It’s a joy to have C. W. Allen stop by this blog on her virtual book tour. Her interview answers (below) are thoughtful and contain a lot of practical advice for writers. As if that weren’t enough generosity, she’s also awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Keep reading to learn how to enter the drawing.
- Question: What books do you recommend for an aspiring writer?
There are a lot of writing craft books to choose from out there. I would say for any of them: be willing to learn, but don’t take them as gospel. Try their suggestions out to see what works for you and abandon anything that doesn’t. I thought Stephen King’s On Writing, for example, had great lessons about perseverance, dialogue tags, and word economy, but maybe took King’s personal dislike for adverbs a little too far. There are plenty of celebrated writers—Neil Gaiman comes to mind—that use adverbs with wild abandon. So see what’s out there, but take it with a grain of salt. Never let writing “rules” squash your unique writing voice, but see where they can help you take it up a notch.
- Question: What’s your Go-To source when you need inspiration?
I think it’s really important to allow the mind space to wander to foster creativity. This might mean going back to my favorite books and TV shows to see what drew me to those narratives, or taking a walk, or mowing the lawn—something that doesn’t require a lot of concentration—to see where my brain wants to go. There’s a reason writers talk about the best ideas striking in the shower, or just before falling asleep: your brain finally had time to stretch its legs and breathe! On the flip side, you can’t always wait around for inspiration to strike before getting to work. Some days you just have to plug along with the work whether you’re feeling particularly inspired or not.
- Question: Do you create elaborate outlines for your books? If so, can you explain the process (briefly)? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants? If so, do you have any tricks you use to keep yourself from crashing?
I probably fall somewhere in the middle of the Pantser to Plotter scale. I need to really get to know my main characters before I start something new. If I know I’m going to need to research something particular I get that out of the way first (although more research always seems to come up as I write.) Then I like to write a one-page synopsis of the story before I begin. This gives the narrative enough bones to stand up and gives me an idea where I’m headed if I get stuck, but still allows plenty of room to discover and explore along the way. For example: if I know my characters need to make it onto a pirate ship in order to meet the sidekick they’ll need to defeat the villain at the end, I know what I’m writing toward, but I still have lots of free space to improvise. What circumstances might lead them to be traveling in the first place? How will they get there? What do they want or need? What might go wrong along the way?
- Question: What was the greatest challenge you faced when writing the book? How did you get through it?
When I wrote my first couple of books, I had all the time in the world to work at my own pace and second guess myself and edit the story within an inch of its life. But since The Secret Benefits of Invisibility is the sequel to a book I’d already sold, I was writing this one with a contract and deadline already in place. I felt incredibly lucky to know in advance that the book would definitely be published and was in good hands with my editor, but it also led to worrying that I might not meet my readers’ expectations from the first book, or might not have time to explore all the plot possibilities I otherwise might have. In the end, I’m very proud of how the book came out, but writing under contract was a new experience for me. And now that I’ve done it once, I’m a lot more confident doing it again! Book 3 in this series, Tales of the Forgotten Founders, is scheduled for publication in 2023, so I’m up to my elbows in words tackling that process again.
- Question: If you have a writing ritual, can you share that here?
I like to write first thing in the morning, before the rest of the day’s business gets me bogged down. I usually write immediately after breakfast, or even during breakfast, and keep going until lunch. I personally need absolute quiet to write, but I know some writers who like to have a music playlist that fits the vibe of the piece they’re writing. These are the strategies that work for me, but in general I think too much reliance on any sort of ritual means you can’t make progress without that ritual. Feeling inspired and “in the zone” is great, but not every writing session can be magic. Sometimes it’s just work, and that’s okay. That diligence pays off. The words pile up. Work gets done.
- Question: In what genres have you written, and which one of them gives you the most satisfaction?
My shorter work—poems, essays, short stories—are often more focused on adult readership because that’s what there’s a publishing market for. These pieces are where I like to experiment with different voices and tones, from humorous and quippy to thoughtful and lyrical. I have a science fiction short story coming out in an anthology later this year, which was a lot of fun to write since it’s a genre I haven’t worked in before. I would like to get into picture books, but that’s a huge undertaking. I find an effective picture book so much harder to write than a novel; it’s like trying to fit War and Peace on a sticky note!
My true love and the bulk of my publishing effort is definitely with middle grade novels, especially stories with a mystery or speculative angle. It’s what I read in my free time, and it’s where my storytelling naturally drifts. I have a huge backlog of novel concepts to work on in the future, but it takes so long to finish writing a whole novel that I’ve got to make those ideas wait their turn. I can’t be starting seven things and never finish any of them!
- Question: What one piece of advice can you offer to a writer who has yet to tackle the publishing world?
The single best thing I ever did for my writing career was to join a professional writing organization. There are lots of these to choose from, either tailored to a specific writing genre or by geographical region. I joined the League of Utah Writers, and eventually became a chapter president and board member. This is where I met writers further along in their careers who could show me the ropes. They offered classes and workshops with industry professionals so I could tune up the areas of my writing skill that needed work. They host online forums where I can ask questions and find critique partners. This gave me experience in critiquing others’ work and accepting critique on my work without taking offense. As I got more experience, I was offered opportunities to teach at writing conferences and network with agents, editors, and other industry professionals as an equal, which was an amazing boost both to my confidence and my publishing opportunities. The League helped me find publication options for my first short stories and essays. And of course, my membership was a great addition to that daunting, previously-empty biography paragraph when I started querying novels.
- Question: What one piece of advice can you offer to the more experienced writer who is having a bad day/week/year/decade?
I attended a Mindfulness for Writers workshop taught by fellow Utahn Johnny Worthen last year, and he shared an observation that changed the way I view myself and my work. “To be a writer is to be a witness.” Writers notice the things others overlook, then package those observations up in a way people will notice. No one sees the world quite the way you do. No one else notices the particular combination of things you can tie together for us. We need you! Be a witness.
I am quite a slow writer, so sometimes I feel daunted that I’m not making progress more quickly, but I have to remind myself speed or prolific output isn’t the goal. Just keep observing and keep sharing.
For Zed and Tuesday, adjusting to life in modern-meets-medieval Falinnheim means normal is relative. Lots of kids deal with moving, starting new schools, and doing chores. But normally, those schools aren’t in underground bunkers full of secret agents, and the chore list doesn’t involve herding dodos. The one thing that hasn’t changed: all the adults treat them like they’re invisible.
When a security breach interrupts a school field trip, the siblings find themselves locked out of the Resistance base. With the adults trapped inside, it’s up to Tuesday, Zed, and their friends to save the day. And for once, being ignored and underestimated is coming in handy. After all, who would suspect a bunch of kids are capable of taking down the intruders that captured their families, let alone the murderous dictator that put them into hiding in the first place?
Turns out invisibility might just have its benefits.
Fariq lifted the latch and stepped back to let the doors swing slowly open. An avalanche of dodos poured out, brushing past them like a flock of short, grumpy businessmen in dusty grey suits, impatiently bustling around a train station on their way somewhere more important.
Zed jumped out of the way and whipped out his notebook and pencil. Tuesday jumped too, but more in alarm than amazement.
“Augh!” she yelled. “Why are they so big?” She flinched away as one of the dodos brushed past her leg. Its bald, leathery face came all the way up to her hip.
Zed was too busy sketching to look up. “What were you expecting?”
“I don’t know!” Tuesday blathered. “Smaller, I guess! Slower. Dumber. More like chickens!”
It would have taken a Leaning Tower of Chickens stacked three high to see eye to eye with a dodo. They looked like gigantic turkeys with their tail feathers plucked and stunted wings tucked in by their sides, with bulbous bike horns for heads. It was like someone cobbled together a Frankenbird out of spare parts as a prank.
“It’s okay,” said Fariq in his customary monotone. “Bird phobias are really common. I don’t like spiders much, myself.”
“I’m not afraid of them,” Tuesday protested. “Just…surprised.”
Celia brushed past them with her rake, dropping a derisive chuckle as she passed. “Honestly, it’s like you’ve never seen a common dodo before. You panic about worms in the garden wing too? Or is Her Highness too important to get her hands dirty with the commoners?”
About the Author
C.W. Allen is a Nebraskan by birth, a Texan by experience, a Hoosier by marriage, and a Utahn by geography. She knew she wanted to be a writer the moment she read The Westing Game at age twelve, but took a few detours along the way as a veterinary nurse, an appliance repair secretary, and a homeschool parent.
She recently settled in the high desert of rural Utah with her husband, their three children, and a noisy flock of orphaned ideas. Someday she will create literary homes for all of them. (The ideas, not her family.)
Relatively Normal Secrets (Cinnabar Moth Publishing, Fall 2021) is her debut novel. She writes fantasy novels for tweens, picture books for children, and short stories and poems for former children. Her work will appear in numerous anthologies in 2021. She is also a frequent guest presenter at writing conferences and club meetings, which helps her procrastinate knuckling down to any actual writing.a Rafflecopter giveaway
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