Author Interview: J. Elizabeth Hill

I am so excited about this, everyone!

I “met” Julie on Twitter, and have very much enjoyed our friendship and the exchange of various writerly encouragements and fun. She is a role model when it comes to dedication and determination, and someone I greatly admire. So of course, when she mentioned her second book was ready to enter the world on September 10th, I had to find a way to be a part of it!

I’ll let her speak for herself though: without more of my babbling, here’s Julie!

1) Go back to the beginning: what do you remember most clearly as being the thing or idea that really sparked The Mirrors of Bershan series? Also, why fantasy?

I’ll start with the second question. I write Fantasy because it’s where my imagination tends to play. I enjoy magic and fictional worlds where I can do almost anything that suits the story.

Now for the beginning of the Mirrors of Bershan. It was sparked by the idea of twins, someone who was like the other half of you, but with magic. Everyone was supposed to find their other half young, at school, only my MCs didn’t find each other until much later.

2) How have the books and the storyline changed and developed over time? Is anything in particular much different than you had originally thought it would be?

The story definitely changed along the way. I actually torched the first draft of Bound and re-imagined it, because a lot of things were wrong with the story at that point. Keari wasn’t part of my very first plan for the story and they weren’t originally going to go anywhere near the imperial capital. It’s funny too, because both the capital and Keari turned out to be central elements of the whole trilogy. I didn’t even realize I had a trilogy on my hands until I was halfway through writing Bound the first time. Surprisingly, the world it’s set in hasn’t changed that much. I’m much happier with what it’s become though, and I learned a lot about storytelling and myself as a writer in the process.

3) What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?

The third or forth pass of revisions on a manuscript is easily my least favorite. Usually by then, I’m not sure if I’m improving or just changing, which is my cue to hand it off to betas.

My favorite? I think it’s the rush of first draft, feeling the story flow. It probably helps that for me, it usually flows like river rapids, fast and free and in an unstoppable (for the most part), so it’s incredibly exciting. But that first draft teaches me things about my characters and their world I didn’t quite catch when I was outlining.

4) Do you have any writing quirks- music you need playing, a special snack, a sacred writing space?

I have a playlist of songs for every project (which to me means series/trilogy), and I usually have that playing when I’m writing or revising. Even if it’s not the project playlist, I need music of some sort. Other than that, I’m pretty flexible. I like being able to work wherever and with whatever’s handy.

5) Do you believe in writers block? If not, why, and if so, how do you overcome it?

I don’t believe in writer’s block per se. I think it’s usually fear that holds people back. I’ve been through that, especially toward the end of my first novel. When you finish writing, there are a lot of other things you have to do, including sharing what you did with others and getting their feedback. That can be pretty scary and it’s also a lot of pressure.

6) What would you say to a brand new writer on their very first book, or to someone who’s too scared to even start that book?

Start anyway, but understand it won’t be perfect. Nothing is ever perfect and besides, writing is an iterative process. You write the draft and then work on it, improving the story and writing every pass of revisions you complete. Your first draft is the beginning, not the end. Don’t be afraid to change things or cut words. Hell, don’t be afraid to throw it out and start over if you have to. They’re just words. You can always make more.

7) Name one thing you do or are interested in that people might not know. If it affects your writing, talk about that a little bit.

Gaming. I don’t play video games as much as I did before I started treating writing like the job I wanted it to be, because I only have so many hours in the day, but I still enjoy them. The better the story, the more I’m likely to enjoy them. Obviously I love RPGs (Roleplaying Games), but anything with a story will do. I’ve played through the God of War Series and most of the Halo games for their story.

I find it’s a hobby that does affect my writing, because it makes me look at stories from a different angle, to think about what I can achieve. Writing a novel and storytelling in a video game are different, but a little cross-pollination isn’t bad, neither is trying something in a way you haven’t before. If it doesn’t work, I can always try again. They’re only words, after all. As I said, I can make more. I can always make more words.

8) What are you most excited about in Possession- a favorite scene or quote, a new character?

This is the first book where the reader gets to explore the bond between Magicia and what it means to be permanently linked to someone else, to the point that you can become a single mind. I’m excited to let people see that, though it was a challenge to write.

9) If readers get one thing out of Possession or have one particular reaction, you hope it is-

I hope they love the relationship between Tavis and Faylanna, how they deal with obstacles they face. Actually, I’d like readers to enjoy the relationships in the trilogy in general. It’s a big part of the books, more than I expected when I started writing the first one.

 

So there you have it y’all – go ye forth and grab Bound and Possession! You can also try your luck with this Rafflecopter giveaway of signed paperbacks of both books. There will be three winners – good luck to you all!

You can also follow Julie on her Twitter @jlizhill  and join her at her blog here.

 

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Bundle Up

I’ve been thinking about cliches lately, and how prevalent it seems they are in books. I’m not talking just the various phrases we’ve all been firmly instructed not to use, but the repetitive story lines, the stock characters and their rote habits, etc. Sometimes the things I read on the Internet make it sound like it’s essentially impossible to tell a new story because its ALL been done ad nauseum.

So how can you and I and our little baby manuscripts find a way to survive?

Layering.

Say we start with a basic romance line- girl meets boy, boy and girl don’t like each other, boy and girl are forced to work with each other in some way, shape or form. Boy and girl find they do like each other…actually they love each other!

If at this moment you’re choking on your pudding and wanting to run, rest assured: we’re not leaving it at that.

This might be the story we really want to tell: after all, just because its been told for other characters does not mean this story is less true and needed. But what we have right now is clearly not going to work, so (say it with me) layering.

Lets say the boy has a sister- maybe a sister who is the head of a drug trafficking ring. Then maybe the girl’s dad is a cop, and closing in on the boy’s sister. Will the boy be loyal to family or new love? When the girl finds out what his sister does, can she still love the boy? Maybe on top of this, the boy and girl are both excellent students- that’s why they didn’t like each other, because they’re rivals for top grades. But then the boy’s grades start slipping because of the mess with his sister…and the girl doesn’t know what to do to help him, and if she gets distracted her own grades are going to suffer and the plan she has to go to medical school at Johns Hopkins will fall apart.  Finally, maybe the boy’s sister convinces him he needs to do something to the girl- or help her do it, to get the dad off her back. Now we have some serious questions about love and loyalty, family ties, secrets, and a very complicated youth.

Okay, so the example is very rough- what can I say, I made it up for you as I went along. (This gives you insight into my slipshod brainstorming process. That’s all it is right there, just lots of maybes.) But in any event, the formulaic boy-meets-girl we started with now has at least two additional characters, requires both the boy and girl to make very difficult choices, raises the stakes, and gives them reasons for everything they do. Maybe the story we came up with wouldn’t be your thing, but it sounds an awful lot more fun than it did.

So the next time nothing is happening in your book, or you are staring at a blank page, ask what layers you can wrap around that story,what events and people you can warm up the bare story bones with. You know what, that process I made fun of: it’s not so bad after all. The next time you don’t know how to make something new, just toss in a few maybes. Great things will happen.

By Popular Demand

I know many writers say you should only write for yourself, and to an extent I think this is excellent advice. After all, the story has to come from you. It needs to matter to you, if you want it to matter for others – you infuse your words with life, passion, and excitement, even in the most sad and tragic ways. People are fickle. The things that are skyrocketing in popularity this week won’t even be remembered the next, and you can never please everyone anyways. You have to write for yourself, if you want to find any contentment in your work at all.

But at the same time, I don’t think that should be the end of the sentence. I think we need to approach our work as follows “Write for yourself, tell the story you mean to tell – and listen discerningly to those around you, so your words connect deeply with the world.”

I have a book that’s been approximately thirty pages long since I was about sixteen. A couple friends have read it, and the old draft of it is posted on a writing website. I have felt just so-so about the project since I started it back then, which is why it never grew beyond the initial burst of words. I think it’s a perfectly fine story, I just haven’t had a burning urge to tell it. Other stories have always cropped up in it’s place.

The thing that’s been so intriguing is that people continue to ask me about it. Friends, out of nowhere, after months of not having talked, will ask if I’ve finished that story yet. Strangers on the writing website periodically ask if I’m still working on it – and ask again, and again a few months later. Even a former teacher asked me about this story specifically.

Yes, I write for myself first and foremost. I tell the story that’s inside me – I ask others’ advice to make sure it’s well-told, and I make edits and revisions based on their thoughts, but I never change the heart of a story. But after all this time, and all these questions, I’m haunted by the possibility that there’s something to this particular story that I’m missing. It seems strange that it has resonated with people – as incomplete and, frankly, horrendous as those thirty pages are – and that they remember it still.

I’ll be honest. I reread it, and I still felt nothing more than mild interest. But I’m going to give it a shot. As writers, we have the gift of words – the capacity to tell stories and weave a kind of magic that not everyone is able to perform. We should celebrate our abilities, we should enjoy them, and we should stick to what we believe about the way we use them – but not so much so that we waltz around the universe believing ourselves the most important people in it. Just because something might not please you, doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to create. You see the inside of things, but let’s not discount the outside either. Sometimes we have to humble ourselves and hear what people are saying – and take the chance that they’re right.

And if, in a few weeks, I’ve given it a wholehearted attempt and it’s still nothing but rubble and broken words, well – what have I lost? If anything I’ll come out of it with the right to say “I told you so”.