Posts Tagged ‘writing process’


C.J. Cherryh is one of the most prompt, and easy-going people I’ve ever met. When I asked her if she’d like to participate in my recent author interviews, she said, “Sounds great.” I sent her some questions, and within fifteen minutes she’d responded to them all!

She is the author of more than 60 science fiction and fantasy novels, which in and of itself, is astounding. She has several Hugo award-winning novels, and even has her own asteroid: 77185 Cherryh. The folks who discovered the asteroid had this to say about her: “She has challenged us to be worthy of the stars by imagining how mankind might grow to live among them.”  To learn more about C.J., check her website out at: http://www.cherryh.com/

Q: Was there a defining moment in your life when you decided you wanted to be a writer?

A: Pretty well when they canceled my favorite TV show [Flash Gordon, the old serial] and there were no books like that in the library. I was 10.

Q: When you did start writing, were the people around you supportive of you?

A: My mother heard my ambition of the week and said, sternly, a very eye-opening thing: “Do something to eat.” This made me, at 10, wonder how writers got paid, and how they got to be writers. I decided publishers wouldn’t come to me, I had to get to them somehow, and meanwhile I had to eat. Teachers, I thought, had summers off. So I planned to be a teacher, so I could write.

Q: How long after you wrote your first novel did you get published?

A: Twenty years.

Q: How did you celebrate when you first got published?

A: Nobody I knew was home or would be for a week or so. So I went down and spent 200.00 completely redecorating my little office, repainting, putting up a mural, new carpet. And furniture. It wasn’t much. I invited my relatives in to admire it. They were amazed. My mum asked, “What prompted this?” I said: “I sold a book.”

Q: Is it true that early in your career you had to rewrite several manuscripts because the publishers misplaced them?

A: Yep. Moshe Feder found one at Ace, fallen down behind a cabinet, years later, and took it to an editor, who recognized it had long since been published in more than one language. I received it in the mail and couldn’t think what sort of fan would give you such a gift—I didn’t even recognize the typing: it was that old. Then I realized it was one of the old ones. I didn’t hear the whole story until Moshe told me his half of it at a convention. They lost that one 3 times.

Q: When you first began writing science fiction, was it difficult for you due to the fact that the majority of sci-fi writers were male?

A: I had no idea. I’d never been stopped from being or doing anything because I was female, except being shunted into a detestable home ec class instead of shop (but I still have all my fingers) and realizing I couldn’t fly fighter jets (but my vision wouldn’t let me do it anyway.) I write under initials because that’s the way my addy stamp was made up, because (the third reason) I lived in a rough neighborhood and didn’t like having a solo female name on the door. I’d have met them in the hall with a Persian saber—I competed in fencing—but I didn’t intend to let rascals even get the idea.

Q: Your writing voice is unique and especially powerful. What can you tell us about how you developed your style?

A: The key is viewpoint—understanding how to ‘be’ the person you’re writing about.

Q: You have won the Hugo Award for Best Novel two times, and the Best Short Story Hugo. What has that like?

A: Really, it’s hard being up for something: you do get nervous. And then I felt bad because I’d beat out some friends who also wanted it really badly.

Q: What does your writing space look like?

A: I have a little recliner beside a window in my bedroom, and I face a telly which provides white noise. I am frequently assisted by a cat.

Q: How many languages do you speak?

A: I know Latin, Ancient Greek, my best ones; can get along in French, once I get it going; and Italian [a Latin student is cheating on that one.] I know a little Russian, can muddle through several Romance languages in Latin, as long as it’s not too wild; and a couple of others.

Q: Do you write anything outside of the Science Fiction genre?

A: Fantasy. Jane and I are talking about collaborating on the next vampire book.

Q: What has your greatest moment as a writer been?

A: I think when I went to my first convention and met people who’d actually read my books.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I outline a little, because I have a life, and travel, and need to pin the bare bones down so I can remember it. Then I don’t look at that unless I need it and just go forward. If I get stuck I start editing from the beginning. A good shower is really essential to the process, too. If you get stuck, shower.

Q: Which of your own books is your favorite and why?

A: Gate of Ivrel remains dear to my heart; Cyteen is one I’m quite proud of.

Q: What is the best novel you’ve ever read?

A: Hard to say: that varies by my mood. Jane and I read each other’s, and of course we love what we’re working on. Vergil’s Aeneid occupied a lot of my college study: he had a great influence on my sense of expression—Latin’s impressionistic and tricky. He was a great ‘sensory’ writer and it doesn’t come across well in English.

Q: What is the most discouraging thing about being a writer?

A: Isolation. There is NO instant gratification in the writing biz. It’s a long battle with white space. But it’s wonderful when it’s going well.

Q: How large of a role do you play in the marketing of your novels, and what are some of the best marketing strategies you know of?

A: Since NY has not been able to keep up backlist—Jane Fancher, Lynn Abbey and I formed our own e-book company for just the 3 of us, to keep our backlist in print and to experiment with books and stories that the bean-counters who try to dictate to publishers what they CAN buy — might not like.

Q: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

A: I garden, I do fish tanks, I figure skate, I travel, I hang out with my friends.

Q: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: In the same month I wanted to be a writer? An astronomer and a fighter pilot. Astronauts weren’t on the horizon yet.

Q: Are you working on anything now, and can you tell us about it?

A: I’m working on a Foreigner book, I’m putting out the Rusalka books (3) as e-books, I’m advising the Audible people who are doing some of my books, I’m talking with Jane about that vampire novel, and meanwhile we’re doing our own covers and conversions, and thinking up other stories.

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When I first met Lori L. Clark, I was immediately struck by her quick wit and awesome sense of humor. Lori is fun, optimistic, and genuinely kind. Having had the pleasure of reading her novel, Tyler Falls, (which you can find on Amazon) I can also say she’s a skilled writer with a knack for damned good storytelling.

When I began doing author interviews on this blog, I did it with a mission in mind: to heighten the awareness of the works written by the author’s I admire. Lori Clark was one of the first people I wanted to ask. As someone who has been on both sides of the publishing spectrum (self-publishing and traditional publishing), I thought she’d give a pretty interesting interview. I was right. Oh… and by the way, I did get her number… 😉

You can find her books on Amazon.com. Also be sure to check her out at: http://www.clarklori.com/ and: http://justbookinaround.blogspot.com/ and: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Just-Bookin-Around/212483995430964

                                

Q: How many completed novels do you have?

A: I have 3 completed, and one WIP.

Beauty’s Beholder (YA contemporary)

Between the Moon & Shine (MG fantasy)

and Tyler Falls (YA contemporary)

Q: You have recently been accepted for publication by a traditional publishing press. What is that like?

A: I have to be honest here, although I’m thrilled that Between the Moon & Shine has been picked up by a local publisher, it’s not as exciting as getting a call from an agent who has an offer of representation must be. I think every author dreams of having several agents “fight” over your manuscript and then having it go on to receive a 6+ figure deal. I think once the book actually hits the stores, then the reality of it will sink in for real.

Q: What is the basic storyline of this novel?

A: This is (somewhat) the query letter I used:

Fourteen-year-old Bobbi Flowers wishes on a falling star for a summer to remember. Rescuing her twin brother from Trogs and meeting a sixteen-year-old boy who claims he’s over half a century old isn’t what she has in mind.

When her brother is kidnapped one night, Bobbi sets out to find him. Armed with her Louisville Slugger (to wallop those creepy Trogs into the next county) and ajar of peanut butter (in case she gets hungry), her search leads her through a portal in the woods to The Over there — and Michael. Michael’s sixteen going on sixty and wants nothing to do with an outsider. When Bobbi saves his little brother’s life, Michael reluctantly agrees to help her. It becomes a race against time when Michael tells her that each night she spends in The Over there might mean years — if not decades — will pass before she returns home. Staying fourteen forever doesn’t sound like much fun and going home decades in the future doesn’t either.

Q: When are you expecting the book to be released?

A: I have no idea how long it takes these things to come out! Summer of 2014.

Q: Having traveled down both paths, what are the major differences, in your experience, between self-publishing and traditional publishing?

A: Traditional publishing takes so much longer for the book to come out. Self-publishing is much faster. I’ve always been a bit of a self-published book snob. Assuming someone who was unable to get an agent or publisher to take on their work must not be a very good writer. I don’t believe that anymore. I’ve read a huge number of self-published and e-published books lately that are surprisingly very good. I believe there is still an unfair negative attitude toward self-published authors and/or books though.

Q: What is your usual writing process?

A: I get a seed of an idea and then I rough out some of the characters and details in a notebook by hand. Other than these details and minimal outlining, I tend to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style writer. I know some authors painstakingly map out practically the whole book. I am not one of those authors. As close as I come to that is writing in my notebook what I want to have happen in the next few chapters with a few sentences for each chapter.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Books, the success stories of other writers, song lyrics and dreams.

Q: What are some of the books you love?

A: I am a huge fan of YA. Especially contemporary. The Hate List by Jennifer Brown, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, anything by Ilsa J. Bick and Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala. The list goes on and on.

Q: Do you have a muse?

A: If you promise not to tell anyone… the voices inside my head tell me what to write. It’s more like each main character from my books takes on a life of their own inside my mind and “they” tell me what to write. Is it any wonder so many writers/authors also have had mental issues?

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: A YA contemporary with the working title of Breaker. It’s about an overweight girl with a beautiful voice who can’t get people to take her seriously due to her appearance.

Q: Aside from writing, what do you love?

A: Reading and running are two big time fillers for me. I love going to concerts and my Miniature Pinscher — Barkley.

Q: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

A: Getting the initial spark for an idea is a lot of fun and the excitement that comes with putting pen to paper. After that, seeing “THE END” is pretty awesome too.

Q: What is your ultimate goal in writing?

A: I could say to become rich like JK Rowling or have one (or more) of my books become a household name like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or as wildly popular as the Hunger Games trilogy.

Q: When and why did you decide to become a writer?

A: I’ve always enjoyed writing, and found it easier to express myself through the written word, but I didn’t get serious about it until a few years ago when I moved, which is sort of ironic considering I was born in Iowa City, IA and lived within a few miles of there all my life prior to 2007. Every writer knows why that’s ironic and what Iowa City is famous for.

Q: Who is your greatest supporter?

A: My mom is proud that I’ve finally taken up something she approves of. I also have a good friend in North Carolina who reads everything I write and gives me moral support and suggestions.

Q: Since you began writing novels, what have you learned about yourself?

A: I have a pretty creative imagination and I’m even more impatient than I thought I was.

Q: In your opinion, what main qualities should a book have in order to be damned good?

A: A likeable and interesting main character. Someone people can identify with or empathize with. Unpredictability and pacing that doesn’t make me fall asleep. One of my biggest pet peeves is for an author to name their character something I don’t know how to pronounce. If I can’t pronounce his or her name I stumble over it every time it’s written in the book.

Q: Who do you most hope will really love your upcoming novel?

A: Everyone who reads it. I’m so sensitive, I’m sure the first bad reviews I read are going to crush me.

Q: Do you have any particular marketing plans for this novel?

A: I think it’s important to have an online platform in place. I have an author’s page, a book review blog, a twitter account, etc. I plan to do a lot of word of mouth online promoting. I also would love to spend time at the local indie book stores.

Q: When your novel is released, I’d love to get you in for a book signing. Sound good?

A: I would love that!

Q: You’re pretty cute. Can I have your number?

A: Ha! If I were younger I would have already been your number 1 stalker. See me hiding behind those parked cars over there? 🙂


The prologue is that first page (or few pages) at the opening of a story which gives readers background information, establishes character and setting, and/or gives readers a quick glimpse into the central conflict of the story, sometimes in an attempt to grasp the reader’s attention enough to motivate further reading. There does not seem to be any real rules about what a prologue may or may not contain, or whether or not a prologue should be used at all, therefore, whether or not a book should or should not open with a prologue is a subjective topic. While I’ve known people who feel that prologues are no more than a lazy way to introduce information, I’ve also known people who will only read a book if it has a good prologue; so there really is no right or wrong answer.

I’ve never used a prologue in any of my stories, mainly because it never seemed called for. That being said, I personally am a fan of the prologue, but it has never been a subject to me that seemed to require any of my attention, until just recently when a good friend of mine asked me to critique the opening chapter of the book she’s currently working on.

As I started reading this chapter, I noted that as soon as I’d just begun to get involved with the present situation in the story, I was thrust backward in time, where the events that lead to the present were revealed. While there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this, it felt too soon to me; I wasn’t ready to flash back yet. I finished the chapter and considered ways that my friend might more smoothly incorporate the information into the story, but found no reasonable opportunity for it. Then I read the chapter again, skipping the background information, and was stunned by how much smoother the ride was. Finally, I read the flash back, separate from the rest of the chapter, and it struck me that it would make an excellent prologue. The problem is, my friend hates prologues.

I was very cautious as I approached her with the idea of beginning her story with a prologue. At first, she was adamantly against it, but now, as far as I know, she is considering it.

It’s been said by many that a “good” writer can work background information into a story without resorting to a prologue. It’s also been said that the best way to judge a good book is by its prologue. I am sure there are literary agents out there who scoff at prologues and shove manuscripts straight into the slush-pile just because the story begins with a prologue. I am equally as sure that there are those agents who will not represent a book without one. The point is, using a prologue or not using a prologue is the author’s choice and should be a decision based on his or her own judgment.

To me, it’s a simple matter of the author’s style; some use prologues, some do not. But there are no rules for or against it, and in a business that is over-saturated by an endless and ever-changing list of do’s and do not’s, we sometimes have to keep in mind that writing, at its core, is still a form of art… and that art, for all it’s marketing rules and its potential levels of salability in the retail world, is still subjective.


    

     In writing fiction, few things are as discombobulating as a surprise character.  You spend all this time and energy mapping out your story, putting the characters in their proper places, and then, at some point during the writing process, an unfamiliar personality appears and demands a role.  You are then faced with a dilemma.  Do you let the character take the stage, or do you simply bypass him or her and continue writing the story as you originally planned?  The answer:  it depends.

     The rule of thumb is that if a character (or a scene) helps to move the story forward, adds necessary depth to it, or contributes an unexpected twist (as long as the twist serves to further and/or add texture to the story) he or she can stay.  However, if the character doesn’t have any place except to show off his or her talents as a fictional being, you will probably need to cut them out.  The question then, is how do you know whether or not the character belongs in the story.  This is where writer’s intuition, a good sense of story, and a little sound judgment come into play.  

     I don’t believe any character should ever be dismissed entirely.  Sometimes, characters are speaking to you from the future (as in a book that has yet to be written) and will fit perfectly into a different story. These characters are jumping the gun, overly excited by their own existence, and don’t yet realize that their time hasn’t come yet.  Other times, a character is speaking to you from the past (as in a former character, probably in disguise, who doesn’t feel he or she got a fair shake the first time around.)  These guys often need to either be dismissed, or altered enough that they are unrecognizable from one book to the next.  Good characters, like good actors, should be dexterous enough that they can adapt to and blend into different storylines while still retaining their believability.  Resurrecting old characters under different names is a custom that, although common enough, can only go so far. After a while, your characters will become stale and predictable.

     When I was writing The White Room, my first surprise character was Aunt Mimi (this was before I started calling my mentor “Mimi”, by the way).  Aunt Mimi just appeared and in true diva style, demanded the floor.  I was terribly unseasoned then and never even questioned her existence.  As it turned out, Aunt Mimi went on to lend the story some much needed comic relief in those earlier scenes.  Later, in the same book, when Kendra Howell appeared, my mentor told me to stop and consider her place in my story before writing her out.  I was torn because while I didn’t feel Kendra had a very large part, my instinct told me that what little role she was going to play would be an important one.  I didn’t feel attached to Kendra like I did some of the other players but I couldn’t escape the sense that she had something of value to contribute.  After some deliberation, I decided to follow through with my instinct and let this surprise character play her part.  As it turned out, I was right.  Although Kendra’s role was a miniscule one in terms of presence and dialogue, she ended up being the answer to a serious hitch in my storyline.  As was Sir Purrcival (another unexpected presence in The White Room), my main characters irritating and ever-present pet cat.

    The same thing has happened in An Evil Heart, the book I am currently working on (and close to being finished with!) with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen.  As Aunt Mimi did in The White Room, a character simply known as The Thinning Man appeared in the first scene of An Evil Heart.  I wrote him and then dismissed him as nothing more than a passing face that would populate and add a little color to the book. But all along, I was unable to ignore the haunting suspicion that he had a more important role than giving my main character someone to talk to in that first scene.  As the story has developed, The Thinning Man has become crucial to the story as my main characters greatest enemy and ultimate downfall.

     Also, in An Evil Heart, there have been characters that showed up, been written, and finally, been decided against and deleted.  Such was the case with Julia, a girl who felt important but ultimately contributed nothing to the story.  Maybe one day, Julia will reappear somewhere else, but as for An Evil Heart, she will not be found in the final draft at all. 

     Often times, surprise characters like to show up right before or shortly after the leave of another more important character.  In An Evil Heart, a guy named Damien showed up right before my main characters best friend Brytt exited the story.  Damien felt very important but in truth is no more than an extension of Brytt; Damien is the materialized result of my reluctance to say goodbye to Brytt.  Damien had to be stopped. Now he only occupies a negligible slice in the overall life of the story.  But Damien is significant to me, because his appearance was the first one I recognized for what it was before I wrote him out, and that is a step in the right direction.  One day, I will give Damien his just dues and allow him his own story, so long as, of course, he isn’t so much like his predecessor Brytt that he smudges my style :).

     Yet another irritating way in which characters can annoy the ever-loving bejeesus out of a writer is to deviate from the plan.  These characters already exist and are a part of the story, but they are rebels and will absolutely refuse to play the role you’ve cast them in.  As it is with surprise characters, handling rebellious characters requires intuition and storyline management.  When I was writing The White Room, a character I’d created named Winter went a completely different route than I’d intended.  He was supposed to be a bad guy.  He refused.  I threatened to delete him.  He said, “Go ahead.  See what happens…”  I tried forcing him to be deceptive and nasty.  He laughed at me.  (I realize how crazy this all sounds by the way, but personifying these characters here is the best way I can illustrate the strange nature of this process; bear with me.)  When I finally accepted that Winter would not be swayed, the story began to take a new shape.  A better shape.  “Look,” Winter said to me (after I’d agreed to have a cup of coffee with him), “if you’ll let me do this instead of that, I promise you won’t be sorry.”  I’m just kidding,of course.  That never really happened.  Winter hates coffee.  He prefers fresh blood. 🙂

     By letting Winter have his way though, a few different things happened.  First, the story got tighter and more compelling.  And second, Winter became one of my favorite characters of all time, despite his refusal to follow the rules.  So, personally, I am all for letting the characters have their own voices… for the most part. 

     The key then, is to recognize what can stay and what must go, and that key can only be found in the use of sound judgment and the observance of intuition.  Either way, it’s entirely up to the writer.  Some will tell you that must listen to your characters without question.  Others will say you must never, under any circumstances, let a character control the story. Myself, I’m somewhere in the middle. Personally, I look forward to meeting more surprise characters and seeing what they have to say… as long as it’s something I need to hear.