Seven Questions: Tamara Shoemaker

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.

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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.

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  • 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

Read Unleash the Inferno!

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?

December Goals

Though my goal list appeared short for November, it was actually a really tough and time-consuming list, since I meant to write an entire book (with Tamara Shoemaker) in one month, not to mention continue writing a different book on my own. I stayed very busy. I’m planning to take on a lot for December, too.

In November my goals were:

  1. Continue ToB&L Book 5 revision. CHECK I didn’t get quite as far as I’d hoped, but I did make some good progress.
  2. NANOWRIMO CHECK Tamara and I completed our novel, River Running, in plenty of time. It’s around 90,000 words, and right now we are reading it for the first time, making small revisions as we go.
  3. OtherCHECK My main “other” this month was doing a final line and copy edit on Mark A. King‘s Metropolitan Dreams. I finished the edit yesterday, and this book is really turning into a polished gem! Keep your eyes peeled for it when it participates in the Kindle Scout Program…soon.

 

My December Goals are:

  1. FINISH ToB&L Book 5 revision.
  2. LIGHT Mage & Source revision. Last month I had a first reader take a look at Mage and Source. Now I’ll apply her feedback and revise, with the hope of sending it to editors Beth and Tamara in Jan 2017.
  3. BRAINSTORMING: Tamara and I have another co-write idea that we need to brainstorm. I’m really excited about this one. It involves music and magic and an 18th Century setting of court intrigues.
  4. Other. This seems like a good goal category to keep. I’m sure I’ll have more other to report at the end of the month.

Seven Questions : October 2016 : Tamara Shoemaker

Author extraordinaire Tamara Shoemaker reappears for her fourth round of Seven Questions. The woman can’t help it; she just keeps cranking out books! This month she is releasing both Guardian of the Vale, the third and final installment in her YA urban fantasy series, and the complete Guardian of the Vale Trilogy Box Set, in which you can get all three books in the series in one convenient and discounted file, starting today.

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1) Tamara, this is your ninth book. Wow! How has your book-writing process changed between Book 1 and Book 9?

I don’t recognize the author I was when I wrote Broken Crowns. I mean, I see shades of her in who I am now (I still sit down to write every day, I still set word count goals), but I’m much more disciplined about my story structure now. With my first book, I made up the story each day as I typed. Now, I write an entire history of my characters before I ever even start page one, chapter one. I’ll create timelines, backstory, personality profiles, outlines, find inspiration pics, all sorts of things I never did for the first book. It might help that I now write fantasy, which is all about world-building and setting. Broken Crowns was a mystery, and while setting up your world in a mystery is still important, it doesn’t hold the same weight that it does in fantasy.

2) Which phase of the book process do you enjoy most and why?

I’m pretty sure this makes me an odd bird among writers, as quite a few of my fellow authors have told me they enjoy the first-draft process the most–but I love the edits, particularly the line edits. First-drafting, while giving me a bit of freedom to just write without worrying about finesse or polish, sometimes chafes, because I dislike putting anything on paper that doesn’t immediately bowl me over. I realize in order to craft a book, that annoyingly poor first draft has to come out, so I do it. But I love the line edits–the final stage before publication, because that’s when I’m dusting off all the rough edges of my work and watching it transform into a true work of art. It’s lovely.

3) Novels are a tough form, time-consuming and sometimes underappreciated in the world. What keeps you so motivated?

I realized a long time ago that if my motivation relied on reader appreciation, I would have quit after the first book hit the market. Some will love you, some will hate you, most won’t even give your book a chance. I can’t focus on that, or I will get discouraged. For me, it’s all about the work itself. I am a book lover, have been all my life. I love everything about a book, from the smell of dusty old volumes to the crinkly, crunchy sound of the pages as they turn (Kindle, you will never own me!). The stories I fall in love with, I read over and over and over again. They become real to me, holding honored places on my bookshelves. I’m serious. I have a “favorite” shelf, and a “lesser” shelf, and a “I-don’t-like-these-as-much-so -let’s-put-them-in-the-corner” shelf. If authors have impacted and inhabited my life through their works of art, I want to do the same for others. So my motivation is to make my stories real, to me if to no one else. The satisfaction I gain from pouring all of myself into a project like this is beyond measure.

4) Do your book ideas arrive in your head in a particular way? As images, as opening scenes or sentences, as characters, as conflicts? Tell us a little about idea generation, brainstorming, and how you come up with a story? Once you have an idea, what are the next steps?

They come in all shapes and sizes and by any means: ridiculous questions my kids ask, an anecdote where something happens by accident, a dream that vividly sticks in my mind–anything that makes me ask: What if? Once I have that what if question, I write down the seed of the story, and then I spend days staring at the wall, thinking, occasionally jotting something down. The story builds on itself. Once I have the premise I want to write about, I have to build the world around it. What’s the setting? This earth? Another earth? What time period? Modern style? Medieval style? Victorian style? Ancient style? What government ruled during that time? Dictatorship? Monarchy? President? Pantheon? Who are the characters? What are their backgrounds? How are they affected by their culture? What’s the central conflict and how is everything in this world shaped by it? Once I have a good grasp on ALL these things, and not until that happens, THEN I start writing.

5) You have been forcibly recruited as an experimental space traveller (sorry). You are allowed to bring only what you can carry in a small backpack. What do you pack?

(Forcibly being the key word.) Space! Ack! Fie, fie!

Okay, fine. I would need tether ropes, first and foremost, because obviously, I can’t be trusted not to float off into nothingness forever and ever and ever and ever…

Whose bright idea was space again?

And then, several tanks of oxygen, again, because while I’m floating off forever and ever and ever and ever, I’ll need something to breathe… *can’t breathe, must breathe… air… help…

You say I can’t fit oxygen tanks into a backpack. Erg.

I’d like to take a few books to pass the time while I’m floating into nothingness until my eventual smothering, starving, helpless death…

Maybe I need to move on to the next question…

6) It turns out that your experimental space ship has malfunctioned, and instead of traveling through space, you’re traveling through time. What era/year will be your desired destination? And why?

Oh, thank goodness. Time travel is much more palatable.

I’ve always said I was born in the wrong era, as history has always fascinated me. I have a particular penchant for the 1850’s through the 1880’s. I’d love to go (and quite often do in the pages of historical novels and Civil War accounts). As my husband reminds me when I wish aloud for such things, air-conditioning and indoor plumbing weren’t really a thing, at least not in most households (indoor plumbing), and death by measles, typhoid, and the common cold was a thing. So… there’s that.

But I’d still love to go, because I’m a legit nerd-in-training, or so I’ve been told.

7) Tell us a bit about your next book (or books, since it’s you)

Hahaha! Thou makest me laugh out loud.

I am soooooo excited for November to hit, because that means it’s National Novel Writing Month, and I am planning to write TWO novels during it. First, I’m co-writing a novel with the fabulous Emily June Street (I suspect you know something of her), where we will explore a fantasy world set similarly to the deep south during the Reconstruction period, and where we weave a romance reminiscent of Jane Eyre and her brooding and passionate Mr. Rochester. I can’t WAIT for this!

My second novel will explore the theme of using music as magic. This story has been teasing my brain for many months–perhaps because music is important in my life, magical in its own way. It touches the very roots of who I am, and I’m really excited to dig in and tease out the ways it could be shown in this world I’m about to create. Here’s the logline I created for it: “When Alex Cale, a prodigy whose musical magic shapes the world, discovers the deterioration of his symphonies, he suspects sabotage by Edon White, the Conservatoire’s new Director. As the world begins to crumble beneath this incurable discordance, only Lyric, a mysterious eighteen-year-old girl with hidden talents, can help Alex restore harmony and magic.”

 Can’t wait to get started!

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About Guardian of the Vale:

Clayborne Training Institute, a school for teen Elementals, has fallen beneath a sweeping nationwide coup led by the Elemental Alliance, a party of power-hungry sectarians. Having narrowly escaped the fight for the school, Alayne Worth, Quadriweave and possessor of the Vale, flees Clayborne with twenty-three desperate students seeking the headquarters of the Last Order, the underground organization planning to wrest control from the Alliance. Danger shadows her steps as the struggle for the Vale and its power stalks ever closer to home. Conflicts, perils, enemies, and rebellions push Alayne toward a cataclysmic battle that threatens to rend CommonEarth at the seams, and the Vale is the linchpin that decides the victory or the defeat. When those closest to Alayne threaten her possession of the Vale, will she and the world in which she lives survive the fallout?

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About Tamara:

Tamara Shoemaker authored the Amazon best-selling Shadows in the Nursery Christian mystery series and Soul Survivor, another Christian mystery. Her fantasy books include the beginning two installments of the Heart of a Dragon trilogy: Kindle the Flame and Embrace the Fire, as well as her first completed trilogy: Mark of Four, Shadows of Uprising, and Guardian of the Vale. In her spare time, she freelances as an editor for other works of fiction, chases three children hither and yon, and tries hard to ignore the brownie mixes that inevitably show up in her cabinets.

Follow her on social media:
Twitter: @TamaraShoemaker
Website: http://www.tamarashoemaker.org
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tshoebooks

 

Seven Questions : June 2016 : Tamara Shoemaker

Prolific YA fantasy writer Tamara Shoemaker joins me again for a third round of Seven Questions! Her latest book is Embrace the Fire, Book Two in the Heart of a Dragon series. Tamara is one of my favorite writing buddies. We have worked on each other’s books as beta readers, blurbers, and editors, and we have even co-written a story together in one of the Flashdogs anthologies.

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EJS: Pitch your featured book in three sentences.

TS: Embrace the Fire continues the journeys of the four characters introduced in Kindle the Flame. Political intrigue boils into epic warfare as kings clash and nations dissolve beneath Dragonfire and magic. Kinna, Cedric, and Ayden are drawn inexorably toward a fearful destiny, and Dragons, Pixies, Seer Fey, and other creatures are pitted against one another as the conclusion dissolves into a cataclysmic end that will leave the reader dying for more.

EJS: Of all your characters, who is your favorite and why?

TS: I put little pieces of me in all of my characters (even the evil ones), so this is an extremely hard one to answer; it’s like choosing a favorite child. At the risk of alienating the rest of my characters and embroiling them in green jealous ink, I’m going to choose Ayden. The pull of a lonely soul who has never known the joy of a mother’s love or the touch of a friend is one of my “mushy” spots. I just want to give him a hug. I think it’s likely that I make some of the other characters hug him more often than is absolutely necessary to make up for his lack of attention. Poor soul.

EJS: What is the hardest thing about writing for you?

TS: I think the slice of the first draft from 20,000 words to approximately 70,000 words is the hardest. When I start a first draft, I’m on fire for 20,000 words. It’s still new, it’s fresh, and I’m still falling in love with the characters. By the time that 20k rolls around, the characters sag. They start to wonder: Who am I? Why am I here? Who created me? What if there is no creator? What if I’m just one big cosmic accident, and the only reason I exist on these pages is because someone, somewhere got incredibly confused? By the time 70,000 words rolls around, the characters have found their path in life. They begin to put their affairs in order, and they relax with their friends and family around them, cheering them on through the last few steps until the conclusion. But those middle 50,000 words are torture.

EJS: What do you think are the three most important personality traits for being a writer?

TS: Flexibility, determination, and a good mixture of talent with imagination. I know lots of people that have two, but not three, of those, and it’s never enough—not unless all three of those are present. Every writer has more weight on one or another of these, but as long as all three are there, a story will make its way from mind to book and into the hands of readers.

EJS: What makes a good editor?

TS: A basic understanding of what makes a good story. This seems simplistic, but there’s so much to what creates a good story that an editor’s job isn’t just a simple add-a-comma-here-delete-this-word-here. It’s understanding how to build a story on a solid foundation that won’t topple as the plot points fall into order. It’s identifying the main conflict and helping the author to build each character’s story around that conflict. It’s cheerleading—being the voice behind the author that beats down the author’s frustrations, whether derived from the editor’s critiques or from outside critiques, and being the one to pull the author through to the end, to a polished and completed book in his or her hands. A good editor is worth their weight in gold.

EJS: What is the best book you’ve read this year in any genre?

TS: I promise I’m not just saying this because I’m on your blog, but the best book I’ve read in a looonnngg time is Sterling by Emily June Street. It’s a wonderful romantic fantasy that is almost a twist on my favorite fairy tale: Beauty and the Beast. The plot is intricately woven, the character development is stunning, and the story arc kept me riveted. It releases at the end of June 2016, so keep an eye out for this one!

EJS: Are you working on anything new aside from your two fantasy series?

TS: Ha! I can’t seem to slow myself down. I’m enjoying building my freelance editing business: it’s always so exciting to read someone else’s work, helping someone polish their story to a high sheen, so I’m in the middle of a project there. I’m finishing up the third book in my Guardian of the Vale trilogy, and I’m also writing the first draft of the third book in my Heart of a Dragon trilogy. Recently, I’ve also begun drawing up plans for a historical romance series that I plan to put out under a pen name… you know, to work on in all my spare time. 😉

Learn more about Tamara, her books, and her stellar fiction editing services: https://tamarashoemaker.org/

 

Upcoming Flash Fiction Contest at LCP

Alert to all FlashDogs, FlashMonkeys, FlashDragons, and other flashy types!

In honor of the release of our latest books, Tamara Shoemaker and I are co-hosting a ONE-TIME FLASH FICTION contest on the Luminous Creatures Press Blog.

The contest submission dates will run from June 28-June 30, 2016, so mark your calendars! The prompts will be posted on June 28th, and then you’ll have two full days to create a story of 100 words or fewer to enter. The theme will be fantasy, since the new release books we are celebrating are both fantasy stories. More information and a photo prompt will be posted on June 28th.

To see our rules, please visit the Luminous Creatures Blog here.

Please note: you do not have to be a writer to enter this contest; Tamara and I are hoping for entries from anyone who is interested in winning a free copy of our new releases, whether you’ve written anthologies, novels, flash fiction, or only your name. Come one, come all! It’ll be fun!

Preeminent Flashdog Mark A. King has agreed to serve as our judge. The winner will receive paperback or ebook editions of our two new books: Embrace the Fire, by Tamara Shoemaker, a YA novel set in a classic fantasy world with dragons, elves, and other creatures, and Sterling, by Emily June Street, a fantasy romance with an intricate magic system.

 

Flashdogs

Happy Monday! The next FlashDogs flash fiction anthology, TIME, is up and available for pre-order. I have two stories in here, one co-written with Tamara Shoemaker. I also donate my time for formatting for The FlashDogs.

The proceeds of these anthologies go to an international literacy charity. Learn more about The FlashDogs here. You can also get fantastic merch from their website.

The fabulous FlashDogs art is by Tamara Rogers:

TIME Ebook Cover

“Time may wait for no man, but The FlashDogs shepherd it with aplomb in their third anthology of flash fiction. Let this intrepid pack of cutting-edge writers fill your mind—and your hours—with their super-short stories of past, present, and future. Featuring an impressive roster of flash-fictioneers old and new, this collection has a bit of everything–romance, dystopia, comedy, tragedy–all spread across a changing timescape inspired by three photographs.”

Summer of Super Short Stories Week Three

Week three prompts are up at Luminous Creatures Press. Head over there to submit a story of 350 words. The line prompt is from my book, The Gantean:

“The truth is complicated

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Image credit: Crossed Fingers II by Katie Tegtmeyer  flickr CC 2.0
Image has not been altered from its original form.