Spotlight On Josh Vogt

 

                                         The Power of Persistence

These days more than ever, there seems to be constant challenges and threats that we have to fight against–from the macro level in areas like global security to the micro level, like paying the bills or dealing with personal medical issues. It can feel disheartening and exhausting at times, I know. The sense of some new obstacle or problem to handle, maybe when you were just regaining a level of relative calm or stability in life.

But one thing I have learned throughout my writing career and pursuits so far is this: the only time that being defeated is inevitable is when you stop trying. When you stop fighting. Whether that’s fighting for certain values you believe in or fighting for a dream, like getting a book published.

There are many things in life we can’t really control (though we try oh-so-hard). Many elements of the publishing industry are things we can strive to accomplish or obtain, such as getting a literary agent, getting a contract, getting good reviews, hitting a bestseller list, or winning an award. They’re all excellent goals and dreams (and yes, there’s a big difference there), but in the end, you can only determine the outcome of whether you sit down and keep writing. Keep getting those words down, editing them, and sending them out to hopefully get accepted–and yes, hopefully paid for.

I enjoy encouraging and supporting other writers, wherever they are in their careers. The reality, though, is that publishing and writing are difficult paths to follow. We face rejection all the time–yes, even “established” authors. Getting a short story or novel drafted is extremely satisfying, but can be a tough process, especially if you’re always looking to improve your craft and try now approaches. And once you have stories being published, there’s the marketing/promo side of the business that many bemoan having to invest in.

Yet if you don’t persist through those less-fun periods of hard work, seeing a manuscript through to the end…well…then it will simply never even have a chance of success. It won’t get into the hands of readers who would’ve loved the plot and characters. Persistence means getting up each day and getting the writing work done in the hope of seeing that effort pay off. It means believing in what we do even if we feel like we’re getting hammered on all sides for a time.

And it means being able to look back and feel a measure of pride–and even joy–at what you’ve done.

Because you didn’t give up.

Josh Vogt is an author, editor, and freelance writer. His fiction ranges from fantasy to science fiction to horror and beyond, including tie-in fiction for a growing number of roleplaying games. His novels include Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, as well as the urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor, The Maids of Wrath, and the newly released The Dustpan Cometh. Find him online at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spotlight on Josh Vogt

Author and editor Josh Vogt’s work covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel is Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, published alongside his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor and The Maids of Wrath. He’s an editor at Paizo, a Scribe Award finalist, and a member of both SFWA and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Josh author photo

 

 

Strategies for a Standalone Sequel

Over the years, I’ve noticed a common complaint among authors. Namely, that writing the second book in a series can be even more difficult than writing and publishing the first one. I often wondered how that was possible. After all, once the first book is out there—whether it’s the first in a trilogy or a longer series—then isn’t all the initial hard work over and done with? The setting is established. Main characters have been introduced. Systems of magic have been explained. And you’ve also overcome the primary hurdle of getting the book published at all.

After Enter the Janitor came out last year, I focused on getting The Cleaners Book #2: The Maids of Wrath to print. And while I discovered some of the potential stumbling blocks other authors had spoken of regarding sequels, I also tried to give myself a unique challenge in my approach to the next entry in the series. Specifically, I wanted to make the story as standalone as possible, so that new readers could pick it up without having to go back to Enter the Janitor. Of course, I’d love for people to read every book in the series as it comes out, but I for at least the first handful I’ve planned in the Cleaners lines, I’d like them to be as accessible as possible on their own. Backstory and context might help, but I don’t want it to be an absolute requirement for someone to discover and get engaged by a particular novel.Maids cover

So what did that mean for The Maids of Wrath? It meant that alongside bringing back some characters and stringing along certain subplots from Enter the Janitor, I also had to find a particular balance in presenting both new and old elements. For instance, if every time a character first came onto the stage, I spent several pages explaining everything that happened to them in Book #1, the plot would come screeching to a halt. However, new readers needed a basic foundation of prior events in order to understand who this person was, their motivations, and general role in the plot—otherwise they might fail to be engaged or might become so confused they just get kicked out of the story.

In other words, I needed to keep moving the story and characters forward while keeping them rooted in the series history thus far. One technique I used was having a main character stay as a relative “newbie” to the world of the Cleaners. Despite the strides she made in Enter the Janitor, Dani is still pretty inexperienced when it comes to corporate policy and procedure, plus knowing what to expect from the various types of Scum or forms of Corruption they might encounter. So she’s still in a position to ask lots of questions, observe things she finds odd, and explore new situations.Janitor cover

The second technique I used was shaking up the status quo for most of the characters. A lot changes by the end of Enter the Janitor, and so there’s plenty of opportunity to demonstrate the current state of affairs—or call back to earlier situations—when The Maids of Wrath kicks off. For Ben, even though he’s been a Cleaner for years, he’s dealing with some pretty unique circumstances and still has to face plenty of unknowns about his own future. So he’s seeing a familiar setting from a fresh perspective, which lets readers do the same.

Lastly, I put my trust in the readers. Personally, I enjoy stories that force me (to a degree) to puzzle out some of what’s come before. To me, this means the author assumes I’m an intelligent person and can figure things out as I go. I don’t need to be spoonfed, and I believe most readers feel the same way. Everything might not be totally clear from the get-go and a reference or two might be missed, but the important dots will be connected along the way.

All of this hopefully results in a story that, while a sequel, is one people can jump right into without further ado—though if folks are inspired to go back and check out Book #1 afterward, I certainly won’t stop them!

You can find Josh at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt.

Spotlight on P.J. Thompson

Folklore Thursday has become a regular feature on many social media sites and blogs. Lovers of mythology read the posts and links that show up, writers find a treasure trove of story prompts and are given new ideas. Some of the best posts I’ve seen have been written by OWW alumni PJ Thompson. I’m very happy that PJ agreed to share one of her posts with us. I hope you find a story of your own hiding in PJs words.

Glastonbury Tor and the labyrinth of the soul

 

glastonbury 1
Many (many) years ago, after being a gobshite, I visited Glastonbury Tor and had an epiphany. Such things are not unusual there, from what I understand, and many people go especially to seek out transitional moments. Although I’d read about the Tor for years and it was high on my list of places to visit in the West Country, I didn’t go specifically seeking a pivotal moment. I don’t think one can obtain them to order. It just worked out that way for me.

Perhaps it was because I drove around the West Country for eight days on my own, but I had a number of profound experiences on that trip. If I’d had companions, perhaps I wouldn’t have been as hungry, or as internal. Perhaps discussion and camaraderie would have diluted the experiences. I don’t know. I’m just glad I received these gifts—for certainly, transitional moments are gifts.

Back in those days I didn’t have to take a bus to the Tor. I parked my rental car on the road that runs behind it and walked up to it through the countryside. I’d read that some people believe the terraces ringing the Tor are the remains of an ancient three-dimensional labyrinth that pilgrims used to traverse to gain…Well, theories vary, and many discount the idea entirely. The terraces go round the Tor seven times, ending at the pinnacle where the remains of St. Michael’s church now stands. It resembles the Cretan labyrinth, so they say, and if the theories are correct, it’s part of a long continuum of ancient ritual. A search for enlightenment? The prelude to a sacrifice? A journey through the maze of the soul? Who knows? You can read a fascinating analysis of this by Geoffrey Ashe here.

I myself approached the top of the Tor mostly as a feckless tourist, partially as excited quester, blundering along the path that cuts through the “labyrinth” and heads straight to the top. I got disoriented at a certain point about halfway up, where a clump of bushes surrounded a bench with a sheep resting its head on the backrest. I no longer remember why I grew insecure about the path—it’s a fairly straight ascent, after all—but I did. I looked down the Tor to see if I could ask someone if I was “doing it right” and spotted a young man several terraces down walking crossways along the Tor. “Is this the right way up to the Tor?” I yelled. He stopped and gave me a “what kind of a gobshite are you?” look before nodding and continuing on his journey. It was only much later when I was off the Tor and back at the B&B that I realized I’d interrupted his journey through the maze. I’m not stupid, but sometimes I’m not smart. Perhaps my idiotic interruption was part of the tribulations the mazewalker had to go through to reach enlightenment? One can only hope.

I continued on in my gobshite way, reaching the tower on top of the Tor and for some reason was granted a moment of grace. Grace is always mysterious, and often goes to the underserving. It’s not just for Christians, either. I’ve noticed that even pagans are sometimes granted grace.

Or maybe it was just endorphins from the long climb. I say that as a nod to science, which I love and respect, but mostly I’m not inclined to look this gift horse too closely in the mouth. It was a moment of personal fulfillment and I am grateful for it.

Here’s part of what I wrote about the experience many long yarns ago:

It was another cold, gray day when I got to the tower, and not too many folks around. For the moment, I was alone at the top with the tower. There’s a doorway on both sides and in the middle a pit with evidence of a recent campfire. The inside of the tower is like a vast chimney because there’s no roof, and I had a strong sense of stepping away from the world.

And I was overcome by an odd, strong realization that I was at a crossroads. I remembered an image from a book I’d recently read about a doorway on a mountaintop, and I had the unshakeable conviction that if I stepped through one doorway of that tower and emerged on the other side, my life would never be the same. But I had to choose to step through, at that precise moment in time, in the full knowledge that I accepted and welcomed the change, agreeing to something new and different in my life. I hesitated, known devils being preferable to unknown ones, but for once my timidity didn’t win. I stepped through.

glastonbury 2

 

Picture caption: Alchemy: The Invisible Magical Mountain And the Treasure therein Contained

On the other side of the doorway, the Tor descended gradually towards a plain of green fields and hedgerows, and to the northeast lay the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey and the town itself. A group of four sheep grazed just below the crest, heads down and disappeared in shadow, backs like tight balls of cotton floating above the hill. In the distance, the sun broke through the clouds, a shaft of silver illuminating the sky and downslope lands, while the area around the Tor remained in shadow. All except the backs of those sheep, whose whiteness caught the sun and glowed white-gold against the dark, shadowy green. The moment pierced my heart with its beauty, and I felt . . . as if the bargain I’d struck with life had been accepted. I don’t know if it was magic, or plain old motivation, but my life really wasn’t the same after that. That year—that trip and the sense of empowerment it gave me—started a cycle of changes that set me on a new path.

I have a photograph of the moment when the sun illuminated the sheep. A pale echo of the experience, but thanks to Canon, Kodak, a good color lab—and maybe a bit of grace—the dramatic lighting on the backs of those sheep came through. Whenever I really look at that photo, I am right back there, in that place, having just concluded my bargain, and realizing (maybe for the first time) that my life really was what I made of it and that the only one I really had to answer to was myself.

glastonbury sheep

PJ Thompson has been writing ever since Miss Cooper in second grade played a moody section of Peter and the Wolf and asked the class to describe the cinema in their mind. Having unleashed PJ’s creative hounds on an unsuspecting world, Miss Cooper retired to have children while PJ eventually got her BA in English from UCLA. She was a member of the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy for several years.

A native of Southern California, PJ has found that her home state provides a natural intersection between mundane reality and alternate reality. Her fiction tends to reflect that state of flux, and to showcase the remarkable eccentrics who have wandered west from all over the country.

Read more of PJ’s posts on her Folklore journal and her livejournal account.

Spotlight on Marsheilla Rockwell and Jeffrey J. Mariotte

Marcy and Jeff spotlight

 

 

 

 

Most writers work alone, spending months inside their own heads while writing their novels. Collaboration is a skill–and an opportunity–not all of us have, and when looked at from the outside appears just a little mysterious. This month partners Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell and Jeffrey J. Mariotte agreed to share a little about writing their latest collaboration, 7 SYKOS, a SF/H/thriller that has been described as The Walking Dead meets The Andromeda Strain. Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell and Jeffrey J. Mariotte have written more than 60 novels between them, some of the most recent of which are The Shard Axe series and a trilogy based on Neil Gaiman’s Lady Justice comic books written by Marcy, and Empty Rooms and Season of the Wolf by Jeff. They’ve also written dozens of short stories, separately and together. Their collaborations include the novel 7 SYKOS and short works “A Soul in the Hand,” “John Barleycorn Must Die,” “V-Wars: The Real HousewiVes of Scottsdale,” and “The Lottons Show.” You can learn more about Marcy and Jeff, and find news about upcoming projects, both collaborative and solo, at www.marsheilarockwell.com and www.jeffmariotte.com.

 

Q: Where did the idea for 7 SYKOS come from?

Marcy: I don’t even remember anymore. We’re both fascinated by psychopaths and how they become what they are, so we knew we wanted to explore that in a book. The rest just sort of happened.

Jeff: The initial impulse for 7 SYKOS came from a book I was reading about the unique brain structure common to many psychopaths. It struck me that there might be a situation in which only psychopaths would be able to survive and thrive. I was driving, I remember, and as the story was playing out in my head, I called Marcy and said, “Hey, how about this…”

Marcy: Well, there you go. Sometimes his memory is better than mine. 😉

Q: What was your favorite part of writing the book? Do you have a favorite (non-spoilery) scene?

Marcy: The back-and-forth with Jeff, playing the what-if? game, and bouncing ideas off each other. That’s something you don’t get writing alone, and it made the process more fun. As for a favorite scene – that’s hard; there are so many I like for different reasons. I guess the scene in the pool house, because it was cathartic.

Jeff: I think my favorite part was doing the research. Learning more about psychopathic brains, and traveling around the Valley of the Sun with Marcy to find appropriate locations, was all fun and fascinating. Taking her to the huge Bass Pro Shop in Mesa and watching her reaction was great, too.

Q: Marcy, what made you want to start writing with Jeff? How is writing with him the same or different from the other collaborations you’ve done?

Marcy: I was actually quite flattered when he asked me if I wanted to collaborate on something. Jeff has so much more experience in this industry than I do – when we first started working together, I think I’d only written three novels to his 50+. And, of course, I liked his writing and thought it would be a good fit with mine, so I jumped at the chance to work with him. It’s been a really rewarding experience so far.

As for how it’s the same or different from other collaborations I’ve done, that’s easy – I’ve never really successfully collaborated on prose with anyone else, so the fact that it works and works so well with Jeff makes it a very different experience from any I’ve had before. Part of it, for me, has to do with trust – my writing comes from a deep (usually pretty dark) place, and I have to really trust someone to be able to share the process with them. Luckily, with Jeff, I do.

Q: Jeff, what made you want to start writing with Marcy? How is writing with her the same or different from the other collaborations you’ve done?

Jeff: Since first reading Marcy’s work, I’ve had great respect for her talent. We have a lot in common, creatively and in other ways, but different life experiences, so we each bring something to the table that the other can’t, and we’re enough alike that it meshes very well. By the time we finish a project, I often can’t remember which of us wrote what, which means we’re able to smooth everything into one consistent voice. Every collaboration is different, but with Marcy, it’s a true partnership, and the work we do together ends up being the most creatively satisfying collaborative work I’ve ever done.

Q: What are the hallmarks of a Mariotte/Rockwell story?

Marcy: Well, the hallmark of a Rockwell story is that it’s dark and twisty and usually features a strong female protagonist. I bring those things to my collaborations with Jeff and he brings some light back into it. And some magic and romance, too. Plus I make him write the fight scenes, because I hate those.

Jeff: What she said.

Marcy and Jeff cover

Q: Which do you prefer, collaborating or writing solo?

Marcy: It depends. I like the creativity that flows when Jeff and I work together. He’s better at plotting than I am, so that part of it is not such a struggle when I write with him. But I also have projects that I’ve been working on for a long time where it would be hard to give up full control and share.

Jeff: They’re two completely different animals. Sometimes I’m asked if I prefer writing prose fiction or comics, and the answers the same. There’s very little real comparison, because it’s not like two different shades of red, for instance, it’s like a shade of red and a lead guitar riff. Each has its unique pleasures and unique struggles, and I love doing both, but ranking them is impossible.

Q: What’s your favorite collaborative work to date? Favorite solo work?

Marcy: It’s hard to pick just one; we’ve written several short stories that I’m really proud of. But probably my favorite would have to be 7 SYKOS. I think we created some interesting characters and have a fresh take on some old ideas and I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s received. As for solo work, I’m really fond of my Eberron stories and would love to be able to go back and play in that sandbox someday.

Jeff: 7 SYKOS is my favorite collaborative work, but the short story “The Lottons Show” runs a close second. My favorite solo work to date is the dark thriller EMPTY ROOMS. I’ve just been rereading a novel that comes out later this year, DEADLANDS: THUNDER MOON RISING, and it’s holding up well, too.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

Marcy: Just that folks should follow us at our websites and on FB/Twitter to keep up with current and future projects. Thanks for having us!

Spotlight on Tony Peak

Tony peek

Tony Peak isn’t just a member of OWW, he’s an Active Member of the SFWA and an Affiliate Member of the HWA. His debut novel Inherit The Stars was published by Penguin Random House in November 2015. His interests include progressive thinking, music, wine, history, Transhumanism, and planetary exploration. Happily married, he resides in rural southwest Virginia with a wonderful view of New River. This month Tony tells his personal “agent story” and gives some advice. Find out more about Tony and his writing at: www.tonypeak.net

Finding an Agent

For those of us seeking to turn our writing passion into a career, having an agent is crucial. Finding one can be daunting and even intimidating. I’ll share my own experience in finding one, as well as debunk a few agent myths.

I was fortunate enough to get my first novel, INHERIT THE STARS, published by one of the Big Five without an agent. While that’s a story for another time, this small feat did give me some leverage—I’d proven myself without benefit of a middleman. It still wasn’t a guarantee of representation, though. But it did give me more confidence when querying agents, which is something everyone needs. Many writers fret over their query letters, trying to make them perfect little snapshots of literary genius so that The Agent will go bonkers and offer representation.

Some advice on queries: give agents the scoop on your project, make sure you’ve done the research (so that your book fits that agent’s tastes), and leave it at that. Most will not care if you’ve read their blog, or that you follow them on Twitter, or if you absolutely love the work of their clients. Sure, flattery might help, but you’re offering a business partnership, not selling yourself into literary serfdom in the hopes of Making It Big. Don’t come across as a desperate wannabe who still writes fan fiction — which leads into my next point.

Be professional. This means more than simply formatting your query correctly, or avoiding emoticons. It means stating your expectations, knowing your genre, and knowing what your plans are (is this book a standalone, or could it be a series?). It means being courteous, humble, and confident, without coming across as arrogant. This is very important if you speak to an agent on the phone, which is the next step.

Don’t call agents directly, unless they ask you to. Send them a query email. A fellow professional suggested that I call agencies directly, since I had a Penguin contract — I’d made it through the slush pile after all, right? Wrong. You’ll get the agent’s assistant every time, and for good reason. Follow their specified process. If the agent is interested, you’ll know, and within a few days. Sometimes within hours.
Tony's cover Inherit the stars

The Big Phone Call, the first time it happens, is cool, frightening, and invigorating. Mine came from a well-known New York agent, so I was nervous as hell. To my credit, I maintained my sanity long enough to answer all of his questions. The conversation went very well; he would look over my Penguin novel and let me know if he was interested in having me as a client.

That initial communication is a huge confidence booster. It shows that, hey, I might have a real chance at this after all. It means that so-and-so agent actually took the time to call ME, and talk about MY work. Writers need that boost sometimes. Don’t let it go to your head.

A few days later, the agent emailed me, turning me down. He liked the work, but wanted something else at the moment. I admit, I was a tad depressed…but not for long. I sent out more queries to other agents. The next week, I received replies from five different agents, wanting to read my other manuscripts. I spoke with another on the phone, and she sounded very intrigued. I should have been on Cloud Nine, right? Nope. It was still an exciting process, but The Big Phone Call had prepared me for this. I wasn’t nervous any longer. I could just be myself in these interactions, and let me tell you, that is golden.

Then I got a call from a third New York agent (NY is key, people) who was very interested. Best of all, he had already bought my novel and was several chapters into it—and he was enjoying it! During our first conversation, he offered representation.

I declined for the moment, stating that I had to let the other agents know that I’d received an offer. That goes back to being a professional. Plus, play your options. Weigh the pros and cons of each agent before making a choice.

This last agent represented some high-profile science fiction authors, and on top of that, he completed my novel over the weekend, and loved it. That finalized my decision. No one else had expressed that much enthusiasm, coupled with such credentials, in my work. That’s what you want in a business partner.

So I accepted his offer.

Everyone’s experience will be different, but remember: agents are not Superhuman Gatekeepers of the Literary Realm. They are real people, who love what they do. Love what you do, don’t give up, and I’m sure you’ll find an agent who is right for you.