Addressing White Privilege in Writing

Something to consider, for authors of all genres.

Fionna Guillaume: erotica for sophisticated readers

As a relatively aware White person — that is to say, an individual who was raised in a dominant White culture and socioeconomic group, who both presents as White on the outside and identifies as White on the inside — I am on a personal mission to challenge myself in this world where, through no merit of my own, I have been handed privilege on a silver plate. Whatever your feelings on issues of race relations, or the social construct thereof; the heavy weight of history, the state of politics, or globalization, the simple fact remains: White Privilege is real. (Still not convinced? Take a look at the classic Invisible Knapsack checklist, by Peggy McIntosh.)

While there is plenty to be said about how White Privilege manifests in the larger world, my focus today is bringing it down to the arena in which writers and artists can make a…

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Aren’t we artisans?

I just published this one on my personal blog, but I think there’s good in here for all the ASPA! We are artisans, indeed.

Fionna Guillaume: erotica for sophisticated readers

For a long time, I distributed my writing for free. It was the usual routine: I wrote a story for fun (and because it got me hot), gave it a cursory once-over, then plastered it on Literotica or — and I fully admit to this — WAY back in the day, on Fanfiction.net. (Yeah. Legolas was my guy in those heady days of the early 2000’s…) Anyway, at that time I considered myself an amateur. And I was; an amateur, of course, is someone who does something for the love of it, and nothing more.

I ceased to consider myself an amateur when I began investing more concentrated time (and money, too) in perfecting my work. I connected with beta readers, hired a proofreader, designed book covers, wrote and polished blurbs, edited, revised, and rewrote until I was sick of my own work. All of this was through a desire…

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Spotlight on Children’s Literature

Children’s literature spans across all genres and engages readers of every level, from child, to youth, to adult. This week I interviewed some of the ASPA authors who specialize in books for kids.

Kids read all sorts of books these days! What does “children’s literature” mean to you?

“I have a fairly broad scope when I define children’s literature. Personally, there isn’t much I wouldn’t let my children read. If they are interested and they are capable of understanding the book I will usually let them read it… I see children’s literature as anything that gets them reading. If that’s a novel or a comic book, as long as they want to read it, it’s literature to me.” — Suzie Jay

“Any books written for kids in a tone that they will understand and enjoy. They are stories that deal with issues kid’s today face.” — Monica Garry

“Good children’s books are not self-consciously ‘educational’ or preachy. Children don’t need to be talked down to or patronised, but they do need something which caters to their more feeling-based outlook, rather being too intellectual… a children’s book should be imaginative and engaging, but not horrible or overly scary.” — Odelia Floris

Lots of adults enjoy children’s books, especially middle grade and YA. What’s the special appeal?

“Children’s and YA adult books are often shorter, more condensed stories with a lot packed in. You won’t be wading through five hundred pages to find out what happens. I also think that many adults enjoy the innocence of children’s books, as they are not so much about adult relationships. Children’s books are often inventive, imaginative and humorous too. Adults enjoy play and fantasy, and reading a children’s book can be a way of getting back to the more carefree days of childhood for a little while.” — Odelia Floris

“Personally, I find YA to move at a faster pace. There is less fussing about with excessive descriptions and characters second guessing themselves like adults would. I also think it’s like listening to a favorite song from a great time in your life. You remember the feelings you felt and the life you led when that song was popular. Books about the teen years are the same; they are nostalgic and remind us of times gone bye. Oh and some of the books are just kick ass amazing stories.” — Suzie Jay

“I think a lot of adults enjoy these books because we’re still children at heart. Some of us may not want to acknowledge it, but we still believe in magic and fairytale endings.” — Monica Garry

Often, children’s books contain illustrations. Do you include pictures in your books? If so, how do you decide on an artist?

“Not at the moment, though I’d like to in the future. I am currently looking for an illustrator.” (Fionna: Hey, indie illustrators! You should get in touch!) — Monica Garry

“My book is a chapter book, not a picture book. But it does contain one illustration plate, and a line drawing above each chapter heading. I am an artist myself. In fact, I was an artist before I was a writer. So I do the main illustrations myself. I did the cover artwork for The Little Demon Who Couldn’t, and the illustration plate as well.” — Odelia Floris

“I do have illustrations but it’s more like Roald Dahl’s books. They are basically novels with little pictures inserted throughout. So it’s not a picture on each page because I talk too much and there is way too much writing. Sometimes I do the illustrations myself. I’m not an artist but I can get by. Other times I see something I like on the net and hunt the illustrator down and beg them to help make my book awesome.” — Suzie Jay

How do you, as an adult author, come up with characters and situations that children can identify with?

“I always keep a sense of wonder and magic in anything I write for children, first and foremost. With characters, it is the ‘little person’ which children identify with. This character can be a child, or someone with a more naïve/inexperienced outlook than the other characters in the story, such as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Bilbo just wants to have a safe, simple life, while Gandalf and the dwarves are more adventurous by nature, and have greater knowledge and aims. The other character who children can identify with is the idealised, archetypal hero or heroine. This is someone children can look to and say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be like him/her’. This is usually the prince or princess, or the brave hero who slays the dragon. The first kind of character maps out the journey every child is on in their own way, that of ignorance to knowledge, naiveté to experience. Just like Bilbo, or Rat and Mole in The Wind in the Willows do, every child must learn about the world beyond their home, and venture bravely out into life. And the second kind of character gives the child an ideal to emulate, acting as a guiding light ahead on their journey to adulthood.” — Odelia Floris

“I spy on my nieces and nephews. LOL. They are my inspiration and I like to include them in my books.” — Monica Garry

“I have more difficulty coming up with adult characters. You see, I used to be a school teacher so I worked with children for years, then there’s the fact I have 6 kids of my own. They are all different ages so I have a good span of experts to critique my work. I also remember my childhood vividly, like it was yesterday and I remember what I loved and what I didn’t… that memory, coupled with keeping my finger on the pulse with today’s trends and advancements makes writing characters for children one of my favorite things.” — Suzie Jay

What is your favorite children’s book and why?

“I adore the Wishing Chair series and the Folk of the Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton. I know they are a bit dated these days but they hold such amazing memories for me. I had a very protective mother when I was growing up, so to read about kids going off on adventures with no adults and getting into danger and overcoming it, was just so magical to me. I would sit in my little rocking chair and squeeze my eyes shut and wish it would grow wings and take me off to new lands. I want to write book like that; books that get kids believing and escaping the everyday.” — Suzie Jay

“My all time favorite is Beauty and the Beast. I love the romance and magic. I can’t wait to watch the remake that comes out soon.” — Monica Garry

“It has to be The Little Troll by Thomas Berger. This picture book was one of my favourites growing up, and it is still one of my all-time favourite books now. It is beautifully illustrated, telling the story of an ugly little troll who lives in the forest. I love that the story has a moral and a meaning, yet is not in any way preachy or over-sentimental. For me, becoming a better person is THE story, one which I think any good novel has at its core… The Little Troll is beautiful, profoundly moving, and truly magical.” — Odelia Floris

Check out these excellent ASPA authors’ books for kids! Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.      — Fionna Guillaume

An evil grudge. A dark curse. A tough princess who won’t go down without a fight.
“Dedicated to all the brave princes and princesses battling Cancer and Leukaemia. Never stop looking for your miracle.” Suzie Jay.
After this Halloween adventure, Dontae and his friends will never be the same.
Set in the mid-nineteenth century , The Little Demon Who Couldn’t is an exciting, magical and witty urban fantasy tale about a young devil who just isn’t very good at being evil… For ages 6-12
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When Less is More

Fellow writers, this is a topic I hold near and dear to my heart. All of us want to do our best – and better than our best! – with each new story. We know practice is the only way to improve, but as that famous Vince Lombardi quote goes, “only perfect practice makes perfect.” Still, all practice makes better, and that’ll do for now!

My focus for this post is words. In our practice as writers, words are our lovers and our nemeses. The English language is among the richest in the world – perhaps the richest, in terms of vocabulary. Our dictionaries and thesauruses offer a bounty of delicious words: synonyms, antonyms, compound words, lost jewels with vintage flair, ultra-specific terms that are the perfect fit for some obscure sentence. I, for one, want to claim them all. I want to grab up words in great handfuls and smear them all over the page, make a beautiful mess like a kindergartner’s painting, and then lick it off my fingertips.

However, like much rich food, all these luscious words have a drawback. Too much chocolate makes you fat; too many fatty words bloat your writing.

Recently I read a fantasy novel called The Vorrh, by Brian Catling. This was one of the most unique, thrilling, and exhausting books I’ve ever read. Each sentence is a gustatory masterpiece. A celebration of vocabulary and its perfect use. Catling’s expertise of the English language is, frankly, dazzling. Here’s an example:

“All he needed was a locked room, ink, and sheets of virgin paper. This was his anchor, and he embedded it with the few scraps of energy he had left. He instinctively knew that memory and imagination share the same ghost quarters of the brain, that they are like impressions in loose sand, footfalls in snow. Memory normally weighed more, but not here, where the forest washed it away, smoothing out every contour of its vital meaning. Here, he would use imagination to stamp out a lasting foundation that refused the insidious erosions buffeting around him. He would dream his way back to life with impossible facts.” – B. Catling, The Vorrh

That’s a hell of a paragraph, right? Like I said, Catling’s skill with words blew me away. However, I won’t try to emulate him in my writing. And there’s a simple reason why: it’s too rich.

Have a taste of these:

  • The beautiful woman walked gracefully, her feet alighting with a bird’s delicate step, hair flowing behind her like an angry storm cloud rolling across the night sky above.
  • She walked with bird-like grace, her beauty sharp and treacherous as a storm.

The first sentence is 28 words, heavy description, a real mouthful. The second sentence is only 14 words, yet still conveys all the ideas and connections of the first. It’s still a satisfying bite, but not too much to swallow.

As a writer, you have to decide when less is more. And generally speaking, the tighter and crisper your sentences, the better they will be.

(Unless you’re Brian Catling writing The Vorrh, in which case, please don’t stop!)

— by Fionna Guillaume, ASPA member & erotica author

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Spotlight on Fantasy

Fantasy is one of the biggest, most diverse genres out there. In its most basic sense, we can consider “fantasy” to be anything featuring make-believe creatures, magic powers, or environments — unless they’re aliens, in which case it’s Science Fiction. Right? Wow, this genre is so huge, it’s actually confusing! And yet it remains one of the most popular for modern readers.

To find out more, I asked some of our ASPA fantasy authors for their thoughts about the genre.

So… what is Fantasy? What does it mean to you, as an author in the genre?

If it involves supernatural or paranormal elements of any sort, or any kind of magic, it’s fantasy. Vampires? Fantasy. Wizards? Fantasy. Psychics? Fantasy. Superheroes? Fantasy. You get my drift.” –A.M. Manay

“The fantasy in my books is reality to many. Because my three books are all based loosely on Heaven and Religions, there is always the danger of crossing from fantasy to my reader’s reality… I never actually though these were fantasy novels until more than one reader suggested that was exactly what they were…” –Grant Leishman

“Fantasy is anything otherworldly, not seen with the naked eye or purely imaginative.” –Lisa Kulow

Why do you think so many readers are drawn to Fantasy novels?

“I think readers enjoy Fantasy to escape to another world.” –Lisa Kulow

“Fantasy is fun because it’s so different from real life, while it still explores the truths, struggles, and joys of the human condition.” –A.M. Manay

“I suppose more than anything it a desire to escape from the realities of their lives and find a world where the hero is good and strong and the villain is bad and evil. Whatever the genre, people are presumably looking to have their core values affirmed by fiction. Fantasy allows an author to use weird and wonderful creatures to impart those core values. Pure escapism is the easiest answer to that… oh and probably a bit of J K Rowling as well.” –Grant Leishman

What are the elements of a great Fantasy novel?

“It has to have alternatives to mundane life, like Gods on earth, witches, Power over elements. Things that we would like to be able to do, but as a species, for the most part, are limited.” –Lisa Kulow

“It surely depends on what audience you are seeking. For many readers, the weirder the better, but at the end of the day, it is the affirming core values in the story that make or break it. People might like weird and violent and evil, but they still want their core values affirmed.” –Grant Leishman (Fionna’s note: which I guess explains the whole Game of Thrones phenomenon…)

“[It] has to have engaging characters that enthrall the reader along with an interesting, vivid, and internally consistent world. It’s also helpful to have a decent plot and to avoid exposition dumps, especially with respect to world-building.” –A.M. Manay

Since it’s all fun and make-believe escapism, what is the purpose of Fantasy? Why should readers check out books in this genre?

For me, fantasy’s purpose is to ask the question: What if this (our current situation) is not all there is? What if there are multiple worlds out there? What if there are alternative Universes? But I come back to my original point. Even if there are, would their values be the same as ours?” — Grant Leishman

“I definitely think fantasy is an escape from reality. Historical fiction and science fiction also fall into that escapism box, I believe, by taking us to a world that is not our own. I know that is part of the attraction for me as both a writer and a reader. Outlandish fantasy problems are so much more interesting than real life problems, and breaking normal rules and creating new ones is highly entertaining.

As far as I’m concerned, the purpose of fantasy is to entertain, but the best of us also say something about what it means to be a decent human being: how important it is to fight the good fight; to act with compassion and honor; to learn from our mistakes; to find and seek love, forgiveness, and purpose. There is truth in good fantasy, no matter how many spells are flying or how many vampires are biting. People can learn a lot while playing pretend.” –A.M. Manay

It is an escape from the real world. I think it can even be a type of therapy. Let your inner stressors out. It can be a magical experience picking up a fantasy book and immersing yourself in that realm, or  world. In my case Atlantis.” –Lisa Kulow

In conclusion, the keyword I am seeing throughout is “Escape.” It’s a chance to immerse oneself in another world – a world where good really does triumph over evil, though not without the twists and setbacks we love to read about along the way. With so many of us living full-speed, over-connected and pulled in all directions by modern life, it feels good to know there is a genre devoted to taking us out of it all, giving us that necessary escape, and offering us a chance to discover the “what if’s.” No wonder Fantasy books are topping the charts!

Check out the work of our featured Fantasy authors:

LightsupthedarkManayNovember rises from her grave to find herself utterly alone in her quest to stop her vampire brother Luka’s deadly plot to gain dominion over the human race. She Lights Up The Dark (November Snow Book 2) by A.M. Manay

 

atlantismiditeAn alternative  Atlantis tale like you have never heard. What if they weren’t human, and moved to other places? Atlantis After Midnite by Lisa Kulow

 

secondcomingGod is disgusted with what has become of humanity and determines to destroy it all and try again. JC has one year on earth to change his mind. The Second Coming by Grant Leishman

antichristThe children of JC and Maria are set to continue their parent’s work at Saving Humanity from the Brink, but Beelzebub has escaped the pits of Hades and is set on creating havoc in the world. Rise of the AntiChrist by Grant Leishman

 

Work It! (a writer’s guide to the writing process)

Hello my fellow indie authors! As you have no doubt learned by now, writing a book is hard. It takes hours of intense mental concentration, not to mention higher risk of carpal tunnel from all that fast typing, and eye strain from staring at words until you go cross-eyed. Yes, finishing a book is not easy – as we well know from all those skeletons (formerly known as “a great idea I’m going to write a book about!”) currently cluttering up our files. And the hardest thing about it is that, even if you DO complete your masterpiece, the work has only just begun.

However, there is a clear way to find sanity, and produce stronger stories too. It’s way back to basics here with The Writing Process. In short, the writing process is a series of steps that guide you through the process of producing a piece of writing. It works for everything: from a cover letter, to a research article, to the next Great American Novel. Seriously, it works. The trick is knowing each step and how to work it. Here, for you, is a quick and dirty, ultra-basic guide to the writing process:

Step 1: Prewriting

Prewriting may not sound sexy, but believe me, it is! This is the funnest part of writing, because here is where you get to play with ideas. The beginning of a great story is inspiration, and it can come from any number of places: a compelling piece of art; a popular song; a legend or fairy tale; someone you saw on the street; a true event from your life; the morning news. Whatever it is that catches your interest and makes you think aha! I want to write a story about that! I keep a list of all my ideas and revisit it regularly, so I always have a bank of stories waiting to be told. The hard part is picking one.

Once you’ve narrowed down your idea, it can be helpful to organize it. Some writers like to design a written outline, including generally what happens in the beginning, middle, and end. Others prefer movie-style storyboards with sketches or pictures. Some people make diagrams showing how characters and events are linked. And some people – like me – just daydream the story into being, and then repeat it over and over in thought until it sticks (at least long enough to get it written down!) Whatever works for you, do it, because you’re going to want it later.

Step 2: Drafting

Otherwise known as “writing the damn thing.” Not much else to say here, except to remember that, in the beginning, it is more important to write it out than to make it perfect. Some nights the story will flow so naturally, it seems to take on a life of its own. Other times, every sentence feels like a slog. For writing – like any craft – the key is self-discipline. You have to make time to write and force yourself to do it. Keep the goal in mind. At this point in the process, your goal is simply to reach the end.

Step 3: Editing

You finished your story! Hooray! But wait… you didn’t think you were done, did you? Haha! No! Your story is still only a baby. In order for it to reach adulthood, it must undergo a trial by fire. That trial is editing.

Ideally, you should not attempt to edit your work for a time after it is finished. Best not even to look at it. Do something else. Take a trip, start the next story, whatever; just don’t look at your draft! Then, when your brain is clear and you are ready to read with fresh eyes, you can begin editing.

There are many different editing philosophies. Generally I like to read through my story first and make any changes that seem important to me. Plus, you know, fix typos and awkward sentences. However, most authors are too close to their own work to edit it well. That’s why professional editing is one of the most valuable investments you can make. An editor will read your text with an eagle eye. Also, she can help identify plot holes or inconsistencies, identify places to focus improvement, or delete scenes that are unnecessary. Truly, a good editor is worth every penny you pay them.

Step 4: Revising / Rewriting

This step interweaves with editing. The two go together, really; editors suggest changes and, if the author agrees, he rewrites it. When the story is good and strong again, this is also the time to engage beta readers. Beta readers are often fellow writers (such as those in your writing group!), but may also be people who enjoy your work and are willing to offer honest commentary. Basically, these folks act as your first readers and tell you what they think of your work. They can also catch any lingering issues like typos or missing punctuation.

Step 5: Publishing

At last, after the long haul of drafting, editing, revising and rewriting, your book is complete. It is a huge accomplishment, and you should be rightfully proud! But no one will be able to read your book if it isn’t published. You’ve got to get it out there.

The publishing step, I think, is super-fun. This is the time I start getting excited again, after all the hard work of putting the story together. Depending on your method of publishing, this can take a number of different forms. Here are some things you need to think about:

  • Who will do the interior layout? (This is VERY important, both for e-book format and print! Once again, hiring a professional will guarantee the highest quality result. Some self-publishing platforms, like Createspace, offer templates that can help you put it together yourself. But be warned: you may spend some time tearing out your hair in the process.)
  • Who will design the cover? (And yes, people do judge books by their covers still…)
  • Where will you publish your book? (Are you planning to only publish on Amazon and do KDP Select? Do you want to expand distribution through other publishers like Smashwords? Are you interested in paying for a more comprehensive self-publishing service that produces print?)
  • Do you want a paperback, hardback, or e-book version?
  • Write the blurb! (AND get it edited. More than anything, the blurb is what introduces your book to potential readers. It had better be good!)

Step 6: Promotion

Well, indie author, your book is out there and it looks great! But you’re STILL not done. Nope. An independent artist is never done – you’ve still got to sell it. 🙂 Today we live in a world of limitless choices and an overabundance of information. There are millions of books out there, so how do you get yours noticed? This is where promotion comes in.

You need to think about how you are going to get your book into the hands of potential readers. There are all kinds of ways to advertise, and not all of them involve paying someone else to plug your book. People who use paid services have varying success, so be careful before you sign a check over to someone who claims to get your book “seen.” Instead, I recommend networking with other authors and seeking out your niche. Readers who’ll love your book are out there – you just have to meet them where they are.

Here are some essential promotion tools you will need:

  • A media kit, to share with bloggers and others who wish to promote your book (What’s that? Read about it here!)
  • A website or blog. Readers will find you on the Internet, so be there! (And an author blog is not like just any blog. You need to plan your platform – read this post for more info.)
  • A Twitter account. (Yeah, it can be messy, but Twitter really is a great way to connect with fellow writers and readers!)
  • An Amazon author page. (This needs to be updated regularly so all your books are listed.)

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Don’t feel overwhelmed! The writing process is here to help keep us organized and set us on the path to success. So work it!

Fionna Guillaume, ASPA member and author

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