Category Archives: Writing

Author Confessions

There are some things I feel I need to admit to you.

  1. I used to believe a first draft was a final draft. I applauded myself for the fact that I didn’t revise, that my writing was somehow instinctual or, and I shudder, visceral. I skated through workshops in college under this assumption and now I am so very ashamed. My books? You don’t even want to know how aggressively edited they are. I could edit them forever.
  2. I have no patience for epigraphs. I get why they are there but find them unbearably pretentious and always skip them when I’m reading. I’m the worst.
  3. I work so much better under a deadline. Or maybe it’s just easier to explain to my family why they really must leave me alone for weeks at a time when I can attach a number to my plea.
  4. I blame my excessive narration problems on the fact that I used to be super active in the journal-based RP community. Mostly Harry Potter. It was considered poor form to respond with just one sentence or two, and I know my habit of overthinking every word and gesture is a result of basically creating characters through dialogue exchanges. Also, I miss having the time for this desperately.
  5. I crave commercial success. I want to nerd out over readers and meet them at book signings and gush over fan art. I write because I can’t not write and it satisfies a deep, creative need in me to build worlds and breathe life into new characters. But I also dream of being a career author, however distant or unattainable that might be. I want to be taken seriously enough to engage with authors I admire as a peer. I’ve been to a few readings and signings within the last few years, both in front of the audience and in it, and I know where I prefer to be. It shouldn’t matter. But it does.

I told you I was the worst.

Author Life Month? Author Every Month.

The author’s photo a day challenge I am participating in on Instagram this month is absolutely sustaining me. It only feels fitting to be sharing it with you at the tail end of Valentine’s Day, as every new day feels like I’m adding a line to a love letter addressed to readers, to Eiren’s world, to the craft of writing. I’ve always had good intentions when it comes to photo a day challenges but have previously lacked follow through. Not so this February.

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The prompt for this one was “killed darlings,” and this was one of oh-so-many I had to choose from. I always write more pretty things of little substance than I need.

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And “where I write,” which I’ve elaborated on before. But I felt this one showed some love to the stickers so rarely seen on the back of my laptop.

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These two were each collages of character inspirations, for Eiren and Gannet, respectively. You can read more on the original posts.

If you aren’t already following me on Instagram, please do. It’s the rare social media haven I can haunt on the regular right now – I feel rather guilty for my prolonged absence from Twitter and Facebook, longer even than was required for the heady rush of editing that consumed my January, and resulted in one of the strongest drafts I think I’ve ever written. Come May, I hope you think so, too.

The challenge carries on through the end of February and I think I’ll be looking for another one after. Any recommendations?

Under the Covers

My second book has a publication date, a title, and now it has a cover – along with a matching refresh of the first book which will be re-released in paperback at the same time. I haven’t been belting it from the rooftops because I am wildly superstitious. If I celebrate too soon, it won’t actually happen, right?

But, it is happening, so I’m going to make a little noise.

Here’s this first lovely little mystery. I feel so lucky to have seen my first book baby realized in not just one but three separate covers, and this one has a sweeping depth to it that I really love. I also had the opportunity I am sure far more deserving writers have dreamed of: to revisit a few sticky places in the story and make small but mighty edits to a book that was first published three years ago.

The Hidden Icon

I want to go to there.

And here, too.

The Dread Goddess

The Dread Goddess follows Eiren in her flight from Jhosch, from Gannet, and from herself as she attempts to reconcile who she knows she is – a gentle-souled storyteller – with the monstrous dread goddess who dwells within her. There’s more of her world, more stories, identities literally and figuratively unmasked, madness and havoc and kissing. I am extremely excited about continuing her story and I hope that you are, too.

And I won’t be sitting on my hands until their publication on May 30 of next year – I’ll be working on the third and final book, partnering with the spectacular Nita Basu of Diversion Books on some promotional fun times, and blogging and reading and mothering and dreaming. If there’s something I can do for you or questions I can answer about how I am not going slowly insane managing all of these things, you know how to reach me.

Where I Write

I am not one of those who prescribes to the notion of a writing sanctuary. While this doesn’t mean I don’t lust for a She Shed of my very own, it does mean I can’t let something like place determine my capacity and commitment to write.

Some of my favorite places for word craft?

  1. Doctor’s offices.
  2. In the car with a little one napping in the backseat.
  3. Meetings where my presence is not really necessary but is required.
  4. Coffee houses… really any, but I have a few favorites.
  5. My writing desk.

I have listed my writing desk last because it really is the one place where I do not spontaneously write – and thus the writing that happens there is the writing that feels the most like work.

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Because it is work, and sometimes a change of scenery, or an unexpected moment seized for creation rather than tedium, is all the motivation that I need.

But, my desk.

I write there, a lot. It’s a place of seriousness, of getting down to business, of meeting deadlines. I am lately interested in what I can do to make it a worthier space. I bought it a few years ago off of Craigslist after searching for “antique school desk,” and my dad refinished it for me. The top is still pocked with the vigorous efforts of some kid working to dismantle it a compass point at a time. The drawer is often stuffed full of drawings from my daughters, rogue colored pencils, beads, buttons, receipts for things I think I am going to return to the store but never actually do, and handwritten notes to myself about things that I am writing or want to write.

I leave it relatively bare, because I haven’t wanted distraction. There’s a jar of dice and a ceramic pencil cup filled with dry erase markers for my Pathfinder game, and I recently purchased a tiny, weighty iron owl who is meant to hold place cards but instead holds my gaze when my mind is wandering. It’s cozied up next to a functional fire place that is nevertheless rarely lit, and whose mantle is stuffed full of novels.

I have a lamp because warm light is essential, and an uncurtained window because soft, blue daylight is beautiful, too. There’s a print of a paper cut tree hanging on the wall. Sometimes there are dozens of post-its, usually not. It’s a good space: clean, comfortable, nook-like. I grew up in a bedroom that was probably the size of your closet, writing in bed with a spiral bound notebook balanced on my knees because there wasn’t room for any other furniture. So I like small. The less room there is for my body the more there is for my mind, right?

What about you? What are your creative spaces like?

Dear Friend, Dear Dreamer

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a rough week. I’ve cried, a lot. I’ve raged, equally as much. But I have babies to raise and books to write and we all have work to do to build a world that’s worthy of what we’re putting into it, so I’m making a rope of words to climb out of this pit of despair.

Beginning with delivering on my promise to write more letters. I walked with a sympathetic co-worker to the library today, and in addition to joining their friends program for folks who believe in and support their work, I picked up a handful of cards in the library gift shop to mail to gals I know who are also grieving.

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Now, more than ever, tiny, active gestures of kindness and compassion seem to me the greatest gift we can give each other. Before we can mobilize, we need to heal. And after the deluge of political propaganda in my inbox and my mailbox, I know that I would welcome something real.

So even if you aren’t receiving a letter from me – which you totally could, you know how to reach me – I have one for you.

Dear friend, dear dreamer, dear doer and maker and believer and reader,

I appreciate and recognize you. I may not really know you, may not always understand you, but I believe that you are moved as I am by what is in your heart and in your head. You have the capacity to love and to give and to grow, and I hope that you do. We may never hold hands, never really, and perhaps never on all of our ideas, either, but we share a space, a city, a state, a nation; we are small but our world is not. I trust you to remember this.

If you’re not ready, I want to help you. And if you’re not ready for help, I am good at waiting. There is a lot to do and I can’t be still, not when there is risk, when there is opportunity, when there is work for open hands and willing ears. Because nothing is simple, least of all being really and truly heard.

But I hear you.

Or I will try to.

With hope and in love,

Jillian

ETA: You should know I wrote this in the afternoon, and on my walk home to my car from work I was hit by a car. Is that as ridiculous to read as it was to write? Because it happened. I was crossing the street and the driver wasn’t going terribly fast, but it definitely hurt and I called the police because I was giddy with shock.

The driver kept meeting my eyes, his own face ghost-pale, and saying how sorry he was, how sorry he was. I took his hand. I clapped him on the shoulder. I told him it’s been a terrible week, and shit happens, and I was probably fine. I asked his name. I gave him mine. It was a desperate, ridiculous, gut-wringing human moment.

I’m fine, I really feel that I am.

And I just keep hoping that he’s okay, too.

Because that’s the kind of world I want to live in.

Because I believe it’s possible to be concerned for yourself and for others.

Because I am just not going to let anything stop me.

 

Meet Me at CONjuration

I didn’t anticipate returning to Atlanta until next year’s Dragon Con, so I was surprised and delighted when I received a last-minute invitation to CONjuration, a fan-driven convention celebrating all things Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and other magical literature, movies, and experiences. It’s being held November 4 – 6 at the Marriot Century Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

I wonder if we'll get sorted? This lovely piece from rienfleche on DeviantArt is making me waffle about my hoped-for House.

I wonder if we’ll get sorted? This lovely piece from rienfleche on DeviantArt is making me waffle about my hoped-for House.

I’ve scrambled to acquire more copies of The Hidden Icon and also to assemble chapbooks of The Two Sisters to disseminate. I am positively stoked to be sharing a table in the vendor hall – aptly named Diagon Alley – with Lee Martindale, and trying to figure how many goodies I can squeeze into my suitcase along with clothes and a Yule Ball gown. Priorities, friends.

I’ll also be on a few panels.

  • Saturday, 4:00 PM, Tail and Tongue: Don’ t Step on the Worms – Grima Wormtongue and Peter (Wormtail) Pettigrew both get a bad rap. Yes, they were pawns of their evil lords. Yes, they betrayed their own kind. Could they really help it or were they victims, too? Did their deaths give them any redemption or did they just confirm their roles as tragic characters and tools cast aside by their masters?
  • Saturday, 6:00 PM, Stranger Things: The Magical Influences – Drawing from such influences as Dungeons & Dragons, Tolkien, Magic: the Gathering, Stephen King, and the movies made by Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg, the supernatural, enchanted elements of Stranger Things fairly drip from the screen! The series’ surreal atmosphere is propelled forward by humanity’s lack of understanding of the paranormal. The unknown science is magic!

In addition to some seriously cool programming – really, I don’t know how much I’ll be willing to stay at my vendor table because everything looks so fun – there are opportunities to win House points, live performances, and of course, a Yule Ball. I am also over the moon excited to meet Juliet Marillier, who will be launching and signing her latest book at the event, and whose writing has been influencing and inspiring me for more than a decade.

So, if you’re in the Atlanta area, I don’t think you’ll want to miss this, and I won’t want to miss you.

What’s in a Name?

Writing as a teenager, one of my favorite things to do was to name characters using the handy baby name bible passed on to me by my cousin. I loved looking up what a name meant and largely made my decisions that way – though I could also search by country of origin, astrological sign, season, or famous folks who shared a name.

If I was feeling real crafty, I could choose a name and change a letter or two: the height of creativity in my late teens.

Borrowed from The Huffington Post. Moderately apologetic.

Borrowed from The Huffington Post. Moderately apologetic.

Now that that the internet is a thing and I’m not cramming a week’s worth of searching and fooling around on the computer into one class period, I’ve got a lot more resources at my disposal in selecting the perfect name for my characters. Whether it’s naming my latest gaming avatar or current favorite narrator, there are as many opportunities to be unique as there are risks in duplicating what someone else has already done. The work is practically being done for us these days.

But there’s still something about selecting a character’s name that feels like it ought to be organic, at least for me.

In The Hidden Icon, I wanted both Eiren and Gannet to be named for birds. I wish I could tell you that I had a really cool reason why this was, but I’ll be honest: I did not. I wanted there to be something immediately connecting the two characters, identifying some kinship between them. Names are vital things: they’re given to us, but they also principally define how we first think of ourselves and how we connect to others. Being the mother of small children and often in the company of other small children, I can tell you, names are a pretty big deal. You tell a small child she’s “silly” and she’ll insist, “No, I’m INSERT NAME HERE.”

In the first draft, Eiren was simply ‘Wren.’ I later changed the spelling of her name to be more fantastical, which feels so lame to admit, but it’s true. I’ve had some delightful (for me) conversations around the pronunciation of her name, and I’ve been surprised by the variety. Some folks have normalized it, assuming it’s pronounced AIR-en, others EYE-ren. In my head, it’s always been EAR-en, but I’ve truly got no dog in this fight. I just love that there is a fight.

Her sister, Lista, was also originally named ‘Chantal,’ which I changed because I wanted something more grounded. Morainn’s name was different in the first draft, as well: she was Morrigan, which obviously has a lot of connotation I later wanted to avoid. There’s some bird stuff there, too – you’d think I’d planned it.

As I’m writing, I often have to come up with a name for a character on the spot – and I do it quickly, often with the intention of changing it later. I like to lean on names that have the flavor of the setting the characters are in, and just like my oh-so-ingenious teenage self, my best (and possibly only) trick is mixing up a few letters to create something that’s unique to my world. I tend to poke around and try things out until I settle on something that just has the right feel, just as one does when naming children, really.

Bonus about naming in books? No arguments with my husband. The characters are all mine.

Meet Me at Imaginarium

Excitement! I’ll be participating in the Imaginarium Convention this coming weekend, 7 – 9 October, in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve been trying to attend this convention pretty much since it began, and my babies kept being born and preventing me from doing so. If you’re local to the area, it looks to be a pretty fabulous event for reading, writing, gaming, and cosplay. I’m on a few panels with some cool folks and I’m practicing my jokes so they aren’t lame.

Except, my rehearsed jokes are possibly lamer than the spontaneous ones.

I'll be at Imaginarium Convention in Louisville, 7 - 9 October.

My schedule:

  • Friday, 5:00 PM, Slow Down, Hot Stuff! – If you’re into waiting a solid six hundred pages before characters jump into bed together, instead savoring meaningful glances, heated accidental brushing of hands, and lots of dancing around feelings, have we got some book recommendations for you.
  • Friday, 8:00 PM, Author Signing in Vendor Hall
  • Saturday, 11:00 AM, How to Fracture a Fairy Tale – Fairytale and mythic retellings are a popular storytelling device – some might say too popular. How do you pull it off in a way that feels fresh and interesting?
  • Saturday, 5:00 PM, What’s In a Name? – How to create names for your characters that fit your world’s language and culture.
  • Sunday, 1:00 PM, Bad Boys (and Girls)! – The anti-heroes, the lone wolves, the ones so bad they are good. Why do we like the bad boys and anti-heroes sometimes more than the white knights?

Guys, I bought the good treats for my signing and will have paperback copies of The Hidden Icon available for sale – the very same editions you can no longer buy on Amazon, or ever again, as it will be re-released along with the second book next year. Consider yourself bribed.

What’s Your Fictional Type?

I definitely have a “type” when it comes to fictional characters. These are the sorts of folks who I wouldn’t find myself associating with in real life: they’d be unbearable to be around, impossible to talk to, or just intimidating as hell. But on the page or the screen? It’s true love.

The Strong, Silent Type

John Thornton

Dudes who are supremely self-contained, whose moods occupy the eye of the storm until they are the storm itself, who communicate volumes with their eyes alone… it’s no surprise I love them, right? One of the first – and possibly most embarrassing – fictional crushes on this sort of fella was Conner McDermott from Sweet Valley High: Senior Year. When you identify strongly with bookish, rule following Elizabeth Wakefield as a teen, it’s kind of hard not to fall for the boy you 100 percent shouldn’t. But, this archetype is an interesting one, and has appealed to me the longest possibly because I want to believe there are hidden depths to everyone… or want to justify my tendency to lose my tongue in the company of quiet, steely-eyed, handsome dudes. Noteworthy SSTs: Bran from Son of the Shadows, Mr. Darcy, John Thorton from North & South.

The Scoundrel

Malcolm Reynolds

I really ought to know better about this one, and while I’ve certainly crushed hard on some real-life troublemakers in my time, I much prefer the fictional variety. No consequences with those – and no need to confront the reality that you neither can nor should try to change who someone is to accommodate your love of law and order. This guy can make a girl laugh even when he’s about to get her killed. I’ve not found many mischievous book characters I find believable or likeable, which makes me worry about attempting to write this sort of person myself. But I’m sure someday I’ll try. Noteworthy miscreants: Han Solo, Sky Masterson, Malcolm Reynolds, Rosto the Piper from Tamora Pierce’s Terrier and Bloodhound.

The Boss Bitch

Aeryn Sun

I want to be her and I want to be her best friend. She’s tough, smart, and capable. There’s not a day in her life she’s taken shit from anybody. I like that these women are strong, physically and emotionally, and I swear half the reason I’ve been working out lately is to be more like the fictional women I admire. I doubt my capacity to ever write this sort of woman, though, because I am, regrettably, too much of a pleaser. I blame being raised in the Midwest, and, as my best friend recently pointed out to me, the sort of person who apologizes when other people bump into me. Noteworthy bosses: Katniss Everdeen, Beka Cooper from Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff, Garth Nix’s Sabriel, Aeryn Sun.

So, who’s your type?

The Email, the Email, What-What, the Email

Strong Bad EmailIf you remember Strong Bad checking his email, then we should be friends.

Even if you don’t, really. You’re here and that’s enough to make me want to spit in my palm and put ‘er there.

But, in the interest of doing the writerly thing and rekindling joy one inbox at a time, I’m launching an email newsletter. I can promise irreverent blog posts, quotes from what I’m reading, first peeks at new projects, and foolish things mined from the internet. You can even turn the lights on and off as you read, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I am also actively interested in what you’d like me to write about. A dear friend of mine recently provided me with a fabulous list of questions to go on, but the best things are those that delight, that surprise, that begin conversations you didn’t even know you wanted to have. I dig collaboration, so, have at me.

All new subscribers – which is to say, at this point, every subscriber – will receive a link to download a new folk tale as told by Eiren in the sequel to The Hidden Icon. Which I should hopefully get to talk about pretty soon, too.

You can sign up on my website. Readers can anticipate a bi-weekly email and no more – I have small children, a full-time job, and a nasty sleeping habit that’s conflicting with my even nastier writing habit, so. No spam here.

Though I make no promises about canned unicorn meat.