Writerly Reflections and Resolutions, 2016/2017


Welcome, Readers!

Happy New Year!

I hung up my Music Teacher Hat last week so I could celebrate the holidays with my family and friends.  Along with that, my family is blessed with both of my children’s birthdays during this week as well (December 27 and 29), making this week, for them, the gift that keeps on giving.  I love it!  In the quiet times of this vacation, though, I get to reflect on the year which has passed, and lay down some plans for the the coming year.

2016 brought with it the loss of many familiar people in our lives.I write about the loss of David Bowie here, but we said goodbye to so many other public figures in 2016 as well.  One loss of a very personal nature was Great Grandfather Dede, who was a World War II veteran.  A couple of years ago, he took part in the Honor Flight, which was such an emotional experience for both him and us.  His burial was incredibly moving.

2016 brought with it some fantastic writerly news, as I landed a publishing contract with REUTS Publications, began an internship with Golden Wheat Literary, and signed with agent Jessica Schmeidler, who is representing my writerly works.  I also worked along side a screenwriter to adapt one of my novels, which was as fabulous as it sounds! Here is my adrenaline-charged post about that. 

Finally, after struggling with a work in progress that seemed to be too much to handle, I had an epiphany, and mapped out the story as a trilogy, of which the first draft of Book One (The First Harbor Bell) is two-thirds complete.  I am super proud of that, as it is a story that has been brewing within me for at least five years, and whose initial seeds were planted when I was only fifteen.  I can’t wait to share The Harbor Bell Series with you!

As I roll into 2017, I have three resolutions.

  1.  I hope to continue the trajectory I am on with my writing.  I am on a serious roll with The Harbor Bell Series, as well as a couple of other things, and I resolve to continue my forward-moving progress on those fronts.
  2. I resolve to stay “above the line” as much as possible, in all aspects of my life, writing or otherwise.  For those who may not understand what that phrase means to me, here it is:  “Above The Line” means to focus on the positives in life, and to be the change I want to see.  Dwelling on the negatives is destructive, and I don’t have time for that.
  3. I resolve to get back on my weekly blog-posting schedule.  It’s very doable, and I miss it.  Along with that, I further resolve to let go of any guilt quickly when life happens and I might not be able to post on that schedule for a time.  Things happen, and it’s not the end of the world.

So, there you have it.  Wish me luck, but I know I can do it!  What are your thoughts as we leave 2016 and head into 2017?  Post your comments here!

Reflecting Back…Summer, 2016 Edition

Hello, Readers!  I thought I’d start off this post with a couple of songs that always seem to encapsulate this time of year for me.

Here’s Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer:

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/173302354″>DON HENLEY – THE BOYS OF SUMMER</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user38975022″>boris apaza</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Here’s another favorite for this time of year.  California Dreamin’ as performed by The Beach Boys:

Labor Day Weekend is always a bittersweet time of the year for me.  We have a lovely visit from family for a couple of days, then it’s back to school for all of us.  This morning as I write this, my third cup of is gone, and I reflect back on my sweet, yet at times bitter, Summer vacation.

For the most part, this was a fantastic Summer, as mentioned in a previous post.  I have a book coming out from REUTS Publications next Summer, and I now have a wonderful agent, Jessica Schmeidler of Golden Wheat Literary, who is absolutely fabulous.  When we had “the call”, it was as if all the pieces of my literary puzzle were somehow finding their way together, creating a more complete picture.  Like magic.  There is so much to look forward to!

Yet, in the paragraph above, I mentioned that this was a fantastic Summer “for the most part”.  This is because we suffered a loss, and that loss was felt not only by my family, but by the entire school community.  So, somewhere within this wonderful, magical summer, I also went through quite a bit of grief.  And now, with the end of Summer upon us and the start of school to begin, I find myself thinking about that loss again, wondering how we will get through that first day of school.  But we will.

Looking back, I learned (or, remembered…) a few things this Summer.

  1.  It might take a long time, but if you work steadily toward a goal, it will happen.
  2. I am capable of much more than I thought I was.
  3. Setting smaller goals and completing them keeps me on track.
  4.  Having Grit can get you through the hard times.
  5. When faced with tough times, family and friends help get you through.

As this new school year starts, my goal is to remember these little lessons.  This Summer was a good one for reminders!

How was your Summer?  What new goals might you have for Autumn?  Do you have any favorite songs for this time of the year?  Leave a comment!  I’d love to hear from you.




Best Summer Vacation…Ever!


Welcome readers!

About a year ago, I posted about my BEST BIRTHDAY MONTH…EVER!  Today, I feel s though I have come full circle in some ways.   This has been the Best Summer Vacation…Ever!

As you know, I teach music to Middle Schoolers, and summer vacations afford me the time to delve even more into my writing endeavors than I can during the school months.  This Summer vacation started off with a bang with my press release from REUTS Publications.  That day, My novel, WORDS IN THE WINDOWSILL, was announced along with author Katie Hamstead’s latest book as well.   Not only did my press release show up on REUTS’ own blog, but it was listed in Publisher’s Marketplace as well.  That was a huge feeling!!!

A month later, almost to the day, I received another message that every author dreams about:  Agent Jessica Schmeidler, of Golden Wheat Literary, sent me an offer of representation.  Jessica is amazing, and it is a privilege to be able to call her my agent.

The reason I feel like I have come full circle, is that back about a year ago, during my amazing birthday month, I actually met my agent for the first time.  She had requested to read one of my manuscripts based on a Twitter pitch I had made.  I am fortunate in so many ways.

So, this has been an incredible Summer!  In the span of a month, two of my writing dreams have come true, and I know this is just the beginning.  Thank you all for coming along with me as I sail into these new waters.  It is clear to me that I am in the best of company, with the most fabulous of followers.  I am filled with gratitude.

If you have any comments, please share them below.

Spring Cleaning: A Chance To Take Stock In What We Have

Spring Cleaning is an annual ritual my family undertakes, literally, once a year. As much as I dislike the enormous chore of deep cleaning the house, it feels good to clear things out, take stock in what we have and what we might repurpose or pass on to someone else who may need it.

This past week, as part of this Spring Cleaning process, I took a look at all of my blog posts. Every single one of them! I discovered some real gems in there once I dusted off the cobwebs and reminded myself what had inspired each post.

I can honestly say I have grown quite a bit as a writer since I first began this blog. One of the nagging thoughts I had during the earliest posts was, “What gives me the right to post anything for other writers?” Another was, “What makes me think I can post anything that another writer may find valuable?”

I have gotten over those feelings of self-doubt over the years, thankfully!

My first posts were basically throw-aways, as I tried to navigate the way WordPress worked for blogging. But then I found something of a focus, and I began to reach out to other authors after reading their books. New relationships were formed as I would interview each one.

And I must say I adore doing interviews. My interview style has developed through the years into something that I take a lot of pride in. I have a lot of confidence in my questioning techniques now, which translates into some very interesting discussions!

Another thing I discovered is that some of my posts now fit into blog series and mini-series. My Writerly Advice topics continue to be great to write about, as well as my NaNo Mini-Series interviews. I can’t wait for next year’s NaNo Mini-Series!

…Which brings me to the biggest discovery during my Blog Spring Cleaning: Flashback Time Machine!

Flashback Time Machine is a series I started, then forgot about. In the series, I write about some literature classics, and come up with questions I would have liked to ask the author if they were still alive today. I enjoyed writing those posts a great deal.

Well, it’s time to resurrect the Flashback Time Machine! In the coming weeks, I will be working on the next installment of that series. I won’t divulge the book or author yet, although I already have the plan in place.

For now, thank you to all of my blog readers and followers! It means the world to me that we can connect in this way. Spring Cleaning can be awesome! Not only did I take stock of the written content on this blog from its earliest posts, but I also took stock in the many views, comments and followers that grew out of it.

If you have a topic for this blog that you would like me to cover, please leave a comment below!

An Interview With My Readers!

On this very blog, I interview a lot of writers and people involved in the publishing process.  But today I’m going to try something different!  Hang onto your hats 🙂

As I work on writing a manuscript, I find that the characters and scenes play out like a movie in my mind.  I’m not sure that is particularly unique to me, but I do think it’s an interesting phenomenon.  As the scenes and conversations go by, not only do I have the visual in mind, but also the soundtrack and sometimes even the score.  Again, not sure if other people experience this, but I suspect they do.  You might think that my being a musician and having all of these ideas, musical and non-musical, in my head as I write, my prose would contain amazing detail and imagery.

It doesn’t.  In fact, I struggle with it sometimes (But I’ll save that for another post!).

For today, though, I’d like to interview you, my readers, about you novel’s soundtrack.  Your novel can be published or not, complete or not.  Those silly details don’t matter for this!   If you would like to take part, and I’d love it if you did, please write your responses to my questions in the comment section.  Include some links, if you want!  Here are the questions:

1.  Does the music you personally listen to influence the books/stories that you write?  If so, can you give us an example?

2.  When you think about your latest completed novel or work in progress, what music comes to mind?  Have you put together a playlist for it?

3.  Do you use specific music to help you “get in the zone” for a writing session?


I’ll go ahead and answer first.

1.  I do think that the music I listen to can influence what I write.  For instance, before writing my first novel, Muse’s song Citizen Erased was on constant repeat.  That novel has a definite “Musey” vibe.  A little dark, and introspective.  Here is the lyric video for that tune:




2.  My latest novel is quite different from my first.  I wouldn’t say that I have a full playlist for it, but Bruce Springsteen’s Fire would definitely be on it!





3.  I definitely use music for “getting in the zone”.  If I know I only have a certain amount of time to write, I may prep myself by listening to the music that I know can get me ready, mentally, so I can maximize my time.  And sometimes, like I mentioned about my first novel, a song can literally throw me into the zone!


So, now it’s your turn!  Tell us about your soundtrack!  I love connecting with my readers 🙂

Thanks for playing along!


Completing the Trifecta: A Publishing Chat with Summer Wier, Marketing Director with REUTS Publishing

Summer Wier

All this month, I have been fortunate enough to feature REUTs Publishing’s Behind-The-Scenes talent. Beginning with Editorial Director, Kisa Whipkey, and then with Cover Artist and REUT’s founder, Ashley Ruggirello, we all got an  inside look at the inner workings of a small publisher, following the process from acquisitions to print.

Kisa’s interview can be found here.

Ashley’s interview can be found here.

I highly recommend checking those out, whether you are looking for a publisher or if you’re just plain curious about the process of publishing, like I am.


But today is a big day, as I complete my mini-series trifecta interviewing

Summer Wier, Marketing Director for REUTS Publishing!

Susan: It’s so nice to have you with us on my Writer’s Block, Summer! Welcome! Let’s start off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background? Do you have a degree in marketing? If not, how did your path lead you to where you are today, career-wise? How did you end up as the Marketing Director at REUTS Publishing?

Summer: Hi, Susan! Thanks for having me. Let’s see, where to start. I have a wide variety of experience under my belt and consider myself a jack-of-all-trades. My educational background includes an accounting degree and an MBA. So while I don’t have marketing degree specifically, it was a focus of both my undergrad and grad degrees. Over the years (I won’t tell you how longs it’s been since I graduated), I’ve had the opportunity to work in various capacities contributing to experience in marketing, graphic design, web development, SEO, sales, contract drafting…you name it. I’m one of those people who isn’t content doing just one thing or specializing in one trade, I want to know how every “part” works and contributes to an organization as a whole. As the Finance and Marketing Director for a chain of retail stores in the DFW area, I’ve had a chance to really understand how essential it is for departments to coordinate efforts in pursuit of success. It’s this perspective and experience that we incorporate at REUTS. We all wear many hats.

I started at REUTS as a Jr. Editor and acquisitions assistant in an effort to gain some experience in the publishing industry. When Founder Ashley Ruggirello put out a call for a Marketing Guru, I responded “I’m your gal!” And the rest is history.


Susan: During the acquisitions process at REUTS, I have learned that the four directors chime in on each manuscript. What are the things you look for in a manuscript? On the other hand, are there things that would be red flags to you as the Marketing Director?

Summer:I assess marketability based on things like genre, voice, originality, and complementary titles from our current library and outside sources. Of course a manuscript has to have “that special something” whether in spades or as a glimmer of potential; it really is all about the manuscript. We realize that very few authors have experience doing marketing, or knowing what that really entails, and that’s also where I come in.

As far as red flags go, unoriginal first pages top my list. You’ve probably seen the list of don’ts: waking up from a dream or starting off in a dream, getting ready for school, describing characters using a mirror. I am immediately turned off by those things (unless the execution has original elements or is spectacular). It also makes me wonder if the rest of the manuscript has anything new or unique to offer. Publishing is a tough industry; you have to create something that sets you apart from everyone else. Another red flag can come from the query or even a person’s behavior on social media. I think Ashley mentioned this in her interview, but we stalk people. (YES! We look you up.) It’s hard to visualize working with someone who is less than professional or down-right jerky, no matter how fabulous their work may be.


Susan: I asked a similar question to this next one to Ashley Ruggirello recently, but I am curious about your response. When reading a full submission, can you tell early on about its marketability? Are you able to begin formulating a plan for its release strategy from the get-go, or does the “master plan” reveal itself later on?

Summer: First off, I always have a master plan. It includes everything under the sun, but it usually tweaked and honed to each author based on their strengths, time, and budget. But in the early stages, when reading a submission, there are definitely times when I visualize a favorite quote as a teaser or think about how the story would translate into a trailer (more on this later). Bottom line, I definitely have a strategy from the get-go, but nothing is set in stone until I’ve had a heart-to-heart with the author.


Susan: That’s awesome about the teaser quotes! I am very interested in this next question. Can you tell us about the path a book takes from the time it is acquired by a publisher until it can be found on the virtual and physical bookstore shelves?

Summer: This is quite the loaded question as it could be answered from many different angles, but since I’m here to talk about marketing, that’s what I’ll focus on. Once we sign an author, each of the departments sends out an initial letter. I put together a “master plan” marketing document that outlines everything an author could do from the very first moments of their contract through release and beyond. From that list we target efforts that the author feels comfortable with and move forward from there. So while an author is simultaneously working with staff on cover design and editing, they’re also laying their part of the groundwork for marketing and promotion. Behind the scenes, I work on promotional materials and press releases, initiate social media strategy, with the help of the extremely talented Tiffany Rose who distributes ARCs, coordinates blog tours, helps with teasers and trailers etc. We start rolling everything out a few weeks before release, and when pub day hits, there’s no holds barred.


Susan: During the process of getting a book out into the world, what is the best part, from your perspective?

Summer: Release day is hands-down the most exciting day, and I love seeing an author’s words come to life via teasers and a trailer. It’s great to see all of our efforts come together, and the resulting support and praise for an author’s work on his or her big day is phenomenal!


Susan: When I think of marketing a book, I think about all of the things that an author would be doing from their end. What types of things can a Marketing Director do from the publisher’s side to help an author’s manuscript have a successful release?

Summer: Well in the case of many debut authors, I coach and guide author’s efforts from behind-the-scenes. As you can imagine, there’s a wide range of experience (or lack thereof) between authors. Some need a little coddling, others just run with it. But aside from that, and some of this was mentioned above (pushing press releases, distributing ARCs, coordinating blog tours), I coordinate post-release promos, social media content, swag design, potential event outreach, online and print advertisement, and Ashley and I work together fielding film inquiries and vetting other subsidiary rights opportunities. Multiply that by umpteen authors…yea, you get the picture.


Susan: What, in your estimation, are the three most important things an author can do to promote their brand and their books? How can an author best prepare for that, especially if the novel is a debut?

Summer: You know the saying, “What goes around, comes around”? That. I truly believe in karma. If you help others in a constructive way, without ulterior motives, without expecting anything in return, others will help you right back. But let’s see…you asked for three things and here are my professional answers: Be organized. Be consistent. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. (And I’m adding a fourth.) Be resilient. Whether debut or not, an author needs to be organized. Keep track of reviewers, fans who reach out to you, guest posts, etc., etc. Reach out as much as possible to those who are interested in being in touch with you. Maintain a routine schedule, whether it’s 30 min twice a week, or 15 min a day. Be willing to try new things. It’s no surprise that many authors are less than excited about doing in-person events, we’re introverts by nature (a lot of us are anyway), but there is no substitute for making personal connections. And lastly, you have to bounce back. Writers deal with negative reviews, poor turnout for an event, pirated materials, and the list goes on and on. It’s okay to be disappointed, sad, angry, but when the sting wears off, you have to get back out there and try again. Just keep swimming.


Susan: On the REUTS webpage, there is mention of something called a “street team”. If you could, please tell my readers what that is, and how it can help the author.

Summer: A street team consists of individuals who want to show support and help promote an author’s books, or in our case books from a publisher’s library! They can get behind-the-scenes info or a first peek at news, but really it’s just a group of people who are excited about a book (or books) and want to help get the word out!


Susan: You have touched on this a little bit earlier. I have seen some amazingly intriguing book trailers. Is that something that you would do as a Marketing Director? If not, do you feel that creating a book trailer is something that is necessary for a book’s success?

Summer: It makes me so happy to hear you say that! And yes this is something we provide our authors. They can, of course, choose to do something on their own, but we want to make sure that everyone at least has the choice to have a professional trailer for promotion. The fabulous Tiffany Rose and I collaborate and create each trailer, then send it to the author and Sr. Editor Kisa Whipkey and Ashley Ruggirello for feedback. If you haven’t noticed by now, REUTS’ success is highly attributed to teamwork. We’re a well-oiled machine, if I do say so myself. Now is a trailer required? Is it necessary for success? No. There are those who say they aren’t worth the time or expense to create, but from our perspective a good-looking trailer can’t hurt!


Susan: As expected, you have provided us with some amazing information. Thank you so much for being here today, Summer!   The answers to these questions are so helpful to aspiring authors, like me. I am grateful to the REUTS family of directors for being so candid with me and my readers! Is there anything else you think my readers would appreciate knowing about marketing their brand or book?

Summer: Thanks for having me! The biggest advice I can give authors is: Don’t think you have to do everything. There are many, many platforms, online and offline options, events, blogs, ad sites etc., etc. Figure out what you can do (without stressing or over-extending yourself) and make it work for you. Mix it up. Try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail. Every effort is an opportunity to learn something. And keep writing!


Summer Wier is an MBA toting accountant, undercover writer, and all around jack-of-all-trades. Link is her debut novel and the first in The Shadow of Light series. She has short stories appearing in Fairly Twisted Tales For A Horribly Ever After and co-authors the Splinter web serial. Summer is the Marketing Director and a member of the acquisitions team at REUTS Publications. When she’s not digging through spreadsheets or playing mom, you can find her reading/writing, cooking, or dreaming of the mountains in Montana.

Connect with Summer on Twitter @summerwier or visit her website at http://www.summerwier.com.

Calling all Authors: Chime in with your story!

Recently, I posted an interview here concerning the process of acquisitions as it pertained to a small publisher.  Kisa Whipkey, managing editor at REUTS shared their process here:  http://wp.me/p35Mk4-gn.  I will be interviewing their cover artist and owner soon, so be sure not to miss that!  It’s been wonderful and enlightening, to say the least.

One thing that hasn’t been discussed yet is this:  As the author, what comes next?

Imagine this scenario (many of you won’t have to dig too deeply because you have lived this!):  You’ve been in the query trenches for a really long time, and finally your beauty of a submission gets picked up by a publisher.  I’m sure there is a lot of excitement.  But when all the confetti finally lands on the floor, what was your next step?  As the author, I’m sure contracts needed to be signed, more edits needed to be made, etc.  until eventually your book baby found its way to the public.

Here is where you come in.  I’d love to hear your stories!  Once accepted by a publisher, whichever publisher it was, what were/are your next steps?  Were there any obstacles during this phase?  Everybody’s path to publication is different, and hearing these stories is not only interesting, but very inspiring.

So bring it on, authors!  Share your literary success stories with my readers!  The comment section is ready and waiting to hear from you.

Thanks a million!

Driven: Author Byron Suggs and his book, Rockapocalypse

Rock Author pic2Welcome to my Writer’s Block!  Today I’m here with author Byron Suggs.  Mr. Suggs is with me today to discuss his book Rockapocalypse, a book which I consider a very compelling read.  Based in the south, Rockapocalypse lays out some interesting and thought provoking ideas about life, death, and the mysterious area in between.  Today, I ask him about his background, his books, and his drive for success.

Byron Suggs’ bio reads:

Primarily a writer of southern fiction, Byron’s first novel, Rockapocalypse: Disharmony of Justice, is a tale of youthful dreams, adult peril, and Divine intervention by a few deceased Rock n’ Roll icons. His second novel, Cold Currents, a southern literary mystery/thriller, is in the hands of his agent. He is currently working on his third novel, Bone Whispers, (a follow-up to Cold Currents), and a collection of short stories for future publication.

His short works of fiction have appeared in publications such as Aries: A Journal of Arts and Literature and Black Heart Magazine (e-zine).

A child of the sixties, his first viewing of The Wizard of Oz shaped his outlook of the world and erased any boundaries that could have stunted his imagination. He believes that a good tale should take you on an exhilarating adventure and leave you a bit more enchanted after you turn the last page.

*Byron is represented by Joyce Holland of The D4EO Literary Agency.

S. M. Nystoriak:  Where do you hail from?  Did that have an impact on your writing career or genre?

Byron Suggs:  Well, Susan, I’m not sure geographically where I originated, or under what specific circumstances, but I was slapped into this world in Johnston County, N.C.  It’s a little more urban now, but back then Johnston County was about as deep in the corn, cotton and tobacco as you could get without turning into a boll weevil.  As for my writing, I would be a fool not to acknowledge the influence this area has had on my work. Not all of it, mind you, but a good amount for certain. Rockapocalypse, and my second novel, Cold Currents, while two very different books, were both loosely set in my hometown. My latest book will be no different, as it follows up with the characters developed in Cold Currents. My short works tend to stray away from that concept more often than not.

S. M. Nystoriak:  Some of the scenes you describe are so eerie.  The 60’s in the south is far from where and when I grew up, and I was curious if you personally witnessed any of what you wrote about first hand.

Byron Suggs:  The only thing in Rockapocalypse, from a “did it actually happen” perspective, was the KKK cross burning scene in the opening chapters. When I was growing up, the KKK, while nothing more than a small contingent compared to its past numbers, was still a very real presence in the rural South. My father took me to see this ‘ritual’ when I was maybe six or seven years old. It wasn’t always held in secret because those who belonged to it felt safe behind their hoods and robes. My father wasn’t associated with the KKK, and I think his intention was to educate me on the complexities of human nature.  As for the whole of the book’s scenes, most of them, with the exception of the supernatural elements, were very much a part of my life growing up. The ‘eerie’ effect is part of what a writer creates by taking normal things and visualizing various perceptions for the reader, whether they be creepy, sad, horrific, fantastical, or just slightly skewed from the commonplace.

S. M. Nystoriak:  A compliment:  I like how you incorporate items of the day into your novel.  For example, the Astro Pop!  How many of us remember those dangerous things?  I was taken back to my own upbringing in the 70’s and 80’s.  And, I know firsthand how dangerous those things could be!

Byron Suggs:  Thank you, Susan. I’m a firm believer of accuracy in detail when writing setting and scene. For me a good tale incorporates fact and fiction in a finely crafted mix so that the readers can find comfort and familiarity not only in the characters, but the world in which we place them.

S. M. Nystoriak:  I thought that the way you incorporated the multiple points of view was fantastic, as well as the time jumps.  Was that the way you initially envisioned the book, or was that a decision you made later on in the editing process?  Either way, it was well done!

Byron Suggs:  That whole process could be a book of its own! The original manuscript was a very linear tale in terms of structure. It was a fine story, and I was very proud of it. But I failed to draw much interest from agents and publishers with that version. I came close, though. One agent liked it but couldn’t classify it within genres, so she passed on representation. Sadly, she was the only agent who showed any interest beyond the standard “it doesn’t fit our current needs” rejection. Then a small publisher read a partial and liked it enough to request I submit it to her publications board for consideration. When the smoke cleared (long story), they rejected the manuscript. At this point, I was in full “mule” mode. What confused me the most was the conflicting feedback: everyone who read it seemed to like it, but nobody was willing to take a chance. I believed in the story and refused to park it in the Bottom Drawer of Failed Dreams. I actually became angry at myself, as well as the system and process that I’d obviously failed to understand. By this time I was already a few chapters into writing Cold Currents, but the whole deal with Rockapocalypse hardened my resolve to the point that I set Currents aside and began re-inventing Rockapocalypse. The original story, with the exception of the beginning and ending, became the back story. I sat down and told myself “Go outside the box. No constraints. Challenge your ability, and more importantly, challenge your reader.” Two months later I sent the new version to the same publisher who had rejected it. Two months after that we signed the contract.

What I discovered during that process is that I write much better when I visualize the story as a movie. The same principles used in writing a screenplay should also be used when writing a novel. When you do this, all the crucial elements of ‘story’ fall into place: plotting, voice, characterization, credibility, and especially pacing. Of course, this is only my opinion. But it works for me.

S. M. Nystoriak:  I know from personal experience about how difficult it can be to convince an agent to take a chance on an unknown.  I think it’s fantastic that you had the courage to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, and reinvent the novel.  The end product of Rockapocalypse is quite compelling, and I can’t imagine it without the different points of view.  What you say here is very encouraging!

Byron Suggs:  Well, courage is often confused with stubborn determination. In my case, writing is something I want to do for a living. You cannot succeed if you don’t put your heart and soul into your dreams 100%. Possessing a passion for what you want is essential. It comes across in your work. It comes across in your personal and profession relationships. But most importantly, it keeps you moving forward day in and day out regardless of the rejection.

S. M. Nystoriak:  I know you have written other books.  Are any of them released yet?  What can we expect from you in the future?

Byron Suggs:  Rockapocalypse is the only one published at this time. I wrote a murder/mystery thriller called Cold Currents while I was rallying Rock through publication. Cold Currents landed me my first agent and is now on submission. My current work in progress is a follow-up to Cold Currents. I have a short story on submission and hope to have a short form collection ready for publication next year.

S. M. Nystoriak:  Tell us a bit about your path to representation.  Was it years in the making, or did it happen relatively quickly?  Did you do any self publishing?

Byron Suggs:  Ah, the journey to representation. Where do I begin? I guess in terms of time, my journey was relatively short compared to some. All said, finding representation took me three years and two books. Remember, Rockapocalypse was acquired directly by a publisher, but I spent about six months trying to find an agent before that happened. The process for Cold Currents was a bit shorter at four months. I learned a lot about the literary agent process between the two.

Here’s my advice, for what it’s worth: Write a good book. Don’t rush it. Craft it as finely as possible. Test drive it with beta readers. Tweak the rough spots, but use caution in revision if your gut tells you it’s working. Understand the difference between “subjectivity” and “constructive criticism.” Test drive it with another set of betas. Fine tune it. Do the down-n-dirty editing it needs. Set it aside for a week or two, then spend a day without distraction and read it all the way through. If you’re happy with it, then you’re ready to shop it to agents. If not, return to step one. Understand the Numbers. When you know your book’s as good as you can get it, do your homework and select a dozen agents that are currently looking for books in the genre your work fits. Do your homework on writing query letters (hint: much like books, queries need to grab their attention from the onset and hold it), and draft one that’s tailored to each of the agents you’ve selected. Follow their query guidelines to the letter and submit. Now, here’s where I may differ a bit in method from others: one week later, submit a dozen more. And do the same a week after that. Here’s my reasoning: publishing is a tough business. The competition is stiff. No matter how good your book is, without adequate exposure you may never be “in the right place at the right time.” Once you have a good book, it becomes a numbers game in my opinion. That’s my philosophy. The only drawback to my method is the fact that if you land an offer and accept, common courtesy dictates that you notify the rest that you’ve accepted representation elsewhere. Technology will ease your pain, though.

S. M. Nystoriak:  And, coming from someone who does not have agent representation yet, I am very curious about the author/agent relationship.  What can you tell us about that, from your perspective?

Byron Suggs:  First and foremost, any agent you go with has to have a passion about your work. You’ll see it in their correspondence and hear it in their voice if you speak over the phone. Also, and I can’t emphasis this enough, do your homework on the agency and the prospective agent. Know what kind of support you’ll be getting from both. Ask your agent questions like “How many clients do you have?” or “If I signed with you, what’s your game plan to get my book on submission?”. You want to know if they’ll be proactive on your behalf. If they have fifteen clients already, then you’re less likely to get the attention you deserve. As far as my own experience, my agent was very enthusiastic about Cold Currents. She was also knowledgeable about the craft and had written several books herself. Her client list was a little heavy, but a few months ago she cut that down to what I felt was a manageable number. She sends me emails every few weeks listing the publishers she’s submitted my manuscript to, as well as their response if they turn it down. (Even with an agent and a good book, you’ll continue to experience rejection to some degree.) Those rejections, while painful, are very educational as to how the publishing houses vet out acquisitions.

S. M. Nystoriak:  There is such a music connection in ROCKAPOCALYPSE!  As a musician myself, I love that!  Are you a die hard Rock-n-Roll fan, or is your musical interest varied?  I would love to know what you have (or would have) on your iPod!

Byron Suggs:  Music has always been a part of my life. And I don’t say that from just a “recreational” mindset. To me, music can define a feeling, moment, or place, in a very powerful way. Not to put other creative forms down, but out of all of them, which one can trigger a strong memory in a matter of seconds? Can a book or a painting make an old man suddenly start playing air guitar in his boxer shorts and reminiscing about a party he attended thirty-two years ago? Or the girl he met at that party? What I tried to relay to the reader in Rockapocalypse was that the 60’s and 70’s were the most explosive years of creativity in terms of music that we’ve seen in modern times. Many cultural changes influenced that creativity. One hit wonders were not only popping out like PEZ, but they were good! The lines of musical classification became a little blurred and the result was fab-tabulous!

As for my own taste, it’s been rather eclectic over the years. I was a pop music kid into my early teens, a rock n’ roller from there into my 20’s,  embraced some of the eighties sounds as well as country music in my 30’s, and by the nineties I was too involved in work and family to put much interest in the music scene. These days I mostly listen to country and occasionally switch over to the old rock stations. Once in a while I’ll hear a current band (I’m not sure how to define bands anymore) do a tune that catches my imagination. But regardless of my “old man” musical taste, the songs of the 60’s and 70’s will always spark my imagination and transport me back in time. And for the record, I don’t own an iPod, nor can I listen to music while I write. I have enough of it cataloged in my head as it is…

S. M. Nystoriak:  Thank you so much for taking part in my Writer’s Block author interviews, Mr. Suggs.  I wish you every success with your writing career!  For those who wish to learn about Byron Suggs and his books, please see the following links:


Website: http://www.byronsuggs.com

Weebly: http://byronsuggs.weebly.com/index.html

Publisher Website: http://www.written-world.com/WWC/book_rock.html

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Rockapocalypse-Byron-Suggs/dp/1938679016/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347641951&sr=8-1&keywords=Rockapocalypse

Amazon (short URL): http://tinyurl.com/8j95ums

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6523795.Byron_Suggs

Barnes and Noble.com: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rockapocalypse-byron-suggs/1112799802?ean=9781938679018

Author Cassandra Dunn’s Road to Success!

Cassandra Dunn photo

***Update!  I recently learned that Cassandra Dunn’s Novel will be released this summer!

Congratulations to her, and I wish her much success!

Please check out my interview with her, below!***

Cassandra Dunn received her MFA in creative writing from Mills College. She was a semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. Her stories have appeared in All Things Girl, Midwest Literary Magazine’s Bearing North, Read Short Fiction, Literary House Review, The MacGuffin, 322 Review, Fix it Broken, Clapboard House, Every Writer’s Resource, Rougarou Fiction, and Sand Canyon Review.

I am particularly excited to present today’s interview on my Writer’s Block!  Cassandra Dunne is someone that I have gotten to know through social media as a writer who was actively querying her novel.  I have learned that, along with writing novels, short stories and memoirs, Ms. Dunn is also an editor.  Her personal stats have recently gotten much more interesting, as she is now being represented by the amazing literary agent, Harvey Klinger.  To learn more about Cassandra Dunn and her other writings, she can be found here:  http://www.cassandradunn.com/


S. M. Nystoriak:  Tell us a bit about yourself.  What led you to become a writer?  Was it a lifelong dream or something that struck you later on?

Cassandra Dunn:  I’d call it a lifelong dream. When I was nine we had a class assignment to write a paragraph about something fictional. I ended up writing a four-page ghost story, and I was hooked. I was a shy child, but I felt comfortable expressing myself in writing. I had some encouraging teachers who pushed me to keep pursuing writing. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in creative writing, I write on a daily basis, and I’ve worked as an editor for 18 years, doing everything from technical editing to helping authors revise their novels and memoirs. Aside from my daughters, writing is the most fulfilling part of my life.

S. M. Nystoriak:  As a child, would you consider yourself to have been an avid reader?  I am curious what stories may have influenced your writing today.

Cassandra Dunn:  Yes, I think I was an avid reader as a child. I could sit all day reading. I particularly loved animal stories: Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, Black Beauty. But I also remember taking early readers and revising them. I can clearly recall being about seven years old and copying the text from a book on pandas onto another piece of paper, rearranging the content into a sequence that made more sense to me. I think maybe I was born an editor as much as a writer.

S. M. Nystoriak:  How about now, as an adult.  What might we find on your bookshelf or e-reader?

Cassandra Dunn:  I’m still an avid reader, and I have fairly varied tastes. I’m usually reading more than one book at a time. Right now I’m reading Ellen Sussman’s On a Night Like This. I just finished Gone Girl and Moloka’i. I have too many favorite authors to list, but a few that come to mind are Marisa de los Santos, Michael Chabon, Heidi Durrow, and Richard Russo. I love a good story about complex, compelling characters.

S. M. Nystoriak:  I have personally done a lot of research in the field of music, music education, and music history.  I have found that even though I actually enjoy writing very technical pieces incorporating that research, writing fiction is quite different.  Were you always a writer of fiction, or have you delved into other types of writing as well?  If so, how did you find the transition?

Cassandra Dunn:  When I was earning my MFA in creative writing, my concentration was creative nonfiction, so my master’s thesis was a memoir. Then I realized that before I could publish it I’d need permission from a couple of people I’d included in the book who weren’t likely to give it. So I switched to writing fiction. I worked on short stories until I felt like I had the hang of it, and one of my first efforts was a finalist for a Glimmer Train story contest. Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten 11 stories published while I’ve been working on various ideas for novels. I feel like writing short stories is a great exercise for novel writing–a reminder to keep scenes tight and meaningful, to not overwrite, to not include anything that isn’t essential to the story. I still write the occasional short story, I’m just a fan of the form, but I’m mostly focusing my efforts on novels now.

S. M. Nystoriak:  I read that your novel has a very personal connection to your own life.  Would you mind telling us a bit about it?

Cassandra Dunn:  I had an uncle with Asperger’s Syndrome, and I always knew I’d write about it someday. I liked the idea of writing about a character with Asperger’s, not just from his point of view but from that of the people closest to him. There are so many stereotypes about Asperger’s and autism, and I want to get beyond those. There’s so much talk about mainstreaming and medicating and “normalizing” people with Asperger’s, and it’s important to remember that they are amazing individuals as they are, and that there isn’t anything “wrong” with them. I certainly believe in giving every individual the best tools to succeed in life, but I also believe that the real challenge is in our ability to accept them and celebrate them for who they are. My uncle is no longer with us, but he meant a lot to me. My character isn’t exactly like my uncle, but he certainly shares some characteristics, and it’s been a great experience to honor my uncle’s memory in this way.

S. M. Nystoriak:  Did you spend a lot of time researching Asperger’s Syndrome for this novel?

Cassandra Dunn:  It helped to grow up around Asperger’s Syndrome, but as I developed my character I found it hard to separate the typical Asperger’s characteristics from the qualities that were specific to my uncle, so I did end up doing a ton of research as well. I wanted Matt to embody a typical adult (he’s in his mid-forties in the book) living with the various challenges of Asperger’s, but also to have his own unique personality, interests, and methods of dealing with those challenges. I came across some amazing Asperger’s communities with the most open and honest adults living with Asperger’s—I wish there’d been something like that for my uncle to participate in when he’d been alive, I think it would’ve made a big difference in his life.

S. M. Nystoriak:  Can you give us a bit of a plot synopsis for your book?  I heard something about multiple points of view!

Cassandra Dunn:  The book alternates point of view between four characters: Lana, who is recently separated, her brother Matt who has Asperger’s Syndrome, Lana’s fourteen-year-old daughter Abby who is battling anorexia and her first crush, and Lana’s sixteen-year-old son Byron who is a promising athlete thinking of leaving it all behind to pursue art, and who is in love with his best friend’s sister.

The character of Matt comes into this fractured family because Lana needs help with her mortgage and after Matt suffers an accidental overdose, Lana, the ultimate caretaker, decides to take him on as her latest project. Byron and Abby tolerate their quirky uncle, but they aren’t close to him. As the story progresses, and Lana, Byron, and Abby face their own challenges and drama, they each come to realize that Matt is actually the rock of the family. He’s impervious to drama, unaffected by the challenges they face. He is who he is, every second of every day: a brilliant, quirky, observant, rigidly consistent soul. He is the one person who never judges them and never lies to them. He’s a living example of the self-acceptance they are each ultimately searching for.

S. M. Nystoriak:  Any idea yet about when it might be released?

Cassandra Dunn:  I’m still in the revision stage right now, working with my amazing agent Harvey Klinger. I’ll definitely let you know as soon as we have a release date!

S. M. Nystoriak:  Okay, now to the exciting part of this interview, at least as far as I am concerned!  Tell us about your road to representation.  How long did it take?  Did you have a process for querying? What was it like to get the call?  In your own words, walk us through how it all happened!

Cassandra Dunn:  My first novel attempt became a semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, so I knew I was on the right track. I sent that novel out to a slew of agents, and got a decent number of requests for the full manuscript, but none that led to offers of representation. While I was sending that novel out I kept myself from going crazy by starting a new novel. By the time I’d finished that second novel, I knew it was a much better book and that it was the one I should be focusing on. I sent it to a handful of agents, including Harvey Klinger, and he responded right away, asking for the first few chapters, and then the full manuscript. He contacted me to say that he thought my novel had a lot of potential and that he’d be happy to work together on it. Two months later we’re nearing the end of revisions and talking about the next steps for finding a publisher. It’s a very exciting time!

S. M. Nystoriak:  Cassandra, it is not every day that an agent takes that kind of interest in a new novelist!  I think that part of your story is absolutely amazing.  Okay.  Final question:  If you could create an iPod playlist for one of the characters in your novel, which character would it be, and what would you put into the playlist?

Cassandra Dunn:  I’d say Matt, because he’d have an interesting and eclectic playlist. He likes classical music, so there’d be some of that, but he also likes white noise, street sounds, nature noises. I think he’d have a little of everything that he finds soothing, and it would make sense to no one but him.

S. M. Nystoriak:  Thank you so much for participating in my author interviews.  I wish you great success in your writing career.