A Writer’s Process 9(b)

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We’re back with the always-leave-’em-laughing Shelby Rosiak. Grab a bagel and get comfortable. If you missed part one of our discussion on humor in writing, please click here. Up to speed? Then, let’s do this thing!

El Space: What advice led you to the biggest writing breakthrough recently?
Shelby: A. M. Jenkins told me, “Step away from the computer and try writing by hand,” and that has made the biggest difference in my writing career. I feel more free on real paper, less inhibited, less judgmental. I can cross things out, write in the margins, make notes to myself, repeat myself. You can’t delete if it’s on paper, and deleting is a single line strikethrough, not completely missing from the page.

Stipula_fountain_penI have several different notebooks going on, so I’m not hugely picky about paper, but I almost always write with a fountain pen. There’s something about connecting liquid ink, delicate nib, to paper that is unique to a fountain pen. If you’ve written with one, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, then try one! I’d say about 90% of my work is done on paper and then transcribed to the computer (the boring part).

El Space: How do you balance humor and seriousness in your work in progress?
7172060Shelby: I asked Alan Silberberg this exact question about his novel Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze, which is a hilarious story of a boy coming to terms with losing his mother, a decidedly unfunny topic. He said, essentially, that you just go on instinct. I think that’s true as well, but I think the balance is really struck in the revision process. You have to think, Is this the character or is it me? Have I created this situation only for the punch line? Feedback from my critique group and classmates helps tremendously in finding that balance.

But it’s still not perfect. I once wrote a short story—I know you’ll remember this one, L.—about a vegetarian zombie named Trixie.

El Space: I do! An absolutely hilarious story.
Shelby: The piece was intended to be purely absurd. I just let loose and tried to be as funny as possible—Trixie missing half her face and holding a bag on Sun Chips, a zombie with his head under the Slurpee machine at 7-Eleven pouring it directly into his mouth—and while I put structure in the story, I would say about half of the workshop group didn’t get it. Many mentioned that they wanted more motivation. I was like, “Dude, the main character is RUNNING FROM ZOMBIES! What better motivation is there?”

Face PalmEl Space: I remember that discussion. I did a couple of facepalms at some of the comments.
Shelby: Others wanted more character development, still others wanted more of what you’d find in a traditional story. Part of me was thinking You’ve totally missed the point, but at the same time, you can’t exactly affect a French accent and decry, “You don’t understand my art!” A reader’s reaction is always legitimate, and it was a good exercise writing that story where I really wasn’t able to find that balance for some people.

One more piece of advice I got from A. M. Jenkins—well actually, this was more life changing than the one I mentioned above; can I change my mind?—came after she read dozens of pages of my work and finally said, “Stop being funny—it’s holding you back from your best writing.” That was a huge revelation for me, since part of me thought that funny WAS my best writing, and it took that to see that I was capable of a lot more. It’s easy for me to hide behind the humor. I don’t have to take risks; I don’t have to feel vulnerable. But that’s not what good writing is about. Once she pointed that out to me, I think my writing drastically improved, both the serious AND funny parts.

El Space: Glad you had that breakthrough! I see what you mean by life changing. But now, I’m dying to know: what books do you find funny?
project-jackalopeShelby: More than books, I tend to find authors funny. In YA, definitely Libba Bray (all of her work), John Green (all of his), and Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian); middle grade would be Roald Dahl (a serious master of humor), Louis Sachar (Holes), Alan Silberberg (Milo), Emily Ecton (Project Jackalope), M. T. Anderson (the Pals In Peril series); picture books—Mo Willems (Pigeon), Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back); adult—Christopher Moore (Lamb), Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and many others that aren’t immediately coming to mind.

Actually as I’m coming up with this completely off the top of my head, I’m noticing that nearly all are male writers. I wonder why that is? THAT would be an interesting topic to look at!

It sure would be! Alas, we’re out of time! We’ll have to talk about that another time. I’ve enjoyed this discussion immensely. Thank you, Shelby!

If you have questions for Shelby about her process, would like to share a joke, or mention a book you find hilarious, please comment below. Thanks for stopping by. On your way out, you might watch out for those banana peels on the floor. I hear they’re very slippery.

Project Jackalope cover from the author’s site. Other book covers from Goodreads. William Riker and Jean Luc Picard facepalm from onlyhdwallpapers.com. Fountain pen photo from Wikipedia.

A Writer’s Process (5b)

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We’re back with E. L. Kaminsky—the awesome El. Thanks for your comments yesterday—always appreciated. We’re continuing our conversation about mysteries and El’s work in progress. If you’re just tuning in, this is part 2. You might check back to part 1. Also, might I remind you of the suggested blog theme music courtesy of Dreamland’s Insurgents.

As we begin, let me share the GOOD NEWS: Congrats are in order for El! Her short story, “All in the Family” was accepted in the short story anthology, Death Knell, edited by Nancy Daversa, Terry Friedman, and Elena Santagelo (Infinity Publishing). It is available here. Huzzah!!!

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El Space: Happy to hear that, El! So, what authors influenced you as a writer? Why?
El: I started reading Kurt Vonnegut in high school, then got hooked on Tom Robbins. Jitterbug Perfume is one of my all time favorite books.

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I started seeking out the humorous, sarcastic characters of Gregory MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Tim Dorsey, Christopher Moore (who wins best book title ever, IMHO, for Island of the Sequined Love Nun.

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I then sought out the strong heroines of Rita May Brown, Sara Paretsky, Patricia Cornwall—love them all. But then along came Janet Evanovich and that changed everything for me. Her style, her humor, but mainly her characters were everything I ever wanted in a mystery novel—to read or to write.

What attracts me to all of theses authors is the “quirk” factor, either in their characters of their use of language. The humor, sarcasm, zany situations all appeal to my desire to get lost for a while in a novel.

El Space: You mentioned that your main character is haunted by her grandmother’s ghost. What do you find appealing about working on a ghost story?
El: I’ve had a few experiences in life that lead me to believe there is more to our existence than meets the eye. I thought it would be interesting to explore the concept of my main character’s conscience through the use of a ghost, her grandmother, who meddles in her everyday life, giving her advice—solicited or not.

El Space: Will you pursue an agent, a publisher directly, or go the indie route?
El: That’s a really good question. When I began this journey, it was traditional all the way. I have queried agents, gone to conferences, entered contests; as yet none have brought me much luck. I received good comments, had encouraging scores, but no deals. So I stopped spinning my wheels for a while and decided to write again. The activity of trying to get published was too much like work. It was stressful and dissatisfying. I went back to my characters for a while.

In the meantime, I helped a dear friend write his memoirs. We used CreateSpace for his process and it was fairly easy. In the future, I may go that route. This book is available on Kindle and in print here.

El Space: It’s great that you could help out in that way. But what do you like most about the mystery genre?
El: It absorbs me and entertains me without disturbing me. I have an imagination that keeps me up at night, so I can’t read anything too realistic. I need the farfetched, wacky stuff.

El Space: What mystery books have you read recently that you thought were great? Why?
El: Anything by Donna Leon, because her descriptions of Venice put me right back there; Janet Evanovich’s Plum Spooky, because no matter how many times I read it, I still laugh out loud.

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Fear Itself by Elena Santangelo, because the family she portrays reminds me of my own in so many lovely ways.

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El Space: You’re also a singer. What’s your specialty?
El: Right now, I sing lots of stuff from the 50s, 60s, and 70s in a group called Package Goods Orchestra. My first love is jazz standards, and I have the good fortune of sitting in once in a while with some very talented musicians from the Somers Point Jazz Society. I had the great fortune of singing in a group that backed up the great Rosemary Clooney back in 1996 and 97.

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El Space: Awesome!
El: Awsome is exactly the right word. Rosie was one of my mother’s favorite singers, so I heard her music all my life. I feel that my mom had a hand in my getting the gig. Mom had been gone about a year when I answered the ad.

To this day, I am amazed that I passed the audition and had the priviledge of working in Rosie’s great presence. She was an amazing musician, beloved by her band and all of us. Even with her physical challenges, she was a trouper. Generous, kind, and funny as hell. When she died a few years later, I felt as if I had lost my favorite aunt. I wrote a tribute that ran in a magazine where I was a contributing editor. Rosie’s official fan site also ran my story. Here is the link.

El Space: How do you incorporate your music in your writing?
El: There is a headspace that you go into when a song is lifting you up. Your voice is in the zone, harmony is flowing and it just transcends. That’s the way writing feels when my writing is working. Time flies and I have an exhausted, exhilarated feeling afterward.

Music plays a big role in my life, and my writing. I listen while I work; my characters have favorite music, too. And I have an idea for some music-themed mysteries. Stay tuned.

Well, as the old saying goes, how time flies when you’re having fun. Thanks again, El, for being my guest on the blog. If you have questions for El about her process or her music, please comment below. And don’t forget El’s blog here.

Photo of Rosemary Clooney from npr.org. Congrats from free-extras.com.