Believe in Your Writing, and Yourself

My latest guest appearance on the blog of the amazing author Sharon Ledwith, where I discuss the importance of self-confidence for writers, and dealing with self-doubt:

Believe in Your Writing, and Yourself

Many thanks to Sharon for this opportunity! I highly recommend her blog for all you writers and readers out there.

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Looking Back on Summer

This summer has been eventful. In June I appeared on the ArtistFirst Radio Network, which is highly supportive of independent authors. Here’s my full interview:

Not long after that, I went to a wonderful family reunion. I signed their copies of Mystical Greenwood, and they surprised me with a special cake! Here’s a picture of the cake, along with some pictures of relatives from later on with their copies:

Most recently I made an appearance at the Crofton Library, where I talked about how I came to be published, and featured a musical performance of the two songs in Mystical Greenwood by their composer, Lee J. Chapman, and his associates:

Be sure to check my Events page for upcoming appearances in autumn and winter!

Don’t forget to purchase your copy of Mystical Greenwood, and post a review when you’re done! Every review helps! Please spread the word! Recommend it to your local bookstore and/or library! It is available from the following sites:

US$:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Books a Million  |  Goodreads

UK£Amazon.co.uk  |  Foyles

In addition, you can purchase mugs, greeting cards, postcards, magnets, mouse pads, and coasters featuring the cover art, as well as prints, on Deviant Art! If you’re a fan, show it!

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts, and check out my Blog page to catch up on old ones! Be sure to visit me on social media too:

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  YouTube  |  Google+  |  Tumblr

WOLF NOTES: An Uncommon Interview – Andrew McDowell

My first official author interview! Many thanks to A. L. Kaplan for this opportunity! If you’re an author looking to do an interview, I highly recommend being interviewed by the Wolf!

alkaplan

081Welcome to WOLF NOTES, where interview questions stray from the rest of the pack. It’s nice to know the usual stuff like where an author gets their inspiration and why they write, but sometimes we need a little fun in our lives.

Andrew 2Andrew McDowell wanted to be a writer since he was a teenager. He has studied History and English at St. Mary’s College, and Library and Information Science at the University of Maryland. He is a member of the Maryland Writers’ Association. He is an associate nonfiction editor with the literary journal JMWW. He has had poetry published in the anthology Pen in Hand, and he won second place in the creative nonfiction category of the MWA Literary Contest in 2015 for his essay on his experiences with Asperger syndrome. His YA fantasy novel Mystical Greenwood was published by Mockingbird Lane Press and is available on Amazon…

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Order Mystical Greenwood Now!

Mystical Greenwood RGBYes! I’m very happy to announce that the paperback version of Mystical Greenwood is now available on Amazon!

Mockingbird Lane Press will also soon be offering an e-book version (which can be downloaded to Kindle and Nook)! It should be available in a couple weeks.

Mystical Greenwood will also soon be offered on Barnes & Noble.

I hope you enjoy it! Please read, review (be honest), and help spread the word!

The cover art is also available on Deviant Art! If you’re a fan, you can now buy merchandise!

Another Year

Tomorrow marks this website’s second anniversary. Wow, two years already! Looking back, it’s amazing how much has happened since I created it, much of which I couldn’t have anticipated.

This blog post is my twenty-fourth. I chose to pace myself at one a month, which has suited me fine so I wouldn’t run out of ideas too fast. I’ve discussed personal insights and experiences in various aspects of the writing process as a means to get the word out about myself as a writer, to share my opinions, and to build a following in advance of getting my novel published. All are listed under the site’s Blog page.

My first blog post was referenced in a superbly-done lecture series by Professor Jennifer Cognard-Black, titled Becoming a Great Essayist. I highly recommend it for any writer. My post may not have been an essay, and I certainly didn’t think of it as such when I wrote it. But maybe some of those that have followed it meet that level.

I completed writing Mystical Greenwood shortly after creating this site, and by the end of the following year, I signed a contract with Mockingbird Lane Press to publish it. The cover art was completed this summer, and my publisher and I have worked together on editing it.

Two haiku poems were published last winter in the MWA‘s literary journal Pen in Hand, which is available on Amazon (again, my author bio has an old web address). I’ve also done early work on two other novels, which I hope to get back to over the holidays.

My website has been viewed by people all over the globe. Ranked by most views, here’s a list of the top ten countries as of this moment:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. India
  5. Brazil
  6. Australia
  7. Ireland
  8. Spain
  9. Tanzania
  10. Italy

I’ve shared my site and posts on social media, and made new accounts to increase the viewing pool. I’ve also uploaded two videos of me reading samples of my work publicly to my YouTube channel.

With Thanksgiving approaching, I’m thankful not only for getting my novel on its way to publication, but to have done well with this website over these two years. I’m also thankful to all of you who followed this site and liked my pages and posts.

Who can say what will happen in the upcoming year? With Mystical Greenwood coming closer to publication, I look forward to it! If you’re reading this and aren’t subscribed or following me on social media, I hope you’ll consider doing so and joining in on this journey!

If you have a website and/or blog, how long has yours been up? Please share some of your own writing and blogging highlights.

Edit, Revise, Rewrite

Any writer who takes their craft seriously will have edited their work many times over. I can pretty much guarantee that any bestselling novel or literary classic you take off the shelf is not in its first draft. Novels go through several drafts before they are published. It can be said of any form of creative writing too, really.  It can even feel at times while you write that you are editing too, and the editing takes over the writing process. Some say to not edit at all with the first draft, to just write it and get it done. Also, others will say that you eventually have to stop editing and move on, otherwise you never will. Both of those sentiments make total sense, but editing is still a vital stage of the writing process.

Perhaps you remember from writing school papers the concept of rough drafts and final copies. Editing enables you to polish a rough draft so that you have a final copy. It is the same with novels. So what chance does a work have without being edited, or without at least one other pair of eyes not your own offering critical feedback? Taking feedback is never easy, but it should be constructive, so you can see it as a way to ask yourself what can be done better.

Going beyond grammar and spelling, the book itself goes through many drafts. Plot points are altered. New ones come in. Old ones are eliminated. It’s same with characters, names, and the elements and rules of world-building. Plot holes are identified, along with anything that does not fit. The problem is tackled, usually more than once. It might be necessary to start over from scratch, using the old draft for reference. Format can change too: chapter titles come and go, length can be altered, and the format of chapter numbers (word numbers, Roman numerals, number numbers) can change.

With Mystical Greenwood, I’ve learned the power and importance of editing. It’s always beneficial to have another pair of eyes look at what you wrote, so you might see what potential readers might say. Whether they’re beta readers, critique group members, or professional editors, their opinions will go a long way. At a time when I thought Mystical Greenwood was good and the plot solid, an insightful and encouraging critique from author John DeDakis showed me that more work still needed to be done. To quote Ewan McGregor’s character in The Ghost Writer, I came to think of it as a case where “all the words are there. They’re just in the wrong order.” Some scenes were moved around and rewoven together as a result.

Originally I had around half as many chapters that were twice as long, but then I started to wonder if they were too long. I’ve read books with really long chapters and found it to be frustrating finding a place to stop before bed. So about two thirds through a draft, I split those I had in two (excepting the prologue). I also switched from word numbers to number numbers. I once had chapter titles, but grew to dislike them, and after failing to think of new ones, I discarded them altogether. I felt they had become unnecessary.

The main reason I approached Mockingbird Lane Press was its founder, Regina Riney-Williams, has a great reputation as an editor. Over the course of two rounds of editing, I have found her insights and opinions invaluable. She has been constructive and encouraging, and I’m very grateful for her feedback as much as her willingness to take my book on. I’ve learned not only that so much can change through editing, but as a writer to never stop with one draft. To be a good writer, one must seek and accept feedback, subsequently editing, revising, and often rewriting, which must continue with every novel to come.

The Four P’s of Getting Published

My uncle first came up with the concept of the P’s of getting published. He came up with three: patience, politeness, and professionalism. I added a fourth: persistence. One could call them principles, or perhaps even virtues (although that doesn’t begin with P). Each is important when corresponding with agents, editors, and publishers, and ultimately towards becoming published authors.

Patience

Everyone knows patience is a virtue. It’s also something I brought up when I discussed rejections and criticism. One writer is a fish in a deep ocean when it comes to editing and publishing. People in this industry have to judge every query and submission carefully, and with great thought. They have to decide whether or not it is an investment worth the risk, which like the publication process itself, takes time. Another saying people know is that good things come to those who wait. It’s especially true for writers. Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way never to rush when it comes to writing or getting published. It’s important to respect publishers and editors for taking quality time to be thorough in their jobs so that a writer’s work reaches its full potential.

Persistence

I already discussed the importance of persistence over a year ago when I talked about facing rejection and criticism. Writers have heard it said before and I’ll say it again: don’t give up. Now, once a contract has been signed, it isn’t a good idea to press agents, editors, or publishers, or sound pushy. Rather writers should be persistent to a degree that shows they care about their work and accomplishing goals, but are patient and respectful of those with whom they’re working.

Politeness

A writer must never forget once they have a contract that he or she is not the only writer under contract. Agents, editors, and publishers alike have to work with and help many writers. So writers should always respect their position and what they’re doing for them. They should respect what they say in their critiques, even if they the writer disagree with it. Now, being a little rude is one thing. But I recall one editor’s story of how a client went beyond being merely rude to being outright vile and foulmouthed, calling the editor offensive names. That editor wouldn’t work with that client again. Now this case, as I said, goes beyond mere rudeness. If writers are a little rude such as when defending their vision of their work, publishers and editors can handle that. Sometimes, people can be rude without realizing it. Still, it’s important to remember editors and publishers are people and have feelings, as do writers. Being polite and respectful goes a long way.

Professionalism

A writer should be professional in his or her correspondence, something that’s apparent from the beginning when querying and submitting work. No doubt everyone recalls dressing professional when going for a job interview. One certainly wouldn’t think of dressing too casual then or when hired. It’s a similar situation when approaching and communicating with those who’s job is to edit, publish, and market writers’ creations. Only in this case it’ll usually take the form of words both written and spoken rather than clothing and hairstyle. Acting casually or even sarcastically can give the impression writers aren’t serious about their work being a success, that they don’t care. Publishing is a business. Writers must take it seriously as they would their work, so as to increase the likelihood of getting it and themselves out there.

Moving on to the Next Step

Writing an entire book is a challenge, but one I have overcome with Mystical Greenwood. It isn’t finished yet technically as it’s still in the editing phase. But with Mockingbird Lane Press publishing it, it’s more apparent to me than ever that the day will come where I’ll have officially moved on from this one book I’ve worked on for so long. But that means I’m going face a new challenge, which may prove even greater: writing another book. Knowing I’ll have to move on to this next step, I’m already feeling the pressure.

It almost feels as if I’ve never written a novel before. I’ve noticed a similar situation in college: whenever a new semester starts, it feels like I’m back to square one. But in truth, I realize it’s only natural to feel this way, because every semester, like every book to come, will be different. Each new novel will be its own unique experience and journey, but I’ll have to remember the experiences  and challenges will be, to a certain degree, similar to those I’ve endured before. I have to tell myself I did it before, and can do it again. On the other hand, it may be necessary as well as only natural to feel nervous. I cannot become overconfident or complacent with myself. That fear of failure is what enables me to keep striving try hard, and be conscientious.

However, I find Mystical Greenwood as it is now – almost complete – in the back of my mind. As a result, I keep thinking about it, which isn’t a fair comparison because newer projects will be in their earliest, rough drafts. Sometimes I feel people, when reading a novel, don’t consider the earlier drafts it must’ve gone through. Speaking for myself as a writer, I see a similar problem when starting a new novel after finishing the last one. It’s easy to look at a book complete or nearly complete, and fear your next one won’t be as good or well-written. On the other hand, that last book was rough once. What I mean to say is, Mystical Greenwood‘s near-publication should motivate me to write more, but I can’t compare it to other novels as I begin writing them. The books to come will also take more than a few drafts. A well-polished book doesn’t come instantly.

As I have said before, Mystical Greenwood is intended to be the first book in a trilogy. The next book certainly is one of those up front I need to work on. I have some ideas already forming of what I want to include in the second book, including how I want to end it, but it won’t conclude the story, thereby giving me an early purpose for the third book. At the same time, I want to expand beyond this fantasy realm into other genres.

As a matter of fact, I wrote a manuscript for a high-level creative writing class during my last semester at St. Mary’s College. The class was a “novella” class, but others felt the story I came up was more novel-length, which I felt too. Unlike Mystical Greenwood, it was set in the real world, and was about pets that are neglected and abused. It was definitely a first draft that needs rewriting and I want to work on it. We’ll see what happens. I don’t want to overstretch myself by working on way too many projects at the same time, but there are several other ideas I could expand on eventually. I won’t reveal too much just yet, except there is hope. The day will come soon where I’ll be moving on to the next step. I cannot stop at only a single novel. I must write more, again and again.

Nom de Plume

Nom de Plume, pseudonym, pen name, whichever term you prefer to use, several writers have used one instead of their real names. Like fictional characters, a pen name in itself is a persona created in the writer’s imagination.

Your real name can in essence become a pen name, or what I like to call a “writer’s name” where nothing is made up (otherwise it’s a pen name). There are many options beyond your first and last names. You can include your middle initial, go with your full name, or use initials. If you prefer your middle name, you can use it alone or also include your first initial. If you go by a nickname, have a suffix, more than one middle name, and/or a maiden name, you have even more possibilities. Try saying them out loud, so you can hear how they sound.

There are many sources from which you can create a pen name. You can of course use part of your real name. You could pay tribute to relatives, friends or other people, places real or fictional, something special to you, or maybe it could be an anagram. Samuel Clemens came up with “Mark Twain” from working on the Mississippi River (from a phrase indicating the water to be two fathoms deep). Charles Lutwidge Dodgson took the Latin versions of his first and middle names, anglicized the spellings and swapped them to create “Lewis Carroll”. It could even be one name. Charles Dickens initially used the pseudonym “Boz”.

Usually, a pseudonym is used if a writer feels that he or she has a specific need for one. Some sought to distinguish themselves from someone well-known with a similar name. Others wanted to reflect their chosen genre. It can become a character within the story, like Daniel Handler and William Goldman did respectively with “Lemony Snicket” and “S. Morgenstern”. A writer with multiple works coming out simultaneously might publish some under a pen name and the rest under their real one, which Stephen King did for a while with “Richard Bachman”. If you simply desire privacy, probably your best option then would be something that doesn’t stand out, and even better, isn’t an obvious tribute to anyone or anything special to you.

Perhaps one of the most frequent historical cases has been female authors using male or gender-neutral pseudonyms to give their work a higher chance of success. Some continue to be used, like “George Eliot” (real name Mary Ann Evans). Others no longer are. The novels of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë appear today under their real names. However the sisters first published them respectively as “Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell”. Sadly this trend still seems to continue. Joanne Rowling‘s publisher apparently did not feel the target audience for Harry Potter (teenage boys) would be inclined to read books written by a woman. Rowling subsequently came up with “J. K. Rowling”, when in fact she does not have a middle name (she chose K in honor of her grandmother, Kathleen).

Often, writers become better known by their pen names. A friend who’s a teacher told me of a time when he asked his students if any of them knew who Theodor Geisel was, and no one could answer him. Had he used Geisel’s most frequent pen name (Geisel did use more than one, which you can certainly do), “Dr. Seuss”, they could have answered him right away.

At times I’ve thought about using a pen name. I came up with several possibilities (much like Eric Blair did before he settled on “George Orwell”). I also thought about how my own name could be written in various ways. In the end, I settled for my first and last name, which suits me fine. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that I might still use a pseudonym for something someday. Whether you use your name or a nom de plume is entirely your choice. If you haven’t decided yet, try not to take too long. Always remember, your creative work is your first and foremost concern.

Fact vs. Fiction

Among the genres I intend to try my hand at is historical fiction. Within this genre, the characters witness actual events from our past. Some could be real figures (or based on them). Often books and movies include the subtitle “Based on a true story”. I’ve noticed with literary and cinematic successes there’s often a subsequent wave of interest and research aimed at separating fact from fiction. For a writer, the dilemma presents itself beforehand. With the goal of telling a story and telling it well, can historical fact get in the way of telling good historical fiction? How far should writers go if they cross the line?

Fiction can actually run the risk, with time and new generations, of becoming thought of as fact. In my junior year at St. Mary’s College, I took classes discussing how literature and history have been analyzed and interpreted. In the latter, I recall us discussing how history has been “romanticized” even in America. People record events with their own beliefs and motivations. It’s human nature. To this day there have been cases where real events and figures were altered, or the truth stretched, to create a better story. Facts are sometimes selectively preserved or obscured altogether.

Fiction being fiction, some lines will be crossed. But some writers, like Rafael Sabatini, believe historical fiction should be kept close to fact. Sabatini used real events and drew inspiration from a number of historical figures when writing Captain Blood. Another novel that has been criticized for historical inaccuracies is Ivanhoe. Though several historical points ARE accurate, compared to some of his other novels it seems Sir Walter Scott took liberties. However, he DID admit he had taken liberties when Ivanhoe was published in the book’s “Dedicatory Epistle”. Some believe he wanted to reflect both his support for British unity and his Scottish patriotism through the book’s Saxon-Norman conflict.

Folktales and legends are a part of human culture and the human psyche. We need something to believe in so we may strive and rise to something better. In America, it has been noted we root for underdogs and rebels as symbols of freedom. Pirates and Wild West outlaws were almost exclusively thugs and killers. Nevertheless they’ve been popularized as romantic heroes. Captain Charles Johnson’s 1724 book A General History of the Pyrates has had a considerable influence defining how we perceive pirates today, along with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. However some believe Johnson used artistic license. Pirates seldom buried gold. More often they sold stolen commercial goods on the black market and spent all their money on vices.

My father pointed out to me a common observation that history is written by winners. This notion is especially apparent to me, together with how fiction can become fact over time, in William Shakespeare’s Richard III. I remember the news story of how Richard’s skeleton was found beneath a parking lot. I subsequently learned there are societies who believe he was wrongfully maligned by history and Shakespeare. In the play, he is depicted as an evil, scheming tyrant who has his nephews murdered after usurping the throne from them, as well as harboring an incestuous desire for his niece.

But was Shakespeare to blame? When he wrote Richard III, he was living under the reign of Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of the very man who overthrew Richard. Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, had to justify why he took the throne. What better way than by painting his defeated opponent as a villain by playing upon rumors of his nephews’ disappearance or incestuous desire (that rumor Richard had denied)? We still don’t know for certain what befell the Princes in the Tower, although Richard certainly had opportunity and motive. By Shakespeare’s time, this image must have been considered fact. Even if Shakespeare doubted it, he almost certainly couldn’t offend his own monarch’s grandfather without putting his neck on the line.

In other cases however, Shakespeare, who’s living depended upon entertaining the masses, did deliberately ignore fact or simply filled gaps. In King John, the hero is Richard the Lionheart’s illegitimate son, Philip Falconbridge. He did actually have an illegitimate son, named Philip of Cognac. Yet little is known of him, not even his mother’s name. Shakespeare took the name and father then created his own character. In Henry IV Part I, he made Harry “Hotspur” Percy and Prince Hal close in age so they would be better character foils, when Percy was actually many years Hal’s senior.

There are exceptions to the rule of winners writing history. At St. Mary’s I took another class on the Lost Cause. Ex-Confederates initiated the movement after losing the American Civil War to whitewash their image as heroic, conveniently ignoring slavery and racism. Once again, it is a case of people recording events with bias.

As readers, we must bear in mind fiction is fiction. Historical fiction and drama shouldn’t be taken completely at face value. But that doesn’t mean writers should ignore historical fact either. I want to try and reconcile my respect for history and the goal to tell a good story well as much as possible. I know it won’t work in every way, but I’ll do my best to be accurate, particularly with worldbuilding, and any real events or figures should I use them. When I cannot be accurate, I will acknowledge it. Good historical fiction is built upon historical fact. Fiction in turn can inspire a search for the fact.

Further Reading
  1. The Richard III Society.
  2. Higgins, Charlotte. Scotland’s image-maker Sir Walter Scott ‘invented English legends’.
  3. Sabatini, Rafael. Historical Fiction.