Okay! So! I am both excited and proud to announce that I’ve made the decision to self-publish my alt-history romantic urban fantasy series, which starts with JAGGED EMERALD CITY.
This has been such an interesting journey. At the beginning of the year, making this decision would have resulted in me fighting this lingering sense of “I gave up” on traditional publishing, that it just got “too hard” or I got “too impatient.” But this past six months has been such a discovery of realizing I don’t want to publish my Obsidian Divide series traditionally.
Why? Let me tell you:
I have way too many ideas about covers and formatting and everything else that giving up that control is hard to swallow. I knew I’d make peace with it. But if I don’t have to, why?
I… don’t actually know how the series ends. It could go a multitude of ways, and this series is so much an exploration of this world and these characters. Traditional publishing would balk at that to begin with, let alone having to cram this into “traditional” storytelling structure is just… icky. Again, if I don’t have to, why would I?
This story is really personal. Yeah, yeah, I know, join the club. But there’s so much about mental health and trauma and dealing with crap that makes the story… not as tight as it “should be” but is really a bedrock of what it is.
So I’ve come to this glorious, freeing realization: I don’t want to cram my story into what’s expected or needed for the kind of publishing that I’d originally been aiming for. I can choose my covers. I can figure it out as I go. This series can be whatever it ends up being.
Do I need to hire experts (editors, designers, etc) so that I can be sure this isn’t just a hubris-filled exercise? Absolutely.
But in the teeter-totter relationship between “art” and “business” that is writing, this is where this series needs to sit. With more of the art and flexibility in there, and less of the concerns of business.
If the series flops [because it’s too weird or slow-build or whatever various issues that may conflict with what kind of structure sells]? Okay. Bring it. 🙂 This isn’t going to make or break my career and at least I’m doing something instead of just waiting around forever.
I made this romantic alt-history fantasy story my way and that’s how it needs to be.
(Don’t get me wrong, the reality of dealing with that will suck, but I’m on a high of confidence right now, don’t ruin it.)
I have books in the future that may be more right for traditional publishing. (I have a duo-logy in mind right now that I’ll probably position that way.) Because I am not one story, I am not one method, and this is all a journey to figure out what works for me as an artist and author.
Self-doubt will have it’s time later. Right now, I smile towards the future for the first time in a long time [and prepare to hire a copyeditor, cover designer, re-do my website, learn formatting, figure out how to get my book to readers through Amazon/B&N/Kobo/Apple/Google/Ingram Spark/etc, get my newsletter going, my social media plan nailed down, contact reviewers, buy ISBNs… and I’m sure there’s more to that list].
I’m so freaking excited.
Since I’m really doing this now, I’ve officially launched my own self-hosted website. RKBrainerd.com is going to be where I am from now on. This is a little sad to be moving on from awakedragon.wordpress.com, but it’s also really awesome. I feel like I’m leveling up into my next form. I hope you’ll go and check out my new website (which looking freaking spectacular, if I do say so myself). Also, if you’re interested, I did start a sign-up where you can get first look alerts directly in your inbox so you don’t miss anything.
Interested in reading this alt-history romantic urban fantasy that’s long and messy and seductive? You can subscribe here, and I’ll be rolling out sneak peaks, gifts, and goodies as I nail down a timeline.
So I’m sitting here thinking in circles and decided it might be more productive to get my thoughts out about this.
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that I’ll need to self-publish my Obsidian Divide series if I ever want it to be out in the world. I’ve received about 22 form rejections from agents so far, and queried over double that; I imagine I won’t hear from them because of the non-response model.
As far as I understand, because there’s no constructive feedback, this means I need to redo my query. It’s not capturing the imagination. But I’m being honest, while staying away from critical self moping at the same time, I don’t think the query is the problem.
I think my manuscript is too off and simultaneously not unique enough for traditional publishing (at least how publishing stands right now). Despite endless hours on TVTropes and having been a fantasy-romance reader for my whole life, I don’t understand the tropes enough to break them cleverly. Or at least when I wrote this I didn’t. The book is big and complicated; it’s basically got three plots that take up a lot of room, each interesting in their own right but it’s a lot of paper. There’s nothing snappy about it as a selling point… or I just don’t know how to tease out those points, either way.
I’d like to think it steadily pulls you under, weaving a spell and sinking into hearts that resonate with what I’m saying. It grows on you. Maybe like mold.
BUT ANYWAY. Further strikes against it: the manuscript is set in Galicia, Spain, and publishing wants are leaning away from Western-setting fantasy right now (which is completely legitimate), and while I think my book is cool in a post-dystopian greenpunk kind of way, I don’t think it’s a strong enough element. It’s too young/angsty to nicely fit into adult fantasy, but too long for YA and it’s not a coming of age story. And the worst strike of all: it’s not a standalone. It completes its arc, but it definitely sets up for more. If I’m being honest I’m not entirely sure how the series will actually end. It could go a bunch of ways, and conceivably for years. But publishing is a risk-averse industry, and buying a series from a debut author is definitely in the risky category.
I know my book is good. For people who like what I like. For as much as I can make it. And that’s the problem; I want a partner in this industry who will push me so I can continue to grow, and in order for that to happen, they have to care about what I’m writing. And likes are subjective. It’s possible I just haven’t found the right agent that it clicks with—but the next step is selling the book, and publishing is still risk-averse and finicky.
So. Where does this leave me.
There’s abandoning it for writing another book, but then what the hell was all this work for? Sure, yes, I learned a lot. But I already did the abandon-the-first-book-I-ever-wrote thing (did y’all know I have a YA dragon shifter series gathering dust somewhere? Anyway). Besides, I’m already working on writing another book; it’s really a question of focusing a majority of my energy on Book Two or something that’s more of a standalone.
There’s always rewrite this manuscript… again. But I’ve been working on this book for almost 10 freaking years (though the first several not seriously) and I don’t want to do it again. And anyway, I like what it is now.
Which brings me back to self-publishing. An intimidating idea that is slowly growing on me, though I need to get over the “self publishing is giving up” idea. I’m a needy person who wants feedback and to be recognized. Striking out on my own without that strains the self confidence.
I figure, there are three big real factors to this decision:
Getting the book conceivably as perfect as I can
Getting the book in front of people
Bonus factor: avoiding burnout
As for getting the book into its best form, hiring editors is fairly straightforward and will just mean time researching the right ones and money on my part. Do-able.
Somewhere between that and getting the book in front of people means hiring a book cover designer and, more broadly, probably a website/brand redesign to get my author brand to a strong, recognizable place because I’ve got a million stories inside of me and my career is not just one book. Again, research and money, doable.
Getting the book in front of people… well. I’ve been consuming information on book marketing for years, so I’ve got an idea on where to start. It’s something that I’d need to do for traditional publishing anyway. Contact reviewers. Build a newsletter list. Grow my social media following. Find my fans and help them do their thing.
It’s just a lot. Depression and ADHD like to pull me into a hole or the fog a lot. That doesn’t exactly work with being consistent and keeping a strong presence. I don’t want it all to live or die based on me (back to that partner thing I was talking about); I don’t want my writing career to be forced to depend on my erratic brain. Ha.
If I’m being honest, I have another hangup about shouting into the void. There’s this lingering sense of bUT I WanT To BE SpeCIAL that I cannot seem to beat into submission. But I’ll probably never quite get rid of that. If I’m clever I can redirect that energy into finding the right people who will enjoy my books.
Anyway, this has been cathartic. I know what I need to do, I’m just grumbling my way through the rest of my reservations. I told myself I would “Tolkein-goal” myself before I switched gears (Tolkein-goal: he had 86 rejections before publishing, so I’ll wait until I get 86 before I move on), but it’s beginning to feel tiresome and a waste to send queries when it’s unlikely I’ll get specific feedback and I’m pretty sure I know the real issue.
Plus, I was willing to give up control in a lot of things (as you do for traditional publishing) as far as cover design, marketing, trajectory of the books, etc—but I have so many ideas, it would amazing to have control over it all.
I’ve just got to gather the courage and confidence to do this on my own and weather the bad times.
Wish me luck?
NOTE: I’m actually about to leave on a three-week trip hiking through Spain with my mom. It’s apparently quite the soul searching adventure for people who have been on the Camino de Santiago before. (Additionally, I will end up where my fantasy city in The Obsidian Divide series is located which I am so stoked about.) I’ll write a post about it when I get back, and hey, maybe it’ll be the thing I need to trust myself enough to get all this off the ground!
You know that feeling when you’ve quoted a phrase for years, but then something happens that gives you a much deeper understanding of it?
If you’ve kept up with me here or on Instagram, you may have seen me talk about my adventure with beta-reading over the last year or so (holy crap it’s been that long how did that happen). If not, to catch you up in a sentence, I made structural changes to my current WIP due to the initial round of beta-reading feedback, and wanted another set of eyeballs to make sure I hadn’t completely missed the mark. (If you want to read about my experiment, can read about it here.)
That second-round feedback has returned over the past couple months, and I’m starting the final round of revisions before querying.
How do I know this will be the final round?
The manuscript is far from perfect, it’s true. It’s been an incredible learning process to re-envision this story, and to embark on a thorough beta-reading journey to help me see my blind spots for this story. I honestly think I’m a better storyteller than I was even a few months ago. But the reality is, I’m never going to please everyone. No matter what I do, there will be readers who dislike parts of my story (or the whole thing).
But instead of torturing myself trying to please everyone, or falling into a continuous loop of I’m better now let’s try one more time, or throwing up my hands in defeat, I found a whole new meaning in this quote:
Thus my initial question. Because it hit me, that barring a few clarification points I’m fixing, feedback is telling me that most of what I want to show in this story is coming through.
Yes, a few years from now, I’ll probably know how to do it better. Yes, there’s always another reader, another perspective, another opinion to help me see the story in a new light.
But what’s the point if the story is never going to actually be in the world?
People are enjoying my story. They’re wanting more.
And THAT is the whole point.
So, my manuscript is ready for the next step. Or maybe more accurately, I’m ready for the next step. I’m happy with what my story is saying, I’m content with its flaws, and it’s time to “abandon” this phase for the next.
But it made me wonder if others have experienced this: knowing that a “flaw” exists in their story and keeping it anyway. I’m sure someone with better skills will disagree with me, but I even think that addressing my manuscripts “flaws” might end up fundamentally changing parts of the story in a way I would hate.
So, in case anyone is interested and just for fun, I thought I’d share what I’m intentionally leaving in my manuscript and why. There are about three main things.
The beginning is slow to build.
Weeeell. That’s because I’m telling a really big story. The ironic thing is I initially started this manuscript with the deliberate challenge of never telling the reader anything until they absolutely needed it. As my betas can probably attest, I seriously hang on to the mystery for a while. But there is still a lot of set up for this story.
That’s not to say I’m spending paragraphs upon paragraphs of exposition. More that the character has to make things happen in a situation where she has very little control, with a lot of different factors, and it takes a minute to get that momentum going.
This problem actually came up after the first round of beta-reading, and I have thoroughly changed or taken out as much as I possibly can without taking out subplots entirely. If I end up going the traditional publishing route, I will probably have to fight about keeping some of those subplots in there, but I have all of them for a reason. I will challenge them to find a subplot that can be removed without fundamentally changing the story. (Caveat: yes, I will be doing one more pass to see what else I can condense or change.)
This leads to number 2.
There are a lot of threads to this story.
This and the above go hand in hand. I have a lot of elements in this story. Surviving trauma. Dealing with heavy-handed, even abusive parents. Negotiating friendship as you drift apart. Found family, and acceptance. Carving your own path in the world. Finding unintended consequences when you do.
I think the trick here is to weave these all together in an engaging way. Because, the point is, as long as you keep the reader reading. I think I… mostly succeed, and I’m working on tightening this up and pulling these together in this last revision.
Again, a shoutout to all my beta-readers who are forcing me (they’re not forcing; you know what I mean) to push myself and rethink what I can.
My main character is both childish and mature
I know that’s a complaint in the YA community, that the teenagers act like adults. (My book isn’t YA, to be clear, though there’s a lot of coming-of-age elements.) My MC is like 20. She’s going to make reckless decisions where we as readers can see the consequences coming a mile away. She’s also the product of trauma, which can regress someone at times. But, hand in hand with that, there’s a maturity that comes from being forced to grow up quickly. She’s also very self aware and book-smart.
So. All of this is to say I’ve made things really hard on myself and have given her a childlike sense of curiosity and wonder that’s constantly at odds with a weary cynicism. At this point, whenever someone says they can’t quite get a sense of her age, my response is “yes.”
I can hear the rebuttals already. Yes, the reader has to be grounded or they’ll get confused and won’t enjoy the story. I’m tweaking a couple things here and there to hopefully get this across better. And it’s true I’ve probably invested a little too much of myself in this character to see her clearly.
But I’m okay with that. 😉
Because my manuscript will never be “finished.” I’ve done all I can with the skillset and perspective I have now. So, I’m going to abandon it to the world, and come what may, good and bad.
So. Your thoughts? Tell me I’m not alone in intentionally keeping these “flaws”!
Caveat: I’m a huge proponent of each writer using or discarding writing advice as fits THEM, and only THEM, so the following info doesn’t work for you, please delete from brain.
That being said, I want to share my process on how I recently took a 160k word manuscript to 126k without killing myself or the heart of the story. I’m a character writer. I love immersing myself into places and relationships, and playing out heart stories within epic worlds and situations. That can lead to a lot of extra words that aren’t always the most plot-relevant. It can slow down the story a lot. So, if you’re like me, and struggle with some massive word counts, I hope this will help you find some tools of your own.
True to my own colors, this post is pretty long, so buckle up, folks. I’ve added a bunch of gifs to make it more fun.
Background: I’ve probably talked this to death by now, but in 2018 the press originally set to publish my Obsidian Divide series and I amicably split. After that, I decided to completely rewrite the manuscript by myself, because I’d developed a lot as a writer in the three years since the manuscript originally went under contract. I ripped things out and rewrote them A LOT, and at the end of it, discovered my word count shot through the roof to 160,000 words. Haaaaaaa.
I’d like to try to go the traditional route of publishing with this novel, and I knew 160k words is high enough that agents might dismiss it outright without even reading it. As I initially thought the manuscript would be Young Adult in category, I knew I needed to get the word count down to around 100,000. So, taking out 50-60k words. Without killing my story in the process.
If you follow me on Instagram you might have already seen some of how I tackled the huge-workcount issue. I’ve posted about it in Stories about it if you’d prefer to see it in that form. But I discuss it more in depth below.
To get a top-down view of what I had to work with, I wrote an outline of all chapters and scenes of the manuscript, with a sentence or two describing each.
I also exported the manuscript into Word (I had been working in Scrivner) to get a page count. Then I divided the words I need to cut (working with a goal of 100k, that was 50-60k) by the total number of pages (543) to get how many words per needed to be cut per page. This ended up being 93-110 words per page (60/543=110ish, 50/543=93ish). Cutting 93-110 word per page sounds a lot less intimidating than cutting 50-60k words (which is an entire Middle Grade book, just FYI).
Seeing the manuscript via a top-down outline, I could highlight which scenes were not directly integral to the plot. Or, said in another way, which ones didn’t really build on the last scene or lead into the next. This was pretty enlightening. Then I knew what I could cut.
Now understanding I needed to cut 93-110 words per page, I could use it as a goal as I focused more minutely on cleaning up sentences. Tackling passive-voice problems builds up to a surprising amount of words.
HOW IT EVOLVED
Cutting is always difficult one way or another. The per-page cuts were more straightforward, though tedious. Did that sentence absolutely need to be there or was there a shorter way to say it? How many times did I really need to use “was” in a sentence, good lord? Did the inner monologue have to be that long? How do I make this description shorter, snappier? (The positive note to that is, I learned to take a much closer look at my sentence structure, a lesson that I can already tell is filtered into my drafting skills.)
Cutting entire scenes or sections was difficult in a scarier way. I didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t see the story without it, or loved the scene, even though my outline told me it wasn’t necessary.
So, I started out by simply experimenting with removing it. To see how the story looked and how it felt. (I don’t ever totally delete anything, and just cut and put all my cut scenes into a designated folder.)
In the end, I think I ended up keeping all of the cuts. Because. When I got used to seeing how it looked, and I got over the “nOOOOOooo my baby,” it became clear why I loved those scenes. Maybe it was simply what the scene represented. Maybe it was just this one particular vivid image. Maybe I just liked the portrayal of a specific thing.
Once I understood that, I could creatively address how to keep the smaller piece I loved by fitting into scenes the story actually needed. In some instances it was as simple as merging a couple paragraphs to a crucial scene so I could still have that particular conversation/description/etc that I wanted to keep, but without needing all the words setting up for that particular moment.
I originally had this scene where my main character proves her usefulness, and it’s a shift from “new character is naive in a new world” to “oh actually maybe she’s kinda badass??” It’s wasn’t necessarily important to the plot, but it was important for character development. I realized after some brain bending that I could fit the MC “helping” into a different plot-and-worldbuliding relevant scene. The initial scene didn’t need to be it’s whole thing. Doing this helped pick up the pace of the story in the middle.
In another scene that actually was important for plot reasons, I figured out how to reimagine it completely. I needed blackmail for one of my villains to use against the MC (so this one thing could happen, which lead to the other thing). Instead of creating that blackmail literally on page, I realized I could pull something from backstory (a flip of the show don’t tell rule). Even better, this backstory-blackmail ended up fleshing out a secondary character’s motivations and intentions that I’d been struggling with. It was one of those sublime everything-sliding-into-place moments. But I would have never realized it without pushing myself to streamline, cut word-count, and really focus on what the plot needed.
Some scenes I did end up just cutting. Most of those ended up being character pieces that weren’t attached to anything else, or filler scenes of conversations or worldbuilding explanations that weren’t, ultimately, that important. The one I remember the most was a funny and poignant scene conversation between two characters talking about life and trauma. While I was very sad to remove it in the moment, with distance I see the story works better without it (AND, silver lining, now I have an entry for my “deleted scenes” folder that I can share with someday-fans of the story who are just as thirsty for these character interactions as I am).
Something else interesting happened as I learned to how to mercilessly cut for Story. I grew impatient with every scene that didn’t inspire me or stand out. Once I decided the impatience wasn’t just because I had to read the thing for the 1000th time, I started “sandboxing.”
Sandboxing is taking a scene and starting from scratch. I think this worked for two reasons. One, there’s that trick about rewriting a scene without looking at the old one, and the parts you remember are the parts that are important. But some of it was being able to reimagine how the scene could go without being stuck in the initial rewrite. Actually, I wrote about utilizing something like this before.
This process ended up being tricky, because sometimes the revised scenes ended up longer than the original scene. There was definitely some up and down with the word-count during that. But I was able to deepen what I really wanted in the story, which led to more ideas about what else could be changed.
And wow, I’ve been carrying on for a while here, so let me bring this thing to a close.
A few months into this process I realized that my manuscript could fit as Adult in category, and maybe actually should be Adult considering where I want to take the book and series. Which is very convenient, as Adult sci-fi and fantasy can be closer to 120k words, instead of 100k. Also convenient I decided this as I hit 125k and wondered how on earth I’d be cutting it any lower.
After some up and down word counts again, I’m at 126k words right now. I would like to get to 120k, but I decided I needed some outside help. I fell back in love with my story through rewriting so much of it, which is awesome, but also complicates keeping a clear perspective.
Thus, my beta-reading adventures have begun. If you’re curious, I’ve talked about some beta-reading culture problems here and how I attempted to address that here.
I hope this was helpful to y’all out there, or that it sparked some ideas on how to handle your own #wordcountproblems. I’m curious — have you had to cut a major amount of words from your manuscript before, and how did you do it?
We’ll be back, folks, in a month or two with the results of my second round of beta-reading! And then. Hopefully. Like actually querying.
I hope everyone is being kind to yourselves and taking time to feed your creative soul, whether that’s a nap, binge-reading, or taking a break. Talk soon!
I’ll be honest. I’m not very good at seeking feedback for my writing. I don’t like sharing things as I write them. I want to sit on it and polish it for a million years before it even sees the light of day. I’ve sent manuscripts to family members and close friends to ask what they think— and while this can be great for certain things (alpha reads, self-confidence, etc)— I’ve never gone beyond that comfort zone.
So, now having finished a serious revision, and in the mind to push myself, I wanted to do something broader and more critical. I also wanted to be organized and structured about it. As I’ve talked about previously, I’m a soft marshmallow when it comes to criticism, and I wanted to guide feedback in a way that would be helpful and not crushing.
This is what I did.
I started by setting up a Google Form and:
Created a series of questions that would cover what I needed answered about the manuscript, based off my own interest and of suggestions I found by researching.
Most questions I kept broad, but I did add specific details of the story to direct what I’m looking for.
And hey, if anyone is interested, I can totally write them out!
I made a list of people to send the manuscript to and asked them.
Trusted friends and family, along with, yes, fellow writers, inside and outside the genre I’m writing.
Part of the problem in my previous hesitant attempts at beta-reading was that I didn’t get enough variety and quantity of perspectives. Yes, this was due to not wanting influences that could be negative. I’d hoped to structure the questions so there was less possibility of that.
I sent the manuscript, with an overview of what I was looking for but not the specific questions, and how to access the form with the questions once they’d finished reading.
*Five months later*
Well, to start with, it turns out that asking people to respond in such a complex way was a bit too much to ask. Out of 15 people that I ultimately sent the manuscript to (over the course of several months), 5 have read it, and 0 have used the form.
(I’m still trying to decide if a 1/3 read rate is indicating something bad, or if people are just busy, which is totally legitimate.)
Most of them responded by sending back the manuscript with comments in-document and an overall thoughts letter, which I think is pretty typical in the world of beta-reading. The ones that said they’d go back to fill out the form… haven’t as of yet. People have lives beyond being my reading minions, that’s *dramatic sigh* fine I guess.
After a while, I simply followed up with them and asked some questions to compare and contrast with the comments I’d gotten from others. For example: “Hey do you think the beginning is slow?”
(The answer, by the way, is 4 out of 5 say yes. Ooops.)
Now it’s looking like I’m doing a second round of beta-reading. Because apparently I can’t stop torturing myself with the idea of perfection. Which I KNOW will never happen, because art is subjective and skills improve and perspectives are fluid and GAH why am I doing this to myself.
But I made some pretty big changes, including rearranging the first half quite a bit and rewriting a few chapters, and don’t I need perspective on that now to make sure I changed it in the right direction?
Anyway, moving on.
Despite getting really good feedback, and comments that helped me identify weaknesses I could then improve, I’m feeling more insecure about it than last time. Maybe before I was in a high of denial on how vulnerable this made me? I thought I’d get to hide behind data and my Google Form, and somehow disconnect feedback from the reality of receiving criticism on my manuscript child?
That’s not to say I didn’t receive positive comments. I got a lot of positive feedback, and everyone who’s responded said I met the ultimate test: they want to read more.
Am I going to try to use my Google Form again? Eh. I’m not sure. I think I’ll probably still put it out there as an option, but put the questions upfront, like in the body of the email I send with the document attached.
And yes, I know I need to put a limit on myself on how many times I do this. I can’t revise this thing forever. I want to get it actually into the world. And I need to get a move on, so that I can stop realizing six months later “Oh, I’ve improved as an writer, let’s change some things up!”
It feels close. I think the manuscript is almost there. Even if that means just forcing myself to stawwwwwp.
Until next time! I think my next post will be on how I cut over 30k words from my manuscript. I talked about it on my Instagram Stories a while ago, but I think it would be neat to revisit and write out the process. And hey, it might even help somebody.
I’m pretty sure it’s a solid fact of humanity that we’re not very good with change. Sure, there are the exceptions. But from changes at work to changes in our own selves and relationships — especially if we’re not expecting it — change tends to make us all react in bizarre and unhelpful ways.
Writers are particularly finicky. Hell, we can broaden that statement to artists in general. A lot of us have particular elements or situations we need in order to write (like needing silence or white noise or a cup of tea handy or a particular kind of music playing). Changing or not getting a particular element can throw a writer off, terribly.
But what happens when the routine itself… changes? What happens when the tried and true methods no longer work?
I used to be able to write in almost any scenario; music always helped, and I liked to shift positions and sit weirdly all the time. But the only consistent element in my writing routine was that I worked best during late morning and late evening. I could write other times, but it was only when those particular times hit that I really got on a roll.
I’m sure you can guess my next statement.
My writing routine is changing. Heck, it’s changed. In the evenings I’m usually too exhausted to form coherent sentences, and during the late morning I’m at work, so that doesn’t work. But even before I started working full time I was noticing a shift.
I’m not sure how to pinpoint the causes. Working full time is an obvious one for part of this (equaling lack of time and exhaustion), but even going to college full time and working, I made writing happen in the snippets and furious late night sessions.
What is it about now that’s messing up everything?
Maybe this is combined with plain ol’ growing older. I’m almost 26. My brain is officially shedding any functions I don’t use often, my body is setting into a shape with a much lower metabolism, no one is really interested in my hopes and dreams so much as where I’m working and what I’m doing with my life. I have responsibilities. I can’t skip work because I don’t feel well or because I’m feeling particularly inspired by a story. I’m managing to handle my migraines and my health. I’m working on saving enough for my own place.
I’m no longer a driven, mature kid – I’m an adult and the behavior is expected of me.
It’s not exactly the thing the sparks the imagination. Between everything – pressure and responsibilities and mental issues – it’s so very easy to fall into a rut of… nothing. Daily actions repeated for necessity but no desire.
Why is being an adult so busy?
In my last Behind the Scenes in Publishing post, I touched upon how my approach to writing is shifting because of the business side of being an author has been taking up a lot of brain space lately. I think that has a part to play in my whole writing routine being messed up, too.
Struggling or being unable to write seems to be a common complaint among my fellow debute-ers. Between marketing and exposing your heart to the world with a book baby and exciti-waiting for this book thing to happen… can we really be surprised that energy level and creativity might be a little shaky?
The other day I realized I haven’t finish writing for almost three years. Besides the commission from my publisher of writing Pridem (the prequel to my Obsidian Divide series that will now be my debut), which was different because it’s short and I already knew the story. I haven’t finished anything since I signed my publishing contract, in fact, which I talk about more in depth in the above blog post I mentioned.
I’ve written quite a bit, and almost finished a few projects… almost. That scares me. I’d been consistently writing at least one book a year before that. Between focusing on learning all this marketing and working full time and various other stressors (starting with mental health and ending with plain ol’ ridiculous life situations), it feels like my writing escape is starting to become… just another stress.
A stress I highly enjoy, mind you. But the BUSINESS part of being an author has taken over my head, and it’s leaving me terrified I’ll never write a book again because I’ve always written from a place of hidden-in-my-own-world. That doesn’t really exist anymore. Maybe it can be at an idea’s inception. But at some point I have to think about selling the thing so I can keep writing. Writing isn’t just escape and satisfaction when my brain is on fire. Writing is now… creativity making a world people can escape to and maybe learn from that holds a piece of my soul.
Which means, really, that my way of approaching writing has shifted. So maybe it’s no wonder that my routine is up in the air.
I did have a bit of an epiphany the other day. And it’s a silly, simple thing, that we often hear as writing advice but I didn’t really understand until this moment.
I’ve got to figure out how to get back to writing for myself. That’s how I wrote all of my other stories. Maybe some people can, but I can’t seem to write without the passion for it. It just falls flat, boring. It also feels like pulling myself through molasses to get anything on the page.
And yeah, that ‘business’ side of writing is constantly in my head. But, as I read in an article that I now can’t find, that’s what editing is for.
I’ve got to banish thinking about genre and craft and market and character arc and just write. And then when the whole damn messy thing is out on pages, I can turn it into something that I can actually use as Professional Author.
It’s bizarre, this uneasy marriage between creativity and business. I’ve always heard of it but never realized how crippling it can be to learn how to balance it.
Anyway, I’ve somehow wandered off my original subject, writing habits — but the vomit of words above seems to have a lot to do with it. The point is, I’ve somehow got to get back to my well of creativity, and I think fostering new writing habits is key. My old writing habits have to change, for obvious practical adult-life reasons, and because I think it can nurture my creativity.
I guess my point of all of this is, maybe don’t be afraid of writing habits changing. As humans, we’re creatures of adaptation and change, our lives by very definition cannot stay the same. Maybe our writing — the content, the style, and the way we go about it — is meant to change, perhaps with each era of our lives. Be willing to try new ways of doing something.
Now… off to build new habits, inspire creativity, and make something great.
Hello and welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors! This has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.
(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)
Full disclosure: I just started Rainbirds the other day and I’m a little enraptured. It’s not something you can really speed through, yet the voice, the descriptions, the intrigue… it’s really hard to put down! It’s difficult to really put a finger on what exactly draws you in, but draw you in it does…
– Author Name: Clarissa Goenawan
– Book Title: RAINBIRDS
– Book Genre: Literary Mystery
– Release Date: 6 March 2018
– Publisher: Soho Press
– Please describe what the book is about.
RAINBIRDS is a story of a young man who is trying to come to terms with his older sister’s death by finding out the truth behind her murder, but in doing so, he ends up confronting his own dark secret.
– Share a teaser from your book.
When the car had stopped at the traffic junction, a soft light had fallen onto her pale skin, highlighting her delicate features. My hand was on hers, but she didn’t say a word, nor did she look at me. She didn’t even flinch. Her body was there, but her mind wasn’t.
That night, the two of us were lonely, isolated under Tokyo’s dazzling lights.
– Where did you get the idea?
One afternoon, I was just wondering, “What if someone I cared about suddenly passed away, and then, I realized too late that I never actually got to know them?” At first, I wanted to write a short story about a young man who had just lost his older brother, which later on, morphed to an older sister. And then, I realized there were so many things I wanted to explore in their relationship, and that this story has to be a novel.
– No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
RAINBIRDS is part of a series of interrelated novels. So do keep a lookout at the side characters, because they might be the main characters for the next book.
– Tell us about your favourite character.
Rio Nakajima, also known as ‘Seven Stars.’ She’s a seventeen-year-old girl who is bright and bold, unafraid to voice her opinion and relentlessly goes after what she wants. She doesn’t care about conforming to public’s expectation, and I really admire her for that.
– If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
There is this young girl who celebrated my main character’s seventeenth birthday in the most bizarre way. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but let’s just say I wish to be part of the party (though that can possibly make me the third wheel… hmmm…)
– Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?
Most of them came from my imagination, but a few were very loosely based on people I knew in real life. For example, Honda, Ren’s colleague, was inspired by my ex-colleague and lunch buddy who used to drive—yes, you guessed it—a black Honda sedan. All the characters’ personal stories are, of course, fictional.
– How long did you take to write this book? Almost five years, which at a point of time, does feel ‘forever’ to me. But, in term of traditional publishing, it’s still relatively fast.
First draft – 1,5 months
Editing – 1,5 years
Submission to agents – about half a year
Submission to publishers – about half a year
From signing of contract to publication date – about two years – What kind of research did you do for this book?
I grew up reading copious amounts of manga (Japanese comic books), and I learnt Japanese language since high school, so that gave me a good starting point. I also consulted a huge number of books, essays, and articles, and asked some friends who’re familiar with Japan to be my beta readers.
– What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
A lot of things that don’t really matter, including a scene of Honda teaching Ren the best way to enjoy xiaolongbao, a type of Chinese steamed bun.
– Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I tried to plot, but that didn’t work. I normally have a sense of beginning, somewhat of an ending (though, most of the time, it changes), but nothing inbetween. – What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
The first draft! I’m always pleasantly surprised by the unexpected places my characters lead me to.
– What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
The last few edits are the hardest for me. By then, I have grown too familiar with my work. It’s hard to discern the trees from the forest.
– Can you share your writing routine? (e.g. How do you carve out your writing time? Where do you normally write?)
I do my writing after I drop my kids at school, and until it’s time to pick them up. That gives me about a five hour solid time block. Most of my writing is done on random benches around my kids’ school. – Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
Some people are going to hate me for saying this, but I don’t believe in writer’s block.
– If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Be patient. Be very, very patent, because publishing moves in a different time from the rest of the world. It’s so sloooowwwww. There is a lot of waiting, and I’m not good with waiting—but I’m learning!
– How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
RAINBIRDS, my debut novel, is the first novel I ever wrote. I know this is not a common scenario in traditional publishing, and I’ve been so lucky.
– Do you have any writing quirks? I like to write on a big table.
– Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Surabaya, a city in East Java and also the second most populated city in Indonesia. In my mid-teens, I migrated to Singapore, which I now call home. I live with my husband, three beautiful daughters, and a broken-coated Jack Russell named ‘Hunter.’
– How did you get into writing? It was my childhood dream. I’d loved reading ever since I was a kid and dreamt that one day, I would publish my own book. But I only started to seriously pursuing the profession after I quit my banking job at age twenty-four (probably not the most conventional thing to do, but I never regretted it.)
– What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
My guilty pleasure: I read a lot of manga (Japanese comic books.) I also spend a lot of time reading online articles and on Twitter—probably too much for my own good.
– Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?
Yes, I write short stories, though not as often as I used to do when I’d just started out writing. I realized I prefer to work on novels, though short stories are great for variety.
– Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
I used to be a bookseller. I was in charge of marketing children’s books for a regional book distribution company, which include everything from baby boardbooks to YA novels. I spontaneously talked about countless books—most of them I’d only read the short synopsis because there were so many— to the media every month, but when it comes to pitching my own book, I’m always struggling. Always.
– Which book influenced you the most?
Stephen King’s On Writing, which I highly recommend to all aspiring writers. It’s full of gold—awesome writing advice, great editing tips, and a realistic portrayal of a writer’s life. Worth re-reading every year.
– What are you working on right now?
I’m currently editing my second and third novels, both of them literary mysteries. And just like RAINBIRDS, they’re set in Japan.
– What’s your favourite writing advice?
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. – Stephen King.
Intertwining elements of suspense and magical realism, award-winning literary debut RAINBIRDS opens with a murder and shines a spotlight on life in fictional small-town Japan.
“Luminous, sinister, and page-turning all at once. I loved it.”
—Kate Hamer, internationally bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral
“A beautiful mystery setup with a complex, magical love story.”
—Eka Kurniawan, award-winning author of Beauty Is a Wound and Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash
Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her debut novel, RAINBIRDS, is the winner of the 2015 Bath Novel Award. Her short stories have won several awards and been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. She loves rainy days, pretty books, and hot green tea.
Hello, hello! Welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors. This series has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.
(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)
I finished this a few weeks ago, and let me tell you, this is a good book. Papehn’s writing style was the first thing that struck me: she’s telling a story, not leading you through it. In a world where “show don’t tell” is hammered into any writer’s skull, I was surprised and intrigued by this shift.
At first I thought I wasn’t going to like it… and then I found myself unable to put it down. There is something entrancing and seductive about the way Forbidden by Faith is weaved. I found myself identifying with the main character Sara on WAY too many levels, and I was thinking about her for days afterwards.
Needless to say, I really recommend this. It’s fresh, it’s interesting, I don’t think you’re going to find anything really like it. And here’s what she has to say about it!
– Author Name: Negeen Papehn
– Book Title: Forbidden by Faith (Forbidden Love Series, Book 1)
– Book Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
– Release Date: February 20, 2018
– Publisher: City Owl Press
Sara knows her life would be easier if she married a Muslim man, but when has love ever been easy?
Raised by her immigrant Iranian Muslim parents, she’s been taught that a good daughter makes decisions based on her family’s approval, and she’s spent most of her life doing just that. Then one night, she meets Maziar, and her world is turned upside down. She feels an instant electricity between them, and it seems like fate when he tells her he’s also Iranian. Just as her mind begins to soar with the possibilities, he shatters her hopes when he tells her he’s Jewish.
Despite the centuries of unrest behind them, Sara and Maziar embark on a forbidden love affair, attempting to navigate through the cultural and religious prejudices that beat them down and attempt to tear them apart.
Deep within the trenches of her battle, Sara finds herself more empowered and careless than ever before. Angry at and disappointed by the people she’s idolized all her life, she’s determined to forge her own path. But choosing who to be could mean creating a life that’s no longer acceptable to those around her.
Sara feels herself growing into an independent and confident woman, but will it be worth the ultimate cost: her family?
Share a teaser from your book.
“I want you back.”
I hadn’t let myself hope he would say that to me tonight. I thought if he didn’t, the disappointment would be unbearable. I realized that hearing him say he wanted us, and knowing that it was impossible, was more than disappointing. It was utterly devastating.
Where did you get the idea?
The premise of FORBIDDEN BY FAITH with the clashing religions comes from my own relationship. My husband is Jewish and I’m Muslim. People think this story is the story of us, but it’s not. We’re lucky to have the families that we do. We didn’t have to go to war over a love that was ours, but a fight that spanned centuries behind us. It could have been our story though. So instead, I wrote the story for Maziar and Sara. This is their love story, not mine.
What’s the story behind the title?
I came up with the title, but that was after my editor thought we should change it. It was originally called UNBOUND but that didn’t seem as intriguing. After a lot of brainstorming with my CPs, my editor and I decided on FORBIDDEN BY FAITH.
No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
There’s a steamy love triangle that unfolds. Everyone chooses a team by the time they’re done J
Well us about your favorite character.
My favorite character is Bita. She’s my male MC’s sister. I think her evolution throughout the book is pretty spectacular. She starts off being the person you love to hate, but as the story progresses and she’s faced with losing her brother, she begins to question her decisions, and ultimately chooses to change. By the end, you’re rooting for her.
If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
Hmmm… I think I’d spend the day with Ben. He’s a bit dreamy and I have a tiny crush on him, LOL. Maybe we’d go to a baseball game. He’s a big fan. Or maybe we’d do karaoke. That’s a pretty fun scene in my book.
Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?
A little bit of both. No character is based on one single person, but more of a combination of characteristics of people in my life, past and present. And some of it just comes from my imagination.
How long did you take to write this book?
It took me a year to write it and then another year to have it picked up. By the time my book is published, it’ll be close to three years.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I had to do research on the religions. I’m not very religious so I wanted to make sure I had the details correct. I also researched various aspects of the Iranian culture. Other than that, there wasn’t too much else. My book is based in Los Angeles, so I’m familiar with the location.
What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
I did a complete rewrite before I sent it in to agents/editors. I restructured the timeframe of the love triangle and changed the details. There was about ten chapters that were cut and redone. Once my editor did a sweep, we took out a few chapters that didn’t seem necessary.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a total pantser! Sometimes, I think it’s my downfall. I would love to be a plotter, and I try, but my story always has a mind of its own. I end up backed in corners that I have to find ways out of, which slows down the writing process. In the end, though, I come up with a storyline I hadn’t anticipated, which is exciting.
What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
My favorite part of the writing process is when my manuscript is ready for the first round of beta readers. I love sharing my work with people. Hearing their reactions and listening to their responses is my drug of choice. And it doesn’t have to just be praise. I welcome their constructive criticism as well. Makes the story better, and makes me a better writer.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
The most challenging part for me is the beginning. The actual process of brainstorming and coming up with a premise for the next story, one that’s interesting, different, and deeper than just the surface. I’m so passionate about writing; it’s a dream for me. But I’m always afraid I won’t be able to come up with the next idea, and it will all come to a tragic end. I almost paralyze myself with fear. It causes me to get major writer’s block.
Can you share your writing routine?
I don’t actually have a routine other than writing in between everything. On my days off I try to carve out a few hours to write, if errands and my children allow it. The days I work, I write in between patients and during my lunch breaks. Weekends are usually up in the air. Any free time I can find, even if it’s twenty minutes, I write. I just pick up where I left off and keep going any chance I get!
The location I write in isn’t always the same. Sometimes I’m at my desk in the spare room, sometimes at the dining room table, and sometimes I escape to the local coffee shop. Just depends on what works for the moment. But, regardless of where I’m sitting, my headphones are on and always blaring in my ears.
Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
Yes! It’s miserable. I just walk away. I leave the writing behind for a week, give my mind a break by binge watching shows.
If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?
“Hang in there. Even when you feel like you’ve lost sight of who you used to be, don’t worry, you’ll find her again. And when you do, amazing things will happen.”
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have one full unpublished manuscript that I need to start submitting soon, titled What Will Be, and I’m halfway through the second book in the Forbidden Love series.
Do you have any writing quirks?
Yes. I’m picky about location. I don’t need to write in the same spot each time, but the space needs to have the right energy. I have to feel the creativity flowing, otherwise I’m too distracted. And I must have a good playlist going. It needs to compliment the scene I’m in, otherwise it throws me off. So sad scenes get a ballad, hot scenes need a steamy 90s R&B song, and so on.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a mom and a wife. I have two boys, they’re 8 and 10. They’re spectacular little human beings and keep me super busy. They are in the “arguing phase” of their relationship right now, so it’s lovely. I’m a dentist by day. I know, not a glamorous job, nor is it even close to writing, but I dig it. I get to interact with a lot of people, and I’m definitely a social butterfly so it works for me. Oh! And I love wine, LOL.
How did you get into writing?
Growing up, I sang and wrote music and poetry. But then adult life took over and I lost that creativity. A few years ago, I started getting desperate for an outlet; it felt like I was suffocating without it. A friend suggested I write a book after I told her an elaborate recollection of a situation that had transpired.
Two weeks later, I thought, what the hell, and sat in front of my laptop. The rest is history.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love spending time with my family, reading, hanging out with friends, wine tasting, going on vacations. I’m pretty easy and low key. I’m a social butterfly for sure, but prefer it in casual, intimate settings.
Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?
I used to write poetry and music but I haven’t done that in ages.
Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
I can sing. I won a national contest for a song I wrote and recorded with my band in high school. And I was prom queen.
Which book influenced you the most?
Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes. I was depressed for a week after I finished that book! I loved the reality of it. Just because her MCs fell in love, the path of Will’s decisions didn’t change. That’s how real life goes. When I started writing, I wanted to implement the raw, messy truths of life into my own work as well. And I wanted my readers to believe it, completely involved and invested in my characters, long after they turned the last page.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on the second novel of the Forbidden Love series. I’m very type A, so sadly, I can’t work on more than one project at a time.
What’s your favorite writing advice?
“No matter what happens, you’ve already won. This has become so much more than you ever imagined. Remember that. Hold onto that. You can’t fail.” My boss is one of my biggest supporters and he said that to me when I was in full panic mode over the publishing process.
The book you’re currently reading:
I’m currently reading The Finish Line by Leslie Scott. It’s her debut novel and it’s fabulous.
Of the books you’ve read, which one changed you the most?
KITE RUNNER by: Khaled Hosseini
I can’t really explain how this book changed me, but I just know that it did. It opened my eyes to the horror that so many in this world face, and reminded me of how privileged I am to have been born and raised in the States. Things could have been so different if my parents hadn’t come to America so many years ago. This books tragic beauty and heartbreaking devastation has stayed with me from the moment I read it.
Sara knows marrying a Muslim man would be easier, but when has love ever been easy?
When Sara and Maziar embark on a forbidden love affair, they must navigate through the cultural and religious differences that divide them, pushing themselves to limits they never imagined, in the hopes of finding true love.
Give one or two of your favorite blurbs.
“Much more than a love story… FORBIDDEN BY FAITH is full of twists and turns as two lovers navigate their way through one of history’s oldest cultural divides.”
“A little 50 Shades… A little Romeo & Juliet… FORBIDDEN BY FAITH is sure to keep you turning the page. Although after some of the pages, you may need to take a cigarette break (even if you don’t smoke!).”
Negeen Papehn was born and raised in southern California, where she currently lives with her husband and two boys. She wasn’t always a writer. A graduate of USC dental school, Negeen spends half of her week with patients and the other half in front of her laptop. In the little time she finds in between, she loves to play with her kids, go wine tasting with her friends, throw parties, and relax with her family.
I mentioned last week that I was starting a new blog series, and here it begins! To help my fellow 2018 debut-ers, I’m implementing a new blog series dedicated to author interviews which intersect with my genres or interest, or just plain sound interesting. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each one I post struck my interest in one way or another… and I decided I must share.
Pamela Kopfler has a cozy mystery that just released, titled BETTER DEAD. Cozy mysteries may not be my usual style of reading, but the premise sounded so funny and interesting I decided I’d better read it anyway. It’s sitting on my kindle right now, and I’m pretty excited to start it!
A feisty B & B owner believes her cheatin’ husband deserves to choke on his divorce papers and spend eternity roasting in hell after nearly bankrupting her Louisiana bed and breakfast. At least, she’s half-right when he turns up dead, but she’s dead wrong when she accidentally calls him back from the grave. Unfortunately, he has unfinished business. Unless she wants to be stuck with her ghostly ex forever, she has to wedge him through the pearly gates by cleaning up the mess he left behind—a smuggling ring he started behind her back at her B&B. Now she has thirty days to solve her not-so-dearly-departed’s murder or she’s stuck with him for life. Or worse, she may be doing life.
Holly Davis wanted a divorce, not a funeral.
The young widow eased her desk drawer open and removed two files. The first held the divorce papers her husband hadn’t lived to receive. The second was filled with every reason to divorce him in full-color, glossy prints. She strolled to the fireplace of her bed and breakfast and dropped both files onto the cold ashes.
Where did you get the idea for your book?
The inspiration for BETTER DEAD came during a writers’ retreat at Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana. The organizer challenged the authors to write a ghost story in the spirit of Lord Byron’s challenge to Mary Shelly to write a supernatural story at a retreat in 1816. Shelly gave us the classic Frankenstein. Pamela twisted Frankenstein and added a funny bone when she remembered a lament of many women going through divorce. It would have been easier if he’d just died. But what if he did die and he came back as a ghost? That thought sparked the premise for BETTER DEAD. What’s the story behind the title? (e.g. who came up with it, did your publisher change it, etc.)
The title came with the inspiration for the Better Dead. Titles always come to me with the premise. I’m not sure I could write a book without a title. I’d feel all wishy-washy about it. A title is like a rudder steering the story and keeping it from drifting in the wrong direction. Thank goodness my publisher liked the title too. No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
Everyone knows everyone’s business in a small town but not their secrets. Tell us about your favourite character.
Ha! Just one? Impossible. Burl, the not-so-dearly-departed, was so much fun to write. I had to keep reminding myself he was dead. Miss Alice almost sat on my shoulder and fed me lines. Of course, Holly’s nose for trouble kept the me busy. Nope. I can’t pick just one. If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
That’s another tough one. I’d take Holly on a road trip to New Orleans and try to keep up with her. If we made it back alive, I’d have another story to tell.
Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?
All of my characters are conjured up from that child within that still pretends.
How long did you take to write this book? (You can share about the timeline from drafting to publication)
It took seventy-eight days to draft Better Dead. The revision took much longer, but I don’t remember how long. Revision is something that is never really complete.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
Oh, it was grueling…I visited many historic homes that had been converted to beautiful bed and breakfasts, sipped lots of cocktails, and ate some of the best southern style food on earth. Don’t pitty me too much though. (Excuse me while I bless my own heart before you do.) Actually, that part of the research was serious fun! Other than that fun B & B research, my family has orders to bleach bit my computer to hide my search history.
What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
I cut ten thousand words. I had a subplot that my editor felt needed to go and she was right. I hope to add some snips from the editing room floor to my newsletter. I really did cut my darlings. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Both. I have a general idea of the whole story and an opening when I put my keys on the keyboard. After I get the opening down, I write a short synopsis just for me. As the pages pile up, sometimes the plot changes because I’ve found a better twist, so I go with that. What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
Revising. It’s like makeup. Everyone looks better with a little lipstick on. What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
Starting, hands down. Once I am writing the real world fades away, and I’m in a timeless place where the story comes to life. Can you share your writing routine? (e.g. How do you carve out your writing time? Where do you normally write?)
It’s not pretty, but it works. First, I’m easily distracted, so write alone in a room, any room. I face a wall and listen to Bach or ambient sound on and wear noise-cancelling headphones. All notifications are turned off on my computer, and I don’t answer calls except designated rings. My best writing times are first thing in the morning or late at night. Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
I think writer’s block is fear and almost every writer has that, even if they don’t admit it. I pull up my Kevlar panties and tell fear to suck it up because no one is going to die if I write a bad page. The power is in my bowed up pinkie finger. Backspace, baby, and that bad page never happened. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Write like you know what you’re doing and one day you will. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have one dusty novel rotting away on my hard drive. I call that one my training wheel novel and it will never make a two-wheel track to publication. I have one women’s fiction complete that I hope to home soon. My work in progress, Downright Dead, is book two of the B & B Mystery series coming later in 2018. Book three, Hog Wild Dead, is a twinkle in my eye. Do you have any writing quirks?
Yes, but I’m, um, recovering. I have a sticky note compulsion that I’m trying to break. I also often say the dialogue aloud. That’s another reason I write alone in a room. Mumbling about murder in a coffee shop could get me in a world of trouble.
Tell us about yourself.
My husband and I have a blended family of five, which is sometimes a circus and sometimes wonderful, but always a blessing. I count my days on earth by the lives dogs adopted. My current fur baby is a solid black standard poodle who thinks he’s the sixth child. Between you and me, he is. How did you get into writing?
I took the scenic route, as I often do. I was hosting a home and garden show on a local TV station, telling Southern anecdotal stories on a local NPR affiliate when I met Mr. Deluxe, my current husband. After a year of our long distance relationship, he popped the big question, but someone had to move. That someone was me. The only marketable skill that survived the move was my ability to write, so write I did. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read a good book. Walk my big black poodle. Try a new restaurant or an old favorite. Paint. Cook. Decorate. Garden. Watch the Tigers or the Saints play. Travel. I don’t get to do these things as much as I’d like, but each interest fills the well that spills out stories. Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?
I write an occasional blog and have a non-fiction book simmering in the background. Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
At an air show once, I was invited to fly in an old World War II double-winged, two-seater plane that had been used to carry injured soldiers in its belly. I jumped at the chance, and it was so worth it. There was no pressurization and I felt like Snoopy and the Red Barron as the wind whipped through my hair.
What are you working on right now?
Downright Dead, book two in my B & B Spirits Mystery series. What’s your favourite writing advice or quote?
“We are all apprentices in a craft where on one ever becomes a master.”
Give us a short pitch of your novel
Have you ever heard a woman going through a divorce say, “It would have been easier if he’d died?” Have you said it? Thought it? But what if he did die?
Better Dead is a romp of a mystery about a B & B owner who wants a divorce. She gets a funeral and thirty days to solve her not-so-dearly-departed’s murder or she’s stuck with his ghost for life. What are your favourite blurbs for BETTER DEAD?
“Better Dead is written with an incredible Southern twist, as charming as the author herself! Page turning, fun, and filled with suspense–and very unique characters! As the saying goes, a “keeper,” and just the beginning of the series!”
Heather Graham, New York Times Bestselling Author
“Better Dead was impossible to put down—a sassy Southern romp of a read.” ~~ Susan M. Boyer, USA TODAY Bestselling author of the Liz Talbot Mystery series.
“Better Dead is brisk, witty, full of unexpected happenings and wonderfully real characters. Pamela Kopfler has given us a fresh new heroine in bright and funny Holly Davis, deftly mixing homicide and haunting with Louisiana charm.” Carol J. Perry, Author of The Witch City Mysteries.
Pamela Kopfler is a novelist, Southern-fried and sassy. She writes award-winning humorous mysteries with a kick of Southern sass. Her debut novel, BETTER DEAD, is the first in her B & B Spirits mystery series, to be followed by DOWNRIGHT DEAD, and HOG WILD DEAD. (Kensington Books) She is a four-time Golden Heart® finalist and a Daphne du Maurier award winner.
She can stir up a roux, mix a cocktail, and loves swapping stories. Putting words on the page keeps her alligator mouth from overloading her hummingbird heinie in real life. She marks her time on earth by the lives of the dogs she has loved––who often show up in her stories.
Pamela lives in South Louisiana where the spirits are restless, the food is spicy, and the living is divine.
For lagniappe (a little something extra), sign up for her newsletter at https://pamelakopfler.com ~~ Unique cocktail recipes, finger-licking-good Southern recipes, and other goodies.
So I’m writing a prequel to my INITIUM series, the first book tentatively due out in Fall of next year. I wasn’t sure I wanted to write a prequel, as the events in it are fun mystery details throughout the first book, and you learn about them and why my main character is the way she is as the novel progresses.
But, it’s a lot of information, and my editor thinks I need a prequel so readers aren’t lost and/or inundated with too much information right off the bat. So I’m writing a prequel. The first draft is almost done — I wrote the final chapter, but I also left a bunch of ‘holes’ in the manuscript, scenes I felt I was forcing too much at the time, to come back and complete later. I’m writing those scenes now.
My biggest frustration so far is that a lot of the events in the prequel are what make my main character interesting in the first place, so before the events happens, my characters are…
Not that likeable. Actually, they’re coming across like spoiled little brats. Which goes with the territory, are they’re the daughters of a rich upperclass businessman — but I’m really worried it makes for some difficult reading. Or apathy about reading them, anyway.
And if people don’t want to read the book for your characters, they’re not going to read the book.
Fortunately, characters being likeable isn’t so important as characters being interesting.
Unfortunately, I don’t think my main character is either at the beginning. Perhaps I’m being too critical, because I’m so used to her, 5 years later, being a snarky badass. Or maybe I just haven’t written from an insecure 14 year old’s perspective for so long it’s hard to believe that readers will really connect with her voice and struggles…
I believe my main character is interesting (and even likable) by the end, but if the beginning doesn’t hook someone, then it’s kind of a moot point.
I’ve also never really written ‘on contract,’ or written a character arc from the very beginning like this, so I might just be out of my depth and scaring myself (I’ll be writing about this whole process here soon).
I’ve also never really written a prequel (at least something this big), which I’m beginning to understand has it’s own difficulties. Not the least of which is writing a character that you know… but isn’t the fully formed character of the later book who is probably more interesting in first place.
Either way, I’m becoming more thankful that I have an amazing editor who’s excellent at developmental editing, because I’m going to need some perspective on making this work. I think I’m too close to this character, or the character arc in general, or too concerned about the ‘writing of a relatable 14 year old’ to just write the 14 year old. I was a 14 year old. I remember. Why I be making this so hard.
Anyway, it will be educational to see what my editor suggests going forward. And I feel a little lazy, looking to my editor for direction instead of figuring it out myself. But the truth is, I’m still pretty shaky on what revisions really need to look like, which is my real fear. I don’t know if I’ve fully ever revised a manuscript in it’s truest meaning, so my skill level there is… dismal.
So there’s some anxiety about my meh-characters not becoming interesting enough with this lack of skill.
Anyway, this is all a moot point if I don’t have the draft done in the first place! I’m off to finish those few more thousand words. I want this draft done by the end of this month (which gives me like two days). It’s going to be far from perfect — but all that’s left are a few holes to make this thing complete.
Stay tuned for the regurgitation of my thoughts about writing my first ‘on contract’ piece… in a week or two.