Tag Archives: writing fantasy

Meet Writer Rebecca Blain

Posted by May 13th, 2013

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

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“I like the idea of leaving behind the mundane for other worlds.”

Rebecca Blain is a fantasy writer from Montreal, Canada; she’s also a speed-reader, freelance editor, artist, and fantasy fan girl. Rebecca has been a Book Country member since we launched, and we always recommend her wonderful how-to guide for new members. We wanted to catch up with Rebecca and find about her debut novelThe Eye of God.

Nevena: Thanks for joining us, Rebecca. The Eye of God will be released in July. Congrats! Tell us more about the story.

Rebecca: Thanks for having me.

The Eye of God is the story of Terin and Blaise. Terin’s a slave in a world that’s reminiscent of ancient Rome, and Blaise is someone—something—that has been watching over the world and a few of its more interesting denizens for a long, long time. When the balance of power in the empire is shattered, it falls to the two of them to restore order before everyone close to them has their souls devoured.

Nevena: How has the novel evolved over time? What was it like working with an editor and a cover designer? (The cover is gorgeous, by the way.)

RebeccaThe Eye of God is the novel in which I really figured out how to write. “Showing versus telling” clicked for me, and I got a much better grasp of immediacy and limited third point of view. My developmental editor loved the story—the characters, the plot, and the general arcs, but it didn’t have the base writing of my other WIP, Storm without End.

My marching orders were simple: Rewrite the book from the ground up, but recapture the same plot and characters.

Working with my editor is a lot of fun. She’s a great sounding board for me, and she isn’t afraid to tell me when something just isn’t working. And, she deals very well with me when I’m bullheaded and don’t want to make changes I need to make, which is exactly what I need in an editor.

As for the cover art, this was my favorite bit of the process. I met the cover artist, Chris Howard, through one of my editorial clients. We hit it off right away, and I hired him. I told him a little about the world and about Terin, and he started sketching over his lunch break.

The sketch of the cover came back almost perfect; I asked him to change the style of shirt and make Terin’s hair a bit longer. The rest is history. A very short time later, I had cover art that I am really, really proud to have on my book.

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Nevena: So you have a great team helping you! The book you’re currently working on, Songbird, is a romantic fantasy, which is a new direction for you as a writer. What’s been the most challenging part of the writing process so far?

Rebecca: Writing the female perspective. The vast majority of my books have male points of view. Writing Kara has been a huge challenge. Ranik, the main male character, comes a lot more naturally to me than Kara.

Nevena: To say that you’re a huge fantasy buff wouldn’t be an overstatement. What draws you to it?

Rebecca: I like the idea of leaving behind the mundane for other worlds, for things that make me ask questions, and that make me see a little bit of magic in our own world.

Nevena: That’s quite poetic. Are there any fantasy conventions or clichés you’d like to see disappear?

No. Even the most boring cliché can be turned to magic in the hands of a skilled writer. When I encounter a cliché in my clients’ works, I don’t tell them to remove it—I tell them to enhance it so that it becomes original to them. If they can’t do that, then they should consider cutting it out.

A cliché or convention exists because many people love the same thing. It isn’t that you use them that matters it’s how you use them.

A perfect example is Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris. I didn’t realize it included zombies until he told me when we met at World Fantasy Con. That is skill, and turning something old into something new.

Nevena: Let’s switch gears. Tell us more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

Rebecca: Me? I’m boring—okay, well, maybe not. I am a natural-born punster. (You got off the hook this time.) I have a spouse and four cats. I turn thirty on the 16th, and I’m really excited about it!

As for what started me wanting to be a writer, I blame Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon. The Black Gryphon nailed the coffin closed for me. Valdemar just ensured I’d never leave the Science Fiction / Fantasy section of the bookstore ever again…

Nevena: Happy birthday! You work as a freelance editor and writer. How do you manage to fit your own writing into the mix?

Rebecca: A lot of dedication, discipline, effort, and heartbreak. That, plus 12-14 hour days.

Nevena: What’s your Book Country story? How has it helped you grow as a writer?

Rebecca: I came to Book Country with one of the waves of beta fishes. I’d followed Colleen because I wanted to query her when I was ready, but then she upped and changed career paths! Still, it worked out for the better. I think Book Country has been a huge influence on me in terms of honing my writing skills.

I regret nothing!

Nevena: That’s awesome! You’ve written a couple of amazing pieces—on the forums and on your website—about how to use Book Country. What is the #1 thing you think new members should know about the peer review process?

Rebecca: Thank you!

All I can say is this: pour your heart and soul into the peer review process. Sure, your help doesn’t make your book immediately better, but it’ll help you open your eyes to your own writing with time. The more you help others with their writing, the more you will be helped. It’s true—it’s really, really true.

Let me say this again: Give your honesty, your integrity, and your professionalism to others. Pour everything you have into it. Give it your absolute all. Sure, you may not get a review out of it, or a publishing contract, or a job as an editor, or even a thank you, or some form of gratification, but you will learn. That learning will help you find the problems in your own writing.

Nevena: Amen. Is there anything else you want to share with the community?

Rebecca: Writing is hard. Don’t give up—good things happen to those who put in the effort and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and their fingers bloodied making their stories come to life.

Nevena: Thanks for chatting with me, Rebecca. Good luck with The Eye of God!

Connect with Rebecca on Book Country and follow her on Twitter at @rebeccablain. Visit her on the web at her website. Oh, and Rebecca has graciously invited everybody to help themselves to a copy of the wallpaper of The Eye of God’s cover art.

*Cover art by Chris Howard

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One Year Since Michael R. Underwood’s GEEKOMANCY

Posted by April 8th, 2013

Meet author & Book Country member Michael R. Underwood

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“Don’t always settle for the established trope.” –Mike Underwood

Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, an urban fantasy novel in which geek knowledge is a superpower. A year ago Pocket/Gallery editor Adam Wilson came across a sample of the manuscript on Book Country, loved it, and offered Mike a book deal.

We got in touch with Mike to commemorate the acquisition, talk about his writing, and find out how becoming a published author changed his life.

Nevena: Thank you for joining us, Mike. Let’s start with Geekomancy. When did you start writing it? And how did you come up with the idea of Geekomancers, or “humans that derive their supernatural powers from pop culture”?

Mike
Geekomancy started as a distraction. I gave myself a break from writing another novel so I could noodle with this idea I had about geek magic. I set aside the novel I’d been working on and let myself explore this new idea over Thanksgiving weekend. The genesis of the magic of Geekomancycame from a confluence of many influences and inspirations, but largely from asking myself the question, “What would geek magic be?”—and then trying to figure out the answer.

Nevena: Geek magic is a unique concept. Do you see yourself reinventing genre conventions?

Mike: When I started Geekomancy, I set out to write the kind of urban fantasy that I’d want to read. I feel like there is a thread in urban fantasy that takes the same creature types (e.g., Vampires, Wereshifters, Demons, Witches, Fae, etc.) and just re-cycles them with minimal changes. I wanted to do something different. The world of Geekomancy has vampires, werewolves and demons, but I filtered each creature type through the whacky lens of the world. So I ended up with vampires nearly extinct because they’d been lashed to the popular consciousness dominated by Twilight, werewolves that are actually humans in rubber werewolf suits, and a demon called the Thrice-Retconned Duke of Pwn.

It may not count as breaking a convention, but Geekomancy was always intended to be a comedy as much as an urban fantasy. There are other great comedic urban fantasy series (e.g.,The Dresden Files, InCryptid, The Iron Druid Chronicles), but I don’t see it as the dominant thread in urban fantasy. Many have comedy in them, but far fewer are as much comedy as they are urban fantasy.

Nevena: Are there any clichés or genre conventions in fantasy you’d like to see disappear?

Mike: No, because I keep seeing writers take something familiar and make it fresh again. I would like to challenge fantasy writers (myself included!): don’t always settle for the established trope as is. It can be tricky to find that balance—in drawing enough on what’s come before to invite audiences in through the familiar, but then delivering something that’s distinct and new enough to be worth the reader’s time. I used familiar cultural properties inGeekomancy, but I tried to put them together in a different way.

Nevena: I can see that, especially with how you’ve woven your unique sense of humor throughout the book. What’s your secret to crafting a great voice?

Mike: Thanks! I access voice through the same way I step into a character when I’m playing RPGs or acting. I learn enough about the character that I can build a worldview filter that lets me see and analyze the world through that character’s perspective. When I’ve got a clear sense of a character’s voice, it’s much easier for me to tear through the word count. For me, a well-realized voice makes for a well-realized character, and then the character can drive the story.

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Nevena: Now walk us through the book’s path to publication. What was the most challenging part about writing and publishing it?

Mike: I started writing Geekomancy in November 2010, and continued through the summer of 2011. I took a break in the summer to do a revise-and-resubmit for an agent on a previous project, then went back toGeekomancy and wrote until I finished the rough draft in late 2011. I submitted the barely-revised rough draft to a novel contest in an online writers’ group I’m in (Codex Writers), and decided to throw a sample up on Book Country as well, as a way to share my revision process online and get some extra feedback.

In January 2012, I got an email from Adam Wilson at Pocket/Gallery, who had read the partial on Book Country and asked for the full manuscript. After a good bout of Kermit flailing, I wrote back and sent the manuscript, and about a week later, I had an offer.

The most challenging part was the first draft itself. I was having a huge amount of fun writing the novel, but along the way, I had doubts—what if I was writing too obscure, too insular? Was I writing a novel only I and fifty of my friends would enjoy? I made some edits to make the book more accessible, but I think it remains a book that will best connect with particular types of readers.

I think all books have “ideal readers” who are positioned to best connect with a work. Books can connect with many other people, but the ideal readers are probably the people who will most love the work. I inadvertently gave myself the advantage of knowing quite specifically who the ideal readers for Geekomancy were—they were the people who had grown up loving many of the same things I did, who could see themselves in Ree Reyes and her friends. What started as a fear has turned out to be the work’s great strength for the ideal readers.

Nevena: I bet the concept of an ideal reader helps a lot during the writing process. What was the process of working with your editor?

MikeGeekomancy is largely the same novel it was as of the first draft. Adam helped me take the things I was trying to do and do them better, more evocatively. He also helped me foreground the magic so that it could connect with readers better and invoke the fannish joy that is intrinsic (for me) to geekdom.

I love having an editor. I’ve been a collaborative storyteller for most of my life, playing tabletop and live-action role-playing games. It’s great to have a partner who is both a skilled reader who helps me focus and clarify my work as well as a champion for the book in the industry. Adam coordinated the publishing machine that took Geekomancy from a word document on my hard drive to a completed commercial novel ready to connect with readers.

Nevena: Sounds like Adam is awesome! 🙂 How has your life changed since Geekomancy?

Mike: Life since selling the novel has been a whirlwind. Mostly, the difference has been one of intensity. Before, I was working hard on writing, but knowing that there are readers waiting for more did a great job of helping me put that extra bit of effort in every day.

Another huge change is that I now have novels out in the world, and with that come readers, reviews, and life in the public eye. Every time I see a tweet or a review, it reminds me that the writing career that I’ve wanted for so long is happening, right now. The dream has come true, but it’s a work in progress. The first deal isn’t happily ever after, not by a long shot. But I’m in the game.

Nevena: I’m really happy for you, Mike.

Geekomancy is now an audio book. Listen to a sample here. Follow Michael R. Underwood on Twitter at @MikeRUnderwood and visit his blog. He’s represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of our interview with Mike, in which he talks about his new book, Celebromancy, coming out on July 15th, and being part of Book Country.

* Cover art by Trish Cramblet, Design by Min Choi

 

 

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