Thursday Feature: M Pepper Langlinais

Hi everyone! It’s that time of the week again. Every Thursday, I like to host another writing blogger either with a guest post or an interview. Today, M Pepper Langlinais is stopping over to do an interview with me. (My side of the interview is bold.)

Welcome to The Five Year Project! First things first. Why don’t you tell everyone a bit more about yourself?

Thanks for having me. I’m an author and also a playwright and screenwriter. I’ve had one play produced at two separate venues, and that play was then turned into a short film that premiered in San Diego last November. On top of that, I write Sherlock Holmes stories and have just had my novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller published by Tirgearr Publishing.

More personally, I grew up in Texas and attended UT Austin. I did the Shakespeare at Winedale program there and later used what I’d learned to teach Shakespeare at summer camps. I also interned on the film set of Hope Floats. Then I went to Boston to get my graduate degree at Emerson College, and that’s where I met my now husband Scott. Boston is great in a lot of ways, but driving in snow and ice gave me panic attacks, so we moved to California, which is where we live with our three kids and a hamster.

Sounds like you’ve had a very interesting life. Tell me a bit more about The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. What’s it about? What inspired you to write it?

The book is set in the 1960s and is about a gay British spy (Peter) whose lover is accused of being an enemy agent. Peter manages to escape with Charles, but then he begins to wonder whether the accusations could be true. When he’s offered a chance to return to the Agency, Peter uses that access to try and discover the truth about Charles.

I’m not sure what inspired the story exactly. I think the story started as I was brainstorming new Sherlock Holmes ideas but then morphed into something else entirely. The first part of the book came spilling out quite rapidly. The rest took much longer. All told I spent almost three years on the whole thing.

Sounds like a fascinating project. What’s your favorite aspect to the story?

I’m primarily a character writer. I love exploring the depths of people. When I write, I fall a little bit in love with my main character(s), and so Peter himself is one of my favorite aspects. The way he thinks, the deep well of his feelings . . . There is a scene in which he comes home to an empty flat (apartment) and thinks Charles has left him, and his response is, I think, beautiful. A testament to how quickly he fell for Charles, how important Charles has become to him. That was a tough scene to write because I had to feel everything for Peter and it was painful, for him and me!

So this is no fast-paced James Bond of a story. It’s more psychological. I liken it to John Le Carre’s works.

I also hurt for my characters when they’re in pain. How do you approach your stories? Do you plan ahead or do you go by instinct?

I have a weird hybrid of planning and feeling it out. I go in with usually only two things: 1. A scene that I’ve played over and over in my head until I’m ready to write it down, and 2. A vague idea of how it will end. The middle is always mushy and up for grabs. It’s sort of like having two points on a map but it’s up to me to figure out how to get from A to B.

And the scene I have might not even be the first scene. So I’ll write it, then decide what, if anything, needs to come before. So what I’ve really got is a point in the story and an end point, but I sometimes still need to find a starting point!

It’s not the most efficient way of writing, but it’s the only way that works for me. I can’t outline. I can’t work under too much structure. I do, however, keep a notebook beside my computer, and I will write down plot questions and then answer them so I can understand WHY things are happening. I think motivation is important. That’s a character thing again. I’m really all about character.

So I take it you have substantial edits by the time you’re done with your rough draft?

I wish I were a fast writer who could spit out a first draft and then get down to editing. I really do believe that’s actually the best way–just get it on paper and then perfect it. Alas, I’m not that kind of writer. I can’t speed through the first draft. I pick at it and fret over it. I want it to be perfect the first time, and then of course it isn’t and still has to be rewritten.

When I finish a draft, I have to give it to others to read. I’m too close to the material; I won’t see the flaws as clearly as they will. My husband reads it and so does my critique group. I ask them to mark anything that doesn’t make sense, anything that slows things down, whatever. Most of them will also mark spelling and punctuation, but that’s not crucial at this stage. Then it might still be a while before I’m ready to tackle the story again. I’ll usually try to go write one or two short stories, a short play or something between novels.

Right now I’m doing a rewrite on a YA fantasy. One of my critique partners slashed whole chapters at the beginning because she wanted to the book to get to the action more quickly. It was valid, and I think it makes the book better, but it was still painful to hear that I needed to cut huge chunks of material! Back when I was an editor, we would call that a “bleeder” because of all the red marks on the pages.

I also swear by having my books critiqued. What’s your best advice for finding a critique group?

I lucked into mine. I met someone at a writers conference who turned out to be from the next town over from mine, and she already had a group and they invited me to join. We meet weekly which, based on what I hear from other writer friends, is more than many groups who meet maybe once or twice a month. But of course all of us might not make it to every meeting either. It’s very fluid and comfortable and I can’t imagine a better group.

If I were going to go looking for a group? It’s easier, I think, to start online. But the person-to-person aspect is important, too. Body language sometimes says a lot more than words being spoken. And you can hug one another if you’re face to face! So I would check with local libraries to see if there are any groups, or maybe post at the library to start a group. Local bookstores might also know of writing groups, and certainly there are local chapters of writing associations (here we have the California Writers Club). They can usually hook you up with a critique group if you become a member.

Good tips. 🙂 Last but not least, where can people find you and The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller?

Well, my main site is here. I’m also on Facebook and on Twitter at @sh8kspeare.

The best place to find The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller is on the publisher’s website. There’s an excerpt there and all the buying links for various formats/e-readers. It’s only available as an ebook for now, but if it does well enough the publisher says it will consider a print version.

You can also find all my books on either the Shop page on PepperWords, or on my Amazon author page.

In 1960’s London, British Intelligence agent Peter Stoller is next in line to run the Agency—until he falls in love with cab driver, Charles, and his life goes off the road. When Charles is accused of treason, Peter is guilty by association. Peter manages to extract them both, but the seeds of doubt have been planted, putting Peter’s mind and heart at war. Is ignorance truly bliss or merely deadly?

Thanks again for hosting me!

You’re most welcome! 

Anyone else wanting to sign up to be featured is more than welcome. (Regardless of whether they’re published or not.) All you have to do is mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com with “Thursday Feature” in the subject line. 

Who else gets empathetic pains when their characters suffer? 

Interview with Susan Rocan

Hey all! Welcome to another fortnightly interview. Today I welcome Susan Rocan to my blog.
 
Hey Susan, thanks so much for hanging out with me on MFB. Why don’t you tell everyone a bit about yourself?

 I’m Canadian, specifically from Manitoba, which seems to be the heart of the Young Adult market, these days. This works very well for me, because that’s what I am most known for – my YA fiction – and where my publisher is situated. Great Plains Publications has produced both of my YA novels, ‘Withershins’ and ‘Spirit Quest’, which are time travel tales set in Manitoba during the mid-1800s.
 
Withershins sounds like a fascinating idea. Where did it come from?
 
It began when my writers group and I were brainstorming short story ideas for a new anthology we wanted to produce. It was supposed to come out around Hallowe’en, so we were discussing scary stories. I suddenly remembered a time when I was 18. I was with three friends at the oldest church in western Canada late one Friday evening when one of them suggested we try the withershins, although at the time we didn’t even know it had a name! I was too chicken to finish the third circle around the church, but speculated what might happen if my character did it. The result was two novels where it started simply as a short story.
 
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
 
The answer is simply, ‘no’. I never seriously considered it growing up, although I always enjoyed creative writing in school and I did write in a diary as a teenager – you know, the usual angst stuff. I did always want to work with kids and ended up with two Bachelor degrees, one majoring in Speech Pathology and Audiology, the other in Elementary Education. Both career paths involve words and language, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would become a wordsmith!
 
What got you to start writing?
 
Well, I started writing when my youngest child began going to school – about 18 years ago. That was about the time when my husband and I got interested in an old British SciFi show called ‘Blake’s 7’. The series ended with all the heroes being killed, apparently, in an ambush by their arch enemy. That bothered me more than you’d expect. I spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to save the heroes and finally came up with a satisfying conclusion. I wrote it all out then decided there was no point to it, but I really liked the characters that I had created to help the ‘Blake’s 7′ crew and decided to write a story that revolved around them. When it was done, I joined the Manitoba Writers’ Guild. In one of their newsletters was a call for ‘fan fiction’. I had never heard of it, so I called up the woman looking for stories for her ‘fanzine’ and submitted my original ‘Blake’s 7’ story. She liked it and it was published in her fanzine. Her husband ran a writers group and, since he really like my story & writing style, asked if I’d like to join. By that time I had a couple of novels written, so wanted their feedback. I said, ‘yes!’
 
Their critiques were rather brutal, but I learned a lot from them. By the time my ideas for ‘Withershins’ came along, my writing had improved considerably. They loved it and helped me improve on the initial premise. One of the members practiced wicca and gave me some insight into magical ways. Their group disbanded before I finished writing it, but I was fortunate to have another group who helped me polish it all up and helped me through the synopsis stage and inquiry letter. I have both groups to thank for the hours they spent helping me perfect my stories.
 
Brutal crits can be best, as long as they’re not intended to be mean. What was the best lesson that you learnt from being critiqued?
 
That no matter how good you think your manuscript is there’s always room for improvement. My hubby read my very first story and questioned certain scenes. I got very defensive, trying to argue why I wrote it a certain way. Once I thought about what he’d said, I realized he had legitimate concerns. If he questioned parts of the story, other readers would probably feel the same – and I couldn’t defend their criticisms! After that first critique experience, my hubby hesitated to read my future work. He and my first writer’s group helped me realize the importance of taking criticism in the spirit to which it was given – to help make the manuscript the best it can be. I respected their opinions because they had been writing a lot longer than I had, at that point. It’s never easy to have your ‘baby’ criticized, but if you want your readers to read more of your work, some changes will inevitably need to be made.
 
So true. How do you deal with cutting your baby? (Editing out scenes?)
 
It’s a matter of deciding what is not going to progress the plot. It may be a wonderful scene about picking daisies in a field, but what does it have to do with the plot or character development? If it’s just a scene for the sake of a scene, no matter how eloquently you described it, cut it out!
 
I don’t trash all the scenes I delete, though. They are all on a file somewhere on my computer in case I need something similar for character development, like if the character is stressed and needs to chill, I would adjust the daisy scene to show that she is trying to unwind, or is learning how to de-stress. I know that’s a silly example, but I hope you get my drift.

With ‘Withershins’ I have about four different versions, especially the beginnings. At first, I wanted to dump a lot about my lead character’s background at the beginning, scenes like being in history class and how it was so boring, which would have bored the reader, so I completely cut out the first chapter, jumping into the scene where they were actually on their way to the church.

I handle my edits like that too. I save every draft and every round. Do you plan your plot ahead or do you pants your way through a draft?

For my published work it was mostly by the seat of my pants. I was so focussed that every morning, I had pretty much the whole next chapter in my head. There were scenes that I would have to divert my attention to research, but for the most part, It was a day-by-day process with no real plan in mind except the ending.

I also keep the ending in my head. How much time do you spend on writing?

When I wasn’t working, I spent several hours every morning once the kids went to school, until they came home for lunch. Sometimes, if I was on a roll, I would continue once they headed back to school. Nowadays, my writing times have been more sporadic, catching an hour or two whenever I can.

What’s your favorite part about writing?

When I’m so immersed in the story that the characters practically write themselves.

Aah I love that too. Last but not least, where can people find you on the internet?

My blog can be found hereMy books are available through Amazon, at Chapters (at least, in Canada) and McNally Robinson Booksellers. My twitter handle is @SusanRocan. I do have a ‘Withershins’ Facebook page, too, which can be found here.



Thanks again for the great interview!

To the readers I ask: What got you writing?

Interview Tuesday: R. Mac Wheeler

Hi all, welcome to another round of Interview Tuesday (on a Wednesday). Today I welcome R. Mac Wheeler to MFB.

Hi Mac! Please tell us a bit more about yourself?

I’m an author of character-driven SF/F/paranormals filled with quirky sorts who lug a lot of baggage, in worlds that aren’t that far out. I was raised in the desert southwest; have called Florida my home the last twenty-five years. As we say in Texas, I have three dogs, a truck, and a beautiful wife, not necessarily in that order.

Hehehe so do the quirky sorts walk into your head fully formed or do you design them to be quirky?

I run a little on the quirky (and obsessive) side myself, so my characters are a natural extension.

Do the characters come into your head first or the story?

 

Most definitely, the characters.They beat me about the head and shoulders while I sleep.

What’s your favorite part about writing?

The fame, fortune, and idolizing of my groupies.
When that wears thin, I live off the creativity and sense of accomplishment.

Do you have any books out there for prospective groupies?

 

After one too many rejections last fall, I decided to self publish all of my eighteen novels. I’ve been editing like a crazed lunatic since then, and diving into the creative process of developing covers (Never thought that would be harder than the writing, even blurbs). I have thus far gotten fourteen of my titles on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and will have title number fifteen there hopefully within three weeks.

Don’t ask me about my sales. No time to worry about that. They are assets that aren’t going anywhere, and when I get all eighteen titles out there, I’ll do some marketing. But in reality…anyone approaching writing expecting to make money should keep playing the Lotto.

Wow! How do you get so many works out there? Do you multitask between WiPs?

I’ve been writing full time for ten years, during my bench time when I was consulting for five years, and otherwise I stole what time I could back in the days I still worked a regular gig…did that for another ten years. I probably sound long of tooth. Yep. Feel about as old as dirt.

Ah so you’ve been at this gig for longer than a lot of us. Got any tips that you wish you knew early on in the process?

Unless you have a favorite uncle running one of the big publishing houses…pick another hobby. Writing can break your heart. Why do that when so many hobbies, like sticking pins in your eyes, are so much more rewarding, without as much pain.

*snort* Right. Excellent tip. Except you’re preaching to the addicted. 😉 Any other tips?

Read the top ten style books three times.
Recognize that fifteen edit passes isn’t excessive. You’ll still have a change to make in every paragraph on the sixteenth pass.
Compose your query letter, blurb, and synopsis early in the writing process. That will enrich the edit process. You’ll see your manuscript in a different light.

Those are some great tips. I didn’t do the blurb etc. earlier, now I’m sort of at a loss with where to start.

Do you use crit partners and/or betas and/or editors? If so, where did you find them?

I’ve tried combinations of all…and while they improved my writing years ago, I’ve never really been that satisfied.

Multiple crit partners can do an excellent job picking out copy errors. But unless they are highly skilled, they can rip the emotion and voice out of your writing.

If you can’t afford true editing, and not JUST copy editing, crit partners is a must. But, I’ve seen the results of $400 editing. You get what you pay for. I’m not making money writing, so I’m not spending $1,500 for an edit.

The best I’ve found is partnered-editing with other full-time writers. If you’ve paid your dues reading the ten style books three times, you’ve bound to have picked up some skill. (Too bad you can’t see your own errors.) If you find a considerate partner willing to put the required time in, both of you will end up with a much cleaner product, cross editing.

Last but not least, where can people find you and your works on the internet?

RMacWheeler.com     On Kindle     On Nook     Blog

 R. Mac Wheeler

Thanks so much, Mac! I truly enjoyed doing this interview with you. Good luck with your writing and publishing endeavors!