Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ten Tips I Received…and Sometimes Ignored

Posted by August 31st, 2011

Thriller writer Jamie Freveletti shares the most personally useful–and least useful–advice she’s gotten.

“Persistence is the only thing that really has the ability to move you closer to being published.”

 Jamie Freveletti_smallWhile I was working on my first manuscript I was given boatloads of advice.

Here’s what ended up working, and not working, for me:

1. Write every day.
This advice comes from those who write like crazy. Many who say this are well published. I write a lot, but not every day. Frankly, there are not many things I do every day except raise children. When I worked as a lawyer and the kids were smaller I wrote every other day on average. Vacations- and beach vacations in particular- ramp up my word count and as a result my children have seen a lot of sand.

2. Outline. 
I get an idea for a premise and begin writing. I research along the way, but while I’m still writing. I remember what James Rollins once said at a conference I attended: “when you’re researching you’re working but not writing.” In other words, doing prep work accomplishes something but you are still no closer to finishing the novel. Outlining is not for me.

3. Take a creative writing class. 
I began with an evening course at the University of Chicago Gleacher center. I got into the groove of writing there, but by no means do I think it is a necessary step to becoming a writer.

4. Get a Masters in Fine Arts.
I have some degrees and diplomas. Enjoyed them all, but just don’t have it in me to get one more. Thankfully, this bit of advice is only necessary if you want to obtain a position as a professor.

5. Write what you know.
I’ve written about things I can only imagine. I mean, who murders someone just so they can write about murder? In fact, one of my first manuscripts is about a female attorney. I knew the material, but so many have written legal scenarios and lawyer protagonists that I wasn’t sure I had much to add to the genre. Not to mention that I felt as though I was at work 24/7. I ended up putting that manuscript on the shelf and turned to write Running. If you’re unsure about your ability to write a believable scenario in an area you don’t know, then maybe you should write what you know at first. Just be prepared to branch out if necessary.

6. Awful first drafts are fine.
If you don’t finish something, you’ll never get in the game. Just quell the voice in your head that says “Are you kidding? No one is going to want to read this drivel” and keep on going. You’re going to revise and revise and then revise again anyway.

7. Be prepared to write a second novel if the first doesn’t sell.
Seems as though everyone has a manuscript on the shelf. I know I do. It’s not bad, as firsts go, but I read it the other day from my new position as a debut author of a second manuscript, and I can now see where it can be improved. Don’t know if I had that perspective before.

8. Attend conferences to meet people in the industry.
Just don’t do what I did during my first and spend the afterhours in a Starbucks instead of in the hotel bar. Lawyers congregate in Starbucks and leave early to go home and continue billing. Writers congregate in the bar and stay late and party. Remember that!

9. Don’t chase a trend if your heart’s not in it.
You’ll end up writing something lackluster. Write what you love. If it doesn’t sell, see #2 above, but don’t write what you think others will buy. Never seems to work–and I’m not sure why that should be, but most tell me this is true and I believe them.

10. Never stop.
Persistence is the only thing that really has the ability to move you closer to being published. If you quit, you’ll never succeed.

Author photo by Leslie Schwartz Photography

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Content is Still King

Posted by August 31st, 2011

The future of print and eBook publishing following Borders’ demise

“Publishing houses are not in the printed book business. Nor are they in the eBooks business. They’re in the content business.”

Borders Closing - AP image_small

As a newbie to publishing, I find it to be a very exciting time to be in the industry. Working in Penguin’s Business Development Department, I am lucky enough to be on a team that is forging ahead into the new era of digital publishing. This “revolution,” as some have called it, has also brought naysayers who say (and who seemingly have always said) that publishing will not survive.

In 2011 many have pointed to the demise of Borders and the possible sale of Barnes & Noble as a harbinger for publishing houses. Many feel that eBooks have the potential to destroy the very industry they rely on to be sold. A heartfelt op-ed appeared in the Chicago Tribune by a Powell’s book store employee saying that if the publishing industry did not fight back against eBooks and eReaders by launching an ad campaign similar to the way Amazon did for Kindle, it, too, would go the way of Borders.

But the author of that piece, and anyone else who believes that the decline of the print book will mark the end of the publishing business, is missing the point. While Borders’s liquidation will reduce shelf space and will continue to hurt physical book sales, new sales from eBooks will most likely even the keel in a few years. Publishing houses are not in the printed book business. Nor are they in the eBooks business. They’re in the content business.

When you buy a book, the primary driver behind your purchase is not what kind of paper it is printed on or the extension of the file name. You buy a book for the story. Whether you read a physical book that you bought from a bookstore or an electronic file delivered wirelessly to your ereader, the end result is the same: you are reading a book. Most likely, that book was written by an author who got picked up by an agent who shopped the book around to publishers, one of whom bought it, edited it, marketed it, produced it and sold it to a variety of book retailers.

Whether you purchased the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore the publisher received money from your purchase. Despite publishing’s constant death knell, the reality of the situation is quite the opposite. In 2010, book publishing revenue rose 3.1% buoyed “almost entirely” by digital products. As eBook prices continue to stabilize, publishers should be able to leverage the rise of eBooks and digital products in their favor.

This is not to say that eBooks will take over print books forever and leave brick and mortar stores obsolete. As much as the eBook “revolution” hurt Borders, the bookseller was also a corporation rife with mismanagementthat expanded much too quickly while embracing eBooks much too late. Borders is not emblematic of the publishing industry. In fact, Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association said, “It is, in part, an unfortunate right-sizing of bookstore landscape that has suffered from expansion in certain markets.”

It is commonly said that content is king, and when it comes to publishing this could not be more true. As technology advances and new ways to consume books emerge, publishing houses will still be there if they continue to help authors create great books. So as market turmoil puts book retailers in jeopardy, publishers do not need to launch ad campaigns to try to push one consumer medium over another. Especially in the wake of the proliferation of content on the internet, publishing houses need to continue to practice what got them to where they are today: identifying talent, allowing authors to produce great content, and connecting writers to readers.

Featured photo courtesy of the Associated Press.
Author photo courtesy of Matt Kane.


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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Carl E. Reed

Posted by August 15th, 2011

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A
Carl E Reed pic

Get to know Book Country member Carl E Reed in our inaugural Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

When I sat down to really think about who should kick off our new monthly Book Country Member Spotlight, I knew it was going to be a tough decision. “There are so many awesome people, here!” I told myself. “How am I supposed to pick just one?”

After scouring member profiles, discussion boards, and top lists, there were still too many options. (Thank goodness, we’ll be doing this spotlight more than once!) So I thought about who pops up on the site regularly that I know essentially nothing about–Oooh! Carl E Reed! The only things I really knew about this man was what he shared in his profile–that, and his exuberant and unstoppable love of words.

So, without much further ado, let’s learn a little bit about this 47-year-old gentleman from the Windy City (whose middle name I now know is Everett, by the way):

DP: Let’s start with the basics…when and why did you start writing? 

CR: Like many another writer I fell in love with the transportive, ecstatic power of the written word nearly as soon as I’d learned to read. I learned this now-dying Mandarin art (the average modern-day American reads at between a seventh and eighth-grade level) at John B. Murphy Public School on the northwest side of Chicago: a hulking, three-story, no-nonsense elementary education center for the working classes that I attended in the early 70s.

The school library proudly displayed over-sized, oil-painted portraits of the “multicultural” heroes Christopher Columbus and Leif Ericson on the high-ceilinged walls. It was in that room in the second grade that I began copying out admired short stories from our school primer onto notebook paper. It was my intention to retain these literary masterpieces when I had to give the book back at the end of the school year. (The ranks upon ranks of colorful, plastic-covered books on the shelves—so I assumed—would always be there.)

Our school librarian was Mrs. Cottney: a stern, gray-haired teacher in black cats-eye spectacles who managed to look even more severe when she smiled. Her crisp, clarion-clear educator’s voice rings in my head to this day: “We don’t dog-end pages to mark our place in a book; we always use a bookmark. A book is not a toy; it is your passport to adventure and higher learning.” It was mid-way through my third year when she came up behind me while I was sitting in a straight-backed wooden chair and snapped, “Stop copying stories out of books and start writing your own.”

I was thunderstruck. The idea had never even occurred to me.

DP:  What’s your favorite genre to write? How about to read? Why? 

CR: Most of my stories seem to fall into the “weird fiction” category; however, I don’t really think in terms of genre categories when I write. An idea occurs to me—well, it would be more accurate to say that the climax of a story suddenly pops into my head from out of nowhere, occasioned by an upwelling of emotion—and then I begin to work backward from that vision and feeling, building a skeletal framework of plot around the hard-beating heart of the story’s climax and denouement.

As to what I enjoy reading, it’s . . . erm . . . nearly everything.

I read for 2-3 hours a day. Since I work full-time this isn’t always an easy or practical thing to do. I’ve arranged a number of book tables beside my leather recliner in the living room (the one indulgence in this otherwise Spartan apartment; no TV) and I read from the stacks of books I’ve removed from my library for immediate consumption: an eclectic mixture reflecting my own interests, consisting of just about everything under the sun: poetry, essays, science, religion, philosophy, psychology, history, fiction, literary criticism, memoir, biography, military history, etc.

DP: Not all writers hope to accomplish the same thing with their work or have the same dreams for a work’s life. What are your writing goals and aspirations?

CR: My writing goals and aspirations are these:

(1) Write every day.

(2) Continue to write short stories with the hope of one day seeing Dark Visions: The Collected Weird Fiction of Carl E. Reed, vol. 1 in print.

(3) Someday write a memorable sentence or phrase so pitch-perfect, powerful and evocative that it simply can’t be improved upon—and, once read, is impossible to forget.

Other writers may wish to be remembered for a particularly strong novel, short story, poem or series of books. Not me. There are entire libraries of great books that I will never get to read before I die—the same is true for all of us, alas!—and I’ve no wish to add to the burden of others by being the kind of writer who creates yet another ten-million-word oeuvre of numbing mediocrity. My writerly [sic] ambition could be summed up like this (with apologies to Aristotle): the right word, at the right time, with the right person, for the right reason.

DP: Every writer comes across a rough patch in their work. What is your biggest personal writing challenge?

CR: The biggest personal writing challenge I face is overcoming my own resistance to write. Every day is a battle. Every . . .  single . . . day.

But I’ve learned a bit of on-again, off-again discipline through the years: the necessity of simply sitting down and doing the work, regardless of mood or energy. When Ray Bradbury advises “write yourself sane” or Joyce Carol Oates reminds us that “in a sense, the writing will create the mood” or William Faulkner shares, “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”—I hear and respond to the masters’ ringing call to arms and I experience renewed enthusiasm for the writer’s craft: this strange, wrenching business of through-a-glass-darkly visions, overpowering emotion and occasional epiphanic insights expressed through tedious word-ordering on the page/computer screen.

DP: You mention William Shakespeare as a muse for your character Walter in THE MAN WHO KILLED WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. Do you similarly have a muse? What inspires you?

CR: I don’t have a muse, per se; but I do invoke Cosmos and the Void/God/the conjoined powers of the rational and irrational minds when I write.

There is something very odd going on when we write fiction, something akin to (pick your favorite metaphor): “falling down the rabbit hole”, “a fictional trance”, “dreaming with eyes wide open”, etc. I try to get out of my own way when I write. In doing so, I give my characters room to breath and act. This feels like inspiration; this seems like the muse taking me by the arm and pointing: “There—do you see? There and there and there—look closely. Closer. Listen. Watch and learn.”

I am inspired by writers who are artistically fearless, wryly self-deprecating, feverishly-creative iconoclasts, struggling against psychic pain and constraining circumstance to bring their art into the world. I am moved by the deeply-flawed but large-souled human being: writers of distinctive vision and voice such as Howard Philips Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Philip K. Dick, etc. The list is legion.

I am also inspired every time I read about or encounter another truly decent, kind, tolerant and life-affirming human being. People who keep their egos in check; who know that the purpose of life is to spread light and love and laughter (sorry, but it really is that simple). What was it Kurt Vonnegut said?—“The only religion a man needs is kindness.” As a practicing Roman Catholic I must report that my church begs to differ with this sentiment, but I understand and applaud the twinkling-eyed humanistic warmth of Vonnegut’s flat declarative statement.

DP: In THE FINAL FLIGHT OF MAJOR HAVOC, you are very detailed when it comes to flight patterns and aircraft technology. Does this knowledge have anything to do with your experience in the Marine Corps or was it the result of mountains of research? 

CR: Ah, much amused am I! In answering I shall be forced to reveal my inner Walter Mitty: although I rode on Huey gunships, dual-bladed CH-46 helicopters, C-130 turbo-prop transports and giant four-engine C-5 Galaxy cargo jets in the Marine Corps my knowledge of piloting stems entirely from my love of combat flight simulators. It was venerable classics such as Red Baron, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe and Jane’s ATF NATO Fighters that taught me how to quickly scan a bullet-riddled instrument panel and apply some deft stick-and-rudder to survive in a target-rich environment. One can’t be pondering the alien wonders and mind-reeling irrealities of Borgesian labyrinths and Lovecraftian cosmicism ALL the time. . . .

DP:  Before we wrap up, tell us something random and unexpected about yourself, something that has nothing to do with writing. 

CR: I love motorcycles. I’ve been riding since my early 20s: everything from single-stroke street bikes to 1800cc V-twin monsters. In days past there was nothing I liked better than to dump my notebooks, a couple of good paperbacks and two-day’s worth of clothes into my leather saddlebags and take off for the weekend. Destination: anywhere. I would ride entirely on whim and curiosity, navigating whatever roads caught my fancy, the sensation of speed a kind of dynamic meditation as I chandelled S-curves and straight-line power-blasted (I’ve got the 102-mph speeding ticket to prove it) down the interstate.

I don’t ride anymore. I have the feeling I’ve pushed my luck as far as I could take it.

Photo courtesy of Carl E. Reed.

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Writing Likeable Characters

Posted by August 2nd, 2011

Book Country Twitter Chat (July 14, 2011)

Two authors and editors–Kelley Eskridge and Nicola Griffith–chat with Book Country about how to write likeable characters, whether hero or villain.


Like with real people, all characters are unique–each one has his or her own voice, history, and motivation. And strong characters have even more in common: that is, they are all “likeable.” Whether it’s a character you love or one you love to hate, both flaws and redeeming qualities are necessary to create the essential connection between reader and character. But how do you strike that balance? What can you do to make a reader understand, relate, and care about your hero or your villain?

In our July 14th Twitter Chat, we asked these very questions of Kelley Eskridge (@kelleyeskridge) and Nicola Griffith (@nicolaz), two writers and editors with enough experience and expertise to blow your mind. Kelley is a New York Times Notable science fiction and fantasy author, a screenwriter, and chair of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Nicola is a Nebula, Tiptree, and multiple Lambda Award-winning author of science fiction, fantasy, crime fiction, and more. But that’s not all–together they also make an unstoppable editorial team, running Sterling Editing, a freelance editorial, mentoring, and coaching service.

Just take a peek at some of the great tips from the chat:

@nicolaz: ‘Likable’ doesn’t mean ‘like what they do’. Means *understand* why they do it.

@kelleyeskridge: Filter every action through character POV. And make every scene have an emotional and action goal.

@mbrucebarton: Dialogue is key to moving character forward while also forwarding action

@ColleenLindsay: Agent @DonMaass has recommended giving your villain one character trait in common with yourself to make him more sympathetic.

@DanielleEBowers: Do things with your villain you’d never dare do in real life, but always wanted to.

@AdamDetritus: one way I remember a prof saying to build at least SYMPATHY is to never have coincidence actually HELP a protag

@kelleyeskridge: Good characters r not one-note songs. Falling from grace=more interesting than never having been there

@nicolaz: Most important ‘never’ is: never make a perfectly good or perfectly bad character.

We’ve also posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up.

Thanks to all who participated in this helpful chat!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!


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