As I wrap of this month of beginnings, I am interviewing myself as a new author. I talk to myself all the time when I work on dialogue, so I decided to apply this schizophrenic talent to a blog post.
What do I consider my first story?
When I was in second grade, I wrote a mystery based on Scooby Doo. It was the front and back of a sheet of notebook paper. I liked a boy in my class and made him the Shaggy character. He was so mad that he threatened to tell the teacher. In my very first story, I learned the dangers of using real people as characters and censorship.
What do I think is the main difference between a writer and an author?
God made me a writer. I’ll be a writer if I never publish anything else. It’s a way of looking at the world, to see stories in a myriad of details, people, events, and settings. An author is someone who has crossed over to the business side of writing. An author reaches more people with her writing, but now the writing is not about art alone. It is also a business. Those are two distinct worlds.
Why did I decide to become an author?
I’ve been pursuing publishing since I was in college. It just seemed like a natural goal because, at that time, I thought everything I wrote was utterly brilliant. I got serious about publishing and writing over the last five years and know God is moving me to become an author. He wants me to share the stories he filters through me. He hasn’t let me me in on why.
What was the most difficult thing to learn about being a new author?
How extremely difficult marketing is. I have no business background whatsoever. The last time I had to sell something was in college when I worked at the the Dairy Queen. When I worked as a librarian, I only had to persuade people to take advantage of their own tax dollars.
What was the biggest surprise?
The support of the writing community. Almost every single author and writer I’ve met has been kind and encouraging. Another surprise was how much I like working with an editor. My stories improve when other eyes review them, and I love the collaboration.
What advice would I give to writers who are considering becoming author?
Research what it means to be published. Are you interested in marketing? How can you learn about it? How much money and time can you invest in it? How do you find and work with an agent? How do you work with an editor? There is so much about the business side of writing for an author to learn as well as the art side.
This blog post is not for the people who leap out of bed every day ready to take on the world. It is not for the people who face a challenge with eagerness and a certainty that they are up to the fight.
No. This blog post is for the people who hear the 6 a.m. alarm and wonder how they are going to get their feet to swing onto the floor. It’s for the people who face a challenge withe a groan and a certainty that one more problem in their lives will do them in.
I am very much a member of the latter group. I don’t do major changes or challenges well. But since they will come after me anyway, I’ve learned a very important lesson: small steps.
We are halfway through the school year. When the alarm rings in my ear, I hit it and consider the next two hours for getting kids ready for school. The though is overwhelming. So I’ve coached myself to say, “All you have to do is get up. Just get out of bed. That’s all you have to do.” Once I get my momentum going, I can work through the run to school.
When I was told I needed to build a social media platform to get published, I sank into despair. I’d never done social media personally, let alone professionally. So I started small. I got on Facebook and started a blog on writing tips. For four months, I wrote content for my blog before I let people know it existed. I experimented with topics, adding writing prompts, and deleting others. I eventually branched out onto Instagram, and I’m still learning how to use it well.
But if I had gone into platform-building with the idea that I had to construct a skyscraper as fast as I could when I’d never even slapped together a hut, I probably would have given up.
Right now, I’me trying to write a YA mystery novel that’s a sequel to my short story, “A Rose from the Ashes.” I’ve written a novel before, but that was when I was single and I wrote it over years. I want to get the novel finished as quickly as I can. But unlike a short story, I can work for hours and feel like I’ve accomplished nothing.
So I’m taking small steps. I wrote in long hand my first draft of my first chapter, typed it, reviewed it, sent it to my critique partner, got her responses, and I’m reviewing it again. I’ll get one chapter in good shape and move to the next. Each small step takes me closer to my goal.
What challenges have you overcome by taking small steps?
With five people in this photo, there are many ways for you to use this photo for an opening scene. How would you being a story? Here’s mine:
“I told you not to let that dog off her leash.” I pulled the collar of my red coast higher.
“But she hasn’t run off for week,” my younger sister said, wiping flakes out of her eyes.
“Why don’t you leave Trixie at home for our morning walks?” A plaid scarf muffled my older sister’s voice. “Have Eric walk her in the evenings.”
My younger sister walked ahead. “She can’t have gone far.”
The trail in the park dipped down, and we followed it into a clearing. We weren’t alone. Two figures, fuzzy in the swirling snow, stood about fifty feet apart, staring at each other. They hadn’t turned as we entered the clearing.
We stopped. The strangers, a man and a woman, held their attention on each other. Why hadn’t they noticed us?
Like a lot of new writers, I began my stories with two misconceptions: (1) That my characters were fascinating to everybody, and (2) I should start my story by showing my characters following their normal routines. Once readers got to know my characters, I’d bring in the problem or event that changed their ordinary lives and kick off the plot. I didn’t think I needed to start with action
Now I know better. My characters will never fascinate readers in the same way they do me, just like my kids will never fascinate the other people the way they do my husband and me. Also most daily routines are boring. Boring readers for a couple of chapters, if they last that long, should not be the goal of any writer.
Looking back, I see why I started like that. It was easier to introduce characters and backstory without having a pesky plot to deal with. Dribble in characters and description and backstory while the plot is under way? That’s hard!
At first, I didn’t think I could do it. But as I pushed through revisions of my first novel, it became a game. What nuggets of information could I drop into this scene that would flesh out characters or settings without slowing the plot? Rather like a snowboarder surfing the half-pipe and judging how many moves she can work in without losing momentum.
When I came to write “A Rose from the Ashes”,my YA mystery, I had several false starts. I need to start with action but which one? A mystery should be mysterious, but if I wasn’t careful, I easily could go from mysterious to confusing. I’ve set aside many novels in which the characters in the first chapter know a lot more than I do. Instead of these hints of a bigger story being intriguing, they are just frustrating. I give up.
I decided to keep the opening scene simple. I stopped trying to be clever. I described the scene as my main character experienced it. Here’s the first paragraph:
Glancing left and right, I crunched across the frozen weeds to the abandoned children’s home. I could not afford to be spotted now. If only I could take a few seconds and snap some pictures. The light from the early December sunset was perfect. Gashes of blood-red light seeped through the clotted clouds, creating an ominous background for the gray stone building that was rumored to be the scene of a murder.
So I start with my main character approaching a derelict building and not wanting to get caught doing so. Why doesn’t she want to get caught? There are many reason readers can imagine, and I hope that was enough of a hook to keep them reading. Readers don’t know who the narrator is yet and don’t have to at this point. The character’s fear of being spotted and the creepiness of the scene puts the reader in the character’s shoes and keeps them reading.
If you have an opening paragraph with action, please put it in the comments below. Or if you’ve read a particularly effective opening with action, please share it!
Today my new author is M. Liz Boyle, whom I also met online. Last year, Liz published her first novel, a YA adventure. Welcome, Liz!
What do you consider your first story?
When I was about 7 or 8, I made up a cartoon about a ladybug and a worm named Sarah and Crawler, but the plot was pretty bland! Growing up, I worked on several stories after my Sarah and Crawler days, usually about horse-crazy teenage girls. The bonafide, full-fledged story that I consider my first is a Christian YA novel entitled Avalanche. The plot is much more developed than my earlier stories!
What do you think is the main difference between a writer and an author?
A writer’s work is more for personal use than for sharing, and an author intends to share his/her work with the public. When I hear the word writer, I picture someone lounging in the grass using a pen and paper. I think authors start that way. When they become published authors who write to share ideas with others, hopefully they can keep writing for the love of it, while managing to get their work into readers’ hands.
It would be miserable to become an author and lose the love of writing.
Why did you decide to become an author?
When I first had the idea to write Avalanche, I saw a great opportunity to share an adventure and an example of strong morals with a teenage audience. I love how stories leave us with memorable lessons that we can apply in our own lives, and I’d love to have a positive impact on readers looking for clean adventures.
What was the most difficult thing to learn about being a new author?
I’ve had a hard time with patience, whether it’s trying to be patient while waiting to hear back from editors, reviewers, etc., or waiting for a chance to write down my ideas in the midst of my busy schedule. Sometimes I have a brilliant brainstorm and want to develop it right away, so I get really frustrated if it’s a busy day or week and I need to wait to work on it.
What was the biggest surprise?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the kindness and generosity of so many authors. Before becoming an author, I had the misconception that in general, authors would have an ‘every man for himself’ mindset. I’ve found quite the opposite to be true! Fellow authors are happy and quick to offer advice and support. It’s a great group of people.
That’s been my experience too. What advice would you give to writers who are considering becoming author?
I would advise aspiring authors to read books and articles about publishing and find some credible AuthorTubers on YouTube to learn as much as possible, to network with other authors in a similar genre, and to brace yourself for rejection. It can be discouraging, but keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep your eyes on the prize. Listen to constructive criticism, and ignore outright negativity. Also, and I know this sounds cliche, but identify your audience so you can best share your work with them.
When fifteen-year-old Marlee Stanley joins her two sisters and the sons of their family friends on a secretive hike in the middle of the night, she is thrilled and nervous. Battling her conscience, she prays that the hike will go flawlessly and that they will return to the safety of their campsite before their parents wake. The start of the hike is beautiful and wonderfully memorable.
In a white flash so fast that Marlee can barely comprehend what has happened, an avalanche crashes into their path. Buried in packed snow, Marlee is forced to remember survival tips learned from her dad and her own research.
This group of friends, ages eleven through seventeen, is about to endure bigger challenges than many adults have experienced. Digging out of the packed snow is only the first of many challenges. Injuries, cold, hunger, fatigue, aggressive wildlife and tensions in the group make this a much bigger adventure than they ever imagined. As the kids strive to exhibit Christian values throughout the trials, they learn numerous life lessons. But they are nearly out of food, and their energy is waning quickly. How will they ever reach help?
Liz is an author, the wife of a professional tree climber and the mom of three energetic and laundry-producing children. She received her Associate’s of Arts at the University of Sioux Falls, where she received the LAR Writing Award for her essay entitled, “My Real Life Mufasa.” Liz once spent a summer in Colorado teaching rock climbing, which she believes was a fantastic way to make money and memories. She resides with her family in Wisconsin, where they enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Liz and her husband have also backpacked in Colorado and the Grand Canyon, which have provided inspiration for her writing. She likes making adventurous stories to encourage others to find adventures and expand their comfort zones (though admittedly, she still needs lots of practice expanding her own comfort zone). She has thoroughly enjoyed working on her first novel, Avalanche.