January 12th, 2010

PUDDLE AWARDS: Last month’s top three finalists answer tough questions – part one

Those hard-working gnomes at Puddle (HQ), recently tracked down the top three finalists in last month’s Meager Puddle of Limelight Award for Best Opening Line. Authors Chris Redding, Jaine Fenn (aka [info]maeve_the_red) and the eventual winner, E.F.Watkins, answered some pretty searching questions about their work, writing in general and of course, opening lines.   
Which came first, the opening line or the story idea?
E.F.Watkins: Absolutely, the story idea. ONE BLOOD will be an 80,000-word novel, so there’s a lot more to it than the opening incident! But the concept of the scene—something that appears to be a grisly murder but is not quite what it seems—did come to me early on as a good way to kick off the book.

Jaine Fenn: The story was one of those rare ones came to me almost fully formed, and once I’d moved on from the random-scribbling-of-notes stage and sat down to write, the first line just arrived in my head and came out of my fingers, which was great. Things got rather harder after that … 

Chris Redding:
The story idea. That always comes first, but I cannot begin the story until I have the opening line. This was the second one for this story and I love it because it describes me. 
If the story idea came first, how many times did the opening line change before you settled on the one you use now?
Jaine Fenn:The opening line is one bit of the story I’m happy with; since finishing it a few weeks ago I’ve realized that this story will need a lot of work before I send it out, not least to reduce its length.

Chris Redding: Answered that above. Sorry.  Two opening lines that's it. 

E.F.Watkins: I wrote the first chapter and then fiddled with the line a bit. I knew what I wanted to suggest, but it took some work to make it also sound good. You hear so much about the importance of opening lines that I wanted it to be a grabber.

Tell us a little about the story/novel ie: Is it finished/published?
Chris Redding: It's a novel, ALONG COMES PAULY, finished and was contracted by a publisher that went out of business. I plan on expanding it a bit in 2010 and shopping it around. It's a romantic comedy. 

Jaine Fenn:
THE SHIPS OF ALEPH is a novella based on an idea I had while world-building for my fourth novel, BRINGER OF LIGHT. The events in it bear no direct relation to the novel, but I hope this story might one day see print in its own right, though given its length (the first draft stands at approx. 13,500 words) it’s likely to be a tough sell.

E.F.Watkins: I wrote the first chapter and then fiddled with the line a bit. I knew what I wanted to suggest, but it took some work to make it also sound good. You hear so much about the importance of opening lines that I wanted it to be a grabber.

I’ve just finished the first draft, and my biggest challenge now is to get an equally strong ending! ONE BLOOD will be a prequel to DANCE WITH THE DRAGON, which was my first published book. OB is a paranormal thriller/dark romance with a vampire or two, but any resemblance to TWILIGHT, etc., is purely coincidental. It’s a romance in the sense that it brings together the hero and heroine of DWTD. But it’s dark because they don’t plan to end up together, and for most of the book she’s seriously not into the idea. First, it could be very hazardous to her health, and second, everything she knows about this guy is awful! So for most of the book, you’re pretty much expecting one of them to kill the other--you’re just not sure which one will “get it in the neck,” so to speak. 

As a reader, does a good opening line make a difference to you?
E.F.Watkins: At least a “good” one, yes. A very slow opening, or a first line that’s badly written, can put me off a book. But I certainly read beyond that to see if it picks up, or if I misunderstood something. A really great first line does give me confidence that the writer knows what he/she is doing and the rest will be a good read. 

Jaine Fenn: Yes, but only if the rest of the story delivers on the promise of that opening line. If a writer sets something up I want them to pay it off, otherwise I feel cheated. 

 Chris Redding: Yes and no. I won't put a book down because of a so-so opening line, but I've been known to just read that and decide if I'll buy the book. 

What are your long term goals as a writer? 
Jaine Fenn:Most of what I currently write is set in a single future timeline. At the moment I’m enjoying working on the Hidden Empire series of novels, which are set 7,000 years into that timeline. I’m lucky enough to have a book deal with a major UK publisher (Gollancz) who are putting out the first five books. Obviously I would like the series to be picked up by a US publisher, but I realise things are pretty tight across the pond right now. At some point I’ll move on from the Hidden Empire stuff, but there’s still a fair few books to go.
As I cut my teeth on short stories I hope to be able to continue to write – and ideally sell – shorts too.
And it goes without saying that whatever the future holds, when it comes to the craft of writing, I hope I’ll keep learning and continuing to improve. 

Chris Redding: NY Times Bestseller list?
I'd like to make enough to not have to work my part time job. And if my boss is reading this, I still love my job and am not going anywhere.  

E.F.Watkins: To be able to make at least part of my living from my fiction, and ideally my whole living! For most of my life, I’ve written my novels while working full-time, and I dream about the luxury of being able to do it full-time. Doesn’t everyone? In the short term, I have never written a series before this, but if ONE BLOOD gets published it will be part of a series (the “first” in terms of the events). I can envision a third and last book in that line, though the idea is still fuzzy. I’m also working on a mystery series that involves a reluctant-psychic sleuth; it’s lighter, first-person and with more humor.  
You can find the second half of this interview here. 

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PUDDLE AWARDS: Last month’s top three finalists answer tough questions – part two

Thanks to my ongoing battle with lj-cut, I had to split the interview with last month's top three Puddle finalists with authors  Chris Redding, Jaine Fenn (aka [info]maeve_the_red)
and the eventual winner, E.F.Watkins,into two parts.

If you missed part one you can read it here

Here's the second half:

Tell us about your very first sale.
E.F.Watkins: My very first fiction sale probably was a short story decades ago, and I can’t really remember which it was. (I’ve only published a handful of short stories.) My first novel sale was DD, and I’ll never forget that. I loved writing that book and I shopped it around traditional markets at a time in the ‘90s when everyone said horror was dead and vampires were “over.” (Smart, eh?) Someone with the fledgling publisher Amber Quill Press told me their readers loved vampire books, so I sent them DD and they accepted it. That was a big moment for me, because I’d been trying to get a novel published for so long, and I was particularly proud of that one. After it came out, a couple of readers and even one reviewer said they’d like to know how the two main characters got together, and of course I knew the whole back story, so that’s what moved me to write the prequel.

Jaine Fenn: It was an Aztec alt. history steampunk short story called ‘The Path to the Sun’ which I sold to On Spec in 2001 (and subsequently resold twice). Though it isn’t set in ‘my’ universe it’s a story I still have a soft spot for. 

Chris Redding:
The Drinking Game. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I rec'd the e-mail on my birthday. I screamed. My dh, who was putting the kids to bed, raced to find me. I told him he had to read the e-mail. I wanted to make sure I hadn't read it wrong. Then he almost screamed. We hugged.

Do you belong to a writing/critique group? Why/Why not?
Jaine Fenn: I belong to two: one concentrates on novels, and one on short stories. Personally I think that honest and comprehensive feedback from other writers is essential for improvement, and I have pontificated to this effect on my website recently. 

Chris Redding: I belong to LIberty States Fiction Writers. It is a multi-genre group in NJ. The resouces they have are amazing. All the meetings are podcast so if you miss one, you don't really miss one.
I also have a fabulous critique group. We're friends,but we can say anything to each other. They've kept me from quitting twice. 

E.F.Watkins: I love my critique group! I’ve been going to it for about 10 years, and even though the whole makeup of the group has changed over time, it remains a positive and very helpful experience. It meets weekly but I tend to go biweekly. It’s difficult for any author to be totally objective, and the group functions as a great sounding board. We have both men and women, with a variety of life experiences, and while some catch flaws in logic and continuity, others give great feedback on the emotional content of a scene. In my early drafts, I tend to focus on continuity, believable action and feeding the reader information, rather than on strong emotional reactions. And, not to be sexist, but it’s usually the other women in the group who call me on that! 

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever had?
Chris Redding: Write how you write. I'm a pantser mostly. I have to write that first draft before I can even think about character arcs and all that stuff.

E.F.Watkins: I think the advice that improved my work the most was “Show, don’t tell.” Many beginning writers have a tendency to explain rather than dramatize their character’s personalities and feelings. I envision my characters as actors on a stage or in a movie, and even though there’s some inner monologue, I like to keep them doing something so the scene doesn’t become static. Also, I learned to keep the hero or heroine in the thick of the action as much as possible. I rewrote my latest book, DANU’S CHILDREN, scores of times, but it didn’t work because the hero stayed on the fringes of the exciting stuff. When I finally gave him a murder to solve, and made him do dangerous stuff risking life and limb, the book finally worked. 

Jaine Fenn: That old chestnut: ‘Murder your Darlings’. Some of my writer friends have accused me of taking this a bit too literally, as I’m not afraid to kill off characters, however in the sense in which it’s intended, this is invaluable advice. My early stuff was mawkish and massively overwritten, and I only started to improve once I learnt to cut those excessive internal monologues, overblown descriptions and unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. Initially I kept a file of some of the stuff I’d reluctantly discarded, as that way I could always put it back later – but I soon found I usually didn’t need to.

Where can readers find your work?
E.F.Watkins: Either my Web site or my publisher’s will send you to Amazon, which sells all five of my books. A couple are on Kindle, including the latest, DANU’S CHILDREN. Of course, I sell and autograph them myself at events, and right now DC is on sale at two independent bookstores in Scranton, Pa.—Possibilities and Anthology. They were interested because the book is set in that region.

Jaine Fenn: The first two Hidden Empire books, PRINCIPLES OF ANGELS and CONSORTS OF HEAVEN, are widely available in bookshops in the UK, and are on all the usual websites, though currently they’re only available as imports in the US.
I’ve rather neglected short stories in favour of novels for the last few years, but one of my ‘Angel’ stories is still up for free at ‘Labyrinth Inhabitant’ webzine (
http://www.labyrinthinhabitant.com/?p=141). I’ve also put some reprint stories up on AnthologyBuilder (http://anthologybuilder.com/welcome.php) a site I recommend to any writer who’s had short stories professionally published. 

Chris Redding: Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble websites and if you want a download you can get them from Fictionwise.

Aside from Live Journal,where else on the web can you be found?
Jaine: I’m on Twitter and Facebook, as JaineFenn, though I’m something of an inconstant poster. I’ve also got a website where I exercise my megalomania, over at www.jainefenn.com.

Chris Redding: All the wrong places. Oh, www.chrisreddingauthor.com. My blog is: http://chrisredddingauthor.blogspot.com (the extra d is for duh I don't check my spelling) I'm on Facebook, Myspace as Chrisredding author and on Twitter as chrisredding.

E.F.Watkins: My Web site is www.efwatkins.com. It has background on all the books, lists where I’ll be appearing next (though I’m still finalizing 2010), my articles on writing and a link to my blog. I’ve just started seriously blogging, so please check it [http://www.efwatkins.com/blog] out and feel free to add comments!

And thanks again to all who voted for me for the 2009 Meager Puddle of Limelight Award! My dream now is to win the Really Big Puddle of Limelight Award! (“Ocean of Limelight”?)


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