Monday, January 27, 2014

Publishing Flash Fiction and Poetry, an interview with Dennis M. Lane

I've very excited to introduce this week's Self-Published Writer of the Week, Dennis M. Lane.  He was kind enough to do an interview for the blog, and he provides a lot of great advice to fellow Do-It-Yourselfers.

TL: Thanks, Dennis, for stopping by! First of all, I just want to congratulate you on the awards you have been nominated for over the years such as the Rhysling and Dwarf Star Awards. How did you get the attention of those award organizations?
DL: Nominations for the Rhysling Award come from the members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. One of my nominated poems had been self published (and podcast.) The other had appeared in the SFPA’s Online Journal of Speculative Poetry. During 2012, I had poems in both the online journal and in the SFPA’s Star*Line Magazine. Plus a reading of one of my poems was on their website, so I would guess that being visible (and audible) to members helps in getting nominations.

The Dwarf Stars Award is slightly different; it is an edited anthology. I put forward a number of my very short (10 lines or fewer) poems, and one was included in the anthology to be voted on. Any poet or editor can put forward poems to be considered, and so it is all down to the judgment of the editors what makes the final cut to be voted on.

TL: In addition to being a prolific writer, you have a great life story: You have lived in seven countries across Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, and you currently reside in South Africa. What made you decide to self-publish?
DL: I had a very negative experience with my writing when I was at school (as I wrote about in a blog post “Screw You Mr. Robinson! ) so it was years before I started writing again. It was poetry that brought me back. First of all I wrote and posted on an online poetry site and left it at that; but a colleague of mine was a published poet and she saw some of my work and said I should publish, then my wife weighed in and said that I shouldn’t procrastinate and I should just do it. So, in November 2010, I put together my poetry collection “8 Million Stories” and published it online.

That was the snowball that caused the avalanche, I got such great feedback from readers of my poetry that I was encouraged to put together a science fiction collection of poetry, short stories, and flash fiction (“The Poring Dark” - September 2012) and finally worked myself up to novels.

TL: What are the biggest challenges you've faced as a self-published author? How did you overcome those challenges?DL: The first is that any deadlines are self imposed; one doesn’t have an editor or agent chasing for a particular piece of work. It would be very easy to drift and let a July publication become a December publication, so I am quite strict with myself. For my larger works (either novels or compilations) I set myself a tight but do-able target and stick to it!

The second challenge is getting exposure. My strategy for that is to check out various sites (e.g. the SFPA, Twitter etc.) for calls for submissions, sometimes I may already have something that fits (which makes life easy!) other times I use these calls as inspiration; I may not have been planning a story/poem about gender issues and colonialism, but if someone wants one, why not give it a go? The added benefit of this approach is that I end up writing more stories and poems and with a broader subject matter; so, even if they don’t win the competition, I have more work for my own collections.

Linked to number two, it is important to be persistent. For example, I wrote a story on spec for an anthology competition, I got great feedback but it wasn’t quite what was wanted, it was eventually picked up by a magazine; another anthology competition story wasn’t picked up but it was later accepted for an award-winning podcast. (I’m currently working on a story that, if it places in the top three, would see it in an anthology featuring one of my favourite authors).

Having good quality, engaging cover art is very important and I know that many self-published authors find it difficult to produce good quality covers for their books. If they don’t have the skills, how much will it cost? I’m lucky that, apart from writing, I’m also an artist. When the writing may be slow in progressing I take a break and work on the cover. The cover for my next novel is already finished, even though I have only just completed the first draft of the story!

Finally, a major challenge is time. I don’t have an advance to support me while I write, I work as a freelance management consultant and that takes a lot of my time – writing proposals etc. Also, I have other things that I am committed to (such as writing articles for Limebird Writers, or presenting old movie reviews on StarShipSofa), they are enjoyable and I also think that they help to raise my profile, but I do sometimes wish that I could get by on three hours sleep a night.

TL: You've written a lot of flash fiction. To my readers who are unfamiliar with that medium, what is flash fiction? What makes flash fiction good?DL: Flash fiction is very short fiction; the length can depend on the venue but the maximum seems to be 1,000 words (above that it becomes a short story). There are ‘Drabbles’ which are 100 word stories and ‘Twitter fiction’ which is 140 characters (in the UK, The Guardian Newspaper has a regular feature where recognized authors try their hands at Twitter fiction – with varied success).

Flash fiction is good for a writer because often you are given a prompt and then have to write a full story (not an excerpt) in very limited space; it hones one’s skill and is also great fun! For the reader, flash fiction can be seen as a taster of what the author can do. In China, flash fiction is called a “smoke long” story; as, while having a quick cigarette break, the reader can read a complete story. Hopefully those few lines will spark a response that stays with the reader for far longer than the time it took to read them.

Sometimes, the act of putting together a flash fiction can spark an idea, if I may, here is one of mine, “Edge:”
Carine traversed the cold black corridors of the old quarter. Mother Fay’s words had proved to be true; a whisper of air still remained.
She reached the end and, yes, there was a single ancient escape suit plugged into the wall. Backing into it, she felt the suit wrap around her. Breathing against the glass of the helmet, the displays flickered on.
Carine walked up to the wall and it dissolved. Stepping through, she felt a stirring within the nascent wings of the suit.
Standing on the edge, she looked at the bright blue world so far below.
Smiling, Carine jumped.
The story came together in a few minutes and could be read as just that. However, the idea that I had stayed with me and, later, I wrote a 3,000 word story “Carine” that was featured in a South African magazine.

TL: You are a prolific writer. What is your writing process like?DL: Chaotic! Some people are focussed on one thing, they have a novel that they want to write and that is all that they can think about until it is finished. Looking in my ‘Unfinished Writing’ folder (which I have backed up to Dropbox – ALWAYS make backups...) I have one unfinished novel, two unfinished novellas, and 26 unfinished short stories. Some of the stories may be just titles saved as a Word document, or one-line ideas e.g. ‘Silent Running v I Am Legend Mashup’. I will have an overall schedule for the major work but, between drafts or when the inspiration for a story is just not coming, there are plenty of other stories to fall back on – so I always have something that I can be writing (and that’s before competitions etc. appear in my Twitterstream).

I try to write something every day. If I can’t get space to work on my novel or a near-completed story, I will write something on my phone; it could be flash fiction, a poem, a scene for use in something I’m working on, whatever it is I make sure that I write something. Then I can email it to myself to be worked on further once I’m at my desk.

If you would like to learn more about Dennis, check out his website: 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Zen Monk, Barry Graham, lists 3 books to help you find happiness

Barry Graham
In a time where we're fighting to make ends meet, stressed about our personal lives, and combatting negative images in the media, the topic of the pursuit of happiness is extremely important to explore. Award-winning writer and Zen monk, Barry Graham, was kind enough to provide his recommendations for three books that will help people find their inner peace. Here's his list below:

3 books that will help people find happiness-- 
by Barry Graham

Everyday Zen: Love and Work by Charlotte Joko Beck is a luminous, eminently pragmatic book, compassionate and tough-minded. Joko Beck was a great master, and the couple years I practiced with her had perhaps the single biggest impact on my life. My book Kill Your Self: Life After Ego is dedicated to her.

The Light Inside the Dark by John Tarrant is brilliant, wise, beautiful, and also a lot of fun to read. And it's another book that doesn't offer easy answers or try to sugar-coat life's bitter pills, but rather shows us to how to experience the taste of life as it is.

I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj bring us the words of an awakened being, transcribed from recordings of answers he gave to questions asked him by spiritual seekers. He came from the Hindu tradition, not Buddhist, but no spiritual tradition has a monopoly on enlightenment.

For more information about Barry, please see his Amazon page

Also, on February 3rd, you can find on my exclusive interview with him about why he chose to leave the world of traditional publishing to self-publish his books as part of my ongoing series, Self-Published Writer of the Week. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Starting a writing career at 55, an interview with K. Robert Campbell

K. Robert Campbell
Our first self-published author of the week for 2014 is North Carolina's K. Robert Campbell, who is the author of the Cameron Scott book series. 

TL: Thanks so much for stopping by, and congrats on being 2014's first Self-published Writer of the Week. Tell me a little about yourself and your writing. 
KRC: I have an undergraduate degree in Recreation and Park Administration and started a first career as North Carolina state park ranger. I went back to school and got my law degree at Campbell University in North Carolina, and I have been an attorney since then. An artisitc bent runs in my family, and I've used my share to sketch and craft over the years and to participate in community theater. Many summers working as a camp counselor led me into the recreation curriculum, and during those camp years, I was often a campfire story-teller. Fast forward a few decades and the story-telling merged with all the writing I've had to do as an attorney until my first novel was born. Coincidentally, my main character, attorney Cameron Scott, was once a park ranger.

TL: What inspired you to write The Cameron Scott Suspense Series?
KRC: Oddly enough, boring trips to the courthouse (which is 20 minutes from the office) were what 'inspired' the series. I'd listen to music during those trips and a particular number from the Blade Runner soundtrack CD kept conjuring an image in my mind, which eventually became a scene toward the end of the first book. Once that scene infested my mind, I found myself creating an entire story to lead up to it. Once I published the story and found out that readers actually liked it, I decided that I liked the process of creating the books and kept going.

TL: Why did you decide to self-publish? 
KRC: I'm afraid that I didn't have the patience to go through the regular route to publishing, having started writing in my mid-fifties. Frankly, I can't remember how I found out about them, but I learned about North Carolina's own Lulu self-publishing company, who predated CreateSpace, I believe, and started looking into the process and learning all the how-tos I could.

TL: What challenges did you face as a self-published author and how did you overcome those challenges?
KRC: One of the big challenges is having the fortitude to go through the process it takes to produce a professional-looking and readable book. I had enough sense from the start to seek out independent editors, even though I have a pretty good store of grammar and writing skills due to my profession. I also did a lot of studying about the self-publishing proecess and the steps it takes to produce one's own book. Art in the blood has been an additional help to me in being able to design my own book covers (through the Print Master program).

Sticking with the writing is another challenge. Over the last few years in particular, we've had a lot of health problems in the household, including surgeries, that make it difficult to find the time and concentration to keep at it, but it's important and fulfilling enough for me to do so. I don't like imposing a regular writing schedule or deadlines on myself but other folks might need that type of self-discipline.

Another huge challenge in self-publishing is marketing. Even after the number of years I've had books in print, I still keep looking for affordable ways to get the books out there and entice people to buy them. Even if you were with a regular publishing house, you'd face a lot of the same challenges unless you were a celebrity to begin with. The book won't sell itself either way.

TL: Thanks for the great interview. Is there anything you would like to add? 
KRC: I'm certainly not adverse to the traditional publishing model; in fact, I've been pitching a finished literary fiction to agents and trying to maintain the patience to let it go the traditional route. Then again, I'm not getting any younger…

If you would like to connect with Ken, you can find him on the following sites:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

High school student Kwame Wireko's shares 3 works that changed his life

Kwame Wireko is 17-year-old Ghanaian who resides in Atlanta, Georgia, and he began writing at a very young age. He has since produced approximately 50 poems, a short story and a blog on tumblr, Words of Eden. He is also working on novel inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Kwame is passionate about reading and writing, and I was curious what three works he felt that every high school student should read. He responded with three English class classics The Great Gatsby Of Mice and Men, and Macbeth, and the reason he choose those books showcased an admirable love for learning. 

"I believe every high school student should read these three works because they are interesting, and the use of language in them is just astonishing," Kwame said. "Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Shakespeare are phenomenal writers and their creativity and language use are exceptional. I read all three of these works in the past two years and they have significantly changed the way I reason, speak and write. F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Shakespeare and John Steinbeck are my all time favorite writers respectively. I greatly admire Fitzgerald’s use of themes and creativity in his writing, Shakespeare’s use of colloquial English and hidden themes and Steinbeck’s use of characters to reflect his principles. I really wish I met even one of these writers. They inspire my writing  a lot."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book review: Yellow by Don Lee

The bold and simple title and cover of Don Lee’s book of short stories, Yellow, made it immediately stand out to me.  Visually, it conveyed the message that this was a book about Asian-Americans that was going to stick with its reader, and the stories themselves were rich with detail and provided a realistic and emotional insight into the lives of various Asian-American characters in a fictional town in Southern California.

The Price of Eggs in China
A better title to this short story would’ve been “The Two Oriental Hair Poets” because this story focuses on a furniture maker, Dean, whose relationship suffers when his Asian-American poet girlfriend’s long lost professional rival comes into town.  Dean’s girlfriend Caroline was a published poet, whose work emerged on the scene during the same time as Marcella, and the two women were pitted against one another and dubbed the Oriental Hair Poets. Caroline’s work was unsuccessful while Marcella’s was praised, and the aftermath of the rivalry caused Caroline to retreat to a small town and work as a waitress, never to write again. This story was an interesting examination of the psyche of an artist and what rivalries can do to both harm and inspire creativity.

Voir Dire
In “Voir Dire,” we meet Hank, a public defender whose latest case makes him question his life’s purpose. He is assigned to defend a drug addict who killed a baby because he supposedly hallucinated that the child was a pit of snakes. While working the case, he learns that his girlfriend is pregnant, but he’s reluctant to start a family knowing that there is so much evil in the world and that evil often goes unpunished.

The heart of “Widowers” is the relationship between 40-something widower Alan and his 25-year-old lover Emily. They begin their fling knowing that Emily is going to eventually leave for Los Angeles, and the lack of commitment allows them to be vulnerable. I enjoyed this story because of its realistic and somewhat sad portrayal of a May-December relationship, and the author does a great job of detailing how Alan’s past has broken him from finding love again. Never once did I romanticize what was happening between the two characters. I didn’t want them to find their happily ever after with one another, but I enjoyed the brief time that they spent together as much as they did.

The Lone Night Cantina
Annie Yung is a confused woman who decides to rebrand herself a country music maven. She dyes her Asian hair blonde, adopts a twang, and tries to immerse herself in cowboy culture. Her new persona is challenged when she goes home with a sexy stranger, who forces her to confront why she felt the need to reinvent herself instead of facing her real problems head on.

Casual Water
This short story was about the family of an unsuccessful professional golf player. While chasing his career, golfer Davis Fenny neglects his two sons and wife, and his selfishness results in his wife abandoning the family and one of his sons being put into the foster care system. This story is an interesting examination of when is it right to give up on your dreams and the consequences on children when adults put their own needs in front of the needs of their loved ones.

The Possible Husband
This was probably my least favorite story of the collection. Although it was well-written, I was never emotionally invested in the story’s protagonist, an older, womanizing surfer who opens a restaurant when he begins to realize that his surfing days are close to being over.

Domo Arigato
In “The Possible Husband” Korean-American Eugene Kim recalls a trip to Japan that he took with his white girlfriend and her family when he was a young man. Despite being of Asian descent, he stands out more in Japan than his white counterparts, and while on the trip, he realizes how little he fits into his girlfriend’s family. Even though the family love Japanese culture, they do not fully accept the idea of an Asian man joining their family, and by the end of the trip, Eugene realizes that sometimes love is not completely colorblind.


This title novella was a finalist for the National Magazine Award, and it’s definitely worth reading. It covers twenty years of a man who is never fully comfortable within his own skin, and even after he achieves life accomplishments such as marriage and children, he is never truly happy. Author Don Lee paints a very vivid account of the protagonist’s life, and one of the biggest strengths in this story and throughout the book Yellow is that he always digs deep and explores the truth about his characters. His writing is never false or melodramatic, and overall, this was an enjoyable book that immersed me into the lives of very unique and memorable characters.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The 5 Best Screenwriting Contests to enter in 2014

I am a screenwriting contest veteran**, and from my years of experience navigating those waters, I’ve seen the benefits and drawbacks of chasing that grand prize. The three benefits of entering contests should be the following: bragging rights, cash prizes, and (most importantly) Hollywood connections. Every entrant should look for those three when forking over an entry fee. After all, most of the contests come with a fee usually ranging from $30-75, and if you enter multiple contests for multiple years, then this adds up quickly.

If one Googled “screenwriting contests,” hundreds would pop up. That’s why it’s good to be strategic and only go after contests that can give you the three benefits and possibly a little something extra. Below you’ll find my list of the top 5 Screenwriting Contests worth entering in 2014.

1.     Nicholl Fellowship: This is the most prestigious screenwriting contest that you can win, and even placing in the semi or quarterfinals may give you access to getting read by a Hollywood manager, producer, or agent. The contest is run by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the same people who give out the Oscars), and it has uncovered such screenwriters as Susannah Grant, Ehren Kruger, and Andrew Marlowe.  Not only will winning a Nicholl give you bragging rights for life, but the prize is a fellowship of $35,000, which gives you one year to complete at least one more original feature film screenplay.

2.     Bluecat Screenplay Contest: I was a finalist for this contest in 2010, and after winning, the head of the contest, Gordy Hoffman, was kind enough to meet with me and give me notes and I was also contacted by independent producers who heard about my placement. In addition to its professional benefits, the cash prizes are pretty high. The grand prize winner receives $15,000 and finalists each receive $2500. But what truly distinguishes this contest from all others is that ALL ENTRANTS receive script analysis. Buying this service from professionals would cost you at least $50, so the fact that it’s included in the entry fee is an amazing deal.

3.     TrackingB: TrackingB is a relatively new screenplay contest (it was started in 2007). Although its entry fee is high ($75-$125), its batting average for the success of its winners is incredible and it has a good reputation amongst writers. For instance, my friend was a finalist for TrackingB, and although she had placed in other contests, it was TrackingB that led to her getting signed by a major Hollywood management company. The other benefit to entering this contest is that if you enter two scripts or more, they give you free access to the website for one year. If you’re not too familiar with the site, it provides Hollywood job listings, script sales, industry news, and other information you would probably not know unless you worked in the industry.

4.     Script Pipeline: In 2010, I was a grand prize winner of the contest, and I had a great experience with it. Immediately after winning, I was read by various managers and production companies, and even though a few years have passed, Script Pipeline still sends me writing opportunities and shares my work with production companies. Plus, I also received other goodies such as writing software and a subscription to their Writers Database. It looks like recent winners will receive those same benefits, but now the grand prize is huge--$20,000! 

5.     Final Draft’s Big Break Screenplay Contest: The Feature Grand Prize is $15,000, and the genre award winners each get $1,000. Both grand prize winner and genre winners each get writing software, a listing on Inktip, and a year’s membership to Script Pipeline’s Writers Database, along with a lot of other swag; but an even better benefit is that all winners get to read judges’ feedback.

**In 2010, I was the Grand Prize Winner of the Script Pipeline Screenwriting contest (formerly Script Pimp), and I also placed two scripts in the finals (At the time, the winner structure was four grand prize winners and ten finalists.) I was also a 2010 Finalist for the Bluecat Screenplay Contest, and before that, I placed in the quarter or semifinals of the American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest, Scriptapalooza, and the Disney TV Writing Fellowship.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Lucky Magazine is out of touch

"Every woman should own a purse that only cost $499!"
Let's ring in the new year by talking about the media, or more specifically February's issue of Lucky Magazine. On the same cover, it states the following headlines: "Key pieces every woman should own: ALL UNDER 500!" (OMG. Are you serious? So affordable! *sarcasm) and "Zoe Saldana: "Class is not defined by money."

Um, okay. Those are some mixed messages you're sending there, Lucky.

I just want to say this: I have nothing against luxury items, and magazines such as Vogue don't bother me because they are upfront with what they are. They are either selling a fantasy to its less affluent readers or they are actually showing the rich all the high-end shit that only they can afford. But Vogue does not condescend. It does not try to pretend that its Gucci or Chanel dresses are for every woman, nor does it have the nerve to give us some positive affirmation on its cover that money doesn't matter.

The problem I have with Lucky's most recent editorial concept was how condescending it was. Putting Saldana's quote about money not being that important, but contrasting it to a list of items that are all under $500, as if that's a great bargain for most Americans in this struggling economy, is out of touch and annoyingly stupid. If Lucky wants to appeal to the average American, then it needs to stop peddling $200 sweatshirts and remarking to its reader how "affordable" it is. (see page 49 below for what I'm talking about.)
On page 49, Lucky writes,
"We are captivated by this L.A. brand's wildly original--
and surprisingly affordable--prints"
and then it shows the company's sweatshirt,
which costs over $200. Yeah, okay.
If Lucky wants to promote expensive goods, that's fine, but it needs to stop trying to convince us that it cares about the average woman's bottom line. It doesn't, and I wish there were less magazines that were run by the privileged who have the nerve to think that we're stupid enough to believe that "they're just like us."
"Zoe's Favorite Things Under $500"
Stars, they're just like us!
What do you think about mainstream magazines that are this out of touch? Let Teresa know in the comments below, and if you are just as annoyed with media such as this, please share this post with your friends on Facebook or Twitter.