The next AFOW author interview!

Today, my featured author is Lozzi Counsell whose story “The Consequences of Grief” is included in the anthology A Flash of Words. Enjoy her interview, and check out the anthology!

What was the inspiration for your story?
When I was studying creative writing at uni, a fellow author (can’t remember who unfortunately) came to give a talk. We practised an exercise where we shut our eyes and Imagined ourselves led down. Where are you led? What’s the weather like? Take notice of your surroundings. I imagined myself in a dark field at night.

After taking notice of your surroundings (eyes still shut), turn your head to the left, there is a shadow approaching. Wait for it to get closer. What or whom is it? When they reach you, what do they want? I imagined my cat who had died years back approaching me.

From this I came up with an idea about going to a field to visit my dead cat every night because I couldn’t let her go. The cat soon became a child and ended up as the basis behind my story.

Was there a time when writing where you had to sit back stunned at what just happened? If so, what was it?
The ending. It wasn’t what I was originally going to go with, but I thought it would give the most emotional impact.

What do you think is the key to writing a compelling flash story?
For me it would be not too many characters. I sometimes get a bit lost when someone has a lot of characters, but especially in flash fiction there’s just not enough time to learn who each and every character is if there’s too many of them.

Apart from writing, what do you do for fun?
I’m very crafty and am always making things. Painting is an especially big hobby of mine — mostly watercolour animals.

Can you relate to any of the characters in your flash fiction story?
Yes, I really relate to the MC. I am not a parent myself, but I still know what it’s like to grieve.

If you were on death row, what would you want your last meal to be?
Easy. A chicken chaat from my local Indian restaurant as a starter. Afterwards, an Oreo crunch waffle from Kaspa’s and also Kinder Bueno cookie dough. For drinks, a Coke Zero, Oreo milkshake and Snickers milkshake.

 

 

 

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A Flash of Words interviews are here!

Hi, gang!

It’s that time again.  I have a story in a cool anthology called A Flash of Words, available now from Scout Media. In the coming weeks I’ll be featuring interviews with the authors of some of the stories, so stay tuned for the stories behind the stories, and check out the anthology for a whole lot of quick fiction.

Today, I am featuring author Dawn Taylor , whose story “For the Want of a Name” is included in the anthology A Flash of Words, alongside my own brand-new story, “Special Delivery.”

1. What was the inspiration for your story?
My friend shared his childhood memory of coveting a radio, but being too poor to buy it. As he told me the story, I imagined him as a young boy going into the store to look at the radio and wishing he could buy it. I originally wrote the story as a birthday gift to him, but when my editor told me it was such a powerful story told in few words, I submitted it for publication.

2. What do you think is the key to writing a compelling flash story?
My best advice is to convey one scene or emotion. Your word limit doesn’t allow you to offer much more.

3.How long did it take you to write your story?
About one hour, I already had the inspiration.

4.. Do I write everyday?
No. Do I think about writing everyday? Yes.

Pick up a copy of “A Flash of Words” in paperback or eBook at any book retailer worldwide, including Amazon. If purchased directly from Scout Media, you will recieve a FREE companion soundtrack CD!! #ScoutMedia #AFOW
http://www.scoutmediabooksmusic.com/a-flash-of-words

It’s almost here…

The final book of the Horizon Alpha trilogy releases this fall. Just a bit more polish, and we’ll return to Tau Ceti e one last time.

The stakes are higher.

The ‘saurs are hungrier.

And if we can’t get a shuttle back to the mother ship, everyone’s going to die.

Homecoming Release promo (1)

 

Why Writers Suck at Writing Their Own Jacket Copy

Writing the actual book is the fun part. It all goes downhill from there.

I’m often reminded of this when I peruse the feeds of all the online writing groups I belong to. Writer after writer posts their query letter or back jacket copy for critique, and it becomes obvious that for some reason the person who cobbled together eighty thousand words of a novel is exactly the wrong person to write the teaser paragraphs that are intended to hook an agent or publisher, or a reader in a bookstore.

We’re just terrible at it. I include myself in this without embarrassment.

I saw an example of it this week. A writer in an online group posted his potential jacket copy for the group’s help. It was a great character study that told us a lot about the main character, but basically nothing about the plot of the book. We had no idea what struggles she might be facing or what stakes would befall her if she failed in whatever she was trying to accomplish. In short, we got a great look at what makes the character special, but no clue at all what makes the STORY special.

So that’s what pretty much everybody told him. And he took it to heart.

Today he posted another version.  This one is an exhaustive look at the plot, event by event. I’m sure some of those events are super-interesting, but now it’s way too much. It’s just a plot synopsis, and if you are a writer, you’ll know that “synopsis” is the single most horrible word in the English language.

This got me thinking about why we’re all so bad at writing jacket copy for our own books, and often so good at writing it for someone else’s. I think it’s because we’re way too close to our stories.

If you ask a writer what’s great about their book, they’ll likely tell you, “Everything.”  We think every word, every plot point, every character and motivation are absolutely perfect. Otherwise we’d never let it get published.  But this is a huge problem when you’re trying to distill your book into two or three paragraphs for a query letter or ad copy.

If I ask you why your child is great, chances are you could give me an hour-long laundry list of all the things you love about your kid.  But what if I ask you what your kid does better than almost any other kid? You’ll think for a moment and come up with something like, “She’s on an all-star soccer team, and last week she gave half her lunch to a kid in her class that forgot his lunch money.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Instead of “All-around greatest kid ever,” we have, “athletic and compassionate.”  We’re drilling down to the “specialness” of this kid.

This is what we have to do with our books.

Jacket copy should be a burlesque show, not a hardcore XXX money-shot-to-the-face adult film. It needs to show us just enough to make us scream for more, but not so much that we already know the whole plot. We should be left wondering, “What’s under that feather?” and not, “How’s she going to get that stain out?”

I’m convinced that most of the time, someone else is better at finding those feather-covered bits than the author of the book in question. We either want to give you the hardcore-everything-right-now version, or we leave things so vague that you aren’t sure if you’re going to see a burlesque show or an actual Canadian Goose.

I always have someone else help me with jacket copy, and I  enjoy helping other writers work on their own. Finding the balance of “just enough feathers” is a tricky walk, but the end result should be an audience that can’t wait to hit “Buy Now” and see what all that shimmy is about.

It’s All In Your Head

I love the Olympics.

For two years at a time, I could not care less about sports. I don’t watch sports on TV, I don’t go to sporting events, and when I’m running, I’m always listening to an audiobook, so it doesn’t count as exercise so much as story time.  But that all changes when I hear that Olympic anthem.

I’ll watch anything. Doesn’t matter what sport it is. Summer or Winter Games, whether the USA is in medal contention or not…if it’s on TV, I’ll watch it.  And I can’t help but notice how little the difference is between taking home a medal and going home empty-handed.

The athletes at the Games are all at the top of their performance.  All the skaters can do a triple axel, and all the bobsledders can hop in and steer.  The skeleton sliders all know how to sign their wills before they jump on that ridiculous sled going headfirst at 80 miles an hour down a sheet of solid ice.

In bobsled this year, the difference between the gold medal finish and the guy in 20th place was 2.5 seconds.  In skeleton, it was less than a second.  Between the gold and silver medal women’s figure skaters was 1.31 point, out of over 200 points scored.

The difference between winning and losing is all mental at that level.  Every athlete is capable of performing to within a tiny fraction of the expertise of their competitors.   What makes a winner is their ability to control their minds.

You can see it in the warmups. They’re nervous, excited, trying to focus on what they have to do to get that medal.  Some of the skiers and snowboarders who’ve been to the Games multiple times are able to relax and concentrate, while others who are newer get completely psyched out.  They make mistakes they would never make at home where the only danger is… the potential for broken bones, paralysis, brain damage, and death.  But not medals. When that gold is on the line, it eats at their minds, and you can see it in their faces before their runs.

Of course I’m going to relate this to writing, because when you’re a writer, everything relates to writing.

Once a writer reaches a certain level of skill (which we call “Craft”, and it’s thing like grammar and punctuation, but also sentence structure, plot development, character arcs and all the things you shouldn’t notice when you read a good book because they feel so natural), we’re all on a fairly level playing field. There are standouts, as in every career, but the vast majority of us are at a similar plane of competence.  We can all write a good story.

That’s where the mental part comes in.  I’ve seen it so many times.  The really talented writers who can’t get out of their own way enough to actually finish a novel.  The ones who finish, but get mired in the process of finding an agent or publisher and never follow through.  Some of those will give up and self-publish something that isn’t ready, and the poor reviews or lack of sales will destroy them.  Others will just give up and quit writing.

It becomes a mental game, and there’s no gold medal at the end. Finishing the race of completing a novel leads to the new race of editing and revision. Finishing that race leads to the soul-crushing exercise of trying to get an agent to represent you.  Finishing that process leads to more revisions and edits, and on to the soul-crushing exercise of submitting the manuscript to publishers.  And if you’re lucky enough to cross that particular finish line, now you get to begin the lifelong process of promoting your book so it doesn’t languish at the bottom of the sales charts where no one will ever read it.

I know writers who are turning out stuff that’s better than most of what’s published by the Big 5.  You’ll never read their work, though, because they get stuck on one of those early races and can’t get past it.  I know of plenty who aren’t so skilled at the craft, but excel at the mental game, and are out there making a living by never giving up.

As in bobsledding, alpine skiing, or figure skating, the difference between the winners and the also-rans of writing is often measured in tiny percentiles.  When I watch the Olympic athletes compete, I’m only seeing the finished product…their published novel of work.  I’m not seeing the years of sacrifice it took them to get to the starting line.  I only see what they can do today, when the pressure is on.  When you read a novel, you’re only seeing the gold medal race, and not the years of work and practice it took to produce it.

The Games are coming to a close now, and I won’t likely watch a lot of sports again until the next time a torch is lit. But I’m working on my own mental game, practicing my literary triple axel and my headfirst slide down the ice track.  When you read a novel with my name on it, I hope you can hear my anthem playing, and see that gold medal hung around my neck.  And now it’s back to the practice rink to get ready for the next Olympics.

 

Indiana Writing Workshop Wrapup

Continuing education is part of most professions, and writing is no different. I love attending conferences for both of my jobs, and both for the same reason: leapfrogging.

Ordinary learning is step by step. You have an issue, so you try to find an answer.  You look things up, or consult a resource.  You try something and it works or it doesn’t. One way or another, you learn a new fact and apply it to the problem.  It’s a tedious process, and you only learn the answer to the specific issue you were trying to solve.

Leapfrogging jumps straight over those steps. You aren’t looking for one single answer. You’re attending an educational event where answers are shared freely, to questions you have and to questions you didn’t even know to ask. Industry leaders just tell you things…secrets and tricks that make whatever you do better, easier, more current, and more relevant. At the end of the day you go home with a notebook full of knowledge, having leapfrogged in your study of whatever the lecture was about.

Today’s Indiana Writing Workshop was a serious leapfrog.  Writing conferences generally feature two draws: speakers and pitch opportunities.  There are actual agents there that you can schedule a ten-minute window to pitch your book. It’s how I originally connected with my amazing agent Alice Speilburg, and it’s a great opportunity for anyone who’s trying to get a manuscript represented.

Obviously I wasn’t pitching today, but one of my writing buddies did, and she got a request from one of her dream agents.

I went for the speakers, one of whom was…my amazing agent Alice Speilburg.  She talked about the agenting process, what agents do and what they’re looking for, and her afternoon lecture was a leapfrog event on rewriting a manuscript based on reader feedback. She gave us revision tips equivalent to years of struggling alone, trying to figure out how to make sense of the comments our beloved beta readers give.

Marissa Corvisiero talked about publishing options, and about building an author platform with things like…blog posts.  So…hi, everybody. Here’s a blog post.

Thanks to the workshop coordinators, attending agents, and a big hello to all my new writer friends out there.

Keep leapfrogging. The next jump could land you somewhere wonderful.

Doors Close, Windows Open

You work and practice, honing your craft. You write THE novel. You know the one. That special novel where everything you’ve learned comes together into one solid piece of work.  There may have been many before it, but this one’s ready.

You research all the literary agents that represent novels like yours. You query. They request. You wait and hope.

And finally that glorious day comes when you get The Call.

An agent wants to represent your work.  An actual literary agent believes strongly enough in your mystery novel that she wants to send it out to editors with her name backing you up.

You’ve finally made it.  The door creaks open.

But the mystery doesn’t sell.  That’s pretty common, though nobody likes to talk about it. So you write another one, and your agent helps you craft it into something even more special than the first one. This is THE novel. This is the one.

And it doesn’t sell, either.

Something isn’t working and you both know it, so two years after The Call, you  and your agent sadly agree to part ways.

Devastating. You thought you had it made, and now you’re on your own again. The door slams shut.

But way back when you got that first Call, you had a phone conversation with another agent.  She didn’t offer to represent you then, because she didn’t think that first mystery would sell. The market was wrong.

She was right.

So you reconnect with her.  You send her your newest work.

And this one is special.

She agrees.  You spend an hour on the phone discussing how you’re going to make it better, shinier, more perfect.  And in the end, this agent who proved she understood the market way back when that first manuscript was on the table offers to represent you.  A window opens and a cool breeze blows in.

This time everything is right.

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m now represented by Alice Speilburg of the Alice Speilburg Literary Agency.

The window is open.  Watch what comes through.  beach window