Tag Archives: Shaun Allan

#amwriting: Wattpad, serializing your novel, and Shaun Allan

Dark Places Front Large (1)One area of writing that I have lately discovered is the serialized novel.

In the 19th century, many of the most popular novels ever written began their lives as serials in magazines or newspapers. Such diverse authors as  Charles DickensGeorge Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, and William Makepeace Thackeray all published novels in serial form.

At times, these intrepid writers missed deadlines, and I can see why: life intrudes, and writing halts, for whatever reason. It’s been said that Thackeray was highly critical of authors who didn’t have the endings worked out before the opening chapters were published–which just about covered all of his contemporaries.

Nevertheless, last September I began writing a book called “Bleakbourne on Heath” and am about halfway through the intended story-line. I have been publishing it as each chapter is finished through Edgewise Words Inn, and when it is finished, I will republish it as a stand-alone book.

Because I have also had several other works in progress, it has been slow going on Bleakbourne, but that will soon kick into gear as it will be the only thing on my desk for a while.

I got the idea to serialize this work-in-progress from my good friend and fellow co-founder of Myrddin Publishing Group, UK author, Shaun Allan. He is the author of several award-winning children’s stories, copious amounts of poetry, and the adult horror novel, Sin, which has garnered a great deal of critical acclaim and is one of the most popular books on Wattpad.

According to Wikipedia, as of April 2014:

  • 85% of Wattpad’s traffic and usage comes from mobile devices,
  • the site has 35 million unique visitors per month,
  • there are over 100,000 story uploads per day,
  • there have been over two million writers.

Along with writing novels and poetry, Shaun was approached by the people at Wattpad, asking if he would be willing to write an original story based on the premise of the movie The Purge. Of course, he was, and out of that came the five-part serial, Mr. Composure.

Mr. Composure was wildly successful, and since then, Shaun has had great success with his most recent serial, And the Meek Shall Walk, a thirty-three-part story which he also published on Wattpad as he wrote it.  Already it has garnered close to 10,000 reads.

On Sunday, Shaun and I were able to chat a bit about the experience of serializing your work as you are writing it.

CJJ: From my perspective, serializing a novel has many pros and cons—in some ways it’s a double-edged blade. For me, I have to have an outline and a story arc to write to, so that I don’t get sidetracked. How do you approach this?

Suffer the childrenSA: Sometimes I wish I could, or think I should, create an outline.  I’m not sure if it’s because of my time issue.  I have so little, I want to get into the story and, if I’m outlining, I’m not writing.  On the other hand, I quite enjoy finding out the story as I go.  I like to be surprised when I meet new characters and wonder how I (or my characters) might get out of sticky situations.

As such, I’ve almost always written off the cuff.  I’ve followed the story where it would take me, following its meandering course to what is, hopefully, a brilliant ending.

With the writing I’ve done for Wattpad and their partners, such as Universal, that’s changed somewhat.  For Suffer the Little Children, written for the movie Sinister 2, I was asked to write an overview first to present to them.  Luckily I’d seen, and enjoyed, the first film, but I had to, in the space of a weekend, produce the path the story was going to take.  That wasn’t an easy task for someone unused to doing so.  I found, when I’d started, the idea came quite easily.

With the serialization of And the Meek Shall Walk, it was a little easier.  Knowing both the Disney version and the classic Hans Christian Anderson original meant the story arc, or the basis of one, was already written.  I felt I was writing just the current chapter rather than the story in its entirety.  I only needed to work on the existing part.  I did get to the point, however, where I thought it best to put down my own version of events.  I was about two-thirds of the way through the book at this point.  I knew, more or less, what was going to happen (teasing parts from both previous versions), but I was giving the story my own twist. The overview I wrote was very brief, but it gave me some focus.

CJJ: You have to be able to write quickly and concisely, and edit your work well, because what goes out will be an immediate reflection of your entire body of work. I always worry that if it’s crap, I will have turned off all my potential readers! Has that idea affected how you work in any way?

sin - Shaun AllanSA: Not at all.  Well, not really!  I write, essentially, for me.  My dream was to become a writer.  The fact people really seem to be enjoying what I produce is both wonderful and humbling.  I write to the best of my ability and feel I can do little more than that.  If I like my work, I’m happy with that.  If others do too, I’m ecstatic.  I usually find, too, if I reread my stories, I generally don’t change things.  That’s not to say I shouldn’t, but I try not to second guess myself.  The frame of mind and ‘alternative world’ I’m in when I write isn’t the one I’m in when editing so changes don’t… taste right.  Another pair of eyes could find things which should be changed, and I’m fine with that.  Maybe I’m blind to my errors lol!

CJJ: You have a high-profile job in the corporate world, and you are also the owner of a barber salon. On top of that, you are a dedicated, hands-on father of two daughters. Yet you turn out new installments on time, and also find the inspiration and time to write new, separate literary work. How do you make the time to be as prolific as you are? Do you have that Harry Potter Time Turner thingy?

SA: I wish I did have the Harry Potter Time Turner doodad.  I don’t.  I have a half hour lunch break.  I have an understanding wife.  And I have a burning need where ideas bug the hell out of me until I get them down.  I wake up thinking of what’s going to happen next.  I even deliberately think of the story arc at night.  It relaxes me, and I drift off to sleep.  I’ve yet to dream it through, though.  Smartphones help – I can scribble sentences or paragraphs down and save it to the Cloud ready for joining it up with the main story when I can.

Oh, the Tardis parked out back comes in useful now and again.

CJJ: Let’s talk about And the Meek Shall Walk. It is dark, as all your mainstream fiction is, definitely fantasy with a horror twist. I found it really scary.  Yet it was your daughter who gave you the idea?

SA: It certainly was!  I’m so proud!  I’d just finished Suffer the Little Children whilst on holiday in the Lake District.  Wattpad does a regular #JustWriteIt promotion inviting you to write 10,000 words in a month.  I fancied having a go (I sometimes have a break between stories but was buzzing in this case) but, after having just written about pagan deities and child possession, my mind was a little fried.  My daughter (12) threw the idea in the air:  The Little Mermaid where, instead of magically being given legs, she cuts her own tail off and sews a pair of human legs in their place.  That was the start.  How could I resist?

She’s also got me working on the Rapunzel story too, but I won’t give away what she came up with.  I’m currently, now that And the Meek Shall Walk is done, writing a new take on the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.  This is a story close to my heart.  I dressed as the Mad Hatter for a themed birthday party for my daughters, and also have the Cheshire Cat tattooed on my shoulder!

As for the darkness, you can’t have the darkness without the light.

CJJ: Kurt Vonnegut famously said (and I find it true) that every character should want something. Who is your main character and what does she want? And who is the villain, and what do they want?

SA: My main character is Aren.  She is a mermaid and a princess.  Her father believes her to be meek, but she regularly flouts the rules governing their lives beneath the sea.  She has a secret cave where human body parts float, tied to vines.  The parts are from the people she has killed.

Aren believes humans were responsible for her mother’s death.  As such, she seeks revenge on those responsible and goes to excessive lengths to carry this out – including, as I have said, cutting off her own tail and having her forked tongue sealed together, rendering her mute.

I’d rather not say who the villain is as you don’t know immediately, and I don’t want to give it away.  You might, indeed, say it’s Aren herself!

CJJ: What setbacks have you overcome in this endeavor with Wattpad and what advice would you give authors new to publishing their work on Wattpad?

SA: Apart from my time limitations, I’ve generally found Wattpad to be an amazing experience.  I’m one of the Wattpad Stars, a program of their most popular writers.  This has led to exposure and opportunities I would otherwise, potentially, never have been offered.  One of the things I love about the site is it’s a real community.  I have had some of the most amazing comments you could imagine.  Mr. Composure was called the ‘best story ever’ and And the Meek Shall Walk has already been described as ‘one of the best stories on Wattpad.’

Sin was my first serialized novel on the site.  I’d originally posted the Prologue, and they asked if I’d be willing to put the whole story up.  I agreed, and it’s now had almost 765,000 reads!

On Wattpad, you can connect with so many other writers and readers.  Those readers can connect with you, vote and leave comments.  It’s wonderful.

CJJ: And finally, do you have any writing-craft advice for authors who want to serialize their work?

SA: Trust in yourself.  Trust in your story.  Whether you create overviews or write as you go, it’s your story.  As you post each chapter, engage with your readers.  Let them know you appreciate their feedback.  As much as you enjoy their contact with you, they enjoy yours with them.

Writing should be about enjoyment, after all.

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To Read: And the Meek Shall Walk on Wattpad click HERE

And the Meek Shall Walk coverPrincess Aren is determined to make the human who killed her mother and exiled her people to the bottom of the ocean pay. To do so, she must go to extremes of pain and heartache in her search for justice. Aren, however, is no sweet, happy mermaid. To kill is to ignite a fire of passion in her heart which only the savage letting of blood can satiate. She will go to any lengths to find the man responsible, including cutting off her own tail and sewing, in its place, a pair of human legs – legs she tore from one of the many humans she had murdered. With the unwilling help of the sea witch, Princess Aren must go ashore and hunt for her mother’s killer. But, in doing so, the worlds above and below the ocean will clash in ways neither thought possible!

 


Profile

A creator of many prize winning short stories and poems, Shaun Allan has written for more years than he would perhaps care to remember. Having once run an online poetry and prose magazine, he has appeared on Sky television to debate, against a major literary agent, the pros and cons of internet publishing as opposed to the more traditional method. Many of his personal experiences and memories are woven into the point of view and sense of humour of Sin, the main character in his best-selling novel of the same name, although he can’t, at this point, teleport.

A writer of multiple genres, including horror, humour and children’s fiction, Shaun goes where the Muse takes him – even if that is kicking and screaming. He has written for Universal, DC Vertigo Comics and Goosebumps and regularly holds writing workshops at local schools.

Shaun lives with his wife, two daughters and two cats. Oh and a manic dog. Though his life might, at times, seem crazy, he is not.

Honest.

Links:

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Into the Woods, a fantasy anthology

MyrddinAnthologyECoverWe at Myrddin Publishing Group are starting the new year with the launch of our anthology, Into the Woods. We’re even having an all-weekend-long Facebook party, with Myrddin Authors dropping in and out over the course of the next few days. There will be gifts, and prizes and just fun and games with the Myrddin crew. The online Facebook Party starts here, so stop on by and and hang out with us!

This collection of amazing tales came about almost by accident.

One day last summer I was looking through stock images I’d found for a cover I was designing for another author. I came across a wonderful image of a lonely house set in the woods. I’m not sure why, but suddenly, like the proverbial dog after a squirrel, I was off looking at images of houses in the woods–like that was going to get any work done.

Of course, my brain is hardwired to write stories, so I found myself imagining all sorts of scenarios and plots to go with these amazing images. Then, it occurred to me that if I was inspired to write by these images, my fellow authors here at Myrddin Publishing would also be.

I threw out a challenge to the group: Write a short story about a house in the woods. The only caveat was the tale had to fall under the genre of fantasy, and the theme was “a house in the woods.”

And wow! What a response– I received nine wildly different tales, ranging from humor to ghostly, to romantic, to horror. These ten tales are some of the best I have read.

In the first tale, “A Peculiar Symbiosis,” Alison DeLuca gives us a moving story of a man who discovers he loves his wife–but only after she is dead.

“The Forest House” is my own take on the Tam Lin tale. Tam Lin is a character in a legendary ballad originating from the Scottish Borders as collected by Francis Child, but there are many tales from all over northern Europe featuring variations on his name, and the story will have slight variations. It is also associated with a reel of the same name, also known as Glasgow Reel. I had always wondered if Tam Lin and the Faerie Queen had a child, and if they had, what would have happened to it when Janet rescued Tam?

In “A House in the Woods,” Stephen M. Swartz takes us back to the 1960s with this dark fantasy. Two boys playing in the woods come across an abandoned house, and discover a true ghost story.

Irene Roth Luvaul takes us deep into the forest in “The Guardian.” A woman discovers her family’s history, and the terrible secret a cabinet once held.

Ross M. Kitson offers up a A Matter of Faith.” In this dark prequel to Kitson’s epic Prism series, an uptight paladin must find a way to work with a free-thinking druid, if he is to be successful in finding and killing a demon.

In “If I Have to Spell it Out” Austin musician and author Marilyn Rucker lightens things up with her hilarious take on two cousins quarreling over the tenancy of their family home, via letters.

“A Haunted Castle” by Lisa Zhang Wharton shows us that a house can can also be a haunted castle in the Bavarian Forest, in her hilarious, hallucinogenic tale of ghosts, rottweilers, and a costume party.

Myrddin Publishing Group’s own master of horror, Shaun Allan, swings us back to the dark side with a horrifying twist on the Hansel and Gretel tale, with “Rose.” Told with his usual flair for words and style, this is a chilling story of demonic magic. Definitely not your mama’s Hansel and Gretel!

In “Hidden,” Carlie M.A. Cullen takes us deep into the woods, where two young women take shelter from a storm in an abandoned house, with terrible consequences.

For the final tale in this treasury, fantasy author Lee French presents us with a post-Civil War tale of star-crossed love, in her magical tale, “Forever.” Tara and Marcus share a forbidden love–and only one place is safe for them.

I am continually amazed and awed by the talent of the wonderful authors I am privileged to work with at Myrddin Publishing Group. You can purchase this wonderful collection of short stories at Amazon by clicking on the buy button below:

Into the Woods: a fantasy anthology

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#amwriting: Who are you? 4 steps toward building your brand

Who are youI have written a great many reviews for Best in Fantasy over the past two years. For each post on that site, I always try to include links to the author’s website. If I am unable to locate a website for them, I link it to their Amazon Author Page, or their Goodreads Author Page.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when I am unable to find a website to link to their review. It’s even worse when I find that their author page at Amazon is a blank canvas, and they haven’t bothered with Goodreads. I want to promote their work, but they are making it impossible.

Goodreads and Amazon offer you a central place to put both your author name and links to your work– where a prospective reader can locate it all in once place. If you do nothing else, you need to take advantage of that.

First: Lets start with your author bio–after all, each and every professional site you will want to connect with will want your official bio. For your own website you can go into as much detail as you want, but for most other sites you will want to keep it short, keep it simple, and make it intriguing. This is author Alison DeLuca’s short bio::

Hunted Heart by Alison DeLucaAlison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain. Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

In real life Alison is an author, an editor, a founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, a teacher, the mother of  a pre-teen, the wife of a rocket scientist, chef–but her bio focuses on her writing.

This is author Shaun Allan’s bio:

Dark Places Front Large (1)Shaun Allan is the creator of many prize winning short stories and poems. A writer of multiple genres, including horror, humour and children’s fiction, Shaun goes where the Muse takes him – even if that is kicking and screaming. Shaun lives with his one partner, two daughters, three cats and four fish!  Oh, and a dog.

Shaun also has a job, a family, a business, and a private life–but his bio focuses on his writing. Take a cue from these two authors and keep it simple, a little fun, and keep it short. Focus on your writing.

Wm Shakespeare author central portraitSecond: You will want to select an author photo to go with that bio. Choose one you like, and stick with it. You only have to update it every five years or so, if that often. Some authors never update it. This is William Shakespeare’s author photo on Amazon. He can get away with a cartoon, because, as a true renaissance man, he was never photographed.

(Medieval humor).

Third:  If you are a published author, create an Amazon Author Page. Log into Amazon’s Author Central. The following instructions are quoted from Amazon’s Author Central help page:

  1. Go to https://authorcentral.amazon.com/ and click Join Now.
  2. Set up your Author Central account if you haven’t already done so.
  3. In Author Central, click the Profile tab. You’ll see sections for adding or changing your biography, photos, videos, speaking or other events, and blog feeds.
  4. Click the add or edit link next to a section. Instructions appear, along with space to add information.

If you don’t add information to a section, that section does not appear on the Author Page. Sections are always available in Author Central so you can add or change the information later. By doing this, all your books will show up in one place, and you will have ONE link to showcase ALL your work, and it includes buy buttons.

Fourth: Create a Goodreads Author Page using the same bio and photo you used at Amazon. The following instructions are quoted from the Goodreads Author Program help page:

  1. If you are already a Goodreads member, make sure you are signed in. If not, sign up for an account.
  2. Search for yourself and click on your published author name. The author name is listed below the title of your book in the search results. If you are a writer but have not yet published a book, you may want to check out the writing section of your profile where you can post your writing for others to read and review.
  3. Clicking on your name takes you to your basic author profile page. This page has your name at the top and “author profile” to the right of your name. This page is part of our database of books and authors and is separate from your member profile page (which lists your bookshelves and friends).
  4. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. Click “Is this you?” to send a request to join the Author Program. Please give us a few days to process your request. You will receive email confirmation when we successfully upgrade your user account to an author account. Joining the program merges your author page with your member page. The email will also contain further instructions for managing your author profile.
CJJ_profile_pic_2013

Connie Jasperson 2013

I have two bios-one long and one short. They focus on my writing life.  You need both long and short, because some sites will ask for more and some will ask for less. The following is my expanded bio:

Connie J. Jasperson lives in Olympia, Washington.  A vegan, she and her husband share five children, a love of good food and great music. She is active in local writing groups, an editor for Myrddin Publishing Group, and is a writing coach. She is an active member of the both the Northwest Independent Writers Association and Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and is a founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group.  Music and food dominate her waking moments. When not writing or blogging she can be found with her Kindle, reading avidly. You can find her blogging on her writing life at: https://conniejjasperson.wordpress.com.

For my short bio, I use this: Connie J. Jasperson lives in Olympia, Washington.  A vegan, she and her husband share five children, a love of good food and great music. When not writing or blogging she can be found with her Kindle, reading avidly.

We have to make it convenient for our prospective readers to find our work. Remember,  your author name is your brand and your bio is your calling card. Your author photo, your bio, and your Goodreads and Amazon profiles are what will show up when your author name is googled, but only if you put them out there.

Getting your name out there is your job, whether you are an indie or traditionally published. Also, YOU must make sure your bio, author photo are updated more than once every five years.

These are small ways for you to connect with your readers, they take very little time, and unlike a blog, you only have to do them once and then just update them once in a while.

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#amwriting: getting the word out

Old Restored booksYou have finished your book. It has been professionally edited and proofed. You hired an expensive cover designer to make the perfect cover that is both professional and eye-catching. You’ve done all the important things at Amazon and Goodreads, making author pages at both places.

You made a professional Facebook page, you are blogging once a week, you’ve joined twitter and use TweetDeck or Hootsuite to schedule tweets, and check it every day and sometimes retweet interesting things for other folks you are following. You’ve even joined Pinterest and  Instagram.

This all good, but even so, after the first rush, sales have dwindled off, and now you are at a loss of what to do to increase the visibility of your work.

Some folks join mutual promotion groups on Facebook. I have found them to be more aggravating than helpful as I get spammed by the same two authors daily–they are nice people, but they have no sense of how irritating that is. People on Facebook lose interest when they see the same books all the time.

Also, I have found the “99 cent boost groups” to be not as beneficial in the long-run as they promote themselves to be.

I’ve not figured out the magic key to gaining traction rapidly, but I do know that my Goodreads ad pays off in terms of sales, as when I receive more clicks on the ad, I sell more of those books.

Writing short stories and publishing my work gets my name out there, and each time I publish a chapter of the Bleakbourne on Heath series, on Edgewise Words Inn, I see a jump in sales. From what I can see, the only way to get your author name out there is to publish your work.

Shaun Allan has had great success getting his name out via WattPad, as has Paul Coelho. Yes, you are giving your work away, but it introduces YOUR work to potential readers who will buy your other work–and these two authors’ sales are excellent.

Asking other authors to promote your work is not really a good idea, because they have their own work to promote, and your agenda doesn’t always mesh with theirs.

If you have been out in the indie world for any length of time, you may have observed this scenario: Author A, charming and talented Facebook friend, asks Author B to be a part of their personal fan-club, working to get Author A more recognition. Author B does not have time for that–he is trying to get his own name out there. The author who was ‘recruited’  is shocked, and saddened that a friend has so little understanding and such a lack of respect for his work that she would expect that of him, but he doesn’t want to be unfriendly and thinks “well, maybe it’s only this once.”

But it’s not only the once. It’s a never-ending stream of “push my book, push my book.”

When he realizes he is being used as her personal assistant and free publicity agent, he refuses, as he feels that she has no respect for him as an author. She has a temperamental fit and unfriends him. He warns his other friends to beware of that author. While her rudeness may have been unintentional, it was a bit of an eye-opener to those who know her casually, a clue about her true character.

I’ve seen that scenario unfold several times–sometimes talented people are supremely egotistical and only associate with others if they will gain something from that association. Once they have achieved what they wanted, they have no further use for their ‘friend’ and quickly move on to more important pastures.

I try to stay away from toxic professional relationships, and believe me, the opportunities for that are plentiful in many author groups. When I like another author’s work, I would love to see that author succeed. If we are friends and they need a signal boost for a new book or an event, I will gladly tweet and perhaps mention what I like about their work on my blog. I will even mention that they are having an event, and will be signing books.

But I will not be their private publicity agent.

MetaMorphosis cover for WattPad copySo even though you desperately want to increase your visibility and sales, you have to be careful how you go about it. For indies, this is the sort of thing that has to flow two ways–Author A must support Author B as much as he/she expects Author B to support him/her.  Boosting the signal is a real bonus, and if a friend does this for you it should be reciprocated.

So do yourself a favor: post short stories on WattPad, and keep submitting to magazines and anthologies. Success is rarely an overnight thing–it is the culmination of the long hours and efforts you put into it.

Read METAMORPHOSIS on WattPad.

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Three audiobooks and why I liked them

First of all I love books. I’m the kid who was so desperate for books I would read the Encyclopædia Britannica  when the rainy Northwest summers got boring and I had read everything else. But now, beside writing, I freelance as a structural editor.

When I am editing for clients I don’t read, as it is hard to set aside my critical eye and just read for pleasure. I can’t go with out books, though, so when I am in editing mode, I rely on Audible Books to entertain me.

Three audio books that I heard over the last year really stand out. Two of them I would classify as literary fantasy and one is genre fantasy–but all are fantasy in the fullest sense.

Tenth of December, George Saunders1. Tenth of December, written by George Saunders and also read by George Saunders.

Saunders has the ability to get inside each of his characters’ heads, showing them sharply as unique individuals. They aren’t always nice, and certainly not always moral as I see morality, but Saunders portrays them with such vivid strokes that you feel as if you understand their reasoning.

For me, the most powerful tale in this collection of stunning tales was “Escape from Spiderhead.” This sci-fi tale has an almost Vonnegut-like flavor. It is a stark journey into the depths to which we humans are capable of sinking in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Where does punishment end and inhumanity begin? This story lays bare concepts regarding our view of crime and punishment that are difficult, but which are important to consider. The scenario is exaggerated, as it is set in a future world, but it exposes the callous view society has in regard to criminals and what punishment they might deserve.
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George Saunders reads this book himself and he is an amazing narrator. This was an excellent, entertaining book to listen to, and I liked the audio book so much I bought the hard copy to take with me later this summer when I go on vacation.

Just so you know–I rarely buy hard copies of anything.

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Sin audiobook coverI also listened to Sin, British author Shaun Allan’s masterpiece of stream-of-consciousness and fantasy, narrated by R.D. Watson. Allan breaks every rule of writing, and his work is powerful.

Sin is a dark, urban fantasy, written with a large dose of sardonic humor. We hear the tale from the man who was given the name ‘Sin Mathews’ at birth, but who goes by the name of Sin only, as the last name doesn’t matter; only the name which is the sum of his parts matters. R.D. Watson’s reading of Allan’s shining, witty, prose is moving and brilliant in every aspect. He gets into Sin’s head, and you are completely spellbound.

The atmosphere throughout is surrealistic, but it is well-balanced. I adore Allan’s lyrical, intimate style of prose, as in this series of images describing Sin’s disorientation, “History doesn’t relate whether Jonah, Gepetto, and Pinocchio sat around a table eating pizza, sharing stories of prophecy and puppetry while in the belly of the whale, but I thought that I could relate to being swallowed whole.”

Throughout the novel, Sin’s ruminations are self-mocking, and world-weary, yet naive and innocent.  He bears the guilt of the world, and suffers the unbearable pain of being the cause of so many deaths, but still he finds ironic humor in every situation. His sister, Joy, is grounded and guides him to the truth, but is not allowed to tell him anything.

Nothing is what it seems in this tale, and right up to the end, you are not sure which reality is real.

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The Emperor's Soul - Brandon Sanderson. audibleThe Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson and narrated by Angela Lin.

Shai is thief, but not just any kind of a thief. Shai has been trained to forge a replica of the original item to leave in its place. Her replicas are masterful. in many ways her replicas are better than the originals. The power of her work as she remakes her surroundings amazes Gatona, a man who holds her life in his hands, and every day he is more confused by her. This is not a love story–Gaotona struggles to understand why an artist of her caliber, who loves the craft as much as she does prostitutes her gift by making forgeries.
Two factions now control her fate. They have something she needs, and she has something they need, but for how long? The Emperor Ashravan’s condition has opened up new possibilities for some on the council, and they are ruthless. Shai is safe for the moment, but she knows her life hangs by a thread and only a miracle will save her.

In Shai, Sanderson has created a character who is compelling and completely believable. Shai is more than merely a forger, she is an artist.  She takes pride in her work, and rightfully so. The way she is portrayed is a departure for Sanderson, in that she is most definitely a woman, and she is the central figure. There is a strong sense of history to this tale, and the structure of their society is clearly drawn in only a few well-crafted words.

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Audio books are great in the car, I think we all know that–but for me they are a way to access wonderful books when I am in too critical a state of mind to read for enjoyment. For my downtime I love to sit on my back porch and just listen to someone reading me a story.

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Darker Places, Shaun Allan

My Writing LifeOne of my favorite people is Shaun Allan, author of the bestselling novel, Sin–he  can write circles around me. Actually, he can write circles around ANYone.  Shaun has a new book out today, Darker Places. I was fortunate to be asked to edit this book, and I’m just going to say, very little effort on my part is ever required with Shaun’s work.

Darker Places is a dark, literary fantasy, comprised of thirteen poems and 13 short-stories, in the same vein as Dark Places,  his book of short works that was published in 2012.

Shaun has consented to answer a few questions about his writing life for us:

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

SA: Early life…  Can I remember that far back?  I’m not sure I can…  I can’t think of a time when I haven’t been writing.  I’m told (by my mother who also tells me I was a little terror as a young child, which I can’t quite believe) I used to write stories and draw the pictures to go along with them.  Nowadays, my artistic skills are probably somewhat lacking.  I’m hoping my writing skills have improved, though.  At school, English was easily my favourite lesson and I loved writing the essays.  I was a big fan of science fiction, back then (I still am a fan, of course), so read lots of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov amongst others.  I moved on to fantasy, with David Eddings and Terry Brooks and then brought in horror.  All these found their way into my writing, with horror and the supernatural becoming the mainstay of my subject matter now.  I feel, without the darkness, you can’t appreciate the light.

CJJ: Those are books I loved too. Tell us about your most recent book.

SA: Darker Places, my new book, is the follow up to Dark Places.  It’s an anthology of 13 stories and 13 poems which walk the reader through the shadowy passages of my mind. There’s ome humour in there (with Gremlins and Little Dead Riding Hood), some touching stories (The Crow and Stolen Moments) and much darker ones (Home) where I kill off a number of my old school friends, with their permission!  And, we get to see what happened with Sin before the events of his novel.

CJJ: I have to say that is an awesome story–Sin is an amazing character. And Home is one of the best, short stories I have read in a long time. Now we come to the question people always want to know:  How did you come to write this novel?

sin - Shaun AllanSA: Sin took me ten years to write.  As it’s a very personal book, I occasionally had to step away and wrote short stories.  Many of these were collected together in Dark Places, which was prompted by a comment a writer friend of mine made.  As my mind tends to write what it wants rather than what I want, and another friend, who lives in Australia, was very forthcoming with writing prompts I couldn’t refuse, Darker Places became more and more a reality.  I mean, if you’re given a starter sentence of “The bird fell and the sky was silent,” how can you not work with it?

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

SA: Oh, I wing it.  I know wonderful writers (Connie) who outline, but I can’t.  I’ve tried, but my mind doesn’t work like that.  It goes where it wishes, my Muse being a right royal pain in the posterior.  I sat down to write some of Mortal Sin and ended up writing a Christmas story about Rudolph, for example!  Sometimes, as with Mr. Composure, I can write the start and almost immediately know how it will end, with ‘only’ the path it takes to figure out, but often, I start and I have no idea at all.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

SA: I think because it’s personal.  There’s aspects of me, my life and my darkness in everything.  There’s also my sense of humour.  I set the stories where I live.  When I was starting, and everyone was saying “write what you know,” I struggled somewhat.  What did I know?  Where I lived seemed boring, for a start!  But then I read a Clive Barker book (Weaveworld, I think) and he described going down back alleys in a town.  I didn’t know, but felt it could have been the alleys where he grew up.  It wasn’t boring.  So I moved my stories to Grimsby and Lincolnshire – the places I knew.  Once they came home, they allowed me more freedom.

CJJ: Your work is dark, but you are such a cheerful, light-hearted person. Why do you write what you do?

SA: Good question.  Though I can write silly children’s poetry as well as paranormal and psychological thrillers, it’s the darker work which I find easiest.  I find it therapeautic.  I can get stresses and bad memories out and turn them into something I and others seem to enjoy.  As I say, without darkness, you can’t appreciate the light.

CJJ: I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

SA: I did try to be ‘properly’ published, but, with the indie route, I’ve made some amazing friends and reached people all over the world.  I have full control over my work and the only deadline (in most cases) is the one I set myself.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

SA: Well, you have to go for what you feel is right, but I have to admit, though the indie route is hard work, its immensely rewarding.  I’d definitely recommend giving it a go.

~~~~~~

Thank you Shaun, for taking the time to answer these questions, and for being here today!

DarkerPlaces_96dpi_100%DARKER PLACES by Shaun Allan

What if you could steal the final moments from the dying? What if you had the darkest secret, but couldn’t think what it might be? What if you entered the forest in the deep of the night. Who is the melting man? And are your neighbours really whom they appear to be?

So many questions.

To find the answers, you must enter a darker place. Thirteen stories. Thirteen poems. Thirteen more doorways.

 ~~~~~

 

Shaun AllanA creator of many prize winning short stories and poems, Shaun Allan has written for more years than he would perhaps care to remember. Having once run an online poetry and prose magazine, he has appeared on Sky television to debate, against a major literary agent, the pros and cons of internet publishing as opposed to the more traditional method. Many of his personal experiences and memories are woven into the point of view and sense of humour of Sin, the main character in his best-selling novel of the same name, although he can’t, at this point, teleport.

A writer of multiple genres, including horror, humour and children’s fiction, Shaun goes where the Muse takes him – even if that is kicking and screaming. He has written for NBC Universal, and regularly holds writing workshops at local schools.

Shaun lives with his wife, two daughters and two cats. Oh and a manic dog. Though his life might, at times, seem crazy, he is not.

Honest.

~~~~~~

To see more of Shaun’s work, please visit Shaun’s author page at Amazon.com.

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Purple Prose

purple velvet blazerMmmm…everyone loves the lush feel of velvet, the way the texture imparts a depth to any color.

Black velvet feels cool, sophisticated and sexy, a little black dress and a vampire kind of cool.

Purple velvet, can feel royal, rich, but is frequently a bit too over-the-top for me.

Red velvet signifies something daring, just a bit risqué. This opulent fabric evokes emotion in us when we see and touch it.

In my mind, words are like velvet.  They evoke feelings and memories, and can alter our mood just by the way they are used. When we craft our narrative we aim to please our readers, to make them want to read it again.  To convey the atmosphere of our setting,  we use descriptors. We also use descriptors to show our characters, to indicate they are long-haired, dark-eyed, or bearded.

Good prose contains a certain amount of  descriptors, and like Goldilocks, we want to make it just right–not too little and not too much.

Too little, and the narrative is flat, uninvolving. To much and the reader finds themselves gagging.  This heavy, cloying style of writing is called “Purple Prose.”

Like purple velvet, a little goes a LONG way. “But wait, ” you’re saying, “aren’t you being a little hypocritical? What about your love of all things Dickens?  His work is rife with overblown, hyperdramatic descriptions.”  Cool your jets, kids–that was the style when he was alive and rocking out the paranormal fiction. People wanted to spend an entire day savoring the well-crafted poem. That style of writing has a place, but not in the current culture of commercially viable novels.

If you want to sell books, you must walk the fine line between overblown prose and its antitheses, eviscerated, flat narrative

The Elements of Style calls “Purple Prose” “hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.”  To be fair, purple prose is subjective and each reader has a different level of tolerance for it, but it is something we definitely don’t want.

Plain: He set the mug down. (my choice)
Somewhere in the middle: He eased the tankard onto the table.
Bleah: Without haste, the tall, blond barbarian set the immense, pewter, ale-filled cup with a wooden handle onto the stained surface of the rough, wooden table.

Spare me the ‘creamy-blue eyes as deep a shade of amethyst as the lush, purple, velvet drapes.”

There is a tipping point where good, descriptive prose becomes distracting and cloying to the modern reader. I opt for a lean style in the majority of my own work, because, while I adore Charles Dickens,most readers just want a good novel that will provide a small diversion from the everyday grind.

Purple Prose done wrong bullies the reader into seeing only what the author tells them to see, and leaves no room for imagination. Telling the reader what to think forces her to walk away rather than suffer a moment longer. That book goes into the recycling bin, or gets deleted from my Kindle.

What I, as the author, think is good and beautiful may be ugly to you, as the reader.

Author Stephen Swartz recently posted a great blogpost on this very subject–available at Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire.  He loves the nuances of the english language as much as I do, but understands how to create lean narrative that allows a reader to see the scene, but leaves room for the imagination to fill in the gaps.

Right off the top of my head, I can think of many authors who manage to walk the line between purple and eviscerated prose, among them Ross M. Kitson, Shaun Allan, Neil Gaiman, and yes, you too, Stephen Swartz.

black velvet dressThese authors give you the framework around which your imagination builds the image, and they place that framework in well-crafted sentences that tease you, inviting you to read more. Like that  little black dress made of velvet, their work is lush, sleek, and sophisticated.

My advice is to read, read, read. If you like a certain style, write in such a way to evoke the feeling the author of that work raised in you. But never , never force the minute details of your vision on your readers. When you bludgeon your reader with the minutiae of your vision, you lose the beauty of story, and you lose your reader.

I think Neil Gaiman nails that fine distinction in this quote from “The Ocean at the End of the Lane:”

Neil Gaiman Quote

Creepy and to the point–and allows us to envision the shock the main character feels at the realization he knows nothing of his past, without beating us over the head with it.

My goal is to write with an economy of words, yet give enough description that my readers can build the environment in their own minds.

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My Writing Process Blog Tour

extra small caricature of connie  by street artist Stacey Denton

Today I am embarking on the  “My Writing Process” blog tour! In this blog relay, each author discusses his or her writing process and then passes the baton to three other authors. Last week, my good friend Lisa Koosis, passed the baton to me. Lisa is amazingly creative, as you will see when you click on the link to her blog, Writing on Thin Ice.  Please, do visit her blog, where you can read more about her exciting projects and her own writing process.

So, here goes…

1. What am I working on?

I am working on the third and final book in the TOWER OF BONES series, winding up Edwin’s story. This book has been very tough to write, because it keeps spawning new books! I can frequently be heard shouting, “NO! We must finish this book before we embark on a new one!”

I really do want Edwin Farmer’s story to be a 3-book trilogy.

*cough* Robert Jordan…Wheel of Time …fifteen books in the trilogy*cough*

There will be more books set in this world, I feel certain of it, but I intend to make each a stand alone book.  I love each of the characters so much in this tale, it’s hard to keep on task—but my self-imposed deadline is to have it ready for the editor by August. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do?

First of all, I write from the point of view of a gamer—I am a freak for the great Final Fantasy PS2 and PS3 console games—Final Fantasy VII, VII, X/X2 and XII are among the great classics in gaming. I haven’t invested in a PS4, and I may not, as I haven’t had much time to play lately, and wasn’t impressed with 2010’s FFXIII.

I know what I love about those games, and want to inject that into my books. I want the action, the romance, and the drama of a full throttle action/adventure and I want it set in a sweeping landscape, with my characters beset by nearly insurmountable challenges. Magic must have limits and no character can have unlimited power. Those limitations are what drive the action, because the characters have to struggle to overcome them. The power of the story is in the struggle. The final redemption must be worth the struggle!

3. How does my writing process work? 

That’s where I went off the rails on this final installment in this particular series—I didn’t stick to my usual process, which was clearly outlined. But I had so many sudden brainstorms, I went way off track. Normally, when I first have the idea to write a book, I visualize it as the walkthrough for an RPG game.

I spend days writing down the ideas as they come to me, obsessively building the outline, the shell of the story. I make personnel files, descriptions of environments, designing the political and religious systems, creating the rules for magic, and drawing maps. Each world is unique, and I want to know what I am writing about.

I write the beginning and the end, and key action vignettes, fitting them into the framework of my outline.

Once I have that all done, I start at the beginning, and write, connecting the dots between the vignettes. When all the dots are connected, I have a book—albeit a raw rough draft of a book. I set it aside, as it is in desperate need of a complete rewrite, but I can’t do that until I can see it through unbiased eyes.

The second draft goes to Irene Roth Luvaul, who helps me shape it into a submission-ready manuscript. Then it will go to Carlie M.A. Cullen at Eagle Eye Editors. My work is linear, with a specific goal or “quest” and many obstacles in the way of achieving those goals. Some will live, and some will fall by the way—my task is to make it an emotionally gripping journey for the reader.

 

NEXT WEEK

Stay tuned for the next part of the relay as I pass the baton to three talented writers, who I have the good fortune of working with at Myrddin Publishing Group. Next Monday (May 12) they will answer the same set of questions, so please stop by their blogs to read more about their projects and their own writing processes.

 

Dark Places Front Large (1)Shaun Allan, Author of Sin and Dark Places

http://flipandcatch.blogspot.com

A creator of many prize winning short stories and poems, Shaun Allan has written for more years than he would perhaps care to remember. Having once run an online poetry and prose magazine, he has appeared on Sky television to debate, against a major literary agent, the pros and cons of internet publishing as opposed to the more traditional method. Many of his personal experiences and memories are woven into the point of view and sense of humour of Sin, the main character in his best-selling novel of the same name, although he can’t, at this point, teleport.

A writer of multiple genres, including horror, humour and children’s fiction, Shaun goes where the Muse takes him – even if that is kicking and screaming.

Shaun lives with his one partner, two daughters, three cats and four fish!  Oh and a dog.

 

1 CP Night Watchman coverAllison Deluca, Author of The Crown Phoenix Series

http://AlisonDeluca.Blogspot.com

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

 

 

 

 

Swartz_After Ilium_FrontCvr_200dpi_3inStephen Swartz, Author of After Illium, The Dream Land Trilogy, and A Beautiful Chill

http://stephenswartz.blogspot.com

Stephen Swartz grew up in Kansas City where he was an avid reader of science-fiction and quickly began emulating his favorite authors. Since then, Stephen studied music in college and, like many writers, worked at a wide range of jobs: from French fry guy to soldier, to IRS clerk to TV station writer, before heading to Japan for several years of teaching English. Now Stephen is a Professor of English at a university in Oklahoma, where he teaches many kinds of writing. He still can be found obsessively writing his latest manuscript, usually late at night. He has only robot cats.

 

 

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Heart Search Blog Tour

I am a part of something I have never done before!  I am a stop on a blog tour!  A dear friend of mine, Carlie M.A. Cullen is publishing her first book, Heart Search.  I have a ‘badge’ for my blog and everything!

Carlie, along with Alison DeLuca, is my editor.  She gently guides me through the terrible swamps and dead-end roads of writing, and was the lead editor on Forbidden Road, the soon-to-be published sequel to Tower of Bones.

Carlie’s personal style of writing is very different from mine. Her tale is thick with description and her characters are drawn from today’s urban society and set in the real world (if vampires existed).  My tales are made with people who could exist, set in a world that may exist if Roger Zelazney was right (he said that if you can imagine a world, it probably exists).

Yet I believe it is the radical difference in our personal writing style which lends dimension to my work when she has her red pen in hand.

The way we work together is this: I send her the full ms in a form that is as perfect as I can make it.  This is called making a manuscript ‘submission ready’.  When I send it to her, I have been over and over it, looking for errors and inadvertent inconsistencies, and trying to make sure there are no contradictions in the spelling of made-up names, and capitalizations.  Also, I have already done my best to make sure I have used ‘closed quotes’  for each instance of dialogue, and checked and double-checked my punctuation.  When I send this in, it is as neat and ready to go as I can make it.  I have corrected everything I can find, and can’t see where it needs improvement.

She cuts my completed ms into chapters, making sure I have not mis-numbered them (which has happened!) and sharpens her red pencil and her teeth! As she finishes each chapter she sends it back to me with her suggestions and comments in the right hand side. I return it to her with the corrections and we repeat the process.

Despite my best efforts in making it submission-ready, there will be instances of all sorts of manuscript-mayhem. It is my line-editor’s job to find these nuggets of no-no and guide me in eliminating them.  Not only will she find the contradictions and punctuation errors, she will find the instances where a word has been used either in the wrong context or is simply awkward when used in that way.  She will help me rephrase ungainly ideas in a better way, or even suggest I eliminate them as they may be redundant or not necessary.

She finds and points out the overuse of certain words, such as ‘that’ or ‘had’.  These are words we habitually use in conversation and don’t realize how frequently we say them.  When they are written and appear 6 or 7 times in one paragraph they leap out at the reader and are annoying. They are insidious to the author, because they fade into the background when the author is reading his own work.  Thus it takes the eye of the editor to guide the writer through eliminating these ‘speed-bump words’ as I like to think of them.

She does this for me in as kind and gentle a way as is possible, while still getting the job done.  She builds my self-confidence while tearing apart my cherished manuscript and reassembling it in a way which actually reads the way I always thought it did.

To go through the process of having your manuscript edited is a humbling thing.  I don’t know how a person can produce a decent book with no outside input to shine a little light in the cluttered closets full of prose that will pop up in every manuscript. A completed, submission-ready manuscript is Chaos Theory realized. It is only through the objective eye of the editor that our book is made readable.

Now, I am sure you know Carlie, too, has an editor. Her editor is the wonderful Maria V. A. Johnson, and Maria does for Carlie what Carlie does for me.  Maria is an awesome editor and Carlie is fortunate to have her to guide her through the process.

It all comes full circle.

I also work as an editor. I’ve been privileged to work with such wonderful and diverse authors as Ross M. Kitson and Shaun Allan. My role as an editor is to do for them what Carlie does for me; in essence I smooth out the rough spots and let their wonderful work shine with their voices telling their tales in their own way.

I love editing as much as I love writing.  To be an intimate part of another author’s dream is an experience I treasure. To have had the experience of being edited was exhilarating.  To see my editor’s own book finally released is nothing short of awesome – I can’t wait to read it!

Heart Search, by Carlie M.A. Cullen

One bite starts it all . . .

When Joshua Grant vanishes days before his
wedding his fiancée Remy is left with only bruises, scratch marks and a hastily
written note. Heartbroken, she sets off alone to find him and begins a long
journey where strange things begin to happen.

As Joshua descends into his
new immortal life he indulges his thirst for blood and explores his superhuman
strength and amazing new talents while becoming embroiled in coven politics
which threaten to destroy him. But Remy discovers a strength of her own on her
quest to bring Joshua home.

Fate toys with mortals and immortals alike,
as two hearts torn apart by darkness face ordeals which test them to their
limits

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