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A Conversation with @MCubed35

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@Mcubed35, if you don’t know her, is the anonymous blogger behind the amazing Writeblr Connects community. She’s been a huge influence on the Tumblr writing community and has also become a great friend to me over the last few months. She is currently working on a novel, Rose of the Fae, which we’re going to talk a little bit more about today along with some of her other in-the-works projects.  

Q: What led you to decide to start writing?  

Honestly, I can’t say that any one thing led to it. I’ve just always written–since I was really young. My “first” story was a fan fiction I started in elementary school with friends. (Fortunately, that never saw the light of day. I cringe every time I think about it.)

The first time I actually sat down and said, “Okay, I’m going to do something original and I want to get published,” I was in middle school. That [of that story] world ended up being the basis for my first major project that I’ve worked (off and on) now for more than ten years. The plot has changed approximately nine million times and I’ve completely thrown out more than 100,000 words, but I just consider that part of the process in my growth as a writer.

Q: So, what are you working on now?

Currently, I’m working on a Beauty and the Beast retelling called Rose of the Fae. I’ve posted a few snippets on tag games, but I plan on keeping most of the project under my Rose of the Fae tag

I’m also working on my webcomic, The Adventures of Badgergirl and Beaverboy, that I plan on launching on WordPress, Tumblr and Webtoons in December or January! For those interested in a summary, I think the tagline pretty much sums it up: “A comedy webcomic about two college-aged superheroes balancing school-work and saving their university’s town from rogue Greek organizations, possessed professors and miscellaneous stupidity on a regular basis.”

Q: Okay, I have been privileged to get more than a few glimpses of Rose of the Fae – my first big question there is, what first inspired you to come up with that concept? You’ve chosen to do some new cool things with an old tale.

As far as what inspired me to start Rose of the Fae, honestly, I think it came from a lot of things. But it really crystallized for me on a trip to see my older cousin in New Orleans. We went to a concert and watched the live-action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (she’s also a huge Disney fan). I think there was something about that trip that brought things together for me. I don’t know why, but that was the point that things went from “I want to play around with this idea” to “I HAVE to write this.”

Q: I think there is just something so intriguing about Perrault’s fairytale. I’ve also been captivated by the various renditions, from Angela Carter’s retellings in her collection The Bloody Chamber to the new live action film, what is it that you’d say is so captivating about this concept? Why is it that there’s such a draw and always something seemly new to pull from it?

Interestingly enough, if I have things correct, Perrault’s version wasn’t the first. The original was actually written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (say that five times fast.) That was then seriously abridged by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont, and I believe that’s the version Perrault published. (But I’m not sure!)

I think Beauty and the Beast hits on some universal chord somewhere. Cupid and Psyche, The Green Serpent, The Pig King, East of the Sun, West of the Moon–they’re all variants on this story (that either gave rise to Beauty and the Beast or might be considered contemporaries of it). And I feel like it hits on hope. The hope that people will be able to see beyond appearances. The hope that true love is real. The hope that there’s something new and exciting on the horizon (even if it’s something that’s a bit scary). If you have a story that’s based in something that universal, there will always be ways to make it new.

Q: How do you go about starting a new project? Do you sit down and plan or just start writing? 

I’ll start by saying that I’m a dedicated plantser–I have to have a rough roadmap first, but absolutely nothing in my outline is sacred. If it doesn’t work, it gets trashed and/or reworked.

As far as the process itself, usually my projects start with an idea that I begin playing around with while working on other projects. I may be in the editing or rewriting phase of one project while brainstorming ideas for another. After I feel like I have enough bits on one idea (and think I can pull an entire novel from it), I’ll actively sit down and begin writing scene sketches. This are usually pretty random–just whatever images are the most vivid to me. From there, I start with a “skeleton” plot outline, trying to match some of my scene sketches to plot points. Then, I’ll start “serious” drafting.

For some reason, I’m incapable of writing a finished first draft, then going to a second draft and a third etcetera. I will write four or five chapters, then go back and start roughly refining the first couple of chapters while continuing to write the “first drafts” of later chapters. So by the time I have a “finished” draft, it’s more like a Draft 1.5 or 2.0 than a first draft.

Q: So, spring boarding from there, let’s talk process a bit- you said you’re a pantser – has that affected the storytelling of Rose of the Fae? Is it still the story you set out to write at the start or has it evolved as you write?

YES! Oh, it’s changed it so much that some of my early notes are painful.  Leander started off as this amorphous character that was desperately trying to do the right thing, but kept messing himself up with these explosive tantrums.
That’s totally gone. He’s now an incredibly noble diplomat who has been thrown into circumstances that weren’t his fault, yet he has to pay the price.  Arabella… Poor Arabella. I’ve just gradually piled the trauma on her as time has gone on. Her evolution has really surprised me. 

When I originally started out, I thought she would be sort of numb and almost accept her fate. Nope! She’s prone to these explosive outbursts of anger (in which she’s not afraid of ANYTHING–there was an argument between her and Leander that I wrote and ended up laughing because she wasn’t supposed to stand up to him, but she did) and she’s SO snarky. If I had to give her one quote that would be her own self-summation, it would be: “I am sixty-three and a half inches of fight me.”

Q: So does that happen often? Characters sort of changing up on you, becoming people you didn’t expect them to be?

It does, but I think this just happened so rapidly (partially because I’ve had time to work on my writing consistently, so the story is being written faster) that it really hit me in the face. And I think the changes are really just outside of what I would ordinarily write so it’s that much more obvious. For example, I’ve never written a character that has approximately zero care for self-preservation. Some of my other characters are snarky and angry, but they at least have points that they step back and say "Eh. That sounds dangerous. Let me think it over.” Not Arabella. When faced with a thousand year old faery with incredible magic powers, her response is: “I am taking her down.”

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? 

Tea. I must have tea. Or coffee (but that’s usually if I’m writing at a coffeeshop and can get a latte or something similar–I had to switch from “regular” drip coffee to tea in college because even though I love it, drip coffee makes me too jittery.) I try to write “just about anywhere,” but if I’m really fighting with a scene or a plot point, I tend to camp out on my deck to write. Music is also a must.

Q:  What kind of things inspire you to write? 

Music! Especially classical. (My mother was a music major and a piano teacher. There was no way I was not going to end up loving classical music.) Typically when I start a new project, I pull together a playlist (or several) with music that I want to associate ONLY with that project. This usually helps me a good bit with warding off writer’s block. If I have trouble with a scene, I’ll find one song that works for the scene and listen to it on repeat, trying to “time” the scene to the song and refining until I have a vivid mental image. And if I’m trying to “get back into” another project, I’ll listen to that project’s playlist until I feel like I’m back in the swing of it.

What music I listen to is really decided by the project. My playlist for my project last year, Firebird’s Song, was all classical–mostly Prokofiev. Anything modern pulled me out of the story. But my playlists for The Adventures of Badgergirl and Beaverboy are all alternative and rock. Rose of the Fae is actually the odd one out as it has two playlists that I use almost equally–one modern and one classical. The modern one is really all over the place as far as genres go, but the classical one is primarily French impressionist (Debussy, Ravel, Faure).

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? 

I actually have a few points for writers getting started! First, seek ways to improve your craft from everywhere and everyone. You have to read. A lot. Read good fiction. Read fiction you love. And if you come across “bad” fiction, (or fiction you hate,) dissect it! Figure out what didn’t work. More importantly, figure out what did work (because if you can find good points in the stuff you hate, it’ll be easier to identify your strengths in your own work.) Read advice on writing from any source you can get your hands on and for goodness’ sake, don’t take it all from one source. If you take advice only from academics, you’ll end up writing like an academic. If you take advice from only indie published authors, you’ll end up writing like an indie published author. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you could be missing out on great advice from other sources that could improve your craft! So read writing books that are bestsellers, read brand new ebooks that no one has heard of, read advice from blogs–the more you immerse yourself, the faster you’ll improve.

That also tacks onto my second point: TAKE ALL WRITING ADVICE WITH A GRAIN, CHUNK OR MINE OF SALT (depending on how much you trust the source)! Everyone has different writing styles. Do not let someone else’s “rules” get in the way of your writing! Just because they’re famous does not mean their advice is right for you. Same thing goes for critiques. If you have been in a critique group for ages and you know that one critique partner writes brilliantly, gives amazing advice and genuinely wants you to succeed (yes, creative jealousy is a thing–remember that) and then I would trust their critiques and commentary more than someone who just bopped across your work on Tumblr or Wattpad.

Third, writing is a growing process. If you look back at your old work and cringe, that’s a good thing! It means you’ve made improvements. Expect that you’ll have to throw words out. That’s part of the process. By that same token, DON’T EVER THROW ANYTHING AWAY! You can always mine ideas/tropes/characters from your old work and breathe new life into them, regardless of how “bad” they were on the first try.

Finally, don’t be afraid to write fan fiction. Playing in someone else’s sandbox can be a great way to get practice when you’re starting off or a way to get out of your usual routine if you’ve been writing on a project for a while.

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?

So it’s hard for me to say that certain authors have specifically impacted my writing. But I do know the authors who have really “stuck” with me through the years. Cornelia Funke was the first (I will never forget The Thief Lord.) C.S. Lewis and Terry Pratchett probably had the most obvious influence on my writing. 

Finally, Margaret Mahy’s works really stayed with me in this almost haunting way. I read The Tricksters when I was in elementary school or middle school. I randomly thought about it almost a decade later, couldn’t remember the author or the title. So I hunted it down based on my memory of the cover art. Subsequently bought everything else of Mahy’s that I could get my hands on.

Writers reading, be sure to check out her writing community @writeblrconnections

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