The wistful side of me wakes up every morning with good intentions and big dreams to quit my job and write stories. Then the fiscally conservative, first-born sends me to my sixty-hour-plus day-job and reminds me that writing poetry and blogging about laundry isn’t going to pay the bills.
But, the dream never dies. And, I know people who are living the dream. Brilliant, successful, and generous people who don’t write for the money, but write because they can’t NOT write. People I want you to meet.
What follows is a lively panel discussion about writing and breaking into print. You’ll hear their stories and learn about their journey. What’s most striking to me is the generosity of the writing community in general. We root for each other, celebrate when someone gets recognized, and burn rejection letters in the back yard.
I’m putting this into two parts because I had over 7,000 words in the first draft and ain’t nobody got time for that!
We will spend part one looking at their books, publication platforms, and future projects. We’ll kick up the fun with part two and dive into personal habits and possibly, uncover some skeletons (has anybody seen Ned’s red thong??) You’ll get their full bios in part two, so I’m giving my personal introduction of our VIP panel and then on to the first set of questions.
Mandi Castle: Mama, writer, Superwoman (look for the cape!). She’s kind, generous, and writes stories that will make you laugh AND cry.
Katie Cross: She runs through mountains and canyons, writes with a babe on her lap, and conjures characters you’ll root for and fall in love with. Bianca rocks!!
Ned Hickson: More than a token male and eye candy for the ladies. Ned is an amazing writer with skills ranging from the belly-laughing hilarious to the poignant and everyday relevant. If you think he’s cute, you should meet his wife!
Karen Malena: Karen is a new friend who drew me in with her accessible style and calming voice. Her empathy is evident in her writing, her characters, and the way she lives her life.
Carrie Rubin: A prolific writer who also wears a Superwoman cape. A doctor AND a writer? Carrie’s books (and awesome live tweets) have carried me through the bumpy airplane rides between Kansas City and Atlanta more than a few times.
Beth Teliho: *Fans my face. Beth is my writer crush fo sho! We first bonded over compost and knock-out roses, now she has me watching “Teliho’s Tribe” for her next book – after the first one kept me from doing anything productive until I finished it.
Charissa Stastny: Char was my first writer love. She has shown me that you can crank out an amazing three-book series while reading voraciously and keeping her family going. Phew! Sleep much, Charissa?
And now, without further adieu, words from our awesome panel kicked off with a meme from Beth:
Are you living your dream and writing for a living? Or are you working a “day job” and fitting your writing in on the side? What do you think the challenges are in each scenario?
Ned: The challenges of “living the dream” vs writing part time: I’m fortunate enough to write for a living as a journalist/columnist. However, I spent many years working 50-plus hours a week as a chef while writing short stories “on the side” to submit to small press horror magazines. Both have their perks and drawbacks. As a columnist, I have to produce every week, and as a journalist every day. That adds pressure to the writing process. Fortunately for me, I’m better with a deadline than without one. But it’s not always easy. However, I realize how lucky I am to make a living at what I love doing, so it’s a responsibility I take to heart whenever I sit down at the keyboard.
Katie: I am writing for a living! #itrocks #anditsucks
I’ve been writing full-time for about a year and a half. I did birth a little six months ago, and Husband is always deploying, so running the house, writing books, working out, hiking my dogs, and watching crappy reality TV really sucks up my day. 😉
Despite the challenges, I probably average about 20-25 hours of writing/work a week.
Mandi:Writing is a side gig for me. I recently took a full-time job in December, which is probably why I haven’t written since then. I also have two children (9 and 5) who take up a lot of my time, so writing often gets pushed back, and back, and back. I want to be more regimented with my writing, and one day (bucket list) I will be living the dream . Just throwing that out into the universe! 🙂
Every writer I know gets hung up on their book synopsis, pitch, elevator speech and/or bio. Tell us about your book(s) and yourself in the same way you’d present it to a prospective editor or publisher.
Carrie: “After joining forces with a public health nurse to sue the food industry, an overweight teenager lands in
the crosshairs of a serial killer who is targeting the obese. Now Jeremy—bullied, fat-shamed, and ridiculed by his own grandfather—must prove to his family, the killer, and the world he’s more than the faint-hearted coward they think he is.
As a healthcare professional, I wanted to weave the real-life issues of bullying, fat-shaming, food addiction, and the food industry’s role in obesity into a fictional thriller.”
Karen: Most of my writing falls into the category: stories from the heart, inspiration for the soul and most of my books are meant to make you think abut life. I like to have a lesson of sorts that is learned in each one. Whether a person who is suicidal finds new meaning in their lives, a person who lives with a terrible secret from their teenage years can overcome the shame and guilt, someone who is bullied or belittled learns to stand on their own, my writing tackles very real issues that people must overcome. I know a thing or two about adversity because I’ve been there. I grew up as the daughter of a mom with a mental disorder. At a very early age, I had to face serious issues with poise and courage. Later when my mother was restored to our family, whole and well, I would find myself in other situations, a year-long health battle and in later years, a failed marriage to a man I’d adored. Many of the issues I’d watched while growing up, make it into my stories, but I feel if I’ve reached out and touched a reader who is going through hard times themselves, then I’ve done my job and perhaps been a blessing to them.
Ned: “Chef. Journalist. Firefighter. Pooper scooper to a pair of large-breed dogs. Ned Hickson has seen it all. Except that time he missed Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. As a syndicated columnist, he has spent the last 16 years trying to forget not being a part of that collective experience by turning to humor and sharing it with others — often without asking. In his book, Humor at the Speed of Life, he has assembled what Master of Horror® Stephen King calls ‘…an impressive body of work, unlike his actual body, which is quite frightening.'”
Mandi: “ At first glance, Paige Preston appears to have it all: beauty, brains, money, and wit, but what her utterly appealing and augmented appearance doesn’t show is her battle with depression and mental illness. Like so many other people, she hides it from everyone, ashamed of the fact that it haunts her. Her quick one-liners and her predatory nature offer a glimpse at her audacity, but deeper than the surface lies a girl who’s struggling.
Dear Stephanie is a sinfully addictive walk through a world of beauty, affluence, and incidental love that effortlessly moves the reader between laughter, tears, heartache, and hope with the turn of every “Paige.”
She will grab you, and hook you and make you want more while you’re screaming at yourself for cheering for her. She is slick and glamorous, but painfully self-destructive. What’s most surprising about her is that you will relate to her. Because she’s real.”
Beth: “Order of Seven is a gritty, fast-paced journey drenched in archeological mystery and nail-biting suspense. You experience everything up close and personal, real-time, along with the main character, intense and mouthy eighteen-year-old Devi Bennett, as she searches for her biological parents in hopes of better understanding her paranormal ability.”
Charissa: In today’s industry, writers have more than words at their fingertips. Check out the trailers Charissa created for The Bending Willow Trilogy.
Share with us, your preferred method of publishing: self-publishing, independent,
a small publisher, traditional, hybrid. What pros and cons do you see in your preferred route or others?
Carrie: At this point I prefer small press or more traditional. I can’t imagine the work involved to format your own book and load it onto all the various retail sites. My hat is off to those who go it alone. I imagine their sense of accomplishment is enormous, and rightfully so.
Katie: Indie all the way baby! I don’t think one way is the right way. While I’m indie now, I have projects started that I plan to pitch to traditional publishers. I think it depends on the writer, personally.
Ned: When it comes to publishing, I prefer something with a large advance and multi-million dollar contract that includes free travel and accommodations from a large publishing house. However, seeing as how I’m still shlepping a case of books to signings in the trunk of my car — and yes, I’ve held signings in the ACTUAL trunk of my car — I’ve settled for the perks of working with a small publisher. That’s not entirely true; she’s actually pretty tall as publishers go. She’s also very supportive and has become a good friend.
In all seriousness, while there a certainly advantages to self-publishing (such as no fear of rejection), working with a smaller press has been a great experience. You play a larger role in promoting your book, which some authors don’t like, but you also play a larger role in how the book comes together — cover art, fonts, jacket design — with a team that specializes in what they do. I think that’s a real advantage over self-publishing and some of its limitations.
Beth: I prefer self-publishing. I like being able to make my own choices and be in total control. My desire to have my books read – when, where, and how I choose – trumps my need to be on the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble. That’s really what you have to ask yourself when deciding which publishing route to go. The best thing about self-publishing, though? There’s something inherently electric and rebellious about any indie project, and that’s just something I have to be a part of.
Karen: It would be awesome if I was as computer savvy as my peers. My son teases me about this all the time. I can’t learn how to place items in a folder on my computer and use a flash drive, but I would so love to learn how to self-publish. I wish I had the know-how to do this. I’ve gone the route of small publishers for all of my books. I do enjoy working with them, as they take an author seriously and you have a lot of input in how your book is made. Of course, I dream of “the big one” someday: A major publishing house hearing of little old me, and offering me a contract with them and my name becoming a household word like Debbie Macomber.
Mandi: I only know one method of publishing thus far: Self-publishing/independent. When I finished Dear Stephanie, I knew I wanted to self -publish, so I created my own imprint (Castle Press, LLC.) and decided to go that route. I knew I did not want to go the traditional route because I wanted to be in control of my first book, to have the option to make it free, or $0.99, or to take it off the market if I got too nervous (which, I almost did at least three times). Self-publishing has both pros and cons. Pros: I am fully in charge of everything. Cons: I am fully in charge of everything, so I have to make sure that I continue to market, to enter it in as many contests as I can, to promote it to book bloggers, and that’s not only a lot of work, it’s sometimes intimidating. There are so many books out there, and the competition is steep, so I often feel like I’m standing in a crowded room shouting, “Read this book. Love this book. Love me!!” to a bunch of strangers who are not listening. I have learned so much though, and I believe with the next book, I will choose the same method of publishing.
What are you working on these days?
Karen: Currently, I’m writing a sequel to my book “Love Woven in Time: A Ligonier Golden Romance.” I am bringing back the main characters, elderly lovebirds Harry and Rose, but I’ve taken Harry’s son, Tim, who was introduced in the first novel, and thrown him into hard times. He finds himself on the streets, living among the homeless. And I’ll introduce a new character, McKenna, a young lady who harbors her own secret. She’s a girl in her twenties who lives with her grandparents. Nobody knows that McKenna is a cutter, someone who finds solace in self-harm. Also, McKenna’s father was just released from prison for a crime from his past. She has never met the man, and her mother passed away years before. McKenna’s grandparents are trying to keep him from contacting the girl, believing him to be unstable and harmful to the girl.
Another project I’m working with, is trying to promote my first dark, dystopian story, Sound of Silence to a filmmaker. I’ve been told that it would translate perfectly into a movie, and I’m in the process of trying to find someone who would help me achieve this goal.
Katie: So much! (*raises hand – Michelle here- I’ll attest to that! You should catch her on Wattpad!) I’m finishing up my YA series and working on my chick lit series and writing two separate serials for different websites as well as starting two different books; one I’ll indie publish, the other I’ll pitch to agents.
It’s insanity around my house. I love it. I’m totally drawn to chaos.
Beth: Currently, I’m working on another fiction novel. It’ll be in the same vein as Order of Seven with reoccurring characters (YAY!) and intersecting plot lines, but this novel’s main character is new. I also contributed a psychological thriller short story to an anthology that will hopefully release the end of 2016.
Ned: What am I working on these days? About 5 hours sleep each day. Usually at work. But in my waking hours, I’m working on two books and a video series.
The second book is a murder mystery set in my stomping grounds in the Northwest called No Safe Harbor. It’s a labor of love I’m hoping to have available next October.
Charissa: I’m making major revisions on my 4th book. Like I said above, I could have had this out last year if I’d outlined it better in the beginning. Oh well. Live and learn. (*Michelle interrupting again -AND she’s going to edit the first four chapters of my book…*gulp – I was supposed to send that you today, wasn’t I?)
Mandi:I have three works in progress. I’m currently most into a book called Girls which is a story that surrounds four people who are involved in human trafficking. I’m really enjoying creating my characters and am excited to explore where this one will take me.
I’ve started a sequel to Dear Stephanie, but it was not going where I wanted it to, so I’ve put it on the back burner until my characters inspire me to write more. Hint: It’s going to be told from Blake’s point of view and is his after story from where Dear Stephanie ended. (*Michelle swoons–I Heart Blake)
In closing, I’ll quote the famous Ned Hickson regarding his enthusiasm about being a part of today’s discussion:
Here are my responses to your panel questions. Feel free to use, not use, edit or replace any of my answers with something that makes me sound “wise,” “humorous” or “sexy.”
If you can do all of the above, I’ll leave you a little something — possibly fruitcake — in my will…
I’m holding you to that, Ned!
Now it’s your turn! You have a wonderful opportunity to pick these writers’ brains – and I don’t mean in the Walking Dead apocalyptic way. What’s on your mind? What questions do you have for our gurus?