Ghosts in the IM: Conversations Between Writers

Amanda C. Davis



Why should you know Amanda? Well… go read her story Shimmer, and then you can tell me. She is one of the people I wish I lived close enough to that I could show up outside her kitchen window holding out my empty bowl like Oliver whenever she bakes. You should also check out her websiteΒ (There’s more fiction links there!) and follow her on Twitter.


Minerva Zimmerman

Well, I suppose the first thing is to establish how we know each other

Amanda C. Davis

Let me see. I’m sure I got to know you on Twitter, but I’m pretty sure we were in a TOC together?

MZ: Beast Within 3: Oceans Unleashed, I think

AD: That’s the one

I actually log all my TOCs in this big spreadsheet

MZ: I don’t remember if we followed each other before that TOC or not on Twitter

AD: so I can just search it for anyone and see what we’ve been in together.

I think before, honestly.

MZ: I think so too

AD: One of those things where our circles overlapped.

MZ: Yeah, it’s weird how that happens

AD: Sometimes I follow Clarion grads just to get in on the ground floor. πŸ™‚

MZ: I’m not much of a workshop person.I found I don’t actually like workshopping in general

AD: Ah!

MZ: I just found it isn’t as useful for me, personally

AD: Is it better online? I prefer to get written crits rather than verbal ones. Possibly because it’s easier for people to be vague out loud than on paper.

MZ: I prefer one on one crits with someone I know and knows me at least tangentially, rather than the workshop format

AD: Gotcha

MZ: I have really awesome Beta Readers

AD: I’ve never gotten crits from someone I didn’t know at least in passing. Not sure how that would work for me.I’ve always had great crit partners at hand, I’m very lucky. My sister, first and foremost.

MZ: is your sister also a writer?

AD: I’m thinking about that a lot lately, actually, because I’ve been brushing shoulders with some writers in their teens lately, wondering–how can I help them without hurting them? What kind of guidance gets them through this stage into the next one?

My sister Megan Engelhardt is also a writer. We co-wrote our collection, Wolves and Witches.

Available at e-retailers everywhere. ;P

MZ: πŸ™‚ My youngest brother is my first reader, so I do like working with siblings

though he’s 15 years younger, so we don’t have the same childhood experiences

AD: My sister and I are only two years apart, so our experiences are VERY similar. It’s good and bad in that we can usually tell what each other is trying to get at, but we might both miss the same things. And rivalry is a thing. πŸ™‚

MZ: did you read the same books?

AD: Haha, we did to the extent that we let each other touch them. One or two prized books, we negotiated signed contracts. Not perfect overlap, though. More like a Venn diagram.

MZ: I bet family trips to the library were fun

AD: We had a bookmobile.

MZ: did your parents have to negotiate cease fires over who got a book first?

AD: We lived in the country, so every…month? I’m not good with time. This van full of books would park by the post office and we’d do our librarying there. Not over that! We were both fast enough readers that we could both get to the same book within hours.

The entire family warred over Goblet of Fire, though.

MZ: Oh, I remember fighting my mom over that one

AD: So my sister and I have been reading each other’s manuscripts since elementary school, easily.

MZ: Do you have other Beta Readers you use too?

AD: It depends on the project. I have a great local group that sees a lot of my short stuff, especially if we all write to the same prompt, and they’ve seen one novel. Then there’s this whole network of Internet friends who’ve seen various trunk novels, or who will be called to service sometime this year, I swear. Heads up, guys!

A lot of the time, shorter pieces will only go through Megan, or just myself.

MZ: How do you go about writing short fiction pieces? Do you go from prompts mostly?

AD: Most of my short fiction has been to prompt, or for an upcoming theme.

Deadlines are a big part of my motivation. If I just get an idea I want to write, it usually hangs back in my brain until I have something to apply it to, if that makes sense.

MZ: I think my short fiction generally starts with: Step 1: First you get a Deadline

AD: Haha, I feel that. πŸ™‚

MZ: I don’t seem to finish things without deadlines as much

AD: It just helps focus my priorities.

MZ: yes, exactly!

AD: There aren’t a lot of stories I care about so deeply that they go to the top of the list. There’ve been a few. Mostly, knowing someone out there wants a specific thing is enough to float a project.

Do you remember that time I went crazy over motivation/encouragement profiles?

MZ: I will admit I focus more on your food projects

AD: Fair enough. πŸ˜›

MZ: I’m more likely to remember things that make me drool for whatever reason

AD: Let me grab you a blog link. (I just made two batches of cherry jam. AWESOME.)

MZ: Did you get the big counter mounted pitter?

AD: Oh no, I did it with a paring knife and my right thumbnail. Between the dark juice and the cuts I look like I was in a knife fight. There we go:Β

MZ: holy cow, that’s hardcore cooking

AD: Long blog post short, I think certain kinds of writers are mostly driven by deadlines, and we are definitely two of them. So we might as well embrace what works for us.

MZ: I think I’d say that while I can be socially driven, it doesn’t result in published work

not the way deadlines do it still results in work, but just not of the type that is immediately publishable

AD: Ah, got it. Is the goal then to show it to someone else?

MZ: but that’s really important for getting through a longer fiction piece

AD: That’s interesting. Maybe deadlines work better for short pieces because it’s one and done, but if you have crit partners, getting chapters to them can be that immediate gratification you don’t get if you save a whole novel to send out.

MZ: right, cause I still need the motivation to keep going sometimes and crit partners provide that

what I’m having trouble motivating is editing longer pieces

AD: Oh, you are singing my blues right now. Have you successfully done it? Edited a full, long piece to the point where it wasn’t going to get better without professional help?

MZ: I mean, I know how to fix stuff and what I need to do, but can I afford to stop publishing short fiction for a long period of time? Plus there’s a lot of do a lot of work and then hurry up and wait to be rejected which is hard to force yourself to do.

I’ve done novella length, but not novel that’s the next hurdle.

AD: The short-term rewards are so hard to give up! πŸ˜€ You write a piece, you ship it out a couple times, it sells or it doesn’t, it’s over.

MZ: Oh no. I am a short fiction addict.

AD: Three years on a novel? I want to claw my face off.

MZ: /wrings hands/

AD: Haha, this is what happens when you talk writing to me, I just gripe about the novel for one million years.

Let’s talk about how much we edit our short pieces instead!

MZ: Ha, Ok. Have you ever had a piece that seems cursed?

AD: There’s something James D. Macdonald said on Absolute Write once, that I thought was smart, comparing a short story to a key lime pie: if it doesn’t bake up right, you just have to make another one. That’s how it tends to work for me. I’m much, much more likely to scrap a story than significantly rework it.

MZ: Yeah. Sigh. I once had a class with a guy who said one smart thing ever in my hearing (the rest of what he said had to do with how he was a reincarnation of either Jesus Christ or the Devil’s Son) about how some stories are just meant to become compost for new ones.

AD: That sounds about right, yeah. (The last part.)

And sometimes I can see the links between stories, chronologically, where I (apparently without realizing it) took a second shot at something I did in a previous story.

Oh boy, though, doesn’t it suck to throw away something that’s about 90% right!

MZ: Yeah, I’m still not convinced this one I’m struggling with isn’t fixable which is what is killing me right now.

AD: Have you ever managed to work through something like that?

Fixing it to your satisfaction years later?

I have two right now I’m hoping to pull that trick on.

MZ: Yes, but usually when the problem was that I wasn’t a good enough writer yet.

AD: I may have only done it once.

I’m curious, what specifically did you improve at, before you could fix the story?

And would a really good crit have helped you along faster, or do you think you had to get to that point at your own pace?

MZ: Well, partly was that I had the wrong crit partner for a long time.

AD: Ouch!

MZ: Like, I was learning a lot, but we were never going to see eye-to-eye on certain things because I’d have to destroy my voice to get them to where they were trying to get me. I just know myself and my writing and my voice better now. I know what things to ignore now.

AD: Being able to play your own instrument, rather than learn someone else’s?

MZ: Right, it was like trying to learn acoustic guitar for years when you really wanted to play electric.

AD: That’s funny. I’ve had my crit partners long enough that for a lot of them, I can recognize things that will bother them to death that I’m just not going to stop doing, so I can take that crit for what it’s worth. πŸ™‚

MZ: and to take that analogy further, I have really tiny hands so I couldn’t do the fingering correctly

AD: And then if I spot that kind of thing in their work, I know they’ll want me to point it out.

I was thinking violin and tuba, but tomato-tomahto. πŸ™‚

MZ: I was at least in the same instrument familyΒ πŸ™‚

AD: So, but do you think voice is really what makes or breaks a piece?

MZ: Mmmm… it can

AD: I feel like it’s important and valuable, but not strictly essential.

MZ: but I think more importantly it is something that can trump other problems

AD: She said, as a devoted hack.

Ooh! Like what?

MZ: like if it is wrong it doesn’t matter how right the rest of the story is, and if it is right it can make up for a lot

AD: Ah, okay, I’ll buy that.

I think there’s room for it to be “just fine” too, unremarkable, and the story can still work.

MZ: I think you can still have an excellent story with middling voice.

AD: Yeah.

MZ: You just can’t have an excellent story with terrible voice.

AD: Unless that’s the point. πŸ˜€

MZ: And excellent voice prevents a story from being truly horrible

AD: I agree with all of that!

*high fives*

MZ: *high five*

Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

AD: Nothing in particular!

I’d be happy to do it again sometime.

MZ: I’m hoping this is something that catches on. I want newer writers to understand how writers network and actually talk and how things happen.

that it isn’t some crazy conspiracy

AD: Hahahaha

(continues laughing)

(still laughing)

MZ: we just overlap and enjoy talking about stuff!

AD: What we do is, we slave away in solitude, going quietly crazy

and then get together and just complain about it for HOURS.

MZ: and trade recipes

the recipes are very important

AD: Well yes, and that. πŸ™‚

The thing that Twitter has really taught me about networking

is how it’s really all about mutual interest and impressing each other.

I follow people who are funny, they follow me back if they think I’m funny.

MZ: Right. I don’t follow people back who just post links to their stuff and their blogs. I follow people who talk to other people.

AD: Writers follow each other when they share a TOC, or a favorite genre or topic, or just an interest. It’s the number one best way to find new markets, support, and awesome people!

MZ: TOC are a major way I’ve ended up following people

AD: Same here.

MZ: cause it means we generally write about the same sorts of stuff

AD: People who got into things I failed to get into. πŸ™‚

Plus, it’s a conversation starter. And something to bring to cons to get signed.

MZ: Yes. I really like following people with different interests who feel very passionately about them

AD: Same! I’ve learned fantastic things by watching people gush about them.

Have you tried baking macarons, perchance? ^_^

MZ: Not yet, I’m still intimidated!

AD: Don’t!

MZ: But my brother is staying with us at least for the summer, and he adores cooking things, so we might try it together

AD: Haha, it’s like submitting stories. What’s the worst thing that happens? You fail? Come on.


MZ: Well, right now the worst thing would be eating an entire batch of macaroons πŸ™‚

AD: You are confusing “worst thing” with “best thing” πŸ˜€

MZ: probably πŸ™‚