Today I'm welcoming author Amanda Orneck to the blog. She'll be sharing her thoughts on writer's block, chatting about her own writing process and explaining why it took her 20 years (kind of) to write her new book Shadow of the Owl.
What’s your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
My writing process is somewhere in between the plotter and the pantser. I use what Randy Ingermansen calls the Snowflake Method, which organizes book planning in lenses, from broad to specific. I tend to get to most of the steps in the method and then dive into the writing of my scenes, which is where I make the most discoveries about my characters. I then circle back into my planning mode, building out the world a little more, learning what they need to continue their journey. It’s a chaotic circle, but it works for me.
Give us an insight into your main character
The main character of Shadow of the Owl is Mylena Saebariela, a young half-pixie princess who is thrown into a world of chaos when her kingdom is overthrown. When she is forced to live in hiding as a commoner, she falls in love with the simple life, and decides she just wants to spend her life as a village apothecary. Events unfold to tear her away from this life. While a resistance builds in hopes of retaking their kingdom, Mylena has to decide between living her quiet life in relative secrecy, or leading the rebellion to oust the usurper.
What I love most about Mylena is how deeply she falls in love with life outside the castle. You always expect a princess to prefer tiaras and tea parties, but once Mylena gets a taste of living among the people in the village of Kir’Unwin she finally comes into her own. I didn’t expect this of her when I started writing, but Mylena is such a strong woman, she showed me what she really wanted in life, and that made writing her life more rich, but also more difficult.
If this book is part of a series, tell us a little about the sequels
Shadow of the Owl is planned as part of a trilogy following Mylena’s journey as she claims her destiny. The second book, Shadow of the Panther, is currently being written, and it takes Mylena into a new world where she comes into conflict with a powerful demigod bent on her destruction. In the third book, Shadow of the Dragon, Mylena will had taken on a new role, one that she will have to use to save her new world from complete annihilation.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Shadow of the Owl took the better part of 20 years to write. I started it when I was a child, but had a natural difficulty relating to the characters because I was so young. So over the years I wrote parts of the story until 2011 when I began to finish a draft in earnest. The latest incarnation of the novel was finished largely in 2011, and polished during the editing process this past summer.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your book?
I would love to see Molly Quinn play Mylena. She has a youthful strength that would work really well with Mylena’s feisty personality. It would be amazing to see her progress with the character as we move onto the sequels.
What are you working on now?
With Nanowrimo 2015 in full swing I am pushing on with the first draft of Shadow of the Panther. Mylena is traveling on to a new world with the help of an unlikely friend, and it’s a lot of fun to watch this girl who was little more than a selfish princess when we met her, grow into something so much more than just a former queen.
What book are you reading now?
I am currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy. I never would have run across it if it weren’t for my online book club, but I’m certainly glad I did.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
My advice to any other writers is: Read. I know many people will tell you to write every day, but I think you first have to fall in love with reading. Once you have enough books under your wings, so to speak, you’ll be pushed along toward the stories that you want to tell.
And more than reading in your genre, make sure you consume media outside your genre, because that is where the depth of your world building will come. For Shadow of the Owl I took inspiration from war movies and classical literature, even though I was writing a fantasy novel.
Do you ever experience writer's block?
I do reach days when it is difficult to write, and I certainly find life gets in the way of the process of putting words on a page. But I have learned that when you are blocked it usually means you need to let your brain chew on a problem in your subconscious for a bit. These days I see my blocks as signs that I need something else: sometimes that’s consuming media (movies, books, tv) so that I can get inspired to solve my problem, sometimes that’s just stopping the process altogether and letting the writing simmer on the back burner for a bit. But ultimately if I have a challenge writing a scene it means that I haven’t planned it well enough yet, or that I have an obstacle in my path to making everything click.
Writing is relatively easy when you have a map, so I tend to step back from a scene when I run into trouble on it, and make sure I have a strong enough plan for the scene before I blindly rush forward filling the page. If I can’t think of what a character should be doing or what happens next, or if I’m not liking what’s happening, I have learned to pay attention to that instinct. At this point in my writing career I need to write as best I can on the first go around. I don’t have the luxury of writing ten drafts of meandering story until I finally land on something that is tight enough to pass muster.
To me a block is a sign that I have to solve my problems before I head back into the scene. For example: I have three parts of scenes working right now. One is stopped because I need to build out the culture a little more before I can reference it (I’m sure this would have been easier for me if I had done that world building ahead of time), and the second and third are waiting on plot because I know where the scenes take place and I know where the characters have to go, I just don’t know what it will take to get them there.
This is not to say that I am not planning when I do something else; I tend to work on these problems while I’m doing other things, and when I hit on a solution to the problems I am able to head back into the manuscript and push more words onto the page with confidence.
What is your favorite theme/genre to write about?
Recently I’ve been searching through my old writing archives, and even when I was a child I was writing mostly fantasy stories. I write science fiction as well, which I consider a subgenre of fantasy. I suppose I feel most comfortable in worlds where the rules are different than ours because they give us the opportunity experience adventures we would never haves access to in real life. I’ve never conjured butterflies from my own happiness like Mylena does.
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
I have switched almost entirely to digital. I love hardcopy books with a burning passion, but I am getting older and my eyes and hands aren’t as strong as they used to be. An ereader allows me to haul even the largest book around with me and up the font in such a way that I can comfortably read no matter where I am. Plus I have run out of book shelf room, so I have be very selective on which hardcopy volumes I bring into my space.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
When I was a girl, every time I visited a bookstore I would hunt for the place on the sci-fi/fantasy shelf where my books would sit. I still hope one day to do that, but for the moment I am happy to share some virtual bookshelf space on Amazon.
I intend on writing this trilogy and hopefully enchant readers with it. I will be starting a science fiction series this summer as well, so that I have something for both kinds of readers. That series will probably have three or four books in it, depending on how it is received.
Up until last week I would have told you that my ambition is to be famous, but I got the chance to watch a Q&A with Patrick Rothfuss a few days ago that has really shifted my priorities. In that talk he said that in general, out of 250 that want to write a book, one will do so. Out of the 250 people that start writing, only one will finish. Out of the 250 people that finish, only one will get published. Out of the 250 people that get published, only one will make a living out of it. Out of the 250 that make a living out of their writing, only one will be truly famously successful.
It is our task as writers to decide what place on that spectrum will be our bar for success. If we shoot for “famous” then we have all the odds against us, and will be miserable. But if, for instance, we set our bar at writing a finished book, then when that mammoth task is accomplished we will feel happy because we have succeeded.
As a writer I want to write things I love and have others love them. It is my ambition to reach a thousand people with my books, and to bring them as much joy as I had in writing them. “Famous” would be nice of course, but I have chosen the self-publishing route with the understanding that mine will be a small career, and I will be happy with that.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
I intend to write full-time, but that never seems to quite work out. I do attempt to work on my book every day, but that will have to back off a bit as life is sort of pushing in demanding more attention.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I can’t really take Shadow of the Owl as an example, but going off of other projects that I have completed, I would say it takes me on average three months to complete a manuscript when I am writing full-time.
Where can we find you online?
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0168Y8FH6
Amazon Book Pages: (US, UK, etc.) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0167ONCLG
Born in Fountain Valley, CA, raised in a small town called Montrose, CA, Amanda Orneck has never stayed in one place for long -- until now. She currently calls Huntsville, AL home, where she spends her days writing, gaming, and loving her family to pieces.
Amanda received her Creative Writing degree from the University of Southern California, learning her craft at the feet of David St. John, Aimee Bender and Carol Muske-Dukes. While at USC, she received the Middleton Creative Writing Fellowship for excellence in poetry.
For seven years she honed her writing craft as a video game journalist, writing for GamePro, WoW Insider, GameGeex, and handful of other outlets. In 2014 Amanda left the world of blogging behind to focus on her first love, fiction. Shadow of the Owl is her first novel, and she is currently working on a sequel.
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