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Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing. His fourth book, Turning To Stone, came out 15 June 2015. Gabriel writes short stories, which are available online and in print. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts. In this interview, he talks about the secrets of writing compelling suspense.

Connect with Gabriel Valjan on the web:

Blog: https://gabrielswharf.wordpress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gabriel-Valjan/291400997547203

Twitter: @GValjan

Website: www.gabrielvaljan.com

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Turning To Stone. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?   

A: Bianca is in Naples this time. Loki, her mysterious contact, is now giving her baffling anagrams. They seem to lead to a charismatic entrepreneur who has a plan to partner with organized crime to manipulate the euro and American dollar. Against a backdrop of gritty streets, financial speculation, and a group of female assassins on motorcycles, Bianca and her friends discover that Naples might just be the most dangerous city in Italy.

Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah, his journalistic exposé on the Neapolitan Camorra, which sent him into exile with a price on his head, inspired Turning To Stone. The Fiscal Crisis of 2008 provides an undercurrent to the novel. I followed the fallout in the media as it related to Italy. Italy, in my opinion, became the first scapegoat, followed by Spain. Italy and Spain are the third and fourth biggest Eurozone economies, respectively. The American media pundits had insisted that the European welfare state is what caused the debt crisis in Europe; that it was European public debt that caused the fiasco, when in reality it was Wall Street’s speculation of American private debt on the international market that had been the true culprit. Italians are very prudent when it comes to their money; they have one of the highest savings rates among European nations and the household net wealth is more than five times their GDP, the highest rate among western European countries. Not once anywhere in the media here in the U.S. had those facts been discussed. Traditionally, Italians invest in government bonds and real estate, very rarely in stocks. Turning To Stone ventures the what-if scenario: what if someone tried to destabilize the world’s reference currency, the U.S. dollar. The thing to fear is fear itself and a stable Euro.

Italy may have its problems, but its welfare state is not one of them. Some glaring facts contradict the pundits’ portrait of a ‘weak Italy’, but I’ll mention only two of them, for the sake of space and time: 1) Italy is the least indebted of the EU economies (‘aggregate debt’ is public and private debt combined) and 2) Italian citizens own that public debt: the U.S. can’t say that about its debt, which the Chinese own. If there is a ‘message’, I would say that all my novels deal with relationships and trust, how friends navigate and negotiate a morally compromised world, uncertain of what is the truth or the lie and whether either of those two could get them killed.

Q: What do you think makes a good mystery-suspense novel? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: Item 1: Present a reason WHY a reader should care about your main character. This is the personal connection. My Bianca is intelligent but flawed. She is something of an adrenaline addict who can’t resist a challenge. She ran away from her employer, Rendition, yet she remains intrigued when they seem to present challenges to her through Loki. As in life when you know your WHY, you acquire an attractive energy. The rest of the story is a matter of HOW. Bianca has specific talents, but she learns time and again that teamwork is how one overcomes obstacles.

TurningtoStone_FlatforeBooksItem 2: Present a WHAT: a situation in which the main character has to resolve some conflict, or there are consequences. This is the mystery part of your story. I summarized the plot in an earlier question. Throughout the Roma Series I want readers to wonder why Rendition, which is powerful, apparently international, and lethal has not silenced Bianca.

Item 3: Present a ticking TIME BOMB. This is the suspense part. Every decision has to have a consequence. Arriving at the wrong conclusion is misdirection. In Turning, I invite the reader to solve the anagrams. People, in my experience, can learn to deal with the consequences of their actions, but they think twice, reconsider the situation, when they know that their actions will affect someone close to them. The Time Bomb is also a metaphor to go beyond your own ego. Bianca has dear friends who have put themselves at risk for her; she can’t let them down.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: Turning To Stone is unique in the Roma Series in that it is my most complex plot. Economics is an abstract subject and about as interesting to most people as clipping their toenails. It is 2015, yet the consequences of the Fiscal Crises of 2007 and 2008 are still playing themselves out here and abroad. I noticed a curious phenomenon within the news media: American news packaged the crises into neat sound bytes with very little analysis. The finger pointing was such that the pundits pointed at the moon, but had us staring at the finger. When Wall Street received some of the blame, the knee-jerk reaction was to blame it all on greed rather than explain how the bankers did it.

In plotting Turning I wanted to show that the criminal’s plan would affect national economies. We are all connected. Think about the farmer or trucker when you buy produce at the store? You are dependent on him for sustenance and his farm is dependent on your consumer loyalty. Turning is about considering those connections. The currency in your pocket means something because we all assign a value to it, so what if someone came along and redefined that value for you? That is exactly what happened in 2007 and 2008. In stark terms, one casualty of the Crises was home ownership, the symbol of the American Dream. Someone came along and said that your home is relatively worthless, but you still have to pay the mortgage and property taxes based on the original appraisal that no longer exists. In terms of consequences today, the news will talk about austerity measures, but won’t tell you about the suicides as a result of unemployment in Greece. Just this morning I was reading about a doctor in Greece who had worked a 12-hour shift, dealing with such suicides, only to end his shift seeing a body bag that contained the body of his son who had killed himself.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: I didn’t do interviews, but Bianca is inside my head, figuratively speaking. As with all my characters in the Roma Series, they live and breathe, have their own personalities and quirks. Bianca began as a challenge from a work colleague. She jokingly teased me that a man couldn’t write a female character. She wanted to see what I could do. She was tired of reading about detectives, male or female, who cursed all the time, had a drinking problem and dysfunctional relationships with their family and peers. I think she was reading a lot of British and Icelandic noir at the time. I’m old enough to remember the primitive days of computing so that helped in bringing Bianca into existence. As a kid, I knew one of the world’s premiere hackers. Bianca is an amalgam of personalities I have met and known. She is no Lisabeth Salander but she has her own issues. The short story I had written for a friend morphed into the first book in the Roma Series: Roma, Underground.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: Each Roma Series book has its own villain. Each novel has organized crime and Rendition as monolithic bad guys. I tried to avoid stereotypes. In my experience, the people who are very experienced at the not-so-nice things in this world are very quiet and unassuming; they don’t draw attention to themselves. Men who have seen and participated in combat, for example, don’t talk about it. Likewise, the individuals who are powerful in organized crime are not flashy, don’t have their names on a chart, or drive fancy cars and act like Tony Soprano; they are often milquetoast. John le Carré demonstrated countless times in his fiction that spy-work is hardly James Bond adventures; it is mind-numbing routine, analysis, and endless waiting until the opportunity presents itself. My bad guys are intelligent and well educated. What makes them deadly is they don’t make mistakes, which is why Bianca and her friends are heroic – they have to stop the baddies. In Turning, it so happens that the bad guy has allies, the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra, along with the Calabrian and Sicilian mafias, the ’Ndrangheta and La Cosa Nostra.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: Writing a mystery-suspense novel is like camera-work in filmmaking. A writer has to know when to cut the scene and guide the reader’s eyes to another scene. In shoptalk, I’m referring to pacing and subplot. The story arcs are zoom-in and tracking shots. If we were to dissect Turning, we’d start with an assassination and learn about a criminal conspiracy to commit forgery; our characters, particularly Bianca, struggle to put a stop to the violence while they field interference: bureaucratic and criminal. The subplots are always about the relationships in my books. Farrugia is undercover and at risk. He also has a love interest, Noelle. I introduce a new character who has a question mark over his head. Good or bad guy? In Turning, the ticking bomb is solving the anagrams that Loki gives Bianca.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: Research and personal experience. I’ve been to Naples; it isn’t my favorite Italian city. Naples is very gritty and reminds me of New York’s Little Italy on the hottest, most humid day in the summer. Saviano’s Gomorrah, which I mentioned earlier, provided me with a sociological and psychological profile of Naples and the region, Campania. I read through blog posts done by ordinary citizens who are trying to fight the Camorra. What I found fascinating and disturbing is that organized crime is like a biological creature in that it has organ systems and a nervous system. The Sicilian mafia is hierarchical, patriarchal, and closed off. The Calabrian mafia is impenetrable to law enforcement, with an almost non-existent rate of penitents, those who ‘flip.’ The Camorra is the most flexible organization in that it will work with any ethnic group and it can ‘set up shop’ anywhere in the world. Readers will quickly discover in Turning To Stone that, like real life, women play a vital role in the Camorra. After reading Saviano, I concluded that Camorra would make the perfect corporation.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: The recurrent theme to all the Roma novels is the evolving relationships between the main characters. These characters are team players with unique flaws and strengths. True friendship is worth fighting for in a troubled world. I hope that readers see an emotional arc in character development in each of my characters throughout the Series. The world is a scary place and governments are entities that will do what they have to do in order to survive. People are ultimately expendable. The only thing that any government needs from its citizens is their consent. I tend to know my plot before I start writing. Revision is for fine-tuning scenes and checking the logic of the plot.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: That is a challenging question. Craft to me is technique, those things that you learn by example from reading other authors, or from study in the classroom. What can’t be taught is the idea for a story. Take Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral” as an example. The idea is simple yet profound: How do you explain a cathedral to a blind man? Nobody can teach the idea for a story. Stories from writers with an MFA come to my mind: technique is there, evident, and I feel the nudge and the wink, but often the story has no life; it does not ‘speak’ and feels clinical. Art — I make no claims to define it, but for me artistry exists in taking the mundane and making it extraordinary. I appreciate it when someone shows me a new way at looking at something, whether it is a flower or a garbage can.

Editing is complicated and the hardest part of writing. It amounts to murder – the ‘kill your darlings.’ I would say that editing dialog is tricky. In real life, people do not speak full sentences or display coherent thoughts, which the reader knows and for which he or she suspends belief, but if the writer holds steadfast to every grammar rule then the dialog wouldn’t sound realistic. People, for example, don’t subordinate in real life: ‘I think it’s unrealistic’ versus ‘I think that it is unrealistic.’ A writer needs an honest, caring editor who knows language and psychology.

Speaking for myself, I can’t proofread my own work because my eyes don’t see the missing words. I know the story too well, so I rely on others for structural editing. Ego has to be left outside the door. The writer is not there to say, “This is what I meant when I wrote this.” What is there on the page has to speak for itself without commentary.  A structural edit should find gaps in logic and continuity. Bianca came into the room with red heels; she shouldn’t exit wearing sandals. As to whether editing can kill the creative – I don’t think so, but no amount of judicious editing will save bad writing or an ill-conceived story.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: Humility. Curiosity. Discipline.

Humility: The story is what matters. A reader cares about what is on the page, and not about who you are or what you look like, or if you are traditionally or self-published.

Curiosity: Remain open and as curious as a child. Lessons come from unexpected sources. It is all material..

Discipline: Time spent talking about it is time you could be doing it.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: Homework sounds like a bad thing, as if it’s an unpleasant chore. Musicians appreciate good music regardless of their personal preference because they understand rhythm and melody. A cineaste will watch a film, know how it will end yet will find pleasure on the screen from start to finish. Writers are no different in that they appreciate a well-turned phrase, a clever image or a well-told story. Instead of homework I would say that when you enjoy what you do you don’t think of it as homework. You have to breathe and that isn’t homework. Writing is like breathing for some people.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: Rennie Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Carolyn Wheat’s How to Write Killer Fiction are two excellent books that provide numerous examples to substantiate their teaching points. Kristen Lamb’s blog We Are Not Alone offers both writing advice and social media strategies. Writer Unboxed is another blog that has daily articles of encouragement and advice for writers. Other than that, the greatest resource that any writer has is their library card.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: Respect your reader, for their time is precious, and be grateful should they spend it with you. Respect yourself and write the best story that you can write today. Listen to the world around with all your senses, for it is all material. Learn from your mistakes and from others, and strive to be 1% better each day. You will not only be a better writer, but a better human being.

///////////////////////////////////////////////

Title: Turning To Stone

Genre: Mystery, Suspense

Author: Gabriel Valjan

Website: http://wintergoosepublishing.com

Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing

Purchase link: http://amzn.to/1N73WGy

Bianca is in Naples for Turning To Stone, the fourth book in the Roma Series from author Gabriel Valjan. Loki, her mysterious contact, is now giving Bianca baffling anagrams. They seem to lead to a charismatic entrepreneur who has a plan to partner with organized crime to manipulate the euro and American dollar. Against a backdrop of gritty streets, financial speculation, and a group of female assassins on motorcycles, Bianca and her friends discover that Naples might just be the most dangerous city in Italy.

Pinterest boards for the Roma Series books

Book 4: Turning To Stone | https://www.pinterest.com/gvaljan/turning-to-stone/

Book 3: Threading the Needle | https://www.pinterest.com/gvaljan/threading-the-needle/

Books 2: Wasp’s Nest  | https://www.pinterest.com/gvaljan/wasp-s-nest/

Book 1: Roma, Underground  | https://www.pinterest.com/gvaljan/roma

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If you’re reading this, chances are you are an author, maybe published, maybe not. Regardless, you dream of success.  The question is what do you think of as success.
Is success being published by a large publisher with mega sales? Do you think of success as making a fortune from your writing? Or do you dream of success as being well known with fame attached to your name and have people recognize your face and name everywhere?
Perhaps, you don’t care so much about fame or becoming wealthy from your writing. While a good return for your efforts is nice, the idea of success might be having people actually read and enjoy the books you write.
Ah, little do we know. And that’s the truth. Beginners know little about writing and even less of the publishing world. This has been true since out grandmothers’ days. Things have changed in the last hundred years beyond their wildest dreams. 
Any author who is comfortable with what they have achieved will tell you, the world of writing and publishing is constantly changing today, largely due to the changes and advances of modern technology.
Enter the Internet and the advent of new publishers and types of publishing. The first to break ground in this new medium would be the online publishers or small presses as they may also be called. These presses are responsible in large part for the success of many authors who never would have had a chance to be published and they are the founders of the new world of publishing.
This does not include the vanity presses of old.  The way the worked was simple. An author would finish a manuscript and whatever form it was submitted to the vanity press of their choice, along with a hefty check, is the way the book would be printed. Often the books themselves were well made since most of these vanity presses were printers who decided the extra income of producing books was nice to have. They would print and bind the book and send a certain number in boxes to the author and that was the end of their job. The author was now stuck with maybe as many as a hundred to five hundred copies of their book to sell, give away, or whatever they did with them.  Often, upon the passing of the author, the boxes were found stored somewhere, unopened. This was because the author had no idea how to sell their book, where to sell their book and how to reach the market. Bookstores would not accept them and unless the author went door to door, the only copies sold were to family and close friends who often as not never read the book.
Had those authors been around today, they could have saved their hundreds of dollars and been published on the Internet by a small press if they were lucky or later, they could self publish.
From the days of those old vanity presses, which are still around, the world has expanded to include several types of publishing and more come along all the time. Today, there is the ebook which with some learning can be published by the author and sold and publicized by the author. 
There are publishers who produce ebooks only and most of them are of excellent quality and well written books. Some will put the work into print but may charge the author for a set up fee.
There are traditional presses online that produce booth print and ebooks and their quality is excellent. Many will publicize the books they produce and build their name at the same time. Others leave the promotion to the author. For an author to be accepted by the first type of small press, their work must meet certain standards and be suitable to the niche market the publisher aims at.
To achieve the dream of success of other authors, they must make a connection with an agent who will successfully promote the work to the larger houses that refuse to deal with anyone but agents. This can be a very hard road to travel and result in disappointment. One must be prepared for this as it may take years to find the right agent who will believe in your work and promote it to those large presses.
So success may prove elusive to those of us who wait for someone to promote our work to others or we may take on the task ourselves and start those query letters or emails moving.
A writer’s success not only depends on writing that book, possibly the best book ever written, but their personal efforts to contact publishers or agents or both and getting their name out before the public, maybe months before their work is available and that effort must be continuous.
The reading public is wonderfully kind to most  authors, but it also has a short lived attntion span so the author must keep reminding them of his or her existence.
Our eventual success really does depend on us, whether we are aiming for top of the heap or a comfortable spot in the middle. You must decide what you can affort in time and money for the advancement of your book and work from that point. Achieving success means engineering our dreams to fit reality. And that is the most difficult step to success of all.
 *****
Anne K. Edwards enjoys writing in a variety of genres, excerpts of which are available for reading at Twilight Times Books or on Anne’s website.  Anne also reviews and edits, writes short stories and articles. She enjoys meeting people and travel. Be sure to visit her blog, “Invitation to a Book” on her website. Anne K. Edwards can be found on http://www.AnneKEdwards.com.

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Call for Submissions
 
You see it all the time in dedications and acknowledgements of books:  Words like: “To my dear husband, who has supported my writing all throughout the years in spite of the odds,” or “To my wife, who never stopped believing in me.”
 
But what happens when your ‘significant other’ doesn’t support your writing, either because he thinks you’ll never make it or because she thinks you’re wasting your time and efforts for nothing?
 
Writers often talk about their supportive spouses/partners, but seldom do we hear about theunsupportive ones—mainly because it is a cause of great sadness and shame to the writer.
 
I’ve heard of cases where a husband told her writer wife flat out, “You’ll never make it.” I even once heard a story about a husband who was so jealous of his wife’s ‘writing world,’ that he burned her manuscript. 
 
Though I don’t have a working title yet, I’m looking for 2,500-3,000-word (or longer) honest, poignant first-person accounts in the style of Chicken Soup for the Soul series. That is, true stories that are ultimately inspirational and show a great deal of perseverance and determination from the part of the writer in spite of the odds—in short, essays that will offer hope and moral support to writers who are experiencing a similar situation. The essays will be compiled into an anthology.
 
  • Does your significant other totally ignore your ‘writing world’ or view it with contempt either because you’re not making enough money or because they feel jealous?
  • Does he/she refuse to consider your writing as anything other than a ‘mere hobby?’
  • Does he/she belittle or demean your ‘writer dreams?’
  • Does he/she believe you’re wasting your time and should be spending that time in something more ‘valuable?’
  • Does he/she make you feel guilty for those hours you spend writing?
  • Does he/she say they understand, but then they put demands on your writing time and don’t respect it?
  • Is he/she jealous of the time you spend writing at the computer?
  • How does their behavior make you feel as a person and as a writer?
  • To what extend do their criticism contribute to your insecurity, anxiety, and maybe even depression?
  • How do you cope with their behavior?
  • What keeps you writing and persevering in spite of all the odds?
  • What would you like he/she to understand about you as a writer?
I talked about this idea with my agent and she’d be interested in representing this type of project providing I come up with a compelling set of personal essays. Of course, submissions will be treated in confidentiality and real names of people and places can be replaced with fictional ones.
 
Deadline:  March 31st 2013
 
If you’re interested in submitting or if you have questions, you can drop me an email at:mayra.calvani@gmail.com.
 
You may pass on the information to people who you think might be interested. 

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Most kids ditch their imaginary friends along with their sippy cups and security blankets.

That’s a good thing, right?

Well, marketers have discovered a new benefit to finding (and keeping) those imaginary friends again.

One top advertising agency –- Organic in Detroit –- even gave its imaginary friends their own office space.

Why?

Because these fictional characters, or “personas,” make it much easier to make a deep connection with your writing and content marketing.

“Personas allow them to journey into a relational territory where they can understand on an emotional level the most important determinants of real consumers’ brand preferences and purchase decisions,” Dale Buss writes in Advertising Age, “And personas give marketers a meaningful shorthand for communicating with one another.”

I agree with Mr. Buss. If you’ll humor me for a moment, I want to translate some of that advertising-speak and show you how to create your own imaginary marketing persona … and how he or she can make you a better writer.

Craft your own persona

Creating a persona can help your writing better resonate with audiences -– and it doesn’t require having extra office space.

You only need a willingness to be creative.

Create your own persona by first envisioning your perfect reader.

Then, write down the bare facts: name, age, gender, income, education and marital status. Focus not only on demographics, but also personal details that help you identify with this person on a more intimate level.

You can even do a quick search on Google Images to find a photo that matches the persona. Don’t use stock photos –- you want someone who looks real. (Just don’t share it publically unless you have permission to use the photo.)

The idea here is to get as specific as you can about the appearance of your imaginary friend.

Dive deeper into your persona

Once you’ve filled in the basic facts, write a paragraph or two for each of the following categories:

Personal information Describe her as if she was standing in the same room. Write about her goals, her values, her likes and dislikes. Write about her biggest problems, and the things that keep her up at night.
Needs What are her needs? What problems does she hope that your writing will solve? How are these problems causing her pain and discomfort? What end result does she want, and what end result does she really need? Are they the same?
Influence Here’s where you lay out all the factors that go into her decision to take your advice. What influences her decision? How does she find out about your writing, and why does she remember it? What differentiates you, and why is that important to her?

So, who is your imaginary friend?

Click here to download a PDF that takes a look at what the completed persona from the example above might look like.

Then take the time to create your own persona page.

Once you’ve finished, hang it somewhere you can refer to it often. That way, you can apply your future writing to this persona, and get an idea of whether it will resonate with your target market.

How about you — think you’re too old (or too smart) to have an imaginary friend?

Or maybe you’ve used a persona and found it improved your writing and marketing.

Either way, let us know about it in the comments below.

About the Author: Kelly Kautz is a freelance copywriter who blogs about marketing for small business owners.

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So, I’m sitting at a gloomy bar and gazing dreamily into the mirror behind the array of bottles. I’m not thinking about anything deep, really. Just wondering if my nose is getting bigger and if I should do something about that.

A burly man sits down next to me and taps his fingers on the bar to summon the bartender. Then he turns to me.

“You must be a writer,” he says.

I nod happily, giant nose bobbing up and down.

“That’s right,” I tell him. “What gave me away? The deep thought? A clip of conversation that hinted at an ability for literary gymnastics? An air of seething imagination?”

“No,” said the man. “I just noticed that you drink a lot.”

Misconceptions about writers are everywhere. There are still those who remain convinced that we are all modern incarnations of Faulkner, stumbling from our drunken beds just long enough to eat food directly from pans and to pound out five thousand words of prose before climbing back into our bottles.

I can live with this particular myth. Let them romanticize the craft by imagining us all as brooding intellectuals chained to our addictions as we cope with the crushing weight of genius.

But other misconceptions absolutely slay me.

If you get one book out there – just one, mind you – there will be those who assume you are fantastically rich. They will wonder aloud why you’re driving around in a 1992 Stanza when you must have a vault of cash somewhere from all of those book sales. They will ask you directly why your shoes have holes in them when Saks is just a short jet ride away.

Is it any wonder we drink?

There are those who will offer up advice on getting your book into the hands of a behemoth publishing house, or getting crazy buzz for an existing book, in one easy sentence: “You ought to send your book to Stephen King.”

Yes, Stephen King, who writes three novels a week and tours like a rock star, will probably save your ass. He’ll drop everything, flip through your rough draft with all its crazy margin notes and coffee stains, and see that it gets off to Random House.

With a personal recommendation, of course.

When the masses get wind of your writing efforts, they will immediately presume that after writing a novel or two, you are now tapped out of ideas. They will approach you in corner stores and windy parking lots to save you from literary asphyxiation.

“You know what you should write about?” they will say. “Boy, have I got some ideas for you.”

They say Faulkner was a sober man until this started happening.

Most authors I know have more ideas afloat then they have time to write them. Presently between novels, my most pressing problem now isn’t conjuring up some grand idea but deciding which of a half dozen to tackle next.

Do I want to write about the iPod playlist delivering subtle messages to the music listener? Should I go with the cannibalism plot dreamed up one weird night while dining with the in-laws? Do I want to write that story about what happens within the brain in the final seconds of life?

Lots to choose from, yet a minimum of two people today will try to convince me that their ideas require immediate attention from me personally.

Who among you will share his bottle with me?

There is a certain mystery about anyone who makes a living out of the written word. Non-writers look upon the author the way they look upon a campfire, wondering over the seeming magic of it. They want to know where all those ideas come from. They want to know what it is like to have a million words circling in the sky of your mind all at once, like a murder of crows that never flies away.

The mystery and the stereotypes don’t hurt much. They’ve been around since the first caveman, having not yet discovered liquor, scrawled his thoughts upon a stone. When people marvel over you as a writer, they will be more tempted to check out your work, forking over money you can use to buy new shoes.

Embrace the mystery, I say. Greet all of those misinformed comments and answer those endless questions with flourish. Stare into the mirror above the bar like the pensive literary beast that you are and make them wonder about what goes on within that writer’s mind.

And while you’re at it, take a look at my nose. Seriously, is it getting bigger?

Mark LaFlamme is an award-winning crime reporter and columnist at the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine. His weekly column, Street Talk, where he often compares editors to bats, spiders, extraterrestrial slugs, and “other beings too diabolical to describe,” has been named Best in Maine and Best in New England. In 2006, LaFlamme was named Journalist of the Year by the Maine Press Association.

Read an interview with Mark LaFlamme here.

Check out LaFlamme’s books on Amazon:

DIRT

Vegetation

The Pink Room

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Hey there,
This month I’m off again touring the blogosphere, this time to promote my nonfiction work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.
On the first day of the tour, Nov. 4th, I was at Donna McDine’s wonderful blog, Write What Inspires You. Donna posted the prologue of the book and we had a very succesful first day with lost of comments from visitors. Thanks again, Donna, for allowing me to be a guest on your blog!
Today on the 2nd day of the tour my co-author and I are off at Book Pleasures for an interview with Editor in Chief Norm Goldman.
Cheers!
Mayra

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Started in 2009, Echelon Press publishes short stories, novellas and novels in various genres. Under their new imprint 'Quake', they also publish fiction for middle graders and young adults. At present, Echelon publishes two paperback novels a month as well as one or two of their popular short story and novella downloads. Here to talk about the company and how it was created is owner Karen L. Syed. If you want to know what a publisher blog is about, visit Karen at The Life of a Publisher.

Thanks for being here today, Karen. Why don't you begin by telling us a bit about Echelon Press? When did it get started?

Echelon will be eight years old in February 2009. We started the company to make a place for writers to make a name for themselves. People seem to confuse that with not wanting to be successful. It has ALWAYS been my goal for any author at Echelon to go onto bigger and better things. If that means many books with Echelon, great! If that means one or two with us and then a contract with a bigger house, awesome. We are definitely not just a playground for writers who want to be published. I have recently discovered that there is a difference being an author and being a published writer.

You publish a fair amount of horror, both short stories and novels. What type of horror do you publish?

So far it hasn't been as much as I would like. I love the horror genre. What I'd like to see more of is the types written by John Saul or Douglas Clegg. I don't mean alien horror, they are more thrillers. I love the stuff that presents the unknown and grabs you by the throat and holds on tight without letting you immediately know what 'it' is.

What you do not like to see in a horror story and what are the most common mistakes horror writers make?

I am not a big fan of the total gore scene. I love the unknown. Knowing something is right around the corner, your skin crawling with apprehension and fear, while adrenaline rushes through you, leaving you breathless and unable to move. So many of the horror stories I read focus so much on the shock value that they don't give their stories a chance to develop fully. They spew slime and blood all over everything and think that this makes it spooky. It just makes it gross. Why can't authors rely on their senses to indulge the fear gene instead of just wanting to make people sick?

What makes a horror novel or story truly compelling?

The only thing compelling is the unknown. To recognize danger and fear and not know where that danger comes from. To feel the presence of an unknown entity so close that it's putrid breath blows across your cheek. To shiver against the chill of dread caused by words so powerful and explosive you have to close your eyes against the next phrase.

How do you see the state of the horror fiction market at the moment? Is it thriving or declining?

I don't know that it is declining, but neither is it thriving. I think so many authors in the genre have resorted to the shock value of the gruesome. The movie industry has made that so glamorous that authors feel the need to "keep up." This is not the case. Books are not the same as movies. Some people say that Friday the 13th and the Halloween movies are horror, but in fact I think they are more thrillers or gore flicks. Keep in mind this is just my idea, and many others may disagree.

What types horror books do you think are most popular with readers?

I can't even begin to answer that question. Different readers like different books.

You also publish horror for young adults. How much horror is too much horror in a young adult book?

I'll take a stab at this one, but let's be clear on one thing. How much is too much is up to the reader and their parents. For Quake, our new young reader line we like to keep things in the head. We aren't going to go out on a limb and offer gratuitous gore just to sell books. We all know that kids love all that blood and guts spurting here and there, but perhaps it's because it's all we offer them. When you present something as cool then what do you expect? A dude running around chopping off heads is not cool. A cloud of mist that sweeps into a room and envelops a sleeping girl while whispering secrets of evil, a little cooler.

On average, how many submissions do you receive in a month? Of those submissions, what percentage you end up accepting for publication?

Our paperback submissions are closed except for invitations and referrals, and eBooks, but we still get at least a dozen or so unsolicited submissions per week for paperback. Writers seem to ignore the potential for eBook sales and all want paper publication. eBooks have such great potential to build a readership, and if an author can build a readership with an eBook they can do anything.

As for acceptance, we do only twelve titles per year in paperback and right now aren't even getting enough submissions for eBook to do one per month. Did you know that tens of millions of dollars are spent on eBooks each year? Why wouldn’t an author want their share of that?

What tips would you offer authors who are doing book signings this Halloween?

Make them fun! They have to be fun. Don't let the readers wonder why they even bothered to come to your event. Show them with your words, you attitude, and your books that they are important to you. Don't make them wonder. And by all means get into the spirit! A little bit of spook goes a long way!

Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

This industry is one of the greatest. Don't take it for granted, whether you are a reader or a writer. Writers, don't ever forget why you sell your books for publication. It's all about your readers. You can write all you want, but if you are serious about being a solid published author, don't ever forget how you get there.

And readers, let the authors know what you like and don't like. Your opinion matters. If you don't like something, don't buy it, be honest and be open about your favorite authors. If the last five books you read by your favorite best seller stunk, then why keep buying them? Don't be afraid to try new authors, they are the future of the industry, and you might be surprised!

Thanks, Karen!

Interview by Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani is a multi-genre author and reviewer. Her paranormal books include Embraced by the Shadows (romantic horror/vampire) and Dark Lullaby (atmospheric horror). She is also the co-author of the nonfiction work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.

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