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Writing Tips for Fiction Writers!


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Interview with Lee Masterson
by Linda Barnett-Johnson

(This Interview was first shown in the August 2003 issue of "
My Writing Friend" ezine)

1) What prompted you to form Fiction Factor? How has it fulfilled you? What have you learned from it? What's the biggest problems?

Tina, Ciara and I began Fiction Factor together after noticing that there were no ezines dedicated solely to the craft of writing fiction (at that time). Almost all other writing ezines and magazines try to cater to all writers across quite a broad spectrum. We simply wanted to cater for the fiction writing niche and be able to help new writers to learn a little about the publishing world and improve their writing at the same time.

In the past 2 1/2 years that FF has been running, writing and researching articles has taught us all a great deal about our own writing. I know I've learned to look at my own work more objectively because of my involvement with the ezine. We receive emails from people wanting to know the 'how' or the 'why' of certain topics and we research the answers to the best of our ability.

The biggest problems we face as a team are probably distance and time, followed closely by our miniscule budget. Tina and Ciara live in Ohio. I live in Australia. The time difference can be awkward - especially when daylight savings changes over - but we manage.

I work full time, as well as trying to maintain my writing schedule, so finding time to research and write new articles for Fiction Factor is often challenging. I am also responsible for maintaining and updating the website and formatting the email newsletter each fortnight, so every second Wednesday evening is taken up with this task.

As the website is quite costly to maintain, we experiment heavily with ways to help keep Fiction Factor free to all readers. We really don't want to begin charging people to read the ezine, nor do we want to become one of those newsletters that contains more advertising than actual content. Boring!

2) How long have you been writing? What made you put that first story down on paper?

My first story was written when I was five or six. The teacher at school asked students to write a book. Dutifully, I penned a cute story about a cat who wanted to be human, drew the appropriate pictures and asked my mom to help bind it into a nice cover. The teacher placed it on display in the school library, and from that point I was determined to see more of my work on those shelves. I've been writing in whatever spare time I can find ever since.

3) What got you started?

Determination to prove that I could write for a living, despite the amount of people who told me I couldn't.

4) Do you write in a particular genre? If so, what genre is it?

Um... when writing fiction, I do tend to favor science fiction, although I also write across quite a few other genres easily - dark fantasy, erotica, humor and romance (I use a pseudonym for these). I also have a strong tendency toward supernatural horror when I'm in a dark mood, or if I've had a bad week at the office.

5) Have you been published? What was the first story? Where was it published? How long did it take?

Yes, I've been published in many publications and in many formats all over the world. My non-fiction work generates my main writing income - I'm still trying to develop a loyal audience for my fiction. Some of my work is written under a pseudonym.

The first non-fiction sale came when I was 16. I wanted to write for the local newspaper here in Adelaide. So I drafted an article, sent it out and they actually liked it!

The first paid piece of fiction writing came when I was about 18. I have always written weird little short stories that usually only see the inside of my filing cabinet (I write these just to get the stories out of my head - I'm usually too paranoid to let people see those creepy efforts) Anyway, I got brave one day, and entered one of these into a short story contest for the local newspaper in Adelaide. I received a cheque for $10 and publication. I still have the tattered, yellowed clipping from the newspaper somewhere...

6) Who’s your favorite author and why?

Oh gosh! That's a hard question to ask of a compulsive reader!

I guess for the "all-time favorites" I would have to say Stephen King, or maybe Wilbur Smith, or possibly Ian Irvine - and all for the same reasons: The writing is well-paced, the plot is logical without being overly predictable and the characters are always amazingly well-drawn. I can get lost in some of those books for days.

For the "warm, fuzzy" favorites, I would say Anne McCaffrey or J.K. Rowling - cute, light reading. Nothing too serious.

For the "escapism" favorites, my favorites would then tend to be John Grisham or Jackie Collins - the characters are stereotypical and the plots are predictable but the stories are fun...

7) How did you deal with rejection letters, if you received any?

All rejection letters go into the filing cabinet, filed under "R" for rejection in a manilla folder. I write the date each rejection was received and cross-reference it on my submissions spreadsheet (so I know that piece of work is ready to go out the door to someone else the same day)

8) What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

I don't think that any element is necessarily more important than the next. While I prefer character driven stories, other people love reading descriptive passages that pull them into the world they're reading about. However, I also don't think any of the elements can be ignored: pacing, characterization, plot, setting, tone, conflict - they're all important.

9) How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?

I do keep a separate file for each work in progress, outlining the basic plot, the pacing structure and the main cast of characters. This helps to keep me on track for who is supposed to be in each scene, where the scene needs to go and what details need to be clarified before continuing on to the next bit.

10) What do you do to unwind and relax?

Unwind? Relax? These are completely unfamiliar terms...

Seriously, when I can find the time, I curl up on the sofa with a good book, or lay back in the spa with a good book. If the weather permits, I find that taking my dog for a walk really clears my head after a long day at the office.

11) What does your family feel about your writing? Are they supportive?

It took me a while to train family and friends to realize that my office is off-limits when I'm working. My husband does not actually like science fiction, and he finds my non-fiction work is focused on subject that are not to his taste, but he is always willing to support my passion. My mom is definitely my biggest fan. She keeps a scrap-book filled with clippings and print-outs and copies of all my work.

12) What inspires you? Who inspires you?

Music is my inspiration. I always have music playing when I write. The mood and tone of the music usually dictates the mood and tone of my writing. If ever I get stuck during a particular passage, I will find a piece of music that suits the tone of what I'm trying to write and play that one song over and over and over... until I get the passage right. It drives my husband nuts.

13) Are you working on any projects right now? If so, what are they?

I'm working on several things at the moment - fiction and non-fiction. Tina, Ciara and I have been working on a collaborative novel. It's humorous science fiction and it's a lot of fun to write. The entire book has been written via email or instant messaging conversations. The characters are ridiculous and the situations are worse, but it makes us giggle.

I also have a completed draft of a non-fiction book in the editing stage - I'm still at a loss for a title for this one. It's a "how to write, how to get published, how to market your writing" kind of book. I'm hoping to find some time to finish the final edit this month.

I have a couple of other novels in various stages of progress - but these have been put to one side for the moment in order to finish other projects. Non-fiction work is always on-going - for magazines, local newsletters, newspapers - whatever I can find.

And I am always adding new non-fiction articles to Fiction Factor.

14) Do you ever get Writer’s Block? If so, what do you about it?

I find that writer's block can't exist if you actively plan what you are going to write before you sit down and write. It also helps if you can banish the idea of writing from "start to finish". I tend to write the scenes that strike my interest first and then the surrounding details become much clearer.

15) What is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?

Most frustrating - not having enough time to write up all of the ideas in my "Ideas" file.

Most rewarding - receiving positive feedback from someone who enjoyed my work enough to take the time to tell me.

16) Do you have any kind of writing schedule? Can you tell us about it?

I don't have a set schedule, but I do write something everyday without excuse. I will write in whatever spare time I can find. Generally I work around things and try to compromise with those around me. For example: I will sit in the living room beside my husband in the evenings. He will watch television, while I scribble madly into a notepad. Quality time, huh?

Or I will go to bed early and sit up with a notepad instead of a book. I talk to a mini-recorder in the car on the way to wherever I'm going. I stay at my desk during lunch and type with one hand while trying to eat with the other. I will happily sit beside a tree with a notepad and pen while the guys go water-skiing. I will take my laptop on longer trips and type while my husband drives.

So there is no schedule, only whatever time I can create for myself around a marriage, a social life and a hectic full time career.

17) How do you write? Long hand, computer, tape recorder, etc?

Whatever is available works fine. I can always type it up later!

18) What is the best piece of advice you’ve given as a writer? What’s the worst?

Hmmm... I do try not to give advice. Rather, I try to write articles that reflect some of the research that backs up the information on a given topic. I'm always mindful that words in print can come back to bite!

19) If I were sitting down to write my very first story, what would your advice be?

Tell the story your own way, forget about anyone or anything else and have fun!

20) What advice would you give to writers just starting out?

1. - READ. Read a LOT! Read work that you love, and read really bad work. Read outside of your preferred genre, read the junk on the backs of cereal boxes. You will begin to learn what makes a good book great, and you will learn to spot what makes a bad book a lemon at 500 paces.

2. - LEARN! Learn everything you can about the usage and effect of the language you write in. Take the time to refresh anything you learned about grammar and spelling. Learn to edit properly. The biggest thing new writers overlook is the need to edit. There is an odd belief getting around that, just because the words are on paper (or on disk), they are somehow permanent. The best works are always heavily edited and re-written, and then edited again. Never be afraid to cut words or scenes, or even entire chapters, that are redundant. Learn what makes you laugh or cry, or react in any way. Learn to put that knowledge to good use.

3. - PERSIST. Never give up on your dreams and goals. Never allow anyone to denigrate those ideals. Never tell yourself you can't do it. Be positive, believe in yourself and your vision of where you want your career to go, and then persist. (I would love to add patience and perseverance here, but they both fall under the "persistence" banner, too, don't they?)


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