Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

How to Write the Other Queer Character

Part 1

By: Jason Evans

Jason Evans recently interviewed two queer authors, Nonir Amicitia and Olivia Wylie who discussed writing the queer character.

Jason: Please introduce yourselves!

Nonir: I’m Nonir Amicitia, one half of O.E. Tearmann. I use they/them pronouns, play too many video games, and have two giant Sterlite containers of old writing under my bed. In addition to writing as O.E. Tearmann, I also run Wandering Jotun Crafts, which is dedicated to providing art and spiritual services to uplift and support marginalized communities. 

Olivia: Hey, I’m the other half of this writing team wearing the O.E. Tearmann trenchcoat. I’m a bisexual, biracial cis girl with a blue streak through my hair and my soul, a jack of all trades and a master of none. My first love is folklore, but I’ve branched out into sci-fi, ethnobotany, and non-fiction horticulture writing. Trained in ornamental horticulture at CSU, I own the residential landscaping and garden-related artistic business Leafing Out Professional Gardening, write for the Brehon Law Academy, create art and illustrated books of ethnobotany and folklore under my own name, and am moderating too many facebook groups focusing on folklore, research and art.

Jason: What do you write?

Nonir: I tend toward fantasy and scifi with strong romantic plots. Lately, I’ve been working on some queer romance and erotica short stories I’ll be publishing under the name E.S. Argentum sometime soon (fingers crossed).

Olivia: I really love doing research, so I do a lot of work on Old Irish cultural artifacts like the Brehon Law, the Triads of Ireland, and the Ogham. Currently I have a book out on the Victorian Language of Flowers, the Old Irish Alphabet of Trees, and the Triads of Ireland, with a forthcoming volume on the history of invasive weeds in America.

When I’m in the mood to be less cerebral, I like to write folklore-based works, and I’m the artist on the folklore-based webcomic Parmeshen. With Nonir I write the hopeful queer cyberpunk series Aces High, Jokers Wild, which is our way of getting catharsis for everything going on in the US and showing others how to light candles in the darkest night.

Jason: What are the top three things I should know, in your opinion, if I want to authentically write queer characters?

Nonir: One: queer characters are just as nuanced and varied as any other type of character; they have interests and likes/dislikes and personality quirks that have nothing to do with their sexuality or gender. Two: please don’t fall into the “all queer people are promiscuous and only think about sex” stereotype. Again, just focus on writing well-rounded characters. Three: don’t write just one. Practice, practice, practice, and avoid tokenizing or fetishizing your queer characters.

Olivia: A) We’re people. Not classifications. This is life, not D&D. Don’t write a trans woman character; write a girl with a thing for race cars who has a hell of a time sourcing good jumpsuits in her size, maybe, and mentions that the only time being trans sucks is when you try to find something cute for a woman your height. See the difference?

B) Read Before You Write. I can’t stress this enough. Go read a ton of Own Voices stuff from queer authors in every shade of the rainbow. Go read books like ‘Transcending Flesh’ by Ana Mardoll. Read ‘Traversing Gender’ by Lee Harrington. Then go out and ask—and accept—what needs correcting in your work. Queer Sci Fi Writer’s Workshop is a good place. Put exactly as much research into understanding your queer characters as you would understanding an ancient Roman character. What you write could change someone’s life, for better and for worse.

Jason: When writing about queer people, what are some things, you find, that they are confident about? Can you give me some examples?

Nonir: Honestly, I can’t really answer this because queer people are just as diverse as cishet people. Everyone has their own things they’re confident about and things they struggle with, and there’s no real way to make a blanket statement about it.

Olivia: So, to answer this question, first we’re going to have to unpack it. Then we’re going to have to reword it. Then we can answer it.

The problem with this question is that it assumes several things. Firstly, it assumes the monolithic nature of people who aren’t cisgender and/or heterosexual. This assumption is false on the face of it. Like any other group, we’re made up of a wide range of people with all kinds of personalities, backgrounds, goals, and skills.

Living in the modern world, we must consciously overcome this outdated thinking. The term ‘queer’ is an extremely wide umbrella. Scratch that, it’s a circus tent, under which all sorts of folks have all kinds of lived experiences.

Secondly, this question assumes that sexuality and gender identity affects other specific personality traits—namely, confidence. These traits are not intrinsically linked. This is an essential point.

So, what are queer people confident in? Answer: it depends on the specific person you’re talking to. You can have any combination of gender, orientation, skillset, and personality. An extremely confident science whiz who’s asexual, romantically attracted to women, and absolutely sure she can talk anyone into anything. A straight trans guy who’s a great arborist and a little shy. The combinations are absolutely endless. Exactly as they are for cis-het people.

A better wording of this question could be: what are modern queer people able to feel confident in displaying publicly concerning their identity?

Again, this is completely dependent on the lived experience of the person you’re talking to. According to the Federal Hate Crimes Registry, 20.8% of hate crimes are based on LGBT identity as of 2013, up from 17.6% in 2008. Of these crimes, 72% are violent in nature. If you’re lucky, you live surrounded by a supportive community, whether natal or cultivated. If you’re not lucky…well, bluntly, you can still end up beat in an alley. Or worse. And where you get beat verses where you get bothered for dating advice all depends on what subculture you live in. It is, as a very broad blanket statement, safer to disclose your gender and orientation more openly in the US and Europe today. But some seriously nasty subcultures still lie under that blanket. Again: there is no one thing we’re all confident in.
Well, okay, maybe there’s one thing. We all know that you’ll never get all that glitter off. Glitter is forever. But that’s the only thing we are all completely confident in.

So, here’s the takeaway: treat LGBT people like people. Write LGBT people like people. Don’t assume they all do anything.  Ask people about what they’re confident in. Let them tell their life stories and their experiences. Ask them what they think. Oh, and keep the cap on the glitter.


We will see you next month for Part 2.
In the meantime:

You can read more about Nonir and Olivia’s hope-punk series at www.aceshighjokerswild.com

You can check out Nonir at www.wanderingjotun.com and at www.argentumbooks.weebly.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @wanderingjotun

To check out Olivia’s author page, go to https://www.amazon.com/Olivia-Wylie/e/B07G67WZKC, Olivia’s also hangs out at https://www.etsy.com/shop/LeafingOutArt.


Jason Henry Evans says that life is funny. In 2004 he moved from Los Angeles to Denver, newly married with a desire to be a great teacher and husband. He dedicated himself to public education and realized his heart was not in it. So he moved on. At the same time he stumbled into a creative world of art and literature he now calls home. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worthwhile.
You can catch up with Jason on his Facebook Author Page or on Twitter. You will also find up to date posts on his blog.

Producing a Novel – Part 4

Character Sketches and Backstory

By: Donna Schlachter

Now that you have the foundation for your book that we covered in Parts 1, 2, and 3, you can begin the hard non-writing part of your book: deciding who your characters will be, and what their stories are.

Every Character has a Story

Yes, every single character in your book has their own story. That’s because, just like real people, everything that happened to your characters in the past affects who and what they are today or whenever your story is set.

The easy thing to do at this point is ignore this advice and move directly to the writing part of the story—but be advised: you’ll have to do this step at some point. Doing it now will save you time and heartache later on.

I made the mistake of skipping this step in my first full-length mystery novel, and I ended up three chapters from the end not knowing whodunit or why. I hadn’t written in any clues or red herrings, either, which meant I had to stop, figure out the criminal and their motivation, then go back and point my amateur sleuth in several wrong directions before revealing the real crook.

Not fun.
As I said, I suggest you do this now.

Where do you start?

Start with your main character. Ask a few questions, and make a note of the answers somewhere. I will discuss modes of information storage in another section, but how you keep the data is more about you and your preferences.

Some authors refer to this as their Bible—because it holds the truth about their story. I’ve found that deciding on a key element—such as the color of the character’s eyes or hair—is easier if I have a photo or image. You can download and print these pictures in color and keep them in a binder, a folder, or on your computer for quick reference and refreshing your memory.

But for those non-physical details, such as birthplace, schooling, first love, car preference, vacations, et cetera, you’ll want to write or type those somewhere. Again, images are good.

And while few of these details will make it into your story, they might aid in you deciding how the character would react in a given situation. For example, if you knew your character grew up in the Depression, the oldest of seven children, and their father died so your character had to drop out of school to work so the rest of the kids could eat, that might change your decision about whether your character would spend a year-end bonus or bank it.

What should you ask your characters?

You can find lists of interview questions for characters on various websites, which I will include below under Resources, but the primary questions to ask your character are:

Every Character has a Story
  • Name
  • Date and place of birth
  • Birth order
  • Siblings
  • Parent’s occupations
  • Parent’s ages at time of character’s birth
  • Parents’ education
  • First job
  • Pet preference
  • First memory
  • Did they live with grandparents?
  • Struggles in school, favorite subjects
  • Reason for being where they are now
  • Past wounds, including lost loves, marriages, relationships, etc.

Why is a character sketch important?

You might wonder how any of this is important to your story today. Let’s take parents’ education, for example. If the father is a college graduate and the mother is a high school dropout, depending on which parent your character was closer to could affect their attitude toward the importance of education. If they were closer to their mother, they might think education isn’t important since it wasn’t important to Mom. But what if Mom dropped out because she was pregnant, and has always wanted to return but there was never enough time or money? What if Mom was harassed at school by students, so she quit, then got her GED years later? That might change the character’s attitude.

The idea behind knowing who your character is will create a three-dimensional character. Don’t make your main character too much like you, because then this will become your story. Change up some details. If you decide your character dropped out of school because she was pregnant, talk to some women who made that choice. Ask them what their thoughts were at the time. Were they hoping for a happily-ever-after shotgun wedding? Or did they see their hopes and dreams sucked down the drain? Were they trying to escape a bad family situation, only to find themselves married to a man they hardly knew? Or was it the best thing they ever did? All of these will change your character’s responses to various situations.

Don’t stop at your main character.

Then do the same with your secondary character and your antagonist/villain. You want to know these three characters as well as you know your own family. Make certain to give each of them a different past. Be sure that your secondary character’s strength is opposite to your main character’s, and that their wounds are bound to bring them into conflict. And don’t neglect your antagonist/villain’s good point—everybody has at least one. Find something that your main and secondary characters can empathize with.

For any other characters, you don’t need to know much more about them than their name, occupation, one good quality, and one flaw, then play on those good qualities and flaws, using the flaws to create conflict and tension in your story.

Backstory is never dumped into the story.

As to backstory, that’s the compilation of all of this information about your primary characters. It’s important for you to know, and it’s important for your reader to know so they understand why a character says or does what they do. However, backstory is never to be dumped into a story like a biography. The best way is to reveal their backstory through internal dialogue.

Here’s an example: Your main character was bullied as a child in school. Now she’s dating a teacher who believes shouting is the way to get his point across.

Kevin slapped the table. “You need to listen to me on this!”
Sally sighed, stood, and walked away. For the final time.
Men, they’re all the same. On the playground. Or on the school board.

Do you see how we know something happened in her past without her having to say anything about the specific incident?

When you combine character sketches with backstory, now you have the building blocks to writing a powerful, multi-layered story that draws readers in.

Resources:
100+ Questions to Help You Interview Your Character
The Write Practice – 37 Questions to Ask Your Character
Making the Most of Character Interviews
The Writing – Get to Know Your Characters

Previous installments of Producing a Novel:
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books
Genre and Markets
Building Believable Characters


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, Sisters in Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.
Find her on: FacebookTwitterAmazonSmashwordsEtsy

Bookstagrammer – The New Book Blogger

By: Jenny Kate

Remember book bloggers?

Back in the day, writers and publicists would reach out and build book blog tours for a writer with a new release – kinda like a virtual book tour – to increase exposure and sell books.

Well, today those have moved to Instagram.

Bookstagrammers are 2020’s book bloggers, and New York has taken notice.

Bookstagrammers are Instagram influencers who share book reviews with great overlays of the book cover on their feeds. Some of those influencers use their Stories for these as well, and some post videos routinely on IGTV with their review.

Those with more than 10,000 followers are generally paid and have rapidly built relationships with agents, editors and publishers. If you have an agent, have them reach out.

Influencers with followers in the 5,000 range are a bit choosy about the books they review, but they tend to work directly with the author. Expect to pay $50 and up for a review, so careful vet before you pay.

Those with less than 5,000 followers are still pretty powerful simply because of the nature of the internet. Having your book seen by new readers is a win-win all the way around, and these bookstagrammers are much easier for an author to reach.

To find a bookstagrammer in your genre, simply search the hashtag.

Good rule of thumb is if they have 5,000 or more followers, have your agent reach out to them via the Direct Messenger on Instagram.

If they have less than 5,000 followers, pitch them your log line on a DM and offer some swag.

Make sure you like and comment a thank-you to any bookstagrammer who reviews your book.

Some bookstagrammers to follow:

For more on social media, click here

More about Jenny Kate, head to www.thewriternation.com


Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

Jennifer Lovett is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 19 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity.
You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest: @writernationjen

Listen and Learn

Writing Podcasts Worth Listening To

by: Brittany Lawrence

Are you still feeling secluded? Are you at home trying to improve your writing, but not sure where to turn? Here are a few ideas to keep you going.

From Apple, Spotify, Castbox, to Anchor, there are dozens of platforms for you to explore. With topics ranging from lawn care to auto specs. People share their thoughts and expertise like never before.

How does this help the writer? So many ways!

If you’re writing about a topic you’re not familiar with you can now turn time spent on chores into a learning experience from a pro. Or, if you’re starting to market your own work; start your own podcast! Discuss your books and processes. Cross market with fellow writers for even more exposure. Talk about your struggles, or your pets. No matter the topic, your fans will eat it up.

Below is a short list of podcasts geared toward writers of every level.

Happy Listening!

Podcast

Writer Nation

PPW member Jenny Kate has conversations with writers, publishers, bloggers, agents and more. Discussions cover every aspect of writing from business plans, book launches, and social media, to plotting, worldbuilding, and editing.

Jenny is active on most social media outlets including, Twitter and Facebook.

The Functional Nerds

Functional Nerds is a weekly podcast (airing on Tuesdays) from author/blogger Patrick Hester (PPW member) and author/teacher Tracy Townsend focusing on science fiction and fantasy media: television, film, comics, and new media such as fan films, audio dramas, online animated comics and more, technology, gadgets and all things Apple as well as music and the occasional video game.

Ask The Bards

Authors Kevin Hearn and Delilah S. Dawson discuss writing, publishing, and answer questions from twitter with honesty and healthy dose humor.

You can find them active on Twitter @DelilahSDawson & @KevinHearne

Ink Feather Podcast

Lauren Zurchin, fantasy and sci-fi author interviews a broad range of both self and traditionally published authors.

You can find her on Twitter and Facebook in her private group.

Print Run Podcast

Agents Laura Zats and Erik Hane, discuss the industry happy hour style.

They also have a Patreon, a paid subscription, where they go in-depth on queries, and manuscripts submitted anonymously.

You can find them on Twitter, Facebook, and their website.

KT Literary Podcast

Agent Renee Nyen hosts KT Literary’s podcast. Here she discusses writing, the industry, and interviews fellow agents and authors.

You can find KT Literary on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and their website.

The Writer’s Market Podcast

You read that right, Writer’s Market has their own podcast! Robert Lee Brewer and Brian A. Klems discuss queries, agents, and all things publishing.

You can find them both on Twitter at @robertleebrewer and @BrianKlems

Beyond the Troupe

“Nerds and geeks unite! BEYOND THE TROPE was a writing podcast before we expanded into general nerdiness. Tired of snobs telling you that pop culture is rubbish? Join us in our crusade to push back in force! We explore the deeper side of pop culture, from science fiction and fantasy to cosplay, RPGs, comics, and writing.”


Brittany Lawrence

Brittany A. Lawrence has seventeen years of writing experience under her belt. From self-publishing her first novel at fourteen; to contributing to Felt Tips an erotic anthology, her writing experience is vast. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and tortie, Midnight. You can find her writing as B. A. Lawrence on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pintrest.

Why Should I Write Diverse Characters?

By: Jason Henry Evans

Right now you’re probably asking yourself, how can I add diversity to my story? It is my hope that by the end you’ll be asking, how did I write without it? However, I have a sneaking suspicion that you might have another question that needs answering first.

Make your story as diverse as our society.

Why?

Why do I have to shoehorn characters in that I never envisioned in the first place? Why is there suddenly another writing skill I am required to master before I can pitch or sell my or publish my novel? Why must I include one more layer on top of everything else?

Look, I get it. But think about writing diversity like you would about learning about how to write a novel. When I published my debut novel, not only did I have polish my basic grammar, I also had to learn pacing, theme, foreshadowing, character arcs, and a dozen other skills. But listen, I learned all those skills—and so did you. One more won’t kill you.

Why Write Diverse Characters?

1.) First of all, none of this is sudden. These issues have always been here. Octavia Butler, a Hugo Award winning science fiction writer, wrote “Why is Science Fiction so White?” back in 1980. You can read it here.

There have always been diverse people trying to write and get published. All they have ever wanted was to be seen in fiction.

2.) As more people are drawn into the reading public, the more diverse that public becomes. That public will want to see themselves in the literature they read. If you choose not write more complex stories with more diverse characters then you are potentially missing an entire market of readers because of the narrowness of your story. In today’s world when traditional marketing is dying and its getting even harder to get noticed, don’t walk away from potential customers.

3.) Writing with an eye towards diversity will make you a better writer.  Take a standard historic adventure story set in the 17th century. You’ve got pirates and the British fleet after those pirates. Ok, sounds cool, right? Now add a Japanese samurai into the story. He’s in Mexico working as a body guard. (They were there, I’ve checked.) Now have that samurai interact with the British sailors as he desperately tries to get them to go after the pirates who’ve kidnapped a Mexicana noble woman whom the samurai was guarding. This ally of your protagonist is now a loose cannon. See? Diversity has created more conflict and more tension. The samurai is honor bound to rescue his employer, even if it means he does something drastic. Failure means he must commit seppuku—ritual suicide. The samurai’s presence has ratcheted up the tension, the conflict and the stakes. Diversity helps you write better fiction.

4.)  Literature has the potential to change who we are and change the trajectory of our lives.  One of the reasons we are all drawn to story is because it has the capacity move us and change how we think about things. I’ll be honest when I say I am the man I am today because I read Marvel Comics as a kid. I wanted to be Captain America and do the right thing. I wanted to be as brave and as stubborn as Benjamin Grimm, the Thing, from the Fantastic Four.

Your story has the chance to do that for someone. If you’ve got an Amazon Prime Account, go watch Love Between the Covers, a documentary about romance writing. Watch it and try not to be moved by the gay romance author Raddclyff and how profound her writing has been to her fans. A group that rarely saw themselves in literature just thirty years ago.

Right now there might be a black girl, a gay Chinese boy, or a kid with Asperger who desperately needs to see themselves in your story. They need to see themselves as the leader, the expert with the answers, or the hero.

Diversity in Media

I grew up in the 1980s. I am African-American. While Bill Cosby is clearly problematic and deserves the punishment for his crimes, I wonder how many black men went to a historically black college because of the Cosby Show? How many decided to go to medical school because of that show? Representation matters. It can not only change lives, it can save them.

5.) Diversity in fiction will help you compete in the market place. Let’s get serious for a moment, shall we? Here is a look of the television networks that existed in 1985:

Number of networks in 1985

Here is the number of television networks that existed in the spring of 2019:

Number of networks in 2019

Of course, this is only a fraction of the networks now broadcasting television contents. The market has diversified. It has Balkanized. Stories don’t have to have mass appeal in order to sell, anymore.

Capture a Portion of the Market

What stories have to do is be unique enough to capture a portion of the market. That Y.A. novel about the captain of the football team who falls in love with the prettiest cheerleader, in a suburban, middle class setting where there is little to no diversity, is a tired story. It has been done over and over again. It won’t sell.

But what if the cheerleader was a lesbian and the story arc was about the QB learning to be friends with the cheerleader and respecting her orientation, her choices, and her eventual friendship?

What if the QB was transgendered, but nobody knew? The tension of keeping up the pretense for his teammates, while pursuing the cheerleader would be intense! The point is society is diverse and our stories need to be diverse, as well. The market that traditional stories were designed for has changed. The market wants diversity. If you won’t get on the party bus, the party bus will leave you behind.

I hope to see you on the bus!


Jason Henry Evans

Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer; he just didn’t know it. After attending college and working in education, Jason’s life changed when he fell in love with the Fetching Mrs. Evans. After over a decade as a teacher in public and private schools, he discovered the wonderful writing community in Colorado, where he still lives. Jason is an educator, and a historian (as well as a bon vivant,) who is active in the Colorado writing community as a teacher and speaker. Visit Jason’s website for more about Jason and his publication.

Producing a Novel – Part 3

Building Believable Characters

By: Donna Schlachter

Welcome back to our mini-course on Producing a Novel. This month, we’ll look at how to build and develop believable characters. Did you miss the first two parts? Hop over and read the first two sessions as well: Part 1 and Part 2.

Who needs character? We all do and so do the characters in our stories.

Who Needs Characters?

Well, of course we all do. It’s who the story is about. Even a story like The Old Man and the Sea had characters—the old man, the ocean, the fish, the bird, the boat. He thought about his wife and family. Without the ocean, fish, bird, and boat, there was no story.

Describing Characters

This might be easiest to explain by saying how not to do it:

  • Don’t read off their driver’s license
  • Don’t have them look in a mirror or a plate glass window more than once (in total) in a book.
  • Don’t give so much detail that the reader can’t imagine the person for themselves.
  • Don’t have the character think about her own hair color, eye color, or body description.

DO:

  • Describe their physical appearance metaphorically. For example, “her translucent skin made her look like a ghost.”
  • Use clothing or other items. For example, “The rumpled raincoat shrouded him like a burial cloth.”
  • Use other people’s point of view. For example, “Tom eyed Bob up and down. Boy, he’s packed on the weight since college.

Character Backstory

Our character’s story explains who they are, why they believe what they believe, and why they do the things they do. It also explains why they wouldn’t make another choice in a similar situation.

Now we know all this information about our character, and the reader is going to want to know it, too, right? Right. They just don’t need to know it all at once. Have the character make a bad choice and relate it to something from their past, but don’t say exactly what. Just yet.

Backstory, like compliments and salt, is best used sparingly. We never want to have a character’s history splashed on the page. Instead, sprinkle it in judiciously. Allude to why they think the way they think in response to a comment or action of another character. Many well-published authors say no backstory in the first 50 pages.

Female Dialogue

In general, women talk about the same topics that men discuss, but will have a different perspective. That doesn’t mean they have more or less expertise, just that female brains process the information differently than male brains do.

When women communicate, they tend to share emotions, feelings, dreams, concerns, and they look for ways to extend compliments. Women like to help others, including making them feel comfortable. Women tend to nurture, to solve problems by offering advice, to sympathize by putting themselves into the situation of the person they’re talking with. Women use body language and facial expressions, so be sure to include that information as action beats. Without that detail, the reader could misconstrue the words.

Walk and Talk Like a Woman

Women process dialogue differently than men. To that end, I’ve summarized a list I found on a Writer’s Digest blog post about dialogue.

  • Women tend to sympathize and share experiences rather than give advice. Add empathy to your character’s reactions and have her talk about similar things that happened to her, rather than tell someone what they should do.
  • Women tend to talk about their accomplishments and themselves in a self-deprecating fashion rather than a boastful one. Rephrase her comments in order to make her laugh at herself.
  • Women tend to be indirect and manipulative; even an assertive woman usually considers the effect her statement is likely to have before she makes it. Add questions to her dialogue, or add approval-seeking comments and suggestions that masquerade as questions.
  • Women notice styles; they know what colors go together (and which don’t); and they know the right words to describe fashions, colors, and designs. Ramp up the level of specific detail.
  • Women tend to bubble over with emotion, with the exception that they’re generally hesitant to express anger and tend to do so in a passive or euphemistic manner. If you need your heroine to be angry, give her a really good reason for yelling.
  • Women notice and interpret facial expressions and body language, and they maintain eye contact. If you need your female character to not notice how others are acting, give her a good reason for being detached.

Walk and Talk Like a Man

Men use just as many words as women do, but they tend to divide and order them differently.

  • Men tend to request specific information, rather than ask rhetorical questions. Men also tend to reply to a tough question with one of their own. And if they don’t want to discuss a topic, they might use a question to change subjects.
  • Men tend to resist explaining; they generally don’t volunteer justification for what they do. If you need him to explain, give a reason why he must.
  • Men tend to share feelings only if stressed or forced; they’re more likely to show anger than any other emotion. If you need your hero to spill how he’s feeling, make it more painful for him to not talk than to share his emotions.
  • Men tend not to pay close attention to details unless it’s something they’re interested in. Men don’t usually notice expressions or body language; they stick to basics when describing colors and styles. Scale back the level of detail.
  • Men tend to avoid euphemisms, understatements, comparisons, and metaphors. Rephrase your hero’s dialogue in concrete terms.
  • Men tend to be direct rather than ask for validation or approval. Check for “pecking order displays” between men of same status, and between men of different statuses.

Pecking Order Displays in Men

When two men meet, they assess each other’s status which then dictates how they treat each other. For example, a doctor and a mechanic meet, and this pecking order kicks in while they’re talking, to the point where the doctor can make a joke about the mechanic’s work, perhaps saying something about choosing medicine over car repair because doctors get to wear gloves to keep their hands clean. Both men would laugh, neither feels slighted, but the mechanic wouldn’t respond with any comment that could be considered derogatory or mocking of medicine.

If two mechanics met and talked, they’d joke about grease monkeys and the like, and think nothing of it because they’d consider each other equals.

If a doctor and a mechanic met to talk about car repairs, the mechanic is now the professional with a higher status and knowledge base, so he would be “in charge” of the conversation.

Note: if a woman stepped in and made similar comments as the doctor made to the mechanic, the mechanic wouldn’t appreciate it. Not because she is a woman, but rather because she is outside the circle of influence these two have created. As a result, we must be careful our female characters don’t step into the established relationships between male characters and expect to be treated like “one of the boys”.

Did you miss Parts 1 or 2?

Read them now.
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books (Part 1)
Genre and Markets (Part 2)

Resources for Part 3:

Writing Gender Specific Dialog
How to Write Believable Characters
Character Motivation: How to Write Believable Characters
Creating Believable Characters
Creating Believable Characters: 8 Tactics
Writing Authentic Male Characters
How to Write from a Guy’s POV
Creating Interesting Characters: Characterization by Trait
A List of Character Traits
Character Development – Creating Memorable Characters


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.
Find her on: FacebookTwitterAmazonSmashwordsEtsy,

Writing in Covid

By: Jennifer Lovett

Are you still writing?
Do you think it’s even worth it?
Is your new normal so stressful that you think it isn’t?
Well, I want to put your mind at ease about at least one thing.

The industry still needs books.

People are still reading.

The Reading Agency just reported that almost one in three people in the UK are reading more – classics and crime novels in particular.
Yay for mystery, crime and thriller novelists!

Those in the 18-24 age bracket showed the greatest increase.
Yay for Young Adult writers!

The reasons seem to be that books offer a new (for them) form of release, and that they now have more free time to read them. In the United States, Americans have shown a full 30% increase in reading across all age demographics.

Children’s and kid’s books are way up
Yay for children’s!

Most people admit to reading to either learn something about health or to escape reality.

We don’t have current stats on romance or science fiction, but if I’m reading to escape reality, these are a fair bet.

But how are people reading?

Not with print books.

Those are dipping, probably due to the closure of bookstores and Amazon’s priority list doesn’t include books right now. Ebooks did slump a bit, but those numbers bumped back up over the Easter holiday. Same with audio. It was down at the beginning of the quarantine but has since leveled back out to where it was.

I feel this was a commute and gym problem. Folks like me with long commutes or gym time didn’t have those anymore. But we humans adapt and evolve, so we figured it out. I now listen on my daily walk.

All of this is important for any writer who may feel discouraged.

Don’t. People are still reading and still want books. If you are feeling too stressed out to write. Take heart. That’s totally normal as well. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that if basic needs are met (food, home, shelter, job security), it’s real hard to move up to enjoy interests and hobbies.

Take care of yourself and your family and breathe.

At some point a new normal will take over and you’ll want to write again. Until then, do whatever you need to do to get through. If it’s not writing, that’s ok. If it is, then have at it.

If you’re writing, are you also thinking about your career?

Again, don’t overwhelm yourself in one of the most unprecedented times of our lives. But if you feel up to focusing on your career, then send out a couple of queries and see what happens.

The industry still needs books.

Continue to grow your email list or work on your social media engagement. Readers are hungry for connection. Maybe just focus on world building or character development or plotting. Set a schedule or create a way to focus on just a bit of writing every day. Take small steps to stay connected to your author business.

If your author business is your livelihood, then let’s talk.

Create a game plan. Don’t just wing this. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Write down your objective.
  • Plot out the tactics to meet that objective.
  • Think about ads. Now’s the time for Facebook ads. They are at an all-time low.
  • People are buying ebooks. Put yours up.
  • Try an email blast ad like BookBub or BookGorilla.
  • Consider content marketing…this means once a week create a piece of content: video, blog, podcast, long social post, and repurpose it into other content: Instagram Story, Tweet, Facebook Group post. It will boost your website’s searchability on Google.

Regardless of where your state of mind is right now, know this. You are a writer, and it’s totally fine if you want to write or you don’t want to write. A global pandemic that just killed 60,000 Americans in two months is seriously unnerving, and there is no right way to deal with it.

So, however you manage that is absolutely what is best for you – writing or not. Things will get better. Readers will read. And your stories will be awesome.

Sources:
The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Changing How People Buy Books
World Book Night: One in three reading more during lockdown
Share of adults reading books more due to the coronavirus…


Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

Jennifer Lovett is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 17 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity.
She currently lives in South Korea and travels around Asia for fun.
You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

Interview with Sandra Murphy

The Voice Mama

By: Jennifer Wilson

Sandra Murphy
Sandra Murphy – AKA The Voice Mama

Audiobooks are a fast growing staple of the literary world. I myself devour at least three audiobooks a month. Readers still love the hardy feel and ink-stained smell of a good tome, but with streaming services, booming audiobooks are on the rise. They ease long drives, are great when walking the dog, out for a run or even while cooking. Especially now, as we are all stuck inside, audiobooks are a great escape, allowing people to still be productive while listening to an amazing story.

And it’s not just the Big Five publishers taking advantage of this growing trend either. With the launch of ACX, indie writers are now joining the game without breaking the bank. But this is a whole new construct from what we writers are used to, so I’m pulling in expert Sandra Murphy —AKA The Voice Mama—to dish on everything from her process to resources to how to find the right talent for your book.

Q: Sandra, it’s wonderful getting to connect with you today. Thanks so much for taking the time. First and foremost, how are you doing in this new world we’re all adjusting to?

A: My pleasure! The biggest change is that there is no quiet time to narrate which I would usually have when my husband was at work and the children in school.  With the entire family home, we’ve instituted quiet hours when I record.  I do my best to stick to that time frame and we converge as a family and make plenty of noise when I’m done.

Q: Tell me, what do you love most about narrating audiobooks?

A:  I get to play ALL the characters!!  There is no type casting in audiobook narration.  As an actor, it’s so freeing to play fairies, ogres, Mexican hit men, Ukrainian circus performers – roles I would never be cast in on stage or on camera. 

Q: Do you have a ritual or routine you do before sitting down to record the audio (such as vocal exercises or donning your lucky unwashed socks)?

A:  Pre COVID-19, I’d head to the gym in the morning which would function to wake up my body, release tension, and get me in touch with my breath.  After doing my vocal warm-ups and before heading into the studio, I always make a cup of apple cider vinegar and honey “tea” to have with me in the booth, which helps clear mouth congestion.

Q: What genres will you always say no or yes to, and why?

A:  I will always say yes to books in the mystery genre – from cozy mysteries to police procedurals to thrillers – if there’s a dead body, I’m interested.  I’m an active member of Sisters in Crime Colorado and love to attend events like “Night with a Coroner” or tour the CBI building to increase my understanding of the genre.

I will always say no to Erotica.

Q: What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

A:  I love literature and good writing is what really pulls me into a project. 

The Flats Junction series by Sara Dahmen is my first venture into historical fiction.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed narrating this series.  In TINSMITH 1865, Marie Kotlarczyk must learn to become a female tinsmith in the Dakota Territories.  In WIDOW 1881, Jane Weber, a proper Boston widow, must choose how she will truly reinvent herself and where she belongs.  Two vastly different female protagonists, two different time periods, but both stories take place in the same frontier town of Flats Junction.


The character development, character arcs, and conflicts in this series are masterful. 

Q: A lot of authors don’t realize how long it takes to get their book babies into audio format. Can you talk about how much time it takes to produce an audiobook and how that breaks out? (ie prep, studio time, editing…)  

A:  The quick answer is 6-8 weeks.  It takes roughly 8 hours of time – prepping, recording, editing, mastering – per finished hour of audio to produce an audiobook.  So, for a 93,000 word book, which would be a 10 hour audiobook, 80 hours of time went into producing the finished product.

Q: When selecting a narrator, what are the top 3 things an author should do?

A:  Define the Voice of Your Brand:  When you select an audiobook narrator, you are choosing the voice of your brand.  When talking about this topic, I like to give the example of the James Bond movies.  Many different actors have played this role and they all bring something different to the character.  Each narrator will bring something different to your audiobook.  You know what your brand looks like since you worked with a cover artist to create your book cover.  What does your brand sound like?  Sophisticated, gravelly, prim, urban, etc.  Need guidance?  Check out audiobooks from other authors in your genre.  If you can find one or two words that describe of the overall narrative tone you are looking for, it will help narrow down your search for the right narrator.

Do Your Research: Do your research and listen to the narrator’s audiobook samples.  Do you like what you hear?  Check their websites and social media presence.  Will they be a good business partner?  How are their reviews?

Trust the Creative Process:  There is a point when the baton of creativity is passed from author to narrator.  If you’ve done your research and found the voice of your brand, trust the audiobook narrator to bring their unique voice and creative vision to your work.  Trust me—the voices will NOT sound like the ones in your head, no matter whom you choose.  If you’ve chosen your creative partner correctly, they will honor your characters and your writing.  You might even be pleasantly surprised to hear a different approach to your work.

Q: Where are the best places for an author to connect with a quality narrator?

A:  If you are traditionally published and like a particular narrator, you can make a recommendation to the publisher.

If you are independently published, you’ll be looking on sites like ACX, Findaway Voices, or Spoken Realms for narrators.  Listen to samples, look at reviews, check social media feeds, visit websites to ascertain a narrator’s body of work.  Membership to the Association of Audiobook Publishers is a good indicator the narrator is committed to the audiobook narration profession. 

If you listen to a lot of audiobooks and are a fan of a particular narrator, you can reach out to them and ask if they would be interested in narrating your work.

Q: How do audiobook narrators and directors decide what kind of tone to use for each character? 

A:  All of the clues to what the character should sound like are in the book.  In THE WHISPERING PINES MYSTERY series by Shawn McGuire, the character of Morgan Barlow always takes the protagonist by the arm when she wants to talk with her.  I stood in the booth with my arm in a similar manner to what was described in the book and when I said Morgan’s lines, her voice just naturally came.

Q: How do you connect with each character, theme, and emotion?

A:  One of my favorite characters is the cantankerous Granny Apples of THE GRANNY APPLES MYSTERY series by Sue Ann Jaffarian.  This character reminded me of Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, so I used that as a jumping off point to create her voice.  Granny Apples has a certain tilt to her head, facial expression, and twang for her voice to come out just right.  Her spitfire personality is very fun to narrate but I’m glad people can’t see what I look like when I do it.

Q: Haha! Understandable, I make similar expressions when writing. If in a coffee shop, I probably look crazy. What is it like reading different characters’ dialogue lines?

A:  It’s just two people talking to each other so you switch between voices.

Q: Do you ever laugh at yourself as you’re testing out voices?

A:  Occasionally, a voice comes out that totally doesn’t work and I have to start over.

Q: As a professional voice actor are there special techniques you use to care for and condition your voice? 

A:  Hydration.  Sleep.  Wellness care.  I drink a lot of water to make sure I’m hydrated – it makes a huge difference in your voice.  Getting 8+ hours of sleep is essential as is taking very good care of yourself.  I usually wear a scarf in crisp weather since the common cold can take my voice out of commission for a good 6 weeks.  That’s a disaster.

Q: What audiobook do you love to listen to and what about that narration makes it special?

A:  Johnny Heller is one of my favorite audiobook narrators because of his creativity and commitment to any project.  His narration of the evil genius guinea pig, Gizmo, in the WEDGIE & GIZMO series by Suzanne Selfors always lifts my heart and makes me smile.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to become an audiobook narrator?

A:  Audiobook narration is first and foremost an acting profession.  Just like acting for stage or film, one should start by taking acting and improv classes.  The more you understand the foundations of acting and how to break down a scene, the more successful you will be as an audiobook narrator.

Q: Okay final and most important question! Where can our readers find you and your work?

A: On my website at www.voicemama.com you can sign up for my newsletter or type my name in the Audible search engine to find my audiobooks.

Sandra Murphy, the Voice Mama, is an award-winning audiobook narrator known for her compelling, sophisticated narration and sarcastic female protagonists.  Fictional characters include an uptight lisping beaver, Ukrainian circus performer, Polish settler, snarky female detective, and a whole host of Mexican hit men.  Non-fiction narration includes parenting and women in leadership titles.   Sandra provides entertaining workshops on audiobooks for self-published authors. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram


Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of the young adult New World Series. The gripping trilogy spans RisingAshes, and Inferno. Jennifer is constantly on the move, always working on her next story line and drinking way too much coffee. When not writing, she is enjoying life in Colorado, rock climbing, camping, exploring new foods, playing with her golden retriever, Duke, and sharing life with her heroically supportive hubby. You can connect and nerd out with Jennifer on FacebookInstagramTwitter and on her website.

How to Invest in Diversity in Your Story

Part 1

By: Jason Evans

This year I am kicking off a seven month series on the basics of writing diversity in your fiction. Whether you write dystopia or romance or science fiction. Right now, diversity in fiction is still a major issue. Over in Romance Writers of America, this very issue has led to a schism in that august organization. The question is why?

How do we write diverse characters?

Like anything else, the question is never Why should we write diverse characters, but How do we go about it? How do I write diverse characters? How do I define the term? Where can I go for research? Once I’ve done the research and created an awesome character for my awesome story, how can I make sure I’m not offending anyone? Did I get it right?

These are all really great questions. They deserve sincere answers that can make navigating the waters of writing fiction at least clearer, if not easier. Well, fear not, gentle reader, I am here to help you. While I am no master at this craft, it seems to me that this is an obstacle that can be overcome with some patience, kindness, and honesty.

Topics in this Series

Here is how we will break down our topics over the next several months. Please be aware that this blog is only supposed to spark your curiosity and get you going in the right direction. It will not, nor can our conversation about diversity and representation be comprehensive. You have been forewarned.

For the next six months I will focus on different kinds of diversity, giving a snapshot on how to approach each subject as you write. Here’s the list:

May ~~ Ethnicity

June ~~ Sex

July ~~ Gender

August ~~ Sexual Orientation

September ~~ Physical Ability

October ~~ Neurodivergence/Neurotypical

The great thing about diversity and representation is that you don’t have to do it all. Choose one and dedicated yourself to doing it really well and you’ll be farther along the game than a lot of other people. It may seem daunting now, but you’ll be a better writer at the end of the process.

A Note on offense and Outrage.

I’m going to be blunt here. Somewhere down this road of diversity and inclusion and representation you are going to offend somebody. It is inevitable. You’re going to use the wrong tone or the wrong pronoun. You’re going to disappoint some people and flat out enrage others. You’re going to get bad book reviews. People are going to call you names.

So what do you do?

You stop and you listen.

See, many of the groups we’re talking about have been so misrepresented that these marginalized groups are hypervigilant against being misrepresented again.

I teach a class at writing conferences called How to write authentic African-American Characters. After spending about half the class time going over the history of African-Americans in the United States, I talk about the stereotypes you see routinely in literature and film. None of them are negative or outright hurtful. All of them are one dimensional and antiquated. The process of creating authentic African-American characters requires people outside the African-American community to sincerely listen to us in the community in order to get better. All I’m asking is that you do the same.

Listen. Find sensitivity readers and get honest feedback. If someone confronts you about your story, listen to their concerns and promise to do better. The fact that they want to talk to you at all means that they believed you wrote in good faith. That is a compliment.

Are you ready? Good. Next month we’ll answer why we should do this kind of work at all. See you then and happy writing.


Jason Henry Evans
Jason Henry Evans

Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer; he just didn’t know it. After attending college and working in education, Jason’s life changed when he fell in love with the Fetching Mrs. Evans. After over a decade as a teacher in public and private schools, he discovered the wonderful writing community in Colorado, where he still lives. Jason is an educator, and a historian (as well as a bon vivant,) who is active in the Colorado writing community as a teacher and speaker. Visit Jason’s website for more about Jason and his publication.

Producing a Novel – Part 2

Genre and Markets

By: Donna Schlachter

Writing a novel—or a book of any type—requires groundwork laid in advance. Last month we discussed how to identify your topic, idea, or plot line; how to identify what you’re most passionate about, which makes the project personal, relevant, and much easier to write; and how that translates into a plot line or book subject. If you missed that post, you can catch up here

This month, we’ll look at ways to build on the foundation begun last month and identify which genre your book fits into, and then which markets might be interested in your book.

Why is Genre Important?

— It tells your audience—agents, publishers, book distributors, bookstores, and readers—what kind of book this is.
— Publishers fill slots in their publishing calendar based on that information.
— Book distributors need it to sell your book to bookstores.
— Booksellers need to know where to put the book on the shelf to recommend to patrons.
— Readers look for books based on an expectation of the genre.

Genre Definitions

  • Romance – romance is the main plot element; many sub-genres, defined by the time period of the setting; heat of the romance; and subplots.
  • Mystery – solving of the mystery is the key plot line; many sub-genres; can be contemporary or historical.
  • Thriller & Suspense a.k.a. Action & Adventure – where the reader often knows who the villain is, and that person has somehow put either the main character or somebody important to the main character in danger; the main character has a limited amount of time to complete the assignment (ticking bomb) such as save the world, save himself or someone/something, or simply catch or stop the bad guy; many sub-genres.
  • Science Fiction – where the setting is a world constructed by the author which could be partly or wholly based in real science; many sub-genres.
  • Horror – where the prime purpose of the story is to evoke a strong emotional reaction of fear, and keep the reader immersed in the story through that fear; can be physical, psychological, and/or emotional fear, for the character, someone they care about, or a larger societal notion such as justice, freedom, or equality.
  • Fantasy – where magical, supernatural, or demonic forces act on the characters, either to their benefit or detriment, and where the main character couldn’t achieve their goal without it; many sub-genres.

Where Does Your Book Fit?

  • Setting – historical, contemporary, futuristic, time-slip (where the story starts in one time and ends in a different one);
  • Primary Plot – romance, mystery, thriller, and so on
  • Secondary Plot
  • Level of intimate contact on the page – from sweet to erotica

Markets for Your Book

  • What agent might represent it?
  • What Publisher will publish it?

— read the guidelines carefully – see the resource list at the end
— if they say they don’t represent your genre, don’t send it to them
— don’t choose the first agent or publisher who shows interest without checking them out first:  check out their websites. Talk to friends. Contact the authors listed on their website.
— Don’t respond to unsolicited emails offering you a contract.  
— Don’t agree to pay even one cent to an agent—not only is it simply not done, it’s illegal and predatory.
— Consider carefully any publisher offering a contract that requires you to pay money up-front. There is nothing wrong with publishing with a self-publishing company, but just understand you might well end up paying for additional services, such as editing, cover design, and marketing.

Your publishing model choice comes down to deciding:
— how much time and effort you want to invest in the process of publishing your book
— how long you might be willing to wait to see your book in print
— your level of expertise when it comes to the production of your book.  

Sources of information on agents and publishers

– writer’s market guides – often found in libraries
– writing magazines – subscribe to at least one writing magazine and share with friends
– writer’s websites and blogs – search online
– word of mouth – ask a represented or published author friend
-books in bookstores – find one like yours and look for the publisher’s name. Often the agent will be listed in the Acknowledgements or Dedication

Next month, we’ll discuss the process of building believable characters, so hope to see you back again.

Resources:

Writer’s Digest University

It’s Getting Hot in Here A Romance Writer’s Guide to Heat level

Top 101 Independent Book Publishers


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.
Find her on: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Smashwords, Etsy,