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  • Writer's pictureKristina Elyse Butke

A Writer's #Ask Game

A plugged in question mark light - a writer's #ask game
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Today's post comes courtesy of Canadian author Amanda Witow from her tumblr. Of course, I'm ignoring the whole game aspect of it and taking the time to answer each of the questions in case you've ever been curious about my process or my writing. Things always change over time, so if you've read my other asks, things might be different this time around!

✧・゚: *✧・゚:*✧・゚: *✧・゚:*

The Basics

1. Do you listen to music when you write?

Sometimes. I tend to listen to anime or video game or film soundtracks when I write. I didn't do that with Son of the Siren because I wrote a lot of original songs for that book, and I didn't want to accidentally be influenced by other people's music, so I didn't. But other books, I have, though sparingly. Sometimes the music can be a distraction!

2. Are you a pantser or plotter?

Pantser. I keep trying to get into plotting beforehand but it's very difficult for me to plan ahead. Sometimes the writing just does its own thing and I let it.

3. Computer or pen and paper?

I do plotting (aka bullet points) and book journaling in a notebook with pencil, and then do the actual drafting on the computer.

4. Have you ever been published, or do you want to be published?

I've had poetry published but I really want my books to be published. I thought about publishing my plays, too, but the script to In the Hands of Mr. Hyde (2007) was lost and the music to Melancholia (2006) needs properly arranged before publishing. So they're not on my priority list at the moment.

5. How much writing do you get done on an average day?

Ha. Ha. HA. I don't write every day, and when I do, it varies from 300 to 5,000 words. I'm all over the place.

6. Single or multiple POV?

I respect writers who can do multiple POV (like Brigid Kemmerer and Susan Kay). I am not one of them. Single POV for me all the way!

7. Standalone or series?

I prefer standalones just because you can get a complete story and don't have to worry about the publishing business rearing its head (for example, when a first book underperforms so they decide not to publish the second book). But I do have a soft spot in my heart for trilogies--I'm writing one now!

8. Oldest WIP

Technically I finished The Name and the Key in 2013. It was a completed book. But I'm rewriting it from scratch so I guess that makes it my oldest WIP at 12 years old (I started writing it in 2010). *dies*

9. Current WIP

The Name and the Key was my graduate thesis and I'm redoing it completely. I'm over 11,000 words into it as I write this. I keep taking little breaks on it, but I shouldn't! Waah!

10. Do you set yourself deadlines?

Sort of. I set a deadline for May 1, 2023 to finish The Name and the Key...but every time I set a deadline, I tend to blow through it. The only time I met deadlines regularly (some exceptions) was when I worked for Speculative Chic. And once I have an agent and editor, I'm going to have to batten down the hatches and meet deadlines with them, too. I guess if I set them for myself I don't follow them, but if other people rely on them, I meet them.

The Specifics

11. Books and/or authors who influenced you the most

Juliet Marillier is the big one that stood out to me. Her novel Daughter of the Forest affected me so much that I knew I wanted to switch from playwriting to writing novels, and I knew I wanted to try my hand at rewriting a fairy tale. A newer author I admire is Margaret Rogerson. She's so cool. I've loved everything she's written and I hope I can count her as an influence, although I haven't figured out how she'd do that, yet. I guess after reading Sorcery of Thorns I wanted to write about demons, and demons are working their way into The Name and the Key and The Step and the Walk.

12. Describe your perfect writing space

If my desk wasn't so short on my legs, I'd say my desk area in Japan was pretty magnificent. It had bookshelves where not only could I put my Japanese knick knacks, but I could also shelve writing books and my favorite manga, Tokyo Ghoul. I also had great writing artwork and motivational phrases hanging above it, too.

13. Describe your writing process from idea to polished

Usually the first idea that pops up in my head are characters, like the way they look. They don't really pop into my head as real people, but more like drawings or artwork of people. I think of character design sheets that show the person at three different angles, then a sampling of their facial expressions. I often imagine faces with extreme emotion, like despair or excitement, then I wonder what happened to the character to make them feel such things, and a story grows from there.

In rarer occasions, the story idea (for example, a fairy tale retelling) pops up first, and then I imagine the characters (in that same artistic way with emotions as before). For example, Son of the Siren started out as a concept--what kind of story could I make if I combined different fairy tales?--and went from there.

After the idea and character stage, I draft. If there are plot points in my head, I write them down in a notebook with bullet points, and try to somehow pants my way to those points. If I run into snags along the way, I do a little bit of journaling, asking myself questions and doing "what if" scenarios. I do this simultaneously while drafting on the computer.

There are usually lots of starts and stops. A lot of it is based on my mood (I have a mood disorder) and sometimes if I'm writing difficult scenes, I have to pause and deal with my trauma or memories that got triggered while writing (this happened a lot while drafting Son of the Siren). Other times I'm just too exhausted from work to write, so I only manage on weekends.

There's also a lot of fear and self-doubt while writing, and this has increased the older I've gotten and the more I've done this. I didn't feel it when I was in my 20s when I was quite sick, but for some reason after I stabilized, this lack of confidence and fear grew within me, and it gets worse every year, I think. I'm not sure why. So...writing is not as pleasurable as it used to be, but I still love it, and I still feel the need to do it.

I never did this before, but with Son of the Siren I went right from draft to developmental editor, and after that, I did beta reading for that draft, got mixed feedback, rewrote the book, did beta reading again, got mixed feedback again, rewrote the book, then said, "Forget this, I'm not going to please everyone!" and submitted it to agents when I read the draft and was happy with it.

Next, the agent may or may not request edits before pitching it to editors at publishing houses...but once an editor bites, there's likely another round of edits, then final proofreading, and then it goes into the hands of the people making the book.

That's the plan, anyway.

14. How do you deal with self-doubts?

I do terribly dealing with them! I tend to just stop writing if it gets really bad, but if I have some big goal in mind, like publishing, I eventually just plow right through it to finish...but I have to admit, I haven't had the self-doubt ever really go away, and I wonder if it's going to stick around even if I get a publishing deal.

15. How do you deal with writer’s block?

I try to immerse myself in media that reminds me of things in my book. For example, Son of the Siren is modeled after the Tudor period (I love the costumes from back then) so I did a marathon of Showtime's The Tudors to get me in the mood with the visuals (definitely not the story though!). I also listened to a lot of Erutan to get the vibe of the book in my mind. I also commissioned artwork of my lead Lirien, which proved to be quite inspirational in getting his story down on the page.

16. How many drafts do you need until you’re satisfied with a project?

Well...Son of the Siren has had multiple drafts (I lost count...maybe like six?) and depending on whether or not an agent or editor wants to tweak it, there could be more. But after doing several drafts of Son of the Siren, I read the latest one and thought, "this is good enough for me."

17. What writing habits or rituals do you have?

I used to wear a hat whenever I wrote...not a baseball cap, but an old sea captain's hat. Since moving to Japan and coming back home, I have no idea where that ended up.

A new writing habit I'd like to have is writing with fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm while writing! I get cold in my room pretty easily!

18. If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be, and what would you write about?

I wouldn't mind writing about the fae with Margaret Rogerson, but she already did that, so she might be done with it. I wouldn't mind doing that with Holly Black, either, but she might be done with fae, too.

19. How do you keep yourself motivated?

Goals really help. So does daydreaming about the future.

20. How many WIPs and story ideas do you have?

I have three WIP/story ideas right now, and that's my trilogy starting with The Name and the Key. There were five, but one of them was a Hades/Persephone retelling from 2010 that I never finished, and Hades/Persephone stories have totally dominated the market lately, so I think it's approaching oversaturation. The other story was about demons and grimoires, but I'm combining that with The Name and the Key and The Step and the Walk, so there goes that! I wouldn't mind doing a Nutcracker adaptation or continuing my story idea The Clockwork Prince.

The Favorites

21. Who is/are your favorite character(s) to write?

I enjoy writing Andresh very, very much. He's just so fun, and people really seem to love him.

22. Who is/are your favorite pairing(s) to write?

I had a lot of fun with Lirien and Kitra, but I think there's a special place in my heart for Lily and Andresh.

23. Favorite author

I have several but I think right now I'd say Margaret Rogerson.

24. Favorite genre to write and read

Fantasy! I'm partial to YA, though I read adult fantasy, too.

25. Favorite part of writing

Creating characters!

26. Favorite writing program

Microsoft Word. I know, I know, but I can't help it! Runners up would be Novel Factory and Notebook.Ai.

27. Favorite line/scene

I love the scenes whenever Andresh is showing or teaching Lily magic in The Name and the Key, and I love all the scenes where Lirien is in Elythia in Son of the Siren. I also like the scenes where singing or riddles happen in that book.

28. Favorite side character

In Son of the Siren, I enjoyed writing the character Brandegil. He's a tough seventeen-year-old boy who struggles with showing fondness and emotion, but it's there! In The Name and the Key, I liked writing Lainey. She's just a really fun little sister.

29. Favorite villain

The Green Man in Son of the Siren was a blast to write! I always thought he was kind of scary in a way, especially in the artworks of the Green Man over the years (like the ones that show thorns and leaves coming out of the Green Man's eyes and mouth--called the Bloodsucker Head.). I play with this quite literally in the book.

30. Favorite idea you haven’t started on yet

I have a bare bones sentence for the third book in my trilogy (called The Eye and the Storm--this one might have to be renamed) where it's basically, "Lily hunts demons in the Underworld." I need to flesh out a plot for that.

The Dark

31. Least favorite part of writing

I cannot figure out plots in detail for the life of me. I'm like..."things just happen." D'oh.

32. Most difficult character to write

Queen Aurinda in Son of the Siren was a nightmare of a character to figure out. At first I made her morally ambiguous, then I made her evil, which worked for nobody, and then I went back to making her a bit ambiguous again but not as awful as in previous iterations of the book (and closer to the original fairy tale material). I'm still not confident in how I've written her. She's supposed to be someone who does terrible things, but is also a victim of unfortunate circumstances. My goal was for readers to dislike her for the things she has done, but still feel a shade of sympathy for her. I don't know if I accomplished that. So far everyone's hated her and previous beta readers wanted her to die at the end of the book.

33. Have you ever killed a main character?


34. What was the hardest scene you ever had to write?

Any scene in Son of the Siren where the Queen preys on Lirien.

35. What scene/story are you least looking forward to writing?

As much as I'm anticipating writing The Eye and the Storm, I'm also terrified to write it because I have absolutely no plan with it. Usually I have at least a couple ideas/plot points in there, but with this book, it's crickets.

The Fun

36. Last sentence you wrote

"I tried my best to come across as normal and unchanged by Mother’s death, but my insistence on avoiding mirrors and obsessively cleaning my hands did not go unnoticed."

37. First sentence of your current WIP

"My mother sat in front of her vanity, combing her lustrous, cornsilk hair that cascaded down her back in waves."

38. Weirdest story idea you’ve ever had

I had an idea for a Southern gothic musical about corpse balls and a man who kidnapped corpses and dressed them up like dolls and fell in love with them. I had character names like "Doc Carrion" and "Marie Tourniquet" but no plot and no score.

39. Weirdest character concept you’ve ever had

I wouldn't call this weird, but in one of the old grimoires (I think "The Lesser Key of Solomon") one of the demons in the book is named Pruflas. I was going to include him in my demon book and give him the name "Lucien Pruflas" and make him all seductive in his human form. Of course, "Lucien" is way too close to the name "Lirien" from Son of the Siren, and the demon stuff is showing up in my trilogy instead, so...there went that! Plus, I'm giving the demons in my trilogy completely original names and backstories instead of using demons from the Lesser Key like I originally planned to.

40. Share some backstory for one of your characters

I'll talk about one of my side characters in Son of the Siren, Bella Morgana. She is a giantess who is a talented seamstress and makes all of the clothes for the most noble fae in all of Elythia--predominantly the Lord and Lady of Autumn Wood. She makes fabrics out of firefly light, the powder from a moth's wings, from bark and berries, and all sorts of things. She has a magical spinning wheel and a special needle that allows her to make strange materials and sew anything. She lives on the borders of Autumn and Spring Wood in an old castle keep.

The Rest of It

41. Any advice for new/beginning/young writers?

Don't worry about following people's arbitrary "rules" about writing. Make your own rules. Do whatever works for you. Do whatever lets you keep writing.

42. How do you feel about love triangles?

I'm not a fan (and they tend not to be true triangles, anyway) but I sort of have one in The Name and the Key--sisters Lily and Lainey have a crush on Andresh.

43. What do you do if/when characters don’t follow the outline?

I let them roam where they want to and hope they get to the end destination I planned for them, unless it leads to something better.

44. How much research do you do?

I always do a lot. I research the time periods, clothing, food, and customs on which I base my books. I researched the Tudor period for Son of the Siren and the Regency era for The Name and the Key.

45. How much world building do you do?

I can tell you that I did far more worldbuilding for Son of the Siren than The Name and the Key. Son of the Siren is really fantastical and based on a lot of fairy tales, so I tried to imbue my setting and world with the wonder of those types of stories. The Name and the Key is more like a world similar to our own that happens to have magic.

46. Do you reread your own stories?

Yes. I'm looking for (and continue to catch) errors all the time when I reread. Although sometimes I reread my stuff for fun...but only after I've stopped looking at the writing for a long time.

47. Best way to procrastinate

I procrastinate by streaming movies, anime, and TV, or blogging on this website!

48. What’s the most self-insert character/scene you’ve ever written?

I have a self-insert character in Son of the Siren but it's really personal and I don't think I should explain who it is or why. Sorry!

49. Which character would you most want to be friends with, if they were real?

Andresh! Come and be my friend!

50. [Other question—ask me anything]

If you have any questions for me, feel free to comment (although I think I was pretty thorough already!). Thank you so much for reading!


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