Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Famous Sev Winters- review, interview & writing exercise!

As a fiction writer, I am always looking for ways to improve my craft.  This book by Sevastian Winters is a guided tour on how you can produce a good, self-published book from start to finish.  I have read several books on self editing, but none spoke to me like this one. 

Let me start by telling you that after reading Sev's advice on book covers in one of the first chapters, I had to put the Kindle down.  I immediately went to work on my book covers and changed them. 

I went back to the book read some more.  I learned about what he refers to as, "12 disciplines".   These "disciplines" are probably mentioned in many other books.  The difference is this:  The writer uses his own techniques in his book, therefore captivating his audience.  This is when I decided to go back to my first published book and make some major changes.   Now I could see that it really lacked in some areas.
Sev is an extremely creative writer and luckily he shares his secrets on how to come up with fascinating plots.   His own personality comes through and adds a dimension of humor that is refreshing.

I finished reading Sev's book and decided I needed to read it again. This is an excellent guide that I will refer back to- time and time again.

Interview with Sevastian Winters

I can say, without hesitation, that your book changed my life. Is this the typical reaction that you're getting?

Wow! That’s quite an endorsement. I am beside myself with joy that you found it helpful. If I had but one reader who felt that way on every book, I’d die a satisfied man.

As to whether that response is typical: Oh, God, no! LOL… I think most people are actually surprised I can put a decent string of thoughts together without eviscerating anyone too badly. I sort of have a well-deserved reputation for being a bit of a jerk. (No joke) I don’t mean to be, but I am passionate about what I do, and I tend to be as hard on myself as I am on others. When I read my stuff, all I see are the mistakes, and I make plenty of them!

I said in the book, that I am not an expert….just a guy that’s done my homework. This is really a “take what you can use and toss the rest” sort of book. I think if anything, what I bring to the table is a sort of no-nonsense, in-your-face version of truth that refuses to allow writers the courtesy of being patted on their back for “doing-their-best.” Sometimes in life, doing your best isn’t good enough, so you just have to do better. This book is about that. I’ve said many times that when it comes to writing, I’m all Simon Cowell, and not at all Paula Abdul. No one doubts that Simon knows his shit, but that analogy cuts both ways though. Simon never performed on a best-selling album.

Responses on this book have been few and far between. Of the 800 or so copies that are out right now (of the 800,000 or so I’d prefer), I’ve only had about 10 responses, thankfully mostly positive. (By the way, this book makes a lovely gift for friends. ;-))

You speak about character development and getting to know your characters, intimately.  You feel very strongly about being true to your characters.  You encourage writers to "just go there'.  I have taken that advice and I believe it added great value to my storyline.  Do you think there's a danger of people going too far?

There is, in film making, a metaphorical and magical little room where a sleazy, but brilliant little man known as a film editor works. His floor is littered with clips that may be excellent, but which don't belong in a movie. Why? They don't actually aid in the presentation of the story. It's not that the camera is out of focus, or that the microphone picked up garbled dialogue. To the contrary, a lot of what ends up on the cutting room floor is masterful work. It simply doesn't belong in the story. I think that's a good metaphor for my answer.

In my book, Wolf's Rise, for example, I wrote a controversial scene in which a young woman is gang-raped. I brought the camera into perfect focus and adjusted the microphone just right. The scene was truly evil, but in the process of deciding what to leave on the floor of my author cutting room, I lopped off the scene right before actual physical penetration, and then picked the story back up, in the next sentence, three hours later, wherein – with the same, perfectly adjusted camera and microphone – I wrote the aftermath of the things I didn't write.

There is no such thing as “too graphic,” any more than there is such a thing as a camera that is too focused. But there is such a thing as “inappropriate to the story.” I'm not talking about what’s inappropriate to the readers' delicate sensibilities. The reader doesn't actually matter to the process. I'm speaking of the story. Any scene or part of scene that doesn't serve a direct purpose in moving the story forward, should be cut. Most readers know the difference between gratuitous violence, and story-telling. One of the tough things about being a writer is being honest enough with one’s self to cut out really great “footage” when it doesn't move the story along. But again, you don't write it with an out-of-focus camera. I hope that answers your question.

When did all of this first come together for you? Was it an "A-HA!" moment?

It’s been a series of ongoing “A-HA” moments. Just the other day, I wrote a guest blog about just such an “A-HA” moment that I experienced only last week. I titled it “Nitpicking with Sevastian Winters: A ‘Sudden” Problem’” Click the link to read about it.

When does one stop practicing to play the guitar and start, instead, to play it? It's impossible for a professional, dedicated to excellence, to distinguish the two. So I stay absorbed in learning craft as well as applying it to the best of my ability. Craft is not something a writer learns once, but rather, for a lifetime...that is, if they want to be any good.

If you could take one piece of wisdom out of the book- what would that be?

Simple: “...the single most important component to excellent books is everything.” I know that and still, I often fail. If you were to ask Tiger woods to choose what's most important for a new golf pro to focus on –   the drive, the putt, a determination to win, or the ability to gain endorsements –   his answer would surely be “yes”. It's all important.

With Indie publishing paving the way for new authors to find recognition more quickly, comes a greater need for excellence than ever before. The gatekeepers used to be agents and publishers. Bypassing them doesn't change the rules though. We have a new gatekeeper... the reader, and if you think agents were tough on you, just remember: An agent never blasted you publicly for failing to deliver on your promises! You won't be the next Dean Koontz by selling books to your social media contacts. The only way to gain success is to sell books to the friends of your social media contacts, and for those friends to then tell their friends. They have no vested interest in doing so. So you'd better damn well be excellent enough to warrant it.

How do explain the best selling phenomenon with writers like John Locke and Amanda Hocking?

I've actually taken the time to read books by both of these authors. And I can tell you this: To lump them into the same category is to lump Gary Busey into the same class of actors as Al Pacino. John Locke doesn't give himself much credit, but he's an infinitely better writer than Amanda Hocking.

Now to actually answer your question: The biggest factor in their success was that they got there first. No one else thought to seize the opportunities the same way they did. The early bird got the worm.
Secondly, they wrote. Locke, for example, did virtually no marketing until he had five books to his credit. That's the thankless part, where you're all alone – without a bazillion social media contacts patting you on the back – investing time that you're unsure will be worth it, writing stories you love, in the hopes that others will do so too. They didn't finish a story and demand their glory. They finished their stories and started new ones.

Thirdly, they wrote candy. These aren't great books that will stand the test of time. They're just little pieces of candy. Granted, John writes caramel nougat and Amanda writes candy corns, but it's all candy, nonetheless. Who doesn't love candy?
My LupoSapien Project series is candy. The TroubleMaker is meaty. My short stories jump back and forth. And How I are Becomed a Very Much Gooder Author is a tour through my kitchen. Candy sells the best.

I know you have taken some heat for some of your more graphic and violent scenes. But, in the book you encourage people to be true to their characters. Any regrets? 

– Not a single one. If a reader experiences my story viscerally, even to the point of utter disgust, I've done my job as an author. Some people think it's an author's job to play God. It's not.

It’s an author's job to document the truth of the characters. We are cameras, microphones, and film editors. Ours is to capture fully, what the focal characters see, what they say and hear, and then to clip out those “bit of film” that don't serve to move the story forward.

When we get into graphic sections, we have to capture the emotion, but we capture it with a camera and a microphone...not by pussing out, or by glossing over it. A reader should rub his or her own thigh, because the focal character just took a bullet to his. Smart writers understand, as I did in the graphic scene for which I took some heat, that the emotion is what matters. The scene in Wolf's Rise, that everyone is whining about 
-- the gang-rape scene I mentioned before -- is followed by the immediate aftermath, but again, I never show the rape itself. That happens in the reader's mind. I didn’t want to tantalize perverts who dig rape fantasy, by devolving into deviant porn, but by the same token, I refused and will always refuse to puss out on showing the emotions that both precede and follow that horrific violation.

Do I have any regrets? Yes: I regret that we live in a world where such pain is so often inflicted on women, and where such a scene in a novel would invoke those sorts of painful memories (I'm only presuming, not outing anyone) and emotional upheaval that my scene invokes. But do I regret the writing? Not even for a nanosecond.

Sev, can I run something by you?  I would really appreciate your feedback. This is a scene that I'm working on for my next book:

I felt the hot sun shining on my face as I started to wake up,.  It was really bright.  I could hear birds singing- really clearly- like I was outside. My head was pounding and my mouth felt like sandpaper.  I finally opened my eyes and found myself on a chaise lounge, outside, in the courtyard.  

"What the hell?"

I looked around.  Sharon and Dante were a few feet away- on the ground- half naked; passed out.  Ryan was flat on his back on the bar and Kirk was slumped in a bar stool with his head on top of Ryan's crotch.  As I tried to piece together the events of last night, I stood up and felt a wave of nausea.  I started walking towards the bar for some water.  Just then I saw him and my heart starting pounding so hard I could hear it.  It was Spike and he was floating face down in the swimming pool. My chest started to hurt from the crazy pounding.


Sev's response:

Add more conflict. For example:

The sun burned against my cheeks and beckoned me to offer it my eyes -- so it could burn them too. 

I refused. 

A starling screeched nearby, as if choosing allegiances with the object of my disdain. Then my head joined in the fight, pounding me with familiar mantra. Wake up. Wake up Wake up.

Fuck off, Morning!

It was no use. I tried to swallow, but my tongue was sand. I opened my eyes and wiped the gravel from them. They stung. I squeezed them shut and took a breath and willed them open through the pain. I looked around me to find I'd slept in a chaise a courtyard. I struggled to remember how I'd gotten there...
"What the hell?"

(See where I'm going?)

In the next section "half-naked".... What does that mean? Which half? What's hanging out? Draw me a picture. I wanna' see. Is it sexy? No? Show me! 

You are so GOOD!!!  I can't believe you came up with so quickly.  That's incredible.

It's just a matter of slowing the world down and sorting out what matters. 
Everything is a conflict. For example, right now, you are becoming mindful of your chair, the pressure against your ass…because I just told you to. Now, you're about to shift in your seat, but don't know it, because until this moment, you haven't given much thought  to how sweaty your bum crack is...and you're gonna' shift to convince yourself that you've relieved it of a problem you didn't even know you had 10 seconds ago. 

(Okay- There was some discomfort- but no sweat ; )

How's that sweaty spot under your ring treating you? Better twist it. ;-)

How did you know??

We are unaware of the conflict that constantly surrounds us. As authors it is our job to point it out. There is a yin to every yang. We love the cushy feel of sinking into our recliner, but how does the cushion feel about that? How about the floor below?

So you're saying that in this short period of time you are able to slow your mind and focus on the story?  Have you always used this technique for writing?  Is it a form of meditation?

Nah... Just think it through and find the conflict. No... I didn't always do it that way. It's just a matter of learning craft. There are many who do it far better than me. 

You're very modest. But you are incredibly talented.  I want to thank you very much for this interview and also for demonstrating some of your techniques.  I know that you're going to help a lot of writers.

To buy the book click here.  To follow Sev on Twitter click here.
To visit Sev at this website click here.

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