Retire I said. Write full time, I said. Get up when I want. Eat when I want. Listen to books when I want. Go out with friends when I want. Eerrk! Wait, back up. Write full time? That’s work, right?
Did I really think my pod people (aka book characters seeded in my brain by aliens) would let me retire? Get up when I wanted, go out with friends when I wanted. eat when I wanted? Okay, so that stuff is actually happening, but yikes! I am really writing full time!
Like get up, stay in my jammies, bring a cup of coffee to my office, and start writing, until I want to stop kind of full time writing. Oh Yeah!
It was a great month to retire from the old day job because it’s Camp NanoWrimo! I passed my goal yesterday and I’m closing in on a finish to a story I have been dying to write since Book Two in my series, The Starlight Chronicles (slipping in an announcement here – my series relaunch is happening in May!!), because there’s a vampire, one of those secondary pod people you fall in love with from his very first introduction. And he only gets better all the way through to his cliffhanger ending (coming in Book Three!!).
So what better Camp project is there than giving Mortas his own short story. And events unfold that include another great secondary pod person, Ember, the witch. But pod people beget more pod people when writing fiction. And that’s what’s happening in this story. New compelling pod people!
I’m trying to keep it short, which means its 15,000 if I want to submit it to an Indie Press anthology. But it’s pushing the boundaries really tight. So, we’ll see.
Let me know what you think of the story description that follows my beautiful teaser. I would love any help with using it for my submission.
No one remembers how Mortas came into existence, least of all him. Due to his vast age, he can command magic, and his vampire urges. His other inexplicable ability? He can exist in daylight. These skills mean Lord Aramis, the ruler of the North American Vampires, often assigns his favorite emissary to missions involving humans.
But Mortas has not always been at the pinnacle of vampire perfection. He’s done a lot of things in his thousands of years he would rather forget.
When he meets a witch in San Francisco in 1969, he wonders for the first time if it’s possible to live life without being plagued by dreams of regret. But Ember has another calling and leaves their bed one afternoon, never to return.
When you’re immortal, you move on.
An assignment leads Mortas to Selena Aires. He’s captivated by the beautiful, marked maiden with a prophetic destiny. Turns out she needs his help. But Mortas’s help is never free. When she pays the price without question and joins him on a dangerous mission, his fascination turns into purpose. A purpose that sends him into the worst predicament of his life.
Ember grew up in Fisherman’s Wharf, part of a coven who told fortunes for sailors as cover to more lucrative work, like picking their pockets. When two of her marks got the better of her at fourteen, she got rescued by a bear. To this day, she would do anything for that bear shifter because Andras Johns is one of the best men she knows. When he calls on her to help a vampire in trouble, she doesn’t hesitate to answer.
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-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 readYou’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.
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
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…
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’sThe 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.
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.
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’t help but be motivated after meeting creators like you and learning what motivated them through the ups and the downs of their journeys.
The year is flying! I can’t believe I’ve already had two amazing guests drop by. If you haven’t met Madeline or Isa yet, visit their posts for inspiration and two super enjoyable conversations.
I thought I would blog a bit about my Spotlight feature. The joy and inspiration I get from engaging in this process has turned out to be the biggest surprise in my writing journey.
I have had the privilege of interviewing members of the writing community and other creators I meet along the way, mostly fantasy and sci fi writers like me who are new at it and working hard to get their stories out in the world. I also interview editors, book reviewers, artists, and photographers. Even an old high school friend is dropping by in March who is an award winning filmmaker.
My guests are from around the globe, including Australia, Canada, the U.K., Nigeria, Portugal, Texas, Seattle, Hollywood and my own town, Carson City. I’ve got more lined up from South Africa, New Zealand, Scotland, the U.K., Montreal, Vancouver, and Seattle. This is inspiring in an of itself.
Every one of my guests has been a delight and so generous with their time. And this is an opportunity to thank them all for participating. Drop by my gallery where all conversations are housed for continued inspiration.
This month, my two guests proved again how supportive the writing community is. Madeline and Isa spent a lot of time and effort on a robust Q&A. These two are phenomenal at supporting and inspiring others, and it really comes through.
My interviews center around a creator’s life; what inspires it, the highlights and lessons of the journey, and how to balance all the things, and every one of my guests has something different to offer, yet every bit has been relatable and translates to all of us who are endeavoring to grow and succeed through creative expression.
If you were a giant god sentenced to eternal torture, how would you entertain yourself during your vacation?
By D. L. Lewellyn
Tityus gave only half a thought to punching the obnoxious birds in their wrinkled bald faces because doing so was an act of futility. He knew this because he’d done it a million times over thousands of years, and it hadn’t yet stopped the two giant vultures from chewing out his liver every twenty-eighth day, starting precisely at six p.m., Eastern European Time. It was now seven.
The voracious creatures will finish digging into his side in exactly one hour, after which Tityus will endure more agonizing pain with the regrowth of his immortal organ, only to have the endless punishment repeated at the next new moon. In the lulls between, the giant often wondered who suffered the worst torment, the birds who were sent to Hell to eat the same meal every month for eternity, or Tityus from having to provide it.
He decided it would feel good to punch the bobbing heads anyway. It was worth the extra pain as strips of flesh were wrenched from his body by the force of his own blow. At least he’d caved in half their ugly faces, and there was immense satisfaction in all the flapping of black wings and screeches through shattered beaks. It was even better when they went aloft to find a ledge and wait for their skulls to mend.
A sound between a moan and a sigh seeped from the giant, echoing through his stone and moss-covered grotto nestled deep below the base of Mount Parnassus. Zeus might be liberal handing out sentences to his dozens of offspring when they went astray, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t keeping track of every single one, always watching, always ready to condemn. Tityus hoped his father just witnessed his act of bored defiance.
Since he’d been given a bonus reprieve, he took the opportunity to recline more comfortably on his loamy pallet, which stretched along with him across his nine-acre earthen home. He picked up the remote and flipped through the three programs his sister had selected for him to view on the eighty-foot screen, which hung on his southern limestone wall. It was only recently that Persephone had come up with the ingenious device in her efforts to give him a diversion between bouts of torture.
He smiled at the thought of his sister.
She was the only one who believed he’d been goaded into his crime of passion by Hera and pleaded his case every chance she got. Even the goddess who bore him and the one who raised him didn’t believe his side though both had reason to blame Hera for their problems. It seemed everyone stuck together when it came to condemning him, but not Persephone. His sister’s loyalty and affection never wavered.
She also understood that finding what he sought through his view to the human world was the only thing keeping him sane and that on those rare occasions when he found the perfect distraction, he could ignore the prospect of the gnawing and gnashing at his flesh, and the pain when red ropes of liver were tugged out and slurped up like so many earth worms that shared his home.
It took the better part of the first week, once the vultures finished their meal and his liver grew back, to select his target, and Tityus was in the middle of planning how he would go about the couple’s torment when a leafy vine began winding up his leg. Since his limb was the length of three stadiums, it took some time for the greenery to get close to his face, but Tityus waited patiently for his sister to make her appearance.
The vine stopped its horizontal travels at his hip, then shot straight up as it thickened into limbs that stretched into a torso. A neck and head appeared next, and soon the dulcet tones of the Queen of the Underworld chimed through his grotto.
“Hello, Brother. Have you made your selection?”
He had to dial down his voice to keep from blasting Persephone off his hip. “I have. Though each couple was as tempting as the other. Thank you for that. Choosing was half the fun.”
She clasped her hands together and grinned. “That is just what I hoped for. It has been too long since you’ve enjoyed yourself, Tityus, and I’m happy to do my part to make the point to Father that the retribution he inflicts on his offspring just as often spreads to mankind. You must know I have been pleading your case again. Not only were you manipulated by the jealous Hera, but your crime was incomplete, and this punishment has gone on long enough. Not to mention, it is agony to hear your groans of pain as they shake the very core of the Underworld.”
Green eyes as big as moons brimmed with affection, and he nudged her gently into his waiting palm. “Ever my champion, dear sister. I don’t know what I would do without you. Won’t you recline and stay for a bit?”
“That is why I’m here.” She reached out and patted his thumb. “I will convince Father one day soon. Meanwhile, you deserve a reprieve to toy with humans.” She laid back on her elbow and propped her head in her hand, while her vines wove a canopy over her, anchoring them themselves around her brother’s fingers. “Now, who did you pick?”
“If I only have time for one, this pair has the best potential to give us a top-rated show.” He clicked the remote, and the giant screen came to life. The sibling gods looked down on two people crouched in a square pit divided into grids in the middle of an archeological site not far from the west bank of the Nile.
Sarah had no clue what she did to Nathan with that earnest look of concentration. Parts of him clenched enough to be uncomfortable when she pushed her glasses higher on her pert nose, which was smudged with red dust. Not only did his heart thump erratically, but he almost groaned out loud.
That embarrassing prospect broke the spell she was weaving over him, and he cursed to himself. If she could read his lusty, turbulent thoughts, she would for sure request his replacement. He reminded himself that she’d shown him a few signs these past weeks to give him hope.
Nathan turned his attention back to the brush he held in his hand and focused on the shard of pottery they were easing in stages from the three-and-a-half-thousand-year-old soil. This section of the dig had turned up another small cache, which was laid out on a cloth next to them, consisting of tools, a handful of human bones, two delicate cat skulls, and three nearly intact clay jars.
The shard wasn’t even the most exciting thing they’d unearthed today… except… “Is that cuneiform?”
Her sweet, yet husky voice got him going again when she said, “Yes. I believe our theory has been confirmed. Do you agree?”
He was struck by her eyes that glittered with excitement and had to give himself a mental shake before answering. “It’s harder to deny when we add this to the rest. But Sarah, we’ve been breathing the dirt in this six-foot square hole for eight hours. Let’s cover it up, stash our findings in the locker, and get out of here. It’s time to go to the city for a night of celebration.”
“You really want to finish the day’s work without cataloging these beauties? Don’t you want to know what these symbols tell us?” She cocked her head. “Have I worked you that hard?”
He laughed. “I just need to get clean and go sweat at a club with dancing and liquor. Morning will be soon enough to study our treasure.”
“I suppose getting sweaty for a different reason would be a nice change of pace. You’re on.”
But those words passing through full pink lips and the vision of her moving on a dance floor forced him to stay crouched for a minute longer while waves of yearning rushed once more through his lower regions. Maybe torturing himself with an evening in her company wasn’t such a grand idea after all. On the other hand, it could be his long-awaited opportunity.
Tityus paused the video feed, and when he spoke, small boulders slid down the embankments surrounding his prone form. “You can see he’s got it bad and has no idea she’s been exploring her sexuality. I’ve got a few moves set up to help her decide things.”
Persephone’s eyes gleamed. “I can assume her decisions won’t include poor Nathan?”
“That’s the plan, but only after we squeeze more entertainment from them first. You did good, Sister. I can already smell his pathos,” and he closed his eyes and inhaled the pungent air to demonstrate the sensory input, which caused a small cyclone to whirl a path around them and rattle her vines. “His suffering and their confusion will go a long way towards helping me endure my next round of torment. I’m already collecting images for my dreams.” He cracked an eye open to peer at his sister. “And we might even enjoy some collateral damage. There’s a third party involved.” The quiet when the giant ceased speaking left a vacuum in the subterranean chamber.
The walls shook again when he chuckled and said, “Is our uncle aware of your new penchant for misguiding love-struck humans?”
The Queen of the Underworld let out an undignified snort. “Hades does not care how I occupy my time, only that he can call me to him whenever he wants. And speaking of the demanding one, I feel his pull now. I promise to be back for another installment. But don’t wait for me, you can catch me up.”
Tityus was used to Persephone’s spontaneous appearances and abrupt departures and didn’t mind when the forest of greenery disappeared with his sister in a wispy puff. He clicked his remote to open the next scene.
Nathan was sweaty just as planned, but he’d never had so much fun getting into this state of bodily dampness. Sarah had arranged for several of her friends from the university to meet them at the discotheque in Luxor, and the girls had made it their mission to keep him on the dance floor for the past two hours. He finally had to beg them for a break, so he could go cool down and freshen up.
Revived and happy enough with the results, he pushed his way through the crush of dancers and back to the bar where he’d left his charming companions with their drinks. When he was close enough to spot them through the crowd, he came to a dead stop. His heart plummeted like a stone.
Sarah sat on a stool facing her friend Eman, who had her lips buried in Sarah’s neck. At first, it looked like Eman was simply trying to be heard. Then, he saw their clasped hands and a pink tongue darting in Sarah’s ear. Sarah laughed and pulled back, her eyes glittering with excitement, and something else.
He couldn’t believe he had things so wrong!
The shock wore off almost immediately, but that only let a whole slew of other confusing emotions overwhelm him while he stood there gaping, until the thought of what he must look like penetrated the fog.
Sarah spotted him before he could shake it off and act normal. Her smile froze, then she frowned.
Eman turned to see what Sarah was looking at, and it was clear she had no idea his world had just collapsed because she grinned at him and waved, then raised the drink she had waiting for him. His arm went up in a halfhearted answer, and he somehow got his legs moving again.
After another hour passed of being dazed, he had to wonder how he was still sitting in this raucous place hunched over his whiskey in the middle of the table Eman had expertly snagged for them. All he could feel after his third drink were the constant sharp jabs to his heart as he strained to hear the drowned-out chatter from the four girls still having a great time. If anyone asked him the topic of their conversation, he would not be able to relate one bit of it… for all the above reasons.
On the one hand, the pain confirmed his feelings for Sarah went much deeper than he realized. On the other, he feared it would be his new constant companion. The intensity that felt so good at the dig today now ripped him to pieces, and he thought he might be on his way to suffocating in this night club that had turned garish and stifling. He had to get out of there.
“Will you be good with getting Sarah back to the site, Eman?” He’d spoken so abruptly they each turned to him in surprise. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to call it a night and head back.”
Sarah laid a hand on his arm. “Are you okay? Maybe you should have a coffee first.”
That was sound advice, but the thought of watching Sarah and Eman whispering together another minute made him want to throw up. “I’ll be fine. I’ll see you at eight tomorrow. Don’t be late.” He attempted to smile at his lame humor, but judging by Sarah’s furrowed brow, his face must look as wan as he felt.
He slapped a few bills on the table mostly to make sure she had enough to get back to the dig. “Enjoy the rest of the night. It was a pleasure meeting all of you.” Sarah nodded then turned to her friends without another glance in his direction. He forced his shoulders not to slump in defeat and left.
This time the flowering vines trailed down the side of the cavern before finding purchase on the giant’s arm that stuck partly up from the earth. The writhing greenery tickled, waking Tityus from a satisfying dream that kept playing back the moment Nathan’s puny human heart was crushed to a pulp.
He cracked open a giant green orb and waited for Persephone to materialize on a dirt mound that covered his shoulder. The more he buried himself in the earth, the better he dreamed. He didn’t dwell too much on the reasons for that, though Zeus would be the first to tell him he had a mother complex.
Persephone wore her favorite skull crown today and leaned on her staff to peer into his eye. “Well? Was it as entertaining as you hoped?”
The damp soil covering him rippled, and a myriad of stones were tossed up from the vibrations when he said, “Even better.”
“What do you think Nathan will do now? Will he be able to endure working so closely with Sarah?”
“You made it just in time for the next installment. When Nathan left the club about two in the morning, he was in a state of mind that made him the perfect mark for the rare Luxor mugger, which I ensured crossed his path. The thief took all his cash, then beat him senseless. That event alone will last me a good while, and the violence wasn’t even due to me. Sarah is about to discover he never made it back.”
Persephone raised her cupped hand and a bloodred mist swirled in her fingers. When it dissipated, she was holding several bunches of purple grapes, the size of which no human had ever seen. She plucked half the fruit off one and tossed it into Tityus’s mouth, then asked him a question. “Is he alive?” Tityus nodded as he chewed, and she said, “You realize having him harmed could make your plans head in the wrong direction.”
Her brother jolted her with another nod, swallowed more grapes, and said, “The gamble that humans might find their way despite our interference is what makes this so satisfying.”
She smiled. “Then, let’s get comfortable and watch.”
Tityus clicked his remote, and the shadowy grotto lit up from the desert scene now spread across the limestone wall like a portal had just opened to Thebes. The morning sun gleamed across the sand and the ancient pyramid, and the archaeological encampment looked small in its shadow. A lone figure crouched in the pit under an umbrella and worked with meticulous care on a spot in the strata at the level of her eyes.
But the anxious archaeologist bobbed up the ladder at every sound to check the dirt track meandering towards Luxor. Her voice was overly loud when she called out, “Hey, Charles. Have you heard from Nathan yet?”
A man crouching in the adjacent pit answered her. “Not since you asked me fifteen minutes ago. But I’m concerned, too. I sent Jack to hunt for him this morning. I’m sure he must have holed himself up in a hotel room to sleep off the whiskey. You know what a lightweight he is. We should both quit worrying.”
As soon as that last word drifted over the sand between them, the sound of a car had them springing up their respective ladders to peer over the edge of their pits.
Back in the grotto, Persephone said from where she reclined in her vines from the spot on Tityus’s shoulder, “That must be Jack with Nathan. If I’m wrong, I’ll find you eight victims for next month’s program.”
Tityus’s deep laughter stopped abruptly when he spotted an eagle much too large to be natural swooping over the dig site and around all the tents to land on a clothesline strung with colorful blankets flapping in the breeze. “Uh… Persephone. Do you think… ”
“Yes,” she drawled. “It’s Father. Hell’s gate! How did he find out?” She barked out a laugh. “Never mind. Stupid question. We’re better off working on our plausible deniability.”
They looked over the scene again to find the car arrived at the encampment and parked under a cover. A burly, bearded man stepped out of the driver’s side, then opened the door to the backseat to help out a slighter man who was clearly in pain and struggling to move.
“Nathan!” Sarah shouted as she scrambled the rest of the way up her ladder and ran to the car.
The eagle made another pass over the scene, and Tityus and Persephone eyed each other when a screech that could only belong to the powerful god who was their sire sounded all the way to them in the grotto, even as the humans beneath the winged creature were oblivious.
When Nathan heard Sarah call his name, he forced himself to straighten and face her. She came to an abrupt halt and gasped. “Oh my god. What happened to you?”
Embarrassment was visible through the damage on his face, but he summoned his dignity and said, “I had a little run-in on the way to the taxi stand and woke up in an alley with my pockets inside out. Thankfully, Jack thought to check the police station where I ended up this morning because I had no way to identify myself.” This time, they all looked up when another screech rent the air and watched as the bird of prey disappeared over the horizon.
Sarah turned back to her colleague who was turning wobbly before her eyes, and her voice hitched. “You scared me to death, Nathan.” She stepped closer and softened her words. “I’m aware of what I did to you last night. I’ve been confused about things, and I’m sorry. Today, everything is different. Will you forgive me?”
Hope bloomed on Nathan’s face, which looked somewhat grim with his distorted lips and puffy eye. He cocked his head at her. “What are you saying, Sarah?”
“Eman is finishing her doctorate at Cambridge. We said goodbye last night. For good. You’re the one I want to be with. Can I hope for the same?”
The burly Jack cleared his throat, which effectively brought the two back to their present surroundings, and he said, “While it’s clear this exchange is doing Nathan a lot of good, he’s about to drop where he stands. Are you ready to have a lie down, kid?”
Sarah raised a shining face to Nathan’s as she wrapped her arm around his waist and walked him to the med tent. The look in her sea green eyes was the final nail in the coffin for Tityus’s schemes this hiatus. The giant punched the button on the remote violently enough to crush the entire thing, and the view to the desert went dark, throwing the grotto into shadow.
Persephone was already turning wispy with her disappearing vines. “I’m sorry, Brother. But you understand I must return to Hades. I promise to do what I can to cool our father’s wrath.”
His laughter was full of both irony and resignation as he said, “You will do better for me staying clear of Zeus for now, and away from here, but don’t wait too long for another visit, dear sister.”
In the lull after her departure, Tityus settled his huge body deep beneath the earth in his lonely grotto and hoped for nurturing dreams of humans suffering unrequited love, while he waited for the next new moon… and the vultures to circle.
The End… Until the Next New Moon
I wrote this for a short story contest. It didn’t make the top three, but I absolutely adore this premise. A friend is writing his own version of the tortured giant, Tityus, and how he might use a grotto-sized TV to spy on mankind and wreak havoc for the sole purpose of providing a diversion from torture. Most of you know the story of Prometheus, the lover of mankind, who endures a similar punishment exacted on him by Zeus, but here is the lesser known story of Tityus, tortured for being a cad.
What kind of story would you come up with for my bored giant’s entertainment? Let me know in the comments. I’m thinking of doing more of these to collect for an anthology. What do you think about that idea?
After all is said and done, 2022 turned out to be a great year because that’s when I got involved with the Fantasy Sci Fi Writers Alliance (“Alliance”) and met you and many other wonderful hard working creators offering invaluable support, and so many resources.
And you published a fantastic story with Funemployment Press. We’ll talk more about Braza and the Funemployment Quarterly in a bit. But to start us off, Can you summarize your highlights for 2022?
Isa – Thank you for having me, Darci, I love your blog and interviews. This is a great way to get to know new authors and projects. Last week’s interview with Madeline was great, it really inspired me to look at how history can shape our stories.
2022 was the year I came out of my shell, or so to speak. I had been writing for a few years by then, but hadn’t had the courage to show my work to the world. When I found this incredible community in April 2022, everything changed. Their support and unwavering kindness was exactly what I needed to break through the layers of self-doubt I had built around myself. I started sending my stories out and, incredibly, one of them was picked up. Braza was accepted and published in the Funemployment Quarterly Summer edition, my first publication ever and I could never have done it without the Alliance´s help and encouragement.
Also, in December, my story Dea Sulis Minerva got second place in the FSF Writers Alliance Short Story Contest, which was a most welcoming surprise.
I´d say that being able to show what I’ve written, and learning to deal with the “ups and downs” of being a writer was the biggest highlight for me. Successes are awesome, they fuel our confidence and all, but I learnt to cherish every step of the way, even rejections, because they mean I´ve been working towards something I love.
I can already say this month’s conversations with you and Madeline will go down as a highlight for me in 2023. I enjoyed Braza and Dea Sulis Minerva a lot! So, I’m super glad you have come out of your shell. I can’t wait for more. Congratulations again on Dea Sulis Minerva. It had its own elements of history in its setting and mythology. There is more about it below and our audience can click here to read it!
Like so many writers, reading is the passion that started the journey. Your book review reels are awesome, and I enjoy every one of them. What are your favorite reads for 2022?
Isa – There are three books that I discovered through the Alliance and that had a huge impact on me: Awakening, by Lucy A. McLaren and The Worthy, by Anna K. Moss — Dark Fantasy at its best; and Pariah´s Lament, by Richie Billing — a High Fantasy story with an incredibly compelling plot.
What I love most about stories is the possibility of discussing real life issues through the lenses of fantasy. Awakening, for example, has a cast of painfully human characters with real-life struggles that truly resonated with me. Same with The Worthy, when we follow morally-grey characters, rooting for them to change and impact their world in a positive way. I am always amazed by the universes writers are able to craft. Richie´s world is immense — a study in world building.
When I read great books, I feel inspired to do the same.
I also discovered that I love reading short stories, something I hadn’t paid much attention to in the past. E. B. Hunter´s short horror stories are among my favourite reads, and also your Priss Starwillow & the Wolf. I´ve become somewhat of a “fan girl” again, because now I can chat with authors whose stories I love, and that’s something I could never have done before. It is truly awesome.
Thank you for sharing what you love about these books, and short stories, Isa! And I totally agree how wonderful it is to avail ourselves of this community and the vast experience it encapsulates and then have the opportunity to give back. Anna and Eric (E. B. Hunter) chatted with me here last year and I really appreciate revisiting their work through your perspective. I look forward to more of our community visiting me in future. I’ll include the links to all books you mention in the titles.
Richie also offers a Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed Podcast and a huge amount of resources on world building and fantasy writing on his website. He even offers free books if you sign up for his newsletter.
Can you expand on that and tell us your all time favorites?
Since I started writing, and more specifically, learning about crafting stories, I´ve been thinking about what makes a story a good one. What is it that makes us root for the characters we follow, what drags us to these new universes and keeps us immersed in their stories to the point we cannot put a book down until it is over?
I came to the conclusion that the answer is the emotion stories bring to the surface, and that it can only be achieved with characters rooted in their humanity. The world and setting might be interesting, the plot engaging, battles and war nerve-wracking, but without humanity there is nothing. Phillip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke and Patrick Rothfuss are experts in humanity, and I think that is why their stories are great. They make me cry as often as they make me laugh, with characters that are real in every sense of the world: they are real because they cause a real effect in the reader, and they live in our minds and hearts forever.
Wow! I love to get recommendations. Now I’ve got more to add to my TBR. I have to admit, my preferred reads typically fall more into the supernatural romance genre, but I have been slowly building a great epic fantasy story list. You can follow Isa on Instagram for her current reviews and posts.
Isa – I also love a good paranormal romance and great romantic subplots. Give me characters slowly falling in love with each other, and you´ll have me swooning over them. One of my favourite fantasy/romance novels is a duology called The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh, a retelling of Arabian Nights. Book crushes are simply the best.
Awesome. You made my day, adding a good romance series!
How many books do you average reading a year? Do you like to set goals for the year and if so, what is your goal for 2023?
Isa – I´m a mood reader, as they say, and though I read pretty fast, I don’t have much spare time to do it, while balancing work, writing and, well, living. I genuinely only read what I want to read, and never force myself to finish something I´m not enjoying. I´d say… ten books a year? That’s not a lot, but it doesn´t include rereads, so an average of fifteen in total.
I also read a lot of short stories — a lot a lot. At least one piece a day, sometimes more, which might be flash fiction, drabbles, or longer pieces. I subscribe to flash fiction magazines and get daily emails with the latest releases. Short stories are like little pocket universes where we get to dive in and surface on the other side with a different perspective, a different mind set.
It’s fascinating to realise how a hundred words in a drabble can change your view of an entire celebration. That same awe feeling happened after reading another Neil Gaiman short story Snow, Glass, Apples, a retelling of Snow White. I promise you won’t regret reading it — or you might, because you will never be able to look at the fairy tale the same again.
Another thing that I love doing is beta reading for fellow writers. Stories that are not released yet, in their developmental stage. Sometimes, the briefest ideas can be a lot of fun to work with. One of the most delightful things I find is to discover a new voice who hasn’t even discovered themselves. They share their work with apprehension, not sure if people will like it. Then I get to tell them how amazing their story is, and how much I enjoyed it — it is the best feeling in the whole world.
My goal for 2023 is to read more indie books and find those secret gems — new authors, new voices, new characters to fall in love with.
This reading strategy really makes sense. I for one have experienced and appreciated enormously your generosity in reading my stories. And getting your perspective on your enjoyment and the benefits you get from it is a real treat. I’m sure this will encourage others to engage in the same exercise. Thanks for spreading the love, Isa! And for adding more to my TBR list!
Isa – I have to say, Darci, that our beta reading session yesterday was incredible. I am still thinking about the selkie and her lighthouse man. You craft such a beautiful romance — it’s really hard not to fall for your characters. I look forward to reading more.
Wow! Thank you for that, Isa. Writing powerful romance is my dream. And there is no way I could achieve it without the generous feedback you and the members of the Alliance provide.
When and how did you start writing?
Isa – I’ve been writing most of my life, journals, articles, thesis, dissertations and scientific papers for work. But I had never actually written stories, and definitely not fantasy stories. I consumed them, but also believed I could write something as good as the stories I read. I thought about it, often, crafting tales in my mind before falling asleep, which helped me cope with anxiety and insomnia, something that I´ve been struggling with most of my adult life. I don´t know exactly what changed, but in 2017 something clicked inside my brain and I decided to put pen to paper and write about those characters I had only dreamt about. Things escalated from there.
I certainly hope the insomnia and anxiety have let up on you, and thank you for sharing that. I don’t know if it’s insomnia for all of us, but I have come to understand more about my fellow writers through our community, and the most surprising thing to learn is that many of us are night owls and really could do with a magic pill that allows us to go on without sleep. There is simply too much writing to be done!
Who and/or what were your biggest influences?
Isa – My dad used to tell me bedtime stories every single night: I would not fall asleep without them. But instead of fairy tales or tales meant (and appropriate) for children, I’d listen to ancient mythology, Greek and Roman heroes and gods. Funny enough, I learnt as an adult that instead of being rescued and learning his lesson, Icarus (spoiler alert) actually died after flying too close to the sun. See, my dad would change the endings so I´d not be too scared — or scarred for life.
Mum and Dad were always supportive of my passions, and would take me to the bookshops every month to find a new story, a new book. I grew up in a household filled with books, so it´s not surprising my love of literature. They were, and remain to this day, my biggest influences.
As for literature influences, I´d say the friends I made in the Alliance. After reading E. B. Hunter’s horror stories, I started studying the genre and tried a couple of horror pieces myself. Lucy and Anna are my role models, strong women whose works I desperately love. I want to be like them when I grow up.
And the Masters, of course, Neil Gaiman and his uncanny sense of humour, Phillip Pullman and his incredible world-building, Susanna Clarke and her beautiful prose. Giants, who I hope to walk along with one day.
I’m grinning from ear to ear on this one, Isa. Amazing parents indeed! And it reminds me of my childhood and my Dad. He has a fabulous reading voice, and loved to read me to sleep, mostly the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.
Isa – I do think that is how a reader/writer is born. First we fall in love with the stories, then we seek them by ourselves. If there is love, nothing can get in the way.
What drew you to the Alliance? What do you think are the biggest benefits of belonging to a community of writers? What other communities have you found beneficial to your growth as a creator?
Isa – It was one of those happy accidents, I guess. I had finished writing a novel and had no idea what to do next. While trying to figure out what sub genre my novel was, I found Richie Billing’s page and blog. I subscribed to his newsletter, we started corresponding, and he invited me to join his discord channel. There was where I met the incredible people who would soon become the Alliance.
I believe the biggest benefit of belonging to a community is precisely that: belonging. Meeting people who are having the same struggles as you, who understand your pain, your heart, is something that can change your life forever. It changed mine. I used to feel quite lonely, even when surrounded by people. Friends and family might humour you, listen to your half crafted stories, but they don’t necessarily get what you are trying to do. Being able to have long conversations with someone who is going through the same as you is fantastic. I remember thinking “That’s it, these are my people, here is where I belong.”
A community offers the support we all need to put ourselves out in the world. They offer feedback on your work, help you solve those unsolvable problems that come with every new idea, offer advice on things you are facing or will eventually face.
Richie´s community and the FSF Alliance are the most supportive groups of people I’ve ever seen. Everything I achieved this past year was because of them.
I also find YouTube a great source of learning. Not a community, per se, as interactions there are more difficult and one-sided, but there are great booktubers offering amazing advice over there. I often watch video essays on word building or character development, full classes by the master Brandon Sanderson, book reviews so I’m up to date with new releases, and so on.
As I have never had formal training in fiction writing, I had to find the knowledge I needed somewhere else. YouTube proved to be quite useful, along with reading books on writing, of course. I will eventually enrol in a formal course, that is one of the goals I have for the future, but until then, I will absorb knowledge however I can.
Thank you for sharing all these resources and insights about community! I want to add here as I’ve done in a previous post that the Alliance recently launched its own website, and there are so many good things to explore, like the book club, and short story contests. Isa contributed to its first blog in addition to her winning short story. Check it out.
Now about Braza. Wow! I absolutely adored it. The stories in the Summer Quarterly by Funemployment Press were all fabulous, and I was truly impressed. I hope you have more stories like that planned. How did Braza come about?
Isa – Thank you, I really appreciate that. Braza was a surprise for me, from the beginning to the end. I had never thought I could write a comedy before a couple of jokes spurred in that piece. Who knew I had a sense of humour?
I was thinking about the fantasy genre and its common tropes, how heroes are always trying to slay monsters, and how the monsters would probably oppose being slain. Wouldn’t it be sort of funny if they stated so? A dragon who needed a break and refused to be killed by a silver knight felt like a good place to start. I had a plan, but my characters had a different one, and the ending surprised me just as much as it might have surprised you.
I´m very fond of that story, and ended up calling my dragon Braza, as a tribute to my home country, Brazil (which I dearly miss), and because brasa (spelled with an s) is Portuguese for embers or fire. I really love that story, and I´m really happy you enjoyed it too.
Dea Sulis Minerva is another short story that uses humour to discuss something important, and it got second place in the Alliance contest. The prompt for the contest was God vs. Mankind, and I knew all those bedtime stories from my childhood would come in hand. I had also watched a documentary about the Roman Bath in Bath, England, called Aquae Sulis, and inspiration hit me.
Back then, Romans would worship Dea Sulis Minerva as one goddess instead of two, a combination of the ancient gaelic goddess Sulis and the Roman goddess Minerva. More interestingly, citizens used to ask the goddess for revenge, writing petitions in little sheets of lead called Curse Tablets, and throwing them in the holy spring the goddess dwelt.
The story was there, I only had to carve it out.
Where can we find more of your stories? What are your works in progress and plans for them?
Isa – Dea Sulis Minerva has been published on the Alliance website, so I´d say that is a great place to start. I also keep a blog where I post short stories and news about upcoming publications, so I’d love for you to visit me there. You can also find me on Instagram and TikTok at @isa.ottoni.writes
I´ve been working on a novel, but it’s miles away from being ready for anyone but my writing group. They are the ones who suffer through my edits and help me become a better writer. It´s a passion project, a story I really love, but I still need to improve my writing skills to be able to make it justice. Novels are the hardest thing to write, and I applaud the ones who can make it to the end. I also love writing short stories, so I´ll be doing that and trying to publish as much as I can.
Can you tell us a little about Funemployment Press and how you ended up submitting a story? What is the magazine’s goal and do they have any submissions opening up this year?
Isa – I saw their summer submission call on our discord channel, and ruminated on the prompt for a couple of days. The theme was Sabbatical, and I tried a couple of pieces before ultimately dropping them off. I find that forcing a story to happen does not work for me, so I often try more than one project at a time, feeling them out, and choosing the one I most resonate with. Then, Braza was born, and I was really excited about it while also trying to be realistic. I had had so many rejections until then, that one more would not discourage me, but I deeply hoped it would work out. It did, and I got that most expected email saying “We’re very pleased to accept your work ‘Braza‘…”
I was over the moon.
The editors are incredibly friendly and kind, and it was a pleasure working with them. I got my hard author copy and a second one too because my husband, without knowing about the author copy, bought one to surprise me. Being able to place a physical copy of something I have written among the loved titles on my bookshelf is a feeling I cannot describe.
Funemployment Quarterly holds four open submissions a year, one for each season, and you can check their website for information on themes and deadlines. They ask for science-fiction and fantasy short stories, and according to them “We release quality things, some of which are virtual abstractions, some of which are objects you can actually hold. We hope you enjoy your stay, make yourself at home, and find your time here useful!”
I sure did.
The cover arts are always fantastic and the story selection wonderful. Within the Summer edition I particularly love Academic Emulators, by Franco Amati; When Death Met The May Queen, by Benjamin Thomas; and Azimuth, by Matt Cantor.
No matter what edition you pick, you are in for a lot of fun.
Click wherever Funemployment is mentioned to link to the Press and they are also listed on my website under Communities, Indie Presses.Submissions are open! The Theme is Autonomy.
How do you balance all your pursuits with life and work? Do you have any tips on time management and how to fit in what you love doing with what you must do on a day-to-day basis?
Isa – Organisation is the key, I believe. I have a board on the wall of my study where I place different colour post-its with the different things I have to do throughout the month. That way I can see where my free periods are and make the most out of them. I´m fortunate enough to have a job where the schedule is flexible and I can move things around to fit my responsibilities and my passions. There are days when writing is impossible, and that’s okay, because my board tells me that tomorrow or the next day I will have an entire afternoon just for that.
Different people will have different goals and different needs, but one thing that I believe unite us writers is the passion for our craft. With passion, anything is possible, even carving time out of a crazy schedule. We write because we love doing so, and I think that is enough. If you can write everyday, great, but if not, great too, because there is nothing that will stop you from finding the time to do it.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Isa – I spent most of my adult life setting goals for myself and my career, working like crazy to meet those ideals — and I have achieved what I had set out to achieve. I have reached a point in my life where I’m perfectly content with what I have so I don’t want to stress over my writing too. I write because it makes me happy, so I´ll be happy as long as I’m doing it.
That being said, I do want to publish a novel some day, but if that is going to happen in five, ten or twenty years, I don´t know. Whatever happens, happens, and I will keep writing, keep learning, and keep loving every step of the way.
Thank you so much for visiting with me. Do you have any parting advice for our readers who want to pursue their creative passions?
Isa – Creativity is a strange thing, it may hit you when least expected. I would say that an attentive mind is the key to igniting those creative juices in our minds.
So pay attention. Pay attention to the people around you, to the silly things you watch online, to the changing seasons. Pay attention to the beating of a heart and the flap of a bird’s wing, to the cold of the morning wind and the warmth of the summer sun on your skin.
Pay attention to the world around you, think about it, then make it yours.
For me, inspiration comes in those quiet moments of contemplation, where your mind is still and yet focused, so thoughts spark in your brain and your entire body reacts to it. Did something make you laugh? Write it down. Did it make you cry? Write it down. Did it make you bored? Look again because you´re not paying enough attention.
To pursue a passion is redundant,because if it’s a passion, you will have no choice other than pursuing it. It´s in its nature, this calling that won´t leave you alone until you do what your mind and heart are begging you to do. So do it. Be brave and do it. Even if you´re doing it entirely for yourself – or especially if you’re doing it entirely for yourself.
Then, you go back to thinking about it. What worked, and what didn’t work? What was it that you needed to make it work? Talk to people, ask questions. Leave the self-doubt behind. Follow the advice that works for you, and ignore the ones that don´t. Do you. Be unapologetically yourself. And love every step of the way.
Wonderful! I can’t wait to see more of where your passion leads you, Isa. All the best to you!