Possum love with Jen K. Blom

I have to admit that as an adult, I have read and loved only a few middle grade novels, and fewer still that I’ve read in one day. Possum Summer is one such novel.

Jen K. Blom delivers up a tight story with a rocking protagonist and in order to promote her up-coming release of her debut novel, she is making her rounds on her most excellent POSSUMS ARE AWESOME blog tour.

Without further ado, my good friend, Jen K. Blom: 

Welcome to the POSSUMS ARE AWESOME blog tour for the middle-grade book, POSSUM SUMMER, coming out in March! (Have you preordered yet?)

You know people still use ‘howdy’ as a greeting where I grew up? For realz. And I’m using it here today on Teresa’s lovely blog, as she’s such a word connoisseur and deserves only my best. Now, as for P’s best, I don’t know if we can really go there.

So I’ll just go ahead and begin.

First off, a little about the book:

  
  

a lonely kid.

an orphaned baby possum.

a dad that says no way.

how do you keep that kind of secret?

and what happens when you’re found out?

TF:  I love Princess, because she reminds me of me when I was a girl. She is a child that keeps getting up no matter how many times she’s knocked down; she is wonderful. Possum Summer is a fast-paced and tightly woven story. You did not waste a word or (more importantly) an event. How did you construct such a tight story?

JKB: I don’t think I’d manage to create such a story again! I’d had this story in my head for a long time, from the time I first thought I’d actually try and write a ‘real’ story. I kept adding little bits as I lived along, taking other little parts out (Fun fact: P was once named Wally, but I changed her name after my own Gran died to my Gran’s name, Princess, in tribute) until I finally thought ‘well h*ll, I ought to just go ahead and do it.’ So I did. 😀

Also? My crit buds are a-maz-ing.

TF: Currently, you live in Germany in the beautiful city of Berlin. I know you love Berlin, but do you ever get homesick for the U.S.?

JKB: Hm. That’s a good question. I get food-sick for things, if that makes sense . . . Germans are pretty healthy and generally frown on such succulent goodness as Cheetos, or Powdered donuts, or Oreos (but we finally got Oreos a couple years ago!). I miss people on and off, and places (like where I grew up, our old farm), but I wouldn’t define it as a particular all in one encompassing feeling, if that makes sense.

I get asked that question a lot here too, and here’s what I say to the curious Germans: Every place, every place, has its good and bad points. Your duty is to dwell on the good and try to make the best of the bad.

TF: Princess makes the best of a bad lot quite often in Possum Summer. As I read Possum Summer, I thought of The Yearling, which was a boy and his deer. Of course, a deer would have been much too tame for Princess. But a possum? Why did you give Princess a possum?

JKB: Possums are strong, sweet little creatures that really get a bum rap. They aren’t necessarily as charming as a raccoon, or as personable as a horse, but they have their sweet points. I am firmly Team Possum.

Princess: YOU wrote a HORROR BOOK! That would make me stay up at NIGHT! I know all about YOU!

JKB: Oh Teresa. I’m so sorry.

TF: It’s cool, Jen.

P: ‘Bout what? There really ain’t nothin’ to be sorry about, Miss Jen! Unless you count what you fed your kid last night! Real kids eat beef and potatoes! Right, Miss Teresa? Right? What’s your favrite food?

TF: You got it, P. My favorite food is Texas fajitas.

P: Well, that’s practic’ly meat – I think, except it’s foreign two times: both the Texas thing and however you say that other word. What’s your favrite activities?

*JKB sighs*

TF: I love reading and writing. Or do you mean like actually, physically doing something like jogging?

P: It’s whatever you want, but frankly all you writer types do too much readin’. I like it too, but really there’s a lot more in life. Like playing in creeks, or doing chores. I got to do a lot of chores. *sighs* What do you like best about yourself, huh, Miss Teresa?

TF: My wild looking hair!!

P: It is purely a bane of my life, as my Gran says, to have wild hair too. It never stays put! I cut it all off once and let me tell you I heard about that from ever-y-body! I know since you asked about wolverines (I had to look those up) I drew you as the next best thing to a wolverine:


P: A badger, huh? You ever seen one? Man oh man, my dad’s dog got in a fight with a badger and did he ever get the short end of the stick! Badgers are tough, I reckon almost as tough as wolverines ever would be —

**scuffle**

JKB: Thanks so much for the drive-by, Teresa! I apologize for the devil I brought! 😀

TF: No problem at all, Jen! Thanks for stopping by!

Just in case you’re curious, Jen K. Blom writes about animals, the land, and kids, not necessarily in that order. Her debut, POSSUM SUMMER, is available March 2011.

Just the thing to give a kid to start their summer of reading off right! (Available from your local indie, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, or Book Depository!)

Have you seen the book trailer yet?

Wanna read more entries in the POSSUMS ARE AWESOME World Tour 2011? Go here and knock yourself out! [Hint: where you can also find information on how to win cool prizes!]

Advertisements
Posted in Author Interviews, Guest Authors | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Self-publishing–From the Trenches by Lindsay Buroker

Today I am pleased to host a guest post by my online pal Lindsay Buroker. I met Lindsay on the Online Writers Workshop (OWW) when she critiqued one of my chapters for Miserere. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know her better through Twitter and Facebook, and I love the articles she posts on her blog about how writers can promote their works online. She is a great source of well-written practical advice.

Lindsay has been a lifeguard, a Taco Bell grunt, and a soldier in the U.S. Army, but by the time she (finally) finished her degree in “Culture, Literature, and Arts,” she had decided she didn’t want to work for anyone else. She has made her living online as a blogger, affiliate marketer, and consultant for almost ten years now.

She lives in the Seattle area with a couple of dogs. She enjoys playing tennis, taking yoga, hiking and snowshoeing and spends entirely too much money on lattes at coffee shops (one of her favorite writing places). She loves to hang out with writers, sports enthusiasts, and gardeners, not usually at the same time. 

You can find informative posts on ebooks at her website and read about her novels at Lindsay Buroker Fantasy Novels or you can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

She is also an author of two ebooks, The Emperor’s Edge (available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords) and Encrypted (available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords).

Not sure you want to buy? Check out Lindsay’s free ebook, Ice Cracker II at either Barnes and Noble or Smashwords.

I hope you enjoy Lindsay’s post:

Self-publishing–From the Trenches

by Lindsay Buroker

If you haven’t seen someone toting a Kindle, iPad, Nook, or other e-reading device around lately, you’ve probably been living in a self-contained, subterranean dwelling for the last couple years. Fortunately, you’re on the surface now and reading Teresa’s blog.

Whether you’re a fan of ebooks or still prefer the dead-tree variety, you have to admit there’s a growing market for novels, novellas, short stories, and non-fiction that is digitally available. This offers a great opportunity for those who are interested in taking their destinies in their own hands (that’s code for busting their butts learning how to publish and promote online). Many authors are turning away from mainstream publishers in favor of going the “indie” route. I’m one of them.

I published my first novel, The Emperor’s Edge, just before Christmas, and my second, a science-fantasy romance called Encrypted, in the middle of January. (No, I don’t write that quickly–I just had these stories collecting dust on my hard drive while I tried to work up the enthusiasm to start querying agents.)

As I write this blog post in early February, I’ve sold about three hundred copies of my ebooks. That’s a long ways from being a bestseller, but I’ve been impressed at how quickly I’ve been able to go from one or zero sales a day to ten or more. My goal is to e-publish a couple more novels this year and to average 1,000 sales a month by Christmas 2011 (more would be acceptable also).

For those who are wondering how much indie ebook authors make, I’m selling my novels at $2.99 a piece, and I get to keep about 70% of that (it differs a bit, depending on the retailer, but that’s about average). I haven’t made enough to cover the initial costs of hiring an editor and a covert art designer yet, but that shouldn’t take long.

You get to set the price as an indie, so you can sell your ebooks for $0.99 all the way up to $199 (I doubt you’ll get many takers at $200 a pop though!). One of the great things about e-publishing is an indie can compete with the mainstream publishers. That’s not true with print-on-demand where self-published paperbacks end up costing much more than their traditional counterparts. With ebooks, you can sell your novels at the same price point as the big boys, or much lower, and still make a profit.

Considering most us go into the publishing world without an established fan base, it’s advantageous to be able to set low prices to attract folks who might not otherwise try an unknown author. I’m grateful to all the readers who have given my ebooks a try thus far. There’s definitely a stigma associated with self-publishing.

Fortunately people can download samples to try before they buy. If you’re a fan of high fantasy or steampunk, you can try 50% of The Emperor’s Edge at Smashwords. You dark fantasy folks may be interested in trying Encrypted, though my sense of humor keeps things from staying too dark for too long. Just because there’s a pile of ravaged corpses in the room and possessed soldiers trying to break in doesn’t mean you can’t stop to banter, right?

As you can tell, I’m excited about the e-publishing revolution and the possibilities of being an indie author right now. I’ll be the first to admit, however, this route may not be for everyone. I’ll do a little breakdown here to try and put things in perspective:

E-publishing may be right for you if . . .

  • You’ve already done the rounds, querying agents and submitting to publishers. You may have gotten a “close but not quite for us,” but your genre or story just isn’t wooing any of the gatekeepers.
  • You’re like me and you’re too impatient or disillusioned to try the traditional route. Maybe you love the idea of finishing a novel, having it edited, and putting it online for people to buy before you’ve even finished brainstorming the next project.
  • You’re not intimidated by the idea of learning how to promote your work online. Maybe you already have a blog and/or a large social media following. You know you’ll have to do a little work each day on book promotion if you expect to break even and make money at this.
  • You’re already an author who has had the rights revert back to you on out-of-print titles, and you’re looking for a way to make some extra cash from those books (lots of authors are in this situation and starting to make good money with their old titles!).

E-publishing Isn’t Going to be Right for You if . . .

  • You’re not interested in ebooks or the “e-publishing revolution.” You want to have your novels on your local bookstore shelf, and you’re willing to put in the work to achieve that.
  • You can’t imagine finding the time to maintain a blog or promote your ebooks online. (Although, from what I hear, most agents/editors expect you to do this even if you do get picked up by a big publisher.)
  • Your snooty writer friends will mock you if you self-publish. 😉

I hope you’ve found this post interesting, entertaining, or both. You can find out more about my fantasy novels on my e-publishing blog, where I talk about book promotion, blogging, and the life of an indie author.

If you’re interested in giving my novels a try, you can grab them at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in addition to Smashwords.

Thanks again to Lindsay for her article. If you have a question or comment about self-publishing, leave it in the comments and Lindsay will be happy to answer your questions!

Posted in Dark Fantasy, e-books, publication, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

telling stories . . . or how to lie effectively

I love living in the south. We have all kinds of gentle euphemisms for ugly truths. My personal favorite is “telling stories.” If you’ve never heard it, it goes something like this: That Teresa! She’s something else–always telling stories!

The rough translation is: That Teresa! She’s a problem child. Don’t believe a word out of her mouth, she’s a liar.

I learned a few things when I was “telling stories,” and I’d like to share them with you, because the rules of telling a good lie twine with the rules of good storytelling.

Read the rest of the post here . . .

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , ,

cover art for Miserere

Not all of my subscribers here at helluo librorum follow me at my other blog, and I’m so excited, I wanted to share this here too.

The cover art for my debut novel Miserere: An Autumn Tale has been completed. The artist is Michael C. Hayes, and you must go to his website to see his other works.

I am beyond words. He captured the essence of my novel and characters and brought them to life. I am so pleased to show you Catarina, Lucian, and Rachael, just as I imagined them.

Coming July 2011 from Night Shade Books, Miserere: An Autumn Tale:

Posted in Announcements | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

author websites

Author websites . . . what a pain, but hey, when I decided I wanted to write for publication, I knew what I was getting into, and one of the marketing tools at my disposal was some form of web presence. I started out blogging so I could get a feel for design and content through a template and because it is free.

I investigated several blogs and how-to sites when I decided to make my website. I wanted both a blog and a static site. I looked at using my WordPress blog with a URL, but I wanted something separate from helluo librorum. That way, if my career as a novelist flopped, I could turn helluo librorum into a fan site and still enjoy connecting with authors and readers.

Several people I know use Google blogs and have purchased a domain name for their blog. If you want to see an example, check out the websites of  Weronika Janczuk and Dawn Kurtagich. Google enables you to create a distinctive design and most domain names can be purchased through Yahoo/Bellsouth or GoDaddy.

Google blogs perplexed me, though, so I found the user-friendliness of WordPress to be more my speed. WordPress has a super selection of templates that is constantly being upgraded with new capabilities, and I love, love, LOVE WordPress. With that said, Jonathan Danz‘s website started out as a WordPress blog, and at D.H. Schleicher’s site The Schleicher Spin is exceptionally well done in terms of design and content (also WordPress).

I took another route and went with GoDaddy and WebSite Tonight (my website is here). This is probably a little more expensive than some folks would like to go, but I will say that I have been delighted with the template and most impressive, the service I get from GoDaddy. I can call or e-mail them and get a knowledgable person every time. They are wonderful and quite experienced with the HTML-challenged (*waves hand that’s me*).

I use Feedburner‘s Buzzboost feature to run my author blog through my website so the content on the site is updated regularly. You do need to know (or in my case learn) some CSS in order to change the appearance of the Buzzboost feed, but with a little experimentation, you can achieve a look that is consistent with the rest of your site. What you see on my website now is not how the original feed looked.

Now I have three online content points: Feedburner, my WordPress blogs, and my website. This increases my visibility and creates a web presence, which is really what most agents and publishers want to see. Not necessarily a website, but a web presence.

So once you’ve investigated all these options and decide which one you want to use, then you have to think about your design. Content is more important than design, but let’s be realistic: a cluttered, busy site is going to detract from what you’re selling, which is you and your writing.

As tempting as flash and all those nifty widgets can be, skip them. Flash slows the reader down and widgets draw the eye all over the page. Keep the focus central: your name, your genre, if you have a catchy tag-line for your novels, put it there. Tailor your color scheme and pictures to your audience (that seems obvious, but you would be surprised). I avoid black blogs and websites, because they can be hard to read; however, some dark fantasy and horror authors make them work beautifully.

A few things you really need to make sure that are prevalent are: links to your blog (if it’s separate from your website), your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a contact button so people can reach you by e-mail. Today, we are click and go, so make sure someone can easily see how to reach you.

A quick note on you and your writing: have someone read your site for errors. It’s always good to have a second set of eyes. Websites today are like the resumes of old, they project a picture of you and your work–make sure it’s a professional one.

I looked at a lot (and I do mean a LOT) of author websites before I decided on how I wanted mine to look. I feel like I’ve managed to settle in with a look that’s comfortable for me. It may take some experimentation, but you’ll arrive at a look that works for you too.

Shop around and talk to other writers. They will be able to tell you exactly what problems they’ve encountered and whether the support from the hosting site is worthwhile. If you want to share some of your trials and tribulations in the land of HTML and CSS, please let us know what works for you in the comments.

Posted in marketing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

i have a publisher

I am so thrilled to announce that my agent, Weronika Janczuk, has sold my novel Miserere: An Autumn Tale to Night Shade Books. Here is the official Publishers Marketplace announcement:

Teresa Frohock’s debut MISERERE: AN AUTUMN TALE, in which an exiled exorcist who, having once abandoned his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his twin sister’s soul, must now save that lover from a demonic possession before his sister leads the Fallen Angel’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell, to Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade Books, for publication in July 2011, by Weronika Janczuk at D4EO Literary Agency (World English).

I am thrilled to be working with Jeremy and the folks at Night Shade Books to make Miserere a success. (And I know you guys will help, right? Am I right?)

I can’t wait for all of you to meet Lucian and read his story. I fell so in love with the characters in this novel, and I hope you will too.

So stay tuned, I’ll be keeping you up-to-date so you can join me in July for a journey you will never forget. I can guarantee your Woerld will never be the same . . .

Posted in Announcements | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Daydreaming . . .

Today I am over at my other blog, talking about Daydreaming Your Characters.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , ,

pacing and dialogue and research, oh my!

This week I am thrilled to have a guest post by the talented Lisa Mannetti. Lisa’s debut novel, The Gentling Box, won the 2008 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement In a First Novel.

A second edition of The Gentling Box is currently being released by Shadowfall Publications, and it’s available in both e-book and print (just a note that the e-book is available for $2.99 for a limited time).

The Gentling Box is one of the best paced novels I’ve read, so in celebration of the new edition I asked Lisa if she would share some advice with us on pacing. She generously wrote this extraordinary post chock full of good advice.

If you want to keep up with Lisa, you can check her out at her website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook. For those who dare, you can also find her at The Chancery House.

Pacing and Dialogue and Research, Oh My!

by Lisa Mannetti

Under the general heading of pacing, which is what Teresa asked me to write a little about, I thought I’d also tackle those heady subjects (sometimes known as the twin banes of a writer’s existence) dialogue and research and how they can be used to improve both your pacing and sense of timing in scenes and over the course of a book or a story.

We all know good writing involves craft as much as it does inspiration—and of course your goal is to keep the reader turning pages. Obviously you can’t keep the same mad-cap dash through the entire book because then it will have about as much appeal as gulping down an entire bucket of iced vodka during a Canadian blizzard. So just how do you slow down the action without bogging down the story? I learned this nifty trick from the brilliant Alexandra Sokoloff. 

Think movie. That’s right, I said it. Think movie.

Why, you ask yourself, am I utilizing a film technique when I’m writing a book? Especially since there were books written long before anyone even dreamed there might be such a thing as a movie? Of course you’re writing a book—but the same principles that drive a film (or a play) forward can help you ferret out weak points in your novel or story—especially if it sags in the middle. We’ve all read books that had terrific openings and equally engaging endings, but that space in the center . . . well, the author didn’t devote enough time to cleaning it up, which meant it felt too long and dragged out for the reader. Ironic, eh?

Movies, like plays, are divided into three acts; and while movies are timed in minutes per act, in a book you can plan it out right to the number of pages in each section along with the goals you need to accomplish to keep the reader’s eyes glued to your elegant prose.

Act 1  (about 100 typed pages)

Act 2  (about 200 typed pages)

Act 3   (approximately 90 to 100 typed pages)

ACT 1

Act 1 is clearly your set up. All that stuff you’ve lavished all those hours just thinking about—characters, setting, situation, and situation here is going to mean conflict. What and why does your character want what he or she can’t have—yet? Who are the opponents or what are the forces or circumstances that prevent the character from getting what they want?

By way of an aside, I might as well mention that if a scene lacks tension, rewrite it so the character says no to whatever is being asked, directly or implicitly. In life we like smooth sailing, and we loath snags.

In fiction, those glitches and setbacks are your bread and butter. By the end of Act 1, the reader has to understand who the characters are (including their backgrounds, culture, the place that is giving rise to this situation and your setting should always be integral to your unique characters), what they want, why they want it, and what or who is opposing them. You end each chapter with an incident that propels the reader to the next, and you finish up Act 1 with a climax that spins the reader right into Act 2.

ACT 2

In Act 2, the stakes are always higher. You up the ante.

Maybe the character gets close to achieving his or her goals, or maybe they achieve the goals only to find they were mistaken. Whatever it is, the character has to struggle here. The struggle can’t be hopeless, of course, or there isn’t any point to the book, so it has to be tough enough to keep the character striving and the reader rooting for the character (even on an unconscious level).

So far we’ve covered exactly what your high school English teacher told you about understanding the romantic themes in Shakespeare: boy meets girl, boy loses girl. You’re in boy-loses-girl country right now—whether you’re writing a romance or a fantasy or a detective story.

In other words, Act 2 is conflict. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gale and company are in Oz, and they’ve met the wiz, but now they’ve got to find and kill the wicked witch of the West. In Natural Born Killers, Mallory and Mickey are on the road too, merrily killing everyone who gets in their way and thereby creating the myth of themselves as heroes. And at the end of this act, the Native American is killed and they’re tromping through rattlesnake country and land in jail.

The climax in Act 2, (whether it’s emotional or action oriented and, in my opinion, even if it’s action oriented, it should carry plenty of emotional weight) not only pushes everything toward Act 3, it also sets up and prepares the character(s) and, by extension your reader, for the final battle that’s going to take place.

While you’re creating Act 1 and Act 2, keep in mind that you have to give enough information to your reader so that everything makes sense but not so much that you telegraph and they guess what’s going to occur. When something comes out of the blue, we feel cheated as readers or film goers. When the surprise has been telegraphed, we feel enervated and bored. Couldn’t the writer do better?

We don’t really want to be dead sure of what’s going to happen. We want to be surprised and pleased that in the end it all made sense and that what happens is right and fitting (no matter if it’s just or fair or the way we want it turn out for the protagonist). A good example of what I’m talking about is To Kill a Mocking Bird.

Because we love Atticus Finch and things seem to be going so well in court, we truly want that Southern jury to acquit Tom Robinson. Not only do they fail to do so, but Tom is shot trying to escape. It’s not what we hope (nor what the characters hope—and remember, the reader will be tied emotionally to what your characters want) but we intuit that it’s right and fitting; it makes sense in the logic of Lee’s magnificent novel. Wouldn’t we all love to have written that book!

ACT 3

Back to our Shakespearian romantic template—with the understanding that this template works for every fictional project even if there’s not a hint of a kiss in your entire piece.

Act 1: Boy meets girl—or, for example, in a film like Erin Brokovich, Erin goes to work for her lawyer Ed Masry and persuades him to let her dig deeper into the medical cases affected by the deal PG & E is offering (you get the idea that I mean boy meets girl is short hand for whatever your particular plot-character-situation is).

Act 2: Boy loses girl, i.e. setbacks and reversals.

Act 3 in a Shakespearean or any other comedy, and comedy is used loosely to mean a happy or satisfactorily resolved ending, boy wins or marries girl. In tragedy, boy loses girl and most likely his life or fails to achieve the goals he’s worked for.

In a strict tragedy or any dark story, the pain and suffering that come at the end cannot be adventitious, that is by chance or through fate. In a sense, the protagonist must choose that suffering or pain and, if you’ve got a happy or resolved ending, your protagonist must have chosen that too.

Need an example of a book and film that shows the character determining the end? How about Gone with the Wind. Scarlett is absolutely convinced she can win Rhett back. Melanie—the rival she’s despised throughout the course of the story—is dead and Scarlett comes to the knowledge that she’s misjudged her. More importantly, our headstrong belle finally realizes that Ashley is the worm we’ve always known him to be and it’s Rhett she really loves. And what is Rhett’s response? One of the most famous lines ever uttered. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Scarlett resolves that she’ll keep trying, but we all know the book is done, the story (as it’s written) has come to a fitting conclusion because it’s very much in keeping with Scarlett’s and Rhett’s characters.  As we read the final pages we might have been rooting for Scarlett to get him easily and we’ve certainly seen Rhett respond earlier in such a way that indicates the depth of his love for her—but the end, as Mitchell wrote it, is fitting.

Knowing the emotional wallop that a sense of the “fitness” brings will give your final climax the oomph it needs. It also gives the drive to the book—in essence—even without knowing the end, it still carries the action all the way through. We all have different moods: sometimes we want to watch Steve Martin and crack up laughing, and sometimes we want to watch Sophie’s Choice and have a good cry. But good books deliver: the end is always a pay off.

Finally, when you’ve hit that denouement, wrap up quickly and get off stage.

Okay, now you’ve gotten the gist of this crafted approach to your work, and you can think about this Act 1, 2, and 3 business in terms of books (and stories and films and plays) you love and analyze them broadly according to our principles. After you’ve thought about a favorite book or story or movie, see if you can find those lines that delineate Acts 1, 2 and 3.

You also know that writing is about re-writing, so get yourself a tough critical reader and gird up. You want someone to tell you what is not working in whatever you have so far—not pat your hand and tell you it’s wonderful. There may be wonderful parts, scenes, ideas, characters, but as you go through your drafts, you want someone who can help you find what is not working so you can fix it. Your job in draft one is just to get it all down with as much detail as you can manage, but expect to go back and layer your themes, add resonance, notch up scenes to make them more vivid, etc.

Here’s where dialogue and research can help—and you can make them your allies—instead of hindrances that drag down the level of your work. Think of them both as two more tools in your “kit” to help get the overall job done and to keep your story’s pacing lively and interesting.

The key to writing crisp dialogue and integrating research seamlessly is actually the same key—and it’s a very simple one: verisimilitude. In other words, when it comes to dialogue, you are not running a tape recorder, and when it comes to research, you are not writing the encyclopedia.

Let’s look at them separately first.

DIALOGUE

What you are doing is creating conversation that is close enough to real life to sound convincing, but in all probability would never happen. I know that sounds contradictory, but it isn’t and here’s why: for the most part real life conversation, even when it’s highly emotional, is only interesting to the people actually having that conversation. I know you don’t believe this, but it’s true. Take a love-making scene: in real life she says, “Oh yeah, baby, you turn me on.” Her partner says, “Yeah, me too.” In real life, everyone is happy and things are going along swimmingly in the sack—especially in the early days of a great romance. And that’s real life dialogue.

In a book or a movie, the characters are true to themselves (i.e. someone playing Queen Elizabeth is not going to say, “Honey, do it to me like we done that time when we was camping in the Adirondacks”) but those selves are larger than life—and that’s why the dialogue your characters have is interesting.

In Gone with the Wind, Rhett says “If I could crush your skull to blot out his image, I would,” as he’s pressing his hands to Scarlett’s temples. When he sweeps her into his arms and carries her up the stairs, he says, “This is one time there’s only going to be one man in your bed.” (I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the idea—he doesn’t say, “Scarlett, I really love you” . . . or any of  the things we do love to hear in real life. He says very particular and interesting things—which, if actually said in your bedroom, might cause a huge fight or a break-up.)

This brings us to the “write what you know” axiom, which, for my money, is no axiom at all. Time and again, people will write something and, during a critique session, will say in defense of the story or the dialogue, but this is exactly the way it actually happened.

Never defend a story on that basis. It doesn’t matter what really happened. It only matters if what you’ve written works. Because even if you write “Based on a True Story” in 50 point type all over the book jacket, people only care about the story you’ve written—they don’t care what actually happened.

‘Writing what you know’ can stymie you and shut down the creative process. On one end of the scale, you have a book like Rosemary’s Baby. What are the chances that Ira Levin knew a coven of witches who summoned the devil out of hell to father a child on an unsuspecting woman? Okay, you argue, “But my book is about growing up in Texas with an alcoholic mother (who was actually my aunt or my best friend’s mother) and . . .”

And, the answer to that is, you’re still telling a story and every story has structure—real life is messy. That means when you write something based on what happened, you get to keep some things, make up some things, and jettison others because you’re imposing order on the frame of the story. Remember, at the end of Annie Hall, Woody Allen rewrites what happened between him and Annie for his play and gives it a happy ending. So, when you “write what you know” based on life experience, read your dialogue out loud and make it serve the story—not the other way around.

Well written dialogue not only moves a story along more quickly and heightens tension, but it can be used very effectively after a big scene to descend gracefully from the peak of an arc so that the reader has a sort of mental “breather” before the next big climax.

RESEARCH

On the subject we’ve all heard ad nauseam, “write what you know,” my opinion is that it’s a very misleading phrase—and that’s where research comes in.

You don’t believe me? Well you know math, and you had to learn it. Arithmetic didn’t suddenly spring into your mind. You learned it. And now you know how to add, how to subtract, multiply—hey, you can even solve a problem for x.

I think a better maxim for a writer is “write what you love.” Chances are you know a hell of a lot about what you love. Maybe it’s tennis (and you’ve got an aging pro and he wants to help someone younger and more talented but he’s jealous at the same time); or film (so you have a main character who’s an actress or a movie critic); maybe you’ve never been to the prairie, but you want to write about crossing the country in a Conestoga wagon in 1870.

You’re going to learn about whatever it is you’re writing (and it’s more than half the fun), and you’re going to give just enough detail to make it interesting, but not so much that you wind up with a text-book.

No, you read the text books yourself. You write verisimilitude.

A nice approximation on life, but not real life. Judicious research cannot only help the pacing in your story or book (speeding it up or slowing it down ever so slightly as needed) but it can inspire new directions for the book or story to take. The main thing to remember is that the information you impart must arise out of both the character and the situation.

Two tennis pros are probably not going to sit around and discuss the best way to deliver a lob—but our tennis pro who’s working with the talented youth he wants to help but is jealous of may tell the trusting phenom how to lob—and maybe the reader knows what the pro says is wrong—and that creates tension.

Just because a lot of lawyers write courtroom dramas, that doesn’t mean if you’re not a lawyer you can’t write one too. Trust me, I didn’t visit Hungary or Romania (and even then it was two small sea-coast cities) till long after I wrote my first novel, and I certainly never cut off my own arm. What I did was read about it, put it in the story and then ask someone who knew plenty about surgery to go over those sections. And you can do it too—no matter if you’re writing about a city you’ve never seen or a planet like Mars—which none of us has seen. If you’re interested you’ll learn about it—and then your character will know exactly what to say and when to say it.

The most important thing is to keep writing. Your imagination is a muscle, and it’s got to be flexed and exercised. And with practice—like everything else—it gets better and faster and stronger. Read as much as you can in a wide array of fiction and non-fiction and pay attention to what works—and what doesn’t.

Onward!

I’d like to thank Lisa for her wonderful article! I can’t help but leave you with this super trailer for The Gentling Box. It is awesome, but hey, so is the book.

Posted in Characters, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

An Interview with Teresa Frohock

I have to say that asking the questions is a lot easier than answering them, but I really did enjoy doing this interview for Andrea over at The Written Connection. Andrea posted the same interview twice under each entry for my two different blogs, which I thought was very nice.

While you’re over at The Written Connection, check out some of the other fine writing blogs that Andrea has taken the time to list. It’s a wonderful directory full of informative blogs and a great place to connect with other writers.

Posted in Announcements, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An Interview with Greg F. Gifune

This week we’re going to be talking with dark fiction author Greg F. Gifune. I first heard about Greg when I interviewed Robert Dunbar, and Rob mentioned Greg’s novel, Judas Goat. It was many months later that I finally had the time to read some of Greg’s work, and I’m glad I did.

Greg’s haunting prose has garnered starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and the Midwest Book Review. Greg is the author of numerous short stories, several novels, and two short story collections (Heretics and Down to Sleep).

His novels include Children of Chaos, Dominion, The Bleeding Season, Deep Night, Blood in Electric Blue, Saying Uncle, A View from the Lake, Night Work, Drago Descending, Catching Hell, Judas Goat, Long After Dark, and Kingdom of Shadows. His latest novel, Gardens of Night, is soon to be released from Uninvited Books.

If you want to check out Greg’s books, visit his website or friend him on Facebook. He also likes to hang out at Shocklines and Horrorworld when he has a free moment or two.

However, today Greg is hanging out with us, so without further ado, I’m delighted to present Greg F. Gifune in his own words.

Tell us about your latest novel, Gardens of Night.

Gardens of Night is a essentially about a couple who experience a horrifically violent but rather enigmatic event, and how this event impacts them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually as they try to heal and find deliverance from all the darkness it brings. While recovering, Marcus Banyon, the main character, begins to experience odd things—frightening visions and strange sounds—whale sounds and mysterious connections to nature and the universe around him that he did not experience prior, and it’s not really clear if he’s literally experiencing these things or if, as his doctors suggest, he may have suffered a psychological break.

As part of the healing process, Marcus, his wife Brooke, and their oldest friend Spaulding, retreat to a chalet in upstate New York with the idea of it being a recuperative thing where they can just relax and enjoy themselves, reset a bit and hopefully get their lives back on track. Of course there are all the dynamics between the three of them, their pasts and histories and how they all intersect, so there’s that aspect too, and then it begins to seem as if perhaps this trip was preordained by some outside force.

From there the novel begins to explore various mythologies, including the Three Fates, the three sisters from Norse mythology who allegedly determine the fate of mankind.  Mythology and magic play a big part in the novel, mostly as metaphor, but the line between what is ‘real’ and what may be something else is not always clear (at least until the end of the novel), so Gardens presents a very surreal landscape that Marcus finds himself wandering through, and a lot of the novel takes place in and around a mysterious farmhouse that is allegedly where these three sisters (The Three Fates) have taken up residence and are practicing the magic that controls the fate of Man.

Throughout the course of this, the novel delves deeper into exactly what may have happened to Marcus and his wife, and not only what this nightmare has done to them, but ultimately what it may mean to their individual fates, as it follows their quest to find a way out the madness and mysteries consuming them.  In-other-words, it’s a feel-good romantic comedy the entire family will enjoy.

You are an extremely prolific writer; tell us how you go about constructing your stories.

I am fairly prolific, but because I’ve been a published novelist for over a decade now, when you spread my books out over that timeframe it’s not quite as impressive. Also, sometimes they’re published in bunches, and two or three books will all come out within a short time of each other, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I wrote them all during that time, they may have been sitting for a while or in various stages of completion.

I’ve said this in a lot of other interviews, but it’s accurate to my process, I like to let things nest in my mind for long periods of time before I start to write them. That way, I feel a connection to the piece and the characters that I might not otherwise—a comfort—as comfortable as I ever get, I guess. But in terms of the ins and outs of how I construct stories, it’s hard to say, really. I mean it’s kind of a process that just happens. I generally begin with the essence of whatever I’m trying to explore or purge—whatever the case may be—sometimes both.

I start with characters and what’s usually a relatively straightforward theme and then expand from there. Character is a huge part of it for me. Along with lots of drugs and alcohol. Wait, what? Anyway, I know ‘the story’s the thing’ and all that, and obviously you have to have a story, but to me the old expression that good novels aren’t about something that happens, they’re about something that happens to someone is an approach I agree with.

I start with characters, and if I get to know them well enough and I invest in them enough and take the time to let them evolve into real people, in a sense, the plot and their stories are born from that, so the story takes care of itself. It comes from the characters, because stories are born from people, not the other way around. I also keep dossiers on most of my characters, all this background info and whatnot, so I know virtually everything about them, very little of which ever makes it into the novels. But it goes back to my acting roots, where you get to know the character within as well as outside the material. And even though much of this is never shared with the reader, it allows me to understand the character and more effectively move her or him through their story because I’m so familiar with them and who they are.

For me, it’s vital to understand the people in my work. Beyond that, to quote the great Ray Charles, ‘I just make it do what it do, baby.’ It’s like when people ask how or where I get my ideas from (and by the way, for the love of God please stop asking writers that, we’d really appreciate it), for the most part, I have no idea. God? The Universe? Some unknown pool of consciousness out there somewhere? My own mind? All of the above? Who knows? They just come to me. A lot of what I do involves my own demons, the things that haunt and torment me, so it’s often loosely based on real life, and there’s a lot I can draw from unfortunately, but in terms of how I actually pull it together, it starts with character and grows from there.

This is the favorite child question, but out of your many works, which ones did you enjoy working on the most and why?

This is a difficult question for me to answer because for me writing isn’t really ‘enjoyable’ per se. I’m in the Dorothy Parker camp in that I often hate writing but love having written. I do what Rob Dunbar calls ‘method writing,’ which is again an extension of my acting background, where it’s method-based, where you draw from your own experiences to feel what you need to feel. So when I write a novel I tend to psychologically live it and feel it, so it can be unpleasant and draining emotionally, and sometimes a bit like stepping off into insanity and just hoping you’ll find your way back every time. A few people who know me would probably tell you that ship sailed a long time ago, but you get my point.

The process can also sometimes be very fulfilling, but generally it’s more draining than anything else. Once I get going I try not to let myself drown in what I’m doing, but I get in there pretty deep, especially when a novel starts to take form and come alive, and it’s no longer just a concept but a breathing, living thing with characters that have some point and depth that I can look at it and see as something really worth writing. Although I focus on the material with a lot of intensity, I’ve always had the philosophy that one should never take oneself too seriously, but always take the work very seriously. As with any form of art, you do it first for yourself and because it’s something you need to do, but I also think if you want people to experience your art and invest their time in it, then you owe it to them to deliver something that’s worth it.

I guess I could point to The Bleeding Season as having been enjoyable because it was my breakthrough novel, but the actual writing of it wasn’t anything close to what I’d describe as fun. Drago Descending and Catching Hell were kind of fun, I guess, because they’re so fast and plot driven. Drago was designed to be very sleek and fast and kind of a point A to point B type novel, structured like a mystery novel but written as horror, and Catching Hell was similar in that it was essentially a plot driven, very linear piece that allowed me to shrug off a lot of what I normally do and just dive in. But as I say, the joy for me really comes when it’s over and I can look at the finished product and be happy with that.

Saying Uncle is probably one of the most poignant works I’ve read on how violence can warp a family, yet your message of redemption is very clear. It’s not horror in the traditional sense; the ghosts here come from the past to propel the protagonist forward. Tell us a little about Saying Uncle and what led you to write this particular tale?

First of all, thank you. Secondly, Saying Uncle, like almost all of my work, is very personal. There really is no supernatural element to the novel, but then, you know, that can be said for almost all of my novels. Some people may be surprised to hear that but most of my work, if you really look at it, the supernatural elements tend to be used as metaphor and as surface, and you can easily remove or question the supernatural aspects of what I do and look to the subtext to find out what’s really going on.

It’s rarely completely defined because I think what’s unknown is more interesting and also closer to how the real world plays out all around us. What’s unknown is what makes something creepy. If something is solidly real, however horrific, you can comprehend it, focus on it and deal with it (however difficult that may be it becomes possible when something is without question, actual), but I think it’s the idea of not really being sure where more interesting things happen emotionally and psychologically.

With Saying Uncle particularly, I’m glad you got the message of redemption from it, because it’s really a theme that runs through my work. Even though it can be very dark and on the surface pessimistic, it really isn’t. There’s always hope in my novels. One of the common themes in my novels is that the characters are reaching for higher ground, redemption, deliverance, that way out through their own humanity and their own humanness and how that relates to the spiritual realm and whatnot.

I think with Saying Uncle specifically, what I really set out to do was to write a novel about the impact of violence. One of the things I dislike (except for certain specific situations where that’s the whole point) is gratuitous violence in things like this because real violence is rarely anything like that. If you’ve ever experienced violence from either side (which I have, as violence played a part in certain segments of my past, unfortunately), it’s actually quite profound, and the effects can be extraordinarily profound. In fact I think the effects are often far more profound than the violence itself. But it’s the collateral damage it can cause that fascinates me.

One act of violence is like a disease and can infect a single person, but what you don’t necessarily think about initially are all the people that person’s connected to that it can also, and almost has to, effect and by extension, infect as well. Saying Uncle is a study of the complexity of violence, and this is precisely what the characters in the novel struggle with. They love the uncle character, who in many ways is a very loveable guy, he’s not a bad human being generally, yet maybe he is, so it’s difficult to define him in those ways.

It’s not that simple. We’d all like it to be but it’s not. This uncle character, this shady, vaguely mobbed up guy—is he a murderer, is he not, and if he is, is his crime ‘justified?’ Is murder ever justified? Does responding to violence with violence actually work, or does it make things worse and end up hurting even more people? Saying Uncle deals with revenge as well, there are a lot of themes that grow out of the problem of violence and that’s really what the book was about, taking a long hard look in hopefully an adult way at how violence cripples human beings. What adds to the complexity is that it’s something so intrinsically human, a part of our makeup we have to admit to whether we want to or not.

A simple revenge story, when done well, can be effective, but when it’s presented in simplistic terms it doesn’t reflect reality, and I want my work to reflect reality. I don’t want readers to suspend their disbelief to come along for the ride in this or any novel I write. I want them to believe what I’m telling them, to feel it and experience it along with me, or I feel I’ve failed.

What specifically led me to write the novel is very personal so I’m going to pass on revealing that, but I can tell you this, the other factor that led me to write it was the same thing that leads me to write most of my novels. It’s a cleansing, its cathartic, and because a lot of this was very personal to me and I was wrapped up in it emotionally myself in a very real way, I was able to process it closer to the bone in a sense, so writing it in many ways was my way of freeing myself of it. Once written, it was out of me, I was free of it to a degree, and if not healed, at least headed in that direction.

Your fiction transcends gore to reach deep into the psyches of your characters. Violence is a given in horror and dark fiction, yet you don’t use violence for shock value but as a catalyst into characterization. Tell us a little about your characters and how you conceive them.

For me, it’s all about essence. That’s how I learned my craft when I was coming up. The emphasis for me was (and is) always essence, getting to the core of what you’re really writing about. In terms of violence specifically, writing violence is like writing sex. I personally don’t believe it takes any talent whatsoever to write gore-filled scenes. I think anybody can do that.  It’s like an over-the-top sex scene. Anybody can write pornography. It doesn’t take any special talent or skill.

What interests me is the heart of those themes. If you’re going to use violence and write a violent scene and it exists solely to make someone cringe or sick to their stomach, I’m not interested in that. Everyone knows what violence is, everyone knows what sex is, you don’t need a blow by blow (no pun intended) description of someone having sex or ripping someone’s guts out unless that’s what you’re going for, but that’s not what I do and I don’t care about that.

Certainly my work can be very violent, and using Gardens of Night as one example, there are parts of it that are extraordinarily violent, so I don’t shy away from graphic violence by any stretch, graphic violence or graphic sex or graphic anything, but if I do it I want there to be a point to it. I don’t want my work to have a cheap thrill feel to it. I want the violence in my work to be accurate, and that’s exactly how I portray it. But I think once you start to look for that essence and you’re not looking for shock value, but something that lives beneath all that, that’s where you get the whole redemption angle, and it’s there that you really connect to people, because that’s something we all reach for in life, whether we’re religious or not, spiritual or not, part of the human experience is that need for redemption. We all need some level of that, and I think sometimes it (or the lack of it) manifests in things like violence.

In similar ways, violence can also be the catalyst that gets us there. Again, the way my characters are conceived, they’re not born from violence. It’s the other way around. The violence comes later, as part of who the character is. It’s just a different approach, but coming at it that way also allows me to round out the character as a fully realized human being rather than as a one dimensional villain or hero or anything along those lines. I think your description in your question is correct. It’s really a catalyst into characterization. And, as you say, one of the tenants of dark fiction tends to be violence, and that’s fine.  But from there, it’s really about choices the writer makes.

Tell us a little about your short stories and collections.

When I started writing professionally I began with short stories. I’ve had two collections published, Down to Sleep and Heretics. I’m very proud of both collections and what I accomplished with those. I wrote short fiction for years before I even attempted to write a novel, a real one anyway, and I’m glad I did because writing short stories taught me a lot.

It’s a great way to learn how to write, how to sharpen your skills, because you don’t have the luxury you do with a novel, where you can go on and on for several pages if you like. In a short story you’re limited in the sense that every word really counts, so it forces you to be tough on yourself, forces you to be economical with words, to be succinct and to edit and to look at a paragraph and say, OK, I don’t have room to say what I’ve said here in five sentences, how do I say it just as effectively in two?

In all honesty, while I continue to sell reprints from time to time, I haven’t written an original short story in about six years now. I’d never slam that door completely shut, but I do feel as though I’ve done everything I set out to do with short stories. I’m a novelist now.

I noticed on your biography that you also work as an editor. How have your editorial experiences helped your writing?

I’ve done quite a bit of freelance novel editing for a lot of writers everyone would know, I’m Associate Editor at Delirium Books and have edited quite a few of the novels they’ve released, I was the editor of Thievin’ Kitty Publications for several years, which published the magazines The Edge: Tales of Suspense and Burning Sky.

I still do a little freelance editing but not a lot as I don’t have the time to dedicate to it that I once did. I enjoy editing though, particularly novels. It’s fun to take my writer hat off and put my editor hat on and work closely with a writer to help pull a project together and take it to where they want it to be. That’s very satisfying. Editing has also allowed me to help discover a lot of writers. There are many writers who have a name and following in the genre and beyond who I worked with early on, helped to discover in a sense, and I’m very proud of that. I think I helped bring a lot of what were then new voices to the genre and can hopefully continue to do that.

I think in terms of how it helps my writing, self-editing is of course no substitute for working with a really good objective editor, but it’s a nice skill to have. When writing my novels, I edit as I go, and I’m very hard on myself. But when I start final edits (which are never final so I have no idea why we call them that), I’m even harder on myself. I get that red pen going and I pride myself on my manuscript being very clean and hopefully requiring very little additional editing and even very little copy editing. My editing skills allow me to do that effectively, so they do tie in. Being a good editor, in my experience, has helped make me a better writer. It’s that simple. It gives you a level of expertise and a skill set you wouldn’t otherwise have.

So what’s next for you?

Right now I’m working on a couple novellas and some other novel projects. The paperback of Gardens of Night will be released very soon and I’m very excited about that. A View from the Lake, a novel of mine that’s been out of print for a while and that a lot of people have been after me to get out there again, will be re-released soon, this time from Bad Moon Books, and this time in hardcover and paperback editions. So I’m happy to see that getting back into print.

I’ve also got a lot of other projects going I can’t talk about yet but will soon. Best place for updates is my official web site: http://www.gregfifune.com  and I hang out at places like Shocklines and Horrorworld when I can. Also have a page over on Facebook because I’m pretty sure it’s the law now, isn’t it? That’s what’s happening and coming up.

I hope you enjoyed our interview with Greg F. Gifune. If you love dark fiction, check out his works, you’ll definitely be glad you did.

Posted in Author Interviews, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments