Category Archives: Writers

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

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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.

 

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VIDEO: Chris Baty at Crossroads 2012

“Everyone — and I mean, EVERYONE — has so much more inside of them than they realize.”

National Novel Writing Month started almost in jest between friends. Its founder, Chris Baty, never expected hundreds of thousands of people to one day attempt it. He never thought so many of them would finish a 50,000 word novel over a November of writing insanity. And of those, that any would be published by a major press, let alone more than 100. Or that, in the case for “Like Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen, be made into a major motion picture.

But you don’t watch a cultural phenomenon like this unfold without learning a few things along the way. On October 6, 2012, Chris Baty shared with us Crossroaders the highlights of his hard-won lessons.

We won’t spoil the surprise. Just press play for a shot of inspiration, courtesy of Chris Baty.

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Guest Blog: “Do You Still Love It?”

Do You Still Love It?
a guest blog by novelist Lauren Morrill

 

While gearing up for roller derby practice and complaining about a mountain of deadlines recently, one of my teammates says to me, “You became an author because you always loved to write. Now that it’s your job, does that take any of the love out of it?”

Since most roller derby conversations consist of how to care for those oozing blisters on your feet and which compression shorts are least likely to creep up your butt during a game, I was a little surprised. So I thought about it for a few seconds, and then gave her my answer.

“Nope. Not at all.”

But why? How? Aren’t deadlines and reviews and expectations crushing my spirit?

Nope. Not at all.

Ok, a little bit about me: Part of the answer lies in the fact that I am both a hopeless procrastinator and a very fast writer. Depending on your perspective, those characters combine to be either a very very good, or very very bad thing. As a procrastinator, I’m always trying to find the next book to read or show to Netflix binge (Dance Academy, anyone?). But as a fast writer, I can do all those things and still get my words down at the 11th hour.*

But the deadlines! The humanity!

Turns out? Deadlines are great, because they’re a reason to finish (and, just a little tip from me to you … finishing, is the first step towards being a successful writer). I find that I do so much better now than I did when I was wandering in the wilderness with my writing, when publishing a novel seemed like a far off fantasy. Having expectations and people who depend on me means that after I’m done watching the sixth season of Law and Order, I’m going to sit down and crank out a few thousand words.

But the expectations! They’re crushing!

The expectations? They’re motivating. I love thinking about the teen reader who finds my book at her local library or better yet, pulls it off the shelf at her local bookstore. I remember how much I loved to curl up with a good book, and knowing that there are folks out there doing that with something I wrote? Yeah, that’s a major incentive.

But still, don’t read the Goodreads reviews.

Sure, there are times when it feels like work, when the words aren’t flowing, when I’d rather just close my laptop and walk away. And when there are contracts and checks and professional relationships on the line, there are moments when it can definitely feel overwhelming. But ultimately, I remind myself of the best parts of my job: the readers, and the fact that I get to do my job in my pajamas on the couch while getting the most our of my Netflix subscription and eating ALL THE CHEETOS.

So has becoming an Author with a capital “A” spoiled the writing life for me? Not a bit. Despite the hardships and the stress, it really is as good as I imagined it would be.

*Yes, I recognize that this sounds braggy, but I believe in turning your weaknesses into a strength like you’re supposed to do in job interview (you know, “I work too hard” or “I care too much”).

 

LAUREN MORRILL grew up in Maryville, Tennessee, where she was a short-term Girl Scout, a (not so) proud member of the marching band, and a trouble-making editor for the school newspaper. She graduated from Indiana University with a major in history and a minor in rock & roll, and now lives in Macon, GA with her husband and their dog, Lucy. When she’s not writing, she spends a lot of hours getting knocked around playing roller derby. Publisher’s Weekly called her debut YA novel, Meant to Be (Random House) “entertaining and quick-witted.” Her second YA novel, Being Sloane Jacobs (Random House), releases January 7, 2014.

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Stars Launch ‘New Girl’ Writer’s YA Novel, ‘Firecracker’

In the sea of familiar faces at the 2013 Crossroads, you’ll find a few new, talented folks in the mix.

One of those will be David Iserson, who writes for “New Girl,” and wrote for “Saturday Night Live” and “United States of Tara” before that.

But Iserson is also a novelist. His YA debut “Firecracker” bowed in mid-May with one of the best book trailers we’ve ever seen.

It features more than a few stars including former Maconite Jack McBrayer, SNL alum Will Forte and stars from “New Girl” among others. (Watch it below or click here.)

MORE:

Interview with David Iserson at ForeverYoungAdult.com

Los Angeles Review of Books podcast with David Iserson

David Iserson’s Tumblr

Goodreads page for “Firecracker”

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Post Up: The Baty Booster Shot

It’s only been four months since Chris Baty delivered his moving keynote speech at Crossroads 2012. In the time since, many of you have started and completed novels during November for NaNoWriMo. We’ve been quietly working on ways to up our game in 2013. (More on that soon, we promise.)

And Mr. Baty? Well, he’s taken his inspirational ways another step further.

First, if you want to hear his speech again, here it is for your listening pleasure. (Videos from the conference are coming soon… ish.)

Between globetrotting and working hard at his own writing, Chris Baty has also opened a little Internet shop of wonders, which you can–and dang sure better–check out here. There you will find posters and signs with that special Chris Baty touch of sincere care and interest in you as a person and a writer.

Grab one and close your eyes, hear his motivational words echo around your head and remember that he believes in you so you should too. Then get to writing.

And then write some more.

And more.

Make us all proud.

NaNoWriMo founder and author Chris Baty

The Chris Baty Interview, pt. 1

Writer Makenna Johnston interviews NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty

One sunny November 1st in New York City, I started my first attempt at NaNoWriMo, steamy coffee mug in hand. I thought to myself ‘why not write a novel in a month?’. The answer? It wasn’t as easy as I had though. When November 31st rolled around, I hadn’t completed a novel, but I had spent a month writing daily, drank some 100 cups of coffee, and successfully sat in 20 different coffee shops late at night. I’d call it a success. What I did learn, other than that writing a novel in a month is arduous, is that being a writer wasn’t as novel or romantic as I thought it would be (pun intended). And I certainly didn’t need a fedora or a tweed coat to do it.

So what sort of guy convinces thousands of people year after year to sit down and write a novel in a month? The inimitable Chris Baty.

And guess who’s coming Crossroads this year?! The Chis Baty. The main inspiration and mad man behind NaNoWriMo, I’m not excited, I swear. Ok so maybe I am really excited. I asked a number of our Facebook followers what they wanted me to ask him. I hope I did your bidding appropriately good Crossroad-ers. Without further adieu:

Makenna: So Chris, what was the impetus for you to write a novel in one month?

Chris: Oh man. Such a good question. I think there were several things afoot that lead to the birth of NaNoWriMo. The most important one was just my life-long obsession with novels. I’m an only child, and books were my siblings when I was growing up. They provided an escape from boring adult conversations, helped me survive interminable summer road trips, and taught me that murderous clowns lurk beneath sewer grates (thank you, Stephen King.)

I’d always seen novels as these magical things, but I never dreamed I would write one. Then, in 1999, I found myself working as an editor at a website for business travelers. I was spending my days researching power-lunch spots in Houston and writing up blurbs on the best company to rent a limo in Los Angeles. Spending eight hours a day doing something that I wasn’t really connected to left me feeling pretty drifty. I wanted to tackle a big, personal project that might make life feel exciting again.

That lead me to novel-writing.

M: How did you get 20 other crazy folks to join you?

C: I’m a coward who has trouble finishing projects, and I always feel better (and end up doing more) when I have a group of friends tackling the same project alongside me. Happily, when I sent out an email to my friends inviting them to take part in the escapade (http://blog.lettersandlight.org/post/13563014781), almost all of them signed on.

M: What type of folks were these first vagabonds? Were they writers already or mixed background?

C: There were definitely a couple writers in the mix, but most of the participants that first year didn’t have any literary ambitions—they just liked the idea of a fun, group challenge. (One of the winners that first year was my friend Tim, who adamantly insists he hates writing and has gone on to win NaNoWriMo eight times. It kind gets in your blood.)

M: How many of them are still involved with NaNoWriMo today?

C: I’m the only NaNoWriMo participant who has taken part in the challenge every year since 1999, but a bunch of those original six winners been doing it off and on over the years.

M: What is your favorite part of NaNoWriMo?

Chris Baty founder of NaNoWriMo in his Berkeley apartment.

C: Favorite parts…hmmm…There’s a moment towards the end of the month where you scroll back through all you’ve written and just shake your head in amazement. The quality is very rough, but the potential is huge. And it’s just so crazy that none of these characters or places or conversations existed a few weeks earlier. To me, it’s a real lesson in the power of deadlines to help us achieve huge things.

I also really love the anticipation leading up to November. I’ve learned a ton from every NaNoWriMo novel I’ve written, but I tend to exit November knowing I won’t revise that year’s manuscript. Still, I’ve stumbled into three or four stories that I’ve really loved and never would have discovered without NaNoWriMo. There’s this great Christmas Eve feeling on October 31, where you go to bed knowing that the next day you’ll tear into this mysterious package and find out what’s inside. Sometimes it’s a pair of socks. But sometimes it’s a pair of unicorns who can magically dispense espresso out of their horns. Every year, you hope for the barista unicorns. And sometimes you get them.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

 Chris Baty will be the lunch keynote speaker at the 4th annual Crossroads Writers Conference. If you haven’t already registered, do so while you still have time! 

Writer Nathan Edmondson stands with his next project: Iron Man

Wanderlust: Catching Nathan Edmondson

 

Rachel: You’ve been a busy man this last year! From the travel itinerary that takes you to conferences across the country to the sheer output of work you have managed, I seem to find you everywhere! What are you busy on these days?

Writer Nathan Edmondson stands with his next project: Iron Man

Nathan: I’m doing a lot of scriptwriting I can’t legally talk about yet because it’s still in production. I’m developing ideas for producers and it takes up a lot of time. I hope to see that bear fruit sometime next year. I’m in the process of working on “Ultimate Iron Man,” which is due out October. There are going to be six of those and I just finished writing a novel. I like to tell stories about a lot of different things and fortunately my work in comics gives me a chance to move the work along fairly quickly. It’s impossible to get bored.

R: You did work with both DC and Marvel comics, the twin giants of the comic industry. What were the experiences like compared to the work you do with on your original concepts?

Nathan: Each experience is different of course but what you find is that, just like in any working relationship, you have to adapt to the unique culture of the company, and the unique editorial styles of your bosses. In the ideal working relationship they want you to write the way you already write and foster that inbuilt creative instinct. That helps you focus on developing the character while still keeping true to a distinct style that you bring to the table.

R: Your collaboration with artists seems really natural, particularly with your original work, “Who is Jake Ellis?” and “The Activity.” What drives successful collaboration and what are some key points for a writer to consider when communicating his or her vision to an artist?

Nathan: It boils down to finding good, raw talent. A good artist knows where to take the work. The better you know the artist, the more effectively you can establish a chemistry and cooperation. Over time, you get to know each other’s style so well that it’s almost like you don’t have to communicate. It’s an organic process and sort of grows from that chemistry.

R: You have an almost obsessive preoccupation with details, it seems. When a reader picks up a copy of “The Activity” or “Jake Ellis,” the accuracy is quite striking and it drives the excitement of your plots. A lot of the material you cover is centered around espionage and special ops which are noted for their secrecy and for many writers, that research can be daunting. What should a writer expect from the process of cooperating with the U.S. military and other official channels for research purposes?

Nathan’s building on the intrigue of “Who Is Jake Ellis?” with its follow-up, “Where Is Jake Ellis?”

Nathan: Well, we initially contacted the U.S. Army Entertainment liason but the really interesting stories come from the people who lived it; people who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan and have served time in the trenches, so to speak. A lot of people, when they find out that you are looking for stories, want to tell their own stories. Soldiers read the comics and comment on the accuracy and offer to share their own perspectives. It’s cumulative and the stories and research is addictive. Fortunately I am limited to a certain number of pages so I am never allowed to get bogged down by it.

R: You do a LOT of travel promoting your work. Would you say that you are driven by a similar restlessness of spirit as some of your characters?

Nathan: I don’t know. I guess I never really thought about it that way, but maybe. It’s a lot of fun, going to the conventions and meeting fans of the work. It’s encouraging. I’m going to twelve this year. At the San Diego Comic Con for instance, I met television actors who are fans and everyone from academics to hard core comic enthusiasts. The cross section of people who read some of my work is amazing! I do hope to travel less as time goes on. Eventually, as the work anchors itself into the culture, you find that you have to do less promoting and I can already see that happening a little bit.

R: What is one of your favorite cons?

Nathan: Well, each one has its highs, but I really love the one in Charlotte, North Carolina HeroesCon. I was there this year and it seems to have a really good atmosphere for comics. It’s less about gimmicks and more about the love of the work. It’s a great experience.

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Pulp Fiction Revivalist

Barry Reese is a man with a prodigious habit for writing. A librarian by day, he churns out thousands of words a night, bringing to life pulp characters like The Rook and Lazarus Gray. He got his big break writing for “the Official Handbook for Marvel Universe,” then began creating his own stories. For his pulp short stories and gory, monster horror novel “Rabbit Heart,” Barry was awarded the 2011 Pulp Ark Award for Best Author. This year, he took home the Pulp Ark Award for Best Short Story and received his first–but certainly not last–nomination for Georgia Author of the Year. He’s also a co-creator on the “Pulped!” podcast and the Ubergeeks podcast.

In this interview with Barry Reese, which originally appeared in the pages of The 11th Hour magazine, writer Rachel Helie digs a little deeper into the pulp tradition and its revival.

 

Rachel: In working in pulp, which is considered a cult genre, what did you find distinguishes it from traditional literary models?

Barry: Well, on the New Pulp website, they have a definition of pulp that says it’s “…fast-paced, plot-oriented storytelling of a linear nature with clearly defined, larger than life protagonists and antagonists, creative descriptions, clever use of turns of phrase and other aspects of writing that add to the intensity and pacing of the story.” That’s a pretty good way of describing it. Pulp is about momentum and excitement – the stories barrel along at a brisk pace and feature larger than life heroes, villains and settings. That’s very different in many other literary genres.

R: Is there a formula to the creation of pulp characters and plots that does not apply to the traditional modes of character development?

B: Well, Lester Dent (the creator of Doc Savage) actually did have a formula – you can Google it and find his detailed instructions on how to write a pulp story. But few authors use that model – just as with any other field, we want to feel like we’re doing something unique rather than use a true formula. But for most pulp characters and plots, you want to create something that gets your blood pumping. Indiana Jones, Dirk Pitt, Jason Bourne… those are contemporary creations that spring from the well of pulp. Larger than life, action-oriented characters

R: Is there an atypical process to the creation of pulp characters and plots that distinguishes it from your comic writing?

B: Not really. In both mediums, I work the same way in terms of creation. Obviously, comics will ultimately be a visual medium so you kind of think that way, ensuring that you’ll end up with scenes and characters that are exciting to look at.

R: What do you think are the key points in creating a believable three-dimensional character in pulp and comic writing?

B: You have to be able to get into the heads of your characters and understand what makes them tick. Just like real people, they have their good and bad sides, too, so you have to be able to relate that on to a reader. I’ve created lots of different types of characters over the years and the most popular are the ones who have many sides to them. I always try to figure out what strengths they have and where their weaknesses lie.

R: What would you say was your best work, or where you feel that you most expressed your creative ideal as a writer in each genre?

B: From a comics side of things, I have an 8-page Rook short that will run in November’s “All-Star Pulp Comics # 1″ and I think it turned out really well. In prose, I’d say that “The Damned Thing,” “The Adventures of Lazarus Gray” and “The Rook Volume Six” were my best.

Rachel Helie is a freelance writer and journalist, aspiring novelist, sometimes ghostwriter, and regular contributor to The 11th Hour. At eight years of age she stepped into the wardrobe and never quite made it back out.