Today’s featured writer is a freelance author and an up-and-coming novelist. Make sure you check out her companion post, Top 5 Tips from an Editor, and sign up to get updates from her blog for more great tips and tricks. Below, she talks about her writing process, NaNoWriMo, and her recently-completed fantasy novel, Beacon of Hope. Read on!
Hi Judy! Let’s start at the beginning. When and why did you begin writing?
Let me start by thanking you for this opportunity. I feel honored in being allowed to tell others about myself. (I’m not self-absorbed at all. No, of course not.)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always made up stories. As a child, I would spend hours with a tape recorder making up plays for my Barbies to act out. (Yes, I’m really that old.) As I learned how to write, the written form was the only way to go. I kept a diary in my teen years. I wrote poems and lyrics to songs in my late teens, early twenties, and spent far too many hours hiding from the real world in the bowels of a dark theater somewhere, often on-stage singing and dancing. When I was studying for my PhD, I starting writing my high fantasy stories as a way to escape the pressures of being a part-time research student and a full-time mother of two.
I’m curious how your work as an editor affects your writing process. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you edit as you go?
First drafts tend to follow a pantser style. While I’m trying to develop a hybrid method, plotting out key events, I find that if I fully plot out every detail, the joy gets sucked out of writing.
I rarely write in chronological order. There have been many times where I would write one scene, only to discover a little titbit that happened way back when, then have to go back and write that original scene. My stories do grow rather organically that way.
Then the editor takes over…
When I’m in pure writing mode, editing is very basic, i.e. deletion of the the, or correcting your to you’re. However, I like many writers will find myself using comfort words, writing dialogue that is blotted with saids, and adding too much backstory at the wrong points in the narrative.
When I put the editor’s hat on, that red pen holds no mercy. The pages don’t just bleed; they look like they’re hemorrhaging. Whole scenes disappear. Characters are removed. Backstory is relegated to my mental drawers only. Then I find gaps where I thought I had explained something but I hadn’t.
After knocking my manuscript into shape, after multiple editorial rounds, I send it out to others for review, and the whole process starts again. Sometimes entire plot threads get reworked, simply because they failed to deliver.
I’m always saying it: writing a book is the easy part; shaping that manuscript into something worth reading, that’s where the true talent of the writer lies.
Describe your typical writing day.
My typical day starts at 6:30am when the alarm goes off and the fighting between two teenagers begins. I get them out the door by 8am, then I can actually breathe and think about my own day.
I try to get the gym, but it doesn’t always happen. The moment I sit at the computer, it’s all on. Check the social media and emails, deal with anything urgent, and try not to get sucked in (often failing). I think about my looming deadlines and take my pick of the many projects that I’m working on.
Then 3pm comes around and Mom’s Taxi reports for duty: son’s swimming four days a week, daughter’s ballet three times a week, daughter’s scouts once a week and whatever other chaos my husband decides to throw into the mix. (Thankfully, my son gets himself to and from archery, so I do get one day off.)
Then it’s dinner, which is always a mix mash; someone is always coming or going, normally me, with meetings for the local writers’ guild, of which I happen to be the president. So, it’s committee meetings, general write-ins, discussion groups, and everything else.
After the evening chaos, the teens watch TV (or do their homework) and I’m back at the computer, normally on social media, writing another blog post, and doing any research or prep work. At the same time, I’m normally on a video chat with my writing partner in the US.
I’ll collapse into bed anytime between 11pm and 1am, depending on how much inspiration I managed to draw from my writing partner, attempting to get enough sleep to start the whole process again the next day.
I really do bring it all on myself, but I thrive with the stress and the looming deadlines. Why do it tomorrow if you can put it off until the day after tomorrow? Oopsie, deadline was yesterday.
I read on your website that you recently finished writing a fantasy novel, Beacon of Hope. What is the story about?
Yes, Beacon of Hope is now a completed, polished manuscript and ready to head out the door.
It’s about a young woman, a magician, who can breach the boundary into the World of Death, but only if she bonds her soul with the twin-brother warriors determined to kill her and all her loved ones. It doesn’t help that the magicians are the food source for the Bleeders, demons who feast off magical blood, but hunger for the dead’s magic. The question is whether she can gain the brothers’ trust and learn to control her newfound abilities before the Bleeders find her and gain access to an unlimited source of magic.
Beacon of Hope is the first novel in a high fantasy series where the battle between Life and Death is not just a metaphor, but a true test of character and conviction.
Where did you draw your inspiration from for Beacon of Hope?
The series started as a vivid dream when I was working on my PhD. I thought it would make a fantastic story, so I wrote it down. The next night, my sleeping mind revisited the dream, so I wrote down more of the details when I woke. Eventually, it became a way of allowing my mind to shift away from the complex engineering calculations that I had to do daily as part of my PhD. Ironically, the third and fourth book in the series were actually the first ones drafted. (Remember that I said I rarely write in chronological order.)
Characters are drawn from people that I know and settings are from the wilderness of my own country. The plots are 100% my imagination going wild.
What is your publishing plan?
The publication plan has been one of flux. I’m determined to head down the traditional publication road. For a moment, I’ll allow my delusion of grandeur: I would be flying to the moon if I was published by Tor. But in my recent steps of getting my submission packet ready, a few truths have hit home – hard. As a debut writer, I will struggle to sell my high fantasy series. I NEED to lose the debut writer stigma.
So I’ve shelved my entire high fantasy series and have started work on a standalone: completely different character sets, settings and premises. I’ve even shifted genre. My intension is to write and sell that, then turn my attention back to my series.
Helen Lowe, another New Zealand high fantasy writer, did exactly that with her own stories: wrote the first book in the series, then wrote a standalone; sold the standalone, then sold the series. I’ve spoken to Helen about her choice and it’s not much different to my own.
I don’t want to tear apart my first novel in the vain attempt of turning it into a standalone. I want my series to remain a series. The story, in my mind, wouldn’t work any other way. It’s not an easy choice to make, but for the publication path that I desire, it’s a necessary one.
Watch this space… New novel soon.
What are some of your long-term goals as both an editor and an author?
As the writer, it’s to never stop writing. I have so many stories in my head, so many ideas. More keep coming by the day. I’m sure I’ll be one of those writers who dies leaving some story untold.
As an author… Well… I have two different series that I’m working on, my high fantasy and military science-fiction series that I’m working on with Ann Bell Feinstein. (It’s part of the reason we’re on video chat most nights/mornings/afternoons… Time zone issues confuse me.) And of course, there’s the standalone. They will all be published one day. I’ll make it happen. (Just not exactly sure how.)
As the editor, I will always strive to help other writers develop and grow. I’m a developmental editor for a reason. While I’m capable of correcting someone’s grammar and punctuation, that’s not what makes a story. Readers read for the lovable characters and gripping plots, not perfect grammar. Some things will never change.
Who is your biggest supporter?
My biggest supporter is actually my writing partner, Ann Bell Feinstein. It’s because of her that I worked up the confidence to start up my own editorial business. She helped me see that I really do have a talent for storytelling and developmental editing. Why not share it with the world?
My family support me too, but none of them are writers themselves. They don’t understand the emotional roller-coaster that comes with being a writer. They just want me to be happy. Ann wants to see me flourish and snag my dream publisher, but she also knows exactly how difficult a road it’s going to be to get there.
You’re a NaNoWriMo co-Municipal Leader for your region. What do you have planned for NaNoWriMo this year (2016)? How has NaNoWriMo helped you in the past?
NaNoWriMo is one of the best events for writers around. It’s the perfect excuse to become completely anti-social and spend all your time writing. This November is going to be about my writing and encouraging others to actually write too. I won’t be taking on any editorial contracts on during November. The money might be nice, but I value my writing time too.
For me, NaNoWriMo is my time to explore my characters and different plots. Last year, I developed the story arc for my military science fiction. This year, it’ll be about forcing myself to get that standalone story that’s whizzing around in my mind actually down on paper, fleshing out the details as I go. NaNoWriMo is food for the pantser in me, and I love it.
My co-ML Amy Paulussen and I haven’t had much opportunity to plan out what we would like to do this year within Christchurch, New Zealand, but I can guarantee that there will be write-ins spread throughout the region. We also will be involved with virtual write-ins.
In fact, I’m in the process of coordinating with the MLs from Queensland, Australia and Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA for a special chatroom that we can all use. The chatroom will be open to all, regardless where you are in the world, with the MLs from the three regions being the moderators and occasionally running virtual write-ins. The chatroom uses new technology and will be hosted by Jessie Sanders on her website www.jessiescoffeeshop.com. Jessie is the radio host of a show on books and writing on KLRN Radio and participates in NaNoWriMo herself, although I don’t think anyone will ever be allowed to read her writing; she won’t even let me read it. Jessie is not an ML herself, but she knows exactly how isolating writing can be. The chatroom and radio show are her way of helping writers connect.
Full details about the chatroom will be made public come mid-October.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing or editing?
I must be one of the busiest woman around. Not only am I a writer and freelance editor, but I’m the president of the Christchurch Writers’ Guild, always doing something there. Then there’s the blogs and those related web-based activities. Throw in the duties of being a mother to two very active teens and there isn’t much room for anything else.
I’m now the host of my own radio show, Conversations in Science, on KLRN Radio. I’ve always loved sharing my love of science. I’ve developed a knack of explaining the complex concepts in a way that even my mother can understand.
When I do manage to find some down time, which doesn’t happen often, I’m spending time with my family: card games after dinner and walking in the forest on the weekends. The telescope occasionally gets pulled out, but sometimes curling up in my husband’s arms under the stars is just what the doctor ordered.
Where can we find you on social media?
For those who are interested in my radio show, Conversations in Science, you can find more information on my personal site, or at KLRN Radio at www.klrnradio.com/shows/conversations-in-science/.
Kiwi Judy L Mohr is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is also a freelance editor with Black Wolf Editorial Services, working on projects from writers around the world. When she isn’t writing, editing or doing something for writing within the local community, she is hosting her own radio show about science on KLRN Radio. You can find out more about Judy’s various projects on her personal website, or follow her on Twitter.
I had such a great time sharing Judy’s posts this week. Again, don’t forget to check out her invaluable editor’s tips in the previous post.
October is a big month for Writer Wednesday, with four big-name indie authors in the works. Make sure to check back next week for more information, or follow me on Twitter for updates!
Until Monday! <3 Cassidy