Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#WW Writer Wednesday, Thoughts on Letting Go

We're bringing you our #WW Writer Wednesday feature a day early this week! 
On the release of her fifth book,The Rosewood Guitar, Jons Story, Mariam Kobras reflects on knowing when to let go and end a series
Write about ending a series, my publisher said to me. Write about how you know when to end a series.
Being the good, cooperative author I try to be, I said, Sure! I was going to do that anyway! Implying that yes, Im versatile, spontaneous and flexible, no fuss, no problem. (Well, I try to be.)

After all I came to writing as a child comes to chocolate cake: it was a surprise to me that I had it in me to write an entire novel, let alone five. Or six. Truth is, if my publisher at Buddhapuss Ink hadnt found me on Twitter and snatched my first book, The Distant Shore, from my willing yet reluctant hands, Id still be writing that book now, some five years later.
I had made myself at home in it, explored every twist, every nook and cranny in the lives of Jon and Naomi Stone and their families. Id probably have drifted off and made up an entirely new spinoff series about the Italian branch of Naomis relatives, and eventually, Id have killed off Jon Stone. Id have left Naomi alone, embittered, a cold, lonely woman trying to deal with what life had thrown at her. Who would have the power to unlock her frozen heart? Who would save her from herself?

But, no.
That book will never be written, nor its alter ego, the story where Naomi dies and leaves Jon behind unable to cope with life or find solace even in his music, and what miracle would have to happen to make him pick up the pieces of his shattered soul!
Oh, the drama! I can see the beautiful sadness, and the bright ray of new hope when they find new life, new happiness but, no.

When youve lived with characters as intimately as I have with the Stones, letting them go is so hard.
Even if theres a new idea, a new premise, new, intriguing characters in a totally new story; the pain of letting go remains. And it is pain, trust me.
Its letting go of something you know you can actually do. After all, it was these characters and their stories that got me that first book deal. Can I do that again? Do I have it in me to write something new, something different, and will my publisher like it, will they think its worth their time, money, effort?

Letting go of a series is stepping off a cliff. Its moving to a different country.
Its getting a divorce from someone you know you still love, and deeply, its drifting away on a raft from everything you knew, felt comfortable with, loved. Its walking a tightrope, blindfolded. Its going on a diet without sugar, a morning without coffee, a missed plane that leaves you stranded at a strange airport in a strange land.
Its being dropped into a room full of strangers who dont speak your language who stare at you with that huge big Who the hell are YOU? on their faces.
Its stepping up to the conductors podium, and the orchestra looks around, confused, and asks where the real conductor is? Because it surely cant be you, can it?
Leaving the Stone Series behind was a moment of change for me.
Id started writing the first book before I was an author, out of an inner drive that I cant name. Id written it in my spare time, to amuse myself, to fulfill a teenage dream, but never with the thought of submitting it. It was mine and mine alone. And even when The Distant Shore was published, and the other books after it, it still felt as if I was writing for myself and only letting others in on the fun. Id set the rules for those characters. I was safe within the parameters of a well-known world.
Would I be able to do it again? And how comfortable would I be in that new world, with new characters, new habits, new needs, dreams, desires?
Would I even be able to create something like that again?

Would I be able to do this again?

Yes, and thats the heart of the matter, isnt it? Can you do this again? Can you create something new thats so different from what you did before that people will enjoy it and not say its a pale shadow, and can you make it true enough to be recognized as yours?

Theres only one way to find out, right? Jump off that cliff. Get that divorce. Let them go, those old characters, watch them leave, bid them a fond adieu. Join the ball and smile at those strangers dancing around you, introduce yourself! Theyre your new imaginary family, even if theyre still hiding behind masks.
Andoh yes! Explore that new world! Nothing is lost. Anytime you want to, you can visit with those old characters: theyre waiting right there on the shelf, waiting.

Jon and Naomi Stone will never die. They live on in those books.
But theyre not the only ones who want their stories told. The curtains are drawn back now; I can see new characters patiently waiting, gazing at me, silent, smiling, knowing they will be heard.
My heart is open to their fates.
© 2015 Mariam Kobras

Three-time IPPY Award winning author Mariam Kobras, was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Growing up, she and her family lived in Brazil and Saudi Arabia before settling in Germany. Mariam attended school there and studied American literature and psychology at Justus-Liebig-University in Giessen. Today she lives and writes in Hamburg, Germany, with her husband, two sons, and two cats. 

To hear Mariam read the first chapter of her new book, CLICK HERE.

Thanks, Mariam, for a great piece on leaving characters and stories that youve loved behind and embarking on a new series. The first book in Mariam's new series, Sunset Bay, written with co-author CW Morgan, will be coming out later in 2015. A mix of mystery and romance, it unfolds in the wilds of Vancouver Island in western Canada.

READERS: We hope you enjoyed this week's edition of our #WW Writer Wednesday Series and that we'll see you again next week when our guest is Selaine Henriksen who will be talking about picking the right format for your story. Until then, "Butt in chair, WRITE!
~ The Black Cat

Buddhapuss Ink LLC is proud to be a small, but solid house known for great fiction and nonfiction books, written for readers with brains by authors who have more than just one book in them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#WW Writer Wednesday: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Nine months ago my first book, a memoir-in-essays titled Message From a Blue Jay, was released into the world at a launch party hosted by Back Pages Books in Waltham, Massachusetts. On that magical Friday evening in late May, friends, writing colleagues, and a handful of strangers settled themselves into rows of fold-up chairs, smiled toward the podium, and listened as I read sections from two essays in the book. When the reading portion of the evening was done, a line formed so that I could sign copies of the book. The cash register kept ringing, and well-wishers chatted as they enjoyed cookies and cake. It was the night many first-time authors imagine with anticipation—the night when the dream you’ve nurtured all your life is transformed into a real-life moment.
What follows is different for every author. The select few who are published by large houses move on to book and media tours paid for by publishers and arranged by their publicists. The majority, who are published by smaller houses, might arrange their own readings at bookstores and libraries, explore ways to market new books online, or purchase copies at a discount to sell at literary events. They will look to their publishers for advice and support, but will pound the pavement largely on their own. Many will check their book’s ranking on Amazon periodically and try to guess what it means when a book jumps from rank 353,000 to 83,000 one day, and then drops to 827,000 three days later. Their book is, after all, one of millions of books sold online.

When an author’s first royalty check finally arrives, the reality of what it usually means to be a debut author hits home. This can be a surprising and humbling moment. When I received my latest royalty check, for example, I joked with the hard-working, confidence-infusing owner of my publisher, Buddhapuss Ink, that I was headed out the door to buy a private jet. Ever the optimist, she asked if I minded buying that jet one wing nut at a time.

It’s that moment when it can be tempting to lose sight of the original dream. Just a short time ago, all you wanted was to find a publisher who would say “yes” to your manuscript. All you desired was see the words you had agonized over in the early mornings and late at night bound into professionally published pages. You imagined turning your book over and over in your hands, seeing it published and real. What was important, then, was the hard work you’d done to create something you believed in—something true to yourself, to your artistic vision, and yes…to your dream. How that dream would rank on Amazon was the furthest thing from your mind.

When the reality hits, it is tempting to start thinking, “What can I do to make my next book sell better? Should I switch genres and write something that might be more popular? Should I produce something that’s really marketable?”

It’s understandable that for many, the answer is “yes.” Who doesn’t want to succeed in the industry or endeavor they’ve chosen? Who doesn’t want to be more successful?

But aye, there’s the rub. We each have to define the word “successful” in our own way. “Success” means different things to different people. In fact, it can mean different things to the same person at different stages of life.

So lately I’ve asked myself, “What does ‘successful’ mean to me?” I’ve never defined myself by any kind of financial achievement, but I have been caught in the trap of defining my success by parameters set by others. Like many authors, for example, I worried about who would review my book and whether it would be mentioned in top literary journals or publications. I also checked those rankings on Amazon, wondering what it meant when those crazy numbers rose or fell.

The big reviewers didn’t review Message From a Blue Jay. They rarely pay attention to personal essay collections by debut authors who are published by small houses. As for those numbers on Amazon? I noticed recently that when I purchased a single copy of the book myself (to make it easy to mail it to a relative), its ranking jumped.

In retrospect, however, I realize that my book was reviewed by some very important reviewers—readers. They posted those reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online review sites (thank you!). I also received reviews in the form of personal notes and letters from readers who said they were deeply touched by my essays. Some said the book made them think about things they hadn’t considered. Others said that after reading it, they felt less alone. A few had met me personally once or twice, or not at all, but now felt that I was a friend.

A long time ago, I had a dream. I dreamed that I would publish a book. But as I traveled through life and through the publishing process, I realized that the dream was more complicated than that. What I wanted was to live fully by working hard and doing my best. Then, I wanted to throw that “best” out into the world and say, “See, I am here!” so that I might find others who would say, “I am here, too!”

I have found them, those voices saying, “I am here, too!” And I don’t think I could have found them by writing anything other than Message From a Blue Jay.

So, I guess I can say my first book is successful. I’ll just buy that private jet one wing nut at a time.

© 2015 Faye Rapoport DesPres

Faye Rapoport DesPres has spent much of her writing career as a journalist and business/non-profit writer. In 2010 she earned her MFA from Pine Manor College, where she focused on creative nonfiction.
Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times, Animal Life, Trail, Timberline and other publications. Her personal essays, fiction, and poetry have been published in Ascent, Superstition Review, and Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, as well as other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Currently, DesPres is an adjunct first-year writing instructor at Lasell College. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and their rescued cats. Message from a Blue Jay -- Love, Loss, and One Writer's Journey Home is her first book.

Thanks, Faye, for an inspiring, and thought-provoking piece!
READERS: We hope you enjoyed this week's edition of our #WW Writer Wednesday Series and that we'll see you again next week when our guest is Mariam Kobras who will be talking about knowing when to end a series. Until then, "Butt in chair, WRITE!
~ The Black Cat

Buddhapuss Ink LLC is proud to be a small, but solid house known for great fiction and nonfiction books, written for readers with brains by authors who have more than just one book in them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Congrats, Linda K. Sienkiewicz!

Watch for more information on Linda's book over the next few months.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

#WW Writer Wednesday: Get Close to your Readers through Point of View

In any story, there’s a narrator that is separate from the writer. Point of view concerns how the narrator tells the story, and this will determine how close the relationship between the narrator and reader will be. Each point of view, from first person to third to second works differently to move the reader, and through the manipulation of point of view (POV), a writer can create intimacy or add necessary distance.


First person POV narratives are the most intimate as the narrator, “I,” tells a story directly to the reader. We become his or her sole confidants. As a writer, it’s important to have a firm sense of who your narrator is, how he views the world, how he speaks, and why he’s compelled to tell this particular story. Is the narrator confessing a past misdeed? Trying to clarify past events for his own state of mind? How faulty is his thinking? Os he funny, confident, tongue-tied, or driven? What discoveries does he make in the telling of his story?

With first person POV, a writer can create an unforgettable character through a distinctive voice, which helps to endear the narrator to the reader. Author Dorothy Allison does this in Bastard Out of Carolina. The story is told in the informal voice of the colorful character “Bone,” who starts sentences with clauses, conjunctions and declaratives, as if speaking in real time, gossiping with us at the kitchen table. We quickly realize Bone knows terrible secrets about her unconventional family, and there’s no doubt she’s going to tell us everything. We enjoy being her chosen audience.

In Roddy Doyle’s novel, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, the narrator is an abused wife who works as a housecleaner. In this excerpt, she both admits and denies her alcoholism:

Years ago, I had to drown the alcohol with coke or blackcurrant. Now I prefer orange juice, but I’ll drink anything. I don’t know when I started being like that. I don’t know when I became an alco [sic]. My children have gone without food because of my drinking. My children have suffered because of my drinking. But I have it under control. I’ve been taking back some of the day. I don’t drink now until after Jack has gone to bed. . .  Sometimes I put him to bed a bit early.

Such a candid confession creates empathy, all the more profound because readers can clearly see what she cannot. Some of the most fascinating stories are those in which the narrator does not seem to be aware of their own distortion of the events.

Multiple first person points of view, when the writer alternates two or more first person narrators, can also be used. Romance novels are commonly written this way. Readers form an alliance with the narrator they most identify with, yet feel sympathetic toward the other narrator(s) because they are privy to their private thoughts, too. That said, having two narrators may not be as intimate as one if readers find themselves torn between differing viewpoints. Not everyone likes being forced to form alliances.

Conversely, this can work to a writer’s advantage by provoking sympathy for multiple characters and entrenching the reader in their dilemmas. It’s like being at a family dinner where everyone you love is arguing, and you don’t want to take sides. This happens in Joanna Briscoe’s Sleep With Me, a novel about a love triangle narrated in alternating chapters in first person points of view by a husband and his pregnant wife, who unwittingly have an affair with the same woman!


Third person is one step removed from first POV since an invisible narrator is telling a story about a “he” or “she.” Third person limited POV (where we see the world only through a particular character’s eyes) can be as intimate as first person, but there are subtle differences that make it well-suited for certain characters.

A good example is Belly, by Lisa Selin Davis. Belly is an argumentative, belligerent ex-convict at odds with his adult children. The reader needs distance from this prickly character. Although Davis makes use of Belly’s caustic voice when we see events through his eyes, his inner monologue is still separate from the narrative. This allows us to be observers, yet brings us just close enough to empathize. In this scene, Belly openly grieves, but he is so out of touch with his emotions that he doesn’t have the tools or words to express them:

He turned and looked at his youngest [adult] child, her pale stringy hair and her pale eyes, everything about her light against the darkening sky and he felt something strange, some foreign object clogging his throat, I’m giving birth to an egg out my mouth, he thought, and then he coughed and made a sound and he thought, What is happening to me, what is this? And Eliza put her skinny little arms around him and said, “It’s okay, it’s okay Daddy,” and he still didn’t know, he could not see out his left eye and he let his head hang down on her bony shoulder and he shook and her shoulder was wet. It was all over in a minute.

As you can see, third person POV permits a writer to make use of descriptions, metaphors and language that the character himself wouldn’t use. In this way, third person opens up possibilities to do more with the writing. An objective narrator can also reveal things about flawed or shady characters that would be less than honest with the reader.

Third person works well with multiple points of view, too. We are observers who learn the motives and thoughts of various characters in a story. A sense of intimacy with the reader can be gained by using limited POV, when the narrator zooms in to get the inner thoughts of a particular character. Chapter or section breaks help cue the reader as to whose inner thoughts we are privy to.

Another type of third person narrative is omniscient, where the narrator knows everything and everyone’s thoughts. This type of narrative is the most distancing, but well suited for novels where setting and history are as important as the characters.


The second person pronoun “you” can be used several different ways, and this POV can create a surprisingly intimate bond between the narrator and reader. “You” turns reading about something into experiencing it.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerny, begins: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. . . ”

Obviously, the “you” in this novel does not refer to the reader. Here, the self has split, creating a “you” in an inner dialog. The narrator is speaking to the self in denial. Although we understand the narrator is not us, his inner dialog becomes internalized through use of the word “you.” We are drawn into the mind of this conflicted narrator as he avoids dealing with reality through escapism. I won’t give the plot away, but when the reason for his distress is revealed, his self-discovery becomes, in essence, our discovery, too, and it packs an emotional punch. The same story told in first or third person POV wouldn’t have the same impact.

Second person POV can be used in an instructional narrative, as in Bonnie Jo Campbell’s short story “The Solutions to Brian’s Problem” from American Salvage. The narrator, Brian, brainstorms how to deal with his wife, who is a meth addict and the mother of their baby. The narrative is gut-wrenching because we cannot help but imagine ourselves in his shoes as he lists any and all possible ideas.

Solution #1
Connie said she was going out to the store to buy formula and diapers. While she’s gone, load up the truck with the surround-sound home entertainment system and your excellent collection of power tools, put the baby boy in the car seat and drive away from this house you built with your own hands. Expect that after you leave, she will break all the windows in this living room, including the big picture window and the big mirror over the fireplace, which you’ve already replaced twice. The furnace will run and run. Then she will go to your mother’s looking for you, and when she doesn’t not find you, she will curse at your mother and possibly attempt to burn your mother’s house down. . .

Solution #2
Wait till Connie comes back home from the “store,” distract her with the baby, and then cut her meth with Drano, so that when she shoots it up she dies.

By the time Brian arrives at the seventh and most plausible solution, we are right there with him, feeling his inner conflict and pain as if it were ours.

Another way of using second person is when a first person POV narrator, “I,” addresses a specific character, "you,” throughout the story. John Ames, an elderly minister, dying of a bad heart, is the first person narrator in GILEAD, by Marilynne Robinson. Ames is writing an account of his life for his six-year-old son to read when he’s an adult. Gilead is an epistolary but written as informal conversational, so it reads like a second person address. Here, Ames refers to a playful moment with his boy that turns somber:  

And then I pretended I had a bee buzzing around in my mouth, and you said, ‘No you don’t, there wasn’t any bee!’ and I grabbed you around the shoulders and blew into your ear and you jumped up as though you thought maybe there was a bee after all, and you laughed, and then you got serious and you said, ‘I want you to do this.’ And then you put your hand on my cheek and touched the flower to my lips, so gently and carefully, and said, ‘Now sip.’ You said, ‘You have to take your medicine.’   

The second person address creates a contradictory reaction in the reader: we feel the narrator is personally addressing us, while, at the same time, we acknowledge the “you” as a specific character in the story. Our emotional response deepens because we cannot help being called into the father-son relationship. We feel the love, tenderness and sorrow firsthand, as if we were Ames’ son.

If this novel were a typical first-person narrative, it wouldn’t have the strength that it does to move readers. It would be simply a sad sermon delivered by a devout man on his deathbed. Instead, we’re able to step into a loving and affectionate relationship through the virtue of the second-person pronoun “you.”

Whichever POV you feel most comfortable with, don’t be afraid to explore different narratives in view of your characters, their motivations, and the story they are telling. How intimate do you want your readers to be with your narrator? Does intimacy serve the story? The subtle and complex layers of POV are worth studying so that your work receives the desired response from your readers. What a story is about cannot be separated from who is telling it, and how.

In addition to the books mentioned above, a solid resource for writers is Points Of View: An Anthology Of Short Stories, edited by James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny. The anthology contains stories by Steinbeck, Capote, Updike, Dostoevsky, Poe, and more, and gives an excellent account of the many variations of fictional techniques concerning point of view.

Linda K. Sienkiewicz is a published poet and writer with a chapbook award and an MFA in fiction. She wrote her forthcoming novel, In The Context Of Love, (July 2015, Buddhapuss Ink) in a first person POV second person address, where the narrator talks to her lost love throughout the story.

Thanks, Linda, for a very clear and intriguing explanation of POV and the important role it plays in every story!

READERS: We hope you enjoyed this week's edition of our #WW Writer Wednesday Series 
~ The Black Cat

Buddhapuss Ink LLC is proud to be a small, but solid house known for great fiction and nonfiction books, written for readers with brains by authors who have more than just one book in them.