Story Genius

*MEMBER SPOTLIGHT* with Lainey Cameron

*MEMBER SPOTLIGHT* with Lainey Cameron

Member Spotlight interview with Author Accelerator writer, Lainey Cameron!

*MEMBER SPOTLIGHT* with Lisa Manterfield

 Lisa Manterfield Interview

Joined Author Accelerator on 01/2016

Book Title: A STRANGE COMPANION

Genre: Women’s Fiction

 Book Coach: Sarahlyn Bruck

Interview:

1.)  Describe your book in one (or maybe two) killer sentences.

When a grieving young woman starts to believe her dead boyfriend has been reincarnated in the body of her adopted niece, she must challenge everything she believes about love, loss, and life after death.

2.)  What was your process for drafting and revising A Strange Companion?

I rewrote this story so many times that the earlier drafts wouldn’t even be recognizable as the same book. I would write, revise, polish, submit, get rejected, give up, and work on something else. But there was something about this story that made me come back to it over and over.

At the beginning of 2016, I signed up for Story Genius to work on another new project, but something clicked with that process and I started thinking about A Strange Companion again. It had been under my bed for about two years at that point, but I dusted it off and set about revising it once again. I had a crazy idea to publish it on my website as a serial novel, thinking I could use it as a marketing tool to introduce potential readers to my fiction.

I worked with Sarahlyn through Author Accelerator, submitting ten pages to her every week, then editing, polishing and posting them on my website. When I began getting really positive feedback from readers, I knew I had to publish it as a complete novel. I hired an independent editor (as I’d run out of people who’d never read a version of the book before) and did two more rounds of revisions before publishing.

3.)  What was the timeframe for completing this book?

Honestly, I originally had the idea more than 15 years ago. I tried to write it as a screenplay first, and then wrote an early version of the novel, which was a horrible mess. I wrote the first draft of this version about seven or eight years ago, but would abandon it for months and even years at a time. I wrote three other books while I trying to get this one to where I knew it needed to be. Once I became really clear on what the book was about and started working with Sarahlyn on revising, it took about nine months from my first Author Accelerator submission to publication. 

4.)  What did it feel like to get to “the end” and how did you celebrate?

Dazed. These characters have been in my life for so long, I think I suffered a little empty nest syndrome when I realized they were no longer under my control. I usually celebrate a finished draft by going to a little hole-in-wall burger place near my house. I get a messy barbecue chicken burger and sweet potato fries and eat them in a park overlooking the ocean. I’ve had a lot of celebrations for this book over the years, so when it was finally finished, I didn’t know what to do.

5.)  Did you encounter any surprises or important learning experiences when publishing this book?

I joke that this is the story I used to learn how to write, so the whole experience was a giant lesson. But two big things really stand out. One is that a cool premise isn’t enough to carry a book. For so many of those drafts I didn’t know what the story was really about. When I finally figured out that I was writing, not about reincarnation, or soulmates, or life after death, but about grief and what it means to let go of a loved one and dare to love again, it all clicked into place.

The other big lesson was trusting my own process and my gut instinct about whether I’d truly written the best book possible. I’m glad I didn’t publish earlier versions of the book, because they weren’t ready. When this book came out I really felt that there was nothing else I could do for it and it was ready to find its own way in the world.

6.)  What do you feel you did right in any part of your process?

Not giving up on a book I really believed in, but also knowing when I’d reached the limits of my talent and needed the help of a professional to take me to the next level. It took Jennie, Sarahlyn, and two other independent editors to accomplish that.

7.)  What do you wish you had done differently?

Surprisingly, not much. I wouldn’t recommend this circuitous process to anyone and I don’t want to take such a messy route to a finished book ever again, but I learned something at every step of the process. In fact, I probably learned more from every draft that didn’t work than I could have ever learned from a class. I think the reason Story Genius had such a profound impact on me was that I’d already learned all the ways to break a story and Story Genius just knitted together what I already knew from experience, but didn’t know how to apply. 

8.)  What’s one piece of advice you would tell a writer who feels like she’s never going to finish?

Everyone’s path is different. It’s not helpful to compare your process to others’. At some point you do need to commit to your book and put a stake in the ground that says, “This is the story I want to tell and this is what this story is really about.” Then, go for it.

9.) You chose to self-publish A Strange Companion. Why?

After ten years, I realized that being a writing professional, i.e. making a living around writing, was what I wanted to do when I grew up. That meant taking control of my career and making it happen, instead of hoping it would happen someday. Once I decided to publish the story in its entirety as a serial novel, I knew it was unlikely to get a traditional deal, so I committed fully to self-publishing. I put together a fairly ambitious plan to get this book, and my next one, out within a few months of one another to maximize my marketing efforts. It’s a bit of an experiment, but at least I feel as if I’m being proactive.

10.) How will you market the books?

I’ve committed to a year-long plan, so it’s more of a slow burn than a launch day blast. I’m starting with early adopters and influencers, which in this case means asking book bloggers to read, review, and recommend it (hopefully) to their followers. The idea is to keep casting the net wider and wider, until I reach that sweet outer circle of readers who want to read what everyone else is reading. I’ll let you know if it works!

Sarahlyn Bruck writes women’s fiction and is currently querying the novel, Designer You, and working on a new book. When she isn't writing, Sarah teaches writing and literature full-time at a local community college. She also coaches writers at Author Accelerator, where she's been for two years and counting. Sarah lives in Philadelphia with her husband, tween daughter, and cockapoo.

ABOUT LISA:

Lisa Manterfield is the award-winning author of I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood. Her work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Los Angeles Times, and Psychology Today. Originally from northern England, she now lives in Southern California with her husband and over-indulged cat. A Strange Companion is her first novel. Learn more at LisaManterfield.com.

ABOUT SARAH:

Sarahlyn Bruck writes women’s fiction and is currently querying the novel, Designer You, and working on a new book. When she isn't writing, Sarah teaches writing and literature full-time at a local community college. She also coaches writers at Author Accelerator, where she's been for two years and counting. Sarah lives in Philadelphia with her husband, tween daughter, and cockapoo.

*MEMBER INTERVIEW* with Joyce Wacoff

Joyce Wacoff

Introducing Joyce Wacoff!

Joined Story Genius - class of January 2017

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Book Coach: Kemlo Aki

INTERVIEW:

1.) What is the biggest difference between the Story Genius method and how you wrote your previous novels?

My first piece of fiction was a “pantser" production. I didn’t know what I was writing, where it was going or what it was really about. It was fun but it sat around for a couple of years until I decided to do something with it … like give it a character with a name and an intention. It turned into a young-adult fantasy novella. For the next work, I decided I needed more of a “plotter” approach so I pointed my characters in a direction and wrote my way forward. I had just sent it off to a few beta readers when I was introduced to Story Genius. I didn’t really want to start a new book, I just wanted to “polish” the current one. (I hadn’t yet received the feedback that said the story was flat and boring until page 82!) However, the geniuses at Story Genius insisted so I started Book 2 in my series. It only took a week or two to realize how wise they were … and how much I was going to have to go back and rewrite Book 1.

2.) What was the most surprising thing you learned through Story Genius?

How incredibly important regular feedback from a coach is. I read a lot of how to books. I could probably write one. I quickly discovered, however, that knowing something is radically different from being able to do it. I thought I was doing things like showing why the protagonist was doing what she was doing. It wasn’t until a coach gently handed me a feedback sandwich (one nugget of “try again” sandwiched between two slabs of “good job”) every week, that I started to integrate the message on a deeper level and actually saw how to do what was being called for.

3.) What did the Story Genius method allow you to do that your previous method didn’t?

Story Genius “allowed” (forced?) me to dig deeper into the why of what was going on. What in the past made the choice being made right now make sense? It helped me put characters in conflict with each other as I developed subplots for each. And, it allowed me to frame each scene almost like a story within a story, each scene a piece of the developing puzzle.

4.) How did the Story Genius method change how you see story & writing?

I had already decided that neither “pantsing” nor “plotting” fit me exactly. Now I think of the pre-thinking about what the story is as a “framing.” I am creating a framework that will hold the story and each scene will fit within that framework. Before, I agonized going back and forth as to which way the story should go. Now, I have more confidence because I can see the framework.

5.) How did the Story Genius method change how you read novels and watch movies or even how you think about the world around you?

One of my consistent barriers has been internal dialogue, telling the reader what’s going on in the protagonist’s head. Getting ideas out of my head onto the paper felt like I was “telling not showing.” So, I’ve started watching for how other writers handle that.

6.) What did you learn in the Story Genius method that you wish you'd known before?

The power of history. How we get to where we are creates momentum for where we’re going and what choices we will make. Having a clue about where to start a story and then how to weave those moments from the past into the present makes it far more fun to tell the story. It is also a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. I know I want the protagonist to take a totally inappropriate job … what in her past is going to make her not see the obvious pitfall? It’s like reverse engineering psychology … and makes me look at my own decisions and try to find the root causes of them, also.

7.) What piece of advice could you give people who are considering taking the Story Genius Method Course?

Do it now. The process is brilliant, but having a coach give you feedback every week is absolutely golden. I went into this thinking it was crazy to spend so much money. Now, I just wish I had done it sooner.

Thank you SO much, Joyce! We can't wait to read your novel!

Character as our Way into Story: A Gilmore Girls Case Study

From book coach Lana Storey:

Gilmore Girls got a lot of attention at the end of 2016 with its Netflix revival in November. But I want to take a minute to talk about the original series and how watching it at two different times in my life helped me understand how character really does function as our way into a story.

In her book, Story Genius, Lisa Cron writes that the protagonist is the reader’s “avatar,” or “the portal through which we enter the novel. Remember, when we’re lost in a story, we’re not passively reading about something that’s happening to someone else. We’re actively experiencing it on a neural level as if it were happening to us. We are – literally – making the protagonist’s experience our own” (p. 55).

Gilmore Girls first aired in 2000. I was 15, lived in a small town, and went to high school. Rory Gilmore was 16, lived in a small town, and went to high school. As far as I was concerned, the show was about Rory: her friend problems and boy problems and school problems and big ambitions. Her mother, Lorelai, was there only as a peripheral character. She talked faster and was quirkier and knew more about pop culture than any mom I knew in real life, but she was still just Rory’s mom. She had no real storyline or emotions or interests of her own, at least none that I could see.

Fast-forward 16 years to 2016. I’m 31, a busy mom of a daughter, and I start rewatching episodes from the first season. It dawns on me very quickly: Lorelai is 32. Lorelai is a busy mom of a daughter. Lorelai still talks really fast and is quirky and knows about pop culture but now I see she has work problems and guy problems and a complicated relationship with her parents. Lorelai has an entire storyline, personality, and life I never noticed before. I see that I’m not Rory anymore; I’m Lorelai.

After getting over the minor identity crisis that came when I realized sixteen years had passed in the blink of an eye and I was no longer the teenage character but the mom, finally I understood that the show really is about the Gilmore Girlsgirls, plural. It seems so obvious now, but back then I had become Rory so completely that I couldn’t step back enough to think about the concerns of the other characters. Now, with the benefit of perspective and a little help from Story Genius, I see exactly how important character is as our way into a story. Not only do we identify with the protagonist; we become that protagonist. I’ll never write my characters the same way again.

Have you ever had the experience of returning to a story years later and finding that you identify with a completely different character? Finding that your old way into the story is closed to you, but a new portal has opened, one you didn’t even notice the first time?