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An Interview with James M. McCracken, President of the Northwest Independent Writers Association

—How did you get started writing?

I guess you could say I was intimidated into writing. I’ll explain.

During a high school basketball game, I sat in the bleachers drawing a picture. The older sister of a schoolmate sat down beside me and asked me what I was drawing. I showed her and she wanted to know the story behind the picture. I told her there wasn’t a story. It’s just a picture. She said there had to be a story otherwise I couldn’t draw it. So, to get her to leave me alone, I made up a story and told her. She said, write it down. The next time I come to visit my brother, I want to read it. I said I would but had no intention of actually doing it.

A month later, I heard she was back and looking for me! I stayed in the dorm and didn’t leave until I heard she was gone. As I walked out of the building a van stopped in front of me. It was HER. She motioned me over and asked to see the story. I told her I hadn’t finished it yet. She said I had a month and she’d be back. She was bigger and stronger than me and a bit intimidating.

Once she left, I bought a ream of typing paper and 450 pages later, I still wasn’t finished with the story. I had figured out the ending and couldn’t finish it. My schoolmate’s sister never did read the story, but I was hooked.

I continued to write shorter stories but never let anyone read them because I was afraid they would think the story was dumb.

I love disaster movies and in 1975 I wrote a story about a 747 that crashed into the ocean and managed to stay intact, but sank. The story followed the typical disaster storyline – survivors trying to escape. I tucked it away with the rest of my stories and forgot about it.

Two years later, in 1977, I was walking past the bulletin board and noticed the movie ads. My jaw dropped when I saw the ad for Airport ’77. I thought if someone else could come up with the same premise as me, maybe my stories aren’t so dumb after all.

So, I began to take my writing more seriously. But I still wouldn’t let anyone read any.

—Tell us a bit about your craft. How do you begin a new book? 

I am what some people have described as a pantster, I don’t use an outline.

Most of my stories start out as a dream. When I wake up, I begin writing down the dream. Depending on the story, in order to keep the characters straight, I search the internet for pictures of people and use the pictures to keep my descriptions consistent.

I research the details in the story as they come up.

I try not to think too far in advance because I know myself and once I figure out the ending, it becomes more difficult if not impossible for me to finish. So, I am sometimes as surprised by the ending as you, the reader, are.  

—What would you most like your readers to take away from your writing?

Many of my stories deal with family and life, I would want people to take away that in life there is no such thing as “happily ever after.”  Life is a complex timeline filled with moments, some good, some not-so-great, some we cause by the choices we make and some that are unexpected. It’s those moments that collectively shape us into the people we are.     

—Can you give us a sneak peek at your latest work-in-progress?

I’m currently working on a new series tentatively titled, In My Mother’s House. It’s a soap opera inspired by a true-life family. The series covers eight years in the lives of the Holts beginning with an unexpected death and ending when the last of the Holt children moves out of her parents’ house.

The synopsis:

Life is finally starting to turn around for
Robert and Abigail Holt and their seven children.
Robert is working a steady job.
Abigail’s business is thriving.
The family is settling into their new home.
The future is looking bright.
Then one phone call sends them on a roller coaster ride
no one could have predicted. . .
or did he?

MURDER – HEARTBREAK – HOPE – JOY – LOVE – DREAMS

—Thank you so much for you time, Jamie. And for my readers, here’s the link to his website, where you can check out all of his books and more! James M. McCracken

Book Review: Raven’s Heart by Shawna Reppert

It is such a delight to be back in alternative Portland with the third book of the Ravensblood series. I find it compelling to get drawn into an urban fantasy set along streets I’ve walked down and places I’ve been. It’s that added layer of realism that lends such believability to a story of incantations, artifacts and magic.

The players are back: Raven, still working on his redemption by consulting for the Guardians, the police force combatting magical crime; his lover Cassandra, still cautious in light of his previous betrayal; the dark mage William, now wielding only a shadow of his former strength after the cataclysmic battle in the last book. But William has scoured the ancient archives and libraries and has discovered the whereabouts of long-forgotten artifacts of death magic which will restore his power and lay the city and the world at his feet.

As always in this series, the characterization is rich and textured, the emotional tone, complex and engaging, the action sequences, stunning and cinematic. I especially liked the ending, which is as wholly satisfying as the narrative that builds up to it. Ms. Reppert weaves her story like casting a spell, capturing the reader in her own brand of magic. And I will never be able to look at Vista House in the Columbia Gorge the same way again. For me, it will remain forever the setting for the climax of a novel which will haunt me for a long time to come. Here’s a link: Raven’s Heart

An Update and Some Teasers

I am happy to report that Dungeness and Dragons has just been awarded an indieBRAG Medallion, a special recognition by the indie Book Readers Appreciation Group. Here’s the cover with the medallion on it:

I’m hoping that every little bit helps with marketing!

Meanwhile, I continue to work on my next volume of short stories. Here are a few beginnings:

Gargoyle

Whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me,” couldn’t tell his ass from a hole in the ground. At 13-years-of-age, Gary already knew this. A veteran of six different schools across Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, he knew names could be exquisite torture. The heir of a severe cleft lip and palate, and victim of a botched surgery, he had a face that bullies said could stop a clock. Gary Gargoyle they called him behind his back, always just loud enough for him to overhear.

A Better Mousetrap

You know you’re old when having a successful bowel movement after your first cup of coffee is reason to clap your hands and call up a 60s rock playlist on your sound system. So, I sat there, hands wrapped around my second mug, a stupid grin on my face, listening to Grace Slick’s defiant “Somebody to Love.”

Coffee

No, zombies don’t eat brains, but we’re particularly fond of coffee. Doctors say that something in the coffee slows down the demyelination of the nerve bundles responsible for the symptoms. I don’t understand anything about that. I only know that I crave the stuff.

Rain

“God’s tears,” Jeremy thought, as he sat at his desk watching the gray rain sweep across the empty lot behind the old white house and finally tap against the window in front of him. He looked at the Roman collar he had plucked from his black shirt and laid on the desk next to the letter he had just penned. What he was about to do could not be undone once set it in motion.

Widowmaker               

Before our house fell into the ocean, I used to enjoy watching my mother dance in the kitchen with her sisters every Friday evening. Because her sisters didn’t want her to backslide and get sick again, Aunts May and June would come over after work, each bringing a bottle of wine, “to start the weekend right.”

The Arborist

“Tree is telling stories again,” he said, his open palm resting on the gnarled bark of the enormous white oak in our front yard. He spoke in his characteristic monotone, his short blonde hair framing his ever-serious face. Upset that the tree would have to come down, my 11-year-old son Dax was spending most of his free time sitting under its branches, “listening” to what it had to say. It made me regret once again that I had made the comment aloud a month ago when we learned of the tree’s sickness. “Boy, if this old tree could talk, imagine the stories it would tell.”

I hope the Muse keeps moving! Target time for publishing is mid- to late summer. I’ll give you plenty of advance notice.

Hello, Again!

What can I say? I just don’t post much. I’ve all but weaned myself off Facebook–it began to feel like a black hole to me, sucking up time that I felt could be better spent elsewhere.

On a positive note, Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer for Midwest Book Review, has just published her review of Dungeness and Dragons on her website, and it’s in the February edition of MBR. Here’s the link to it on her site: D&D Review

I’m feeling blessed right now–our electric power came back on yesterday at 4:00 P.M. after being out for six days due to an ice storm. Fortunately, our gas fireplace kept us warm, and no trees fell on our house. Of course, prayers go out to all those people in Texas who have it far worse than we did.

Although I haven’t been able to write this week, I hope to get back to it next week. I have drafts of several new stories for the upcoming volume, which is tentatively entitled, Before Our House Fell Into the Ocean. At this rate, publication probably won’t be until sometime this summer. In a future post, I’ll include some excerpts from the work in progress.

Stay well, dear friends.

Blog 5: “Resources for Writers,” by Connie J. Jasperson

 

Resources for Writers By Connie J. Jasperson

 

I write fantasy and science fiction. If one dares to write sci-fi, the technology must be grounded in cutting-edge science. Indulging in mushy theories is a big no-no for hard-sci-fi fans.

When science fails the “theoretically possible” test, it becomes magic, and magic is a trope of fantasy.

Writers of science fiction must become futurists. They must take what is theoretically possible and think ahead. Our task is to take what science says is conceivable and make it feel true and solid.

We all agree that reading one Wikipedia article does not qualify you as an expert in your chosen subject. To go beyond the surface, we must find websites that go more into depth or speak to the experts.

Once you know what you are writing about, you can mix it up any way you want. Here are a few articles I have found useful:

CommunicationsThis is the Future of Communication Thanks to Technology

TransportationWhat’s the Future of Transportation?

AgricultureHigh-rise Urban Farming

Waste managementThe future of waste: five things to look for by 2025

Resource management – Resources for the Future: website  https://www.rff.org/

The environment of any spacefaring society must be created of technology, or they would not be able to leave the safety of this world. Earth is the only world known to harbor life as we know it.

My current favorite way to bring humans to another world is through the use of generation ships. Entire colonies living for generations on a moon-sized ship, traveling through the cosmos, offers so many opportunities for drama. To find a plethora of ideas to investigate further, check out Futurism: Here is the Future of Interstellar Spacecraft.

I mentioned above that I write fantasy. In my case, writing a short story with a shamanistic element led me to investigate and study the writings of Joseph Campbell, Nancy Yaw Davis, and Frank Hamilton Cushing.

This little dip into traditional shamanism was a catalyst, kindling a world of ideas I could use in my Tower of Bones series, which began life as an RPG-game-based epic fantasy.

Whenever you can, speak to experts. Swords feature strongly in my work, and so I have forged connections with modern swordsmiths. My town has several fantastic blacksmiths who are glad to tell me what was possible in low-tech bladesmithing and what is possible with advanced technology. They’re always happy to talk about the history behind their craft.

And this brings me to the most fundamental aspect of writing—the nuts and bolts of grammar and story construction.

Readers assume writers somehow intuit grammar and are born knowing how to construct a readable novel. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Authors must learn the fundamental physics of grammar and understand how a story arc works. These rules are the traffic signals that keep our work readable and engaging. Once you know the rules, you can bend them with authority, but some rules are absolute.

Ignore them at your peril.

We don’t like asking for directions, and grammar questions are like that. The grammar style manual won’t point out your ignorance—it’s just glad you cared enough to ask.

For me, writing-craft reference books must be in their hardcopy forms, but they do have online editions. I rely on The Chicago Manual of Style. It is written specifically for writers, editors, and publishers of literary and genre fiction.

It is the publishing industry standard. The editors at the major publishing houses own copies and refer to this book when they have questions.

I have worn out several copies of the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms. If I had to choose between purchasing this book and a thesaurus, I would select the book of synonyms and antonyms.

The Chicago Manual of Style and the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms are the anchors of my reference library. Besides those two books, these are a few of the books I keep in hardcopy and refer to regularly:

Oxford American Writers’ Thesaurus 

Story, by Robert McKee

Dialogue, by Robert McKee

The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler (essential)

The Sound on the Page, by Ben Yagoda

Rhetorical Grammar, by Martha Kolin and Loretta Gray

Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig (essential)

The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (essential)

You will gravitate to reference books that may be different than mine, and that is good.

Education comes in many forms, and it’s up to you to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow as an author.

Coursera is a wonderful organization, who offer you an education for free. While you don’t receive a diploma unless you pay for the course, you will get the education you need. Certificates of completion are available at a lesser cost if that is important to you.

Price is the determining factor for most of us, especially now with the pandemic.

However, for the financially strapped author wanting to increase their knowledge of the craft of writing, an excellent resource is the website Writers’ Digest. They are also for profit, but they offer an incredible amount of information and assistance for free.

I write fantasy and science fiction, but I highly recommend you go to websites that specialize in writing romance novels regardless of what genre you write.

The giants of the Romance publishing industry want you to succeed so they can sell more books. To that end, they get down to the technical aspects of novel construction, and they give away their knowledge for free. This is knowledge that works for writers of all genres.

Go to Harlequin.com and see for yourself.

Harlequin’s website offers many excellent tools for getting your work out the door in a timely fashion—something I need to work on. They also offer tips on marketing your work.

Harlequin also gives tips on how to create a writing space and organize your day so you can get good writing time in and still manage your family. I used to do my writing in my kitchen on an old IBM Selectric that was parked beside the gerbil cage.

Let’s just say gerbils and typewriters aren’t compatible as neighbors.

Here, in no particular order, are my favorite sources of Online Information About Writing your Novel:

www.writersdigest.com

PBS.org/GuiltyPleasures/HowToWriteRomanceNovel

The Creative Penn

Harlequin.com

Creative Writing Now

I hope your writing journey has been as satisfying as mine, and that these sources of information are useful to you on the path to success. Keep writing and never stop learning.

***      ***      ***

Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine fantasy novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy. You can find her books on her Amazon author page: http://bit.ly/CJJASPauthor

Follow Connie J. Jasperson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cjjasp

 

 

Blog 4 “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Publication Process” by Suzanne Hagelin

 

 

 

Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Publication Process

 

 

This is Suzanne Hagelin’s fourth post in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association. NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing, and marketing.

 

 

So much goes into writing and polishing a book that when it’s finished, you think you’re done. But that’s only one chunk, albeit a large one, of an author’s investment in releasing their work.

 

After the edits, rewrites, clean-up, and cover art are completed to your satisfaction, you’re finally ready to publish. Now what? What are the basic elements of the publication process? I’m speaking here to self-publishing authors and small press start-ups. If you’re looking for a publisher who will do the work for you, this post will give you an idea of what that entails.

 

There are tasks that only need to be done once, before you publish your first book, such as buying ISBN numbers and setting up accounts with the printers, publishers, and online distributors you intend to use. There are also items to check off your list each time you publish something. The first time you walk through this, you want to make sure you allow enough time for each step of the process. Once you get the hang of it, it should get easier and perhaps faster.

 

This list should help you plan your publication timeline.

 

ISBNs and Copyright

 

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Each version of your book requires a different number. When you buy them, you don’t have to have the titles of your books decided and it’s not necessary to follow up and inform the government which titles were assigned to each number.

It’s very easy to get an account with Bowker and buy ISBNs, but don’t waste your money getting only one at a time. If you start with one book in both print and digital forms, then end up rewriting your book, releasing a second edition, and adding an audiobook—that’s five ISBNs right there. Some online publishers like Amazon’s KDP will give you free Amazon numbers but then you are limited to selling only through them. You can still release the book somewhere else with a number, but it’s considered a separate edition.

Add a copyright statement on one of the first pages of your book with the © copyright symbol, the year of publication, book name, and author name, and a statement of what those rights are. Check books you have on hand to see what they wrote if you aren’t sure what to include. For more information on the government’s copyright laws, check here.

 

Time: Get your ISBN numbers ahead of time. The purchase goes through pretty quickly, but it’s an added stress and there’s no reason to put it off. When it’s time to add one to your book it’s a matter of minutes.

 

Metadata

 

Writing the book description that will go on the back cover has to be done before the cover can be completed, so you will already have the raw material for your metadata. Every book that is published needs to have the following information.

  • Title
  • Author(s), Contributor(s)
  • Author and contributor bios
  • Book description
  • Brief catalog description
  • Genres
  • Tags (for search engines)

 

You should be able to fit this into the publication timeline without scheduling any extra time. Just don’t forget it. It’s a pain to be uploading files and suddenly realize you forgot to write a description.

 

Formatting

 

I always format for the print edition first and the digital version second. A lot of the cleanup I do for the print edition helps with the ebook but managing it in reverse doesn’t have the same benefit.

 

PRINT—When setting up your manuscript to print, whether in bulk or using a print-on-demand (POD) option, you will want to format your book according to their specifications. This includes bleed, which allows for cutting the book after it’s been printed and bound. Allow for this extra amount when setting your page size and margins. You also need to keep in mind that the first page is a right-hand one. Page numbers run accordingly, odd numbers on the right and even numbers on the left.

Use “Styles” for all your formatting and it will be much easier to keep it uniform through the entire book. Don’t add spaces at the beginning of your paragraphs, set it up in the paragraph style with a first-line indent. When you’re finished formatting the document, turn on hidden characters (such as carriage-return) so that you can see what you’ve done with page breaks, sections, etc. Correct mistakes you would otherwise miss, and you’ll have fewer surprises when you get a proof copy.

Make sure your final document meets the printer’s requirements with fonts embedded. Some online services may have tools for cleaning up your file, but the finished product could look different than you intended. I recommend using Adobe Acrobat to distill it into PDF/X-1a:2001.

 

EBOOK—eBook conversion has different requirements than the print version. You don’t need blank pages and there are no page numbers, headers or footers. After you’ve set the margins, there’s little else to do for spacing.

The important part of formatting a book for digital conversion lies in the overall structure. The best way to look at this is to open up the “Outline” view of your book and check each level. Your title should be at level 1 and whatever else you want to be part of your table of contents should be level 1. The eBook conversion will generate the table of contents on this basis. I like to include the copyright in my contents, so I make the first line on that page a level 1 along with the chapter headings.

The cleaner the outline, the more straightforward the conversion will be.

 

Time: Allow a couple of days work for formatting if the process is familiar to you, longer if it’s your first.

 

EBOOK Conversion

 

You should have no trouble with the conversion if your formatting is straightforward. Whether you use a free app, a template, or a service to convert it, it’s important to open the resulting file in a reader to check it. Reader apps are free, and I recommend getting as many as you think would be used by your readers. By right-clicking on your epub file and choosing “Open with” you can select the one you want to use to check your ebook. I have Kindle, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Calibre apps, plus other platforms like Draft 2 Digital provide a reader app when you upload your book through them.

Scroll through the book and be sure to check your table of contents if you have one. If you have extra breaks and invisible characters you didn’t see in your document, this is where they will show up.

 

Time: Allow a couple days to convert your ebook and fix any problems. If you are dealing with a learning curve, that should be scheduled separately.

 

Proof Copies

When you’re fighting a deadline, it’s very tempting to bypass this step, or at least to rely only on the e-proof when checking for mistakes. I’ve done it more than once. That’s when things like this can happen:

 

 

As the publisher, it was up to me to catch this mistake by the cover artist. This picture, taken of books already on sale at an event, was the first time I noticed. The battle to get them there on time blurred my vision. Fortunately, we’ve learned to laugh and take it all in stride. It’s still a great book and most people don’t seem to notice the spine. And we had only ordered what we needed for that event.

 

If your printer doesn’t offer proof copies, you can set your publication date in the near future and order a printed copy, shipped overnight. It’s worth paying extra for the quick delivery. The sooner you find mistakes and get to work on fixing them, the better.

 

Time: It can take a couple days after you’ve placed the order for the printer to get to your book. Then overnight shipping at best means the next day after that. If you have weekends or holidays to contend with, it could stretch out as long as a week before you get your book. Make sure you factor that into your timeline.

 

Wholesale Orders

 

Ordering printed books in bulk is pretty straightforward—you want to have copies to give out and to sell. Don’t make the mistake of ordering too few or too many. One case, whether that holds 20 or 30, is a reasonable number to start with. It also makes a difference if you need to factor in shipping costs, to order in multiples of however many fit in a case. This saves on the overall cost per book.

As you get into the flow of selling physical copies of your books, you want to restock in time. I try not to let my inventory go below 10 copies per book when I’m in between minor events. For major events, I want more on hand, depending on how well each book has sold over the last six months. Until you figure out your needs, plan to order more when you get down to half of your last case.

 

Time: Allow three weeks for a normal order. Major printers like Ingram Spark will usually take a work week to get your order printed and ready to ship. When in a time crush, it’s more cost effective to pay for rush printing than rush shipping. Normal ground usually arrives in a week or two. Local printers can be a joy to work with because depending on their workload, they can meet some difficult deadlines and there are no shipping costs.

 

Reporting

 

This should be a blog on its own, but it’s worth mentioning here. Figuring out how you want to keep records and track everything takes time. Don’t barrel through the publication process without setting up something basic to see you through until you know what you’re doing. Write down every expense, save receipts, keep track of links, accounts, passwords, everything pertaining to the process.

I have no idea how much time to advise that you set aside for this. It should be strewn out along the entire publication timeline.

 

Suggestion: Get an email address specifically for your author/publishing business and have all your accounts, transactions, and related connections go through it. Don’t use it for anything else. It’s the easiest collection method for raw data that you have.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Once a book is ready to move into the publication process, I need to allow a minimum of four weeks (with some frantic work thrown in) before I can count on having books in hand to sell, and six to eight weeks gives me a little breathing room. Overlapping the steps, such as getting a print proof copy on the way before I even look at converting an eBook, makes better use of the time.

 

Planning your publication process may improve your chances of a flawless end result, but absolute perfection in books is a myth. Give it your best, learn from your mistakes, and shoot for 95%.

 

This is actually one of my favorite stages in the process. I love the excitement of the imminent arrival of a new book!

 

The first post in this series is “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Mind”.

You can read the second installment here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Time”, and the third here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Plot”.

The fifth post, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Sales”, comes out next week on Mollie Hunt’s Blog.

Graphic made with photos by NASA Hubble and Christophe Ferron on Unsplash

 

 

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USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle area where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.

 

Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.

 

LINKS—Suzannehagelin.com, Suzanne’s Blog, Newsletter, Twitter, FaceBook, Medium

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               USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle  area                                                                       where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.

 

Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.

 

LINKS—Suzannehagelin.com, Suzanne’s Blog, Newsletter, Twitter, FaceBook, Medium

 

 

 

                       

Book Review: Falling in Love and Other Misadventures, by L.Wade Powers

How to describe so diverse a collection of short fiction? Between these covers, the reader finds 22 stories of romance, humor, suspense, sci-fi, and sober reflection on the stuff of life and death.

Powers has peopled his quirky tales with a cast of characters who are sometimes deceptively ordinary: an Air Force trainee pursuing his first sexual encounter; a ten-year-old boy shoplifting a roll of Life Savers candy; a self-conscious woman trying to escape a nightmarish first date; a young door-to-door encyclopedia “consultant” seeking his first sale.

On the less ordinary side are the man willing to risk all in his exploration of lucid dreaming; the attractive alien taking a job as a waitress in a country diner; the man seeing ghost birds no one else can.

All of these stories—these “misadventures”—are vehicles for the author’s wry observations of the human condition. They become reflections on love and death and the passage of time. Powers holds up a mirror before the reader: The joys and sorrows and fears we see are our own. Kudos for a masterful work!

Click here for the link to the book.

Click here for his website.