Guidelines are there for a reason

At a recent convention panel I was on called “Editor’s Complaints,” there was unanimity about the biggest problem: Following the Guidelines.

Every editor, publisher, or agent has a preference as to what kinds of submissions they will accept and in what format they want it submitted. These submission guidelines will be posted on their web pages. They are not hard to find.

Why then do writers ignore them?

Read the guidelines! They are not there as polite suggestions. They are requirements.

For my TALES OF FORTANNIS anthologies, I post my guidelines on this blog and send them to whoever emails me asking about submitting. And still I get stories that do not fit the genre and are formatted in such a way that I cannot read them. baby_w-glasses I’ve even received stories that have no contact information, so I do not know how to accept the story even if I wanted to. (No, I do not feel like searching through all my emails to figure out where it came from. Once I’ve downloaded it, that’s as far as I go.)

What’s worse are people who don’t even try to determine whether the submission is the right fit. I know science fiction editors who have received mystery stories, children’s books, and even nonfiction. How hard is it to figure out whether the magazine you are sending your story to publishes your kind of story?

It gets you nowhere. You’ve wasted both your time and the editor’s time, and that won’t get you far in the publishing world.

Read the submission guidelines. Read the magazine or previous editions of the anthology if you can so you will get a better idea of what the editor wants. Do your research before you waste everyone’s time.

Does this sound unreasonable to you? Tough. Editors are busy people and we don’t have time to deal with those who cannot follow simple instructions. It tells us that you are not professional and may be difficult to work with when we send you the editorial changes we want.

Remember, although you are a writer and an artist, publishing is a business. You need to treat this with all the respect you would give a job application.

Interview with author and editor Bernie Mojzes

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Bernie Mojzes is a writer and editor, responsible for a variety of stories ranging from fantasy and science fiction to horror to erotica, and even some non-genre work. He’s a friend who I see regularly at conventions, and has contributed some amazing and captivating stories my own TALES OF FORTANNIS series. bernie-spikeIn his copious spare time, he edits Unlikely Story.

Bernie, How did you first become interested in writing?

BERNIE MOJZES: I read voraciously as a kid, from day one of “Dick and Jane” when I finished the book while the other kids were trying to figure out page 3 (and was then told by the teacher that I was never to read faster than the other kids again. I wish I could have been there when my dad discussed that with the teacher.). But seriously, I loved reading, loved falling into those new and interesting worlds, and for as long as I’ve been reading, I’ve wanted to be one of those people who can create that sense of wonder in others.

VENTRELLA: How much of writing is innate? In other words, do you believe there are just some people who are born storytellers but simply need to learn technique? Or can anyone become a good writer?

MOJZES: Ah, the nature/nurture question. There’s a massive difference between being a writer (being able to use written language to clearly and convincingly convey an idea) and being a storyteller (being able to create an interesting narrative that captivates an audience), and in the intersection of those two things is that creature that most people call “a writer.” Within that intersection, there are three major things that are necessary:

* a willingness to learn the craft (everything from basic grammar to how to incorporate beats and cadance into your prose)
* cultivation of the imagination
* observation and transformation of the world around you
* an openness to hearing critique

Yeah, I know. That’s four things. I can count. I swear.

Different people’s brains work in different ways. How we observe, how we perceive and what interpretations we make of those perceptions, and how we process and integrate and assimilate that information. And that’s not all, but it’s also how we connect the dots between that, what we’ve learned in the past, and what we will learn in the future, and then how we use all that to construct new worlds and new characters and new stories. Some people will weave intricate multilayered tapestries while others write linear, full-throttle with guns a-blazin’ adventures. What’s the right approach? There is none; there’s only the approach that works best for that particular writer.

If you can figure out the way your brain works best, and then train to minimize your weaknesses, and do the hard work of the three (4) things I listed above, I think most people can become good writers. But there are no shortcuts. It’s hard work – harder than most folks realize – and in the end, a lot of aspiring writers falter because they aren’t willing to do the work.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about your latest work!

MOJZES: Last October I had a story in the debut issue of Betwixt Magazine called “The Red Danube,” available here. EvilGazebo_lgThis is the most difficult and unflinching piece I’ve had published, and I’m very proud of it. Technique-wise, it was a challange and a blast to write. I wanted to do two things simultaneously: pull the reader close into the the most intimate thoughts and actions of the characters while simultaneously pushing the reader away, holding the reader at a distance. Since one of my weaknesses is talking about my own work, its probably better to point you at a review of it up at ChiZine, which starts:

No end-of-year round up would be complete without mentioning Bernie Mojzes’s “The Red Danube” (Betwixt Issue 1, Fall 2013). This story is something else.

Charlotte Ashley reads deeply, and writes insightful reviews; she’s worth following closely.

VENTRELLA: How did you decide upon the theme for your magazine? I mean, really, bugs?

MOJZES: Hm. Yes, bugs. The magazine started its life as The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, a biannual online magazine dedicated to stories involving bugs. How we came up with that is a long and sordid tale that involves, well … it’s long and sordid, and since this is a PG13 blog, let’s just leave it at that. Ultimately, we decided that we wanted to see what we could do with a really unusual and specific theme. There was the danger, of course, that everyone would look at it and think, eww, bugs, I’ll send my horror story about spiders. Fortunately, the writing community came through for us, sending us, yes, some horror stories, but also stories about love and loss, death and transformation. About race relations and science and society and historical revisionism. Interestingly, by focusing in on such a seemingly narrow, weird theme, we’ve been able to put together issues of astounding diversity.

VENTRELLA: How has it been received?

MOJZES: Really well, surprisingly. When we first opened up for submissions, we were terrified of the grand experiment being a flop, but from Issue 1 on, we’ve had good to excellent reviews. We’ve had stories by some of the more interesting authors on the scene today. Stories that have appeared in our pages have gone on to make honorable mention lists and appear in Best of Year anthologies.

VENTRELLA: You’re expanding, though. Tell us about your new endeavor.

MOJZES: Expanding? Diversifying is probably a better word. In 2013 we decided that we’d offer new and interesting (for us, and hopefully for others) games to play. With this decision, we realized that The Journal of Unlikely Entomology was no longer properly descriptive, so we’ve gone with “Unlikely Story.” Under the Unlikely Story umbrella, we’ll continue to put out one issue of Unlikely Entomology, and also one issue of The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography (stories involving cryptography, ciphers, hacking, etc.), and one other issue. The first of those was The Journal of Unlikely Architecture (stories about buildings); the second will be The Journal of Unlikely Cartography (stories involving maps). Cryptography will be coming out in February, and we’re currently accepting submissions for the next Entomology issue.

VENTRELLA: You’ve co-written stories (for example, in the TALES OF FORTANNIS: A BARD IN THE HAND anthology, ahem) … how did you go about doing that? bardinhand-510 What was the process?

MOJZES: Co-writing a story is an interesting process. I wrote “Embarassing Relations” with Bob Norwicke, a friend of mine from an old D&D campaign. He’s since moved to a different state, and we’d lost touch, but he had this brilliantly twisted character in the game that I wanted to use as a foil for my protagonist. I found Bob online and asked if he’d mind me stealing his character. That’s how I found out that Bob’s also a writer, and we decided to give co-authoring a try. I sent him a rough one paragraph concept for the story, he liked it, so I wrote an opening scene, written from my protagonist’s POV. Sent it to Bob, who wrote the next scene from his protagonist’s POV. From there we alternated. Some of what we did was writing toward the conclusion, writing to move the plot along. But some of what we did was writing a scene that intentionally put the other’s protagonist into a bind. This was the challenge — write your way out of the bind while still moving the plot along. That created some really interesting and unexpected twists that, I think, led us to bring the story to places we might not have otherwise discovered.

We did establish some ground rules. First was that I had veto power (because it was my story idea), and would eventually do an editing pass to make the story stylistically cohesive. Second, either of us could say “my character wouldn’t do that,” and offer rewrite suggestions. Third, both of us were free to re-write any dialog that the other author put in our character’s mouth.

Other than that, we created a vague outline early on (which included the phrase “hijinx ensue” multiple times) – left intentionally vague in order for us to both have the freedom to play within the plot and let the plot evolve.

VENTRELLA: How do you make your protagonist a believable character? And what’s the best way to make the antagonist a believable character?

MOJZES: Okay, first thing is, these two are secretly the same question, and I’d expand that out to include the secondary and tertiary characters that appear in your work.ClockworkChaos_lg All of these characters have, to the degree allowable by the point of view from which the story is told and the amount of time they have on the page, be as fully developed and “real” as possible.

First thing to remember is that every character is the protagonist of their own story. So whenever anyone does anything, it has to make sense for that individual to be doing that. Sometimes you find yourself writing a scene where the needy, self-absorbed and completely narcissistic friend of a friend suddenly does something immensely selfless in order to move a plot point along, you’ve got to take a step back and rethink. Maybe you need to rethink the character. Maybe you have to rethink how you get through that plot point.

But most importantly, remember that nobody is perfect. If you have a character that always does the right thing (or that always does the wrong thing, in the case of the villain), you end up with a caricature, not a character. Good people have flaws and failings. Bad people have good in them. That’s what it means to be human. You have to show that humanity in your characters.

VENTRELLA: Do you think readers want to read about “believable” characters or do they really want characters that are “larger than life” in some way?

MOJZES: A character can be larger than life but still be believable. That’s the trick, isn’t it? Finding a character that’s big enough to be interesting but human enough to be believable.

Writers are told to “write what you know.” What does this mean to you?

Not much. I think as advice goes, it’s easily taken to mean that you should know your proper place and not dare step beyond it. All that leads to is solipsism. I think reversing it – know what you write – is more interesting. By which I mean, research deeply and respectfully, and with an open mind. Don’t be superficial, and don’t look to media representations of something for reality. Think three-dimensionally, and consider the wider context.

VENTRELLA: What do you do to avoid “info dumps”?

MOJZES: Whenever possible, I try to break the info dumps into smaller pieces and incorporate that into dialogue or action. fantasic_erotica_cover_comp_400x600Sometimes you’re stuck with an expository lump, though – information that you just need to get across to the reader, and can’t for whatever reason (word count limits, for example) deal with it more elegantly.

So, lets say there’s a 10 sentence paragraph that fills a whole page and sits like a giant indigestable lump in the middle of your story. So first, for each piece of information, decide whether or not the reader really needs it. (You may need someone else to point these out to you). Cut the bits that aren’t needed.

Now you have a 7 sentence info dump. See if there’s any of that that can be incorporated naturally into dialogue or action.

Now you have a 5 sentence info dump paragraph. Break it into 2 paragraphs and separate them with one or more paragraphs of dialogue and/or action.

Lastly, rewrite those two paragraphs so that the info that is dumped is done strongly through your POV character’s perspective. So, not just [fact], but [fact as your character perceives it]. By doing this, you’re taking what is largely an uninteresting declarative statement of fact and making it do double duty as something that reveals character. And like magic, you’ve turned a giant, boring info dump into interesting, compelling prose.

VENTRELLA: As an editor, what is the biggest problem you have when dealing with authors?

MOJZES: We have blessedly not really had any major problems with authors. The biggest problem has been technological, where the author wasn’t seeing all of the edits we had sent them, either due to old software, file format incompatibilities, or whatever. And that ultimately leads to misunderstandings and aggravation on all sides. Probably the most problematic of these issues comes from authors having their software set to use .docx format by default, and we suggest that people change the default settings to use .doc or .rtf instead.

VENTRELLA: In this market, with the publishing industry changing daily, how important is the small press?

MOJZES: In an environment in with that large presses are contracting and consolidating, small press is critically important. Dead_souls_Cover_Final OnlyWell, first, we should really define some terms. There are small presses like Small Beer and Subterranean that have significant resources and ability to put books into bookstores, and micro-presses which perhaps only put out a few titles a year. I think it’s important to understand that distinction, because they really fulfill a different need in the market.

The are three technological innovations that allow small presses to be successful with books that a large press won’t touch: Print-on-Demand, The Internet, and e-books. POD and e-books allow small press to reduce or eliminate the need to order and warehouse large print runs of books that aren’t guaranteed to sell. The Internet allows people to find obscure and niche books, leading to something called “The Long Tail.” Small and micro-press can cater to niche markets and be successful selling smaller unit counts.

This creates opportunities for a wide variety of authors who simply could not be successful under a large press marketing scheme.

Breaking the rules

I had a conversation with one of the contributors to the TALES OF FORTANNIS anthologies I edit that went something like this (adjusted for humor):

Me: You need to cut out the first six pages and start the story here.Broken Rules Falls to Chaos Anarchy Pieces

Writer: Why?

Me: Because you need to grab readers earlier. All this other stuff is background that isn’t important to the story.

Writer: But I want it to establish character. Who says I have to start off with action?

Me: That’s what every writer’s seminar will advise you to do.

Writer: Well, you don’t have to listen to the Man! Break the rules once in a while! Who are you to say we should do what they say?

Me: I’m the editor. And if you don’t do it, I won’t buy your story.

Writer: Ah, OK. Why didn’t you say that before? (grumble grumble)

All over this blog and elsewhere, authors will be giving you advice. Don’t use prologues. Introduce information gradually instead of in an “info dump.” Show, don’t tell.

There are “rules” for writing that are very common. Go ahead, google “rules for writing” and see how many pop up. The most famous (and best, in my opinion) come from Elmore Leonard:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

But writers don’t like to be trapped. We like to be creative. We like to break the rules!

Well, don’t. Unless you can.

There are wonderful examples of writers who break the rules all the time, because they know how. They have the experience (and perhaps talent) the rest of us don’t have.

Follow the rules as much as you can when you’re getting started. People are advising you to follow them for a reason. They’re not just being mean and stifling your creative genius. You do want people to read your work, don’t you?

Jazz musicians break the rules all the time. They play notes that don’t belong in that key, change time signatures to contradict what the other musicians are playing, and just go with the feel. And they’ve spent years learning the rules to know when and how to break them.

Inexperienced newbies doing those things just make noise.

Interview with Hugo and Nebula award-winning author and editor Gardner Dozois

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am pleased to be interviewing author and editor Gardner Dozois, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, and probably best known for being the editor of ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE for over 20 years! gardner-dozois

Gardner, you’re well known as THE modern editor of science fiction – no one comes close (especially when you consider the number of awards you’ve earned). What do you have that others don’t?

GARDNER DOZOIS: Many editors are sensitive, highly intelligent, high-strung people, and they tend to burn out relatively quickly. Me, I’m a stolid peasant type who actually likes eating meat and potatoes every day. Where others burn out from reading science fiction all day long, get sick of it, I actually like reading science fiction, and am not sensitive or intelligent enough to get tired of reading it.

VENTRELLA: What, in your mind, makes a good editor?

DOZOIS: It’s similar to the answer to the question above. You have to like what you’re doing. You have to have passion for it. When you read a really good story, you have to have the ability to be excited by it AS a reader, to become engrossed in the reading of it rather than just coolly evaluating it professionally. If you lose that, you’re lost. My strategy as an editor has always been simple: I’m a reader with fairly average tastes myself, and so I figure that if I like a story, as a reader, then many other readers will probably like it too. This is the philosophy I had when I was editing ASIMOV’S, and its what’s guided me through all the years of editing THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION, which is now up to its THIRTIETH ANNUAL COLLECTION — so it must work.

It seems to me that editing requires an eye for balance – you don’t want too many stories with the same theme in a collection, but you also don’t want to stray too far and alienate readers by being too eclectic. 9781250029133How do you balance the extremes? What guidelines do you use?

You do have to have balance, and this was as true of an issue of ASIMOV’S as it is for an edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction. You can’t publish nothing but near-future dystopias, or nothing but grim, depressing stories. I always put a lot of effort into trying to balance the mood of the stories in anything I was working on. You have to try to balance the TYPES of stories, too — some hard science fiction, some soft, some offplanet stuff, some near future, some far future, and with both ASIMOV’S and THE BEST OF THE YEAR volumes I put a lot of effort in to working out the story order so that you don’t get a lot of the same kind of stories in a row. You also have to pay some consideration to sources. You can’t use only stories from one source, and even too many of them, no matter how good a job you think that source is doing. When I edited ASIMOV’S, I used to get a lot of grief from reviewers for using too many ASIMOV’S stories, so I had to be careful not to overdo it.

Sadly, this is largely a waste of time. Most readers ignore the carefully arranged order and either read the stories by the authors they like best first, or start with the shortest stories first, or the longest ones. I know it’s a waste of time, but I can’t help doing it anyway.

VENTRELLA: How do you handle similarly themed stories with the “best of the year” collections? After all, it’s not like you can set one of them aside for the next edition…

DOZOIS: I use the one I like best, although in close cases, determining which one that is often involves reading them again, and again, and again. In the final stages of assembling the Best, I think of it as arranging a steel-cage match between two similar stories; let them fight it out, and the strongest story wins. greatdays-674x1024With a magazine, like ASIMOV’s, you have a little more flexibility –if you have two similar kinds of story and you like both of them, you can always duck one of them into inventory and use it later on, in another issue.

VENTRELLA: How do you find short stories for your “best of” collections?

DOZOIS: You just have to keep your eyes open. I make a good-faith attempt to read every SF story in the English language I can find. Realistically, I know that I must miss a lot, especially these days, with all the proliferating internet markets, but I do the best I can.

VENTRELLA: Do you ever consider self-published works for these collections?

DOZOIS: Yes. Although finding them in order to consider them in the first place is the problem. Many single-author short story collections have unpublished stories in them, and you have to keep an eye out for that as well.

VENTRELLA: You have concentrated your career almost entirely on short fiction. What is it about short stories that attracts you more than novel-length works?

DOZOIS: The brutal efficiency. A short story delivers one hard punch, fulfills one purpose, and then stops. You can’t sprawl in a short story the way you can in a novel. A short story that sprawls doesn’t work at all.

VENTRELLA: Do you regret not writing more fiction and thus being known more for your editing?

DOZOIS: Yes, I regret it. I backed into editing more or less by accident, although my first reaction to reading a story I really liked was always to show it to as many people as possible, which has always suited me for the work. Strangers_Dozois1 In an ideal world, though, I would be a Big Name SF Writer, which is what I set out to be, and be remembered for my writing rather than for my editing. As it is, my writing is already largely forgotten, and will be forgotten completely fifteen minutes after I’m dead. You play the hand you’re given, though.

VENTRELLA: Do you ever stop and consider how much you have influenced the field – how, thanks to you, certain writers have been discovered and moved on to influence others?

DOZOIS: I think it’s possible to exaggerate the contribution of an editor. It’s the writers who did all the work; if a story is good it’s because of all the blood and sweat they put into it. My function is just being smart enough to recognize the good work when it comes along. (Occasionally, an editor can spot something that needs fixing in a story that the author can’t recognize on his own, and help the author to find a way to fix it — but there all the heavy lifting is being done by the author too.)

VENTRELLA: Who are you most proud of “discovering”?

DOZOIS: There are a fair number of them. George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis, Joe Haldeman, Allen Steele, David Marusek, Mary Rosenblum, Kage Baker.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about your newest anthology with George R.R. Martin!

DOZOIS: I’ve just finished and delivered an anthology with George called OLD VENUS. Next out will be an anthology with him called DANGEROUS WOMEN, which will be published in December. Also out soon will be OLD MARS. Sometime in the future, probably 2014, my anthology with him called ROGUES will come out, and also OLD VENUS.

VENTRELLA: Magazine circulation is dropping everywhere; what do you see for the future?

DOZOIS: Most magazines will probably become electronic online-only magazines, as many already have, although the existing print magazines, like ASIMOV’S, ANALOG, and F&SF are doing a bit better these days by selling subscriptions for electronic formats online. 076533206X.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_SL300_I always said that if anything could save the print magazines, it would be the internet, and this may turn out to be true.

VENTRELLA: There are fewer and fewer anthologies being printed these days as well, and many writers are uploading their short stories rather than going the traditional route. Is this good for fiction overall?

DOZOIS: This is completely untrue. There are a lot more anthologies being published these days, from an proliferating number of small-press publishers, as downloadable files, as Kickstarter projects. There are more of them every year, enough so that it’s become harder to keep up with them all.

VENTRELLA: My worry is this: in the past, with magazines and anthologies, there was a gatekeeper (the editor) who, with a good reputation, guaranteed quality. Now I have no idea most of the time if the work I might download has even been edited, much less subject to any sort of review. What can a reader do to find good fiction?

DOZOIS: This is a bit self-serving, but your best bet is to buy one of the Best of the Year anthologies, which serve as a sampler of the work of many different authors, whose work you can then follow up on if you like it. If you don’t like my book, get Jonathan Strahan’s, or Rich Horton’s, or one of a number of others.

VENTRELLA: There still is a stigma attached to books that are either not available in a hard copy or only available as a POD. Do you see that changing in the future?

DOZOIS: Yes, that will change. Is already changing rapidly, in fact.

52

Interview with author Storm Constantine

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing author Storm Constantine. download Storm’s work has covered many genres from fantasy, dark fantasy and horror to science fiction and slipstream. She has so far written twenty-three novels, and currently has most of her short stories collected in four Immanion Press editions.

Let’s start by discussing the re-release of SEA DRAGON HEIR. There is always an urge to rewrite older materials when it gets re-released; what has changed with this edition?

STORM CONSTANTINE: My urge to tinker with old works is simply that some were written when I was much younger and certain incompetencies in the writing and structure of the stories were just too much to ignore. Also, in some cases, publishers had asked for sections to be removed, simply because they wanted a shorter book. When I came to republish the books myself, I could restore them to my original vision. As I’m an editor as well as a writer, it was impossible for me to keep my hands off revising and refining!

I don’t think the Wraeththu books (the original version of the trilogy) were edited as well as they could have been. I was such a fledgling writer then, and when I returned to the books fifteen years later to republish them I was astonished really at what I’d been allowed to get away with, in terms of inconsistencies, plot holes, wobbly structure, and so on. It was glaringly obvious to me where the stories could be successfully reinforced. Some things happened ‘off stage’ that shouldn’t have. The ending of ‘Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit’ was a prime example of that. I added a couple of extra chapters to the revised edition to ‘show rather than tell’ things that occurred.

I also re-edited THE MONSTROUS REGIMENT quite heavily, as I’d never been happy with that book. The sequel, ALEPH, had technical errors to be fixed, but I didn’t do that much to it other than that.

As the reissues of my back catalogue progressed, there was less for me to do, because I’d been improving as a writer through those years of creating the original books. book_aleph_new_ed_smallBy the time I got back to ‘The Magravandias Trilogy’, all I was correcting was typos. I was happy with that trilogy as it was first written.

VENTRELLA: What projects can we expect from you next?

CONSTANTINE: I have so many notes written down for both short stories and novels, but my worst obstacle to realizing them now is time. I have sent a couple of stories off to anthologies, but as I’ve not heard back from the editors yet, don’t want to say which they are, in case my stories aren’t suitable for them. I want to finish off the other four or so I’ve got half written, because it’s always handy to have unsold stories available, should I be approached by an editor. Also I simply want to get the ideas down.

Novelwise, there are several books I could write, but it’s knowing which to do first. I’ve started work on the third volume of the ‘unofficial’ third Wraeththu trilogy, which is a series of novellas set in Alba Sulh. English Wraeththu. The first two were quite emotionally grim stories about betrayal and obsession, but the third has a different tone – it just happens to have a couple of the characters in it from the first books. I want this one to be a ghost story, and already have a lot of disturbing images for it that are just pure, enjoyable, supernatural scares. There will be less angsting in this book!

Aside from that, I have notes for at least half a dozen novels that are all unconnected, some of them with chapters already written. My plan is to finish the short stories, finish the Wraeththu ghost story, then take a good long look at what I have in my ‘ideas’ folder on the computer. I just feel like I need to clear the decks before venturing into territories new.

Nonfiction-wise I’m working on some ideas with a friend for a couple of books concerning magical path-workings/visualisations. They will just be fun to do; sit down together and invent the stories for them. The difficult part will be for us to get together, since my friend is very busy and quite often off on research trips around the world. I hope to get at least one of these books out this year, though.

VENTRELLA: How did Immanion Press come to be?

CONSTANTINE: When I sold The Wraeththu Histories (the second trilogy) to TOR in America, I wished that the original trilogy had still been available in the UK. WRAThis coincided with the advent of Print of Demand publishing, which meant that it was possible for small presses to bring out books at a fraction of the price of traditional publishing. So initially, Immanion Press was set up to coincide with the Grissecon convention I ran in 2003, where I relaunched ‘The Wraeththu Chronicles’ As I was let down in the UK by a publisher who initially wanted to publish the Histories, I decided I might as well bring out my new Wraeththu trilogy in the UK too. From there came the idea to reissue all of my long unavailable back catalogue titles. Then it just grew from there. Other writers asked me about reissuing some of their out of print titles too, and I had a rather altruistic urge to help new writers get published as well. Unfortunately, the latter idea didn’t really survive contact with reality. I found that it’s incredibly difficult to sell the work of new fiction authors, so I’ve had to cut back on that dramatically.

However, the non fiction side of things does well. People buy books on certain subjects irrespective of who the author is, or what they might have written before. Generally speaking, they just want a book on a particular topic, rather than to seek a name they already know. Megalithica Books, the nonfiction imprint, came about because a friend of mine, Taylor Ellwood, was interested in getting work out through Immanion. He saw a way to expand that side of things and eventually became the manager of the non fiction line.

VENTRELLA: Many established authors are now self-publishing their back catalogues themselves, avoiding the big publishers completely. What are the disadvantages of doing so?

None really, since the big publishers are largely not interested in doing this job for us. OK, we’re not going to have big publicity budgets at our disposal, and most presses (like mine) run on a shoe string. We can’t afford to hire staff, so have to do everything ourselves, or work with volunteers. In my case I simply don’t have enough time to be a full time publicity manager as well as everything else.

For established authors, it’s great to see their often long unavailable works back in print. SEA DRAGONYou just have to make sure you have a fairly active online presence to help publicize your work, and let people know where they can buy it.

Is Immanion’s goal mostly to allow for established authors to reprint old works or are you actively looking for exciting new talent as well?
As I said above, the new author experiment didn’t go too well. Sadly, it just lost me a lot of money. We’re moving into ebooks more now, though, which have far fewer overheads, so perhaps in that medium I can still endorse new writers.

VENTRELLA: Has it been successful?

CONSTANTINE: Well, we’ve been around for 10 years this year, so we’re not doing too badly. The downside of it is that it eats into my working day like a pack of starving wolves. That’s another reason I’ve had to downsize the fiction line. I was in the position over the past five years or so where my workload had grown so much editing other people I had no time at all, and no energy, for my own writing. That had to stop. So I started to delegate more, to a fabulous woman, Sharon Sant, who volunteered to do editing for me. We’re publishing her first novel RUNNERS in June. I might not be able to pay a salary to people, but I can help out in other ways.

VENTRELLA: Starting authors often mistakenly think they can do this as well; they self-publish and then go nowhere. What advice do you have for beginning writers concerning getting published?

CONSTANTINE: One of the biggest downsides of everyone being able to self-publish easily, either through ebook or printed copies, is that they can do so without their work ever being looked at by a critical pair of eyes, whether that’s a professional editor or a friend who’s prepared to be honest. Editing is a very different job to writing. Even though I edit my own work to a degree, I still get someone else to do so as well. Writers are too close to their own work. We know everything that’s going on, but the readers don’t, and sometimes we don’t put enough in, or we over-write and things have to be trimmed back. The more people who can read a book before publication, the better. SHADESYou have more chance of errors being found.

Even though there are now millions more people producing books of some format or another, sadly a lot of it is let down and diminished by the fact the writing itself isn’t up to scratch, and the writers don’t know their craft.

When I ran a creative writing class, I generally had to spend the first term every year teaching the students how to write. They knew nothing of grammar, syntax, spelling, punctuation or narrative structure, (the writer’s essential tool box), not to mention how to create credible characters, a compelling plot and realistic dialogue. They just had an idea they wanted to write stories or a novel, and didn’t even think it involved any particular skills other than the storytelling urge. From what I’ve seen there is a hell of lot of new writers actually publishing works with all of those aforementioned aspects being of poor quality.

So, first advice – hone your writing skills, learn your craft, share your work with other writers to get constructive criticism. Your Mom saying, ‘yes, that’s very nice, dear’, is no use to a writer. You want and need people to tear your work apart really. You don’t have to agree with every criticism, and might choose to ignore some of it, but without this flow and exchange you’re at a disadvantage. You owe your work your best shot, and that means using the tools at your disposal to make that work as good as it can be.

Also, it’s now absolutely essential for new writers to self-promote and use the Internet and social media to their full advantage to get word about and create a buzz.

VENTRELLA: Some writers tend to avoid controversy, but that doesn’t seem to stand in your way. Have you ever avoided an idea because you thought your readers (or editors) wouldn’t accept it?

CONSTANTINE: Not so far, that I can think of!

VENTRELLA: To the other extreme, have you ever specifically written in order to make a point about religion, politics, sexual orientation and so on, or do these things just flow from the plots?

CONSTANTINE: I think a writer’s political and religious beliefs tend to permeate their work naturally. book_monstrous_regiment_smallI haven’t gone out of my way to pontificate about these things, but I don’t think any reader of my work would be in doubt about where my political and spiritual beliefs lie.

VENTRELLA: Do you think fantasy/science fiction settings allow you to tackle these issues in a way you could not otherwise?

CONSTANTINE: These genres give writers marvelous freedom to tackle issues it might be more difficult, or even risky, to tackle in a mainstream novel. Science fiction has long been used to criticize political regimes under the guise of fiction. I can’t help thinking that writers who have run into trouble over what they’ve written wouldn’t have done so if they’d set their stories in a fantasy world. It’s liberating; you can say what you like really.

VENTRELLA: How much of your own personal religious beliefs are reflected in your work?

CONSTANTINE: I am a spiritual person but not a religious person, but I do possess Pagan leanings. And yes this is reflected in my work.

VENTRELLA: What book do you advise for the starting Constantine reader and why?

CONSTANTINE: When I discover a new writer to read, I like to start at the beginning of their works if possible, but other people might feel differently. I don’t think it matters, other than it’s perhaps not the best idea to start with the second or third volume of a trilogy! I do have a number of short story collections published through Immanion Press, which can also give people a taster of my style.

VENTRELLA: The Wareththu series is probably your most famous. Do you plan on continuing to expand it?

CONSTANTINE: I think I’ll always return to it, but as I’ve concentrated on it exclusively for quite a time now, I want to explore something different for a while. I’ll continue to produce the Wraeththu story anthologies to keep my hand in. These are published roughly annually (or I hope them to be) and include stories by other writers as well as a couple by me. The first was ‘Paragenesis’, and the recently published ‘Para Imminence’. Both are available through Immanion Press, and I’m just mulling over ideas for the theme for the next one. Paragenesis explored the start of Wraeththu, and Para Imminence its far future. Anyone interested in contributing, please do get in touch via editorial@immanion-press.com

On top of the anthologies, I’ll continue to publish novels set in the Wraeththu world but written by others. A thriving online community of fan fiction writers helped keep Wraeththu alive during the years (fifteen of them) when I couldn’t sell any more Wraeththu novels to publishers. 6880909I began to publish the best of these writers, and again am always on the lookout for new ones. If anyone is interested, get in touch at the aforementioned address.

VENTRELLA: Do you think that there are things women can write about that just can’t be done by men writers?

CONSTANTINE: Not really, but perhaps it’s fair to say they might be able to write about certain aspects of life more convincingly than a man.

VENTRELLA: Are you someone who outlines heavily or are you a “pantser”?

CONSTANTINE: Not quite sure what a pantser is, but I don’t outline that heavily. I feel that stories are organic entities that tend to create themselves as they emerge. Publishers always used to demand huge outlines from me, which I found a pain to do, and quite frankly the finished books rarely had much resemblance to their synopses. Once a story is written down, then it’s time to go back and work on fine-tuning the plots, locations and characters. I can’t put all that in a synopsis. The story has to come out first.

VENTRELLA: Do you start with an idea, a setting, or a character?

CONSTANTINE: It can be any of those, just a spark of an idea, a smell, an impression, an emotion.

VENTRELLA: All writers are told to “write what you know.” What sort of research do you do before writing?

CONSTANTINE: I think it’s important to get your facts right. I often see movies about the 70s and see so many anachronisms in them. That’s why I write fantasy instead of historical novels. You have far more freedom in a fantasy novel about, say, what people might have on their breakfast tables. You don’t want to find Pop Tarts on a Victorian table in a novel, do you? But you do see that kind of thing. I really admire historical novelists; the amount of research and checking they must have to do is phenomenal.

For myself, I research aspects that apply across universes and realities. For example, I have an idea to write a fantasy novel that heavily involves the weather – so I bought some books for research on that.

VENTRELLA: What techniques do you use to make your protagonist someone with whom the reader can relate?

CONSTANTINE: I think it’s important to observe in reality how people speak, how they use their bodies and faces to communicate, how much a silence says. No one really speaks in formal dialogue like an updated Shakespeare play. hermetechOf course, it would be really irritating to have characters in a story talking completely realistically, so you have to impose some boundaries and restrictions, but it’s important to have an ‘ear’ for realistic speech.

Giving your characters credible behavior makes them believable, and people will relate to them more effectively. One thing I always tried to stop my students doing was using fiction clichés, such as people screaming or dropping a teacup/glass/plate in shock. When people are really frightened, I think most are more likely to swear beneath their breath, or not make a sound, than scream like someone in an old horror film. And have you ever seen someone drop something they were holding in shock? I haven’t. Also, things like collapsing/fainting. I don’t see that happen much either. Screaming might have its place, but the dropped tea cup and maidenly collapse really have to go!

VENTRELLA: What do you do to establish a believable fantasy world? In other words, how can you introduce the fantasy elements into the story and make them real without relying on info dumps?

CONSTANTINE: It’s just a case of being aware of it, and not dumping too much at once. A great amount of detail can be introduced with subtlety, such as in the ‘stage directions’ you might use for characters during lengthy dialogue. What are they doing as they’re talking? What are they picking up, leaning on, looking at, avoiding, etc etc.

VENTRELLA: When going through second and third drafts, what do you look for? What is your main goal?

CONSTANTINE: Pretty much all of the things I’ve talked about throughout the interview. Plot holes, realistic characters and situations, grammatical/syntactical errors, spelling, compelling dialogue and so on.

VENTRELLA: What criticism of your work do you disagree with the most?

CONSTANTINE: I had this one reviewer, who used to go out of his way to review my books, who absolutely hated my work. CROWNHe obviously got his jollies by being able to slag me off once a year. I disagreed with his observations because they were subjective and just plain offensive. Clearly, he wasn’t comfortable with many of the subjects I include in my work.

I don’t expect everyone to like what I write – that would be an unrealistic expectation. And everyone is entitled to their opinion. A lot of people love writers I absolutely despise, but I don’t believe I am right and the others are wrong. It’s just down to taste.

VENTRELLA: All writers basically write what they would like to read. So what do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

CONSTANTINE: My favourite authors are Tanith Lee, Alice Hoffman, Jack Vance, P G Wodehouse, Jonathan Carroll, to name but a few. I have just about everything the first three on that list have ever written.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give an aspiring author that you wish someone had given you?

CONSTANTINE: Don’t expect to be rich. Let go of any attachment to outcome, and simply write because you love to do so. Write what you love, because your heart will show, and other people will be more likely to love it too.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk with you about my work.

Interview with Author and Editor J. Richard Jacobs

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing author J. Richard Jacobs today! jheadshot J. says he is a country boy turned scientist/engineer/naval architect turned author. He writes science fact, science fiction (usually hard), occasionally horror and fantasy. He’s also the editor of the successful “Twisted Tails” series, the most recent of which has just been released and features a story by Yours Truly. His web page is here.

So tell us about the “Twisted Tails” series!

J. RICHARD JACOBS: Well, first and foremost, The “Twisted Tails” series of anthologies is a demanding thing to get into. The reason for that is simple. I look for quality in every sense for these books. It’s a tough nut to crack for many. In one of them I received 480+ submissions—only twelve were included.

Next, they are eclectic. There is a theme for each, but no genre restrictions are set. As long as the story fits the idea of the theme, I don’t care if it’s Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror (the no gore kind), Paranormal or Mainstream. We’ve had a good run through seven books so far and this new one, TWISTED TAILS VII: IRREVERENCE (the eighth book in the series) is no exception.

VENTRELLA: Wait — it’s the eighth collection and it’s called TWISTED TAILS VII?

Is that a twist?

JACOBS: TWISTED TAILS II was released in two volumes and, though there is a complete edition available, TWISTED TAILS VII is actually the eighth book in the series…. Not a twist, just confusing….

Anyway, the stories have no set word count. There is one major element that must be met, and met well. TwistedTales All of them contain a twist ending (Twisted Tails). It may be subtle or a violent yank on the carpet, but it must be a logical and plausible part of the story line. Not many authors can do that.

All of them are aimed at fun and entertainment. Sometimes the fun is a mite on the dark side, but it’s still fun.

VENTRELLA: The “Twisted Tails” covers all feature dragons – because of Double Dragon Publishing, I assume. Do you think this may mislead people into thinking they’re all high fantasy stories?

JACOBS: Deron Douglas of Double Dragon Publishing and I discussed this in the very beginning as I wanted the books to become a part of the Double Dragon trademark, so to speak. We decided then and there that the way to do that would be for all the covers to feature one or more dragons. The first book, TWISTED TAILS: AN ANTHOLOGY TO PLEASE AND DELIGHT, had two dragons on the ground, a result of flying too close and getting their tails entangled. I think everyone who sees these covers will admit that Deron is quite an artist…!

As for people thinking they’re all High Fantasy, I don’t think that is necessarily true. They are listed with the genres indicated and the overleaf and inside flaps spell it out fairly well. The truth is, most of the books have had at least one Fantasy included in the collection.

VENTRELLA: What kinds of stories will we find in the new book?

JACOBS: Oh, my, now there’s a tough question to answer. Would saying that they’re all great be of any value? I guess not. This edition of the series includes examples of all genres. It drools humor and mystery and fantastic panoramas and shadows and sunshine and darkness and….

All of the authors in this one have gone several extra miles to fill the pages with delightful material that I guarantee will entertain.

VENTRELLA: How do you determine themes for the books?

JACOBS: Oh, boy, that’s a biggie. I have to think long and hard on that before I commit to a theme. Though the process is complicated, the reason is simple. I have developed what could be called a stable of authors, bless’em all, who are highly talented wordsmiths and story spinners. Without them there would be no “Twisted Tails.” TT2-510 You, by the way, are one of them. Oh, you knew that, didn’t you? Okay, so I just gave you a plug on your own blog. I’m not ashamed of that and I am proud to present you in this new one.

Anyway, I have to think about what my authors have produced in the past and how they may handle whatever little germ of a thought I have. After considering that carefully, I can then firm up the idea and name a theme. As an example; this next one in the works has as its theme: Para-Abnormal. I’ll let your imagination deal with that.

VENTRELLA: I also edit a short story collection, and it’s not as easy as it looks. What are the major problems you have had with editing?

JACOBS: Authors. There are a lot of writers in this world—there are very few authors. Now, authors are wonderful in all respects except following instruction about things like format. Also, most authors are atrocious spellers and typists. Typos and spelling errors are a large part of the job. Not so much with grammar, though it rears its ugly head on occasion. I am willing to work with any author to almost any level if they have given me a great story. I’ve even ghostwritten a couple of works for authors who have presented a compelling story.

VENTRELLA: How do you deal with telling authors you have rejected their stories?

JACOBS: That’s simple. I’ve been in this business about 57 years and saying, “What the hell is this? Did you take special classes in school to become this stupid, or does it come naturally?” is easy for me. Okay, okay, I’m really not that cold, but close to it. If someone has presented me with something that shows promise, I will tell them. If they have sent me crap, I’ll tell them that, too, but I try to be diplomatic.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake made by authors who submit to you?

JACOBS: Hah! Format. Format. Format, and telling me their work is copyrighted and I’d better not do anything with it other than what has been agreed upon. Arrogant newbies.

VENTRELLA: What advice do you have for authors wanting to write short stories?

JACOBS: Short stories are harder to write than novels. You have few words to work with, yet you need to land on the run with fully developed characters and that ain’t easy. som510 Pacing a short is not an easy thing, either. The best advice I can offer for those who would dare write short is, write until your fingers hurt, the words on the screen look like they’re printed backwards and your legs are so numb that you can’t feel your feet. Then, do it some more. Read other short stories by great authors from the dim past to see how they made it work. Then, write some more. When you think you have it wired, begin submitting your work everywhere and see what happens. Oh, and do develop a really thick skin; this business is brutal.

VENTRELLA: Which of your novels have been most successful in your opinion?

JACOBS: That depends upon how you view success, doesn’t it? If you think about sales, you have missed the point, in my opinion. Sales are nice for the wallet and, perhaps, for the ego, but personal satisfaction in what you’ve done is far more important. I have written nothing I would not love to rewrite. After having rewritten it, I would like to rewrite the rewrite. Never satisfied with my work. It could always be better. Having said that, I think SEEDS OF MEMORY has been the most successful in my way of looking at things. It took ten years of writing, head scratching, rewriting, research, more head scratching, more rewriting, putting up with constant interruptions and free advice before it was finished. I just rewrote it…!

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the “Rain” trilogy.

JACOBS: We recently had a meteor come down in Russia. People saw the videos. In short order, they will forget what they have seen and return to an all-is-well-in-the-world life of complacency. The first two books of the Rain Trilogy, STORM CLOUD RISING and MAELSTORM, are aimed at shaking that complacency by the lapels—hard. The third one, still not completed, is more of an adventure dealing with what the world is like after the rain—the hard rain.

VENTRELLA: What makes your fiction unique? In other words, what is it about your stories that makes them stand out against all the other similar stories out there?

JACOBS: Hmm. Well…they’re not similar. At least I hope they’re not. xeno-version3_03 I bring a lot to the table in terms of knowledge of subject and experience in researching things. Believe it or not, you need to know how to look for things. Merely Googling is not the answer and accepting what you find on your first or fifteenth try without cross-referencing is a waste. In my Science Fiction I’m quite at home with details most of the time. I also have many friends who are experts in their fields who have saved me much embarrassment at times. I can tell you this; my work is complex because I know life is complex. I have had many high-powered mentors in the past (no name dropping here) who have seen me through my infancy and I really hope I have done well with what they taught me.

VENTRELLA: What is it about science fiction that attracts you?

JACOBS: Horizons beyond an arm’s length and an infinite playing field for conjecture and speculation. I also like to play with science (real science) and make things work. None of the worlds I create are impossible or improbable, though they may appear to be so sometimes.

VENTRELLA: Science Fiction doesn’t seem to be selling as much as fantasy these days, including urban fantasy and all the varieties. Why do you think that is?

JACOBS: I have no idea. Science Fiction has never been one of the mainstays of the written word. It has had a better following in the past, that’s true, but why it has hit a little slump is a mystery. I look forward to that changing. We’re getting a lot of imaginative authors in the field these days and I’m sure the Phoenix shall rise again.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also written nonfiction (including something in INSIDE SCOOP which also features me!). What is different about writing nonfiction?

JACOBS: The difference is that it is not fiction.

VENTRELLA: What other projects are you working on?

JACOBS: Aside from the new one for the Twisted Tails series, TWISTED TAILS VIII, I have three anthologies I’m considering that will not be an unending series. All will be based in pulp fiction style. One will be Science Fiction, another in Mystery, and the final will be on Heroes (super-hero stuff with a twist). StormCloudRising-510 I am working on another novel, MT PROMISE, and am desperately trying to complete the third book in the Rain Trilogy.

VENTRELLA: What’s your biggest pet peeve about the writing business?

JACOBS: Small checks….

VENTRELLA: I’ve blogged a lot about self-publishing. What’s your take?

JACOBS: Frankly, I don’t like self-publishing. I know there is a bundle of good stuff written and self-published, but the majority is not worth the electrons and/or paper used to put it on the market. Self-publishing still has a stigma hanging on it (with good reason) that makes me not want to read anything offered. I am aware I’m missing a plethora of good, engaging and imaginative works that are well-written, but I’m avoiding an immense amount of disappointment and saving my bucks in the process.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read?

JACOBS: Everyone. No, I’m not kidding. I am selective in the things I’ll pick up, but I read across the board. All genres. Short. Medium. Long. Even Michener behemoths. My favorites remain Asimov, Sturgeon, Brin, Clarke, Brown, Dick, Shakespeare (really), Poe, Hemingway and so on. Those folks knew how to do it and do it right.

To order TWISTED TAILS, click on the “books” link above. As of this posting, the only versions available are the kindle and e-book versions. The paperback and the nook versions should be available shortly.

Interview with Author Stephen Brayton

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Stephen L. Brayton today! He has written numerous short stories and books, mostly horror and mystery. His website is here.

Stephen, tell us about your latest work.

STPEHEN L. BRAYTON: I’m working on a book trying resolve some of the imponderable questions of life. Why do all boats have right hand drive? Why is there braille on the keys of drive through ATM machines? Does anybody really know the rules of cricket? Why do females always go to the restroom in groups?

Huh? Oh, you want to know about my latest writing project. Well, it’s called ALPHA, but don’t get the idea that it’s the first book. The first book of mine to be published was called NIGHT SHADOWS, about a homicide detective and an FBI agent out to solve some supernatural murders in Des Moines.

BETA was the first book in the Mallory Petersen series. Mallory is a Fourth Degree Black Belt and private investigator in Des Moines. Most of her cases are a little odd, but every now and then she accepts something serious. In this book, she is hot on the trail of a kidnapped eight year old girl and tangles with members of a child pornography ring.

In ALPHA, published this last August, Mallory becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of her boyfriend. This time around she has to deal with crooked cops, illegal narcotics and gangs.

VENTRELLA: What is your next project?

BRAYTON: I’m working on an entirely new type of vampire story. I want these vamps to sparkle when they appear. I think it would make a great series of movies… What? Already done? Oh well.

Actually, I have three projects on my desk that I would like to finish. I’m 2/3 completed with DELTA, the next Mallory Petersen mystery. I’m also reworking the sequel to NIGHT SHADOWS. I also have another private investigator mystery’s first draft finished. It just needs hours and hours of editing and rewrites.

VENTRELLA: You’ve had more than one publisher for your works. How did you choose which publisher to use?

BRAYTON: Whichever one would succumb to blackmail first. See, I have video of…well, let’s save that for another day, shall we?

Actually, for NIGHT SHADOWS and BETA, I queried several publishers after I attended a conference in Chicago in 2009. Three of them emailed rejections, but Echelon Press accepted both novels.

A couple years later, I met Sunny Frazier, acquisition editor for Oak Tree Press and became a member of her Posse email group. In 2011, I had finished with ALPHA and queried her to see if Oak Tree would be interested in this book. She accepted and ALPHA was published as a trade paperback. The first two are currently only available as eBooks.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give a starting author about finding a publisher?

BRAYTON: I think writers need to start promoting early. How early? Well, when did you first conceive of your idea for a story? Yes, that early. Get yourself a website, a blog, and join some of the social network sites. Attend conferences and critique groups and make contacts? How does this aid you in finding a publisher? Well, if you’re already promoting and becoming serious about writing, then it’ll be that much easier to find someone who is interested in you.

Two examples of how this can work. First, when Sunny receives a query, she doesn’t begin with the manuscript. She puts the writer’s name into an Internet search engine and sees how many times that person is listed? If the person isn’t already a presence, Sunny will be less inclined to accept the manuscript no matter how good the story is. She’s looking for marketers first, then she’ll consider the quality of the story.

A second example is, Kat, an author friend who attended a seminar in Minneapolis a couple months ago. During the two days, she attracted the attention of the presenter who became interested in Kat’s story and and asked her to finish it and submit it.

These are two of the ways to find a publisher. Then, it’s up to the writer to do some homework. Check into the publisher and find out how they operate. Do authors have multiple books with the same publisher? How do they operate? How much work are they going to put in to promote your book and how much are you going to have to do? What promotional ideas do they have?

VENTRELLA: What are the disadvantages and advantages of using a small publisher?

BRAYTON: Disadvantages: they don’t have the financial means to give you a splashy promotion. Of course, nowadays, neither do the big guys. All publishers are expecting the author to do the lion’s share of promoting. Most small publishers have a small staff who are very busy, so don’t expect things to move quickly.

Advantages: I think in some ways, the smaller presses can be more personable. Plus, they’re more willing to accept new authors because they’re looking for business. They can’t afford the well established names but there are some popular writers who have had a fair amount of success with the indies.

VENTRELLA: Do you believe that anyone can be a fiction writer or is the ability to tell a story more of an innate thing?

BRAYTON: I think everybody tells stories. Just eavesdrop on a conversation at a restaurant or a bar or when friends gather. Everybody is telling stories. Sometimes the stories relate a true incident and sometimes the person will, uh, stretch the truth to sensationalize the story.

It’s a different matter if the person can take pen to paper to tell the story in a way that is concise, has a beginning, middle, and ending. Does the person know how to follow simple grammar/punctuation/spelling rules and know when to break them? Is the story worth telling or is the person just trying to tell what happened at work today?

Serious writers will take the time to learn the craft, learn from others, and constantly work to improve.

VENTRELLA: When creating believable characters, what process do you use?

BRAYTON: I remember when I created Mallory Petersen. Nobody told me to build a character profile, I just did it. It made sense to figure out all I could about the character. Likes and dislikes, personality, quirks, favorite color and flower. The car she drives, whether she rents or owns a residence. Her friends and enemies. I don’t do this with every character (although I should), but I know enough about my characters, right now, to make them vivid and memorable. When some secondary character needs more attention, then I’ll go back to the profile and fill in a bit more.

Because I write about a woman as my main character, I am constantly asking women if I’ve stayed true to the gender. Do I understand how women act and react? Is the personality too rough or too feminine? Do I understand how a woman feels when attracted to a man? This is my challenge, to keep Mallory’s character real in each book.
Most of the time when I research a story, I’ll visit the locations for each scene and try to envision how the character will behave during the scene. I’ll try to get into the character’s head and figure out what she’s thinking and if it seems reasonable, then I’ll go with it.

VENTRELLA: What is the best way for an author to use the services of an editor?

BRAYTON: I have discovered many ways to edit a manuscript. Unfortunately, I am unable to find the time to incorporate most of them. I’d love to have a three other people to run through the story. One reads it aloud, one reads along silently, and the third one listens. Then they switch roles. This way, everybody has a different perspective and a viewpoint I might not have considered.

Of course, there are critique groups which are invaluable. You can also pay for editing, although be careful because if you get someone who doesn’t know what he/she is doing, then you’ve wasted your money. I wouldn’t waste time and money on a professional editor unless you can afford it.

Besides, once your publisher’s editor gets it, that person is going to find mistakes and make suggestions. So clean it up the best you can before it’s submitted. You’ll save everybody a lot of time.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily, for instance?

BRAYTON: I’ve been learning that part of my problem is I don’t outline enough. I’m so eager to get to writing, I don’t think through a lot of the potential problems and pitfalls of the story and end up wasting some time having to research and possibly rewriting sections. This is what I’m currently experiencing with DELTA. I wrote a chapter and now I’m going to rewrite it because I talked with another author about how to strengthen the scene. If I would have researched the issue a little more in depth beforehand, I might have saved some time.

Yes, I outline. Then I write linearly, that is, from Chapter One onward. Normally, I write at work (after all my duties are done, of course) because it’s quiet with few distractions. I usually have NPR classical music on for background noise. I write longhand and my first edit is inputting the longhand onto the computer. Then I’ll read chapters to a critique group and jot down their advice.

VENTRELLA: What have you done to promote your work?

BRAYTON: Social networking. Blogtalkradio. Guest posts on other blogs. Internet interviews. Radio interviews. I was featured in a local television newscast. Library and bookstore appearances. I leave business cards wherever I go and put them in the mail when sending bill payments. I have family and friends who talk me up to others.

I’m open to discussing any other venues. I think authors need to look at non-traditional ways and places to promote. I know a couple of authors who co-write a series about animals. They attended the local Pet Exposition to sell their books. This is the type of thing authors need to look at when marketing.

VENTRELLA: What general advice do you have for the aspiring author that you wish someone had given you when you began writing?

BRAYTON: Do your homework! I think I covered a lot of it above when I discussed promoting early. Learn the craft of writing.

Figure out what you want to accomplish with your writing. Do you want to make money? Be famous? Be on the New York Times bestseller list? Entertain local folks? Do you want to write just for your family and small group of friends? Whichever you decide, invest some time to research the best method of accomplishing it.

If you’re going to be serious about writing, be serious. I’m get tired of hearing authors who are still outlining after several years or still developing characters or constantly rewrite the first chapter or switch stories because one isn’t working out. Come on! Knock it off and write! Stop the excuses and write. Sure, there are ‘life’ matters to attend to, but serious writers will make time to write. Nobody had to tell me to write, I wanted to write. I still want to write. I get antsy if I don’t. I feel as if I’m letting others and myself down by not finishing that next chapter.

Learn from others and find your way of creating and writing a story.

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