Guest Post: “Critique Partners: What They Are, Where to Find Them, and How to Make the Best” by Elysia Strife

Guest Post

About Elysia Strife.

img_6493.jpgElysia Lumen Strife has self-published three adult fiction novels and one children’s book. Strife keeps herself busy writing, critique-swapping, doing book reviews, and designing covers as she and her husband travel the country for work. She is a veteran, a fitness buff, and holds two Bachelor’s Degrees: Interior Design and Exercise Sport Science. With five books on the table for 2019, she’s hard at work. Strife writes in the following genres: Science Fiction Fantasy, Fantasy, Holiday Romance, Women’s Fiction, Romantic Suspense, and Children’s.

Website: elstrife.com
Amazon: Elysia Lumen Strife
Twitter: @ElysiaLStrife
Pinterest: Elysia Lumen
Instagram: Elysia Strife
Goodreads: Elysia Lumen Strife

 

A secret tip: Strife always publishes Advanced Review Copies of her books on Prolific Works prior to publication. Her next book, A Promise in Ash, will arrive in July. You can watch her page here: Prolific Works. If you like free reads, this site has a ton. Enjoy!

 

The Guest Post:

Critique Partners:

What They Are, Where to Find Them, and How to Make the Best

CPs can help you stay on target if you have trouble motivating yourself.

It’s like self-imposed homework. The concept might bring back bad memories, but it helps you achieve a goal you set out to reach.

We need to challenge our fellow creative-types in a supportive way.

This is one way we can do just that.

Stay tuned for a CP Question Cheat Sheet below!

 

What They Are:

A Critique Partner is someone with whom you swap written work in an effort to gain a crucial, fresh perspective on your story. Yes, this is necessary. I say this firmly from experience. You want other writers (people that study the craft and like to read) to let you know what they see. We all do our best to convey the message/themes/characters/scenes we see in our minds. But are we doing this effectively? How do we know? This is where Critique Partners lift the veil of uncertainty and help us pinpoint areas for improvement.

I’ve encountered some confusion between Critique Partners (CPs) and Beta Readers (Betas). Technically, a CP is someone with which you share a chapter or a few at a time as they are written—an ongoing process. You’re not co-writing; you’re sharing impressions to tune the work. These are writers that work with one another through the process of writing the book, offering tips and feedback as the story unfolds. Betas are people that read the book when it is one complete unit, providing overall feedback to check for consistency, plot holes, character arcs, etc.

 

Where to Find Them:

  1. Local Writing Groups – This one is a fantastic option if you can get into a group in your area. You’ll be able to meet face-to-face with others and talk about your ideas and concerns as you write. Some groups will have requirements for participation (like waiting for your turn/week to swap and bringing enough paper copies of your work for the entire group). That’s just one example. Sometimes, they’ll want you to hang out with the group for a few weeks or months before submitting work for the group to review (so they don’t get flighty drifters). I’ve seen a few that require you to earn points by critiquing other works before you can submit your work.

I use the MeetUp app to find local groups and take a look at their rules. Often, the public library will have postings if any groups have a schedule to meet there. Some of the bookstores may have writers events or rent out rooms for meetings as well.

  1. Online Writing Groups – Most of these are free, and you can find ones specific to genres.

Absolutewrite.com is a fairly large writing forum where you can connect with other writers and authors. There is a section where you can post a request for feedback partners, but you have to register to post. And in order to start your own thread, they require you’ve made 50 posts first.

Agentqueryconnect.com is similar to the above. It is a thread site but aimed at those more interested in traditional publishing and being in contact with agents.

Inkedvoices.com has a network of engaged people where you become part of a like-minded team and swap critiques. It is a paid membership, $85 annually, but offers a more constructive and timely environment. They also have online versions of NaNoWriMo camps.

Scribophile.com is a free website (with paid upgrades). You do have to earn points to post if you want critiques. They have free writing contests, a writing blog, and a forum for educational information. You can only post 3,000 words at a time for critique, and it requires 5 points to post that. It’s a great process with a high expectation of positive/constructive feedback. But it is definitely a time consuming process.

Examples of genre specific options:

Mystery Writers: mwf.ravensbeak.com

Science Fiction Fantasy: sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com

Literary: http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters

Christian: Kingdom Writers – angelfire.com/ks/kingwrit/

Sorry Romance and Children’s peeps. I searched but couldn’t find any genre-specific online groups for you. Try social media and the non-genre specifics listed above.

  1. Social Media – I have found the best crew on Twitter via Megan Lally’s #CPMatch hashtag. I love it because it’s FREE, and I’ve made a ton of connections with other authors this way. She runs events every month to month-and-a-half where people storm the hashtag with their short synopses and occasionally a mood board or book cover. Posting the genre of the writing helps find compatible works to swap with.

You can also use #critiquepartner, #cpmatchmaking, #betabustle and #betareader on Twitter, but I haven’t found a more loyal and excited group than the one listed above.

Facebook has a lot of writer’s groups as well. I’m not even going to delve into this one. But I will say this: many are tired of spammers – I mean the self-pubbed gurus that just want to drop their links and leave. (This isn’t effective, and it isn’t nice) Become an active member. You will make friends. Friends make a network. A network is how you will succeed.

Wattpad is a fantastic place to meet a lot of work-in-progress folks. It’s a place where you can post your upcoming works one chapter at a time and get feedback from your followers for free. That said, it counts as publication. So… if you want to maintain copyright, make sure you include a notice at the beginning of your book on Wattpad. And when you do officially publish for sale, you need to be aware of this when filing on copyright.gov. They will ask you if it has been published previously. But if you’re looking for a fast turnaround with feedback, this is a great way to do it. Wattpad is heavier on the YA and Fan Fiction side, so the crowd there tends to be younger. They give great advice on how something reads, plot, characterization, etc. But not always the nitty-gritty voice, line, and copyediting advice.

Goodreads is a good place to connect with readers. You can also find groups where you can post your work for review or beta reads. This is only as successful as you make it. If you want to be noticed here, you have to interact with lots of other people. There are numerous posts made every day to many of the groups.

Here are a few examples:

The Circle: for readers/beta readers/critiques/reviews/free reads size: 1,681

Goodreads Reviewers’ Group size: 5,846

Support for Indie Authors size: 14,401

Making Connections size: 11,932

Goodreads Authors/Readers size: 29,859

  1. Writing Associations and Organizations

Local organizations, like the Writers’ League of Texas can offer you a host of options for a decent membership price. Texas, of course, isn’t the only location. I’m just using this one as an example because I was a member when I lived there. The great thing about WLT was online classes. Yes, you can take courses online and not have to live in the state. Members get a discount on courses. If you plan to take several a year, it’s worth it. They also have a website where you can get counseling and one-on-one attention with your work. I met other authors at classes they had at St. Edwards University. This is one way to grow your living, breathing, human network.

There are quite a few online organizations, several of which you might be familiar with. This list is not all-inclusive. There are many more.

American Christian Fiction Writers

Erotica Readers and Writers

Historical Novel Society

Military Writers Society of America

Mystery Writers of America

Nonfiction Authors Association

Poetry Society of America

Romance Writers of America

Sisters in Crime

Small Publishers, Artists, And Writers Network

Society of Children’s Book Writers And Illustrators

Western Writers of America

Writers Guild of America

  1. There is always the Fiverr option if you’re looking for timely feedback and haven’t made many other connections yet. If you haven’t heard of it, Fiverr is a massive website where people can post their work-for-hire ads. Be very careful. Always read reviews. This site does not filter quality of work. However, there is a lot of talent to be found here from editing to cover design. Let me just stress this again: be picky.
  2. Some freelance editors will also work with you, but this depends on the editor. A lot of editors will provide an initial, free, ten page or first chapter critique as a display of their skills (and a way to find out if you’d be a good match for future editing). This critique is a little different. They’re expecting your work to be as refined as you can make it before they get it. The term implies different things depending on who you ask. So an editor is less likely to walk with you through the construction of the book. Maybe later, after you’ve sold tons of books and you and your editor are best friend. Then they probably would.

Keep at it. You’ll get there. I believe in you!

 

How to Make the Best:

There are benefits and downsides to both online and in-person critiques. Online is great (through certain methods) for quick turnaround and removing any personal bias a family member or friend might have. You can send digital feedback, collect all of the responses in one file or folder and look at it simultaneously. Google Drive and Docs is awesome for collecting group feedback. Just upload your book and share the link to whoever you want via their email address. Seriously, it’s awesome.

It’s difficult to gauge the level of importance an avatar/icon puts on the feedback they give you. It can lack the depth you may be searching for. The comments may also come across heartless and hard to read. Some might respond with something too vague like, “Great read, just move the ending to here.” Or they might never get to it and you find yourself waiting indefinitely. They could also redline your work to shreds and leave you feeling like giving up. With a personal contact, you can meet them face-to-face, get a feel for them as a person, and decide if you’re comfortable swapping. The human element is hard for a lot of introverts, but it can be a powerful tool in the long run.

A tip for people with unpredictable writing habits… isn’t that a vast majority of us? Finish your book first. Or at least be close to ready before you search for CPs. The reason I say this is because we often have life events that get in the way of completing our weekly or monthly goals. Instead of making your betas wait (This still happens to me because of lack of internet) you will be prepared to send the next chapter. You can still swap one chapter at a time and critique it, but you don’t have the pressure of having to finish writing each unit while you’re critiquing their recent work and holding down a job, dealing with family, fixing the car, etc.

The key to online critiques: SWAP A SAMPLE. Yes, I guess, I’m yelling. Never send your book in its entirety right off the bat. (This is a security measure.) Send one chapter or five pages, whatever you agree upon. Critique it the way you would normally. Then exchange your feedback. This way, you can see if they give you what you’re looking for in responses and also, if their writing is of content and a reading level you’re comfortable with critiquing. That said, people are ready at different stages, so I tend to prepare myself to work with wherever they’re at.

Giving feedback can seem like an easy thing to do. Anyone can say, “I like this,” or “This sucks.” But that doesn’t tell the other writer what’s wrong or missing. I’ve included a list below of possible questions to ask when critiquing work. I hope it helps tune your mind as you read so you can offer the best experience you can to your CP. If they enjoy working with you, they may stick around to swap with you in the future.

Try to keep it a mixture of what you like and what you think could use improvement. Every writer needs to know what works just as much as what doesn’t. We need to know our strengths to be able to build on them like we need to know our weaknesses so we can fix them. The ABA approach (good, bad, good) doesn’t always align with things as they happen in the story. Just aim for balance. And be kind with your words.

Example:

Don’t say – You picked a terrible character name. Change it.

Say – This character’s name reminds me of (…). This way the other writer can see what you see. If it’s not the imagery they were hoping for with the name, then they can see* why they should change it.

Offer suggestions and observations. Keep personal opinions out of feedback. Maintain professionalism.

Never criticize the other writer as a person because of something they wrote. If its fiction, they’re constructing a story, not living it. And if it’s nonfiction, then it actually happened so it’s a fact that needs to be accepted. Be mindful of your emotions and comments. We’re here to build one another up and help each other reach our goals.

On the flip side, it isn’t easy receiving feedback either. We all send it off knowing it isn’t perfect, but hoping the other person will find some things they enjoy. This is the biggest reason for swapping a sample. You want to make sure they are going to give you what you need and want and not too much of what you don’t. Keep in mind, not everyone is going to present ideas to you in an objective and impartial manner. Some people can be downright mean. (Which is why we have to be the mature ones and lead by example.)

Their critiques are only theirs. They do not represent the mass majority. They are one person. Don’t judge your work’s value based on one person’s opinion. You’re not being fair to yourself. This is why you need to get feedback from at least three different people. You will have critique partners back out from time to time. It seems to happen in waves. We all have a lot on our plates. Few of us are full-time writers.

Always ask more people if they’d like to swap than the number you think you need. Maybe you’ll get lucky and snag them all! Just be prepared to work through that number of stories if they do. Play fair, and it will work out in your favor.

Be encouraged by the feedback. It’s better to chop your manuscript up and rework it now, than let your readers do it for you on public websites. I know it can seem overwhelming sometimes. That’s okay. Cry it out. Get some extra strong coffee. Hug whatever or whoever is close to you.

Deep breath.

Take the news in stages if you have to. Look at the notes one at a time. If there is a consensus among your returned critiques, then you know what needs work. It can be a bit more ambiguous when it comes to the individual comments that don’t line up with the others. Filter them for anything confusing and ask for clarification on the comment if needed.

Sort the opinions from the facts. Opinions are subjective statements that contain assumptions, judgments, and beliefs. Facts are objective statements and are backed by evidence and reason. Some writers are very good at hiding their opinions in a factual statement. Fact checking is crucial in non-fiction but can be a component of many fiction genres. But, in truth, CPs are only able to give you their best observations of your work as it coincides with what they’ve been taught or researched is “correct.”

There is a level of differentiation to consider as you read their comments. If they explain why a concept/scene/character action doesn’t fit, you’ll want to consider delving into this. If someone is providing you an opinion on something menial, let it go. So they don’t like it, big whoop. It’s not worth getting upset over.

Critiques are recommendations. Be open-minded about what they’re suggesting, but don’t change everything just because others think you should. Instead, take their notes as help in deciphering what messages or concepts may not be coming across clearly.

Sometimes, we want them confused and misled. Maybe because of a Red Herring we carefully wove in, or we’re trying to make our readers think. Confusion would be a good thing in those cases. Otherwise, it may mean there is a deficit in showing of a component in your writing.

On the flip side, if critiquers feel bored, it may be a sign you’ve shown too much, and they’re not actively engaged. A little mystery is the key to a good hook.

Swapping critiques can lead to insecurity among writers. I hope you’re one of the lucky few that hasn’t had this issue. It’s been my experience that new CPs need a gentler approach. Find out the stage they’re at and see how it compares with yours. Swap the samples. Find out if they want a full critique or a traditional one, in chapter segments as they write. Make sure you’re on the same page.

I love ending with terrible puns.

Remember, when we write, we’re in our comfort zone. When we send off our work for its first critiques, we enter the zone of fear, doubt, and insecurity. Getting our feedback is when we are offered the chance to learn about our skills and how we can make our writing better. It is when we accept it and work on improving our craft and our stories that they shine, and so do we.

 

Framework for critiquing:

 

General things to discuss upon swapping samples of writing

Is this a finished book or a work in progress?

Is this the genre you like to read?

Is this the genre you write in?

Have you done critiques before?

How long have you been writing?

Who is the target audience?

What are you looking for in feedback? General (plot/scene setting/characterization) or more detailed (voice/structure, line edits/copyedits)?

 

Notes

If you’re doing a group critique, don’t read others notes while critiquing. You run the risk of bias.

Remember to provide professional and polite feedback

Point out what you liked as well as what you found problematic

Read through these questions before you begin the critique to help you hunt down critical issues and answer them as thoughts come to mind

Leaving in-text notes can help you with a final (overall) assessment and also point out specific problem areas to the writer

 

The Questions!!

First Chapter/Opening

Do the first few lines hook the reader with the main character and their problem/conflict?

Can you visualize the environment, the main character, and the problem?

Is the manuscript starting where you think it should?

Is there enough tension and emotion to draw the reader in?

Does it start with a cliché, or is it a unique and intriguing beginning?

 

Conflict/Tension

Was there a major resolution to the main conflict? Or did you feel something was missing at the end?

Were the stakes enough?

Did the tension ebb and flow in a way that made you want to keep reading?

Were there tense hooks at the end of each chapter?

Did the beginning of each chapter give you the premise with a subtle hook as well?

If this is a series, is there a bit of conflict left unresolved for the next book?

Could you understand the internal/emotional battles the characters were fighting? Did they contribute to the progress of the plot and the character’s overall change (arc)?

Did any details or events seem convenient/contrived?

 

Characters

Were the chosen names, dress, and ages appropriate for the genre and setting?

Could you follow along with the emotional journey of the character? Or did it feel glossed over or forced?

Did the characters encounter enough struggles, including between characters, to complete a transformation at the end?

Do you understand why the villain/antagonist is a protagonist in their own mind?

Does each characters’ behavior seem believable?

Are the characters three-dimensional in personality?

Do they experience all emotions?

Do they improve the story?

Do they have flaws/limitations?

Are their goals, morals, and desires understandable?

Are they relatable to a level that fits the genre?

Are their back-stories compelling and well-rounded?

Did you find the characters’ changes satisfying at the end?

Were the social relationships among the characters genuine and supportive to the story?

If any, was the hierarchy presented believable and beneficial?

If this was a character-driven piece, do you feel the work was appropriately saturated with detail?

Did you find the characters motivating, compelling, or inspirational in any way?

In general, were the emotions, actions, and dialogue shown effectively?

 

Plot

If this was a plot-driven piece, do you feel the work effectively tackled this as a priority?

Do you know what the main plot is/was? Was it consistent from beginning to end?

Is the sequence of events consistent and believable?

Were there too many dreams or flashbacks that detracted from the clarity of the plot?

Were any aspects predictable?

Were any events dwelled in for too long or not long enough?

If there was more than one plotline or any subplots, were they constructive to the storyline or the character arcs?

Is the influence of any “daily life” in the work helpful?

Are the twists realistic? Surprising?

 

Setting/Worldbuilding

Can you clearly visualize where and when the story takes place?

Do you understand the cultural norms?

Is each change of scene distinguishable?

Were there any environmental descriptions that were overwhelming?

Does the setting/world frame the plotline effectively?

Is the history/back-story of the landscape fitting and believable? (Why are we here?)

Was every scene necessary to the plot?

 

Dialogue/Language

Are the colloquialisms effective or overwhelming?

Did the language seem to fit each character?

Was the dialogue constructive in moving the story forward?

Were there too many formalities? Hi/Bye, Thank you/You didn’t have to

Any dialogue dumps?

Any moments that needed more?

Did it evoke emotions or thoughts in you as a reader?

Did the dialogue reflect the displayed emotions of the characters?

 

Point of View – Format of narration for the book

Is the point of view effective for the story?

First person – “I am telling you.”

Second person (rare in novels) – Narrator tells story *to* another (the reader). The “you” perspective.

Third person (limited) – Narrator is outside of character minds. “He read it to her.”

Third person (omniscient) – Narrator is in characters’ heads. “Josh hated the concept. This sucks, he thought. But he read the book to his little sister anyway.”

Was the point of view consistent? (Especially between third person limited and omniscient?)

 

Perspective – Comes from all characters telling the story as we meet them throughout it. This is their view on situations because of their pasts, prejudices, attitudes, and personalities.

For works with multiple perspectives, do the changes from character to character seem fitting or does the story head-hop too quickly?

Are there too many perspectives?

Is there a character whose perspective you’d like to see?

 

Craft

 

Pacing

Did the writing carry you along smoothly?

Were there any problematic slow/fast areas?

Did any sections of backstory/info/descriptions slow the story?

Are the transitions helpful in moving from one scene to the next?

Does the pace fit the genre? (ie: Action Adventure vs. Historical Romance)

 

Show vs. Tell

Any clichés used? Once upon a time…

Does the work show things where it is needed?

Are the moments of telling appropriate?

 

Format

Are the chapters broken up appropriately by scene/perspective/time changes?

If there are breaks within chapters, do they seem fitting? Or could pieces be joined?

Were any sentences or paragraphs too long or short?

 

Voice/Tone

Did the voice flow along with the story or did it seem choppy in calm moments and too calm during action?

Is the tone fitting for the genre? (ex: Humorous, dark, melodramatic, literary, mechanical)

 

Grammar

Was punctuation used correctly? (comma splices, run-on sentences, not too many ; or !)

Any misplaced modifiers?

Are there too many adverbs?

Are the sentences sticky with too many conjunctions?

If there are curses, were there too many?

Are there vague filler words?

Is the writing concise?

 

At the End

Did the beginning fit now that you know the ending?

Did you notice any inconsistencies in plot/character/scene?

Does the author have any redundancies, catchphrases, or go-to words?

What was your personal take on the story? (Keep this separate)

 

Friday’s Fright: Guest Post: Stories in the Dark “Casting Pods”

Guest Post, October Spooky Features

fullsizeoutput_42db(1).jpegMeet Garbielle Awe.

Gabrielle grew up buried in books, her way of escaping a very confusing world. Eventually those books helped the world make sense again. Now she writes as a way to give that gift, the gift of escaping through worlds, to other people.

She dreamed of flying the dragons on Pern; saving Merlin from betrayal in the crystal cave; traveling on spaceships and settling far-flung worlds, circling stars more beautiful than ours would ever be.

When she is not reading, working at her amazing (no joke, work is her passion) day job, she also writes novels and short stories; she dabbles with paints and pens and pencils; she makes action figures out of her favorite characters, she tortures her family with character bios that haven’t yet turned into more books, and she collects anything she can get her hands on (especially Funko Pops, she has walls of them!) lately she records her new podcast in her very busy closet.

Gabrielle has a degree in Psychology from UC Davis; she worked in technology, cyber-security, ops leadership, and consulting; she love leadership coaching, public speaking, and generally trying to do all sorts of magical things with words, both spoken and written.

Her podcast is called Stories in the Dark; she is the creator and the voice, and her husband Jeremy is the producer. She also has two YA Fantasy novels she is currently querying to agents.

Favorite quote: “Be who you needed when you were younger.”

Social Media Links:
Twitter.com/sitdpodcast and twitter.com/evilkittygrr
Facebook.com/storiesinthedark and facebook.com/authorgabrielleawe
Instagram: storiesinthedarkpodcast
Web: Storiesinthedark.com
https://www.patreon.com/storiesinthedark

 

The Guest Post

“Casting Pods”

I love telling stories. I dream in plots and characters; I have imaginary conversations in my head. When I watch a movie or read a book I imagine how it would end differently if only this other thing had happened; if the supporting character had made a different choice; or if the main character were a woman. If you talk to me for two minutes I’ll make up a backstory for you; if I talk to you for five, I’ll pull you into my world – my dark, dark world.

I became a podcaster for two reasons, which we’ll explore together. I decided in a day, and then the next day we started making it happen; that’s how I do most things. I think, and then I do, like Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her motto was “Want, take, have”; mine is “imagine, plan, and execute.” Same thing, but usually less stabby.

I’ve always loved a scary story but I don’t go in for jump scares. I like suspense, supernatural, twists that make you love it even more; little girls with creepy smiles and creepier secrets; the inevitable descent into darkness. I love exploring why people go down into the deeps. Most of all, I love hope. There are two things you don’t find in most horror stories, and one of those is hope. Not for me the hopeless victimization of most horror; I want empowered horror. Horror that shows you that dark may be the absence of light but it doesn’t have to be the absence of everything. Someone wins; maybe they’re the villain, but maybe they aren’t.

Have you ever read Slasher Girls and Monster Boys? Please do, if you haven’t; it changed my life. I read the short stories in that collection, written by some of YAs biggest and best names, and I fell in love. The stories are mostly centered on women, which is the second thing you don’t normally find with horror and the things that go bump in the night. Women in horror are often side characters, objects, victims, motivation for a male protagonist or meat in the horror grinder. But THESE stories showed me women as villains; women who might run into trouble but are more than happy to cause some more. Women who, even if they end up dying, aren’t the object, they are the subject.

Those are the stories I write, too. Those are the stories that speak to me; stories that mostly center on women. There’s an old writing adage that says “write what you know,” and I know darkness. I know pain. We are old, old friends. And I also know how to look for the light in the darkest places; how to find a way out. How to find victory when all seems lost; or, sometimes, how to claim power by becoming the villain. Sometimes the world is hard on girls and women; I want to show them being hard instead. Bad things happen to girls in this world, and my girls happen right back. I want my stories to give girls hope, to give women strength, and to show that sometimes, we have our own dark urges. Sometimes, the bad guys get what they deserve, if they run into one of my dark women.

I make all my friends and family read my stories; sometimes they like it, sometimes they learn to like it. I noticed my nephew always had my niece read him my stories; he’s dyslexic and would rather listen than read. She sat next to him and read him story after story, their heads together, getting lost in my world.

My best friend is losing his vision; he’s had multiple eye surgeries and reading is too hard on his eyes. As a reader, he had long ago switched over to audiobooks, and he was having trouble reading the stories I sent him.

I’d never listened to podcasts before I decided to launch one. I was putting my game face on for work one day when I had this aha moment; I could bring my stories to the world, to people who maybe can’t or won’t read. This was really it, the pivotal why, the second reason I started podcasting and found a new passion – there are so many people who would rather listen, and I want to give them something of me to listen to.

For my day job I do a lot of speaking, and I have a “meeting voice” that I use, especially when I want to sound like an adult – my voice sounds significantly younger than I am. What if I took my meeting voice, exaggerated it, and made it my podcaster voice?

I told my husband my idea; he’s my biggest fan, and my biggest cheerleader, and an amazing partner. He immediately jumped on board. I write other stories, besides my creepy stories and dark fairy tales, but I thought about the book I mentioned above and I knew, I knew like I know what’s right, I knew that would be my thing. Dark stories; Stories in the Dark. You can listen in the dark, or my stories will take you there. Either way. I’d found my new center.

Given my fairly intense day job, I would only be able to write and narrate, so Jeremy agreed to do the audio production. We both work in tech; I’m a former programmer-turned IT Ops Director turned IT & Management Consultant, and he’s done product management and some dev work as well, so we were pretty confident we could pull together what we needed.

I love lists! I started making a list on how to prepare; we did some research, and POOF!

Ok, not exactly poof. But it was roughly two weeks from “hey let’s start a podcast” to “omg our first episode is live”, which mostly involved researching how to actually do a podcast, buying some equipment and setting up our podcast host…and actually recording our episode.

Our first recording:

Well, that was fun. I set up my new mic with my Macbook on the big wooden table in our dining room, practiced my best spooky voice, and recorded our first episode! I proudly handed it to Jeremy, who started work, and I excitedly waited, and waited, and waited.

And waited!

8 hours later, Jeremy told me that he was trying to remove the echo from recording in an open area. Big lesson learned. So I told Jeremy to stand down and I took my setup into my closet and recorded it again – and it came out PERFECT. Fun fact: depending on where your closet is, it’s isolated from most random house noises, and the hanging clothes and carpet really help soften the acoustics, and the small space contains the vocal sound. Long story short: It suddenly sounded perfect.

Jeremy found special sound effects and music and produced our first episode; we tinkered with a few different ways to market & advertise and started building up our listener base! It’s been so much fun for us, our friends & family, and our new listeners. If I could do one thing differently it would have been to build up a pre-launch campaign to build interest and listeners ahead of time, which is what all the guides said to do to launch strongly. But you know? I’m ok with it – I am who I am, and sometimes, I’m an impulsive little creator who just wants to make things GO.

We quickly published multiple episodes so our listeners could get a good feel for us, and I spend every weekend writing more stories (I like to keep a backlog of 10+ stories ready to go), recording, and producing the episodes. We have our website, our Instagram, and a Facebook page; we’re working on ways to get our listeners more engaged and interactive with us. So far, we’ve hit #1 in Literature on iTunes a few times, which feels huge to us, and we’ve been in the top 10 in Arts as well. I have given one of my stories to another podcast (Scare you to Sleep) because it felt like a better fit for Shelby’s podcast than mine, and that has done really well as well. It was fun to connect with another podcaster, especially another woman in the horror space, and I’d love to do more collaborative things in the future as well.

My new favorite episode is Rabbit Rabbit; it was a pretty good story and Jeremy’s audio work really took it to the next level. My previous favorite was The Dead Girls; there’s a line in there that I just love so much. So so much. It’s also one of our top episodes so far, along with Fairy Tales Part 1 (where I have my first guest narrator, a creepy af sounding little girl who happens to be my niece.) But I love everything; our dark fairy tales; our stories about Mr. Veil and the demons he haunts. There’s a story arc there that I can’t wait to get more into. The House that Demons Built is also one of our most popular episodes and that one makes me happy because I literally dreamed it. I dreamed it one night and woke up wrote it out for the podcast.

I have another story on there that I wrote for people who are trying to climb out of their own personal darkness; it’s called The Other Side, and I wrote it for someone who was struggling with some really, really difficult stuff. In the story the girl, in despair, makes a choice to step into another world; her journey will resonate with anyone who has struggled with depression, with hard times, with being dragged under. You’ll want to walk through that world with her and see what she sees. I wrote it as a graphic novella and worried it wouldn’t translate well to a podcast but it kind of did. I can’t wait to eventually publish it in full with the illustrations. Whenever I’ve showed it to anyone (handwritten and drawn in a leather journal), everyone who has read it got it; got it deep in their heart, in their gut, in the places that are tender from their own hard times. That means so much to me; it’s why I write, it’s why I cast my words out into the world. If they help even one person, I’m happy. Because that’s what words should do; help us through things we can’t even explain, can’t even describe. Stories help us process the experiences and emotions that are buried deep down, so that when we hear them, a little part of us heals; a part that is beyond merely just talking. This is the healing that art, either created or consumes, brings to us, to our human experience.

Running the podcast is so much more fun than I expected. Sometimes we do Facebook live videos when our episodes go up (every Sunday night for regular episodes, and every other Wednesday for bonus content!) and I’ve enjoyed making those videos, and the ones for our Patreon, even more than doing the podcast itself! Between the podcast, regular work, and my novel writing I don’t have as much time to branch into videos as I’d like but maybe soon. It will be great when we get more patrons and advertisers; I’m hoping with the Halloween boost (I can’t wait to share my Halloween stories with the world!) we get enough of a boost that we can start attracting advertisers. We have 8 Halloween episodes we are doing in the month of October and my favorite is called The Devil’s House. I can’t say anything about it because spoilers but TRUST ME it’s a good one.

I’d love to get more discussion and feedback from listeners, but for now, we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing – exploring stories, writing strong women and girls, and helping people understand why some things go bump in the night.

Guest Post: Kadee Carder Talks Fiction

Guest Post

Meet Kadee Carder.

Fierce yet sparkly, I rally seekers to thrive in their stories. The goal is magic, the medium is ink, and the fuel is coffee. And sometimes pizza. I teach English on the university level when I’m not dancing around the living room with my family, lifting heavy at the gym, traveling the planet, or binging superhero shows.

INSURRECTION, INCOMPLETE, INDELIBLE, HERE BE DRAGONS, and non-fiction inspirational IGNITE roll out perilous motives, twisty plots, and daring protagonists. Grab some real estate and your copy of my latest adventure, and follow along on KadeeCarder.com.

kadee.JPG

Website: kadeecarder.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kadeecarderink/
Instagram: kadeecarderink
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAkYQcShpWHBua-7VVi9Swg
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/kadeecarder/
Twitter: @kadeecarderink

The Guest Post.

Fiction shows us how to handle our non-fiction. We enjoy these characters’ stories, see their pain, feel their journey, and tremble as their spirits quake. We get invited into their space and see the world with its conflicts, heartache, and power. Fiction’s miraculous. Fiction offers a gift of escape, of courage, of grit, of shuddering through temptation with the hero. Are you facing some serious shadows? Are you hearing the grinding of bones in the distance? Just like the heroes in our favorite stories, every person meets a point of deciding who to be and what to do.

Where are the heroes? A friend of mine recently said she wondered where the heroes were. The current trend for stories is that they often feature a strong heroine—and while I am all about a strong heroine, and inspiring girls to believe in themselves—I also believe we need to encourage everyone to protect, to serve, to lead humbly, to explore, to create, and to forget stereotypes. The time has arrived for all of us to rise up as heroes to wrestle the shadows.

No matter who you are: Be inspired. Be fearless. Be wise. Be the hero.

Temptation leads us down paths where we consider retreating or cheating, or complaining or blaming. Well let me ask you, can fiction teach us to face the shadows? Can fiction show us the glory in the fight for life? One thing I love about Young Adult fiction is the spark of fresh new life and spunk that a young adult will bring to a situation. They aren’t all tired out, burned out, and bitter from the journey. They’re creative, innovative, and packed with emotion. Use those tools, readers. If you feel like you have lost some of that spice for life, take a look at a YA novel and turn your world upside down.

And when in doubt, when you’re on the line and the crowd has drawn back in fear, be the H.E.R.O. — implement a code of Honor, Engagement, Resilience, Ownership.

Honor: The hero serves a greater purpose than self. Move forward in integrity, service, and in honor of others and self. In a quick check, the hero can move from defeat into progress by checking the status of honor. Speak as an honorable person. Treat others with kindness. Honor employs grace and assistance over shame and offense.

Engagement: Engage the situation when intimidation strikes. Forward action initiates confidence. Remember the laws of motion; an object in motion stays in motion. The human brain can perform at high rates of speed, and the more accustomed to movement, the more the brain uses that energy to synthesize solutions. Choices can happen to the hero, or the hero creates the choice.

Resilience: Resilience keeps the hero in the game. Keeping a mindset of overcoming obstacles and hanging in there serves the hero. The abundance of options for action, the abundance of attempts to try again, keep the hero on track when the murky villains have inundated the land. When the protagonist learns how to better navigate obstacles and sees them as the path toward being the hero, then that’s the moment the ordinary human becomes the indelible survivor. Heroes forge ahead, resilient, regardless of the outcome.

Ownership: Ordinary characters become heroes as they recognize their powers, skills, strengths, and weaknesses. The hero plotline demonstrates that every protagonist needs an antagonist; the antagonists teach the heroes who they can be. So maybe it’s best somebody trips you up. In fact, show gratitude for the people who teach you the hardest lessons, for they allow you to become the hero. Own your abilities, improvements, and passions. They make you a unique hero in your ultimate story.

Those lessons we learn from YA novels, from hero stories, the charging ahead, the hope, the moments of passion and thirst and adventure, are what help build the real-life heroes. May your books remind you that you are more than the numbers trying to define you. You are more than second chances. You are more than you imagine. Your life, love, and legacy consist of so much more than one moment where somebody tries to define you.

Every little moment accrues into this wild and wonderful storyline you’ve been entrusted with. What will you do with your moments? Who will you engage? Encourage? Inspire? Who will you be when the door slams in your face? What are you when the door opens again? Pick your plotline. Be the hero.

***

Fierce yet sparkly, I rally seekers to thrive in their stories. The goal is magic, the medium is ink, and the fuel is coffee. And sometimes pizza. I teach English on the university level when I’m not dancing around the living room with my family, lifting heavy at the gym, traveling the planet, or binging superhero shows.

INSURRECTION, INCOMPLETE, INDELIBLE, HERE BE DRAGONS, and non-fiction inspirational IGNITE roll out perilous motives, twisty plots, and daring protagonists. Grab some real estate and your copy of my latest adventure. Let’s connect on social media!

An Interview With YA Author Helene Dunbar

Author Interview

Meet Helene Dunbar.

helenedunber_photo credit Stephanie Stephanie Saujon(1)

Photo credit: Stephanie Saujon

Helene Dunbar  is the author of BOOMERANG (out now), BLOOD MAKES NOISE (2019) and PRELUDE FOR LOST SOULS (2020) as well as THESE GENTLE WOUNDS, and WHAT REMAINS. Over the years, she’s worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter, and exists on a steady diet of readers’ tears.

Website: http://www.helenedunbar.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Helene_Dunbar
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/helenedunbarwrites

 

The Interview.

Likely something you are asked a lot but… do you have a favorite book of the ones you’ve written? If yes – why? If not – why?
Of the books of mine that have published, BOOMERANG is definitely my favorite. First of all, I’d learned a lot about the craft of writing by the time I came to it. But mostly it’s my favorite because I not only love the characters, but I love how messy and complicated their relationships are. I fully committed to making sure that nothing was clear-cut in this book and the characters felt “real” even if that meant that some people wouldn’t like them. I always describe my main character, Sean, as someone who makes all the wrong decisions (and assumptions) for all the right reasons and, as a reader, I find that very interesting.
Is there an old story you wrote, perhaps that hasn’t seen the light of day, that continues to inspire or motivate you to write? If not, do any of your older works, again none that have seen the light of day, hinder you in any way?
I definitely have a couple of trunked novels that helped me learn how to write. But there is one that I’m looking forward to either revisiting one day or, at the very least, finding the right project to mine parts out of, as well as another that includes a character I definitely want to use again and a father that I very much love. So while I’m not sure that they motivate me, I do look back at those two when I begin a new book to see if some of their elements would fit in.
Share a fun fact about your writing method -go!
There is nothing fun about my writing method! LOL! Really, I probably have one of the most unstructured processes of any writer I know. I’ve found that any sort of outlining (before I hit revisions) can kill my interest in a project, so I’ve learned to give myself the freedom to write or not write, and to write out of order, which I do ALL the time. My core conflict and characters come first and usually I end up figuring out the plot half-way through and have to go back and revise. But I actually love revision, so….
What was it like writing for the anthology Welcome Home vs. writing one of your novels? Did you writing style change at all?
As an adoptive parent, submitting a story to Welcome Home was really a labor of love. Coincidentally, I’d been playing around with a book idea centered on a main character who was an international adoptee, so I ended up moving him over to a short story. While my writing style didn’t change, I realized that the reason short story writing isn’t my favorite is because it sometimes can take me a while to really get inside the head of my characters, and I simply didn’t have the space to do that as intensively as I would have liked.
A steady diet of readers’ tears gets you by I see, that is according to your website page bio. Is there any future projects that you can share with us today that will likely evoke a lot of tears?
Neither of my next books are what I’d call tearjerkers, honestly. That being said, my 2019 book, BLOOD MAKES NOISE is really centered on the various types of fear that teens encounter as they try to determine themselves and their futures. In this case, it is set in New York in early1983, which was also the when the AIDS crisis was beginning to enter the conversation. My 2020 book, PRELUDE FOR LOST SOULS isn’t what I’d call a traditional tearjerker, but there is a friendship in it that is stretched to its limits by pretty much everything that two of the main characters, Dec and Russ, are going through. The arguments they have as they try to find a way to support each other while still working towards their own goals were difficult to write and definitely took the most revision, because I wanted readers to really feel those conflicting emotions.
Is there anything you’d like to share with the readers today?
Mostly just that I’m really, really, grateful to the readers who have reached out in in writing or at a conference or festival to tell me that my books have helped them in some way. Writing can be a very isolating pursuit and I’m grateful for their support.

 

Thanks Helene for stopping by!

Want more?

Check out Helene’s links above to get more bookish info!