Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nann Dunne: A "Door Shaker" Indeed! ;-)

Howdy folks! I have an ongoing series of my interviews with other authors (to see them, go here or click on the "My Interviews With Other Authors" tab at the top). I'm lucky to have landed an interview with Nann Dunne. She's a woman who has accomplished a trifecta: novels, short stories and nonfiction. I knew immediately, especially since one of her books is titled "Dunne with Editing," that I had the chance to make a possibly great word pun for the interview title. I tossed around ideas (she's dunne a lot, she's dunne great, etc.), but you know what? In this case, I think a pun on her name would be a disservice (although Nann and I did discuss some really great--meaning cringe-worthy--elephant jokes). Let's get right to the interview before I feel the urge to whip out some of these jokes.  ;-) And you'll figure out the meaning behind the title I did choose.

(My comments below are in bold; Nann's are in plain text. All pictures courtesy of Nann.)


Tell us a little about yourself. (And about the "us," I'm only one person, although the voices in my head say otherwise! But the "us" is me, the readers, the space aliens, the stink bugs, all these fun critters.)
Because of Just About Write, a writing ezine that I published online for eight years, a lot of people already know me, but I’ll toss the info out there again for the aliens. Forget about the stink bugs – kill them all! (Said in my best Xena impersonation.) Weren’t they awful this year? UGH!

I started writing in the late 90s in the Xenaverse and graduated from there to an honest-to-goodness publisher. I’ve been writing pretty regularly ever since. I currently have six fiction books published and several short stories in anthologies and one nonfiction book, Dunne With Editing, A Last Look At Your Manuscript. I self-published the editing book and my newest book (currently available only as an ebook) called Door Shaker And Other Stories, a collection of my short stories.

I also work regularly as an editor for Blue Feather Books and occasionally for Regal Crest Enterprises. I was an editor in the business world, and altogether, I’ve been an editor for more than thirty years. I learned that business editing was a LOT different from fiction editing. After my first three books were published, I decided I wanted my books to be as polished as I could make them. So I delayed my writing for three years and studied fiction editing. I devoured everything online I could find that I considered useful. Since then, I’ve edited for several different publishers and also have done some freelance editing. 

I have to say that the little author in my head went SQUEE! when she heard that you do short stories. I adore short stories. Here's a blog entry I did on them. So, anyway, tell us about this new collection you have coming up. I notice the word "lesbian" isn't in the title, so is this a gen fic work, so to speak?
Putting “lesbian” in the title never occurred to me. Do any books do that?  But there aren’t any terribly explicit sex scenes in the stories, so I think anyone can enjoy them unless they’re prejudiced against lesbians. The people in the stories are as normal as the rest of society, so maybe a few people might be won over. Just don’t hold your breath. <g>
The collection is already available on Amazon as an ebook. I signed the 90-day exclusion plan with Amazon, so I have to wait three months before I can sell it anywhere else or have a print book done. Not the best situation, but when a gorilla tells you how to feed him, you don’t argue.

The collection offers six short stories, all by me. Two were printed previously in anthologies, but this is the first publishing of the others. All the stories except one feature a girl-to-girl first meeting, and I try to squeeze a little humor into each one.

I put the word "lesbian" in my two lesbian short-story collections ("The Old Woman and Other Lesbian Stories" and "Cupid Pulls a Prank and Other Lesbian Tales"). I figured that'd help the target audience find the collections. Now, my gen fic collection ("Miss Lucy Parker and Other Short Stories") obviously doesn't have the word "lesbian" in the title! ;-) So, anyway, do you have a favorite in that collection, Nann? Any one story you're particularly proud of? How did you decide which order to put the stories in?
One of the reasons I studied fiction editing for so long was so I could be proud of any work I put before the reading public. I decided if I didn’t feel proud of a story (or book), I wouldn’t publish it—or write it, for that matter. When I was putting the stories in order for the book, I figured I would put my favorite story third or fourth, my next favorite as the first story, and my third favorite last. Each of my stories shows a varying aspect of life: loneliness in two different age groups; the fruits of compassion; reconciliation; unexpected love; salvation of endangered lesbians. After two days of consideration, I couldn’t decide which I liked best or even which I liked least. So I put the title story last and put the others in willy-nilly order.

I hear you. Deciding on order IS difficult! Your answer above is one of the reasons I love doing these interviews—finding out methods authors use that are vastly different from mine. I try not to let favorites (of mine) factor into short-story order. I ask opinions from people who have read the stories and use their answers plus my own input to decide the order in which the stories are “strong.” The strongest story is the lead. The second-strongest may go second or last, depending. The order from there may vary depending on other factors, but I tend to write shorts both in third person and first person points of view. So I also like to alternate 3p/1p (or 1p/3p) whenever possible.

Anyway, enough about order! What do you like (and dislike) about writing short stories? And let's not pick on just shorts. What do you like and dislike about writing novels?
I prefer writing novels. The challenge of coming up with a story that can stretch the length of a book intrigues me. And I have to admit, I relish the god-like aspects of creating fascinating people and being able to steer them through the ups and downs that happen. I dislike that it takes so much time to finish the story into a publishable manuscript!

I’ve written my short stories in the moments during writing a novel when things need to percolate for awhile or when I’m between novels. I like that you can knock one out in a day or two or three. The fastest one I did was an overnighter that took about eight hours to write and edit. I don’t like having to leave the characters I’ve brought to life. Sometimes, I wish I had saved them for a novel. I might find a spot for one or two of them yet.

I hope you find a place in a novel for these special characters! :) I know what you mean. I am in the same boat. You're right that writing short stories does provide a nice break and a nice variety between writing novels. That is what I do sometimes as well.

Do you ever get an attitude of "short stories don't really count" from people? One of my friends said recently that she wants to try writing but would start with a novel (I had suggested she start with a short story). She said that she doesn't feel short stories really count. I wonder if high school teachers used more short stories if that would change attitudes some. But anyway, I'm trying not to get off track here! If you get these attitudes, how do you address the issue?
I’ve had no personal experience with that. I do know that a few years back (before Amazon, et al.), when magazines stopped offering short stories, or went out of business altogether, selling short stories was a tough task and writing them lost a lot of its luster.

Now I tell people that short stories have undergone a resurgence. Authors are selling them as stand-alones on Amazon for the Kindle, and some say they’re doing well with that. Some novel writers are writing short stories to sell at reduced prices or give away in hopes that people will like their writing and buy their novels. I’m not sure whether that would work in the lesbian genre, but I’m giving it some thought.

I agree with this 100 percent. It's great that short stories are coming back! Two of my collections are among my consistent top sellers. Anyway, get ready for a nerdy-author question! Some readers (authors, too) have wildly varying word count/length expectations for short stories. For example, I recently released a fairy tale novella that is 23,000 words. Some readers are calling it a short story! :-)  In my head, short stories are 10,000 words and less (the ones in my three collections range from about 1,000 words to 5,000 words--the collections as wholes are from 17,000 words to 21,000). What do you think is the highest a story can go in terms of word count and still be a short story? I've noticed a new term, "novelette," popping up for these stories between 10,000 words to 20,000 words.
This question has been bandied up, down, and around the writing universe, especially since the popularity of ebooks, and not everyone agrees. Not even all publishers agree. I think, as you do, that short stories are under 10,000 words. Mine tend to be around 5,000 words. I don’t see any difference between novellas and novelettes (both words mean “little novels” and it disturbs me that WRITERS don’t realize that).

I think novels are 60,000 words or more, and I’d get plenty of argument about that. I DO expect a lot more plot development and character development to happen in a novel than happens in a novella or short story. Again, that’s what I think, but no one put me in charge of the writing world this week, so I guess it will have to remain a matter of opinion. 

I think a novel can be 50,000 words or more, but I am biased because a few of my novels are about 55,000 words. ;-) One thing I like about the advent of e-books is that a story can be told in the exact word count it needs to be told. Only 45,000 words? No problem. No need to add an unnecessary subplot. That word count will be just fine. Have a novella of 23,000 words? No problem either! You don't need to wait to write two more novellas before publishing the first one.
Some shorter forms of stories I've read have been absolute gems. I've read others that I felt suffered from lack of plot or character development or from trying to squeeze too much action into too small a vessel. In my opinion, if a story seems crammed with characters or action, it should be developed into a longer story. I dislike reading a story that I felt was too truncated. I ask myself, "Why didn't the author take the time to do this story justice?"

We've talked a little previously on our writing processes and how they're similar. So, what's your writing process? Is it different for short stories and novels? How about for your non-fiction work?
First off, I’m not an outliner. For both novels and short stories, I get a vague idea for a story and a setting, and I hunt through my mind for a main character. Sometimes it works the other way around: a character leaps into my mind and pesters me until I find a setting for her. Next, I make notes of what incidents I want to happen in the story. Then I start writing. I sometimes decide on subplots when I make the notes; other times, I decide on them as I write. While I’m writing, I ask myself what conflicts can happen to broaden the plot and/or grow the main character. What can happen here to make the story more exciting? I constantly ask, “What if?”

When I sit down to write, I reread enough of the story to get “back into it.” During that reread, I edit and revise where necessary. I also edit and revise as I write. While doing this, I take care to add tastes, sights, touches, smells, and sounds wherever I can to fill out the story and bring the reader closer into it. About halfway through the story, the ending comes to me. After that, I aim the rest of the story toward that ending and wrap up all the loose ends. By the time I’ve finished my story—always editing and revising as I go—the story is close to being ready to publish. I have several friends, who are also editors, who beta read for me and help me finalize the manuscript.

My newest book, Door Shaker And Other Stories, is a collection of my short stories. It was already written, so I chose the order for the stories, formatted it, put a cover together, and self-published it.

I’ve written only one nonfiction book, Dunne With Editing: A Last Look At Your Manuscript, and I handled it entirely differently. The book advises authors to check to make sure their stories are as polished as possible before they submit them anywhere. The way my book is structured called for using an outline. I made a list of all the points I felt needed to be addressed. I explained each point in depth and gave examples to illustrate my meaning. I put all those points in the book, formatted it, made a cover for it, and self-published it.    

You do your fair share of editing. I'm curious: what are the most common mistakes you see?
I don’t get to see the worst mistakes, for instance weak stories or poor structure. Those manuscripts are discarded in the prepublication process before I see them. Of the wide variety of possible mistakes, I see the following most often:

1.    Too many participial phrases. This is laughingly called “ing disease.” New writers often make this mistake. These phrases weaken the writing, and should be held to two or three per page. More than that tend to “clang” in the reader’s mind and make the writing seem to be tumbling along.

2.    Too many POV changes in one scene. Another mistake of new writers. Try to keep to one POV per scene. If the author must change to another POV within one scene, leave an empty space to warn the reader.

3.    Weak beginnings. Potential readers often pick up a book and read the first two or three paragraphs. Authors should make an effort to immediately raise questions in the readers' minds, pique their curiosity, give them a reason to want to keep reading. Openings should be revised or rewritten to achieve this.

4.    Info dumps. Many authors fall into the trap of trying to give the reader too much information at one time, for instance giving a character’s whole back story or describing every detail of a setting. Information should be spread out over the story, not “dumped” on the reader all at once.

5.    Not enough conflict/angst. Don’t make everything too perfect. Conflict and angst will make readers want to see what happens next and drive them to turn the page. Writers should use this knowledge to their advantage.

6.    Using “then” too often. Writers should use “and” most of the time. Readers understand when clauses or phrases are sequential; they don’t need to be beaten over the head with it.

How has your experience in self-publishing been?

I’ve really enjoyed it. I like being in control of the whole publishing process. I have several advantages over many authors: 1) I’ve been an editor for many years, so my work is well edited. I think that’s an important point. If you expect to put more than one book out there, you better make sure your book is well edited. If not, readers aren’t likely to buy any more. 2) I’ve worked with graphics programs for many years, so I’m able to make my own covers. 3) I learned how to format books.

Without those three advantages, making money with self-publishing could be difficult. I firmly believe, if you can’t do your own editing and formatting, make your own covers, or afford to hire someone to do them for you, you’re better off to go with standard publishers. They’ll polish your writing, format the book, and provide a cover for you at no charge. Regardless of which way you go, be prepared to do your own book promotion! 

I also like that self-published work can be available forever, which gives an author a chance to build up a fan base.

You have book three in a series coming out soon, right? What is that about?
This is a historical romance/adventure series: In book one, The War Between the Hearts, Sarah-Bren Coulter—a woman disguised as a soldier—is healed by Faith Pruitt in the midst of the American Civil War. They’re separated by betrayal and accidentally reunited after the war ends. In book two, The Clash Between the Minds, endangerment from the Ku Klux Klan of that period leads Faith to question the wisdom of her and Sarah’s commitment to each other and includes all the angst that uncertainty causes in both women. In book three, currently being written, called The Peace Between the Souls, Sarah-Bren and Faith have to work through a number of expected and unexpected difficulties in an attempt to settle major problems that have beleaguered them and their extended family for years.

I might keep this series going, though I haven’t decided that for certain yet. I have a couple of other stories banging on the inside of my skull that are begging to be written.

Do you have any advice for new writers?
Learn as much about fiction writing as you can, either before or after you write your book. Discover the difference between being an outliner and being a pantser, and don’t be intimidated by either group—follow whichever method works best for you, as long as you keep to the basic story structure. (You can learn about story structure online for free.) Get knowledgeable people to read your story who are willing to tell you the truth even if it hurts. You can learn a lot from negative criticism that is honestly given.

Like any other skill, writing improves with the old advice—practice, practice, practice, and in the case of stories, revise, revise, revise. Don’t be in a rush. Take the time to polish your story until it shines as bright as it can. When you can’t think of one more way to improve it, put on your body armor and submit it to a publisher (or self-publish it). If it’s rejected, take to heart any suggestions you might be given in the rejection letter. Revise some more and resubmit. Authors with thick skin and determination learn to improve their craft. The faint-hearted wilt by the wayside. 

That’s great advice, Nann. I hope people take it. I can’t count how many times new authors have come to me for advice, decide it is too much work or that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and don’t follow through (here’s an advice post of mine that I hope comes off as more funny than negative).

I’d love to keep this going (goodness knows I have a fountain of questions gushing out of my hands), but I know you’re busy so I’ll let ya go now. But come back anytime! I have plenty more noodle-pickin’ questions for a second round if/when you’re up to it. Thanks for giving me this chance to get to know you better, and I am sure the readers, stink bugs and space aliens appreciate it too!
Q. Kelly, thanks for the interview! Getting my brain organized enough to answer these questions was fun, even helpful. I hope my answers give some fun and help to your readers.


For fiction:

For nonfiction:

For her blog: 


Anonymous said...

Fabulous! I love Nann. And what a great interview.

Lori L. Lake said...

You and me both, Layce! My favorite line in Nann's interview was this:

"Again, that’s what I think, but no one put me in charge of the writing world this week, so I guess it will have to remain a matter of opinion."

She cracks me up!
;-) Lori

Anonymous said...

Thank you both! My mama said you can avoid arguments by including "in my opinion" in your wording - since everyone's entitled to one. :)

Kissa Starling said...

I love Nann and have a signed copy of her Dunne with editing book. I am excited to read that she has a short story collection out!

Q. Kelly said...

My mom thinks that pairing "bless her heart" with a criticism means the criticism is OK and you can't really argue with it as long as "bless her heart" is there. Yes, we're southern! :)