- Short stories have unlimited potential and are worth their weight in gold. Not only do they spark ideas for novels, but they’re also great for promoting your other work. They’re a way to keep giving readers new content more quickly, buying you extra time to complete larger projects. During the past two years, I took that approach to a whole new level, and I fell in love with writing short stories so much that I became a dedicated serial writer.
- Rejections can be the start of a new beginning. Over the past year, I’ve become even more grateful for those soft rejections I received before restarting my self-publishing journey in 2015. Those rejections allowed me to accept that, while my stories had been well received by those I’d submitted them to, I’d be hard-pressed to find a traditional publisher for them because they were so unusual in structure and overlapped genres—not to mention, they didn’t follow typical word counts. So after carefully weighing my options, I pursued publication of the shorts (otherwise known as The Porcelain Souls series) on my own, which turned out to be the perfect path for them. Not only could I connect more closely with my readers via self-publishing, but I could also keep the structure of the books as I had originally intended: as a nonchronological series revealing snapshots of an overall arc. While it has taken time to gain traction with the unconventional shorts, as I imagine it does with just about any book in the indie world, I’m quite happy with the results the last few years have brought.
- Being a writer isn’t about having the time to write; it’s about making time. Life is busy. I get it—boy, do I get it. I’m a mother of two kids with special needs, both of whom are under seven and have frequent health issues to boot. So to say our daily schedule is chaotic is a complete understatement. Not only do I spend most of my time carting kids around to therapy, school, doctors, or other activities, but I also work part-time as an editor. However, writing is my passion; it’s part of who I am. So I make time for it, even when it’s near impossible. The guilt of doing that is probably the most challenging thing I face, because as a mother, my instinct is always to put myself last. I’ve learned, though, that sometimes we need to put ourselves first. If you want writing to be your career and not just a hobby, you have to treat it as such. That might mean staying up late or getting up early, or maybe giving up Netflix for a few weeks while you hammer out that first draft. No one said being a writer was easy. But when you make that sort of commitment, carving out time for writing and dedicating a space for it in your life, you’ll see just how rewarding it can be.
- Critique partners can be lifesavers. If you’re stuck in a writing rut or just don’t know how to tease out the issues in your book, consider finding a critique partner. The best critique partners are ones who will share your frustrations with you and brainstorm ways to improve your writing, all while being honest and encouraging at the same time. I also highly recommend joining a writing group, whether it’s local or online. Though it’s easy to go the journey alone, especially considering many of us writers are introverts by nature, there’s something to be said for having the support of a community whose members the same struggles as you, ones who will encourage you no matter which stage in your writing career you’re at. There are several great groups out there, such as the 10 Minute Novelists and the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I can’t tell you how many awesome friends I’ve met through them, and I’ve learned far more in the past few years since joining than I ever could have done on my own.
- Writing at a consistent time each day can be just as therapeutic as it is productive. This year forced me to reevaluate my relationship with writing. Just a few months ago, I reached my breaking point and was in dire need of a change. My anxiety was worse than ever, and I was so stressed that I was turning into someone I never wanted to be. For me, writing was an outlet, something that helped me balance the stresses of daily life. By picking a consistent time each day to write, I was giving myself structure and something to look forward to, even if only for a half hour. That half hour allowed me to pour my emotions into something I loved, resulting in a tremendously positive impact on my life. My mood improved, my stress levels decreased, and my daily writing numbers went up—way up! That’s not to say I haven’t had bumps along the way or weeks where things didn’t go as planned, nor do I recommend writing as a substitute for medication, therapy, or whatever else you personally might need to manage your anxiety if you have it, but for me, that one minor change proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle. And to me, that makes every second of it worth it.
- Mind maps and vision boards are no joke. This is something else that was admittedly new to me this year. I knew other writers who had raved about mind maps and vision boards, but I had never given it a shot myself. So I rolled up my sleeves and dug in. After organizing my ideas and plotting them out on paper, none of my goals seemed daunting or overwhelming. In fact, I felt like I could tackle anything, which gave me a much-needed boost of self-confidence. As for the vision board, I’m still piecing it together, but I have no doubt that it, too, will be worth the time and energy.
- Even the most organized writers need a good planner. I’m a neat freak by nature. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s an unorganized story and a messy filing system. I regularly squirrel away documents on my laptop, sorting those files into folders within folders, all clearly labeled. But then a funny thing happens. Scraps of paper appear on my desk anyway: Post-Its, torn pages from notebooks, and even random lists that have nothing to do with writing. In the end, it looks like my desk threw up every idea that ever waltzed into my brain. Not exactly useful. The truth is, though I crave organization, my brain rarely cooperates with that. So this past year, I invested in a planner—the Simple Elephant planner, to be exact. I also developed a schedule for my writing and worked that into my daily routine, trying to be as consistent as possible. The result was an influx of productivity, clarity, and beautiful organization, complete with a mind map, a focal point, and individual goals for the year, each month, and each week, all in one place. Now that I’ve found this new method, I don’t think I’ll ever go back.
- I still have a lot to learn about writing. Every year, I’m amazed by how brilliant and talented the writers are that I get to edit for. They come to me with vivid worlds, heartfelt characters, and a fabulous story line. Though I spend hours upon hours reading, listening to podcasts, attending online seminars on writing, and even taking online courses about the craft, it’s never enough when it comes to my own writing. Just the other day, I stumbled upon the post of another editor that left me stunned. Her advice was so simple and effective, offering a completely unique perspective on writing that I couldn’t believe I had missed. But what I think we all sometimes forget as writers is that we’re all still learning—I’ll be the first to say I’m no exception. That’s one of the hardest things to come to terms with as well as one of the most beautiful aspects of the craft. Our work is never done, and neither is our time learning. Personally, that’s something I hope never changes.
- Becoming a parent made me a morning writer. Maybe it’s not actually because I’m a parent and am required to wake up at sunrise each day—perhaps it’s simply because I just hit my early 30s. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been deluding myself all these years into thinking I do my best work at night. Heck, it could even be because our chaotic schedule allows me very little time to write at night. But one thing’s for sure: I’ve morphed into this creature that I never thought I’d become; I’m a morning writer. When my feet hit the floor, my mind is clear and the ideas are flowing. So after kids are off to school or we’re past whatever morning appointments stand in my way, I’m desperate to get typing and creating. That’s not altogether a bad thing though. Not only does it ensure that I get my words in for the day, but it also allows me a sense of accomplishment, making the rest of my day more productive.
- You can’t please everyone, so embrace it. Though that advice is common knowledge within the writing community, learning to accept that others might not always care for your work is much easier said than done. I know I’ve faced my share of disappointments where the self-doubt of a not-so-great review swallowed me up and held me captive for a few days. Heck, I’ve even let a two-star review get to me on the same day I received a glowing five-star review for the very same book. But when that happens, I remind myself that even the most loved authors have their share of negative reviews. In fact, books that spark mixed reactions often end up being the among the most popular. For instance, the book The Catcher in the Rye has been banned and challenged dozens of times since its publication in 1951. Its content has been a source of debate within schools and communities since the early 60s, even sparking protests. Now, nearly 70 years later, that book has sold more than 65 million copies and continues to be a classic assigned to the required reading list in many literature classes. Its controversy has reached more of the world’s population than most of us dream about. And it’s far from the first to do so—the list of previously banned books goes on and on. Each time, those same banned books turn out to be favorites among readers. So I don’t know about you, but I’d take that kind of success any day of the week.
From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing
From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.
Filtering by Category: Writing Career
Though I didn’t meet my original goal of posting this on April Fool’s Day (joke’s on me), I figured, what better way to kick off April than by interviewing a comedic fantasy author? So I’d like to introduce you guys to Kylie Betzner, a talented author and friend of mine that I’ve known now for several years. I’ve had the privilege of working with Kylie on both of her humorous tales, and I’m excited to share her books and tips with all of you—as well as an excerpt from her latest book, so be sure to read through to the end!
What is your take on the modern-day publishing industry?
Unpredictable is the first word that comes to mind when I think of the modern-day publishing industry. With traditional publishing houses refusing to upgrade their business model and independent publishing rising in popularity, there is no way to see where this is going. One thing is for certain: the publishing industry is changing—for better or for worse. I’m interested to see where it’s going.
What made you choose self-publishing over other methods?
Most authors have a box—or filing cabinet—full of rejection letters from agents and publishers. I never actually pursued the traditional publishing route. Several writer friends of mine had published independently and really enjoyed the creative freedom that came with that route. Being a bit of a control freak, and after researching the current market, I decided the best option for me was to self-publish. Eventually, I’d like to pursue the traditional route, becoming a hybrid author, but in the meantime, I’m quite content sailing my own ship.
What was your inspiration for The Wizard’s Gambit? How long did it take from initial draft to publication?
Inspiration is a lot like lightening: it strikes at random. Inspiration for this series came during a discussion with my sister back in 2013. We were watching The Lord of the Rings and laughing at some of the absurdities of the series and fantasy genre in general. Some of the things we came up with were so funny I had to jot them down. Soon enough, I had enough material to plan a novel.
From start to finish, the novel took only took about a year and a half. Even though inspiration for the story struck in 2013, I didn’t seriously start drafting it until the spring of 2014. It was then published in the fall of 2015.
When did you decide that you wanted to become a writer? Any specific event that triggered it?
It really wasn’t a conscious decision. I was writing before I could actually write. Haha. When I was five or six I used to illustrate stories with my sister. My current writing is much better. ;)
What advice do you have to for new/young writers looking to get published for the first time? For those looking to self-publish, any important steps they should take before publishing?
My advice for new/young authors can be summed up in three parts: (1) Write what you love and only what you love. No one ever found happiness and fulfillment in prostitute writing. Don’t whore your writing skills. C’mon, guys, you’re worth more than that. (2) Hone your craft. Master all of the elements, and you can become the Avatar—wait, what? Whoops, I meant to say “skilled writer.” And (3), choose the best career path for you. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Traditional publishing or self-publishing are both fine options, but you have to do what works best for you.
If you do decide to pursue self-publishing, make sure you don’t skip the most important step—editing! And I don’t mean grammar and punctuation; I mean content. Don’t click the publish button until your story is solid. Content editors can be pricy but it’s worth it. If money is an issue do a book swap with another author—anything as long as you’re not publishing your first draft. Take your time and do it right. Invest in your dream.
You’ve done an amazing job with your first book. You did your research, took every step necessary to make it as professional as possible, and even established a social media presence/following before its release. But is there anything you would have done differently before publishing your first book?
I honestly can’t think of what I would have done differently except to have built a stronger platform earlier on. I have a decent following for as long as I’ve been at this social media thing, but I can’t help but wonder how much better I could have done if I had started a year or two earlier.
In your opinion, what is the one most important thing that you've learned from your experience as a writer?
I’ve learned that I am capable of anything I set my mind to and that opportunity is abundant anywhere and everywhere so long as I keep an open mind.
Do you think it’s important to have an online presence before being published? How has establishing one before publishing your book helped you?
Absolutely. Most of the books you sell will be online, unless you plan on attending a ton of author events. It’s important to establish an online presence BEFORE you publish your first book so you have a built-in readership and support system. My online friends have been amazing! I don’t think my first book would have done as well without them.
One word of caution: Don’t overwhelm yourself. Quality is more important than quantity. Be active on a few sites rather than nonexistent on a ton.
If you weren't a writer, what would your second desired occupation be?
Since professional cat cuddler isn’t a real occupation, I would choose to be an actress. I’ve always enjoyed the stage and playing pretend, hence why I participate in community theatre and frequent cosplay events. To have been casted in the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films would have made my life.
Have any specific people inspired you in your career?
I was inspired by several authors: Terry Pratchett, Gerald Morris, Neil Gaiman, and Sherryl Jordan to name a few.
What types of things do you do to improve your writing skills?
I heed the advice of my editors for one, and I read books and blogs about the writer’s craft. Just because I’ve published books doesn’t mean I know everything.
Favorite quote about writing?
“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It's that easy and that hard." -N.G.
What is your favorite genre to read?
Fantasy, of course, though I do read outside of my genre on occasion just to broaden my horizons.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer? What is the most rewarding?
The hardest thing about being a writer is being chained to your desk. It takes a lot of time not only to write and edit the book but to market it as well. Maintaining a social media presence takes time too. It can be exhausting and lonely sometimes.
One of the best things about being a writer is hearing back from a reader who really enjoyed your book. That makes it all worth the time.
What are your thoughts about pen names? Would you ever use one?
I don’t particularly like them, especially when a woman author is trying to hide the fact from her readers. It validates the belief that boys won’t read books by women authors, and in a way, it suggests that women authors are in some way inferior to men authors. Sorry J.K. Rowling, but I’m not a fan of your pen name.
What are your goals as a writer for 2016?
My number one goal this year is to build my readership and make more people laugh. In September I’ll be releasing the second book in my comedic fantasy series.
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing—which is next to never—I’m playing a part on stage, rocking a cosplay convention, hanging out with my sister, building Lego with my nephew, or reading a book with a hot cuppa joe.
When can we expect your next book?
Book two of the Six—Er—Seven Kingdoms comedic fantasy series is due sometime in September.
Kylie Betzner is a comedian, blogger, coffee junkie, and an incurable nerd. And now, an author. The titles she is most proud of are sister, auntie, and friend.
Growing up in a small town surrounded by cornfields, Kylie had nothing better to do than fantasize about unicorns and elves. As an adult, she still refuses to grow up and spends most of her time creating stories of comedic fantasy. When she is not writing, which is hardly ever, Kylie enjoys reading, drinking coffee, and spending time with her family and friends. She also runs, although she does not enjoy it so much.
Kylie currently resides in Indiana with her sister, nephew, horde of cats, and one very silly dog.
You can find The Quest for the Holy Something Or Other and The Wizard’s Gambit (book one of The Six—Er—Seven Kingdoms series) on Amazon. You can also follow Kylie on her blog (https://litchicblog.wordpress.com/) and several other social media platforms:
Excerpt from The Wizard's Gambit
The following excerpt is copyrighted and cannot be used or reproduced without permission from the author.
Mongrel followed Margo up a winding staircase then out into a long open corridor. They passed rows and rows of columns, some of which were on the verge of tumbling over. Such a sad sight, Mongrel thought, glimpsing at the broken statues occupying the niches in the interior wall. They didn’t serve much as decoration, but at least they kept the abandoned building from getting lonely. Mongrel paused to examine one of the statues, touching and sniffing it as needed.
“Come along.” Margo walked ahead, rather stiffly as though her robes were over starched. Even so, she put a considerable distance between them. He caught up with her at the end of the hallway as she stopped before a large wooden door.
“This is your room,” she told him, pushing open the door. She moved aside, allowing him to enter first. Mongrel stepped past her and gaped. The room was huge, at least in comparison to his prior lodgings, with enough space between the furniture to perform an intricate dance if he had wanted to. There was a large bed pushed up against one wall, and on the opposite end, a door that led to a private bath. A giant doorway opened to a balcony. This was a far cry from The Moose Tavern back in Kingsbury.
“Are you pleased with your accommodations?”
He spun around. In the doorway, Margo waited for his response, her head lowered and her hands folded demurely at her stomach. What a bashful girl, he thought and tried to catch her eye. He caught it for a moment, but she looked away. He thought he saw the slightest blush on what little he could see of her pale cheeks.
“The room will do nicely,” he said, offering her a smile.
“Really?” She sounded surprised.
Apparently, the other guests had not been so easily impressed by their accommodations.
“We would have provided a room that better suited your individual needs, but seeing as you were not on the list . . .”
Mongrel raised his hand against further apology. “This suits me just fine.”
“Good,” she said, though she did not smile.
Mongrel thought to pull one from her.
“So, you’re a wizard’s apprentice?” he said. “That must be very interesting.”
“I’ll bet you know all kinds of magic,” Mongrel continued. “That’s probably neat.”
Again she shrugged.
Mongrel continued, “I’ve never met a magic user before—well, not a human one anyway. Maybe you could—”
“No,” she said quickly, and then added, “I’m not licensed yet.”
“I see,” he said, feeling embarrassed all of a sudden. It didn’t help the way she was looking at him, rather critically, with a gaze that traveled up his body from his leather boots to the wild curls atop his head. The corners of her mouth twitched as she fought off what might have been a smile.
“So, what are you supposed to be, anyway? Some kind of huntsman?”
Now it was his turn to blush. “What makes you say that?” He rubbed the back of his neck.
“Well, uh, the weapons first off,” she said. “And all the leather—”
“I do wear a lot of animal skin,” he said, talking over her.
“And your physique,” she continued a little less confidently, the volume of her voice dropping with every word. “It looks like you do a lot of running—”
“I try to stay fit,” he said, laughing nervously.
“—tight butt.” He heard the last part clearly. They both stopped talking.
Groaning, she fled behind a curtain of black hair, which could cover her face but not her embarrassment.
Mongrel chuckled nervously. “Actually, I’m not a huntsman,” he admitted, and she peeked at him through a part in her hair. He sighed. “I’m a blacksmith.”
“Oh,” she said unable to hide her disappointment, even behind her hair.
“It’s all right,” he said. “We can’t all be princes and great warriors.” He smiled again. “I’m more of an everyman.”
“Is that so?” she said, awarding Mongrel the smile he’d worked so hard for.
He rubbed his forearm self-consciously. He had to admit, for a girl so plainly dressed, she was pretty when she smiled.
“Well, if there is nothing else you need, I’ll be going,” she said. The smile was gone as quickly as it came. “Wizard White Beard looks forward to your attendance at tonight’s gathering.”
“I’m Mongrel, by the way,” he called to her as she started for the door. “Just in case you didn’t catch it in the throne room.”
She paused, thought for just a moment, and said, “Nice to meet you, Mongrel.”
“Nice to meet you too, Margo,” Mongrel said, but she fled down the hall before she could hear it. She’d left the door wide open. He smiled to himself. There was someone out there just as awkward as him.
Then, like a slap to the back of the head, he remembered why he’d come in the first place. There was a competition to win. But Margo was so pretty . . . He shook the image of her from his mind.
“Stay focused,” he told himself. “The six kingdoms are counting on you. Whether they want to or not.”
To kick off FMTP’s supernatural series, I’ll be sharing an interview with one of my favorite new authors, April White. I had the privilege of chatting with her a few weeks ago about her Immortal Descendants series, a supernatural time-travel series with a touch of romance. Not only does she do an excellent job of weaving in historical fact with fiction, but she’s also really adept at incorporating supernatural elements, especially at hinting at them early on. So I figured it was only fitting to share her pearls of wisdom and her latest book, Waging War, with all of you.
What inspired you to write about time travel, and was there any specific inspiration for this series?
Take a modern teenager who thinks she has life wired and drop her into a time and place she knows nothing about? That wasn’t a hard choice. I’ve always loved historical fiction that actually teaches the reader something factual, and the things I’ve read in those books stay with me a lot longer than history books ever have, so there was that, too.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Are there are any routines that you follow or any specific place that you prefer to write?
My writing process begins with conversations. My husband is a filmmaker who always listens to my story ideas as though he’s watching the movie, and my editor is also a very dear friend who will happily kick plot ideas around with me during evenings while we drink wine. I take several notes in a notebook with a collaged cover full of inspiring photos I collect as I’m gathering plot ideas, and then I start writing.
There are authors who plot every chapter and know exactly what’s going to happen, precisely when. I am not one of them. My writing style tends to be more seat-of-the-pants, and I often write myself into corners, which requires extreme creativity to emerge without gaping plot holes. But some of my favorite scenes happen in those moments, and I’ve surprised myself more than a few times with characters I wasn’t expecting to create. Ringo is one of those characters who sort of invented himself and then decided he’d like to hang out awhile. I’m so glad he did, because now he’s like the moral compass and voice of reason for Saira, and he helps really humanize Archer with his friendship.
My actual physical writing takes place on my bed. I usually wake up before 5 AM to get some writing done before my kids wake up, and after they go to school, I continue writing until they get home. At that point, homework time takes whatever patience and creativity I have left. When I can entice my boys to go on long dog walks with me, they always ask about what I’ve written that day, and talking to them helps refine ideas that I’ve been toying with. Which brings everything back around to conversations again.
What was the publishing process like for you? Do you feel there are particular advantages to publishing traditionally vs. self-publishing, or vice versa?
When I was twelve, I knew I wanted to write books, but I finally got the courage up to write AND FINISH Marking Time when independent publishing moved out of the realm of vanity presses and gained traction as a viable option. I did submit it to agents, and most resulted in either silence or a form rejection. The agents who rejected me nicely were actually incredibly helpful because they told me WHY they weren’t interested in representing my book. They loved the concept and the writing, but the YA market wouldn’t support books longer than 100k words (Marking Time ultimately weighed in at 140k) because teens “just don’t read.” I disagreed with that statement so heartily that I pulled indie publishing out of my back pocket, built a cover with my husband, taught myself formatting, and published a month later.
Now, after publishing four books, I can say with total certainty that I love the freedom, the control, and the opportunities independent publishing affords authors. I say this having never been traditionally published, so I know I’m biased, but I’ve also spoken to a lot of very successful indie and hybrid authors. Nearly all prefer having control of their release dates, covers, content, and price points. The amount of marketing we ALL have to do is the same regardless of who does the publishing.
How long did it take to complete the first draft for Waging War? Is there anything you would have done differently in the process?
It took about nine months to finish the first draft of Waging War, and yes, I would have done things differently. Changing Nature took three months to write (the first draft), and it shows in the pacing. It was much easier to write quickly because I was going so fast and I still remembered all the paths I’d set in motion in the beginning. For various, personal reasons, I stalled on Waging War. Some had to do with the story I was telling, because I needed to get it just right, and some were confidence-based (which sucks, and I don’t recommend it). When I finally got my stride back, I increased my pace, so everything moved faster.
With Cheating Death (book five), I still have the pressure of getting it just right, because there are so many plotlines from the previous four books to wrap up, but the writing isn’t as hard as it was for Waging War, so I’m anticipating a faster first draft.
Do you have plans to write other genres in the future?
Yes. I’m not entirely sure I’m done with this world yet though, and some ideas for spin-off series have been percolating.
When did you decide that you wanted to become a writer? Any specific event that triggered it?
My dad took me with him to trek in the Himalayas when I was twelve years old, and my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Chandler, handed me a little black journal before I left. My only homework for the six weeks I was gone was to write in that journal every day. Because I knew my words would be read, I took extra care to add as many sights and sounds and smells and flavors as I could to my writing, and from the moment she handed the journal back to me with a heartfelt “thank you for sharing your journey with me,” I was hooked on storytelling.
We’ve seen all the characters in The Immortal Descendants series grow throughout the books, but Ringo stuck out in my mind in particular. Can you tell us about the process of writing him? Did you know the events he would face when you first started writing the series?
Ringo was an accident. My favorite accident, to be sure, but completely accidental nonetheless. When his role grew as Saira returned to 1888, I had to go back and add him to earlier scenes so he didn’t just appear from nowhere. Then, when readers reviewed Marking Time and talked about how much they loved Ringo, I realized I needed to carry him throughout the series.
Now he’s my favorite character to write because he gets to say all the cool stuff.
Is there anything you found particularly challenging about writing this book compared to the rest of the series?
I actively dislike cliffhangers, and yet I knew this book had to have one. I also have a real issue with characters who aren’t allowed to grow into themselves in what would be an organic way if they were real people, so I had to create a realistic progression for Saira and Archer’s relationship. So yes, those two things were challenging to write in Waging War.
At the end of Waging War, we see at least one major character’s life at stake. Are there any planned deaths in the next book?
Yes. Someone has to die.
Who are your favorite characters in the series and why?
I love Saira’s fierceness and fearlessness, and Archer’s honor and passion. I love Ringo’s wit and wisdom and the cheek he brings to the table when Saira gets too serious. Bas, the Moorish Vampire, makes me happy with his centuries-long studies of the world’s religions, and Millicent surprised me with her vulnerability and affection. Connor, the Wolf, is wise beyond his years and can still be a kid, and his little brother, Logan, is who Ringo would have been had he grown up with a family and Descendant skills.
Were there any characters who were annoying to write?
No. That would have been foolish. My rule as I read/edit every book is that if I find myself skipping over or skimming any scene or section, it’s gone. Because if I’m bored, readers will be too.
What was the easiest scene to write in Waging War? The hardest?
The easiest scene to write was the conversation Millicent had with Saira and Claire in the garden about the man she met after the war. I’m not sure why that was so easy to write—maybe because Millicent as a caring human being is such fun to explore after her previous beastliness.
The hardest scenes to write were Tom’s. He struggles with so much self-loathing, and it’s hard to keep him sympathetic when I just want to shake him and tell him to snap out of it.
You did an amazing job with researching your books and weaving in fact with fiction. What were your main methods of conducting research, and were there any unexpected facts you came across in the process?
Thank you—I love the real history in the books. My primary source for research is the Internet, and the rabbit holes to disappear into are endless. My favorite things to find are the historical tidbits that either aren’t corroborated anywhere else, or are contradicted in other works. Those become the mysteries that time travel exposes.
One of my favorite contradictions was in Tempting Fate—the place in the Tower of London where Lady Elizabeth Tudor was kept prisoner. The more I looked into it (even poking around as much as possible in person), the more it seemed like historian laziness to say her room was in the Bell Tower. It made much more historical sense that she would have been held in her mother’s apartments in the Royal Residence, especially given that Lady Jane Grey had just occupied those rooms, and she had much less status than Elizabeth had. It seems like such a little thing to obsess over, but because I was using blueprints, photos, and maps to determine the geography that Saira, Archer, and Ringo would have to navigate, it mattered.
In your opinion, what is the one most important thing that you've learned from your experience as a writer?
Marketing is vital, relationships are key, editors are as necessary as breathing, but it’s ALL ABOUT THE WRITING. Write what you want to read, and write the best book you can, because you WILL read it a hundred times (okay, maybe just twenty) before it goes to publication.
What advice do you have to for new/young writers looking to get published for the first time?
Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read things other people recommend. Find your style. Find your voice. Then pick a point of view, choose third person or first according to the story you want to tell, sit down, and write. And for the practical piece of advice—end your day’s writing on a cliffhanger in the plot, or in the middle of a scene if you know how it ends. It’ll be much easier to turn on the computer the next day and pick up where you left off.
How has having an online presence has made a difference in the success of your series?
I have had the great fortune to have become friends with some amazing authors, and in the independent community in particular, the support among authors and readers is pretty spectacular. Social media is key to that equation, and far more effective than doing one’s own marketing is sharing other authors’ works. Ad money can’t buy that kind of cross-promotion because it comes from a place of genuine admiration and friendship. So, that’s a long way of saying that an online presence is very important—but it should be a genuine, interactive presence rather than something designed to just push ads about books.
If you weren't a writer, what other occupation would you choose and why?
I’ve fallen into some pretty amazing jobs in my life, and I always tell students I talk to about reading and writing that every job is an opportunity to find a story, or meet characters you want to write about. If I had the skill to be a visual artist, I’d love to create beautiful things, or if I’d chosen a different educational/vocational path, I could have been an awesome archeologist. But all the roads I’ve traveled led to this, and I’m doing exactly what I love to do.
Have any specific people inspired you in your career?
My mom came to the U.S. from Germany with the equivalent of an 8th grade education, and she finished law school when I was thirteen. From that, I’ve always known I could do anything I set out to do.
What types of things do you do to improve your writing skills?
Read good books. There are times when I have to put down a book club selection because the writing isn’t great, or the characters are weak, because they negatively affect my own writing. And then there are those books that make you want to step up your game. Neil Gaiman writes those kinds of books.
What is your favorite quote about writing?
“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.” –Neil Gaiman
What is the hardest thing about being a writer? What is the most rewarding?
Writing is the hardest thing about being a writer—actually sitting down and making myself do it. That’s why early morning writing is so good for me; I don’t want to wake my family up, so I do all the work-avoidance tasks later in the day. The most rewarding thing about being a writer is when a reader cries, laughs out loud, or throws the book and immediately scrambles to pick it up so they can find out what happens next. The most rewarding thing is telling a story that matters.
What are your goals as an author for 2016?
I will publish Cheating Death, which means I will finish the Immortal Descendants series. And then I will plot the thing that comes next. My goals are all work goals, because those are the only things I really have control over.
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?
Travel with my family; take long walks with my dog and kids; take photos of interesting things; have my friends over for food, wine, and deep conversations; and read great books.
When can we expect your next book?
I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve finished the first draft because, as Patrick Rothfuss said about rushing the work, “It’ll only be late once, but it’ll suck forever.”
April White has been a film producer, private investigator, bouncer, teacher, and screenwriter. She has climbed in the Himalayas, survived a shipwreck, and lived on a gold mine in the Yukon. She and her husband share their home in Southern California with two extraordinary boys and a lifetime collection of books.
All four books in the Immortal Descendants series are on the Amazon Top 100 lists in Time Travel Romance and Historical Fantasy.
You can find Waging War and the rest of the Immortal Descendants series on Amazon (by the way, the first one is FREE on Kindle!), and you can also follow April on her blog (http://aprilwhitebooks.com/) and several other social media platforms:
A new year is now upon us, and with that comes the tradition of setting new goals and facing new challenges and achieving new victories. But I’m not quite done with 2015 yet. In fact, I’d like to think that my new year really began back in November—and it started with Nanowrimo. For those of you who haven’t heard of it yet, Nanowrimo gets a pretty mixed reputation. It’s an event where writers around the world pledge to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. While some say that it’s a great thing, others say that encourages churning out crap stories, which some writers then seek to publish without ever revising. But whichever your stance, I think the heart of Nanowrimo, to push ourselves as writers and learn from it, really resonates with most of us. So this is my resolution for the new year: I want to use the things I learned in 2015 to make myself a better writer this year. And I want to start a new tradition of my own—an end of the year list for how I grew as a writer.
1. No more excuses. I’ve stopped making excuses for why I don’t have time to write. Yes, I’m busy. I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom of two kids under five. I also happen to be a professional editor. And believe me, there are so many things that can and do get in the way of my writing. I’ve been stopped midsentence by everything from phone calls and emails to sibling rivalries and food being thrown. But this past year, I’ve learned to prioritize. It really is that simple. If you want to be an author, you have to treat it as a career, not as a hobby. And if you want others to take your writing seriously, you have to be the first one to do so. Sometimes that means putting everything else aside or putting a few things on hold to make it happen. Being an author is all about making sacrifices and learning how to balance those things that are important to you.
2. Challenging yourself is important. Whether you participated in Nanowrimo last November or not, challenges and deadlines for writing projects will likely be something you can relate to. We’ve all had them, either for school or work or personal goals, and we all know what it feels like when we succeed in those challenges. One way to keep that positive energy and use it to improve our writing skills is by doing writing sprints. Writing sprints will force you to sit down and hammer out as many words as you can. Even if what you write is completely crap (and it likely will be as a rough draft), you’re still doing yourself a favor. You’re pushing yourself and keeping the creative juices flowing. I actually did participate in Nanowrimo for the first time this past year, and believe me, what I wrote probably is complete crap. But it was a still a massive accomplishment. I pushed myself, and as a result, I grew as a writer—and completed another short story.
3. Daily writing habits are overrated—but they still help. This has been my kryptonite for years. I love writing, and I wish I had the motivation to do so every day. But the truth is, sometimes I just don’t feel like it. And that’s fine. There will be days where you can’t write or don’t feel like writing. But the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer is still to make it a habit, even if it’s not daily. Some weeks it’ll be easy, and others it’ll be a massive struggle. But in the end, it’s still our job as writers to sit our butts in a comfy chair—perhaps with a furball or two around—and write!
4. Failure can still be a success. Did I fail in 2015? You betcha. Loads of times. I fell behind on my blog. I didn’t write every day. I took naps when I should have been working on manuscripts. I let my kids watch a few too many cartoons so I could have some extra me time occasionally. Heck, I even fell short at Nanowrimo. I barely reached 10,000 words. But I had some tremendous successes too. I made connections with other writers. I finished the first draft for part two of a short story series I’m writing. I gained loads of followers for my blog and on Twitter and even got some new subscribers to my newsletter. I finally got over my fear of reaching out to the community when it came to my writing, and I signed up for my first local author event. I’ve written more this year than I have in the past three years combined! Bottom line, I GREW as a writer. And that far surpasses any how any failure could make me feel.
5. The first draft will be crap. As an editor, I really should have known that my first drafts would be less than perfect. But somehow, I got it in my head that because I know how things should be written, I’d be able to do it myself. Boy, was I wrong. But after getting over the initial frustration of my first draft being an embarrassment to writers everywhere, I used that to fuel the editing stage. My point is, not every draft is going to be a good one—especially the first one. And that’s okay! It’s what makes us human and what makes us writers such hard workers. We write…and then we rewrite. How good your first draft is doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you do with it to make it better.
6. I don’t have to go this journey alone. If you do a quick search on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any other social media site, you’ll find swarms of writing groups. Most of us face similar issues in our writing, and one of the most awesome perks to this century is that you don’t have to look very far for support. There have been a few writing groups that I’ve joined over the past year or two, and I can’t tell you how much help they’ve been with my journey. I’ve had more successes because of their encouragement and support than I ever would have gotten on my own. It sounds mushy, but it’s the truth. We’re stronger in numbers.
7. There are millions of writers in the world. But there’s only ONE with my voice. This has been one of the hardest lessons for me to swallow this past year. I’ve let self-doubt creep in one too many times, crumbling my piles of success. Is my story really worth sharing? Am I really a good writer? Am I even an okay writer? Coming to terms with the fact that my voice really is unique was difficult. I struggled with self-confidence for a good portion of my life, and it’s only in recent years that I’ve really started to embrace it. And then there’s the fear of swinging the other way. Do I sound too arrogant? Can I really trust others with my ideas? What I’ve come to find out is confidence actually makes your voice. If you know what you want to say and aren’t afraid to say it, others will be passionate about your ideas too. And even if someone does try to steal your plot, they’ll never be able to tell it the same way you do. Why? You’re unique. There’s only one you, and no one knows your voice better than you do.
8. Plotting and pantsing can coexist. Personally, I’m more of a plotter myself—always have been. I like order and structure, and trying to write something off the top of my head goes against my nature as an editor. But you know what? Some of the most rewarding ideas for pieces I’ve had have come from pantsing. And after doing Nanowrimo and working with a few clients who are pantsers, I have a new appreciation for that group. I started Nano with a solid outline in place and an exact idea of what I wanted to write. And that did keep me on track and pushed me forward in the piece. I never ran out of ideas for getting through the story. But as I was writing, something else took over: my inner artist. And my characters! Sometimes they told me to go in a completely different direction—and I let them. If I had be stubborn with my outline and not listened to my gut, my story would have gone stale quickly. But by letting the story take a few odd and unexpected turns, my story turned out far better than it would have otherwise. And kudos to those who can pants and churn out a whole book! You guys are seriously talented.
9. Connections are a beautiful thing. Most of us at some point or another in our lives have been assured that the connections you make early on in your life can determine where your career goes. From personal experience, I can completely vouch for that statement. But making connections isn’t a hassle like I was led to believe. It’s actually a lot of fun. I’ve never been much of a people person, but being able to connect with other writers and even a few readers this year has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve had some fun debates and discussions with other people who love books, and a few of those have led to other opportunities. Several more of them have led to new friendships, new fans, and some new great books to read. Connections don’t have to be a pain. And if they feel forced, they probably aren’t genuine.
10. Marketing is a lot harder than it looks. Before I published my first book, I thought I had the whole marketing thing figured out. I did my research, read plenty of books on marketing, and had a plan in place. I was set. But I learned pretty quickly that there’s a lot more to it than that. Marketing is an ongoing process (including the pre-publication stage!), and mastering it takes some practice. There’s a fine line between promoting your books and spamming your followers. If you go on Twitter and search the hashtags #author or #amwriting, you’ll see exactly what I mean. A lot of authors are so busy promoting their books and retweeting other authors’ promos that they neglect to actually connect with their followers. Building genuine connections with other readers and writers is probably the most powerful marketing tool you have. The lasting impression you can make by chatting with people and taking an interest in them will go a lot further than some promo you shove in their face.
For those in need of some extra encouragement for their New Year’s writing resolutions, try this: start small. Setting yourself up for an unrealistic goal will only leave you disappointed and discouraged. Set smaller, daily goals for yourself, and reward yourself when you follow through. Writing fiction is challenging. I’ve been doing most of my life, and let me tell you, while you do get better at writing, it isn’t ever a piece of cake. So don’t sell yourself short when you only write 500 or even 200 words in a day! Every success, no matter how small, will lead to you being a better writer.
What did 2015 teach you?
If you write fiction, you might be cringing at the words technical writing, but hear me out. Though fiction and technical pieces are very different and require unique skills, they also have a remarkable amount of overlap. I’ve been writing fiction most of my life, but I’ve spent much of my career working as a technical writer. I’ve worked on brochures, manuals, newsletters—you name it. It sounds pretty drab, but there’s something beautiful to me about meticulously crafting words into an artistic yet technical document. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoy it. So why am I insisting fiction writers learn it?
1. You'll learn to write concisely. Yes, fiction writing is an art and a creative process. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a method to it. By learning to write concisely, one of the main skills of technical writing, you can learn to get your point across quickly and efficiently without filling your story with a bunch of fluff. Too much fluff, and your readers will be removed from the story and might be less likely to continue reading. Just look at all the books out there about the craft of writing fiction. If there was no method, there’d be no reason for those books.
2. You'll get better at line editing. Technical writing focuses a lot on taking apart sentences and reconstructing them, especially since you often have a limited amount of space to fit the text. That knowledge will easily translate to line editing, where you’ll focus on the flow and wording of a sentence to make sure it doesn’t break from the style of the narrative; you’ll also learn to pick up on redundancies.
3. You'll improve the structure of your plot. Good technical writers are masters at structuring the content of their work in a way that will both inform and propel a reader through it. By learning that skill, you’ll gain critical insight as to what works in a story and what doesn’t. You’ll be able to better see if a scene is inappropriately placed or if it needs to be cut altogether.
4. You'll get a taste for another genre and develop experience and skills while doing so. For those who have dabbled in tech writing or have perused manuals and instruction booklets, you know that technical writing is a whole different beast from writing fiction. (That’s also part of the reason there are so many poorly written manuals.) Well-written manuals include only the essentials. They have one job: to give the reader knowledge about a particular product and to do so efficiently. They don’t—or at least shouldn’t—be wishy-washy and open to interpretation. Gaining experience in tech writing will help you establish a clear path for your story and give it a purpose. One of the biggest indicators of amateur writing is ambiguity. Tech writing skills can help you avoid that.
5. You'll gain a better understanding of which questions to ask and how to find the best editor/agent for your manuscript. One of the main tasks a technical writer undergoes is to research and ask questions. Loads of them. Tech writers are jacks of all trades; they acquire knowledge about many different subjects, and if they’re writing a piece on a subject they’re unfamiliar with, they are expected to track down those who do, interview them, then translate that knowledge into words the average Joe can understand. Having the skill to do so gives you a huge advantage as a fiction writer. It gives you the ability to know how to approach potential editors, agents, and publishers and CONNECT with them—a must in the publishing industry. It can also help you gain efficiency with your research.
6. You'll get a chance to dip your toes in graphic design. It’s true that you can hire a professional to design your book cover (which I highly recommend in most cases), but becoming familiar with the basics of graphic design can be very beneficial to you as an author. Apart from your cover, you’ll have to consider all the graphics you’ll need for marketing your book. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve published traditionally or independently; either way, you’ll be responsible for most of the marketing. If you’re a self-published author, having the skills to market your work will make or break your success. So how does tech writing play into this? As a technical writer, you learn the aesthetics of font and layout. You'll learn what draws readers’ attention, how to make focal points on a page, and how to create text-based designs in a limited amount of space. Take a look at any billboard or graphic on top social media profiles, and you'll see how quickly placement of text affects your perception of a brand.
7. You'll learn how to analyze your manuscript and take a critical approach with it. Since technical writing is all about writing, rewriting, and assessing your own work, the experience you’ll gain from learning the techniques involved can be invaluable when it comes to editing your fiction. Getting the first draft done is an awesome first step, but being able to see the bigger picture and reevaluate your work is crucial to its growth. I’ve read plenty of books that were published “as is” because the author didn’t want to change it, and I’ve read books that have been through hundreds of revisions because the first twenty times weren’t quite right. Believe me, I’ll take a thoroughly edited book over the others any day, and I’m betting you would too.
8. You'll acquire more marketing skills. In additional to the marketing benefits you get from studying graphic design, you can pick up even more through learning to write for a target audience. In a technical piece, it’s vital to first know your audience and then cater that piece to fit your audience. And while most of us fantasize about readers appreciating the artistic beauty in our books and the sometimes-flowery language within, the truth is, superfluous wording doesn’t sell 90% of the time. The ideas behind your book might be genius, but if the writing isn’t well executed and you can’t market it well, you’re still sunk.
9. You'll learn how to view your manuscript as a beta reader. Technical writing is all about trial and error. You write the document, test it to see how well it captures the use of a product, then revise it. You’ll likely have others reviewing it as well. Beta readers will do the same thing for your story. They’ll tell you what worked for them and what didn’t and what other readers might find confusing. Working in the technical writing industry can give you a better feel for that process, and it’ll teach you to view your own work through the eyes of a beta reader.
10. You'll get more experience with research. Tech writing is all about research. Like I mentioned before, most documents written in the tech industry are manuals, brochures, and articles explaining how something works. And since most of us don’t have extensive knowledge in science, math, engineering, medicine, etc., a lot of research is often required. Familiarizing yourself with the various methods of research and knowing how to apply what you find will have a tremendous effect on your ability to incorporate outside information into your novel. You’ll become well versed at weaving in facts and making them flow with the rest of the manuscript.