Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Is Social Media a Two-Way Street?

by Kim Van Sickler

To use social media or not use social media? If you're an author using it as a way to promote your books that may be a loaded question.

I spent last weekend at the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference. I met the new authors on the Debut Authors' panel who seemed to thrive on self-promotion. They were excited about their books and wanted to share them with us.

Here was a talented bunch of people who decided to band together for speaking engagements as representatives from the Class of 2K13. For this conference we had: Kelly Barson, Geoffrey Girard, Mindy McGinnis, Demitria Lunetta, Kate Karyus Quinn, and Jennifer McGowan. Most of them came armed with swag, and Mindy McGinnis even distributed bottles of water promoting her book Not a Drop to Drink.
Mindy McGinnis wants to be found.

They obviously loved each other's company, and energized the room in the panels they led. They all seemed genuinely interested in the questions they were asked, and didn't shy away from talking to conference attendees. They all are easy to find online. Mindy even dared us to find some sort of social media that she ISN'T on.

On the other hand, Judith Irvin Kuns, a presenter for a session entitled "By You, Through You, To You, Discovering Your Essence as a Writer," seems pretty reclusive. She doesn't have a FB page, Twitter account, web page, or blog. She is listed on a few third party sites like Goodreads, Amazon, Publisher's Weekly, Google Books and Jacketflap, but without much activity. She had her book with her, and in the conference bookstore, but didn't actively promote it. Yet she was there at the conference, providing lots of good information for us. And she's a very likeable personality. Even so, I'm not able to interact with her online. I also can't follow her progress as an author as easily as I can the debut book writing crowd or any author that embraces the Internet.
Judith Irvin Kuns' book.
So here's where I'm going with this. If you eschew the traditional social media route, like Judith Irvin Kuns, do you end up losing fans because they lose track of you? Honestly, I may forget about her in a couple of years, because she's not in my face the way so many other authors are.

But then, what about the author who uses social media but doesn't respond to FB friend requests or follow the fan back on Twitter? The author promotes herself, but doesn't engage in meaningful dialogue with her audience. Is it realistic to expect authors to interact with their fan base? Or is the fact that the author is easily findable enough?

Readers: how important is it to connect with an author outside of his/her book? Authors: how important is it to engage with your readers?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

When I went to the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua in 1999, two of the presenters were Dayton Hyde and Gary Blackwood. I attended their sessions on the same day.

Dayton told how he begins a novel. He said, “I create a character and see where he takes me.” The character leads the way and helps Dayton come up with the rest of the story.
Dayton Hyde, author of Don Coyote and other books celebrating the Great Outdoors and environmental responsibility.

Gary Blackwood drew it out on a chart. He told us he carefully plots out a novel before he begins, making sure that a certain element occurs by the one-quarter mark, another by the one-half mark, and another by the three-quarter mark.
Gary L. Blackwood
Gary Blackwood, author of The Shakespeare Stealer series, sold his first story at age 19.
I have heard these same methods called “Pantser” (one who flies by the seat of his pants) and “Plotter” (one who carefully plots). So which is the right way? Neither Dayton nor Gary said, “This is the way to do it.” They both just told us how they do it.

My system falls somewhere in between. My stories are usually character-driven, so I take great care in creating my main character, just as Dayton Hyde does. And I have to hear the character’s Voice before I begin. The character has to feel alive to me before I can tell his/her story. But I can’t fly totally by the seat of my pants. I have to know in advance where my story is heading. I don’t always have the exact ending figured out (though often I do), but I have a general idea of the direction the story is going to take.

Since I write a lot of historical fiction, my story is often driven in a particular direction by the historical facts. I can manipulate the fiction, but not the history. So part of my plot is already set in stone.

I know many writers who are the NaNoWriMo type of writer, who can spew a rough draft of 50,000 words onto the page in a month. Not me. I write slowly, thinking over the exact words I want, and rewriting chapter by chapter as I go, sometimes even sentence by sentence. Of course, this also means when I finish a novel, the first half has been rewritten many times and is usually quite polished; the second half, not so much. But revising is my favorite part of the process, so I don’t mind going back over and over and over it.

I also sometimes jump ahead as I go. If, as I work on Chapter 3, a scene that won’t occur until Chapter 15 drops clearly into my mind, I write it. It’s a great feeling to reach Chapter 15 and have some of the work already done when I get there. In my most recent novel, I wrote the final four chapters long before I got that far. When I reached them, they were ready to be revised and polished and tweaked, which I find much easier than roughing them out.

My method works for me. That doesn’t mean it’s best for you. You might prefer to write like Dayton. Or maybe you’re more like Gary. Every writer has to find his own way, and it might take several attempts before you settle in to the right one for you. Or maybe you’ll do it one way for one story and another way for the next. Like Dayton and Gary, I won’t tell you how to do it. Find your own way, and get busy.

Do it your way.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Interview with Travis Donnell – Writer, Singer/Songwriter

by Melissa Kline

When I first met Travis, I knew immediately that he was a very special person. His great sense of humor, lighthearted demeanor and interest in the horror-writing realm had me intrigued from the start. As I began to learn more about Travis I discovered a super talented individual with a plethora of creative abilities yet to be discovered. Not only is Travis a very talented horror writer, he’s also a singer, songwriter and musician who writes and produces his own music! I couldn’t wait to learn more about Travis and his dynamic creative processes. Meet Travis!

Travis caught during a lighter moment in his day job as a hospital administrator.

Travis Donnell was created by the kind of horny, stoned teenagers that are the first to die in a Friday the 13th film and was born just in time for the 80’s. He loved being a kid during that time because you got all of the fun of the 80’s but without the coke or steroid addiction.

1. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I can remember; as a kid it was a lot of silly things about a regular kid encountering a strange event, a talking jellyfish or something like that. I was into the Twilight Zone a lot and also those supernatural mystery books they had at our library, the ones that left out all of the relevant facts like the lady who was talking to the ghost in her house was also a diagnosed schizophrenic, so it wasn’t long before the talking jellyfish became a thing in the attic.
[For an example of Travis' silliness at work check out Ratboy Genius' video "Potato Knishes", here and then Travis's parody of it in a song called "Opera Knishes" here.]  

2. Tell us how you became a singer/songwriter? When did you know you wanted to create music?
I was born into music, so it was pre-determined to a degree. My dad was in a series of bands throughout my childhood and I did a lot of singing at the church my mom attended. Most of my family members on my dad’s side played something or sang or did both, and I just sort of followed into that. I play bagpipes and can functionally play the piano and saxophone. 

3How did you find your singing voice?
I’m not sure that I have. I was singing from a young age but got serious and started taking vocal lessons in my mid 20’s, which was incredibly beneficial. My voice frustrates me because I am very comfortable with and can put a lot of power behind say a classical aria, or a piece from a musical, but I can’t seem to find the right place for my voice in the songs I write for myself.

4. Do you write and sing, or sing and write? How do these creative talents flow into one another? Tell us about your creative process.
I think all songs are stories, so I think they are definitely connected. That said, the process for each is much different to me, writing I think by far is more difficult. In music, if I get stuck or I don’t know where to go next, I can mess around by playing different chords or trying different soundscapes or production tricks and more often than not you will hit gold and say “that works”. With writing it’s a very specific kind of thing that shows up in my head and says “write this scene down” or “here is a plot idea”. My experience is that writing is a lot more static and a lot less free-formed, I guess.
Travis Donnell’s avatar
Travis Donnell on SoundCloud
5. Do you favor writing or singing?
Above all, I’m most comfortable writing lyrics. I can write lyrics for just about anything. That sounds immodest but I’m very proud of it. As long as I have a general idea as to what a song needs to convey, I am confident in my ability to convey it well.

6. Which musicians inspire you?
I wish I were the love child of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. I don’t think that pop music can get much better than anything those two have done. Tears for Fears comes close, but they weren’t as consistent. In terms of lyrics, musicality, tone, story, passion, creativity, and raw talent, you are, in my opinion, hard pressed to find their equal. All art is of course subjective, but that’s my take on it.
Little Travis Donnell

7Who are your favorite authors?
I love Stephen King, who is extremely popular, but he is popular for a reason. He’s an extremely thoughtful author who, to my delight, doesn’t just write human dramas, he writes human horror dramas and gives some dignity to an anemic genre. Richard Matheson, who just passed, is of course fantastic and I’ve read almost everything by H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick as well.

8. What genre would you place your music into?
I don’t have any idea. We live in a different era now where literally every single type of song has its own category. When I was a kid there was pop, rock, country, and RnB. Then there was alternative, then electronica, then indie, then rockabilly then hardcore. Now there is a “core” for everything: nerdcore, metalcore, emocore, screamcore, I just have no idea. Is encore its own genre now? I’m not comfortable using the term “pop” because pop music as I remember it certainly contained the silly throwaway shit of the time and the extremely popular stuff, but it made room for Kate Bush, it made room for Howard Jones. I can’t even turn on the radio anymore; I don’t want to hear it.

9. Tell us about some of your albums/songs. Do you have favorites? If so, what makes them so special?
Blood on the Neon and How to Find an Exit are both pretty good I think. I wrote some songs for a Shadowrun RPG that a couple of friends were working on and out of that came The Black Leaf of Summer and Paper House in the City which I am happy with. I have a soft spot for One Hour in Wonderland, which is about how Bobby Driscoll was just used up and tossed out, literally, by Walt Disney, because the story behind it is sad and one that a lot of people aren’t aware of.
Bobby Driscoll and Kathryn Beaumont in One Hour in Wonderland
10. Tell us the story.
Bobby Driscoll starred in several early Disney films and was the model for Peter Pan. He was Walt Disney's favorite until he hit puberty and got a bad case of acne and was literally thrown out of the studio by security after Walt refused to see him anymore and cut his contract. He was pulled from his school of other actors and actors' children and sent to public school by his super religious mother (to get used to "normal" life) and was bullied extensively. He got hooked on hard drugs and died at age 31 in an abandoned apartment complex and it took 6+ months to identify his body. He is currently buried in a pauper's grave, although the family has made several attempts to get him relocated.

Bobby sang to the birds and climbed the trees in Technicolor breeze.
He met Jim Hawkins on the sea and there they traveled endlessly
He flew with Peter Pan
but The Happy Time just could not stand
And when the cameras stopped a-rolling
The fates took up their bell for tolling

You never know what the rain will bring
When you're thrown to the wolves
And the only choice you have
Is to mimic their howling
And the time you spent in Disneyland
Is a painful reminder
Of the things that you had to do
Just to become an outsider

Bobby got sent to public school where the cruel have majority rule
Where they took the chance to crucify the apple of Walt Disney's eye
The fear he could conceal
But the pain was more than he could feel
And when the silver hook was gleaming
It was the thing that kept his smile beaming


11. Leave us with a fun, quirky fact about yourself.
I have a gigantic video game collection that shames most independent game stores. 

Thank you, Travis, for an awesome interview! Be sure to check Circuitboarding and Blood on The Neon - my two favorite Travis tunes. :) 

Tell us your thoughts on Travis and his songs. We'd love to hear from you!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Slow Going with MULESKINNER

 First Wed of Every Month

Two years of Insecure Writers Support Group! That's a long time in the blogosphere. Congrats, Alex Cavanaugh!

by Kim Van Sickler

Muleskinner is not my first novel. It's my third. It is an MG historical fiction mystery set on the 1840's Ohio Canal and featuring a guardian angel who assumes the form of boy's best friend--a dog. But it may be destined to languish on the hard drive of my computer. (Along with those first two novels I mentioned.) At least for now.
Lucky, the guardian angel in Muleskinner, bears an uncanny resemblance to my own mutt. :-)

Two agent letters below tell the story.

Dear Kim,

I’m sorry for taking so long with your manuscript, especially since I have decided to pass. While I think the manuscript is very readable and includes fantastic details of the time period, I thought the pacing was too slow for the intended readership. There are action passages early on but we don’t get to the central conflict early enough to sustain the Middle Grade reader, I think.

Of course, this is just one opinion and someone else might feel differently. I appreciate the opportunity to consider and wish you all the best of luck with Muleskinner.

All best,

Dear Kim,

Thank you so much for the opportunity to review your current project. As you know, this is a business based on personal taste and unfortunately, I didn’t love MULESKINNER the way I had hoped. While I found the premise to be intriguing, I was unable to connect with the writing and so this is a pass for me. Please do know that I wish you all the best with this and your future endeavors.


I'm shoulder deep in edits on my fourth manuscript right now. My gut tells me to get my WIP edited and out to beta readers before I revisit Muleskinner. And the delay will also give me time to see if any other agents I've queried will bite. And to see if Muleskinner made the agent cut in Brenda Drake's latest Pitch Madness competition.

Are you pressing on despite news you'd rather not hear? Or celebrating some good news?