Author Journeys continues today with fantasy author Juliet Marillier.
For those who are new to this blog, be sure to also check out other Author Journeys, including Therese Walsh, Ani Bolton, Vaughn Roycroft, and Christina Anne Hawthorn here.
Juliet Marillier was born in New Zealand and now lives in Western Australia. Her historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults have been translated into many languages and have won a number of awards, including the Aurealis Award (four times), the Sir Julius Vogel Award (three times) and the American Library Association’s Alex Award. Among Juliet’s works are the Sevenwaters novels, the Bridei Chronicles and the Shadowfell series, of which the final novel, The Caller, comes out on September 9 from Knopf US. Juliet has also written a collection of short fiction under the title Prickle Moon. Dreamer’s Pool, first book in the Blackthorn & Grim series of uncanny mysteries, will be released in November. Juliet’s lifelong love of folklore, fairy tales and mythology is a major influence on her writing. When not writing, she looks after a small pack of rescued dogs.
Find out more at http://www.julietmarillier.com
Q: What was your earliest writing memory?
I was around seven years old and already a great lover of books and reading. I wrote a dramatic science fiction story which all my classmates in turn borrowed to read. I still have the good copy that my mother typed out for me (way back in 1955) and made into a little book. It was a tale of rampaging killer robots, in which an inventor’s young son saves the day with a low-tech, literally ‘spanner in the works’ solution. But not before a whole lot of death, destruction and general mayhem has occurred.
Q: What was your greatest writing insight and at what point in your journey as a writer did it happen?
I pinpoint the time when I became a druid, which was after I had two or three novels in print and was starting to make a name for myself as a writer. I’d been without any form of spiritual practice or belief for a long time, and had low self-esteem despite the publishing success. I discovered modern druidry while researching the ancient druids for the Sevenwaters books. One of the key philosophies of druidry is that god / goddess / the divine is not an entity set above us, but exists within every living thing – that includes not only ourselves, but our fellow men and women and every part of the web of life. That concept, which I found life-changing, means a person can love herself and forgive her own imperfections; it also lets a person extend that love and understanding to everyone she meets, whatever their flaws. Everyone has that little spark of the divine within – we are all linked by it. In some people it’s hidden very deep; in some it’s close to being extinguished. But the potential is always there.
So how is this a writing insight? For me, it’s a key to creating characters who are real – individuals who come alive on the page and in the reader’s imagination. It helps me walk in the character’s shoes, inhabit his or her thoughts, understand his or her choices for good or ill. It means that even when a character is doing terrible things and making poor life decisions, I can find some empathy, because I understand why. It reminds me that everyone is the hero of their own story: the noble warrior, the scheming villain, the loyal sidekick, the guy who washes the dishes.
Q: Describe your writing method:
I’m a planner by nature. I generally don’t start actually writing a novel until I’ve done the following:
1. Think up the concept/theme/main story/setting. This can be brewing in my mind for a while.
2. Write a proposal for my agent to show to publishers – this includes a full story outline.
3. Research: history, folklore, flora and fauna, geography, specialized areas as required. For instance, I had to learn about historical calligraphy for Heart’s Blood, whose protagonist is a 12th century scribe.
4. Write an even more detailed outline for my own use. I may then construct a chapter plan, at least for the first part of the novel.
5. Start writing the book! I don’t do multiple full drafts, I generally revise and edit as I go. So I will complete, say, three chapters, then go back over those, tweak the overall plan if required, then write the next three chapters. Each time I stop, I go back over the whole previous manuscript. By the time I reach the end, some parts of the ms might have been revised eight or nine times.
6. About a month for a final edit, then off it goes to my agent/publishers. And generally comes back with editorial suggestions, so there is another round of changes.
I write direct to a laptop. Occasionally I’ll revert to longhand, as a change of tools can be a good circuit breaker when I’m stuck, but in general I find pen and paper too slow. For my first three novels I did write in longhand, then word processed, revising as I went.
It takes me around a year of work to complete a novel, including all the stages listed above. I wish I could work faster, but I have many related tasks to fit in – maintaining a website and Facebook fan page, blogging (I’m a regular contributor to the well-regarded Writer Unboxed) , doing my accounts, responding to readers’ emails and letters, appearing at conventions and festivals, presenting writing workshops, mentoring and so on. All worthwhile, but time consuming.
Q: In your opinion, what is it that makes a great book?
The more experienced I become as a writer, the fussier I become as a reader. I love a novel that combines excellent literary craft with great storytelling. That can occur in any genre. Strong, believable, empathetic characters are central to my enjoyment of a story. I like a novel to have a note of hope, redemption or learning at the end, even if the story is tragic.
Q: How do you push through hard times like writer’s block, rejection, or negative pressure from your publisher or readers?
The term writer’s block is used to cover a wide range of reasons why writers can’t write, some very serious and some far less so. When my writing isn’t flowing smoothly I set it aside and get some of those other tasks done, the editing, the accounts and so on – they never go away. I take time out for physical exercise such as going to the gym or walking my dogs in beautiful surroundings – that helps recharge the mental batteries. Or I may do another creative task such as baking or gardening. Deadline pressure means I also employ strategies such as imposing a daily or weekly word count on myself, and shutting off the modem so I can’t waste time online.
Rejection and negative comments can be crippling. I find them incredibly hard to deal with and have done all my life. One bad review seems to outweigh 99 good ones. It helps to talk things through with a friend. Or to re-read some of my earlier work that I know was good. Also, I think about the kinds of problems other people are facing in the world and feel deeply grateful that my problems are so trivial.
I write for a living and when things get tough I do just have to push through, like it or not. Every writer faces bad reviews and negativity at some point in her career; if you choose to work in the creative arts, you learn to deal with this.
Q: Tell us a bit about what you’re working on now:
I’m working on The Tower of Bann (that may not be its final title), second novel in the Blackthorn & Grim series of historical fantasy/mysteries for adult readers. They are set in early medieval Ireland, not far from the location of my Sevenwaters series. I’ve highlighted the first novel, Dreamer’s Pool, below – it will be out in late 2014.
I’m really enjoying the older, more flawed protagonists of this series. My earlier books often feature young, courageous, honourable central characters. Both Blackthorn and Grim are damaged by past trauma, and neither is immediately endearing. As their creator I love them both and am finding their rather difficult journey through life compelling to follow. Writing a mystery series is a new challenge for me, as is writing a series that features the same central characters in every book. I’m using three narrators for each of these novels, Blackthorn, Grim and one other – they take chapters in turn, and I’m having fun working on their distinct voices.
Q: What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
1. Read! Read as widely as you can, in all kinds of genres including non-fiction. Great writers always start out as keen readers. Don’t limit yourself to reading only the kind of book you want to write. Reading is the most painless way to learn the elements of your craft.
2. Write a little every day, even if it’s only a couple of pages of a journal. You might do this at the same time every day. It’s good discipline. Just get words down on the page.
3. Don’t expect to become rich and famous through your writing. Quick success is rare; you’ll need a day job, and you’ll need to work hard on your craft, perhaps for little reward. Write because you love doing it, because you have a story bursting to get out. Write because you can’t NOT write.
4. Follow your heart. Don’t try to second-guess the market, because what is hot right now will be lukewarm by the time you complete your novel. Write the story you really want to write, the one that won’t stay quiet.
5. Finish. Learn to keep pushing on and get to the end. That is a discipline essential to writing success, so practice it from the start. And good luck!
A peek at Dreamer’s Pool, a historical fantasy / mystery novel available this fall from Pan Macmillan (Australia) / Roc (USA).
What if you were locked up awaiting execution and a stranger offered you a bargain that would set you free? What if accepting bound you to certain rules of behaviour for seven years, rules you knew you were likely to break within days? And what if the penalty for breaking them was to find yourself back where you started, eaten up with bitterness and waiting to die?
Blackthorn chooses life, even though she must promise not to seek vengeance against her arch-enemy. In company with a cell-mate, the hulking, silent Grim, the one-time healer and wise woman flees north to Winterfalls in Dalriada, where she settles in a derelict cottage on the fringe of the mysterious Dreamer’s Wood. Blackthorn has promised her benefactor, the fey nobleman Conmael, that she will use her gifts only for good. But she and Grim are both scarred by the past, and the embittered healer finds her promise increasingly hard to keep.
At Winterfalls, Prince Oran of Dalriada has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of his bride, Lady Flidais, from the south. The lady’s portrait and letters have suggested she is his perfect match, the one true love he’s long been waiting for. But although Flidais proves to be as lovely as her portrait, the prince finds himself confused and disappointed. Has he made a terrible error of judgement? Or might there be something Otherworldly in play?
Blackthorn and Grim find themselves swept up in a mystery that will require all their resources to solve: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and a readiness to accept the uncanny. Hardest of all will be grappling with their own demons.
The Blackthorn & Grim books are set in early medieval Ireland. They are for adult readers.
Read an excerpt here:
Buy Dreamer’s Pool:
Look for Dreamer’s Pool after November 4 in bookstores with strong fantasy sections. Or pre-order now from online booksellers:
Connect with Juliet:
Blog: http://www.writerunboxed.com (regular contributor)
Fan email address: firstname.lastname@example.org