Sunday, July 31, 2011

Interview with Author, Jeff Ambrose, on the Craft of Short Story Writing

I met Jeff Ambrose at David Farland’s Professional Writer’s Conference, where he talked about the awesome market for short stories. Jeff is an expert in horror short fiction and is successfully selling his stories on-line. Below he talks about his craft and what has helped him become a success.

My Craft of Short Fiction - by Jeff Ambrose

Let's get one thing straight, right off the bat. I can't talk about The Craft of short fiction, just as I can't talk about The Craft of fiction in general. "Craft" has to do with the skill of making things. All writers approach the making of stories in their own way. Writing might be the only profession in the world in which the end -- the making of a story -- justifies the means -- how a story is made. So I can only talk about My Craft.
However, we learn from other writers. What we learn is limited, but powerful. We can't learn how to do it, but we can learn how they do it. And maybe the way they do it shows us a way into our own making of stories. That's been my experience.
So: How do I approach writing short fiction?
First, I read short fiction. I read magazines such as Asimov's Science Fiction and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I read anthologies such as The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories and The New Space Opera. I read short story collections by my favorite short story writers: Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, James Van Pelt, and so forth. And I'm always on the lookout for short story writers I've not read or heard of.
I read short fiction to understand form. There are two kinds of stories -- formed stories, and unformed stories. We all recognize a formed story. It has a middle, beginning, and end. The unformed story depends on the form, but it's told in an unformed way.
The best example of how these are related is Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." This story's form (or plot) is simple. A man learns his son has died in the war, he goes to a bar and gets drunk, then he goes home and commits suicide. If Hemingway had told the story that way, it would've been a formed (or plotted) story. But he didn't. In "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," he just told us the middle. He knew the form, but he gave us an unformed story.
In the early 1900's, formed fiction became the domain of genre fiction, and unformed fiction became the domain of literary fiction. But no longer. Genre writers write unformed fiction within their genre, and literary writers write formed literary fiction. Thus, I just write the stories I want to write, as I want to write them.
All this theory is essential, because . . . well, we'll get to that in a moment.
Second, I must want to write short fiction. My subconscious is the curator of a vast museum of ideas. I'm not allowed in it. All I can do is tell him what I want. So I say, "I want to write a short story, gimme ideas please," and he disappears a while and emerges with suitable short fiction ideas.
That might sound crazy, but look at it this way. Ideas are story seeds. Just as some seeds produce rose bushes and other seeds produce giant redwoods, some story ideas produce short fiction, and other story ideas produce novels. If I want to write short fiction, I need to tell my subconscious to send up those ideas.
Good short story ideas (generally) have one main character, one setting, one interior conflict, and one exterior conflict. With two or more characters, two or more settings, two or more conflicts, you move from the land of short fiction to the land of the novella or novel.
Third, I develop the idea. Like Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Harlan Coben, John D. MacDonald, I'm a discovery writer. Once I have an idea, I sit down and get to work with a minimal amount of pre-writing.
When I say minimal, I mean structure. If I know how to structure an idea, I can get to work on it.
How much story structure I need varies from story to story. "Alien Camp" is based (in structure) on Ernest Hemingway's "Indian Camp." I knew my story would have three parts, just like Hemingway's. Some kids go to the alien camp, something happens, then they go home. Once I had the structure, I was good to go -- even though I knew nothing about the kids or what might happen to them when they got to the alien camp.
My story "The Boogeyman Men" loosely follows the structure of an old Harlan Ellison story called "Do-It-Yourself." I tried to write "The Boogeyman Men" several times with no luck. I knew it was a great idea, but I didn't know what to do with it. Then I read Ellison's story, and -- BAM! -- I knew how to tell the story.
Fourth, I cycle write. Since I'm a discovery writer, I know little about my characters or setting. Sometimes, if I'm having trouble starting a story, I'll grab a magazine or anthology and read different openings until I find one that might work for my story, then imitate its structure. Within two paragraphs, I'm off and running . . . until I get stuck. Then I go back to page one, reread what I have, making changes to whatever occurs to me -- word choice, sentence structure, dialogue, character motivation, description. When I get back to where I lost steam, I'm good for another few pages. I continue like this, day after day, cycling through the draft, shaping it, filling in gaps, fixing discrepancies, as I go along, until I finish.
Since the first draft is the final draft, I'm done. I believe, by and large, that rewriting short fiction is a waste of time. A short story is so small and can be told so quickly -- in just a few days, really -- there shouldn't be any gaping holes or major changes that might occur in a novel. If there are big problems, it means my skill level isn't up to the challenge yet. Since I improve by writing new stories than trying to fix broken ones, when I finish the first draft, the story is finished.
Fifth, I edit and proof. Editing is about trimming needless words and making sure the sentences say what I want them to say. As a rule, I try to cut 10% from my manuscript, if not more, but I don't live and die by it.
To help, I use Ken Rand's The 10% Solution. When I finish working through his checklist, I'm done. For an average-length short story, this takes two hours. I do a final spellcheck and grammar check (MS Word's grammar check is helps catch double words and dropped -eds and so forth), print it out, and give it to my wife to read. She marks the mistakes I missed, which I fix.
 Then I'm done and off to a new project.
 How much of my craft will help your craft will vary from writer to writer. In the end, you have to develop your craft. To do this, what you must do above everything else is read short stories. You can't write what you don't read.

* * *
Jeff Ambrose has wanted to be a writer since the sixth grade. When he turned thirty-five, he decided it was either time to run for president or get serious about writing. He writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and crime fiction. Sometimes he commits literary fiction. He lives outside of Dallas, Texas, with his wife and four children. You can find him on the web at or on Twitter: @JeffAmbrose13 or buy his stories on

Monday, July 25, 2011

Working on Book Trailer

While my husband, Bob, and I were at Red Cliffs filming video for my book trailer of KOICTO, we took a few stills. I am having a blast gathering photos and video clips. Bob took photos of me dressed as Catori, one of the characters in KOICTO. Last week I shot a video of the sunset at Parowan Gap and took panning videos of the petroglyphs.

Launching book trailers is another wonderful way to advertise your books. When I have it ready I'll post the trailer for my blogger friends to preview first!

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Working on My Pitch for Chihuahua Momma

I'm working on perfecting my pitch, so I'll be ready when it comes time to find an agent for Chihuahua Momma. Comments welcomed :-)
In a world of riotous dog shows and nutty family antics, Rebecca Lee manages to remain in a protective cocoon of loneliness. Widowed with two teenaged kids and a business to run, Rebecca cannot dare to dream of dating, even after ex-football star, Matt Johnson, shows up to buy a Chihuahua. But when Matt’s irresistible grin melts the ice encasing her heart, she’s torn by an inner battle – her fear of being hurt and smoldering feelings for Matt. Can Rebecca put her tormented past behind her and find the strength to follow her dreams?
It’s Best In Show meets The Perfect Man.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Koicto - My First Interview ~

My church priest asked me to answer some questions about my novel, Koicto. She published the interview in the St. Judes parish newsletter and I thought some of my followers might be interested in knowing more about my upcoming book:

Since this seems to be an artsy letter this week, I am thrilled to brag about our wonderful parishioner, Amy Jarecki, who sang last Sunday with Carol Wagers and her friend, The Rev. Phil Emmanuel from Las Vegas.

Amy Jarecki is also an author, and she has hadher recent book accepted by the Sunstone Press for publication!!! The name of the book is Kiocto, and she edited the last galleys last week. I told her I have had friends and relativeswho have written books, but only one of them was published and by herself. Amy’s book is being published by a legit publisher. She tells the story much better than I can. She says:

“The name of the book is entitled Koicto (a Native American name for cougar). When I first arrived in Utah I visited Parowan Gap and was amazed by the petroglyphs and the intelligence of the indigenous people who inscribed them. I had never heard of the Fremont Indians (I call them the Nahchee), and I felt I had to tell a storyabout them. I spent three months researching their culture (what I could find), and the culture of the descendant tribes, and combined them to establish the Nahchee Nation. It took me another three months to write the book, and then I spent about six months rewriting, so the whole thing took about a year.

“The novel does take place in Parowan Gap and Fremont Indian State Park (Which I call Taawa). I sent out quite a few query letters, but after talking to editors at the San Francisco Writers Conference, I found that historical Native American novels aren't exactly hot with NewYork publishers. John Kremer has a renowned book, 1001Ways to Market Your Books, and on his web site he lists the top 101independent publishers in the US. These publishers have to meet certain criteria, such as number of copies sold, circulation, awards, etc. Sunstone Press in New Mexico is on that list, and they publish books about the Southwest, with a number of them being about Native Americans. They sent me a contract saying that they would be interested in working with me, and I signed it.

“Tentatively the book will be released in December. I don't have final details about that yet, but they are going to use a picture I took at sunset on summer solstice behind the carin for the cover. Cool.

“The copy for the back cover will read:

In an ancient Native American world, Koicto dreams of leading his people through the ravages of war. Summoned by the Tribal Elders, this gifted warrior forges a bond of brotherhood with the irascible cougar, Kitchi, and proves he’s worthy to lead. But the Elders proclaim Koicto a shaman – a medicine man. They force him into an arranged marriage, ignoring his love for the beautiful Pavati, and casting aside his burning desire to become chief of the Nahchee Nation.

When Koicto’s vision of war unfolds, he finds his village desecrated and Pavati taken. With Kitchi by his side, Koicto must now fulfill destiny and avenge these wrongs. If he fails, the Nahchee will be no more.

Her One Sentence Description is: “Koicto transports us to an ancient Native American world where a reluctant warrior embarks on a journey of discovery and transformation.”

Wow!! I am so excited, impressed and proud to know Amy!! Not only publishing a book, but a needed and fantastic one --- one that continues our pledge made at our baptism, “to celebrate the dignity of every human being. Please congratulate her and her husband, Bob, for being married to such a winning woman!! Amy, we are so proud of you, and can’t wait to read and help you sell this book. Could be a Lenten study book in the spring?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Kat Duncan, Author - Interview

Today Author and writing teacher, Kat Duncan, has graciously offered her time to answer a few questions about writing and about her e-book, Without a Lord:

Hi Kat thank you for your time today - Can you give us your pitch for Without a Lord?
Sir Roger has it all figured out. His by-the-book plan to coax his uncle into granting him a small manor in Cumbria is due to pay off at Christmastime. It is step one to taking over his aging uncle’s vast land holdings. And then a Christmas surprise ruins all his careful plans. Lady Caille is resigned to following the elderly abbot’s advice to wed an old friend of his as the only way she can claim her inheritance, a small manor in Cumbria.
Without a Lord is the first book in a series. The next book, A Lady of Worth, is due out at the end of July, 2011.
You brought to life the problems women faced when their husbands die, leaving behind property, which they cannot own. Can you tell us a bit about the research you did when writing?
I have always loved history and had loads of fun reading non-fiction books about medieval times. Since I'm of Scottish-Irish descent, I became interested in the area around the shifting Scottish border, wondering what life must have been like for noblewomen who lived in a place where men not only fought over the lands with swords, but by wooing noble heiresses.

You marketed Without a Lord as a self-published e-book. Would you share with us what persuaded you to take that route?
I've had some interest in my historicals from both agents and editors, but not enough for them to offer contracts as yet (I still have agents and editors looking at some of my work). I decided that life was too short and traditional publishing was too slow for me. I was eager to share my version of the medieval historical world with readers. I also saw some colleagues who write historical romance flounder in the print market after publishing fabulous books. After scratching my head over that, I realized print publishing was perhaps not the best avenue to share my work with readers.

What software do you recommend in formatting an e-book?
I have had success using ordinary word processors such as OpenOffice or Microsoft Word. Both Smashwords and Amazon Digital do a good job of converting word processed documents into e-reader formats.

How can writers rise above the “white noise” when marketing e-books?
Marketing has changed dramatically in the last few years. Paid advertising and promoting through blog tours is useful, but the main way to market your e-books is to have a visible presence on the web so that you can "be found". This includes having a website or blog, twitter, Goodreads and Facebook accounts, as well as a presence on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. All of these sites have ways for your book to be found including book search tags, author pages, and other marketing tools. Also, join author groups so that you can have fun promoting one another's books.

Do you have plans for Without a Lord in print?
I've been working with CreateSpace to produce a print version of Without a Lord. The print version formatting is a bit trickier than e-book formatting, so it's taken me a while to get it right. A print version should be available before the end of this year.

What was the hardest scene to write in your book?
Hm...I'd say the hardest scene to write was the one where Caille is alone with John and they are fighting hand-to-hand. She's not a warrior or trained fighter, but she's stubborn and clever and brave. She has tremendous difficulty defending herself. It's a very exciting and action-packed scene.

How did you design your cover art and what was your first reaction when you got a glimpse of your cover art?
My older daughter designed the cover art. She an art genius and she knows that I'm helpless when it comes to this sort of thing. My first reaction when I saw it was "It's perfect!"

Tell us a little about what you are working on.
Right now I'm working on a contemporary romantic suspense set in modern Edinburgh. It involves a hunky con man who tries to wind his way into a big-money scheme and ends up losing his heart to the clever heroine.

I met Kat by taking her class, Make Me Care, through Low Country RWA. What classes do you have coming up and how can my readers take part?
Right now I have a class on Active Voice coming up July 5th with From the Heart Romance Writers, an online chapter of RWA. I've got another class with FTHRW in October on Scenes and Sequels. I'm also doing a number of classes next year for Savvy Authors. Oh, and Savvy Authors is doing a Summer Symposium at the end of August and I'll be there doing a free workshop, giving away books and 3-chapter critiques.
Please give us a blurb and excerpt!

Denied the lands that had been long promised him, Sir Roger vows to take what is rightfully his, the lands of his own lord, and the lord's new lady along with them. Lady Caille is not the type to run from a fight. Faced with an indecent proposal she must choose between love and honor.


                Roger folded Caille's cloak over itself, so nothing could be seen. It bore long tears that made it gape, but nothing was exposed improperly except her breasts, which were now covered by the fold he'd made. Half expecting her protest, he picked her up and began to carry her down the path to where his horse waited.
Blessed relief and inexplicable joy flowed through him at each step he made with her in his arms. He'd rarely felt such a thrill of mastery. She'd said he would be the first to hunt with success. She was right. She was so right for him. What else had she said? The lord shall be first to the feasting wine. Aye, Renouf had been at the wine all night long, furious with himself and consumed with worry over her and vexation at the circumstance. Thomas had been first to enter the house – he was injured and had been carried right to Fellswick while the others formed searching parties. Hugh was to be first to put foot to spur for an errand. Ah, all true except for Hugh. Could she truly forespeak the future?
The wide, green valley spread open before them. Roger stopped, supported her on one knee and rested the other knee on the ground.
"Would you like to see your home?"
Caille had been studying the features of his face, but she turned her head to follow his gaze. She hummed a positive response.
"There. See the dark swath of green on the near side of that hill?"
"Nestled up against the hill, just overlooking the lake is Fellswick Hall."
"'Tis sae bonny!"
"It is so beautiful!"
He bent his head and kissed her and it was no gentle kiss. It was seeking and possessive. Too soon she began resisting him and he placed a gloved hand gently onto the side of her face to maintain the kiss. Her resistance faded instantly and the elation he felt at this admission of surrender from her body eclipsed the warning in his mind that she was forbidden to him. She was as forbidden as the birthright that had long been denied him. It only served to heighten his desire for both. When he relinquished the kiss, her head fell softly sighing to his shoulder, seeking the solace he knew she had thus far not gotten from his lord.
"You should be mine," he whispered into her ear.
"Roger, please…no more. We both know it is wrong."
Now for the fun stuff.  Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I have bucketloads of pleasures, but absolutely zero guilt! :)

Name one thing readers would be surprised to know about you.
I don't watch TV and haven't since 1984.

If you didn’t have to worry about counting calories or fat, what’s the first food you’d reach for?
Bread, warm and fresh from the oven, slathered with butter...yum!

Since you write romance, fess up.  Have you ever read the “Grande Dames” of the genre like Jane Austin, Barbara Cartland, Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts?  What do you really think of their books?
I read Jane Austin when I was about 11 and loved her writing. I had just discovered the fiction section of the library and had to be thrown out every Saturday at closing time. I have not read Barbara Cartland. I've read Danielle Steele and didn't like the slow, slow pace. She gets the emotions right, though. I've read a lot of Nora Roberts and I have mixed reviews. Some of her titles were very good, others seemed too predictable.

If someone hasn't read any of your work, what book would you recommend they start with and why?
Hm...If they like fast-paced suspense with characters they can relate to, I'd recommend they start with Fifty-eight Faces. It's short, intense and has a sweet, romantic ending. If they like more James Bond-ish suspense, then Six Days to Midnight would be perfect. It's longer and takes the reader on a globe-trotting trip hunting for an economic terrorist. If audio books are your style, then check out my free novella, Sunda Cloud. Lastly, if they prefer traditional historicals with historical detail that seeps into your bones and a plot with plenty of action, then they should start with Without a Lord, which is first in a series set in Cumbria in England.
Thanks for spending a bit of time with me and best wishes for your continued success.  Where can readers find you on the Web?
Twitter: @write_about