I want to thank Brian Rathbone for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. In addition to being a generous, humble, hard-working guy, Brian’s the author of the bestselling YA series The World of Godsland. But don’t let the YA genre fool you. Adults will find this epic fantasy a captivating story and delightful read. Check it out for yourself! Take a look at Brian’s blog post to learn about the writing process that’s taken him from blank page to 10 unique books. And don’t miss the fun of following him on Twitter. Ne’er a more fun geek shall ye find.
Now it’s my turn to share my own writing process.
1) What am I working on?
I’ve got several projects in the works, all at various stages of production: a novel, a novella, and a couple of short stories.
The novel is Discordant: Kin Foreign & Familiar. It’s the second book in The Staves of Warrant series, an epic science fantasy. This project is in the revision stage, where it’s been for about 6 months now. It picks up where Incorrigible: Secrets Past & Present left off, with the protagonist, a shape shifter named Grainne, elemporting for the first time to another planet. Oh, and just for a tease, Discordant reveals the true identity of the surviving antagonist, Slyxx Seetan.
I can’t talk about the novella, except to say that when I was invited to write in another author’s fantasy world, I got truly excited because the character I’m writing about is one of the most mysterious in the original novel. The novella is in the outline and draft stage.
The short stories are 5,000-word pieces of science fiction. They’re fan fiction based on Hugh Howey’s Half Way Home. Again, I can’t say much about them because one (or maybe both) are entries in a contest. I do promise to post links to them when they become official entries.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is actually a tough question! I’d say one of the distinctions in my work is the way I blend genres. Although The Staves of Warrant is epic science fantasy and, therefore, includes science fiction and fantasy elements, it also has some elements of mystery in it. Technology lives alongside magic in that series, and neither one is “the bad guy” juxtaposing “the good guy.” They’re just different ways of approaching challenges, and sometimes, the line between them is indistinguishable.
There’s not much black and white in my writing, come to think of it. Certainly not the characters nor the challenges they face. Although feminism informs my work, my female characters are humans (or representations of them). Some of those women are real stinkers but may also have qualities we can admire. Above all, though, I’d say one of the distinctions in my work is the power of positive intentional communities. That is one of the most enduring themes for me because it’s one I wish we saw more of in our “real lives.” Does that make my work different from others of its genre? I don’t know. I’d say there are some pretty realistic speculative fiction pieces out there. There are some pretty realistic mysteries out there, too. I think readers will have to decide for themselves.
3) Why do I write what I do?
The pat answer applies here: to hush the voices in my head. That is true to an extent. Stories swim around in my head all the time. When I read, I can’t help but think, “What if….” When I watch the news, listen to people conversing, or see some natural phenomenon, the same question pops out at me. What seems particularly important about those questions and possible answers to them is how they affect people and the world we live in. Characters are the soul in my writing, and because people are complex, their stories can be convoluted and complex, too. Speculation and genre-blending seem the most flexible ways for me to be able to do that.
4) How does your writing process work?
I’m an outliner/pantser hybrid. I start my projects with a character/plot/setting outline. I spend a fair amount of time asking questions about how my characters act, think, and feel—about themselves, in relation to others, and in relation to the world they live in. If I feel that I need to know more about something, I research it at this point in the process. That usually nets some ideas. In the novel I’m revising, for instance, I did a lot of research about birds for a race of beings I call Araeans. That was fun!
I should add here that I do all of my work in Scrivener, except for the first revision (which I print out before putting the changes into the Scrivener version) and the final proofreading (also in hard copy exported from Scrivener to Word). I usually write in silence. On occasion, I’ll listen to a playlist on YouTube, but that’s very rare. It’s hard for me to hear the voices in my head when they’re competing with music.
Once I have a general outline of key events and character arcs, I crank out a rough draft in chapter order without making any revisions or edits. If something comes to me that is farther along in the book than where I am in the draft, I add a note about it in the outline and work it in when I get to that point. If an idea about a scene or character in a previously drafted chapter dawns on me, I make a note and deal with it when I reach the revision stage. That way, I’m always moving forward with the rough draft. That’s the only way I can finish one. As I’m drafting, characters and the forces that drive or challenge them sometimes take over and go in a direction I hadn’t planned in the outline. I let that happen because I know I can always toss out something that takes the story off-track. I love those little surprises, though. Sometimes, they turn out to be the coolest things in a story.
It takes me about a month to churn out 125,000 words of rough draft. That’s about a chapter or two long scenes per day. I’m pretty much a recluse during that time, and that’s probably a good thing because I find it difficult to converse with all the voices in my head yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!”
I spend an inordinate amount of time revising, and I usually manage to go through the full manuscript at least 3 times before my husband, then an editor, and then beta readers see it. I’m a ruthless cutter of rough material, but there’s a part of me that can only do that if I know I can go back to what I originally wrote. So, I keep a “cuts” folder for any large chunks that didn’t survive revision or sentences that I really loved but felt didn’t work. Once or twice, I’ve gone back into that folder and retrieved a section of a scene or a particularly detailed description because it ends up fitting in well in a different place in the book.
After I’ve gotten feedback on my revised draft, I do a final revision and then copyedit and proofread it myself before I send it to a proofreader. I double-check any changes the proofreader makes (Yes, I’m a grammar fanatic, Oxford comma Nazi, and hater of typos, but I do make mistakes, and so does every proofreader on the planet.), and I call the piece “DONE.”
So, now it’s time to send you on to the next stop on the blog tour. I’m really excited about this part because I know you’re going to love meeting these folks! On first base is Who. Oops. Wrong routine.
First up is James Kafka.
I “met” James on Twitter, and we had an instant connection. We’re both lovers of D&D and fantasy literature. James is the author of Warfolkan, a medieval fantasy. Sometimes, James lets his inner child come out and blog for him as “Little Jimmy.” That kid would have been my best pal had he lived in my neighborhood when I was a kid. He’s such a troublemaker.
Get Warfolkan here.
Next up is Sarah-Jane Murray.
I also “met” SJ on Twitter via a retweet and was drawn immediately to her fantastic attitude. Talking with her confirmed that my instincts were on target. SJ lives in Austin, TX, with her feisty wheaton-poo, Coco, and travels frequently to both coasts. As a professor in the Honors College at Baylor University, she teaches great texts, creative writing and story rhetoric. She earned her PhD in literature at Princeton and studied screenwriting at UCLA. SJ is the credited writer of several documentaries for PBS and a feature film, consults on numerous projects, and coaches authors.
Get SJ Murray’s book Three Act What? here
Have fun visiting Sarah-Jane and James!