Monthly Archives: August 2013

Author interview with Matt Posner

Today we have New York school teacher Matt Posner, who has a great fantasy series called School of the Ages. Get your coffee and a scone – it’s time for a great interview!

ghost in the crystal US

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Matt Posner. I’m a public school teacher from New York City. My ambition from early teen years was to be a novelist, and I have finally achieved it. Widely-read, well-heeled novelist remains an ambition that fate holds in abeyance, but of course this appearance is the next of many steps toward that goal.

When did you start writing and what made you start?

When I was in elementary school I wrote for fun on typewriters supplied me for the purpose.  It was a consequence of my voracity as a reader, I suppose. When you want more of something you enjoyed reading, you may have to write it yourself. If you think of a cool idea and no one has written it yet, you may have to write it yourself. I guess that is what I was up to even as a little kid. I committed to being a novelist when I was twelve.

Tell us a little bit about your latest books.

Since 2010 my focus has been books in the School of the Ages series, about America’s greatest magic school, featuring real places in New York and the world, realistic magic, humor clashing with darkness and tragedy, and a huge cast of well-developed characters.

I have just finished School of the Ages 4:  Simon Myth. It features allies and enemies from Indian mythology, one as a menace in the 21st-century world, and others as elements of my protagonist Simon’s time-lost adventures in India’s distant past. Also, the books’ heroine, Goldberry, gets a chance to adventure without him for a while, and Yakov Mermelstein, Simon’s counterpart in the cabala school, gets to build a golem. And there are evil adult versions of some of the kids showing up at the school, and there’s some romance, too.

Where did you come up with this idea?

I have written about magic since I was a kid, and in 2002 I was thinking about a novel series with an elder magician and two to three child apprentices, but that changed. The genesis of School of the Ages was that I was working in a mesivta (Jewish high school) and learning about the subculture of Mishnaic Judaism and I wanted to write about it. So I developed the idea of a New York City magic school that is half cabala students and half traditional hermetic magic students.

Who did the cover art for your book?

I started out with covers by my cousin, Mike Cohen.  Mike did a great job, but he is very busy with his work as a videographer, so I decided to switch to a full-time cover designer. Starting with book 3, I have been using Mande Matthews, who has a beautiful way with color and background. She is also a great fantasy author.

Who do find to be a huge inspiration for your writing? And why is that?

I am inspired by history and culture. I read about both ancient events and places and people, and contemporary news, and I get story ideas. I want to put my cast of characters into these situations.

Which one of your characters would be the best to meet in real life?

I love all my characters, but for this occasion, I will select Devi Moore, Simon’s 90-year-old grandmother from Mumbai, whose combination of wisdom, courage, and sassy attitude make her entertaining company. Devi first appears in book 3 and stars in several chapters of book 4. She’s a scene-stealer.

What are you reading right now?

I always read a lot of books at once. My main focus now is Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, which I want to review for my website.

What is the one thing that seems to always get in the way of writing time?

My job eats away the writing time, drains my creative energy, makes me tired in general, gives me stress (since teachers are in the crosshairs of politicians and the media these days), and of course is entirely necessary, not just to pay bills and sustain life, but to keep me connected to young people and to give me a chance to make a difference in the lives of others.

Are there any more projects you are currently working on? Do you know when we might get to see those?

I hope to get out a writer’s technique manual, How to Write Dialogue, in September. In October, Jess C. Scott and I will team up to work on another Teen Guide book to follow our successful Teen Guide to Sex and Relationships. I also have a novel for adults as a WIP, which will be in the “harsh realism” genre.

You’re throwing a fiction character party.  What fictional characters would you like to invite (name and where they are from (book/TV/Movie/etc.) and why?

Gimli from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien; Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin; Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; Benjamin Grimm (The Thing) from Marvel Comics, created by Stan Lee; Alice Parker from Alice Parker’s Adventures by Nicola Palmer.

I might have a chance at Alice someday since I know Nicola. 🙂

 

Now for the this or that:

Coke/Pepsi –   Diet Coke

Cat/Dog –   Cat

Vampires/Zombies –   Both

Marvel/DC –  Marvel

Thor/Loki –  Thor

Hero/Villain –  Villain to write, Hero to be

Car/Plane – car

London/Paris – I’ve been to London three times, and will certainly go again, but I need to spend more time in Paris. This list knocks me out:  Tour Eiffel; Louvre; Musee D’Orsay; Notre Dame de Paris… OMG!

Ice cream/Chips –  Fritos, unfortunately for my health. If ice cream, then with some crushed peanut butter cups mixed in.

Matt Posner 

Connect with Matt Posner

Matt says:  I am reader-friendly.

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Teen Guide site for relationship and sex questions (collaborative with Jess C. Scott)

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How do you develop your stories?

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The most common question I get asked when people find out I’m a writer is, “How do you get it finished?” I sympathize with this question, because until I found out how my brain works when putting together stories, I’d never finished anything either. I would get 3-5,000 words into a novel and then run out of steam every time, and I couldn’t figure out why, except that I must not be very creative.

 

Well, it turned out that the explanation was (thankfully) much more easily overcome. It wasn’t that I wasn’t creative, it was that the way most books and classes on creative writing suggest you go about cogitating a story didn’t work for me. What a relief!

I actually found this out by accident when I was beginning to plan my first NaNoWriMo effort in October of 2011. I had read Chris Baty’s book No Plot No Problem in May, and decided I’d try out National Novel Writing Month. I fully expected my novel to be terrible, but at least I could check it off my lifetime to-do list.

 

In the book, Baty says that you can’t start planning your NaNo book until a week before the November 1 start date. I didn’t realize the book was several years old, and now people plan a year in advance, so I waited until mid-October to really even think about it. I had decided I wanted to do a treasure hunt, but I had no idea what that would involve.

 

I began by reading World History for Dummies. True story. But I didn’t so much read the text as read the gray boxes and other ancillary information, and then reading the text if I wanted more information. Using this method, I came across ancient Persian ruins at Ctesiphon, in what is now in Iraq, and that is what started the whole story.

 

With IXEOS, the first book of my sci-fi trilogy, the story started similarly, when I read about the almost-200 miles of tunnels under Paris in a National Geographic magazine. I knew that would be in a story one day, and when my daughter and I had a strange encounter with a flock of ducks while kayaking, the two melded and became the basis for the novel.

 

As you can see, these two novels started with a location. Undaunted Love started with the idea of a romance in the Civil War South. The Hoard of the Doges, the sequel to Solomon’s Throne, already had established main characters, but the story itself started when I came across some interesting information on Venice in the Middle Ages.

 

This isn’t how most people who teach about writing suggest you go about the whole process, but once I discovered that unique and interesting locations really got my creative juices flowing, I’ve had no trouble creating full stories that flow relatively effortlessly from start to finish. I use the locations to put together a plot, and from there, I add characters. (Yes, this is backwards from most “how to write” suggestions!)

I write a lot of notes on various locations while I’m in this stage, in a notebook I use just for this “noodling” part of the process. After I’ve found the basic structure, I start working on the plot that will connect the locations. For IXEOS, it was the tunnels, which have portals that lead to other manmade tunnels around the world. Once I have a basic plot, I start working on the main characters.

I don’t really outline. I’m what you might call a “plotting pantser.” I know the basic plot points, the beginning and the end. If it’s a treasure hunt, I know where the Quinns are going and something about each location. I do big Stickie Notes on the main characters with basic information. And that’s pretty much it.

Having the whole story loosely defined lets me be flexible and to develop secondary characters and other locations that fit the story as I’m writing. That works for me, as I like to know my ultimate destination but perhaps take a few back roads while getting there.  But (so far, at least), I don’t change the ultimate destination, which gives me a target to aim for and keeps me from going off on tangents (which usually end up getting edited out anyway).

The way to finish a novel is to figure out how your own brain works in putting together a story. Some people need a lot more structure before they start than I do. A few need less. Many start with a plot idea or a great character. That just doesn’t work for me. If you’ve felt stuck after the first several thousand words, analyze your plotting process and see if what you’re doing is what best suits you, or if you’re doing it that way because someone told you that was the best/only way.

When you free yourself from other people’s methods and start to develop your own, whether that’s a wall full of index cards, a thousand Stickies, a formal outline, or just a list of locations, you’ll be able to finish the story. And finishing is a necessary first step to getting your work out there into the world. Or at least what will allow you to check “write a novel” off your bucket list.

 

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Back to editing – again!

red pen editing

I am currently re-editing Undaunted Love (you can see why here). For writers, I think editing is contrary to our nature – I don’t edit at all when I write, and that feeling of creating a new world is why it’s so fun. Editing… Well, editing is about tearing down that new world to a certain degree, and it can be painful!

I use the same process on all my books. I write the first draft with zero edits. After it’s finished, I do a fairly quick read-through and fix all the obvious things, like bad typos and misspellings. At that point, I email the book to beta readers. I know, some people send them a late draft. But I don’t use my beta readers as line editors or proofreaders. I don’t want to spend a ton of time editing before they’ve read the book and made their comments.

What does that mean exactly, in real life? Well, let’s say I spend a lot of time editing a scene and think I have it perfect. Then, when the beta readers respond with their comments, half of them (or more!) hate that scene. Since my general rule of thumb is to pay attention when 2 or more beta readers make the same comment, that means I’ll need to really reconsider the scene, and whether it should even be in the book.

It’s possible that I’ll delete the scene. At best, it will obviously require a lot more editing. Because I’ve already spent a lot of time on it, there’s a mental challenge here, because it’s human nature to defend something you’ve spent a lot of time on. Perhaps I won’t be as objective as I need to be.

Now, I tend to write pretty clean first drafts, so using a quickly worked second draft works for me. I specifically ask beta readers not to worry about grammar and typos (most can do that, some just absolutely can’t let those go!). After I get their feedback, then I really start digging into the work.

My first pass after getting the beta’s feedback is a detailed reading of the book, with the beta readers’ comments close at hand. As I’m reading, I’m looking for character continuity, dialogue issues, lost story threads, and, of course, analyzing the feedback against what I’m reading. This is a pretty long process, as I’m looking at all the big picture things, as well as working on grammar, typos, overused words, and word placement.

When this is done, I print off the book and do it again, making notes in the margins. I find this “on paper” edit very helpful, as I tend to skim as I get tired when reading on the computer, and no amount of mental flogging seems to stop it. Sometimes I use multi-colored pens, but usually I just use one color and arrows, circles and notes to clarify the changes.

The next step is my least favorite: putting the on-paper edits into the document. During this time, I feel like my eyeballs are going to implode. It’s very easy to get tired, and I need more frequent breaks to stay sharp. While I’m doing this, I am not reading the manuscript. This is simply a hunt-and-change operation (thank goodness for Find and Replace!).

After this step, I’m in the home stretch. I read through again, this time really looking at word usage and placement, taking out unnecessary adverbs, and doing “finds” for my most overused words. (“Just” is my worst offender, and I tend to use “and” and “but” a lot, and not always correctly!) I also do a grammar scan on Scrivener and check out all the spelling and grammar suggestions.

I’m really close now! I move the document to Word on my pc and do another grammar/spelling check using Grammarly. (Grammarly doesn’t work within Word on a Mac, so I have to move it over, then move it back.) The final check is when I move the document back to Word on my Mac, when I once again do a grammar/spelling check using the Word tool. Amazingly, the three programs all skip problems, and all propose different solutions!

At this point, I run around my house announcing to my family that I’m done. My son always gives me a high five. My husband, who is usually busy with his own book, smiles, waves and keeps working. My announcement to my daughter is via text, since she’s married, so I usually get an all-caps response saying “YAY!!!!!!!” I congratulate myself for awhile… And then get to work on the next project.

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Interview with Author Scott Roche

Today we have Scott Roche with us for our Saturday Coffee with Authors interview. Scott is a man of many talents, especially with words. His latest novelette is Two Steps from Hell. Thanks for joining us, Scott!

twostepshell

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a husband and father of three. I’m a home brewer and a thinker of thoughts. I’m been a blogger, a podcaster, and a writer of many words. I’ve sold books, worked at a bowling alley, did a stint at a convenience store, and now I’m a computer support technician. Amongst all of those things I am a writer of fiction.

When did you start writing and what made you start?

I’ve been a story teller since the tender age of seven. Life was boring as an only child with parents who worked far too much, so I started creating these universes. Later in my childhood I started playing role playing games. That gave me a more structured venue to tell my tales. It wasn’t until high school that I really started writing stories in the more traditional sense. Even then it was sporadic.

Time passed and when my first child came I felt the pangs of mortality. I didn’t have any creative outlets. I was in a new city with few friends and time on my hands. It was then that I started really writing with an effort towards figuring out the craft. The last few years have been spent building some semblance of an audience and with the advent of easy self-publishing tools, I began to make my work available to the public.

Tell us a little bit about your latest books.

My most recent work is Two Steps From Hell. It’s a novelette and it’s my take on Urban Fantasy. It’s about a Fae that’s been summoned from Hell, a place he didn’t think Faeries went, to modern day New Orleans. He’s got twenty four hours to figure out why his now deceased summoner brought him here, in order to avoid returning to his fate.

Where did you come up with this idea?

I was challenged to create a character that was unlikable, and yet one that the reader could identify with and care about. I’ve long been a fan of faeries, and wanted to write something using that and that took place in a modern urban setting. On my longer works I’m typically an outliner, but for this story I wrote by the seat of my pants. In the end it wound up being very action packed and a lot of fun.

Who did the cover art for your book?

Scott E. Pond designed the cover for me. He’s done a couple of covers for me. He’s got a great visual style and is very easy to work with. I told him what I wanted and he ran with it.

Who do find to be a huge inspiration for your writing? And why is that?

My biggest inspiration is Stephen King. For me, good writing starts with good characters. His are always accessible and, from the sweetest to the most diabolical, I always end up caring for them in some fashion. I also love the pictures he paints and the fact that he’s okay with not being thought of as a “literary genius”. His books are the equivalent of fast food, meant to entertain, and that’s what I strive for.

Which one of your characters would be the best to meet in real life?

Father Ian. He’s an Irish priest in a series of short stories I’ve written. He and I share similar faith struggles and he’s a kind, smart, and sensitive soul. I feel like I could learn a few things from him.

What are you reading right now?

A number of things. That’s usually the case for me. I’m a geek, so I’m reading Stealing the Network: How to Own a Shadow which is hacker fiction. I’m also reading the second book in Gary Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy. Finally, I’m reading Exorcising Aaron Nguyen by Lauren Harris. That one’s for a book review on my blog.

What is the one thing that seems to always get in the way of writing time?

Television/reading/the internets. I’m a horrible procrastinator when it comes to my creative pursuits. There are so many potential distractions out there and I love them all. The most important thing you can do as a writer is write. Thankfully I have a spouse that encourages me to get off my backside and do it.

Are there any more projects you are currently working on? Do you know when we might get to see those?

I’ve always got irons in the fire. Currently I’m writing the sequel to my YA science fiction novel Ginnie Dare: Crimson Sands. Ginnie is a smart teen who is the communications officer on her family’s space freighter. The first book has been a big hit with its readers. I hope Ginnie Dare: Blockade Runner will be too. I plan to have it out the first of next year.

You’re throwing a fiction character party.  What fictional characters would you like to invite (name and where they are from (book/TV/Movie/etc.) and why?

While I don’t consider myself a Browncoat I love the crew that Joss Whedon created for his Firefly series. Sitting down with that misfit crew would be awesome. Like King, Joss does a fantastic job of creating characters that I care about. I love Shepherd Book most of all, for many of the same reasons I like Father Ian.

Now for some “this or that:”

Coke/Pepsi – Dr. Pepper

Cat/Dog – Rats

Vampires/Zombies – Werewolves

Marvel/DC – Dark Horse

Thor/Loki – Dream

Hero/Villain – Anti-Hero

Car/Plane – Bus

London/Paris – Innisfree 

Ice cream/Chips – Yes

I know you want to find more of Scott’s work and ideas, so here’s where you can find him:

Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Author of the podcast novel Archangel
Co-producer of Making the Cut and Murder at Avedon Hill
Contributing Editor of the Flagship E-zine

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Admitting Mistakes

oops

I know it’s shocking, but we’re not perfect.

I’ll give you time to ponder that. No rush. I know it’s a lot to take in………………

Okay, now that you’re sitting down and the paper bag is gone from your nose and mouth, and oxygen is once again flowing to your brain, let’s examine this radical concept.

I have noticed that most writers, even those without perfectionist tendencies in other areas, tend to be perfectionists in their writing. The problem is, writing is subjective. Even grammar, to some degree, is subjective, especially in fiction. If you don’t believe me, try running multiple grammar checks on your document, not just the one in the program you use for writing. There will be differing recommendations on things as simple as comma placement. And don’t even get me started on story. How can a story ever be perfect? It’s from your head!

Then there’s the seemingly endless tedium of editing. At some point we are either unwilling or unable to do more. Once we’re more experienced, that’s usually enough. But early in our publishing journey, that might mean that we leave mistakes. By the time I published Solomon’s Throne, my first novel, I was so sick of the whole thing that I just wanted it gone. I thought I’d editing so long that the thing must be perfect… Only it wasn’t. In fact, it was embarrassingly not. I published a new edition, with the corrections, a few months after it’s original publication.

I’m back to that again, this time with Undaunted Love. I hadn’t sold many of this book for some reason – it had good reviews and even good word-of-mouth. But after my completely insane 50,000+ download promotion recently, I’ve been selling them at a pretty good clip. And now I’m aware of the typos and misspellings. I doubt there are more than 2 dozen, but that’s way too many! So I’m scheduled to have the book reformatted next week, and republish it.

On the one hand, that’s a hard thing to admit. I also don’t really want to revisit old stuff when I’m supposed to be working on new stuff. But on the other hand, I HATE knowing those mistakes are there, and hate when a reviewer points it out and is disappointed. Thankfully, self publishing makes this kind of fix SO easy.

So that’s my admission… I’m not perfect. (Yes, I did drag y’all into my shame…) But I’ve made a step towards admitting it, which is always good. Right?!

mistakes1

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