Interview With Author Dustin R. Cummings

Dustin has worked harder than most writers I know to polish his first novel. The result of all that hard work is the upcoming publication of his first novel, Exiles of a Gilded Moon. Following is our interview, and please feel free to place comments here for Dustin.

1. What made you decide to write in the fantasy genre?

Fantasy has been one of my favorite genres for as long as I can remember. The power to shape an entire world with the stroke of a pen and to transport a reader within its environs, is something that has always captivated me. 
I grew up reading both fantasy and sci-fi books from a variety of authors, and watching fantasy films. These experiences left a deep impression and really sparked my imagination. As a writer, I feel that fantasy allows for unlimited possibilities. It gives writers and readers an opportunity to examine facets of the human experience through an imaginary lens, less encumbered with the biases of our present world.

2. You did an amazing amount of work with multiple revisions. What helped you stick with this project, or believe in it so strongly?

This  story began as an idea that I had as a teenager. During my senior year French class, my teacher often reminded us that different works of art inspired each other, such as DeBussy’s Le Mer, which I believe was inspired by Hiroshige’s Wave over Kanagawa. One day, we were asked to paint something abstract. I chose to paint an alien sky dominated by a ringed planet and its orbiting moons. The perspective of the viewer is looking up at the sky from one of the moons. At that moment, I asked myself what kind of story could I create based upon such an usual scene. Over the years, I imagined and wrote what a civilization depicted in this painting might look like.
It took a significant effort to finish my manuscript. I think what helped me stick with the project was seeking to honor that original, irresistible idea that entered my teenage mind. Furthermore, working with you as my professional editor really encouraged me to work harder to perfect my manuscript. Finally, the positive response from my early readers pushed me to complete my story and share it with the world. 

3. What was the hardest part of this process for you?

I think the hardest part was coming to realize that a draft is not static, and everything is up for revision or change. Once I accepted that, I was able to reimagine my manuscript and make it a much more compelling story.  

4. What was an early experience where you learned words had power?

My parents are excellent story tellers, and their stories really influenced me. They would often share moments about their upbringing in South America, during dinner. From an early age, I learned the power of description, and how words could evoke images and feelings, and seemingly transport you to places you’ve never even been. 

5. How did you select the names for your characters?

I have an obsession with words, especially unique sounding ones.  I chose the names for my main characters based on iterations of names and places that I’ve come across over the years. I tried to make them as unique as possible, to evoke the different cultures and peoples described in the story. As is evident, many names are familiar, and evoke various cultures. I tried to make all of the names relatable and pronounceable. 

6. Because you chose the fantasy genre, you had to do a lot of world building. What things helped you envision this world?

I have a vivid imagination and I sought to conjure images of places that would have a mixture of familiar and foreign qualities. I’ve been inspired by many things, such as my own family’s roots in South America. I’ve also been inspired by a variety of climates from watching PBS and National Geographic as a child, to traveling to different countries around the world as an adult. Oftentimes, the most random of events have inspired a setting in my book, from wandering through various neighborhoods, to remembering a conversation I might’ve had with a family member. It’s hard to predict where and when inspiration will strike!

7. Exiles of a Gilded Moon is the first in a trilogy. When you are finished with this series, do you feel you will continue writing, and continue in the fantasy genre?

I do see myself continuing to write in fantasy. There is so much room for growth in this genre, and so many stories that have yet to be told. I can certainly see writing more stories based in the Exiles universe, or perhaps another. 

8. You once mentioned that you were intrigued by how a society can collapse, which led partly to this book. Have all the things going on in the world right now changed how you feel a society collapses?

When I started this book as a teenager, I was certainly influenced by the unforgettable events of September 11th and the subsequent wars in the first decade of the 21st century. I find complex societies such as our own, with their vexing problems, boundless opportunities, and staggering contradictions to be a never-ending source of intrigue. I often reflect upon how people lead their lives amid the nexus of extreme decadence and inequality, such as we have experienced in the past several years. I particularly try to imagine how individuals and families confront and adapt to a dramatic societal shift, when all of the rigid boundaries and traditions are destroyed or are reordered in some significant way. 
Sometimes collapse is sudden, such as during war. Sometimes collapse is gradual, like the breakdown of competent governance, and citizens don’t even realize it until after it happens. Dramatic shifts such as these, how we understand them and overcome them, are the essence of the human story. This why storytelling is so important, across all cultures. I hope my story contributes to this tradition in some small way. 

9. Since this is your first novel, how did your writing process develop and change, from when you first started writing, to now?

My writing process changed considerably during the process.  I feel that I’ve definitely improved at describing scenes, emotions, etc. rather than telling  everything. I feel that I have also improved my dialogue and differentiating the characters, so that their individual voices come through. 

10. Was there one part in Exiles of a Gilded Moon that you, as a writer, didn’t see coming, or were surprised by?

There were several parts that surprised me, and these occurred during the revisions.  I ended up writing several new chapters that were inspired by new events in my life, several years after I had finished the original manuscript. Despite the significant difference in time, the chronology of the story fit very well with the new chapters.  I am very satisfied with the result.  

11. What was the best lesson you learned during this writing process?

Persistence has been key, and the willingness to listen to constructive criticism from readers and editors. Also I’ve learned that time to simply think and reflect about my writing has been quintessential to making it better. 

12. What one question do you wish I’d asked?

What message do you hope readers get from your book?
I really hope readers see the importance of family and friendship throughout the story.  Though relationships are not always perfect, they are important and essential to the wellbeing and survival all of the characters.  
I also want readers to question their own societies. I want them to see that what is known to be true can change in an instant. What was once an impossibility can become a reality.  I want readers to place themselves in the characters’ positions and imagine how they might endure and adapt to a society in turmoil.

Thank you, Dustin, for taking the time to answer these questions. It’s always a challenge to come up with questions that authors want to answer, and aren’t just stock questions like ‘where do you get your ideas?’. If anyone is interested in seeing more of Dustin’s work, or taking a peek at Exiles of a Gilded Moon, feel free to follow the link below.

https://shadowsparkpub.com/dustin-r-cummings

The Best Laid Plans

Author Susan Schreyer has just released a new book in her Thea Campbell mystery series set in Snohomish, Washington. Having watched the process of this book come into being and been witness to some long, frustrating days, I thought it would be appropriate to ask her a few questions.

After writing six books in this series and making it look easy, you struggled with this newest one. Why do you think ‘Best Laid Plans’ was harder for you to write than the others?

There is always a little lag between books … well, often, anyway. But I’ll be blunt here: the culprit in this instance was depression. There were a number of life-issues that contributed to this, among which was three deaths in my immediate family and an election (2016) that gave me a good deal of anxiety over the future. Once I recognized the depression and addressed it, the writing didn’t come flowing back. It took time and effort to find my groove again.

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Did your writing process change with this book, and can you tell me a little about that process?

Yes, but my process always changes. I find that I refine it with each book – build on what works and discard what didn’t. With Best Laid Plans, because it’s a complicated plot and took so long,  I had to reread often, depend more heavily on my spreadsheets, and rewrite the story arc.

What do you think helped get your creativity flowing again with this book?

Intention. Or commonly known (among writers) as “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”. Seriously, I gave myself goals – easy ones, at first – then I gave myself permission to become lost in the story world and ignore the real world. I think that last part is important. If I can’t remove myself from what is happening around me, I’ll sit and stare at the screen and fret. It’s probably why I need quiet – I’m easily distracted! Also, my writing will echo any lack of involvement I have in the story. I don’t want to bore my readers!

Tell me about the new character, Amethyst, who apparently has demanded her own book.

Amethyst started out as a plot device – a character to help move the story along, provide color (punny, yes!) and humor. As the story progressed, I realized she was a character with depth and issues that not only intrigued me but were capable of creating a connection with a reader. Who could pass up an opportunity to explore a character like that?

What is your most unusual writing quirk?

I sometimes have conversations with my characters – out loud. If I find myself stuck or unhappy with the way a character’s role in the story is going, I’ll “interview” them. I’ll play both parts to the best of my ability and often find out some surprising information. It sounds very odd, but the improvisation taps into creativity in a physically different way than sitting at the keyboard and typing, as has been demonstrated in studies of how the brain functions.

Susan Schreyer author picture

Susan and Eddy, both showing their beautiful smiles for the camera

What has influenced you most as a writer?

That’s a difficult one to answer since there are so many influences in one’s life. I’d have to say, though, that without exposure to other wonderful writers I doubt I would have been lured as far down this path as I have gone.

What little thing would readers be surprised to know about you?

(I had to ask my husband for this) The first and only time I ever entered my roses in a rose show I won the championship. Big ribbon, small money.

I know this is almost an impossible question for people like us that read all the time, but can you pick just one all-time favorite book that you have read and tell us why it’s your favorite?

After much thought, I’m going to go way back to the book that got me hooked on mysteries, adventure and dreaming about writing. That would be The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. I consumed his books. Thank you, Mr. Farley!

I know this can be a cliché question, but what advice would you give a beginning writer, at this moment in time?

Write. Then once you have written, start the process of learning how to do it better – and know that not all advice you get will be a) good, or b) helpful. Some of it will be, though. That which is worth hanging on to will be the advice that follows you around and gets you eager to do more.

And my favorite question to end interviews with: what one question do you wish I’d asked, that I didn’t? (You can answer it, too!)

What is your favorite part about writing? That has to be learning. Not only research about areas outside of my experience, but how to write better. If there wasn’t the opportunity to learn and improve, it would quickly become boring.

Thank you for the opportunity to have this conversation. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you!

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Some of Susan’s roses. She may not enter them in competitions often, but I can tell you she has many, many beautiful roses of all varieties.

 

 

 

Interview with Author Lisa Souza

My last post was an interview with Mark Souza. This one is with his wife, Lisa, author of Beauty and the Bridesmaid. I’ve been lucky enough to read both Mark and Lisa’s books in early stages of development. This book made me laugh outright, which is no surprise because Lisa does, too. The thing is, the book hooked me because I’d laugh and then realize, ‘wait, this isn’t funny anymore, this is tragic’. What a roller coaster of emotion.

You have multiple writers in your home. What are the pros and cons of that?

PRO: Other writers understand the frustrations that come with the process: empty pages, dry spells, and of course the familiar ‘this is not nearly good enough’ feeling.

CON: Getting someone’s attention in a household full of head-phone-wearing laptop-gazers is useless. Don’t bother trying.

PRO: When stuck for a specific word, one can employ local talent to compete in a ‘find-the-word-I-need’ effort. Saves oodles of time digging through a thesaurus.

CON: It’s daunting living in the shadow of talented people. Therapy may be required.

PRO: Who better able to celebrate the joy associated with, say, a book sale or a good review, than another writer or two or three?

Vegas_Mark

Multiple writers? Nope. Lisa taking a photo of Mark. With fans?

Is there a book out there that you wish you’d written? If so, what was it about that writing that pulled at you?

What an AWESOME question! We could start with the non-fiction stuff (Stephen King On Writing, Thomas Sterner The Practicing Mind) and work our way through the classics (The Handmaid’s Tale). But I can’t neglect fiction (A Wrinkle in Time) or every single thing penned by Martha Beck. And Dean Koontz writes such heroic characters – they make me feel lazy and un-evolved by comparison. Great writers create clever, layered word experiences. In The Husband Koontz tossed in a plot twist that caught me off guard despite a life-time of avid reading. What a gift.

Are there certain types of scenes that are harder for you to write than others and if so, why do you think that is?

I suffer from plot envy. Working out a clever plot requires so much mental gymnastics. It would be handy if I could conjure twisty, believable stories by ingesting copious amounts of cheese, but not so. I have far fewer problems writing angsty characters dripping with emotional baggage. They do say “write what you know.”

Lisa Souza 2

Wonder if these guys will show up in a book.

You also write screenplays. How does that writing process compare to writing fiction?

I thought writing screenplays would be far easier than novel writing – so many fewer pages needed! So much more white space! Instead it turns out screenplays are tricky word unicorns, unique creatures with distinct requirements. The format requires a tight, clean writing style, free of fluff and full of visual intensity. No long-winded descriptions in a screenplay. It’s a controlled environment, unlike a novel where you are free to flesh out details. Screenplays exercise a different set of writing muscles.

For example, you write with a particular actor in mind. Since you hope to capture their attention, you target your language and perhaps even the genre to attract that person. Awareness of budget plays a part, too. Is there a way you get rid of seven residual characters and still advance the story? Great! You just saved the studio thousands of dollars. Whatever the medium, though, it comes back to the empty page and the need to tell a compelling story.

It took a lot of encouragement and prodding to get you to finish your book. What were the biggest stumbling blocks, and how did you overcome them?

My older brother is a very successful writer. He’s also hugely dedicated to the craft. He has always worked harder and with more focus than anyone I know to make the written word his life’s focus. He told me when we were about five and three years old respectively that he would be a writer when he grew up. Well done, brother.

My husband is a successful writer. And a successful engineer. In short order he put together a very successful anthology of short stories and an award-winning novel. You, go!

And on a rational level, I’m overwhelmed with joy for them both, and hugely grateful to those who put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), creating fresh and new and vibrant for me to enjoy. Thanks, y’all!  But being sandwiched between talented people leaves me swimming in awe. And also self-doubt. And fear, let’s not forget terrible fear of not being good enough because what if I do not deserve to share the stage with those dedicated, talented writers??

But at some point a couple of things caught my attention. One: every human being has a unique and intriguing perspective, so sharing mine contributes to the rich literary bucket. Two: I’m going to die. I know. It surprised the heck out of me, too. When I truly accepted the finite nature of consciousness, I felt compelled to get something completed before some force – like a fast moving car – writes “The End” for me.

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Love this photo. Wish you could hear her wonderful laugh.

And my favorite question – what do you wish someone would ask you about writing, and how would you answer it?

Would you like fries with that? (This is called ‘stalling’).

Gosh writing is hard. Writing QUESTIONS is hard.

“Does writing come easily to you, Lisa Souza?”

No, Lisa Stowe. No it does not. Writing is wonderful and complex and hard, like… like… like a very, very hard thing.

Beauty and the Bridesmade e-book

All the books by both Mark and Lisa are good, but this one is my favorite. It’s not what you expect.