Do ideas just come to authors, or do they have to work for them? How do they decide what kind of book they’ll write? Betsy Streeter and Dave Edlund are here this week to talk about how they found their path. Do you have any questions for our authors? Let us know by leaving a comment on Facebook or on Twitter!
Thanks for joining us for this week's Ask the Author blog post! Could you both give a quick introduction about you and your book?
Betsy: I'm Betsy Streeter, I published my first novel (Silverwood) in 2015. It’s about a time-traveling clan that battles shape-shifting human-hunting creatures called the Tromindox. The story centers on Helen, 15, as she and her younger brother Henry discover what their mom really does for a living - and how that will affect their lives.
Dave: I'm Dave Edlund. My first novel was Crossing Savage in 2014. Science is on the verge of discovering a cheap and inexhaustible way to make petroleum, and the promise of energy independence is within reach. But powerful forces will do anything to keep this knowledge secret, including risking global war.
How did you decide what genre you would write?
Betsy: I’ve always consumed a ton of science fiction and fantasy so of course my first impulse was to write in those genres - and to aim to do something new with them.
Dave: I became hooked on action thrillers when I read Raise the Titanic (a Dirk Pitt novel by Clive Cussler) in about 1980. This is still my favorite genre to read. So when I decided to write fiction, the choice was clear.
Do you ever see yourself branching out to another genre? What would that be?
Betsy: I love the idea of genre-bending, bringing in aspects of mystery and Western in particular. I’m open to so many influences I’m sure a lot of it sneaks in there already. But I’m already at work on stories that blend sci-fi with mystery as well as a serial blending space travel with Western and thriller/intrigue.
Dave: The thriller genre is so broad, that I could spend the rest of my life writing in various thriller subgenres. I’ve briefly considered military, sci-fi, and fantasy, but then for various reasons found myself back in thrillers. I do enjoy bringing political suspense and military events into my novels, and will continue to include these elements along with plausible science. Lately, I’ve been interested in writing about characters who begin as evil persons doing horrible deeds, but then change and become champions of good. What would make someone undergo this transformation? I find that intriguing.
Where do you usually get your ideas? Do you have any tricks to finding inspiration?
Betsy: I talk to my 15-year-old self a lot, and I read multiple articles and books each week. Since I work in visual art and cartooning also, there is a ton of material there. I watch so many movies. But the characters drive it all, and they form themselves into my consciousness and writing is how I get to know them. I love them like real people.
Dave: Inspiration is all around, and I have a very curious mind. Perhaps that’s why science was the focus of my education and professional career. Lately, I’ve turned to historical events that I find particularly moving--such as the attack by Israel on the USS Liberty in 1967, which was inspiration for Hunting Savage. I’m currently writing the next Peter Savage novel based on atrocities in Nanking, China, 1938. In earlier books, science has been a strong theme--energy independence, genetic manipulation, biological weapons. I particularly like science as a spark of inspiration--especially in taking known science and extrapolating to near term plausible events or technology. Michael Crichton did an excellent job of this in Jurassic Park.
Both of you wrote books that are part of a sequel, did you know that you wanted to write a sequel from the start, or did that evolve as you went? What are the pros and cons of writing a sequel versus a standalone book?
Betsy: I did envision a series of books, so as to challenge both the characters and myself to evolve and deal with changing situations. And, readers really enjoy series.
Dave: The Peter Savage novels involve common characters, but each is a standalone story and they may be read in any order. When I began I wanted a protagonist that would be recurring. I enjoy this approach because with each story I can share more of who Peter Savage is and what makes him tick. It’s like getting to know a good friend–it takes time, and with every interaction with that friend you learn more.
Does the initial idea of your story change much throughout the writing process? What part of the book is most difficult to write?
Betsy: I do discover things about the characters as I go, although it is more adding detail than changing anything. When I start I have a very clear idea of why a book needs to exist, what it is fundamentally about. Silverwood is about coming into your own identity with all its complications. Silver Shard is about being isolated and relying on your belief in yourself and those around you. Everything hangs off of those central ideas.
Dave: With the first novel, Crossing Savage, the answer was definitely “no”. I had a detailed outline of the plot from beginning to end and followed it closely. With the second book (Relentless Savage), again I started with a detailed outline, but improvised a bit along the way. By the time I was writing number three and number four, I knew the beginning and end, but the middle I made up as I went along. I view the process like assembling a puzzle–I’m constantly looking for the correct piece and testing the fit. Of course, a talented editor is also a big help in making sure the puzzle pieces fit well.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention about the book writing process? Have you ever been in a rut? Do you have any additional tips or bits of advice for writers who are in that position now?
Betsy: I would say, just make things. Write a few sentences, maybe make a doodle. Anything you create is meaningful, and you’d be amazed at how little thoughts will stick together and become bigger thoughts. Take pictures of things that intrigue you, research bands you never heard of. Keep your mind moving, keep yourself cruising around and finding out stuff you didn’t know. Your subconscious will know what to do with it, and you may not even realize what’s happening sometimes. But trust the process. And, build in time to be quiet. A lot of thinking is nonverbal, and we don’t tend to allow for that. We think things are all words. Give yourself some silence.
Dave: Oh yes, I get writer’s block just as most authors do. When that happens, I know it because what I am writing feels weak, it just isn’t essential dialog or information to advance the plot. So, I do research or walk the dogs or work on odd jobs around the house--really, just about anything to get my mind working in a different direction. Most of the time, this rut is triggered when I am uncertain how the plot should move forward, or I’ve picked a direction that doesn’t work. I have to step back and think deep and hard, into the details. Would Peter really react this way? Why did this character have this particular knowledge? And so on. Any author working on a plot-driven novel needs to think about the characters, the actions, the motivation and knowledge--analyze these factors from every conceivable angle, and make sure it all fits and has purpose. The elements have to have purpose.