We’re back with another edition of Author’s Spotlight! Today we’re talking with the amazing Michaela A. Carter, Owner & Content Specialist at the ADM Agency!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I discovered this early on when I won an essay contest while in elementary school. I didn’t know I was a good writer until then, so I kept at it and eventually started to write a book in 6th grade. Fun story, I never finished that book because my teacher found it and read a few lines that were a little too “grown” for me, haha. So, he gave it to my nana who was also a 6th-grade teacher – I did get into a little trouble, but she and my mom agreed that it was actually a great story. That moment reassured me that I had great storytelling skills. In high school, I joined the yearbook staff and that really fueled my passion, leading me to take writing more seriously in college. I eventually started a blog, worked for local magazines, and even changed my major to Journalism. That’s when I knew writing would be a significant part of my life’s story.
What do you hope to accomplish by being a writer?
I’ve ghostwritten two books in the past, but I would love to pen my own set of novels and children’s books. It’s my dream for my words to reach a worldwide audience and really touch those who read them. My goal is to make writing my primary career and spend my time traveling, experiencing every aspect of life, and documenting it all in books. I would love to also teach writing courses and help other young writers develop their skills. I plan to expand my small business into a prominent copywriting agency in the industry, helping brands tell their story through compelling copy. Ultimately, I want writing to be my outlet to help those around me in any way that I can.
Describe your creative writing process.
It usually starts with God laying something on my heart to flesh out. About 90% of the blog posts I’ve written in the past have come from late-night revelations and car conversations with God. So, I start with Him. From there, I just let the pen flow (aka I start typing away, haha). I don’t have a fancy outline that I use. I barely have any structure when I write. I just write. My brain sometimes forms sentences faster than I can type, so I may pull out my phone to voice record my thoughts. Other than that, I allow myself to be free when writing. No step-by-step process – just me, God, and my laptop/journal.
Keep killing it, Michaela!
To check out some of her professional work, go to her portfolio, and don’t forget to follow her on Instagram @theadmagency!
“Are you sure you want to deactivate Instagram?” Yes.
That’s how it all started. I was a serial Instagrammer, Facebooker, and TikToker. If I wasn’t watching random calligraphy or cooking videos, I was laughing at my favorite TikTok comedian or a dank meme. And if I wasn’t doing those, I was being force-fed devastating world news, news of missing children, or learning which celebrity decided to say the N-word that today (Along with their insincere apology). According to my iPhone Screentime Analytics, these three apps took up most of my day, and I really didn’t have anything to show for it, other than the occasional laugh or the recipe I would probably never end up making.
And let’s not forget the mindless scrolling. And trust me, it was mindless. Literally, just something to do with my hands. As a solo diner, it was my favorite way to help with my social anxiety. Waiting for my car to get an oil change? Scroll. Sitting in the park? Scroll. Procrastinating on a homework assignment? Scroll. And I could do it for hours. A survey from Sprout Social concluded that “51% of [millennials] use social media to kill time,” not too far behind the social-savvy Gen Z, who uses it 66% of the time for the same reason.
Also, I’m a (very) private person. And it takes a lot for me to show someone my personality in full (#introvert). Social media started to feel like a way into Club Jayde and I didn’t want to give everyone a wristband. The people who made high school hard for me were the same ones trying to get me to accept their follow requests. Former suitors were sending me random “I’m so sorry” messages. And don’t me started on the unsolicited pictures. And the Facebook arguments — those dang Facebook arguments.
The constant flow of information, regardless of its purpose, eventually morphed from simply staying informed to sensory overload. I started having weird, sometimes violent, dreams. My eyes began to hurt. My headaches multiplied. My anxiety increased.
Until one day, I just quit. Cold turkey.
Say what you want about millennials, but we know how to put our mental health first. I was born in the…late 1900s. I remember life before social media. My days were spent writing up composition notebooks, doing cartwheels outside, drawing cartoons, or teaching myself to fight from Dragonball Z video games.
So, I just quit. Cold turkey. What started out as just a break turned into a full-on exodus.
The first to go was Instagram. I left my followers goodbye messages (Some of my close friends thought I was being kidnapped, lol.)
Then it was Facebook.
I was going to keep TikTok, but I deleted that a few days later.
I had my first Instagram relapse a few weeks later, but, oddly enough, I didn’t miss it at all after that. So I hit delete and that was the end of the era.
And honestly? I was kinda bored (at first). But here’s what I’ve been up to instead.
DuoLingo. A personal goal of mine is to become a polyglot. I love to travel. I love languages. So, it’s only right. I’ve been conversational in Spanish for quite some time (Quiero escribir este artículo en español, pero necesito mucho practicar más!), but I figured it was time to become fluent. I’m currently on a 30-day learning streak, and I can’t wait to see where the app takes me. I’ve also begun to learn Russian.
Rollerskating. A huge part of Atlanta culture is learning to move on four wheels, but I have been skating since my days in south Georgia. I recently purchased two pairs of rollerskates and made my way to the always-empty tennis court in my neighborhood, to see if I still had my skills. (I do.)
Sketching. During a day trip to Midtown Atlanta, I stumbled into Blick Art Supply to stock up on everything a former sketch artist needed. Premium colored pencils. Graphite. Tortillons. A sketch pad. Erasers. Sharpeners. And a holder to carry it all. After a quick bite, I found a spot in Piedmont Park and began to sketch the first thing that came to mind: my favorite anime.
Finishing my first novel. And now to my greatest achievement: I finished a full draft of my first novel. 54,073 words. 243 pages. And plenty of constructive criticism along the way. Finishing this completes my MFA coursework & a dream long deferred. I still have plenty of edits to make, agents to source, publishers to find, and rejection letters to receive, but after a short break, I’m looking forward to adding “Published Author” to my repertoire.
Now, for the big question: Will I make a return? Eh, probably. But they say adulthood is just returning to the things you enjoyed in your childhood and I very much enjoyed being an anti-social butterfly.
Most of my favorite characters tend to hail from the world of anime. When I was younger, I was captivated by their expressive features, high intellect, and passion to overcome whatever plight they were given. As I aged, however, I found myself paying more attention to the backstories of said characters. This gave me a deeper understanding of the human experience- instilling in me the power of perspective, while showing me just how much your environment can influence the person you become. These parallelisms are what I believe makes characterization so important. Sure, I watch these shows for entertainment, but I can appreciate the Aesop-esque nature of them as well. These qualities were best personified in a character named Prince Zuko, a gifted fire bender from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show (it was adapted to film, but real fans don’t speak of it)…
Hey folks! We’re back at it! For this issue of Author’s Spotlight, I’d like to introduce veteran author Ken Gordon!
1. What is your favorite genre to write and why?
Philosophers Dante and Oscar Wilde had opposing points when it came to art. Dante felt art imitates life, while Oscar Wilde felt life imitates art far more than art imitates life. I tend to subscribe to the Dante view of art, as, for me, art certainly imitates life. As a result, my favorite genre is non-fiction. I have written books in the fiction, non-fiction, and children’s categories and have found writing in non-fiction gives me the greatest release and satisfaction. In this genre, I am able to step out of who I am, view life and its challenges, and provide perspectives and answers, which are otherwise much more difficult to provide, while living life on the fly.
2. What influenced you to become a writer?
I have always loved to write, however, I understood that loving to write does not make one a writer. What influenced me to take my passion for writing beyond a passive love and into an active endeavor was a search for topics relevant to my circumstance. At one point, I suffered through a very difficult situation and sought books to help manage the state in which I found myself. Unfortunately, I found no books relevant, or specific, to my circumstance. Hence, I found Plato’s saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”, a truism. I found myself in need and there existed a gap. Out of necessity, I filled the gap with my own musings and experiences. I found catharsis by stepping into that gap. That experience made me believe there are others who could benefit from my journey and this realization was the genesis of my transition from one who loved to write into one who is a writer.
3. Do you have any tips or suggestions for up-and-coming writers?
Absolutely. Just start! There is a proverb that, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is so true as it relates to up-and-coming writers. So many people want to write a book, intend to write a book, and promise themselves one day they will write a book. Unfortunately, that is as far as it ever gets – intentions. The time is never right. You will never have enough time. You will never have enough to say, in the beginning. You will never have the entire thing thought out. However, as the African proverb states, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. In writing, the first step is to just do it. Just start. Do not worry about how it will end. Just start. Do not worry about having it all sorted out in your mind. Just start. Do not try to finish before you start. Just start. I convinced myself I did not have enough time. I convinced myself I did not have enough to say. I convinced myself I was not enough of a subject matter expert. I convinced myself no one would find value in my experiences or expressions. So, I sat idle. But a close friend encouraged me to just start, so I did. Once I did, it was like turning on the spigot to my soul. The information flowed out of me. I am that close friend encouraging you to just start. Once you do, you will find it will flow and when it does, you will bless countless people. And you will likely never know you did. So, for the sake of all those strangers who will benefit from your expressions and experiences – Just start!
Here’s a list of things I would buy if I received a dollar for every time I was told my creative writing degree wasn’t practical:
A large island in the South Pacific. I would name it Black Magic Isle and would declare myself the sultan.
The Empire State Building. I would turn it into a mall and various other entities, like the Burj Khalifa, speaking of which…
The Burj Khalifa. Because why not? After all, I’d be quite wealthy, and I’ve always wanted to go to Dubai.
“Oh good. You have a business minor to back you up.”
– Random chick I met in an Uber
It’s a stigma as old as the sands on your favorite beach: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life…because that profession probably isn’t hiring.” Every creative, especially writers, know this feeling all too well. The perceived notion that if it’s not vocational, then it doesn’t pay. What non-believers fail to realize time and again is that writing isn’t just a hobby- it’s a necessity to keep businesses booming, economies thriving, and people educated, informed, and entertained. How isn’t that practical?
“Why would you listen to a twenty-something- year- old ‘kid’ with no medical background?” – Overheard from a former co-worker
And let’s not forget various other niches, such as social media copy, web copy, content writing, blogging, article writing, editing, etc. Don’t customers typically read product descriptions before they make a buying decision? Don’t salespersons take marketing documents to close deals? Don’t you read reviews about restaurants before deciding to spend your money there? Don’t you have a favorite show on Netflix? These things aren’t auto-generated by a bot embedded in the processor of some supercomputer. They are planned, written, and edited by professional, talented, and gifted writers. A world of opportunity exists for us.
“Why would you change to an English degree? That’s not what we hired you for.” – CEO, Past employer
The reason why you should never let a non-writer tell you writing isn’t practical is simple:they haven’t and probably never could do it. These are the same people that will be forced to sit through a mandatory “The Art of Storytelling” workshop, mandated by their employer. A workshop that’ll likely be facilitated by that English professor whose degree they said wasn’t “practical.”
The best thing you can do, writer, is bet on yourself.
Find a community that supports you. Join Wattpad, Medium, or WordPress to connect with other writers like you. Put your work out there for the world to see. Create a portfolio showcasing your best work.
Read. Read. Read. Explore how other writers use craft and storytelling elements to resonate with their audience.
As I meander my way through the writing community, I have come to discover that the discourse around fiction writing mirrors that of religion vs. spirituality – “spirituality”, in this case, being the craft and storytelling elements that make up fiction, such as tone or dialogue, while religion, or interpretation of spirituality, mirrors genre (ex. most monotheistic religions believe in a God, but a Christian’s interpretation of God may be different from someone who is Muslim.) Though two works of fiction may differ in genre, fundamentally they share the same elements.
For example, take conflict. In Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, the characters are presented with a conflict of character vs. fate. Given less than twenty-four hours to live, both find themselves trying to navigate the five stages of grief, all while trying to determine how to leave a legacy in the hours they have left. Rufus questions his fate in a phone call with Death – Cast: “How do you know? The End Days. How do you know? Some list? Crystal ball? Calendar from the future? (19)” Conflict plays out differently in Roselle Lim’s Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. The antagonist’s battle to find herself outside Chinese cultural norms comes to pass once she required to return home after her mother’s untimely death. I argue that the title character’s conflict is character vs. society – she wants to live out her dreams but is tasked with to do this within the confines of a community she resents.
In both works, the parallelisms to reality, whether that be the looming thought of our own demise or deviating from what we are taught is “normal”, are what make the premises not only relatable, but perfect foundations for world-building. In They Both Die, their world is centered around death. From Death Cast phone operators unsympathetically informing “deckers” they are living their final twenty-four hours. To television commercials using the dreaded ringtone in their advertisements. To social media streams of people documenting their last days. Unfortunately, this is not too far off from current events. In a time where is not uncommon to see someone’s demise on Facebook Live or YouTube, the Death Cast world is becoming less fictitious. In Luck and Fortune, Natalie escapes the grasp of her traditionalist mother, but must return to her siloed culture to truly thrive.
The environments we are born into shape us. This is ever present in the way we communicate, aka dialogue/dialect. Originally being from a small town nestled in coastal Georgia, home of the Geechee people, and being of Caribbean heritage (Barbados), I can relate. Regional shortened language, coupled with dialects spoken within a certain community (ex. African American Vernacular English) make for a plethora of “nations within nations.” I have recently started working with domestic fiction, so dialogue is an important factor. Given my cultural background, I do like to incorporate different dialects in my work. I tend to stick with dialects I am familiar with, as I do not want to stereotype or misinterpret ones that are foreign to me. Natalie use of words like “paifang”, “calligraphy”, and “Sono andati?”, are indicative of her Chinese heritage.
Still, Natalie’s reluctance to return home did not surprise me – her tone displayed an ethos of resentment coupled with regret from the first few pages. Lim’s bird symbolism (symbolic of human life), the rain that followed its departure, and the description of the turbulent relationship between Natalie and her mother confirmed the melancholy nature. Tone, though sometimes hard to detect, I believe is important to establish. Admittedly, my works tend to be “dark”, so I use diction that is a little more formal, but I do like to incorporate voice to add variety. Silvera does a great job of mixing tone and voice in They Both Die. While both Mateo and Rufus exhibit tones of distress (ex. “I’m freaking out already, a hundred thoughts immediately drowning out everything around me. (3)”), Silvera does add some comic relief, while also giving insight into some of the flatter characters. Take the scene when Rufus learns he has less than twenty-four hours to live and his friends will not leave him:
“You two are straight up shadows,” [Rufus] says.
“That because we’re Black?” Malcolm asks.
The situation, though serious in nature, has a moment of normalcy, and reminds the reader that the characters are still young adults.
Although they have varying degrees of importance, based on genre, mastery of craft and storytelling elements prove imperative for any type of writing. This requirement supersedes type: genre, literary, creative, or professional writing alike. Just as a building requires the support of a solid structure, or doctors need fundamental knowledge of the human body, all writers would take pleasure in being privy to the elements that form the discipline that’s afforded them so much joy.
Writers, you know the kind of feedback you would want to receive, yeah? So, make sure you are giving it.
It is no secret that we writers tend to be sensitive about the perception of our work. Audiences only see the finished product – not the late nights, pounding of the backspace key, countless drafts, and the various experiences that influence the births of our literary brainchildren.
Since we know how it feels to be the subject of criticism, let’s practice the highest degree of professionalism and tactfulness when the shoe is on the other foot.
Here are a few best practices for giving constructive criticism:
DO: Focus on the craft elements, not the content. Every story is comprised of basic craft elements. These include character, setting, plot, point-of-view, etc. When drafting your critique, focus on the author’s use of the elements. What traits made the character stand out? Did the narrator effectively describe the work’s setting? How did the POV contribute to the tone of the work?
AVOID personal opinions! Your personal opinion does not matter here – your professional one does! You do not have to the like the character’s name. You do not have to like romance novels. You do not have to like stories set in the 1900s. Remember, you are critiquing the effectiveness of various craft and writing elements. Don’t like detective fiction? Doesn’t matter. Try this – analyze the work as if you are the intended audience – what would they look for?
DO: Include examples from the text. Use quotes from the text to support whatever observations you make. For example, if you get a sense that a character has strong, domineering personality, perhaps cite examples of dialogue or visual imagery that helped you come to that conclusion.
DO: List the things that worked well FIRST, then include improvements. People tend to want the good news first. When structuring you critique, try separating your feedback into two sections: What’s Working and What’s Not Yet Working. Under the second heading, be sure to include suggestions for improvements (remember, these are just suggestions – the author has the autonomy to use them or not.)
AVOID Overcomplimenting or Over criticizing. Constructive criticism is a balancing act. The goal is to ensure the writer produces the most effective and engaging work for their audience. Try to find at least three elements that worked well and two areas for improvements.
Great writers need even better editors. Follow these tips to make sure you’re both!
For this week’s Author’s Spotlight , meet the incredible Justine Torres, an up-and-coming novelist:
1. What’s your favorite genre to write and why?
Currently, my favorite genre to write is epic fantasy. I have so much fun with it. I absolutely love this genre because we are world builders. And growing up those were my favorite kind of stories to get lost in for hours on end. It was a place where I could escape from day-to-day life; still do to this day! And for anyone who knows me, I have a slightly overactive imagination and can be a little bit dramatic, so the sky is the limit for me!
2. What influenced you to become a writer?
My reading teacher in the third grade Miss Terrino. She made me fall in love with reading, and she always told me my imagination was going to take me far. Even though I started out struggling with reading and writing, she made me feel like I could do anything I set my mind to. She passed away the year she started teaching me; I never forgot her or her words of encouragement. I owe her everything when it comes to my writing. Every time I feel like giving up, I think of her and keep pushing forward.
3. Do you have any tips or suggestions for up – and – coming writers?
This one took me a while to think of, not going to lie because I am still going through the ups and downs of what it takes to be a writer. So I will share with you what I have learned so far. Don’t give up. Even when it feels like everything is going against you, hold on. I am sure this is something many people have heard before, but every mistake you make, every failure you experience is a lesson learned, so learn it. And don’t let the rejection you receive hold you back, because unfortunately, in this industry, you will receive rejection. Not everyone is going to see your story the way you see it. Find the people who see your vision, and want you to succeed. Keep fighting, and always remember why you fell in love with writing. Hold on to that why and never lose sight of it.
Most of my favorite characters tend to hail from the world of anime. When I was younger, I was captivated by their expressive features, high intellect, and passion to overcome whatever plight they were given. As I aged, however, I found myself paying more attention to the backstories of said characters. This gave me a deeper understanding of the human experience- instilling in me the power of perspective, while showing me just how much your environment can influence the person you become. These parallelisms are what I believe makes characterization so important. Sure, I watch these shows for entertainment, but I can appreciate the Aesop-esque nature of them as well. These qualities were best personified in a character named Prince Zuko, a gifted fire bender from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show (it was adapted to film, but real fans don’t speak of it) follows the story of Aang, the long-lost Avatar, on a journey to master all four elements – fire, water, earth and air (he is already an air-bending prodigy).
The Avatar world is divided into four nations – the Fire Nation, The Water Tribe, The Earth Kingdom, and the Air Kingdom. “Benders” from each nation can control and manipulate the element from their nation. Zuko, the banished Fire Nation Prince, has but one goal: capture the Avatar. He believes this will restore his honor and his father, Fire Lord Ozai, will accept him once again. After Fire Lord Ozai discovered that Zuko (a child at the time) spoke against the Fire Nation, he challenged Zuko to an ‘agni kai’, or a duel in front of the entire Fire Nation. Zuko pleaded for this father’s forgiveness, but it was too late. Zuko is not only banished from the Fire Nation, but his father severely burned Zuko’s left eye (this is known as the ‘mark of the banished prince.’)
As the show progresses, however, Zuko learns that true strength does not manifest itself from rage, rather inner peace. This is largely due to the help of his tea-loving, peaceful Uncle Iroh, aka “The Dragon of the West”, who we learn lost his only son to war. According to Zuko, in his showdown with Fire Lord Ozai, “He’s [Uncle Iroh] the one that’s been a real father to me.” Zuko eventually teams up with Aang and his friends and together they save the world from the Fire Nation’s wrath. Fire Lord Ozai is defeated and Zuko ascends the throne.
I think Zuko’s character is a mix of “The Rebel” and the “The Explorer” archetypes, balanced out by Iroh’s “Sage” archetype. Unlike many “villians”, Prince Zuko is not one-dimensional. He is a well-rounded, complex character that makes you root for him, and (arguably) has the best character development in the series.
What makes Prince Zuko an effective character:
His Gradual Maturity – Zuko’s development mirrors that of the average human. We certainly do not mature overnight. This process takes years of grit, triumphs, and pitfalls.
Complexity of Emotions – As mentioned before, Zuko is far from one-dimensional. As the series progresses, we are given insight in to how his upbringing and environment influenced the person he was. We see Zuko filled with hatred and rage, but also depressed and defeated.
What traits do you think make for a memorable character?
I think I have always had a passport to explore the writing community. Still, it was not until middle school that I flirted with getting my official literary citizenship. My eighth-grade literature teacher, Mrs. Miller, would give us a random prompt at the start of class each morning. I can recall yanking out my 49-cent composition notebook, taking the first fifteen minutes or so to jot down any narrative I could stir up quickly. At that moment, my classmates and I were one and the same. Even if it were only for the first thirty minutes of this class, we had come together for a common goal – catharsis and the exchange of ideas, emotions, and the genesis of a support system. For a long time, I thought I was an anomaly. Being an author, or being a writer, even, was worlds away. This shaped my understanding of the need to feel connected, wanted, and heard. We see this narrative quite often nowadays with the advent of various social justice organizations. The commonality is community.
In the article Do Writers Need To Be Alone to Thrive? , Katherine Towler calls her writing community “very rewarding and enriching.” I, too, find my writing community rewarding. As we live amid the digital age, we have access to hundreds of communities at our fingertips. Whether it be a specific genre, like the Horror Writers Association, or something more general like PEN America, there’s seemingly something for every writer. Presently, I’ve taken note of a few writing communities that I see myself joining. The SNHU Writer’s Community is reminiscent of Twitter (with its micro-blogging structure) and Facebook (the “like,” “share” features), making it rather easy to navigate. This proves intuitive for me, as I am an advocate for social media both personally and professionally. The community demonstrates usefulness, in that it is alive and well – we can ask questions, get advice, and feedback about our work in real-time.
The Authors Guild and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs too, resonated with me. Though their missions differ, I was impressed with what I saw. The Authors Guild, for example, stands for fair payment, distribution rights, and the right to retain ownership of their copyrights. The Authors Guild found a void in the writer’s journey and is successfully seeking to fill it. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs takes a more academic approach in their mission, and the perks to membership reflect that. I especially took note of the Writer to Writer Mentorship Program, which pairs new writers with established ones. Imagine being able to meet up for coffee (post-pandemic) with an established writer? It would be like looking into the mirror, conversing with your future self. These are the type of support mechanisms I would want to receive from a writer’s org -they guide every step of the writer’s journey.
A disadvantage to this, currently, is the physical connection. In The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer said, “If you write a piece and everyone in the room listens as if there is nourishment for one ear…then it will not matter afterward if you hear a dozen separate reactions, for you will at last have the certainty that you are a writer” (10). Sure, we have video chat, but it does not quite compare to seeing your audience in the flesh, feeding off their energy and undeniable presence. But even before 2020 happened, life did. Kids, workplace obligations, and other various externalities kept us from maintaining the connections we made in these writing communities. So how do we retain these connections when life is such an uncontrollable variable?
I think the keys here are empathy and accountability. Just like with our writing processes, managing relationships in the writing community takes work. Could we intermingle an accountability partner in our writing processes? This isn’t a final solution, but I believe leveraging the writing communities we have access to can and will make us better writers. Have you answered the call to your literary citizenship?