Writing – How Goes That Short Story?

Last week, I was blathering on about starting at the beginning, but not necessarily the beginning, or something like that. I’d suggested an assignment, writing a 500-word short story and I did manage to write one. It’s not outstanding, but it does have all the elements needed, beginning in the middle of action, paragraphs that allow the reader to get into the character’s head, understand a bit about her motivation, her personality, her attitude and maybe a hint at the reason for it. There is immediate introduction to the “protagonist” as well. The story is set up, progresses, reaches a climax and resolves in 500 words. Understanding these elements will help a writer no matter the tale’s length (next week’s blog will be about word count and genre, which could be helpful to someone out there). Believe me, I learned the hard way.

I had also said that I would get into ways to “cut the fat” in the writing endeavor, especially the short story. As my eyes droop, I realize this will require more discussion in another blog. However, one way to cut extraneous words is to recognize that they are such. You must be your best first editor. Adjectives and adverbs are great (I use a lot when blogging, because they can be so much fun), but not often necessary to get the point across. Also, can you find a way for a thought or action to be complete without expounding on all the motivations for it? Back story has no real place in a shortened tale, and it is important to dive right into the main character’s reason for being there in your work. If you tried the 500-word story exercise, were you able to edit out those words, sentences, phrases that ultimately did nothing more than increase word count rather than move the story forward? If you did, that’s great, because the same editing will help in all your writing. Like I said, I learned the hard way.

Well, that’s going to be it for now. I ran behind in preparing my blog for this week and the hour is getting late, but I hope this is enough information to keep your interest until next week’s blog. In the meantime here is my short story, for what it’s worth.

Perspective by Robin Maderich

I stop short, my heels skidding on the icy sidewalk. Rubber heels, yes, but soles without tread. I should know better. I am an adult, fully responsible and all that. Lucky for me I manage to save myself and my packages, smashing bags against my abdomen in a crushing grip.

Every year the Christmas season becomes less joyful and more stressful. The guy screaming at the parking meter a dozen feet away truly isn’t helping me feel any jollier.  Jollier is a word. I’ve looked it up. It’s a comparative adjective. Why do I bother looking up words, you ask? Try spending two hours every day on the bus commuting to work. My pocket dictionary has become my steadfast companion. I vowed to make myself smarter when I bought it. Don’t ask me how I’m doing. The answer should be obvious. No tread on my boots, after all, and the snow falling at an inch an hour.

At least I’m wearing a hat. A fuzzy knit hat designed for fashion rather than warmth, but it provides some protection, working great at catching snow, allowing it to build and build until, well, it doesn’t anymore and slush skids down my cheeks and into the hood I’ve neglected to pull up. Yes, I’m having the best day in the most wonderful time of the year. Although, I suppose my day’s not as bad as the one the guy now punching the meter is having. He’s still swearing. I can hear him despite the traffic in the street and the snow clumping around my ears.

I need to get past him. Unless I want to backtrack, cross the street at the light, make my way up the blasted hill once again with all my packages and then struggle back over to this side where my car sits only about thirty feet beyond him and his uncontrolled anger, this is exactly what I have to do. The very idea, however, turns my bowels to jelly. I talk big, act like I can conquer anything with the holiday chip on my shoulder, but really, I can’t. His display scares me silly.

So I stare at him, undecided. And in the next minute the worst happens. His focus turns on me.

A word slips past my lips. Not a comparative adjective but a good, old-fashioned four-letter word that is used as verb, adjective, and adverb, handy for many occasions. His red-rimmed eyes are wide. The color deepens on his cheeks to rust. His mouth opens. I try to suck in a breath, maybe to scream. He takes a step toward me, and then another. I stand there, foolishly believing my many Christmas packages might shield me.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

I—what?

“I’m sorry,” he says again. His head bows. “My wife passed away three weeks ago. This is my first Christmas without her.”

All my breath rushes out. I leave my packages behind me in the snow and take his hands in mine.

Next week: Writing – Word Count – Really?

Writing – Start at the Beginning

I don’t mean the above title in a literal sense. You don’t have to start creating a story at its beginning. In time, you’ll end up with a beginning (whether fiction or non-fiction, composition does require one), but when you first start out to put your story down on paper or a computer monitor or on the bedroom wall with an eye to its eventual form, the beginning is not always where you’ll find yourself.

However, that will be another blog’s topic.

No, by saying “start at the beginning” I’m referencing a birth, an inception to your creation.  Many reading this blog are already accomplished writers (although you still might find the content interesting, so stick around), while others may not have taken the plunge. Heck, you might not even want to—yet you still could find the blog content interesting, so…yeah, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

In recognition of my recently-blogged, coincidentally-timed, not-New-Year’s-Resolution, I am determined to write more about, well, writing. I can’t help it. The written word was, is and always will be an amazing device. A force to be reckoned with, calling up wonder, distress, joy, sorrow, peace, terror…and right on through the emotion dictionary. (I believe there is such a thing, a tome put together for writers stuck for words. Imagine that.)  

Besides writing about writing, I’m going to suggest certain exercises to those inclined to try them. No one needs to see a thing except you. My initiation into authorship many years ago utilized pencil, notebook paper and crayons. I think I showed my little “book” to my mother, but I might not have done so. I likely coveted it in secret, amazed that I’d managed thirty-six pages and illustrations all by my seven-year-old lonesome. It’s all too long ago to recall for certain. I do know I’d been prompted to the task by my love of horses and of drawing and, naturally, words and all the worlds to be found within them.

This little foray into reminiscence brings me to the point. (Finally! you cry out inside your head—or maybe even out loud, if you’re getting exasperated.) We, as writers, garner our ideas from so many places. Sometimes the smallest incident can prompt a tale in our heads. Perhaps we’ve walked down the street and a door on a house has opened, only to be slammed shut again. A cat looks both ways before crossing a street. A bright red balloon, obviously lost without its child’s hand, bobs in a tree’s naked branches. Someone scribbles a note in a restaurant and drops it in disgust on the table occupied nearby. We’re always observing, we writers, always wondering, always inventing, always studying people, places and things. Researching, too, although sometimes by accident, seeking out and finding those kernels that sprout into a whole scenario, perhaps the entire motivation for the next work. This is why we often seem distant and confused (she says and wants you to believe). There’s just too much going on in our conscious brain to be handled. It can hardly be contained. Except for the dreaded writer’s block, of course, but we’re not going to talk about that today, either.

I am designating Tuesdays for the write-brained-scribbler category in my blogs. This Tuesday, if anything I’ve been blathering on about sparks your interest, break out a notebook, rescue a wrinkled envelope from the recycling bin, crack open your laptop, whatever medium you use, and make a list of…things. Things you’ve seen, thought about, wanted to know, want to pretend you know, with the goal being that one of these will be the idea behind a short story. And I’m talking an extremely short story for starters. The word count for short stories is considered to be anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 words. They can be as few as 1,000 words, and I’ve read some incredible shorts, the most recent written by the twelve-year-old daughter of a friend, which topped out at approximately 550 words. I was, quite honestly, stunned.

Regardless of length, all stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, or an introduction, a build to the climax, and a resolution. These are fairly simple descriptors, but you get the picture. So, if you’re into it, and I daresay you might be if you’ve read this far, get that idea list in hand. Create a story in your head and get it written down using a 500 word limit. That’s about two double-spaced pages in your word processing program. In the course of those two pages, your character will go through a change, whether in perspective, or attitude, or simply course chosen. Sound good?

Next Tuesday we’ll get into ways to “cut the fat” to reach that limit, in case you’re having trouble. It’s not always easy. I’ll write a short story, too, and post it in next week’s blog. I’m not saying it’ll be great or earth-shattering, because it won’t be, but hey, it’ll be fun.

Tuesdays won’t only be something of this nature, although I would like to take this eventually to the plotting and writing of a novel. We’ll have to see. I’ll still do general craft of writing posts, the occasional interview or review. In the meantime, if you have questions between now and next week, pop them in the comments. See you then!

New Year’s Revolutions

Yes, that’s not a typo, nor is it a call-to-arms. It’s merely a comment on how many times we make New Year’s resolutions with high expectations, abandon them, feel we’ve failed somehow if we don’t meet them, resolve to make new ones when the next year comes around, and round and round and round between plans and, well, plans gone awry. I, for one, have not made any New Year’s resolutions for many a new year. I recognized the circling inevitability for me many moons ago. I’m not saying resolutions aren’t a good thing, because they are, and the beginning of a new year provides a wonderful starting point—what could be so bad about that? Nothing, really. Not for many anyway, because I do know there are people out there who successfully make and keep their New Year’s resolutions, but not me. So, why I am writing this particular blog? Because I’ve made a resolution which, by coincidence, happens to fall on the holiday that brings so many of us to determined expectations and long, slow tumbles away from them. 

Maybe it’s my age; maybe it’s the appalling circumstances I, we, the population of the entire world, has had to face these past two years (and it hasn’t stopped yet, folks); and maybe it’s because somewhere inside I’ve reverted to my young self, to a time where I believed in New Year’s resolutions and their power to change us.

Or, at the very least, to change me.

Not change, as in make me a different person. I’m quite happy with who I am. I’m talking about subtle changes, the ones that make us progress, move to something that better suits us, start a project, a hobby, a diet, a new direction. A new, ahem, blog—or the focus of said blog, at any rate.

I’ve been a writer my whole life. I started writing in earnest when I was seven years old and I’m not stopping now. Since my accident nearly three years ago (a tale that shall not be told here), I’ve had many issues with writing, issues which are slowly resolving. In fact, as an aside, I lost my ability to play the piano, but even that is coming back—I sat down and played a number of Christmas carols recently, with only a little struggle. So my happens-to-fall-at-the-New-Year resolution is to celebrate this integral part of me—the author. Right now, I have a royalty check staring at me from the refrigerator door (to be deposited once I get off my lazy behind) reminding me this is what I am: a writer; a published author; a wordsmith.

Therefore, starting with the New Year, I will be revamping my blog to focus on writing. These blogs will cover the writing craft, the stories behind it, the successes and failures, the successes of others, some reviews and more interviews, with regular rather than sporadic content (that is the BIG change for me). I’ll still continue with my Life as it Comes forays and will also increase the posts regarding handcrafted endeavors (one of my other joys, beyond and at a tangent from writing). There will always be my Christmas blogging, naturally. I can’t abandon Christmas. After all, it hasn’t abandoned me.

Here’s hoping this isn’t a revolving commitment but one that sticks. I guess we’ll find out. Check back and see.

Happy New Year everyone. May you be blessed with health, contentment, peace and joy.

Judging A Book By Its Cover

This worn-out cliché has come to be known by all as a reference to being quick to judge people, places and things by outward appearance, without giving them a real chance. As readers we take this adage to heart, sometimes without meaning to—it can’t be helped. We are drawn to what attracts us through our senses. And since we cannot smell a book (at least not at a distance—love the smell of new pages pressed to my nose, though), or hear it, the first aspect to catch our attention is, of course, the visual. We’ll check the title next, or perhaps the author, read the blurb describing the hopefully wondrous contents between the front and back of the well-crafted covers.

Or at the very least, that’s the idea, the grand plan.

As authors, we are perhaps even more aware of the treacherous vagaries bound into our book covers. A bad or mediocre image, or merely one that does not reflect the novel’s content, can dampen sales. Traditional publishers employ professional, often freelance, artists, but even they have been known to occasionally fall short of the mark.

A cover is the crucial first impression. We can all hope what we’ve written will draw the public’s interest, but if we can’t get them past that first look, where are we? If you have ever walked up to a rundown restaurant, have you turned away or paused to read a menu plastered to a smeared window that sounds amazingly interesting after all? More than likely, you’ve walked away. Something more is needed to entice a body inside. What is needed is a welcoming door.’

A couple winters ago, I took a turn through my local Barnes & Noble with nothing particular in mind. I wanted to be inside a brick and mortar bookstore. However, while I traipsed around aimlessly, absorbing the bookiness (I know that’s not a word) of the place, a cover caught my eye on a hardback for sale in the “new adult” section. I walked over, pulled it down, studied the lovely image, read the reviews on the back, about the book and the author on the inside flaps. The author was unknown to me. Nevertheless, I shelled out $18.99 plus tax and went home the proud owner of Wintersong. The cover’s promise was fulfilled by the book’s contents. This book was as poetically expressive as the title suggested, evocative, involving, and imaginative.

Conversely, one could make a shambles of one’s writing debut if you’ve enticed readers with a wonderful cover and the interior is as rotten as an old apple.

So, I guess what I’m blathering on about, most particularly to those engaged in the limitless opportunities offered by self-publishing, is this—don’t permit the cover or your words to let you or your readers down. A cover’s purpose is to:

  • Engage the reader visually and immediately
  • Depict the genre in a recognizable fashion
  • Make a promise to the reader regarding the book’s contents (and follow through)

So, peruse your local bookstore or an on-line marketplace for books in the same category in which you are writing. Check out science-fiction, fantasy, cozy mystery, hard-core mystery, crime novels, romance, middle grade, young adult, historical fiction, non-fiction—whatever matches your subject matter.

Romance and young adult/children’s books will likely have the most varied covers, due to the range of sub-genres. Even so, all books in a category will have something in common to give a reader a “feel” regarding what they can expect from the novel’s contents.

You may note certain fonts, images, layouts being used. Some may consistently utilize photographic images, others illustrations. For example, photos are mostly used for thrillers and mysteries, although cozy mysteries will most likely be depicted by an illustration. Young adult novels can have photographic covers, but middle grade/children’s books nearly always bear an illustrated cover. Science fiction has a certain popular font; as does fantasy. Both these may utilize photographic covers, but fantasy usually lends itself to illustrative. Check them out and get a feel for the genre.

While you do want your cover to stand out and, of course, always be original, it is important to display the elements of your genre—the promise to your readers as to what they will find inside.

For those who are both artistic and computer savvy, you may be able to craft your own covers using programs such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel (formerly Paint Shop Pro). I use the latter when creating cover art for my self-published works. Images are available on a variety of sites for a fee or free, and can be downloaded for manipulation on your computer. Always check the terms of use, and make sure you are not infringing on copyright. Also, when creating a book cover, follow instructions regarding size, bleeds, etc. The cover specs needed to display your image on, say Amazon, for your digital release, is a totally different animal from what is needed for a print book, or even for touting on your favorite social networking site.

If you don’t have the expertise to prepare you own cover, then you can, and should, pay for a cover artist to create a cover for you.  It can’t be repeated enough that when it comes to book covers, first impressions count. You’ve worked so hard writing your book, gnashing your teeth through all the edits, making your story the best it can be—don’t shortchange yourself on the artwork. 

If you are introducing a series, it’s always important to make the covers similar in nature so that they are immediately recognizable as being a serial, by layout, font, or some other defining commonality.

Below are three mockup covers I did for what I called in my head the Sassy Redheads Series. Fairytales re-imagined, the reader would receive the impression of a strong, sexy heroine. These books still dwell only in my head… You can find more HERE.

Also for your information, these are two cover designers with which I am familiar.

https://www.syneca-originalsyn.com/

http://www.covertocoverdesigns.com/

Remember, book covers are your first intro to the reading world. Make them count!

This blog is also available as a podcast at anchor.fm/robin-maderich/

Inspired by Dickens

When I wrote my blog titled Ah, that Dickens some time ago, I planned to expound upon it. Time has passed, and I have finally gotten around to it in this blog post about self-publishing and episodic releases. I hope you find it informative.

Inspired by Dickens in so many ways…

Charles Dickens has always been one of my favorite authors and certainly a man ahead of his time. In Victorian England, Dickens funded a periodical in which literature of the day appeared in serial installments, including Dickens’ debut serial release of A Tale of Two Cities. Self-publishing at its earliest and finest!

He even opted to self-publish A Christmas Carol, not as a serial release, but in its entirety. He hired an illustrator and had this beloved book printed to very high standards, although it was later published by the publisher. The realization that a man as talented as Dickens decided to break from his publisher and circulate his own works gives authors hope in a changing publishing world. I’m not comparing every author to Dickens by any means, but in the entrepreneurial sense I would like to think we are all in good company.

I consider myself a hybrid author. I have heretofore and continue to be traditionally published. The rights to one of my historical novels were purchased by foreign markets and translated into five languages, which never ceases to make me pinch myself. But I also self-publish, which earns me the “hybrid” designation.

In the present publishing environment, the fact one has the freedom to release one’s own works greatly expands a writer’s opportunity for creativity. Authors are able to pen (or should I say keyboard) stories that might not interest editors at the moment due to the company’s money constraints, editorial wish lists, or a variety of other factors. As an author, you are still able to offers those stories to your readers, as well as to a whole new batch of new readers looking to be entertained or instructed. Self-publishing can be the best of both worlds, although it is, quite honestly, a heck of a lot of work, a true labor of love with profits—and losses—your own to claim.

I have writer friends who have opted for the self-publishing route, or who have come to it after the rights to traditionally published books have reverted to them. As for the latter, releasing books digitally for which you now own exclusive rights can be a godsend. Books in physical bookstores have a very short shelf-life and will only appear on the shelves for approximately six months before they are cleared for the next batch to be displayed. This does not, of course, relate to best-selling works, but there are far less of those than there are books that don’t, for whatever reason, hit it big.

As far as the episodic version of writing—the serial—it seems to be making a comeback. People today tend to like everything in quick bites, sneaking their entertainment into moments during their commute, waiting at a doctor’s office, enjoying a bit of fresh air on a park bench. Years ago, my own work, Emerald Twilight, was released in just such a serial fashion, but the small and wonderful publisher did not outlast the downturn in the market and the complete novel was later released by a small press. As the rights to the book are now mine, I have been eyeballing a company who publishes five-hundred-words-at-a-time “bites” to the reading market. It might be a perfect new home for this story of hope and survival, redemption and, well, yes, love in a distant world inhabited by a variety of characters and frightening creatures.

We watch episodic television, so why not read in the same manner? How many of us watch our favorite shows through streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu? And for the bingers among us, a writer could easily make the book available again as a whole in a digital release. The possibilities are definitely worth investigation.

There is, however, a drawback manifested in the ease of self-publishing. Not all self-published books have gone through the rigors that traditionally published works have. And it’s very important that self-published books are treated with the same professionalism as traditionally pubbed books. Self-publishing is a business venture, not just a fast track to seeing one’s book in print. Too many of the latter exist, sometimes giving self-published books a bad rap.

So, if you’re considering the Dickens’ way to releasing the work you’ve struggled long and hard to complete, remember the following:

  • Self-publishing should always be approached as a business, and therefore expenses will be incurred.
  • Unless you are adept at standing back from your own work to check for errors (both typographical and grammatical), continuity, unnecessary prose, etc., seek out a professional editor for both copy and content. This is a service you will have to pay for, but it is worth the expense.
  • Locate some beta readers. Not family or friends, because their excitement at your accomplishment may encourage them to overlook even obvious flaws in the story.
  • The cover of your book is the first thing a person sees when searching for something to read. Make certain it is up to snuff. So many covers scream self-published, or are just so poorly rendered that they turn a reader off. A properly (preferably professionally) crafted cover can entice a reader to buy your book even if the content is not necessarily their usual fare.
  • When you’ve secured the best end product, generate some buzz before its release. This is true no matter how you are published and is something I have struggled with. Social media is not my thing, but it is an important marketing tool (and a free one). Even traditional publishers, whether small pub or the big NY, encourage this aspect of marketing. It will bite you where you sit if you don’t generate readership through social interaction, which means interaction not a lot of tooting your own horn (although you’ll have to do a bit of that, too). There are many books available to guide your through the social media jungle (many of which are self-published!).
  • A downfall of print-on-demand (if you go this route) is the struggle to get your books into brick-and-mortar bookstores. Even if a writer finds themselves published by a house who releases books as digital with print-on-demand physical copies, your books will not make it in that form into a bookstore. It’s a matter of profit for the bookstores, and they can’t be blamed for that. However, if you self-publish digitally and also provide print-on-demand, the cost to you for POD is often low enough that you may be able to convince your local bookstore to allow you to stage a book signing in their establishment. They will still make their profit on the sales of your book at retail cost, and you should realize a lesser profit, but a profit nonetheless. So, remember that as well. Price your books realistically and according to market practices.

Well, that’s my two-cents…for now. I’ll be back with more tips and discussion. In the meantime, happy writing everyone!

Follow the Firefly and Run, Rabbit, Run! by Bernard Carvalho (Book Island Books)

Found this fabulous blogger, Picture Books Blogger, reviewing (what else?) picture books. As I am a fan of deeply illustrated books without words, I checked out the reviews under “Wordless Wonders” and discovered this book, among others. I hope to be buying it shortly–for me (my kids are all grown, you see, but I’m a sucker for well-crafted children’s books)!

picture books blogger

10923300_10152961120625446_966095189953267695_nHere is a book which you can read from front to back AND from back to front, we kid you not!

We love it when we find something we’ve never seen before, or that is quite different from the norm and this ticks all of our boxes and the some.

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Originally published in 2013 by Portuguese author/illustrator Bernardo Carvalho, this original concept is executed beautifully and contains two very different stories of which you, are the author.

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Follow the Firefly‘ and ‘Run, Rabbit, Run‘ are wordless stories which play out within the confines of the same tome, but each possessing their own unique story lines and fabulous twists.

Upon your first reading of the book, you are not necessarily aware of the second story making an appearance on the same spreads, until you reach what would normally be the end of the book and you are presented with the next story on…

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Why Go It Alone?

Note: This blog was updated on March 5, 2021

Humans are social by nature…or at least that’s what I’ve always heard. Me, maybe not so much. I am, after all, a writer, and writers spend much of their time working in their own private spaces, in their own heads, plugging along at a solitary pursuit.

There is no meeting co-workers at the coffee machine or water cooler. No after-hours get-together–probably because their hours of work can vary so drastically depending on life commitments, when the muse comes to call, or that pesky day job which, more often than not, pays the bills.

This kind of existence can often lead to anxiety, writer’s block and plain old loneliness. Meeting with a group of people who understand and who share the same love of the written word can be inspiring and uplifting and often leads to elevation of the craft itself.

I found what I needed with a particular group of ladies (sisters of the soul, perhaps?) who are known as the Poc-o-no Lehigh Writers Group. We are, in essence, a family, bound by similar goals, the ability to share thoughts and advice and knowledge, and a friendship that is both earthbound and transcendent.

Before the pandemic we met monthly at the library. We would show up with snacks to share (some of which were particularly decadent) and, after spending fifteen minutes or so catching up with our personal lives, would get down to work. Not nose-to-the-grindstone work, but the work of give and take, of listening to a request for plotting help and providing feedback, of paying attention to a presentation regarding such things as marketing, the best way to prepare a blurb or a query letter, with questions during and afterward. We shared news regarding our writing efforts and commiseration when they might not have come to fruition. Sometimes we would read aloud the first chapter of a work-in-progress (which could be hilarious) or show off a newly minted book just received from our publishers or the printer. Occasionally, we would have guest speakers, from writers whose names are well known to the general public to an extremely entertaining presentation on cyber security.

Since the pandemic, we have not met in person. We all sorely miss the camaraderie and input. However, we still play catch up on Facebook and there are posts to be enjoyed on Instagram. The day we can return to our library gathering will be a great one for all and I will certainly revel in the company of my talented group members.

So here are my ten reasons why I believe writers should flock together, even if it’s only once a month:

1. Social interaction

2. Idea exchange

3. Goal setting

4. Plotting assistance

5. Subtle or mind-blowing inspiration

6. Fresh eyes

7. Learning

8. Expanding your craft

9. News shared with someone who understands how very hard it was for you to reach that point

10. And, ultimately, lasting friendships

If you are a solo writer out there (as most of us are, except those who have partnered up with someone for a joint venture), seriously consider checking into a local group and joining. Some groups are immense in numbers, while others, like ours, are almost cozy in nature.

If one group is not your cup of tea, feel free to move on to another until you find one that assists you toward your writing goals. Along the way you’re bound to discover the best reward of all: new friends.

Zipping It Closed

My friend and fellow writer posted this blog (ten days ago–shows how behind I am, in everything!) Kelly has written a great post (as always), personal and informative and entertaining. Hope you enjoy it, as well.

Kelly Jensen

I love writing—which is lucky for me as I’ve written (and co-written) eleven novels, eight novellas, and too many short stories to count over the past five years. I’ve also had to revise and then edit all of those books, and that’s the part I don’t love.

Over time, I’ve incorporated revision into my process. Rather than try to get it right first time, I’m now much more likely to write a book to the end and fix it later. I revise and self-edit every manuscript several times before submitting it—and that’s when the real fun starts. (Not.)

Developmental edit letters always seem to land in my inbox with an echoing thump heard across three counties, and I can never read one without feeling ill. It’s a totally physical sensation, too. My blood pounds at my temples, my skin burns, and my stomach clenches. Checking my inbox while I wait…

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Words – Interview with Ron Probst of IHR Studios

INTERVIEW WITH RON PROBST – IHR STUDIOS (October 31, 2015)

Robin: Happy Halloween! Today I am interviewing Ron Probst (who, by the way, Ron Probstis my brother, which makes this an extra-special interview). Ron, hi! I’m excited to be speaking with you about something you love so much.

Ron: Hi.

Robin: Ron is the owner/engineer/do-it-all guy for IHR Studios, his own recording studio. Tell me a little bit about how you started.

Ron: I am a self taught sound engineer. I interned for two years with a studio and a live sound company locally. In time, I started buying equipment for my own home studio. Up until the middle 1980’s the only way to learn audio engineering was on the job as an apprentice. Nowadays there are many four-year BS/BA Degrees in Audio Engineering.  Although many audio engineers do usually have a four-year undergraduate degree, I personally do not have one.

StudioRobin: Not having a degree hasn’t stopped you though. In many fields, especially artistic ones, it is not a degree that necessarily qualifies you, but an innate ability and a strong willingness to learn, hands-on.

Ron: That’s true. For example, in order to be an audio engineer, it is important to possess excellent hearing as well as first-rate ear training. A sound knowledge of music history is a must, and not necessarily something you would learn in school. Understanding style, structure, the changes over the years in both the manner of recording as well as the techniques is imperative. You must have the ability to work long hours and pay absolute attention to even the smallest details. It helps greatly to be a musician of sorts, preferably a musician that knows musical structure and notes. Not theory necessarily, but a grounded understanding of the basics.

Robin: You also need to be personable and a good communicator. As your sister, I may be biased, but I have noticed you possess both qualities. I think that is why musicians enjoy working with you so much. You relate to them and are able to get to the core of what they’re looking for out of your services and what is needed in order to produce the best sound based on the artist’s particular strengths.

Ron: Well, thanks. I have recorded a variety of music, and because of the wide-ranging styles I have had to adapt my approach. I have done both field recording and studio recording. Field recording is more challenging because of the lack of control of acoustics. Some projects become challenging because of talent level and some because of setting. Over the years, I’ve also had to become skilled at the ability to plan detailed events.

Robin: What is the most challenging project you have been involved in?

Ron:  That is difficult to answer. Each project has its own particular challenges. Old St. PaulHowever, I guess the most challenging from a recording standpoint was that of an Americana Group who performed in a two-hundred year old church that didn’t have electricity. We had to run our own in order to make the recording. The performance consisted not only of vocals, guitars, dobro, violin, an upright bass, and a one-hundred-year-old organ, but had a live audience of one hundred and fifteen people.

Robin: Wow. Daunting, but rewarding, I expect?

Ron: Very rewarding and I am truly grateful to have learned to work well under pressure.

Robin: Is there a particular project of which you are most proud?

Ron: Oh, I don’t think I can pick just one. I would say the projects I am most proud of are: Tony Lucca—Rendezvous With The Angels; Rebecca Grayson—Trouble The Water; Sally Jaye and Brian Wright—Old St. Paul’s Church; Ernie Halter—90’s Acoustic Throwback (Mastering); The Halstead Clan—both EP’s; Rick Cline—Must Be This Tall To Ride; and probably the various recordings I have done with a dear friend, Mike Harrington. Certain of these projects had many other involved parties who helped bring them to fruition, and I plan to tell more about these in detail during a future interview.

albumcovers

Robin: Fabulous plan. For now, though, how best would you describe yourself professionally and what you do?

Ron: I am a freelance sound/mastering engineer who works with artists locally or abroad.

Robin: How do you go about doing that?

Ron: I work many times from files sent over the Internet. I also record musicians at my house and at area studios. Due to time-constraints, most recording activities these days take place on the weekends or planned vacations (large project or scheduling conflicts). I charge by the hour or by the song, but I have also done projects solely for the enrichment of the art or as charity.

Robin:  Walk me through a day of recording. I know it depends on the project, but give me a ‘for instance’.

Studio.5Ron: First, I would set up the computer for the type of project I am undertaking. I use Pro Tools HD recording software and have the ability to record 16 tracks simultaneously. Within the program are many different types of “plug-ins” that simulate expensive pieces of equipment. I use these to help create the sound of the recordings during mixing or mastering. I use analog pre amps because they sound much better than digital. The tones are warmer.

If recording a group, I will set up all the microphones and pre amps, running microphone cables, securing them and setting up mic stands with microphones for each particular instrument. In addition, I run lines and lay out headphones, tap test microphones and check that the signal is coming through the headphones. From there when the group arrives I would get all the instruments set up and sound checked. Get the headphone mixes blended for each musician’s taste (what they want to hear in their headphones-priorities). Then title the song – set up Studio.6tempo (click track) and blend that into headphones. Make sure everyone can hear the talkback (that’s me communicating with the artists in their headphones). And start recording! An average day of recording is ten to fourteen hours.

Robin: What about mastering?

studio.4Ron: If mastering, I only work inside the computer. Mastering is taking finished mixes and turning them up to commercial standards and contouring the sound of each song (matching for continuity in volume and texture). The average day for mastering is about eight hours.

Robin: If you had to do over, related to career or education, would you do anything different?

Ron: Everything I have done in life has brought me to here, and I am truly blessed. I suppose I might have pursued an education, for sure, even if it had been a Mass Communications Degree (at the time) or Audio Engineering (post 1983). I would have loved to work in film. I also love theater. Being part of a Broadway production team would be awesome!

Robin: Don’t count yourself out of that yet! It’s matter of putting yourself in the right place at the right time. What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career path in audio engineering?

Ron: Learn as much about the field you are entering as you can and understand the earning potential. Be willing to live with the financial reward of that particular job, as the music industry has changed greatly with the advent of digital technology. Intellectual property has taken a huge financial hit. The movie and gaming industries are following closely on its heels. The double-edged sword of the Digital Age and the internet has yet to be sorted out. My advice would be to pick a facet of audio engineering that has a guaranteed income stream along with a fulfilling job environment. You might want to record music for the art of it or take a chance on something as drastic as reinventing the electro acoustic transducer. J

Robin: Sound advice from a sound engineer.

Ron: I want to finish up by saying I am very thankful for all of those who haveRon Probst2 helped me along the way, most particularly:

James Little, who I interned with for “live” sound and studio recording. We have become the best of friends and I will always be grateful for his mentoring.

Rick Cline, for volunteering to be my very first project. His jazz recording “Must Be This Tall To Ride” is still one of my most treasured recordings.

Marc McManeus, who helped me greatly with the live Americana Church project featuring Sally Jaye and Brian Wright at Old St Paul’s Church in Conover, North Carolina. Without Marc that project would have never been possible.

And of course I would like to thank my adorable wife Linda. Without her devotion, love and support, none of this would have ever been possible.

Robin: And don’t forget her chocolate chip cookies! They’ve opened the door to many an opportunity. Thanks, Ron, for letting me interview you!

To find out more about IHR Studios and Ron’s work, visit below:

https://www.reverbnation.com/ihrstudios

Words – Interview with Author Kathy Kulig

Best Selling Author, Kathy Kulig
Best Selling Author, Kathy Kulig

Robin: Today I am interviewing best-selling author Kathy Kulig. Hi, Kathy, and welcome! I’m so glad to have you here.

Kathy: Hi Robin. Thanks so much for having me!

Robin: You write and are multi-published in erotic paranormal and contemporary romance. For those readers who don’t know, what makes a romance erotic as opposed to spicy?

Kathy: The level of heat in romance book varies and there is a gray area between erotic and spicy. Different authors and publishers may have different definitions. For me, erotic means no closed doors, no euphemisms, and the explicit emotional and physical interaction between the characters is all on the page. Erotic usually has more kink, more straightforward verbiage and more sex scenes. The premise in these stories tends to bring about a sexual relationship quickly between the characters. Most readers who read erotic books expect sex early and frequently. But the important thing is that erotic stories are not just a string of sex scenes with well detailed body parts and stage directions, they are well developed stories and fully developed characters. Sex should never be thrown in without it causing something to change in the story.

Robin: Very well stated, Kathy. I think people who are unfamiliar with the genre don’t realize this. Your stories run the gamut from futuristic steam punk to stories about demons and vampires to members of the CIA. Recently, however, you mentioned that your favorite storyline involved shape shifters. Do you want to talk a little about why?

Kathy: I guess you can say I’m a gypsy writer. I do write in a lot of different genres because I enjoy reading in them too. But I do love shifters and have written a number of them. A couple are out of print right now, but I plan to re-release them with a new series and new books. My other shapeshifter series is my Demons in Exile series. The shifters are based on a Norwegian myth where a person can don any animal skin and change into that animal for a time. There are four books (one short story prequel) in this series.

Robin: You’ve written a series involving political intrigue and a group of operatives who work within the political sphere to protect individuals and the country. How do you research that topic?Kulig.RedTape

Kathy: Red Tape, book 1 in my FLC Case Files series took a lot of time to research. It takes place partly in the White House and I had to get an idea on the layout and then embellish it with a dungeon, secret passages and rooms. I also researched military weapons, foreign governments, CIA, Secret Service and many other things. I managed to contact someone who is retired from the Navy and now works as a merchant marine.

Robin: A lot of work! How does the erotic nature of the tale fit into this type of story?

Kathy: Ha! That’s the fun part. In the story, the First Lady’s Club is a secret organization run by the First Lady that uses blackmail, coercion and undercover sex scandals to manipulate foreign and domestic policies and take down some really bad guys.

Robin: You’re quite accomplished as an author, with a number of novels and novellas under your belt. When can we expect your next book?

Kulig.HisLostMateKathy: Thank you, you’re a doll for saying so. I still have much to learn. I just released His Lost Mate—a paranormal romance—a couple of weeks ago and I plan to release Red Tape Protector, book 2 in my FLC Case File series. It will be out around mid-August.

Robin: You have been published by Ellora’s Cave and also self-published, including anthologies with other authors of erotica. How did these collaborations come about?

Kathy: I was really fortunate to get in on the Spice Box collection last year. That was my first step into self-publishing. Talking with other authors online and at conferences, letting them know I was interested in taking part in a box set helped that opportunity come about. AC James was organizing it and she asked me. An opening came up last minute and I had a book ready so I jumped on the invite. There were sixteen authors in this collection and many were heavy hitters in the romance genre. Their huge mailing lists and fan bases and everyone’s hard work during the release pushed the sales where we hit the New York Times and USA Today lists. I’m in a couple author groups now and we’re working on new collaborative projects into next year. I really like working on these projects. Collaborative groups are like mastermind groups. Authors pool their knowledge, experience and enthusiasm. I’ve learned so much from these groups.

Robin: It seems that erotica is the underlying theme in all your stories, binding them together (excuse the pun) despite the varied settings and characters. Does having such a common theme make it easier for you to find inspiration for your tales, or more difficult to fit the theme into the setting?

Kathy: Some of my stories are hotter than others. My BDSM stories are probably the hottest and they’re pretty tame compared to some BDSM books I’ve read. All my books are very sexy, but they also have a detailed plot. Most have an adventure-type storyline and characters going through a major turning point in their lives. Those are the type of sexy stories I like to read and write. If I were to find a common theme in my books I’d say: The world may be coming to an end, but love will always find a way.

Robin: I love that! Great theme. You have been the interviewee in a number of interviews, eliciting reactions that are occasionally less than positive, almost personal in nature. How have you learned to handle such negativity?

Kathy: With a good sense of humor. Most erotic romance authors get the questions: Are your books autobiographical or have you done all the kinky sex in your books? Usually I answer with: Stephen King writes about serial killers. Would you ask him if he’s killed people to research his books?

Robin: You were also co-author on a non-fiction work, Write to Success, which is described as (taken from your website): Eight New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors share how to build a successful writing career. Write to Success covers all those frequently asked questions every new indie author wonders about self-publishing and has strategies for the advanced self-publisher. How did this come about? Can you tell me a little bit more about the book?Kulig.WritetoSuccess

Kathy: After the Spice Box set hit high on the NYT and USA Today lists, authors and new writers were asking us how we did it. So a number of the authors decided to get together and pool our expertise. This book gives a ton of information with lots of links to references. That reference/resource links page is worth the price of the book alone. We talk about the steps we took to make Spice Box a success. What we did right and not so right. The legal issues authors need to be aware of, as well as how to distribute royalties, cover, formatting, editing, coordinating, promotion, etc. There are also sections that are helpful to newer writers and those not pursuing self-publishing. I think it’s a very valuable reference book.

Robin: And, as I ask everyone, what are your plans for the future?

Kathy: I have a number of projects I’m working on now. I want to finish the FLC Case Files series and finish a four-book shapeshifter series. (Two of the four books are completed.) And I’m working on three box sets that will come out in the next year. Mainly keep writing and learning. I have met the most amazing people through my writing career—writers and readers—and many are my closest friends now.

Robin: Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you. It’s been informative and I look forward to speaking with you again!