Thank you for joining us- tell us about your new books
I actually have three books coming soon. Spirit Talker is a Y.A. Literary novel:
When a grieving teen starts seeing ghosts walk the streets, her sceptical psychiatrist thinks she’s hallucinating, but just because not everyone can see them doesn’t mean they aren’t really there.
City of Quartz is a Y.A. Dystopian Sci-Fi and book two of the Shadow of Nar Series:
On a distance world, where human flaw is eradicated, a teenage space explorer must convince the perfectionist society to provide vital medical aid that will cure her sister’s terminal illness.
And finally, we’re also hoping to get out the first book I’ve co-written with my daughter, Kaylie. Everlasting Sleep is a Y.A. Fantasy:
To cure her sister’s sickness, a dragon-winged teen must venture to Vislume , the land of dreams, where corruption has tainted the landscape and darkness lures dreamers into everlasting sleep.
Some quick-fire questions.
Late nights or early mornings? Late Nights, although I’m trying to switch this around.
What’s for breakfast? Lately it’s been two soft boiled eggs. This is because I help take care of my stepfather who has Alzheimer’s and soft boiled eggs is one of the four things he still knows how to cook and is in a routine where he cooks it every single morning. But I’ve also been known to have cereal, porridge, smoothies, toast, or croissants.
Night out or Netflix? Netflix. Or Disney Plus or Amazon Prime or Apple TV or YouTube. I’m a subscription service addict. lol Although I play a lot of video games too. 😉
G &T or Tea/coffee? Tea, or Milo. I don’t drink alcohol and I try to avoid caffeine because both have significantly negative impact on my Bipolar.
Perfect weekend? In bed with a book.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A writer. 🙂
What is for dinner tonight? Tonight was roast pork (stepdad cooked – his remaining two meal options are silverside or roast chicken.)
Can you cook? Yes, but I have to be in a good mood to want to.
What would you rather be eating? Sushi!
What brings you joy, lifts your spirits, and chases away a down mood? Spending time with my children. 🙂
Wow, I really don’t know. There are a lot of people I admire and would want to emulate. Most of them are fellow writers although there are also a few entrepreneurs, adventurers, scientists, musicians, actors, etc. I can’t say I have any one particular person I hold to higher esteem and would consider my hero.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? Way too difficult to narrow down that list. I’d welcome anyone who would want to hang out with me. Let’s do dinner. Any time. Everyone has their stories, their interests and passions, their inner being. I can enjoy the company of pretty much anyone.
You write in more than one genre. What drew you to them and how do you keep a balance between stories?
To be honest, I don’t. I love lots of genres and I’ve got books in a multitude. Picture Books, Chapter Books, Young Adult, Romance Novellas, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Non-Fiction, even Game Lit. But my heart is most truly in the Y.A. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. And I bundle Sci-Fi and Fantasy together because I often find they overlap a lot.
These days I’m trying to focus solely on Y.A. because it’s very difficult to juggle multiple genres. It’s like having to build multiple careers. Each genre has different readers which means multiple target markets, multiple brands, multiple fan bases, etc. When my children were young we did the kids books as part of our home schooling and for a while I did romance or game lit just to put a few extra dollars in the bank, but these days I get to focus on the stories that are deeply true to myself and my own dreams and passions and inspiration which means I get to focus on Y.A.
What do you think makes a good story? Characters learning to live into the best versions of themselves. Usually that means embracing their whole self, including their flaws, and figuring out how to chase big dreams or accomplish great things even in the face of adversity or challenge. I think all of us want to see people beat the odds. We want to believe in possibility.
Are you a plotter, more organic, or a mix of the two? These days I’m definitely mostly a plotter. I’ve learned over time that the more foundation I lay before I begin the easier the writing process tends to be. I’ve also learned a great deal about story structure and character development. It’s something I now teach other writers because it was something that completely transformed me as a writer when I discovered it and I’ve been really thrilled to visit a few high schools in the past couple of years where they’re actually teaching this stuff to teenagers! They definitely didn’t teach it when I was in school.
How much research do you do for a story?
It really depends. Sometimes it can be a lot! Sometimes next to nothing. For example, I did very little research for Spirit Talker. Most of it came from lived experience or instinct. I did a little research into the school I chose for her and made sure I had a beta reader who was familiar with the school but beyond that I didn’t need to learn much. But for City of Light, book one of the Shadows of Nar, I did extensive research into ion engines, space travel, faster than light theories, impact of binary stars on planetary conditions, relative distance, etc. I needed to feel confident that I understood the inner workings of the science so that I could write with authority. But my key tip about research is to focus on what you need and leave as much as you can to the second draft not the first. You don’t necessarily need to know all the inner workings and if you research too much in advance then you’ll want to info dump it all into the book and for the most part you don’t need to. You need to know just enough to be confident that it works, and nothing more.
Where do you draw your inspiration for your stories from? Everywhere? It’s been so many years since I was last without a story to write that I really find this kind of question odd because there’s never a scarcity of inspiration or ideas. I wrote about my Idea Waterfall back in 2008 (https://www.rebeccalaffarsmith.com/idea-waterfall/).
What is the best advice you’ve had as a writer? There have been so many brilliant pieces of advice over the years and the “best” tends to depend on my current situation. For example, right now I really resonate with the mantra “it’s the catalogue not the book”. Out of context that sounds kind of lame but it’s been very powerful to me because I experience a LOT of anxiety about the writing process. I was getting so bogged down in wanting to get every single word perfect that sometimes it means I can’t even write a sentence, let alone finish a book. So my mentor taught me to remember that the success or failure of individual books isn’t worth getting hung up on because as a career author I’m building a catalogue of content. Lots of books. And each of those books will have people who love it or hate it. The more books I finish and add to my catalogue the stronger my foundations become. The more books I have the more fans will find me and the more books I’ll sell. So it reminds me to think big picture and to obsess less. Maybe that’s the true take away tip. “Think big picture. Obsess less.” lol
What’s your favourite part of the writing process? Least favourite?
Favourite is outlines and planning. It’s the part that feels natural to me and the part I’m able to help others with the most too. I love developing story ideas, building story structure, fleshing out characters, and seeing the evolution of arcs.
Least favourite is the writing part… Writing is hard.
What’s your process for writing for the male perspective / male characters?
Um… Just write them? Seriously, men aren’t that alien. Sure, there are innate differences between a masculine and feminine character but gender and sex are two different things. A man can be macho or effeminate, and still be a man. A woman can be butch or delicate, and still be a woman. I think it’s important to understand psychology and behaviourism. To understand people. Observe, study, and analyse. When you do that then gender/sex becomes less of a thing to worry about because you’re writing every single character from their uniqueness. When you write sci-fi and fantasy you can’t obsess over gender, because then you’d have to go, “Well how do you write a dragon?” Or “How do you write an alien?” Or “How do you write a sentient flying fluffy creature that’s almost pet-like but has language?” Character is character; define the individuals traits, and write from within the embodiment of that.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you? First drafts. Primarily because of that anxiety I talked about earlier. I feel like there’s so much weight and responsibility in finding the best way to tell the stories I want to tell. Each of the books I write have deep cores. They have reasons for being that are really, really big. They’re way more than simple escapism. They all convey really complex themes and messages, hidden in the simplicity of story. I want my books to change people’s lives. That’s a lot of pressure to put on myself and it makes it really hard to face the page because a lot of the time I feel like I could never do justice the story that I want to tell. Lots of self-doubt. Lots of fear. I’m working through it, trying to unlock that place because I’d really love to “experience joy, calm, and confidence when I am writing” but it’s something I have to proactively build within myself.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing? I wish I was consistent. I’d love to say I write from such and such to such and such every single day. But I don’t. Especially lately because my chronic health issues are having a nasty flair up so some days I don’t even make it out of bed let alone get to my desk. I do, however, prefer to write in solid blocks at least 90 minutes at a time. And I love writing in cafes. Some days I’ll be in a cafe all day long; others I’ll manage to scrounge a lucky ten minutes while in bed. Some days I manage to get the writing done first. I try to do this because often by the end of a day I’m just too wiped out to be creative. But I’m still inherently a night owl so sometimes it’s not until the evening that I can actually carve out some time for myself and that means I could be writing into the early hours of the morning. So I guess that’s all to say I don’t really have a schedule. I’d like one but I haven’t been able to force myself to be consistent. Another failing I’ve been trying to work on but haven’t quite figured out how to correct. Lol
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? I honestly have no idea! I wonder if my readers would be able to identify any particular quirks. I’ve been told that I have some odd sentence structure sometimes which I guess is quirky?
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions? There’s definitely things an emotion-less writer could write. In fact, they’d be ideal writers for content like research papers and new media. I’d also really love to read poetry by a writer who doesn’t feel emotions because they could still portray incredible imagery and observation. It’s really a question of what strengths and tone and voice could they convey? How well can they evaluate the emotions of others? We all write things that aren’t our lived experience so there’s no reason a person who doesn’t feel emotion couldn’t still be able to study it, understand it, and express it. I’ve never been in space but I can write about it based on research I’ve done from the experience of others.
I have a condition called aphantasia, it’s the inability to see things with my mind’s eye. But that doesn’t make me unable to imagine or describe or create visualisations that others can experience. It also doesn’t make me unable to write characters who can see with their minds eye.
Having said that, I’d really love to meet a person who is entirely absent of emotion. My son is autistic and many people think people with autism don’t “feel” but I have to say from personal experience that his emotional depths are vast. He feels a great deal. He just has trouble expressing that emotion to others. And honestly, I’d love to read the creativity that comes from that unique kind of experience. We need those stories in the world because it’s through the unique perspectives of every writer than we come to better understand the human condition.
Best writing advice/ Worst writing advice you ever received?
Worst? “Write what you know.” OMG how limiting is THAT? There is so much I don’t know and I’d much rather have the freedom to explore that. Yes, all of my stories have a lot of what I do know built into them but mostly it’s emotional or social depths that come out there. Situationally I’d much rather explore possibility. I want to consider things that might not exist right now or could never logically exist. That’s what fantasy and sci-fi is all about. It’s living into the maybe spaces and asking, “what if?” That takes having the courage to write outside of what you know and to get creative doing it.
Best? “Write to market.” And more specifically, understand who your target reader is and what tropes and expectations that target market has. For example, there are clearly defined traits that make an Urban Fantasy different from a Paranormal Romance. Similarly, a Space Opera is not a Military Sci-Fi. Readers love the thing they love and if you want your books to succeed you need to know how to satisfy the reader. That means understanding what it is about the niche you write within that readers expect and then deliver above and beyond.
Best money you have spent as a writer? There are a few things that come immediately to mind. One is the illustrators I’ve hired for my children’s books. Both Anton and Adit have been absolutely brilliant and worth every penny. They’re very talented artists and their work makes those books something really special.
Another was the first MacBook I bought in 2010. I bought it because I wanted to use Scrivener, which is novel writing software that I still use and love. At the time Scrivener was only available for Mac so I bought a MacBook and have absolutely LOVED the switch. I’m most definitely and Apple convert. And while it was a big investment at the time it’s been one of the best business expenses I’ve ever made.
Then of course there is always quality in investing in professional editing, professional cover design, and of course production of stock and marketing materials, even advertising. Investing in your business is all part of being in business.
Do you have a favourite author and why? Traci Harding is still my favourite although these days I have lots of other favourites. There are so many talented writers I admire and whose stories I enjoy, but Traci Harding is the reason I write the books I write. When I was a teenager, I read her Ancient Future Trilogy and discovered that fiction is an incredible gateway into truth. It allows big concepts to be conveyed with incredible receptivity. Fiction has the power to influence our beliefs and change our actions. I love writers who do that with their fiction.
What are you reading now? I’m actually going to decline to answer this directly because the book I’m reading right now is one I’m really struggling to like. The concept seemed really cool and the author is someone in Y.A. circles that I like, but the writing or voice just don’t work for me. I’m still holding on, hoping it gets better, but I’m not sure it will. And so, as I read, I pay attention to exactly what it is that’s feeling wrong and I learn from that. I think that’s an important thing for writers to do too. Don’t just read the great books, read the ones that aren’t great and figure out what doesn’t work and why. You learn from failure, your own and others. 🙂 I will say it’s a Y.A. Urban Fantasy that features reapers as the “special world”. See, cool concept, would be great if the execution were better. If you know any other Y.A. reaper stories please share because I’d love to read others.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing? Traci Harding as mentioned above. Lauren Kate’s Fallen series. Word Work by Bruce Holland Rogers. Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles. Demelza Carlton’s fairy tales. Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. Then more generally authors more than their books Chris Fox, Derek Murphy, Joanna Penn, Lindsay Buroker, Serenity Woods, Sarah Painter, Brene Brown, Joseph Campbell, David Gaughran. I’m sure there are dozens more. Again, so many people to learn from and who share their wealth of knowledge and creativity with the world.
Favourite quote “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear.” The Princess Diaries (2001)
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult? Really hard to define a favourite but I’ve given a whole heap of titles above. 🙂
Favourite book/story you have read as a child? I was a huge fan of Roald Dahl as I child. I collected so many of his books and particularly loved Revolting Rhymes. Dahl was a master wordsmith. He played creatively with language. So many of the brilliant children’s book writers do that and the ones that do it brilliantly are remembered through time.
Thank you Rebecca for this insightful interview and wishing you every success with your new books.
Rebecca’s website http://www.rebeccalaffarsmith.com
She is currently offering TWO FREE BOOKS: Her debut, The Flight of Torque, and the first book in the Shadows of Nar Chronicles, City of Light.
The Flight of Torque: http://www.rebeccalaffarsmith.com/book/the-flight-of-torque/
City of Light: http://www.rebeccalaffarsmith.com/book/city-of-light/
Children’s books http://www.aulexic.com.au