21 April 2020

Writers #Ask, No. 1 - 15

Photo by RetroSupply on Unsplash

Today's post comes from a special Ask Game for writers on Tumblr from author R. Meisel. There are 53 questions total, so I'm breaking them up into three posts. Join me with lot to commiserate, get advice, and see some sneak peeks of my work; please stick with this project until the end! ❤️🤞


1. FAVORITE PLACE TO WRITE

Benzaiten, the goddess of all that flows. Source
My writing nook in Japan. It's basically a home writing shrine. The desk is a fantastic size, and it has this industrial, modern look to it with its white metal and light blue plate glass. My desk lamp, mouse pad, and mouse all look like they're from the future, too. Plus, Daiso is the most amazing store ever (100 yen shop!), and that's where I got the majority of my office supplies and decorative knick knacks. I also have extra-special handmade works I got through Etsy (wooden "Writer at Work" sign; paper roses made from the pages of books I love), various Writing Maps, commissioned character artwork, and photographs of some of my favorite writing buddies from graduate school. I also have little touches of Japanese culture from Shinto shrines for good luck: a giant gold daruma doll for wealth, and the boar from Sumiyoshi Shrine for good fortune. I also have Benzaiten's white snakes and a water dragon from Takachiho Shrine to summon all the inspiration and prosperity from writing I can. Let the words flow out and the money flow in, please! 

2. FAVORITE PART OF WRITING

Making characters. I mentioned in Never Have I Ever that names are some of the first things that pop in my head - story titles, character names, places - and I tend to build around that. If the name doesn't appear first, then the character will, and the name immediately afterward.  Once I get a picture of a person, then I come up with what to do with the characters, and I do this in a very weird way. I am a visual and emotional person, so those are the key aspects to how I think stuff up (and how I learn and interact with the world). When a character appears in my mind, they're already fully formed in terms of how they look and sound. I see them at different angles and I imagine them with different facial expressions (kind of like how animators make style sheets for their characters), and I can hear their individual voices clearly (but it's not like they talk to me or anything). Anyway, when I look at their faces and see the full range of emotions, I ask myself, "What happened to you to make that expression?" And that's how I come up with things to do to the characters...i.e., plot. 

3. LEAST FAVORITE PART OF WRITING

Plotting. The problem is I may have awesome characters that I love, but giving them enough to do is a huge source of hardship for me. Part of the issue is my pantser tendencies...I tend to write where the mood takes me, or go where the characters and dialogue lead me. This makes sitting down to write a thrilling surprise every time (woo!), but writing on a tight schedule, keeping to deadlines, adhering to a structure, and having a clear (if even albeit general) outline very difficult for me. When my characters are created, I may have 2-3 things that will happen to them. But how do they get there? What brings them to that point? How do you make the journey from point A to B in a way that's coherent, consistent, cohesive, and most importantly, not boring?

4. DO YOU HAVE WRITING HABITS OR RITUALS?


From the Met's Costume Institute.
18th century tricorne, CC
Hair or Hat! Apparently I have a subtle ritual where if I'm going to write, I've got to put on some kind of hat, or I have to put my hair back in a bun on my head. I don't know if I have literally trained myself to "put on a thinking cap" or what, but I've done it for years. Back in America, I had plenty of hats, so this was really easy for me to do. But in Japan, I only have one hat, and it's a tricorne from my Jack Sparrow costume that makes my head really hot and uncomfortable...so putting my hair back is the next best thing. 

5. BOOKS OR AUTHORS THAT INFLUENCE YOUR STYLE 

Here's the thing... If "style" here is being interpreted as "voice," I don't want any author influencing me. My voice is my own. The words I choose, the punctuation I choose, how I arrange sentences and paragraphs, how I build a text...this is all a part of my voice. But, if "style" means something a bit more here (like types, trends, tropes, or tastes), then I can say that Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest, N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Patricia McKillip's The Riddlemaster of Hed, Ursula Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea, and Cecilia Dart-Thornton's Ill-Made Mute are all novels that have had a huge impact on me in terms of what I want to do and be as an author. Manga, manwha, manhua, and comics influence me, too - particularly the works of Sui Ishida, Junji Ito, Jun Mochizuki, Mingwa, EZ, GyaGa, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Harada, Byeonduck, and many, many more.

6. FAVORITE CHARACTER YOU'VE EVER CREATED

Andresh and the Guardian © Dawn Shue
Andresh. He was originally supposed to be a bit character in The Name and the Key, being a friend to Lily and then marrying her sister Lainey, but then he was just too fucking cool to be relegated to the sidelines. He was a fully formed visual and voice in my head, but his purpose was a gelatinous idea - he was a side character to give another side character something to do - but then when I actually started putting him on paper, and his dialogue just started writing itself, he essentially staged some sort of revolution in my heart and I made him the male lead. He is also the first character I ever wrote that people genuinely (and universally) seemed to love. Because of Andresh I decided to make The Name and the Key into a trilogy (and I am mostly anti-series as a writer); and it's because of Andresh that I won't shelve The Name and the Key despite it needing a massive rewrite. I miss working with Andresh, and once I've got Son of the Siren completed I will jump back into Andresh's arms wholeheartedly and give him all my time.

7. FAVORITE AUTHOR

Ursula Le Guin. Back in 2004 I was going to university at Trinity St. David (then Trinity College) in Carmarthen and enrolled in a Science Fictions class, and we were assigned to read The Dispossessed. That was my first encounter with Le Guin. I like sci fi, but it's not really my jam, so when my professor said she also writes fantasy, I went to the library and found The Earthsea Quartet. It wasn't so much the stories by themselves, but all of the big ideas and philosophies humming like an electric current beneath the words that made me fall in love.

8. FAVORITE TROPES TO WRITE

Friends-Turned-Lovers, The Mark of Destiny, and The Quest. In terms of my fiction writing, these seem to be my top three.

I cannot write a single story without some element of love in it - it's just not possible for me. It doesn't have to be romantic or erotic, but the presence of love (finding it, keeping it, growing it, returning it) is always a major component in my work. If we are going the romantic route, then I am a sucker for love blooming naturally out of a friendship. This is not the same as unrequited love in a friendship, where one friend pines for the other and it goes unreturned until there is a Big Realization of some kind that unite the two - I actually hate that trope (see #9). I think friendship is already a type of love that people experience...so with this trope, my two characters are already committed, but want to give more of themselves to each other, and naturally (and mutually!) their friendship blooms into something greater and more passionate. I enjoy this trope so much because it feels safe and comfortable to me - it is a relationship between people who are already devoted to each other, just leveled up. 

Lily's scar, from the sketch
of  Butterfly Touch © Dawn Shue
I've written about the Mark of Destiny before, and usually it's something visual and therefore glaringly obvious to indicate that the person who bears the mark is Special and Important.™ I'm not so much a fan of the "destiny" part of it - I like to think we all have hands in making our destinies - but on the most base level, scars, marks, moles, freckles, and tattoos just look COOL. Lily from The Name and the Key has a spider-web type scar on her forehead; Andresh has one on his lip from biting it during an accident; and in my current WIP, Son of the Siren, Lirien has a teardrop mole close to his right eye that's actually a pale, shimmery fish scale. There are no prophecies or predetermined fates for any of these characters - their destinies are apparently to be the leads in my books.

The Quest is the oldest trope in fantasy, and honestly, this has trickled into my real life. The home world is safe and comfortable. To grow, you have to leave it. You have to set out on your own, cast your net wide, learn from the new people around you, and come back - if you come back at all - stronger, fuller, smarter, and more compassionate. The Quest figures in heavily in The Name and the Key and The Step and the Walk. It makes up the middle of Son of the Siren. And when I've gotten stir crazy and felt too safe or stunted, I've left the home nest, too, in whatever capacity I could. Sometimes you have to get out to find yourself.

9. LEAST FAVORITE TROPES TO WRITE

If I don't like a trope, I try not to write it unless I plan on subverting it or spoofing it in some way. I'll go ahead and use this section to complain about I Love My Friend Who Doesn't Love Me. 

You already know that I like the Friends-Turned-Lovers trope, but the Unrequited Love version of that gets a "nope" from me, because too often I've seen it go from "I know we're friends but I've always loved you" to "YOU OWE ME." I've seen it in the form of Nice Guys complaining about being stuck in the friend zone (also referred to as the "Entitled to Have You" trope). 

If I consider my definition of friendship as a type of love, then it must also be considered that as soon as conquest, ulterior motives, possessiveness, or any sort of manipulation or power imbalance figures into that relationship due to unrequited feelings, it's not a friendship anymore. Or maybe (gasp) it was never one in the first place. 

In a similar vein, I hate that men and women can't be friends with each other because apparently one of them must want to fuck the other (and of course it's got to be one-sided). This is perpetuated through fiction so often that people in real life are suspicious of these friendships and often seek ulterior motives in an opposite-gender friendship pairing.

I also hate the other bad behaviors that come out of this trope. I hate it when the heroine's best guy friend pouts and tries to sabotage the heroine's chances with anyone who isn't him. I hate when the object of affection "must be stupid" for not seeing he's the best guy there. If I flip genders, it's basically the main conceit of a Taylor Swift song.

I could ramble on forever about this trope, but I'll just say this: ENTITLEMENT IS NOT SEXY.

10. PICK A FAMOUS CO-AUTHOR. WHAT WOULD YOU WRITE?

I'm going to reveal something awful about myself: I'm a control freak, and because of this, I don't know if I could ever co-write a book, and I would be terrified of a lack of unity of voice in a work. But if I eventually work through that hang-up and improve myself, I would be curious to pump out something with Neil Gaiman or Tade Thompson. With Gaiman it would be something related to fairy tales, and Thompson, something akin to what he does with his Molly Southborne books, which are cool as all get out. I also wouldn't mind doing something with Ellen Datlow, also relating to fairy tales somehow.

11. Describe your writing process from start to finish.

  • Generating ideas. This is where I do my thing of thinking about cool names, visualizing  characters, and (as a new tidbit for you) picking time periods and settings based on fashion. When it came to playwriting, I literally based shows around the costumes I liked and imagined people wearing. That has carried over to a certain degree in my fiction. If you haven't figured it out yet, I love costuming, and I'm a fervent believer in "clothes make the man."

    Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash.
  • Character creation. I come up with a basic character template, sometimes filling out character interview worksheets just because those are fun; I do the thing where I picture emotions on the characters' faces and try to come up with reasons for them to feel the way they do, and that informs the plot.
  • Come up with a couple major plot points. I suck at this. Maybe I come up with a total of three vague points as a general checklist of things to hit, with zero promise that I'll actually hit it.
  • Pants the manuscript and simultaneously do research to make sure the ideas are plausible and sensible.  I'm not exaggerating when I say I do lots of things as I go and on impulse. And sometimes you can get great ideas for your story when you go down the research rabbit hole!
  • Have an existential crisis or block during drafting. Yup. The crisis point comes from me not knowing what my characters should do, or from some sort of dilemma that I can't work my way out of while writing.
  • Show people the beginning to make sure I'm on the right track. I don't like to go too far off in manuscript land, so when I'm stuck, I check the groundwork laid in the first chapter or two with someone else, and if I get positive feedback, I try to build the rest of the plot from that. Plus, validation can fuel me for months!
  • Have a couple anxiety attacks or sleep disruptions. This has always been par for the course, unfortunately.
  • Character dialogue or a sudden slide into a different situation derails original plans and something new and better comes along. This is one of the joys of pantsing a novel, but the downside is it makes deadlines, or time management, all the more difficult.
  • Finish the rough draft and cry from relief.  This has only happened to me once, as I've only finished a book once. I'll get another one done at some point - my WIP is looking pretty good, and I'm actually taking time to plot it out to see if that helps me finish a work at a reasonable time despite being a slow writer.
  • Get more feedback, especially on scenes that gave me trouble during drafting, and revise several times. Multiple drafts are definitely a thing, and I always save multiple files of the same work in case I want to go back and splice an old draft with a new one.
  • I did not do this with my first book and I should've, but I'd like to run passes through sensitivity readers going forward. This is to make sure I'm respectful and not culturally appropriative or problematic when I "write the other." I'm also veering into some dark topics with my WIP so I want to make sure what I write is not overly triggering for readers. My work in the past (playwriting) unfortunately was, and I am still embarrassed about that to this day.
  • Once I clear all those passes, I move onto the proofreading stage. To help with proofreading (beyond simple line edits), I have recently started feeding my writing into a text reader to hear it out loud. I use one in Word, an American male voice, and then TTS Reader online to hear it in an English female voice. It's nice to check the cadence of words and sentences, but it also helps you catch mistakes like duplicate words, or where you've left out a word. As a fun tidbit, I notice that the American voice in Word mispronounces my character and setting names all the time, but the British voice does not!
  • After proofreading is cleared, I prepare for submission to agents. This means preparing writing synopses, log lines, back cover copy, and the query letter. I hate all of that, but if I want representation, it's a necessary step. 

Photo by niklas_hamann on Unsplash
12. how do you deal with self-doubt?


Get feedback. I seek out fellow authors, family, or friends to get a boost of energy from their words, and a sense of validation that I know what I'm doing. I also try to look back at everything I've accomplished in my life, and that helps me calm down. Usually self-doubt comes from not being published yet - along the lines of "I''m getting older. I'm approaching my 40s. Who knows how much time left I have to make it? When will I have my books out?" I could self-publish, of course, and that is very appealing to me, but I'd like to go traditional first. Plus, I cannot afford to self-publish to my high standards, so I'd rather not have a work out at all if it's not good enough.

13. How do you deal with writer's block?

Get artistic. I like to make things that inspire my WIP. I will make playlists of soundtracks that seem appropriate to my current writing. I will watch movies with awesome costumes or settings to get charged up. I will make Pinterest boards and go crazy. I will commission artwork of the characters to put me in the mood to write. 

14. what's the most research you've ever put into a book?

Three years of research for The Name and the Key. Since this was my graduate thesis, and I like to research to brainstorm and while the manuscript is being written, this is the duration of how long I was in graduate school. I started writing The Name and the Key in 2010 and finished in 2013.

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust
on 
Unsplash
15. what inspires you?

Fairy tales.  There are tons of things that inspire me (you can read about it in My Favorite Things), but fairy tales have always been the love of my life when it comes to stories. They were my first introduction to fantasy. I love the symbolism and how fairy tales play with archetypes. I love that they are a global phenomenon and a part of the collective unconscious. I love that images recur throughout every country and culture, even if the story itself is different.  I love the enduring legacy of fairy tales and how they continue to appeal to the masses after so many centuries. Thus, most of my writing is in one way or another inspired by (or a love letter) to fairy tales. 

~*~

Thanks for reading all the way through! There are tons of more questions coming up, so stay tuned for part two of Writers #Ask! 

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