FRIDAY SF & FANTASY – Born at Dawn
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Sarah J. Maas
What book do you think everyone should read?
The Sun Does Shine. I know, I just named 10 fantasy authors who are my absolute favorites, but The Sun Does Shine, a non-fiction book about one man’s wrongful imprisonment, will open your eyes to some of the injustices in the South, specifically against poor black men. I cried for this guy, his mom, and everything they went through just because he was poor and black. He had to fight for decades for the right to freedom.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing my first chapter book when I was 12, sooo let’s just say “many years.” I still have that first story in an old spiral-bound notebook. I never finished it, but I like to think it had potential. I believe it was heavily influenced by “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “Jumanji,” and “The Mighty Ducks.” It was about an orphan who could see ghosts, liked to play hockey, and was going to live with her aunt in a haunted hotel following the deaths of her parents.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Some characters I will have in mind before I begin writing, and others will surprise me. Usually, I’ll have a vague idea of who I want them to be, but then I flesh them out more as I go, or do short writing exercises to learn more about them.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
It depends on the book, but I’m more of a research-as-you-go person and frequently Alt+Tab back and forth between my word processing screen and my Google screen. Latin, torture, food preservation, weapons, a lot of military stuff… The list is really long, but the site I use the most is Thesaurus.com, especially when I’m looking for the perfect word choice.
Do you see writing as a career?
For some people, I think it is. I would love for it to be mine, but I’m a pragmatist if nothing else. That’s why I studied Journalism in school. I loved to write and I wanted to earn a living doing something I loved, so it just seemed to fit. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize what a high-stress, low-pay, draining environment it can be until I was more than a decade into it. Anyway, I digress. My hope is that my next career will be that of an author, but time will tell.
What do you think about the current publishing market?
It’s fantastic. As I said earlier, there were not enough books for me to read growing up. I yearned for more great fantasy stories, and there just weren’t any. Now, with self-publishing as an avenue for so many authors who have great stories to tell, the market is saturated — and you might think that’s a bad thing, but it’s not. Because the other side to it is that technology provides savvy consumers with what we need to determine if we’re going to like a book. There are reviews, Goodreads, and blogs… Really, you can have a pretty good idea of whether or not you’re going to like a book before you start reading it. Except you cannot always rely on ranking in library apps. I recently learn the stars in Libby are based on checkouts, not whether readers actually like the book. Haha. I think we just unveiled a personal pet peeve.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I like to write in silence, because then I’m not distracted, but once I get going, it’s hard to stop me. Some background noise is OK — I do write a lot in coffee shops — but the exception is if the background noise is a video game, because that looped music messes with my creativity. My poor husband found this out the hard way.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I tend to write one book at a time. For this trilogy, I hopped around a bit, because when I got to the second or third books, I realized I needed things to happen differently earlier on.
Pen or type writer or computer?
Computer, but a pen for when inspiration strikes and I’m not in my office.
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
I adore Jo from Little Woman. I’ve read that book many times over the years, and I always feel like I get something different out of it. For a long time, I was resistant to growing up and I really related to young Jo. Then, my life arc seemed to follow Jo’s all the way into adulthood. Plus, she was a writer 🙂
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I have always loved reading and storytelling. I absolutely know being an author was the right choice for me. I just wish I had decided to embrace it so fully earlier, and that I hadn’t held myself back for so many years. I got trapped in this cycle of trying to achieve perfection, but I’ve finally realized that perfection is unattainable by definition, and that every moment is the moment to seize.
I almost died in childbirth last year. It was a really traumatic experience, and I legitimately thought I was going to die. At the time, I remember being overtaken by a bright white light in the operating room and thinking, “well, at least I got my baby here safely.” But then, guess what? I was still alive, and I started contemplating what I want to do before I die — and then the pandemic hit. I have to tell you, if you’ve been thinking about doing something for a long time, make it happen now. Stop waiting, stop putting it off. If there is no tomorrow, make sure you don’t regret it!
Advice they would give new authors?
I actually got to do this the other day, and it was great. I met a new friend online and she’s writing her first book. Here’s the advice I gave her: 1) Write your first draft and don’t get too caught up on the details, like if a chapter is too long or short. Things are going to change later, and you might realize you needed a scene earlier on, so trying to nail the length of your chapters first might actually create more work for you in the future. Get the first draft down on paper, and then start fine-tuning. 2) Use Art Breeder to visualize your characters. It’s super helpful to have a visual reference, and really fun!
Describe your writing style.
My writing-style is fast-paced, and it’s fairly easy to read. I was trained as a journalist, so I like to get to the point.
What makes a good story?
The best stories are the ones that make you fall in love. I don’t care if I’m falling in love with a city, a relationship, a magic structure, or what, but I want to fall in love. That’s why I read.
What are you currently reading?
I am in the middle of Sarah J. Maas’s Crescent City. I haven’t fallen in love yet, but I know I will.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
It usually starts with a moment or two of inspiration, and I’ll jot down notes about a main character and who she is. I’ll write a few scenes that make for interesting back story and start to think about what kind of a plot I might explore. From there, I try to develop three main points for the story – where my character is in the beginning, where she is in the middle, and where she is in the end. Then, I write, re-write, self-edit, have an alpha reader, go through beta readers, have my husband do a consistency check, send the book off to an editor, make those changes, and then have Word read me my book aloud. Done. Easy. [Haha!]
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
This is an excellent question. I’d love to say I’m original, but I am heavily influenced by what books I read and what I watch on TV. I’ll write a scene and then laugh because it’s so familiar. Art inspires art, if you will. I’m not one of those people who’s looking at tropes and saying, I need to hit 1, 2, and 3 in this book, but I’ve read and watched enough media that it’s just natural to lean into some tropes — even the ones I am not a huge fan of myself sometimes, oddly enough!
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Read more books about writing, write more, and stop wasting your time in a job you don’t love (so you can write more!).
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
One thing about guys that I’m frequently surprised about is that they are always thinking about sex. I guess it’s kind of programmed into them at an evolutionary level. That said, I write in close-third, so I don’t write from the perspective of the opposite sex very often. When I do, I find it helps to do writing exercises to flesh out my supporting cast — it’s extremely helpful when trying to imagine how they will react in a situation and pinpointing what drives them.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Far too long! Haha. Just kidding. I do not know how people are pumping out two books a week right now (hyperbole), and with social media, it can be far too easy to judge myself against others. This trilogy took me 12 years to write (I was working full time, and wasn’t able to write for a couple years because of tendonitis), so I guess I’m averaging 4 years per book, but I still need to work out the kinks in Book 2 and 3, so let’s round up to 5 years.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes, I do believe in writer’s block, but I will say that in the times when it has hit me, the root cause was that I hadn’t plotted ahead. I’m a pantser (I write by the seat of my pants!), but I enter every story usually with three main points in mind – where the main character is in the beginning, the middle, and the end.
When I get stuck, it’s usually because I’m writing a scene that shouldn’t be where it is, or it shouldn’t be in the book at all. My advice to you if you’ve hit a block is to stop what you’re doing and work on something else, or go on a walk, or do the dishes, but you’re probably not loving what you’re working on in this moment if you’re blocked, so go back to it another time and assess if you even need it at all. Your reader will be able to tell if your heart wasn’t in it.