It’s raining. I want to curl up with my laptop and let the stories flow out of my subconscious. The stories that I hold inside me until just a moment like this. I’m a writer, I always have been. I cannot remember a time that I wasn’t crafting some sort of narrative.
It’s almost November, which means it’s yet another National Novel Writing Month. This will be my seventh year. I’ve been asked, more this year than in the past, why I still participate in the month-long-novel-writing challenge. I’m a twice published author, owner of an independent press and the managing editor of a literary journal – what could I possibly gain from a silly, internet-based contest? The answer: tons.
When I was in college I took every creative writing class offered (and I have more extraneous English credits than anyone could possibly ever need to show for it). I came out of college knowing one thing: how to write and read a short story. When I set out to write my first full-length novel, I was shocked at the differences. For anyone who writes in both mediums, it’s a challenge to learn to expand your craft. I was used to short scenes, nihilistic amounts of descriptions and dialogue and to-the-point narrative. I spent months just trying to wrap my head around the structure of a novel. And then, I found NaNoWriMo.
No more bullshit. No more screwing around with outlines and maybes. It was a no-excuses opportunity to write a full first draft (of at least 50,000 words) in one month. So I did. Kind of. I wrote 24,000 words that first year, but I was proud of those words, damn it. I had more of my novel written than I had before. I learned what structurally didn’t work (flipping back and forth between present and past every chapter is really hard to pull off) and what did. I learned how to pace myself to tell a full-figured story, rather than the anorexic short form. I needed it. I needed the practice of just writing.
I did this “just go for it” writing for the first three years I participated in NaNoWriMo (’05, ’06 & ’07). I learned a lot as I played with structure and plotting. I stopped relying on the seat-of-my-pants and realized that the more seriously I took what I was writing, the better it became. I started to appreciate my writing for what it was: art.
In November 2008, I wrote the manuscript that would become Inked. I took what I had learned and applied it all and came out with something I was really proud of – something worth editing and publishing.
So, that’s what NaNoWriMo gave me, but why do I continue to do it? Because every November I allow myself a month, a full solid thirty days, to write. I have written several experimental novels and learned more about my writing style (let’s never attempt another novel from the male perspective, okay?). Some of these have turned into short stories or bits of other narratives. I write all year now. I’ve written eight novels, some of which were NaNo-fueled and some not. I continuously learn more about writing, from doing it. You can read every book on writing and getting published, but none of these are as helpful as the actual act. It’s creation and practice in the purest form.
There’s this notion that only silly writers participate in NaNoWriMo, those who write silly stories with badgers in hats, but it’s not true. I’m a thoughtful writer, I take everything I write seriously. I plot my novels, I plan what I’m going to write and I never include badgers in hats (though I’m tempted to find a way to work this into my next book now). I know that I’m writing a first draft, I know that I’m taking my ideas from my head to the page. By the end of the month, I have a lot more than I did before I started, even if it never sees print. I’m constantly growing as a writer, and participating in this challenge helps me with that growth. It pushes me out of my comfort zone and into things I might not write under normal circumstances. Who cares if some people write during November for fun? Their fun isn’t harming anyone who takes their craft seriously or deliberately. NaNoWriMo is what each individual makes it.
I take it and own it as my time to write more than I do any other time of the year. I take it and make it a time spent with other writers. I take it as a time to hone my craft. I still participate in NaNoWriMo, because it’s mine. It’s a month-long writer’s holiday. It’s a boot-camp. It’s fun. And it’s what I do in November.
I met Nathan Everett via National Novel Writing Month and then again through Longtale Press. It took me a little while to put together the connection, but when I did I realized the potential store of information he held after years of working in the publishing industry. This was one of the most informative and interesting interviews I’ve conducted, and I have to thank Nathan again for taking the time out to participate. I can’t wait to see him, and his business partner Novel Doctor, Blogger, Editor Jason Black, speak at the PNWA Writer’s Conference in July.
[Renda Dodge] Thank you for taking time out to do this interview Nathan, let’s start with a little information about you.How long have you been writing?
[Nathan Everett] I remember writing my first space opera story in fifth grade. I tried to write a fantasy novel the year before, but got bogged down trying to distinguish the spelling between princes and princesses.
[RD] What genre do you usually write in?
[NE] I try to stretch myself with a pretty wide variety. My first endeavors at full length novel (30 years ago) were all what I called occult fantasy. But when I seriously started to develop my craft about ten years ago, I noticed a strong tendency toward both literary and mystery/thriller. Currently I’m working on an intellectual thriller and on a literary piece.
[RD] Where do you get your creative inspiration?
[NE] Somehow, inspiration never seems to be lacking. I always have three or four ideas for stories that I’d like to develop brewing in the back of my head. A lot of times I will write a chapter of a story and then put it aside so that I’ll remember the concept when I’m ready to actually write it. I’ve got a lot of first chapters lying around. Inspiration comes from a lot of sources, but the best ideas seem to just pop into my head when I actually sit down to write. “Hey, what if a guy was sent out to slay a dragon, but didn’t know what it was, where it was, or how to kill it. He finds his way by exchanging stories with everyone he meets and discovering a little more each time.” (Steven George & The Dragon) All of a sudden I’ve got twenty interconnected fairy tales that lead the hero to a surprise when he discovers his dragon.
[RD] Do you have a support system?
[NE] I’m an active member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, which provides monthly and annual inspiration in the way of speakers and conferences. I’m also active in the NaNoWriMo community and have a lot of support and encouragement through that, especially the Microsoft NaNoWriMo group (even though I’m not at Microsoft anymore). Of course my best support are through those who are closest to me, my business partners and my family. Jason and I read most of what each other writes. My wife and daughter are both writers and we exchange and comment on our stories a lot.
[RD] Tell me about Longtale Press, what inspired you to start it and what is its mission?
[NE] My partners at Long Tale Press are Jason Black and Gary Syck. We worked together at Microsoft for about four years. I have to give a lot of the credit for the creation of Long Tale Press to Jason. I got him re-involved in following his writing path with NaNoWriMo in 2005 (the first year we worked together). He immediately pressed me to say that he’d participate if we could do something good with our work—have a charitable cause that we could donate toward. The result was that after a couple of rewrites, he and Nina Tang and I produced an anthology of our NaNoWriMo novels that we called “After Hours,” and then we offered them as incentives to collect $25 donations for the Office of Letters and Light, part of which went to Room to Read. We raised over $5,000 that year. I think the idea of being publishers started to set in at that time.
The mission is simple. To find and publish great stories that are well-told (regardless of commercial potential).
Jason put it best when he looked at all the work being turned out during NaNoWriMo and said that there were a lot of good stories being told that would never be published, simply because of the way the industry is structured. It’s expensive to produce paper books. But we could use eBook technology which was definitely going to be making a big hit soon. So we set about creating a way for people to streamline the publishing process as an alternative to the traditional agent/editor/publisher routine that was still qualified and “traditional” in its publishing process, if perhaps more author/reader centric.
[RD] What is the selection process like?
[NE] It’s really very simple. Any writer can submit up to the first 5,000 words of her finished novel. They upload it to http://longtalepress.com and complete a profile and summary info. Then readers take a look at the work, read it, review it, rate it, and even discuss it. We have an internal computation engine that tracks the ratings for the excerpt and when they pass our threshold we make an offer to the writer to review the complete manuscript. The full manuscript is reviewed by an editorial pool of not less than three nor more than six writer/reader/editors. The highest criteria on our list is to ascertain that the rest of the book maintains the quality of those first 5,000 words. But the writer receives a full written review critique and inline edits from each of the reviewers. There are three options at this point. We say “everything is fine, here’s a contract.” We say, “we’d like to publish this, but it needs a manageable amount of rewriting.” We say, “This just doesn’t live up to the standard set by the first 5,000 words and we can’t publish it.” The most likely is the second option.
[RD] Have you had to reject anyone’s work?
[NE] We have, sadly. It is not just an automatic process. If a manuscript simply starts well and then progressively gets worse to the point that we think or the author thinks it would be too much effort to rewrite, we wish them luck in the future and go our separate ways. Our overall acceptance rate for manuscripts to turn into books is about the same as any large-scale publisher. The people who read are not easily impressed and rate only about one out of fifty highly enough to get to the second stage.
[RD] What feedback do you have for writers currently trying to submit manuscripts?
[NE] First and foremost, finish the book. Like most publishers, we expect that when you submit a manuscript to Long Tale Press, you are submitting what you believe is your best work, complete and polished and ready to publish. So use available resources to make sure the book is publication ready. While paying a professional editor is not a requirement, many people find that kind of service or that quality of review from a writing group that is committed to making the writer’s work the best possible, to be a vital part of the process. You will get helpful comments, even be able to engage in critical discussion of your work with readers, at Long Tale Press. But the readers are primarily concerned with finding publishable work, not developing a writer. Put your best foot forward, and then let all your friends and your “platform” know that the excerpt is up and they should go review it.
[RD] What are common trouble areas that new writers face, and what advice would you give to writers who are struggling with some of the common issues?
[NE] Each of the partners have different expertise, so would answer this question differently. From my perspective, voice is probably the top issue most new writers face. Developing a strong and consistent voice is really critical to involving readers in your story. That’s a subject for an entire college class, so I’m not going deeper into it at the moment. The second area is character development. I see two extremes on this. First, I never know enough about the character to care about him. The second is that the writer tells me everything she knows about the character to the extent that I’m bored with him. These are kind of opposite extremes. I believe the writer should know the character intimately so that every decision and action that the character takes is consistent and believable with who that character is. But as a reader I don’t need to know everything the writer knows. I just need to see that the rendition is honest. Interestingly, plot is less an issue for most writers. They understand the story they want to tell. They get bogged down in the voice and character development.
[RD] What are the newest releases from Longtale, can you tell me a little bit about them and their authors?
[NE] We are currently working on a new release, but until we’ve finalized things we can’t really talk about them. So, last year we published “This Side of Normal,” a young adult literary fiction about a boy who develops type 1 diabetes. Author Eric Devine drew from his own experience as a teenaged diabetic for story. But the story is not about Eric, nor is it about diabetes. It is about a 15-year-old who faces all the challenges of any high school sophomore (“I’m in tenth grade, so it suffices to say I hate school.”) What Ed Devlin has to face, however, is the complication dealing with a dysfunctional family, friends who betray him, and a new disease that makes him an outcast and could kill him.
[RD] What struggles do you see Independent Authors facing in the coming years, and subsequently with the rise of the internet and social technology how do you think they will prosper?
[NE] Garrison Keillor made a well-publicized statement recently that “that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.” I think he’s pretty optimistic. When they discover how hard it is to get a book out (even an eBook), there won’t be nearly that many authors.
But the truth of the matter is that when independent authors take one of the many alternative routes into publication, the biggest challenge they will have is adjusting their dreams accordingly. We came of age believing that we can be a J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown and will never have to “work” again. It just isn’t true. Unfortunately we see the success stories of people who sell their self-published books on the Internet for $2 each and make $100,000 a year. But those stories are just as rare as the Rowlings and Browns.
When I started my first publishing business in 1985 and specialized in trade journals and company “voices”, I quickly adopted computer technology to make it possible to meet monthly deadlines. Suddenly, all my clients began to believe that if they had a Macintosh and PageMaker, they could do all their own publishing. I saw prolific writers among my colleagues who couldn’t finish anything because they became so tied up in the technology, design, layout of their works. We are facing the same thing today. No matter how many reading platforms there are, no matter how easy and inexpensive it is to get 100 copies of your book printed, no matter how much time you spend on Twitter and Facebook—when you decide to become a publisher your job changes from being a writer. As with any self-employment opportunity, you not only get to be the captain of your own destiny, but also the crew, the shipbuilder, the dockhand, and the first one to come upon the wreckage on the beach.
I believe that Long Tale Press is just one of an increasing number of alternatives that will help authors to use alternative methods, but that will provide the badly needed support they need to handle being a publisher as well as a writer.
[RD] How do you face down the stigma often associated with self-publishing/Independent publishing? (IE, “He only self-published because he wasn’t good enough to be picked up by a major house.”)
[NE] I think the so-called stigma of self-publishing is largely disappearing. Part of that is because the glamour of being published by a big house is pretty-well tarnished. That has to do with everything from the tightened belt in the publishing industry to the various rights battles being waged over eBooks (Amazon vs. Apple Agency pricing structure, who owns the rights of books published before the electronic era, Google books take over the world, etc.)
It is also part of a well-recognized movement toward niche publishing, or publishing for a specific limited audience. At Long Tale Press, we are always interested in whether the reviews reflect a real audience for the book. If all the reviews are from people who are friends of the author (and since we read every review, it is pretty obvious to tell) we are less inclined to make a big investment in publishing than if the reviews come from a population segment that is topical or genre-based. Getting published, by whatever means, no longer equates with being “good enough.” Certainly by the time the market was flooded with young wizard books and vampire books people realized that it was less about quality and more about the reader-market.
[RD] What is in the future for you and Longtale?
[NE] We have a couple of fun things we are doing at Long Tale Press. First, we have more books in print as well as eBook and are making a stronger commitment to having at least some print presence for most books. New print books that we had in eBook previously include “For Blood or Money” an “Bread for the Pharaoh.”
Second, we’ve recognized that one of the stigmas facing eBooks is the concept that you don’t own the book, but—like software—you get a license to use it on a particular device. A well-publicized case of Amazon removing books from people’s Kindles after they were purchased opened the eyes of the consuming public. The fact that I can’t use an Apple iBook on my Nook or a Kindle eBook on my Sony Reader points to people believing that their license to view content that they bought only extends to one device. At Long Tale Press, we sell books, not licenses. To emphasize that fact, we have begun releasing all our eBooks on CD-ROM in both PDF and industry-standard ePUB format, with no DRM so people can load the book on whatever device they want to, put the CD on their bookshelf (case is large enough to look like a book, with a spine), and even put it in their garage sale if they want to. It’s all about having molecules instead of just electrons.
Third, we’ve begun looking at books that have been independently published or published by small presses that have shown some sales potential and acquiring the eBook rights for them. We believe that our multi-format eBook publication will become very popular in the future.
[RD] What are you currently reading?
[NE] I’m a multi-book reader, so it takes me quite a while to finish a book at times. Currently I’m reading “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman and “Positive Discipline for Teenagers” by Jane Nelson. I’m also reading a new manuscript that we are considering for publication at Long Tale Press.
[RD] Thanks for your time Nathan, I really appreciate it!
A few months ago I decided that I wanted to take my blog a different direction. Every time I sat down to write about my own experiences and struggles, I began to wonder what other writers feel when it’s time to sit down at the keyboard, when they decided writing was their passion and how they deal with the distractions of the real world. I have several diverse candidates lined up for questioning and plan on releasing a new interview every two weeks. I hope readers find them as interesting as I did when I was conducting them, also if you would like to participate in future interviews, please let contact me at RendaDodge@gmail.com.
The first interview is with the talented and ambitious Casz Brewster. I met Casz at the PNWA’s writer’s conference in 2009, and we’ve been internet friends ever since. She is the founder of SnoValley Writes, a writer’s group in Washington State, and is currently working on several projects, but the most exciting is Martius Catalyst: Where the Unknown becomes Truth, a serial webnovel launching May 4, 2010. Below Casz talks about her writing history, struggles, support and the benefits of working with a collaborator.
[Renda Dodge] Hi Casz, I’d like to start by having you tell us a bit about yourself.
[Casz Brewster] Been writing for as long as I could put subject and verb together and in an attempt to not sound completely cliche’, a day without writing is a day the madness creeps in just a little bit more. So writing keeps me sane. In the interim, I’m a corporate communicator by day as I have three children still living at home with me, and two others that fly back to the nest now and again. My husband is my best supporter, cheerleader and harshest critic — next to myself. And I like it that way. What I mean by that is he’s not afraid to tell me if something I have written misses the mark and encourages me to push myself, my craft and my art. I live in a town known for its Twin Peaks fame, but find myself in the Emerald City quite frequently for work and school. So between Twin Peaks and the Emerald City, I’m always in a fictional space.
[RD] How old were you when first knew you wanted to be a writer, and what sparked your interest in writing?
[CB] I’m a bit of a dork when it comes to social situations. Books let me leave that world. I respected the unknown names who wrote these precious stories and began to create my own in a diary that my parents gave me when I was about 8 years old.
[RD] Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote? Did you share it with anyone?
[CB] I don’t remember the first thing I ever wrote; not sure I even have it. I do remember the first thing I wrote that was shared with other people. I was in the seventh grade. it was a descriptive narrative about a walk home in the rain with a boy I was crushing on at the time. My teacher entered it into a contest. I did well. But I remember the feeling of being worried of being harassed for my words or mocked or …you know, all the stuff writers go through, because we share our art and make ourselves vulnerable. That was so many years ago. The feeling of vulnerability doesn’t go away with each new piece of work shared, but the memory of that walk home from school with a cute boy in the seventh grade stays in my memory like it was yesterday because I wrote that narrative. Like me, he’s married with five children. I’m sure he has no idea about that little ode to him.
[RD] What books/authors have influenced your writing?
[CB] I’m not sure I can point to just one. Growing up I adored reading everything from Judy Blume, Robert B. Parker, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe and anything else I could get my hands on. Once I reached adulthood I discovered hard-core science fiction and fantasy, Ursula K. LeGuin, Phillip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke and William Gibson. I’m also an avid fan of Caitlin R. Kiernan, Elizabeth Bear, Poppy Z. Brite, Christina Faust and Carl Hiassen. So, you see my interests run the entire spectrum.
[RD] What are you reading right now?
[CB] For school, research or enjoyment? For enjoyment I’m reading ‘Boneshaker’ by Cheri M. Priest. I also am reading ‘The Red Tree’ by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I have two Stephen King novels I haven’t even cracked yet. My pleasure reading right now is slowed by things for school and research. I won’t bore you with those titles.
[RD] How would you classify your writing style, what genre do you fit into?
[CB] I’m a speculative fiction writer. That’s easiest. Stories I’ve written oscillate between urban fantasy, science fiction and dark fantasy with both adult and young adult themes. I do have one ‘women’s commercial manuscript’ I may try to sell one day. Many in my writing group loved that particular work, but, it’s not what I want to be known for doing. But, the character was in my head; I had to get her story out.
[RD] Where do you get the inspiration for your writing?
[CB] It’s more like: where don’t I get inspiration? Everything from dreams to standing in the line at the grocery store gives me ideas. Sometimes like in my manuscript ‘Interface’ or ‘Wilderness Rim,’ my family members are the inspiration — or rather I want to write a story for them.
[RD] What are your personal writing goals?
[CB] I would love for Martius Catalyst to be a hit — even with like a cult following. But, my goal is to be published by 45 — whether that’s me self-publishing or going the more traditional route. I used to oppose self publishing, but the world has changed. I’ve seen other authors be successful at it — from Kiernan’s Siriena Digest to the others doing Episodic Web fiction like my new endeavor, Martius Catalyst.
[RD] Tell me a little more about Martius Catalyst and your other current projects.
[CB] Martius Catalyst, is an episodic Web fiction series that I’m doing with co-author, Samantha Tiner. She’s been doing the self-publishing thing longer than I have and it’s been helpful having her as a partner. Sam and I share a passion for writing, fantasy, paranormal and men who make us laugh. Martius Catalyst is about two women in the city of Detroit in the year 1885 who also share passions — for science, inventive tinkering, not doing what they are told, and sticking their nose where people would rather they not. All of which leads to many adventures. Readers who love the steampunk genre should find this to their liking, as well as those who are suckers for the underdog and rebels. The odd thing about Sam and I’s collaboration is we’re depending on modern technology to connect us. We met via the internet in a writer’s forum some three years ago and have developed a friendship over the years, based upon our love of literature and writing. We’ve never met in person. But, it feels like we’ve been friends a very long time. It’s been great collaborating with her. It does help that she’s a Sagittarius, since I’m a Scorpio. Some days I swear we read each other’s minds.
Additionally, I’m trying to find an agent for Wilderness Rim and Interface.
[RD] What is it like to work with a collaborator, and how does it differ from writing on your own?
[CB] I like the fact that working with Sam helps keep the energy level high. When someone else is depending upon you to produce, it can be a real kick in the pants to stay disciplined. We catch each other when we’re being lazy and just seem to build upon each others ideas to make it all the better. I do have to be patient, as she does as well. All writers know that sometimes life gets in the way — a sick kid, a demanding day job, anything — can get in the way on a day when you’re really pumped to churn things out, but your partner is dealing with a bit of an overload or even a crisis. But, I’ve just developed a bit of a Tao attitude for it that, when the time is right to write together again, it will be all the better for the waiting or the worry that was keeping it from being created in the first place. Lastly, schedule. You have to have a plan and a schedule — just like you do when you’re writing by yourself. Allow for flexibility in the schedule and you should be off to a brilliant start.
[RD] How do you balance your family, home, work and writing life? What do you do to make time so that you can achieve your goals?
[CB] I’m really fortunate that I have such a supportive family. Although my husband and father-in-law are engineers, they are also mathematicians, which to me is an art in itself. So they understand the artist’s desires. Good thing, too, as all the women in the house and at least one of my sons are artists. The jury is out on which way the other two sons may lean — more engineer/scientist or artist. Additionally, I surround myself with other writers. In 2007 I created the group, SnoValley Writes! to bring out all the closeted writers from our creative community and work towards bringing the group’s collective and individual writing to new literary heights. I also don’t sleep a lot, which the more I learn about the authors whose work I admire, they seem to do with not a lot of sleep, either voluntarily, or in my case via lots of insomnia. But, I squeeze it in. I have found that I’m more productive when I’m busy and have to literally schedule in writing times. Other times, I’ll get up in the middle of the night or early in the morning and just let the family know that I NEED to write. They leave me be. I’m a much nicer person to live with when I get to create.
[RD] Do you ever feel like giving up, and what do you do to motivate yourself to keep going?
[CB] I feel like throwing in the towel about once every couple of months. I get a rejection letter, I feel stuck with a particular story line, whatever is the trigger, it happens. But as I age, I get back into it as soon as the funk is over — they used to last for long periods of time. Now, we’re talking like hours. I’ll be ticked about something in my writing life in the morning and by afternoon, I’m writing again with new focus. Like I’ve said already, it’s what I want, need, MUST do. If the funk is particularly bad I turn to music, film or books. Those other artistic ventures get my creative juices flowing again. I have some favorites that I’ll listen to, watch or read. They always bring me right back to my writing cave and off to work I go.
[RD] Tell me a little about SnoValley Writes, and what prompted you to start the group?
[CB] My family and I escaped from Detroit to Seattle in June 2006 and landed in this little Twin Peaks town — it was the only place near Seattle, where my new day job was, that could house our family of seven. The first few months here, I kept seeing people scribbling in notebooks in the parks, along the trails, in the coffee houses, etc. For National Novel Writing Month in 2006, I tried hard to create a group of folks in this community (what we call Extreme East Side in the NaNo forums); but I had no biters. I was determined in 2007 not to face that same fate. Writing is a solitary endeavor often, yes, but it doesn’t always have to be. Having support around you only enhances your art. I knew that. Also, I needed a bit of accountability. If I had others who were cheering me on, and who I was cheering on, I would never again let my writing take a back seat in my life. I work best on deadline, so if I know my critique group/partner is waiting for the next chapter/story, I get it done. That’s what years of journalism will do to your work habits. At any rate, since I formed the group in August 2007, it’s created a real positive energy for the Snoqualmie Valley. The group was able to create its own region in 2009 for NaNoWriMo and was very successful. Our members are now actually getting requests for partials, having articles published in national magazines, as well as the local paper. We hope by 2012 to host our own writing conference.
I hope you enjoyed hearing from Casz, and make sure you continue to check up on Martius Catalyst as it begins on May 4, 2010! In two weeks I’ll be posting an interview with Bailey Shoemaker Richards, the editor of the start-up, independent literary journal: Leaves and Flowers.
I was recently interviewed for ThePugetNews.com about writing “Inked” and National Novel Writing Month. The interview can be read here. It was a lot of fun to do and I was able to share some of the secrets to my success with NaNoWriMo.
There’s also a new literary magazine out entitled “Leaves and Flowers”. An all new short story “The Last Day of Summer” I wrote was included in the debut issue. For more information please visit the site here. If you are a writer I suggest checking out “Leaves and Flowers” as the editor will be reaching out for more submissions for the next issue. It’s an excellent opportunity for new writers to get publishing credit to their name.