Writing nonfiction, interviewing

As I dive further into the world of writing nonfiction, one thing is becoming clear. Interviewing people as someone with social anxiety sucks so hard. 

What the hell was I thinking, putting myself in a position where I was going to have to like, talk to people? As a professional?!

Okay, all that aside, conducting interviews is something that I had to learn how to do. I’ve also developed some ways to make it easier on myself. Are any of these world-shattering revelations? No, not really. But they’ve all helped me. And if you’re writing a nonfiction book, they might help you too.

Especially if you, like me, don’t like talking to people. I mean, that’s why we became writers. 

When you’re setting up interviews, common courtesy comes into play. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time. While there are benefits to being interviewed, largely your subject is doing you a favor. So act like it, and value their time.

Start by doing some research ahead of time. No, forget that. Start by doing a lot of research ahead of time. Don’t ask this person things you can google, is what I’m saying.

It might also help if you check out interviews they might already have done if they’re a specialist that gets interviewed frequently. I can imagine it gets tiresome to be asked the same questions all the time. Try to shake it up a little. Or at least not waste their time, and yours, asking them things that you don’t need them to answer.

Another part of not wasting their time (or yours) is to write up your questions ahead of time. That way you’re not fumbling around, trying to think of what to ask next. This helps with anxiety, too. I’m sure that as you’re thinking of someone you want to interview, you’ve got millions of questions in your head. Writing them down might seem useless. Until you’re face to face with another human being that you probably haven’t met before. Then all of your questions vanish from your head like a puddle on a hot day. 

It also just makes you look like you’re a professional. Like you’ve got your shit together. 

When you’re writing out your list of questions, you’ll want to start with some basic release stuff. This is always useful, but even more so if you’re working on an emotional topic. Once you start talking, you might forget entirely. So let me help you get started.

1. Do you want me to use your name? 

2. If so, how do you spell it? 

Ah, but before we get to the questions, you have one very simple piece of information you need to give them. Repeat this sentence with me. 

I’m going to record our discussion today. If you’d like, I can send you a copy.

That’s it. Don’t give them the chance to say no. If they don’t want to be recorded, maybe don’t talk to them.

I understand that I’m being a little hard line here. And of course, you don’t have to listen to me. What the hell do I know?

Well, one thing I know is that having a recording of a conversation protects your subject and you. If you fuck up and misquote them, there’s a record for them to fall back on. If they claim you misquoted them and you most certainly did not, you have the record too. 

There are a lot of other good reasons to keep a recording of the conversation, of course. You’ll need it along with your notes to refer back to. And you do want to make sure you’re not misquoting anyone.

One thing that’s helped me when conducting interviews is not doing them face to face. First off, Covid. Second off, lots of people I want to interview don’t live near me. Or, they’re super busy people who find it hard to make time to sit down and be interviewed by some random woman.

That’s why I utilize zoom interviews and email interviews.

Honestly, the emailed ones are the best. It gives your subject time to consider the questions you’re asking and give you thought-out answers. It also lets them answer the questions in their own time. It’s just a lot more schedule-friendly.

Also, once again, you’ve got a complete record of what was said. #protectyourass #notlegaladvice. 

Finally, remember that in most cases you’ll be interviewing professionals. While you might do some personal interviews, most people are informed members of their field who are qualified to talk about your topic. Treat them as such.

But remember that you’re a professional too. You are writing a book, and that has some clout to it. Your subject is adding to your book, and you should be grateful. But you don’t need to be scared of them. This book is your project. Hold your head up high. You’re doing something most people only talk about doing. 

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Nonfiction, not a school essay!

Writing nonfiction often gets a bad reputation. Lots of authors think it lacks the creativity and storytelling of fiction. 

And I blame the public education system. 

English class taught me to love books and hate nonfiction writing. It kind of made me hate writing anything I was going to turn in for a while until I learned to work with the system.

The problem is that not everyone works with the system well. And when you’re writing an essay for English class, it’s fairly dull work.

It’s boring to write and it’s boring to read. I’d think teachers would assign different topics that encourage kids to explore creativity. But then, teachers don’t usually make their lesson plans.

Here’s the thing, though. Writing a nonfiction book is not the same as writing a school essay. 

It’s not a school essay because you’re writing about something you have a passion for. Unless you were very lucky, I’m assuming you didn’t like most of your school essays. But a nonfiction novel is about a subject that you care about enough to live and breathe.

At least it had better be if you’re going to successfully write about it.

You’re excited about your topic. You’re passionate about it. And the language you use needs to reflect that. 

Language and word choice is one major way we can utilize creativity in nonfiction pieces. When someone’s reading your piece, they should be able to feel your excitement. They should feel your love.

Not for them. That would be weird. For the topic. 

Another thing that pissed me off about school essays was the strict reliance on templates. You know, a standard intro, key topics and then a closer.

Okay yes, I use a loose version of this for writing blog posts. But I don’t have to. And I certainly don’t use them when writing nonfiction.

If you want to write great nonfiction, throw out the rules. Your work doesn’t have to fall into neat paragraphs. You don’t have to discuss things chronologically if that doesn’t make sense.

The book is your own. You are an artist. Free yourself from the shackles of topic sentences. 

The most important thing to remember is this. Your nonfiction books are meant to convey information. That’s its main purpose. But it’s not its sole purpose. Your book also needs to be entertaining. It needs to be fun to read.

Because if it’s not, no one is going to bother. 

Announcing a brand new scifi/horror podcast

As you might have noticed, we’re more than halfway through 2021. And I, gasp, haven’t launched a book yet. 

For those of you keeping track, I’ve launched a book every year for the past five years. Often, more than one. 

Well, I have some bad news and some good news, you guys. The bad news is, I’m not launching a book in 2021. 

The good news is, I’m launching a podcast instead. The even better news? It’s based on my most popular short story ever. 

You guys, Haunted MTL is launching a podcast that I wrote called AA on September second. 

Yeah, that’s happening. 

When Josey moves to a new town, she finds that she can’t escape her demons. She needs a meeting. But the one she finds isn’t the one she was looking for.

She discovers a community of aliens, hiding in plain sight. Josey is thankful to find a group of people who accept her, including a new roommate and a cute guy. 

But the community isn’t without its darkness. And they have their enemies. Josey soon finds herself caught in a war that she barely understands, but can’t help but join.

During this war, Josey learns that the alien community is hardly the only thing unexpected in her new home. She stumbles into one dark place after another, realizing that small towns hold more secrets than outsiders could ever imagine.

I originally published AA as a standalone short story with Solstice Publishing. And I’m pretty proud to say it had a good reception. I even had one delightful commenter on Amazon say they thought this would be a great tv series. I don’t know who this person is, but I will love them for the rest of my life. And yes, this did inspire this idea.

AA includes some amazing voice talent. I play a few characters, of course. But you’ll also hear the voice of my talented and amazing co-star of Off The Bone, J.M. Brannyk. 

Along with us, you’ll hear Jim Phonix, Ev, Jennifer Weigel, and Kal Scarlett. This is such an awesome group of voice actors that I was blessed to work with. They’re also great writers, artists, and critics who share amazing content every day on Haunted MTL.

AA is creepy fun. It’s about addiction. It’s about being new in a small town. It’s about the dark shadows in hometowns that we all know but don’t talk about. It’s about all of those things and more, and I think you’re going to love it.

Stay tuned for more info as we get closer to the release date. I can’t wait to introduce you all to the world of AA. 

Writing nonfiction, Planning

Writing a nonfiction book is a world away from writing a fiction book. As I travel this brand new terrain, I’m taking you along for the ride.

Don’t forget to read part one of this series, Research, if you missed it. 

Today we’re talking about one of my favorite parts of writing a nonfiction book, planning it.

Don’t laugh, I’m not joking.

Planning a nonfiction novel is designing the skeletal system of the whole book. You’re figuring out what’s going to go where as you gather information and write content. It’s like the sketching a painter might do before beginning a painting.

When planning a nonfiction book, I find it’s best to start with your goal. When I’m working on an Off The Bone episode, I always remember my main goal is to provide the background you might not know about stories you probably love.

Knowing the goal of your project will guide you through the whole process. Is your goal to convey information? Do you want to inspire others to act? Are you sharing a personal story to convey comfort and comradery? It doesn’t matter what your goal is, so long as you have one. Otherwise, why are you writing a book at all?

I know this kind of sounds like a school essay. I think we all learned these sorts of essay writing styles. An informative essay, entertaining, persuasive. And yeah, it kind of is like that. It’s also super not like that, but we’ll talk more about that in a future post. 

Once you have your goal, it’s time to make your outline. Now, the information going into your outline is going to vary wildly depending on what kind of nonfiction book you’re writing.

The project I’m working on right now relies a lot on personal essays. They tell a story. So, it was easy to use this as a large part of my outline. Through this, I add in interviews and helpful (hopefully) charts to support the points I’m making in the book.

I made my outline on Notion. You can use any outline software or even pen and paper. But I’ve been loving Notion for my project organization. (If you want to see a post about how I use Notion in addition to my bullet journal, let me know in the comments below.)

The outline helps me out through the entire project. I can see easily how much work still needs to be done on the book. I can also see at a glance if the book is a little unbalanced. For instance, if I see that I have a lot of personal essays, I know I need to set up more interviews. If all of my interviews are personal ones, I know I need to hit up some professionals. 

It’s also kind of inspiring to watch my outline fill out as I work. You all know I love visualizing progress. 

I have just one more bit of advice for planning your nonfiction novel. It might be the most important bit of advice yet.

Leave room for what might surprise you. 

You’re going to do a ton of work on a nonfiction novel. Like, I don’t think you realize how much work goes into this. And as you do this good work, you’re going to find things that surprise you. That might throw your entire plan totally off the rails. And I highly suggest you make space for that.

Or, as it’s hard to leave space for the unexpected, I’d encourage you to be flexible. You never know what you’re going to learn. And nothing is ever set in stone until it’s printed. 

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series so far. I’ll see you next week. And if you have any questions regarding nonfiction writing, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

You can support Paper Beats World on Patreon.

You can also buy me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.

Writing Nonfiction-Research

Most of you know me as a speculative fiction author and blogger. But I’m much more than that. I am a Gemini after all, duality is in my very being. So I am a speculative fiction author and a blogger. But I’m also a critic and podcaster. And as if that weren’t enough, I’ve decided to add nonfiction author to my list.

That’s right, I’m working on my very first nonfiction book. It’s an emotional project that I’m not ready to talk about publically yet.

Writing a nonfiction book is totally different than writing fiction. And there’s been quite a bit of a learning curve. I’m writing something where facts matter, statistics matter. I need to get things right. But it also needs to be entertaining and people need to want to read it.

I’m learning a lot in this process. So I thought I’d do a series on nonfiction writing.

Today, we’re going to talk about where it all begins, research. 

Yes, I do research things when writing fiction. But it’s not the same. If I mess up a fact in a fiction book, most people aren’t going to notice. Or I can just say this is a fictional world and this is accurate for the book. 

Nope, none of those cop-outs exist in nonfiction. Here’s what you do instead.

Know what you’re looking for before you start researching

For the sake of this series, let’s say you’re writing a book about how crystals have been used by different cultures through the years. That’s not what I’m writing, it’s just a handy example. Before you start diving into research, have an idea of what information you’re looking for. I found it best to have certain questions I wanted answers to. I kept track of them at the beginning of my notes. (Don’t worry, I’m doing a whole post on organizing your notes both digitally and physically.)

This keeps you from getting too far off in the weeds while you’re researching. Because if you don’t know what you’re looking for, then you’re looking for everything.

Of course, you’re going to find new things as you learn. New questions you didn’t even realize existed. And as you do, feel free to add them to your list of questions. But at least having a basic idea of what you want out of your research at the start will help you with some direction.

Vet your sources

Some people think they know everything about a subject there is to know. It does not matter what subject we’re talking about. Someone out there thinks they are the expert. That someone is usually a Youtube commenter.

I kid. But you must know where information is coming from before you believe it. If you’re using a book, who is the author? Are they a specialist in this topic? Where did they learn it from? If you’re on a website, do some basic digging. Is it a reputable website? Do they cite sources? Are they the original source? Basically, where was this information before it was in your hands?

I did this a lot when I was researching for the first season of Off The Bone. It turns out there’s a lot we don’t know about HH Holmes, for instance. But lots of dumb schmucks on the internet think they know. I do not want to be one of those dumb schmucks.

Double-check facts

On a similar note, let me advise you to double-check facts, even if you think you know them.

I’ll use Off The Bone as an example again. When I was researching for the episode about Dauphine LaLorie, I thought for sure she’d had some sort of run-in with Marie Laveau. They never met. I’m pretty sure I got that from American Horror Story, Coven. I’m really glad I double-checked that little ‘fact’ before I just threw it out there.

Don’t lean too hard on books

A lot of people have written a lot of books about a lot of topics. So no matter the topic of your nonfiction book, others are going to cover at least similar topics.

And if all you do is regurgitate information from the other books, that’s a waste of time. It’s also kind of shitty behavior.

It’s much better to do the research yourself. I’m not saying that you’ve got to reinvent the wheel here. If you’re writing about crystal lore, you don’t have to ignore historical knowledge. But you also want to go talk to people who know about these things. At the very least, you want to add a new perspective to your topic. Otherwise, why the hell are you writing the book?

But at the same time, read a lot of books

All this is not to say don’t read books about your subject. But maybe be a little more varied about the books you read. Let’s go back to that crystal lore example. (Is it weird that I kind of want to write that now?) 

Maybe you can research what other kind of lore a culture had. Or what minerals were around them. What was more or less valuable? What kind of society did they have? What were their means of saving stories and information? All of these things can be avenues of research that can dramatically change how you write your book.

Keep careful track of all of your sources

You’re going to learn a lot for your book that comes from other people. I mean, that’s the whole point of this post. And since this information was not yours, but obtained through working with others, you have to give them credit. 

There’s always a source list at the back of books for this reason. When I’m doing an episode of Off The Bone, JM and I include links to our sources. We want you to know where we got the information from. 

So for the love of Gatsby, write down your sources and keep very careful track as you go!

Never for a second think you’ll remember later where you picked up some obscure fact. Write it down. Get a link to the site. Write down the author, book title, edition and page number. You will need it. 

Personal stories are fine, but cannot be relied upon

Finally, let’s consider personal stories. This is also called anecdotal evidence. And it’s a tricky thing. 

Lots of people will tell you to leave these kinds of things out altogether. But I’m not one of them.

Anecdotal stories are great for showing different sides to a subject. They give an emotional punch. They put a real face on your topic. They move your topic from the hypothetical to the relatable. And if you’re using an anecdote to do these things, you’re using them right.

If you’re using an anecdote to prove a point or a fact, you’re doing it wrong. 

As House says, everybody lies. But even if your anecdote isn’t a lie, it might still be total bull. We don’t mean to lie. We just often see things differently than other people. 

If you need proof, here’s an experiment. Think of something in your childhood. Some memory that you have a clear recollection of. Now, go as your parent about that memory. I imagine you’ll get a wildly different set of facts.

I’m planning on doing a whole series about converting to nonfiction writing. If you’ve got any specific questions or topics you’d like me to cover, please drop them in the comments. Until then, have a great day.

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Why The Good Place Works

I know, I’m behind. But I finally just watched all of The Good Place in the span of like, a week.

I went into it knowing almost nothing about the show. I knew it was about ‘the good place’. That was it.

If you’ve never seen the show before, click away now. Because you don’t want the twists ruined. I mean, it would be almost impossible to ruin them all. My goodness, there are so many twists. But we’ll talk about that soon. 

I understand entirely why people were so obsessed with this show. The writing was amazing. And as always, there’s a lot to learn from it. 

Let’s start with the twists. Because, you consistently have no idea what’s going to happen next. I was blown away all the time, just by what they managed to sneak past me.

The twists work especially well because, when you look back, they make sense. And this is the tricky thing about writing twists. You want them to seem like they come out of nowhere. But if they don’t make sense, then they’re just jarring.

You learn pretty quickly while watching this to trust nothing. You don’t know who to trust. And honestly, you probably shouldn’t trust any of the characters. Everyone is lying pretty much all the time. To themselves, to each other. You’d think this would make the characters unlikable. But it doesn’t.

You know, characters make or break the show for me. And Elenore, Cheedie, Janet and the rest stole my heart every single episode. You hate/love the characters. And I think it’s because we’ve all been where they are. We’ve all tried to be better. We’ve all tried to help people. We’ve all found it difficult to do the right thing, no matter how hard we try. And for sure, we’ve all felt like we don’t belong. And so their struggles become your struggles. Their failures become yours. And their successes become yours as well.

Speaking of which. The Good Place called me out several times. Yes, I am one of those people who take their shoes off during long trips. I probably do any number of other things that will land someone in the bad place. The whole time we’re watching this, the darling husband and I kept giving each other pointed glances. It makes you second guess everything you’ve ever done. But in a non-judgy way. The show does that by poking fun at little things we all do. Things that probably annoy others, but we just can’t help ourselves. Bad little selfish habits that wouldn’t get you sent to the bad place.


Yeah, you’re probably fine. The best thing about The Good Place is that there is a really happy ending. Not like an over-the-top Adam Sandler ending. But also not gut-wrenching sad. It’s sweet, beautiful, perfect. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for better.

Too often I feel like endings seek to piss their fans off. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it happens. How else could you explain the ending of Roseanne or The Dinosaurs? It is so nice to see a show not outlive its welcome, not get canceled, and have a real, solid, satisfying happy ending.

Have you seen The Good Place? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments. 

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