Woman Writer Wednesday: Jennifer Trela

Today’s return of Woman Writer Wednesday is to celebrate the debut of my friend Jennifer Trela’s novella, The Legion: A Million More To Go.  Here’s what she had to say about writing:

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?

What finally pushed me into writing full-time was when I couldn’t write. Writing has just always been a part of who I am, so when I can’t do that, I feel like I’m only a portion of myself. My government job was slowly killing me, and I’m not really exaggerating here. I would get home after working a 14-hour day and couldn’t write. Not even a sentence. That was the most devastating part of it for me. Before Hell Job, I would always use my writing as a type of escapism because, most of the time, I liked my characters more than I liked the real people in my life. My parents always used to talk about how they’d watch me playing as a kid, and I’d be sitting in the middle of the room with no toys, just talking to myself. My imagination was my playground; I didn’t need outside stimulation, save for a nice piece of music or a pretty scene in front of me. That didn’t change as I got older. It’s not abnormal to find people staring at me because I’ve been having a conversation between three characters that weren’t me. Well, it’s not odd for me.

So you can just imagine what it was like having that integral aspect of yourself just cut off. It was unsettling, to say the least. Luckily, now, though, even as I’m working my way through the maze that is self-publishing, I rediscovered my voice and, oh, my God, I feel so much better.

2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?

I’m a weird fiction sort of gal, which includes sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc., so I get to make up worlds and those worlds’ rules, which kind of plays to the control freak aspect of my personality. I geek out at it, almost to the point that Tolkien took Middle Earth. Sometimes, it’s easy to create your own world’s version of The Silmarillion, which every Tolkien fan claims to have read (and might have) but almost ultimately hate it more than they hate Twilight. However, it is a blast, if not a distraction from the actual story writing process.

But I think my favorite part of being a speculative fiction writer/reader is the fan base. I have yet to meet a more rabidly dedicated community of people that absolutely just loves to gobble up whatever book/comic/movie/etc. they can. They want to see stories they like succeed. I mean, how else would you explain the Star Wars prequels setting box office records upon initial release? They were terrible, TERRIBLE movies. Then people still gave the animated series a shot (it’s actually quite good), and now a whole new trilogy, brought to you by Disney, is already getting people excited. It’s bizarre and wonderful and I love it. Even if I hate George Lucas.

3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?

The absolute best advice I was ever given was to take myself seriously as a writer. After I quit my soul-sucking job, I was having a hard time adjusting to the life of a self-employed person. I couldn’t get into a schedule and I was constantly telling people that I was flexible because I didn’t have a real job. Then a friend of mine, the lovely WT Prater, said, “You have a job. It’s writing. Stop hurting yourself with your own words.” And he was right. So I started treating it like I was at my job. I actually get dressed and don’t roam about in my pajamas. I put on minimal makeup, which is what I did at the past job. But the most important part was, I stopped trying to justify my decision to do this full-time. I was making a career move, and not just chasing after my dreams like a deluded idiot. It was incredibly freeing and I’ve had more personal successes in the past few months than I’ve had, well, ever.

4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?

One of these days, I want to write a horrible romance novel. Purposefully horrible, with all the tropes and cheesiness and hard nipples and what have you. And I’d make sure that everyone thought it was a FOR SERIOUS attempt at breaking into the genre, because I also love parody. Other than that, I’d love to try travel writing. It would give me an excuse to just go places. I did one absolutely horrendous travel article back in college (yay, journalism degree that I have not used at all), but I’d like to think that my skills have somewhat been honed and that I might not be too bad at it.

Oh, and comic book writing. And screenwriting. Well, basically, I’d like to do everything except sports writing and poetry. I’m the worst poet ever.

5. What factors went into your decision to self-publish, do your own cover art, etc.?

The most obvious reason is money. I just didn’t even have the funds to pay Lulu.com for their services, and they’re one of the cheaper of the reputable self-publishing sites I was able to find. It was fairly discouraging to see that the business of books seems to be pitted against self-publishers or small publishing houses. I mean, $125 for a single ISBN? Come on, guys. Luckily, though, there are other resources out there for someone in just my position. I may not necessarily like some of Amazon’s fees (for example, I can only get 35% of royalties if I charge under $2.99 and I’m like, “Amazon [side-eye with a head tilt]. Explain to me why you deserve 65% of my earnings when all you’re essentially doing is hosting.”), but at least they’re pretty much letting me publish what I want and how I want it. Give and take, I guess. I’ll probably eventually want to bring in some other people to work with me, but since the money issue is still a very big one, I will be doing all of the design, artwork, formatting, etc. for a while, which is okay with me. It’s probably a good thing that I enjoy doing all the little things and not just the art creation. Not good for my sleep patterns, though. Ha.

Then there’s the fact that I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to my art. I have a particular vision and I know exactly how I want something to turn out. Now, I’m flexible to a point; if someone’s idea is better than mine, I have no problem admitting it. It’s when someone comes in and tries to take and change what I’ve worked so hard on to suit their vision. And that’s where self-publishing is so freeing. I can think bigger and more crazily and be innovative and push the envelope. That, in turn, just puts me into that creative think-space that just encourages me more.

This isn’t to say that I won’t ever use a publisher. I just know that there are certain things on which I won’t compromise, and some of the horror stories I’ve heard from fellow authors involve the intrusion of editors into their work. But I’ve got a while before I get there, so for now, I’ll be poor and in control.


Woman Writer Wednesday: Beth Wodzinski

For this week’s Woman Writer Wednesday, I interviewed Beth Wodzinski, who in addition to being a writer in her own right is the editor of speculative-fiction magazine Shimmer.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
As soon as I learned to read, I wanted to write. I remember starting a novel in kindergarten — my mom said she’d help me write down the words. So I told her all about how our neighbor went out to her chicken coop and discovered someone had killed all her chickens. Then what, my mom asked, and I had no idea, and stalled out of writing for many years. Since then, I’ve gotten a little better at figuring out what happens next.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
The suggestion that even the most mundane lives have magic and mystery in them.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
I am currently enamored with the 7-Point Story Structure, from a recent Writing Excuses podcast. There’s also a series of videos on YouTube where Dan Wells goes into more detail about it. I’m using it right now to work out the plot of my next novel, and it’s been extremely helpful.
4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?
Most of my writing has been done under race conditions — NaNoWriMo or timed flash challenges. I do enjoy the glee and the lowered expectations — NaNo is so much fun, and I’ve gotten so much from it — but it’s also kind of insane and full of pressure. I’d like to learn to write in a saner and more grounded way, without all the fuss and craziness. Ha, probably you were asking for a subject or genre? But really I think the next big challenge for me is steadiness of practice. One of the most useful tools for learning this steadiness has been the Dance of Shiva, which is kind of like yoga for your brain.
5. How have your experiences in being the editor of Shimmer affected your own writing?
One of the unofficial-but-true reasons I started Shimmerwas to have an excuse to procrastinate on my writing, and that strategy has been brilliantly successful.Reading thousands of slush stories has taught me a lot — not just the usual stuff like how rejections aren’t personal, but more interesting stuff about what I look for in a story, what kinds of images and structures and ideas work for me. It’s clarified my vision. But it’s also raised the stakes for me; I don’t want to write the kind of “just ok” story that makes up the bulk of slush piles everywhere. And raising the stakes just makes it harder to get started writing my own stories.

Beth and her fiction can be found at her own website.  You can find her magical magazine Shimmer here.

Woman Writer Wednesday: Nancy M. Griffis

For this week’s Woman Writer Wednesday, I interviewed speculative-fiction author and screenwriter Nancy M. Griffis.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?
You know, I don’t even remember. I was a serious reader before I ever thought to be a writer. Marion Zimmer Bradley, CJ Cherryh, Anne MacCaffrey, Sir Walter Scott, Madeleine L’Engle were all favorites of mine. And my family were big readers, too. It wasn’t until I stopped dancing, though, that I turned to writing when I was around 14. I guess I needed a creative outlet. My mother brought home this massive IBM Selectric typewriter from work and off I went into the world of writing. I had good English teachers, too, who always encouraged me whenever I turned in short stories for projects.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?
I love the possibility. In scifi/fantasy/urban fantasy, anything can happen. The most boring or cowardly person can become a hero and impossible creatures of myth can show up in downtown LA or NYC.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?
Write every day. Can’t remember where I saw/read it, but you should write every day even if it’s just a list of things you need to do or a paragraph on why you hate getting up for work/school every day. Something. Anything.
4. Is there any type of writing you would like to try that you haven’t already?
Funny you should mention that! I’m going to do National Novel Writing Month this year (the last few years life has been against me doing it) and my novel will be in the YA genre, which I’ve never done before. I like to try something different with every novel and I think this will be a definite challenge. It will definitely be different! lol!
5. You’ve participated in the Labor Day 3-Day Novel Contest; could you share a little about your experiences?
It was a pretty manic experience each time I’ve done it. Three days of little sleep, way too much caffeine and sugar, and exacerbated carpal tunnel syndrome from too much typing. Creatively speaking, though, it’s a powerhouse. There’s something about all that pressure to produce in such a very limited time that just makes the words come out. Of course, having an outline and character sketches ahead of time makes it a hell of a lot easier, which I found out the hard way one year. hehehe.
You can find Nancy on the Web at her WordPress blog, or on Twitter.  Her published works can be found here at Amazon.com.

Woman Writer Wednesday: Rachel V. Olivier

Today’s interviewee is writer/poet Rachel V. Olivier, whose most recent work, the apocalyptic romance Needs Must When The Devil Drives, is available from Sam’s Dot Publishing.

1. What/who inspired you to become a writer?

When I was a kid I was a big reader of the Little House on the Prairie books as well as the Little Women books. I loved Laura Ingalls and Jo March, the characters. They wanted to be writers. And they were the “face” of the authors of those books as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott. I loved them. They were independent, they made mistakes, they said the wrong things, and sometimes did the wrong things, but they were funny and good and they wrote stories. I was nine years old and that’s when I decided I wanted to be an author when I grew up. After that, it was just figuring out what to write and what “being” a writer meant. I read lots of books, learning about the authors of my favorite books, like L.M. Montgomery, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I also read lots of plays I remember finding in a back corner of the library. I don’t know why, but I was fascinated with plays and wanted to direct them in our backyard – maybe it was the Jo March thing. Anyway, I loved reading how the plays would set up the stage direction and the dialogue and figuring out how you would do that. That was all grade school. And sometimes the dream to become a writer would be shoved to the back while I considered being a nurse/doctor/missionary/architect/violinist – etc., but it always came back.
2. What do you like most about the genre[s] you write in?

I’ve always been a colorful magpie kind of person. I used to want one of those groovy rainbow-on-a-bright-blue-background bedspreads. I love signing my books and things with either silver or gold felt marker pens. I like sparkly crystals. I loved being in China, and going to a Chinatown in San Francisco, or here in Los Angeles, and seeing all the red and gold and black shoved together. I loved that. I love deep blue, turquoise, orange and yellow and green and purple and… I used to paint, though I haven’t in a long time. Not pictures, all the time. Sometimes I just put colors together on a canvas to see what would happen. Sometimes a picture would grow out of that, sometimes it wouldn’t. That’s what writing in the realm of speculative fiction does for me. To me, realist, contemporary literature is like working with charcoal on cream paper, there’s strength in it, but it’s not my strength. It’s interesting and a good mental exercise. I love black and white artistic photos, just as I love some contemporary or regular literature, but it’s not my strength.

And I get really impatient when people try to impose the “discipline” of “literachure” on my fun rainbow colored genre. I hate it when “they” (whoever they may be – sometimes people outside the genre, but many times people inside the genre, which is surprising to me) try to suppress the colors and life and joy in science fiction and fantasy. I feel like they’re trying to get rid of the merry-go-round and swings on the playground and only keep the bars because they’re “good” for you. Or trying to take my five dimensional world and make it flat and two dimensional.
3. What’s the best piece of writing-related advice you’ve received?

Doesn’t matter how much you talk about it, the writing won’t get done until you sit your ass in the chair and actually do the writing, do the work. That’s pretty much paraphrased from something I read on Neil Gaiman’s blog a while ago. I also remember seeing Vicki Petterssen saying something similar on Facebook. And it’s a truth I keep coming back to, I can do all the “pre-writing” in my head that I want, but it doesn’t count unless I actually sit down and put it on a page somewhere. And then, I need to keep at it – write, rewrite and revise until I’m tired of looking at it. Let it sit and revise some more. And then put it out there in the world to see what happens.
4. Is there any type of writing you’d like to try that you haven’t already?

I want to write murder mysteries. I love reading murder mysteries, but I’m weak at that type of plot structure, so I haven’t attempted it, yet. Though I have several outlines in a folder somewhere of ideas I’ve had. And I’d like to do hard science fiction, but those will come later I think.
5. You write poetry, which is a skill I have never learned and greatly envy!  What inspires you to write poems, and does your process differ from your prose-writing process?

To me, writing poetry is like making liqueur or essential oils or espresso. It’s a distillation and refining process. There’s a feeling or some ephemeral something that I want to hang onto, to capture for a moment and try to describe and it wants to be it’s own discrete thing. Sometimes it’s a longer bit and sometimes it’s a shorter bit. But it’s usually just this thing, it’s ineffable, I can’t describe it, that I want to capture and describe or explore. It could be how the contrasting colors on a building with a splash of shadows in the autumn morning look or make me feel or think. It could be the turn my brain takes whilst people watching at a bus stop. Or I’m trying to process some experience I am going through or have been through, and trying to explore it. And like any craft distillation process, it takes time. You might jot down a few lines and let them sit for while and brew before you come back to it and work on it later. One poet friend of mine told me once that one of the ancient poets said it takes a decade to write a proper poem. I know that’s not always true, but I do know that for me that’s sometimes true. I have some poems that I worked on for years before I felt they were finished. And I have other poems that were finished much sooner.

Writing prose has some of that, but there’s more of a logical process in writing prose, with fiction or nonfiction (unless you’re writing one of those long epic poems that’s going to end up being a story – then it’s about the same). In prose, you might want to describe a certain feeling or process, but writing it out in magical words is just part of the process. If you’re writing a story, then you have a beginning, a middle and an end. You have characters who need to grow from the opening of the story to the end. You need to make sure the plot works and the mechanics of the storyline and action work.

I guess you could say that poetry is like spending time in your kitchen making rosewater or mead or some magical potion. You have ingredients put in just right. You take the time to make it brew. You have the pretty bottles and labels all lined up and ready to be filled. Writing prose, especially fiction, is more like making a holiday family dinner for 10. So, you might spend some time making sure you make things pretty and just right, but mostly you’re just chopping vegetables, checking on meat, doing dishes and wanting to make sure that everything is cooked and makes it to the table at about the same time so everyone can enjoy the meal.
You can read more about Rachel and her works here at Putt Putt Productions.