5 Realistic Ways We're Going To Be Better Writers In 2012

Not a big fan of resolutions for the year to come. They tend to be very complex and lofty things that have no shot of being attained. A couple of reasons for the failure: 1) People never seem to have a plan for reaching the resolution. 2) They tend to be focused on very complex things that require multiple steps to achieve. Not a formula for success.

Take the "I'm going to be a better friend, spouse, parent, etc." resolution for instance. Have you considered why you're a bad one? Are there concrete measures you can take to get "better"? Is it realistic to attempt to undue a lifetime psychological maladjustment in a year? Probably not. 

That's why I give you this, dear writerly cohort:

5 *REALISTIC* Ways We're Going To Be Better Writers in 2012

5. Read More & Read Different

The first part is easy. Just read more than we do right now. Well, unless you're one of those book-a-week freaks. If so, you should probably change this to "drink more coffee", cause you're going to be losing a lot of sleep.

I'm a slow reader, so my personal goal is 2 new reads a month. I probably average this over a year already (some months I might get in 3, others only 1), but I think if I actually strategize for 2 each month I might end up reading more as a result. 

The second part is a challenge to read outside of your comfort zone. So why not pick 1 of those monthly reads to be dedicated to reading the classics (if you're behind like I am). Or maybe read in a genre you don't write in? 


4.  Finish Something... I Mean Really Finish It!

Remember the 200,000 words we jotted down during NaNoWriMo? Why don't we polish them up a bit? Then find some folks to read it. Then polish it some more. Then find some more folks to read it again. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat. Then *GASP* query some agents about it, submit it to a contest or maybe even publish it. 

Perhaps you didn't do the November Writing Sadist Workshop thing, or that project is just too big of a mountain to climb. I bet you've got something else you've been working on. If not, surely you could crank out a couple of short stories, a collection of poems--something. The point is this: make 2012 the year you write something and see it as far as you can possibly take it. 

Yes, it might end in rejection. Yes, it might only sell a couple of copies on Amazon. However, just going through the steps of editing, rounding up readers, etc. is going to push our writing to great new places.

3. Get Crafty

Writing, like most things, will yield only as much as we put into it. (Sometimes, it doesn't yield as much as we put into it, but that's a therapy lesson for another day.) As such, it's important that we invest in learning the actual craft. The nuts, bolts and such. That goes for everyone at every stage of the game.

So next year we're finally going to read that book about saving the feline everyone keeps yapping about. We're going to sign up for an online (or real-world) workshop. We're going to go to a conference, talk shop with a real, live author, join a critique group or do some other activity that's going to further our knowledge of placing words on paper/screen. We don't have to do them all, just vow to do something.

2. We're going to quit being so damned hard on ourselves.

Every writer does it. You think you're trash. EVERYONE is better than you, even your friends who don't write are better than you. Your six-year-old niece got her letter to Santa printed in the paper and you're jealous because she has more publication credits than you do.  Every person on the planet knows you've been working at this writing thing for years, and they wake up every day thinking about what a massive failure you are.  STOP

We're not giving in to that crap next year! Once a day, once a week--or however many times we have to do it--we're going to find a mirror (ignoring our coffee-stained sweatshirt and bed hair) and say, "I'm doing this for me, because I love it. I have talent and I'm going to get better."

That's it.

1. Not giving up

This is perhaps the easiest resolution ever. And it's the most important. Just don't quit writing. Yes, yes. Listen to all of the writing wisdom: Write as often as you can. (As Dr. Seuss might say, "Do it in a blog, do it in a song, do it until the Flarfel Beasts begin to yawn.") Set goals. Revise like the Devil. So on and so forth.

Most of all, we can't give up. Not next year. Not the year after that. Any deadlines we make in terms of our pursuit of a writing career are made by us. Thus they can be undone by us. I've done it. I've said, "If I'm not published by XYZ I'm trying something else." It was a dumb thing to do two years ago and it would be just as dumb to do next year. 

If you check back with me in 2013, if I'm alive and well, I'll be writing. You do the same.

With that, I'll bid you all a very Happy New Year! Thanks for all of your support, as always. I hope to see you around the Webs in 2012, and not outside staring at the giant meteor that is sure to destroy the planet. Stupid Mayans think they're so smart...


Best Holiday Wishes To You

Hey all,

Just wanted to say Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays and peace on earth to you all. My two year blog anniversary is coming in the New Year, and I can't tell you how much I've appreciated your support and encouragement. I truly wouldn't be doing this without you.  

I'll be taking a brief blog break over the next several days to entertain visiting family, but I plan to have an active start to 2012. Love for you to join me!

In the meantime, I hope the Season is all you want it to be, and that the next year will be your best yet.

How about some music to go along with the warm wishes?


Blog Science - Blogging Like a Pro Even If You Aren't

It's beginning to look a lot... well, you know the rest. :) Have you nailed down your gift shopping yet? The crowds are likely going to be ugly this weekend, so for the sake of your sanity I hope so.  If not, grease your wheels with your favorite warm beverage, a good breakfast and get to it! Just play nice... It might be me you're cutting off and/or yelling at in the parking lot.

Like my waistline this time of year, I've let the old blog go a bit. As such, I'm looking for ways to inject new life into Ye Old Web Diatribe Device to start the new year off on the right foot. One thing I've decided to do is start a new regular (hopefully) series on the science of blogging. 

Not that I'm going to speak from a position of expertise. 300 followers do not an army--or a Kardashian--make, after all. I'm just going to talk about things I've noticed and/or tried in the name of blogging. Hopefully it'll prompt some discussion and we'll all learn something. At the very least it'll give me something to talk about on more than a semi-annual basis. (Okay, I haven't been THAT bad. But it feels like it.) 


There, I said it. It's painful to admit, I think, because it isn't supposed to be difficult for a writer-type. Our lives are consumed with figuring out how to communicate thoughts and ideas via words. Consequently, filling a blank screen with a few paragraphs 2 or 3 times a week should not be difficult. Or at least it shouldn't appear to be difficult. There's proof. The best blogs seem effortless:

They are ALWAYS clever. 
They are ALWAYS important.
They are ALWAYS on topic.
They are ALWAYS on schedule.

To make it worse, the Web is chockablock full of these ace blogs. Don't know about you, but my blog reader list is absolutely running over with folks who make this stuff seem like cake. Seriously, I think some of you must have teams of ninja elf idea generators chained in your basements. Their only job is bring you great ideas for blog posts. If you don't like them, you feed them to the Kraken. (The idea, not the elf. This is a family blog...) You make it look that easy.

Me? I've got no elves or ninjas (or Krakens .... damn). I've only got me, a desk, a computer, coffee, two extremely lazy dogs and a HUGE small case of inferiority complex. My post generating process goes something like this:

Self - "Oooo, a new comment on one of my blog posts!" 

*Clicks to check e-mail*

Self - "That's really sweet, but I wrote that blog post like a month ago. This person is seriously late to the party."

*Hits 'reply' to fire off a thank you note. Types 3 paragraphs of exceedingly witty e-mail before realizing they don't have an e-mail account linked to Blogger. Curses. Decides to go directly to the blog post and click their profile to leave a comment on their blog. Realizes that month old blog post was actually the last time I posted. Curses.*   

Self - "I've got to post something new. Like now!"

*Checks Twitter feed for interesting topics. Spends 4 days drafting 15 page opus-post on the dangers of over-indulgent writing. Gets distracted reading other blogs. Realizes someone else said exactly the same thing about over-indulgence two days ago. Curses.*

Self - "Guess I'll blog about how screwy the publishing business is right now. Again."

My point is that this isn't exactly a painless process. I also suspect I'm not alone in thinking so. So if blogging isn't easy, but it's supposed to look easy, what's to be done? 

Here are some things to try that'll make people think you know what you're doing, even if you don't: 

(NOTE - I probably fail on some level at all of these. See # 5 to get the point.)

1. Read Other Blogs: Read the good ones. Read the bad ones. Learn. Learn. Learn. Don't just read for content. Read for presentation. Read to see how others infuse their 'voice' or style into their blogs. Good habits rub off, just like your momma said. Apply any and everything that looks like a good idea. The key to looking like a pro is emulating one. 

2. Routine: Yes, blogs can become stale very quickly (both in the reading and the writing of) when they get overly structured. (Think about bloggers who post daily and every day is dedicated to a specific thing. If you're not a content blogger, I'd advise against that.) However, having some sort of schedule or routine creates the feel of something dependable and professional. Pick at least one post each week that will have a reoccurring theme, refine it until you do it very well, and then never let it die. A percentage of your followers will come back every week just to read that one feature, and they'll typically look around to see what else you've been up to. (I know, because I do it as a reader.)

3. Title Your Posts Well, & They Will Love You: When you have 200 to 300 blogs in your reader list, you just can't get to everyone all the time. What do I do? I cherry pick, of course. Looking at most recent posts, I usually start with the bloggers I'm most familiar/friendly with and then I look for interesting post titles. I'm not suggesting utter sensationalism in your titles for the sake of getting a click. (I've seen this, and it ticks me off a little.) You have to deliver on what you promise in your titles or that one click won't yield a comment. Worse still, you might even lose a reader. Try for something catchy AND relevant.

4. Always Make A Point: Speaking of titles, always have a point to a post. I'm not talking about preaching, either. I'm talking about having a clear idea of what you're hoping to communicate when you start writing. It can be a GIGANTIC concept, or could be to simply tell people that you really loved the most recent book you've read. Either way, simply knowing what you want to say before you start will always yield a more polished result. Understand that you'll sometimes nail it, and other times miss. The effort you put into trying to convey a message will always be evident, however. 

When you're done drafting, re-read your post and make sure your point is conveyed.

5.  Never Quit: Blogging isn't an exact science. Readers are fickle. Some will leave you if you talk about having a martini, others will love that you're a wino. You're not going to fit everyone. The way to get around this is to keep putting yourself out there so the people you do fit can find you. You don't get to be a great shrimper by casting out your nets once a season, calling it quits when you only drag back an old tire and a handful of shrimp. You keep trying new areas, new tactics, until something works. Blogging is the same. You'll fall off the horse. You will. You just have to keep trying. Nothing says professional like persistence and dedication. After all, you can't raise a garden by sittin' in the shade. 

What about you? What do you do to make blogging easier? 


In Case You Didn't Already Know Enough About Me...

Did a fun little interview over at Reece Hanzon's blog that I wanted to share with you fine folks. Stop by and make fun of me if you get the chance.

Hope you're all having an awesome week!


An Observer's Tale - 10 Things I've Learned About ePublishing

As we race toward 2012, I thought it would be a good time to share my observations on e-Publishing. The publishing world is evolving at lightening pace. A bevy of attractively priced new reading gadgets *cough* KINDLEFIRE *cough* and a huge commercial push promises to make 2012 the year of the eBook.

I keep up with tons of self-published (and otherwise) authors on the Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the like--trying to learn what I can. As such, I thought it would be appropriate for me to regurgitate my knowledge in the form of An Observer's Tale - 10 Things I've Learned About ePublishing  

This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive tutorial on the process, nor should it be taken as gospel. Just my take.

1. eBooks are like so hot right now: 

 This might be the understatement of the decade, but this digital media stuff is a big deal. In the last ten years we've witnessed the digitization of every major form of entertainment from music to movies. Now it's time for written entertainment to share the stage. Some have labeled it a fad, some a revolution. Whatever your take, I think we can all agree that this is now at the very least a movement--a shift--to a new way of "doing" books. Who knows if paper and pixels will be able to coexist, but I'd bet the family farm that the pixels aren't going away.  

 2. Fit and finish don't just apply to car shopping: 

Hop over to your local online monster retailer and browse the eBooks. Do it like you would browsing for cars at the auto dealership. Why? You'll quickly get into the head of the average book shopper, that's why. It's the shiny exterior (i.e. the cover) that draws them in, the awesome stereo and smooth interior (blurb or back jacket verbiage) that gets their imagination going and the salesperson (reviews) that seal the deal. In an increasingly cluttered book market, presentation makes the difference. 

 3. It's a slow burn, baby:

That tune doesn't apply to ePublishing. There are no golden tickets. Much like in traditional publishing, there is a constant effort to figure out the purchasing habits of fickle readers.  eAuthors are scrambling to try to figure out how Amanda Hocking, John Locke, etc., etc. managed to become Kindle millionaires seemingly overnight. 

I follow both of the afore mentioned authors on Twitter and blogs (One of them follows me, but I'm not namedropping or anything... OK, it's JL and I nearly blew a gasket when I saw his name pop up as a new Twitter follower! Name. Dropped.) and I can tell you neither of them truly claims to know exactly how it all happened. One thing both say: it took some time and they worked hard to promote their stuff. They didn't instantly sell 10,000 books a month. Word of mouth had to build. The Interwebs had to weave its magic. Just like in traditional publishing, expect to have to pay your own dues before you get much payment in return.  

4. Skinning cats and publishing electronically have a lot in common:

There are many, many ways to get a book published electronically, and many more yet to come. 

Total DIY: You can study Kindle/Apple/Barnes & Noble/WhatHaveYou and learn to format and upload yourself. You can get free pictures online and create your own covers with free photo editing software. It's not rocket science, but it's also not without frustration. If budget is a concern, you can definitely do it on your own. Knowing your limits is important, however...

Hire out some of it: Don't have an artistic eye? Cool. There are oodles of folks online that will design a good cover for you. Got a great cover, but don't care to format? Cool. Lots of folks out there will format your book so it reads nice and pretty on the nook, iPad, Kindle, Kobo reader things. See # 2 if you're not sure why it matters.

Hire out all of it: Specialty ePublishing companies are ALL freaking over the place. Go to any online writing community and you'll see their ads. Hangout in the writing dens of Twitter and you'll get a half-dozen follows a day from someone offering to publish your book for a fee. (That and maybe a few unwholesome offers, but I digress ...) Heck, some of them even promote your book in various places. Prices vary. Quality varies. Choose wisely.

5. One is fun, but 8 is great:

Only got one great story in you? I'm sorry to inform you that self-publishing isn't going to pay your next electric bill. Nor will it likely pay any electric bill. Ever. Here's the thing, just like in traditional publishing you have to build a readership in the eWorld. That typically doesn't happen with one great book. It takes several. It takes building a reputation. 

eReading is like any other electronic media thing, which is to say it's about consumption. Unlike Sam the Business Man who buys one non-fiction book every year at the airport to read on layovers, the owner of that Kindle plans on getting her money's worth. When she finishes one book, she's going to immediately jump into another. If you only have one book in the store, she can't buy your next. It's science--or math--or something. 

The best anecdote I've read on the subject relates virtual shelf space to actual store shelf space. The more space you occupy the better chance someone is going to 'find you' and buy you.    

6. Traditional rules don't necessarily apply...:

Suburban cat vampire fantasy doesn't sell you say? WRONG! There are no hard rules when it comes to ePublishing. All those agents and editors in the traditional world aren't wrong (just aggravating) when they shoot down your 'Hamster Falls In Love' picture book idea. In the paper world there are all kinds of upfront production costs that force the publishing machine to make hard choices about what they invest in. That doesn't exist online. If you want to publish it, you can. If you can connect with the people who are interested in what you've written, you'll probably even sell a few copies. And unlike a paper bookstore, even if you're only moving 6 copies a month it'll stay on Amazon's shelf forever.

Heck people are even publishing poetry again. That should really be all you need to hear to understand that up is now down, and that cats now sleep with the dogs.  

7. Well, except for these:

Don't read 6 and assume everything has changed. These basic principals must be observed for any kind of publishing success:

You must have a great story.

It must be extremely well-written.

It must be gleamingly edited. And edited. And edited. And edited ....

You can never shortchange a reader with a poor product. Readers will drop you like a bad habit, even if your book is only .99 cents. 

8. Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising!

I'm not talking about action figures (but that would be AWESOME!); I'm talking about selling your story and yourself. Understand where your story fits in terms of genre. Make sure your cover looks better than those 'other books' that pop up in the product search. Know where your readers hangout online--go to them. Use Twitter, Facebook, etc. to their full potential. Learn and heed the rules of responsible, non-D-Bag marketing. Make friends by promoting other authors more than you promote yourself. Make sure your story is available to every kind of reader for every kind of reading device. Make sure your website, Twitter page, Facebook, etc. say, "I'm a pro, not a schmo." 

Self-publishing means you're now a small business owner. That business will sink or swim based upon your effort and nothing else. 

9. All the cool kids are doing it:

ePublishing isn't just a game for the little guys to dabble in. J.K. 'I could buy your country' Rowling is self-publishing her Harry Potter books electronically. So too are many, many highly successful traditionally published authors. Some are completely abandoning the traditional route, others are simply supplementing their paper efforts, using it as a vehicle to explore things that wouldn't normally fly in the trad-world. Regardless of the reasons, don't assume that your too big or too small to make a go of it. It sure looks like there's room for everyone.

10. No one has THE answer:

There is a lot of advice from super-helpful authors out there. They might tell you to Tweet this way, never pay for XYZ, or never use XYZ font--you get the idea. They're all right to an extent. ePublishing is still very much a baby in the grand scheme of things. As such, each individual experience is a valuable learning tool. However, I've learned you'll find more conflicting answers than definite methods of success. Does this mean you should tune them all out? Absolutely not. Just understand that the path to success seems to be different for just about everyone. 

Keep your ear to the ground and be willing to adjust your expectations and tactics as needed. That should keep you on track at least until next year. :)


BTW, big WAY TO GO for all of you who reached your NaNoWriMo goals! I'll buy you the frosty beverage of your choosing should we ever cross paths! :)

Exposing Your Soul

Yeah, it's like that. 

Now it's YOUR turn.


Word Searching - It's Hard. It's Important.

You open your eyes. Darkness. The utter absence of light, devoid of any sense of space and self.

A deep, if shaky, breath. You close and open them again. Still nothing. 


You really squeeze them shut this time, knowing that you should at least see a few brightly colored floating orbs of light. Suddenly those floaters are no longer a physiological nuisance. They're an essential connection between your physical and mental self. If you can see, they'll be there. If you're alive, they'll be there... 

Sometimes searching for the right word or phrase is like that for me. Probably why I write so slowly. If I don't see (on the page) exactly what I'm looking for, I risk losing my place in life (the story).What is normally an automatic, subconscious thing (putting a word into a sentence) becomes so much more important.

Contrary to common conjecture, writers aren't JUST fanciful dreamers who record their stream of consciousness and hope to coral it into a cohesive story. Unlike conversations with friends, writing requires perfect articulation. In the end, there's very little room for idle chat and boundless meandering. 

Effective storytelling is more akin to playing in a sandbox than on an endless beach. You begin with the understanding that you only have so much room to spread out and build. If your sand castle (story) is too expansive there'll be nothing to focus on. Doing too much runs the risk of creating something that isn't recognizable as a castle at all.

Effective writers are word surgeons, extracting the unnecessary and repairing the vital. In that way a perfect balance must be formed. A writer understands that the presence of one word in a story carries no more weight than the absence of the next. In story economy, the said and unsaid are of equal value.

I suppose that's why word searching can be so excruciating. While I'm not certain any story has ever entirely failed or succeeded on only one word, I do believe--like a misplaced stone in a wall--an ineffectual thought can severely harm the overall structure and integrity of a story.  

Do you feel any word-search pressure when you write? Has it ever gotten in the way of you finishing a story? At what point do you resolve to move on?

Also, BIG props to all you NaNoWriMo folks out there! I think you can read this post and understand why I might not be cut out to write 40K+ in a month. :) Best of luck to you all. I hope you surpass your goals!


The Spaces Between - Great Stories Are More Than Words

Ever notice how many of the most important things in life are often the things left unstated? How communication is more about the things you do before and after words than what you actually say? Sure, saying I love you is a big deal, but it's a lot bigger deal if it's followed by a kiss. You can tell someone you're angry or you can say you're angry and throw something at them. Which one do you think gets the point across more effectively?

I think good storytelling is a lot like that. 

It really struck me this weekend while talking books with some friends. The conversation consistently turned to a discussion of things implied by the actions of characters in the story rather than what was actually written on the pages. Don't get me wrong the words are important; without them there'd be nothing to infer from or to fuel the debate. However, I think I've underestimated just how much a reader likes to put themselves--and conversely, their own reasoning--into a story. 

I'll confess, the idea that what readers really get into is being able to fill in the gaps of a story rather than simply enjoying what is ACTUALLY written has probably been a tad complex for my mind to truly wrap around. I guess I've kind of had a rather simple, neanderthal-esque writing mindset of, "ME WRITE WORDS. YOU READ WORDS." 

Moreover, the concept of people intellectualizing beyond the words has always seemed a little highbrow or lit snobby to me. The stuff for writers, graduate programs, term papers and History Chanel specials to discuss. After all, the reader in me always really enjoyed the reading, appreciating what the author was communicating over implications. 

So it's not surprising that I reasoned that Twilight fan just consumed the story and could care less about deeper meanings and character intentions, right? 

W.R.O.N.G. You're everyday Joe or Susan reader loves to take stories to places beyond the margins. They constantly scrutinize Bella Swan's love choices and wonder what might have happened if Harry Potter had joined Slytherin instead of Gryffindor. Furthermore, the average reader loves to draw parallels between the lives of fictional characters and their own lives. 

As a writer here's the scary part; that's stuff that no author could contrive no matter how carefully they plot. J.K. Rowling could have had no idea that I'd be able to see my own family in the Weasley's. Nor could she have known that so many kids would feel Harry's pain and joy on such an intensely personal level to the point they write stories about his grandchildren in the form of fan fiction. 

I guess I'm saying that great stories are more than what they are on paper. It's those spaces between the words that hold the real power of a story. In the end, words are really just coal to fuel the fires of the imagination. Perhaps the real challenge in writing is learning how to create the spark to set it all off. 


A Very Happy ...

Halloween to you and yours!

Saving Your Best Writing for Lean Times

Autumn is a great time of year for animal watching. Those first few cold mornings seem to set off Nature's alarm clock, sending the furry and feathered of the world into work mode. They gather and munch on the best and last of the year's harvest, knowing without being told that the abundance they've been enjoying is wicking away. They instinctually understand that soon there won't be enough of the good stuff to go around.

I'm wondering if writers should have a similar instinct.

A writer friend of mine posed an interesting question the other day: Do you ever hold back really good lines, metaphors, etc. from your blog posts or social correspondence so you can use them in your stories?

My initial reaction was, "Of course not, I write in the moment! If the words make the long commute from my brain to fingertips, I'm shooting them off like celebratory creative fireworks! My readers deserve only my best, after all." Actually, I wish that had been my response ... 

I really said something like, "I don't think I'd remember it later, so I just use whatever comes to me and hope I think of something equally good the next time." 

Like most writers, I always (ALWAYS) secretly fear there won't be a next time. 

If you've dabbled at the word game long enough you realize that creative juice can have an incredibly short shelf-life. What flows tasty and free tonight can go sour by morning, often with very little provocation or warning. That isn't to say I believe in writer's block. No, I don't think there's some kind of mental barrier that springs up like a wart in our minds, preventing us from writing until it somehow dissolves.

I do think we sometimes don't feel like pushing our brains into that fringe creative area, or maybe even forget how to do it for a time. That's probably what separates hobby writers from daily writers. The hobby writer wanders off until their brain gets hungry enough to come back around; the daily writer puts out some bait and lures the sucker into a trap--forcing it to work. Figuring out what bait to use is often the trick.

Understanding that inspiration can be fickle, is there some merit to holding onto the really good stuff? Saving your best for your most important moments, as it were. It certainly seems so. 

There are probably only so many great similes and metaphors to be had, and it's just a matter of time until someone else comes up with it. Unfortunately, constantly tucking the good stuff away might lead to some really bland blogs. I've been considering some options and they are:

  • Keep a journal or blank Word document handy to scribble down the good stuff when it comes. Lots of writers journal, but most use them for story ideas, not great sentences or thoughts. If you're ever stuck in your writing, break it out and get inspired by your own genius. (You can do this with the good stuff you actually use as well.)

  • Many cell phones have voice recording options, so you can use that as an auditory record. If you don't have a recorder, just call your own voice mail box and leave yourself a message. (WARNING: This may make you appear VERY crazy and/or unstable to friends and loved ones.) 

  • When inspiration hits, we're often so caught up in moving to the next bit that we don't fully utilize or explore what's there. Consider jotting down that great phrase, etc. and then forcing yourself to write two or three more along the same lines. Use one and keep the others for future use. It'll add some time to whatever you're working on, but it might pay off later.

  • When I'm writing blog posts I often write two or three paragraphs that don't get used simply because the idea for the post changes as I go. Instead of tossing them out I plan on saving them (if they're good) for fodder for future posts and the like.

Do you save your best? If so, how do you do it? (Journal, etc.) Is it something you'd consider doing?


Author Spotlight: Damyanti Biswas

E.J. (ME) – The important stuff first.  Tell us about your book/collection, A to Z Stories of Life and Death. 

Damyanti (D) -- The book is a collection of twenty-six stories, based on the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. They seek to question our moral compass: How do you judge a teacher toying with the sexuality of her teenaged student? A boy who decides to murder his mother? What thoughts rage inside a pedophile serial killer before he shoots himself? The stories challenge the concepts of beauty, truth, and morality, by revealing the face of the other side.

I began writing some of the pieces in the collection in April during the A to Z challenge organized by Arlee Bird. (Note - If you don't know about the A-Z, you should check out Arlee's blog, HERE. Seriously one of the most challenging and rewarding blogfests  going.)  During this challenge, participants had to post on their blogs for 26 days in April, every day excluding the 4 Sundays. Some of the readers liked my pieces of fiction enough to ask me to put them together in a book, so the idea took root there.  

ME – The stories seem to be highly philosophical and emotional in nature, asking readers to take a reflective look at their own humanity and how life plays out around them.  That’s an extremely complex task for short stories to accomplish. How did you make it work?  

D – I write about what interests me--people, and what makes them tick. I question the reasons why someone did what they did, and I analyze everything way more than is healthy. My head is full of ‘weird’ people, of what ifs, and whys and wherefores. This is what came out in the collection. Some people have found it too hard-hitting, or the topics too uncomfortable: matricide and pedophilia are not exactly soothing reads, despite a completely literary style and clean language.

I did not write on those themes in order to sensationalize, however, just went where the writing prompts took me. I don't have a ‘moral’ approach to fiction--won’t judge, just hold up things as they are and let the readers come to their own conclusions. Just because something is ugly or inhuman is no reason why it should not be examined. Rather the opposite.

In most of the stories I examine what we usually turn our faces from: death, murder, child abuse, loss of a child, ageing, poverty—but I’ve tried to ask the whys and also sought a glimmer of compassion, understanding, forgiveness, hope, even love.

ME – Taking a step back, can you tell us a little about your writing journey?

D – I started writing 3 years ago. I had some non-fiction experience at the time, but none whatsoever in fiction. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and the idea of writing appealed to me. But it also terrified me, and I let decades pass by before I gave myself the permission to write.

I’ve been traditionally published in quite a few anthologies in Malaysia and Singapore, and Peeping Toe was my first published short story, two years ago. I got accepted for yet another anthology this week, a collection of short stories from Asia and Africa. I’m yet to finish a novel, but that should change soon.

ME – Tell us about your writing process in general. 

D – I write everyday. Whether it is a page or a few pages, I feel quite upset if I don’t write something, a story, a free-write, a bit in my journal, a letter (I correspond via snail-mail with other authors). 

I usually go with images, and take down stories as they occur in my head. I’ve been a pantser so far, and it has worked for short stories.I use exercises from books like Fast Fiction: Creating Fiction in Five Minutes by Roberta Allen. I take a prompt, a word, a picture, a sentence, anything at all, and start writing, pretty much without thinking.

Another book that influenced me, and from where I borrowed the word dream-storming, is From Where you Dream by Robert Olen Butler. After reading through this book (several times), I got into the habit of entering a sort of trance, of letting the character take over, of entering a setting and becoming part of it. My stories (even the longer short stories) never start from an idea, but instead from an image which tugs at me and compels me to write.

ME - Many of my followers also participated in the A-Z daily blog challenge as well as many, many other blogfests. As such, we know how much time and effort can go into blogging. The idea of turning that work into a published story will, I’m sure, be intriguing to many of the readers. What led you to the idea, and how did you go about making it happen?

D – My short stories started at Daily (w)rite, where apart from some journalling and rambling about writing, I began to put up some of the 5-minute or ten minute exercises I'd written. I got a few good responses from my readers, and kept at it, mostly because I enjoyed it.

Then came A to Z Challenge. Being naive, I thought of writing one flash piece each day. On some days, the pieces came easy, on others I barely made the midnight deadline. Near the end of the challenge, some of the readers asked me to compile the 26 pieces of flash fiction into an e-book, and the idea of A to Z stories of Life and Death was born. I threw out and re-wrote a few of the original pieces, spit and polished them as best as I could. Not many stories in the collection are longer than 200 words, and the entire book adds up to barely 12000 words. My hope is that I’ve made each one of them count.

ME - I saw from your author profile that you’ve been traditionally published and that A to Z is your first work to be published independently. What was the motivation for that shift, and it is it something you plan to continue to explore in the future?

D – I would not call it a shift, because I’m still submitting stories for traditional publication, (E.J. - EXCELLENT point! It doesn't have to be all or the other, folks.) and hope to publish my current work (a WIP collection of longer short stories, and a novel) traditionally. 

As I keep repeating to myself: the most important thing is to keep writing, improve my craft, and keep submitting for publication. A writer writes, and then hopes for publication: each rejection is a spur to write more and write better. After all, an established writer is no different from an unpublished one (at least in one aspect): both aspire to write better and reach a bigger audience every day. (E.J. - This might be the most important paragraph ever printed on this blog!)

That said, I think I’ll epub some work as well, mostly because it is fun, and a good way to interact with writer-friends and readers. This e-book was an experiment of sorts: I wanted to learn what this new business of e-books was all about, because as writers I think we should not ignore the flux in the industry. I continue to learn more about ebooks, marketing, and publishing each day, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

ME – Random question time: What’s the last good book you read? 

D – “The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore”…I think it is one of the most moving, philosophical and thought-provoking books ever to be written with an animal narrator.

ME -  We’ll finish up with the most important stuff. Give us three reasons why A to Z Stories should be our next download, and tell us where we can get them.

D – As a writer, I can give a million reasons, of course. All writers are painfully, desperately in love with their babies. But as a reader I think there exist only two reasons to download a book: the sample, and the reviews. Check those out, and if you like them, buy the book at Kindle Smashwords Nook or Diesel.

Thank you, EJ, for taking the time to host me, and for the well-considered questions. I've done my best to answer them, and I hope I've done them justice. Thanks also to the readers who have heard me through with my long rambling! I'm around to chat with you all, and answer any questions. 

ME - You've been a beautiful interview, D! I think I can safely speak for everyone who reads this and say it has been a true pleasure getting to know you and your writing. You're an inspiration for sure. Best of luck to you on your future endeavors.


Writer Bio: Damyanti lives more in her head than in this world, adores her husband, and loves her pet fish and plants. She is an established writer for magazines and journals. Her short fiction has been published in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Muse India and in print anthologies by Marshall Cavendish, Monsoon Books, and MPH publications. Her book, A to Z Stories of Life and Death, is available for downloadeverywhere ebooks are sold.

Twitter: damyantig

Author Spotlight: Kimberly Mullican

Allow me to welcome author Kimberly Mullican to the Open 

Vein. Her book, TAKING CONTROL is available now in 
multiple formats. Read below for more details!

EJ (me) – First, the dirty. Tell us about your book, 

Taking Control.

Kimberly Mullican (KM) – First of all EJ – thank you so 

much for having me. I appreciate you taking time out of 
your busy schedule to play Pimp for a Day!

This is the part I hate. If you can tweet in 140 characters, 

why is it so hard to shorten the description of the book? 
 My blurb for my book:

Kat Trueblood, genetically engineered medium and former 

CIA Agent, thought she had escaped the danger and drama 
of her previous life. She has a stable job as a paralegal, is 
dating her first girlfriend, and has plenty of time to spend 
with her best friend and guardian – a ghost named Grant.

In denial about missing the action of her former life, Kat’s 

thrust head first back into it when the Russian mafia – the 
same guys who raped and tortured her for two weeks during 
active duty – targets her and her family. The CIA forces her 
to choose between working with the FBI to catch a serial killer 
who is slaughtering area drag queens or leaving her family at 

Distracted by discovering Grant is in love with her and her 

girlfriend ending up on the suspect list, Kate finds herself as 
the hunted instead of the hunter. Captured by the killer, she 
must face her inner demons in order to survive and end the 
serial killer’s mayhem.

ME – The book description for Taking Control is unbelievably

compelling, hinting at the story being a spy action thriller 
with a paranormal twist. Was it a premeditated decision to 
write a story using both elements, or did it evolve organically 
from one into both?

KM – You’re not going to believe how this all came together. 

 I had a terribly overwritten vampire book (Don't we all? :)
and it’s good, just horribly overwritten. After every single 
agent said, “no thanks” or nothing at all I started looking at 
what they WERE looking for. Strong female MC – check; 
gay/lesbian overtones – check; paranormal – check; 
Romance – well there is a little romance and sex, best of 
both worlds. (Don’t gasp – we all love sex, it’s okay.) The 
whole story started to form as I was reading what agents 
were looking for. The funny part is – I decided to go the Indie 
route instead. Who cares what the agents want really? I’m 
not looking for an agent. Not now anyway.

ME – Most of my blog followers being authors, aspiring or 

practicing, we’re always interested in the nuts and bolts of 
craft here at the OV: Tell us a little about your journey to 

KM – Well, I did way better with English and Literature in 

high school and college than Chemistry and Math. It’s just 
the way my brain is built. (I like and understand the way your 
brain is built!) I have written several short stories, really 
sucky poetry and a few good stand-up routines for a couple 
of starting artists.

I always loved a good book. I was a huge John Grisham fan 

until his work seemed redundant to me. Then I discovered 
Baldacci. I’ve been reading a lot of paranormal stuff and I 
love vampires. Shoot me. I’m not enticed by the sparkly kind 
though. I’m getting off topic. Blame it on my background in 
sales. I talk too much.

After the divorce from my first husband, I suffered from 

insomnia. I got sick of tossing and turning and decided to 
write the stories that were in my head. Though Goddess 
Janet Reid would flog me for admitting it – I published my 
first novel via vanity press. Yes – I learned my lesson. I have 
an unedited book out there with my face plastered on the 
back. Thank God it isn’t on bookshelves and my name has 
since changed!

Since 2006, I’ve been reading on the industry, following 

authors and studying while writing. I joined a few crit groups 
and finally, started TAKING CONTROL. I knew I wanted to 
self-pub and that all responsibility was going to fall on my 
shoulders. I have had 10 separate pairs of eyes on this book 
through all stages. Editing is so important, and very difficult. 
 Each critter found something different or suggested 
something different. Again, in the end, it’s all on the author.

ME – What’s your writing process like? 

KM – Oh hell, I’ve tried to be a plotter. I find it stifling. 

I’m a type B though and the fewer the rules the better. 
 Each WIP gets however much time it needs. If it’s shit, 
I scrap, rewrite, rework and give to betas. Depending on the 
scene I’m writing I switch up my environment. Dark scenes I 
write at night, usually with a cocktail (careful using this 
process, you need to reread it in the a.m.) Light stuff I write 
during the day with a boat load of coffee in my system.

I do have one WIP that I never connected with and it never 

made it to the Betas. It upset me so much I even erased the 
digital file. It just stunk. It’s okay to write garbage. Someone 
important once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” The 
important thing is to keep writing.

ME – In the current climate, it’s almost impossible to talk 

about writing and not talk about THE business. You 
published Taking Control independently. What went into 
that decision, and what can you tell us about the process?

KM – I touched on that a little above. I read Konrath’s blog. 

(NOTE: J.A. Konrath is an author who staunchly advocates 
DIY publishing, and gives lots of tips on how to do it 
successfully. You can read his blog, here.)I’ve also read 
some of his books. I think the man is onto something. While 
he may upset some people, I can see how passionate he is 
and I don’t think he’s wrong, I just think the industry is 
changing and why not have control of your own work 
product? After all, I have a piece of garbage out there that 
I don’t get control over until 2014. If I had self-pubbed, I 
could correct my error and move on.

ME – Any tips for those of us considering the Indie route?

KM – Edit, Edit, Edit. (Amen, sister!) Get as many readers as 

possible and as much feedback as possible. If you can afford 
an editor (and I couldn’t) get one. Buy Kristen Lamb’s book 
on marketing. I think of her as my guru, whether she likes 
that or not, I’m not certain. But I talk about her so much, 
Klout says I’m an influencer on Lambs… Your cover art can 
make or break you, so choose wisely.

Read as much as possible. Read books, blogs, industry 

news, author web pages anything you can get your hands on.
 Stay on top of the industry. Please, look before you leap. 
 Educate yourself on what you’re getting yourself into. This 
industry isn’t for the faint of heart.

Do your research. I wrote about drag queens in my book. I 

spent a lot of time with a drag queen and he was very helpful 
making sure I didn’t misrepresent that sector of the population
. I certainly didn’t want scores of drag queens out for my 
head! That would just be weird.

ME – Change is constant in the publishing industry nowadays.

 Put on your prognostication hat: What does publishing look 
like 5 years from now and, perhaps more importantly, where 
do you think authors fit in?

KM – I really do see the big 6 suffering in the long run. It’s 

slow, and today’s world is fast paced. We get everything 
on-demand nowadays and they just haven’t gotten on board. 
We are going to have to sift through some self-published crap
 to find the gems. Who knows, someone might not like my 
work, and that’s ok. After all, you can be the tastiest green 
apple in the world, but not everyone likes green apples. So 
far I have received positive feedback and one 5 star rating on 
Amazon! The reader even wrote a review that nearly made 
me pee! (No one said I'd need diapers to be a writer ... 
must. read. more.)

ME – Enough shoptalk! Tell us where we can find Taking 


You can find it here: Barnes & Noble & Amazon

Paperback will be available shortly through CreateSpace. 

 If you want to be slightly disturbed and/or enticed, 
TAKING CONTROL is for you.

Thanks again for having me! It’s been a pleasure.

ME - Pleasure is all mine. Best of luck to you in the future!