon as a way of promoting my novels. Then after a year I realised I had enough to put them into a book and hence Stories for a Storm Filled Night came about. I thought it was just going to be a one of thing. Then I got thinking about one of my antihero characters that people really seemed to like. A man called Solomon Pace (I still don’t know why people like him) and suddenly stories involving him started to swirl around my head, and I started to write them down. That is how one of my most popular books came about Tales of Solomon Pace. There is something fantastic and very freeing about writing standalone short stories, that can be place in chronological order which enhance your main novels. You can explore different facet of your main story or a character personality in ways that you just cannot do in a novel. Due to pacing, size or editing issues. The third book of short stories Tales of Salvation and Damnation was a bridge between my two trilogies.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

As an indie writer, simply finding time to do it.

Amen to that! I’m currently working on expanding some fantasy storytelling myself while also drafting some short stories for publication. My frustrations with word count and worldbuilding leads me to ask your opinion on the following point: Writing short fiction in fantasy can be extremely challenging due to the restrictions in word count: agree or disagree?

100% disagree. You can write fantastic fiction in only a few words. For example *** Jane kissed her husband passionately on the lips, before placing his severed head back into the fridge. Humming a happy little tune that was currently playing on the radio. She turned off the device, before picking up her car keys and mobile phone from the kitchen table, grabbing her coffee cup, quickly drained it of its contents, and walking swiftly to the front door and exiting her home. Jumping in her car, she started the engine and made her way carefully out of the drive, and onto the road. Where she drove in happy silence along the quiet suburban leafy area in which she lived. The tranquillity was broken when her mobile went off. Jane picked up the phone and answered. “Hello Detective Inspector Jane Grant speaking.” *** Yes, I know it’s a bit rough and needs polishing. However, as an example of the length of short stories it works. You could stop at the first para and have a very short monster horror story, or you could stop at the end of the third para and have a slightly longer psychological horror short story. Or you could add 10’000 words and keep adding layers. For me the skill with short stories is to try and give hints and suggestions for the reader to pick up on and then let their imagination fill in the gaps.

You share your perspective well! You remind me of some wonderful writers who’ve done brief stories in the past: Joy Pixley and J.I. Rogers come to mind. I agree that with the right word choices, you can pack a lot into a tight space, for you can trust your reader’s imagination to fill in a lot of gaps. Sometimes we cannot help wanting to share more detail, though. 🙂 Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing definitely energizes me. When I am in the zone and the plotline is being built in my head and the characters are doing their thing. It’s brilliant. When I write, It’s like I am a director making a film and the characters are my actors. I have a general idea of what I want to happen, but there is always a great deal of improvisation by the characters. Which has lead to a few intriguing and thought-provoking outcomes.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your writing and reading journeys with us, Alan! Let’s end on a fun one here. I’m a HUGE fan of building music playlists for my writing time. Do you have any artists/composers you’d like to recommend for other writers looking for mood-setting music?

Oh yes. I love using music when I write and for each book, I produced a soundtrack. Some examples of the music I use are:

For my main character Nathaniel West:

  • Got you (Where I want you) by the Flys (from the Album Rock Band classics)
  • The Seer by Big Country
  • Behind Blue Eyes by the Who.

For one of my characters called Jane:

  • Deadlock by Tristania (from the album World of Glass)
  • Weak by Skunk Anansie

The last stand of the old guard:

  • Open Book by Gnarls Barkley (from the album The Odd Couple)

For my character Mancer:

  • Don’t let me be misunderstood by Nina Simone

For the Queen:

  • The Other Side by Sirenia (from the album Nine Destinies and a Downfall)

For my character Kathleen:

  • The Howling by Within Temptation

For a battle:

  • Pretend Best Friend by Terrorvision

For Twever the magnificent and his invisible psychopathic pet Ardo…well, there are more but I won’t bore you with them.

No worries, Sir! I’m just thrilled to have more music to seek out for inspiration. “Behind Blue Eyes” has always been the theme for one of my own characters as well, so seeing you share that song here immediately got me excited. 🙂 Thank you again, and Godspeed to you on your future wanderings through story-lands dark and fantastical.

~STAY TUNED!~

Blondie is tidying up her third chapter and I’m tidying up my notes about Death on the Nile and how this story’s adaptations reveal a common writing problem many of us face. We’ll see who finishes first!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You Have Five Pages to Tell Me It’s Good: #TheParadoxHotel by Rob Hart. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart

Now I recall there being quite the to-do over The Warehouse, so I admit I have high hopes for this one.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

I do so love a good genre-blend, and this combination of science fiction and mystery has already got me intrigued with just a few pages. The protagonist’s narrating style mixed with the concept of an illness that causes one to time travel (!) promises to be a bloody good read with time never truly being on anyone’s side.

And as always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You Have Five Pages to Tell Me It’s Good: Fatal Lies by Frank Tallis. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

Jeff gerke, the first 50 pages

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Fatal Lies by Frank Tallis

Now while this is new to my library, it’s the third installment of a longer series, so this should be interesting.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

This story had some beautiful details in it, but something about its characters really threw me off. Perhaps these characters’ actions and/or knowledge is better established earlier, but for a period novel, some things just didn’t ring true. AND IT’S PERIOD! I had no idea whatsoever by this paperback cover that this story is set in “Freud’s Vienna.” So I get rather sassy on this podcast near the end. 🙂

And as always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#WriterProblems: Revisits and Revamps

Hello, my fellow creatives! March is a finicky time in the Midwest. Spring teases us with snow and ice one day and warmer, green days the next. We require snow pants and boots in the morning, but by the afternoon we’re running around without any winter gear at all. I’ve used music to escape the icy mud only to find myself lost in another time, another place…

Sadly, that different time and place was not a crime scene on a riverboat in 1930s Egypt. Our babysitter backed out, so Bo and I were unable to see the new Branagh adaptation which I wanted to include in my analysis of Death on the Nile.

No, I actually found myself going back in time to my early days here as a blogger. Back in 2016 (around 200 posts ago?! Zounds!), I was just finishing up my rough draft of Middler’s Pride, the first of a Young Adult fantasy series set in another realm. The second book, Beauty’s Price, featured characters based heavily on the Bennet sisters, so revisiting this music…rewatching the film—rereading the story…it got me re-evaluating projects past and present.

Storytelling

Many of us work as well as write. When I taught part-time, I managed to have time for writing and publishing while bringing in a little income. Teaching in higher education full-time, though, eats a lot of time, and teaching online means one is never really separated from students or the work. I discussed this struggle in 2021, and that struggle has never subsided. The goals I set for myself were not reached. Sure, I got a short story published in an online magazine, but that wasn’t the same as self-publishing my novel in 2020. We so often beat ourselves up for these misses.

But putting oneself down is not going to lift oneself up. Quite the opposite.

So, I’m putting 2021 down as a year I published SOMEthing. Still a win. 2022? I will still publish SOMEthing. I’ve got a short story I’m proud to query. And listening to Pride and Prejudice has me thinking of my Shield Maidens and wondering…

Perhaps the Princeborns are just going to have to have a break this year. Perhaps Idana is where I need to be.

I have one novel down, a second partially done. Notes on the third, and the fourth…well that one’s in the “I kinda know what I want” stage. Middler’s Pride was in the online reading library Chanillo for a while and had gotten some strong input on the free writing forum Wattpad, so I’m hopeful that a little revision could go a long way in getting Meredydd back to the virtual bookshelves.

I could even share my character brainstorming for her here with you, which would allow time writing blog posts to convert into time with the story. I could re-share some of my old posts, such as the music that inspired my worldbuilding, analyses of the craft that went into the stories to see what has changed, what has not…hmmm…

Platform

Remember back when authors could just worry about telling good stories and someone else handled the other stuff? Anybody remember that?

Nnnneeeeever mind.

We all fight like hell to get our stories to others. When my first novel was picked up by a small publisher, I was ecstatic to have the help, but the majority of the marketing was done by me. The time it takes to market, to query, to network, to gather reviews, to format the book, to design the cover…it’s basically a full-time job on top of writing on top of whatever we do to actually earn the money to keep writing. All too often, it’s the actual storytelling that keeps ending up on the backburner in order to prioritize everything else. And it sucks. A lot.

Isn’t the point of writing to WRITE?!

Now folks can say that this is what Fiverr is for, and hire people to do the little stuff so you can focus on the big stuff. That’s all well and good when you can afford the help, but many of us are on tight budgets as it is. Sure, I’ll save up to use Fiverr for a kickin’ book cover, but I can’t hire someone to market for me. Few of us can. That’s why we’re blogging here and sharing pieces of ourselves on social media. Some folks manage to balance TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and Lord knows what else. We’re guest posting and reviewing and collaborating and virtual touring and all the things to connect with one more writer, one more reader. Those who can balance all this, you are AMAZING. Those who are struggling, you are also AMAZING. Why?

Because we all struggle finding that balance and working out what methods fit us and which don’t. I enjoy connecting with fellow creatives here on WordPress. I enjoy sharing things on Twitter. Once in a while I get to Instagram. But don’t ask me about TikTok or those other things. Fellow indie author Anne Clare made an important point she learned that when it comes to the author’s platform, it’s far better to do a little bit well than a lot badly. Considering time and energy here, I am taking that lesson to heart. That’s why you don’t see me on Facebook anymore, and rarely on Instagram.

Which brings us to my experimental venture of 2020…

Podcast

After nearly a year of posting weekly podcasts for Story Cuppings, I wanted to share a couple of takeaways here. This podcast was to “force” me to read more, which it has, but to also reach new readers, which it hasn’t. For those of you who have listened, thank you for always sharing your thoughts and encouragement! I know not everyone has time for this sort of thing, and that is completely acceptable. For those who comment, thank you for sharing your reading journeys with me as well! It’s just that hope to connect with the crowd that does have time for podcasts has not gone the way I hoped, and that got me wondering why. Two major answers come to mind:

  1. I’m not consistent with the material I read.
  2. The podcast title.

I like focusing on first chapters of novels. I stand by that concept. After all, how often are we told as writers that we have to hook readers in the first few pages or we lose them? So focusing on the story and craft in those opening pages is still worthwhile to me. Plenty of other folks do book reviews and book podcasts on the whole story. To me, the first few pages can be incredibly instructive. Plus, it allows the podcasts to be kept reasonably short–mine average between 16-22 minutes–so producing them does not take long.

But I DO need to be more consistent with what I’m reading. I’ve read old things, genre-specific things, indie things, and now library things. Out of all the things, the library-related podcasts have gotten the most reaction, so I think I will just stick with what I find on the New Release shelf. It makes me pick stories that are already in the public eye, and it makes me try genres and authors I’d have never considered before.

Next, the title just doesn’t relay the podcast’s premise well. I thought it did, but upon reflection, who knows what a cupping is? I had to look it up. It sounded novel (pun intended) because the term is used for tasting coffees, and plenty of folks had wine/book themes. Why not a coffee/book theme? But after nearly a year of not hooking listeners from beyond my current community, it’s time to change the title. Just as a book’s title needs to hook readers, so does a podcast title need to hook listeners. The title needs to be crystal clear in relaying the podcast’s intent, soooo let’s try this title out and see how it goes over:

Well, what do you think? I’d love your input! You have been such kind souls and dear supports these seven years. 250-some blog posts later, you are still here with me, sharing these writing wins and woes. You’ve seen me through parenting adventures awful and amazing. Your support is a foundation in my world, and for that, my dearest friends, I cannot thank you enough.

And let us hear from you now, my creative kindreds! Are you reviving old projects, or revealing new untold worlds never explored by your characters? Are you giving yourself time to recollect and refresh, or perhaps a moment to reflect on what deserves a revisit…or a respite?

Here’s to a splendid spring for all of us. To a beautiful year for all of us. To brighter, better days for all.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NewRelease Finds at the #Library on this #Podcast: #ThePush by #AshleyAudrain

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! Winter is the perfect time to curl up in a blanket with a pile of books, and I can think of no better place to find those books than at the local library.

It’s all too easy to just meander over to my favorite sections, though, and 2022 is the year to try new things! So, for this series on Story Cuppings, I am only going to pick books from my library’s New Release shelf by the entrance. Those books could be of any genre, fiction or nonfiction. If it’s on that shelf, it’s game for a podcast!

Today I plucked from the New Release shelf:

The Push by Ashley Audrain

What does a reader experience in those opening pages, and what lessons can a writer take away in studying but a few paragraphs? Let’s find out!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

Sooo with all that’s happening with my three little Bs I realize that a thriller tied to motherhood may not be the book for me right now. However, there are a lot of writing takeaways to appreciate in the prologue, so even if I can’t handle reading it, I can enjoy the lessons learned as a writer.

And say, what’s on the New Release shelf at your own local library? I’d love to know!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Author #Interview: Let’s Chat with #IndieAuthor Dawn Bolton!

A new year means new interviews! I’m excited to share my space with folks who have connected with me through this wonderful writing community. First, let’s meet multi-genre writer Dawn Bolton.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I played a cat in a poetry reading at school. The audience of younger children went on to read the poetry book in English and loved it.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades. Her humourous dialogue and her development of characters fascinated me when I was a teenager. This book stimulated me to write The Spymaster’s Redeemer under the pen name Alexie Bolton. The character is ruthless and sinister like Heyer’s Duke of Avon.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

Yes. Sometimes I have read so many books particularly on a review site I need a break from reading or a new genre.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

Not in a major way but I have spoken to editors and readers who do expect a particular style and sometimes try to straightjacket authors. I think it is important to develop one’s own voice but I like reading a wide variety of authors and I do adapt my style if I think a change would enrich my book.

That’s an important point! Finding ways to enrich our writing can be a difficult part of the writing process. What would you say is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

The editing and making sure the language is suitable for the various reader groups. The dialogue I have to use is substantially different in books situated in Miami from that of California. Some American readers complain if I use English slang when one of the characters is English but living in America. I have to get the balance right between authenticity and pleasing critical readers.

I do love readers to give me feedback about my books and I do take reviews very seriously. Some reviewers have made me think seriously about how to improve my writing style and provided ideas for books.

I see you use different author names for the different genres you write. When it comes to writing those different genres, what kinds of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I spend a couple of months researching my crime and historical novels. There are wonderful articles about criminal psychology and the way the FBI work which are easy to access online. I am finding accessing materials for my medieval paranormal which I am writing quite difficult but there is a lot of material available for my regency novels. I update my research while I am writing the novel if a new idea comes into my head while I am writing the first draft.

It sounds like your storytelling will appeal to all sorts of different interests! Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I have two series, one romantic suspense/crime and the other historical. All but one in the crime series are standalones. I also have several paranormal and crime novellas which are standalones.

I do like to link the characters in the books and the minor characters in each book usually become the central characters in another book. I think relationships between the characters over a period of time enrich the novels.

I agree! Sometimes people I meet inspire my stories, too. Do you find people to inspire you, or some other stimuli in the world around you?

An idea that comes out of the blue. A newspaper article mentioned a man who had found behind a wall a doll with a notice pinned to it saying he had killed someone in the house. That will make a great story for me to write one day.

Such a headline has a wealth of potential for various stories in any genre. Would you say the act of writing energizes or exhausts you?

It energizes me but editing tires me.

I can spend FOREVER editing something, that’s for sure! Do you think other aspiring writers fall into this trap?

Yes. They are getting bogged down on tidying the work and becoming disillusioned instead of completing a first draft and then editing it.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

A small publisher told an author he would publish her book. She waited a year and then he said there wasn’t sufficient demand for her book and he refused to publish it. The amount of time publishers take to respond to writers is shocking and demoralizes authors.

Thank you so much for this chat, Dawn! Let’s end with something fun. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

A big cat like a panther or an owl. I love mysterious animals.

~STAY TUNED!~

Blondie’s hard at work on chapter 3 of her Elementals story, and I’m working on a tangled web of a writer problem that becomes painfully clear when studying Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. We’ll see who’s done first! 🙂

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NewRelease Finds at the #Library on this #Podcast: #BeastsofaLittleLand by #JuheaKim

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! Winter is the perfect time to curl up in a blanket with a pile of books, and I can think of no better place to find those books than at the local library.

It’s all too easy to just meander over to my favorite sections, though, and 2022 is the year to try new things! So, for this series on Story Cuppings, I am only going to pick books from my library’s New Release shelf by the entrance. Those books could be of any genre, fiction or nonfiction. If it’s on that shelf, it’s game for a podcast!

Today I plucked from the New Release shelf:

Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim

What does a reader experience in those opening pages, and what lessons can a writer take away in studying but a few paragraphs? Let’s find out!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

I have to say that this book is a joy to read out loud. There is brevity here, yet so much said in so little space!

And say, what’s on the New Release shelf at your own local library? I’d love to know!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Everyday Absurdity: #HumorWriting and the Relatable Experience. #WritingTips

Cancer.

The word, the ordeal, the cause of death–it is not a thing to inspire a smile. My husband Bo knows this all too well, for during his college years his mother fought against breast cancer only to be overtaken by the ovarian cancer the doctors missed. She was scheduled for cremation before her funeral at their local church in accordance with her wishes.

Bo, his father, and his brother all arrived at the church early to help prepare for the visitation. Bo’s mother had already planned the service during her final weeks in hospice, so all the hymns and Scripture passages had been chosen. They just had to help with whatever final arrangements needed to be done with flowers and lunch and such. Bo’s grandparents were present as well, but their grief had swallowed them both body and soul.

Now we come to the point of this.

After speaking briefly with the funeral home director, Bo’s father yanked his sons into the pastor’s office out of sight.

“The director just talked to me. They weren’t done with creating your mother yet, so they just brought the urn for the service.”

“So…the urn is totally empty?” Bo’s brother said, a smirk slowly creeping onto his face. “It’s not, like, just the ashes of Mom’s leg or…”

“No, it’s totally empty.”

“Wait. Wait wait wait,” Bo said with hands up. “Are you saying Mom is actually late for her own funeral?”

“Yes.” Bo’s father peered out the door and made a thumb towards the grandparents, their faces covered with tears and rage. Don’t you DARE tell your grandmother or she will KILL the funeral director!”

We all have experienced grief for a loved one in our lives, so we can understand that some cope with it in different ways. Some will encase themselves with it. Some will reason their way through it. And I’m sure many in that visitation line thought Bo and his brother had gone hysterical with grief. Anytime someone would say the typical Christian variant of, “Your mother isn’t here” (aka, your mom’s in Heaven now), Bo and his brother would respond with, “We know!” and just start laughing.

For Bo, this moment still makes him laugh because such a turn of phrase actually became true for his mom.

(No, Bo’s grandmother still doesn’t know this happened. Yes, Bo’s mother was on time for her own burial, so there’s that.)

Maybe it’s because some people view the human condition as tragic and others see it as comic…Maybe it’s that absurdity is the deeper reality of human life…

Patrick mcmanus

The Relatable Experience

We all wind up in uncomfortable experiences at some point. How we respond/act in that experience depends on who we are and that is the promise of a humorous story we can all appreciate. For Bo and his family, the choice to laugh in spite of grief gave them a cathartic release after months of watching their mother be eaten up by cancer. We all, in those dark moments of grief, yearn for that release, so we as readers can relate to Bo’s experience.

Humor is not a trick. Humor is a presence in the world—like grace—and shines on everybody.

–garrison keillor

Of course, those relatable experiences need not be so extreme. Even the most mundane of relatable experiences has the potential of inspiring laughter from our audience. Take the 90s hit sitcom Seinfeld. No matter how you feel about the actor or the show, the fact is the show really was “about nothing,” as comedian Jerry Seinfeld always said. Because every episode highlighted a flustering relatable experience many of us have dealt with in our own ways, we see the humor of that experience and can laugh at the characters–and ourselves in turn. The episodes “The Chinese Restaurant” from Season 2 and “The Stall” from Season 5 are marvelous examples of this.

Now chances are, none of us have run from a public bathroom with all the toilet paper in petty revenge against the person who would “spare a square” with us before. But we have been in that situation where the public stall had no toilet paper. We recall the embarrassment and frustration and the wish to DO something about it. Now we see a fictional character follow through on those wishes, and we can laugh not only at the plight we had found ourselves in, but the “justice served” upon one who perpetuated that embarrassing situation. The difference between Elaine’s choices and our choices often boil down to building a little creative absurdity into the situation–not right away, but down the line towards the climax.

And such is a strategy that I think many of us writers wouldn’t mind trying. Whether we write fiction based on experience or get a little extra “creative” with our creative nonfiction, we can all see the storytelling potential of nurturing that seed of relatable experience into uniquely hilarious outcomes. Take Caryl Rivers’ “Dragging the Family to the Magic Kingdom,” a fun little addition in 1998’s There’s No Toilet Paper…on the Road Less Traveled: The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure. (Clearly I’m stuck in the 90s with this post.)

Caryl starts with the relatable experience of traveling to Disney with her family, which of course will include various jokes about the heat and humidity. This compounds with children whining for food and various rides. This compounds when they are stuck in a very dark space in the crowded line for Pirates of the Carribean and the husband starts making mock headlines like “A thirty-nine-year-old father of two suffered a coronary today in Pirates of the Caribbean…when he fell, he tumbled into the underground stream and his bloated body floating through the pirate displays immediately became one of the most popular tourist attractions.” This compounds with others in line voicing their impatience and the husband saying the skeletons chained to the wall were just folks still waiting in line from the 1960s. This compounds when the mother/narrator starts whining with the kids for food. This ends with the children sick of the whole Disney journey, said they only wanted to throw up.

We’ve all been stuck in hot weather. We’ve all been stuck in lines. We’ve all been stuck with and/or around kids. We can relate to aaall the things Caryl Rivers is bringing up here. Even a story that is nearly thirty years old still holds wait because many of these relatable experiences are timeless, and that timelessness is crucial in writing strong humor writing that lasts.

The Timelessness of the Relatable Experience

And you know what? We can even go farther back. Consider the humor writer Robert Benchley. His humorous essays in Pluck and Luck published in 1925 STILL hold up. “The Church Supper” reminded me of every single potluck I have attended over the past few decades, from the awkward young servers habitually spilling on everyone to the lone male helper in the kitchen being teased by all the ladies for his excellence in “women’s work.” From the bizarre array of supplied foods and beverages to the onslaught of bratty children wreaking havoc on the older lady servers, Benchley captured an event of his time that has yet to really change.

The kiddies, who have been brought in to gorge themselves on indigestible strawberry concoctions, are having a gay time tearing up and down the vestry for the purpose of tagging each other. They manage to reach the door just as Mrs. Camack is entering with a platter full of cabbage salad, and later she explains to Mrs. Reddy while the latter is sponging off her dress that this is the last time she is going to have anything to do with a church supper at which those Basnett children are allowed. The Basnett children, in the meantime, oblivious of this threat, are giving all their attention to slipping pieces of colored chalk from the blackboard into the hot rolls which have just been placed on the tables. And, considering what small children they are, they are doing remarkably well at it.

(Thankfully, while Biff and Bash have not done this prank with chalk (yet), they used to have a rather nasty habit of stealing older women’s canes during church events. It wasn’t so much the fact that they stole the canes as that they were stealing the canes still being used by their proper owners.)

“Kiddie-Kar Travel” is another one that goes to show many of life’s markers, no matter where we are or when we are, simply haven’t changed. I mean, just take this opener:

In America there are two classes of travel–first class, and with children…The actual physical discomfort of traveling with the Kiddies is not so great, although you do emerge from it looking as if you had just moved the piano upstairs single-handed…There are several branches of the ordeal of Going on Choo-Choo, and it is difficult to tell which is the roughest. Those who have taken a very small baby on a train maintain that this ranks as pleasure along with having a nerve killed. On the other hand, those whose wee companions are in the romping stage, simply laugh at the claims of the first group. Sometimes you will find a man who has both an infant and a romper with him. Such a citizen should receive a salute of twenty-one guns every time he enters a city…

Sure, folks aren’t traveling by train as much, but if you replace the setting of a train with the airplane, it all holds up: from the ordeals of using the bathroom to blocking the aisles to the refusal eat/sleep/be quiet and to the inner debate if anyone would really notice and/or care if the child were to be dropped overboard. Of course Benchley has a little fun with this, ending with an escalation into absurdity with a tale about a cousin.

In fact, I had a cousin once who had to take three of his little ones on an all-day trip from Philadelphia to Boston. It was the hottest day of the year and my cousin had on a woolen suit. By the time he reached Hartford, people in the car noticed that he had only two children with him. At Worcester he had only one. No one knew what had become of the others and no one asked. It seemed better not to ask. He reached Boston alone and never explained what had become of the tiny tots. Anyone who has traveled with tiny tots of his own, however, can guess.

Of course Benchley doesn’t have a cousin who did this, but after commiserating with him about the struggles of traveling with children, we readers are just nodding our heads, knowing our frustrations are both seen and understood by the writer and any other reader out there.

The Workings of the Timelessness of the Relatable Experience

Another humor writer, Patrick McManus, has a marvelous example of this building on a timeless experience with a touch of absurdity in his story “The Deer on a Bicycle” published nearly fifty years ago. When Patrick begins the tale, he begins with a juxtaposition that establishes both empathy and tone:

When I was fourteen, I loved deer hunting more than anything I could think of. I had only two problems: I had never been and I didn’t have anyone to take me. Remember, my dad had died when I was very young, and none of the neighbors, not even Rancid Crabtree, wanted to be around me when I was armed. There were no deer near where I lived, so I decided the only thing to do was to ride my bicycle up into the mountains and go hunting by myself.

Many readers can relate to loss of a parent or an absent parent, so right there Patrick builds a connection with readers. But we are not to dwell on any negative feeling for long, because the rest of the paragraph has us picturing a teenager determined to go hunting for a huge, massive, hundreds-of-pounds deer with his…bicycle.

We adult readers can laugh, but we can also experience some self-deprecation. Who of us hasn’t used Kid Logic to explain an idiotic decision? Because when we’re kids, we just don’t think through All The Things like Patrick clearly hasn’t. So we as readers anticipate something is bound to go horribly awry.

Surprise and anticipation are basic to comedy.

Patrick mcmanus

And because Patrick’s delightfully concise, we don’t have to wait long. We get one paragraph of the teen Patrick pedaling past ridiculing hunters into the woods, and lo and behold–a deer!

So all at once I just snap off a quick shot at the deer. It drops like a rock! I’m amazed! It was such a difficult shot too, because I was so startled and all shaky and everything–and the rifle was still tied to the handlebars!

Now would this be even physically possible? I’ve never hunted, so I don’t know. But again, an adult who did dumb things in the past, I can imagine a kid trying to pull off this very thing. The paragraph dedicated to describing how Patrick finagles putting the deer into a sitting position on the front bike is precisely, so just go hunt down (ha ha) The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor by Patrick McManus for some excellent writing tips as well as his other forays into storytelling.

Anyway. Young Patrick is pedaling with the deer, and it wakes up.

The deer is blinking its eyes! It panics. First time on a bicycle, I guess.

We have this lovely juxtaposition of something quite likely to happen and something quite unlikely to think: the animal was stunned…because it’s on a bicycle. Well…maybe that is more likely to happen. Suppose if I were a deer I’d be quite shocked to wake up on a bicycle, too.

Anyway.

Patrick and the deer pass the hunters, whom “[Patrick] can tell they’re real surprised to see I got a deer before they did,” and then Patrick realizes the deer is pushing Patrick’s feet off the pedals and is taking over the bike. So, Patrick throws himself off and the deer takes off with both bike and rifle.

Later I heard he was in a shootout–with the police–while holding up a liquor store–in Tacoma, Washington–with my rifle!

Yeah, obviously this is absurd. But that’s the joy of humor writing: you can take these absurd routes so long as you build up to them. Take that toilet paper episode of Seinfeld. It wouldn’t have been as funny if Elaine immediately busted the door down to yank all the toilet paper away; rather, we get that revenge in the end of the third act. Caryl doesn’t begin her essay with made-up headlines of families not surviving Disney because they needed to spend time their first. Robert Benchley didn’t begin his travel essay with a man “losing” his children at the beginning of the journey, but at the end when the escalated behavior is raised. When the stakes have been raised.

Just as any story needs time for the stakes to rise, so does a good humor story. Stuff’s gotta build with realistic escalations so that the absurdity, for all its lack of reality, is still completely welcome to the readers. “The Parking Space” episode from Seinfeld‘s Season 3 is a great example of this. A debate on who gets a parking space begins with just the two male drivers. In the next scene, some friends are involved. In the next scene, passers-by are giving their input. In the closing scene, it is clear that hours have passed and even the police are debating about who gets the space. The credit sequence shows these two guys STILL arguing in the dark.

In reality, no one has time for that kind of argument, but as readers we LOVE to witness a character taking on this relatable experience and seeing how they deal with it. We can celebrate with them if they win, and we can empathize with them if they fail. Either result still leads to a satisfying close to the story.

When I write about my mistakes and stupidities, my readers recognize them as authentic, because they have done the same dumb stuff.

patrick mcmanus

Building with The Workings of the Timelessness of the Relatable Experience

So, would you like to have a hand at writing a bit of humor through your Relatable Experience? Come on, you know you’ve got a tale or twenty to share. I bet at least a few would fit into these categories:

  • Kid Crises
  • Academic Anarchy
  • Parenting Problems
  • Workplace Woes
  • Travel Trials
  • Rivalry Ruckuses. Rucki? Ruckeese!
  • Family Fails
  • Social Slips

Sure, your experience may look like a Story About Nothing at first, but if you take the realistic escalations that occurred and add your own little slow builds into Absurdity, you may find that a little creative flair can turn any nonfiction experience–or fictional tale–into a story we can relate to time and time and time again.

Confusion is the natural environment of a humor writer, and it is best to get introduced to it as early as possible.

Patrick McManus

~STAY TUNED!~

I’m going to do a wee bit of revamping to my podcast’s title, so watch out for something new there! Also, I’m warily intrigued by the new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. Watching this trailer as well as the other adaptations AND reading the book got me thinking about a common writer’s problem we all face. Be sure to stop by and found out what that problem is!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!