How An Idea Becomes a Story

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I had an idea for a topical blog post, started writing and hated it. I scraped it. Now I’m flying by the seat of my pants, as far as writing this blog post goes. What was the other topic and what did I replace it with? Horror subgenres was the topic I replaced. I might still do it someday if I can find a format I’m happy with. Instead I decided to tell you about the writing process. Specifically, how this writer turns an idea into a novel or short story. Was it a good idea to switch? We’ll find out together. Let’s get started.

Every writer has their own process in writing a good story. Some are planners who meticulously summarize and outline before ever sitting down to write the story. Others sit down at the computer without much more than an idea and get to work. Neither is right or wrong. It’s about finding the process that works for that particular writer. What follows is what works for me. If you’re a writer, the chances of all these lining up with your process is pretty slim. We’re all different, and thank God, because life would be dull if we were all the same.

Most stories I have written start out with an idea. Some writers start out with the main character and form a plot around him/her. If that’s your cup of tea, well, I won’t spit in it. I prefer to start with the idea. Ideas are a mysterious and wonderful thing to a writer. Every idea I’ve had for a story that’s worth telling has come to me on a whim (that might be an exaggeration, but I’m running with it anyway). If I sit down to brainstorm a new story, the chances of finding a good story are slim. Oh, I get a plethora of ideas bombarding my brain during this time. However, most of these vary from decent to downright bad. I have a notebook dedicated to ideas as well as a notes app on my phone. Both are full and I weed out the bad on a regular basis. As with most writers, most of my story ideas won’t make it past the note on a piece of paper or phone. That’s okay, the ideas that don’t become a story are that way for a reason.

Once I have an idea I’m happy with, I’ll turn to the main character. The main character is the most important part of a story. Yes, more important than the idea. A good idea with an underdeveloped character isn’t going to make a good book or short story. I usually start out by thinking of characteristics that I would like to see in the main character. A stubborn, independent kid who’s prone to sensitivity and has a bit of a wild streak is the character summary for my current main character in The Stranger (yes, I’m still looking for another title). I keep this character summary in mind when writing this character. If anything goes against the grain of that description, I change it as soon as possible.

The main character might be the most important part of the story, but he/she isn’t alone. Next, I turn to the important secondary characters. I write a character description similar to the one above for most significant role players. Have you ever read a story where one of the characters fell flat? That’s called a cardboard character because they don’t have any depth. In my humble opinion it’s the second biggest mistake a writer can make. What’s number one? Lying to the reader. Writers who lie to the reader should have their laptops confiscated and writing privileges revoked. It’s dirty and shameful.

What were we talking about again? Right, the process. On to the next step.

There’s a popular question that goes around on Twitter every now and then. Are you a pantzer or a planner? What on Earth does that mean? A pantzer is someone who flies by the seat of their pants when writing, while a planner, well, plans (brilliant, I know). I happen to fall somewhere in the middle. I plan out the character bios more than anything. I also keep a list of things I would like to see happen during the course of the book/story. These are merely suggestions for my future self to incorporate into the story. Think of them as highlights to hit along the main character’s journey. If it doesn’t happen, it’s no big deal.

I spend a week thinking about a story before sitting down at the laptop to start writing. The previous steps all take place during that time, except for the idea, which could have come a few years prior. This allows me to fully wrap my mind around a story and how best to tell it. Sure, I’ve started stories the moment I had the idea, but that doesn’t work out well.

The next step is the fun part, at least for me. Every writer has their favorite step in the writing process. Mine happens to be the that moment when everything clicks during the first draft. The first writing session of a new story is always hard for me though. I don’t know the character as intimately as I will later on. We’re feeling each other out, if you will. At some point, usually in the second or third session, we start to understand each other. I know what decisions he/she will make and how he/she will make them. He/she knows what my expectations are.

Um… it sounds like you’re talking about real people, Stephen. Well, they’re real to me.

I tend to spend four to six weeks writing the first draft of a novel, which tends to fall between thirty-five thousand and forty thousand words. I write six days a week, seven if I can swing it—most of the time I can’t. That’s roughly a thousand words a day. I don’t let myself get up until I’ve reached that word count. I’ve said this before, I treat writing like a job I haven’t gotten paid for yet. Writing every day and writing until I get my word count is part of it.

Once I’ve got a completed first draft, I celebrate a little. This usually involves dinner with the family or a date night with the wife. Hey, it’s hard work writing a book. You have to know when to take joy in the process. Also, these people tend to get neglected while working on the first draft. But the work isn’t over. It’s only the beginning. After celebrating I put the story away for a month without looking at it. Why? When I read it again, I want to do so with fresh eyes. At the current moment I’m much too involved in the story to see any errors. Getting involved in another story will help create some distance. I either write several short stories during this time or, as was the case with my current novel, write the first draft of another novel.

After enough time has passed, I will print out the story and give it a read. I keep a pen and paper handy for notes, of which there are many. When I’m done, I give it to my first reader, who happens to be my eleven-year-old daughter. She’s read two of my novels so far and is getting good at spotting inconsistencies. I read first because I take more time to go over the writing, while she zips through it in one sitting. Then we talk about what worked and what didn’t.

The next few steps are my least favorite part of being a writer. A second draft and editing. I find the second draft to be a tedious, but necessary process. This is when I take all the notes—both from my daughter and my own—and incorporate them into the draft. At some point along the line the ugly duckling of a first draft starts to show some semblance of the beautiful swan it will become as a finished novel.

I usually go through the novel two or three times during the editing process. During one of these I focus on cutting out ten percent of the original length. Most of this is achieved during the second draft, but not always. I tend to add instead of remove at times. Once I’m satisfied that it’s as good as I can make it, well, that’s it. I call it finished.

At this point, if it’s a novel I start looking for literary agents to query about representing the book and myself. I won’t go into that. It’s an entire post in itself.

I hope you enjoyed a look inside the world of writing a story. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

A One Word Review, Plus Other Notes

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I know what you are thinking. Two blog posts in one week? What have we done to deserve this? Well, dear reader, I guess you can say that I still feel guilty for not posting for three consecutive weeks following Christmas. Also, I’ve been meaning to start posting more, so I might as well start now. On the docket for today is a one-word review of Stephen King’s the Outsider, as well as some other thoughts straight from my brain. Let’s get started.

  • Part of being a writer is writing when you don’t feel like it. I had this thought last week when I was having a blah day. I’m sure you know the feeling, right? You don’t really have a reason for feeling that way, you just do. Well, part of being an adult is doing things when we may not want to. Heck, that’s life no matter your age. My youngest daughter will whine about going to school, but she still has to. By the way, she’s in Pre-K and everything they do is fun. I don’t get it.
  • This note is directly related to the last one. I believe they call that a smooth transition, but don’t get used to it. I write six days a week, sometimes seven if I can find the time. I treat it like a job that I haven’t been paid for yet (I have a lot of back wages due my way). Being a writer is as much a part of me as being a father, husband and a Christian. It’s a part of who I am, whether rich or penniless, famous or obscure, I will always write. Sixteen years of trying to make a break into this business has proven that, I think.
  • Don’t call it a hobby. When I explain to you that I have a day job and write on the side, don’t brush it aside as a hobby. As I have already explained in the previous bullet, it’s much more than that (did you notice that I made another smooth transition?). If you do happen to call it a hobby, you won’t notice a change in my demeanor and I likely won’t say anything. I’m much too polite to do such a thing. But know this, I’m screaming at you on the inside.
  • I don’t know if I have mentioned it on the blog before, but retiring a story is hard. For those that don’t know I’ll go into more details as to what that is. Retiring a story is simply putting it away forever. It’s gone to every literary magazine—in the case of a short story—or literary agency—in the case of a novel—and received rejections from all. Some are harder to retire than others. I’ve had stories that I knew weren’t good enough and put them away earlier than most probably would. Yet there are a select few I knew were good enough to be published on some level, whether it be online or in print, that I was forced to close the door on. Rejection is hard enough when you think the publishing world is right in their opinion, but it’s harder yet when you think they’re wrong. (A note: that was as nicely as I could phrase that last sentence. Bitter? Probably.)
  • The rest of these notes will deal with a book I recently read, Stephen King’s the Outsider. But I thought you were going to do a one-word review. Isn’t that cheating? Perhaps, but I’m going to do it anyway.
  • Should certain books come with a trigger warning? Warning: this book contains descriptions of scenes that some may find offensive. Before I read the Outsider, someone mentioned this in a review. I normally take reviews with a grain of salt, as you never know what the person’s state of mind was when reading or reviewing the book. In this case, I think the reviewer had a point.
  • I read and write a lot of horror, so I’m used to wrapping my head around the unbelievable. I don’t have an issue with the supernatural entity that is the baddy in the Outsider. What I do have a problem with is writers who force characters to make outlandish decisions. A decision was made by a central character in this book which cost that character his life. That’s as much detail as I can go into without spoiling the book. The problem? No sane person would have made the decision he made while under the circumstances he was in. No one. Keep it real next time, Mr. King, because this time it wasn’t.
  • I don’t know if you are aware of this, but writers write the dialogue for their characters. This can lead to characters all sounding the same. Sure, you can throw someone raised in a different part of the world with a unique accent or dialect. However, the choice of words and the manner in which they are delivered remain the same for the other characters. If I were to record you and some random person off the street, the chances of you sounding the same are minuscule. People are unique and tend to sound that way as well. (Stephen King isn’t the only writer guilty of this. I am as well.)
  • Now for the review of Stephen King’s the Outsider. What I’m going to do is start with a review the length of a paragraph. Then I’ll whittle it down to a simple sentence and finally down to a single word.
  • In the Outsider Stephen King makes the unbelievable believable. Two good men are the central focus of the first half of the book. One of those men is a little too squeaky clean to be likeable in my opinion, while the other lacks personality. These two characters are linked, in my humble opinion, by mistakes they make during the course of the book. Would real life people make those same choices? I’m not so sure. The saving grace of this book comes in the form of my person favorite character of Mr. King, Holly Gibson. Inserting the manic P.I. assistant made this a book worth reading, with a caveat. That is lower your expectations.
  • Stephen King’s character development falls short of his normally high standards in the Outsider.
  • Underwhelming.

I think that will do it for the day. Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Switching Genres

Hello and welcome back to the blog! It’s been a few weeks since my last post. I’m sorry for my absence. I’ve been focusing on the second draft of the Stranger—which still needs a new title. Breaking Character: The Craven House is still being queried to literary agents. There’s no news to report on that front. Whoever said no news is good news never queried literary agents. But let’s not talk about that. Instead we’ll turn our attention to a topical blog post. On the docket today, switching genres. Let’s get started.

If you’ve read the blog before, chances are you remember me talking about writing for adults. If you know me or if you have read the blog before you might be wondering what makes a writer switch genres or age groups. If you are new to the blog think of this as a trip inside a writer’s mind on how we approach a difficult decision. My wife is probably cringing now, for she knows my mind is a horrifying place.

I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, which was more than a few years ago. In that span I’ve written many different genres, including horror, science fiction, literary, inspirational, western, hardboiled, and many stories which were a blend of these and other genres. Those are only my areas of focus when writing for adults. I’ve also written horror, science fiction, inspirational, and literary for middle grade (ages 8-12) as well. I have written short stories, novellas, and novels for both adults and middle grade.

If I’m honest some of these genres got more focus than others. Horror has always been my first love. It gets more attention than the rest. I’ve had quite a bit of success with literary fiction and have written a number of these stories. Three of my six publications have been literary works. I take a lot of pride in that, because literary fiction is all about the character without all the shiny things that genre fiction brings to the table. The other three stories have been horror, if you were wondering.

A little over a year ago I decided to put my full attention into middle grade fiction. This isn’t the first time I have made a switch of sorts. In my early twenties I spent a year writing westerns. Why would I do such a thing and why did I switch? For me the west is romanticized in the pages of fiction. Tense showdowns between gunfighters and strong characters exerting their will. I stopped writing westerns for a few simple reasons. I’m from the city and know next to nothing about guns and horses, which are a large part of the genre. Sure, I could research it and did. The market for such books was small and I worried about finding my place within it. The biggest reason probably won’t shock you. My first love, horror, was calling my name.

The decision to switch from writing westerns to adult horror was an easy one to make. The decision I made a little over a year ago wasn’t so easy. It was a decision that took me several years to arrive at. Years of writing adult horror and mostly failing had to happen to provoke that change.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I started writing middle grade horror out of the blue one day. The middle grade genre is something I have always been drawn to. The first novel I wrote was a middle grade horror story when I was nineteen. It was about a class field trip to a historical Cowtown that turned out to be haunted (did you notice the western angle creep into the plot?). In fact, five of the six finished novels I have written over the years have been middle grade horror novels. The lone adult horror novel even had a kid as a central character. The point is I have always had a foot in the middle grade genre. It just took me a while to realize it’s where I belonged.

So, what led to this realization? My publication history was the first factor. At the time I made the switch I had been published five times over a fifteen-year period. All those publications were adult short stories. That’s not a ton of success when you consider I rarely took a break from writing. Yet it’s the failed stories that have stuck with me and were part of my reasoning. Some of the best stories I have written for adults went unpublished, while stories I considered mediocre were published. You can’t predict the publishing world.

My most recent adult short story was published around the time I made the decision to focus on middle grade fiction. It’s a story about a grown man and his childhood imaginary friend that never went away. Oh, that imaginary friend happens to be a full-grown gorilla. The online magazine in which this story was published posts a comment from the editor as to why this story was chosen. The editor praised the story and its use of simple language. What? There had been no forethought of using simple language in the story. It was simply me writing a story. My writing style, pointed out by that editor, became factor number two.

I remember how much fun I had reading as a kid. Stories by R.L. Stine and his Goosebumps were a big reason why. As an adult I’ve read in the middle grade horror genre and enjoyed myself. The stories don’t take themselves as serious as adult fiction does. It’s as if the writers know reading is supposed to be fun. The sheer fun of it became factor number three.

I also like the idea of inspiring people to read books because the stories are fun. If I can convince a few kids to pick up a book that otherwise wouldn’t have, well, that’s worth it to me. I used to obsess over books when I was a kid. I wouldn’t put them down until I was finished. My oldest daughter is the same way. I want to have that effect on people. That’s factor number four.

As you can see the reasons began to pile up. While I might miss the obvious at times, even I couldn’t avoid seeing it. I’m a middle grade writer. It’s what I was born to be, I see that now. Every day I aim to make sure the world sees it too.

Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Roth

Notes & Observations

Hello and welcome to the blog. City streets are packed with cars, parking lots are irritating to negotiate, and any trip to the store makes you feel like a human sardine. But, hey, tis the season, right? All kidding aside, I have grown to enjoy Christmas thanks to the joy it brings my wife and children. Just keep me out of the stores—if you know my day job this is especially humorous. In honor of the holiday and wanting to work a little less, I thought I would share some notes and observations from this week.

-I’m not a political person. Don’t worry, I won’t share my beliefs or views in this space. This is a writing blog after all. That’s just the point. You didn’t come to my blog to read my political views. I’m a writer. Who cares about my opinion on various political topics, aside from my family and a few friends? Do you honestly care about my opinion? Truthfully? No. I’m a writer, I’ll stick to weaving relatable plotlines without pushing my political views onto other people.

That’s great, Stephen, but what’s the point? The next bullet will put that statement into perspective.

-It should be no secret to the readers of this blog that I’m a Stephen King fan. I read my first Stephen King book in middle school—Cujo for those wondering—and have been hooked ever since. I have an entire shelf in my office dedicated to Stephen King books. The Stephen King books that I haven’t read are in the single digits. I say this to let you know I’m a fan of his work.

The other day, I was searching for a new eBook to read. It had been several months since I had read a King book. It felt like time to get my Stephen King fix. A couple of things go into deciding whether to read a book. First, the book’s description. Check. Second, familiarity with the writer. If I’ve read the writer before, did I enjoy the experience. Big check here. Lastly, I scan the reviews of the people who have read the book. Che… oh, crap.

As I writer I value the opinion of the reader. However, I will tell you that at times the person leaving the review is having a bad day or the writer and reader aren’t meant for each other. It happens. However, when multiple people comment on an issue, I would say you have an issue. Genius, right? Stephen King has never been above pushing his politics into a story. Remember, I’m a King fan. I know. Several reviews pointed to the insertion of Mr. King’s political views into the novel. I’ve noticed his books doing this more and more in recent years. Fed up with reading politics in my horror, I walked away.

-In case you’re wondering, I did buy a Stephen King book. It just wasn’t the book I talked about above. I’m early on in this new book. As a writer I have one problem with this book so far. Mr. King seems to think everyone swears. Let me set up the situation.

The body of a boy has been found; I’ll spare you the grizzly details from the book. The first chapter of the book alternates between the arrest of the suspect and interviewing of witnesses. There are five or six interviews, all of them swear, apart from a mother accompanying her child.

Look, I’m aware that I’m in the minority as an adult who chooses not to swear. I’m fine with it. My problem is given the situation, being interviewed by a detective regarding a heinous crime, if you do swear would you swear then? Or would you be on your best behavior? I think it’s clumsy to assume everyone would swear in that situation except for a mother because little ears are around. We all remember what assuming does…

-A quick side note: I got interrupted by a salesperson while writing this. I’m sure I was rude.

-I’m still trying to figure out Twitter. The writing community on there is great. My tweets, according to them aren’t.

-Last week, I read the first draft of my work in progress, as did my daughter. I thought it was a train wreck that could be salvaged with some hard work thanks to its good bones. She liked my unique characters and the story as a whole. She even found a few errors, which made me proud as a writer and father.

-It’s strange to watched someone read your book. It makes me feel like Chevy Chase in Funny Farm. Did they laugh at the right moments? Do they get it? It’s an anxiety riddled situation. My daughter laughed at the right times and quoted them back to me. Yes, I wrote it, yet she wants to share it with me. Can’t beat that.

I think that will do it for today. I’d like to thank those of you who read this. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Fear

Hello and welcome back to the blog! Today, I would like to talk about fear, but first an update on my situation. If you haven’t read last week’s blog, I invite you to go back and do it now, as what I’m about to talk about will seem to come out of nowhere. For those of you who did read last week’s blog, I mentioned I had decided to renew my efforts to find a literary agent. I’ve been busy in the week that has passed since that post. I researched literary agents, five of which received a query from yours truly. Querying is an exercise in both patience and resilience. Despite this I am feeling invigorated at the idea of finding an agent. My hope is renewed, for the time being anyway.

That’s it in the way of news. Let’s get started.

The chances that you have survived as long as you have without feeling fear is remote. Fear is the thing that makes us flip the light switch on before entering a basement. It’s that feeling you get when you hear a noise from the depths of the house when you know you’re alone. It can make grown men scream like little girls if the levels are turned high enough (I’m not speaking from personal experience, of course). Some of us love being afraid, while others go out of their way to avoid it. But what is fear?

Merriam-Webster defines fear as an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. It’s that sense of danger that those of us who like being afraid get addicted to. Have you ever ridden a rollercoaster? I happen to dislike them to a great degree. Despite this, I was talked into going on several at Disney World a few years ago. I was petrified while riding the rollercoaster. When I got off, I felt amazing. It’s that sense of surviving something dangerous that keeps us coming back for more.

I prefer to get my fear experience through fiction and cinema. It’s a safe environment, yet you still get that innate sense of danger seen through the eyes of the characters. As a boy, I got that experience through Goosebumps and got addicted. I have stated it before, those books are the reason I write middle grade horror to this day. If you ever happen to read my work, you’ll find I take fear a bit more seriously than Mr. Stine does. They’re still good books though.

Now that we’ve talked a little bit about fear, I think it’s time to tell you about some of my own personal fears. I’ll start with the one that’s been with me the longest. The fear of heights. When I was little, my family took a vacation to Colorado. While we were there, we rode a cog train to the summit of Pikes Peak of the Rocky Mountains. I remember standing on the snow covered peak and looking down on the world below. Then I threw up in that snow.

My parents say that my stomach was affected by the steam from the cog train. That may well be the case. However, I have been afraid of heights ever since, so I’ll let you be the judge. I did try to conquer this fear a few years ago, coincidently on another vacation to Colorado. This time I was taking my own family accompanied by a large group of my in-laws. We went to the summit of Pikes Peak, where I didn’t lose my breakfast. I trekked up 224 steps at Seven Falls with my children and my own shaking knees. I was able to put my fear aside, though I’m still afraid of heights to this day.

This fear made it into Breaking Character: The Craven House in the way of a memory. Calvin, my main character, believes a fear of heights is his worst fear. In a memory, he recounts puking on the top of Pikes Peak in front of the gift shop. Afterwards, his parents bought him a souvenir T-shirt, which happened to be Pepto Bismol pink. His friends called it his “Pikes Peak Puke” shirt. Yes, every bit of that is from my own memory. Sometimes writers must embarrass themselves for the sake of their work.

Another one of my fears is that of things that sting, whether it be bees, wasps, or hornets. This one also stems from my childhood. I was maybe five or six and playing in the backyard. My sister had a plastic playhouse which resided in the backyard. Unbeknownst to me, wasps had made the playhouse their home. I was standing on the roof when my parents called us inside. I believe my grandparents were there, though that could be wrong. Choosing to showoff for some reason, I jumped on the roof. The wasps didn’t take kindly to this behavior. The wasps swarmed me as I ran screaming inside. It’s a miracle I was only stung twice on the back of the head. This fear hasn’t made into a story yet, but I’ve had a healthy fear of stinging creatures ever since.

The last fear that I will tell you about is the one that has been with me the shortest amount of time yet is now my greatest fear. Failure. As I grow older, the fear of failure has become a large part of my life. At the core, I’m afraid that I will never amount to anything, that I will fail at everything I do or that I already have and don’t know it.

This might seem like a silly fear to some of you and perhaps you’re right. In the past it has gotten in the way. It’s the primary reason I didn’t submit several books I wrote to agents, though a lack of self-confidence also had a hand in it as well. All I’ve ever wanted to be is a writer, plain and simple. It’s the only dream I’ve allowed myself to have. I also have no backup plan if it doesn’t work. A lifetime in retail awaits me if I fail.

Letting my wife and children down, the people who believe in me the most, is something I can’t fathom. Those four women are my world and reason for being. I know they wouldn’t think less of me if this writing thing doesn’t work out. Still, failing to provide them the life they deserve is what makes this writer quake in fear.

This fear found its way into Breaking Character: The Craven House as well. Calvin’s true greatest fear is failure. Yes, writers really do write about themselves quite a bit. At least this writer does. I’ve also written about fears that I don’t suffer from, including clowns, snakes, and nature taking back the world from humans. That’s just to name a few.

Unless you are some sort of cyborg, then you are affected by fear in some way, shape or fashion. It’s not the fact that you’re afraid that defines you, but how you respond to that fear. Do you choose to face it head on or let it conquer you? As the man who climbed 224 steps up the side of a waterfall while afraid of heights and is also querying agents despite the very real fact that they could reject him, I hope you choose to face it.

Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, no matter how much they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

I Interview Myself

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I have been doing a lot of thinking this week about my writing life. Instead of just telling you outright (where would the fun in that be?), I thought I would interview myself. Without further ado, here’s, well, me.

Thanks, Stephen. You’re doing great work, keep it up. I hear you have some news to pass along to the readers. What is it?

Oh, we’re leading with this? I thought there would be more of a lead in, but okay, here it is. Like I said in the intro, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week. On what, you ask? My upcoming novel, Breaking Character: The Craven House. Breaking Character is the series and The Craven House is the first book of that series.

I feel like you’re stalling, Stephen.

You’re probably right, Stephen. Back to business. As some of you well know, I’ve been heading towards self-publishing my novel through Kindle. However, I have decided to put publishing aside for a time while I renew my efforts to find a literary agent. If all goes well, I will find an agent and a publisher for my novel. If not, I’ll bring Breaking Character: The Craven House to the world’s attention through self-publishing with a more detailed plan of attack.

Can you tell me and everyone reading this how you arrived at such a decision?

Well, since I’m you and you’re me, you already know the answer to that question. As for everyone else, I’d be glad to. This is a bit of a long answer, so sit tight.

If I’m honest, and I always try to be, it dates to the writing of the novel, then titled Character Driven. I knew early on that I was writing something special. I expected that feeling to dissipate at some point. It didn’t. Through the second draft and editing that feeling stayed with me. Everything had clicked for me during the entire process like nothing I had ever written. Considering I have six completed but unpublished novels to my name that meant a lot.

I entered the querying process optimistic that I would find an agent. I had done my research while finishing the final edit. I knew my query was good and the novel was even better. It was going to happen. My lifelong dream of being a published author was going to come true thanks to Breaking Character. I just had to convince an agent to read it. Once read, I knew the agent would offer representation. Something else happened instead.

I queried around a dozen agents when one agent requested a reading. I cried reading those words. I had submitted another manuscript to literary agents a few years ago without any readings requested. Sure, I’ve had short stories accepted and published but this was a novel. This was the beginning of a dream coming true. Then the agent passed on the novel without a comment as to why.

I was shattered. (The storyteller in me made this be its own paragraph.)

Despite my feelings, I pressed on. Over a six-month time period I queried twenty-one agents in all. The only request I had during that time I have already mentioned. While doing research I had read some writers have to query eighty or more agents before finding the right fit. That sounded like overkill to me for a while. I stopped at twenty-one and decided to move towards self-publishing, which I researched while getting multiple rejections from agents. I would show the publishing world my novel belonged amongst them.

If I’m honest, and I am to a fault, self-publishing never felt right for me. It takes a person with a variety of skills to produce a successful self-published book. Some people possess those skills, others do not. I happen to count myself amongst the latter. As I moved closer to self-publishing my novel, an inescapable sense of dread settled in and never went away. Was I on the verge of making a mistake?

This is the part where you ruffled some feathers on Twitter and snapped at someone’s honest opinion, right?

Thanks, I was hoping to avoid that part of this, Stephen. First, I talked to my wife. She didn’t have any answers, so I turned to Twitter. The community of writers there is amazing. I’ve only been on Twitter for a few months and already I’m grateful for them. I asked the writing community how many agents should be queried before turning to self-publishing. The self-publishing community got defensive at my wording, which I still stick behind for the record. One gentleman got snarky with me in the comments. I put my phone down and went to bed. This is what I do instead of instigating an argument. The next morning, which happens to be this morning if you’re curious, I responded with some snark of my own. I’m not perfect.

The point is everyone on Twitter was right to certain degree. They reiterated what I had learned during my research, it can take time to find an agent. Twenty-one is a low number.

Don’t worry, Stephen, I’m not perfect either.

I’m well aware of that, Stephen. Did you have anymore questions or are we done?

Just two more questions. Then I’ll let you leave. What are you working on while you query agents?

Great question, Stephen. You’re getting decent at this. Before I reached this decision, I was planning on starting the second novel in the Breaking Character Series. That will wait for now. Instead I will start editing The Stranger, which will receive a new title as soon as possible. As soon as that’s finished, whether I’m done querying or not, I will start the second book in the series.

You started this blog to promote your writing in advance of an upcoming self-published novel. What will change about this blog?

You are correct, that was the purpose of this blog. Not much will change. I still plan on giving the readers regular updates on my writing situation. I will continue to post about once a week. This doesn’t come naturally to this writer of fiction. However, I’m starting to like it. Hopefully you are too.

Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Roth

The Ramblings of a Writer

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. Our middle child was sick with a stomach virus on turkey day. I took our other two kids to my parents for a Thanksgiving lunch, while my wife stayed with our ailing child. Around midafternoon we swapped roles as she took the two kids to her parent’s house while I stayed home. It made for a hectic day, but such is life with children.

That was a bit of an off-topic ramble, which happens to be the topic of the day. It’s well suited then, I guess. It’s been kind of an off week for me. As a result, I’m not feeling a topical blog post at the moment. Since I run the show here, we’re going to go on an off-topic ramble for today. We’ll return to a normal topical blog post next week. Or maybe not, depends what mood I’m in.

Let’s get rolling.

In my opinion to be a good writer you have to do two things, read a lot and write a lot. Not only do I write every day, but I also read every day. For a writer, reading is part of the job. Think of it as a job requirement, if that suits you. Don’t be mistaken, most writers enjoy reading, including this one. However, our minds turn in different directions when reading a book. Sure, we pick apart the holes in the plot just like every reader would. We also look at the depth of characters, how those characters interact with each other, the writers voice, the writer’s motivation for doing what he/she did, why in the world he would do such a thing when I would have done something completely different, etc. This is just a long way of saying that the worst critic of a book can often be other writers.

I’m bringing this up because of the book I am currently reading. Though I haven’t finished reading it, I’m close enough to the end to have formed an opinion about the writer of the book. Since I haven’t quite finished and my opinion could be swayed by the last three chapters, I won’t reveal who the writer is or what the book is called.

I decided to read the book for two reasons: the book’s description and it was under the umbrella of Kindle Unlimited. A books description is very important. It’s the key factor in deciding whether I will read a book. While the book’s description was accurate, there was a ton that the writer failed to include, which I felt should have at least been hinted at. It felt like misrepresentation to market the book as one thing when it clearly was something else. The author lost me at that moment, probably for good.

The trouble is that the bones of the book are very good. There are characters with depth whose interaction with each other bring an aura of unpredictability to the novel. The tone was just right for what appeared to be a supernatural horror novel. I even enjoyed the writer’s voice to a certain extent. I was hooked. Then aliens appeared in the middle of what I thought was supposed to be a ghost story. A plotline must be in the realm of believability to keep my attention. It turns out I wasn’t hooked, just snagged. Too aggressive of a tug from the fisherman and that hook was released. You almost had me, but I got away.

This hasn’t been the best of weeks for me as it pertains to writing. As I said earlier, my middle child was sick on Thanksgiving. Earlier this week my oldest threw up in her first period class. Gross, I know. As I write this my wife is currently down with the same stomach virus. Thankfully it’s to a lesser degree than with the children. I’m a dad and a husband first, so taking care of them is priority. With that being said, it hasn’t made for the best writing environment.

The strange writing environment is probably the reason I had trouble with my most recent story. It’s a short story for a collection I hope to release at some point in the future. It’s a science fiction story, though not my usual genre, I’m still comfortable there. The words were hard to come by this week. Most days I average one thousand words an hour. This week that was cut in half. I also wrestled with decisions as to what should happen, when I normally go with the flow and let things fall where they may.

Yesterday I finished the story. As difficult as it was, I think the story ended up being pretty good. That’s weird for me. I always know when a story is going to be good. I can feel it in my bones, or I fall into the zone while writing it. The words in these stories always come easily. With this one I had to fight for every word and delete a fraction of the story. Yet I feel more than satisfied with the end result. The final edit will hold the truth.

With that short story finished, I will be turning my attention to my next project. What is that? I have several options from which I haven’t completely made up my mind. Breaking Character is formatted and awaiting a cover, I should be posting it in the coming weeks. I am planning the next book in the Breaking Character Series, which is likely where I turn next. I already mentioned I have been working on a short story collection. That collection sits at five stories and twenty thousand total words combined. That could be it or possibly not. I honestly have no idea. There’s also the first draft of a novel that needs attention.

That’s quite a list of things that need done and I’m only one man. I know some will be saying that I should multitask. I wish I could. Most of my mornings are spent at my day job. I pick up my youngest daughter from pre-K on my way home. After lunch I write in my office while she either plays or watches cartoons. That’s two hours Monday through Friday plus most of my Saturday. I only have time to focus on one project.

I can’t imagine releasing Breaking Character: The Craven House without at least starting the second book. So, I think that solves it. Breaking Character #2 is next. Thanks for being patient while I worked that out.

As promised, this has been a bit of a ramble and it’s time to call it a day. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, no matter how much they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Rejection

Hello and welcome to the blog. Last time I answered several questions so you could better get to know me both as a person and as a writer. In today’s post I would like to focus on a central topic. If you have a topic or a question you would like for me to cover, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. The topic for today is one that will have every writer reading this cringe. Rejection.

Why have I chosen such a depressing topic for the blog today? It’s simple. Every writer has faced rejection at one point or another. However, rejection isn’t simply for those of us who weave stories out of words on a page. It’s more universal than that, as I’m sure you know. Perhaps you were passed over for a dream job after feeling you nailed the interview. Or that girl you really liked turned you down after you worked up the courage to ask her out. No matter your background or your chosen career, there’s a good chance at some point along this road we call life that you’ve been rejected in some fashion. My personal stories of rejection happen to deal mostly with my life as a writer. Hopefully, you can relate.

Let’s start off with a simple definition of the word itself. Merriam-Webster defines rejection as the state of being rejected. This forces us to look at the definition for rejected, which is not given approval or acceptance. Simple and straightforward. Blunt and harsh. I think most of you would agree that we want and seek approval and acceptance from others, such is the way of the human spirit. To be denied that simple act can be crushing.

When I started submitting short stories to magazines at the age of nineteen, I didn’t know what to expect. I was young and thought I had a little bit of talent. The plan was to build my publishing credits in magazines for a few years, then have my first novel published by the time I was twenty-five. While I did write a novel by twenty-five, not much else went according to plan.

I wrote four or five short stories during my first venture into trying to get published. Most of those stories were rejected, though one was published by a dying literary magazine. By the time that story was accepted for publication I had already received several rejections on the other stories. All those noes made that one yes that much more satisfying. After receiving that yes, I thought this might not be so hard. I was wrong.

Over the course of the next eight years I went without hearing that coveted word we all crave to hear. Form rejection letters piled up, so to speak since most were in email form. My confidence waned. During those years I wrote two novels, which my eyes have only seen. Why didn’t I share those novels with the world? Or submit them to literary agents? Eight years of hearing that you’re not good enough can influence a person. In my case it wasn’t a good one.

My mind was a pool of self-doubt in which I found myself drowning. When I received an email from a magazine editor, I had to brace myself for the letdown I was about to receive. I came to think that maybe those editors were right. If my short stories weren’t any good, how could one of my novels be any better? So, I kept them to myself.

Those two novels are more than five years old now. I have gone back and reread a few pages of each. The sight of them brought a smile to my face. Oh, they weren’t good, in fact both were quite the opposite. However, the writing I was doing at the time I reread those stories was better by a wide margin. I realized those first novels were a writer struggling to find his own voice instead of copying his heroes.

I hadn’t realized while it was happening, but over the years my writing had gotten better. How had this happened? Looking back, I think there are three reasons. Remember those rejections I received over those eight long years without a publication? A couple of those came with comments about my writing. It took time, but eventually I learned those editors were right in their critique. The second reason I will dub self-awareness. No one is perfect, we all have faults. As a writer I knew what I did well and where I struggled, and I constantly worked on honing both. The third reason I alluded to above, I had found my voice. I no longer sounded like a cheap imitation of a famous writer, but a unique version of myself. It’s probably not a voice that will make me famous, but it’s mine.

If you read any of this post, I hope it’s this paragraph. This is the part where I get real. I have written a lot of short stories in my life. I have written six novels, plus two that are in the works. For those wondering, I have gotten over my fear of rejection and have submitted two of those to agents in the past. The point is I don’t count the number of times I’m rejected, but the number of times I’m published. In other words, I count the number of times I have succeeded, not the number of times I failed. For the record, I have published five short stories in magazines, one self-published short story, and soon to be one self-published novel. Those are my successes. That’s all that matters.

If you have a topic you would like me to cover, feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email. Like this page if moved to do so. Follow me on twitter @StephenRoth316.

Always follow your dreams, no matter how much they terrify you. Thanks for reading.

Stephen Michael Roth

A Few Questions, Answered

I’ve got questions and answers. Who’s asking the questions? Me. Who’s answering the questions? Also, Me.

Hello and welcome! I thought I would kick the blog off by answering questions so you can better get to know me as a person and as a writer. I will pose the questions myself, though if you have a question you would like answered feel free to drop me an email at sroth2006@yahoo.com. These questions come from a variety of sources. Some have been asked of me in a rather blunt manner by former family members, some every writer is asked at some point in their career, and others I have simply made up.

Let’s get started.

Who are you and what do you do?

Right, introductions first. My name is Stephen Roth and I’m a writer. A middle grade writer to be more precise. Most of my writing falls into the dark, macabre world of horror, though I do stray from time to time in order to test my abilities and showoff my skills a bit (a side note: if you want an example of exactly this, look for my upcoming short story collection where one story focuses on a taboo subject).

I was born, raised, and live in Wichita, Kansas. Most of my stories tend to take place in the Land of Oz for this reason. It’s what I know best. My wife, Belinda, is an ESOL teacher at an elementary school. She has been the breadwinner and my main supporter while I travel this long road as a writer. I have been on the receiving end of her selfless nature and positive attitude enough times to be embarrassed. We have three daughters, all filled to the eyebrows with sass. They make life interesting. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why do you write?

Ah, this question is simple, isn’t it? The answer is simple as well, yet with a complexness at the same time. Allow me to explain. I write because I must. That’s the simple part. Now, explaining why I must write is were things get a little complex.

I fell in love with books as a kid reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. Those books are the reason I write in the middle grade horror genre today. At some point I started writing my own stories. Those first stories were a boy imitating his hero. As I grew, I developed my own style and voice, which is very different from my childhood hero. The journey to get there holds the answer to this self-posed question.

Since I started writing many years ago, it has always been a compulsion which I couldn’t resist. The more I do it, the more I need it. It’s like an itch I need to scratch. If I don’t scratch that itch, which resides in the depths of my brain, I go crazy. Sure, I can take time off. After finishing a novel, I take a week off to breath from the relentless pace. By the end of the week my brain is calling me back to the computer. Create or die, it says in dramatic fashion. So, I create.

I write because I must.

Yeah, but why horror?

I’ve been lucky enough not to have been asked this question in real life, for which I am grateful. I pose it here because I know other writers haven’t been so lucky.

Like I said earlier, I fell in love with books while reading R.L. Stine. Later, I progressed to Stephen King. I’ve always enjoyed a good scare whether it’s through fiction or cinema. Those two writers, and many others along the way, had a way of evoking emotion within me. That’s what good fiction should do. Evoke emotion in the reader, plain and simple. If your reader doesn’t feel for your characters and your story, then why bother? Scaring people just happens to be my favorite way of evoking emotions.

You’re still doing that?

Unlike the previous question, I was asked this question personally. Some context is needed to understand the question and the answer. Several years ago, I decided to leave my job in order to focus on writing. I would watch a friend’s foster children during the day and write during naps and evenings. For the first time in my life I would be able to give writing the time it deserved.

My last week on the job before I left to focus on writing, I ran into my former brother in-law. Upon learning that I was leaving my job to focus on what he thought of as a hobby, he posed this question to me. Knowing he wouldn’t understand if I took the time to explain my reasoning, I simply smiled and nodded. Years later, I finally have a response. He may not understand it, but at least I have a response. This is that response.

Have you ever wanted something so bad in your heart and in your soul that you couldn’t stomach the thought of it not happening? Being a fulltime writer is that way for me. It’s been a dream for as long as I can remember. Who am I if not a writer? It’s engrained in my soul, just like being a husband and a father. It’s part of who I am. It’s the reason after fifteen years of hearing no from the publishing world I decided to take matters into my own hands.

So, yeah, I’m still doing that. Whether I’m read or not, represented by an agent or not, have a book deal or not, critically acclaimed or widely panned, it matters not. For as long as there is a breath in my body words will flow from my fingers.

Where do you get your ideas?

This is every writer’s favorite question. It’s the question we are asked more often than any other. The truth? We don’t really know. Some ideas are inspired by books that we have read. Another might be inspired by an interaction with a fellow member of humanity. While others simply appear in our heads out of nowhere. In my experience the latter seem to make for the best stories. This is just a writer trying to explain the unexplainable. I could be wrong. It wouldn’t the first time.

What’s to come?

As far as this website goes, I plan on doing a blog from time to time. I’m afraid I can’t give any specifics on the timing of those, though I hope it’s weekly. Stay tuned to find out.

As far as my writing goes, there are several things forthcoming. I just finished writing several short stories for a collection, which I mentioned earlier. As of this writing it’s untitled. Next up is a final review of my finished novel, Breaking Character, before self-publishing. It may not have netted an agent, but I’m proud of it. Once Breaking Character has hit the publishing world, I will turn my attention to reading, editing and rewriting another novel, tentatively titled the Stranger. Eventually, I will start writing the second book in the Breaking Character Series.

Always follow your dreams, no matter how much they terrify you. Thanks for reading.

Stephen Michael Roth