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Writer Wisdom: Turning a Corner with Your Writing
Curious to know more about the “real” me?
Posted by: Becky Lyles on December 10, 2016
Serious Reading Interview - read below or on Serious Reading's website:
An Interview with Rebecca Carey Lyles, author of “Winds of Change: A Kate Neilson Novel..."
Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?
Because I’m an editor as well as an author, I work every day. Editing for others helps me become a better writer, and being a better writer helps me become a better editor.
Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
No, but I’m pretty pleased when I reach at least a thousand words. :-)
Do you think writers have a normal life like others?
I have a lot of writer friends who all seem normal to me. But then, who am I to judge, ha? We all tend to live in our heads, plotting the next chapter, envisioning our characters in action, maybe even whispering to them…
Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
Writers tend to be introverts who are okay with being alone; however, by its nature, writing is a solitary endeavor, so we need time away from the crowd. I think best when my household is quiet, although I have worked in libraries and coffee shops. I s’pose it’s all about moving into the zone and mentally blocking out noise.
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
For me, getting the first draft down on paper – or into the computer – is a challenge. I feel like I’m dragging the words from my head like thick, stubborn taffy. Once the basic story is written, I can relax and enjoy fixing the mess I’ve created.
What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?
Revising my first drafts is fun for me, and I get excited when the story begins to feel smooth rather than bumpy and disjointed. That probably has something to do with the editor side of my brain.
Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?
Because I’m an editor, one might think I don’t need another editor to look at my work. But the reality is that I need editors, beta readers and proofreaders as much as any other author. I like to have at least five or six, sometimes ten or twelve people look at my stories before I send them to my editor, who charges me a pretty penny or two. However, he’s worth every one of those pennies.
Have you ever let any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?
My first novel, Winds of Wyoming, took about fifteen years of stewing. I had a heroine in Pennsylvania plan to move to Wyoming, but she wasn’t a compelling character. The story fell flat and didn’t go anywhere because she didn’t have compelling reason to make that move. I’ll always remember the moment I realized the perfect motivation for my character to change her location. I was on a dark Arizona highway, driving home from volunteering at a women’s prison, when the thought hit me that the heroine could be a newly released prisoner who heads to Wyoming to escape her past.
What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?
Both the title and the cover are of supreme important. We’re told not to “judge a book by its cover,” but we do. These days, titles and covers have to stand out from the millions of books available at our fingertips in order to have a chance at a sale.
Have you ever designed your own book cover?
I’ve never designed a cover, which is good because I’m not a graphic designer, but I’ve been able to offer input regarding the covers for all six of my books. As a result, I’m happy with the final products.
Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?
Yes! I love to hear from readers and am so touched by all the kind things they say as well as the fact they took the time to share their thoughts with me and with others.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
Don’t get in a hurry. I just edited a manuscript by a young author who has great potential but who needs to step back and learn the craft before releasing his work to the public.
Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?
I can’t say for sure, but “Heidi” is the book that comes to mind. I loved the story of the sweet orphan girl and the happiness and health she found on the slopes of the beautiful Swiss Alps with her grandfather, her friend Peter and his goatherd.
Which book inspired you to begin writing?
The name escapes me, but I was probably in junior high when I read a novel about a teenage girl reporter who had fascinating adventures searching out news.
Do your novels carry a message?
The message in Winds of Wyoming, my first novel, might be one of compassion for women – and men – who leave prison with a desire to begin new and better lives but who are thwarted by unhealthy friendships, addictions, lack of employment, low self-esteem, lack of a car or a place to live, etc. In Winds of Freedom, I address human trafficking in the United States, and in Winds of Change, I show a bit of the trauma trafficked children suffer. I might add that the books are categorized as romantic suspense. So, in addition to dealing with tough subjects, they include romance, humor and suspense. All the books are fast-paced reads with happy endings. :-)
How realistic are your books?
I did a lot of research to learn about prison, trafficking and childhood trauma by reading books on the subjects and through Internet searches and talking with professional therapists.
Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Those who’ve read the Winds (Kate Neilson) Series are excited to know I just finished a prequel for the series titled Winds of Hope, which is now with beta readers and the cover designer. As soon as that book is published, I plan to write a romantic-suspense series about a religious cult. I know people who’ve been there/done that and who are willing to let me interview them. I want to ask them how they got into a controlling group, why they stayed and why they left, as well as what it took to get out – and then show a character moving through the same process.
Who is the most supportive of your writing in your family?
My husband, Steve, is definitely my biggest supporter and fan. He’s also a great beta reader!
Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?
My day job is freelance editing for a variety of fiction and nonfiction projects. Editing can get a bit tedious at times, but I enjoy helping other authors improve their writing.
Does your day job ever get in the way of your writing?
I like to think I can edit for a couple hours, write for a couple hours, market for a couple hours, etc. However, when I know a client is waiting for my edits so they can move forward with their project, I tend to focus solely on the editing.
Do you have a daily habit of writing?
Yes, I write every day in one way or another if possible. If I go too long without writing, I feel a bit lost. Some of us can’t not write (pardon the double negative!).
People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?
All they’d have to do is peek in my office window some morning. Oftentimes, I can be found with messy hair and unbrushed teeth, still wearing my pajamas and robe. I promise you, that’s not glamorous!
Do you enjoy book signings?
I rarely make much money at book signings, but I sure enjoy interacting with other book lovers.
Have you ever marketed your own books yourself?
These days, every author, whether traditionally published, partner-published or indie-published, must market their books themselves. We might get a bit of help from others now and then, but mostly, it’s up to us. However, other opportunities are available now and then, such as writing guest blogs for writer/reader-related sites. Steve and I host a podcast called Let Me Tell You a Story that features our writing as well as that of others. When we read other writers’ material, we credit them and provide their contact info so our listeners can connect with them. That’s a form of free marketing to a new audience for our featured authors. We’re always looking for family friendly material, so check us out at beckylyles.com/podcast to see if you’d like to submit to us. :-)
Have you ever taken any help from other writers?
Yes – my critique group input is extremely valuable!
What advice would you like to give writers who are struggling with their first novels?
Hang in there! As I wrote earlier, my first novel took fifteen years, but it’s in print and loved by many.
Are you friends with other writers?
I’ve been a member of several writing groups. Hanging out with likeminded “creatives,” as some call us, is a joy as well as a way to learn industry news and more about the writing craft.
What does the word ‘retirement’ mean to you? Do writers ever retire?
I know a well-loved author who’s written seventy-five books yet doesn’t plan to retire. She plans to write until her forehead hits her keyboard. Sounds good to me!
Which book would you want adapted for the silver screen?
Readers tell me that all my novels would make great movies. :-)
Have you ever destroyed any of your drafts?
I destroy every draft because I resave over each version when I create a new one. My husband says it’s the “perpeditor” (perpetual editor) in me.
When can the readers expect your next book in print?
Winds of Hope, which is a prequel novella to the Winds (Kate Neilson) Series, should debut in late December 2016 or early January 2017. (Yikes, it’s almost 2017!)
Are you working on something new at the moment?
As I wrote above, I’ve begun research for a series about a young woman who becomes entrapped in a religious cult. Because I have loved ones who’ve spent years in a controlled environment, I’m anxious to learn more about the psychological aspect.
Have you ever written a character vaguely based off a real life acquaintance and they found out when they weren’t meant to? If yes, then please tell us, it would make a terribly interesting story!
Most of the characters in my Winds (Kate Neilson) Series are amalgamations of individuals I’ve met over the years. Two people have told me they think they’re the basis for a fun older female character named Dymple Forbes, who suffers from aphasia and says crazy, funny things now and then. But neither person is the real-life Dymple. The catalyst for sweet Dymple, a favorite character for many readers, was the funny things a friend said after brain surgery. Of course, the surgery wasn’t funny, and the fact the woman couldn’t remember her husband’s name wasn’t funny. Yet, she could laugh at herself in the midst of her confusion, which allowed us to chuckle along with her. Due to moves, we lost track of that friend, but as far as I know, she has no idea one of her comments inspired a book character.
Tell us about an interesting or memorable encounter you had with a fan?
Within a couple weeks’ time, I received unsolicited comments from readers about my hair. One person told me my online photo with shorter hair made me look younger, and another told me the photos with longer hair looked better. Crazy!
What’s your favorite movie which was based on a book?
Do you mentor?
Yes, I love to help other authors find their way through today’s maze of writing and publishing options by working one-on-one with them or in critique groups, speaking to writers’ groups and communicating online.
Eight Ways to Make Your Editor Do the Happy Dance
Posted by: Becky Lyles on August 22, 2016
Some of you may know that in addition to writing books and blogs, I also work as a freelance editor. Over the years, I’ve edited a wide variety of publications from white papers, newsletters, articles and business letters to Bible studies, short stories, memoirs and novels. I’ve met a lot of great people along the way and learned much about the writing process.
The key insight I’ve gained is that writing intended for publication, whether it’s traditional, partner or self-publication, should be sifted through an editor filter. Why? Because we authors tend to read what’s in our heads, not what’s on the computer screen. We also have trouble pinpointing weaknesses in our own manuscripts. Editors who have no emotional attachment to our work can provide unbiased, professional feedback. Even editors need editors. My writing is always improved by an editor’s candid comments, more than you might imagine.
Just so you know, an editor’s job is not to clean up your first-draft mess; rather, it’s to hone your second, third, fourth, fifth draft—whatever it takes for you to submit your very best work. In order to receive the most benefit for your investment when you hire an editor, take these suggestions to heart.
1. Read. I’m always surprised when someone says they don’t like to read but they want to write a book. Reading teaches us word usage, sentence construction, paragraph rhythm and flow, a feel for building tension, scene and sequel construction, character development and so much more. Read everything, from newspapers to novels, blogs to biographies, cereal boxes to political soap boxes. “At the risk of sounding obvious, good writers are first and foremost good readers.” (Joseph Bates, July/August 2016 Writer’s Digest)
2. Study. Study the craft of writing. In order to move your writing from good to best, take writing classes, attend workshops, seminars and conferences, listen to writer-focused podcasts and webinars, read how-to magazines, blogs, newsletters and books. Send me an email if you’d like recommendations (email@example.com).
3. Learn. Learn correct grammar and punctuation. Few manuscripts arrive on an editor’s desk with perfect grammar and punctuation, which is expected; however, you’ll do yourself a favor if you learn how to properly use the English language, and your editor and readers will appreciate your effort. Instructional websites abound online that specialize in English usage.
4. Follow. Follow formatting rules. Your agent, editor or publisher will provide format guidelines. These vary slightly from person/publisher to person/publisher. I ask writers to submit their work in a Word doc with one-inch margins all around and that they use a 12-point Times New Roman font. I also ask that the lines be double-spaced and the paragraphs automatically indented five spaces (not spaced or tabbed). Each chapter should begin approximately one-third of the way down the page, and page breaks should separate chapters rather than multiple line spaces. (Please don’t add frills and fancy fonts, etc. to your submission. Plain text is great. When your manuscript is ready for publication, the publisher or you or your formatter can bold the chapter headings, enlarge the fonts, add section breaks and whatever else is required to make it look pretty.)
5. Double-check. Check for wordiness, which can involve searching out repeated information, redundancies and overwriting. Oftentimes, a forty-word sentence can be written in five to twenty words. Strive to be clear and concise.
6. Enlist. Ask your well-read friends, colleagues and critique group to serve as beta readers. I suggest a minimum of three people other than or in addition to family members (I enlist six to twelve beta readers). Ask them for honest feedback and accept it with gratitude, not defensiveness. You may not choose to use their input, but when they take the time to read your work and offer you advice, thank them and include their name in your book’s acknowledgements. And gift them with an autographed copy of your published book (or a trip to the Bahamas…your choice). My experience is that beta-reader and critique-group input is priceless.
7. Fix. Make changes as you see fit and set the manuscript aside for a couple weeks. After you’ve had time away from your project, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. Again, fix as needed and then, ta-da…hit the send button to shoot your manuscript to your editor, which leads us to number eight.
8. Grow. Similar to number six above, appreciate your editor’s input. Accept his or her comments and suggestions without defensiveness. Feel free to disagree, to dialogue about issues and to ask questions, but do so as a student who’s anxious to learn and grow into a better writer.
Wishing you fabulous final weeks of summer filled with sunshine, good books and great writing!
Posted by: Becky Lyles on January 7, 2015
Sometimes I wonder if I should be writing nonfiction rather than fiction. You know, something more profound and educational. And then I read a scene in a novel that teaches me about another country or culture or zaps me between the eyes with an attitude I need to correct, like the novel I just finished. Truth is, a good short story or fiction book mirrors real life and challenges us to become better people as we observe the characters becoming better people.
A great article titled “Characters, Scene by Scene” by David Corbett in the January 2015 Writer’s Digest magazine reads like a counseling session. Several lines caught my attention, like this one: “Characters reveal themselves more vividly in what they do and say than in what they think and feel.”
Ouch! Just because I think I’m a nice person doesn’t mean I am. My words and actions reveal my true thoughts and feelings.
How about this quote? “We reveal ourselves most unequivocally when we’re tested.” Yikes! I usually whine when I’m tested. Revealing, huh.
As I said earlier, good fiction mirrors real life. Yes, we want characters who are just as imperfect as we are. On the other hand, we want them to face and overcome their challenges, to change and grow up out of their self-focused insecurities. Isn’t that what we want for ourselves, our children, our spouses and friends?
Corbett offers psychological tidbits, like – “Even good people have hatred in their hearts.” Really? Squirm. And, “Mercy is a rare state of grace, given the human heart’s propensity for clinging to grievances.” Oops, another squirm.
About food, he says: “It may seem curious to include food as an aspect of a character’s psychology, but it’s often a stand-in for gratifications the character can’t find elsewhere.” Interesting.
And family: “This is the crucible in which much of psychological life is forged. Many of one’s fears, wants, humiliations, etc., trace back to some episode with a family member.”
To read this excellent four-page article, pick up the January Writer’s Digest at your local bookstore or subscribe at writersdigest.com. And make your characters real. Show their weaknesses and their growth as they face and overcome challenges. In addition to entertaining readers, fiction can spur us to maturity. You don’t need to preach or write a sermon. Just tell a good, redeeming story.
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