Welcome to the November edition of Literary Mary Chats. Today’s guest is a longtime friend and fellow writer, Kristin Oakley.
Kristin Oakley’s debut novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, won the 2014 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction, was a finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year, and a runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition. Its sequel, God on Mayhem Street, was released in August of 2016. She is a Chicago Writers Association board member, the managing editor of CWA’s The Write City Magazine and The Write City Review, and a UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies adjunct writing instructor where she offers workshops, critiques manuscripts, and helps writers practice their agent pitches. She has a B.A. in psychology and a J.D., both from UW-Madison.
Kristin, we’ve known each other a long time now. From attending other writers group meetings to creating our own writers group and beyond. Through the humble author beginnings–literally first concepts, sentences, and drafts–to our multi-published current status.
Would you believe it’ll be 11 years in January?
Wow. Time sure flies.
You read, you write, you research, you teach, you coach…What is your favorite part of being a writer?
Creating. I love inventing worlds and characters and getting those characters into trouble, playing god. The first draft can be tough, but I set aside my perfectionism and just write it. I’m currently working on revision which is easier, and more fun, since I already have that foundation to work with. My second favorite thing about being an author is sharing what I’ve learned with other writers. I love to teach and help them achieve their dreams. It’s incredibly fulfilling.
What do you continue to struggle with despite repeated success?
I struggle with technology, not when writing – I’ve got a good handle on Scrivener (the writing software I use) — but when marketing my books. There’s a huge learning curve and, for me, a lot of glitches that are incredibly frustrating. But every day I get a better handle on things, learn a little more, and I’ve got good support from Celeste Anton (https://dandelionwebmarketing.com/), my webmaster/marketing guru.
With so much experience in the literary field, what are some tips you would offer aspiring authors?
- Finish the book. Don’t worry about the beginning; you won’t know how the book starts until you finish it. And don’t worry about trying to make that first draft perfect. No one has to read it but you unless you want to enlist the aid of a trusted critique group. The job of your first draft is simply to get the story down. I now use Alan Watt’s The 90-day Novel when writing my first draft because it uses both brainstorming techniques and structural guidelines. It satisfies the pantser in me (I write by the seat of my pants) while reducing the amount of time it takes me to complete the first draft.
- After the second or third draft, get feedback. Don’t bother with your mother – she’ll love it! Send it to beta readers (those people who read and buy books in your genre) and ask them which characters they can empathize with, when they couldn’t put the book down or where the pacing was slow, and if they would recommend your book to other readers. Send it also to a critique group or critique partner – writers with skills equal to or better than yours. Then rewrite it once or twice more. After that, hire a developmental editor before you pitch it to agents or send it to a publisher (if you’re self-publishing).
- Learn your craft.
- Read, read, read – books in your genre and books not in your genre and pay attention to what’s working and what’s not. Read books on craft. Some of my favorites are Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story, Donald Maass’ The Breakout Novel and The Emotional Craft of Fiction, and Stephen King’s On Writing.
- Take a class and go to at least one writers’ conference. I recommend two upcoming conferences: Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference March 16-18, 2019 in Chicago (https://www.chicagowrites.org/conference). This conference, sponsored by The Chicago Writers Association (https://www.chicagowrites.org/), focuses completely on the craft of writing. The second conference is the UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies 30th Annual Writers’ Institute April 4-6, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. It also has workshops on craft, but additionally there are agents to meet and pitch to, sessions on marketing techniques and self-publishing, an author fair, and so much more.
- Practice what you’ve learned — Write!
I’m doing NaNo this month and have gotten into the habit of lighting the fireplace, lighting a scented candle, grabbing a snack and a large Diet Coke, then settling in with a Spotify playlist and my laptop. I’m on target to WIN, so it seems to be working, lol. What are your writing routines, habits, and/or rituals?
I love your fireplace and scented candle habits! I don’t have any routines, every day is completely different, but when I carve out time for writing, I do have a few habits. I’m lucky enough to be able to write anywhere at any time, noise and people don’t generally bother me, though, unlike you, I find music distracting. My favorite spots to write are on the Memorial Union Terrace when the weather’s beautiful, the Verona Public Library, Barrique’s in Middleton or Colectivo on Monroe Street, and my comfy yellow couch in my living room. I’m a lap writer – I write with my Mac on my lap – so I have to have a chair that’s comfortable, preferably one with a stool that I can put my feet on. I usually have a chai tea latte or sparkling water nearby (I’ve kicked the Diet Pepsi habit!). Good, because Diet Pepsi is icky.
You recently released audio versions of the first two books in your Leo Townsend series. (I am so jealous!) Tell us about the process–how did the whole thing come to fruition?
I’d always dreamed of having an American Players Theatre actor (https://americanplayers.org/about) create the audiobook versions of Carpe Diem, Illinois and God on Mayhem Street, but I wasn’t sure how to go about doing that. Then I met Author Christine Keleny (https://ckbookspublishing.com/about-2/about/) who told me about Paradyme Productions (https://paradymeproductions.com/), a local production studio in Madison. I took a tour of the place, loved it, then contacted an APT actor I know. He was swamped so I eventually contacted Carrie Van Hallgren, the managing director of APT, who told me about Rob Doyle (https://www.backstage.com/u/robertRdoyle/). Rob was available so we scheduled the recording studio. We spent six days, 9:30 a.m. – 2:00ish p.m. each day, recording Carpe Diem, Illinois and ten days on God on Mayhem Street. Rob, Justin Hind the engineer, and I worked very well together and had a ball. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to get my trilogy published so that we can do it all again!
With the new year right around the corner, what are your goals for 2019?
I’m currently working on a young adult dystopian trilogy called The Devil Particle Trilogy. I’m revising the manuscript for the first book and I hope to complete the revisions by the end of this year. I’ll then revise the manuscript for the second book and write the first draft of the third book. Once I have a solid draft of the third book, I’ll publish the first. I’m hoping to have the first book, titled The Devil Particle, released by this time next year and the second and third books published in 2020. In between time, I’ll dust off the third book in the Leo Townsend series and work on that which will make Leo very happy.
Thanks for participating in my chat!
It was a lot of fun – thank you for inviting me!
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