Author Archives: Kristin Luna

About Kristin Luna

Kristin Luna has been making up stories and getting in trouble for them since elementary school. She especially loves young adult literature, fantasy, Nic Cage, literary fiction, magical realism, and wouldn’t even be opposed to reading yeti erotica. She has written book reviews for Urban Fantasy Magazine, writes for this very blog your eyes are glued to at this very moment, and her short stories have appeared on Pseudopod and in anthologies about unicorns and dragons published by WordFire Press. She lives in San Diego with her husband Nic and eats way too much Taco Bell. Learn more about Kristin at her website www.kristinleighluna.com.

Finding Momentum When It’s Gone

I work on one big project at a time. The art of juggling two or three big projects at once is lost on me, as all the projects start to blend together in a weird, self-referencing word-soup. That means my writing process is a one-step-at-a-time deal. For a few weeks, I will do nothing but planning, plotting, and outlining. Then, for a few months, all I’m doing is writing. And then for up to year after that, I’m editing.

After I’ve been editing my work for so long, I’m often intimidated when I think of going back to writing. I’m worried I haven’t learned anything, or that I won’t apply what I’ve learned when I edited. I’m worried the flow and creativity has been stilted by too much editing work. I’m afraid I’ve lost my voice. I’m concerned I’m too focused on what will sell instead of what it is I’ve got to say.

It’s taken some time for me to learn how to get back into writing after time away. The “just sit down and write” advice doesn’t always cut it. You can plan your time down to the minute and regiment yourself to your schedule, and that works for a lot of people. Most people. But that doesn’t take care of the lack of confidence or the worries, and making myself sit in a chair and stare at a screen doesn’t help me find the heart of why I’m writing.

Over the years, I’ve learned the painful lesson that inspiration is incredibly important to my writing and my creative identity. It is true that, many times, you’ll have to write when the muse isn’t slinking around your shoulders and whispering in your ear. However, I think it’s easy to become distracted working that way – distracted from your core, from the reason you wanted to write in the first place. Viewing writing as a job, as work, is allowing it one step closer to becoming your job instead of your vocation, and divorcing it from passion altogether. In the day to day, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia. I’ve found it’s vital to be able to stop and ask myself what I’m looking to accomplish with the project in the first place. What am I trying to communicate?

Those answers don’t always come immediately. I often have to search for them. This is how:

  1. Journal
  2. Go to a natural history museum or cultural center
  3. Watch a documentary or two about subjects that I know very little about.
  4. Go for a hike/ go camping. Don’t allow myself my phone or any digital tethers
  5. Allow myself to daydream. Allow myself to forget my schedule and my to-do list
  6. Use my hands to make. Bake. Work on a motorcycle. Throw a pot on a wheel. Learn glassblowing. Draw. Make. Learn. Do. And let the mind wander

*Bring journal or a notebook when doing 2-6

These things have helped me focus back on my voice, consider my point of view, helped me remember what is important, and reminded me of our connection points as humans and therefore what we can all relate to on a primal and emotional level. I find allowing my mind to wander on these subjects through art, journaling, and being a student of life and nature itself helps focus my mind and prepare it for creativity and communication.

I mean, I get it. I sound like a neo-hippy. Check that language, man. Connection, point of view, creation, daydream, communication. All I’m missing are some essential oils to drip all over this blog post and some vegan gluten-free cookies for you, my awesome readers.

I acknowledge that most people can just put ass-in-seat and write, treating it like a job. Set a timer. Schedule writing time. Have strict daily, weekly, and monthly goals. These are all fantastic strategies to get you back on track with writing after a long break.

But if you happen to be somewhat like me, you need reflection. You need to ask yourself questions about not only your story, but why you’re writing it. And then you need time to think through the answers. Our culture has made it easy to become very busy very fast – to work through a to-do list everyday, go to bed, wake up, and repeat. But if you’re finding that you need less structure, more time – prioritize that. Prioritize time. Loosen your daily schedule. Allow four hours of writing time instead of two, knowing that some of those four hours may be you taking a walk, sitting outside, listening to music, thinking. Sometimes a few of those all at once. I think you’ll be surprised to find how much inspiration follows you on those walks and mind-walks, and soon, you’ll be back in your seat and writing, refreshed, collected, and ready.

Double Duty: Using Setting as Character, Theme, or Hook

Have you heard someone say “the setting was like a character?” I remember the first time a teacher introduced the concept and my young, logical mind thought it was pretty stupid. A character is a character, a setting is a setting. Black and white, one or the other. But I was also pretty stupid as a youngin’, and as I read more, the more I seemed to gravitate toward novels that had a strong, if not overwhelming, sense of setting. It made everything else in the story – the plot, the characters, the conflict – feel real, no matter what genre. I especially love books set in the Midwest United States where I grew up. The characters feel familiar. Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool comes to mind. Set in rural Manifest, Kansas, the book carries with it familiar history of rural Kansas which informs the culture. And yet there is no town in existence named Manifest. That leads me to the first way you could add some magic into your real or realistic setting.

This first point is more of a confession. I adore the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. Love it. I love Sookie and will defend every decision she makes in the series. Come at me, bros. Now that I’ve thrown my undying love out there, I can say one of the things I love the most in the series: Bon Temps (pronounced “Bauh Tauuuh” or some crazy phonetic spelling like that), the home town of Sookie Stackhouse. Bon Temps isn’t a real town in Louisiana, but it might as well be. The tone of the town, the people in it, the surrounding towns and communities, and the culture is dead-on small town Louisiana – everything from Sookie’s charm and manners to the people of the town knowing all the other characters’ business.

This isn’t an uncommon way for an author to give their setting culture and context, and for good reason. Setting can greatly change or enhance the flavor of your plot, much like salt can bring forth flavor in food.

Another way you can encapsulate the tone of a location is by describing it without naming the location specifically. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West takes place in a war-torn country where Islam is a predominant religion. These are all the clues we are given as the reader. When the two main characters travel through doors (portals) to other countries, the cities they pass into are named: real cities, real countries. Written this way, Mohsin Hamid draws empathy from the reader, encouraging them to picture the main characters’ city as their own, or could be their city under similar political circumstances. Mohsin Hamid uses setting as theme in this case, as the plot circles around immigration and migration. In Blindness, José Saramago also offers up an unnamed setting, and yet it feels similar to every big city you’ve ever been to, adding to the creepy factor: this could happen anywhere.

Sometimes, movies have the potential to introduce a unique setting that acts as a hook. Another Earth written and staring Brit Marling is a fantastic example of just that. The story is a tragic drama, a bleak indie film with the exception of the setting. While the story is set on Earth, early on in the story, an Earth 2 is discovered, and soon it’ll be orbiting near our own Earth. As it turns out, Earth 2 mirrors Earth not just topographically… It also mirrors its inhabitants – like an alternate universe. Everything plot-wise in the story is realistic – what we could unfortunately experience in every day life, like a car crash, a devastating death. The setting is Earth, and yet the viewer’s curiosity can’t help but be tickled with the presentation of an Earth 2, making the setting(s) a major player in the plot itself. This movie and its story wouldn’t at all have the same appeal without the setting. The setting is the hook.

As a thought experiment, how could you make the setting in your current project into a character? The theme? The hook? It won’t take long to realize you have a lot to play with for storytelling when it comes to the setting. Take advantage of your setting -make it work in more ways for your book than just one.

Important Resources For Researching Small Presses

I’m no authority on small publishers. Or big ones.

Oh, you aren’t either?

Awesome! Let’s learn together.

Let’s start from the beginning. What are the differences between big and small presses? What does it mean for you as a writer? You’ll have to do research on specific presses, but usually, a larger publisher will have a sizable staff with different departments that can see to the publication of your book from beginning to end, including marketing and advertising. Does this mean small presses don’t have these? Not necessarily. Many small presses have all of that as well, but some may not have as large of budgets to spend on marketing and advertising, for example. Some may not have the distribution that bigger publishers have. Each publisher is different, and you’ll need to research each you are interested in individually to see what they offer.

First, how can you determine if a publisher is a small or large press? An imprint? Check out this incredibly handy chart made just one year ago that shows the big publishers and their imprints: https://almossawi.com/big-five-publishers/.

Here’s an example of one section of the chart:

As you can see from just this branch, the chart is comprehensive, and is a good resource if you want to find an imprint of any of the top (and largest) publishers.

If you’ve established that the publisher you’re looking for isn’t an imprint, here’s a fantastic resource in Poets & Writers for almost every small press: https://www.pw.org/small_presses.

You’ll notice that each publisher has a brief description, their reading period dates, which genre(s) they publish, and any sub-genres. Most smaller publishers should be listed in this comprehensive database, and will include a link to their websites. Read every word of the publisher’s website. I mean it! Every. Single. Word. Take a day or seven to consider if the publisher would be a good fit for you and your work.

Compile a list of the small presses that you think would be the best fit.

Once you’ve considered a number of publishers, small and large and otherwise, what exactly should you be looking for? What questions should you be asking yourself, and what information should you be looking for?

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America website has an entire page dedicated to information about small presses, including warning signs one should know to look out for when considering a smaller press. While it’s a lot of information, it’s well worth the read and worth bookmarking for future reference: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/small/. At the end of the article, SFWA lists a number of additional resources.

Which is the best publisher?

That, my friend, is up to your own evaluation of your writing, your career goals, and the publisher that can best help you achieve your goals. It’s all a matter of research and evaluation. Happy researching and evaluating!

 

Using Voice to Set Yourself Apart

As my fellow Fictorians are showing you so far this month, there are many ways to set yourself apart as a writer. In my mind, the most memorable way to set yourself apart is voice, to the surprise of no one. In past posts, I’ve highlighted how you might create tension with narrative voice, and used well-known authors with distinct voices as examples. In this post, I’d like to dive into what voice is, the many ways one can use it, and highlight some examples that will hopefully give you plenty of ideas.

First, what is voice? Voice goes by many names. Style. Point of View. Vernacular. Narrative voice. Language. It is all of these things. For the sake of clarity, I defer to my friend Mignon, whom many of you may know as Grammar Girl. Julie Wildhaber writes on the Grammar Girl website:

Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work. Voice is what Simon Cowell is talking about when he tells “American Idol” contestants to make a song their own and not just do a note-for-note karaoke version. (read more here)

It’s the thing that makes a reader say, “Ah. I can tell Kristin wrote this, because there are many f-bombs, and she ends every chapter on a cliffhanger,” for example.

If Socrates fermented goods, this would be his beer label.

Letting your voice shine is all about one important rule: “Know thyself.” This is not only my own personal credo for just about everything, it’s an important practice that will inform you of your strengths.

Are you funny, or at least have great confidence that you are? Can you translate or work on translating that humor into written form?

Are you good at calculating out the worst case scenario? When friends tell you their darkest fears and worries, are you able to take it another shade darker? Do you have no problem screwing with your characters and making their lives miserable?

Is your writing structure unique? Are you aware of grammatical rules and structures, but can’t help but twist and/or ignore them?

Here are some examples of authors using those very strengths and turning them into voice.

Maria Semple is one funny lady. She wrote for the television show Arrested Development, which banked on candid, awkward family dynamics to amuse their viewers. When it comes to her writing, Maria translates the same odd, character-driven situational humor into fiction. Her second novel, Where’d You go, Bernadette? may be a shade more sophisticated than Arrested Development, but you can expect the same wit and brand of humor that her television writing is known for.

Robert Kirkman doesn’t mind making a character suffer. He doesn’t mind making all of his characters suffer. As Robert has his hand in more and more projects, the common thread between all of them is his signature move: make the character(s) suffer. While reading The Walking Dead, one panel completely floored me. It was too dark, in fact, to be translated to the television version (though I dreaded I’d see it when the time came). If you’d like to read the comic books, skip to the next paragraph. For those of you who’ve read a good chunk of the comic books, you may already guess which part I’m talking about. It’s the Red Wedding of The Walking Dead. Instead of just Laurie taking a bullet, the bullet travels through her baby girl in her arms as well. The worst case scenario, one darker than I would ever dare to think up, becomes a reality in the blink of an eye. When I read it, I thought for sure I felt my heart drop.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out an author I’ve mentioned many times in my Fictorians posts who is, in my mind, the king of grammatical voicing: James Frey. If you’re currently in the beginning stages of your career and trying to get published and you’ve read James’ work, he might make you a little crazy. And it’s not because he isn’t good – oh he’s good. It’s because you’ll wonder how he was able to get away with his style and still get published. An example, from the first page I opened up to just now from A Million Little Pieces:

I stare at him.
Trying can’t hurt, Kid.
There is truth in his eyes. Truth is all that matters.
And trying’s nothing to be scared of.
Truth.
Just try.

Where are the quotation marks? Dialogue tags? Adjectives? And yet, from this short section, we can tell this is a conversation, or at least one person talking to another person. We can make very good guesses as to who is whom (given more context). This is James’ style. While different at first, it grows on you very quickly, and your eyes ease from one word to the next until, before you know it, you’re flipping the last page of the book. His style was unlike anything I’d ever seen before (Hemingway would be jealous of his brevity), and I immediately adored the rock-solid voicing.

The bottomline is this: you don’t have to be the next Maria Semple, Robert Kirkman, or James Frey. You just gotta be you! It’s as easy and as difficult as that.

First: know thyself. Next: write.