Mandy Eve-Barnett's Official Blog

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Ask A Question Thursday

March 21, 2019
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Today’s question:

How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”? Do you prefer a certain genre of music or silence?

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Please join the conversation…and leave your reply in the comments below.

 

Last week’s question:

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Did you feel more pressure to improve from your last book? Were you writing a series or a standalone?

How did you balance writing with promotion for your last book?

 

Ask A Question Thursday

January 31, 2019
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One of my characters in The Twesome Loop is an abuser. Readers have commented that they really hated him, which, of course was the idea. However, during the editing/revision process, I was asked to give some sort of an empathetic side to his character (a reason for his behavior). This I did and it ‘explained’ his motivation to some extent.

When I recently watched the Ted Bundy tapes (which are truly terrifying due to his charm & ‘normalcy’ to those who knew him) it made me think that in fiction we ‘explain’ character motives but in reality there may never be one that makes sense.

Today’s question is: Have you been asked to ‘explain’ a character trait?

Were you happy to explain it or do/did you feel it took something away from the narrative?

Click on the post heading and then scroll to the comments. Looking forward to everyone’s opinion and experiences.

 

Ask A Question Thursday

January 17, 2019
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The initial question was: Should you pick the genre before beginning your story or figure out what genre it is after you have written it?

(Look at the bottom of this post for the continuing query – Are genre formulas a myth?)

Last week’s responses:

I always have a vague idea of what the genre is going to be before I start a piece but if the inspiration takes me somewhere else then I don’t try and steer back because the characters lead the story.

Kristen Lamb 

Genre is essential for those who want to write professionally, for an income and for a living. For those who are having fun simply writing? No, doesn’t matter. For those who are new and learning? Not as huge of a deal but starting to be important. Those who want to be experimental and maybe want to win awards? Meh.

Yet, for anyone who want to be PAID for their books (code for product), genre is our lighthouse to keep us from smashing on the rocks.

The entire point of genre is so the author can locate and cultivate fans who will BUY his/her books…which they (readers) will also be able to locate because they will know where the book is shelved or what genre it’s listed under.

If no one has any idea WTH a book is, where to shelve it, or how to describe it? That’s bad.

If the book gets into a bookstore, then where do they put it? “General Fiction.” Okay. Sucky but okay.

But, since most people discover and buy books online, what keywords would you attach? Genre will matter BIG.

What other product/service/ business would be so indeterminate and hope to have any commercial success?

“You know, I am going to open a restaurant and just cook what I feel like and the ingredients just tell me what to do.” Um, have fun storming the castle. Rock on!

But marketing and advertising will now be a total nightmare. Good luck finding those who will eat a place no one can accurately describe.

Same with books.

Not impossible but adds a TON of unnecessary work when authors already have a ton to do as is.

I think a MAJOR misconception is genre somehow locks us into formulaic writing, which is patently false.

First of all, yes there are formulaic genres. Write a category sweet romance and there is a strict formula because these publishers know their readers and what they want.

And, since romance brings in BILLIONS and makes up over 70% of all books sold? Probably a good idea to listen to the guidelines.

Beyond that, genres can be melded and we (as writers) can get creative much like musicians who create fusions of sound, juxtaposing different types of music for a wholly unique sound (I.e. old gospel hymns influencing heavy metal).

Yet, the musicians KNOW music before playing around and reinventing new sounds.

Similarly, we should know and understand genre expectations. They exist for a reason.

Genres help us identify who is most likely to buy our book (which in the new paradigm we need to know no matter which way we publish).

Secondly, genres have rules and we break the rules at our own peril.

Breaking rules is fine. I do it all the time. But I know the rules BEFORE I break them.

For instance, there used to be a rule that one couldn’t mix POVs. If you began in first you had to stay there. If you began in third, you stayed there.

But WHY did the rule exist? Namely to stave off confusion. YET, Jefferson Parker (genius he is) wanted the audience to gain a closer psychic distance with the antagonist to make them more attached and thus more conflicted about him being apprehended/stopped.

So he wrote the antagonist in close first and the MC protagonist in third to make the reader psychologically struggle at a whole new level. Jeff knew genre, the rules, the constraints, THEN he bent them to do something never done.

Thirdly, genre is primarily for readers. It helps them find what they are looking for. When we don’t want to put a genre on our work because it ‘limits the muse’ or whatever, it is like asking our audience to go grocery shopping and buy canned goods with no labels and just trust it will be yummy.

Genres help readers have SOME idea of what they are getting. If we mislabel, there can be consequences.

Years ago, I had a client who believed she had a romance (but obviously hadn’t studied genre rules/expectations).

She self-published and got SLAYED in reviews, and panicked and sobbing, hired me to help. I took one look and knew the problem.

Yes, her writing was good and so was the story, but in her book…guy and gal didn’t end up together in the end.

In romance, (back then) you needed an HEA (Happily Ever After) which has loosened up to an HFN (Happily For Now) but the couple still has to end up together.

Without that? NOT a romance. She had a Women’s Fiction. She got a new cover, relaunched, slated in the correct genre and BOOM. Sales and great reviews.

In this instance, we had a case of completely different audience with different expectations.

When we slot a book in the wrong genre it’s like serving someone Tofurkey and trying to tell them it’s actually turkey. They are going to HATE it because the basis for comparison is TURKEY not vegan meat substitutes.

It’s like a bad bait-and-switch that ticks off readers.

Then, genre is going to give guideposts to word count. How LONG is the book roughly supposed to be?

Audiences in certain genres have preferences. Epic high fantasy readers give no figs about reading a 180,000 word book. Someone who likes cozy mysteries? No. Like 65K. Sure, feel free to write a 180,000 word cozy mystery but no one who loves that genre is likely to buy.

As far as considering genre ahead of time? I don’t understand how an author can’t do this, at least loosely. Stories are for the audience, not us. Unless we only want to sell a book to ourselves.

And this isn’t me saying “write for the market’ because that sort of “writing for the market” is when you, say, love writing Jane Austen historical romances and decide, instead, to write a techno-thriller because the genre is hot at the moment…and yet you can’t use your printer without tech support and are so bored by military fiction you want to kill yourself…but you write it because it is HOT.

Just no.

But beyond that, looking at genre is a FANTASTIC resource to understand our readers, who they are, what they want and not only give them what they want…but also slip in something they never knew they wanted until they read your book!

***This is why agents need to know genre. They have to have ammo to SELL our manuscript for the most BANK. If they can’t articulate what it IS, who is going to buy it? No one. Bye, Felicia.

Back to process. To me, failing to even roughly determine genre ahead of time is madness. I’ve done it (when I was a n00b) and it sucks and I have the scars to prove how dumb this was (for me).

My time is valuable. Without determining some broad strokes regarding genre, that is a formula for revision HELL. To be retro-fitting the Space Station for a hot tub.

It will make SEO and keywords a BEAST. Ultimately, it’s just a recipe for heavy drinking and ugly crying.

Just because we choose a genre in the beginning doesn’t mean we can’t get creative and blend or even veer at an angle toward a kissing-cousin genre (I.e. suspense can become a thriller).

In the end, writers can do whatever works for them and sells a lot of books. Yet—after fifteen years in this business professionally—I’ve found that, more often than not, writers who eschew genre rarely finish the book.

Or, if they do, revisions are like a trip to the fifth circle of hell which is why it takes FOREVER for them to ‘finish.’ Often, they can’t get traditionally published and so they self-pub and the books don’t sell (and there are reasons for that).

Look at authors making bank, traditionally and nontraditionally published. They KNOW their genre and audience and they WRITE FOR THEM…even the literary folks (*nod to Fredrik Backman*).

Anyway, long response but there ya go. My two cents…okay twenty bucks. Best of luck to everyone.

I’d say knowing at least a basic genre before you start writing is important. Maybe you know you want to write a romance, but figure out as you’re going along it’ll be an erotic romance. Okay, fine. But you can’t just start spewing words without knowing your characters, the plot, what genre, etc. You can’t sit down and just start typing without knowing some form of topic of what you’re writing. It’ll just turn into a mess that way.

over to you

So let’s look at this from a slightly different angle.

If you are writing in a particular genre do you ‘conform’ to the preconceived format of that genre? If romance – fall in love, difficulties arise, opposing feeling, loss of love, surprise event, and falling back into deep everlasting love? OR Sci-fi – the hero has to fight an enemy, the struggle is real and looks overwhelming, battles and fights, a glimpse of hope and the final defeat?

Do you want to conform to formula writing? Would you rather break the mold? Is it a myth that genres have formulas?

With a specific genre there is a better chance your book will be put into the genre bookshelf as opposed to a general fiction slot as Kristen mentioned.

Is this good marketing?

Does it restrict your creativity?

 

Author Interview Eva Blaskovic

November 30, 2018
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  1. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Traditionally, it energizes me, but not because it’s easy. Transcribing from images and feelings to the right words takes blood and sweat, no matter how well I know my story.

I’ve worked under schedules that have exhausted me, though.

  1. What is your writing Kryptonite?

Kryptonite weakens Superman, brings him to his knees, makes him unable to go on. For me, that has always been my work hours, which have not only been odd, keeping me out of writing groups and events, but also long. Determined to find a way to improve my writing skills and become part of a writing community, I connected with writing instructors and industry experts through international online courses since 2006. It was a community I could interact with by leaving messages in the middle of the night when no sane local person was awake. It has taken superhuman effort to write my first novel during many upheavals in my life and three jobs at a time, but I was determined to do it.

The second Kryptonite would be my fiction writing speed, which is much slower than my non-fiction speed. Taking part in NaNoWriMo means committing several hours a day to make the 1,667-word daily quota, plus writing about 12 hours on Sunday. I ultimately “won” NaNoWriMo in 2014 with over 50,000 words in 30 days while working six days a week.

  1. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I’ve looked into why some authors do it. Sometimes it’s because what they write conflicts with their job or image. Others simply want a name that sounds good and is more likely to sell than their real name. Still others want to cover their gender to prevent publisher or reader bias.

Using my real name just makes sense to me, even if it doesn’t have the eloquence and appeal of a best-selling author name. Or I could be Klára Dvořák.

  1. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

My first author connections were international, mostly from the US and UK. As a single mom, I was working through all the local author meetings and event times. I couldn’t be anywhere in person unless it was in the wee hours of the night. Thanks to the Internet, I had an extensive online community before I ever became involved locally. Even now, I miss all weeknight meetings, and I’m lucky if I can make a Saturday event. Fortunately, I know a small number of local authors (Edmonton, Sherwood Park, St. Albert, Morinville) with whom I meet in person several times a year. I wish I could meet with the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County (WFSC) a lot more often.

More recently, my daughter, Leslie Hodgins, has published her first book, Rebel Destiny. It has been wonderful talking “shop” with her.

Author friends and instructors have helped with feedback on my writing, with knowledge of publishing, graphics, promotion, and events. But mostly, it just feels good to be in the company of other writers and be able to talk about writing or read their work. Special mentions go to Mandy Eve-Barnett and Linda J. Pedley.

  1. Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Right now, I have a published novel that could stand alone, although I have started writing a companion novel/sequel to expand on some of the situations mentioned in the first book.

The two other books in progress are stand-alones.

  1. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

The absolute best money I ever spent was on writing courses in 2006 to 2012, which gave me access to professional critiques, editing, and communication with instructors who had worked as acquisition editors in publishing houses, instructed Fine Arts programs at universities, wrote for well-known magazines or publishers, and/or traditionally published their own books. These courses and individuals helped me hone my craft. After that, the best money I spent was to Dream Write Publishing.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

When I was very young and said something stupid that couldn’t be taken back with an apology.

Later, in school, I couldn’t impress anyone with my writing or verbal presentations—neither teachers nor students. A few teachers gave me credit for my mechanics, though, especially in writing dialogue.

Only once ever, in the final year of high school when I answered a child development/perspective question during a discussion period, did the class, much to my amazement, clap. (I was a nobody in school, so that was kind of a big deal.) I guess that’s the one time I can actually say I had insight beyond my years and an ability to get into the developing brains of children and youth, and actually advocate for them. That ability later became the foundation to my job, my parenting, and my writing, but the credit for it goes to my mother.

  1. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

I can’t even begin to say.

  1. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

Interesting question. I never thought about it and can’t answer this question even after months of pondering it.

  1. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Three fiction books and a parenting/educator handbook.

  1. What does literary success look like to you?

VJ Gage (January 2018) described it like this: “It would be that many thousands of people have read and enjoyed my books. I would want them to say they could not put my books down and that my plots are unique and clever, and that I have a great imagination.  Then I would like to make lots of money.”

Writing a book is a heck of a lot of work, and prepping it for publication is a heck of a lot of work on top of that. With that in mind, it would be nice if my book had some traction, both in terms of readership, literary credibility, and sales. That’s just the reality of life. Anyone can write for the joy of it, but to make a book and keep making them needs some form of return.

  1. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

It depends on what kind of book it is. For my first book, the events, relationships, interviews, and readings from my whole life, distilled, were my research. When I needed more, there was the Internet. I researched the psychology of grief in real life as well as through literature.

For my fantasy and supernatural books, the process was different, since the decision to write each was sudden. But I did research locations, clothing, tools, mineshafts, etc.

Research can be done at different stages: before writing, at the beginning of writing when you come across something you need to know, and toward the end to verify or adjust information.

With non-fiction, though, the brunt of the research and organization comes up front.

  1. How many hours a day/week do you write?

When I do get to write, it’s a marathon. I’ll write until it’s done (an article or short story), or until I drop. In the past, I had written for 17-20 hours a day for many days straight when writing novels. Unfortunately, this kind of time was rare and usually took long weekends and holidays.

I often can’t go near a novel (first draft or revision) unless I’m guaranteed an uninterrupted three to four hours at a stretch.

I do not get distracted by social media or anything else during these times. It’s very intense focus.

  1. How do you select the names of your characters?

*Evil grin* I steal and collect names. I’ve had some sort of protagonist for as long as I can remember. He—yes, always he, though not the same one over my lifespan—often came with a family and a community of friends. These people needed names, so I was always writing down and saving names I liked. Nowadays, I search baby name lists as well.

It’s a little more difficult with last names. I have to be more careful.

  1. What was your hardest scene to write?

One of the oldest yet hardest scenes to write was the first climax in my published novel. I grappled with it for over five years. It has been rewritten more times than any other scene in the book.

Beyond the Precipice

  1. Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

I’ve always written a form of reality fiction or literary fiction. My novel took on a psychological theme because I guess that’s what I know best.

As a child, I watched sci-fi, but I wrote adventures and was particularly interested in outdoor survival stories—for which I had no hands-on experience, and Internet research was still a good twenty years away. The nifty thing about living life is that you gain experience whether you want to or not. One day, I was finally in a position to write a book, but it was about a different kind of survival—more internal, more cerebral.

I wrote a fantasy adventure for NaNoWriMo 2014 because I could make that form of writing go much faster.

Each genre and book is so different that it’s hard to mix anything up because what belongs in one story doesn’t belong in another.

Random ideas for any story can be written down at any time. However, in order to complete a book properly and give it the best continuity of style, foreshadow, and character, it’s best for me to immerse myself in one book during the processes of revision and preparation for publication.

  1. How long have you been writing?

Since before I could form letters. Then, during my childhood and right through university. I took a hiatus after marriage and while the kids were small. Writing was difficult to justify because I couldn’t produce anything worthwhile. I was alone with my passion until the age of the Internet, when I could seek help from people outside of my immediate geographical location. In 2006, online writing courses made it possible for me to connect with writing experts who taught me how to write novels (and articles) properly. Over the next decade, I began to find books and articles with valuable information for the professional writer. I educated myself as much as I could, conferred with my writing mentors, and practiced, practiced, practiced.

  1. What inspires you?

Anything in life, real or fictional, can be an inspiration or become a part of a story. Authors see potential stories and character traits everywhere.

  1. How do you find or make time to write?

There has only ever been one way, and it is not healthy: sleep less.

  1. What projects are you working on at the present?

I began working on Beyond the Music (companion/sequel to Beyond the Precipice), Druyan (fantasy adventure), Ironclad (supernatural adventure), and a parenting/educator handbook. However, they are on hold indefinitely.

  1. What do your plans for future projects include?

I would have to finish the above projects first, unless I got an incredibly hot new idea that pretty much wrote itself.

  1. Share a link to your author website.

My website link is https://evablaskovic.com/.

Thank you, Mandy, for this interview.

Eva

 

 

 

Author Interview – Laurel Deedrick-Mayne

August 31, 2018
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  1. Does writing energize or exhaust you? Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get started but once ‘in’ the time flies. I leave this world and am immersed in the work. I love that feeling when the heart starts to race a little; there’s a fullness to the breath; a hum in the muscles.
  1. What is your writing Kryptonite? Procrastination in all its wily disguises.
  1. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? I have enough challenges figuring out who I am on any given day with the names I DO have. I generally go by Laurel Deedrick-Mayne. How can you tell I got married in the eighties when everyone was double-barrelling their names? A pseudonym would only confuse the issue.
  1. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? I’m friends with a number of other authors and I am always simultaneously inspired, intimidated and encouraged by them. Some have such tremendous self-discipline. Others are such Smarty Pants I whither in their presence. But all of them remind me of the endlessly vast stories that are worthy of being told.
  1. Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book? I definitely want each book to stand alone. A Wake For The Dreamland was Canadian Historical Fiction spanning 1939-1979 and somewhat male-centric, taking place during WWII and the aftermath. The new project is about an intrepid nurse in the Yukon from 1949-1958.  There is some crossover in time period and sexual orientation of protagonists. Ironically, the published memoir of said nurse was titled: No Man Stands Alone.

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  1. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? Every penny I’ve spent has been worth it but the highlight greatest honour was touring the battlefields of Sicily and Italy with very elderly Veterans who were paying homage to their fallen friends, comrades and their own youth.
  1. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? In the 60’s when I was very young the Jello company changed all their boxes to the same colour with the differing flavours merely spelled out on the box but no associated colour; ie: No yellow on the lemon, purple on the grape etc. My mother fired off a letter to the company and in no time flat we received a great parcel of – you guessed it – JELLO – in ALL the appropriate colours. But seriously, the power of words was bred in my bones: my forebears being great correspondents, my grandfather- a broadcaster and journalist. I grew up to the tap of the typewriter and texture of imprint on the page.
  1. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? I don’t actually have one.
  1. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? I spent a considerable amount of time writing at the Banff Centre in the Rocky Mountains and would often be visited by deer outside my studio window. They would stand stock still, always listening, alert, responsive, agile and swift. I took cues from them. As a writer I watch, listen carefully and when struck with an idea, run with it.
  1. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? There are three on the stove but only one on the burner.
  1. What does literary success look like to you? Touching, connecting with readers. For example, at one of over 50 book clubs, a woman said she’d always had a problematic relationship with her father and not much sympathy or respect or even love for him but she knew he had been in the Italian campaign during WWII. While reading my book she felt like she began to understand what he had gone through, and she felt more compassion. She cried as she told this story because he had passed away and she could never tell him. That’s pretty powerful stuff. The book seems to inspire people to think about that generation which has largely passed on now and share their own stories. I’d call that success. Of course being 67 times on Edmonton’s Best Seller List means people are still buying and reading and talking about the book and that is hugely satisfying. Winning the Alberta Readers Choice Award and being a Finalist for the Whistler Independent Book Prize are both great honours, but somehow it still feels like I just got lucky. Many people want to write but never do. Success is in the process and completing the project to the best of one’s ability. Anyone who has climbed that mountain and finished a book has already achieved something extraordinary and should be celebrated. Literary success is probably subjective and certainly fleeting and hardly the most important thing in life.
  1. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? My method was to write the heart of each scene and honour the story first and foremost, at least in early drafts. I conduct my research concurrently, strengthening and supporting the story as I delve deeper into the well and wormholes of research. Some authors get so excited about what they have learned that they wear their research on their sleeve and it can get in the way of the story. It’s easy to fall into that trap because the learning is tremendously rewarding and exciting and we kind of want to shout our discoveries from the rooftops. I have read every page of the Regimental diary, hordes of newspapers (British, Canadian and Local) from the war years, dozens of books, listened to audio recordings and read countless diaries and letters and collected hours of interviews BUT that should not be blatantly evident to a reader. I have read books where all the clever and obvious research overshadowed the characters and their drama. I have followed in the footsteps of the Canadians in Sicily and Italy with Veterans who were revisiting. I have to know all those gory details and all of that research is the bedrock of the book but what appears on the page must be more lively and transparent and leave some room for the reader to connect and use their own imagination.
  1. How many hours a day/week do you write? I still only have one designated day but much of my life revolved around child and elder care with my last book. My mother died the week my book went to press and my father 444 days later and I have been working through the process of grieving, settling estates, etc. etc. Life can get in the way and that isn’t a ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuse. It is the way the world turns. I should soon be able to add at least one more day/week.
  1. How do you select the names of your characters? Oh, I know it sounds corny but they kind of introduced themselves to me. I made a couple subtle changes as I went along. Part of my editing process includes reading aloud and recording and if a name (or anything for that matter) doesn’t sound right, then it isn’t right and needs to be tweaked a little.
  1. What was your hardest scene to write? Some of the war scenes nearly broke my heart but were also the most satisfying. It wasn’t a technical challenge but an emotional one. Some of the love scenes had me in hysterics and gave me a whole new appreciation for writers who can pull them off.
  1. Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  If you write more than one, how do you balance them? Writing is like being an explorer and it is great fun for me to try different genres on for size: Goldie Locks-ing my way around the story finding what feels right, challenging myself, flexing my writing muscles. Even if I trip and fall, success is the quality of the journey. Quick! Call the Cliché Police.
  1. How long have you been writing? Since I could hold a pencil
  1. What inspires you?  Oh—simply this crazy thing called life.
  1. How do you find or make time to write? It’s my biggest challenge. And fear. Because I think there is so much to write about I’m afraid I’d never stop. But there’s a great deal of living to do as well and I don’t want to miss that.
  1. What projects are you working on at the present? The work-in-progress is looking like a combustible and controversial biography. It’s about Amy Wilson, a Nurse In the Yukon. You can even Google her. It’s scary as hell, for many cultural and political reasons.
  1. What do your plans for future projects include? There’s a Prisoner of War, WWI era play (or maybe musical) on a back burner. It’s not as ridiculous as that sounds.
  1. Share a link to your author website. awakeforthedreamland.com

Bio:

Once an Arts Administrator, Laurel Deedrick-Mayne has been a dance publicist, concert promoter, ad copywriter and box office bunny. She has served on multiple arts boards while maintaining her ‘day job’ as a massage therapist. Her independently published debut novel, A Wake For The Dreamland won the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award in 2016 and has been on Edmonton’s Best Seller List for 67 weeks. She has been a guest at over 60 book clubs and other book-related events. A late bloomer to publishing but a life-long third generation letter and story writer, Laurel celebrates the ‘love that dared not speak it’s name’ while paying tribute to the generation who took the time to hang on to family letters, clippings, stories and poetry — all those ‘treasures’ that inspired A Wake For The Dreamland.

 

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