Tag Archives: writing

Author Interview: Stephen Hall

If Matthew Reilly (who writes all those fast-paced adventure novels) and Douglas Adams (who wrote The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy) had a love-child… well, that’d be really weird. Not to mention impossible. But if they DID, that love-child might write a little bit like Stephen Hall. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.

Hello, I’m Stephen Hall. I’m a writer and actor, a father to one daughter, a husband to one woman, and a meal ticket to one Staffordshire Terrier. I have one sister and no parents. For the past four decades or so, I’ve mostly been trying to make people laugh.

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve always loved entertaining people, telling stories. I suppose the first professional writing I did was writing my own standup comedy material, which I started performing a week before my 18th birthday.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I was first officially employed as a writer in 1996 – with a contract and everything – when I got a gig writing gags and sketches for the Australian TV sketch comedy show Full Frontal.
FUN FACT: That’s where Eric Bana got his start!

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

I’d love to, Wendy! Symphony Under Siege is a rollicking sci-fi comedy adventure set 512 years in the future. On a Thursday morning. It tells the story of the 5-star luxury space cruise liner the Symphony of the Stars, as it’s raided by desperate space pirates in search of the secret fabulous treasure hidden somewhere on board. This playground for the ultra-rich now becomes a battleground for the two crews, as their two headstrong captains circle ever closer to their fateful showdown.

Did I mention one of the cruise ship’s crew is a serial killer? That’s just one more thing the cruise ship captain (highly-decorated ex-navy Captain Diana Singh) has to contend with.

The story’s fast pace is a product of its serialized beginnings, with chapter after chapter of cliffhangers, daring escapes, twists and turns and there’s-no-way-they-could-have-survived-that! moments…..
Oh, and I’ve tried to put in a lot of gags, too.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’d wanted to write a novel for ages. As my 50th birthday approached, I bit the bullet and vowed to finally DO IT before I turned 51. I told my wife and daughter, then I devised a framework to hold me accountable; releasing one chapter online every week, for 52 weeks. Those 52 mini-deadlines were exactly the motivation I needed to stick to it, and get that first draft done. I’m happy to report I met them all, and the original serialised version of the novel is still online, right here: http://www.thestephenhall.com/novel-chapters/

And I always knew that I’d be self-publishing it. I was confident I could do that part of the process, because I’d done it with my previous (non-fiction) book How To Win Game Shows.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

When I started writing it, I didn’t have a title in mind; I just trusted that one would present itself to me… Then, as I neared the end of the writing process (and I knew what the story actually was) I came up with a shortlist of three potential titles, and ran a survey! I asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers to vote for one of the three options, and Symphony Under Siege won hands down. So Symphony Under Siege it was.
And is.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I don’t know about a message, as such – this is just a rollicking, escapist adventure. It has virtually nothing to do with life on earth in 2021. There’s nothing in it to remind you
of our global pandemic,
of our seemingly endless lockdowns,
of the continuing harmful – and sadly, successful – spread of misinformation, ignorance, arrogance and fear,
of the continuing global climate emergency or
of all the petty things that divide humanity being exaggerated and incited by The Powers That Be to overwhelm all the beautiful things that unite us.

Not referencing any of that – or even hinting at any of it – in the book is all deliberate on my part… perhaps that’s as much of a message as anything.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

I wish! No, this is all just invented adventure… probably born of being such a Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Star Trek fan, and all those old Saturday afternoon matinee serials I’ve watched as well.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

Terry Pratchett, Ursula LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut, Tim Winton, and Robert Louis Stevenson are some whose work I really enjoy. I tend to enjoy speculative, imaginative fiction with a sense of humour on the slightly dry side. And Dickens – how could I forget Charles Dickens?! When it comes to serialised novels, Charles Dickens wrote the book.
(In regular monthly instalments, you understand…)

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

Oh, I think Douglas Adams was pretty brilliant, wasn’t he? That mix of wacky, brilliant sci-fi concepts and laugh-out-loud (and very British) comedy gets me every time.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

The cover was designed by a Venezuelan studio called The Kicke Studio. I found them on Fiverr, after commissioning concept sketches from 5 or 6 other artists. I knew I wanted the image to feature my luxury space cruise liner at the moment just before the pirate attack. Although I’d described the ships’ appearances in the novel, I’d only done a few rough sketches of what I thought they might look like. I hired a number of artists to design the two ships based on my descriptions and sketches, and I instantly fell in love with what The Kicke Studio submitted. I’m really happy with the cover they painted for me, and I look forward to teaming up with them again for the sequel!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

A writer writes. Don’t wait for the muse to strike – just write something, anything! The worst thing you did write is always better than the best thing you didn’t write. Remind yourself what fun writing can be – what fun writing should be!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Yes. Thank you for reading this far.


Stephen Hall
Melbourne, Victoria (Australia)

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Symphony Under Siege

Cover Artist: The Kicke Studio

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Welcome back to No Wasted Ink’s top-ten articles about writing with a science fiction and fantasy bent. This week I found many great articles for you to review. Enjoy!


Search Engine Optimization for Novelists

Multiverses in Science Fiction

Guaranteed Success Strategy!

A Checklist for In-Person Book Events

Two Important Points for Writers

The Log-Line: Can You Pitch Your ENTIRE Story in ONE Sentence?

How Can Writers Make Description Evocative?

Writing Neurodivergent Characters in Fantasy

How Much Do I Need To Describe My Character’s Appearance?

The 411 on Writing Retreats

Author Interview: Christiane Knight

Author Christiane Knight is an artist, poet, and writer. She is a lifelong enthusiast of faerie, folktales, forests and fauna, especially combined in copious amounts with all-black clothing and some Joy Division or Bauhaus playing in the headphones. Please welcome her to No Wasted Ink.

Hello! I’m Christiane Knight. I was born in Baltimore MD and have escaped twice, but keep getting drawn back to my quirky hometown. I’ve had a dizzying array of interesting jobs over the years, but these days I am a fiber artist as well as a writer. For fun, I run an online radio station that features goth/industrial/alternative music, and I sing in a couple of musical projects.

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing stories since I learned to print letters. Before I could write them down, I would gather up girls at the playground to sit in a circle and listen to the tales I would dream up – usually about fairies and talking animals.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

In high school, I joined a club that put out a yearly literary publication, and that was the first time I ever saw my words in print. At that point, I knew that writing was something that I was meant to do. After that, I spent some time writing for very small press publications, including my own, but I never thought I’d manage to put out a novel – until I did!

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

I released In Sleep You Know in 2021. It focuses on Merrick Moore, a guy with some great friends and a garage band, but no drive to go anywhere in life. That is, until he crashes a party and ends up with more than he bargained for: new powers, a girlfriend who can visit him in his dreams, and a seven year bond with the Eleriannan Fae court.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been carrying around this series of stories about the Eleriannan, set in Baltimore City, for years and years. When the pandemic hit, and I had nothing but time on my hands, I decided what better to do than to finally start crafting them into proper novels?

Do you have a specific writing style?

My style is very character driven, filled with traditional lore that I’ve filtered through my imagination. I’ve been told that my books read like watching a movie, with lots of intense visuals and action that puts you in the middle of the story. My goal is to write fantasy in a way that the story feels almost plausible, and the characters seem like the kind of people you wish you’d meet and convince to be your friends.

I also weave music throughout my writing in ways that add depth to the story, including using a soundtrack that hints at the action occurring in each chapter.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

“In Sleep You Know” is a reference to the gift that Merrick’s Fae girlfriend Aisling gives him, dreams that reveal the future. It also refers to something that Aisling tells Merrick – that in dreams, one cannot lie. Dreams and dreaming are very important to this story.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

This is a story about discovering the magic inside oneself, realizing the importance of the family you choose, and standing up for the things that matter – even when you are hopelessly outclassed.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Some of the locations in the book are directly inspired by actual locales in Baltimore, Club Marcada in particular. Every scene written there, including the scene where Merrick’s band plays onstage, is inspired by real life events in some way or another. I was able to draw extensively from my experiences as a performer and club manager. Some of Vali’s life and experiences are also drawn from and inspired by my own, especially the experience of having the weirdos of the area regularly hang out at the cafe where she works!

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

As a voracious reader my entire life, too many to list fairly, but as a writer, I would have to mention Charles deLint for his perfect blend of magic and hope and characters you feel like you know like friends. Patricia A. McKillip inspired my writing voice to some degree, and made me pay attention to how she writes her descriptions in a way that feels opulent without being overdone. Jane Yolen, Ursula Le Guin, Tolkien, Elizabeth Hand, Connie Willis.

If you had to choose, is there a writer you would consider a mentor? Why?

All of those writers have helped me on the way to becoming the writer that I am now. If there was one on the list I would have loved to be able to learn extensively from, it would have been Ursula Le Guin. Her mastery of the craft was matched by her cleverness and insightfulness.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

My cover was designed by Leesa Ellis of http://3fernsbookdesign.com/, with some photo manipulation done by Mohammed Hossain Poulash. Leesa is my book mentor as well as the person who did all the exterior and interior design for the book, and I recommend her highly.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Outlines and notes are your friends. Write every day if you can, even if it isn’t on your current project. Go to literary conventions and events, attend the panels, and meet other people in the field. It will do wonders for your confidence as a writer!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Keep that sense of whimsy and wonder. Look for the unexpected moments of magic.


Christiane Knight
Baltimore, Maryland

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In Sleep You Know

Cover Artist: 3 Ferns Book Design
Publisher: Three Ravens Press

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Happy Monday!!! Welcome to No Wasted Ink’s top-ten writers articles. As I surf the internet, I save craft articles that intrigue me and which I hope will also interest you. This week I found some great ones, so pour yourself the beverage of your choice and enjoy.

Archetypal Antagonists for Each of the Six Archetypal Character Arcs

Writing From The End: How Endings Create Satisfying Beginnings In A Book

Plotting for Pantsers and Pantsing for Plotters

How to Nail the Purpose of Your Novel’s Scenes

33 Common Literary Devices: Definitions, Examples, and Exercises

When should writers return to old, abandoned work?

Should MFA Programs Teach the Business of Writing?

A Great Storyteller Loses His Memory

Survey: Most people prefer reading paper books over digital books on tablets, phones

Ray Bradbury’s Greatest Writing Advice

Writer’s Writing Rules by Max Griffin

Ray Bradbury once said, “I don’t tell anyone how to write and no one tells me.” Yet, when pressed, he produced eight “rules” for successful authors.

In fact, if you Google your favorite author together with “writing rules,” you’re likely to discover links to that author’s answer to the question, “What are your rules for writing success?” Try it. I found rules that ran from two items for Robert Heinlein to twenty-four for Dashiell Hammett. That may say something about their respective styles, or maybe about how much self-reflection went into their writing, or something else. But still, there is some wisdom to be garnered by looking at these lists.

Not all Writing Rules are equal. Hammett’s, for example, are detailed, but in such a way that they apply primarily to detective novels of his era. Here’s his first rule, for example:

There was an automatic revolver, the Webley-Fosbery, made in England some years ago. The ordinary automatic pistol, however, is not a revolver. A pistol, to be a revolver, must have something on it that revolves.

This is interesting, but it’s not exactly advice. Of course, the point is that authors shouldn’t confuse a “pistol” with a “revolver.” More generally, authors should use technical terms in an accurate way. This more general form of the rule would include, for example, don’t confuse a unit of distance, like “parsec,” with a unit of time, like how long it takes to make a journey.

At the other end are Heinlein’s two rules.

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.

These certainly clear, and they apply to all authors and all genres. But they are so general as to be useless. For example, they don’t tell you how often or how much you should write, nor how to know you’ve finished. He eventually expanded this to five rules, including that you should never rewrite except to editorial order, but even that is not specific enough to be helpful. We also know, from the correspondence in Grumbles from the Grave, that he in fact did cut his manuscripts, which is certainly revision.

Tom Clancy proposed five rules.

1. Tell the story.
2. Writing is like golf.
3. Make pretend more than real.
4. Writer’s block is unacceptable.
5. No one can take your dream away.

What? Like golf? What he means is that if you aspire to become a golfer, you practice. You might even take lessons from a pro. What you don’t do is read a book on how to play golf, or watch people playing golf, and then think you know the sport. You learn by doing. With respect to rule three, Clancy once opined, “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” That’s one way to make fiction more than real. For rule four, he clarifies that he means to write every day, whether you feel like it or not. Treat writing as a job. Finally, in rule five he says don’t let naysayers destroy your dreams. This is all good advice. Remember, J.K. Rowling went through twenty rejections for the first Harry Potter book before she found a publisher.

Hemingway proposed four rules.

1. Use short sentences.
2. Use short first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous English.
4. Be positive, not negative.

These give clear instructions. They provide a basis for writing and revision. Anyone who has read Hemingway could deduce the first three rules. The last rule is the only one that might require some explanation. In rule four, he means describe what something is, not what it is notHe does not mean “be Pollyanna.”

The main problem with Hemmingway’s set of rules is that they are incomplete. Of course, any set of rules for writing is likely to share this flaw, but there are sets of rules that both serve as practical guides and are more comprehensive.

Kurt Vonnegut produced eight rules for short story authors, but they have value for novelists as well.

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.

To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

I’ve gotten particular inspiration from rules two, three, and four on this list. Write at least one character readers will cheer for, give every character a goal, and always advance character and plot. If you can follow these three rules, you’ve got a leg up on a good story.

Elmore Leonard also produced a succinct set of rules.

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Again, these are clear rules, things you can bring to the page as you write.

Raymond Chandler gave us many amazing mysteries, but he also wrote advice on a what makes a good murder mystery:

1. It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.
2. It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.
3. It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.
4. It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.
5. It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.
6. It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.
7. The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.
8. It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.
9. It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law…. If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.
10. It must be honest with the reader.

I like these rules because they easily generalize to other genres. For example, change a word here and there and you’ve got a guide for a good science fiction story.

Stephen King has given us twenty writing rules. These are also quite good, and replicate some of the advice above, especially about adverbs and leaving out the boring bits. King also takes the interesting view that writing is like archeology in that you are discovering your fictional world as you write, much like an archeologist discovers, potsherd by potsherd, a village in ancient Mesopotamia, Mongolia, or Mesoamerica.

Can we find truth in these writing rules? Sure. There’s the truth about how these individual authors view writing. There’s truth in that there is some agreement between this diverse set of authors, although agreement doesn’t necessarily imply a deeper truth. But there’s truth in the diversity of opinion, too. Each of these successful authors found their own truth. If you want to be successful, you have to find yours, too.

Isaac Newton wrote, “”If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” As you seek your own truth, you can build on the shoulders of these authors. Starting with their wisdom, find your own truth.

References

You can find the Writing Rules mentioned above in various sources. Here are the ones I used.

Ray Bradbury
Raymond Chandler
Tom Clancy
Dashiell Hammett
Robert A Heinlein
Ernest Hemingway
Stephen King
Elmore Leonard
Kurt Vonnegut



When Max Wore a Younger Man’s Clothes


Max writes horror and science fiction stories, often with a dark twist. John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction is the single most important influence on his thinking about the craft of writing. Authors as diverse as John Updike, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Lawrence Block inspire and inform his literary style.

Max Griffin is the pen name of a mathematician and academic. He has retired from his positions at a major university in the Southwest. He is the proud parent of a daughter who is a librarian, and the grandparent to two beautiful little boys. Max is blessed to be in a long-term relationship with his life partner, Mr. Gene, who is an expert knitter. To learn more about Max Griffin, please visit: https://new.maxgriffin.net/