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"Workshops and classes and writers ~ oh, my!" A review of Brian Henry's writing workshops and courses

Posted on April 21, 2017 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)


I wrote this review about Brian Henry's workshops and classes back in December 2014. That was before I had an agent, before HarperCollins' Maze brand published Time After Time in June 2016, and before MIRA signed me up for a two-book deal. My feelings about his classes haven't changed though.


It all began on October 5, 2013. And my apologies to Elmore Leonard for beginning with the weather, but when I looked out of the window, I saw rain. Dark skies. More rain. Swirling, ominous black clouds. And did I mention the rain? A miserable Saturday that offered the perfect excuse to stay inside and sit next to the fire with a cup of tea and a good book.




Except that I’d signed up for a How to Get Published workshop in Georgetown, of all places, a good thirty minute drive north. I’d seen the workshop on the Internet, on a blog written by someone called Brian Henry.




Should I go? Actually I debated whether I could be bothered. Told myself it wouldn’t be helpful. Nobody seemed to like my writing (waah-waah). A one-day workshop couldn’t change that. So what if an agent was the guest speaker? It only meant giving another one the opportunity to reject me (*pout*).




Then I figured I’d met my husband on the Internet years ago, and that had worked out. Plus I’d paid for the workshop in advance, so what the hell. I drove off, fully expecting to be home by lunchtime. I wasn’t. In fact I didn’t get home until late afternoon because I enjoyed myself so much. I even hung around after to chat with Brian. Turned out he knew a lot of stuff. Really good stuff. And I was hooked.


In January I took Brian’s weekly Next Step in Creative Writing class in Mississauga. For ten weeks, twelve of us bravely battled our way through the incessant snow storms and polar vortexes. Every Thursday we reviewed two of each other’s pieces of writing. We offered friendly yet constructive feedback on what we saw as the good, the bad and the ugly – then listened intently to Brian’s elegantly spoken comments.


Critiquing my colleagues’ pieces was just as valuable as obtaining input on my own submissions. And to tell the truth, when I brought in my children’s chapter book, I wanted to crawl under the table and not listen to the critiques. But the feedback from the group was good: I should continue, I had something there, the kids would love it. I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I had an iota of talent. I dusted off the draft of my debut commercial fiction novel and started looking at it from a different, freshly acquired angle.




With surprising confidence, I plunged into the Intensive Creative Writing class in Burlington, and signed up for both the spring and autumn classes. Each week we looked at different subjects – plot versus story, first person compared to third, and even that elusive creature called omniscient. Brian upped the ante this time when it came to submitting pieces. As well as studying writing techniques, we all brought three long and three short pieces each over the twelve week course. That’s a ton of scribbles, about 13,000 words per person, in fact.




The class didn’t disappoint. The commitment, level of writing and enthusiasm present in the room each week were astounding. So too were the stories being born – full of love and passion, mystery and murder. There we sat – a group of people with the same passion. No egos, no power struggles, and too many laughs to be able count.


Brian and every single person in the classes gently shaped me into a better writer. Once again, obtaining feedback felt thrilling. I relished the praise, a comforting balm to the bruised amateur writer’s soul.


However, the team didn’t pull any punches (for the love of god, Hannah, don’t use clichés). They firmly told me what was wrong with my pieces (not clear enough, not emotional enough, not steamy enough, more – give us more). And I’m glad. Because lip service is a writer’s nemesis. Along with procrastination, self-doubt and YouTube, of course.


As well as the weekly classes, I attended half a dozen of Brian’s Saturday workshops, from writing for children to building stories, from discovering page-turner secrets to understanding how to find an agent. Each one renewed my passion for the craft, provided me with different perspectives, ideas and even more invaluable feedback. Brian is a master at putting his finger on things you couldn’t quite formulate. He imparts seeds of wisdom that flower into fully grown chapters.




You could say that rather a lot has changed since that first workshop in Georgetown. Seven of the eight short stories I’ve written in the last year were published online (damn it, almost a perfect score). Three of the stories actually started as exercises at Brian’s Saturday workshops, and one of them features in a book. A real, proper, printed book.




Late summer, a literary agent at an agency that Brian connected me with deemed my scribbles worthy of representation. “What?” I muttered with furrowed brow when my wonderful agent said she wanted to represent me. “Really?” (Don’t say this when it happens to you; it sounds really bad.) Note: Cassie forgave me!


Now we’re busy working on the edits of my commercial fiction novel and my children’s chapter book before submitting them to publishers. I’m still in a state of disbelief. Goodness knows what I’ll do if (when!) I get a book deal. Note: I freaked out - a lot - when I got the deal for Time After Time! 




And, yes, I’ve signed up for another Intensive course this winter (snow and polar vortexes be damned). So if you’ve read this far and you’re still wondering whether you should sign up for one of Brian’s weekly classes or a Saturday workshop, let me tell you this: stop wondering. Sign up now and go. Even if it’s absolutely, positively miserable outside.




Brian Henry - Writing teacher in the Limelight

Posted on April 14, 2017 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (1)


This week's Limelight features Brian Henry, who has been in the book business for 25+ years. He teaches a number of weekly creative writing classes, and holds regular workshops. He also runs the QuickBrownFox blog, which is full of writing info about his classes, agents and publishers. Sign up for Brian's newsletters and updates on his blog.




You’ve been in the writing / editing business a long time. What made you turn to offering creative writing courses and workshops?


Giving talks at conferences is part of being in the publishing business. I liked it and people seemed to think I was good at it, so I just kept doing more of it.



 

What should people expect from your writing courses and writing workshops?


Depends. In a beginner’s course, they’ll get a chance to explore an aspect of their creativity while learning something about different forms of creative writing and some of the basics of craft. In a more advanced course, they’ll again be exploring their own creativity while learning the writing craft in more depth and also developing their own writing projects. In all my courses, people can expect to make new friends and experience a warm, supportive environment.


 


How much change and progression do you see in your regular students’ work?


I see huge changes. Most of my students have been with me for multiple courses, and for me, that’s one of the greatest things about the whole process – seeing how much they grow as writers.

 



Can you share your students’ biggest success stories?


Well, my biggest success story is Kelley Armstrong. She’s published more than 30 novels, hit the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list and has a TV series, Bitten, based on her first thirteen books. But in truth, I get a charge every time one of my students has a short story published on an online literary journal, which generally happens a couple times a week.



        Kelley Armstrong

 


You offer consultations for writers and manuscript evaluations. What should writers expect from those?


Consultations are usually about short pieces – a query letter, a picture book manuscript, a first chapter perhaps – or sometimes about career direction or something like that. With query letters, expect to go home with a rewritten query that will make agents want to see your manuscript. With very short manuscripts, expect detailed discussion and suggestions for how you might improve it. For career advice, expect to be told not to quit your day job yet, but in the meanwhile, maybe we can chart your course as a writer.


Manuscript evaluations are for longer manuscripts – novels, for example. Expect to be told what’s working, what’s not, and how to fix it. The focus is always on the bigger picture stuff, because that’s what’s most important, but of course I do make suggestions about phrasing and things like that, too – I can’t help myself.



 


What are your Top-5 tips for aspiring authors?


Write, write, write, get good feedback, and rewrite.




What’s the best thing about what you do?


Interacting with writers. As a breed, writers are brilliant, funny, and caring, and we spend our time talking about how to writer better. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a job like this.




What do you like to do when you’re not working?


Hang out with my family. Mostly, though, I’m working.

 

Where can we learn more about you?


The Quick Brown Fox blog. I post something almost every day.


 

 

Jennifer Wilson - Author in the Limelight

Posted on March 24, 2017 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)


This week's Limelight guest is Jennifer Wilson, author of Kindred Spirits.

 



Hi Jennifer, and welcome to my blog. Let’s start with you telling us about yourself.


Hi Hannah, thanks for inviting me to join you today. I’m a marine biologist by training, and I work as an environmental consultant, focusing on environmental impact assessments. I’ve always written, but once I started working, I started going to workshops etc.; I suppose it was a reaction to everything having to be so ‘right’ at work, with references etc. People might not like what I’ve written, but they can't really tell me it’s wrong :)




You published your first book, Kindred Spirits, in October 2015. What can you tell us about the story?


Kindred Spirts: Tower of London is “a ghost story with a difference” according to one kind reviewer, and has been described as ‘paranormal historical fiction’, which I quite like as a description.


Essentially, imagine being able to eavesdrop on the ghosts which ‘inhabit’ the Tower of London: since being built in the 11th century, it’s been a royal palace, a fortress and, of course, a notorious prison. I was fascinated by the notion that Richard III and Anne Boleyn’s ghosts would have plenty in common if they were to meet, and the Tower seemed the most sensible place for them to be. Finding the rest of my ‘cast’ was great fun as well, working out who would or wouldn’t get along, and what sparks might just fly.




Are you planning a sequel? And if so, what can you share?


I am! Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile is coming this summer. It takes the same premise as Kindred Spirts: Tower of London, but moves the action north of border, to Edinburgh. After Richard III, Mary, Queen of Scots is my favourite monarch, and, I think, a bit maligned by history. In my second novel, she is revisiting her capital, and has to tackle both her father’s melancholy and her troublesome second husband, Lord Darnley at the same time as keeping order amongst courtiers and commoners alike.


You wrote Kindred Spirits as part of NaNoWriMo. What prompted you to take that writing challenge, and what did it do for you as an author?


I heard about NaNoWriMo through a friend, and at the time, I was looking for a writing challenge, so decided to give it a go. I also quite liked the idea of the social side of things, and headed along to some of the writing days in Newcastle, which were great fun.


Typing ‘the end’ and hitting that magic 50,000 words the first time was absolutely amazing, back in 2009, but I’ll admit those 50,000 have never gone anywhere other than laptop to laptop. The plot was ok, but the writing was atrocious. Fast-forward to 2013, and this time, I had more faith in what I’d created, so decided to stick with it, and spend most of 2014 editing.


I would recommend NaNoWriMo as an excellent way to simply get the words down on paper; after all, you cannot edit what you haven’t written.


 


When did you start writing, and what did you write first?


I started making up stories as a child, but always wanted to write historical fiction, so at uni, I was always jotting down ideas here and there. I didn’t manage to finish anything, but it’s good fun looking back over them, and one or two ideas will be developed eventually. I wrote a lot of poetry after moving to Tyneside, but have now returned to my ‘first love’: historical fiction.


What fascinates you about paranormal historical fiction? How do you go about writing that specific genre?


It’s funny, but it was never really something I ‘set out’ to write, more, it’s a category I seem to have fit into really nicely and only really realised I was in it when somebody told me I was. Once I got the idea of relationships between ghosts, and in particular between ghosts of different eras or ideologies, I realised there was a lot to explore here.


So far, I’ve tackled the Tower of London and Edinburgh, but I’ve also been jotting down ideas for shorter pieces, exploring small towns, or individual buildings. I’ve always loved visiting historical buildings and sites, and especially on my own, where you can really ‘get to know’ a place, and put yourself in the shoes of those who lived (and died) there. That’s what I love about paranormal historical fiction.




Can you tell us about how you write? Any particular methods or quirks you can share?


I can’t write in silence, or with too many distractions – I am an absolute Goldilocks! So if I really need to focus, then there’s nothing better for me than playing one of my Boyzone or Westlife albums. I know them so well, the music sort of ‘goes through my head’, whilst also blocking out annoying things like traffic or the boiler firing up. Other than that, I think I’m fairly standard; I enjoy being out and about with my notebook for drafting ideas, then head home to type things up on the computer.




What’s the most surprising thing you learned about yourself when you started writing creatively?


That I could actually do it! Getting that first piece of success was just incredible, and really gave me the boost that something I loved doing was something I actually could do.


What are your Top-5 tips for aspiring writers?


• Just keep writing. Whether you manage 20, 200 or 2,000 words a day, it’s like the gym, and you’ll feel great after doing it, even if opening the notebook is the last thing you want to do.


• Don’t try and be something you’re not. I was convinced I’d be a women’s magazine short story writer, because I’d read them so much and felt I ‘knew’ them, but it just isn’t going to happen, or at least not with a LOT more work to learn the craft.


• Read loads. Yes, mainly in your own genre, but also outside it, to gain new skills / understanding of how the experts do it.


• Ask for help. Since being published, I’ve asked so many questions of fellow Crooked Cat writers, and I’ve always had so much help from people. Join specialist Facebook groups, web-forums, or an actual writing group, and never be afraid to ask for help.


• Push yourself. You’re never too old or too expert to try or learn something new. I really enjoy workshops, and last year, a writing colleague and I set up The Next Page, through which I have now run several of my own, and have more planned for this year. It’s so inspiring!


 


What do you like to do when you’re not writing?


I have such an addiction to jewellery, and started making my own a couple of years back, and it’s lovely knowing I’ll always have the perfect earrings or necklace to go with an outfit! Other than that, I’ve never happier than wandering around historical sites, or exploring new places. It’s great getting to know a place, and the notebook is never far from hand…





And finally, where can we find out more about you, and your work?

Blog: https://jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/inkjunkie1984

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jennifercwilsonwriter/

The Next Page: https://thenextpagepresents.wordpress.com/

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London: http://authl.it/B016TRKU2A

 

 

Judy Walters - Author in the Limelight

Posted on March 10, 2017 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)

This week's Author in the Limelight is Judy Walters, who is about to publish her fifth novel, A Million Ordinary Days.




Hi Judy, and welcome to my blog. You’ve just self-published your fifth novel, A Million Ordinary Days. Congratulations! What can you tell us about the story?


This is the story of Allison Wheeler, who is fighting a war inside her body, a war with Multiple Sclerosis that she doesn’t want to acknowledge and certainly doesn’t want other people to see.


As Allison’s health deteriorates, she tries desperately to hold on to all that is important to her – her family, her career as a social worker for pregnant teens, and most of all, her independence. As her ex-husband and two daughters rally around her, they’re fighting their own demons – Glenn, in a new relationship, is afraid of shifting the comfortable companionship that he and Allison have built since their divorce fifteen years back. Melanie, whose sad past haunts her, is an adult realizing that adult life is not all it’s cracked up to be, and Hailey, a junior in high school, is debating how she can go off to college knowing that even though she desperately wants to spread her wings and fly, her mother may be too ill for her to go.


Just when they all think they’ve made peace with their lives, they must readjust to a “new” normal – or risk losing everything they’ve struggled to hold onto.



 

Is this a standalone novel, or a sequel to your other books? Can you share more about those novels too?


This is a stand-alone novel. Thanks for asking about my other novels. My first novel, Child of Mine, came out in 2013. It’s the story of an infertile, adopted midwife looking for her birth family.


My second book, The Opposite of Normal -- which, in fact, readers DO keep asking me to write a sequel to, is about a Chinese adoptee whose mother has died and whose Rabbi father is attempting to raise her in a Christian town.


My third book, The Place to Say Goodbye, is about a twenty five year old, non-verbal, autistic man (whose thoughts only the reader is privy to) and his identical twin sisters who have to take care of him after a family tragedy.


In 2016, I published Start at the Beginning, the story of two best friends who share a secret that rips their friendship, and two families, apart.




Why did you pick women’s fiction as your genre?


It picked me! It’s what I love to read.

 

What made you decide to self-publish as opposed to taking the traditional agent / publisher route?


I’ve had two agents and both were negative experiences. Actually, my second agent published my first book, Child of Mine, with her agency as an ebook, something that was new and innovative at the time (2013) but has become a more common way of publishing since then. I decided I could do this on my own, so that’s what I’ve been doing all these years.



 

What was the journey from idea to publication like? How long did it take?


I wrote five other novels before I got my first agent, and then the book I got the first agent with ultimately wasn’t good enough to publish. I also obtained my second agent with that same book. Unfortunately she was unable to sell it. My next novel Child of Mine was my first that was good enough to be published.

 

When did you start writing, and what did you write first?


I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I always loved it. When I was in third grade, I took a creative writing class where we had to personify something. I wrote from the viewpoint of George Washington’s wig. (I have no idea where that came from!) The writing instructor took my father aside and told him I had real talent.



 

Can you tell us about how you write? Any particular methods or quirks you can share?


When I’m actively writing a novel, I start first thing in the morning, around 8, every weekday. I give myself a word count (the number of words I hold myself to is private, so don’t ask about that, lol, and I don’t stop for the day until I reach that number.




What’s the most surprising thing you learned about yourself when you started writing creatively?


I’m not that bad at it.


 


What do you like to do when you’re not writing?


I love to bake desserts of all kinds, preferably chocolate. I find it extremely relaxing. I also love to hang out with my husband and daughters. We enjoying going out to eat and to the movies.



 

And finally, where can we find out more about you, and your work?


You can check out my web site at judymollenwalters.com. I’m also on Facebook.

Donna Kirk - Author in the Limelight

Posted on March 3, 2017 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)


This week's Limelight features my amazing friend and no-nonsense writing colleague, Donna KirkShe's been an Oakville resident for forty-six years, is married to Ed, mother to Matthew, Kelley and Joseph, and grandmother of Sloane, seven and Reese, six.



 

Donna - so lovely to feature you on my blog! Your first book, Finding Matthew is about your son. Can you tell us more?


Matthew suffered oxygen loss at birth. Doctors advised Ed and me that Matthew would never know us and to institutionalize him. One doctor refereed to our son as ‘a vegetable with a heartbeat’. Matthew could neither suck nor swallow and had to have the saliva suctioned from his mouth to avoid drowning.


We ignored their callous predictions and brought him home from hospital when Matthew was two months old. By then, he had learned to take his milk from a bottle, could hold his head up and was eating rice cereal laced with applesauce from a tiny spoon.


At age two, Matthew, one of Jack Buckler’s water babies, swam on national television for a program called ‘Sports Beat 72’. Matthew could swim underwater from the middle of the pool unassisted, reach the edge, climb out on his own and sit on the pool deck.



 

Finding Matthew is a memoir, and therefore highly personal. How difficult was it to write about your family’s experiences? What did you hope to achieve through writing it?


Not difficult. I wanted to show the value of Matthew’s life, the depth of his accomplishments and the love he gave us. Telling Matthew’s story and the story of our family will, I hope, enlighten others about the gifts and talents of people with developmental disabilities, and emphasize their value and worth in society.




What’s your next project?


Keeping up my blog: www.donnakirk.com which is dedicated to people with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

I’m working on a novel but finding that writing the memoir was much easier. The plot was already laid out for me and all I had to do was write it down!



 

Can you tell us about your writing process? Any particular methods or quirks you can share?


I’m a corrector. I write a few paragraphs, then go back and fill them in, change them to what is semi-decent copy, then go on and write a few more paragraphs.


Along the way, I get ideas and write them down in point form at the end of the piece. I write and re-write, adding some ideas and deleting others. Then I walk away for a few hours/overnight and come back for final edits.


I print the piece, read it aloud then edit again. It takes me about four days to write 3000 words.

 

 


What’s the most surprising thing you learned about yourself when you started writing creatively?


That I loved writing. That I’m an introvert.


 

 

What are your Top-5 tips for aspiring writers?


Sit down and write. Then re-write. Then re-write again.


Many people ask ‘how do you find the time to write?’ After my daily workout, writing is my priority. If you have to make yourself write, take up bridge.


Ask respected colleagues for help with your stories and novels. Then listen to what they have to say.


Don’t be afraid to ‘go with your gut’ about a piece/idea you feel strongly about. It’s your writing, after all.


Enjoy your creativity. You’ll get ‘stuck’, frustrated, annoyed my callous rejections of your prefect stories and articles, but most of all – you’re doing it! Keep doing it.



 

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?


Power walk, read, help bring up my two granddaughters, drink wine with Ed in the evenings.



 

Where can we learn more about you and your work?


Right here: www.donnakirk.com

 

Christina Hoag - Author in the Limelight

Posted on February 24, 2017 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)


This week's Limelight guest is author Christina Hoag.




Hi Christina and welcome to the blog. Let’s start by you telling us about yourself …

 

Hi Hannah, and thanks for hosting me!


I am a journalist and novelist. When I was six years old, I won a prize for writing interesting stories and that’s basically what I’ve been doing ever since. I became a newspaper reporter so I could write. During my career, I worked for the Miami Herald and Associated Press, among other places. The highlight was reporting from 14 countries around Latin America and the Caribbean for major media including Time, Business Week, Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. Now I do corporate communications writing and write novels.

 

And, of course, we’d love to hear about the books you’ve written. Tell us about those.

 

I have two novels published by small presses last year: Girl on the Brink, a YA romantic thriller, and Skin of Tattoos, a noir thriller.


Girl on the Brink is about a 17-year-old girl, Chloe, who gets involved with the wrong guy at an especially vulnerable time in her life, as her parents are splitting up. At first, she thinks Kieran’s the one. He sweeps her off her feet, to use an old cliché, and she experiences an incredible connection with him. Slowly, however, he reveals a very dark side of his character – he’s manipulative, abusive, violent, possessive. Chloe wants to help him, but despite what he says, Kieran’s not that keen on being helped. He pulls a huge move to harm her, and Chloe must use all her smarts, strength and courage to defeat him.




Skin of Tattoos is set in the gang underworld of Los Angeles, and the main character, Mags, is a gang member. We meet him as he comes out of prison wanting to go straight and never return “behind the wall.” To do that, he has to get away from his gang, which has undergone some changes since he’s been locked up, namely his rival Rico, who set him up on the charge that got him imprisoned, is now the leader and isn’t about to let Mags leave the gang. It’s a story of revenge and rivalry, but there are also other layers such as a coming-of-age theme as Mags heals his fractured relationship with his family, and there’s a romantic subplot, as well.



 

How different is writing for adults from writing for YA from writing non-fiction? How do you handle these different genres?

 

Nonfiction is probably the easiest because the story comprises facts. It’s all laid out for you. The challenge comes in organizing those facts into a narrative, sub-topics and so on. Writing for YA is, for me anyway, the hardest because you have the most constraints. Your protag is a teenager so you have to take into account the restrictions on a teenager’s life: parental control and school, plus their limited self-awareness and knowledge at that age, and use limited sex and profanity. Adult fiction, which is my preferred genre, is a wide open field!


 


You also co-authored a book. What was that experience like?

 

I co-authored Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner Publishing, 2014), a book on “gang intervention.” Basically I was the writer. I interviewed my co-author, noted gang interventionist Aquil Basheer, at length about his life and his program to train former gang members as community peacekeepers who disrupt the retaliatory cycle of gang violence. I also interviewed many former gang members, cops, psychologists and others who work in this field. It was a fascinating project, and I’m proud to say that the book is being used as a text in several university courses.




Are you traditionally or self-published? How did you go about getting published?


I’m traditionally published by small publishers, but I got both deals myself. I’ve had two literary agents for Skin of Tattoos but neither was able to sell it or wanted Girl on the Brink. I kept rewriting both and submitting to publishers who accepted unagented submissions. It took a long time and many, many rejections but I kept polishing and submitting until I found homes for both. I’m happy to say both books have been well received so I’m glad I didn’t give up. There are many ways to launch a literary career.



 

You’re a volunteer creative writing mentor with WriteGirl.org. Can you share how this works?

 

WriteGirl is an organization in Los Angeles that works to promote writing by teen girls and help them get into college. Last year I led weekly writing workshops with at-risk girls at an alternative high school; this year I’m a mentor at monthly workshops (each month is a different writing genre) in which the mentors are paired with girls for the day to help and guide them in writing exercises. It’s a great program that really builds self-confidence and validation in girls from all types of backgrounds. I really wish I had had something like this when I was in high school.




Can you tell us about your writing process? Any particular methods or quirks you can share?

 

I’m a morning writer. I get up early, have my coffee and check the news and sit down and write until I feel my brain turning squishy, usually early afternoon. Then I get some exercise and try to do some marketing work. I use an outline. Although I rarely stick to it, I still like having it as a guidepost to the next plot steps. It’s also good to have some type of ending in sight when you start although it can change. I find writing is a very fluid process. It’s often surprising where the story ends up.



 

What’s the most surprising thing you learned about yourself when you started writing creatively?

 

I’m always amazed at what I come up with and how I write myself out of plot impasses. I may be uncertain of where I’m going with a particular thread or I may get just plain stuck, but a way out always comes to me. It might be in the middle of the night or as soon as I get up from the computer or while I’m writing, but an answer always pops up. I’ve learned to trust my creative process and not fret about getting stuck.

 

Can you share your Top-5 tips for aspiring writers?

 

1. I don’t write myself out every day. I leave something – the very next scene, usually - so when I come back the next day I know what to do. I just pick up and keep going. If you write yourself out, then you end up wasting a lot of time wondering what comes next and trying to get back into the rhythm of the story.


2. If someone says something in your piece doesn’t work, it’s only one person’s opinion. But if two people make the same observation, you need to pay attention to what they’re saying. More often than not, it’s something that needs fixing.


3. Develop a thick skin. It takes courage to write and show your work to the world for judgment, but remember that not everyone is going to like your work, and that’s okay. You have to learn to let criticism roll off you. The nastiest rejection I ever got was from the editor of a literary journal who scornfully said of my experimental fiction submission, “Why would anyone even read this?” I kept submitting it and got the piece and another like it published in other journals.


4. If there’s someone in your life who does not support you creatively, either get rid of them out or distance yourself from them as much as possible. Be ruthless because your art is worth it. I’ve broken up with boyfriends because they were not supportive or had no interest in my writing. In my mind, you can’t be with a writer if you’re not interested in what they write because their writing is part of their self-expression.


5. This may be the most important tip of all: Believe in yourself. Believe that you have something worthwhile to say. Believe in your talent. Believe that you will succeed and that the rocky road is part of any artist’s journey.




Will you tell us about your latest project(s)?


I’ve got a romantic suspense novel called “Heat in the Tropics” releasing next fall from Melange Books under the pseudonym C.A. Elliott. It’s a romance between a reporter and a homicide detective set in a sweltering Miami summer. Under my own name, I’m currently working on a thriller set in South America called “Jungle.”

 

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?


My next biggest passion is travel and sightseeing. I’ve travelled all over the world, the more remote the place the better! On a more daily basis, I love going for walks either in the outdoors or around art galleries and museums. Since writing is so sedentary, I need to get off my rump!




And finally, where can we learn more about you and your work.


The most complete place is my website www.christinahoag.com I also welcome people to follow my exploits on:

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Instagram

Faith Hogan - Author in the Limelight

Posted on February 15, 2017 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)


This week's Limelight guest is Faith Hogan, author of My Husband's Wives and Secrets We Keep.




Hi Faith, and welcome to my blog. Let’s start with you telling us about yourself


Hi Hannah, it’s lovely to be here! Where do I start? I’m a writer, reader, fiction addict! Seriously, I live in the west of Ireland and I just adore books. I’ve always written and over the years I’ve flexed my muscles on poetry, short stories, a radio play and for quite a while I was writing crime fiction. Then my agent pointed me in the direction of women’s fiction and I’ve never looked back. I have a golf mad husband, four children and a very demanding cat – I think that’s about it!




Blimey. You sound busy! Now, your second book, Secrets We Keep, has just been released – congratulations! What can you tell us about the story?


It’s set in the west of Ireland, in a little village that in reality is just on my doorstep. It’s the story of two women who have made mistakes and lived the best lives they thought they could. It’s a story of how they manage to find what they need, just when they stopped searching. Some people are meant for each other – time and distance can throw people together when they least expect it and happy ever after is never exactly what it seems!




Your debut, My Husband’s Wives, came out in May last year. It’s quite different from Secrets We Keep, isn’t it?


It is! I’ve been told it’s a very different kind of book. I began writing Secrets We Keep before I knew that My Husband’s Wives would be published. I suppose in that way, they are both written from the heart – there was no formulae, no target market – they are just books of women’s fiction that I had to write and now, I’m so glad I did. I loved writing Secrets We Keep – it’s the book that made me go ‘wow,’ at the end. I’m not sure I’d have been brave enough to take it on if there had been an expectation of something else.




I have to ask – two novels in under a year. How on earth do you write so quickly?


It seems like that doesn’t it! Books are changing though, now you look at some of the best writers around and they’re producing four books a year – now, that’s mind blowing. I still have a day job, a family, a life? But I have to say, I love the writing process, so I suppose while some people are knitting, or growing vegetables, or watching soap operas, I get my kicks from crafting stories – it takes all sorts!




When did you start writing, and what did you write first?

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t write. I suppose that I got more serious about it a couple of years ago. I put a lot of energy into writing crime novels at first, and perhaps that wasn’t a bad thing – because I’m sure it has to have honed some skills (apart from giving me writers’ bottom :D). Stolen Sister was a winner in the Irish Writers Novel Fair and that was a great experience as well as a nice confidence booster around the writing.


How did you go about finding an agent and surviving the dreaded querying process?


Oh, dear – yes, that’s probably the worst part. I was lucky, I sent off my MS to a few agents, one of whom I particularly admired – she has ‘discovered,’ some of my favourite authors. She worked with me for some time to put my ms into shape and even still, before anything goes to the publishers she will go through it and advise on revisions where she thinks they’re needed. Because she’s very experienced I trust her judgement, she’s worked with the very best and her optimism is uplifting – yes, I’ve been very fortunate.


What did it feel like to get a book deal?


That was the day I did a dance around the kitchen and the kids thought I’d finally tipped the scales in terms of coolness (I’m still not sure which side of the scales I’m on :)  it depends on if you ask the teenagers or the seven year old). Seriously, nothing prepares you for it. It was mind-blowingly better than I had imagined. I spent days afterwards just going through the emails. Of course, then you come back down and realise, I have to really write two more books now – argh!! But it’s all good!



 

Can you tell us about how you write? Any particular methods or quirks you can share?


No, I’m a pretty boring, plant-my-bottom-on-a-chair-and-go-for-it-kind-of-gal! I do like the quiet though and I tend to forget time altogether when I’m working on something that I’m really enjoying. Sometimes I have that battle between knowing it’s time to eat and really not wanting to leave where I’m at – first world problems, I know!


What’s the most surprising thing you learned about yourself when you started writing creatively?


This is a tough one. I think we (by which I mean readers) are always evolving. I think if you’re a reader, you’re going to be dipping in to material that’s going to change how you see the world and ultimately how you see yourself. Perhaps as writers and curators of ideas (I’m looking at all fab bloggers!) that’s something we should all be thinking about. As far as what writing has taught me, I’d say it’s perspective and I’d also say that you’re never done learning…


What are your Top-5 tips for aspiring writers?


First, I’d say write. You have to write some truly terrible stuff before you get to the gold.


Next, I’d say make the time. If you’re serious, get into a routine and make it a priority. For me, for a long time now, writing has come high on the list, after family and friends. It’s way before a lot of things that used to be priority!


Third, expect rejection – but don’t take it personally. If you can learn from it then you’re on the right path.


Fourth, in saying that, other people are not always right. I’m thinking here of JK Rowling’s rejection letters that were addressed to Robert Galbraith – now there’s an unhappy publisher crying into his tbr piles. Never give up just because of a comment based on a couple of chapters – life is too interesting for that!


Finally, get a comfy chair – you’ll be doing a lot of sitting in it if you’re really serious about this writing lark!




What do you like to do when you’re not writing?


When I’m not working, it’s family first, sometimes it’s just chillaxing at home or doing whatever floats their boats! Did I mention that I live in the one of the most beautiful corners of the world? I love to walk in the local woods, along the beach or just take in the air before bed time! I’m a big movie girl –as you might imagine and I’m discovering the delights of Netflix series, but of course, it takes me an age to get through them, I’m so far behind everyone else, it really is embarrassing.




And finally, where can we find out more about you, and your work?


Funny you should ask…


You'll find me on TwitterFacebook, Instagram, and on my website


You can also find my books on: Amazon.co.ukAmazon.comKobo, Google Play and iBooks

 

 

 

Cat Skinner - Author in the Limelight

Posted on February 10, 2017 at 7:40 AM Comments comments (0)

 

Incredibly excited to feature a serial entrepreneur and budding author on this week's Limelight post. Meet the incredibly talented, funny and gorgeous Cat Skinner!




Hi Cat, and welcome to the blog. Let’s start with you telling us about yourself …


This is so exciting, thanks for having me visit! I’m an entrepreneur and a mom of three amazing kids. Up until the last couple of years I was the Artistic Director of a Cirque Burlesque troupe in Toronto called Les Coquettes. When the troupe made the decision to retire, I made the decision to shift my focus to writing, something I’ve always loved.




When I’m not writing and parenting, my time is split between my other business projects. I blog and manage social media for our family business at TallEarth.com. We make and manufacture eco-safe wood treatment products, which are primarily sold online.


I have a successful beta reading business YourBetaReader.com where I read manuscripts for writers and give them feedback from a reader’s perspective.


This summer I also became a licensed wedding officiant in the province of Ontario with AllSeasonsWeddings.com. In January, I began teaching creative writing to kids ages 10 – 18 JuniorCreativeWriters.com, and I’m so excited about this. In addition to local classes in the Niagara Region, I plan to also have online offerings soon.


After blogging for years about sex education, relationships, life as a creative person and raising kids, I wrote and self-published a non-fiction book called Keeping It Up: A Guy’s Guide to Great Relationship Sex. There aren’t a lot of great books on the market speaking directly to the average man in a long-term relationship from a woman’s perspective, so I was hoping to fill a hole, so to speak.




Self-publishing has been a very challenging, rewarding, and humbling experience. I’ve learned so much, and though I’m not exactly daunted, I would do things very differently with any subsequent books.

 

I'm breathless just from reading everything you do! And you’re writing your debut novel, which will – no doubt – be totally fab. What can you reveal about the story and your experience as a writer so far?


I love writing fiction, though I was seriously intimidated by this for a long time. The novel is part of a series I’m working on, very loosely based on my experience in the burlesque world. It’s the story of a failing actress who gets a final shot at a career when she wins the chance to audition for a renowned Cirque Burlesque company, only to find that they are in fact a team of super hero mercenaries. As you can imagine, it’s pretty tongue-in-cheek. My goal was to write chick lit for fan girls, nerds and geeks like me.


When I got to the end of the first three drafts, I was pretty proud of having gotten so far. Once I got it the manuscript in the hands of my own team of trusted beta readers, I realized just how much work I had left to do, which was pretty daunting. I got very discouraged at first, but the pain of not seeing the novel through to publication is worse than just ploughing ahead and getting it done, so I’m back at it now.


2017 is the year to get my first novel off my desk and out into the world.

 

 

 

 What made you start writing? Where do you hope this journey will take you?


As I kid, I often struggled with feelings of not really belonging in my peer group. I had some bullies that I had to navigate around, and some childhood trauma that had a greater impact on my confidence and sense of well-being than I could have realized. In grade four, an amazing teacher (Mrs. Fabris) placed a huge portion of our classroom focus on creative writing. Through writing I found an incredible way to express my emotions, and more importantly, the power to create worlds that I could escape into. I’ve been writing in some capacity ever since.


I would love to arrive at a place with my writing where I’m not only making some income, but where I’m writing stories that people will delight in reading. People besides my friends and family, that is.



 

I'm always delighted by your writing, too! Do you already have another project in mind?


In November of 2016, I needed to step away from my novel revisions and I started working on a YA novel about a sixteen-year-old girl who is orphaned after her mother’s suicide, and is forced to live with her estranged grandmother in Northern Ontario. I had to shelf it because I hadn’t outlined it first, and kind of got stuck, but I think it’s got promise. My intention is to get back to it once the novel is off my desk.



 

Can you tell us about your writing process? Any particular methods or quirks you can share?


When I’m writing, I prefer either the silence and solitude of the writing desk in my bedroom, or the hum and bustle of a busy café. I usually need a mug of something warm to sip on, and my children know that interrupting me when I’m writing could put them in peril. I will also confess to always having a bar of Lily’s Stevia-sweetened chocolate in my desk. Chocolate seems essential to the process.




Chocolate is essential to life :-) So, what’s the most surprising thing you learned about yourself when you started writing creatively?


How much I need writing in my life to feel whole and sane.

 

What’s the hardest, and the best thing about writing?

The hardest thing is staying positive about the worth of my words, and keeping my writing life on the top of my priority list. The best thing is getting lost in the worlds and characters I create while writing. It feels like what I imagine meditation must be like.

 



Can you give aspiring writers your Top-5 tips?


1. Write every day, even if you’re just making creative lists or jotting down ideas.


2. Find a group of writers, preferably ones with more experience than you, who you admire and trust and meet with them regularly to share work and give feedback to one another.


3. Read as much as you can, and not just in the genre you like to write.


4. Have faith in your writing, and build up a thick skin.


5. Get savvy about the business end of the industry, whether you are self-publishing or going the more conventional route, and take time to build your social media platforms.




What do you like to do when you’re not writing and doing all the other wonderful things you do?


I like to read, cook, bake, hike, spend time with my family and I’m also a thrift store junkie.


 


Where can we learn more about you and your work?


My personal blog is the home of all of my writing work, and there are links to my other projects there as well. Please drop by and say hello at www.catskinner.club




Thanks Cat! xoxoxo

 


Suenammi Richards - Guest post "Diversifying My Worlds"

Posted on February 3, 2017 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)


This week, Suenammi Richards has written a guest post on diversity, and on how authors can include more of it in their work.




We live in a diverse world. However it seems when crafting and creating stories the diversity becomes in theory as opposed to being tangible. As an author I know there is very little as fearful or as frightening as feeling like you have crafted well thought out engaging characters and find them to be lacking in diverse experiences and diverse companions. It’s tempting to try and thrust these characters into spaces that have not been properly prepared for them. This is not the best way to approach diverse character creation. Here are seven methods to develop deep meaningful diverse characters to help promote more inclusive narratives.


1) Bonding points that are plausible and real


As in with most human relationships bonding points are very important. We have an inner sense of reality and a cross of what happens in those relationships. People as a whole experience exposure to different people from different day to day experiences. This means that passing a neighbor who does not look like your protagonist and is not equally abled or gendered is not a substantial bonding point. Which in general is why such relationships feel false because we as humans often indulge in superficial proximity related engagements. These instances do matter however for displaying diversity. The misfortune is that this inclusion can become disappointment when all the diverse characters are this hollow representation. People bond over shared interests so try not to limit who shares what interests and how it’s discovered.




2) Meetings that can occur spontaneously


More often than not stereotypes and assumptions cloud the vision of potential people a character can meet and where. In the constant battle of generating entertaining yet plausible narratives the specter of chance is sometimes more ignored. When crafting backstory for good diverse character integration sometimes the shared interest is as simple as service and duty. Regardless of ideas on this most professions are not race, gender, religion, sexuality, or abled bias. Most people do what are considered 'regular' jobs and so do our characters with notable exceptions. The impetuous to create strictly social character meetings stems the flow of diverse character creation unless the protagonist or antagonist has been given to bouts of stepping outside of comfort to make diverse meetings commonplace.




3) Study common concerns within that group


That being said, the key to all great fiction is changing your character. The most interesting way to do this is through relationships of all kinds. In many cases friendship. Research the nuanced concerns of populations that are in some way polar opposites to your characters. Have those characters stumble into very current very plausible social situations such as protests. Have your characters witness life perspective changing events that are based in the differences in reality for people of various populations. Use these natural plot devices to bring in those characters of diverse perspectives because that's where they are plentiful.



 

4) Read content from that perspective


In our current climate of blogs and self-publishing it is not difficult to find content that is delivered from a diverse perspective by those living in those spaces. Within that content there are recommended authors and social bloggers that those among that population revere. Make it an active habit of normal literary research to explore these perspectives and read these pieces that have nothing to currently do with your characters and figure out how that would actually affect their lives in a viable way. Use these perspectives to engage in almost devil's advocate discussions. Be a little fearless and don't be afraid to contact these other writers with questions regarding their perspectives. Many of them are very vocal about inviting conversation.




5) Seek out these relationships in your daily travels


People often use fears for safety as a legitimate reason to steer clear of not only certain perspectives and narratives but also from certain locations and populations. The truth is for most people a different lived in space is as simple as being a little more adventurous with choices in food. Some places of great inspiration and little harm are libraries and bookstores in neighborhoods not usually traveled in. At times take another path and see where it leads. Explore city event calendars for ethnic festivals and research the events and their importance to those communities.




6) Build from historical accuracies


The most pertinent information on most environments and the explanation for divisions of people and pockets of diversity is found in history. Now history books are good guidelines, however they are contingent to the predominant culture and the history they perceive as being worth preserving. So they must be observed with that in mind. When a question exists and logical historical answers seem lacking explore the art. All of the art. Find out what artists were doing during these times in these populations. Explore visual art, dance, theater and most especially writing. Search for the political art and especially the outlawed art. In outlawed art you find the backbone of whatever revolution the underserved populations where trying to attain. These instances can be traced to current cultural concerns and current times. While history books can be sculpted and groomed to be perceived a certain way there is an inalienable truth to art that a crafted history has a hard time distracting from.



7) Challenge your preconceived notion


The hardest aspect of this that every writer deals with is of course personal growth and evolution. The previous steps are methods to ultimately create a process of achieving this step over and over again as needed. When writing reflects a lack of diversity there is a lack of diversity in the artistic mind. If that is what is desired there is no flaw to be found in specialization. When a painter paints they place many self-imposed limitations which sometimes serve to capitalize on their strengths in the medium. This challenge is no different. Some authors will be able to truly embrace these methods and see their craft expand. Other authors will find that this may not be what their style needs. The suggestions here are just that and for those looking for this level of expansion, these are a few basic theories to maybe get to that inclusive place that’s being sought.



About Suenammi Richards:


A Dallas Texas native, she is currently a freelance graphic designer and web developer living in Tampa, Florida. Her background includes visual art, graphic design, technical writing, musical composition, and vocal performance. She has graced stages of Baltimore and Dallas theaters as a live vocalist and composer of music for repertory dance concerts for college programs.

 

She began writing romance as a hobby as she completed her Bachelor's of Science in Simulation and Digital Entertainment and has continued as she completed her Master's in Learning Technologies with Drexel University.

Alison Morton - Editing guest post

Posted on January 27, 2017 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)

 

A big thank you to author Alison Morton for this helpful guest post on editing.

 

The first self-edit

 

When I’ve written the final sentence of the first draft, I don’t heave a sigh of relief. Why? Because all the work starts now.

 

Editing is a several stage process: self-edit, critique partner edit, (paid) structural edit, (paid) copy edit, proof-read. I don’t put the manuscript aside for a few weeks. It’s not good enough to enter the fallow meadow; it needs a good scything first.


 

 

 After a well-deserved lie-in or even a day off, I gird up, send the draft to my Kindle and read it through without interruption (apart from comfort breaks, food and sleep). I jot down quick notes or chapter references and then motor on. This way, I get the flavour of the book and find out if it works as a complete story. Doing this when the first draft is fresh in my mind has saved me hours of wasted writing time because any large faults leap out and hit me between the eyes.

 

The objective here is to ensure that the story hangs together as a narrative.

 

Next, I print the whole thing out in 1.5 line space. Lover of my Kindle that I am, I know I spot more little horrors on paper. One thing I particularly check is each character’s individual time line.

 

 

 

Next, I settle down to remedying the bumpy bits. With my latest book, RETALIO, I found places that needed a linking scene, or a couple of lines of description. I visualise each scene in my head and remind myself that readers need me to show them where the characters are and why they are there. The other danger with a book in a series – this is the sixth Roma Nova thriller and the third in the AURELIA cycle – is that not all readers will have read the previous ones. So this is the time to make sure necessary bits of backstory have been dripped in so the scenes are set properly but without unloading one word more on the reader than is necessary.

 

The nitty-gritty

 

1. Check your printout is complete – printers can miss a page!

 

2. Go back and do the research the fine points – somebody will take great delight in pointing out a certain vegetable or fabric wasn’t known at the time of your story.

 

3. Check the eye and hair colours and the height and build of your characters are consistent.

 

4. Make sure a character doesn’t know something before they’ve been told/found it out.

 

5. Make sure you don’t have it snowing in June in the northern hemisphere.

 

6. Fill in, yes add, description/narrative/dialogue where you skimmed over it and where it’s necessary.

 

7. Check your author voice is consistent and that characters use the correct register in their speech – are they educated/illiterate/speak a language variant/use technical vocabulary/ have a warm and friendly personality/speak in a clipped voice?

 

8. Substitute dynamic, strong and specific verbs for boring or general ones and turn passive sentences into active ones.

 

9. Examine every ‘very’, ‘then’, ‘mostly’, ‘quite’, ‘really’, ‘nearly’, etc. Most can be deleted. The only exception is in dialogue. And cast a stern eye over adjectives while you’re there. Do they enhance or pad?

 

10. Make every sentence a true gem – no "clunkiness", no gratuitous or padding words. Ask yourself if each sentence is necessary. If it doesn’t contribute to the story, then delete (however beautiful it is).

 

11. Read it aloud, all the way through – no cheating!

 

12. Make your eyes bleed by checking that every single comma, semi-colon, colon, speech mark, exclamation and question mark is necessary, in the right place and correctly typed.

 

After that, repeat 1 to 12.

 

Happy writing!


 

 

 *******

 

About Alison Morton

 

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison continues to be fascinated by that complex, power and value driven civilisation. Armed with an MA in history, six years’ military service and the love of a good thriller, she explores via her Roma Nova adventure thrillers the ‘what if’ idea of a modern Roman society run by strong women.

 

She is represented by Blake Friedman Literary Agency for overseas and ancillary rights.

 

Alison now lives in France with her husband, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine.

 

INSURRECTIO

 

‘The second fall of Rome?’

 

Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor in Roma Nova, scoffs at her intelligence chief when he throws a red file on her desk.

 

But early 1980s Roma Nova, the last province of the Roman Empire that has survived into the twentieth century, has problems – a ruler frightened of governing, a centuries-old bureaucracy creaking for reform and, worst of all, a rising nationalist movement with a charismatic leader who wants to destroy Aurelia.

 

Horrified when her daughter is brutally attacked in a demonstration turned riot, Aurelia tries to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability. But it may already be too late to save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy.…

 

Watch the book trailer here



 

Social media links

 

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: www.alison-morton.com

 

Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor

 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

 

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/5783095.Alison_Morton

 

Find the buying link for Alison’s latest book INSURRECTIO (multiple retailers/formats) here




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