I opened my inbox to questions about The Dark Lord and the Seamstress, and here are the questions I received, and my answers!
Q: About how many drafts of TDL&TS did you have to go through before you got to the finished product? And what’s your process there, do you write everything and then edit, edit as you go, or shoot the first draft to a beta and go from there?
Strangely enough, there weren’t actually a lot of drafts of The Dark Lord and The Seamstress. How it looks now is essentially how it was when it came out.
At this point, I think it’s on draft three or so.
I’ve had 12 years to tweak it, and I added about three stanzas to make the store run smoother, but beyond swapping out words to make lines scan better, I’ve changed practically nothing.
I think it helps that the story itself is very straight forward and simple, with a happy ending. There’s no editing required to clarify, or rewrite, or to address B plot, or to remove/add/merge characters. It doesn’t require all of the Hard Thinking And Mapping that a novel might.
Usually when I write a story, I write the whole thing all at once. Not usually in order, I jump around and lay, as I call them, paving-stone-scenes all along the narrative path. Eventually I get them all to join up, and then I do a top-to-bottom-read-and-edit. From there the story goes to a group of beta readers, comes back to me with feedback and suggestions and I edit it. Then it goes to a different group of beta readers (or the same, if some of the readers really wanted it back), and I edit it again. Usually at that point I give it to a professional editor to give it a polish, I get it back and edit it, and then it’s off to my agent. She gives feedback, I edit again, and then it goes on submission. The acquiring editor gives feedback, I edit, and off it goes to be made into a book!
Sometimes this process is only four or five drafts. Sometimes, like the one book I’m working on, it can get to upwards of seventy passes between my hands and someone else’s in order to get it settled and tweaked just right.
Q: Where do you get your inspirations for stories from? Or, more properly, where do you USUALLY get your ideas – I know sometimes they just pop up out of nowhere. Share your brainworkings, please!?
Some ideas I’ve gotten from dreams. I had a recurring nightmare as a teenager that I dwelt on and let expand, and it just filled up my imagination. Eventually I started writing it, and though I’d like to share it one day, it’s just not good enough right now.
Some ideas I’ve gotten based on prompts, writing challenges, or story requests for anthologies. I’ve written a few shorts where I’ve later gone back and asked permission from the editors to expand the story into a novel.
Some ideas I get from conversations or arguments with friends. I had a very frustrating conversation with someone once and I was so angry that I immediately went to my desk and began pounding out a diatribe on my laptop. That eventually became a scene, and when I had the time to calm down and reread what I’d written, that scene eventually became a book.
Most ideas I get from a sentence. Triptych came from the sentence “There was a UFO in my strawberries.” Oh, I thought. That’s an intriguing image. How did the UFO get there? And why?
Some sentences are things I’ve overheard on the street, or are misheard lyrics, or some strange arrangement of words that have rattled themselves into a plausible, grammatically correct arrangement in my brain. Then I usually ask myself, Is there possibly a story here? If so, what format is it? And how can I tell it in a way that’s different from other tellings of similar stories? Whose POV will be refreshing? What would I want to discuss with this story? Is there something viable in this?
If there isn’t, I usually just write the sentence down on a scrap of paper or in a notebook to get it out of my head and away from my imagination.
One of these days I’m going to publish a book of these sentences-that-went-nowhere, I think! My little collection of not-novels.
Q: I was going to ask about how you decided on the artwork, but someone else already did (thanks for answering that, btw!), so I’ll ask my second-choice question: Do you think you’d like to do more stories like The Dark Lord and the Seamstress?
I absolutely would! We’ll see how this one goes, and then I might consider writing another fun, epic poem. It depends on if an idea-sentence rattles into my brain!
Q: What would be your dream novel to write/publish? What genre, what kind of protagonist(s), lots of world-building or minimal?
Oh, that one’s easy!
My dream novel would be the full-length version of The Maddening Science! It is such an involved manuscript though, that just the research alone is taking me years. I wish I had the time and the freedom to do nothing but work on this book for a year.
It would be a fiction-memoir, but also filled with lots of “found artifacts” that, when slotted in between the pages of the memoir and red between the chapters, tell a secondary story simultaneously that intertwines with the narrator’s memoir. Sort of like The Watchmen, but revealing a whole B-plot of action going on with the memoir’s transcriber character outside of the transcript of the memoir she’s transcribing. If that makes any sense at all!
And there is a metric ton of worldbuilding that has to happen, which is why it is taking me so long and why I wish I had the chance to do nothing BUT this book and just focus for such a long stretch of time.
I will continue to hope that one day I will have the ability to write full time!
Q: What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about writing scenes involving sex?
That they’re about sex.
Unless one is writing pornography simply for pornography’s sake (like some titillating erotic scenes or some lovely PWP slash fanfic), then like every other bit of writing, the scene should only exist to either:
a) further the plot,
b) further understanding of or provide development for a character,
c) or, ideally, all of the above.
If the sex scene is literally only in the book to titillate, then usually it’s a plot-interrupter and frankly, can be skipped. It’s more appreciative to your audience and less boring to just say “they had sex”. (I have literally flipped past sex scenes in books because there’s no reason for them to be there. Like, excuse me, get your sweaty bum out of the way of the story I was reading, thank you.)
Of course, that is to say that the sex scenes can’t be well written and titillating and make you want to go tickle the pope. Like a book that makes you laugh out loud, or sob in public, a well written sex scene should have people who feel sexual attraction squirming in a good way.
Do I think non-erotica books should have sex scenes in them? Well, that depends entirely on the book, the protagonists, the situation, their lives, the culture in which they live, and what putting the sex scene in will do for the plot and people.
And I have all the respect for well written erotica, because it is not easy to make porn the plot and write a damn good novel to support the fun times.
Q: Do you plan on doing more stories like The Dark Lord and The Seamstress, or is this just an experimental step?
This was a bit of an accident, really! I forgot I’d even written the poem, and had sort of discussed illustrating it with Jennifer, until Arial Burnz reminded me it existed after our interview.
If things go well with this picture book, and everything comes out and the process doesn’t make me fall over Teh Deadz, then I think I absolutely would consider writing more poetry-picture-books.
If you have questions for me, please feel free to ask them below, or via Tumblr!