Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cora Buhlert interview

Cora02.jpgAs somebody who is still in the midst of getting to grips with a second language, and feels that no matter how much I learn I am always never more than an hour or so away from the next slack-jawed and wide eyed moment when I realise I have no idea what somebody has just said to me, I am always impressed when I find a writer who can fluently and effortlessly tell their stories in their chosen second language.  Therefore today I am very pleased to introduce you to Cora Buhlert.  She was born and bred in North Germany, where she still lives today – after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. Cora has been writing, since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. When she is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher.


Flights of Madness - Cora Buhlert.jpgWelcome Cora, it's great to have you joining us today.  Tell us a little bit about your latest book?

My latest book is called Flights of Madness and is a collection of five short stories.

How did you come up with the title?

Titling short story collections is always a bit of a challenge, because the title should reflect the theme that unites the collected stories. In this case, all stories all stories involved people (three passengers, a flight attendant and a pilot) going mad aboard a plane, so I came up with Flights of Madness. 

When and why did you begin writing?

I have been making up and telling stories for as long as I can remember. Eventually I started writing them down. I think my first attempts at writing stories were Enid Blyton pastiches penned sometime around fourth grade. But I did not start writing in earnest until I was about fourteen and did not get serious about writing until university.

Do you write in the same genre you like to read?

Sort of, because I both read and write in multiple genres. That said, the bulk of my reading these days is fantasy and science fiction, whereas the majority of my stories published to date are historical fiction. And I mainly read novels these days, but the bulk of what I write are short stories and novelettes. However, I wouldn't normally write in a genre I didn't like to read. There's one exception, my story Outlaw Love. I specifically wrote it as a challenge to see if I could write a western, since westerns are a genre I don't particularly care for. Outlaw Love is my bestselling e-book to date, go figure. 

Do you have a specific writing style?

Not really. I mix it up from project to project, switching between past and present tense, funny and serious as well as first and third person narration with a bit of omniscient thrown in for good measure. However, my prose is relatively straightforward and I've never been what you'd call a lyrical writer. I once tried to imitate a certain kind of very overblown lyrical writing that was popular in the fantasy genre for a while. I managed to stay serious for maybe half a page, then my natural voice came through and the story started sounding like a parody of the kind of writing I tried to imitate. The result is utterly un-publishable, even as an indie. For while the story is hilarious, if you've read the kind of overblown writing found in some corners of the fantasy genre (corners usually populated by people without a sense of humor), it is an utter mess if you don't get the references. So I guess this one will stay in the drawer for the time being. 
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I always have multiple projects on the go, often in multiple stages of completion. So if I get blocked on one project, I simply switch to another and continue to write or edit it. When I don't feel like writing new words at all, I translate my existing stories into German. I write in English, but I am German and work as a professional tech translator in my day job, so translating my own stories is really a no brainer.
What inspires you to write?  Where do you find your influences?
Influences are all around us. You only have to look closely. For example, two of the five stories in Flights of Madness resulted from a writing exercise at a creative writing workshop I took at university. I found them on an old Zip disk and liked them enough to rework them. Another story in the collection was inspired by two random words from an online dictionary I used as writing prompts. Yet another story was inspired by sitting across the aisle from a very drunk, very smelly and very rude man on a flight to the UK. The final story was written, because I suddenly realised that I had stories about passengers and pilots going mad, but nothing about a flight attendant, even though their job should be enough to drive anyone mad. One of the incidents in that story, an incident involving icky stains on the toilet, is based almost verbatim on something that happened at the school where I teach English. 
What are your current projects?
First of all, I'm planning to translate more of my stories into German in 2013. In January 2013, I'll also be releasing a suspense novelette called Insomnia about a man who finds himself unable to sleep and gradually succumbs to paranoia… or does he?
On the writing front, I'm working on a series of science fiction novellas telling the story of a great galactic revolution from the POVs of various people involved on all sides.
I also have a few more backlist short stories to republish and more historical novelettes in the works. 
What are your challenges in writing? What elements do you find difficult?
I'm not very good at writing description. My first drafts often read like radio plays – a lot of dialogue and some bare bones description when I think of it. I always have to go back and add in the description in the second draft.
Are there any downsides to being a writer?
Working in isolation can be tough, particularly in the beginning when all you have is an idea and the overwhelming desire to tell a story, but very little actual writing skills. That's why workshops, writing groups and beta readers are so important for the beginning writer.
If you could choose one writer to be your mentor, who would it be?
That's a difficult question. I actually did have a mentor, a poet and essayist who was my creative writing teacher at university. And he was a very good mentor and teacher, too. If I had the choice, I'd pick a mentor who was as good at the mentoring thing as my old creative writing teacher, but who actually got genre fiction, cause mine never did, though he did try.
Maybe I'd pick one of the pulp writers from the early 20th century, because I have always been enormously impressed by their speed and work ethic and by the way they could effortlessly switch between different genres.
Favourite book?
I have too many to pick just one. A few of my favourites are The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov, V. by Thomas Pynchon, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, etc…
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read a lot, write a lot and – to quote Galaxy Quest – never give up and never surrender.
How tough was it to find a publisher/agent/decision to self publish?
I had a bunch of traditional short story sales and non-fiction pieces under my belt, when I started self-publishing, so I was not completely unpublished. But I never had an agent and my first complete novel (coming to an e-book store near you soon) got rejected by the only editor I ever sent it to. 
How do you perceive the world of self publishing?
In general, I'm happy about the possibilities that self-publishing has opened up for me and particularly about the control it has given me over every aspect of my work. My old backlist stories that were just clogging up my harddrive suddenly have a value beyond an entry in my bibliography again and are finding new readers and making me money. Besides, in the old days, I used to discard a lot of story ideas outright, because there was no market for that sort of thing. Now I give every idea a chance to develop. And if there is no existing market, then I'll simply make my own.
Moreover, the community of so-called indie writers is great and full of talented and incredibly helpful people. There are times when I get a bit annoyed, e.g. when self published writers are caught to have done stupid or unethical things (e.g. the regular writer/reviewer blow-ups or the paying for reviews scandal), because they make us all look bad. Also I tend to get frustrated by the trendchasing and extreme moneymaking focus of certain self-published writers or the way that some indie writers turn into the genre police and insist on proper adherence to genre conventions more than the traditional publishing world ever did. I'm not at all against making money and writing for entertainment, our own and that of others. But if getting rich is all you want, there are easier careers to choose than writing.
Cora's personal blog is at http://corabuhlert.com, and her publisher blog is at http://pegasus-pulp.com .
Cora's Amazon author page can be found here.
Find Cora's work on KOBO and Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

William Van Winkle - guest spot

Two things happened so far today, and it's only 9am where I am.  The first is that I woke up slightly troubled as I promised myself that I would finish my first draft.to book three  I am slightly (some would say undeniably) a Type A personality, and finishing on a Friday feels a bit like scraping the self imposed deadline, so to finish today would be great.  To do that however, I need to hit about 6000 words, and dare I say they are not flowing that freely.  The second however, is much more alarming.  A simple and polite email from a fellow writer asking if their blog post ever went live.  You remember Michelle, the one they sent to you in August. 
The aforementioned Type A personality was quick to agree.  'It must have.  There is no way I woudl forget something like that.'  So a quick check back of the emails confirmed that I did indeed get the post and I downloaded it to my computer, and I wrote back thanking him.  Turns out though, I failed, and never did get it published. 
So, William Van Winkle, I am so sorry that I have not published this before today.  I have no excuses, but am full of apologies.  Your take on writers block is a smart lesson for all writers, especially the dreamers amongst us.  I hope you are as peaceful as your chosen image!  Re-reading this article today, as it turns out, was exactly what I needed to get on track for the end of the third book. 
William Van Winkle is joining us from Portland Oregan in the United States, and his books include: TheFollowers; Stay Cold; General Invasion; Architects of Tomorrow, Volumes 1 and 2

The Myth and Reality of Writer’s Block

You hear about “writer’s block” in English classes and workshops and support groups. In short, you hear about writer’s block in places where people are not real writers. They’re wanna-be writers.

Let me explain.

I totally understand that there are multiple levels of being a writer. There was a time not so long ago when I hadn’t typed a word of fiction in over a decade, but I still considered myself a fiction writer...on the inside. In a way, I think someone is a writer when they feel compelled to string words together for others to read. It’s like a drug. Go for long without it and withdrawals set in. You feel it gnawing at your insides. You’re a writer because you simply must write to stay sane.

And yet...

The world has plenty of insane people. Lots of people with insatiable cravings get along just fine without having a fix. You can be a writer without writing, but more in an almost spiritual sense.

Here in the physical world, writers write. They publish. Or they die trying.

For me, that’s nearly a literal statement. I was an English major. I’ve been a tech journalist for so long now that I’m really not qualified to do anything else. If the freelance tech journalism market dried up tomorrow, my wife, two kids, and I would be out on the street. And to be honest, my market has been drying up. Most of the magazines I’ve written for over the last 15 years have been dying off in various ways since 2007 to 2008. The Internet has crushed the print world, and I can assure you that freelance rates online are a fraction of what they used to be in print.

This is a long way of saying that if I don’t write my ass off every day, I and those I love are toast. Writer’s block is a luxury. If I allow myself to wallow in it for long, I either end up pulling painful, last-minute all-nighters or I lose accounts. When I hear people complain about how they’re stuck with this paragraph or that bit of dialog, I want to shake their teeth loose and say, “You wanna know stuck? Trying being 48 hours from final deadline (not the two deadlines you already missed) on a $2,000 feature article without a single source that wants to talk to you, no artwork, and a topic you know nothing about. You don’t have a problem. Stop whining and work.”

Writers write. They publish. Or they die trying.

Is fiction inherently different than non-fiction? I don’t think so, and here’s why: For the last several months, I’ve been working on a young adult novel. It’s about a boy who discovers he’s part alien. In 1948, in order to thwart the government’s nefarious plans, his parents (both government scientists) destroy most of the alien tech and use a recovered time portal to jump forward. However, enough of the alien remains (and the agency controlling them) survived to make our protagonist a very wanted young man. Now he must find the hidden pieces of the time portal before the agency does in order to – of course – save the world.

Earlier this year, I started writing in-depth synopses for each chapter of the book. When my synopsis document hit 50,000 words, I knew I was in trouble because I was only on act three of five. I dropped the synopsis and started first draft. This time it was even worse. I’d originally targeted a length of 60,000 to 80,000 words. By late July, I was at 55,000 words and stopped cold for two weeks.

Why? Because there I was, with enough length to fill a YA novel, and my characters hadn’t even reached the location of the first time portal piece yet. At that rate, I was facing a total word count of at least 200,000. No one would ever buy such a monstrosity. Even worse, I felt like I was sending my characters in circles. Everything was dragging. My motivation level plummeted, and somehow, conveniently, the hour I spend working on fiction every morning had to be used on non-fiction articles.

Some people would call this writer’s block. I call it being lazy. One day, I described my problem to an editor friend, and he said, “Well, why don’t you just break the book up into three or four parts? Maybe one book for every piece he has to recover?”

The comment hit me like a 2x4 to the head. Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that? To be honest, my friend had suggested this at least once before, maybe 20,000 words ago, and it had gone in one ear and out the other. At that time, I hadn’t felt stuck, but now I was, and the difference in mental state changed everything about how I interpreted his comment. The next day, I was back to work on the book, making good progress. In an instant, I went from floundering to feeling that I was in the home stretch of my first novel.

Where was the problem? Entirely in my head. All I had to do was apply the same sort of motivation that I used in my journalism writing to the fiction problem at hand. What, you’re finding that this way of tackling the piece isn’t working? Well, what if you try it from that direction? Or what if you change this concept a bit? What if you take that section that’s killing me and just throw it out? Would that really hurt the story too much? Almost invariably, the answer is no. Make the change. Things will work out.

You just have to keep moving. Writing for money is like any other business. When you stop moving, you’re dead. You find a way to step around the landmine and keep going. The alternative is intolerable.

So no, I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in challenges. I believe in creative thinking. I believe in having to dig deep within yourself to find the source of strength that will get you past any roadblock. I believe that you have to make peace with striving to do the best you can in a reasonable amount of time. Forget about perfection, because perfection doesn’t exist any more than writer’s block does. Writer’s block is a crutch, an excuse, a badge you trot out for self-pity and sympathy.

Spiritual writers can afford writer’s block. Real world writers cannot. They have to publish...or die trying.

Bio: Like so many others, William realized he wanted to be a writer in grade school. Once he started college in 1989, he spent seven years trying to “sell” poems and short stories to magazines, since that was how such things were done back then. In those seven years, he made $10 from his creative writing, which says something about the magazine market and probably more about his writing. Then, one day, he sold an article to the local free computer publication for $75. Two years later, he was a full-time tech writer. Over a decade after that, he realized that he didn’t want to turn 40 without a smidge of progress in his dreams of authorship and so turned to ebook self-publishing. Today, William is trying to transition from his journalism career into fiction. Some people shift quickly into successful fiction careers while simultaneously balancing spouse, 2.4 kids, and a 50-hour job. William finds such superhumans perplexing and wants to dissect them to see how they function.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New year with books in mind

College ResolutionsIt seems like quite a long time since I have posted anything on here. The momentum slowly deplete in the run up to Christmas as job by job my time for writing slowly dwindled away. It seems that no matter how you are celebrating there are always demands on your time. Even a quiet dinner at home with the family is chaos when that really means cooking for twenty people. So two joints of honey roasted ham, endless amounts of potatoes, peeled, chopped par boiled and roasted as is the current household trend, pots full of butternut squash soup and enough pigs in blankets for a winter farmyard scene we can finally say Christmas was unwrapped, popped away in a cupboard, not to be thought of again for almost another year.

So what are we left with? New Year, a celebration that to me always seems like such a disappointment. There is hype, there is excitement, there are parties prepared and which cost a couple of hundred book sales to attend. Not since the turn of the millennium have I 'partied like it's 1999', and that night ended up with a house full of people, one damaged carpet, a few broken glasses, and a very sore head the next morning.

So left with the prospect of resolutions I steer well clear of the personal type. I will not join a gym in January, I will not start running again because everybody will consider it a resolution, even though my foot is better and I can wear heels again, and I will not resolve not cut down my caffeine intake even just a little bit. But I will make a plan for the year ahead when it comes to books, and reflect about what I have learnt in the last six months.

·The advice you hear at the beginning is good. Take it.

I am not a natural follower of advice. Generally I know best (or at least pretend to) until proven otherwise. Sometimes that’s good, but many times that can be bad. I heard lots of good advice at the start of my publishing journey and decided I could do things differently. I should have listened.  Learn from people who have been there and done that.  It helps.

·Remember your best friend is a designer.

My first cover was published before I had taken any advice. In hindsight I knew it lacked oomph, but what to do? My second cover I still did myself, but after a month of learning how to use GIMP, and trying over twenty ideas, hiring in the professionals is a much better use of my time. In a month I could have 2/3 of a book written. I'm a writer, not a designer.

·Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit.

I read it once, I read it again. I read it a third time and asked my friend to edit it before I read it again. What are you left with? Mistakes, that's what. Learn to be patient, and don't release it until you know as faithfully as you can that you did everything to make it perfect. Why? Because mistakes result in 2 star reviews, even though somebody liked the story. How do I know? Just check my Amazon page. Wasted opportunities are a harsh lesson to learn.

So these are my three lessons that I take into 2013. I will learn other others along the way and will remember the most important one of all. Just keep writing books. It's the best marketing that I can do.