Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Author Jason Stokes in an adorable photo with one of his cats.

It’s been a while, but I have a new author interview to share with everyone. This one is with an author with an extraordinary story, both in terms of the novel he’s published and his own life experiences. Allow me to introduce Jason Stokes, author of the new novel Watcher.

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the show, Jason. Please tell us about yourself and about Watcher.

Jason Stokes: My name is Jason Stokes. I am a writer and artist currently living in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Watcher is about a young woman diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis who witnesses a horrific crime via hacked webcams. Due to her own lifestyle, she is forced to make a decision between preserving her own safety and seeking justice for a woman she’s never met. In the process she finds herself against the most powerful citizens in her city and untangling a web of corruption that involves nearly everyone she meets.

RU: You wrote Watcher while taking care of your life, who has MS, and who gave a lot of input on the story. Can you tell us what that was like?

JS: It felt like it was time for a character that had the same struggles I’ve seen her go through and exposed the way caretakers in chronically ill lives support those they care about. I wanted her to have a hero she could relate to. She was invaluable, answering questions about how she would handle specific situations, helping me walk in her shoes and uncovering things I had never thought of.

RU: Did the idea for the novel evolve out of your wife’s diagnosis? Or did it influence an already-existing idea?

JS: I had an idea but It was all wrong. It was overdone and I wasn’t feeling excited by it. When I asked myself, how would she (my wife) handle this? It started to come together. I saw a story that had more depth and stakes that were higher than your average mystery/suspense story. When she (the MC)  wakes up every morning she is already at a disadvantage and it doesn’t get any easier from there.

RU: You founded the company, Gestalt Media, that published Watcher. Why go that route?

JS: Ultimately I’m a control freak but I also want to have a role in bringing forward original projects. I wanted full control over my own work and knew the stigma of self-publishing but I also know several creators and I wanted to help bring their projects to fruition. I’m currently working with an artist/writer to publish a series of offbeat comics sometime this year.

RU: On Twitter, you spoke about how a local bookstore refused to carry Watcher. Can you tell us why and how that made you feel?

JS: The store in question refused to carry Watcher because the main character has MS but I (the author) do not. Their stance is not unique. It is a trend among publishers and retail stores to insist on own voices and to refuse books by those outside of the represented  community. I felt that as my wife’s caretaker for the last six years, I have lived this as much as anyone aside from her. I wrote it with extreme care and respect and sought her input through the entire process. The fact is, there are people whose stories deserve to be told that may not be able to for whatever reason put it into words. As authors it is our responsibility to interpret and share the world. We often take ourselves out of the equation. If it’s done with respect, care and attention to the group being represented that should be enough.

I don’t think the store itself is wrong for their viewpoint. It’s their choice but I disagree with the narrow lane it provides for future literature. As I’ve said, it’s a good intent with misguided execution.

RU: I know this is tough to ask, but how are you and your wife doing these days?

JS: As well as we can. It’s a brutal disease and every day is a little worse than the last but we stay in good spirits. She’s a fighter, a true inspiration and I’m proud to stand beside her on this journey. As long as research continues we have something to look forward to. Anything can happen.

The cover for “Watcher” by Jason Stokes.

RU: That’s good. Can you tell us what your writing process is like, if you have one?

JS: I subscribe heavily to the tenets of the Snowflake theory outlined by Randy Ingermanson. Generally I will come up with a character or a situation I find appealing. Something that isn’t often seen or a new angle. Then I’ll place it in a world and find a central scene, something that brings the story to life. From there I’ll build out starting with a two or three sentence synopsis, then a few paragraphs, then a list of scenes, until the whole things appears.

RU: Are you working on anything now or have any future plans as far as writing goes?

JS: Too many things! There’s never a shortage of ideas and projects begging for time. I have another novel coming in time for Halloween. Ghost Story is the beginning of a series involving a protagonist that can see the dead on a road trip to discover more about his exceptionally unusual past.

RU: What advice would you have for other writers, no matter their background or level of experience?

JS: I’m going to quote Chuck Wendig ‘Finish your sh*t.’ You have to finish. As scary as it is. As difficult as it can seem. The real journey begins when you write ‘the end.’

RU: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you, which ones would you take?

JS: Well, I think it would be only prudent to include the Worst Case Scenario Survival Guide. Alternately the Boyscouts of America field book if it was available. Next I’d bring along Robinson Crusoe for obvious reasons and Jurassic Park because it is the single most entertaining novel I’ve ever read.

RU: Thank you for being on the show, Jason, and the best of luck to you and your wife, both with Watcher and in life.

If you would like to check out Watcher (I’ve already sent a request into my local library to order a couple copies), you can get it for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. If you’re interested in more of Jason Stokes, check him out on Twitter. I highly recommend you consider doing both.

And if you would like to be interviewed for an upcoming or recent release, either check out my Interviews page or send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see if we can’t make some magic happen.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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The other day, one of the YouTube channels I follow, Tale Foundry,* asked a question on their social media about the difference between an author’s writing style and voice. Since I saw it first on their Twitter, I answered their question there. It went something like this over the course of two tweets:

Writing style is the technical part of writing: the author’s word choice, how thoughts are written out, etc. Voice is that and more: what sort of stories the author likes to tell, their favorite characters, the elements they like to include to make the story exciting.

That was my answer at the time, but I wanted to make sure it was right and I wasn’t just pulling stuff out of my ass like most politicians. So I went to Google and took a look. To my surprise, I was pretty on the dot. According to that lovely resource none of my teachers or professors liked us using even when they used it themselves, Wikipedia, writing style “is the manner of expressing thought in language characteristic of an individual, period, school, or nation. Thus, style is a term that may refer, at one and the same time, to both conventions that go beyond the individual writer and to singular aspects of individual writing.” And according to TheBalanceCareers.com,** voice is “the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character.”

For example, let’s look at HP Lovecraft’s writing style and voice, as they’re both so distinctive.*** His writing style is easy to pin down: an overly-wordy and stuffy Victorian patois filled with fancy words. Yeah, he liked to pretend he was a contemporary of Edgar Allen Poe. I think in his later works he tried to modernize his style, but he never got over using too many words and too many fancy ones.

As for his voice, that’s also easy to pin down: stories centering around terrors that give no care for mankind. Secrets and sights terrible enough to cause insanity. Entities so powerful they see humanity as nothing more than ants in the grand scheme of things. All with an unhealthy helping of xenophobia, racism, fear of women, fear of sex, fear of technology and progress, inability to grasp many sciences and maths, and an obsession with sophisticated upbringing and breeding.

Yeah, dude had his issues, and this was before getting help for your problems was effective and smiled upon by society. On the plus side, it had a lasting influence on the horror genre that’s still felt today. And the combination of the two makes it easy to point out an HP Lovecraft story when you come across one, even if his name is obscured.

As for my own style and voice, they’re still evolving. But I’ve noticed a few things for each. I prefer to write my characters blunt with their feelings, possibly because I have enough trouble understanding real humans and their confusing mix of emotions. And I love writing stories with unlikely heroines or nice-guy heroes, usually but not always in the their teens, supernatural enemies and horrors, plenty of either realistic or twisted love and romance, and more than a dash of weird to make it fun.

I think there are people out there who like that sort of thing. Not all of them are close relatives. I hope.

Writing style and voice are both very important aspects of writing, both for the writer using them and for the audience reading their work. It’s how we come to know the storytellers, how we identify them just from looking at a page, and it’s what allows them to stay relevant and immersive long after they’ve stopped typing on keyboards or holding pens.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have a review out this weekend, so if nothing else comes up in the meantime, I’ll see you then. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Have you noticed anything about your writing style or voice? What about your favorite authors?

*Which you should check out if you’re interested in stories and looking past the surface to the mechanics and deeper meaning of storytelling, by the way. Here’s the link to their YouTube channel.

**They also mention voice can refer to a character or narrator’s voice. But since I think Tale Foundry was referring to the author’s voice, I’ll stick with that one.

***Speaking of which, yesterday was the 91st anniversary of the publication of The Call of Cthulhu, the first appearance of the titular character and the namesake of the Mythos. Happy Birthday, Cthulhu. May you someday rise out of the sea to irrevocably change the world (preferably before the 2020 election becomes super depressing/annoying).

Good morning, everyone! It’s about one in the morning, but I can’t sleep yet. Not until I update you on the latest with Rose!

Now for those of you who’ve joined the Followers of Fear since my last update (Hi, by the way. Pleasure to have you), Rose is a novel that I started in college as my thesis project and which is being published by Castrum Press. The story follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Yes, I wrote a horror novel around that bonkers concept, an it’s just bonkers enough to work.

Honestly, I worried it was too bonkers. But based on this latest edit, I think it’s just bonkers enough to work.

So if you read my last update on the novel, you know Castrum wanted me to take a look at word choice and do some touch-ups with the text. Thanks to a couple of thesauruses and plenty of motivation, I was able to go through the entire novel within the space of a couple of weeks and get rid of the unnecessary and repetitive words. The result is that the novel is a few thousand words shorter, but still a decent length of 57,051 words (for context, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was about twenty-thousand words longer). And I think it may be the best version of the novel yet.

Of course, that’s my bias. But given that with every draft of this novel I’ve had to change major aspects of the story every time–characters, plot points, locations, etc.–it’s nice to see Rose is finally getting into a shape worth publishing. Perhaps this might be the draft that goes to press. We’ll see. We may have more work to do before all is said and done.

Done. You know, my high school English teacher once said something that’s stuck with me through the years. He said that a story is never “perfect.” You can only get it “done,” i.e. edited and polished up to the point where doing anything else to it would be a disservice to the story. You’re done with it, and that’s that. And I think Rose has taken a few more steps to being done.

I hope, anyway.

So what’s next? Well, I’ve already sent the new draft off to Castrum. I’m way ahead of the scheduled deadline of March 31st, so that means they’ll either get through it that much quicker or it’ll wait for a little bit until the end of March, when they carved out time in the calendar to review the manuscript. Either way, I think after this draft things should speed along.

Well, in the meantime, I think it’s time I hit the hay. Tomorrow’s another day to write and edit and come up with concepts to scare people down to their cores. Good night, Followers of Fear. Thanks for your continued support as I work hard to get this novel out.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

In my last post, I said that I’d heard back from my publisher, Castrum Press, and that they’d given some feedback to help me with the next draft of my novel Rose. Well, I woke up sick today, so I spent my day working on it. As of this afternoon, I’m one-fourth of the way through the sixth draft. If I keep going at this rate, I could be done well before the end of March (God willing).

I also said in my last post that the main issue Castrum pointed out for me was word choice. I’d like to go a bit more into that, as it’s been pretty eye-opening for me.

First issue: adverbs. I’ve heard this before from beta readers before, but I tend to rely on them too much. You know, “really,” “seriously,” “suddenly,” etc. And I thought I’d gotten better at that, but Castrum gave me graphs of my use of adverbs in Rose‘s fifth draft. Whoo-boy. Looking at the draft now, I’ve a lot of work ahead of me. There are adverbs littered all over the place! In future stories, I’m going to have to work on that. Because seriously, how madly, negligently, horribly a writer must I be to readily sprinkle these adverbs all over the draft so willy-nilly?

See the problem?

Second issue: overuse of unnecessary words. Another one of those graphs showed me that I tend to overuse certain words in a story. “That,” “just,” “even,” etc. Technically the sentences still work when I use those words, but they work just as well when they’re absent. Therefore, by the rules of editing, I should excise them. I’m still wrapping my head around the idea of getting rid of them, as when I wrote those sentences, they sounded so necessary. But I’m adjusting. It’s a process, but I’m doing it. Hopefully this is another habit I can kick as a writer. If anything, this draft is a good start.

And third issue: repeating words. I kid you not, I had over 360 instances of the word “look” or its variants. And while it does the job, literature is built on a variation of words that say the same thing. Instead of “look,” I switch it out with words “gaze,” “stare,” “gawk,” “observe,” “survey,” “scrutinize,” etc. I’ve been learning to do that when I encounter words like this, as well as others I’ve repeated one too many times.

If anything, all this has taught me how much farther I’ve to go as a writer. A lot of people know me as the “resident writer,” which sometimes they equate with “expert writer.” And occasionally, when I have successes in my career or when I’m expounding on the art of writing or the craft of horror from behind my keyboard, I can feel like an expert. But the truth is, I’ve only made some progress. It’ll be a long time till I’m able to call myself a real expert writer. If ever.

If there’s such a thing to begin with.

Still, I’m glad I don’t know it all. I have room to grow and improve as a writer. That’s never a bad thing, in my opinion. And if I knew it all, who knows? Things might get boring.

Anyway, I hope to have more news on Rose soon. I’ll keep working steadily on the sixth draft and give you another update as soon as I have one. In the meantime, I’m getting ready for bed. I don’t want to be sick tomorrow as well. Goodnight, my Followers of Fear, and pleasant nightmares!

I know some of you have been waiting for an update on Rose. And I’m happy to say that I received word today from my publisher, Castrum Press, regarding the last draft I sent to them.

Now if you’re new here and haven’t heard me mention Rose a billion times by now, this is a novel I wrote as my senior thesis in college. It follows a young woman named Rose Taggert who starts turning into a plant creature. Yes, that’s what it’s about. I wrote that novel, and it’s being published. And believe me, what I just described is only the beginning of Rose’s troubles.

Anyway, Castrum Press accepted the novel back in March 2018, and I’ve been doing a lot of work on it since. Actually, I’ve been doing work on it and changing things up since the first attempts to write it. This story’s been written and rewritten more times than I care to mention. I was telling my dad earlier today, every draft has featured almost alchemical changes to the story. Trust me, that amount of change every draft is exhausting!

But based on Castrum’s latest feedback, I have reason to hope the story’s nearing its final stage. The suggestions I got were mainly of the word choice and grammar type. These are mainly problems I’ve been told about before in the past: using words like “that,” “which” or “just” too often, or too many adverbs. At least they were able to give me some visual aids that I can use to help me during the next draft (number 6, if you can believe it). I’ll take some notes, and then get to work.

I won’t say this is the last draft before publication. It depends on what Castrum says, and they have a lot more experience than I do and the suggestions they’ve given so far has worked out for me so far, so I’m willing to listen to their advice. I will say that we are nearing that stage, and both Castrum Press and I are looking forward to getting this story out there for all of you to read. We’re just taking our time to make sure it’s the best product it can be before it’s released.

I mean, it would really suck if we released a sub-standard novel, wouldn’t it?

Well anyway, it’s getting late and I was feeling really tired for most of today, even with caffeine, so I’ll call it a night and start on the work after I get home tomorrow.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll keep you guys updated as news comes in. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Writing any part of a story is difficult. Starting it, the long slog through the middle, trying to wrap it up in a satisfactory way. Any part of it has its own challenges. But lately for me, trying to write the ending–those last paragraph or couple of paragraphs–difficult. I’m not talking about how the story ends, for me that’s usually already in my mind when I start writing the story. I’m talking about the actual words. What I use in the story to finish it out.

Those of us who read regularly think of how stories end, and it’s the most perfect ending, like “and they all lived happily ever after,” only not so cliched and unlikely to happen. More like, “All was well,” or “He turned over and went back to sleep,” or “He reached out to him with a single, terrible, slimy claw.” The words close up the story so well, and it feels perfect. Replace one word or one sentence with something else, and it ruins the whole story, or at least the ending.

It’s those words that close the story out that are so important.

And I’ll admit, with some of the last few stories I’ve worked on, I struggle with finding the right words for those stories. I start to feel too wordy, or that I’m not giving an eloquent closing to the story. Consequently when I end the story, I feel a little unsatisfied. This may be in part due to the fact that I see a movie in my head when I’m reading and writing, so translating something from a mental visual to words is somewhat difficult. Or it could just be finding the right words are difficult. Especially when my brain decides to forget a word or two (kid you not, I forgot the word “agenda” for a week, which sucks because I needed it for something).

Luckily, on a few stories, I think I enjoy the endings of my stories a bit better on the second draft. And those that I don’t, I can change them a bit and that usually helps. But I think–and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only author to feel this way–I would like to not feel so dissatisfied when I finish a story. That the words I use to finish the story ring true to me and feel right. That they’re as close to perfect as “All is well” or “He turned over and went back to sleep,” or “He reached out to him with a single, terrible, slimy claw.”

Well, the good news is that with more practice, I can get more stories done and perhaps figure out what it is that makes those near-perfect endings. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

But tell me, How do you write the best ending for your stories? Is there a trick to doing it? Please let me know, I’m dying to know. Okay, not actually dying, but it would be nice to know.

Until next time Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

I just published a new article on the other site I write for, Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors. This article is, Does Comics Sans Font Make Writing Easier? I decided to answer that question after a friend of mine said on Twitter that writing in Comic Sans was supposed to make writing easier. After she pointed me in the direction of an article that talked about it, I tried it out while writing The Black Foals, my latest story. The results are in the above article I linked to.

Anyway, since my own experience can’t apply to everyone, I decided to open things up to the readers and see what they thought. Yeah, I’m doing a “From the Readers” thing. I’m asking for readers to try writing something in Comic Sans and to email me how it went for them. If you are interested in participating, I’d suggest checking out the article and getting the full details there. You’ve got till May 1st to send us your feedback, so there’s plenty of time to decide if you want to participate (but I hope you will).

And while you’re there, why not check out the other articles we have? Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is a phenomenal site for writers of all stripes and background who want advice on how to write, edit, publish and market not only well, but without paying through the nose to make their dreams happen.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I promise you, there’ll be a review or two this week, so keep an eye out for them. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!