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.

              https://kris-spisak.com/ 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: http://Kris-Spisak.com.

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: https://twitter.com/BillTheWildcat

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

music?

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
series.

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
revising.

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
strategies.

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
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXcXx49stNk (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
well.

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
ones.
(https://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20070829/bad-memories-easier-to-remember) 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”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79YjXKYeWCk. 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.