Category Archives: Author Answers

Guest Post: Wayne Avrashow

The Nerds are happy to welcome debut author Wayne Avrashow to the blog today to talk about the writing process for his  book, “Roll the Dice.” 

wayne aIt was not a simple task to write my first novel, locate an agent, and then have the agent sell the book to a publisher. I’m proud that my first novel Roll the Dice will be published. The novel’s main protagonist is a rock ‘n roll star who exits the stage to campaign for the United States Senate.

Although there were delays, false starts and bumps; having Roll the Dice published provides immense satisfaction.   I salute anyone embarking on that endeavor.  I enjoyed the process, I never had “writer’s block,” never stared at a blank computer screen with a blank mind.

As an attorney, I am comfortable writing documents, but had no clue on how to start writing fiction. My process began by taking writing courses at UCLA Extension’s program.  My writing teacher at UCLA talked about all writers having a, “creative dream.”  Here are a few ideas for you to pursue your creative dream:

Write What you Know.  It is a cliché, but an accurate one.  My novel is centered around the political world.  I volunteered in my first political campaign when I was 18, served as political campaign manager for two successful Los Angeles City Council campaigns and was Deputy/Chief of Staff at City Hall for those two Councilmen.

Write Your Passion.  Beyond writing what you know, your book should reflect your passion.  A couple of years ago I saw Paul McCartney perform at Dodger Stadium.  In his early seventies, Sir Paul performed for a blistering two hours.  How?  This is his passion!

The Blank Palate.  The beauty of fiction writing is you have the unlimited freedom to create your own world.  Each character is your own.  If you’re a lawyer, you can write legal thrillers, or, if you are skilled enough create a fictional world of your choosing.  There is no world similar to Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, but someone opened their mind to develop that world.

Study Your Craft.   Take advantage of the wealth of information available on writing. Go on-line, attend writing classes, read books on writing, watch Michael Levin’s YouTube videos, or others, designed for writers.

Be Selective on Feedback.  Feedback from others is critical.  However only seek feedback from supportive and knowledgeable sources.  I would prefer no feedback than negative, non-constructive responses.   The best persons are those who share a creative dream.  A writers’ group is a great source.

Keep Writing.  The prolific author John Grisham advises aspiring writers to write at least a page a day.  A simple rule—keep writing.

Be Aware.  Every character needs depth.  Your workplace, family, neighborhood and in various social interactions are populated with people with mannerisms, quirks, and habits that are adaptable for  your use.  Do not mimic, but exaggerate, combine, and mangle those interesting qualities to create your characters.

The Pursuit of the Perfect Kills a Lot of Good.  Drafts are Drafts.  You should re-write each chapter, but pursing a perfect chapter one will never allow you to commence chapter two. Write, rewrite it and re-write it again. Then move on!   I rewrote Roll the Dice many times, but I kept going.

 

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Author Answers with Erin Wasinger

erin-author-photoThe Word Nerds are happy to welcome Erin Wasinger to the blog today. This is a weird convergence of life as Erin was Bethany’s editor back in Wisconsin, editing the Author Answers column for publication when other authors were answering similar questions. Life has taken them both away from newspaper journalism, but the Word Nerds are thrilled to have her back as an author, talking about the book she co-wrote with Sarah Arthur, “The Year of Small Things.”

WN: Tell us what “The Year of Small Things” is about and what kind of reader will find it appealing?

ERIN: “The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us” is the story of two families, one church, in one city (Lansing, Mich.), who commit to 12 small but radical changes in the hopes of growing in love for God, their neighbors, and their church. Our families tackle topics influenced by a movement called “new monasticism” (in short, people who live in downwardly mobile, church-centered communities for the sake of sharing life with the poor). One month it’s hospitality (not the Martha Stewart kind), another it’s finances or caring for the earth. A few months we talk about conversations we feel are missing from new monastics’ conversations: self-care and time, for instance. Committing to these practices are Sarah Arthur (my co-author) and her husband and two boys; and my family: my husband and three girls. In the book, we invite the reader to imagine what their small things might look like, and how they can find community around others who share some of the same values.

Who might like it: Anyone who’s felt like there has to be more to faith but who finds “radical” voices or messages too far out there. Anyone who’s done the radical thing (living in an intentional community, volunteering, Peace Corps-ing it, living in a yurt for Jesus’ sake, etc.) but now feels burnt out, or feels the experience was a lifetime ago. People who love to ask “why” when they see problems in their communities. People who want to “do something to help” but don’t know where to start or have debt, children, jobs, etc. to take care of.

Recovering American dreamers and idealists. Christian thinkers and those who think Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and John Perkins are spot-on, but don’t see any speck of those prophetic messages in their own lives. People who love God but are bored, antsy. In short, do-gooders and do-gooder wannabes.

WN: What was it like to work with a co-author?

ERIN: It was awful and I’d never do it again.

No. Maybe I felt that way maybe once through the whole process (I think it was the 17th time we changed the introduction).

Otherwise, writing in community was amazing. Talking content, this book wouldn’t be what it is without two writers. Our perspectives balanced each other: she came from Duke Divinity, where she lived in an intentional community. I was a Toledo grad who only lives in community if you count small children. That was important for the theological weight and the “this is how you do it in your everyday life” angle. Practically speaking, Sarah was so generous with her experience and gracious in her guidance and suggestions. Having someone reading every revision you write makes you a stronger writer. And having someone there reminding you that chapter 3 is not your Waterloo moment is always a good thing.

In addition, Sarah has way more experience in book publishing than I do, so she was mentoring me all along. Since marketing is part of an author’s gig now, that meant she was introducing me to folks in the industry before we’d even started writing anything. Now that we’re in publicity mode, we get to share the social media burden/ love. It’s fun having someone who also loves the project as much as I do. I’d truly do it again tomorrow with the right person or topic.

WN: How did you background as a newspaper editor prepare you (or not) for the nuts and bolts of working on a book?

ERIN: Oh, good question. Sometimes it was a help, sometimes it was a hindrance. Mostly, working at a newspaper taught me to ask questions — that was the most helpful. I don’t think you can write a book about something as out-there as new monasticism if you’re not someone who likes to ask why things are and how systems work. Newspapers taught me to write clearly and succinctly, to tell stories, and to look for the humanity and gray areas in any situation. And that editors are always, always your friend.

Annoyingly, the most frustrating difference between a book and newspapers is timing. As you know, when you’re assigned a story at a newspaper, you research, interview, and report — mostly in one day. By contrast, a book that reflects on an entire year often takes so much revision that at one point my eye would twitch when Sarah would casually suggest, “I think we need to revisit the introduction.” I really, really like tight deadlines, and two years to write and edit a book is the antithesis.

One more thing I’m just realizing: in newspapers, we can follow stories the next day (or later) when we have more information. In writing a memoir, readers only get a snapshot of (for us) one year of our lives. And I finished that story a year ago already! I have to remember we wrote it to start a conversation, not to be a definitive guide on anything.

WN: Your children have been part of your “years.” How have they influenced this process?

ERIN: Oh man. I can’t think about any part of this “Year of Small Things” experiment without thinking about the kids. They’re an ever-present part of the equation; maybe they’re even something deeper than some outside influence on any process. Every decision considered their growing faith, their physical care, their education, their relationship with our church.

But notice I didn’t say decisions “revolved around” them, though. We’re trying to be clear about growing closer to Jesus. Sometimes the decisions we make really bum out our kids (how we spend our time and money, for one). But they also make sure decisions don’t revolve around me or my husband Dave. I’d love to do certain things that aren’t congruous for us as a family right now. We discern what God’s up to in our lives with that whole picture, the kids, us, our church, our city. That’s the goal anyway. We mess up, too: builds more character, therapy for the kids, fuel for their own memoirs someday, etc.

WN: What books are you loving right now?

ERIN: So many. The most recent ones I’ve been recommending: “A Man Called Ove,” by Fredrik Backman; “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott (of course); and — oh, this one’s tied with Ove for my favorite book as of late — “Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty,” by her granddaughter Kate Hennessy. I jokingly call Day (the co-founder of the Catholic Worker) “the patron saint of ‘The Year of Small Things’” (she’s actually being vetted for canonization in the Catholic Church now); but Hennessy uses family documents to show us Dorothy’s human side, too.

Each of these books, I’m noticing, is about strong characters who find themselves  begrudgingly creating community. “Begrudgingly” is a very big draw for me. So is community.

WN: What’s up next for you as a writer?

ERIN: That is a big question. I’m impatient to see myself what’s next. I’m not sure which amalgamous idea will solidify into a book or a project. In the meantime, I’ll just keep reading, freelancing, and asking “I wonder why …” questions about stuff in my world. In short, I’m pre-reporting, doing the work before the work.

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology: Implant Communicators

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Cindy Koepp

The Word Nerds are excited to welcome Cindy Koepp to the blog today to talk about communications and her books, “Remnant in the Stars” and “The Loudest Action.” 

Science fictions is full of interesting ways for characters to communicate with each other across distances. Some, like the 1960s Star Trek communicators, look a little like flip-phones. Others, like the more recent Star Trek series, were little badges the character just had to tap to activate. Some were a lot more complex, like Star Wars’ holographic transmissions.

In Remnant in the Stars and The Loudest Actions, the human characters – most of them anyway – have a communicator implanted in their heads. The communicator shows as a green or red LED under their hair. Tapping the light can turn the communicator on or off, but the default mode is on.

These are not “electronic telepathy.” It’s not as simple as just thinking something and having it transferred to your friend in the next room. The user has to speak out loud. A microphone picks up the sound, translates to radio waves, and transmits to another person’s implant. There, the information is translated back into sounds, which are communicated to the auditory nerves.

The range of these communicators is limited. Kirsten couldn’t talk to Derek on another planet, for example. The next room, or from one end of the ship to the other, maybe even a few miles away? No problem.

Aolanians – and some humans – don’t use the implant comms. They don’t do wetware, so they rely on a small box-like communicator on their belts. It serves the same function, but without the surgical implant.

What about technology today? Do we have anything like implant communicators?

Well, sort of. I got the idea for an implant communicator from cochlear implants (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/cochlear-implants). These are implanted devices that help a deaf person recognize sounds and make use of them by skipping damaged parts of the ear and sending the sound directly to the auditory nerves.

A cochlear implant has two parts. One inside the skull and one outside. The device has a microphone to pick up sound in the environment. Sound is then processed into useful bits. Then a transmitter and receiver communicate with each other. Finally, the device sends the information to the auditory nerve, which takes the impulse to the brain to process.

Another device is called Interscatter (http://www.medgadget.com/2016/08/interscatter-new-technology-implanted-device-communication.html). This is a combination of a contact lens, smart phone, and smart watch that does things like monitor someone’s blood sugar and send an alert when it drops too low. Not exactly an implant, but the communication thing is getting worked out.

Biotelemetry devices have also been able to communicate information from within the body to a doctor or researcher (This gets a little dense, but here’s some info: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4156009/). These telemetry devices gather data like EKG, blood pressure, or blood sugar and send it to a computer outside the body. Unfortunately, these devices aren’t foolproof. They suffer mechanical breakdowns and transmission problems.

For the moment, implant communicators are still the thing of science fiction, but I don’t doubt that someday, cell phones will be small enough and stable enough to implant in the skull.

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Lourey/Baker

Against what might have been our better judgement, we turned the blog over today to Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker. When we wrote the post title, “Lourey/Baker” it’s supposed to make you think of “Frost/Nixon,” a serious piece of journalistic storytelling. What it really looks like is we got stuck. 

Thank you to Bethany and Stacie for hosting us! Word Nerds is our kind of people: book lovers with a sense of humor. Shannon Baker and I, Jess Lourey, are on a blog tour that we’re calling The Lourey Baker Double Booked Blog Tour (you don’t want to hear the names we rejected) in honor of our upcoming new releases, which serendipitously are both out September 6, with both available for pre-order now.

Shannon’s is Stripped Bare. It’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife and is about a woman sheriff in the Nebraska Sandhills. Shannon also writes the Nora Abbott mysteries; if you like Tony Hillermann’s books, you’ll love these. My new release is Salem’s Cipher, a breakneck thriller about a race to save the first viable U.S. female presidential candidate from assassination. I also write the Lefty-nominated humorous Murder-by-Month Mysteries.

Today, Shannon and I are going to interview each other and close with a writing tip.

Here’s an interview question I’ve been dying to ask you on this entire blog tour, Shannon. You live in Arizona now, right? I heard that you guys don’t do daylight savings time there. My question: is it, like, four years ago there?

Shannon: Yes, Jess. Arizona is the land time forgot. The time change issue is awesome but did you know, you can take a gun into the bar here? Just sitting there on your hip as you belly up.

Shannon…Shannon. tell me your publication story with Stripped Bare. You sold that book differently than the Nora Abbott books, right?

Shannon: Terri Bischoff at Midnight Ink, bless her heart, bought the Nora Abbott books from me with no agent. She’s a super friend with lots of book successes to her credit, but sometimes she shows a lack of good sense. I’m joking, of course. The Nora books are really good, as people would know if they’d ever bother to read them. Seriously though, I went in a new direction with the Kate Fox series and pedaled out to find an agent. After less than a dozen queries, Marlene Springer nabbed it and in three months Forge bought it at auction. So yeah, a little different journey.

Jess here. Shannon, you’ve worked so hard, and I’m so happy for successes and only the tiniest bit jealous. Tiny bit, so tiny it’s really more of a freckle that I’m going to have burned off next time I visit the doctor. I’m on my fourth agent (she’s awesome!), and the first book she’s sold for me is Salem’s Cipher. Midnight Ink, who also publishes my Murder-by-Month mysteries, bought my thriller. That’s great because it means I get to work with one of my best friends again, acquisitions editor Terri Bischoff, and also that I have a little more editorial license with the book.

Shannon’s aside: Isn’t it great we both mentioned Terri Bischoff? She’s an amazing editor and great friend.

Jess: Yes! One of the best gifts of this life is that I get to call Terri a friend. Shannon, what do you think of your cover for Stripped Bare? Did you have any say in it? (And Bethany, does Stripped Bare qualify for the Word Nerds September 2016 book challenge of reading a book with a blue cover, or is that pushing it?) WN here… Sure! Why not! We love blue! 

Shannon: Of course it qualifies. It’s blue. Lots of blue. Sky and all. Blue. Honestly, when I got the cover (and no, I had no say) I was taken aback. Aback, I say. I thought it looked, well, way more women’s fiction-y than I think of Kate Fox. But it’s had really great response and I do like it. When I asked about it, my editor pointed out that early readers remarked about the great characters and compelling setting, so Forge went after a cover that reflects that. The artist really caught the feel of the Sandhills. I totally love your cover, Jess. What’s the story behind that?

Jess again. For Salem’s Cipher, I got to see three mock-up covers. The publisher let me choose the one I liked the best, although it had a random pioneer woman on the cover originally. I asked if we could switch out for the photo of Emily Dickinson instead because clues Dickinson encrypted a century earlier figure in heavily in the book. It turns out only one verified photo of Dickinson exists—the one that appears on the cover, and in every poetry anthology ever—and it is in the public domain, so we were able to use it! The church in the upper background is an actual photo of the Salem, Massachusetts Witch Museum, which plays a big part in the novel. The title’s font looks like gorgeous dripping blood in real life, and there is a secret code encrypted on the cover that will lead smart readers to a prize. I am such a fan of the cover!

Shannon, let’s close with a writing tip. Do you have any recommendations for prepublished writers?

Shannon: My writing tip is to know when to quit. I don’t mean on writing in general, but on a book that you’ve become obsessed with. I worked on a manuscript for 10 years, always rewriting when I leaned something new. By the time I finally sold it to a nanopress (it should never have been published) it was a homogenized mess. I should have gone on to different projects, different stories, always learning and improving. This is not to say you shouldn’t edit the bejeezes out of your work, just figure out when enough is enough.

Jess here. I’ve got “finding an agent” advice (http://jessicalourey.com/bio#pub) on my website, but my best advice is to realize that ever writer goes through a stage where s/he is POSITIVE whatever s/he’s working on is the worst piece of crap ever put to paper. Write yourself through that. The good stuff is just on the other side. Also, we spell it bejesus in Minnesota, but we also move our clocks forward and then back.

Share a writing tip, ask us a question, or leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Salem’s Cipher or Stripped Bare, shipped to your home.

To sweeten the pot a little:

If you order Salem’s Cipher before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to salemscipher@gmail.com to receive a Salem short story and to be automatically entered in a drawing to win a 50-book gift basket mailed to the winner’s home!

If you order Stripped Bare before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to katefoxstrippedbare@gmail.com to receive a Kate Fox short story and be entered for a book gift basket mailed to your home.

If you preorder both, you’re welcome to enter both contests.

The laughs just keep on coming as we put the pedal to the metal and zoom over to 7 Criminal Minds tomorrow where we gossip about writers conferences.

Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can find out more at http://www.jessicalourey.com, or find Jess on Facebook or Twitter.

Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink, a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder set in western landscapes of Flagstaff, AZ, Boulder, CO, and Moab, UT. Seconds before quitting writing forever and taking up competitive drinking, Shannon was nominated for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 Writer of the Year. Buoyed with that confidence, she acquired an agent who secured a multi-book contract with Tor/Forge. The first in the Kate Fox Mystery Series, Stripped Bare will release in hardcover September 2016.  Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com

 

Author Answers with David B. Coe

The Word Nerds are happy to welcome David B. Coe to the blog today as a return guest (though when he’s been here before, it’s been in his alter-ego, D.B. Jackson). He’s done an “author’s edit” of his first trilogy of fantasy books, re-releasing soon and is here to tell us about that project.

WN: What did creating an “author’s edit” of the books entail?

CoeJacksonPubPic1000COE: Children of Amarid and the other volumes of the LonTobyn Chronicle were my first published novels, and actually the first novels — published or not — that I wrote. I have always loved them. More, they set up my entire career, establishing me commercially and critically, winning me the Crawford Award, and teaching me, through the writing and editorial processes, what it meant to be a professional writer.

But I’ve always been aware of their flaws, in particular with respect to the actual writing (as opposed to the plotting or character work or world building). A couple of years ago, finally, we got the rights back to the books. Tor had allowed them to go out of print in 2005 or so, but rights reversion can be a messy, long process. Anyway, upon amaridgetting the rights back, I knew I wanted to re-release them, but only after correcting some of the “rookie mistakes” I saw in the books. So creating the Author’s Edit was really a matter of revising my own work, making these stories, which I still love, read the way they might if I had written them once I’d developed my craft a bit. No one made me do it — my publisher, Lore Seekers Press, would have put them out in their original form. This was something I did for me.

I didn’t touch the character work, or the plot, or the magic system and world building. All I did was tighten the prose, remove adverbs, unnecessary dialog tags, and superfluous exposition that explained things that didn’t need explaining. I cut a total of 20,000 words from this first volume (and 14,000 from the second book, The Outlanders. I’m about to begin my edits of Eagle-Sage, book 3) and the book is far better for that concision.

WN: What surprised you about going back to these books?

COE: I think what has surprised me most in reading through them is how much I’ve learned from the younger version of me who wrote the novels in the first place. I came to this revision process with just a touch of arrogance. I’ve learned so much over the years, and I looked back at the old work with a strong sense of wanting to improve upon what I’d done at the beginning of my career. And certainly I was able to do that. The prose in the new version is a vast improvement over that of the original.

But I came to realize that there were elements of my early writing — the passion, the ambition, the sense of wonder — that have mellowed as I’ve grown older and more experienced. And I think that my future projects will benefit from that recognition. I’d like to make myself stretch more as a creator. When I was starting out, every book was a stretch, because I was learning so much as I went along. That’s less true now, and so maybe it’s time for me to take more chances in my storytelling. I think that’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve gleaned from this process.

WN: When you started writing, what drew you to high fantasy?

COE: My interest in speculative fiction began with epic fantasy. That’s what I read as a teenager and into early adulthood, beginning with Tolkien, and moving to LeGuin, Donaldson, Brooks, Kurtz, and, perhaps my favorite, Guy Gavriel Kay. This was back in the ‘80s and ’90s. There wasn’t yet any urban fantasy as we know it now. Most of the fantasy subgenres we take for granted now hadn’t yet come into their own. There was science fiction — and I read the Dune books and Ender’s Game and a few others — and there was epic fantasy. I preferred the later. That’s what I read, and when the time came, that’s also what I wrote.

I love stories about magic, and I have since my first encounter with The Hobbit (which came when I was eleven years old and at sleep away camp. I tried out for a camp play and was cast as Bilbo Baggins — first I’d ever heard of Tolkien). And I’ve loved birds, especially birds of prey — hawks, owls, eagles — since I was a little kid. The magic system I dreamed up for this series allowed mages to draw power from the psychic bonds they forged with avian familiars. That was the other thing I loved (and still love) about high fantasy. If you can imagine it, and make it logical and consistant, you can use any sort of magic system you want. That freedom really appeals to me.

WN: What kind of reader is really going to like “Children of Amarid?”

COE: Children of Amarid, and the LonTobyn books in general, have a lot to offer readers: magic, intrigue, mystery, a bit of romance, a coming of age story, a science fiction element, lots of action, some political theater. There is a bit of sex, but nothing explicit or X-rated, or even R-rated. There is violence, but not gratuitous or overly graphic. So I would think that readers who enjoy any sort of fantasy will like these books. The originals had devoted readers ranging in age from 12 to late-80s, and the romance that develops will speak to teen readers. There is, as I say, plenty of action in the books, but the pacing isn’t frenetic. Readers who enjoy what might be called literary fantasy will be especially fond of them. And, as I mentioned, there’s a science fiction element as well, so readers who don’t necessarily want their stories strictly limited by genre boundaries will like them as well. This is genre-crossing series. I hope that helps!

WN: What’s next for you as a writer?

COE: Well, my next task is to finish the edits of Eagle-Sage, the third book in the LonTobyn Chronicle. Children of Amarid came out in early July; The Outlanders should be out in late September or early October, and I’d like to bring out Eagle-Sage in December.

After that I have a few projects I want to pursue. One is a futuristic/fantasy YA thriller set in New York City that I mapped out a few years back but never got around to writing. I have an epic fantasy that is mostly written but needs editing, and an urban fantasy that is well under way, but needs some rethinking as well.

And then I have the rights back to my Winds of the Forelands and Blood of the Southlands series, so at some point I’ll edit and re-release those books as well. And I want to go back and write a Thieftaker novella (I write the Thieftaker Chronicles as D.B. Jackson — http://www.dbjackson-author.com) that I can incorporate into a collection of Thieftaker short stories. So I have a lot on my plate right now. Which is a good thing.

 

As a bonus, there’s a US-only giveaway going on with the blog tour! David is giving away a $25 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card (winner’s choice), or one of two copies of CHILDREN OF THE AMERID. Open to US residents only.

David B. Coe blog tour giveaway!

Author Answers with Cara Sexton

soulbareToday the Word Nerds have Cara Sexton, editor of the forthcoming “Soul Bare.” If you click on the cover image, you can read an excerpt!

WN: What should readers expect from your book?

SEXTON: Readers should expect to find themselves in the pages. Soul Bare is a collection of raw and real stories that don’t dance around so many of the things we so often avoid in polite Christian company but desperately need to be part of the conversation. We barrel headlong into personal battles with doubt, confusion, depression, addiction, fear, and other dark and challenging things. But you will not find a linear narrative here that follows a familiar formulaic equation of pain + Jesus = happy and healed. Life rarely ties everything up with a pretty bow, though this is the story we so often tell in religious community.

Instead, the stories in Soul Bare are those that mine for the joy, gratitude, growth, discovery, and unlikely beauty that is found right in the center of the hardest things we’ll ever encounter, even (maybe especially) when they aren’t easily overcome. They are about digging into the white hot middle of the moments that most reveal our humanity and letting ourselves evolve in compassion, love, and joy because of the things we’ve been through and are going through.

WN: What message are you hoping that they hear after reading it?

SEXTON: That we are all a beautiful mess, and that there is redemption here for all of us, right in the middle of the tangled-up uncertainty. I think we so often are inadvertently given the message that there is hope and healing for us on the other side of something, but we need it now, in the messy middle. Soul Bare is about learning to find sanctuary in both the ordinary tedium and the beautifully catastrophic challenges of this life.

WN: Pulling together the stories and reading through the submissions had to be a challenge?  What was it like as the editor and crafting the overall message?

SEXTON: It was…heavy, but it was also life changing. We’ve been working on this book for over 3 years and I cannot tell you how many times I returned to these stories, even when I thought I couldn’t bear to look at these pages one more time (because as an editor, I have been through them so many times).

It’s been a very, very challenging few years for me personally and these stories pulled my heart toward the light over and over and over again. The team of writers was so gracious and we all poured our whole hearts into this thing for so long that we became a sort of rag-tag family from far and wide, all with our raw and broken stories, a little terrified of putting them out into the world, but also a little in awe of just how much our collective brokenness, infused with the breath of God, was able to create. And my editor at IVP, Helen Lee, was instrumental in helping deconstruct and reconstruct what we initially brought to the table to refine into the final product of its current form.

WN: What is your writing process like?  (We envision large spaces with white boards, or cramped quarters with bad light. Bad or beautiful, we love to know the process and space for the stories we read)

SEXTON: My process is basically to procrastinate by doing absolutely anything other than writing until I am so amped up with stifled words, thoughts, and feelings that my husband or a friend will (wisely) order me to sit down and write something before I make myself and everyone around me completely crazy. Hah.

I’m basically a scattered mess all the time, and my writing process is no different. I wish I could say that I sit down with my coffee at 4 a.m. every day without exception and do the hard work faithfully until it gets done, but the truth is that I’m a busy mom, a full-time college student, and a general tornado of frenetic energy, so I work wherever and whenever I can.

I’ve edited Soul Bare bouncing on a yoga ball at my big Danish drafting desk below a window that overlooks a million Oregon evergreens, with bare feet on the banks of the Rogue River, with thousands of fireflies blinking on a back porch in Oklahoma, and with my fingers in my ears in the play structures at a dozen fast food joints across the country.

I am particularly in tune with the energy of my physical surroundings, so with the nature of the work from diverse voices, it feels fitting that even architecturally the book was stitched together like patchwork across several years, places, and experiences.

WN:  What’s next for you?

SEXTON: Oh, goodness. Who can ever know? I’m about to graduate from Goddard College with a BFA in Creative Writing (it only took me 20 years), so that’s exciting, and I’m now looking at grad school MFA programs. My undergraduate work during my senior year has involved writing a memoir with themes of faith, chronic illness, identity, and home, so I hope to publish that and bring more of my own words into the light at some point in the near future. Oh, and I just returned to the blogging world after a long hiatus at carasexton.com.

Most relevant to the book, though, I have a sense that the journey of Soul Bare stories isn’t near complete. There were so many great submissions that we weren’t able to include in this volume, and I am totally fascinated by the healing processes (for writer and reader) that occur when we get in touch with some of our darkest and most tender places.

I would love to find more ways to continue to be a sort of midwife who helps deliver these kinds of bloody, screaming, miraculous stories out into a world that I believe desperately needs them. I’m interested to see what the Spirit has in store and I’m just so grateful to be a part of it.

 

WN: What question did we not ask but should have?  (Every Q&A ends this way. Be as creativity as you like 🙂 )

SEXTON: Hmm. How about a question I heard in a Barbara Brown Taylor book, and one I think about often: “What’s saving you now?”

What’s saving me now is an increasingly sharpened sense of wonder, and summer afternoons with sunburned shoulders and my feet in the river. The perfect distribution of freckles across the face of my youngest. The sound of my only daughter’s laugh, and laughter in general–lots and lots of laughter. The kindness of strangers who turn into friends. The poetry of Anne Sexton and Mary Oliver and Whitman and Bukowski and Audre Lorde. Sarcasm, iced tea, and vintage dresses. Evergreens. The way the morning light hits the opalescent beads on my grandmother’s rosary that dangles from the dip in my ancient Underwood typewriter. Authenticity. Vulnerability. Grace. Beautiful tattoos, and my husband’s incredible cooking.

What’s saving me now is paying extra close attention to every little thing, extracting beauty, creating beauty, and making every moment meaningful.

 

Guns and the Grey Widow

by Dan Jolley  (Learn more about Dan by visiting his website, www.danjolley.com, and follow him on Twitter @_DanJolley)

My relationship with guns is an evolving one.

jolleyI grew up in a tiny town in northwest Georgia, the son of a man who, as a teenager, had to hunt for food to keep himself and his mother from starving. The same bolt-action, single-shot .22 rifle he used all those years stood leaning in the corner of the hall, between my parents’ bedroom and the one I shared with my older brother, and I never thought of touching it when Dad wasn’t around. He had told me not to. That was good enough for me.

The deadly accuracy Dad had developed as a teen, targeting squirrels and rabbits and the occasional last-resort possum, continued into his adulthood. His superiors took note of it when he joined the Army. He was due to appear at the highest level of Armed Forces marksmanship competition when he received word that his mother had died, and came home to settle her estate. Dad never got to compete at that last, highest level. There was an excellent chance he would’ve won.

I was born in the 70s and raised on a steady diet of science-fiction novels, Louis L’Amour westerns, comic books, and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. I loved guns. I loved the whole concept of them. I loved the line, “God created man, but Sam Colt made them equal.” When I encountered the character Corsair in the pages of The X-Men, who could touch gems on his gauntlets and make a pair of laser guns appear out of thin air, I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

When I was twelve, Dad got me a pump-action BB rifle. That marksmanship gene had transferred to me, at least somewhat. I could hit anything with that gun. It was mine, and I loved it.

But things change.

In July of 2012 James Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and, using an assault rifle, killed twelve people and injured 70 more. I had an epiphany that day, or maybe just a moment of lucidity. It suddenly became very real to me exactly what using a gun meant: the power of life and death, in the hands of…well. In the hands of anyone who wanted it, really. As clear as the proverbial crystal, I realized that owning a gun should be a privilege, not a right, and that the process of obtaining one should be strenuous and exacting and expensive. There were idiots and maniacs out there, and allowing them access to guns might as well have been giving them payloads of sarin gas. Or, to go all genre on the subject, teaching them the avada cadavra death spell from Harry Potter. That was as much effort as they had to expend: Point. Pull trigger. End life.

But then, six months later, Adam Lanza killed twenty tiny children and six adults in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and it was like the second blow in a one-two punch. Lanza used weapons that his mother had purchased legally, and snuffed out the lives of twenty little kids. Twenty babies. The enormity, the horrific finality of it overwhelmed me. There was no more room in my heart for compromise.

That day, and every day since, I have believed that private citizens should not possess firearms of any kind, and when I was writing my latest novel, Gray Widow’s Walk, I very much wanted to communicate that belief. The book is what I call “superhero noir,” and centers on Janey Sinclair, a 27-year-old fine artist who, in a way she doesn’t understand, gains the ability to teleport from one patch of darkness to another. Deciding to work out her inner demons by stealing a suit of prototype military body armor and taking to the streets of Atlanta as the city’s self-appointed protector, Janey quickly gets dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and could be described as Daredevil meets Red Sonja. I figured it would be the perfect platform to communicate my recently-arrived-at anti-gun philosophy.

The problem was, in early drafts I went overboard. I put in a conversation that took place on a first date between Janey and her possible new love interest, Tim Kapoor. Tim is a first-generation South Asian-American, and his father decided to take Bobby Jindal as his inspiration; as such, Mr. Kapoor votes very Republican and is a proud member of the NRA.

In an attempt to keep the conversation going, Tim asks Janey what she thinks about gun control. It touches a nerve. Janey’s life has been a series of cruel, unfair tragedies, and two of them have been the direct result of gun violence. And so, to begin with, I had Janey go off on Tim in an epic rant.

BUT…as an astute beta reader pointed out, I wasn’t showing Janey’s attitude about guns to the reader. I was telling. Worse, I was preaching. Ultimately, I took the conversation out, and decided to trust the rest of the events of the book to make my point.

Here, however, I’m drawing back the curtain, and providing a look behind the scenes, so to speak, of Gray Widow’s Walk. This is the deleted conversation between Janey and Tim.

Tracing squiggly patterns on Janey’s shoulder with one finger, Tim drew in a deep breath and said, “Okay…here’s a hot-button topic. What do you think about gun control? For or against?”

Janey grimaced, and didn’t answer immediately. “I’m hesitant to say. How do you feel about it?”

“No, no, I asked you first.”

“Well, I’m fine with guns, honestly. It’s those hard little pieces of metal they fire that I have a problem with.”

“Come on, I’m serious.”

Janey tried for a smile. “So am I, actually. …You realize you’re handing me a soapbox?”

“I like tall women. Climb on up.”

She sighed. “Where to start? Okay. There’s no need for private citizens to own firearms. They should be reserved for the military, and for special units of the police.”

“Whoa. Okay. That’s quite a blanket statement.”

She shrugged. “It’s true. Plenty of other countries do it like that already. I see people here saying, ‘Well, if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.’ But that’s nonsense. It’s been flatly disproven. Look at every country in Europe. Look at Australia. Look at Japan. You know what criminals in Japan use to terrorize people? Knives. Besides, what kind of logic is that? ‘Some people will break laws, so we shouldn’t have any laws?’ Some people steal cars and forge checks, too, but no one’s saying we should legalize those.”

“Well…okay. Not saying I disagree with you, but in light of the gun rack in the back window of my father’s pickup truck…may I play devil’s advocate?”

Janey’s eyes grew cooler. “Go right ahead.”

“What about hunters?”

“Hunting rifles I’m fine with. When you go hunting, go to the license office and get your ammunition. When you come back, turn the unused rounds in.”

“But what if someone wants to practice?”

“Go to the firing range. Get your ammunition. Use it there and leave it there.”

“So…I guess you’re not in favor of having guns for home protection?”

“Hand out Tasers. Hand out pepper spray. Hand out the kind of guns that shoot tear-gas pellets. Spend the money that would have bought a gun on an alarm system. None of those will kill anyone. And I’m not saying I’m so concerned about people committing crimes—you attack someone, my sympathy for you drops to zero. I’m thinking more about accidental shootings. Idiots who shoot their spouses, or their children, or themselves. Or children who find their parents’ guns. There’s no point in having the power of life and death in your hands.”

“Hmmm…maybe I won’t introduce you to my dad…”

Janey ducked her head. “Yeah… Told you you were handing me a soapbox.”

“Oh, I know! And if my dad were here, I’m sure he’d have some sort of retort about the Second Amendment.”

She winced. “Really? Is he in a well-regulated militia?” When Tim laughed, Janey’s eyes sparkled. “Is he going to take his powder and take his gun and report to General Washington?” He laughed harder, but her expression darkened. “Do you know how horrified the founding fathers would be if they knew our schools had to have active-shooter drills? And that the necessity for those drills is a pig-ignorant bastardization of their own Constitution? That the legalities that lead to tens of thousands of firearm-related deaths in this country every year are laid, without irony, at the founders’ feet?”

Tim held up placating hands. “I know. I know. I get the other side of it from my dad all the time. All about the sanctity of the right to bear arms. How people need guns to protect themselves and their families.”

Janey looked up at him, and for a second, maybe half a second, the fury in her eyes terrified him. He swallowed hard, and then again, and it got worse when she spoke.

“And yet the number of times guns get used for self-defense is dwarfed by the number of gun-related crimes and pointless deaths. Tim, I don’t know your father. I’m sure he’s a good man in his heart. And it is with all due respect that I say this. But I don’t give two hairy, mouse-flavored squirts of owl shit about the ‘sanctity of the right to bear arms.’ Not when that right gets people killed. Not when that right gets children killed. People cling to their guns because of pure ideology, and that ideology leads to death after death, day after day after day. It’s sickening. ‘Sanctity.’ As if the Second Amendment were handed down by God on a stone tablet. Was the right to own slaves sacred? Or to keep women from voting? Sanctity my ass.”

She looked away, breathing heavily.

Yeah…that shifted pretty quickly from words said in Janey’s voice to, as that invaluable beta reader so accurately pointed out, words said in my voice. The question now, though, is “Have I made my point with the rest of the book?” Will the message I hope to convey shine through, alongside the bloodthirsty, homicidal shapeshifter who wants Janey dead, and the private security contractor who wants her under control, and the possible extra-terrestrial presence that may have triggered Janey’s power in the first place?

I hope you’ll give it a read and find out.

Bryon Quertermous — How Being A Nerd Made Me Good With Words

The Word Nerds are happy to have Bryon Quertermous back to the blog today. We know all about being nerds (hey, look, it’s in our name!) and how that let us find our “tribe.” Byron’s one of us, for sure.

querterIt may shock people who know me now, but back in elementary school and junior high I was painfully shy and incredibly awkward around people (okay, that part probably won’t shock anyone). After being pretty energetic and self-confident as a toddler and pre-schooler, a series of moves and bully-encouraging private religious schools had sapped that energy from me had sent me inward.

That may seem sad, and in many ways it was, but it also pushed me off to the invisible sides of life and allowed me virtually unlimited opportunities to watch people, to spy on people, and to learn about people. At this same time my reading habit increased substantially and the mix of those two elements of my life set me up for a transformative experience.

Had I been more popular at that very influential age, especially with the group of spiteful and ignorant kids I wanted to be friends with, I doubt I would be where I am today. I likely would have abandoned reading and would have been less aware of the world around me and less sympathetic and empathetic as well.

As I got older and moved from the private school to a big suburban public school full of opportunity and the kind of cliques and social groups I thought only existed in the movies I was never allowed to see. Separated from the bullies who crushed my spirit and the religious indoctrination that crushed my imagination, my previous personality came back and flourished. In a school with that many people, anyone was able to find a group of friends to suit them. I found mine with the drama and choir nerds. I fell in love both body and spirit and unlike previous times I’d been called a nerd, this time it was self-inflicted and used endearingly and as a badge of honor. Surrounded by my fellow nerds, I was encouraged in my writing and pushed into acting which helped boost my self-confidence and helped me inhabit the various characters of my stories. It also put me on the path of reading the great playwrights which was the single most important element in my writing training I think because it helped me hone my trademark dialogue style.

Now that I’m an “adult” I can add tech nerd to the mix. The Internet has provided me an outlet for finding and communicating with life-long friends, it’s provided me publication venues for the short stories that helped me develop my personal writing style, it gave me a way to stay involved in publishing as an editor which has provided me the financial cushion needed to pursue this less than lucrative field and also helped make me a better self-editor and writer. Finally, it’s given me outlets like this to write guest posts to subtly remind you that my second novel, Riot Load, is now available from Polis Books and you should buy several copies for all of your nerdy friends.

Looking back on my life through the geek chic chunky black frames of life, I can’t help but be thankful for everything that came to me all because I was a nerd.

riot loadBryon Quertermous is the author of Murder Boy and the forthcoming Riot Load. His short stories have been published in a number of journals of varying repute and he was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award. He currently lives outside of Detroit with his wife and kids. Visit him at http://bryonquertermous.com and follow him on Twitter @BryonQ.

Guest author: Georgia L. Jones

The Nerds have turned over the blog today to author Georgia L. Jones! She’s talking about her Remnants of Life series and we’re happy to be part of her virtual tour! 

GeorgiaJonesTourBadgeI have always enjoyed reading, especially in the fantasy genre.  I have also always enjoyed writing. When I began Legends of Darkness back in early 2010 I really wasn’t intending on it becoming a series book.  I have read a lot of series books and enjoy them, but I didn’t start the series with those intentions in mind.  I had been thinking of the concept of Legends for about a year before I began writing it.  I was working through the details of finding something fresh.  I was actually bored with same old concept of vampires and wanted to spin it on its ear.  I wanted to find something that would be as shocking and different as Bram Stokers Dracula was back in 1897.  I just wanted a fresh concept and an explanation for why they are considered to be evil.  Once I found my beginning I began writing.

Legends begin with just an average woman who dies in an unfortunate accident.  She leaves behind a life of family and friends.  She is thrown into an afterlife where she becomes Samoda, a Warrior in the army of Nuem.  She is not only a Warrior but destined to become a leader in this army.  Through her struggles with the afterlife, we learn many things about the species that she has become and about the hierarchy of all the species that exist in the Remnants of Life stories.  The Warriors have been on earth since before humans existed. They were made to destroy evil, it is innate to them and they really can’t help it.    I intertwine the story of the Warriors with legends of vampires.  I mix it up a little and make Vlad Tepes a really bad guy.  In Legends he fell in love with one of the Warriors and when she denied him, he became filled with vengeance towards all of them.  He began to do horrible things and blame it on them.  He falsely accused them of being evil vampires that were nothing more than blood sucking killers.  When this happened they began to stay away from humans as much as possible.  I have created the Warriors as “Dangerous Saviors”. ..They are here to protect the world from demons that continuously plot to take over the human race and sometimes really evil humans just get in their path and they can’t help but destroy them as well.

Witches, the second book in the Remnants series, launched on December 1, 2012.  It is a Witches_1200X800continuation of the story, but from the perspective of a seemingly human woman, Kali Rose Marriott. Her life becomes entangled with the Warriors and well…all hell breaks loose.  In Witches, I get a little more involved in world building as I being to really take on theria and Vicus, which are the two places that the other species reside when they are not here either saving the humans or trying to annihilate them.

I had originally anticipated the Remnants of Life Series to be five books in all. However, I have decided to shorten the series to a trilogy. I am currently working on the third book in the series. As I said earlier when I began writing Legends, I did not know it would become a series book. As I worked on Legends, it evolved not only in my mind but on paper. I began outlining the whole series as I wrote the first book. Some of the storylines have varied a little from the beginning outline, but for the most part it has stayed on course with that original outline. In light of vampires being used so much in books today, I believe the Remnants series gives a completely fresh idea to the concept.

I’m always glad to get feedback from fans. Please visit WWW.WORDSMITHGLJONES.COM to learn more about me and my writing.

Two Books and a Little Baby

seguraToday’s post is from the sleep-deprived Alex Segura, author of the forthcoming Down the Darkest Street, and we’re excited to welcome him to the Word Nerds today.

“Wow, 2016 is gonna be a big year for you.”

I’ve heard various iterations of this sentence too many times to count over the last six months.

Which, don’t get me wrong, is great. It’s true – 2016 has been and will be a very big year for me.

We had a baby boy last month (Valentine’s Day! Cute Factor One Million!) and I have two novels hitting in short succession: a reissue of my first Pete Fernandez mystery, Silent City, on March 15 and the sequel, Down the Darkest Street, darkest streeton April 12 – both from the fine folks at Polis Books. On top of that, I have an awesome – day job and some regular freelance writing gigs.

So, yeah. It’s been a huge year – and I’m supremely grateful and happy about that. But this year, like anything else, is not without challenges. Welcoming a newborn to the world is always a magical affair. At the same time, It’s extremely time-consuming and fraught with unexpected twists and turns. You have to stay flexible. Same goes for, to a lesser degree, writing and promoting two new crime novels.

One of the biggest challenges? Letting go.

Pete Fernandez is like a child to me – albeit fictional and in terms of age (if not maturity), fully grown. Silent City and Down the Darkest Street are books that have gone through various evolutionary stages and revisions to become the novels you will hopefully hold in your hand in a few weeks. Like his stories and the version of Miami he lives in, Pete as a character doesn’t stay static from page 1 of Silent City to the last page of Down the Darkest Street. He learns. He stumbles. He pivots. He hurts. He wins and loses. Boy, does he lose.

But at a certain point, that solitary time I spent creating Pete’s stories – featuring a handful of other people, like my agent, editor and a few beta readers – must come to an end. The pages must be proofed and printed, the books must be shipped or uploaded and all that’s left is the reader and the story.

I have no say in this exchange. My work is done.

As a writer (and, to a much greater degree, as a parent) you have to learn to let go. Allow things take their course. Do your best, plan as much as you can and move forward. You can look back, but don’t stare too long.

No amount of fretting, sales rank-checking, agent-emailing, or Goodreads page-refreshing will change things.

But if you do the heavy lifting, put in the hours and write a story you’re happy with, the rest is out of your hands.

Be proud of the book you’ve created and enjoy the fireworks.

Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. He is the author of the Miami crime novel SILENT CITY, the first in a series featuring Pete Fernandez. SILENT CITY and its sequel, DOWN THE DARKEST STREET, are out this year via Polis Books. He has also written a number of comic books, including the best-selling and critically acclaimed ARCHIE MEETS KISS storyline, the “Occupy Riverdale” story and the upcoming ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES. He lives in New York with his wife and son. He is a Miami native.