I don’t know a writer who doesn’t enjoy talking about their own writing process and hearing how it compares to other writers. I stole this from Katie Philips Creative Services. She’s great and offers lots of wonderful writing services. Check her out!
WRITING PROCESS—THIS OR THAT! What do you need to be most inspired, creative, and productive?
Do you write at home OR at a coffeeshop/cafe? Do you listen to music while you write OR need silence? Do you outline extensively ahead of time OR are you more of a discovery writer? Is your brain fuel of choice tea OR coffee?
1) I love to write in coffee shops just because I find the atmosphere creative. People watching also helps the creative juices flow, but, I do 99% of my writing at home on my couch nest. I’m a big believer in the home. It is the space I work on every day. I am always looking for ways to make my home comfortable, and so if I didn’t write here I would have to realize it’s not comfortable. So, most of my writing happens on Monday morning with my ‘murder’ mug filled with coffee and my pillows and blankets around me.
2) I usually listen to music. I have a Warrior playlist that is music from some of my favorite war movies and shows. I have a Writing playlist that is all sorts of music from different movies. And, I have two different playlists that are all songs that inspired parts of stories, or summed up parts of stories. The first two are mostly just music and no singing. The others are all singing and almost no just music. I have found that if I’m struggling with a scene, I will shut off the music. Silence and talking to myself helps. 🙂
3) I’m a discovery writer for sure. I will usually have a nebulous, fuzzy, wibbly-wobbly goal in mind that I’m aiming for, or a relationship I’m exploring, but the closest I get to an outline is when I doe a fairy tale retelling. Otherwise, the first rough draft version is a story I’m telling myself, which I kinda love.
4) Coffee all the way. Coffee is a long standing tradition in my family and so a cup of coffee is more than just fuel, it is something that has been passed down for several generations. It is something we share. Coffee is a hug in the mug. Writing just doesn’t feel right without it…unless I can make a cocktail, have a beer, or a glass of wine and right. That is equally acceptable.
What about you? What’s your writing process? Which would you choose?
I’d love to see you on my Instagram: @faerie_stories
Also, keep an eye out for future announcements about my Patreon. I will be updating it soon with more manageable rewards and some great goals and plans. Thank you for supporting me no matter what, through the loquacious times and the dead zone times. Thanks for reading!
Jonah climbed up the pile of trash and bodies. He grabbed the high edge of the RoadBlock and pulled up. The pushing fight between the gangs rose back around him. Bullets zinged. Explosions grunted. Hand-to-hand combat gasped. Flames snapped. Death-cries of boys and girls accented it all. Jonah couldn’t smell, but he knew what he should smell: hot rubber, dirty water freed by heat, singed hair, and the cooked end of man.
I have recently finished doing a quick read through The Cost of Two Hands. Now, I’m reading The Sparrow and The Star. My goal is to finish it before the end of the year. I love the Sparrow and the Star, even with all the work it needs. It may be my favorite book written, thus far. Jonah has come into his own, there is so much darkness laced with so much hope. I love it.
I also love this paragraph. It’s dark and hard, but it is a paragraph I would grab my pen and highlight if this was a book off a shelf, and not one I had written. I just love this paragraph.
I’ve noticed a trend in storytelling where characters are only applauded if they save themselves. Damsels in distress are right out. Don’t be needy.
But, as a Christian storyteller, I find this concept to be
exceptionally distasteful. (On many levels.)
I need a savior.
I am completely incapable of saving myself.
I can’t pull myself up by my bootstraps and fix my life.
And I get it. I’m an American. We fought for our Independence.
We celebrate rebellion. Our gene pool is stuffed full of people who went at it
to explore, conquered, and carve out homes for themselves far from safety. Our
mythos is the Cowboy and the WW2 soldier. We love stories of strong men and
women out there against the world and winning. We love stories of the underdog
who rises up and saves the day. I love those as much as anyone else. I love
stories of bravery and courage, but I also love stories of sacrifice and
It seems our culture finds it distasteful for a man to save
a woman. She needs to save herself. She needs to not need him. But, what if she
does need saving? What if you found yourself in an inescapable situation? Wouldn’t
you want to be saved? How many times does the Bible talk about God hearing the
cries of the oppressed? He doesn’t tell them he’s going to sit over here and
let them save themselves because it will be good for them.
Independence has its place, but we have given something
that should be balanced with her sister Dependence, a seat alone. Independence can
give us the ability to help others, the strength to do what needs to be done, creativity,
but she should never be in the foremost. When Independence takes the lead alone
she becomes harsh, bitter, selfish, and pushes everyone away. She’s not nice. We
praise YA books that teach us women that we don’t need a man to save us, but I,
as a women, have health issues. I actually do need my husband’s help. There are
things he is better at than I am. There are times, yes in small, ordinary ways,
he rescues me. I need to be saved.
I am a sinner. I can’t save myself. I can’t wash my sin
away. I can’t, by sheer force of will, make myself acceptable. I must have
someone stronger than I come in and help me. I must be saved.
As a child, I didn’t find the idea of the Damsel in
Distress distasteful. I only found it distasteful when she stood in a corner
and screamed, or fainted. I always yelled at her to pick up a rock and fight. Then,
when I was in my teens, my goat herd got attacked by two dogs—our dogs attacked
my goat herd. I stood at the top of the hill watching these dogs ravish this
herd of sweet goats and I screamed. I couldn’t move. I was frozen in horror. It
was one of the weirdest moments of my life. I literally could not move. I could not save the ones I loved. I was in deep
distress. (I actually don’t remember screaming, but my Mom told me later she
could hear me on the other side of the hill.) The one time I needed to pick up
a rock, I could not.
Being the Damsel in Distress is humiliating. Waiting around
to be saved, finding out you’re weak, realizing you’re dependent on others is
humiliating, but it is also so very good for us. It is good for us to need
others. It is good for us to need our friends. It is good for us to need our
spouses and families. It is good for us to realize we are finite.
And, it is good to remember that if you are struggling,
being abused, fighting depression, or any other dark thing, get help. Don’t go
it alone. Don’t let your pride or your belief that you must save yourself set
you on a path of total independence. Admit to the fact that we are all damsels
in distress at some points in our life and need saving. Then, at that moment,
in the valley of the shadow of death, remember the fairy tales: knights come.
I think our stories would be better if we didn’t throw out
the Damsel in Distress and the White Knight, but if we honestly realized we can’t
handle it all, we can’t save ourselves. We do desperately need a White Knight.
This isn’t some oppression tactic to tell little girls that they have to sit on
their hands, and to tell little boys they get to have all the fun. This is to
say that we all need saving, and we should all help others when we can, even
when we are weak.
I saw a post about Harry
Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that praised Harry for saving himself at
the end. That the whole point of seeing himself and realizing it wasn’t his
father was to show that Harry saved himself. I just laughed. Harry had to have
so much help to reach that point, so much help, that it’s silly to think he
saved himself. It was just one last step. He took the final step. That’s like a
woman with a broken-down car who changes her own tire. The tire her father taught
her to change, the tire her husband left in the car, or the tire that she
purchased. We don’t’ save ourselves.
We always have help.
We have friends who support us or bop us over the head. We
have people who hug us and people who drive us. We have stories. We have music.
We don’t save ourselves, even when we have to take that final step.
And saying Harry saved himself is sad. It removes the magic
of the fact that in a way his Dad did save him. It removes all the work Hermione
did with the Time-Turner. It chases away the magic of finding out about the Marauders.
It changes the whole scene, and not in a good way. The beauty of that scene is
the longing of an orphan to see his dad, of realizing he is going to have a
home, of all of that culminating in a twist of realizing he can do the magic he
needs to do. Focusing on Harry saving himself belittles all the other things
going on to make the magic of that moment. Yes, Harry was armed with the knowledge
that empowered him to fight, we all need that, cause we can’t save ourselves.
Harry realized he was capable of a difficult spell and saved Sirius, himself,
and Hermione. But he didn’t do it alone. He was only the final step.
So, dear readers, you may crack open one of my books
someday and find that there are Knights, usually a bit muddy, and Damsels in
Distress, usually ones with brains, yes. Because I love them. I, as a woman,
like being saved. I like having a knight. You will also find Bands of Brothers,
you will find Best Friends, and you will find Teams, Found Families, and
Communities. You will not find people succeeding when they go it alone, because
we all need help, we’re all dependent, and we all need to be saved.
I’m going to try and start posting on my blogs again. I had to step back cause of life, you know. My writing has also taken a major step back, but I have found ways of fitting it in here and there, in the cracks and crevasse of my life. In the spirit of posting again, I wanted to share a bit that got slashed, thrown out, tossed from my current WIP: The Stars are Still There. I had a whole scene in an antique store that just didn’t fit with the story, but I was very pleased with this description, so I wanted to share it.
(I’m not going to worry about giving you all the links to follow me on social media because I’m just not active on social media much any more, so just enjoy this, comment, and share as you please.)
The musty smell of old things—wood, cloth, leather, plastic, and glass—settled down around them. A wild menagerie of the past sat in every corner shelf, crook, hook, and socket available. Dishes filled with all the nostalgia of Grandma’s kitchen and home cooked meals. Clothing besotted with lace and glamor. Long gone games, music, and movie stars. Knick-knacks, baubles, and jewelry from an age of craft long forgotten in the age of mass production. Each once loved. Each once carefully selected to grace a home, or a woman, or given to a friend, but the story that they told, their storytellers were long ago buried and forgotten. The children’s children shed the burden of things, the soul connection severed by death and memories lost. Now, in the crooks and on the hooks, piled, stacked, hidden, displayed, they wait, empty, alone, they wait for new connections or the final regulation to dust and decay. They wait to joyously find use, or the discarding into rubbish. Imrie ran her hands over the glass cabinet displaying brooches, from garish to sublime.
Recently, I tried to join a read-along group on Instagram. The idea was to all read the same book, discuss, and share pictures. It seemed like lots of fun and not too time consuming, plus I was in a spot where I had the time to read. The book was announced and we all dutifully got our copies. I started mine at the proper time and knew right away I was in trouble.
I’m not going to mention what book it was because my problem isn’t with the writing. I don’t want to discourage the writer or the reading group. The problem wasn’t the book, it was me. LOL. I think I just friend-zoned a book. But, it’s true. I couldn’t get into the story. I didn’t care one bit about the character. I dreaded having to read it. I knew in an instant, I didn’t care about this story.
There have been times when I’ve had to wade through a book, really wade through it. When I was a kid, I refused to leave a book unfinished. If I started it, I would finish it. As I’ve gotten older I give myself the freedom to put a book aside that I’m not enjoying. Life is too short to plow through books I’m not loving. I weighed being in the group, but hating every minute in the book. I worked on it through to chapter 9 hoping against hope that something would grab me. That happens sometimes. I’m unsure if I like a book, then this magical line pops out and I’m hooked. Chapter 9 and I’m not only not hooked, I’m despising every line. Time to let it go.
I looked the book up on GoodReads wondering if anyone else had the same issue with the book. I watched the comments of the other readers. Everyone loved the book. Everyone praised the book. Everyone talked about how they were strongly impacted by the story. It had glowing reviews, a lovely cover, and was enjoyed by people who also love Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Stormlight Archives and such.
So why not me?
Why didn’t I love it?
What am I looking for in a book? What matters to me?
I can’t say that the book was written poorly. I had no complaints about setting, magic, or description, though I tend to enjoy meatier and more unique description. There wasn’t anything wrong with the worldbuilding. I just didn’t care.
I sit in a corner and ponder. I flip through pictures of scenes I love in my favorite TV Shows and movies. I think about my favorite books. What am I looking for in a book, show, or movie? What am I looking for in a story?
The first element that may produce a lack of interest may be that I’m weary of the female protagonist who goes it alone against the world. I’m tired of stories with strong central female warriors. I’m tired of women against women stories, and this story was all about a mother and two sisters who didn’t get along. That turns me off right away. I love stories with strong male leads. I love stories with strong families, strong teams, and strong brotherhoods. I couldn’t get through the first few chapters of this book, but have binged through the first 9 Sharpe’s novels in a matter of weeks. Now, I don’t dislike women in stories. There are plenty of female characters I love. I’m just more intrigued by the women who aren’t at the forefront. I’m more intrigued by the HearthKeepers than I am by the female warrior. And, I’m more interested in stories of sisterhood, not female conflict.
You may see the theme of teamwork here. I love team stories: Band of Brothers, Firefly, Criminal Minds, Sharpe. All of these have big teams working together. I love it. I love stories of smaller teams, like Endeavour, Chuck, or even 24. Jack always has his team backing him up. I love stories of family like Blue Bloods and Fringe.
I grew up in a big family. We worked together, played together, moved across the country together, and still live within the same state, be it hours apart. We have ridiculous group texts, jokes that are so old we hardly remember where they started. Our family days are crazy, busy, and loud. We love nothing better than to be together. As a believer, I don’t hold with a me-myself-and-I mentality. We are part of a church, historically and locally. We aren’t going it alone. I rarely have any of my characters go it alone. I love teams and families.
So, having a young female lead fighting with her family and going it alone, being different and isolated, just wasn’t appealing to me.
Another problem for me was the lack of intensity. I don’t know how else to describe it, and it seems silly since the story was about being trained to kill people in their dreams, but it lacked some sort of intensity that I’m looking for. There was nothing offered up at the front to move things along. No impending doom. No murders. No war coming. The story was just a girl learning her powers. Harry Potter has Voldemort. He’s there, always in the background. Lord of the Rings may take many years to get going, but the threat of the ring is there from the beginning. It clouds everything in a growing darkness. In this story there was no lingering sense of horror coming. Nothing united reader and character in a fear that drove you to read, read, and read. It was just her training and learning her powers with the hope that a greater mystery would appear.
If there is no impetus to move forward than there is no impetus to keep reading.
From this story, I learned that I really need some pretty big, frightening, and horrific drive to enjoy a story. And if it takes awhile for that to arrive, I need creative and intriguing writing that grabs my imagination, or I need a team.
Lastly, back to the team idea. The story lacked the visceral-ness of a team in pain. When your friends are being hurt, or they’re watching you be hurt, the agony is ratcheted up. There is a pain in friendship and family so much deeper than when you’re alone. It’s the holding your best friend back as his girl is taken away because you know if he tries to save her now, he’ll die. It’s the pleading for the life of someone you love. It’s the tears in a warrior’s eyes as his team is slaughtered. A mother who doesn’t care that she’s causing you pain because you have to learn is way less moving than Molly Weasley watching her children die. Gandalf knowing what it will cost the hobbits to go to Mordor is so much richer than siblings competing and hating one another. Watching Endeavour get broken and put back together by Thursday is what I’m looking for. Watching Hotch scream in pain cause his eardrums are blown but still ordering his men to fire is what I’m looking for. Watching Harper keep Sharpe’s back time after time, loyally following him into hell is what I’m looking for. Watching the look on Winter’s face when he thinks Nix has been shot. Watching Walter willingly go to another world for his son, Peter. Watson being Sherlock’s best and only friend.
There is a friendship, a bond, a family that I’m looking for. It is a theme woven through so many of my favorite stories and books. It developed in me as I grew up in a loving family, as my Mom read Lord of the Rings to us, and the Fellowship became a central part of my life. It is my belief that as a Christian you are part of the Church, not just out on your own. I love brotherhood/sisterhood stories. I love the stories of weary cops holding each other up, of soldiers broken down but still there for each other. Of those who fight for good backed by a great team who would die for them. These are my stories.
There is a necessary driving force beyond the character themselves, be it a murderer, war, or the crashing of worlds. Sometimes it’s pushing out from the government but running into Reevers. Sometimes it’s terrorist in Burbank. Either way, the characters must have something to fight for, and fight against. I need to be able to bleed, die, and hope with them. These are my stories.
This is what I look for, this is what I love and yearn for. This was why a story about a young woman finding out she had this power but being isolated and at odds with her family didn’t hold my attention. This is why dream assassination without a reason for assassination didn’t hold my attention. Not for even three chapters. Sorry. It just wasn’t for me.
I have to admit right up front that I’m not a Steampunk purest. I don’t have a good enough head for science and machines to really be a Steampunk purest. I’m a Steampunk poser. There. I admitted it.
The thing is, I love Steampunk. The first time I saw it it was like I found myself. I went through a real Goth stage in my early twenties, but as I got older I had a hard time with its morose-ness. I like melancholy, but I don’t like emo that much, and I don’t like the nihilistic-ness of cyber punk. Goth doesn’t age well. There is nothing graceful about it. In reality, I liked wearing black clothes, enjoyed “elvish” sadness of the world, and the hints of Victorian clothing that snuck into the gothic look. Also, I liked vampires…but that’s a whole other story.
As I grew out of Goth, Steampunk came on the scene. It had the Victorian flare that I liked, but instead of the depression and rebellion, and, honestly, selfishness of the Goth vibe, it had adventure, exploration, and….goggles. It has goggles.
Once I started getting into Steampunk I started to see different elements of it in movies and books, even going back into childhood stories. (Think Johnny Depp’s Sleepy Hollow. So Steampunk.) Annie Oakley and Amelia Earhart were both childhood heroes and they both work with the Steampunk vibe. I guess you could say I’m a Steampunk fashion lover. But, I also love the spirit of Steampunk. It captures the sense of adventure of Jules Vern all the way up to WW2. The world is a wide open space filled with things never seen before by man or woman. Adventure! I even love the more edgy Steampunk anarchy stuff. The world has fallen and mercenaries hunt down monsters in the dark with flashlights and unusual guns, all dressed in a strange mix of western, Native American, trash, and a bit of oriental flare. It’s very western. It captures that magical time when the world wasn’t all explored and exotic races started mixing with good, old-fashioned, English blood. Or English blood mixed with the exotic, ancient races. Either way, things were newer, fresher. Times were exciting.
Different is intriguing. It’s fun to think of using steam power instead of electricity. It’s fun to imagine the skies filled with zeppelins instead of airplanes. It’s fun to imagine dressing up in long skirts, top hats, gloves, boots that button up the side, and a monocle. All these exaggerated, imaginary things make us look at our own world through fresh lenses. It soaks into our ordinary lives and helps us face the day with an adventurous spirit, imagining everyone around us on a quest. It gives us hope that monsters can be defeated by men and women in leather bracers, boots, and blunderbusses.
As you can tell, I find Steampunk inspiring ascetically.
It turns up in my stories all the time. So many characters with goggles, cool guns, bikes, and even some automatons. When I look for characters I end up posting people in top hats, newsies and driving caps, gold engraved rifles, cool tattoos, gas masks. I love that you can go from dystopian to futuristic. I love hot air balloons. I love the WW2 feel and the Victorian feel that you can mix and match.
For all of the above reasons, when I’m working on a setting for any of my stories, I tend to go Steampunk over medieval. I find historically accurate stories to be constricting. I love to read them, but I don’t like to write them. I want a little room to make things up. (And in my family, we don’t make history up.) Even my urban Fantasies tend to have the magical creatures dressing more Steampunk, or being very Steampunk in their TrueSelf forms.
I hope to blend this in a bit more with my Children’s Faerie Stories. I don’t think it’s coming out as strongly in them as it does in my YA books. They tend to have a bit more of the English garden fairy, or other-worldly fae-faeries about them.
Over the years, I plan to keep learning about the mechanics behind automatons and old revolvers. I want my descriptions, and the ‘physics’ of the world to be more realistic and logical, instead of just sorta made up. J I know most Purist will see my knowledge as very surface level, but I hope you, dear readers, enjoy my Steampunk flavor as much as I do.
Do you like Steampunk? Are you familiar with its look? What’s your favorite Steampunk story?
One of the things I learned from Tolkien, and my own upbringing, was to respect my own mythos. England is an old, old land with lots of myths and legends. They have Arthur, Vikings, Robin Hood, and even Tolkien’s work functions as a myth for England.
I’m not British. I have roots there, just like I do in Ireland and Scotland. (Both have wonderful mythologies and legends.) But, what about here in the young, young land of the United States? We have the Revolution. We have exploration, the constant push west. We have the Civil War. We have winning two World Wars. We even have a bit of Vietnam. All of these shape us, our laws, and our culture. They’ve influenced us for generations. But, my favorite (other than WWII) is our cowboy mythology. Yes, most westerns aren’t historically accurate, or they have many inaccuracies. But, they’re part of who and what we are. We are the drifter who is more than what he seems. We are the gunslinger, the card-shark, the cowboy, the cowgirl, the rancher fighting those who would take all he has. We are long wagon trains. We are laying tracks for technology all the way across the country. We are all of this and more. My favorite element is the man who rides into town, gets drawn into a conflict on the side of the underdog, saves the day, and gets the girl.
When I was a kid, probably around twelve, I read all my Dad’s Louis L’Amour books. Devoured is maybe a better word. I loved every minute of them. I loved the men. I loved the women. I loved the action. The adventure. I loved his fist fights. I loved the Sacketts. Oh, the Sacketts. My first dream as a writer was to be as prolific as Louis L’Amour. I just wanted to write the same story over and over and over, and only change the settings and names. Why? Cause that was what I loved reading. (I still love reading things like this, just like I enjoy action flicks that are basically the same guy in different settings.)
I also loved True Grit. That book was one of my favorites as a kid. Here was a girl not being anything but a girl, but getting this old guy to help her avenge her father, it was perfect. I loved it. The writing is top notch, and the adventure is one of the best. If you haven’t read it, you need to.
Now, my favorite western is Firefly. Yes, it’s a SciFi show, but really it’s a space western. They’re cowboys in space. It has all the right elements. It has the rough around the edges hero with has his ragtag crew. They’re pushing out from the government to make a life for themselves. They have a code and each other.
After Firefly, comes The Sackett movie, the Magnificent Seven, Quigley Down Under, and Tombstone. Doc Holiday is a great example of why I love westerns. He’s loyal to a fault. He’s willing to do everything for Wyatt Earp. He may not be safe, but there is something you love about him. The Magnificent Seven is a redemption story. You have seven guys who’ve lived by their guns their whole life, and now they’re called to sacrifice everything for a small town who can’t pay them. They see this as a way to redeem their souls from all the wrong they’ve done. (I know that theologically they can’t earn salvation, but redemption stories, be they ever so humbly human, are still an expression of us knowing we need redemption. It is a great way to start a conversation about the fact that we know what we’ve done will damn us.)
The Sacketts is a great family movie…meaning it’s about a family who will do everything for each other. When the word goes out that they need help, the Sacketts all come running. They are the kind of guys you would want your sons emulating.
Another beloved one from childhood is Down the Long Hills. What could be better than a story about two kids and their horse? I watched this movie so many times growing up. It combined two of my favorite things: kids shouldering the hardest elements of life and coming out ahead, and horses.
We also watched a lot of John Wayne growing up. I still love to hear his voice and see him walk. As I’ve developed my style over the years, I’ve found westerns popping up all over. My characters keep leaning towards long coats and tied down guns. They keep riding in on bikes to take out the bad guys and get the girl. They use rifles, shotguns, and revolvers. All the years of soaking in L’Amour pours out between my stories of magic, doors, and worlds.
I realized I was writing modern, faerie story westerns.
Instead of turning away from the subtle themes, I decided to embrace it. Westerns may not be super popular right now, but they are special to me, and these are my stories. I embrace the mysterious man who saves the day. I embrace the woman who knows how to shoot. I embrace the kids with guts. I embrace strong friendship themes, land themes, and family themes. I embrace the man who is mistaken for a backwater yokel who is rich with wisdom and insight. I embrace friendship between natives and newcomers in the middle of war. I embrace hunters, wild places, dangerous animals, and range wars. I embrace the lawless and the lawman.
These themes push their way into my stories, sometimes without me even noticing. Westerns flavor my work with grit and gunpowder. I’m a Texan reaching deep into my countries own myths and legends.
Do you have a favorite Western? Book or movie? Let me know in the comments!