Planning your Novel: an Interview with Beth Barany

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Today we have an interview with our April Keynote Speaker, Beth Barany.

An award-winning novelist, Master NLP Practitioner, and certified creativity coach for writers, Beth Barany specializes in helping genre fiction writers experience clarity so they can write, revise, and proudly publish their novels to the delight of their readers. Her courses are packed with useful hands-on information that you can implement right away. She runs Barany School of Fiction, an online school for fiction writers, which includes a 12-month group coaching program to help you get published. Beth is also the editor of the Writer’s Fun Zone blog, for and by creative writers, where you can download her free reports on book marketing and novel writing. She’s also the author of books for writers, including The Writer’s Adventure Guide, Overcome Writer’s Block, Twitter for Authors, and Plan Your Novel Like A Pro: And Have Fun Doing It! Ready to embark on the next step in your writer’s adventure? Sign up for her free 5-day Writer’s Discovery Mini-course here: http://bethb.net/discover.

Questions provided by CWC member Cristina Deptula of Authors Large and Small.

Five Questions on Plot for Beth Barany

Do most novels benefit from planning? What would you say to someone who writes by the seat of their pants and thinks that outlines stifle their creativity?

Honestly, I think every novelist needs to decide whether or not they want to plan their books. If you work best by allowing inspiration to strike you, then go with that. If you love outlines, go with that. Or if you like to do some planning and some off-the-cuff writing, then go with that. The point about the planning process I teach is to help you find the best process for you. If you’re stuck not knowing where to go with your story, then having a roadmap will help you get going. I have seen this time and time again with people who have taken our “Plan Your Novel” course. Essentially, there is no one right way to write a book; there is only the way that works for you.

What’s your own writing process like? Do you do a full on outline before writing?

I don’t like the word outlining. Ha! That is why the book PLAN YOUR NOVEL LIKE A PRO is about planning, not outlining. For those who want to outline we suggest some tips, but the book is for people who also find outlining boring or hard. I don’t like knowing every single detail about the story before I write it. I like to be surprised as I go, but I also want to have a general direction and understand what my story is about before I start.

Usually I start with a sense of what my genre is and who my main characters are. From there I develop the conflicts of the story. I often go back-and-forth between what kind of story I’m writing, the genre, who my main characters are, and the theme of the story in my planning process. In my writing process I just go. In my editing process I go back-and-forth between being and story and characters and genre and finding the connections between everything.

Is it different when you’re writing YA novels than other types of books? How much does genre influence how you plan a novel?

My planning process has evolved, and it is different with every set of books I’ve written. I wrote my young adult fantasy novels (3-book series) using primarily the hero’s journey as my guide (from the book, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.) When I wrote my romances (5-book series) I was using my planning process that I teach. I’m currently working on a science fiction mystery series now and also used my planning process to brainstorm this 4-book series. Those books are more plot driven than anything I’ve written so far. I would say genre influences how I plan and write my novels tremendously. Genre provides the boundaries of what does and does not go into the story. In terms of characters, action, and conflict.

What do you do if you’ve got a novel planned and then a character seems to want to do something completely different? Have you changed plans midstream, and do you redo your outline in that case?

As I said, I don’t do outlines. I do a plan that is essentially a scene-by-scene structure. Usually by the time I’m writing, I have a pretty good sense of who my characters are and where the story wants to go. If characters want to go off in some other direction that I didn’t plan for, I let them. That’s the fun of writing my first drafts. I really can’t judge whether or not a plot works better than what I planned so I just follow my intuition. I follow the plan if it seems to make sense or if it doesn’t seem to make sense, I write it differently. I do not revise my outline. That’s way too much work. When I’m writing, my focus is solely on writing. When I get to the editing process, I tend to do a lot of character and the world exploration. But I don’t revise an outline. I’m only revising the prose.

How do you plan without having your plan show through in the book and having your writing look formulaic?

The plan is like a roadmap. When you’re actually on your trip it looks nothing like the map itself. So when you’re writing, that’s going to take on a life of its own and look tremendously different than any outline or planning notes you have. In terms of being concerned about being formulaic, don’t be. Every story has a structure. You can’t get away from that. Humans deeply understand story because we have been telling a story for many millennia. You could say that every story is based on formula. Of course, the story structures change over time and are even different depending on what culture you’re from. This notion that stories are bad if they’re formulaic ignores the fact that every story has structure—a formula of sorts.

On April 21st we welcome Beth Barany to guide us in planning our novels.

Join us April 21st for story plotting tips and exercises with Beth Barany. We will also have support groups for craft and book marketing, as well as a reading from our featured member, Kacey Carpenter.

Interview with Victoria Zackheim, Author of The Bone Weaver and This Sunday’s Guest Speaker

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Victoria Zackheim

Victoria Zackheim, our keynote speaker for Sunday’s meeting.

Victoria Zackheim wrote The Bone Weaver, and edited six anthologies, including the bestselling The Other Woman, and her most recent: FAITH: Essays from Believers, Atheists, and Agnostics. She teaches creative nonfiction in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and is a frequent speaker and instructor at writers’ conferences and organizational events in the US, France, Mexico and Canada.
She will be our keynote speaker at this Sunday’s meeting, on the topic of adapting your work to stage and screen. So you may wonder, what does she know on this topic? Well, she adapted her first anthology, The Other Woman, to a play that enjoyed a simultaneous reading at more than twenty theaters nationwide. Her newest play, Entangled, adapted from the memoir by Lois Goodwill and Don Asher, is now under development, with readings in California theaters. She adapted Caroline Leavitt’s novel, Meeting Rozzie Halfway, to a screenplay, as she did with Anne Perry’s international bestseller Southampton Row. Victoria’s screenplay, Maidstone, is in development with Anderimage, in collaboration with SJ Murray. Victoria wrote the documentary film, Where Birds Never Sang: the Story of Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps, which aired on PBS nationwide. We look forward to her sharing her expertise on adaptations.
She is interviewed by Cristina Deptula of Authors Large and Small.

Intereview with Victoria Zackheim

How do you know when your book is something that could be adapted for film or theater?

When you’re writing, do you SEE the action? Can you visualize the characters moving about, sitting on trains, crossing the meadow? Is it a story that moves through a classic arc for characters and story? Can it be adapted with minimal dialogue and maximum action?

What has to be different in a screenplay/script versus a novel? And what do you do with your lovely descriptions of setting?

In a screenplay, the audience can see the action, facial expressions, body language, sunsets and hurricanes. In a novel, these must be described. As for those lovely settings…show them! That’s what cinematographers do so well.

How did you decide to edit anthologies? Did that experience help or inform your play writing?

I created one anthology almost by accident, The Other Woman, and discovered something magical. As the essays arrived from the twenty authors, I began to see a play unfold, a conversation between five women, verbatim, taken from five essays. That experience WAS my playwriting. The second book-to-play was done as the request of a theater director…also an act of love.

You’ve turned an anthology into a play? How did that work? I think of the Vagina Monologues with speakers representing a variety of characters, was it something like that?

Eve Ensler wrote all the parts in The Vagina Monologues, whereas I used the essays of five women represented in the anthology. The process I used is, I realize, unusual and unique…and I’m happy to discuss this during our event!

Where and how do you learn to write for film and stage, and where do you go to get your novel or memoir adapted and produced?

My screenwriting began quite by accident: I overheard a story and absolutely had to turn it into a film…which is happening now. Today, it’s nearly impossible to get any book published without an agent. My agent has sold all of my anthologies, now numbering seven. As for a writer getting a memoir or novel adapted to film…I honestly don’t know! I come to…me!

Join Victoria Zackheim at our Sunday meeting, where she will speak on taking your work from print to performance.

She will be joined by featured member Leena Prasad. As always, members should come at noon to participate in the craft and marketing workshops. Click the link above for further details.

A Few Words about Haiku Poet Leena Prasad

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Leena's Photo

Leena Prasad writes to find comfort in her foibles and her triumphs, to take snapshots of her thoughts and emotions, to explore the beauty and the ugliness of the world, to leave a legacy… and, most of all, to connect by finding resonance with her readers.

Leena will be our featured reader on Sunday before Keynote speaker Victoria Zackheim. Here’s a little bit about her:

Born in India, Leena grew up in Louisiana, lived in San Francisco for 15 years now lives in El Cerrito with her husband and soon-to-be-born daughter! She has a full-time professional career in Computer Science which feeds her intellectual life and has allowed her to live the life she wants. She enjoys writing and art as a way to explore her creative spirit. Leena has written a book on urban art, a neuroscience column, scripts for short films, profiles, blogs, and much more. She likes to explore all genres of writing from facts to fiction to poetry.

Leena says, “We are all poets. We just need to remind ourselves and practice practice practice to fine-tune how we express our poetry.”

CWC members, Leena is interested in:

  • Getting together to send out submissions
  • Critique groups, and
  • Promoting each others’ works

Check out Leena’s FishRidingABike.com writing portfolio, and buy haiku book, not exactly haiku.

Meet Historical Fiction Writer Lucille Belucci

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Lucille Belucci at CWC
Lucille Belucci

Lucille Belucci is not the most talkative member of Berkeley CWC, so you may not have realized yet what a delight she is. You may know our February Featured Member as the soft-spoken woman who runs the raffle, but she’s also the quietly feisty author of the historical fiction novel The Year of the Rat

Originally from Shanghai, on February 17th Lucille will share a story about how her early life affected her behavior one day in Hong Kong.

In Lucille’s long writing career, she has learned that 30 rejections of your book are not unusual, “so keep on with it and rewrite if you are lucky enough to receive comments on your offering.”

Three Questions for Lucille Belucci

What are your writing habits?

I write in the mornings and think about the writing the rest of the time.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I had a mentor who insisted that I become like Dorothy Parker, The New Yorker roundtable writer.

What other writers inspire you?

I admired Irwin Shaw and started writing like him before developing my own style.

Meet Lucille and Keynote Aqueila Lewis-Ross at our February 17th Meeting

Young writers take note, because Lucille is most excited to offer mentorship to up and coming authors. If that’s you, say hello to Lucille at the next meeting. You can also network with other writers, get your marketing and craft questions answered, and learn about the power of poetry from keynote Aqueila Lewis-Ross.

Aqueila Lewis-Ross speaks Feb 17th for Berkeley CA Writers Club

An Interview with This Sunday’s Speaker, Albert Flynn DeSilver, on Writing as a Path to Awakening

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This Sunday, Jan. 20th, Albert Flynn DeSilver will show us how to take our writing to that next mysterious level. What happens when life gets in the way? How does our writing practice open us up emotionally, psychologically, and even spiritually? DeSilver will teach us the steps we can take to stay focused, to stave off fear, doubt, and procrastination. He’ll also tackle issues with editing, completion, agents, and publication.

But first get to know poet, memoirist, and novelist, Albert Flynn DeSilver in this conversation he had with our speaker chair, Cristina Deptula.

What are some ways that writers and creators can heal from addictions and other struggles? Can writing be a tool in personal recovery? 

Albert Flynn DeSilver
Albert Flynn DeSilver will be our keynote speaker for Sunday’s meeting

Writing is the ultimate tool, for becoming more conscious, more compassionate—first with our selves and then with the world at large. But it’s not just writing. In order to get conscious we have to slow way down, be still, sit in silence, or stretch, move, walk in silence. Let nature be our sounding board and mirror. Regular mindfulness meditation practice is an excellent gateway to awareness and therefore healing. How do we know what we think and feel until we write it down, or speak it aloud? We want to become more open to the totality of ourselves. That includes shining light on the dark parts, coming to understanding and then self compassion. A great therapist, support groups, a healthy diet and exercise are also essential. It’s never just one thing that heals us but many voices.

Do you think that writerly types are especially prone to certain struggles? There are all those tragic artist stereotypes—is there truth to that? Are there certain ways we can organize our lives as writers to stay both creative and healthy? 

To a certain extent, yes. I mean writers, musicians, artists of all kinds tend to open themselves to the rawness and immediacy of experience, they don’t look away, when others do. They tend to move toward the visceral and emotional elements with a certain willingness to investigate awareness, clarity, complexity—to be sensitive observers of the human condition. This is not without its dangers. As we expose ourselves to the great mysteries of human consciousness and experience, shunning little, opening much, we enter the unknown, the unpredictable, the risky. But of course that’s where the magic and juice of life lies (not to mention, the great stories).

As to organizing our lives, yes, we can remember this very fact of our vulnerabilities and sensitivities—if that’s true for us and take care of the wild body and roving emotions. This is why I wrote Writing as a Path to Awakening, to remind us to take care, to get quiet, be still, eat well, hydrate, move your body, be generous and kind. The world needs conscious kindness more than anything right now.  

Do you need to go to retreats or travel in order to enhance and awaken your creativity and awareness or can you do something in your own daily life and practice? 

No. Not at all. It’s always available in any given place, at any moment I actually am willing to buck-up and surrender to reality. Of course travel for me is a great inspiration, but ultimately I’ve found I don’t write that much when I’m traveling, outside of notes and keeping track of experience. Daily life is where the creative and spiritual rubber hits the road. One can travel magically far, internally in the comfort and safety of their own home via silence and in turn exploring the vastness of their imagination. Taking time to reconnect with that infinite wellspring of creativity via silence and time in nature is essential for me in order to stay connected to the deeper truths and imaginative dynamism that I want to share with the world in my writing.

You write both prose and poetry. Do you approach writing in different genres differently? 

The process is different. Poetry mind is different than fiction mind. I like to fill my heart, mind, and body with poetry and the poetics of the world when I’m writing poetry or thinking about taking on a new poetry project. Same with fiction. I want to fill my soul with stories, great novels, voices and dialogue, character, and settings—so I read lots of novels. With fiction and other prose, at the onset I free write a lot. With poetry I contemplate sounds and images, and riff and play with language. I have no set word count goals.

In fiction I like to generate quickly and immediately in a rush of accumulation at first writing a minimum word count number per day, then seeing what I have, where the energy is and when my attention should go next. I move quickly, allowing myself to write crap at first, so then at least I have something to work with AND after writing this way for several weeks or months and accumulating 50,000-100,000 words, it all feels like a lot (as messy and unformed as it might be) and something I couldn’t possibly abandon!  

How can you harness your inner creativity and inspiration when you’re tackling an aspect of writing that doesn’t strike you as especially creative? (i.e. synopses, query letters, revision, copy editing, etc)? 

There is a truth about writing that none of us want to really face and that’s the inherent drudgery, the hard grueling work, the gnarly mountain range of editing, the times when we’re stuck and tapped out. But the sooner we can acknowledge and accept, and then integrate these aspects (even make friends with them)—knowing that they are just as essential to the process as the fluid creative fun flowy parts are—then the sooner we can get on with the work of writing and get something completed. And when we get in to that frame of mind, the creativity tends to open up and become available for the revisions, queries, and copy editing. 

Make Time for Your Writing This Sunday

Mingle with writers, tackle your marketing and craft issues, and get set for your best writing this year with DeSilver’s keynote “Creative Awakening in the New Year.”

Meet Historical Fiction Writer Kay Tolman

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Our January Featured Member, Kay Tolman, Is a Lover of 19th-Century Literature

Kay TolmanAuthor, Kay Tolman is the pen name of Janice Kay Tolman. Since 2017, Kay has been working on the coming-of-age novel The Compromise. It’s historical fiction based on her maternal ancestors, who were mid-19th century pioneers. In her youth, she rode her horse across the undeveloped land on the outskirts of the Los Angeles suburbs.  In college, she focused on 19th-century literature. She also studied literacy theory, research in education, and discourse analysis at the graduate level.

For nearly 40 years, Kay taught English in high schools and community colleges. Running parallel to studies and teaching,  she practiced Zen in Korea, Japan, and the US.

She says, “I’m writing the novel I wanted to teach. New readers need a kind and welcoming prose style. Teachers need generous extensions to the core curriculum and applications to community life. I want my fiction to help a new generation come of age as citizens and think more critically and feel more deeply about our cultural and political roots.”

Check out her website at Compromise.blog. But now, three questions for Kay Tolman.

What’s the most important piece of writing advice that you could give to other writers?

The reader’s time with your text is precious, so make it count. Meaning happens in the reader, and that goes beyond what we can ever know. Be humble.

What one thing has helped promote your writing most?

Deciding on one thing to promote my writing is difficult because writing is a cascade. In the long-term, integrity between language and action, in other words, honesty, lets me trust my creativity. Reading and conversation engage my core emotions and big ideas. I always need more than I get. These days, fellow writers promote my writing when they trust my rhetorical purpose, respect my learning process, and also read critically. Then together we find those words and passages that hit or miss the mark. I am extremely grateful to my fellow writers, especially those at the Berkeley Writers Circle.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Easy. When I was a child I wanted to be a writer, so I guess I finally grew up. Teaching language and literature was a long, minimally sustaining, yet wonderful detour. Teaching involved a lot of storytelling. Working with tens of thousands of students, many of them new readers, was a reality check on what being a grown-up writer really means.

Get to Know Kay Tolman at our January 20th Meeting

Tolman is interested in exchanging guest posts with other writers. If you’re looking for someone to attend literary events, write-ins, or teaming up to send submissions, come out and get to know Kay.

Creative Awakening in the New Year, our Jan. 20th Meeting

A Few Questions for Software Pioneer and Author, Gary Durbin

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This month’s featured CWC member is Gary Durbin, a retired serial entrepreneur and software industry pioneer. Instead of writing computer code and starting software companies, he now writes, hikes, and advises young entrepreneurs. He has published short stories and his first novel, Nano-Uncertainty.

Gary led a research project into the use of artificial intelligence for business systems and an experimental project in computer-aided tutoring. Mr. Durbin holds four software patents, one for distributed inference on massively parallel computers. He has published several technical articles in magazines and journals and authored a special publication of the National Bureau of Standards.

Sample Durbin’s writing at GaryDurbinWriter.com/work-in-progress/

Five Questions for Gary Durbin

What’s the most important piece of writing advice that you could give to other writers?

Beg, plead, or coerce people to read your stuff and give you honest feedback.

What one thing has helped promote your writing most?

Workshops like the Mendocino Writers Conference.

What other writers inspire you?

Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Evan Currie, Salman Rushdie, Alfred Bester, Clifford Simak, Robert Heinlein

Where are you from and where do you live?

Native Californian. Born: Santa Monica, Raised: Oakland

What other facts would you like to share?

Married to Lori otherwise known as “Love of my life” for 50 years

Meet Gary Durbin and our Featured Guest Patricia Ravasio this Sunday, November 17th

Remember that our members are your community, so treasure this opportunity to get to know Gary and find out how he can help your writers career, and vice versa. Members, don’t forget to come at 11 a.m. to participate in the craft and marketing support groups!

Say you’re coming on Facebook.

Nov 18th 2:30-4 pm Patricia Ravasio to speak on "Mission Utopia--Writing to Share an Urgent Vision."


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