Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Writers' Wednesday: An Interview with Brenna Lyons

Hi folks - welcome to another edition of Writers' Wednesday! Before we get started with today's featured author, let me just mention that my Banned Books Week contest is still going strong, and will return tomorrow with my latest featured book. In the meantime, every comment you leave on today's post counts as an entry as well...

A big hello to author Brenna Lyons, who joins me today. Brenna, can you tell us a little about your background?

I grew up in Hazelwood/Glenwood in Pittsburgh, of a few DMZs of the city, at the time. That was back when the mills were still open, and the area was a slum, if you weren't living in project housing. I was lucky enough to attend private schools from halfway through first grade on (St. Stephen's in Glenwood then the former Bishop Boyle High School in Homestead), which made life a little easier. Saying that my family was dysfunctional would be like calling one of my Night Warriors' sacred weapons a butter knife. Reading and writing was my escape from life, and I was good at escaping, even if it meant scribbling down poems and stories in a darkened room and trying to decipher them the next morning. It wasn't hard to learn that neglect was imminently preferable to abuse, and anything that kept me out of sight and mind was good. Cue writing and reading again. My younger brother was allowed to go live with my father in Texas when we were preteens, but the trade-off was that I would stay with my biological mother in Pittsburgh...I was legally allowed to 'run away from home' at 18, a month after my birthday, to be precise...After spending a short period of time living with my father and his second wife (and two of my seven younger sibs (whole, half, and step), I moved out and started supporting myself at 18, while I attended college, holding down two or three jobs at a time. My husband and I married at 19, and 20 years and three children later, we'll still married...twice, but that's another story.

Certainly a powerful beginning to your life! So when did you first begin writing? Was there an event or moment in your life that triggered your desire to write?

I've always been a writer. I was writing short fantastical stories, from the time I could form words with a pencil in hand...probably age 5 or 6. I learned that you could rhyme words into poems at 7 and set off on that. I started writing articles at about 10 or 11 and had my first in a local newspaper at 13.

And, I started competing at 11, when I won a place in Taproot for poetry (the youngest winner ever, at that time). At 15, I won a place in the Young Poets Externship at the University of Pittsburgh. At 17, I won a $7500 college scholarship by taking first place in a timed essay competition. I moved from type of writing to type, expanding my boundaries, but try as I might, I could never get past the first few chapters of a novel in college. So, it was something of a surprise when I woke with the dream of what I thought was a short story (April Fools Day 2001) and found (4 months later), that I'd completed my first serial novel (PROPHECY). I launched from PROPHECY into FAIRY DREAMS and then into four books at once (the first three NIGHT WARRIORS books and TYGERS). Now, I have 75 completed novels and stories, more than 60 of them published and more signed. I also have more than 80 WIP, and I write in 17 established worlds.

75 completed novels and 80 WIP (works-in-progress)?! Wow! Tell us about your latest writing project or published title.

The latest title I have out is a re-release of RITES OF MATING (one of my two EPPIE finalists from 2006) from my Kegin series. The latest new work I have out is FATES MAGIC, the first installment in the Fates War series. Both of those released from Phaze.

But, my release schedule is teeming. In October, I anticipate two releases: MATCHMAKER'S MISERY from Phaze (Kegin series) and CATCH ME, IF YOU CAN (Urban Grimms) from Under The Moon/Mojocastle. November is an even bigger month for me this year with three releases: DOUBLE IMAGE (Kegin) from Phaze, TYGERS (Renegades) from Under The Moon, and THE LADY'S LOWBORN LOVER (Kielan) from LL Productions. From December through March, I anticipate at least a release a month, but I still have three releases that are undated in that period, which means I can't assign them to a particular month. Those releases will be coming from Mundania Press, LLC., Phaze, Dark Hart Press, and Under The Moon/Mojocastle Press. My first writing priority for the next six months are finishing, cleaning, and editing those 12 or so releases.

Since you obviously have a lot of experience in the publishing world, what advice would you give to new writers just starting out?

I could give a ton of advice, but here is some that I think will be most useful.

1) Get the butt in the seat and write. Don't try to write in order. Don't waste time looking for the perfect title or the perfect opening line. The perfect opening line will almost invariably present itself later. The perfect title may not be so perfect, in the end, and the publisher may order you to change it anyway. In short, you can't edit a blank page, so get something down. And, don't edit obsessively while you go. If you want to jot something in so you don't forget it, do it, but other than that, write first...then edit, or you might get stuck editing endlessly without getting new work down.

2) Join a critique group (online or not) that includes both published authors in your subgenre and unpublished. At the very least, join writers' workshops like MikesWritingWorkshop and EPIC-eWorkshop loops on Yahoogroups. Learn to take constructive criticism and weed out the nits of the crit partners, but more important...

3) Learn not only to hone your craft and self-edit but also about the industry. Learn how to vett publishers, about contract law (but always have an agent or lawyer for literary contract law on hand to handle NY contracts...any complex contract for you), the industry terms, etc. Hone your professional bearing. This is a career, so you want to know what the terms mean and apply them correctly. You also want to send well-edited communications to all industry professionals. Edit your communications even more strenuously than you edit your book...and the book should be thoroughly edited, to begin with.

4) Learn the ins and outs of dealing with an editor. You need to know that the editor's job is to help you make your book stronger and to protect you and the publisher from lawsuit. But, you also need to know what to do when you and the editor disagree and what to do when the editor is wrong. There is a fine line the author has to walk.

5) Learn the ins and outs of marketing, especially online marketing. No matter whether you are in NY or indie press, you have to do a certain amount of promotion for yourself. Some publishers demand a marketing plan from the author at submission time. Know what your options are and start early. Have a web site and/or a MySpace page for yourself as a writer BEFORE submitting. It shows you're proactive. Know what you intend to do, before someone asks.

That's terrific advice. Switching topics a little bit here, what kinds of books do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?

I'm a fairly eclectic reader. I gravitate toward fantasy/paranormal/science fiction/horror, whether straight genre or cross-genre books. I will also read the occasional contemporary or historical (anything but Regency, which I've never really embraced, for some strange reason), true crime, poetry, classics, mystery... I read everything from sweet romance and YA through erotica. I don't have a single favorite author. My list of auto-buy authors is about 12 long, and my list of 'favorite' authors would consist of about 50 of them. That's not a joke. When I take a few days (or a week) off from writing and editing, I tend to rip through books, right and left. Some of my auto-buys? Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark/Were/Dream Hunters, Christine Feehan's Carpathians, Robin Owens' Celta series, Angela Knight's Time Hunters/Warlords, Rowena Cherry's Tiger Princes, Tee Morris's fantasy works, Jeff Strand's comedy horror (okay, he's too prolific to be an auto-buy, but nearly so), Harry Potter (while it lasted), Elaine Corvidae (nearly so), Jane Graves' DeMarco series, David and Leigh Eddings' Belgariad/Mellorian and prequels, Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series (including the new one...Nox's book), Margaret Carter's vampires, Gloria Oliver...

Describe your writing space for us.

I write in two main spaces. My current office is an 8X12 alcove off the kitchen; the former one was a 10X10 space in the dining room/kids' playroom area. It has shelves for books and WIP along one full long wall; shelves for supplies and promo gear and my filing cabinet along the other, and my desk takes up the full short end of the room. There are a ton of mementos and pictures/paintings around, including: The Accolade, my 'muse' drawing by Robert Quill, a photo of my husband and myself when we were dating, the hand-woven rug my husband brought me home from Bahrain, the Celtic Cross shawl (brought home from Scotland for me), an Irish Blessing plaque, and a painting of a leopard's eyes that is directly above my work space (that my husband bought me right off the wall of a hotel we stayed in for our 20th anniversary, for no better reason than I liked it). I also have fairy decals on the walls and framed awards, reviews and ratings...and one framed letter from a reader from back in 2004! The other place I write is the corner of our couch, on a lap desk.

Love the pics! OK, when you write, do you use the computer or compose by hand, oral dictation, or some other method?

When I write fiction or poetry, I tend to write longhand, two lines to a college-ruled line, with gel ink. I prefer blue ink, but I'm also fond of dark purple and dark green. I use black and other colors, when I have nothing else available, which is often, since I go through pens pretty quickly. I use red mainly for edits on paper ARCs/galleys.

Second draft consists of me taking the scenes I've written... I don't write linear. I don't know what's coming on the next page, let alone the last, unless I've already written the last, which is never a sure thing, because I may add more content to what I think is the end. I'm a pantser/organic writer, which means I don't plot or plan. I don't do outlines until the book is finished, if they are required. Pitching on spec means a couple of paragraphs (no more than a page) of rough story ideas and characterization. Since I always start with the character and follow the character, I have a firmer hold on character and motivations/complications than I have on particulars of the storyline, at the beginning.

Back to the subject of second draft... I take the scenes I've written and put them in order in a binder, fill holes and use the margins to add more detail.

Third draft is typing the book or story into the computer. At this point, I add as much as 33% to the book or story, just fleshing out detail. I've also been known to write a new scene directly into the computer, while I'm typing it in.

After that, edits start. I do a visual edit then an auditory edit...then a cleaning edit. At that point, the work is ready to submit. Somewhere around third draft, I've written blurbs for the book/story. If I require a query letter, synopsis or other work-ups, I do them at this point.
When I write articles and classes, I tend to write directly into the computer. These go through the same editing steps that my fiction does.

Brenna, thanks so much for sharing your writing life and experiences with my readers today. If you'd like to know more about this prolific writer, visit her website.

And have a great day!


The Blonde Duck said...

Great interview!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading the comments. I have read several of Brenna's books and have enjoyd them.

Rowena Cherry said...

Super interview! And, Brenna, I loved those photos of your working space!

By the way (apologies, Allie) did you see the Orphan Works Bill? I'm copying Bonnie Vanak's copy of Colleen Thompson's words.

Authors, and those who love to read, this bill needs your attention

<<"Congress is considering an "Orphan Works Bill" that will make the theft of our creations more pervasive, more difficult to stop, and nearly impossible to punish. Many organizations of creative artists oppose this legislation, and there is
now an online drive to collect petition signatures against the bill."

Check out the link here, and make your own decision about signing the petition.

Piracy is bad enough without Congress loosening the law.

best wishes,

Rowena Cherry

BrennaLyons said...

Thanks, Joye. I really enjoyed this interview. Allie is great to work with.