Category Archives: Weekly chapter challenge

Interview with EJ Wesley, my chapter buddy


Tell us something about yourself

Let’s see, I play the guitar/sing. I love to paint/draw, and particularly love comic book art. My wife is a physician (blood/cancer), and we’ve been married for 8 years. She’s also in the United States Air Force. We have to dogs that I love (a beagle mix and a chihuahua mix … both are rescues). I’m the youngest of 4 children, and my oldest sibling will turn 50 soon. Most people think I’m younger than I really am, because I refuse to act my age. I have degrees in psychology, and a graduate degree in counseling. I spent several years as a grant writer. That’s about it!

You started the Weekly Chapter Challenge group on the Writers Digest Community site. What prompted you to start it?

It’s not uncommon for writers to feel a certain amount of career isolation, which is ironic, because it’s what draws many of us to the pursuit in the first place. I’m no different. I had completely finished the draft of my first full manuscript in relative obscurity. (Only my wife and a few friends really knew I was attempting to write anything.) At any rate, I was feeling completely alone with my accomplishment. Furthermore, I wanted to start working on a new project while editing. The problem was that I was finding it hard to make time to write “new stuff”. I’d signed up to WD a few weeks before, and thought that maybe I could find a couple of more folks who’d like to partner up in a work exchange program. I created the Chapter Challenge as a tool to help keep me motivated and hopefully aid a few other writers as well. Now we’ve got 60 plus members and growing!

How have you found the experience of exchanging chapters so far?

As far as drafting the new story goes, it has become absolutely essential to my creative process. I literally write with the idea that Peggy will be reading my work imbedded in my mind. It pushes me in ways I hadn’t even imagined. Even more important to me is the idea that I’ll be reading her story in return. It creates such a reciprocal energy. If I’m fortunate to ever be successful at this writing thing, I think I’ll owe much of that success to my partnership.

How can readers join the group?

The only real qualifications are that you be interested in growing as a writer, have some kind of tangible writing goal, and be willing to read and offer feedback on the work of someone else on a regular basis. Whether that be polishing an existing work chapter-by-chapter, or creating new to content to share with a partner each week is entirely up to you. If you’re interested, then head over to the WD forum and check out the description of the group, and get some tips on advertising for a partner.

Here’s the link: http://community.writersdigest.com/group/weeklychapterchallenge

You write  YA fantasy. What were some of you favorite books growing up, and how do you feel they influenced you as a writer?

I was heavily influenced by Stephen King, which sounds odd for a young person, but he was the first writer that really grabbed me in my adolescence. His writing is extremely vivid and character driven. People generally think of King as the guy that comes up with all of these creepy ideas and scary books, but fans really know that the meat of his stories are all about the normal people that live through these incredible journeys. I remember reading The Stand, and weeping over the death of a character for the first time. I really try/hope to bring characters to life in my own work the way he did for me.

The other ‘watershed’ reading moment for me was Harry Potter. I was working with teenagers as a mental health counselor at the time the books first became really popular. I recall seeing some of the other counselors using these crazy wizard boy books in their treatment plans, and watching these kids from some of the worst possible situations eating them up! I read them, and instantly understood why young people would relate. That’s the moment I decided that I wanted to write for young people and try to make stories that would mean something to them.

I was probably also influenced subconsciously by a number of comic book writers!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? The
worst?

The best is from Stephen King’s book, On Writing. In it he says that he received the following advice from one of his early writing instructors: “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story; when you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are NOT the story.”

I keep that taped above my writing desk. Maybe someday it’ll sink in!

The worst advice I’ve ever gotten was to give up.

You have a day job. How do you find the time to write? Any special place or time you do your writing?

I tutor middle-school students during the school year, which leaves me with some unusual writing hours. I’ll squeeze my writing time in where I can fit it. Also, I try to write new material earlier in the day (before noon) as that tends to be my most mentally aware time. I write at home quite often, but I’m most productive when I leave the house and head to a local coffee spot or library. I can really focus when I’m out in public, but find myself constantly answering phones and checking e-mail when I stay home.

What do you like to read?

I’ll read just about anything! However, I spend most of my reading energy on keeping up with current YA content. In general, I’m reading whatever I see students walking around reading.

If you could be any character in any book, who would you be?

Hmm, I think I might like to be Hermione from the Harry Potter books. She’s so smart and brave! Sadly, I’m probably more like Neville … I also wouldn’t mind being Gandolf from the Lord of the Rings books. He gets to carry a walking stick, ride the best horse ever, and knows pretty much everything.

Have you had anything published?

Other than several grants, no. I’m working on a short story collection that I’d like to publish electronically on Amazon in the near (?) future, and of course I’d love to sell my completed manuscript once I’m finished editing.

Tell us a bit about your current work in progress. Care to post an extract?

The project I’m working on for the Chapter Challenge is a first-person paranormal action/adventure story about a teenaged boy named Abraham. Abe discovers that he is actually Abaddon, the Biblical being who’s going to bring about Armageddon, destroying the earth and everyone on it. It’s my version of an ‘angel’ story, and hopefully one that boys will want to read. Here’s an excerpt from when Abe learns his true identity from his grandfather:

Grandpa stood and walked over to his ancient writing desk. It was probably the only uncluttered surface in the room. He stooped to one knee, and began searching the underside of the desk for some unseen artifact.
“There it is,” he muttered. When he stood, I could see that he was holding a small yellowed envelope in his hands. After collecting the tobacco tin off the top of the desk, he returned to his chair. He handed me the envelope and began filling his pipe.
I held the letter with the tips of my sweaty shaking fingers, thinking about all of the things that could be inside. I turned it over once, then twice, trying to divine some clue as to its contents. There were no words on the outside, and no address. It was old, judging by how the once white paper had yellowed in every place but the very center. The paper it was made out of felt like nothing I’d felt before; it was thick—like animal hide—and had an incredible buttery smoothness. It was also evidently a formal letter for it had been sealed by wax, which had been parted at some point. I looked up at grandpa, uncertain what he meant for me to do.
He took a couple of puffs from his pipe, smiled gently, and said, “Open it.”
I parted the lips of the envelope. Only a single sheet of folded paper lay inside, which I opened. There were two sentences ornately scrawled in golden ink:
Watch over this child until he is of age. His name is, Abaddon.
“That letter was left on my doorstep fifteen years ago, along with a newborn child,” Gramps said, his words echoing to my ears like haunted shouts from a dream.
“Me?” I asked dumbly. I was begging him not to answer in my mind.
“Yes,” Gramps replied, his eyes filled with a terrible sadness.

Where can readers find you on the web?

My blog, The Open Vein, is here: http://the-open-vein-ejwesley.blogspot.com/

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Seeing as how I’m an aspiring writer myself, I’m not sure what I could offer other than what I tell myself every morning: If you stop dreaming, you stop trying. If you stop trying, you stop living.

Any last words?

Thanks, Peggy, for letting me share with your readers, and for being such an awesome writing partner!

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Wednesday Poetry Prompts, Chapter Buddy, and other updates

Every week Robert Lee Brewer posts a poetry prompt on his blog This week’s prompt is to write a shopping poem

Here’s mine — it’s one of my series of “Blues” poems…

No Money, Honey, Blues

Pay is burning in my pocket, stop into my favorite store.
T-shirts, only twenty dollars if you purchase three or more.
I pick up six or seven though I’ve got a dresser full.
I start humming the no money, honey blues.

Next door is the bookstore, and I find I’m walking in,
buy a largish cup of coffee, wander by the bargain bin.
I buy myself a bag full though I’ve already read them all.
I am whistling the no money, honey blues.

Then I’m in the liquor store. I buy a case of wine.
Though I never drink it, salesman says it’s mighty fine.
I fork over ninety dollar. Now my money’s almost gone.
I am singing the no money, honey blues.

My house is overflowing, no more room to fit things in.
I can call Salvation Army, I can rent a storage bin.
I hand my money over and I clear my basement out,
while I chorus the no money, honey blues.

I got my chapter buddy EJ’s comments on my chapter 14 and rewrote parts of the chapter as a result. Ej’s comments are always a great help, and this time was no exception. I sent him my chapter 15, and I’m working on chapter 16. I’m close to the end of my book, and the chapters feel harder and harder to write. Of course, I already have an idea for a sequel. I also have several other book ideas, because I often finish a novel with “but I want to know what happens after that ..”

Just One of Those Weeks: Chapter Challenge Update, Writing Poetry, etc.

This week my chapter buddy, EJ and I again exchanged chapters. I’m so excited about how well both of our works in progress are going. I sent EJ my chapter 14. I’ve already written chapter 15 and hope to start on chapter 16 this weekend. I’m getting close to the end, I think — another couple of chapters and I can go back and start working on the second draft, or working on my next book, or both.

As you may know, I’m a regular follower of Robert Lee Brewer’s PoeticAsides blog Every Wednesday Robert posts a poetry writing prompt and a bunch of us post poems in the comments in response. This week’s prompt was “cold.” You can check out my contributions (there’s more than one) by following this link and searching for my name http://blog.writersdigest.com/poeticasides/CommentView,guid,d44e04fb-dcfc-4362-9437-9cc50d20ed03.aspx#commentstart

A bunch of us also twitter on poetry on Tuesdays, and a kindly fellow shared his Excel spreadsheet for tracking poetry submissions. I copied the three (yikes! that’s all???) outstanding submissions into the new tracker. I also entered the names of a few of my many poems that I should really get around to submitting. Thanks, Cameron.

Here is the third poem I posted, the one that is NOT in response to the prompt:

Just One of Those Weeks

Perhaps iit’s a crime
to poem in rhyme
instead of free verse.
If so, it’s my curse.

When words chime and jingle
I shiver and tingle
I’m determined to write them.
I hope you’ll recite them.

Meet Kathryn Kupanoff

Tell us a little about yourself
I’m a Canadian from Toronto, Canada. I graduated from York University in Toronto with my BA in literature and I also minored in philosophy. I got married to my husband last year and we live in Los Angeles, California with our cat, dog and bearded dragon. I teach ESL to adults at a private college and I love it! I try to write daily. I have a blog I maintain (http://www.kathrynsheridankupanoff.com), a completed manuscript that is being beta-ed and I’m really excited about my current work in progress.

How do you think being an ESL teacher has influenced your voice as a writer?

It’s really affected how I perceive language and syntax. I’ve had students from all over the world and they all teach me a bit from their own native tongues. I love seeing how language evolves and how they all connect (and sometimes they don’t!). The history is fascinating and it’s really inspired me to look at word choice and the philosophy of language and meaning (which was actually a course I took for my undergrad too).

How long have you been writing, and what do you write?
I’ve been writing since I was probably about six years old. I wrote a short story in the first grade that I won a writer’s contest for, but I can’t really remember the story. Something about jungle animals and their awesome adventures. Now, I write literary fiction. I like to focus on everyday events and people with a philosophical twist. Sometimes I torture my characters: if I’m going through something, I’ll throw the same situation at them and see how they survive it. It’s therapeutic, really. Abusive for them, but there are no torture laws against fictional people. Yet. I’m just kidding. 🙂

Can you tell us a little about your current writing projects?

I mentioned that my completed manuscript is being beta-ed (Real word? Not sure). I was inspired by a time my husband and I went to a pub in Los Angeles one night and ended up talking to this person at the bar for an hour or so. He was telling us the most detailed and personal things about himself and it made me think: it’s because he doesn’t know us. He’ll never see us again. What does he have to lose? Fascinating! So Fortune Cookie is about two strangers who do just that: share their darkest secrets with each other. The twist is that by the night’s end, there’s a spark… and maybe they’d want to be more than strangers, maybe friends, maybe lovers. It’s literary fiction with a romantic slant.

My current work in progress is a first-person narration about a guy in his twenties who’s going nowhere in life. He’s got an insane family, a dead-end job, he was kicked out of college… a born loser. The only good thing in his life was his high school girlfriend who’s out of the picture now. After a life-changing experience, he decides to go on a road trip to find her again. I was inspired by the character Holden Caulfield, and I wanted to make my protagonist a loser, but also sarcastic and easy to relate to. It’s a lot of fun to write!

Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?
Same answer as a lot of people, but that’s all right. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I just read Sum: 40 Tales From The Afterlives by David Eagleman and found it fascinating. It was an enthralling philosophical read.

If you could be any character from any book at all, who would you be, and why?
Wow, what a great question! Maybe Yvaine from Stardust. That’d be cool. You’d be a star, you’d glow, you’d be outer worldly and living in a castle with your true love as your king. How amazing would that be?


Do you have a writing schedule? A particular place to write?

I don’t really have a schedule. I have more times to get writing done on the weekends, so those are usually my most productive days. I like to write in our living room on the floor with my laptop on the floor. It helps if I have the radio or the television on in the background, actually. It’s the white noise.


What do you find inspires you as a writer?

Music and visual art are incredibly important to me. Some artists are entire worlds of inspiration for me. Dali, for example. I could get lost in his mind for hours. As for music, The Beatles, Coldplay, Muse… lots of bands really help me get those creative juices flowing. Again, philosophy helps. I’m currently really into String Theory, so reading up on that every once in a while helps me get out of my box.

We’re both members of the group “Weekly Chapter Challenge” on Writers Digest Community. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Oh, it’s absolutely fabulous. I still have to write my weekly post, actually, but I’m on week four with Katie S. Taylor and I’ve never been more productive with writing. I keep saying to other writers to get involved in this because it really helps you stay accountable and makes sure you’re getting at least 3,000 words a week out there. The feedback I’ve gotten from Katie has been incredibly helpful too. She’s a great writer and editor and her suggestions have just been great. Also, to be on the editing end is great for my own style too. I see how she writes, it helps me be a better writer. I don’t know how I ever wrote before!

What do you feel has been the biggest impediment to your evolution, for want of a better word, as a writer, and conversely, what do you feel has contributed the most to your progress?
The self-discipline to write daily has contributed the most. Also, the determination to finish, not letting myself quit. It can be really hard. Writing’s hard work! (Surprise!) But you have to have those two things in order to get better. As for the biggest impediment, I’d have to say time. There’s always time, but if work gets in the way, if life gets in the way, it’s hard to set aside enough time to get some writing done.

How do you spend your spare time?

With my husband, friends or family. I’m also in a book club, so I’m usually reading when I get some free time.

Any last words?

No. No last words just yet. 🙂

Where can readers find you on the web?

My blog is http://www.kathrynsheridankupanoff.com

The problem with cranky computers and other status updates

I just sent my chapter buddy, EJ, another chapter of my work in progress, and now get to complain about the difficulty of cutting and pasting from google documents into my word processing software so I could send just the one chapter.

As I read a comment from one of my email buddies about cranky computers, it occurred to me that the reason, or one of them at any rate , is that these interfaces are designed by software engineers. Software engineers, for the most part, just want to get on with implementing the blankety-blank software. Ask them to design an interface and they’ll throw something together just to get you off their backs.

At the moment I’m ready to complain about cranky google documents, which seems to be paging down too far if I click on the bar on the left. Oy!

Of course, I could always download my stuff into open office, work on it, and then upload..

I probably do this about once a week, but since I’m fourteen chapters into my book, and have about 30,000 words, paging down is getting to be annoying, so I may be doing more of this.

The good news is that the writing itself is progressing, at the moment, nicely.

PS: I apologize to anyone (like EJ) who had to wait to see their comment appear. Apparently my spam filter has gotten a bit overenthusiastic. Since I am fortunately extremely paranoid about such things, I did manage to rescue them when I went through my supposedly spam comments today.