Archives for July 2017

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Meet Jeanette Watts in Our Third Author Q&A

Welcome to Em T. Wytte’s Third Author Q&A, featuring the fabulous Jeanette Watts! I say fabulous because anyone who can manage to work, sew, run 5 dance groups, and write multiple books is pretty amazing.

But as Levar Burton would say, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”

An Interview with Author Jeanette Watts

Meet Jeanette Watts in Our Third Author Q&A


 1. What was your first finished book?

Wealth and Privilege

2. How many books did you start or work on before finishing that book?

I wrote countless fan fiction books when I was a kid – I don’t think there WAS such a thing as fan fiction in those days! But my friends and I loved Star Wars, and I had my own characters, and told stories to my friends in installments.

3. If it wasn’t the first book you worked on, what made this book different? What made you finish this one?

Love. I love these characters! Thomas is a decent man surrounded by flawed and selfish people. He’s flawed, but lovable. And he loves Regina the way I think every woman wants to be loved: wholeheartedly.

4. What was the biggest challenge you encountered when finishing your first book?

Finding an agent! I spent five years looking for an agent, before my friends finally convinced me to publish straight to Kindle. I should have listened to them a year earlier than I did. Agents are crazy. They ask you to rewrite your book to their specifications, and then they don’t like your book anymore…

5. If you’ve written books since then, was writing them easier/harder? How was the experience different?

I’d heard that “the first book is the hardest.” It’s true. Somehow, once you’ve completely written one, something changes in your brain, and you know HOW to complete other books. My first book took 10 years to write. When my readers insisted I write a sequel, it took maybe two years.

6. Have you published your book? If yes, what medium(s) did you publish it in and why?

I started on Kindle, and then I had people clamoring for a hard copy. I published through CreateSpace, and Smashwords, and now I have people asking when the audiobook is coming out. Demand is a good thing.

7. Who did your cover art? What was that experience like?

The words “cover art” always make me laugh. When I published on Kindle, I had followed the instructions, proudly hit the button, and it said “congratulations, your book is on Kindle! Now upload your cover art.” I stared blankly at the screen and said, “Oh. Yeah, I guess I should have seen that coming…” I am a Vintage dancer, all I had to do was sort through 3 years of vacation photos and I had several options I could use. My husband is a marvelous graphic artist, he chose a photo, tinkered with it, and I’ve had people tell me I obviously spent a fortune on my cover art.

The story doesn’t end there… once I published hard copies, I uploaded my novel, proudly uploaded my cover art saying “Ha! I’ve got this.” Then I was asked to upload the BACK cover art. I slapped myself on the forehead and said, “Wow. I REALLY should have seen that one coming.” I told my husband I need a back cover, without missing a beat he told me I needed a photo of a woman’s gloved hand on the chest of a man in a tailcoat. Which is exactly what’s on the back cover of my book…

8. How are you marketing your book(s)?

In the most haphazard manner possible. I love getting to book fairs as much as possible, and I should really do more of them! I’ve done virtual book tours, book signings at independent bookstores, done podcast interviews, and bought various packages through AmericaStar.

9. What is your next step?

Finishing my next book, so that I can get on with writing the one after that! Just one more round of proofreading, and Jane Austen Lied to Me is ready to be released. I took a mental vacation from historic fiction and wrote a contemporary satire. I thought that would be “easier,” not having to do all the historical research. I was wrong.

10. What is your favorite part of writing?

Writing just feels good. Getting the words out of my head, and onto paper (well, computer screen…). Having the characters blossom under your fingertips. You start with an idea, and it grows into something more powerful than you. Your characters take on a life of their own, and even when you have a preconceived notion of where things are going to go, when you’ve done it right, the characters stop doing what they’re told – they tell YOU what is going to happen, what they are going to do.

11. What is your biggest struggle with writing?

Keeping all the distractions away! I am also a dance instructor, and I have started five dance groups at the same time I’ve been writing, publishing, and promoting books. The writing will get set aside for a cancan dancer who needs a new costume. Or a dancer who needs some emotional support because of family drama, and instead of an evening of writing, I’m out being a girlfriend and there’s alcohol or chocolate involved. Then I step on the scale, groan, and I have to spend more time in the gym or out on a bicycle, working off the extra calories from the night out.

12. What do you consider your weakest writing skill and what have you done to strengthen it or make up for it?

Well, I have a weakness for ambiguous endings… I got in trouble with that with my readers. So Brains and Beauty has a more traditional, wrap-up-all-the-loose-threads-they-lived-happily-ever-after ending. I don’t like it as well, but it made people happy, and they forgave me for the first one. Except of course the people who thought the first one was perfect the way it was, and now they’re disappointed in me! So I think the moral of the story is, “Never forget that you can’t make everyone happy.”

13. Do you now or have you ever done writing prompts? Did they help?

Nope, and nope. I’m having trouble keeping up with my brain, which has all these stories in there, and I don’t write fast enough to suit it. I don’t need a prompt to give me something to write about. I would just like to be able to catch up to everything I want to write!

14. Have you take any writing classes? Which ones? What was your biggest take-away?

I am an English major, so I had quite a few writing classes. Two professors left an indelible impression on me, and my writing. One used to hand out writing assignments, and then he’d say, “Just be brilliant!” And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t. He told me “if you treat people like idiots, they will perform like idiots. If you treat them like geniuses, they will perform like geniuses.” I have lived by his philosophy ever since. The second professor taught me how to ignore that evil censor monkey that sits in our brains, forcing us to rewrite every sentence as soon as we’ve written it. His technique was to spit out the words, all of them, and then go back later and edit. It’s always easier to edit words that are already on the page than it is to find the right words in the first place.

15. What is your writing background?

As I mentioned, one of my bachelor’s degrees is in English. I double-majored with Cinema-Television; I thought I wanted to write soap operas for a living when I grew up. Never got to the soap operas, but I’ve worked in marketing departments and for marketing firms, I’ve written television commercials, screenplays, one-act stage plays for a festival with a wild west theme, a textbook on waltzing, and skits for a local history museum.

16. Have you ever written in a writing circle? What did you think?

I tried that once. You were supposed to pay $20 a visit, and bring ONE page in for everyone to critique. Besides being expensive when we’re talking about a 400 page book, people were “critiquing” minutiae, because you can’t get much character development in one page.

Since then, I’ve developed a large stable of proofreader/editors. I give out rough drafts of the entire manuscript when I think it’s “done” enough, and then I get 10-12 insightful read-throughs who give me wonderful feedback!

17. When and where do you write?

I love to write in pretty places. I have gotten so much done in hotel lobbies while my husband was at a conference. Friends of mine have a cabin in Canada that is the BEST place to hide and write, with Lake Erie in front of me. One time I took a few days before a dance weekend and hid out in a cabin in the Allegheny National Forest. Creek burbling away to my right, a giant hill covered in trees to my left. Found a really, really good winery on that trip when I stopped to take a break for a while…

18. Who are your favorite authors?

Margaret Mitchell and Louisa May Alcott

19. What is the #1 advice you would give to people who want to be writers?

Just do it. Stop making excuses. You are going to have to make it a priority – but think about it. What’s more important, getting the laundry done, or getting some writing done?


What do you think? Did you learn something?

Personally, I’ve gotta say that I am loving the author Q&A series so far – seeing the overlap in our feelings toward writing, learning about our differences and their causes, and, best of all, getting to know so many creative people better!

The authors’ candor and humor are what make these interviews both fascinating and useful. So a big thanks to Jeanette for being this month’s author!

Want to be the August author? Fill out the author Q&A form!

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Breaking Hyperbole as Writing Inspiration

breaking hyperbole as writing inspirationBreaking hyperbole as writing inspiration is one of the mainstays of creative writing. Especially genres like fantasy and science fiction. And since this tactic is so common, I’m guessing it’s not going to be a totally unfamiliar idea for most writers. That’s why this article isn’t meant to be a treasure trove of new ideas.

Although that would be cool. 

My goal instead is to make you more conscious of how you’ve used hyperbole as a worldbuilding or inspiration technique. Analyzing the techniques we use helps us be more deliberate in our methods – it lets us consciously choose to use them (or not) based on our goals and what we want to achieve.

How to Break Hyperbole for Writing Inspiration

All You Need Is Hyperbole and a Literal Mind 

Like most figurative language, hyperbole (when used correctly) works because the reader knows not to take it literally. It’s great for making people aware of details (without blatantly pointing them out), adding humor, and writing dialogue for characterization. 

Here’s an example:

Milly: Oh, I used to dance and flirt the night away. But that was a thousand years ago!

When the character says this, we don’t assume that she’s over a thousand years old. Instead, we understand that the situation happened a long time ago and that the character either likes using sayings or exaggerations (or doesn’t want to say specifically how long ago it was).

In short, a hyperbole gives us an impression of the truth without being the actual truth.

But what if the character were speaking literally? What if it actually has been a thousand years since she danced and flirted the night away? It’s possible in fantasy stories, right? Possibly even science fiction.

Well, in that case, there is no exaggeration, which means there is no hyperbole. It’s not even figurative language at that point. Instead, the statement is the literal truth.

So when you take hyperbole literally, it’s not hyperbole anymore.

That’s why I called this activity breaking hyperbole. If hyperbole were the goal, you wouldn’t want to do this. For this exercise, however, hyperbole is a means to an end – not what you were aiming for.

Exaggerate Reality to Create Fantasy

Many of my writing prompts involve using elements of real life in the story (people watching, the library inspired writing prompt, Food as a Writing Prompt, etc.). And, oddly enough, when writing for them, you may have also used this one (What?)

As I said before, breaking hyperbole is a common part of the creative process. In other words, it’s a way of transforming reality into something new for your world or your story. Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick something from real life.
  2. Write a hyperbole about it.
  3. Take the hyperbole literally.
  4. Expand that literal interpretation to create something new.

Lizards could inspire dragons, speed trains could inspire instantaneous travel by train, and a lush garden could inspire a flower world. Or 50 other things. Whatever style or genre you write in can find inspiration by exaggerating reality to form new truths – even romance exaggerates reality for the sake of the story (and we all know to never let the truth get in the way of a good story).

It’s pretty obvious that most writers do this in one way or another. Now that I’ve made you think about it (theoretically), though, you can choose to use it deliberately on days when you’re at a loss for ideas. If nothing else, may it get your creative engine started and lead you in new directions.

Happy writing! Have fun breaking hyperbole – or storming the castle, whatever!

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Sense of Urgency Is Like a Splinter

sense of urgency is like a splinter

No, not the rat.

It wasn’t until discussing the either or mentality a few months ago that I realized that I had somehow overlooked talking about sense of urgency (In a writing blog – how is that even possible?). Immediately, I put it on my list for later. Today, later is here, and it comes with a simile: sense of urgency is like a splinter.

Sense of Urgency:
Importance, Attention, & Deadlines

Talking about a sense of urgency has grown more and more popular not only in writing but also in business. Books must have a strong sense of urgency to be more gripping and fast-paced, and people must have a strong sense of urgency to make their businesses take off.

Ok. But what does that mean?

What Is a Sense of Urgency?

Well, in business, it’s your motivation and your level or intensity of caring. The elusive emotion drives you to get tasks done and tackle more. In years past, it would’ve been called “ambition.”

In writing, it’s fairly similar; however, you (the reader) are not the one feeling a sense of urgency – the main character is. Yes, we as readers respond to the main character’s need to succeed at a goal, but it isn’t our need (although, for extreme fans or those with major empathy, it can be hard to tell the difference…).

Uh-huh. And it’s like a splinter how?

Gotcha covered. It’s time to take this simile to the next level: the analogy. Don’t worry – all silliness aside, the comparison does actually make sense.

What Do Splinters and Sense of Urgency Have in Common?

I’m glad you asked. Here are a few of the items I’ve put together. Before I get into them, however, I’d like you to stop a moment to think about the splinters you’ve had over the years. From least to most memorable. Think about the irritation, the random pain when you first discovered it was there (How do they get there without being noticed?!), the intense concentration of operating on yourself to get it out – you know, the whole shebang. Got it in your head? Ok. Here we go.

Sense of urgency is like a splinter because both…

  1. Vary in size and importance (A small wood splinter versus bamboo under the fingernails. Big difference. Oh, and ever get a metal splinter? You know, the type Bruce Willis pulled out of his arm to use as a lockpick in Die Hard with a Vengeance? I have. Believe me, a normal splinter’s got nothing on that!)
  2. Hold your attention (even when you’re trying to focus on other things)
  3. Have a deadline (However vague – such as “before I type anymore because ow” or “before gangrene sets in, and I lose this finger”)
  4. Grow in importance the longer the issue remains (AKA, the closer you get to the deadline or the more side problems crop up because of it. And you thought it had your attention before it was red and swollen! Ha!)

Yes, a sense of urgency does all of those things.

Take #1, for instance. When a teacher tells you that your book needs a sense of urgency, you think of the main goal – the problem to be resolved in the climax. But there are plenty of little problems and conflicts that need a sense of urgency, too. A scene where a character has no driving need to do anything is a scene that’s dead in the water. Even if it’s as simple or small as a need to entertain themselves while waiting for someone, the character always has some motivation.

And, don’t forget, the character’s the one driving the plot, right?

As far as number 2, a sense of urgency is a splinter in your brain. Instead of pain distracting you, it’s ideas or a feeling that you need to get it done. It’s like having trouble concentrating at work because you have a million things to do at home. Or how artists tends to find ideas for their art in everything – because their art is never far from their minds!

Oh, and as far as #3, if you’re a procrastinator, you’ll understand the next sentence perfectly: you can’t have a sense of urgency without a deadline. If you can wait to do it tomorrow, why would you do it now? What’s in it for you?

The ticking clock is a cliche because it works. Having a deadline automatically creates at least some sense of urgency. In fact, the only way the ticking clock doesn’t work as a tool is if the character doesn’t care about the consequences.

Speaking of consequences, that’s also a way of heightening a sense of urgency, and it’s part of why the deadline is important as well as the variation idea (and #4). What’s the difference between homework due tomorrow and stopping a villain from destroying the Earth? Well, other than genre or trope, namely the scale of the consequences.

That’s how you differentiate between your conflicts and increase the sense of urgency for the climax. As a general rule, the main conflict should not only have more deadly or frightening consequences, but those consequences should also increase or get worse the closer the character gets to the climax. That can be simply because the result will be much worse if not taken care of before the deadline, or it could be because the situation grows increasingly complicated, resulting in worse dangers.

It’s particularly powerful if the actions that the main character takes to stop the dangers actually increases them (or, at least, the ancient Greek writers thought so…).

Hubris aside, though, that’s how motivation is like a splinter.

Speaking of which, *may your personal sense of urgency to write be like a long, nasty metal splinter that aggravates you so thoroughly you have no choice but to face it down (AKA: I hope you write.)

*A little Ray Bradbury-esque, but I meant it as a blessing.

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Euphemisms for Death Can Be a Bit Disturbing

euphemisms for death can be a bit disturbingI’m not a big fan of most euphemisms for death. I understand that many of them come from a time when death (and other unpleasant matters) was not discussed in polite company. That said, with the evolution of language, some of those euphemisms for death can be a bit disturbing. Generally because the phrase is more commonly used for something else – something you wouldn’t say about a dead person.

My Least Favorite Euphemisms for Death

This thought originally started when I worked for a doctor. Whenever we got word that a patient had died, we would notify the doctor, prepare a condolence card, and finally, remove the file and label the front with “deceased.” Occasionally, however, someone would write the first of these options below instead, and it never quite set right with me.

 1. Expired

You see the problem with this, right? It made the patient seem like a product that’s past its shelf life. Eep. 

Even though I can see the metaphor (and often have a pretty dark sense of humor), I was never comfortable using the same terminology for a person that I would use for a gallon of milk.

2. Lost 

You hear this more from older generations: “We lost your great uncle in the winter of ’48.” Or during this war or x years ago. And with the feelings of loss that come with a death of a loved one, the word makes a great deal of sense.

On the other hand, we usually use “lost” when there is an opportunity to be “found.” And that doesn’t work so well in this case.

Maybe, it’s my literal brain talking, but “lost” is a word used for keys or pets – something you’ve misplaced. If you say that about a person, I expect them to have disappeared or be left behind somewhere. 

And that thought’s doubtlessly been strengthened by all the writers and comedians who’ve used that double meaning for comedy. Which, honestly, makes it feel even less appropriate to use seriously.

3. Asleep

Whose brilliant idea was this?

Sorry. I can understand a grieving parent not knowing hot to tell an innocent child that Mother/Father has died. And if the child sees the body laid out, I can see where it would be natural to leave the impression that the person is sleeping. It’s understandable and very human. 

But… all I can think about is how horribly wrong it’s likely to go in the long run.

If the child doesn’t really understand, waiting and wondering why the person refuses to wake up can take a toll. Not to mention how the parent’s pain would be renewed with each innocent, “When is Mommy going to wake up?”

Add the trauma and struggle that bedtime is liable to become when the parent finally breaks and says, “She isn’t.” The idea that you can keep sleeping forever? Against your will? Sounds like a good reason never to go to bed again!

And, yes, I realize that these are probably extreme cases, but comparing death to sleep really seems to do more harm than good. Leave it to Shakespearian plays and move on.

4. Resting in Peace

Obvious similar problems to the last one, right? Only in addition to that, there’s an implication that the peace could end. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if superstitions about disturbing graves could be traced back to this phrase.

Yep. I can see a direct correlation to zombie movies, too. For some reason (perhaps today’s parlance), “rest” simply isn’t as deep and as hard to disturb as “sleep.” Like the dead are keeping their ears open to make sure you’re behaving. 

Or maybe that was the story parents told their children to make them behave. Because that idea is totally kid-friendly. It’s not disturbing at all. Nooo.

5. Bought a on-way ticket / Bought the farm / Checked out / Departed / Kicked the Bucket / Took a permanent vacation

Ok. I can’t say that any one of these is horribly disturbing on its own because they mostly sound kind of funny (with the exception of “departed.” And “permanent vacation” [You mean, “retirement”?]).

What disturbs me is that they’re all things you can do when alive. In fact, when my grandmother bought the family farm a few years ago (literally), discussing the sale caused all manner of confusion. Although the discussions were occasionally hilarious, it seems strange (and creepy) that you’d want anyone to be confused about the fact that someone had died.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I’d want to misunderstand. In either direction.

I guess that’s why I’m not fond of euphemisms for death in the 1st place. There are too many opportunities for added confusion, which means added pain. That and the fact that some of them seem downright disrespectful or inappropriate. 

What do you think? Would you rather be told that someone died or that that person was lost? Or kicked the bucket? Is that disturbing to you?