I’m lucky enough today to have the wonderful Fantasy novelist, Rachel Aaron as my guest. Rachel is the author of the Eli Monpress novels and one of the fastest writers around!
I’ve started her off with some questions and she’s really given a wealth of answers- if you’re a writer or a reader-READ ON! (Then go check out her books ;)).
How did you get started writing?
I always wanted to be a story teller. Ever since I can remember, I've been full of stories, but it wasn't until college that I fixed on writer as the way to get them out (as opposed to manga or movies since I can't draw and have no visual artistic sense what so ever). Even then, though, I didn't get really serious about writing until I finished college and started a very boring job as a secretary/graphic designer for a Methodist church.
By this point, I was starting to get really serious about being a writer. I was researching publishing and trying on and off to write, mostly at work, but I wasn't really getting anywhere. Then, one day, I found this quote from Ernest Hemmingway "Those who say they want to be writers, and aren't, don't."
This was the shot across the bow for me. Because I did want to be a writer, but I wasn't writing, and if I wasn't writing, I'd never be one. Also, I knew I was in a rare position. I was newly graduated, no responsibilities other than feeding myself and paying my dirt cheap rent. I had a boring job with several dead hours in front of a computer, if I couldn't write under these conditions, I never would.
So I got serious. I started trying to get 2000 words a day. Most days I didn't, and sometimes I'd have whole months where I didn't write a word (especially when Warcraft was really going). But the point is I never stopped for good. I always came back. I got a new, much harder job, but I still got up in the mornings and wrote, and about a year after I got serious, I finished my first book... and it got rejected EVERYWHERE. But I had the bug now, and I wrote another book that became The Spirit Thief, which was the book that got the agent, the book deal, and started my career.
From the published authors I've talked to, my story seems pretty typical. There's often this moment where you shift from thinking "I want to write" to really doing it, and that moment is the moment where your career as a writer really begins. For me, it was in 2004. For reference, I sold my first book in 2008. Four years and 2 books after I got serious, I made it. Some people take less time, some people take WAY more (Bestseller Lynn Viehl famously took 10 years to make it). The point is we all made it not because we're geniuses and writing came easy to us, but because we didn't give up.
What words of wisdom would you want to tell that early version of you as a writer?
PLAN BETTER! I'm a huge plotter now, but at the beginning I rushed into things head long and often ended up painting myself into corners or making dumb plot decisions simply because I was trying to play everything by ear. If I'd just taken the time to figure out my ending and the plot twists, much of my in book angst could have been avoided. Planning will set you free!
Who were your biggest influences?
In terms of my writing, probably anime, weird as it sounds. I love the way anime/manga handles drama and pacing, and I try to incorporate that same addictive excitement into my books. I take my prose sensibilities from Peter S. Beagle (for the pretty stuff), Elizabeth Moon (for the fights), and Frank Herbert (for the spiritual/magical stuff).
For my writing life, though, I'd be remiss if I did not mention Holly Lisle. Her website was my window into how publishing worked when I was first starting out, and I loved her for it. She was the one who taught me to "Pay it forward" and her influence is a huge part of the reason I take the time now to help new authors as much as I can. We're all newbies at some point, and I feel it's my duty as an author to reach back and help others with the climb just as Holly helped me.
What would you say has been the most difficult writing lesson to learn?
If something isn't working: stop. This is a lesson I'm still learning, actually. In many writing circles,"finishing what you start" is a sacred creed, and for a good reason. You'll never sell a book if you can't finish one. But this saying often leads writers (or at least, lead me) to try and just power through scenes that aren't working in the name of "just get it done." But it doesn't work. Cliched as it is, you can't force art. If you're not interested in writing a scene, if the words aren't flowing, you can't make them. And believe it or not, this is a good thing. Your brain is trying to tell you that something is wrong, and when that happens, the best thing to do is just stop (even if that means missing your words per day quota) and figure out what's gone sour.
This can be really scary. Often it means throwing out words and rewriting. But if I've learned one lesson so far, it's this: writing should be enjoyable. If you didn't have fun writing your scene, no one's going to have fun reading it. So instead of sitting there desperately trying to wring words into an unwilling scene, just stop and ask, why don't I want to write this? What's wrong? The answer is often the solution to problems you never even knew you had, and it almost always makes your book better.
What have you enjoyed the most about your Eli Monpress series?
Completing the meta-plot. The Eli Monpress novels were always planned to be five books. Right from the beginning, I knew how the overarching story was going to end. I knew what the Shepherdess was and the secret of the world, but I didn't quite know how to get it out there. As the series went on, unfolding the meta-plot of the larger world and Eli's role in it became this enormous balancing act. I was telling a huge, background story over five books, one I couldn't show too much of for fear of spilling the beans but I still had to make sure readers noticed things so that when the revelations did come, they'd know what they meant. This was a really freaking ambitious stunt to pull on a first series, but I did it, and I think I did it really really well. Pulling off the end of Eli is probably the single thing I'm most proud of in my career so far, and Spirit's End is my favorite of the Eli books by far.
Other than that, though, I LOVED writing Eli. His voice is one of the strongest character voices I've ever had, and spending 5 books with him talking in my head was an absolute delight. Ah, Eli, I miss you!
I'm currently finishing up the third book of a new SciFi trilogy for Orbit Books. It's a much more R rated series than Eli, more Romance, sex, cursing, and violence. The main character is a very badass female powered armor mercenary and I love her to pieces. I'm kind of on the fence about whether my Eli fans will like it, so was Orbit, which is why the books are coming out under the name "Rachel Bach" instead of Rachel Aaron. But I think the series is a hoot. So if you like adventure romance mixed with hard core armored combat and space adventure, my new series might be right up your alley. Book 1, Fortune's Pawn, comes out in May 2013.
What is the most important thing (or things ;)) any writer can learn to improve their craft?
Patience with yourself. So many of the writers I meet have these strange ideas that they're just supposed to know how to write a publishable quality book even though they've never done it before. This is silly, because writing is a skill. You wouldn't expect to sit down at a piano never having touched one before and just start playing like a pro, would you? Of course not, so why do people expect to be able to just shoot out quality fiction? It's absurd.
Writer folks, along with her amazing Eli Monpress series- Rachel also has a must read short e-book and improving your writing speed- this book is great regardless of what genre you write!
Her main website: http://www.rachelaaron.net/
The Legend of Eli Monpress http://amzn.to/VR7rKg
2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love (http://amzn.to/STqqku).
Great interview! Rachel really offers some helpful insight into working your way up from "thinking about writing" to actually be a writer. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Great interview! I always love to hear how writers write.ReplyDelete
That is a terrific interview. Thank you, Marie, for setting that up, and thank you Rachel for paying it forward.ReplyDelete
Am in total awe about the amount that is written daily!!!! Thanks so much for having this interview it was fantastic to read!!!ReplyDelete
Great interview! I especially appreciated Rachel's remarks on stopping when something isn't working in your writing. I find her advice to be right on the mark - if I stop and try to figure out what is wrong rather than powering through, I solve the problem rather than cover it up.ReplyDelete
What a fabulous interview! Rachel, you are so inspirational, and Marie--great questions! I'm going to go back and read it again and again to glean more good stuff for my writerly brain! :)ReplyDelete
Great interview!!! :)ReplyDelete
And I couldn't agree more with her last point. Writing is a craft, you have to practice it... A LOT! :)
I enjoyed your interview very much. Your advice about knowing when to stop instead of pushing through resonates with me. I've just gone through this, and even though I hate rewriting my scene is working much better now. Learning to listen to your gut instinct is a hard lesson.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much for this post Rachel! You really have given me hope, I fall into many of those traps you speak of, and I’m really trying to finish my first book.ReplyDelete
I’ve not read your Eli books yet, but now the whole set is on my wishlist- and I’m downloading the writing book as we speak.
Thank you for giving me permission to take my time and learn my craft- so many folks act like this should be easy, and it’s not.
I just wanted to thank Rachel again for a great post, I know she gave me a lot to think about in my own writing!ReplyDelete
And thanks to all of you who visited and commented :).
Thank you all so much for the kind words! I'm really really glad you liked the post! I had a terrific time answering Marie's awesome questions! Thank you so much for having meReplyDelete
Late as usual, but enjoyed the interview to no end. I'm thinking that Ernest should be shooting over my bow as well. Or maybe I just need a little leather application. You know, a boot in the ....ReplyDelete
Rachel reminds us that you get nowhere as a writer if you don't write. It can't be said enough.