In the last few weeks I have had a series of disasters. I managed to break to cars in the same week I got a $46 paycheck! I also came unbelievable close to losing something very important, my novel.
I let my husband borrow my lap top for a few days to work from home during a snow storm. The lap top was also doing a major hardware update. In the middle of this update he called to me from the other room. The screen had frozen. The machine wouldn’t do anything, not even turn off. I began to panic.
Not only do I use this computer for work, but all of novels and stories are saved on it. In the first second of panic I realized that my latest work, one new novel, one edited novel, and my updated encyclopedia, were not backed up! I was terrified that al of this work was gone.
Thankfully I was able to get the computer working again. The first thing I did was e-mail my work to myself. I will never again forget to back up my stories, they are too important to lose.
Let my story serve as a reminder to you. No matter what way you choose to do it. Whether you use e-mail, a flash drive, google drive, a hard copy, anything. DO NOT FORGET TO BACK UP YOUR WORK. I was lucky, but not everyone is, and I know no one wants to lose their stories.
A Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry. It has 17 beats, 3 lines with 5 beats in the 1st and 3rd lines and 7 beats in the middle. It's the only type of poetry I have any success writing. They are quick and easy for anyone to dabble in, even me.
Here are a few examples on the Japanese Haiku.
It’s a cold Super Bowl weekend, and I’m staying warm with a cup of coffee and chatting with my good friend Shannon Yseult. I met Shannon at a local write-in a few years ago, and we have traveled the road to publication together. Her story, Over-Extraction, is featured in the 518 Publishing Company LLC’s premier anthology, Dark & Bitter. The short story is a fast-paced alternate thriller, and a great read.
“Shannon, the fans of the 518 want to hear about the Dark & Bitter authors, and I’m glad you had time to be interviewed,” I said.
“I’m happy to do it. You know I always enjoy a cup of coffee, and chat about writing,” Shannon said.
“Excellent. How did you get into writing, and when did you realize you wanted to be an author?”
“When I was in third grade one of the librarians was encouraging us to write stories. Even at that age I was into mysteries like 'Nate the Great', so I wrote about 'The Mystery of Witch Island'. I don't remember the story that well, but I do remember being SUPREMELY proud of my final product. I read it, and reread it, to everyone who would sit down with me for five minutes.
Once I got my own computer in eighth grade, I realized that there was this thing called 'fanfiction' and I was all over that. I wrote myself into a number of series, and while the writing was terrible I enjoyed every second of it. By the end of high school I realized that I could write my own characters AND my own stories and started to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The first year I wrote and agonized over the perfect 1,779 words in a story about dragons, and never got any farther. Since then I've written something for NaNoWriMo each year and have successfully completed it a handful of times now.
Despite the trials and tribulations natural to a writer's life I've been interested in some form of writing since I learned to read. That proud moment of showing everyone my third grade book still sings in my heart as I continue my writer’s journey,” Shannon said.
“Wow, third grade. It was much later that I got interested in writing. Who is your favorite author? What is your favorite book?” I said.
“This has been changing quite a bit recently. At the moment Michael J. Sullivan with his series Riyria Revelations is at the top of my list. Patrick Rothfuss and his book 'The Name of the Wind' is a close second. 'The Mote in God's Eye' is also a huge favorite of mine, and I can't see it leaving my favorites list ever. If you're looking for a less well known then I highly recommend Wen Spencer, particularly her book 'Tinker',” Shannon said.
“I’ve read ‘The Name of the Wind.’ It was excellent. I’ll have to check out the others. I’m always looking for the next best read. What genre/genres do you write?”
“Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and YA. It sounds weird when listing them all in a row, particularly ending with YA. The natural follow up question is why, and the irony of the simple answer isn't lost on me; I'm a complicated person. My ideas don't fit into a single genre mold, and I don't force them into one. I take the idea and test drive it in different genres in my mind before choosing the one that I think will give the best story and go from there,” Shannon said.
“I’m with you about writing different genres. Crossing boundaries and not staying in a small box is paramount to a well-rounded person. How would you describe your daily writing routine?” I said.
“The most consistent part of it is going to writers group on Sunday's at Denny's. Being around so many fellow writer friends is an inspirational pleasure. Right now I'm in the thralls of editing the novel I wrote in November 2017 for NaNoWriMo (another consistent part of my writing life). So I'm taking each week to focus on a different part of the story (plot, character, etc). Next I'll put together a game plan for fixing the story and then I'll go about editing it. Basically, I'm doing a daily editing routine right now, but I'll get back to writing for NaNoWriMo 2018!” Shannon said.
“Yes, staying connecting with the writing community is important to any author. Friendships are formed, and are a support system through the many trials in life. What is your writing Kryptonite?”
“Reading a good story! Also if I'm writing along and know that something is fundamentally wrong with the story. If I have a good outline this doesn't happen as much, but for those times I'm pantsing it's like throwing on the emergency breaks,” Shannon said.
“I hear you. A good story is definitely a distraction. Where do you get your ideas?” I said.
“All over the place!
Sometimes I'm reading about a new scientific discovery and think 'what if'.
Sometimes I'm talking about a specific genre/writing style/etc, realize that I haven't written anything in that format, and challenge myself to do so.
Sometimes I use a random word generator, or random plot generator, or random religion generator, until the sparks of ideas colliding take over.”
“Generators are great. Many writers use them to inspire when the ideas dry up. How long did it take you to write the story 'Over-Extraction'?” I said.
“It didn't take me long to write the first draft, once the ideas fly writing can be quick. However, the amount of time I spent editing it was quite a lot,” Shannon said.
“Yeah, editing can be long and sometimes painful. Well Shannon, I like to thank you for your time and I look forward to your next story.”
Two years ago this month the idea of the 518 Publishing Company ignited a spark in the eyes of four women. During the process of creating the small press, we encountered a few struggles. First, getting everyone on the same page took a bit, though that wasn’t a big issue. All of us wanted the same thing, to help local writers realize a goal of seeing their words in print.
Secondly, and probably the biggest hurdle was setting up the LLC. Paperwork, filing, and taxes were just short of a nightmare. The formal LLC letter from the state didn’t come promptly. But after many calls and a good chase, we were finally legal.
Setting up financials was difficult and we had to be creative. With only a few dollars in the bank, the funds wouldn’t cover the cost to publish a book. We needed a professional editor and a book cover. The 518 is not a vanity press. We don’t expect an author to pay for editing and book covers. So what do we do? Kickstarter of course.
Many people use the crowdfunding tool to help fund an idea. Friends, family, and a few unknowns backed us. Dark & Bitter was published, and a few writers became first-time published authors.
And this is why we are here. Every Sunday local writers in the 518 meet at Denny’s to write. Some weeks there may be only a few, and other times as many as thirty. Last Sunday was the deadline to submit for 518’s next publication. A fellow writer felt our push, and they will be published in the upcoming anthology, Exploits of the Adirondacks. It feels good to know that one more person will see their name in print and become a published author.
Check out our ‘Submit to Us’ page. You could be next featured author in our third anthology.
Our debut publication, Dark & Bitter, is now live on Amazon, and the 518 is continuing with interviews with the authors. Today I’m talking with SJ Garman. She is the author of ‘The Bracelet’, a paranormal story about a woman and her journey home from work one snowy night.
“SJ, I know you are busy and you are all the way out west, but our readers would love to know the person behind the tale,” I said.
“Thanks for having me. I’m happy to chat with you, Lizette,” SJ said.
“I absolutely love your story. A fast-paced thrilling tale that I can imagine happening to me. What was the inspiration for ‘The Bracelet’?”
“I came up with the basic premise for ‘The Bracelet’ many years ago, but when I saw an eerie spider bracelet with glowing, ruby red eyes in a second-hand store, I knew it needed to be the focus of the tale,” SJ said.
“Wow. I always wondered where writers got their ideas. I love thrift stores. And to think, a trip to one spawn you to write such a fabulous story. By the way, how did you get into writing?”
“I never intended to be an author. My love for writing began with a summer project to help improve my son’s writing skills. We created the alien world of Sabathea as we sat fishing in the middle of a lake in Northern Wisconsin. My son decided writing wasn’t an interest for him, but I was hooked,” SJ said.
“Well, me and all your readers are thrilled you went on that fishing trip. ‘The Bracelet’ is a paranormal thriller, but I wonder, do you write in other genres?”
“I’ve written a series of young adult science fiction novels. The first two novels, The Betrayal of Sabathea and The Rise of Tophet, have been completed and I am in the process of choosing a publisher. The third novel, Operation Gemini, is a work in progress,” SJ said.
“Sci-Fi YA is a hot genre now. Finding the right publisher is very important. A small press like 518 Publishing, LLC is a niche publishing company helping writers to reach their dreams. I wish you luck with the series.”
“Thank you,” SJ said.
“How would you describe your daily writing routine?” I asked.
“It seems strange, but I don’t have a specific writing routine. While performing boring household chores, like mopping the floor, folding laundry, or mowing the yard, I’ll think about my plot and how I want to proceed with the story. I even dream about sections of my story that aren’t flowing in order to work out the kinks. This process allows me to explore several plot options before I ever put them to paper. When I get a few free moments during the day, I’ll write the paragraphs or chapters down on a legal pad, allowing my thoughts to flow. As I reread it, the scratch marks and arrows will appear all over the pages! My second round of edits occurs as I type the pages into my computer,” SJ said.
“I guess writers do what works. Me, I’m a plotter too. I love the ‘Snowflake Method’ by Randy Ingermanson. Though I do a modified Snowflake. Sort of half plotting and half pantsing. How long did it take you to write the story?”
“The story was written over a single weekend,” SJ said.
“Impressive. It takes me forever to get words down. I tend to edit while I write, which I must say isn’t good. But when the story is itching to come out, the words flow. And that leads me to ask, what is your writing Kryptonite?”
“Silence and scheduled writing times are my kryptonite. I can’t write in a quiet place; there has to be noise!! I also never set writing times – it creates too much pressure to get things done. I’ve found that I write best with minimal structure. Having a productive fifteen minutes can be better than an hour sitting in front of a blank computer screen,” SJ said.
“Do you have any favorite authors?” I asked.
“When I was young, I'd scour the library for short stories and novels by Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Daniel Keyes. They created and explored breathtaking, new worlds while raising and discussing difficult ethical questions. These authors pondered issues regarding medical, societal, and technological advances that still hold true today,” SJ said.
“Well, I’ll let you go, SJ. Good luck with your work in progress, Operation Gemini. I look forward to reading the series.”
Readers, don’t forget you can read SJ’s story, ‘The Bracelet’, in the ‘Dark & Bitter’ anthology. It’s now on Amazon.
Life. Sometimes it can be wonderful and full of joy. Other times it can bring immense sorrow. Lately it seems that sorrow has been in the cards. The problem with this, other than the obvious, is that it gets in the way of, well, everything.
Going into this month of November my hopes were high. I had finished my last book and had a fully fleshed out idea for the next one. I was excited to get started. Life was going pretty well too. Friends and family were doing well and one friend had just welcomed a baby. This business was moving full steam ahead (and still is!).
Then everything fell apart. On October 31st we got word that a family friend wasn’t going to make it through the week. She passed the next day. What was supposed to be a month of writing and enjoying friends became two weeks of sadness. At the same time other friends, both at work and at home, went through similar tragedies. It began to feel like the world was falling apart. I did not start NaNo, but rather spent moments with friends and family and began to contemplate things.
What I came up with was this: Yes, life can suck sometimes, but it keeps going. Did I start my novel this month? No. Will I put it away and never think about it again? Of course not. For one, it gives me an excellent distraction from the craziness around me. Second, writing has introduced me to a fabulous group of friends (including the other pub518 ladies) who are always there to lend a hand. Plus these characters just won’t shut up!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that yes, life can suck royally, but don’t let that stop you from living it.
“Fight the blankness” is what Colum McCann advises writers in his book Letters to a Young Writer. He means the blank page, the blank mind, but his underlying point is to remind writers that they have to write. The book has plenty of advice, much of it tongue in cheek, for anyone looking for inspiration from one who has sweat it all the way to the National Book Award ceremony.
I’ve read books called On Writing (by Stephen King) and On Writing Well (by William Zinsser), How to Write a Damn Good Novel (James Frey), and Bird by Bird (by Anne Lamont). Save the Cat (by Blake Snyder), itself a best seller, is written specifically for screen plays, and there are plenty of books, essays, and blogs about organizing and plotting a writing project. Each has contributed something unique to my understanding of the craft.
Given how much writing there is out there on writing, why is it so hard to write?
Writing isn’t just a skill or a talent. It’s a practice and an art. It takes showing up, and showing up, and showing up to make the words sing, the pages dance, and the reader delight. Show up, yes, and also be present. Be in the moment with your story, your characters, their triumphs and their worries. Build their conflicts so that they dwarf those real life moments that we can’t make up. In spite of poverty, depression, frustration, and social rejection (for, as James Frey says, “Being an unpublished novelist has about as much social acceptability as being a shopping bag lady.” Frey How to Write a Damn Good Novel p. 162), you must show up and focus.
In her seminal work Steering the Craft, Ursula K. Le Guin (daughter of the wonderful anthropologist Al Kroeber), advises writers to ‘deserve their gift’. “To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit.” It takes talent and energy and spirit, not talent or energy or spirit.
We mold our work like diatomaceous earth, conscious-fully following some rules and breaking others. Every writer's end goal is similar, but it is the journey itself that is the point of the travail, and improves our crafting.
Writers must constantly “fight the blankness”. We must show up and shadow-box with the barren landscape of the page, the screen, our mind, even the desolation of our own vacant soul, when no thought worth sharing bobs to the surface. And from deep within our scarred ego we must find vigor that we did not know we possessed; we must show up and show up and show up.
November is filled with excitement. The holidays are almost here, National Novel Writing Month is underway, and the 518 Publishing Company’s debut publication will soon be released. Dark & Bitter is an anthology of short stories by authors from the New York’s 518 area code and beyond. The common denominator of the genre-spanning anthology is: characters who enjoy coffee. Many of the authors selected are heretofore unpublished, and it was a great experience to work with them. We kick off November with a series of author interviews from our maiden publication: Dark & Bitter.
I’m at Denny’s having coffee, of course, with Rosanne Braslow. Her story, What Waits in Quiet Places, is an intriguing mystery with a shade of paranormal.
“As you know, 518 Pub is blogging about the authors of Dark & Bitter, and you are the first interviewee.”
We clinked our red coffee mugs in honor of the upcoming release of the anthology.
”What’s your connection to the 518?” I ask.
“I went to college in Albany and lived in the 518 for many years. Although I’ve moved around the country, the Hudson Valley is my home base. I’m all about Upstate NY. It’s the setting for most of my stories.”
“Albany’s a great place, with many notable schools of higher education that bestow not just textbook knowledge, but a sense of being. How did you get into writing?” I asked.
“I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but not taking it seriously. Seven years ago, a friend introduced me to NaNoWriMo, and later I joined a critique group. This month I’m celebrating my first published credits: a short story in Dark & Bitter, and a poem in 56 Days of August,” Rosanne replied.
”Congratulations! National Novel Writing Month is a fabulous way to get a novel under your belt. Just think, 50,000 words in 30 days. It was the same for me. A good friend encouraged me. It was a challenge, but I did it. And a critique group is crucial for growth as a writer. What genre(s) do you write?”
“Primarily horror, but I’d like to try lighter fiction, maybe a mystery. I’d love to create work that is both horror and literary fiction, like Shelley’s Frankenstein or Stoker’s Dracula…,” Rosanne said. “I also write poetry (non-horror!)
“I love horror. Where do you get your ideas? Sometimes they come from peculiar sources.”
“I was raised on Dark Shadows and Creature Features. My mother is a great storyteller and a believer in ghosts, so my love for the supernatural was passed down. Everything we’re exposed to sparks ideas, everything we read and hear. It helps to believe in things that you can’t see, nor explain, if you are going to write horror,” Rosanne said.
“Your mother must be an interesting person. I love to listen to stories from older people. What was the inspiration for your story, ‘What Waits in Quiet Places’.”
“My protagonist was originally intended to be a grown-up Nancy Drew. When I submitted it for a Nancy Drew-themed anthology, the publisher felt that my Nancy Drew who enjoyed martinis was irreverent! So I tweaked it and submitted it to Dark and Bitter, where I thought it might be a good fit. Thankfully, 518 Pub agreed.”
“518 Pub is pleased you submitted. Your story is fast-paced and mysterious. I loved it,” I said. “Last question: what is your writing Kryptonite?”
“Inertia. When I haven’t written for a while, I fear that I’ll sit down and find that the words have dried up. The longer I go without writing the harder it is to sit down again. Hence, a daily routine makes good sense.”
“I was thinking that, as I work on my own NaNoWriMo novel for 2017. I’m so glad we got together so that our readers have an opportunity to know a little about the author behind the short story, ‘What Waits in Quiet Places’.”
I personally like the character sliders that Brandon Sanderson talks about in his YouTube classes on writing.
A friend of mine likes to choose a couple characters from TV and combine them in unique ways. This particularly helps if he gets stuck while writing later, since he can go watch an episode of TV, which almost always helps him get rid of writers block.
Others will do interviews with their characters. I find that this can work if the questions are both interesting and open ended enough.
Another option is a list of likes and dislikes. This can come in the form of favorite foods or colors etc. I don't find this as useful since it doesn't really show off the inner workings of the character. That doesn't mean it can't be relevant occasionally; a character might hate gravy because their parents argued about it as a child. But it's not always the best use of my time.
The last option I'll talk about today is designing a character like they're from a role playing game such as DnD. I mention that one because it's the most well known, but I personally love using the hindrances page from Savage Worlds. It's a list of things that were designed to affect a character in a way that will affect game play. As such it feels almost inevitable that these choices will affect the plot, thus creating more tension and interest.
How do you design or learn about your character?
My favorite part of any story is the characters. It is these people who truly bring the story to life for me. And I’m not just talking about the main characters. The best stories, to me, have fully formed minor characters, a whole world that feels real. This is also something I strive to do in my own stories. As a writer there is one thing I like do to make characters seem real.
Almost every character that appears in my stories has a fully thought out back story written down somewhere. This technique came from my time as actress. It was very important for even the minor characters, even the ones who didn’t speak, to know their motivation in any given scene. This meant creating detailed histories and discussing them with those around you.
One of my favorite theatre stories involves a girl who had no lines. We created an inside joke that two other characters had bet her not to talk for the whole weekend (that the play was set in). This made us giggle every time it would have made sense for her to talk. Though no one in the audience, and very few people in the play, knew why we were laughing, it added another layer to play.
I use this same technique in my writing. Knowing a characters personality and motivation effects everything, from their mannerisms to how they react to people. If you think about it in regards to real life, compare how two people react to a death. Someone who recently lost someone will react more strongly than someone who has not. It is human nature. Since these characters are human it makes sense to create lives for them.
Once your characters have a life, even if your readers never know it, the world they live in will feel more real. This makes your story more enjoyable for everyone.
As a writer, I spin tales to take the reader away from everyday life, if only for a few hours. However, becoming a published author and reaching readers is a struggle. Writers sit in front of laptops and tap away in hopes of creating the next great American novel. But what happens after the manuscript is written and edited?
It was a dilemma for a few of my fellow writers and me. One Sunday night at Denny’s we pondered the question. Sending query letters to publishers is nerve wrecking. It takes the stars to be aligned just right to connect and get a contract.
We knew there had to be another solution. Yes, self-publishing on Amazon is an option, but the writers at the Sunday Night Write In knew there had to be other alternatives. So in January, the idea of starting a publishing company for authors in the 518 was spawned.
The 518 Publishing Company, LLC has been created to help writers in the 518 to publication. We will make it happen.