Mistakes and Masterpieces

In the end, make mistakes. The RIGHT mistakes. Mistakes can eventually become magic even though they make a hell of a mess. Remember that perfectionism is the elixir of the doomed. When has any artist ever created a masterpiece and not gotten dirty? ~ Kristen Lamb

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Inspiring Dreams

Never forget that embracing your own fulfillment inspires others to do the same. Living your dream gives others the courage to try. ~ Susan Kaye Quinn

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Author Interview: E.J. Wenstrom

Award-winning author E.J. Wenstrom didn’t considered herself creative enough to be a writer until a mentor encouraged her otherwise. Her Chronicles of the Third Realm War (City Owl Press) is described as “a peculiar mashup of Greek mythology, Judeo-Christian folklore, and an extra dash of her own special brand of chaos.” The series currently includes the prequel Rain, plus Mud and Tides (books one and two). Connect with Emily on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and on her website at EJWenstrom.com.

How does the Third Realm War series fit into your E.J. Wenstrom tagline “Improbable Heroes & Epic Twists”?
These were two things, beyond genre, I felt were likely to be part of anything I wrote. I’m a bit of a contrarian by nature, and I don’t like to write the expected. My heroes tend to be antiheroes—there is something that is difficult to like about them, or something that makes them a bit of an underdog. They’re not clean-cut. I especially love a difficult female protagonist.

I like to think the same is true for my plots—they don’t necessarily flow as tidily as would be obvious or comfortable, but then, in the Third Realm Wars series, these characters are in the middle of a war, and war is messy.

What sparked the initial story idea for Mud, the first book in the series?
I knew I wanted to give writing fiction a try, and I knew I didn’t want to write another vampire book or zombie book. I love both of these monsters, but I knew I was unlikely to compete in such a crowded field right out of the gate. So, I started browsing through monster encyclopedias for inspiration, and golems captured me. I started mulling over this concept, and a voice started coming to me—Adem’s voice. I started writing to understand how he’d gotten so desperate and lonely.

What is it about your main characters that makes readers connect with them? (You put Adem through hell in Mud. Did you ever feel sorry for him while writing his story?)
As I said, my protagonists tend toward the anti-hero side—they’re not always likeable, and their motivations and actions are not always everything they should be. But they’re always trying their hardest. It’s just that sometimes we’re too broken to know what’s best, or the people around us are too broken to help us find the right path. Throughout my books, everything these characters try to do to make things better, only makes things worse.

Do I feel bad for them? I don’t know, a little I guess. I certainly feel some empathy for them. It’s part of the job! But ultimately, I’m here for the story, and their suffering makes the story better, and a strong story gets me excited. I guess I’m cruel like that.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for the books?
In a series, each book is a little harder than the last when it comes to worldbuilding—you’re more boxed in with what you’ve already written. Mud was my first novel, and I wish I’d known to think ahead more about tracking and plotting out the worldbuilding details I created from the start. As I get deeper, it sometimes feels like my back is against the wall. But then I think some more, and eventually the answer comes, and the characters find their way again. Live and learn—next series, I’ll be ready. I hope.

When did you know you had taken Mud as far as it could go and that it was ready for publishing? Did the process of writing/editing/revising get easier for Tides, the second book?
I wrote and rewrote Mud for several revisions until I thought I had it as good as I could get it. Then I found critique partners and shared the most important and most challenging sections with them, and revised a lot more from their feedback and the ideas I got from those discussions. Then I got beta readers for the full manuscript and did it all over again. When I had gone through these phases enough that I could not find anything else to do with it, and I was proud of what I was left with, that is when I started submitting to agents and editors.

Tides was not easier. It was different. It was hard to break free of Adem’s voice (I’d really fallen in love with that character hard) and even harder to sink into a new voice that felt true to Rona. So that took a draft or two to settle into. But once I got there, yes, I do think that the cadence and pacing was a bit easier. The third novel in the series has been the hardest by far. Not sure why, it just is what it is. I guess each book is its own life.

Rain is the prequel to the other books in the Chronicles of the Third Realm War series, but it was published between book one and book two. How or why did that come about?
I think it’s pretty common that, when you create a fantasy world, there are all these little hidden backstories and origins and other tales that just never find a place in the main series. To know what happened to Adem and Rona and Kythiel and the other core characters, I had to know about Nia, Calipher, and Bastus. So to tell that story was very satisfying.

But I’m a pragmatist too. I only wrote Rain because I had a purpose for it. Rain started out as a loss leader—a freebie story I gave away to new subscribers on my email list. Now they’re all on Kindle Unlimited so I give away short stories instead, but that was its original purpose. Without that purpose, I’m not sure I could have justified the time for Rain, so I’m very grateful to City Owl Press for letting me experiment with this model.

But business aside, I love Nia. She is the most difficult character in a series about difficult characters and difficult choices. And I really love to talk to readers about what they make of her, and how they come to terms with her. I really don’t think we can have too many difficult female characters in fiction these days.

Of the three books in the series so far, which one did you enjoy writing the most?
That is very difficult to say. If I’m choosing, I suppose Rona is my favorite character because she has such a determined, pain-in-the-ass strength in her. But…there is something about that first book, and the first characters you create. When you’re not published yet, there is no pressure. I nurtured Mud in a different way that I am not sure I could recreate. So Adem, the protagonist of that novel, will always have a very special place in my heart. But I think an author really falls in love with all her characters. It’s impossible to spend so much time with these stories if you don’t.

What first inspired you to become a writer?
I love to tell this story, but I’ll try to keep it short here. The thing is, I was never going to be a writer. I wasn’t a creative person. This was about the only thing I was sure of. I was going to be an engineer. Or a teacher. Then a book editor. But writer? No way. That was for someone else. Then I found myself serendipitously in a writing internship at a Grand Rapids, Michigan magazine publisher. And suddenly, I had to write.

And this is where I majorly lucked out—the managing editor there who supervised the interns was previously a high school counselor, so he was amazing at working with us. He made me feel like I could do this. And I started daring to try more. Then something clicked, and I was never anything but a writer ever again. I wrote for blogs, for magazines, for marketing agencies. Then one day we were spitballing in the office about some outer space thing happening, and I made some off-the-cuff comment I can’t remember. What I do remember is that my coworker said, “You should write a novel about that.” Click. Aha. I haven’t written that novel yet, but it set me on a path.

If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for (or be involved with in any capacity)?
Buffy. True Blood. Santa Clarita Diet. I love that twisted, monstrous, super campy stuff. Stranger Things.

You have years of experience as a content strategist for online platform building. What do most authors misunderstand about this aspect of the writing/publishing business?
Yes! I think it can be hard to get the connection from platform to sales for a lot of authors. It’s not a direct line, so it can be hard to justify all the time it takes. It’s more about the relationships over time, letting your potential readers and other industry professionals get to know you as a person. We all love to support people we like, right? It’s better to relax into it a bit, have some fun, and focus on making genuine connections, and don’t worry about how each post converts to sales.

Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I’m a pantser by nature, but Mud took five years to write because I was driving blind and had so much restructuring to do in revisions. So impatience has led me to a bit of a middle ground where I pound out my first rough draft in beats rather than sentences, just getting the bones in place. That way I can put off the time-intensive work of making it cohesive and pretty until I know where I’m going. I write about a novel every 12-18 months now with this approach. Still not fast, but a lot better, and it is a pace that lets me proud of what I create.

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
Ray Bradbury said that the best way to succeed in writing is to simply persist and not give up. I’ve seen it from many other authors too. And it rings true to so many success stories from authors who “made it.” We all get rejection, hardly any of us are major hits from the debut, but if you keep at it, you’ll get there.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’ve got a few things in the queue and I’m really excited about all of them (particularly a few young adult projects in science fiction and dark fantasy). Most immediately, I’m revising the fourth Third Realm Wars novel. It’s been the hardest story for me to write so far, but I’m very excited about what it is turning into.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Let’s connect! You can find me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (@ejwenstrom), and if you join my email list, I’ll send you a short story.

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Don’t Spoon-Feed Your Readers

Trigger the theater of your readers’ minds, and each can vividly imagine the story in their own unique way. Evoke, don’t spoon-feed. Get out of the way of your reader’s imagination.
~ Jerry Jenkins

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Author Interview: ML Spencer

Author ML Spencer is a biology teacher by day and a writer by night. In 2011, she published the first book in her Rhenwars Saga, the award-winning Darkmage, and concluded the pentalogy with Darkfall in 2018. The series “is a sprawling epic set in a morally gray world…[filled with] epic battles, flawed heroes, and a brutal struggle where the triumph of good over evil is never guaranteed.” The complete five-book Rhenwars Saga box set is on sale for 99¢ on Amazon. You’ll find the author on her website at MLSpencerFiction.com and on Facebook.

At its heart, what is The Rhenwars Saga about?
The Rhenwars Saga is about realizing that one’s own perspective is not the only valid one, and that there may be many others who (not sharing the same world-view as ourselves) might be just as valid as our own. Even our conceptions as seemingly straightforward as good and evil/just vs unjust are actually cultural constructs subject to interpretation and misinterpretation.

What sparked the initial story idea for Darkmage, the first book in the Saga?
I wanted to take a man, tear him down, and rebuild him in the image of those he had spent his life fighting to oppose. And do so in a way that he would seem justified. I wanted him to be guilty of committing the same kind of travesties the “enemy” was despised for, and in doing so showing that there is no right or wrong on a field of battle.

Tell us a little about your main characters. What is it about your protagonist that makes readers connect with him?
My main character is Darien Lauchlin, who finds himself the only surviving mage of the Rhen. It falls to Darien to stop an ancient threat all by himself—and he is nowhere up to the task. He is forced to make a series of impossible choices, giving up a little bit more of his soul each time. Readers connect with him because he’s a man who has been dealt an absolutely horrible hand of cards and does the best he can with them—but his best isn’t anywhere good enough.

How did the series come together?
I wrote Darkmage in 2004 but failed to get it published. It sat around until 2011 when I self-published it. I really had no idea how to market the novel, so it languished on Amazon for several years until I finally started taking the business of writing seriously, wrote more books, and learned how to market. Once I started writing again, the rest of the series came together in just a couple of years.

Of the five books in the series, which one was the most challenging to write, and which was the easiest?
The easiest was Darkmage. That book just flowed out of me—230K words in 40 days! I couldn’t eat or sleep—I just wrote around the clock. The hardest was the last book, Darkfall. It was very hard to tie up all the loose ends in a way that would leave readers feeling satisfied. Of all the books, that took the most planning.

What did you do to make your world, with its social structure and magic system, believable and logical?
I built the world around the themes of the story, creating it mostly as I went along. This worked well, as I was able to use the world to serve the story and not let the worldbuilding drive the plot.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Favorite part was standing at the very end of a long journey and knowing I’d given it my all and did the very best I could do—better than I’d ever thought I was capable of. I had always doubted myself. Looking back at the finished saga was an amazing reaffirmation.

If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for (or be involved with in any capacity)?
The Wheel of Time series! If only!

How has your experience as a teacher benefited your fiction writing?
I would say my writing has benefited my teaching more than teaching has benefited my writing. I have been able to take a lot of the skills I’ve picked up as a writer and apply them to the classroom. I can certainly help students write good essays—not bad for a science teacher! And because I studied science, that has helped me in world building. A lot.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I would have done more research into what it takes to sell novels before I ever pushed the “publish” button on Amazon. My life would have been a lot easier and I would have saved a LOT of money.

Any writing rituals or something you absolutely need in order to write?
I must read at least a paragraph of some other work to get the wheels lubricated. My favorites are Steven Erikson or Stephen King (must be a Steve thing). Then I’m good to go!

What writing project are you working on now?
I am writing a new series in the same world, set 20 years after the events of The Rhenwars Saga.

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Love Your Writing Journey

There will always be another hill to climb, another goal to reach, a new star to strive for. So learn to love each and every day of your writing journey, no matter how hard it gets. Because success won’t bring you happiness. Joy will. ~ Kristen Kieffer

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Writing Character Emotions Just Got Easier

Surprise, this is the second post in one week for me, but I just wanted to let you know The Emotion Thesaurus (Second Edition) by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is now available.

I received my copy in the mail just a few days ago. If you’re like me, you want to hold a reference book in your hands and (deface it with colored pens or markers or) add sticky notes to the entries you use most often. Prefer a handy eBook to take anywhere? Angela and Becca have that covered as well.

This second edition is more than a new cover. It’s been enhanced and expanded to include 55 new entries and double the teaching material. Now writers can go even deeper when showing their characters’ emotions.

If you want to look into it further, read some of the reviews on Goodreads or find more information here. And if you own the first edition but you’re on the fence about buying the second, check out Jami Gold’s comparison of the two versions.

One more thing I want to share…

Giveaway Alert:

To celebrate the new book and its dedicated readers, Angela and Becca have a great giveaway going on right now: one person will win a free writing retreat, conference, workshop, or professional membership to a writing organization—winner’s choice—up to $500 (US), with some conditions which are listed on the Writers Helping Writers site.

What conference have you dreamed of attending…or would you choose a retreat? Something else? Decisions, decisions!

Enter now, the giveaway ends February 26th.

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What Beginning Writers Misunderstand about Storytelling

Between this blog and the website for SouthWest Writers, I’ve conducted over a hundred interviews in the last few years. The answers I enjoy most involve the writing process, how authors deal with world building and series writing, and what makes their characters likeable.

Authors who have spent dozens of years in the writing trenches, and know enough to teach others, are the ones I wish I could spend hours picking their brains—or attached by umbilical, coaxing the writing life from them (in a gentle, non-vampire way).

One of my favorite questions to ask these experts is: What do many beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story? Here are the best answers to that question from seven authors who often share their writing expertise online, in classroom environments, and/or at conferences.

Michael Backus is an author and creative writing instructor whose fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous print and online publications:

Beginning writers don’t understand how labor intensive a good piece of writing is. Everyone writes differently but most of us do literally dozens of revisions of a piece of writing before we’re done. The other thing I see regularly is confusion over the difference between real life and life in fiction. In fiction, there’s a reason for everything that happens. Like Chekhov’s famous “gun on the mantelpiece” advice—if you create a detail in the beginning of a story, that detail has to play a part somewhere in the story. And beginning writers often struggle with cause and effect, the idea that if something happens in a story (the effect), we need to understand the cause. Things in life often just happen. Things in a story never can. There has to be a reason, and there has to be connection between the major elements of a story.

Sarah Baker writes mystery as S.H. Baker, romance as Sarah Storme, and erotica as Lydia Parks. She has 20 novels, numerous novellas and short stories, and three audiobooks available:

I think many writers who are just starting out do the same things I did: they don’t start in the middle of action, and they feel the need to tell the reader all the backstory. I had the opportunity to work as an acquiring editor at a small press for a short time, and I learned just how quickly you have to grab the editor’s attention. And if you can’t grab an editor’s attention, you won’t be able to grab a reader’s, either. Jumping into a story mid-stride isn’t natural. It takes practice, but it’s very important to do.

Joseph Badal, best-selling and award-winning thriller author, has published dozens of articles and short stories as well as 13 novels split between three series and three standalones:

The biggest failing I see among beginning writers is that they believe all that is necessary to be published and to be successful is to tell a good story. A good story is the minimum requirement for success. But beyond that, the writer must learn that writing is a craft and that honing that craft is a continual process. I had to learn this the hard way. Today, after I finish the first draft of a manuscript, I spend months editing that manuscript (usually 6-8 edits). In the editing process, I challenge the necessity and appropriateness of every word, and make adjustments accordingly. This is a time-consuming, arduous process, but once finished, it adds to the satisfaction of writing.

Melody Groves is a novelist and nonfiction writer whose freelance articles can be found in publications such as American Cowboy, Wild West, True West, and New Mexico Magazine:

[Beginning writers need to understand] that they’re TELLING a story, not educating nor preaching. If a reader learns something, fine. But our job is to spin a tale, put readers in a different place and time from their own. Entertain them. We are entertainers, storytellers, not priests or professors.

As a conference speaker, founder of Fiction University, and an author of fiction and nonfiction, Janice Hardy is one of the busiest writing professionals in the industry:

[A story is] about interesting people solving interesting problems in interesting ways. I’ve read (and written, let’s be honest) plenty of novels that essentially describe how a character does X. There’s never a sense of them figuring things out or solving a problem. It’s “Here’s how the hero kills the evil wizard” not “Here’s how the hero learns to overcome her fears and triumphs over the evil wizard by becoming better in some way.”

Jack Woodville London is a former U.S. Army officer and courtroom lawyer turned award-winning author. He has published nonfiction articles and reference books, as well as short stories and historical novels:

When readers pick up a book they look for three things: what is the story about, who are the characters, and where do I come in? Telling a story is a contract between the storyteller and the audience. The reader has to become invested in the story for it to succeed. To invest readers, the story must be something they can see themselves being a part of. The story must make the reader expect the conflict to come out a certain way and continue reading until the conflict does come out, although not necessarily as expected. The story doesn’t get better with clever phrases and lots of adjectives.

Don Morgan is a versatile author of 13 published novels written under several pen names. As Don Travis, he’s released five mysteries through Dreamspinner Press:

What I find to be the most common misconception for beginners is assuming that the incidents (real or imagined) they choose to put down on paper are as fascinating to others as they are to themselves. While that may or may not be true, it is the manner of the telling that determines whether or not the writing is truly interesting. It’s a simple concept, but so many of us (even experienced writers) have to relearn this each time we sit down at our desk.

What else do you think beginning writers misunderstand about telling stories?

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10 Tips to Conquer a Writing Block Mountain

Writers often slam into a story wall. Sometimes they find a way to scale it and continue to run and dodge through the rest of the obstacle course to reach “The End.”

But sometimes, instead of a wall standing in our path, it’s a mountain range that blocks our progress. We’re backed into a corner. Ideas stop coming. Words shrivel up and die on the page before the ink dries. Maybe we don’t know the characters well enough. Somewhere between the lines we’ve lost our passion for the story. Whatever the reason for the block, it’s a real thing (no matter what others might say), and it happens to most writers sooner or later.

Suggestions abound for busting down writing blocks that don’t involve actual writing, such as drawing a map of the story world, designing a book cover, or compiling a playlist. Switching to another writing project keeps creativity flowing but distracts from the piece that caused the crash-and-burn in the first place.

The following tips focus on keeping you on a path through your current work-in-progress—the one that’s actually giving you grief. Most of these will get your brain to shift gears, help stimulate creativity, and cause you to look at your characters and their story from a different angle.

1. Write in long hand. This is the one I turn to first when I’m stuck. It means an extra step in transcribing your work onto a computer later, but it could be just enough of a change to get you back on the path.

2. Write a scene from a different point of view (POV) character. Try one you haven’t used yet or never thought to use at all—a secondary character, a love interest, the antagonist, the protagonist’s dog, the biggest redwood in the forest. This is especially helpful in understanding how another character feels or will react in a situation.

3. Write flashbacks. Here’s a way to dig deeper into your characters, where they come from, and what shaped their lives. Do this for villains as well as heroes.

4. Switch POV style and rewrite a scene or two—first person instead of third, third person instead of first.

5. Write out-of-order. Who says you have to write chronologically or strictly follow an outline? Whether or not you have a scene busting to be written, give it a go no matter where it falls in the storyline.

6. Having trouble deciding where the plot should go? Take inspiration from the Write-Your-Own-Adventure series. Write more than one course of action and follow the results. This also works if you know the end of your story but not how to get there.

7. Write a scene or chapter only in dialogue. This is a great way to practice your skills and get your brain working on advancing the story in a different way.

8. Change from “showing” to “telling” mode. Author Robin LaFevers suggests this switch “allows you to ‘tell’ the story. You can then go back in and convert it to showing/action based scenes later but being able to ‘tell’ helps you keep moving forward.”

9. Apply writing exercises or prompts to your characters or story. One of my favorites: What do your characters carry in their pockets, and why are these things important to them? A variation asks what a character wears, such as jewelry, as a token of remembrance.

10. Write a dream sequence or nightmare in your protagonist’s POV. This might be helpful if a character is wrestling with making the right decision or doesn’t know how to get out of a predicament—the subconscious often knows exactly what to do.

If just one of these suggestions helps blaze a new trail around the mountain, gives you a better understanding of a character, or reveals where the story is going, it will be worth the time spent deviating from the original plan. You might end up with writing that doesn’t fit in your story, but no writing is a waste of time or energy. It’s all part of the journey to “The End.”

What techniques have you used to find a way around a writing block mountain (or through it, if you like goblins)?

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A Must-have Resource for Writing Character Emotions

For the last month, I’ve been part of a Street Team for Angela and Becca at Writers Helping Writers who will launch a new writing book on February 19th. Because they’re known for showing, not telling, they decided it would be fun to keep the topic of the thesaurus a secret until the book cover reveal…WHICH IS TODAY!

I own every thesaurus Angela and Becca have published, so it’s been hard to keep quiet about this. I’m excited to finally announce that The Emotion Thesaurus Second Edition is coming.

Many of you know (and possibly use) the original Emotion Thesaurus. It released in 2012 and became a go-to resource with its lists of body language, thoughts, and visceral sensations for 75 emotions, making the difficult task of showing character emotion on the page much easier.

Over the years writers have asked Angela and Becca to add more emotions, so the two decided to create a second edition. It contains 55 NEW entries, bringing the total to 130 emotions. In addition, the instructive portion and existing entries have been revamped and expanded.

With the new content, this book is almost DOUBLE THE SIZE of the first one. I love the original Emotion Thesaurus (and all of Angela and Becca’s resources for writers), so I recommend checking out the new book.

Preorder Alert!

This book is available for preorder starting today. You’ll find all the details about the book’s contents by visiting Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books (iTunes), and Indiebound, or by going to Writers Helping Writers. You can also view the full list of emotions included in the new thesaurus.

One last thing…

Angela & Becca have a special gift for writers HERE. If you like free education, stop by and check it out. (It’s only available for a limited time!)

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All who wander are not lost.~ JRR Tolkien

CampNaNoWriMo Winners Badges Apr_Jul 2015
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