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Interview: Lisa Jacob, author of Homecoming (A War Mage Story)

by J Dark
November 28, 2016

What inspired you to get into writing?

I was always a voracious reader. I had been surrounded by books since childhood, and my mother was always a big reader. In junior high, I started reading “adult” authors like Stephen King and Sidney Sheldon, books my mom read. I finished The Shining and I thought to myself, I can write like this. So I started writing fan fiction for a few TV shows—this was way before fan fiction was a “thing.” My first original novel was written during the summer from 8th to 9th grade, and really improved my typing skills. Then I entered a contest and won an award. I was hooked.

How did you get your idea for your book?  What in the development of the idea made you feel the need to write it as a book?

Homecoming was presented to me in a dream about a soldier who could shoot fireballs. I was playing a character named Combat Medic in a game online, and it must have blurred into the possibility of the soldier knowing magic. I woke up and wrote down the dream immediately. Then I started thinking of what ifs. What if it took place in Afghanistan? What if he comes home on leave?

Most of my ideas come from my own thirst for revenge. I see injustice, or I have had injustice done to me, so I write it out as catharsis.

I’ve found that stories never seem to flow smoothly.  There are days where it just seems to leap from thought to paper, and other days where it takes seven or eight attempts to get the scene right.   What portions or scenes were the hardest to get the way you wanted?

I’ve discovered that I am better at being a pantser than a plotter. I’ve tried both. When I plot, I feel like I’m shoehorning the round story peg into a square pre-defined hole. When I do that, everything is a problem: the dialogue, the description, the setting, because I have to get it “just right” on the first go-round. When I just let the story flow, I get to a part that the muse doesn’t care about and I say, “Worry about tha during the edit.” I flag it somehow with << more cowbell >> or INSERT MORE COWBELL HERE.

Homecoming, the War Mage prequel if that’s the correct to describe the book, takes place in Worcester, Massachusetts.  You do an amazing job of describing the opening scene.  Is that location something that comes from your own memories?

Google Maps is your friend! No, really…I live in New England, and one suburb of New England looks like many others. Google Maps helped when I needed to picture the exact streets, the placement of the buildings. I could, if necessary, drive there, since it really isn’t that far.

I prefer to write some places that I have pictures of. War Mage, the next book in the series, it takes place in Afghanistan. I’ve never been there (and have no plans to go there). So I have maps, and a few picture books, and other pictures from websites saved in a folder.

What do you see as your strongest ability as a writer?  How does that affect your writing style?

I think I have a good ear for dialogue. Because of that, I try to put the story in dialogue. Also, I was trained as a journalist, so I’m used to keeping paragraphs short and concise. Because of that, I don’t write too much in description or setting, and I suffer often from “talking head” syndrome—when characters are talking in a vacuum. That’s something I have to watch out for in editing.

It’s been said that every author has authors that they look at as inspirations. Do you have any? If so, what influence do you see in your writing?

Stephen King, especially when he uses new paragraphs and italics for thoughts. Mercedes Lackey introduced me to women who wrote male heroes. Charles Dickens in the art of the cliffhanger.

All authors have things that they have to help them concentrate on writing. Where and when do you like to write? I know that Steven Radecki says he prefers a location that’s quiet, where he can lose himself in his imaginary world. What are your favorite conditions for writing?

I have been blessed with a 10-room colonial house, so there’s plenty of places to hide. I have two computers, a Mac in my cellar that I’ve named “Hemingway”, and Windows on the main living floor named “Asterisk.” I like the option of music. I often listen to AC/DC or Two Steps From Hell, or action movie soundtracks like 300 or the SiriusXM station for soundtracks. That’s usually for action sequences. For general background music, I will produce a playlist for each novel as I go along.

One thing I absolutely need is no one else to be in the room or my immediate vicinity. I can’t write with an audience. So coffeehouses are totally out.

Characters in any book are a mix of deep background and just a passing note or two as they wave or say hello to the main character. Do you find that creating a background for these peripheral characters helps with developing the story, or can a peripheral character be over-developed for their purpose in the story, and detract from it?

For War Mage and Homecoming, I kept small, tiny notebooks of each character, major and minor. It included their background, family, thoughts about current events (in 2004-5). For the novel I just finished, Grimaulkin, I didn’t bother with that at all. I kept a general “novel notebook” instead, and as I wrote, I would take note of things said in the book that I could refer to later.

That being said, I found that the extensive background development of minor characters was a waste of time. I didn’t use half of the information that I created. I never went into Lori’s detailed sex life, though I had plotted it out in that notebook. It was tossed away with a mere mention that she was promiscuous.

I believe that if a peripheral character is overdeveloped in the story, then maybe the story needs to be about him/her.

Let’s switch to the other side of writing, and that’s appearances. What’s it like to go to a book sale, or a Convention to support your books?

There’s a sense of comfortable camaraderie. You’re all writers. Some are out to make money, others are out to display their art. But all of you have something to teach each other. If it’s not about how to sell at conventions, it could be how each writer approaches his/her craft. I’ve learned a lot by watching one particular person sell his book assertively. Luckily, I’ve been with people who are supportive and not competitive.

Sometimes during a convention, there’s a Q&A for authors. What’s it like to sit in on that? Does the Q&A help with developing the next novel?

If the next novel hasn’t already been written, it gives you good feedback as to what the readers noticed. Maybe just a throw-away line made someone remember a particular scene.

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