Monday, July 8, 2019

Rules are Dumb, as a Rule

I read a lot of blogs about writing. Something I’ve grown really tired of is the “how to be a writer” blog - as if this is something that can be conveyed in a few paragraphs. It isn’t that I don’t think there are aspects of writing that can be taught. I’ve taken writing classes and found them beneficial. But a one-size-fits-all list of dos and don’ts that you stumble across on the internet is something to be skeptical of.

If there are rules, they apply to everyone differently, depending on your audience and your specific writing goals. How many times have you been warned not to use adverbs? Tell that to JK Rowling. Or better: don’t. Adverbs have their place as does every other bit of language. A better suggestion would be to use all your words consciously, to understand where the rule came from and break it with that knowledge.

But even that makes me uncomfortable. It ignores the fact that there are writers with natural talent who don’t need to know the why of it. 

The reason I love hearing writers speak about their particular writing process is that they all have something different to say. Some of them plot it out on color coded note cards before they type a word while others have no idea where the story is going and swear their characters battle them for control. Some have MFAs and others no formal training. Some write several titles a year; others leave one perfect book as their life’s work.

There are many different ways to be a writer. If you’re seeking commercial success, there are certain formulas for certain genres. There are rules for spelling and grammar, but even some of the rules about commas are flexible. Tense and point of view should probably be consistent. (Real anti-rulers are calling me a hypocrite for adding that.) But learning to “drop these seven words” won’t make you a writer. It’s just not that easy. 

If you think I’ve just written a blog on “how to be a writer”, you may have a point. That’s the problem with giving advice to ignore advice. But maybe that’s not what I’m saying. Don’t ignore it; just don’t take it as gospel. Don’t let it subvert your own writer’s instinct. I think you should be very critical of the writing advice you take, including mine.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Mary Vensel White

I've been lucky enough to workshop with Mary Vensel White and I've been able to read a lot of her work. I've liked it all so it says a lot that this is my favorite. Bellflower comes out today and you should check it out. Here's my review:
Mary Vensel White is an expert at creating original, believable characters you can root for in a paragraph or less-a skill that comes in handy when writing a novel that is a series of vignettes. These are the defining moments of these characters' lives: the cancer scare, the mid-life crisis affair, the paternity test results that seem like the end of the world. Bellflower tells these stories about the human condition and reminds us that, in the end, we're all connected. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Anniversary Sale!

It has been a year since I launched Blood & Water and it will be on sale for 99 cents this week to celebrate. Last November, I was busy with the launch and this year I'm struggling through NaNoWriMo with my current work in progress. I hope to have an update for you on that soon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018

Last year, I skipped NaNo because I was focused on launching my novel, Blood & Water. This year, I'm hoping to expand on my current work in progress. I've had the first chapter written for nearly a year.

Like the other times I've participated, I'll be a "nanorebel". I'm less focused on meeting the 50,000 word goal and more on setting aside writing time every day.

Looking back over previous blogs, I found these helpful tips for time management:
  • Skipping the news: I'm kind of obsessive about this, so it is going to free up a lot of my time, but it's also going to be really hard. I'm alerting all those close to me that I'm going to need an email or phone call if some huge news event happens. I already don't have cable so I got all my news off the internet.
  • Pajamas all day: Okay, not every day, but some days. I'm kicking off day one in my yoga pants... that I slept in.
  • Easy dinners: I don't pretend to be a fancy cook, but this month I'm going even more bare bones. No cutting meat or chopping veggies. If the recipe requires more than 20 minutes of prep, I'll save it for December. 
  • No more reading: I finished a book yesterday that I may blog about, but that's it. 
That's a good list to start. I just reactivated my account at and may have to limit the time I spend there. They have forums and twitter links and pep talks and notices for local events. It's like Facebook for writing nerds. You can connect with me there- I'm Katie78.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Review: The Baggage Carousel

Sometimes when you re-read a favorite novel from years ago, it doesn't hold up. That was not the case with David Olner's The Baggage Carousel, a novel I first read on a writing site before it was published. I believe the gist of my critique was: "Get this published!" I'm glad he decided to take my stellar advice. ;)

In this novel, the super-flawed main character falls in love on a back-packing trip to Africa. When the object of his affection makes promises and then proceeds to ignore his emails, Dan's heartbreak turns obsessive. In alternating narrative, the reader also gets to know Amber, who is on the edge of vapid, but still manages to be sympathetic. The two narrate different timelines so that the story unfolds as a puzzle and the missing piece isn't delivered until the very end.

Throughout, the quality of the writing stands out. Dan is darkly witty, his tangents from the main plot not only illuminate his character, but are fun to read. The way it's organized is especially clever and the ending comes together like a lightning bolt. Of course, you think as if you saw the twist coming, though you didn't. The ending is terribly satisfying, with just enough pain and the requisite growth from each character.

I highly recommend this book.

Friday, May 4, 2018

This Is How I Write

It was during my last semester of college that I was introduced to "creative nonfiction" and that was the bridge that led me to write fiction (after years of writing angsty, introspective poetry). People who know me well can find the sections in my novels that have been "stolen" from real life. The danger in writing autobiographical fiction is that people begin to make assumptions about the rest of the novel. All of my characters are created from fragments of actual people, but none of my characters are based on a single person. So if someone recognizes themselves in my fiction, the risk is that they will think everything about that character is based on how I think of them.

In my second novel, A Long Thaw, there's a section where Abby is creating a collage. It's an apt metaphor for the way I write:
This is her hobby. She pretends that it’s soothing to create collages on the covers of photo albums or journals. The truth is that she stresses over them, fitting the pieces together like a schizophrenic puzzle. A long triangle of a navy blue satin gown, the sun setting on a horizon, a pair of eyes clotted with mascara, a phrase usually from an advertisement for cosmetic surgery, something like be your best, disempowerment repackaged, out of context. She gives them as gifts, personalized.
It's funny; I didn't recognize the symmetry when I wrote this. It was not intentional. But this is the way I write, taking something true and repackaging it, changing the context so that it means something different in the story than it meant in my life.  

The other part of the metaphor is the way that I often present my writing as a pleasurable hobby -- and there is a significant element of pleasure that I get from it -- but the truth is more complicated. My writing is something I stress over, fitting the pieces together, peeling them apart, resetting the glue. The pleasure comes in fits and starts, sometimes only with the relief of having it done.

Right now, my current work in progress is eating at me. I think about these made up people all day. I decorate their kitchens and imagine their first heartbreaks and research their path through dental school. They're with me, always, nagging at me to finish their stories.

And on that note, I need to go write about a kitchen. While I'm working on that, join my newsletter for updates and giveaways!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Making an Audiobook

The first thing to figure out when making an audiobook is whether you have (or can get) the rights. Since my publisher, Kindle Press, owns the rights, I had to ask for a "rights reversion". Check your contract. Many publishers retain the audiobook rights for a shorter period of time than the other book rights. I sent an email and had them back within a week.

There are currently a lot of different options for audiobook platforms, as far as production and distribution. Every author needs to consider the pros and cons of each and decide what works best for them. Everyone is different. I can't tell you which option to choose, but here's a helpful guide that compares the most common platforms.

The publisher of my first novel, Monsoon Season, made an audio version in 2012, but this is my first foray into audiobook creation. Since I have several books, I might try a few different methods and compare the results, but for my first attempt, I chose the option with the least risk.

I didn't want to spend any money up front so I did a royalty split with the narrator. The website allows you to search for narrators based on various criteria: gender, accent, payment options considered, etc. You can listen to sample auditions, then email select narrators to ask them to audition for a section of your book, which you upload to the site. I chose a section that included several characters so I could hear the variation.

The narrator I chose, Kaitlin Chin, is fantastic. The process of making this book was so much fun and she made it a fresh experience for someone who has read the book a thousand times. Kaitlin embodies the two main characters so well and her performance is captivating.

I hope you'll check out the audio book for Finding Charlie.