An Interview With Nathan A. Goodman

 

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Here’s an interview with Amazon Bestselling Author, Nathan A. Goodman.  When I first met Goodman on Twitter, we had read each others work, and he gave me some very helpful advice.  We have been communicating via email ever since, discussing all the various ins and outs of marketing, editing, editors, and even story content.  It was only a matter of time before I interviewed him!

 

How long have you been writing?
In many ways, I’ve been writing my whole life. But my writing took on a life of its own when I started writing my first novel, The Fourteenth Protocol. Once that first one was released, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities. The fact that I can write something that might touch someone else’s life is so humbling, but it’s also an addiction of its own. Once you get started, you can’t stop.

What do you do in your spare time?
Since I do have a day job, writing is what I do most in my spare time. But, my time away from work is also filled with time with my wife and kids, and church. I’ll be leading a men’s small group through church soon, and looking forward to it.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?
I write novels part-time as an escape. There are so many possibilities for a writer, that I’ve often thought about making it a full time thing.

What comes to you first when working on a new story: plot or character?
I create neither plot nor character in my mind before I write. Instead, I follow the creative style of the author Stephen King by first creating a single question. The question forms the basis of the entire story and the resulting novel is the ultimate answer to the question. For example, in order to formulate The Fourteenth Protocol, I crafted this question. ‘What would happen if the government, in their efforts to break up a terrorist cell, started funding the cell at the lowest level in order to work their way higher and higher up the chain of command?’ That was the entire starting point of the story.

Do you write at a particular time, or have a specific word count goal during your sessions?
I probably write better in the mornings, when there’s nothing pulling at my time. And I tend to like to hit at least 500 words, but it usually breezes well past that. For some reason, I’m not distracted if I go to the coffee shop to write, or am listening to music. It’s not the surroundings or the distractions that play a role. It’s the fact that I’m sitting down to do nothing but write that makes a difference.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process.
As I said above, I start with the single question as the basis for the story. I don’t plan the story or outline it in any way. Stories are only able to take on a life of their own if you let them. And planning them out does not achieve that goal. I
then put a character into a position that fits into the story, think of who he or she is, what they look like, what they are like as a person, and I start figuring out what they’d be doing right now. Then I close my eyes and picture the scene and begin typing.

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As a Christian author, what’s it like for you to write in the mystery/crime genre?
I’ve actually caught some grief over the fact that I am a Christian, and yet The Fourteenth Protocol is not free of bad situations or bad language. And yet, if those readers would have paid closer attention, they would have also seen the small signals pointing to the presence of heaven in the book. Is it real? What might it be like? I might be a Christian, but I wrote that novel with a view of reality. I use language that would commonly be heard coming out of people who have their lives on the line. It’s not pretty, but it is real.

Tell us a little about Twinkle.
I like to think Twinkle came out of nowhere, but that’s not at all true. I was writing the sequel to The Fourteenth Protocol, and all was going well. But then I started hearing the faintest of sounds. The sound kept distracting me; bothering me. When I finally put my self importance aside, I realized it was God whispering to me. He wasn’t angry, he just wanted me to get quite long enough for him to tell me I had something else to do. That something was the novel TwinkleTwinkle is a Christian story set in the old slave days. It’s about the adventures of a slave boy and the young daughter of the plantation owner. Their unlikely friendship leads them to the discovery of a magical place in the forest that turns out to be a small piece of heaven, right here on earth. What they find inside will change their lives forever.

As a storyteller, how do you measure success?
The first level of success is simply looking at a finished work and feeling good about it. If I enjoyed writing it, it’s a success. The fact that people enjoy reading it is icing on the cake. I think I’m like a lot of  other men. We really crave that feeling of satisfaction after having accomplished something. Publishing a novel gives me a real sense of accomplishment.

What’s next for you?
I’m in midst of re-editing Twinkle, and writing the sequel to The Fourteenth Protocol. Those are going to keep me busy for a while. Twinkle really interrupted the writing of the sequel, and some of my readers are getting impatient for that sequel. But, it was something that would not wait and I’m glad I did it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
If you don’t think you could actually write a novel, you are wrong. Pick up Stephen King’s book called On Writing. It will forever change your mind about what you can write, and how to do it.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview.  Do you have any final thoughts?
I really want to encourage people out there who have written a lot, but are afraid to put any of their work out there for others to see. Your work is better than you give it credit for. Your writing isn’t meant to be hidden, it’s meant to be shared. Your writing might help some person who needed to read just those words. Go ahead, take the chance. It can really be worth the risk.

Follow Nathan A. Goodman On Twitter: https://twitter.com/NathanAGoodman
Find Out More At Nathan A. Goodman’s Official Website!  http://nathanagoodman.com

 

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An Interview with Lindsay Buroker

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If you aren’t familiar with Lindsay Buroker’s work, then I highly recommend you start reading her books.  Of course, you may be at it for a while, as she has written quite a few.  Among them is one of my favorite series, The Emperor’s Edge.  This is the book that introduced me to the wonderful worlds that Lindsay has to offer us, each one a journey across the plains of highly imaginative fantasy and steampunk. She has a lot to say, not just in her books, but concerning insights into writing.  You can find these by subscribing to her website, and she’s even been podcasting about writing, found here.

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
I loved anything to do with animals, especially wolves, dogs, and horses (not a combination, you would naturally put together, but hey). I read all of the Black Stallion books, all of Jim Kjelgaard’s books, and even as a grown-up (sort of), I would probably still put Where the Red Fern Grows on my list of favorites. My love for animal stories led me to find Jack London (White Fang and Call of the Wild at first, of course), and he led me into more historical fiction, especially Colonial America/Native American stories. Even though I read in a lot of other genres and periods later on, that’s probably what let me into writing fantasy that is set in more of a steam-powered Industrial Revolution era than the typical medieval European styled fantasy that I read a lot of in high school.

 What comes to you first when working on a new story: plot or character?
I’ve had it happen both ways, but I’m definitely a character-focused writer, and I think my favorite stories have been the ones where the character came first. When you’re deciding what kind of plot would make sense for X protagonist, you really have to flesh the character out and figure out his/her pasts, hopes, dreams, quirks, etc. Sometimes when the plot comes first, you get less memorable characters, because you’re inserting them into a story rather than telling the story that could onlycome to existence because they exist. Hope that makes sense. 🙂

 Tell us a little about your writing process.
 I’ll come up with a new idea (or character), sketch some thoughts into my notepad app on the phone, and then usually let the idea stew in the back of my head for a while. If I forget about it, I guess I wasn’t that passionate about it. But if I keep coming back to it, then it means I need to write the book.
I used to be a pantser and wing it, but now that I do this full time and rely solely on my writing income, I treat it like a job and am pretty systematic. For a novel, I’ll write an outline of 2-3,000 words before I get started. I often deviate from it as I’m writing, but having the mile markers already set down on the side of the road helps keep me from stumbling off the path.
When I first got started, I just shot for 1,000 words a day, but I’ve gradually kicked that up over the last few years. Now, I’ll tend to write a rough draft quite quickly (I just finished an 80,000-word manuscript in 9 days). At one time, I thought anyone who wrote quickly was nuts and that their stuff probably sucked (I had to make excuses since I didn’t write that quickly, you see), but I realized that I do best when I get everything out there within 2-3 weeks. I have a horrible long-term memory, so writing quickly helps me keep everything in my mind. When it took me months to finish a novel (or years), I would always have to go back and reread things from the opening chapters because I’d forget what had happened. Or I would just repeat things and contradict myself. It’s much easier for me to stay in the flow this way.
After I finish the rough, I’ll either put it aside for a couple of weeks (if there’s another project waiting for attention), or I’ll jump in and give it an editing pass, rewriting, trimming, or adding detail as necessary. Then I’ll send the manuscript off to beta readers. They’ll generally have it for a couple of weeks, so I’ll work on something else during that time, maybe even starting a new novel. By always having something in the works, I’ve been able to publish something almost every month in the last year. This definitely helps keep the pay steady!
When the beta readers send it back, I’ll do another editing pass, and then send it off to my editor. She does copy-editing/proof-reading, and then it’s ready to go out!

What draws you to steampunk?
As I mentioned, I blame the early interest in American historical fiction (which waned after the Civil War or so) for part of it. In the beginning, I didn’t set out to write steampunk (I wasn’t aware that it was a thing back in the early 00s when I started EE1), but some of those elements do seep into my fiction. I was never that excited about Victorian Europe, so I rarely draw from that. It’s always been the technology and tools of that time period that have been the draw for me, rather than the culture. I have a coffee grinder from the 1800s, and it’s this amazing piece of artwork. And it still works! It’s so rare to find stuff of that caliber today.

 Your first book was very successful.  How did you feel putting it out there for the first time?
It was definitely a slow build, and it wasn’t until I had three or four books out in the Emperor’s Edge series, that they started catching on (of course, I didn’t know much about marketing early on there either). I was definitely nervous to put my first novel out there. I had sold some short stories, and I had sent the entire novel through an online writing workshop, so I’d had some early feedback that had been positive, so that helped. I knew I wasn’t writing great literature, but I felt certain that some people would connect with the humor and the characters. I was relieved that turned out to be true!

People are loving The Emperor’s Edge books, as am I.  What led you to series writing?  Was it your original intention?
Oh, I’ve always thought in terms of series. As a reader, that’s what I enjoy. It’s the characters that I fall in love with, and if they’re good characters, I don’t care that much what the plot is doing.
As a writer, when I spend that much time coming up with quirks, fears, foibles, etc., I hate to put aside a hero after one book. When I wrote Balanced on the Blade’s Edge, I fully intended it to be a one-off book, a bit of an experiment with a steampunk romance, but I knew as soon as I finished that I wanted to do more with the characters. Now, I’m planning the fifth book in that series.

 What’s next for you?
I’m starting a new series in the Emperor’s Edge world. Some of the existing characters will have cameos (with Dak from Republic being a major player), but for the most part, we have new characters, and it’s set on a new continent. I hope EE fans will check it out! The series is Chains of Honor, and the first book, Warrior Mage, will be out soon.

I appreciate you taking time to talk to us today!
Thanks for having me!

An Interview With Adam Dreece

When I first met Adam Dreece on Twitter, I was immediately curious about the author’s photo featuring himself in a steam punk outfit.  That particular genre of fiction has always interested me, especially considering my studies in history.  He sent me a story called The Torrents of Tangier, and I was immediately drawn to his distinctive style.
I was very happy to have interviewed the author recently, to pick his brain about the craft, and to find out more about the conception of his Yellow Hoods series.
When I first started writing seriously, it was actually on a typewriter.  These days, I’m thankful for word processors. Do you write on a typewriter, computer, or longhand?
I first started writing when I was in grade 4, and that was on a typewriter. In grade 6 when we got our first computer I wrote on that, and found myself by grade 8, going back to the typewriter for a while, but only for creative writing and only for a short while. That was when I started to develop a very fast typing speed and the keys would jam. I’ve been mostly on the computer ever since.
I do a limited amount of writing longhand, usually only to capture notes and ideas. I can’t write fast enough to keep up with what I’m thinking.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Part-time. I decided in November of last year that in five years I wanted to be a full time author, what’s more that I was going to do it as an author-preneur. By January I had a plan in mind, in April I released my first book, and in September I’ll be releasing my second.
What do you do in your spare time?
When I’m not spending time with my three kids and my wife, I’m writing. I’ve had to be ruthless with my time because otherwise, I’ll never meet my goals. I treat writing like a second job, and the marketing and production side of book-work almost like a third job. It’s very time consuming, but I’m getting more efficient at it.
Do you have a strict daily word count?
No. I’m not really concerned about daily word count, I’m more concerned about the impact of what I’m doing in that session. I organize myself mentally to support when I feel highly creative, so I write new things, or when I feel blah and therefore I do edits or restructuring. I glance at my word counts, and I know what my average is, but I don’t use it as a means of measuring my success for a day. That is solely measured by how much better I’ve made the story. Some things are hard, and take more time, and less words.
What was your inspiration for The Yellow Hoods? 

November last year I decided to take a break from my memoir I was writing (about chronic pain, fraud complex and other fun stuff) and had an idea. In December I got myself all organized with a proper writing tool, instead of MS Word which drove me half to madness and back, and found myself unable to move forward. I’d over structured myself. I was kicking some ideas around for what I wanted to write, and my daughter asked me to write another story of The Hoods.
I’ve been reading to my daughter since she was hold enough to sit still. Often after reading an actual book, we’d turn out the lights and I’d make something up. Her favorite had been a silly tale where I twisted up the fairy tales and the heroes were little girls running around the forest in coloured hoods (little Red Riding Hood, Blue for Cinderella, and so on).
When she asked me to write it, I figured it was going to be just a short story.The story became something very different, much more textured and mature. The next night after I wrote something, I’d read it to her and get her feedback. She became my muse and cheered me on.
What I found was with that memoir tale out of the way, I was very much free but didn’t know where to go. She helped me see that I could just pick a direction and go.
What are the struggles/joys of parenthood that you find while being a writer?
The struggles are time and energy. Nothing zaps your energy like getting up three times in the night. Another struggle is carving out time to go to the coffee shop & write for an hour and a half on Saturday, time I am consciously taking away from my family. However when I come back from that, it’s like a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders.
Part of the joys is looking at the world through different glasses, re-learning how to ask “ridiculous” questions, and reading tons of imaginative stories and talking about them afterwards. Kids have definitely made me a much more well-rounded writer.
What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
I’m dyslexic, so in terms of books there weren’t tons apart from comic books. In terms of real books, I remember reading Jupiter Jones (detective series) and DragonLance Chronicles. For Jupiter Jones what stuck with me was how the trio of boys had to work together to solve mysteries, the dynamics were interesting. For DragonLance I started reading book 2, and the character of Raistlin was a lot like me in that I was sickly, and often underestimated.
What was the hardest/easiest thing about writing Along Came A Wolf?
The second hardest part was definitely being comfortable with the size of it, which was about 33k words. To put that in perspective, book 2 of that series Breadcrumb Trail (Sept 2014) is 70k words. Along Came a Wolf was a complete tale, and was about the transition from innocence to the next part of maturity, and everything that I felt I could say without introducing unnecessary tangents was said.
The hardest thing was facing my fear of what people were going to think. I decided to self-publish, and that meant no hiding behind query letters; I was going to go direct to the readers. I was going to get judged on the content of the book, the cover, the way it was presented to people on whatever platform it was presented on, and it was 100% me (and my awesomely supportive and talented wife).
After I got about 20 pages in, I’d painted enough of the world and the characters that I felt the story naturally flowed, and I had enough experience writing over the past 25+ years, that I knew my process. I’d draft it, go back to the beginning and comb out the knots, and then repeat that two more times.
Tell us a little bit about the characters, Tee, Elly, and Richy.  What inspired you to create them? Are they based off of anyone in particular? 

The three Yellow Hoods (Tee, Elly and Richy) come from the idea of having a classic trio. It would allow me to have 3 sets of 1:1 dynamics, which I felt was ample for me to start with as a first time author, and the most that I could expect a reader to quickly get into and emotionally bond with.
Tee and Elly’s closeness was inspired by my daughter’s relationship with her two best friends. The character of Tee is derived from my daughter, while the character of Elly is actually derived from some sister figures in my life, the classic counter-weight needed to keep a fire-wind type personality of Tee grounded.
Richy was the classic boy in the neighborhood who has that cemented pre-adolescent relationship with girls, who sees them as sisters and they see him as a brother. In a lot of ways, this was me at a young age. He was also my mystery element, and to emphasize that I gave him an “Asian heritage” that is elaborated on in book two.
I was introduced to Steam Punk through Anime and Cherie Priest’s novel, Boneshaker.  Do you feel as though the genre is still evolving or still just emerging?
I think the genre is emerging in terms of people’s understanding of what it means. There’s still a lot of readers, I find, who are immediately intimidated once they see something is “SteamPunk”, as if you have to have 5 years tabletop gaming experience before reading page one.
As a genre, I think it has a lot of evolving and growth coming, and I think this comes from pushing what the limits are that still allow a story qualify as SteamPunk. It can’t just mean Victorian era, taking place in England or the US, and all the technology is in place. Mind you, I find as soon as you have talking fox-people and what not, you’ve really stepped out of SteamPunk and into Fantasy w/elements of technology.
I define The Yellow Hoods as “Emergent SteamPunk.” That means technologically, we are seeing it come into being. That creates a much lower anxiety barrier for a reader who isn’t familiar with “SteamPunk.” Also, I decided to not make their world Victorian, it’s not even our Earth. I wanted to see how true I could be to the core elements of SteamPunk, while making it more accessible and more grounded.
I read that you are inspired by the concept of classical rhymes and stories having a ring of truth to them.  What sort of rhymes and stories in particular are you talking about?
I was inspired by the rhyme “Ring around the Rosy,” which is a way that we remember the Black Plague. So I decided to add depth and texture to The Yellow Hoods by challenging myself with the idea of, “What if their 21st century world used Little Red Riding Hood, or Santa Claus stories as a way to remember real things that happened in their past” and making my stories take place at that time.
In Along Came a Wolf, I derive some elements from Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and Santa Claus. The master inventor, Nikolas Klaus, is kind of a Santa Claus character mixed with Nikola Tesla, the great 20th century inventor. In book two, Breadcrumb Trail, I draw on the of tale of Hansel and Gretel.
These classic tales have great themes and subtext. For example, Hansel & Gretel, for me, are about childhood abduction and identity loss, among other things. Incorporating that into a tale allows me to have a story that a young adult can read and enjoy, and that a mature adult can read and enjoy on a whole different level.
You are a founding member of ADZO Publishing.  Tell us how that came about.
A couple of years ago, when I thought I was nearly done writing my memoir (which would end up taking me another year and a half), I turned on the radio. Seth Godin was being interviewed, and happened to be saying at that moment, “If I had a book in hand today, I wouldn’t go after getting an agent and seeking someone else to publish it. If I had any business skills whatsoever, I’d create my own company and publish it myself. Here’s why…” and he then listed several reasons. It was one of those moments where I felt he was talking directly to me.
When book 1 of The Yellow Hoods was nearly done, it was clear to me and my wife that we were going to publish it ourselves, but now there was a bigger question. Did we want to ‘just’ publish it ourselves, or did we want to try to create a brand and idea that could be bigger than us over time? We decided we wanted to make a difference for authors, and given our entrepreneurial background, we weren’t afraid of getting into learning everything we needed to about marketing, printing, cover design, etc. We knew we wouldn’t get things right on the first or second shot, but we loved the learning opportunity it presented and were up for the challenge. We decided before we’d bring any other authors on board, we’d need to see if our ideas worked, and that would mean building a certain amount of success for myself as an author, so that we could prove to ourselves we knew what we were doing.
What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published in the traditional sense?
Traditional publishing has the advantage of a series of individuals involved that know the process and so you’re the only one who is new to the equation. They have established distribution channels, editors, marketing people, etc. The biggest issue to start with is your customer is not the reader, your customer is their portfolio manager and their customer is those who buy books (the book stores, not the readers). The portfolio managers and the business need to balance risk with likely return, they will allocate budgets with that in mind (therefore you might get $0 marketing budget) and they have minimum sales thresholds that wouldn’t be of interest to them but would still be awesome for you. Also, traditional publishers because they are a ‘machine’, they are a lot slower to react to change. You lose a lot of control by having that machine behind you.
Self-publishing, or indie publishing, is very much a different beast. You can develop a niche audience which would never be of interest to a large publisher. However, you also have a lot of responsibility. There are a lot of writers who slap a cover that screams “home made” on their book, don’t pay for an editor, and wonder after uploading it to Amazon or Kobo, why the money isn’t rolling in. Your greatest responsibility, as I see it, is engaging people and listening to the feedback. We’ve revamped the description for book 1 of The Yellow Hoods five times, and now see what the readers meant about it being way better. We have a new cover coming out that we shared with folks on Twitter and got a “Knocked it out of the park” reaction, which helped us set the direction for book 2. The thing a lot of people fail to realize is that as an indie, you’ve got nowhere to hide, so you better work your butt off.
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
I’m not unique in saying that I believe the agent/publisher vs self-publishing model is going to lose the ‘versus’ and really become three pieces that can partner. I believe there’s a lot that an indie author would happily hand off to professionals for part of the profits if they didn’t lose control and agility.
Tell us your thoughts concerning marketing in the age of social media.  Do you have a social media preference?
Hands down, bar none, if I didn’t have it I’d just sob in the corner, is Twitter. I’ve got a modest following on Twitter that I engage with daily. I banter with people, I share pieces of wisdom if I have them, I’ve gotten feedback from people and I’ve helped other budding authors by connecting and then giving feedback on their writing.
My experience with Facebook was terrible, and I’ve had this happen twice. I’ve created an official page, I’ve built up an audience, and then I’ve watched my ability to reach that audience decrease and decrease as Facebook seems to decide who should and shouldn’t be seeing my posts. I noticed a significant change in 2013 as they tweaked their algorithms, and another change after I paid for a Facebook ad. On Twitter, when I post everyone has the potential to see what I wrote. If they don’t and want to keep tabs on what I’m up to, they can join my newsletter. While I maintain my FB fan page for The Yellow Hoods, it’s really only because I haven’t decided to stop it entirely.
Looking a bit down the road, what’s next for you?
From a writing perspective, I’ve just written a DieselPunk short which I’m submitting for a compendium, and have already started to sketch out book 3 of The Yellow Hoods. I intend to make it a 5 part series. After book 3, I’ll likely write the first book in one of two other series I have in mind. My plan is to publish 2-3 books a year for the next 5 years, plus additional shorts on the side.
Zooming out a bit, as an author, I’m going to build my brand and my quality engagement with my readers. That means continuing to find the time to meet a budding author for coffee, or taking my lunch hour to read someone’s story to give them feedback, or chatting with people on Twitter. It also means continuing to get out to the local Fan Expos, presenting at more schools and learning and listening and improving.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.  Do you have any final thoughts?
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to reflect on where I’ve come and what I’ve learned. If there’s any single message that I can stress for a new writer, it’s get out of your comfort zone. In my case, I got way, way out of it.
Discover More About Adam Dreece:
Website: AdamDreece.com TheYellowHoods.com
Facebook:
Facebook.com/TheYellowHoods
Twitter: @AdamDreece
Amazon Author Page: http://amazon.com/author/adamdreece
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/AdamDreec

An Interview With Ksenia Anske

When I first joined the great wide Twitterland back in 2012, there were so many people chatting away on #amwriting that I began to feel a bit overwhelmed.  It was a sensory overload of declarations concerning various WIP’s, blog post plugs, and deeply attuned personal conversations too far gone for a new thought, when right smack in the middle of the noise I came across someone who stood out from the crowd to me.  There was this comment from Ksenia Anske:
 
“Bitter, sarcastic, biting indiscriminately. Being cute on rare occasions. YEAH, THAT’S ME.”
 
It doesn’t seem like much, but it relayed someone personable, someone who seemed real in this social media frenzy I was just learning to navigate through.  Naturally, I began following Ksenia Anske, and to my delight, the more I saw, the more I liked.  She was encouraging and quirky.  In October of 2012, I told her that I was trying to finish writing a chapter in my book.  Her response was: “trying? Trying?!? DO IT!”
 
After reading some of her work (See my review Of Rosehead under “Reviewed!”) I realized that this was a storyteller to pay attention to.  Ksenia Anske deserves the acclaim and success that she has earned, and I found myself wanting to tell other people about her tremendously creative stories.  
 
It was only a matter of time before I invited her to do this interview.  Thankfully, she didn’t bite.
 

Ksenia Anske

1. What’s the most embarrassing thing that you’ve ever done in your personal or professional life?
 
I’ve been invited to talk about writing to a class at Hugo House, a community writing center in Seattle, and, of course, at that time, me being a beginning writer, I was so excited. I put this into my calendar, and forgot about it. And I can’t remember exactly what happened. Either my calendar didn’t sync with my phone, or my phone didn’t sync with my calendar. Something. Anyway. When the day rolled around, I have been blissfully doing some home stuff, and then it hit me. Then I looked at the clock. Then I thought. Then I remembered. I think I made it, but was 30 minutes late. I was red in my face and so embarrassed. To this day, I’m terrified of forgetting things and double-triple check that I have put meetings or events on all calendars possible, but a couple times I did forget a few of them. Usually it happens once a year. Curse my memory. Oy.
 
2. How do you spend your time when you are not writing?
 
Reading. Seriously. If I don’t write, I read. If I don’t read, I tweet. If I don’t tweet, I write. Well, okay, sometimes I also eat and poop and sleep and all that nice body stuff. Well, sometimes my boyfriend takes me on motorcycle rides and I’ve been slowly learning how to ride one on my own. I also like to take pictures of things I see, like flowers, or worms, or whatever, and filter them to death and post them on Instagram and everywhere. But that is only sometimes. Okay, one more. Sometimes, after I read a book, if there is a movie that’s been made from it, I watch it. 
 
3. What do you read for pleasure?
 
Novels, mostly. Somehow I don’t get the same kick out of short stories, but I do read those too occasionally. I love sitting on the couch with a book in my hands, a real book. Hold it. Feel it. Sniff it. Leaf through it. Hug it, even, or kiss it, if I really like it.
 
4. How did you first get into writing?
 
I started writing for therapy. There was a dark time in my life when I suffered from depression and wanted to commit suicide, and writing pulled me out of darkness. In fact, my first trilogy, SIREN SUICIDES, is about a teenage girl who commits suicide. I wrote it for myself, and I never thought it would grow into 3 books, never imagined people would read it.
 
5. What comes to you first when working on a new story: plot or character?
 
Neither. I see an image. A picture. Like a photograph. A still from a movie. That movie is in my head, but I only see a snippet of it. And I want to find out what happens next, so I sit down and start writing. I don’t plot, don’t think, just write what comes, until I’m done with the 1st draft. Then I reread it, when I finished it, and start seeing what the story is really about. Takes me about 3 drafts to get it right.
 
6. Tell us a little about your writing process.
 
My writing process. Well, there is nothing special about it, it’s very boring, really. I just drink a lot of coffee, turn everything off (you know, the shiny Internets, even my phone) and write. And write. And write. I don’t let myself out of my room until I either wrote for 4 hours or wrote at least 2,000 words. Sometimes that can stretch to 9 hours, if I’m having a bad day. Still, I keep going until I have it done. Sometimes I fail and can’t squeeze anything more than 1,500 words. Sometimes I go crazy and produce 5,000 words. Then I read. Reading fuels me to do more writing. This is it, really. Oh, one more thing, I don’t plot. I just write. I have a scene, a picture in my head, and I start from there. It takes me usually 3-4 drafts to figure out what my story is really about.
 
7. What are the struggles/joys of parenthood that you find while being a writer?
 
Interruptions. I love my kids, but the interruptions sometimes get the best of me. I have trained everyone in the house not to come in and see me without knocking on my door. Then I asked them not even knock and only knock if it’s an emergency, but you know how kids are. A lost sock is an emergency. Still, after 1 year of writing full time, they now understand that interruptions kick me out of the flow (actually, every interruption costs me about 30 minutes of gathering back my brain) and let me work while my door is closed. Also, I am not as sensitive to interruptions now as I used to be. I’m trying to learn to write in any environment, even if it’s only 15 minutes here and there. 
 
8. You obviously have a fantastic fan base.  Can you tell us what your fans mean to you?
 
They’re like my family. I ran away from Russia to US, away from my not-so-pretty childhood and violent family history, and my readers are really my new family. My kids, my boyfriend, and my readers. And my friends. I have connected with people on a deeper level I could ever imagine. If I only knew that I could do this, I would have given up my career earlier, started writing earlier. Writing is really about sharing hearts, and I have so many people to share mine with, it makes me cry and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
 
9. You state that the reader is your publisher, and even offer your novels for free or to purchase.  What led you to that decision?
 
My first trilogy, SIREN SUICIDES, pulled me out of depression and suicidal thoughts. I decided that if I ever finish writing this book, I will give it away for free, because I wouldn’t be alive if not for this book. I wrote it to help people, those who contemplated suicide, those who went through depression. I can’t ask money for this. It’s not about money. And then, of course, as I wrote more novels, people kept asking, will you give them away for free as well? And I thought, why not? People can always come back and donate as much or as little they thought my books were worth to them on my site. And so I did. It became my thing. I give all my ebooks away for free. And always will.
 
10. What can you tell us about your upcoming novel, IRKADURA?
 
Oy. Well. That is. How to say it. It’s giving my nightmares. In a good way. I thought after having written a trilogy and another novel, this one, 3rd one, would be easy. I was so mistaken. I started writing it on the insistence of a dear friend and mentor, a thriller author Michael Gruber, and in the process of writing it I understood that I don’t really want to go back to the time when I was 17, and ran away from home, and got pregnant, and became a mom at 18, and the Soviet Union collapsed, and all that ugly chaos swept Russia, things were happening that I couldn’t understand. So IRKADURA is about this, somewhat based on my personal experiences. In the course of writing it, I first hated it, then loved it, than hated it again, wanted to quit, then added a magical realism layer to it, and now I love it. Actually, I love it very much and I think it’s my best writing yet. Of course, it will be for you to judge.
 
11. As a storyteller, how do you measure success?
 
If my story moved at least 1 reader, if at least 1 reader told me, hey, your book made my day, I’m happy. This is success to me. I helped another human being.
 
12. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
 
Yes. Write a lot and read a lot. Do nothing else. Don’t go to seminars, to clubs, groups, don’t take classes. Isolate yourself as much as you can, and write for at least 4 hours a day and read for at least 2 hours a day, better more (I usually catch up on the weekends). Contrary to popular belief, by mingling with other writers you won’t learn how to write better. You will learn some tricks, maybe, that worked for others, but you have to discover yourself as an artist, believe in yourself, and you can only do it by being alone, one-on-one, with yourself and your work. And reading the work of others will show you how they discovered it. Slowly, with time, it will alleviate your fears. It’s your fear that is your biggest enemy at the very beginning, and I’m sorry, there is no way to cut corners. This will take time, a long time and a lot of focus. Do it. Persevere. It will pay off.
 
13. Looking a bit down the road, what’s next for you?
 
PAGE JUMPERS! The next novel I’m writing, about 4 kids jumping in and out of books, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or The Hobbit. They learn how to jump between pages. This will be a fun book, like ROSEHEAD. After that, JANNA, a dark dark book about a black woman serial killer who kills rapists. And after that I have 8 more novels sketches out, so I’m good for at least several years. Oh, and, of course, figuring out how to survive. I make some money on selling my paperbacks, but not much, so I will probably be doing lots of Kickstarters. And, I’ve been selected as one of 115 semi-finalists for the Amrtak Residency program, so hopefully I will get in and get to write a novel about a carnivorous train while riding the actual train!
 
14. Final Thoughts?
 
I’m my happiest, since the day I started writing. I wish someone told me how wonderful it is to be a writer. Well, I’m telling you, it’s awesome. Become a writer. You get to be immature, you get to run around without pants, fart glitter, do videos of silly dances, and people think you’re smart and pay you money for it. What could be better?
 
Find out more about Ksenia Anske and her fantastic stories:

An Interview With J.C. Hart

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I’ve gotten to know J.C. Hart over the years, and met her on WordPress among an immense group of writers.  When she agreed to this interview, I wanted to pick her brain about the craft of writing because every writer is different.  The creative process is often like scattering puzzle pieces across a notepad and simply finding what fits, but sometimes there is more order and control to it.  When a writer finds that control, that perfect fit that works for them, stories are born.  

J.C. Hart is a founding member of both kiwiwriters.org and specficnz.org.  Her work appears in the Masters of Horror Anthology, A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction,Tales for Canterbury: Survival, Hope, Future, Regeneration: New Zealand Speculative Fiction II, and Baby Teeth: Bite-Sized Tales of Terror, among others.  For more information on the author, please visit just-cassie.com, where you can keep up to date with her projects past and future.    

What comes to you first when working on a new story: plot or character?

 

It’s almost always the character, and sometimes more broadly, the setting. I have very occasionally begun with a plot, and for me those are the hardest stories to write because you have to find the right character to tell the story – whereas if I have a character, it speaks to me and informs the way I’ll tell the story and that makes everything a whole lot easier.

 

Do the stories you write typically open with a person or a situation?

 

Well, I would say that they open with a character in a situation. I tend not to ‘set the scene’ in my openings so much as introduce a character who is dealing with something and then run from there.

 

Do you find your characters to be inspiring to you as an author?  What compels you to write them?

 

There are two ways in which I can be compelled to write a characters story – either they pop into my head fully formed and I can’t help myself from writing it, or they appear, a mysterious character who reveals themselves over time and captures my interest with intrigue. Funnily enough, there are the occasional characters that do both, appearing to be fully formed and then revealing small things that change the way I see them, and the way I write the story.

Are they inspiring? Sometimes. I admire their strength, their courage, their determination, but then I know that in some way my characters are like me, and that I possess some of those qualities. And in the same way that they have their positive attributes, they are also flawed. Human.

 

Does writing dialogue come easy to you, or is it something you have to work at? What are some of your strategies for writing the strongest possible dialogue for your characters?

 

I find writing dialogue comes fairly naturally to me. I’ve spent a lot of my life watching other people, listening – the bonus of being an introvert 😉 So my best advice would be to think about how people actually talk. Yes, yes, we need to get information across sometimes in a story that people might not normally talk about, but you can make it come out in a natural way. Think about what kind of world your characters are operating in, and that will affect the way they speak and interact, and then make sure you’re consistent and that your characters don’t all sound like the same person.

 

You are a founding member of SpecFicNZ.  Tell us a little bit about that.

 

SpecFicNZ is an organization that we set up a few years back, designed to support and promote speculative fiction authors in NZ. Back when we began, there wasn’t anything else around, and we created a community where authors can get to know each other, promote their work and look for opportunities. While NZ is a small country, we’re also quite spread out, and for the likes of me, in a small city, it’s nice to feel like I’m part of a wider community of authors who are all working with the challenges that face writers in a small country.

 

With the emergence of e-books, what are your thoughts concerning the self-publishing market today?  Do you consider self-publishing to be a stronger decision than approaching traditional publishing houses? 

 

That’s a bit of a loaded question isn’t it? Lol I think self-publishing has come a really long way in the last decade or so. I remember the days when it was like, the worst decision ever to self-publish, something akin to signing your death warrant and you best forget about traditionally publishing after that because they won’t touch you now, kind of attitudes around it. The landscape is vastly different these days, to the point that friends and family often ask me why I don’t just self-pub my work – it’s a viable option, it’s no longer going to ‘ruin’ your career, and even the non-writers can see the benefits of it. It’s definitely an option everyone should at least consider.

All that aside, I don’t know that I’d call it the ‘stronger’ decision. It really comes down to what you want as a writer. If you want books on shelves in bookstores or literary awards, then you’re best bet is probably still traditional publishing. But if what you want is a career, and for people to read your books, then self-publishing is definitely a good way to go. That said, I would caution that you still put in the hard work, write an awesome book, polish it until it’s the best it can be, and make sure you’ve got a kick ass cover before doing so. If you’re going to self-pub, do it right, give it the same time and effort as if you were going to submit traditionally.

 

What advice do you have for aspiring authors hoping to make it through the slush piles?

 

Aside from the obvious – write an awesome book and edit it well – the best advice is to follow the guidelines! Every market/publisher/agent is different, and your best bet at getting read in the first place is making sure you read the guidelines and follow them to the letter. Some places are okay when you forget one or two things, other places are very firm about rejecting without reading if you haven’t followed instructions. Alongside this, do your research, not every market is going to be a good fit for you, so focus your efforts and approach the places that would be.

But really, just write great stories, and don’t take rejection too personally. There are so many reasons a story/novel might not get accepted, and not all of them are that your book was bad.