Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How I Write: Authors on Their Writing Process - C. M. Halstead

Today's interview is with science fiction author C. M. Halstead

1.         When did you first start writing?
I finally allowed myself to write in 2014 at the age of 42. I wanted to write since I was a teenager in high school, I just never allowed it. It conflicted with the belief system I had in my brain, “art is great and cool, but go get a job.” Eventually, after 20 years or so of working for other people's dreams, in various jobs, I quit doing all that.

About a year ago now, in the summer of 2015, my wife and I, along with a few friends, converted a 1980 Ward school bus into a motorhome. We now live in it full time. Free from the load of the typical American financial outgo (house payments, car payments, buying stuff - all the things Americans spend money on) I can spend more time writing. I write 4 - 6 days a week and have blogs on my writing process.

I am eternally grateful I finally got out of my own way and am allowing myself to become what I have always wanted to be, a writer. For the first time in my life, I feel congruent. Awesome sauce! Currently, I am working on the final edit of my third book called Earned Innocence. It is a cathartic military fiction piece that is about 70,000 words long. Also, I am writing the rough draft of book three of The Tripper Series. The Tripper Series is a seven book science fiction/time travel series about a team of seven Trippers, who travel through time for a living).

2.         What are your books about? Are you self / traditionally published or hybrid?
The purpose of my books is to create an escape from your grind, whatever your grind looks like; life has repetitive things that we do just because we must. When you are tired of that, pick up a book and escape to a different world.

My books are about why we do what we do, what our motivations are, and how we convince ourselves those actions and beliefs are the right things. They also are about relationships, not just romantic ones, friendship and enemy type relationships as well. I believe any interaction between two humans is a relationship of some kind. Even if they both hate each other.

They also are social commentaries woven into great stories, classic heroes’ journeys with strong human characters (both male and female) driven by the knowledge that they all are heroes in their journeys. Even antagonists are protagonists in their minds. (I touch on this specific topic in a psychological thriller rough drafted during last November’s NaNoWriMo. I look forward to revisiting this psycho this November when I rough out book two of the three book series. Now that he is aware of who he really is, the relationship between him and the FBI agent will get interesting…)

My first few books and short stories are self-published. At the entry level stage of the business and with today’s technology, it seems like a no-brainer to be an Indie Author. As my following grows and better contracts appear before me, I will consider traditional publishing.

3.         What led to your love for literature? Any favorite books / teachers / writing mentors?
Reading was my greatest escape from the age of 12, on up to today. Back then I dove into The Hardy Boys, reading the entire series of 100 plus books more than once.  As I look back, I am amazed that I was engaged in a series of books that repeated the same pattern over and over with different story details. Paradoxically I would read novels written by Stephen King and books written by military personnel returning from Vietnam. One of the reasons I love Stephen King and a reason his books don’t always translate well into movies is the amount of time we spend in the heads of his characters; we learn why they do what they do, their motivations. I enjoy getting to be in the brains of all characters, good and evil. I am an adventurer at heart and enjoy books that take me on great adventures of all types! Any suggestions of authors I could try out?

I don’t have any official writing mentors or teachers. I am self-educated and taught thus far. I spent about eight months figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t, and the last year or so progressing in the craft. I do gain a lot from reading, reading teaches me what has worked for others, and helps to empower me to try new things, or not edit what wants to come out of my fingers.

Even though I am "self-taught", I love to mentor and help people step through whatever is keeping them from writing. Through my blog and video classes, I help empower others to write their stories!

4.         What's your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you write by hand / type / dictate?
I am a night person and figured that would be my best writing time, nope! It turns out that my least favorite time of day, early morning, is my most productive writing time. I figured this out through trial and error; I just kept trying different times of day until I found one that works for me. I write 4-6 days a week when I am flowing. I get up, make coffee, grab snacks and head into my “writer’s cave” for 2-3 hours. My goal is to write 2,000 words; one of the greatest gifts I received from participating in NaNoWriMo is learning to crank out words! Learning to produce words and get into a flow was imperative to me and my writing process. It is when the best stuff comes out. There is no editor or What I present when I am in flow and writing unconsciously.

I do not outline, although I do have a hero's journey storyline chart in front of me when I get to the later edits. I want to ensure I hit all the important aspects of the classic storytelling style.

I have to use technology to write; I cannot keep up with my flow when writing by hand. So I bang away on an eleven-inch compact laptop.

5.         What's your editing process?
I complete my rough draft with no editing at all. Then I walk away from the story for a while and work on others, when I am ready, I come back and start my edits. I will run through the manuscript about three times before someone else takes a look at it or I use software to check the grammar etc. Then after I read through it one more time, I send it to beta readers and a content editor. After they have their way with it, I take their feedback into serious consideration and go through the story one last time. The editing is important to the reader; some cannot accept a great story unless it is free of errors. Others, not as “aware” just won’t enjoy a story as much if it doesn’t flow the way their brain wants it to flow naturally. Paying for editing is tough for an indie author, yet a necessary evil. It is important to me that someone else take a critical eye to my works before I release them into the world.

6.         Any favorite apps / software / technology for writing?
I use Scrivener for most of my process. I love how easy it is to add folders and scenes, as well as jump around between them. I let myself write whatever comes to me, in any part of the story and it is easy to navigate around with the way Scrivener is set up. I also use Grammarly to help with the sentence structure etc.

7.         Any favorite apps / software / websites for marketing and promotion?
I am still in the learning curve with the marketing side of things. A reclusive introvert by nature, it is not my strong suit. I can climb mountains, go canyoneering, spends weeks in the woods, yet sell myself? Not so much.  My best successes thus far are Amazon and booths at Comicon. Comicon is perfect for science fiction books; the audience is everywhere!

8.         What did you find most / least useful in learning to write?
Most useful? This:

Sit down,

I can talk about it, network about it, I can attend classes about it, yet unless I sit in the chair and write, the story will not get written. And it is while writing that I am learning how to write.

NaNoWriMo which I have mentioned a couple of times was a huge help as well. It is simply a way to self-track and hold myself accountable to writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

Least helpful in the writing process? Networking. It is not something that helps me write the actual book. It is beneficial with the other parts of indie authorship (like marketing, book cover designs, how to sell your books, stuff like that) but not writing the actual book. If I am out being social or on Facebook, Goodreads groups, etc., then I am not writing.

9.         Who or what inspires you? Where / how do you get your book ideas?
Even though I didn’t allow myself to write until recently, I still gathered ideas and wrote them on scraps of paper, business cards, cardboard, whatever, and kept them. Perhaps there is a part of me that knew someday I would write. As I remember it, though, I figured at least I would keep my ideas, if for nothing other than a consolation prize. When I was sitting down to write for the first time, I decided to grab three separate ideas and turn them into a story. Those three scraps of paper became The Tripper Series. I knew by the end of that day; it would be a story told in seven books about seven characters who after being wiped from history became the Special Forces of the year 2114, traveling back in time, accomplishing unknown missions for the greater good of humanity.

Earned Innocence, the cathartic military fiction book releasing this winter is inspired by my military experiences, and of others that served.

The psychological thrillers inspired by the knowledge that even bad guys are the good guys, if only in their minds, will present their perspective.

All my stories will surely be about the human endeavor and why we do what we do. Most important is the story. The actual story you are reading. I am one who will spend fewer words on the design and color of the drapes, and more on the story. Even my shorts are full of story, albeit contained in 17,000 words or less (The Tracker by C.M. Halstead is a great example).

10.      When in the day do you usually write? For how long?
First thing in the morning, for 2-3 hours. I sometimes hike first. It helps a lot if I don’t interact with any other humans before my writing sessions. My brain has been percolating all night, and the uninterrupted thought has me raring to go. I make coffee and take food stuffs in with me. The goal is to stay in the process for as long as I can without disruption.

11.      Do you have a writing routine / schedule? Any specific rituals?
Ritual is important to my writing. Having my body in the “habit” of writing at the same time each day means if I skip writing for a day or two, I don’t feel right. My body craves it, and I turn into an ornery ole bastard if I don’t write. I love it! This way I keep writing and everybody knows I need to write and honor my space.

My entire writing process is a ritual. Same time of day, same coffee cup, same energy bars, and potato chips. One of the reasons we live in a motorhome is so I can have the same writing space and still travel. I am not one that can write in public or at libraries.  There are far too many distractions for me, people to watch, birds to watch; the list goes on. I must be locked away from everything. Curtains closed, headphones on, and no interruptions. (I speak to this in my blog on “What works for me”)

12.      Where do you feel most inspired to write?
I feel most inspired to write while parked in a forest or desert, aka in the middle of nowhere, far away from all the human distractions. There is nothing worse than hearing a leaf blower, garbage truck, or barking dog while I am writing. I am in the flow, and then a part of my mind goes, “what is that? There are no garbage trucks in 2114… or dogs or bacon” ok there would hopefully be bacon, but it is not part of my writing process.

When I was establishing boundaries with my family around my writing process and not coming into my writer’s cave while I am working, we had what we are calling the bacon incident. I know to some bacon is off limits, to me, it is all about the salt, fat, and protein. I love it. One morning the misses made some bacon and opened the door to my workspace to bring me some! I was in flow and writing like crazy when she speaks and scares you know what out of me. I remember thinking, “who is this person and why are they standing there?” Then this stranger speaks, “I made you some bacon.” And they hand over a plate of bacon. It is then that I come back to reality and realize what is going on. This is what I said to my version of Awesome, “Honey, I love you, but you cannot come in here.” She says, “Oh, ok. I just thought you would want some bacon.” “I do, but you cannot come in here. I love you, but you cannot come in here.” That was the final test, and she knew that if she couldn’t interrupt to bring me one of my favorite things, then interrupting me is not an option.

13.      Describe your desk / writing corner / favorite writing spot.
I write in my self-created writer’s cave. Before we went mobile, it was on the back porch, as far as possible from the street and any other noises. Now I write in a small space constructed over the wheel well of the bus. It is a space about 2 1/2 feet x 3 feet, since it is over the wheel well, I do not have enough space to stand. I have to slide sideways into my seat. I have a window for air flow, but the blind is always closed, and I pull a heavy curtain over the entrance as well (someday I will build an actual door). All the writing space contains is my computer, a monitor attached to the wall, and just a few things to fiddle with if my mind needs a distraction while thinking during the editing process. Nothing else is allowed in the writer’s cave! I even turn the internet off during my creative process.

14.      Do you listen to music while you write? What kind of music?
Absolutely. I think it is important during my writing process. While in the creative writing stages of the books, I listen to many types of music, as long as it doesn't have words! If there is singing or talking going on, the part of my brain that creates is listening to the words being sung, instead of writing. Classical, techno, acoustic guitar, Spotify's “deep focus” channel. I tend to listen to music that takes on the mood of the particular scene I am writing. Music helps me feel a mood.

15.      Do you ever get writers' block? What are some ways you get around it?
Writer’s block for me means, avoiding the chair. It is my job to get my butt into the chair, and then the process ensues. I let life’s actions prevent me from sitting in the writer’s cave from time to time. Parenting and travel days are great distractions, as well as being in town or having visitors. If I break the regular habit of writing, then it takes effort for me to sit down again. For me, writer’s block is avoidance. And it gets worse the longer I wait. The excuses come out, and the busyness takes over that time until eventually, I drive out to the middle of nowhere and the writing comes out of my fingers again.

16.      Do you now, or did you ever have any day jobs? Did they add to or detract from your writing?
I have had tons of day jobs! Right now I am a parent of a ten-year-old. Whenever he is out of school, that is my full-time job. He has gotten used to my writing process and is supportive, i.e. he leaves me alone so I can write. It is one of the two things he is most proud of me for doing (“…being a Marine and a writer, how rare is that!” he says.). I also mentor others, not just on writing, on life in general and getting no know themselves and why they do what they do. I specialize in helping people who feel “stuck.” Helping them to figure out what they need to do to become unstuck and move in the directions they want to go, instead of the direction they were taught or others tow them in. A few times a year, I also teach the writing process through videos on the internet and small classes in person (I limit it to five people).
And yes, everything I do other than write and hike distracts me from my writing process. The thing I have to be vigilant about it exactly that, not letting parenting, traveling, visitors or producing income get in the way of my writing. Making the act of writing a priority is key to my success as an author.

17.      How do you make the time to write?
I have to make time to write, enforce boundaries around it and schedule the rest of my life around it. If I don’t make it a priority, no one else will. It is imperative that I am consistent and keep my body trained to write at the same time and for a certain length of time. It is the most important thing I as a writer can do to help my writing process. Be consistent and make time to write on a regular schedule!

18.      How much research do you do? What kind?
Most of my research happens later in the writing process after I have the story written, then and only then, will I go onto the internet and research anything I deem important enough to be accurate. I am writing fiction, so it is not too important unless I am trying to prove a point or am writing a story presented as “real in our world.” It is important that I don’t use the need to research something as an excuse to avoid the creative process.

19.      How much marketing do you do? Which platforms are you most active on? 
I utilize social media mostly. I also have someone who spends a couple of hours a week promoting me in various places. Tonya June Moore, a social media expert, handles the marketing aspect for me.  Marketing an indie author is a process that pays off over time!
I use Facebook and Instagram to create awareness of C.M. Halstead through humor, pictures, and blogs. I don’t push my stories too hard on them.

I also can be found on Goodreads from time to time. Spending time in India author groups has been more beneficial to my learning curve, than marketing my books, thus far.

20.      What's the most fun aspect of marketing? The most challenging?
It isn’t fun for me ;) I am an introvert and reclusive. I want my stories to be read and enjoyed. Meeting strangers is tough, although meeting someone who has read something I created and is looking at me with glassy eyes full of respect and admiration, is fulfilling and empowering. So if there is something fun about it, that is it. Meeting a fan.

21.      What project are you working on now?
I have three books in various stages of the process!

Book three of The Tripper series is in the rough draft stage, currently at 35,000 words. I will continue to develop the story, keeping the book under 50,000 words (my goal with the series is to create seven quick reads, that suck you in and release you when you’ve completed the book 3-4 hours later).

Earned Innocence, a stand alone, cathartic military fiction piece, is in the final stages of editing. I expect to release the book this winter. Earned Innocence is around 68,000 words currently. This book scares the hell out of me, so it is probably good, lol. I have released the hounds and am writing what I truly want to write, telling my version of a boy who is becoming a warrior and then has to deal with the repercussions of what he experiences, and the aftermath when he returns home. After years hiding in the deserts, he finally faces the demon and has a great battle with him. Although well deserved, it is a hard and true battle for most warriors.

I also have my first psychological thriller in the process. I will return to it sometime this year, as well as write the second book (of three) in that series. I haven’t figured out how to talk about this book yet without giving away any of the plots. This series I am excited about and think it will freak the readers out in a good way, things truly are not as they seem and good guys can be bad.

Something I haven’t mentioned yet, is I have two short stories published and two more in the works. They are the things I work on when I need a break from the longer stories. These are stories inspired by current life events or documentaries I watch. The Tracker and Not Eligible are available online. "The Tracker" was inspired by a story I heard about a real life tracker named Tom Brown Jr. And "Not Eligible" is a short story about a human doing the unthinkable for what he believes is all the right reasons.

I also have two other short stories in the process. One about half complete is a dystopian fiction story about what happens to a country after a horrible human being is put in charge of the country. Is it a revolution or civil war? One doesn't know until the end. The other short story is about a magic tub and the world beneath it. It is my first children’s story.

22.      What books do you like to read? What are you reading now?
I recently finished Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, a long story that was a great read. Snuff by Terry Pratchett, a great storyteller that weaves in lots of wit and humor, which I love. And I am almost finished with the fourth book of Petter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series (book four is titled Skull Throne.
For homework reasons, I have been re-reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series. I work at getting my hands on the original releases of the books and later revisions, to see what the author/ editors change in the later versions.

My reading shelf is as eclectic as my writing resume. I am early in my writing career, with two books and two short stories published. I have 50 books in me fighting to be next! They all want to come out now, and I had better get on it, maybe I will sleep in a few years!


C.M. Halstead is the product of 40 plus years of travel and exploration; a childhood as an Air Force brat and service in the Marine Corps changed him forever. He managed 84 people, negotiated multi-million dollar contracts, drove Jeeps professionally — usually at crazy angles and locals.
An astute believer in adventure, he is now doing the craziest thing ever, pursuing his passion full out and becoming an accomplished author.

Ready or not, here he comes!

Trip Walk

Grey walks back to his quarters. His rookies foremost in his mind; he has great confidence in his team, they not so much in themselves. This will have to change soon, it is key to their survival.

Trip Walk, book one of The Tripper Series, introduces us to a team of seven people residing in the year 2114. Hand-picked from throughout time by the latest computers; they are tasked with the arduous and life threatening job of traveling back in time. Belonging to a clandestine organization whose job it is to serve the greater good by fixing or tweaking the past, they accomplish their missions with a do or die attitude knowing it is for the good of all mankind, or so they are lead to believe.
Time will tell….

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