I am about half-way with another Fantasy/Magic Realism novel. This one, as yet untitled, actually came to me in a dream – or the core idea did. I usually don’t remember my dreams, so when this one was still so vivid in my mind I wrote it down and built the story around it. This one will be a stand-alone novel, different from my previous trilogy.
When and how do your characters come to you? Is it in a moment of inspiration, an epiphany? Or do they grow in some murky recess of your mind?
Haha. That’s always an interesting question. In my trilogy they came to me as their turn to be seen in the story came. They appeared when I needed them. I thought I was crazy to think that characters have minds of their own and often dictate how they will be written until I heard from other authors that this happens all the time. Now it feels normal to have them show themselves to me and let me know where they want to go and who they are.
In my current WIP two main characters were there in the dream and I let them grow in the story. The others were added as needed, with the exception of a third one. He was in the dream but poorly outlined, so he has more room to set his own personality.
There’s an acceptance that authors often write in traits or characteristics of themselves into their work, is there any part of you in any of your characters?
Yes, that is what I keep hearing, as well. I suppose any writer has qualities within themselves that tend to show up in characters. It is, after all, often what we are most familiar – ourselves. Yet I can say that no one character in any of my books is me. Each one may have a quality of mine, but they do not all show in the same person or in the same way as I show them. And each of my characters also possesses traits that I believe I do not. Perhaps someone one who knows me really well might see more. (Now wouldn’t that be an interesting party game. lol)
How do you develop your characters? Do you let them brew in your subconscious, use character interview sheets, or something completely different?
I never write down what I think a character ought to be like. I do think about them and converse with them in my mind, or picture them in various predicaments to see how they act or react. Essentially they show themselves to me and emerge and grow as the story requires. So, I suppose they do, “brew in my subconscious” as you said.
When I began I was a true pantser. I didn’t even know I was writing a trilogy until a few chapters into the first book. I thought I was writing a short story. It quickly became apparent that there was more to tell than a short story could encompass and not much longer before I knew I had three books in my head.
What I did have, however, were a beginning, an ending and a few major plot points for each book. These didn’t change and my characters did not fight me over them. Each book, though, seemed to have a more certain path than the previous one.
With the current one I found myself planning more. Perhaps this is because I am still attached to that dream so certain things have to happen. Pehaps it’s part of my writer’s learning curve. Even so, I don’t write anything down. I write off the top of my head and go back and edit later.
When you are developing a book, what tools or techniques do you use, e.g. timelines, mood boards, character interviews, scraps of notes?
It may sound incredulous but I write nothing down. Perhaps this is why I can’t work on more than one major project at once. The outline of the dream is the only thing I ever did write down, and that only because I didn’t want to lose it. As I said, I do keep certain key scenes or points in my head, but that’s where they stay. Or I hope they do. lol
Has your technique changed over time?
My technique has remained mostly unchanged, but as I said, I do plan just a tad more.
There is one thing that I do differently, though. I used to write strictly stream of consciousness and did no editing or re-writing until the entire book was there. Now I find myself restructuring sentences as I go, editing spelling and grammar, and generally tightening things. I find that doing this as I re-read what I’ve written helps me stay on my path and keep the flow and pace running more smoothly
Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you actively look for it?
I have always been fascinated by people, how they think, react, emote. The same goes for what I look for in what I read. I am an incorrigible people watcher. Many of my ideas come from that. Others, especially ideas about how to build a good story, come from all the reading I’ve done over my life. I didn’t come to writing until late (age 57) so have had many years to read and to decide what I want in a good tale. Conversations, no matter how casual, are a source, as well.
What kind of an environment do you write in? Day/night/silence/music/desk/sofa etc
My spouse and I live in a tiny house. In spite of that we managed to have our work spaces at opposite ends with two doors in between so we don’t bother each other. He likes music. I need silence. So I sit with my back to the window in a space I’ve set up as an office, with a desk, bookshelf and my PC. I love it because I can see the rest of the house, (except hubbies space) and get up for a coffee or a snack in between writing. This gives me time to think that isn’t in front of the keyboard. Somehow moving my body even a little often loosens my creativity as well.
Half way into writing my first novel, it’s taking over my brain! What advice can you give me on completing it? Or maybe an easier question. What do you wish you had known about writing a book before you started?
Oh, I’ve learned so much since I began. But the biggest lesson was that “less is more”. In the re-write/edit of my first novel I cut 30 % of the word count. Now, with the editing as I go, I find I cut very little. It hurt to lose all those “darlings” but they slowed the story down. So that was a big lesson.
The other one for me was not to “talk down to my reader”, in other words not to over describe or over explain. If it is obvious from the context leave it out. This is part of the “show, don’t tell” rule we hear so much about. It’s one I still have to be very conscious of. If you can show, by and action or by dialogue, then don’t tell it as narrative – or at least don’t overdo it.
All rules are meant to be examined with a grain of salt. Know them, learn them – and then break them with awareness and intent where the writing calls for it.
The publishing industry is in decline across the board. Do you think things like the Kindle are bridging the gap, is there still the same love for the written word, or is it being diluted by the modern obsession with tech and gadgets?
Oooooh, is this where I get to rant?
Traditional publishing is struggling, mainly because it has not embraced change. They took their time jumping on the digital wagon. They became arrogant about telling authors how to make their books fit into their current boxes. They took too much control over the creative process away from their writer, dictating covers, titles, and what changes to make in the story so it would “sell”.
Writers became increasingly discouraged with having their creativity curbed and their books dumbed down. A revolution began that has grown steadily. Authors began to publish their own books. Many of them are really good – better, in my opinion, than what mainstream publishing is offering. Yes, many still need better editing, covers, etc. But even that is improving greatly as the message gets out. And those that don’t heed that message are getting left behind, where they belong.
Digital technology is assisting this process. The “gadgets” offer more opportunities for both writers and readers. I don’t believe that people are reading less. The gadgets are making it possible to read more. We don’t sit at home curled up in an armchair as much as we used to, because we are so mobile. But the gadgets such as e-readers and i-pads make it possible to carry many books with us as we move from place to place. Audi-books allow people to enjoy books as they drive to and from their work. We are not reading less; we are reading differently.
That said, I do not think that paper books will go out of style. Even those with e-readers still say they love the feel of a “real” book and love to curl up in that chair with one when they can. There is room for all of it.
50 Shades of Grey author EL James was reported to make around £100k a day at the book’s height, and the upcoming film will make her millions. Do you find it a shame that the most lucrative and famous book franchise of the moment is one so widely derided for its lack of literary value? Or is it just good to have a book going mainstream?
I think the success of this book does writers and readers everywhere a disservice. It gives ammunition to those who say publishing is going to the dogs and, because it was originally self-published, devalues self-publishing. That a trad publisher picked it up speaks to my earlier comment about only publishing “what sells”. They no longer care about literature, or writing, only about the lowest common denominator. That’s why many of the “best” books cannot be found on their shelves and have to be sought out among self-published titles.
If a fascist regime was burning the worlds libraries, what books would you save?
Oh my, that’s a tough one. How many can I save? I’d begin with the world’s most important scientific, religious(all religions) and arts books. Many of the classics would come next, including ones that speak to social issues, eg. Les Miserables, Oliver, etc. Next would be the world’s history books, so we may hope to avoid the mistakes of the past. It boils down to saving the wisdom of the world as concisely as possible. Knowledge is power – and in such a situation it needs to be maintained at all costs.
Which publishing route have you taken? Did you always know you were going to go down this route, and if so why?
When I realized I had a book and not a short story I did some research on getting published. What I learned told me that my chance of being taken on by a trad publisher was less than that of winning a major lottery. So I looked on-line for other options. Even though I was careful, and thought I had done my homework I was pulled into the mad, mad world of vanity publishing. I ended up with iUniverse (a subsidiary of Author Solutions). I lost about $5000.00 when all was said and done. I took my rights back and, after a new cover, a re-write and re-edit, self-published. My second and third book are self-published as well. All three are available in paper and e-books.
What do you wish you knew about the publishing process before you started?
If I knew then what I know now I would have self-published from the beginning and saved myself both a lot of money and a lot of frustration. You can read the full story here
What is the best advice you could give to aspiring novelists like me? Or what was the best advice you were ever given?
Learn the rules – then allow yourself to break them with awareness and intent so that you remain true to your unique voice. Rules are guidelines – not laws.
If you decide to self-publish, (something I recommend), do a LOT of research; join groups that will help you avoid the traps vanity publishers set. They breed like rabbits and are all too eager to take advantage of new authors.
I do not have much personal experience with fan fiction and so don’t feel qualified to say much about it. One advantage that I can see is that it gets people writing. So that can’t be bad, right? I think it can be done well and certainly keeps fans engaged.
I am finding more and more, that writers often have several creative outlets. Do you? Or is writing your one source?
I love to sing and belong to a really top-notch concert choir. I also garden, am a master knitter who has made my own sweater patterns, and have done various needlecraft projects. I also have made doll house miniatures.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Likely very bored. lol
I don’t think any other occupation would keep me this involved.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I really didn’t know how much I would get out of writing until I began that first book at age 57. Until then I had to earn a living and had no time. Retirememnt from paid work freed me to discover this passion.
What authors do you admire, and why?
Before I discovered Indie authors I loved Fantasy writers such as Robin Hobb and Juliet Marillier for their ability to weave wonderful stories with characters that grabbed me and held me. I loved Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables because he understood and exposed the social ills of his time in a way that made me care about his characters and the trials they suffered.
Now, when I find time to read, I stick to some wonderful indie authors like Laurie Boris, Karen Wilde, J.D. Mader and Lynne Cantwell – all of whom write very different books. Yet they all have such a flair for words and give such life and honesty to their characters that I find them truly readable.
To find out more about Yvonne, read her author bio below:
Yvonne Hertzberger lives in Stratford, Ontario with her spouse, Mark. She calls herself a late bloomer as she began writing at the ripe age of 57. Her Fantasy/ Magic Realism trilogy, “Earth’s Pendulum” has been well received. She is working on a new novel unrelated to the trilogy. Hertzberger is a contributing member of Indies Unlimited.