Posts Categorized: AuthorsAnswer

Authors answer 21: What is your ultimate goal with your writing? Fame? Fortune? Changing the world?

May 5, 2017 AuthorsAnswer 0

This is going to sound like a cop-out, but I really don’t have a goal except to get the books out there in the world where they can be read.

Fame? No, absolutely not! {Shudder} I’m the ultimate reclusive writer. I haven’t even told most of my real life friends or family that I write. It amuses me, actually, to meet people on a regular basis who have no idea at all about it. We have the usual back and forth — how are you, what have you been up to, oh, nothing much — and I could say, well, I published my fourteenth book the other day, so bit of a celebration, and I have a promotion on the box set and then there’s the audio… But I never do.

Fortune? A little bit more money never goes amiss, but I wouldn’t want enough to need accountants and investment advisers and all that good stuff.

Changing the world? That would be presumptuous. I write to entertain people, and if my books take readers to another place for a few hours, then that’s as much as I aspire to.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Authors answer #20: What element of writing (setting, characterization, plot development, etc.) do you find most challenging?

February 12, 2017 AuthorsAnswer, Writing musings 0

For me, it’s definitely the plot. I’m a pantser, which means I just start writing without much thought in my head of where the story might take me. I usually start with a character, or a group of characters, in a particular situation, and I just turn them loose, so to speak, and they make their own decisions and steer the story. The setting grows around them.

But, while this kind of ‘discovery’ writing, where the author discovers the story at the time without any forethought or planning, can lead to problems. You can find your characters have got themselves into a deep hole and really can’t get out again without miraculous help, and that’s a big no-no. There’s even an expression for it: deus ex machina, (the god from the machine). This doesn’t happen to me very often, since my characters tend to be sensible chaps and chapesses, who foresee the upcoming deep hole and take avoiding action.

Or the story can ramble interminably without ever getting anywhere, and this one I’m definitely guilty of. In epic fantasy, a certain amount of rambling is tolerated, because readers love an expansive sort of world that feels b-i-g, so I think I’ve mostly got away with it. But still, it can make the story feel slow.

What I find really difficult is structuring the story so that it has a properly dramatic arc, with tension building and building to a crescendo at just the right moment. This sort of thing is much easier for those who sit down and plan out the whole outline before writing a word. Sometimes the crescendo happens anyway at just the right time, and that’s awesome. And sometimes it gets missed out altogether (in one of my books, the main character is unconscious for a crucial battle), which is less awesome. And sometimes the ending just fizzles out. I hope I’m more aware of the problems now, but it’s still an issue that trips me up occasionally.

So why don’t I outline? I find it too restrictive. I’ve never got the hang of beat sheets and hitting pinch points and all that good stuff that, if you use them properly, builds the structure effortlessly. It just feels like a straight-jacket. Once or twice I’ve used Libby Hawkes’ method in Take Off Your Pants! to get me started and after the first few chapters everything begins to flow, and sometimes I have waypoints I know I want to hit, but I’ve never plotted an entire book from start to finish. For that reason alone, I will never, ever tackle a time travel story. Just too many complexities to keep in my head! I enjoy reading them, when I can follow what’s going on, but writing one would be my worst nightmare.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Authors Answer 19: How did you get into writing and what made you select your genre of choice?

January 14, 2017 AuthorsAnswer, Writing musings 0

I didn’t exactly ‘get into’ writing. For me it was never something I just took up, in the way one might decide to take up golf or macrame or yoga. I’ve always been ‘in’ writing. At school, I loved those free-for-all creative writing exercises. Not the ‘what I did on my holidays’ dullathons, but the ‘imagine you’re a fairy’ stuff. Not that there was much of that after primary school. Secondary school was far too serious for such frivolities. So I turned to writing my own comic strips, and (later) extremely bad fan fiction, although I didn’t know then what it was.

A few years later, when I lived abroad and couldn’t work, I bought a manual typewriter and bashed out most of a Regency romance. Why Regency? Because that’s what I was reading at the time, trawling methodically through the entire Georgette Heyer catalogue.

For a few years, the stories stayed in my head, but then I had a dream. I mean that literally, an actual being-asleep dream, with grim-faced men in black with swords. There were several dreams of that type, and gradually waking-me began to mull over the stories being tossed out by sleeping-me and make some sense of them. And eventually the characters came alive and tapped the inside of my skull. “Look,” they said, “this stuff’s getting complicated and you’re going to forget things and then what will happen to us? You need to write it down.”

“I’m not a writer,” I protested.

But they insisted, and I started writing and I just never stopped. I didn’t have a name for the sort of stuff I was writing, but I discovered later that it was fantasy. So really, you could say that fantasy selected me, not the other way round. Or rather, my characters selected me. More recently, I came full circle and returned to my original genre, Regency romance.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Authors Answer #18: Have you ever wanted to rewrite the ending of another author’s published book? How would you change it?

December 2, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

Wow, long time since I did one of these!

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

There are very few books that get me so mad that I want to throw them across the room, but this is one of them. The author wrote a perfect historical romance, well-written, well-researched, the era brilliantly conveyed and the characters fascinating. She then destroyed it utterly by bookending it with a prologue and last chapter which turned it into something else altogether. I suppose the intention was to elevate the book from the realms of mere romance to historical fiction or even literature, and I daresay for many, possibly most, readers that worked fine. My book group, for instance, for whom this was a monthly pick, liked it well enough and most saw nothing wrong with the ending.

But for me, it ruined the whole story. It took a main character who had, after many years vacillating and being pushed around by her family and history, finally taken charge of her life, and then put her straight back into the box of being passive. And her reasons for that were (to me, anyway) opaque. She had everything she’d ever wanted — her lover, her daughter, her art, the freedom to be whatever she wanted to be — and she threw it all away to stay in her convent. This could have been a compelling ending. She could have accepted a life devoted to God, for instance, or she could have simply decided she was happy there. But no, she was so far from happy that she later kills herself, a great sin in those days (not a spoiler — this is revealed in the prologue).

I’m not an intolerant reader, and I can suspend my disbelief in a thousand different ways before breakfast. I write epic fantasy, after all, so fantastical events are my bread and butter. But people are people, no matter how outlandish the setting. With orcs, elves, wizards, demons, werebeetles, you-name-its — well, fine, actual results may vary. But for human beings, there are certain rules to be followed and motivations have to be credible. You can’t have a character do something just because. No, really, you can’t. There has to be a reason and it has to be believable, and in this book the character’s decisions were neither.

You can read my full, very ranty, review here.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Authors Answer 17: What authors, styles or intellectual movements have most influenced your writing?

August 19, 2016 AuthorsAnswer, Regency romances, Writing musings 0

For the fantasy, I can’t honestly say that anything has really influenced my writing. I haven’t read a vast amount in the genre, and what I have read is mostly of a type I wouldn’t wish to emulate. Game of Thrones is too dark and nihilistic. Robin Hobb is downright depressing — beautifully written work that I hated. The authors whose work I most admire — Mark Lawrence, Daniel Abraham, Glenda Larke, Guy Gavriel Kay — are so brilliant I feel embarrassed to call myself a writer. My own work is such a mishmash of genre tropes that if someone asks me: “What other books are like yours?” I genuinely can’t answer. This isn’t a boast, by the way — it’s a Very Bad Thing not to be able to place your own books in the pantheon of genres. It’s embarrassing, and the result of ignorance of the genres rather than the genius of my creative mind.

For the Regency romances, I can actually answer this question! Phew! Jane Austen is the ultimate and original Regency romance writer, and although I could never aspire to her glorious wit or brilliance with words, the general principle of the story being the courtship, peppered with obstacles and misunderstandings and a slow realisation of love, is the ideal I try to follow. The books end with the accepted proposal, the presumed happy married life is never seen, and that, too, is my policy, although I do allow my couple a passionate kiss or two, so that modern readers will understand how well-suited they are.

The other shining light of traditional Regency romances is Georgette Heyer, a twentieth-century author whose books are convincingly of the era, with plots which are light and frivolous. These are the original Regency romps, with beautifully witty dialogue peppered with slang. I have some issues with Heyer, finding the romances too minimal sometimes, and the plots too silly for words. She also allows her very deep research to overwhelm the story occasionally. But the fluffy style is very much one I try to emulate.

Modern Regency authors? Not so much. I find most of them impossible to read, with heroines who behave in most unladylike ways, a metric ton of sex, and a very liberal interpretation of historical accuracy. I’m not a stickler for historic detail, but five minutes on Wikipedia surely wouldn’t hurt, would it? Then there are all the big frocks on the cover, the random forms of address (Lady Penelope and Lady Smith are NOT interchangeable terms!) and an England seemingly populated entirely by Dukes (hint: there are and always were very, very few of them).

As for intellectual movements… ha ha ha! No. I can safely say that no aspect of my writing has been influenced by anything resembling an intellectual movement.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Authors Answer 16: What are your favorite online resources/websites for writers?

August 15, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

I haven’t done any of these for a while, so duck while I lob my backlog out there…

This is an interesting question, because the resources needed vary depending on where you are in your career path. The information you need when you first begin (what exactly makes a compelling protagonist?) is very different from what’s wanted after you publish (where can I advertise my books?). So here are some sites that have been useful to me as I developed my writing and publishing skills.

For writing: Mythic Scribes

When you’re in the early stages of writing – your first book, or perhaps still dabbling with world-building – what you really need is a community of like-minded people. Even when you’ve read all the craft books, it can still be tricky to apply the advice to your own work. Should I introduce my antagonist earlier? Is this a punchy opening paragraph? First person or third? To prologue or not? And fellow authors are the only people who can endlessly mull over those difficult questions of adverbs, passive voice, show-don’t-tell and so on without getting bored. And for fantasy writers in particular, there are not many places where you can ask how long it would take a person to die from a sword wound (although I imagine writers of murder mysteries and gun-based thrillers have pretty awkward research topics, too). Mythic Scribes is a forum for fantasy writers, and it was a huge help to me when I first started writing seriously.

For critique: Scribophile

There comes a point when you have something written that you’re quite pleased with. Finally, after all that struggle, something that might be publishable! But first, it’s vital to put it in front of other writers to see what they think of it. Can’t you do that with a writing forum like Mythic Scribes? Of course, but to my mind it’s better to show your work in a place that’s geared specifically for critique, full of objective strangers who won’t tone it down because they chat with you about Game of Thrones in another part of the forum. Scribophile is my favourite critique site. You earn points (’karma’) by critiquing the work of others, then you spend karma to have your work critiqued in turn. Not all critiques are useful, but collectively they are acutely rigorous and analytical. And there are forums and special interest groups as well.

For testing the waters: Wattpad

The disadvantage of critique groups is that, because it’s focused on single-chapter analysis, it’s hard to get a perspective on how a whole book looks to a reader. You can try to find beta readers for this, but one alternative is Wattpad. This is, strictly speaking, a social media site, which revolves around authors posting whole books one chapter or scene at a time. Readers follow the story as it unfolds and will comment on their reactions as they read each part. For author/reader interaction, it’s unparallelled, but the potential for objective critique is limited. It’s also possible, if authors write as they post, for readers to influence the route a story takes. I used Wattpad to post my first fantasy novel, The Plains of Kallanash, and it was a fun way to find out whether readers will follow the whole story or lose interest part way through, but it’s no substitute for detailed critique or beta readers.

For marketing and post-publication: Kboards Writers’ Cafe

Once you reach the point of publication, the focus changes. You’re no longer quite so worried about passive voice and overuse of gerunds, but about covers, ebook formatting, the vagaries of print on demand and how to get reviews. For self-publishers, there’s a wealth of information out there, but the best of it, and the most up-to-date, is at the Writers’ Cafe, a sub-forum of Kboards. This is populated by people who are, in the main, focused on self-publishing as a career, so the talk is more about writing to market and promotional campaigns than about writing as an art form. This is the place to meet other self-publishers, both those who are just starting out and those who have several years of experience under their belt, those who sell a book or two a month and those who earn six figures a year.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Authors Answer 15: Has your writing been influenced by new media?

June 25, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

This is a long question, so here it is in full: All of us write prose fiction (unless I’m mistaken) in an era that has an astounding variety of storytelling media. Has your writing been significantly influenced by any works of newer media?

I think most authors writing today are heavily influenced by one particular form of media, and that is movies (and its baby brother, TV). Perhaps the advent of photography before that had some influence, in that ordinary people could record themselves, their surroundings and their lives, or send postcards to each other, so that authors no longer had to spend quite so much time describing the scenery. But movies and TV have  pushed authors into a more visual mode of writing, a snappier, scene-driven creation process. In even more recent times, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and video games with their set-piece battles and ever-more-challenging opponents have had an influence on many writers.

For myself, to be honest, I don’t think any modern media has really influenced my writing that much. I tend to visualise everything as I write, but I don’t particularly think in movie terms, I don’t do RPG and I don’t read manga. Nor do I write the sort of tightly-choreographed fight scenes that derive from modern media. If anything has influenced my writing, it’s the books I’ve read over the years. So I guess the short answer is — no.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

 

Divider

Authors Answer 14: When coming up with a new story, what comes first, the character or the plot?

June 9, 2016 AuthorsAnswer, The Fire Mages' Daughter, The Plains of Kallanash 0

The character, always. Most of my books have started in a very simple way, with a character in a situation. Then I start looking around for more details of the setting, more characters, the background to the situation. Then, and only then, do I let the characters loose and see what sort of plot develops.

I always think it must be tidier to start with the plot, to know that event A is succeeded by event B and so on, right down to the grand finale of event Z, and then construct characters that will show that plot off to best advantage. Such a system leads to properly rounded character arcs, and neat resolutions, and pivotal moments that occur at precisely 37.5% of the way through. Properly structured stories must be built this way, I assume. It’s just not the way I work.

For example, The Plains of Kallanash was an accident. I was in the middle of writing something else, but then I had an idea: what would life be like if a marriage consisted of four people, and not just two? Perhaps it would just be two couples, but what if there was one active couple, the senior husband and wife, who slept together and had children, while the junior couple were just there as moral support, and to step into the breach if one of the seniors dies.

All of a sudden, Mia was there, fully formed – quiet, timid Mia, content to do whatever is needed, but secretly yearning to attract the attention of the senior husband. Jonnor appeared next, the handsome one, who treated Mia like a child, when he wasn’t ignoring her. And by contrast, Hurst, in love with Mia, and beautiful, lively Tella, the catalyst for everything that followed. So there were my characters and their situation, but what was the plot? I sat down to write, but I had absolutely no idea where the story was taking me. And yet somehow it developed and grew and took me to the most unexpected places, and, in its rambling way, came to an end. Does it work? I’m still not sure. But I liked the way it got written, and it’s a way that’s worked for several books now.

There’s only been one exception so far. My second book, The Fire Mages, came to an end with the birth of a baby, a daughter whose whole gestation period was bathed in very powerful magic. That was a situation that intrigued me. How would that affect an unborn baby? How would she be different from other children, and would that be a good or bad thing? So in that case, I had a character with a very specific situation, but there was no obvious plot. I needed a story that would put those differences under the spotlight and challenge her. So I turned to Libbie Hawker’s book Take Your Pants Off!, which demonstrates a very gentle character-based form of plotting for pantsers, and that got me out of trouble and started the story rolling. The result was The Fire Mages’ Daughter.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

 

 

Divider

Authors answer #13: Can you recommend an author who is not well known?

May 7, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

Good grief, how much time have you got? Unknown authors are my specialist subject. Not for me the residents of bestseller lists or airport bookshops or the type of book that’s stacked high on tables near the door at Waterstones. In fact, most of my favourite authors don’t make it onto the shelves of bookstores at all. I could go on all day, but here are just a few that I love.

H Anthe Davis: an American who writes epic fantasy with a hint of horror, compelling characters and industrial-strength world-building. The first of the War of Memory series is The Light of Kerrindryr. She’s a slow-brew kind of writer, so the series is as yet incomplete, with three books out so far.

Marina Finlayson: an Australian who writes fast-paced urban fantasy of the werewolf variety, with added dragons and just a touch of romance, and loads of Aussie humour. Her The Proving trilogy is now complete; start with Twiceborn.

Claire Frank: an American author of wonderful epic fantasy with a great magic system, some intriguing characters with an unusual history, and a shed-load of all-action magely battles. The Echoes of Imara series will be complete soon; start with To Whatever End.

S E Robertson: a single-book author, but what a book! The Healers’ Road can only be described as literary fantasy; two healers, one using magic and one not, have to spend a year travelling about with a caravan of merchants, coming to terms with each other’s very different personalities and methods.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

 

Divider

Authors Answer 12: What books did you read as a child?

April 16, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

Enid Blyton. And really, to be honest, I don’t remember reading anything else. Even though I read voraciously, and steamed through the library’s children’s section as soon as I was allowed to join, and then the school library, the books that stand out in my mind are the Enid Blyton ones.

Noddy_Goes_To_Toyland_1949_coverI may have had some of her fairy books, gifted by well-meaning relatives, but the first series I got into was Noddy, and I had the entire collection at one time, golliwogs, Mr Plod the policeman and all. They aren’t remotely politically correct these days, but they were very much the norm in the mid-twentieth century, when they were first published. They were popular for years, too. Everybody read them.

FiveOnATreasureIslandThen there were the Famous Five books, with Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog. Again, not at all politically correct, with hindsight. Julian and Dick, the two boys, were the leaders and brains, George (Georgina) was the tomboyish wanna-be boy, and Anne, the girly-girl was terribly wet. But they did all the sorts of things that I would have loved to do but wasn’t allowed to, like going off camping alone and using their initiative and managing perfectly well without any adults to oversee them. And, naturally, they solved the mystery and presented the case, neatly tied up with a ribbon, to the flat-footed local police.

TheMysteryOfTheBurntCottageThere was a Secret Seven series, too, but I never liked that as much. The other series I remember well was the Five Find-Outers, starting with The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage. I loved these because the fat character was the smart one, and not just comic relief. I remember him doing all sorts of clever things with invisible ink, and escaping from a locked room. I liked the Barney series, too, which started with The Rockingham Mystery. There were some ingenious solutions to the mysteries — in one, a theft was accomplished by a trained monkey who could break in through a tiny window. But in all of them, the children were thinking, observing, weighing evidence and generally being smart and independent. I loved them.

Then, when I was sixteen, someone suggested I read Lord of the Rings, and I discovered fantasy… My reading was never the same after that.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider