I am pleased to welcome Christina Hoag as a guest to Birth of a Novel. Christina is a former reporter for the Associated Press and Miami Herald and worked as a correspondent in Latin America writing for major media outlets including Time, Business Week, Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. She has very graciously agreed to share some of the knowledge she’d picked up along this impressive journey.
And now, from Christina:
Here are several writing tips I’ve discovered through many years of writing. You may find them helpful. They’re in no particular order.
- I don’t write myself out every day. I leave something – the very next scene, usually – so when I come back the next day I know what to do. I just pick up and keep going. If you write yourself out, then you end up wasting a lot of time wondering what comes next and trying to get back into the rhythm of the story.
- If someone says something in your piece doesn’t work, it’s only one person’s opinion. But if two people make the same observation, you need to pay attention to what they’re saying. More often than not, it’s something that needs fixing.
- Develop a thick skin. It takes courage to write and show your work to the world for judgment, but remember that not everyone is going to like your work, and that’s okay. You have to learn to let criticism roll off you. The nastiest rejection I ever got was from the editor of a literary journal who scornfully said of my experimental fiction submission, “Why would anyone even read this?” I kept submitting it and got the piece and another like it published in other journals.
- If there’s someone in your life who does not support you creatively, either get rid of them out or distance yourself from them as much as possible. Be ruthless because your art is worth it. I’ve broken up with boyfriends because they were not supportive or had no interest in my writing. In my mind, you can’t be with a writer if you’re not interested in what they write because their writing is part of their self-expression.
- Don’t give up! It can be hard to keep going amid the onslaught of rejection –agents, editors, reviewers. If you get a particularly bad rejection or setback, allow yourself to wallow in self-pity for a set period of time, say three days. When that’s over, get back to your PC.
- When critiquing other people’s work, remember to be constructive and how it feels to be on the receiving end. Always state some positive points first then say ‘I thought you could improve this by…”
- Have a general sense of where your story is going and how it will end. I’ve tried “pantsing,” ie. writing by the seat of my pants, and ended up lost in the plot labyrinth and wasting a lot of time. So now I have a loose outline and I periodically map out the next couple scenes as I go, that keeps me on track and thinking ahead. It makes the process much smoother.
- Read a wide range of genres and authors. Read poetry to develop lyricism and an ear for language. Read plays to develop dialogue. Read mysteries/thriller classics to improve plot development. Read literary works to enhance character development.
- When confronting the dreaded writer’s block, do something else for a while, don’t fret and don’t force. I’ve found that getting up and going to the kitchen clears my head enough for the next step to pop in it. You can also use the time to do something else writing-related: work on your website, submissions, an essay, or on another section of your book. The secret is changing your focus so you can clear your blocked channel.
- This may be the most important tip of all: Believe in yourself. Believe that you have something worthwhile to say. Believe in your talent. Believe that you will succeed and that the rocky road is part of any artist’s journey.
Christina Hoag is the author of Skin of Tattoos, a literary thriller set in L.A.’s gang underworld (Martin Brown Publishers, August 2016) and Girl on the Brink, a romantic thriller for young adults (Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books, August 2016).She is the co-author of Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, a groundbreaking book on gang intervention (Turner Publishing, 2014). She lives in Los Angeles. For more information about her, see www.christinahoag.com.
I have a treat to broaden your smile while you’re savoring the last weeks of summer. My friend, Chrysa Smith, is visiting and sharing an inspirational moment. Chrysa is a very special person – an author of children’s books.
Whenever inspiration strikes, I always imagine myself dressed as if on safari, with camo gear on and net in hand ready to capture the prize. And so it was with me many months ago.
I was standing in a gift shop looking at silk flowers when something down the aisle caught my eye. I turned and walked toward the children’s section, and it was there staring me in the face. It was another ‘Once upon a something’ book. I don’t know just how many of those I’ve seen in five decades. But something about it was different. Something about it struck a chord with me– perhaps speaking to a younger audience, the absolute adorableness of it all, imagining a writer really reaching the tiniest listeners and critics on the face of this earth.
Having an easy-reader series (The Adventures of the Poodle Posse) grow and change during the past eight years has been rewarding. But as one who always welcomes a challenge, I felt inspired to do something a little different; something for kids out of the grade 2-3 range or perhaps on a different topic altogether. For about a year, I’ve been working on a juvenile fiction piece based on a twisted experience I had with growing plants (no, not those kind). But as happens with most of us, the story has been in a deadlock. Good ideas, good character development, but I still need the hook—what magical, fascinating, attention-holding action is going to grab these young readers? Still no clue.
So as the ‘Once upon’ idea took hold, it marinated for while until ready to really cook. Why not go back in time with a prequel to the existing series? Why not make it a picture book that would explain how the initial characters in the series came to be? Why not grab a different age group that would lead to a different market for me? Why not make it an entirely different title, apart from the series? And why not capture little imaginations with a story that might lead them into the easy-reader series down the road?
So as I write, the book is in illustration stage. And it is most exciting to see full color characters come to life, where in the easy-reader/transitional series, they are black and white. The reviews are beginning to come in—so far, so good. The real test will come this fall as the book goes on Amazon(yikes!), my website and down those roads that lead me into classrooms. Fingers crossed. Wish me luck. And kudos to all of you who are out there with nets, busy capturing ideas.
Chrysa Smith has been a lifetime feature magazine writer, and shorter term juvenile fiction author. For more information on her and her scribbling, visit www.wellbredbook.net, and see her featured in the fall issue of Bucks County Magazine.
A special shout to Pat Achilles, the talented illustrator of this book. Thanks, Pat, for allowing us to include your drawings. For more information about Pat Achilles, visit http://www.achillesportfolio.com
I can’t think of any job more important than creating stories and images that help a child’s imagination soar. Kudos to both of you, Chrysa and Pat.
I am particularly proud to welcome Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban as a guest to Birth of a Novel.
Carmen was born in Galicia (Northern Spain) and went to college in Madrid, where she finished her Ph.D. in Biology. Always a passionate reader, she started writing after moving to Pennsylvania and graduating from the Institute of Children’s Literature. Her first novel, Two Moon Princess (Tanglewood Press) a coming of age story in a parallel medieval Spain, was a finalist for the 2015 Latino Books into Movies Awards. She is also the author of the paranormal romance, Immortal Love. Today (July 25, 2016) is the release date of her latest novel, The King in the Stone.
She has some interesting thoughts to share on the state of publishing today.
Thank you, Sandy and good morning all,
For many reasons, some of which I explain below, almost ten years separate the publication of my YA fantasy, Two Moon Princess in 2007 and the launching of its sequel, The King in the Stone, this July.
Writing is a lonely and difficult endeavor. Publishing, a long and windy road. That’s why I am so glad to have friends like Sandy, who have listened to my multiple ramblings and encouraged me along the way. Thank you so much, Sandy for being my inspiration, and also for giving me the opportunity to post here today.
My Reasons to Self-publishing:
If you have a book ready for publication and are tired of the wall of silence that swallows your queries, you may want to take control and self-publish your work.
You will not be alone.
As more and more writers, from first timers to bestselling authors, choose this path, the stigma once attached to this process has all but disappeared. To be a self-published writer, Indie author by other name, is now ‘cool’.
The reasons for this revolution in the publishing industry are many, but, I believe, the advent of the ebook was the determining factor for its success. Authors don’t need to print physical books and store them in their houses anymore, plus, publishing platforms (such as Kindle Direct Publishing, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.) have made the process so simple, anybody can do it.
People write for many reasons. But I can only think of two reasons why they would wish to publish their work: validation and money.
Only new writers may be naïve enough to believe that a Traditional Publishing House will help them achieve both.
A quick look at the best seller lists will confirm my claim that not all books published by a Traditional Publishing House are well written. Publishing is a business, books are products. It’s their marketability, not their quality the decisive factor on whether a book will be published. Getting published traditionally per se will not give your book a quality seal of approval.
As for the money, apart from the millionaire deals we read about in the news, most advances are small and most books never sell enough for the author’s royalties to kick on, so that the advance is what most writers will ever receive.
Self publishing, on the other hand, can also provide praise and validation to an author (think letter from fans, reader’s reviews …), and a way to make money. Self-published authors don’t receive advances and must invest on an editor/proofreader and book designer to get their book ready, but the percent they get per book sold is higher.
Every author’s journey to publication is different. Mine started the old-fashioned way. I published my first young adult fantasy, Two Moon Princess, with Tanglewood Press, a traditional publisher, in 2007.
Two years later, Tanglewood Press agreed to publish my second novel, The King in the Stone, but, eventually, the deal fell through. At the time I had an agent, Ginger Knowlton, VP at Curtis Brown, who sent my manuscript to the main publishing houses. Although many editors wrote positive comments about my manuscript, they all agree they couldn’t publish it because it was a sequel.
So, in a way, the decision to self publish The King in the Stone was made for me. But as I did my homework and learned more and more abut the process, I came to appreciate its many advantages, especially the total freedom it allows. I believe Tanglewood Press’s choice of cover and its decision to market Two Moon Princess as a middle grade title, against my wishes, had a lot to do with its missing its target audience. This time, as a self-published author, I’ve had total control to create my own title, cover design, and book trailer.
Another great advantage of self-publishing is that the time lapse between the moment your book is finished (final draft + professional editing & proofreading) and the launching date is much shorter.
To give you an idea:
I had been querying for over a year by the time, Tanglewood Press signed Two Moon Princess. It took another year and a half for the book to be available.
On the other hand, only seven months have passed between my decision to self-publish The King in the Stone and its launching date of July 25.
There is a third alternative to get your manuscript published. I am referring to the many small epublishers that have appeared in the last few years. I call them epublishers because, although they also publish print on demand books, their main revenue comes from ebooks sales.
I used an epublisher for my paranormal romance, Immortal Love, the story of my adventures looking for an agent. But although my experience was positive in many ways, the fact that these epublishers don’t give an advance and take a high percent of every sale, doesn’t make them, in my opinion, a profitable choice for authors.
Right now, for me, and, alas, for thousands of other writers, self-publishing is, by far, the better choice.
Thanks, Carmen, for sharing your experience with us.
Links to Carmen’s books:
Two Moon Princess – http://amzn.to/2a40p3t
Immortal Love – http://amzn.to/2a5RVmo
The King in the Stone – http://amzn.to/2aEhQ6M
The King in the Stone by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban is an irresistible blending of history and legend. It’s a love story, a quest, an action-adventure tale, and a time-travel epic. Yes – all of those things – but mostly it’s a crackling good story that kept me reading well into the night. It’s told from alternating points of view of Andrea and Julian, two star-crossed lovers. The courage and determination of these characters, along with the complexity of their relationship keep the story moving along with plenty of twists and turns. There are a lot of other characters, but Ferreiro-Esteban handles her large cast so deftly that there is no confusion as to who’s who. One of the things I liked best about the book was the setting. Though the author doesn’t include a lot of lengthy descriptions, she manages to endue the mountains with such a sense of ancient wisdom and mystery that make it believable that this reality-bending adventure could actually happen. The writing style fits the story, with passages that are as magical as the mountain setting, yet the prose remains uncluttered and is never intrusive.
I was given an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The release date is July 25, 2016.
I’m delighted that Keith Shaw has agreed to share some of his thoughts about creating a believable world for fictional characters to inhabit. Having read his Neworld Papers, I have a great deal of respect for his opinion on this matter.
Here’s what Keith has to say:
As a writer, when you hear the term “world building” you might think, “Oh, that’s for science fiction and fantasy writers. It’s not for me.” But you’d be wrong. There are three distinct kinds of world building, and every novel—from memoirs, to whodunits, to space operas—contains at least one type.
- Created World — The Writer as God
This is the type of world building that most people think of first. Because created worlds do not exist, they are solidly in the realm of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In books featuring created worlds, the world itself is often as important as any character living in it.
One of the best-known and most fully realized created worlds is J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythical Middle Earth. It is a highly detailed world that encompasses the cultures of men, elves, dwarves, orcs, wizards, and, of course, hobbits. Tolkien created volumes of historical backstory, genealogy, and even a written language.
- Altered World — The Writer as Instigator
An altered world is based upon the real world… but with a change. Altered-world books often fall into the realm of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fiction, where the author instigates one or more changes to the real world and then asks the question, “What if…?”
Science fiction: In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick imagines a world in which the United States lost World War II.
Fantasy: Harry Potter lives in a world where magic coexists with the muggle world.
Horror: What classic horror story do you get when you ask the question, “What if a man could create life?” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
- Real World — The Writer as Reporter
This is the most common type of world building. No matter what genre you write, if your story is set in the world as we know it, you are limited to the knowledge, social structure, physicality, and technology that exists at the time and place of the stories.
Writers of historical fiction must make an actual time and place come to life for the reader. For instance, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is classified as fantasy, but you could argue that it takes place in two real worlds: Scotland of 1945 and Scotland of 1743. Claire Randall begins as a woman with twentieth century sensibilities in postwar Scotland—our first real world. Of course, Gabaldon uses magic as a device to transport Claire to 1745, but once there, the heroine is in the same place at another time. Gabaldon’s challenge was to create two distinctive versions of a real-world Scotland.
Mystery writers can set their detectives in a country manor house, a suburban neighborhood, or the gritty bowels of a city. The California world inhabited by Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone is different from Tony Hillerman’s Navajo reservation, home to Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Robert B. Parker’s PI (private investigator), Spenser, prowls the neighborhoods and social circles of Boston, while Sandra Carey Cody’s Jennie Connors investigates murders in middle-class suburbia and the Riverview Manor. The reader identifies the detectives with the world in which they exist.
So, even if you don’t write horror, sci-fi, or fantasy, your protagonist still lives within the confines of a world you have built. It doesn’t matter if your characters are cops, crooks, reporters, doctors, teachers, spies, or politicians. They come to life in a part of the real world unique to their own stories.
KB Shaw is the author of the YA science fiction series From the Shadows and Neworld Papers. A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), he also writes short stories and screenplays and gives presentations and workshops on world building. Website: www.iPulpFiction.com
Thanks, Keith, for sharing your expertise.
I’ve been trying to find words to express what this day and the privilege of living in a free country mean to me, but none of mine seem adequate, so I’m borrowing some from Thomas Jefferson. I do this without apology. It can’t hurt to remind Americans (including me) of the principles that shaped us as a nation. So … the opening words of the Declaration of Independence:
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united
States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Thank you, Thomas Jefferson, and the other brave men and women who made a free and independent life possible for so many of us.
Who is Christopher Latham Sholes and why am I thanking him? He’s the man who patented the typewriter, way back in 1868. His wasn’t the first typewriter, but those that came before weren’t very practical. Using them, it took longer to type a document than to handwrite it. Those early machines were so cumbersome that they were considered novelties and were used only by people who were very rich or very bored.
What prompted Mr. Sholes, a newspaperman in Milwaukee, to improve the existing typewriters? His printers went on strike and he had a paper to get out. What did he do? He, along with some collaborators, kept experimenting until they had a machine that made their jobs easier. Once again, necessity was the mother of invention.
The machine to the right doesn’t look much like the one on which I learned to type in high school and even less like the computer on which I pound out my ideas now. In fact, it looks downright intimidating. I’m not sure how long it would take me to write an entire book on one of those. Still, it was a huge step forward and I’m grateful for his persistence, as I’m sure are most of my writing cohorts. Ernest Hemingway is said to have loved his typewriter, which he placed on a high piece of furniture so he could write standing up. Jack Kerouac was so impatient he couldn’t stand having to change paper so often. He trimmed long sheets of drawing paper to fit in the typewriter. When he finished, he taped them together, creating a manuscript that was 120 feet long. How many words do you suppose that was?
I can’t help but wonder how many of today’s books would be unwritten if Mr. Sholes hadn’t persisted until he came up with a machine that was practical for use by ordinary people. I wonder if I would have the tenacity required. I have a hard time imagining writing without a delete key. Thank goodness I don’t have to.
So, join me, my friends, in thanking Christopher Sholes and all the other intrepid souls whose vision and persistence have given us tools that we take for granted.