Today Emerald Musings is featuring Jacey Bedford, author of The Psi-Tech Series and Winterwood, Book One in the Rowenkind Series. Please enjoy her thoughtful answers to our crazy five-question interview!
Question # 1: Let’s start with a fun question– Why do you write?
That’s probably the most difficult question you can ask a writer. I’m not sure I can give you one straight answer. I write (fiction) because I can’t not write. I’ve tried not writing and I get cranky and start sending entirely too many posts to Facebook. I write because I’m a bookaholic and want to create something that I’d love to read. (My reading tastes tend towards historical or fantastic or science-fictional. I write because what’s in my head has to come out somehow and writing it down is a lot better than standing on a street corner and yelling it at passing pedestrians. One thing I can tell you – I don’t write for the fame and fortune.
Question # 2: What is one “piece of writing advice” that you wish you’d never taken?
I’m not sure there is one. Everything that I’ve ever done in my writing career has led me to being the writer I am today. Even advice that proved to be a misstep has taught me something. Okay, an example, let’s see… I got my first agent almost twenty years ago. She shopped my first book around to all the major publishers, but didn’t sell it. In the meantime I continued writing the science fiction book that was eventually to be published as Empire of Dust. It grew and grew and eventually I finished it at 240,000 words. I knew it was unlikely to sell at that (especially as a first book) so I edited it down to 190,000 and emailed my agent. Her words: ‘Get it down to 119,000 words and then send it to me.” Eeep! I didn’t think I could do it, but (I thought) agent knows best. So I spent a weekend and did a surgical strike, ripping out sub plots, hurling aside entire scenes that didn’t move the story forward. One of the main things I knew I’d lost was character motivation of the antagonists (there were three), but I delivered it to my agent (emotionally exhausted, having killed all my darlings) at 115,000 words. Well, my relationship with that agent didn’t last. When we eventually split up I took another look at the book and put back in 8,000 words of character building at various points in the story, but by that time I’d written more books and though I submitted it to a couple of publishers the book eventually went on to a back burner. Skip forward to 2013 and at last I got a publisher’s offer from DAW for another book, Winterwood, a historical fantasy. You can imagine my elation, especially when my new editor asked: ‘What else have you got?’ One of the books I offered her was Empire of Dust, at that point still only 123,000 words. She offered me a three book deal for Winterwood, Empire of Dust and a sequel (still to be written) to Empire, which became Crossways. During the editing process for Empire my editor came back to me with questions about deepening characters and adding in this and that… and in almost every instance the things that she wanted me to add were things that I’d cut at the request of my ex-agent. Luckily I’d cut them, but not thrown them out. I was able to go back to a previous version of the story, rescue the cut sections and re-structure them for the book. Empire of Dust ended up at 171,000 words. Do I wish I’d never taken that original advice to cut the book? No. Editing it down taught me a lot about story structure and getting rid of flab. Had I left it at 190,000 words, my editor might not have seen the potential in the first place. Sure it cost me in time, but it taught me a lot and ended up being a good thing in the end.
Question # 3: How would your creative process to a five-year-old?
First I think up a scene, a picture of something that interests me and makes me ask questions. In Winterwood I began with my opening scene which was my cross-dressing female privateer paying a deathbed visit to her estranged mother. As I write the scene I begin to ask questions. Where is this set and in what century? Who is this person? What brought her to this point in the story? What’s her relationship with her mother? Why? What happens next? When I get to the what-happens-next? question I write a little bit more to find out. Sooner or later I begin to worry that if I just keep writing more and more without a plan the whole thing will get unwieldy and I’ll lose track of the plot, so at that point I review what I’ve written and try to make a plan for the whole story: where it begins, what happens in the middle and how it ends. Sometimes I keep my first scene pretty much as I first wrote it. Sometimes it doesn’t end up in the story at all. Sometimes it’s in the story but not right at the beginning.
Question # 4: How do you know when something in your manuscript should be edited, removed, or left just as it is?
Often I don’t, at least not when I’m writing the first draft. I’m lucky to have critique group partners (all published writers) who will read my first draft and give me an honest no-punches-pulled opinion. (And I’ll do the same for their first drafts, too.) That’s a big help. I don’t have to take their opinions into consideration, of course, but I’d be mad not to think very hard about their advice. Once the first draft is (more or less) complete I try to set it on one side for a few weeks (usually while I’m writing something else). When I come back to it and re-read it I have a more objective overview. It’s really difficult to get a clear idea of the structure when you’re too close to it. On re-reading, that’s the point at which I realise I’ve got something in the wrong order, or I’ve sent the plot racing into a blind alley and I need to backtrack, or I’ve got a colossal plot hole because someone has reacted to something he couldn’t possibly know, or I’ve made my protagonists do something for the sake of plot when it’s not really something their character would do. Once I’ve made adjustments I send it off to my editor who usually comes back to me with further questions and opinions. She might say that Character X needs to be a bit more sympathetic, or Character Y is making it too easy for my protagonist to do something and I need to throw in another speedbump on that particular plot road. Then I edit and edit again until it feels right.
Question # 5: And finally– What do you plan to write tomorrow?
I’m under contract with DAW for another two books. The one I’m working on now is Silverwolf, a sequel to Winterwood, my historical fantasy set in 1800. Though I don’t have a contract for a third book in that sequence my editor has talked about the possibility, so I’m writing Silverwolf as the middle book in a trilogy, i.e. wrapping up the main story threads to give it a satisfying ending, but leaving a few threads and an unanswered question for the third. After I’ve finished the final edits on Silverwolf, however, I’m back to writing science fiction as my next contracted book is Nimbus, the third book in the Psi-Tech sequence which should round up the story ark begun in Empire of Dust and continued in Crossways. After that it depends on future book contracts, but I have another fantasy on a back-burner, a standalone set in what might be the Baltic States in the 1600s. I’m looking forward to getting to grips with that one, as well.
Jacey Bedford is a British writer of science fiction and fantasy. Her novels are published by DAW in the USA. She’s had short stories published on both sides of the Atlantic and has been translated into such diverse languages as Estonian, Polish, and Galician. She is the current secretary of Milford SF Writers who run a conference for published writers of science fiction and fantasy every September.
© 2016, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.