I’m very fortunate to have not one but two editions of “Seven Questions” for the final month of the year. Today I’m featuring YA author Tamara Shoemaker, whose latest book, Mark of Four, is the first in a trilogy set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world with a magic system based on the four classical elements: air, earth, fire, and water.
Tamara and I recently had the pleasure of writing a historical short story together, which will appear in the next Flashdogs Anthology, coming in February 2016. I also have to brag that I drew the “Mark of Four” glyph that is featured in this book. You’ll have to buy the book to see the glyph though!
Read on for her answers to my seven questions.
- Define Mark of Four’s central plot conflict in three sentences or less.
In a post-apocalyptic world where Elemental abilities can save or squander all human life, a teenage girl with unique skills seeks to protect her family, her friends, and the source of Elemental power from an escaped criminal and his followers. (How’s ONE sentence?) 😉
- What appeals to you about writing YA fantasy?
I’m in love with the vivid, raw emotions that are usually quite prevalent in them. There’s a simplicity to the character development—a teen’s first steps into the wider world. There’s usually very little qualification to the emotions; when the character feels joy, it’s overwhelming. When he or she panics, it’s straight-up, all-out, sky-falling terror. When he or she falls in love, there’s very little baggage to sort through. I guess this could be said about any YA genre, not just fantasy, but what’s a book without a little magic? Perhaps the magic holds me just as much as the honest emotions.
- How did your writing change from first draft to last draft on this one?
The entire story has turned inside-out, and then outside back in again. Reading over the book now, I can see a seed of the original idea I started with, but the final draft pulled it together so much more tightly than what it had originally been. The first draft was a mess. The story was shaky and out-of-order, with Alayne rambling off on some unneeded journey over here, and random unnecessary characters appearing over there. After the story went through what seemed liked thousands of edits, and after my editor took it in hand, the final version ended up with a solid structure. The first chapter lays out the conflict nicely, and the story builds on itself from there.
Not only did the story structure improve–this book had been in existence about two years prior to its publication. During those two years of edits, I was constantly writing other material. I wrote the two sequels to this book, as well as the first two books in another trilogy. My writing style has changed and deepened and improved over those two years, so comparing the first draft to the final draft, adverbs disappeared, stage-management lessened, the characters acted differently because they were written less haphazardly, there were fewer speech tags, etc.—the little details that you don’t notice unless you’ve been an author or an editor, but the important ones that make the story better as a whole.
- How many editing passes do you normally do on a draft, and can you describe your editing process a bit?
I like to say I edit until I get the story right. Whether that’s two times or two hundred times, it depends. Mark of Four was closer to two-hundred times. It morphed so much over the two years that it sat on my hard drive that it never got past the “final editing pass” until recently, and then only after I found an editor.
Even though I can’t nail down a number for editing passes, I generally finish a first draft, and then let it sit for a month without touching it so it can steep in my mind. When the month is done, I’ll dust it off and then go through and brutally mark every single thing in the margins that I don’t like about the story, from overused adjectives to a major plot holes. When that’s done, I’ll go through and eradicate whatever problem I had marked in the margins. When that step is done, I send it off to my editor for her first global edit, and then it’s a matter of back-and-forth passes of the manuscript, several times, until we’re down to the fine-tuning (sentence structure, comma misplacement, etc.). When that’s done, the manuscript goes to the beta readers, who usually catch a few more mistakes, and then it’s off to the publisher’s while I do two more final, final read-throughs, looking for anything I missed.
Even after all that, I generally find at least one mistake after the book is out in print, which, of course, is mostly to keep me humble. 😉
- Do you consciously approach literary themes in your writing or just allow them to emerge as they will?
I have never sat down and thought, I’m going to write a book about social injustice. Or revenge. Or hypocrisy or anything like that. Although inevitably, those themes will present themselves in my writing. As with most stories, I always have a protagonist and an antagonist, and as those two meet and the story fleshes itself out, usually a theme rises out of that, and I run with it.
But I don’t think I’ve ever decided before I begin writing what my theme will be. It comes as I get to know the characters and how they relate to the world around them.
- Where do you get your world-building ideas and inspirations?
I’ve always had an extremely vivid imagination, so a lot of it comes from the what-if questions I ask myself at night as I’m falling asleep. What if I didn’t have to get up in the morning, and I could put physical power behind my thoughts to make things happen? What if the world I’m living in is actually a dream, and I think I’m living in a dream, but I’m actually living somewhere else instead? What if the universe were contained within someone else’s world, and we’re just a speck in that world?
Some of these ideas have been used before (Horton Hears a Who?), and some haven’t. Some ideas, I’ll partially borrow from themes I’ve read in other YA fantasy works and give them a twist in my own books. Some will be mostly original with me.
The teacher in the Biblical Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” I think that can apply to literature. If there’s an idea, most likely someone has thought of it, but you can always put your own spin on it.
- What is your secret super-power?
I can make a mean recipe of cookies. The earth may be dismantled, and the mountains split and slide into the foaming ocean, but if I have an oven, butter, flour, sugar, and of course, chocolate, I can whip up some yummy goodies for anyone to sit back and watch the apocalypse.
What do I wish was my secret super-power? I wish I could clone myself. Just think of all the books I could churn out if there were twenty of me, and there’d still be one or two of me left over to keep the house clean, the laundry done, and the dishes washed. 🙂
Learn more about Tamara, her excellent freelance editing offerings, and her books on her website: