Category Archives: Interview
Visit my Sunday Spotlight May 28 to Chat With Old English Scholar, Writer, and Podcaster, Michael C. Carroll!
Can’t wait to share my conversation with my next guest, Michael C. Carroll!
Born and raised in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley, Michael C. Carroll has always loved storytelling. After graduating from Boston College, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia where he teaches and lectures on the epic poetry that inspires his writing. It was not until his master’s program through the Bread Loaf School of English brought him to Oxford University, that Michael knew he had found the story he would spend the rest of his life telling.
In Professor Francis Leneghan’s tea-scented office, Michael began studying the Old English manuscript of Beowulf. That literary exploration led to his thesis that addresses the allegorical significance of the dragon fight that concludes the Anglo-Saxon epic poem. Not long after earning his Master’s degree, Michael began writing Beyond the Fall of Kings, the incredible true story of the war behind the poem of Beowulf.
Currently, Michael lives in Atlanta, Georgia where—when he is not giving lectures on Beowulf—he can be found making dinner for his wife and daughter, coaching his school’s football and swimming teams, and working through his own translation of the Old English Beowulf Manuscript.
Guest Spotlight with Sci-Fi Author, Kent Wayne, aka The Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha
Reposting my most popular interview. Read on to find out why this author gets the buzz going…
Oh! And guess what Kent? I retired early!! Yeah!
Originally posted on By D. L. Lewellyn: Or is it the Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha, aka Kent Wayne? Hmmm. I’ll let you decide after you meet him. Read on! …Guest Spotlight with Sci-Fi Author, Kent Wayne, aka The Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha
Gallery of Guests – 2023
Wow! What an Amazing Gallery Stacking up for 2023! Enjoy the insights and inspiration.
So Many Fabulous Guests In 2023.
April posts are up! Coming Next!
January, February, March Were Amazing Too!
See also my Gallery of Guests 2022
Sunday Spotlight with Canadian Author of Thrilling Space Opera Tales, Nicolas Lemieux!
Nicolas and I connected on Twitter. I blogged about that awesome aspect of the sometimes risky social platform because I can now attest that it is possible to meet supportive, like-minded people who end up becoming a writing buddy and friend. Nicolas was one of those happy surprises.
An email dialog ensued lasting many weeks, and today I am sharing that conversation as it occurred, almost in its entirety, which was Nicolas’s creative idea. He is sharing the same on his blog from his perspective. You’ll note, and hopefully be entertained while picking up some great tips, my style of rambling (pardon the long parts!) versus Nicolas’s in-depth style where he provides tons of helpful resources (which I hyperlinked for your reference).
To get us started, here is an introduction to our conversation from Nicolas:
Author D. L. Lewellyn and I connected over social media, chatting and digging into the writing life, and sharing our respective creative journeys.
Our ongoing conversation covered many topics, like self-perception, writer’s block, plotting vs pantsing, the importance of finishing projects, and building an audience… We discussed our writing processes and shared intel about our respective stories. We pondered where to focus our fledgeling marketing efforts, how to find good beta readers; or work with developmental editors. We shared many writing and marketing resources that we’ve encountered along the way. We talked about the courage to start before you’re ready. We reflected on writing speed, routine, life balance, remote working…
There was initial talk of exchanging blog interviews, but ultimately, we chose to share our take-aways in a more conversational, free-form manner… almost as it took place over our extensive, in-depth series of emails. Then we agreed on publishing our two versions of the conversation simultaneously on our respective blogs.
The result is what follows. Please enjoy! ~ Nicolas
It all started with Twitter… and grew, and grew…
I wanted to let you know I really enjoyed “Cradle” and so did my husband. I read it out loud to him. How are your books coming? I look forward to your newsletter. Would you like to schedule a blog interview with me? I have a spot open in April.
Thanks so much Darci! I’m happy you and your husband liked Cradle. People reading my little story out loud to each other… that really makes my day!
I would be happy to do a blog interview in April. I’ve done a few of them, and each time is both a challenge and an occasion to dig deeper into some very interesting questions and topics.
Did I mention I loved your story about the Oscarsons? It brought up fond memories! I had an Oscar fish once; it sure was a hungry fellow! Kept watching me as soon as I entered the room, trying to catch my attention, eager to jump out of the tank for a pinch of raw meat. Fell to the floor once, poor thing. But the mishap didn’t calm Oscar down, no! It only made him hungrier.
If you’re of a mind to dig down into the depths of your writer’s psyche to answer a few questions, I’ll be thrilled to interview you on my blog as well.
It would be amazing to exchange interviews! I just hope I can meet the challenge of digging deep for your questions. 🙂
I’m trying to get back to the joy of writing novels this year. I’ve gotten sort of caught up in submitting short stories (got a few too many challenges lined up the next two months, in fact), while the big guys are sitting on the back burner. I made a momentous decision last fall to unpublish my two novels that are two parts of a three part series. They were languishing with slow sales, and I kept modifying them to fit how my third book keeps developing, so I decided to quit trying to sell them and work on finishing the series, maybe even do a repackaging with new cover art and then a big marketing campaign. It’s been tough not having them available any longer on Amazon, but freeing in a lot of ways. Still, I must finish them this year, so the pressure is on. I’m actually nearly done with the third book, just stuck a little and need to get unstuck. (Thanks for letting me ramble about that :)).
And thanks so much for the comments on the Oscarsons! The story didn’t make it through the contest like I hoped, but I was sure someone would relate to my fish couple if they knew anything about Oscars. I used to raise them, so I know exactly what you enjoy about them. They would eat out of my hands. But they would get so big, I had to exchange them at the store over time and start again with small ones. I’m glad your little dude survived his mishap 🙂 They are hardy fish!
Your remarks gave me hints for more questions. Mind if I ask you about how you deal with things like writer’s block, doubt, and not feeling like working on certain projects or aspects of projects, or specific stories? I think all writers face that, and I always love to read another writer’s view on it…
It’s funny you should ask that. I found out through social media posts from the winners of a contest that I wasn’t one of them. It would have been nicer to learn this officially, but it was a brand new contest, so I get it. Still. Gut punch. So, my husband got an earful, and I felt better. That’s probably not the best way to deal with rejection, especially for him. LOL. He definitely has been on this roller coaster ride with me since I started writing fiction two and a half years ago.
But hashing it out and sharing the winning stories with him helped. He suffered through good and bad (in my opinion) stories that way. I try to take an honest look, compare styles, and see where I might improve. My husband is a big help with that because he holds up the mirror, makes me look hard into it, and asks pointed questions I might not ask myself. One of the winning stories really moved me, and hubby liked it, too, so he asked me the hard question, which one did you like better, his or yours? I had to admit the winner’s story was more visceral than mine; it put us right in the scenes, sight, smell, touch, so we could sense and experience the story as well as travel through it. Compelling characters (good or bad) that I cared about. That’s what I strive for.
So, my world got put back in alignment, and I take comfort in the idea that what I think of as good writing is wildly different from what so many others think, and I have to remember it is all subjective. It’s the same for movies and television. There is so much garbage that makes it to top rated shows that I just don’t get . Now, give me a show like Wednesday [Addams], and I’m sold!
I’m nearly to the point of accepting that’s just the way it’s going to be, and I am determined to press on to find my niche audience. (Just hate those surprise gut punches – sometimes I think I need to give up contests – but they do help me to grow as a writer, and a person, for that matter).
All that said (I rambled once again), it hopefully gives you an idea of how I deal with the challenges; react, rant, rail at the world, then get over the emotional dump to the system and learn from it. Regarding writer’s block specifically, I seem to suffer it when I am at the end of the story. I’m a pantser who loves to sit at the keyboard with a single idea and let the story tell itself, and the characters emerge. Then, I might stop in the middle and hash out an outline and purpose for the tale. I can write hundreds of words that way. But when it comes to the end, I think I start doubting that my plot makes sense and questioning everything, which brings me to a screeching halt. Probably, because I don’t have a clear enough plan. So, I’ve collected a few how-to videos I need to watch, then I need to work on planning my stories better with a clearer road map. I would love to know what you do with outlines, story beats and scenes. How much pre-work do you do with your stories?
So, while I finished nearly 800 pages in my series, and published them, then unpublished them, it wasn’t a finish because the conclusion is still waiting and stuck in book three. It’s becoming a big problem. I have three other novels started, with an average 50,000 words each, and they are all waiting for a finish. What I do to work on this is just keep writing, even if it is only going over finished portions again because as I rework those portions, more ideas for my ending take hold. Still, when I get one complete finish under my belt, I will know I have finally succeeded as a writer. Selling them is a whole other set of worries. I guess that is why I love doing the short stories and competitions, because they get finished!
One last thought, I think you are doing it right in that you are building an audience, giving them a glimpse of what is to come with your short story, so when you are ready to launch, you will have a built-in market. That is one reason I am toying with starting a newsletter. It is a good model. Plus, I think I mentioned it on Twitter, but your tagline/description under your signature is very catchy.
Social media is too hard and like beating my head against a wall. Any thoughts about marketing?
So many topics; keep rambling, I love it!
As for deep digging, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I have a hunch the depths reveal themselves on their own terms, and it happens most times when we’re not trying too hard, just allowing things to flow naturally–as seems to come easily to you.
Which brings up a new question. About allowing the writing to flow naturally and abundantly… Do you consider it part of your natural talent, or do you need to culture it, and nurture it? Do you consider yourself a fast writer, or a slow one? Is it better to draft as fast as possible without looking back, or to take our time, edit a little and smell the roses, letting the ideas bubble up and allow the story to come to life… but risk taking too much time?
A few years ago, I had a good routine going on, of doing morning pages each and every day (as proposed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing without pause, no matter what comes out, first thing every day). Besides helping me catching a ton of fleeting ideas, and helping me plan ahead a bit, and find new avenues for my stories and my life in general, and allowing me to vent out many a frustration and bad feeling… the morning pages seemed to give me a kind of flow, an easiness of letting the words come out without overthinking them.
Lately, I’ve been struggling to go back to that kind of routine, and my writing has maybe become slower. But it has also improved, I hope, as I move forward with my main writing project, and as I work with my developmental editor, and rewrite, and re-think, and basically scratch my head raw and try again and again. I lose my sleep over it all the time, but I remind myself to trust the process, and that I will get there, eventually.
Also, I find it kind of helpful to remember to focus on the process itself, rather than the end result. But it’s hard to do.
My process so far :
- Outline, whatever comes out, with what little I know about writing (next to nothing when I started). View it as draft-zero.
- Write a shitty first draft for my eyes only. Shitty is the key word here, the attitude to adopt. Or nothing comes out. Also, trying not to edit too much, if at all. (This is theoretical, and I was never able to do that, by the way, so I end up compromising, but still going forward.) Viewing it as a practice round helps too (for real), and reminding myself that no one else but me is ever going to read those shitty words. Since this draft is only “a test”.
- Realize that even with a lot of planning and outlining, there is still a lot of seat-of-the-pants improvisation involved. Discovery writing helps me reach for new notions and solutions. Because there’s no end to what I didn’t think of, or forgot, or to new, better ideas that just keep popping up all the time.
- Keep reading and learning. A lot: books on writing, blogs, podcasts…
- Re-structure. Re-outline.
- Re-draft. It’s still a practice round, or at least, I try to trick my mind into believing it is, and make it feel like this is still only a test, no pressure. Because let’s be frank, it most probably is… Or maybe, what if it’s not?
At this point, the writing should be a lot better, if not almost perfect, right? After so much reading, and learning, and practising… Besides, I’ve done some reaching out, and now I’ve got a platform on my hands, with a bunch of followers, and a couple thousand subscribers to my mailing list… So where’s my book? People are waiting, this is taking too much time!
Okay. So I want this to be the final draft.
- Get tense. Get writer’s block. Go back to the morning pages–but now they feel like a drag. Change day jobs. Feel like an imposter. Or maybe it’s not just a feeling: I really am an imposter. Flirt with burnout. Get Covid19 in 2022. Take a break. Come back to it. Tell myself it’s a practice, a test, not a performance…
I’m nearing the end of the second full draft of Seven Drifts. It won’t be the final draft, but I think it’s going to be a good stepping point to get to it without having to rewrite everything. Looking back, it feels like the fourth draft. That’s what I’ve been calling it for a while now, because I wrote the first Act four times, changed genres, shuffled sections and scenes around, and made the whole thing into a big mess, like a broken jigsaw puzzle. Broken, but still fascinating.
All in all, it’s a wonderful process. And I like puzzles, so I’m certainly not going to start complaining about this one!
Over the holidays, I reached the end of Act 2, the central part. It feels great to be at the end of it, because it’s a fair chunk of the story, making for half the story’s length. So I started figuring out Act 3 once again, with all the changes and new ideas and problems to resolve that came up while doing the rest.
And now, I’m tackling it. The ending payoff, the last quarter of the story. Oh yeah! That’s an encouraging, exciting place to be.
Talk of rambling!
This was so awesome! Stream of consciousness writing… That’s got to be powerful. You’re giving me quite a list of to-dos! It makes me realize I’m not alone. I have gone through so much of what you are describing. Thank you for bringing it all out so nicely! And your stories sound incredible!
I think we started from a similar place in our writing journeys, and are figuring things out along the same lines almost at the same pace, only parts of it we have switched around. For instance, you got your newsletter and following ahead of time, I published my books first, then learned about marketing and newsletters and even how to write better! I always put my carts before the horse. Just like being a pantser writer, I leap into things. Good lessons came from it and so I’m not complaining, just back-tracking a bit now. I at least have a collection of my short stories up on Amazon to hold my place. 🙂
But the result is we both are experiencing the pressure of finishing our shining stars, you to meet your followers’ expectations and me because I don’t want to leave that hole open with published books I already marketed now hanging out there unpublished.
I ended up feeling like the biggest imposter publishing my books before they were ready (I didn’t know enough at the time to realize they weren’t), but I had a couple friends read them and tell me, “why don’t you publish them?” and being completely ignorant and having it so easy to do on KDP [Kindle Direct Publishing], I did. I had some folks giving me some good reads, reviews, and feedback, but the third book wasn’t done and my writing was not fully developed yet. After making so many changes to them as I wrote the third book, I just thought I’d better not let more copies out in the world until I clean up the whole thing. Then, I got sidetracked with other stories that needed to be written, and then the dang short story competition world. I’m hoping to focus on finishing my series, and I want to publish at least one of my other stand-alone novels this year. But which one? I love them all and the characters and scenes are all inside my head wanting to get out.
My other huge problem? Where to focus my marketing. What fantasy niche do my books fit in? There are so many and most are utterly saturated. It is so easy to get lost. My stories incorporate a lot of different genres. I toy with the idea of either writing to a specific audience for every book, or just letting my stories be and find their own way. After all, they are obviously what I want to write, and that’s where the joy is, right? I think that is another reason I’ve found satisfaction in writing short stories. I can play around with the genres and see where, if anywhere, I might settle. Even on Vocal, the genres are a hodgepodge.
Another issue is I have done it all on my own, no beta readers (only begging friends and family), no editors, content or otherwise. I even did my own book covers, which seem to get good reviews, but yikes! I let everything swing out there on my own. It’s no wonder I felt a need to call a halt and rethink things. How did you get your content editor? Does it help having professional eyes, and is it worth the expense?
Then, there is the time needed for learning. I have such a hard time carving it out and I end up relying on quick doses wherever I can find them (Reedsy is one of my favorites), but mostly I rely on help from fellow writers like you and the feedback I get from story submissions. You have no idea how much I appreciate this exchange. It is my preferred and most valuable way of learning.
As for your questions. I’m going to noodle over them more and continue the discussion later. But for now, I only started writing during COVID (so sorry you got sick with it by the way). The first summer, I read 199 books, and 60 in 2021, and by then the burning need to write my own stories had consumed me. It seems both a long and short time have passed indulging in this passion, but I couldn’t be happier that the bug struck me. I’m getting up there in years, close to retiring from my government job (where I write in a different way so at least I had some technical abilities) and the need to get my stories finished is driven by that as well. So, I’m going to think more about your questions, because I haven’t had time to answer them for myself. It could be that I’ve been unknowingly saving it all up for so many years that I’ll always be able to sit down and write, but that’s not a good enough answer. So, more later for sure.
I had to insert a header image here because what follows is chock full of great writing resources!
So many things to talk about! I can’t believe I’ve been wondering what to write in my blog and newsletter. It’s all there!
I’d like to touch on the world of my story some time soon on my blog. World building is one of my biggest fascinations, and I think it’s a part of my quirks and means of expression. I think the world is a major character in the story, and I’m planning to start revealing more of it soon. Probably after I finish re-writing this draft of the story, I’ll give it one more big round of attention. The city is called Seven. It’s a wonderful place to live, the best place, as the saying goes, and who needs the rest of humankind, right? It’s a huge space city, a former starship, stranded after a battle and journey to nowhere, hiding but making the best of it. It’s configured as a long stack of revolving cylinders, called O’Neill cylinders. It’s a great place to live, but some people, against the main culture and Administration in place, still believe that its main MAHAL drive, 200 years ago, at the time of the Awakening, might have been fixable, or at least replaceable in some way…
But you started before you were ready, and I think it’s fantastic. I read a quick book a couple of years back, called Everything is Figureoutable. The author, Marie Forleo, advises exactly that: Start before you’re ready. (Otherwise, we might never be ready.) So kudos for doing it!
I think it’s what I did too, in some ways. Some years ago I read You’ve Got a Book in You, by Elizabeth Sims. Simple, down-to-earth advice. Premise: writing a book is easy. Me: Maybe it is, maybe it’s not, but as long as you can make yourself believe it is, then you can do it, and you don’t have to wait.
This is how I wrote my first story, Tides of Cath. Halfway through, I realized I needed to know more about writing, like how to structure the story, and maybe, what’s a scene, that thing I keep hearing about. I didn’t finish Tides of Cath (yet), but I had a good chunk of it, meandering and trying to find its way through a million ideas. So I stepped back, realized it could be a trilogy instead of a stand-alone novel, made plans for it, then realized that another story I had been playing with in my head could in fact be a prequel to Tides of Cath, or a parallel narrative thread set in its far past.
So naturally, I thought it logical to write the prequel story first, since it was going to have a lot of impact on the current one. So I did that. The little prequel story turned out bigger, of course. A full novel. But I wrote it all, all the way to the end.
In the meantime, I kept reading. I spent a lot of time on K.M. Weiland’s blog Helping Writers Become Authors, it’s amazing. And she has this fantastic podcast too (same title), where she narrates the contents of her blog articles, so you can absorb them in the way most convenient to you, even twice if you like, for better understanding. I loved her series of blog posts and/or episodes on story structure, it’s fantastic.
So I did that for a while, going back to the beginning of the episodes, until I was current. Then I stumbled on The Story Grid. I read the book, and I went for the podcast (same title). Again, I binged on three-four years of episodes until I got current. I still follow them both, though my podcast listening time got reduced dramatically when I stopped commuting back in 2020. These two podcasts changed so many things for me!
Start before you’re ready: Are you really saying you published two books and worked on a third one, all in the space of a couple of years during and since the pandemic? I think it’s amazing! It doesn’t matter that you unpublished the books; you did it and it’s awesome! I commend you for the sheer courage to do it in the first place.
As for me, now I know I’m not a fast writer (not so far). Am I a slow writer? I don’t know. To me, bringing my first story, from idea (or no idea) to publishable, is a long process of learning, trying and failing, stepping back and looking back, doing it again, etc. I wish it would take less time, and sometimes I wonder whether I should start another project instead, or focus more on short stories; that would be a great way to benefit from a shorter cycle of feedback loops. But I was drawn to writing longer stories, and this is what I wanted to do, so I guess I couldn’t really help it.
By the way, the Story Grid community is how I met my developmental editor Courtney Harrell. Over the summer of 2018, I enrolled in a 15-week online class called Leveling Up Your Craft, and they had an option to work with one of their editors. On a whim, I enrolled in that too (Start before you’re ready!), and then I perused their list of editors, and I didn’t know whom to choose. But then Courtney appeared on one of the episodes of the podcast, and just like that, I knew I’d be at ease and happy working with her. And I was, so we kept it on after the class was over. It turned out to be a wonderful collaboration. So far, she’s the only person in the universe who’s ever read my drafts of Seven Drifts, barring the few excerpts or seeding ideas I released on my site.
Courtney is enthusiastic and very encouraging. Each call brings a set of new ideas and questions, avenues to explore, even solutions to problems I wasn’t able to find. Of course it’s far from free, but somewhere along the way, I kind of decided my craft was worth investing into. I see it as a business now, even though I have never made a dime from it, not yet. Some people invest a fortune into their hobbies; why not invest some in what I want to become my main activity as I get older?
Speaking of business, or marketing… I believe there’s a simple, easy way to start building our author platforms, step by step, at the pace that is convenient to each individual writer.
There’s a ton of books on that, and I’m sure you’re read many of them already. I trusted Tim Grahl because he was the protagonist of the Story Grid podcast and a kind of hero to me, so I went with his little book Your First 1000 Copies and I listened to his podcast Book Launch. It’s all there, and I like his philosophy. He breaks it down into three parts: permission, content and outreach. He has his own definition of marketing: It’s a matter of being relentlessly helpful, and of building long-lasting relationships. Nothing more to it.
That’s what we’re doing when we grow our mailing list, and send nice things to our subscribers once in a while. The ones who connect will be expecting a book sooner or later. We help people when we provide them with fiction to enrich their lives. We help people when we showcase their work with interviews or guest posts, or share what little we know with them, or just plain share our struggles and wins, so they might connect and empathize. It’s quite simple really! So he advises to start as soon as possible, even years before releasing a book… That’s exactly what he did in the SG podcast: he was the struggling writer asking advice from the experienced editor. A magical combination.
I enrolled in Tim’s online courses, Author Platform 101, How to Launch a Bestseller, and Author Platform in a Weekend. I haven’t finished them all yet. They are very helpful, but not absolutely necessary. The gist of his method is in the book and podcast.
As for The Story Grid, it’s a fascinating story in itself. It started with Shawn Coyne’s book, then Tim Grahl proposed the podcast idea, and it exploded from there. It became a university and a guild with many editors and writers and publications. It grew so big in fact, it became something I find a bit overwhelming. At some point, I’d rather focus on doing the work, and less on just doing courses, so I distanced myself from it a bit. But I’m glad I was able to glean so much from it, and I’m not saying I won’t enroll in more classes in the future. But at this point, I’d rather focus on finishing my book first. Also, there is an abundance of other awesome resources out there, all worth exploring. In time.
Oh, have you heard of Joanna Penn’s podcast, The Creative Penn? Great marketing advice!
I am fascinated by the world of Seven and actually pictured it when I read Cradle, much like you described. Judging by the passion you’ve poured into it and the layers of development, I’m sure it’s going to be epic! Do you have more short stories planned for teasers? I’m realizing after our discussion, that probably many authors got started by jumping in before they were ready. It’s been a fun ride, hasn’t it?
Thanks so much for the abundance of information and advice!! Wow. I checked Courtney’s website. Totally on my wish list to have a consultant like her. But my budget is thin. With nearly 900 pages in this series, it would make for a whopping bill. But I totally agree it’s worth investing in my writing as a career, so I am seriously considering these types of services… someday soon. When I say I want to repackage and republish when the whole thing is finished, getting this kind of help is what I have in mind as well as professional book covers… but at least book covers. I might also have to choose between a line editor or a developmental editor because I can’t afford both.
Up till now, I’ve done all my own editing and artwork with the help of online tools like Autocrit editor (I’m a lifetime member, and love the editing platform. I’ve also done legal and business writing and editing throughout my other career, so lots of training and practice. Still, it’s so easy to miss my own errors, and editing fiction is way different.
Autocrit compares your writing to authors in your genre, or ones you select and gives you data to help adjust where your writing is weak or just needs tweaking, like overusing adverbs, passive voice, pacing, etc. Currently, I enjoy comparing mine to Dean Koontz. 🙂 A huge influence in my writing style goal. Other influential authors are Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, John Grisham, and in the supernatural fantasy arena, Kresley Cole, Jeaniene Frost, Laura Thalassa, and my favorite of all, Grace Draven. I’m old enough to have been influenced by many prolific, traditional romance authors, and that flavors a lot of my writing.
For book covers and promos, I use Canva’s premium tools.
I’m going to have to make a list of all the great resources you just shared and work them into my schedule. I wish I had more to share with you, but literally, my biggest resource has been the huge amount of books in the supernatural genre that I devoured during the start of the pandemic, then absorbed, then felt the burning need to churn into my own style.
I do have one free resource to share, which is Richie Billing’s Fantasy Writers Toolshed. He does a great podcast and interviews authors, etc. But he provides so many free resources in his newsletter on all the things we’ve been talking about. I joined his Discord group and from there is where the Fantasy Sci Fi Writers Alliance got started, which you can learn about on my website. We started a book club to review each other’s books, a short story competition, and other community events and resources. Still, it is a challenge to keep up with it all. Just like you I would love to settle down and just write. Otherwise, how am I ever going to finish my series and other WIPs?
The Autocrit editor platform sounds wonderful; I will definitely check it out, as well as Richie Billing’s Fantasy Writers Toolshed. Sounds great, especially that they also do Sci-Fi.
I’ve used Canva a little bit; it helped me come up with a quick cover for my Cradle scene, but I haven’t dived into the premium, fancy tools yet. From seeing your covers, I can infer they are great, because you did some amazing work there! Your covers are totally professional, in my opinion.
It is true that hiring a developmental editor to edit a 900 page manuscript is going to cost a lot! But I trust you’ll know whether you need to do it or not. Beta readers might be a more practical way to go. I’m not too sure how to find them, though, or how to work with them. I read an interesting article about that once by K.M. Weiland, but I can’t seem to find it again. I think it might have been this one: Helping Writers Become Authors. But there’s a bunch of them!
I still don’t know whether I’m going to pay for line editing and copy editing. I suspect I’ll have to!
I don’t have any more short stories to my name, but I have some ideas that could gravitate around the world of Seven Drifts. I’m considering taking a break from the novel at some point, so I can try to come up with a couple of them. Possibly between this current draft and the next.
So many things to do, so many things to learn, and so many things to consider! I’m loving all of it, by the way, and I know I can do only one thing at a time… so I do that.
It’s so exciting having you share your works in progress and plans because how it comes about, the process, the journey, is what we’re here for today. Thank you! And I can’t wait to see how it all progresses for you.
This week was so busy at work that I didn’t even have time to wish I was writing instead, which is a good thing, actually. It often plagues me, sometimes even waking me up in the middle of the night with anxiety at the idea of running out of time to tell all my stories (and get them out in the world). I think that is a byproduct of taking up writing in my 50s. But I don’t want to rush my age just so I can retire and have more time to write, though in effect I end up doing that. What I need to do now is figure out how to balance it all so I’m content with my progress. That’s a common question I ask in my interviews. I love to learn how people balance making a living with making the time to follow their passion. I have a couple really great interviews lined up this month. Two friends from my writers alliance really put some thought into the questions and gave detailed answers. I hope I get some good traffic to my blog to do them justice. The first one goes up tomorrow. I post on Sundays. [See my Gallery of Guests 2022 for January’s conversations with Madeline Davis and Isa Ottoni]
It’s been a challenge even getting to work with this crazy winter weather. Fortunately, since Covid, I’m set up for remote work and can take advantage of that. My regular schedule is four 10-hour days with Thursday remote, so it is awesome to be able to be home four out of seven days. With the weather (I’m on a couple acres in a rural area where it takes a lot to clear the snow and get out) I have the flexibility to stay home more if needed. We’re getting heavy rain mixed with snow at the moment and that’s not even the bad one. Another atmospheric river is supposed to dump a lot on us Monday. We are ready for spring 🙂 Not to mention getting away from northern Nevada in the winter, maybe for good after I retire in a year and a half. One more winter to go. So many reasons to count down the days… 🙂 [Update – I took an early retirement! My full-time writing dream is in full swing!]
I’ve been thinking more about whether I’m the type of writer who enjoys having the words flow whenever I sit down to write. I never thought about it in depth, other than to recognize I am indeed a panster. And as I’m typing this and the words are just flowing (aka rambling) I’m realizing that has always been my style even before I started writing fiction. I already talked about this a little when I described myself as a panster. I’ve been a panster for every creative endeavor I’ve taken on over the years. You can probably call it a lack of patience because I’d rather “do” than “learn.” Mostly I’ve taken up fiber arts or mixed media art, and Zentangle over the years, and love taking classes. But even in the middle of a lesson, I end up cheating and jumping ahead of the teacher. I’ve gone down the wrong path in a project and annoyed a lot of teachers that way. LOL
So, when I write, I just want to jump in and let things develop, characters included. In my musings on my blog, I talk about my characters being seeded in my brain by aliens, and call my characters my Pod People. I’ve always done everything intuitively and that’s how my characters come about, almost like they’ve lived in my head way before I started writing.
You can see some of my obsessions in About Me which I like to share because I know so many out there have tried it all like me. My message is… That’s Awesome!
Life balance is so elusive! It’s hard to have a clear view, much less a definitive answer on it. I’m constantly struggling with it, adapting, and playing with it, learning as I go.
I used to have a great routine, at least one that worked well for me.
Before the pandemic, we used to have something at work called “pajama Wednesdays.” It was an opportunity to work from home. The idea was that people who chose to go to the office anyway on those days would wear pajamas and share pics. I’m not too much into parties myself, but I had a glimpse of some entertaining office pajama party photos. The trend passed eventually, but the option remained to work from home once in a while, and over time, it didn’t matter too much on what day we did it. That was a few years before 2020.
With COVID, things reversed, and working from home became the norm. It wasn’t a new thing for me, but doing it every day was. I thought it was great, and I still do, but in the process, I lost a few things, like commute time. About two hours a day are spent riding a bus and/or the Montreal subway (we call it the Metro). I didn’t care much for commuting, but what I really miss is the listening time. I got behind on all the great writing podcasts I used to follow. I even got behind on my dev editor calls lately. I try to make up for it with daily walks, and that’s a great idea too, but I’m still short on my daily two hours of listening time. But that’s a detail, no big deal, and with no big impact on my life either. And besides, it means I have two extra hours now, to do other things, right? So what am I complaining about?
Still, my awesome, superhuman writing routine… kind of went down the drain in 2020, and I’ve been struggling to keep the ideas flowing at the same pace ever since. Writing from home every day should have given me more time, right? But somehow, I ended up with less. I still don’t know how to explain it, but I’m willing to give it a try: I used to write for an hour in the morning, most days before leaving for work, then about another hour over lunch, and at least twice a week, I wrote for a couple more hours at night. Plus some nice and long writing sessions on the weekend mornings, usually three to five hours per sitting. And I often took a day off from my job to write more; most weeks in fact. So all in all, I was able to clock between 10 to 20 writing hours per week, give or take.
These days, it’s much less than that. I write for a couple of hours and I get exhausted. Ever adapting, right? So, was it my energy that took a dip, or my stamina, or was it the general anxiety around the world that got to me, or a general lack of stimulation caused by not going out often or long enough, and not meeting people except virtually? One thing I find challenging is to always be in the same place. My writing spot, my living room, my home office and my actual working place… now it’s pretty much all the same.
But I can work and write standing up or sitting down. And I can sit at the old rocking chair by the window that oversees the entertaining, snowy back alley alive with cats and squirrels. I can use little rituals to switch from one situation to the next, like going out for a walk, or working out, or even napping. But still, some days, my brain feels like it aged ten years over the last three, and lost a big chunk of its capacities.
I guess at the end of all things*, what really matters is that we keep our sanity, and keep enjoying life, and that we find satisfaction in watching the progress of our projects, however fast or slow. (* Sorry, I couldn’t help the Lord Of The Rings quote here.)
In fact, I’m actually excited. I’m rewriting the last part of my novel now. That is something, after all the months of revising and re-thinking, and struggling to make sense of that big, sprawling mess of a puzzle! I’m hoping to finish it this year. That book will be so good! Unless it ends up being totally lame… But no doubt it’s my inner demon talking here: doubt. In any case, the only thing I want to care about now is losing myself in the process, enjoying it, and seeing the story evolve as it unravels until the end.
There’s a lot of planning involved in the case of this particular project, and there’s a ton of pantsing as well. I think I’m naturally a pantser, often pining for the good old days when I used to just write and see where a story and its characters would take me. But then again, I’m a plotter too. I have to, because that messy thing needs a whole lotta love (Can’t help it.)
It’s so interesting to see how other writers use a combination of techniques depending on where they are in their progress, or the stream of time. I loved reading about how you switched to what works for you in a particular situation. Makes me know I’m not alone. And wow! We all need those Pajama Days!
I wanted to let you know I posted the announcements for my April guests. I was just waiting for info from my other guest because I wanted to post you both together. Sci fi fantasy is kind of the theme that’s taking shape. So excited!
My other April guest, Dustin Frueh, was so excited about the announcement and being a guest with you, that he posted it on his Instagram after visiting your website. I have a lot of fun matching up my guests when it feels like they have things in common and there is a central theme. In this case, a love of sci-fi and fantasy space opera. It adds a lot to the promos and draws interest to the final posts.
So exciting! Looking forward to it! It’s always great to connect with other fellow authors. I’m in direct contact with Dustin now. Thanks for the connection!
Guess what? I managed to get a story accepted by an anthology publisher, Dragon Soul Press! I took down the selkie story from Vocal (and some others I want to submit elsewhere) and expanded it into a much fuller short story, and it happened to be a good fit for Song of the Siren. That was a big boost to my imposter syndrome. It’s up for presale and releasing in May. I have more stories I’m working on for other anthologies coming up this year.
I also did another Writing Battle competition starting in February and just finished. I made it halfway through the duels until getting cut in the third round. Bummed, but it’s a hot competition. It’s really hard to get past your peers and that’s sort of the point for the contests! I got feedback from ten peer judges and it was consistent enough to really pinpoint where the story needed work. The fifth round is the professional judging. So, lots of good lessons and feedback from readers and that’s who we need to impress, right?
I’m attaching my 1000-word story if you’d like to take a look. I had to use the prompts, lost world (genre), pineapple and zookeeper. The consistent feedback was that the end was an afterthought, which I admit it was. The story should have stayed contained on the pineapple and I could have made that the setting for the lost world and fleshed it out more. Readers really wanted to know more about life on a floating pineapple. Now I know better and will have fun reworking it. But I still think it’s a fun story and it was really fun to write.
Way to go! So exciting, and so impressive! Congratulations on publishing your selkie story on Dragon Soul Press! Congratulations also on the Writing Battle competition!
Thanks Nicolas! This has been so much fun. I really appreciate you shining the light back on me in this two-way interview. What a great concept, and tons of fun. It illustrates the amazing connections that come along when you get out and share with the Writing Community.
You can follow Nicolas and his progress on his epic space opera story featuring a drifting city spaceship, a wannabe sleuth and some murders, a brewing rebellion and an antique wooden treasure chest in the amazing world of Seven Drifts at nicolaslemieu.com. He’s also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
My name is Nicolas Lemieux and I live in Montreal with my wife Marie-Claude in a third-storey apartment overlooking an interesting, green back-alley.
Although French is my first language, I like to write in English primarily. My chosen writing genre is science fiction, principally space opera.
I get my kicks out of dreaming up astonishing worlds packed with a sharp palette of badass, quirky characters who get tangled up in all manners of meaningful trouble. Often funny, sometimes disquieting, always exciting.
I believe stories have the power to stretch our imagination in all kinds of ways. They expand our worldview and give us practical tools for living. They ignite our curiosity on all kinds of subject matters. They make us thirsty for more exploration, more ways to look at the world, more pondering and more discoveries.
I believe each time you dive into a good book, you come out better off at the other end, because you’ve gained a new, flaring spark that will stick with you until the end of times, helping you fend off the pits and falls that might have consumed you otherwise.
Be a badass reader! Read my latest, free story today: Cradle.
You can learn more about Nicolas and his pending series on the fabulous Realm of J.V. Hilliard, Episode 119!
And just to demonstrate how these fruitful collaborations work, JV Hilliard will be on an upcoming Spotlight this summer and I will be on an episode of the Realm! Stay tuned! And thank you Nicolas!
In parting, Nicolas’s version of our conversation includes a sneak peek of my new covers for my series, The Starlight Chronicles! I am excited to announce that I’m set to relaunch my series in May, including a presale date for Book Three, Tigris Vetus. Nicolas has kindly offered to be the first to share, and more details will follow from me next month. But if you want to get a look now, follow our conversation on Nicolas’s blog, where you also can find a great body of interviews with so many amazing writers.
Ode to an Uncle I Didn’t Appreciate as Much as I Should Have Before Becoming a Writer
First of all, I want to say I adored Uncle Lauran. I just had no idea… Today, someone asked a question on social media about using multiple pen names…Ode to an Uncle I Didn’t Appreciate as Much as I Should Have Before Becoming a Writer
Sunday Spotlight with Writer, Podcaster, and all things Beowulf and Old English-Michael C. Carroll!
Born and raised in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley, Michael C. Carroll has always loved storytelling. After graduating from Boston College, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia where he teaches and lectures on the epic poetry that inspires his writing. It was not until his master’s program through the Bread Loaf School of English brought him to Oxford…
Check Out This Great Podcast
Worldbuilding 101 with Stephen Aryan
This Sunday – on my Creator Spotlight!
An Engaging Conversation, Great Resources, and Exciting Upcoming Releases!
Sunday Spotlight! With Author, Blogger, Voracious Book Reviewer, and my buddy, Dustin A. Frueh.
Welcome Dustin! We’ve worked on the elements of this chat for a while and it’s finally here! I’m super excited to share our conversation because I know it will inspire other writers and creators who can relate to the types of struggles and joy you experienced as you pursued, and continue to pursue, your passion for literature, whether writing it, or reading it.
One of my favorite parts of your story is when you found the joy of reading. Tell us about being a late bloomer turned devotee of the written word.
Writing has pretty much always been a part of my life. I can still recall being in the fifth or sixth grade, and sort of dreaming about becoming a household name, and I’d jot down potential chapter titles, which says a lot about how little I knew about the writing process. That went on for a short time, and then I’d put writing out of my mind for a while, only to revisit it at random times throughout my teens and early twenties. Writing’s funny like that, isn’t it? It’s kind of like an insistent plague that refuses to let you out of its grasp. Only, unlike an actual plague, the writing process is rarely deadly. It’s one of the healthiest endeavors you can pursue.
I wake up each morning, grateful for all the wonderful educators who, in their own, distinct ways, have guided and encouraged me over the years. And I’m thankful for my wife and other family members you’ve believed in me, especially when I didn’t have faith in myself. The friendships I’ve fostered online genuinely mean the world to me, and there are far too many to count. Lastly, I’m grateful to God for the plans He made for me a long, long time ago, and for giving me the talent, desire, and the gift of storytelling.
The peculiar thing is, and this will no doubt surprise you, as it seems to go against the grain of most writers, but prior to my fourteenth birthday, I was never very interested in reading. There was a reason for that, too. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in stories, because I obviously was, on some level. I just wasn’t a very good reader. But one random day, in the summer between eighth and ninth grade, after being curious for a while about Stephen King’s writing, almost on a whim, I used my allowance to purchase a paperback copy of Misery (this was in 1993, when books were still relatively inexpensive,) and I started reading it later that day. I could not put it down, and I’ve never looked back. That book forever changed the trajectory of my life.
That is a powerful statement about fiction, and I love how it just hit you all of a sudden. What did you do with your newfound passion?
Reading almost obsessively quickly became my “new normal.” It was practically a drug. And with the exception of required school reading, I was pretty much only reading Stephen King for the next three or four years. Before long, I’d amassed quite the paperback collection, and I prided myself in the sheer number of books I was reading, and the fact that I was devouring them. For example, in my senior year of high school, I finished The Stand (complete and unabridged version, as I couldn’t find the original novel until I was in my early twenties,) in maybe a week’s time. If you’re familiar with that version, you’ll note that it’s well over a thousand pages.
Also during that general time frame, and as required reading, I was introduced to Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, The Lottery, which happens to be one of my favorite stories of all-time. There was something about it that inspired me to try my hand (again) at writing. The tale also showed me something important, something I’ll never forget but which felt kind of like an eureka moment at the time, which was that not all “scary” stories had to revolve around an insane killer clown or serial killers like Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees. They could be serious, and they could communicate something important about the world. It would be many, many years before I realized there’s a term for that: social commentary. The latter is one of my absolute favorite elements to read about, not just in horror, but across any genre.
Way to capture the benefits of good horror fiction! Taking away thought-provoking insights in addition to being entertained has always been a plus for me, too. What other elements do you hope for in a story?
I inevitably look for character development, worldbuilding, impressive prose, and stories with social commentary and subtext. And dread, of course. I’m a sucker for a compelling story with a well-executed sense of dread. I’m definitely a character-driven type of person, as opposed to plot. I learned a lot about the craft in college. I’ll be eternally grateful for one professor, in particular, Mr. Matt Sullivan (who’s now a published author with a second novel forthcoming, so big shout-out to Matthew J. Sullivan, author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore) because he probably taught me more about writing than I’ll ever know. Most importantly, he believed in me. He saw the potential long before I, or anyone else, probably did. I took as many of his classes as I could, and through them, I was introduced to a lot of very different authors and genres and unique styles. His creative writing course, in particular, was unlike anything I’d experienced, and the highlight (for me) was a full week or two of workshops, where we’d divide into several small groups, read each other’s stories, and give in-depth, constructive criticisms.
That sounds amazing. All you teachers out there, what a gift you have to be able to touch even one student so profoundly. Thank you!
So, while you were on this journey of discovery, you had some personal battles to deal with. How did fiction help you cope then and now?
As good and positive as all that sounds, I was masking something dark and sad. Looking back on it, I’d been depressed since I was a child. I only know from what family has told me, but prior to the age of around eight or nine I had been an outgoing, talkative person. Afterward, I withdrew from the world and got quiet. I lost a big part of myself, and I’ve never really reverted back to the bubbly, extraverted person I used to be. Around nineteen, twenty years old, my depression became increasingly more pronounced and, for the most part, I kept everything hidden until I finally got help in December of 2005. My one constant was reading. Those characters became the counterparts I needed to keep going. The macabre and fantastical plots excited me in ways that the real world could not. But there eventually came a time when the reading was no longer enough. A lot of the joy and wide-eyed wonder was gone.
Darci, I gave up on life. I gave up on myself, on my hopes and dreams and aspirations. I came extremely close to losing my life, only to finally reach out and receive the psychiatric help that I desperately needed. Coming out of that dark place, I realized that I was glad to be alive, and thankful that I didn’t die that day. Since then, I’ve been fully medicated and it’s been a struggle, a hard-fought battle to be happy, and the two necessary ingredients for me to be a happier person are reading and writing, preferably every day. Also necessary for my happiness are the love and grace of Jesus, and the unconditional love and understanding of my family. I’ve also discovered the need to talk books with other people who share the passion for the written word. Books are absolutely essential things.
Thank you so much for sharing that. So many people suffer from mental health issues, often quietly, especially after the pandemic. I think we will see studies for decades to come on the aftermath of the prolonged mass social isolation. Unfortunately, it’s still a difficult medical condition to acknowledge, let alone bravely seek help for. I’m so glad you found a path, Dustin. And though it will always be challenging, I hope sharing your journey with others will help you as well as our readers who might have their own struggles . What do you do to keep your focus on the creative side of things?
I joined the wonderful online reading community called Goodreads in September, 2010, but I didn’t start reviewing books until October 27, 2011. My first review was of Stephen King’s The Wind Through the Keyhole (book 4.5 in his amazing Dark Tower series,) and thanks to the positive responses to it, I would go on to write many more passionate reviews. I try to review every book I read. Also around that same time, per the encouragement of an old friend (sadly, we’ve since lost touch), I started blogging via WordPress, where I share the same reviews found on Goodreads, as well as a few random life-related posts.
Speaking of blogging, I’ve actually been thinking about completely revamping my site, because I’m really not happy with it. I want to change the domain name and everything. There’ll still be my reviews, but I really want to talk about the writing life and family. My son is a Type 1 diabetic (diagnosed in August, 2021). He also has a sensory-processing disorder and is on the spectrum (Autism Spectrum Disorder), which he was diagnosed with when he was only four-years-old. He’ll be eleven in November. He’s the strongest person I know. He’s also my hero.
You can find Dustin’s fantastic review of Wind Through the Keyhole on Goodreads.
I hope you keep us posted on redesigning your blogsite. Creating your perfect theme for those amazing reviews, your amazing family, and a writer’s life will be a super fun project! Let me know if you need eyes on it.
Can you share with us more of your ideas and what you’re going for?
My primary reason for creating my blog was two-fold. First and foremost, those first few months at Goodreads made me realize just how much I love talking about books and connecting with new people who enjoy the same authors and/or the same type of stories that I enjoy. But, if I could reach others through WordPress, then maybe I could recommend a book to someone else, and maybe it could become one of their favorites, too. That was the initial hope. At the time, I thought that if my words could reach just one person, then I’d consider it a job well done; an endeavor worth pursuing. All the time, energy, and sacrifice would be worth it. Now, though, more than ten years later, I want my site to be something I am proud of, a place to call home. Ultimately, I’d love to see it grow, but that’s not the primary reason for redesigning it. I want to do that because I’m unhappy with its current state.
Yes, writing and reading are a very big part of who I am, but I try not to let those things define me. I’m a father, a husband, a follower of Jesus; I’m a survivor of childhood trauma and the subsequent life-long mental illness, which ultimately led to a suicide attempt. I’m a fighter, a lover of humanity and animals. I am passionate about the Arts, I’m constantly learning new and interesting things. I’m an ally of the LGTBQ+ community and an advocate of mental health and suicide prevention. I am all of those things and more.
All those things offered through your blog will be so inspiring to the reading and writing community. You’ve got the vision! I hope you have a blast bringing it to fruition.
I’ve been dying to get to this part. Tell us about some of your favorite recommendations.
Some of my favorite books of all time are Stephen King’s On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft. I’ve read it twice, and I recommend it to anyone interested in writing, or anyone interested in reading a memoir. Even if none of those apply, I recommend it simply for the beauty of language, and learning more about King. That book alone inspired me to pick up the pen and paper again. It instilled in me the knowledge that if “I was brave enough,” I could actually write a book. And now I have. I love that King is no stranger to giving out writing advice, and that he genuinely believes his Constant Readers can write their damn story, and it be something they can be proud of. The love he has for his wife, Tabitha, was on full display there, too.
Dune by Frank Herbert is, without a doubt, my favorite sci-fi novel. I’m long overdue for my first reread, actually.
If you’re looking for a vastly rewarding, extremely long and epic historical fiction novel, look no further than Les Miserables by the incomparable Victor Hugo. That’s perhaps my favorite in classic literature. Sure, it can be quite dense at times, and it’s well over a thousand pages, but I quickly found myself enthralled by the characters and by the French history in almost equal measure.
I’m also a big fan of the post-modern movement and writers like David Foster Wallace and Richard Powers are near and dear to my heart. I also love pretty much anything by Don DeLillo. I mean, seriously, I’d be very hard-pressed to find much finer books than White Noise or Underworld. Especially the latter. Wallace’s Infinite Jest is easily one of the best novels I’ve ever read, albeit for different reasons than the “typical” reader. I read it in 2016, and I still think about the characters and that tome in general, on a fairly regular basis. The fact that I’m active in the Reddit subthread doesn’t hurt, either. I’m astounded by anything that Wallace wrote. A couple months ago, I finished my review of Wallace’s debut novel, The Broom of the System. Gosh, I love that book, and it never ceases to astonish me that it was published when he was twenty-four years old.
I’m also big into fantasy, grimdark, sci-fi, nonfiction, some poetry. Pretty much anything that sounds interesting and fun. It 100% has to be fun!
You can follow Dustin on Reddit here. And be sure to follow him on Goodreads for his reviews and recommendations. He also shares his reviews on Instagram.
Okay Dustin. Let’s get down to some stats. You’ve read 542 books according to your Goodreads and you’ve got a whopping 8,567 on your TBR list. First, how many reviews have you done out of the 542? And, what number on your TBR are you comfortable saying you might check off in a lifetime? 🙂 Because I wouldn’t be surprised if you made a good dent in that. How many books on average do you read a year?
Now, that’s an interesting question because according to Goodreads, I’ve reviewed four hundred and thirty-nine books. But that included short stories and a couple essays, and those are a lot easier to finish because they require a lot less time. Not only that, but some of them aren’t actually ones I’ve read but on my TBR because I wanted to document my initial reactions to hearing about them, and some consisting of copy/pasted blurbs from Amazon because they’re not always available on Goodreads. If I had to guess, though, I’ve probably reviewed between three and four hundred books.
Per your second question, I would love to read all of them. But realistically, I know I never will. I can see myself getting through at least two or three hundred on my TBR.
For many reasons, I read a lot, lot less than I did when I was in my teens and early twenties. For one, I really struggle on a regular basis to concentrate, so that takes me a lot longer to finish even an average length book. Plus, I like to write at least a thousand words a day, and that can take me a few hours. I’m also a dedicated family man with a ton of responsibilities, outside of creative endeavors. Or I get lazy and procrastinate, even though I love reading. Or, I hurt too much and I can’t bear the thought of sitting up for hours to read. Because when I’m hurting that bad, all I want to do is lie down and relax. The last few years, I think I’ve only read between nine and twenty books a year. I’m not proud of that, either as a writer or in general. The important thing, though, is that I am reading, improving my well-being, and enjoying most of what I read. Great questions, Darci. 😊
I think you should be proud of yourself. Your stats are phenomenal no matter how you slice them! Especially working through all those challenges while you’re at it. I only hope I can get in ten books a year. I’ve set a goal for 30 this year. I guess we will see.
And guess what, Dustin? I just discovered we can compare our Goodreads book lists! What a great feature. By the way, Dustin and I are currently reading, for fun and discussion, Empire of the Vampire, and loving it so far. We are also buddies on NaNoWriMo, having a blast supporting each other on our progress for this month’s Camp NaNo.
With that fantastic list of recommendations, I think this is the perfect spot for your beautiful poem, which I’m thrilled you are letting me publish here. Thank you!
No, thank YOU! I appreciate your willingness to share it with your readers. Okay here it is…
Art is not Glamorous
Now for more good stuff. What are your works in progress and your plans for them?
I am currently going strong in my NaNoWrimo novel, facetiously referred to as “Project: Never-Ending Story.” I decided that instead of writing one MASSIVE manuscript, I’d divide it into three or four shorter novels. Book I was fun, but I’m truly having a blast writing Book II. The momentum is much faster (in fact, I consider the first one quite the slow burn, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,) things are getting a lot more interesting as it goes along, and one of my favorite elements of sci-fi/fantasy is the worldbuilding itself. I’m a pantser through and through, and so every day brings something new and interesting to the page. This story is getting increasingly complex as I’m learning more about these characters and this world, and I’m eager to see where it’s all going.
Right now, my goal is to get the rough draft done. I haven’t thought too much about my publishing path, though I am leaning more towards traditional.
What final thoughts can you share about the Writer’s Life for those facing your types of challenges?
The writing life can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be daunting at times. It’s oftentimes made more difficult with clinical depression, social anxiety, and chronic pain. Six or seven years ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is a generalized series of aches, pain, and tenderness throughout the body. Other symptoms include “brain fog,” trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping or not feeling fully rested upon waking.
In addition, my wife has fibromyalgia and she’s a Type 2 diabetic (diagnosed within two days of our son) and naturally, that can be a lot to deal with on a regular basis. We live with my mother-in-law, who will turn seventy-two in April, and she requires a lot of help with mobility and doing things around the apartment in general. Currently, she’s working hard to get her strength back, so she can be more mobile and independent. My wife and I (and our son, to some extent) work together to help her as much as she needs. So, needless to say, finding the adequate environment and time to pursue reading and writing is not easy. No one said it would be, but perhaps my personal journey is a little harder than the average creative. Then again, maybe not. Who really knows, right? 🙂
For more about facing the challenges of fibromyalgia, you can click here.
This has truly been an inspiring conversation, Dustin. Thank you for bringing attention to the challenges of a family dealing with multiple health issues, and the ways you have found to cope with it all and support each other. I look forward to more of your writing, reviews, and insights on Goodreads and your blog.
Preview of my fabulous April Spotlight Guests!
This month, I will be chatting with two phenomenal writing buddies I met through separate community platforms who happen to both love Sci Fi, one along the lines of fantasy, the other space opera. It was fun inviting the two of them for April and establishing this theme because not only will the format of our conversations be a bit different where the conversations happened first then the questions followed to tie them together, but through the process of producing my two blog interviews, they became writing buddies as well. I love it when that happens!
Dustin is working on what he refers to as one MASSIVE manuscript he’s structuring into three parts. We’ve been motivating each other this month at Camp NaNo and he’s made phenomenal progress. He’s still deciding on whether to go the traditional publishing route, or self. I have to say, what he’s shared with me about the world building so far has me chomping at the bit!
Nicolas is working on his first novel, Seven Drifts, an epic space opera story featuring a drifting city spaceship, a wannabe sleuth and murders, a brewing rebellion and an antique wooden treasure chest. We are helping each other stay on track on our respective publication goals and after reading his sneak peek short story, Cradle, I can’t wait for his novel to release! You can learn more about it and get your copy here.
Sunday Spotlight with the Creators of Writing Battle!
Meet Max and Teona!
What a fun conversation. I was so excited to go behind the scenes of this rapidly growing writing community contest phenomenon. Read on and be fascinated and inspired!
An Introduction from Teona
Once upon a time, Max was a software engineer for a large defence company and unhappy in the lack of creativity he was able to exercise in his job. As an amateur screenwriter himself, he had come across writing contests before but knew there was room for the framework to improve. His wife Teona, was coming to the end of her maternity leave and so Max, with the long term goal of making this his full time job, took over as full-time parent by day and used the very little time in between kiddo naps and nights to mould the contest. With iteration after iteration, integrating suggestions from his brother, the writing battle community, and a lot of long nights full of doubt, he has finally gotten to a place where the contest works remarkably well. Battle season nights can now be spent enjoying wine, reviewing feedback and chatting with Teona instead of sweating over the keyboard to ensure the forums that he built from scratch are ready for the next day (yes that really did happen). Now we are in year three, just wrapped up battle number 9 and Teona has been officially “hired.” We are so excited to watch the community grow and thrilled to hear people enjoy the tournament as much on the writers’ side as we do behind the scenes.
A huge thank you goes out to our community and supporters like Darci who make this dream work for us! 🙂
What a great intro! I had to add it here in addition to my announcement page. I can’t thank you both enough for visiting with me today and chatting about Writing Battle. I was intrigued as soon as I saw a post on Instagram, and so glad I signed up for my first battle. After participating in the Autumn Short Story Contest, I was hooked.
I’ve been noodling over how I might describe the highlights and why I enjoy the contests, but there are a lot of reasons. So, I’ll sprinkle my comments throughout our discussion and hopefully capture it all that way.
I know for me, I can get bogged down in the serious work of writing, so I’ll start off by saying, these contests are just plain fun, a great way to remind me to enjoy the writing process.
In your introduction, there are a number of pursuits mentioned, software engineering, screenplay writing, starting up a business, time for parenting, which led to Writing Battle. Can you each share more about your backgrounds and how they shaped the fantastic platform and resulting community?
Max: My background is a bit all over the place. I was super into film and music as a teenager/early twenties, and ended up joining the Navy. I went from that into Computer Science, but always had it in the back of my mind that I would start writing screenplays again. After participating in NYC Midnight and enjoying the peer critique on their forums, I thought – hey, maybe this could work as a writing platform. A writing tournament where it is entirely peer-powered. The thing with programming is that when you are coding all day long at work, the last thing you want to do is code in the evenings. For me anyway! So it was crucial that I dove head first into Writing Battle. Teona going back to work after mat leave facilitated that – where I could look after our then 1 and 3 year old during the day and code Writing Battle at night.
Teona: We were actually just chatting about this yesterday– I think like many other people during the pandemic, we were in search of something. I had just given birth to our second child and as we said in the intro, Max was very unhappy working in his defence gig which was only amplified by working from home. On my side, and I think (hope?) many parents can also identify with this, I got this overwhelming sense of loss of my own identity to the new one in parenthood; I was happy to go back to work as an EEG Technologist to regain some of that “me-ness” and in turn Max was able to continue developing the WB platform. Obviously both of us could work outside the home, but we always agreed that if we were to have children, we wanted someone at home with them (plus childcare costs in Canada are outrageous, especially having two).
Other things we did/tried during the pandemic:
Sell our house; join a cohousing community in construction; write and film a pilot concept with friends for a children’s show; serve as a script supervisor on a few short film sets; talk seriously and explore the idea of moving to other provinces, states, countries; start marriage counselling to better support each others’ search for that ever elusive “something.”
Max is the dreamer. I am the voice of reason (read: stick-in-the-mud). We are constantly trying to bring balance to each other which we are really starting to find in our own exploration of what Writing Battle is 🙂 The biggest thing we have enjoyed about WB is that we truly feel part of a really positive community, which I think at the end of the day is what we have always been looking for.
Teona rants a bit if you can’t already tell 😛
Darci. Haha. Ranting (aka elaborating) is what this creator’s life chat is all about. To hear all the exploration that led you separately and together to what participants can now enjoy in the writing community is truly phenomenal. Thank you for sharing that! I was curious if NYC Midnight influenced some of the ideas behind WB. I’ve enjoyed a few of those competitions, too, though I got a little lost in the giant forums. I must say, Writing Battle does a great job giving its participants a community forum scaled to a fun and manageable size. It’s an amazing design.
The wonderful Writing Battle homepage image (the graphics are another attraction) totally has me picturing you two battling at home with pens and paper, and the lightbulb switching on-Why not spread the fun and get a community involved in battling with us? (Thanks for letting me indulge in my imagination.) Have you, Max, designed other software for fun or for your own creativity before Writing Battle? Did you have earlier manifestations/dreams of a Writing Battle-like platform, or was it only a recent realization?
Max: Thank you haha and I never really saw ourselves in that image, but now that you mention it – I can definitely see it! Especially before marriage counselling (ha). The artist’s name is Nikita Mazurov, and does absolutely amazing art. As far as software for fun, no, not really – just for other companies. I was always interested in online games and board games that explored the social interactions between people like Balderdash. I’m going to sound like a huge dork, but I LOVE the tv show Survivor. I think it’s the coolest social experiment. That’s how I look at Writing Battle. It’s really just a month-long social game for writers.
Darci. Believe me getting to the end of the competition twice now has made me feel like a survivor! I can totally see that influence. All those are great elements and exactly the fun tidbits about the creative process I love sharing with our readers.
Besides your own creative mind and lifestyle changes, are there other people, communities, philosophies, entities who inspired you to go for this?
Teona: I’ll chime in here– I mentioned earlier about joining a cohousing community in the pandemic. I think that in the end, even though that lifestyle didn’t end up fully resonating with how we saw our future, there was something there that may have inspired what we saw WB becoming. Positivity, sharing and evolving ideas, supporting one another– these are all pillars of what that kind of environment is enriched with and we still wanted a part of that in our lives despite leaving the cohousing development. I think Max would agree that we joined the cohousing community in search of “our people” and then tried really hard to fit what we thought that meant instead of coming as we are. I think being our authentic selves and full transparency became incredibly important to us through that experience and we hope that WB showcases that.
There is also one person in particular that was an incredible support to Max throughout this experience and that was his brother Alex. Alex was there cheering on and pushing Max to continue in the deepest moments of discouragement. “Just keep going for a few more months… see what happens and reassess.” That on repeat was our focus. One more battle, one more goalpost with more information. Is this viable? Is this worth it? Can this passion project truly become a source of income? Even when that answer felt like a “no” Alex was there believing in WB, believing in his brother.
Darci. Fantastic. Thank you Alex for helping to keep Writing Battle going so we can all enjoy it! And I’m thrilled to hear it’s becoming viable for you as an income, Max and Teona. Here’s to continued success!
You mention the Writing Battle community feedback helping you improve the platform. What were your biggest hurdles in the beginning and your favorite suggestions?
Max: Special shoutout to Leila Poole from the forums and my brother, Alex, who I bounced ideas off of for the entire first year of Writing Battle. It started with 11 participants from the NYCM forum. Leila was one of the first to agree to participate and “got” what I was trying to do. My initial idea for the site was that it was to be Screenwriting-only, entirely free, and people would only pay if they wanted to redraw their prompts. As you can tell, we’ve had to pivot many times to make this contest work and the community feedback has been crucial. It’s hard to pick a favourite suggestion because honestly, the entire contest has been shaped by the community.
Darci: Ah. The ingredients for success and what a win win for the community and Writing Battle.
One aspect of Writing Battle that really stands out is the peer judging. When I first looked into signing up, my initial reaction was, Oh no. I’m not qualified to judge other writing, and wow that’s quite a commitment in order to participate. But after thinking about it, I could see the appeal, the potential to enjoy a variety of writing styles and learn from them, then benefit on the other side of the coin through the responses to my writing. I did experience a little of that with the NYC Midnight forum and now we know how that platform got the ideas rolling, but can you tell us more about the story behind the peer participation?
Max: The initial inspiration came from how valuable I found peer feedback for my own screenwriting, but there’s a bit more to the story – I also found that the judges for writing contests tended to all be cut from the same cloth. And I mean, why wouldn’t they be? It takes a certain type of person to apply to be a creative writing judge. To begin with, you have to think that you’re qualified! So they are typically literary academics that understand the craft of creative writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, and feedback from those folks has value, but they don’t represent the entire readership pool. Far from it. Like you say, it’s a bit intimidating to think about joining a writing competition where you are also a judge. However, if you can read, you can judge. You know what you like and what you don’t like. We believe authors should be striving to write stories that everyone wants to read. Not just academics.
Darci: I for one have benefitted from the feedback in a myriad ways, especially when there is a consistency in the tone or a specific element(s) of the story that gets pinpointed by a majority of the judges. If you can suck it up and take it to heart, you can’t help but grow by leaps and bounds as a writer. Highly recommend the experience!
When you register, there is an opt out of the judging for stated reasons. I’ve been curious. Do you get participants who select that option?
Max: No, very few people select the opt-out option. Last Battle, out of 725 people only 4 selected that option. It’s our way to help folks that may be too busy to read stories that month or perhaps have triggers that would make it too risky to read unvetted stories. All of the extra money goes to members of the community that have chosen to read more stories that Battle. Essentially, it’s a reading fee. But yeah – not very popular. People seem to love to read/judge other stories even if there is some risk involved with triggers.
Darci: You must really dig statistics like that. What a great way to know it’s working.
Now for the details because those are what infuse the Writing Battle platform with fun. I adore it when it’s time to draw my prompts! I love having options to redraw and going through the decision process to determine whether to keep my initial draw, or take a chance on another combination. The fun in this is reflected in the community comments when contestants share how they went outside of their comfort zone to write in a different genre for the first time. That’s happened to me each time (Cannibal Comedy and Lost World). When I read the results of their efforts, I’m blown away every time. Can you give us some behind the scenes on developing the tarot card idea?
Max: I was just always into poker as a kid and I love card games so that’s where the redrawing came from. Writing prompts seemed like a good fit to stick on a card. There’s no fun tarot card story really haha I just thought it would look cool 🙂 glad you like it!
Darci: Awesome! Your fun is our fun.
How do you come up with/decide on the genres?
Teona: A lot of that has been community feedback. We noticed we got the best reactions when we had the wildest genres – as long as they were from a spread of genre categories (plot-driven, spec, comedic, and more serious). Max and I have SO much fun sitting down, drinking wine, and throwing crazy genre ideas at each other. Some are solely to make the other person laugh like Cannibal Comedy. There have been some killer community forum suggestions for this last Battle that will heavily influence our upcoming competitions.
Darci. There’s that image again of you two at the table. Such a great icon. I’m going to have to find more time to read the forums. This is another great example of your creative energy influencing the writing community and bouncing back to you. I love it.
I noticed the prompts are repeated in the contests like they’ve been reshuffled for the new batch of genres. How do you come up with the prompts?
Max: They’re really just from lists that I’ve compiled from the internet, and it’s always amazing to read the stories that people come up with. In the very first battle, there was a prompt type called ‘Things’ and it consisted of every single noun in the English language (which I downloaded from some online dictionary). We’re talking tens of thousands of words that people could draw, but that just made people upset when they drew prompts like praseodymium and had no idea what to write. We pruned that list to around 600 words and called it ‘Objects’ instead of Things haha. There’s still work to do on expanding the other prompt types.
Darci: Oh that’s a great story. I’m looking up praseodymium… hmmm, a mineral from the periodic table. Might have to give it a go. Wait. I have tried that. My supernatural romance series features promethium used to make a weapon deadly to shifters because for some weird reason I wanted to incorporate rare earth minerals into my story. Love it!
I blogged a bit recently after my second contest about how Writing Battle works. I broke it down into stages, which is another fun element; the different ways we can be involved over the weeks as we move towards the final judging. But I admit, I had to describe the peer review (duelling) elimination rounds in general terms because the process is mind boggling. I’m still not sure if my story was eliminated in the second or third round. 😁
My confusion is probably due to my lack of a gaming background or some brainy, techy component I’m missing, but I would love for you to give our readers more on the concept in layman’s terms, so we might understand how it works.
Max: Haha I’m still trying to figure out how to describe it! I’ll do my best.
The first stage has the writer redrawing prompts and writing a story in a short amount of time.
After submission, the contest enters the second stage where each writer becomes an anonymous judge. They are given 10 stories total, but spread out over the course of 3 weeks – given two stories to judge at-a-time. They have to read each of the two stories, give a bit of feedback, then choose a “winner” of the two. That process is called a Duel. Those Duels help progress a massive best-of-five, single elimination tournament. The peer judging stops when the top two stories from each of the four genres have been determined and that brings us to the third stage.
There’s a bit of a fog-of-war until the third stage. No one knows who wrote what or how their story did. The third stage allows the writers to share their story in a semi-public forum called Debrief. Because the peer-judging is over, it’s now safe to reveal yourself (if you choose to do so). You read each other’s stories and comment on them, but this time not anonymously and not in a Duel. We then slowly lift the fog-of-war and reveal the tournament brackets over a week-long period while the industry judges (authors) pick the four winners from the final 8 that the peer-judging chose in the second stage.
Darci: Thank you!
Can you share the gist of the collective feedback you get from the community on participating in the Duels?
Max: I think the initial reaction is something like – “Uhhh wait this sounds like work.” Haha, which is fair! It is a bit of extra work. But by the time the fifth Duel rolls around, I would say in general it becomes their favourite part about the contest. It’s also an unexpected educational tool. You read stories of varying quality and you get to decide for yourself what works and what doesn’t and then maybe even ask yourself why something connected with you. I’ve had a participant in his 80’s tell me it not only changed the way he writes, but even changed the way he reads. I found that fascinating.
Darci: That’s great, and I can relate to my fellow participant’s comments.
How do you find and involve the amazing professional judges?
Max: I just cold-email everyone until I get a response. We’re still trying to perfect that part of the contest.
Teona: I had the exact same question when Max told me the calibre of people he had agreeing to be the pro judges! Like how? You didn’t sell our firstborn right? Haha.
He insisted he just cold-emailed them on a whim, ensured me artists were supportive of other artists and that that’s what drove them to support our little cause.
Darci: Haha. So fun to hear from you both on that. And I didn’t expect the cold calling technique though I don’t know why because it’s simple and it works. I’ve employed the “it can’t hurt to ask if you want something” policy many times. That’s how I invited you both to chat with me. 😄
I’m going to put you on the spot here. Do you get to read any of the submissions after they are open to the community?
Teona: YES! And not just after, we read them all throughout the judging stages, keep an eye on our favourites, or on members like yourself who we have developed a relationship with through the community 🙂 We are also sifting through all the feedback during the battle to ensure people are adhering to the rules. Sometimes that requires us to read stories to make sure the judges are doing their part and being fair to their duels by truly reading and providing feedback that directly addresses the stories facing off. On at least two recent occasions, Max has looked over at me at my desk and I was in tears, and he asked “what happened?” and I simply respond “I just read an amazing story that may not have existed without WB and I am grateful to be a part of that” ❤
Darci: OMG. I love it! What a bonus to see what your competition inspires.
It seems to me that the numerous contest opportunities scheduled throughout the year are planned to perfection and run smoothly at this point in time. Any plans for enhancements or additional features?
Max: Always. I am currently rebuilding the website and all of the code from scratch. The new website should be released in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!
Darci: Ooh. How exciting! Thank you for sharing that right here on my blog!
The aesthetics of the Writing Battle website are very appealing and inviting. It adds so much to the fun. Who does the artwork/design?
Max: Thank you! I mentioned the artist, Nikita Mazurov, who did the art for the landing page. Design has been the hardest part for me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think I (perhaps poorly) was going for a neo-brutalist web design when I first created the site. It’s been fun to learn as I go. The new website is a lot more chill and maybe a little easier on the eyes if you’re on the site for longer periods of time.
I’d like to include one more question on a personal note. Do you both find time to write and create? Max, do you still get to write screenplays? If so, what are your works in progress and goals? What are your tips for balancing it all with life and family?
Max: No writing for me for the past year, unfortunately. I have a few ideas floating around that I still want to explore. I could definitely see myself in a couple of years getting back into it and feeling out screenwriting a bit more. As far as work/life balance, it’s pretty easy when you have a couple of preschoolers running around. They have the tendency to pull you from work to focus on them haha.
Teona: I would never identify myself as a writer. I am better at stream of consciousness writing as a means to organise my thoughts and I love playing with words in doing so but I have never really tried to write a story. Maybe someday 🙂
I don’t know that we are at all qualified to be giving tips about balance. HAHA. Some days are incredibly balanced and harmonious– this is usually following a rare full night’s sleep (our kids have always been terrible sleepers). For a more accurate picture of our “balance” it is kinda just roll with whatever seems to be working that day, hour, or moment, and reassess in the evening to try and make the next day better. Having young kids and an even younger business is no joke but we are having an absolute blast with it all, learning lots along the way and for us it truly comes down to good communication.
Thank you so much, Max and Teona, for visiting today! This has been a blast. You can follow Writing Battle on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to participate in this amazing writing community, but don’t forget to sign up for a battle!
Any parting words of advice to our readers who dream about writing, web design, and finding ways to pursue their creative passions?
Max: Thank you for the thoughtful questions. This has been a lot of fun! My only real advice would be to constantly re-evaluate and not to be afraid to pivot. I think it’s unrealistic to believe that you know what you have before creating your first prototype or draft. Get feedback and see how people use what you create. If it’s writing– then get honest critique and take it to heart. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong and pivot towards what’s working for your consumers.
Teona: Max has taught me to reach further than what I believe or perceive to be the edge of possibility. WB is proof of that for me.
Next Sunday Spotlight Goes Behind the Scenes with Writing Battle!
My next Sunday Spotlight (March 26) will give us a unique perspective into two amazing supporters of the writing community when we visit with Max and Teona of Writing Battle! We will discuss this phenomenal peer-powered writing competition, how it came about, and the amazing community of writers from around the globe taking part. You’ll get to hear the perspectives from both Max and Teona and be inspired by their teamwork and how they made a dream come true.
Sunday Spotlight with Award Winning Filmmaker Graham Streeter
Welcome to my Sunday Spotlight Graham. What a delight to have this opportunity to catch up with you and have you share your works with us. I’ve not had many guests where I could say “I knew you when.” And that makes our chat special for me because when you took those steps after high school to set off on your creative journey, which led to your amazing career we will chat about today, you helped me take a few bold steps of my own. I’ve always been grateful for that.
So let’s start by introducing you as the principal behind Imperative Pictures, a film company with an exciting and eclectic body of work our readers can check out on IMDb. Your 2018 film I May Regret was selected for the San Diego International Film Festival and won the Grand Prix at the Vienna Independent Film Festival, and Blind Malice did fabulous on the awards front as well. Grace Zabriskie earned a best actress award, which I was thrilled to see. She’s always been a favorite of mine. All the actors gave us potent scenes in that film. It was also a special treat to join your crew to watch it at the Sacramento International Film Festival on the historic Delta King riverboat. And you’ve gone on to win many more international film awards. Congratulations!
D. How long do you work on your story ideas, the writing, before a piece becomes a full-fledged project? Or do they start life as a film concept, then comes the writing?
G. I always start with a subject matter. Usually through the act of general wide-cast exploration I eventually stumble blindly upon a subject matter that I had little or no knowledge of. That’s when I get interested. That’s when I become intrigued. It usually means I’m not alone and the subject matter is worth furthering to educate people like myself.
Then I ask myself is it a big enough subject matter?
If so, the writing process always starts off super fragmented, at best. I try not to focus on a storyline, but instead, I’m usually fixated on an ending; an outcome; a take-a-way. Having a specific ending in my head from the start is essential. It’s the core driver for everything else that will take place for this project for the rest of my work. Even after the film is done this core still drives marketing and promotional possibilities.
Once I know what I wish to say about the subject matter, then I can start creating an actual narrative that takes us on a journey that ultimately lands on that final point or message. I guess you can say it’s reverse engineering.
D. As a writer, I have been interested in the differences between writing a novel or a screenplay, especially since I noticed that many writing challenge platforms offer screenwriting contests along with short story writing. Which means to me, many fledgling writers want to write that next epic screenplay. I think the main thing is creating scenes that build on each other through a story arc. But what other key features are there in writing screenplays?
G. I don’t have a clue about writing a novel but I do know a bit about screenplays. The work is not random. A good story may appear organic and without format, especially done well, but once you strip away all the glitter it is a body of work that usually fits the model of a solid 3-act structure specific to screenplay writing.
The challenge of a screenplay is that, unlike a novel, a screenplay never overtly articulates the inner thoughts of a character. A screenplay can only provide observation. Moving pictures. So glances, body language, choice of words, or lack thereof, emotions you can see, manipulative actions you can witness. Clues like a faint smile. A welling up of the eyes. A nervous clearing of the throat. Those are the visuals an audience relies on to gain insight into their minds.
A screenplay is only a roadmap for the director to get you from A to B. In many ways, unless detail tells you something to actually further the story, it is never included. The roadmap can be widely interpreted and visualised. No two people read a screenplay the same way, and thus a director who embarks on a writer’s work has the opportunity to tell the story from his or her unique directorial perspective. A unique directorial lens.
The same story can appear unrecognisable from director to director. But each story ultimately says the same thing in the end. The roadmap takes the director to the end.
D. Fascinating. Exactly the insights I was hoping you could give our audience and a wonderful glimpse into the creative freedom of a filmmaker.
D. As the writer, director and cinemaphotographer on your films, which would you say is your true calling, or is it a combination? Do those roles change with each film where you might do more of one than the other?
G. I love every stage of filmmaking. If you truly love every creative process, why not do it all. Right? I think of filmmaking as approaching a painter rightfully approaching an oil painting. The painter would never sketch out a drawing, paint half of it, and then hand the brushes and paint over to another painter and say, “Hey, wanna do the rest?” No. A painter usually picks a subject matter, outlines the concept, lays down the base coat, paints in the images, indulges in all the detail work and finishings. Signs it. Frames it. Heck, the artist might even have a strong opinion about how and where to hang it.
That’s how I feel about filmmaking. I enjoy and love doing every aspect of the work.
D. That’s a fantastic analogy. And that passion shows in your finished product.
D. How do you assemble your team? Do you have a crew who is part of Imperative Pictures, or do you recruit for each project? Do you have a system you follow each time, or is it more organic? Feel free to expand on your creative process, how a film comes about from start to finish.
G. It’s a hybrid. We have garnered team members who consistently work with us if they are available. We have others we recruited for one project, and then they go on to bigger and better projects as their careers advance.
Many years ago we created the Imperative Pictures Internship Program in conjunction with Emerson College Film School, Boston/Los Angeles. As a result, when we are gearing up for a production we take on any number of young and inspiring interns who spend the semester learning how we approach filmmaking. Then, timing permitting, they roll into production for an actual feature film production experience. They truly get their hands dirty in the business.
They also walk away with IMDb credits for a feature film. It’s a great program and we love launching bright new students into the film world.
D. What a brilliant program. A win for everyone.
D. I have to say you have a knack for creating a story that has me on the edge of my seat from the start. I loved the opening scene in Blind Malice just as an example. Is suspense a favorite genre and method for telling the character’s story?
G. Yes, I love suspense. I also love psychological thrillers. I guess you can say I like when the mind has to work hard to understand another person’s mind. It’s the human connection I focus on to tell my story. If we can connect with the main character by creating a character who is both flawed and inspirational; undeniably human; the possibilities of where that character can lead us is endless.
D. Beautiful. I can definitely relate to this as a writer, and it’s something I strive for.
D. Your films bring an awareness to challenges many of us face in life, whether physical, cultural, or social. Was that an underlying purpose for making them, or a happy accident that became your trademark?
G. Happy accident. But not without some master planning. Making a film consumes many years of a filmmaker’s life, and after the film is done it runs over and over in perpetuity. So, I always want to be sure I’m making something that has meaning, purpose, and will be relevant and serve to better our society as the story is told. It needs to be worth my time.
The earliest of storytelling was to teach lessons for the community. Feature films have even more of an opportunity to inform its viewer and potentially a wider audience. A film garners a captive audience. What an opportunity it is to make a body of work that can provide insight, perspective, and clarity to a topic that could ultimately change another person’s life somewhere in the world. That’s the power of film.
We take film seriously. It can literally shape a person’s view of the world for a lifetime.
D. Tell us about Imperative Pictures’ latest film, Unfix.
G. Unfix. It’s my newest film. We’re currently doing sound design on it. It’s a story about a 35-year old man named Ari who, at age 11, following a brief encounter with another boy, was forced into the torturous practice of Conversion Therapy. But now Ari is 35 years old and happily heterosexual, and “fixed”. But when the pandemic hits, Ari’s world is turned upside down once again, awakening dormant questions about his fundamental authentic self; casting doubt he was ever really gay.
I stumbled upon the topic during my rabbit hole research phase. I knew a little about conversion therapy but the more I dove into the topic the more convinced I was that this was a topic that needed to break the walls of specific sexual orientation to make it universally relevant. We hope the story achieves that.
D. It’s hard to imagine parents putting their child through such trauma instead of nurturing the child’s discovery of where they fit in the world. Yet, it happens to a lot of us, sometimes in more subtle ways. I’m glad you’re telling the story.
D. I’m going to hark back to high school because for me, the most fascinating aspect of this interview is knowing you back then and having you share how you got here today. There were so many ways you expressed your creativity in those early years; music, art, drama, starting up social groups and small businesses to spread creativity to others, and finally traveling to Japan. When you were exploring all those ideas, did you have any inkling you would end up behind a movie camera?
G. Settling into film took some time. Maybe subconsciously I already knew when I bought my first video camera in Japan in 1980. It was a dinky little compact micro-cassette SONY camera and I took it everywhere and I made so many little movies. And then I started making “Santa Sightings” short films for my niece and nephew every year. Then short films. Then finally bigger and bigger films as my confidence grew.
But professionally, I was working in News. Then LIVE TV work. By being in the field, I was learning that I don’t like the chaos and uncertainty that accompanied that kind of production. I eventually discovered I am more of a planner. I like being organised. My dissatisfaction with LIVE TV and NEWS ultimately steered me toward film. Film is calculated. It is planned. It employs strategy. All the parts of the brain I like to exercise, while still being fully creative. The feature film medium found me.
D. I bet your niece and nephew adored those movies. My imagination is taking off thinking about how you told them.
D. How big a part did living in Japan play in forming your film career? Did you travel there with the idea there might be opportunities for your future, or did you simply set out on an exciting adventure?
G. Japan moulded a great deal of my work ethics. Japan also served as the foundation of my first 20 working years in production. Oddly, Japan also made me feel like an outsider, and I was okay with that. That feeling helped me make decisions for myself, not for others.
I owe so much of my creative autonomy to travelling outside my comfort zone, learning how to survive and flourish in another culture, chipping away at another language, using a part of my brain that would otherwise have gone unused, to who I am today. Especially in the 80s, Japan was as far one could get from the “Western” culture.
I grew immensely from those 10 years abroad and 10 more working for a Japanese TV network back in the states. It gave me a unique sense of confidence as I moved forward in life.
D. A great learning experience to pass on. Thank you for that, Graham. We were fortunate to travel there in an era when Japan was opening up to western culture. Even in my three-month visit, I ran the gamut from dealing with the challenges of being an outsider in a traditional Japanese family to being thrown into the middle of the family’s western growing pains.
D. What would you say is your biggest influence or turning point that got you where you are today?
G. There has never been one big influence or turning point that got me where I am today. It’s always been about achieving productive goals every day. Small bite-sized goals over weeks and years that lead to bigger daunting life-changing goals. Slow and steady progress requires staying on track, and not veering off my course. I did not know how I would get there, just that I wanted to get there. I am still “getting there”.
My father once gave me perhaps the greatest advice ever. I was 16. I was fixated on what I would do when I grew up and how I would get there. He asked me to take out a piece of paper. Fold it into four quadrants. He instructed me: in the first quadrant write DAY. The next one, write MONTH. Next, write YEAR. The last one, write ULTIMATE. He explained, to get to your ultimate destination you just need to set clear specific but small and easy goals that will lead you there.
Daily achievements will result in monthly success. Months quickly turn to years and as long as your ultimate goal is in view, you will move in that direction.
“But remember,” he said, “Set goals you KNOW you can achieve so you don’t set yourself up for failure. Give yourself tasks you know you can check off daily, so you feel like a winner everyday. Use it every day. Keep it folded up nicely in your back pocket. Constantly remind yourself of the ULTIMATE goal.”
I use this method to this day.
D. I love this! Thank you.
D. Who would you say most inspired you, or your works?
G. I love all art. I study art but not necessarily film artists. I am a consumer of movies but never try to emulate work I’ve seen. I try to let it come from within, depending on the story I’m telling and what I’m feeling.
One of my greatest inspirations has always been my father. He was an artist. I learned from watching him work.
D. When you talk to people about getting started in the film industry, what are your top pieces of advice?
G. My advice to anyone who wants to be in film? Get a business degree! Film and art and all the juicy creative things in life we will study our whole life long, but taking the time to get a solid business degree, so you can survive in the real world as you pursue your art is essential.
In the end, if you want to make a living in the arts, you need to remember art is a business.
D. Are there works in progress? Where can we follow you to see what’s coming next?
G. For now I’m still consumed with UNFIX. After sound design, we will go to festivals, touring for a year. Then I will slowly start the cycle again; indulging in research and asking myself what topic is out in the world that I don’t know anything about and is very important to learn more of. That will be the beginning of a new chapter in my life… a chapter that will, again, consume many years, and ultimately last a lifetime.
Like all my films. Actually making the film takes about 4 years. In 4 years time I can go to college and get a degree. It should be at least that powerful for me.
D. This is the most surprising insight, the amount of time and commitment to each film. Your analogy really puts that in perspective.
D. Where do you see yourself as a creator in the next ten years? Same question for Imperative Pictures?
G. I hope to never retire. I hope I can keep making movies deep into my 90s while I sit poolside in some resort! Haha. The topics that will be important in 10 years time are inconceivable at this time. I am an optimist. I trust the future will be amazing, and I’m sure the world will be, in many ways unchanged and in so many other ways, literally unrecognisable.
Ten years is just around the corner. I hope to have a few more films on the platter. I just want to keep doing what I love. I’m in a sweet spot right now, and I hope to continue this.
D. I have no doubts you’ll be making movies in your 90s. I hope the same goes for writing my stories. I’ve got enough planned to get me there! Poolside. Hmmm. I like it…
D. Thank you so much for visiting, Graham! Any parting words of advice to our readers on following their creative passions?
G. Filmmaking is a very long road to travel to make a film. If you aren’t operating from a place of pure passion you will eventually fizzle out. Find a partner in life that you can travel on that creative journey with. My partner is Alex. He is my producer, my advisor, my manager, my best friend, and the love of my life.
I will close with this. Thank YOU for doing this spotlight, for me and all the interesting stories of the inspiring people you share with your readers.
Like filmmaking, you are providing your own unique platform that can potentially give insight and inspiration to others, shaping a person’s view of the world for a lifetime – all through your Sunday Spotlight.
“Wild As The Wind” Review
Congratulation Jorma on your successful relaunch! Meet the author – visit our Q&A.
Award-winning author & educator Kathleen Ralls rates A PENDALE TALE Part 1 ASHFIELD, MA – The recent relaunch of A PENDALE TALE by author Jorma …“Wild As The Wind” Review
Sunday Spotlight! With YA Fantasy Author Jorma Kansanen
Read all about the particulars of the A PENDALE TALE book series relaunch ASHFIELD, MA – In advance of the relaunch of his Young Adult Fantasy series…Sunday Spotlight! With YA Fantasy Author Jorma Kansanen
Sunday Spotlight! With YA Fantasy Author Jorma Kansanen
Thanks so much for visiting, Jorma! When you announced your plans to republish your series in February, I thought it would be a really fun idea to have you stop by to talk about it before the big event. What prompted you to give your YA Series A PENDALE TALE a fresh look?
First of all, thanks for having me! There were a couple of factors. The first book in the series “Wild As The Wind” (Part 1) got a rock solid reaction from readers and reviewers when it came out in Fall 2020. It went into the Top 5 on the YA Fantasy charts on Amazon a few times. But after diving deeper into the creative writing world – I’ve done primarily sports (primarily, soccer) PR work since my college days in the 90s – I wanted to switch the narrative from a passive voice to an active one. And that required a new editing process and copy editor (credit goes to Small Seeds Editing). I needed to find a new cover designer as well. I loved the original cover of Part 1 but I had to use a different designer for “Deep As The Sea” (Part 3), which came out this past September. Getting the covers of the first three installments to match in design and feel was another big reason behind the relaunch.
Great information. Thank you. I’m planning the same for my three part series, wanting to have the three books have a cohesive feel. So far, I’ve done my own covers, editing and publishing, all while learning how I might tap into professional services for my next round, and which ones to make a priority on a tight budget. But I do know the importance of investing in my writing. It is so encouraging to see that it can be done and get some insight on the process.
I am hooked on all the fabulous reviews and the intriguing topic; fantasy in the Berkshires involving soccer. Wow! I love writing fantasy in real world settings. Is that what we can expect? Tell us about the series.
Having this series based in the “real” world was a priority for me. A lot of fantasy writing happens somewhere off on a far-away world, and I wanted the “magic” in this series to be nearer to us. An attainable quality that with the right mindset can be accessed in the here and now. And as you see with legends like Stephen King, having the book’s setting take place in the area where you live (and love) adds a special quality to the writing. With its rolling hills and dells, western Massachusetts has a lot to offer the creative mind. As far as soccer is concerned, I’ve worked in the sport for over two decades. From my very first outline, I wanted the main character to have soccer as a major part of her life. The women’s soccer players I’ve worked with and covered have been huge inspirations for Viola Ferriman, one-half of the the main protagonists alongside her fraternal twin Sebastian. The role Quidditch played in the Harry Potter series – and how it showed an ingrained loner like Harry the merits of being a team player – was a big influence.
You have talked about your focus on this epic series and your passion for telling this story, and I can relate to that dedication. But are there other works in progress or ideas percolating after this? Any spin-off stories?
As with any fantasy book, there’s an underlying universe serving as the base the plot can be built upon. With that said, I definitely have a prequel series in the mix (centered on Viola and Sebastian’s grandparents) and possibly a sequel as well. The prequel may have an “Indiana Jones / The Mummy” (the Brendan Fraser & Rachel Weisz version) feel to it. The twins’ England-based grandfather is a professor at the University of Cambridge while their grandmother is the daughter of an influential family from Hong Kong. Lots of fun stuff to work with there! Speaking of fun, the first two “The Mummy” movies with Fraser & Weisz are so gloriously cheesy and over-the-top I’ve watched them numerous times. Their chemistry is off-the-hook. I’m still ruminating on the base plot for the sequel series. I already know how the APT series will conclude, so I don’t want to give too much away in regards to the ultimate fate of the Ferriman twins! (laughs)
Wow! Thank you, Jorma, for sharing your super exciting ideas for more stories, right here on my blog! They sound right up my alley. I’ve loved the Mummy movies forever, for the same reasons and because they seemed to be right out of the pages of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody stories I used to love to read. The two of them were adorable, and it was easy to imagine them as actors doing an original Mummy movie set in the 1920s.
How did it feel to reach Number 1 on Amazon? Anything you can share on how you got there?
It felt like a dream come true! Even if it’s for the briefest of moments, reaching #1 is a validation that your work has merit and appeals to your target audience. Even with all my PR experience, promoting a creative work is a different gig altogether. Yes: there are base similarities between business/sport PR and book PR but whereas I’m promoting someone else’s vision with the former, the latter requires putting yourself into the limelight. I’m a Finn at heart, and being self-effacing is literally inscribed into our DNA! Similar to yin-yang, a firm belief in yourself and your work is essential in the creative realm. Since Part 1 came out in Fall 2020, I’ve become much, much better in the latter part and it’s helped to build the manifest energy behind the promotion of this series.
How did you decide on your genre? Maybe here you can tell us about your journalist background. How did that morph into fantasy fiction?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a fantasy and science fiction fan. Both in books and movies. JRR Tolkien had a bedrock-like influence on me. “The Hobbit” was the first big book I read and, right from the start, I fell in love with Middle Earth. The otherworldly visual work of Ralph Bakshi and the animated movie “Heavy Metal” really hooked me in as well. On the sci-fi side, I was lucky enough to be a kid when “Star Wars” came out. It was a world-wide phenomenon and I was just as caught up in the fervor. As a teenager, I got into music and wanted to be a rock star. When I went to school at UMass in my mid 20s, the writing bug bit me again and I started to work for the college newspaper The Collegian. I wrote for a few different departments, but as a former hockey player, covering sports became my priority. For my junior year, I went on exchange to the University of Manchester in England and creative writing started to leak back into my life. The time I spent in England is a major reason why I began this series. One night in Oxford, me and a friend of mine stumbled upon the same booth in a pub where Tolkien and CS Lewis used to have lunch everyday. It was a WOW moment. Looking back, that was a sign post of where this road has led me to! (laughs) My advisor at the University of Manchester also saw a larger role than sports writing in my future as well. It took a few more years for me to fully realize that – the downturn in fortunes in journalism in the late 90s helped – but when I did, the first outline for APT came soon afterwards.
This is just one of the reasons I enjoy so much getting to know my writing community friends through these chats. I’m always finding links that influence all of us. Heavy Metal was a wild ride. I saw it in a theater in the 80s and was entranced. One reason I love a vignette format. And that pub in Oxford has been on my bucket list since watching the sixteen hours of extras on my LOTR movie collection. I can hardly imagine what that must have been like.
Speaking of writing communities. We met through the Fantasy Sci Fi Writers Alliance. What are your thoughts or advice on belonging to a community? Are there other online groups you’re involved in? Are there local writing communities or events you like to participate in?
I’m so glad I joined the FSFWA Alliance! And it happened at the right time too. When I restarted the creative process for this series in 2019 with a Kickstarter campaign, I was advised by some former associates of mine to join a writer’s group. That was when Discord first came to my attention. But I was so far in my own forest that it took me a while to get involved in the wider world of writing and… I’m glad I did! It’s been a fun yet very, very informative experience with FSFWA. Never mind the great advice, talking to people who are going through the same things you’re going through is always helpful. No matter what stage in life and/or career you find yourself in. Living in a well-educated region with top-notch colleges and universities (it’s actually called the Five College area, with a respected state university like UMass alongside premier private colleges in Amherst College, Mt. Holyoke, Smith College and Hampshire College), there’s a strong undercurrent of scholarly and creative writing here. The vibrant international community brings in a lot of different flavor and substance to our collective dialogue. It’s hard to not be inspired!
How did you find your support services, editors, beta readers, arc readers, cover artists, etc.? Can you share some highlights or tips you’ve collected on this process and how to find satisfactory collaborations?
The first cover for Part 1 was part of my “vision board” for the series. When it came time to decide on a cover, my better half loved that digital illustration and suggested I reach out to the artist and… oui-la! After a manic search to track him down, we finally connected and he was more than happy to provide his hi-res illustration for the cover, as it was an older work of his. He only required proper accreditation, which was a big help to my budget! (laughs) But as time went along – and his lifestyle changed with a new family and job – I had to find a new cover designer. Thus, that switch was another primary motivation to relaunch the series. At first, the support I received as far as ARC and beta readers are concerned were from my journalist background. There were advantages and disadvantages to that; especially considering I was writing a fantasy & sci-fi series. By the time Part 3 came out last fall, that switched to the fantasy & sci-fi reader realm which is a big reason why “Deep As The Sea” had success as an Amazon bestseller. You simply have to reach out and ask! And hopefully – of course – find the right people to work with. Belief and diligence play a big part.
Great advice and a really interesting journey. Thanks for sharing that.
How do you balance all your creative pursuits with life and work?
Not easily, that’s for sure! To get Part 1 up and running, I had to step away from my sports/business PR work for a year or so. Even though my initial Kickstarter campaign failed, I was lucky enough to touch base with a couple of patrons who wanted to see my first book be completed. With their help, I found the time and space to put in the hard work and build the foundation for the series. And since that time, I’ve been able to write in between my busy seasons. Being a free-lancer in charge of my own work schedule has been key to that. I have so much respect for those writers who have to fit their creative work in-between families, full-time jobs (with much stricter schedules) and the like. It’s been an arduous task for me! Never mind for them. They really need to pat themselves on the back. I mean… WOW. They’re the true rock stars.
We all thank you for that pat, Jorma. 🙂 I can’t wait to retire and write full time. It’s hard to even imagine that, but it’s not far away.
Thank you again for chatting with us today! Any parting words of advice for those who are seeking their creative passions in writing or otherwise?
I know it sounds cheesy but… just do it! This too-modern world we live in can put so many obstacles and distractions in our way when it pertains to becoming the “real” you, and not what the world wants you to be. And that is a key message behind the storyline of my series: finding out who you really are, as opposed to what the world thinks you are. The attainment of the real you and not the manufactured you. Doing what you’re born to do. I’m a firm believer in we all have a predetermined expertise, and when we discover that, both you and the world around you will benefit. My experience in Eastern philosophy and medicine has really helped me to realize that fact. Thanks for having me! This has been a blast.
All the best to you and that relaunch, Jorma, which is coming tomorrow in fact! February 20, 2023.
You can follow Jorma to stay posted on his works at Jorma Kansanen. Jorma is also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.