Ask Me Anything: Esther

Using my Ask Me Anything page, Esther wrote:

I notice that you will be teaching Creative Writing Course (6/12-16) at UGA this summer. My daughter (13 yrs old) is an avid reader (especially mythology and science fiction) and burgeoning writer. She wants more writing opportunity this summer so your course may be a wonderful fit. Could you tell me a little bit more about the course in terms of instruction time (time duration, morning, afternoon?), any homework/writing assignment of the course, and anything else that may be relevant? Thank You

Thanks for your interest Esther! The UGA Creative Writing Courses are one of the highlights of my year. I love teaching creative writing. You can learn more about the program in general here. There’s a residential program, where the students attend classes, enjoy activities around campus, and stay overnight in the dorms, there’s an extended day program, where the students come in the morning, go to my class, and then participate in different activities around UGA’s campus before going home, and there’s a class only option, where the students are dropped off before class and picked up after.

No matter which option you choose, the class is the heart of the program. Students spend all day working with myself and another very talented author, Elizabeth Sadler, to hone their craft. There are several creative writing camp options, but the one offered the week you specified is our introductory class, plot and structure. I teach the content of this class to adults and students alike, and my adult writers are always blown away by how incredibly helpful it is. That’s not to toot my own horn, it’s very much the techniques themselves, because I had the exact same experience when I learned them. Completely focused and enhanced my writing.

Here’s the camp description:

Have you ever wanted to write a story or novel but had no idea where to begin? Using the Snowflake Method and applying the 3-Act Structure, we will transform our ideas into finished, publishable work! Join us for a week of creative writing as we hone our craft as writers through lessons on refining ideas, creating a scene and setting, writing dialogue, describing actions, and creating cohesive texts. We will combine hands-on activities to develop details, workshops with fellow writers, and time to write every day! By week’s end, you will have everything you need to take your story from idea to finished product!

I’ve written several blogs on the snowflake method if you wanted to preview what we’ll be learning. I really wish I’d had a camp like this when I was thirteen. I’d have far fewer trunk novels.

We also collect feedback at the end of every day to see what specific questions students have for their projects, and we adjust the next day’s lessons to make sure we cover that. So if a student wants to focus more on, say, dialogue, we would make room for that. The course changes depending on the needs of the students.

I hope that answers your questions. Feel free to send me an email if you’d like to know anything more specific.

Ask me Anything: Persephone Research

Noor sent: I am a master student from Belgium, studying classical languages. For the moment I am writing my master thesis which has as subject the reception of the myth about the rape of Persephone in YA literature. Your book ‘Persephone’ will be one of my case studies to do this research. So I would like to take this opportunity to ask you some questions, and if you could get back at me it would really be wonderful. 

Questions, and my answers embedded below.

-Which ancient versions of the myth did you study?

I looked at everything I could find on and off line. was a valuable resource. I had a decent background with mythology before I began and had read Homer, Hesiod, and Ovid translations through school, but for specific book research, I also  read a great book called Life’s Daughter, Death’s Bride that was very helpful as well as Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths

-Did you look at some commentaries or scientific articles about these ancient texts?

   Absolutely. I can’t recall any further specific sources, but I tracked down everything I could find back in 2009/2010 when I was writing Persephone. 

-Did you draw inspiration from other retellings of the Persephone myth (both older and more recent)? Yes. In my childhood, I’d read an interesting version of a retelling called The Forbidden Games by LJ Smith that absolutely influenced how I saw Hades. I never much cared for any other versions of Persephone I found in popular culture*, because it always felt like her side of the story was missing. I was also a huge fan of the Princesses of Myth series by Esther Freisner, and while she doesn’t have a Persephone myth retelling, her retelling of young Hellen of Troy was absolutely an inspiration. I also read a book called Radiant Darkness closer to writing Persephone that I enjoyed. 

I do have to note that Persephone retellings exploded around the time my story was published, so there are now several wonderful retellings. You can find them on this list here.

-Did you follow any studies in ancient Greek or Roman literature or do you sometimes read these texts of antiquity in their origin languages?

I had to do a translation of an Ovid myth for a Latin class I took once, but it was so long ago, I can’t even remember which myth I was assigned. Otherwise, no.  

-What was your main goal in this rewrite: empowering Persephone, giving her more voice, picturing another image of Hades,…? So in other words, is there a sort of feminist background playing?

In every version of the myth I encountered, Persephone’s perspective was left out. We see her mother’s reaction, Zeus’s reaction, Hades’ motivation. We even get some turmoil from Hermes. But Persephone herself is largely left out of her own origin story. She’s not even given a proper name until she’s abducted. I wanted to know her side of the story. So I rewrote it. But at the same time, I had no interest in writing a Stockholm Romance, so I took some liberties. 

-What is your view on rewrites of classical mythology in general? Should people still read the original stories? Absolutely. Whenever and wherever possible. These stories have resonated with people for centuries. You can’t fully appreciate all the ways the myths echo in all of our stories without having read them. 

I would really be grateful if you could help me with these questions. Thank you in advance.

You’re welcome!

Ask Me Anything: How to Avoid Formulaic Writing

Question mark in a blue bubble. Repeating icon for the frequently asked questions in the Daughters of Zeus series a young adult greek mythology retelling by Kaitlin Bevis

Brad reached out on my Ask me Anything page to say,

“I’m trying to avoid writing the formulaic novel. terrified of it in fact, regardless of how it can put it on the NYT best sellers list. I understand the storygrid, and other methods/tecniques/etc. 
Any suggestions for my nightmare?

That’s a great question, Brad.

My number one suggestion is to write things that fall into the conventions you’re trying to avoid, because the most effective way to break a rule in a way that feels satisfying to the reader is to fully understand the rule you’re breaking. Why does this formula work? What’s satisfying about it? What are its strengths. Approach it at disdain at your peril, because that formula, whatever it may be, has been around longer than you have and will continue to succeed after you’ve gone. Writers write in it unconsciously because as readers they’ve internalized it. Formulas are the fabric of fiction. Save the Cat is a really great introduction to plot structure and mechanics.

Once you know it inside and out, then you can play with it, and that’s when the real fun begins. You know what the reader’s expect, you know how to deliver it, and using the knowledge of both, you can subvert those expectations in a way they never saw coming.

In order to do that, you’re going to first have to define what a formulaic novel is to you. It can mean a few different things to different people. If by formulaic, you mean that it follows a particular plot structure like the three act structure, that’s going to be harder (though not impossible) to avoid.

If you mean that it follows the tenets of a specific genre, spend a lot of time studying the genre in question. Genre is basically just a fancy word that encompasses the reader’s expectations when they pick up a certain type of book. Notable exceptions exist, but if I pick up a mystery, I expect there to be something to solve, clues along the way, and characters attempting to solve those clues. There are certain tropes, characters, key scenes, and tonal expectations that come with that genre. Study those. What elements do you want to remove, what do you want to add, what will you keep? You have to keep something. A mystery without a mystery isn’t a mystery. You’ve already mentioned The Story Grid, an excellent resource for breaking down the parts of a genre.

For the other meaning of formulaic novel, plug and play characters- books are basically indistinguishable from one another set ups, I’d identify those books and take some time to study them. Are they all part of the same genre? If so, is it one you plan to write in? Is it one you read a lot that you might have internalized? Is it your least favorite type of book in the whole world and you find yourself getting irrationally made every time you spot it on the shelf (I know that sounds crazy, but I hold grudges against books, I figure somewhere out there, other people do, too). In those cases, my advice to write it until you understand it stands a hundred fold, because to some extent, you’re going to have to get it out of your system. Every writers first couple of projects are subconscious homages and responses to what they’ve read. So not only will you be mastering your craft and learning the rules so you can break them, you’re also battling your reading and writing demons.

I hope that helps!

Dragon Con

Dragon Con is just around the corner, and I’m an attending professional. Below is my tentative appearance schedule. Be sure to drop by and see me. Looking for something to read before the con? Aphrodite is on sale for .99 cents.

Title: Reimagined: New Takes on Old Stories in YA
Description: Whether it’s new takes on Camelot or Greek myths, or retellings of classic books or fairy tales, YA literature is full of reimaginings and retellings. Which are your favorites, & what makes a retelling work?
Time: Fri 11:30 am  Location: A707 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Mari Mancusi, Kaitlin Bevis, Esther Friesner)

Title: Young Love: Writing Romance in YA
Description: What is love? How do we write romance for a young adult audience? What is enough, & what is too much?
Time: Fri 01:00 pm  Location: A707 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Kelly Lynn Colby, F T Lukens, Kaitlin Bevis)

Title: Writing & Rewriting Your YA
Description: Come chat with our authors about making your characters strong, your plots thick, & your beats on point. How to take your writing from good to great through the magic of revision.
Time: Sat 04:00 pm  Location: A707 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: A. J. Hartley, Kaitlin Bevis, Sara Hanover)

Title: Thrills & Chills in YA
Description: YA can be suspenseful & even terrify you. Whether knife-wielding killers, pandemics & plagues, or werewolves & vampires, come hear about what gives us chills.
Time: Sat 07:00 pm  Location: A707 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Caleb Roehrig, Kaitlin Bevis)

Title: Reading Session:Kaitlin Bevis 
Time: Sun 01:00 pm  Location: Marietta – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Kaitlin Bevis)

Title: Author Signings:
Time: Sun 04:00 pm  Location: International Hall South 1-3 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Laura Hayden, Jeffrey Falcon Logue, Kaitlin Bevis)

Ask Me Anything: Jason and Jason

I have two different Jason’s waiting in my ask box, so I decided to combine their posts.

Jason 1 asks, “Will you be writing any more books in the Daughters of Zeus series?”

Yes. I will be writing an Artemis series. It’s been delayed a good bit due to Covid, but I should have updates once the world goes back to normal.

There’s a little I can tell you. Artemis will be a point of view character. Aphrodite and Persephone and the rest of the Pantheon (including Hades) will make appearances. Medea and Otrera will be playing a role. The plot will be taking place mostly after the events of Venus Rising as Artemis has been tasked with hunting down the spoilers that escaped when Persephone spoiled. And there will be flashback scenes to the early days of the Pantheon.

Jason 2 asks, “Thank you for the offer to ask you anything! I’m a SG Guild member, but found you through a Google search on the obligatory scenes in Women’s lit. I’m writing a new series on what I’m terming Men’s lit and since it is a genre that doesn’t actually exist (yet) there is zero information on it. The closest I can think of is Women’s lit. Unfortunately, I can’t fine any information on obligatory scenes on the genre. Everything I’ve found is in the overlying genres such as Historical Fiction, Thriller, etcetera. 

Do you have any insights into what the obligatory scenes in Women’s lit are?

Thanks for you time.”

You’re welcome!

I’d argue that most lit has been men’s lit, but I think the difficulty you’re bumping into here is that obligatory scenes occur within genre fiction, and the word genre there is actually more accurately described as a sub-genre. Once you broaden out to genre as in broad category, you’re not going to find obligatory scenes.

For example, take the sub genre of space opera. It’s going to have the obligatory scenes and conventions, and it probably also has some borrowed tropes from a cross-genre like romance or heist. But a space opera is a sub genre of science fiction, which has its own, less specifics conventions. Not so much with the obligatory scenes. Take a step back and science fiction belongs to the wider genre of speculative fiction. There are a few conventions that make a book a part of the speculative fiction genre, but they’re loose fitting to make room for horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Take another step back, and you’re in genre fiction, which only requires your work have fictional elements and be set within a specific genre.

Over to the side, you’ve got your other categories of fiction. This is where literary fiction comes in. Literary fiction can absolutely borrow from the tropes, scenes, and conventions of genre fiction, but it doesn’t have to. The entire point of literary fiction is for authors to experiment with the craft of writing. A work either starts as a literary fiction, where the author is intentionally breaking conventions, such as The Night Circus (which absolutely borrows from several sub-genre tropes), or it graduates to literary fiction when the writing community notices a particularly skilled break in conventions, like every famous author you’ve ever read. Whatever it was they did, they broke ground there and expanded on the art of writing. Their techniques may eventually become common place, but when they did it, it was a convention breaker.

Women’s literature is as broad a category as fiction. The only requirement is that it feature a given subject’s impact on women. Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale absolutely fits as speculative fiction — science fiction— post-apocalyptic in the obligatory scenes and conventions. It’s also literature because her writing style and approach broke the conventions enough to set her own tropes. It’s also women’s literature it focuses on the impact of this particular dystopia’s issues on specifically women.

That’s also why I’d argue that by strictest definition, the vast majority of literature has been men’s lit, exploring a given issue’s impact on men. Women may be present (as men are in the handmaid’s tale) but they aren’t the focus.

So, long answer short, your obligatory scenes are going to come from which sub-genre you hang your story onto, so long as you focus on the impact your stories issues have on men specifically, you’re within your category.

Review: Khthonios by M.M Kin

book cover for M.M Kin's Khthonios. Features Hades, holding a horned helmet as he sits on a dark throne against a blue background.

I love reading Greek mythology retellings, and Kin’s novels are no exception. I’ve known since her Seed’s series that she puts an amazing amount of detail, all painstakingly researched, into her novels, but I was curious how she was going to handle that in Khthonios, because based not the summary, there were two major hurdles to overcome in writing this book. 

The first is that Khthonios is a prequel story which begins with the death of Uranus and covers the rise and fall of Kronos, the imprisonment and freedom of the “Big Six” and Hades’s eventual rise to the Lord of the Underworld. There is precious little out there that covers this fascinating time period, but Kin managed to include the existing lore (real mind-benders, like Kronos eating his children) in a way that felt logical and true to the world. 

The second is that prequels represent a real challenge for character development, because as an author, there’s this fixed point you can’t cross in your earlier work. But you’re learning more about your characters as you write and they’re going through things that will impact their development. Often prequel characters either feel stagnant or more developed than their later counterparts, but Kin handles that development deftly. These characters felt consistent, and the story gave insight into some of their eccentricities in the later books. 

As always, Kin utilizes incredible detail and imagery. Her writing style in this book reminded me a bit of of the early chapters of Miller’s Circe. I think this may be my favorite book in her world yet.

You can learn more about Kin and her books by viewing her page on amazon or smashwords.