Writing Corner: On How NaNoWriMo Helped Me Write My First Book

Hi everyone! With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) only a week away, I thought it would be quite timely to write a post this month about it, and how it helped me with writing my first full length novel. I unfortunately won’t be taking part in NaNoWriMo this year as I’m too busy with work to commit to it, but it really did help me with writing my novel, This Is Not A Love Story, so I wanted to talk more about it today.

I have been writing most of my life, starting when I was a little kid, but when I was a teenager, my fiction writing kind of dropped off a bit, I was mostly writing fanfic and blogging/news writing. I just didn’t have the ideas, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, I didn’t really know how to get started with fiction again, so I kind of just left it, despite my goal of eventually becoming an author not changing.

Then in 2016, I was in a meeting for the Creative Writing society I joined whilst I was at Uni & we were given a prompt of writing a story based off famous first lines from books. The one that drew me in was from Robert McLiam Wilson’s Eureka Street, “All stories are love stories”. I have for a while been quite frustrated by the overabundance of romance in YA, I understand that first love is a part of the teen experience, but it’s not part of every teen experience, it certainly wasn’t part of mine. So I set out to write something that wasn’t a love story, at least not a romantic one. I wanted to write something for teenage me, to show her that she wasn’t any lesser for not having a relationship and that it was okay not to have found “true love” at sixteen.

It was soon after I’d started writing This Is Not A Love Story that I found out about NaNoWriMo. Everyone on Book Twitter was talking about it, my friend was doing it and despite the fact that it was November and I had several essays due for Uni before the end of the semester, I decided to go for it.

It was the push I needed to actually get a novel off the ground. I had the idea, and now with NaNoWriMo and the daily word count goals, I had a reason to make sure that I got something down every day. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t write every single day, some days I just couldn’t because I had to do Uni work, some days I just didn’t have the ideas, but it definitely got me into the habit of writing regularly. I worked at a relatively steady pace throughout most of the month, with generally between 1500-3000 words a day, though there were some days were I wrote nothing, some days were I wrote very little and some days where I wrote A LOT, like on the final day where I wrote over 6000 words!

It got me in the habit of actually sitting down and making sure that I carved out time for myself to write as well. I can still go months without writing, and have done, depending on how busy I am but now I actively seek out time to write. Before I did NaNoWriMo, I was kind of, “Oh well, I’m at Uni, I’ve got things to do, I don’t have time to write”. Now, even though I work full time, whenever I have time to spare, I immediately go to writing and I definitely think that came from doing NaNoWriMo. I had to balance multiple deadlines with my NaNo project, and I still managed to get all of it done, so I realised that my “lack of time” excuse had been just that. If I wanted to, I could get the words down, no matter how busy I was, so NaNoWriMo was definitely an exercise in prioritising my writing which I desperately needed.

I work really well when I have definable goals to work towards, so NaNoWriMo really helped me in that respect, because in order to finish on time, you need to reach an average number of words a day. Some days I wrote more than that, and some days I wrote less, but I always had a definable goal for the day: like I want to finish this chapter, or I want to get to this point in the story. I got really on a roll on some days, so I would tend to just carry on until I realised I needed to do some work on my essays, or it got late! I’ve carried that on since NaNoWriMo, when I sit down to write, I always have a definable goal in mind: I want to finish this chapter, or I want to write for this long today, or even just I want to finish this portion of the story today. Sitting down in front of my laptop, knowing where I want to end the writing session is really helpful and that’s something that I learned from NaNoWriMo.

I think for me, actually getting the first words down is always the hardest thing, so I often avoid starting projects even if I have an idea for them. Actually in both years I’ve done NaNoWriMo, I’ve always had the first line, first paragraph, even in 2017, the first chapter ready to go. Still for others, who maybe don’t find starting new things quite as daunting as I do, NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to kick start that novel idea that you’ve had swirling around in your brain that you just haven’t had the time to get down yet. I reckon if I do NaNoWriMo in the future, I will probably always work from something that I’ve already started, because I like to get ahead, and also because if I don’t have at least my first line down, I’ll just procrastinate starting!

My two NaNoWriMo experiences have been very different. My first year, I completed the 50,000 word goal, but I didn’t write every day. My second year, I got to just over 44,0000 words, but I did write something every day, even if it was only a couple of hundred words. I don’t think either way is better than the other, but it did show me that there is no way to really “lose” at NaNoWriMo because in both scenarios, I had more words at the end than I’d had at the beginning.

NaNoWriMo gives you the opportunity to write a really messy first draft, without that internal judgement of “Oh this isn’t good enough” because it’s not meant to be. My aim for NaNoWriMo that first year, wasn’t to write a perfect book, it was literally just to finish something. When I wrote fiction before NaNoWriMo, I had a terrible habit of starting my books and then not finishing them, even doing Fanfic, whilst I finished most of my stories, I’d start several at once, and there are quite a few still up there that are unfinished. With NaNoWriMo, I had a specific goal to work towards and a specific time limit to do it in, so I was more motivated to finish. I mean a lot of the reasons I didn’t finish any of the books I wrote as a kid, is because I was a kid and didn’t have the attention span but still!

Doing NaNoWriMo allowed me to finally get passed the “first draft” stage of writing. Before I did it in 2016, I’d never got anything far enough to require editing, but doing that intense period of writing, meant that I finally had something concrete to edit. The last three years since doing it, I’ve been refining and making the novel I wrote, This Is Not A Love Story, a far stronger version of the story than the one I wrote in 2016 was. It still has the bones of the story I wrote back then, but a LOT has changed and for the better. Still without NaNoWriMo, I would never have had a substantial enough story to edit in the first place. It really was the start of me writing with a focus towards actually getting published, as opposed to writing for fun, and I will always be grateful for the experience.

Of course, NaNoWriMo isn’t going to be for everyone. 30 days of writing is a huge time commitment, and not everyone has that time to spare, I certainly don’t this year. Some people just don’t suit that intensity of writing, and prefer to write smaller amounts over a longer period. That’s okay, you just have to find what works for you. For me, NaNoWriMo was a great way of getting my work off the ground and having something substantial to edit at the end. I would definitely recommend it to writers who are looking to start their publishing journey but have struggled with getting something substantial down, because it massively helped me: prior to 2016, I didn’t even have a first draft to edit. Fast forward three years later, I’ve not only edited TINALS, but I’ve queried it, and written almost 30,000 words of the sequel.

Has anyone else done NaNoWriMo? What have your experiences been like? Are you doing it this year? Let me know in the comments!

If you are a writer and would like to be featured in Writing Corner, then get in touch! I still have spots open for November and December, and will be looking for writers to feature in 2020 very soon, so either drop me an email (my email address is jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on Twitter, where my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can write about any topic you’d like as long as it is to do with writing, and is within 600-1000 words. I take submissions from all writers, no matter what stage of the publishing process you are at, or even if publishing isn’t your goal at all. If you write, I want to hear from you!

I should have my October Book vs Movie post up tomorrow, so if you want to read me ranting about how terrible the Percy Jackson movies were, this one is one for you! I’ll have another Writing Corner post up next month, though I’m not sure what about yet, it will depend on whether I have a guest poster, or if I’m writing it.

Writing Corner: Zed N.Khan On His Writing Journey

Hi everyone! I have another wonderful guest post for you today, this time from YA writer Zed N. Khan about his journey as a reader and a writer, so hopefully you guys all enjoy it, and get a little insight into Zed and his reading and writing process.

I’m Zed, a writer on the road to publication, hopefully! Thanks to Jo for giving me this opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my process when it comes to reading and writing.

So I wouldn’t say that I was always an avid reader. When I was in primary school, so that’s from the ages of 5 to 11 here in England, I wasn’t always to be found trying to read something but when we had to, like in class or for homework, I enjoyed doing it.

I remember there were these books where the characters surnames were a colour. Like there was ‘Jennifer Yellow Hat’ and her brother Johnny, I think his name was. There was also ‘Billy Blue Hat’ and characters like that and I guess they lived in the same town or something. Those books were fun. I also remember being upset because I didn’t get to perform a play-like piece I had written with my friends for my class. I was quite proud of it and the story that I’d written.

Talking of reading, it was also around this time that my mum used to read stories to my brother and I from this magazine she had in Urdu, our mother tongue. And I always enjoyed those stories so in part- and probably more than that- I credit my mum for my interest in stories, which had a hand in me becoming a writer.

However, it wasn’t until I started secondary school at the age of 11 that I started to read more out of individual choice. Due to some struggles that happened because of my disability, in that being in a wheelchair suddenly wasn’t as easy as it had been the year before when I had been 10, I became really self-conscious and started spending most of my time in the school library instead of on the playground, the way I used to and as a result I began to read a lot more. And I fell in love with books, becoming an avid reader rather than a casual one.

But it was really, in terms of a literary inspiration, the discovery of Harry Potter that started my road to wanting to become a writer. I remember in 2001, watching a trailer for a film that was coming out entitled ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’. I was intrigued and, after seeing that the trailer was based on a novel series, when I went back to school after what must have been a weekend or an evening, I went to the library and asked the librarian if the first Harry Potter book had come out.

She said that it had and so had the second one, the ‘Chamber of Secrets’. She asked me if I wanted to take them both and read them over the week long school holiday we had coming up. I agreed, took the books and fell in love with Harry Potter, not knowing at the time that many others were doing the same.

It was JK Rowling who said that as writers we go through a phase where we imitate our favourite authors and it was Harry Potter that led a 13 year old me to try and write a novel about a magical boarding school. Even then though, I was attempting to do something different and my protagonist was an elf, not a wizard.

I can’t stress enough how important reading and writing have been for me. Reading, as well as being fun, was an escape for me when I needed one and writing’s the same, except with writing, I also get to live vicariously because the characters don’t have the same type of struggles that I myself face.

I guess I never grew out of wanting to write that magical boarding school story. Even my WIP now that I’ve been fortunate enough to work on is about an elf that goes to magical school. So I guess that attempt at 13 has also found its way in!

The series is called Marley Grimm and is, right now, a planned 6 book saga. I absolutely love the series and one of the greatest things has been the fact that I’ve been able to add disability representation, something that I found sorely lacking growing up and perhaps something that will inspire readers in the future, especially disabled people who see characters going through the same issues as they themselves are.

I hope each of you all can find your happiness, the way I have with writing.

 

You can follow Zed @ZedNKhan on Twitter to keep up to date with ‘Marley and me’. The elf, not the dog movie! You can also find Zed’s blog, @BooksNotBeyond. 

Thank you Zed for sharing your experience with everyone today! If you are a writer, and you would like to do a guest post for me, then please get in touch. I have spots open for October-December, so either drop me an email (jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on Twitter, my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can talk about anything writing, or publishing related, and I’m open to all writers, not just published or agented ones.

My next post will be my usual Top Ten Tuesday post on Tuesday, so look out for that. I don’t know what I’ll have for this feature next, it will very much depend on if I get someone to guest for October, but if I don’t I’m sure I will come up with something for you guys!

Writing Corner: Writing Modern Fantasy Vs Second World Fantasy

Hi guys! I know, I know, I made you guys wait till the last day of the month for one of these, again, but once again, work has been busy and I’ve had to put these longer posts on the back burner. Still, I do have something for you, and today I’m going to be talking about the different experiences I’ve had working on my fantasy novels, one of which is a Second World fantasy, and the second of which is a fantasy set in our world.

Obviously the biggest difference between writing the two different types of fantasy is right there in the title. In Underground Magicians, I’m working in the framework of our world, so there’s not really much work to do with the setting there. Obviously I have to research the different cities that the book takes place in, but I’m not developing a whole world from scratch, and the underground tunnels that I use for the home of my magicians in the book, also exist in real life, so again, it’s more a case of researching and finding out where they all are. Most of what I’ve done in terms of developing the setting in Underground Magicians has been familiarising myself with the locations I’ve used.

With This Is Not A Love Story, it’s been a whole different kettle of fish. It’s a second world fantasy, so I’ve developed everything from scratch. I had to come up with the origins for the world, the magic system, all of the different Kingdoms, the Resistance and how that came about, basically everything to do with the world had to come from me. On the one hand, this is super fun because you basically have free rein to come up with everything. But on the other hand, it’s quite difficult, especially, if like me, you have difficulty picturing things in your head (see my latest Jo Talks post for more details on that).

The biggest benefit to Second World fantasy for me, over writing a modern world fantasy was definitely the fact that you don’t really have to explain why magic exists. In a second world fantasy, it’s accepted that everyone has magic because that’s just the way that world is, and whilst I obviously had to explain why all the Kingdoms split & how some people were able to use more elements than others, I never had to explain why everyone has magic because that’s the norm in Elementa. In general, Second World fantasy allows you a bit more freedom because you don’t have to work within the limitations of our world, instead you can create your own. This also means there’s quite a difference between how my main characters react to their new lives in each book: Tiffany is surprised by the existence of the Resistance and the fact that she has multiple powers, but magic itself is not a surprise to her. Sophie on the other hand, is learning about something that she thought only existed in fantasy novels, so it’s a whole different kind of learning curve for her.

With Underground Magicians however, it’s set in our world so I had to come up with some kind of an explanation as to how this group of people in 21st Century Europe have magical powers. I have to admit, I struggled with that for a while, but once I had figured out the villain of my story, and what their goal was, the reasoning behind these people having magical powers fell into place for me.

There are obviously benefits to writing modern world fantasy as well. When I sent my first draft of This Is Not A Love Story to my critique partner, she mentioned that I used too many things that were obviously fine to use in a modern world but that people wouldn’t necessarily have the same name for in a second world fantasy. With Underground Magicians, this wasn’t a problem, my protagonist has grown up in a modern world setting, so I can use pop culture references, references to real places and things and it’s not a problem because it fits with the settings I’ve used.

My two books, by design have very different magic systems. This Is Not A Love Story is based on a more traditional, Elemental style magic system, it’s a lot more simple, everyone has an elemental power from the Kingdom that they were born in, and some people have one or more extra powers. Underground Magicians is a bit different, there are lots of different powers, and everyone has a different magical power depending on how the magical energy manifests in them. Both types were fun to write in different ways, Underground Magicians, I’ve given myself a bit more freedom to explore different types of magic, but in This Is Not A Love Story, I get to explore the limitations of one particular type of magic in depth.

Overall, whilst Second World and Modern fantasies have fundamental differences, the process of writing for me has still been very much the same. I still have to build my worlds, albeit in different ways, I still have to develop my characters and I still have to come up with a plot that make sense for the world and the characters that I’ve created. Both types of fantasy allow me to be creative in different ways, and switching between my two very different worlds means that I focus better on both because it allows me to explore two different types of magic, two very different main characters and two very different worlds, so I come into each feeling refreshed and excited to explore the different stories that each world allows me to tell.

How about you? Any other fantasy writers explore both second world and modern fantasy? Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments!

If you are a writer, and would like to do a guest post, Q&A or any other kind of post for me then please get in touch! I have spots open for this feature from September to December, so either drop me an email (my email address is jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on Twitter, my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can talk about any topic, the sky’s the limit, and I take submissions from all writers, whether you’re agented, unagented, published or unpublished, if you write, I want to hear from you!

I should have a review of my most recent read An Ember In The Ashes up next week, as well as my latest Top Ten Tuesday post. In the meantime, I’m not sure what I will have next for this feature, so I guess you’ll just have to wait until next month and see what I’ve come up with!

 

Writing Corner: Tips on Getting An Agent From Writer Amy McCaw

Hi everyone! I totally meant to get this post up way before the end of the month (my bad, work has been super busy), but it’s still July, so better late that never I suppose! I’m really excited about today’s post, Amy was my secret sister for the #otspsecretsister project on Twitter, and she has an agent, Sandra Sawicka, so she very generously offered to write a post for you guys about how she found her agent. As someone who is currently going through the querying process, I hope you find Amy’s tips helpful and that it makes the process a little easier for you!

Agented authors will have such a range of stories about how they got there. These are my tips about how I got to that amazing meeting where I was offered representation.

Writing programs

I’d queried in the past and got some positive feedback, but it didn’t work out. This time around, I did my research and discovered Write Mentor. I got a place on their summer program and was paired with Marisa Noelle. She helped me to get my manuscript in shape and the program’s end date gave me lots of motivation to keep writing and editing.

There are lots of programs out there and I’m sure they could have similar outcomes, but Write Mentor definitely worked for me.

Critiques

Writing is so solitary that there’s plenty of room for self doubt to creep in, but finding my writing community helped me to keep my perspective. I met critique partners through Write Mentor, Twitter and at book events that are not only brilliant writers, but I also trust them to give honest, helpful feedback. Through them, I got advice on everything from pitching to that ever-painful synopsis.

There’s also the option to get paid critiques, and Lauren James gave incredibly astute, constructive feedback that really pushed me.

Pitching

I was terrified at the prospect of telling someone in person about my manuscript but I decided to prepare a pitch for the free agent sessions at YALC. I pitched every day and got some great feedback, but most importantly, on that very first pitch I met Sandra Sawicka, who ended up being my agent. The face-to-face contact showed that we clicked and I really felt her enthusiasm for my pitch.

Querying

Once Write Mentor was over, I started querying. Part of the process involved getting a synopsis and query letter ready to go, so then all that was left to do was to choose my agents.

If you don’t end up polishing your query with a mentor’s help, there are lots of great online resources. Writer’s Digest and Nathan Bransford’s blog were my go-to guides.

I used books such as The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to narrow down my choices, as well as the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter and Manuscript Wishlist website.

Once my research was done, I made a spreadsheet to track who I’d queried and their responses. I also kept notes about agents’ wish lists and preferences, which helped to personalise my queries.

I hope you’ve found this post useful! If you want to talk books or writing with me, you can find me on my blog at yaundermyskin.co.uk or on Twitter @yaundermyskin. Happy querying!

amy mccaw

Amy McCaw is a YA writer and blogger. She’s a fan of all things dark and spooky, and is currently working on her untitled Gothic YA mystery novel set in 1990s New Orleans.
 
Her main interests are books, movies and the macabre, and her debut novel has elements of all of these. If Amy’s not at a book event or reading, she can usually be found scribbling away in her writing room, surrounded by movie memorabilia and an out-of-control signed books collection. Unsurprisingly, she’s a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and has gone to conventions to meet James Marsters more times than she cares to admit.
 
Amy also loves travelling and has a particular affinity for America. She’s visited 29 states, 13 Man Vs Food restaurants and many bookish locations, including the cities where Twilight, Interview with a Vampire and Vampire Diaries were set.
 
If you want to talk with Amy about books or 90s movies, you can find her on Twitter.
 

Thank you Amy for that very insightful post! Fellow writers, do you have any other querying tips? Share your top tips in the comments.

If you are a writer, and you would like to a guest post for me, then please get in touch! I have spots open from August-December, so either drop me an email (my email address is jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on my Twitter, my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can talk about any writing related topic you want, and it’s not limited to just published or agented writers, all writers are welcome!

I’m hopefully going to have a review of Strange The Dreamer up over the weekend, so look out for that. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen with this feature next, as I don’t have anymore guest posts lined up, but if I don’t get anyone for August, then I’m going to be talking about writing second world fantasy vs writing fantasy set in our world and the pros and cons I’ve found of each, which should be quite a fun one!

 

Writing Corner: A Writing Update

Hi everyone! I know I said that I was going to have another guest post this month, but I’ve been shuffling things around in the schedule a bit, so that guest post is going to come later in the year and I’m talking about something different today. I’m actually quite excited for today’s post, it’s been nearly a year since I’ve shared anything about my writing, mostly because there’s not been all that much to share, other than my frustrations with editing but there’s been quite a bit happening in my writing life at the minute, so I thought I would share it with you all.

Firstly and I guess the most exciting/terrifying news is that my novel is officially out on submission with agents. I started querying back at the end of April and it’s been…..well I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard. It’s scary sending your work out into the world, and disheartening when all that comes back is rejections. Which is it what it has been so far, lots of rejections and I was expecting that of course, but it’s one thing to expect something and another to actually experience the reality of it. It’s also kind of frustrating, because agents are incredibly vague about their reasoning for rejecting your book, which I know is totally fair because they get thousands of submissions, but it’s a constant worry when you’re writing something new and you don’t know exactly why agents aren’t responding to your current work, so you might be unwittingly making the same mistakes. I had to take a step back from writing for a while because getting all those rejections made me feel kind of despondent towards it, especially since I’m working on the sequel to the book I’m querying and it was kind of hard to see the point of working on it when I was getting rejections everywhere for the first book. I know that it’s only going to take one yes to actually get an agent, but waiting for that yes is incredibly stressful!

In happier news, I’m working on a new project! Since This Is Not A Love Story is out on submission, there’s not really anything more I can do with it, so I’m working on the sequel. I didn’t originally intend to have a sequel, I’d envisioned it as a standalone work, but my critique partner Katie suggested that it might have series potential and once I’d reworked the ending, it seemed to quite naturally lead into another book. What can I say, apparently standalones aren’t my style!

I started writing TINALS’ sequel last summer, after I finished my first round of revisions for the first book, but I kind of put it aside to work on more revisions for TINALS, especially as I was getting ready for querying, so I’ve been working on it on and off since last June, mostly when I had any free time from Uni work, which was not often!

I’ve written the first 9 chapters so far and am currently working on the tenth, it’s just under 24,ooo words, so I’ve still got a fair way to go considering that the first book was just over 76,000 words and I think that this one might end up being a bit longer than that. Unlike the first book, I did write an outline for this one, though being me, it was basically just a few bullet points and I’m still pretty much making things up as I go along!

The second book has definitely been a very different beast to write so far than the first one. I’ve got three POVs now as opposed to two, so that’s quite a lot to juggle, and two of the POVs are new ones that I didn’t have in the first book, so though I already knew the characters, learning their voices and their thought processes has been new for me. I’ve loved it though, the two new character POVs are Mia and Adrianna, two major characters from the first book and they’re both quite different to Tiffany, my main character from the first book and extremely different from Cam, who is the other main POV in the first book.

Mia is a particularly interesting character to explore, and though I can’t really go into too much detail as to why (without spoiling stuff from the first book, which I hope will eventually be available for you guys to read one day), she has a complicated past and I’m getting to explore that a lot more in this book which has been super fun to do. Mia is kind of an enigma in the first book, no one really knows all that much about her and in this second book I’ve been able to explore her character and motivations a lot more which I’ve loved doing. Adrianna, my other new POV character has also been a fun new adventure to write, she’s quite a nice contrast to Tiffany, she’s more sensible, she embraces the more traditionally feminine things that Tiffany has been conditioned to despise because her sexist society has wrongly taught her that enjoying those things makes you weak and she’s been part of the Resistance for a lot longer, so she has insight and perspective that Tiffany just doesn’t have after only a year with the group.

I’m not entirely sure whether this series is going to be two books or three, I know roughly where I want this book to end and I think there’s enough storyline to have a third book as well, but I’m not going to know for sure until I finish this book, which could take a while considering I still have at least another 50,000 words to go.

That’s all I really have to share right now, I’m going to be working on the TINALS’ sequel throughout the rest of the year and I’d like to have a full first draft done by December, though that might be a little ambitious! I’m also hoping to finally get more done on Underground Magicians this month, I’ve had over a year away from it now and that doesn’t really seem to have helped my block any, so I want to go back to it and see if the time away has given me a fresh perspective on it.

Fellow writers, how has your writing been going? Anyone else struggling with querying right now? What projects are you working on? Let me know in the comments!

If you are a writer, and would like to do a guest post, or a Q&A or any other kind of post for me then please get in touch, I have spots open for this feature from August-December, so either drop me an email, my email address is jo.ell.x@hotmail.com or a DM on Twitter, my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can talk about any writing related topic, the sky’s the limit, and it’s not limited to published or agented writers, if you write then I want to hear from you!

I’m hopefully going to have my first post of a new feature for this blog, comparing books to their movie adaptations up over the weekend, which should be the start of a fun new feature for this blog, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime for this feature, I’m going to have a guest post from a friend of mine, Amy McCaw, about her journey to finding an agent next month, so that should hopefully be very insightful and useful to those of us who are embarking on the querying rollercoaster!

Writing Corner: Q&A With Author Amanda Foody

Hi everyone! As you can probably tell from the picture at the top of this post, today is my stop on the blog tour for Amanda Foody’s new book, King of Fools. I’m super excited about this because I love Amanda’s books, and it was so much fun getting to ask questions about King of Fools, plus having another author on my blog is such a cool thing for me, so thank you so much to Amanda, and to her publicist Nina Douglas for setting this up. I hope you guys enjoy it and if you like content like this then please let me know and I will try to see what I can do to hopefully get more authors on here in the future. My questions are largely about King of Fools, with some more general ones about the Shadow Game series as well, but don’t worry if you haven’t read it yet, there are no spoilers here. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Shadow Game series, I’ll give you a quick basic rundown, it’s a trilogy, with King of Fools being the second book, set in a fantasy version of Atlantic City, where the streets are run by gangs. The main characters are Enne Salta, a finishing school dropout who travels to the City of Sin to find her missing mother and Levi Glaisyer, a gang lord who she ropes into help her. There’s a lot more that goes on than that, obviously, but hopefully that gives those of you who are not familiar with the series, a better idea of what Amanda is talking about in this post. Now onto the questions: 

  1. Q: King of Fools is the second book in your Shadow Game trilogy, did you find that the process of writing the second book differed at all from Ace of Shades? What were the major challenges in writing this book?

A: It was, by nature of circumstances, a very different process. I wrote Ace of Shades in high school, with far off aspirations of being published, and I rewrote it many times over the years as I improved as a writer. King of Fools had a publishing deal before it was written. It was drafted over two months on deadline, and I was both a different kind of writer and person than when I wrote the first book. The biggest challenge had to be the book’s length-it’s undoubtedly the longest book in the series, and the complexity of the story made every little change take me forever to implement.

2. Q: One of the things I love so much about the book is the wonderfully wide range of female characters, how important was it to you to show all these different kinds of women within your world?

A: Extremely! Even in a world of violence and crime, it was very important to me to have just as many women in the game as men.

3. Q: On that vein, which one of your female characters is your favourite to write? Who is the most difficult?

A: Vianca is my favourite, she’s so complicated, and so evil. The most difficult is Enne, who is also deeply complicated. Complicated is a lot harder when it’s through their POV, when their thoughts get jumbled among their many desires & contradictions. Enne lost everything in the first book, so she begins King with nothing–not a home, not security, not ambition. It was a lot easier to write characters like Levi and Jac–who did want a very definable thing–than to write the journey of a young woman finding herself.

4. Q: King of Fools introduces a lot of new characters to the world, how do you think these additions change the dynamics between the characters readers remember from Ace of Shades? Who do you think will be readers’ favourites?

A: It changes the dynamics a lot. In fact one of the hardest parts about talking about Ace of Shades was not being able to include so much of the new cast in King of Fools. We originally had this group of four–Enne, Levi, Jac and Lola. And now that’s expanded, and even more, it’s become this very complicated, multi-circled Venn Diagram. You have Enne, Lola, and Grace. Then you throw in Tock, Sophia, Narinder, Poppy. The questionable Bryce-Rebecca-Harvey trio. Not to mention all the new villains. I think Grace will inevitably be a fan favourite. Also Poppy. I’m personally very partial to Tock.

5. Q: There’s a lot of great exploration in King of Fools of women and power, particularly through Vianca and Enne, what interests you most about the relationship between women and power?

A: When women are powerful or successful, they have to prove they deserve it, over and over again. Because women don’t just “get” power. They have to be special in some way–maybe they’re uniquely cunning, uniquely ruthless or just uniquely lucky. Because the second they’re viewed as simply women, they’re dismissible. This is a pressure both Vianca and Enne have struggled with. Vianca was warped by it. She surrounded herself with men and went to constant efforts to prove herself to them through ruthlessness. Enne has surrounded herself with women and has proven herself through loyalty. I loved writing their relationship because these two women did identify with each other…to a point.

6. Q: Your books are wonderfully feminist, how would you say your feminism has influenced your writing in the Shadow Game series?

A: As a young girl, I had a wide variety of interests. I was focused in my academics, but I also loved arts, sport, fashion, books. I didn’t fit neatly into one category, and I quickly learned that the world loves to put women into categories. Hence the development of one of my least favourite phrases, “strong female character”. This label, originally only meant to denote a female character who was developed, not simply a prop, has twisted somehow to throw girls into two categories, strong and weak. Which has low-key deviated further into masculine and feminine. For most of my childhood, I identified with the main characters of books–usually bookish, quiet girls. I also identified with their bubbly best friends who liked clothes. Or the mean popular girl who cared too much about being liked. In fantasy, there were these warrior female characters, who used their strength not to lift other women up, but to diminish them.

I’ve thus made it my raison d’etre to write girls who do not fit into neat categories. Who surround themselves with women. Who cry and are vulnerable and sometimes want silly, useless things. These are the sort of female characters we should be lifting up–female characters who are not internalised models for the patriarchy.

In fact, I loved writing Vianca because I felt like in many ways, she was the epitome of the twisted version of “strong female character”. Ruthless. Oh so different from other women. More terrified of being called “weak” than being called “cruel”.

7. Q: King of Fools added Jac’s POV into the mix, how different was he to write from Levi and Enne?

A: At first I struggled with him. I had spent so many years with Levi, and Enne, of course Jac took some getting used to. But I very quickly fell in love with his voice and the perspective he added to this world and this story. Jac also gets what–in my opinion–is the most action-packed, highest stakes chapter in the book.

8. Q: You first came up for the idea for Ace of Shades when you were 16, did you know that it was going to end up being part of a trilogy? And if you did, how different was your initial conception of King of Fools to what the book ended up being?

A: I did! I usually know when I get my ideas whether they’ll end up as standalones, duologies, trilogies, or otherwise–even if I don’t necessarily know what comes next. Honestly, King of Fools was quite similar to how I always pictured it. Though I didn’t have everything figured out–I’m still figuring out what happens in the third book as I write it–there are some really big reveals that occur down the line that I knew King of Fools needed to build the framework for. So there were really two categories of characters in this book–characters that I knew because they are major players in the overall story, and characters who introduced themselves to me as I wrote and demanded a spot at the table.

9. Q: Are there any characters from the Shadow Game series that you’d love the opportunity to explore more once the series is done?

A: Apart from perhaps the occasional short story, the only story I’d be willing to write any sort of spinoff for is the tragic romance of Enne’s parents during the Great Street War. It’s not off the table, but it depends on so many factors–the success of the series, the willingness of my publisher, the desire from readers. We’ll see!

10. Q: What are you most proud of about King of Fools?

A: I’m most proud of Enne and Vianca! I loved writing their relationship. I’m also pretty proud of the RIDE that is my last four chapters. I held nothing back.

Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After spending her childhood longing to attend Hogwarts, she now loves to write about immersive settings and characters grappling with insurmountable destinies. She holds a Masters in Accountancy from Villanova University, and a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from the College of William and Mary. Currently, she lives in Philadelphia, PA, surrounded by her many siblings and many books.

www.amandafoody.com

Amanda Foody’s third novel, King of Fools, the sequel to 2018’s Ace of Shades is out now, so head to your local bookshop, Amazon, or wherever it is you get your books from and check it out.

I hope you all enjoyed this Q&A with Amanda Foody, and if you are a writer and would love to do a Q&A about your books or your writing with me (you don’t have to be published, I welcome all writers, published/unpublished, agented/unagented, if you write then I want to hear from you!), or do a guest post about your writing, then please get in touch with me via email: jo.ell.x@hotmail.com or Twitter, @iloveheartlandX. I have spots available from August-December, and the sky’s the limit, you can talk about your books/WIP, writing process, agents/querying, whatever it is you want to talk about! 

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday post will be up later, so make sure to check that out, and I’ve got a few things planned for the next week or so, a review of We Are Blood and Thunder and a Jo Talks post, so you can expect those soon! I’m also going to have another post for this feature before the end of the month, as I told you guys last month, I’ll have a video from my friend Hannah (not my YALC friend Hannah, my other friend Hannah who is an author!), talking about finding a publisher and a publishing route that works for you. I’m going to be on her channel talking about writing as well, so I’ll let you know when that’s up and you can check that out too.

Writing Corner: Q&A With Author C.G. Drews

Hi everyone! I’m back for my Writing Corner post for April and I have a really exciting (well I hope you guys will find it exciting) post for you today! A few weeks ago I contacted C.G. Drews, who you guys will probably know better as PaperFury, one of the YA community’s most beloved and hilarious bloggers & now a brilliant YA author to see if she wanted to do an interview for this feature and very happily for me (and hopefully for you guys as well), she agreed! So I sent her over some questions about her new book The Boy Who Steals Houses (which came out in the UK on Thursday) and her general experience in writing and publishing, and I have her answers here for you guys today, so I hope you enjoy them:

  1. Q: Could you for anyone reading this, who may never have heard of The Boy Who Steals Houses, give a short summary of what the book is about?

A: It’s about a homeless teen named Sam, who breaks into houses when the owners are away on holidays–not to steal, but just to live. He and his autistic brother Avery are actual disasters who make terrible decisions, but they love each other fiercely and Sam protects his brother like nothing else. Then Sam messes up and steals a house that isn’t truly empty and ends up entangled in the lives of a big messy family. He craves this life, but if they find out why he’s homeless and what’s he’s running from, he’ll lose it all.

2. Q: Both of your books have retelling aspects to them, what attracted you to this method of storytelling? Do you have any particular favourite retellings?

A: I love retellings because you already get the bare bones of a structure….then you get to renovate and rebuild and let your imagination go wild! I definitely am fond of Goldilocks, which The Boy Who Steals Houses is based around, but I’d also love to do a Sleeping Beauty retelling one day too. Or the Seven Swans!

3. Q: You are based in Australia, and obviously your agent and publisher are based in the UK, are there any difficulties to having a transcontinental relationship with your publishing team?

A: It’s been great actually! The only downsides are waiting for things to come in the mail (contracts, proof copies, finished copies etc.) and how I end up staying up way too late waiting for emails since my sleeping time is when my agent/editor are working! It’d be nice to go over someday and meet my publishers though.

4. Q: You’ve been on both sides of the author/blogger relationship now, what have you had to change about your blogging, if anything, now that you are an author?

A: It’s definitely been an adjustment moving away from the wild and sparkly blogging life…over to the author life. I made the decision to stop doing negative reviews, because as an author, I felt it was a bit off to be critiquing my peers. I also have less time to blog because of writing and edits. But my blogging family is just the bessst and shout out to the whole blogging community for being masters at reviews and discussions and boosting new authors. I owe so much to their love!

5. Q: Like your characters in TBWSH, you also have autism and anxiety, do you have any recommendations for other books you’ve read with characters who have these conditions that you feel are good representation (from your own experiences)? 

A: I absolutely loved being able to weave things I’ve experienced into this novel! I wanted to write my experiences and feelings, but not put myself on the page, so that was an interesting balance to find. Sam, my narrator, has an anxiety disorder while his brother, Avery, has autism. There are endless ways these neurodiversities can present, but I’m particularly keen to find other books that represent them in non-problematic ways! I definitely recommend the autobiographies of Autism In Heels by Jennifer O’Toole and Nerdy, Shy and Socially Inappropriate by Cynthia Kim. And for YA fiction, Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik, Queens of Geek, by Jen Wilde, When My Heart Joins The Thousand by A.J. Steiger and Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare—all have great autism representation!

6. Q: I’ve done a whole post about my writing inspirations, but who were yours? Do you think you can see their influence in their own work?

A: I really look up to authors like Maggie Stiefvater, Laini Taylor and Tahereh Mafi for their gorgeous prose and lush styles. I adore Cassandra Clare’s banter, and Adam Silvera’s wringing of hearts. And I must shout out to the fairy tales of the world for being so fun to rework too haha.

7. Q: We’ve talked writing inspirations, but where also do you look to when you’re needing to refill the creative well?

A: I read! So, so much. If I’m feeling uninspired–it’s time to devour a book, or ten (or one hundred and ten?!). I also love listening to music, anything from epic movie soundtracks to Imagine Dragons or Clean Bandit. And I mean who isn’t inspired by cake? I am. It is a gift.

8. Q: What do you know now about the publishing process that you wish you’d known going into it? 

A: That you need a lot of patience! And it’s not always the magical, glittery journey that you think other authors experience all the time. There’s plenty of downs as well as ups and it pays to have a support network in your life who can distract you with cookies.

9. Q: I know you don’t know what’s coming next for you publishing wise, but what are you working on right now?

A: I’m playing around with a bit of a passion project that involves dark woods and pretty monsters….and I’m always working on another dark contemporary or two!

10. Q: What advice would you give to young writers looking to get into publishing?

A: Definitely: KEEP WRITING. If you don’t feel “good enough” or your project gets rejected—keep writing. You get better the more you write and you have endless chances to get published. My first book that went on submission to editors was rejected, but my second novel was A Thousand Perfect Notes and it landed me a two book deal which changed my world. So always keep going, I believe in you.

Thanks so much for answering all my questions Cait, I’ve loved reading your blog for about two/three years now and it’s so wonderful, I can’t wait to keep following your publishing journey!

C.G. Drews

C.G. Drews lives in Australia with her piano and the goal of reading every book in existence. Consequently, her brain has overflowed with words and she spends her days writing novels to make you laugh or cry (or both). She never sleeps and believes in cake for breakfast.

She blogs at paperfury.com.

C.G. Drews’ second novel The Boy Who Steals Houses is out now, so head to your local bookshop, Amazon or wherever it is you get you books from and check it out!

I hope you all enjoyed this Q&A with C.G. Drews, and if you are writer and would love to do a Q&A about your books or your writing with me, or do a guest post about your writing, then please get in touch with me via email: jo.ell.x@hotmail.com or Twitter, @iloveheartlandX. I have spots available from August-December and the sky’s the limit, you can talk about your books/WIP, your writing process, agents/querying, whatever it is you want to talk about.

I’m going to have my latest Top Ten Tuesday post up for you guys tomorrow, so stay tuned for that and I’m finally done with my Uni work, so expect a lot more posts from me in the coming weeks! As for this feature, I’m going to be sharing a video from my friend, author H.T. King next month, she’s going to be talking about finding a publisher, and a publishing route that works for you so that should be a really good one. I’m also appearing on her YouTube channel talking about my writing, so I’ll let you know when that’s up & you can go watch that (please support it guys, you have no idea how terrifying filming myself was, I’m very self-conscious about how my voice sounds on video, hence why I’ve never been a BookTuber!).