NeoLeaf: First of all, tell us about all the different things you do on top of your writing
Ben: Oh my! Beyond writing, I have a large variety of interests. I read of course, fiction mostly and generally science fiction, fantasy or horror themed. I design t-shirts, one of which Neil Gaiman has. I am also an art photographer, photo manipulator, and occasionally a digital illustrator. I usually do the makeup for my models, with it ranging from basic foundations to makeups that are more extreme. I run a networking website called Immortal Modeling that is for nontraditional models, photographers and makeup artists. Once in a while I do special effects makeup. For example, I once created a mold of my wife’s arm and painted the positive from the mold before mailing it off to Neil Gaiman, where it currently resides in his yard. Hmmm. Is that everything? I travel to Savannah, Georgia two to three times a year to spend time with friends and take in the energy of the place. Oh, and I also go an hour south of Savannah to a small town called Darien, where I canoe six miles upriver into the swamps with naught but a rifle, some fishing gear, a few gallons of clean water and my cell phone. I stay there for anywhere between a couple of days up to and beyond a week. I fish and I hunt in Iowa, and I go on fishing trips with friends to northern Ontario every few years. Is that all? Lol. Possibly, but regardless, it is already extensive.
NeoLeaf: Really cool! Out of everything you do, which is your favorite?
Ben: Other than being in Savannah, Georgia, probably the photo manipulation. I love modifying my photographs to create strange, twisted and unique images.
NeoLeaf: So, what got you started on writing?
Ben: Both of my parents like to write and so I guess it's in my blood? I've been writing for as long as I can remember. And I enjoy trying to create that magic in others that I feel when I read a story.
NeoLeaf: What process did you go through to get out your book?
Ben: I am terrible about rushing to get a project out, and this was no different. Properly putting a book out takes patience. After editing by Cassandra DenHartog, I went over it quickly a few more times, while also creating the cover. Then it was all about formatting for createspace.com, loading the cover and the formatted manuscript there with an ISBN and all the proper options chosen. I ordered a printed proof and had to wait for it! It was agony with my impatience. To help keep my mind off my rush for actual publication, I started going onto my social media pages to get the word out that the book was going to be coming out. I received the proof and went through it as carefully as my impatience would allow. I kept posting with updates on the anticipated release date and the cover image. Then I told createspace.com to push it on out to Amazon and once it was there I posted on all social media again with the Amazon link! The most difficult part, which took me months to figure out, was how to get images associated with the stories to stay centered when merging for Kindle. As a note, I use Open Office when not using Google Docs. It turned out that I needed to do some special formatting of the image associated with the paragraph. No text was involved as the image was a paragraph in and of itself. I centered that paragraph, and I finally had it out on Kindle and immediately posted to social media about the Kindle release with the link. It’s never over though as I still want to market it regularly through social media, by attending author signing events, doing interviews and trying to get positive reviews.
NeoLeaf: What's been your best tool for marketing your book? Do you think it's the networking or the reviews that have helped you the most?
Ben: I’m actually still working on this and learning. Currently I do most of my marketing through social media posts, networking connection posts and events. I have very few reviews so far, though I would like to have more and see how they affect interest in my work.
NeoLeaf: What would be your best advice to authors out there?
Ben: Never give up. It’s not an easy path, but with time and effort it is worth it. Always learn and evolve. Read books. Study their structure. Study a thesaurus. I am big on thesauruses. Not only does it expand a vocabulary and understanding of words, but it can help find alternate words in your writing that flow better than the word you were thinking. I use online dictionaries and thesauruses for easy access, but I also have copies of Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus and Roget’s International Thesaurus 7th Edition.
It’s amazing to see all the different talents that authors have and use. It can be certain that it takes an artistic brain to create a work of fiction. Just for fun, here’s pictures on the arm he created.
To learn more check out Ben Clayton's Art, Writing and Musings and LnC Art Studios
NeoLeaf: Tell us about yourself.
Ashley: I just published my first novel The Wish. I live with my two cats Spook and Batman. I started by writing lyrics and poems. In 2010 I joined the Marion County Writers Workshop. After that I placed top 10 in The Write Place book contest. When I’m not writing, I like to read, watch TV, and spend time with my cats.
NeoLeaf: Very interesting. So what inspired you to start writing?
Ashley: I get inspired to write from the world around me. The things I hear, the things I see, feel and taste. The movies I see, books I read. I get inspired by my own stuff that I write. I could be walking down the sidewalk and feeling the nice cool breeze and smelling the dirt and pine and all of a sudden, an idea will pop up in my head. It comes all natural to me. Doesn't matter where I'm at. I get inspired all the time.
NeoLeaf: That sounds beautiful. What did your friends and family think when you first wanted to be a writer?
Ashley: I didn't really tell them at first because it was all new to me and I was still learning about the writing process. In time I would tell them I wrote a short story, or I wrote a poem. And they were like that's awesome. Keep up the good work. And then as I got older they all realized it was something I wanted to do because I wouldn't shut up about it and they supported me and didn't let me down.
NeoLeaf: How hard was it for you to write your first novel?
Ashley: The first novel that I ever wrote was a 17-year-old girl that got bitten by a vampire and she changes into one every night. It was really hard for me to write because I knew nothing about vampires and how they lived. And my main characters name was Bella and that's when I found out about Twilight and the name character in that book was Bella. And I was like I can't publish this. So, I stopped working on it and haven't worked on it ever since. I hope to someday and get back to it. I'm not sure when.
NeoLeaf: What was your biggest struggle in writing your new book, The Wish?
Ashley: Understanding who Inga was. She is a witch from 1692. And she was from the Salem Massachusetts and she was going to get hung. I didn't know Inga full story and I struggled with her character more than any other character in the book. And the other thing that I struggled with was trying to get it published a couple years ago. Any writer out there that wants to see their book on the shelf will do whatever they can to get it out there. I sent out query letters to agents, editors and book publishers and they all rejected me and I was sad and upset. It took me so long to write this book and they don't like it. Then years later I found out about Direct Amazon and I found an amazing editor Leanore Elliott, who took her time and poured her heart and soul into my book and made it the best she could. And I was very thankful for her work and time.
NeoLeaf: Were you ever discouraged and thought about not being a writer during this?
Ashley: During the time when I was writing the novel there would be times where I wanted to hurry up and get it done. And other times I felt like it wasn't good enough. All writers feel that way when they are writing something. It took me 9 full long years to write the wish and I am so thankful that it's finally done and out there for people to read and enjoy.
NeoLeaf: What advice would you give other authors trying to get their first book published?
Ashley: First of all, make sure your book is complete. Do not send it out not finished. Editors and agents don't want to see that. They want to read the first chapter and be wowed and amazed. And you have to do a lot of research on the genre you are writing. Read books that you love. Go to your library and check out books that inspire you to write. It will help you write.
Ashley: I also get inspired by black cats. A lot of people think black cats are bad luck and I don't believe that for a second. I have two black cats at home and they don't give me bad luck. I mean I published a book for heaven sacks. How awesome is that? I love black cats from the bottom of my heart. Each day when I come home to my cats I'm thankful that I have them.
Everyone at NeoLeaf wishes Ashley the best luck on her journey. We all know it’s a long hard road, but nothing is more rewarding than holding your first book. If you’d like to know more about Ashley Lovell or read her book you can find her on her Facebook fan page Ashley Lovell Author or on twitter @ashleyovell5. You can see updates and new on her new projects on her blog https://ashleylovell5.wordpress.com
NeoLeaf Press: You are currently re-releasing one of your books. What made you decide to do this?
Cassandra: Well, the easy answer is errors. Learning how to publish is a hard process. I thought if I hired a good editor that would be enough to get it ready to publish. For people who don’t know, I am now the Marketing and Author Relations Manager for NeoLeaf Press. I brought my books to NeoLeaf because there was too much I couldn’t do alone. I still had to go through the vetting process and be accepted. The best part is after getting accepted, I got a whole new round of editing. OHHH MY, the errors.
NeoLeaf Press: Do you believe there is a way around this to get your book prepared for submission?
Cassandra: Maybe. If you hire an editor, it’s hard to know what quality of work they do. Get reviews, recommendations, and even examples if you can. Also, don’t go for the most expensive you find. I feel it’s almost better to get multiple cheaper ones so that you get more eyes on your piece.
NeoLeaf Press: Did you get beta readers before you decided to publish?
Cassandra: Yes, but not enough. I feel a lot of problems could have been fixed by having more initial eyes on it. I’d say get at least five. Make sure they are from different backgrounds.
NeoLeaf Press: What is your best advice for new authors?
Cassandra: Don’t give up. Practice daily. Get out there and join groups. It’s going to suck for a while and so will your writing until you get better. Learn everything you can about writing. And biggest of all, DON’T edit your own work.
NeoLeaf: What first got you started writing?
Soleil Daniels: Well, it wasn't always something I thought I could do. I dabbled with poetry as far back as I can remember, and I still do on occasion. I've had to count on my imagination a lot in life, but I never fell into writing, beyond poetry, until 2009. I'd had ideas for books and stories before then. It's just creatives (people in the arts) weren't exactly known to me, and I moved through life doing what I thought was expected. People had to work to survive and keep a roof over their heads. College wasn't an option because there was no money for it. And I wasn't particularly encouraged to do much of anything by any adult figure in my life, so I followed the motions, which didn't exactly work out for me. In a couple years time, after years of doing everything I thought was expected of me for everyone else, I lost my job, my car, and my partner lost the fight to keep the house he'd inherited. There I was, pretty much everything I'd ever earned—and more beyond that—was gone, even though I'd followed the rules, and that's when it dawned on me: If I was doing everything by everyone else's rules and still lost everything I'd ever worked for, I might as well do what I wanted to do. Or at least try and aim to do it.
I'll be completely honest and say, I didn't always think I could do it after I started writing. I almost gave up more times than I can count, and I still have days that I doubt myself. But I love writing, and I know I made the right choice. Just wish I chose to do it sooner.
NeoLeaf: Would you say these events have influenced how and what you write?
Soleil Daniels: Hmm, I've never really thought about it. Probably. My writing leans toward the darker aspects of life—whether it be vampires, ghouls, psychopathic serial killers, or just normal people—so thinking about it, I may focus on the bad situations I've been through to bring to life the darkness in my tales. I know that I do use past events and knowledge to my advantage, twisting them into something outrageous yet believable. So, I'm sure those events have influenced what and how I write.
NeoLeaf: Your book, HALFBORN, just won the NeoLeaf Press cover contest. What inspired you to write this book?
Soleil Daniels: I've always had a love for vampires, for as long as I can remember. That love—passion—for the bloodlust-driven, supernatural beings is the overall inspiration for HALFBORN. Books, shows, and movies that helped with that inspiration are aplenty—The Shadow Saga by Christoper Golden, The Anita Blake Series by Laurell K Hamilton, To Die For (a movie from 1989), Forever Knight (TV series in the early to mid-90s), Immortality (a Jude Law movie from 1998), True Blood/The Sookie Stackhouse Series (or The Southern Vampire Mysteries) both book and TV series, obvious ones like Dracula and Interview with the Vampire, etc. There are too many to list them all, but those listed have all played a big part in inspiring the making of HALFBORN and the world in which the story/series takes place.
NeoLeaf: Your story really pushes readers to an emotional edge. Did you ever have trouble trying to write some of the scenes?
Soleil Daniels: I had to think hard on this one because from the time I first put pen to paper until completion, writing HALFBORN took eight years, give or take, to write. I had a lot of stuff going on in those years, so trying to pinpoint if it was the scenes themselves giving me trouble or my life situation, well, that's difficult. I can't remember having trouble writing any of the scenes because of the emotion involved, though; I could be wrong. There was certainly a scene or two that brought tears with it, but nothing stopped me in my tracks or waivered my flow because of it that I can recall. I can't say that with one of the books I'm currently working on now, which is not related to HALFBORN.
NeoLeaf: What other books do have planned?
Soleil Daniels: For the Halfborn Series, up next is Wraith, which I plan to have out by Halloween this year. Then books three (Abominate) and four (Inborn), but I don't have planned release dates for those two, yet. I also have a prequel/spin-off trilogy in the works, the first of which is titled 'Becoming'.
While most of my stuff contains aspects of Horror and/or Dark Fantasy, I do have a near-completed, standalone, Romance novel that I hope to have out sometime within the next year titled 'Impractical Encounter'. It deals with some pretty heavy-hitting stuff, including cancer and homophobia, and has a strong seize the moment vibe.
NeoLeaf: Knowing what you do now, what advice would you give other authors?
Soleil Daniels: Hmm, advice? So, there are always going to be people trying to keep you away from your goal. Sometimes it's family. Sometimes a 'friend'. There are strangers out there who may even try to stop your progress. And, sometimes, even yourself—self-doubt is a horribly crippling thing. No matter who it is or what they say and/or do, do your best to push through it. Take a break if you need to, but don't ever quit. Find a support system. Keep in mind that if you rely on other writers as your main support that it isn't always about you. Be sure to support them just as much as they support you, and no, that doesn't mean you have to buy their works (though, that's an awesome thing to do if you can, and don't forget to review if you enjoy their books). Build each other up, encourage one another. Having someone in your corner can be what gets you through the toughest of times. Doing it alone, while possible, is so much harder. But most importantly, never stop believing in yourself and your stories.
If you want to learn more about Soleil Daniels or find her book you can check out the links below-
Facebook Author Page https://www.facebook.com/SoleilDanielsAuthor/
Amazon Author Page (universal link) author.to/SoleilDanielsbooks
Halfborn (universal Amazon link) mybook.to/Halfborn
NeoLeaf Press: What inspired you to start writing?
Stephen: Reading. As a child, I enjoyed reading books like The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown mysteries. I also read horror and soon started collecting books. Somewhere along the way I thought that I could write mysteries. So I started with short stories. I created a character called Sam P. Peterson, who was a police officer in the Quad Cities. A couple really easy to figure out mysteries. I don't know what happened to those stories.
During college, I was required to start a journal for a writing class and just kept going with it after college. I haven't written in the journal for a long time but have transitioned into weekly blogs at stephenbrayton.wordpress.com.
After college, a friend and I tried to start a comic book. I would write it and he would illustrate it. I finished my part, but he never managed to get past page 1. I tried again a few years later with him and a group, but it fell apart before anybody finished anything.
I tried writing a fantasy mystery type story using myself and my high schools in fictional roles. I'd still like to get back to those. I finished one, and started a second, but moved onto other things.
When I moved to Oskaloosa, I started martial arts and in the mid 90s, the writing bug hit again and I thought I'd take that Sam Peterson character, change the gender and spelling of the last name and make her a martial artist who solved mysteries in Des Moines.
And it's continued ever since with a couple novels and shorts stories.
NeoLeaf Press: This story really plays on ‘write what you know’. What processes do you go through in researching things for you character?
Stephen: Research for my character. It’s not difficult. My main character is Mallory Petersen and she’s me. Well, except she’s female, a lot better looking than I am, and a lot better martial artist. But she has a lot of me in her.
She doesn’t like coffee but likes Dr Pepper.
She drives a 1971 Dodge Dart Swinger, which my parents used to own.
She grew up in the same small town as I did and graduated from my college alma mater.
She likes the color purple. (Not the movie, the actual color).
She enjoys a lot of the same food as I eat.
For other characters, I do a little bit of a character profile and many are based on other people or an amalgam of other people. For instance, Mallory’s boyfriend is how I would want to look to be attractive to Mallory (except I still want to be blond, whereas Lawrence Cameron has brown hair). He has the last name of one of my high school classmates and has two sisters - my classmate’s name and her sister’s name.
Other characters I base on people I see in my travels and everyday life. If someone is rude or acts goofy or unusual, that person may end up in a story.
Mallory’s office manager, Darren, is enigmatic. I have kept him a mystery to readers… and to Mallory. This includes going so far as to not give him a last name. He has one, but Mallory can’t remember how to pronounce or spell it. He seems to know what Mallory is doing or where she is in various scenes. But, he’s caring and respectful toward his employer.
One of the interesting things I’ve tried to incorporate more into characters are the distinguishing traits. Certain phrases, or quirks, or eccentricities can make the characters stand out and not be dull.
NeoLeaf Press: What's been your biggest hurdle in getting published?
Stephen: Publishers. Lol. Okay that is the short answer. I'll give you a longer one. Publishers and agents. It may sound obvious and simple because when people discovered that they could put out books on their own, and that there was one place that would accept them-Amazon-then who needs publishers and agents anymore. There shouldn't be any obstacles to publishing. Write something, do a bit of formatting, slap a cover on it, upload and there you go. You are published.
The problem with that is because the self-publishing route was so easy, the book readers were shown a lot of crap. I'm not putting down self-published authors or self-publishing. The DIY method is an option that many people take, and there's nothing wrong with it in and of itself. There are also some very good self-published books. In fact, Writers Digest Magazine is now giving annual awards to SP books. So, don't think that I'm putting it down. I'm saying there is a lot of garbage out there that, frankly, really shouldn't be. The problem with the garbage is that it tends to lower the quality of those who can put out good stuff, or rather it lowers the assumption in people's minds about books they buy. Sure, there has always been a "buyer beware" in any purchase. I've made some purchases which I've later regretted. The problem is, buyers have to do extra work to see if what they're looking at is really worth the price being asked.
From the publisher/agent side, the indie market has also been mined. No longer do authors have to rely on the mysterious Big 6 and send their stuff to anonymous people in New York. They can go the indie route, smaller presses, but knowing that there are smaller budgets, almost no promotional or marketing from these companies. And even the big guys aren't doing the same marketing plans they did twenty to thirty years ago because the world has changed.
However, I'm a believer in indie/traditional publishing. While I don't put down self-publishing, I have never felt it was for me. Maybe I felt legitimized by a real publisher who accepted my work.
Which, I've been published by two companies. Unfortunately, one went under due to the publisher's health and the second one is going the same way.
I've been rejected scores of times. The frustrating part of it is that even in the small or medium publishers, I don't know who's making the decisions or who's even reading the submissions. I read the guidelines, I read the agents' bios and what they're looking for and I choose the best ones. When I get rejected, I'm disappointed because I really want to ask, "Well, what are you looking for?" Many agents say they're looking for 'a strong voice' or something equally as vague. They want something unique, but then turn around and ask what titles my book would be next to on the shelves.
It was tough before to get published and I think it's even tougher in today's world.
NeoLeaf Press: What is your best advice for new authors?
Stephen: Don't quit your day job. Unless you are one of the lucky few who can pop out of nowhere, scribble down some words, and are accepted by the first agent/publisher you submit to (and by the way, I want to walk out of the room in disgust when I hear about those people because I am so envious), then you will work hard. You will sweat and cry and be frustrated, exasperated, and may come to despise the book you're writing or the craft or the critiques. You will feel like your entire effort has been wasted because there will be problems along the way. There will be people who do not like the book and people who will love the book. Don't trust either party. Seriously. Those who really don't like the book probably won't be helpful, because they will always be looking for the next thing to dislike. Don't believe those who really love the book... unless they are honest enough to support you and provide positive and helpful feedback on the problems in your book.
Seek out those people who will tell you that you are moving in the right direction and to keep going. Find a critique group with intelligent people who will be honest enough to say, "This part doesn't work for me." Then listen to them. Yes, it's your baby, your darling, but children have to grow and mature and you have to be the parent who will guide them with the advice of others. Don't automatically be defensive with critiques. The best advice that I learned about critique groups is when you are done reading, shut up and do not say anything else (except thank you at the end) unless directly asked a question. Write notes on what others say that you can refer to later during the inevitable re-writes. If you have to defend your piece, then you aren't listening. If you have to explain to people what you meant to say or what you think the meaning of the scene was, then you didn't do that in the writing.
Attend enough meetings and you will learn who to seek out for critique. Be aware, that if one person says something doesn't work, that's fine. You can accept or ignore it. If three or more people have the same problem, you probably should take note that it's really not working, and you need to address that at a later time... not immediately afterward.
Critique groups are for new writers and those who've had multiple books published because everyone can learn something.
However, with all I've discussed, the best advice I can give is: Have fun. If it ain't fun, you're not doing it right. You won't be satisfied or happy and that will show in your writing.
Disclaimer: We here at NeoLeaf were both disheartened and sympathetic to hear, during the process of producing this interview, of the difficulties Stephen’s second publisher is facing. Being familiar with Stephen’s work, we at NeoLeaf decided to ask Stephen to consider us as replacement for his current publisher, as they wind down operations. He agreed, and has signed with NeoLeaf Press, making him our first independent author. Welcome, Stephen!