Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sharpen the Saw

It's time for the last post in the 7 Habits of Highly Successful Writers series. The 7th habit is Sharpen the Saw.

We can never become complacent as writers. We should always work to improve our skills. As we do so, we experience what Covey calls the "upward spiral" of progression.

Self-improvement doesn't happen by accident. We must make conscious choices about what we want to improve and how we're going to go about it. There are many resources out there for writers who want to improve their craft--we have lots of them here at Operation Awesome, for one--it's just a matter of finding something that works for you and having the tenacity to stick with it.

Good luck to you!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

2018 Resolutions #2: Read More (and Differently!)

I love New Year's resolutions. They're a great excuse to evaluate the past year, decide where I want to be at the end of this year, and figure out a game plan to get there!

I have four writing-related resolutions this year, and I'll share one every week in January. This week, I resolve to READ MORE (AND DIFFERENTLY).

I read a lot. Always have. This resolution isn't so much about reading a greater quantity of books (I'm pretty happy with how my GoodReads challenge turned out in 2017), but about reading different kinds of books. I write contemporary, so I mainly read contemporary (both adult and YA). This year, I resolve to read more sci-fi, fantasy, romance, and other genres I'm not as familiar with. I don't want to continue saying that I don't know key (or classic) books in those genres, or that I don't understand what makes a good book in different genres from the one I write in.

In 2017, I tried to alternate YA and adult books, and made an effort to read more books authored by people of color. I want to continue both of those methods in 2018, and also include more books in genres I'm not as familiar with.

What books should I read in 2018? What books are you planning to read in 2018?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What Books are You Afraid to Read?

There's this book I want to read, but I'm afraid to. Not because it's a scary book (I don't want to read scary books, I'm a big ole chicken). It's because this book deals with a topic I'm very knowledgeable about, and I'm afraid to read it in case the author didn't get it right.

This book sounds awesome. It's gotten a lot of buzz, people speak highly about it on Twitter, and from what I know of the author's social media, she seems like a really cool person. So I would love to read this book. But if the book doesn't get this one aspect correct, or worse, doesn't even include it, then it'll be ruined for me and I'll be disappointed.

I don't know what it will take for me to get over my fear and read the book. If I go to the library tomorrow and it's on display, that will be my sign from the book gods that I can read it. I will definitely take that as a sign (hint hint, book gods).

What books are you afraid to read? Why? What helps you give a book a chance? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2018 Resolutions #1: Focus on Craft

I love New Year's resolutions. They're a great excuse to evaluate the past year, decide where I want to be at the end of this year, and figure out a game plan to get there!

I have four writing-related resolutions this year, and I'll share one every week in January. This week, I resolve to WORK ON CRAFT.

I'm not talking about grammar or punctuation. I'm talking about narrative structure, plotting, and characterization... big picture things. I want to find four great craft books and read/work through one every quarter of 2018. I love Donald Maass' THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, and I'm going to start with re-reading and working through the exercises in that one. Then, I'm hoping to find a book about world-building (I write mostly contemporary, but world-building can be just as important in real-life settings as fantasy settings). After that, the sky's the limit - I'll see where 2018 takes me!

Are you resolving to work on craft this year? Do you have any recommendations for books on craft?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Meet Kari Maaren in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Weave a Circle Round


1- I love that your book cover has an upside down house, making it extra eye-catching. Can you tell us about how that incredible cover and how it relates to your book?

The cover was a surprise to me. I heard nothing from the publisher about what it would look like, and then one day, it suddenly appeared online. I believe the original concept for Jamie Stafford-Hill’s design was thought up back when the book still had its old title, THE HOUSE ON GROSVENOR STREET. In the book, the house on Grosvenor Street is technically a relatively ordinary house (with a few unusual features) until a couple of mysterious people move into it, whereupon it begins to change in unexpected ways.

As soon as I saw the cover, I went, “Yeah…that’s it exactly.” The house on Grosvenor Street isn’t literally upside down, but the upside-down house on the cover represents the shift in perspective inherent in the house and its inhabitants. Everything becomes strange and new and exciting when you look at it upside down. Possibilities open up. Rules seem less like rules. The familiar becomes alien. It’s also worth noting that on the cover, some of the stars are IN FRONT OF the house. So we have something ordinary seen from an unusual perspective…and then, subtly, made impossible. That’s WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND in a nutshell.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Weird, grumpy, volatile, imaginative, terrifying.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

When I was little, I was an early talker but a late walker. Apparently, I used to crawl around the house with a book tucked under my arm, talking in complete sentences. I haven’t really put the books down since. So I guess I would have to go with…books. Just books. All the books everywhere.

4- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Short term, I would like to finish the new novel I’ve been working on. The first draft is technically done, but the climax is deeply problematic, and I really need to figure out how to fix it. However, I can’t because I have to mark all the essays in the world. There are essays everywhere, and they all go hundreds of words over the limit, and they sit in their piles, staring at me.

Long term, I would like to keep writing novels. Right now, I have a job that consumes a lot of my time, and it would be great if I could eventually cut back on that so I could have time to write. I tend to put aside a couple of months in the summer to work on my writing, and it’s not enough.

5- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?

What…I get only one? I can’t pick only one. The other books will get jealous.

I always have a hard time with this question, so I’ll choose a book at random from my huge pile of favourites:

Terry Pratchett’s NIGHT WATCH is a book to which I return again and again. In fact, my paperback copy has been read so many times that it is on the verge of falling apart, and I’ve just acquired a hardcover that will doubtless eventually suffer the same fate. As far as I’m concerned, NIGHT WATCH is the pinnacle of Pratchett’s achievement. It takes one of his best characters, Sam Vimes, who has been growing more powerful (against his own will) in every book, and effectively flings him back into the gutter from whence he came. Pratchett combines elements ranging from time travel to the hunt for a serial killer with a LES MISERABLES parody and somehow produces a funny, heart-wrenching reflection on time, destiny, second chances, and choice. Plus the history monks are in there, and those guys are always fun.

6- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

I’m pretty sure my biggest fan is my dad, who hasn’t read the book. He’s just my biggest fan because he’s my dad. Last spring, he went to rural Norway and tried to convince all our distant Norwegian cousins to buy the book when it came out.

7- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I hope readers will recognize some of what Freddy’s going through in the novel. WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND is a fantasy with a lot of impossible things in it, but it’s also about growing up and how uncomfortable, confusing, and infuriating a process that is. I know not everyone identifies with Freddy, but those who do so tend to identify with her hard, and I think that’s at least partly because while she’s definitely got the typical teenager-who-feels-lost-and-alone-and-without-a-place-in-the-world thing going on, she approaches it in a very particular way. Freddy wants to disappear into the background. For the first several chapters, whenever she witnesses anything that seems impossible, she immediately decides it hasn’t really happened. She doesn’t get a “Harry, you’re a wizard” moment, and she doesn’t want one. It’s not even refusal of the call, really. Freddy doesn’t have a call. She’s fine with not being special; in fact, she prefers it. I think a lot of people can identify with that. Being the Chosen One is a grand daydream, but the Chosen One is generally miserable and bullied by fate. Sometimes growing up is about wanting not to be forced into your place in the world.

Some of the scenes I hope will resonate with readers constitute huge spoilers, so I’ll just go with the first day of school, which happens in an early chapter. There are no fantasy elements in this chapter. It’s all embarrassment and awkwardness and Freddy’s growing feeling that she’s negotiating a dangerous situation badly. Surviving school is, in a way, harder for Freddy than surviving an impossible adventure through time and space.

8- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Probably the decades of quietly writing alone and NOT sending my work out to publishers. I was able to fail repeatedly all by myself and, in the process, figure out WHY I was failing.

9- Are you someone who likes to be noticed, or who wants desperately to not be noticed-- like Freddy?

If you took all the introverts in the world and lined them up in a little row in order of the intensity of their introversion, I would be near the head of the line, though I wouldn’t want to be because being near the head of a line of introverts would be extraordinarily stressful. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to be noticed, but it does mean that even while I sometimes yearn for recognition, I squirm in embarrassment when I get it, then have to spend a day at home alone, recovering.

I wasn’t quite like Freddy in high school. By the time I hit grade 8, which was Junior High for me, I was already a pariah, and my pariah status got worse and worse until about grade 11, when I found a few other misfits to hang out with. I understand how Freddy feels—I can’t even count the number of times during my teen years I would have loved to be able to fade into the background—but I was never willing to compromise who I was, which is where Freddy and I part ways.

10- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

Hmm. Probably Cuerva Lachance’s head tilt. She has this twitchy little bird-like head tilt that can mean everything from “I’m not sure what you meant just there” to “You’re in actual physical danger right now.” When she does the head tilt and smiles at the same time, run. Don’t look back. Just run very quickly in the most convenient direction.

11- #DiversityBingo2017 Which squares does your book cover on the card?

WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND partly lands on the “non-Western setting” square; bits of the book do take place in non-Western locations, though the majority of it happens in Canada. My main character doesn’t explicitly fit any of the squares. Her race is left ambiguous, though she and her sister Mel are at least partly white. Their father is Quebecois. Freddy’s sexuality doesn’t really come up in the book. She worries briefly at one point about not being interested in boys, and she shows no interest in girls either. The other characters are pretty diverse. Freddy’s stepbrother Roland is Deaf, and he and his father are of Japanese ancestry (Roland may be mixed race; we never meet his mother). Freddy has classmates and teachers of many different races, and Roland has two Deaf friends. One of them, Marcus, is mixed race. Cuerva Lachance and Josiah are…well…I can’t really say anything about Cuerva Lachance without introducing many spoilers, but Josiah is definitely a POC. Once the spoilerific weirdness starts, Freddy meets a lot more people of many races and cultures. I could definitely pay more attention to sexual orientation, though I think the fact I don’t is an offshoot of my reluctance to write any love plots at all.

12- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Oh my goodness. This book could be subtitled: “All the Characters Have Personality Contradictions.” Roland is defined at least partially by the fact that he is simultaneously messy and neat. Freddy is sensible but misses the forest for the trees. Mel is super smart but overly trusting. Josiah is a stickler for rules but eminently disruptive. Cuerva Lachance is a walking, talking contradiction in terms who cannot be defined by any one personality contradiction. She’s ALL personality contradictions. She probably eats personality contradictions for breakfast. For that reason, she would have to be my favourite, but I can’t pick just one personality contradiction for her because that would be thinking way too small.

13- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

I would like to make all the books free while simultaneously allowing their authors to make enough money to quit their day jobs. This would probably have to involve magic, a time machine, or both.

14- Would you share one of your comics with us?

Here’s a comic from 2012 that is about the frustration of writing and that kind of includes my book cover, except not as it is now. Back in 2012, when I was still shopping the novel out to agents and publishers, I slyly worked it into the title panel of a WEST OF BATHURST Sunday-style comic. People who have read WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND may recognize the scene on the cover of the novel featured in the panel.

Meet Kari Maaren in this Debut Author Spotlight


15- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

It depends. Sometimes I read something about the book that intrigues me; sometimes a friend of mine recommends it. Sometimes I’m just walking through a bookstore, and I see a cover or a title that seems promising. If the story’s premise and the first page continue to draw me in, I’ll probably keep reading. There are also, of course, some writers whose books I’ll always read, but I’m happy to discover new authors as well. My TBR pile is a little too scarily huge at the moment.

16- How will you measure your publishing performance?

Definitely the number of times my friends see people reading my book on public transit (current count: one).

17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

Sheer unadulterated coincidence. Admittedly, I’ve always leaned towards traditional publishing, simply because I’m old-fashioned. I appreciate that self-publishing is attractive to some people (often people who are good at marketing their own stuff, which I am not), and I wish them well. I’ve even self-published a collection of my first comic. However, where novels are concerned, my dream has always been to be traditionally published, though when I was younger, I was more interested in small presses than large ones because the small presses were the ones accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Besides, most of the Canadian presses of which I’d heard were small, and I wasn’t, at the time, interested in going to the States. I assumed they’d change my spelling and make me set everything in Seattle, and though I was wrong on both counts, I didn’t know that back then. I would have continued to send out manuscripts to publishers and agents if I hadn’t been accidentally discovered when a Tor editor bought one of my CDs from a friend of mine at a convention I wasn’t even attending, then later, at a different convention on a different continent, bumped into another friend of mine who had read WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND. I’m happy it all turned out as it did, but I’m not sure “Produce an independent album full of geeky music about Batman, then sit back and let the magic happen” is the most useful advice for aspiring authors.

18- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

In terms of my book, I’d have to say it was the ingenious decision of someone at Tor to attach tiny little keys to the WACR bookmarks. EVERYONE WANTS A TINY LITTLE KEY. People who would never otherwise notice those bookmarks just have to have one because of those keys. The moment when they realise that there are multiple different key designs is often rather beautiful.

In terms of all books, I’m tempted to say that Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE is being marketed stupendously well by reality. Otherwise, I’ve noticed that some of the best marketing comes from authors being themselves. My friend Debbie Ohi, who writes and illustrates picture books, is a fount of boundless creativity, which she pours out onto the Internet. People want to read her books because they know that when they do, they’ll get something as unexpected as one of her broken crayon drawings (in which she breaks a crayon and draws something emerging from the break) or her coffee-stain illustrations (in which an oddly shaped coffee stain provides the base shape of an imaginative drawing). Here she is finding the Grinch in a halved green pepper: https://www.instagram.com/p/BckL9w1nTzH/

19- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

Do you prefer plain socks, patterned socks, or wildly unexpected graphic socks that make people stare at you on the subway?

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Things I Would Care to Share:



a)Here are a couple more little comics about writing and publishing. I drew these to go with two blog-tour posts that were later combined into one and published on a blog that didn’t want illustrations. Therefore, no one has seen them yet.
Meet Kari Maaren in this Debut Author Spotlight
b)If anyone is interested in my comics, here’s the info: WEST OF BATHURST is my complete webcomic, which ran between 2006 and 2014. It starts out as a relatively realistic comic about a graduate residence at the University of Toronto but eventually turns into a surreal fever dream of a fairy tale. It can be found here: http://www.westofbathurst.com/ . IT NEVER RAINS is my current webcomic; it started in 2014. It shares one major element with WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND, though that was an accident; I started IT NEVER RAINS at a time when I was losing hope that WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND would ever be published. This comic, like the last one, starts out relatively realistically, but this time around, I was aware from the beginning that things were eventually going to get a bit science fictiony.
c)My music is here: https://karimaaren.bandcamp.com/ and here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCII7BetrSd5mBFr1sIZLp2A/videos.
d)I’m pretty active on at least some forms of social media. I don’t have an author page on Facebook, so at the moment, I post writing-related news in public posts on my personal account: https://www.facebook.com/kari.maaren.7 . On Twitter, I’m @angrykem. Perhaps my friends will eventually bully me into opening an Instagram account. Who knows?
e)If you’re not sure you want to take a chance on this weird-sounding book, Macmillan has an excerpt up at https://us.macmillan.com/excerpt?isbn=9780765386281. It’s not actually the very beginning of the book; it’s Chapter 1, but there’s a prologue before that. However, it gives you a general idea of what you’re in for.


Weave a Circle Round

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Learning from 1-Star Reviews

While I'm not a published author, I like to read advice given to published authors while dreaming that it will someday apply to me. One piece of advice that I've always thought sounded good is Don't Read Your Reviews. That seems like a good way to stay sane.

Randy Ingermanson, who sends out the Advanced Fiction Writing e-zine every month, offers up some advice on how to learn from 1-star reviews that I thought was valuable. Even better, you don't have to read your own reviews to do it! Here's how:

Yes, 1-Star Reviews Can Be Useful

The answer is “Yes, if.”
Yes, a truly bad author’s 1-star reviews could contain valuable information that would point the author in the direction of improving his or her work. If …
If the author doesn’t freak out and go into a deep depression after reading a toxic, cruel, slashing review.
If the reviewer is able to explain what’s wrong AND how to fix it, in a way that an author can easily put into practice.
If the author doesn’t just dismiss the review out of hand with the easy phrase, “haters gonna hate.”

But Here’s the Problem

The problem is that those three ifs are hard to meet.
Not going to admit anything here myself, so I’ll take the usual dodge that “I have a friend” who has failed to benefit from 1-star reviews for all three of these reasons. And this “friend” has had a few toxic reviews. Ahem.
It’s just hard to read your own 1-star reviews objectively. But that suggests an idea …

How To Benefit From 1-Star Reviews

It occurred to me that an author can still benefit from 1-star reviews. In fact, even if you’ve never been published, and therefore you have no 1-star reviews of your own, you can still benefit from 1-star reviews.
The trick is to benefit from the 1-star reviews of OTHER WRITERS.
Here’s a simple exercise you can do:
  1. Go to the Amazon page for the last really excellent book you read. It should be one that you consider a no-brainer to get 5 stars. 
  2. Read all the 1-star reviews (or if there are more than ten, read only the first ten 1-star reviews, because they start repeating pretty quickly). 
Did you learn something? I bet you did. So that’s a win. That’s something you can use in your own writing, and it cost you nothing.


Did you find any toxic, cruel, slashing reviews? I bet you did. But you didn’t go into a deep depression because it’s not your book, so all that rat poison had no effect on you.

Were any of the reviewers able to explain enough about the craft so you could see how to improve the book? I’m taking no bets on this. The reviewers undoubtedly exposed some flaws in the book you liked so much. Unfortunately, most reviewers don’t know enough about the actual craft of writing to explain how to fix the problem. Most reviewers are readers, not writers, and so they know what they like, but they don’t necessarily know the mechanics of fiction. But if you believe they’ve exposed some real flaws in the novel, you could always go find a good book on craft that would explain how to fix those flaws.

Did you dismiss any of the reviews with the phrase “haters gonna hate?” I bet you did. Because there are some truly angry, hateful, vindictive people out there so some of the bad reviews are just people being spiteful. But I also bet you didn’t dismiss them all with that phrase. Because some of the haters had REASON to hate the book you liked so much. Since you have no vested interest in the book, you can be objective in classifying some reviewers as merely hateful and some of them as reasonable. 

So this exercise has value for you, because IT’S NOT YOUR BOOK, so you aren’t going to take the 1-stars personally.

That’s the danger of reading your own 1-star reviews. You can’t help taking it personally.

But What About Your Own 1-Star Reviews?

Now there is a way for you to benefit from your own 1-star reviews, but you can’t do it on your own.

Here’s what you do: Find a writer friend and agree to eat each other’s rat poison. You read her 1-star reviews and have her read yours. Then each write up some helpful advice for the other, writer-to-writer. Maybe some hateful reviewer said that your friend’s characters are so 1-dimensional, you could floss your teeth with them. That’s pretty cruel, but if it’s a valid concern, you could rephrase it by suggesting ways for your friend to deepen her characters. 

That’s constructive advice. That’s turning rat poison into gold.

And that avoids ever having to eat your own rat poison.

**********
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.