Tag Archives: write a novel

Spotlight on Zoe Ambler

Last week author and blogger Zoe Ambler was kind enough to feature an interview with me about my writing and publishing adventures.
zoe2
This week I’m turning the tables and inviting Zoe into my spotlight too answer some daft questions about her work! I’m hoping this will be the first in a series of posts featuring other writers who have books already out there in the world.
Ready Zoe? First question:

When did you start writing?

I started writing fan-fiction when I was in my early twenties…and then progressed to more detailed stories by way of role-play gaming. When I had no one as a writing partner, I wrote elaborate stories for my characters to flesh them out. I can get quite wordy…>_>

What was your path to publication?

My path to publication was more like trying to trek my way through a jungle or swamp with a machete. Set back after set back. I decided, with a lot of weighing of the pros and cons, to self publish. It’s not as easy as some make it seem. I have regrets, but I’ve learned from them, and with the next book, those mistakes won’t happen!

Who was your biggest influence when you were starting out?

Out of the authors out there, I’d say Stephen King and Anne Rice. I could really connect with the characters they set out. Now, on the personal side, a great influence was my mother and older sister. NAG NAG NAG…”You need to publish that!” was screeched at me a lot. 😀

What was your favourite piece of writing advice?

Never rush things. Too many mistakes can be made. Also, write every day, whether it’s a blog entry, a gaming story, or reaching a word count on a story. If you don’t see fresh entries on my blog for a few days, you can pretty much bet that I’m working on a role play thread/story, or I’m working on my next book.

If you could send one Tweet back in time to your younger self, what would you say? And would you listen?

I’d tell myself “Slow down, you silly ass. Quit rushing.” And no, I probably wouldn’t listen. I’m a rebel like that. 😀

What’s the logline for your book?

Vampires, demons, war and voodoo. One little fierce vampire defies all that might redeem her, until finally she meets her match. Not your typical vampire story!

Do you take part in a writing circle, either online or in real life?

Hmm..not really. I mean, I role play game, that’s a little like a writing circle, but specific groups, no, I know I should. I’m shy around new people, and ooze low self esteem sometimes. I’m working on it!

and finally,

What’s the one word you always type wrong?
‘separate’ I always want to write ‘seperate’. >_<
Thanks for your honesty Zoe! Now, to learn more:
Author Bio:
Zoe Ambler hails from Enterprise, Alabama. She’s 44 years old and broke through into writing by way of role-play gaming, which she still loves to this day.
She has traveled the world, being a ‘military brat’, but always finds her way back home. Her hobbies include sketching, playing violin (badly), collecting oddities and office supplies. Zoe is often found spoiling her fat cat and obsessing over coffee and the coming zombie apocalypse.
Book cover
Zoe’s first book is called “The Road of Darkness”. Here’s what you need to know about it:
The Road of Darkness is the story of Addison. She’s a young Southern Belle in early 1700 Louisiana with a love for Voodoo. She’s a child of privilege, but never really let it go to her head. She was always a little odd.
On an innocent outing, Addison falls prey to a supernatural predator. A vampire. He attacks and turns her, then leaves her to lost and alone with this new hunger for blood. However, unlike most, she embraces this new ‘life’. She finds delight in it. A darkness grows within her.
Like any young vampire left to fend for themselves, she stumbles in her new existence. She meets others here and there, and the world of the paranormal opens up to her.
Due in part to her thrill of bloodlust, she becomes fascinated with war. Soon she is moving from country to country, war to war. Man’s evolution and technology in the art of warfare intrigues her.
Through her time and adventures, she has fleeting bits of both happiness and sorrow. The darkness within her will only allow her so much happiness.
Her link with all things Voodoo brings her into the servitude of the Baron Semedi, demi-god of the Underworld. A deal gone bad. It only serves to deepen that darkness.
Where can you find “The Road of Darkness”?
And where can you find out more about Zoe and what she’s up to?
Best of luck with “The Road of Darkness” Zoe, and I look forward to seeing the sequel soon!
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Writing an award-winning blockbuster YA novella that really sells in 30 days!

By Jenifr M’nchylde (author of “I nearly wrote a book once, it was really good but no one was brave enough to publish it”)

 

My soon to be released epic : Mytosis! First in a series of probably twenty three novels. Depending on whether I get a film deal or not....

My soon to be released epic : Mytosis! First in a series of probably twenty three novels. Depending on whether I get a film deal or not….

We all know that authors are the new pop stars. Every teenager wants to be the next Stephanie Meyer, or whoever it was who wrote “Fifty Shades of Gray”.

But how can YOU get that level of success? And more importantly, how can you do it FAST and without any boring “learning how to do it properly” kind of tedium?

Well, the answer is: You can’t. But let’s pretend you can, and any failure of the scheme is down to someone else being too selfish or shortsighted to recognise your genius!

Have you lowered your IQ and raised your expectations to “Unreasonably High”? Good, then let’s begin.

Step 1: Protagonist.

Yuck! A big word! Ignore it. Try this instead:

Heroine: With the “e” on the end, this means “Girl Hero”, and you’re going to need one! No one buys vapid books like teen girls who have been told it’s the “in” book of the week. Except maybe pseudo-intellectuals when the Booker Shortlist is announced. She needs to be feisty, tough, emotionally raw and red-haired. No, I don’t know what “emotionally raw” means, but cheer up, neither does anyone else. It’s best if she only has one parent. Doesn’t matter which, neither gender stands a chance of understanding her. Why? Because she’s EMOTIONALLY RAW! Pay attention!

Step 2: Plot

This really isn’t very important. I mean, yeah, if you want to write an actual STORY like the Harry Potter series, you might want some kind of actual, you know, character goals, antagonist aims, world building guidelines and conflicting ambitions… But if you’re interested in all that, you’re probably a geeky swot who’s actually going to PRACTISE writing, and develop your craft. So go do that. We’re making money here.

In this case, plot is just “How to get your girl hero to agonise over which boy to choose.” Does she have to fight for the hand of the Rich Boy, even though the Poor Boy Next Door is really hunky? Is she promised in marriage to her proud but shapely cousin, while the evil but seriously pumped stranger crashes into her life when his dirigible collides with her house? Whichever line you go with, the important thing to remember is that there must be two boys, each equally hunky, each with simultaneously no interest in our heroine and madly lusting after her at the same time. It goes without saying that the two boys can’t stand each other. They probably fight at some point. Maybe in the river, their shirts soaked, the wet material clinging to….sorry, where was I?

Step 3: Cover art

This is the most important part of the whole thing. You need the brooding boys on the cover, preferably stripped to the waist. Don’t worry if they never strip to the waist in the story (although, if they don’t, you’re really missing something…) Maybe a moon would be good, especially if you have a supernatural element to the story. Oh, and the title should be in shiny lettering. And just one word. Doesn’t have to be anything to do with the story. One word titles are cool.

Step 4: Selling!

You have a couple of options here. One is “Word of mouth”. Get everyone you know to buy the book and tell their friends it was great. This works really well if one of your friends is Oprah or someone else with their own tv show.

Another option is to buy reviews. There are some unscrupulous folks out there who will return great reviews for cash, but it’s not easy to find them. You may offend a few people on your quest to find ones who’ll take a bribe, but keep looking! This is the hard work part!

Of course, you could submit to a regular publisher and go through their process for new authors, but let’s not kid ourselves : If you were that kind of writer, you wouldn’t have been googling “How to write a YA novel in 30 days” in the first place.

Oh, and I nearly forgot!

Step 2.5: WRITING!

Sorry, yes, keep forgetting this bit. Somewhere along the line you’ll have to actually get some words down on paper about your girl hero, her red hair, the hunky boys and what happens to them. You don’t have to come up with a complete story, just set up some big thing, get the boys into a fight or two, and then leave everything hanging. Do that three or four times and you’ve got yourself a SERIES! You can round it off by having the girl cloned so there’s one for each boy, or if you’re a real downer type, flip a coin and kill off one of the boys.

But the key thing, as all writers know is hooking your reader on the first page. So success could come down to this one question : Are you a good hooker?

Tune in next week for my new blog post on subjects I know F**k all about: Brain Surgery! Make sure the colour of your scrubs goes with your eyes, because it’s all about looking good!

IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE NEW INTERNET GUIDELINES, I HAVE TO POINT OUT THAT THIS ENTIRE ARTICLE IS SATIRE.

Sheesh.

An Unpopular Truth

It's going to take work to get your book to the top of the pile...

It’s going to take work to get your book to the top of the pile…

The past few years have seen a tremendous rise in the variety of “…For Dummies” books. Now available on almost every conceivable subject, these books show that there is a belief that anything – any subject, any activity, any skill – can be made EASY.

Not easier. Easy.

Adverts for nicotine-dispensing chewing gum, or electronic cigarettes push the idea that withdrawing from smoking can be done with ease. Without effort or discomfort.

The sad and unpopular truth, is that all these ideas are wrong.

It’s certainly possible to buy a book called, for example   “7 Easy steps to write your book”  

You can follow the advice inside and find it’s a better way to write than the method you previously used. It may take less time, or be more efficient.

But YOU still have to write your novel. YOU still have to have the idea and commit to writing the words down. Maybe 100,000 of them. The new method may (and probably WILL) help sort your ideas out, give you a structure to work within. It may make it EASIER to write, but it’s unlikely to make it easy.

This is a good thing.

Because worthwhile things take hard work to produce. Michelangelo’s “David” wasn’t bashed out in an afternoon. Lennon and McCartney took more than five minutes to write their songs, and even that writing came at the price of years of playing and singing to develop their skills. Yes, some people seem to have an innate ability to do something wonderful, whether it’s playing, or singing, or drawing or water-skiing, but that ability is never enough to carry them all the way to greatness. That ability usually only confers a love of the medium, a love that ensures they are happy to put in the time that improves on their natural skills. It never feels like work if you love doing it.

Giving up smoking isn’t easy. Why should it be? You’re kicking an addiction, having to change ingrained habits. You’re not just learning to cope with a craving for a smoke you can’t have, you’re finding ways to occupy hands that usually fiddle with a cigarette, avoiding buying new packs of smokes in the shops you visit every week, turning down offers of cigarettes from friends who haven’t quit… Gum may help with one aspect of that struggle, but it’s not going to be the answer to everything. That will take effort.

Part of that effort could be examining these helpful guides though. Certainly many hints and tips exist to help a new author find a different method of approaching their work. To find a different organisational system, a different method of plotting, of outlining, of editing. All these possibilities might improve your work, reduce the number of times you have to backtrack or review what you’ve done. It IS worth looking at them, and speaking to other writers and editors to learn what you can from their experience.

Nothing will make completing your work EASY, nothing will do the work for you, but you CAN be more efficient, be more organised and be more realistic about the work involved.

This post is a response to a recent discussion about “overnight success” and how rarely that phrase is accurate in the world of publishing or screenwriting. All that happens overnight is that the wider world becomes aware of someone who has put in a great deal of work in private before something reaches a tipping point and they achieve success.

Please feel free to argue with this assessment of the situation in the comments below.

Incidentally, I did give up smoking, using a two-step plan I devised myself. Step one was “not buy any more cigarettes”. Step two was “Don’t smoke anyone else’s cigarettes”. It was a simple plan, but it was not easy.

 

Follow the PenMonkey – The Truth of Chuck Wendig

Actually, I’m already having second thoughts about that title. Still, here we go…

Screenshot of Chuck's blog. Reproduced without permission, and I fully expect to be eaten by wild dogs as a result. And not in a good way.

Screenshot of Chuck’s blog. Reproduced without permission, and I fully expect to be eaten by wild dogs as a result. And not in a good way.

Chuck Wendig is wise. He dispenses a good deal of wisdom on the subject of writing in his blog, but the latest post I read really summed up the grim truth of writing:

You have to DO IT!

I am lazy. I’ve tried about a dozen different musical instruments, searching for the one that I can play without effort. I had a go at lots of different sports to see if I had an aptitude for any of them without lots of practice. In my life, the two disciplines I have stuck with are juggling and writing, and they have remained because…well…

Juggling WAS actually that mystical thing that just clicked. I could do it straight away, or at least with enough ease that I was willing to put in the work to get even better. I’ve taught juggling for long enough to know that it is this way for some people. My earliest juggling partner, Dougie, could watch a trick being done a few times, then just give it a go and it would usually work out. He was a natural, better than me. My good friend Mike didn’t have the same flow, but he had way more determination and would work at a trick until it worked. Months, if necessary. If I’d had to put in that effort, I would have walked away.

Writing hasn’t been easy, but I wanted to be a writer, and with the birth of Eldest Weasel I was given the opportunity to try it. Early success in the sale of a story and an article gave me encouragement, and I had the support of Mrs Dim, something for which I can never be grateful enough.

So even though the actual writing wasn’t easy, the ideas have never stopped coming, and I have never lost the desire to be a writer. But by nature, I’m what writers call a “pantser”, following where the story leads and hoping it’ll get where it’s going in a reasonable word count. It can be an exhilarating journey, but you have to be prepared for the occasional trip down a blind alley, or running out of steam in the wilderness. In my virtual desk drawer I have more than one great idea that’s still awaiting the arrival of roadside assistance to de-coke the engine and refill the tank.

So Chuck is right – the deepest truth, the unavoidable fact is that YOU MUST WRITE. There’s no easy way, no method to skip the work and get the prize, you have to write. To coin another metaphor, you have to go down to the coalface and hack out your story. No argument from me.

But here’s something I’ve learned, (and maybe Chuck would agree): While you’re hacking away, sometimes it’s good to step back and look at THE WAY you’re working. Are you using the right end of your pickaxe? Are you swinging with a steady rhythm? Could you maybe use a power drill? And lots of other mining-type questions. I’ve been a pantser for years, and it’s worked pretty well, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way I can write. Maybe trying a new method will reduce the number of unfinished pieces, and make better use of my time at the coalface, as it were.

2000 cover

To this end I picked up “2000 – 10000” by Rachel Aaron, a book that promised to improve your daily word count. That wasn’t exactly my aim, since I’m mostly writing plays, but increased efficiency is a good goal. The book is short, and available for the Kindle, so I downloaded it and read it in one evening. It makes a lot of sense.

Rachel’s main point – the one that resonated most with me – is that working out the story is most of the heavy lifting. And pantsers like me do that work while we’re writing. We’re not just hacking out our coal, we’re trying to work out where the best seam is, indicate it to other miners, ensure everyone is wearing the correct safety equipment and make lunches for the miners WHILE STILL MINING! (This was a lousy metaphor. I should have used ships instead.) She said that by taking five minutes at the start of her writing time to outline what she was aiming to write, the bones of the scenes, she could write with more confidence and better direction. She had to edit less, because she knew the whole scene was worthwhile, and she knew how it was going to play out.

For someone whose stories have often gone off the rails as the characters grab the plot and run away with it, or slump in the corner and refuse to play, this was a revelation. Not just a vague outline that says “And then they work out their argument and get married” at the end, but an actual breakdown of the whole thing! Brilliant!

To test the theory, I have given February over to an old favourite project of mine. I wrote the general outline, then broke that down into acts and scenes. I’ve taken each of those scenes and written a more detailed outline. In a couple of days I’ll have detailed outlines for every scene and have a plan – a detailed plan – for the whole play. No one gets to go astray, because I know where they have to be next. If I get stuck on one scene, I can go on to the next and work on that, confident that it’s part of the plan. I have high hopes.

On the wall is the plot overview, beneath it are the two scene breakdowns, then the individual sheets are for each scene.

On the wall is the plot overview, beneath it are the two scene breakdowns, then the individual sheets are for each scene.

This is a good method, but the real secret of the book is “Look at the way you work”. You don’t have to adopt Rachel’s method, or use Robert McKee’s graphs, or Blake Snyder’s beat system, but you should try something new from time to time, see if the way you’re working is the best way for you. There’s no magic bullet that will make writing (whether books, poems, plays or condolence letters) easy, but you can make things easier on yourself.

And when you’ve got a good method, you’ll just have to DO IT!

Don’t tell me about it….

Firstly, an apology. This entry will sound arrogant and dismissive. Sorry.

Nearly two years ago I started writing this blog because I wanted to have a record of the emigration I was making with my family. Don’t tell me I should’ve kept a diary, because I know I wouldn’t have. Tried that, didn’t work. Blogging involves the computer (score!) and the chance to regularly appeal for other people’s attention (score!) as well as the opportunity to check statistics and combine endless hope with depressing reality (score!).

Along the way, it’s naturally evolved to take into account my writing efforts. I’ve talked about the production of my e-book, my occasional frustration with projects that haven’t worked out well, and of course, having to give up full-time writing to go and get a proper job. I like to think that these are as much part of the emigration process as buying a house and learning about the school system – a change of life we’ve made as a result of coming to Canada. But, because I blog about writing, I’ve been reading OTHER blogs about writing. Many, like the previously mentioned Mr James Moran, or Jane Espenson, or Lucy V Hay, are fantastically good. Not just because they are ‘proper’ writers, but because they write their blogs well. They are interesting. The ones that make me groan are the ones that say “I am writing my first novel, and am going to use this blog to chronicle my progress.”

Now, by all means, write your first novel. Please. Writing is wonderful, and your first novel may turn out to be THE book of the decade. By all means, write a blog. It’s useful to have a place to vent your feelings, and an idea is never fully realised until it is expressed. But before you combine the two, please think carefully. What is it, exactly, that you will be chronicling? If you are not careful, you’ll end up sounding like Ernie Macmillan from “Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix”, boring everyone with his recitation of how many hours of revision he has done each day. When you’re writing a novel, word count per day is important to you, obviously. You want to feel you’re making progress, that the number of pages to go are getting fewer. But would you want to read a blog that goes “Wrote another fifteen thousand words today! Started just after breakfast, had a break around ten thirty when I walked the dog, but then got straight back into it and reached a real cliffhanger moment just as I broke off for lunch!” Who, honestly, will care?

What your readers would like to know is what’s going on in the story. Yes, if you’re writing your novel, it would be more interesting to tell us about the developments in the plot as you go along, but you know what? No one ever will because then by the time the blog is complete, who needs to read the novel? We’ve been spoon-fed the whole thing! And what about re-writes? Assuming you get someone reading your blog, aren’t they going to use the comments section to tell you exactly where you’re going wrong?

I think these are the reasons that the blogs I’ve read seem to peter out shortly after they begin. Writing doesn’t seem to be something you can blog about. A writer’s life may be, but only if you have something to say about that: Being a single mum who’s working on a novel – if you have time to blog about that and still be writing the novel then I not only take off my hat to you, but I’ll comb my hair and bow too.

Why should I blog about the failures of other blogs? Well, because this week has seen me wrestling with my rock musical screenplay again, and I’m conscious that the writing projects I talk about tend to be the ones that work, or the ones that fall flat. I don’t, as Felicia Day says so sweetly in “Commentary”, discuss my process. The reason I don’t is that it would be at best dull, at worst, incomprehensible. I talked about the mechanics of writing in the entry on collaboration, and even I struggled to stay awake during that one. So, today’s moral is this: Forge ahead with your writing, but forge a more interesting subject for your blog.