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Guest writers series: an interview with Nova Blake

Welcome! Please tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a Māori author, mother of three, wife, sister, stalwart badass. I write a bunch of different things under a couple of different names. I love to read, listen to a wide range of music, enjoy close friendships, and am bad at small talk. I have a fascination with dark things and love to be creeped out (by fictional things!). 

If you were to have a personal familiar, what animal would it be?  

I feel like saying cat is cliched, but I do love my cat Luna. I also love dogs, and when it comes down to it, it’s more about the bond between animal and I than the specific type of animal.

Luna

Where in the world do you live, and what do you like most about it?

I live in Aotearoa, but more specifically New Plymouth. It’s a gorgeous place to live – Mount Taranaki is always keeping an eye on us, even though he’s often wearing a cloak of cloud, and we live between him and the sea. Perfection! 

Self-care is very important for writers, tell us how you look after yourself?

By reading a lot. I generally don’t work in the evenings these days unless I have a hard deadline, and I try to take plenty of rest time. As a writer with kids at home, who also has mental and regular health things that contribute to making life hard, that down time/rest time, is vital.

What kind of music do you like to listen to?

Every book has a different playlist, and the playlists can be quite different to each other – so it really depends on the book, or the day or the month. Here’s a link to the playlist I listened to while writing my latest release, Hexes & Vexes. Listen here.

What are you reading right now?

This year has been hard for the old reading with eyeballs thing, so I’ve mostly stuck to audiobooks. At this moment I’m listening to a book called The Hunted by Gabriel Bergmoser.

What’s a book that you have on your shelf which you’re particularly fond of?

I’ve got a hardcover, signed edition of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s one of my all time fav books so it’s a prized possession. 

What do you do/where do you go for inspiration? 

I love to go to Back Beach, I find walking in the sand, the wind, the sea refreshing. It clears my mind and helps to untangle plots or make ideas bloom. There is something special about West Coast beaches; they are so wild, untamed, really helps shake things up.

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with? 

I think the one that annoys me most is actually the old ‘write what you know’, people often seem to take and teach that quite literally, and instead of opening writers up it often shuts them down as they don’t think they know a lot. They haven’t done enough etc. But we all know so much. We know heartbreak and horror, we know adversity and grief, we know hunger and the way it feels when we bite into something that’s too hot to eat yet. I think we should 100% tap into the things we know, but we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to only those. 

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

PBTech… I am a sucker for good tech, and I’d replace all my gear I think! New cell-phone with excellent camera, mouse pad – one of those big ones that goes under your keyboard, new mouse, headphones, even BIGGER monitor/third monitor… lol I am greedy for speedy tech.  

The weirdest hobby you have, other than writing? 

Collecting skulls? If there are dead things around the place I will often move them somewhere safe so that when decomposition is complete I can put the skull in one of my skull gardens (don’t worry, these are small), which would be called succulent gardens if there were no skulls in them, but, let’s be honest – skull garden sounds much cooler. 

What is your favourite bird?

Magpie, hands down. I know they are loathed by so many but I adore them, which is probably why they keep showing up in the books I’ve been writing in recent years. 

Cassie is a writer of mostly science fiction and fantasy, from Taranaki, Aotearoa New Zealand.

As J.C. Hart she writes fiction most influenced by the mythology and culture of the land she lives on. As Nova Blake she looks more to the wider world, drawing inspiration from everything from fairy tales to mythology. In all her books she loves nothing more than exploring the complexities of relationships, whether they be between friends, lovers, family, or enemies.

Read more about Nova/JC Hart on her website here or follow here on Twitter

Get a copy of Hexes and Vexes, on sale now, part of the Witchy Fiction project

Uncategorized, writing

Writing process? Part three – the actual writing

I’ve written before about a daily writing habit, but I think there’s more to actually writing. And by actually writing I really mean writing enough of a first draft to complete a piece of work. So, here we go…

Part three: the actual writing

Honestly? Finishing a draft is the hard bit because it requires self discipline and saying no, and forcing yourself to be creative. I don’t have a tried and true method for making any of this easy, but here’s the basic tenets I stick to, that I’ve found helpful to remember in terms of writing a first draft.

Don’t edit as you write – it’s really easy to fall into a trap of perfecting things as you go. You can’t do this. Your job when writing a first draft is to get the first draft done.

Don’t judge – following on from point one, it’s really easy to write something and immediately think ‘oh no, that sucks, I’m terrible’. You can’t do that on your first draft, instead you have to stick to your plan and …

Just spew it out – write as much as you can as fast as you can manage. There’s lots of quotes around this ‘you can’t edit a blank page’ and ‘you have to write what you’re going to throw away’, that kind of thing.

Don’t over commit or stress yourself out – signing up to something like NaNoWriMo or giving yourself a really big daily word count to start up with, or even telling yourself you have to write every day is a quick way to burn yourself out. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Maybe you just give yourself five minutes a day, or a half hour, or aim for 500 words, whatever works. Don’t call yourself a failure if you don’t manage to stick to your initial goal. Just look at your goal and see if you need to make a change to it. Then forgive yourself and try again when you can.

If it’s boring, skip to the next bit – this is a hard one to realise when you’re in the woods of writing, but if you’re struggling with a scene, it could be because it’s boring. You can either skip this bit (often when it’s ‘and then character A got to place B’ you can safely skip it). If it’s a scene you need for plot reasons, then my favourite way to fix it is to ask what would make it fun? Don’t let a boring scene slow you down, nothing boring has to be included. Readers will find it boring if you do. Another thing you can ask yourself is…

What’s the worst that could happen? – conflict drives story and reveals character, so look for it in every scene. Then at the end of the story, you can ask ‘what’s the best that could happen?’ and make things brilliant for your babies… well, assuming you’re writing something where everyone survives and your leads get a happy ending. I’m writing romance at the moment and it may be influencing things.

You have permission to write whatever – I know this is kind of obvious, but I have definitely run up against an internal belief that I have to write something worthy or I’m wasting my time. Now, this is a stupid belief and it needs deconstructing.

First: what is worthy? I don’t know, but it sounds stuffy and elitist.

Second: Why the fuck shouldn’t you write just exactly what you want to write?

Third: Forget worthy. Channel your inner child, think about the coolest most fun thing you can imagine and tell a story about that. Worthy is a trap (and an excuse not to write).

So, there you have it. Those are the things I try and remember, and generally this has helped me.

Some other hacks if I’m having trouble getting going:

  • write on paper in a cafe or library
  • voice to text on whatever programme you have, and dictate your story
  • alternate writing on a new draft with another project – have both open in tabs on your laptop and switch between them when you get distracted
  • Pomodoro technique or writing ‘sprints’ of a certain time

Please comment and let me know if you have how to write hacks, everything works differently for different people, so you never know what might hit and what might miss.

Read the Writing process series
Part one – Planning
Part two – Characters

fiction, writing

Writing process? Part two – characters

Part two Characters, who are they and how do they happen?

Some of the time my characters appear fully fleshed out and raring to go, most of the others take a little breaking out.

The hardest part for me is always naming them though. Good reference lists for names are googling baby names websites, especially for meanings. Or searching for names on pinterest – a quick search for ‘male names for romance’ for example, will bring up some names. Baby name websites, a google for ‘names which mean…’ is also useful for meaningful names.

Once I have some names, I assign a character archetype to each one. This is kind of intuitive and kind of not. I start with a Hogwarts house sorting…

For example in Rival Princes, Nate is a Gryffindor with strong Hufflepuff tendencies, and Dash is a Ravenclaw who people read as a Slytherin. This gives me a broad intersection of personality types and a springboard to more information.

Dash and Nate
Dash and Nate

Then I think about the role the character has in a story – okay, so Nate’s a Gryff in a new job, and I know he’s a natural charmer, because Dash is a hard worker who has researched and planned and strived to get where he is. The natural conflict there is that Dash feels like Nate hasn’t ‘earned’ his stripes the same way Dash has. Which is a totally normal and relatable way to feel. What does this tell us about the characters? Dash is competitive and has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Then I ask myself, what is a good contrast to that? What if Nate was kind of oblivious to all that? What would make you oblivious? Maybe Nate just believes the best of people all the time, he’s a genuine and kind person, and he assumes the same of others.

If you’re not into Harry Potter, you can also use Horoscopes or zodiac, Myers-Briggs style personality types, oracle cards, whatever works for you.

Then I look at those characters, recognise parts of myself in both and build on those as well.

Add in some character details which I can bring depth into the characters with, working in contrasts really makes this easy. Dash is a neat freak, so Nate doesn’t really care about mess. Dash eats a healthy, well thought through and locally sources diet, Nate gets a lot of takeaways. Dash has one friend, and everyone else finds him prickly, Nate is a charmer who makes friends quickly and easily.

From there I start writing and let the characters reveal themselves as they go. I keep a document open for notes and have little profiles for each of them I can refer back to.

For characters who are harder to nail down I’ve had luck with character questionnaires before. You can find these by Googling or searching in pinterest. There are a lot of them out there, but they all seem to have questions that I wouldn’t think of otherwise, and even if the stuff you discover never ends up on the page explicitly, it might inform something.

At a recent conference I attended a panel by Jan Goldie about faceblindness and how it informs her character creation. She had folders of information with all the physical and personal details of her characters recorded to refer back to. It was like police records for each character, but included things like what their sense of humour is and who they look up to. I aspire to this level of information, but I’m not there yet.

Also….there’s nothing wrong with borrowing from other characters. Maybe your lead is partly Mr Darcy and partly Clark Kent. Maybe you want to take a tablespoon of Veronica Mars and a half cup of Tahani Al-Jamil and blend them up in a big bowl of Lisa Simpson, I dunno. I’m just saying you have permission to use characters which aren’t totally unique. Don’t copy directly – that’s gross, and people will notice – but it’s okay to make homages with some aspects of your characters.

You don’t have to be a genius Zeus plucking fully formed and utterly original new gods and goddesses out of your brain.

So, those are some of the ways I come up with characters. I also like to mooch around online and find an actor or a model who matches the basic idea of how my character looks as a reference but your mileage may vary on that one.

The point of going deep with all this stuff on your characters before you start writing is that if you know them well, then you know how they’re going to react to things. You’re going to find it easier to write their interactions and responses. That’s gotta be a good thing, right?

Next time: getting the actual writing done.

Part one

Writers, writing

Summer writers series: an interview with Jay Hogan

This is the latest and last in my series of Guest Posts where I’ve posed some deeply serious questions to some awesome writers. My questions are in bold. I am aware that it’s not actually Summer any more, but whatever, you’re not the boss of me.

Who are you and what have you done with the Real Jay Hogan?

Jay Hogan is my pen name just to keep trolls at bay and also to keep privacy for myself and my family. In my life I’ve been a registered nurse working in Intensive Care, a nursing lecturer, a counsellor and supervisor and now a writer.

If you had to describe yourself in terms of a soft drink, which would you be and why?

I hate all soft drinks, anything with fizz actually, except champagne lol. So maybe a Pinot Gris, fruity with a dry sense of humour ☺

Are you a Think Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?

Both probably. I’m quite spontaneous but then I also won’t go into anything new that’s important, without checking it out pretty thoroughly.

What got you into writing?

I have always written. I wrote plays in school, had some poetry published in my twenties and thirties, wrote theses and articles at University, and then tried fiction but I couldn’t seem to find my stride in the right genre. I tried to write what I liked to read, but at the time that was mostly thriller and detective fiction, and I found I liked reading it but disliked writing it. It wasn’t till I took my snobbish view off the romance genre that I found a home, particularly mm romance. And yet I’ve always known I am a relationship person. I taught it, counselled it, I was even a family planning educator, so duh, right?

What do you like Reading?

Across the board. I still like thrillers and detective novels and mm romance, but I particularly like quirky characters regardless of genre.

What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?

The Nancy Drew Mysteries. Lord of The Rings in terms of a book having a real impact on me.

What are you reading right now?

John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers books. And I love anything of T.J. Klune and Amy Lane

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

Just whenever if I can stop!!

How do you organise your personal library? (alphabetical, Dewey decimal, what’s your system?)

It’s a mess lol. You really don’t want to know.

Writing: What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

Just lots of reading in and out of the genre I write in. Plus a lot of stuff I’ve gleaned from things I’ve experienced as a nurse in particular.

Do you believe in a divine muse, and if so, what’s yours like?

Not really. I believe in just getting into that study and writing every day. Just discipline. Even if you throw it out, keep writing.

What does your physical writing space look like?

I set up an office with a desk space and I keep it kind of routine. I need a defined space. I’m not a coffee shop writer. I need time and space and quiet and routine. I find when I sit at my desk, my mind knows now what is required of it. Too much change and I can’t concentrate.

Are you more a ‘write drunk, edit sober’ Ernest Hemingway, or a ‘shut the door, eliminate all distractions and write for a set amount of hours’ Stephen King?

I try and write three to four hours a day, door open, dog at my side and usually the cat too. I keep it as much to the morning as I can because I’m pretty useless after three pm. Editing I can do all day anytime, but writing is the morning for me.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

My first book ever about a serial killer abducting girls with eating disorders. I know, I know. But everyone needs a little bit of weird in their head right? Needless to say it never got picked up, thank goodness, lol.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

Write. Just start and do it and keep reading. Don’t wait for right time, write place, just discipline and do it. I think of the first couple of books you write as equivalent to going to university. You are learning if you can do it, if you can actually finish a book, and even if you like it.

Favourites: Star Wars or Star Trek?

Both

Hogwarts or Narnia?

Hogwarts

Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?

South Africa Safari. I love watching wild game doing their thing

If you could plan perfect meals for a day, what would each be, and would you snack?

Kettle fry potato crisps and pork crackling in answer to all.

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

Gourmet food store or kitchen equipment store

Favourite song to sing at Karaoke?

You do not want to hear me sing.

Favourite song to sing in the shower when no one else is home?

Anything by Queen

What’s your favourite quote?

Just do it.

Pokemon: if you were a trainer, what pokemon would be in your team? (you get 6)

What’s pokemon?? Lol  No, seriously I have NEVER even looked at one.

—-

Jay Hogan is a New Zealand author writing in m/m romance, romantic suspense and fantasy. She has travelled extensively, living in a number of countries. She’s a cat aficionado especially Maine Coons, and an avid dog lover (but don’t tell the cat). She loves to cook- pretty damn good, loves to sing – pretty damn average, and as for loving full-time writing -absolutely… depending on the word count, the deadline, her characters’ moods, the ambient temperature in the Western Sahara, whether Jupiter is rising, the size of the ozone hole over New Zealand and how much coffee she’s had.

You can find Jay at:
Facebook
Twitter

Check out Jay’s book, Crossing the Touchline: A New Zealand MM Romance-Contemporary, out now!

Amazon

Dreamspinner press

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Motivators – how to make yourself write

This motivator post is based around the things I’ve found to help me churn out words/edit pages, etc. I’ve had a few people say they’re impressed with my momentum, so… here’s a couple of things which motivate me.

First off, and one I didn’t think was that unusual until my friend saw it was my desktop background and started laughing. Idris Elba asking if I shouldn’t be writing.

I used to have this picture printed out and stuck on my wall in my last flat. He’d stare me down and get me into writing. Partly because he’s intimidating and partly because he’s Stacker Pentecost in Pacific Rim and I want to do what he says. So much respect for that character.

Anyway, it’s my desk top background since I moved out of that flat. When I restart my computer or when I close all my windows, Idris Elba is there to refocus me.

Another option is to motivate yourself with a reward. This is especially useful when there’s something you really want, like to go to a movie or eat a cake, or whatever. Something you’re yearning for. NB: Don’t deprive yourself of food, coffee or bathroom breaks though, negative motivators will probably damage you in time, being as they are, based in fear, and will form negative associations with writing.)

So, say I have a whole day ahead of me and I really want to go see a new movie. And there’s a good session in the early afternoon? Perfect. I’m allowed to go to the movie as long as I achieve X thing: 1000 words, 20 pages of editing, whatever needs doing. Then I want to get that stuff done so I can do the fun thing. Sounds pretty easy, right? It is, as long as you can find something you want which is enough.

Think of rewards that would work for you, proper treats and experience which will feel like a reward.

Some other motivators I’ve found really compelling:

  • Really hating my day job. This is a bit of a horrible one. It involves me being so aggressively unhappy that I’ll do anything to get out of having an office job, which is in fact very motivating to write and plan. But I can’t recommend it.
  • Giving myself a deadline. And this could be deciding to enter your work in progress into a competition, or promising it to a beta reader by X date. It’s better if you’re somehow accountable
  • NaNoWriMo – this used to be a one month a year deal, but now there’s Camps in April and June which are just as motivating. The website also allows you to set your own challenges any time of year: word counts, time frames, etc and it gives you a nice little graph of your progress.

Got another good motivator? Please share it in the comments, I’d love to hear it 🙂