Dragons, Romance, Vampires & a Demon Cat | Diane Nelson

 Today I have the honour of inviting the Hilarious and Mischievous Diane Nelson. Creative Director of an Indie Publisher, Fantasy & Romance Author, Equestrian, Fantasist are all apt descriptions for this talented author and publisher. I had thought to serve coffee and be all respectable but this soon changed to margaritas served with a side of much laughter. I would have to say that this has been one of the most entertaining interviews I have held on this blog. So you can add humourist to those descriptions of Diane. So pull up a chair, take a martini glass and enjoy the chilled margaritas while Diane talks about her love of all things fantastical and gives us her nuggets of wisdom on Indie publishing and first submissions. Oh I almost forgot, her muse Rowan and her Demon Cat will be sitting in on the interview as well. From Diane’s own accounts both are never too far from her side.

Welcome Diane…

girl with a quill: Ernest Hemingway famously wrote a six-word story. Tell us a bit about yourself in 6 words. Who is Diane Nelson?
Diane: She loves to tilt at windmills.

girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Writer?
Diane: As with most writers, I’ve never ‘not written’. There was a time—long long ago, in a land far far away—when journals, diaries, and letters were the essence of communication and self-expression. Telephones were multi-line devices with nosy neighbors listening in and per minute charges that strained a family’s budget. Television was a modern miracle doled out in small doses, not the time hog it is today. I grew up on the tail end of that period and on the cusp of the electronic revolution. The advent of ‘email’ was a revelation, an opportunity, a gift for someone like me who communicates best through the written word. Friends and family are far-flung so keeping them abreast of my latest adventures evolved into stories. To my surprise I found out that people were saving my writings. Eventually those same people said: when you retire, you will write full-time.

girl with a quill:How long have you been writing for?
Diane: My professional career as an x-ray diffractionist (think physics with a strong creative bent) involved a substantial amount of technical writing, something that instilled discipline and an appreciation for economy and clarity that translated well when I turned to fiction as an outlet for my creative energies. It did not, however, shake me free of a propensity for run-on sentences. One must have obstacles to overcome … always. (And to answer the question: 35 years.)

girl with a quill: Besides writing, what are your other passions / hobbies?
Diane: My passions and hobbies are life style choices. I live in the country, reveling in the rhythms and demands of equestrian pursuits. I have competed in dressage, eventing, hunter-jumper and endurance/competitive trail. I ran a boarding stable, trained riders and horses, gave clinics for 4H and Pony Club, managed horse shows—a total immersion in all things equine. My grandmother, a Russian emigrant, taught me needlework. I lived on a sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay and to this day the experience remains a source of inspiration for my stories. I love the cinema and theater (and television). I read, a lot. I have evil chickens and a Demon Cat and a parakeet with, um, certain propensities that are blush-worthy.

girl with a quill: You are also creative director of Pfoxmoor Publishing, an independent press. How did this role come about?
Diane: As is my habit, I did a lot of research on the publishing industry, the hoops writers are forced to jump through to get noticed, if at all, and the incredible lag times between securing that first contract and eventually having one’s work reach the light of day. Since I came late to the fiction publishing side of the equation—and because by nature I am Type A, take charge of my career—I did not wish to waste precious time. I also analyzed my own reading preferences and how the major publishing houses were overlooking new authors offering fresh voices in favor of a tired formulaic approach. I felt compelled to seek out and champion those authors being overlooked because they do not fit into a convenient mold. Along the way I discovered a community of amazingly talented individuals who embrace a similar philosophy.

girl with a quill: As an indie publisher: Where do you see the future of publishing going? 

Diane: Ah yes, crystal ball time. Well, I do believe the future of publishing is digital. And no, I don’t think print will ever go out of fashion. We are in a state of flux. While the eReaders are truly revolutionary devices, there will be wonders and marvels and apps galore in the upcoming months and years. Reading will become interactive, embracing audio, video and who knows what else. The author who simply commits words to paper (how quaint) or a Word/Pages document will be left behind. It is no longer enough to simply express oneself through a novel, short story or poem. The reading public expects, demands, a level of interaction that transcends everything that has gone before. The publisher will continue as one conduit amongst many options to bring new content to the public. But the paradigm is changing and publishers must be nimble enough to change, sometimes rather drastically in a short amount of time. Smaller, stream-lined niche publishers who are in a position to analyze and understand their market, and are willing to respond, will be the most successful. 

girl with a quill: In the unique role of being on both sides of the industry, writer and publisher, what are 3 pieces of advice you would give to a new writer about to submit a manuscript?
Diane: 1) I learned this the hard way: find a professional editor to fine-tooth your masterpiece, someone willing to give you the tough feedback you need. This goes way beyond snagging typos and misspellings. A good editor will nail your inconsistencies, will help you understand your characters and their motivations, will give you reasons for and against particular choices. And yes, it is expensive. You get what you pay for. But if you are committed to your work, then you simply must be committed to making it the best it can be. Trust me, you can’t do this alone.

2) Whoever you submit to—read their submission policies carefully. Does your work fit into what they specialize in? Who else do they represent? Make your first three chapters absolutely, positively error free. Write a proper query letter. That means researching, taking classes, attending writer conferences to learn how to do it. I have seen one, exactly one, properly constructed query letter. Learn how to do a synopsis. An agent or a publisher wants to know everything, right down to the spoilers. Clever cliffhangers will not engage an editor. If they say they want a 3-4 page synopsis, then this is what you give them. Once you’ve learned to do that, then learn how to condense that into a single page, three paragraphs, one paragraph and finally a single sentence. 

3) Understand that even with independent, ‘nimble’ publishers, the sheer volume of content crossing that desk is daunting. Everything takes three times longer than you might expect. Understand that a ‘no’ doesn’t necessarily mean you are a bad writer. It may simply mean that the content did not appeal for a host of reasons. This is a totally subjective business. And always, always write a thank you note (even if the rejection hurt and was perhaps not as kindly worded as it could have been). This is the professional thing to do and will leave the editor/publisher/agent with a positive attitude toward you as a person, even if they had a more negative reaction to your work.

girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer? and Why?
Diane: I am an unrepentant geek and a purveyor of all things popular culture. Joss Whedon walks on water, Marti Noxon rips my heart out of my chest and hands it to me on a platter still beating, James Cameron had me within the first three minutes. I follow screen writers/directors/special effects guys like the worst fanboy/girl. I love scenes with cinematic appeal and I adore writers who write to that. It is not easy. And it is easily overdone. Basically every person I’ve ever met is a story waiting to be told. People, and the odd quirks of fate that make us who we are, are my inspiration. That I choose to occasionally travel down a dark path is a testament to my own checkered history, one that requires cathartic venting to keep me on an even keel. And to help me appreciate the incredible gifts that surround me today.

girl with a quill: If your life story were a novel, what genre would it be and what would be the story-arc up to this point?

Diane: Something between a Stephanie Plum and a Midnight Breed novel. Though noirish seems more suitable at times. I’m rarely one plot line or story arc. I am the Phoenix rising from the ashes.

girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill that space with?
Diane: Generally the living room sitting in a ratty old recliner with a small round table to hold my Cherry coke and a tilt table holding my laptop. Throw in an iPod and Bose headphones and Demon Cat on my lap.

girl with a quill: Tell us about your writing process from that magical moment when the story’s idea / character voice interrupts your thoughts…what happens next?
Diane: A song title, musical phrasing, a snippet of conversation, virtually everything is fodder for a story. Frequently I will dream an entire novel—on those occasions I can’t get to the laptop fast enough in the morning. A little gal from a middle school choral group once asked me how I come up with ideas. I told her that I have all these people who rent apartments in my head. And sometimes they sublet and don’t tell me. Then, when I go knocking on that door, expecting to talk with the tenant, this stranger will answer, invite me in for tea (it’s a tweener, so I kept it ‘clean’) and a story. She loved it because it made sense in a skewed way. What she didn’t know is that every word was true (except for the tea).

girl with a quill: Are you a plotter, a pantster or a little of both?
Diane: Pantser. Dyed in the wool. It is a blessing and a curse. It makes me a better short story/flash fiction writer than a novelist (I think).

girl with a quill: What genre do you write in and why?
Diane: Fantasy, but that encompasses a wide range of themes. I love paranormal because of the freedoms it grants to explore different worlds, different states of being, different choices and consequences.

girl with a quill: We all have little habits and quirks that make us individual.
(a) What are your bad habits in writing?
(b) What are your strengths in writing?
Diane: a) Oy vey, that‘s easy: really dense, economical phrasing and complex sentence structures that can challenge even a graduate level reader

b) really dense, economical phrasing … it’s how I write. And I know it’s not for everyone. I’ve been called a very ‘sensuous writer’ with an extremely strong voice. Whether or not it’s because of that ‘really dense’ propensity, I haven’t a clue.

girl with a quill: If you could try your pen at another genre, which genre would you choose?
Diane: Literary fiction. First I need to figure out exactly what that is. But it sounds tres cool and much of what passes for that genre involves … really dense, economical phrasing…

girl with a quill: Can you tell us a bit about the book/s you have written?
Diane: I am perhaps proudest of my YA fantasy Dragon Academy, published by ireadiwrite Publishing under my real name, Diane Nelson. I wanted to write about normal kids in a world where dragons exist as a matter of course, where they make mistakes and learn to deal with issues without being pummeled by dysfunctions and all the ugliness that has invaded YA literature today. My other pride and joy is Sculpting David, published by Red Sage under my pen name Nya Rawlyns—a sophisticated contemporary romance set in the shark filled waters of NYC’s art world. In November I have a new novel coming out from Red Sage titled Hunter’s Crossing, another contemporary romance which draws on my equestrian background. I also have a 4-book series in progress titled Portals under my other pen name T.S. Bond. Book One, Spar with the Devil, is out and will be followed shortly by The Devil and the Falcon. This is a dark urban fantasy, action-adventure tale of two families/cultures at war, a saga of love denied and betrayal.

girl with a quill: What is your best sentence you have written?
Diane: Honestly? I haven’t written it yet.

girl with a quill: Are you working on any WIP now? Can you tell us a bit about it?
Diane: Someone said, at RWA, that ‘vamps are dead’ with apparently no pun intended. We were discussing the glut of vamp stories on the market and wondering if readers have gotten tapped out yet. My gut feeling was ‘no’. So I decided to write a vamp story that will be a three-story arc titled Hunger Hurts. The first book is Acid Jazz Singer which features a vamp transvestite who was turned mid-sex change transformation. The vamp is not the actual main character but rather the catalyst around which the action happens. The story is, um, evolving given my pantser nature. In truth it’s going to strange and wondrous places and I can’t wait to discover how it turns out.

girl with a quill: First drafts are for the writers themselves. Who reads your work after you?
Diane: I have beta readers for my dark urban fantasy. Sometimes I will post a chapter on FB or on my website to gauge reactions. I also belong to GLVWG which has quite a number of critique groups depending upon genre. They are an invaluable resource. 

girl with a quill: Why do you write?
Diane: Why do I eat? Why do I breathe? I simply must do so.

girl with a quill: Do you have a common theme or Omni-Premise that threads its way through all your writing? If so, what is it?
Diane: That each of us carries demons within us, whether by nature or by circumstance, and that the process of exorcising those demons or wrapping them in close embrace, is what makes us who we are.

girl with a quill: Do you believe in Muses? If you do, who/what is your Muse?
Diane: Oh, do I ever. In fact my muse has his own fan club. His name is Rowan and his exploits are legendary. My son used to explain to folks about his mother having an ‘imaginary friend’. Now he isn’t so sure about that.

girl with a quill: If you found a golden lamp with a genie and he told you he could either make one of your stories come true or that you could become a character for a short time in another author’s book, which option would you choose and why?

Diane: Well, since in my own mind my stories are true, then being a character in someone else’s novel would be a treat. The opportunity to wreak havoc, sow dissent and otherwise make a nice character having a bad day even worse off? Oh yeah.

girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?

Diane: Most of my work is character driven. Without characters you care about, the story, the message, the lesson, will not matter. But then, without a story you are left with store-front mannequins. It’s a chicken-egg question, after all.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?
Diane: Rowan, based on my muse’s tortured past. This is in the third book of the Portals series: The Devil and the Shaman. I wrote this one from first person point of view—this allowed me such deep penetration into the character’s psyche that it was at once liberating and terrifying. This was one of those times when I truly opened a vein.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?
Diane: Would you laugh hysterically if I said ‘Ranger’ from the Stephanie Plum series? He’s Cuban, he’s hot and he says ‘Babe’. I mean, really, um, ‘scuse me while I go stand in front of the open freezer for a couple minutes…

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?
Diane: Joss Whedon (see above), Rockne S. O’Bannon because he was the mastermind behind the best SciFi show ever: Farscape, James Cameron (come on, you need to ask?), Michael Bay (because he blows shit up better than anybody) and Charlaine Harris because her ‘Verse has captivated and enthralled me for years.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?
Diane: Oh my, tough one, this. Atticus Kodiak from the series by Greg Rucka. A unique character who grew and made some tough, uncompromising choices that took me to uncomfortable places. Along the same lines I’d have to include Elvis Cole and Joe Long from the series by Robert Crais—again, these characters grow, evolve and must deal with a world in which their choices are often morally compromised. From Charlaine Harris’ ‘True Blood’ Verse, Eric (do I have blood in my hair?) and Pam (is it because I wear too much pink?). Humph, that’s five and I’m just getting started. Must call Wegmans to order a larger shrimp platter.

girl with a quill: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?
Diane: Write every single day.

girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?
Diane: Edit every single day.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?
Diane: I don’t write so that everyone will love me. I write for that one person for whom my story resonates, made a difference. If I am someone’s favorite author, then really what more can one ask?

girl with a quill: Where can we find your book/s for sale?
Diane: The usual suspects: Amazon, Kindle, B&N, Smashwords, OmniLit, Red Sage

girl with a quill: Finally where can we find you on the web?
Diane: As a publisher: http://www.pfoxmoorpublishing.com, http://www.pfoxchase.com.

Website: http://www.romancingwords.com and http://www.idancewithwords.com

Scene 1, Chapter 1, “ACTION”, Take 2

A possum and a movie camera 1943
Image by Australian War Memorial collection via Flickr

I have been rehearsing the first few scenes of my novel in my head this week. I decided I needed a break from the actual writing of the WIP to allow for the critique to marinade in my mind for a bit. After attending my first conference, I came away feeling refreshed and challenged. However, I also started looking at my WIP properly and realised that I needed to take a step back to be able to see it clearly.

One of the speakers at the conference was the talented Chris Vogler. Chris works in two mediums, story-telling and movies. Chris gave an inspiring talk on inspiration. A lot of his workshop though was an equal blend of movie talk and writing talk. This got me thinking. If I looked at my WIP with the eyes of a director, would I be happy with my scenes or would I need to do a couple more takes? This fresh perspective has allowed me to critique my novel from a removed space.

So, thinking like a film director, I began:

Scene 1, Chapter 1, “ACTION”

Cutting and editing a WIP is necessary to get to the fresh new branches needed for blossoms. Prior to the conference, we had been told to submit the first two pages of our WIP for a cold read and critique. Looking at the first two pages of my WIP, it struck me that I was “explaining” the story rather than “telling” the story. So I experimented with cutting the first 2 chapters of my WIP and making the third chapter the starting point. All of a sudden, I had action and movement with the first few words of the story. I decided to submit the edited WIP from the third chapter to see what reaction I would get in the cold read. The editor liked the language of the story and her interest was piqued, however I was “explaining” too much. At first, I was annoyed with this critique. Did she not know that I had already cut – very painfully I may add – the first two chapters of this WIP? Now I needed to cut more?! Again, I reminded myself to take a step back. I did not cut anything else from my WIP. Over the next few workshops, I let the critique from the cold read marinade in my mind. I started adding info from all the workshops into the critique.

I have now taken a week off from the actual “writing” and “cutting” of my WIP. This week has been a week of “cooking”. I needed to turn all the info and critiques from the conference into some sort of stew that would make a gourmet meal out of my very basic meal of a novel. At the same time, I have been using the editing part of my brain and been critiquing a WIP from my critique partner.

Now I sit here, one week after the conference, with fresh eyes and ready fingers. I am brought back again to looking at my WIP with the eyes of a director viewing a scene. I realise that, annoyed as I was initially by the cold read and subsequent critique, the editor was correct. I was “explaining” too much. I was not giving the reader the benefit of the doubt and was actually “dumbing down” the WIP.

Epiphany • a moment of sudden revelation or insight.

It was also during one of the workshops that I had an epiphany. It was not my first epiphany of the conference and it would not be my last. I have realised that in my fantasy WIP I was spending too much time “explaining” because I was trying to build my world for the reader. There was a key ingredient I was overlooking. It would mean a complete restart but it would give me the bones of this story with ACTION rather than BACKSTORY through EXPLANATION. To tell the story of my 2 MCs, I needed to start with the conflict that created their world. So this brings me to “TAKE 2”.

So I do not need to throw out what I have already written but I realise that I have enough story here for 2 – 3 stories. I was trying to fit too much into one WIP. I also realised that I was starting with story 2 and that I needed to start with story 1. So now it is time for TAKE 2.

Before I begin TAKE 2, I am going to remember the first words called out at the first filming of a scene: “ACTION”. I need to start with ACTION. I need to give the reader the benefit of the doubt. I also need to keep the reader/viewer hooked with a little teasing. I realised I do not need to explain the story away with too much backstory. Backstory has its place but for the beginning ACTION is key.

Time to begin: Scene 1, Chapter 1, “ACTION”, “CUT”, “Take 2″…


Food for thought….

What is your editing/cutting method?

If your WIP was a film, would it have people on the edge of their seats or would it leave them yawning and frustrated?

Have you done a cold read of your own WIP as if it was another writer’s WIP?

© All rights reserved Kim Koning


Related Articles

The Never-ending stories..

“If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger–

If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early–

If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless–

If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won’t understand what Bastian did next.”
— Michael Ende (The Neverending Story)

“Bastion looked at the book.
‘I wonder,’ he said to himself, ‘what’s in a book while it’s closed. Oh, I know it’s full of letters printed on paper, but all the same, something must be happening, because as soon as I open it, there’s a whole story with people I don’t know yet and all kinds of adventures, deeds and battles. And sometimes there are storms at sea, or it takes you to strange cities and countries. All those things are somehow shut in a book. Of course you have to read it to find out. But it’s already there, that’s the funny thing. I just wish I knew how it could be.’
Suddenly an almost festive mood came over him.
He settled himself down, picked up the book, opened it to the first page, and began to read…”
Michael Ende (The Neverending Story)


Dear Reader,

What is your favourite childhood fantasy or fairytale?

Mine is without question: The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende…Both the book and original movie truly depict the wondrous world of imagination and dreaming that readers inhabit every time they open the cover of a new book.

Today I watched “The Never Ending Story” again on YouTube. Just like every other time I have watched this movie, all the world disappeared for 94 minutes while I disappeared into the world of Fantasia…riding with Atreyu and R-Tex through the desert of desolation or the swamp of sadness all while trying to save the child empress with the help of a human child….Bastian..just a boy who loves reading…

That is the true power of imagination and stories….the ability to totally forget about your worries and to disappear into another world.

I think that is one of the reasons why I have always made up stories..whether I was telling them to my baby brother or whether I wrote them down for myself to read…I loved disappearing into the world of imagination and dreams. My love for words has always run deep through my veins, my first nickname as a child being “Little Bookworm”. No matter what the weather was like outside I was never bored because I always had a book to disappear into. Even now, no matter where I go I always take at least 2 books with me even if it is going to my day job where I manage a fashion store. I have my books in my laptop bag and at lunch I know I can disappear into a book and let imagination refuel me.

So…all this talk of imagination and fantasy has got me inspired. I have set myself a challenge for June to write 2000 – 5000 words every day for 30 days in a novel. I just was not sure what  type of novel I wanted to do this challenge in. Now I have decided, I want to be a “Bastian” and disappear into a world of fantasy. This is very different to my actual book that I am working on at the moment which is a book of realistic fiction where a woman has to make a life or death choice and then has to deal with the consequences and fall out for her loved ones as a result of her choice.

So that is the plan…Tomorrow, the last day of May will be spent fleshing out a plot line for my June Challenge and then Tuesday, the 1st of June will be day one. Already I have characters that have started growing in my imagination all day today. I will be posting excerpts of this “challenge novel” on this weblog so please feel free to grant me your words of sage advice and wisdom.

So, tell me Dear Reader…what is your favourite childhood story/fantasy to disappear into? What story makes you lose the pragmatism of adulthood and re-enter the Fantastic Innocence and Imagination of your childhood?

Rambling away,KK…

Ps*I leave you with these words…

“Once someone dreams a dream, it can’t just drop out of existence. But if the dreamer can’t remember it, what becomes of it? It lives on in Fantastica, deep under earth. There are forgotten dreams stored in many layers. The deeper one digs, the closer they are. All Fantastica rests on a foundation of forgotten dreams.”
Michael Ende (The Neverending Story)

That’s the post from my blog for the 30th….