Interview with Eileen Cook on her book You Owe Me A Murder

  • M.A. Greene: In your own words can you tell readers what You Owe Me A Murder is about?

            Eileen Cook: It’s my play on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Kim meets a stranger, Nicki, on a flight to England. They each share their lives. Kim has an ex-boyfriend and Nicki’s mom is a huge problem for her. As a joke talk about how they could get away with the perfect murder if they killed each other’s enemy. Or at least Kim thinks it’s a joke until her ex-boyfriend ends up dead and Nicki expects her to return the favour.

  • M.A. Greene: It was a great read. How did you get the idea for You Owe Me A Murder? Were you watching Hitchcock’s movie or was there another way you came up with the idea?

            Eileen Cook: I’ve always loved the idea of taking classic stories as a foundation and then spinning them for a modern YA audience. I’ve always loved thrillers and Hitchcock (and Patricia Highsmith who wrote the book that the movie is based on) are a great blend of psychology and horror. I love the mental aspects of things more than “scary” thrillers.

I was playing with different ideas and then came across the book Strangers on a Train. I watched the movie again and that was all it took for my brain to start spinning. Twisted friendships are an interest area of mine so once I had the idea I was off!

  • M.A. Greene: From start to finish how long did it take you to write You Owe Me A Murder?

Eileen Cook: It typically takes me about a year to write a book if you count the time trying to sort out the plot, writing drafts, throwing a draft away, crying, repeat, write a new draft, polish, and send off to my editor who then makes more changes.

M.A. Greene: Are you traditionally or self-published?

Eileen Cook: I’ve done both. I’m traditionally published with my YA and fiction, but I’ve written non-fiction books for writers. (Build Better Characters is one) and those I’ve self-published. I think the best thing about being a writer these days is that there are a lot of options and choices to get your story out into the world depending what you want and what’s important to you.

  • M.A. Greene: Wow, that’s great you’re a hybrid author. Which route did you take first traditional or self-publishing?

Eileen Cook: Traditional was my first route. When I published my first book in 2008 ebooks were still just growing. In fact my first publishing contract didn’t even mention them because they weren’t a “thing.” The rise of ebooks meant that self publishing was a real viable option for a lot of writers which is great. I love working with my agent, editor and publisher, but I also love the freedom that comes with doing indie for my writer guides.

It’s important to decide that whatever route you go (or doing both) that you put out a professional product, know what you’re good at doing and where you need help and then reaching out to readers.

  • M.A. Greene: When you first sent out your first manuscript into what is known among writers as the “query trenches,” when you query a book to see if you can get a literary agent to represent you, how long did you query before you found an agent?

Eileen Cook: Query trenches seems like a nice way of putting one of the levels of hell that still gives me nightmares. It depends on how you want to measure the time. I wrote and queried four full books before I wrote one that garnered an agent. However for that book she was one of the first batch of three queries that I sent out on that book.

If you count only that book that it took no time at all. I however count the other books as I still have the rejection letters! : ) Back then a lot of them still worked by mail so you had to send them a letter with your own stamp so they could mail it back to you to reject you. There is something extra horrid about having paid for the stamp that sent the message of “thanks, but no thanks.”

  • M.A. Greene: That must have taken a lot of will power to keep finishing books that did not get an agent until one finally did. How did you stay motivated to continue finishing novels and submitting to agents before getting to that book that finally got you one?

       Eileen Cook: Irrational optimism.

Ha Ha. I did quit a few times in the process. The problem is that I really LIKE writing and telling stories. This is what I always wanted to do and felt like I was always meant to do. That meant that while I could never be sure if I would be published, I knew if I quit there would be no chance I would publish.

So, I cried with friends sometimes. I visualized what it would be like if/when it finally happened. I kept writing and kept trying to become a better writer.

  • M.A. Greene: How many years did it take from finishing the very first manuscript to the one you got an agent for?

           Eileen Cook: Oh this is a harder one to remember. I’ve always been writing, but if I did my math right I finished the first book I sent off to query in 1998 or 1999. I signed with my then agent in 2007 and the book came out in 2008.

When I’m asked what makes the difference between published writers and unpublished I often say persistence. It’s not talent. (although obviously that’s a huge help) it’s a love a story and a willingness to get knocked down and then dust yourself off and get up again. It’s not easy.


That’s why every time I see someone has published a book, regardless if I like it, or it’s my kinda thing, I celebrate. A lot of sweat and effort and tears went into it.

  • M.A. Greene: I’m starting to realize how much sweat and tears go into writing a book from revising my YA sci-fi/fantasy story.

Eileen Cook: I am sending you all sorts of good vibes! (Picture me cheering complete with pom-poms) It’s hard, and it’s wonderful and there’s nothing I would rather do.

  • M.A. Greene: At this point in your life, are you a full time writer or is writing your second job?

          Eileen Cook: Writing and teaching writing are now my full time job. I gave up my previous day job (I was a counsellor) about four years ago now. This is for me, literally living the dream. I spend my day with my imaginary friends and helping other writers with their story. I’m the mentor at The Creative Academy for Writers

It’s a free (yes free) online writing community, we have daily sprints, classes and accountability groups. If people are looking for a place to get some encouragement I hope you’ll join us.

  • M.A. Greene: I’m already a part of a magnificent group called James River Writers. If your group is free, I’m happy to check your writing community out as well.

Eileen Cook: It is free. We have a pay what you can model where people can chip in (think like Public Television) but no one is required. We have a lot of fun so I hope you’ll check it out. We have different groups/forums for different genres, we have classes on all sorts of topics, tech support for people doing indie publishing etc. Plus we have a lot of fun. There are interviews on their with my agent and a couple other agents if people want to know more about the traditional route too

M.A. Greene: In You Owe Me A Murder, how did you develop Kim( the protagonist and Nicki (the antagonist personalities)?

Eileen Cook: Oh! I love me a twisted friendship. Kim came to me first. I could easily imagine what it must be like to be trapped on a school trip with your ex and his new girlfriend. However, I will admit that Nicki was the most fun to write. Villains are always so complicated and messy. I was a counsellor for years before I was a full time writer so human behaviour, what people do and why they do it is really interesting to me.

I don’t see anyone as all good or all bad. Kim is the protagonist, but she’s made her fair share of mistakes and hopefully with Nicki you know she’s the bad guy- but you also sense that her life has been complicated too.

  • M.A. Greene:  Are you a plotter or a panser?

            Eileen Cook: I was born a panser- but have become more of a plotter. Now I’m plotser existing somewhere in the middle. I tend to plan out the structure of the book, but I’m also open to seeing where things go as the writing evolves. It takes me awhile to really understand the characters. Once I do they seem to have their own ideas of what should happen in the book.

Silly characters. If only they would do what I tell them the process would go much easier. Ha!

  • M.A. Greene: What piece of advice would you give notice writers?

           Eileen Cook: I would have a lot! First I would say READ. A lot. Books are the best teacher. Read widely in your genre and also challenge yourself to read things you might not otherwise try. I would tell them to write- being a better writer is about practice. You can learn and get better- we are all still getting better. I would tell them to surround themselves with positive people- someone who is going to cheer you on when you need it and kick you in the bum when you need that. Lastly I would tell them it’s likely going to be a bumpy journey so celebrate every small win along the way and enjoy the process as much as you can.

Interview with Kris Spisak on The Novel Editing Workbook

  • M.A. Greene: I’m M.A.Greene. You can keep up with my updates about me reaching for publication on twitter @MAGreene996. What made you decide to write this book?

            Kris Spisak: I speak at a lot of events, from writing conferences to university programs to public library workshops and beyond, and while my range of topics vary a bit, it all comes down to empowering yourself with the words you choose. My first book, Get a Grip on Your Grammar, was in line with this mission, but over time, I realized I had so much more I wanted to say.

I frequently teach workshops and give keynotes on the power of creative storytelling, so I wanted to dig in more on that note. After experiencing the transformative power of deep editing discussions, both with audiences and my own editing clients over the past ten years, I wanted to create a resource that could be a writer’s go-to, something that would give them a list of specific exercises and tactics that they could use to bring their work to the next level. And with that idea, The Novel Editing Workbook was born.

  • M.A. Greene: One great aspect of your book is it is divided into macro editing (big picture revisions) and micro editing (smaller details once you’ve finished your macro edits). Did you write one section before the other or work on both sections simultaneously?

            Kris Spisak: This workbook is really a novel editing plan, and it is a compilation of all the advice I’ve given to my editing clients and workshop attendees over the years. People think of “editing” and “revision,” and they want to start with sentence one of page one; however, that’s not where to process begins. You’ve got to have the bones in place before you can worry about your skin’s complexion. There’s an order to the editing process that all writers must follow if they want to be effective and efficient in their spit-and-shine of that first draft that emerged out of them. If you don’t have a process, the editing stage can feel endless. You’ll find yourself circling back on old issues again and again. But with structure, you can feel the progress being made, and a story can, stage by stage, slowly become that book that the author first dreamed it could become.

  • M.A.Greene: One example I’d like to share from The Novel Editing Workbook is exercise 6 from the Macro editing section, which says, “EXAMINE the first paragraph of every chapter. Do you rehook your reader within that paragraph? If not, make it happen.”  I’ve heard of trying to have chapter endings make the reader want to turn the page, but not making sure they are still interested during the proceeding paragraph in the next chapter. It was such a great piece of advice.  How did you come up with this tip?

Kris Spisak: As a freelance fiction editor, I read a lot of writers’ work, and there are common weaknesses that arise in newer writers’ stories. Cliche chapter beginnings, “data dump” chapter beginnings, or “warm-up for the writer” chapter beginnings don’t do anything to help a story. Every single page, every paragraph, and every single sentence needs to make the final cut of a finished manuscript for a reason. If it’s not hooking your reader and/or driving the story forward, why is it there at all?

You’re absolutely right that people think about this with chapter endings, but they seem to forget about it at the start of chapters, right where a reader pulls out their bookmark, ready to dive in. Don’t ever give a reader the opportunity to put that bookmark back in the book.

  • M.A.Greene: I know you write fiction as well. What is your writing process like? Does it differ when you’re writing nonfiction vs when you’re writing fiction?

            Kris Spisak: It differs dramatically. I found my nonfiction voice through my blog and Get a Grip on Your Grammar, but fiction has a different vibe for me completely. I love being a storyteller and having the opportunity to pull readers into my imagination. I think because I work with so many fiction writers, I see that power so much more profoundly.

            I usually juggle multiple of my own projects at a time, but I almost always have at least one fiction and one nonfiction book on my mind. Different moods make me lean more toward one or the other on any given day–and deadlines, of course, really force me to make that choice sometimes!–but I do love the possibilities that both offer a writer and a reader.

  • M.A.Greene: Do you mind sharing what fiction writing you have completed or are working on?

Kris Spisak: I’m happy to share. While I have a few stories in progress, the one that is closest to its debut is a women’s fiction project, a novel about two contemporary sisters (a social media-addicted supermom and her bohemian opposite) on a wild goose chase across eastern Europe searching for their elderly Ukrainian grandmother, who was either lost by the airline or covertly escaped. It’s a story about sisters, the power of a strong line of women, and the folk tales of baba yaga.

  • M.A. Greene: Sounds like it’s a comical book that also might have its more serious moments as well.

           Kris Spisak: There’s definitely a lot to play with across this territory.

  • M.A. Greene: One aspect of this book I love is that all the tips are concise even though there are many. How did you make these tips so condensed?

               Kris Spisak: By the time that writers get to the editing stage of a manuscript, they’re tired, right? They don’t want to slog through a lot of meaty discussion. They just want help–help that’s logical, well-organized, and straight-to-the-point. That was my goal with The Novel Editing Workbook.

Hiring a paid editor can be a valuable experience, but not everyone wants to go through that process–and not everyone has the means to go through that process. This workbook is a bit like a mini experience with a professional editor. If a writer’s ready to push up their sleeves and get to work, this is a resource that (hopefully) can be there to transform a project, preparing it for whatever its next stage might be.

  • M.A. Greene:  It helped me be more at ease with revising knowing I can turn to this book for help. When did you first start writing fiction? Childhood? Adolescence? Adulthood?

            Kris Spisak: I’m so happy to hear it’s been helpful to you!

            I’ve been writing stories since I could write sentences–from a diary to childish mystery books and beyond. Poetry had my heart for the longest time in middle school, high school, and college. My first publication was actually in poetry, and it was there that I really recognized the power of every single word within a line. Every writer should experiment with poetry, because there’s so much to learn from that medium–whether you plan to pursue it or not.

  • M.A. Greene: How many revisions do you do for a novel?

Kris Spisak: This is a question that always prompts me to think of the daVinci quote, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Of course, one can’t abandon it too early, or it won’t be as powerful as it could be.

There’s no real answer to a specific number of revisions. I always recommend that after a novel draft is ready, an author needs to give it a period of rest, not looking at it (and trying not to think about it) for a bit. Then, they need to tackle the macro-edits, all of the big picture revisions we’ve discussed (story structure, character depth, balancing of description and dialogue, etc.). Only after a writer feels like their macro-editing has really covered all the necessary territory should they move into the micro-edits, looking at language choice and sentence-level subtleties. And, of course, the third stage is the final proofread. Yet each one of these stages deserves some time. It varies depending on the author and even depending on a specific work, but powerful editing can make such a difference in a project. I encourage every writer to give each of these editing stages their best effort because the world will see what they can do if they put in the work.

  • M.A.Greene: Do you suggest writers only do macro edits before sending their work to beta readers or critic partners or macro and micro edits?

          Kris Spisak: This largely depends on who the beta readers are and what a writer hopes to gain from their perspective; however, it’s best to put in as much work as you can up front, not asking for feedback until you’ve given your project everything you can. Otherwise, you might hear feedback that you could have figured out yourself if you only pushed harder.

  • M.A. Greene: I agree poetry can help writers. I got into writing poetry when I took a poetry course in college. It’s amazing how a few words can evoke so much power just by the way they are strung together. What is your favorite fiction genre and why?

              Kris Spisak: I’m led so much by my mood when it comes to what I’m looking for in a great book. I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, but when it comes to fiction genres, historical fiction and women’s fiction often are where I spend my time. However, I also love YA (young adult), suspense, thrillers, mysteries, and the occasional romance. Literary fiction is like a little occasional treat for me, just like poetry, where every line is composed with such care. Different genres have different structures and conventions, and it’s fascinating to me to see how different authors make it come alive. Reading talented writers is a lesson for every writer out there.

  • M.A. Greene: So true. I really believe in order to be a good writer you need to be a reader. What’s your least favorite genre and why?

Kris Spisak: “Least favorite” seems strong to me. I’m less drawn to sci-fi and fantasy personally, but I have endless amounts of respect for writers who craft those genres well. My critique partner is a fantasy writer, and she consistently amazes me. World-building in such stories can be jaw-droppingly awesome.

  • M.A. Greene: If there was one piece of advice you could give aspiring fiction writers, other than reading your Novel Editing Workbook what would it be?

            Kris Spisak: Writing is a craft to be learned, and hard work and perseverance are what can enable you to meet your writing and publishing goals. There’s no such thing as a “born writer.” Sure, people want you to think that, but even the greats had to learn. Maybe this is just your time for learning, but keep going. Who knows what’s on the path ahead if you just continue to read widely, write as much as you can, listen to advice, and figure out what truly makes sense for you.

Abbie Emmons Author Interview 100 Days of Sunlight

  • M.A.Greene: In your own words can you tell readers what 100 Days of Sunlight is about?

           Abbie Emmons: 100 Days of Sunlight is a story about getting back up when life knocks you down. It’s a story about love and perseverance, friendship and family, struggles and victories. It’s about two people who overcome the challenges life has thrown at them in a brave and beautiful way, which I hope will encourage anyone out there who is facing a challenge and needs a boost of confidence, joy, and sunshine. 

  • M.A.Greene: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

           Abbie Emmons: I’m not sure if there ever was a pivotal moment when I realized I wanted to be a writer. The thing is, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I was always fascinated by stories, (thanks to my mom for reading so many books with me growing up!) and always felt there was something magical about it. As soon as I knew how to make words, I started writing stories – and I haven’t been able to stop since!

  • M.A. Greene: How did you come up with the idea for 100 Days of Sunlight

           Abbie Emmons: 100 Days of Sunlight is a story that I feel has always been in my heart, I just didn’t know it until the premise dawned on me one day in the spring of 2017, quite like a lightbulb turning on. I immediately fell in love with the idea — two characters experiencing loss, recovery, and hope; two characters connecting to help each other heal in ways they wouldn’t have been able to alone. I knew it would be a love story, but not just about romantic love — it would be about the love between brothers, and grandparents, and friends. I wanted to write a story about finding happiness, even in the darkest of times. And the premise of 100 Days just followed. 

  • M.A.Greene: How long did it take you to write 100 Days of Sunlight from start to finish?

           Abbie Emmons: Well, like I said, I first had the idea in spring of 2017. I took the summer to plot and outline the story, then started writing in November. To this day, it is my shortest writing process – it took me 27 days total to write the first draft, which then had to go through many rounds of revisions and edits before it became the book I’m holding in my hands today!

  • M.A.Greene: From your youtube videos I learned you have written previous manuscripts but 100 Days of Sunlight was the story you decided be your first to publish. What factors went into you knowing this book was the one that you present to the world?

           Abbie Emmons: That’s a great question! I think it’s important to put a lot of thought into your debut novel, because it really “sets the stage” of what the world can expect from you. In the end I chose 100 Days because at the time it was my favorite story I had written. I loved the characters and what they stood for. Beyond that, the themes were most pressing on my heart to share with the world. I’ve been so humbled and grateful for the amazing response this novel has received. 

  • M.A.Greene: Are you a plotter or a panser? 

           Abbie Emmons: A plotter, all the way! I can’t sit down to write a first draft until I know EXACTLY what is going to happen, start to finish, in detail. My outlines get really hefty (up to 20,000 words sometimes!) but they help me to stay focused and enjoy the writing process.

  • M.A.Greene: How did you develop Tessa and Weston’s personalities?

           Abbie Emmons: My characters are often inspired by people in the real world, and 100 Days of Sunlight is no exception. Tessa and I share a lot of the same personality traits and habits: blogger, writer, perfectionist, neat-freak, introvert, waffle-eater, book-lover… Her personality is a lot like mine, so it was easy to write from her perspective, and also really insightful. 

Weston was inspired by every person who has overcome incredible challenges and limitations without losing their spirit, humor, or zest for life. People like Nick Vujicic, Rob Jones, and Travis Mills, to name a few inspiring individuals. Weston’s story was an incredible opportunity for me to explore the emotional journey of getting back up when life knocks you down. Or, as Weston calls it, “punching Life in the face.”

  • M.A. Greene: 100 Days of Sunlight really does a great job of balancing serious topics of dealing with temporary and permanent disabilities while still being an uplifting story? How did you manage to write like this? Also, did you do any research into the disabilities of Tessa and Weston have?

           Abbie Emmons: Thank you! I think the balance here is finding the silver lining. Tessa and Weston go through a lot, but they ultimately conquer their fears and come to see that their lives are full, beautiful, and worth celebrating. 

And yes, I did a ton of research before writing, while writing, and after writing this book. It was a fascinating and educational journey to explore all the different experiences my characters went through, and I really enjoyed learning about everything! I’m a bit of an information sleuth, so it was cool to dig up all kinds of blog posts, personal experiences, firsthand accounts, vlogs, articles, more blog posts, and more videos. I think the most interesting thing I learned throughout the researching process is: no two experiences are exactly alike. Which meant I was able to craft unique experiences for my characters, while still holding true to what other people with these disabilities have gone through, and have so kindly shared via their blogs and YouTube channels. Another bonus was that my editor had actually worked as a sighted guide at a center for the blind — so she had all kinds of helpful input on Tessa’s condition and ability to navigate her world.

  • M.A.Greene: Small spoiler but Weston doesn’t let Tessa know he has a disability. Can you explain why you decided to write the story that way? Did you ever consider Weston letting Tessa know he has a disability from the beginning?

           Abbie Emmons: I love this aspect of the book, because it’s all about Weston’s internal conflict. He doesn’t tell Tessa about his disability because, for the first time in years, he has the opportunity to be treated like an able-bodied person. Tessa yells at him and constantly complains about her temporary disability, because she has no clue Weston has a permanent disability. If Weston had told her from the very beginning, she would have treated him differently because of it. I think this gives us some valuable insight into the ways we judge others based on appearance, and how we can’t really know what fears and doubts a person may be struggling with, however optimistic they appear to be on the outside. 

  • M.A.Greene: You have a youtube channel, which is how I found out about 100 Days of Sunlight. What made you start your channel and how long have you had it?

           Abbie Emmons: I started making videos in 2015 but didn’t have a clear focus for my channel until May 2017. That’s when I had the idea for “WritersLife Wednesdays” – which spiraled into the whole focus of my channel. I love talking about stories, and YouTube is the perfect place to share my passion with fellow writers! I’ve made so many amazing friends through the community, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

  • M.A.Greene: What is your favorite genre and your least favorite genre and why?

Abbie Emmons: My favorite genre, unsurprisingly, is contemporary. I love a good realistic fiction about love – not just romantic love, but friendships and families. I think the world needs more books about love. My least favorite genre is horror, because I don’t like dark/creepy stories. I think there’s enough horror in the world without us having to make it up. 

  • M.A.Greene: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers? 

           Abbie Emmons: I would give them the piece of writing advice that changed my life: Story isn’t about what happens. It’s about how what happens affects and transforms the characters. 

If anyone out there follows my YouTube channel, they’ve probably heard me say this a lot. In my opinion, it is the golden rule of writing. When you make everything in your story matter to your characters (given their motivations and fears) you can truly engage your reader and leave them thinking long after they turn the final page of your story. Secondly, you always have to remember why your story matters to you. Remembering your “why” will keep your passion alive through the darkest days and lead you to those gloriously satisfying words: the end.

Thank you so much for having me on your lovely blog today! I’m so glad we could chat about writing together. J   M.A. Greene: Thank you for letting me interview you. You can purchase 100 Days of Sunlight here.

J.C. Ahmed’s Girl at the Well Author Interview

M.A. Greene: Hello. I’m M.A. Greene a YA writer reaching for publication. You can follow me on my writing journey on Twitter @MAGreene996.

  • M.A. Greene: Girl at the Well is a novella about a sheltered teenage princess who learns her parents rule several lands with a cruel authoritarian rule. How did you come up with  this idea?

          J.C. Ahmed: I don’t know how I came up with it originally, but for months I had this idea about a girl coming out of a well with a warning. I loved the idea but didn’t know what to do with it. When I read an article about wealth inequality, it provided the spark and the rough outline of The Girl at the Well came to me over a few days.

  • M.A. Greene: That’s so interesting how to completely different topics came together so well.  How long did it take you to write Girl at the Well from start to finish?

          J.C. Ahmed: Probably 6 to 8 months. Writing a rough draft usually takes me a few weeks, but I edit over and over.

  • M.A. Greene: Wow, I think anyone who can write a rough draft in a few weeks has a special type of talent! Do you edit in stages for one topic at a time such as going over characterization, plot etc. or several different things at one time?

          J.C. Ahmed: Well, I should clarify, I spend weeks developing the story in my mind. Then when I’m happy with where I want it to go, I start writing it down. So, that first draft is usually very fast and very rough. I think The Girl at the Well first draft was around 20k words, but the final book was around 65k, so I add on a lot. Initially I focus on plot. Then I focus on characters. Then on dialogue. Then I do a lot of fixing things up. Reading it over and over again. I also go through it once working backwards from the last chapter to the first. I also use a text to speech converter and listen to it as well to catch problems.

  • M.A. Greene: Ok ok. Do you consider yourself an underwriter, someone whose first drafts are shorter than their following drafts?

          J.C. Ahmed: Yes. First drafts are always very short. Then as I read through, I get more ideas and start adding on. If things aren’t clear, I’ll add onto the story, so that everything makes more sense.

  • M.A. Greene: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

          J.C. Ahmed: I didn’t really decide that. I often suffer from insomnia, so when I would lie awake, I would make up stories. I often spent weeks forming stories in my mind. One day, I came across something about self-publishing, and I thought maybe I should write down one of my stories and give it a try. Writing has become a fun hobby for me since then.

  • M.A. Greene: What age range were you when you came across something about self-publishing that made you pursue your hobby? Were you a teenager? A college student? Working adult?

          J.C. Ahmed: Working adult. I always read a lot but writing a book seemed like something really difficult and challenging, and not something I thought I could realistically do. But then I started reading some how-to books, and watching how-to videos, and went from there. The process has become easier with each book. I’m working on two right now, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from struggling through the first two books I have out.

  • M.A. Greene: Writing a book can be difficult. Did you ever attempt to write books before the ones you have published? Or was your first attempt at writing completing finished works?

          J.C. Ahmed: The first one I tried to write is called Io Hunter and the Guardians of Aldernar, which I did publish. But then I put it through a rewrite last year because I learned so many things and came up with ways to improve it. I’ve had a couple of books that I started, but then gave up on.

  • M.A. Greene: I was curious. I know I started several novels that I never completed as a child, teenager and adult before finishing the first draft of the book I’m revising for publication now. You mentioned you saw the article on self-publishing. Did you ever consider traditional publishing? And if so, what made you decide to self-publish?

          J.C. Ahmed: I haven’t considered traditional publishing. I like being able to do what I want with my stories and have control over everything. It would be great to have a company that could promote my books for me, but then I would have to give up some control to get that.

  • M.A. Greene: What type of research did you do for this novella?

          J.C. Ahmed: I did some research on wealth inequality because it was the central theme. I also researched different kinds of landscapes for the setting, read some history of royal families, and how portals have been used in stories. And of course, I did some research on wells. I’m sure there were other things, but that’s all I can remember now.

  • M.A. Greene: Girl at The Well has a blend of politics with fantasy. How did you decide what the right amount of each should be so the politics did not bog down the story?

           J.C. Ahmed: It’s tough because I didn’t want the story to come across as preachy. I’m not sure if I accomplished that or not. I would have to leave it up to the reader to decide. I think by having characters the reader could connect to, along with problems to be resolved and some romance, that I hope it’s something people can enjoy without being too overwhelmed by the message.

  • M.A. Greene: What is your favorite genre and your least favorite genre and why?

J.C. Ahmed: Sci-fi and fantasy are my favorites. I love books set in space. I don’t read horror or anything very violent because I’m a wimp.

  • M.A. Greene: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

          J.C.Ahmed: Read a lot of books on how to write. There are also courses available online that aspiring writers can take. I didn’t do enough of that before I wrote my first book. That’s why I had to go back and rewrite it. I still thinks it’s a good book (of course, I’m biased) but it could have been a lot better if I hadn’t jumped into the writing process so quickly. Learn and prepare, then write.

Kris Spisak’s Get A Grip On Your Grammar Interview

  • M.A.Greene: First let’s talk about your book Get A Grip On Your Grammar. What made you decide to write it?

            Kris Spisak: Writing Get a Grip on Your Grammar was a bit of a happy accident. I was teaching college writing courses at the time, and I was an active @jamesrvrwriters volunteer; however, even surrounded by so many words, I kept seeing the same mistakes over and over, little subtleties that people kept missing. I started posting weekly playful reminders on Facebook, which later became my blog… and then while I was having fun with my weekly posts, they somehow just took off.

            I was convinced to self-publish a collection of my first 100 writing tips, and that little indie ebook was what eventually brought me to my agent and my first traditional publishing deal. That deal was Get a Grip on Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused (Career Press, 2017). We just passed Get a Grip on Your Grammar‘s 3rd birthday, and it’s been an especially exciting year because 2020 saw its first hardback edition!

  • M.A.Greene: Your book baby has a 3 year anniversary that’s awesome. What was the publishing process like for Get A Grip On Your Grammar? Did you find a publisher right away or did it take a while?

            Kris Spisak:  I’ll admit that my first traditional book deal was a bit of a dream story. The subject was something I was writing for fun, not initially for publication at all, other than on my blog. When things started moving with it, I was so surprised. The blog began in 2012. I self-published a collection of the writing tips in the fall of 2015. In 2016, I signed with my literary agent (someone I had met and really enjoyed connecting with at a James River Writers event a year or two prior), and one week after signing with her, I had a book deal. It was wild!

  • M.A.Greene: That’s amazing how your publishing journey went! What’s great about this book is that it can be used for fiction and nonfiction books, school, work, and more. Did you intend for it to be so versatile?

            Kris Spisak: Thanks. I try to shape my work around how we can all communicate better, no matter what that communication may be–whether it’s storytelling through fiction, the language on a cover letter, an email to your boss, and anything (and everything!) in between. I now teach workshops across the communication spectrum, from corporate environments to creative writing conferences, and it seemed like Get a Grip On Your Grammar was the book that was missing in all of these settings. I mean, I love “The Elements of Style,” but a playful, contemporary resource was something fun to add to the world.

  • M.A.Greene: Get A Grip On Your Grammar is written in a down to earth tone with hints of humor. It doesn’t feel like I’m reading a textbook or any book of that nature. Did you mean to write it that way intentionally?

            Kris Spisak: Who says conversations about the English language have to be something that puts you to sleep? I think we’ve all been trained to think of it that way, or perhaps we have memories of slogging through painful grammar lessons in our school days. But think of the worlds than can change (personally, professionally, and creatively) with a better usage of words.

            I honestly never thought about readers at the start, because I was just having fun with the topic, first on social media and then later on my blog. That’s just how it came out. I think I found my voice as a writer by having this “no pressure project” honestly, without worrying about anything else but entertaining myself. I had fun, and I think, in the end, it allowed my readers to have fun too. (Though “in the end” might not be the right wording because my writing tips blog is still going strong!)

  • M.A.Greene: That’s great you had a no pressure zone to start for the material for your book. When you traditionally published Get A Grip On Your Grammar, was that when you started taking your writing career seriously or how did you decide to start doing that?

Kris Spisak: The publication of Get A Grip On Your Grammar was a landmark moment for me in terms of my nonfiction writing and in my efforts to help others. I had been slowly stepping away from teaching college writing courses and moving into ghostwriting and editing over a number of years, and that book solidified my goals. For the longest time, I had seen myself as a fiction writer who loved helping other writers on the side, but Get a Grip on Your Grammar flipped that script. I became an author and editor, dedicated to the power of storytelling and communication, who also writes fiction. For me, the shift was unexpected but empowering.

  • M.A.Greene: For those of you who don’t know, I’m in a writing group called James River Writers. Kris is on the board of directors for JWR. How did you get into that role and how did you join James River Writers in the first place?  

            Kris Spisak: I had come to Richmond for graduate school, and my plan was to be here until I finished my degree and then move on to a bigger city. James River Writers was one of the biggest reasons I stayed in Richmond (well, JRW and meeting my husband, but JRW came into my life first so I think they get equal credit here). My employer at the time offered to pay for me to attend my first James River Writers Conference in 2004, something I couldn’t have afforded on my own at the time. The education, the inspiration, and the amazing community sucked me in. I’ve been a dedicated member ever since, as a volunteer for years doing little side efforts like stuffing tote bags and helping at events, and then later as a board member. This is my second year as board chair of James River Writers, and I’m honored to be in the role. It’s an amazing organization.

  • M.A.Greene: I’m glad you became a member. I found out about your book Get A Grip On Your Grammar when it was being sold at a James River Writers conference. You’re absolutely correct when you say it’s an amazing organization. Finally, what advice would you give to all types of writers since this book can be useful from anyone writing in school, from writing a book, magazine, or pretty much any other type of writing?

            Kris Spisak: So often people think that great writers are born that way, but here’s the secret: it isn’t true. Every writer has to learn. Every writer has to practice and work to perfect their craft, no matter what type of message or story or audience there may be. But when a writer cares and truly tries, great things can happen.

     Thank you again for chatting with me, and if anyone is ever curious for more (beyond my books), I have a monthly writing tips newsletter where I love to connect with other language lovers. You can learn more about this and all of my work on my website:

Bill Blume’s Gidion’s Hunt Author Interview

M.A. Greene: Hello. I’m M.A.Greene a YA author reaching for publication. You can follow me on my writing journey on Twitter @MAGreene996.

  • M.A. Greene: So can you tell us when you realized you wanted to be a writer?

            Bill Blume: High school. My first real ambition was to write comic books, but I didn’t have the artistic chops for it. My senior year, I wrote a novel called THE DEMON RIDERS. It was really six short stories about this teenage team of superheroes with journal entries by the characters between each story. It was a mess of a book that should never see the light of day, but it indirectly led to one of my earliest short stories getting published, “The Deadlands.” My wife had unearthed the manuscript and had said it would make an interesting YA (this also led to my first serious dive into YA writing as an adult. The first third of the manuscript I wrote turned into that short story.

  • M.A. Greene: You should be proud you finished any attempt at a novel in high school! When I was a senior in high school, the first piece of writing I completed was a short story. I one day plan to rewrite and publish it. It must have been good to turn into a short story anyhow.

             Bill Blume: Oh, I should clarify. The only concept that survived was the main character of Paul Starnes. The first third of the novel I’m referring to isn’t the one I wrote in high school. Oh, it was really, really bad. The manuscript I drew on for the short story was something I wrote more than a decade ago. Sadly, that manuscript will never see the light of day, because I’m now cannibalizing some of the ideas and one of the characters for an entirely different novel I’m in the middle of writing now.

  • M.A. Greene:  When did the initial idea for Gidion’s Hunt come to you?

            Bill Blume: The idea for GIDION’S HUNT came to me back in 2010. I was in the middle of writing an adult urban fantasy that featured a 911 dispatcher as the main character. It ended up drawing on some not so good things in my life at that time, and the relationship with it became toxic. I doubt I’ll ever return to it, but I was deep into that book when I bailed on it, and I was really frustrated and angry. When I confided in my wife about what was going on, she asked me, “What’s the book you really want to write?” I knew the answer immediately: I wanted to write the best damn vampire hunter novel anyone had ever seen. I didn’t originally think it would be YA, because my intention was to make it as realistic as possible. As I prepped to write the book, making it a YA book actually proved a perfect fit, even as I made it realistic. The idea was to make it seem as if the reader could imagine this hidden society of vampires existing within our world.

  • M.A.Greene: So were you a fan of vampire novels and movies long before writing the story?

            Bill Blume: Absolutely! I love a good vampire novel and film. DRACULA was one of the earliest novels I read back in high school. One of my favorite vampire hunter books from when I was growing up was VAMPIRE$ by John Steakley. I felt he overpowered the vampires, but I loved that he didn’t make the hunters anything other than just human. That said, I also loved “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.”

  • M.A. Greene: How long did it take you to write  Gidion’s Hunt  from the first draft, then to finish the book?

Bill Blume: In a sense, GIDION’S HUNT only took a few months, but it was written over the course of two summers. Back then, my kids were little (not even teenagers yet), and they would go to South Carolina to stay with my parents for a few weeks. I used that time to take a lot of leave from work and just write. Gidion’s voice comes so easily to me whenever I write him. Even though the book isn’t written in first person, it’s such a close third person, that’s it’s essentially in his voice.

  • M.A. Greene: If you’re in the mood for a YA story, watch Vampire Diaries. If you want to watch something more adult, start off with The Originals, even though I’ve only watched a few episodes of the spin off.

             Bill Blume: I might do that. “The Originals” is the one I’m honestly more curious about. haha!

  • M.A. Greene: I love the close third person narrative the story is written in. You absolutely got having a character’s “voice” be strong in the story. What type of research did you do for Gidion’s Hunt? You give a lot of details how vampire hunters are not only suppose to kill vampires and track them. Also did you do your research before, during or after the first draft?

             Bill Blume: I did some research beforehand. The biggest and most useful bit of research came from trying to find a pack structure in nature to mimic for my vampires. I feel like wolf pack structure should be saved for the werewolves, so I eventually ended up using hyenas. It was fascinating. In the hyena world, the women rule, which is why the big villain in the book is a female vampire. Also, male hyenas tend to be more nomadic unless they’re lucky enough to get adopted into a pack, which is rare. This is why I included nomadic vampires as part of the world building, and why most of them are male vampires.

There were also times I went and explored parts of Richmond I feature in my book. I went down to the Canal Walk to choreograph what the opening sequence of the book would be like. I still have the pictures I took for that saved on my computer somewhere.

I did have to research a bit in the middle of the book. I needed to figure out what kind of habits a person who donates blood might need to adopt to compensate for that frequent blood loss. This was applied to my feeders, who are humans that have decided to essentially be servants of the vampires.

  • M.A.Greene: Who knew researching about people who donate blood would be something that could fit into a vampire story. I’m sure going to actual places in your book must have helped it feel authentic.  Early on we learn that Gidion’s grandfather was a vampire hunter but he keeps the secret of being a hunter from his father. Without too many spoilers can you explain why you decided to have the story go in this direction?

Bill Blume: This, oddly enough, fell into the whole “trying to make it realistic” category. Speaking as a dad, there’s no way in hell I’d ever let my kid do something that dangerous. Grandpa loves Gidion a lot, but he’s obsessed with his mission to kill vampires. I needed an adult mentor to justify Gidion doing this, but I also wanted a healthy relationship with a parent there. I did love that there’s this whole dynamic of three generations of vampire hunters, but they never really openly talk about it. It’s this whole dark history that Gidion’s dad doesn’t want Gidion to ever learn about, and he doesn’t realize Grandpa has gone behind his back to spill the beans and recruit Gidion. It was only after I finished writing the second book, GIDION’S BLOOD, that I realized what I’d been writing about the whole time was how people deal with loss. The Keep family does not handle their loss well, and it makes their lives and the lives of others a mess.

  • M.A. Greene: I found the three generations interesting as well. It’s so interesting how seemingly “supernatural” or “fantasy” books can have many layers of depth in them. I appreciate that in stories. Many YA stories have the protagonist learning how to adapt to their new abilities in their hero role in the first book and that was not the case for Gidion. What made you decide to have Gidion already know so many skills as a vampire hunter starting from the beginning of the book?           

        Bill Blume: Because of the reason you’ve just pointed out: so many stories do that whole “hero trains to learn their powers/skills” element. It can be useful for explaining the rules of the story to the reader, but it also delays getting to the real action. Also, Gidion is a bit of a natural, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s great as a vampire hunter, but in terms of his personal life, it’s something that’s not good in the long run. His father and Grandpa are both evidence of this.

  • M.A. Greene: I knew there had to be a reason. I was curious about that from the first chapter. Are you a plotter or a panser?

               Bill Blume: I’m a bit of a hybrid in that I’ll do whatever I need to do, in order to get the story written. I pantsed GIDION’S HUNT. I just really knew how I wanted the book to end, and I figured it out as soon as I wrote the scene at the comic book shop. The sequel was somewhat different. With GIDION’S BLOOD, I had to partially outline the first half of the book, because I had two antagonists trying to hunt down Gidion. My outline included all the things those characters were doing that Gidion wouldn’t see (because the whole book is from his POV), so this made sure they weren’t constantly reacting to him and making things too easy for him. After that, I pantsed the rest of the book, but again I knew my ending. I typically know a few key moments in a story that I want to hit, and that’s it. The characters lead me the rest of the way.

  • M.A. Greene: I look forward to reading Gidion’s Blood. And when I finish that book hope I can count on an interview for the sequel as well. Are you more interested in writing for Young Adults or other age groups as well?

              Bill Blume: Thanks! I’ll confess that when I wrote GIDION’S HUNT, that second book was what I was always writing towards. I had most of the beats of that story planned waaaaaay back in the first book, and there are little nuggets in the first book that take on a whole new meaning after you read the second book. I’d love to do that! And I do love YA as a writer and a reader. I find it’s a more progressive market of books. Too many adult books are mired in some terrible stereotypes that ignore what our present day world is becoming and needs to be. YA is more adventurous and open to experimentation. I’ll out myself and confess that Gidion Keep’s adventures are not without their share of old tropes, but I like to think I included enough new stuff to make up for that and make it fun.

  • M.A. Greene: Do you write with music? And if so, how do you select the music you will listen to when writing and what type of music do you listen to?

Bill Blume: I typically write to orchestral music, mostly scores from films. My favorite composer is Marco Beltrami. His score to the film “3:10 to Yuma” is just brilliant. For GIDION’S HUNT, I wrote most of it to Ramin Djawadi’s score to “Clash of the Titans” and Alan Silvestri’s score to “Captain America: The First Avenger.” I listen to music with lyrics before I start writing, stuff that fits the mood, but might distract me otherwise with the lyrics. I listened to Metric’s “Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?” back when I wrote GIDION’S HUNT. The last track on that album “Love is a Place” is what I always imagine playing as Gidion returns to school at the end of the book and gets the news of what’s happened (avoiding spoilers here).

  • M.A. Greene: Interesting. What are your favorite genres, least favorite genres of books and why?

          Bill Blume: Fantasy is my first real love. The first movie I remember seeing in the theater was “Star Wars.” I was four when it originally came out. My parents probably will always regret taking me to that film.

  • M.A. Greene: Lol! Why do you say that?

            Bill Blume: They do not like the content of my writing. My mom tends to consider most vampire-centric fiction as “garbage.”

  • M.A. Greene: Oh I’m sorry to hear about that. Well your not garbage helped me escape the tragic events on the news, so I thank you for writing it.

            Bill Blume: Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Gidion’s voice is a blast, because of the humor in it.

  • M.A. Greene: I saw your book trailer when I put in Gidion’s Keep in youtube. I liked that it was short and precise. Did you draw the pictures yourself? And how long did it take to make your book trailer?

             Bill Blume: Thanks! And yeah, I did almost all of the artwork. I fudged the image of the teacher and found a picture of a teacher at a blackboard and created the silhouette from it. The pic that probably required the most work was the gravesite, and it’s the one I’m most proud of, because both Gidion’s dad and grandpa were made from pictures I took of myself. The one of Grandpa looks funny, because I’m just standing there with my arm hanging out in the air. I had to pay a local teen actor to do the voice, and that caused it to take a long time to make. The images didn’t take as long as you might think, because I have a background in graphic artwork. The trailers (I made four) for the fourth book required months of work. I’m never doing that to myself again, the whole multiple trailers thing.

The length of it I owe to my publisher at the time. Their advice about them was to aim for 30 seconds, like a TV spot. It was a good call.

  • M.A. Greene: Finally what advice would you give aspiring writers in regards to staying motivated to finish their story, the publishing journey, or so forth?

            Bill Blume: Start with short stories, if you struggle with finishing a novel. There’s something you gain from reaching the end of a story, and short stories will speed up your learning curve. I resisted writing short stories for a very long time. It’s one of my biggest regrets, because I learned so much from the time I focused on writing short stories.

           You can follow Bill Blume on twitter at:

How To Stay On Top of Your Writing While Dealing With The Anxiety of The Coronavirus (COVID-19)

By M.A.Greene

This pandemic is real.  Whether you’re in a position where you are staying at home right now or working and coming back than staying glued to the news for updates, it can be difficult for some writers to dive into their story worlds when the real world around us is starting to feel like a dystopian novel.

              I want to make a disclaimer. If you are unable to write right now, due to the coronavirus that’s ok. But it can be healthy to keep up with your writing. One reason is it’s getting away from the constant stream of updates on the news. Also, it can more productive than watching television. Keeping up with our writing can keep our writing dreams alive. It can use your energy that is used for worrying to put into something constructive you enjoy.

               Below are a few ways practical ways to keep your writing dreams alive during these stressful times of the coronavirus.

              First, figure out whether you need to journal about your worries and concerns for about 10-20 minutes before writing. I have heard of the benefit of journaling to get your thoughts not concerning writing out of you before starting creative writing is beneficial to some people. Try seeing if that works for you.

              Second, watch the news for an hour to see what is happening but have an alarm on your phone reminding you to write and turn the television or news updates online. Put a timer on for 10-20 minutes at a time and write. Also, put the remote out of arm’s length away from you when writing. Get off the internet. Do this before watching any more of the news.

              Third, write using a timer in 10-20 minute intervals before tuning into the news. And only make exceptions such as if there is time-specific times that news shows that concern your area that will be giving updates.

              Forth exercise for 20-60 minutes before writing. Numerous studies show working out releases endorphins which is the natural feel-good chemical and is all-around healthy for your body. Whether you keep up with the news while exercising or not is something you can experiment with to see what works best for you. But please when you exercise to do so at home or keeping 3-6 feet from others in alone or small groups of less than 10 or alone in noncrowded spaces outside. I’m recommending less than 10 because I personally, feel that is playing it safe rather than going to the maximum number of people that has been suggested.

               A fifth suggestion is talking to a loved one to chat about what is daily dystopian-novel-like events in the news before writing. Maybe processing these events with someone else and knowing you are not alone in this can help. If you do this please be mindful everyone has various levels of what they can handle. Do not do this everyday if you write on a daily basis or even every other day unless your sure your loved one wants to discuss the events. Some people need to unplug from the current events more than others.

The final talking about events that are not about the virus. Maybe you picked up a new hobby during this time or revisited an old one. Perhaps you are reading a great book and you really connect to the character or something inspiring happened on the news, such as when the two students played live music from a safe distance for an elderly woman. Whatever it may be, talking about uplifting things can help put you in a clearer mind frame to write sometimes.

Don’t forget it perfectly ok even though your staying on top of your writing if your not as productive as you might have been before this pandemic happened. Everyone is human.

               So these are some ways to stay on top of your writing during these difficult times. Let me know if any of these tips work for you. Also, if you have any tips that was not mentioned please tell me as well. Have a healthy rest of your day.

Eric Smith’s Don’t Read The Comments Author Interview

M.A.Greene: Hello. I’m M.A.Greene a YA author reaching for publication. You can follow me on my writing journey on Twitter @MAGreene996.

  • M.A. Greene: So can you tell us when you realized you wanted to be a writer?

                Eric Smith: When I was a little kid, my parents got me this electric typewriter. It was this old thing with a tiny little LCD screen on it, and you could type up a whole story, hit enter, and then watch the typewriter bang it out. I’d write these little one page stories about my friends and hand them out at school, and it just made me so wildly happy. I think I knew then, and started taking it seriously years and years later, after college.

  • M.A. Greene: When did the initial idea for Don’t Read The Comments come to you?

              Eric Smith: I’d been wanting to write a story about teens who meet in a video game for a while, and when I went on a writing retreat with some friends four years ago (shout out to Bill and Phil of the James River Writers!), I started really digging in. But it couldn’t just be about that. It had to be about what happens in that world. The consequences of being who you are in that landscape. So, a story about cyber harassment in virtual spaces was born.

  • M.A. Greene: How long did it take you to write Don’t Read The Comments’ first draft, then to finish the book?

Eric Smith: The rough draft was something I’d gotten done in about two weeks… which I know sounds like I wrote it really fast, but it was a TERRIBLE first draft. Just awful. I spent a good year editing and polishing it up before I could even show it to my agent, getting beta readers and critique partners along the way. From that initial rough draft to it being actually published, it took four years. 

  • M.A. Greene: Don’t Read The Comments has a lot to do with gaming, are you a gamer yourself?

             Eric Smith: I am! I play a lot of games across all consoles, but mostly on the Xbox One. Give me a good story driven game, and you’ve got me. Lots of role playing games and action adventures. Dragon Age, Mass Effect, any of the Final Fantasy titles… that keeps me happy. Oh, and Skyrim! Elder Scrolls, all the way.

  • M.A. Greene:  What type of research did you do for this book? Did you research gaming? Computer coding exc.?

            Eric Smith: I mean, I do play a lot of video games, including online multiplayer ones… but I’m not much of a streamer. So I spent a good amount of time hanging around on Twitch and YouTube, watching Let’s Play videos and getting a sense of that community. The one that Divya and Aaron interact with is a fictional one based on the real spaces, but it draws from reality. 

  • M.A. Greene: What made you want to explore the darker sides that can come along with gaming along with the positive?

             Eric Smith: Because it’s an aspect of life for people who look like me, when living in a digital space. It’s a story that doesn’t get featured nearly enough, and those harsh realities should be talked about more. 

  • M.A. Greene: How did you develop Divya and Aaron’s characters?

               Eric Smith: Well, Aaron is based a bit on me. I grew up the same way he did, with similar parents, and also put together computers from out of the garbage. So he spooled out of my own life experience, and was a mashup of several of my close friends. Divya pulls a lot from the women I know who actually work in video games. Her strength and her fight. As for her family life, that also comes from people I know who were in the challenging position of being parents to their parents. All my characters in my stories tend to pull from real life, really. 

  • M.A. Greene: Are you a plotter or a panser?

               Eric Smith: Plotter. I outlined all of Don’t’ Read the Comments before I wrote it. 

  • M.A. Greene: Are you only interesting in writing for Young Adults or other age groups as well?

              Eric Smith: I’d like to break into writing rom-coms one day! They have a big piece of my heart, and it sure would be fun to write some adult romantic comedies. 

  • M.A. Greene: Do you write with music? And if so, did you ever write using real video gaming


Eric Smith: I wrote a lot of Don’t Read the Comments while listening to I Fight Dragons, a band that incorporates 8-bit chiptune music into their pop-punk-esque songs. They’re absolutely a favorite of mine. Sorry to disappoint though, but I didn’t write it while listening to strictly video game music. 

  • M.A. Greene: How did you start your career as a literary agent?

                Eric Smith: I kicked off my publishing career at an actual publishing house first, Quirk Books. I spent a solid five years there, and it was awesome. But, eventually I wanted to focus on my own books, and agenting just felt like the next step. I’ve been agenting for four years or so, so I’m coming up on a decade in publishing. It’s not a terribly interesting route to agenting, sorry, but it’s how I got here. 

  • M.A. Greene: How has being a literary agent impacted your writing? Has it helped you know trends are out there? How to write a good hook or good ending for example?

                Eric Smith:  It hasn’t really. And I don’t pay attention to trends when it comes to my writing. If you’re writing to a trend, it means the trend has already happened and is over. I write what my heart tells me to. 

  • M.A. Greene: What do you enjoy the most about being a literary agent?

                 Eric Smith: Saying yes and telling authors that someone ELSE has said yes. Those phone calls are the best, letting someone know their book is going to happen.

  • M.A. Greene: What advice would you give aspiring writers in regards to staying motivated, the publishing journey, or so forth?

              Eric Smith: Just keep going, keep reading, and always work on the next thing. It can be really easy to just obsessed over the querying process and not work on something new… but you should. Get cracking on that next book, ignore all the noise, and keep pushing forward. 

Strike Your Fears by Being An Active Participant In Your Writing Journey


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Strike Your Fears by Being An Active Participant In Your Writing Journey

by M.A.Greene

This is for every writing reaching for publication. Mark Twain the famous
author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, defined a word that we
all need by saying “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not
absence of fear.”

Sometimes people are not going to connect with your writing and you will
have serious doubts about your writing at times. Some people may not hate your
writing but they will not love it either. And sometimes it has nothing to do
with mechanics of storytelling.

I read a young adult novel because I connected with an author’s youtube
videos. The author’s videos helped me while drafting my manuscript and I still
listen to other videos by this author when I have a chance to. Because of this,
I know I will read another book by this author and there must be something
 I am sure there will be something I will enjoy more. However, when I
first read a novel by this author’s book, which is a popular book as well, I
finished it from beginning to end but was not compelled to read more of the

I liked the main character and as a writer who has been studying the craft
of writing through self-study, my writing group James River Writers and so
forth, I realized she did everything right as far as plot, letting the reader
get to know the character and pacing is concerned. Strangely I did not love the
story nor the character that much.

It surprised me that I did not connect with the story even though I finished
it. I even tried to analyze why I did enjoy the book much. Where matters
irrelevant to writing affecting me so I was not enjoying the story? Well,
obviously not when I read another book I was engrossed in indirectly afterward.

 What I now realize is that is ok. When I publish my stories, even if I
make them the absolute best they can be, there will be people who do not have
strong feelings about my story and characters in them.

This is my first attempt at revising a novel because my manuscript is the
first novel I have written. I even read a novel on revising and had a game plan
and awesome beta readers by my side. I had been revising and I believe doubt in
other areas of my life had been seeping into my belief in myself about

Also the mechanics of how to revise with my original game plan made me
realized still had not planned out enough of a game plan. I went through the
rest of my novel and made notes about anything I could think of. Now I have
another revising book from the library to help aid me to figure out the correct

One thing I am learning is truly understanding what I have heard before from
other writers. Writing really is a personal journey. I am very grateful to my
beta readers and my writing community for a warm and supportive environment. No
matter how many books you read or how much about writing craft you study,
someone else’s perfect method might not be yours. You have to figure out what
works for you and utilize what you can from sources around you.

Also listening to author Kim Chance’s video on being a fearless writer (Disclaimer: Kim Chance is not the
author whose book I am referring to. I found her YA novel Keeper, to be
engaging plot and looked forward to following Lainey’s adventures in the
sequel)  made me realize how psychologically fears were holding me back as

I had the wonderful experience of pitching my story to two agents at the
James River Writer 2017 conference, my first writing conference I attended.
Both agents said when I could finish the revising my manuscript I could follow
the submission guidelines and send them the requested part of my story.
 That in itself was a wonderful and rare experience. But still, fears
cling onto me.

I am not disillusioned about believing if something like being a New York
Times Best Sellers list does not happen all is lost, such as when I was a
teenager. This statement is in no way trying to put down teen writers. If it
had not been writing in my teens, I know I would not be where I am today. It is
only explaining my mindset as a teenager involving writing my stories. I
realize that is not going to happen.

What did and am still having to do is fight through the fears: What will
people think of me from reading this story? There are so many stories that I
want to tell will be I judged for this one? What about other stories I want to
tell in the future that are different in many ways from this story? Will I have
the courage to tell other stories to the best of my ability and still not be
that successful? If I am lucky and meet fans who want to learn more about my
life, will they be disappointed I’m just a woman trying to get by and make her
mark on the work in a good way as I grow? As I learned more about the
publishing world, I realized sometimes writers could be rejected because their
stories were already overly saturated in the market. Or simply the agent or
editor did not connect with it. Will this be my luck? Why didn’t I start my
serious writing journey a few years earlier such as during summer when my
school load was not so heavy when I was in college?

The lessons I am learning are no matter what you wished you realized or
understood earlier in life, all you can do is move forward. I am working on
myself in other areas of my life. That requires being as honest as possible
about what I need to do to be the best version of myself. That also requires me
to attempt to have more compassion when trying not to judge myself and others
too harshly. One way to be the best version of myself is to acknowledge that I
will keep having times when fears and doubts keep swarming around me like
mosquitos. What matters is I keep fighting. The best version of myself includes
continuing my writing journey.

Sometimes fear is there to help you realize you need to stop and assess
before making a move but other times it is there because you are only human.
Taking the time to try and be honest with yourself is a great way to try and
learn the difference.

Psychologically our memories and brains hold onto fear as a protection
mechanism. It’s why often negative memories can be more vivid than happier
( We
need to be wise enough to learn when to fight through those fears.

So in the spring of 2017, I found a childhood object that reminded me of a
story. It particularly reminded me of a character.  Characters that I had
been putting on the back burner due to completing my education and striving for
other goals in my life. They would sometimes emerge when I was eating new food
and would instantly think of how that character would eat the food, when
shopping and how a character would react or even listening to a song and being
reminded of one of them. I had various different versions of this story I had
written parts of them off and on throughout the years.

The characters were pretty much consistent. And I had the realization, even
if a bit dramatic, that this world, these characters, these stories would haunt
me until I was on my deathbed if I didn’t write about them. One of my friends
Blair Cousins, twitter name @blaireverywhere, had written her first book Ouji
The Curious Cat, so saw first had it was possible for people in their twenties
to publish a novel. I had heard my aunt tell me for years how she had stories
she had with her since she was a teenager and they always stay with you.

 I listened to a reading of Langston Hughes poem “Dream Deferred” I had heard it before but it truly
struck me that I needed to write that story and start my journey to be
published writer and take it seriously. Memories of myself as a teenager who I
had attempted to first write one of the versions of this story flooded my mind.
Back during my teen years, I was reading Writers Digest magazines and dreamed
of being a writer. Then memories of my childhood as I played with Barbie dolls
to release the stories inside of me also arose.

I have to thank that character. If it wasn’t for finding that object that
was connected to her back in the spring of 2017, I don’t think I would have
started my journey then. She is not even the main character of my story but she
is in my manuscript. I thank the people in my life who followed their own
dreams or encouraged me not to give up on mine. Even though I am still growing
in all areas of my life, I am a writer. I am going to make my dreams come true.

It is so much easier when you are juggling responsibilities to put off
writing.  Whether in your free time you are job hunting, spending time
socially with friends, family obligations, working out, doing chores or just
running errands and filling out paperwork. There will always be things in the
way. I am not saying not to be wise about when you start your journey. If you
are in the middle of a major life change such as learning the ropes at a new
job, starting a new school, or so forth, you need to be mindful you might not
be able to jump in like you want to. But you can plan maybe the week after your
starting to get settled when you can schedule a time to write and do
brainstorming or read on the craft of writing in the meantime or listen to
youtube videos.

 I do not know what my publication path will take me or how long. But I
will not let fear of anything stop me from moving forward. When you have had
stories with you as long as you were a child the only person who can truly
bring them to life is you. Whether you are just starting your writing journey
or have been on it for a long time. Keep reading to learn what you like and
don’t like in stories. Keep writing to hone your craft. Keep smashing those
fears and be an active participant in your writing life.

You can follow more info on my publishing journey and more at @MAGreene996
on twitter.