A Chat With Adam Dreece

Adam steampunked - Forest

Best-selling, multi-published author of some very cutting edge YA, steampunk, and fantasy novels, Adam Dreece is out to do more than just entertain readers. His public speaking engagements span the gamut of everything from how to give a good book signing, to stepping outside your comfort zone, to how to deal with dyslexia—something Adam knows a thing or two about. Read on to learn more about this talented writer and his work.

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

**********

Q: What inspired you to hang up your software career and launch your indie author life, Adam?

A: My first two books were doing well and then my software contract ended as oil prices really started to take a dive. Living in Calgary, the heart of oil country in Canada, my phone didn’t ring with opportunities for the first time since the dot com bubble burst back in 1999. My wife, who was also a software architect but had been at home with our third kid, started looking for a job as well. As soon as she locked in a good contract, she turned to me and said she wanted me to focus on my books because they were achieving good momentum. We both knew that financially things could shift at any moment, requiring me to get a job as well. My author career was our start-up company and I wasn’t going to squander a second I had. Now I’ve got my 8th and 9th books coming out since I started in 2014.

Q: When you put out your first book, Along Came a Wolf, did you know this was going to be a series?

A: I wondered, I hoped, but I didn’t know. I’d never written a book before and I had no idea if anyone would like Along Came a Wolf, other than my daughter. I wondered if maybe the best thing to do would be to write something else completely. Then I started to get some ideas, and passionate feedback started to float in. Before I knew it, I was a third of the way through writing Breadcrumb Trail, the second book of The Yellow Hoods. That was when I knew this was going to be a series.

Q: How did you come up with the idea of fusing steampunk and fairy tales together?

A: When my first son (my middle child) was six months old, he was a really fussy sleeper. I’d walk around with him, as heavy as he was. One day, I started singing The Muffin Man to him. Because he would take a long time to fall asleep, I started adding to it. Every night since, and now with two sons, I sing The Muffin Man to them.

I started writing Along Came a Wolf when my daughter was nine and my elder son was two. I was inspired by the fairytale song Ring-Around-The-Rosie, and how that was a rhyme that spoke to the black plague (ignoring historical accuracy arguments for the keeners). Could I use the opposite idea for fairytales and nursery rhymes? Could I take the simple rhymes and stories we knew and create something substantial out of them, without making the books an official re-telling? Take Rub-a-dub-dub and deconstruct that to being about a secret society named the Tub, led of course by a butcher, baker, and a candlestick maker.

With the fairytale approach set, I really got into the story. Then I arrived at a fight scene where I had Tee, who was twelve, staring down the barrel of a full grown man. I needed her to win the fight, but I had a dilemma; how? Do I use magic? That felt like a cheat, and honestly I wanted to keep my distance from Harry Potter. Do I leave it as realistic? That would definitely be a hard sell. So then I mused about the idea of inventions, and thus steampunk became the vehicle of choice. I already had Nikolas Klaus, Tee’s grandfather, mentioned as a brilliant inventor in his twilight years, so I had an “in” I could use without reworking the story. It came out perfectly.

Q: Did you have the entire five book series planned out, or did that come about after the release of the first book?

A: As Book 2, Breadcrumb Trail, took shape, I saw how Book 3, 4 and possibly 5 would work. There was a story about change, power, and revolutionary times going on, and the main characters would be very much transformed by it. As I wrote book 4, I had an idea for books 6, 7, 8, and possibly up to 10, but it would be a different story arc and I wasn’t as convinced that those were needed. I’ll give a bit more detail on this a little later.

Q: When did you know where The Day the Sky Fell was going?

A: As soon as my editor sent it back to me. He he—no. When Book 2 ended, I knew the heart of what was going to happen at the end of the arc. It was during Book 4 that I saw I would definitely need one more book to finish the current story arc, but I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going to land.

I’d written the first four books of The Yellow Hoods in the span of two years, with a novelette in that world during that time as well (called Snappy and Dashing). I’d pushed myself so far, and carried the responsibility of being a stay-at-home dad for my three kids, resulting in a depression. I knew if I tried to tackle Book 5 (which didn’t have a confirmed title) I was just playing around with The Day the Sky Fell as a possible title. I knew at that point I’d never be happy with the way the story out if I stopped then. Over the next year everything came together and I found my excitement again. I went back through the other four books and found all the hints I’d left for myself as to how I’d thought Book 5 could come together, and wow, did it ever come together. I think it’s hands down, the best of the series.

Q: Last year you branched out and became a multi-genre author, stepping into sci-fi with The Man of Cloud 9 and into science fantasy with The Wizard Killer. Why take that step before finishing The Yellow Hoods, and what were the dangers and benefits of doing so?

A: Getting Book 4 of The Yellow Hoods, Beauties of the Beast, took everything out of me. In all honesty, I fumbled the launch, but it was there and my fans got something to enjoy that was well regarded as a solid addition to the series.

I knew I couldn’t just stop writing until I felt better, because I don’t work that way. I was on a roll, I needed to keep going, I just had to change things up to allow myself to breath. That was when a friend of mine asked if I was interested in writing a short story for her anthology. I walked around with the idea for a couple of days, and connected it with a piece of a story I’d had in mind for years. I sat down and wrote it. It was about two thousand words too long, which would have been okay, but it felt very much like the real story was only beginning. I decided to change things up, abandon the idea of a short story, and really allow this sci-fi story to blossom.

As The Man of Cloud 9 came together, I felt restricted. There were no battle scenes. Instead, there were corporate board rooms. I felt out of balance, and so I started writing The Wizard Killer – Season One. When I was done with both of them, I felt that I had shared with the world the other two key sides of me as an author, and I felt a lot better. I’d also proven to myself that I wasn’t a “steampunk/fairytale only” author, but an author who was able to bring new and exciting worlds to life that were vivid and immersive.

There were several dangers in doing this, however. The first is; what happens to your existing fan base? Having delivered four and a half books in two years, they were giving me some grace. Putting out The Wizard Killer, a high action story with a world that’s been compared to Stephen King’s Gunslinger, and then following it with The Man of Cloud 9, which is a more cerebral, character driven, techno-thriller, was tactically questionable though. Some of my fans loved one and when they read the other, felt their brain broke. I got a lot of complements about having range, but some folks were jumping from my adrenaline junkie post-apocalyptic fantasy world into a totally different side of me.

At first I wasn’t sure this wasn’t the wisest thing to have done, but I came to see that I’d really opened myself up to a wider range of readers, and more importantly, my younger readers who were maturing made it really clear that they loved the new stuff and my range. It was like I was offering them something new and older, with a hint of what they’d discovered in The Yellow Hoods. As for the adults, this allowed me to draw in different audiences who had no real interest in my other works.

Q: Is The Day the Sky Fell the end of your Yellow Hoods world, and if so, why end it now?

A: Book 5 – The Day the Sky Fell is indeed the end of The Yellow Hoods series, however, it isn’t the end of the Yellow Hoods. I realized as I wrote Book 5 that the original story arc had run its course. I had ideas for a story arc to cover Books 6-7, and a few other ideas to bring it up to 10, but it felt forced.

The main characters had been through a lot in a relatively short period of time (about 2 years) from Book 1 to the end of Book 5. In my mind, they deserved a rest. Adding more on top would forfeit some of the realism and intensity that was at the heart of the entire series. I thought pushing it would make it almost comical in a bad way. Another aspect that I considered was that my character gallery had grown significantly, with fans requesting spin-off stories about Bakon and Egelina-Marie, about Christina and Mounira, and others.

The plan I came up with when I was writing Book 2 wasn’t just for a series for 4-5 books, but rather it was to have a sequel series that takes place five to ten years later, allowing us to see where Tee, Elly, Richy, and the others ended up. Actually, I’d love to one day have a third series that would see Tee being a mother, and thus the series would come full circle. We’ll see if I ever get there.

I’ve now given a name to that next series, The Mark of the Yellow Hoods. My hope is to start writing that series in 2019. Between now and then I have a few spin-off novellas and a spin-off series that I’m hoping to bring out. This approach will allow me to shake things up, change the pattern and cast that’s involved, as well as visit other parts of their world.

Q: Why did you opt to go the self-publishing route?

A: About six months before I started writing my first book I turned the radio on and found myself in the middle of an interview with ‘marketing guru’ Seth Godin. He said (paraphrased) “If I had a book ready today, there’s no way I would go with a traditional publisher if I was an entrepreneur and willing to learn from a few mistakes” That thought stuck in my head.

When I started looking into publishing, I was finding people waiting years before getting any reader/fan feedback. That was a purgatory that I didn’t want. Every day I had stabbing pain from my chronic abdominal scar tissue issues, and felt like I was carrying a lead-vest because of my severe asthma. I wasn’t going to wait years. I was willing to work hard enough, run fast enough, to outpace my mistakes.

Coming from the software side, I really did think of myself as a start-up. I had an idea; I was going to take it directly to market. I wasn’t going to ask permission or try to fit within someone else’s portfolio and align to their timing. Instead, I would start things off. If one day I got ‘acquired’, i.e. a big publisher wanted to take over one of my series, or wanted to offer me a deal, I would have experience and a following to bring to the table. Actually, a few weeks ago I started talking with a publisher about bringing out a spin-off series of The Yellow Hoods.

I refer to myself as an indie author, rather than as a self-published author. The reason being that I do everything that a publisher does, from having my works professionally edited and covered, to handling the marketing and getting out there to push it, as well as handling distribution and direct bookstore relationships. I have both an online and in-print strategy that I continue to build in. In every way I can, I’m emulating classic indie bands who went from unknown to hitting it big. Will I hit it big? I have no idea. Will I be “pure” indie the entire time? I doubt it. There are strategic advantages for the additional reach of traditional publishers, and possibly divesting myself of some responsibilities that take away from my writing.

So in brief? I went indie because there is no greater motivator than a stabbing pain in your abdomen. If I was going to fail, then it was going to be entirely on me. But I didn’t.

Q: You’ve said that giving back is important to you. How and why is this a part of your author career?

A: I believe strongly in becoming the mentor you wished you’d found. In my software career I kept hoping to find someone who would see me and go, “Ah, you remind me of me. Come on, I’ll give you a boost.” As time went by, I decided I wouldn’t waste my time always looking for them and instead I would become that type of mentor for others.

I brought that same thinking to my life as an author, except even more so. As I started to have some success, I shared what I knew with others. I’d make time to give feedback on stories, and so on. I carved out a portion of every week to do that. I find doing this keeps me grounded and connected with people, as well as appreciating what I’ve done rather than only focusing on what I haven’t done yet.

This past week, for example, I had coffee with two other authors. In one case, he’d gone down the traditional road, had an agent, and after years, found himself with a lot of compliments about his work but no one willing to take the plunge. He felt like he’d wasted so much time and wanted to know about being an indie. After two hours, he had several pages of notes and a plan of action. The second person I met with was about the same age (late 50s, early 60s) and had a book ready to go. They already had an established audience because of other work that they’d been doing, and wanted to know things from another side. I was happy to share with them.

Some authors I’ve met are very secretive and competitive. They want to know everything about what you are doing, how much you’re paying for your books, etc., but won’t share a single thing of value back. That’s a shame. We’re a community that’s far stronger together, and our real competition are video games and non-books, not each other (not really).

I believe if I’m able to share something that helps someone become the next J.K. Rowling, then fantastic, but do I want to succeed at someone’s expense? No. There are some people who are leeches, and you’ve always got to be careful of them. Those are the ones who will actively try to push you out of whatever limelight you share. I’ve had this happen to me a few times, and though it makes me wary of who I share stuff with, it doesn’t stop me.

Q: What have you learned about yourself since beginning this journey into writing and publishing?

A: More than anything else, I’ve learned to have faith in the storyteller that I am. There are real people out there who love what I write and how I write. There’s something magical about being at my table at a convention and within 15 minutes of the door opening, someone who has driven several hours to get there, runs right up to my booth wanting whatever new book I have available. That excitement, that joy, I had a part in that. It’s unbelievable.

Q: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the business of writing and publishing?

A: On the publishing front, it’s about the amount of lead time you need to give yourself and the capital (money) involved, particularly if you’re carrying inventory. Being prolific comes with a cost.

On the writing front, it’s about how much words that come out of my head can mean to someone else. I’ve had a cancer survivor tell me how it helped get them through chemo, a man tell me how it helped him as his mother passed, and more. Those experiences also bring with them a sense of responsibility to keep going, to add more good into the world.

Q: One of your challenges that you talk about openly is being dyslexic. How has this affected you, because having written nine books in three years, it’s clearly not slowing you down?

A: On the plus side of being dyslexic, my imagination is very visual, 3D. It’s like I’m walking around in a movie scene, able to rewind, replay, alter, and replay. Often I feel like my writing is just the transcribing of the movie I’m privileged to have in my head.

The downside is obvious, in terms of words tripping me up. I accepted that my writing was going to be very far from perfect, but I adapted my process for getting it ready for release. That means when I’m done my draft, I go through it from start to finish at least three times in order to clean it up. Then it goes to my beta readers, some of whom can’t help themselves and do some grammar and word-substitution corrections. After going through those proposed changes and incorporating them, it goes to my editor for the first round. She goes through it, sends it back to me, I incorporate her changes, and then send it back to her for another round. After that’s done, then I have one to three  proofreaders go through it to catch as many of the tiny errors that managed to sneak through as possible. THEN I declare it done.

As a software architect, I learned that my dyslexia was a net-advantage for me. At first, I thought everyone could take a concept and create a machine in their head that mapped to it, and then walk around the machine, identifying problems or weak points, and bring it up.

I used to cringe when I’d hear “You have to read tons to be a writer.” I can’t read quickly at all, and while I read a lot of news, I don’t read many books. I’ve come to believe that this is really the heart of what it means to be a writer; we need to be absorbing new experiences, moments, and thoughts. I get that from conversations, movies, TV, and other sources. Maybe that’s why my characters feel so real, I don’t know.

Q: When talking about being a dyslexic author, what is the message you want to convey?

A: The advantage I, and perhaps other dyslexics have is that my highly visual imagination greatly outweighs tripping on words. Be willing to make a mess, because a mess that’s written is better than perfection locked in the prison of your mind. Also, with that mess, clean it up as best you can, and then have others clean it up more.

Q: What’s next for you, Adam?

A: Less than three weeks after The Day the Sky Fell releases, The Wizard Killer – Season Two releases. I’ve just sent the first draft of a non-fiction book to a friend of mine, which I hope to bring out by August. This will then be followed by my first installment in a new fantasy, space opera series called Tilruna.

As an ambitious madman who believes in making use of every moment that isn’t invested in my family, I’m hoping to bring a Yellow Hoods world story out in April 2018, along with The Wizard Killer – Season Three, and that fall, Tilruna – Season Two. InApril 2019? Well, keep your eyes peeled, because you might see the first book in that Yellow Hoods spin-off series published by someone else, bringing together Dreece versions of tales like The Pied Piper and Little Match Girl.

Ambitious? Absolutely. Crazy? Yeah, especially when you consider there are a few short stories in there and growing the distribution side of my publishing business. Still, at the end of the day, I love what I do, and I’m spending far more time with my family that I ever did when working in software.

The Day The Sky Fell

Mini-blurb: The Day the Sky Fell brings a dramatic conclusion to the steampunk meets fairytale saga, with airship battles and betrayals at every level.

You can find/connect with Adam here:

Blog – AdamDreece.com

Facebook http://facebook.com/AdamDreeceAuthor

Instagram – http://instagram.com/AdamDreece

 

 

Advertisements

Bloodstone

perf5.000x8.000.indd

Heroes, swords, and an unexpected journey into a cursed warrior’s heart describe the suspenseful, fantastical novel Bloodstone, by author Helen Johannes. With a modern day fairy tale vibe, this romantic adventure combines the intrigue of Beauty and the Beast with the stuff swashbuckling legends are made of.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

**********

Tell us, Helen, what first inspired you to start writing?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school. I ‘decided’ to take up the craft seriously when my children were small and I needed an outlet for my creative energy.

Where did the idea come about for your latest release BLOODSTONE?

This story grew out of the Cupid and Psyche myth. In the myth, Psyche is forced to wed what she thinks is a monster so horrible he refuses to let her see him. They can meet only in the dark. It’s a story about trust, and I wanted to build on that concept with a cursed hero who’s taken on a heavy load of guilt. He needs to be redeemed by a woman courageous enough to do ‘anything’ to save him.

What attracted you to writing fantasy romance?

I love fairy tales and Arthurian legend.  There’s something fascinating about a hero with a sword on horseback. Plus, my earliest favorite book was a collection of fairy tales. Besides the well-known tales of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, this one had stories like The Donkey Prince, Snow White and Rose Red, The Tin Soldier, and The Dancing Princesses, to name a few.

I’ve always been drawn to the stories about heroes in disguise, about people who are misjudged or discounted by others because of appearances. The Donkey Prince, for instance, is about a prince born with a donkey’s body due to a curse on his parents. They give him the best of everything, and he becomes a skilled lute player, but he’s still a donkey. Tired of being looked upon as a freak in his home town, he decides to take to the road, playing his lute, until one young woman falls in love with the sensitive man inside the ugly skin. That transformation from beast to beloved is a theme that I’ve always enjoyed reading, and it’s probably what drew me to the romance genre in the most elemental sense.

You’ve become published! What was the journey to success like for you?

To anyone who has any aspirations to be published someday—or to achieve any other creative dreams—I’d like to affirm that turtles do win.

That’s right—turtles, the slow and steady plodders. I am a turtle. It’s taken me years to realize my dream of becoming a published author. Lots of rejection letters, contest finals, conferences and workshops later, I have two books available from The Wild Rose Press. I’m not likely to become a household name, but I can hold my dreams in my hand today. So can you. Just keep plodding along.

Any steadfast work rituals in your writing process?

I write in the kitchen on a laptop at the table where I’ve installed my cushy office chair. I like the sunlight from my southerly window and the easy access to the microwave for hot tea. Sometimes I listen to music while I write, usually a soundtrack or something Celtic-inspired. I need something where I don’t understand the lyrics so I won’t try to listen to them. The music for me is about creating a ‘zone.’

What’s the best perk of being an author?

Realizing a dream has to be the foremost. Another great perk is connecting with authors and readers around the world. Writing is a solitary business, so making connections to other creative people who listen to the ‘voices in their heads’ is a definite plus.

What are your ultimate ambitions as a writer?

I’d like to establish a reputation for writing well-crafted books that have something to say about the power of love to heal and inspire. And I’d like to have fun doing it.

What’s the most unusual or challenging character you’ve ever written?

In BLOODSTONE I took on two challenging characters. The first is a blind boy, and I had to imagine the world as he would encounter it without using the familiar sense of sight. Everything for him became about the sounds and scents and sensations. The other challenging character was a Wehrland she-lion. I used my knowledge of growing up with pet cats to describe her behavior. As it turned out, she was the most fun to write.

Okay, who’s your author ‘crush’ and what makes him or her so great?

I’d love to pick Rick Riordan’s brain. In his Percy Jackson series he manages to juggle multiple storylines with vivid and unique characters while keeping the plot running at full gallop—and he sustains it over a series of books.

What were your favorite books growing up?

Fairy tales and books about horses, definitely—what little girl doesn’t love horses (or unicorns)? The stories of a boy and his horse, or a girl and her horse, feeds right into my historical bent. I do so love a hero on horseback with a sword. From fairy tales to medieval knights isn’t a big leap, especially when fairy tales led me to THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and Middle Earth. It’s no wonder that my two published novels are fantasy romances featuring heroes on horseback with swords.

Any words for aspiring writers?

Read. Write. Finish something. Join a writers’ group. Share your work and get feedback. Enter contests. Learn from your mistakes. Cycle through all steps repeatedly.

Where can we learn more about the published works of Helen Johannes?

Books:

THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE (debut book)

 BLOODSTONE (new release)

 

Websites and Links:

Blog: http://helencjohannes.blogspot.com/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4031965.Helen_C_Johannes

Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Helen-C.-Johannes/e/B003JJDQWS/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

The Wild Rose Press author page: http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=742

 

Buy link to Amazon:

THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE: http://amzn.com/B003JH8CO2

 

BLOODSTONE: http://amzn.com/B00G8GTHRC

 

Buy link to Barnes and Noble:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-prince-of-val-feyridge-helen-c-johannes/1021446067

 

 

A Conversation with C. S. Lakin

C.S._Lakin

A Conversation with C.S. Lakin

C.S. Lakin is a prolific author, blogger and advocate for writers, with her website Live Write Thrive (http://livewritethrive.com/ which is aptly named), writing workshops and critiquing/editing services. As an author of fairy tales for adults, she combines Christian scripture with myth and fairy tale to evoke fascinating worlds.

It is a treat to experience her work, fiction or nonfiction, because of the heart behind her words. It was a pleasure to chat with her about her Gates of Heaven series, her upcoming workshop and how-to book –  Shoot Your Novel – and to get a broader perspective on writing and engaging with others in this digital, fast-paced age.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

**********

Q: As an author of fairy tales for adults, you manage to employ recurring themes and rich textures without upsetting the balance between too much or too little description and the messages don’t become overly repetitive. How do you weave these aspects into your stories?

A: Thanks for the compliment on my writing.

I always start with themes, since those are the most important to me. And once I have themes, I try to come up with some motifs, which can be ideas or quotes, that are repeated by the characters throughout. As far as textures go, I’m all about beautiful language and imagery—the more the better.

I’ve been writing novels for nearly 30 years. I have over a million words in print. So it’s just putting that requisite 10,000 hours in to become proficient as a writer. I feel like it takes about 4-5 novels to get a voice, a style, a rhythm. I think craft/skill is 95% and the other 5% is inspiration and creativity. That’s why a lot of untalented people can write good, successful books without really having talent. My agent told me that—only 5% is talent. But sometimes that 5% is amazing and stands out. But overall, writing is like learning anything. It’s a skill anyone can learn if they put their mind to it. I’ve just developed my style through practice, such that I rarely ever write past a first draft. I usually edit and proofread my first draft and it’s done. I plot extensively but also listen to my intuition. I just wrote a blog post on that. And now I have a series on mind mapping and brainstorming, and I do that a lot.

Q: What is your favorite method of research for your Gates of Heaven series?

A: I read fairy tales. Hundreds of them. I’m finishing the last book, though, and I am so happy with the variety of themes and topics and characters. I feel I have created a wonderful, amazing world.

Q: Even as a series, each book stands alone. Does your process of writing change with a Gates of Heaven book from your process of writing your contemporary fiction or other fiction such as Time Sniffers?

A: Hmm, if you are talking about the difference between writing a series and a stand-alone, there can be huge differences. With a seven-book series like mine, I have one overarching world with overlapping locales and characters, but with a complete fairy tale in the story. Since I decided to have seven sites in seven places, I had to create almost a new world for each book. It’s been a challenge but the last book is like the final curtain, bringing all the main characters from the first six books together, although I’m trying to also make it a stand-alone book. And it’s a story within a story within a story, so that’s a huge challenge.

Q: Wow! That will be fascinating to see how you create that, when the books are already multi-layered.

You have held a series of “Writing for Life” workshops for writers earlier this year, with your next event scheduled for December (“Sizzling Scenes”). What do you enjoy most with these workshops?

A: I love teaching these workshops and seeing how these new perspectives help writers become better writers. All the material I teach is also on my blog, Live Write Thrive.

Q: What can we expect from “Sizzling Scenes”?

A: I created this workshop because I see as the biggest problem with my critique and editing clients that few writers know how to correctly craft a scene. There really are “rules” to structuring scenes, and I like to liken it to preparing a meal, with many different entrees. A dish must have spices, have a surprise, leave a specific aftertaste, etc. You’ll just have to take the workshop to get the whole flavor!

Q: I love that analogy. Among your posts on Live Write Thrive are those about “shooting your novel,” some of which will be included in your upcoming how-to. What inspired you to approach novel-writing in the context of film technique?

A: I was raised in the TV industry and spent my growing-up years reading scripts and on sets. So I have a cinematic take on writing fiction. Some of the best novelists were first screenwriters. It’s crucial to make scenes visual in a way the reader can picture events unfolding in real time. Readers are so accustomed to movies and TV that they expect book scenes to also have this technique. This entire year covers all this movie technique. The book, Shoot Your Novel, will hopefully be out soon!

Q: On Live Write Thrive you share your critique checklist and different paid options for your critique services. What is the most challenging, and the most rewarding, aspect to critiquing the works of others?

A: I love the challenge of working on every kind of genre with clients in six continents. It’s so fun and exciting. The reward is in seeing writers grow in their love of writing and their ability. I’ve watched so many writers I’ve coached go from writing a train wreck of a novel to a masterpiece that sells big or wins awards. I love helping writers as much as I love writing, so I’m always torn between wanting to do both. Right now I work full-time doing critiques and edits, and still write two novels a year. It’s a challenge but I don’t want to cut back on either activity.

Q: That’s amazing! How do you manage to juggle everything?  

A: I get up early, run two miles on my treadmill at about 6:30, spend most of the morning working in between throwing the Frisbee for the lab. I go to the library from 11-5. I write fast because I’ve learned to do that. I don’t rush my editing, though.

Q: Smart to have a schedule like that. You share many articles and guest posts on your site, and you have built quite a large social media presence. There is a fine line between being engaged and becoming overloaded–how do you navigate that?

I was taught the best way to draw fans and readers and clients is to share as much free information as possible, and I love to do that, so I dedicate a lot of my time to my blog. I write about 150,000 words a year on my blog, the equivalent of a couple of novels. I also tweet my posts, put on Facebook, and share with about 30 LinkedIn groups. I love how discussions ensue and people write me every day to thank me for the great info. Basically I felt I wasted twenty years as a writer floundering around not knowing what I was doing, so my hope is to teach methods in a way that will spare other writers the grief I went through.

Q: Much appreciated! On your site, you offer your editing services. How would you say editing others has strengthened you as a writer?

A: Editing definitely helps me as a writer, especially reading so many beginning novels and noting what is missing or wrong.

Q: How did you develop as an editor—were you an editor first, or did you learn as you wrote and worked with other editors?

A: I’ve been writing novels for nearly thirty years. I’ve also been editing a while but didn’t begin taking it seriously, in terms of learning Chicago style and making book editing my career, until five years ago. I was still writing novels full-time, but in the last two years moved to full-time editing. Since I’ve written about fourteen novels, in a half-dozen genres, I began to specialize in critiques, since most editors aren’t novelists, so now about 90% of my work is critiques—I do about 200 a year of various lengths. I have a couple of great copyeditors on my team who often do the initial content editing for my clients, but I always have my hands and eyes on the projects and do all the final proofreading. I’ve never “worked” with other editors, but I am on editing loops and groups and learn from others as well as share my insights with them.

Q: That’s great. Your website (cslakin.com) notes “In all her books she seeks to journey to the heart of human motivation, to uncover unmet needs, and show the path to healing and grace.” When and how did you determine this was what you wanted to evoke with your writing?

I’ve been through a lot of pain and misery in my life, spiritually and emotionally. Like many, I’ve used my writing as a cathartic way to understand and process those experiences. I’ve always been fascinated by the human psyche, and love how complex people are. I’m a very character-driven novelist and most of my books are relational dramas or journeys of the heart for my characters.

Q: Yes, I enjoy that about your work. Is there anything else you would like to say?

A: I don’t sleep (just kidding). Really, although people look at what I do and are astonished, I look at some of my other author friends and they make me feel like I’m downright lazy. Meaning, don’t compare yourself with other writers. Their journey is their own, and yours is your own. Write because you love it. Cherish the freedom you have to write, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, and remember there are a lot of other people like you out there trying to be the best writer they can be. They are not your competition. Let them be your inspiration. God has a plan for your life and your writing. He won’t tell you what it is, and more than likely, it will not look like the plan you have. That’s how He works. I’m trying to live in that place in peace. It’s not easy, but if you focus on the joy of telling a story and be there to encourage and help others, the journey will be an utter blast! Take off!

 

The Prince Charming Hoax

Prince Charming Hoax

Once upon a time…[blah, blah, blah]…and they lived happily ever. For many a young girl who grew up reading fairy tales, that blah, blah, blah in the middle was always incidental. Who really cared if the heroine of these childhood stories was smart, clever, brave or had useful skill sets like spinning straw into gold? If she couldn’t attract a handsome guy on a white horse by the final chapter and give up her day-job to go be his missus, she was doomed to spinsterhood and may as well just spend the rest of her days luring lost children into an edible house of gingerbread. In the real world, waiting for a prince to come and rescue you is no guarantee of a blissful ending, much less a rewarding day-to-day in which the genuine you can go forth and sparkle with gusto.

In her spicy new novel, The Prince Charming Hoax, author Shelley Lieber (aka Elyse Grant) puts the spotlight on two boomer women who break free of the “happily ever after” myth and decide to rewrite their life stories in a sexy, thoughtful tale.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

 Q: Your bio describes you as “an author with a split personality.” Tell us more!

A: The “split personality” is how I explain the contrasting aspects of my life and career. Shelley Lieber, The Wordy Woman, is a nonfiction author and publishing consultant. In that persona I wrote 4Ps to Publishing Success and Publishing Made Easy & Profitable; created the VIP Authors writers community; and founded Visual Impressions Publishing, a publishing vehicle for independent authors. My wilder side writes erotic fiction under the nom de plume Elyse Grant. The Prince Charming Hoax, my debut novel, introduces two boomer women with strong and sometimes conflicting personalities that reflect this dichotomy: smart, creative, and nurturing vs. sassy, ambitious, and daring.

Q: How did you decide on your pen name?

A: Elyse Grant is a combination of my two children’s middle names. It seemed appropriate to use a pen name for fiction, since my inspiration for storytelling seems to spring from a unique source within myself previously unknown to me.

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up?

A: Yes, definitely! I particularly loved stories with strong female characters. I read fiction and biographies. I remember reading the stories of Madame Curie and Elizabeth Taylor back to back, and changing my answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” from “scientist” to “actress” in a week’s time.

Q: Who were some of the authors – and titles – that may have influenced your storytelling style?

A: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; The Women’s Room by Marilyn French; and Fear of Flying  and How to Save Your Own Life by Erica Jong. I don’t know that these authors influenced my writing style, but they influenced me as a young woman—which probably had a significant effect on the subject of my writing and the type of protagonist I found interesting.

Q: Which one of those authors would you most like to have lunch with, and what question would you most like to ask him or her?

A: I’d have to say Erica Jong. The question I’d ask her today is very different than the one I would have asked years ago. Back when her groundbreaking novels came out, I would have questioned her about the source of her courage, and if she had ever been tempted (or advised) to “tone it down.” Today, I’d ask her if she’d bump it up a notch if she were writing for the current market.

Q: Tell us about your inspiration to write The Prince Charming Hoax.

A: The novel began as a nonfiction book about dating after divorce. The book was inspired by my own experiences and other women’s stories shared with me. One day as I struggled with the format and organization of the book, the characters of Leah Gold and Roxanne Stein popped out on the page and Elyse took over the keyboard. Once that happened, the writing flowed and the story was told.

Q: Was there any research involved in the creation of this fictional work?

A: The research began with the nonfiction version. I held Sunday brunches and invited the divorced and separated women I knew and encouraged them to bring their friends. Each brunch had a theme—such as dating a man ten years your junior or senior—and the women shared dating stories on the selected topic. Once the book turned to fiction, the “true” stories were combined and some were completely invented. I’ve never been to a “swinging” club like the one where D.J. took Roxie in The Prince Charming Hoax, so I interviewed someone who has had that kind of experience in order that the scene I created would be an accurate account of what could happen.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you by taking over the story and moving it in a different direction than you originally envisioned?

A: Absolutely! I used to roll my eyes when I heard authors make that statement, but I found it’s true. The characters take over once they get on the page. I had to fight Roxie the entire time I was writing. She’s such a strong personality and could have easily overshadowed the story. I finally promised her the lead in another book, and she behaved better after that.

Q: Who is your intended audience for The Prince Charming Hoax and what do you think is its strongest takeaway value?

A: As a genre, contemporary women’s fiction confronts issues of modern-day women and their relationships with men, other women, careers, and children. My intention was to explore some of these issues. I’d say my ideal reader is a boomer-age woman who appreciates that the pursuit of purpose, passion, and fulfillment can be a bumpy, but enjoyable ride. I think the strongest takeaway a novel can provide is reading enjoyment. So, my goal with this book was to explore the issues in an entertaining and engaging way.

Q: Do you believe in love at first sight?

A: I do because I experienced it—twice. Years ago I saw my first husband standing on the steps in front of the Student Union at Ohio University. There was something in his posture that told me I’d marry this man. Years later, after my divorce, I met my second husband in an arranged meeting. We spent about an hour standing and talking in a parking lot, and I knew that night I’d found my soul mate and he would be my forever husband.

Q: The book title and its premise suggest that happily-ever-after’s are just a myth. Do you personally think this is true?

A: I absolutely believe in the possibility of a “happily ever after.” Without creating too much of a spoiler here, I’ll say that the myth (or hoax) is not the viability of a happily-ever-after ending. Rather, it’s about discovering the true source of a woman’s happiness as opposed to what fairy-tale endings suggest will make us live happily ever after.

Q: Tell us a little about your publishing background and why you became a publishing consultant.

A: I’ve been in the publishing industry since I got out of college (more than just a few years ago ;-). My first job in the industry was assistant editor at a New York publishing house. After eight years and several promotions, I moved to Florida with my new baby. Book publishing barely existed as an industry there at that time, and for many years I worked as a freelance writer and editor for national and regional magazines. I spent much of my working time alone in my home office. When I began to write my novel in 2002, I sought out writers groups. Once other group members found out that I knew about publishing, that’s all anyone ever wanted to talk about! But I was there to get feedback on my writing, so I began offering publishing workshops and helping other writers finish their work and prepare submissions to agents and publishers. In 2008, when self-publishing became a more frequent choice for my clients. I started a publishing company because I wasn’t happy with the available options at the time, and I knew I could offer better service at a better price.

Q: What do you know now about the publishing industry that you didn’t know when you first started?

A: I had no idea that the industry could change so radically. Publishing today barely resembles the world I entered as a recent college graduate. In fact, publishing has changed more in the last five years than in the previous fifty! As a creative industry, publishing lagged far behind film and music when it came to adapting to new technology. The big houses and established literary agencies resisted indie authors and digital publishing, and as a result, lost their advantage. Since things never go backward, only forward, I can safely assert that publishing will never be the same!

Q: Any wishes for do-overs?

A: Yes. I wish I had started writing fiction earlier in my life.

Q: Do you belong to any forums, organizations or critique groups that have helped your career as a writer? In what ways have these been beneficial?

A: I’m a strong advocate for critique groups, both local and online. Getting constructive feedback on your writing is essential, especially in the beginning. The hardest part is to find the right group of good writers who can offer qualified constructive criticism. I was very fortunate to find two groups right away. Sometimes it can take longer, but the support and valuable feedback a writer gets is well worth the effort.

I’ve already explained how being in a writers group helped launch a new career for me as a publishing consultant. But, even more important, was the feedback and emotional support I received from other group members. My first group was held at the local Barnes & Noble and writers from all genres were welcome. From that group, several of us who were writing novels banded together to meet separately once a week. We did in-depth readings and critiques of each other’s work. I think the accountability to have a new chapter ready for review is what kept me going when I wanted to quit. I don’t know if I would have ever finished the first draft of The Prince Charming Hoax if it weren’t for that group.

Q: What’s your best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Write every day. Be open to the feedback of others, but follow your own instincts about what and how to write. Learn everything you can about writing and publishing. Don’t make excuses for anything.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Well, I always keep my plate full. I’m writing the follow up to The Prince Charming Hoax, mixing genres, bringing parallel time travel into my erotic, contemporary fiction, allowing Leah Gold to examine a “what if” scenario—along the lines of the movie, Sliding Doors. I’m exploring a metaphysical twist for the third book of this series. Roxie, the character who fought me for the lead in The Prince Charming Hoax, exchanges “consciousness” with another character when they are trapped in a car that has plunged into a canal. She wakes up in the other woman’s body.

In addition to writing these books, I’m writing a series of erotica titles with two writing partners that will be published under a new pen name.

I’m also working with another author to create a new publishing platform that will distribute and promote boomer lit books and authors of all genres.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Here are the links to my blogs and social media:

Links:

Shelley Lieber: http://shelleylieber.blogspot.com

Elyse Grant: http://elysegrant.blogspot.com

Amazon: http://amzn.to/Y5YRaC 

Facebook: http://facebook.com/shelleylieber

Twitter: http://twitter.com/wordywoman

Goodreads: http://goodreads.com/shelleylieber

Kiss Chronicles

Kiss_Chronicles_Cover_Final

“The sound of a kiss” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, “is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer.”

Do you remember the very first kiss you ever gave or received? Virginia M. Sanders not only waited three decades for this auspicious event to occur but also made it the subject of her memoir, Kiss Chronicles. While her text is primarily targeted to females between the ages of 15 and 35, its message of love, loss and unabashed mirth will resonate with anyone who believes in the magic of romance and the priceless value of supporting worthy causes.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

 **********

Q: Tell us the inspiration behind your new book, Kiss Chronicles.

A: To answer that question, I actually need to take it back a little farther, to what started the whole Kiss Chronicles project. Before I turned 30, I’d been feeling anxious that I hadn’t gotten my first kiss yet. And then after my 30th birthday, I wanted to take action, to do something that felt right to get that kiss. When the thought occurred to me that, hey, people have auctioned stranger things than first kisses on eBay, so why not? At first, I threw the idea out because the money in an auction involved made it a bad idea. Then the idea came to me that the money didn’t have to come to me — it could go to charity instead. And I fell in love with the idea. Then everything that happened after that eventually lead to the book.

Q: The craft of writing not only enables us to make new discoveries about ourselves but also to provide closure for certain events and relationships in our past. What was your own experience with this in penning a soul-bearing memoir?

A: By the time I began writing the book, I needed it. I needed to put every word down, one after the other, to process my feelings and thoughts and work past them. I needed to pull my stories together to see how I’d come to that point in my life. Writing Kiss Chronicles was like being at the narrow point of an hourglass, filtering sand through that point grain by grain. The process brought me valuable lessons and healing.

Q: What governed your choice to make Kiss Chronicles a nonfiction title instead of a novel?

A: Wow, it never even occurred to me to novelize it. Huh. But truthfully, even if it had occurred to me, I wouldn’t have done that. By writing nonfiction, I discovered that this was the one story I could tell that could never belong to anyone else. Still, I do look forward to going back to fiction writing.

Q: Fiction enables a writer to take more liberties with the truth and, in doing so, maintain a safe distance of personal privacy. Are there other differences you encountered over the course of structuring your story?

A: The difference between fiction and nonfiction…to me, writing nonfiction felt kind of like cheating because I already knew the whole story. I didn’t have to invent characters or their backgrounds. I didn’t have to build a world. I was never surprised when something I wrote went in an unexpected direction. Writing nonfiction was like adding colors to a sketched outline rather than facing the daunting prospect of painting on a blank canvas.

Q: Were you/are you a voracious reader? If so, who are some of the authors you most admire and why?

A: I love to read. I admire C.S. Lewis for his wonder, Tolkein for his astonishing commitment to his world, and Lewis Carroll for his nonsense. In more modern times, Rob Thurman and S.U. Pacat are both writers that I stalk, er, um, I mean I appreciate their talents. And Robin McKinley wrote my favorite book, the darkest of dark fairy tales, Deerskin.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I’ve started Les Misérables, unabridged, and let me tell you, this one’s going to take me a while. I expect I’m going to have to take a break from it once or twice and read something that’s pure, unrepentant fluff.

Q: Fairy tales are everywhere, frequently permeating literature, movies and stage plays with characters, quests and object lessons that subsequently feel familiar to us. How do you use this storytelling device in your own work?

A: I mention fairy tales more than once in the body of the book, but I also had fun with the theme by threading a completed fairy tale throughout the book, beginning each of the chapters (and ending one or two of them). I took my nonfiction story and turned it into a fairy tale allegory, which supports the through lines of the whole tale. And, of course, the fairy tale concept had an obvious impact on the cover.

Q: In one word, how would you describe your first kiss?

A: Spoiler!

Q: If you could go back and invite any celebrity to the kiss auction in your book, who would it be and why?

A: Ahaha, wait, what? You mean to be the kisser? I can tell you this for sure: It would NOT be Gene Simmons!

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: Stare at blank page. Walk away. Come back and stare again. Chew fingernail. Walk away and use the laser pointer to tease a cat. Come back and write a sentence. Shout with joy and suddenly write bunches of paragraphs. Realize that an hour has gone by and, oh, where did all those words come from? Good job. Eat chocolate. Repeat.

Q: Are critique groups a help or a hindrance in a writer’s journey to find his/her unique voice?

A: A critique group, a good critique group, will be the greatest asset on a writer’s journey to tell a story. As for finding a unique voice, I’m not sure about that. Although I’ve belonged to a critique group for four years now, and I’ve met many people through it, I have yet to meet a writer who didn’t already have a unique voice. The group might have some influence on how that voice gets refined, to help polish it and make it shine, but it was already there to begin with. The group, my group at least, has much more to say about the mechanics of the writing.

For writers looking to find a critique group, the first place to check is MeetUp.com to see whether there are any local, established groups. If that doesn’t work, poke around at a library and see whether a friendly librarian knows of any crit groups. Or try searching online for “writing group [your location]” or “writing critique [your location]” and see what’s out there.

If you decide you need to start your own group, you can set it up on MeetUp.com and make it a regular event. (My group started off meeting every other week. Now we meet weekly.) Try to have at least a couple of other people you know, writers, who can help establish a reliable core membership. You’ll also want to set up rules, such as how long critique submissions should be and how far in advance of the meeting people need to submit the text to be read. You can use systems such as Dropbox, Yahoo! Groups, or Google Docs to share files.

Q: Was the decision to self-publish one that you made from the outset or did you pitch through traditional channels first?

A: I didn’t decide to self-publish at the outset, but nor did I pitch to any traditional channels. I pitched through entirely non-traditional channels at first. What I really wanted to do was work with a cancer-related charity and have the book benefit it directly. And who knows? Maybe that could be a possibility in the future. But for now, I’m content to be self-published and still benefitting charity, albeit through a workaround.

Q: What do you know now about the pros and cons of self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started?

A: In traditional publishing, the author gets hears a lot of “no” on the front end, before publishing the book. In self-publishing, the author hears a lot of “no” on the back end, after publishing the book. In self-publishing, the con is that I still have to fight to get my foot in the door and gain acknowledgement, but the pro is that even while I’m doing that work my book is already out, available, and able to start collecting reviews and momentum.

Q: How do you deal with the bias of publishing a “free” ebook?

A: For me, it’s still early days. I don’t think I’ve had to face this bias directly yet. I know it’s out there, though, the opinion that an author would only publish a book for free because it just isn’t that good and wouldn’t sell. That’s not the truth. Sometimes great writers have valid reasons for making books or short stories free.

However, I’ve realized a terrible indirect downside to my book being free: I can’t hold giveaways. People love to get something for free that wouldn’t otherwise be free, and so many authors are using that as a great promotional tool, giving away free or discounted books and gaining attention in the process. It’s a valuable way to spread the word, but I can’t join the giveaway fun.

Q: You indicate that you wrote this book for social good and wanted to leave it to readers to decide how and whether they take action. Tell us a little more about that.

A: Yes, this book is devoted to raising funds and awareness for cancer research and patients. It’s a cause that’s very personally significant to me because I’ve lost two immediate family members to cancer. I have a fundraising page set up for the book on Razoo at http://www.razoo.com/story/Kiss-Chronicles. It’s a third-party fundraising site, so the money is going to the charity and is tax deductible for the reader.

Donations are great and very much appreciated. However, each reader is unique and might want some say in where the donation goes. I picked a charity that fights multiple cancers, but what if the reader would prefer to donate to a cancer-specific charity, such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society? I welcome the reader to do that. And what if the reader doesn’t have the cash to spare but has some free time? In that case, volunteering for a charity event might be perfect.

Of course I’d like my fundraising page to do well. In fact, it can and will do well. But I also think that someone reading my book might be able to come up with a brilliant idea that I never thought of, and I want to encourage that. I realize, of course, that plenty of readers will simply read the book without taking action. Still, I believe in planting seeds of potential even if they don’t sprout right away.

Q: What would fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I once had a dream that I got my first kiss from a web comic character named Skids. True story. He was a good dream kisser, too.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Fiction! I want to write some short stories and work with some new characters with super powers and maybe even go back to an old fairy tale that’s still in progress. More blogging as well, so the nonfiction doesn’t get to go away completely.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I blog at http://kisschronicles.com, and occasionally I post on the BlogHer network site. And you can find me tweeting on @KissChronicle.