Welcome back to You Heard Write! A place where writers and fans can hear from their favorite authors as they discuss aspects of the craft, up and coming publications, and personal experiences.
Today we welcome a very special guest, award winning and New York Times bestselling author Alison Goodman!
About the author:
Alison Goodman’s most recent novel is The Dark Days Deceit, the third and final book in the Lady Helen trilogy of supernatural Regency adventures. The first book in the series, The Dark Days Club, is a 2017 CBCA Notable Book for Older Readers, a 2017 Bank Street Library Best Book and an NPR Best Book of 2016. The second book, The Dark Days Pact, won the 2016 Aurealis Award for Best YA Novel. Alison is also the author of the award winning and New York Times bestselling duology EON and EONA, Singing the Dogstar Blues and her very adult thriller, A New Kind of Death. Alison can dance a mean contra-dance, has a wardrobe full of historically accurate Regency clothes and will travel a long way for a good high-tea. She lives in Australia and is currently working on her PhD at the University of Queensland.
CN: One of the many aspects of Eon and Eona that had me under “your spell” was the way you were able to blend the elements of politics, culture, identity, magic, and DRAGONS, of course. What tips can you give about the process of creating such a vivid world that allows the readers to be swept away by the fictional universe?
AG: My best tip for building a seamless fantasy world is to remember that everything is being filtered through the point of view of your characters. For example, if you are writing from only your protagonist’s point of view, then start with whether the “magic” in your world is a secret or is part of everyday life. As soon as that decision is made, then move on to whether or not your protagonist is a practitioner, and whether she (or he/they) has knowledge about it or is naïve. Keep in mind, also, that when your characters moves through their world, they won’t be noticing the everyday, just as we don’t really note all the things we see and use everyday. A character will notice what is important to them in that moment and have an opinion or an emotion about it. In that way the world is slowly built up around them.
CN: Ideas for books can strike writers at any time. But, in the opposite direction, it may take a while to find that special idea that captures your heart and mind enough to begin the writing process. What seems to help your creativity in terms of coming up with ideas for future books you want to write? About how long do you “circle” the idea mentally before you begin plotting/outlining?
AG: I find that just about everything I do helps me find material for my writing: reading, watching movies and TV, listening to my friends tell stories, trying out different foods, going to festivals and conferences, looking at art in museums, drinking coffee in a new café, walking my dog, listening to music, singing in the shower. . . it all helps. Fiction, like life, is rooted in the physical, the emotional and the intellectual, and just by living life a writer is gathering resources to write their fictional worlds. In terms of circling an idea, it can take me quite a while to come to the time when I want to start writing. I generally spend quite a while thinking about the plot and its structure, sometimes up to six months, and have most of those elements worked out before I start writing. Of course not everyone writes like that and I know a lot of great writers who just jump in – it’s all about what works best for you as an artist. If it is a novel that requires a lot of research, then I will work on that alongside the structural work. For the Lady Helen series, I researched the Regency era for eight months full-time before I began to write the first novel. In that way, I was able to know that when Lady Helen walked into a Regency ball room, it would be lit by a certain kind of candle, that the floor would be chalked to stop people slipping when they danced, and the moon outside would most likely be full because balls were held on full or near full moon nights so that people did not have to travel home in complete darkness. Not all of the details I discover make it into a novel, but my intense research helps me build up a more complete picture of everyday life for my characters.
CN: If you could go back in time and give your pre-published self one piece of advice, what would it be?
AG: I would tell my earlier self to read and learn as much as I could about story structure. As it was, I was lucky enough to study structure reasonably early in my career, but I now think it is the number one thing to study if you want to be a writer. If you can build a strong structure for your story then you are well ahead of most other emerging writers out there. I recommend Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, and Story, by Robert McKee. The McKee book is more about script writing but much of what he talks about can work for fiction writing too.
CN: (Fun One) I know you do tremendous amounts of research and traveling to make your work authentic in terms of culture, mythology, setting, and so on. My question is if you could travel to any foreign land that you’ve yet to visit, with only one character from any of your books for your companion, where would you go? Who would you choose and why?
AG: I’m going to be a bit cheeky here and class the past as a foreign land! I would like to go back to 1700’s England and experience the rambunctious Georgian era and the age of Enlightenment. In regards to which character I would choose as my companion, I would go back with Mr. Hammond–from The Dark Days Club series–who I wrote as a very resourceful man with a dry sense of humor and a lot of experience living at the edges of society and the law. Mr. Hammond is probably not the character most people would think I would choose, and it surprised me a bit too, but he is one of my favorites in the Dark Days Club series and I think we would have a ball carousing through Georgian England.
CN: What can your fans expect from the next Alison Goodman book(s)?
AG: I have three projects in progress. First is another Regency series called The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies that I am going to publish as novellas. It is a rip-roaring, funny adventure/romance series. Second is a contemporary urban fantasy/comedy that is a total hoot to write. Finally, a secret project that is going to take a lot of research so I’ll keep that quiet until I actually start writing it.
CN: Any last advice for writers?
AG: My top three pieces of advice are:
1. Read as much as you can: great stuff, not so great stuff, books, scripts, and stories of all genres. Don’t read them just as entertainment; think about why something works as a story for you or why it doesn’t. Think about the techniques and how you—as a creator of stories–might be able to use them.
2. As I mentioned before, learn about the craft of constructing stories. Read some books about structure and character and dialogue or, if you have the resources, take some writing classes. Write. Get in front of that screen or page and write, write, write. Practice is essential. Don’t be too hard on yourself in the first draft; just let the words and ideas flow.
3. Then, when it comes to rewriting (and all serious writers rewrite their work) bring in the craft that you have learned from the books or classes and your own ideas about what makes a good story.
Myself and Alison want to thank you all for stopping by You Heard Write! We hope you had as much fun reading the Q and A as we did ourselves, as well as furthering your knowledge on the craft of writing. And be sure to check out Alison Goodman’s work next time you’re looking for a great book to read.
You can connect with Alison on social media by clicking on the links below!
*To stay up to date with the future featured guests on You Heard Write!, click the subscribe tab below.