Want to Write a Novel? by Patricia Skalka

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGet Ready to Make a Zillion Small Decisions

 

On the day I sat down to start writing the third book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series, I came across an insightful comment about the process of writing a novel.  “It is like reconstructing the whole of Paris from Lego bricks. It’s about three-quarters-of-a-million small decisions. It’s not about who will live and who will die and who will go to bed with whom. Those are the easy ones. It’s about choosing adjectives and adverbs and punctuation. These are molecular decisions that you have to take and nobody will appreciate, for the same reason that nobody ever pays attention to a single note in a symphony in a concert hall, except when the note is false. So you have to work very hard in order for your readers not to note a single false note. That is the business of three-quarters-of-a-million decisions.”

The comment comes from Amos Oz, an international award-winning writer and author of nineteen novels. Oz sets a very high bar and it’s up to us as writers to decide whether to accept the challenge or not. It’s easy enough to get by, to dash off a thought or a scene or even an entire book with barely a glance back, with little regard for what he calls “the small decisions.” But should we?  Doesn’t that cheat the writer of the opportunity to excel and deprive the audience of an enjoyable read?

Writing a good, solid book is hard work. Writing well demands concentration, dedication, and perseverance.  We’re all capable of doing better, and perhaps that’s the challenge to embrace as the new year unfolds. Not to settle for the mundane. Not to allow ourselves the luxury of good enough.  But to strive to write the best we can. To focus on quality not quantity. To create complex characters and intriguing plots. To carve out descriptions rich in detail.  To write crisp, realistic dialogue. To research and learn facts essential to the story. And then when we’re finished to go back and rework again and again until the words dance off the page.

Even then, the job of writing isn’t finished. We need to publish, to promote, to slip from the comfortable anonymity of the writer’s cave and venture into public places like bookstores and libraries where readers await with questions and comments.  And we need to accept that we are fallible and to accept with humility the typo and the awkward phrase that have slipped past the censure of the author, the editor, and the publisher. Mea culpa, we say and then strive to do better the next time.

Amos Oz is correct. Writing a novel is about making decisions. Good decisions burn the brain. But, oh, the thrill of getting it right!  The joy of receiving an email from a stranger who says “I loved your book.”  Or of having someone whom you’ve never met approach you after a reading and say “When’s your next book coming out? I can’t wait.”

I love reading really good books. As a writer, I feel an obligation to readers to offer them a well turned story. Even as I can’t wait to get started on book three, my brain aches at the prospect because I know it will be a tough process. But I also know it will be worthwhile because, in the end we reap what we sow.

So it’s onward to making the tough decisions. Onward to good writing in 2015.

 

DeathStalksDoorCountyPatricia Skalka’s debut novel Death Stalks Door County was short-listed for the Chicago Writers Association 2014 Book of the Year Award and named one of the year’s best mysteries by Kings River Life Magazine. Death at Gills Rock, the second in the Dave Cubiak Mystery Series, will be released in June 2015.

An interview with Sue Owens Wright

Sue Owens Wright Photo by Aniko Kiezel

Sue Owens Wright
Photo by Aniko Kiezel

Sue Owens Wright was one of my first clients ever and I’m honored to still be working with her today. I hope you all enjoy what she has to say and know that if you haven’t yet met Beanie and Cruiser, you’ll really be glad you did!

PJ: How long have you been writing?

Sue: I started writing poetry when I was in my teens and was first published then. I didn’t start writing fiction until the 1990s.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer? 

Sue: There have been several points. When I received my first book advance, earned some decent royalty checks, won two Maxwell Awards, and when I began being interviewed and written about.

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Sue: I could never have predicted the many surprises and blessings that have come my way from following my heart and writing what I’m passionate about… dogs and basset hounds, in particular.

 

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations? 

Sue: Not yet, but I’m closer than when I first started out. I think most beginning writers have unrealistic expectations about income, thinking they’ll be instantly rich. Some fortunate writers do hit pay dirt right off, but it finally boils down to whether you love writing or not, and I do.

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed? 

Sue: I focus on writing the next book.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

Sue: A couple of years and 18 rejections, which isn’t so bad when you consider all the famous authors who received many more rejections before their first publication.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

Sue: I’d have held out longer for a series contract from one of the big dogs of publishing when I was searching for someone to publish my first mystery. I got too antsy to sign a contract, but hey, at least I got published.

 

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

Sue: I need a few more heads for the hats I wear, and balancing it all can be challenging. It’s easy to get caught up in the promotion part and not spend enough time writing, but I balance my time pretty well. I do a little promotion each day and then get down to the writing and polishing what I’ve already written, though on some days promotion takes up more time than I intend. I probably don’t submit as much new work as I should. When I do, I don’t waste time fretting about what I’ve sent out. It’s done and gone. I let it go and move on to the next writing project. Of course, I’d rather be devoting all my time to writing books, but if no one knows about them they won’t get read, and writers want to be read.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer? 

Sue: Winning two Maxwell Awards and being nominated a total of 10 times for this prestigious award by the Dog Writers Association of America for the best writing on the subject of dogs.

 

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer? 

Sue: Missing a chance at landing a contract with a big NY publisher.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work? 

Sue and Bubba Gummp

Sue and Bubba Gummp

Sue: When I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Illinois Basset Waddle, where I witnessed the spectacle of 1,000 hounds waddling through the small town of Dwight. I later wrote about the event, which garnered me my first Maxwell Award.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others? 

Sue: I think it’s my passion for basset hounds and my knowledge and understanding of these endearing drool-slingers I’ve lived with for almost 40 years. I never knew there were so many devoted basset lovers worldwide until I wrote these books. People are just crazy about those dogs. My Lake Tahoe setting is also intriguing to readers.   

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet? 

Sue: Never give up!  Learn your craft and constantly improve your skills. Keep writing and then submit only your best work. It’s persistence that eventually separates the published from the unpublished. Be like a basset hound. It requires the dogged determination of a scent hound to keep following that trail to publication, but you’ll be rewarded in the end.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work? 

Sue: I’ve found the Internet and Facebook very effective. Whenever I write an article or a pet column or do an interview, it reaches a worldwide audience instantly. I have readers from just about everywhere you can name. I’m so thankful to be a writer living in the Internet Age.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

Sue: TV interviews. I sometimes tend to freeze when in front of the camera. I think I must look like a deer in the headlights, but it always seems worse at the time than when you look back at the footage. It’s hardly a blip on the screen. Now if they could only find a way to make you look younger and skinnier on camera.

PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?

Sue: Face in a Book, which is located in El Dorado Hills, CA.

 

PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

BracedForMurderFrontHowling Bloody Murder

Sirius About Murder

Embarking on Murder

Braced for Murder

 

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

Beanie encounters calamity in one way or another when she volunteers to foster a homeless basset hound from Lakeside Animal Shelter. After she discovers a reviled shelter manager was euthanized, Cruiser, and his naughty new sidekick, Calamity, pair up to track the killer and save Beanie from a cruel death at the dog pound. 

Where can we buy it?

Five Star/Cengage Publishers, bookstores, and online booksellers. Braced for Murder will also be available on Kindle.

What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work? 

The first book I ever wrote was a paranormal romance set in England. I was inspired to write it after touring southern England and Cornwall in the early 90s and stayed at a fantastic Tudor estate that was supposedly haunted. I recently revised it and am seeking a publisher for the book.

It always helps to have a good publicist to get the word out and to book events for authors. PJ Nunn and her team at BreakThrough Promotions have been there for me from the beginning, opening doors that I probably could never have opened for myself.

An interview with Heather L. Reid

ReidHeather is a new acquaintance of mine, but I believe we’ll be seeing a lot more of her work in the future, especially as the YA and NA markets are expanding so much these days. Enjoy!

PJ: How long have you been writing?

HR: I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. At the age of four I started dictating stories to my mother who would illustrate them for me. By the age of nine, I was writing plays for friends and binding my own picture books with cardboard and string.  At eleven I tried my hand at a first novel. (No, you can’t read it. It’s buried in a deep dark hole somewhere in the Tasmanian Outback and guarded by a three-headed dingo.) It was then I told my parents I wanted to be published by the age of sixteen. I also told them I wanted to be Wonder Woman, a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, a Broadway star, and an archaeologist. Those dreams faded. I never did get that invisible jet, and I would be a lot older than sixteen before I got a publishing deal, but the dream of being a writer stayed with me. After college I decided to stop dreaming and start getting serious. I joined the Society of Children’s book Writers and Illustrators, joined a writer’s group, read books on writing, went to conferences, workshops, and most importantly, I started writing every day. Some of it was crap. Ok, at first, a lot of it was crap, but writing takes work. After over twelve years of studying and writing, my first young adult novel, Pretty Dark Nothing, sold in a two book deal to Month9Books. It’s been an amazing journey and I’m still learning. I write because I have to. It’s a part of what makes me, me.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

HR: When my debut sold in a two book deal. That’s the day I could finally call myself a professional writer and had reached my goal to be published.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

HR: Since this is my debut and it doesn’t release until April 23rd, I’m not sure what my income will be. Ask me next year once Pretty Dark Nothing has been out for a while.

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

HR: My focus has always been to tell the best story I can. That hasn’t changed at all. What has changed by getting published is my confidence.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

HR: I’ve been writing for most of my life and been serious about it since about 1995, so technically it’s taken me seventeen years! That being said, there were several years that I didn’t query or work towards publishing. If I count up the actual time I was working on Pretty Dark Nothing, including drafting and two major revisions, it took about four years altogether. It’s been a long journey, but totally worth it.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

HR: No. I have no regrets and am happy where I am in my life right now.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

HR: I plan my week in advance, taking certain days to work on marketing and other days to write. It’s a balance and you do have to be flexible. Sometimes the day doesn’t go according to plan and that’s ok as long as the work gets done. You also have to be able to multi-task and know which things are priority and which things you can wait on.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

HR: So far, it’s seeing the cover for Pretty Dark Nothing for the first time. That was AMAZING!PettyDarkNothing

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

HR: Several years ago, I had a one to one critique with an editor from one of the big six for Pretty Dark Nothing. She read the first 30 pages and wrote me a glowing letter, asking me for the full manuscript. We talked for an hour about the story and she seemed really excited about the project. I sent the full manuscript and waited, and waited, and waited for a reply. Nine months later I received a nice personal rejection stating that she was sorry it took so long to make a decision, but in the end she was going to pass. I admit that I was crushed and put the manuscript away for nearly five years. I almost gave up entirely, but everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t trade my publisher now for anything in the world. I’m exactly where I want to be.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

HR:  Pretty Dark Nothing is full of demons, and I don’t mean the hot fallen angel, bad boy types. These demons are the evil, hairy, sulphurous kind, bent on manipulating and destroying Quinn’s life. Throw in some romantic sparks with a psychic amnesic, an ex-boyfriend she can’t quite get over, and suspension from the cheerleading squad for failing grades, all while the demons are pushing her to the brink of madness, and I hope it’s a recipe for something darkly paranormal and not quite typical.

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

HR: Be patient. Writing is a process and the best way to learn is by doing. Also, finding your voice, your process, is about trial and error. Try different techniques, but don’t be afraid to adapt them and make them your own.

Don’t give up. If you are passionate about writing, if you are willing to work and grow in the craft, if you are ready to listen to constructive criticism and strive to improve, if you can’t imagine doing anything else, then don’t give up on your dream. It might take months or years to get published, but it’s worth it.

Everyone’s journey is different; don’t compare yours to someone else’s and don’t put other people’s choices down. You’re not in competition with anyone but yourself. Keep learning, keep striving and remember those who help you along the way. Don’t get caught up in trends, social networking, or platform building. A writer writes first and foremost. That’s the most important thing, everything else is secondary.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

HR: I love Goodreads. I think it’s important to connect with other readers as a reader and Goodreads is the perfect tool for that. It allows me to make friends and talk books, which I love. I don’t like screaming ‘buy my book’, it’s not me. I prefer to forge relationships and if people are interested in my book, great, and if not, that’s ok too. Twitter and Facebook are great too, but again, I prefer to be more personal and not make everything about me or my book.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

HR: Outright self-promotion is hard for me. I don’t like spammers and I don’t want to come across as that type of author, you know the ones who tweet links or reviews of their books every two minutes. I use social media to be social, so I’m out of my comfort zone posting stuff about my book. I do it, but I try to strike a balance and make sure it’s not all I do. Yes, I’m a writer. Yes, I have a book coming out, but I’m much more than just those two things and it’s important to me to connect with readers and other writers on a more personal level.

Where can we buy it?

Amazon:

Barnes & Noble

 

Heather, thank you for taking time to share with us! Folks, she’s a debut author who’s worked long and hard to get here. And she’s good! So if you like reading this type of book, please spread the word and pick up a copy! Happy reading!