This is my last interview in the series, conducted by Virginia Carraway Stark about my new release 'Daughter of the Drackan' and the things that make me tick as a writer. These were fun, intriguing questions (and I'm sure you may laugh at one or two of them, as I did). Stay tuned for the last two interviews in our Fall Fantasy Series, scheduled for next week.
1. What was the most difficult thing you ever wrote? Why do you think it was so difficult for you?
The single most difficult thing I’ve ever written was, in fact, the short synopsis for ‘Daughter of the Drackan’, back before I’d gone Indie and was still pulling out all the stops trying to get it traditionally published. This was also back when both ‘Daughter of the Drackan’ and ‘Mother of the Drackan’ were one, single, humongous piece of fiction. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me back then that something just over 200K words would be daunting for anyone to want to sign.
It took me about three weeks to finally get the 3-page synopsis written on the whole work. I still have all of the “drafts” of this synopsis saved on my computer, for hilarity’s sake. I was able to write first a 34-page summary, then pared it down to 25 pages, then 15, then 10, then 5, and finally 3 (and, in some instances with various agents, 1 double-spaced page. Yikes!). I never quite understood what other authors meant when they’d said writing a synopsis is the absolute worst part of the whole package that comes with writing and publishing a novel until I did this myself. It was intense, terrifying, frustrating, and I felt like I was just throwing out the baby with the bathwater on this one. But I did learn the valuable skill of not being verbose, and of cutting down all the intricacies of my brain into short, relevant, crucial sentences. I’d recommend doing this with any work, even if you’re planning on becoming, and staying, an Indie Author. There’s nothing quite like peeling back the skin of your novel and seeing all the guts that make it work.
2. Tell me about how your personal life affects your writing? Do you write your real life relationships into your fiction?
When I write Fantasy, I like to move beyond the realm of my own understanding and into something (worlds, characters, laws, and struggles) completely new. Of course, my own personal life experiences still come out within the character interactions, which is how readers relate to characters in the first place. They have to be believable.
I will say, however, that my short stories (which are mostly Literary Fiction), the collaborations on which I’m currently working, and my own work in progress, the Dystopian Sci-Fi ‘Sleepwater Beat’, draw much more from my personal experiences and relationships than my Fantasy does. I like to pick on one single aspect of people I know or have met, and inject that into characters. I think the reason I write such dark, emotionally driven (and not always in the most positive way) fiction is because a lot of my past comes into play. As I’m sure we all do, I’ve got some pretty dark “stories” in my past, and part of a way for me to celebrate how far I’ve come since then, and how grateful I am for my currently beautiful, blessed, wonderful life, is to keep writing in a way that expresses the possibility of transforming that darkness into something else entirely. The protagonist in ‘Sleepwater Beat’, for instance, has more of myself written into her character than I’ve ever allowed before. It’s a bit daunting, a bit scary, but I may never have felt more connected to one of my characters.
3. What has been the biggest surprise you have had as a result of your writing? Was it a landmine or a revelation?
Until just a few years ago, I went through a point in my life where I hadn’t written a single word of fiction in probably three years. And I do mean that quite literally—not a single word. I’d gotten so caught up in my own life and everything it entailed at the time that I went through this whole process of not feeling “worthy” of the written word, of wondering what it was I ever had thought I could do with it in the first place. The worst part about it was that once I considered writing again, and really diving into my work as I’d done before my little ‘hiatus’, I was absolutely terrified of the possibility that I may have lost all my “writing talent”.
It sounds kind of silly as I write this, but it was an incredibly palpable fear, and instead of choosing to sit down and figure out if it was actually true, I beat myself over the head about it for months. Something finally clicked, and I told my head to shut up and just write. To my complete bafflement and heart-stopping surprise…my writing style had managed to change completely without me ever writing a single thing. It was almost like getting a completely different hairstyle that I’d never had before—I recognized my face, obviously still had hair, but somehow it didn’t feel like me and I’d done absolutely nothing myself to invoke this physical change in my appearance. This is obviously a metaphor for my writing. I saw the same elements, the same drive for characterization and story, but my structure and voice had matured disproportionately to the amount of writing I’d actually done—which was zero. I realized then that I am a writer, just like every other writer, and the act of writing, of telling stories and wielding the saber of the written word, is ingrained in me just as deeply as all the other things that make me me. That was when the floodgates opened, and I don’t think I’ll ever be afraid of losing my “ability to write” ever again.
4. If you were a kitchen utensil, what utensil would you be? Why?
Well, I have been a kitchen utensil, so there! Either my junior or senior year of high school, the Drama Club put on a production of Beauty and the Beast for our fall musical. In addition to being part of the chorus as a villager, I was also one of the inhabitants of the enchanted castle. We were all kitchen utensils, essentially (you know, before Belle breaks the spell and everybody turns back into people), and I was given the joyous honor of playing the pastry brush. Yes, I was a pastry brush. My costume was a barrel-shaped cut of brown foam, with straps to hang it over my shoulders, a grass skirt around the bottom to serve as the bristles, and to complete the ensemble, I was given a giant tubular piece of brown foam to place on my head. It was at least three feet tall with a round hole cut in the front for my face. I’ll let you picture that visual for a moment… I was all the rage. Needless to say, the pastry brush has a very fond place in my heart.
5. What (if anything) makes writing impossible for you? How do you overcome this?
I am one of those people who just can’t sit down to write when I’m highly emotional. Angry, sad, afraid, anxious—it doesn’t matter. It didn’t always used to be that way. When I was younger, writing was the only outlet I had for those emotions, and I have a rather large box that’s now overflowing with all the little scraps of writing I pumped out around those feelings. I did, however, go through a period in my life where I learned the poignant importance of being able to sit with my emotions, to process them, accept them, and try to move forward past whatever I’m feeling at the time. For me, writing now requires a clean conscience and a clear head (except for the occasional ridiculous flash fiction pieces that get created when I decide to sit at the computer with a friendly glass of whisky next to me).
I’ve just recently started giving myself daily word quotas for my fiction (1,000 words a day, minimum), and it’s been extraordinarily helpful. When I get super emotional, I first try to sit with it a bit, grab ten minutes for myself and some mindful meditation, and then see how I feel. Sometimes, though, we all just need somebody to listen, and the writing community has been a remarkable outlet for venting my frustrations. There are a few people I go to with any struggles I might have, who have all consistently given more than helpful advice, guidance, and sometimes just validation. Writers know how writers feel, and I’ve found more kindred spirits within the writing community than any other group of peers in which I’ve taken part. Then, once I’ve expressed myself fully with no judgements…I take a look at the status of my daily writing, and remind myself that, if I want to stick to my publication schedule as an Indie Author, I better get back to writing.
You can grab a copy of my newest Fantasy release, 'Daughter of the Drackan' on Amazon and in the Kindle Store here.
Today, I'm interviewed by VS Holmes on my release of 'Daughter of the Drackan' last month, and my love for being a part of the Indie Author Community!
1)What made you decide to become an independent author?
That feels like a bit of a loaded question! But I'll answer it as specifically as it was asked. I tried my hand for a long time querying and submitting to agents and publishers...many, many times. I have an extensive collection of rejection letters, and I'll be the first to say I am absolutely not ashamed of them! It takes a lot of work - research, writing specific query letters, different lengths of synopses and manuscript submissions (almost for every single agent/publisher). I spent two years trying to go the traditional route, and then finally realized just how much energy and focus it actually took.
Many people had asked me at that time why I didn't just self-publish. I always had that in my back pocket as a last resort, knowing that I would never forgive myself if I didn't first exhaust all my available resources for traditional publishing. As you can see, traditional publishing resources = exhausted. That was the original reason I became an Indie Author.
However, I will say now with absolute certainty that I prefer being an Indie Author. Not only do I get to keep my hands on the entire process - from typing that first word to getting a book cover and promotion design, to marketing and monitoring - but the best thing that comes along with being an Indie Author is the INDIE AUTHOR COMMUNITY. I have networked my butt off, made friends, learned invaluable things, received invaluable services in trade, and gained far more support just by being myself and using that to promote my work. That's something I don't think I could have done had I been picked up by a traditional publisher, and I'm not sure I would ever change it.
2)How does your day-job factor into your writing?
Short answer: in every way possible. By day, I am a self-employed Independent Editor, Chief Editor of a collaborative fiction organization, Editing Director of a fabulously unique Publishing Company, and an Indie Author. By night, I am a self-employed...well, rinse and repeat. Basically, I never stop working, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm lucky enough to finally be able to say that I do what I love for a living, and I wake up excited and grateful every day. Granted, there are times when all my "non-Indie Author" jobs take up a lot of time and energy, and I find myself falling behind on the schedules I've laid out for myself in writing my own fiction. But I try really hard to schedule a few hours here and there into my week where I turn everything off (except the lights and Microsoft Word) and go to town.
I will say, though, that the relationships I've built - within the Indie Author community, through Editing clients (who more often than not turn out to become very good friends), and just by simply saying hello and sharing bits about myself - have led me to the place now where, even if I'm not vigorously tapping away at my own novels, I'm writing a short story for an anthology, or a chapter for a collaborative novel, or some other crazy compilation of frenzied fiction with others. Like I said, my day job fuels my writing, and vice versa.
3)Do you have future projects in mind? Are they related to 'Daughter of the Drackan', or something new?
Always. I have so many future projects bumping against each other in my head that "future" may just never become "present". But I try.
The sequel to 'Daughter of the Drackan', 'Mother of the Drackan', will be out early 2016. Right now, I'm thinking around February. And that's already written, so it just needs one more round of revisions (which will make it lucky revision #13), and then it will be here too! I've also toyed with the idea of writing a prequel to 'Daughter of the Drackan', taking place centuries before and focusing on the very first drackan-human fledgling, but that has yet to grow roots.
I am, however, currently writing a third novel, which is a Dystopian Sci-Fi titled 'Sleepwater Beat'. The best way I can describe this is: '1894' meets 'X-Men' in the very near future United States. So we've got iron government control, pharmaceutical and social media conspiracy, human trafficking, human experimentation, guerrilla warfare, black market deals, and all that fun stuff. The 'X-Men' part of it comes into play with the characters' "powers". Some people have developed an ability to illicit physical and emotional responses from anyone within listening distance...just by using certain types of words, specific to each unique "gift". Needless to say, this is a very big project - XXL - with a lot to say, and I find myself having to sit it down in the discipline corner and give it a talking to about respecting its maker and listening to what I say...to make it easier for both of us. If 'Sleepwater Beat' cooperates...it should be out by April or May next year.
4)What about the writing community as a whole have you found most inspiring? What about something we need to work on?
I find the entire writing community inspiring! I think, though, what has stricken me as the most fabulous part is everyone's capacity for supporting each other, enthusiasm for giving feedback/critiques/new projects, and acceptance of each individual author for WHO THEY ARE. That's super important! I've come across all walks of life within the writing community, and I really mean ALL WALKS, and I have yet to see anybody left out, belittled, or intentionally discouraged. I mean, let's face it, writers are strange people. We have quirks and vices that, for the most part, only other writers understand. At least where I spend my time in the writing community, I have yet to see anybody shunned for what makes them them. And I'm pretty weird, so it's very encouraging.
I really haven't found a lot of things "lacking" in the writing community, which is what makes being a writer and Indie Author (not to mention all the other "titles" I hold) being so much fun! The thing I find most difficult, though, is being able to keep up with ALL the different groups, forums, projects, and organizations. There are way too many, and as much as I want to be an integral part of all of them, I'm very aware of the fact that, to get to that level of proficiency, I'd have to stop writing completely. There would just be no time, and then what would be the point?
5)We all have our secret favorite characters—usually one in a supporting role rather than the protagonist. Which of your supporting characters has a special place in your heart? Why?
This is kind of a hard one, because my favorite characters tend to be my protagonists…hence the story all about them! But there is one character in ‘Daughter of the Drackan’ that stands out in importance and splendor.
Igetheyr is the patriarch of the High Hills drackans (Keelin’s adoptive species, so to speak, and her only family). He’s the only drackan with obsidian black scales, is overwhelmingly enormous, and his mind-voice is a golden rich magnificence that echoes within the minds of all who hear him (drackans communicate through colors and visual patterns, telepathically and without spoken words). He was the first drackan to successfully wean a human fledgling—to give a human the drackan powers of communication, their instincts, and their bloodlust—and when Keelin becomes the second human fledgling, Igetheyr watches her through her life, and her journeys, with a keen eye. Essentially, Igetheyr is the most powerful being in the entire novel, but his bond with the drackans and the pact he’s made with the drackan gods keep him from interfering in the messes Keelin makes through her desperate search for answers.
I love Igetheyr. He’s powerful, wise, and patient; he doesn’t use his power and authority to belittle or intimidate anyone. He’s almost so powerful that anything he could do would make life as these characters know it obsolete. So he can only stand by and watch, occasionally giving advice and occasionally making crucial decisions (this comes into play in the sequel, ‘Mother of the Drackan’). My special tie to Igetheyr spans from the fact that everything about him came to me in a dream, before I had ever written chapter 5—including the spelling of his name. It was such an epic dream, where I heard him speak to me and watched him fly around a stone temple, that I couldn’t not make him an epic character in the book. If I do, in fact, decide to write that prequel to this series, there will be a lot more of Igetheyr.