Tag Archives: Billie Milholland

Non-Fiction Makes Money and Sense

Non-fiction can be both fun and profitable and November 2015’s posts showed us that and more.

Writing non-fiction, as Brent Nichols noted, can reunite us with our passion to write fiction. Brent also said other cool things like “And how would I communicate that thrill to my readers? By being specific.” For all his pearls of enthusiasm, check out Writing about Writing.

Others also revealed that non-fiction can teach us to be better fiction story tellers. But more about that later…

First, you need to know that yes, you can earn a living writing non-fiction.

Non-fiction to supplement fiction? It does happen and Colette Black shared her experience with finding a subject (which she was most enthusiastic about) and selling it. Collette sums it up best in her article, My Best Sale, when she says “… the numbers add up just fine.”

In Writing How-To’s for Fun and Profit, Guy Anthony de Marco showed us the fun in choosing non-fiction topics. As he said, everyone has something they like to do, and we all have some special knowledge to capitalize on. Guy has masterfully taken his hobbies and interests, even his grandmother’s old recipes, and has produced non-fiction books. Besides giving him a break from writing fiction, it has helped his bank account!

While Guy gave us great ideas on what kind of non-fiction books we could write, I provided some pointers on how to make sure you’ve got the perfect idea, about checking the market for what’s selling, and how to give the idea form. (See How to Write Non-Fiction Books for Profit) But the thing that Guy and I both stress, is that you’ve got to enjoy what you’re writing about. Again, that’s key in both fiction and non-fiction.

Ghost writing can be challenging, fun or frustrating. The challenge is that sometimes you’re dealing with sensitive subject matter, you need to portray the story to both the author’s and publisher’s satisfaction, and the deadlines may be tight. Yet, the results can be tremendous both for you and the person whose story is finally on the page. Evan Braun shared his ghost writing experiences with us in My Brief Career as a Ghost Writer.

In Writing for Magazines and Newspapers, Jace Killan shared a secret niche for non-fiction writing, and that’s newspapers, magazines and online articles. Oftentimes, these articles are used to supplement or give credibility to advertisements. Check it out.

Are you a mercenary or a freelance non-fiction writer? There is a difference. A mercenary writer is not a freelance writer. It involves writing for pay, no matter the subject. Do you want to be a mercenary writer or a freelancer? Check out Tereasa’s article, The Mercenary Writer, before you decide.

Get rid of fiction’s money woes! Apply for a grant.

Grants can be lucrative sources of funding and you’ll increase your chances of success if you apply the advice I provided in Grants – Money to Write. Grants are to be found on the local, regional, state/provincial and federal levels from governments, businesses or organizations. And, they can be used for research, for writing, for living, for retreats – the options are as varied as the sources. So, don’t be shy, seek them out because they’re there for both emerging and professional writers.

Of course you can write both fiction and non-fiction! You have the talent!

In Learning from Non-Fiction, Billie Milholland provided a valuable perspective on how fiction and non-fiction intermingle in her writing life and how they feed off each other. Writing non-fiction can be stimulating and rewarding and enhance a fiction career.

Still not convinced that you can write non-fiction?

Then reread Adria Laycraft’s article Fictional and Technical Writing – What’s the Difference? While fiction and non-fiction may seem to have very different goals, voice, and content, when it comes time to the actual writing, they’re really not that different. In either case, the writer must elicit the desired emotion from the reader, create a good structure of all the necessary key elements, research subjects thoroughly, and ensure proper word selection all to create the best possible content.

Rather than hiring a ghost writer to tell the family stories or to write the memoir, sometimes you just have to write the non-fiction stories. Follow Frank Morin’s advice –  interview the grandparents, write their stories and you’ll give them the best Christmas present ever! Remember also that those personal stories, or some element of them, can inspire a new fiction. Check out How to Distract Grandma from Pestering you for More Grandkids.

Non-fiction is a necessary tool to further your fiction writing career.

Those conniving cover letters! You’ve spent months, even years perfecting that novel and your success in the market place hinges on how you introduce your book and yourself in a cover letter! Fear not! In The Art of the Cover Letter, Kristin Luna demystifies the cover letter by giving us a simple yet effective way to write one.

Oh dear blurb, how shall I blurt thee out? Mary Pletsch knows how! In Blurbs: Baiting Your Hook, Mary explains that a blurb is not a summary. It’s role is to make you read more and Mary’s points make it easy. That’s it for this blurb, go check out the blog if you want to know more!

Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, there is a certain syntax, a voice, we all have that makes our writing genuine. Kim May’s blog Finding Your Voice Through Blogging, reveals her path to finding her voice. Her observation that we write a million words to find our voice makes a lot of sense. As I heard it said, if we try to emulate someone else, then we’ll only ever be second best. Be yourself and you’ll always be number one!

As writers we live and die by the book review. How to tell a good review from a bad one? How to give a good one? A reader and receiver of book reviews, author Jeff Campbell shared what works and doesn’t when it comes to writing book reviews. Sometimes we have to give it and sometimes we have to take it – Batman style. For more on Batman read Batman, Boldness and Book Reviews.

Then, there’s the dreaded interview.

You’ll be interviewed, either in person or by phone or by email. You may even have to conduct one. Understanding the craft of the interview is an important but often over looked form of non-fiction so read An Interview on Interviewing where I interviewed Celeste A. Peters.

Interviewing someone who has conducted countless interviews was daunting but fun! Celeste’s and my greatest challenge was making sure we were on the same page. I had a goal and Celeste had a goal along with a wealth of information to share. That meant I had to do what all interviewers must: understand the subject matter to some degree: know something about Celeste’s work and trust that she’d do a smash up job (and she did); and ask questions that would be fun for her and interesting to readers.

And finally, we had a great example of using non-fiction to promote our fiction when Gregory D. Little, rocket scientist by day and author by night, launched his book Unwilling Souls. This book sounds good – I’ll have to check it out.

I hope you enjoyed non-fiction month and found our posts not only interesting but useful. Happy writing!

Learning from Non-Fiction

A guest post by Billie Milholland.

In the 1980s when I wrote magazine and newspaper articles, the ‘reporter’ style was still fairly standardized. The inverted pyramid. You plunged right in with the ‘who, when, where, why, what, and how’; using the most newsworthy bits of information. The ones that delivered the highest impact.

Then you added the most sensational details. If the details seemed less than provocative (they most often did), you elevated them by stating in ways that suggested there was something more just below the surface that might be revealed later. “The bus driver neglected to mention her reason for….”. “It is interesting to note that the first person on the scene had the least to say about …”.

You wrapped up with general, background information that wouldn’t be missed if the reader didn’t get that far. The word count was tight and the belief that most readers were under-educated and overly fickle was strong. The biggest sin was ‘burying the lead’ – not waving around the flashiest information first. Bottom line… you informed people. Quickly, efficiently and with little commentary.

Direct quotes were prized, but longer anecdotes, not so much. I found it interesting however, that when I added a few anecdotes, and my beleaguered editors let them pass, I received actual fan mail.

Leaving non-fiction behind for a while, my first foray into writing fiction led to realms of endless options. I could start slowly, building up expectations as I went along. I could dive right into the deep end of a pool of sharks and bloody up my protagonist right away. I could then wander into a stream of consciousness, before I sent my protag over a thundering waterfall clutching the last piece of her grandmother’s embroidered tablecloth.

I was giddy with freedom. Story poured out. I entertained people; informing them was secondary. I could use facts, but my story didn’t have to be based directly on facts. I could play with time and space.

Returning briefly to non-fiction, after about a decade away, I was pleasantly surprised to see that magazine writing, and to some degree, newspaper writing as well, had evolved to a more conversational style. Apparently the inverted triangle had been an American aberration, brought about by reporters trying to communicate stories during the American Civil War. Since the telegraph service could be interrupted unexpectedly, they had to make sure they top-loaded their news.

The rest of the world didn’t do it that way, and now we don’t either… well, not as much. I wrote a few cook books during this time and a small book about the North Saskatchewan River. Using a more casual, conversational style, along with a seasoning of anecdotes made those books more fun to write and they were reasonably popular.

When I started writing fiction again, I felt very experimental. Producing successful non-fiction had taught me more about what people wanted to know. Bits of interconnected trivia could work in fiction too, if they were stitched carefully along the edges of the theme. People are information junkies at heart, but still wanted the rise and fall of a good story. I played with that in my novella in Women of the Apocalypse. The feedback I received from readers was encouraging. The feedback I received from readers of some of my short stories validated my tendency to use quirky bits of trivia in fiction.

After another decade away, when I returned  to non-fiction, I found daily news tossedClearwater into endless Twitter streams; bits and pieces about immediate news, interspersed with links to longer discussions about what’s happened, what’s happening, along with various versions of ‘who, when, where and how’. Many longer discussions showed up in blog form. A brilliant system.

Because reading text online is harder than it is in traditional hard copy, I learned that blogs worked better if broken up into digestible portions by subheadings and images.

GEAMore experimentation. Information bulletins about specialized scientific studies and initiatives written for a general audience. Successes I had with those, culminated in my most recent book, Living in the SHED, which is full of bits and pieces of information, broken into digestible portions by subheadings and images. Will it be successful?  Time will tell.

2016 will be all about fiction for me. I haven’t completely processed everything I’ve learned from writing non-fiction this time, but what I do know is the rush of ideas about how to edit the first drafts of two novels I left simmering on the back burner are much different and more exciting than the ideas I had when I left them there. 

Billie Milholland has bobbed back and forth from non-fiction to fiction and back again.Billie Photo She’s written for newspapers, magazines and had stories produced on CBC radio. Women of the Apocalypse, in which one of the four novellas is hers, won an Aurora Award in 2009. She has a short story in Bourbon and Egg Nog, the 10th Circle Christmas anthology, which won an Aurora Award in 2012. More recently, Green Man She Restless, her story in the Urban Green Man Anthology was nominated for a 2014 Aurora Award. Her most recent project, a non-fiction, environmental book, Living in the SHED, will be out in December 2015 and can be ordered at www.nswa.ab.ca. Visit Billie at www.billiemilholland.com.

The Maker Spirit of Steampunk

Guest Post by Billie Millholland

vic ladyWhen I told a friend I was doing a blog piece that championed steampunk stories, she sighed deeply. “Are you sure you aren’t a little late?” She thinks the steampunk genre reached its zenith in 2009/10 with a glut of excellent books like Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and Dreadnought; Gail Carriger’s Souless, Changeless and Blameless, the first three books of the Parasol Protectorate; Jay Lake’s Pinion; and The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder to name a few. She’s not the only one who feels that steampunk has become so mainstream it’s doomed to wither on a vine of mediocrity.

I’m not blind to the tsunami of pathetically thin, steampunkish novels bursting bookstore shelves under nearly every category label from bodice-ripper romances to futuristic space adventures. Copycat themes that descend into cliché are inevitable following the advent of any literary innovation, but they are not always an indication of waning popularity.  Steampunk stories are still alive and well in the literary world because they offer more than just an entertaining adventure.

What attracts good story tellers to the steampunk genre is not so much the clank and clatter of gears and springs, as intriguing as that is; the pull is bigger than that. I think it’s partly the recognition of a general global anxiety in the wake of decades of plastic, throw-away everything. An anxiety that’s soothed by metaphors of important inventions constructed out of noble, solid materials and forever repaired by a regular person in a shed behind the house. It’s the hope embodied in the notion of the revival of the backyard mechanic.

If anachronistic steampunk images, wrought of leather, glass and metal, were simply expressions of a nostalgia trend, steam trainthen steampunk fiction would have a dim future. It would fade into the shelves of historical fiction, still somewhat satisfying, but not really remarkable. Fortunately, the appeal of a good steampunk story goes deeper than the thrill of an airship piloted by a goggle-wearing aviatrix.

The appeal of a good steampunk story emerges in part from an empowering maker spirit; the clever ingenuity of DIY craftsmanship that flaunts the notion that anyone can build a flying machine and echoes the sentiment that gave birth to the open-source movement. It’s found in flipping the finger at the rigid conventions and stagnant protocols of a familiar puritanical past, the choke hold of which is still present today. It’s welcomed by those numbed by the tedium of relentless modern consumerism.  A good steampunk story fuels a longing for an individualistic, break-away adventure. It encourages a smug satisfaction in heroic self-reliance. Steampunk is the cheeky tendon that connects a cynical present to an equally flawed, yet more colourful and idealistic past.

The industrial frenzy of the Victorian era is a natural mind worm that darts from neuron to neuron, bouncing off the hard curves of the skull like jolts from fresh morning coffee.

The emergence of wild and wonderful technology during the era of steam parallels the whirl of constantly changing technology today. Both are exciting, seductive and frightening. There is still room for good stories that rescue us from the latter by taking us to the former – a world we wish had been.

As recently as March 2013 “Cowboys and Engines“, a steampunk movie idea received crowd sourced funding through kickstarter. The maker spirit is at work here on all levels. Steampunk is about finding alternative ways of thriving in a world of megalithic institutions. Steampunk is for anyone with a maker spirit. It invites glorious literary experiments with giddy mash-ups. It encourages collaboration. Steampunk artists, writers, crafters, inventors, role players breathe life into an arts community forsaken by fiscally paranoid governments. Steampunk allows us to explore the past while contemplating the future. We are a tool-making species and steampunk reminds us how far we’ve strayed from our roots.


BM -Women-of-the-Apocalypse-CoverBillie Milholland was first published in non-fiction (Harrowsmith magazine, Westernpuzzle_box_cover4 Producer People magazine and weekly newspapers in Alberta and British Columbia); then short fiction (in Canadian magazines & produced on CBC Radio Anthology); then novellas (a Time Travel Romance & one of four novellas in “Women of the Apocalypse“ (Aurora Award winner  2010). More recently she has had a Chinese steampunk story in Tyche Books anthology “Ride the Moon“ and is looking forward to seeing another short story in the “Urban Green Man“ anthology and another novella in “The Puzzle Box“, both coming in August 2013 (both from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing).