Dissecting Character Grids (1)- Relationships

Now that I’ve been using the 10 by 10 Character Grids for a while now and found that I liked them as a way to let me get into my characters, I thought I will start a series to explore each element of them in greater details, which is basically creating a tips series for different aspects of a character.

I’m starting with Relationships because I’ve noticed that I tend to get to the full 10 items on this aspect of a character grid relatively quick. But before I get to the tips, let me answer first the question of what would I have achieved by the end of brainstorming 10 aspects on a character’s Relationships?

So how do I come up with Relationships real quick? By essentially coming up with answers to the following questions:

  • What is the immediate family situation like?
    • Both parents still living?
    • How many parents does a character have (I’m writing fantasy, Oriental fantasy especially, so it is possible that I will be writing about polygamistic society)?
    • How many siblings?
    • How many spouses/ex-spouses?
    • How many children?
    • Who amongst these are significants in the life/mind of the character? What are the relationships between them actually like? Is it more in the realm of positive feelings like love and affection or negative feelings like competition and grudges and downright hate? Or a mixture of both?
    • Family values
  • What is the extended birth family situation like?
    • Do any of the relatives play a significant role in the character’s mind/life?
    • If so, what is the exact relationship like?
  • Friendships
    • Does the character have a lot of friends or only a few or none at all?
    • Who are the ‘notables’ in this aspect?
    • Are the friendships reciprocated?
  • Romance/love interest
    • Any? If so, who and how is their current status?
  • What is the character’s overall social standing?
    • What does acquaintances and people who know of the character generally view him/her as? Superior to themselves, on par or below themselves?
    • What is the basis of such a view?
  • General people interaction
    • Attitude towards strangers upon first meeting

Writer’s Awakening- Colin Palmer (2)

Moonlake: So now we return to the interview with Colin Palmer. Hearing about your story with this big company, I definitely felt like they were toying with you. But at least you made a comeback. So how did the comeback come about? Wow, that’s a mouthful there lol.

Colin: Ten years later, in another country surrounded by non-English speakers, I received a minor epiphany, if an epiphany could be considered minor!  I was teaching English and one of my students required specific help in writing computer blogs.  That was almost two years ago and it made me wonder about my own writing.  I had friends, other students of mine in the IT sphere and I asked them about publishers in this country.  Unfortunately, there were very few and none supported foreign languages but two of my students also directed me to a Russian website, Ridero.ru.  The support section of Ridero replied to my email immediately, courteously apologising that they could not assist with English language books but re-directed me to their European website, Ridero.eu which did have an English Department, albeit brand new.

Moonlake: Cool. The ball started rolling from there on, yeah?

Colin: Yep, I studied online publishing, self-publishing and compared many similar sites to Ridero over a period of six months with Ridero becoming the standout because of the enormous amount of free services they provided to the author PLUS an amazing 85% royalty return on sold books.  They also provide free ISBN, non-exclusive contracts and distribute to all the largest online bookshops in Eastern and Western Europe, plus Google Books,  IBooks and ITunes, plus Amazon USA!  Hardcopy and paperback books are available on a print on demand basis direct from Ridero and the author does not need to outlay any money at all.  They do offer professional editing, layout and cover illustration specialists and these you do have to pay to use but their prices are exceedingly cheap compared to western publishers.

Moonlake: Okay, sounds more enticing than Amazon even. How did this venture go?

Colin: Well, everything was looking good, and I went back to writing.  I already had a desktop, my weapon of preferred choice but I also bought a laptop for those times away from home.  I dragged out the portable hard drive and discovered nearly half my stories were written in a Word programme so old even the latest Word had trouble formatting them!  It took days of manually rewriting but it also let me update and edit them even further.  Yes I did try scanning and auto formatting but it made them worse.  I also sought advice from friends in the professional sphere who tried different ideas but all failed to produce good copies.  But I rediscovered the joy of the stories as I rewrote them and it become a pleasure, not a chore.  My oldest novel was the most difficult because of its length more than anything.  I managed to edit off over twenty-five thousand words from that one!

Moonlake: Yep, nothing like time away from it to get a new perspective on things. What happened next?

Colin: Then I began applying my research about self-publishing, create a page or pages on social media, create a website, join like-minded online groups, create a blog, get your name out there, sell yourself, marketing, marketing, marketing!

I sent my first book to Ridero in December 2016, it was available online before Christmas.  I pumped the new book and the site through my Facebook page, through friends, family, I did that for a month and got nothing, zilch, zip.

Moonlake: Hmm… so initial marketing hasn’t been successful, any lessons learnt?

Colin: Lesson learned about family and friends, they will support you verbally, congratulate you if deemed necessary but buy your book, pass on information about your book, and more importantly in self-publishing, provide a review of your book, no, don’t hold your breath.  I sent my second book to Ridero, the one with the heavy editing work completed and did the same with family and friends, doing everything except beg them for shares, reviews, or bless their cotton socks, actual purchases.

Moonlake: So what did you try next, if any?

Colin: I joined Book Review clubs and groups and began making more comment in social media, anything to get my name and product out there.  I was sending out my website and FB author page weekly, sharing a blog post twice a week, and still writing. I finished my third novel and submitted it to Ridero. I kept checking statistics for all the available markets where my books were sold, nothing, no reviews, no sales.  I kept writing.

Some of the groups on social media were turning into a wasted exercise, their questions so blatantly basic and ridiculous that I realised were purely for attention seeking.  I learnt that big groups are not helpful except for socialising and I had no time for that.  I tested each group by placing an appropriate blog answer to one of their basic questions, then monitored the visits to my blog.  It was usually nil, on rare occasions one or two.  Those groups were systematically deleted off my lists.

Moonlake: Yeah, it’s hard to drive traffic from Facebook groups to your site. I usually just use them to network with other writers as opposed to marketing. Then again, I haven’t got any work to market. So what else happened with this first foray into self publishing?

Colin: In mid-May 2017, a friend in Australia sent me a personal message via FB telling me they had searched for my book on Ridero to purchase a hardcopy.  Even with the link I’d provided, he couldn’t find my book or either of the other two NOR receive a return when he put my name into their search engine.  I immediately contacted Ridero and as usual with their correspondence, they immediately replied that they would look into it.  I also tried searching for my book randomly on Google and received only the Amazon US site, so at least they were there!  I tried searching Ridero without entering through my Author Login and found the same thing my friend had – nothing about me or my books.

Moonlake: Oh, that’s a pretty major hit in terms of distribution! How did you resolve it?

Colin: Ridero replied quickly to this situation, very apologetically advising that their search engine had no capacity to find English language books or authors!  They understood the consequences of this and have been frantically working to fix the problem, and nearly every day for the past month I’ve received email updates on their progress.  Finally, just yesterday, 9th of June 2017, they advised that only their Russia based website could deal with the language problem and with my agreement, they would forward my books into the Russian system.  Unfortunately, this means I have to fill out a contract in compliance with Russian Law, an actual real live in the flesh contract which would be mailed to me, online or faxed contracts are considered unlawful.  I will need to do this for the existing books with Ridero and any future books I place with them.  There are currently strict sanctions between this country and Russia and I don’t even know if the mail will come through and if it does, whether my returned contract will be actually returned.

As of yesterday, I am still writing, still editing, and also writing this, my experience as a writer with the traditional publishing world and self-publishing online.  Neither route has been very successful for me but at least I can SEE my books for sale even if nobody is buying them!  Am I giving up again?  No way Jose, the thrill is in the writing, the story coming out in front of my eyes.  My imagination is the author and I am just the tool it uses to get that story out – but damn, isn’t it a amazing to see MY name on a book as the author.  I want more thrills, I want more amazement so for now, I’ll keep plugging at the blogs, and the websites, the groups, and the reviews and hope I start getting some back on my work.

Moonlake: The chase is the reward, as they say. I feel the same way. And I’m always uplifted by other writers’ persistence. Now, looking back, how would you have done things differently or would you have done things differently?

Colin: Oh yes . . . I would have chased the dream beginning when I was at school, where the “bug” began but I had little to no encouragement then except from myself

Moonlake: Well, I guess the interim period wasn’t totally wasted, you put a lot of stuff in that notebook, I think that qualifies as a writer’s journal or idea journal.

Colin: Sadly, I’ve never found that little notebook again though I harbour the hope my daughter still has it with all my manuscripts . . . somewhere . . .

Oh, that’s something I WOULD have changed – technology, I would have saved things better 🙂

Moonlake: Wasn’t finding the notebook the turning point after the big upheaval of your life? Is the notebook lost subsequently after that?

Colin: I found that notebook in the 1990’s. And I should have placed more importance to it because it and the floppy became things of the past – you know, lost their importance

Moonlake: Ah I see, it is subsequent loss. But you turned some of the stuff there into short stories already I thought, those 2 that you got into 1st and 2nd for.

Colin: Yes, they did that, and more – ideas from that era still pop up in my head.

Moonlake: I’m pretty sure that the best are still there and more will always be formed as you live and see and experience things. Anyway, let’s ask the closing question for this interview. Overall, how far do you think you have come since your starting point?

Colin: In the last year, my word count has increased massively, the numbers of short stories I’ve completed has almost tripled but my conversion rate from short story to novella or novel has decreased. I put this down to two main reasons. Firstly, there is, for me, relatively new involvement in writing groups, two of which have become favourites because of the support from fellow members and the writing prompts they deliver up on a regular basis. Their encouragement and sharing is fantastic. Secondly, my main WIP is a devilish thing, rhetorically speaking and the MC is refusing to cooperate and make the story flow. As a pantser, I watch the story develop as I write it and this one is confusing me so badly because the protagonist and the antagonist appear to be changing roles! Who I thought was the MC is turning out to be the antagonist. So I keep diverting to my growing short story collection, finishing more and more of them to rest my head! How far have I come? A long, long way over 50 years with this past year being the most productive as far as quality and quantity. I am a much more accomplished writer now than ever before. As it should be, all writers should remain students of the art right through ’til the end!

Moonlake: Well, I think it’s been a fruitful year for you in an overall sense. And everyone lives to learn, especially writers. Well, thank you to Colin and our dedicated readers today. Till next time!

Writer’s Awakening- Colin Palmer (1)

Moonlake: Hi, I’m Moonlake Ku and welcome to the Writer’s Awakenings interviews. Today, we have author Colin Palmer with us. Firstly, tell us about yourself and your journey into writing, Colin.

Colin: My name is Colin Palmer and I am a writer!

I’ve been writing fiction for almost all my life, that’s over fifty years. When I was about eight years old, I wrote a short essay at school, like we all have to do when we are school children.  THAT essay, a story, I think the quintessential “What I Did on My Summer Holiday” type of deal, became the catalyst of a writing life.  It wasn’t writing the story but the response from the teacher and some of the students when I read it aloud.  I even remember hearing gasps because my story was a fiction take of my holiday which had actually been quite boring.  I made it exciting with ghosts and goblins and I remember the scary suspense as the words materialised in front of my very eyes.  Some few years later on but still at school, it was the act of creating that became the thrill, not the response from the reader (except me).  To this time, I chase that thrill nearly every single day.

Moonlake: I totally get you- I’m a chaser of the process as opposed to the result too. So when is it that you first decided to pursue writing in a serious way and what are the circumstances?

Colin: When my life changed in a big way. My job, my personal life, everything seemed to go down the toilet all at the same time when in reality it happened over a period of about six years. In that dark place I had to find something positive, something to hold onto and keep me going . . . I found that notebook that I’ve been making little notes of interesting things that I observed in my work that involved a lot of both domestic and international travel, and with that notebook was a floppy disc.  The floppy disc had eventuated because it was “new” technology of the time and whilst at work one day, I had transferred all my jottings, short stories and novel synopsis onto it.  I bought a desktop computer and began – writing, reading, discovering the internet (so painfully slow in those days). That turned my life around.

Moonlake: Sounds good. What happened next after this turning point?

Colin: I managed to finish the first novel even with the distractions of the internet at my fingertips plus I re-edited many of my short stories.  I submitted two short stories into competitions run by separate magazines and managed to win one and receive an honorary mention in the second (accompanied by a personal note informing me that I was the judges favourite but they couldn’t give me first prize because it included printing the winning story in the magazine, however my story, good as it was, was simply too “dark” and unsuitable for publication in their family magazine!)  About the same time, having researched the necessary on the trusty internet, I finally scored an Agent after so many refusals that I’d lost count.  Those days, the 1990’s, all the major publishers only accepted submissions referred from an Agent, no direct submissions were taken from unpublished authors.

Moonlake: That’s exciting! Was it smooth sailing ever afterwards with the agent?

Colin: No. My Agent offered many excuses over the coming months about why she wasn’t submitting my manuscripts to publishers but mostly they were to do with the quality of editing.  So I did a Creative Writing Course as she recommended.  What a waste of a week, complete and utter frustration from an instructor older than God and with ideas from the same vintage.  His catchphrase was  “write what you know” and when I asked how it was possible for the science fiction genre to exist if authors only wrote what they knew, he would laugh and say it wasn’t real writing.  He also required all students to write in a particular way, his way and his way only – anything else was deemed unacceptable.  I failed the course because I refused to toe the line but I did learn some valuable lessons.  I took on board things about sentence structure, plotting, and the most needed editing and I began applying them to my existing stories.

Moonlake: Hmm… I guess there’s still some positive out of that negative experience but yeah, I’m not a fan of sticking to some hard and fast rules in writing. So things weren’t going well for you with an agent, did another turning point come later though and what was it?

Colin: Well, on the internet, I had taken to amending funny emails before sending them on to friends and family.  My quirky and rather sarcastic sense of humour meant some of my amendments should have been subject to censorship (bad words or inflections, not nudity or the like) and besides, I was careful about who I forwarded those emails on to.  But one day, I got an email back from a very well know International Publishing Company enquiring the identity of the person who had sent the attached email, one of mine of course.  I mulled it over for a full day, thinking I was in trouble with copyright or censorship laws before finally responding and admitting it was mine.  As I said earlier, I got discovered!

As it turned out, the Company was looking for a spam writer, still a relatively new employment category then.  The person I was corresponding with asked if I would relocate to Sydney where they would offer me a full time position on a two year basis, that two years to include a six month probationary period.  I refused and told them I was a writer, the emails just for fun.  She asked for some examples of my writing and I asked for some credentials, even then the internet was full of anonymous crooks.  Her credentials were awe inspiring, the Managing Director of Sales and Marketing of the largest international publisher based in Australia so of course I sent off some of my short stories and synopsis for three novels.  She said to give them a week to look at my work.

Two days later she sent another email asking for my phone number, which I gave.  She rang immediately and asked for a personal meeting; she would come to me or they would fly me to Sydney.  I was excited but when I enquired about my writing, she dismissed it and said it was too early to say yet.  I asked why the personal meeting then, she told me she was just being proactive and positive.  I was still very excited of course and accepted but told her she would have to come to me because I couldn’t leave work on such short notice.  She agreed and five days later we met in the luxury surrounds of the Sheraton Mirage Resort on the Gold Coast.  She had all my manuscripts and synopsis and worked through them all one by one with the advice of their substantial editing department plainly evident on every page.  I learnt more about editing in that one day than I had in the previous forty years.

Moonlake: Wow, on a roll here! What happened next?

Colin: I eventually did go to Sydney and was introduced to several influential editors who were incredibly friendly and open but more importantly, familiar with my work.  We discussed this for two days then I was told to get an Agent.  I informed them I had an Agent and after identifying the person, was told they were ineffectual and to get another Agent.  After telling them it had taken nearly four years to find that particular Agent, they said leave it to them and they would appoint an Agent on my behalf.  Go home and wait I was told but you should be very happy with our future proposal, around a month to wait while they processed my now complete manuscripts.

Moonlake: Warning lights are coming up in my brain but please continue.

Colin: One thing I had divulged to them was that time permitting, I used to write about three thousand words per day and over a period of a month, I was around fifty thousand words and sometimes more.  They considered this prolific and ask me to prove it to them by finishing my current work in progress (WIP) whilst submitting daily updates about word count and weekly submissions of my actual work.  I finished the novel in about ten days and was greeted with congratulations and the identity of my new “Agent”, a person who I never met or even corresponded with.  I was further advised that my writing speed would mean a possible enhanced proposal but the proposal was actually delayed again due to absences of key personnel from the office.

After around two months, they finally advised me that unfortunately, they had another “new kid on the block” and that I would not be offered a contract at this time however, I should contact my Agent as they believed there was another publishing offer available.  Of course I contacted my “Agent”, to be told she had no knowledge of me or my work.  I appraised her of the situation and she said she would investigate and get back to me, which to her credit, she did do.  She got copies of my work from the publisher and information about the other offer, which was a small firm located in New Zealand with no international affiliations.  The Agent also told me she was not in a position to represent me as my genre was not in keeping with her normal practice.

I was devastated.  I was right back to where I’d been four months earlier, no Agent and no idea where to go.  I did another writing course which proved marginally better than the first and kept on applying for Agents.   I was writing, reading and applying new editing skills to my work.  But the devastation kept coming back to bite me and in turn, my writing suffered so much that I actually stopped.  I saved everything and put it away for another decade.  I gave up….

Moonlake: Okay, readers, we won’t challenge your short attention span anymore than the previous interviews so this one will be parcelled into two. And no, I’m not doing the devilish thing which is to let you all wait another week for the second part.

No-show Alpha/Beta Readers: What do you do?

I do nothing (besides trying to contact them to find out why and show understanding if that’s due to their life circumstances and basically letting it go). Seriously, then why blog about this, you say? Well, while I basically just accept it as an occurrence that I have to be prepared for as a writer, this doesn’t mean that I cannot develop workarounds to this problem.

So what’re my workarounds? Well, firstly, I’m going to ‘over-call’ for alpha/beta readers. Some people set a definite number for how many alpha/betas they want. I don’t except for making it an odd number so that if they don’t disagree in their feedback on the same point on my work, I can always go for the majority. So my ‘over-calling’ is just to put up a request on as many places as I can get my hands on: within my own social circle, on multiple Facebook groups basically as things stand now.

The next part of the workaround is at a more microscopic level, based on a personal observation: those who came on board explicitly for a swap arrangement is less likely to be a no-show alpha/beta. So the take-away is, be prepared to invest in reading others’ work if you want reliable, dedicated feedback on yours.

Is my workarounds a cure for all? No, it isn’t, and I don’t believe in such things existing because everyone is different, unique. I’ve heard of writers going through what a daunting task it is to alpha/beta read with each alpha/beta before they formalise an agreement and that’s a feasible alternative approach to mine. And actually, it’s in relation to this other alternative approach that partially inspires this particular post.

I won’t bore you with details on the actual incident but let’s just say that I think this alternative approach can lead to a misunderstanding that a writer has no trust in his/her alpha/betas before the alpha/beta even has an opportunity to display their reliability through deeds (as I experienced myself when I signed up to be a beta-reader, I end up as a beta-reader for this author eventually but at one point, I seriously felt we had gone off on the wrong footing with each other and I called off my expression of interest) and I never see a value in a relationship or correspondence of any kind where the starting point is already one of apprehension and mistrust. This is just my personal opinion, of course, and heavily influenced by personal experiences. I believe in “to each his/her own.” And if you would like to comment on this particular aspect of dealing with a no-show alpha/beta reader, I’m all ears.

2 Lessons I learnt from “Fast Food” Reading

So before I go into the 2 lessons, let me first provide the context for this post: the ‘fast food’ reading in the title referred to the serial fictions written in my mother tongue of Chinese that I had been reading on the Internet in my period of ‘unemployment’ after I broke away from PhD. I still read them now. Why do I call them ‘fast food’ reading? Because most of them are written poorly, there’s a lot of trend following and in general I would say they are exactly what a biased stereotypical view of self published work is. Why do I still read them then? Well, for pure entertainment value, light reading and plus I get to pick up and drop a story at whim, allowing me to venture into a broader set of genres than I normally do with physical novels. And also, I guess, the serial nature of them works on me just like TV dramas work on me.

Anyway, back to the meat of this post. Here’s what I learnt from reading this type of fiction:

  1. Character driven fiction- a lot of the novels I had been reading have no prose, full of internet speak and felt like someone had written an outline and then filled out the details via a factory production line. But I was sucked in by the MC and actually kept coming back to read these serial novels.
  2. Emotion as a driver for fiction – despite the roughness of some of the novels sometimes I was touched to the verge of coming to tears. And that’s a big thing for me- I’m normally mild-tempered, cool-headed, rational and driven by logic.

Writer’s Achievement Diary- What I learnt from this Exercise

So I’ve stopped updating the diary but I will just say that I reached all of my set monthly goals for the novel that I was outlining and now it finally had a tentative name- The Convergence of Paths belonging to a series called the Seekers’ Chronicles. Basically, round 1 outline for book 1 is now done and I’m getting some fresh eyes on it so that I can use such inputs to work towards round 2. Anyway, I thought I will also give a summary on what I learnt from this exercise just to wrap up this series:

  • This exercise really helped me to stay accountable on a day-to-day basis
  • I can also keep track of my progress over a long period of time as those who saw my prior posts from this series would know since I also compare each week’s progress with the week prior. For comparison over longer terms, I will have to keep flipping pages of course but at least the raw data will be there.
  • It’s also good for my morale since I learnt to recognise every minor things as an achievement. This is important since I have a tendency to not properly recognise my own efforts sometimes and generally give myself less credit than others might give me 

Overall, I’m fairly happy with this exercise and I think I will incorporate it into my arsenal of writer self-discipline/accountability tools.

P.S. If you are interested in author interviews, they will come back soon but lately I have less opportunity to do them because it’s close to the end of the year and I’m busier at work.

The Short Story and Me (2)

As a change, this week we are skipping author interviews. It will come back next week though.

Thought I will do a re-run on this since my stance on it has changed yet again now that I have broken off my association with the epub completely.

Previously, I’ve talked about myself as a writer and the pros and cons of short story writing as I experience it. In this post, I’m just going to cut to the chase and say that I’ve now definitely decided that for now, short story won’t be my focus unless I am doing a collaborative piece with another writer. Not only am I less experienced with the short story form but through personal experience, I’ve found that I really enjoy planning and writing a short story far less than I do of a novel.

I have a sprawling mind as I think Robin Hobb puts it, my natural tendency is to think up multi-plot stories held up by a substantial side cast. As such, I feel that it’s just a hassle to limit myself to the short story form which I feel, given my current expertise, is better for single-plot stories.

However, here comes the twist to the short story and me. Through chance, I’ve met another author on Facebook who has chatted me up to do a collaborative piece with him which is a short story/novella. We are going to finalise the story concept this month and then start writing this collab piece.

Writer’s Awakening- Mandy Melanson

Moonlake: Hi, I’m Moonlake Ku and welcome to the Writer’s Awakenings interviews. Today, we have Mandy Melanson with us. Firstly, tell us about yourself and your journey into writing, Mandy.

Mandy: First off, I’m a single mom to 3 amazing kids. I think I’ve always been a writer. I can remember making up stories in my head even as a small child. I was seven-years-old when I put my first story on paper, though. It was fully illustrated in crayon on construction paper that was tied together with rainbow colored yarn. It was horrible, but it was the start.

Moonlake: Despite you claiming that it was horrible, I can see that you have a fond memory for this first story of yours *wink*. I guess like many writers I interviewed before, real life probably came in between you and writing since this point. So when is it that you first decided to pursue writing in a serious way and what are the circumstances?

Mandy: I’m pursuing my state teaching certification in Language Arts and it was in one of my classes that my instructor discussed my writing with me privately and said that I had a story to share with the world and she believed this was my calling.

Moonlake: Did you manage to capitalise on some of your writing in this class later on, you know, turn into short stories or novels?

Mandy: Yes, in a way. During that class I wrote pieces that eventually morphed into backstory for some of the characters in my novels. So it isn’t directly in the story but it’s definitely related to it.

Moonlake: That’s still a good use for them, after all the actual story is only 10% what we writers have to work out in our head about the various elements underlying the story. So what happened after you got this encouragement from the instructor?

Mandy: After finishing her class I decided to seek out writing groups. I joined Elements of Genre Writing and found some of my dearest friends in this business through that group. I later started Rhetoric Askew with some of those friends. I’ve been encouraged by them and I hope that the sentiment is returned.

Moonlake: Ah, finding like-minded peers is very important as I learnt first hand. So how do you think founding Rhetoric Askew, an anthology series, has helped you as a writer?

Mandy: It has helped tremendously because I’ve learned how to look at a piece from an editor and publisher perspective. Being able to look at my work objectively has helped me edit and polish my stories instead of being over protective of them, I’ve learned how to improve them.

Moonlake: Cool, you can never use less objectivity when it comes to editing. Looking back, how would you have done things differently or would you have done things differently?

Mandy: At this point, I think the only thing I would do different is start pursuing writing as a career sooner.

Moonlake: I hear this said a lot in prior interviews and on some days I felt like this too. *smile* So overall, how far do you think you have progressed from your initial point?

Mandy: I think writing is a constant learning process. Of course, I’ve learned and grown since beginning with construction paper and crayon but you never reach a point in writing that you feel like you have your feet solid on the ground. That’s the beauty of the process. It’s fluid and constantly changing. I find that even with my current project which will be my debut novel, A Mother’s Instinct, that I’m learning things about writing and the business as I go. I hope I always continue to learn and never reach a point that I think I have no where else to go, that would just be depressing.

Moonlake: Well said, I agree completely. Now, do you want to tease us a little on your debut novel or is it too early yet?

Mandy: Oh, my debut novel is something I’m very excited about. It’s called A Mother’s Instinct. I can’t give too much away, but I can tell you that it’s a fine line between murder and justice. My character, Detective Ryan Woodward, learns that the hard way when a vigilante comes to town.

Moonlake: Okay, what about social media? Do you want us to start following you now? If so, please share the details with us.

Mandy: Not for myself personally but please join us at Rhetoric Askew on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/551246565025153/

And http://www.rhetoricaskew.com

Writer’s Awakening- Murray Taylor

Moonlake: Hi, I’m Moonlake Ku and welcome to the Writer’s Awakenings interviews. Today, we have author Murray Taylor with us. Firstly, tell us about yourself and your journey into writing, Murray.

Murray: Well I’m a student studying education and English from a rural-suburban background. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, from silly stories as a kid to screenplays or video game role-plays in high-school. I guess what made me take up more serious writing was a difficult change in my life that I needed a distraction from. What started as a revision of an old novel idea has turned into a serious project.

Moonlake: Well, you pre-empted the questions that leads us into the next part of the interview, which is about when you first took up writing as a serious pursuit and the circumstances associated with it. So what’s this old novel idea about and what about it drew you so much that you took it up again?

Murray: I have always loved world building and the fantasy genre and the novel idea started simply as an idea for a city. More specifically, a city in Minecraft. It was divided into three by a sibling rivalry. That idea turned into stories of life in this city, the three siblings grew personalities, adopted philosophies etc. When I stopped playing Minecraft, these characters stuck with me. I started outlining a novel and wrote inconsistently for years on it.

Moonlake: Ah, world building games like Minecraft are a great inspiration. So what happened next?

Murray: I had my life planned out for the next four-five years and things were smooth when a lot of ruptures around relationships, family, friends and mental health threw me off. I grew nostalgic, looking to the past for comfort. Even after so many years, I still envisioned these characters talking to each other, pursuing their goals, overcoming adversity so while I struggled to rebuild my life, I started rebuilding theirs. I joined writing groups to learn to become a better writer and friends who read the first few chapters thought I was on to something good, so I kept at it.

My goal is to publish, whether it is successful or not. I want to know I accomplished my four year dream.

Moonlake: That sounds very positive and publishing is a dream worth pursuing. Now how far along are you now in terms of this novel?

Murray: So as it stands I am aiming for between 60-80 chapters and am sitting on 21. Though, I’m considering releasing the story in three parts as ebooks and then combining them for a final edition for both ebooks and print. Each block of around 20 chapters are self-contained and can be considered a story on their own, and sit at around 90k words so I believe this method will allow readers to sink into the world early, give me a better understanding of the industry before printing a novel and be a low-cost low-risk investment to an unknown author.

Though truth be told, I have not worked on the story for a couple of weeks nor plan to until late August. I have started writing short stories for submission, the first called ‘Admissions of an Addict’ which I’m entering in a local writing competition and one called ‘Cruel Odds’ for an anthology series. As it stands the first has been sent to an editor and the second is preparing for its first beta-reading phase.

Moonlake: Well, it’s okay to do what I call some side projects while keeping the long-term goal in mind. So looking back, would you have done things differently along your writer’s journey and if so, what?

Murray: I think the two major things I would have changed are consistency and scale of project.

When I say I have worked on it for four years, out of those four years I perhaps only put between 6-12 months worth of work into it. Although I don’t believe in the literal interpretation of ‘write X words a day’ I feel developing a habit rather than burning myself out in bursts would have kept me writing.

The second was the scale of the project. At the time I was a nineteen year old with little writing experience wanting to self-publish a best-selling novel. It was also more than writing, it was designing maps, forms of government, covers etc. I wish I just focused on learning how to write good stories rather than how to be a one-man creative machine.

Moonlake: Well, as it happens, I do subscribe to this “write X words a day” mantra, it’s about consistency of effort and self-discipline for me. But I also give myself leeways, like if I don’t meet the set daily goal, then I would put down the reason why in the notes column on the document where I track my daily progress. As for scale of the project, I think you gotta follow your heart. For me, my one true love will always be LOTR and my mind naturally conceives of stories that take on a series form. I think I will just roll with that. But I get what you mean, it’s perhaps a bit ambitious for a 19 year old. But well, I’m thinking that you learnt a lot from such experiences of poring over the meta aspects of a world.

Murray: I agree with what the ‘X words’ intention is, but I don’t take it literally. Like if I spent a day editing a 2500 word story I may have only physically typed 200ish words but I have put conscious effort into the work. If I spend a day pulling all the dialogue and role-playing a scene with a friend to see if the dialogue is convincing and interesting, I’d consider that conscious effort into the story without typing a word

Moonlake: Yeah, that’s what I mean with this notes column, it’s a means of to track down why you haven’t met your daily wordcount goals so it’s not just a numbers game, the goals. You set a wordcount goal to motivate yourself but you also recognise that progress on a story isn’t just about the word count. But think we detracted a bit off the theme for this interview. Overall, how far do you think you have progressed from your initial point, as a writer?

Murray: When I started I had a rough 10 chapter novel which I constantly kept editing without further progress being made. It has been a few months since I have taken writing seriously and that story is now 21 chapters long, a lot tighter, and I have 2 short stories nearing completion. I feel the progress I have made is promising and everything is happening so fast. Though it is more than just the physical work, I have made many great productive friendships through writing and I feel really connected to the evolving community. I feel I have grown more as a writer in these months than I have for years and I find my work constantly improving. I constantly reread my old work and think ‘Ugh that sentence is terrible, what was I thinking?’ and although it can be disheartening, it shows that I am learning more and more what good writing is. That progress is hard to measure.

Moonlake: I agree on the hard to measure bit but you’ve made an adept summary. Well, all the best to the your current works. Now, if we want to follow you, how can we do that?

Murray: My website mmataylor.com has links to my social media accounts and blog. I am most active on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

Moonlake: Okay, thank you. That concludes our interview for today and I thank you for your time.

Murray: *thumb up*

Writer’s Achievement Diary- 23 July 2017

Mon 17/07/2017

  1. Revised 2 major plotlines reported as problematic by pre-alphas (equivalent to 2 achievements)
  2. Determined the overall shape of revision required up to chap 30

Tue 18/07/2017

  1. Resolved 1 loose plot-point in iteration 1
  2. Worked through to the end of book 1 and tagged down chapters for expansion/revision after collapsing of scenes

Wed 19/07/2017

  1. Scene 1, chap 14 (partially written)

Thu 20/07/2017

  1. Fleshed out scene 1, chap 14 fully
  2. Chap 14 done

Fri 21/07/2017

  1. Rounded out a plot point on male MC’s plot arc on motivation/goal
  2. Worked out very rough gist of scene 1, chap 20

Sat 22/07/2017

  1. Scene 2, chap 37 done
  2. Scene 1, chap 20
  3. Scene 2, chap 20 revised based on scene 1 event sequence

Sun 23/07/2017

  1. Scene 1, chap 39
  2. Rough gist of scene 2, chap 39 done
  3. 13 grids filled for Ma Fei

Week Goal: 1 achievement on average on weekdays and 2 on weekends. Finish 2nd iteration of outline.

Week Tally: 1.8 achievement on average on weekdays and 3 on weekends

Sum story progress: Finished 2nd iteration on book 1 outline as set in goal

Against last week:  Done a bit more on weekends but otherwise on par