A Writer in the Spotlight – Amanda Foody

A Writer In The Spotlight Logo

Hello gentle reader,

In 2014, I interviewed Amanda Foody about her successful query. Three years later and her debut DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY is about to come out. I thought it was time to have another chat with her – this time about her writing process and her upcoming books. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview!

A Writer in the Spotlight – 38

My interview (10th July 2017)

amanda_foody_author_photo_2016Credit to Steph Faucher Photography

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? When/How did you decide to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer since I started reading. My earliest stories are from when I was five years old, and I have so many memories of spending hours alone as a child, typing away on my parents’ old box computers in the “computer room,” starting book after book (but rarely finishing them). Even though I often had other aspirations, usually in the business or STEM fields, I always wanted to write as well. In high school, I decided to stop waiting to “be a grown-up” and to start pursuing it professionally then. I learned a lot very quickly, and I regret nothing!

Are you a full-time writer? When and where do you write?

I am not. I am a tax accountant by day, living a double life between the two sides of my brain. I typically write in the evening when I get home from work, or on the weekends. I do a lot of writing in bed.

What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?

Read as much as you can about the craft of writing! Craft books were my greatest teachers, and I still refer back to them whenever I can. They are truly invaluable, and often overlooked.

DaughterOfTheBurningCity
To write DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, where did you get your inspiration from?

In the midst of drafting it, I read THE NIGHT CIRCUS for the first time and loved what Erin Morganstern did with her world-building and tone. I also read a lot of Agatha Christie as a kid, so I reflected a lot on classic mystery plots and how I could convert that to a fully fantastical story.

The story takes place in a travelling circus. What kind of research did you do for it?

Not too much, really. I definitely had to do some thinking on the mechanics of the city and how it moves and feeds itself and functions, but I tend to shy away from research and draw a lot from my own imagination, particular for this book. Most of my research was for extraneous things, like on bugs for Sorina’s bug collection, or poisons for Luca’s poison collection (My characters have some weird interests).

Your cover is gorgeous, did your publishers ask for your input while designing it?

Thank you! They asked what sort of cover I had in mind, and then when in a totally different direction. I love the final product, though. It’s very eye-catching and unique. They did a great job unifying the title, cover, and tagline into a single aesthetic.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my second book, ACE OF SHADES. DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY is a stand-alone, and ACE is the first in a YA fantasy series. I’m currently deep into the editorial work, somewhere between intensive revisions and line edits, and I’m uber excited for how the story is turning out. I started this project when I was seventeen, and I honestly feel that this book taught me how to write. I’m so proud of how far it’s come.

A little about the project: it releases on April 24, 2018. We call it SIX OF CROWS meets SPIRITED AWAY. It takes place in the City of Sin, known for its reckless gambling culture, scandalous cabarets, and extensive criminal underworld. Enne Salta comes from a world of etiquette, pirouettes, and doilies–exactly the opposite of the City of Sin–but she journeys there anyway in order to find her mother, who’s gone missing there…and could potentially be dead. She teams up with Levi Glaisyer, a famous card dealer and con man, who’s gotten himself into some hot water for running an illegal investment scam. The two uncover some sinister secrets about Enne’s mother and must face a number of terrible enemies in the city, who thrust them into a perilous game for their lives. It’s got all my favorite things: ruthless villains, an endearing yet cutthroat group cast, and sexy thrills! 😉

What are your favourite books this year? 

So many! Just to list: STRANGE THE DREAMER by Laini Taylor; WARCROSS by Marie Lu; MASK OF SHADOWS by Linsey Miller; and UPROOTED by Naomi Novik.

Thanks for this interview, Amanda!

You can add Amanda’s books on Goodreads here.

Check out Amanda’s beautiful website here to find out more about her and her books.

 

 

How to plot your Fantasy novel

NB: this was originally posted on There And Draft Again in May 2013, but I have tweaked it slightly to share with you again today.

Hello gentle reader,

Today I’d like to share with you a few tips to plot your Fantasy novel effectively. Whether you use this template for your first draft or your tenth one, I believe it’s always useful to keep in mind your novel’s important milestones. It helps with the pace of the story and it enables you to keep the reader engaged.

one-does-not-simply-write-a-book

There are dozens of templates out there (the most famous being the Save The Cat Beat Sheet by Blake Snyder). I’ve come up with the one below by taking bits and pieces from here and there. I have found it works well for a Fantasy novel. Feel free to reuse and adapt it to your needs…

Plot Point 1 Opening/Protagonist intro (1% in)

Plot Point 2 Inciting Incident (5%)

Plot Point 3 First Turning Point (10%)

Plot Point 4 First Big Twist (40%)

Plot Point 5 Middle Turning Point (50%)

Plot Point 6 Second Big Twist (70%)

Plot Point 7 Climax (85%)

Plot Point 8 Resolution (95%)

Plot Point 9 Finale (100%)

So what do you think? Do you use a plot spreadsheet to outline or revise your novel? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Writing a large cast of characters – with Black Sails

Hello gentle reader,

Fantasy and Historical novels have something in common: they often have a large ensemble cast of at least a dozen main characters, with up to hundreds of secondary characters. Writing a large cast of characters presents some specific challenges: how can the writer make sure each character is distinct from the others and fully realized?

(Please note I’m not talking about the use of multiple points of view here: I’m only discussing managing a big ensemble cast).

With the fourth season of Game of Thrones being aired this month, you may be surprised that I haven’t chosen it as an example to support my argument. Although GoT does have a large ensemble cast, it circumnavigates some of the challenges of writing a large cast because all the main characters are in separate places.

Today I’d like to give a few pointers about writing a large cast of characters who are all in the same place and are forced to constantly interact. I wanted to use HBO’s Deadwood (aka My Favourite Show of All Time) but I realize this show was cancelled in 2006 and you may not have seen it. Therefore I’m going to use a far more recent example: Starz’ Black Sails, whose first season aired in January (side note: this show isn’t censored and the viewer discretion is advised). It’s a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island. I’ve been careful not to include spoilers here.

Black Sails introduces us to a cast of 11 main characters and more than 30 (named) secondary characters. They are all in one place: New Providence Island (West Indies) in 1715.

black-sails-cast-starz
How do the writers of the show manage to make us recognise each character and care for their fate? And how can you do the same in your Work In Progress?

1) Create distinct characters

The key here is to give each main character his own name, his own way of speaking, his own look (clothes), his own motivations (reasons to be in the story) and his own plotline or “story arc”.

What can be helpful is writing an “ID card” for each character before or while you’re drafting: that way you can keep track of each detail and refer to the character’s card for consistency.

Black-Sails-Episode-1x07
In Black Sails, Eleanor Guthrie is one of the key characters, and she ticks all the above boxes: her speech, her clothes, her hairdos, her goals and her story arc are completely specific to her and she can’t be confused with any other character.

2) Organize your key characters in groups and don’t introduce them all at once.

Black Sails 2
The characters in Black Sails can roughly be put into 3 groups: one led by Captain James Flint, one led by Eleanor Guthrie and one led by Captain Charles Vane.

Of course, these groups aren’t set in stone: as the story develops, people mingle, allegiances shift, etc. But these groups are a great way to introduce all the characters at the beginning: a reader or viewer can’t memorize the names of 20 characters in one chapter or one episode. However, what they can do is identify a few main characters and the group around them.

At the end of the first episode of Black Sails, I couldn’t tell you more than a couple of characters’ names. I could, however, tell you that Captain Flint was the main lead character, that his goal was to find a Spanish treasure galleon, and that his crew consisted of a nice and wise quartermaster, a handsome first mate, and a clever cook with a secret.

3) An opportunity for diversity

Having a large cast of characters is a golden opportunity to introduce characters with diverse cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds, from different age groups, with various sexual orientations or with disabilities.

Black Sails makes quite an effort to introduce diversity in its cast of characters. In 8 episodes, these topics weren’t fully developed, but there’s room for some interesting characters’ development in the seasons to come.

Black Sails 3
4) Make us care: create complex characters

With a large cast of characters, it’s important that each one is fully fleshed out, with qualities and flaws. To make them as human as possible, it’s necessary to have them make good AND bad decisions, experience a wide range of emotions and be both strong and fragile.

If you check out Black Sails on Tumblr, you’ll see the premise of a fandom taking form. And among all the people who watched the first season of the show, you’ll see there are people who love Flint. Other people who hate Flint. People who love Vane. Other people who hate Vane with a fiery passion. People who love Max. People who can’t see why Max is even in the show. Etc. Etc. The reason all these people can’t seem to agree or make up their mind is because these characters are complex enough that you can’t really love them or hate them. There are no heroes and no bad guys.

black-sails-faces-an-uncertain-future
Let’s take Charles Vane as an example. This character is introduced as a villain. In the first couple of episodes he manages to kill a nice (elderly) secondary character, to punch Eleanor in the face and to beat up Max. So what writing device turns this cruel, murdering pirate into a complex character we actually care about? First, he has friends. Well, one friend, at least. This shows us others do see more in him than what he appears to be. Secondly, he rarely gets his way. For someone who’s willing to do anything to get what he wants, he actually rarely gets what he wants. That makes us sympathize with him, somehow. Finally, he’s in love with a girl who doesn’t love him. That’s always relatable. As a result, by Episode 6, you sort of like Charles Vane, with his flaws and his “no one understands me” attitude. Right? But he wouldn’t be a complex character if he was just this misunderstood guy. So in Episode 8 (the last in the season), the writers have him back to his old ways and you’re back to shouting at your TV screen and wondering if he’s-going-to-kill-everyone-oh-my-I-can’t-even.

Please note I could have written almost the same paragraph about James Flint, except that he starts out as the “hero” and ends up being not that hero-like…

5) Show, don’t tell

My final advice when writing a large cast of characters is to remember to show them to the reader, not tell the reader about them. We need to understand who these characters are and to make up our mind about them through their actions, not because we’re told about them.

Black Sails John Silver
In Black Sails, Long John Silver is a good example of a character we aren’t told much about. We don’t really know who he is, where he came from and what his backstory is. We do, however, get a really clear idea of what kind of person he is through his actions. By the end of the season, we know he’s an opportunist, a liar, a thief, a terrible cook, a very clever man and the Most Likely To Make It Out Alive of the show. That’s characterization well done.

So tell me: have you included a large set of characters in your manuscript? How did you go about it? Most importantly, have you watched Black Sails? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Foreshadowing with Buffy

Hello gentle reader,

Today I’d like to discuss a writing device that is both well-known and troublesome to use: foreshadowing.

What is foreshadowing?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is “a warning or indication of a future event”. In literature, it is a way to “prepare readers for what will happen later in the story” (K.M. Weiland) by planting a clue (an image, an idea, a character, an event) that will only turn out to be important or make sense later in the narrative.

Buffy Dawn

Why should a writer use foreshadowing?

Foreshadowing gives depth to a story and helps make it plausible. When every part of your narrative falls into place at the end (as they should), the reader should have a “ha!” moment when he thinks: “I should have seen this coming!” And because he didn’t, he will marvel at your writing, and possibly re-read the book to find all the clues he missed the first time.

Buffy Death Season 5

How to use foreshadowing?

This is the hard part. If your clues are too blatant, the reader will quickly put two and two together and all suspense will be ruined. If the clues are too subtle, the reader won’t even remember them when he reaches the end. So the key here is to find the right balance. As for anything else when it comes to writing a good story, critique partners and beta readers will help you in finding this balance. They’ll be able to tell you: “this was too obvious”, or “what do you mean, you left clues?!”

Buffy_Doppelgangland

Any great examples of foreshadowing?

In literature, my favourite example of well-done foreshadowing is The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. But because only a few of you have read it, I’ll take my examples from Buffy instead. Joss Whedon is a MASTER at foreshadowing, and here is the proof…

Dark_Willow

Willow’s story arc: In season 3, Willow meets her vampire doppelgänger and says “I’m so evil and skanky. And I think I’m kinda gay.” In season 4 she will become openly gay and in season 6 she will turn evil and try to destroy the world.

Dawn’s arrival: from the beginning of season 4, there are clues in the dialogues to Dawn’s arrival in season 5.

Buffy’s death at the end of season 5 is predicted by Faith at the end of season 3 (two years in advance!) when she says: “Oh yeah. Miles to go. Little Miss Muffet counting down from seven three oh.” When she says this, Buffy will die in 730 days.

Do you use foreshadowing in your stories? How difficult are you finding it? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

And happy writing…

SCBWI Europolitan Conference Recap (Paris, March 2013)

Hello gentle reader,

this week again I’m taking part in the Tursday’s Children meme hosted by Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez. It is “a weekly blog hop where writers come together to talk about whatever inspires them.”

thurschilbadgejpg

Today I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned at the SCBWI Europolitan Conference I attended last week in Paris. In case you don’t know, SCBWI is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. As its name implies, it is an awesome way to network with other writers.

The Paris conference had an amazing faculty, with YA authors Amy Plum, Sara Grant and Lenore Appelhans, agents Jennifer Laughran and Jenny Savill, and editors Heather Alexander (US Penguin) and Elizabeth Law (ex-Egmont USA), among others.

EM Castellan - SCBWI Euro Con

Spending two days with these awesome people, you can understand I came home with a notebook FULL of writerly advice. Here are a few things I thought I could share in a few bullet points…

  • Betsy Bird, the NYPL’s Youth Materials Specialist and blogger for School Library Journal, once said “Most publishers look for books that have either windows or mirrors.” It means a novel needs to open onto new worlds or to reflect the reader’s life.
  • If you’re writing YA fiction, personal marketing is essential. Social networking with your readers is what will sell your books to teenagers, not a marketing plan devised by your publisher. (Amy Plum)
  • Networking with other writers before publication is a great way to have support and to avoid stress. (Amy Plum)
  • Forget about trends. Write a book as original as possible within its genre. The book will be published in 18 months at the earliest, who knows what the trend will be by then?
  • Voice is what matters. (Jenny Savill)
  • Do things in your own time. Don’t rush. Write a great book. Learn, Write, Revise. (It took Sara Grant 17 years to get published. Now she is a best-selling author).
  • When revising, start with macro-revising (revising the story, the plot, the characters) then micro-editing (word doctoring). (Sara Grant)
  • Before you query or self-publish your book, make sure you know: the book’s most appealing quality, who will read it and why, what the gist of the story is, what makes it stand out from similar books on the market. (Heather Alexander)
  • A query or a blurb should answer the questions: Who, What, Where, Why do I care? (Jennifer Laughran)

I could go on, but we’d be here all day… 😉 Needless to say I returned from the conference really inspired and ready to write ALL THE THINGS.

Have you ever attended a writers’ conference? Did you find it helpful and inspiring? Feel free to leave me a comment below, and to visit the other Thursday’s Children posts here.

My Week In Review – ROW80 Check-In 6

Hello gentle reader,

It is time for another weekly check-in! I hope you had a great and productive week. Mine was… crazy.

Quote of the Week

“I think I’ll try defying gravity.”

Wicked, The Musical by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman

Trying to get traditionally published sometimes feels like trying to defy gravity. This week I received one too many rejections and was tempted to throw my flying broom in the fire. But then I didn’t, partly thanks to the support of Jessica Montgomery, Rhiann Wynn-Nolet, Kate Michael, Rachel O’Laughlin, Juliana Haygert and Rachel Horwitz. These ladies are awesome and I’m so grateful I have them…

Picture of the Week

EM Castellan- Russell Hotel

Hotel Russell, Russell Square, London

I went to London this week, and I stayed at a beautiful Victorian hotel. That was quite fitting, since I’m working on a novel set in Victorian London…

Word Count of the Week

This week I had some time off work and I added 9000 words to my Work In Progress, which means it is now at 18,000 words. I’m very pleased with that.

TV Show of the Week

DowntonAbbey

Downton Abbey (ITV)

Slowly but surely, I am catching up on the latest seasons of this awesome show…

Film of the Week

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies

I went to see it last Friday and I loved it! Such a fun, adorable and thought-provoking movie.

Good News of the Week

This week, Rachel O’Laughlin decided to self-publish her Epic Fantasy and wrote an excellent post about it.

ROW80 Check-In

ROW80 Logo

My goal for this round is to write every day. This week again I managed to write

4 days out of 7.

Links of the Week

On my blog I posted about movies that taught me something about writing, and I added pictures of handsome actors. It was Valentine’s Day after all this week.

On There And Draft Again this week, Mara shared some World Building Resources and I gave advice on how to write a 200-word pitch for a Fantasy novel.

On her blog, Emily Wenstrom interviewed the awesome YA writer Aimee L. Salter about her creative process. Worth a read!

Literary agent Carly Watters posted about When to revise your manuscript and when to keep submitting It was exactly the post I needed to read this week.

And YA author Maggie Stiefvater revealed the cover of the sequel to The Raven Boys here.

Next week

Next week on my blog I shall take part in the Thursday Children meme for the first time. It’s “a weekly blog hop where writers come together to talk about whatever inspires them.” I’m very excited about it…

How was your week? Make sure to share your writing progress and what inspired you this week in the comment section below!

Learning to Write With Movies

Hello gentle reader,

As promised today I am mixing work and pleasure, in the sense that I’m going to talk about writing and handsome actors. See, I am a huge movie fan and I often go and see movies for the actor I happen to fancy. Sometimes the movie is great. Sometimes it is terrible and all I can do is stare at the awesomeness that is the main actor and forget about the movie itself. Whatever the case, I always learn something about writing. Thus let me share below a few nuggets of wisdom learned from various movies (in chronological order)… or you can just scroll down and stare at the pretty pictures.

Gladiator

Movie: Gladiator (2000)

Actor: Russell Crowe

What I learned about writing: Never underestimate the narrative power of the good old “Hero’s Journey”. If you put a new spin on it, there’s no reason why your hero shouldn’t get a call, meet a mentor, go through some trials, defeat the bad guy and finish his journey transformed.

Alexander

Movie: Alexander (2004)

Actor: Jared Leto

What I learned about writing: Don’t be afraid to be a bit ambitious and to go for epicness. Some stories need it.

Tristan & Isolde

Movie: Tristan and Isolde (2006)

Actor: Henry Cavill

What I learned about writing: Do not make your villain/secondary character more interesting, more handsome, more complex than your hero. Because then, your reader will fancy him more than the hero. And that can be a problem.

Mr Brooks

Movie: Mr Brooks (2007)

Actor: Kevin Costner

What I learned about writing: it is perfectly acceptable to have a villain as your main character, as long as you show him in all his complexity.

valhalla-rising

Movie: Valhalla Rising (2009)

Actor: Mads Mikkelsen

What I learned about writing: having a disabled main character can make your story intriguing and more original. In this example, the hero is one-eyed and mute. Yet he is fascinating.

Centurion

Movie: Centurion (2010)

Actor: Michael Fassbender

What I learned about writing: Michael Fassbender is awesome. Wait, that’s not a writing lesson. Here is the lesson: even if you have a large cast, make sure all the characters have their own “arc” and storyline. The more the reader feels he knows them, the more he is likely to care.

Anonymous

Movie: Anonymous (2011)

Actor: Jamie Campbell Bower

What I learned about writing: Done artfully, it can be very moving and narratively powerful to portray a character from his youth to his death and to span 80 years of history.

The Eagle

Movie: The Eagle (2011)

Actor: Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell

What I learned about writing: Nothing will make your reader care more about your main character than showing him with a best friend.

Have you learned any writing lessons from watching movies? If, yes, which ones? Feel free to leave me a comment below!