Author PJ Friel and A TOUCH OF WYRD

AToW-Cover-PJFriel-1000x1600

I’ve known PJ for a few years now, both as an author and a cover designer (she designs the covers for the Jain Lazarus Adventures). I’m thrilled to host her ahead her debut novel’s release on March 23. PJ talks about her process, in her own words:

 A Twisted Process

According to Merriam-Webster, process is “a series of actions or operations conducing to an end”. When applied to writing a book, those actions would be: pre-writing, writing, revision, editing, and then publishing. That sounds, as my mother always said, easy-peasy.

(insert slightly hysterical laughter here)

Merriam-Webster obviously hasn’t met me.

According to my friend Justene, this is what my writing process looks like:

“Create characters, create a world. Toss them into a plot. Write forever. Rewrite. Rewrite again. Rewrite a few dozen more times. Send it out to beta readers. Look at the feedback. Freak out for a while. Make a cover. Think about throwing in the towel. Beat yourself up. Rewrite a couple more times. Decide another rewrite will make it different but probably won’t make it better. Send it out for publication.”

I cracked up reading her description but guess what. It’s funny because it’s true. The “process” I followed to write my first book, A Twist of Wyrd, was a study in frustrated perfectionism. But it wasn’t necessarily my process that was the problem.

Every writer follows a different path to their final destination: the Hero’s Journey, beat sheets, various systems created by other authors, or pieces of all these things sewed together into a Franken-process. Where I went wrong was the mistaken belief that I just hadn’t found my OTP (one true process). I thought there had to be some magical system out there that would take me from dim bulb to illuminated writer.

That may sound a little weird, but in order to understand why I was so dead set in my OTP belief, you need to know a little more about me. When I’m not writing stories about valkyries and berserkers, I’m a spreadsheet slinging, database pinging Business Analyst. My day job is all SQL code and Excel formulas, and if you’ve never worked with either, let me just say that a single misplaced comma can ruin your day. So, making the switch from by-the-book Vlookups and Select statements to a “learn the rules so you can break them” philosophy was a little panic inducing.

I could never decide which rules it was okay to break and I could never make my manuscript equal four, no matter how many times I added two and two. So, I got trapped in a rewrite loop. For years. Until one day, tearful misery, I called my sister and she gave me some advice that finally broke through logic wall. She said, “Stop writing the book and just tell the story.”

After trying everything else, I decided I had nothing to lose, so I did it. I stopped worrying about the rules and the beats and the acts and I focused on telling the story of a man and woman battling enemy factions and their own fears on the path to real love.

The by-product of my newfound “just tell the story” attitude was that I started to trust myself and my writing. I finished my novel and worked up the bravery to share it with beta readers, warts and all. Knowing that I was sending out an imperfect story to others was terrifying. What if they hated it? What if they found gaping plot holes? What if they couldn’t connect to my characters? What if? What if? What if? This is the part of the process where I created about thirty different versions of my book cover and thought about throwing in the towel.

Then an author friend of mine stepped in and saved my sanity, and with it, my book. How? By freaking out while writing his own novel. This successful man, who I deeply admire, was experiencing some of the same fears I was. What if readers hate my story? What if I’m not giving them what they expect? What if they just don’t get it? Suddenly, I was the one offering comfort and advice, and in doing so, I realized that there was nothing wrong with my process or my writing or with me. The only problem I had was one that we all have from time to time…letting fear hold me back.

So, that’s how I reached the publishing phase of process, with a whole lot of help from my wonderful beta readers and my brilliant editor. Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten over the freaking out. I’ve just made the decision not to let it stop me anymore. My plan for book two in the Ways of Wyrd series is to surrender to my lack of process, step into my character’s shoes, and leave the footprints of her life on the page. I’m kinda scared, but I’m also looking forward to the journey, no matter how twisted the path may be.

Blurb:
A TWIST OF WYRD – THE WAYS OF WYRD BOOK 1

They say a person’s wyrd – their destiny – is carved into the branches of Yggdrasil long before they are born.

Three hundred years after Odin’s gates to Earth malfunctioned, Outlanders left behind have integrated into society so thoroughly that few humans are even aware of their existence.

Straddling the divide is Bryn Ullman, a PI with a unique skill that’s in demand by Akron PD and a phobia that even her martial arts training can’t defeat. Her shadowy heritage means that she is always looking over her shoulder, and has no patience, and no place in her life, for Trygg Mackenzie and the confusing things he makes her feel…and want.

Trygg, head of security for the Devourer mob, is a berserker in hiding. If the Allfather finds him, eternal servitude will be the least of his worries. But for Bryn, he’s willing to take the risk if it keeps her safe and gains him redemption for his past.

A murder investigation throws them together, but with mob secrets and unknown factions at work, will giving in to their passion be their undoing or their salvation?

On the path of fate and destiny, it’ll take A Twist of Wyrd to save them both.

Links:
Goodreads
Amazon Author page
Website
FB
Twitter

DEATH SPARKLES ROUND TABLE INTERVIEW

Several of the DEATH SPARKLES contributors were able to take the time to answer some questions about the process. It’s always fun to see how these things evolve!

Devon Ellington: How did the story spark from the prompt and grow?

KT Wagner: I was googling related phrases, desperately searching for inspiration, when I came across a news story about a young man in New Zealand who had purchased a diamond ring, and then his girlfriend rejected his proposal. He set up a treasure hunt and gave the ring away, but not before he created some controversy by profiting from click-throughs – money he donated to charity.

Faith Dincolo: I found the process of visualizing a dead woman with diamonds dangling from her hand, to be fertile ground for creativity. In “Persephone’s Progeny”, the diamond necklace was a catalyst for Persephone to grow as a robot. The prompt really helped me to think outside of my usual story telling process. I would recommend a prompt to anyone struggling with writer’s block, as it opens up the creative flow.

Diana Holdsworth: When we got the prompt, I was rusty at short story. My first version came out like the compressed outline of a novella. The necklace was used as an example of greed over common sense, and the prompt line was stapled in near the end of the story. I brushed up on my short story skills and realized the first version wouldn’t do. Starting from scratch, I tried again, but nothing came. I didn’t think I could manage it. Then I reached back into my life and a tale came to mind that resonates for me on a deeply emotional level. The story poured out with ease. The necklace in “A Girl’s Best Friend” stands for something quite different from the one in the first version. As for the prompt line, no staples required.

PJ Friel: I’m not a fan of horror so when I read the prompt, I knew it was going to be a challenge for me. My solution for this was to discuss the prompt with a friend, Jessica. I find that my imagination really kicks into gear during lively conversations. Focusing on the necklace and the meaning behind it was key for me. What was so important about that necklace? Jessica and I threw around some ideas and then I went home to begin my research. With some facts and pictures in hand (visuals are very important to me), the story started to flow. Oddly enough, I really didn’t know where the protagonist was going to take me. I always know the ending of my stories, but not so with this one.

Killion Slade: As soon as I read the prompt, I immediately knew I didn’t want to write a simple murder scene. My horror muse truly wanted to be fed and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I wanted the piece to seem surreal, confusing, a bit disorientating, and downright uncomfortable. From initial beta readers, I was asked to take the story further, deeper, and then once I added sensory elements, it truly took off on a life of its own.

Nina Benneton: A day before the assignment was due, I’d listened to a conversation between two sisters and their dialogue was so rich, I went home and fictionalized the characters, taking advantage of the dialogue’s rhythm.

DE: What was the hardest thing about writing to the prompt?

NB: This particular prompt screamed mystery or thriller or horror to me, but my muse was not cooperating. She wanted humor instead, so I relented and let her be. After all, I had a deadline.

FD: How and where to place the prompt was a big issue for me. I wanted a seamless use of the prompt that didn’t jar the reader and make them say, “oh yeah, there is the prompt.” This was a challenge for me, because putting the prompt as the first, or last sentence, seemed very appealing. Make it obvious and blatant, then this little voice in me asked, “is the prompt more important than the story, or vice-versa?” When I wrote the story, the prompt fell naturally into place at the dark point of the story.

PJF: The hardest part about the prompt was that it didn’t come from within. It’s difficult for me to take someone else’s idea and build around it. This prompt was especially hard because it was drawing me into a genre that I avoid. I could have worked the sentence into a fantasy story, which is my chosen area, but I felt that the point of the prompt was to write something outside of the norm. I’m glad that I didn’t take the easy way out. I don’t think I would have been nearly as satisfied with the results.

DH: I knew the story I wanted to tell before I knew where to put the prompt line. The muse is a subtle creature: I believe my creative self understood where the prompt line was meant to go long before my conscious self did. During the writing process, my big worry was that the prompt sentence would stick up like a nail in the road. By the time the story was done, the prompt line slipped into place naturally.

KS: I would say the hardest thing about the prompt was the tense. Writing in first person created a challenge to meet the prompt. It also was the style of the death. Immediately, when I think of diamonds dangling from a dead woman’s hands, I think of her stealing them, getting caught, and being poisoned in some sort fashion. So trying to come up with a unique situation for this woman and why she was dead and had diamonds dangling that was not cliche’ in my mind was indeed a challenge.

KTW: Other than some terrible cliched ideas, I floundered around seeking inspiration for far too long. I remember one night lying in bed staring at the ceiling and playing word association games when I should have been sleeping.

DE: Do you see these characters in any other pieces besides this story?

DH: In a sense, yes. My recent Victorian Gothic short, “No Tongue Can Tell,” is similarly themed, with similar characters in parallel situations. Writing “A Girl’s Best Friend” allowed “No Tongue Can Tell” to pour out with ease, even though I’d never written a Victorian Gothic before. Creativity feeds on itself.

NB: Not until this question. Hmm. I think I might like to see Catarina and Nipolita showing up to help the priest at the orphanage in Guatemala.

KS: Devon Ellington taught us how we can use our short stories to ‘put the feelers out’ for new characters. Let them try on their story, so to speak. We also learned how to incorporate older characters into new situations where we normally wouldn’t see them in, to find out more about what drives them. I have not considered writing more for these two characters in “The Trophy Wife”, but it could becomes a twisted little mini-series of short stories based around the unique world built for them.

PJF: While the protagonist is certainly an interesting character, I don’t think I could spend an entire novel inside her head. It’s a rather scary place inside her noggin and I’m a big chicken.

KTW: The motivations and rationalizations of people like the main character fascinate me, but no, I won’t be writing about these particular characters again.

FD: I always see my stories as bigger pieces. Short stories really turn on the creative flow, and get me thinking about all the possibilities that I could do with that story. I find that it can be very difficult to write a short story, because the story wants to grow. I envy short story writers that can see their stories in a few pages.

Bios:

Nina Benneton always wanted to be a priest and save orphans in third-word countries, but ends up writing romantic comedies; for now. Visit her at www.NinaBenneton.com.

Faith Dincolo writes horror, sci-fi comedy, and creative non-fiction. She can be found at https://www.facebook.com/FYDincolo.

PJ Friel is a writer and artist, dwelling in the land of fantasy. Visit her online at http://www.amberstar.net.


Diana Holdsworth writes novels, novellas, short stories and memoir. Visit her at http://www.DianaHoldsworth.com.

Killion Slade comprises of a married writing team who met in the virtual realms of Second Life and virtually enjoy everything. Read More at http://www.killionslade.com.

KT Wagner writes science fiction, Gothic horror and steampunk, novels and short stories, with the occasional forays into other genres and her garden. Visit her on-line at http://www.northernlightsgothic.com

Purchase DEATH SPARKLES here.

HEX BREAKER release and New Excerpt!

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that the first Jain Lazarus Adventure, HEX BREAKER, is out, from Solstice Publishing. The original publisher went out of business, which meant the book (and the series) went out of print. Once the rights reverted, I took a break to lick my wounds, outlined the entire series, and then started my market research. During the time I tried to find the right publisher, I kept getting requests for the book, and questions as to when Jain, Wyatt, Billy, and the gang would be back.

Solstice Publishing and I came to an agreement, and HEX BREAKER was contracted. The remarkable PJ Friel did the new cover, and my editor was the creative, eagle-eyed, and compassionate Shawna Williams. I couldn’t ask for better support than with these two. I feel really lucky — I got to revisit the book, go deeper into Jain’s POV with the knowledge I now had for the rest of the series, making it richer and more complex.

Solstice contracted the second book in the series, OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK, and I plan to get third, CRAVE THE HUNT, to them this summer. OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK is from Wyatt’s POV, and CRAVE THE HUNT alternates from Billy’s and Jain’s POVs. Billy gained such an adoring fanbase that he’s now got his own blog, Billy Root Blogs, where he talks about the books, the stories, and what it’s like to be an actor playing a character who’s a character in a series of novels. Fun stuff, and great fun to write in his POV outside of the narrative. Yesterday’s blog post contains a new excerpt, only found on the blog, not here or on the website or in the media kit. Read it here — then come back and read another new excerpt on this blog, below!

“Town Crier”, a short story about one of Jain’s exploits about ten years before the events of HEX BREAKER will be available the second week of June, followed by a Billy-centric tale, and then the re-release of “The Possession of Nattie Filmore” and “First Feet.”

So what’s HEX BREAKER about?
Hex Breaker Jain Lazarus joins the crew of a cursed film, hoping to put to rest what was stirred up before more people die and the film is lost. Tough, practical Detective Wyatt East becomes her unlikely ally and lover on an adventure fighting zombies, ceremonial magicians, the town wife-beater, the messenger of the gods, and their own pasts.

New excerpt (not found on the website or in the media kit):

Jain bolted toward the screams. Randy and Zig pounded down the path behind her. When they reached the row of trailers, they found Cady, hysterically flailing in Nick’s arms. He held her, trying to calm her down. Billy stood by, shifting from foot to foot, while Clive yelled, “Has anyone called the police yet?”

Vince rounded the corner, followed by several members of the crew, including Dennis and Mike. Cady wrenched herself away from Nick and flung herself into Vince’s arms, sobbing.

“What the…” Zig began.

Smeared across the door to Cady’s trailer and along the wall was a mass of grayish-red matter. Red liquid dripped from it.

“Something’s been killed,” Billy said with a shudder.

“It looks like someone’s head was smashed and smeared against the wall of the trailer,” said Nick.

“Is anyone missing?” Dennis asked.

“I’ll make the rounds and do a head count.” Mike turned and hurried away.

Jain stepped forward.

“Don’t touch it!” Clive warned. “We need to leave it for the police.”

Jain glared at him for a minute and bit back a retort. She leaned close. Billy paled, tried not to retch, and turned away. Jain examined it without touching it and took a sniff. She straightened. “Ground beef,” she declared. “And ketchup.”

Cady lifted her head. “It’s not someone’s brains?”

Jain shook her head. “Just a psycho trying to freak you out.”

“That was a success.”

********

More information on the Jain Lazarus site.

Available on Amazon Kindle and from Solstice Publishing.