Welcome to your next stop on the writing process blog tour! Sonya Craig invited me to be your host this week. Sonya is the author of the Outbound Science Fiction series. Her novels include OUTBOUND, EVOLVE, WATER DEATH and PAWN. The fifth book, ICED is coming soon. Space has never been more unpredictable than when Taiga Chavez and her fellow underdogs square off against the unhinged, totalitarian bullies of the universe.
And thanks, of course, to J. Miles Wagner, author, blogger, and book reviewer for starting us off.
Who am I and why do I write what I do?
Hi! I’m Katherine Lampe, author of the Caitlin Ross series of Paranormal Adventures. Caitlin’s a witch in a small town in rural Colorado where she manages the difficulties that arise between the town’s supernatural and mundane residents. You can find the first five books in the series HERE. Book Six, Demon Lover, is slated for release 2 August 2014.
I didn’t set out to write Paranormal. In fact, I didn’t know it existed as a genre until someone else described my books as Paranormal. I knew about the Sookie Stackhouse books and the Anita Blake series and others of the ilk, sure. I’d even read some. But my brain just lumped those into a corner of the mystery genre and left them there. Besides, those books all involved vampires and werewolves, and mine don’t. It never occurred to me that the adventures of witches and shamans and spirit helpers and gods would fall into the Paranormal category. To me, those things are normal. More about this later.
Anyway, what I’ve always wanted to write is Epic Fantasy: the kind of “sweeping tapestry” of a novel that features momentous events and a huge cast of characters. I’ve wanted to write Epic Fantasy ever since I first read The Lord of the Rings (of course) in eighth grade (in the choir loft, behind my hymnal, during the sermon). And, except for an extremely derivative, 300-page, heroine-on-quest tale I churned out that summer, I’ve never been able to pull it off. I don’t have the kind of mind that’s interested in those huge plots. I like stories about people, and my books have always been character-driven rather than plot-driven. And the standard conflicts of Epic Fantasy don’t appeal to me, either. For years I tried to mesh my interests with Epic Fantasy and it just didn’t work.
Then I spent a year reading every Cozy in the local library. Without my intending it to, my mind took note of the similarities, of the formulas. I saw those simple plots—people solving problems in the context of their interpersonal relationships—as something I could do. So, armed with a fictional small town, some actual local history, and a few character names that began as an in-joke, I set out to write a Cozy.
I hit a problem almost at once. As my starting point, I had chosen a local building with a nasty history. Common wisdom was this building was haunted. In fact, I knew people who had actually seen the ghost. Great. My idea was to have my female amateur sleuth solve a decades-old murder and remove the baleful influence from the local bar.
Except. Except my female sleuth had other ideas. So did her husband. In fact, my whole fictional small town had other ideas. The case turned out not to be as simple as I had hoped it would be, and to solve it, or even begin to understand it, I needed magic. So, okay. I could do that. I wanted to write Fantasy, after all. I’d write a Fantasy Cozy. I decided to make my female amateur sleuth a Witch. Well, that also turned out not to be as simple as I had hoped, because I needed a good reason that this Witch didn’t just wave her hand and make the ghost and all the problems associated with it disappear. I didn’t want to go into that overused Fantasy trope about powerful people never using their powers because CONSEQUENCES or because having power necessarily implies you’ll abuse it. I needed something different. Something particular and personal to the protagonist, not some lame dogma.
It took me five years to solve the problem and explain the magic of my world to myself to my satisfaction. The end result was the first Caitlin Ross Adventure, The Unquiet Grave.
How does my work differ from other works in the Paranormal genre?
The most important way the Caitlin Ross Adventures differ from other Paranormal books is that they come from a Pagan world view. I’m a practicing polytheistic Pagan and have been for over twenty years, and I wanted my work to reflect my values and my ideas about the way the world works. I have read tomes and tomes of Fantasy and Speculative Fiction, and since I realized what genre I worked in, I’ve read tomes and tomes of Paranormal, too. One hundred percent of the Paranormal fiction I’ve read has come from authors working within a Judeo-Christian world view. Some of the Fantasy and Spec Fic I’ve read incorporates elements of Paganism, notably the works of Charles De Lint and Neil Gaiman. Gael Baudino, Diana Paxson, and Mercedes Lackey write Fantasy from a Pagan perspective. But there isn’t any Paranormal that does what I do, at least not any that I’ve found.
Why is this important? Well, when you come from a Judeo-Christian world view, you take certain things for granted. Demons have certain characteristics; it’s a given. Magic is limited by ethical and moral questions that just aren’t a part of Paganism. There’s generally a clear demarcation between right and wrong, and a clear line between good and evil. Now, this provides a handy template, both for the author and for the reader. Because the United States (and other parts of the world) is largely populated by those who, if not practicing Christians, have at least been raised in a Christian context, authors can plug in standard conflicts and situations without having to explain them in detail, and count on the readers understanding what’s going on.
Most Modern Paganism doesn’t operate the same way. My brand of Paganism definitely doesn’t operate the same way. In fact, a lot of the standard operating system looks nonsensical. This poses me a problem, because I have to find ways to convey a Pagan world view to a non-Pagan reader that they’ll be able to understand and relate to. But it also makes my work unique, because my characters constantly are challenged to make personal, situational moral choices, and the outcomes can be other than what you might expect. Since demons aren’t necessarily evil, a character might form a relationship with the local demon instead of automatically banishing it to the nether realms. Since there’s not a moral code that places human beings above other entities on the Earth, a character might, say, decide that the best way to deal with a human foe is to kill him. Or not. It depends. You never know. My characters tend to be a practical lot, and they don’t do a lot of moral agonizing.
There are other differences in my work. The two protagonists are married, for example. I didn’t write about their first meeting until book four, when readers were beginning to demand the story. So, even though the books are grounded in their relationship, there isn’t the same kind of dance going on that you see in books where the protagonists are trying on different love affairs at the same time as slaying monsters. Some people will miss this. Many find it refreshing. Also, I just don’t deal with the main tropes of Paranormal fiction. I have no doubt that vampires and shapeshifters et al exist in the Caitlin Ross world, but we haven’t seen any. And the angels, demons, and gods of the world are far different than those in other worlds.
What is your writing process?
In a stunning twist, I generally start with the title. The one conceit of the series is that I take all the book titles from songs in the traditional Irish and Scottish repertoire. (I was the leader of a Celtic band, and I produced and hosted a Celtic Music public radio show for fifteen years.) Sometimes I’ll hear a song title and think, “Ooh, that would make a great book title!” I have a whole list of these titles. A few of the titles came later, but probably 75% of my books start from taking a title and wondering how it would apply to a book.
With or without title, I spend a LOT of time doing what Neil Gaiman termed “composting.” I think about where I left the characters in the last book and where I want them to go. I think about where they are in their lives and their relationships. I write self-contained stories that include elements of series-wide arcs, so I think about those. Sometimes I decide on specific events. For example, after I completed the second book, I realized that Timber had rescued Caitlin a couple of times, so I decided I needed Caitlin to rescue Timber next. I generally have a beginning and an end planned before I start. The middle is flexible.
Once I’ve composted what seems like long enough, I just sit down and start writing. I don’t do a detailed outline. At most, I make a bullet list of major events and, sometimes, make some notes about ideas so I don’t forget brilliant stuff I’ve come up with before I get to that part. I write the book from beginning to end. Writing is the most linear thing I do. I’ve tried jumping around and writing pieces as they hit me, but most of the time that doesn’t work (although I did write Timber and Caitlin’s first sexual encounter about two years before I wrote the rest of the book in which it appears).
I do the first edit as I go in that every day I look at what I wrote the day before and adjust it as necessary, but I try my best to run through the first draft without major stops. This doesn’t always work. Two-thirds of the way through A Maid in Bedlam I realized I needed to add a character. I didn’t feel like I could go on to the end as if the character had always been there, so I went back to chapter three and inserted him, which involved a lot of name-dropping, a couple scene rewrites, and a whole different chapter seven. I do try to write every day, but I don’t force myself if it isn’t there that day.
After I get through the first draft, I do a pass to eliminate words that I know I overuse (that, just, really, etc.). Then I let the draft sit for a couple weeks and do a third pass to eliminate unnecessary dialog tags and make the whole cleaner. Actually, I might do the second and third drafts concurrently with the first, if I get stuck and I have a couple chapters stacked up in my second and third draft folders. When I’m satisfied with the third draft, I send it out to beta readers, and then do a fourth draft incorporating their suggestions (or not). And then I’m pretty much done.
What are you working on now?
I finished the third draft of book six a couple weeks ago and I’m waiting on beta feedback. I know pretty much where book seven is going, and I’ve written a few paragraphs of the first chapter. But I promised myself a major break after book six. I got my characters past a major event in their lives—which took me almost three years—and my brain needs a rest. Right now I’m working on promotion and building my following. I also enlisted a cover artist, so over the next few months we’ll be seeing new covers for books one through five. I plan to get back to book seven after the release of book six in August 2014. If my brain lets me rest that long!
And that’s it for me! Your next stops on the writing process blog tour will be the week of May 12th, with these authors as your hosts:
Jennie Davenport, an author of modern fairy tales and the paranormal, is a wife and mother of three boys. She is represented by Beth Campbell of BookEnds, LLC and her first novel, HEMLOCK VEILS, comes out this fall from Swoon Romance, with its sequel arriving in April 2015! Jennie is a lover of words, to-do lists, nature, music, and anything that moves her. She is addicted to caffeine and hates crafts, and her ideal getaway would be one-on-one time with any form of nature (but a hotel would do). Follow Jennie on Twitter: @may_davenport and Facebook: http://facebook.com/jenniemaydavenport
Madeline Dyer is a fantasy and science fiction writer, whose fiction has been traditionally published by a number of presses. Her most popular short stories, ‘The Power Of Blood’, ‘The Photograph’ and ‘Stolen Memories’, appear online, in magazines, and in paperback and ebook anthologies in aid of charity. Having had seventeen short stories published, Madeline has been working on a number of novels in the last few years. Her upcoming book, ‘Untamed’, a YA dystopian novel, is currently under review with several publishers, one of which has already offered Madeline a contract.
Melissa A. Petreshock is the author of Fire of Blood and Dragons, NEW from Swoon Romance.