Interview and an Excerpt is a weekly feature that explores the process of writing and indie publishing through interviews with self published authors. The aim is to demystify the process for those who are aspiring to become indie publishers themselves. This week’s guest is Pattie Larsen.
1.) How long have you been an indie author?
I really only decided to commit fully to the indie process not too long ago. I was clinging to that dream of THE AGENT and THE CONTRACT, all the while selling myself short. I chose to take a couple of novels that hadn’t made it past the querying step and self-published them. It was mostly out of curiosity. I’m the type of person who wants to understand the process, how the industry works. It was very illuminating. I loved being able to control every step, but I also realized it was an incredible amount of work. The first one dragged me through a steep learning curve. I went ahead with the second and discovered that, while it was easier in theory, it was much more work than I was willing to do at this point in my career.
2.) How many books have you self-published?
Two: Cat City (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/27519) A Middle Grade novel about a girl who adopts a stray only to discover he is no ordinary cat
Curiosities, Inc (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/36574) a Young Adult novel about a teen girl who is given an enchanted ring only to discover it is haunted.
3.) Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Plotter. Big time plotter. I actually teach a structure class called Get Your Book Done all about how to outline your novel from start to finish. I know pantsers say that plotting kills the creativity, but I find the outlining just as creative as the writing itself and frees me up to just listen to the voices once I start actually writing. Yes, some things change along the way, but I find it so much more liberating if I know how the book ends (and the series, for that matter).
4.) Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Feel free to be as detailed as you like, this stuff is fascinating.
I start with a core idea—can be a title or an image or a phrase. Even a character. I think it’s important to understand where your ideas come from—what type of thinker you are. I’ve had a variety of inspirations appear that I wouldn’t have recognized if I wasn’t paying attention.
From there, I plot the basic outline—I call it a onepage. I also write screenplays, so this technique borrows heavily from that. It gets me in the process—who are the characters? What’s the title? The core idea of the book? Some conflicts that can get the juices flowing? How do I want it to start? And, most importantly of all—how does it end? None of this is set in stone, mind you, just creates a springboard for me to continue from.
Then I start thinking about truly horrible things to do to my MC. I love this part—I list out all the tragedies, comedies, conflicts and issues that could possibly happen in the run of the book. Specific instances that can create tension and/or disruption in that person’s life. I write out as many as I can think of and usually end up with quite a list. I don’t stop until I’ve exhausted all the things that could go wrong (love Murphy’s Law!)
Once that’s done, I bring out my index cards (old school, I know—but I love this part of the process as well and you’ll see why in a second). On each I write out in a sentence or two those very instances, then set them in a pile until they are all done. Then, the fun happens. I start sorting them by tension, building the conflicts from small to so massively huge my MC is having a breakdown (I’m so cruel…). This gives me the arc of my story. If there are any issues that come up while I’m doing this arranging, I add them in. It’s very easy from this perspective not only to move things around to my liking, but to see any holes that need to be filled. It’s very clear if there are gaps, inconsistencies or even if there is too much story there for one book (I’m typically a series writer). If that’s the case, some of that story fodder gets transferred to the sequel.
That done, I start connecting the dots. How do I get from my MC having a fight with her boyfriend in a café to her stumbling over a dead body in the woods? I follow the natural progression: She leaves, furious. He goes after her with his car, harassing her. She goes into the woods to get away from him. She finds the path and follows it. She is crying so she doesn’t notice there is something in her way until she trips over it. She falls on her face next to that thing and looks into the face of a dead man.
You get the idea.
Once the connective tissue is added, I read through the (huge) stack of cards and make sure everything flows. Then I go to my trusty computer and start plotting out chapters. I find this fascinating as the breaks for chapter endings seem to flow very naturally. Once that’s done, the outline is complete and I’m ready to write. And once I’m writing, the words gush out of me. Writer’s block is non-existent, the fear of the blank white page not even remotely intimidating. It’s like my prep has opened the flood gates for the voices to emerge. I love it. In fact, once I get going at the actual writing, I can get a first draft out in less than two weeks.
5.) What is the best writing advice you’ve ever come across?
Just write. Don’t talk about it. Sharing ideas are great, but the thing itself has only a finite amount of energy attached to it. If you waste it all talking about it and don’t act, you’ll lose momentum and the idea will die. If you act, take control of the idea, develop it and accept it no matter what your ego tells you, it will come out and usually better than you imagined. Trust the inspiration.
6.) If you were going to mentor a new writer through the publishing process, what pitfalls would you warn them against?
This is a huge question, far bigger than most writers think. When I teach, I try to guide my students to trust themselves and their instincts. To be cautious of who they choose to beta for them—only to pick those who share their interests and never someone they want to impress. I also teach them to do their research into the three publishing models and be honest about what they want. The DREAM of big publishing is just that—a fiction created by Hollywood and the media. The truth of it is far different. I’m not knocking it, just being truthful and realistic. If they still decide to go that route, fantastic. But not being educated on the realities of this business (and it is a business, as much as some writers wish it wasn’t) is a recipe for failure as in any other industry. Honestly there is so much more but it’s a whole post all on its own.
7.) Are you currently earning a living with your writing?
I’m lucky to say I am. Although not with my books just yet—I write freelance for a web TV series—but I am writing for a living and that makes me very, very happy.
8.) What are your writing must haves? Music? A quiet table at a coffee shop?
I need total silence, although I have tried it all out of curiosity. I can write with other people around but once I’m inside the story with the characters talking to me I get quite cranky if I’m interrupted (fair warning!). I can write with music but choose not to. And I’ve written in coffee shops, at retreats… but I prefer just me and my MC. I’m also a sugar addict but I’ve been trying very hard lately not to indulge that habit while I write.
9.) What tools or software do you use to write?
My onepage document, pencils, markers, index cards. Microsoft Word and/or Open Office. I’ve tried Scrivener but I do the same thing on my own that the software does so I figure I’ll stick to my system since it works so well for me.
10.) What kind of promotion have you tried? What do you find to be the most effective?
I haven’t done a great deal as of yet, although I’m still building my platform. I have the first book of a new series coming this summer from an indie publisher, Etopia Press (http://etopia-press.net) and will be actively promoting then. But since both self-pubbed books were experiments, I didn’t bother doing much about sales and marketing.
11.) About how long from start to finish did it take you to finish your book(s)? About how many hours a day do you spend writing/editing?
I write full time and have now for about a year and a half. My day starts about 8am when I do my networking and platform building. After lunch I usually plot new outlines or, if I’m writing, work on chapters. When I’m in writing mode, I’m very prolific—my record is 16,000 words in a day (and they didn’t suck!) but most days while I’m focused on getting a book finished I average between 6,000 and 9,000 words in about eight hours. I write about a book every two months and use the rest of the time in developing ideas, writing short stories and editing. The fastest book I wrote was eight days and the longest was a month. Editing a novel usually takes three full days—the first for fleshing out anything that needs more detail, showing instead of telling, dialogue improvement, that type of thing. Days two and three are about find and replace—locating words I’ve repeated over and over (that, had, could, really, just, etc.) and correcting typos. Then I let it go to betas and move on. Any big edits happen with my editor on her suggestions as well as the suggestions of my betas. I’ve been pretty lucky so far—only one of my books needed an overhaul but it was all about adding content, not removing it.
12.) How much of the process did you do yourself and what did you pay someone else to do?
When I self-published, I did everything myself. It was a great deal of fun, but I don’t recommend it. Pay an editor. It’s important. Now that I’m with an indie press, I’m loving how much help I’m getting, from editing to cover art to marketing. I’ve also recruited someone to help me with my trailers. I’m fortunate in that my publisher pays for all of the book related costs while the film makers helping me are friends.
13.) Can you tell us a little bit about your books?
Are you kidding? Favorite topic…
Cat City is a Middle Grade novel, the first in a series about a magical city hidden under Susan’s house. She is taken there to save her life and helps her friend, the butterscotch tabby Tucker, save his city from an invasion of the evil rats.
Curiosities, Inc. is a Young Adult paranormal novel about Danica Harper, left to live with her crazy grandmother for a year. She discovers she has psychic power triggered by an enchanted ring all the while being haunted by an evil demon spirit who wants to use her energy to return to the mortal world.
The Ghost Boy of MacKenzie House (Acorn Press, Spring 2012) is a Middle Grade story about Chloe who is forced to leave her home after her parents die and move into her aunt’s house only to discover it is haunted. In her quest to help the Ghost Boy move on she heals her own heart.
The Diamond City Trilogy (Fresco, Wasteland, The Diamond City-Etopia Press) is a YA series about Fresco, an ordinary teenager who has his normal life turned upside down when he suffers a psychic breakout and is purposely hooked on a drug by the corporation that created him. The first book comes out this summer.
14.) Do you mind sharing a little bit about what you’re working on right now?
I have a number of books in the queue at the moment. Right now I’m focused on finishing the third book of The Diamond City Trilogy but meanwhile I’ve finished outlining a YA based on New Orleans voodoo, a three-novel run about a teen boy who is being hunted, another YA called Gypsy and a short story horror anthology.
Patti Larsen is a 39-year-old novelist and independent filmmaker. A writer of fiction and screenplays, she began her writing career at a tender age and had her first typewriter by the time she was twelve. Choosing to develop her skills in journalism, her passion for storytelling eventually led her back to fiction. Her love for Young Adult and Middle Grade books drives her to write full time and sometimes even through the night. She lives on the East Coast of Canada, with her very understanding and patient husband Scott, and four massive cats.
You can find Patti online here:
Exerpt from Fresco (coming this summer from Etopia Press):
“Jen,” Justin smirked. “Wants to know what I’m doing after the game.” His new conquest was firmly in hand. Fresco rolled his eyes. He preferred to hang out with the girls, not tear them apart one by one.
Justin punched buttons, texting her back. Fresco saw the stop sign approaching, felt the acceleration of the truck and knew Justin didn’t see it or the car with the right of way. Before he had a chance to shout a warning, the headache took him over and fire filled his vision.
Everything was gray as time moved in slow motion. The car, a mid-sized blue sedan, sped in quarter time toward him as they cleared the stop and entered the intersection. Fresco watched, detached, as the pretty blonde woman behind the wheel opened her mouth in a large ‘O’ he guessed backed a scream. Her eyes were huge and stared into his. Just as her bumper touched the passenger door of the truck, time stopped.
Fresco looked around. Justin grinned, checking out his phone, the open box of cookies beside him. Over his friend’s shoulder, through the glass, Fresco saw a robin paused in flight, preparing to land on the street sign. He looked down at his hands. He seemed transparent to himself, ghostly and unreal. He looked up again at the woman. Such naked fear shone in her eyes he wanted to call out to her, to reassure her, but there was nothing he could do. It wasn’t until he dropped his eyes from her that he noticed the toddler secured in the back.
In a flash of terror, Fresco reached out with his mind and grabbed the child.
He had a heartbeat to register he now stood on the sidewalk next to the stop sign. The sun beamed down on him, warming his face. The world was silent, a jolting change from the blaring music. Justin’s black truck roared past in the next breath, careened into the intersection, t-boned by the blue sedan. The impact rippled the air, rushing over, through and past him in a shockwave. He felt it before he heard metal shriek and clash, the deep thrum of humming tires, the sharp bellow of shattering safety glass, the thrum of releasing airbags. The two vehicles melded together with enough force to spin them 180 degrees and come to a screeching halt against the opposite curb. Smoke billowed from the front of the blue car, bits of yellow and red plastic scattered as though tossed with casual disdain. Something within the crippled four-door hissed and sputtered its way down to death, its bonnet compressed, embedded in the passenger side of Justin’s four by four. The truck bent inward where the cab met the box but appeared almost intact compared to the crumpled mess of the family midsize.
People rushed from houses, from hastily parked cars, pouring over the scene. Fresco heard voices, harsh with shock, calling for help on multiple cell phones. An older woman, a stranger, hovered in front of him. Her mouth moved, face lined with concern, but he couldn’t make out what she was saying. He stood frozen, lost and empty of emotion. How…? Where…? He tried to make sense of what happened. The woman gestured to Fresco, but he was still having trouble understanding her. She reached for him, tugging on him, on something he held. His arms tightened reflexively. He could not, would not let go.
It was hard to think. Someone cried, and the crying distracted him.
Fresco looked down.
The boy from the back of the car bawled in his arms.