Behind the Book: Mystical Greenwood by Andrew McDowell

Check out this interview I did with my friend and fellow author Ally Aldridge as part of her “Behind the Book” series, in which I discuss my novel Mystical Greenwood. Many thanks, Ally, for this opportunity!

via Behind the Book: Mystical Greenwood by Andrew McDowell

Verse: Rhyme or Free?

Anyone who has watched Dead Poets Society remembers the viewpoint Robin Williams’s character John Keating gave regarding poetry, and how it cannot be measured. It was a very touching scene, and so I thought I’d talk about my own experiences with poetry, this being National Poetry Month.

I first began writing poetry when I was a teenager. Back then, one could say I was rather rigid. I didn’t experiment a whole lot, typically using a simple rhyme scheme, unless of course if I was writing a sonnet. I would write sonnets because I was (and still am) a huge fan of Shakespeare. I had even recited Sonnet #XVIII (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?) at a Poetry Out Loud contest in high school, in which I won third place. But then again, I was rigid there too, because I’d only written sonnets in the Shakespearean format. In a way, looking back, perhaps I was afraid of breaking into new ground.

My rigidness continued for a while at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where I was introduced at a poetry club reading by the club leader as a more traditional poet compared to other members. The professor of an advanced poetry workshop class later made the observation that I liked to express a theme or idea at the end of each of my poems. However, it was through both that class and another poetry class at St. Mary’s that I began to break free and experiment with poetry.

I discovered new different forms that I had to write in as part of my assignments in those classes. More importantly, over the years I’ve broken free of form alone and began to not worry about syllables and rhymes. I’ve realized how poetry provides a way to really experiment with words and phrases, more so perhaps than fiction. I continued to express themes in my poetry, but also turned to showing and portraying emotions and feelings.

Among the blogs I follow are poets who use their sites to share their work, which is amazingly diverse and wonderfully done. I myself read three poems during an open mic at the Annapolis Chapter of the MWA:

Here’s another reading I did online for The And I Thought Ladies:

And another at the Annapolis MWA:

Poetry expresses what’s in the heart and mind. For any poet, and every writer, their work evolves over time, and through experimentation, gets better.

Resources
  1. Community of Literary Magazines and Presses Directory.
  2. Brewer, Robert Lee. List of 86 Poetic Forms for Poets.
  3. Guildford, Chuck. Stanza Breaks.
  4. Hess, Gary R. 55 Types of Poetry Forms.

Resolutions

It’s a new year! I’ve always found it remarkable how time flies, especially when we’re not really paying attention to it. It’s only when we’re constantly noting it that everything is going extremely slow. But more importantly, reflecting on times past helps one see just how far one’s come, and to prepare for the future, which I think everyone can agree is on people’s minds right now, with the notion of New Year’s Resolutions. Ever since I took my writing seriously, there have been resolutions related to writing every year.

I started my website over four years ago. There’s been a lot of trial and error in building and designing my website, and those of you who’ve been loyal followers, thank you for your support. Thanks also to those who have read and reviewed Mystical Greenwood. Over this time, I’ve been fixing a number of grammatical errors, but as frustrating as it has been, I’ve learned from them—not only new things about language that have helped make me a better writer, but that no one and nothing will ever be truly perfect—not even writers and their work. I’ve come to accept that, and people have for the most part been understanding and kind. The majority of reviewers so far have enjoyed it and written favorably about it. Plus, the book was a finalist in a contest!

This past year I didn’t plan that many public appearances and book signings. I made a few, but not throughout the entire year, and the year before some didn’t draw large crowds due to a lack of planning. But others did. Perhaps my most successful was my discussion on the importance of names. This year I know I’m going to have to do more of them in order to spread the word and get more readers and reviews. To start off, in a few weeks I’ll be signing copies of Mystical Greenwood at an indoor yard sale at Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church. I’ll giving my aforementioned discussion on names once again at the end of February, this time for the Baltimore chapter of the MWA. I also hope that I will be able to sign and sell copies of my book at the 2020 Maryland Writers’ Conference at the end of March!

And of course there are online appearances—I have in the past couple of years made several guest appearances on other blogs and a podcast, and I’m always looking for more opportunities. Anyone who would like for me to be a guest speaker or blogger can always reach me via this site’s Contact page. Perhaps most importantly, I need to place some serious focus on future works, especially the sequel to Mystical Greenwood. A number of reviewers have expressed their interest in finding out what happens in the next book, so I have to get on that so they will not be waiting forever! Here’s hoping for a good year with good memories and prolific writing!

Interview with author Andrew McDowell

This is my second guest appearance on Ari Meghlen’s blog. Many thanks again to Ari for this opportunity, and if you’re a writer looking to do an interview, I highly recommend her site.

Official Author Website of Ari Meghlen

Today I welcome back author and good friend of mine, Andrew McDowell who has shared his advice with us before.  Today he agreed to do an author interview.  Check out his answers below 🙂

Interview with author Andrew McDowell.  Image:  Speechbubbles

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My Interview with Vonnie Winslow Crist

Check out my interview with the amazing author Vonnie Winslow Crist! Many thanks for this opportunity, Vonnie! Anyone who’s looking to do an author interview, I highly recommend her blog Whimsical Words!

via Interview of Andrew McDowell

The Importance of Names (Video)

Watch my talk on the importance of names for characters, settings, and things at the Annapolis Chapter of the MWA if you haven’t yet:

This was my first talk geared specifically towards writers. I had a wonderful turnout that evening, and I’ve been informed that some of those who attended used what they learned in their own writing.

Here’s the handout from the event:

Importance of Names Handout

Do elements of my talk sound familiar? Read these old blog posts from which it draws upon:

Many thanks to all of you who purchased Mystical Greenwood! If you haven’t yet, please do so! Plus, it’s now available in Nook! Remember, books make great gifts! If you enjoy it, and I hope you do, please post a review! Help spread the word!

US$:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Books-A-Million  |  Goodreads

UK£Amazon.co.uk  |  Foyles

And order your merchandise on Deviant Art!

Write in Right Now

For those who haven’t seen these yet, here are some pictures from the event Write in Right Now that I participated in a few weeks ago at the Annapolis Regional Library, alongside fellow writers Lucia St. Clair Robson, Jennifer Bort Yacovissi, Sally Whitney, and Leigh Goff:

I had a really good time there. Some of these pictures might lead you to think the attendance was small. It wasn’t (these were taken near the very end as people began to leave). The turnout was absolutely wonderful.

Click here to read a nice article about the event (where I am mentioned for my “dark gray blazer”). For all those who are participating in National Novel Writing Month, I wish you the best of luck. Keep up the good work!

Social Media

Social media is without a doubt one of the greatest technological advancements in modern times. Gone are the days when the only way to spread word by handwritten letters or word of mouth. Now in the computer age people can communicate with one another in the blink of an eye. For a writer, social media has become indispensable for informing prospective readers of theirs and their work’s presence, especially for the unknown writer trying to establish a foot in the writing world. Yet social media, like the writing world, is a vast ocean filled with fish. Each writer must find ways to make him or herself stand out.

When I first started writing I used word of mouth to talk about it. Still, I was young and woefully unprepared for marketing (I certainly was not ready for publication either). Throughout high school I was not on social media of any kind, and would really not get into it until after college.

In addition to this website/blog, I have a Facebook page and a YouTube channel. In observing site stats, I can see it has gotten far more referrals from Facebook than anywhere else. Several friends from the Maryland Writers’ Association created a public page that anyone can like and follow. I knew at some point I ought to create one of my own, but it was not until my first writing award in the MWA creative nonfiction contest and agreeing to read from it in Baltimore that I finally got around to that. I invited all my connections to like the page, and still do.

Almost instantly, inquiries were made on the page regarding my website. I hesitated to create one because I hadn’t published much, nor had I found a publisher for my novel. Nevertheless, I wondered if I should start early. At a meeting of the Annapolis chapter of the MWA, I talked about it with a friend. She encouraged me to start right away, so I did. Website building blogging, and specifically WordPress, were the topic of discussion at a previous meeting. So I decided to go with WordPress. I started with one visual theme, but another site I formerly followed already used it. Eventually I grew dissatisfied. I knew I needed to find something different. Eventually after looking at many other themes, I chose the one I have now. Like in all aspects of writing and social media, I have continued to learn through trial and error to refine my site’s image.

My site’s domain name was not my first choice. I originally hoped to use my first and last name, like many writers’ professional websites. Unfortunately it had already been taken. My first post appeared the month after I created my site. In future I hope to use my blog to make announcements about and market my work. For now, I have been discussing my experiences and beliefs I have formed about writing. I do sometimes wish there were more likes and comments, but I have learned it is not always easy to catch people’s interest. Sometimes to do so, the old ways like word of mouth are best. Still, not everyone you invite responds. Some prefer not to subscribe. It is something we all must learn to accept. No one can be forced to subscribe or even view a site. All you can do is invite them.

Social media has a dark side too. We all must strive to remain dignified and respectful when many others will not be, which is not always easy. In the past on Facebook I have at times written without thinking, or were distracted or having a bad day. Some friendships were broken as a result, despite my attempts to make amends. Lesson learned; we are all people with feelings, opinions, and flaws. At times I fear I might become trapped within my own creation. I have to do my best to restrict myself sometimes; to know to when to stop. Social media can be like public appearances in that you need to guard your private life outside of them. Sometimes it feels like I spend too much time on it, and I have to be mindful there too. It is good to unplug sometimes and get away from it all, to enjoy life and discover true inspiration.

As mentioned earlier, I am also using YouTube. I uploaded my first video back in April from the Open Mic I participated in that month. There have not been any more at the moment. In the future I hope to change that, with more appearances, book trailers, and other videos. I have created a presence on social media and acquired a following. I sometimes fear I will run out of ideas to blog about before a publisher accepts my manuscript. I can only hope this platform will continue to grow, and that I will continue to learn new ways to market my work and presence so they stand out.

Off the Page

Writers must play a role in marketing their work, so that prospective readers will know about it, and them as writers. Central to that role is taking their written words off the page by reading aloud. Sometimes there are full-length reads in person, or short clips meant to entice readers to want more. Writers also speak publicly about their experiences as writers. In all cases, it is important to give a strong presentation.

Before stories were written, they were told aloud. We still read them aloud today. As a child my parents read to me before bed, which I hope to do someday when I have children of my own. Some of my favorite TV shows were essentially narrations of the stories they were based on, from Beatrix Potter’s tales to The Railway Series by Reverend Awdry (these were narrated by George Carlin and Ringo Starr). The narrators I remember did an excellent job. I watched them over and over again. Those stories stuck with me. In recent years when I volunteered at a library annex on Ft. Meade, once in a while I read aloud to visiting children. Listening to and telling stories are a way we can connect to each other.

In school I read my work aloud, which continued at St. Mary’s. I listened to writers talk as part of the college’s VOICES reading series. Back in high school I participated in the drama club, where I had to memorize lines. Public readings and talks are themselves a dramatic performance. Therefore the writer is an actor playing a role. Charles Dickens gave numerous readings of his work (notably A Christmas Carol). He actually considered becoming an actor before he started writing. Nevertheless, he was a master of vocalizing characters. It has been sadly noted his time was before voices could start being recorded, so we can never hear what he sounded like.

My mother told me I could once recite Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat from beginning to end. I have no memory of that sadly, but I certainly have been able to quote works I have read. At work I’ve done so when people check out those works, such as Shakespeare. In my junior year of high school I participated in a Poetry Out Loud contest where I recited Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet XVIII: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”. Although I froze near the end, I managed to save my performance and ended up winning third place.

The first time I read from my work that was published was back in September at the Baltimore Book Festival, for my creative nonfiction essay on Asperger syndrome. In analogy to King George VI, that reading could be considered my Wembley speech. Though I dressed the part of a writer (someone there even commented so) right down to the Tweed jacket, I did not prepare well at all. I had to select which excerpts to read then and there. Also, in choosing I could see parts I felt could have been written better, and in the end I rushed through it, flustering.

People still enjoyed it, but I knew it could have been better. Pictures taken that day show me looking frustrated. To the superstitious, I guess it did not help that a black cat crossed the road as I was preparing to leave for Baltimore (no joke; that really happened). That day was a lesson to never be totally unprepared. The next reading I knew had to be better. When I agreed to participate in an open mic event back in April, I repeatedly recorded myself reading using an app on my iPhone. I listened to myself, noting where I needed improvement. After the final reading it and watching the video recording of it, I felt satisfied. I hope the next public reading will be better, and every one to come.

Author, teacher, speaker and voiceover artist Izolda Trakhtenberg discussed the importance of speaking well at the Annapolis MWA meeting last week. She showed us different exercises to help in preparation for reading aloud. In many ways they reminded me of Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech. She showed us a writer needs to have good vocal presence, posture, balance, breathing, and must connect with the audience by maintaining eye contact. Regulated breathing helps you speak better. Eye contact has always been difficult for me, with my Asperger syndrome.

I and others at the meeting read a few lines of dialogue from published or unpublished work. In my case, I read from an early scene in my novel, during the protagonist’s first meeting with his eventual mentor. Izolda mentioned I started strong but went softer and mumbled. Would that not have happened had I practiced? Perhaps. Still, I was complemented for using a lower pitch of voice for my mentor in contrast to my protagonist to show who was more confident and self-assured. She suggested to all of us that we record samples of different vocal tones so to remember them for specific characters.

Public appearances are important. Now I don’t want my presentation of myself to become my life. I hope to live a private life away from public eyes, so it in turn can truly inspire my work. Nevertheless, I hope to do more readings so people will know me and my work. I’m sure there will be mistakes, but I accept that. Everyone makes mistakes, including me. The best I can do is minimize them as much as I can.