Category Archives: Interview

Interview with Barry Reese: Pulp Prolific

Crossroads favorite Barry Reese is a writer’s writer. Not only is he the dedicated author of pulp favorites The Rook Chronicles, Lazarus Gray and Rabbit Heart (the latter of which earned him the 2011 Pulp Ark Award for Best Author), but he also spends his days as a librarian. And did we mention, he has written for Marvel Comics, Moonstone, West End Games, Pro Se Press and others? He’s also a co-creator on the “Pulped!” podcast and the Ubergeeks podcast.

Writer Rachel Helie caught up with Barry to give us a little insight to what he’ll be telling writers at this year’s Crossroads. He will be discussing his stories and craft at “Making The Most Out of Murder and Mayhem,” taking place on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

Learn more about Barry Reese at his website, barryreese.net, and follow Barry’s thoughts and progress on Twitter, @BarryReesePulp.

 

2013-07-17 13.15.14Q: How do you do it? The sheer volume of work that you produce is amazing! Does it help to operate on an assigned character, knowing that character’s back-story and building on the pulp’s oeuvre? Share your secrets, Reese!

BR: Classic pulp authors wrote thousands of words a month because they had to – they were paid pennies for each word so in order to live, you had to produce. I take a lot of inspiration from that. I believe that what you produce under a strict schedule may be less polished but it’s a lot more intense and true. It’s a pure vision that hasn’t been meticulously scrubbed by revision. I write. Then I write some more. I never stop. I never worry about the last story because I have another one to focus on. You read my stuff, you get that frenetic pace and enthusiasm.

People who talk too much about writing rarely have time to produce. They need to sit their butts down and type. You have the ideas in your head, just cut it open and let it bleed out on the page. Continue reading

Emilie as Henrietta

Books, Steampunk & the Writing Life: interviewing EMILIE P. BUSH

BOOKS, STEAMPUNK AND THE WRITING LIFE WITH EMILIE P. BUSH
Go ahead and admit it. You’re as excited as we are that Emilie Bush is returning to Crossroads Writers Conference. Here’s a quick introduction, then it’s Q & A time with Emilie and Crossroader Kathy Holzapfel.
Bestselling writer Emilie P. Bush is the Publisher of Coal City Steam Blog, and CoalCitySteam.com, as well as other fine blogs. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Steampunk Chronicle. A former Senior Staff Reporter and host of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Georgia Gazette, Emilie is the author of the novel Chenda and the Airship Brofman (2009). Her second novel, The Gospel According to Verdu (2011) picks up where Chenda left off – high in the skies and full of adventure. Emilie’s first children’s book, Her Majesty’s Explorer: a Steampunk bedtime story (illustrated by William Kevin Petty) hit #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases in the Science Fiction genre. Her second children’s book, Steamduck Learns to FLY!, launched in late 2012. Emilie is an ABNA Quarterfinalist (2013) and Semifinalist (2010.) She is a calendar girl – Ms. December 2014 – for the Girls of the Con Calendar. Additionally, Emilie does book interior layout and design for other indy authors.
Check out Emilie’s website: www.coalcitysteam.com
Follow her on Twitter: @CoalCitySteam

Emilie BushLET’S TALK STEAMPUNK…

KH: Atlanta Magazine recently noted that Atlanta ranks #1 for Steampunk. Perfect coincidence: you live there. You KNOW this genre inside out. You write it; you speak on it, you breathe it at cons. Take us back. Where did Steampunk, as a genre, begin?

EB: Interesting that. Seattle Steampunks will tell you they are, Chicago-punks, too. Clearly they have been flying at too great an altitude. Steampunk began as a Literary Movement – a direct response to the Cyperpunk genre. In fact, the early writers (Jeeter, Powers, Blaylock) WERE Cyberpunk writers. Early Steampunk was equally dark and dystopian. Over the years, it has evolved into it’s own: more adventure, stripes of romance and horror and comedy and even children’s books. I’ve interview most of the founding fathers (and the presiding mother – Cheri Priest) and the fellows all scratch their heads at what the genre has become. They don’t feel they own it at all (see my interview with Tim Powers http://youtu.be/B5CLnMJPPcg) — it’s grown into a huge movement.

 

KH: Fast forward: The Steampunk literary genre has grown tremendously, yet there’s confusion over how to describe it. How would you define Steampunk today?

EB: High adventure in low technology.

 

KH: Pull out your crystal ball. Any prediction for where the genre is going? Are there any boundaries yet to be pushed?

EB: Oh that is the big question, isn’t it. There is a bit of a battle going on right now to define Steampunk. It is a difficult thing to put in a package when MOST of it is do it yourself. The elements of recycling, upcycling and inventing, of self reliance, make it a hard demographic to market to. At this moment, a tv series called Bruce Boxleitner’s Lantern City is looking for a home. FABU concept, great actors signed on, complicated world building, and a huge buy in from out community already, so why hasn’t it found a network? It’s so up for grabs – this product called Steampunk. Beyond that, it doesn’t lend itself well to product placement. But some may not agree with Boxleitner on HIS definition of steampunk – which is somewhat dark and violent. Others want to define it there way, and that’s OKAY! It is not like the Marvel Comics cannon where each character is trademarked and image branded. The future of Steampunk is going to be decided by the people who brand it. And when there are rules to this game, a lot of early adopters will take their goggles and go home.

 

LET’S TALK WRITING…

Verdu_CoverKH: What drew you to fiction writing in general, and more specifically, into Steampunk?

EB: I was a long time writer of NON-fiction. I sold my first news story to NPR when I was 19-years old, and have been a professional writer since. When I “retired” from journalism (and I neither retired or actually stopped writing, it seems) I got the yen to create when I was TOTALLY plowed under as a new mother. I needed something for me – that didn’t include washing cloth diapers and making baby food. And a character study a friend of mine, Trish Nolde, wrote plagued me for a very long time. I like two elements of her character – the shady airship captain and the scholar explorer. I talked to her about taking those elements and making a new story – which became Chenda and the Airship Brofman. Trish has been one hell of a muse for years.

 

KH: You’ve written several acclaimed Steampunk titles for children. Talk about the nuances of writing for younger readers.

EB: I was TERRIFIED to write children’s books. ( Keep in mind I have interviewed more than one US president.) Kids are TOUGH and the couch NOTHING in kindness. I realize, after three children’s books, that the role of the author in children’s books is… small. The pictures are key, and William Kevin Petty is really good at knowing what appeals to a child’s eye. As for the writing, verse is TOUGH. Short stories are harder than novels. But – it’s SO much fun…

 

KH: Can you give a few tips for writing great Steampunk?

EB: (1.) Know what Steampunk IS to you. Make your world and live in it. (2) Know that the difference between Steampunk and another genre with gears glued on – is SUBVERSION. Play with cast systems, play with putting historically appropriate morals and customs on their ear. (3) Don’t get lost in the gadgets and moustaches. I’ve seen many a good story come to a screeching halt to describe some brass or handlebars. Focus on the story. The ADVENTURE.

 

LET’S TALK EMILIE…

KH: Are you a disciplined writer with a set routine? Or total Bohemian? (please tell us about your writing process)

EB: I don’t force the muse. You force it you get rotten muse. SO, I write in spurts. I try to set goals but that is futile. Deadlines are better.

 

KH: Any new projects to share?

EB: Coal City Stories should have a coloring and activity book out by Christmas and two books out in the first half of 2014. AND at some point I will finish book 3 of the Brofman Series (sorry fans – it will be worth the wait) and I’m exploring some contracts for an urban fantasy I wrote last year – THAT, I think, is the best thing I have ever written.

 

LET’S TALK CROSSROADS…

KH: You attend and speak at a lot of writer conferences – DragonCon, JordanCon, Deep South Con, to name a few. And you’re a repeat presenter at the Crossroads Writer’s Conference. What’s a highlight from last year’s Crossroads Conference?

EB: Can I say the Karaoke? No wait – the NaNoWriMo GOD keynote lunch – I mean, I TOTALLY drank the kool aid. The joy of sitting with FANTASTIC authors.

 

KH: What can 2013 Crossroad Conference attendees look forward to?

EB: You miss half the conference if you don’t turn up at the bar, or at breakfast. I’ve never know a more approachable crowd of writers than the ones at CWC. It’s kinda set up that way. Chris Horne has magic in a bottle with this gem – it’s the best conference I do ALL YEAR.

 

“To Outline, Or Not to Outline? That’s a Contentious Question”: An Interview with Sarah Domet

Creative writing professor Sarah Domet is author of "90 Days to Your Novel"

Sarah Domet, author of “90 Days to Your Novel”

A favorite at Crossroads, Sarah Domet is the author of “90 Days to Your Novel” (Writer’s Digest Books). She earned her Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from The University of Cincinnati in 2009, and she now teaches in the Department of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University. She has published her fiction and nonfiction in many journals, most recently New Delta Review, Harpur’s Palate, Beloit Fiction Journal, Juked, Barely South Review, Talking Writing, Bitch Flicks, and Bluestem. She recently completed her novel, “Altar Girls,” the first draft of which she wrote in 90 Days. For more information, visit her website: http://sarahdomet.com/

WANT TO HEAR SARAH’S ‘ADVICE FROM A WRITING COACH’ TALK? SIGN UP FOR CROSSROADS 2013!

“To Outline, Or Not to Outline? That’s a Contentious Question”: An Interview with Sarah Domet

by Kathy Holzapfel

 

Kathy Holzapfel: Your book – “90 Days to Your Novel: A Day-by-Day Plan for Outlining & Writing Your Book” – outlines a step-by-step process to a completed novel. Can you explain the advantages of deadlines?

domet_90daysSarah Domet: So many people say “one day I’ll write a novel,” but “one day” is often pushed to the next day, then the next day, then indefinitely. Those who wait for “one day” to show up knocking on their doors wearing horn-rimmed glasses and demanding their manuscripts ASAP will wind up waiting a long time.

As a teacher of writing, I appreciate deadlines, but I also recognize that individuals often arise to the challenges placed before them. A deadline is just that—a challenge. Stephen King famously noted that first drafts should be written in no more than three months. And many famous (and not so famous) writers feel similarly.

Writing a novel can sometimes feel like an insurmountable task. Staring at the first blank page, knowing you have hundreds more to write, recognizing the truth of the matter, that you’ll literally sit in front of your computer, alone, for hours, days, months until this thing is finished—that’s a moment that can overwhelm even the most seasoned writer. Clear deadlines remind us that habits—good habits—go further than inspiration when writing a novel. Or, as Mary Heaton Vorse reminds us, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

 

KH: The book proposes daily – or nearly daily – writing stints. What tips can you offer for the time-crunched?

SD: I was recently talking to a friend who happens to also be a teacher, a scientist, a mother, and a wife, among her other roles and responsibilities. She’s a writer, too—at work on her novel. To get her pages written each day this summer, she got in her car, drove to a scenic spot, and sat in what she termed her “mobile office” pecking away at her book.

I love imagining her writing in her car, gazing out at the ducks floating on a pond as she contemplates her next line. But, more importantly, I think this story illustrates the simple truth: If it’s important enough to you, you’ll find the time.

For those who are really time-crunched, either learn to consolidate time or write in spurts. Reserve a weekend afternoon for writing, or draft a few pages on your lunch break. Get up earlier or go to bed later. Carve out the time wherever you can. Find what works for you.

And always carry a notebook to jot down those novel-worthy ideas when you’re too busy to sit down at your computer. I can’t tell you how many of my “great” ideas have disappeared into the ether simply for the fact that I forgot to write them down.

 

This will be my third year presenting at Crossroads. I come back because of the people: The planners, the presenters, the attendees. Quite honestly, I’d be a little sad if I weren’t a part of it. – Sarah Domet

 

KH: Your book offers an in-depth method for outlining. Can you go over the components covered?

SD: Outlines are a real point of contention for writers. Some adamantly attest that outlines thwart creativity, while others swear by them. I happen to fall closer to the latter category. When you have at least some general sense of where your story might be leading you, you’ll free up your mind to do the fun stuff that novel writing entails: developing characters, creating unique worlds, playing with language. Outlines needn’t be viewed as restrictive or prescriptive. Writing is an art, after all, and like any art there’s a little bit of magic to it.

“90 Days to Your Novel” takes the writer through the whole process—from idea generation to completed manuscript. However, I’ve noticed many other writing guides focus only on the discrete components of writing, such as character, plot, setting, dialogue, etc., without discussing how these components all come together to form a story. That is, you don’t first write characters, then write plot, then write setting. You write interweave all these elements at once. It’s a balancing act.

A solid outline helps you consider your story more holistically. Where will you begin? Where will you end? How will you get there? Most people who, half-way through, give up on writing their novels do so because they can’t figure out where their story is going. They get stuck. Outlines can help unstick you.

 

KH: The objective of the outlining process is a chronological scene list. What are the benefits of writing one scene at a time?

SD: Every scene must accomplish important work in a novel; each scene must carry its own weight, while revealing a part of the big picture. Some scenes work toward developing character, some work to forward the plot, some deepen the drama or heighten the conflict, and some accomplish all these things at once.

Writers need to master the art of gazing outward and downward, like a quarterback who must both observe his immediate surroundings, so he doesn’t get sacked, while also looking downfield for the pass. Channel your inner quarterback, even if you’ve never played a sport in your life. Writing your novel scene by scene, from start to finish, helps you understand how the parts are related to the whole.

On another note, writing scene by scene allows you see the very real and physical way that the pages add up. That’s the fun part.

 

KH: The end goal of the 90 days process is a solid first draft novel. What then? Can you share insights on revision?

Nathan and SarahSD: Revision. Oh, the agony. You spend 90 days writing a book, and just when you think you’ve finished, the real work begins. Revision turns good novels into great novels, so it’s important work.

When writing a first draft, practice the art of letting go—don’t restrain your writing or your characters. Instead, create over-the-top scenarios, experiment with voice, wax philosophical about the invention of the Snuggy, tell off-color jokes that you never would repeat in real life. Just get the words down on the page.

Then take a break. Better yet, go on a vacation.

When you come back to your novel, again, practice the art of letting go. But this time in a different way. Let go of what doesn’t work. Let go of characters who may not contribute to your story, even if you love them. Let go of your perceptions about the book you wanted to write, and take a closer look at what your novel has become. What are your characters telling you?

There’s no one correct way to write a novel, no magic bullet. Trust yourself—you’re usually your own best guide. Keep in mind the words of Carl Sandburg: “Beware of advice—even this.”

 

KH: You’re a repeat presenter at the Crossroads Writers Conference. What’s a high point from last year?

SD: So many high points from last year! The entire conference buzzed with good writerly mojo. I met and re-met some seriously cool writers. Chris Baty’s keynote address, among others, inspired me: “Everyone — and I mean, EVERYONE — has so much more inside of them than they realize.” Sometimes we all need a little reminder of that.

 

KH: What brings you back to the Crossroads Conference in 2013?

SD: This will be my third year presenting at Crossroads. I come back because of the people: The planners, the presenters, the attendees. Quite honestly, I’d be a little sad if I weren’t a part of it.

 

BerniceLMcFadden_Eric Payne_slider

How to Survive 74 Rejections: an Interview with Bernice McFadden

National Bestselling author Bernice McFadden has written ten critically-acclaimed, award-winning bestselling novels, including the contemporary classics “Sugar” and “Glorious.” Her novel, “The Warmest December,” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and was lauded as “searing and expertly imagined” by Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison. A Brooklyn native and resident, Bernice’s latest novel is “Gathering of Waters,” a story that conjures the time, setting and heartbreak of the murder of Emmett Till. You can meet Bernice at this year’s Crossroads by registering here: CrossroadsWriters.splashthat.com

To learn more, please visit her website: www.bernicemcfadden.com.

You can also follow her on Twitter: @queenazsa

 

Q & A TIME – YOU’RE IN FOR A TREAT…
Bernice McFadden with fellow Akashic author Adam Mansbach at Crossroads 2012.

Bernice McFadden with fellow Akashic author Adam Mansbach at Crossroads 2012.

 

KATHY: If I’ve counted correctly, you’ve published 10 books as Bernice L. McFadden, plus you’ve got a piece in an anthology due out in December. You’ve also published 5 books under a pseudonym. That’s 16 books in 13 years. Sounds like you’re a disciplined writer. Can you describe your writing routine?

BERNICE: I just read your question out loud and was a little surprised. Wow, yes it has been sixteen books in thirteen years. Well fifteen novels and one novella. I’m amazed.

I don’t consider myself a disciplined writer. I think of myself as an emotional writer. I write when I’m feeling very sad or conflicted or extremely joyous. And I do not write everyday, at least not physically. The story is a constant in my head. I’m always thinking about the characters and their journey.

 

KATHY: In addition to creative writing, you’ve studied poetry and journalism. Do you write short stories and poems? Or any non-fiction?

BERNICE: I’ve written a few poems. Writing poetry is something I promised myself I would start doing more of. I started out as a short story writer. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would become a novelist! Way back when I first began to pursue publication all I had were short stories, but no one wanted to publish them. I’ve written non-fiction for The Washington Post and Crisis Magazine.

 

KATHY: Your first book, the award-winning novel, “Sugar,” was published in late 2000. It received 74 rejections before Dutton acquired it. What kept you going between rejection number 1 and rejection number 74?

BERNICE: “Sugar” was published In January of 2000. I call it my Millenium Baby. What kept me going was my faith in my gift that God had blessed me with. I couldn’t accept the fact that I had given so much of myself to these characters and their story for it to sit in a dusty desk drawer. That coupled with the promise I made to myself when I was nine years old, which was: I am going to be a published a writer when I grow up!

And besides, rejection builds character and resilience.

 

KATHY: Your second book, “The Warmest December,” also garnered awards and acclaim, including a nomination in 2001 for a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. What did that feel like and did the accolades make it easier or harder to sit and write book number three?

BERNICE: The Warmest December was the most difficult book I’ve ever written and that was for two reasons.

  1. It was a fictional account of my childhood
  2. The Sophomore Curse

For those who don’t know, the sophomore curse in the literary world is when your debut novel does exceptionally well and readers and critics alike expect more the same magic in your second offering – but BAM! It’s a flop because the writer was freaked out by the good fortune of the first and tried to write above and beyond his or hers own genius. Or something thing like that!

Honestly, I appreciated and was humbled by the accolades that poured in for TWD… but my greatest joy about that book was the glowing blurb I received from Toni Morrison. She is my absolute favorite writer and I continue to remain in awe of her work. Having Ms. Morrison in my corner, made it easy for me to continue writing without thinking about who was going to read my work or even like my work – because as far as I was concerned, if Ms. Morrison appreciated my work then all was well in my world.

 

KATHY: Fast forward twelve years. That list of honors and awards for your books is long and distinguished – Washington Post Best Fiction, multiple short-listings for the Hurston Wright Legacy Award (fiction). While you’re likely proud of all of them, are there any awards that are particularly meaningful to you?

BERNICE: All of the honors and awards I’ve received mean the world to me. I know how difficult it is to be recognized in this world of Art and Letters – I consider myself one of the lucky ones, so I am grateful.

 

KATHY: You write literary fiction as Bernice L. McFadden. You also write racy, humor as Geneva Holliday. What are the pros and cons of writing in two different genres, with two distinctly different voices?

BERNICE: I don’t think there is a con to it. Not everyone can write in two, three or five different voices. I’m blessed to have that ability and because of it I can engage a variety of different audiences.

 

KATHY: Your latest novel, “Gathering of Waters,” weaves a tapestry using fiction and American history. Was it daunting to re-imagine a real-life famous event – in this case, the tragic story of young Emmett Till?

BERNICE: Not at all. Historical Fiction comes naturally to me because I love history and love fiction and so to be able to meld the two, excites me. I love reimaging people, places and things that helped to shape the world we live in.

 

KATHY: Several of your novels – “Nowhere Is a Place,” “Glorious,” and “Gathering of Waters,” for example – have ties or setting in the South. As a storyteller, what draws you back to a particular setting?

BERNICE: I think I’m drawn to the Southern culture because that’s where my maternal family hails from and those are the people that I spent the most time with when I was a child. I think I honed my storytelling skills from my grandparents, great aunts and uncles. Also, I feel I owe my ancestors a debt and so happily honor their lives in my work.

 

KATHY: You’re a repeat presenter at Macon’s Crossroads Writers Conference. (It’s no secret that we love and admire you!) Can you share a highlight from last year’s conference?

BERNICE: I had a wonderful time at the conference. I met a lot of intriguing, warm and wonderful people. And was thrilled to be able to spend some time in a town filled with so much history, a town that my great-great grandparents called home after they were freed from the bondages of slavery. It doesn’t get any better than that!

 

KATHY: What are you looking forward to at this year’s Crossroads?

BERNICE: I’m looking forward to more of the same and of course the sweet tea!

 

KATHY: What projects have you been working on this past year?

BERNICE: Well, I’m working on a novel with a male main character. This is a first for me. So I’m excited about exploring this new territory.

 

KATHY: Last question: Here’s the opening lines from David McCord’s poem Books Fall Open: “Books fall open, you fall in, delighted where you’ve never been…” What’s the first book you remember falling in love with?

BERNICE: I think the first book I actually fell in love with was, “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker.

 

Simon Sanchez

Some Q, Some A: Trauma Comics founder Simon Sanchez

One of our favorite Crossroaders, Rachel Helie, recently started writing a column for The Comics Cube called ‘Double Helix’ and she’s agreed to share some of that goodness with us. In this installment, she interviews Simon Sanchez, the founder and force behind Trauma Comics. Sanchez is also the writer of Trauma’s grindhouse revival comic ‘Nazi Werewolves from Outer Space.’
Catch the rest of their conversation (including the story behind this photo) on Double Helix at the Comics Cube!

Simon Sanchez aka “Trauma Comics”

by Rachel Helie, Double Helix

 

Rachel: When did you first think “Hey, I can write a comic”? What was your inspiration? Are you a fan and if so what specific kinds of comic books do you prefer?

Simon: A few of my friends and I were kicking around ideas one day at lunch and we started talking about werewolves and then one thing led to another. Before I knew it I was talking about ‘Nazi Werewolves from Outer Space.’ I contacted Don Marquez through an Ebay cover auction and told him my idea. He sent back his sketch. I sat down and wrote 8 pages of text and the rest, as they say, is history. That Marquez painting became the cover art for issue #1.

I’ve been a fan since I was a boy. That was a while back and I loved horror movies too. My dad took me to see ‘The Excorcist’ when I was seven and it scared the hell outta me but I loved it and grew to love it more as I became an adult. Some of the best times I can remember being a kid was getting my comics and hiding in my room for half an hour, totally disappearing into those stories. It was the hey-day of the Kirby and Lee collaboration. Neither of those guys, in my opinion, have had the kind of raw story-telling power since Kirby left Marvel to join DC. I’m a HUGE fan of EC Comics, which was founded by William Gaines with Al Feldstein doing the art. Feldstein is still around and producing pieces. I had him paint a cover for me and it was just beautiful. So yeah, I’m definitely a fan!

 

R: A lot of people would hesitate to jump out on their own and invest in an idea the way that you have. What do you think inspired your courage to make your ideas a reality?

S: I didn’t want to look back on my life and say to myself, “Well, why didn’t I ever write a comic book?” I only get one life and loving something as much as I love comic books…it would be a shame to not try. The way I see it, it’s better to try and fail than not try at all. I don’t want to live with that regret. Everyone needs a passion and I love doing this. It gives me a reason to keep moving along every day.

 

Robert Venditti

X-O Manoawesome: interview with Robert Venditti

Rachel: How does working in digital, something you did for the first time in The Surrogates: Case Files, change the collaboration of a writer and artist? Is it essentially the same process or are there some aspects that alter? How does it improve upon the traditional methods?

ROBERT VENDITTI: Brett Weldele and I have a done two graphic novels with each other, so our process is pretty established.  It also helps that Brett handles all of the art himself—even the lettering—so it’s really just the two of us working with Chris Staros at Top Shelf (publisher of The Surrogates).  I will say that the content of The Surrogates: Case Files lends itself well to the digital format, and Brett’s style, particularly his unique color palette, really shines on a screen.  There’s this one page in the first issue where he draws a dusting of fall leaves, and the colors really pop.  It’s one of my favorite moments.

 

Robert with his colleagues Gail Simone and Nathan Edmondson at Crossroads 2011 (Photo: GR Lucas)

Rachel:  You recently began publishing your first month by month, working on X-O Manowar.  How does this sort of quick production and historical sci-fi/fantasy aspect change your style of writing? How does it determine your research process?

VENDITTI: Writing for a monthly book is a big change from the graphic novel writing I’m accustomed to doing.  There are always multiple issues in various stages of production, which took getting used to, since I tend to be a linear writer.  With a monthly book, there’s also a need to reorient the reader every issue—without making it read like you’re reorienting them—and I’m still learning how to do that as effectively as I can.  On the plus side, you have a new book on the shelf every month instead of a graphic novel every other year, so that’s nice.

On the research side, since X-O Manowar has a heavy historical element, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to get the details right, particularly in the opening half of the first issue, where we see the main character as a Visigoth in the 5th Century.  I won’t claim that everything is accurate, but if I got something wrong, it wasn’t for lack of effort.  I spent almost a whole day trying to find out whether or not Visigoth saddles would’ve had stirrups at the Battle of Pollentia.  Historians seem to differ on that point, so I went with no stirrups, since that would look different than every other saddle that’s been drawn in a comic.

 

Rachel: You have, like a lot of comic writers, a handful of projects going simultaneously.  How do you keep your feet on the ground functioning as a writer in so many worlds?  What is something that you do to keep yourself present for the stories as individual worlds?

VENDITTI: I divide my days up into even chunks, working on a separate project for a couple of hours at a time, so I’m always moving ahead on everything at once.  At least that’s my plan.  Inevitably, something of the this-needs-to-be-done-right-now variety comes up, and the day gets blown apart.  The alternative method would be to not have a plan and let each day decide for itself what you’re going to work on, but of course when you do that, nothing happens and you end up wasting a day.  So I start each day with a plan, and even though I know going in the plan isn’t going to be followed, I allow myself to hope that it will.  I’m an eternal optimist.

 

Rachel: X-O Manowar has been described as “the cornerstone of the Valiant brand”(Simons, CBR).  With the challenge of producing a month by month for the first time while this precedent exists… how’s that pressure treating you?  What’s something you do to wind down in the midst of such a wild schedule?

VENDITTI: Honesty, I try not to think about things like that.  If I considered it my responsibility to make X-O Manowar the “cornerstone of the Valiant brand,” I’d probably freeze up at the keyboard.  I just try to write the best comics I can the way I write them, and hope the audience will respond positively.  Thankfully, things have gone well so far, but with a monthly book you’re only as good as the latest issue, so there’s no time to rest on your laurels.

As for winding down . . . I do anything that has nothing to do with writing.  But it all makes its way back to the page in one way or another.  All writing is autobiographical in the sense that it’s made from the writer’s influences and experiences, so on days—and there’s plenty of them—when the words just don’t seem to come, I go out and make some of those experiences.

 

Rachel:  It’s been said that The Surrogates “reads like Philip K. Dick writing an episode for The Wire” (i09).  In my book, that is some damn fine praise!  How do you continue to push yourself to kick it up to the next level or is it a “slow and steady wins the race” game?  Do you pay much attention to your reviews (I mean other than when an interviewer forces you too) or do you find it distracting?

VENDITTI: I’d like to say I don’t read reviews, but it’s hard to ignore them.  Especially in the digital age, when reviews are posted online in advance of the book’s release, so for a week or so, they’re the only response that’s out there in the world.  I try not to get too wrapped up in them, though.  I just keep my head down and do what I think a story needs.  Whether I’m successful in the end is up to each individual reader to decide for themselves.

 

Rachel:  Your work seems to push toward the “new.” How do you find your challenges and adapt to a changing marketplace?  What would you say has been your most valuable learning experience over the years and what is one challenge you have on your mental list that remains unchecked?

VENDITTI: I make a conscious effort to do something different with each new project.  So far in my career, I’ve written cyberpunk sci-fi (The Surrogates), political/medical thriller (The Homeland Directive), middle-grade fantasy (the adaptations of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), young-adult vampire romance (the adaptation of the Blue Bloods novel), and now with X-O Manowar, mainstream superhero comics.  A lot of people will say you should brand yourself with a particular genre and build your career from there, but if I did that, I think I’d feel like I was in a rut.  Changing things up keeps me engaged with the story.

As for challenges I’d still like to tackle, writing a prose novel is definitely at the top of the list.

 

CarrieHowland

Q&A: Carrie Howland, Agent, Donadio & Olson, Inc.

If you missed Carrie the first time, don’t worry because she’s back for Crossroads 2013! Click here to register: CrossroadsWriters.splashthat.com

The Mind of an Agent: Chatting with Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson

Chris: I’m always curious about how people end up where they are. How’d you become an agent? Had you always set out to do it, or did you happen into it?

Carrie: I grew up in a small town in Michigan where an ‘agent’ was someone who sold you insurance. I attended a private liberal arts school for undergrad, on Biology/Environmental Research and Pre-Med Scholarships. (I’m probably one of the few literary agents who has taken, and passed, two semesters of Organic Chemistry.) The ‘mistake’ of course was taking Creative Writing 101 to fulfill an art requirement. I’d always loved to write and began reading (more like devouring) books at the age of three, much to the chagrin of my kindergarten teacher who didn’t know what to do with me two years later. After declaring a Creative Writing major, I still fulfilled all my Pre-Med requirements (and even added Pre-Law, ‘just to be safe’). Then I decided to spend a semester off-campus. By this time, I’d become the Poetry Editor of our campus literary journal (which drew submissions from across the country) as well as a reporter for the campus newspaper. So, to me, it made sense to study ‘abroad’…in New York City. I asked to be placed at a publishing house as an editorial intern or at a literary journal. My NY program advisor called one day and, in the thickest New York accent I’d ever heard, and asked if I’d like to interview at a literary agency. I said, “Yes, absolutely!” then immediately got off the phone to Google ‘Literary Agent.’ In the end, I landed the internship at a well-known boutique agency with one of the most impressive client lists I’d ever seen. The agency was Donadio & Olson, Inc., and the rest, as they say, is history…

Chris: WHY are you an agent? Why do it? Certainly there have be headaches here and there, troubles and whatnot. So what makes you get up in the morning and keep at it?

Carrie: I went into publishing because I couldn’t think of a better job than getting paid to read amazing books for a living. I decided to become an agent because I wanted that close, personal relationship with the authors. I like to say that I represent an author’s career, not just his or her book. I’m fortunate enough to work with my writers in every aspect of their careers, from editing to publicity and more. There’s nothing more fulfilling than discovering a new writer and knowing that you had an integral part in getting that first book published, and establishing a career. So what makes me get up in the morning? My authors. Bob Dylan said, “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to suppose that Mr. Dylan is referring to literary agents here…

Chris: What traits do you, an agent, think make an agent good? How do you think that differs from what writers are sometimes looking for?

Carrie: I’ve always said that the two best traits I possess as an agent are: the mind of a poet and the work ethic of a Midwesterner. I represent literary fiction, and some non-fiction, so I love beautiful writing. I often say that my ideal book would be a novel written by a poet. In addition, I write poetry, not fiction, which enables me to separate my own writing from what I do day-to-day. I think it’s helpful to have the distinction so as not to feel burned out in either genre. And aside from a love of writing, to be a good agent, you have to work. A lot. There’s no other way to say it. If you’re looking for a 9-5 job, being an agent probably isn’t for you. I spend evenings reading, weekends at book fairs and conferences, lunches with authors and editors, I even read submissions on the elliptical at the gym. I absolutely love my job, so it rarely feels like work. Along those lines, I always tell my authors, “I can’t want it more than you do.” Basically, I need them to put in the same kind of dedication to their work. I suppose not all agents harass their clients about keeping up with social media, attending book events (apart from their own), even what they’re working on next, but I do. It’s my job to build an author’s career, which means developing all aspects from writing to public image. I’m definitely a hands-on agent, so if an author is looking for someone to check in with from time-to-time, we probably won’t be a good match.

Chris: You seem to have a lot of fondness for the writers you work with, so… What do you, as an agent, look for in a writer? What about as a reader? Is there any difference?

Carrie: It’s true; I adore all of my writers. I never take on a book or author that I’m not completely passionate about. I touched on this a bit before, but I look for beautiful writing. It’s my personal opinion that, you can either write, or you can’t, and while that craft can be honed, it can’t necessarily be taught. Despite the exorbitant amount of submissions we get on a daily basis, not everyone is a writer. Just like not everyone can be a model. (I know how it feels—I’m only 5’3.) In addition to style, I look for a strong voice. I believe that if the voice is strong, the reader will follow it anywhere. So, when I see a manuscript that’s beautifully written, with a strong voice, I’m of course drawn to it. Other issues, like plot, character development, etc. come in to play as well, but to some degree, those can be fixed. I don’t expect a manuscript to be perfect when I receive it. In fact, I expect that it won’t be. This isn’t to say that a writer shouldn’t be submitting the best possible manuscript, but if there are issues that I think we can solve together, I’ll work with a writer to get that done. Again, I’m a hands-on agent. My writers often go through several drafts with me before we submit their manuscripts to editors. But I think you’re doing your clients a disservice by not sending out the most polished draft possible. And because of this back-and-forth, I look for an author with a good attitude, someone I can develop a good rapport with, who will listen to my notes and, while I don’t expect that he or she take every single one, will thoughtfully consider them. I also look for writers who, as I said before, are just as committed to their careers as I am. I want writers who will do everything possible to, along with my help, promote themselves and their work.

Chris: You brought up something interesting in an earlier email that maybe doesn’t get asked enough: Why get an agent at all?

Carrie: Of course the simple answer to this question is, “Because you have to.” But I remember being on that side of the “Because I told you so.” conversation with my mom growing up, so let me explain. In order to submit to a major publisher, you need to have an agent. Most publishing houses simply don’t accept un-agented queries. One of the many jobs I have as an agent is to get to know these publishing houses and the editors who work there. By developing these relationships, I know who would be the right editor for a particular book, and that editor knows that I represent quality writers, and won’t waste his or her time on something that I don’t think would be right for that particular list. Agents are also, for lack of a better term, filters. We weed through the hundreds of manuscripts we see and show only the best to these editors. You might say we’re on the frontlines of publishing. (It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.) Beyond the ‘Because I said so.’ argument, what is the benefit to you? There are countless benefits, really. Initially, you have a professional to help you polish your manuscript. You also have, generally, the backing of an agency which may have a lot of history, as mine does, which means people know of it, and they pay attention to our submissions and our authors. When it comes time to negotiations, agents play a huge part. We have the knowledge and background of years of book deals and hundreds of contracts. We know how to negotiate higher advances, what rights to hold back in order to make the client even more money, and what language in a contract might affect the author negatively in the future. We work for you. Some people ask, “Why give a percentage of my earnings to an agent?” My answer is always, “Because you can’t afford not to.” I almost always earn back my commission, and then some, meaning an author still ends up making more money than he or she would have without an agent, and the job is done for you. Basically, your agent is there to do all the legwork, negotiating, and even schmoozing so you can focus on what you do best: writing.

Chris: We typically put more emphasis at the conference on “getting the writing done” than getting published, but clearly we want people to get published, or at least read. When does a writer know they’re “ready” for an agent?

Carrie: In my opinion, most writers are ready for an agent at least one or two drafts after they think they are. Meaning, take your time. You don’t have to, nor should you, send out your novel the second you type that last word. Give it to friends you trust (other writers, former workshop companions, an old professor, etc.). And take some time away from it. I always tell writers to put their novels in a drawer for a month, then come back to them. You’ll have a fresh perspective and undoubtedly see things that you never saw before. You’ll have that ‘Aha!’ moment where you’ll say to yourself, “How could I have considered sending this out without changing___?” Of course, all that being said, don’t tinker. A few drafts, a month away, these are good things. But if you get to the point where you’re adding and deleting the same line for a week straight, it’s probably time to start submitting to agents.

Chris: What should a writer do to find out if they’re ready? And when they’re ready, what should their first move be?

Carrie: Again, if you’ve accomplished what I’ve mentioned above, you’re probably ready to submit. My recommendation: take that month while your novel is settling in the drawer to begin your agent research. That has to be your first step: research. It doesn’t do anyone any good for you to submit your novel blindly to one hundred agencies. So much information is available online now, finding an agent that aligns with your work is easier than ever. One bit of advice that I love to give: check the backs of your favorite books and see which agents are acknowledged there. Chances are, if you have five favorite writers, those you feel your work most resembles, or those writers you feel most influenced by, those agents are a good place to start. And of course, there’s nothing an agent loves more than his or her authors, so knowing that you like them, too, always hits a sweet spot. It also lets us know that you’ve done your research. I love to get queries from writers that say, this book by your author is one of my favorites and so I thought you’d like my novel. Don’t, however, throw in any name just to have it there. I’ll know that your work isn’t similar to a certain author when I start reading your manuscript and it’s nothing like that author’s book. For example, if that author writes literary fiction and your novel is a commercial thriller, it doesn’t bode well for your research. Along those lines, look at the genres each agent represents. If you have an amazing idea for a cookbook, that’s great, but don’t waste your time, a stamp, etc. sending it to me, because I simply won’t know what to do with it. There are agents for everything; you just have to look.

Chris: Can you describe what the “courting process” is between an agent and a writer? Any stories from personal experience you care to share?

Carrie: Well, I like flowers, chocolates, and Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi (you laugh, but it’s REALLY hard to find here!). But seriously, what you can expect is that you’ll query an agent, he or she will get back saying to send the full manuscript, or that it simply isn’t a good match. Once you’ve sent the manuscript: be patient. We read so much that to think you’ll get a response in a few days just isn’t reasonable. That’s not to say that you can’t ever follow-up with an agent, but I really wouldn’t suggest doing it before a month has passed. If I like your work, I’ll likely contact you with questions like, “Are you open to edits?” and give you a basic idea of what I’m thinking. Then, once we both decide that we’re on the same page, I’ll make an offer of representation and hope that you’ll accept! I suggest always mentioning in a query if you’re giving an exclusive look or whether you’re querying other agents, which of course is totally fine. I expect that you’re going out to several agents at once, because it does take time, and you don’t want two years to go by before you find an agent. If you do receive an offer of representation, get in touch with those other agents. Don’t simply fall off the radar. If an agent has taken the time to read your work, do the polite thing and let them know that you’ve had an offer. This also gives the agent a chance to offer you representation as well, and you may find that the second or third offer is actually a better fit. And it should be a good fit on both ends, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ideally, you’ll have one agent for your entire career, so choose wisely!

Chris: There are some predatory types out there in Internetland, folks who promise the sun and moon in addition to publication. How should writers protect themselves? What should they be looking out for?

Carrie: I’m not sure where all the modeling analogies are coming from, but a friend once told me that the answer to this question is akin to how to deal with the guy at the mall who says he can make you a model, but that you have to pay him thousands of dollars upfront. A real agent will never (ever) ask for any kind of money from you. We can’t. We’re bound by certain rules laid out by the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) that dictate these things. It says we can’t charge reading fees, for example. However, not all agents are members of the AAR, so that’s always a good thing to check. If they’re a member, you know they’re in good standing, and can generally be trusted. Of course the best way to protect yourself as a writer is to, again, do your research. See who else they represent, or what other authors the agency represents. Does the agent/agency have a good track record and a solid list of authors? Our agency has been around for over forty years, and we represent some of the top writers in the world. Our reputation is very important to us, as it is to the editors we work with, and the authors we represent. An agency with a good reputation is so important, because they are your image to the world. Go with someone you’d be proud to have represent you.

Chris: What do you read–genres, formats, etc., as well as specific writers, publications, etc.–when you’re not wearing your agent hat? Do you ever not wear your agent hat?

Carrie: This is sort of like that music question. “I listen to a little bit of everything—except country.” That’s true for me, except that I also love country. (Dolly Parton, anyone?) That is to say, while I have my favorites, I try to read a little bit of everything. I’m not sure that I’m ever ‘not wearing my agent hat.’ But I think a good agent should read everything. I believe that you have no room to judge a book or a writer you haven’t read. So, while I’m always drawn to literary fiction, it’s what I love, I also read the more commercial books that tend to show up on the New York Times Bestseller list. As an agent, it’s important for me to know what’s selling, and why.

Chris: Why in the world would you say yes to a weekend with us here? Are you insane?

Carrie: I asked an agent friend to answer this question for me and his response was, “my best friends would happily agree that I’m insane.” Haha. Thanks so much, Chris! I hope all this is helpful! I’m really looking forward to the conference!

 

Bernice-stay-true_web

“Everything happens for a reason”: interview with Bernice McFadden

LEARN MORE FROM BERNICE MCFADDEN AT THE CROSSROADS WRITERS CONFERENCE

“Everything Happens for A Reason”: an interview with author Bernice McFadden by  Sherry L. Moore-Williamson

Sherry: I have to be honest, I have yet to read one of your novels however, sooo many people rave about them. Knowing this, what book should I read first?

Author Bernice McFadden is as real as they come, as our own Sherry Moore-Williamson found out first-hand. (photo by Eric Payne)

Bernice:  I believe in always starting at the beginning. I would read “Sugar” first.

S: That’s funny you suggest “Sugar.”  I read and heard that it was one of Alicia Key’s favorite books and she had mentioned it in an interview now on Youtube.

B: Yes, a girlfriend told me about the interview and what Alicia said. I didn’t even know.

S: I also listened to Academy Award-nominated actress Alfre Woodard, who is one of my faves, read an excerpt from Glorious, another novel you wrote. She commented on why she too loved this book.  “It’s so full that I immediately wanted to pick it back up and rifle through the pages again… They are historical people…who seem alive and real to you….”

B: I received a lot of literary awards for “Glorious.”

S: And “Glorious” was mentioned in O Magazine, May of 2011.  What affects did that have?

B: Well, it was good for publicity since it was compared to “The Help,” which was out at the same time. It took “Sugar” about nine years to finally get published by a commercial publisher.  It was a good ride until I got dropped after my sixth novel. I was told I was a “done as a writer.”

S: Wow! How did that feel and how did you feel when the rejection letters came for “Sugar?”

B: “Sugar” received 74 rejections—

S: —before it was finally picked up?

B: You gotta stay true to who you are and what you write. My new publisher allows this freedom. I learn from every experience I have had. I keep it positive.

We started talking about many other things.  To wrap up our chat, I wanted to talk about the mechanics of how she writes, what inspires her, and her Macon connection.

Sherry: Where do you write and when are you inspired to write?

Bernice: I used to write at night and in my home office. What I have found is I don’t write in the summer.  The days are longer and I want to get out and do things. When the days are shorter, I hibernate.  This time gives birth. You know, you get full and have to release.  The best time for inspiration is when I’m experiencing emotional turmoil.  Stories aren’t told, they unfold.

S: Nicely put. What is your feeling on self-publishing vs. commercial publishing?

B: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! There are also smaller publishing companies out there. Not just self-publishing or commercial.  They are smaller publishers who are more positive and want you to stay true to your genre of writing. They don’t want you to be something you’re not.

S: Okay, we gotta end this.  It was only supposed to be a 10 minute interview. Two more questions: What is your biggest pet peeve?

B: Tardiness! It drives me crazy!

S: I’m a Screenwriter therefore I have to ask if you envision one or more of your books made into movies? And which one first?

B: Sugar is optioned as a feature and Glorious would make a good mini-series but I was told, “nobody would watch it. It wouldn’t have an audience.”

S: From what I hear about the theme of the novel and not being biased, there are some successful mini-series already made similar to it which had huge audiences.

B: Uh-huh.

S: Middle Georgia residents may or may not know about your ties to Macon. What or who is it? And have you ever visited?

B: My great-great grandfather was the founder and preacher at First Baptist Church of Macon; and yes, I have visited Macon before and have relatives who live there now.

Of course, we did not end the call there but for the sake of space and not wanting to reveal too much about Ms. McFadden, which she will share when she’s here, I will stop now. Her Historical fiction novels “breathe life back into memory” and might I add breathe life back in to history.

When she comes to the conference please, take the time to get to know her.  She is as “real,” encouraging and inspiring as anyone I have ever spoken.  This successful author has not let her 13-plus, published works cause her to forget who she is and her novels continue to reveal her ancestry and ethnic history with a touch of embellishment. One of her last comments was:

“ I like me and I have no regrets because I know everything happens for a reason.”

Kathy writes and publishes as Cate Noble and Lauren Bach

Terminally Cheerful: an interview with Kathy Holzapfel

Kathy writes and publishes as Cate Noble and Lauren Bach

Crossroads: Why do you write?

Kathy: Compulsion. I am published, but midlist. Wanting to write in different genre for larger audience.

C: How’d you get started and where do you think you are in relation to your goal?

K: I started writing seriously (translation: actively seeking publication) in my early twenties. I’d grown weary of mysteries and a friend gave me a romance novel to read. I knew immediately that I wanted to write a combination of those two genres. I’m largely self-taught (translation: I single-handedly invented half of those rookie mistakes all new writers are warned to avoid) so my journey felt long and arduous. (translation: it took twenty years of trying/quitting/whining/trying again before my first novel was published in 2001.)

My initial goal was simply to sell a book. That goal morphed to selling another and another. But somewhere around book seven, my drive switched back to growing as a writer, which means moving beyond my familiar genre of romantic suspense. I’m still in the midst of that new goal, so it’s hard to judge where I am…but most days it feels pretty awesome.

C: You really seem supportive of other writers and organizations, and we’re just curious where that comes from.

K: Part of it’s just my nature. I’ve been told I’m one of those terminally cheerful people who others want to strangle when they’re down in the dumps and enjoying a good wallow. I want to haul you out of the mud and feed you cookies and give you pep talks and ask if you’ve tried this or that, while simultaneously checking my bag of tricks and remedies for something that will inspire you. (I’m also a Life Strategies Coach and passionate about personal development and creativty.)

But most of that drive comes from remembering the pain and loneliness of chasing my writing dream for years and years with no support – or worse, with belittlement. When I finally took a creative writing class at a local college, the instructor said he thought I had what it took to be published one day. I was so shaken I couldn’t drive, but I will always remember how it felt to be encouraged. When I finally went to my first writers’ conference in the mid 80s, I felt reborn. I believe that only a writer can truly understand another writer’s joy and frustration.

C:  Who are your biggest influences? What have you learned from them? What have you learned NOT to do from them?

K: My best influences have been a handful of big name, contemporary authors – like Nora Roberts, Suzanne Brockmann, Sandra Brown, et al – who’ve been actively writing and hitting the bestsellers lists with consistently great stories. These are writers with 20-plus-year careers that I could study; people who could serve as ”virtual” role models. Even though I’d never met them, I could read their backlist and see how their writing evolved. I could read the scores of interviews published over the years and glean advice from them. And I could dissect their novels and examine the storytelling elements they used.

What I’ve learned NOT to do is to think that once you’re published, you’ve made it. That you don’t have to continue growing as a writer.

C: What are your roadblocks?

K: Too much isolation from other writers – writers with common goals. I just relocated to Georgia a year ago and underestimated the impact of being so rural. I have been in a “mastermind” type group before, with like-minded, serious writers, and only now realize how valuable that was. Hearing “pros” talk inspires me.

C: Is there anything at the conference that you’re especially excited about experiencing? Is there anything you want to ask our guest presenters?

K: Both of Saturday’s Talk Blocks have amazing panelists. If something strange happens – say, the ballroom doors becoming locked and barred, forcing everyone to stay put for an extra hour – don’t look at me.

I want to know if Chuck Wendig wrote outrageously back in grade school and high school. (Was he born that way?) And I’d like to know Sarah Domet’s take on character-driven novels versus plot-driven ones.

C: Why did you register for the conference?

K: Wanted to commit to being there, which was really more a commitment to myself as a writer.

SusannahB

Don’t Be Boring: the Susannah Breslin interview

When we at Crossroads HQ asked Makenna Johnston to interview writer Susannah Breslin, it wasn’t just because they’re both so damn tall. They share another important factor. Mak is not, as us Southerners are sometimes wont to say, “from here,” but this big-minded outsider has made a home here and at the same time, made it a safer place for cool ideas to flourish. Like giving Macon its own licensed TED Talk conference this past spring.

As a writer, Susannah Breslin has made her name working on the outskirts, showing us the other side of people who dwell on the fringe. And from the same pen also flows career advice for Forbes.com and INC.com. She is an expert on the “Gig Economy”—the cultural shift from steady jobs to off-shift and temporary positions, freelance, etc—and the lessons she offers extend beyond the nuts and bolts about how a writer can function in this era.

WANT TO LEARN MORE FROM SUSANNAH? IN-PERSON? REGISTER FOR THE FREELANCERS SUMMIT.

Yes, for freelancers, Susannah is a gold vein of heady knowledge, but take a step back and you’ll see that a lot of her advice is just as valuable for writers of fiction, screenplays, memoirs, comics and poems as it is for bloggers and magazine writers. When you finish reading this interview with Susannah, check out her website and explore her work.

Without further ado…

Makenna: Freelancing is a tough gig, we all know this.  Your piece “Why You Shouldn’t be A Writer” is brilliant. But, if you could give a prospective freelancer a single piece of advice (other than, ‘don’t do it’) what would it be?

Susannah: Don’t be boring. This is more challenging than you’d think. Most people think they’re interesting. Therefore, they think their pitches are interesting, their writing is interesting, their stories are interesting. Most of the time, it isn’t. Think about it. The editor you’re pitching is getting hundreds of stories daily, weekly. They’re looking for a reason to delete you. How do you stand out? How high is your bar? Are you reinventing a genre, breaking news, doing something that really hasn’t been done before? And if you’re not, why bother?

M: You talk a lot about ‘the hustle’ specifically that being a good marketer, traffic pusher, and editor of your own writing is increasingly important in the freelancing world.  Any specific tips and/or suggestions on how to become a kick ass and take names hustler and/or improve one’s hustling skills?

S: Your article isn’t going to read itself. You published something online, and nobody’s reading it. That’s probably because you thought writing it was enough. It isn’t. Send out the link to your piece to anybody of influence who may be interested in it. That’s networking on behalf of your prose. It’s not enough to write. You must also work to be read.

Start a blog or Tumblr if you haven’t already and update it at least once a day, five days a week. Tweet links to your work. Ask your friends to share links to your work on Facebook. Read people who are good at stirring it up online like Penelope Trunk and James Altucher.  Read Romensko and Media Jobs Daily. Get PR tips from Cassie Boorn’s Ask a PR Girl. Ask someone to do something for you every day and offer them something in return.

M: Being a freelancer often comes with a ton of ‘up in the air, oh crap where is my next job coming from’ moments. How do you handle that with grace and dignity and without looking like a crazy person?

S: Well, I think, counter-intuitively, I act like a crazy person. Some of my most popular work involves me acting crazy: They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?, The Business About My Breasts. I’ve written about my suicidal tendencies, my cancer, my PTSD. TMI is good for you because it asks you to be brave. Others respect bravery. That gets you work.

M: You have an incredibly audacious style and voice that is rather unique to you.  Do you think that has been crucial to your success as a freelancer?  Has it at times not worked so well in your favor?

S: I’ve been pondering this lately. I don’t think my style or voice has hurt me; they’ve helped me. But I do sometimes wish that I hadn’t burned so many bridges. I wish I’d spent a couple years working as a beat reporter at a newspaper. I wish I’d been an editor at a glossy. I’ve always been very interested in staying outside the circle, but I suppose that choice has limited me, as well.

As for being outspoken, that has never been anything but good for me professionally. You do, though, get criticized. Someone once called me a boil on a neck or some such thing. But, you know, the peanut gallery always has something to say.