My muse is a tease

My muse has been distracting me this week. I have been teased with images of exotic locales that want to be settings in new stories. This happens to me every time I open my mind up to creating, which is what I have been doing this week. Suddenly I am teased by random pieces of inspiration whether they be, images, words, articles, media – you name it but the doors to inspiration are wide open.

I read an article today that says the average brain has 12 000 thoughts every day and it can run to having up to 60 000 thoughts a day. This does not come as a surprise. Our brains are always off on tangents even when and especially when we are supposed to be concentrating and working. I know mine is.

People always want to know where story ideas come from. It is the no. 1 question that readers like to ask writers and even writers like to ask other writers. My ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, the ordinary, the mundane, the strange and the extraordinary. I have had ideas come to me in vivid dreams. I have heard something on the radio, watched something on television or read something and it has sparked an idea. But the main thing that always starts me on the scent of a new story is: What if? I love teasing out the answers to that mysterious question.

I am lucky enough that I am never short of story ideas. I have two huge lever arch files of story ideas and story inspirations. But the annoying part is that my story ideas come to me while I am working on another current story idea. They never wait their turn politely. Unfortunately too I have a low patience meter so the minute a new idea comes to me I really, really want to drop everything and play with the new idea.

Is this wrong? Should I rather ignore it?

No, ignoring it does not make it go away instead just the opposite. If I actively try to ignore the new story idea, I can think of nothing else. Believe me I know this from experience. Even if I fill my waking hours with work and distraction, the idea will enter my sleep. It tugs at me constantly.

So I have now learnt that the most effective way to deal with new story ideas, to quieten their cries of need just long enough to hear myself think is to write them down and then file them. This way they feel acknowledged and don’t take their creative anger out on me or my sleep. Instead after writing the idea down, I can get to work on the story I am meant to be working on and that new idea has a chance to percolate in the to-be-done file of my imagination.

  • Pinterest is a fantastic tool to accomplish this. I can pin an image from the post that caught my attention and that way I can go back to that article when I am ready to play with it. Pinterest is also fantastic if you are more a visual thinker than a verbal thinker.
  • Evernote is fantastic for quick note taking/idea filing. I have the application downloaded onto both my laptop and my iPod so that even if I get an idea from a dram I can roll over, pick up my iPod and without turning on the light type in the note.
  • Then I also have my trusty Moleskine notebooks: I have a bright green version for my new story ideas and a deep blue one for my current WIPs. (Any excuse to buy more stationery 😉 )

I am truly thankful for an abundance of story ideas but I need to teach my muse to be more disciplined and to wait his turn in bringing me the ideas. But it is a catch-22 because I would hate to get to the spot that I don’t get ideas any more. So for this week, I have shelved the new story idea (it is a very tantalizing one) to percolate and see what comes of it.

Now it is back to work on the stories that need to be written and worked on.

Do you find you have too many ideas clamoring for attention?

How do you handle the new ideas that you just don’t have the time for?

Where have your ideas come from?

The Writer’s Achilles’ Heel | Part 1

The Achilles Heel
Image by texmex5 via Flickr

There are two words that strike fear and tension into a writer’s mind:

Synopsis

Query

But if you want to be published, these are two steps that you will need to take to walk through the gateway of publishing. 

Why do these seemingly simple processes strike such fear into most writers?

It is time to take the arrow from Achilles’ Heel and use it to point you in the direction of Success.

After all haven’t you already achieved something incredible by creating a plot, writing a story and finishing a manuscript. Why then should these words stop so many writers in their tracks? Why are these two steps sometimes the ultimate Achilles’ Heel in a writer’s path to publishing success?

There are so many different “standardized” versions of a synopsis and a query. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that these two words can turn a confident creative into an unsure person filled with doubts. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a definitive list of rules of writing a good synopsis and thereby insuring an effective query. 

Most writers will try to put the SYNOPSIS off as long as possible until eventually we get that magic call/email that our manuscript has been found interesting enough to submit it. The excitement is soon paled by the looming terror of having to sit down and write a synopsis.

Perhaps as writers we are looking at this process back to front. Perhaps instead of leaving the synopsis to the end of the manuscript completion, we need to start compiling the synopsis during the writing process or even before we even start writing the story.

This is what I do. I start writing the synopsis while I am writing the first half of my first draft. For me a synopsis is not just a summarized version of the story that I am creating but it is a map that I am using to help plot my journey to my final destination: the climax and resolution of the story. 

There are no fail-proof methods to attack a synopsis, but here are some points that help me create a synopsis.

Every story I write or read starts with a character. Whether this be the Antagonist or the Protagonist, a story cannot happen without the main characters. You cannot stage a play without the principal actors. Once the main character is introduced, the story can begin. Everything else is just back-story that helps set a scene for the character to step into. Every protagonist needs an antagonist. This creates the CONFLICT which leads to the CLIMAX. The antagonist is usually the spark that sets the whole story alight. He/She is the reason that the Protagonist needs to ACT.

  • Think: Climax | Resolution | Beginning


This is the ultimate breakdown of your story. These are the most important points in your story, no matter what genre you write. Funnily enough, when I first get a story idea, what comes to me first is the crisis point then the what ifs start happening. That’s when I dig some more to get the beginning of the incident/story. Everything else in the plot arc of a story is just padding of these three plot points.

  • Voice & POV (Point of View)         

Who is telling this story? Are you, the writer, narrating it? Is your Protagonist telling the story? Is your Antagonist telling the story? Or is there a secondary character telling the story? These are the questions you need to think of to hear the VOICE of the story. The POV and the Voice gives the story and the characters life. Depending on which POV (who is telling the story?) you choose, the Voice will change. Like chinese whispers, each different person never tells the same story. The core elements may remain similar but the story is guided by who tells it.

  • The Story Arc | Conflict

This is your check list to make sure your story makes sense. Fiction must make sense. Truth can bend the rules of sense vs nonsense but fiction needs to be believable. Your story needs to have a timeline that works smoothly and each step in the journey needs to lead both the writer and the reader into the next step.

Once I have these four points worked out, I can write my story’s synopsis. Sometimes if I find that I am not sure of my character’s pathway to this story or their motivation, I will also use these four points to write a character synopsis. The synopsis does not need to be difficult nor does it need to be put off until the last unavoidable minute before you have to scratch one together in a wild panic. I also find that when I write a synopsis at the beginning of my first draft, it keeps me from hitting a block or stumbling point. Like a map, it gives me a clear path to my final destination. There may still end up being unexpected roadblocks but with just a few minutes looking back at my road map (SYNOPSIS) I am back on track.

If your story’s synopsis has become your Achilles’ Heel, try simplifying it for yourself. Even if you find you struggle with road blocks in your story, this way may just help you past them. By targeting these four points you may just find that writing a synopsis can in fact be a key to the difference between a good story and a great story. Don’t complicate things for yourself by over-analyzing the synopsis. You already have enough to do with writing and finishing the story as well as submitting it for acceptance or rejection.

Part 2 – Query will be posted on Friday so look out for that.

Coming up on Thursday, there is a guest post on a very common writing road block: Middle Book Blues.

My visit to Rachna’s Scriptorium | Part 2

Part 2 – My visit to Rachna’s Scriptorium

Last week I spoke about my visit to Rachna’s Scriptorium.

This week Part 2 of the interview has been posted.

In this interview I talk about the critiquing process and my a bit more about my own writing process.

If you missed Part 1, it is under related articles at the bottom of this post.

Thank you to Rachna for the great questions and the warm welcome on her lovely Scriptorium.

nVrkvW2

Writing Conference 101

Writer Wordart

Image by secretagent007 via Flickr

It has been a week since my annual writing conference. It has taken me this long to have all the conference workshops marinate in my mind. This year I was in 2 minds whether I would even be attending this year’s conference. It all came down to the cost. Could I afford to splurge on the writing conference? Would the workshops be valuable to my writing? But in the end, I decided to attend because two favourite authors were going to be key-note speakers. There were also a few agents and editors that I was looking forward to meeting. On top of that, I knew that the weekend would be worth it because I would be sharing the weekend with my writing partner and close friend. I was also influenced by other online writer friends who had just recently attended writing conferences and been completely inspired by them. After a hard two months of work to finish up both my current WIP and editing my writing partners’ WIPs, I was looking forward to some fresh inspiration. There are great advantages to being a full-time writer but I found that I had disappeared into my writing cave and needed some vitamin A in the form some writing workshops.

I had attended conference last year so was a little more prepared this year. Things are always better the second time around. Recently I had been asked whether I thought writing conferences were necessary for writers to attend. My answer was: Yes. But it got me thinking that sometimes you need a helping hand before going to a conference. So I have put together my list of Writing Conference Necessities/Requirements 101. Some of these I adhered to, some I wish I had, some I wish others had. Ah, the value of hindsight.

Writing Conferences 101

  1. Be Prepared.
  2. Choose your list of workshops you want to attend before arriving at the conference.
  3. If you have the opportunity to pitch your WIP – take the chance. Even if nothing comes of it, it will be great experience to have a face-to-face pitch session.
  4. Make sure you catch up on all your sleep before the conference.
  5. Check with the hotel if you can have an early check-in before the conference starts, that way you can settle in to your room without having to carry a whole lot of bags around.
  6. In the same vein, check with the hotel if you can have a late check-out on the last day of the conference: You will need it. By the last day, you are pretty heavy on your feet from all the stimulation and it is a good idea to be able to still have a bed to go lie down in or your own bathroom to freshen up in.
  7. If you have been given books by the keynote speakers and want them autographed, carry them around with you right in the beginning of the conference and ask the authors to sign them as soon as you get a chance. Not all conferences have signing times scheduled in. On top of that, some authors/keynote speakers do not remain for the whole conference and it would be a shame to miss out.
  8. Mingle, Mingle, Mingle. It is so easy to get all clicky at conferences and hang out only with the people you know. But there may be a quite a few newbies there who don’t want to intrude on your little cliques so help make them feel welcome.
  9. Ask questions. This is your time to have a 101 with your favourite author or mentor. Take the opportunity to ask them questions. You may not get the chance again. 
  10. Buy bottled water and take it with you to the hotel. Saves on using the hotel mini-bar and will save you from dehydration from hotel air-conditioning.
  11. Check your room temperature before going to sleep. Hotels notoriously crank up the heat in the evenings in hotel room. This may just save you from a very uncomfortable night.
  12. Take your own pens and paper. I keep a conference notebook that I started for last year’s conference and continued you with this year. Also, the hotel pens are not always the best.
  13. Talk to other writers and ask them what they do,besides writing. You will find out the most fascinating things. I met a writer there who is qualified as an embalmer. Believe me the ideas started by that were endless.
  14. Print up some business cards. Easy to hand out to people and keep in touch. (Failed to do this, even though this is one thing I wanted to do. Next time.)
  15. If you get the chance, talk to the keynote speakers outside of just the workshops. These are some conversations that can really motivate you and can also be easier for the keynote speaker as they are more relaxed and have no time/subject restrictions hindering them.
  16. If there are workshops you want to attend but they clash with another you are already attending, get yourself a conference buddy and ask if they would be interested in switching notes for workshops you both did not get to attend.
  17. If there is a cocktail event, make sure you wear comfortable shoes. These are usually standing events and you might be standing there for hours. Take it from me, you will want comfortable shoes ladies.
  18. Make sure you know what times your pitches are and in what rooms they are. If you are not sure, ask one of the conference organizers. Pitch appointments are times when you want to be your most prepared and professional.
  19. Keep an eye on the pitch appointments. You may find that someone cancels and you can slot in their appointment even if you had not got a pitch with the agent or editor in question. (My writing partner did this and she got full requests from that pitch. So take the chance if you get the chance.)
  20. Make sure you get to the dining areas quickly. Most conferences are buffet  and if you get there late, you may be waiting a very long time in line for some food.

 

I will be posting a few more posts over the next few days about the workshops I attended so keep your eye on this space. 

What are you favourite conference 101 tips?

My visit to Rachna’s Scriptorium

Interview

A couple of weeks ago my good friend and one of my writing partners, Rachna Chhabria, asked if she could interview me on her lovely blog: Rachna’s Scriptorium. Rachna and I became friends through an online writers group called Scribblerati that we both belong to. Very soon we were Facebook friends and this year we became writing partners.

For those who follow my creativity blog, Dragonfly Scrolls, you will be aware that I am usually the one asking questions in the interviews. Asking the questions is the easy part. Rachna turned the tables on me this week and put me in the “answer” chair.

The interview will be posted in 2 parts. In this first part, posted today, Rachna asks me about my writing process and the NZ publishing scene. My thanks to Rachna for a lovely interview. If you have not visited her Scriptorium before, bookmark her blog because one visit will soon turn you into a fan.

Part 1 – My visit to Rachna’s Scriptorium.

nVrkvW2

I am a Writer – Full Time

I am a writer.
Image by DavidTurnbull via Flickr

 There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, “Yes, I’ve got dreams, of course I’ve got dreams.” Then they put the box away and bring it out once in a while to look in it, and yep, they’re still there. These are great dreams, but they never even get out of the box. It takes an uncommon amount of guts to put your dreams on the line, to hold them up and say, “How good or how bad am I?” That’s where courage comes in.  – Erma Louise Bombeck

 

They say Friday the 13th is a bad day in the luck department. I have decided to fight against common thought and turn it into good luck. 13 has always been a lucky number for me. This year, Friday the 13th, May 2011 is incredibly significant.

Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.               – JK Rowling 

Friday the 13th, May 2011 my job description changed to:

Full Time Writer / Author

A year ago I decided that by 2012 I would be a full-time writer with at least 1 story published. The story is busy being published in Tales for Canterbury as I write this. I also decided in January this year that one of my goal-resolutions would be to go full-time writing this year. As of 13th May, I can tick that goal off my list.

 When we set goals, we are in command. Clearly understood goals bring our lives into focus just as a magnifying glass focuses a beam of light into a burning point. Without goals our efforts may be scattered and unproductive. – Ezra Taft Benson

 

After much thought and contemplation, I decided to put my goals on the line and go full-time writing. This was not done lightly nor was it done alone. I have the support of an incredible family and amazing friends behind me. I also have the wider support network of some amazing online writer friends. 

Now I know that there are many writers out there who can’t give up the day job as of yet. I made the decision because it is something I have been working towards for 10 years now. I had also got to the point where my writing turned from being something I did in private to something I know that need to do to feel fulfilled. It is sad that of all the professional careers in the world, the creative careers of Artist, Writer, Sculptor, Musician are not taken as seriously. 

 Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain


For me, writing is a calling and a gift. It is something that succours my soul and nourishes my spirit. It is something that lifts my heart and fuels my mind. But over the years I realised that if I was serious about this calling, I needed to get serious with it in public. So I sat down a year ago and wrote up some goals. I believe in goal setting but more importantly I believe you must write down your goals and your dreams. Writing goals down cements them in our minds. 

When I was offered an opportunity to submit a short story to an Anthology, I jumped at the chance. Something deep inside told me this was my chance to put my writing out there in public. This was my chance to show the world that I was serious about being a writer. It was a nail-biting time waiting to hear if I had been accepted and when the good news finally came – I literally jumped for joy. The final moment of realisation hit me when I received my contract. Here it was. My first actual publishing contract. 

I believe that every person on earth is born with a purpose, a gift, a talent. Some people never find that purpose and tend to jump from thing to thing, searching all the while for something they know is missing from their life. Some people know what their purpose and their gift is but choose not to pursue it. Then there are those few who know what their purpose is and pursue it at any cost.

Not fulfilling your dreams will be a loss to the world, because the world needs everyone’s gift — yours and mine. – Barbara Sher

 For me, writing is my purpose, my passion, my gift, my need, my longing and my fulfilment. In my mind, I have always identified myself as a writer. But in the real world there are bills to pay and sometimes life throws you curveballs that take you slightly off the track from your purpose. I have had my fair share of curveballs thrown my way. I have also had normal day jobs that I have worked in to pay my bills. But through this all, I have continued to write. But it has been in the last year that this writing has reached a feverish pitch. After working a 40 hour job in management in my day job, I would get home and write every day deep into the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning. The last 9 months I have survived on little more than a few hours sleep at night. 

Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret – curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable. – Walt Disney

Some people in my life wondered why I persisted in working myself to the bone. How could I describe this burning need to write? How could I explain that even though the world ticked my career as something else, this did not change the fact that in my mind I identified myself as a writer? Eventually the only way I knew that people would learn to understand and accept that I am a writer is if I became a Full Time Writer. 

Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream. – Peter McWilliams

This brought me to my decision 5 weeks ago to resign from my day job. Am I nervous about jumping in head first into being a Full Time Writer? No, I am not nervous. For the first time in my adult life I feel secure in my decision. I am not doing this for anyone else or to please the people in my life. I am not doing this just to pay the bills. Now there is no hesitancy for me to tick my profession in official forms. All the other day jobs I have had are just those: jobs. They were not how I defined myself. Now people will also define me by this decision.  I am doing this because this is who I am. I am proud to say:

I am a Full Time Writer.

 

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills, countless ideas and endless plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself then providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it! Boldness had genius, power, and magic in it. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning.

Creating a Magic System – Contest Alert!

Might and Magic
Image via Wikipedia

Creating a Magic System Final and Contest.

So you would know from a few posts this year that I am on a Short Story roll right now. I am loving turning an idea into a short story. At the moment I have so many ideas flying around in the Aether of my imagination that I am hard pressed to capture them all. So instead of turning all of them into potential full length fiction, I am turning some of them into short stories.

Above is the link to a wonderful short story competition about Magic.  The contest will start from today, and run until May 31st, which should give you plenty of time to plan and get your submissions in.

Contest Part 1 – Create a magic system, using roughly the format outlined here. 2,000 words is the goal.
Contest Part 2 – Use that magic system to write a 5,000 to 10,000 word short story, and submit both it and the magic system to L.M. Stull. She’ll blind them and pass them on to the judges, and we’ll pick which ones are the winners.
Prizes – And the part I’m sure you’re all wondering about. We’ve got a $50 Amazon gift card for the first place winner, and a $25 card for second place.

So not only do you get a chance to practice your short story writing skills but you get to play with a new magic system that you have created. On the original contest link you will find a series of posts on magic systems and what they can consist of.

So let’s weave some story magic and tell a tale that is short, magical and entertaining. Win yourself an Amazon gift voucher.

– Kim

Spotlight on Matthew Munson

Today I welcome a writer who I met through an online writer’s group that I belong to. What always amazes me about the writing groups I belong to is the plethora of writing talent in these groups. Matthew Munson is one of these writers. He is a writer who likes asking the Big Questions. He likes writing stories that make a reader sit up and say: What if? So join me in welcoming Matthew Munson. Pull up a seat and make yourself comfortable as we discuss life’s challenges, writing, fantasy, clowns and morris dancers…If you are like me and want to know what Morris Dancers are, well pay attention and Matthew will tell us all.
Welcome Matthew…Thank you for joining me in the Dragonfly Scrolls studio.
 
girl with a quill: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Matthew Munson?
Matthew: Matthew is … an Englishman in New York. Ha, not really, I just love the song 🙂 So that’s the level of my humour anyway … I am English, though.
    I’m 29 years old (30 in June) and live in the south-east of England in a town you’ve probably never heard of (thanks for that quote, Sir Terry Pratchett). I live right by the sea in touristy Broadstairs and have been born and raised here. I have a condition called dyspraxia and OCD and am currently learning British Sign Language. Looking over that last paragraph, I can’t work out how I’m not actually three people.girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Writer?

Matthew: I don’t honestly think there was a specific time when I didn’t want to write, in some form. My dad was a journalist and both my parents have always been avid readers, so literature and a love of words has always been part of my life. For a while, I considered going into journalism, but don’t think I’d enjoy the intensity of the lifestyle – I like to be a bit more laid-back about my career choices!

girl with a quill:How long have you been writing for?

Matthew: Well, I wrote my first book when I was eight or nine, and it was a way of getting out of double geography at primary school – which I loathed. During my teenage years, I’d often write short stories, but never had the confidence to do anything with them. It was only when I was in my twenties did I actually think “Come on, Matthew, just do it” – face the fear (and the rejection!) and start sending some stuff out there!

girl with a quill: You have a very interesting website written from two different POVs? What made you decide on this unique website?
Matthew: I wish there was a more interesting story to this … a friend of mine and I have joined forces to publicise our work. We thought by sharing a site that we could increase traffic to our short stories and double our chances of getting people interested in what we’ve written. We share a lot of similar interests, so sharing a website seemed a logical extension of that.
girl with a quill: On your website you state you have 3 fears; Clowns,Morris Dancers and Water. Is there a reason why you fear these? What are Morris Dancers? 
Matthew: You don’t know what Morris Dancers are? I’m shocked! They’re an English folk tradition; dancers with bells tied round their legs and hankies tied to their sleeves doing weird dances to welcome in Summer on May Day. They’re a very … intense group of people who have regular conventions, and probably the only group of dancers that you can hear coming from half a mile away. There’s also a dance called the “Black Morris”, which welcomes in Winter – as a kid, that used to terrify me, and I can’t shake it off to this day.
    Water – well, that’s an easy one. I had swimming lessons as a kid, and would never put my head under water, so my swimming teacher once pushed it under and I swallowed a huge amount of water. It was absolutely terrifying, and any large body of water still gives me the creeps to this day.
    Clowns … well, don’t they scare you??
girl with a quill:One often hears that you need to face your fears to overcome them and I believe writers often use stories to work through events. Have you ever/Would you create a story with these three things you fear?
Matthew: Strange you should say that … I’ve written a short story about a clown called Hector, which was published in Ethereal Times a coupld of months ago. That was great fun to write – I utterly LOVED creating the compexity of Hector, he was – and is – awesome, at least as far as I’m concerned.
    I’m currently working on a short story about the sea as well … but I won’t say too much about that at the moment. As for Morris Dancers … hmm, that’s one to think about for the future – maybe!
    I am definitely one who channels his thoughts and feelings into his writing; it’s very therapeutic.

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?
Matthew: Facebook and Twitter! I have met some awesome writers through here – Eden Baylee, Richard Wood, my interviewer to name but three, and there are a lot more there. I love bouncing ideas off people and seeing how other people work.
    I’ve also got two “off-line” friends as well, one being a very prolific writer in the south-west of England, James Sheridan – we’ve known each other for 20 years, and can be totally honest with each others’ work. David Grimstone is a huge inspiration to me, and I’m glad to know him – he always incredibly encouraging to me and I always value our chats!

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

Matthew: Phew, there’s a question … I don’t know if I can say one thing. My parents, clearly, are huge influences on my writing. As I said earlier, I grew up in a house filled with books and words, and learnt to love both. I think that my dad’s writing style has rubbed off on me, although he is far more awesome at constructing a column or an article; our humour is very similar, though, so we tend to approach things from a similar viewpoint.

    Author-wise, I’d have to say … well, there’s a list. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman are utter legends, and Stephen King and James Herbert aren’t far behind. I could go on and on and on … but those four appeal to me because of their complex plots that are still very easy to follow and wonderful to read. I love writers where you’re physically excited about their next book.

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?

Matthew: It would definitely be a cross between fantasy and some sort of medical textbook, I suspect! Fantasy because I don’t honestly believe people would believe some of the jobs I’ve had and people I’ve met during my life, and medical because of my dyspraxia and OCD that has an impact on my life – although I make sure it’s as little impact as possible.

    The arc would be … interesting, to say the least; highs and lows, the same as anyone! Really developing new strands to my life in my 20’s; developing the confidence to face the inevitable rejection of being a fledgling writer, starting to learn Sign language and becoming an advocate for dyspraxia and deaf awareness. An intense arc, some might say!

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

Matthew: I have a desk in my front room right by the window, so I can look out over the street from my flat. I love that; it gives me so much inspiration, just that view of people and the sea. The actual desk is fairly Spartan – two laptops, some notepaper and pens … oh, and a book I really MUST take back to the library. I prefer the space to be as empty as possible; it’s less distracting and more calming for me.

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?

Matthew: They won’t shut up! I usually spend a week or so just jotting random thoughts down; names of characters, bits of plot, etc, then spend a lot of time daydreaming! I find music really helps me with that; it sends me off into the realms of … well, wherever you got when you daydream! I often walk as well – for some reason, walking and music together really help me think about the process. Gradually, things solidfy in my mind and I just start writing.

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

Matthew: Both – although more of a paster, if I’m honest! Everytime I start a story, I tell myself I will plot it through and follow that plot religiously … but it doesn’t quite work somehow. I love how things can evolve, and that can only happen if your plot is flexible enough to change.

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

Matthew: Reality-based fantasy. I love using the real world as a basis for my fantasy stories, because I love the “what if” question, and fantasy really helps me explore that. I can put the world into different contexts and see how people would react to the incredible.

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

Matthew: I’d love to try horror one day – but haven’t yet got the confidence. You need to be able to get that “fear factor” just right, and I need to read more extensively more I even have the nerve to try it!

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

Matthew: Working on a couple of short stories at the moment, then hoping to go back to my manuscript in a couple of months; I need to change portions of that, so I’m having some “thinking time” away from it!

girl with a quill: Why do you write?
Matthew: Because I couldn’t imagine a life without it.
girl with a quill: Do you have a common theme or Omni-Premise that threads its way through all your writing? If so, what is it?
Matthew: I would hope there’s a humour that permeates my work. I find it funny, but the test is if other people find it funny as well! I’d also like to think that there’s a passion for life that comes through, as well; a message that life can survive, in a lot of different forms.

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

Matthew: I’d love to be a characted in Jasper Fforde’s series of Thursday Next books. Thursday is a LiteraTec, a detective working in and out of the fictional world and real world. That would be a fabulous job to try.

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

Matthew: Character, because without strong, powerful characters, your story will wither and die.

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

Matthew: I’ve got two; Hector the Clown, who I’ve mentioned before, because he’s got this extraordinary gift and just uses in such a morally dubious way, but for reasons that he thinks are good and decent and honest.

    My second character is Joseph, a leading character in my unpublished manuscript “Fall From Grace”, which I’m just re-editing now. He is very similar to me in many ways, and he was definitely my mouthpiece in the book.

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

Matthew:It’s tough to pick just one, it really is. I’m going to say Thursday Next again, because of how she’s written; Jasper Fforde has created this absolutely deep and layered character and invested a huge amount of humour and pathos within her.

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

Matthew: Must I have just five?? Alright then … Jasper Fforde (because of his book series and how much I suspect his humour is similar to mine, Richard Wood (because  he runs the Word Count Podcast and has just been published – and would have a lot of stories to tell), Terry Pratchett (who is just plain awesome), David Grimstone (the author I mentioned earlier who is incredibly down to Earth and well-versed in so many subjects that overlap with my interests) and Jeani Reactor, editor of the Horror Zine, who is an amazing and patient editor!

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?

Matthew: Thursday Next – because she just kicks arse; Samuel Vimes from the Discworld novels, because he would actually give a totally straight answer to anything you asked and wouldn’t filter his response; Davey Swag from David Stone’s book of the same name because he’s had experiences so far out of this world, it’s untrue; Symond Bryson from The Prodigal’s Foole, because he could really advise me on my own fantasy creations, and Lyra Belacqua from Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy – she’s so well-written and complex.

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

Matthew: Don’t be afraid of rejection. It happens to everyone – accept it and make your writing better as a result.

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

Matthew: Remember how you felt when you had your first piece of fiction published? Hold on to that feeling; if you ever lose it, it might be time to consider your options.

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

Matthew: To engage people in my stories and make them think.

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

Matthew: At www.writeordie.co.uk or 
http://vikingbay.blogspot.com/ – come and visit, maybe even say “hi!”


The Dark Side

Human Nature/Life Death, Art Institute...
Image by christine zenino via Flickr

Do you have a Dark Side? You may think you don’t. But I have news for you. If you are human then you do have a dark side. It is part of human nature. Does that make you dark in nature? For some the answer here may be yes. For most, the answer will be no. I am sure you are wondering where I am going with this. Well let me tell you.

Today in one of my online writing groups one of the writers posed an incredibly interesting question that got me thinking. Part of the question is why we write? I have been focusing a lot on this over the last few weeks. For me, writing is cathartic.  But I also believe it serves a tool in giving a voice, in a safe environment, to people who feel they have no voice. 

The question also explored why one writes in a specific genre. A lot of my writing explores the Dark side of the world and/or human nature. Is it because it fascinates me or repels me? I would say both reasons would be correct. For whatever reason people who have been severely hurt in life are drawn into my inner circle. I believe that everything in life does happen for a reason even if at the time a person cannot understand it or explain it. This I believe includes the Dark Side of life. 

Do I believe there are evil people or do I believe that there are just people who commit good and bad deeds? Again my answer would be yes to both of these questions. I have had a brush with a really evil person in life. It still haunts me to this day. But I am thankful for that experience. I will not go into too much detail here but I will share a bit. When I was growing up, there was a spate of missing girls in the same age group as I was. (early teens) We used to buy milk cartons that had the girls’ pictures on and asking for people to phone in with any information. It was something to be feared especially because the police had no leads on why these girls went missing or what the link was beyond their similar age brackets. The girls were taken over a large area and over many years so police did not connect the dots. I remember numerous news casts warning young girls to be vigilant.

During a school holiday I was visiting a friend and on one of the days we were out walking in the holiday town that she lived in. After a while we noticed a car that seemed to be trailing us for a few blocks. Being a holiday town where people were often driving very slowly and sightseeing, this may not have been unusual. However, something prodded my sub-conscious. 

I have always had an uncanny sixth sense. For many years I viewed this sixth sense as a curse. What is my sixth sense I hear you asking? It comes in two parts. I can tell a person’s true nature within moments of meeting them. I inherently know when people are deceitful or dangerous. You may think this is a great tool to have but it is not. You see, sometimes you do just want to see the surface mask of a person. You really do not want to see any hidden skeletons straight off the bat. That day my sixth sense kicked in.

Something prodded my sixth sense into overdrive and I told my friend we had to get to somewhere with more people immediately. My friend though confused saw my alarm and urgency and agreed. So we picked up our pace but the car just increased its speed to keep up with us but not overtake us. All of a sudden, the car passed us and pulled up onto the curb in front of us blocking our path. An older man got out with a map in his hand. At this point everything in me screamed to run and not look back. Danger with huge flashing lights seemed to be playing over and over in my mind.

What about the man’s appearance triggered this? To be honest, nothing. But when I locked eyes with the man I felt sick to my core. I felt like I was looking at pure evil. I could not explain it but it is just what I felt at the time. He was an ordinary and unprepossessing character. He could have been someone’s kindly  and quiet uncle. In fact on pure appearance he looked trustworthy and non-threatening. But it was there in his eyes. They seemed dead to me. Not without emotion dead but there was a nothingness there, a hollowed inhuman look that seemed to want to penetrate my soul. 

The man started moving towards us and he started saying he was lost and needed some directions. All the time he steadily advanced towards us keeping eye contact all the time. As much as I wanted to break eye contact I could not. My friend started then walking towards him. Being a sweet girl she was always the first to help others. However this time I knew this man did not want nor need help. He did not look lost. In fact he seemed to know exactly where he was and what he wanted. Everything in me told me it was not directions he was after.

I grabbed my friend’s hand harshly and started running with her. She struggled at first and said that I was being paranoid. Until she realised the man had got back in his car and done a u-turn to pursue us. I ran with her to the building nearest us which happened to be a clinic. We ran in the clinic. A nurse came out with us to see what we were running from. There was nobody there. The man in the car had disappeared. 

Though this event shook me and my friend. I eventually put it to one side in my mind. But there was always a niggling reminder. It was not until about 5 years later while watching an emergency news broadcast that suddenly I went ice-cold. The broadcaster announced that there was an emergency announcement from the police. They had solved the cases of the missing girls. The murderer was found after a suicide-murder in which he killed first his partner in the kidnapping and subsequent murders of the young girls and then killed himself. They unearthed the bones of a few of the girls. But many they could not find. The police showed pictures of the murderer/kidnapper/paedophile and his partner. 

I was watching the news with my parents at the time. I turned white as a sheet and almost fell from the edge of the chair that I was sitting on. A cold permeated my being that I could not shake. The picture of the man in the tv was the same man who my friend and I had run away from when we were young girls in a holiday town. It was then that I told my parents what had happened all those years ago. They could not believe it. 

To this day it haunts me that I came so close to a killer who was so evil. I am thankful that I was with my friend that day and that my sixth sense kicked in. I shudder with dread to think what may have happened if I had not been there. She might have been another picture on a milk carton. But it also haunts me that this man went on kidnapping/torturing and killing girls for 5 more years before the police knew who he was. To the nurse at the clinic that day my fears seemed irrational and childish. I allowed her to convince me that I had just over-reacted. What if I hadn’t allowed her to convince me otherwise? That question haunts me to this day.

Perhaps this is why so much of my writing has vulnerable girls thrown into dangerous, whether it be physical/psychological/supernatural. events and having to find a way to survive. Perhaps I am trying to re-write the stories of those missing girls whose pictures haunted my adolescence. Perhaps I am trying to re-write stories where the victims can become victors and take their vengeance or become survivors that can teach/help others. 

But I do believe that our lives and the events and experiences do form us as both people and writers. We all have events that haunt our memories. This event that I have described above has had a huge impact on my life. I shared it because there are some truths that do need to come to light. For me writing is a way to give these hauntings a place to free themselves from the clutches of my memory. Writing these stories and these characters give me a safe way to cleanse my mind of horrific and difficult situations.

  • Do you write to let out your inner hauntings, those memories and events that lock onto your sub-conscious?

Writing and Truth are two-edged swords. The power of the written word can both harm or heal. Much like truth. I believe writers like all artists have a powerful purpose in this world. We can depict truth in all its ugliness and beauty and people can heal through our work. We need to wield our words carefully. We can choose to cut to heal or cut to harm with this sword. It is a task not to be taken lightly.

© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning.

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


Short,Sweet & To The Point

story

I have recently been stretching my narrative abilities through the medium of Short Story. This is a medium that I find very challenging. Not since High School have I really read or written any Short Stories. Last year at the RWNZ Writers’ Conference that I attended I specifically enrolled in a talk on the Short Story and on Novellas. Then this year I started looking at writing some Short Stories for competitions. This month though I am working on three Short Stories. One is for an anthology that I have been asked to contribute to. The other two are for writing competitions. So I thought today’s post would be focused on the Art Form of Short Story Writing.

What is the difference between a Short Story and a Novel?

A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas (in the 20th and 21st century sense) and novels. (Wikipedia)

A short story is more concise and tight in writing than a novel. Unlike a novel where there may be a number of incidences leading to one climax; a short story usually contains one incidence.

A novel can have multiple plot lines, different settings and a variety of characters. A short story has one plot that covers a short time period in one setting and fewer characters.

A novel is very structured in the traditional 5 point structure: Plot; Exposition, Complication, Climax, Resolution and Anti-Climax. A short story on the other hand follows a much looser structure. You have a limited space to write in so often the beginning of the story is started abruptly and often in the middle of action. The Short Story still has a Climax/Crisis/Turning Point. The ending of a Short Story is abrupt and open sometimes having a moral turn to the story. Short Stories that follow a strong moral or ethical theme are called Parables or Fables.

Now we come to the Length of a Short Story. The classic definition of a Short Story dictates that it should be read in one sitting. When talking Word Count though there are varying definitions. Often the consensus is that a short story is between 7000 and 9000 words. Once a short story gets to a count of 15 000 – 20 000, it starts becoming a Novella. Stories with less than 1000 words are called Flash Fiction.

The History of The Short Story

Short Stories find their birth in oral story telling. All the ancient cultures of this world have a base in oral story telling. Stories that were told to one another to pass down truths and teach lessons. These stories were the fodder for early imaginations. As children short stories are the first stories we come to hear, read and love. Whether we call them Fairy Tales, Bedtime Stories or Fables; these are all Short Stories. Think of ghost stories you heard sitting around camp fires or the stories your parents told you to calm you when you woke from a nightmare. In contemporary times, magazines are filled with Short Stories. Radio brought another form of media to the art of Short Stories. Short pieces are pieces of fiction to wet our imaginative taste buds.

These are the points to write a successful Short Story:

  • Have a very clear theme but Beware of being Preachy
  • Have a very strong Protagonist with clear characteristics and antagonist and a maximum of 2 other characters should secondary characters be needed
  • Hook your readers with a powerful first paragraph
  • Immediately grab the reader’s attention with an action or a conflict point
  • Strong POV – Choose 1 point of view to write from
  • Stick to one tense: Either Past Tense or Present Tense
  • Decide if your Narrator is going to be subjective or objective
  • Write tight and meaningful dialogue
  • Be very concise in your setting: Include just enough detail to put your reader into the story but make sure your detail only adds to the story
  • Set up the plot very clearly before writing
  1. Beginning – Start with a situation of conflict
  2. Middle – Present the problems (Rising Action) that occur from this situation
  3. End – Solve the problem. Keep the reader’s suspense by revealing the final point as late as you can.
  • Create Conflict and Tension quickly
  • Build this Conflict/Tension to a Crisis Point/Climax
  • Find a Resolution by showing your character has learnt and will grow from the Conflict you threw them into
  • Use vivid imagery
  • Use your words like a man uses water in a desert: very sparingly and with clear intent

Below are authors that were successful at both the Art form of Short Stories and Novels:

Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Nathaniel Hawthorne, Virginia Woolf, Boleslaw Prus, Rudyard Kipling, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, P.G. Wodehouse, H.P. Lovecraft and Ernest Hemingway

Like with any medium of story telling you need to immerse yourself in Short Stories to be a successful Short Story Writer. Read Short Stories. Read some fairy tales or fables. Take note of what points the various authors use to make that Short Story a success.

What have I learnt from Short Stories?

I have found that dipping my pen back into Short Story telling is teaching me to be concise and to the point in my writing. It is teaching me the value of a gripping start to a story. It is teaching me to have a very clear POV. IT is also teaching me the essential tool of having FOCUS in a story. I have even been editing one of my full length novels with all the above points in mind. I think that the lessons from writing a short story translate perfectly into a Suspense / Thriller or Adventure story. Your words and sentences have to be short and sharp. You have to connect with the reader in a very immediate way that is very visceral in impact. This is definitely a medium of writing that I am going to continue to further hone my writing craft.

Have you written any Short Stories? What challenges did you face?

Stretch your creative muscle this week by writing a Short Story. You may just find that this Art Form teaches you essential points about writing that you have missed before now.

© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning