8 Questions | Meet Author Ben Avery

It was lunchtime, and since our bookstore is in a state of massive renovation, the book buyers were having a sales meeting in the break room where the rest of us eat lunch. I was attempting to ignore the ordering discussions by reading the second in the George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, A Clash of Kings, when the sales rep, Larry, asked me a question.

“What are you reading?”

“It’s a George R. R. Martin book,” I said. “The one right after A Game of Thrones, which HBO just made into a series.”

“I know that series,” he said. “Did you know that my son Ben wrote the Marvel comic book adaptation for Martin’s Hedge Knight series?”

“Really? I didn’t think Martin was big on other writers touching his characters.”

“He’s not,” said Larry. “But he liked what my son did. In fact, he said that if Marvel ever wants to adapt any of his other things, my son is the only one he’ll trust to do the job.”

“Wow,” said I. “Do you think Ben would be willing to do an interview with me for my blog?”

“You should ask him.”

So I did.

Capt. Ben Avery, of the Starship Awesome.

The interview:

1. How did you get into writing?

I’ve always been writing and telling stories, since I was old enough to string sentences together. And I was always making comics, although I got impatient with how much time it took to draw them. Professionally, after I graduated college, I just started writing comics with some friends and made some contacts with artists, and that led to me getting to do a try out for a writing gig, which turned into my first professional writing: George R. R. Martin’s The Hedge Knight.

2. You did the comic book adaptation for George R. R. Martin’s Hedge Knight series. Martin is well-known for not wanting anyone else touching his works or characters. How did you come to work on his books through Marvel Comics?

Well, it wasn’t originally published by Marvel. Originally, a studio got the license from Mr. Martin, and they shopped it around to publishers, with Image taking it up at first. Then, after some weirdness with Image, it was moved to Devil’s Due, and after some weirdness THERE, Marvel picked it up.

Now, how did that original studio get the license? They promised to be true to his original story. And that’s how I got the job, too. I worked hard to make my sample script as close to his story as possible. In fact, the first six pages of The Hedge Knight is almost exactly what my sample script was. Mr. Martin appreciated how hard I worked to stay true to the original. The way I see it, on a job like that, my job is to be invisible. My job is to give something to the artist that allows them to shine, and to spotlight the original. After all, it’s George R.R. Martin’s The Hedge Knight, not Ben Avery’s.

3. How does your writing change when adapting someone else’s work as opposed to working on an original series?

If I am working on something not original with me, either a true life story, history, someone’s fictional story, or the Bible, my goal is to keep the integrity of their story within a new medium. That does mean some changes have to be made, but I will do my best to make sure changes in the format or length do not change the heart of the story.

So my job is to choose what comes out to shorten it. Or what needs to be added because comics are a visual medium. Transitions in one medium have to be done differently.

It’s not always easy, but it’s fun.

4. What do you want people to know about you aside from your writing?

This is a tough question. I mean, it’s not like I’m a private person. I just can’t think of something I particularly want people to know. I guess I could use this to say I also podcast . . . I host a podcast about sci-fi, fantasy, and Christianity. The podcast is called Strangers and Aliens and it’s a lot of fun talking about the spiritual themes found in the tv shows, comics, and movies we enjoy.

5. Any advice for other writers?

Get a good editor. Find a person or people who you trust to be honest with you and also know grammar and story. Set them loose on what you’ve written.

This person should not be your mother, unless she’s able to separate you the child room you the writer. This person should not be your spouse, or your best friend, or your grandmother unless they are able to really look at the work and forget your relationship.

This is especially important if you are self-publishing or going through some sort of digital publishing service with no editorial oversight. The digital age makes it possible for everyone to do anything, it seems, but unfortunately, that means that far too many people feel like they are masters of everything, too. But I would say that even a master editor, when they take on the role of writer, needs someone who can edit their writing.

6. If you could have an afternoon with a character from one of your works, who would you choose? Why?

The Timeflyz, from my all ages graphic novel series. First, I like them. I’d enjoy hanging out with them — of all my characters, these are the characters who surprise me the mist with their actions and reactions to my plots. Second, I’d love for them to tell me about some of the people they have met in their travels through time. And maybe I could convince them to take me along with them for a short trip . . .

7. What is your writing space like?

It’s a mess. A serious, serious mess. Sadly. Eventually, we’re going to get the money to move my office downstairs and shuffle around all our bedrooms. When we do that, I give the new office three weeks before it’s a mess. A serious, serious mess.

I do, however, often leave the house to work in places like our local grocery store’s cafe and Starbucks or something like that. I often need the change of scenery, but also I need to have people around me . . . Just not people I am responsible for.

8. What book is on your nightstand at the moment?

I’m reading The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead right now. There are other books on my nightstand, but this is the one I am actually reading. I’ve been a big fan of Lawhead since his earliest writings, when he was doing sci-fi instead of fantasy, and followed him through his fantasy books, but in the last decade or so I haven’t read any of his new books. I’m playing catch up now. Also right there is Eion Colfer’s And Another Thing, the sixth book in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to read it. It’s just not the same, a non-Douglas Adams chronicle of Arthur Dent and Zaphod and Marvin.

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If you’d like to know more about Ben Avery, check out his website (http://benavery.com). Thanks for reading!

8 Questions | Meet Author Lisa Williams Kline

YA Author, Lisa Williams Kline

Last week, I posted a link to my review for Lisa Williams Kline’s book, The Summer of the Wolves. After reading the book and writing up my review, I wrote the author and asked if she would be willing to do an interview with me.

Long-story-short, she was. Though Lisa’s books are meant for a different audience than thirty-year-old guys like me, I enjoyed her portrayal of family, and the research that she conducted to prepare for her writing really comes through. I hope you’ll enjoy the interview and I hope you’ll go out and buy her books (at your local Christian bookstore, of course) and enjoy them as well.

The interview:

1. YA Fiction writer, Melissa Kantor, once said, “Writing about teenagers (for me), means not just remembering but being willing to dwell in that place where life felt like walking a tightrope without a net.” How do you get into the mindset of modern teenage girls?

That is a great quote! When people have asked me about writing for young people, I have jokingly told them that I am emotionally stuck at age thirteen. That’s just a joke, of course (I hope) but I will admit to being overly self-conscious and sensitive to criticism, which can be part of the teen mindset. There is a heightened awareness as a teen about being excluded socially and I still feel that, even as an adult. I also have two daughters – grown now – and raising them helped me reenter that space. I also taught a creative writing workshop for teens for several years, and so I got to be around them for a couple of hours a week. Teens can be vulnerable and carry their pain outside themselves and I can feel it and so deeply empathize with them.

2. Your book, Summer of the Wolves, includes a lot of descriptive information about animals. How did you do your research?

I have tried to find an expert to interview or meet with for each of my books. For example, for Wild Horse Spring I spent a day with the herd manager for the wild horses on the Outer Banks. And for Winter’s Tide, I did several telephone interviews with two professors from UNC Wilmington who are experts on whale strandings. For my current book, I have visited a wildlife rehabilitator. And of course I do research online.

3. Describe your writing space.

Wow, no one has ever asked me that! It’s such a mess. I have turned one of the bedrooms of our house into an office and I have an L-shaped desk against the window and one wall. Bookcases line the other two walls. On top of the bookcases are pictures of my family. All along the floor are piles of notes from classes, manuscripts, and so on. I keep research materials from each novel stacked in plastic bins beside my desk. And then there are two severely neglected hanging plants that have managed to survive for many years. Oh, and our Dachshund/Chihuahua mix, Calvin Kline, perpetually snores on the floor behind me.

4. After listing your many academic achievements, you mention in the biography on your website (http://lisawilliamskline.com) that you learned to drive a forklift for a recent job. What is the story there?

I had an administrative job several years ago working for a company that sold cleaning powder for printing presses. The powder came in gigantic bins that had to be moved by forklift, so I had to learn to drive one. I was pretty tentative about it, but my boss said at least I didn’t poke a hole in the wall, which some of the previous employees had done.

5. Though your books are available at all the major book chains and Amazon, you ask readers to support the independent booksellers. First, as an employee at one of those Indie bookstores, thank you. Second, why is it important to you to support the Indies?

Most writers I know love independent bookstores. Every independent bookstore has its own personality. The employees give customers personal attention, and they go out of their way to work with authors. Right now an independent bookstore near me has put up a display of my books since I’m a local author. I was so touched!

6. Any advice for aspiring writers?

Never underestimate the benefit of practice. People would never dream of trying to play basketball or a musical instrument without practicing, but they often think that writing doesn’t require practice. But it’s just like anything else, the more you practice, the better you get. Also, be persistent. I have been in workshops and critique groups with so many people who were more talented than I am, but I was just more persistent. I kept at it after others gave up.

7. What book is on your nightstand?

Oh, gosh, I’m so flattered, this is the kind of question all those famous writers get asked and I am always intimidated by what they say. I have about twenty books on my nightstand! It drives my husband crazy because every week or so one of our cats walks on the stack and knocks them over. Okay, I just went and looked. State of Wonder and Run by Ann Patchett, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler, Traveling Mercies by Ann Lamott, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann. B. Ross, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, The Beginner’s Goodbye by Ann Tyler, Ask the Passengers by A. S. King, Georgie’s Moon by my friend Chris Woodworth and Madhattan Mystery by my friend John J. Bonk.

8. What do you want people to know aside from your writing?

Hmmm.  When I was young I made a silent movie with some of the other kids in the neighborhood that was called “A Railroad Tie” or “Marriage on the Tracks.” The movie was about a penniless young woman who couldn’t pay her rent and a mean landlord and a handsome hero who leaped on camera to say, “I’ll pay the rent!” and then married her. I didn’t write the screenplay – a very talented young man who lived down the street did that – but I did write the subtitles on cards. I held them up and instructed my dad, the photographer, only to shoot the cards and absolutely not to get me in the picture. Of course, like any doting dad, he did not follow my instructions, so we had these home movies of plump me, wearing my cat-eye glasses, holding the cards. I was mortified.

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Thanks Lisa! I wish you many successful books ahead!

8 Questions | Meet Author M. I. McAllister

M. I. McAllister

A while back, I reviewed the first book in the Mistmantle Chronicles by M. I. McAllister, Urchin of the Riding Stars. I’ll save you the time of reading the review and tell you that it was an excellent book.

I wanted to thank the author for writing it, so I found her website and sent off an email of thanks and a link to my review.

I really didn’t expect to hear anything back, but the next day, I got a message in my inbox from Margi McAllister herself! We’ve written back and forth a couple of times since, so I asked if I could interview her on my blog. She kindly consented.

Here are the questions I asked:

– What does your writing space look like?

– What passes through your brain when you see one of your books on the shelf at a bookshop?

– What do you want people to know about your aside from your writing?

– How did you get into writing?

– Any advice for other writers?

– What would you do if you could no longer write books?

– If you could have an afternoon with a character from one of your books, who would you choose? Why?

– What book is on your nightstand at the moment?

Here are her responses:

My writing space at present is tucked away at the top of the house.  We have a converted attic, which is one long room divided up by the furniture.  At one end is my daughter’s room (she’s grown up and lives away from home, so she’s not often there,)  at the other end is my study, and in between is the Pink Sitting-Room where men are only allowed if they take off their shoes and promise not to talk about football.

The laptop sits on a rather elegant writing bureau which I bought for very little in an antique market, and there are masses of deep bookshelves, crammed solid.  It looks untidy, but I know which heap everything is in!  The clutter is more to do with the work I do for children’s clubs and school visits.  And when I look up from the desk I have a beautiful view of the moors.

You ask about what passes through my mind when I see one of my books in a shop.  There’s a little jump of my heart to see that they’ve got it, followed by – why haven’t they sold that yet?

What do I want people to know about me apart from my writing?  Not a lot, really, except my storytelling sessions!  Anything I do want to talk about is on the blog, which is From The House of Stories (you can find it through the website at www.margaretmcallister.co.uk .  Things I want to share – about faith, about the things I care about, about what’s going on nationally or locally, and anything I find funny – are all in there.  I’m passionate about justice, and about doing the best for children.  I’m blessed to have lived in and visited some blessed and beautiful places, and I like sharing them.  I love gardens, history, and wildlife.  Of course my family are more than vital to me, but I don’t want my children’s privacy invaded so I’m a bit cautious in what I say about them.

I’ve always written.  I was born that way, and I can’t help it.  That’s my defense, and I’m sticking with it.  At school I was always writing things, (usually when I was supposed to be something else) and I have a great record of failing to get published.  Then, when my youngest son started school, I took an evening class in writing short stories.  That led to me getting stories published in magazines, which gave me confidence to write my first book, A Friend for Rachel, later renamed The Secret Mice.

For other writers – read.  Read.  Read more.  If you like a book, what made it work for you?  If you didn’t, what was wrong with it?  Don’t just think about writing, do it.  And don’t wait for inspiration.  Just write.

What would I do if I could no longer write?  I often wonder about this!  I use to say I’d retrain in geriatric care – lots of people want to look after little children, but there’s nothing so attractive about looking after elderly, and they’re so important.  But since injuring my back, I don’t think I  could do all that heavy lifting.  I’d have to go back to one of the jobs I’ve done before – home tutoring, adult education, caring for a beautiful old building, working in a retreat house, or washing up in a coffee shop – I’m not too proud to get my hands dirty!

Which of my characters would I like to spend an afternoon with?  What a great question!  It’s not one I’ve ever considered before.  Kazy Clare from Hold My Hand and Run would be great company.  I admire Thomasin from High Crag Linn enormously, but she can be a bit prickly.  I’d love to spend an afternoon with Fingal, because he makes me laugh, or Urchin with all those adventures to talk about.   Or Sepia – she’s a calm, gentle person, but so tough inside.  But if I could only choose one, it would have to be Crispin.  The hero’s hero.  He has such experience and wisdom, such a strong centre, and a way of noticing more than he lets on.  And a perfect gentle-squirrel.  (Do you think we could meet in Fir’s turret, so he could be there, too?  He contains elements of people who were very dear to me.)

What am I reading just now?  Several things at once.  An Aspect of Fear, by Grace Sheppard, who was the wife of the Bishop of Liverpool.  She was agoraphobic, and wrote from her experiences of dealing with fear while filling a public role.

I love anything by Simon Parke, who writes with authority about quietness, meditation, and the need to embrace simplicity.  The book of his I have on the go just now is The Beautiful Life.  I heard him speak at Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival a few years ago.

My younger son introduced me to the works of Terry Pratchett, and I LOVE Discworld!  They are clever, moving, great page-turners, and actually have some depth.  Did I mention that they’re laugh out loud funny?  Just now I’m reading Lords and Ladies.  A unicorn just got lost on the way through a stone circle.  As Granny Weatherwax would say, oh deary, deary me.

I normally edit things so they follow more of a question/answer format, but I didn’t want to risk editing out the beautiful answers that Margi gave.

I sincerely hope that you’ll go out and buy as many of her books as you can carry. Thanks for reading!

8 Questions | Meet Roger Colby from Writing is Hard Work

Roger Colby & J.R.R. Tolkien

Today’s post is an interview that I did with fellow blogger and writer, Roger Colby of Writing is Hard Work. If you aren’t following Roger’s blog yet, check it out. If you don’t know where to start, I really enjoyed his recent post on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ten Tips for Writers.

Anyway, on to the interview!

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1. How did you get into writing?

As a teen I felt kind of like an outcast, so I didn’t really have too many close friends.  I wasn’t a social butterfly, so I spent a lot of time reading.  During my sophomore year in high school I took a creative writing course that changed my life.  I found out that there was something I could do that made people hang on my every word.  Although I was capable of straight “A’s” this was the first class to which I gave everything.  I have been writing in one way or another ever since.  I wrote short stories up until about 4 years ago.  I have a massive collection of these short stories, and many of them are bursting at the seams to become novels.

2. As an English teacher, what is the one thing that you want all of your students to learn above all else?

I want my students to learn how to think for themselves, know why they think it and have evidence for those thoughts.  Too many students are told by a well meaning teacher: “Just write whatever you feel.  It’s ok.  Just write.”  This breeds idiocy.  When students enter my classroom they must support their opinions with fact.  I do not give out knowledge, they find it.

3. What fills your creativity well?

Believe it or not it has never really run dry.  I think there must be a synapse in there that is made from that adamantium Wolverine claw metal.  However, I do find that time alone with a book or time alone on a walk along my road (I live in the country) usually causes my brain to start churning out ideas.  I then have to write them all down in a little notebook or on my iPhone.  I quickly forget them otherwise.

4. How do you balance your writing with the rest of your life?

I have four great children and a wife who is awesome.  I also teach full time, administrate an alternative education program and am active in my local church.  I have to budget out my time.  Time management is probably a writer’s most important tool.  I have about two hours for writing a day scheduled.  I have an hour in the morning scheduled for blogging and another hour scheduled for social networking.  I schedule weekends mostly for the kids and dating my wife.  I must write 1000 words a day, whether or not the writing is absolute garbage.  I also have a wife who understands how important writing is to me.  She is a huge part of my writing flame.

5. Why did you pursue the self-publishing route instead of the traditional publishing model?

I have sent my stuff off for years.  I have published a few things over the years in small local magazines, but nothing that could make it through the glass ceiling of the national publications.  I have a drawer full and a deleted sector of my hard drive full of rejection letters.  Most of them are automated and I know that they didn’t even look at my material.  I became very cynical about the publishing industry when they published Twilight.  That book is a total rag.  It is full of errors, plot holes, and general bad writing.  I scraped together a bunch of money ($2000) and published my first novel through Outskirts Press, a fleecing agency for the uninformed.  After discovering Amazon Createspace and Kindle, Nook and Smashwords, I realized that I could use blogging and social media to help me get more readers and publish for next to nothing.  Self publishing gives me an avenue to get all of this writing down the pipeline so that it is not sitting around on my desktop like the trained dog no one will ever see perform.

6. What are you doing as a self-published author to promote your books?

As stated above, I am blogging regularly, using Facebook and Twitter to network and interact with people who may be potential readers.  I am using a marketing strategy that is somewhat experimental.  The self-published book series “Wool” reached the best seller list because A) the writing is good B) he offered his novel in digital installments which were free and C) he build buzz through blogging and social media.  I am not expecting my book to be a best seller, but I am doing everything to help it along that I can.  It is a lot of work, but worth it if I can at least sell 100 copies (the best case scenario for a self published author).

7. What advice to you have for people considering self-publishing?

Do it.  However, before you go uploading your tome to the internet you might want to consider a few things: 1) Write well. Amazon, at last estimate, had almost 1 million digital books in their library.  Many of these (or I should say most) are people who are not really writers who are lazy and do not care to clean up their grammar or spelling or type-os and are absolutely embarrassing the market.  2) Get an editor.  Find a professional editor and then PAY them to edit your text.  3) Find a writer’s group.  There are writers groups in your area that probably meet at the local library or somewhere.  Get plugged in to that group and have them critique your work.  LISTEN to their critique.  You are not God’s gift to the publishing world.  Be humble.  Take your lumps.  Become a better writer.

8. What do you want people to know about you aside from your writing?

I am an avid fanboy.  I have a full-on, screen accurate Ghostbusters costume, a custom Mandalorian costume, and a 1940’s Captain America costume complete with metal shield.  I do charity events to raise money for Spencer Children’s Hospital and the MDA.  I do this with a local group of fanboys and girls (www.jediokc.com) and geek out with them on a regular basis.  I also consider myself a “world” Christian in that I am absolutely against the “Americanized” version of Christianity that is used as a mule by politicians and is a weekend hobby for most people and a poor representation of what Christianity is meant to be.  I have been to China for 5 weeks, and other missions efforts, and have seen Christianity as it is practiced in other countries.  If only American Christians had the guts that Chinese Christians had, this would be a better world.

The Writing Processes of Vonnegut, Pratchett, Gorey, and Tolkien in Links

In an interview this week with a fellow blogger, I was asked who inspires me. I answered with four different authors, each chosen for a different reason (in order to find out what those reasons are, you’ll have to read the interview). This week, I decided to seek out any wisdom that my four favorites might have to share on the topic of writing.

I was introduced to the writing of Kurt Vonnegut in an ethics course offered by the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University in my freshman year. We read Slaughterhouse Five and explored the morality represented within its pages. I’ve always enjoyed books, but I haven’t always enjoyed them when they were required reading for school. When I first read Slaughterhouse Five though, I couldn’t put it down. I think I read it twice before the due date and then again before the end of the semester. “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time…” Even just talking about Vonnegut’s work now makes me want to pick up a copy and read it over again. The link here features Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing. If you are a writer, I hope you click through.

It was sometime in my first year of working at Baker Book House when a coworker exposed me to the genius of Terry Pratchett. I think we were talking about sci-fi and fantasy stories when she told me that she was doing a paper for one of her literature classes on the topic of rule consistency when creating a fantasy world. “It doesn’t need to be just like it is in the real world, but it needs to be consistent within itself,” she said. She went on to tell me that she was using the works of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an example of consistency. When no flicker of recognition flashed on my face, she insisted that I read some. The next day, she brought me three books. “When you finish one of these, you are going to want another to start on right away,” she said. She was right. This link is for an interview that Pratchett did a few years back, and the relevant portion for writers begins about midway down the page.

I ran across Edward Gorey in college on a random excursion with my roommate, friend, and sometime muse, Adam. Together, we would visit Barnes and Noble and search through the bargain racks for anything that looked interesting. I picked up one of the Amphigorey books and was instantly in love with the mixture of dark humor, brilliant illustrations, and tales that forced the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Alas, I could not find any advice to authors from Edward Gorey, but this link is for his book The Unstrung Harp or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel, in which Gorey illustrates the creative process of novel-writing though at the time he wrote this story, he himself had never written a novel. Still, it isn’t far from the truth.

My last author for this list is actually the one that I read earliest in my life. My dad handed me a copy of The Hobbit when I was in 7th or 8th grade and told me that I might enjoy it. I devoured it. Tolkien’s style, characters, and voice drew me in (as they do for anyone who dares to read The Hobbit). After that, my dad gave me a copy of The Fellowship of the Rings which I breezed through as well. And then I hit The Two Towers and got bogged down along with Frodo and Sam in the Dead Marshes. Sadly, I set the series down for a full year before attempting another go. But by that time, I had forgotten half of the details of the story, so I decided to start the whole thing again from the beginning. The Hobbit, check. The Fellowship of the Ring, check. The Two Towers, I powered through it this time, check. After I finished The Return of the King, I was sad the journey was over. LOTR was all I could talk about with my dad for weeks. And then he asked if I knew about the Silmarillion, which I hadn’t. So I decided to start again with The Hobbit, plowed through LOTR, and picked up the Silmarillion. Oh man, I was in nerd heaven. So many things in LOTR were explained, origins of the races, where the wizards came from, what a Balrog is, tales from the first and second ages of the world before the third age (when LOTR is set)! I am helplessly a Tolkien fan, so when I saw this post on Tolkien’s 10 Tips for Writers by the wonderful blogger, Roger Colby, I knew that it was going to be good. Colby culled through Tolkien’s writings and interviews where he discussed his craft and came up with a solid list for writers to use as a reference. Be sure to check it out, as well as the rest of his site.

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Last, for my writing report card, I’m going to give myself a B+ for the week.

I got the most hits in one day to date on Wednesday, I did a blog swap with another blogger, and I had fresh content everyday. The only thing was that I didn’t get a chance to write much on my novel, but I’m not going to let that get me down. Good job, me!