Sunday, January 5, 2014

Blog Hop- Writing Process

As mentioned in my last post, I am joining a blog hop from KC Sprayberry.

This blog hop focuses on the writing process.  I will post the questions, and then my answers, here.

1) What am I working on?

My focus right now is on two things.  First, I am editing my first novel "School of Deaths," which will be released by Muse It Up Publishing later this year.  When I first signed my contract with MIU I was thrilled, and honestly believed my work was mostly over until the book release.  I have two editors assigned to me (a content editor and a line editor) as part of the process, and thought they'd be doing all the work.  I did not realize that editing was such a difficult and time-consuming process.  I spent most of my Winter Break working on my very first round of edits.  While my editor finds things for me to work on, I am the one who needs to make most of the changes.  I found the work extremely tedious, and it took my focus away from any creative writing (new work) I wanted to focus on, yet it is an important element in the publishing of my novel.  

My other focus is to continue the story of "School of Deaths."  I am currently working on a sequel, called "Sword of Deaths".  Here too, mixed preconceptions affected my process.  When I finished the manuscript of "School of Deaths," I started submitting it as a stand-alone novel, but knew in my heart that I wanted to write more about the same characters and world.  Their stories weren't quite finished in my mind.  I started "Sword of Deaths" almost immediately, diving back into a world where children are forced to train as Grim Reapers.

Yet, as the (also tedious) process of querying began, I realized there was a good chance that my novel would not get picked up.  Early in writing "Sword of Deaths" (the sequel) I became disillusioned.  Why was I bothering with a sequel, when my first novel would probably sit in an unused part of my computer, collecting digital dust.  With that thought in mind, I started two other books. At first I started writing an adult historical fiction novel, and then simultaneously began an adult Science Fiction novel.  Now that "School of Deaths" is being released, I have returned my attention to its sequel, and will return to the other two after the series is complete.  

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Old Bodelian, Oxford
I began "School of Deaths" while living in Oxford.  Many of my favorite authors, including J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Philip Pullman had all written from there.  Surrounded by beautiful Gothic buildings, many of which were used in the film versions of the Harry Potter series, it was hard at first not to create another Hogwarts.  Yet, I did not want to copy.  I focused on my own experiences as an American living in a foreign country.  I didn't know anyone, and although I spoke the language (for the most part), I felt alone.  This was my inspiration for Suzie Sarnio, a girl training to become the first female Death.  She is the only girl in a world entirely inhabited by men.  This opened the way to explore both themes of isolation and sexism.

School of Deaths" is a unique blend of ancient imagery (Death and the Grim Reaper) with personal experience.  As a teacher, I also have an excellent insight into the mind of children who are the ages of my characters and my intended audience.  While teaching middle school last year, I asked one of my students who was Suzie's age to read the novel before I submitted it, and I used her feedback to help make Suzie as realistic as possible.

3) Why do I write what I do?

The simple answer to this question is because it's my passion.  My two great loves are for theatre and writing, both of which I pursue professionally.  I write Young Adult fantasy because it was always one of my favorite genres to read.  I work with kids daily, and in many ways their world is my world.  When I was a child, I was lonely, and escaping into fantasy worlds was one way I remained happy.  I'd imagine rich, complex kingdoms filled with mythical creatures.  This imagination continues to inspire my writing today.

In college, I studied religion and mythology (it was my undergraduate minor).  Now, I try to blend imagination, elements of mythology, and personal experience together into my YA novels.  I write to share ideas, but also to encourage the students I work with.  Reading is unfortunately on the decline as an activity kids enjoy.  I really hope to change that, by writing works that they (and their parents) will enjoy.

4) How does my writing process work?

Glastonbury Tor
I'd like to claim it's easy.  That I get an idea, sit down, and an hour later, there's a novel ready to read.  Of course, that's far from the truth.  Now that I am a full-time teacher, teaching a massive theatre program (I am almost always the first person to arrive at school and the last to leave), I struggle to make the time I need.  It is an uphill journey, not unlike my trip up Glastonbury Tor two years ago.  "School of Deaths" took just over a year from conception to finished draft.  Once I have an idea (girl trains to be female Death), I then sketch out a very brief outline- usually no more than a few pages, which states some of the major events I want to happen.  I also may mention some important characters.

By this point, the book exists more in my mind, like a movie trailer.  I have certain scenes that start to come life in my imagination, which may or may not end up in the actual manuscript.  I then start at the beginning and just write.  While in Oxford, I had enough free time to set word goals.  My first goal was to write 2000 words a week.  Now I use goals in the summer months, but not during the school year.  When writing the first draft I do not proofread as I go.  I don't stop for corrections, and try not to reread anything I've written.  It took me about six months to hammer out the first draft.  I then let it sit, without looking at my work for a month, before going back and reading the entire manuscript.  I write a second draft methodically, correcting from beginning to end.   The third draft is more sporadic, reading, correcting, and jumping around a lot.  By the third draft, I'd changed where the book actually starts, deleted a character for simplicity, and made sure the entire novel worked.  I then showed it to Rachel, another friend, and an online review group (of strangers).  I used their comments to change the book a final time, and then showed it to my student (mentioned above) before submitting to publishers.  Now, I've entered a new phase of editing, and am also thinking about the final stage in a novel: marketing.

The Blog Hop Continues:

Check out these authors, continuing the Blog Hop (their posts go up next week):


bio: Born and raised in Manhattan, I have lived in the Boston area since just after the blizzard of 1978, thus missing the opportunity to abandon my car in a snowbank and walk home. I am the daughter of a painter and the mother of three grown sons. An avid science fiction fan, I selected Robert A. Heinlein's "Farmer in the Sky" for my tenth birthday, now long past. I live outside of Boston with my partner and a large number of dogs. I am the author of three published science fiction novels and two books of poetry.



Bio: Born and bred in New Jersey, Elle Druskin is the original Jersey Girl. Jersey might be just a quick hop over the Hudson River to New York but there’s something different about Jersey people. Could be the toxic fumes. Or the Jersey Shore. Or a Jersey claim to fame as The Diner State. Whatever it is, there’s something different about the place.  Having traveled the world and lived in Australia and Israel, Elle still says there’s no place like Jersey. Her Liberty Heights series is a love letter to growing up in the Garden State where life is a little—okay—more than a little—offbeat.




Bio: Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror fiction.  Her stories invariably feature someone suffering a horrible death.  She lives near London with her guitarist husband and two cats.  The latest book in her series about amateur sleuth and Canadian actress Shara Summers is being published by MuseItUp Publishing in late 2014.  Learn more about Sara and her writing at


  1. Congratulations on completing your first blog entry which I read with interest while 4 year old is playing with a toy farm and zoo animals while intermittently pretending a crocodile is biting me. It seems the idea of killing me is hilarious. The child with an angel's face screams with laughter, and then, to oblige, I pretend to scream in terror. Seriously, when do children first understand the concept of death and murder and how can it be incorporated into our writing?

    We write very different types of novels but that does not mean we can't appreciate each other's work - and it is hard work from the first word to the published book.

  2. Thanks for the glimpse into your writing process, and best of luck with all of your works-in-progress!

  3. I have the unfortunate habit of re-reading and changing as I go and this takes up a lot of my time. I'm going to try and follow your method of writing on to the end, and going back when it is complete, leave for six months if my agent will let me, and go over it again. Thanks for the tips and good luck with the book and the sequel.

    Sam and The Sea Witch

  4. You had me at the pictures, specifically that of Glastonbury Tur. They evoked a Gothic mood, and seem to be a fitting backdrop for the creation of your novel.

    Good luck with your teaching and writing. One gets the impression you are dedicated to your professions, so I'm quite positive that "School of Deaths" will be a great read.

  5. It's always interesting to read about how another writer operates. I so admire you folks who work full time jobs and still manage to write. I began my first novel six and a half years ago while I was still an elementary school principal, but only after I retired did I really begin to make progress. It's such a learning cycle. Up and down (those awful rejections) then up again. Congrats for being able to combine your two passions: theatre and writing and hang in with the edits. I find it kind of thrilling how the book keeps improving.

  6. What a busy life, Chris! I got tired just reading your blog. Interesting about your writing process. You write you drafts similar to how I do. Great blog. Best wishes.

    Curl up with a killer – Cozy Mysteries
    The Ginseng Conspiracy by Susan Bernhardt

  7. I adore Oxford. Was there ages ago for conference and public lecture- scared the pants off me but it was great. It's a place that seems to explode with inspiration. Just my digs with the medieval spiral staircase started those musing. What famous person walked the same steps? What dreams for the future did he have? Simply fabulous.