Interview with author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Please welcome Award-winning author Danielle Ackley-McPhail! Danielle has worked both sides of the publishing industry for over seventeen years. Her works include the urban fantasies YESTERDAY’S DREAMS and TOMORROW’S MEMORIES, the upcoming TODAY’S PROMISE, and THE HALFLING’S COURT, and the writers guide THE LITERARY HANDYMAN. She edits the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies and DRAGON’S LURE, and has contributed to numerous other anthologies.

To read excerpts from the Eternal Cycle series, and other works by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, visit the excerpts page on her website.

Danielle, tell me about your new “Eternal Cycle” series.

DANIELLE ACKLEY-McPHAIL: Well, I can’t really call the Eternal Cycle series new … or not all of it, anyway. YESTERDAY’S DREAMS was originally published by Vivisphere Publishing back in 2001, then again by Mundania Press in 2006, and TOMORROW’S MEMORIES was also published by Mundania in 2009. TODAY’S PROMISE completes the series and has never before been in print. All three books will be released by Dark Quest Books between now and Summer 2012. In fact, the DQ edition of YESTERDAY’S DREAMS is already available.

When I started this series I had no idea I was writing a novel, let alone a trilogy. I had an idea and then that idea spiraled out of control. I’ve always been interested in Irish mythology but most of the Irish-themed fiction I had picked up over the years never really did anything with the mythology. When I finally realized Yesterday’s Dreams was going to be a novel I saw a chance to indulge my interest in the Irish and mythology in general.

Set in New York, the books follow Kara O’Keefe, a young first-generation Irish American. What Kara doesn’t know is that she is also descended from the Sidhe, the elves of Ireland. When her father begins his second battle with cancer Kara must make a choice. She pawns her heirloom violin to save the family house. She ends up at Yesterday’s Dreams, a pawnshop in the Village run by Maggie McCormick, a full-blooded Sidhe. Kara’s selfless act brings her to the attention of forces both good and evil. One wanting to teach her and keep her save, the other wants to claim her power for his own, by any means necessary.

Olcas is an ancient demigod long ago defeated by the Sidhe when he and his and his brothers, along with their mother Carman terrorized Ireland. Though their bodies were destroyed their spirits lingered. Throughout each book one of them returns by possessing another until they join forces first to take revenge on the Sidhe, then ultimately dominate the world.

This is a classic tale of good versus evil, along with a healthy dose of self-discovery, written in a lyrical style. I like to think I capture the magic and wonder of the old myths, while introducing some truly unique concepts.

VENTRELLA: What makes your series different?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: You know, I’m not egotistical enough to thing I really bring anything different in content. If you look hard enough you can find similar things somewhere else. What I — and all other authors — bring to the table is perspective. No matter how many times a story has been told the perspective is unique. I also bring passion and vision. I take the same elements that everyone is familiar with and see what unexpected angle I can put on those elements. From time to time I hit on a concept that my readers really seem to appreciate, such as the Great Wall that appears in both TOMORROW’S MEMORIES and TODAY’S PROMISE, where the life forces of the Sidhe take visible representation in the form of a spiraling knotwork pattern that changes and grows with each thing they experience, or in THE HALFLING’S COURT where my biker faeries have wings, but they are only partially physical. They function in the same way as a magic sink, starting as a fin that unfurls from the fae’s body then expands as they draw in more magic. The more magic they gather, the more tendrils come off those fins until they look like angel-style wings made of mage energy. For the most part, though, I just look at things differently. As different as I can manage and then I let my imagination out to play.

VENTRELLA: When you’re approaching a story, how do you begin? Characters, plot, themes?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I have a saying: The plot is what happens when you’re getting to know the characters. It is very important to me to have well-developed characters people connect with and care about, or love to loath, depending on their role. Not saying the story isn’t important, but it is filtered through the characters’ perception. Without the characters there is no story. It is my job to ensure the characters are not interchangeable, but distinct and recognizable personalities in and of themselves.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing style? Do you outline heavily, for instance, or just jump right in?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: You know, I’m told I’m a pantser. Until I was I had never heard the phrase, but basically it means I jump in and discover the story as I go along. I’ve tried writing outlines, but most of my writing starts with an idea. Sometimes one line. Often I don’t know where it’s going until I get there. Most of the time I write a scene until that sparks another idea and I jump to that scene until I have a framework that give me an idea of the shape the project is going to take. Think of it as the supports for a deck. You pour the footing, you build the framework, and then you close everything in.

With YESTERDAY’S DREAMS it started with two things: an idea for a short story about a pawnshop that only accepts goods that are connected to the owner’s soul and a bad guy named Olcas, which is Irish for evil. I named the character that without realizing that there was an actual figure in Irish myth named that. Once I made the discovery that determined that my novel became a trilogy because Olcas had two brothers. So you see, I never approach a project trying to figure out what all the pieces are because my imagination works better when I give it free rein. I’m not saying there aren’t time I know where I want to end up, but I enjoy the discovery of figuring out the in between as I go. I used to think this meant it took longer for me to finish a project, but recently I finished TODAY’S PROMISE, the last book in the Eternal Cycle Series, and it only took three months, without an outline. The process was all-consuming, not to mention exhausting, but the satisfaction in the end is something I’ll never forget. I don’t regret not working from an outline, it’s just the way my brain works. I don’t recommend it for everyone, but it does work and I love the organic feel of the end result. I find that I do need to keep a close eye on details so that if something changes I make the proper adjustments in the bits I’ve already written. By writing the key points as I figure out what they are and then linking everything I end up with a tightly woven story.

VENTRELLA: Do you have a favorite of your babies?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I have favorite aspects more than anything. Every book or project has something that stands out. In THE HALFLING’S COURT, my biker faerie novel, it was the weaving of social identity with the fantasy elements and drawing parallels. I was able to draw heavily on mythology, which I really like, but also on dialect and recognizable subcultural elements. Finding the way to meld the recognizable with the fantastic really gets me going. I love turning things on their ear.

In the Eternal Cycle series I again weave mythology with the everyday, but there I actually took an existing myth and expanded on it which was challenging and also really cool. See, Irish mythology is a bit fragmented because it was an oral tradition and the ethnic identity of the Irish people was for so long repressed that a lot of detail has been lost. Taking the bits and pieces and weaving them into something rich and powerful is a real thrill. So much of the myths and legends dovetail nicely, but there was also the challenge of addressing popular belief, particularly with something as popular as elves. We draw on them so heavily in our literature that the lines between legends and creative license have blurred. Take for example the belief that elves or faeries can’t touch cold iron. I’m not saying that doesn’t exist anywhere in world mythology, but I found nothing to support it in Irish mythology. In fact, Goibhniu, one of their major gods, is a blacksmith. Sorry, but blacksmiths work with iron and steel. Also, redcaps … they carry and iron pike. So, I had to find a way to recognize the popular belief while at the same time explaining why I’ve discounted it. One thing I did find, though, is that in the folklore, which is often separate from the actual mythology, it was common to hang iron implements to ward off evil … scissors over cradles and horseshoes over doors, that kind of thing, so I suspect that is the basis for the belief about elves and iron, but that only presumes that elves are evil, which to me isn’t necessarily so. I love playing with details like this.

And … on another front, I actually have a nonfiction book that will always be special to me. It is THE LITERARY HANDYMAN, an informal writer’s guide. This isn’t meant for someone on our level, with either learning or experience already under their belt, but for the beginner who could really use some solid advice about the craft and business of being a writer. That one is special to me because it is so much different from the fiction I write. The core of the book started out as various articles I posted at different sites on the internet, so there is some overlap, but each article is meant to be taken individually so I didn’t worry about that too much. Besides, some points bear reinforcing.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I do have a few core authors that I follow … Anne McCaffrey, Patricia Briggs, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mercedes Lackey, Jim Butcher … you know, the ones most people know about. But I also have some personal treasures that have yet to be discovered by the world at large, and I’ve had the pleasure to work with them. They are L. Jagi Lamplighter, Bernie Mojzes, Elaine Corvidae, and James Daniel Ross. There are others, but this would be a really long answer if I tried to include everyone.

Of course, romance is my guilty, junk-food reading.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss publishing. You’re with Dark Quest Books. How did that come to be?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I was courted. There’s no other way to put it. The publisher, Neal Levin, saw what I was doing on my own and actively sought out a relationship, first on the technical end, and then as an author. He wanted to build his list quickly and effectively and knew I had the promotional experience, as well as contacts in the industry. When I had issues with several titles going out of print Neal was in a position to offer me a home for them, a situation that has benefited us and the authors involved quite nicely.

VENTRELLA: What are the advantages of going with a small press?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I have worked for virtually every level of publisher in the industry, from Random House to reprint publishers, specialized markets such as medical or music publishing, even magazines. I have seen pretty much everything there is in publishing. That insight has taught me that no publisher is perfect and many of them have the same flaws when dealing with their authors, no matter the size of the House: response time, royalty payments, and scheduling issues. The majority of authors struggle with all of those things. The larger publishers are both harder to get into and less forgiving of the learning curve. I find by starting out in small press I have had an opportunity to learn the business more fully, make contacts and establish myself. Print distribution is harder for a small press, but with the market drifting more toward ebooks anyway that is less of drawback.

The other concern is marketing. Whether you are with a small house or a big one, in most cases the promotional responsibility falls to the author anyway because the marketing budget is disproportionately divided with the large houses and generally nonexistent with the small ones.

So, when you look at it that way large houses have only two things going for them, visibility and distribution. The drawback: higher expectations and very little flexibility when it comes to identifying a “successful” book.

I know one author who signed a three book deal with a major publisher. The first book came out and performed respectably, but not to the publisher’s expectations. The elected not to release the other two books in the series, but likewise would not release the rights either as they were keeping the first book in print. Unless you do really well at the offset there are only a small proportion of authors out there (relative to the number that are actually published) that have staying power with a large publisher, whereas small press by using print-on-demand technology, can afford to maintain a large backlist and allow titles to grow in visibility over a prolonged period of time. Unless a publisher goes out of business or the relationship is dissolved by one or the other party, books stay in print indefinitely.

Personally, I also find small press affords me a lot of creative control, more personal interaction with my publishers, and deeper understanding of the process because I am involved at virtually every stage. In many cases I have taken books from concept to completion before even approaching a publisher to sign it. This experience has allowed me to work on projects a major publisher probably never would have considered, some of them which have been quite profitable, as well as award-winning. With a larger publisher you are luck if they even ask what you would like to see on the cover. Once you give them the manuscript you take what you get, a lot of the time, and it isn’t always representative of your book’s content.

This doesn’t mean I would never consider or pursue a contract with a large publisher, it just means that I will always maintain a relationship with small press as well.

VENTRELLA: You’re Marketing Director for Dark Quest. Were you involved in its inception?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: Well, not really. See, Dark Quest started out as a game company over ten years ago. That arm of the company still exists, but separate from the fiction division of Dark Quest Books. Neal Levin had tested the waters with SKEIN OF SHADOWS, a novella collection based on a gaming universe. That book had already been produced and Dark Quest was looking to take things further into full-fledged book publishing. They were familiar with my work both writing and promoting through the Garden State Horror Writers, a writers group we both were members of. He first approached me to come on staff as Promotions Director. At the same time he approached my husband, Mike McPhail, to pick up the role playing game he’s had under development. That game is the Alliance Archive Martial Role Playing Game, which is scheduled to release later this year.

While we were negotiating our participation another publisher of ours made the decision to opt out of the business. Unfortunately, that company published our best-selling anthologies: The Bad-Ass Faeries series and the Defending the Future series. Dark Quest Books stepped in to contract the Defending the Future books, collections of military science fiction short stories by some of the biggest names in the industry. In fact, SO IT BEGINS was the first book Dark Quest released, after SKEIN OF SHADOWS, which was a venture of the gaming arm of the business.

Between Mike and I, we’ve been taking an active role ever since, not just as authors, but editors, promoters, designers, and artists. Just recently the Defending the Future series has become the core of a new imprint, DTF Publications, which offers military science fiction novels and anthologies by well-known and beginning authors. Mike McPhail is the administrator of that imprint.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss marketing. These days, even authors with major publishers need to know how to market themselves. What are some of the smartest things an author can do to promote their own work?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: Create an internet presence. You can do this via a professional looking website, social media, blogs, being featured on book sites, making sure your work is in the database sites with accurate information and covers wherever the book is listed. You should also solicit author interviews, guest blogs, and book reviews, as well as join productive professional organizations or groups, such as Broad Universe or SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Not only do such groups offer support and networking opportunities, but they are a great way to learn of events. Other than possible membership fees, all of these are free promotions.

With your website include more than just who you are and what you’ve published. Have excerpts, a schedule of author events, free stories, a link to a blog you update regularly, that kind of thing. Some authors even have contests. Make the site something that warrants repeat visits. On mine I include my costuming and crafting efforts as well as a point of interest. Mike, my husband and fellow author and editor, includes the development phases for his creative works.

The other thing I recommend is conventions. Both attending them and distributing flyers or bookmarks at them. If you can attend you meet your target audience first hand and benefit from the celebrity phenomenon, an one would presume the potential readers can actually see your book and perhaps even buy it. If you can’t attend most conventions will accept promotional goods for free, or a slight fee if you want the materials put in the registration packs. If you write speculative fiction or one of the other established genres like romance or horror, this is a surefire way to reach those you want to reach, whereas a general book fair might not be as effective.

VENTRELLA: What are some of your marketing pet peeves?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: My biggest issue I have with promoting (beyond the fact that it is a massive time-sink) is that once you make the contact requesting a review or interview you have no control over 1) if anything comes of it, and 2) if the person responsible for posting the review or interview presents it either professionally or accurately. I have not encountered this, but a friend solicited a review from a site and sent a physical copy of the book. When the review posted it was clear the reviewer only read the back cover copy, which had certain incorrect information on it that made it obvious the reviewer hadn’t actually read the book.

One thing I did encounter myself was one person I gave a book to for review who rather than writing a review of their own lifted two of the Amazon reviews for the book and posted it on their site, as if they had wrote them.

VENTRELLA: You’re also an anthology editor. Do you find that to be a difficult job to take on?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: Again, like promotions, this is a time-consuming job. There are many elements in being a project editor that are not the fun bits. Paperwork, organizing details, acting as a go-between with the publisher and the authors. Working with difficult personalities. I love taking a book from concept to completion, but some of the stages in between are pure torture.

VENTRELLA: I also edit my own anthologies and it’s not easy, especially when you have to say no to friends who submit stories. Has this been a problem for you?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I’ve had to deal with a lot of things across the ten anthology projects that have actually published, and a number that are still in the works. There have been problems with unpleasantness when it came to rejections, but my biggest problems have been with temperamental authors having issue with the editing process or the publisher’s terms, and not dealing with either in a constructive manner.

Sadly, this has lead me to be more circumspect in who I invite to a project because editing an anthology has enough inherent headaches involved without voluntarily inviting gratuitous headaches on board.

VENTRELLA: Anthologies just do not sell like they once did, given Smashwords and other places on the internet to get stories. What have you done to get attention and increase sales?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: We’ve built something of a reputation, for one. Of the projects I am directly involved in five have been finalists for various awards, three have won. There are plenty of excellent reviews, and, of course, we have made a point to be very visible at conventions through launch parties, panel discussions, adds, and a presence in the dealer’s room. For our two major series, Bad-Ass Faeries and Defending the Future we have dedicated websites with extra content and lots of information about the series. Another thing we do is try and solicit submissions from big name authors who happen to be friends, people likely to do it for the love, not those who want big money. I also tend to give more consideration to authors who write well and I know put effort into promoting every project they are a part of. The two series I mentioned are by far our best sellers, with sales in the thousands, but all of them do respectably, particularly in ebook.

VENTRELLA: Do you accept unsolicited stories? If so, what are you looking for now?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: My projects are a bit different from the usual collection. I require every author to present me with a proposal for approval because my biggest gripe is having to reject a perfectly good story just because it is too close to something I already have, so yes, I will consider proposals from authors that have not been approached for the collection, but the stories will have been discussed beforehand in those instances. I do not generally consider stories that were not specifically written for the collections because we do theme anthologies, so unless the author has talked to us in advance and made a case for their story, it is best to wait until there is a call for submissions and then pitch your idea.

I have two projects in the works currently, but the deadline has passed for both of them and any future projects will be invitation only as I have learned that there is much less hassle that way. But you know, I have had to make the decision recently to step back from anthologies for a while. Between the stress and the time involved I haven’t been accomplishing anything toward advancing my personal writing career. I don’t see departing anthology work altogether—there are a large group of people who likely wouldn’t let me—it’s definitely taking a back burner for a while. Mostly I discovered I have six partially completed novels on my computer…and having learned if I focus on them I can complete them relatively quickly, there is something very wrong with them being stuck in limbo.

VENTRELLA: The “Bad Ass Faeries” series is probably your most popular. How did that come to be?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: This series was borne out of the artwork of Ruth Lampi. Really and truly. At Albacon one year I met this then-aspiring young artist and she showed me some sketches on notebook paper. Her skill was such that when I had a project I wanted illustrated I contacted her. Years later we were holding a shared promotional event that was, unfortunately, barren of attendees. While sitting there with the store’s staff chatting to entertain ourselves we were talking about how we met and suddenly an anthology was conceived. Because most people have come to think of faeries as the pastel princesses portrayed in children’s shows and related media, we decided it was time to be true to the spirit of the faerie legend of old where they were mischievous, malevolent or warriors. They were tough and wicked and sometimes downright ugly. Thus, Bad-Ass Faeries. The series has taken on a life of its own.

VENTRELLA: You’re a regular at east coast conventions (where we have shared a few panels from time to time). What are the reasons you attend?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: Being a writer is for the most part a solitary endeavor. We pour ourselves out on to the page and we desperately want to know that the readership enjoys what we have written. Reviews are usually few and far between, not to mention at times mixed. By going to conventions I have the unique opportunity to interact with my fans, learn what they liked and what they didn’t, and conversely, share with them the development and thought that went into the books I’ve written or been a part of. Conventions more than any other promotional event allow the author to make a personal connection with the fans in a comfortable, relaxed, and informal setting. The other reasons I put so much time and effort into conventions are networking, as a means to distribute my books (which is a challenge for small-press authors), and being social with fellow authors and fans, which is a great way to generate ideas and keep touch with what is going on in the industry.

Interview with author Allen Wold

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Allen Wold today. Allen Wold has published nine novels, several short stories (mostly for the Elf Quest anthologies), five non-fiction books on computers, and a number of articles, columns, reviews, and so forth, also concerning computers. He is a member of SFWA and teaches writing.

ALLEN WOLD: Many people have complimented me by assuming that I teach writing classes, at NC State or somewhere. I am not associated with any college, or university, or even a high school. The only “classes” I teach are my writing workshops, which I do at science fiction conventions. Because of people’s comments, I have begun to think of myself as a teacher, and I am quite flattered that people think of me as one. I do have some ideas about how writing can be “taught,” and about college courses in “creative writing” (Manley Wade Wellman said that “creative writing” is redundant, all writing is creative), but some of these are best saved for private conversation. There are, and have been, some excellent writing teachers in various colleges and universities, teachers who’s stories you can read in magazines, or who’s books you can buy in bookstores. But I am not one of them.

VENTRELLA: How did you first get published? Did you have an agent?

WOLD: I did have an agent. I no longer remember the exact details, I was sending my first novel THE PLANET MASTERS around over the transom. Sharon Jarvis, then fiction editor at Playboy if I remember correctly, suggested two agents to me. I picked one, Lea Braff, and she agreed to represent it. At this time, I had no knowledge of submission protocols, and it probably showed. Lea sold my book to St. Martin’s Press, and after some fluffling around in the editorial department, it finally came out in 1972.

VENTRELLA: How has the publishing industry changed since you entered it?

It has changed a lot, but I’m not really qualified to talk about that. I do not study the industry, and what I have seen, has been seen by many. So many imprints now being owned buy umbrella companies (pun intended); restriction or elimination of non-agented submissions; agents themselves taking new clients only by introduction; and, fortunately, the rise of the small independent publisher.

I felt many years ago, that the small press would, or should, or could become more important, to the average fiction writer, than the large houses, and nothing I have seen so far changes my mind about that. Some small presses lack editing skills, distribution, or money, but some have all of that and more. Big publishing is dominated by the marketing departments of the various houses, rather than by the editors. Sol Stein, one of the founders of Stein and Day, complains about that in his own company. But small presses are usually not subject to their accountants. Baen is probably the largest “small press” in the business, and the publisher, Toni Weisskopf, and her editor in chief, Hank Davis, make their own decisions. At least, that’s how I understand it, I’m sure Toni will correct me if I’m wrong.

My point here being that big publishing, it seems to me, is less concerned with books than with moving product — books or fried chicken, whatver, let’s just sell a lot. I’m not the first to think that.

VENTRELLA: How much should a writer consider the market when deciding what to write?

WOLD: Being aware of the market is essential. If you know, for example, that nobody is publishing paranormal erotica (they are, oh yes they are), and that’s what you want to write, then you have to be prepared to struggle to find a publisher, or perhaps make your story seem more like a similar genre which is being published. I don’t like that idea. Not too long ago, cross-genre work just couldn’t make it. Now it hardly matters. I suppose Lovcraftian Romance (in the sense of a story of love, as opposed to the original idea of a work of fiction) might be a hard sell, and I don’t know if anybody has tried it. Or would even want to. I could be wrong. Anime hentai tentacles…?

But if you devote too much energy to trying to figure out what is going to be popular two to three years down the line, you’ll always be wrong, and you’ll be wasting your time. Right now, paranormal romance is, in fact, doing quite well. And if you write one, just because it is doing well, by the time the book is written, and submitted, and rejected and resubmitted, it may no longer be so popular. Or it might be. But you’re worrying about anticipating a market, rather than about writing your story. If your story is good enough, somebody will take it, even if it is a bit difficult to find its place on a bookstore’s shelves.

So yes, be aware of the market, but don’t write for the market. Write what you have to write. Write a book that you’d like to read. You may start a trend. More likely you won’t, but hey, there are no guarantees in this business. None.

VENTRELLA: Do you think the emphasis on e-books is going to help the individual author?

WOLD: How can it hurt? Every sale is a sale. The more readers a writer has, the better. Several publishers, Baen for example, offer e-book versions of their hard-copy books, usually at a discount. Their cost is minimal, their profit margin is high, distribution costs them only download expenses, which is nothing compared to paper, ink, printing, trimming, binding, and so on. I’m not talking about reading books on line, but buying e-copies which you can read on your computer or your Kindle or Nook or iPad or whatever. These are actual sales, you own the book. It’s just not on paper. And the more people who read you —

Well, you have to have a good story to tell, and you have to tell a good story (not the same thing), or it doesn’t matter what format you’re in. Bad fiction goes nowhere (though some of it does get published, see Pel Toro for example). Good fiction gets found out, and is read. E-publication is something I’m keeping in mind for some of my projects, but not all. As is going with a small independent press. But never vanity, that’s a waste. If you have to pay for it, become your own press. It’s a lot cheaper.

VENTRELLA: What techniques do you use to make sure your characters are realistic and believable?

WOLD: I don’t use techniques. I use my ever increasing understanding of human nature and behavior. I watch people constantly, not deliberately most of the time, but automatically. Everybody I meet becomes a part of that compost heap in the back of my head, from which characterization (not characters) is drawn. Everything my characters do is what I have observed real people do (though I couldn’t tell you who is the model, or how many models there are), it’s the way real people behave.

Once a character begins to reveal himself, or herself, or itself to me, my task is to make sure that that behavior is consistent. One of my main gripes with the second version of Star Trek was that developed characters frequently acted out of character. Also true of the TV series V (the original, not the remake). That destroys a story for me.

I discover my characters, or at least, those that work. I discovered Larson McCade, Morgan Scott, Rikard Braeth, Freefoot, and all their supporting characters. I didn’t actually create them per se. And once I got to know them, it wasn’t that hard to portray them as they were, rather than make them go out of character for the sake of the plot.

Larson McCade, from THE PLANET MASTERS, is instructive. The story came to me in a flash of inspiration (lasting about two hours) while I was walking across the UNC-CH campus. But who would be my hero (or anti-hero, as it turned out)? I thought, what if I based McCade on myself, but on my darker self, the aspects of myself that I would never let anybody see, never allow myself to express, the shadow-me. Badly done with Spiderman, unfortunately. So I did. Since McCade was an aspect of me, I knew him intimately. I didn’t direct him on how to get from one plot point to another, I let him do it, that is, I did what I would do if I were he and in his situation, and I just wrote it down as it happened. Fortunately, I’m not Larson McCade, and we should all be thankful.

It’s taken me a long time to perfect that method, and I’m still working on it. I failed many times between now and this century. I didn’t even know what I was doing when I was doing it right. But I do now. All my Elf Quest characters, though I didn’t understand it at the time, were independent people in my head. I just presented them with problems, and let them solve them.

VENTRELLA: How do you prepare? Do you outline heavily?

WOLD: I used to outline, but not any more. My outlines could be five, ten, twenty pages. For my most recent book (rejected twice so far), I had just three plot points: I had to get here, then there, then somewhere else.

At a convention many years ago, I was on a panel with Fred Pohl. The question of outlines came up, and I said, yes, I use an outline, like a road map, or a blueprint. Some people said they hated outlines, because then they were trapped. I couldn’t understand that. Just because it’s in my outline doesn’t mean I have to do it. They said they wanted to be surprised. I felt like I didn’t want to be surprised if, without a blueprint, I discovered that I’d left out a door, or a bathroom. That has actually happened to people I know, with real houses. But Fred Pohl said “I used to outline, but I don’t any more.” I didn’t understand that either. Now I do. I do not predetermine what is going to happen, what people are going to do, what they are going to talk about. I select destinations. He discovers he’s up against a vampire and decides he has to destroy it but doesn’t know how; he is killed by the vampire and in his spirit form discovers how to destroy it but needs a corporeal body to do it; he finds a body he can take over and does what he has to do. Three points, 80,000 words. Rejected twice. But my vampires don’t sparkle. Dracula didn’t sparkle.

On the other hand, for another novel which hasn’t been rejected yet, I had a list of 198 scenes. Each scene was an objective, not a description. I kept to that “outline” as a form of discipline, and it worked. Each scene had a viewpoint character, fifty two in all, and each character was, in my mind, a real person. Sometimes the scene description was something like: Riding in the back seat, the little girl sees the blue lights around the house. Now, what happens? Well, I wrote the scene, and all the others, and we’ll see what happens.

How do I prepare? I need my main character, without which nothing happens. I need my setting, my world, however simple or complex that may be, though I don’t need elaborate details, as I’ll discover more about it later. I need the situation in which my character finds himself, or herself, or itself. (Clumsy, isn’t it? How about themself? Check the OED for the use of they/them as equivalent to “he or she.”) I need to know what my character wants. And I have to know what I, as the Creator — um, creator — want my ending to be. Luke Skywalker wants off Tatooine, to go to university, and become a pilot. George Lucas wants to destroy the Death Star, and has to lead, not push, Luke to that ending.

Then it happens.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest misconception beginning writers have about the craft?

WOLD: That they need talent. Talent is nice. Talent makes things easy. But talent is not necessary. There are plenty of writers who do quite well and have no talent to speak of, but who have acquired the necessary skills, and the reader can’t tell the difference. Skill is far more important. Talent is what you are born with. Skill is learned, and you can learn an awful lot. Any writer who has written more than one book improves from book to book (or they don’t, depending on their talent rather than acquiring skill, and it shows). Dorothy L. Sayers first novel, WHOSE BODY, is nicely done, somewhat frivolous, and LORD PETER is definitely silly. By the time she gets to GAUDY NIGHT, she is a master, telling a story that is neither romance nor mystery, but a deep tale of two people caught up in a distressing situation. Lord Peter and Harriet Vane are real people. The book can stand alone. Dorothy L. Sayers’ talent was revealed in her first book. Her extensive skills are shown in her last book. (BUSSMAN’S HONEYMOON is a novelization of her own play, and something of a disappointment.)

There are other essentials, such as making, not finding, time; developing discipline; acquiring patience; and having the dedication to actually do it.

This last is truly important. You cannot become a writer if you don’t write. You must make the decision that you are, in fact, going to do it. You decide to acquire those other essentials, putting other aspects of your life aside, and you write. You read extensively, especially what you like to read (and you should write what you like to read, not what you “ought” to write), but read outside your field too. And read non-fiction, especially biography, history, mythology, archaeology, and anything to do with human nature and behavior.

You may discover you don’t really want to do this after all, that it takes too much effort and time, that it’s too hard, that the rewards aren’t worth it. In which case, give it up with a clean conscience. Many people who take my workshop discover that they don’t really want to be writers after all, and that’s fine. They’re now free of that obsession, and can go on to something else.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see beginning writers make?

See above. But not giving it enough time, thinking there’s an easy way, not listening to competent comment, not reading enough, taking TV as their model. (Oh, yes, that’s a good one. Thinking that science fiction is what you see on TV or in the movies. Thinking that characters are what you see on TV or in the movies. Huge mistake.) Not paying attention to the real world.

All good fiction is based on, and derived from, the real world in some way or another. The most bizarre fantasy has roots in the real world, at least in the way people react to the bizarreness. Also, trying to write SF without understanding science. You don’t have to have degrees, but you must have a basic understanding of how the world really works. And if you don’t know, either stuff it in a black box, or do some research. The old Tom Baker Dr. Who did this extremely well. They did not make mistakes in their science. They either knew how it worked, or they black-boxed it. I was quite impressed.

Another is not checking a publisher’s submission guidelines. Always check the guidelines, and submit that way, whether you like it or not. Do not try to save paper by printing single spaced on both sides of the page. Always use adequate margins, a header with name and title and page number. And so on. You can learn basic submission formatting, most publishers with tell you. Follow the guidelines, or you’ll be rejected out of hand. Really.

VENTRELLA: Some of your novels are currently out of print. Do you have any desire to have them released as e-books? Is that possible?

WOLD: I would love to have them come out in any format. Currently, THE PLANET MASTERS should be released soon in a print on demand format from Warren Lapine’s Wilder Books, but I don’t know when. Contact Warren and ask for it. He may be doing something more.

VENTRELLA: Do you think writers should begin with the short story market?

WOLD: A story is as long as it takes to tell it. If you try to condense an idea to a short story format, it won’t work. If you puff an idea to novel length, it won’t work. The short story market is tight, not counting on-line publication, but it’s still there. You have to do your research. Back in the day, most SF&F writers started with the magazines, back when there were more than five or six national magazines that actually paid money. These days the whole industry is completely different. If you love flash fiction, and write it, that’s what you should try to sell. If you prefer the short story format, there are all kinds of magazines (some pretty bad), and open anthologies to which you can sell. If you prefer novels, say 100,000 words or so, that’s what you should do, though it won’t be easy. Especially if you’re a beginner. I know well established writers who are suddenly being dropped by their publishers, though their books continue to sell. I have no idea why. Maybe because the publishers are more interested in moving product than selling books. I don’t know.

Write what you write, know what the market is, and find the right home. You can not write to a market, it’s too volatile, and your heart won’t be in it.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best resource a writer should use in order to find a market for their short stories?

WOLD: There are two: Ralan and Duotrope .

VENTRELLA: What have you been up to lately? What are you working on now?

WOLD: Lately? Writing, of course. That’s what I do. Every day that I can. I have obligations on Saturdays, and Sundays I try to restore my energy, but otherwise, unless something unavoidable comes up, oh, say, having my gall bladder removed, or like that, I write. Every day. See, I’m writing this today.

And I read, mostly non-fiction. And watch movies, to take me away from my writing rather than for inspiration. And attend to my household management responsibilities (my wife works full time and supports me in every way).

Right now I’m doing a complete rewrite of a book I first wrote in 1990. I learned then the absolute necessity, for me, of having my personal Death Star in mind. I threw away four false starts, totaling about 100,000 words, before I finally asked myself, how do I want this to end? When I had that, everything drove toward that ending, though my hero wanted to do something else.

When we came back from England, in ‘98, I reread it, and it wasn’t very good. I had always wanted to do a character-driven story, instead of a plot-driven story, so I rewrote it, giving my characters free rein. It didn’t sell. Then I reread it again, saw how undisciplined my description and dialog was, and I’m rewriting it from scratch, not revising it, keeping the story as written, but tightening, cleaning up, making my characters internally consistent, cutting out unnecessary description, and tons of bad dialogue. It’s turning out pretty well. But we’ll see. When this draft is done, I’m going to do a new book set in THE EYE IN THE STONE world, then come back to STROAD’S CROSS for a final pass, and try to find a market for it. It’s a haunted village, not a haunted house, forgotten by people who live in the small town a mile away, perfectly preserved for fifty years, abandoned with food on the stove, money in cash registers, toys dropped on the floor. Finding out the truth is what the story is about.

Don’t hold your breath. These things take time.


Interview with Janice Gable Bashman

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Janice Gable Bashman today. Janice is co-author (with Jonathan Maberry) of WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE: VAMPIRE HUNTERS AND OTHER KICK-ASS ENEMIES OF EVIL (Citadel Press, August 2010). She has written for many leading publications, including NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET, WILD RIVER REVIEW, THE WRITER, INDUSTRY TODAY, and FOOD & DRINK QUARTERLY. Janice is a member of the ITW (International Thriller Writers) and the Horror Writer’s Association, as well as a contributing editor of the ITW’s newsletter the BIG THRILL. Her writing won multiple awards at the 2007 Philadelphia Writer’s Conference.

Your book WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE is due out shortly. Tell us about the book!

JANICE GABLE BASHMAN: WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE deals with monsters of all kinds (supernatural, fictional, or real) and the people/beings/forces that fight them. It’s a pop culture book for fans of the genre. We interviewed tons of people for the book — FBI profilers, authors, screenwriters, comic writers, actors, directors, producers, criminal experts, psychologists, and others — as well as luminaries like film-maker John Carpenter, author Peter Straub, and the legendary Stan Lee. The book also has over forty illustrations from fantastic artists.

Here’s what some of the experts have to say about the book:

“WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE is a fascinating, far-ranging analysis of the nature of evil and those who rise to fight it … in real life, in pop culture, in literature and in legend. A must read for those who want to dive deep into the reasons for why we are fascinated by monsters … and love those who make it their business to take them down.” — Rachel Caine, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Morganville Vampires series, Weather Warden series, and Outcast Season series

“WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE is a riveting chronicle of all things that drop fangs in the dead of night. All aficionados MUST have this in their library!” — LA Banks, New York Times best-selling author of the Vampire Huntress Legend series

“Jonathan Maberry and Janice Gable Bashman probe into pop culture’s Heart of Darkness, and what they find is both fascinating and thought-provoking.” — Charlaine Harris, creator of TRUE BLOOD and the Sookie Stackhouse novels

VENTRELLA: How did your writing styles work together?

BASHMAN: Jonathan Maberry and I each wrote individual chapters and reviewed and edited the other’s work. Other chapters were a collaborative effort. Prior to writing anything, we had to decide who was best to write each chapter. Although writing the book was research and interview intensive, we each brought our own skill sets and knowledge of the subject matter to the project; therefore, some chapters were better suited for one of us than the other.

When writing or co-writing a book, voice is important. The challenge with two authors is finding one voice that both authors can write and that fits the tone of the book. At first it takes a bit of trial and error (and writing and rewriting) to get there, but the end result is, if you do your job right, a voice from two writers that sounds like it’s from one.

VENTRELLA: Do you have any similar books planned?

BASHMAN: WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE is a companion to VAMPIRE UNIVERSE by Jonathan Maberry (2006) and THEY BITE by Jonathan Maberry and David F. Kramer (2009). I’m finishing up a proposal for my next non-fiction book; it’s still under wraps so I can’t share the details at this time. I can say that dozens of key players are already on board for the project and it’s sure to be a fun one.

VENTRELLA: You primarily have written nonfiction. How does that differ from writing fiction?

BASHMAN: Writing fiction and non-fiction differ and yet are the same. By that I mean that both forms of writing have a story to tell. In fiction, the story comes from your imagination (and research); in non-fiction, the story is derived from fact. Whether I’m interviewing an author for the NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET or THE BIG THRILL or interviewing a CEO of a major corporation for a trade magazine, the process is the same. I gather my facts and tell a story — the story of the person or organization I’m interviewing.

I’ve received many e-mails from authors and others I’ve interviewed thanking me for giving them such an interesting interview, one where the questions differ from those they’ve been asked so many times before. I make it my business to thoroughly research my subject before I construct an interview and find a way to take that interview to a deeper and more personal level, to get to the heart of the person and talk to them about what really matters.

But, in the end, it’s all about story. Finding the story and crafting it in a way that’s exciting for the reader. That’s my job as a writer whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction.

VENTRELLA: How did you get started in the business?

BASHMAN: About four years ago, I decided to take a swing at publishing some articles after I became involved with a writing group. I learned to craft a query, sent out a few ideas to some local publications, and sold my first article. In the years prior, I had published my master’s thesis and a few book reviews, so I did have some, albeit minimal, publishing credentials. Once that first article was published, I began sending out more queries to both local and national markets, and the sales began rolling in. I’ve written dozens of interviews and profiles for numerous publications, but I’ve also written features, book reviews, and now a non-fiction book.

VENTRELLA: How do you pitch a nonfiction book or article?

BASHMAN: Pitching a non-fiction book is different than pitching an article, so let’s tackle a book first. To pitch a non-fiction book, the writer must write a non-fiction book proposal. The book proposal contains detailed information about the editorial format, the book contents, the author’s marketing and promotion intentions, who will buy the book, media contacts, and more. A sample chapter or two is also submitted with the book proposal. The author must then pitch the book to an agent, via a query letter, in order to find an agent to represent him in selling the book. Some publishers may accept proposals directly from an author, but most do not. So, unlike fiction, the entire book does not have to be completed before pitching to an agent or editor.

The process of writing a non-fiction book proposal is helpful beyond obtaining a sale. It helps the author flesh out and refine his ideas and really get a good handle on the book. And when it comes time to write, the author is ready to go.

Pitching an article is a different beast. To pitch a non-fiction article the writer must send a query to an editor telling that editor about the proposed article and why it’s a good fit for his publication. This is done prior to writing the article. It does help sometimes, depending on the type of article you wish to write, to have one or two quotes from “experts” in your pitch to support your proposal. For an interview or profile I have not found this necessary, but I would recommend using expert quotes for a feature article. It shows the editor that you not only have the knowledge to write the article but that you also have access to the experts who can support the material.

My experience has shown that once I’ve worked successfully with an editor, it is easier to pitch new ideas to him and have them accepted for publication, as long as the ideas are good, obviously, and fit the publication’s needs. I’ve also had editors contact me on numerous occasions asking if I would be interested in writing a particular piece for their publications. When that happens, it certainly makes life easier because I bypass the query process. If and when that happens, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to turn down an assignment if your schedule will not allow you to complete the piece on time to meet the editor’s deadline. Always, always, always meet your deadlines.

VENTRELLA: Giving a pitch to a fiction editor or agent is a skill few have. How do you manage it? What advice do you have?

BASHMAN: The hook is all important. A query letter must hook the agent or editor in the first sentence just like the first sentence of a book must hook the reader. The writer must give the agent a reason to continue reading the query letter and to request sample chapters. It may seem like a simple thing, especially after writing and editing a manuscript, but it’s not. Crafting a good query letter takes time, but it’s important for the writer to take the time to do it right. How awful would it be for a great manuscript to sit forever in a drawer because an author didn’t take the time to learn how to write a good query and therefore couldn’t get an agent or editor to read the manuscript?

My advice is simple. It takes practice. Write and rewrite your query until it sounds like something that would make you request pages if you were an agent. Run your query past a few colleagues, post it on a writer’s critique board such as Backspace or Absolute Write Water Cooler, or if you’re really brave post it online for either the Query Shark or Evil Editor to critique. But before you even get that far, read through Miss Snark’s blog achieves where you’ll find hundreds of query critiques to study as examples. Publishers Marketplace is also a good resource. Take a look at the deals page and you can easily see how authors/agents have summed-up a book’s hook in one sentence. Find books in your genre and read the back cover copy, see how the wording hooks the readers and find a way to do the same for your book.

The more a writer studies and writes queries the easier it gets, but it takes time and practice. Don’t expect perfection right out of the gate. Work on the query, study your sentence structure, word choices, etc. until you get it right. Put the same hard work into the query that you put into your book. And if you query and don’t receive requests for pages, you either need to rethink/rewrite your query letter or ensure you queried the agents/editors who are interested in your type of book. One or the other wasn’t on target.

VENTRELLA: What advice can you give an aspiring writer?

BASHMAN: Remember that you’re writing because you love to write, because you have something to say that is meaningful. Be persistent. Push through the tough times; they will come. Relish the rewards of your work. And remember that publishing is a business, so try not to take rejection too personally. A rejection may not be a reflection on your work but may simply show that what you wrote is not the right piece for the marketplace at that particular time.

VENTRELLA: What’s the worst thing you have seen writers do that ruin their potential careers?

BASHMAN: I cringe every time I see a writer bash an agent or an editor in a social media setting such as Twitter or Facebook because the agent or editor rejected that writer’s work. Agents and editors receive and respond to hundreds of queries a week and often read them on their own time outside of business hours. They are searching for that next great book to represent, the book they love, and the book they believe readers will love too. They’re in the publishing business because they love books, and believe me, they want to find the next great book just as much as the writer wants to write it.

Rejection is part of the business, and a writer’s response to that rejection should be kept private or shared with a few select friends. It’s okay to feel disappointed, hurt or upset, but publically airing those feelings and lashing out at agent or editor either online or via e-mail is awful. First of all, it’s cruel. It’s done out of anger and feelings of rejection — that the writer’s work isn’t good enough, which may or may not be true. Second, agents and editors know one another, so when a writer bashes an agent or editor, that writer is labeled as trouble based on their online or e-mail rant. The writer may have written a great manuscript, but who wants to work with a difficult author, especially one just starting out in the business?

VENTRELLA: How do you manage promotion for your work? What things do you have planned?

BASHMAN: Promotion takes a lot of time, but it’s a necessary part of business. Today, authors are expected to do most, if not all, of their own promotion. It’s important to have a game plan and follow-through with it. A writer can write a great book, but if no one buys it the book is considered a failure.

For WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE, we’ll be posting expanded interviews on our websites with some of the people we interviewed for the book, we’ll reach out to readers through social media, we’ll attend upcoming comic, horror, and other events, we’ll participate in speaking engagements at local libraries and other organizations, we’ll attend book fairs, hold book signings, and a whole slew of other things to get our book out there and to bring it to the attention of readers.

VENTRELLA: How important is it for a writer to post on Twitter and Facebook and keep a blog? And what can a writer do to make his or her blog different and noticeable?

BASHMAN: It’s extremely important for a writer to connect with as many potential readers as possible. The internet has given authors a powerful arsenal of tools to connect with readers through social media, blogs, Yahoo! groups, websites, etc., and authors need to recognize those opportunities and use them. I recently spoke about building your buzz to drive up sales at the Backspace Writers Conference, and I’ll be speaking about it again to the Brandywine Valley Writers Group in September. I embrace these social media and online opportunities and have found them instrumental in helping propel my writing career forward. I’m on Twitter , Facebook, LibraryThing, Shelfari, LinkedIn, and a bunch of Yahoo! groups. I also follow and comment on numerous blogs and post to my own blog, usually about the writing business.

In order for a writer to make his blog noticeable, the writer must provide content that is engaging and relevant to the blog readers. In order to achieve that, the writer must identify his blog audience—who are they and why they are there. Also, what does the writer want to talk about? How can the writer make that interesting for his readers? If the writer’s target audience is other writers, for example, how can a blog post on writing draw in potential readers, agents, editors, etc.? Find ways to target new audiences while maintaining the readers you already have? Study those blogs you admire and see what they are doing and how they are doing it. Learn by example. Then try your twist on it and see if it works. If it doesn’t draw the response you desire, tweak your approach and try again. There’s no sure-fire formula for success. Just do what you do and do your best.

VENTRELLA: What projects do you have upcoming?

BASHMAN: In addition to the upcoming non-fiction book project I mentioned earlier, I continue to write for various publications. I’ll also be shopping a young adult novel shortly.

Me and Janice

Interview with Sharon Lee

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am honored to be interviewing Sharon Lee today. Sharon Lee is, with Steve Miller, the co-author of seventeen novels, most of them set in the Liaden Universe (R). She’s been executive director, vice president and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Creating believable and unique characters, free from cliche, is often a difficult chore. What process do you use to develop personalities for your characters?

SHARON LEE: Creating believable and unique characters is hard to do only if you concentrate on the notion that you-the-god-author are creating characters. The story isn’t about you, after all; it’s about them. If you approach a character as if you were meeting someone for the first time; ask them gentle, probing questions, display an interest in them, find out what they want — no, what they really want — it becomes surprisingly easy to write about them in a believable way, because you’re writing about people you know, not about ciphers you’ve invented.

I look at some of the “systems” for creating characters that are offered to writers, and I wonder if I’m the only person who had an imaginary friend when I was a kid.

VENTRELLA: Do you have a preference between writing science fiction or fantasy? Is one easier than the other?

LEE: There’s a false either-or here. In terms of the work required of the author, science fiction and fantasy are exactly the same. The work is: build a believable world, populated by characters people care about, who have [a] compelling problem(s).

I think, rather than fantasy or science fiction being easier or harder to write, that some stories are less and more challenging to tell. AGENT OF CHANGE, for instance, was fun and easy to write — we had the whole thing up and out the door in three months. Of course, it was our first novel; we didn’t know it was supposed to be hard. CARPE DIEM, our third novel, was difficult to write — looking back, that would have been because it was the first book where we actually had to buckle down and do continuity — which is, of course, key to writing a long series in the same universe and dealing with at least some of the same characters. Not that we knew that, then, either. We were learning by doing.

More recently the Fey Duology — DUAINFEY and LONGEYE — were difficult to write, not because they were fantasy, but because we were building the world around us at the same time we were becoming acquainted with the characters. And a book that I thought would be very difficult to write — MOUSE AND DRAGON — practically wrote itself.

VENTRELLA: How does your collaboration with Steve Miller work?

LEE: After seventeen novels and mumble-mumble short stories, I’d say it works pretty well, thanks.

Let’s see… We talk out the story-in-progress between us and role-play key scenes — kind out acting out the first draft. Usually, but not always, I do the first written draft — because I type faster, not because Steve is too Grand to undertake the work.

Some books are more one than the other of us. Because of that, and because there are two of us, each book that we write together has a traffic cop. The traffic cop is usually the one who brought the project to the table, and holds a third vote, in case of a tie. Instances of ties have been pretty low — I think we’ve each used our third vote once.

Because we do write character-driven fiction and because the story is about them, not about us, we tend to resolve most points of disagreement by studying on what the character would do and/or want. That exercise unties most knots — and it’s notable that, in the two instances where the tie-breaker was invoked, the point of disagreement was a plot issue.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever had something published and then regret it, wanting to make changes?

LEE: Certainly, there are books that I wanted more time with; that’s one of the trade-offs you make, when you’re writing to a contracted deadline, as opposed to writing on spec. Nobody cares if you take ten years to write a book on spec[ulation]– it’s your baby and you don’t have to let it go until it’s perfect. Or ever.

A book under contract, though — that comes with encumbrances: a deadline; a target word count; a place in the publisher’s schedule; a cover artist . . . A writer with a book under contract simply writes the best book she’s capable of writing at that point in her career, and within the constraints set out in the contract. Then, she does it again, with the next book.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about what you’re working on now. (Is that GHOST SHIP?) Give us a hint! We want a scoop here!

LEE: Not much of a scoop, I’m afraid, since I’ve been talking about it on my LJ, but — yes! GHOST SHIP; the long-awaited “book after I DARE” and, coincidentally, the “book immediately after SALTATION,” is our current writing project; it’s due at Baen in August. I don’t have a firm publication date, but surely not before spring or summer of 2011.

VENTRELLA: Even established authors need to promote themselves these days. What do you do in that regard?

LEE: We do interviews 🙂 We do book signings. We send out the Liaden Universe (R) InfoDump (an electronic newsletter), which has over a thousand subscribers. Hard-core fans can join the Friends of Liad, a social and discussion list has been running for, oh, a dozen years or more, I guess, most recently under the able management of Scott Raun.

Conventions. . .We go to science fiction conventions, yes, to promote our work, but also because . . . we like to go to conventions.

In terms of social networking, both Steve and I have Live Journal and Facebook accounts. I prefer LJ to Facebook, mostly because I’m an introvert and Facebook is just too “noisy.” Twitter doesn’t hold much appeal for me, as you might imagine.

However a writer decides to promote their work, the key is that they should enjoy it. If you (universal you) go to conventions, or do book signings — or tweet — and you hate it, you won’t be happy, and the people who have come to see/tweet/hear you will notice that you’re not happy, and will assume, y’know, because most people are nice, that it’s them. Plainly, you don’t want people to think that they’re making you unhappy; so you want to interact with them in an environment where everyone’s comfortable.

VENTRELLA: You had to trademark your Liaden Universe(R) to prevent its misuse. How did that come about (if you are free to discuss it)?

LEE: I can say that we had an internet stalker who was bent on mischief, and the best protection for our work was to trademark it. We made the decision because the laws governing trademark are in general more thoroughly understood, should the mischief have gone to court, than copyright.

I certainly don’t advise all authors to go to trademark; it’s a non-trivial expense and one’s trademark needs to be “protected” in ways that copyright doesn’t demand. And in most cases — absent an active mischief-maker — copyright is perfectly adequate protection.

VENTRELLA: Do you think the publishing industry is much different now than when you began? If so, how?

LEE: A lot of things are different about the business, but I’m not sure that the publishing industry has changed that much. Well, let me take that back. There are fewer publishers, with fewer imprints; fewer print magazines; the distribution system has imploded a couple of times; and the megastores want to dictate what gets published in order to maximize their profits.

OK, I guess the publishing industry has changed. Another change is the rise of smaller presses, to fill the void left by the consolidations of the bigger houses. And the willingness of practically everybody except the big houses to experiment with this internet thing for fun and potential profit.

VENTRELLA: What’s the biggest mistake you see new writers make? And what is the biggest piece of advice you would give to an unpublished author?

LEE: The biggest mistake. . .lack of research. Now, granted, the internet is full of disinformation, but it’s also full of good information. A new writer who is serious about becoming professionally published needs to find reputable sources that will teach her how to achieve her goal.

It may not be easy for a brand-new writer to figure out at first which sites are disreputable, or offering false information. Reputable sites include: The Association of Authors’ Representatives, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, specifically the author information page and Writer Beware.

The biggest piece of advice I would give an unpublished author . . . Have patience. And no, that is not easy for me to say.

VENTRELLA: Who are your favorite authors?

LEE: I think Laura Anne Gilman is perfectly charming; and I’m quite fond of Jim Morrow. Elizabeth Moon is lovely, and . . .

Oh . . . wait . . .

One of the downsides of pursuing a career as a writer is that writing cuts into your reading time. I used to have a three-book-a-week habit. I still have the habit, but I don’t have the time to indulge it.

Writers who influenced me, back when I was reading everything I could get my hands one, like a one-woman locust swarm? CJ Cherryh, Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Poul Anderson, Georgette Heyer, Ian Fleming, Dorothy Sayers, Daphne DuMaurier, Frank Yerby, Mary Stewart, Rex Stout, Paul Gallico, Elswyth Thane, Charles Dickens, Carl Sandburg, Agatha Christie, Samuel Shellabarger, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Thorne Smith, James Thurber.

To name a few.

Nowadays, I read new books when I can, but I’m too scattershot to have a favorite author to read. In the last year, the novels I’ve read that have really stuck with me as good reads were FLESH AND FIRE by Laura Anne Gilman, SHAMBLING TOWARD HIROSHIMA by James Morrow, THIRTEENTH CHILD by Patricia C. Wrede.

VENTRELLA: Why do so many authors have cats?

LEE: Because cats keep you humble.

VENTRELLA: And finally, of all your work, what are you most proud? For what would you like to be remembered?

LEE: LOL! I’m not done yet.


Dinner with Steve, Sharon, and my wife Heidi

Resources for new writers

After a nice talk with Jonathan Maberry (whose new book “Patient Zero” is excellent!), I have decided that perhaps the focus of this blog should change.

I am still in the process of learning all about the publishing industry, and it occurs to me that I am not alone.   Perhaps instead of just discussing my own personal writing I should instead be discussing the processes I have taken in order to get a book finished, find a publisher, locate an agent, and traverse the strange world hidden behind the curtain.

To that end, I will begin with listing a number of very reliable source of information: blogs for starting writers.  Future blogs will discuss the query letters I have used (what worked, what didn’t), what I’ve done to promote myself, ways to get reviews, and so on.  

I also plan on having interviews with agents, published writers, and editors where I can ask their advice.  

If you follow, you can learn along with me, and perhaps avoid my mistakes while capitalizing on my successes.  

So let’s start by giving a list of  resources.  This list was compiled by Janice Gable Bashman.  Thanks, Janice!

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing –

Alice’s CWIM Blog –

Anthology News and Reviews –

BookEnds, LLC – A Literary Agency –

Buzz, Balls & Hype –

Crowe’s Nest –

by Ken Levine (more TV writing) –

Editorial Ass –

Evil Editor –

Guide to Literary Agent’s Editor’s Blog –

Janet Reid, Literary Agent –

Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent –

Pub Rants –

Query Shark –

Tess Gerritsen’s Blog –

The Blood-Red Pencil –

The Kill Zone –

The Rejecter –

The Renegade Writer Blog –

There Are No Rules –

Weekly List of Anthologies –

C. Hope Clark –
(and don’t forget to sign up for her free newsletters: Funds for Writers and Funds for Writers for Small Markets)

Jonathan Maberry’s Big, Scary Blog –

Editor Unleashed –

Don Lafferty’s – Practical Social Media Strategies and Tactics for Connecting with Your Public –

Seth Godin’s blog (not writing but excellent info on marketing) –

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