So a crazy lady with unique ideological views, aka Charlotte Ashlock, the “Crazy Idealist,” has asked me to discuss my writing process, my reasons behind my work, and the various things that make my writing unique. She wrote a similar post about her own work, or as she put it, “Her Crazy Idealism at Work.” It was an interesting read, so I definitely recommend checking it out.
(I was also apparently tagged for this by The Great and Terrible Evey about two months ago, and she never actually, y’know, TOLD me she tagged me.)
Those of you who regularly visit my blog may already know some of these details, but others may not. So I’m going to mix things up a bit and try to keep things interesting.
What am I working on?
Arcana Revived is an urban fantasy series set in a fictional modern day world. The story follows two main characters (and a diverse supporting cast) on different paths as they experience the return of magic to the world after it’s been gone for centuries and is now considered nothing more than myth and legend.
Gabby Palladino begins the story as an ordinary teenage girl, struggling with the usual issues of her place in life, her troubles in school, her sexual orientation, and an unwed pregnant older sister. Before the world begins to change, she is a poet and aspiring actress, living a relatively normal suburban life. Minerva “Tock” Zipporah, on the other hand, has recently recovered from an illness that left her in a coma for months. Her life is filled with chaos even before the world changes as she deals with poverty, an abusive father, and a volatile temper that causes her a lot of trouble. Both girls find their paths cross on a day when the entire world begins undergoing irrevocable changes that see the return of the fabled arcana, which grants magical abilities to some, while others are left trying to cope with things no one understands, and no one can control.
The in-progress series currently consists of five novels (one complete and soon to be released later this year, two that are finished first drafts awaiting revision, one in-progress draft, and one being outlined). There are also fourteen short stories set in the same world and timeline as the novels, but each telling its own standalone tale. You can read two of the short fiction pieces online: Crying and There’s No Such Thing As Monsters, hosted on Ravenheart Press, run by my friend Eve Jacob. I’ve also published one short story ebook, Radiance, and the others are planned for release in similar format after the first novel, Manifestation, comes out this year. In addition to the novels and short stories, I’m also working on a multigenre musical novella, Giapelli, written in the theme of a mix between a prose piece and a Broadway-style musical set aboard an 1850s steam-powered riverboat that is hijacked by bandits. It’s set in the same world as Arcana Revived and thus there are supernatural elements, but let’s just say the story doesn’t follow the expected format. The novella probably won’t be released until after some of the other pieces in the series, due to the complexity of putting together such a unique piece.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
While there are plenty of things that I think make my work unique, there are two main areas that I think are worth pointing out here. One is the way most modern fantasy stories address magic. Almost every story I see incorporating magic into a modern day world uses one of the following techniques: 1) Magic exists but is kept hidden away by a secret society or conspiracy (Harry Potter, Heroes, most vampire stories), 2) Magic is unique to certain individuals or “superheroes” but doesn’t exist elsewhere (think of most superhero movies where other than the main hero and the main villain, the rest of the world is normal), or 3) Magic exists everywhere and everyone knows about it (such as with the X-Men, where mutants are commonly known to exist in the world). While there are surely some exceptions, almost every book or movie I can think of with modern day magic falls into one of these categories. There can be crossovers, such as in the series True Blood where there WAS a conspiracy to keep it all hidden and THEN the conspiracy ended and the whole world knew vampires exist, but that still follows the basic formula.
My series doesn’t follow any of these formulas. There is no conspiracy, because I’ve always found it hard to believe that anyone could keep such things hidden and secret for so long (unless you have something like the flashy thing from Men in Black). There is no unique incident, lab accident, radioactive spider, mutation, or other effect that grants powers to just one or a small group of people while leaving everyone else untouched. The entire world is being changed, and figuring out how and why arcana is returning is an ongoing mystery throughout the novels.
The second main area I feel is different is that instead of avoiding the difficult questions of what happened to the world, I’m exploring them. “Post-Apocalyptic” is a common genre, but in almost every story I see in that genre, the apocalypse is merely a part of history. The Wheel of Time series had “the breaking of the world,” but it took place 3000 years ago. Similar ancient catastrophes are part of the back story of the Sword of Truth series of books, several Final Fantasy games, and movies like the Matrix and Wall-E, where (for very different reasons) civilization as we once knew it has collapsed. There are some movies where we see the disaster that brings about the collapse (Independence Day, Deep Impact), but we don’t see what happens after except to see that humanity survives and there’s hope for the future. Otherwise we enter the story years later after humanity has struggled for a long time to recover. Or then there’s the Resident Evil films, which skip over the main period of the zombie apocalypse between the second movie (where only one city was contaminated) and the third (where the whole world has collapsed).
What’s missing from all of these stories is what happens during the collapse. Humanity’s struggle to survive. The way the new governments and societies form. Instead of skipping from “before” to “after,” my goal is to show what happens “during” this period of struggle. I think that makes for a deeper and more unique story.
Why do I write what I do?
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King described how he came up for the idea for his first novel, Carrie. Pieces of it came from different bits of inspiration he’d had floating around in his head for awhile. One was based on his experience working as a high school janitor cleaning the girl’s locker room where he came up with an idea of teenage girls harassing one girl who’d just gotten her period. The other was based on an article about telekinesis developing in a girl during puberty. Then, as he put it, “POW! Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea …”
My own ideas came from multiple different sources. Gabby, Tock, and some of the other major characters came from online collaborative writing and roleplaying groups I once wrote with. I developed them in separate, unconnected story arcs, then eventually decided it would interesting to put them together in a new setting and see what happened.
Gabby was partially inspired by Susan Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia, along with ideas I first developed for a couple of my old Dungeons and Dragons characters. Tock was partially inspired by the trio of nerd supervillains, Warren, Johnathan, and Andrew, from Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, along with the MagiTek enemies in Final Fantasy 6, and Agatha Heterodyne from the webcomic Girl Genius. Much of the chaos that develops in the course of my books comes from taking these drastically different characters from diverse sources of inspiration, setting them loose, and watching the consequences of their actions unfold.
It’s also fair to say that I’ve been heavily influenced by many fantasy and sci fi books and movies. I’d say my series is far more fantasy than sci fi, but there are sci fi elements when I get into some of the magitech stuff that Tock gets up to.
How does my writing process work?
I’m a Pantser, not a Plotter. My process goes something like this:
Each “point of view character” in my series (characters who have parts of the story told from their perspective rather than being on the sidelines of another character’s story) has certain goals they want to accomplish, and I have goals in how I want to develop them. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into some of them, but the goals can vary from simple to complex. There may be an immediate goal like “survive the current catastrophe,” a developmental goal like “learn how to control their arcana” or “teach Gabby how to use a bow and arrow,” or relationship goals like “get to their first kiss.” Once I set a certain goal, I then put obstacles in the way (dangers that lower the chances of survival, complications in the arcana that need to be puzzled out, Gabby’s clumsiness with an unfamiliar weapon, or awkward interruptions that prevent the kiss). I then write until the complications are (eventually) overcome and the goal is accomplished. There are also overall plot goals for each book, and the book isn’t done until the complications are overcome and the goals are accomplished.
Sometimes, because I don’t do detailed outlines and plot out each scene, I find myself uncertain how to proceed towards a given goal. I usually address this in one of a few ways. Once simple technique is to assume that if I’m not sure what to do, the characters aren’t sure either, so I write them puzzling through their uncertainty until they decide what to do. This saves me from having to think of a solution because the characters do it for me. Other times I’ll have issues like “this event can’t happen until I get Gabby and Tock in the same city together,” so I focus on events that will lead them to the same place at the same time. In any case, I always have those goals in mind, and each scene is written to move the plot towards them.
So that’s all for now. I hope my writing process proved interesting. Next, you should go check out a few other people who have been instructed to write about their own processes. You can peruse their blogs for now, and if they comply with the instructions, they should have posts about their processes up soon.
Emily Toynton, also known as Emmy Shine. She blogs. She’s deaf. And I want to kiss her face.
A. K. Anderson. I never remember what the A or the K stand for. She writes books and stuff, and also wrote this comic. But she didn’t draw the comic, the guy who drew this comic did. They’re both pretty cool.
Quip Slinger. She may or may not also be known as “Cairn Rodriguez” (or not . . . possibly “Cairn Rodrigues”; the world may never know). She is a flower. She may or may not also have a face. Don’t ask.
April. She scrawls and scribbles. She is not, to the best of my knowledge, associated with any mutant turtles, ninja or otherwise.