In the latest episode of “Inside the Writer’s Head,” you’ll get to know Lance Rubin and his hilarious Young Adult novel “Denton Little’s Death Date.” The podcast, hosted by the Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence, Kurt Dinan, focuses on writing, reading, and creativity. Lance discusses how he entered the world of Young Adult Fiction, and the challenges and expectations that come along with writing for that genre. His book is set in a world where everyone knows the date of their death, and follows a teenager, Denton Little, through the hours leading up to his “death date.” Lance also discusses what it takes to write comedy, how real life friends influenced the characters in his novels, and more!
In the latest episode of “Inside the Writer’s Head,” you’ll get to know Jessica Strawser, a local author, and hear about her thriller novel “Almost Missed You.” The podcast, hosted by the Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence, Kurt Dinan, focuses on writing, reading, and creativity. Jessica discusses how she meets publishing deadlines while working full time as Editor-In-Chief for Writer’s Digest and raising kids. Her book, “Almost Missed You” is an emotional thriller about a young family with many secrets, and the turmoil that ensues when the husband abducts the child while on a family vacation. Jessica talks about how she wrote the story using research and input from a former FBI special agent, as well as her own feelings as a mom.
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Not everyone can come to the novel writing workshops I’ve been running, so I thought it would be helpful to post the PowerPoints I use during those presentations. Not all of the slides will make sense without my brilliant explanations (hardee, har, har), but I think there are helpful things here for any writer. As always, feel free to email any questions you may have.
Workshop 1 – So You’ve Lost Your Mind and Have Decided to Write a Novel
Workshop 2 – Plotting vs. Pantsing: How to (Maybe) Outline a Novel
Workshop 3 – Fiction Writing Tips, Tricks, and Shortcuts
1. Rust forms quickly.
Most writers will tell you to write everyday, and it’s good advice. Know why? Because if you don’t, you lose the momentum and the words. I was on a roll with my current novel when I ended up in the hospital. Then I didn’t write for almost eight weeks. When I finally had the energy to get back to my novel, it took me another two weeks of struggling to get back into it because I had to rediscover the narrator’s voice and I even struggled with vocabulary. So if you can, write everyday…unless you’re in the hospital.
2. Your physical and mental health take priority over everything.
It was hard, hard, hard not writing while I was sick, but some things like oh, I don’t know, my health, take precedence. I had to learn to put writing on the backburner while I recovered, something that was hard for me to do. The break was necessary though because as much as I love to write, it’s definitely hard to do if you’re dead.
3. Every word counts.
In those first two weeks back at writing, I couldn’t do my 500-words-a-day-minimum. I just didn’t have the energy or mental focus. But I could get a solid 100 words, and even that adds up. You may not have a lot of writing time in your life, but with a daily few dozen words here and there you’ll eventually have a finished novel.
4. Every experience is somehow usable.
While I was sick, a lot of people said, “Well, at least you have a lot of material for your next book.” I didn’t tell them I had no intention of writing about what I’d gone through or subject my characters to an extended hospital stay, but I soon realized that while I may not write about catheters, scans, and surgeries, I could use the emotions I had during that time. I feel like I now have a better foundation to write about fear, uncertainty, and pain than I ever did before.
5. Keep a notebook handy.
This is considered standard writing advice, but I didn’t actually practice it until I got sick. Maybe it was the high fever I had for a few days, or the suitcase of pills I had to take daily, but I had a lot of strange visions and ideas in that time. Many of them I wrote down, a lot of them make zero sense now that my brain is clear, but the more ideas you have to pull from, the better, so write them all down.
After Kim and her husband decide to quit their jobs to travel around the world, they’re given a yellow envelope containing a check and instructions to give the money away. The only three rules for the envelope: Don’t overthink it; share your experiences; don’t feel pressured to give it all away.
Writer-in-Residence Kurt Dinan interviews his cousin, Kim Dinan, about how her love of travel led to her new book, “The Yellow Envelope.” Subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts.
So long story short–On Sunday, March 26th, was admitted to the hospital with severe abdominal pain. I spent the next week in ICU, came home for a week, went back to the hospital for another bunch of days, came home for a day, then went back in for a quick procedure. To this day, they still don’t know what caused the initial problem. Basically, I’m the worst episode of House ever, an no, it’s not lupus, because “it’s never lupus.”
In my forty-five years, I’ve never been sick and never been in the hospital, so this is all new and terrifying to me. I went from a healthy guy, to a no-energy lump of mud in a month. I spent a total of twenty-one days in the hospital, and while I am home, I have no stamina and am still in some pain, although nothing like I was in before. After an amazing come-to-Jesus talk with my wife, I realized I have to start acting like I’m recovering, not like I’m still sick. So that’s what I’m doing.
Why am I telling you this? Because, I’m still the Cincinnati Public Library Writer-in-Residence. And the Foundation has been nothing but patient with me during this time. It was decided last week that we will extend my position through the end of the year (it was supposed to end in October or so) so I can fulfill all of the goals I’ve set for the year. I know I’ve missed one (almost two) workshops, and my hope–fingers crossed–is to re-start those in June. I would like to pick up where I left off, with the writing strategies one, since I was mostly finished with it when I got sick. From there we’ll move onto the other workshops like this debilitating illness never happened. Again, fingers crossed.
Thoughts and prayers and good vibes sent into the universe are welcome, of course. And thanks to all of you for your patience during this difficult time.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the April 1, May 6, and June 3 workshops with Kurt Dinan have been cancelled.
Get to know author John Mantooth in this fourth episode of our podcast, “Inside the Writer’s Head.” The podcast, hosted by the Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence, Kurt Dinan, focuses on writing, reading, and creativity. John, who also writes under the name Hank Early, spent much of his youth in the mountains of North Georgia and now lives in central Alabama with his wife and two kids. He writes mostly about crime. His book “Heaven’s Crooked Finger” was his first novel. As John Mantooth, he’s also published “Shoebox Train Wreck” and “The Year of the Storm.” Listen as John and Kurt talk about the creative process and what you can learn from their experiences. Subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts.
In this third episode of the new season of our podcast, The Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence, Kurt Dinan, continues talking writing, reading, and creativity. Kurt interviews fellow Young Adult author Mindy McGinnis. She is an Edgar Award-winning author (The Female of the Species, A Madness So Discreet, Not a Drop to Drink, etc.), blogger (Writer, Writer Pants on Fire), and assistant teen librarian who lives in Ohio. She graduated from Otterbein University with a degree in English Literature and Religion. Listen as Kurt and Mindy discuss writing, honing the craft, finding inspiration, learning from mistakes, and more. Subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts.
In my January writing workshop held down at the Main Branch, we did a lot of brainstorming exercises, which not only help with starting a novel, but with writer’s block. For those of you who couldn’t attend, here’s a link to my PowerPoint presentation and some of the tips shared with the group:
1. Brainstorm a Set Number.
We have to start here, because while this is pretty basic, before you brainstorm anything, set a number of acceptable responses. The number you set should hurt a little because the best ideas you come up with are usually the later ones. You know as well as I do what’ll happen if you set a time limit instead of a response limit–you’ll write down three responses, then sit and doodle for the next four and a half minutes until your time is up.
2. Brainstorm What You Know.
Common advice, yes, but not as limiting as some people say. I don’t think this is saying you HAVE to write about what you know, but that it’s a good idea to use what you know when you can. See the difference?
Here’s are ways to brainstorm ideas using what you know:
List things you’re an expert on.
List “worlds” you know. (For example, I know the high school world–its inhabitants, its routines, etc. I also know the parenting world, and having spent my teen years working at McDonald’s, the fast food world.)
List experiences you’ve had others likely have not.
List feelings you know well.
3. Brainstorm Things You Love.
Weird, but true, the ideas for my (failed) first novel, LUCKY TOWN, and DON’T GET CAUGHT, came from listing what things I like reading about or watching in movies. I mean, you should enjoy what you’re writing, right? So for LT, my brainstorm list that led to the novel included items like: cults, an enclosed setting, disappearances, people you think are dead but are not, etc. All of those things are in that novel in one way or another. With DGC, I wrote different list of things I like in books/movies such as: capers, an ensemble cast, sophomoric jokes, and pranks. All of those are in the book.
List books, movies, and TV shows you love.
Now, from each of those, list what you specifically love.
Look for commonalities. This may give you an idea of the type of book you might want to write.
4. Brainstorm Interesting People.
Most writing advice says you should start with character. And honestly, I’m terrible at this. But I’m trying to get better at it.
Here are some ways to brainstorm characters:
List interesting jobs.
List interesting hobbies.
List interesting quirks.
List favorite songs, then figure out what type of person would have each song as a theme song.
List people you know who are real characters, those 1 in a 100 people you know who really stand out for whatever reason.
5. Brainstorm Interesting Settings.
Since setting determines a person’s behavior, actions, attitudes, etc, sometimes you can start with a setting and build outward.
List places that have inherent conflict.
List places you’ve visited that you can picture clearly.
List places that make you uncomfortable.
6. Play the What If? Game.
Every novel is a What If? What if a boy discovered he was a wizard? What if a town was terrorized by a great white shark? What if a girl was forced to represent her town in a fight to the death? What if an elephant found an unhatched egg? You get the idea.
Start with a character and put him in a conflict-ready situation.
Okay, so you have a general idea, now what?
Once I have an idea I like (or am stuck in plotting), I do what I call Riffing. This is where I open a new document and just start typing ideas and questions and possibilities until an idea emerges that I’m interested in. Sometimes these riffs go on for a week and ten thousand words until I discover what I’m looking for, but usually it doesn’t take that long. Asking questions is what helps me the most. Here’s an example I use in my creative writing class:
Character: High school football player
Riff: Why does this kid like football? Or, does he like football at all? Is it something he does out of love or is he forced to do play? Why would a parent force a kid to play a sport he doesn’t want to play? How would a kid respond to something like that? Would he sabotage the team? Does he play at all? What if he was put in to play in an emergency situation? Would he actually try or would he fail on purpose out of spite? What about his character makes him choose this?
Hopefully some of these exercises will help you in your writing!
The next workshop will be Saturday, March 4th from 2-4. It’s called–
Plotting versus Pantsing: How to (Maybe) Outline a Novel
So you’ve got a great concept for a novel and a whole bunch of characters you’re ready to manipulate and torture…what’s next? In this workshop we’ll talk about plot construction, scene crafting, and other things to consider as you start writing.
See you there!