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Learn more about my first book, Six Pack: Emergence.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Look Back At Max Headroom

After I finished up edits and rewrites on the second draft of my third novel and reviewed edits on my second novel, my thoughts turned to ideas for future books.

See, folks, this is what happens when you become a novel writer -- you keep getting all these ideas in your head for new stories!

But I'm not here to talk to you about such ideas, because my thoughts also turned to my collection of DVDs that I've accumulated through the years, how I started to think more critically about the movies and TV shows and what they were all about, and that's when I pulled out my DVDs of the Max Headroom TV series.

For those who remember Max Headroom, you probably remember him from MTV and his ad spots plugging New Coke, but what caught my interest when I was younger was the short-lived TV series based on the character. It lasted 13 episodes on ABC (a 14th episode was produced but didn't air until it went into reruns on cable networks) and was released on DVD by Shout Factory seven years ago.

What sparked my interest in revisiting the TV series was its commentary on television and its impact on society. Set in a dystopian future (the tag line was "twenty minutes into the future"), it focused on a society in which multiple TV networks dominate and everything revolves around their programming. Edison Carter is a reporter for Network 23 who always want to seek out the truth, even if it means clashing with his network's agenda.

In his pursuit of a story regarding something amiss at his own network, he is injured and his memories are download into a computerized conscious dubbed Max Headroom (so named because the last thing Carter saw before his injury was a sign that read "Max Headroom"). Unlike Carter, his computerized alter ego is brash and outspoken, but like Carter, has plenty of reasons to be critical of the TV-dominated society he's part of.

The show creators and writers admitted that Max Headroom was a series ahead of its time, given the relevancy that its criticisms of television and media hold today. The series predicted the rise of TV networks dominating the landscape, but while it didn't predict the rise of Internet-based media, Max Headroom would certainly have fit in well with today's society in which just about any form of media can make somebody an instant celebrity.

What I am going to do for the next few weeks is critique each of the 14 episodes and discuss some of the themes explored in each episode. The format I'm going with will look like this:

* Episode Name
* Premise
* Theme explored
* Max Headroom quotes
* Personal observations

I thought it would be fun to go back and review a series that, while it didn't last long, it had a big impact on a number of writers today and would probably be a relevant series to bring back to the airwaves today.

And who knows -- maybe it'll inspire some of you science fiction, fantasy and dystopian writers to come up with some of your own ideas about what might happen "twenty minutes into the future."

Links to episode reviews:
Episode 1 - Blipverts
Episode 2 - Raking
Episode 3 - Body Banks
Episode 4 - Security Systems
Episode 5 - War
Episode 6 - The Blanks
Episode 7 - The Academy
Episode 8 - Deities
Episode 9 - Grossberg's Return
Episode 10 - Dream Thieves
Episode 11 - Whackets
Episode 12 - Neurostim
Episode 13 - Lessons
Episode 14 - Baby Gro Bags

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: Stealing Liberty

I've always been a fan of books with themes that make you think. One of those books I ran across which does that is Jennifer Froelich's recent release, Stealing Liberty.

Taking place in a dystopian future, the book follows a group of students sent to a detention facility, who discover old books found in a hidden tunnel and learn more about the United States and its final days. When they learn about a planned sale of the Liberty Bell to Japan, the students plot to steal it.

Froelich does a good job creating strong characters and building tension and suspense. The book blurb suggests an alternating viewpoint between Reed and Riley, but two other characters, Xoey and Adam, have their viewpoints. It does add to the story, though I could make a minor quibble about how Adam's view tends to be limited.

Froelich also creates a good supporting cast -- I particularly enjoyed Sam and wouldn't have minded getting more of his perspective. The antagonists aren't what you what call evil -- they truly believe they are doing the right thing and it's their actions that make them characters who you can't sympathize with.

Most of all, the concept is what makes the book a great read. Though there are views shared that not everyone will agree with, they force the reader to question what price one is willing to pay to cater to a single mindset or viewpoint, as opposed to exploring individually and let one draw his or her own conclusions. This becomes particularly important in this world, in which popular books and songs are forbidden, alongside items associated with America's history. People may have differing opinions about The Bible and the Harry Potter series, but a society in which those and other books are all banned is a society I think few would want to live in.

That Froelich wrote a novel that makes you think as much as it makes you empathize with the protagonists and keep turning pages because of the tension built, makes Stealing Liberty an easy recommendation to read. You may purchase the book at Amazon.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Twenty Questions With Jo Ann Schneider

My guest for Twenty Questions is Jo Ann Schneider, the author of the Jagged Scar series. She has released four books in the series so far, of which the most recent title is Crippled Hope. Previous installments are Fractured Memories, Severed Ties and Shattered Dreams, with the fifth book, Broken World, underway.

You may learn more about the Jagged Scares series here or visit Jo Ann's website to learn more about her books.

For those who want to know more about Twenty Questions, you may learn more here about how you may participate.

I appreciate Jo Ann stopping by to visit -- let's hear from her about her writing.

1. How did you get interested in writing?
I won’t lie, I started writing stories as a tweenager. They all featured me, tossed into my favorite universes (ie Transformers, Jem and the Holograms, The A-Team, Aliens, Star Wars...) romping about kicking bad guy’s butts with the heroes.
None of it was good, but that’s how it all started.

2. What inspired you to come up with the Jagged Scars series?
A dream I had in college. A young girl who wakes up among strangers and has no idea where she is or what’s going on. I usually have fun dreams, but this was different. It felt real, and I still remember it to this day. The dream itself never made it into the novels, but the young girl, Wendy, and the leader of Shelter, Mike, did.

Ever since seeing the original Planet of the Apes—late at night, huddled in front of my 12” black and white TV that I had in my room when I was about twelve—and having my mind blown by the Statue of Liberty at the end, I’ve been fascinated with the fall of the world and what might happen afterwards. Jagged Scars is my first romp into that world.

3. Tell me about the main character, Wendy, and what inspired you to create her.
Wendy has problems. She’s the lone survivor of a Skinny (a mix between zombies and reavers) attack on the Den. She struggles with PTSD through the first three books, and it never totally goes away. It takes her a while to trust and/or bond with anyone. In book one, Wendy feels a little distant, and that’s on purpose.

Despite her problems, she’s a warrior who has spent more of her life training than anything else. She would give her life it if meant saving a kid, and she’ll go out of her way to kill Skinnies. Her father described her as the hammer of the Den, while her sister was the heart.

4. What characters, other than Wendy, did you find enjoyable to write as you progressed with the books?
Well, the others have their work cut out for them. Wendy is a hard nut to crack, but between Kev, Cal and Arie—with the occasional assist from Jeff—they break through her shell of protection and begin drawing the real Wendy out into the story.

The relationship between Kev and Cal has been fun to write. At first they’re like brothers, but Kev gets hurt and Cal gets warped by one of the bad guys, and they struggle for a few books. Being able to drive a wedge between them and then have the characters rip it apart was strangely satisfying. Their relationship is different now, and that’s okay.

5. What are some of the themes you explored in writing the series?
The first is mental illness. Not that I delve into the topic, but the first two books in the series are riddled with Wendy’s struggle with PTSD. She doesn’t really know what the problem is, and for a while she thinks she’s becoming a monster. Her friends rally around her, and never give up on her. Kev even knocks her out to keep her from killing a guy who did some nasty things to her.

That would be the second theme. Friendship. It can go through hell and still survive. I think people today need to know that. With the flurry of social media and the ease with which you get into a fight over nothing these days, I think it’s important to remember to ask yourself, “What is important? That we disagree over this topic, or that we’re friends and can stay that way despite our differences?”

6. What were some of the things you have learned along the way as you have written and edited each book in the series?
I’ve learned a few things. One being that I’m a crazy person until my plot is gelled. Which, sadly, may take two or three drafts of the book.

I’ve learned how valuable mean beta readers are. Seriously, worth their weight in gold. And chocolate.

I’ve learned that knowing the end will help me get there.

Right now I’m learning that wrapping everything up in book five is by far the most difficult part of this series.

7. Tell me more about the book, Babes in Spyland.
Babes in Spyland is a satirical James Bond in heels story. And it’s just as cheesy as it sounds. Four Super Secret Agents go up against bad guys that really shouldn’t exist. Like Lady Cluck. And the Swiss Misters. There are zombie flash mobs, a golf cart chase, theme parks, and a reality TV show gone awry.

The whole thing started out as a joke in college between some friends. It escalated and I decided I loved the characters so much that I asked the other girls if they were okay if I wrote an actual story. They said yes.

Babes was originally a serial story—one episode a week for twelve weeks to make a season. The publisher has gone out of business, so you can’t read it that way anymore, but I plan to break the original five seasons apart and then add on to it.

8. How did the process for writing Babes in Spyland differ from what you have done with the Jagged Scars series?
Each season of Babes is about 25k words. That was what the publisher requested. Fractured Memories, the shortest of my Jagged Scars books, is over 60k. On one hand, only having to worry about 25k words is easier than over 60k words. However, cramming an entire mystery—along with enough jokes to keep me laughing—into only 25k was challenging.

I didn’t have a solid ending in mind for Babes when I started, and life got crazy when I met my husband to be, so the last two seasons were a bit messy to write.

9. You have also written a couple of books in the New Sight series – what inspired those books?
I had recently been to a writing conference, and I had vowed that I would have a novel to pitch to an agent the next year. I’d been messing around with ideas for a few weeks, when one day, as I was driving home from work, the idea hit me.

Kids addicted to magic.


10. And what can you tell me about that series’ main character, Lysandra Blake, and how you created her?
I obviously gravitate toward female protagonists. Lys sort of grew out of the world building I was doing for the series. Once I figured out the magic system I started to think about what sense would be the most interesting to explore. Sight ended up at the top of the list, and things snowballed from there. I needed a main character who had issues—in this case addiction instead of PTSD—but was a good kid. Lys is smart and kind. She’s way out of her comfort zone at the beginning of the book when she’s on the psych ward after trying to take her mother’s eyes out with a spoon. We’ve all felt out of place before. Lys got that times about ten. I’ve loved her journey of self-discoverey so far. She isn’t a warrior, like Wendy, but she’s tough in other areas.

11. What do you find is the right environment for you to write?
I can write almost anywhere. One of the best short stories I’ve ever written came to me while I was in the train station in Moscow, Russia. Also, doctor’s offices. No idea why.

If I need to push out words, I go to Barnes and Noble. No distractions. No laundry. No dusting. No pull to go to the fridge and see if something chocolate or caffeinated has miraculously appeared in the last fifteen minutes.

If I’m not in a huge rush, I have an office in my house. All I need is a computer and a comfie chair. Music helps, but Pandora can stop for a good hour before I notice sometimes.

12. Are there specific programs or tools you find useful to help you with the writing process?
I type in Word. Although I have Scrivener. I’m just too afraid of opening it and losing a month of my life.

For plotting I am a huge fan of Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. I know there is a lot of controversy around having a ‘formula’ to write to, but it really helps the pacing of my stories. If I didn’t use it, the fun part of the story would be 2/3 of the novel, and the endings would all be rushed. Not to mention weak. Torturing characters is sometimes hard, and the Beat Sheet forces me not shy away from it.

Also, I often write plot points on index cards and spread them around my desk/table/house. I’m a visual girl. It really helps.

13. What have you found to be useful methods for promoting your writing?
I’m in the midst of trying out:
Amazon Ads
Facebook Ads
Newsletter swaps
Free books
Diversifying my platforms (not just Amazon)
Social media

I’m still looking for what really works for me. But the best thing I’ve done is find a few people who are ahead of me in the marketing game and ask them what’s working for them.
Putting Fractured Memories up for free on Amazon was a big move for me earlier this year. So far so good.

14. What are some of the famous books or authors you have enjoyed or inspired you?
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and anything by David Eddings or R.A. Salvatore. I know, old school.

15. Any aspiring or independent authors whose books you’ve read that you liked and want to mention to others to check out?
I’m really liking Angel Lawson’s The Death Fields series.

16. What advice would you give to those who want to write a novel before they actually get started?
Just do it! First drafts are supposed to be horrible. There will be parts that make you cringe and want to delete the file, then there will be parts that will amaze you. Embrace them both, then be ready to build on them.

17. I see you have a black belt in Kempo – tell me more about Kempo and what you enjoy about that martial arts discipline.
Well, I’ve always wanted to be a Jedi Knight, but since that particular path isn’t available, I decided on the next best thing. A ninja! I’m not great at the actual fighting part of it, but I love the physical confidence it gives me. I’m a chubby girl—always have been and always will be—so it’s nice to know that if something happens, I have a few things up my sleeves. And a killer kick to the groin. (Sorry guys)

I’ve had great instructors, and honestly, nothing prepared me more for receiving critiques in writing than having my instructors correct me and show me a better way to do even a simple kick. It sounds cliche, but I learned how to keep my cup empty, instead of full all of the time.

Plus, you get to kick things as hard as you can. It’s extremely satisfying.

18. I can tell you’re a Star Wars fan – is there a particular character(s) in the series you particularly love, and if so, who?
What gave it away?

Yes, I love Star Wars. As a kid I was all over wanting to be like Luke. Like I said before, Jedi would totally have been a career path for me. However, as I’ve gotten older, Han has become my favorite. His approach to things is practical and sometimes brutal, but things get done. He’s been down a lot of different paths, and in the end he decides to stick with the rebellion. He does what’s right even though it might hurt him in the long run. I like that.

19. In your travels to other continents, what were some locations you visited you particularly found enjoyable or interesting?
I went to China with my dojo and we did some training at the Shaolin Temple. Like Kung Fu the Legend Shaolin Temple. There is a room in which there are two divots in the floor, about a foot and a half across and four or five inches deep. They are just over shoulder width apart. This is where the monks stomp the floor.

Seriously. Stomp the floor. The stone floor, made out of super thick slabs of rock. That was pretty cool.

I took a Lord of the Rings tour in New Zealand. We went everywhere, but one of my favorites was the outing we took to where they had Edoras in the movies. The whole set is gone, but it was a beautiful wilderness with this amazing hill in the middle. We forded streams and everything to get there.

On my first cruise to Alaska my mom, dad, sister and I took a helicopter ride up to the top of a glacier. We got out and walked around. It was amazingly beautiful, and peaceful, but also full of power. Like nothing I’ve ever felt before. We all still talk about it, twenty years later.

20. Who would win a battle of superhero skills: Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman?
I have to stick with what I heard Stan Lee say when he was asked about characters in the Marvel Universe fighting.
“It depends on who’s writing the story.”

I still agree with him.

Friday, August 11, 2017

On The Black Witch, YA Lit And Related Issues

Earlier this week, I ran across an article at Vulture about young adult novel discussions on Twitter which focused on The Black Witch, a novel by Laurie Forest released earlier this year. To summarize, earlier this year, there was a review of The Black Witch that was highly critical of the novel (it may be found here) and followed by reactions ranging from tweets questioning the book to negative reactions to reviews that praised the book. A few months after the book was released, the Vulture article in question went up, which has sparked more debate, such as that tweets the author, Kat Rosenfield, linked to were on teens' accounts.

I won't go into too much detail about the novel itself, other than to say that I haven't read it but that there are some reviews on Goodreads that are worth considering (you can find the full thread of them here). But regardless of one's opinion about the book, there are several issues that need consideration when we talk about the world of YA publishing. As a YA writer, I have thought about a few of these issues from time to time, while others came up as I thought about the discussion surrounding The Black Witch.

The truth is, I have read from a lot of authors of all types about pushback they get against them for whatever reason, to the point that some wonder if it's even worth discussing their works with the public. We are in a society in which social media and the Internet are major parts of our lives and, while they have opened new doors and allowed for new opportunities that weren't available before, they come with a host of problems that we are struggling to address.

Meanwhile, having entered the YA field, I find myself struggling not only with how my writing takes shape in genera, but whether or not I am doing justice to the characters I write and to how to better represent people of all types. I imagine a lot of other YA authors feel the same way.

So here are some issues that need consideration regarding not just The Black Witch, but any novel that tries to tackle tough issues, and things we need to keep in mind regarding our discussions and debates about novels and literature.

The issues novels can tackle are often ugly. The Black Witch's main theme is prejudice, which takes a lot of forms, often forms that are not pretty. People tend to fear what they don't understand, especially if they have never grown up around particular individuals. Even our Internet age that allows us to connect with more people of different types hasn't solved this, especially because the Internet can just as easily allow the same types of people to gather in like-minded circles and sometimes keep bouncing the same views off one another.

And if we are honest, we are all prejudiced to some degree, regardless of race, sex, orientation, religion (or lack thereof), philosophy, location, ethnicity -- the list goes on. True, for those of us living in the United States, white, Anglo-Saxon males have tended to dominate historically, but on a worldwide scale, it's more complex. And those prejudices have taken ugly forms at times, ranging from slurs and harsh stereotypes to slavery and genocide. Prejudice has long been a weak point of human beings in general and something we still struggle with to this day.

But while I understand that words can be harmful, authors need to be able to explore these tough issues in order to get people to consider their shortcomings and question their own views. It's not just regarding prejudice -- there are plenty of issues that can address tough, often ugly, issues ranging from portrayal of warfare to abusive relationships. Sometimes it leads to material that can be sensitive to some readers. I understand the need for authors to carefully research what they write and to get feedback on what can be sensitive topics, but we have to be careful we don't discourage authors from exploring these issues or even make them decide they don't want to write any more.

Open, honest discussion about what authors can do to better address such topics should be welcomed, but we have to remember that sometimes we can't avoid ugly truths if we want to get people who may not be as aware, to become more aware.

People, in real life, don't always change quickly. One of the complaints I've heard about The Black Witch is that it took until halfway through the book before the protagonist started to change. But when you consider the protagonist grew up in the same area for 17 years and had no contact with people outside her own, it's not surprising it would take her a while. Because that's closer to reality than people may realize.

It's easy to think that, with Internet, social media and other means of networking that people will experience a broad range of individuals, but as I mentioned earlier, these new forms of communications have also allowed like-minded individuals to congregate and seldom go outside their bounds. But even when we do go outside those bounds, the online connections are no substitute for face-to-face interactions.

It's those face-to-face interactions that do a lot more to break down the walls and get people to understand how those who are different from them are really like. So it would be a natural progression that, in a book's world in which people don't have face-to-face interactions with those who are different, that when said people do have more of those interactions, it may take longer for them to warm up.

That's not to say all such criticisms of The Black Witch are invalid -- only that we must remember that face-to-face interactions do more to get us to really understand others who out there and what they are really like.

Diversity in publishing is a legitimate issue that may take time to address. It's true the major publishers were dominated by white males at one point, and that it tends to be white females who are becoming more prominent at them now, while others appear lost in the shuffle, but this is a complex web that's not so easily untangled when you consider a number of factors.

First, it's difficult for any author to get in with a major publisher -- you need an agent to do that and, without an agent, a major publisher won't consider you. Even with an agent, that's no guarantee you'll sign with a major publisher. We know about how the authors who became famous received multiple rejections the first time they tried to break into the publishing world, so you can imagine what that obstacle can be like for authors who are under-represented in the publishing world.

Second, while self-publishing is providing a means of allowing under-represented authors to get their works out there, it requires they do a lot of the work themselves -- in particular, promoting themselves. And some writers struggle with finding ways to market their books (I know I'm still learning that stuff). For those that do know how to market themselves, they must still navigate a world in which millions of books are out there. Figuring out how to stand out from the crowd is not easy.

Third, even with publishers wanting to promote diversity, their methods of promoting it may not be the best methods. It seems to me that there's more interest in making sure we have every type represented as characters in the novels, rather than trying to find more authors of every type and get their works represented. But even if you get those authors, the publishers may only show interest in books with themes that appeal to a mass audience. Finding a way to address such challenges is not an easy thing.

There are other challenges ranging from which groups are showing the most interest in reading (which plays a part in how many of those types of people will want to pursue novel writing) to the interest in paper-bound books versus ebooks (an area that the publishing industry is still figuring out and in which it may be fair to ask if demographics play a part) to the tendency of publishers to fall back on proven authors over those trying to get their first novel published.

Getting more diversity in publishing is fine, but the challenges that presents are many and it will take time to sort everything out and get it where it may need to be.

Outrage culture is dominating society too much. Regardless of where one stands on political, social, economic or any other issue, there is a tendency to vent our frustrations and outrage more than wanting to engage in discussion. And that leads to the tendency of some to follow that outrage because they become enamored with the drama that comes along with it.

It's often encouraged by the ability of people to like or favorite social media posts, reviews, forum posts and other forms of online communication. For some people, they are less interested in how a discussion is taking shape and more concerned with getting gratification and reward for having a post everybody loves -- that is, until somebody comes in with a counter point (sometimes regardless of how it's worded) and the arguments start.

Outrage culture often leads to whoever is leading the charge becoming less interested in promoting change or raising awareness and more interested with promoting themselves and raising their status. It can also lead to people who are unwilling to consider a single word of somebody's counterpoint and try to shout them down. In short, outrage culture does nothing to advance discussion and lead to meaningful change and, in the long run, can do more harm than good to whatever issue people are trying to raise.

And that brings me to this...

Twitter is problematic for open, honest discussion. I use Twitter and have found it useful in some ways. There are people who use it who have found ways to engage in honest discussion or raise valid points. It can serve as a means to promote your work or link to articles and blog post. And I have found it's the best way for me to post updates about sports events I cover for my full-time job at a newspaper.

But Twitter comes with plenty of drawbacks, which has led to the point that some want nothing to do with this form of social media. Let's go over some of the problems.

* The 140 character limit tends to boil things down to the simplest of terms and reinforces the mindset that Twitter is not about having a meaningful discussion, but about throwing out talking points, sound bites, memes and one liners, with gifs thrown in for good measure.

* It's extremely difficult to keep tweets private. Case in point is the Vulture article that linked to tweets off several people's accounts, many who were teens. But Twitter is set up so that somebody can link to any tweet that isn't protected -- and even that protection isn't foolproof, as a follower can share it and risk that it goes into the public realm.

* Twitter offers the least amount of information on a profile so people can know who they are conversing with. For people who may want to keep that information private, it works in their favor. But the flipside is how can one possibly know how old somebody is or exactly who they are dealing with if they have so little information to go by? For those who link to random tweets, some people may not even realize who is the person behind the tweet.

* Twitter offers one the least control over who can talk to them and who can follow them. Users can mute or block others, but it doesn't always prevent their tweets or replies from getting responded to by whoever wants to respond. Compare that to Facebook, in which users have more control over who can see what -- again, not foolproof, but more measures in place than what is on Twitter.

* Policing Twitter behavior has been a difficult exercise. People who run Facebook pages and groups can control posting and monitor inappropriate behavior, but Twitter doesn't operate like that. Additionally, the founders of Twitter haven't always been responsive to cutting down on inappropriate behavior, given how the platform works.

Those issues make Twitter problematic and are among the reasons why some people just don't bother with it any longer. And while some of the issues are the responsibility of those who founded and run Twitter, others fall into the hands of users who may find it too tempting to throw something out there just to get attention.

If we are going to address concerns about YA literature or literature in general, it's going to require more open, honest discussion about these and other issues, but it will also require everyone to keep an open mind and not be so defensive regarding how we approach our concerns. We may have good intentions regarding the issues we want to raise, but a flawed approach does nothing to address those issues and may, in fact, make the situation worse.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Twenty Questions With Helen Vivienne Fletcher

My guest for Twenty Questions this week is Helen Vivienne Fletcher, who is the author of Broken Silence and the collection of short stories titled Symbolic Death. Here is the blurb about Fletcher's debut novel.

A stranger just put Kelsey’s boyfriend in a coma. The worst part? She asked him to do it.

Seventeen-year-old Kelsey is dealing with a lot – an abusive boyfriend, a gravely ill mother, an absent father, and a confusing new love interest.

After her boyfriend attacks her in public, a stranger on the end of the phone line offers to help. Kelsey pays little attention to his words, but the caller is deadly serious. Suddenly the people Kelsey loves are in danger, and only Kelsey knows it.

Will Kelsey discover the identity of the caller before it’s too late?

I met Helen through An Alliance of Youth Adult Authors and am happy to visit with her about her debut novel and her other writing experiences. You may learn more about her work at her website.

Let's hear from Helen now!

1. How did you get interested in writing?
I was going to say I’ve always written, but I actually struggled really badly with learning to write as a child, so I guess it would be more accurate to say I’ve always made up stories, even if it took me a while to learn how to capture them on the page. I first became interested in writing as a career after I left drama school, due to ill health, and was looking for a new creative outlet.

2. What inspired you to come up with your latest release, Broken Silence?
I came up with the idea for Broken Silence when I was about 13. My best friend was sleeping over, and we’d just watched “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. We started making up our own thriller stories, and I came up with the basic plot for Broken Silence that night. It wasn’t until ten years later when I told the story to a writer friend, and she was just as captivated by it as my best friend and I had been as teenagers, that I realised it might be worth writing down.

3. Tell me about the main character, Kelsey, and what inspired you to create her.
Kelsey is struggling with a lot of things – her mother is very unwell, her father isn’t really in her life, she has some eating issues, and her boyfriend is abusive towards her. Added to the personal dramas she is already facing, Kelsey then begins receiving strange phone calls, which quickly escalate. All of this has led Kelsey to not value herself as much as she should, and this influences many of the events of the story.
There’s a lot of me in Kelsey, I have to admit. Or at least teenage me. I’d like to think I’m slightly less snarky than she is though!

4. What characters, other than Kelsey, did you find enjoyable to write as you progressed with the book?
I actually really enjoyed writing all of the characters, even the ones who aren’t always that likeable as people. I guess it’s the former mental-health support worker in me, but I just found the process of looking at how each character thinks, and what their motivations are, really interesting. Of course for most of it I was looking through Kelsey’s eyes, as well as my own, which was also an intriguing experience. Kelsey is somewhat of an unreliable narrator, so balancing how Kelsey saw things between her and her boyfriend, Mike, versus the reality of the abusive nature of that relationship, was a particularly interesting journey. Similarly the dynamic of Kelsey’s relationship with her brother and father, and also her changing relationship with her brother’s friend, Ben, were interesting ones to explore.

5. What are some of the themes you explored in writing the novel?
I think this is one of those questions where my answer as the author might be different to the answers readers would give. And as it should be – writing, like all art, will mean different things to different people. For me, I think one of the main themes is around how we deal with trauma, and the affect this has on how we see ourselves and how it affects relationships, whether those be with partners, friends or family. While this may seem a strange thing to say about a book which involves a serial killer, I do think relationships are at the heart of this story.

6. What were some of the things you learned along the way as you wrote and edited the book?
Some of the biggest things writing this novel taught me were patience and persistence. This was my first time working on a project of this length. I simply couldn’t write it all in one go, but it taught me to keep coming back, and to keep editing when things weren’t working in the text. There were times when I wanted to give up, because I’d look at a passage I’d written and think how awful it was, but each time I came back to it, and tweaked it a little more, it got a little better. It was a slow and at times frustrating process, but ultimately a rewarding one.

7. Tell me more about your collection of short stories, Symbolic Death.
As the name suggests, Symbolic Death, is a collection of stories about death. The title story follows a woman who finds a “death curse” symbol scratched into the soap scum around her sink, and Underneath the Clock tells the story of Angus, a young boy watching his family fall apart after the death of his father, told from his innocent perspective. Some of the stories are sad, as you’d expect, but there is also a touch of black humour. In Short-Lived Happiness, a butterfly chrysalis hatches, under the watchful eye of a hungry cat, and Death’s Daughter is told from the perspective of a teenage grim reaper. I wrote these stories over several years, while studying for a qualification in creative writing, and this book is free to anyone who signs up for my newsletter on my website.

8. Is there a particular work in Symbolic Death that you particularly enjoyed writing and, if so, which one(s) is it and why?
I think that would have to be Underneath the Clock. I’ve been a student in various short writing workshops over the years, and I kept finding these two characters – a young boy Angus, and his teenager brother Bede – appearing in the writing exercises we did. I wasn’t sure what their story was for a long time, but the dynamic between them, and the sadness that seemed to surround their family intrigued me. It was an interesting experience, as when all the pieces of the story finally came together, they all made sense. It was like my subconscious had had the plan all along, it just didn’t let me in on it until the last minute.

9. I see you’ve written a few picture books – how did writing them compare to writing a novel?
In a way, I think writing a picture book is more similar to writing a play than to writing a novel. While there are, of course, editors, designers etc. involved in publishing a novel, the final product is still reasonably within your control. When it comes to picture books and plays, the text is only one part of the project. Handing work over to an illustrator, or to a director and actors is a really scary feeling as you do have to relinquish that control. The illustrator or director may take your work in a quite different direction to what you had imagined, but the cool part is, that’s usually a really good thing. The collaboration aspect creates something amazing that neither of you could have come up with individually.

10. What do you find is the right environment for you to write?
It’s varied from project to project, but at the moment my preferred space to write is sitting on the bed in my spare room. I’ve never been one to sit at a desk to write, and I think the spare room works for me as there are less distractions in there!

11. Are there specific programs or tools you find useful to help you with the writing process?
I keep it simple when writing fiction. I use a notebook and pen for keeping track of ideas, and a word document for writing drafts. When it comes to writing plays, I do use software to simplify the formatting process. I have done it myself in the past, but it is pretty time consuming to set up, so I now use Celtx, which is fortunately free to use.

12. What have you found to be useful methods for promoting your writing?
This side of the business is still new to me, but I’m learning! I think the most useful thing has been collaborating with other authors. I found it really scary to approach other authors, or join joint promotions initially, as it felt like they were further along in their journey and I didn’t have much to offer in return. But everyone starts somewhere, and many people are happy to give a helping hand up to those just beginning.
13. What are some of the famous books or authors you have enjoyed or inspired you?
I think the authors who inspired me most were ones who I read as a teenager. Kate de Goldi, Paula Boock and Melina Marchetta come to mind. My teenage years felt very confusing and their works made me feel understood in a way the world in general did not. If you haven’t come across them before, I would really recommend their books.

14. Any aspiring or independent authors whose books you’ve read that you liked and want to mention to others to check out?
This doesn’t quite fit into the category of aspiring/independent authors, but I would say if you haven’t read many New Zealand children’s and young adult authors, I would really recommend checking them out. Sue Copsey, Fleur Beale, Mandy Hager, Kate de Goldi to name just a few. We have a brilliant community of authors here, but I’m not sure how much their work gets seen outside of New Zealand, and that’s a shame.

15. What advice would you give to those who want to write a novel before they actually get started?
A lot of our lives, we have deadlines and goals put on us by other people. Writing usually isn’t like that – you have to set the goals and timeframe, and you need to motivate yourself to do it. There are so many responsibilities and distractions in life, so it can be hard to make writing a priority. It also doesn’t help that no one else really cares (or even knows!) that you’re writing a book. If you didn’t show up to work, you would be told off, but if you don’t show up to writing… no one minds. It’s important to be your own taskmaster, to get yourself to your writing dates, and also to be your own cheerleader to keep going and celebrate your successes. Also, your first draft is probably not going to be that great – and that’s okay, because that’s how it should be! Don’t think you’re not a good writer just because your unedited first draft doesn’t read like a finished book. No one’s first draft reads like a finished book!

16. I see you teach creative writing classes – what’s it like getting the chance to share your knowledge with children and adults?
It’s a really great experience teaching creative writing. Kids have such an interesting way of looking at the world – I love seeing what they do with the writing prompts, and am always inspired by their ideas and creativity. In all my classes – both for children and adults – my main focus is on improving confidence with writing. I strongly believe that the best way to become a better writer, is to spend more time writing, but self-doubt and self-consciousness can get in the way of that. The best feeling in teaching is seeing someone complete an awesome piece after feeling too afraid to start, because they thought it wouldn’t be good enough. It might sound cheesy, but it really is an honour to be allowed to be a part of that journey for them.

17. Are there programs, other than the creative writing classes, that you offer through the Brain Bunny Workshops?
Brain Bunny Workshops is just creative writing, though I did collaborate with a drama teacher a while back, to run a creative writing and theatre sports holiday programme. I did also used to also teach gluten-free baking and arm knitting through the Wellington High School Community Centre, where I teach my adults classes, but I’m now just focusing on teaching creative writing.

18. Tell me about the play you wrote, How to Catch a Grim Reaper, and how that experience compared to writing books.
How to Catch a Grim Reaper tells the story of a group of flatmates, who set out to end death and suffering forever, by capturing the grim reaper. There’s just one problem with their plan though: they need to kill one of their friends to do it. Well… almost kill them. I describe the genre as “drama-horror-comedy-romance” as it has a bit of everything mashed in together, but somehow works!
I was commissioned to write this play by an organisation here in New Zealand called Young and Hungry. They are a charitable trust who empower young people, through mentoring, to appreciate, create and participate in New Zealand Theatre. I was involved in Young and Hungry as a teenager, so it was really nice to be able to reconnect with them as an adult.
The experience was not as different to writing a novel as you might expect. My strength has always been in writing dialogue, so even when I’m writing fiction, I often start my drafts by writing out some conversations between characters. The one thing I did find was that my first draft of How to Catch a Grim Reaper had way too many stage directions. I was used to having to describe everything on the page, and had to learn to pare that back and trust the actors to tell the story.

19. Other than the writing part, what aspects about plays do you find particularly enjoyable?
All of it really! My parents introduced me to going to the theatre at a young age, and this is something I’ve enjoyed since. Mum and Dad actually met through an amateur dramatic society, so it’s not surprising really. I studied acting, and have worked as a director, and in stage management. When I was younger, I thought that would be the field I ended up working in, but writing is a much better fit for me, though I do still occasionally take to the stage for performance poetry.

20. Who would win a battle of superhero skills: Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman?
Hmm… I want to say they all would, because they would realise they’re on the same side, and join together to use the best super power of all – teamwork! But if I have to choose just one I would say Wonder Woman. Have been a fan since watching reruns of the 70s TV show as a kid, and I just think she’s awesome.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Birthday Giveaway -- Six Pack: Emergence


What if society was controlled by a drink, but there was another drink that might allow one to change the way things were? This is the question faced by Tyler Ward and his five friends in the new book Six Pack: Emergence.

Tyler is set to graduate from secondary school when he learns the truth about the nation of Novusordo and how the government controls the population through a drink. He and his five friends visit a professor’s house, consume another drink and gain strange powers. Now they find themselves part of a movement against the government and must learn to control their powers and how they might change society. But can they trust the movement… or even each other?

Six Pack: Emergence, a young adult, science fiction, dystopian novel is written by B.W. Morris, a longtime writer for small-town newspapers, though it took him a while to embrace his inner comic book geek and put his overactive imagination to work through novel writing. The novel, published by Clean Reads, is Morris’ debut work, the first in a planned trilogy.

To celebrate the month of his birthday, Morris is giving away a free ebook of his debut novel. You must enter the giveaway at Amazon by Aug. 16 and may do so by following this link: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/1f12261980c92216#ts-afo

Morris may be reached via email at bwmorris@mail.com or to learn more about his work, visit his blog at relaxingwithsixpack.blogspot.com.