On Writing

hayden wand visits the blog

Today, I have Hayden Wand on my blog. I’m dead chuffed because I read her review blog for years and now I get to examine her brains about everything. I mean, to interview her. Asking questions. Politely. Nowadays, she’s over at Leatherbound, is an author herself, and has excellent taste*.

*And by that I mean – amongst many other wonderful things – she is a fan of Batman and doesn’t mind when I message her out of the blue about him. NO. I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM? Why do you ask?

So, grab a beverage of your choice. Stand, sit, or lie down. Pop your headphones in or retreat to a quiet place. Or don’t do anything. Don’t let me tell you what to do – except for this: enjoy, because we are in for a treat! We’ve got books (of course!), writing (THANK YOU), a controversial opinion on Jane Eyre (* le gasp*) and Batman (!!!). Buckle up! Let’s go …

TRADITIONAL GIF IS NOW TRADITION!

Quick! Three random things about your day to day routine. GO!

1- The first thing I do when I wake up is make my bed. My day goes so much better when my bed is made.  

2-TODAY has a special wrinkle in my daily routine because my family and I are going to a ball tonight! Years ago, some friends of my family started a biannual heritage ball. We all dress up in our best finery (I have curlers in my hair right now) and then dance like it’s 1810 London. 

3- You know those fancy jade rollers you can use on your face for a massage or to apply serum? I have one of those and I love using it before bed. I feel very rich and glamourous when I do so. I immediately turn into a wealthy Hollywood Star circa 1938.

If you could read a book for the first time again – what would it be?

I think I’d have to say Pride and Prejudice, just because reading it for the first time was one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had. When I first read it, I knew nothing about it, and what’s more, I didn’t really know anybody else who’d read it either! So it was basically this book I no preconceived notions about and ended up—to my shock—loving.

I’m a little sad that overexposure to the story has taken away a lot of its charm for me.

What’s a classic you think is underrated?

Hmmmm….would the world kill me if I said Jane Eyre is overrated, and I enjoy Charlotte Brontë’s Villette much more? Even that isn’t my favorite (The Brontës and I don’t get along very well) but I think it’s weird how EVERYONE has heard of Jane Eyre, but like…no one knows about her other books.

If you had to turn a book into a flea, put the flea in a box, put that box into another box, mail it to yourself and SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER!! … what book would it be?

OKAY- so this book shall remain nameless, BUT there was this one novel I read that basically used religion (and Biblical imagery/paraphrased quotes in particular) as an example of Men oppressing Women. I knew the novel would be more feministic than I’d probably agree with, but I’d hoped it would more nuanced. Nope. It got RIDICULOUS by the end to the point of not, “men and woman are equal” but “women are literal goddesses and men have usurped our place & used religion of their own to strip us from our power because they are jealous.” It was such a mess. 

you have no option – turn it into a flea

I followed your old review blog and you read a lot of Christian fiction – what are its strengths and what do you think it needs to do to improve?

Oh goodness. I was the BIGGEST Christian fiction reader back in high school, but now I’ve learned I can enjoy it much better in small doses.

One thing I think Christian Fiction does pretty well is just how they are usually just about Christian characters living their lives in the context of following Christ. I enjoy it when the characters are simply & unapologetically Christian. Even in “clean” books the characters often behave in ways that don’t match up to my own values, even if it’s implied they are “religious.” So finally getting a chance to spend time with heroes and heroines who believe the same things I do are a nice change from secular fiction.

But there are a lot of ways I think the genre needs to improve. Many of them follow the same plots they just reshuffle over and over, especially when it comes to spiritual issues; the writing itself can be a little bland and lack personality, and sometimes they can even be too worried about being “clean” at the risk of not being true or realistic to the story they set out to tell. I am excited that I’m seeing Christian fiction branching out, though—and it seems we’re finally getting more Christian sci-fi and fantasy writers out there, even if they don’t write strictly “Christian fiction.”

Now, you and I have discussed Batman in the past (YOU WERE A LIFE SAVER!!) – you’ve been given the opportunity to write a Batman comic (!!!); what’s the plot?

askjhdzfgdhszkf YES! (I LOVE our Batman discussions!!!) This is the BEST question. OKAY. It’s a detective noir-styled comic with high stakes BUT it’s also focused on the whole Batfam working together. Do they always get along? Of course not. BUT BRUCE ALSO LOVES HIS KIDS AND THEY WORK THINGS OUT AND SAVE GOTHAM.

But that doesn’t mean the story is touchy-feeling emotional stuff. Not. At. All. There’d be a lot of focus on organized crime & I think Penguin and Riddler would be the main villains, simply because they are my favorite. (Catwoman is actually my favorite, but at this point in MY comic run she is more of an anti-heroine and totally a part of the batfam as she was always meant to be). 

I also picture it being a bit “vintage”—not purely historical, but with that classic old-school comic book feel. Kind of like in the style of Batman: The Animated Series.

write this. WRITE THIS NOW. (please).

Fanfiction – what are your thoughts on the subject?

I used to be really uncomfortable with the idea because as a writer myself, people taking other writers’ characters and ideas to do their own thing seemed a little…weird to me. Especially because so much fanfic can be inappropriate and sexualized. Nothing annoys me more than when someone’s taken a relatively clean and wholesome form of media and rewrites it to be…dirty. BUT if it’s clean and it’s written well, I’ve come to really enjoy fanfiction—especially for comics and TV shows/movies. It’s also very therapeutic to peruse when characters you love end up with stupid or tragic endings.

I also do occasionally write fanfiction myself and find it to be incredibly fun! Except once I wrote the first three paragraphs to an Emma sequel, then forgot about it until YEARS later before finding the document and realizing that I had 1) no memory of writing it and 2) no idea where the story was going. Which I’m still annoyed about. It probably would have been a masterpiece. 

By the way, congratulations on the new book! What was your favourite thing about the writing process?

Thank you! January Snow has been a long time coming, so I’m glad to finally get her out there! (Even though the whole publishing process was an absolute mess this time—everything from accidentally uploading files with typos to issues with the cover coming out the wrong color—I. Was. Pulling. Out. My. Hair.)

BUT my favorite parts about writing?

I LOVE the planning! Making maps. Creating character names. Writing down detailed plot ideas and fitting them all together like puzzle pieces. There is nothing better than suddenly getting the answer to a plot issue that you’ve been stewing over for days. Or when you realize that you accidentally foreshadowed something? OH it’s the best.

Also, not going to lie—the point where you’re finished and publish the book and then people buy it and you get money? I’m also pretty fond of that part.

How did the story sprout – did you plan it or did it spring into being?

The setting is my family’s car, eight or nine years ago. Topic of discussion? Disney princesses.

My brother Harrison: “I really just can’t stand Snow White.”

Me: “OH? How can I FORCE my brother to LIKE this story and character??? Hmmmm…ah, yes….I shall add MOBSTERS!!”

Of course, that first idea went through MANY changes. In fact, my main character’s personality was completely different in the first draft. Unfortunately, that character was simply not right for the story, and it made the plot and tension really, really, weak. But once I figured out who January was—when she “clicked”—everything else finally started falling into place!

What does your writing space look like?

So my desk is *actually* a dresser in my room that has a space for a bench underneath. It works pretty well…except for the fact that sitting at a bench for long periods is not great for my back, so if I have a lot of writing to do and the house is quiet, I’ll sit downstairs at the dining room table.

But even so, I do love my dresser-desk. I have a row of classic books behind my computer, and they sit below a bulletin board full of random papers and artwork and fairy lights. I also have a daily “Shakespeare insults” calendar that I got from my parents for Christmas. 

Today’s insult is, “You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face,” from King Lear.

I take undue interest in staring at other people’s writing desks. This has drawers. And books. So – perfection?

Pandas or llamas?

Llamas! I even have a sweater with a llama on it. And an Emperor’s New Groove mug. And also llama lights around my bulletin board.

What’s a really good story you’ve imbibed recently?

I feel like I’ve just been banging around pots and pans lately yelling “watch Tangled: The Series!! It’s too good to languish in obscurity!!!” to the point where everyone is probably tired of it. It is good, though—and after being Greatly Frustrated by animated shows that started out well and then crashed and burned later on, it’s SO NICE to finally have a show that’s been consistently enjoyable. This one is true to the original characters, actually includes character arcs, has great plot twists, and is genuinely funny. I’m just mad it took me this long to get around to watching it!

Thank you so much for having me, Ness! I very much enjoyed it 😀

Thank you, Hayden!! When Disney + arrives in the U.K, Tangled: The Series is at the top of my list. THE TOP.


You can find Hayden on her blog here, follow her twitter here, and check out the stories she’s spun right here. (I recommend ‘For Elise‘. The writing style – very Gothic but in a modern setting – tickled my funny bone and I thought the storyline was terribly sweet. I also thought it was called ‘Fur Elise’ for ages. Apparently, I cannot read.)

On Writing

i also did not kidnap kyle robert shultz for an interview.

I am a social creature. Clearly. Today, I have the marvelous Kyle Robert Shultz with me. (I mean, not literally. But in spirit.) Shultz is the author of multiple series set in the Afterverse, a parallel universe where myths, fairy tales, and classic stories are real events and part of history. He lives in self-imposed exile in the southern Idaho desert, far enough away from humanity to protect innocent lives should he lose control of his awesome fictional powers and rip a hole in the space-time continuum or something.

So sit down (or stand), grab a cup of tea (or a pint, or a horn of ale, or coffee, OR HERBAL TEA OR NOTHING) and settle in – we’re in for yet another treat.

***DON’T READ ON … if you’d rather not touch on how Medusa is possibly misunderstood, ponder the best parts of book birthing, and dive into the deep depths of escapism and reading.***

apparently, this gif is tradition now.

I’ve been really enjoying Deadwood. Clearly you have an excellent sense of humour. What makes you laugh? Puns? Sarcasm? The ridiculous? Naked snails?

Why, thank you! So far as types of humor are concerned, I am very much on the dry, snarky end of the spectrum. The Twelfth Doctor is my spirit animal…either him or Peter B. Parker from Into the Spider-Verse; it varies. Though that doesn’t mean that a well-executed, totally goofy pun won’t elicit a snort of mirth from me from time to time. And of course, the vast comedic potential of naked snails is not to be underestimated.

The weird thing is that my style of humor varies depending on what character I’m writing, or, to put it another way, which part of the world I’m writing in. Todd Crane’s sense of humor in the Crockett and Crane series is decidedly American, and those books are a little more goofy in tone. Nick Beasley from the Beaumont and Beasley series, on the other hand, is a gruff, no-nonsense Londoner (or rather, Talesender, in this case) inhabiting a world with a distinctly Wodehousean flavor to its funny. I’m not a Brit myself, but I have immersed myself in a great deal of Britishness over the years through books, audiobooks, radio plays, etc.

Favourite mythological figure – from any culture! – go!

You want me to choose? Have you no mercy??? Okay, I’ll take a crack at it. I think I’ll go with…Hades. I mean, his relationship with Persephone is actually pretty sweet in quite a few versions of the myth; he once trapped two would-be kidnappers in magic chairs, which is hilarious; and he literally named his gigantic three-headed monster-dog Spot. He’s awesome.

Is Medusa maligned? I feel as though she, like sharks, have terrible PR. What are your thoughts?

Yes, I think that’s very accurate. The oldest myths about Medusa describe her as having been born with her unfortunate powers, so it’s hardly her fault, even if she did end up a little homicidal over time. I mean, who wouldn’t, in that situation? Perhaps if Perseus had just taken the time to have a conversation with her instead of getting all head-choppy, the conflict could have been resolved in a more civilized manner.

so when does this book come out?? YOU CAN WRITE IT. I’LL WAIT.

Why centaurs?

No, no, you’ve got it wrong. The question is obviously “Why not centaurs?” After all, they tend to appear in one of only two over-used archetypes: the barbaric monster or the star-gazing soothsayer. It’s high time they got more diverse representation in fantasy. You’re welcome, centaurs of the world.

However, to answer your question, I will have to rewind to the original draft of Crockett and Crane Book 1: Horseman, which was entitled “Horse and Man.” The book was much, much too long, and as I was editing, I realized that there were far too many instances of my main character Todd saying “I leaped astride my mettlesome charger and, wheeling into the wind, cried out, ‘Hi-ho, Cedric! Away!’” 

Slashing these reduced the draft from 200,000 to 50,000 words. But what of poor Cedric, and Todd’s need for transportation? Then, HARK, a brilliant idea: what if Todd was his own transportation? And so, Todd became a centaur. (Part-time, anyway.) This was clearly the most straightforward solution to the problem.

What’s a key component of your writing routine?

Writing. Which sounds like a really dumb and/or sarcastic answer, but that is not my intention…let me explain. What I mean is that if I don’t sit down with the intention of actually putting words on the page, one way or another, I’m not going to get any writing done that day, or possibly ever. I don’t necessarily write every day, as some people advise, but on a day when I’ve set out to write, I only allow myself a few minutes of “planning” time. If my brain hasn’t succeeded in coming up with a workable plan, and the clock is ticking, I say, “Okay brain, you’ve had your chance,” and just launch into freewriting. Some of my best ideas have come from this method.

Does a book come fully formed into your mind like KABLAM! THE BOOK IS IN YOUR HEAD! Or do you spend years plotting methodically? Or do you metaphorically fly by the seat of your metaphorical pinstriped trousers?

KABLAM! is actually a very accurate synopsis of my process. That’s not to say I have every last detail of the story in my head from the beginning, though…at least, not consciously. Typically, I get a tidal wave of inspiration for a story, then start writing madly until I’ve at least gotten the most crucial or difficult scenes on paper. After that, it’s more or less smooth sailing. I wouldn’t quite call it “pantsing”—or is it “trousering”?—because I do have at least a semblance of a plan. I just don’t write the plan out on paper because it uses up valuable energy and spoils all the fun surprises. Plus, I look terrible in metaphorical pinstripes.

Favourite part of the entire book birthing process? (That’s a weird analogy. I apologise. BUT STILL.)

No, it’s actually a great analogy. Can we authors help it if there are similarities between the two processes? Stop judging us, tiresome normal humans. I think my favorite part is actually the middle-ish part of the story, when I’m completely caught up in the creative flow and I know exactly where I’m headed with my various arcs. Granted, when it’s over, I find myself surrounded by empty coffee cups, wildly scribbled notes on any scraps of paper to hand, and unconscious people who dared try to interrupt me during the process, but it’s all worth it.

Hardest part of the biz? (For me it’s the fame. It’s just so difficult to handle.)

The fame is crushing. That said, I think the hardest part for me is balancing the business with the art. Mainly because I’m weird and I actually enjoy the business side of things, so I can easily get too caught up in one or the other. There has to be a balance between the two, or it just doesn’t work. It’s no good trying to create my own evil business empire to rival Disney if I’m not spending plenty of time just writing books. And, on the other hand, no matter how much I love simply sitting down and writing, I won’t get very far if I don’t pay attention to my business.

Are you ready for two deep questions?

Not remotely. Back, fiend. Back, I say.

TOO LATE. I often hear that reading is a form of escapism. Personally my answer is complicated, never succinct and always essay length. What’s yours?

I’m tempted to write an essay as well, but I’ll try to control myself. My simple response to this criticism would be, how is it a criticism, and what’s wrong with escapism? Now, granted, there are probably unhealthy forms of escapism, but I have yet to meet an average reader who is “too absorbed” in the worlds of their favorite books. I would say that the particular kind of escapism which comes from books is exceptionally healthy, especially since it puts the imagination to work more than other forms of entertainment. My books are frequently referred to as “harmless fun,” but it’s usually not in a derogatory context, because harmless fun is often what people want. So it doesn’t offend me in the slightest, nor would I call anyone out for saying it. 

Also, they are most definitely not harmless fun, Steve B. on Amazon, and if you don’t see the very weighty philosophical message in Chapter Twenty-Seven of The Reckoning of Rumpelstiltskin, then that is entirely your problem, you Philistine.

Our world seems a little darker and our lives can be difficult – how do you feel picking up a book can affect that? And, as a writer, how do you feel writing a book can help?

Speaking as a reader, I believe that picking up a book—especially a work of fantasy or science fiction, since those are my go-to genres—allows me to step outside the madness for a while, which gives me both breathing space and a fresh perspective. Granted, in order to accomplish that, it needs to be the right kind of book—the kind that I attempt to write myself. There’s a certain degree of idealism in my fiction; it’s definitely not “gritty” or “grounded.” But I believe that writers of the “fairy story” (the catch-all term which both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used for fantasy, mythology, etc.) have a responsibility to sprinkle at least a little idealism into their work, especially when writing from the Christian perspective. Our stories should incorporate what Tolkien called the “eucatastrophe,” “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce).” Especially since, as Tolkien goes on to say, “the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.” (quotes from Tolkien’s “Letter 89”)

And finally – the VERY LAST QUESTION – what’s a solid tip, saying, sword, sentence, paragraph and/or elf that will help an aspiring writer?

Never tell anyone, including yourself, that you don’t know what you’re doing. Of course you don’t; you’re a writer. If you knew what you were doing, there wouldn’t be any surprises, and you wouldn’t have any fun. Pretend you do know what you’re doing, write the story anyway, and it will all turn out fine in the end. Trust me. I know exactly what I’m doing.

(And I do apologize for the deplorable lack of helpful elves.)

Thank you for stopping by, Kyle! It’s been a pleasure having you on here. I will forgive you for the lack of helpful elves one day.


You can stalk Kyle here, check out his brand-new release right here, or check out his book design business right here. (You might not need anything book designing-wise but you can still be nosy muhahahaha.)

(And if you just want a smile, go here.)

Characters, I think I just rambled, On Writing

writing wrestling – failure, me, and my characters

Of all the scenes I’ve ever written, there’s one that stands particularly vivid in my memory. It’s part of a trilogy that I wrote and the character – Nefna – is just having an awful time. Not an ‘arghhh I forgot that my tea was cold and also this isn’t my tea this is old mouthwash and WHAT HAVE I DONE’ day. But a ‘I HAVE BEEN MISTAKEN FOR THE WRONG PERSON AND I AM GOING TO DIE but on the plus side the snow’s dope’ day.

She’s kneeling on some flagstones and her blood is staining the snow and it’s just SO dramatic and terrible. I think I may have had tears in my eyes; it felt very real and vivid. One of those magic moments that happens when you truly connect to the story you’re weaving.

But despite that, that’s something that happens to Nefna. It’s not her fault. It’s just a huge misunderstanding that she’s going along with because of VERY VALID REASONS. It’s not a personal failure. (THE JUSTICE SYSTEM AND SOMEONE’S EYESIGHT – THOSE HAS FAILED HER.) but she hasn’t.

And I think, that I don’t let my characters fail as much as I should. As someone who hates failure – I mean, who doesn’t? and takes it to a dramatic level …

PAUSE FOR EXPLANATION:

There was this one time that I was doing this work and I did it WRONG and basically it was awful and no good. Did I react maturely?

NO. You bet your sainted peanut I DID NOT.

I ran up the garden and climbed a tree. And considered a life of nomadic Tarzan-ing but with more clothes and FAR LESS MUSCLE. And so much shame and guilt.

That’s me. And yes, that was young me. But my gosh, I still do that inside.

If anyone else fails – you bet I’ll be there, thrusting both hands out to help them up. I can’t bear to see people fail. I can’t bear it because when they do it, I feel it. And it sucks. Because it does.

I think I have this issue with my characters – I can’t bear to let them fail. I can’t let them because it’s painful and killmenow to write. I haven’t noticed properly until quite recently, but I can see how it has seeped into my subconscious and oozed out of my fingertips.

(Also. That analogy was icky. I beg your pardon.)

But I think I’m going to let them fail a little more. And perhaps – be kinder to myself when I fail as well. After all, it’s pretty prideful to expect constant perfection of myself. Or, like, any perfection.

We’re flawed and we fail but we’ve got God and so it’s okay.

And my characters … they’re going to fail, and it will hurt and I won’t enjoy writing it. But perhaps it will help me a little as well. I wouldn’t say writing is therapy, but I would say that I look back and see myself reflected. Glinting at me through the sentences. A little piece here and there.

I’ve always thought that I was disassociated – even divorced – from my stories. That they and I were different things entirely. Ha! But I WAS WRONG.

I look back and see – hopes, dreams, bad spelling – all of it.

And maybe I’ll look back and see failure and won’t be horrified. Won’t want to bury myself in a pit of dark duvets. Or travel to the tip-top of a high mountain and be a monk, looking serene and untroubled and having my meals delivered by an elaborate system of pulleys that I’ve already have-planned.

So, here’s to failure.

To forgiving and learning and dusting yourself off and continuing on regardless.

On Writing

i totally didn’t kidnap deborah o’carroll for an interview. pfft.

I HAVE ANOTHER GUEST … I KNOW, I KNOW – am I being slightly over social? I’ve agonised about it, but I think it’s going to be okay.

I have the glorious Deborah O’Carroll with me – of her own free will (!!!!) – so sit yourself down (or don’t), grab a cup of tea (or coffee or NOTHING!) and settle in; we’re in for (another) treat.

***DON’T READ ON … if you don’t want book recommendations, VITAL TIPS on participating in NaNoWriMo, and a banquet of scintillating conversation***

Quick! A confirmed book-hater is heading your way – what’s the book you lob at their head to make them change their mind?

That all depends on if it needs to be a thick book (in order to knock some sense into them) or simply the best book! Or maybe both! In the first case, a dictionary should do the trick. In the second, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, because it’s my absolute favorite! Or if both, then a hardcover single-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings because it’s huge AND the best, a.k.a. my other absolute favorite! (Yes, I can have two — shush — because I’m making up the rules here!)

Stories – what draws you to them?

What DOESN’T draw me to them? I love the way stories can draw me into a new world to explore, with characters who feel like friends, and can show me new things about life in an interesting way. But mostly I love the FUN of stories because life is too short to not have fun. 😛

… and what’s the one thing that would make you hurl a book across the room in mild disgust/ferocious loathing? Or maybe you have two things. OR THREE!! DO TELL!

Killing off a favorite character = number one cause of hurling books in loathing. XD UNACCEPTABLE. Ahem. Also having a tragic ending. Worse if it’s both together! (Milder cases also include: being super dark, being super dystopian, or, sometimes, love triangles. XD)

What’s something that you’ve read that’s really, truly impacted your life?

OH BOY. Many things, but one that leaps to mind right now is Stephen R. Lawhead’s Bright Empires series. That impacted me in multiple ways (like pounding into my head that coincidences doesn’t exist), but the biggest was in the character of Mina. She was the first female character I’ve read who I WANT TO BE (other than Eowyn and Princess Eilonwy, but hello, who doesn’t want to be them?), and showed me things about the kind of person I want to be, and that you can survive — nay, thrive — in totally unexpected ways. (For some reason, the usual Accepted List for those entering their twenties seems to be one of three options: have a 9-5 job, get married, or go to college. Leaving out the fourth option, which is doing your own thing!) Mina is whisked out of her humdrum modern London existence and thrust into 1600s Prague in an alternate timeline. Instead of wallowing, she gets out there and DOES SOMETHING, and it’s sort of spoilers to go on too much about it, but she basically becomes an entrepreneur with the bestest kaffeehaus ever. She carves a place for herself in the world while being the nicest and bravest person and CAN I BE HER? She’s a major role-model, and definitely one of the reasons I’m an editor today. Mina’s the actual bomb and I love her! (And she also reminds us that, you know, if you happen to be stuck in 1600s Prague — in case that’s somewhere on your vacation list — even if you love it there, it’s okay to be missing 21st century showers.)

Is there a book that you haven’t yet read but would like to AND ARE YOU GOING TO WRITE IT?

YOU BET. SO MANY. I have a list. XD I want an excellent world-hopping book with all of the whimsy (in the Diana Wynne Jones tradition). I want a Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling. I want a super epic, awesome (but also fun!) urban fantasy heist book that’s not super gritty. I totally have plans to write all of these! Preferably soon! Those are just on the top of my wishlist. 😀

How do you fit writing into your day-to-day life – what’s your routine?

Um. I don’t. *hysterical laughter* I have been far too busy this year to keep up a regular writing schedule, so I don’t even remember what regular writing IS LIKE. I just write if I have time to fit it in. However, I’m going to make room for it during the insanity that’s NaNoWriMo, and I’ll probably fit it in my writing in the mornings (oh, say it’s not so) or late at night. I don’t really have a “routine” but I should probably make one, at least for November. *nervous laughter to join the hysterical laughter so they can be best buddies and my constant companions throughout the coming month*

What keeps you motivated? Not in a ‘ah, look I just might do this’ way but more ‘ARGHHH THERE’S A T-REX AFTER ME LET ME RUN IN HEELS TOWARDS MY GOAL!!!’?

Firstly, I’m not a heels person, so I promise I’d be in much more sensible footwear for running from T-Rexes toward goals or in any other direction. And secondly, deadlines! They are both the bane of my existence and the power to my engine. Sometimes I think they’re the only reason I get anything done. XD There’s nothing like having that review book due tomorrow or that NaNoWriMo clock ticking down toward the Final End of Doom to get you in gear with a healthy (or unhealthy? Who’s counting) dose of panic. And as far as writing goals, I’m kept motivated by having a lovely writer friend who keeps me accountable, and I know I’ll have to admit I didn’t finish the thing if I miss my goal, so that’s a total motivator!

Is there anything you wish you’d have known when you first started out as a freelancer?

Things about time and money and organization. XD It sounds obvious, but one should always know these things. Like that Taxes Are the Bane of Life, and also the golden rule: Things Always Take Longer Than You Think (so you should make more time for them than you thought you needed, and should probably charge more than you do. *nervous laughter*). Oh, and detailed record-keeping. Hugely important. You learn all these things fairly quickly, but it’s nice to know them in advance. 😛

As a copy editor/proofreader – what’s the number one mistake that you see writers make in their manuscripts?

Incorrectly punctuated dialogue and dialogue tags. MY WORD. Everyone has done it at some point, so I understand that it’s hard (I was there once, myself, as a smol writer, before I knew better — or rather as a young writer, since I am and always will be smol. #heightchallenged) but once you learn it, it’s not ALL that difficult to do properly. The easiest way to remember it is to think: “Would this make sense as a sentence if I removed the quotation marks?”

AND LASTLY: You’re doing NaNoWriMo … can you give a hot tip on HOW ON EARTH TO SURVIVE IT – NAY THRIVE?!

Two things! Timers, and STAY AHEAD.

Timers, because wordsprints/wordwars are your best friends — and you can do them with your other best friends (a.k.a. your writing pals) or even just set a timer and sprint/war against yourself (guaranteed to win!). If sprints aren’t your thing, at least set a timer to make yourself write during that set time (whether it’s ten minutes, twenty minutes, or an hour), and no matter how slow you write, you WILL have words to show for it when the timer “goes ding when there’s stuff!” (In this case, the stuff is words. And, if we’re very lucky, also story.) Then take a quick break before starting again. When the timer’s running, you may not do ANYTHING other that write, which includes checking the internet!

My other brief tip is to make sure you stay on par each day as much as possible — or get ahead if you have extra time, so that you can skip a few days later on, which will also happen, because Life is a Thing. But once you dip below that daily goal, it’s going to be mentally harder to catch up, so staying on track is HUGE. 1667 words per day. If you haven’t quite made it, set that timer again and soon you will! You can do the thing! I believe in you and so do all those unwritten words waiting for you! (And also all of our characters, who will quietly judge us if we don’t write them more, so that’s also a great motivator. *cough*)

Thanks for having me, Ness — your questions were highly superior and I had a blast being here! Huzzah! And thanks, blogly readers, for putting up with my rambunctious ramblings and exclamation point addiction!

Thank YOU for popping over!


You can politely stalk Deborah on her website here and read about her recent millionth word mark right here. If you want YOUR dialogue to be perfectly tagged and punctuated, head over right here.

(And if you just want to smile – go right here.)

On Writing

i kidnapped suzannah rowntree for an interview (again)

Guys! Guys! I did it again! I kidnapped Suzannah Rowntree for ANOTHER interview – marvel at my prowess! Gasp at my skill! Today, we have a veritable feast of scintillating conversation, conspiracy theories about the Crusades, hot tips on researching historical novels and A BOOK ON OFFER AND ONE FOR FREE.

Right now, as you inhale (yes! INHALE!) this post, I shall be in Italy. What I’m doing in Italy, I’m not terribly sure – it’s the day before we’re leaving and I haven’t got a full itinerary ready yet. The hotels are booked but … as for the rest? Who knows. It’s going to be an adventure ‘fo sure.

So while I’m in Italy, Suzannah’s in Australia and you are seated (comfortably, I hope) in a country which I’m certain is lovely … let’s dive in and cross-examine have a nice chat with Suzannah …

Your current series Watchers of Outremer is set against the backdrop of the Crusades, what drew you to this time period?

I’ve always been in love with medieval history, but I was never really interested in the Crusades until I read Ronald Welch’s book Knight Crusader, a classic YA novel dealing with the battle of Hattin and the subsequent Third Crusade – think Richard the Lionheart versus Saladin.

I already knew about Richard and Saladin, of course. What I had somehow missed until then, was why the Third Crusade happened. The reason was that Saladin had just come within an ace of destroying a Frankish-ruled kingdom based in Jerusalem which had occupied the Holy Land for nearly a century since the First Crusade. The main character of Knight Crusaderwas a Frankish boy whose family had lived in Palestine for generations, and who had never even seen Europe. My brain exploded, because I’d always had the impression that crusading was something you went home from.

Why did some of them stay? How did they build this incredibly diverse and unique culture? What was life like for them? What was their relationship with the locals, whether Syriac Christians or Arabic/Turkish Muslims? All the stories I grew up reading about the crusades mostly focused on what happened when you got home from them. None of them focused on what life was like for the people who had roots there, either as Franks who decided to settle down and raise families and build something lasting or as people who had always lived there and were experiencing this unexpected new state of affairs with overlords from across the sea. “Someone should write a story about this,” I thought. It took a while to realise that I was going to be that person.

Little known conspiracy theory about the Crusades – GO!

Ha! OK: who ordered the murder of Raymond II of Tripoli? In the mid-1100s he was knifed by Assassins within view of his gates as he was returning from escorting his wife Hodierna and sister-in-law Melisende, who was ruling Jerusalem as its queen, a short way on their road south.

Hodierna was a famous beauty who inspired the songs of troubadours as far away as France, and one of them was even said to have sailed to Tripoli to die in her arms. Raymond was terribly jealous of her and kept her locked up, which turned their marriage sour. So she was actually leaving him at the time…but when Raymond was knifed, messengers caught up with Hodierna and her sister, and Hodierna then returned to Tripoli and ruled it until the young heir, her son Raymond III, came of age.

So…did Hodierna order the hit on her husband? Some people certainly think so. In fact, I doubt this is true: at the time the Assassins didn’t usually act as hitmen for hire, and Hodierna was already leaving Tripoli with her powerful sister, destined for a comfortable life in the neighbouring kingdom – she didn’t need to kill her husband to get free of him. Much more likely, Raymond was killed by the Assassins in revenge for his allowing the Templars to build a fortress in the mountains of Lebanon, near the Assassin stronghold.

They say that history repeats itself – do you see any repetition in what happened with the Crusades in today’s age?

Great question! Yes…and no? 

In one sense, people are always people, and the things they worry about and the way they act doesn’t change a great deal. In another sense, the Crusades were in so very many ways, a manifestation of the most unique things about medievalism. 

My focus, when I’m writing the novels, has been more on faithfully depicting the people as they were rather than drawing parallels to today’s political or religious motifs. That said, one beta reader for The Lady of Kingdoms (Book 2) told me she felt convicted about ethical fashion after reading about textile workers being kept as slaves. That had never crossed my mind, but it’s true that patterns of oppression and exploitation persist in today’s world. Another contacted me to say that the way some characters complacently referred to the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem as a particularly holy entity with God’s special favour, was uncomfortably close to American exceptionalism. Well, obviously, I’m not American and I don’t think that way about either my own country or about America! But when she pointed that out, I couldn’t stop seeing it. The temptation to presume that one’s own tribe has some kind of special divine status that will excuse the vilest deeds is one that humanity across the centuries is prone to.

But I think it’s also important to emphasise that the Crusaders have very limited relevance to world politics today, especially since they have become mascots for things, like white supremacism and racially-motivated terrorism, that would be totally alien to their worldview. Crusaders were primarily religiously motivated in a way that people just aren’t today. They couldn’t care less about banning burkas (their women also wore black veils) or shariah law (scholars believe that Muslim law courts in the crusader states were able to apply a limited form of shariah), and the crusader states spent far more of their time in negotiation or peaceful coexistence than they did in war. It’s preposterous that the Christchurch mosque shooter, for instance, described himself as a “Templar”! To be a Templar, you had to take an oath of poverty, chastity, and obedience to what was at the time a very conservative religious/military institution that answered directly to the Pope. In a nutshell, while there is a growing discomfort today between extremist Islam and extremist white supremacy, it would be false to trace this directly to the crusades. Although both take inspiration from the crusades, they are both drawing on romanticised and weaponised mythologies more than real history. 

Do you have a favourite stage of the writing process? If so, what is it? 

Absolutely my favourite stage is when I’ve written the darn thing and people are telling me how much they loved it.

But my second favourite stage would have to be the drafting process – when the words are flowing and I’m living intensely through the story and feeling super excited about it. There’s a lot of drudgery on both sides of that, but it’s hard to beat the sheer joy of creative flow.

What’s your LEAST favourite stage?

The last few revisions are always the worst. You’ve done all the work and you just want to move on to something new, and you have all these beta readers and editors getting nitpicky about details and every tiny change seems to take immense quantities of blood, toil, tears, and sweat, to coin a phrase. I call it the Grumpy Stage.

What’s your favourite book of 2019?

Haha, you know the answer to this one: M.L. Wang’s The Sword of Kaigen.It’s an Asian-inspired indie fantasy that caught me completely unawares and blew my socks all the way off at the start of the year. It hasn’t exactly been all downhill since then, but I think it’ll be a long time until a story sweeps me away like that again. The heroine is to die for, and it’s one of those books that simmers on a slow, intense burn for pages and pages before erupting into something utterly breathtaking.

[Honestly – that was one of my favourite books too. Can’t thank you ENOUGH for the recommendation.]

What’s a top tip for researching a historical novel?

Don’t wait until you’ve answered all your questions to start writing. But also, start early and don’t stop researching until the book is done. Everything you read will give you inspiration and guidance at every stage of writing and editing.

It also helps to be honest with yourself upfront that you’re guaranteed to make an embarrassing mistake somewhere. It’s OK. It happens to everyone. 

What’s happening soon that you are excited about?

Well, Book 2 in this series, The Lady of Kingdoms releases on the 26thof November! I’m particularly thrilled about this one because it’s probably my favourite instalment of the whole story (which will be 9 books long, DV). Multiple beta readers have told me that it left them feeling slightly giddy. So if you’re up for a mild literary intoxicant, don’t miss this one! It has celestial dragons and people getting assaulted with textiles! 

Thank you, Suzannah for stopping over. Of your own free will.

On a side note – I highly recommend signing up to Suzannah’s newsletter. With juicy tales from history and banging book recommendations, I quite enjoy them.

Suzannah Rowntree lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, researching and writing historical fantasy fiction.

The Watchers of Outremer series began with A Wind from the Wilderness (on sale for just 99c this month!) and Children of the Desolate (free on the author’s website).