Blog Tour – My Writing Process: Damn you, Neil Gaiman!

The My Writing Process Blog Tour is an epic chain of posts from writers of all genres, examining how and why they write what they do. I was invited to take part by saucy scribbler and fellow Etherite, the enigmatic and possibly NSFW Laertes. So buckle up, buttercups! Here we go…

Lightning_Storm_Over_Fort_Collins_Colorado

What am I working on?

I’m currently editing my first novel, The Other Lamb, a dark fantasy story based on the tale of the fallen angel ‘Watchers’ in The Book of Enoch, which will be released later this year by Curiosity Quills Press. I am so excited to see the cover art and get my hands on a copy. I cannot even tell you.

I’m writing the first draft of a new novel about a pair of unusual twins which is part fairy tale, part mystery and has the working title, The Lightning Flowers. That’s taking up most of my head-space right now. It’s quite…ambitious, and slightly daunting. I also have a few shorter pieces on the go. I occasionally write for a London story-telling event called Are You Sitting Comfortably? and there’s a deadline coming up for that this week. I also write shorts for themed anthologies which catch my eye, and there’s one I’m dying to write for, but I’m trying to focus on The Lightning Flowers for the time being.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I guess the difference is I don’t try to write within the conventions of any one genre, which I am assured by people who know about these things is a recipe for obscurity! I am naturally drawn to the darker side of life which lends itself to horror and dark fantasy, but I tend to get an idea and then write it in the best way I can. Often, I take a few seemingly unrelated nuggets and mash them together to create something a bit different. I like to smudge the lines a little bit and weave a thread of ambiguity through each tale. I guess The Lightning Flowers could broadly be called ‘magic realism’ (whatever that means) but I try not to let genre rules prescribe the story too rigidly. I just want to write a beautiful fever dream of a book. Actually, I’m already imagining the headaches I’m setting myself up for trying to sell this one 😉

Why do I write what I do?

I have always been drawn to mythology, creation stories and legends. I am fascinated by how echoes of those stories which speak to the most primal parts of us can be heard throughout pretty much every culture in every corner of the world, and how humans have always tried to make sense of their existence.

I take a lot of inspiration from real events, because often they make the strangest tales of all. In everyday, waking life I am a sceptic and a realist. I am happy and (hopefully) pretty well adjusted, so I suppose I like to explore the more irrational, uncanny facets of myself and people in general on the page. I am extremely blessed, but also hyper-aware that happiness can be snatched from anyone in a heartbeat. It’s weirdly comforting and cathartic to explore a worst case scenario and have that control over the outcome.

I always try to find the beauty in horror and the darkness in beauty. Duality is a prevalent theme for me. Most of my stories are about love when you get right down to it. Usually warped, deviant love, but love nonetheless! More than anything, I just like to make the reader feel something.

 How does your writing process work?

I have a pretty full-on day job, so I write in my free evenings and at weekends on my trusty laptop, on my sofa. I sit next to a bookshelf so there is always reference material and inspiration to hand. I listen to music on headphones to drown out the sounds of my partner’s video games and have to stop frequently to remove the cat from my keyboard. I like to make playlists for a book which grow as the novel does. I tend to have lots of tea or red wine on stand-by.

I must just add that I am a terrible procrastinator. Like, the worst. There is so much good TV to watch and so many great books and films out there. There are plays and bands and restaurants and places of outstanding natural beauty and all the wonders of the internet. I am a fan first and foremost. I get sucked into worshipping stuff other people have created which is simultaneously inspiring and soul-destroying because it just reiterates how much work I have left to do. So I don’t spend nearly enough time writing because LIFE.

See? Procrastination. It’s a problem.

I’ll get the seed of an idea, usually from reading a news story or listening to a song or pondering a set theme for an anthology. Then I think about it. And think about it. And think about it. For ages. I’m the slowest writer in the universe. I’ll do some cursory research to pull out key themes and get a better understanding of what I want to focus on, and also to make sure there isn’t already a wealth of other stuff out there on my chosen subject matter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with a brilliant idea only to remember that it’s actually the plot of a Neil Gaiman book! DAMN YOU, GAIMAN! Leave some ideas for the rest of us. Jesus. Just the other day, I stumbled upon an article by chance which informed me a plot point in my WIP had been done on an episode of Law and Order, a show I’ve never even seen! *shakes fist*

Quite often I’ll have an ending in mind, and I need to work backwards to map out how we get there, which is a bit like a crime scene investigation. I carry a notebook at all times to jot down any thoughts which strike me while I’m on the tube or the bus, and keep one by the bed in case I dream about something useful! Then I’ll start writing. As much as I would love to be one of those writers who plans meticulously, I just don’t have it in me. I tend to write a bit then stop and assess. I give myself more time to ruminate and make the odd little connections between seemingly unrelated things. I always roll my eyes when writers say things like ‘the characters told me their story – I am just a conduit’ because frankly, if that’s happening, if you’re actually hearing little voices from imaginary people, probably get thee to a doctor, stat. Seriously. Run, don’t walk. But I do believe your subconscious is usually waaaaay ahead of you, and you need to take the time and space to let the topsoil of everyday crap erode so that the brilliant bright story-bones can surface. Let the skeleton emerge, then put the meat on it.

I have to exert a lot of willpower to keep from editing the first draft as I go along. I try to write, even when I don’t know where I’m going. Sometimes I surprise myself. Other times it’s like pulling teeth and I find myself at a dead end. I often get caught up in research which is one of my favourite parts of writing. That can be tricky because it just gives me more inspiration for entirely new stories and can distract me from the task at hand.

Once the first draft is done – and it will be an absolute mess – I look through and try to clean up any glaring problems with plot, characterisation, continuity and rework the worst of the truly horrible writing. Then I’ll show it to a couple of my closest friends who don’t pull punches. We’ll talk about it over e-mail or dinner and a bottle or two of wine until I see the will to live fading from their eyes. Then I make fixes based on their feedback. Once it’s in a state which I feel fairly comfortable with, I’ll poll more beta readers or seek a professional critique. I know pretty instantly if I’m happy with a short story. Novels are a completely different animal. Getting a book to a publishable standard is about collaboration. Even indie authors can’t and shouldn’t work completely alone.

My first effort started life as a short story which I wrote at university over a decade ago. I started writing it in earnest in 2009, and it’s finally coming out this year with the second publisher to sign it. It’s been a long and steep learning curve. Writing a first draft is just the beginning.

I hope to become more efficient and prolific as I get more books under my belt though, as a fledgling author, it still seems like an insurmountable task some days. But, in the immortal words of tongue-flashing chanteuse, Miley Cyrus, it ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the cliiiiiiimb!

You can track this blog tour using the #mywritingprocess hashtag on Twitter. Coming up next week, we have two wonderful, kick-ass authors whom I am proud to present:

Elinor Gray is a gay romance author and queer pastiche writer from Baltimore, MD. She has several cats to keep her company, as well as a yarn stash that is quickly getting out of control. When not occupied with making things up, Elinor moonlights as a professional knitter and office manager.

Cee Martinez is a cat lady without a cat and she passes her time writing fictions and fancies whilst stuck in a china cabinet in Colorado. Over 30 of her stories and poems have been published in various anthologies and magazines both print and electronic and her first novel, Antipathia, is onsale now via Amazon.

quill

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