Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tabitha Lord, Winner of Writer's Digest 2016 Grand Prize for Self-Published Fiction, on Finding Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Tabitha Lord, whose debut novel, HORIZON, won the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize for Self-Published fiction in 2016, and was named finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Awards. The sequel, INFINITY, was released in June 2017. Tabitha also has short fiction published and soon-to-be published through World Weaver Press, Kristell Ink, and Sci-Fi Saturday Night.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I’ve always been a big sci-fi fan, so when I started writing fiction I knew it would be sci-fi, at least to start. When I’m in a creative, imaginative place, my mind generally goes straight to sci-fi! For me, this genre is also a place to consider serious, meaningful issues in a different context, slightly removed from the real world. 

With the Horizon series, I had two distinct parts of a story floating in my head. The first was the crash sequence at the start of book 1. It was more basic at the time of its inception – just a young man who crash-lands on a planet, and a young woman, in some kind of trouble, who saves his life. 

The second part was more complex. I was playing with the idea of what would happen if one segment of an already small, isolated population evolved differently, either naturally or by design, from the other. What if some had gifts that enabled them to imagine a different kind of future for themselves and their world? What if they were empathic and could sense each other’s emotions and thoughts? What if some of them could heal with their mind? How would the unchanged people feel about their neighbors? Then I thought, what if the young woman who saves the pilot is one of those gifted people? It created such an interesting premise I knew I had to find a way to make the whole thing into a story.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I was so excited when the two ideas I mentioned earlier coalesced that I just dove into writing. Pretty quickly, though, the concept grew beyond a standalone novel, and I knew that if I didn’t get my thoughts organized, I could really lose my way. I took a brief time-out from drafting and roughly outlined all three books. I knew, at the very least, where each book had to begin and end. The outline became the framework for each book, around which I filled in the details and let the creativity flow. 

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to the paper?

That’s a great question, and the answer is yes and no! I’ve read several great blogs about the difference between “story” and “plot”, and although I know a good bit about writing craft, it wasn’t until I came upon the simplest definition of the two that something shifted in my process. Story is the “what” and plot is the “how." Many plotlines can tell the same story.

I’ve definitely made major changes to my manuscripts - from the outline to the first draft and from the first draft to the final edition. This used to feel very disconcerting to me, especially during developmental edits, when entire scenes would get tossed or reimagined. But when I embraced the idea that the plot could change in service to the story, I settled down a bit. I want the best telling of my story, and I’m willing to rework the plot until I get there. So, I’ve had ideas firmly in mind that changed as I wrote or edited, but my overall story concept remained intact and served as the driving force for the book.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

It’s funny because the stumbling block that prevented me from writing fiction for years was this notion that I didn’t have any good ideas, or that even if I had the seed of an idea, I wouldn’t be able to turn it into a whole story. Once I started writing, both notions completely disappeared. It was like the dam burst! But what I really think happens is that being creative inspires more creativity. The activity of writing inspires more writing. 

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Right now I’m writing a series, so although I do have other ideas percolating, I’ve committed to finishing this project. In between writing the full-length novels, I’ll often write short stories. They create the same satisfying feeling of completing a story arc, but in a fraction of the time, and they give me a chance to explore other ideas. But when I know I’ve hit on an idea that wants to be a novel, I’ll take the time to outline it, and then I’ll save it and tell it to wait its turn!  

2016 was not an easy year. Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?

I recently read a quote attributed to Albert Camus that said, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” I have to say, that feels like an awful lot of pressure! My goal with writing is, first and foremost, to tell a good story. But I believe that most writers have a theme they tackle, or some issue they wrestle with, through their writing. With the Horizon series, I’m definitely exploring the idea of what it means to be a hero. What quality of character compels a person to risk their life for an ideal, or for a stranger? Who takes a stand? Who fights? Who turns a bling eye? I think these are questions for all ages, as relevant now as they ever were in human history. I’m inspired by today’s world to keep asking those questions. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

New Podcast With Jessica Strawser, Editor of Writer's Digest

Summer is officially here, and I am outside as much as possible. I just turned in a manuscript on June 1, submitted a proposal for something new last week, and now I'm turning my efforts towards mulching... and also maybe dipping my toes into some non-fiction.

I have a ton - and I mean that, they're weighable - of appearances scheduled in the fall and will be updating my site soon with all of those venues. I tend to keep my summer light, but that doesn't mean the podcast and blog go dark.

Today's episode features Jessica Strawser, editor of Writer’s Digest, and author of ALMOST MISSED YOU, which was named to the March 2017 Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction List. Jessica joins host Mindy McGinnis to talk about how her career in journalism led to a position at Writers Digest, and how that informs her fiction writing, as well as her novel, ALMOST MISSED YOU, which deals with miscommunication in relationships, the all-encompassing love of motherhood, and the question of if we truly know our significant other.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Book Talk: THE GALLERY OF UNFINISHED GIRLS by Lauren Karcz

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Mercedes Moreno is supposed to do something great with her art... if only she could remember how to create it. Last year she won awards, this year nothing is happening. With her abuela in a coma in Puerto Rico and her mom gone to be by her side, Mercedes finds herself at home with her younger sister, who has suddenly developed a musical talent that borders on genius, all because of a gifted piano that appeared in their front lawn one morning.

With her sister blossoming and her own gifts dying on the vine, Mercedes finds inspiration when Lilia, her mysterious new neighbor, invites her to the Red Mangrove Estate. In Lilia's studio, Mercedes and other artists find creativity without having to search for it. Each room could house a painter, a sculptor, a band, or even a bartender, but the catch is that nothing you create inside of the Estate can leave. Any canvases that slip outside the door suddenly become blank.

As she worries over her grandmother's health, her mom's absence, the new turn of her sister's life, and the secret love she harbors for her best friend, Mercedes must find a way to bring her art to life outside the walls of the estate.
Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

What I'm Up To This Week

Today on the podcast, Tiffany McDaniel, author THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING joins me to talk about eleven years of rejection, making sure that human emotion and characters trump the setting, being a female author who prefers to write dark themes, and the cons of using technology in your manuscript.



On Tuesday, June 20th I will be at the Mentor Public Library, where I will be talking about the true story of mental health care in the 1890s and the history of the Athens Lunatic Asylum, the setting for A MADNESS SO DISCREET.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: THE ART OF STARVING by Sam J. Miller

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

When Matt's sister Maya runs away, he's convinced that Tariq and his friends did something terrible to her. He knows that Maya called Tariq the night she split, but has no idea why. Anger swells in Matt - anger at Maya for leaving, his mom for letting her, at Tariq for whatever he did, and at himself. It's hard to hate Tariq when he's gorgeous, which makes Matt hate himself even more.

The only thing Matt can control in his life is what he eats - or how little. With a dwindling calorie count - and sometimes days passing with no food - Matt makes a discovery. Food is slowing him down, dumbing his senses. When he doesn't eat, Matt finds he develops super powers. He knows when people carry secrets, can hear conversations across their collapsing town, and can even suspend time if he tries hard enough.

But his plan to get close to Tariq only to destroy him soon backfires, as Tariq's own secret is something Matt could have never guessed. With his body wasting away, his heart falling hard for Tariq, his mother slipping further into alcoholism and his sister nowhere to be found, Matt keeps pushing himself harder while eating less.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Elle Cosimano & The Inspiration for THE SUFFERING TREE

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Elle Cosimano, whose debut, Nearly Gone, was a 2015 Edgar Award finalist and winner of the International Thriller Award. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Horror Writers Association, and Sisters In Crime. She was selected for the 2012 Nevada SCBWI Agented & Published Authors’ Mentorship Program, where she worked under the guidance of Ellen Hopkins.

Her newest release, The Suffering Tree, is available today!

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Back in September of 2010, I chaperoned my youngest son’s kindergarten field trip to a local apple orchard. I had just finished drafting my very first book. This was a few months before I’d found an agent and knew I would have a career as an author, but my mind must have been hungry, already searching for that next potential story. As the school bus rattled down a winding country road, I caught a glimpse of an old, private cemetery in the middle of a grassy field. It was little more than a small ring of leaning headstones under a dying tree.

The image struck me hard and the memory of it stayed with me for days. The fields along that stretch of road were lush with soybeans and corn, almost ready for harvest. The trees surrounding those fields were dense and high and emerald green everywhere you looked. But that field . . . Under that tree was a circle of weeds and dying grass. It was as if nothing wanted to live near those headstones. The tree itself looked like it had died a long time ago. The bark had already mostly peeled away and the branches were bleached white by the sun. I started wondering what had sucked all the life from that tree and the ground around those graves. I started wondering who was buried there.

A few days later, I drove back to the field with my camera. I walked through the cemetery, trying to read the names and dates on the stones. They were old and worn thin, covered in moss. Some had heaved up and others leaned as if they’d fall over. The tree and that ring of fallow ground, felt so grossly out of place in that sunny, green field. And all those questions—who lived here before, who died here, who lived here now and did they also feel out of place somehow—became the seed for the rest of the story.


Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I always start with character. Going into it, I knew I was telling two stories—the story of the person who was buried under the tree, and the story of the person who lived on this farm now. So I started by creating those people (their lives, their circumstances, the struggle that brought their stories together) first. I had to figure out who each of the characters were, and how they both ended up here, in this cemetery, on this farm, in the same moment in time. 

I started with Nathaniel Bishop, kidnapped as a child from the streets of England in the 1690s and sold illegally into a seven-year indenture into the Maryland tobacco colonies to the unscrupulous and violent owner of a tobacco plantation. From there, I had to figure out how he died, what his connection was to that tree, and what reason would he have for coming back from the grave.

Then came my present day story. Who would find Nathaniel when he emerged? Why was she there? What connected their backstories? What was their shared objective? What did they most yearn for and why? And that’s where Tori Burns’ story was born—a modern day high school student struggling with depression and self-harm and the death of a parent, and her ensuing move to a strange farm and the mysterious inheritance of a home and cemetery there.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

I think my plots are always a moving target. I know my beginning and I usually have a hazy destination in mind for the end. But the middles are often a mystery to me, and I have to write my way through them. Often more than once. Sometimes more than twice. Revision is usually where I uncover the truth in my stories. The theme and the threads all seem to make themselves known at the end of that first draft, and come together as I begin to tinker with it.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I always have at least three of four unexplored story ideas floating around my mind. A moment, a picture, a conversation, or a place will inspire an idea that becomes the seed. It grows into a scene in my mind, and eventually an idea for a story. And each one nags at me until I start hashing it out and start putting it down on paper.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

It’s usually the one that’s nagging the loudest. Once I clearly hear the character’s voice in my head, and picture at least one scene that sets the mood and the tone of the story, I’m off and running on that one, and the others have to sit quiet for a while.

2016 was not an easy year. Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?

This book was mostly written before 2016 began, but I do think there are some relevant themes and ideas running through it, namely the corrosive effects of hidden prejudices and latent bigotries, everyday racism and sexism that goes unnoticed or unchecked. How fear and greed can make us want to demonize others, twist the facts or bury the truth about ourselves when it doesn’t suit our own ends. And how the damage can rise up and haunt us over generations, until we’re finally forced to confront our ugliest fears and dredge up our deepest secrets.

I guess you could say I write for escapism. Because I love making up and telling tales. But my stories are alive and my characters are real to me. They breathe and they bleed, and there’s a whisper of our own world blowing through all of them.

Monday, June 12, 2017

I Worked All Day... And Didn't Write A Word

Last week I tweeted this:

Quite a few authors seconded me on that - and then it happened again this past Friday. I was up at a decent hour (for a self-employed person) and spent the entire day working, yet didn't write a word on a WIP. How's that possible?

I'll break it down.

9-10 AM: Exchanged texts with a writer whose book I'm blurbing about talking points of her novel and what kind of wording worked best to get those across in a small snippet.

10-12 PM: Answered emails. Yes, honestly, for two hours. I was on a trip with very little internet access (but many, many ticks) from Monday-Wednesday and had a buildup of emails that needed answering. Even without that influx, I do generally spend roughly two hours on emails every day.

On this particular day I needed to listen to audio snippets from three different actresses for the audiobook version of THIS DARKNESS MINE to choose who I liked best for the narrator, answer emails from both the agent and the editor about marketing things coming up, confer with the coordinator for my event that evening to make sure necessary tech was in place, answer questions about a different event concerning best time / date options, and fill out questionnaires about yet another event concerning tech, content, and what books I would like to have available for sale at said event. I also fielded and sent emails with upcoming podcast guests, looking to find good times for us to get together to record our sessions.

12-1 PM: Read and critiqued a project pitch for a fellow author, then conferred with her over text about whether it not it represented the manuscript well. (It did, because this is RC Lewis we're talking about, and the woman knows how to write a pitch.)

1-2 PM: Finished writing up notes for a manuscript critique of a Middle Grade I had read for an aspiring writer. (If you're interested, click here). Emailed editorial letter and line edits to the author.

2-4 PM: Wrote a proposal for a manuscript of my own, sent it off to trusty RC Lewis who read, reviewed, and sent back to me with her nitty-nit-picks which keep my work so clean in the first place. (I don't know how to use a semi-colon, basically). Sent proposal off to the agent, realized I desperately needed to put on pants and head to an event.

4-7 PM: Drove to an event, did my thing, met with some awesome teens and had a great talk at a library, sold some books, signed some books, drove home - I did also eat at this point, you'll notice I hadn't done that yet - and upon getting home checked in on email once again in order to follow up on all the conversations that resulted as part of those earlier emails.

7-8 PM: Uploaded artwork and ordered swag for THIS DARKNESS MINE bookmarks and postcards, then dealt with formatting issues when they came back and needed adjustments. Said bad words. Re-uploaded.

8-11 PM: Read a book! Yes, it's part of what I consider work - with a healthy dose of pleasure, as well, of course. I've got ARCs piled on the nightstand that need to be read, some for blurb purposes, some for being featured here on the blog, as well as for giveaways. I also read the novels of my upcoming podcast guests, so that I can have informed, intelligent conversations with them about their work and process.

That's an entire day of work, and very little writing. This is the life of a writer - and so little of what we do is writing.