I write novels in multiple genres, but I consider myself an Action novelist. Over the past 6 years, I have completed 9 novels (7 Action-Adventure, 1 Historical Fiction, and 1 Fantasy), am almost finished with my 10th novel (Historical Fiction), and have started outlining three more novels (Suspense, Science Fiction, and Fantasy). This doesn’t include the number of edits and rewrites required for the 9 completed novels to get them ready for submission to agencies and publishing companies. Some of my novels have taken months to write the first draft, and one only required 17 days. There doesn’t seem to be any predictable length of time it takes me to write the first drafts, but the general process of writing is fairly consistent.
A few weeks ago, an author friend of mine (Diana Beebe, www.dianabeebe.com, blog name: “Mermaids Don’t do Windows”) asked me to answer some questions related to my writing process. The questions were simple enough, but the answers are a bit more involved.
Question 1. What am I working on?
I have several projects in the works at the moment. I am actively submitting my first Historical Fiction Novel, “King’s Ransom,” to agencies in hopes of landing a contract for representation. I am also working on the fifth rewrite of my first Fantasy Novel, “The Kingstone of Airmid,” to get it read to submit to agencies. These two projects occupy most of my time. I plan to finish “The Saga of Asbjorn Thorleikson” (Historical Fiction) once the next rewrite of “The Kingstone of Airmid” is completed.
I am also developing the initial outlines of three novels: “The Dragon Lord of Alastríona” (Fantasy and the sequel to “The Kingstone of Airmid”), “The Olympium Factor” (Science Fiction, working title), and “The Scimitar’s Revenge” (Suspense, working title).
Question 2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I look for ways to be different from other works in the genre. There are clear delineations between good and evil, and between hero and villain. My female characters are strong women, and my heroes are characters worthy to be called heroes. They are not angst-ridden, morally ambiguous anti-heroes, which seem to be popular in fiction today. They may be untried and unsure of themselves when facing unfamiliar situations, but they are the kind of character that I want the reader to aspire to, rather than the kind of character you can find walking the halls of any high school in America.
My first 7 novels are all part of an Action-Adventure series that can best be described as “Mission Impossible” meets “Knights Templar,” and is known as “The Knights of the Saltier Series.” It all started with a single idea: if a secret order of “knights” existed today as something other than a fraternal organization, what would it do to be relevant to the world? I set out to create a series that embodies all the ideals I hold dear regarding heroes and leaders.
My Historical Fiction novel, “King’s Ransom,” is set in the age of piracy. I wanted to write a pirate novel that was different from any previous pirate novel. I set out to create a story that avoided the predictable traps that all other pirate novels (and films) seem to constantly fall into: an improbable love story between the Captain and the daughter of a Royal official, the predictable capture of a major part of the crew caused because the captain was too busy with his improbable love interest to do his job properly, the equally predictable rescue of the crew, and the predictably epic battle against the improbable love interest’s betrothed so the captain can sail off with the girl in the end. These are fine for Historical Romance novels, but I wanted to write a novel about piracy without these predictable and overused elements.
My Fantasy Novel, “The Kingstone of Airmid,” is the coming of age story of three orphans who have a destiny that’s vital to the world. The Fantasy genre these days seems to have moved away from the traditional “sword and sorcery” themes and is filled with the pointless and gratuitous sexual exploits of morally repugnant characters. I set out to write a story that returns to more traditional themes and could easily serve as a Young Adult novel that presents characters embodying the best of mankind, rather than the worst of mankind.
The long and the short of it is that I write the stories I like to read and wish other authors were writing.
Question 3. Why do I write what I write?
Put simply, I’m compelled to write my stories. I never set out to be a novelist, but now it’s my full-time profession. I never thought about branching out into other genres, but when a story comes to me, I follow it wherever it leads me. The only constants in my stories are action and strong characters who represent my ideal persona.
Question 4. How does your writing process work?
My writing process follows the same basic steps, regardless of the kind of novel I’m writing.
Inspiration. The inspiration for my novels can come from a variety of sources. Often it’s music. Sometimes it’s real events. Other times it’s my own imagination. Two of my novels were based on stories that had come to be years earlier, but I didn’t have the right characters or settings to write the stories at the time. Other stories come to me in a flash and I have to write them down quickly so I don’t forget anything.
Outlining. I don’t do formal outlines like I was taught in school. I start by writing a two to five page summary of the plot ideas. Then I augment this with some of the points of conflict and other key elements until it’s about eight to ten pages. Then I begin breaking the summary down into “chunks” of two to ten sentences each, and these become my chapters.
Formatting. For some reason, I can’t write a story unless I have already worked out the printed page layout, the typeface, and the layout of the chapter headings. I also have to select pictures of people who are the inspiration for my major characters so I can have a complete idea in my head of what they look like when I describe them. Sometimes I even create a draft cover to use as inspiration while I’m writing.
Writing. Once I start writing, it’s basically taking the broken apart summary and expanding on the original ideas. However, as I write, I constantly have to go back and review/modify the summary because what comes out of my fingers while I type is always different from my original concept when I wrote the summary. It’s a very dynamic, iterative process. I begin each day by re-reading what I wrote the previous day and doing spot edits. Then I write until the ideas stop flowing from my mind to my fingers. The next day is exactly the same. Once I finish a chapter, I go back and re-edit it until I get the story the way I want it, and then I modify the summary to include any additional plotlines or plot changes.
I listen to music (without words) while I write, and the type of music I listen to depends on what I am writing. Action scenes are written to strong music, and love scenes are written to romantic music. The music sets the mood for me, and I have dozens of playlists for each type of scene I’m working on.
Editing. I have a couple of people who read the manuscripts once I finish the first draft to help smooth out the grammar and to tell me if the story is worth reading. Once I have their changes made, I share the manuscript with two to three beta readers who also give feedback on if the story is any good. I use their input to rewrite the first draft, which is the story I wanted to tell, and create the second draft, which is the first pass at the story others want to read. I then submit that to a larger group of beta readers for their feedback. This feedback goes into the third draft, which is when I begin focusing on the first chapter to hook the reader from the very beginning. The third draft is sent to additional beta readers (some new and some repeat), and their feedback goes into the fourth draft. The fourth draft is submitted to critique groups to pick the story apart, and their feedback goes into the fifth draft, which is resubmitted to my editors for polishing. Then the manuscript is ready for submission to agencies and publishers.
The process of writing the first draft takes anywhere from one to five months. The editing process, which transforms the story from what I wanted to tell into what others want to read, typically takes at least a year and is the hardest (from an ego perspective) part of the process. It requires a very thick skin to open one’s self up to feedback from others, but if one wants to be a professional writer, this feedback is vital. It doesn’t matter if the manuscript is the story you want to write if no one wants to read it. The trick is to edit the manuscript into a story others want to read without losing the integrity or the essence of the original concept.
Writing is a journey. Every time I start a new book project, I never know exactly where it’s going to take me, and I’m always surprised when I get to the end. I guess that’s what makes the journey so exciting and why I let myself take the journey so often. I have little control over the journey, but as my writing matures, the journey becomes smoother and more familiar. Someday, I hope the journey becomes something I can control, but until then I’ll just keep writing and enjoying the ride.