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The Write Time: Feeding your Writing Needs Over the Holidays

Welcome to the 2015 Holiday Season … and Launch Day!TWT_WebCov

Today is the release of the second edition of The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, published by Open Books Press out of Bloomington, IN. Since it initially released, it has been used as a teaching tool in dozens of high schools and colleges. Of equal importance, it sits on the shelves of writers ranging from multiple book authors to those writing for fun. Now, we’ve brought in 20 new exercises, as well as fresh photos and a new foreword, to go with the other 346 exercises in the book.

For me, the beauty of this book is its diversity and variety. Since I was young, I’ve kept journals, with the specific intent of writing about something different every day. I believe that diverse writing, along with good reading, observation and life experience, builds our voices and fluency as writers faster than anything. When my book or editing clients say, “You can write about anything! How do you do that?” my answer is the same: “By many years of writing about different things and experimenting daily.”

That is why I created The Write Time — to present a sweeping approach to writing about the subjects that interest you, and trying new forms in the process. Between that, the stories embedded within the exercises, motivational and creativity quotes from authors and brilliant minds, and listings of 125 dynamic writing websites, I’m confident in stating that The Write Time goes well beyond typical writing prompts and exercise books. In fact, you won’t find another that offers such a rich experience.2015-12-01 06.23.33 2015-12-01 06.24.09

For The Write Time, I cobbled together writing exercises developed from the past 15 years of teaching at conferences, high schools, retreats and colleges, gave them stories, and brought them together. Every genre and type of writing is covered, from fiction to essay, songwriting to poetry, fantasy to literary narrative non-fiction. Whether you journal, write poetry or songs, novels or essays, short stories or major papers, The Write Time will be a valuable asset.

The other thing — you’ll never have writer’s block again. All you need to do is open the book to the date, or any random page, and it won’t take long for your words to flow. “It serves as a invocation to come sit at the shore of new creativity, take up your ink-cup, drink plentifully, and be refreshed by the waters of a new day, all intentionally assembled by a fellow writer, reader and lover of literature,” wrote Andres Torres, advanced placement teacher at Minooka (IL) Community High School, in the Foreword.

The Write Time is available through all bookstores, Amazon.com, online booksellers, and on the Open Books site. Or, if you’d like an autographed copy for a holiday gift for yourself, or writers among family and friends, contact me and we’ll get one to you.

Finally, to whet your taste buds, the exercise for December 1:

All complete stories arrive at resolution. We entered the story with characters departing from an opening situation. We followed them as they made their way through the world you created for them, enjoying the motives, conflicts, twists, surprises, realizations, discoveries, complications and sub-plots along the way.

Now, we’re ready for resolution. How will your story end?

Write the ending to your story — no matter where you are right now. The resolution can lead to either a predictable, surprising, or twist ending; your call. Whatever the case, make the ending solid and convincing. Refine it over and over. Then, use it as a compass to guide you through the rest of the story.

(Please let us know how you like The Write Time by reviewing it on Amazon and Goodreads).

 

 

 

 

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Who Are Your Top 10 Favorite Writers?

Today is a fun blogging day — a couple of “10 Favorite” lists.

I make these lists about once every, well, 10 years. They not only show who influences us most deeply as readers and/or writers, but also who grabs our hearts, minds and souls. The 10-year period between lists also shows how we’ve evolved as people. Several on my lists have remained the same over the years, but one or two invariably switch out each decade.

That said, who are your 10 favorite writers? Also, since it is National Poetry Month, who are your 10 favorite poets and/or essayists? Mine are listed below, with a quick bit about each.

Please use the comment feature on this blog to let us know who your favorites are, and why (at least for a few of them). We’ll post a composite of the responses at the end of April.

Bob’s 10 Favorite Writers, in no particular order (except for number one):

boyle

T.C. Boyle

Jack Kerouac — My all-time favorite. ‘On the Road’, and ‘Dharma Bums’ are classics of his tireless stream of consciousness writing. Did you know he wrote ‘The Subterraneans’ in 72 hours — and included a 1,200-word sentence in there?

T.C. Boyle — a mastermind of fiction and short story. He’s carried the mantle among American short-story giants since Raymond Carver died.

Anne Rice — I’m not so hot on her books (except for ‘The Vampire Lestat’ and book one of her ‘Christ the Lord’ series), but her writing is amazing. Who else can keep readers up for two nights with more chilling scenes?

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Thich Nhat Hanh — This Vietnamese Buddhist monk has written some of the most beautiful, applicable books of the past 50 years, his style succinct and full of love.

Laura Hillenbrand — Journalistic narrative gets no better than ‘Seabiscuit’ or ‘Unbroken’, does it? She’s awesome.

Elmore Leonard — My man Elmore, a master of realistic dialogue and snappy, fast-paced storytelling. I read a Leonard novel every time I want to improve my pacing, or simply when it’s time for a great story and some laughs.

John Gardner — 90% of my fiction knowledge comes from the late, great novelist and author of the best book on the craft, ‘The Art of Fiction.’

Anais Nin

Anais Nin

Hunter S. Thompson — Forget how bizarre he was as a person; he greatly influenced me through ‘New Journalism’ (the grandparent of narrative non-fiction), his writing for Rolling Stone, and his two gems, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘The Great Shark Hunt’.

Anais Nin — Classy, erotic, cultured, full of irresistible imagery and beautiful writing. Unless your religious beliefs preclude you from doing so, every man should read a Nin book if they care about the innermost worlds of their women.

Joyce Carol Oates — She’s written hundreds of short stories and more than 40 novels. She plunges us into her characters’ worlds within two pages; I feel like I’ve lost my skin and identity when reading her. And her storytelling? The best. In her classic book ‘Blonde’, she admitted she felt like she was Marilyn Monroe while writing it. Priceless.

10 FAVORITE POETS

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder — My idol as a poet and steward of the land since I was 16. In my opinion, he’s the greatest poet/essayist alive (and a pre-eminent translator of classical Chinese poetry). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. In recent years, I’ve had the honor of befriending and being mentored by him. Love the man.

Paramhansa Yogananda — As beautiful soul poetry goes, this Indian yoga master has the touch. ‘Songs of the Soul’ is a classic.

Wislawa Szymborska — She recently passed, but in 2012, Gary Snyder called her ‘the best poet in the world.’ Her winning the Nobel Prize backs his claim.

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Mary Oliver — How can you not love Mary? Her incisive images and attention to rhythm and detail are beautiful and exact.

David Whyte — He brings the spiritual, natural and inner human worlds together seamlessly; I get goose bumps every time I read Whyte aloud.

Billy Collins — Roll up your sleeves, pour coffee, and survey the little quirks and bits of magic in the everyday world. Billy engages us in the most accessible poetry of the last 50 years. (His protégé, Taylor Mali, could easily fill this slot – but with more obvious humor.)

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Percy Bysshe Shelley — Let’s dial back the clock. Shelley only lived to be 29, but he defined the 18th-19th century Romantic poetry period. Such beautiful poems, and he mastered the difficult combination of storytelling and lyrical verse.

Rumi — There were more than 100 great Persian, Arabian and other Middle Eastern poets from the 8th through 15th centuries; Rumi has lived on. Who doesn’t feel better and deeper after reading one or two of his poems? Honey for the soul.

Li-Po — Like Rumi, he stands tallest among China’s wandering poets in the 7th through 10th centuries. Want to be a Chinese landscape? Read him aloud.

Sappho — She brought written form to lyric and spoken verse 2,700 years ago, creating Western poetry as we know it (though she wasn’t the first; Sumerian Enheduanna penned her poems on cuneiform tablets 4,500 years ago). Sadly, only about 2% of Sappho’s work survives; she was as prolific as Shakespeare.

There are my lists. Looking forward to seeing yours!

ON SALE THROUGHOUT NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Backroad Melodies, by Robert Yehling. $9.95 print, $1.99 Kindle, .99 Matchbook. Through April 30. http://amzn.to/1Hb62Ei

Low Res Cover Backroads

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Bring On the Digital Publishing Revolution (You’re Already a Part of It)

Surf star Clay Marzo, the subject of "Just Add Water", tearing it up in Maui.

Surf star Clay Marzo, the subject of “Just Add Water”, tearing it up in Maui.

Back in the saddle after two weeks of working in Maui with surf star Clay Marzo on our book, Just Add Water (due out in Summer 2014 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), meeting with musician Stevie Salas to discuss his memoir, When We Were The Boys (due out in Fall 2014 from Rowman & Littlefield), revving up the PR machine for author Allan Patch and his exquisite new novel, Passage at Delphi (due out in late November), and presenting at the Digital Author and Self Publishing Conference in Los Angeles …

… Which is where we’re going with this blog.  We’ve heard a lot in the past few years about the rise of e-books, online publishing, and the impending death of the printed book. While the printed book is not going away, at least anytime soon, it is no secret that digital publishing is taking over the industry – and self-publishing is a huge part of it.

One statistic bears it out more than any other: according to R.R. Bowker, which issues the International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) that every book must have to be distributed, the number of ISBNs in circulation has grown in the past 15 years from 900,000 to 32 million. That means there are 32 million different book titles circulating in bookstores, libraries, online booksellers, website stores and wherever you can buy a book.

"Passage at Delphi," the forthcoming novel by Allan Patch

“Passage at Delphi,” the forthcoming novel by Allan Patch

The vast majority of these books are self-published by digital means. In other words, I write a book, format it into a manuscript, and deliver it to either a print source (such as CreateSpace, the self-publishing arm of Amazon.com) or an e-reader service (Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords, Nook, Diesel, Sony e-reader, Apple, etc.). If Smashwords is involved, the e-books are made available for purchase on hundreds of online booksellers. Obviously, if CreateSpace is involved, you can find them on Amazon.com as a print or Kindle title.

Authors can also turn to any number of companies that offer these services, plus scaled-up services for marketing and distribution (extra charge). There are plenty of choices, but I’ll caution you now – do your due diligence. Some are exceptional, like PublishNext and Balboa Press, while others will gladly take your money, print your books and not worry about the quality of their service. Major publishers now offer self-publishing operations as well; two examples include Author Solutions (Penguin) and Balboa Press (Hay House).

This massive shift into self-publishing, or Indie Authorship as it is called among serious authors, has occurred for two reasons: 1) the technology to produce our own books inexpensively is available through our home computers; and 2) authors want the money from their book sales.

Which begs the question: Don’t authors get paid when their books are published by traditional publishers? Of course – but that book sale is cut many ways. On average, authors receive 10% to 15% of each book sold by a traditional publisher. If they are advanced money to write the book, then they only get their 10% to 15% royalties after the advance earns out – sales top the amount advanced. Given that the traditional publishing world has shrunk to five major publishers, their imprints and the smaller publishers, the opportunities to get published are shrinking by the day. Plus, publishers are more unwilling than ever to take a chance on someone who does not have a viable name and presence in the public eye – which is blatantly unfair to writers with good stories that would certainly be read.

However, that’s life in 2013. This is not our parents’ publishing world. What a shame.

The Indie Author approach puts sales in the writer’s hands. But it also includes the responsibility of marketing, promotion and publicity. That’s where a traditionally published book has a huge advantage. Publishers bring distribution, production and marketing to the table, and they do it with full staffs and decades of work on well-built networks. When you give up 85% to 90% of the cover price of the book, that’s where the money goes. (Well, most of it, but that’s another story that would take a very long day to discuss.)

However, writers who are smart enough (and have the funds) to hire experts in traditional and online book marketing, promotions and publicity (shop carefully; there are plenty of shysters out there) can prosper through digital publishing. After loading their manuscripts onto CreateSpace, PDF files on their computers, and/or the e-book readers, they retain 70% to 100% of sales. Or, you can try my approach, which is to collaborate with a publishing partner (in my case, Tuscany Global Publishing and the very exceptional Brian Wilkes). You write and promote the book, the partner handles the production, loading and fanning out to the online retailers, and you split the money down the middle.

Then there’s the world of hybrid authorship, which is where I reside. Agents and traditional publishers are getting used

Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories, a collection of 51 pieces derived from the Word Journeys Blogs

Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories, a collection of 51 pieces derived from the Word Journeys Blogs

to this approach, with the publishers having a particularly tough time of it. Hybrid authors self-publish and work with traditional publishers. For example, I’m working on two books under contract (Just Add Water and When We Were the Boys), while showcasing two other books that I put out with Tuscany Global (Backroad Melodies and Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories: Word Journeys Dispatches Vol. 1). With much more to come.

How the digital world has opened it up! The options are many. More and more good writers are capitalizing on them. Chances are, you own plenty of books by Indie Authors on your bookshelves or e-readers, and don’t even know it. Nor does it matter. What matters is how good the book is. That’s the beauty of digital publishing…

… and why this past weekend’s Digital Authors and Self Publishing Conference in LA was so valuable. Hats off to conference director Tony Todaro: he knows how to present diverse conferences that nail the pulse we feel on the front lines of this shapeshifting industry! Publishing experts such as legendary literary agent Ashley Grayson, agents Claire Gerus and Toni Lopopolo, CD Baby and Book Baby CEO Brian Felsen, science fiction icon (and one-time Star Trek writer) David Gerrold, and author-marketers Linton Robinson, Karen Angermeyer, Gary Philips, Steven Booth and yours truly, were among those discussing this crucial subject. The workshops were packed, the insights riveting and eye-opening, and the information invaluable.

You’ll hear plenty more from me in this blog about digital publishing, especially since I work with it all the time for my clients, and my own work. And that’s about to expand, greatly, but I’ll save that announcement for November…

 

 

 

 

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Why Thrillers Are Fun to Write, and #1 to Read: William Thompson Ong Interview

After he retired from a long career in the advertising industry, William Thompson Ong knew he wanted to return to his other love – 41z1MhGnReL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_writing – but didn’t know where to start. Like other writers, he wanted to draw plenty of fun and enjoyment from his daily sessions. However, he also wanted to write books that would find large audiences.

Ong did some research, and it brought him back to one of the favorite genres he read as a youth and young man: action thrillers with plenty of mystery. Bingo! He transformed into a typing thoroughbred, and burst out of the gates. In just a few years, he has written seven novels and a popular thriller series. In the second part of this exclusive interview, Ong reflects on why thrillers are so much fun to write, why they are the #1 fiction genre for readers (just ahead of the other ingredient in his books, romance), and how the stars have aligned ideally in the persona of Kate Conway, his protagonists for the novel series The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha, and The Fashionista Murders, all available on Amazon.com.

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: What is it about the personalities and characteristics of investigative journalists that make them ideal protagonists for thrillers and mysteries? 

WILLIAM THOMPSON ONG: I’d like to answer with some comparisons between the detective and the newspaper guy or gal. Both appear to be dedicated to discovering breakthrough facts or evidence they can weave into a conclusive story or an indictment.  Aren’t they both in the same business, after all—fighting crime?

In Kate Conway’s case, the hurdles are set higher. The investigative reporter is in a class by herself at a newspaper or magazine journal, assigned to the really big and explosive stuff—stories and cases that go far beyond the murder story.  These are the bright, tenacious, and fearless guys and gals who won’t be home for Christmas—they’ll be spending it hiding in a basement in Teheran to escape a terrorist’s sword. These are the guys and gals whose names will appear on the stories that garner Pulitzer Prizes for their papers—(to say nothing of boosting circulation enough to keep today’s newspapers alive for another year.)  And in most cases they’ll be acting alone—not with the NYPD at their disposal.

Tom's jacket photo. Alicia #9 (preferred)WJ: You mentioned a disparity between typical education levels of an investigative journalist and detective, which creates major story problems in moving crime novels along because of the distrust with which one often views the other in real life. How did you get around that in your series?

TO: I made Kate’s father a gnarly ex-detective—(Paul Conway is a career dick from Brooklyn). When Kate needs help she whistles and Paul Conway appears, wise in the details of police procedure (which Kate and I choose not to be) and just dropping his name opens doors for Kate. Some may think I am cheating by supplying Kate with a crutch like this. But it allows Kate to cruise on a higher level and solve the really complicated crimes.

All of this explains why I lean away from the straight detective story in favor of the mystery-thriller. I’m still that stickler for detail.  But now I can keep a lot more balls in the air when it comes to plotting.

WJ: In The Fashionista Murders, and also The Mounting Storm, you give an expert’s touch to how you portray the high fashion industry and the high-end art world. Are these interests of yours, or just story drivers that you researched (well) and brought to life?

Like Kate Conway herself in The Fashionista Murders, I am totally turned off by fashion—which is why I attached the serial killer to the story. In The Mounting Storm, introducing Kate to Margaret Winship opened up the world of art and museums and society that heightened Kate’s search for the missing Monet she suspects belonged to her grandmother and triggered Kate’s unmasking the Nazi.

It also opened all of Kate’s subsequent novels to the swanky world of high finance and billionaires and celebrity society with its pretension and snobbery and deviousness—absolutely wonderful and trusty elements for layering your novel.  These elements are story drivers and not comfortable elements already present in my life—although at one time I seriously considered becoming an artist.

WJ: You had an interesting way of becoming a thriller writer after leaving the advertising industry:

TO: I did. My decision to write thrillers was based on some good old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants research.  I found thrillers to be the most popular genre. I also found there were more female readers than male readers, which helped lead me to inventing Kate Conway.  Discovering that romances were the second hottest genre convinced me to spread Kate’s adventures with hot and spicy romance.

WJ: Were you a big reader of mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction in your growing up years? Who were your favorite 41u0RCXXw7L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_authors, and what influenced you most about their works, styles and/or voices?

TO: When I was 9, my father brought home The Five Orange Pips and lightning struck. I became a Sherlock Holmes fan forever, admiring his characters and atmosphere (who can resist The Hound of the Baskervilles for atmosphere?) as much as his sleuthing.  But as I grew older, my tastes gravitated to more intricate thrillers like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Gorky Park, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Day of the Jackal.

By the time I reached college, writing style became important—the   grace and class of W. Somerset Maugham as well as the biting vividness of Hemingway and the magic of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I have worn out several soft-cover editions of A Farewell to Arms and The Great Gatsby.)

WJ: Story structure and writing style definitely resonates in your books. We start off on one trail, only to be switched to another – then another –  always with entanglements of some kind involved. Is this a reflection of the way Kate keeps changing and running into surprises? Or the storycrafting style you’ve decided to run with?

TO: It’s both. The multi-layering of plot that I began in The Mounting Storm logically became a pattern for all of Kate’s novels.  In the beginning I had no thought of making the novel into a series.  It was to be a dark and brooding Citizen Kane type of story dramatizing the deviousness of Stirling Winship with Kate almost a minor figure. On the advice of an agent I cut some 90 pages and 30,000 words of background color on Stirling and turned it into a fast-paced thriller featuring Kate. But almost all the plots and subplots remained intact and we were off to the races with the Kate Conway series.

41WA0IPiSeL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_WJ: Rather than go the traditional publishing route, you’ve partner-published with Charles Redner and RiPublishing. Could you elaborate on the advantages you’ve found to the path you’re taking?

TO: The advantages? I am getting to see my books in print, I’m getting strong reviews, and I’m selling enough books to encourage me to keep going. Plus, it’s happening right now. This sure beats waiting around while an editor fiddles and fusses with changes for a year and then spends another year wondering whether the publishing house bosses will give me the final green light.

Self-publishing no longer bears a stigma. It’s attracting big name authors as well as beginners.  If you can’t afford to wait, it’s the place to be. If your books have the necessary magic, they will almost certainly rise to the top.

Partnership-publishing is even better. In Charlie Redner, I have the advantage of a fellow author who acts as my publisher and also my agent when it comes to advice.  There’s a lot of advice you’ll need, especially if you’re like me and have a mind that was built to function in the old days before the computer and the internet—back when we spent our time thinking and doing things instead of walking around pressing buttons on gadgets. (But thank Heaven the word processor replaced my typewriter!)

WJ: Final question: In each of your books, what is the one scene, situation, or character shift that surprised you most when it came flying from your mind to pen or computer screen?

TO: What a terrific question for ending this interview!

In The Mounting Storm, it’s the scene where Kate’s having dinner as the guest of Winston Winship.  She has found the guy an obnoxious bore and lets us know it. But then he says something encouraging about her idea for a new magazine—and she warms to him. When he invites Kate to the party he’s throwing in the Hamptons, which she absolutely hates…

            Kate looked at him before answering, digesting all over again his         coolness, his incredible confidence, his mastery at what he does, his   extremely good looks. And his eyes, those wonderful gray eyes with      their look of sadness.

           “Yes, I’ll come,” she said. “I love the Hamptons.

In The Deadly Buddha, in the party scene at the Hollywood movie studio, Kate has no idea the handsome dude chatting her up—and from whom she reluctantly accepts a ride back to her hotel—is the Welsh movie star she’s been ordered to interview.  He stops at the Griffith Observatory and they find themselves having a ball as they recall from memory the lines James Dean and Natalie Wood exchanged in Rebel Without a Cause. This is how the scene ends:

             Kate didn’t lean over and kiss him, although she thought about it. They were too busy laughing. They laughed all the way back to the hotel. The doorman helped her out. She turned to wave goodbye, but he was already in the circle and heading toward the Wilshire exit, his hand waving carelessly in the air.

           That was the moment Kate realized she didn’t even know his name.

In The Fashionista Murders, we go through the thought process that keeps Kate from giving in to sex, this time in the apartment-studio and in the arms of the handsome photographer covering the fashion shows with her:

Maybe the shrink her friends had dragged her to was right—instead of shutting men out of her life she should loosen up when she felt her buttons being pushed and let things happen. Maybe she needs to change—not just Cam.

          “You are not only a sex maniac but a full-fledged, card-carrying, conniving bastard,” was the way she began the terms of her surrender.  

           She took a step back, grasping both his hands in hers while shaking her mane of Irish red hair. “And now that I have made it ridiculously clear, you may do what you want with me—so long as it’s not boring, distasteful, or so devious it will land us in jail.”

 I warned you how much fun it is writing thrillers, especially when you decide to stretch the boundaries a little. Thanks again for inviting me into your sanctuary.

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Twists & Turns of a Mystery Author: Part 2 of Interview with Claudia Whitsitt

This is Part 2 of our interview with Claudia Whitsitt, the author of mysteries Intimacy Issues, Identity Issues and The Wrong Guy, all based on real-life experiences. Claudia’s taut writing and captivating story lines have made her a fan favorite of a lot of readers the past two years. In this interview, she talks about how she developed a narrative voice that turns every day life into an event, laced with equal parts humor and seriousness – and then converted it into mysteries with more twists and turns than Six Flags.

READ PART 1 OF THE CLAUDIA WHITSITT INTERVIEW

Claudia’s latest work, Intimacy Issues, released on April 28, but this is a woman on a mission. After 37 years as a schoolteacher, specializing in Special Education, Claudia retired in June. She wrote four novels (Two of Me) in the past three years while teaching full-time. One can only imagine what we’re in for now from this delightful, engaging tour de force. Speaking of which, her next novel, Two of Me, is being prepped for publication in the next several months.Claudia Whitsitt copy

Word Journeys: What do you enjoy most about writing fiction?

Claudia Whitsitt: I love storytelling. In the classroom, it was one of my favorite things. I’d tell my students, “I’m going to tell you a story.” Their ears would perk up, they’d take a collective lean forward, and I had them in the palm of my hands. An electricity takes over when you tell or hear a good story. I love that element of writing fiction. When the story and the characters take over and lead me down an undiscovered path, the adrenalin rush is amazing, and oh so satisfying.

WJ: What about the mystery intrigues you so much? Why does it play so well into both your personality and the way you write?

CW: I grew up in the “olden days”. We had a 12-inch black and white television, which the seven of us crowded around to watch The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights. Reading provided me with some alone time. Mostly, I picked up mysteries. I’ve always loved solving puzzles. With five brothers and no sisters, it seemed like a good skill to develop, as they were always cooking up some kind of scheme! While I wasn’t always successful at figuring out what they were up to, I was quite accomplished at guessing what would happen next in the mystery I was reading. I took great pride in putting the pieces together.

READ THE OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE FOR IDENTITY ISSUES

IDENTITY ISSUES COVER copyWJ: Your main character in Identity Issues, Samantha Stitsill, has been a crowd favorite since she was first released to the reading public. I could see you writing a series around her. What about Samantha made it so much fun for you to write her character?

CW: Samantha has a fiery spirit. When I sit down to write, her voice flows through my fingertips. She’s smart and sassy, and she has a comeback for everything. I give myself over to her. I trust myself with her. She trusts me, too. Sometimes I disagree with her, but she’s strong and stubborn. It’s very difficult for me to change her mind after she’s made a decision. I love her. I think she feels the same way about me.

WJ: A question from one converted academic writer to another: How did you move beyond critical, objective writing? Did you practice journaling, writing exercises, etc.? Or were you able to make the shift in the course of writing the story?

CW: I welcome the opportunity to divert my writing from thought-based to emotion-based and from objective to subjective, but I need coaxing at times. Because my life is so full (CRAZY), it’s often difficult to transition. Journaling and free writes have helped me enormously. I’ll put my fingers on the keyboard, or better yet, pen to paper, and let the words flow. That, and listening to music, opens my soul to the depths required for novel writing.

WJ: How did you develop your taut, humor-laced writing voice? Did that come from what you intimacy issuesread, or through finding the novelist within yourself and trusting how it flowed out?

CW: Good question. I grew up in a sarcastic household. I have five younger brothers. FIVE! There was teasing and joking in our household 24/7. I carried that caustic nature into adulthood, so much so that people don’t always know how to take me. As a result, I’ve learned to be more careful about what I say, but my inner dialogue is fast and furious. I tend to be critical, so it was essential that I learned to temper that in the classroom. When an acerbic comment slipped out like, “Seriously, dude. You’re going to talk when I’m teaching?” my students enjoyed it. They’ve always considered me “nice” and “sweet”, so I guess I haven’t damaged too many psyches.

The tautness in my writing comes from juggling so much in my real life. I’m quick to cut to the chase because I don’t ever have “extra” time, and I’ve always viewed my life as a “to-do” list. There isn’t much wiggle room, so this part of my personality comes through in my voice. I’ve even been accused of jumping ahead, writing the second paragraph before the first. Hmm.

WJ: Humor really enhances a book, doesn’t it? I find it works great to provide levity after, or in the midst of, deadly serious scenes. Plus, most of us use humor for any number of reasons. How do you see it?

CW: Humor is a healthy release and a welcome coping mechanism in times of strife. It’s a natural defense, and a very helpful tool in surviving life’s body slams, or controlling a tenable situation. The funniest people are those who’ve suffered great pain in their lives. They look at life in a way that allows them to survive those wicked blows, and say, “Go ahead, Life. What else have you got? Give it to me. ‘Cuz I can throw it right back at ‘ya!”

The Wrong Guy Cover!!WJ: Who were your favorite authors growing up? Who are they now? And which authors did you promote to your kids?

CW: Growing up, I was a huge Nancy Drew fan. I hid under the covers with a flashlight and read into the wee hours of the morning. Hence, I became a mystery writer.  My high school years were all about discovery. I loved the classics. The Scarlet Letter. Catcher in the Rye. And anything by Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald. For years, Holden Caulfield held the honor of being “my favorite character”. Then, D.H. Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Nuff said. One of my favorite passages is when Holden Caulfield says:

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

Raising kids, I read to them each night. Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, and Shel Silverstein were the top requests at bedtime during those twenty years.

For a while, I read mostly Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, and Janet Evanovich. Quick, easy reads for a busy mom. Then Anita Shreve, Elizabeth Berg, and Anna Quindlen. To this day, Fortune’s Rocks, by Anita Shreve, is my favorite book.

WJ: What gives you the greatest satisfaction as an author?

I’m in my element when I’m writing. Losing sense of time and place and becoming immersed in my characters and story gives me untold joy. Having someone read my work and enjoy it is rewarding, too. It’s nice to know readers care about my characters as much as I do!

WJ: Finally, what is the most surprising thing someone said to you about your books, or your writing, at a book signing?

CW: I’d met a gentleman at a book signing at Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago shortly after my first mystery, The Wrong Guy, was released. He read the book, sent me a creepy email about the parts he would have changed (all related to the sex scenes, and very graphic, of course), then had the nerve to show up at Printers Row the following year.

When he saw a man standing behind me, he had the nerve to ask, “Who’s he?”

“My husband,” I answered.

He was indignant. “What’s he doing here?”

Wish I hadn’t been so darned naïve and nice the year before. (It does make for a good story idea though…writer stalked by reader! Scary!)

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Where Truth and Fiction Collide: The Sleuthing and Writing Life of Claudia Whitsitt

(PART ONE OF A TWO-PART INTERVIEW)

Most novelists weave fragments of their own stories, experiences, friends (or enemies) into every book they write. For instance, in my novel Voice Lessons, I have nearly 100 fragments in there – but you’ll never know. The book is fiction. A fewer number write novels based on actual experiences, fictionalizing just enough to muddy the waters of the actual truth.

Rare is the author who bases novels on actual events, twisting timelines and events while keeping the essential truth intact – and pulls it off.

Claudia Whitsitt copyClaudia Whitsitt is that rare author. Her mystery thrillers draw directly from events in her life, which she unabashedly admits and promotes. When you write as well as Claudia, with a taut narrative style and compelling, unforgettable characters that keep the pages turning, you can say and do whatever you want. Her books are damned good.

Claudia is the author of Intimacy IssuesIdentity Issues, The Wrong Guy, and the forthcoming Two of Me. Without having to blast the spoiler alert, I will give you this: Intimacy Issues deals with a very pissed-off mother whose kids and dog are seriously messed with. Identity Issues is loosely based on the real-life stolen identity crisis involving her husband, Don, and the hell it put them through for years. She writes through the character of Samantha Stitsill, a mother and teacher who tracks down hilarious moments as well as she chases leads. The Wrong Guy is derived from the Michigan Murders, the horrifying co-ed murders that took place on the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan campuses in the late 1960s. A college freshman, Katie, is the protagonist – a girl loosely based on Claudia, who enrolled at Eastern Michigan just after they caught the serial killer.

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In all three books, Claudia lets it fly with a combination of tragedy, drama, some of the ever-engaging sassy, tough-chick persona, emotional roller-coaster rides, great characterization and dialogue, and a trademark of every great mystery writer – humor. Damn, she’s funny! (More on that in part 2 of this conversation). And an obsessed amateur sleuth, drawn from her childhood fascination with Nancy Drew mysteries. Every mother with a beating heart would laugh their tails off at the first 10 pages of Identity Issues – and frequently thereafter, even though this is a dead-serious novel that speaks to an epidemic affecting up to 2 million people per year.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Claudia for almost four years; we met at the Southern California Writers Conference, where we both are presenters. Now, it’s your turn. Enjoy this conversation with the fabulous, recently retired Special Education teacher from Saline, Michigan – and then treat yourself to her books for some truly entertaining summer reading.

intimacy issuesWord Journeys: You sure seem to find, or fall into, real-life situations that activate your mystery instincts! 

Claudia Whitsitt: I love to play “what if?” with real-life scenarios. My brain seems to be wired to tap into situations that I’ve heard about and ask myself how I’d handle myself in the same situation, or imagine the ways in which things could have gone differently. I never have trouble thinking of ideas for my novels.

True stories fuel my fiction. I often say, “I write my life as fiction.” There’s always a jumping off point from the actual story to fiction though. Once I reach that point, which is often before I even begin to write, I feel the magic begin!

Word Journeys: What are the advantages — and pitfalls — of IDENTITY ISSUES COVER copywriting fiction so close to real life?

Claudia Whitsitt: Because the early parts of Identity Issues are based on my own experience, it was easy to write the beginning of the book. The funniest part though, was that initial readers didn’t believe that anything like what I’d experienced could ever really happen. I ended up making several changes to make the story more plausible. Truth is stranger than fiction! In all honesty, I got much more of a rush fictionalizing the back end of the story. It was liberating, in fact.  Sam is a much braver woman than me, and it was a delight to have her say the things I wish I had the nerve to say, and do the things I wish I had the guts to do. She’s a force to be reckoned with. Of course, my husband would probably say the same about me!

the wrong guyWJ: What about your husband? He was the loosely depicted “model” for the Jon Stitsill, the husband in Identity Issues … which must have been interesting on the home front! 

CW: My best friend reads all of my work. When she first read Identity Issues, she was furious with my husband. She could barely look at him after she read what his fictional character had done to put his family and marriage in jeopardy. Family and other friends also have had trouble distinguishing fact from fiction. I think I’ve conjured up all kinds of questions for them about my “real life”. Because the book is based on our own life experience, the lines sometimes become blurred between fact and fiction.

WJ: While Identity Issues is disturbing in the way identity theft can compromise and even devastate its victims and their families, The Wrong Guy is downright disturbing – a serial killer, a rapist, young co-eds scared to death. Could you describe this time of the Michigan Murders, and how you drew from your experience at Eastern Michigan to develop Katie?

CW: My college experience paralleled Katie’s in several ways. I entered college on the heels of (convicted murderer John Norman) Collins’ arrest. I experienced firsthand the fears of negotiating a campus where coeds lived with the constant worry of a predator’s existence. I attended countless meetings about safety. We were warned at every turn that there was no assurance we were safe just because a suspect was behind bars. We carried mace on our key rings, were taught to weave our keys between our fingers (in order to be ready to defend ourselves), and advised never to travel alone on campus. It was a tense time, and not the “typical” college experience.

I also had the most unlikely roommate, my complete opposite, just as Katie did. Katie’s roommate sits on closet shelves, tosses around profanity like loose change, and teaches Katie that there is more than one way to view the world. Katie learns to respect differences and forms a lasting bond with Janie. (My roomie and I are still best friends to this day!)

WJ: Your books have great plot twists. How did the necessity of switching gears as a parent, teacher, and in life shape your narrative style?

CW: As a reader, I love it when I’m comfortable with the plot and ease into predicting the next course of events. Then, wham! I’m blindsided. To me, that’s what creates the mystery and suspense. It’s my goal to create that same suspense in my own novels. Just when the reader settles back, I dish out something completely new and unexpected. It also mirrors what I went through after Don’s identity was stolen and I received late night phone calls in which the caller tried to convince me I didn’t know my husband. Much like Samantha, I had to be quick, smart, and savvy. Even when I’d only had a few hours of sleep.

WJ: Thirty-seven years of dealing with schoolkids made your flexible, I’d guess.

CW: Switching gears has been my M.O. for years. Life tosses me surprises on a daily basis. In my teaching of Special Education students, there was always some behavioral crisis looming. In raising my family, a sibling squabble, a last minute trip to the ER, or a broken heart to mend.

WJ: How did the theft of Don’s identity directly affect you?

CW: When my husband’s identity was stolen, I learned that thinking on my feet, flexibility, and multi-tasking were my friends. The identity theft occurred when my four older kids were in elementary school and my youngest was an infant. I held a full-time teaching position, and my husband traveled the world for business. I had an astounding amount to manage. Attitude was everything. I adopted a survival approach. Every day was a new and unexpected adventure. I learned to appreciate the surprises, and challenged myself to act rather than react. It became a game of sorts. I approached each day wondering what new wrench would be tossed into my day. The ordinary days became few and far between. Great writing fodder!

WJ: When we write fiction, we all have unanticipated surprises that just “fly out of us” during the writing process – and they become invaluable to the work. What were a couple of those surprises for you?

CW: When I become one with Samantha, she leads me through her innermost thoughts and feelings. They are sometimes deep. And dark. And way more personal than I anticipated. Being with her in her darkest hours takes me to surprising places. I feel privileged that she allows me to accompany her on her journey. The depth of emotion, or her internal timeline, as I like to call it, taps something in my soul that I didn’t know existed. There are times I walk away from a writing session completely spent. Sam faces her inner demons. When she does, I’m at my best as a writer. She’s opened my soul. I thank her for that.

(PART 2 will appear on Tuesday, July 2)

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The Hybrid Author Movement

During the Southern California Writers Conference in February, keynote speaker Michele Scott talked about a subject that has been near and dear to me for many years – becoming a contracted and self-published author … at the same time. This is otherwise known as hybrid authorship.

A fine multi-genre novelist, Michelle has written 23 books, some under a pen name.  If you look at this with traditional eyes, you would rightfully assume she keeps contracts with two or even three different publishers. That’s not the case – anymore. After years of selling her books to publishers, and developing a strong and loyal fan base that numbers in the high five- or low six-digit mark, Michelle took control of her creative process and began self-publishing.

Risky business? For sure. If you’re making a living as a writer, self-publishing can be quite risky. Suddenly, you are responsible for every penny spent to edit, market, promote, publicize, produce and sell your book – all expenses typically handled by traditional publishers. If you don’t know how to do all of these things, or sub-contract people who do, then it can be a one-way road to supreme disappointment.

 

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Michelle knows how to do these things. Consequently, instead of merely satisfying her one-book-a-year deal with contract publishers, she can write and publish three or four titles per year … and keep all the proceeds after expenses are met. This is much different than traditional publishers, which offer advances against royalties (for those lucky enough to receive them), and then royalties in the 6% to 10% range of wholesale to retail price, escalating upward to 15% with increased sales – and 25 to 50% net on e-books. Unless promotion is great and sales are brisk, these numbers do not always add up so well.

Michelle has switched all the way over to self-publishing, even buying back some of her backlist rights (books already published). A few of her titles remain in circulation from her publishers. She’s in a win-win – royalties on books already published, plus pulling in the full bounty from all the books she’s writing now.

She is an example of a hybrid author, which is becoming more and more the way to go if you’re a prolific writer who has several books on your mind – and plans to write quite a few more. The hybrid approach is also the right approach for authors like me, who write in different genres and do not want to get tied down by contracts in which publishers want the one book for which they’ve contracted you to be the only book you write for a set period of time.

The subject of hybrid authoring is a big one at this week’s Book Expo America , the largest booksellers and publishers convention in the U.S. Traditional publishers are being compelled to relent from their “we buy your book, we take you off the market” philosophy, which forces many prolific authors to write their other books under pen names unless they have lucrative multi-book deals. More and more, authors are doing both, self-publishing titles they want to write while under contract for another book.

Hybrid authorship is not for everyone. First of all, you need to have the money to produce and promote the self-published books yourself. Or, like me, enter into an arrangement with a collaborative publisher (mine is Tuscany Global), in which you publish your book and handle all promotional costs while splitting revenues with the partner (in my case, the jack-of-all-trades Brian Wilkes), who handles production through a well-established self-publishing service (Amazon.com’s Create Space, in this case).

Then, you need to write and produce the books – and make sure none of them compete, in any way, with any books you might have under contract with the traditional publisher. In fact, the best approach – and the one that makes everyone happy – is to openly promote your contracted book at the back of the self-published title, and in any press releases you generate on its behalf (quick commercial: we offer such a service for all authors with books to be published, Beacon Publicity, where releases go to up to 10,000 targeted points and you get placement reports for a very low fee).

Hybrid authoring will become more and more common, especially in this era when writing e-books is so easy and self-publishing your book is a badge of respect, not the perceived scourge of vanity or province of poets it used to be.

As for forthcoming titles? Have Just Add Water under contract, another about to go there (When We Were the Boys, in which I’m working with author Stevie Salas and my agent, Dana Newman), and two titles – Backroad Melodies and Every Day Is The Write Day: The Best of Word Journeys Blogs, Vol. 1 – which will be out this summer through the collaborative/self-publishing route.

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