Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Russell Slater -- FIVE THINGS LEARNED WRITING

Russell Slater is a writer and author AND small press publisher located in West Michigan.
Here, he talks about FIVE THINGS LEARNED WRITING his Classic Monster (in my words) novella, ACIPENSER.

 
 
Something in the lake… 4th of July Weekend!
 
Time for flags, barbeques and late night fireworks. For the residents of a sleepy West Michigan community, the carefree days of sun-soaked bliss are about to be interrupted by a deadly abomination of nature…lurking in the depths of a local lake. ACIPENSER
 
Vietnam veteran Silas Sobel loves Green Lake. He watches over the water – protects it. When he witnesses a mysterious attack on a pontoon of partiers, his claims are dismissed as wild stories. Setting out on a lone mission, he utilizes unconventional methods to capture the proof he needs. As the town slowly realizes the truth, they find themselves woefully unprepared to combat the hideously mutated monsters of Green Lake.
 
##
 
FIVE THINGS I LEARNED while writing ACIPENSER
 
FYS – Finish Your Shit.  Don’t look backward (until the end). 
 
1. FYS

This is the most important acronym for a writer.  Put simply: Finish your shit.  Great words of advice.  Twenty half-written stories are useless, whereas a terrible yet fully-written rough draft has a future.  Get it done, maintain momentum, and don’t stop until you write “THE END.”  I’m still working on this.   
 
2. ACIPENSERS don’t have teeth – wait, yes they do! 
 
When I chose the Lake Sturgeon as my “Green Lake Monster,” I soon was disappointed to learn that these fish don’t even have teeth!  Somehow a giant mutant fish that gummed people to death didn’t seem as frightening as rows upon rows of serrated steak-knife teeth.  So we gave him chompers – deadly, pointy ones.  Coincidently, I did learn later on that certain species of Acipensers in Eastern Asia are predatory fish, and do in fact have teeth. 
 
3. We’re famous!  (not really)

People aren’t like cockroaches – in fact, they like the spotlight.  I love writing stories based locally, and I knew by creating a fictional lake monster in a community near where I live, I would be scaring my friends and neighbors.  Knowing there are many “Green Lakes” out there, I specifically had my cover artist (Jordan Richardson) put an outline of “our” Green Lake as a glare in the monster’s eyeball.  It’s just something small, and discrete – not something you’d normally notice, but when locals say, “Is this about our Green Lake,” I can point to that small detail, and they instantly smile.  Some area readers like to guess which characters resemble actual people.  
 
4. Great art will sell your book

Yes, people do judge a book by its cover.  An awful story with a great cover will outsell an awesome story with a terrible cover.  We are visual creatures, and we buy visual entertainment (whose actual content is mostly unseen –movies, books, magazines) based on the package it comes in (or cover).  Work with talented artists who can convey your story through a great cover.  The reader should have some idea what the book is about based on the cover – when readers pick up a copy of Acipenser to thumb through, they have a pretty good notion that the story involves some type of terrifying monster with sharp teeth.  Too many covers on the market today, whether through independent or traditional publishing houses, appear too generic.    
 
It took Jordan and I several months to develop the final look of Acipenser.  He went through many variations, and after several sit-down meetings and dozens of emails exchanged, we finally got it right.  I love the final look of the monster – so much so, I got him tattooed on my left shoulder. 
 
5. It’s all good: Feedback

Feedback is our emotional payment for our work (physical payment in the form of cash, checks, and credit are nice too).  After pouring heart and soul into a project, hearing the response from readers can be satisfying, encouraging, or maybe disheartening.  Even if a reader gives you blunt, at times rude, feedback – it’s all good.  Our first reaction when receiving negative feedback may be to snatch the nearest solid object and thump them over the head with it, but resist the urge.  Bite your tongue.  Smile.  Say, “thank you for taking the time to read it.”  Think about their feedback – does it have merit?  Yes, the truth can sting sometimes.   Use negative feedback as a learning experience. 
Toughen thy skin until it becomes an armor shell that can absorb whatever a reader throws at you. 
 
Positive feedback makes us writer-types puuuuurrrr.  “I liked it,” or “it was an enjoyable read” are nice to hear, but what really gets me purring is the feedback with details.  Stories of readers’ reaction to your material are great.  I recently had a woman who lives on Green Lake tell me how her teenage daughter bought a copy of Acipenser, and then invited her girlfriends for a sleep over.  They took turns reading it aloud to one another and then went swimming in the lake at night. 
 
##
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 
Russell Slater is a Michigan author and head of Peninsulam Publishing (Publishing stories Made in Michigan). In addition to his published novels, his work has been featured in the (Wayland) Penasee Globe, Allegan County News, Flavor 616 Magazine, Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine, Engraver's Journal and the Volunteer: Civil Air Patrol Magazine. He enjoys creative writing in multiple genres, from alternate history political thrillers, to sci-fi/horror, and children's books. He lives in a rural community with his wife and son.
 
 
 
Peninsulam Publishing and Book Links