Summer 2017 Updates

Summer is here, bringing all the joys and challenges of kids on school vacation. It’s a lot harder to get writing-related things done when my not-so-little ones are around, but by mixing up the carrots (“we can go to the beach tomorrow if you let me work today”) and the sticks (“HALP! Leave me alone or I swear I’ll block your YouTube access”), I’m slowly getting to the end of my Night Blade revisions.

By next week, I’ll be ready to send my fight scenes to my sword instructor, Christopher Valli from Laurel City Sword. Chris revised all my sword and fight scenes for Heart Blade, and I’m hoping he’ll be pleased with the ones I’ve written for Night Blade. My climbing scenes also need a stern revision, since my only rock climbing experience was years ago, in my teens. I’m counting on my brother Simon, an enthusiastic climber, to look those over for me. The internet is a great resource for many things, but if you have access to someone who can revise sections that require a certain level of expertise, I thoroughly recommend it.

After incorporating any new suggestions from my experts, the next step will be a final reread of all the rewrites and edits I’ve made to Night Blade, before it goes back to my publisher for a last look. Once we’re all happy, the book will be ready for the copyeditor to get her teeth into.

Very soon, I’ll be able to share the gorgeous cover art for Night Blade. I’m lucky enough to have been given the chance to work with not just one, but two extremely talented cover artists. Merilliza Chan was in charge of the beautiful cover for Heart Blade. For Night Blade, my publisher changed direction slightly, and handed the cover over to Tom Edwards, who does some truly amazing SF/F book cover work. The result is very different from Heart Blade, but just as fabulous. I can’t wait to share it, and see what you all think.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 7.39.33 PM  A teeny tiny teaser… Cover reveal coming soon!

And speaking of art, Corinna Marie, who did the adorable character art for Heart Blade, is working on a brand new set of character pictures for Night Blade. There are a couple of familiar names among them, and a couple of new names, too – I hope you’ll enjoy meeting them as much as I enjoyed writing them! And yes, I’ll definitely be doing some character art postcard giveaways closer to launch date.

Don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter for exclusive mini interviews – in July, my guest is fantasy author Kerry Buchanan, talking about horses in fiction.

Happy summer to those in the Northern Hemisphere! Here’s to beachside reading, lazy days in the shade, and a chance to recharge those batteries.

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Small Press Publishing

*Based off my notes for the April 2017 Barnes & Noble panel on Publishing Your Book that I took part in, along with authors Carrie Firestone, Stephanie Robinson, and Jessica Haight*
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Publishing Your Book panel participants

 

Yesterday was #smallpressday2017. Congratulations to all those hardworking small presses out there! Keep up the good work!

What is a small press?

When you’ve been part of the writing community for a while, as I have, it’s easy to forget that many of the publishing terms that we author-type people tend to toss around can be pretty obscure to those who are unfamiliar with the industry. For instance, I get a lot of people asking me what I mean when I say I’m published by a small press. I’ve been asked several times if that’s the same as self-publishing. No, I tell them, it isn’t. Of course, self-publishing is a perfectly valid option, if approached in a professional manner. I have many writer friends who have self-published, or who are ‘hybrid’ authors (both self- and traditionally published), and who thrive within that format. But that’s not the publishing model I went with for my Blade Hunt Chronicles.

Heart Blade (and the upcoming sequel Night Blade) is published by Woodbridge Press, a small Canadian publishing house. A small press follows the same model of ‘traditional publishing’ as Penguin Random House, or Simon and Schuster, or any of the big giants. The difference is the size and scope of the company.

What can you expect from a small press? Like any large press, you can (and should) expect editorial input that contributes to a polished end product. This may be only a copyeditor, or it may include other sorts of editing. For Heart Blade, I had a developmental editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader. Other things you should expect include professional cover art, professional layout and design work, etc.

What you should NOT expect: to pay for any of this from your own pocket. Just like with a large publishing house, in the traditional model the money flows TO the author, not FROM the author. If you’re paying for any of it, you’re looking at some form of vanity press, or one of the many companies that facilitate things for self-published authors. Again, that can be a valid choice, as long as you make it with your eyes open and know exactly what you’re getting into.

Downside to small press

Your main downside is going to be reach. A small press will have a much smaller marketing budget than a larger company, and visibility will be limited. Your book deal probably won’t appear in Publisher’s Weekly, your ARCs (advanced reader copies) probably won’t reach any of the big reviewers, and your book itself may not even be in physical bookstores.

Another downside is impermanence. Of course a large press can also go under (and when they do it can be spectacularly catastrophic!), but a small press is far more likely to go bankrupt, or just quit the business. Make sure you get decent reversal of rights clauses in your contract in case this happens to you.

Upside to small press

You don’t need to have an agent (query letter phobics, take note!). Most small presses take direct submissions from writers. Some have specific submission windows, some take all-year-round subs, but they rarely deal with agents, because for an agent there’s not much point in a book deal that’s going to be worth either a tiny advance or no advance at all.

A small press is more willing to take risks on subject matter. With Heart Blade, for instance, I had two agents tell me that no publishers were interested in demons, angels, and vampires; that this sort of thing was all over and done with. But a small press such as Woodbridge can take a chance on something they like. UK press Kristell Ink is a good example: they’ve been publishing some really innovative fantasy work that might not have stood a chance in one of the bigger publishing houses. And Tickety Boo Press have invested heavily in space operas and science fiction (among other genres).

The ‘risk factor’ is especially important if you write something niche. For instance, Aqueduct Press specializes in feminist literature in all genres. Headmistress Press is even more niche: they only publish lesbian poetry. If you think your manuscript may be hard to pitch, perhaps a small press is for you. Do your research – there are many good small publishing houses out there.

Another advantage of a small press is it’s a lot more agile and fluid than a large press. If you get a publishing deal with a large press, it can take anything from 18 months to 3 years before your book comes out. A small press can go from signing to publication in a matter of months. So if you’ve written something time sensitive – maybe about a recent or upcoming world event – a small press can be a good fit for you.

Small press caution!

Study all your options. Look into the different publishing formats and models out there. If you decide that a small press may be the ideal home for your manuscript, then put all those researching skills to good use. There are plenty of less-than-savory companies out there, and that’s where resources such as the SFWA’s ‘Writer Beware’ page, or the Water Cooler at Absolute Write, can be invaluable in helping you avoid the scammers and find a good, legitimate fit for your work.

Also, dip a toe into the small press waters by reading a few authors who have chosen this publishing model. Get a feel for different companies by investing in the work they publish. At the very least, you may discover some hidden gems (check out the #smallpressbigstories hashtag on Twitter for inspiration). If you find a writer you like, help spread the word (and stretch the tiny marketing budget) by sharing your discovery. All of us small press authors thank you!

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Spring 2017 Updates

Connecticut finally has its Spring on. Tiny baby leaves have tiptoed over the treetops like a green mist, and forsythia is blazing in glorious yellow splendor. The sun is shining. I have daffodils in the garden, and Easter chocolate is on sale everywhere you look.

 

So, what’s new in my world?

I’ve finished Book 2 in the Blade Hunt Chronicles, Night Blade. Now the manuscript is off being looked at by eyes other than my own. Until I get all the revision notes back, I can’t do anything else on that front. I’ve already outlined a lot of what will happen in Book 3, Star Blade, and I’m really excited about it, but I’m holding off getting a start on writing that one until I know if I have any substantial changes to make in Night Blade that might affect my Book 3 plot.

What’s in Book 2? No spoilers, but I can tell you there’s a heist, and Rose may have bitten off more than she can handle. Del gets to wear a ballgown. And you all get to meet my lovely new character, Ben Kelley. He’s a witch and, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m trying to get my head back into a stalled sci fantasy YA while I wait for Night Blade revision notes, but it can be hard switching worlds and projects, and to be honest it’s been slow going. I’m looking forward to this weekend, where I and some 700 or so New England kid lit authors and illustrators will gather at the NESCBWI Spring Conference for workshops, panels, and lots of great conversation about books and writing. I always go home revved up and inspired after these events, so this should be just the kick I need to get back into my rhythm again. Follow the #NESCBWI17 hashtag on twitter this weekend for lots of kid lit pearls of wisdom tweeted by event participants.

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New bookmarks, ready for NESCBWI 17

The Pixel Project’s Read for Pixels fundraiser is almost over. The donation page will be open until April 29th, though the main event has ended. I contributed three Heart Blade paperbacks with character art postcards to this, which were bundled together with 1st Edition hardcovers from bestselling YA Fantasy authors Kimberly Derting (The Taking) and Alyson Noel (Unrivalled). I was very happy to hear from the organization that all three bundles were snapped up.

You can find my mini interview on the Pixel Project blog.

What else… Heart Blade had a sale! (Yay!) The sale is over… (Boo!). But you can still find the Kindle version at a very reasonable U$ 3.99 on Amazon. *waves cheerleader pompoms* For those interested in a paperback, I’m planning a giveaway on Goodreads in May, so keep an eye out here and on GR itself.

And last (but not least), today I received a lovely letter from blogger Marguerite Gibson with two beautiful handmade book plates that I’ve promised to sign and send back. It’s always wonderful to hear from readers, whether on social media, or in reviews, or by snail mail, like Marguerite from Australia. Gives me warm and fuzzy writer feels!

Happy Spring to all. May your words be plentiful, your flowers beautiful, your mornings sunny and bright…and may your leftover Easter chocolate last many, MANY days.

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Writing Girls

The second round of revisions for Heart Blade is safely back in the hands of my editor, and now I’m at that it’s-getting-closer stage that’s half panic and half extreme excitement. Some of the hardest work during the editing stage went into my female characters, especially my main protagonist Adeline ‘Del’ Raven. Originally I wanted to write one of those snarky, feisty girls that other authors do so well. But it turns out I don’t really do snark (seriously, I’m rubbish at it!), and halfway through my first ever draft Del changed into someone sweeter, fiercer, and more determined than I ever imagined she would be. During the revision process, I had to make sure Del was that person I knew she should be, rather than the one I had originally imagined.

Last month I wrote a blog piece on Writing Boys, with some of my favorite YA men in the fictional world. Since then, I’ve had my Heart Blade girls on my mind – Del, Rose, Camille, and Diana. So I thought it was about time for a follow-up with a few of my favorite young women in speculative fiction…

*Note: not all the books mentioned below are YA, but all the characters are in the young adult range of teens to early twenties and share that ‘coming of age’ vibe. Feel free to add your own faves in the comments!*

 

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins) – When I first read this series, my immediate reaction was, ‘Where the hell was Katniss when I was growing up?’ Seriously. The books I read in the 80’s had no one like her, and I desperately wish I could time travel and hand twelve-year-old me this book. A talented archer and hunter, Katniss has a ferocity to her that’s both chilling and mesmerizing.

Nessa Doherty (The Call, Peadar Ó Guilín) – Nessa is smart, focused, and a quick thinker. She’s determined to survive in this post-fairy-apocalypse version of Ireland, despite the physical limitations of her polio-induced disability and the disdain of many of her classmates at the training academy she attends. The Call is a brand new release, and already Nessa has made it to my list of all-time favorite female characters.

Beth Bradley (The City’s Son, Tom Pollock) – Graffiti artist Beth is as dark and edgy as the urban fantasy trilogy she dwells in. In the Skyscraper Throne series, she meets London’s gritty magical underbelly head on with a smile and a challenge, and never, ever shies away from a fight. Bonus points for goddess powers!

Delilah Bard (A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab) – Oh, Lila… Another one who never backs away from danger, preferring instead to court it without shame. Thief, adventurer, pirate, magician… There is nothing that impulsive Lila won’t try her hand at if she gets the urge. No matter how perilous, or who gets swept up in her path.

Annabeth Chase (The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan) – Although only twelve in the beginning of the saga, Annabeth totally counts as she is now seventeen and preparing to head off to college. And how could I not include the daughter of Athena? One of the main characters in Rick’s Greek gods books (she even has a cameo in his new Norse gods series), Annabeth is cool logic under fire, and a master tactician who prefers to think her way out of trouble. But when the going gets tough, she’s not afraid to engage, getting up close and personal with her preferred weapon: a knife.

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August Updates

August tiptoed in yesterday all ninja-like and sneaky. July went by so fast it was a blink-and-miss it month. Probably because I spent most of it buried in my laptop. So, what’s new on the writing front? Plenty!

I received my edit notes for Heart Blade and I’m deep into rewrites. Revisions are hard work, and mean digging a lot deeper into scenes and characters than you’d ever imagined you possibly could. But I’m confident that the story will be all the better for it. And to tell the truth, I’m actually really enjoying the chance to polish up Heart Blade under the expert  hand of my editor, Teresa Edgerton. I can’t wait to share the results next year.

The big Heart Blade news, however is that I now have a cover artist! Woodbridge Press will be working with the very talented and lovely Merilliza Chan. I’ve had a sneak peek at some of her sketches and am so excited. I just know that Meril will produce something amazing for Del and Ash’s story. Keep an eye out for more cover news!

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Teaser…………. Because I’m evil like that!

Check out Meril’s art on Instagram and Deviant Art.

Write ’Em Up(dates)

True fact: once I wrote an entire novel to a 2-song soundtrack consisting entirely of Fall Out Boy’s Immortals and My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light Em Up). There, aren’t you glad you know that now?

So what’s new or old on the writing front, soundtracks aside? I handed in the final pre-publisher’s-edits version of Heart Blade around a month ago. Sometime over summer I should be getting revision notes back from my editor, the lovely and very talented Teresa Edgerton. This is both exciting and terrifying. I’ve had lots of great peer beta readers and critique partners, but this will be my first professional edit. Gulp.

In the meantime, I have a short story to revise for a fantasy anthology that will be out at the end of the year with Heart Blade’s publisher Woodbridge Press. The anthology has a truly great line up of authors, and I’m thrilled to be in it. I also have a new novel I’m working on, a science fantasy YA. I’m coming up to the halfway point on this one, and hoping to get a first draft nailed down before things start to get real with Heart Blade.

In blogging news, I’m putting my Spotlight interview series temporarily on hold. But only because I’ve joined the sffworld.com team and will hopefully be doing lots of interviews for them instead. I’m really pleased about this, since I love their website, and am looking forward to working with the SFF World team.

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Writing perch during a quick June trip to visit family in Brazil.

 

One last snippet of writing news I forgot to share back in May: I won the April 300-word writing challenge on sffchronicles.com. This is really cool as there are so many talented writers on the Chrons, and competition is always fierce! The 300-word challenges are open to any speculative genre and run off a visual prompt. This time the prompt was a photo of a bird’s skeleton. Here’s my winning entry; it’s a bit dark and not very summery, but I hope you enjoy it.

  

Tiny Bones

I crouch down in the garden, poke them with a stick. Small things, wispy and fragile. “Just a bird,” they would say. “Leave it alone, Sarah. It’s just a dead bird.” 

It’s raining again. There’s been nothing but grey since the Weeping began. I haven’t seen the sun in over two years. I hate this rain, the feel and the smell of it. It trickles off the bird bones and sinks silently into the moss. 

The bones are truly minute. If I picked them up, I could cradle them in my hand.

I wanted to cradle Sam, too, but they wouldn’t let me. He was so small when he was taken. Not even a proper baby yet. He never felt any pain, they told me. But what do they know? What do they really know of tiny bones and hearts and souls? 

He was the fifth, this year alone. Since the Weeping, no child lives in this aging compound of ours. One by one, fading, failing. In this diseased world, we scream and rage, but still the silent killer strikes, deadly accurate, picking off our young ones one by one. 

We bury the bones, bury them deep in the hidden place so they can’t come back, not like Marion’s Ava who killed three people before we trapped her in blankets and ran her through the wood chipper.

Because when they come back, they’re not human. Not any more, not after the Weeping. 

But I don’t care. I want my Sam. I leave the bird’s tiny bones alone and make my way to the hidden place. I sink my fingers in the rain-damp soil. And then I begin to dig.

What’s in a Name?

“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, It isn’t just one of your holiday games.” The line is the first in the opening poem of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. It’s a line that comes to mind every time I read a thread or a post or a tweet on character naming.

Names matter, and writers are more than aware of that. Names have a power of their own. They have personality. For instance, in The Lord of the Rings we have Sam. Sam the nice guy, the reliable one. Sam the dependable. I’ve seen plenty of Sams in plenty of books and they’ve mostly been good guys. It’s a good-guy name.

Writers spend an awful lot of time naming characters. In fantasy or science fiction, it’s even more complicated. Are your characters seafaring warriors? Are they farm folk from rich vales and rolling hills? Do you have orcs, or fae, or an entire planet of purple humanoid space pirates? It all has to be taken into account. Also, now I really want to write a story about purple space pirates.

And so writers turn to baby naming apps, databases on Celtic lore, wiki lists of Egyptian gods. We attempt to make sense of our story worlds – be they the fifth planet in a galaxy far away, or real-world Los Angeles – and we try to find names that fit both the setting and the complex characters we’re designing in our heads.

Some writers use generic placehold names and substitute them later, once they have more of a feel for the story. I can’t do that. I need that perfect name to fit a budding character, and then I build the character upon the name. Name and personality, they go hand in hand.

Sometimes I need to change a name while I’m writing. Perhaps two characters look too similar on the page, and it’s getting confusing. The minute I do, though, the story shifts. Maybe only a tiny bit, but enough. A mellow character grows barbs, an edgy character softens. It’s tricky, renaming an imaginary creation.

Other times, it’s the character that changes halfway through the story. This one is more common, I admit. After all, in a first draft, I’m still getting to know my people. As I progress, they grow stronger, more sure of themselves. And, once in a while, they outgrow a name. I just spent two entire days agonizing over a necessary name change. I think I’ve found an alternative I like, but I spent so long with the other name that now I need time to roll this one across my tongue and make it truly my character’s.

I’ve always loved names, and writing gives me an outlet to play around with them. I keep notes on cool names I spot, so I can use them later on. I hoard them on my phone among the book recommendations and to-do lists. Naming characters is fun, and hard, and exciting, and a little heartbreaking at times. But it’s an essential part of the process.

We all know Shakespeare’s famous quote from Romeo and Juliet. However, when you’re writing a story, one name is definitely not as sweet as another. The right name can make a character flourish, and lead us in exactly the direction we want. The right name is just right.

And now excuse me, I’m off to figure out some names for my purple space pirates.

Publishing deal for Heart Blade

Yesterday was one big, smiley, happy day from start to end. It started out with a contract for breakfast and ended with an official press release from my publisher. My book publisher. I’m over the moon that I can finally talk about Heart Blade, the first in my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, to be published by Woodbridge Press.

I finished writing Heart Blade just over a year ago, and Nathan Hystad was one of my lovely beta readers at the time. This year he launched Woodbridge Press, which just came out with a deliciously spooky horror anthology, The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel. Woodbridge has two more anthologies planned for this year, and oh, hey, I’m in one of them (it has a fabulous line-up of authors which Nathan should be announcing soon).

When Nathan approached me and made an offer for Heart Blade, I was really excited. Yes, Woodbridge is a brand new press, but I have absolute faith in Nathan and his vision, and I’m looking forward to working with him and his team to bring the Blade Hunt world out from the dusty confines of my virtual filing cabinet and into the light of the day.

Blade Hunt is an urban fantasy series that straddles the line between YA and adult. Book 1, Heart Blade, is set right here in my home state of Connecticut, and introduces us to the Chronicles lore and some of the key players of the Court of the Covenant.

Over the next months, as all the necessary pieces of the publishing jigsaw come together – such as edits and copyedits and cover art – I’ll be sharing some of my worldbuilding extras with you all. I’ll also post fun bits and pieces over on bladehunt.tumblr.com.

But for now I’ll let my publisher do the talking.

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The (Un)Familiar

I’ve just returned from a family trip to England. We had a wonderful time, with a castle, and wizardry, and a giant Ferris wheel, and a gorgeous baby nephew. And daffodils: lots and lots of daffodils.

It was a strange voyage of discovery and rediscovery. I spent the first eight years of my life in England, and have visited countless times, but it had been almost thirteen years since my last visit. Things change, and your vision of the world changes, so things appeared at the same time familiar and unfamiliar. And my children were visiting their mother’s birth country for the first time, so I was also experiencing everything through their eyes.

And then, when we returned, there was that same feeling of known-yet-unknown that I always get when arriving after a while away. When, just for an instant, you see your home through a stranger’s eyes and marvel at how different it all looks, before the ordinary crashes down and takes over again.

But that small moment in which the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, when what should be familiar looks utterly alien for a heartbeat or two, that’s the sense of wonder that my favorite fantasy writers manage to capture. Worlds that are enticingly new, but feel oddly like home. Stories that mesmerize and draw us in, not just for their freshness, but because, deep down, they are also hauntingly mundane.

Wonder, and yet also recognition. Children’s fiction does this very well. Narnia is a new universe for a child reader, but it also reminds us enough of home that it makes sense. It has lampposts and fishing rods among the swords and talking lions. It feels real, open-the-wardrobe-and-check-for-yourself real. The Percy Jackson imaginary world of Greek demigods is laced through our modern-day life, anchoring it, making it feel possible. In Alice in Wonderland, familiar day-to-day objects like rabbits and watches and cups of tea give Lewis Carroll’s surreal tale enough normality to allow us to navigate its pages.

Adult fantasy fiction often achieves this same sense of the known-yet-unknown through more subtle ploys. Often it’s the characters themselves, with very recognizable feelings, goals, and morals, which anchor the story and give it just enough reality that we can take the leap into a new world while knowing, deep down, that we retain some level of comfort. As readers, we crave the new, but if we can’t find something to relate to, the new can quickly become overwhelmingly alien.

Next time you’re immersed in a book, take a moment to identify the strands that harness you to the tale. What makes the story appeal to you? And then sit back, close your eyes, and remember some of your favorite trips. Why was that place so special? Can you find any common threads between stories and real-life journeys?

Give it a try. Because in every unfamiliar moment, there’s a tiny drop of the familiar. And even the most brazen adventurer among us needs a thin tether to that which we already know. What’s yours?

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Mock up of Diagon Alley at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. J.K. Rowling does a beautiful job of intertwining the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Spotlight on Making Time to Write with Anne Lyle and Elspeth Cooper

When the holiday jollies are long gone and the weather is ceasing to be an excuse for binge-watching Buffy, thoughts turn to finally making good on those New Year resolutions. Perhaps this is the year you promised yourself you would write that fantasy novel that’s been simmering away in the dark corners of your brain, or dust off the old sci fi you started in college.

And then reality sets in and you hit the mother of all snags. Just when are you supposed to write this shiny beautiful thing of words and ink? You have a full time job; the kids are small and need constant attention; the chronic migraines are making your life a hell on earth; you’ve taken on way too many commitments to fit in writing time; the demands are incessant and never, ever seem to stop. The shiny beautiful thing starts to fade into the distance and lose its sparkle. “Someday”, you tell yourself. “Some other time.”

But there is no perfect golden time to write that novel. Very few authors have the luxury of endless free hours in which to write. But they carve out their moments. They find a way. I’ve invited two fantastic authors to tell us a little about juggling time and making it all fit in, somewhere, somehow.

Anne Lyle is the author of the Night’s Masque trilogy (Angry Robot), the story of swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn. The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams, and The Prince of Lies lead us in and out of the intrigues of 16th century politics and the international affairs involving the mysterious skraylings from the New World. Anne’s exciting prose is a lot of sword-swishing fun, and paints a great picture of life during the Elizabethan period.

Epic fantasy fans will find Elspeth Cooper’s The Wild Hunt quartet (Gollancz/Tor) an absolute treat. The first three novels, Songs of the Earth, Trinity Rising, and The Raven’s Shadow, tell a tale of magic woven deep into the world around us, and those caught in its song: Gair, an orphan brought up by the Church to be a Knight, and Teia, a clanswoman fighting against both her own fate and that of the entire land.

Juliana: Welcome Anne and Elspeth. Now, a lot of people never even begin writing in the first place because they think they can’t find time. Could you start by telling us about when you first began writing? What made you decide it was a good moment for it?

Elspeth: I’ve always maintained that if you really want to write, you will find the time, because you can’t not write. But that’s just the way it happened for me; others’ mileage will vary, of course.

I was still at school when I started writing stories. It began as the kind of ‘What I Did on My Holidays’ homework that ends up five or six times longer than that of the rest of the class, and is still not finished come Monday morning. By 14, I was tackling novel-length fiction, and the die was well and truly cast. Epic fantasy, here I come!

But I have to say, there was no conscious decision to start writing. As a teenager, I wasn’t anything like self-aware enough to know what I was doing. It was more a case of stories leaking out of me, and having to put them somewhere.

Anne: I started writing back in my teens, but like many people I didn’t take it all that seriously – I just had a vague dream of being published one day – and then of course career and family got in the way. In 2002 a major milestone birthday was looming and I realised I was still no further forward with my dream than I had been as a kid, and I knew I would still be in the same position a decade later if I didn’t do something about it. Right there and then I vowed I would get a novel written and published before the ten years was up. Technically I missed that deadline by two weeks, but I did have the review copies a couple of months before that, so I’m counting it as a win. 

Juliana: What are currently the biggest hurdles you face in order to write? 

Elspeth: There isn’t one big one, so much as a collection of little inconveniences that mount up and eat away at the days. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004, but it took another five years before I could give up the day job. So I should have all day to write, right? Uh, not really. A big part of this disease is fatigue, which can manifest itself as muscle weakness, cognitive issues/brain fog, and problems with balance and stamina. It’s also a fluctuating condition, so some days I can get a full five or six hours at the keyboard, and on others I’m lucky to be able to make myself a cup of tea without hurting myself. It’s frustrating!

Anne: For me, it’s my day-job. I’m a web developer on a bioinformatics resource used by scientists around the world, and whilst that’s very rewarding it also demands a lot of mental energy and concentration. It’s far too tempting to spend my spare time doing something less demanding than wrangling a 150,000-word manuscript! 

Juliana: What’s an average week like for you, as a writer? 

Anne: My week varies hugely depending on where I am in a project – I’m somewhat of a binge writer, so I’m generally more productive if I power through a draft and then take a break for a week or two to recharge my batteries. That said, mornings and weekends are my usual time for writing; I’m lucky enough to have a study of my own where I can shut myself away, and no small children demanding attention. The cats, however, are a different matter… 

Elspeth: As you can probably guess from the last answer, it tends to vary. I’m usually up at about 8am, ease myself into the day with a bit of social media, then work until my husband comes home. We have dinner and a bit of family time, then I put in another couple of hours before clocking off. If things are going really well, I might get another hour or so on the laptop in bed, whilst hubby gets his beauty sleep.

Some days can be really productive; others feel more like digging coal with a teaspoon. With MS, there’s no such thing as “working faster” or “trying harder” because it’s not laziness or distractions that I have to overcome. I simply cannot do it. Consequently, I don’t work to word-count or page-count targets, because it’s too stressful when I don’t hit them. I’ve learned to be happy with just feeling I’ve achieved something, whether that’s 50 words or five pages of editing.

Juliana: Could you share some tips with those who are struggling to fit writing time into their lives? 

Anne: Basically you just have to suck it up and do it. Chuck Palahniuk famously wrote “Fight Club” in 15-minute stints during his breaks at work. If you can’t find a few minutes here and there during the day, you need to either get up earlier or go to bed later (depending on whether you’re a lark or an owl). If you want it badly enough, you _will_ find time.

Also, don’t wait for the muse to strike. Get out your notebook or laptop or phone or whatever, and focus on getting something – anything – on the page, no matter how clunky or dull it reads; you can always polish it later, once you have the whole story worked out. The more you write, the easier it becomes to slip into the zone, and the better your writing will be. 

Elspeth: The best thing I’ve found is to carry around a notebook and pen, or even just a note-taking app on your phone, and use it to record your ideas. On the bus, in the bath, in your lunch-break at work. It mounts up. I wrote a good chunk of my first book on a Psion Series 3a organizer on the train to work (that’ll tell you how old I am!).

Another good tip is to carve out a block of time for yourself and make it absolutely sacrosanct: this is your writing time, and nothing short of the end of the world as we know it should interrupt it. Every day is best, once a week if you have to, but try to make it a routine. You will quickly find yourself looking forward to it.

And don’t forget thinking time! I find showering, washing the dishes or weeding the garden can be particularly productive. My story-brain is always processing, especially whilst my hands are busy with something boring or repetitive. 

Juliana: What’s the strangest place or oddest snatched moment you’ve used for writing? 

Elspeth: The strangest was in the ladies’ loo at my old job. No lie – that scribbled idea led to a pivotal scene in my first book! 

Anne: I’m not sure I think of anywhere as a strange place to write – I’ve become so used to always having a notebook or my phone with me, so I can jot down ideas as and when they come to me. For example I wrote the entire first draft of my first published short story on the way to work one day, using my iPhone. It was only 400-odd words, so I had to flesh it out later, but that’s usually the way I work anyway. 

Juliana: With all your dedication to carving out writing time, are there any upcoming projects you can share with us? 

Elspeth: I am hip-deep in finishing my four-book Wild Hunt series at the moment, so my future projects are no more than a twinkle in my eye. However, I have plans for a standalone novel in the Wild Hunt universe that features a down-on-his-luck gentleman assassin and a mark who’s not quite what she seems, and another, slightly more literary thing that I’m calling a ‘historical fantasy road movie’.

Anne: I’m still working on the first book of a new fantasy series, this time set in a wholly invented world, though it borrows from our history. I guess you’d call it clockpunk, since the setting is pre-industrial and somewhat 17th-18th century in flavour. It’s a bit different from my previous series in that there’s not much romance and swordplay, but there’s plenty of action and intrigue and some really cool stuff that draws on my science background but with a fantasy twist.

It takes me a long time to get into a new series, since I don’t know the characters’ motivations and personalities, so I have no clue when it will be finished (or published). Before another decade has passed, though – I think I can promise that much! 

Juliana: Besides all those stolen moments for writing, writers also need to find time to read! What’s on your current to-read pile? 

Anne: I’ve just finished “Of Noble Family” by Mary Robinette Kowal, which is an excellent conclusion to her Regency fantasy series – so gripping, in fact, I read the whole thing in a couple of days. Next up is either “Labyrinth of Flame” by Courtney Schafer or “Shards of Time” by Lynn Flewelling, depending on whether I fancy ereader or dead trees. The latter is also an end-of-series novel, and the former is the third in what I think is a trilogy, so a lot of fictional goodbyes coming up! I also need to buy a copy of “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen” by Lois McMaster Bujold, which is the latest (and possibly last) in her Vorkosigan series. 

Elspeth: I have a dreadful habit of buying books faster than I can read them, and then I can’t decide what to read next because there’s always something new. That said, I’m eagerly awaiting THE SILVER TIDE, the conclusion to Jen Williams’ Copper Cat trilogy, so that’s probably first up. After that, I think I’m going to dive into Courtney Schafer’s THE WHITEFIRE CROSSING, which has been waiting far too long. 

Juliana: A big thank you to Elspeth and Anne for sharing a little of what it takes to get those words down. So there you go, folks: always carry a notebook with you…and maybe leave one in the bathroom just in case!

Find book information, interviews, and blog posts at Elspeth Cooper’s website, www.elspethcooper.com. Elspeth tweets as @ElspethCooper and she has an author page on Facebook.

Check out Anne Lyle’s website – www.annelyle.com – for further information on her work, as well as blog posts on writing and technology. You can also find Anne on Twitter @AnneLyle.

 

 

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out January’s Spotlight on SFF Gatherings with Alex Davis, Joanne Hall, and Steven Poore. Next up in March: Spotlight on Writing Horror.