Today, as part of a new series, I’m going to be doing something a little different. I’m conducting an interview – or really a series of interviews – with writers in the thick of their novels, asking what inspires them, how do they choose the topic they are going to write about, and what makes writing so important.
Q: What led you to decide to start writing?
I’ve honestly always written. I remember being 6 or 7 years old and sitting at the kitchen table with my little sister and we would draw pages and pages of stories about dinosaurs or sea creatures and I would write a sentence or two on each page to accompany the story the pictures were telling.
I guess I started taking writing pretty seriously when I started writing poetry in middle school. When I began high school, I began writing stories that were half hearted attempts at novels, and I started writing what would be my first complete manuscript when I was 15 years old. That eventually became my senior project and I finished the first half of my novel that year.
I ended up going to college for creative writing because I didn’t want to go to college for anything else. I knew going into it that I wasn’t going to walk out of college with a job and I didn’t care, I wanted to write.
I guess that was a long winded answer that really boils down to: I’ve always wanted to write. I suppose I was lucky and took the most direct path to writing that I could, since I knew from a very young age that I wasn’t interested in much else.
Q: What are you working on now?
I just finished the fourth draft of the first novel in my fantasy series, Shadowhand. She’s officially capped out at 135k words and I’m going to take a break, send her to a few beta readers, and work on something else for a bit. My writing process on Shadowhand for the past 6 months is documented under the tag “Shadowhand” on my blog and I have two other books in the series that I’ve been working on which are found under “Tarith novel”.
Right now, I’m attempting to write a romance, not fantasy, so we will see how well that goes. I’m fairly optimistic, I just needed a break to work on something I’m taking a little less seriously before NaNoWriMo gets here. I have no name for the project yet, I’m very bad with titles.
Q: Do you have any pre-writing rituals? Candles you need to light, drinks you need to concoct, and so on before you start writing?
I need a cup of tea and music. I drink a green and mint tea almost exclusively when I’m writing unless I’m very tired and need more caffeine, then I switch to black tea for a cup or two.
I have several different writing playlists, but most of them are comprised of movie and video game soundtracks. I only listen to instrumental music when I’m writing, lyrics are too distracting for me, even if I’ve heard the song a million times before.
Q: How do you go about starting a new project? Do you sit down and plan or just start writing?
I get ideas all the time. Usually it starts with a character or two and a random scene. I’m also usually in the middle of working on another project, so I jot down my ideas, in whatever form they are, then ignore it until I have time to work on it.
My current project came about three weeks ago, while I was rewriting Shadowhand. I’ve actually been working on it in Google Docs when I’m at work or laying in bed at night, I had a few pretty vivid scenes in my head for this one. But when I sat down to actually write for the day, I was working on Shadowhand. So now I’ve got this new one all transferred into Scrivener and I’m focusing on it for the next two months.
Q: What kind of things inspire you to write?
Books, music, movies, video games, hiking, art in general. I read a lot and I read looking for things to give me fresh ideas. I don’t watch tv or movies as often, but when I do, I look for the same things that I do in books. I rarely consume media without a purpose since it often gets boring for me. Video games are the same way, if the story isn’t super engaging, I’m out, but the good ones give me so many great ideas and are visually stimulating for my writing as well. I honestly draw a lot of inspiration from the art styles of different games, I play a lot of Magic the Gathering and the artists who work on their cards are phenomenal.
I also love going to live concerts, it’s rare that I don’t go to a show at least once a month. I listen to a lot of rock music and the rawness of it makes me feel alive in the same way that creating does. Sometimes I go to shows where I don’t know the artists and I’ll sit and listen to the music and write on my phone during the show. I love doing that. Days after shows are some of my most productive writing days. Music just clicks with the writer in me.
I’ve been hiking a lot lately, too, and being outside helps me clear my head. I can imagine things more vividly since most of my novels are fantasy and take place in worlds that do not have much in common with ours except for the wilderness.
Q: So live concerts as inspiration! I’ve never heard that before and I’m fascinated! What do you think it is that makes you connect that experience with writing?
I’ve always been one of those people who feels supremely alone in the world. I’ve struggled with depression and feeling like an imposter all my life. Music has made me feel less alone. I tend to listen to a lot of punk/emo music that is loud, but addresses the issues of the soul, rather than the world.
There is something about songs that reach out to me and make me feel alive that remind me of the creator inside of me. My depression often makes me feel like an empty, unfeeling shell of a person and when I see the songs I love performed live by people who truly believe the words they are singing, it makes me feel so strongly that it hurts. And I write to express those emotions so that I don’t burst. I suppose music makes me feel more human and being human is where I draw my writing from, so therin lies the cycle.
Q: So, since we talk a lot about advice on Lizard is Writing, what advice do you have for someone who is just starting out and trying to learn more about the craft?
Take all advice you read with a grain of salt. If you read something and it doesn’t sound right for you, ignore it. Take a lot in, but decide what works best for you for yourself. I’m a pantser, so there is a TON of advice out there that doesn’t work for me. I don’t outline, I don’t do character profiles, I don’t write from prompts, ever. Those things help a lot of people, but they do nothing except bore me when I would just rather be writing. So don’t feel too bogged down by all of the writing advice out there and think that you have to listen to every bit of it. Find what works for you and write. Then, when you get stuck, find the root of your problem and find advice that deals with the problem you need solving.
Also, if I’m allowed two, read a lot. Read things you love, figure out why you love them. Read in the genre that you’re writing in. I read a lot of Shakespeare and Poe and Emerson in school, but all the fantasy books I love reading are the ones that have helped me find my voice in my own fantasy writing the most.
Q: I’m a big reader so I can’t help but ask, what books or authors have had an impact on you as a writer?
My three biggest inspirations are Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Jacqueline Carey.
Rhodes because she published her first book at 14 and when I read that at 14 years old, I realized I could be a writer, too. Her book, Hawksong, is one of the most beautifully written romances I have ever read. It is realistic and lovely, Danica and Zane are my forever OTP.
Hamilton because she writes the type of intense, dark fantasy that I want to write, but I want to write more a more inclusive age audience. Her books are very adult and I discovered them at an arguably young age. No one wrote dark fantasy for young adults when I was a teenager, no one that I hadn’t already read yet.
Carey because she writes the best epic high fantasy I have ever read. I have lost count of how many times I have read the Kushiel’s Legacy series. I found myself in her main character, Phedre and Carey has an elegant writing style that she created with Phedre’s voice. The blend of high fantasy, political intrigue and cast of LGBTQ characters in a society that is generally accepting that Carey built with that series is something I hope to do someday with my own writing.
Q: Additionally, I noticed you mentioned that one of your influences writes with LGBT characters in an overall accepting and positive world, I was wondering, is that something we can hope to see in Shadowhand as well?
Oh yeah. My main characters in Shadowhand are a mostly heteronormative couple, but almost everyone else isn’t. Shadowhand also subverts a lot of typical gender and power roles that a heteronormative society would perpetuate. I’m a big supporter of polyamory and healthy, loving relationships in general, whether those relationships are platonic, romantic, sexual, or a mixture. So polyamory and things like close friendships, regardless of gender, are something that Shadowhand touches on. Really all of my books showcase different aspects of different types of relationships. I like to explore all aspects of myself in the characters I write and while I’m in a monogamous relationship with a man, I am genderqueer and have experience with polyamory culture, specifically through the lens of the BDSM community.