An Interview With ‘The Sluts’

The Sun City Sluts, that is.

Three talented women who shared a dream, a few bottles of wine and a fantasy — revenge, and otherwise – that they needed to get out of their very pretty and slightly wicked heads.

So they wrote a novel.  Together.  Planned it, nailed it, lived to tell about it.

They did it working from a well-crafted story plan and… well, I’ll let them tell you.

The result is Murder at Cape Foulweather, a self-published novel with attitude, a twised sense of humor and some ironic twists.  All strategically sound, dramatically compelling and… did I say a little twisted?  I think I did.  That’s the part that sticks.

Here’s why you’re going to like it: it’s about writers and writing workshops and grouchy irascible writing teachers with an attitude and perhaps an agenda of their own.

They swear it’s not me, even though all of them have been in my workshops, where I tend to work myself into a dither.  I was secretly wishing it was, but hey, I’ll settle for a subtle and sweet nod in the interview that follows… right now.

Here’s what you’ll learn: what the process and challenges to self-publishing are, what is feels like, and now to not kill your writing partner(s). Or yourself. Give this a shot.  They’re good.  You’ll relate, too.

*****

The Sun City Sluts are: Marjorie Reynolds, Susan Clayton-Goldner and Martha Miller.

Larry: How did three experienced writers, each with your own projects and goals get together to write a collaborative story?

Marjie:  The five women who became the Sun City Sluts met at a workshop on the Oregon Coast about eighteen years ago and soon were friends. Each winter after that, we gathered at Jane Sutherland’s house near Palm Springs to write, talk writing and critique each other’s work. When we’re together, we can’t seem to stop laughing. That’s one of the best things about our group—that and the love and support we get from each other. We have our own creed. “Men come and go but girlfriends are forever.” I think our sisterhood is unique because we really believe in each other’s talent and we cheer when one of us has success. When Susan, Martha and I acquired agents, all five sluts were overjoyed.

Martha: It was during one of those get-togethers, which always brings out the party girl in us, when someone held up a wine glass and piped, “We should write a book about us.” We had already jokingly dubbed ourselves the Sun City Sluts, a name that both tickled and embarrassed. The idea stuck and it wasn’t long before we started the actual writing.  Once we got going, we couldn’t stop, because the words came without the usual writerly angst or the old editor-on-the-shoulder curse.

Susan: Two of the five women opted out of the actual writing due to the distance involved and the desire to work on their own projects. So, three of us, Martha Miller from Portland, Oregon, Marjorie (Marjie) Reynolds from Camano Island, Washington, and Susan Goldner from Grants Pass, Oregon, decided to write the book. We put together some character sketches. Susan Domingos from Lafayette, California and Jane Sutherland from Seattle and Palm Springs contributed their own character sketches for the Paige and Babs characters.

Larry: What did the process look like? Did you work from a story plan (and how did you get to THAT?) or was the story truly “pantsed” from the like-minds of three authors?

Martha: We definitely had a story plan. We came up first with the concept: What if five best friends went to a writing workshop in a remote area, got trapped by a destructive storm, witnessed a murder and had to find the killer or be killed themselves? From there, the story took shape. Hey, I didn’t take Larry’s class on story structure five times without having his structural paradigm burned into my brain. Marjie had long ago internalized story structure and Susan is a fabulous writer, so it all came together.

Susan: Martha, Marjie and I live a few hundred miles from each other but Martha’s house was equidistant for both of us so we tended to gather there. Why not? She’d already dubbed her house The Write Place. Set on the banks of the Columbia River, it is a peaceful and beautiful spot to put the creative forces to work. Once we’d developed a rough outline, we assigned writers for the individual scenes. We have all read books written by this incredibly handsome and very nice instructor (with a cameo in our novel, I might add), who has convinced us that writing by the seat of our pants rarely results in a cohesive book. Whenever possible, the three of us met for planning and writing sessions. We also used email and phone calls to work out problems. Marjie coordinated the project and edited the final manuscript.

One of the most important things we did was to write up a contract in which the proceeds of the book would be distributed according to the amount of effort each writer put into the process. At first it didn’t seem necessary because we were just having fun, but it turned out to be a very good idea. It’s the best way to avoid resentment, and we would recommend a contract for any group who wants to collaborate on a book.

Marjie: The conception was easier than the lengthy pregnancy (about a year and a half), and choosing the book’s name set off grueling labor pains. The delivery was also an ordeal, but Murder at Cape Foulweather has been born as a Kindle book and a paperback on Amazon and is doing well. Believe it or not, the three of us are preparing for another pregnancy as if we’ve forgotten all about the labor pains.

In Murder at Cape Foulweather, the Sun City Sluts attend the writing workshop on the pretense they want to learn more about the craft, but what really attracts them is Seamus O’Brien, a gorgeous hunk of a man who runs his classes like a drill sergeant. Several sluts try to seduce him but only one succeeds. We each took on one of the slut personas and wrote the scenes from our character’s point of view.

I’m Jamie, a shy, willowy brunette. Susan is Ruby Jean, a southern belle, and Martha is Roz, the wild one in the group. We took turns writing from the POV of the other characters: Paige, a wealthy socialite, and Babs, a mother hen who unsuccessfully tries to organize us and keep us in line. We have all grown as writers over the last eighteen years and some of us have published our work through traditional channels. We know the craft and agree on the same writing principles. Martha and Susan are natural comedians, so the wacky humor in the book comes from them.

Larry: Any war stories?

Susan: War stories? Not really. Over the past 20 years, the three of us have become close friends and know each other the way sisters often do. The writing process went smoothly until my knee surgery slowed me down and I was unable to make the trips to Portland. Martha and Marjie took up the slack and wrote the remainder of the scenes. I still did some editing when possible via email.

Martha: There was no warring between the three writers. And while uploading the manuscript to Kindle was easy, when the Sun City Sluts met CreateSpace, our choice for the print edition, it has been a little like war: laborious, frustrating, with a clear winner not yet in sight. Perhaps that’s because we did it ourselves. It was/is a real learning process. Thanks to Marjie being a whiz at Microsoft Word, we managed to publish it this time, but next time we might hire a formatter.

Marjie: When I researched indie publishing, I felt overwhelmed by the information available. I attended workshops and read books and blogs on the subject until my eyes crossed. Although I had once worked in a movie advertising agency, the prospect of marketing our novel seemed tremendously daunting. We had to learn how to use resources such as Amazon Kindle, CreateSpace, LinkedIn, Good Reads and Weebly. When would we have time to write? We’ve had to learn to compartmentalize. We’re making progress on the process day by day, handling the promotion in small bites, building an audience as we go. It’s nice to know the book won’t be pulled off the shelf in a few months so we have plenty of time. And, of course, we’ve started our new Sun City Slut mystery, tentatively titled Murder Aboard the S. S. Kevorkian.

Larry: You all have relationships with agents. Did you pursue any traditional publishing options before going the self-publishing route? What was your experience in getting the book out there? Is the conventional wisdom on this process accurate, or were there landmines along the way? Did you use a third-party formatter? How about cover art?

Martha: All three of us have agents but they passed on this project. We queried other agents and had some close calls, but no brass ring. We decided to go ahead and self-publish, because we continued to believe the book had merit and could make others laugh. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all I really wanted this book to do: to make people laugh. There’s plenty of dark stuff out there already.

Susan: One agent almost took on the manuscript, but at the last minute decided it wasn’t for her. We were disappointed but not deterred. After the usual licking of wounds, and a few glasses of bubbly, we decided to pursue the self-pub avenue.

Marjie: It took twelve drafts for us to get the formatting on CreateSpace accurate, but it will be easier for the next book. Martha’ s son, Keith Miller, generously created the cover art, using an image we purchased for $21 from Shutterstock. We tried to stick to the “make-it-eye-catching-but simple” philosophy we’d read about on some self-publishing blogs. Indie publishing is great but it unfortunately has a reputation for shoddy production values. Too many self-published books are filled with typos and awkward prose. We went over and over our book, trying to make the whole package as professional as possible.

Larry: Can you describe the emotional experience of this journey so far? Have you encountered the unexpected? Marjie: What I like most about self-publishing is the freedom I feel. It brings back the joy of writing and reminds me of those early days when I was so deep into my fictional dream that I lost track of time. It’s sheer creative flow and I love it. We don’t have to worry whether we’re pleasing an agent or an editor. We simply write the story that delights us and makes us laugh. It’s relaxed and unfettered, but we still keep our high standards. We want a book we can be proud of. We hope there are women out there who see life the way we do and who value their friendships as much as we do.

Martha: The positive response to this light-hearted little book is surprising and rewarding. We don’t expect to be laughing all the way to the bank (pardon the cliché), but when someone says our story is fun to read, I feel rich.

Susan: All of us will consider self-publishing for some of our own projects. It is important to have a professional editor before putting your project into print. Marjie acted in this capacity for us. Get input from others. And carefully proofread. Mistakes are embarrassing.

Larry: What have you learned from this, and what would you do differently next time, either with the next book in this series, or your own projects?

Marjie: What have I learned? Instant gratification. We don’t have to wait the years it takes to go through the New York publishing route. We can hold our novel in our hands within weeks after finishing the final draft. What a good feeling!

Martha: I feel a little bit like I’ve been let out of prison. I’m no longer bound by the need to snag and then satisfy an agent who then must snag and satisfy an editor for traditional publication. I now know here’s another way. But it requires accomplished craft, a cracking good story and a willingness to work at marketing.

Susan: I have to admit I had more fun writing this book than any of my others. I let go of the internal critic and just wrote for the pure joy of it, making myself and others laugh.

Larry: Feel free to add anything that you believe contextually contributes to this path.

Marjie: In one of the scenes, the sluts are discussing the killer’s motive. Here’s the passage:

Paige raised her hand. “I have an idea. Let’s brainstorm what Norman’s motive might be. We can do the ‘what if’ exercise we learned at the Portland workshop last summer from that fabulously handsome instructor named Larry.”

“Okay,” Roz said. “Let’s try it.”

Can you guess who the “fabulously handsome instructor” is? We swear we put that in months and months before we knew Larry was going to interview us.

Martha: Many people have commented that they think writing a novel collaboratively would be difficult, but in this case, it made the process easier. We apparently share a similar sense of humor; there’s no jealousy or rivalry between the three of us, and we all believe in the importance of good craft.

Susan:  I think Marjie and Martha covered my additional insights. But I do want to express my gratitude to Larry again for posting this interview.  One of the things I’m realizing as I move forward on the writing path:  Friends are important and we need to help our fellow writers in whatever ways we can.

You can score your copy of Murder at Cape Foulweather in Kindle HERE…. and in paperback HERE.

38 Comments

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38 Responses to An Interview With ‘The Sluts’

  1. Robert Jones

    I think you ladies have a very interesting story. Moreover, it encapsulates some of my own thoughts and fears on writing/self publishing. I haven’t fully made up my mind which way to go yet–though traditional publishers are not looking great to me right now. I understand there could be difficulties and pitfalls on either side for someone publishing a novel for the first time. Having had a career in another area of the arts/entertainment field, I am painfully aware of the pitfalls of the traditional route. And considering the current ecconomy problems causing many major corporations to play finincial eightball between profits and losses, my questions and concernes here would be:

    1) If you could end up getting easily low-balled by the bean counters and corporate decrees of such an unpredictible time in business, what are the benefits of traditional publishing Vs. self-publishing?

    2) From what I understand, unless you recieve a large advance from a traditional publisher, your playing it all as marketing the book yourself anyway. So unless you get a large enough advance to get on the fast rack with a promo package what are we looking at these days in terms of the average print runs? Meaning, if a publisher has decided to assign say 15,000-18,000 (maybe it’s less) copies to a print run, it doesn’t even really qualify as a mid-range sale, which would be closer to 25,000 copies. Then, this 18,000 copies needs to sell out entirely, plus get reorders equal to, or greater than the original print run before a second printing can go into effect. And with no real push behind a book, that might qualify as a tax write off for the publisher, but leaves the author in limbo with a book the publisher has rights to for the next umpteen years and zero plans to do anything with–unless the author writes another book and that one takes off. Then maybe they’ll dust off the other(s) for another go-round.

    During better financial times, these odds and number were a little better, but the rules were basically the same. The only plus I can see from this at this point in time is the fact that if you get a book published through the traditional channels early, is that it makes publishing the next one a bit easier, having gotten over that first big hurdle.

    3) Agents…these people reduced an author’s window of opportunity to a pin-prick opening before things got bad. What exactly are they doing in the current climate? Or have they sealed the doors completely while desperately trying to hold on to their paid authors?

  2. Yes, Robert, we went through a very similar thought process. All three of us have agents and are pursuing the elusive traditional dream with our individual books. We tried to find an agent to represent Murder at Cape Foulweather. We came close on a few occasions, but ultimately decided to get off that roller coaster and publish it ourselves. Amazon makes the process relatively easy and the cost is pretty minimal. In part it was an experiment, but it worked out well for us. We have a book out there. People are reading it and its three writers are happy with the end result. I’m afraid the days of big advances for first-time authors are behind us and you’re right, even authors who publish the traditional way are expected to do much of the marketing themselves, too. My agent is just beginning to market my mystery. But if she is unable to sell it, I will definitely consider going the self publishing route.

    It sounds like you have all the tools you need to make the right decision for yourself. I wish you good luck.

  3. Robert Jones

    Thank you, Susan.

    At the same time, though things can be tough going in terms of publishing, and choosing which way to go, I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone either. In fact, my personal motto is to encourage people to follow their dreams and pay no attention to the odds, or statistics. Because I also know that companies, large and small, do not treat their talent equally. If someone is good at what they do, puts the effort in, or sometimes even if they are just likable, editors (and possibly even a few agents) will go to bat for them.

    The first company I ever freelanced for was a small fly-by-night outfit. Everyone that I encountered who ever worked for them handed me a horror story about not getting paid. I did the job because I was all excited about it and remained hopeful. And they kept paying me and giving me more work. My rent kept getting paid until I learned my chops and moved on to a larger company. Sometimes you just have to follow your heart and take a chance. Believe you’ll beat the odds. Just don’t be smug about it going in. Sometimes nice guys (and gals) don’t finish last 😉

  4. Robert, I’ve had some success with traditional publishing. Years ago, William Morrow & Co. published my first novel, THE STARLITE DRIVE-IN. The American Library Association chose it as one of the Ten Best Books of 1998 for Young Adults. It also received a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, and it was optioned for film. It was a Literary Guild alternate selection and a Reader’s Digest Select Editions book. Rights were sold to seven countries, and it got good reviews in The New York Times, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Morrow published the hardcover edition. Through the years, Morrow and Berkley have published four paperback editions of STARLITE. They also published my second novel, THE CIVIL WARS OF JONAH MORAN. It did okay but not great.

    Traditional publishing certainly has its benefits. I had a fabulous publicist and the people at William Morrow seemed to do their best at promoting STARLITE. Distribution and marketing are huge factors, but they depend on how much your publisher likes your book. Sometimes, you may get little or no promotion. I was fortunate. I got a very decent advance and a contract for two more novels.

    So why did I become disenchanted with traditional publishing? Because I didn’t like the pressure. I felt like a factory worker. My editor rejected my third novel, which I thought was pretty good, and I simply lost my passion for writing. Okay, so maybe I’m a wimp but I decided life was too short to do something I didn’t want to do (‘scuse the cliche).

    After I left traditional publishing, I taught fiction writing classes and wrote some nonfiction but it wasn’t until the other Sun City Sluts and I started writing our mystery that I really got excited again. As I said in our interview with Larry, I loved the fun we had and the instant gratification we got with indie publishing.

    Each of the sluts has her own novel she’s working on and would be quite happy to have some big New York publisher to pick it up. I’m on the second draft of a mainstream novel, and maybe some day I’ll finish it and ship it off to my agent. If she finds a home for it, great. If not, I’ll self-publish it and hope some people find it worth reading.

    Traditional publishing is an amazingly difficult and unpredictable business, but my agent says there is always room for a good book. When I see books like “Fifty Shades of Grey,” I question that.

    So, go for it if you don’t mind a few years of trying the traditional route. Or try self-publishing. But, whatever you do, put out the very best book you can. The more professional we are with e-publishing, the more readers will take us seriously and the more likely it will become the best way.

  5. Robert Jones

    @Marjorie–Thank you for the feedback.

    I did purchase a copy of Murder at Cape Foulweather, BTW. It sounded like fun when Larry mentioned it previously, but the line about playing “What if” to figure out the motive for murder was the real clincher. I have a few things ahead of you in my reading queue, but will post a nice review as soon as I read it.

    Writers can be born isolationists. But I think we miss a real opportunity to help one another as a community. There are a great many of us out there, which would go a very long way towards getting some good word of mouth going about one another’s projects. Part of writing is having a business strategy, and it’s always a good strategy to network. So I’m hoping some others will jump on this bandwagon and show their support as well.

  6. MikeR

    My first (and so far, only) experience with self-publishing is with a pseudonymously-published geek book that so-far has sold a grand total of 11 copies. Not even enough to pay for the ISBN.

    The problem with the current self-publishing system is simply that “there is no barrier to entry.” Thousands of new titles get published every day. Most of them never saw the services of a professional editor, let alone a marketing agent. It doesn’t take too many experiences of having paid good money for a book that’s full of typos and bad writing to turn you off on “taking a chance.”

    And then, even among the subset of truly-excellent books, you’re still the little Dutch boy at the foot of the dike, and your thumb is not nearly big enough to stop the flood.

    So far, programs like Amazon’s “KDP” merely concern themselves with maximizing the number of “titles” (sic…) that are available in their chosen electronic format. But, in time, I think that we will see the return of the literary agent and all of the other “unsung heroes” which, whether we knew it or not, were a bulwark between our reading-eyes and drivel. “The very-conventional publishing industry” WILL RETURN, as “the captains and the owners of a reliable trade-mark,” which disillusioned buyers will learn to steer towards. The only thing that will be gone is the paper.

  7. Martha

    Thank you, Robert, for buying our book. We appreciate your support and I hope you find the reading experience a good one. Without belaboring the point, let me say that writing it was a blast and it almost spoiled me for anything else. Part of the fun was collaboration, of course, but the freedom we all felt in pleasing ourselves with what we wrote is, we hope, reflected in the book itself. I wish you much luck in your endeavors and hope we’ll see your book up there one of these days.

  8. Mike, sorry to hear your first e-pub experience hasn’t gone well. You’re right. “No barrier to entry” is a problem, but I’d like to believe that over time exceptional new voices will break through all the noise. Uploading an electronic book is easy. It takes patience, passion, expertise, plain old hard work–and, most important of all, a string of good books –to find an audience and keep it. But this is truly an exciting new era in publishing! For the first time in history, the writer can take control of the entire process. Sure, there’s a lot of drivel out there, but at least we have an opportunity we’ve never had before. We’re pioneers. Can’t get more thrilling than that.

  9. MikeR

    Actually, Marjorie, I’m not terribly surprised or put-off by this. I did it as an experiment, and the book took all of about four weeks to write and another couple weeks of geeking the software. (I wanted to learn how to do all of it myself, because these technologies are also useful to me in my “day job” as a software consultant.)

    So, yes, “we’re pioneers.” So far, so good. Electronic publishing (and print- on-demand … it’s QUITE the sight to see one of those presses at work!) is definitely a game-changer for publishing: “books are software.” However, this is definitely something that is still in the process of maturing.

    So far, Amazon has poured a lot of effort into making “KDP” (Kindle Direct Publishing) =approachable= by anyone … but it hasn’t stepped-up to the plate of marketing: of winnowing the wheat from the chaff. This, and their current “reviews” and “also bought” systems, are still tuned to the world from which they sprung: the selling of conventionally-published and conventionally-MARKETED titles. Amazon revolutionized the logistics of printed matter and leveraged their computers to introduce e-publishing … but they’re really not a marketing company. Not at all, IMHO.

    The problem is simply that, out of millions of titles, yours has a one-in-a-million chance of being seen … until either you get lucky at promoting it yourself, or, well, “Oprah. Need I say more.” This, of course, is true of all things, as the fortune-cookie says:

    “He who has a thing to sell / And talks about it in a well / Is much less apt to get the dollars / Than he who stands on hill, and hollers.” 🙂

    As we know, the conventional publishing route killed a lot of good writing just because it didn’t “ignite” fast enough. It used to be that the really good books(!) were on the remainders tables: they simply needed more time to “catch fire,” or perhaps that’s where the “real readers” had learned to look first. But electronic books never go out-of-print: they never have to. They’re just files.

    Promotion and marketing, in this entirely-new space, hasn’t quite developed into a mature practice yet. Eventually, it will, and the world will have yet another dot-com millionaire.

    My initial experiment produced more-or-less the results I had anticipated, and it certainly has not turned me off to electronic publishing. NOT at all! When my first-novel is finished, though, I’ll be looking for an agency relationship … with a company that can publish the title in all the requisite formats AND ALSO promote it effectively, in exchange for a royalty percentage. I sense that there is a business demand for that kind of service, and there are already a few players in that game. In order for a title to “catch fire,” you have to treat it like an “Indian fire.” First, you have to light it. Then, you have to blow on it gently and feed it fuel slowly. Plus, you need access to a nice hill. 🙂

  10. MikeR

    Postscript: And if you live in a town with a big print-shop that has one of those digital presses … go see it. 🙂 I saw one outside of Nashville, and it was the d*mndest thing. A machine about the size of a small room (with a number of modular parts), driven by a hefty computer. Paper and card-stock went in one end, and paperback books, =ALL= =DIFFERENT=, were coming out the other. They told me it can produce hardcovers, too.

    I picked up one of the books, and it was absolutely solid. It looked like any paperback you ever saw, with a nice, tight binding and everything. But the book in my hands had one important difference: it had already been sold.

    Yeah, the press cost about a quarter-million dollars, but the owner said it had already paid for itself, and he ran it night and day. “Put an e-book file in, and a few minutes later, there it is in paper.” Will wonders never cease.

  11. You make some very good points, Mike. The sluts have a friend who has published through one of those e-pub companies, but they take a big chunk (50%) of the profits and I’m not sure that what they provide is worth that much. They have given her techniques for marketing the book but she still has to make all the arrangements: holding a launch party, organizing speaking/teaching appearances and book signings, acquiring reviews from established authors, etc. Plus, they’re charging her $500 for the cover and fees for other services. I guess that’s okay if all you care about is getting the book out there, but as I said earlier I want to learn to do this myself. Having worked for sixteen years in movie advertising, I have many of the marketing skills already. This rest is hard work. But my fortune cookie is going to say, “Anything worthwhile ain’t easy.”

    A bit of trivia. A former high school classmate, who also happened to be my first boyfriend (pledged our undying love in third grade), owned the tool and die company that built one of the first digital presses. He sent me a video on it. I’d post it if I could find it. I’m sure it’s lurking somewhere in my extensive writing file.

    Happy writing, Mike, and keep supporting the e-pub cause.

  12. MikeR

    Yes, I think that I would want more than just “techniques” for my $500. But, this is still very much a developing avenue, and it’s simply going to take time. (Writers of “apps” in the software world are experiencing the same sort of issues, in addition to the problem that =their= price is expected to be zero or absurdly-low.)

    The problem with a lot of “automated” systems, including Amazon’s reviews, is that any such thing quickly becomes fuel for “bots.” (The practice craves the respectability that it does not deserve, under the moniker “SEO.”) Another problem is the sheer number of titles that are competing for attention. Amazon could do something if they chose, maybe, but they’re just as happy selling women’s hosiery as they are selling books. We don’t have an online equivalent, yet, of that remainders table or Book of the Month Club. “Borrowing,” which has been implemented and which I fully expected would be part of the solution, hasn’t taken-off. (People just spent their time trying to figure out how to jimmy the drop-dead clock.)

    So … it’s a work-in-progress. And, let me emphasize to the Peanut Gallery: “DON’T let that stop you from writing your book, or from electronically publishing it!” You can publish a book for nothing, and it will never go out of print, and copyright royalties could still be dribbling or pouring-in to your heirs 75 years after you die. As the marketing issues are refined and eventually solved, and as the market itself matures, your already-published book will be in the right place at the right time. No one since Gutenberg has ever dreamed of the opportunities that exist for all of us now. It’s just “Release 1.0” today, but: “I’ll think about that tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.” 🙂

  13. Robert Jones

    @MikeR–Everything you’re saying is true. Amazon could beef up their marketing. But this would entail greater costs. Meaning, we (the authoer) would either have to pay more out of pocket for a promo package, or Amazon would only cater to those they figured had a good chance of making them good money. Same as the traditional publishers.

    Best case scenario is to look into various types of marketing and business stratgies yourself while working on your novel. It sounds like you already have some of that from your job. But there are a lot of people who are translating marketing and ways of reaching out to people into various types of internet services. Many are aimed at the great herd of untrained writers dropping their work on Amazon without a clue. That’s a good place to begin. Because if you can take that same style of marketing that various business gurus are aiming at us, reverse engineer it and use it to promote your own work, you’ll find that much of the legwork has already been done for you. And at little or no cost, you can begin developing a plan that’s a lot cheaper than any promo package, or “paid for” suggestions on marketing.

    I feel that whether one goes the traditional publishing route, or self publishing, there is an ocean of other writers, into which we are hoping to make a noticable splash. Much of it is crap. A lot of it is all the same. And most of the work falls on the author to take a little time, devote themselves to quality work, set a standard for yourself and don’t allow anything below that standard to become a part of your book. Then play the “What if” game in terms of getting the word out there, telling people about your hard work, and what you know that seperates you from the huge pack of wannabes.

    The great part about self publishing is that no one is going to squeeze you into that mold to look like everyone else. Big business wants something just like what they made money on last time. Agents do to. They all have their comfort zone. Which is why many times you’ll hear an agent say, even of a good novel, “It’s good, but I can’t sell it.” It doesn’t come into their purview, the sort of books they have made a reputation for selling, and made connection to sell. So you’re being fitted for that mold even in seeking representation. Which is fine if you’re writing is very commercial, or in the style of ___________(insert choice of popular author).

    I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. My point is, either doing the whole business yourself, or trying to find an agent and break through that way, it’s still a lot of work, a lot of persistence. Then you’re going to have to learn to promote yourself on some level anyway…unless you’re one of the chosen few. So there’s no escaping the fact that hard work is involved every step of the way. Not that all of it is as grueling as some lead you to believe. You just can’t be like most of the Amazon authors who tossed their work into that ocean and expected it would magically float with zero craft knowledge, and no idea what might get some word of mouth going. Just hop on a free promo and my crap is a best seller!

    If that were true, we would all be millionaires 🙂

    People write/create for many reasons. Those who stick with it love it. You have to if you want to maintain that level of dedication to the process. But it’s interesting on all the various levels. Plus educating yourself always helps, whether you want to self publish/promote or not. Knowledge is power. Don’t be afraid to learn it, claim it, own your share of it. Because every little bit helps.

  14. Bob

    Ahem…don’t you think the whole ‘sluts’ thing is inappropriate? Now that you’ve finished writing the book, you’re going to want to market it, and calling yourselves sluts is only going to end up being a barrier in the end.

  15. Yeah, Bob, I agree the whole ‘sluts’ thing is inappropriate and we’re probably going to offend some people. Three of us have husbands who are sometimes embarrassed by it. We’ve tried calling ourselves other sobriquets. We changed temporarily to the Sun City Tarts but that made us sound like an assortment of pastries. Our friends think the our name is outrageous and funny, especially since we’re the least sluttish women you’d ever meet. We’re all over 60 and quite respectable. I’ve been married 45 years to a wonderful man and, to paraphrase Paul Newman, “I have steak at home. Why should I go out for hamburger?” We are not the characters in our book, and neither our name nor our novel is meant to be taken seriously.

  16. Mike and Robert, I agree with all your comments.

    Artistic talent is a gift. The writing craft is hard work. If we cared more about money, we should become lawyers or CEOs of big companies. Since I’m not interested in either, I’ll stick with writing, even though it occasionally requires severing an artery and bleeding all over the page.

  17. @Bob – I respect your opinion here. Thing to remember -two things, really — are… one reader’s “inappropriate” is another’s ironic grin, who we shouldn’t generalize on either end, and, as “inappropriate” goes, the contexual application of “sluts” their moniker (and thus, in this post) is pretty tame stuff (example: there’s a massive bestseller out there entitled: “Shit My Father Says”… do you find that inappropriate? Over four million readers don’t). A broader, less-than-judgmental view is usually the more loving, functional approach. Thanks for reading Storyfix, your feedback is always welcome here. L.

    @Marjorie – the best part of doing this is that finally I think I have Marjorie Reynolds and Susan Goldner as readers. “-“

  18. As a huge promoter of self-publishing, I’m excited that this is the *second* post I’ve read this morning about someone with a traditional contract ending up self-publishing.

    Thanks for sharing your stories. Now I have to sort out how I’m going to take one of Larry’s classes, even if I *don’t* include him in my next book.

  19. Sara Davies

    I love that. Also, I think “Sluts” is fine. That is female camaraderie. Being happy while writing is key, or why do it and not be a lawyer, CEO, banker, etc.

    Self-publishing: I did that with a non-fiction book, co-written with someone else, for a niche market we thought few people would read anyway. We knew established authors in that field were having their books marked down to five bucks a copy by the publishers…so there was no reason not to do it. We wrote it because we wanted to teach what we had learned. I think we blew it on both title and cover, because my co-author had a network that should have led to more sales. Maybe the book is a little dry and needs to be rewritten, but it’s professional, because I wouldn’t put my name on something that I didn’t think was at least competent. I read, I’m not stupid, I know what professional work looks like, etc. and I care. I have a graphic design background, did the layout, set up the print files myself. Cost me $5.00 to have CreateSpace run a printer’s proof. Other than that, no cost to self-publishing other than labor.

    My issue with creative writing is that I’m still learning, trying to write something I consider worthy, that meets my own standards – yet it seems that more than with fine arts (also my background) – the shadow of what the publishing industry wants reaches farther into a writer’s creative process, earlier, than it does in art where most teaching and working involves learning to see and learning how to use materials. You have to be quite advanced before anyone bothers to tell you what kind of art is worthy of making. Galleries represent what they think they can sell, what fits into the image they have established – but no one goes into fine arts thinking about selling – hence, finding a market is not a reason to make art. For me, it’s intimidating and kind of a buzz kill to worry about what is publishable or marketable when I’m just trying to figure out how to do it. Classes and workshops – and even books – seem to come with performance pressure, attitude, and an agenda that is not about writing but is about…a whole lot of other…stuff.

    When I read the first pages of your book, what you described was frighteningly accurate – it’s not a novel, it’s a documentary!

    This book is one example of how you successfully balanced your creative needs and writing for a target market. In what other ways do you do that?

  20. Sara, I’ve been writing fiction for 16 years and I’m still learning. I believe that if I ever stop learning the craft my work will go as stale as a week old muffin.
    I have an entire six-foot-high bookcase filled with volumes on writing, including Larry’s new book, STORY PHYSICS. I enjoy reading them because each time I learn something new or come across a different slant on a subject that interests me.

    I’ve learned that a novel is a work of art and craft. Craft can be taught but art cannot. Craft is about hooking the reader, building dramatic plots, creating engaging characters and keeping the reader turning the page. Art is your unique interpretation of reality that reveals truths about the human experience and causes the reader to feel strong emotions.

    The more you write and read the more you open new doors. You’re already an artist. Just keep working on the craft and you’ll be a novelist.

    P.S. I love your line, “When I read the first pages of your book, what you described was frighteningly accurate – It’s not a novel, it’s a documentary!” Would you mind if we put that on our Sun City Slut website?

  21. Martha

    Let me chime in here on the inappropriateness of our moniker. It has worried me some, since I’m the oldest one in the group and don’t want any problems cropping up from it, but I can’t help thinking of “Go the F***k to Sleep”, a book for kids that went nuts in the market, or the one that always comes up in these discussions: “Fifty Shades of Grey”. While the name isn’t inappropriate, the content could be debated.
    I also want to add my thanks to all of you who have joined in this discussion. It’s exciting, fun, and boy, have you all made my day!

  22. Robert Jones

    Glad to see this discussion has grown!

    As an artist myself, it took me a long time to find the parallels between art and craft in writing. I believe the two rivers can become one. Just as every artist learns to individualize, create their own style based on a composite of other styles they take in, so does the writer. Eventually.

    It has been difficult coming to writing because it is entirely composed of words. Those words all look exactly the same on any given page from a distance. It’s the writers choice of words that become their style, their individuality.

    In an art class, an instructor can lecture on the criteria, the basic format, or structure–much the same was Larry teaches it here. But then the instructor grabs materials, media, and gives a practical demonstration. The instructor can only give their chosen methods, this much is still true, however, in understanding even one personal roadmap of process, we then have a basis for our own practice. Style may still be individualized, but the techniques, even if it’s just one person’s chosen style, makes a footpath where only grass and weeds cluttered an immense field prior.

    This is where the river forks in writing. We have a format, a template, but the words that must fill that canvass becomes as amorphous as the grass and weeds in that field. The entire learning process is derived from reading as widely as possible, and practicing as much as possible, until a gelling occurs. Even an English lit. class won’t help in terms of mastering the art. That only gives you proper formatting of the words, which can be stodgy.

    Through practice, and professional work within the field, many slants and opinions are passed along as well. But the entire process of the writer seems to be learning as much about the craft–or at least as much as has been road mapped–then wondering a very long maze, picking up a piece of the puzzle, saying, “Oh, I get that now.” Then walking for long stretches until another piece is found. Once accumulated, they fit together, but few bring their notebooks into that maze and write down exactly how each piece fit into their personal puzzle as they moved along. Thus, few seem to be able to state even their personal process. Or guard it like it’s a secret.

    So unlike the art instructor, writers are not prone to share what makes them unique in public, leave great uncharted areas for their predecessors to figure out, or stumble over. There’s no art form that a single lifetime could truly hope to perfect, and this is probably more true of writing than any other. It encompasses a combined knowledge of several skills, then experience in viewing life, people, the world, in order to fuse what is observed most effectively, and visually, into words. Yet–and this will probably sound insulting to some–but why do writers not invest in an art class to better understand the structure of the visuals they are attempting to perceive?

    Then, having learned one process, coming back to writing, they would clearly see there are holes large enough to fit a planet through–at least in terms of defining the process. And instead of shoveling to fill those huge holes with a soup spoon, we might all have a better idea of the footpath the leads through much practice and confusion.

    Who knows, maybe I’ll be a forerunner once I get finished picking up the pieces in my own writing maze. Because I am keeping notes and looking for those parallels. And they do exist. But coming at writing as a second art in my life, will the remainder of my own life bee long enough?

    Ah, well…it gives me something to ponder.

    And at least we have Larry’s work to fill a huge part of the structural criteria. This is something that has been around a long time as well, yet few even talked about it in the past. So the revolution toward defining process marches onward!

  23. Sara Davies

    @ Marjorie:

    LOL.The documentary. Yes. It took me one class on writing non-fiction and one excursion into a single meeting of a writers’ group to witness the exact dynamic you’ve so vividly illustrated. Spectacular.

    Thanks for the encouragement. I appreciate what you say about the unique perspective each person brings to the creative process and truths about the human experience. With painting, my belief was that if what I created was true for me emotionally, it would be true for someone else, hence emotional honesty and accessibility seem like essential ingredients…also the main reason to create…as Larry calls it, “vicarious experience.”

    Larry’s books are rare, superb, and therefore heroic contributions. He’s also great at analyzing story ideas.

    @ Robert:

    For what it’s worth, a fine arts education teaches materials and techniques, plus art history in order to help students appreciate that art emerges from a political and social context, often self-referential to past movements – the meta-commentary of artists to other artists about art over centuries. When you leave, you have what you need to improvise. Everyone finds a vision, reason, or perspective on their own – life stuff, not craft stuff. I don’t recall anyone telling me what to say – only how to say it . More value is placed on the perspective of the individual – not like in commercial applications, where you’re there to facilitate the communication of a message that originates with someone else, and for a specific goal. To my mind, the life stuff is unavoidable and therefore easy – it’s who you are. The craft dimension of writing is the confusing part.

  24. MikeR

    Insofar as “e-books” are concerned, we should all bear in mind that this market is still at the “iPhone 1.0 is the greatest thing since sliced bread you gotta have one” stage … not … “iPhone 6.0 is out and it’s not that much different from 4.0 or 5.0 but you still gotta wanna upgrade.” A totally different market: “nascent” vs. “mature.” When iP1.0 came out, everyone had flip-phones or nothing in their pocket. Today, almost everyone has a touch-screen that runs “apps.” (And books!)

    So, we get to be the writers who were on the leading edge of that new wave … knowing that we’ll be waiting for the market to catch up, but also knowing that our product will be on-sale forever. We can surf the wave now, and wait for the market to catch up, at the same time. 🙂

  25. First of all, Larry. You don’t need to recruit me as a writer. I read all your blogs and I own several of your craft books. You’ve played an important role in my writing life–not to mention the way you threw me a life jacket when I was about to abandon the writing ship. Sorry I haven’t commented before. I guess I didn’t realize how important blog comments are.

    As for our name, the Sun City Sluts, I guess I have to admit that I’m the one who came up with it. I thought it was hilarious. With time, my husband adjusted to it and uses it liberally now. Even my relatives, most of them born again Christians in Nashville, have come to accept this and many of them have purchased our book. They often remark, (well, maybe not in church) “Aunt Susan is off with the sluts.”

    Humor and laughter is important. This writing business is often discouraging and we put much of our lives and ourselves into it. We sacrifice time with friends and family. And for the five Sun City Sluts our time together has evolved into another type family–one that understands the time and sacrifices involved and is willing to support and encourage this writing life.

    Self publishing is a path many writers, even very good ones who, like Marjie, have had success in the traditional world, are now taking. For now it is open to anyone. As for the gatekeepers, I suspect they will arrive soon.

  26. Because we’ve been speaking of art, I’d like to recommend three books on the subject. The first one is FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (good luck on remembering his name). I came across his book many years ago and identified with the concept of “flow,” the feeling a person has when she’s involved in an activity that seems to stop time. It’s as though all the planets and stars have aligned, and the artist (or the athlete, because it happens to them, too) is in a psychological state of total concentration on a piece of work or activity. It’s when all the words fall into place, or when a basketball player sinks every shot. It’s a period of perfection akin to ecstasy. I’ve had it on occasion and wish it would never end.

    Csikszentmihalyi has written another fascinating and insightful book titled CREATIVITY about the psychology of discovery and invention. One line from this book that resonates with me is “To be creative, a person has to internalize the entire system that makes creativity possible.” Another way to say it is “Don’t look at your feet while dancing.”

    My third recommendation is ART & FEAR, observations on the perils (and rewards) of art-making by David Bayles and Ted Orland. If you ever experience writer’s block or feel the critic on your shoulder, this is the book to read. These guys warn that to require perfection is to invite paralysis. Been there, done that.

    I would love to hear your comments on the nature of art.

  27. Robert Jones

    @Marjorie–Thank you for the book recommendations. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi sounds perfect. What you’ve described here is what I (and several other creative people I’ve known) have termed “Working in the zone.” It’s the moment when the singer and the song become one. I’ve wished I could bottle that energy, or discover a way to mentally get to that space on command. While in that state of mind, it’s almost as if you can’t make a mistake. Some part of the subconscious, or higher mind, knows this stuff, is confident with creating on some level that the conscious mind (the internal critic) is always getting in the way of, blocking, interfering.

    Getting to that state, however, is more of a practice than a happenstance.

    I suppose in it’s simplest terms, it would be like getting out of your own way. Or as author Natalie Goldberg always says, “Just shut up and write.”
    And yet, tapping into that level of thought, there would seem to be various levels. And the first level most of hit seems to be what many writers call “The Muse.” The muse is an ideas factory. The singer and the song haven’t become one yet. But writers (myself included) can easily get caught up in the realm of the muse. Ideas leap out all over the place. Ideas you never planned are swirling around inside your head, and the first thing we do is try to capture them all. Who knows which one’s might be gold? And all our careful planning and previous thoughts can quickly take a flying leap.

    Don’t be seduced by the muse. Because it really isn’t the muse. All it is is a sense of going deeper, entering into a free state of thinking, which is the surface layer of beta within the brain. This would be akin to getting drowsy, that state just prior to sleep where the mind is sifting through random thoughts and dreams like a sea of phantoms. This might be a good place to explore ideas if you’re stuck, but the thing to remember is that you really aren’t fully in the realm of creative sleep yet.

    That creative zone is a deeper place. It’s both conscious and unconscious. Your physical body is occupied with something–typing, walking, housework, gardening, or maybe driving your car. Driving is one most of us can relate to because we’ve all had those moments while driving when we seem to do it automatically. A part of us is totally aware of what we are doing physically, yet our minds became very thoughtful, insightful.

    After years of honing my craft as an artist, refining my skills to the point where I knew I was pretty good at what I was doing, there would be those ocassional days when I felt really good about myself. This is a key factor. Because within that good feeling, arose a certain confidence. And while being in a state of conscious confidence, it seemed to open the door more easily to that subconscious confidence–where seemingly we are one with whatever we are creating.

    There are many gateways in the mind. And the key to accessing them is preparation. Getting into a state of mind that takes you to those places. Subconscious thought doesn’t know if you are thinking the right way, or the wrong way. It merely delivers on whatever you are putting into it. You’re thinking really good thoughts, so therefore, you want to go to a place where these thoughts live. You’re thinking bad thoughts–okay, you must want to go to a place where these thoughts live. Thoughts, or physical circumstances, are all the same to that part of the brain as well. So, consequently, your outer life follows those inner thoughts.

    All life is art. All life is creative. This is its nature. This is where it lives and how it lives. By selective thoughts, or non-selective ones. Your brain doesn’t care if you walk through life like a zombie taking whatever comes into your little shere of existence by default. Or because the media tells us we should all be miserable and afraid. But it can become a choice, on every creative level. So do you want to choose your own thoughts, or be programmed with someone else’s?

    It’s not easy finding this zone on a regular basis because we all have a ton of preconceived notions. Social, cultural, familial. And whether they were put there in a cruel way, or with the best of intentions, if they aren’t serving us, or are making us miserable–what are we holding onto them for?

    New pathways are created in the brain all the time. We call them habits. And they take about a month (28 days) for that new groove to form in the brain. Those old pathways are deeper grooves, hard to break sometimes. Like roots seeking water, tiny fibers in the brain reach for these areas as if they were drugs. And they are. The brain manufactures hundreds of chemicals for every emotional and physical response. Good, or bad, it’s programmmed, so the brain thinks you want it, require it. Because whatever chemicals you’ve been spewing to match the emotions you’ve been living with for so long, your cells form receptors for that chemical. The more (or longer) that chemical has been produced, the more receptors for it the cells in your body has grown. So just like being addicted to any drug, those cells crave that chemical, yearn for it because this is the food you’ve been feeding it. This is why those old habits are hard to break. It takes a conscious effort, and willpower. And in about a month, new receptors are being produced to fit those new chemicals your brain is producing. Keep going and those old receptors for bad thoughts, feelings, experiences, fade away.

    Emotional response, chemical response. Again, life follows suit.

    Now you might be sorry you asked about the nature of art…LOL!

  28. Actually, Robert, I’m thrilled I asked about the nature of art because I don’t have a scientific synapse in my body and you did a great job of describing the chemical response when a person experiences “flow” or is in “the zone.” As I read your explanation, it occurred to me it’s also a form of self-hypnosis.

    I have several friends who behave like writing addicts. As my husband says, “The only thing worse than a wife who is writing is one who’s not.” But I don’t think that’s true in my case. When I was 16, I had a job writing obits for the local daily. Can’t get too creative with them. I majored in journalism and worked as a newspaper reporter for the next few decades. After raising the kids, I took a job in movie advertising. Most of the time, that was fun and I worked my way up to regional advertising director for Cineplex Odeon. During all that time, the only fiction I wrote was a short story during my freshman year in college. Then those bastards at Cineplex shut down the entire Seattle office and I was suddenly unemployed at the age of 48. I started writing a novel because I hated looking for a job. I’d never even published a short story, but I was arrogant about the process. It couldn’t be that hard to write a novel. I was so wrong.

    But I finally published at age 52. After William Morrow turned down my third novel, I produced a nonfiction manuscript I never tried to sell. Then I stopped writing for more than a decade.

    The point of this lengthy (and probably boring) bio is I’m not a writing addict. I felt guilty when I didn’t write but I don’t recall suffering withdrawal. Stephen King is obviously a writing addict (as well as a recovering drug abuser) because he just keeps churning out books.

    I’m curious to know how many of you out there have to write and whether you experience “flow” in the process.

  29. Sara Davies

    This is interesting. Those books sound good.

    I have the kind of brain that won’t shut up or turn off. I travel across the universe, fight wars, deliver babies, and inaugurate monuments thousands of times between 8 AM and 8:03 AM every day whether I want to or not. Too much noise and commotion, a sea of chaos, relentlessly shifting. What do you do with something like that? It has to go somewhere. As a kid I kept diaries – a safe haven for venting and managing overwhelm…so I did that because I needed to. I became an artist because I needed to, wanted to, was good at it, or because I live from one moment to the next, and it was always the option that in front of me. The default path, but the natural one.

    Writing is something I do compulsively, reflexively, and I think it’s adaptive, really, to take inner nuttiness and convert it to something useful – better than, say, becoming a drug addict. As addictions go, it’s fairly benign.

    I’ve been exposed to notions of archetypal universality, the idea that art is supposed to transcend time and remain meaningful across generations. I don’t know how true or valid that perspective is, but I am curious about permanence and transience and what distinguishes the two.

    I am also curious about what gives people hope. I’m curious about why we need art, why we need stories. What is it about the “human experience” that needs to be shared – why is “vicarious experience” important – what does it do for us that is so essential? What is the nature of that connection? Theories?

    Sometimes I will be seized by a vision, like a waking dream, that demands to be recorded. I am not a left-brain organizing analytical person naturally – I have to work at it. That’s the painful part. I envy that ability. The “muse” barges in and assaults me – but eventually, I have to figure out how to contain it, plan, direct, prioritize, control, select, organize. Planning this stupid book is frustrating, takes the spontaneity out of the process, kills the spirit of the thing, makes me forget why I started writing it. So I escape into little non-demanding stories where it’s OK to spew. Getting distance on the project helps, but makes me slow – I need that time away or I can’t evaluate what I have. Can’t see – or more to the point – can’t feel it in summary form. Trying to write and edit at the same, or trying not to write and edit at the same time – either way, juggling two incompatible and mutually exclusive ways of thinking.

    Flow. Ha ha. That’s a good one. Try tidal wave. Whoosh. Writing is more like building a channel for the waves that can, do, and will roll in. If I don’t want to drown, I have to decide where that water’s gonna go.

  30. A tidal wave, Sara? I am totally envious.

    We humans are social beings so it makes sense to me that we want to connect with others. But, at the same time, we need privacy to write, and finding the right balance can be difficult. When I’m at home, something is always nagging at me: the laundry, housecleaning, watering the plants, fixing dinner, talking with my friends and family. The list seems endless.

    Oh, I forgot to mention hugging the dog. She’s better than a psychiatrist.

    I have a few friends who can write in the middle of chaos. I’m not one of those people. I need solitude. I knew a guy who, when he lived in a house full of college students, wrote in a closet. His name is Po Bronson and he’s quite successful.

    In this business, you do whatever works.

  31. Martha

    Reading through all these comments left me wordless. What could I possibly add? But for me, that state of wordlessness never lasts long. The itch to write washes over me like that tidal wave Sara mentioned. It’s an addiction (although I have never had a real experience with addiction, unless it’s chocolate/peanut butter ice cream) and the urge to weave a story hits me. It eats at me, intrudes on my thoughts in the middle of a phone conversation, a movie, or a dinner conversation. I find people who don’t write, or who aren’t willing to talk about writing, quite boring I’m sorry to say When I do write, I write like a mad woman, even in the midst of cacophony. If these slut books should miraculously happen to go viral, that’s cool, but what it means to me is, hey, I get to write more. And I agree with whoever said (and several of you did) that honing one’s craft is a never ending task. A very stimulating and pleasant one.

  32. Sara Davies

    I’m glad I have not had to resort to writing in a closet, because there are too many shoes on the floor, and it’s dark in there. But I admire the determination.

    There are times when the house could burn down around me and I would not notice until the keyboard melted. Other times…the interruptions….Why can’t a 16 year old butter his own toast?

    It is a strange form of solitude – total immersion, not like painting or carpentry that allow you think of other things. To manufacture an alternate reality and leave the current reality is a mind-bending experience. Who needs drugs?

  33. Robert Jones

    @Marjorie–I would agree that flow, or entering into that creative zone is a form of self hypnosis. Self hypnosis techniques might even be a good way for some people to get there.

    Like sara, I’ve lived most of my life riding the outer edges of those beta waves emanating into a flood of ideas. It has taken me years of a creative lifestyle to begin forming a process of boiling down those ideas. In writing, they always begin fairly expansively, then grow into too large a story. Better to have too many details than not enough, I always say. Many writers overwrite. At the end of the day, I have to edit and choose the best details, refining the story in much the same way Larry teaches boiling down our concept to a single sentence.

    Part of what I’ve discovered, and is one of the parallels between art and writing I have found, is that writing can be a lot like story-boarding a film. Part my training was narrative, or sequential art for story boading and comic books. And if you visualize (or actually draw) each scene as a series of squares that represent a movie screen, that screen becomes the readers view of your world

    So to further this thought for Sara, and anyone else trying to find their focus, or if you’re just plain lost in that maze of details (and I know there were a few trying to narrow this from previous discussions on POV), here’s what has helped me:

    An establishing scene, for example, may have greater detail. Action scenes, even talking where it may be broken up with interruptions, gets less detail. For instance, let’s say the main character is introduced walking down a street in New York City with his girlfriend. There are skyscapers, streets crowded with traffic, sidewalks crowded with people. Where do you begin? The hero and his GF could easily get swallowed up in those details. So how would you render it to make certain this didn’t happen?

    In a drawing, or movie, we may get a glimps of the city and its clutter, but the camera is quickly going to zoom in on the main character. Or, he’s going to be walking in the foreground, rendered with broader strokes, or become the main focus of the camera, which is directing our attention.

    In writing, however, every scene is seen through the POV of whichever character that scene is about. Even in third person there is a POV character for each scene who gives that scene its unique perspective. So the God POV from 10,000 feet is not going to be the most interesting perspective unless he can swoop down and quickly get inside that POV character’s head, wear their skin. So what’s the hero focused on? What important to him in the plot? What’s his mission?

    In any type of action, fewer details are permitted because they are going to take away from the action, distract from it. For example, the hero would notice few of the details around him if he were marching down the street in a rage, or terrified because he just witnessed a murder. In other words, he isn’t going to be taking in the sights. So those crowds and traffic are only going to be noticed as someone beeps, or a stranger runs into him and yells at him for not watching where he is going. Or maybe his GF is trying to calm him down. Or is she making it worse by yelling at him?

    So we’ve narrowed our window from a gazillion details, as seen by God, or the muse, to that of a guy and his GF lost in the details of a crowd. Do you see how we’ve totally reversed that original view that was both amorphous and confusing in terms of what was important. Now we are zeroing in on exactly what the character is feeling, encountering all those details precisely as he encounters them because the camera is internalized, not exterialized. More precise details are chosen, and the focus is not allowed to wonder all over the road. Because here, we are God and have established some ground rules. The POV cannot leap into another person until the next scene. The muse cannot find the GF suddenly more interesting and give detail through her eyes. Technically, one could switch–as God, we can do that. But if you establish that each scene is from one character’s POV, your story will have a much more intimate feeling.

    So what if the problem isn’t just POV? What if you just don’t know what’s supposed to happen next? Well, we have Larry’s four part structure to guide us as far the whether the action needs to be set-up, responsing, attacking, or resolving…so why not look at the layout of a book as a pattern that bounces from one POV to the next?

    Hero, villain, subplot, for third person, juxtaposing how each might be responding, or attacking in some fashion. Or in first person, if you only have on character’s POV, stagger it with the main character going from his/her personal want/problem, villain blocking, or causing the sitution to become worse, more desperate, then we still have subplot, whatever (or whoever) is requiring our hero to give it attention like a fly buzzing around their head when they have much more pressing matters to attend to.

    Does that all sound overly simplified?

    Because to me, if a novel is a painting, and structure is the blueprint, or canvas, then the next step is locating our camera (POV), which gives us the subject we are to paint. Then, once establishing suject, we allocate the pattern, the specifice color choices, and use them in a way that creates a sort of balance–all of which equals the encompassing those basic elements of hero, villain, subplot(s) in an order designed to generate suspense from each point of the triad. And from there, it becomes a question of how each might react next in terms of creating suspense within each of the four structural partitions.

    It’s not rocket science, but it does narrow those choices down a bit more through each step, establishing a pattern we can see upon the blueprint, which in turn begins to form a process for boiling down those details.

  34. Lynda Jo Schuessler

    Sounds like fun – I just purchased my copy. Just read through some of the comments on this post. Hmmm… I’m glad that you had fun writing and had the option to self-publish. I love the fact that writing is ever challenging and that the options these days are so varied. I also appreciate that you took the time to do the edits and formatting. Those are things I find frustrating with self-published works. It seems disrespectful to the reader to neglect those things. Look forward to the read.

  35. Lynda, we had a heck of a time working with KDP and Create Space. Took us 13 drafts to get the formatting right, and I’m still worried there are errors in it. Traditional publishers must have about a dozen people edit it. Occasionally, though, I spot an error in a “dead tree book.” I grab my pencil and mark it, because for some reason I get a big thrill out of finding it. As you might guess, it doesn’t take much to entertain me.

    Robert, as usual, you make some very good points. Probably because I saw hundreds of films when I worked in movie advertising, I see my scenes visually. Perhaps that’s why people said The Starlite Drive-in was so cinematic. The scenes run through my head like film unspooling. I can’t quite imagine how a person can write a novel without “seeing” the story. By the way, I think writing a well-crafted novel IS as difficult as rocket science.

    One of the students in a workshop I attended was an oncologist. When the instructor said, “People, this isn’t brain surgery,” the doctor said, “I’ve done brain surgery and I can tell you it’s easier than writing a novel.”

    And, Sara, I love that feeling of total immersion. When I write a novel, I step through the wardrobe into a C.S. Lewis-style universe. In my everyday world, I can’t control anybody, not even the dog, but in my novel I can make people do whatever I want. Wish it worked that way in reality. 🙂

  36. Sara Davies

    @ Marjorie:

    They say there is an anti-creation spirit or demon whose mission is to prevent creativity. It is strongest at the inception of a project or work session. They say that if we anticipate its arrival, we can train ourselves to ignore it until it loses its power and goes away.

    I read my book six times and kept finding mistakes. Found more after I got the proof [face palm]. One designer told me she ran 500 copies of a brochure containing the word “shift” but unfortunately left out the “f” and had to absorb the cost to do it over. I saw, but was thankfully not responsible for a print run of a die-cut brochure with illustration and lettering. The fact that letters do not work backwards (flopped) eluded the designer while he was working on it. Hence, multiple sets of fresh eyes are never a luxury.

  37. Robert Jones

    @Marjorie–I was refering to my suggestions about camera view and figuring a pattern for suspense as not being rocket science. On the score of any of the arts, they encompass so many different aspects that one has to understand many different principles. So I’m with you on it being more difficult that rocket science. People outside of the arts see craftsmen (craftspeople?) of various professions who make the job look easy, so they figure it we have that skill, it must all come very naturally to us.

    Someone studying for a degree in psychology once said that what she is doing is way more complex than art. We have to learn to bite our tingues a lot. Because even trying to explain often puts us on the defensive in terms of making folks who never really studied these things understand principles that would sound like Sanskrit to them–if they actually bothered to listen.

    I blame all those Disney specials that showed animators whipping out little figures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck in 30 secends. If we have the aptitude to draw, we should all automatically be able to do that simply by looking at a subject and sketching out the details on paper in some automated fashion. And when pressed, I’ve gotten things like, “Well, I can’t draw.” Or, “I have no desire to do that anyway.” As if there is a high ground to be taken is in ignorance of these things.

    I get pretty much the same now with my writing. Some have even told me I should go further into my art, take up painting, do a fine arts thing. Because that’s what I do. I don’t write. Even though I’ve been writing and making up stories since I was a kid, but I’m the drawing guy, so there. Go try to make some money at what I know.

    And there we come to the basic lifestyle of people who never really opted into being creative. Life is eat, work, sleep…throw in a little TV and sex and you’ve got your recreation.

    People will swoon for the rocket scientists and brain surgeons, because this (to them) is important work. Then sit down to their favorite TV shows and movies as if a small army of people didn’t bust their butts night and day to produce these things.

    It’s an interesting world. And the arts, which encompass all of it, are taken very much for granted. In part, that’s due to all the hack work, commercialization. But I also tend to think it’s because we don’t have someone on TV, or in a position of authority, telling people it’s important work. Let’s face it, they would if there was a way to cheat the system and make guarunteed millions in government subsidies, or bailouts. Since you can’t put a guaranteed dollar figure on it, at least not as closely as one could do with a doctor, lawyer, corporate CEO, or politician, we are in the minority. And maybe that’s for the best. Those people ruin it every time they get involved anyway.

    So the individual artist is blazing their own trail, fueling our own rockets. And why not, we’ve not only seen the moon…but entire alternate realities that we’ve created. Some I’ve liked better than my own, however, I am creating in all of them because that’s what I do, who I am at the basic building blocks of my foundation.

  38. Sara, the mere thought of the flub on your designer friend’s brochure gives me the shudders. I agree with you about the “demon.” I call it the critic on my shoulder, but I could come up with a few nastier names. I wish I had learned earlier to smack it off.

    Robert, I love being creative but I hate the angst that often goes with it. According to Kay Redfield Jamison in “Touched with Fire: Manic-depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” your chances of being mentally ill if you’re a poet or a musician are far greater than if you’re a plumber. Makes me want to become a plumber. 🙂