What are you currently writing/working on?
My publisher has requested a sequel to my 2012 fantasy novel, The Seven Exalted Orders, so that’s what I’m focused on at the moment.
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?
After all these years, my mind has been trained to grab onto ideas as soon as a stimulus appears. It could be a casual remark by a friend or something else I read or hear. The moment I know I have an idea is when I start replaying it in my mind and building a plot around it. Usually I think, “That’s a cool idea!” But I won’t start the actual writing until I get a strong opening line and a distinctive character voice.
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?
I would never intentionally do this, because it’s vanity and also it would become redundant. However, I’m sure my family and friends would identify character traits that are much like me.
How do you develop your characters? Do you let them brew in your subconscious, use character interview sheets, or something completely different?
I’m very conscious of stereotypes — or tropes, if you prefer — and I’ve developed a process to avoid them. What I find is that the first idea I think of will always be a broad stereotype. The second idea will be better, but still have problem elements. The third and fourth ideas will bring a more unique spark.
My technique is to write a list of character traits and origins. I start with the usual ideas and keep working until I’ve hit on something I don’t think has been done before. I work with settings in a similar way. My goal is to not be obvious and predictable.
Are you a planner, or a free writer?
I plan first, and I have a general goal in mind, but then write free. It’s a slower process, and I sometimes have to back up and start over, but I feel that the story is fresher if it isn’t too planned out. I usually have a couple of ideas for events or interactions that are next in sequence.
When you are developing a book, what tools or techniques do you use? Eg: timelines, mood boards, character interviews, scraps of notes?
I often sketch out maps, just so I don’t head my characters in the wrong direction in a building or on a journey. If I mention a landmark I try to make sure it gets in the map.
I also keep a notebook for major projects like novels. When I’m brainstorming or sketching out scenes, I write them all in the notebook. If I end up with post-it notes or such, I tape them into the notebook. That way it’s all together, and I can take it with me on trips or to lunch breaks.
Has your technique changed over time?
Not so much changed as evolved and refined itself. By now it’s second nature and I don’t even have to think about it.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you actively look for it?
I’m pretty much always paying attention, but in a zen-like way. I don’t have to chase ideas because I know they’ll show up when the time is right.
What kind of an environment do you write in? Day/night/silence/music/desk/sofa/etc?
Typically my first half is hand-written notes from my notebook. What’s perfect is to have a consistent lunch break with un-interrupted time to myself. Since my current day job is on-call only, that’s usually not possible. But I still grab quiet moments and take down notes as ideas come to me.
Later, I put it on computer. This will be after dinner, when I’m rested and fed and alert. I try to get 3 or 4 pages per night, but if the project is going slowly, I may just get a single paragraph. I give myself permission to take things slow, because it means my mind is still working on the story. If I push too hard, I’ll just have to re-write later.
As far as conditions, I have an office with music playing. Coffee is nice, but not mandatory. The only thing I have a problem with is people talking to me. It’s too much of a distraction.
Great! Let your novel take over your brain.
Find the methods that work for you, whether that means a page a day or a massive binge on weekends.
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?
I’m not an expert here, but I’d question that the industry is declining. Certainly it is changing. Change is not the same thing as destruction.
If I may put on my rabble-rousing hat for a moment, I believe the traditional publishing industry has not been configured in a way that benefits writers. We have to wait around and dance on a string to have the privilege of a publisher’s time. We get paid pennies, and our contracts always grab more rights without paying for them. Parties invested in The Way Things Are — editors, publishers, authors who have been successful under that model — exert tremendous pressure to disrupt new technologies and paint them as harbingers of doom.
In fact, new technology such as e-readers, smart phones, and social media have created major new ways for writers to present our work. We no longer have to wait months for a decision from an editor or agent. We can present our own work to the public, and we can spend as much or as little as we choose to on that presentation.
Self-publishing has its own risks, but the rewards flow directly to the authors. To me, this change is not only appropriate but overdue.
50 Shades of Gray author E. L. James was reported to make about £100K a day at the book’s height, and the film will make her millions. Do you find it a shame that the most lucrative and famous book franchise of the moment is so widely derided for its lack of literary value? Or is it just good to have a book going mainstream?
I’m reluctant to criticize a book I haven’t read. In any case, talking about money as the sole measure of success seems to miss the point. This author captured millions of hearts. Clearly, she did something right. Other authors should not be comparing our literary merit so much as studying what she did and seeing if we can adapt some of her methods.
If a fascist regime was burning the world’s libraries, what books would you save?
This will be totally unromantic, but I would try to get a set of encyclopedias and handyman manuals, so that scientific knowledge would not be lost.
Which publishing route have you taken? Did you always know you were going to go down this route, and if so, why?
I attempted the traditional publishing route, submitting to editors and agents, but I wasn’t picked up. It’s probably just as well. The more I learn about traditional publishing, the less I think I would have liked it.
Who did pick me up was a small press, Dragon Moon. Small presses are also known as independent presses. You still submit to the publisher and have to be accepted. The publisher pays the expenses of editing, the cover, and the nitty-gritty of publishing. They don’t pay as well, typically a royalty rather than an advance. The distribution isn’t as good. But you have more freedom in what you write.
Currently I’m with Sky Warrior Books. I get a 50% royalty on e-books. Paper books, I buy from them and consign in book stores.
What do you wish you had known about the publishing process before you started?
That everything takes so long! You wait for acceptance or rejection. You wait for edits. If there’s significant art, you wait for that. What keeps me sane is to always be working on something new, so I don’t focus on the fact that I’m waiting.
What is the best advice you could give to aspiring novelists like me? Or what was the best advice you were ever given?
I was lucky enough to have dinner with Elizabeth Moon shortly after my first sale. Here is her advice:
Don’t go crazy promoting your first book, especially if you’re traditionally published. A second or third book, where you might not go as crazy, will appear to have a sales slump and you may be cut because the publisher doesn’t like that trend.
Don’t spend money you can’t afford, in order to promote your book. For instance, you can easily spend $500 (US, that is) traveling to large conventions but never sell enough books to recoup that expense.
Don’t try to create a persona or act like a celebrity, unless you really have the chutzpah to carry it off. You can alienate readers by appearing arrogant with just one book in print.
Is fanfic to be welcomed as it broadens interaction and the reader’s experience, or is it a scourge that devalues the ability of the author?
I’m an old fan writer who cut my teeth on Dragonriders of Pern. The experience of writing for a supportive audience was invaluable. They say you have to write 1,000,000 words before you find your style. Why not by fan writing?
I am finding more and more that writers often have several creative outlets. Do you? Or is writing your one source?
I love gardening. It’s tactile and creates a relaxing environment around me. I also do a few craft projects from time to time.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Frustrated and miserable.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
In my senior year of high school, the bus got me to school an hour before I had to be in class. What should I do with myself? I sat in the library and started writing a fantasy novel, just to see if I could do it. And the die was cast.
What authors do you admire, and why?
Rachel Carson was a nature writer whose book, Silent Spring, created a change that is still unfolding in the world today. Ursula K. LeGuin and Patricia McKillip are my favorite fantasy writers. I also enjoy Mark Twain, whose books are so wonderfully snarky.
To find out more about Deborah, read her author bio below:
Deby Fredericks has been a writer all her life, but thought of it as just a fun hobby until the late 1990s. She made her first sale, a children’s poem, in 2000.
Fredericks has six fantasy novels out through two small presses. The latest is The Grimhold Wolf, released by Sky Warrior Books in February 2015. Her children’s stories and poems have appeared in magazines such as Boys’ Life, Babybug, Ladybug, and a few anthologies.