Hi Catherine! It is exciting that you will be with us this year for the conference.
I was wondering if you could give us a little teaser about what you will be covering during your Friday workshops, “Cause and Effect Sequences: Pace & Flow” and “Becoming a Storyteller, not just a Writer.” They both sound intriguing! Your Saturday sessions “View, Verbs, and Vividness—A Different Way to Look at Show-Don’t-Tell” and “Revision is a Process: Simplified” also sound extremely craft-worthy and informative as well.
Catherine E. McLean: A little teaser for “Cause and Effect Sequences”? How about— what was meant wasn’t what was written?
Writers are warned not to do anything that takes a reader out of enjoying the story world. Putting the wrong sequence of actions down or leaving out a sequence of actions, reactions, or responses nets a very confused reader who stops reading.
Keep in mind that readers are not mind readers. They only have the words on a page to go by. Should the reader stop to reread, then guess what was meant, and discovers later they guessed incorrectly, well, the reader is miffed. If the writer does this enough times, the reader quits reading, never to buy from that author again.
The “Cause and Effect” intensive is a four-part, hands-on class. The first segment reveals “red flag words” that indicate problems with the narrative flow of the cause-effects. The second segment focuses on action-reaction sequences. The third and fourth sessions are about “triggers” of sensory perceptions and motivations which are necessary for a reader to suspend disbelief and which enhance drama, tension, suspense, and urgency.
“Becoming a Storyteller, not just a writer,” reveals the battle between logic and creativity—and how to stop the infighting so a writer becomes more productive. Participants will learn the five secrets to becoming a storyteller, one who goes on to become a producing writer.
In “View, Verbs, and Vividness—A Different Way to Look at Show-Don’t-Tell.” It’s about POV and Viewpoint not being the same thing despite many using the terms synonymously. It’s about passivity that’s created by overuse of certain verbs and verb constructions. Lastly, vividness is recognizing the difference between a dog and a Doberman. This workshop will focus on how to spot generalities that weaken writing and use specific, image-provoking words that bring characters to life and make a story run like a movie in the mind of a reader.
Lastly, many writers cringe when it comes to revising their work because revision seems a never-ending task. In “Revision is a Process: Simplified” it’s about how to systematically revise so revision is no longer a chore and a frustration.
In addition to having several novels published, such as HEARTS AKILTER, KARMA AND MAYHEM, and JEWELS OF THE SKY, you have an anthology of short stories, ADRADA TO ZOOL. You also have your writer’s website, http://www.WritersCheatSheets.com and blog http://writerscheatsheets.blogspot.com which I spent time looking around — BTW I really liked your “10 Types of Writers” cheat sheet. There are a lot of other helpful things there, too. Could you tell us a little bit about this website and what was your inspiration for creating it? Any future plans?
Catherine E. McLean: I was not inspired to create the website. At that time, I had been giving workshops on fiction craft elements for years and now toyed with the idea of putting together a book of “writer’s cheat sheets.” The book would contain lists, reminders, and “cheat sheets” for ready recall on the 144 aspects of a novel. When I pitched the idea to Writers Digest, they told me I needed a platform before they’d consider the project. Part of a platform meant having a web presence.
So, I went online and started the Writers Cheat Sheet blog with Blogger.com because it was free and a lot easier to use than WordPress. I updated the blog on the first of each month with information about an aspect of writing fiction. However, this year, in order to have more writing time for myself, the blog will be quarterly.
As to the website, http://www.WritersCheatSheets.com, that came about after the blog was underway. Sort of “if you’re going to be in the educating writers business you should have a real website.” The site evolved into a hub where I keep my teaching and editing services separate from my novel and author home website of http://www.CatherineEmclean.com.
At the cheat sheet website, I periodically give away free PDFs, like the “10 Types of Writers,” which you mentioned. There is also a link at the website for other items, which are for sale for a nominal fee, or for free download.
I’ve heard that it typically takes you six months to go from an idea to a polished ready-to-submit manuscript. (That is impressive!) Would you say this is accurate and would you mind giving us an inside peek at your process?
Catherine E. McLean: It is accurate and most of my work is around 100,000 words.
A novel is a tremendous undertaking. Unless one has a genius mind, who can recall all the elements needed for a great story, all the do’s and don’ts? I sure can’t, so my secret to turning out well-written and well-told stories is this: I use a Project Bible, which is my personal guide to all things story.
My Project Bible contains all the forms, reminders, cheat sheets, lists, and anything I need to create a viable novel or short story from beginning to end. That bible took me three years to create and works for all my fiction, be it a short story or a novel.
When it comes to writing, what would you say is the easiest thing for you, and what has been the most challenging?
Catherine E. McLean: For me, the easiest part about writing stories is getting the ideas. My imagination has carte blanche to, at any time of day or night, deliver ideas or scenes for stories or characters. However, the deal is that I write the ideas down and add them to my “Bits & Pieces” binder. If something really catches my interest, my imagination will then give me a story dump (a scene of a few pages up to a hundred pages). Then nothing. Everything I need to know about the story is in that dump. Which makes me a Foundation Writer (the fourth on the list of “10 Types of Writers”).
What’s been the most challenging thing about writing? Trying to balance time to write stories and giving workshops and courses that teach other writers how to write well and tell a story well.
I loved your description that your stories are “brain candy for anyone liking action and character-driven stories.” Could you tell us a little bit about what you are currently working on?
Catherine E. McLean: Currently it’s a lighthearted, futuristic ghost story romance. (That is a mouthful. LOL)
The story takes place on an Earth colony world where twice-widowed Adriane wants a baby and her biological clock is ticking in earnest. Because she’s loved and lost two husbands, she’s not interested in matrimony. Only her ghostly husbands intend for her to find Mr. Right, who’s a government agent named Jake, to love and impregnate her. Jake, however, has major issues with widows because he was once manipulated by “a cougar.” As a result, he’s got a reputation as a rake. The two ghosts think it’ll be easy for true love to mend such untrusting hearts, but they soon find out how stubborn and uncooperative Adriane and Jake can be.
I know you probably get this often but what would you say were your favorite books when you were a kid. Are they still favorites of yours? Why or why not?
Catherine E. McLean: Actually, you’re the first person to ask me about my favorite books as a kid. In truth, I don’t recall any favorites until I was a teen. That’s when I discovered Horatio Hornblower and was swept up by those action-adventures. I know, I know, not a romance in those stories, but it was the adventure, the swashbuckling deeds aboard ships at sea and the plights of military men against great odds that drew me in. And Hornblower himself—I had a crush on him. (And likely a bit of him is in all my Romantic Lead-Hero’s personality. LOL)
The first romances I fell in love with were by Dame Barbara Cortland, the Queen of Romance. The majority of her stories were about romance and love, not sex.
Since I was very much taken at the time with the sci-fi shows on television—like Thunderbirds, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Lost in Space—and continue to be smitten by Star Trek, et. al., it was only natural such interest would end up in my story writing. My story settings are on other worlds, with adventures, and romance. It wasn’t until I joined RWA that I found out I was writing “futuristics.” Who knew.
Currently, my favorite futuristic authors are Justine Davis (SKYPIRATE), Jane Ann Krentz (SHIELD’S LADY), and Catherine Arsaro (PRIMARY INVERSION–which is not a romance). A few other books that I like very much are the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, THE WAR GOD’S OWN and PATH OF THE FURY by David Weber, and VATTA’S WAR by Elizabeth Moon.
Would you say there is a difference between being a writer versus a storyteller? If yes, what are the biggest differences?
Catherine E. McLean: Yes, there is a difference. Prior to the consolidation of the big publishing houses by 2004 and the onslaught of e-readers, there were gatekeepers called editors and agents. You had to write well and tell a story well to get your work before a New York City publishing house. A writer would get rejections and be told they had to learn the devices and techniques of telling stories that made readers part with their money to buy books. It took years, and still takes years, to learn the art and craft of writing fiction to become a proficient storyteller. Prior to 2004, 90% of what was being submitted was said to be draft quality. Of the 10% that was good, only 1% got published. It was a sink or swim world for an author.
Then came Amazon.com and others who said “you write it, we’ll publish it for free, and you’ll be an author.” Thus anyone with a computer thinks they can write the great American novel and be published. The result? The last figures I have is that 4,500 new books are added each day to the 15 million already out there. And, last year at a conference, I overheard an industry professional say that 99% of what’s out there for free download or nominal purchase is draft quality.
Last question – If an aspiring writer came up to you and asked for your advice what do you think would be the three most important things for him or her to know?
Catherine E. McLean: I would tell them that talent will take a writer only so far. It is craft that enhances talent and liberates creativity. So, to many reading this, the following will seem like harsh words, but these are the reality checks:
First, set your writing aside and devote time to learning the art and craft of writing good fiction that is marketable. Invest in how-to books by educators who are themselves authors of fiction. They can be your mentors and teachers. You need an education, not necessarily a degree.
Secondly, don’t self-publish anything without the aid of a critique group and beta readers of your genre. Networking among writers allows you to know the market and, especially, the tropes and cliches to avoid.
Third, if you’re really serious about being a great writer, after you’ve polished your work to the best you can make it and gotten feedback from fellow writers and beta readers, it’s time to hire a qualified fiction editor familiar with your genre before you submit to an agent or editor— or self-publish.
Let me put things another way. If you wanted to learn to swim, would you jump into the deep end of a pool and figure instinct would kick in? Of course not. Panic would ensue and you’d likely drown. No, to learn to swim in a safe environment, you’d go to the Y or get someone to teach you the basics—how to float, how to dog paddle, and work your way up to actual strokes and swimming. If you liked swimming and had a talent for speed, you’d seek out a coach, diligently practice, and test yourself against other swimmers. If you did well, you might set your sights on the Olympics.
Well, writing fiction means learning the basic strokes of the English language, grammar and punctuation, then seeking out those who can teach fiction-writing craft techniques and devices. It means practicing craft elements which enhance talent.
Knowledge is power. Keep afloat by learning and striving for excellence and your stories could become New York City Publishing champions.
Thank you again for your interview! And, we’re looking forward to having you at the conference!
Catherine E. McLean: You’re welcome, Tammy, and I’ll be seeing you soon at the conference.
Catherine E. McLean: Author, Writing Instructor, Workshop Speaker. Besides Catherine being a wife and mother, she has ridden and exhibited Morgan Sport Horses. She’s an avid clothing and costume designer, an award-winning amateur photographer, a 4-H leader, and a Red Hatter who loves bling.
She lives on a farm nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania. In the quiet of the countryside, she writes fantasy, futuristic, and paranormal stories where a reader can escape to other worlds for adventure and romance.
Her short stories have appeared in hard-copy and online anthologies and magazines. Her third novel, Hearts Akilter, a lighthearted fantasy/sci-fi romance, was released August 5, 2015.
Hub Website: http://www.CatherineEmclean.com
Catherine also gives writing workshops, both online and in-person. A schedule is posted at http://www.writerscheatsheets.com/upcoming-workshops.html
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines and is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing cadet and marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).