Monday’s Mental Muscles | Beating Procrastination

 

Procrastination = gift wrapped in all sorts of packaging…

We have all been there. You are halfway through your WIP or halfway through your edits and suddenly there are a whole lot of pressing tasks that come up that have to be completed before you can continue with your writing/editing on the WIP. In steps our old frenemy “Procrastination”…

Frenemy, I hear you say, scratching your temple? Yes Frenemy. Not all Procrastination is necessarily bad. Now, don’t get me wrong I hate procrastination even while I find myself slipping into its slippery clutches again and again. Why do we procrastinate?

We procrastinate when a task becomes too difficult or too boring or feels too routine. As writers, we have all reached that part in the novel when you just want it written to get to the next climactic scene. In editing, you may have found that scene or two that needs to be cut but you just don’t want to cut it because every time you attempt to you remember how much work that scene took to write. So in steps our frenemy “Procrastination” and we go willingly hand in hand down a slippery slope of time-suck.

Procrastination can come in many forms. It can come in the form of household errands that just have to be done because if you don’t fo them, they will just pile up. It can come in the form of checking and responding to emails. It can some in the form of our favourite buzz-word: social networking. It can come in the form of perfectionism.

Perfectionism? How can that be a form of Procrastination?

Perfectionism is the ultimate procrastination for a writer with a perfectionist Type A personality. A perfectionist is never happy with their work, it is never good enough for them. So they will write and rewrite a scene 100 times and reading over it, they will still find something to perfect, correct and change. Don’t even get me started on the editing process.

I confess I am a Perfectionist. It is a gift and a curse. It also makes me my own worst enemy. My work is never good enough and never quite edited enough or grammatically perfect enough for me to step away feeling happy. I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I see all the glaring faults – whether they are actually there or not. It is not fun.

So what do I do to ward off this facet of Procrastination? Do I need to ward it off? Surely it is good to be a perfectionist and want the best manuscript to go out into the public eye. Yes I do want to ward it off. If I don’t stop perfectionism in its tracks, I will not ever let go of my WIP. I will still be making changes 20 years from now. Seriously, I am not kidding.

So if your Procrastination comes as Frenemy “Perfectionism, here are some ways you can counteract this or use it to your benefit…

  • Set yourself a minimum times you will rewrite a scene. (Three is usually a good number for me. It appeases the perfectionist professor in me but also makes sure I don’t procrastinate with the perfectionism for too long a time.)
  • Have at least three writing buddies who will make you turn over your WIP to for a read-through. 
  • The writing buddies will also come in handy in making you accountable. (Your butt may get a tad tender from the kicks but it is worth it.)
  • Set yourself both writing and editing time in the day. (The editing will again appease your Perfectionist.)
  • Join in something like NaNoWriMo to turn off that internal editor.
  • Practice Morning Pages – these are 3 A4 longhand written pages that you write first thing in the morning and do not go back over. (This will help the creative flow in your brain and put a stopper in the perfectionist.)
  • Start a journal – this will have the same benefits as the morning pages in blocking creative thought.
  • Write in shorter spurts of time. (You will have less time in front of the screen to be losing focus on trying to nitpick faults.)
  • Critique someone else’s manuscript – or even read a book and critique it – focusing on someone else’s faults will leave you less time to focus on your own faults.
  • Try writing your first drafts longhand. (I don’t know what it is about the effort of longhand writing but I am less eager to find fault with it then on the screen with the ease of a delete button or a backspace button.
  • If all else fails, step away from the WIP and take a walk outside. Going to the gym or going for a run will also work. Both the fresh air and the physical exertion will tire out the perfectionist in you. The outside air and exercise will also give you positive vibes which means you will be less inclined to look at your work negatively.

 

How does Procrastination come packaged in your world? 

What tips or exercises do you use/do to ward it off?

Do you procrastinate more in the drafting or the editing stage of your WIP?

Mary Lou Cassotto ~ Sisterhood & Stories

Today I have the honour of having a woman who has “fought the good fight” on behalf of all women out there. She was an instrumental part of the 1970’s Women’s Movement and helped get the first Woman Senator elected to her seat. She is woman who has worn many hats in her lifetime, amongst these being a lawyer at a time when women were rarely seen in court and when they were they tended to raise eyebrows. She still wears many hats and like all women seems to thrive on being the Multi-Tasker juggling many different balls in the air. Sit down with me while I chat to a woman who knows the true value and meaning of the term “Sisterhood” and what it took to give the Modern Woman her equal voice. Be prepared to want to ask many more questions of my fascinating and courageous guest…

I introduce Mary Lou Cassotto  –  a true Survivor, a courageous “sister” and a warrior of words and ideals.


girl with a quill: Hi Mary Lou. Lovely to have you here in the Dragonfly Scrolls studio. Take a seat. Get comfortable. Can I offer you something to drink while we talk?

Mary Lou: My favourite drinks would be Chai tea in cooler months, apple martinis or mango ones in the warmer ones.

girl with a quill: Who is Mary Lou?

Mary Lou: Mary Lou is the person who has looked for the perfect job her entire life, one that would give her time to have a real life and a stimulating professional one at the same time. If you know what it is, please let ME know! She is a dreamer/realist who was once the shyest person in her class but now teaches Public Speaking on the college level when she is not teaching College Writing mostly to criminal investigation students. She loves cats, dogs, children, attending writing, reading and library conventions and meeting other writers.

girl with a quill: You have been a lawyer, teacher, librarian, drama coach. What role was most challenging?

Mary Lou: You forgot to add that I worked as a counselor as well for a while! (My apologies..) I’d have to say the most challenging role had to be the one of being a lawyer, although each job had its challenges. When I practiced law in 1975, I was often the only woman in the courtroom. I think there were just three or four of us at that time in the state capital where I worked. A lot of men did not think we women should be in the courtroom, as well as most of the women. I am sure that has all changed now, although the lack of creativity one is allowed to express in the courtroom, I doubt, has changed.

(Now I can definitely see a compelling story here..)

Writing now has its challenges as well. Although I have taught writing in college, high school and junior high school for more than twenty years, the kind of writing I was taught in school and that I teach,  is totally different from the kind one needs to know about to be a good creative writer. Writers today definitely are not following the formats of the classical authors. There is no time for readers to spend focusing on and absorbing the literature of the past. The writing craft is changing constantly, and I am continually learning.

girl with a quill: When did you decide to become a writer and how long have you been writing?

The only things I ever really wanted to be in my life were a writer and an artist, ever since grammar school. Being able to do those things seemed to me only for those born with  talent, or the very brave. I was OK at those two disciplines, but to survive I took the safer route, I became an English and Art teacher, and a librarian.

I realized at age seven that the only way to have a lasting influence on the world was to paint or write, so I began then to write my first novel. I don’t remember, but I think my book was about a princess; I wanted to be one of those too! I read every fairy tale book there was in my public library as well as studied painting in the turrets there with professional artists. My mother worked part time to fund my art courses. The library was my bridge to a larger world. My mother hadn’t completed high school, my aunts never made it out of grade school; one of my grandmothers signed her name with an X, so you can see how much of an effect the library had on me. I wish I knew where that first book was.

(The young Mary Lou was wise beyond her years it may seem in reflection. How astute an observation! Yes the power of art and creativity can not only influence the world but change it. It is a path that is not a job but a calling.)

In the 1970’s, I later tried to write a play about the women’s movement. I had helped put together most of the women’s groups in my state; I and six friends worked on legislation, hired the first woman lobbyist, groomed women to run for public office and sponsored them. I flew down to Texas to obtain funds to help run the first woman for the state Senate. I also was instrumental in establishing the Permanent Commission of the Status of Women, sat on the first Board of Directors, was the first woman chair in my town of the Economic Development Commission, as well as the first day care and battered wives shelter. The play was about the women in my groups, my “sisters” we called ourselves, and how different we all were. Many of the women  had switched sexual orientation after finding no support in their efforts at authentication. We often disagreed, because I wanted to find a way of reconciling  the “old ways” with the new. I had been raised strict Catholic and was married. The play was called, “Where Do We Go from Here?” Unfortunately, I never finished it. It was written when Wendy Wasserstein first wrote.

Then in 2009, NaNoWriMo came into my life and the rest is history. While everyone else worked on their novel, I tried writing a memoir about the true story of the women’s movement in my state. I wanted others to know the costs some women had to pay in order for other women to have their rights. After three attempts I gave up non-fiction, and switched to YA fiction. As I had worked with young people as a public defender for juveniles and as a teacher, it was a logical choice.

girl with a quill: In most jobs, we all have a water cooler area where we gather around the water cooler or automatic coffee machine and discuss the office news and gossip. Do you have a Water Cooler group?

Mary Lou: Without a doubt, my main Water Cooler group is the Warrior Chat group begun by Lia Keyes, who has been very active in the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I am absolutely addicted to the group and have learned so much about writing craft and the changes in the publishing industry from them. The members feel like “best friends” and I especially love commiserating with my Brit sisters from England, Australia, New Zealand, and my other European  sisters from Holland and from Spain. My background, because of the times I grew up in, the literature I read, and my major in college, make me think more British than American. Communicating with the group is like coming home.

I also belong to two SCBWI picture groups, and a YA group that meets near New York City. Each group is so different.

girl with a quill: Who has been the greatest influence on your life and your writing?

Mary Lou: Gladys Taber, the woman who compiled the Stillmeadow books from her magazine articles in the 1960’s in Family Circle magazine, has had the most effect on my life, overall. She is my favorite author, and like me attended an all women’s college. She then went on to teach writing at Columbia, and like myself, became disenchanted with the city, so she and her best friend from college bought a little house in Southbury, Connecticut, where they raised prize-winning cocker spaniels and where she supported herself and the rest of their families, by writing  cooking and gardening books as well as self-reflective books about the changing of the seasons. She was my hope and life line in my times of greatest despair. Like me, she wound up being separated from her husband, and how she continued to make herself happy has always been of the utmost inspiration to me.

I have also belonged to a couple of Jane Austen fan clubs, visited the homes of various women authors and male painters, and studied the Bronte sisters’ life in depth. Concord, Massachusetts, the home of Louisa May Alcott is one of my favorite places as is Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the home of Daniel Chester French, who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial. Literally, I decided to study and teach art and literature after visiting Alcott’s and French’s homes.

girl with a quill: If your life was a novel, what kind of novel would it be and what would be the story arc?

Mary Lou: My life would be a realistic YA novel as well as an inspirational one, because I have had to overcome many obstacles in my life, including being the first woman in my family to attend college, and the first woman in my town to attend law school. My being divorced after a long marriage and being a single mom also presented severe challenges.

(Those are some astounding “firsts”. You truly embody chasing after a dream!)

girl with a quill: Describe your writing space.

Mary Lou: Well, years ago I bought a table like the one Hemingway wrote on in Key West, but I write in the same place I used to write as a little girl, in my bed, with my electric blanket turned up full blast even in April, and with my dogs Cutie and Tia, and my cat Snowflake, by my side. There has to be a pine, lavender or grass scented candle wafting in the distance, complete silence, and a large block of time. I don’t know how others can write at their kids’ soccer practice! I also need my story outline and character motivation sheets at my side. Snow days are a God send.

(Wow…I am envious: A table like Ernest Hemingway..I am also a bed-writer. You have to love the invention of the laptop computer.)

girl with a quill: From the moment when you first get the inkling of a story, what is your writing process.

Mary Lou: I am afraid my writing process is not all that magical.  Don’t tell anyone, but after all these years, I first start with a theme or lesson in mind, and create a main character who is a younger version of myself. I then write out a plot outline. Even though I am a writing teacher, making one of these has also been a recent requirement of mine, including indications of where quotations, recurring symbols and crises will occur. I also fill out painstakingly long character motivation sheets. I do not find using these constraining, but liberating; they free me to just focus on dialogue and the details.

If I have any muses, they are my pets, who continue to love me, even when I am too tired to walk them. Their antics also give me ideas for my picture books.


girl with a quill: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Mary Lou: During NaNoWriMo, I was a pantser, but I have found that plotting is the best way to write. I jot down the skeleton of my story first, and over a period of a few weeks I tweak it. Then usually, without trying, the details, like dialogue, come to me in my sleep at night.  I am usually thinking about what should happen in the next few chapters when I am writing, and I keep a notebook near my bed to record whatever ideas inevitably wake me up at 3AM.

girl with a quill: What genre are you writing in now? What genre would you choose to write in?

Presently, I am really focusing on a YA realistic novel, but I also am writing first drafts of picture books about the adventures of my pets.  Next, I have a great idea for a YA historical novel about the times of Mary Lincoln, a comic boy-girl YA book based on a girl’s experience with her history teacher mother and her mother’s love for Winston Churchill, and a paranormal sequel to Jane Eyre.

(Sounds fascinating…Get writing on the new idea..sounds like a keeper.)

girl with a quill: I hear that you are challenging yourself by writing in three different categories right now. Tell us about the three genres you are writing in right now.

Mary Lou: I am afraid I gave up trying to write a memoir a long time ago, but instead decided to make a fictional character in my YA realistic fiction book that like myself was very active in the women’s movement.

My YA book began with  a quote from Louisa May Alcott and a trip to Concord, Massachusetts. It was heavily influenced by some heroic girls I once met who decided to carry their unplanned pregnancies to full term and put them up for adoption. My novel is about a young girl putting her baby up for adoption. I wanted to say that girls have choices if they find themselves pregnant. I know how hard it was to be a single parent, yet being a mother was my favorite job. I think babies are a treasure and that there is more than one way to deal with babies if a girl finds herself in a situation of becoming a mother before she is ready to.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a bit eccentric about my dogs. We do all crazy things together, go to dog costume events, dog Easter egg hunts; we even belong to Dog Scouts of America and do reading therapy work for our badges. My picture books are about them and my “good cat Snowflake” to borrow an appellation from my favorite early chapter book author, Cynthia Ryland.

girl with a quill: Is it a challenge to write three different stories for three different markets? Which category was the most challenging, and why?

Mary Lou: It is very challenging to write in three genres both because each one is so different and because of time constraints. When I teach college expository writing, there is a different story structure for process, cause and effect, classification, and comparison and contrast essays, for instance. The same is true for the genres. One has to look at samples of each category to see the difference and study the differences in how the stories open up and hang together.

Although I focus on my realistic YA novel, I belong to two picture book critique groups and write first drafts of picture books, because I want to write books about my pets while they are still alive, and not later when sadness might enter my stories.

As I said, I have given up writing a memoir for now. I am afraid that my story just wouldn’t be sensational enough in today’s competitive market with all the celebrity stories out there. I also had difficulty figuring out how to present my story in a novel engaging way. Russell Baker chose to write about himself by focusing on how the three women in his life, his mother, mother-in-law and wife effected him. I tried this but it wasn’t exciting enough.

(I don’t know about “not sensational enough”…I am sure you were at the heart of a lot of sensational dramas in those times. Your story is a real story and I think that many people would prefer to read about a story that they can relate to than one based in Hollywood…I know I would.)

girl with a quill: If you found a genie in a lamp and could have a wish granted to be a character in you own book or in another author’s, what character would you choose?

Mary Lou: That is not a difficult choice at all. I would be the newly divorced female character, or maybe not so newly divorced when her feelings were so raw, in Under the Tuscan Sun. My divorce impacted me much as it did that author, but she got to live it out by buying a home in Italy.  Wouldn’t that be every divorced woman’s dream?

(Great Choice! I think that would be any woman’s dream….loved Under the Tuscan Sun.)

girl with a quill:What is more important to you, plot or character, and why?

Mary Lou: I’d have to say they are both important. We live in an action packed world today, and there definitely is no story without conflict, but characters are what make stories timeless and universal. I have read many stories about the Civil War, but what would Gone with the Wind be without Scarlett O’Hara. Setting is important too, but what would the moors be without Heathcliff? People read stories to understand human nature.

girl with a quill: Who is your favorite character in your own writing? Why?

Mary Lou: My favorite character would have to be Emma, the new friend my main character meets after she has been set up by the popularity hungry girls she has been friends with since grade school. Emma is half-American Jew, half-Brit. Both of her parents are English teachers and the family loves the classics. Emma is the perfect friend anyone would ever want to have. I named her Emma after my adorable five-year old grand-niece, but then, of course, there is Jane Austen’s Emma. I unconsciously modeled her a little after two older “adopted big sisters” I had that were Jewish, and my best friend from college who was an atypical army brat who spent her formative years in England. We shared the same interests, but then she went off to be a nun and work with AID’s patients in Haiti. She died at 53 of cancer. I miss her, but made her come alive  in my book.

girl with a quill: Who is your favorite character in the literary world? Why?

Mary Lou: This is difficult to answer, because there are so many: Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre, Hermann Hesse’s Demian. The first two had integrity and a will to endure. The latter shows a more vulnerable person another way of living and protects that person from bullies. I like Carrie Jone’s YA main characters a lot; they care about other people, maybe even more than themselves and have some of the same qualities as those classical characters.

girl with a quill: If I was throwing a dinner party and told you to invite five famous creative people  or literary characters, whom would you invite and why?

Mary Lou: The answer to this might have been Van Gogh in my youth; I taught art and loved his work , or Michelangelo. It might even have been Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, or my favorite author, Gladys Taber. But lately, I’ve met other heroines who are extremely creative and talented.  I’d rather invite the men and women I’ve met in my Facebook Warrior Chat group. They are so creative, so diverse and so supportive, and have lived such interesting lives. They’ve been international journalists, set designers, artists, directors, special education teachers, computer geeks. They have their pulses on the future.

Only thing, I want to meet in a warm place like Brisbane, Australia, where authors know how to party and where I can feed the kangaroos, and not in cold New England.

(I am sure Sheryl Gwyther would be tickled pink at the idea of us all showing up in her home town…mmmhhh maybe an idea is percolating…)

girl with a quill: What one piece of advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your writing career?

Mary Lou: I would say, “Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Life is what it is; don’t worry about what others think or say. Use your real voice.

girl with a quill: What one piece of advice will you give yourself as a writer at the end of the next ten years?

Mary Lou: I would tell myself, “Remember those distractions that kept you from writing all those years? The dogs being sick or having to walk them, having to keep a job to make a living, exercising, reading, visiting your friends? That was your real life.

To use all the clichés: ‘This isn’t a dress rehearsal; it’s the real thing, and you only go around once.’ You made memories; use them in your books. It’s all you really have.”

girl with a quill: What is the lasting legacy you would like to leave as a writer?

Mary Lou: I would like my books to reflect the value of the classics and knowledge of history, as well as the joys of my traditional simple life style. I would also like future young women to understand that the women in my generation valued “sisterhood” and that my generation paid a price to ensure the choices in theirs. That is enough.

girl with a quill: Where can we find you on the web?

My blog is entitled What is essential is, and can be found at  HYPERLINK “http://whatisessentialis.blogspot.com” http://whatisessentialis.blogspot.com.

Well Mary Lou it has indeed been an honour having you in my studio today. This is what I love about doing these “Warrior Wednesdays”: No matter how many times I run these interviews, I never tire of learning something new and being freshly inspired. I would also like to put forward my vote that you do write a memoir, whether it be in fiction or non-fiction format – just listening to you talk now has left me wanting to know more. Looking back at all you and many other women have accomplished that I may be able to hold my head high and have an equal voice leaves me humbled and filled with gratitude. You still have a lot to teach us younger women and I look forward to the stories you create. Thank you.


Scared by a story? Meet Elise VanCise….

We have all tucked into our favourite armchair with a cup of hot cocoa. It is cold and dark outside. The wind is whistling softly outside. It is the perfect time to open your new purchase: your favourite thriller. You open up the pages and soon you are so lost in the story that when the phone rings; you jump and your heart is racing a mile a minute. Every creak in the floorboards, every noise in the house makes you tuck in deeper, trying to hide from all the would-be dangers…that is when you know that you are reading a book that turns even the most mundane into a thrill. Have you ever wondered what sort of person is behind the pen that writes that book? What skills do they need to thrill you? What experiences turn them into a person who can write a story that can make you jump at imagined danger…and all this with the power of words and imagination? Well wonder no more. Today’s Warrior is that person behind that book that thrills you on cold winter nights….So sit down, tuck into a favourite armchair with a cup of cocoa and listen to the talk behind the thrills…

Introducing author: Elise VanCise

girl with a quill: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Elise VanCise?

Elise:   I’m a writer/photographer, native Floridian, and a single home schooling mom. I love to explore museums and historic sites. I’m addicted to dark chocolate and cherry Dr Pepper. I carry pen and notebook where ever I go. I’ve been known to write in the middle of the grocery store when an idea hits.

girl with a quill: If you wrote yourself a part in one of your stories, what role would you play and why?

Elise: The beautiful rich heroine that gets the guy of course! Really though I think I write a bit of myself in every story. There’s always a quirk or favorite thing in the stories that reflect a bit of who I am.

girl with a quill: Which is the more challenging hat to wear and why – that of journalist or that of novelist?

Elise: Journalist, because you have to be careful of what you report and how accurate it is. Every detail must be checked and double checked. Fiction you have much more freedom to bend reality anyway you like.

girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer/journalist?

Elise:  In 2006 I joined NaNoWriMo and wrote the first draft of In the Dark. Finishing the book I realized hey this has been my passion all along. I had just never written a full novel.  I wanted to have an avenue that was a bit more lucrative between books so I started working as a freelance journalist /photographer in 2009.  I love being able to write about the people and places I meet along the way.

girl with a quill: Do you find that your skills in journalism have helped/hindered your skills as a novelist? How?

Elise:  I think learning to think like a journalist has helped me see things in new ways. I have been able to put that into my fiction writing as well. I’ve been able to find some great story ideas while out and working as a journalist. My hindrance is switching my tenses lol. You write mostly active voice present tense in a news/non-fiction article. I find myself switching tenses in the middle of my stories. It makes editing interesting and I drive my writing partner Rose Wade a little crazy sometimes.

girl with a quill: I know that you are a prolific NaNoWriMo participant and winner 5 times over.

What is it about NaNoWriMo that makes you keep on competing?

Elise:  I love the challenge of NaNoWriMo. To write 50,000 words in only 30 days is a feat. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment to hit that mark and watch your green bar go purple. I also enjoy the camaraderie that you get with writers from around the world.

girl with a quill: For those naysayers of NaNoWriMo, what would you say have been the highlights of your NaNoWriMo involvement, not only as a writer but as a municipal liaison?

Elise:  I think the highlight of NaNo for me is seeing people who never thought they could write a story. It really doesn’t matter if you make it to 50k. NaNoWriMo is all about the joy of writing.  Being able to see first time writers grow and find their own voices over the course of the contest is a really great thing to witness.

As a municipal liaison I’ve been able to create a group for writers in my area. We meet the 4th Wed. every month at the Eustis Denny’s at 6:30pm. Everyone is welcome we have members of all ages.

girl with a quill: Many people in 9-5 jobs have a water-cooler space where they go to talk with their colleagues about work issues. Do you have a “water-cooler” group for your writing life?

Elise:  Yes, I do. I have the monthly group I spoke about and I chat every day with my writing partner Rose.  We met on a fan fic writing board and became close friends, sisters-in-heart.  I also am an online member of a few groups such as Fellow Writers on Facebook. Lots of wonderful people in there.

girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer? and Why?

Elise: I would have to say just the world around me is my greatest influence.  God created this great big place, filling it with such wonders. There’s something to be inspired by everywhere you look.

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?

Elise:  I would have to say a mix of Drama, Horror, and Comedy. The last year has been such a roller coaster of emotions and events, I’m kind of surprised the white coats haven’t knocked on my door yet lol.

girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill that space with?

Elise: I write mostly at my desk. I have photos of my fave places and my son. Two books always at hand a thesaurus and The Descriptionary. I have a koosh ball and Baoding Balls, both are great when your hands get tired from typing or sore. I have carpel tunnel and arthritis so they are great tools for my poor achy hands. I have a flower pot painted with all my pens and pencils in it. I have all sorts of crazy shaped ones.  Most important other than my computer is my bulletin board. Part of it is filled with some memory items but half is my novel notes and bullet points.

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?

Elise:  I start jotting down ideas and possibilities of where it might lead. Then jump into some research for some building materials to really set the idea. As I look though these materials the characters really start to come to life. I’ll do little shorts or a paragraph or two writing about or as that character to flesh them out. Once we’re all acquainted I dive into the story.

girl with a quill: Are you a plotter, a pantster or a little of both?

Elise: I’m somewhere in the middle. I make a bullet point outline of at least 60 points. Scenes, dialog, plot points, character notes. Whatever I need, I then print it out and cut them apart. I put each bullet on the board in story sequence, sort of like a story board.  It helps me see the progress as each finished bullet is pulled down.

girl with a quill: How important a part does the digital world and an online platform play in your life?

Do you believe that writers now have more control over their own platform now that we live in an increasingly virtual online world of social networking/blogging/tumbling/tweeting ect?

Elise: The digital world is a huge part of my life. I work, play and even use online curriculum to home school my son.  I think writers now have the ability to be more hands on. There are more and more opportunities being created for us to spread the word about our ‘brand’.  Being involved in social networking is almost a necessity these days. You need to have an internet presence to reach the audience you want.

girl with a quill: What genre do you write in now?

Elise: That’s hard to answer. I write so many different kinds of stories but I think my books and niche fall in Paranormal Thrillers. There is always a touch of comedy and romance tossed in the mix as well.

girl with a quill: If you could try your pen at another genre, which genre would you choose?

Elise:  Crime/Mystery these are the things I like to read. A good thrill or a dark mystery to solve.

girl with a quill: Are you working on any new story now? Can you tell us a bit about it?

Elise:  I have several projects going actually. I’m working on one called Out of the Air. Evan is a scientist who doesn’t believe in anything other than logic. A near death experience causes her to meet someone who shows her science can’t explain everything.

The other is Worth.  A photographer working for World Magazine doing a story on the Congo where she finds herself in a war zone doing more than taking pictures.

girl with a quill: If you met a 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?

Elise:  To become a character for a short time. Everyone wants to be someone else, just for a little while, to lead a more adventurous, glamorous life. Then just think of the story ideals you’ll come out with for your own work!

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

Elise: Character, it’s the character that readers really connect with. You can love a story and not be thrilled with the characters. But once you fall in love with a Character the story becomes more compelling. You’re feeling something for them every time you turn the page.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?

Elise:  That’s hard they’re all my darlings lol. I would have to say Dean Cross. He’s an ex Marine with a bigger than life personality. Fun loving but ready for action at a moments notice.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?

Elise:  You know I’m not really sure I have a favorite.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?

Elise:  Stephen King, what writer wouldn’t want to sit down with the master! Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, I would love to see Florida though her eyes in the early days of the state.  My favorite artist Salvador Dali, his art has so much in it. Each piece tells more than one story.  Russell Crowe, an actor who brings so much life to the characters he plays. It would be wonderful to talk about characterization and what makes them so compelling or not to an audience. And lastly Mark Twain, a man who made no excuses for who he was, lived his life to the fullest with pen and heart.

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?

Elise: Capt. Jack Aubrey from Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series. I couldn’t help but fall in love with this character on the first page as he hummed and tapped his foot and leg to the music of the orchestra with such exuberance.  Jack Reacher from Lee Child’s books, tall dark handsome ex military, kind of brooding… do I really need to explain this one?  Travis Criton from my book Half, I’ve always thought he would just be so much fun to be out on the town with.  Robin Hood, he has been my hero since childhood.

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

Elise:  It would be the same advice I give myself now. Don’t stop, don’t give up, don’t stop searching for the end of the rainbow, keep dreaming big.

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

Elise:  Just breathe it all in and enjoy life to the fullest.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?

Elise: To be someone who inspired others to follow dreams and write their tales.

girl with a quill: Where can we buy your books?

Elise: Most online retailers or your best price would be at my Literary Emporium http://stores.lulu.com/elisevancise

girl with a quill: Finally where can we find on the web?

Elise:  My official site http://elisevancise.webs.com
My blog Gladiator’s Pen
http://gladiatorspen.blogspot.com
Twitter @elisevancise
Facebook Author Elise VanCise


The Gift of Truth Telling

Truth
Image by TW Collins via Flickr

How important is telling the truth to you?

For many writers, they tell the truth about emotional subjects and difficult tales through their stories. They may change a few names around or they may base a character loosely on themselves. I believe all fiction does carry something of the writer‘s experience and emotional map about it. But there are those writers who are called to write a story that will make people question their world views. Their stories make the reader confront the truth. As we all know sometimes the truths in this world can be ugly and destroying. But sometimes there are those rare individuals who can use trials and torments to rise above their circumstances and use that very pain to bring comfort and nurturing warmth into all whose lives they touch. Then you go a step further and meet those same individuals who use their stories of pain as a looking-glass mirror where, through the naked reflection of their pain, they offer others in the same circumstances a way out, a way paved with hope and resilience. Tonight I have the honour of having such an individual and such a writer in the Dragonfly Scrolls studio with me. I am not going to digress anymore because tonight she is going to share her amazing story with you. So I am going to take a step back and let you be inspired by a woman who, like myself, believes in not only seeking the truth but in telling the truth in all its naked complexity. This is a story of a true survivor. Listen to her and have hope no matter how hopeless your world may seem right now.

Firstly thank you for joining me in the Dragonfly Scrolls studio…

Let us start by you introducing yourself to us…Who is Suzannah Burke?


Of all the questions I am ever asked this is perhaps the most difficult to answer. Who am I?  I am an Australian woman in my fifties.  I wake before sunrise and go back to bed after midnight.  I love to walk in the rain, and read in the sun.  I watched Toy Story 3 and cried; I sat with my 30-year-old daughter and watched the entire first series of Glee in one sitting, snuggled on the sofa with enormous amounts of munchies.  On her next visit, we watched the entire first season of Trueblood together.  I live alone on the northeastern coast of Australia in a small fishing village.  I am a friend, a neighbor, an acquaintance, an ex-wife, but my favorite title is mother. I am a writer fortunate enough to have had a book published.  I love my animals, my solitude and my life is as perfect as it’s going to get right now.

Tell us about your background in writing.

I didn’t really begin writing as more than a hobby until 5 years ago.  Like many people my friends said, “Hey, this is good stuff.”  I joined an online writing site and to my delight, they agreed with my friends. I wrote my first complete fiction novel for Nanowrimo in 2009.  I completed another fiction novel for Nanowrimo in 2010…and in between, I wrote “Empty Chairs”

I know that you have a book called Empty Chairs out.  Can you tell us a bit about it?


Empty Chairs is my biography from age three to age 11.  It covers the early years when I was subjected to horrendous abuse instigated by my mother and the pedophile ring she was a pivotal member of.  It covers the abuse and moves quickly on to my life living on the streets at age 11. I hope that people will see within the pages that the results of abuse can be life threatening and certainly life altering.  However, it also made me understand that I had a core of strength inside that simply refused to be broken.  I had a dream of something better and nothing would stop me striving towards that dream.

Now it must take great courage to write about painful events in your life but yet you have.

What was your inspiration for writing this story?

When I first hit the streets, I met and ultimately shared my life with a group of street kids.  We were together for 5 years, and some of us remained friends for over 4 decades. One of the gang was only 8 years old.  Her name was “Jenny.”  I was not the youngest at 11, which in itself will shock many people.  Jenny and I grew close and over the years maintained our bond.  Jenny had asked me to write about our lives on the street.  I used to write {for want of a better term} I wrote stories for Jenny when we were together, normally in the columns of newspapers that we used to sleep on.  I made Jenny the hero in all the stories; she was the Princess who always managed to save herself from whatever monsters I conjured up.  Jenny loved those stories.

I had made her a promise, that “One day” I would write it all down. I promised her I would tell everyone what is was like to live on the streets as we did. Jenny committed suicide on September 1st 2009.  I hadn’t kept my promise.  When I began to recover from my anger and sadness at her death, I made the decision to honor the promise that I had made to her. Empty Chairs is the result.

I have heard that for the month of April all the profits received for your book will be donated to ISPCAN the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

That is quite a contribution. Can you tell us a little about ISPCAN?

The International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, founded in 1977, is the only multidisciplinary international organization that brings together a worldwide cross-section of committed professionals to work towards the prevention and treatment of child abuse, neglect, and exploitation globally.

ISPCAN’s mission is to prevent cruelty to children in every nation, in every form: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, street children, child fatalities, child prostitution, children of war, emotional abuse, and child labor.  ISPCAN is committed to increasing public awareness of all forms of violence against children, developing activities to prevent such violence, and promoting the rights of children in all regions of the world. ISPCAN invites you to join forces with its members around the world to protect children in need: their bodies, minds, hearts, and rights.

I think this is a very worthy cause. Can you tell readers where to get a copy of your book in April?

The kindle version on Amazon is here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004K6MJJK/ref=sc_vs__empty_2520chairs_2520by_

The paperback version on Amazon is here:http://www.amazon.com/Empty-Chairs-story-about-child/dp/1453858520/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_2

The Smashwords edition in kindle or eBook is here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/38452

Question: What is your hope for this book and for this cause Susannah?

I hope that people will read this and begin to understand and acknowledge that Child abuse is not only perpetrated in poor neighborhoods, it is not restricted to the uneducated masses…people appear to have a misconception of Abuse, perhaps to safely distance their thoughts from anything so sordid and difficult to comprehend they lump child abuse in a category. That is a misconception that must change. News flash folks, I came from an upper middle class background. My abusers were pillars of the community.  These pedophiles didn’t drive rusted out cars and wear tacky clothes.  They drove Mercedes- Benz and Porsche. They wore Armani and Dior. There are NO social boundaries when it comes to pedophilia.

Abuse is a terrible crime that humans seem to excel at. I am sure there are many people out there who have no support and no place to run to. For readers who may know of or have experienced abuse, what would you say to them now?

When I was a child, there was no place to turn.  This horror was never spoken of.  Today thanks to the hard work of many wonderful people worldwide and the internet, every hospital has counseling and referral facilities.  Doctors are mandated to report suspected abuse to the relevant authorities if the child is under age.  Police departments have their own departments set up specifically to deal with complaints of this nature.  Salvation Army, Red cross, and most churches have their own teams where a person can phone anonymously to access assistance. I have a very long list of help sites on my blog, covering the USA the UK and Australia. The list is growing daily.  I check all the sites before I add them to be certain they are legitimate and approved.  If you are reading this interview and you have been abused or suspect someone you know may be experiencing it now please speak up.  The avenues will respect your privacy, they WILL believe you.  At times especially with younger folks, it is the fear that they will not be believed that prevents them seeking help.  The people and the facilities out there are now immense, they will help you to take all the steps necessary to either stop the abuse or recover from abuse inflicted long ago.

Looking back at your life through the mirror of Empty Chairs, would you say there was a defining moment that led you to write down your story in this book?

Jenny’s death by her own hand was the catalyst.  She was a precious, marvelous human being, yet her soul was murdered long before she took her last breath.  I was so devastated and angry when I got the call. It took me months before I could calm down enough to write the book clearly without emotional overload.

After reading the sample chapter of this book, I see that you chose to write this story in present tense. This creates a really powerful reality where the reader sees everything through your deep POV (point of view).

This must have been very difficult for you as you would have re-experienced much of the heartache and pain again?

Did you have a support system to help you through the writing of this story?

I told no one that I was writing the book, I didn’t want to inflict what I was dealing with on anyone else. I needed to do it in my own time and without questions when I had almost completed it I posted the first chapter on The Night Publishing site. Tim Roux who is Night Publishing contacted me, and on the basis of chapter, one he signed me to a publishing contract for Empty Chairs.  To say I was stunned would be a major understatement.

What would you say was the biggest challenge in writing a non-fiction story based on your life story?

I had flashbacks and panic attacks during the writing of the book. I often had to stop and take myself outside into the clean air to gain a perspective and continue writing. The biggest challenge in so far as the writing itself was to remain true to who I am now and yet recall how I felt then without hyperbole or drama. I needed to allow the things to unfold as I remembered them. I am aware that it is a difficult thing to read.  My honesty can be daunting.  Yet it is not a subject that can be prettied up for public consumption.  I wrote it exactly as I remembered it.

What advice would you give to a writer contemplating on writing a similar memoir style biography?

Be aware that many people simply don’t want to hear about painful topics.  They label this kind of work as “Misery Memoir” You must be prepared for folks to not want to know any more about a very painful topic.  I am one of the very fortunate few who has a Publisher that has supported me.  If you decide to write a biography remember to be true to yourself every step of the way.  I had one publishing house that wanted to sign the book, but only if I prettied it up for general consumption, I refused.

If you decide to self publish be prepared to do the heavy-duty promotional work required to have people read your work.  My publisher is very supportive but I still have a need to put in the hours to help people learn about my work.  Set yourself a target every day, try, and keep to it.  If you find yourself getting caught up in the emotion of the book it will reflect in your writing: that is not necessarily a bad thing, no one wants to read a book devoid of any emotion, but by the same token people need to be able to read the book without the feeling that they are being preached at or ranted to.  Sometimes you need to put it aside and distance yourself a little before you continue.  Most of all believe in yourself.

Since “Empty Chairs” is non-fiction, will you be writing some fiction/have you written any fiction?

I had already completed a Comedy/Romance novel “Dudes Down Under” before commencing “Empty Chairs” and during Empty Chairs, I added more to the fiction book, and I needed to have the Comedy as a release from the remembering.  I also have a fiction Psychological Thriller “Twisted “completed which I’m currently editing.

Would you say there is quite a large difference between writing fiction and non-fiction?

Oh hell, yes!  There is no comparison.  My non-fiction book does not allow me the luxury of inventing characters, places, and happenings.  Truth is often more difficult to write.  With my Fiction work, I have a wonderful time, developing the plot and inventing and rounding out the characterizations.

What other genres do you write in and why?


I write in so many different genres, ‘Dudes Down Under” is a Comedy/Romance I had a ball writing it, and inventing my pivotal chapter linking “character” of Cyril…Cyril is a 28ft long crocodile who wears Armani, drinks copious amounts of JD loves Al Pacino and Brando, dances to “Some enchanted evening” and whose thoughts on every imaginable topic are only known to the reader. The misunderstandings are rife as the story is set on a brand new tropical island resort catering only to the Hollywood ‘A’ listers. What Cyril does to the croc skin luggage of the stars is not to be missed. I adore the escapism of Comedy, and the fun of the romantic scenes. As for my other novel “Twisted” Phew!  What can I say…I have a ball again in a different way, by killing off folks and weaving in a serial murderer and a conspiracy as well, again escapism. I also submit regular short stories online in contests ranging from westerns to paranormal. The only topics I have yet to tackle is Science Fiction and Fantasy…I don’t feel I have enough knowledge for one and am not comfortable with the other.

Are you working on any new projects now?  Can you share anything about them?

I am currently writing the follow-up to Empty Chairs as so many kind people have asked me what happened then?  Where did you go?  What did your life turn out like?

So, yes…I am picking the book up the day after book one ends.  I am also working on another novel entitled “The inheritance” about a young Australian women who is made Guardian of her wealthy US friend’s 4-year-old child.  It’s developing nicely and will I think be labeled as a romance when I am done exploring all the possible journeys that the characters are taking me on.

What would you like you lasting legacy to be as a writer?

This is a difficult question: I guess with my Non-fiction work I would like people who have bought it to say, “Hey, if she can get through it and have a richly rewarding life, then hell, so can I.”  With my fiction work, I love to inform and entertain; if that is how my readers feel then I would be one very delighted woman.

Can you tell us where to find you on the web Susannah?

Okay…  I have my book review/interview/talk writing site on http://sooozsaysstuff.blogspot.com

My book related site for Empty Chairs is on http://staceydansonemptychairs.blogspot.com

I have a competition that I run every month that is very popular at http://paragraphsofpower.blogspot.com

And….my comedy romance and interviews with a crocodile site is http://dudesdownunder.blogspot.com

Phew, I do have a few.

Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview with me.

I commend your courage in bringing a very real and painful subject to life.

Your story is one that is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit even in the face of great pain.

It has been an honour and pleasure to feature an author with such a worthy message.

I hope that you will come back and visit with me in my studio in the near future and tell us more of your future endeavors.

I trust that Empty Chairs becomes a fast best seller so that you may raise many well needed earnings for ISPCAN.

I look forward to watching your future success and especially to your sequel to “Empty Chairs”. Your’s is a story that had to be written. Thank you for showing the great courage you have by writing it.

I am so appreciative of the time and the kindness you have shown, thank you for the opportunity.

© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning.

For those readers interested in finding out more about the prevention of child abuse, I have added a link to the ISPCAN.

ISPCAN

Ramblings with Writer/Artist Robert A. Sloan

Join me in welcoming Warrior Writer and Artist, Robert A. Sloan.
This is a man who is eloquent and thoughtful in his verbosity. This is a man who does not believe that illness or disabilities should get in the way of your dreams and passion. This is a man who believes in the fight for survival and always takes the side and gives a voice to the under-dog or under-cat as the case may be. Robert uses his writing courageously and to inspire courage in others. His heart that is as large as his vocabulary shines through in his characters and his stories. I met Robert through NaNoWriMo and ever since then have been amazed with his acute sense of intuition and wisdom. He believes in the impossible becoming possible and to a world without creative boundaries. Let Robert inspire you as holding this interview with him has inspired me. So please join us both in my lounge where you will catch glimpses of his unique and unusual characters. Be warned though, Ari; Robert’s cat, muse and favourite critique partner, may find his way onto your lap before the interview is over…
girl with a quill: Firstly, Welcome to Warrior Wednesdays. I am glad to finally have you as a guest on my blog. Running up to this interview I have had numerous other warrior writers ask me when this interview would go to air. So it is an honour and privilege to have you finally join me online.
Tell us a little about the man Robert A. Sloan and the writer Robert A. Sloan.

Robert: The man Robert A. Sloan – short, crooked, cat-loving, disabled, opinionated and weird. The writer – copious and imaginative. I’m one of those world champions at sitting still and daydreaming. Add decades of practice and now I write whopping big SFF novels. My first finished novel, Raven Dance, came out huge, fast-paced and complex.

Recently I’ve been branching out into other directions with a pure nature novel set in the North American Pleistocene. No human characters, no dialogue as such, it was a technical challenge that came off well. It’s still in rewrite but most of what it needs is tweaking.

I wrote it for my beloved cat Ari, who watched “Big Cat Diaries” with me dozens of times while researching it. He loves documentaries and films with cats in them, they always get his attention.


girl with a quill: Who is your biggest influence in writing and why?

Robert: Ray Bradbury. There are others but Ray Bradbury is always in the list and usually heads the list. I’m not an Arthur C. Clarke giving ideas to engineers, don’t have all the degrees of an Isaac Asimov or the life experience of Robert Heinlein. What moved me most consistently was Ray Bradbury’s heart and imagination. He wasn’t normal. In his books and stories it was all right to not be normal whether that was black, winged, gifted or disabled. Unlike most fiction, I could imagine his characters as my friends when I was a kid, not turning away in horror and disgust. I could live in his worlds.

girl with a quill: Did you know what genre you wanted to write in from the beginning of your writing career? Or did you experiment with a few genres?

Robert: Absolutely. Science Fiction for me included fantasy and some types of horror. I never wanted to do anything else. I didn’t want to write about the normal things in life. I’ve never had a normal life or cared about the normal things like Getting Ahead or how much money anyone’s got. In science fiction, so many times characters faced survival problems instead of social infighting. I didn’t like romance at all, don’t get into mystery unless it’s got a good cat in it and occasionally like to read historical novels. But historical novels take too much research and you have to check your facts. I’m more with Dave Barry – I’d like to do impressionistic fact-free fiction, something to take your mind off everyday things to let you get a good night’s sleep.

With the exception of my latest novel of course. Sabertooth has facts in it, plenty of them. I did more research on that one book than any other I’ve written, it was a technical challenge. A fun one because I enjoy prehistoric beasties and will probably do something like it again with dinosaurs or other periods of ancient life. Those are stories I’d like to read that no one else has written.

I define them as Science Fiction because paleontology is a science. My prehistoric animals novel is just as likely to become obsolete by a discovery next week as any hard science fiction writer’s spaceship. It won’t matter if it’s a good story though, just the same way Charles R. Knight’s murals are still beautiful paintings even with all that we now know about dinosaurs.

girl with a quill: Tell us a little about your writing process…How do you start a story?

Robert: That’s the easy part. I get an idea for the opening conflict, the premise. Sometimes it’s an event, sometimes it’s the setting. I knew starting Sabertooth that I was going to write the story of the cat with the broken back – an older female Smilodon who lived for six months in a crippled state, fed and cared for by her pride. Her bones show that she was loved.

The book surprised me from the point of the first line. It didn’t start with Elder, it started with a young male Smilodon coming of age and showing unusually gentle, sociable character. He becomes her pride-male along with the cousin who follows him, which was absolutely necessary to ensure that Elder’s pride were the sort of cats who would support and take care of a crippled elderly family member instead of just abandoning her.

If they were a human family I’d have to show the family was that supportive too. Elder’s personality had a lot to do with it, but she could not make a bad choice for a mate or it wouldn’t have happened. The fossil told me that she did get taken care of by her pride.

– Robert’s sketch of his character – Musky –
girl with a quill: Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Robert: Pantser. My unconscious mind is a far better writer than I am consciously. I tried outlining once, just to see if I could do it. I managed it, the process was a lot less fun and did not come out any better in the rough draft for having been plotted carefully before I wrote it.

As a kid I used to write my school essays first and derive the outline from the essays when teachers demanded outlines. It was easier that way than thinking in terms of outlines.

girl with a quill: You wrote an incredible amount of words in the NaNoWriMo 2010 challenge? Was this your first NaNoWriMO and can you tell us a little about your experience?

Robert: Hardly my first NaNoWriMo! I love NaNoWriMo. It’s turned the world’s loneliest art form into something like the Boston Marathon. I meet other writers at NaNoWriMo. I’m not a freak for wanting to write novels instead of going bowling or doing a marathon.

I first joined NaNoWriMo in 2000 – the second year there was one. I wrote 90,000 words that year in a loony NaNoWriMo-inspired romp. All three of my characters – middle-aged SF writer, his wife trying to write one herself for the first time and their adopted son – were trying to complete NaNoWriMo in a haunted cabin in the woods, complete with a bear breaking in to wreak havoc and reptilian little people prodding them with spears. The old pro writer got haunted by a dead character who appeared like a ghost from his golden years and said one magic word to him in front of his computer – “Prequel.”

I have yet to decide if that’s too silly and self referential to write or if it’d be just the sort of romp that would get a lot of readers.

girl with a quill: I know that your art is very important to your creative process. Do you feel that being an artist strengthens your creative process as a writer or vice versa?

Robert: Everything I do affects everything else I do. I’m taking a master class in landscape composition right now and it’s given me a new way to view plot pacing – an understanding of why my plots work when I do them by the seat of my pants. I once created a main character who was an artist and that became integral to why he was in the bad situation he was. I might do that again because I’m familiar with the lifestyle.

Artists are observant, as much so as detectives. Maybe more so. To draw realistically you have to pay attention to reality rather than the symbols that are our mental map of reality. Drawing not only improved my descriptions but it improved my ability to observe everything. I look past ideas to try to see how things really are – in the case of my stories, how they really would be.

girl with a quill: Tell us about some of the stories that you have written? Is there any one story in particular that is your favourite?

Robert: The one I’m working on now, Sabertooth. Of short stories, the first horror story I ever sold was wonderful. It had a fun title – “Crossthought on the Hatestream.” Unfortunately I lost it about eight hard drives ago, otherwise I would be submitting it for reprint to every anthology that takes horror. If I ever find a copy, I will.

girl with a quill: If you were to pick another genre to write in or wanted to challenge yourself in a new genre, what genre would you choose? Why?

Robert: I found one completely by accident – nonfiction. Specifically, art instruction. That started with a few how to draw articles for eHow.com and Hubpages, then grew when I startedhttp://www.explore-oil-pastels-with-robert-sloan.com. My one writing interest aside from speculative fiction is the nuts and bolts of painting and drawing. For some reason I had a blind spot about that all my life. When people suggested “Write some nonfiction to get a better income and support your fiction writing” their examples were usually cookbooks, travelogues, journalism, celebrity novels, all the sorts of things that I can’t do well or can’t do at all.

Not one friend who said “Try doing nonfiction” ever suggested “You could do an article on how to draw dragons.” That’s a nonfiction topic too, it’s not all cookbooks and hiking guides.” I think the reason was that I was living in complete denial of my physical disabilities.

I avoided anything I couldn’t do and thought of that as personal taste. I had no idea most of the things I couldn’t stand, like sports or cooking, were the things I can’t do. I thought I just didn’t like them. My family did not believe I had physical disabilities and they snowed everyone including me into thinking it was all in my head. It sounds stupid, but it’s true – I got conditioned to ignore the limp and think of my chronic pain as depression. Hint – if taking an aspirin relieves it, that’s not emotional pain.

Some of it wasn’t even discovered back then though. Most cases of fibromyalgia and other autoimmune diseases got blown off as hypochondria or depression. I had skeletal problems too but if a kid’s labeled as a malingerer who fakes illness, they believe the adults who labeled the kid. Too many gym teachers shouted “Quit clowning around and faking that limp.”

People don’t live in reality. They live in what people tell them reality is. That includes me. I got raised to believe everyone else in the world had to push that hard to get up in the morning or stay awake in class, walk down the hall or endure constant pain and injury in gym. I just thought they were better at covering the pain than I was.

That’s some of why I like setting my stories in completely imaginary far distant worlds. Fewer people will take them for real in anything but an introspective sense. They are all innerscape, all in the storyland of the mind instead of a particular view of politics or society as it is right now. Reality is usually a lot better than people will tell you it is. Even at its roughest, facing what the trouble actually is can give you a better way to handle it.

If I wrote about President Obama as recently as 1990, people would think it was unbelievable. Yet there he is in the White House and I helped vote him in. Sometimes the good things in science fiction come true. My laptop and the President are two of them.

girl with a quill: Are you working on a new writing project?
Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Robert: Sabertooth. Can’t get my mind off it. I’m at the editing and polishing stage. I spend a lot of time thinking about it, maybe a hundred times before actually opening the file and doing something. Then when I buckle down to do the copy editing, it sings and the bigger changes I thought of in standing back from it flow as easily as when I was first creating it.

I do need to trust my unconscious though, it’s still a better writer than I am.

girl with a quill: Writers can be superstitious people. Are you superstitious when it comes to your writing? Can you give us some examples if you are?

Robert: Did you know a cat will not sleep on a bad manuscript? It’s true. Your cat knows your writing is worth something. Ari helps me with all of my fiction.

I get territorial about my computer. I get panic attacks if someone else has to touch the keyboard, even if it’s someone helping me with a problem. It’s hard to calm down until the problem’s solved. I feel much more secure if I have a working backup machine that I can return to or hand off as a loaner if some family member or friend is in dire need.

I used to think that I’d get a typewriter and hang onto that machine for life the way so many authors did when I was a kid. I didn’t count on science fiction coming true. I fell in love with PCs from the day I got a word processor, then when I got a real computer the world opened up for me. In the 1980s I desperately hoped someday they’d invent a real computer about the size of a three-ring binder, with the keyboard on one flap and a flip-up screen on the other side.

Right now I’m working on a 17” screen refurbished gaming laptop and it’s a joy. The faster the computer, the more I can relax and enjoy it. I keep a game open to ruminate on during pauses – has to be a very familiar game that takes no thought, like Solitaire, since I’m constantly putting it down again after just a few seconds of pause. I like to keep a browser open for research and socializing in breaks.

I wouldn’t call them superstitions so much as set writing habits, a routine that I’ve established. I have music playing, that’s the prompt to write. I have the file open. I have the novel in progress on desktop rather than in Documents, it has to be a visible folder on the desktop. That’s the door into the page for me.

But I’ve also written the first ten chapters of a novel on copier paper with borrowed pens when I was stuck in a hospital without anything else to use. I like having my cat and my computer and I function better as a human being with them, but I would write no matter where I was or what I was doing it with.

girl with a quill: Do you belong to any writing groups and do you have a critique partner? Do you think writing groups or critique partners are important for writers? Why?

Robert: I belong to a high-powered critique group that I love and I’ve had several weeks of sick time, so I’m slacking. I need to go back and post Leave of Absence again since I missed last month due to health issues. I love them but it’s hard to keep up when I have to work around fibromyalgia. My memory is a steel trap – it mangles anything that gets into it.

Except things actually in the specific novel I’m working on and its world. Somehow the writing process gets going and I will remember where the water hole is near Ambush Rock when I can’t find my wallet.

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

Robert: Characters create the story with their decisions. This is a big part of why I’m a pantser. I have no idea what will happen in the book. I set up a situation and then see what happens. They go live within the first few sentences and make their own decisions.

I did not consciously know that young Musky was going to be one of the world’s most lovable, family oriented cats. Musky decided that. I thought I was writing about his “Get out of my house!” fight with his dad. Male lions and male house cats do that, it’s the females that stay home. Instead, he did something different – he faced the social situation in a new way and instead of fighting his dad, made up with him. Then left after one last play session establishing the close relationship.

It all made sense later. He has a strong personality. As an individual, Musky is more social and family oriented than the average cat. Way after writing the book, I knew he had to be. But when I was on the spot writing, it was much more like the film crews of Big Cat Diary just watching cats to see what they’ll do next.

At the beginning of my books everything is chance. I throw in anything and the kitchen sink, every idea that crosses my mind gets tossed at the characters. Midway, that shifts to half and half fate and chance. Fate is the consequences of their decisions, chance the things I toss in just to see what’ll happen. By the end of the book that narrows till the story rests on what the characters do at a critical peak moment. By that time, they’re who they are and will do what they do whether it’s tragic or heroic or both.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?

Robert: It’s always the protagonist of the book I’m working on. Right now that’s Elder’s pride. Overall though, I think that I have spent more time with Malcolm Evans than any other character I created. He’s the vampire hero of Raven Dance, a Victorian vampire that survived through into a thousands of years off future on another world. He started out in a fragmentary story when I was ten or so, roaming around in a purple hearse throwing tailgate parties with assorted hippie weirdos and other supernatural creatures.

He had a werewolf friend too. A little like Dark Shadows but far less doomed than Barnabas, he didn’t kill his dates so he wasn’t guilty about being himself and just enjoyed it. He also dressed a bit like Dr. Who before I ever saw the series, he was always into colorful, creative clothing.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?

Robert: Hard to pick favorites. Might be Gandalf, he moved me so much for so many years. Ender, from Ender’s Game. Harry Potter. Jim Nightshade from “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury. There’s a bit of a pattern – characters who are children who think and behave as human beings rather than Proper Children. I’m not sure I could ever write a children’s book, not one that a parent would buy anyway.

I have not written a book with that archetype. That’s an interesting gap, I may have to think about why not and consider writing one for adults about a kid who handles a bad situation too well. There are too many real kids like that, going home to alcoholic homes, born in war zones or ghettos, enduring hardships no one should have to deal with and then treated as helpless objects even by the people who try to help them.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?

Robert: Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, J. K. Rowling, Harlan Ellison and Stephen King. Heck with the dinner party though, I’d love to be cooped up in a haunted hotel with all five of them scaring each other with cool stories and drifting off to rattle keys when any of us got the urge.

I considered inviting my art mentors but I’m not sure they’d mix well with the writers. No, they’d get along famously. It’s more that I’d go nuts trying to flip between “writing mode” and “art mode.”

If I were to make it a painting vacation, plain air weekend in the Mediterranean or something great like that, then it’d be Charlotte Herczfeld, Johannes Vloothuis, Maggie Price, Susan Sarback and Richard McKinley. Though that would also require a massive truckload of pastels and oil paints for everyone to play with.

The writers’ get together all we’d need would be laptops and words.

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?

Robert: Gandalf, Professor Dumbledore, Lazarus Long, Mr. Fezziwig and Granny Weatherwax. Yes, that’s a lot of old people and none of them like the same food, but they all have a wit and a sense of humor. I probably wouldn’t get a word in edgewise. It’d be fun. Besides, I’d feel like a kid in that crowd.

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

Robert: Leave the house, go directly to San Francisco and start writing for money. Don’t worry about whether it’s any good, just do it for eight hours a day, forty hours a week to start and once the dam breaks it’ll get better. Don’t bother with college, you don’t need it, you learn more from reading and meeting interesting people than you ever did from classes, you’re an autodidact. Don’t bother working other jobs. Draw a few dragons to keep yourself in smokes and cash till the writing pays. Write nonfiction too, anything that actually interests you can sell somewhere because you’re not the only one who likes it.

When I think of what San Francisco was like in 1972, what publishers paid for new novels and how many soft markets existed then, it’s pathetic how blocked I was. I went from a family that sabotaged and discouraged my writing into a long co-dependent relationship with someone who sabotaged and discouraged my writing. I was a mess – and that kick in the pants might even have given me the wake up call I needed about my physical disabilities.

The only job I ever wanted is the only job that’s remotely practical for me to do with my physical limitations. I may love doing plain air painting but I can only do it a few days out of a year. No one can live on a week’s work. I am a better writer than artist no matter how good an artist I am, because I can do the writing job on bad days when I could not lift a brush. I can be a writer year round, that’s a big difference in itself.

But I love writing about art and that’s my nonfiction niche. It crept up on me. Art instruction is my Other Genre, the only thing I want to do when I think about writing in the real world. Focus on the good things in it, the beauty of landscapes and how to paint them, the fun of new toys and colors and how to get the most from them.

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

Robert: Don’t forget that you love it. Don’t think of it as a job like typesetting or any other grind. Don’t ever forget why you do it is to write something you want to read next. It is not all about the money, it’s about doing it and the money is something that pays for you to go on doing that thing you love. If you need a vacation, just take one for as long as it takes to recharge and do some painting.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?

Robert: I want my books to stay in print, to be timeless. I don’t know which ones will be or not. I have no idea whether one novel I loved and thought was my best falls flat into obscurity and something I tossed off for the heck of it turns out to be meaningful literature that gets taught in schoolrooms centuries after I’m gone. I’m not sure I care which one, if I do this thing well and do a lot of it, some of them will be.

All of them are about standing up to trouble and not surrendering to it, not being who the world tells you that you are but being who you are. Living in reality is not as bad as it’s made out to be in the social fiction. Most people have a lot more freedom than they think they do. It’s not a bad thing to want to be happy or to surround yourself with friends or do something you love that comes from the heart. When you do things like that it slops over into other people’s lives in an honest way.

girl with a quill: Tell us where we can find you online.

Robert: Robert A. Sloan
http://www.explore-oil-pastels-with-robert-sloan.com

This is the cover of Robert’s book. You can purchase it at: http://www.iuniverse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000008564

Thank you for joining me here Robert and Ari. I wait eagerly for the day when Musky’s story is in print. I can’t wait to see what other characters you come up with.
signing off,
girl with a quill….

Warrior,Writer,Historian – Amanda Paige

Today I sit and chat with Warrior of words and keen historian: Amanda Paige. Amanda hails from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. Amanda is part of the Face Book Warriors that was formed for NaNoWriMo 2010. I have had a fascinating interview with Amanda where we discussed the importance of history, writing, the differences between non-fiction and fiction and compelling stories. As an avid fan of all things historical, I found this interview to be revealing and very interesting. Amanda is a true history buff who believes we can learn so much from history that she translates that into all her writing. She tells me about her new WIP; a compelling biography of a chickasaw woman. The little she tells me about it makes me eager to buy the book when it is published. If you love history and love reading about history, this is one interview you do not want to miss out on. Now without further ado, I will introduce you to the very knowledgeable

Amanda Paige…

girl with a quill: Firstly, Welcome to Warrior Wednesdays.

Amanda: Thank You for inviting me.

girl with a quill: Tell us a little about the woman Amanda Paige and the writer Amanda Paige.

Amanda: Well the woman Amanda Paige is a historian and archivist living in Little Rock, Arkansas. I am currently unemployed but volunteer at the Sequoyah National Research Center so I can stay current in my field. I process archival collections and do research related to Indian Removal (Trail of Tears) in Arkansas for the Center. I am single and a “Mom” to my four-legged children: Merlin (Terrier mix), Momma Cat, Bigguns and Baby Girl, all rescued pets by the way.

As I writer, I am just beginning with my career. So far my published writing has been nonfiction. I began writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for an internship. I edited selected writings of two American Indian women, Susette LaFlesche Tibbles and Carrie LeFlore Perry. Dr. Daniel F. Littlefield, the professor I interned for, asked me to join him on a project documenting Indian Removal through Arkansas. Under that project I contributed to and wrote numerous site reports documenting Indian Removal as well as articles and conference presentations.  Last October my book Chickasaw Removal was published by the Chickasaw Press. Chickasaw Removal came from our North Little Rock site report and we just continued researching the process of removal. For the three of us, we felt Chickasaw Removal was one of if not the most compelling story to tell about removal in Arkansas. I recently contributed articles to the Encyclopedia of American Indian Removal as well. Right now my current work in progress is a biography on Susette LaFlesche Tibbles, based on my internship and what also became my master’s thesis for Public History.

On the fiction side: Last year I made a decision to begin working on my fiction writing. For years I had written down some ideas for stories and I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo using an incident from my childhood as the basis for the story. Right now I am reworking this story and beginning to plot out a series that just sort of came to me one day as I rode the bus home from the SNRC.

girl with a quill: You are a historian and archivist. Do you find that history tends to play a part in your stories?

Amanda: Oh yes. I am reworking my NaNo story to incorporate some historical incidents that will play into the plot. The other series I am working on is very much influenced by the early republic era of American history so yes I can say that history will play a role in my stories. History has been a large part of my life.

girl with a quill: Who is your biggest influence in writing and why?

Amanda: I would have to say Dr. Daniel F. Littlefield. I went back to finish my degree in January 2000 and his course on World Literature was the first course I took to ease myself back into the grind of the university as it had been awhile since I attended. Because of this course and my hard work, he offered me an internship. Any writing I hand him he will be brutally honest with me. I still remember getting back the first draft of my report on Cherokee removal; it was so marked up with red.  I think he left an “and” and a “the” untouched. At the bottom of the paper he had written good job for a first draft. He has really made me a better writer. (Brutal Honesty from someone you respect and trust is invaluable. You are lucky to have him in your corner, egging you on and pushing you to be your best.)

girl with a quill: Did you know what genre you wanted to write in from the beginning of your writing career? Or did you experiment with a few genres?

Amanda: I am wrestling with this right now actually. The two stories I am working on are completely different genres; contemporary romance for the NaNoWriMo and the other is fantasy. I tend to read a lot of Sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary romance, paranormal romance, nonfiction, mysteries (especially cozy). I have an idea for a cozy mystery and other ideas (don’t we all!) but I don’t want to overdo it right now and burn out. I have enough on my plate and need to finish the Susette LaFlesche Tibbles biography and then I plan to focus more on the fiction. I won’t completely give up on nonfiction as I have already planned to write a book on Arkansas and Indian Removal which will better explain some arguments my coauthors and I made in our site reports and Chickasaw Removal on the importance of Indian Removal in the early development of Arkansas.

girl with a quill: You are a co-author of the book “Chickasaw Removal”. Can you tell us a little about this book and what led you to co-write it?

Amanda: Well, like I said earlier it grew out of our site report on North Little Rock Arkansas for the National Parks Service to certify North Little Rock’s riverfront as a spot on the national trail. When we three looked at the tribes Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, and Choctaw, we felt the Chickasaw Removal had the most potential for a compelling story of Indian Removal through Arkansas. And I have to say we were right. The book tells the story of the Chickasaw Nation before, during, and right after the removal process especially a lot of the financial fraud that occurred with removal at the expense of the Chickasaw Nation and their resilience as a nation through hardship and adversity.

girl with a quill: After your experience of being a co-author, what tips would you give an author who was thinking of co-authoring?

Amanda: First of all make sure you can get along with the people you are writing with. I had worked with Fuller and Dr. Littlefield closely for a few years and so that helped immensely! Also you will have to decide how you will make the different authors’ voices mesh and flow. You can’t let ego stand in the way and like I said you need to be able to get along with the people you will collaborate with.

girl with a quill: Now I understand that Chickasaw Removal is a non-fiction. Would you say it is more difficult to write a non-fiction or to write a fiction and why?

Amanda: I think they are both equally difficult. In nonfiction you still have to tell a story and it can be just as difficult as fiction. Of course in a few years my opinion might change on that as I write more fiction!!

girl with a quill: Tell us a little about your writing process…How do you start a story?

Amanda: Nonfiction:  first I decide what am I going to write about and then I just do a basic outline. Then I gather as much info on the topic that I can. From there I begin to digest the info I gathered and does it change my basic outline. Then I begin to write.

On my fiction, well that is a work in progress as you can see below!

girl with a quill: Are you a panster or a plotter?

Amanda: Both in a way. More of a plotter in nonfiction and working more on being a plotter for fiction. My NaNoWriMo story I did not have a plan and was definitely a pantsed story. I do try to have a plan when I write but you know as they say “Man plans, God laughs.” (Love that quote…so true..a bit like Murphy’s Law.)

girl with a quill: Are you working on a new writing project?

Can you tell us a bit about it?

Amanda: Well right now I am finishing up a biography of Susette LaFlesche Tibbles, an Omaha Indian woman who lived in the 19th century. She achieved notoriety in the late 1870s and early 1880s speaking out for the American Indian Reform movement. In 1890 she was the only American Indian writing for a newspaper on the events at Wounded Knee. Then in 1893 she served as the Senate correspondent for a populist newspaper. (Susette does indeed sound like a “woman of gumption and guts”…a woman that someone could look up to. This story will be a must-read!)

girl with a quill: Writers can be superstitious people. Are you superstitious when it comes to your writing? Can you give us some examples if you are?

Amanda: No I am not superstitious, sorry!

girl with a quill: Do you belong to any writing groups and do you have a critique partner? Do you think writing groups or critique partners are important for writers? Why?

Amanda:
Yes. Mine are online. Of course I belong to the Warriors and I joined a yahoo group called Roses Colored Glasses that focuses on romance writing but I lurk there. I am more active with the Warriors. I do think writing groups are important for writers. We all need support no matter what we do. The Warriors group has helped me immensely and has been a kick in the pants to get back and write when I get off track. I have met many amazing men and women who I would not have otherwise worldwide because of this group who inspire and help me everyday. It is wonderful to know you are not alone and that others have similar problems and frustrations as yourself. (I so agree…A writing group makes you feel included in a group of people just like you. People with a passion for words and a drive to write them down.)

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

Amanda:
Character. You need a compelling character I think to drive your story. Of course ask me this again in a few years as I write more fiction! LOL.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?

Amanda: Well right now I don’t have one since I am just starting out. I could say all of them but…there was one character in my NaNo that I ended up killing off. He was intended as the heroine’s love interest but he did nothing for her or me and well off he went.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?

Amanda: Gee pick one? Well I do love Scarlett O’Hara. She had the nerve and gumption to let nothing get her down and as the Old South died she was willing to break social norms and do what was needed to survive while the Old Guard sat around whining. She is a flawed character though, as she doesn’t realize til too late she had the perfect man for her.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?

Amanda: Lets see Bobby Flay could cook dinner, I would love to have Vanessa Mae because she could also play some music after dinner, then I would probably just invite three of my friends because actually the friends I have tend to be very creative in their thinking and things they do! LOL.

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?

Amanda: Right now I can’t think of any because I have been reading a lot of paranormal and if I invited some of them they might eat me. Of course now I am thinking of writing a story where Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, and Edward Cullen meet for dinner. Hmmmm……..(Now that would be one dinner I would be terrified to join but a story that I would be “compelled” to read….Could be your next fiction Amanda?)

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

Amanda: Write every day.  No matter if it is just one word, sentence, paragraph, chapter etc, any writing counts as progress towards your ultimate goal.

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

Amanda: See above! Lol. No really it is so important to write every day. I find when I let a day go by where I don’t write something I find it hard to get back into my groove. So I would have to say just make sure you sit your backside in that chair and write something no matter the amount because progress is progress even if it is just a sentence. (So true Amanda.Backside in chair and one sentence is still progress.)

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?

Amanda: Ack! This is almost like what do you want on your tombstone, ha! Lets see I guess I want people to know me as a writer who wrote well researched and compelling stories and that I stayed true to who I was.

girl with a quill: Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?

Amanda: My About.me site has direct links to all my social media sites
including facebook and twitter
http://about.me/amandalpaige

Here are some links:
[Internship projects]
http://anpa.ualr.edu/digital_library/The%20Newspaper%20Writings%20of%20Susette%20La%20Flesche.htm
http://anpa.ualr.edu/digital_library/An%20Oklahoman%20Abroad%20from%20Sturm’s%20Oklahoma%20Magazine.htm
[Page with Site Reports]
http://ualr.edu/sequoyah/index.php/home/research/trail-of-tears-research/places/

girl with a quill: Thank you so much for such an interesting interview and a revealing look into history’s lens. It is so true that we can learn so much about history. I for one cannot wait for your biography to be published. Susette’s story sounds fascinating. Thank you for being part of the Wednesday Warriors series. You are indeed a worthy warrior of words.

– girl with a quill

Characters and their secrets

Secret Passageway
Image by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

Have you ever had reticent characters? Many readers and some writers believe that once you have written a book and created characters it gives you an omniscient presence in your character‘s world. For some this may be true. In my experience though, the opposite is true: instead of being creator and puppet master, I – the writer – am the servant and puppet. For me, my characters lead me down the twists and turns of their story. You see they have already walked it and lived it or are right in the thick of it, if anything I am an observer or a recorder of what they want me to tell the reader.

In my interviews on Warrior Wednesdays I always ask the question: What is most important or what comes first in your writing? The Story or the Character. You may wonder why I ask this. I ask this because in my own writing whether I think I get a story idea first or whether a certain character pops into my thoughts and hearing, ultimately it/they come from somewhere. I could say that I am brilliant and have a million and one stories within me but that would be false. I believe that as a writer we are a medium and a vehicle for our characters to tell their stories when, where, how and why they want to.

OK, I hear you say: so are you hearing voices from the deep dark and beyond. This is getting a little loopy! While if your right brain – creativity – rules you then count yourself loopy. Now don’t worry or look all shocked. I mean that yes you are loopy by the definition of a society where left brainers are the majority. I mean you imagine worlds, people, events, places in your head. By left brain definition you are deluded or hallucinatory or in a simple term loopy.

So back to the question: Do I hear voices from the deep, dark and beyond? To be honest, yes sometimes I have and do hear a voice. It pops into my thoughts and starts speaking. I know it is not me because it does not sound like anything I would say. Sometimes the voice is loud and sometimes it is quiet. For me though, I tend to stop and listen. I have tried the ignore button, even tried the mute button but then I end up with sleepless nights and eventually I just learn to respond. All that is usually needed is for me to listen and then a picture forms in my thoughts of who is speaking. Sometimes this is done by showing me a place first and sometimes it is like staring at my reflection in a mirror and slowly see a figure emerge from behind the door that is closed behind me. Then the who of them becomes a basis of their story. They live and breathe so they must have a story. That is when I put the pen to paper or finger to keyboard, whichever is in the closest vicinity, and write. Voila` a story is born and a character is on the page.

But some stories are different. Some characters like to keep secrets. They may even keep their identity a secret. You may be able to picture them but they do not tell you who they are. This may be because they enjoy the game or the control they have over you and your curiosity at this point. It may even be a method they are using to firstly get your interest in a story and then to keep it by leaving you with mysterious threads. For me this is very frustrating. I am a type A personality and like to be the one in control (blame my german roots) and I do not like surprises. If I am being honest here I also struggle with patience. So this character is like a double-dare and a red flag all at once for me.

In my new WIP, new in that I am at the start but not brand new story in that this story and these characters have haunted me for a while now. I knew I had to get this story written no matter how difficult the telling may be but somehow was coming up against a block. Then last weekend I had the epiphany to switch tracks from the German Professor Perfect to the train conducted by the 6-year-old curious and emotional Kimmi. Voila` the flood gates of inspiration started opening. But I still had a major problem. I did not know the identity of the antagonist. I kept on bumping up against this character. I could see the character but could not get a feel for this one like I did for the other characters. So I set it aside for a while and concentrated on talking to my characters in my NaNoWriMo novel and having a lot of fun with them on Facebook.

In the meantime I had also begun work last night on two writing workshops hosted by Savvy Authors. In one of the lessons, I had to write a full-page synopsis/outline via question and answer mode. So I decided to do the synopsis on my difficult WIP. It was late last night when the email had come through with the first lesson. So I looked at it and thought I would sleep on it and write it up first thing this morning. Well, the sleep idea soon turned out to be turned on its head. The synopsis kept on playing over and over in my head like a stuck gramophone. It got to the point that with 2 hours of broken sleep, I decided enough was enough. I would have to get this synopsis out my head and onto the screen. (The Macbook is never far away.) As I started answering the questions and the synopsis started fleshing out, I felt what could only be termed as a CLICK like something had locked into place or been opened. Suddenly as large as standing right in front of me, I met my antagonist. Just by finally knowing who this character was, a myriad of loose ends that had me stumped were tied up and the whole plot revealed itself to me. You see I could not see past the middle to the climax or the end because this story’s antagonist had hidden their identity from me. Suddenly I also knew why the identity had been hidden. This identity is the secret key to the whole story and demystifies both the protagonists as well.

Now I am not saying that I enjoyed meeting this antagonist as the character is the most sadistic and cruel character that I have yet met in my own thoughts. Just by this I know that I have not created this character. I have never actually known someone this… lets call it shadowed  or darkened. But as much as this character scared me to the depths of my soul, I suddenly had the key.

So yes characters keep secrets. Sometimes you find out through clues. But sometimes all of a sudden the secret is unlocked in an instant and it becomes a Pandora’s box. You will not be able to put the secrets back in the box once it is opened. Instead, try to rein in the secrets into one place: Your Characters’ Story. They know who you are. Now it is up to you to find out who they are.

So I ask you now, in light of my character unveiling, what comes first character or story?

Are you – the writer – the creator and puppet master or are you a mere medium and servant?

Ask yourself do you really think you just imagined some of those characters in your head and in your stories? Or are they the Storytellers and you are just a pen and paper?

– Kim

© All rights reserved Kim Koning.