Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Character Development

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome to Segment 4 of the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series, where we’re offering up a little taste of what you’ll find in this hot new writing reference of the same name. Ask the Authors 2022 features writing tips and advice on craft, publishing, and book marketing from ten talented authors and industry experts.

In case you missed some of the previous segments:

Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany – Writing Life Q & A session

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash – Pre-writing Rituals Q & A session

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle – Plot/Storyline Q & A session

This week we meet bestselling horror author Paul Kane, who shares his love of the horror genre in his essay, “Writing Monsters”, and bring you a Q & A session on character development.

Meet Paul Kane

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over a hundred books, both fiction and nonfiction. Some consider him to be a master of the macabe. He has been a guest at numerous writing events and conferences, and he was the keynote speaker at the 2021 WordCrafter New Beginnings Virtual Writing Conference.

A former British Fantasy Society Special Publications Editor, he is currently serving as co-chair for the UK chapter of The Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen. His audio work includes full cast drama adaptations, he has also contributed to the Warhammer 40k universe for Games Workshop and writes thrillers for HQ/HarperCollins as PL Kane. Paul lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan and his family.

Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robert Kirkman, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.

And now, on to the Q & A.

Character Development

Nancy Oswald: This whole section was hard for me because I’ve never been good at planning a character. Lists aren’t helpful to me. What is helpful is to put your main character into the middle of their world and write from there. I usually have an ending or a direction in mind before I start writing, but there have been times when the character determines the story and not the other way around.

Do your characters ever surprise you?

Mario Acevedo: I never thought I’d be a writer who said that my characters have taken over the story, but it has happened. Big surprise, it was female characters. I’d have in mind a script for them, which they would rip to pieces and tear off on their own.

Paul Kane: Oh, all the time! If you’ve made them ‘real’ then they’ll suddenly do something that you don’t expect. That is to say, it’ll momentarily surprise you and then you’ll say: ah, of course that’s how they’d react because of… whatever it is you’ve seeded in their past. It’s really your subconscious putting things like that in, things you’ve set up and forgotten about, then when a character does something unexpected it’s only that you’ve forgotten how apt it was in the first place.

Chris Barili: Yes, all the time. If a character is predictable to me, it will be the same to a reader. So, I let them surprise me in whatever way they seem to need. Those surprises don’t always make the story, though.

Bobby Nash: All the time and I love it. In one story, a character let me know that I had the villain wrong. This character was the villain, not the one I had planned to be the villain. The kicker is that the story worked so much better once I realized that this character was indeed the villain.

Robbie Cheadle: No, my characters follow a pre-determined path decided by me upfront.

Kevin Killiany: Not exactly. I’m the only person living in my head—my characters only look like they have free will. That being said, the longer you work with a project, the more time your subconscious has to compost or ferment or percolate the ideas you’re building with—and that can lead to unexpected discoveries that give texture and dimension to the character. Sometimes my characters evolve over the course of writing and rewriting to the point that they person they’ve become wouldn’t do what the story required. Usually that’s an indication there’s something wrong with the story, not the character.

What makes a character interesting?

Paul Kane: I think it goes back to believability once again, which most things do. They have to be well-rounded, living and breathing people. If I get it right, the characters feel real to me. When I talk about them and what they go through, I talk about them as if they exist. You have to think that way in order for other people to believe them and believe in them. A lot of that means knowing your characters inside out, how they’d react to certain situations – in particular the ones you put them in. Would your character run away from a monster or just get stuck in, have a go, even if it meant dying to save others? That kind of thing. A lot of writers think giving characters quirks makes them interesting, but if there’s no reason for that to be there it just stands out. If you give your character gardening as a hobby, unless he’s fighting a giant plant then it’s not really something that should crop up in your story. The character of Alex Webber in Before was a lecturer, so that meant he was interested in making sure the next generation were educated and could make well-informed decisions. So when the future of the world is threatened, of course he’s going to fight against that; it’s just something rooted in his DNA. Those are the kinds of things that make characters interesting, not whether they sleep on the left or the right in bed.

Chris Barili: They have to be flawed. No one wants to read about perfect people with perfect lives and no conflict whatsoever. It is our characters’ flaws that make them realistic, and that set up most of the conflict in the story. After that, it is the act of exaggerating the characters, making them larger than life. Again, no one wants to read about normal people with normal lives. They want heroes and villains who are large and in charge. Would Dirty Harry have worked if he were a normal cop carrying a .38 special? No, because being a six-foot-four rogue cop with a .44 magnum in gleaming silver makes him stand out.

Bobby Nash: I don’t know. Interesting is like art or porn, I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it. I need to have something to connect to with a character. Once I have that connection, I understand the character.

Robbie Cheadle: My characters all must overcome a lot of adversity in their circumstances. I believe that the growth in the characters as they play the cards which they are dealt by life makes them interesting.

Jeff Bowles: I think I have an answer to that question: idiosyncrasies, idiosyncrasies, idiosyncrasies. The thing about real people is that we all have our strange little quirks that make us who we are. And these are behaviors and beliefs it’s taken us a whole lifetime to accrue. It pays to think of your characters as being a little odd under the surface. The problem with a lot of storytelling out there is that too many authors figure their characters exist to serve the story. They don’t, it’s the other way around completely. Let your characters speak for themselves. Let the breath a little, see where they really want to go next. Don’t push them into situations that don’t serve their full expression. Let them tell you who they really are.

How do you make a character likeable?

Paul Kane: Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you shouldn’t. I get reviews sometimes that say ‘the characters weren’t very nice’, but then look at some of the things they’ve been through. My psychologist Dr Robyn Adams went through a trauma at the hands of a serial killer, so is addicted to pain killers and drinks too much, leaps straight in with guys too often – because of something else revealed towards the end of Her Husband’s Grave. But you know what, she’s doing the best she can. Her flaws make her human, like all of us, and they make the moments of bravery stand out all the more. I think if you’re always trying to make your characters likable, you’re missing the point of making them believable. Not everyone’s nice all the time, there are grey areas – and that’s totally where your characters should be operating.

Chris Barili: You don’t have to make them likeable, just relatable. Thomas Covenant in White Gold Wielder (Stephan R. Donaldson) is not a likeable character at first, just a relatable one. He almost loses that with a deplorable act early in the book, bit manages to make it through, at least for most readers. I do know some who could not handle it and left the series behind.

Bobby Nash: I start with a likeable person as their base and build the character up from there.

Kevin Killiany: I never consider likeability. I try to make my characters as real as possible—which means complex, with parts some folk will like and parts some folk can’t stand.

How do you make your characters feel real?

Chris Barili: What are their fears and flaws? Read my article, “Character Blueprints” (Ask the Authors 2022) for the tools I use to do this.

Bobby Nash: As I mentioned above, I get to know the characters. Once that happens, they become real people to me. They have their own quirks, foibles, fears, flaws, strengths, and weaknesses. Just like real people.

How do you create a villain readers can love to hate?

Mario Acevedo: Readers must have empathy with all of your characters and understand why they do what they do. Their motivations must be consistent and compelling. One of my best villains was a female mad scientist who at first you cheered until you found out what she was up to.

Paul Kane: I don’t think there’s any magic formula, but the key thing with villains is again that they aren’t just cardboard cutouts. They can’t just be evil for evil’s sake, there needs to be reasons for what they’re doing. My bad guy for the Hooded Man books, De Falaise – essentially my version of the Sheriff of Nottingham – was motivated by the fact that he’d been kept down before the A-B Virus hit. He was a small bad guy in a big pond. The apocalypse gave him the freedom to create a kingdom of his own, so that was his motivation – and Robert, my Robin Hood, stood in his way. You got the impression with some Hood stories in the past that they just hated each other because one was bad, and one was good. In my books, just as Robert has his failings as a leader – for starters, he doesn’t want to be a leader and would much rather hide out in Sherwood waiting to die – so too does De Falaise have his good points, like his loyalty to companions like Tanek, his second in command. I mean, he is evil when you get right down to it, because some of the things he does are reprehensible, but there still needs to be some good in there. Having said all that, the most fun I’ve had writing a bad guy was The Infinity in Before. He’s a version of the Devil, essentially, and likes to meddle in human history. Writing lines for him, simply because he was a stereotypical big bad, was wonderful. It allowed me to put myself in the head of someone who has very few redeeming qualities, if any at all.

Chris Barili: I find that a couple of things can pull a reader into a love-hate relationship. First, a sense of humor. Even if it’s macabre or inappropriate, the ability to make us laugh endears even a harsh villain to us. You can also give that villain a good side by having him or her save a puppy or show some other admirable trait. Intellect combined with arrogance are a nice set of offsetting traits. But most of all, make them flawed like the hero. If they are invincible and pure evil, no one will want to read their stories. Take The Governor on the AMC series The Walking Dead. We find out early on that this otherwise despicable villain lost his whole family to the walkers and thus has them all locked up in his home as he hopes for a cure.

Bobby Nash: Same way as with a likeable character. I get to know them and understand why they do what they do. No villain thinks of themselves as the villain. Most villains believe what they are doing is right or justified. Very rarely is anyone evil just for the sake of being evil. Let the readers see the multiple facets of your heroes and villains.

Robbie Cheadle: Characters that do sadistic and unkind things are easy to make readers dislike. However, my characters all have redeeming features so the reader will end up conflicted, even when the character is behaving at his/her worst.

Do you ever create characters based on people who you’ve actually known?

Paul Kane: I think by necessity characters are mish-mashes of people you’ve known and other characters from books, film or TV shows, plus bits of yourself sometimes. I’ve never based a character wholesale on someone, as that way lies being sued, but I include certain traits from people I’ve known or still know. I was brought up with a lot of strong women around me, so I write a lot of tales with strong female protagonists. RED, my horror reworking of Little Red Riding Hood, is an obvious example of that. Rachael Daniels is someone who fights the wolf rather than running away from it, isn’t frightened to go up against a challenge. Her love-life might be a car crash, but she’s someone you want around when there’s trouble for sure.

Chris Barili: I will plead the fifth on this question, and all writers should, whether they have done this or not. Admitting that you have sets you up for legal action by others.

Bobby Nash: Oh, sure. I have many characters where the basis is a real person that I then built on top of to create a new character.

Robbie Cheadle: Yes, some of my characters are modelled off people I know. Grandfather Baker in Through the Nethergate has a lot of my father’s personality and characteristics. Michelle Cleveland in A Ghost and His Gold has some of my personality and characteristics, but she is more forgiving and generous towards her partner than I would be in the same circumstances.

Some of my characters are model on several people I have come across in a similar situation. For example, Tom Cleveland in A Ghost and His Gold is based on a combination of men in senior positions I have worked with in my own life.

Kevin Killiany: Every character is a composite of people I’ve known. Let’s face it, the only way to research people is to hang out with them a while. I never drop a whole person into a story—it’ll be A’s speech pattern, B’s fascination with baseball, C’s gestures, etc. Of course, those are just the starting points. As I know my character better everything will change, evolve.

Do any of your characters share traits with you?

Paul Kane: You can’t help but put bits of yourself in stories. I’ve talked about Alex Webber from Before being a lecturer, which I was for a while at college, so I could write about him with a degree of confidence and make sure it was authentic. I’ve always been scared of the dark and nighttime, which comes across in a lot of my stories. The little boy at the beginning in Of Darkness and Light – recently reprinted in the collection Darkness and Shadows – is very much based on me as a kid. Staring out into the darkness at bedtime and imagining all kinds of things lurking inside. But I think the writing also helps with tackling your fears, and in that particular story I could make the ‘creature’ in the darkness someone who was actually watching over the character of Lee Masterton, someone who would protect him from harm. He just didn’t know it at the time.

Chris Barili: All of them, of course. We cannot create characters without at least a little dash of ourselves in them.

Bobby Nash: Absolutely. There’s a little something of me in all of them. Some, more than others.

Robbie Cheadle: As mentioned above, Michelle is similar to me in some ways, but very different in others. She is a better me.

Kevin Killiany: Never the main character. But if there’s a plucky sidekick who alternates puns with sardonic commentary, that’ll be me.

What methods do you use to introduce readers to your characters?

Mario Acevedo: One of the techniques that F Scott Fitzgerald used to masterful effect was that he introduced his major characters in terms of their personality rather than merely describing their looks. I keep that in mind as I write my stories.

Paul Kane: I think it helps to show them doing something that defines them, so perhaps through their job. Most detectives are introduced through a crime scene for instance, and then we learn how good they are and what it means to them to be a cop. I introduced my main character Mitch Prescott – who at the start of The Family Lie is a PC – via a riot scene. He’s tried to tell the powers that be that there will be trouble at a demonstration, but they’ve totally ignored him, and of course – surprise, surprise – a riot breaks out in which one of his closest friends is injured. It forces Mitch to question what he’s doing on the Force, which leads to his dismissal when he confronts a senior officer about what happened, which in turn makes it easier for him to just go off and investigate what occurred with his father’s death in his hometown of Green Acres. But just from this one chapter, you realise he’s a man of integrity, a man who’s loyal to his friends, and a man who doesn’t like it when people don’t listen to his warnings – so you set up conflict for later when he reaches Green Acres and he’s being blocked at every turn.

How do you motivate your characters?

Paul Kane: I think that’s the same thing as what motivates us as people. We look after our friends and family, because we love them, and are sometimes motivated to do things we might not otherwise do because they’re in trouble. What motivates characters is the same as what motivates people in real life, because, remember, we’re trying to make those characters real. So, the father of murder Jordan Radcliffe – Jake – is motivated to find out who the killer is, not only because he loved his daughter, but also because he feels like he failed her. Failed her in life as a father, so he doesn’t want to fail her now in death. That’s a powerful motivating factor for any character. In my short novel The Storm, out through PS Publishing, the main protagonist Keegan is all about keeping the woman that he loves safe, even if it means battling giant monsters to do so. Love’s a big motivation for anything, I find, just like in real life. So are things like revenge or jealousy, the usual big ones.

Chris Barili: They are self-motivated by the situation into which I drop them. Usually, it is the will to survive that motivates them, but it can also be love, hate, rage, longing, and more.

Bobby Nash: How do I stop them? I usually have trouble keeping up with them.

Robbie Cheadle: My ghostly characters are motivated by the chance of redemption and moving on from their existence as spirits.

My physical characters are motivated by compassion and empathy for others and a desire to assist the spirits achieve the redemption they seek.

What kind of adversaries and obstacles do you create for your characters and what purpose do they serve?

Paul Kane: It depends very much on what the story is. Creating adversaries tends to go very much hand-in-hand with creating heroes. Myself and my wife Marie O’Regan – a terrific writer herself – do a workshop on this subject, and that’s one of the key elements. The hero or heroes dictate the villain or villains. Both are probably striving for something but pulling in opposite directions. In Arcana our protagonists are just trying to get freedom for magic-users, whereas the M-Forcers are trying to stop them, hunt them down and either kill them or put them in prison. Both have aims, but they’re the exact opposite of each other. The obstacles they face are very much dependent on the story you’re telling. It could be a man vs nature tale, in which your heroes are just trying to stay alive, so the setting would dictate what happens there. If it’s a shark, then you need to be at sea, if it’s snow then you need to be in the Arctic or Ant-Arctic, or you set it at a time of year when it’s snowing… My short story ‘White Shadows’, for example, is about a girl battling living snow in the middle of winter.

Chris Barili: Since most of the opposition to my characters comes from the antagonist, I always try to think, as I close a scene, “what could the villain do that would completely thrown the main character for a loop?”

Bobby Nash: Stories would be boring if there was nothing for the main character to overcome. Whatever the obstacle is, a villain, a test not studied for, a traffic jam, or whatever, gives the character(s) something to overcome or solve. Hopefully, your character comes out stronger on the other side of the obstacle.

What methods do you use to introduce readers to your characters?

Bobby Nash: We meet the characters in story. I let different characters be out POV in different chapters so we can understand them.

How do you give each character a distinctive voice?

Paul Kane: I think that just comes down to their personality really, who they are and what they do. How they respond to things, whether it’s trouble or something nice, will dictate their voice. So it’s all to do with character creation, and that believability factor again. If they respond in an authentic way, that will give them their voice. If you’ve created a strong female character, for example, they’re not likely to take a man bossing them around lightly. Indeed, they might even knock them out, depending on whether they’re a violent sort or not, or whether the provocation was bad. It’s things like that which give your characters a distinctive voice. 

Chris Barili: This seems to come naturally for me. And I think that come from listening. I did twenty years in the military and traveled all over the world. So, I have had the chance to listen to many different conversations in many different cultures, and all of that goes into giving a character their own voice.

Bobby Nash: Once I get to know the character, they tell me what their voice is and that’s what I write. It all comes down to creating a fully formed character.

How do you feel about killing off your darlings?

Mario Acevedo: I am ruthless. There’s a vacant lot in my neighborhood where I’ve left my darlings rotting in shallow graves.

Paul Kane: Do you mean editing, like killing off your words? Or killing off characters? I love editing, chopping bits and refining, making scenes better. That’s the part of writing I like most, apart from being finished and having written. Killing off characters you love is hard, but all part and parcel of being a good writer. If it serves the story, no matter how you feel about the character, then you need to just get on with it. I always knew that I’d kill off Jack in The Gemini Factor, even before I started, which was difficult because I really liked him. He became like a friend. It gave the ended weight though, gave it an impact that would not have been there if I hadn’t just bit the bullet.

Chris Barili: When it becomes necessary to the story, I have no problem doing so. Sometimes, they get in the way. Other times their story line needs its own story because it is taking over. Other times, the main character has learned to depend on them too much.

Bobby Nash: I do it all the time, so I guess I’m okay with it. Ha! Ha!

Robbie Cheadle: I was advised to kill off a few of my darlings in Through the Nethergate by my developmental editor. It was a little hard to let those scenes go but it was the right thing to do. Listening to good advice is the best thing a writer can do.

What methods do you use to evoke emotion in your readers?

Mario Acevedo: Writing fiction gives you the wonderful opportunity to present what characters are thinking or feeling, either through internalizations or visceral reactions.  I use these inner experiences to ground the reader in what the character is feeling and what is important in the story.

Paul Kane: There are all sorts of ways to do that, from killing off people readers have grown to love – as mentioned before – to putting them through the wringer, or even having them fall in love. If you’ve done your job properly, a reader will feel the emotions characters are going through. So when a character hates or loves something, or someone, a reader will feel that too. I once wrote a story about two ghosts falling in love called ‘Kindred Spirits’. The girl ghost has only just died, so she doesn’t know what she is, and the guy ghost is trying to help her because he’s been dead for some time. Hopefully a reader feels the sadness at the start that he feels, being alone where nobody can see or touch him, then the joy at finding someone else he can talk to and touch, even hug. To be able to cover the range of emotions like that in a short space of time isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding when it works.

Bobby Nash: It’s all in the characters and setting the mood. The emotion comes out of the performance of the character.

Kevin Killiany: Honesty

Which of your own characters was the most fun for you to write? Why?

Paul Kane: I enjoyed writing the character of Nick Skinner in Lunar, because he’s just your average guy in a bizarre situation, having to think on his feet and react to all these weird things that are happening to him. That was fun. And The Infinity, the bad guy in Before, as I’ve said. It was fun to write someone so evil that he’s verging on pantomime level, but that’s just how he is. There’s a scene where someone tells him to stop stirring, and he replies with: ‘I f**king enjoy stirring!’ Because he does. That’s what he’s all about. It was fun creating and writing him, especially writing his lines. The criticism I got the most about that book was The Infinity wasn’t in it enough, so you know you’ve done something right at that point. I’m toying with bringing him back in a short story or two, because you could go back in time and show him at any point – he’s been there at all the major turning points in history. It might be fun to do that…

Chris Barili: I really enjoy writing Frank Butcher, and most of his posse members. They’re some of the most complete characters I have built, and each has their own voice, their own flaws, and their own motivations.  And each has a weird past that helps flesh out their personality, so writing the is easy.

Bobby Nash: That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child or parent. They all have their fun moments for different reasons. I love writing Archer Snow, the surly, but funny grandfather in the Snow series. Tom Myers is also fun to write.

Robbie Cheadle: I have enjoyed all my characters. During the writing process they all become very real and important. Once the book is published, they are quickly replaced by different characters, which is why I haven’t attempted a sequel.

Kevin Killiany: Cadet Fatima Kielani. [I jotted her last name down several years ago when I was watching a news report on Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS—it was on the screen briefly. I assumed it was Kurdish (and have a major supporting character in Life on Dirt identify it as such) but I was wrong. I’ve since learned it’s most common in the United Arab Emirates (with about half as many in Jordan) and is also found in both Austria and Benin, but no one knows its origin.] [It is not the Hawai’ian girls’ name Keilani.] Fatima is a seventeen-year-old Spacer, first generation, born and raised on Tombaugh Station, who volunteers for an experimental program on Earth, even though (or perhaps because) she’s terrified of the place. My background is special education and mental health services, and I gave Fatima a condition that has fascinated me since before it had a name: Social Communication Disorder (Pragmatic Communication Disorder in the UK). In many ways it resembles the Autism Disorder Spectrum, but is in no way related. People with SCD are blind to social norms and nonverbal cues, and must work their way through everyday interactions. I also, because I am cruel and unusual, gave her a rare dissociative disorder: she has trouble recognizing, or feeling, her own emotions.
I have attached an entry from Fatima’s journal to illustrate both how she sees the world and how she interacts with others.

Which of your antagonists is your favorite? Why?

Chris Barili: So far, it’s a tie between Annie’s ghost of a mother in Smothered, and John Wesley Hardin in the Hell’s Bucher-based short story “Witch’s Kiss.” The first because I got to make her up and have her interrupt an intimate scene between her daughter and a man. The second because I researched him thoroughly and felt like I knew him well enough to write a story where this very real gunfighter did some very fictional things, and I feel like I did so without compromising his character.

Bobby Nash: The Controller in Suicide Bomb was a lot of fun to write.

Robbie Cheadle: I enjoyed Lucifer in Through the Nethergate. He was a young, good looking man with an interesting plan to manipulate modern trends and technology to invoke a third world war. I also enjoyed the hell he created.

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That’s all for this week on the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series . Thanks for joining us. Drop by next Saturday, when the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series introduces award winning multi-genre author, Mario Acevedo and offers a Q & A on Action, Pacing & Dialog.

Ask the Authors 2022

Don’t forget to get your copy of Ask the Authors 2022 from your favorite book distributor at the special price of 3.99 for the duration of this blog series, through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Plot/Storyline

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome back to the “Ask the Authors 2022” Saturday blog series.

If you missed them, you can catch the first two segments here:

Segment 1Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killany/Writing Life Q & A

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-Writing Rituals Q & A

This is the third segment for this series and today I’m going to introduce you to contributing author, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, who shares her essay about her own publishing journey in the book, and bring you a Q & A on plot, or storyline, from the WordCrafter writing reference anthology, Ask the Authors 2022.

Meet Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle is a writer of young adult and adult fiction in the supernatural fantasy, historical horror, and historical supernatural genres. Under the name Robbie Cheadle, she is a South African children’s author, publishing the Sir Chocolate series with her son, Michael, and a poet with 2 published poetry books.

To date, Roberta has published two novels, Through the Nethergate, and A Ghost and His Gold, along with several short stories in various anthologies including Whispers of the Past, Spirits of the West, and Where Spirits Linger, all edited and compiled by Kaye Lynne Booth, and Dark Visions, Nightmareland, Spellbound, Wings & Fire, and Shadowland, all compiled by Dan Alatorre.

Robbie is also a member of the Writing to be Read blogging team and co-editor of Poetry Treasures (2021) and Poetry Treasures 2: Relationships (2022), two poetry anthologies with contributing authors who were guests from her “Treasuring Poetry” blog series. When she is not writing, Robbie enjoys working in the garden and creating fondant and cake artworks to be featured in her children’s books.

And now for the Q & A.

Plot/Storyline

How do you feel about prologues? Love them or hate them? Why?

Mario Acevedo: I’m not a fan of prologues and as I see them as superfluous to the story. If you must include a prologue, then call it Chapter One to make sure readers like me won’t flip past it.

Paul Kane: I have no strong feelings about them either way. Sometimes I’ve used them, other times I’ve gone straight into Chapter One. I know some writers who say if you can avoid Prologues then do it and just start with the first chapter, but I think if it serves a purpose then there’s a place for one. I tend to include them in the thrillers, because it’s always an event that kicks things off – so for example in Her Last Secret, it’s the death of Jordan Radcliffe, in Her Husband’s Grave it’s the discovery of a body on Golden Sands beach, and in The Family Lie it’s a couple of campers who see a man on fire in the woods. I then split the narrative into parts, and in Chapter One I tend to introduce the main protagonist, so it might be the person who’ll be doing the investigating; someone whose eyes we’ll be seeing most of the events in the book through.

Chris Barili: I normally skip prologues in the books I read, especially if they’re more than two pages long, so naturally, I try to avoid them in my own writing. I tend to be of the mind that if it’s important enough to be in the story, I can be “Chapter One” or background info sprinkled throughout the story.

Bobby Nash: Prologues have their uses. I don’t think they need to be used in every story and I certainly don’t use them as an info dump. Sometimes, they work well.

Robbie Cheadle: I have no strong feelings about prologues. If the story requires one, then it should be there, if not, it can be omitted. I have not as yet included a prologue in one of my books.

Nancy Oswald: Not too fond of them. I think it’s better to jump right into the story.

Kevin Killiany: Prologues are essentially exposition—they explain the conditions or situation that make the story itself possible and necessary. Sometimes they contain information vital to the climax or outcome of the story that the writer could not figure out how to insert into the narrative itself. Like any tool they are not good or bad in and of themselves. I have, rarely, used prologues as placeholders in rough drafts; repositories to hold essential information until I work out how to work the really important bits into the narrative. Only one of my short stories ever went to press with both a prologue and epilog: “Simple Farmer”, Total Warfare, FanPro, 2006, a tie-in story for the Classic BattleTech RPG. They contained information long-time players knew, but new and less minutia-oriented readers would need to understand the story’s significance to the game.

What is the most difficult part of the story to write: beginning, middle or end?

Mario Acevedo: For me, the entire book is a challenge. I tell new writers not to sweat a perfect beginning because it’s often not till you write the ending do you figure what the beginning needs to say. The middle is called “the swamp” for good reason and the key here is to keep in mind the story question as you introduce plot twists.

Paul Kane: This changes, depending on at which point in the story or book you ask me. It’s hard to make a start on a project, because you’ve just got the blank page in front of you. But then it’s just as hard the next day to come to it and see another blank page… I tend to flag about halfway through and wonder what the hell I’m doing or wish I’d never even started it. The end is definitely the best part, if you’ve panned it well and can bring the book in for a good landing. There’s no more satisfying feeling in the world than having written the book. I always joke that I hate writing – which for a writer probably isn’t great – but I do love having written. Having a first draft that I can then tinker with. That’s my favourite part of the process if I’m honest, apart from getting the idea in the first place and developing that. But even at an early stage, you’ve got the whole mountain of a book to write ahead of you, which can be quite daunting. 

Bobby Nash: I don’t know if I would call it more difficult to write, but the middle is usually where I start getting bogged down. Knowing when to transition from the middle to the end can be tricky.

Robbie Cheadle: It is all the same for me. I have the outline in my head, and I write in that direction. I do not find any parts more difficult, and I am for consistency and fluidity throughout my stories.

Jeff Bowles: For me, a short story or novel isn’t complete until I’ve managed to synthesize a decent tie-up ending. It can be tough to do, especially if you aren’t using a road map or outline of some sort, which I often do just to see where the story takes me. Sometimes I do a lot of preplanning, and that can certainly help, but even then, things in the plot can and do change, which means a good ending can still be hard to stick. Beginnings carry all the burden of proof, the reason someone will or won’t want to read your work, but even they depend on where a narrative ultimately ends up. As the saying goes, the seeds of an ending are always found in its beginning.

Nancy Oswald: Each book is different.

What are the elements of a good plot?

Paul Kane: That it hangs together well and is pacy. That there are no flabby bits which are unnecessary. Every bit of your story should be relevant and serve a purpose; if you could take certain bits out and still have the same plot, then they weren’t necessary in the first place. That it moves along well from beginning to the middle, to the end, and leaves a reader satisfied; and by that I mean content that they haven’t just wasted a chunk of their lives reading it. It’s why I always plan, so I can see the shape of the plot and work out what sections need to stay, which can be salvaged, and which need to be jettisoned.

Bobby Nash: I tell stories that I hope are coherent, make sense, and are entertaining. If that happens and the characters work, I’m happy.

What is the best hook you’ve ever written? Why?

Paul Kane: Ooh, that’s a hard one. Do you mean at the beginning of a story to make the reader go on? I’d say probably The Family Lie – and reviewers have mentioned this a lot! It’s the whole thing of showing those campers hearing something in the woods, looking out and seeing a guy on fire among the trees. I mean, what on earth’s going on there? If it doesn’t make you want to read on and find out then I’ve really not done my job properly. Up there with that is probably the start of Servants of Hell. That purposely mirrors the puzzle box scene with Frank from The Hellbound Heart, where he’s trying to solve the Lament Configuration and summon the Cenobites. I have a very similar scene, but right at the end you discover it’s Sherlock Holmes solving the puzzle just as the Cenobites show up. We then go back and find out how he ended up in that situation, but man what a hook! I was the one on fire the day I wrote that.

Chris Barili: Probably the opening to Guilty, the prequel to my Hell’s Butcher series. It opens with the main character face down in a saloon, dead from a gunshot wound. His first interaction is with a bartender who is half-rhinoceros.

Bobby Nash: I love this opening to Snow Falls.

“Abraham Snow knew he was about to die–

–and the thought of it pissed him off to no end.”

What kind of stakes do you set for your characters?

Paul Kane: Usually quite high stakes. Even if it’s something that’s high stakes for them alone, something that means a great deal to them, but might not to anyone else. You have to give characters motivation, nudge them to do things they might not otherwise do, and the only way to achieve that is by making it a high stakes gamble for them. They might lose their marriage, kids, or even their life. It makes a reader keep on turning the pages to find out how they’ll get on. In Lunar, the stakes really couldn’t be any higher for my protagonist Nick Skinner: he needs to find out why the world became stuck at a certain point in time; what the white-eyed Loons are roaming about, killing people; and he needs to find out where the love of his life Dawn is. Track her down and save her. Hopefully you go along with him for the ride to find out how he gets on. 

Chris Barili: Again, that depends on the story and the genre. The stakes in a romance are a broken heart or happiness, while that in a horror story might actually be losing their heart.

Bobby Nash: Every story is different, but the stakes have to impact the character on some personal level. If the character doesn’t feel anything or there’s no stakes for them, the reader has no reason to get invested.

Robbie Cheadle: Through the Nethergate and A Ghost and His Gold were both about ghosts which have become trapped in between the physical world here on earth, and the afterlife. The reasons for this happening are different in both books, but the ghosts searching for redemption, so they can move on to the next level of existence is a common thread. The Soldier and the Radium Girl is different and is about a young couple’s quest for justice.

Do you write in subplots purposefully or do they develop organically for you?

Paul Kane: I work all those out beforehand, when I do my planning. That’s when subplots will occur to me and develop organically at the ideas level when I’m figuring it all out. As I mentioned, that doesn’t mean it’s all set in stone, there is always scope to change things if it makes the story better, but it allows you to figure out what main plots and subplots you’re going to need before you even start writing.

Chris Barili: Both. I plan some, and others pop up during the course of telling the story. If your characters are realistic enough, and you know them well enough you won’t be able to avoid the latter happening at least a little in your story.

Bobby Nash: A little of both. In writing series like Snow or Sheriff Myers, I know plot points for future books so I set up things that will pay off later. There are times, however, where I’ll decide something later and go back to set up the subplots and discover they are already there. Sometimes, my characters are smarter than I am.

Robbie Cheadle: Subplots do develop organically for me and are often a result of the interesting additional information I discover through my research as I go along.

Nancy Oswald: Develop organically.

Kevin Killiany: Subplots are always purposeful. In fact I always write complex or substantive subplots as individual stories in first/rough draft. Jigsawing the parts together—trimming, expanding, and polishing as needed—is part of the editorial process. 

How do you assure that all subplots are resolved at the end of the story?

Mario Acevedo: I don’t because I like messy endings. The main story question is resolved, but usually involves a compromise by the protagonist. Unresolved subplots are good places to hitch up a sequel.

Paul Kane: Well, they might not be – but that would be something you leave dangling on purpose. For example, and this is a spoiler, at the end of The Gemini Factor we find out that one of the main characters Deborah is pregnant with twins. This was part of the subplot of her falling in love with Jack, a twin himself, who ends up getting killed. So we don’t really see the resolution of what she does about having his kids… unless I do a sequel, which actually I’m intending to do at some point. So leaving things open-ended sometimes can shoot off into yet another story. Pulling on a story thread that you’ve left dangling.

Chris Barili: Well, first off, some are not resolved because I want them to continue into the next book. For those that wrap up in the current book, I create a plot line, usually color-coded, in my beat sheet for that subplot so I don’t forget it.

Bobby Nash: Keep good notes. There was one time I realized that I had forgotten to resolve a plot point and so I started planning how to resolve it and the characters showed me which way to go. It turned out far better than my original idea. That’s why I trust my characters to get me where I need to go.

Robbie Cheadle: I engage the services of a developmental editor to read my stories carefully and help me tidy up lose threads, tighten the storyline, and produce the best story possible. I am also fortunate enough to have two Beta readers who read my work chapter-by-chapter and help me resolve issues and lose threads or contradictions as I go along.

Kevin Killiany: Sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they’re hooks for the next story.

What methods do you use to add tension and conflict to your story?

Mario Acevedo: Make sure the characters, even those on the same side, have competing agendas.

Paul Kane: Well, I use suspense to ramp up the tension. And if you want to know how that works, just go away and watch a bunch of Hitchcock movies because he was the master. Show the bomb and the ticking clock under the table, but have the characters oblivious to it. That’s suspense, folks! As for conflict, you have to have characters with different points of view, just like in real life. Where do all the arguments come from in your own life? People who disagree with you on a certain course of action or about beliefs. Just look at something like The X-Files, which I watched from start to finish again recently. Mulder’s the believer, Scully’s the sceptic, and we watched the arguments – as well as sexual tension – between them for many years. Opposing viewpoints, yet when the chips were down they worked for the common good; the perfect combination. In my novel Arcana, which is set in an alternate universe, I had a young M-Forcer whose job it is to police magic users, unwittingly fall in love with a member of a group of magic users he’s chasing. Then you ask the question: what now? Will he turn his back on what he believes for love? Or bring her in? Or is there more to what’s going on in the first place than they know? It makes for tension, conflict and… if you’ll pardon the pun, given the novel in question, sparks.

Bobby Nash: Character moments are good for this. There are also tricks you can do on the writing side. Short, choppy sentences speed up the action. Long paragraphs slow it down. That sort of thing.

Robbie Cheadle: It depends on the book in question. With my current novel, there is a lot of irony because a lot of readers will be familiar with the story of the radium girls. War stories include their own tension due to the conflict situations that are innate in the history. I make use of flawed characters so that they do things that create conflict situations through their own poorly thought-out actions and their strong ideas and views about other characters and the situations they are in due to external circumstances.

Nancy Oswald: If I’m bored the reader will be too, so I try to pay attention to that and analyze where the story gets slow (or not).

Kevin Killiany: Mostly I just add tension and conflict. You should always keep in mind that every character is the hero of their own story—every character has a reason for what they’re doing. Begin with characters you care about (Not the reader, you; fake it ≠ make it.) and give them compelling reasons for their actions. When the actions and the underlying reasons for those actions of two people you care about run contrary to each other, the conflict generates the tension.

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That wraps up the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series for today. I thank you for joining us and hope you found some of this useful. Next Saturday will bring you an introduction to contributing author, Paul Kane and a Q & A on Character Development. See you then.

Ask the Authors 2022

And don’t forget to grab your copy of Ask the Authors 2022 from your favorite book distributor at the special price of 3.99 for the duration of this blog series, through the Books2Read UBL here: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining.


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Writing Life

Ask the Authors 2022

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…

Writing Life

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.  

Chris Barili:

  • Write.
  • 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.

Robbie Cheadle:

  • 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 LotNo 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.

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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

Ask the Authors 2022

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