Six questions with Brian Braden

Brian BradenBrian Braden is a retired military officer and has been a corporate executive, an intelligence officer, a combat helicopter pilot, and a freelance columnist. His articles have been featured in a variety of defense magazines and websites. He is also a founder, editor and writer for Underground Book Reviews. His debut novel, Black Sea Gods, is the first installment of an epic fantasy series.

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Welcome to Writerly Goodness, Brian!  I’m so happy to have you here to celebrate the launch your new book, Black Sea Gods: Chronicle of Fu Xi on February 18, 2013.

We first met on Author Salon just over a year ago, in the then-beginning Epic Fantasy group. Since then, your work has changed and grown, and I feel privileged to have been one of your beta-readers.

Congratulations on sharing BSG with the world 🙂

WG: How long have you been writing, Brian?  When did the bug first bite, and when did you know that writing was what you wanted to do?

BLB: First, thanks for inviting me to Writerly Goodness.  Back in 2008 I wrote a letter to a major US defense magazine on a military topic.  The editor actually called me and asked me to turn the letter into a column and he’d pay me. Paid for my opinion? I was in heaven. Then I did another column and then another. Well, one day editors changed and my columnist days were over. But I was fully bit by the writing bug by then. I wanted to write, so I switched to fiction.  I published a little novelette called Carson’s Love to test the self-publishing waters and never looked back

WG: I know you’ve written about this many times, but what was the idea that became BSG and where did it come from?

BLB: It came from several inspirations, but primarily from a photo of an ancient mummy dug-up in a faraway land. The man’s face was amazingly preserved, as was his clothing. I wanted to know more about this person, but archeologist knew very little about him. I imagined who he was and what his life was like. After a while I decided to write his story, but I needed a cultural mythology to build upon. That’s when I stumbled upon Dr. John Colarusso’s book Nart Sagas From the Caucasus, a compilation of myths almost lost to history. I put the myths to the man and combined it with some related Chinese mythology and BLACK SEA GODS was born.

WG: I love process!  Can you give my readers any insight into yours over the course of writing BSG?

BLB: The short answer: My core process is I start with a climax and a character and build the rest of the story around those two elements. My long answer: I started out on a website called Review Fuse, where other writers could read my chapters as I posted them. Not long after I started posting chapters I began collaborating with Amy Biddle, who was working on her first novel The Atheist Prayer (due out soon by Perfect Edge Books).  We joined forces and started critiquing each other’s books one chapter at a time. We soon expanded our circle to two other talented writers – Katie French (The Breeders) and Kimberly Shurshen (Itsy Bitsy Spider and Hush). Over a year, one chapter at a time, we dissected each other work until we had complete novels. I liked this approach because it made each chapter a tighter package. That was phase one. Then I spent another year or so with writers at Author Salon doing deep edits, mostly involving shortening the book and reworking it using a six-act/two goal writing template. Then I sent it to an editor, who was a tremendous help. Finally, I involved beta-readers, most of who came to me from fantasy author Michael Manning’s pool of devoted fans.  So, it was a four-stage process spanning almost  three years: one-at-a time chapter builds with  external critiques from trusted colleagues, deep “whole manuscript” edits from other writers, a professional editor, and finally, beta-readers.

WG: What have you learned from writing BSG, and how has it changed you as a writer?

BLB: It taught me I can write a novel. Hey, that’s something, right? It taught me to trust my gut and don’t let the idea of become a writer get in the way of being a writer. This past year taught me how to organize my manuscript and how to structure it.

WG: When you started writing BSG, you had your eyes on traditional publishing.  When did that change and why did you opt for Amazon?

BLB:  My decision didn’t come all at once, but was influenced by several factors. First, as a writer for Underground Book Reviews I’ve read amazing indie books and saw indie authors build huge readerships.  I kept seeing friends, talented authors, succeed in the wild west of indie publication.  If they can do it, I can do it.  Second, as I’ve learned more about the traditional publishing industry the more I realized how highly unlikely Black Sea Gods was going to be picked up. It’s too far out of what industry professionals are looking for, what they consider “hot,” or “marketable.” The feedback I received from several agents and publishers was they liked the story but didn’t know where BSG would fit in their line. My only real hope would be to warp the story into something more compatible with the current market, and therefore make it something unrecognizable. I wanted to tell the story my way. I’m comfortable with that.

I went with Amazon’s Kindle Direct exclusively for the first 90 days to initially keep things simple, take advantage of their marketing leverage, and incorporate a “rolling debut.”  In three months I’ll debut on Nook, and then Smashswords, etc. Each debut is a marketing opportunity, a chance to burst fresh on the scene and carry the accolades/reviews from the previous tier forward.

WG: I know you started your personal blog in the last year as well.  What has your experience in blogging been like and how do you think it will contribute to your success as an author?

BLB: Blogging … I haven’t cracked that nut yet. As it stands now, I have very little faith in my personal blog to sustain or launch my writing career. Blogs are jealous creatures, they demand gobs of time and attention in order to love you back just a little bit. I’m afraid I haven’t given my blog enough of that TLC;  however, I’ve developed a small, but loyal following and, over the next 90 days, I’ll be offering  free copies of BSG from time to timeBlack Sea Gods: Chronicle of  Fu Xi as part of my marketing campaign.  The first promotion started yesterday and ran for 24 hours.

If there has been one platform that has been good to me it’s Underground Book Reviews. The response to the indie book e-zine has been overwhelming. I would not have been as well positioned as I am now to launch an indie writing career without it.

Thanks for a great interview Brian!

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What a lovely way to start the New Year!

sunshineawardHey y’all!  Jay Morris of The Wayward Journey nominated Writerly Goodness for the Sunshine Award 🙂  As Jay says in his post, it was the result one of his resolutions: to encourage other bloggers and foster community online.  I think that’s a worthy goal.

First, thanks!  It’s nice to be recognized by your fellow bloggers.

Second, here are the rules:

  1. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  2. Post the award image to your page.
  3. Tell seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 10 other blogs.
  5. Let them know they are nominated.

Numbers 1 and 2 are already taken care of, so without further ado, here are seven facts about me:

  1. I’m a writing geek (really?).  That is, I love words, grammar (yes, grammar), and the whole shebang.  I get excited when I write; I don’t even have to be writing particularly well.  Writing is my friend, therapist, and spiritual practice rolled into one.
  2. I’ve been married for eighteen and a half years to a wonderful man.  Phil’s my BFF, inspirator (conspirator in inspiration), and makes me laugh my hoop off at least once a day.  Yup.  I’m hoopless 😀
  3. I haven’t taken down the Christmas decorations yet, in violation of the standing practice to pack them away January 1st.  Maybe I’ll get to it by Ukrainian Christmas?  Sadly doubtful.  Before the end of January though, for sure.
  4. I need to know the rules, but often, once I’ve figured them out, I find my own way forward.
  5. I think my Mom is a “cool mom.”
  6. I’m terrible at traditional correspondence.  I have a friend who, without fail, sends birthday, anniversary, occasional, and sometimes just-for-the-heck-of-it cards.  I always get a postcard from her on every vacation.  I admire, and secretly envy, this friend 🙂
  7. After work, I transform into “comfort woman.” She’s a strange creature, who wears flannel and sits at her computer all night … writing, yeah, that’s it … writing.

Now, here are my ma-nominations (doo-doo-da-doo-doo!).  Yes, I’m a Muppet maniac 🙂

  1. Laura Conant Howard – Finding Bliss  Fantastic site with all kinds of interviews and book features.  Her new book, The Forgotten Ones, is coming out soon!  Also follow Laura on FB and Twitter.  She will often share when good books are on special – bonus!
  2. Khara House – Our Lost Jungle  Khara is fabulous, and so is her site.  She has led several great challenges over the past year that have kept me motivated.  Her current: I ❤ my blog.  Yup.  I’m in it.
  3. Karen Woodward  Karen is a prolific blogger and has a variety of good advice to offer.
  4. Kim Fahner – The Republic of Poetry  Kim is a poet and a teacher, and waxes lyrical on many topics.  Just love her 🙂
  5. Vikki Thompson – The View Outside  Vikki invites us to follow along on her writing journey.  There’s always something interesting going on at The View Outside 🙂
  6. Sarah Rios – Riosfan  Sarah is hilarious!  Become her minion on G+ too and get all the fangrrl goods 🙂
  7. Lara Britt – Writing Space  Lara is a working writer in Hawaii.  What a wonderful place to be 🙂
  8. Claudia Karabaic Sargent – CKSWarriorQueen  Another one of my Wordsmith Studio connections (as are Lara B, Lara S, and Khara).
  9. Lara Schiffbauer – Motivation for Creation  Her Funny Friday Photos are always a hoot and I love feeding her fish 🙂  Also, check out her book Finding Meara.
  10. Brian Braden  Brian’s WIP, Black Sea Gods is moving toward publication.  He’s been supportive of my project and I just want to return the favour 🙂

There were a lot of blogs that I wanted to feature.  If yours isn’t in here, I mean no disrespect.

TTFN blogging buds 🙂

I’ll be back tomorrow with I ❤ my blog, and the Pupdate 🙂

The Next Big Thing – Initiate of Stone

My friend, Kim Fahner tagged me in this project in which the writer answers questions about their work and then tags other authors to blog their “next big thing” in turn.

So I’m going to victimize tag Scott Overton, who though he’s just published Dead Air, I know has more irons in the fire, Brian Braden, who has a fabulous WIP to share, Tim Reynolds, who’s always working on something fabulous, and Sandra Stewart, who likewise keeps her irons hot (in more ways than one!) 🙂

Onto the Questions:

  • What is the working title of your book?

Initiate of Stone  Bonus: Series title:Ascension, book 1

  • Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is one of the few ideas I’ve had that did not come from a dream.  I just started with an idea of a young woman, forged by elemental forces, who survives war to become the hero the world needs. Everything grew out of that seed of a character and story.

  • What genre does your book fall under?

Epic fantasy.

  • Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Actually, I’ve blogged this before, so I’ll take the lazy-a$$ route and simply link the previous character sketches, all of which include my casting suggestions:

Ferathainn

Eoghan

Dairragh

Supporting characters

Villains (muwahahahahaha)

  • What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

An uninitiated mage must uncover the secrets her family have kept from her in order to defeat the man who ripped her family, her hope for initiation, and her innocence from her.

  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a year, writing in the evenings and weekends, working full time in the day.

  • Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always wanted to write novels.  I have lots of ideas.  This just happens to be the first one I chose to work on.

  • What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

IoS features a strong female character that doesn’t necessarily find fulfilment with a guy.  There are romantic elements, but Fer’s issues can’t be resolved in the course of this novel.  Thematically, I address the painful legacy of secrets, even those kept in care or kindness; the sometimes twisted relationship between parents and children; the difference between institutionalized religion and spiritual practice (how the one can damage and the other promise healing); and the struggle to realize one’s true potential, whatever it is.

So I hope your interest has been piqued 🙂

Thanks for the opportunity Kim, and if anyone is interested, I’ve blogged about my WIP Writerly Goodnesspretty extensively.  If you’d like, just pick my “Work in progress” category and read away.  I haven’t blogged the novel itself, just the character sketches and world-building behind it.

It’s back to the day job for me tomorrow, so I probably won’t post again until the weekend.  Have a good end-of-the week all!

Writerly Goodness, signing off.

The launch of Dead Air, Pontypool, and other Writerly Goodness

Last night was the official launch of my writer friend Scott Overton’s first novel, Dead Air.  I bought my official copy, Scott signed it, officially, I hung out with the other members of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild who came out to support Scott (his official fan club?), and he even got the official CTV interview 🙂

Before I get to particulars, I wanted to share a few more views of the Living with Lakes Centre at Laurentian University where the launch was held.  Yes, that’s the same place that Scott read with John Forrest and Mark Leslie last week for the LUminaries reading series.

I won’t say that I arrived early, but it looked like I had some time to walk around the grounds and I took a couple of pictures of the centre from a different angle, and then another looking out over Lake Ramsey from the centre’s dock.

Upon entering, I immediately gravitated to the huddle of SWG members.  We chatted and caught up a bit before the flurry of purchasing and signing got underway.

There were beverages, but word soon spread that the caterer hadn’t shown up yet.  Ever the consummate showman, Laurence Steven of Your Scrivener Press gathered the crowd and ushered us into the room for the reading.

One of the SWG members had thoughtfully brought cookies and just as Laurie apologized for the lack of provisions, the caterer arrived, the result of an understandable miscommunication.

With that sorted, Laurie made a brief but gracious introduction of Scott and brought him to the podium.

Scott first introduced his wife, Terry-Lynne, to whom his book is dedicated, his co-host for his morning radio show, and then he read three selections from his novel.  Afterward, he opened the floor to questions.

Scott spoke of his inspiration, the process of writing the novel, and the interesting things he learned on the way.  He also spoke about the editing process and how he and Laurie had negotiated that.

Overall, it was a very entertaining evening.

But I got this cold, see?  So when I got home, I crawled into bed like the little illen-filled chicklet I am and settled in for the evening.  In cruising the channels, I came across Pontypool.

In the movie, adapted from Tony Burgess’s novel of the same name, a morning radio host (sound familiar, Scott?) is trapped in his radio station while people in the town around him succumb to a strange virus.

Far from the scads of zombie-related virus movies, Pontypool takes a left turn.  The virus is spread in the form of words, and the infected begin to babble and fixate on a particular word or sound.  Through the timely visit of a doctor to the studio, the protagonist learns that it is the understanding of a word that seems to trigger the infection and that speaking in another language is an effective means of evading the illness.

As everyone around them succumbs, the protagonist and his producer are hiding from the hordes and she (the producer) begins to babble, “kill, kill, kill …”  The morning man, twigged by the words of the visiting doctor, begins to try to break his producer’s loop, telling her that kill isn’t kill, that it’s sun, dress, flower, and finally he settles on kiss.  Kill is kiss.

He knows he’s been successful when she says, “kill me.”

I just found the premise fascinating.  A semiotic virus.

You may have noticed me dropping that academic bomb from time to time on my blog, and the reason for it is that I love semiotics.  It’s the study of meaning, to put it simply.  Ultimately all language is invented and arbitrary.  Language is a series of signs or symbols that we chose to mean things so that we can communicate with others and think about them.

We accept that the letters D O G spell dog and that means a certain class of canine quadrupeds that many of us choose to coexist with, but why is it dog and not cap or tree of bazooka?  Who came up with the word and why did everyone accept that this wee beastie should be called dog (and not tomato)?

Two things: have you ever repeated a word to yourself over and over again until the word loses all meaning and just becomes a sound?  Have you ever written or typed a word that you’ve written or typed thousands (perhaps millions) of times before only to think immediately that the word is somehow wrong?  Have you been so convinced of this illusion that you look the bloody word up in the dictionary just to make sure you’ve not gone insane?

That’s semiotic confusion, or uncertainty and may just lead to the thought that it’s not the experience that’s the illusion, but all language and meaning lumped together.

That’s the kind of mind-blowing awesome of a movie like Pontypool.  Not to mention the eerie serendipity of coming from the launch of my morning radio show host friend Scott, whose novel is about a morning show host who receives what turns out to be a very serious threat and finding a movie about a morning radio show host in the middle of a semiotic virus breakout.

Gave me dreams, man …

One last thing, well two really, but they’re related.

I’ve been so busy guest blogging, hosting guests, blogging events, and interviewing that I forgot to mention that Brian Braden of Underground Book Reviews interviewed me last week!  And this week, as the result of the number of comments and likes, he’s posted an excerpt from Initiate of Stone, my work in progress.  Sure, he may have misspelled my name, but everyone does 🙂  Hazard of being me.

So if you want to find out what my WIP is made of, go read for yourself!

Need to curl up with my dog and some wicked cold meds.

A virtual tour of Mel’s office

I was inspired to blog this after seeing two similar posts from people in my writers’ learning network (hey professionally I can have a personal learning network, or PLN; why can’t I have a WLN?) Brian Braden, one of my critique partners from Author Salon, and Diana Gabaldon, one of my favourite authors.

I’d intended to do this as a vlog, or video blog, but I haven’t figured out my new tablet sufficiently to do a creditable job.

I’m going to do this a little differently than my compatriots though.  As with everything I blog, there’s a little story to go with this virtual tour.

Starting with the street on which I live.

My intent was to go out and take a picture of the street sign, but someone crashed into the post on which the sign used to hang last year, and while the post has been replaced, the street sign hasn’t.  So Googlemaps is the best I can do.  You can go there yourself and get the street view, but it’s from a few years ago.

But … did you notice anything about the street name?  That’s right!  It’s my last name.  It provides endless entertainment for just about everyone, and then I have to explain: yes, my grandfather bought the property that became Marttila Dr and then subsequently sold the lots to the city, who named the wee street after him.

And it is a wee street.  Please don’t go assuming I’m rich or something.  I don’t “own” the street, nor does anyone in my family.  I own the little house on the corner with the chunk of pre-cambrian shield in the unfinished basement and my mom owns the house next door.  Poor financial decisions on the part of a number of our family (myself included) mean that the house is all I have.

Sure, I’m gainfully employed and so is my husband, but all we have to show for our collective life’s work is a 2 bedroom bungalow on one of the busiest street corners in town.

We’ve made the best of her though, slowly renovating, inside and out.

Before we head inside, I’d like to point out my summer office.

When it’s not insanely hot (like it’s been this year), I’m outside most weekends, days off, and even evenings with my lap top.  If you’ve ever heard that relocating for revision is a effective way of shifting your creative mind out of writing mode and into editor mode, I’m here to tell you it’s abso-frickin’-lutely true.  Works a charm for me at any rate 🙂

Now let’s move into the office itself.

The first thing that every office needs is a door.  Right now, my office door is one of the originals that came with the house and is painted white … over blue … over white … over ?  When I have a significant period of time off, I want to strip the door and polish up the brass handle like I did last year with the door to our bedroom.  So this is what it eventually will look like when I get it done 😀

The first thing you see upon entering my office is this. Yes, it’s an altar.  I have distinctively pagan-ish, shamanic leanings.  What you may notice if you look down is that it’s also a bookshelf.  Another one of my stripping and refinishing projects, this cabinet used to hang on the wall of my mother’s  sewing room.  Originally, it was from the local school board.  My grandfather used to work there, and when they dismantled one of the schools, he nabbed this cupboard.  It’s crammed, top to bottom, with paperbacks.

Also, in the lower right corner of the picture, you’ll see my honourable mention from Ron L. Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest.  Having just refinished the room (down to the studs and rebuilt from there) I’m still reluctant to poke holes in the walls, even for cool stuff like degrees and awards.

On the far wall are my three additional bookshelves, purchased to harmonize with the massive desk (in a moment, hold your horses …) I inherited from my mother-in-law when she moved about ten years ago.

The first shelf from the left houses historical and spiritual research books.  The bottom row is devoted to books on gardening and herbalism.  The middle shelf is overflowing with fiction I don’t want to store away, or haven’t read yet.  Like the paperback bookshelf, it runs the gamut from fantasy and SF, YA, classics, UF, to mysteries and literary fiction, etc.

The final shelf is populated with a number of my books on the craft.  Interspersed on the shelves are a number of objects I value: artefacts from family and friends, old tins, kerosene lamps, masks, my degrees, my picture from the alumni address I gave a Laurentian University a few years ago, and a couple of framed poems, “Fire and Ice” which was featured in the ekphrastic art project Fusion, and “The Art of Floating,” the poem I wrote for my dad.

The rest of my books are stored in approximately twelve Rubbermaid tubs in the basement.  Yup.  I’m a book addict, and happily so.

In the corner, you will notice three staves.  Actually, it’s one poplar staff, and one birch and one maple stang. All generously donated by the trees in my back yard (resulting from lightning strikes and wind storms).  Another project for the future: stripping the bark from these lovlies and waxing them to preserve.

Now comes the organized chaos I call my desk.

The first picture shows a collection of journals (the ones I write in and the ones I have subscriptions to), a few key reference books including the Guide to Literary Agents and Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market, research DVDs, binders containing three earlier versions of my novel, my BIG binder of AS critique material, my Brother inkjet printer, and various pens, pencils, highlighters, clips, push-pins, and other tools that I make use of at my desk.

The keen observer may notice the ashtray and the wine glass.   Yup.  You caught me.  I’m a vile smoker and I drink wine on occasion.  Once again, unapologetic about it.

The second picture doesn’t look quite so chaotic, but shows the rest of what’s on my desk.  My computer, whatever project I’m currently working on (in this case, Rachel Walsh’s The Last Scribe) underneath which hides my laptop, my colour printer/scanner/copier (currently on the fritz), a couple of my poetry books, my African violets (green things essential), and my i-pod (in the corner, also essential).

Behind my desk, on the wall, are my cork board and white board.  On my first and second revisions (after the draft has been completed) I use these extensively to map out my story and make notes.  As each piece of paper is addressed, it comes down for shredding and as each note is incorporated into the novel, it’s erased.

Right now, the board it just reminding me of outstanding submissions I haven’t heard back about yet, my blogging schedule, and calendar.

And that’s it.  I didn’t clean up on purpose, because I thought I’d let everyone see what I really work like.

So I hope you enjoyed this little tour.  Take comfort in the chaos!  My office is as much a part of my process as a writer as anything else.

What does your office/writing space look like?  How does it reflect your process?