A Plotter or simply Plotting?
I am not very good at writing in a format. I have tried being that author that prepares the final outline, and scripts out all the possibilities. But when I am writing, my imagination gets away with me and the story develops often in directions I did not see coming. I like to think that means the reader didn't see it coming either, though! But I do envy those with the plotter skills. So this year I am trying to put more plans into the planner. With a raft of new books coming up and some of my stories now requiring to be the second or third part of a longer tale, I have been tightening up my writing skills and putting a plot into a plan more often. I hope that you, dear readers, will see the improvement as we go along!
This month I was keen to talk to two authors at two ends of the spectrum to find out what they do. One most accomplished and prolific. The other just starting out. Let's find out where they sit on the planning scales...
This month's authors:
When it comes to writing and experience, Jean is a masterclass. With multiple accolades under her belt, I was keen to find out more about what makes her tick.
As a writer of quite a range of dark mystery and fantasy, what appeals in a story idea for you?
I come up with the characters first, backgrounds, personalities, goals. I need to know who I want to write about before I start on the story idea… what would make it difficult for these fictional souls to achieve their goals? What would complicate their lives? What would put them and the people they care about in danger?
The genres of books I write have a strong adventure-thread in them, whether I’m writing mysteries or fantasies or thrillers. Lots of action. Lots of trouble. Action and high-stakes appeal to me. Probably why I drift toward movies that “blow up real good.” I strive to put some fictional pyrotechnics up against my characters.
Sometimes the trouble or the evil simmers in my story and is not obvious to the characters. I think what appeals most to me in writing is finding a way to surprise readers. Surprises aren’t always easy, and ofttimes I am halfway into a book before I settle on the real villain or the real threat, and then… once decided… I’ll go back and lace in clues or alter a secondary character here and there and turn him or her darker.
I think most of what I write has a dark element because I like to read books that flow in that direction. I’m outlining a fantasy project that is a little darker than usual, disturbing, and I’m enjoying it. You have a fabulous work history, how has that helped to develop your writing skills?
I started writing in second grade and kept at it. I had all these stories bouncing around in my brain that I wanted to tell. I also wrote non-fiction, and my first publications were in the local newspaper when I was twelve. I kept at it, getting published frequently since then, winning essay contests—I entered because there were prizes attached, and I enjoyed winning something. What helped develop my writing skills was simply writing. The more I did it, the better I got.
I have a degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University, and I started my professional writing career reporting for papers in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. I had up to four deadlines a day, so I learned to write fast… and I learned to not miss a deadline. Honestly, I don’t miss deadlines. Something in my soul makes me turn in everything early or on time. Eventually, after many years with newspapers, I cast my gaze back to fiction, and my first novel, Red Magic, was published in 1991. It was an education. I started with a tight style and used complete sentences, my news writing still locked in my brain. It took Bill Larson, the editor of Red Magic, to get me to relax. He insisted I sit and listen to strangers in cafes and in the park. “People do not talk in complete sentences.” At least not all the time. So I followed his advice, and my dialog got better and better. I still sit and listen to people in the park and in cafes, always with a notebook in hand.
Patrick McGilligan edited all of my Dragonlance novels, and he taught me to “take time with magic.” He said magic is awesome and amazing, and when you use it, draw it out with imagery. Brian Thomsen, who edited my novels for Tor, taught me to limit magic. The fewer characters able to cast it, the less magic in your world, the more special and wondrous the magic you employ comes across.
I’ve written over forty novels and over one hundred short stories, and I’m still honing my skills. I think a writer should always try to improve something. I take online writing courses and watch online seminars. I’m taking one on book marketing now and picking up a lot. Before Covid, when I attended conventions, not only did I put on writer panels, I attended them… other writers always have something to teach me.
As a prolific writer who has been your favorite heroine and villain to date, and why?
Tough question. I have many favorites. So I’ll list a few.
… I like unexpected and nontraditional villains… I’ve used octogenarians, children, teenagers, retired schoolteachers, a supernatural entity that looked like a big pool of oil (in a book I wrote with Andre Norton), demons from Mesopotamia, aliens, and dragons. One of my favorite non-human villains was a red dragon named Malys; humans were so far beneath her … she was truly evil-with-a-purpose.
My favorite villains in a work-in-progress are a priest and a ghost … both have something good about them, and both have something creepy. I love villains with dimension.
For heroes, I always think my favorite is the one I’m writing. I’m fond of Piper Blackwell, a twenty-four-year-old sheriff in Southern Indiana who has a bunch of bad things happen to her. She deals with a lot of darkness. People can be so very bad to each other; I discovered that in my newspaper days. I have four Piper Blackwell novels out, and I hope to get a fifth out before the end of the year.
I’m also fond of Goranth the Mighty, a big, brawling barbarian who made his debut this month in Black Heart of the Dragon God. We’re planning more Goranth books.
And I loved Irem Madigan from The Bone Shroud, a thriller which picked up a big award. I need to do another Irem story. She’s a museum archivist from Chicago, who probably isn’t going back home.
What is your current listening soundtrack and who do you like to listen to when you write?
I only listen to instrumentals when I write. I don’t want a singer’s words to muddle and mix with the words I’m laying down on a page. I don’t want to be confused or distracted. So I primarily listen to classical music… Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Tchaikovsky … especially Tchaikovsky and other Russian composers when I’m writing fight scenes, Vivaldi (I LOVE VIVALDI), Mozart. I also have some Canadian Brass, George Winston, Wynton Marsalis, and the like I put in the mix and a few soundtracks like Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars.
When I’m doing things like updating my webpage, working on a newsletter, or answering emails, I listen to Garth Brooks, the Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond, Black-Eyed Peas, Santana, and Bruno Mars. My tastes are pretty varied.
Jean blogs once a week and has a monthly newsletter where she talks about my upcoming projects, books she's reading and would recommend, shares a few recipes, and posts some dog pics. She has three rescue dogs that wrap around her when she writes. Oh, and she's on Facebook and Twitter!
A dark urban fantasy book, Pockets of Darkness
The most recent fantasy novel, with Craig Martelle, Black Heart of the Dragon God
Her latest Piper Blackwell mystery, The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge
Her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Rabe/e/B00J1QR5U2/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1
Her personal webpage is at www.jeanrabe.com
Sign up for her newsletter: http://jeanrabe.us14.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=89364515308e8b5e7ffdf6892&id=9404531a4b
I hope you can take a moment to offer support for her by checking out her books, and I extend my thanks for being interviewed!
Ayesha has a business background, and this is her first foray into books and writing. I was interested to know what started her on the journey.
From your background in marketing and management, what prompted you to write a book?
I’ve always had a passion for people and was drawn to marketing and management for that reason. At the same time, I value science and making fact-based decisions. So I was curious about what science knows about how people can succeed in everyday life. It was through studying the science of people – what really makes us happy, healthy, wealthy, productive, and satisfied in our relationships – that the book came about.
As a result of my business background, I’m also conscious of the fact that people are always pressed for time. So I wanted to present the facts in the most quick-to-consume and easy-to-action manner – as bulleted cheat sheets rather than lengthy prose.
What inspiration do you hope that your readers take away from your work?
I hope Cheat Sheets for Life inspires readers to live their best lives by offering them the facts about which decisions produce the best life outcomes. There’s also another dimension of meta-thinking which one of my readers (Gordon Long) pointed out. He said the book motivates readers to take a good look at how we think and where we get the information we use to make decisions. So I hope the book does inspire readers in that way too – to critically question conventional wisdom in favour of time-tested research.
Who would you consider a mentor of yours, and why?
My father is a living Atticus Finch. Rational and level-headed with an unwavering moral compass and a quiet confidence that things will turn out okay. I hope his attitude and his passion for science permeate the book.
What was your writing process, and how long did it take you?
Cheat Sheets for Life took over a year to complete. I didn’t actually plan to publish a book at first. I simply followed my curiosity and tried to answer the question ‘What does science say about living a good life?’ Thanks to the magic of audiobooks and 10 hours a week spent commuting, I was able to tap into hundreds of books about happiness, productivity, relationships, and more, in my effort to answer that question. I would take copious notes from these books, as well as journals, articles, and courses, and categorise them for easy reference. Soon, I realised I was building the book I had been seeking my whole life–a handbook for life-based on solid data and research. As it took shape, I felt I couldn’t keep it to myself–everyone needed this information, not just me!
Readers can also find her on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/80083872-ayesha-ratnayake) and can email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to buy a copy of her book, you can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08TYQ4HH8
I hope you can take a moment to offer support for her by checking it out, and I extend my thanks for being interviewed!
I wish to thank you for taking the time to read and engage with me! Happy reading everyone! VK Tritschler
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