Tag Archives: novels

Authors of ’18 Interviews: Clarissa Goenawan

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…

Rainbirds

GENERAL

– Author Name: Clarissa Goenawan

– Book Title: RAINBIRDS

– Book Genre: Literary Mystery

– Release Date: 6 March 2018

– Publisher: Soho Press

THE BOOK

– 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.

– What’s the story behind the title? 
I came up with it! There was actually a really funny story behind it, which you can read at the end of my guest post for Bath Novel Award, “Five Ways to Find The Perfect Title for Your Novel.”
Link: https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/2017/07/26/five-ways-to-find-the-perfect-title-for-your-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.

WRITING PROCESS

– 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.

The breakdown:
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.

THE WRITER

– 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’S NEXT

– 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.

PITCH

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.

BLURB

“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

BUY LINKS

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1616958553

Barnes & Nobles: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rainbirds-clarissa-goenawan/1126551443?ean=9781616958558

BookDepository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Rainbirds-Clariss-Goenawan/9781616958558

Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781616958558

BIO

ClarissaGoenawan
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.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: http://www.clarissagoenawan.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clarissagoenawan/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClaireClaire05
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/clarissagoenawan/
Pinterest: N.A.
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16100168.Clarissa_Goenawan

Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

Negeen Papehn — FORBIDDEN BY FAITH

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Authors of ’18 Interviews: Negeen Papehn

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!

 

Fobbiden DIGITAL blue-pink

GENERAL

– 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

THE BOOK

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.

 

WRITING PROCESS

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.

 

THE WRITER

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’S NEXT

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.

TELL US…

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.

PITCH

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!).”

BUY LINKS

Amazon: http://smarturl.it/FLove1Amz

BN: http://smarturl.it/FLove1BN

Kobo: http://smarturl.it/FLove1Kobo

Apple: http://smarturl.it/FLove1iBooks

Google: http://smarturl.it/FLove1Google

 

BIO

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
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.

FORBIDDEN BY FAITH is her debut novel.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: www.negeenpapehn.com

Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/NegeenPapehn

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NegeenPapehn/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/negeenpapehn/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17379780.Negeen_Papehn

 

Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS


Prequel Problems: Likable Characters

Prequel Problems with Likable Characters.png

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.

 

Questions? Comments? Similar anxiety-rants?


Published: Behind the Scenes (April 2017)

Published- Behind The Scenes.png

Well this is going to be a short one. Much the same as my last post, I’m working on the prequel project assigned by my editor. I will be writing a post about what it’s like to write for oneself vs. ‘contract writing’ as they say, but I’d like to finish writing the thing before I delve into that.

So, just in case you missed it! I’ve written about my initial foray into developmental editing, which was eye-opening to say the least. I also wrote a post about my Path to Publication, which highlights how I even got my publishing contract that I still can’t quite wrap my head around as actually having oh my god my book is going to come out next year —

*deep breath*

So while you wait for more crazy thoughts of behind the scenes, here’s a snippet of what’s taking up so much of my time lately. Don’t judge too harshly, it hasn’t gone through editing yet (ha!).

The windowpane was cold on the side of my head. I could just move and relieve the discomfort, but I didn’t. I sat there, useless. Or maybe I was punishing myself. Everybody was always worried about that lately. Survivor’s guilt, they called it.

But they didn’t know it actually was my fault. If I hadn’t told my biggest secret, none of it would have happened. He’d made sure to tell me how special I was, that the secret I hid from the world was the reason he’d had to take my sister and me. Not just to ransom, like most people kidnapped upper class girls for. But for something else, something that meant he hurt us, over and over, without even touching us…

The cold from the glass was seeping from my head, down my body. Annoying little shivers kept hitting me at intervals, pulling me out of my reverie. I pulled the blanket tighter and higher around me, but the cold still penetrated. It made me squirm on the window bench; between the cold and my butt falling asleep, I wanted to move.

Damn it, I couldn’t even be miserable properly. I couldn’t even punish myself for being alive when she wasn’t.

I flung myself up from bench and stalked across the room. My eyes burned, looking for something or throw or to hit. A pillow went first, but that didn’t feel like anything. The water glass on the bedside table went next. It made a loud sound against the wall before hitting to the ground, a large crack down its side. The damn glass couldn’t even shatter properly.

I slumped down on my bed, trying to cry, trying to feel anything but hollow, like I’d had all my insides sucked out by those things that had taken us and held us and burrowed into our heads like worms that ate through our brains –

I slapped myself sharply across the face. The gleeful bubbling panic under my breastbone was too close; I’d let it too close. My thoughts ran frantic through my head, like clawing hands searching for a way to rip open the memories and spill them forth like sewage.

Two deep breaths later, I knew I’d be able to conquer it. It wasn’t going to overwhelm me. I breathed deep and focused on one single point, keeping my mind still. It still took several more minutes of deep breathing before my hands stopped shaking.

The therapists my parents had been hiring weren’t completely duff. I’d mostly ignored all of what they’d said, because like everyone else, they wouldn’t listen to me when I’d told them the truth about what had taken us. But some of what they’d said about panic attacks helped.

The slapping bit was my own, though. Sometimes I needed something more drastic to get my stupid head’s attention.

I fell backwards across my four-poster, and nearly brained myself on the book I’d bought earlier today. Wincing, I yanked it out from under my head and stared at its dark cover.

It didn’t hold the answers I sought.

There was nothing in the book about what he was. Nothing had fit. Oh, plenty about the other things. Plenty about creatures that were more shadow than flesh, creatures that lived off of human blood, creatures that could change shape, ones that stole children and ate them, ones that looked to be a mix of several creatures, ones that controlled weather or elements – all of them categorized by their most common regions, favorite habitats, and common behaviors. Even dragons, and more creatures I’d never even dreamed of yet alone heard of from my grandmother.

Breathing deeply, I spent a few seconds calming, my train of thought courting the panic attack I’d just conquered.

Another thought hit me; my stomach gave a little lurch. The book held no answers about what he was, or why he’d taken us. But this couldn’t be the only book. And this couldn’t be the only way of finding new information. My grandmother was gone, everyone laughed off what I said – I was the only one willing to find out the truth.

The book was heavy and warm in my hands. It couldn’t be the only one with information like this. There had to be others of its kind, with more information, new information.

There was a way to find out who’d killed my sister.

There was a way to find the truth about the things that dwelled in the dark.

Comments? Questions? Laughter?

Have a fantastic writing day, friends.


Published: Behind The Scenes (Feb 2017)

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Welcome to the February 2017 edition of Published: Behind the Scenes, where I talk about all the fun things that happen to get my book on the shelf.

If you missed the introduction post or the post from January, they can be found here and here.

Without further ado, see below!

February has been a rush (and I was all worried I’d have nothing much to share!). I got my first professional edit letter from my publisher. You know, ever. Which is a huge thing to begin with anyway, but then on top of that, it was developmental edits, which I have zilch experience with.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had developmental edits done with a professional editor, but I was surprised to realize that most of the work is done almost entirely from the outline. From the outline, the plot, stakes, and connections between scenes are all assessed to make sure that they all forwarded the plot and they’re not just a bunch of loosely connected points.

Which, in theory, seems straightforward.

(Why does it always so seem straightforward on paper or after the fact…)

The biggest complication to this whole process was that my outline was very unclear. Most of my themes and points were too vague or seemed unconnected, because I wasn’t writing out how they were connected or the details which made it relevant, which made it difficult to, you know, assess all of that. On top of that, since there’s a bit of a mystery element in the novel, I’d definitely not explained everything.

I know you’ve probably all heard this person, but seriously, don’t be mysterious when talking to your editor. Tell all the secrets. Get your point across. I didn’t even realize the things I hadn’t shared because I’m so used to them being secrets for books later on — but you need to tell your editor!

But overall, there was some definite face-palming on my end as I realized yet again… I hadn’t explained that… which was why everybody was so confused. I’ve always used outlines just as a general structure, and a way to jog my memory and keep me on path. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually written a detailed outline like what is actually called for in this situation.

But anyway.

The first run through of my outline mostly involved my editor and I getting on the same page of understanding. On top of everything else, I’ve been playing a little loose with the rules and structure of storytelling, so she gave me a crash course in understanding the basics.

To which I was like — but yeah I’m this AMAZING thing where I break the rules. Haaaa. Yeah right.

The biggest worry at the beginning is that there doesn’t seem to be enough at stake. I was relying on the intrigue of the world and all the questions I pose to drive the start… but that’s probably not going to be enough. There needs to be tension, a sort of deadline — not necessarily the world ending, you know, but something.

So, more stuff in the beginning, tension-related stuff. Which seems so simple and straightforward and I don’t know why I didn’t get that before. Probably because I was so focused on how cool I was using mystery and questions to drive parts of the plot.

So, the somewhat counterintuitive conclusion that came out of this: I need to write more. My 109k word novel needs more words.

To continue with the theme of my not explaining enough, my editor also thinks I started the book too far into my main character’s arc. The initial trigger, or catalyst, to make her this answers-driven rebellious intelligent fiend, is something that’s learned as the book progresses, but isn’t known from the beginning. My editor is concerned there’s too much explanation that needs to be written in the first chapter because of this. Mostly because I created a really complex world.

To which I’m like: but… but… I like my subtle hinting and clues for all the answers! (which isn’t a good enought answer, in case you were wondering)

But anyway. The result of all of this, is that I’m writing a prequel novella.

This prequel will show how my protagonist got to where she is in my first book: all the themes and important points that had to come together to form her after the catalyst of her sister’s death. It’s also going to introduce the world, taking the pressure off the first book to get everyone on the same page within the first chapter. We’re working through the outline of that as well (hey, I’m learning how to be a plotter and write from an outline!), and I should be starting actual writing on it in the next few weeks.

Some part of me feels the prequel is redundant, that everything is already said in the first book, at least mentioned if not explained. But I’m also discovering (well, building) a story that’s a lot bigger than what I’d initially had in my head, and it’s giving me time to build the world out with more clarity.

If this prequel definitely happens, it’s going to be weird releasing it first versus the actual book. I’m definitely having anxiety it won’t be interesting enough, that releasing a novella first instead of a full length novel as my first book ever is bizarre. But that’s probably just anxiety about releasing anything anyway.

For fun, I’d like to share the progress that my outline has gone through so far. Just to provide a little context to what I’m talking about.

This is the first chapter in the outline originally:

Chapter One:

The book begins with Fairian sneaking out of the house. It’s obvious she’s waiting for something, and she gets attacked, and then saved by Daimyn. Excited by the new lead, Fairian asks questions. He warily answers before warning her off coming out at night, and eventually knocking her out in an attempt to scare her.

As you can tell, there’s not much there. It made perfect sense to me, because I have all the themes and connections in my head. And here’s what it is now:

Chapter One

Fairian sneaks out of the house to find a creature – now that she’s in the new city of Farfalla, which is swamped in intrigue and mystery, she thinks she may have luck getting answers about her sister’s death. Mixed with descriptions of the city, there are brief mentions of backstory that give a glimpse into world structure, family life, and how long she’s been on this quest.

She gets attacked by a strigoi, and ‘saved’ by a mysterious man. While she’s peeved about the loss of the strigoi, she realizes that this man knows something, and asks questions. He warily answers a few questions before warning her off her search and eventually knocking her out in an attempt to scare her.

I imagine the first chapter will go through further edits, but for now, it’s clearer. I’m itching to get into the actual content of the first chapter instead of just talking about the content… but clarifying on what the chapter needs to be is helpful, I will admit.

After the first chapter, there’s some change to the plot itself. Because the second chapter needs to further tension and get the plot going with a goal (my original goal not quite ‘big’ enough), the original chapter two was too slow. This is besides the fact that the outline was, again, not nearly clear enough in what aspects, tensions, and themes are being developed out at that point.

So here’s the second chapter initially:

Chapter Two:

Fairian wakes up in her own bed, her maid announcing her new martial arts teacher was arriving. She meets Mr. Kearney and he agrees to teach her. Afterwards, her best friend Tiffany and her decide to go shopping: this reveals more about Farfallan history and make-up, and Fairian mentions more on the Environmental crisis.

How does that even explain anything? Seriously, it seems so obvious now that this outline is NOT clear enough.

Now, alongside clarification, there’s a new aspect to drive the plot forward:

Chapter Two

Fairian wakes up in her own bed, and decides the Mr. Mysterious from last night must know things, and she’s going to track him down and beat the answers out of him if she has to. She interviews with Mr. Kearney, a local martial artist, who agrees with teach her. It becomes obvious she’s been taking defense lessons for a while, in response to wanting to be able to protect herself. While it seems her father is reluctantly supportive of this, her mother makes it obvious that it was a BIG battle to even have an interview – and she’s upset about Fairian’s new instructor, thinking the move to Farfalla would end that ‘unladylike hobby.’

At lunch Fairian sees an article in the newspaper that reminds her of what happened when Fairian and her sister were taken. Her mother nitpicks at Fairian’s clothes, posture, attitude, etc (probably exacerbated because of losing the battle about the martial arts instructor) until in frustration Fairian agrees to go shopping for clothes appropriate to this part of the world — privately thinking she can sneak away and track down more information about the news article she saw. Their family ward and her best friend, Tiffany, comes along with. The drive to the market gives a glimpse into some environmental history and Farfallan culture.

Putting up with her mother’s ministrations for only a while, Tiff and Fairian manage to sneak away and head to the Central Library to search the news of the past few years. She finds out that many people have had strange psychological breaks where they supposedly saw their nightmares come to life, and they’re all sent to the same mental hospital. Starkly reminded of her past, Fairian sets getting into the hospital as her next objective.

As you can see, that was a heck of a lot clearer. Also, the issue with the people stalked by their nightmares and the mental hospital was originally a plot point much further in the book. Since a more pressing goal was needed to get the plot moving more quickly (beyond finding out who the mysterious character is in the first chapter), I moved it up and changed it around a bit. So far I feel pretty happy with it.

I’m having brief struggles with feeling possessive over my story and like it might be being changed too much. But, I will admit, finding my own ways to fix whatever problem is there has been a tad fun. And seeing improvements in my manuscript has been neat.

It’s a balance, between sticking true to the story you want to tell and letting more knowledgable people guide you on what needs to be changed. It’s definitely been tense and a little nerve-wracking as my baby is being pulled apart and put back together, but good overall.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Have any of you gone through developmental edits like this? What was your experience?


What Does YOUR story mean?

 

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I’ve always struggled — in most of my professional writing career, after the blissful stage where I only wrote for myself — with making my writing and stories mean something. Maybe it was the crap influences in my childhood who told me that ‘just writing fantasy’ was fine and all that, but eventually I needed to write things that actually meant something. It can’t just be that though, because I’ve always felt a drive to write more than just a story.

Maybe all of this is just all my insecurity and doubt coming home to roost.

It’s the plight of most writers to feel this way. I read somewhere that, at the very least, writer’s write to entertain. But most of us write to try to inform, educate, inspire, engage. So I’m hope to God pretty sure that I’m really not alone in all of my what-do-I-mean angst.

I can’t help but think of this in the light of current world events. Well, USA events, but it’s affecting the whole world, so yeah.

Meaning: I want my books to make people think when they’re out there. I want to inspire and engage and teach. Yes, I’ll always write stories, because I’m one of those ‘if I don’t write it out it just plagues me forever’ writers. But I want to go above and beyond that. I want it all to mean something.

I get a little hung up on how exactly to go about doing that. The first example that jumps to mind is the Orson Scott Card route, of exploring deeply philosophical questions about humanity and morality through science fiction. He does a lot of telling-not-showing, and it seems like he had these deeply moral issues in the back of his head as he wrote the story. Whereas I get characters yelling at me and write them so they’ll be quiet.

So I guess what I’m really struggling with is a way to take my innate character-yelling and transform it. The story comes out, sure, but it’s still just a story. What is the step between characters and plot coming together and then… making it more?

It’s probably the opposite of that. That the meaning to be explored should be taken first — and then add the characters and plot. But how do I do that? Seriously – I want someone to give me a flow chart on how to do this, because I feel like I missed something along the way.

I want to write about environmental issues and the reality of how this relates to economics — so I’ve built solarpunk into my world. But is it really teaching someone anything, or exploring how a world like this works? … I’m afraid it’s not enough.

I have strong belonging, friendship, and what it means to be human themes especially in my current series, but I’m not sure it’s so obvious. I get lost in the plot and the interactions of the characters, and sometimes I think that takes away from the fact that I wrote these two people with the idea that they’re lonely and different… and in each other they find not only a place to belong, but start affecting the world around them for the better.

I don’t feel that it’s enough.

(Maybe I’m just not smart enough — or smart in ‘that’ way? I want to interview Card and figure out his method… and when he feels like he’s really got it.)

I think all of this can be put in the category of learning to take a first draft and make it a second draft — something that, with growing horror, I’m realizing that maybe I haven’t ever done before. I’m going through developmental edits with a professional editor for the first time and getting a crash course in things I didn’t even know were a thing (upcoming blog post on that later! It’s a little nerve-wracking and kinda feels like the floor has been taken out from under my feet).

Of course, who really knows — because an artist’s plight is never feeling like something is ever ‘done.’ It can always be better. There can always be more. Despite knowing this, I still feel that I’m missing some sort of intrinsic lesson on how to get from my A to my B. For all I know I’ll get an epiphany tomorrow and suddenly realize how it works, or I’ll read an article that connects it all — or the most likely outcome, my editor will prod me into understanding what to do.

But for now, I’m definitely feeling a little worthless and like I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’d love to move this discussion out to you, dear readers.

Do you worry that your story doesn’t ‘mean’ enough, especially in light of current events? How do you give meaning to your story? Do you start with the world, the characters, the lesson you’re imparting? If you’re a character writer like me, how do you keep yourself from getting carried away in their interactions? How to you keep yourself from being off subject/too preachy?

 


Published: Behind the Scenes (Jan 2017)

 

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Yeesh, writing “2017” is still weird. But anyway. Welcome to the first segment of my new series, where I talk about the behind-the-scenes action of being published!

So in October 2016 I signed the contract to sell my Initium series to Glass House Press. Pretty much the very first thing that happened:

“Let’s look at your author platform!”

How did I know this was going to happen? Oh right, the entire writing world tells you about it. So, things started happening, like social media calendars, starting up a FaceBook author page (which I don’t hate as much as I thought — hey, if you want to like it and follow my updates more in detail, here it is), and discussing how many pictures of my freaking goats I post on Instagram (heheh).

The past couple months have been about setting goals and thinking about branding as a whole. The holidays took up a lot of time and headspace, so that was mostly easy, fun stuff. When 2017 hit, it was time to get serious (<– I almost wrote that ‘series’, ha!). Anyway. *cracks knuckles*

The part I’m struggling with the most is finding and actually utilizing my ‘keywords’ in a natural way. The whole point of social media as an author is to be able to connect with potential readers, to find them and make connections before the actual book comes out. So if you want the right people to connect with you, who are interested in the concepts/themes in your story… you have to effectively find/attract them through keywords.

So while I can tweet/post indefinitely like #fantasy #alternatehistory #strongwomen #solarpunk etc etc etc — I definitely feel that it’s the bare minimum of what to do, and there has to be a better way to do it. It needs to feel natural, not like I’m awkwardly waving off in the corner and nobody really knows what I’m doing there.

Do I know the answer to that yet? Not really.

(Though I am having a lot of fun finding really cool pictures to post on Instagram. Seriously, I feel like a image hoarder right now.)

Another aspect of it — as you probably know — is that you want people to make connections to you as a writer. They’ll hopefully want to buy your book when it arrives, but that’s not the point. You’re supposed to make connections and build relationships as your primary goal.

So there’s this balance between ‘keywords my book is about’ (AKA finding the right people) and ‘being naturally you’ (being genuine so people don’t think you’re a robot). I’d like to say I’m pretty good at that last part, and am working to incorporate the first part… but we’ll see.

 

As for what’s happening with the actual manuscript… the first thing to tackle is developmental editing. Basically, my editor wants to make sure that the whole series fits together and is pushed to it’s best possible potential. Big picture stuff. Does-what-happens-in-book-four-make-sense-with-what-happens-in-book-two. Etc.

I haven’t gotten the letter with developmental edits yet, because my editor has been slammed getting authors ready with books coming out here shortly. But we have been talking informally about basics.

Liiiiiiike — big reveals that happen in book four must be foreshadowed in the previous books if it’s a big freaking plot hole. If it’s a plot hole that’s supposed to be there, you’ve got to let the reader know YOU know it’s supposed to be there.

Which, apparently, I did well with Fairian’s whole obsession with finding secrets. I reveal to there readers that HEY LOOK THERE’S SOMETHING REALLY WRONG WITH GEOGRAPHY I KNOW IT’S WRONG JUST BEAR WITH ME without giving them answers. And then drag out allllll the secrets for several books…

Eh-hem. It’s good to know I did that part right, because the waiting in strangling anticipation for the edits letter is only killing me slowly. I am so ready to tackle to this thing and turn it into an even better beauteous creation of awesome.

So. Moral of the story: publishing really does take a long time, for various reasons. Use the time to beef up your author platform. And meanwhile, write more books!

I feel like there should be a lot more to tell, but that’s all I can think of for now. It ought to get more exciting as things progress; stayed tuned for the end of February update!

 

Happy writing,

R. K. Brainerd