Today I have been tapped by two different authors to continue a propagating blog hop called “My Writing Process.”
James Batchelor is the author of The Crusade Series including The Knights Dawning and The Knights Mourning. These epic historical fiction pieces have been a long labor of love for this author. Find out more about James by following the link to his blog and on twitter @JamesBatachelor.
Sara Butler (S. A. Butler) is the author of the Sonya Fletcher Monster Hunter Series, including The Hunt Begins and The Witch and the Leech, with a third installment coming soon. Sara is an action-scene writing guru. Her fast-paced plot and spunky characters will grab you by the throat and keep you on your toes. Her twitter handle is @S_A_Butler.
Thank you both for involving me in this tour, and I wish you each the best of luck with your current and future writing endeavors.
The “My Writing Process” blog hop is an opportunity for writers to share insights into their individual writing styles and processes by answering the same four basic questions.
“We writers share these things, both informally during workshops and at conferences (and, for a handful of established writers, in printed interviews), but not so much through our open-forum blogs. With the hashtag #MyWritingProcess, you can learn how writers all over the world answer the same four questions. How long it takes one to write a novel, why romance is a fitting genre for another, how one’s playlist grows as the draft grows, why one’s poems are often sparked by distress over news headlines or oddball facts learned on Facebook…”
1) What am I working on?
Lately I’ve been working hard at churning out short stories in the hopes of getting a few of them published in anthologies, magazines, or other venues. I am currently an independently published author, and my strategy is to use short story sales as a means to broaden my reach, build rapport in the authoring community, and put a few traditional publishing feathers in my hat. Within the last month, I have successfully contracted two short stories to different publishing venues and am working on edits for one of those stories. It’s been a very exciting set of opportunities.
Besides short stories, I have a number of different novel projects on my back burner that I’m anxious to return to. One is a dark fantasy series set in medieval Spain with plague zombies. Another is a Victorian-era alternate history/possibly steampunk novel that involves dinosaurs and time travel. Yet another is a post apocalyptic novel I’ve been meaning to rewrite in which eco-terrorists have effectively destroyed the environment and plunged the world into a GMO famine. With some luck, I’m hoping to get at least one of these books churned out and ready to query to traditional publishers/agents by the end of the year.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
As a new author, I’m experimenting with all sorts of things and many different genres as I continue to develop my craft. I want to have some versatility and explore different kinds of settings and modes in each story I write, from the barely speculative psychological thriller, to the recognizably science fiction (both technothriller, dystopian, and offworld), to fantasy, and perhaps to steampunk. Though my story writing ranges from downright creepy, to introspective, adventurous, and even a little romantic at times, one thing my work all has in common is a sense of the ominous to some degree, somewhere, some way.
For this reason, I consider myself a horror writer, even though my stories could fit into a variety of categories and not all of them are deeply horrifying. That being said, I’m not as well-read in the horror genre in general because it isn’t so often my favorite thing to read. (My favorite things to read for fun are actually non-fiction books on evolution and psychology–I’ve had to push myself to read more fiction as I’ve driven myself to write it).
The horror that I have read and enjoyed is predominantly produced by LDS authors: Dan Wells’ I Am Not A Serial Killer series, Michaelbrent Collings’ Darkbound and his zombie apocalypse series, Steven Peck’s A Short Stay In Hell, and the first Space Eldritch anthology. I’m also really into YA dystopian novels, if you want to count those as horror (I certainly do). LDS authors tend to have unique perspectives and approaches to this genre–a genre that otherwise comes across as a little taboo in the general LDS culture at times but doesn’t have to. I’ve read these authors specifically to study their particular breed of horror and see how my own writing style aligns with theirs.
The general LDS approach to creating horror is to put less emphasis on shock value (like erotica, splatterporn, and things that go out of their way to be disgusting or offensive without offering much other sort of entertainment, intellectual, or literary value), and more emphasis on subversion, dysfunction, dissonance, or dealing with the unknown. I like to think of it as putting spectacular special effects into a movie where they really add to the effectiveness of the mood and design of the story, rather than conceiving the spectacular special effects and trying to build a story that simply shows off those effects. (Obviously my description here shows my preference bias, since I think this is a pretty fantastic way to approach writing horror).
This perspective on horror certainly isn’t confined to what LDS authors write. Stories by H.G. Wells, Lovecraft, and contemporary authors like Stephen King (I haven’t read anything by Stephen King, but many LDS authors who write dystopia and horror really like his stuff) have created horror that resonates on something besides mere shock value. Further, this doesn’t mean LDS horror isn’t graphic or that our characters don’t use profanity. Quite the contrary, in fact. But LDS authors who write horror tend to focus to a greater extent on why they are portraying something graphic or disturbing and what value that adds to the story conflict overall, and to a lesser extent on what they can portray to that effect.
In all this rambling, I’d have to say that this is how I like to approach writing horror myself: My goal is to create something both entertaining and meaningful that will leave people feeling, at worst, disturbed but not degraded by the experience they’ve had with my fiction.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I’m a horror writer, more or less. It’s weird, because I never liked reading or watching much in the genre before I decided to take my writing career seriously. My first indie-published book which came out last October, Maladaptive Bind, is a psychological thriller with paranormal elements. It’s one of the darkest stories I’ve ever written. It took me way outside my comfort zone to write in many ways, but I believe I am a better person as well as a better writer for it. I learned not only to trust myself as a writer, but to trust my own instincts. I believe that our subconscious cares about what we care about. While the subconscious is responsible for processing the pain, fear, horrors, confusion, and even the filth we encounter in life, it can and will protect us according to what we truly value.
My understanding of the value and scope of the horror genre had evolved immensely since I began writing full-time as a novice to fiction nearly three years ago. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’m drawn to deconstructing pain in my stories, and analyzing how people might not only react to pain but overcome pains that seem to be endlessly heaped upon them without giving up, dying, or relinquishing their moral integrity (being a Mormon, I like to think of the lattermost as “dying spiritually”).
The conflicts I like to write about are often inspired by what I perceive as misconceptions I’ve heard (and felt) people around me might have about something: science, culture, religion, etc. Other conflicts spring from just about anywhere: a weird idea, an absurd article someone posted on Facebook, a sad or scary article about various conflicts happening locally and around the world, or a cool new piece of technology I’ve been reading about (or that someone somewhere is protesting about) that is just begging to have someone write a horror story that turns it all upside down. Some of my story conflicts are even inspired by my own family history.
I also like using young, faithfully married couples as main characters, which I then torture and test their relationship through the challenges the main conflicts present. It probably has something to do with my age (I’m twenty six…and currently quite single) and my general disenchantment with the (what I consider) brittle falling-in-and-out-of-love fluff that teen romance authors seem to prefer. When the relationship is already established, committed, and awesome, I find it a lot more fun and interesting to watch my characters struggle together as a team to overcome challenges and survive.
What I love most about my writing is the unusual and seemingly contradictory way it intersects with my personality. Most people who know me are surprised that “sweet little Sarah” writes such dark stories. It surprises me, too. I think the common denominator is a desire that I have to be genuine with people and with myself. I don’t like swearing, for example. It doesn’t taste good to give it, and it doesn’t feel good to receive it. But some of my characters do swear. Writing is a form of therapy for me, in some ways. When I allow some of my characters to swear (continuing with this example), I’ve found it has helped me to cope better when someone curses at or around me without getting psyched out as badly. (I’m a sensitive soul, I guess).
Anyways…as a certain Disney villain who recently came to life in live action movie about a month ago said, “There is evil in this world…” And I like to think I’m not afraid to shine a light on that evil and try to make sense of some of the things that really frighten or disturb me. If I can command and conquer the things I fear most with a paper and pen (or in most cases, a laptop and a word processor) in a bold and meaningful way, I feel that I can command and conquer just about anything.
4) How does my writing process work?
Very, very slowly. Sadly, I’m easily discouraged, and it can take me many days to pound out a simple chapter or the opening paragraph of a short story when I’m not at my best. I think the keys to being successful at writing and persevering through intense feelings of self-doubt are tenacity and authenticity. Another part of the equations is certainly environmental–and sometimes beyond our control.
1. Take care of your needs. It’s surprisingly easy to spend an entire lovely summer day locked in your room, or down in some little corner of the library next to a sterile white wall with artificial lighting from dawn to dusk when you’re a writer, particularly one with a history of depression (like me). Unlike a class or a structured work environment with a clear start and end time each day, with tasks that someone else expects you to get done in that time, writing time is very flexible and usually isolating. It’s easy to get lost in the world you’re creating and lose track of time. It’s even easier to stare at the blank page for three hours, wondering why you’ve just wasted all your writing time for the afternoon dwelling on how you could have possibly offended Aunt Birtha with that facebook post you put up to the point where she’s threatened to exclude you from your favorite cousin’s birthday party. It’s easy to feel lonely. Make sure you are taking care of your health: physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and whatever else.
Eating more than one square meal a day, getting enough sleep at night, tending to hygiene, getting some exercise, making sure to interact with people, and going for a walk every few hours is a good way to keep sane and keep your writing from getting stale (and feeling useless). If you find yourself unable to focus, or stalling on a project, it might be a signal that you need to recharge or even resolve something else that’s going on in your head or your life first. It can be advantageous to take the day, week, or a couple of weeks off to build up your health again (usually it’s the social and emotional batteries I need to recharge in particular) before isolating yourself mentally and diving back into the project full-time.
2. Be true to yourself and keep good balance in your life. Give yourself a meaningful and worthwhile reason to develop this skill and become a writer or author. Have a good reason to go after this story. Sometimes, though, there are other things in life that take necessary precedence over developing a new skill or advancing one’s career, like personal health (again) and nurturing relationships with family, friends, God, and loved ones. There’s room for everything worthwhile in your life if you can develop a plan for growth and balance your time developing new skills with other goals, challenges, and responsibilities.
3. Decide that you aren’t going to quit. Decide you have stories to tell that are worthwhile, even if you don’t have enough “proof” yet to convince others (and sometimes even yourself) that you have what it takes. Like every skill in life, figuring out how to write a decent story takes practice–lots and lots of practice. If you have the courage to make a mess of your first draft, to set a story aside once you’ve figured out that it just doesn’t work well at all and move on to the next project, and to recover from criticism of your work, looking at it as an opportunity to grow instead of as a personal attack–and taking that criticism with a grain of salt–you will improve. You will make meaningful as well as reasonable strides in your work. And eventually, you will succeed. Every author’s success has sprung up out of the scorched earth of setbacks, reality checks, and disappointment in a totally different way. Their successes are their own. And your successes will be your own.
I think I answered that question in kind of a non-straightforward way… Many writers face discouragement. I’m hoping that by illuminating some of that struggle and describing some of what I’ve recognized or done to deal with that myself, it might be helpful to others who are struggling with similar sorts of challenges on the emotional side of writing, or with developing a new skill in general.
Other details of my writing process? I’m a “discovery writer,” to use Brandon Sanderson’s terminology. I don’t fashion detailed plots, although I do often brainstorm the opening conflict, try-fail cycles, and I make a stab at the ending to some degree so that I know basically where a story is going. If all I have figured out is the opening and first try-fail cycle of a story, and I’m really excited about the concept, that’s usually enough for me to start writing the opening scene and make some discoveries about where the story really might want to go next.
I like picking a quiet place to work on my writing where there isn’t a lot of noise or distractions. I also like picking a place to work where I can be out in the sunshine during the day. These two preferences don’t often work out together. Depending on what I’m working on, I’ll typically go for quite and seclusion over sunshine (as much as I love the sunshine). I frequently write in such places as my room at home, my back porch, the basement of the HBL library on BYU campus (I get no cell phone reception down there, so it’s great if I want to avoid dealing with phone calls or text messages for a few hours), and at picnic benches around BYU campus. If I find that I really need both seclusion and sunlight (or just an excuse to get out of the house without being distracted by other people wandering around), I’ll pick a nice spot in a parking lot somewhere with close access to a drinking fountain and a decent restroom, and I’ll write on my laptop in my car.
Next Stop on the Blog Hop
On Monday, July 7th, the following authors are planning to post their responses:
C. David Belt is the author of LDS vampire trilogy The Children of Lilith which includes The Unwilling, The Penitent, and The Prophecy. David is passionate about medieval weaponry and his Scottish heritage, which elements he deftly incorporates into the dark and chilling world of his characters. Stealing directly from his personal bio, David graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a minor in Aerospace Studies. He served as a B-52 pilot in the US Air Force and as an Air Weapons Controller in the Washington Air National Guard. When he is not writing, he sings in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and works as a software engineer. He and his wife have six children and live in Utah with an eclectus parrot named Mork (who likes to jump on the keyboard when David is writing). In short, David is awesome. To find out more about David, check out the link to his blog or follow him @CDavidBelt.
Joe Vasicek is a prolific indie author with over a dozen publications including novels, short stories, and two extensive novella series. He primarily writes science fiction adventures in the realm of space opera and interstellar love stories with epic universe conflicts. His most recent novella, Brothers in Exile, is the first installment in his Sons of the Starfarers series and is a parallel sequel to his eight-part Star Wanderers saga. Joe blogs regularly about his writing and world travels. You can find him @onelowlerlight.
Thanks for stopping by to read this special post today. As I say to all my frequenters, good luck, and keep writing!