Having a Moment

After posting yesterday, writer’s block set it. Some wit said that writer’s block happens when writers have nothing to say and the sad thing is, it doesn’t happen to them more often. Mine wasn’t based on having nothing to say; mine was based on grief and fear. As I studied the beta reader’s comments, there was a little bit of grief in losing the simple story I had. I knew that, for the most part, he was on target with his comments. I have heard him critique shorter pieces and that was why I was excited when he agreed to be a beta reader for me. Still, there was a sense of grief as I realized that all those plot holes and inconsistencies that I had learned to love had to go. I believe that what will rise from the ashes will be a much better story, but it will require a lot more work than a few small touch ups. And that’s where the fear came in.

I realized I needed to do a lot of foundation work before I went back to rewriting. I had to understand my characters in depth, including my living villain. I had to change the motivation for my villain while, at the same time, make his good character qualities stronger. I had to have a better explanation for the break in the family relationships of my main character. I needed to understand my world and place it in proper context on its planet – especially for future novels. I needed to understand my nameless, faceless villain and find ways to weave the background of that agency into the story so that tales of the current nature will make sense. I even realized that the changes I made for this book, would affect the other books – especially since the original title no longer made sense in light of the ideas I had for changing things.

So, I had a moment yesterday. I opened up the file for this book and stared at the character page for my male main character. I couldn’t even put down the height. I went away and looked at something else. I don’t know how many times I went to that page, and clicked away from it because of the fear of doing this right. I couldn’t work on some other writing that I had to do either. One of them is a writing challenge for 400 words a day. Later in the evening I finally passed 400 words, but not by much. So yesterday I had a moment. Today, I have hope. Today, I will begin reworking my characters and falling so much in love with them again that I want to be sure and tell their story – different as it may be. Today, I begin the process of falling in love with my better, more complex story as I progress towards becoming an author.

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Becoming an Author

A number of years ago I wrote a book. I think I told a pretty good story. I wrote two sequels so that now I have a trilogy. I have no doubt that if I had tried to publish them as they were, a few people might have bought them and enjoyed the stories. I might even have made a little bit of money. But I want to publish them the right way. I want to make sure that the stories hold together. I want that world to be consistent. So, I rewrote Book 1. You’ve seen some of the ARC chapters here. I was in love with the story so the book didn’t change a whole lot – I did try to shore up some areas that I realized were weak. I sent the book out for query and to beta readers. 1 agent has already told me “No.” I expected that, to be honest. I got back the reactions from one beta reader.

While enjoying the overall story, he pointed out some weaknesses and omissions. Most of the weaknesses I think I knew, deep down. Perhaps I thought that they weren’t really weak parts of the story, especially after I tried to strengthen some; perhaps I thought that those parts were weak because of my own insecurity and that others wouldn’t see them. He saw them. So, I have a couple of options: I can choose to ignore those parts of the criticism that would require a lot of work to fix and remain a story teller, or I can choose to become an author.

The first and second draft were the basics of the story I had in me. It was a nice story. The comments from my beta reader will make my “nice” story become a much stronger book. In order to follow this reader’s advice and become an author, I’m going to need to do a major re-tooling of the book. Plot points that hinged on one aspect of my main character will need to be completely re-written. My villain will need to be shown as more sneak and conniving while at the same time his positive qualities will have to come out. I will have to throw out parts of the story that I loved. I will have to make a much more determined effort to build and flesh out the world in which this story takes place and use ::shudder:: description – one of my weakest points.

Today I begin to become an author instead of just a story teller or a writer. I won’t begin by re-writing again. I will begin by getting to know my characters even better. I will begin to flesh out my world. My hope and my prayer is that by the time I finish this process of re-tooling this writing, it will be more than just a good story – it will be a book that I can be proud of. Join me on the journey. Give me suggestions as I walk…now…onto the work.

(Edit Note: All of these posts will be found under the “Journaling” Category)

Interview with Madeline Dyer – Author of Untamed

Madeline Dyer just re-released her breakthrough novel, Untamed, this week and I thought it would be interesting to get to know this remarkable lady. She signed her contract for Untamed at the age of 19. She released her second book in the Untamed Series, Fragmented, in 2016 (with a coming re-release with her new publisher soon), and will be releasing her third novel in the series, Divided, in July of this year. Do not be fooled by her young age. She is wise in the ways of this business and has some great help for people like me. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I did.

Hello Madeline! It’s so great to have this chance to get to know you. Tell me about yourself. What do I need to know about you as a person and as an author?

Hi! So, I’m Madeline, and I live in the southwest of England. I have a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal, and I own so many books that I’m slightly worried my floor is going to give way. (But you can never have too many books, right?). I’ve got an Honours degree in English from the University of Exeter, and I now write full-time.

Full time! Wow! That’s amazing. Tell me about your writing. What genre do you prefer? What books or stories have you published, or are about to publish? Tell me about your series that you’re working on now.

I’m a speculative fiction writer, and my work has been published by several small presses. My favourite genre within speculative fiction probably has to be dystopian fiction…though I do love fantasy—my Untamed Series (originally published by Prizm Books, and most released by Ineja Press) is a genre blend of dystopian and fantasy elements, and I’d say those books represent me as a writer pretty well.

But I’m also drawn to really dark stories…

I’m currently working on a secret new manuscript and Divided, the third book in the Untamed Series. Divided is scheduled for a July 11th, 2017 release, and at the moment I’m addressing beta-reader feedback. Soon it’ll be off to my editor.

Wow! I’m impressed. I ‘m still dreaming of that day for me. But as a full time writer, you can’t just sit back and enjoy that feeling for too long. It’s time to begin your next novel. Give me an outline of your work process from the beginning of the idea, to the research you may do before (and during) the creative process, the actual writing, the editing, the rewriting up until the day the manuscript is ready for a publisher.

Wow! What a question!

So, for me, I tend to start the whole ‘write a novel’ process as soon as a spark of an idea captures me. I don’t sit on ideas for weeks to let them germinate; I just grab a pen (or my laptop), and go. It’s only when I start writing that I get to know and explore an idea, and so writing a messy first draft is essential for me to actually discover the story and the characters. I literally write everything that comes into my head, and at this point I don’t let myself edit it. I might make a few notes separately, but for me the important thing is actually finishing the first draft. And I usually don’t know the characters truly—or the world they live in—until I’ve written an ending for that first draft.

And then I’m left with a very messy first draft that doesn’t make sense, and that’s full of holes. But this is where my rewriting begins—and frankly, the rewriting is my favourite part of it all. It’s taking my messy draft and making it into something readable. By this stage, I know my characters well—or If I don’t, I do loads of character work on them—and I can also see the manuscript as a whole, rather than just a chain of events that makes up the plot. I can see how things feed into each other, and where the pacing is off, or parts that lack tension.

So, I typically do a huge rewrite looking at structure and all the big issues. It’s here where I nearly always use Blake Snyder’s beat sheet, found in Save the Cat, to help with the structure and to make sure I’ve got all the necessary components. The other thing I look carefully at when rewriting is my main character. His or her voice needs to start coming through now, and the MC (main character) needs to be realistic and believable, needs to have flaws…but the protagonist also needs to be active (and not just reactive). He or she has to make the stuff happen, particularly in the latter part of the manuscript. The MC needs to take charge and make sure she meets her goal.

And that brings me to the MC’s goal… I typically do another rewrite to ensure that my protagonist has a clear goal or something that he or she wants to achieve, and that readers know what will happen if they doesn’t achieve it…what the stakes are. That sort of thing. This then becomes my characterization rewrite where I look really carefully at all my characters and their individual goals and backgrounds—and I make sure that my antagonist’s reasoning for his/her actions is also clear and logical in their head (as the antagonist is also the hero of his/her own story).

By this point, I usually find that my plot is changing a lot and my new draft is vastly different to that messy first draft. It’s more balanced and structured (and any scenes that don’t either move the plot forward or reveal something important about a character are taken out).

Next up, I concentrate on worldbuilding and really making sure that I know every single detail about the world I’m writing, and that readers know enough to understand the world I’m asking them to (temporarily) live in. And this also becomes the editorial round where I do loads of research. Alongside my earlier rewrites, I would’ve made many notes and questions about stuff I need to look up, so here is where I do it.

After this, the manuscript is usually in pretty good shape and once I’m really happy with it, I send it to my beta-readers and critique partners. About four to eight weeks later, I get their feedback and comments, often with loads of suggestions and highlighted parts that they didn’t understand. I then spend the next month or so addressing their comments in a new round of edits and really making sure the manuscript is as best it can be.

Before I query it with acquisitions editors at publishers, I also give it another read for grammar and spelling, and final checks. (But by no means will a manuscript be done, even now—after contracting, I expect to do at least three more rounds of edits with an in-house editor. But at this stage, it’s the best that I can make it.)

Every once in a while, I run into people seem to think that an author just has to write down a bunch of words and put it into a book. Thank you so much for all the details on all the work you do. That’s amazing. To be honest, I’m exhausted just reading what you do. It’s hard to imagine doing that. Seriously, though, I saw that you are involved with the “Lift 4 Autism” project for this year. How did you get involved with this project? Why is it important for you, or any other author, to be involved in projects like this?

I saw a call for submissions for a fantasy anthology raising money for Lift 4 Autism and I signed up to find out more info. I had to give quite a bit of info about myself as an author and my writing credentials—as well as links to my traditionally published works—and a few weeks later I found out that I’d been selected to write for the anthology. My novella, “The Curse of the Winged Wight”, is a gothic fairy tale retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, and the whole anthology releases on April 1st 2017.

Writing shorter fiction is always something I find challenging (I’m used to writing novels that are around 100,000 words) and I think it’s important for writers to regularly step out of their comfort zones, so that’s why I wanted to be involved. Plus, it’s for charity, and it’s a really good cause. I’ve also become good friends with a few of the other authors involved in the anthology, and it’s always great meeting other authors.

That is a great cause and I want to thank you for being involved in it! Let’s get back to your books. You’ve done all that hard work. The book is published. The reader buys your book. When the reader finishes reading your book, what do you want to happen?

For him or her to buy the next in the series! And for the reader to have liked the book—that’s important! I want my writing to mean something to its readers. And it’s even better if the readers keep thinking about the deeper messages in the novel after they’ve finished the book—dystopian fiction is great for this as so often these fictitious societies interact and engage with today’s world on so many levels.

You’ve probably gotten lots of advice as a writer. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten about writing?

Write with your biggest fan in mind, and don’t read your reviews. If you come across a negative review, you’ll pay way more attention to it than you do all your positive reviews together, and it’ll disrupt your writing for days.

That review advice is awesome. I’m afraid I would be very tempted to read those reviews and would let bad ones bother me. So now it’s your time to dispense some advice. Right now, a thirteen-year-old girl who wants to be an author is reading this interview. What do you tell her to inspire her to follow her dream?

To keep writing! Write every day and get into the habit of writing. Even if it’s just a couple hundred words each day, it’ll add up. And no one can tell you that you’re not a writer. You ARE.

There’ll also be some criticism from others when they hear you want to be a writer. But don’t let that put you off. I was told I should be a carpet-fitter by a teacher (yeah, I know!), and that young people never get book deals. But I was 19 when I signed my first book deal with a traditional publisher, so I guess I proved her wrong…

The other thing is, when the time comes to look into publishing routes, research each publisher thoroughly. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams out there. In short, if someone says you’ve got to pay them to get published (even if they say that you’d be paying for editing or cover art), then run. A legitimate publisher never asks their authors to pay anything, and a publisher should invest their own money in the author’s work.

Great advice! And obviously, there is a lot that an old man like me can get from that too. Writing isn’t easy, you’ve shown us that. What challenges do you face as an author?

I think the unpredictability of a writer’s career is the biggest challenge I face most of the time. You can’t really predict how your earnings will be in a year’s time, and so there’s the constant need to bring out new books. Luckily, I have this burning desire in me to write and I want to write…and write as much as I can. But I often feel like I can’t write fast enough and that I have too many stories inside me that are just waiting patiently in line.

Obviously, you are a full time writer, so selling your books is one joy you get as an author. There are others, I’m sure. What joys do you experience as an author?

My favourite moments are when I get emails from readers who’ve just finished one of my books and they tell me how much they loved a certain character, or what one of the novels meant to them.

So that any readers can tell you these things, what’s the best way for someone to contact you?

You can email me at Madeline [at] MadelineDyer.co.uk or find me @MadelineDyerUK on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. My Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/MadelineDyerAuthor

Let’s get back to the process. I just realized we left your book at the level of the best you can do. You’re ready for the publisher. Tell me the process you went through to get published, once you finished writing. 

Okay. So, Untamed was my debut novel, but it was the fourth manuscript that I completed. (Writing the others before it really shaped me as a writer, and if I hadn’t stuck to it and written them, I couldn’t have written the manuscript that became my debut. Lots of authors, including me, also believe that you should never publish the first manuscript you write.).

So, when I had completed Untamed, I sent queries off to many agents and acquisitions editors. Quite a few then requested the full manuscript, and at that stage, I got an offer from a publisher. However, at the same time, another publisher offered me an R&R (revise and resubmit) with detailed feedback about how they thought I could improve the book further and make it more gripping and slightly darker. After thinking long and hard, I decided to go with the R&R over the offer, and did another editorial round. Developing the darkness in the book was something that I really loved and I could tell immediately that it had made it better.

When I’d finished the R&R edits, I sent the manuscript back to the acquisitions editor. Ultimately, she decided not to offer on it then as it still wasn’t quite right for her house, even though she loved it (and she wanted to know which publisher it ended up with). But at this point, I had a much stronger manuscript. I started querying again, and within a few months, I had three more offers from publishers who all really wanted Untamed now that it was darker in tone.

And so, aged nineteen, I signed my first book deal and felt really confident in my manuscript.

I would assume that you are getting better in your skills. What do you do to improve your writing craftsmanship?

Read! I’m a firm believer that all writers should keep reading continuously to improve their craft, whether they read fiction or books on the craft. I tend to read more fiction (after all, knowing the current market and what’s popular is important), but I also have a core group of writing craft books that I regularly read alongside when I’m drafting a new manuscript.

Talking to other writers is also important, and I regularly swap passages of manuscripts with other authors. Critiquing each other’s work is so valuable, not only for the one getting the feedback, but also the writer assessing it and making the comments.

Last question. I promise. You began with traditional publishing. Now, because of circumstances, you are moving to independent publishing. Based on what you’ve experienced so far, what are the differences? Would you prefer to stay in a traditional publishing model or are you enjoying the Indie model?

Yes, the publisher for my Untamed Series closed, and when rights reverted to me, I decided to self-publish new editions of the titles to keep the books in print.

I couldn’t keep the formatting, covers, or ISBNs (as these were my publisher’s), but I still wanted my books to look as professional as they can, and so I made a list of all the things that I couldn’t do and that I’d need to outsource, such as cover art, interior design, and formatting.  With my first two novels, they’d already been professionally edited by an in-house editor, so I didn’t have to worry about editing costs–though, I’ll be releasing book three in my series independently right from the start, and I’ve already booked the same editor who edited my first two books in-house to work with me on this, as she now does freelance editing too.

The main difference between traditional and self-publishing is whose money is being invested. With traditional publishing, the publisher is investing their money in the production costs, whereas as an indie, it’s your own money. And so if you’re self-publishing (and if you’re writing for a living) you’ve got to be confident that you can break even (at least) with your books, and early on. That isn’t to say that you should only write for money—I’m a firm believer that you need to love writing (readers can tell if you don’t). But to make it into a career, you also have to see it as a business and understand the market you’re writing for.

So far, I’m really enjoying how much control I get with self-publishing. My cover artist, Molly Phipps, is amazing, and she’s also done the interior design for the ebook and paperback editions, as well as the formatting. I like knowing exactly what’s happening, and setting my own deadlines and release dates. I’ve also decided to set up my own independent self-publishing imprint, Ineja Press, for my Untamed Series, and I’ve bought my own ISBNs rather than use the free ones provided to self-publishing authors via distributor sites. My main reason for doing this is that I still want bookstores to be able to order copies of my books in, and some won’t look at a self-published book if CreateSpace owns the ISBN.

But I’m not ruling out traditional publishing, as both models have their advantages. Some books are better suited to the traditional route, and I’m working on a manuscript now that I’ll be querying soon. For me, starting to independently publish my work doesn’t mean that I’m only going to self-publish from now on. I like what both routes offer, and each can help me reach new readers. And if people are reading my books, then I’m happy.

Madeline, thank you so much for talking with me. You are a great role model for other writers. I have learned a lot and hope that I can use what I’ve learned to do a better job as I prepare for publication myself. Interestingly enough, the book I am working on right now is the fourth manuscript I’ve written. So, we have that in common. Good luck on this new release and for your new projects, including your secret manuscript. That intrigues me. Thank you.

Thank you.


Watch for Fragmented later this month and Divided in July. And don’t forget the Lift 4 Autism project releasing in April of this year.

Here is Madeline’s official Bio and a summary of Untamed (along with links to buy this great book.)

Madeline Dyer lives in the southwest of England, and holds a BA honours degree in English from the University of Exeter. She has a strong love for anything dystopian, ghostly, or paranormal, and can frequently be found exploring wild places. At least one notebook is known to follow her wherever she goes. Her debut novel, Untamed (first published by Prizm Books in 2015), examines a world in which anyone who has negative emotions is hunted down, and a culture where addiction is encouraged. Her second novel, Fragmented, released in September 2016, and will be followed by Divided in July 2017.

About UNTAMED

A fantastic dystopian tale. Highly recommended for fans of strong heroines and intriguing sci-fi worlds.
Pintip Dunn, New York Times bestselling author of the Forget Tomorrow series

As one of the last Untamed humans left in the world, Seven’s life has always been controlled by tight rules. Stay away from the Enhanced. Don’t question your leader. And, most importantly, never switch sides–because once you’re Enhanced there’s no going back. Even if you have become the perfect human being.

But after a disastrous raid on an Enhanced city, Seven soon finds herself in her enemy’s power. Realizing it’s only a matter of time before she too develops a taste for the chemical augmenters responsible for the erosion of humanity, Seven knows she must act quickly if she’s to escape and save her family from the same fate.

Yet, as one of the most powerful Seers that the Untamed and Enhanced have ever known, Seven quickly discovers that she alone holds the key to the survival of only one race. But things aren’t clear-cut anymore, and with Seven now questioning the very beliefs she was raised on, she knows she has an important choice to make. One that has two very different outcomes.

Seven must choose wisely whose side she joins, for the War of Humanity is underway, and Death never takes kindly to traitors.

Buy UNTAMED on Amazon (and it’s $1.99/£1.99 until the end of January 2017!) https://www.amazon.com/Untamed-Book-1-Madeline-Dyer-ebook/dp/B01MS5264O/

Other retailers:  iBooks  |  Kobo  |  Click here for the full list of retailers

A Tale of Two Ditties (Say that carefully!)

Ok, what I am posting are not ditties, but I just loved the play on words. I have begun rewriting last November’s NaNoWriMo novel in earnest. After playing at editing and losing my place, I am working on it paragraph by paragraph now. I am posting two versions of the same part of the story. I would love some feedback: Which version is better…or how would you combine the two. I will put my original first page up first, and then the rewrite. Did I improve it? Did I not change it enough? Too much? I am open to criticism, so please don’t try to be kind. (You are welcome to be kind if the writing warrants it though. Please give me some feedback!

Seppe looked with disgust at the body lying in the dark alley. He couldn’t remember ever seeing anyone looking that bad. The stiff’s acquaintances, if he had known them, would have told Seppe that no one was surprised that he had been killed and that no one really cared; even after seeing the gruesome pictures of the remains. Seppe looked at his partner, Aiden, and shook his head. Aiden was a twenty-five cycle veteran of the Wesdanian Police Force and was looking at retirement before the disbanding process had started. Aiden, veteran that he was, was still almost sick to his stomach. Seppe wasn’t doing much better himself.

The stiff’s head had been severed from the body and had been thrown under the fire escape on the west side of the alley. The main body of the stiff was splayed against the trash cans belonging to the Kroll Rader Bar and Grill. Both legs were cut off at the knees: one foot was about thirty five feet south of the body; the other foot was next to the head as if it had just kicked the head. The left arm was partly severed and the body lay on top of it. His right arm was extended as if he had seen the attack coming at the last minute and had been surprised by his attacker. Blood was spattered everywhere.

Seppe sniffed the air surreptitiously making sure that Aiden hadn’t seen him. They’d been partners for about five cycles, but Seppe still wasn’t ready to tell Aiden his secret. His tendrils quivered at the scent. He inhaled a little more deeply and shook his head. The scent was familiar but he couldn’t quite place it. He knew Aiden wouldn’t be able to smell it at all, so he’d have to keep that to himself. He wasn’t ready to tell Aiden just yet.

“Something smells real bad about this,” Aiden growled. Seppe jumped a little inside. Had Aiden seen him?

Seppe laughed nervously, “You got a dismembered man here, of course it smells bad.”

Aiden rolled his eyes, “You always do take me too literally, don’t you Seppe.” He laughed in friendly mockery. “I just meant that as bad as things look, there’s more going on here than meets the eye.”

Seppe laughed back, “Brilliant deduction, Aiden. We have a dead guy in pieces scattered across the alley and you figured out that something was wrong. I thought you were getting ready to retire and now you look like you’re bucking for chief.”

Aiden snarled, “Very funny bright boy. Let me just ask you one question. Who did it?”

Seppe shook his head in amazement. “We just got on the case how would I know who did ….” His voice trailed off as suddenly the depth of that question hit him right in the gut. “That’s right. We don’t have anything to go on. We don’t have any snitches to work over.” He paused, and then continued, “Not unless you want to travel up there.” He jerked his thumb towards Dwarinda, the penal colony moon.

And now the rewrite to that same point…

Seppe’s nose wrinkled as he looked at the body lying in the dark alley. He couldn’t remember  seeing any other victim hacked up as bad as this one. It was gruesome and he recoiled a little in disgust. Seppe looked at his partner, Aiden, and shook his head. Aiden was a twenty-five cycle veteran of the Wesdanian Police Force and was looking at retirement before the disbanding process had started. Aiden, veteran that he was, was still very queasy. Seppe wasn’t doing much better himself and wondered how the crowd might react if he let his stomach take control. He silently fought back against the waves of nausea as they continued to survey the scene.

The stiff’s head had been severed from the body and had been thrown violently against the wall under the fire escape on the west side of the alley. The main part of the torso was splayed against the trash cans belonging to the Kroll Rader Bar and Grill. Both legs were cut off at the knees: one foot was about ten meters south of the body; the other foot was close to the fire escape as if it had been used to dropkick his own head. The left arm was partly severed and the body lay on top of it. His right arm was extended as if he had seen the attack coming at the last minute and had been surprised by his attacker. Blood was spattered everywhere.

Seppe sniffed the air surreptitiously making sure that Aiden hadn’t seen him. They’d been partners for about five cycles, but Seppe still wasn’t ready to tell Aiden his secret. His tendrils quivered at the scent. He inhaled a little more deeply and shook his head. The scent was familiar but he couldn’t quite place it. He knew Aiden wouldn’t be able to smell what he smelled, so subtle was the odor, so he’d have to keep that information to himself for now. Aiden might never have this information unless he was forced to reveal it.

“Something smells real bad about this,” Aiden growled. Seppe jumped a little inside. Had Aiden seen him reacting to the odor in the air?

Seppe laughed nervously, “You got a dismembered man here, of course it smells bad.”

Aiden rolled his eyes, “You always do take me too literally, don’t you Seppe. Why is that?” He laughed in friendly mockery. “I just meant that as bad as things look, there’s more going on here than meets the eye.”

Seppe laughed back, “Brilliant deduction, Aiden. We have a dead guy in pieces scattered across the alley and you figured out that something was wrong. I thought you were getting ready to retire and now you look like you’re bucking for chief.” Sometimes he took Aiden too literally because he was afraid that Aiden would find out his background.

Aiden snarled, “Very funny bright boy. Let me just ask you one question. Who did it?”

Seppe shook his head in amazement. “We just got on the case how would I know who did ….” His voice trailed off as suddenly the depth of that question hit him right in the gut. “That’s right. We don’t have anything to go on. We don’t have any snitches to work over.” He paused, and then continued, “Not unless you want to travel up there.” He jerked his thumb towards Dwarinda, the penal colony moon. Both men looked slowly into the night sky that was only partially lit up by Dwarinda. Then they shook their heads almost in unison as they realized that they needed to focus on the task at hand.