Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How I Write: Authors on Their Writing Process - Julius St. Clair

This week's interview is with author of fantasy series The Last of the Sages, Julius St. Clair.


1.              What led to your love for literature / writing? Any favorite books / teachers / writing mentors?
Not to be a downer, but my love for writing stemmed out of a therapeutic need. When I was young, my family was involved in a strict religious environment in which children were better seen and not heard. Being the type of person that loves to sit down and discuss our purpose in life, why people are the way they are, what makes objects tick, etc, I found myself yearning for answers but too afraid to ask. And when I did ask, most of my answers were given a religious spin. That is great and all, but it doesn’t always have a practical application in my daily life. So, when I was in third grade, I really got into writing, using it as a tool to explore my imagination, create my own worlds, and delve into the concepts that I wondered about through characters that seemed to gain a life of their own. Although I’m quite happy today and I don’t think the therapeutic need is as prevalent as before, I still have a great time watching the characters I created interact and grow.

2.              When did you first start writing? How did you develop your craft?
I started writing in third grade. It was this horrible science fiction story called Space Wars that was fifty pages long, and I can’t even remember what it was about. I think over time I naturally developed my craft. I would continue to write for fun, even while I was in school and in class, and it took up a great deal of my time when I was home. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I began considering techniques and ways other authors write. Although I was an avid reader, I read for content and therefore I didn’t analyze how an author would relay a sentence. My approach changed drastically from high school on, and now it’s second nature. It’s hard for me to read now without stopping to appreciate how a scene is written.  

3.              What's your writing / editing process like?
Most of my ideas come to me like a movie trailer. I’ll be washing the dishes or laying on my pillow, and then suddenly scenes pour out of my consciousness like a movie reel. From there I create the characters and their motivations, and then I begin outlining the story itself. Every single time the final product changes from what I’ve outlined, but that’s okay. I love the way the characters take over. What I love most are group dynamics where the characters can play off each other and encounter the trials of life together. It’s rare when I write a book without a group ensemble, to be honest.
I can’t say that I’m an amazing writer, but I think that I’m a pretty good storyteller, especially for those that like character driven plots. After outlining the basic beats of the plot, I start writing and I just let my imagination flow. Editing comes after the entire novel is done. I currently use a reader—turned editor—turned friend named M. Thompson. She’s awesome.

4.              Who or what inspires you? Where / how do you get your book ideas?
My mind is kind of like a sponge so I get my ideas from everywhere. Books, anime, movies, my sons, my wife, my friends and family, nature, even jokes. Everything gets put into the blender of my mind and then filtered out into an original combination of ideas. Obsidian Sky is a great example. It plays off the idea of someone being granted three wishes, except it turns up the volume to eleven. It’s about a world where EVERYONE has been granted up to three wishes. Can you imagine? The chaos? The beauty? The creation? That’s the kind of playground that I love diving into and running around like a wild child. I write to read my own books. If I’m not having fun, then I don’t think other readers would have fun either.

5.              When in the day do you usually write? Do you have a writing routine / schedule? Do you listen to music while you write or do you prefer silence?
I usually write first thing in the morning, sometimes around 4 a.m. It’s when the world is quiet and I can concentrate on getting into the flow. I won’t eat until after I’m done, and often I will write between 20 - 40 pages a day, taking me about 6 hours if it’s all in one sitting. I always have to listen to music while I do it and I draw from a variety of artists and genres. As an example, my playlist could run from Fred Hammond (gospel) to evanescence (gothic) to Utada Hikaru (J-pop) to Kendrick Lamar (rap) to Linkin Park (rock) to Lady Gaga (pop) to classical music within fifteen minutes. Those are some insane switches in genre, but it’s a perfect parallel to how my mind races when I’m writing.

6.              Where do you feel most inspired to write? Describe your desk / writing corner / favorite writing spot.
I always have to write at my desk with some water nearby and music in my ear. I’ve also written at Panera Bread a few times, but having people all around me was kind of distracting.

7.              How much and what kind of research do you do? Any tips, favorite methods for research?
Google is my research partner, and it’s usually when I’m wondering about how a particular weapon works or what an article of clothing looks like from medieval times.

8.              Do you ever get writers' block? What are some ways you get around it?
I think I’ve gotten writer’s block like…once. Although my mind is constantly in free flow, even when I’m not writing, it comes with its shortcomings. I get distracted easily, and there are times I’ll be writing a book and a great idea comes to me and I want to stop everything to explore the new idea, but the discipline in me tells me to finish my current project first. I think to get around it, I treat it like most authors do with writer’s block—push through and keep working.

9.              How do you make the time to write?
I have two kids and a wife who happens to be my best friend, so whenever she’s around, I want to spend time with her. A blessing and a curse. Who wants to write when there’s fun to be had! That’s why I must write in the wee hours of the morning when everyone is still asleep. That way, I can focus on the business end of things later, spend time with the family, etc. I can write on the fly, thankfully, since I’m constantly thinking of the next “scene” in my book.

10.           What project(s) are you working on now?
Glad you asked! Right now I’m working on the sequel to Obsidian Sky, the next installment in the Sage Saga, and a plethora of other novels. One is on fairies (called Veidri) and how they give humans magic in exchange for protection. They enter a contractual and spiritual bond called Verdana that can never be severed and it plays off the concept of marriage. It takes place in the city of Passiona that is suddenly attacked by creatures that eat the fairies, and the fallout of the event. It’s a horrific and beautiful novel and I’m almost done with it. I can’t wait to reveal it to the world.
There is also a witch book I’m working on called Witchfall. It’s like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Nancy Drew, and Judge Dredd mixed up all into one dark, twisted, exhilarating tale.

11.           What question are you never asked during interviews and would you like to answer here? Any advice for aspiring authors?
I think one question that is never addressed is how hard it is to be an author. I think that everyone has a story within them to tell, and for the betterment of the world, it should be told. But to actually make a living off of it? That is insanely hard. To all the aspiring authors, I would like to give you a brief tale of how I got there and how I’m still trying to maintain this elusive status. I used to be an English teacher, but I worked in a school district that would lay off its teachers every year, with no guarantee of a callback. Thankfully, for the first three years, I was able to continue working, but in the fourth year, I didn’t get a call.

Now, I’ve always loved writing, but I had responsibilities so that is why I originally took on teaching. When I lost that, I found myself on unemployment but I still had a family. I asked my wife if she could give me six months to see what I could do to become a full-time author. She was crazy supportive and I went at it. I worked fourteen hours a day, every day for the next five months, and I saw no signs of making it. I would cry and renew myself every day and words can’t express how hard it was to continue on and not give up. I neglected my family to try to better their future, and I did this for months. It was hard seeing my son playing with my wife, while I was at a computer typing away, producing one novel after the other and one short story after another, publishing them like they were lottery tickets.

As I headed into my sixth month, I prayed to God, saying that if I was to be a full-time author, I needed to make a certain amount of money by the end of the sixth month ($1500) and if I didn’t get it, I would go back into teaching. I also said that I was done writing for that month. I would put it in his hands. So in the sixth month, I didn’t write a word. I spent time with family and enjoyed life, knowing I gave it my all.

Long story short, The Last of the Sages was successful that month, and I achieved more than what I asked for financially. This is now my fifth year as a full-time author, and I am grateful every day for what I have. I know I could lose it all in an instant, and I know that if it wasn’t for my readers, I wouldn’t be here. I humbly thank them for their support and love.

There are a lot more details to pour over of course, but the gist of my story, and my advice to aspiring writers is to never give up (as cliché as it sounds), give it your all, move the universe itself to get it, and don’t stop once you have it. If you are an aspiring writer and you want to make a career out of writing, and you are not willing to give it your all, then please choose another profession. Writing is very, very hard to make a living off of. I can’t stress that enough.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t also be the best thing to ever happen to you! It just requires a great deal of soul searching and understanding what it is you want out of life.



Bio:

Julius St. Clair
I’m just a humble storyteller trying to make a living doing what I love most. When I’m not writing, I’m usually spending time with my wonderful wife who happens to be my inspiration and my greatest critic simultaneously, and my two sons who are teaching me more about life than I ever imagined. Otherwise, I love meeting new people, going to the movies, watching anime, reading and hanging out with friends and family.


The Last of the Sages

In the kingdom of Allay, Sages are born.

Powerful warriors with supernatural abilities that would rival the strength of whole armies. And there is an academy that trains such warriors in sword and sorcery, forging them out of young, ordinary students. Few survive, but if there is any hope for this now desolate kingdom, the tests must be given to all that enter its walls.

One such student is James, a self-proclaimed slacker that has just been forced into the academy by his father. And if he plans to see another day, he will have to weather through four lessons in life: determination, maturity, trust, and love...


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Guest Post: Copyright Basics for Writers


Today I have a guest post on copyright for writers. This can be a tricky issue, and often there are many myths and areas of confusion. Author and lawyer Tom James shares some basics about copyright law for authors.





Most likely you did not become a writer to learn about law. The more you know, though, the better equipped you will be to protect your interests when dealing with publishers, agents and co-authors, and to defend yourself against claims of infringement. Every writer should have a basic understanding of copyright law.

What copyright protects

Copyright protects nearly any form of original, creative expression, whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry, a drawing, a photograph -- even e-mail messages and scribbled doodles.

Only expression is protected; the underlying ideas and information are not. Ideas and information may be protected under patent, trade secret or other laws, but not by copyright. Story plots and ideas for stories do not receive copyright protection; only the words used to flesh them out do.

Copyright protection does not exist until creative content is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. If you orally communicate a story to others but it is not recorded or written down, and somebody later writes a story just like it, copyright law will not help you. This is one reason why it is important to write things down, save them in a computer file, or dictate them into a recording device.

The exclusive rights of a copyright owner

The owner of the copyright in a work has the following exclusive rights:

·    Reproduction — the right to make copies of it;
·    Distribution - the right to make the first sale of each copy of the work;
·    Display - the right to display the work publicly, such as on a website;
·    Performance - the right to recite, act, broadcast, etc. the work;
·    Derivative works -- the right to create new works based on it (abridgements; translations; sequels; movies based on novels; sound recording of a performance of a dramatic work; etc.)

Publishers often use special terms to define the scope of the rights they are buying. For example, a magazine publisher may ask for a license of first serial rights, or reprint rights, paperback rights, electronic publication rights, foreign translation rights, screen adaptation rights, and the like. These are all subcategories of one or more of the five exclusive rights of copyright owners listed above.

It is important for contracts to be clear about which specific rights are being licensed.

Ownership

Copyright originally belongs to the author.

Normally, the author is the person who created the work. In the case of a work made for hire, however, the person or company commissioning the work is deemed to be the author, and therefore the owner of the copyright. A work made for hire is one that is either made by an employee within the scope of the employment or specially commissioned. In some countries, including the United States, a work will not qualify as a “specially commissioned” work made for hire unless it falls into certain statutorily defined categories and the parties agree, in a writing signed before the work is created, that it will be a work made for hire. 

When two or more people collaborate on a work with the intention that it will be a unitary whole, then they are considered co-authors of the work and they own the copyright jointly. If an author did not have the intention of merging his work with another person’s work at the time he created it, then he retains sole ownership of the content so created even if it is later contributed to another work. For example, if Bernie writes a poem and Elton later asks if he can set it music, and proceeds to do so, then Bernie is the owner of the copyright in the lyrics and Elton is the owner of the copyright in the music. If, instead, Bernie and Elton resolve to write a song for which Bernie will write the lyrics and Elton will write the music, then they are joint owners of the copyright in the whole song (music and lyrics.)

It is always a good idea to have a written agreement in place when collaborating on a writing project with another person. This can help prevent disputes about the parties’ intentions with respect to copyright ownership, licensing rights, division of earnings, rights with respect to the making of derivative works, transfers of ownership, how works will be credited, and so on.

Formalities

At one time, several countries, including the United States, imposed certain formal requirements on copyrights. For example, the United States once required most categories of published works to be manufactured in the United States in order to be protected by copyright in the United States. Until 1989, published works also needed to have a copyright notice on them. Today, the United States and many other countries are signatories to the Berne Convention and other international treaties that abolish such requirements. In many countries today, copyright automatically comes into existence when protectable content is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Formalities like the copyright notice, the words “all rights reserved, registration, etc. are no longer necessary.

Copyright notice

Although it is no longer necessary, there are still benefits to including a copyright notice when your work is published. Doing so will prevent an infringer from making a claim of innocent infringement. In addition, seeing the notice may deter those who might not otherwise know the work is protected by copyright.

The preferred format of the copyright notice is: the word “Copyright” or the © symbol, followed by the year of publication and the copyright owner’s name.

Registration

Registration isn’t required. It is a prerequisite to filing an infringement lawsuit in the United States, though. Also, waiting too long after publication to register the work can have the effect of severely limiting the amount of damages you can recover. It can also affect your ability to recover statutory damages and attorney fees.

It will be most economical to register a group of works together whenever possible. The U.S. Copyright Office, for example, allows for a single “group registration” of compilations, collections, collective works, and serials.

Traditionally, publishers rather than authors took care of the registration. Increasingly, however, the onus is being placed on authors. This is particularly true in the case of Internet publishing. Many website owners never get around to registering the copyright in contributed content at all. When that is the case, you should do so.

“Fair use”

Laws in the U.S., U.K. and other countries allow portions of copyrighted works to be used for certain purposes, such as teaching, news reporting, research, criticism, commentary and parody, in some circumstances.

The scope of fair use varies considerably from country to country. In the United States, it is defined by both statutory and judge-made law. Unfortunately, there are not many bright-line tests in this area. Oft-heard assertions like “Copying up to 10% is fair use” are not true. Courts consider not only the amount copied but also the substantiality of the portion copied. Copying less than 1% of a work could result in copyright liability if that 1% contains the heart of the work, for example.

Courts also consider other factors: the impact of the use on the market for the work; the nature of the work; the purpose and character of the use.

“Fair use” is fraught with many gray areas. When in doubt, ask for permission.

Public domain

When a work is not protected by copyright, it is said to be in the public domain. Anyone may freely copy materials that are in the public domain.

In the U.S., copyrights in most kinds of works (other than works made for hire, and anonymous or pseudonymous works) automatically enter the public domain 70 years after the death of the author.

Some older works may be in the public domain for other reasons, such as failure to comply with formal requirements that existed at the time.

A work may also be in the public domain if the copyright owner has expressly dedicated it to the public domain.

Some kinds of works are in the public domain because they are a kind of material that does not receive protection. Some examples include: titles and short phrases (which may be protected as trademarks in some cases, however); works created by animals; sound recordings made in the United States before 1972. This is not an exhaustive list.

Conclusion


Obviously, it is not possible to cover everything a writer needs to know about copyright law in a blog post. Every freelance writer should have at least some familiarity with the basics, though. You might not care if somebody steals your work, but you don’t want to find yourself in a position where somebody copies your work and then claims you are the infringer. And you don’t want to unwittingly waive or forego important rights. Know your rights and protect them.

© 2017 Tom James. 

Tom James is an attorney in private practice in the U.S.A. He is the author of Website Law: the legal guide for website owners and bloggers and Copyright Protection for Websites, which are available for purchase at EchionBooks.com, Amazon.com, and most other online booksellers.
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