A Peek Into My Writing Life: Part One

Howdy, friends! It’s me, your friendly scatterbrained novelist-blogger, who currently can’t remember anything without phone reminders and who is primarily occupied with the final read-through of Operation Lionhearted, book trim sizes, and this date:

October 13, 2021

This, my dear readers, is my release date for Operation Lionhearted, first announced in the most recent edition of my monthly newsletter and now made public here on A Writer’s Tale! Needless to say, finally having a deadline is both thrilling and stressful–but I’m making great progress on my list of things to do between now and October. I have a cover designer (!!!!), I know which self-publishing service I’m using, I just bought my ISBN numbers…and I will also be sharing the opening chapters of Operation Lionhearted in my July newsletter! 

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“You can run from the past, but you can’t hide from it forever.” (Collage by Yours Truly)

All that said, I thought it might be nice to chat about writing for my next two blog posts. I got this idea from the Writing Community Tag recently featured on Amelie and Kristianne’s blogs; both tags were up for grabs, so I just combined the questions! This week I’ll be discussing my personal history as a writer and the kinds of stories I love to tell, while my next post will be more about my writing process (tips I’ve learned, writers who inspire me, handling criticism, etc.) 

So without further ado, let’s chat about writing! 

What made you start writing?

I’ve been writing since I was 5 years old. My first story, written in a Disney World hotel room when I was supposed to be taking a nap, was crafted out of a sheer desire to escape my own boredom. To a certain extent, I still do this! The storytelling aspect of writing–not the editing and revising, but the actual storytelling–is as much self-entertainment as it is my vocation. 

What was your first finished writing project?

Besides the American Civil War story that I wrote when I was 6? Probably the 21,000-word speculative novella I wrote about Raoul Wallenberg. It was sort of an extended self-therapy session for me: I was crushed over his mysterious fate and needed to theorize about what might’ve happened to him. 

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Do you ever have any days when you question why you’re a writer?

Oh yes. Often. I don’t think people realize how hard writing actually is. Flannery O’Connor once said that “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay”–and while that’s obviously hyperbole, it resonates with grim honesty. 

Writing is rarely easy. Sometimes it’s like seeing a masterpiece of a painting in your mind, but when you try to transfer that masterpiece to paper (or a computer screen), you feel like a kindergartener with crayons. There are days when crafting one scene feels like pulling teeth…days when you worry you’ll never be able to write anything ever again without slipping into Obsessive Editing Mode…and days when you think that maybe the well-meaning skeptics in your life are right and you should find a more traditional, “profitable” career. 

But storytelling is embedded deep in my soul. Even as I wrestle with a terrible, terrible fear that I’ll be so burned out at the end of this publishing process that I’ll be unable to write another novel, there remains a part of me that knows I couldn’t stop writing even if I tried. 

Which comes first when you get a story idea: characters, plot, or setting/world?

With Operation Lionhearted, Lindy Tremaine came to me long before I created her world or her story. The mental image of a smart, elegant secret agent with a traumatic and mysterious past just wouldn’t let me go. Even now, despite the fact that I’m not actively writing a new novel, I’m often thinking about other original characters of mine who’ve taken shape in my imagination. I may only have a vague idea of what their stories might be, but I usually have a pretty good notion of who they are.

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What is your favorite thing to write? (Novels, short stories, flash fiction, poetry, etc.)

I love writing novels. Even when I set out to write a short, one-shot fanfic (which was what my 17-chapter, 75,000-word Doctor Who fanfic was supposed to be), somehow they usually end up sprawling into multi-chapter stories! 

Who is the audience that you write for?

I genuinely want my stories to appeal to all age groups. I know, I know, that’s not the kind of answer a publisher likes to hear. But when I was querying agents and publishers last year, I got so frustrated with their insistence on an age demographic. “Is Operation Lionhearted for Young Adults, New Adults, or Adults?” Well…teenagers will enjoy it…and “New Adults” will enjoy it…and adults will enjoy it! And I know this because my beta readers have been in all these age groups! 

If I must get specific, then I’d have to say that I did write this story with the YA readers of The Lunar Chronicles in mind. But since Lindy is also a 28-year-old intelligence agent, it doesn’t fit the YA categorization, which is why I’m marketing it as adult fiction. But it is also way cleaner than most YA or adult novels, so do with that what you will. 

I just think that we can (and should) have more stories that can be enjoyed by a wider audience than just one demographic, and I also think the publishing world should be more sensitive to that. Basically I’m demanding a “General Audiences” genre! 

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Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Quick explanation for those who may not know: a “pantser” is someone who writes by the seat of their pants–no plot, no plan, no nothin’. A “plotter” is, obviously, someone who plots. 

I am a “plantser.” I do need to plot, and there for a while I was obsessed with the Three-Act Structure and K.M. Weiland’s admittedly excellent workbooks for plotting and structuring your novel. What I eventually learned, however, is that I can structure a plot to death. There’s no longer any life in it. The whole storytelling process become formulaic. And once that happens, I lose all my motivation and love for the story.  

Thankfully, I wrote Operation Lionhearted before I fell in and out of this plotting neuroticism. I planned enough to know where I was going with the story, but the three acts developed organically without any of the fanatical “let’s plan every single pinch point” I see so often in writing guides. That may work for some authors, but I would like to be occasionally surprised by my own story! 

(Speaking of which, Operation Lionhearted features one plot twist in particular that I never saw coming. I can’t wait to see if it surprises my readers as much as it did me!) 

What genre is your favorite to write and why?

SPECULATIVE, SPECULATIVE, SPECULATIVE

I wrote a lot of historical fiction as a teen, but I now find it too confining. It’s also far too easy for me to fall down the research rabbit-hole and never find my way out again. With speculative, however, I can do whatever the heck I want. I can write my own histories (often inspired by real-life history!), map my own worlds, and create my own cultures. Not only that, but I can play with science fiction, fantasy, dystopia, or even rewrite an ancient myth. “The world’s mine oyster,” as Shakespeare would say.

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That’s all for today, but tune in on July 5 for Part Two! And if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet, remember–I’m sharing the opening chapters of Operation Lionhearted there on Wednesday, July 7!

7 thoughts on “A Peek Into My Writing Life: Part One

  1. Maribeth, you’re getting PUBLISHED!!! This year!!! I’M SO EXCITED FOR YOU!!!

    The way you described Lindy sounds amaaaaazing, and I can’t wait to meet your sleek, elegant secret agent with the hidden past 😀

    I feel you about needing some “leeway” in my plot in order to write my best. If I 100% know everything that’s gonna happen beforehand, I get BORED. I hammer out the basic structure beforehand, so I know I at least have a plot and not a shifting, meandering nightmare … but I also leave room to surprise myself. I come up with some of my best ideas that way, changing things on the fly.

    Like

    1. THANK YOU, FRIEND!!!! I can’t believe I’m nearly to the finish line–and I can’t wait to introduce you to mah gurl!

      Okay YES, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who needs that leeway! I’ve plotted out so many different ideas during the years of editing (and re-editing) Operation Lionhearted, yet none of them feel appealing to me (at least not right now). I know what happens in each one and it’s just…not exciting anymore. Meanwhile, I’ve written several novel-length fanfics that have surprised me so much–fanfics that I at least “sketched out” but didn’t plan obsessively from beginning to end. That’s how I wrote Operation Lionhearted, and I hope that’s how I’ll eventually write another story. (But I’m not pressuring myself to start anything new right now. My brain is already tying itself in knots, haha.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations on your book! 🙂

    I’m mostly a pantser as well. I have a basic idea of what I want or an ending / twist in mind, but I make up everything else and find my way there through experimenting and seeing what that characters want to decide to do. If you ever see The Man Who Invented Christmas, that’s how my brain works — my characters just show up and take over the entire plot and I just sort of… try to keep them in line. Sometimes unsuccessfully.

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    1. “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is one of my favorite movies PRECISELY because I relate to the way Dickens’ brain works in that film! I love that you brought it up, haha!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this, Maribeth! Your answers are wonderful! (And I’m honored that you used some of my questions! 🙂 Also, I just wanted to mention that I love the quotes you sprinkled throughout. They’re so good!
    Speculative fiction is definitely a fun genre to write, especially since you have so much more liberty with it than other genres. And now I’m just more excited than ever about Operation Lionhearted! I can’t wait for it to come out!!

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  4. Somehow I didn’t comment on this! *facepalms* I loved seeing all your answers to the award questions!
    SPECULATIVE, YES. Even when I try to write something contemporary or historical, speculative elements creep in and I always embrace them. Yes. Speculative is the best.
    I heartily approve a General Audiences genre.
    “an overall general Vibe, an aesthetic if you will” HA, yes. Plot? Who needs plot? XD

    Like

    1. “Speculative elements creep in and I always embrace them”–YES, THIS IS HOW MY BRAIN WORKS, TOO! There’s an idea I’m playing with right now, so tiny and fragile that I hardly dare mention it, haha…but it originally started out as a contemporary story, then quickly evolved into something far more speculative. Oh, well. If the Muse wants speculative, then she shall have speculative!

      It’s too bad we can’t just write novels with an Overall General Vibe & Aesthetic XD

      Liked by 1 person

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