Welcome to Writing to be Read, where we’re celebrating the release of Ask the Authors 2022, the writing reference anthology that features essays by ten wonderful authors who have agreed to share their writing wisdom with us, along with an extensive Q & A, divided by topics. Contributing authors are myself – Kaye Lynne Booth, Bobby Nash, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, Chris Barili, L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright, Nancy Oswald, Mario Acevedo, Jeff Bowles, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Paul Kane, and Kevin Killiany.
“Ask the Authors is an up-to-date and broad-based compendium of advice from today’s working writers, to help you with understanding your own writing career. Great information!”
—Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Spine of the Dragon
Every Saturday, this blog series will introduce you to one contributing author and share a portion of the Q & A session. Today you will meet myself and Kevin Killiany and the Q & A topic is “Writing Life”. To gain access to all of the writing wisdom contained within the book, you can get it at the special price of 3.99, (regularly 4.99) from your favorite book distributor through the Books2Read universal book link (UBL) for the duration of the blog series: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e
Here is the schedule for this Saturday series:
Segment 1: You are here. Introductions for me, multi-genre author, Kaye Lynne Booth & media tie-in and science fiction author Kevin Killiany/Q & A on Writing Life
Segment 2: An introduction to award winning author & media tie-in writer, Bobby Nash/Q & A on Pre-writing Rituals.
Segment 3: An introduction to multi-genre author & poet, Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Q & A on Plot/Storyline.
Segment 4: An introduction to best selling horror author, Paul Kane/Q & A on Character Development.
Segment 5: An introduction to multi-genre author, Mario Acevedo/Q & A on Action, Pacing & Dialog
Segment 6: An introduction to award winning middle grade author Nancy Oswald/Q & A on Tone: Voice, Person, Tense, & POV
Segment 7: An introduction to multi-genre author Chris Barili/Q & A on Setting & Worldbuilding
Segment 8: An introduction to speculative and horror author Jeff Bowles/Q & A on Editing & Revision
Segment 9: An introduction to award winning author and publishing industry expert Mark Leslie Lefebvre/Q & A on Publishing
Segment 10: An introduction to Y.A. & middle grade author L. Jagi Lamplighter/Q & A on Book Marketing
*Note: The Q & As include answers from several authors on each question and they may run rather long, but they are packed full of useful information, so I hope you will stick with us until the end of the series.
I’ll start things off today by introducing myself.
My name is Kaye Lynne Booth, and I live, work, and play in the mountains of Colorado. With a dual emphasis M.F.A. in Creative Writing, writing is more than a passion. It’s a way of life. I’m a multi-genre author, who finds inspiration from the nature around her, and her love of the old west, and other odd and quirky things which might surprise you. My first novel, Delilah, found a home with a small independent press, but I’ve published all of my other work independently.
For more than a decade, I’ve kept up my authors’ blog, Writing to be Read, where I post reflections on my own writing, author interviews and book reviews, along with writing tips and inspirational posts from fellow writers. In addition to creating my own imprint in WordCrafter Press, I offer quality author services, such as editing and social media book promotion, through WordCrafter Quality Writing & Author Services. When not writing or editing, I am bird watching, or hiking, or just soaking up some of that Colorado sunshine.
Oh yeah, and I am the editor and contributor to Ask the Authors 2022 and your blog series host, which means I’m the one asking the questions. And now that is out of the way, let’s move on to the Q & A and see what the contributing authors have to say about…
Please tell us your top 5 rules for writing success.
Mario Acevedo: I’ll give you one. From W Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
Paul Kane: I only really have three, and it boils down to the three P’s which I used to teach in my Creative Writing classes when I still did them. Patience, Persistence, Perspiration. Patience, because basically if you’re going to be a writer you need to be in it for the long haul. Some people are lucky, they get success really early on in their careers, but most have to work at it for a long time, winning little battles as they go.
This of course feeds into the second and third P’s, in that you’ll need to be prepared for knockbacks and rejections. You’re going to have to pick yourself up when you get a no, dust yourself off and get back on the horse. I’ve had countless rejections from publishers and editors in the past, but you just have to keep going, and remember that it’s all subjective. What one person hates another might love. Take on board any advice or feedback that makes sense to you, but don’t change anything you’ve written if it doesn’t because it’s your writing ultimately. Only you can write like you, with your background and experience and voice. If the advice you’re getting messes with that too much, then don’t do it.
And finally, Perspiration, because you’re not going to get anywhere unless you work for it. You should always strive to be better, even if you’ve been writing all your life. You’re never too long in the tooth to learn new things, to try new writing techniques or whatever, and the only way to be a good writer is to write, write and write. Oh, and to read a lot too.
- Keep writing.
- Write more.
- Write daily.
- And write whenever you can.
Bobby Nash: I wish I had a list of rules to share here. I have never thought of it in those kinds of terms. Certainly, treating it like a job has been invaluable in keeping on track. Writing daily is probably good advice. Learn to market your work is also a good one.
- Write as much as possible given your personal circumstances.
- Seize opportunities to participate in writing and poetry challenges.
- Seize opportunities to participate in writing competitions and anthologies.
- Take advice that is given to you by more experienced writers, and I mean really embrace it and incorporate it into your writing going forward.
- Enjoy your writing.
Nancy Oswald: Sit down, write, rinse, and repeat.
Kevin Killiany: I don’t have 5 writing rules, but I do have one reading rule: read as much as your write; some weeks read more. And I highly recommend these guidelines to your reading:
A. Whenever possible read authors who will stretch your horizons. By that I mean authors who have histories, ethnicities, worldviews, cultures, gender identities, etc., different from your own. This is particularly important for white, cis-male, American writers such as myself, because we’ve been programmed from birth to see our culture as universal. [A codicil for writers who are of colors other than beige or whose identities otherwise differ from my own: read strong writers who share your identity or heritage in addition to (and maybe even before) seeking out others who could expand your perceptions.]
B. Do NOT “read like a writer” as some guides suggest, with a highlighter and notebook at your elbow and underlining “important” passages. Read like a reader. Enjoy the story, lose yourself, don’t think about the writing. If, and only if, six months later you find yourself being haunted by a passage you can’t forget (scene, setting, dialog, etc.) go back and deconstruct how the writer pulled that off. Look for how the writer prepared the reader for the scene, the structure of the scene itself, etc.—learn how the writer did it so you can give your readers the same experience.
C. Don’t read books you don’t like. If the story isn’t working for you—if the characters don’t work, the story doesn’t interest you, if the writing is dull—you are not going to learn anything. Time spent finishing a poorly written book is time wasted. [HOWEVER: If you hate the book because the writing is so powerful and evocative, it may well be worth reading. An example from my past: I hate The Bluest Eye. The hopelessness is so deep that every time I read it, I want to slit my wrists. But I’ve read it more than once because it is a master class in characterization and worldbuilding.]
Describe your personal writing space.
Mario Acevedo: Some writers claim their writing space as a sacred sanctuary that invites the Muse to drift in. My writing space is a sausage machine. I sit down on a schedule, flip a switch, and get to writing. The Muse is expected to clock in while wearing work clothes.
Paul Kane: We recently moved, so I have my pick of where to work at the moment. But I’m actually writing on my laptop on the couch, because it’s comfortable. I’ve done most of my work on there in the last few months and enjoyed it. For a while back there, whether it was to do with lockdown or whatever, I felt like I’d lost my writing mojo, but it’s slowly returning. Maybe I just got burned out as I did a lot of writing in the months after COVID hit big time – a crime novel and most of a collection called The Naked Eye for Encyclopocaplyse – and this change of scenery now has really boosted my fiction, as well as giving me the opportunity of working on a few new projects I hadn’t expected.
Chris Barili: Nothing special. Just a small home office on the first floor of my home. I also have a desk beside my bed (next to the fireplace) for those wake-up moments.
Bobby Nash: I have a very cluttered desk in an equally as cluttered office. I clean and straighten it on occasion, but the clutter always returns.
Nancy Oswald: Really? It’s my grown son’s old bedroom. No bed, but my mom’s sewing machine occupies one corner, my husband’s mom’s antique writing desk occupies another. There’s a dying plant, a small Navajo blanket, a horse painted on a plate, painted by my great grandmother is above the file cabinets, my son’s dusty karate belts on a hangar and several maps related to my research are on the wall next to that. The doors of the closet are also covered with maps—at the moment, these are insurance maps from 1896 Colorado Springs. There’s a chair with toppling books, book piles underneath the wrap around desk I purchased when I retired. You don’t even want to know what’s on top of the desk or what’s on the rest of the floor. Right now, it’s boxes and bags in various states of readiness for the marketing at crafts fairs I’m doing between now and Christmas. I’m looking forward to being able to walk in it again.
Kevin Killiany: Where I am now—wherever that is whenever ‘now’ happens.
Which of your books would you like to see turned into a movie? Who do you see playing the lead? Why?
Paul Kane: I’m lucky in that a few of my stories have been turned into TV episodes, short films and even a feature in 2021 called Sacrifice, starring Re-Animator’s Barbara Crampton. So that’s sort of happened for me anyway… There was talk a while back of turning my post-apocalyptic Robin Hood novels – gathered together in Hooded Man – into a movie, and we were hoping to interest someone like Michael Fassbender or Dominic West. But I’m not sure that’ll happen anyway now because the jumping off point is that 90% of the world’s population dies from a deadly disease. Of the books that haven’t been adapted yet, I’d love to see Before as an American Gods type TV streaming show for somewhere like Amazon, Netflix or Apple. I think the scope of that one, dealing as it does with past lives, is so massive it would be hard to fit it all into a movie. Arcana would make a great film, though, because of the mix of magic and crime; action and adventure. Leads for that one? I think someone like Charlie Hunnam and Emily Blunt as Callum and Ferne. The one people always ask me about is Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, which pitted Hellraiser’s Cenobites against the world’s greatest detective. That would be a rights nightmare film-wise, plus would take a budget in excess of most of the Marvel movies, so I wouldn’t hold your breath folks. That being said, never say never, and stranger things have happened.
Chris Barili: Guilty, with Frank Butcher played by either clint Eastwood or John Wayne (in their primes).
Bobby Nash: I think Evil Ways, Deadly Games!, or Suicide Bomb would make great movies. Snow and Sheriff Myers respective series would work better as a TV series, I think. As for who would play who, I don’t know. I try not to play that game because if it happens, I don’t want to be disappointed if the actor I had my heart set on is unavailable.
Robbie Cheadle: I think my Sir Chocolate stories would make a lovely TV series for small children. There could be a baking element to the show, where children learn how to make one of the recipes.
Nancy Oswald: I’d like to see the Ruby and Maude Adventures made into a movie. I’d like my donkey, Daisy, to play Maude.
Kevin Killiany: I have a young adult science fiction series, Dirt and Stars, that I would love to see become a TV series. The stories are set in an alternate history where most of the gee-whiz predictions Golden Age sci-fi of the 30s and 40s made about America in the year 2000 came true—fusion rockets, giant space stations, colonies on the moon, etc.—but the US is fiercely isolationist, cut off from the rest of the world. With the 21st century came the Civil Rights movement and the growing realization that America cannot sustain its monopoly on space. The Dirt and Stars series is set in the 2020s and follows several young people (15-18) coming of age even as the world around them is reinventing itself. Down to Dirt introduces Mara, a spacer—born and raised on Tombaugh Station—who’s been conditioned from birth to believe dirt (Earth) is little more than a prison for the diseased, criminal, unstable, or otherwise unfit for life in space; Beth, Mara’s Earth-born cousin, who believes in the fundamental goodness of everyone and is horrified by Mara’s racist elitism; and Jael, Beth’s best friend, grimly determined to be the first Black person to break the Space Service’s color barrier. Life on Dirt continues their stories and introduces Lije, first generation Ukrainian American whose father is spearheading a legal battle to break America’s control of access to space; and Fatima, a spacer of exceptional intelligence struggling to overcome a social communication disorder that makes interacting with others difficult, confusing, and sometimes painful. Rise from Dirt follows all five of them, but focuses on Jael’s fight to qualify for the Space Service training program. Book four (a work in progress that has gone through a few working titles) will introduce two new high school age spacers—one on Brahe Station, the other on Luna—as they deal with the unimaginable addition of “earthers” to their world.
Who do you see playing the lead? Why?
Talented young actors that no one knows about. For every TV/movie star there are dozens of equally talented people who weren’t in the right place at the right time. I’d really like to play some small part in helping some of those young actors get their shot.
Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Paul Kane: Personally, I don’t think there is. I don’t have to sacrifice a chicken or something before I start or write upside down or anything; it’s all pretty normal stuff. I think that comes from my previous career as a journalist, just sitting at a desk getting the words down. I also had to do that for my BA and MA when I was writing essays, so all that was a good training ground for penning fiction too. It makes you disciplined about the craft. I am quite a superstitious person, so I suppose I do have little rituals I’ve developed over the years. I used to only be able to write novels on a laptop, and shorts on a desktop – when I still had one – but I’ve learned to adapt to circumstances. And I’m very reluctant to show my work to anyone too early, except perhaps my better half Marie (O’Regan), who’s also a writer and editor herself. Or to discuss my ideas with anyone other than her, unless it’s an editor or publisher I’m pitching to, so they’ll buy the work.
Chris Barili: I outline a bit differently than most people. I outline just a third of the story at a time, which allows me to make changes early in the story line much more easily.
Bobby Nash: I don’t think so. I sit down and write. Sure, I sometimes go over story points, scenes, etc. in my head before I start typing, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Robbie Cheadle: I think all writers have an individual writing process. I always write my endings first so that I know the direction my story must take and where I am heading. The endings never change. I also outline the bones of my stories before I start. I do this in my head and rarely write much down. People ask me if I don’t forget my outlines, but I don’t. I have a very good memory which is why I rarely re-read books; I can nearly always remember the characters and plot of books I’ve read, even when I read them many years ago.
Nancy Oswald: Unfortunately, when I was working full time, my motto was to find any scrap of spare time and move forward on whatever the project was. This led to some bad habits, because even though I’m retired, I have never let go of the idea that I have to fit writing in around other things. I’ve never been able to schedule writing time and stick to it. However, my husband did buy me a “ships” hour glass, and sometimes when I’m stuck or reluctant to write, I tell myself I can do one hour. Once I start, it usually goes beyond that, and once I’m into a project, I find I don’t need the hourglass at all.
Kevin Killiany: My first time through college (in the early 70s) I was a theatre major—an aspiring actor with the acting skills of a stage techie. I saw many, many plays in college, repertory, dinner, and community theaters from light booths, sound boards, and prop tables. As a result, I see stories as narratives built from discrete scenes, and frequently storyboard on graph paper: scenes are circles, boxes, or triangles linked by arrows denoting possible paths. When brainstorming a scene, I always start with dialog, spoken words without attributions, because a play begins as dialog, the script providing only broad suggestions for blocking and business, and comes alive as the directors and actors become familiar with the characters and the reasons for the words.
Oh, and the scenes are never written in order. I write each part as it occurs to me.
What is the function of a story?
Mario Acevedo: To tell that story. Beyond that, to entertain, to educate, and if you’re like me, because you’re a constant day dreamer.
Paul Kane: I believe, first and foremost, that a story should entertain. You should get some enjoyment out of reading it, even if it’s a sad tale – in a sort of masochistic way, we think to ourselves at least that’s not happening to me.
It should be believable, and I don’t mean that it can’t be fantastical, just that the reader needs to believe in what you’re telling them. A lot of this comes from good description and characterization, because if you don’t believe in a sense of place or your characters then everything falls apart. If characters are just cardboard cutouts, you’re not going to care what happens to them or why.
So, the entertainment value first and foremost, because remember people are parting with their hard-earned cash to buy your story or book. If it can say something important as well, then all the better. I like to try and have a message or theme, like for example in my novel Before I was trying to say something I thought was important about the human condition. About what it means to be human, about life, love, the nature of good and evil, and everything in-between. Heady stuff. It doesn’t always have to, but if a story is educating and saying something you feel is worth saying, then all the better.
Bobby Nash: My first and foremost goal with my stories is to entertain. That’s what I’m here to do so that’s where I put my focus. I want the reader to enjoy the experience.
Robbie Cheadle: The function of my stories is to entertain while reminding readers of history and historical events. I believe strongly that we must remember our history and the terrible things that have affected humanity in the past so that we can make a good attempt to avoid reoccurrences.
Kevin Killiany: To entertain and through entertaining inspire thought.
What is your biggest writing challenge? Your biggest reward?
Paul Kane: The hardest thing I find, the hardest challenge, is to get started. Ideas come to me all the time, I write them down in little notebooks. In fact, I have different sized books for different things: small for just ideas, or snatches of dialogue; medium-sized for novellas and the like; and A4 ones for novels, because I work up chapter breakdowns and do research in those. For each novel I’ve written there’s an A4 notebook to go along with it. So, you have your idea and all your working out. No matter how prepared you are – and some people do more prep than others… I’m a big planner personally – just looking at that blank screen before you start is the most daunting thing in the world sometimes. It might not even be at the beginning of a project, either; just getting up every day and starting, even if you’re halfway through, can be hard. You have to force yourself to do it, push through those pain barriers – and if you look for distractions, you’ll find them, so try to keep focused on the task at hand. The flip side of that, of course, is when you’ve got your first draft done. You have a chunk of words you can play with, then refine and make better. That’s the most rewarding part for me, when you’ve done all that, or maybe even when the story’s finished – or as finished as it can be, because nothing’s ever truly done; you could fiddle with things forever. When you see it in print and people enjoy your work, that’s something truly special.
Chris Barili: Self-confidence followed closely by Parkinson’s Disease. One hits me psychologically, the other physically
Bobby Nash: My biggest writing challenge is me. Sad, but true. I am my own worst enemy. Once I get out of my own way, push distractions aside, and actually sit down and get started, I’m okay. Getting started is a big hurdle.
Robbie Cheadle: My biggest writing challenge is finding a stretch of about 2 ½ hours undisturbed time to write. I can write for a shorter time, but I usually find it takes me about 30 to 40 minutes to get back into the mindset of the story so shorter writing periods are not very efficient for me. I usually write on weekend days from 6 am to 8.30 am. Sometimes I write for an hour in the afternoon during the week but that depends on work. I am supposed to work from 9am until 3pm but that rarely happens and if I don’t start writing by 4pm, the day is lost to me from a writing perspective. I don’t write in the evening as I am tired. I do sometimes edit later in the day though.
Jeff Bowles: For me the challenge is always the sheer amount of time and work required to bring a new book to market. At the moment, I’m favoring indie publishing, which means everything from editing to production is riding on my shoulders. It takes a lot of effort to bang a fresh manuscript into shape. Luckily, I’ve got a lot of support from family, friends, and other professionals, so it’s always worth it in the end. The reward, as always, is seeing your book in the hands of others. It never really gets old.
Nancy Oswald: Getting started on a new project. Biggest reward, well, of course, finishing. Beyond that, I love holding the first printed copy of a new book.
Kevin Killiany: My biggest challenge is stopping. I write 500-word postcards, and I would have a wonderful time extending my narrative, exploring my characters, expanding my world. My biggest reward is having stopped. Because then I have a story to give people.
What is the single most important story element? Why?
Paul Kane: Probably characters, like I say. If you don’t believe in those then there’s no point to the story in the first place. I’m a big one for character studies – actually I have to rein it in sometimes because I get carried away. I’ll include various details about a person’s life when I’m only writing a prologue sometimes and people just want to cut to the chase and get to the meat of a story. I had to chop a lot of that at the start of my PL Kane crime novels Her Husband’s Grave and The Family Lie. All interesting stuff, but not the right time or the place. One of my Controllers stories ‘Eye of the Beholder’ was basically a character study of a woman called Lucy, taking you through her life, and at the end you realise these god-like creatures have been manipulating events for their own satisfaction. In a case like that, it’s actually working to help tell the story.
Chris Barili: Character. Without a dynamic, well-developed, and relatable character the story stops mattering.
Bobby Nash: I firmly believe that it all starts with characters, so that’s where I put my focus first. Telling a cohesive story is important.
Nancy Oswald: I think it’s character. As a reader, if I can’t latch onto or relate to a character, the reading is tedious.
Kevin Killiany: Character. People care about people.
Are you a plotter or a pantser (I believe ‘discovery writer’ is the trending term or as Dean Wesley Smith refers to it: “Writing into the Dark”)?
Mario Acevedo: I’m in between. I started as a panster and then after writing myself into a corner, I became a plotter. My plot outlines are brief chapter summaries—two-three sentences. I’ve learned however to keep the doors open for the Muse to suggest changes.
Chris Barili: Seriously addicted to outlining.
Bobby Nash: I’m somewhere in the middle. I have loose plots, but I leave open the possibility of the characters taking me to unexpected places, so sometimes the plot has to be adjusted. I’ve heard the term plantser used, but I don’t really like that term.
Robbie Cheadle: I am a plotter. I always have the ending of my stories in mind before I start, and I write towards that ending. As I write historical fiction, I usually follow the real path of the events that occurred heading in the direction of the ending. I often discover new and interesting information while I am researching for my stories, but that doesn’t ever knock me off my chosen storyline, it just adds to some of the ‘meat’ in the middle of the story.
Kevin Killiany: A bit of both. I work out what needs to happen when at the outset (storyboarding) but beyond that I usually don’t know how the narrative will get from point to point until I’m on the journey.
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring authors?
Mario Acevedo: Have faith in yourself. Keep learning and improving. Read a lot in every genre. You’ll be surprised how much blends from one category to another. And nothing happens until you sit down and write.
Paul Kane: Just to never give up. It always makes me sad when I see a talented writer walk away from the business or become so discouraged that they never send anything to editors, agents or publishers. It always makes me think ‘what great writing have we missed out on’? If Stephen King’s wife, Tabitha, hadn’t fished Carrie out of the bin, we’d have been missing out on all his excellent writing from that point onwards. No Shining, Salem’s Lot… No Stand. Heartbreaking. So keep going, keep fighting, because you never know where it might all lead.
Chris Barili: Don’t quit your day job until writing IS your day job. Then, really don’t quit your day job.
Bobby Nash: Determine where you want your writing to take you and set attainable goals to help get you there. Not every writer has the same goal, so you have to decide what success looks like for you, so you know what to aim toward. Then, once you do that, work to achieve those goals. Also, don’t forget to celebrate when you attain the goals. That’s important too.
Robbie Cheadle: Keep writing as much as possible. Practice makes perfect. I can’t believe how much I have learned between the launch of my first Sir Chocolate book in August 2016 and now. It’s been an amazing journey.
Kevin Killiany: I submitted my first short story in 1967. I sold my first story in 2000. I would have sold one sooner, but I kept giving up. Don’t keep giving up. Just as a musician perfects their craft through practice, we perfect our writing through writing. Approach everything you write as something you are creating for your own satisfaction, no one outside your head matters. Then do your best, because it is through doing your best every time that your best will steadily improve.
Before we end this first segment, I’d also like to introduce you to contributing author, Kevin Killiany. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic we’ve all been experiencing, he was unable to submit an essay to the work, but I want to introduce him here, so you’ll know who he is when you see his responses throughout this series in the Q & A portions. He’s a multi- genre and media tie-in writer and a generally all around good guy.
Meet Kevin Killiany
Growing up in Florida, Kevin was fascinated with space—he witnessed every manned launch from Cape Canaveral in the 60s, and never fully recovered from the discovery there were no rainforests on Venus for him to explore. Forced to stay on Earth, he eventually became a teacher, working with students at all grade levels before moving on to community support services, where he was a crisis intervention counselor and case manager for mental health and family preservation programs.
Kevin wrote his first story in 1967 and, after only thirty-three years of writing and submitting, became an immediate success with his first sale in 2000. In the years since he has written fiction for both Star Trek and Doctor Who and written web content, campaign books, stories, novels for various role playing games. Down to Dirt, book one of his original YA science-fiction series Dirt and Stars, was published in 2016.
The “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series is a 10 week Saturday series, so be sure to drop by next Saturday for an introduction to contributing author, Bobby Nash and a Q & A on Pre-Writing Rituals. If you grab a copy of Ask the Authors 2022 writing reference anthology while this blog series runs, from now until July 9th, you can get it at the special send-off price of 3.99, from your favorite book distributor through the Books2Read UBL here: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e
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