Friday, February 9, 2024

"The Marvels" restores hope to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

 If you have not yet watched "The Marvels," chances are, it's because you heard some negative things about it. Or, perhaps, you've been burnt out on Marvel. Or maybe you just aren't interested in Carol Danvers. 

But you should think again, and here's why (sans spoilers):

Guys, I didn't like the first Captain Marvel movie. It's the only Infinity Saga film that I haven't managed to get through a second time. I thought Carol was boring and the movie lacked emotional draw and dramatic interest. Honestly, I might not even have tried "The Marvels" if I hadn't enjoyed Monica in "WandaVision" and absolutely fallen in love with Kamala in "Ms. Marvel."

(While I haven't reviewed it, I adored "Ms. Marvel" and it vies with "WandaVision" for top place among my personal ranking of the D+ shows). 

I'm here to tell you that I was not disappointed. "The Marvels" is the most delightful film to come out of the MCU in quite some time. While it suffers from a confusing first act (clearly there were some heavy-handed edits that messed up the flow and cohesion), the second and third act are very solid. 

And? The film is FUN. It's laugh out loud FUNNY. Iman Vellani is a TREASURE and I'm so thrilled she gets to shine on the big screen. But beyond that, Carol is allowed an emotional journey this time. All three women are, and their bonding is something I've never seen between women on a superhero film OR even TV show before! What the film lacks in clever twists (all the action is resolved with brute strength, not intelligence), it makes up for in heart. 

True, the villain is no more developed than most Marvel baddies, and that's a shame. She's got a very good motive, which could have shone with a tad more screentime. And there's a mid-film sequence that you're going to either love or hate--depends on your feelings on Bollywood movies. 

And while the first half is narratively weak, it earns it's worth from the power/place switching gimmick you've surely seen in the trailers. And, yes, they do move forward narratively before the gimmick gets old. 

The best part of the first film was Goose, and I can assure you, Goose fans will have plenty more to enjoy here. 

Skip Quantamania, skip whatever else you haven't watched on D+ lately, you don't need to do homework before seeing this film. It sets up everything you need to know. If anything, you'll come out from this film and immediately start the first episode of "Ms. Marvel" because you will want more Kamala! 

(Please, Marvel, I need Kamala Khan and Peter Parker sharing a screen and becoming BFFs ASAP. THANKS!)

So, go watch it. Laughter, heartwarming family and friendship storylines, and some unique visuals make it stand out from a lot of the latest Marvel fare, and gives hope for the future of the franchise. Of course, I can't guarantee that you'll love it, but I think it stands a higher chance of enjoyment than most of the audience currently anticipates.

Oh, and don't you DARE miss the mid-credit scene. 

Saturday, November 25, 2023

24-Hour FLASH sale on Paperbacks

I excited to share that my paperbacks are on sale for 24 hours only! (Yes, even Lilibet Lynn and the Austen Cipher!) I've NEVER marked them down before, but thought this would be a good time to experiment! This is the best price you will get on these books in 2023 (and maybe 2024 too).

SHERWOOD is $8.00AUSTEN is $9.00 and MERMAID should drop to $13.33 anytime, just waiting on tech!

(I wanted to drop MERMAID lower, but it was already underpriced and I wasn't allowed. This title will be increasing in price in the near future, so buy it cheap while you can!)

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Jane Austen Movie Adaptations


In honor of the release of Lilibet Lynn and the Austen Cipher, Lilibet and I have assembled a list of our Jane Austen movie recommendations, in the order we suggest for new viewers.

Lilibet Says: Hi everyone! My name is Lilibet Lynn, and I'm guest blogging today to tell you all about the BEST Jane Austen films and which order you should watch them in. Of course, the books are awesome, but if you're twelve, like me, you might appreciate watching some of the movies first! 

Elizabeth Amy Hajek (EAH) Says: Welcome to the controversial and opinionated world of Jane Austen movie adaptations! Everyone has a favorite, everyone has one they hate, and everyone's right and everyone's wrong. But for those of us who love Jane, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to cinematic representations of her world. In honor of the release of Lilibet's adventure to the home of young Jane in Steventon, England, I'm officially releasing my own personal list of favorite recommendations. 

Long term, this list is intended as a jumping off point for new Austen fans, particularly those younger ones who came upon this page after reading about Lilibet's adventure with Jane (Hi!). However, older fans who are anything like me will likely also enjoy peeking at another Janeite's perspective, even though they'll almost certainly disagree with 50% of it, at least! 

Because I am sensitive to my fans who come from a more restrictive background and since many Lilibet fans are just hitting double digit ages...Jane Austen's works deal with the consequences of bad choices. This includes scandals such as unwed pregnancy and that nature. Austen films tend to allude to such matters without showing or being overly explicit with the details. I'll note any adaptations that I can recall going beyond. 

So, buckle up, rev up your streaming service or grab your library card, and let's head off to Regency England!

Lilibet Says: Via television, that is, right? Unless you've got a chronifact, that you're not telling me about?

EAH Says: No, I don't, unfortunately. But SHH! Spoilers!

Lilibet Says: My lips are sealed. Okay, let's dive into the movies!

Begin With: Pride and Prejudice 2005

Lilibet Says: This is the first Jane Austen film my mom introduced me to, and I love it! Even my brother Ben and little sister Viola enjoyed it! It is funny and beautiful and I love Elizabeth and Darcy! And, after my own adventure, I will never look at those dresses the same way EVER again! 

EAH Says: The beautiful style, clear plotline, and dynamic characters make this THE starter film for Austen newbies. I personally have watched this film turn Jane "pooh-poohers" into fans over and over. It is the most accessible to modern audiences, while retaining a strong sense of time and place.

 As I mention in "Austen Cipher," the film is actually transposed in time. Although the novel was published in 1813, it was originally written in 1796. Director Joe Wright preferred this era of fashion and style, and chose to set his adaption at this time. This has resulted in many fans claiming that it is inaccurate. Another common critique is that the emotionality of the film is more in keeping with the style of the Bronte Sisters, rather than Jane Austen. Personally, I think it's more a melding of the two. No judgement on those with other preferences, it clearly resonated with a modern audience, and led to many viewers discovering an accessible entry into Austen. We could debate the adaptation of the book (although I'd rather not do so online), but as a film, it is a gorgeous masterpiece. Personally, I love Wright's choice to lean toward Darcy being tremendously shy and socially inhibited, rather than insufferably proud. I'm also a fan of Kiera Knightley, although I recognize that many many viewers of my generation find her annoying. I'm curious to see what the consensus is in another ten years' time.

(If you've read the novel already, and have some experience with older BBC/A&E miniseries, you or your family might prefer to follow the advice of Lilibet's grandma and start with the 1995 Pride and Prejudice instead. Scroll to the end of the list to see my thoughts on that one! Or, check out the comparison piece I wrote on some aspects of the two adaptations back in 2008.)

Next up, Sense and Sensibility, 2008

Lilibet Says: Margaret Dashwood is my favorite!!!  But Elinor is pretty cool too. She's really sensible--maybe too sensible? I wish she'd let Marianne keep the horse! Speaking of which... Marianne is the emotionally sensitive one and she doesn't always make great decisions, but Mr. Willoughby is REALLY dashing so I can't really blame her. They feel like real sisters. Their brother has some issues. He makes mine look like a saint! I don't know why they complain about their cottage though. Who wouldn't want to live in a charming cottage by the sea? 

EAH Says: This three-part mini-series came fast on the heels of the success of the 2005 P&P and adapted a few of the same styles. However, it was written by the same screenwriter who did the acclaimed 1995 P&P, leading to an adaptation that sticks fairly close to the blooks. Although it had the weight of a BBC scale budget, this was the point at which BBC productions began to achieve a higher level of quality, which allows this piece to hold up nicely.  It features a shockingly talented cast. Although mostly unknown at the time, many of the cast would go on to become world-known actors. Dan Stevens, Charity Wakefield, Hatti Morahan, Janet McTeer, Dominic Cooper, Lucy Boynton, David Morrissey, Mark Williams, Anna Madeley, and Mark Gatiss are some of the most talented actors to come out of Britain in the past two decades, and they bring this Austen adaptation to charming life! In fact, I only started watching Downton Abbey because I'd loved Dan Stevens so much in Sense and Sensibility

Caution Note: There was a weird choice to start the film with a sensual corset unlacing scene. Nothing graphic is shown, and it IS plot relevant, but it absolutely can be skipped, and some families may prefer to do so. The rest of the film is as clean as you'd expect any Austen film to be. 

You can also check out my full-length review of this version, written back in 2009)

Then find: Emma, 1995 (Gwenyth Paltrow)

Lilibet Says: I love how Emma always thinks she knows best, but things go hilariously wrong! She believes that she's a wise and talented matchmaker, but everyone just ends up falling in love with her. they? You'll have to watch to find out! Plus, it's definitely funny to see Pepper Potts flirt with a really young Obi-Wan Kenobi! Also, it's got archery. Emma and Mr. Knightley have nothing on my friend Rob from Nottingham, though.

EAH Says: One of the few American-made Austen films, this is also one of the most accessible to younger audiences. It was just about the first big budget Austen film, and features Gwenyth Paltrow at her height, and Jeremy Northam as the best Mr. Knightley. (One of the strongest Austen opinions I hold!).

Ironically, this same year saw the BBC do a version of Emma as well, staring Kate Beckninsale. It is difficult to track down, but worth seeing, if you're an Austen fan. I barely remember the 2009 Emma with Romola Garai, but thankfully I wrote a review of it back in 2010.

If you can, track down Northanger Abbey 2007

Lilibet Says: The first time I read Northanger Abbey, I thought it was funny, but I didn't really understand how funny. This film really brought the humor to life! Mom says that in this story, Jane was writing a parody of the dramatic gothic novels that were popular during her era. Now, I know young Jane loved dramatic gothics, but she was too sensible to think they would be very comfortable in real life!

EAH Says: Another lower budget BBC film, it's nonetheless quite funny and an early role for Felicity Jones. This Austen story is often overlooked, but I think it's a great beginning story for younger readers. Just fun and dramatic! (I wrote a post on this film back in 2008).

UPDATE: A mom reader of this blog wrote in to let me know that I missed noting in this segment that there are some aspects of this film that some families may not find appropriate for their younger teen viewers. I'd mentioned this in my review (linked above) but spaced on adding it into here. My sincere apologies, and my gratitude to the gracious alert! In her words (which I share with permission): The gothic imaginings were quite detailed and a bit scary for younger viewers and some of them (particularly the words quoted) were very suggestive. Also, there was a scene showing a compromise between two characters (Isabella and Captain Tilney) that was very clear what had happened.

Get your hands on Sense and Sensibility, 1995

Lilibet Says: I don't like Edward as much in this one. Margaret is still amazing, but what is Professor Snape doing in a romance? Well, I guess his character in this movie is also a tragic one...Mom says this actor played a really famous version of the Sheriff of Nottingham too. I'm not allowed to watch that movie yet, but I think the Austen/Sherwood connection is pretty cool!

EAH Says: Starring Emma Thomspon, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman, many Austen fans regard this as the best ever adaptation of Jane's work. The only reason I didn't include it higher on the list, is that I remember not connecting with it as a young teen, and I think the other version may be more accessible for new fans. However, it is a must watch for Austen fans and lovers of good cinema. You just have to accept that Elinor and Colonal Brandon are too old, and go with it. Emma Thompson wrote the script as well and did a fantastic job of adapting Jane's earliest, and least emotionally-fleshed-out novel. 

Segue over to Bollywood, for Bride and Prejudice 2004

Lilibet Says: My mind exploded when Dad showed me this version of Pride and Prejudice! I didn't know that you could take a classic story and set it in a totally different time and place. I was surprised to see that Modern India had a lot in common with Jane's England! And I LOVED the music and dancing! Dad skipped a couple parts, but not much. I had the songs stuck in my head for days! 

EAH Says: If you like music and color with your Jane, this is the film for you! Life, laughter and love sparkle in this gem, and it is one of my personal favorites among the Austen film oeuvre. However, it's rated PG-13 for some sexual references, so parents may want to preview this one first.. 

Now, back to the BBC, with Persuasion, 1995

Lilibet Says: Grandma tried to get me to watch this but...I gave up. I didn't really get it? Mom says I should read the book and then give it another try when I'm older.

EAH Says: Have you figured out yet that 1995 was the Year of Jane? Here's another one. Jane's last published novel, in a film adaptation featuring Ciaran Hind's as the hero. Persuasion is a book that often grows on Janeites, as it features the eldest heroine and new themes of sophistication and maturity that resonate further with as one ages. However, this makes the story a little less acceptable for younger readers, which is probably why Netflix took a radically different approach in 2022. (I haven't seen that version, and it's been heavily panned by fans so I'm not sure when/if I will.) This version is very low budget, but well-loved by fans.

Then, if you desire more Jane...check out Pride and Prejudice 1995

Lilibet Says: This is Grandma's favorite Jane Austen adaptation of all time. I don't like it quite as much as she does...but I really appreciate how close it stays to the book. Except the wet shirt scene. I don't understand what the big deal is about that, but Mom says it's VERY famous. And that's DEFINITELY not in the book. Also, Mr. Collins is super creepy and gross in this version, and I don't like watching him. Mr. Darcy is very nice. It's slower than the other version, but it keeps some of the lines I missed in that one. 

EAH Says: A host of you are going to be furious with me for putting this at the end of the list. For many, MANY Janeites (including Lilibet's Grandma), this is THE Austen adaptation. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth ARE Elizabeth and Darcy. When the six-part miniseries hit the airwaves in 1995, the accuracy of the script and the charm of Ehle and Firth absolutely captivated fans worldwide. 

The reason I put it so far down the list is that it is very, very dated. Unless you've grown up with a regular diet of 90's BBC miniseries, this one can be very inaccessible for many viewers. BUT, if you've watched a lot of those, and you've read the book already, you may want to start with this one. It's a very personal choice. 

While many of my peers grew up LOVING this adaptation, I could not aquire a version with subtitles until I was an adult. In the meantime, I'd fallen in love with the 2005 version, which is VERY different. Fans tend to love one or the other. I'd also met Colin Firth as a dad character in another film, and could NOT accept him as Darcy (with absolutely no disparagement to his tremendous acting skills). I'm an extraordinarily visual person as well (hey, deaf here), so the 2005 version just appeals to me more. However I do appreciate the strength of the script and Ehle's performance as Elizabeth. No Austen film experience would be complete without checking this one out at some point.

Bonus Round goes to Pride and Prejudice, 1940

Lilibet Says: I was so confused. It was kind of the story of Pride and Prejudice? But, like, if you like Pride and Prejudice and mashed it up with Gone with the Wind or something. Everyone's clothes and hair looked so wrong, and they changed so much! But I did laugh a LOT, so that's a plus.

EAH Says: A very early, black and white big screen adaptation that takes a ton of liberties with the story, including transposing the entire plot a few decades into the future. Elizabeth Bennet in poofy skirts? Oh boy. Nevertheless, if you like old films, I remember this being a fun one, and my first ever film introduction to P&P.

Now for a few warnings...

EAH Says: You'll notice one of Jane's titles is missing. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there is no popular, accurate version of Mansfield Park. It is a deep novel, with a very tricky theme and heroine to transpose to screen. I'll note that I haven't seen the Billie Piper version, and that could require a revamp of this list if I get around to it someday. It also deals with some of Austen's heaviest and darkest themes and is not terribly accessible for younger readers. 

Lilibet Says: Yeah, Mom won't let me watch that. I tried reading the book and didn't understand it. But Dad says I'll appreciate it more when I get older.

EAH Says: The culturally aware may wonder about the recent adaptation of Austen's unfinished work, Sanditon. With three seasons and a strong fan following, it definitely achieved a level of popularity. I have seen it, and definitely think it's a well-done show, BUT it is very modern and deals with a lot of adult themes. Although I was glad to learn more about Austen's final writings, to the extent that I included some information about Sanditon in the Lilibet novel, it is not a show that I can see many families approving for younger teens, and I know many of my conservative readers would be better off skipping it altogether. The hero and heroine do fit Austen's mold, but the rest of the story and cast is going to be controversial, and I just don't do controversy here. 

Lilibet Says: I am NOT HAPPY ABOUT THIS. Marie isn't either. We're thinking of finishing the story ourselves and turning it into a theatrical...of course, I can't tell her why I'm such an expert in home theater now, but I'm sure I'll come up with something...

For more fun with Lilibet and Jane Austen, check out "Lilibet Lynn and the Austen Cipher" by Elizabeth Amy Hajek, available in ebook and print on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Lilibet's 2nd Adventure is coming soon!

Lilibet Lynn is soon heading off on her second adventure through time! 

Lilibet Lynn is dying to explore history, but her mom has other ideas. The past is dangerous, and the secrets of using the thimble safely have been lost to time.

When Lilibet learns of a secret code that might unlock the lost laws of time travel, she decides to take matters into her own hands. After all, a quick trip to the home of famous author Jane Austen should hold nothing more dangerous than a tea party, right?

Unfortunately, while there is tea, there are also spies, kidnappers, and traitors. Young Jane is nothing like Lilibet imagined, and neither is the solidity of historical reality. Will Lilibet’s rash actions doom the future of English literature—or even the course of time itself? Or can she harness the power of the truth to save the day?

Further details about Lilibet (and a Song of the Fay hint) over on my (free) Substack--which I highly recommend subscribing to, as it is my primary method of getting out updates and time sensitive information. I will soon be sending out a cover reveal, as well as more behind-the-scenes tidbits! I also use my Substack to round up the most important links from both this blog and my Instagram, so it's a good one-stop method for staying in touch, if you prefer your info to come once a month in your inbox! But if you like more regular infusions of history, costume, and writing, you may want to follow me on Instagram or *Facebook. (I prefer Instagram, but my posts automatically add to Facebook as well.) 

*Please use the 'follow' function on Facebook! Due to the complex nature of the app and respect for my family's privacy, I keep the 'friend' option for people I have met personally. 

Monday, September 11, 2023

Book News


Hello friends! I'm now regularly sharing monthly updates over on my free Substack. This month's update has some major book news that I don't want you to miss! Check it out here and don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss future updates! 

(If you are already subscribed and don't see this in your inbox, check your promotions folder!)

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Debating Darcy


"Another Pride and Prejudice retelling? Really?"

I hear you, readers, I do. I pick up most Austen spin-offs with trepidation. But Debating Mr. Darcy by Sayantani DasGupta deserves a look, as it stands above most rewrites and adds to the Austen conversation.

In Debating Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet is reimagined as Indian American teenager, Leela Bose. Darcy is also Indian American--but whereas Leela is a public schooler, Firoze hails not only from an elite public school, but from the very grounds of Pemberly College. The two come face-to-face at a Forensics meet, where a bad first impression starts everything off on the wrong side of Hamilton. From there, it just gets worse. 

The Bennet family is here reimagined as Leela's team. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are her coaches, while Jane, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins all have been transposed into classmates and fellow speech-and-debaters. Likewise, the Bingleys also turn up with Darcy's team. And let's not forget a team of charming rogues from the Regimental Academy! 

The class issues of the original novel come through here via the tensions of public vs. private school, as well as the unique challenges faced by minorities of every type in modern America. DasGupta treats her source material with respect and understanding, and manages to make nifty nods to even the smallest of names from the novel. 

I especially was intrigued by her interpretations of Mary and Mr. Collins. No spoilers, but the presentation was appreciated. Lydia's third act predicament was also perfectly woven into the politics of Forensics society. 

Content Notes: This is billed as YA, and as such I'll include some items of note that may make this a pass for some families. Leela is a liberal feminist, and this colors much of the story (good, bad and neutral). There's some innuendo. Nothing that would be out of place for most public high schoolers, but might not be so appreciated by more conservative parents. Another element that some readers would prefer to know ahead of time is that Jane is reimagined as a gay boy, and the Bingley relationship is thus homosexual. The main physical relationships don't go beyond kissing, although Lydia's situation does result in allusions to a presexual encounter. This includes an audio play by play. Without spoiling anything, I will add that the end message is positive and may spark good further discussions. 

Friday, June 16, 2023

Behind the Scenes - Thoughts on the Writing Process (Updated 2023)

Dear 2023,
It's been six years since I first wrote this post and, having published a second book and written several hundred thousand words on a few others, I thought I'd annotate and republish this piece with updated thoughts. Read on for tips on overcoming writer's procrastination, now with an additional half decade+ of experience. Annotations in purple!

Hello from 2017! It's been a bit of a hiatus on this blog over the holidays, and I thank you for your patience! Internet issues+new computer adjustments have put me behind on a lot of electronic obligations.

Today we are going to talk about writing, specifically by answering the following question I received today:

Hey Elizabeth!
I've been trying to finish writing at least ONE novel in my LIFETIME, and I'm finding it's hard to get motivated to sit down and write--especially when I get stuck.
I'd love to hear more about your process as a writer. How much of your process is planning, and how much is spontaneous? Do you always know what will happen next? Do you create a story first and then populate it with characters, or vice versa?
Anytime you can respond would be helpful, I'm just looking for some friendly advice and guidance  - Sharayah

Thank you for your question! Although I've written some on these subjects before, I figured it was worth doing again now that I have a properly published novel to my name!

First of all, a word of encouragement! I didn't get my novel published until I was 27 years old, and by a lot of standards, that is fairly young. However, since my personal goal was 25, I am still annoyed by this. (lol.)

Secondly, I would add that I wrote a TON before I got a novel completed. This includes numerous fan fictions (some reaching novel lengths), over a thousand blog posts, various short stories, and perhaps a dozen different novel beginnings. I also have a novel that I wrote twice (yes, two times), each of them hundreds of pages and MANY drafts. This novel will never be published in either of those forms (a common occurrence among authors, btw).

So all that said, be encouraged. You have plenty of time to get that novel done! Now, specifics!

The hardest part of being a writer is sitting down and typing the words.

I will go into more detail about some of your specific questions, but I cannot stress this first piece enough. No matter what your process, the single biggest obstacle for ANY writer is pushing past the initial "open word processor, type sentence."

Writing is, quite possibly, the easiest thing ever to procrastinate on. It is an entirely mental process, so you have to be fully engaged, and it is also extremely public. Even though you are writing in the privacy of your own home, the intent is usually to put those words out to the public, and any worries at all about how good your story is will put a cold freeze on your fingers! Reorganizing the bathroom looks a lot more appealing than risking public derision, right? Or, you know, writing another Facebook status...

(Admission - I am writing this blog post instead of my next novel this morning. However, I have been neglecting the blog and I really wanted to make sure I answered this question, so...)

Anyhow, the first tip to overcoming this is to remind yourself that no one is ever going to see these words unless you let them, and you probably have at least 3 rounds of revisions before that happens.

Award-winning comic book writer and illustrator Ben Hatke once told me of a recommendation he'd gotten to always end his day's work in the middle of a sentence. The benefit there is that you will always have something to immediately do when you open up your project. Personally, I write until I am too tired or know that my writing quality is about to take a dive, but more and more I find myself stopping mid-scene. (Can't resist finishing those sentences though. Slightly OCD there, I think.)

Still do this! My husband, who is the first reader of everything I write, has been getting the latest work piece by piece, and he noticed that I always end in a spot of high tension. I explained that this is very much on purpose. So, definitely a good piece of advice!

Another suggestion I've gotten and found to be extremely helpful, is to open your laptop and tell yourself that you only have to write for ten minutes. If at the end of ten minutes, you are still facing writer's block, you can close it down. However, if you are on a roll, there is NO STOPPING YOU! And most of the time, after ten minutes, I do find myself heartily engrossed in my project.

One year I made myself write first thing in the morning - before I even got out of bed, if I remember correctly. I got quite a good start on a novel that I hope will be one of my next projects after "The Song of the Fay." I dream of reinstituting that practice, but with a puppy in the house, that's no longer an option, since I have to get up and let him out, and once I get up myself, I need my own food first. However I'm still trying to force myself to get my writing done before anything else in the day.

For "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" I spent a lot of time in coffee shops. If I was going to spend $3 on a hot beverage, I had to 'earn' it with a few thousand words. However, once I stopped being able to drive or tolerate caffeine, this wasn't an option and I had to really buckle down and force myself to just WORK. (ugh). But it did get me through the first two drafts of the book, so it obviously worked!

Wow, coffee shop writing seems so far in my past now! These days I find myself speed writing if I can get a closed door between me and my kids! Motherhood has the potential to really change one's interaction with creative time, as detailed in this great piece by Nell Frizzell. 

How much of your process is planning, and how much is spontaneous?

Ah, the age old debate! Pantser or Plotter! I'm a mix - sorta, although I have become more of a plotter. I do find that my books work MUCH much better with a detailed plot synopsis from the beginning. (M&U's was about 8000 words). This is a huge deterrent to writer's block, because you always know where you are going. I do love the creativity of writing a scene and seeing what happens - BUT I usually find this leads to more doubt later on, and requiring more work in the form of rewrites, as your 'surprises' require changing more later on. (George RR Martin is a Pantser, which is part of why his books take so very long to finish writing).

Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) has an interesting process, where she writes 'scenes', each in their own file. This means that her books are not written chronologically, but 'sewn' together later on. I'm fascinated by this approach. Writing out of order annoys me terribly, but sometimes I have such a vivid image of a scene, that I need to write it down before I forget it. Having a full plot outline makes this a little easier (And less risky!) to do.

At the very least, I think it is important to have your endgame in mind - to know what you are writing towards.

Another tip to utilize - your first draft does not have to be 100k long. My first draft of "The Professor and the Siren" was just 40K at 2/3rds of the intended story. Now I am going back and adding more scenes, side plots, and character development to flesh it out into a novel-length manuscript. But it is relaxing to already have the major scenes and plot arcs written!

There are actually a ton of systems (And even software!) out there for plotting your book. I have tried several, but found that, honestly, I really like creating a list in WORD, and then adding and expanding as necessary.

I can't believe I wrote this! I've switched back to being more of a pantser. I'll have an endgame in mine and I'll write down thoughts as they come, but I really like just plunging ahead into a story. I recently read an article that talked about how pantsing and plotting utilize the same processes, pantsers just take a lot more time with figuring out the plot! I wish I could remember the link, it was a really validating and empowering piece for those who don't thrive with 'traditional' pre-writing plotting. 

Do you create a story first and then populate it with characters, or vice versa?

Depends on the story! I am a huge believer in really strong characters - and a good character will usually inspire a good story. Book #3 of "The Song of the Fay" came out of the character of Kate emerging in "The Mermaid and the Unicorn". I became fascinated by her, and she demanded that her story be told properly. So did the titular characters of "The Professor and the Siren", who are also secondary characters in "The Mermaid and the Unicorn."

However, "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" itself came out of a worldbuilding idea that was originally intended for another series for Chesterton Press. I asked to join that team, and to write something set in Europe. Specifically, "Mermaids and Unicorns in Paris." I was then given a side character from that series to develop, who became Daphne, and the requirements for her character directed what the character arc (and thus plot) needed to be for the book.

Mentally recalling my other projects, I'd say that generally the main idea comes first, then I develop who the main character(s) needs to be, which then refines the story perimeters.

"Lilibet Lynn and the Children of Sherwood" came about by a third option--linking a separate idea and character into a new set-up. You can read more about that crazy story here!

One big requirement I have found I have is allowing my stories time to breathe. I did NaNoWriMo twice (won once) and 50,000K in one month is way WAY Too much for me - the end becomes absolute drivel. If I write more than 2K on a single project in a week, in generally is too much. I need to give my story time to stew in my brain. However, 2K a week turns into 100K a year, which is a really great way to write one first draft a year. 

You can read some additional thoughts on these numbers here. I'm also happy to report that the more you write, the more you can write. That 2K a week number has at least doubled for me.

This schedule changes once you get multiple projects going, of course, but that's not a bad thing. This past year I did the final revisions on "The Mermaid and the Unicorn," while writing half of the 40K of "The Professor and the Siren" while "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" was with Beta readers and editor! I also got 10K done on "The Selkie and the Queen" when I needed a break from "The Professor and the Siren." If I manage to keep that up, that translates to a new published book every two years, which is a really good schedule for a part-time author. (And most authors ARE part time, because very few novelists can actually consider support themselves by writing fulltime until they have at least ten decent-selling books out. And also, having enough creative juice to write fulltime is exhausting! I certainly can't do it!)

Brandon Sanderson, author of the "Mistborn" series, is a famously prolific fantasy writer, and often comes out with multiple books a year. He purposely switches between projects to keep his creative juices fresh, and it is a method which works very well for him.

Okay, CRAZY thing, but it turns out that Brandon Sanderson has an actual condition called Graphomania. His brain won't let him not write, to the point where he literally has to take a sleeping pill at night to shut off the stories in his head. He also is obsessive about scheduling out his day and sticking to that schedule. He has to write, and he optimizes his productivity. So while I still think switching between projects is a really productive thing to do when handled in the correct manner, I don't want the rest of us to feel pressured to meet Sanderson's level of productivity. It'd probably be unhealthy for most of us. 

(I DO recommend doing NaNo at least once, however, because it trains you to become a prolific and driven daily writer, but don't expect that first draft to be worth much!)

Okay, enough blogging! Time to take a break from the computer screen, then follow my own advice and get pounding the keys on the next novel!

For further writing tips, check out my page on Good Writing. If listening is more your style, I have gotten excellent recommendations for the free podcast "Writing Excuses." For those serious about becoming professional writers, I also highly recommend following Jane Friedman and getting on her mailing list. 

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