Never trust magic … or the people that hire you.
Fern Fatelli dives back into her job as a ‘trapper’, and is hired to kidnap a girl away from an abusive household — only to find that she’s delivered the child into a far greater danger than she could have ever imagined.
Beguiling Voices is available in hardcover, trade paperback, and digital editions. Signed editions are also available.
This is Part 4 of a four-part series reporting on the “Why Haven’t You Written Your Book?” survey we offered last year. You can read Part 3 here.
The answers we received showed a clear distribution of the responses. Here is how all of the answers ranked:
Based on these results, we might conclude that writers:
The is Part 3 of a four-part series reporting on the “Why Haven’t You Written Your Book?” survey we offered last year. You can read Part 2 here.
A clear margin shows that the two highest-ranked responses held true for most authors, while the remaining three ranked very close together. Here is how all of the answers ranked:
Based on these results, we might conclude that writers:
Next week, we will be looking at how authors responded to “I would consider my book to be a success if …“.
The is the second part in a four-part series reporting on the “Why Haven’t You Written Your Book?” survey we offered last year. You can read Part 1 here.
The answers we received ranked fairly close in terms of the numbers of responses received. Here is how all of the answers ranked:
As the results were close across all three responses, we might conclude that writers:
Next week, we will be looking at how authors responded to “I’m afraid to write (or submit) my book because …”.
Many of us know people who have written — or threatened to write — books, but then those books never seem to materialize in a final form. Even after we started Paper Angel Press, and positioned it as an author-friendly platform for getting your written creations read, we still experienced the same hesitation among writers, even those with whom we had good working relationships. Why was this happening?, we wondered.
So, last fall we ran a survey with two different audiences in order to try to understand why writers don’t complete or submit their books. We also sought to understand how writers might measure the “success” of their work after it has been published.
In an effort to keep the survey as brief and accessible as possible, we offered only three statements for the respondents to complete:
During the course of the next few blog posts, we will share the results of this survey with you.
We hope you enjoy them and find them useful. Maybe you’ll see yourself in our results and ask yourself, “Why Haven’t You Written Your Book?”.
Sometimes a broken bridge has to be crossed.
Talk about Byzantine influences.
Fern Fatelli is approached by a desperate father to find his daughter before something bad happens to her, only to find that the job is really a diversion made to have her owe a service to a fae lord.
Cobb, the fae lord, then contracts Fern, not as a finder, but as a wizard, and forces her to re-open the Anolyn way.
As this is going on, Cobb is deliberately obstructing her research, and, more sinisterly, sending creatures to attack her, all the while expecting results.
What does a girl do to get a break?
The first question I’d like to ask is about the book in general. If I remember correctly, Grimaulkin is written for Young Adults?
Yes, mostly in the high-school plus range. The main character is 18 years old.
Did you find that focusing on that particular age range influenced the style of your writing?
Oh, definitely. My first draft, the one I wrote when I wasn’t paying attention to words, had a lot more detail and swear words than the final version did. Since the time period is in the year 2000, I didn’t have to worry about modern lingo and slang, as I was familiar with the slang at that time.
So, why 18 years old for the main character? Was this a deliberate choice for the character? Or did you feel that the character “evolved” to be 18 as you created the story?
I wanted him to be at least at the age of consent, because. in this book, and in subsequent books, there will be an awful lot of sex talk. Boys that age think and talk a lot about sex, and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t shock the reader — or their parents — by not having characters be at least at the young adult age.
That makes sense. Do you see this as a series of books, rather than just a single story?
I’m working on the second one now. There’s a third one in my mind, at least. I want to culminate in a relationship between him and Scott, so there will be at least three books in total.
You have another series you’re writing, called War Mage. I’ve read it, and liked the great detail in it. In Grimaulkin, the magic feels very similar. Do both series take place in the same “universe”?
Yes and no. The magic systems are the same, but in Grimaulkin‘s universe, I’m trying to keep out the extra little beasties, such as vampires and werewolves. The magic is similar to how magic would work in the real world (which I believe it does), but on an instantaneous basis. For example, I do believe that magic works, but only if the Universe chooses to let it work for your own higher good. In Grimaulkin‘s universe, it works, but as blatant obvious workings, not subtly, as it does in our own world.
I noticed that Grimaulkin has a very different opening, with the main character being released from prison as the book opens. What prompted the choice to start at his release?
I initially wrote Grimaulkin as a coming-of-age story, starting from when he was a little child and growing up, how he became strong in magic, and how he learned at his aunt’s knee. But it was so boring. Then I tried to write some prison scenes, but they were just too rough. He was getting beaten up all the time. So, I wanted to start from a place where he was a new person, changed from the old child that he’d been, and contrast that with his family, how Evie (his sister), would accept him for whatever he was, however he was.
War Mage a very rich background detail. In comparison, Grimaulkin has a very sparse background, with just enough detail to get a general idea of the setting. Was this a deliberate choice to make the story stand out more?
Sort of. I was writing about places I was familiar with — I mean they’re right down the street from where I live right now. War Mage, although still within an hour’s drive, was unfamiliar territory. I also typically write without much detail to setting, because I want the characters to drive the narrative, and I want the reader to pay attention to the characters and their actions.
There are some intense scenes in Grimaulkin. How close to personal experiences of your own do these scenes come? Did that make it difficult or easy to include those scenes in the story?
A lot of those scenes come from the emotions that I feel, not necessarily the action. I was more trying to find the scene to fit the emotion, rather than actually finding the emotion to fit the scene. I’m a method writer, and put myself in the shoes of my character. Although a few things come from my own experiences — such as getting bullied in high school — I hold onto the emotion and look for scenes that will express it.
A book almost never goes smoothly. What was the most difficult part of writing Grimaulkin for you?
I had problems right in the middle. When the first body shows up dead, I said to myself, “What do I do now?” I am an organic writer as well — a “pantser” as they’re called, or a “discovery” writer. I write to see what’s next in the story. I went back, reread it, and thought, “Well, I’ll just add in another demon.” So, the second half of the book flowed from there.
The other hard part was the ending. I knew what had to be done, but I kept writing it too short. I talked to my beta reader, who gave me some ideas which I used, and it came out much better. Organic writers have a habit of writing short, to the point endings, because it’s, well … the end.
With having two series, War Mage and Grimaulkin, do you find that ideas might start as an idea for one series and, on occasion, become a better idea for the other series?
Yes. In War Mage, Brent has a “knack” — a limited telekinesis as well as his magic. Mike doesn’t have that additional knack; he just has an excellent memory. But as we talked about before, the magic systems are the same, in general. In addition, War Mage is more military-based, and is a whole different world than Grimaulkin, which is the civilian world, and four years before War Mage takes place. Some of the ideas cross over, but I try to keep them fresh and original, not knowing if the same person will read both books and notice I’m reusing stuff.
When you write stories like Grimaulkin or War Mage, do you find that it comes in spurts, or more in a continuous period of writing?
The muse usually grabs a hold of me for days — if not weeks — and does not let go. I’ve found that if I try to write things in spurts, that I lose the context of the story and have to re-read what I’ve done. That turns into (more) editing of what I’ve done. I wrote Homecoming in one month, and Grimaulkin, this version, in just under a month as well. Grimaulkin has been in my head for three years.
There are a lot of nascent authors out there. What would you give them as advice?
To write. To not think about writing. To write the story, however it comes out, and not care who will see it, but that it’s yours, and it needs to be told.
This is probably one the most common question asked of authors: What made you decide to become an author?
After working for 23+ years in the fitness/yoga/wellness industries, I had decided to write a book about creating a career in those areas. I had begun that project when Sex on Fire demanded to be written.
You book is a very intense self-exploration of how trauma is begun and perpetuated over time. How did you step from recognition to writing?
I had struggled a lot with elements of shame in my trauma experience, and it took me years of different therapy modalities to personally get beyond the shame, and then there was another layer of fear when I wrote down and verbally shared many elements of my story in a small women’s circle about a year before I began the formal writing process. I used a couple of voices in the book: teenage/young adult Leah, and adult/healed Leah. Using multiple voices allowed me to write both the experience as well as the recognition. They both had to be there for the book to be written.
Your background in Personal Training seems a recurring theme for you in the book. Did personal training help with possibly recognizing the developing trauma, or did it provide a place of stability to recognize and come to terms with your personal experiences?
Personal training really came after the trauma, but it was a great teaching tool as I was doing the bulk of my healing work. Personal training was one of the arenas where I fumbled through creating personal and professional boundaries. Also, I found that having an outlet for body movement really helped me to stay grounded in my physical self. So even though one of my trauma symptoms was dissociation (mentally “leaving” your body until the trauma or flashback is over), I maybe didn’t suffer as many lingering or long lasting dissociative tendencies as other trauma survivors because of my strong foundation of bodily “connection.” I’m grateful for that. My body generally feels like a pretty safe place to be, and many trauma survivors really struggle to get to that place in their healing processes.
Sex on Fire: Finding Embodied Intimacy After Trauma is a very interesting choice for a title. What was the defining idea that triggered this as the title from other possibilities?
Frankly, I wanted something that would catch the eyes of potential readers surfing the shelves at a bookstore. It was harder to land upon the right subtitle, but after some help from the publishers, I think we have got it.
Writing from personal experience is very intensely emotional. with your revelations in the book, did you find the experiences easier writing in sequence, or was there less stress in writing them non-sequentially?
Sequence was the way to go for me, even though I had to go back and make a few additions when certain memories were triggered that had been stored away for a long while. For instance, I had almost forgotten about the interaction I had with a youth pastor. That particular experience was not as traumatic as the others, so I think I stored it a little deeper in my memory than the really painful stuff. Yet, as I was writing, I saw so many patterns of my interactions with adult men when I was a kid. It was like I one memory would trigger another with varying positions on the “yuck” scale. Being able to look back on those patterns actually helped me more with understanding some of my behavior as an adult on a deeper and more forgiving level as well.
As you detailed this personal journey, what was easiest to write about?
I really enjoyed recounting and showing myself my own power and independence when I moved with my daughter from Milan, Tennessee to Nashville on my own. It was a leap of faith, but I also had the hard work and smarts to back it up. The Universe helped so much — seeing that whole community be created around my daughter and myself in writing was very cool.
What was the most difficult part of your writing journey with this book?
Recounting the trauma pieces was hard, for sure, but I was surprised to feel a lot of fear and anxiety when I was writing about my relationship with my mother.
As your book deals with helping oneself find “good intimacy”, some might want to lump your book in the “self-help” category. To me it feels that “self-help” is a very catch-all term for books. Do you find this category accurate or misleading for describing your book?
I hope that my book is helpful for anyone who reads it. However, I did not set out to write a “self-help” book. I view most books in that genre as pretty surface-oriented. As in, “do these things exactly the way I, the author, have laid them out and get the desired result.” My book offers a non-clinical account of how several therapy modalities worked to help me heal myself. If anything, I hope the book communicates that healing is possible, shows some good examples of what the reader might expect if he or she were to try out some of the tools, and encourages that trauma sufferer to search and try stuff until she finds her unique way through the pain and emotions to a level of wholeness she may not have experienced before.
Finally, while this book is primarily aimed at women, would you recommend men read it also?
Men who have suffered sexual trauma or who have partners (male, female, trans) who have suffered (trauma does not discriminate between gay and straight relationships, the relationship behavior holds the same patterns) sexual trauma can really benefit from this material. My husband had to do a lot of “behavior decoding” with his own therapist while I went through a lot of anxiety about trusting him and getting close to him at the beginning of our relationship. This book can shed a lot of light on how it really feels to open oneself to a safe relationship after trauma, regardless of which partner had the trauma.
By your own admission, you say that you came late to the writing game. What prompted you to start and want to get published?
I was having a rough go of it back in 2006 when, on a whim, I got into the online game City of Heroes. When I joined, this group called “Futura Force” that had these players, “Kill Favored”, and “Electroidium” that got me interested in posting short little stories on the forums. Then both of those players started talking about “National Novel Writing Month”, and how they were going to participate because they liked writing. I’d had a taste of doing it and decided “why not try something new?” The rest, as is often said, is history.
What led you down the path to your first novel, Best Intentions? Were there any specific inspirations for it?
My daughter. We’d lost a good friend recently and that got me to thinking about what people leave behind. A story seemed like a way to give my daughter something special, and leave something behind when it’s my time to go. She wanted me to try and publish it after reading it through, so I got an editor to clean it up, then submitted it to Paper Angel Press. I was shocked when the contract was sent.
How did that feel? What advice would you give to other first-time authors based on your experience with the entire writing and publishing process?
It felt amazing that I actually finished a story and had it to share. For first time authors, go for it! It’s a tough road, and you need to expect rejection, nothing worth doing has instant gratification associated with it. If you really want to be an author, be ready to put the time and effort in. That doesn’t mean 50 gazillion words. Often it means just sitting down each day and writing a paragraph or two just to keep the story building and learn to be consistent.
What have you find to be the most exciting part of being a published author? What has been the most difficult or challenging?
The most exciting part is right next to me at the moment. I look at this book with my name on it and keep asking how it is that this author has the same name as me.
How do you write? By that, I mean, do you have a set schedule or do you wait for inspiration to strike?
I’ve never had much luck with trying to build a plot. I find writing “off the cuff”, letting the story develop without a plan, works best for me. I have a goal of X words a day, so I can learn consistency of writing. I’ve had layoffs of time without writing a thing in the past, and I find that my skill and feel for writing erodes without practice. So, I try to be consistent to learn more about writing and try to improve my skills.
What do you see as your next milestone achievement in being an author?
Someone once said you’re only as good as your last book. Each story is a milestone, and it’s that story that becomes the current beginning, and end, and judgment of your storytelling skill. It’s not so much a milestone as a new beginning each time. And each time I want to do a little better. Better characters, story, dialog, background, emotion. It all creates the story. My milestone is the next book, and that the next book is better than the previous one.
Best Intentions is the first book in a planned series. Do you have any other books you would like to do?
I plan to keep writing until I can’t any more. As for the Glass Bottles series, there are four planned books. I am collaborating with some other writers on a cyberpunk-style story, and with another in an urban fantasy theme. I am really excited by them and want to see where each story goes. I want to explore everything I can. One nice thing about writing is that there is no mandatory retirement age. As long as I can write, I can write, and share stories.
What makes a story interesting to you—both as a writer and a reader?
Like anyone, if it catches my imagination, I’ll enjoy it. A story has to involve the reader, and invite them to turn the page and read what happens next. I enjoy most anything. I have a preference for stories that make me think, and feel, as I read them. As a writer, I want to make people think, and at the same time, write so that they have a visceral reaction to the story. I want to engage them so they can feel the story, enjoy the highs, and lows, the stress and tension, and relief. In essence, I want to make the story real.
Are there any writers who were major influences on you: in terms of style, theme, or story?
Any book I’ve read has probably influenced me one way or another. Likewise, anyone I’ve collaborated with, or currently am collaborating with, has influenced me. I’m an unashamed borrower of anything the feels right. Every story comes from parts of imagination and memory. I’d never write if I couldn’t read. Seeing imagination in print fires my own imagination with ‘what if’ all the time. Anything can be a prompt, an idea for a story. A story could be the start, or something I see, or hear, or smell. Anything’s a possibility, you just have to give yourself permission to dream, and to write that dream onto paper, or a computer.
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.
What got you into editing as a profession, and what helps with being a good editor?
So that’s actually a funny story. Waaaaaaay back in high school, I signed up to work on the school newspaper. The teacher noticed me informally answering other people’s questions about spelling and word choice, and decided I should be the editor. That would have been where it stopped, except that the school principal made a habit of censoring editorials in the paper. It enraged me, and I embarked on an anti-censorship campaign that ultimately got me suspended a few times… but I learned the value of carefully-chosen language, and learned the lengths to which those in power will go to suppress ideas. I was hooked.
In my opinion, a good editor is someone who understands that editors have a sacred charge to help people express important ideas with the greatest degree of clarity possible. All the rest is just details of how that’s accomplished.
When you edit an article or manuscript, what are key items that you focus on, and why?
Story… because stories are the ideas I mentioned above. The story has got to be there, or there’s no reason to publish it. I could care less about grammar, punctuation, copyediting stuff; I want to read a good story, one that challenges me, makes me think, transports me.
So conversely, sloppy storytelling, reliance on tropes, and plagiarism result in instant round filing. No one’s got time for that. If you can’t be bothered to polish your storytelling craft, I can’t be bothered to polish your book. However, if the story’s there, there’s nothing I won’t do to help you make it glorious.
As an editor, do you find that you are stronger in certain areas, such as genres, than others?
Not really, no. I am a technical editor for a living, so my experience is pretty diverse. The basic fundamentals of story and polishing that story are kind of universal. I spot hackneyed tropes faster in genres I’m familiar with, but even in ones I’m not, they become pretty obvious pretty fast.
What is the most difficult part of editing for you?
Not getting cranky when I feel like someone is throwing their work at me disrespectfully. I think of my work as being like sculpture. I love the Michanegelo quote, of “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” I like to think that everyone who submits something to me did so because they love it, and want other people to love it too. It makes me nuts when people don’t spellcheck, or just assume that they’ve written timeless prose, and figure that the editor will do all the polish work. If a writer doesn’t know how to be a professional but wants to be taught, that’s golden. When they refuse to be taught, it really puts me off.
What are ways that beginning writers can make an editor’s job easier?
Be professional. Take the work seriously. Throw yourself into learning how to be a better storyteller. Take every opportunity to educate yourself about writing as a skill, as a business, as a professional activity. And then take conscious steps to level up wherever you can.
How long did it take you to establish yourself as an editor? Are there things you’d have done differently to get into editing if you had more information when you started?
Depends on what you mean by “establish myself”. An astonishing amount of my work is with repeat customers, or people that I’ve known for 20-plus years, whose stuff I edited, and they liked the experience, so told their friends.
Considering that my entry into editorial work was accidental, no, I’m pretty happy with how it’s gone so far.
Would you recommend that writers learn editing?
Not really, no. I think writers should spend their time in story. Writing and editing are entirely different professions. I would infinitely rather have a writer say to me, “I know nothing about editing, but I know everything about story.”
I worked with an author a few years ago who is in fact a professional storyteller. Brilliant guy, and has an amazing sense of pacing, of rhythm, of arc and of plot. His books are phenomenally good. His draft submission to the house I was working with at that time was nightmarish from a copyedit perspective, but the story was so good, I still find myself wandering off to inhabit that world in my head. Brilliant worldcrafting. Thing is, I can fix the commas. Anyone can. But only one person could have written that story.
In your editing, do you find yourself on occasion going back and editing your edits?
Oh, absolutely. I read through everything three times. Once just for the read, to judge the overall story arc. Again, for continuity, and then a third time for copyediting considerations. So there are often things to change (the technical term is “stet”) about what I edit.
In the different genres of books, are there different styles of editing that work best for the genres? Are there any differences in editing horror over say a science fiction manuscript?
Not really. The elements of storytelling are really similar across genre. I do more fact-checking for sci-fi than I do for romance, generally. Nailing your pacing is generally more relevant in horror than in fantasy. There are tiny adjustments, but generally, language is language. If there’s a lot of idiom in the work, that can take some researching, to make sure it’s right and consistent and believable.
What makes a good editor? What educational background would help an editor, and are there classes or experiences that might be a detriment to good editing?
Editors, good ones, are constantly learning. Grammar isn’t a done deal, it’s a living thing that changes over time. Editors discuss these things constantly. Right now, we’re all busy hashing out our relationship to things like gender-neutrality and correct pronoun choice, slang, and idiom. Staying active in editorial communities is critical to maintaining your relevance, but also your humility. Too many editors allow themselves to isolate, and then they become gatekeepers rather than enablers. In my opinion it’s important to remember that without writers, there’s no need for us at all.
Where did you get the idea for the The Iron and the Loom?
I’m an inveterate daydreamer. It doesn’t take much for me to withdraw into my inner world, to the exclusion of everything else. I also love history and I grew up in Italy, which has more history that anybody knows what to do with it, you look around and there it is. So daydreaming about a favorite period of Italian history and writing a novel set in it for me was an inevitable combination.
Every author seems to have a different way of developing a story. Did you find that the story developed itself or did you have to do research to develop it?
Amazingly enough (i.e. I have no idea how that happened), I developed the story once and never touched it again. I went back to it only to polish the language in some places of the English version, and to translate it into Italian. Plot, characters and scenes were all set in stone from the start. The research was needed because it’s a historical novel, but that was great fun, not at all a chore.
Not every book flows smoothly as an author writes it. What portions of the book were hardest for you to get the way you wanted them?
No doubt the dialogues. 80% of the story is told in dialogues, so all the characters had to be fully fleshed out thru what they say rather than thru what they do. I also needed to make sure that the characters spoke in a way consistent with their gender, personality, social status, age and so on, and that each voice was distinctive. It was very much like writing a script, and it seems to have paid off, because the sentence most often used by reviewers is that reading the book is like watching a movie.
Where and when do you like to write?
As to where, I need to have solitude and total quiet. Even listening to music will distract me. While I was in college it was the campus library, perfect for concentration; now it’s my home, when no one’s home. TV off, phone off, and if necessary, earplugs. As to when, only when I get the impulse to write, which unfortunately means I’m at the mercy of an unquantifiable factor. I have no problem writing on a theme, but I’m miserable writing on a deadline.
Now that your book has reached print and is getting great reviews, have your ideas on being a writer changed?
They haven’t. I write because I feel the need to write. I think all writers will agree that it’s a need first and foremost, and that the need starts before seeking publication and reviews. I would have written with or without seeking publication and reviews, but if others appreciate what I write, that’s a fantastic bonus. The new thing for me is that, now that my books are out in the world, I’ve learned to grow a thick skin if some reviews are not what I was hoping for. Ye olde “You can’t please all of the readers all of the time.”
Do you find a difference in style between European and American writing?
I don’t find a difference. The languages change, of course, but the principles of effective writing apply to writers from all backgrounds, and you can find corresponding literary styles in all backgrounds.
What made you decide to become a writer?
It was not a decision but a spontaneous impulse. The same way someone feels an impulse to play a sport, so they start playing and then continue because it gives them personal satisfaction to play and because they want to play better and better. I just followed the impulse to write. It popped up in full force when I was a child, an indication that I had no choice in the matter, and it kept growing from there. For me writing is simply an addiction that manifests itself thru the need to turn thoughts into words. I don’t think there is anything special about being addicted to writing or to other forms of creative expression. Thankfully it’s the sort of addiction that doesn’t kill you.
Which characters were hardest for you to develop?
The male characters. For the female characters all I had to do was draw from my own experience, whereas trying to put yourself into the mind of the opposite gender, needless to say, is a very tricky endeavor. I think I did a good job, because so far I haven’t heard any criticism from males; it’s a minor source of pride for me to have been able to pull it off credibly.
How did you research the background?
The historical and cultural background had to be as accurate as possible. I studied in European universities and I also did research on my own. There are some parts I had to fill in with credible data, only because the sources for such a distant historical period are often incomplete or contradictory. But I tried my very best to avoid being taken to task by the Italians, who can be absolutely merciless when it comes to our history and culture.
When the guy who makes your book dreams come true publishes his first book, you read it. So I did. I read a science fiction book, my first ever science fiction book! And I shocked myself by loving it. I asked Steven Radecki to let me interview him so I could drag other people into my excitement about Building Baby Brother. He said, “YES!”. So I did my first Unruly Books interview and it is here for your listening pleasure (http://goo.gl/92HTqM).
Where did you get the idea for Building Baby Brother?
To be honest, I don’t remember where the actual idea for the plot came from. The story itself started as part of an exercise that, well, kind of got out hand. My son’s charter had planned to sponsor an event to help foster reading and writing skills by asking students and willing family members to write a short story and then read it out loud at this event. Always willing to write, particularly for a good cause such as that one, I started pondering possible story ideas. I knew I wanted something kind of ‘‘Twilight Zone”-ish—something short, entertaining, but with a fun twist at the end. From there, the basic concept of the story was born.
Every author develops their stories differently. In your case, did you create an outline first, or just choose a direction, or something else?
I rarely work from an outline for a short story. They are usually based on some concept I want to explore and I kind of see where the characters involved take it. In case, since it was originally only supposed to be 2,000 words, I felt a full-fledged outline might be overkill As a result, though, the last third or so of the story went a direction that surprised even me.
No story ever flows smoothly as it’s created. What parts, or scenes were the hardest to develop?
I always have trouble with the middle. They say that maintaining the story and pace in the second book of a trilogy is often difficult, and I think the same thing is true about the middle of any story. I usually know how to start my stories and have a pretty good idea how it will end either when I start it or before I get a quarter of the way through it. In this story, probably the most difficult scene was scene with the police because I needed something that would transition the story from its setup to exploring the implications of the actions performed in its first half. I had a really tough time coming up with a scene that would work that would get me to where I wanted the story to go.
Another question I’m sure authors get asked all the time is, what made you decide to be a writer? With all the professions around, why get into writing?
Why not? I’ve always wanted to create—whether it be writing or filmmaking. There’s immensely satisfying about “putting on a show” and presenting it to an audience. With writing, perhaps even more than with filmmaking, you can have full control over your production: all the way from set design, costuming, and casting. Of course, when you sell the movie rights, you tend to lose those.
Where and when do you like to write? I know that David Weber has said that he prefers the evenings, as it allows him to relax and concentrate. What are your favorite conditions for writing?
Peace and quiet—and good luck getting that! My preferred writing environment is where were I’m unlikely to be interrupted. I prefer to be able to get mentally lost in the world that I’m writing about. I find that the characters tend to be more vivid in my mind and are more to behave as they should so that mostly all I have to do is transcribe as they take whatever action the story requires of them. I’ve written in a lot of places: home, work, coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotel rooms… I’m pretty good at tuning out external distractions. Still, a quiet environment is my preference. Also, I don’t write with music on in the background; I find it too distracting.
Do you feel that a story needs to have relevance in society?
I think that having some kind of social relevance helps to deepen a story. The trick, though, is to do it in such a way that it doesn’t feel preachy or pedantic to the reader. That can turn them off to the message (and story!) very quickly.
Comics are used at times to offer controversial subjects in stories. In Civil War, the idea of registration comes up. Do you feel Building Baby Brother has touched a subject that could become more important as robotics and Artificial Intelligence become more sophisticated?
I think it raises the point that we probably need to re-examine our preconceptions about AI, much of which is driven by popular science fiction films, television, and literature.
It’s been said that all great stories like Building Baby Brother are built on previous works the writer had read. In that vein who, influenced your vision of the story?
There are several influences to this story, some of which are even subtly referenced during the course of the story. One of the inspirations that kept coming to my mind as I wrote and edited it was David Gerrold’s When Harlie Was One. (I still prefer the original edition. Sorry, David.) Other conscious influences were the movie A.I. and, of course, Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m certain that there were many, many unconscious influences as well, such as Mycroft Holmes from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but none I specifically set out to emulate.
Were there any books that helped solidify your idea, or an author you enjoyed reading that might have given you ideas on style and presentation?
As I mentioned in my answer to your previous question, I think David Gerrold, with When Harlie Was One, was a major influence, both thematically and stylistically. Finding the right voice for this story was definitely a challenge-and one of the reasons that I very rarely tell a story from a first-person point-of-view. I felt that this story, though, demanded a first-person narrative perspective. Other than that, I can’t say that any specific storytelling style influenced the one used in this story. I’m not saying that it isn’t there, just like that I don’t recall using any other author’s particular style as an inspiration or template.
We asked our authors to share how they measure success when it comes to their writing and their books. We hope you enjoy them.
How do I measure success? With the metric system.
Seriously, success is difficult to describe, which in part is why we’re writing about it here. My own personal measure of success is not by sales or publishing, though, those are great perks of the job. My measure of success is finishing. Yes, I want people to read my stories, enjoy them and even re-read them. But, to me, that’s validation, not actual success.
Success is starting a project, and seeing it through to the end. Did I have the perseverance to finish a story and the belief that it should be finished? To paraphrase an old adage, “Nothing breeds writing like writing.” If I write, then I should write more. It doesn’t have to be a lot, it just has to keep moving forward, and towards its logical end. Without a endpoint, you’ll get the writing equivalent of Winchester House, huge reams of words that are cobbled together and sometimes dead end.
Success though is conceiving a story in whatever manner you use. Doing the writing to create the story, and finishing the story. That is what I judge myself by; Did I start a story, and most important, did I see it through to the end?
After succeeding at finishing, then other successes are editing for spelling and continuity, checking dialog and description so that it matches my inner vision. I know this sounds like a repeat of writing, and it is. There’s no ultimate success, there’s a bunch of small successes that create a snowball effect for the story. Each piece gives me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I completed my self-imposed task.
It isn’t always absolute fun, as there are days where I would rather avoid anything than face the day. Those are the days that finishing something as small as a 500 word section mean the most to me. I succeeded in pushing myself. I got the job, the challenge I gave myself and I finished it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love, seriously love making stories. There are just days where it sucks to sit down a make them. Those are the real successes. I can’t judge by publishing of a book, or how popular a book is. Like I said earlier, those are amazing perks OF writing. But they’re not success AT writing. Success is much simpler, and much harder to me. The thrill of seeing a book in print, is one heck of an exciting validation of my efforts and focus in writing the book.
People in general desire validation as it means they did something right. But as I said, it’s not success, it’s validation. Success is getting yourself to the end of a project, of getting yourself to write, even when you’d rather just vegetate and watch television or play your favorite app/game.
True success is you, and your goals, getting to the end together.
We asked our authors to share how they measure success when it comes to their writing and their books. We hope you enjoy them.
When I first started writing, I wrote primarily for myself. Success was getting the words out on paper, by pen or typewriter. Then I started posting stories with other people in forums and a blog. People liked my characters and their stories. People commented, which meant they read my stuff. Someone else actually liked what I was doing!
My level of success changed. It was to get published. Because of my fear, I sent out four, exactly four, query letters to different agents. All of them said no thanks.
Then Paper Angel came along. They offered to publish a book it took me a month to write and was my most recent novel (therefore, the one I was most passionate about), Homecoming. I’m working on War Mage, the actual novel, since Homecoming is more or less a prequel. I have another novel that I’ve been passionate about for the last three years that I hope to get to Paper Angel. This meant I fulfilled my dream of getting published, therefore I’m successful.
Not so much. Because I raised the bar yet again. I had goals: 20 reviews and sell 50 copies in three months, being on the best seller list, whatever that means…but then reality burst that bubble (so far).
However, people who’ve contacted me about my book say it’s a good beginning. They want more. They like the character, the world I’ve created, the setup for the next book. In fact, one of my readers said, “You’ve been writing for over 30 years; what else do you have that I don’t know about?”
What was my original measure of success? To get the words out. Not the money. Not the fame–though they would be nice. I write a story that I myself would like to read. If someone else comes along for the ride, then I have done my duty. By that, I am successful.
One of the more interesting lessons we’ve learned since starting Paper Angel Press is that every author is unique. (Okay, we knew that going in…) What we have also learned is that every author brings with them their own way of measuring their success when a book is published.
We’ve asked our authors to share with you their thoughts and insights on how they measure their own success. We will be sharing those with you over the next few weeks, so watch this space!