Somehow May crept up on me very quickly. The sun is finally shining in California, which should help me get up earlier and get more writing done.
Last month’s goals were:
- LIGHT & SHADOW (ToB&L 5) revision and rewriting. I got about halfway through this, as a sudden adventure in Twitter pitching forced me to shift gears to do a revision on The Eighth Octave instead. I finished the EO revision, so I’ll count this as a CHECK!
- FINISH draft of musical magic co-write. Not only did Tamara and I finish it– we did a massive revision AND submitted a pitch. CHECK!
- ODDS & ENDS (this includes working on some editing and formatting projects for others, mainly). Odds & Ends turned into a bigger category with a couple unexpected formatting jobs. I’m getting them done. CHECK!
Goals for May are:
- LIGHT & SHADOW (ToB&L 5) revision and rewriting FINISH
- RE-READ The Eighth Octave Draft
- FINISH various formatting jobs
Anyone who reads my blog is aware of Tamara Shoemaker, YA author and editor extraordinaire. This woman never slows down, and her tenth full-length novel just came out, the final installment in her Heart of a Dragon series, Unleash the Inferno.
In Unleash the Inferno, you’ll finally get the rousing conclusion to the epic story of Kinna, Ayden, Cedric, their dragons, and of course, the villain, Sebastian. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the backstory and development of Sebastian the evil king, turning him into a grayer antagonist than you might find in a lot of YA Fantasy.
Since Tamara has answered my seven questions so many times, I focused this interview less on her latest book itself and more on questions other writers might have about how this powerhouse keeps cranking out multiple books in a calendar year while the rest of us flounder along hoping to produce one, if any.
- Tamara, this is book ten, eleven if you count your children’s picture book. What have you learned between book one and book ten that you would share with a novice novel writer?
This is cliché, I fully admit, but I also hold the view that there is a reason things become cliché: because they work, they connect. So, this is what I’ve learned: Never give up. I mean, NEVER give up. Not when you come down off the high of publishing your first book, not when you get your first poor review, not when you get your first rejection to a query, nor when an agent says your writing isn’t quite what they’re looking for and better luck next time, nor when a harsh critique comes in from a trusted friend, nor when the pure agony of marketing overwhelms you, nor when you’re tired, nor when you’re sick, nor when you’ve hit a plothole that could swallow a skyscraper.
The discouragements that litter the road of a writer are many and varied and often hard, and it is a career that is certainly not for the faint of heart. But I think almost any obstacle can be gotten over with steady diligence and an attitude of “Never Say Die.”
That’s been my motto since I began.
- How have you changed as a writer over the years? Is your focus different? Has it gotten easier? Harder?
Some things have gotten easier, some harder. 🙂 When I began writing, I didn’t expect to stick with it. I wrote my first book on a bit of a dare from my husband (he dared me to write a book, so I said I would, and I did). I half-heartedly tried to submit it in a few places, but then I put it away and didn’t pursue it again for several years. In 2012, I heard of a small press that was looking for manuscripts, so I thought—why not? I got my manuscript out, dusted it off, and sent it in. When the company offered to publish it, my dreams and goals increased exponentially in a matter of seconds. I saw myself—a world-famous authoress topping every chart from the New York Times Bestsellers to USA Today’s—gaining international acclaim, and of course, while signing off on movie rights at every Hollywood studio, jotting book after book in my cabin in the woods where I would never, no never, attempt this mysterious thing called “marketing.”
Obviously, the real story is VASTLY different from what I had anticipated, but in some ways, that eases the road for me. Expectations are less when you are less known. My focus shifted from writing for readers to writing for myself—what did I want to see in a story? The independent publishing market swept in and gave me more freedom to do what I wished. I jumped genres from mystery to fantasy, and that’s where I am today. Every step I take presents its own set of challenges, but every step is also rewarding in its own way, because it’s all a part of living my dream. I haven’t topped any lists yet, and Hollywood steadfastly ignores me, but I am writing, I am creating, I am weaving my worlds, and that is important to me.
- What inspires you when you’re feeling creatively dry?
So many things! My children. My surroundings. Nature. A book I’ve just read. A movie. A conversation with a friend. Music. Dreams. Sometimes I feel like I’ve come to the end of a road (that creative dryness you mentioned), and I realize it’s just a turning, a curve in the road, and something will spark a new thought that I want to explore to its farthest end.
- You are also a freelance editor. What do you feel is different about editing someone else’s work and editing your own?
I think there’s such a thing as being “too close” to a story. When I write my own work, I am so wrapped up in the “nth details,” as I call them, of the world I create, that many times I can’t see the larger picture to know what is missing, or what should be tweaked. I rely heavily on beta readers when it comes to finding those things, but MOST of all, I rely on my editor to see those things (who, I may also add, is a worker of all things miraculous when it comes to literature of any kind).
So, in my work as an editor, I try to be that for other people. Authors get too close to their work; it’s a by-product of the profession, and that’s why it’s essential to get a good editor to help you see the larger picture. When I edit for other authors, I am able to grasp the bigger picture more easily than I can in my own books, because I’m coming at it from the outside of the work, and not inside it.
- I’ve often noted that you seem like a very diligent writer who stays incredibly focused. I also know you go through phases of the typical writerly despair and uncertainty. How do you get through that and stay on track?
Hearkening back to my answer to question #1: Never give up, never say die. Sometimes, it’s like pulling teeth to make myself sit down and write. Sometimes the words don’t come, and the words I force to come are pure and absolute drivel that have no business anywhere NEAR what one would call a quality book.
I guess I look at it like the difference between a river and a pond. Scum collects on a still pond, because it has no movement. But in a river, the water is constantly flowing; there’s no chance for scum to form on the water’s surface, because it doesn’t stay still. When I’m writing, even if it’s drivel, even if the words are just awful with no quality whatsoever, the creative process isn’t stagnant. It’s still there, and eventually the quality floats on down the river to me, even if it takes a bit.
- What is the hardest thing about the entire book process for you?
The middle phase: developmental edits. I love the first part: creation. I get to write whatever under the heavens I want to write, because it’s my story, and I can make it happen exactly as I want it to happen. I also love the final part: the line edits. That’s the spit and shine on the hard work I’ve put in. It’s where I see the story start to look like an actual book I’d want to read in a bookstore. It brings so much satisfaction. But that developmental phase in the middle is a bugger. It’s where I see every last flaw in the story, usually huge ones, and I have to go untangle them and rewrite them and rearrange things and cut whole sections and add whole sections and tear the entire story apart so I can put it back together again in a coherent manner. It’s awful. But I couldn’t complete a book without it. 🙂
- Tell us a bit about your next projects.
I’m currently in process of finishing up a co-write with my beloved editor and friend, Emily June Street, (WHO?) set in an 18th century parallel world featuring music as magic and with steampunk touches. We’ve already co-written another book, set in an 19th century parallel world to the post-Civil War American South, featuring elemental magic and plantations, and we plan to pitch these books to agents at a conference in New York City in August. Meanwhile, I have begun sketching out the plans for a new YA Fantasy that includes between-world travel, fairy tale settings, and of course, my favorite, political intrigue. I’m hoping to begin the actual writing of that in June. I’m also busy picking up freelance editing contracts where I can in all my… you know… spare time. 😉
You all can learn more about Tamara and her writing and editing activities at tamarashoemaker.org
After the Battle at ClarenVale, Kinna Andrachen unites those who spurn King Sebastian’s tyrannical reign, mustering a rag-tag army of soldiers and creatures to face Sebastian’s far larger Lismarian army. Victory is elusive and allies are scarce, but Kinna’s tenacious spirit cannot succumb to injustice. Her fiery heart must learn to lead
At last mastering control of the four Touches of the powerful Amulet, Ayden finds himself at the center of an epic struggle to destroy the corruption that has tainted the throne of Lismaria for centuries. As time runs out, his options for survival fade, surrendering him to a dark destiny.
Tied to a fate he does not want, Cedric Andrachen resists his inheritance, fleeing the lust for power it sparks in him. As war looms, Cedric faces his choices: will he turn his back on his throne and his kingdom? Or will he enter the struggle against tyranny, bringing the freedom his people have so long sought?
Sebastian sits, at last, on the Lismarian throne, stolen from him twenty years prior. But now the Rebellion, led against him by his niece and nephew, threatens his security from across the Channel, and the Amulet’s promise of power tempts him into even darker shadows. Ghosts of the past brutalize Sebastian’s present until the lines of reality blur with nightmare.
Flames of war ignite between nations. Peril threatens the Andrachen line.
Who will survive the inferno?
Last week’s deleted scene was very long, this one is just a couple of paragraphs. Fun fact: the material described here for the Black Star Pillar is based on a two different minerals I saw at the American Museum of Natural History: stibnite and a meteorite.
This scene is actually from Book 4, Mage & Source, and so I will refrain from telling who the narrator is. Suffice it to say, the narrator was greatly affected by the Fall of Magic in Lethemia, and is examining the Palace’s crystal pillars hoping for a sign of magic’s return:
I tackled the easiest of my questions about the pillars’ aetherlight first, heading out of the Palace into the rarely-used walled ornamental gardens that separated the Galatien grounds from the public street. Each pillar served as a point in the hexagon-shaped grounds as well as a point in the Palace’s six-pronged star.
From the gardens, I could examine the outer surface of the Moonstone Pillar, the same surface anyone could see from the street. I dashed past yew hedges and silver lamb’s ears interspersed with dead tulips—before the Fall, magical spellwork had kept white tulips ever in bloom in this garden, but no longer.
The Moonstone Pillar soared upwards, sheer and imposing. At their bases, the pillars were probably more than fifty spans in girth, though they all narrowed as they rose. The white stone was cool to my touch. I stared into it deeply, but I gleaned no sign of the aetherlight that had glowed within its walls so clearly inside the garden. I frowned and hastily traversed the boxwood maze to have a look at the Black Star Pillar. Throughout all this, I had yet to examine it closely.
Of all the pillars, the Black Star was the strangest—every mage had always agreed on that fact. While the other pillars resembled the gemstones after which they were called, the Black Star Pillar was composed of a substance unlike any other. The closest comparison was found in star-rocks, bits of material not of this earth but fallen from the heavens, and thus had the pillar received its name. But even star-rocks were not really like the material that comprised the Black Star Pillar. It was fully opaque, and yet blacker in it’s inside layers than it’s silvery outside layers.
Jagged silver lines made a crackled pattern all over the pillar’s outer surface, but I saw no illumination of the telltale lights within. Had the Black Star Pillar not been ignited by binding-magixe? Or like the lights captured in the Moonstone Pillar, were they occluded from this angle?
I sighed turned away from the Pillar. So many questions, so few answers. I was a blind man tripping through unfamiliar terrain.
Every year, I try to read one hundred books. I’ll be closing out this year with a total of 103. Below I’ve listed my top ten, the ones that most stuck with me and moved me. My top reads this year were almost unfailingly harrowing and dark, possibly a sign of the times?
Here are a few diagnostics on my reading, as I do like to keep track of my reading diversity lest I slip into bad reading habits.
Fiction vs. non-fiction: 79/21
Male authors vs. female: 31/70
Multi-author anthologies: 2
Books written by PoC: 16
Indie-pubbed books: 11
pre-19th century books: 1
19th century books: 1
20th century books: 23
21st century books: 78
And my top 10 reads for 2016:
Blood & Earth, by Kevin Bales (2016): An unflinching look at modern slavery. One of the key points emphasized throughout the book was the way in which climate change and deforestation are related to the exploitation of people. Chilling, because the problem is so big, and humanity has so little ability to overcome its own weaknesses to fix these massive and likely world-destroying problems. I read this right before the election of Donald Trump, and I was pretty much in a dark hole of depression for weeks. Not sure I’ve crawled out of it yet, but I prefer to be informed rather than not. Required reading for understanding the massive and complex problems of slavery and deforestation and how they are related.
The Fifth Season, by NK Jemison (2015): Complex and fascinating adult fantasy with a well-constructed world and completely new and different magic. Like all the best fantasy, the book explored themes relevant to the world we live in today in symbolic layers.
Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose (1996): All the well-researched details of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in one well-told tale! My favorite things in this book were the details: men ate up to 9 pounds of meat per day, native women in Oregon wrapped ropes around their legs to create “swelling” that was a sign of beauty and status, squirrels made massive seasonal migrations with millions of animals traveling together. I enjoyed the treatment of the white men involved in the story (not so much any of the women or Native Americans. Although Ambrose did try, he’s an historian of the old-school, and if the historical record did not record much, he didn’t fill in gaps with supposition) I thought this book was, on the whole, a complex and fascinating exploration of a strange and particular dream and how it manifested, and a compassionate analysis of the men who pushed it into reality.
Sold, by Patricia McCormick (2006): A realistic tale of a girl’s harrowing life in Nepal and India, told in verse. This book has been much criticized for being “missionary” in tone, but my feeling is that it was a genuine attempt to explore a real problem and the existing means by which young women sold into sex slavery can get out. Many missionaries do vital human rights work, doing more to help, I imagine, than the folks criticizing the book because a white westerner happened to be the person who helped our main character out of her tragic situation. Yes, cultural differences need to be respected, but girls who are exploited and oppressed by the culture they live in deserve basic human rights, and it often IS well-meaning “westerners” who have the means to help, and in my opinion, that is a moral imperative to do so.
Men Explain Things to Me (2014): Rebecca Solnit’s seminal work about what it’s like to be a woman with a voice in the world. Her essays are always engaging and offer a fresh and unwavering perspective on Feminism today. She is an excellent essayist, able to capture complex thoughts and make new connections in her language.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (1996): This book wins the award for most un-put-down-able this year. Krakauer’s true story about climbing Everest exposes the extraordinary hubris in the mountaineering community, and its fatal and disastrous consequences. This book will also make you think about the moral ramifications of “eco” and “adventure” tourism in a new light. I’ll be staying home to walk in the (very manageable) Marin hills, thank you.
The Gilded Hour, by Sarah Donati (2015): Rich historical fiction about two women supporting the initial emergence of birth control in Gilded Age America. The story was very engaging, but more, I appreciated the deep exploration of the lives of women during this era, and what birth control meant to them, versus what it means to someone like me, who has always had easy access to it. It was, quite literally, a matter of life and death for them—and yet the cultural resistance to allowing them access to it was deep and strong. This book showed the effects of this devaluing of female life in both harrowing and compassionate ways. It made me think about how many women in the world today are still in this exact same situation—unable to choose or control their pregnancies, their bodies literally falling apart with every successive pregnancy, their existing children threatened with loss of their mother with every subsequent birth.
The Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kosinski (1965): A disturbing tale about how WWII affected a young boy. Reading this book was like looking at a painting by Salvador Dali—surreal and creepy, but almost perfectly executed. When I was reading, I didn’t think I could bear it, and I didn’t think it would make this list by any stretch of the imagination, but the resonance it still holds in my mind confirms it is a read of power and endurance. I need a stronger word than harrowing to describe this one, especially after reading a bit about Mr. Kosinski’s real life.
The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah (2015): Another disturbing tale of World War II, though this one was completely different from The Painted Bird. This one is about how war affected women, and I really enjoyed the intimate look at two sisters’ lives in France during the war. Like nearly all the books in this list, this one made me cry, but in this one it was because I was so invested in the two characters’ lives and story (rather than just from all the harrowing realities). If an author can get me to care so much about a character, that’s good story-telling.
Next year I’m going to continue to try to read more non-fiction and diverse literature. I’d like to try to read more work from earlier times.
Here’s a link to my complete Goodreads challenge if you’d like to see all 103 books I read this year: https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/3762052
August was a good month of writing and working for me. I also possibly made a big break through on a problem that often eats up my writing hours: migraine headaches. I am trying the most common prescription medication again (Imitrex) after years of using alternative solutions that all either failed (various diets, herbs, remedies) or made matters much worse (acupuncture). At any rate, so far I’ve fully aborted two out of three headaches with Imitrex, which feels pretty miraculous after twenty years of impenetrable cyclical migraines. What this means is that I may have 2-4 more days of good solid writing per month to complete these goals.
Last month’s goals were:
- Work on ToB&L Book 4 revision. CHECK, but still slowly plodding through the plot– or plotting through the plod, as the case may be.
- Finish posting the matwork series to my Pilates Blog (2.5 exercises left!) CHECK
- Keep working on the various formatting and editing projects for other authors. CHECK–I made good progress and finished two projects.
This month’s goals will be:
- Work on ToB&L Book 4 revision.
- Finish ToB&L Book 6 revision: The final four books of ToB&L are intricately connected, and so, as I’m revising book 4, I’ve been reading Books 6 & 7 to make sure events and logistics match up. I started revising Book 6 last month to fix continuity issues, and I realized I needed to take the story timeline further and add a few chapters at the end. I plan to finish this book’s ending this month.
- Begin ToB&L Book 5 revision: This book is getting a full rewrite similar to Book 4. I switched up the timelines and narrators in these two books and so they needed a complete reorganization. I’ve been having so many ideas about Book 5, and I’m very excited to share the narrators’ stories someday. Readers of the series have met these two narrators before in earlier stories, and one of them is the character most-asked about, and a personal favorite of mine.