What comes to you first when working on a new story: plot or character?
I’ve had it happen both ways, but I’m definitely a character-focused writer, and I think my favorite stories have been the ones where the character came first. When you’re deciding what kind of plot would make sense for X protagonist, you really have to flesh the character out and figure out his/her pasts, hopes, dreams, quirks, etc. Sometimes when the plot comes first, you get less memorable characters, because you’re inserting them into a story rather than telling the story that could onlycome to existence because they exist. Hope that makes sense. 🙂
Tell us a little about your writing process.
I’ll come up with a new idea (or character), sketch some thoughts into my notepad app on the phone, and then usually let the idea stew in the back of my head for a while. If I forget about it, I guess I wasn’t that passionate about it. But if I keep coming back to it, then it means I need to write the book.
I used to be a pantser and wing it, but now that I do this full time and rely solely on my writing income, I treat it like a job and am pretty systematic. For a novel, I’ll write an outline of 2-3,000 words before I get started. I often deviate from it as I’m writing, but having the mile markers already set down on the side of the road helps keep me from stumbling off the path.
When I first got started, I just shot for 1,000 words a day, but I’ve gradually kicked that up over the last few years. Now, I’ll tend to write a rough draft quite quickly (I just finished an 80,000-word manuscript in 9 days). At one time, I thought anyone who wrote quickly was nuts and that their stuff probably sucked (I had to make excuses since I didn’t write that quickly, you see), but I realized that I do best when I get everything out there within 2-3 weeks. I have a horrible long-term memory, so writing quickly helps me keep everything in my mind. When it took me months to finish a novel (or years), I would always have to go back and reread things from the opening chapters because I’d forget what had happened. Or I would just repeat things and contradict myself. It’s much easier for me to stay in the flow this way.
After I finish the rough, I’ll either put it aside for a couple of weeks (if there’s another project waiting for attention), or I’ll jump in and give it an editing pass, rewriting, trimming, or adding detail as necessary. Then I’ll send the manuscript off to beta readers. They’ll generally have it for a couple of weeks, so I’ll work on something else during that time, maybe even starting a new novel. By always having something in the works, I’ve been able to publish something almost every month in the last year. This definitely helps keep the pay steady!
When the beta readers send it back, I’ll do another editing pass, and then send it off to my editor. She does copy-editing/proof-reading, and then it’s ready to go out!
What draws you to steampunk?
As I mentioned, I blame the early interest in American historical fiction (which waned after the Civil War or so) for part of it. In the beginning, I didn’t set out to write steampunk (I wasn’t aware that it was a thing back in the early 00s when I started EE1), but some of those elements do seep into my fiction. I was never that excited about Victorian Europe, so I rarely draw from that. It’s always been the technology and tools of that time period that have been the draw for me, rather than the culture. I have a coffee grinder from the 1800s, and it’s this amazing piece of artwork. And it still works! It’s so rare to find stuff of that caliber today.
Your first book was very successful. How did you feel putting it out there for the first time?
It was definitely a slow build, and it wasn’t until I had three or four books out in the Emperor’s Edge series, that they started catching on (of course, I didn’t know much about marketing early on there either). I was definitely nervous to put my first novel out there. I had sold some short stories, and I had sent the entire novel through an online writing workshop, so I’d had some early feedback that had been positive, so that helped. I knew I wasn’t writing great literature, but I felt certain that some people would connect with the humor and the characters. I was relieved that turned out to be true!
People are loving The Emperor’s Edge books, as am I. What led you to series writing? Was it your original intention?
Oh, I’ve always thought in terms of series. As a reader, that’s what I enjoy. It’s the characters that I fall in love with, and if they’re good characters, I don’t care that much what the plot is doing.
As a writer, when I spend that much time coming up with quirks, fears, foibles, etc., I hate to put aside a hero after one book. When I wrote Balanced on the Blade’s Edge, I fully intended it to be a one-off book, a bit of an experiment with a steampunk romance, but I knew as soon as I finished that I wanted to do more with the characters. Now, I’m planning the fifth book in that series.
What’s next for you?
I’m starting a new series in the Emperor’s Edge world. Some of the existing characters will have cameos (with Dak from Republic being a major player), but for the most part, we have new characters, and it’s set on a new continent. I hope EE fans will check it out! The series is Chains of Honor, and the first book, Warrior Mage, will be out soon.
I appreciate you taking time to talk to us today!
Thanks for having me!