J.B. Reynolds

Writer

Tag: books

Author Interview: M.D. Neu

Marvin NeuThis month’s author interview is with paranormal and science fiction writer, M.D. Neu.

Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California), and growing up around technology, M.D. has always been fascinated with what could be.  He is inspired by the great Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, and Kim Stanley Robinson—an odd combination, but one that has influenced his writing.

Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man, he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society, M.D. decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing, with a desire to tell good stories that reflected the diversity of our modern world.

When M.D. isn’t writing, he works for a non-profit and travels with his husband of eighteen years.

In October, as part of a special Halloween themed set of releases, NineStar Press published M.D.’s short story, The Reunion.

The Reunion by M.D. Neu

I had the pleasure of being given an advance review copy of the story prior to its publication. It’s a suitably spooky little tale; a ghost story with a twist and a cast of intimately drawn characters. I highly recommend it. Now, on with the interview.

Hi, M.D. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for me and my readers today. You must be thrilled with the publication of The Reunion. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about and what it means to you?

Thank you for having me.  I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you today.  The Reunion, man there simply are no words with how lucky and blessed I’ve been these last few months.  How it got started is a bit of a long story, but I’ll try and be brief.  Back in May I sent my manuscript for The Calling (my full length novel) to NineStar Press. I figured, I would get the standard “thank you but no thank you” response.  Anyway, about a week later I heard from a buddy of mine who is signed with NineStar telling me to send them my work and to let him know when I did.  He said he would let his editor know so his editor could pull my manuscript and take a look.  I was floored.  So, I let him know I just sent something to NineStar, so he told his editor and wished me luck. That was that.

A few weeks went by and I still figured I would get the “thank you but no thank you” letter.  Instead I got an email telling me they wanted to publish my book.  I couldn’t believe it.

When it came to The Reunion I was going to use it as a giveaway piece, but I knew it needed some editing.  So I chatted with my editor, the same one who read The Calling.  I told him about the story.  He told me he wanted to evaluate it, so I sent it to him and the next day he sent me a note saying he loved the story and it needed to be published. He wanted to include it in their Halloween Series.  I was stunned and thrilled.  In the matter of a few weeks I needed to do a massive addition to the story (take it from 3,600 words to 22,000 words), have it edited, proof edited, and copy edited.  It was the quickest turn around I had ever seen but we did it. The folks at NineStar Press held my hand the whole way through and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

Every time I think about how quickly this has all happened I have to pinch myself.  I really am very lucky and so honoured to have this opportunity.

Wow, that’s awesome. Congratulations. The main character in The Reunion, Teddy, is an interesting one. He’s a gay man who returns to his small home-town after having escaped it many years ago. In your bio, you give yourself the challenge of writing stories that reflect the diversity of our world. Can you tell us a bit more about Teddy and how he meets that challenge for you?

Teddy.  Oh man, I love him.  What people have to understand about Teddy is that he’s more than a random stereotype,  which is what they will first see and probably call me out on. Teddy is an occasional drag performer and a full-time hair stylist. He is over-the-top and overweight, and he’s not a handsome man. However, Teddy is warm, caring and a wonderful person. He can be your best friend and give you all he has to give. His heart is as big as his drag wigs. Teddy’s not your typical main character, but he’s real. You see, Teddy is based on two people from my life.  A wonderful friend of mine who did drag and was a hairstylist and my mother—she was a hairstylist as well. Both are no longer with us, but I love them and I think about them all the time.

When I say I want to write stories that reflect the diversity of our world,  I really mean it.  I want to show people who may not be the typical protagonist.  I want to show people who we may joke about and tease. These people have stories and these people deserve to be shown and not just as comic relief but as real people.  Just like Teddy; he’s a character in a book but his heart and soul are based on two wonderful people who deserve to be in the spotlight of a story.  I hope that answers your question.

Yeah, for sure. That’s a great answer. So, what else are you working on at the moment?

Oh, wow.  There is a lot happening.  On December 18th, NineStar Press are releasing my second short story, A Dragon for Christmas. It’s about a cursed little Latina girl called Carmen, who also happens to be a lesbian. She needs to get a dragon to help her fight off this curse she was born with. The fact that she is a lesbian isn’t the focus of the story. It’s her struggle to battle with this awful curse that can kill her.  This story is personal to me for many reasons and I hope people fall in love with Carmen and the story.

On January 1st, NineStar Press are releasing my debut full length novel, The Calling.  The story is about an average gay man named Duncan, who on a fateful trip to San Jose, California, is introduced to the world of Immortals. There is much more to Duncan than anyone realizes. Even himself.

I’ve always loved vampire stories (thank you Anne Rice), so I wanted to offer my take on the genre and NineStar Press is giving me that opportunity.  I hope people enjoy it.

I’m also working on a fantasy story about angels and I’m still working on my science fiction series, so there is a lot going on and I have a lot of stories in the works. I also have a weekly blog and on occasion I write poetry, all of which can be found on my website.

Sounds like you’re a busy man. What is the hardest thing about writing?

The hardest thing about writing is the editing and cutting the story down.  I love detail.  I love descriptions.  I love creating full rich worlds, where everything is there ready for the reader to explore and see.  However, not everyone likes that.  So, editing and trimming.  Keeping it all focused so that people don’t skim to get to the good stuff.

I hate that, because for me it’s all the good stuff.  Why else would I include it?  Plus, I put things in one book that may or may not show up till the next book or even the book after that.  It’s all part of the world building, so don’t skim… cause you never know what you’re going to miss.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

I try and write two to three chapters a week.  Clearly that doesn’t always happen but it’s my goal and I’m happy if I can get one chapter a week written.  Sometimes, instead of writing chapters I’m editing or outlining both of which I count.

I’ll also spend time blogging and writing poetry, which also counts in my book.

Where is your favourite place to write?

I typically write in my study or in my dining room.  However, I’ve been known to write on the plane heading off on vacation.  I’ve also written while on vacation.  My laptop normally travels with me so I can write when the moment strikes me.

Do you proofread/edit all your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?

I belong to a Writer’s Group that provides critiques to whatever you post.  I’ve used that and I love it.  Not only do I get their feedback, but I get to read and provide feedback to their work, which helps me learn and improve.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned by being part of this Writer’s Community.

Writing is obviously a major part of your life. Outside of your writing, how do you relax?

I love to cook, travel, go to the movies, spend time with family and friends, play board/card games, read (I bet you thought I would forget about that), and have quiet evenings at home with my husband.  Really anything that takes me away from reality for a little while.  Even though we are living in one of the safest times in human history, with social media, there is so much noise that getting away from it is the most relaxing thing I can think of.

Well, that’s us for today. Thanks again for your time, M.D. It’s been great to chat with you. All the best with your future writing.

Thank you.  It really was a lot of fun.

To find out more about M.D., check out mdneu.com, or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

Author Interview: D. de Carvalho

D de CarvalhoThis month’s author interview is with erotic romance writer, D. de Carvalho.

A native of far-flung locations, and a grade A student of life, Carvalho developed his passion for fine foods and erotic encounters at a young age. He is proud to be a practicing member of the BDSM community, as well as a self-confessed and widely acknowledged grumpy old man.

In the Hot Pink series, D. de Carvalho serves up a smorgasbord of hot ‘n spicy erotic tales. Whether you savor sweet romance or crave the delicious tang of dark desire, Carvalho caters with tales to tempt every taste. Each sexy story arrives with a side order of humor, sprinkled with a touch of suspense.

What are you currently working on and what is it about?

Hot Pink Links is an erotic romance. The day Christie’s divorce is final, bestie Megan convinces her to take some golf lessons instead of sitting at home and feeling sorry for herself. However, unbeknownst to the ladies, the Complete Hot Pink Package at the local golf club aims to teach that addressing the balls correctly is all in how you swing.

Humour is obviously an important element in your writing. What’s more important – the humour or the sex?

That’s a really tough question. In the Hot Pink stories humour and sex go hand in hand. That’s the entire concept behind Hot Pink. But, if I were really on the spot, I think sex would just squeak into the top spot. You can’t really have humourous sex if you don’t have the sex in the first place, and sex  isn’t always funny.

When myself and the other authors featured in this Blog World Tour were first organising the interviews, there was a little bit of resistance to including an erotica writer in the mix. How do you find people react when you tell them you’re an erotica author?

They’re almost always fascinated, but they react in different ways. Some people’s eyes pop wide before they grin and say, “Cool! Tell me more!”. The majority purse their lips and look shocked. Some of them will sidle up later and whisper questions as if they’re doing something daring and naughty. Others, will just look away but keep their ears pricked while other people are going, “Cool! Tell me more!” And a few look horribly disapproving and tar all erotica with the same brush, assuming it’s all BDSM and Fifty Shades knockoffs. Well, my stories are a far cry from Fifty Shades. I like to think of them as an exploration and celebration of all the wonderful sexual ways humans have of expressing themselves and sharing intimacy.

How are you publishing your books and why? (e.g. Indie, traditional or both)

Hot Pink is Indie all the way. Indie works for me because I’m a control freak. I don’t share well, especially not the things that are important to me. With the way the publishing world is today, authors have to do most of their own marketing even if a traditional publisher picks them up. I reckon if I have to do most of the work, I’m darn well going to get most of the money from that work.

Do you prefer to write series or stand-alone novels?

Both. At least, that seems to be what I’m doing. Hot Pink is a series in that all the books are related by the concept of something in them being Hot Pink, or Hot and Pink, and all of them celebrate the beauty and play of sex. But other than that, each story is a stand-alone. With Hot Pink, you can read the books in any order. Knowledge of one is not necessary for enjoyment of the rest.

Do you prefer to write alone or in the company of other people?

Always alone. When I’m writing I want to be able to tap into my innermost thoughts. I can’t do that with other people around.

Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you?

I’m doing it. I never in my life thought I’d be marketing anything. I don’t do marketing. Only it seems I do do marketing now. That’s funny as hell.

I know what you mean. I feel much the same way, and now I find the marketing side of Indie Publishing really fascinating. That’s something I thought I’d never say. Anyway, thanks for your time today, D, and all the best with your future writing.

You can find out more about D. de Carvalho and his writing at thehotpinkpress.com or follow his Facebook or Twitter accounts.

 

 

Author Interview: Jocelynn Babcock

This month’s author interview is with paranormal mystery and supernatural magical realism writer, Jocelynn Babcock. Jocelynn will tell you she created books with her grandma’s yarn as a child and grew up to marry an engineer. She lives in the Channeled Scablands,  where the fine line between sanity and not is an outlet for idle hands.

Jocelynn is the author of the paranormal mystery series, Mantic, and the paranormal novella series, Semantic, which feature an assortment of psychics, ghosts, and witches among the characters.

Books by Jocelynn Babcock

Hi, Jocelynn. Thanks for joining me and my readers today. First up, can you tell us a little bit about the writing project you are currently working on?

I’m currently writing the second installment of my paranormal mystery series. Mantic Vol II: To Dance with Serpents has our main character, now with partial memory restoration (about two years back). She resolves to regain her entire memory after a shocking twist.

What has drawn you to write in the paranormal and supernatural genres?

I never considered what I wrote to be paranormal. I beta tested my debut novel as a murder mystery and found that mystery readers considered a psychic to be paranormal. I knew full well that psychic was not enough to publish to a paranormal audience, so I went back and threaded through magical realism in order to hit the target market of paranormal readers. This gave me more freedom in content and I think added a new element to my writing. I enjoy the finished product better than if it had remained just a psychic mystery.

That’s really interesting, and great that it’s worked out well for both you and your readers. So, when did you decide to become a writer?

I’ve always written, but lacked the confidence to be a writer. I went to college to be a grant writer, because that is writing that pays the bills. It was during that time I decided to give fiction a try. As I neared completing the novel, then I decided to become a writer. I finally realized I could finish a project, and the process would get easier.

Where do your ideas come from?

Conversations with people. My current trilogy was the idea of my husband. I have another idea from a conversation I had with my mom when I was a teen. Yet another was a thread I pulled out of my book because there was a lot going on already and the beta readers were confused by the connection. My niece, my forensic expert, has inspired a few stories also.

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony, as engraved by G.E. Perine & Co., NY, c.1855

I would like to bring Susan B. Anthony to the future and show her: women voting, women on juries, women raising their children alone, women owning property, women going to college, women in the workplace, women wearing whatever they choose, etc. I’d like to point and say: “You did that.”

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?

A little voice from the next room that says “I’m all done ny-night Mommy!”

Thanks for your time today, Jocelynn, and all the best with your writing.

You can find out more about Jocelynn and her writing at jocelynnbabcock.wordpress.com or follow her Facebook or Twitter accounts.

 

Audiobooks Have Changed My Life

Audiobook on Iphone

Audiobook on iPhone – courtesy of athriftymrs.com

It is approximately, depending on traffic, road works, and the route I take, a fifty-minute commute from my home to the high school in the small, rural town where I teach. I normally carpool with a colleague three days a week, which is great—it saves me money on petrol and I enjoy the stimulating conversation. On the other two days, I drive by myself. Up until a few months ago, I listened to National Radio on the days I drove myself. This was okay. We don’t have television at home (we have a TV, but no TV reception—our TV is used to watch YouTube, Netflix and DVD’s), and listening to National Radio allowed me to keep abreast of what was happening in New Zealand and around the world. It was also better than the commercial radio stations I get reception for on my drive to work through the countryside, mainly because it doesn’t have ads and the presenters don’t babble a constant stream of inanities. However, there were a number of issues that detracted from my listening pleasure.

Firstly, it was often depressing. The way events are framed in the news media often focuses on the negative. Bad news sells more, apparently. According to the New Zealand Crime Statistics 2014 (the most recent year for which data was been collated and published), there were forty-one murders in New Zealand in 2014. This is a tragedy. One murder is too many, and New Zealand is, without question, a country afflicted with a disturbing underbelly of violence. But let me zoom out for a moment, and re-frame the numbers. These forty-one murders came from a total population of roughly 4.5 million people. What this means is that in 2014, roughly 4,499,958, or 0.99999067 percent of the population, were not murdered.  The non-murder rate was approximately 107,142 times greater than the murder rate! I’m not suggesting we should celebrate this, but we could at least acknowledge it. Listening to the news on National Radio (or anywhere, for that matter), you would never know that in New Zealand, you are 107,000 times more likely not to be murdered than you are to be murdered.

Secondly, there was a lot of repetition. Driving to work in the morning, I would frequently hear the same piece of news repeated three times. Granted, the depth of coverage might be different each time, but this would still get pretty boring pretty quickly.

Thirdly, the perspectives expressed were overwhelmingly those of white, middle-aged, middle-class men. Sometimes, these would be complemented by the perspectives of white, middle-aged, middle-class women. Whether or not I agreed with what they had to say, these people were almost always intelligent, well-educated, and articulate, and their views considered. It’s just that by using them as a filter—well, there’s an awful lot that gets filtered out.

In April of this year, I uploaded a selection of audiobooks onto my iPhone. I don’t know why I had never done this before. I’d just always equated reading with type on a page. I listened to music, I listened to the radio, but I read books. I was visiting my niece and her boyfriend in Wellington at the time and they were discussing how much they enjoyed listening to audiobooks. They suggested some titles they thought I might like, and we went from there. When I got back home, the first one I chose to listen to was On Writing by Stephen KingI listened to it in the car on the days I was driving myself to work. It’s a great book—part memoir,  part instruction manual—and I have written more about it here. Since then, I have listened to a number of other audiobooks. The first of these was Consider Phlebas, an early science-fiction novel by one of my favourite authors, Iain M. Banks, and the first to feature the advanced race of humans known collectively as the Culture. I had read this (the traditional way) many years before and had forgotten how action-packed it is. The next was  World War Zan abridged version of the novel by Max Brooks, containing the oral histories of an eclectic group of survivors of a global zombie apocalypse.  After that was  Children of the Sky, a curious science-fiction novel by Vernor Vingeabout the exploits of a group of humans who have crash-landed on an alien planet populated by creatures that most closely resemble intelligent dogs; and Hostage, a live recording of a drunken Charles Bukowski giving a poetry reading at a bar in Redondo Beach, California, in 1980. I am currently listening to A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. Again, this is a book I have read before, many years ago. I have subsequently forgotten almost everything I learned from it the first time. It’s a fascinating book, and I love the way Bryson makes an array of scientific arcana so accessible, easy to understand, and entertaining.

Every single one of these audiobooks has been more interesting and entertaining to listen to than National Radio. They have taken my mind to some captivating places. I keep finding myself sitting in the carpark at work in the morning, or my driveway at home in the evening, wishing I didn’t have to get out of the car and enter the real world again. Perhaps the most entertaining of the audiobooks I have listened to so far has been World War Z, due in no small part to the sumptuous quality of the audio recording. It is the only one to feature a full cast of voice actors. No doubt this is an expensive thing to do, but it does minimise the likelihood of experiencing voice fatigue. I felt a little of that with Children of the Sky, where the narrator, Oliver Wyman, does, for the most part, a stellar job. There were perhaps only three or four main characters whose voices I didn’t like. This isn’t much, especially considering the extensive cast of characters featured in the novel. However, the recording is almost twenty-eight hours long, and these characters featured enough for it to prove a minor source of irritation within the overall experience.

The best thing about these audiobooks is that it has got me “reading” again. Lately, I have done very little reading, in the traditional sense. Since the beginning of the school year in February, I have read only two books. The first of these, Girl in a BandI read quite quickly. It’s the autobiography of Kim Gordon, the bass player from one of my favourite bands, Sonic Youth, and a woman I have a lot of admiration for. The second of these, The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmarestook me months and months to finish. It’s a collection of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates. The time it took me to read is no indication of the quality of the writing. Oates is an incredible writer, and it’s a great book, and truly frightening in parts. However, the only time I have available to read is the hour or so I have between putting the kids to bed and going to sleep myself. More often than not, I have chosen to spend this time watching episodes of television dramas. This is not a guilty pleasure. I am one of those people who believes we are currently experiencing a golden era of television drama (long may it continue), and the shows I have been watching—Game of Thrones, Fargo, Better Call Saul—are wonderfully written. But one thing books are great for, and much better at than television, is engaging the imagination. With television, you don’t have to visualise anything—it’s all pre-visualised for you by somebody else. With books, especially fiction, you have to visualise everything. This is the true joy of reading. I can’t read and drive at the same time, but listening to audiobooks has allowed me to take the chunks of downtime I have when commuting and put it to good use, engaging my imagination. And they have given me true joy. Audiobooks have made a genuine improvement to my quality of life.

2016 Auckland Writers Festival

2016 Auckland Writers FestivalLast month, I was lucky enough to join a group of students and teachers from my school for the schools programme of the 2016 Auckland Writers Festival, at the Aotea Centre in central Auckland. It’s always entertaining to spend a day out of class with a bunch of high-schoolers. There were thirty or so on this expedition, a mix of ages and personalities, all ostensibly interested in writing—though I suspect a number of them just wanted a day off school, and who could blame ’em. It’s a three hour bus ride, more or less, from our school, in the rural backwaters of Northland, to the big smoke.  Three hours of singing, dancing and gossiping.

We arrived at the Aotea Centre in good time, having taken the Northern Busway into the city, which allowed us to avoid much of the citybound traffic. We were booked for four sessions at the festival, firstly with Kate de Goldi, then Jane Higgins, Omar Musa and Tami Nielson.

Kate de Goldi’s session was, unfortunately, boring. I’ve read The 10pm Question and I think it’s a great book—smart, funny, and touching. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it was more than what I got. She read excerpts from her latest novel, From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle, which is set in Christchurch, and talked about how the earthquakes in Christchurch had influenced her writing of it. Nothing she read, nor anything she said, made me want to go out and buy a copy. I’m not saying it sounds like a bad book (she’s an accomplished writer, and it’s probably a pretty good book), but her delivery—a little dry, a little stiff—made it difficult to get enthusiastic about anything she was saying. Maybe she’s a better writer than public speaker, and there’s nothing wrong with that—public speaking is daunting—but it felt like a missed opportunity, both for de Goldi, and her audience.

Our next session was with Jane Higgins. She was talking about hope in young adult fiction. She discussed how a lot of the fiction written for young adult audiences is bleak. But there’s hope too—and the sense of hope is essential to the success of the stories told. She said that young adult fiction may be bleak, but that is only a reflection of real life, where young men and woman live in a world that is often bleak, and have to face difficult challenges and make difficult decisions. She said that hope is also necessary, and that a story without hope would struggle to sustain an audience.

I have to agree with her there. Last year, I read Song of Stone by Iain Banks. It is almost unrelentingly bleak. Sure, it’s an interesting idea, well written, with prose that is often beautiful, in a cold, hard way, but once finished, I had no desire to read anything similar, and haven’t again since. This is hardly a recipe for building a sustainable audience.

Higgins said that there are five ways in which the characters in young adult fiction experience hope:

  • Discovering the people that are supporting them;
  • Discovering their gifts;
  • Being recognised for who they are;
  • Seeing clearly at last;
  • Happy endings (sometimes).

She said that young people are often asked what they are going to do. This is true—it’s a question I often hear myself asking of students at school, usually the ones where it is difficult to imagine anyone ever making the decision to employ them. According to Higgins, two better questions to ask, and two better question for young men and women to ask of themselves, are:

  • Who are you going to be?
  • How are you going to live your life?

I guess the caveat attached to these questions is that if hope is not part of the answer to them, then something needs to change.

After breaking for lunch, we returned to the ASB Theatre for our third session, with Omar Musa. Musa is a Malaysian-Australian poet/rapper/writer. He spoke about his life and his work, and punctuated these with spoken word performances of some of his poems. This is perhaps not so different from what de Goldi did, but the crucial difference here is in the word performance.  De Goldi spoke to the audience; Musa performed for the audience. He was charismatic, funny, and entertaining. His performance covered a range of topics, including the difficulties of growing up poor, angry, and Muslim in small-town Australia. The poem that sticks most in my mind was an ode to the spicy Malaysian noodle soup, laksa. Here, Musa called on the audience to participate, joining in with a shouted “Wooh!” on the poem’s introductory refrain of “Wooh! This shit is hot.”

Musa’s overall message was that storytelling is important, and that no matter where you come from—your stories are worth telling. He spoke of the importance of storytelling in Malay culture, where the word for storyteller, penglipur lara, translates as a “reliever of sorrows” or “dispeller of worries”. He sees poetry as a way of “giving a voice to the voiceless” and as being “a safe place to tell dangerous stories.”

For me, he was the standout presenter of the day, and most of the students I spoke to felt the same way. I think this is because of the entertainment value his presentation provided. When you’ve traveled three hours on a bus to see someone, and you’ve got a three hour return journey after you’ve seen them, it’s really not enough just to be talked at; it’s important to be entertained as well.

The last session of the day was with Tami Nielson. Nielson is a country/blues singer/songwriter. She was born in Canada to a musical family, and moved to New Zealand in 2007. She talked about her songwriting process, focusing on the evolution of her song Walk (Back to Your Arms), which won her the APRA silver scroll in 2014, and how it developed from a simple, almost wordless tune that popped into her head while driving one day, through to a fully-fledged, award winning song, with an accompanying music video.

Nielson was warm, funny and engaging. She talked about her life back in Canada, where her road to musical success was established as a child. She talked about her move to New Zealand, and the frightening prospect of having to start her career over again, in a new country, where no-one knew who she was or what she had done in the past. She told jokes and stories, sung songs, and played the guitar. She even showed some mean skills on the harmonica.

Like Musa, she didn’t just present to her audience, she performed for them as well. This is unsurprising—both artists are musicians as well as storytellers, after all. It’s perhaps unfair to compare their presentations with those of de Goldi and Higgins, but they made all the difference in terms of my enjoyment of the day. I think most of our students felt the same way. It’s always good to spend time with students outside the normal, everyday bounds of the classroom. You get to see a side of them that you don’t normally get to see, and visa versa. But it’s a long trip to Auckland and back, and I’d like to thank Omar Musa and Tami Nielson for making that trip especially enjoyable.

Stephen King “On Writing”

Stephen King writing in officeI’ve been “reading” the audiobook of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s great—full of amusing anecdotes and some wonderful writing tips. I mean, if you’re going to get writing tips from famous authors, Stephen King is as good a place as any to start. I must confess though, it’s the first time I’ve ever read anything by King. This hasn’t really been a conscious decision, in the same way that never reading anything by Danielle Steel has been—I’ve just read other stuff is all, plus I’ve always been a little suspicious of writers that sell books in huge volumes (although that hasn’t stopped me from reading most of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels).

There are three things King says in particular that have stuck with me. Firstly, he compares writing to building a house. He says that paragraphs are bricks and that if you put your paragraphs together in the right way, you can build any kind of house you like. All you need is a toolbox filled with the tools of writing—vocabulary, grammar, description, narrative, dialogue etc. I like this idea, perhaps because my father was a builder, and he passed on to me a love of tools. I have a garage full of ’em. But I also like it because it simplifies the craft. Instead of being some arcane art, full of bubbling cauldrons, blood sacrifices and the casting of spells, writing is just a trade, like building or plumbing or drain laying. Just bring your toolbox and your knowledge of how to use the tools within it.

Secondly, he compares writing to excavating fossils. He says that stories are found objects, buried like fossils in the ground and that once the story has been found, it is the writer’s job to carefully excavate that story and reveal it to the world. He advises against actively plotting stories and says that the plot will reveal itself—organically and quite probably in ways the writer never expected—through careful excavation. I like this idea too. I think there’s a lot of truth in it.

Thirdly, he says that writers are arranged in a pyramid of four layers. At the bottom, in large numbers, we have the bad writers. Above that, still in large numbers, we have the competent writers. Above that, in much smaller numbers, we have the really good writers. At the top of the pyramid we have the great writers—King names Shakespeare, Faulkner and Eudora Welty among these—a select few writers who are intellectual freaks of nature, geniuses of the profession.

King goes on to say that it is impossible to turn a bad writer into a competent one. As a teacher of high school English, I’m not sure I agree with this entirely, but there is considerable truth in it. If a student turns up in my class at Year 9, without having a grasp of the fundamentals of written English—sentence structures, grammar, punctuation, paragraphing and the like—three or four years in my classroom isn’t going to make them a competent writer. Perhaps that just means I’m a bad English teacher (it’s certainly not the first time this thought has crossed my mind), but let me break the numbers down. Four years at forty weeks per year (max) at four lessons per week at fifty-five minutes per lesson equals a grand total of five hundred and eighty-six point six hours in class. Only a fraction of this will be spent doing any schoolwork, and only a fraction of that schoolwork will be writing. Much of these five hundred and eighty-six point six hours will be spent coming to class late, leaving class early, gossiping, arguing, conversing, searching for a pen, searching for a book, going to the toilet, asking stupid questions (although there are no stupid questions), flirting, swearing, worrying, daydreaming, sleeping, cracking jokes, laughing, chewing gum, making paper projectiles, throwing paper projectiles, texting, listening to music, watching videos on YouTube, playing computer games, and half a hundred other things that kids get up to in the classroom that bear little resemblance to what they’re actually supposed to be doing. Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours to become really good at something. It’s little wonder that the bad writers who enter high school tend to exit high school as bad writers still.

And do those bad writers then spend the next ten years of their lives working to improve their writing? Of course not. They just go on to become builders and plumbers and truck drivers and doctors and nurses and parents who can think of a thousand and one things they’d rather be doing than writing.

King also says that it is impossible for a good writer to become great. I see no reason to disbelieve this. I too, think great writers are freaks of nature. You are either born with that talent, or you are not. So that leaves only room for the competent writers to become really good writers. I agree with him here too. If you are a competent writer, becoming a really good writer is entirely possible, likely even, if you have the desire. It will take time, effort, and lots of practise, but that’s okay. Good things take time.

I hold no illusions of greatness. I don’t think I’ve spent enough time working on the craft of writing to be really good. But I’m fairly certain I’m competent, and I’ve got the desire to move up the pyramid.

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