Writer’s Blog Tour In Four Questions

I was tagged by the smart, talented, and generous writer Janice Smith to answer questions about my projects and process. If you haven’t already, go read her answers first!

What am I working on?
Right this moment, I’m finishing revisions for Sand of Bone. It’s the first in a desert fantasy series centered around a woman seeking to escape her wasteland prison, destroy her brother’s conspiracies, and reclaim the elemental mastery the gods took from her bloodkin three generations ago. It’s also about civil unrest, savage rivalries, and a dynasty clutching after the power of their ancestors. Some characters fight because honor won’t permit them to ignore wrongdoing; others pitch in because they’re bored with everything else. And there are caverns with lava tubes, people with eyes that glow and shimmer in the dark, and souls wandering the sands in search of redemption.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Umm… Actually, I think the search for novelty within the genre is highly overrated. I’ve never put down a book I loved reading with the thought of finding something completely different. I’ve never loved a story because of its niftiness alone. Novelty of technique or topic is a one-off, and the genre now too wide and deep for anyone to even know if what they’re doing is totally unique. So rather than seek ways to be different for the sake of being different, I’d rather develop skills that – when used over and over again – make readers want more of what I do.

(Consistency is all I ask. Immortality is all I seek.)

So what do I strive to do well? Characters – strong, weak, whatever – who have presence on the page regardless of the size of their part or their role in the story. Dialog readers can hear as they read. Pacing that moves rather than dallies, that holds tension behind even the quietest of moments, punctuated with a touch of humor. Prose that flows rather than clunks. Fight scenes compelling enough I can include the details I want. Worlds in which a person’s competence and integrity – not gender – determine how the person is viewed.

Why do I write what I do?
I write the stories I’d like read.
I write to explore ideas that trouble me. My stories are, in a way, conversations with my own conflicting views.
I write to entertain myself, and love it when I’m also able to entertain others.

How does my writing process work?
Every project is different, but most incorporate plotting and pantsing. A huge amount of writing takes place in my imagination long before words arrive on the page, and I tend to envision them as if I’m a director rather than a writer. I’ll run key scenes through my mind – adjusting dialog and tone, blocking, backdrops, and so forth – then remember I need to remove some of those details when committing the scene to paper.

Most of my process has evolved to include Magic Index Cards. I make one card for each scene (NOT chapter). Each card includes the following: POV character, setting, date scene occurs, the number of days since the story started*, primary events, primary character interactions, dialog, realizations or discoveries (if any), key symbolism and/or foreshadowing, and anything else I want to make sure appears in that chapter. Eventually I’ll set all the cards in their proper order and number them. When it’s revision time, I use the backs of the cards for notes. Yes, it’s messy and manual, and I’m sure folks do indeed find the Scrivener option to be awesome, but I get something intangible out of the kinetic process so I’ll stick with it.

I rarely go back to revise before finishing a project, though I will toss notes onto the index cards at any time. I’d rather remodel a finished project than rebuild. It’s a preference requires me to really think through my choices before putting them down. (That, and the fact I once killed off a character early in a story that could have really used him later on.)

When I’m pretty happy with the novel, I’ll send it off to beta readers. I have the most awesome of beta readers, truly. They’re smart, talented, creative, open to possibilities, and damn fine writers. And I never forget how lucky I am that they share those things with me. That’s not to say I use every piece of their feedback (for one thing, they rarely agree on everything!). But they always give me things to think about and consider. It makes for a novel written with awareness of choices rather than plain “instinct” or whatever.

Once revisions are done, off it goes to a copyeditor. I strive to submit as clean a copy as possible to my editor who is, for the duration of the project, my contract employee. And making life easier for my employees is, in my opinion, a matter of good ethics. (Now that I think about it, I’d likely put greater effort into keeping my house tidy all the time if I’d hire a housekeeper. Hmm.) Besides, producing a clean manuscript is just as much a skill as storytelling. It’s worth doing well.

And there you have it – my answers to the questions.

I’ve tagged three marvelous women to pick it up from here: Casey Blair, Tam MacNeil, and Alena McNamara.

*Remember when I mentioned wanting to do pacing well? Tracking the number of story-days is critical to my ability to do that as I tend to write multiple viewpoint, multiple location, multiple storyline novels, and I tend to cram a great deal into a small amount of time. Sand of Bone covers a long time, by my usual habits (four entire months!). Sword and Chant, on the other hand, all took place in less than a single month’s time.

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