Writing Tips With Josh Davis

Today, I would like to welcome Josh Davis to The Town’s End Tribune! He is a very experienced writer with loads of knowledge, and I’m hoping to share his thoughts on a regular basis. So, without further ado… Here’s Josh!


000 josh writing picI’ve been writing professionally off and on for over ten years now. It all started with a gig as a sportswriter for a local weekly newspaper in my hometown of Appomattox, Virginia. Then, I served as a contributor (and later as the general editor) of a Mixed Martial Arts news website. While I was editor, web traffic was increased by over 1600%, unique page views per month increased by nearly 600%, and we won numerous awards for our content. During that time, I was also winning awards for my poetry, and working on my own blog, the (now defunct) Laymen’s Theology blog, and working on novels. Since January of 2015, I have been writing full time, achieving the dream of writing for a living as a freelance ghostwriter and editor while I keep working on my own things, earning nearly $30,000 as a writer last year.

In March of this year, my wife (Patricia) and I started a publishing company together, and our first release achieved #1 on no less than six best-seller lists on Amazon.com.

I say all this, not to brag, but to illustrate the simple fact that I know what I’m talking about. If I give out tips or information, it’s because I know that it works and will increase the overall quality of your writing. So, drawing on my over ten years of experience as a pro, I started my #WritingTipsWithJosh series of videos on my YouTube channel. I try to post a writing tip video every Thursday, to help the aspiring writer to improve as a writer. After all, my personal motto is, “never stop learning.”

And it is with that intention in mind that I illustrate the key points of my video from this week, regarding introductions and prologues in fictional stories.

Introductions, while pivotal in non-fiction books and articles because they introduce the reader to the material, are one of the worst things that you can put in a fictional story. They serve only to ruin the story itself, because readers do not want you to tell them what they are going to read, they want to read it. More importantly, the information in an introduction is often simply a repeat of the information they’ve already digested in the book description. After all, any discerning reader will read reviews and book descriptions to determine if the story is one that will interest them. So, never include an introduction in fictional stories.

As to prologues, they are a slightly trickier animal. It would be very easy to say “don’t include prologues either,” but the fact is, prologues can actually serve a purpose if handled with care. The trick is to make the prologue matter.

For example, let’s look at one of the best-selling fictional stories ever written: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

The first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone serves as the prologue to the story. Rowling masterfully sets the stage with information that matters to the story. Hagrid mentions that he borrowed the motorcycle that he delivered Harry with from “young Sirius Black.” Black, of course, is not mentioned again until the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. We see Professor Dumbledore leave a letter with the infant Harry’s sleeping form. We never know the contents of that letter until the fifth book in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

More immediately, we read that Harry’s cousin, Dudley, pokes and prods at Harry for the next few weeks, foreshadowing the abuse that the Dursley’s put young Harry through until his eleventh birthday.

While not a true prologue, the first chapter of the series demonstrates all the qualities that we look for in a prologue. It is filled with plot points and conflicts that never fully come to fruition until later (and sometimes, much later) in the series. The motorcycle, for example, is used in the third book to illustrate Sirius’s hand in the death of Harry’s parents. The fact that Professor McGonagall is able to shape shift into a cat sparks Hermione’s search for incriminating forms of bugging in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In the fifth book, we learn that Professor Dumbledore told the Dursley’s that Harry’s life would be in extreme danger if they ever turned him out, resulting in his being allowed to stay in the house in Order of the Phoenix.

These are the qualities that we look for in great prologues…setting up plot points that matter. The key is to avoid dumping information onto the readers, immediately turning them off from the characters that we have spent so much time getting to know and falling in love with ourselves. After all, if we don’t love our characters, the reader won’t either.

Writing compelling stories is less like The Notebook and more like Saving Private Ryan. We have to fight to earn the privilege of having readers read even one more word. Speaking from experience, there is no greater feeling that seeing our words have the desired impact on the reader. We want readers to cry with our characters, laugh with them, rejoice with them, and leave the worlds that spring forth from our minds feeling as if there is something missing. We want them to become so immersed in the story that they are compelled to turn the page, simply to find out what happens next.

Do you really want to turn them off just because you couldn’t restrain yourself from dumping all the information you can into a few pages at the front of your brilliantly composed novel? If your answer is “no”, then avoid prologues as much as possible, and never use an introduction to your fictional story. If your answer is anything other than “no”, you need to find a new line of work.

Seriously.


Josh Davis is a writer, editor, and publisher in his hometown of Appomattox, Virginia. He has been married to his high-school sweetheart, Patricia, for almost eight years and the couple has three children, Ivy (7), Nathaniel (6), and Christine (2). He is an avid fisherman and golfer, and loves to watch his favorite football team, the Tennessee Titans in the fall.

He currently has one novel and one biopic in the works, Stockholm Syndrome and Power of One, respectively. You can learn more about his work as a writer at Josh Davis, Writer. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter. For more information about his company, you can visit the Davis Publishing Company Facebook page and website.

For more writing tips and tricks, subscribe to his YouTube channel. To have your questions answered, use the #WritingTipsWithJosh hashtag on Facebook and Twitter.

Write Your Own Way

How many aspiring writers have chased the dream of writing professionally by following the “surefire way to write a bestselling novel”? You were pulled in by the promises of “foolproof plotting”, “unforgettable characters”, and “unbeatable stories”, but you only end up with frustration and unfinished works. So what’s going wrong? Surely something is missing here. What they don’t tell you is that these tips, tricks, and plans don’t work for everyone. Method and craft knowledge is only half of the equation.

It may sound like I am putting down all of the authors who publish writing craft books. This is absolutely untrue. I have learned from some very talented writers and teachers, and the thing that I have learned is that there is no ONE way to write. The Author Q&A Series I started really brought this idea to the forefront for me. I interviewed two spectacular writing mentors, and their methods are different on many levels. Their craft books further highlight the differences in writing styles, and I love that. The more I read on the writing craft, the more I realize that there is no right or wrong way to write. I’m enthralled when authors share their knowledge and technique in the hopes that it will assist a burgeoning writer find their own course. What I really have a problem with is the predatory works that seek to shill people out of their money and time with false notions. If I see ridiculous promises, I’m not going to waste my time. I would rather spend my time under the tutelage of Deborah Chester, KM Weiland, James Scott Bell, or any of the other various writers who aren’t snake oil salesmen. Teaching is not about creating clones, but giving people the skills to succeed using their own talents.

We all have to learn from those who came before us. The problem comes when we try to fit who we are as writers within a box we aren’t meant to be in. There are so many fantastic writers in our history, and we could spend lifetimes studying how they created the beautiful literature and flowing prose that we adore and strive to emulate. I think we would find that there are differences across the spectrum that make each writer unique. While plot, character archetype, genre, writing style, and anything else could be similar, there are things that make each writer their own special creator. We can all start out walking a beaten path, but at some point we have to branch off on our own.

When I came back to writing, I was searching for the path that would lead me where I wanted to go. I searched craft books, websites, and just about any source I could for inspiration. When I found something that felt right, I chased it. I began absorbing knowledge and testing the methods. I tried to emulate the styles of authors I enjoyed. Some things worked and others didn’t. Some failed spectacularly. The thing I found out was I had to find my writing style. I could not put myself in the shoes of another writer. I can’t write with cookie cutter methods. To make a truly unique story that maximized my full potential, I had to transform the methods and lessons from other writers in to my own specific form.

I struggled with this at first. I kept trying to fit myself back in to the box. When one box didn’t work, I looked for another one. I didn’t get anything accomplished until I stopped trying to follow the rules so rigidly. I started following the things that worked for my writing. 6 months of mangled notes and barely any progress turned in to 51 pages and over 31,000 words in a rough first version plot summary in just under two months.

It’s been an amazing experience as a writer learning my own approach. It has given me confidence in my work, and an ability to share it with others. I have always enjoyed blogging, and I loved being a journalist, but I’ve never had the courage to share any of my fiction work. I sent out my plot summary for content review this week, and it was liberating and horrifying at the same time. My work has a LONG way to go before it is done, but its a good start.

Don’t chase a dream and try to fit it within someone else’s success. Learn from them, study their methods, and then build your own design. There are many incredible teachers and mentors who legitimately want to to help the aspiring writers who seek them out. They will give you the tools and tell you the methods that they mastered. It is up to you to use what you learn to create your own style. Being unique, original, and imaginative is what makes writing so much fun. Don’t be lazy and try to stick to the paved roads of authorship. Originality will set you apart in your story as well as in how you craft it.

Be brave like the protagonists you invent. Explore the untamed wilds of writing. The trodden path can only take you so far.

Emily

You often don’t get to witness inspiration and transcendent talent in real life. We can live our whole existence seeing things of beauty from a far, and being touched by the works and abilities of others while never having a personal connection. This beautiful world that surrounds us is full of people who create beautiful things and have amazing talents, but those truly brilliant souls in our world are few and far between.

This weekend has been the culmination of a long road for a woman of pure, unadulterated, and boundless musical genius. Her path to where she is now wasn’t the easy one. Despite everything that was in her way, she overcame the obstacles and persevered to follow her dreams. She never gave up despite the fears that she faced and the desire that would often strike her. Doubt would eat at her confidence, but she would not give up. She fought against all odds, and now she is an Magna Cum Laude Honor Graduate with a Bachelors Degree in Music Performance.

She did all of this over the past several years while being a mother and a wife. She did it while moving to an unknown future, with only the barest of ideas and plans for where to go forward. She has blossomed from a girl with a viola to a professional musician. Watching her growth as a person, a musician, an academician, a wife, and a mother over the past several years has been like watching an artist craft a masterpiece. It has been like hearing a composer create their quintessential work. The best part is that I know this is only the beginning.

I feel so blessed to have her in my life, and to be able witness her talent and beauty firsthand. When she plays viola, it is so beautiful and so passionate. When she studies music, she is so thorough and so eager to learn. When I watch her with our daughter, she is so loving and fun. Some days, I wonder how she has the strength to make it through, but then I would remember the fire I would see in her eyes. Her eyes are always alight with a beautiful flame when she is playing viola, learning or sharing about music, or spending time with Madelyn. Her heart and soul are always in every thing she does, and I love seeing the results.

Emily, I am blown away by you. I stand here proud to be your husband, partner, and best friend. You have been my rock in troubled times, and I am so proud to have been yours. I know that the days of doubt and turbulent times we faced were meant to make us stronger, and they would pay off in the end. You made it! Despite everything I have said here, words still could not express the admiration, love, pride, and awe that I feel for you. You are such a beautiful and talented woman, and I cannot imagine my life without you. I am so very proud of you, and everything you have done. You have inspired me in so many ways, and you continue to amaze me on a daily basis. I love you to the ends of the earth, and I will always be your biggest supporter, your writing partner, your listening ear, and anything and everything you need me to be.

Emily, you truly are a one of a kind beauty and talent. There is no one else in the world like you. Never forget that, my love.

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Author Q&A Series: KM Weiland

Today, I am pleased to continue my Author Q&A Series with an amazing writer and mentor, KM Weiland.

K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

KM has been a heavy influence on my return to writing, and her role as mentor has helped my abilities as an aspiring author blossom. Getting the chance to interview her was truly a blessing, and I am excited to share it with you.

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  1. When did you begin writing professionally? What guided you to that career choice?

I started writing when I was twelve and published a small newsletter throughout high school. I independently published my first novel, the western A Man Called Outlaw when I was twenty. But I didn’t really take it seriously as a business until my next book, the medieval historical Behold the Dawn, came out three years later.

Stories are like breathing. Life without a story in my head is one-dimensional, stagnant, vapid. I love the life God has given me, but I think I love it better because I’m able to live out so many other lives on the page. I’m more content to be who I am because I’m not trapped in that identity. When I sit down at my computer and put my fingers on the keys, I can be anyone or anything, at any time in history. I write because it’s freedom.

  1. Which authors or works were inspirational to your growth as a writer?

As a novelist, I am inspired by countless excellent authors and filmmakers. Specifically, Brent Weeks’s epicness, Margaret Atwood’s prose, and Patrick O’Brian’s sheer genius speak to me and urge me on. As a blogger, I’m inspired by the professionalism and creativity of people such as Joanna Penn, Porter Anderson, and Jody Hedlund.

  1. What drew you to the genres you write in? 

First answer is: blood and thunder stories. I’m kind of all over the board on genres (although everything I write does stay confined under the giant umbrellas of either historical or fantasy), but all of my stories are what I like to call “blood and thunder.” They’re usually action-packed, a little bit on the adventurous side, but also gritty.

  1. How and where did you learn your vast repertoire or knowledge on writing? 

Writing books, magazines, blogs—and lots and lots of study and practice of real stories!

  1. How did you get involved in helping other writers?

It was all an accident, believe me! I stumbled into blogging about writing because, hey, every writer needs a blog, right? And you’re supposed to blog about what you’re interested in, and that would be…writing. Then one day I woke up, and the blog had just sort of taken off!

Really, I think the site has been as much of a blessing to me as it has been to anyone. Other than the marvelous writer folk I’ve gotten to meet, I’ve also learned so much by writing about writing.

  1. You have published 6 writing craft books, you have a podcast with more than 300 episodes, and your website has a wealth of resources and information. How has sharing this with others helped you grow as a mentor and a writer?

I’m learning right along with everyone I teach. My blog and my books are just an outgrowth of my own writing journey. Forcing myself to put my own thoughts and discoveries into a teachable format has been invaluable to me in strengthening my own conscious knowledge of writing.

  1. When you are mentoring someone, what are some of the most common mistakes you see when they are learning the craft? 

#1: Fail to properly structure the story.

#2: Fail to create an engaging character with an engaging voice.

#3: Fail to show more than is told.

  1. As a writer, what has been the most difficult thing for you to overcome? What about as a mentor?

Every book is its own adventure. Something that’s easy in one book can end up being surprisingly difficult in another. Major rewrites, when they’re necessary, are probably my least favorite part—but they offer their own rewards too. Honestly, I enjoy aspects of every part of the process.

  1. We know that imagination cannot be taught, but what do you think is the single most important thing to writing a successful novel?

Proper structure is vital in creating powerful and memorable fiction. Story structure is instinctual to most people. It’s embedded deep in the human psyche. It’s certainly not an arbitrary set of guidelines, and it’s also not something exclusive to our era. We find the classic three-act structure across centuries and continents.

That being so, we have to ask ourselves, Why? The answer, of course, is that structure creates stories that not only balance the rise and fall of action, but also time the important turning points, so that they have the best chance of impacting and resonating with readers.

What writer doesn’t want to do that? A conscious understanding of structure allows us to understanding the theory behind story, which then allows us to discover why certain stories work and others don’t—and how to make sure our stories land in the former group.

  1. What can your fans and apprentices expect to see from you in the near future?

Within just a few weeks, I have an online writing course coming out called How to Write Amazing Character Arcs That Sell Novels. Before the year is out, I also hope to put out a book and workbook on character arcs. I’m also in the process of editing my latest novel—a historical superhero adventure called Wayfarer.

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A big thank you goes to KM for taking the time to be a part of the Author Q&A Series. I hope that any aspiring authors or writers found some good advice in her answers. Don’t forget that you can find so much more of her incredible insight on her website Helping Writers Become Authors and in her books.

A special thanks also goes out to the Wordplayers. Thank you for the feedback and input for the series.

Thanks for reading!

WTF Is The FDA Smoking?

So… the FDA is “protecting” Americans by throwing the hammer down on e-cigarettes, but never mind the fact that cigarettes are still killing around 480,000 people a year in the US. They want to know exactly what goes in to the vaporizers and e-liquid, but does anyone have a clue what goes in to cigarettes?

Proponents of the new regulations say that this is all about protecting our youth and keeping “tobacco products” out of the hands of minors. I understand and support that. If the regulations stated simply that and they were going to work with the current vaping industry to build guidelines, I would be on board. Unfortunately, they didn’t, and I am disgusted with the draconian way that they have tried to crush the start up industry.

The FDA says it will take $1-2 million for research and testing on EACH product for government approval. So for a company that sells 10 different e-liquids, it could cost them $10-20 million to continue business. AREYOUFUCKINGKIDDINGME?! Let us not forget that our friends over at BIG TOBACCO have gotten in to the vaping market, and are pretty much the only ones who could afford this ludicrous cost. Tell me you see a pattern here. (I’ll give you a hint: the pattern is the FDA is getting money from big tobacco.)

Keeping this stuff out of the hands of minors should have been the biggest concern. Requiring ID checks is a must, but ultimately, we know that people still manage to buy alcohol and cigarettes underage. There are ways to put age verification on websites, and e-cigarette sites are beginning to incorporate them. I absolutely think the checks and balances should be there for this requirement, but to try and shut down an entire industry by bludgeoning it with outrageous regulations is a big steaming pile of bullshit.

Speaking of bullshit, let’s get past the myth that people don’t know what is in e-cigarettes. If you want to talk about a self-policing industry, look to vaping. The e-liquid isn’t some mystery concoction. Websites that sell it list the ingredients. There are more companies that list the ingredients on their bottles than ones that don’t. The liquids have the nicotine content on the bottle. If that wasn’t enough for you, I make my own liquid, so I know what goes in to the flavoring as well. The doors and windows are wide open in this industry because they WANT to be accepted. You go ask a cigarette company to list their ingredients on the boxes, and see what they say. The industry is willing to work with the FDA to get approval, but no small vape company can afford the cost the FDA is charging.

Look, if you are of legal age to purchase “tobacco” products, no matter what your pleasure, then I say that is your choice. I’m not going to tell you that you’re a better person for vaping, or you suck at life for smoking cigarettes. If you’re a non-smoker, that’s your choice too. All I am saying is that the FDA is stomping all over the vaping community to “protect Americans from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine, especially our youth”(Sylvia Burwell, HHS Secretary). Don’t worry about those kids still buying cigarettes underage. Let’s not worry about those annual 480,000 people who might like to have known what cigarette companies were putting in their products. Never mind that research is beginning to show that e-cigarettes are a less unhealthy alternative to smoking cigarettes. (Yes, they aren’t as good as not smoking at all. I’m not going in to that argument.) I could go on, and on, but I digress…

I hope that the bills going through Congress and the Senate right now will curb the FDA’s lunacy on these regulations. I hope that people do come to their senses. I don’t mind that vaping isn’t allowed in the same places that smoking is banned. I’m OK with the fact that vaping gets its fair share of shit for being the new douche bag trend. It is what it is, but what I am not OK with is people being contrary and hypocritical. Don’t feed us a big pile of bullshit and tell us it’s all for the kid’s sake. We know you’re so full of shit it’s coming out of your eyes. Why don’t you guys go do something worthwhile like figure out how to regulate and legalize marijuana so that the draconian agenda surrounding that can go away? Oh right… the kids.

Thanks for reading folks. If you’re a vaper, we have 2 years, folks. Hopefully people come to their senses before then. And, yes… I used draconian twice. Look it up. It has a fun history.

Anxiety!

Hi folks. As you can tell, we will be talking about anxiety. This month is, amongst many other things, Mental Health Awareness Month. There are so many disorders and mental diseases that are out there, but anxiety is one that I am very familiar with. This is my own personal take on the subject, from the life experiences I’ve had. I’m not going to go in to terms and definitions or get scientific on you. I want to give you my real world view.

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Now, let’s debunk some myths I used to believe about anxiety.

MYTH: Anxiety causes people to be nervous wrecks all the time.

REAL LIFE: Anxiety is not defined as someone who suffers from constant worry or fear. It is definitely a part of suffering from anxiety, but you aren’t in constant Chicken Little mode. There are times where the sky is indeed falling. Other times, you are a completely functional human being. Two years ago, if you would have told me that I have an anxiety disorder, I would have told YOU to get your head checked. The effects of anxiety are wide ranging, but most people who suffer from anxiety go through phases of anxiety highs and lows, and will have anxiety or panic attacks.

MYTH: I thought having anxiety meant you were crazy.

REAL LIFE: Well, you are crazy, but everyone is crazy, including me. Anxiety is a normal response to certain situations. Some people suffer from an overabundance of it. It can be mild or severe, but most people with an anxiety disorder fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Anxiety can also be associated with other disorders such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Being “crazy” is subjective. We all go off the rails from time to time. It is important to know when you are going off the rails too much.

MYTH: You can tell when someone has anxiety.

REAL LIFE: The truth is that people are exceedingly good at putting on brave faces for others. I know this because I’ve done it for a long time. I’m not going to go in to details about my life, but it hasn’t been all sunshine and happiness. I began hiding behind a mask of sarcasm and ill temper a long time ago. I have a very short temper. I constantly think about how things aren’t going to work out. I function on a razor’s edge of knowing that my life is fine and I’m an idiot for worrying and complete nuclear meltdown. Hi, I have an anxiety disorder. It took a rather personal situation to put it in perspective for me. The world didn’t end, and I was relieved when I found out that there was a rational answer to my irrationality. The only thing I regret is not seeking out help sooner.

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Anxiety is a tough road to walk if you don’t know where you’re going or if you don’t even know what road you’re on. My personal experiences have taught me that the best thing that you can have is a support system. Get help and talk to someone if you feel like there is something in your life that you can’t control. If you know somebody who you think is suffering from anxiety, reach out and support them. Don’t be a short fused nervous time bomb like me. It’s ok to be a little crazy. We can all be crazy together.

For more detailed information on anxiety and associated disorders, visit the following links:

National Institute of Mental Health

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

National Alliance on Mental Illness

 

Author Q&A Series: Deborah Chester

As an aspiring author, I have sought out insight and guidance from as many sources and people as I could find. What I have discovered is a wealth of knowledge in books, blogs, and websites designed to give burgeoning writers the direction that they seek. I wanted to soak up as much knowledge as I could, but I felt like my questions weren’t being answered.

My solution was to begin a series of Q&A interviews with authors, which I would then share here on Town’s End Tribune. My goal is to get answers to the questions that are eating at me, while also sharing them with other striving authors who seek advice from established writing veterans.

My first interview is with Deborah Chester, professor of Professional Writing at the University of Oklahoma, and author of over 40 books. Deborah recently published The Fantasy Fiction Formula, a writing craft book that helps guide a writer through the process of creating a book in the fantasy genre. Deborah’s teaching influenced the writing of Jim Butcher, author of the best-selling urban fantasy series the Dresden Files.

 “Listen carefully to what Debbie has to say about telling stories, aspiring writer. She knows exactly what she’s talking about.”
— Jim Butcher

 Deborah’s role as an educator and mentor made her a top priority on my list of people to interview, and I am so glad she agreed to be a part of this series. She has so much knowledge to share, and I am elated to share the Q&A interview of Deborah Chester with you.

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 1. When did you begin writing professionally? What guided you to that career choice?

I began writing professionally in 1978, when I acquired a literary agent and sold my first book manuscript. The book was subsequently published in 1980.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was nine. There was no other career choice as appealing to me.

 2. Which authors or works were inspirational to your growth as a writer?

Andre Norton and Robert Heinlein were inspirational, but C.S. Forester and Georgette Heyer were hugely influential.

 3. What made you interested in becoming an educator?

I was seeking a day job less intrusive into my writing time than the usual 8-to-5 job. While I was working on two master’s degrees, a vacancy in professional writing here at the University of Oklahoma unexpectedly appeared and I was hired as a replacement. I had to drop my studies in Latin, but I completed my M.A. in Professional Writing and held onto the job. Later it became a full-time position, and then I achieved tenure and moved up the ladder.

 4. You recently published your first book on writing, The Fantasy Fiction Formula. What inspired you to create this work?

Many of my students over the years have urged me to write a book on writing, so I’ve long had it in the back of my mind that someday I would get around to it. Then I was contacted by Manchester University Press in England about doing one. The editor is a huge Jim Butcher fan, and she had located my blog on writing, “Chronicles of the Scribe,” and she offered me a contract.

 5. How did you get drawn to the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre? 

I’ve been a science fiction fan since my childhood. Star Trek’s original series was my favorite television show, and I always loved the notion that someday we would reach the stars. I love world-building, adventure, and history so eventually I migrated over into the fantasy camp.

 6. What are some of the pitfalls you have found working in that particular genre? What about advantages?

I’ve seen science fiction change from a genre largely aimed at adolescent boys to one that now embraces a female audience and where women authors no longer have to hide their identity behind pseudonyms.  I’ve seen fantasy rise into an enormously popular genre, pulling away from science fiction and leaving in the dust. I find it interesting that fantasy is considered cool to read by a vast spectrum of people, but science fiction still struggles against literary prejudice.

The biggest pitfall in writing fantasy comes from how threadbare its tropes are. How do you create a fresh, original story that will still appeal to readers who have read so much? And if you do create something fresh and original, will readers embrace it if it lacks those threadbare tropes they love?

The advantages are that you can create the story world any way you want. Your setting is yours to command, and science fiction is wide open to experimentation.

 7. What are some of the biggest mistakes aspiring authors make?

Two of the biggest mistakes I see are weak plotting and information dumps. Newbies are often drawn to writing because they’ve envisioned a magical world and want to live in it. They’re so entranced by this world that they pour all their creative energy into its creation, and they forget that they must also write a good story. Many beginners tend to plot the same way a video game goes, which is not how a book is constructed. If they aren’t voracious readers, they can’t develop their story sense well enough to have reliable plotting instincts.

As for information dumps, they are the bane of the genre. Writers have to find a way to explain, describe, and show the story world and its props so that readers can understand them, but without halting the story to lecture for several pages at a time.

 8. What is the best advice you would give to an aspiring author?

My advice for aspiring writers is to read, read, read, read, read. Among your favorite authors, examine why you like their stories so much. Is it their settings? Their character design? Their snarky dialogue? Their pacing and plot twists? All of the above? Do they reach your emotions?

Figure out how and why these authors touch you. Figure out why other stories bore you. Then emulate what works and avoid what doesn’t.

It’s been said that a good way to self-train is to take your favorite novel and type it. Just prop it next to your computer and type the entire thing. It will take you weeks to do, but by the end of this task you should have a pretty good idea of how dialogue flows, how scenes and chapters are constructed, where to set hooks, and how to introduce characters. Of course you won’t steal that author’s story. It’s just a training exercise. And if this exercise sounds too brutal, get over it. Writing is wonderful, but it’s tremendously hard work.

 9. Now that you have published a book on writing, do you have any plans for pursuing other educational avenues outside of teaching in a classroom?

In the past, I’ve done workshops and worked as a paid writing consultant for manuscripts, but I don’t have plans to pursue such things at the moment. When I’m not in the classroom here at OU, I keep my spare time cleared for writing fiction.

However, who knows? I’ve got a six-part series of podcasts going on the Manchester University Press Web site, where I’ve been interviewed regarding The Fantasy Fiction Formula. Perhaps I’ll consider doing more podcasts in the future. It all depends because my writing has to come first.

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For more information on Deborah or her works, visit her Website or Blog.

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I hope you enjoyed this first entry in to the Author Q&A Series. My next interview will be with KM Weiland early next month. Thanks for reading!

Inspiration

Every writer gets writer’s block from time to time. Some have longer spells than others. When it came to me, my writer’s block for fictional stories lasted for years. Now, anyone who knows me can tell I’m no schmuck when it comes to stringing words together. This is my third blog, and I’m always great at being overly verbose on things that are based in the real world. The problem comes when I try to reach for that place where things come from my imagination.

When I was younger, I was always immersed in books. I surrounded myself with fictional worlds that stimulated my brain’s natural need to create fantastical ideas. I didn’t really know how to harness that until college, when I learned about journalism and the basics of creative writing. Writing became my life. I felt like I was doing what I was meant to do. For a time, I was able to let my ideas grow and I could expand upon them using what I had learned. The problem was that I didn’t really have any direction or training in how to structure my ideas. What I ended up with was a jumbled mess of ideas that led to nowhere.

Joining the Navy did not grant me a lot of time to work on my ideas, or room to grow as a writer. Writing professionally as a journalist in addition to other jobs was not paying the bills, so I followed family tradition in to the military. I was working too many hours and spending most of my time learning how to do the job I was being paid to do. Writing fell to the wayside and became a hobby instead of a passion and a goal. My fictional ideas would stagnate and never come to fruition. I would try to expound on ideas, but I would get frustrated because I didn’t have time to really focus on them. I tried to keep the writing wheels greased by blogging, but even that ended up mothballed for a time because I felt like it was pointless pursuit. I was on the verge of just closing up shop on writing for good. That is when something miraculous happened.

My wife, Emily, is a passionate woman. She has a dream of being a violist in a professional orchestra, as well as being a teacher. She works her ass off following her dream and has not let times of doubt or difficult situations stop her. When doubt would creep in, we would always find those reasons for her to keep pursuing her dreams. She is now a month away from her Bachelor’s degree and is a phenomenal violist. I am inspired by her drive and her ardor for her chosen path. She puts her heart and soul into her music, and I feel that passion when I think about writing.

One night, we were talking about her going to graduate school and plans after that, and I knew then that my heart was no longer in the Navy. I wanted to start writing again. I began trying to get ideas out of my head, but it was slow going. I knew there were things in there, but I couldn’t get the gears going. I had to do some maintenance on my brain to be productive again. I began searching the Internet for ideas on how to kick-start my brain, and that is when I stumbled upon KM Weiland and her blog Helping Writers Become Authors. Her websites have a wealth of knowledge on writing and I was hooked. Her advice, along with many other books and websites helped me start to move my ideas from concept to reality. I was able to start putting my ideas on paper, and I could organize them in a way that made sense. I started blogging again, which helped me keep my brain moving even when I wasn’t able to come up with ideas for my stories. During a more recent case of writer’s block, I was introduced to a group of writers via a Facebook group created by KM Weiland. The massive amount of communication, knowledge, and diversity within the group has led to a burst of inspiration in me. I’ve written more on my story ideas since I began communicating with this group of peers than ever before. I currently have 3 plot lines in the works, but there is a lot of work to be done before I can ever call them done.

Through all of this, I realized that when my time in the Navy is over, I would be ready to pursue my dream of writing for a living. I have watched several people in my life realize dreams in their lives and chase them, and soon enough it will be my turn. I will continue to work and pursue my dream while being in the military, but when it becomes a full time pursuit, I can put everything I have in to it.

So here’s to my inspirations. Thank you all so very much. I could not do this without you.

To my talented wife, whose untiring pursuit has driven me to chase my dreams. To my sister, Christel, and brother-in-law, Austin, who found a passion that they love and are sharing it with the world. To those in my life who told me I could never reach my dreams, to those who told me to never give up. To KM Weiland and the awesome Wordplayers! To my family who has been behind me always. To the people who have been influential in my stories and characters. Lastly, but certainly not least, to my father, who has always been my biggest hero, my best inspiration, and my #1 fan. Dad, everything I am is because of you. I hope that one day, you will see my name on a book and be proud.

If you have a dream, chase it. Follow your heart, and never deny yourself the things you are passionate about. Don’t be afraid to step outside of the comfort zone and take a leap of faith. It could be the best thing that ever happened to you.

 

Hurricane Madelyn

I have a 3 year old daughter named Madelyn. She normally looks something like this:

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Don’t get me wrong, she is lots of fun when she is being playful and in a good mood, but my little “threenager” is a violent outburst waiting to happen… and I love her to death. When Maddie came in to my life, I wasn’t sure I was ready to be a dad. I suppose I should tell you a little backstory at this point.

I met my wife, Emily, on eHarmony while I was deployed in Bahrain. She was pregnant with Maddie, and I realized that her being pregnant wasn’t going to stop me from getting to know this amazing woman. I was traveling from Norfolk, VA to Whidbey Island, WA when Maddie was born. Not being with Emily during that time caused me to be really conflicted about being a father and I was really confused about my decisions. I worried that I wouldn’t be good enough or wouldn’t know what to do. I had no idea what I was getting in to, and I was about to jump in the deep end without knowing how to swim. I made it to Portland, OR and took a flight back to Charleston, WV to be with Emily and Maddie. Yes, I drove all the way across the country and then flew back. Shut up. I was still really unnerved about this huge shift in my life, but it all changed when I saw Madelyn Jane for the first time. When I held her, my fate was sealed.

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This little girl had me wrapped around her finger, and I wasn’t letting her go. After a few days, I flew back to Portland and completed my trip to WA. I spent a few months in an unnecessary training school, and then drove down to Dallas where Emily and Maddie were waiting for me. Together, we began our adventure together as a family and headed south to New Orleans, LA.

We’ve had our ups and downs in NOLA, and we’ve had quite an interesting few years here, but one thing has been a constant: Maddie is a force of nature. As soon as she became mobile, she earned the nickname Hurricane Maddie. She could destroy just about anything, and being in New Orleans, it seemed fitting.

Despite the constant craziness, Maddie is such a fun little girl. Shes so smart and curious, and often devious and nefarious. She’s a goofball and cuddlebug. She’s so wild and energetic that it’s like chasing the Tasmanian Devil. Watching her personality grow has been an amazing thing. Her facial expressions are priceless and her smile in infectious.

The challenge that Emily and I embarked upon when we started all of this was the beginning of the best adventure of my life. Together we are raising a girl who will be a tough, smart, and talented person. She will have any opportunity we can give her, and I want her to be able to explore anything that interests her. These three years have taught me that the toughest things in life are the most rewarding. Maddie has made our lives so full and so vibrant, but she has also driven us absolutely crazy. At the end of the day though, I see that smile, and I hear, “I love you daddy”, and my heart melts for that little girl.

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I am so proud to be her father. I’m so in love with the little hell raiser who can become a sweetheart in no time flat. She is my little girl, and I’m so happy that she will soon become a Townsend. We are currently in the process of finalizing my adoption of her as my daughter, and her name will become Madelyn Jane Townsend. I can’t help but think back on the wonderful times her and I have had in the three years so far, and know that those times are only the beginning. Emily and I are so lucky to have Maddie to fill our lives with her craziness and love.

I love you little girl.

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Our sweet little Madelyn.

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Vaping: The Good, The Bad, and Some How-To

I vape. I’ve been doing it for about 2 ½ years now, and it was one of the better decisions I have made. I’ll be honest, I did it to quit smoking cigarettes, but I didn’t do it to give up nicotine. Please hold all judgments until the end of the presentation. The reason I wanted to give up cigarettes was my daughter, Madelyn. I didn’t want her to associate that awful smell with me, so I switched to e-cigarettes and never looked back.

I want to talk about the good and bad side of being a vaper, and I also want to pass along some things I have learned along the way. These may be good tips for someone looking to switch over to e-cigarettes or upgrading, or for someone looking to becoming more do-it-yourself in regards to building their e-cigarette or making e-liquids.

I’m going to start with the negative things first. I know everyone has heard the various reports of the ways that e-cigarettes are dangerous. Poisonings, batteries exploding, popcorn lung, metal poisoning, and the list goes on and on. Most of these reports have been debunked, and in some cases, it has been shown that the reports and studies were funded and purposely skewed by the major tobacco companies. Some of these were simply misleading, such as the poisoning report by the CDC, in which it wasn’t the actual smoking of e-cigarettes causing poisoning. Vapers were leaving their e-liquid unattended around small children, and the poisoning would occur after the child swallowed the e-liquid. This, of course, caused a huge spike in reported cases, because they had never tracked them before 2013. The battery explosion nonsense has been blown out of proportion (pun intended). If a battery is mishandled or mistreated, it can catch fire (not explode), which can be seen in phones, vehicles, hover boards, and numerous other electronic devices. Use and handle your batteries correctly, and they will almost never malfunction. As the industry has grown, the manufacturers are becoming more careful about what they use and how they create their products. When e-cigarettes first became popular, the main detractors were claiming that they were using antifreeze as an ingredient in the liquids. Propylene glycol, which is one of the bases of e-liquid, is a commonly used pharmaceutical and food product chemical that has nothing to do with antifreeze in that form. The main problem with the detractors of e-cigarettes is ignorance. Yes, they are obviously less healthy than not smoking, and they are still too new to the market to have been fully studied. I fully accept the fact that I am continuing an addictive habit by vaping, but I would rather deal with materials and liquids that list all the ingredients they use. When you smoke a cigarette, you have no idea what is in it, and we all know the deadly history of smoking.

So, if I knew smoking would kill me, why did I start smoking in the first place? I started smoking because it was the only way you could get a break. When I was younger, I used to give my dad and sister a ton of shit for smoking. I would always say I didn’t want to smoke. I kept that strong until I was 25. When I joined the Navy, you really didn’t get many breaks as an airman. To get a break at work, I would go out to the smoking area because you would get yelled at if you were sitting around the shop. At first, I didn’t smoke out there, but eventually I did because I couldn’t be out there if I wasn’t smoking. Thank You Navy! So, that’s what got me in to smoking, and that’s what brought me around to vaping. I don’t do it to be cool or because it feels good. I know there is a lot of rhetoric about why people start smoking, and there are a lot of reasons, but you get addicted, and it is hard to break bad habits. I quit for 6 months at one point, but started again during a stressful stretch at work. I’m not looking for pity, sympathy, or making excuses. It’s not the best thing in the world for me, but I think it’s better than me smoking cigarettes. I’m really not going to get in to the whole social connotations of vaping. Every group of people has their assholes and douche-bags. Just because some vapers are disrespectful of other people doesn’t mean we all are.

Vaping isn’t for everyone, and some people would rather just stick with cigarettes. Me condemning them would be hypocritical, so I won’t. I chose to vape, and now I want to talk about some of the good things I’ve found along the way. I will tell you that I feel better than I did when I smoked cigarettes. There is something about not inhaling large amounts of tar and other crap anymore that my lungs thank me for. My wallet also thanks me, since vaping is significantly cheaper. I was spending roughly $150 a month on cigarettes, and that was over 2 years ago. It would probably be more nowadays. Vaping usually costs me about $40-50 a month in liquid and sometimes I have to buy new equipment or materials to rebuild my e-cigarette. Recently, I got in to making my own liquid, which I will talk more about later, which will lower my monthly cost even more.

My first attempt at e-cigarettes was with the cig-a-like type, but I wasn’t too impressed with it. When I decided to go with vaping full time, I started out with a vape pen. Vape pens are a cheap starter device for someone looking in to trying vaping, but aren’t sold on it yet. I started out with Volcano e-cigs, but as I moved to an Advanced Personal Vaper (APV) I started trying other brands. Now there are a ton of brands out there for liquids and for devices, not to mention countless places to purchase them. My advice is to do your research in to anything you are interested in purchasing before you do buy it.

A breakdown of different types of vaping devices can be found here: http://www.cigbuyer.com/types-of-e-cigarettes/.

I’m sure you have seen many different brick and mortar vape shops around where you live, and for those times when you need something right now, they are great. The big problem with vape shops is the price mark ups and they often only sell things that they like. I know you have to make money, but I don’t really want to pay mark up on something that I can afford to wait a few days on. If you have the patience and do your research, look online for the best deal and be sure the read reviews. A great thing about the vaping industry is the companies are trying to be as transparent as possible with their products in an effort to attract more cigarette smokers to switch over.

Sidebar: This brings me to the attraction of underage smokers. Let’s get real folks, kids smoked cigarettes underage. You can try and lay the same blame on vaping as they did on cigarette advertising, but the only companies who can afford to advertise their vaping products like that are the tobacco companies who bought in after they decided to stop fighting against it. If kids are able to buy this stuff in stores, then the blame lies on the sellers who aren’t checking their IDs, and if they are getting it online then the blame is on the parents for not paying attention to what their kids are doing online. Age verification online only goes so far, and if they are buying e-cigarettes online, I’m sure they are looking up things worse than that. The key to keeping it out of the hands of minors is paying attention.

Anyways, back to the topic, vape shops are convenient, but a lot of them are predatory towards uneducated vapers. If they are the only shop in the area, they don’t have to be competitive, and the customer pays the price. Something that you can get online for $50 including shipping can cost you upwards of $100 in a vape shop. Liquid can be just as bad. To be fair, not every vape shop is like this. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea, but be a smart shopper and check prices before you buy.

As a vaper, the more experienced you are, the more preferential you become. Some people go for cloud production, and some people go for nicotine content. People also usually stick to flavor groups as well: fruits, sweets, tobaccos, desserts, etc. I could sit here and beat you to death with stuff, but I think I have done that already so here are a few guides for those interested in looking deeper in to vaping.

Beginner’s Guide: http://onvaping.com/guides/beginners-guide-to-vaping/

Advanced Guides: https://www.planetofthevapes.co.uk/guides/advanced-vaping

You can also surf the Internet and YouTube for numerous other resources and information on vaping how-to. One of my favorite things was learning how to build coils for Rebuildable Dripping Atomizers (RDAs). Of course, I got lazy and started buying pre-made coils once I got in to the more complex coil builds, but I fully support anyone who has the time and inclination to do so. I have switched back and forth between sub-ohm tanks and RDAs, but some prefer one or the other.

Here are the sites that I frequent for equipment, parts, and e-liquid:

Mt Baker Vapor

Vapor Beast

Vape NW

The Vape Mall

Liquid Barn

The last thing I want to cover is making your own liquid. I guy I worked with started to make his own liquid last year, and he set about making an Orange Cream flavor, and asked my opinion. I had searched high and low for an Orange Cream flavor on the Internet, and had no luck. Anyways, after a couple of iterations, he made a version that was perfect, and I was sold. Last month, after he got transferred, I decided to start making my own liquid. I had done the research, it was cheaper to make my own juice, and I wanted to make the Orange Cream for myself. I needled and annoyed the recipe out of him (which I will never divulge or profit from because I’m not a dick), and got everything I needed to make 500 ml of it. I broke it down in to 100 ml bottles and each bottle ended up costing me about $13. To give you guys an insight of how cheap that is, to buy the run of the mill juice from vape shops or online retailers, 15-30 ml bottles can run you anywhere from $10-30 a piece. I made this stuff at home and made significantly more for substantially cheaper. It will only get cheaper as well, since I didn’t go with the cheapest options on bases the first time around. I can get my costs down around $3-4 per 100 ml if I do it right, which is definitely the only way to go if you have the time and you want to put in the effort. If you don’t want to put in the effort, there are sellers out there who make good liquid pretty cheap, and don’t charge you extra for the name on the bottle. I’m going to send some business my buddy’s way if that is the case: Adam Hesterley

To wrap this all up in a nice bow, I’m glad I made the decision to switch over to vaping. There are a lot of negative things out there about vaping, but I think most of it is due to misinformation. If you are looking to getting in to vaping, there are a lot of options, and if already are a vaper, there are a lot of ways to control your vaping like building your own atomizers and mixing your own liquid. I’m not advocating for anyone to do it, but I’m just putting this out there so people have the information. Do with it what you will.

Let the judgment commence!