Interview with Lou Anders

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, middle grade fantasy author Lou Anders!

About the author:

Lou Anders is the author of the the middle grade fantasy adventure series Thrones & Bones, as well as the novel Star Wars: Pirate’s Price.

He has always been a fan of fantasy adventure stories. Frostborn and its sequels was his attempt to write the kind of story that would have excited himself as a kid (and still as an adult). He wanted to introduce young readers to fantasy fiction in a book that parents and kids can enjoy together (or each on their own).


He’s done a lot of things before becoming an author. He wrote and directed plays in Chicago. He was a journalist out in Hollywood once upon a time, where he hung out on the sets of a lot of science fiction television shows talking to actors and directors and crew. He wrote movie scripts too, a few of which he even got paid for! He worked for an Internet start up in San Francisco. And he worked as an editorial director and art director in publishing, and wound up winning the Hugo and Chesley awards for editing and art directing!

These days, there’s not much Lou would rather do than write, but when he’s not writing, he enjoys playing video games, running Dungeons & Dragons games for his family and friends, reading, television and travel. He’s been fortunate enough to have visited many countries around the world ─ including countries in Great Britain, Europe and Asia.

Right now he lives with his family in Birmingham, Alabama.

Thrones and Bones series

Star Wars: Pirate’s Price


CN: World building is one of the most important aspects in terms of writing a great fantasy book. What were some of the techniques you used when you created the world for Thrones and Bones?

LA: Whenever I’m inventing a culture, I light to look to real world and mythological examples. For the country of Norrøngard, I was obviously heavily inspired by real world Norwegian history and Viking myth. But for something like the Calderans of Thica, I was looking at the real world Spartans and combining them with the historical Greek notions of the Amazons (as opposed to modern notions). I will research a lot of history and mythology, watch lecture series on the periods I’m interested in, and source as much photo reference as I can. But I also have another technique that’s a bit odd, which evolved by accident. After Frostborn sold, and while we were still in rewrites, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Norway. While there, I was struck by how unique the landscape is. I worried that I would have to do a description pass on my manuscript, because I didn’t see how I would have gotten it correct before my visit. But to my surprise, I’d actually nailed the look and feel of Norway, the only exception being that I had to add the red berries that are all over the hillsides. I couldn’t figure out how I’d managed to pull it off until I remembered that I was over one hundred hours into Skyrim. And Bethesda has obviously spent millions on duplicating the look of a Norse environment inside their game. So now when I am creating a new culture, one of my techniques is to see if I can find an historical videogame that takes place in an analogous real-world land. Playing the game helps me internalize the experience of walking around inside a historical space. So… long, dry lectures plus video games = research!


CN: How do you handle the times when your inspiration to write seems to be on an extended vacation? Do you muscle through, or do you have a process that gives you that extra oomph?

LA: Well, these days with two kids and a dog demanding attention, the impediments to writing aren’t so much writer’s block as external claims on my time. But there have certainly been times when I wasn’t “feeling it,” or my mood was coloring my output. I learned to remind myself that I’ve spent decades honing a craft, and that “my talent exists irrespective of my mood.” Some material that I wrote under very trying temperments–where I just absolutely hated the process of writing–ended up being some of my favorite bits of the Thrones & Bones series in retrospect.  So I’ve learned to just sit and type and know that my fingers know what they are doing, even when my brain thinks otherwise!


CN: If you could go back in time and give your pre-published self one piece of advice, what would it be?

LA: Writing, like everything, is a muscle. It only improves with usage. I wish I’d started sooner. I’d be that much better now if I had! 


CN: ( Fun One) Given your love for video games, if you could write a story about any video game character, who would you choose and what kind of story would it be?

LA: I’d be torn between writing about the Dovahkiin from Skyrim or Arthur Morgan from Red Dead Redemption 2, with Lara Croft as a close second. I suppose the world of Skyrim appeals to me more than writing a Western or that of a modern day treasure hunter, but really what I’d rather do is work on a videogame for Thrones & Bones! I’m also a very big pen and paper RPG player, so a Dungeons & Dragons Thrones & Bones supplement would be grand.


CN: What can your fans expect from the next Lou Anders book(s)?

LA: Well, my first Star Wars novel, Pirate’s Price, came out this past January. It ties in with the main ride, Smugglers Run, at the new Galaxy’s Edge attraction at Disneyworld and Disneyland, so that’s made a bit of a splash. Then my next original novel will be out from Penguin Random House in Summer 2020. It’s not public yet, though I imagine it will be very soon (we’re through copyedits and the cover is done). It’s not a Thrones & Bones novel. Instead it involves new characters in a different location of the world. I’m not going to say much about it now, except to say that it’s very different for me, a whole lot of fun, and definitely involves unicorns.


Myself and Lou 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 get your hands on a copy of the Thrones and Bones series!

Don’t forget to follow Lou Anders on Twitter @LouAnders. You can also visit www.louanders.com to stay up to date with his work!

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Interview with Yoon Ha Lee

Hello everybody,

Welcome 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, science fiction and fantasy author Yoon Ha Lee.

Yoon-Ha-Lee-616x411About the author:

A Korean-American sf/f writer who received a B.A. in math from Cornell University and an M.A. in math education from Stanford University, Yoon finds it a source of continual delight that math can be mined for story ideas. Yoon’s fiction has appeared in publications such as F&SFTor.com, and Clarkesworld Magazine, as well as several year’s best anthologies. He also is the author of two short story collections and six novels:

The Mercenaries of Empire series (Solaris Books 2016–2019)

MOE1 MOE2 MOE3 MOE4

The Vela (Serial Box 2019) *Co-authored with Becky Chambers, Rivers Soloman, and S.L. Huang

The Vela

Dragon Pearl (Disney-Hyperion 2019)

Dragon-Pearl.2-150x225


 

CN: Themes play major roles in stories, both short publications and novels. What theme(s) tend to pop up in your work? Any you stay away from?

 

YHL: Military ethics, imperialism, colonialism show up in some form or 
another in most of my works.  I wish it were otherwise–these certainly 
aren’t beach reading sorts of topics, and I know sometimes people just 
want to read for escapism or light entertainment.  I spent a few years 
on military bases growing up, as my dad used to be a US Army surgeon, 
and as for imperialism and colonialism, that was a historical background 
I was always aware of through my own family’s entanglement with the 
Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

I don’t often write about romance or romantic love, not because these 
aren’t worthy subjects but because I’m kind of inept at portraying those 
kinds of relationships.  I do enjoy reading romances from time to time, 
though!


 

CN: Your middle grade novel Dragon Pearl has space, pirates, spirit animals, and one of the coolest magic systems–fox-magic. When creating systems for magic, what tips can you give to writers who may be struggling with coming up with their own magic system within their created worlds?

 

YHL: In the case of Dragon Pearl, the fox magic is stolen directly from
Korean folklore, although I had to adapt it for the audience.  The
gumiho (fox spirits) are known for, er, seducing men and eating their
livers, neither of which would have been appropriate in a kids’ book!  I
gave my fox character Min an amped up version of those powers mainly
because one of the things about being a kid is that you have so little
power over what happens in your life.  The fact that Min can do so many
magical things, from shapeshifting to influencing people’s minds, is
really a sort of power fantasy of the sort that I enjoyed when I was young.


For magic systems, I think there are two main approaches (and hybrids of
the two, of course).  You can have a mechanistic, almost
laws-of-fantasy-physics approach with hard-and-fast rules and
consequences; Brandon Sanderson is one author who does this extremely
well.  Or you can have magic that feeds more off mood and atmosphere
rather than strict rules, as with Lord Dunsany or Patricia McKillip.


 

CN: If you could go back in time and give your pre-published self one piece of advice, what would it be?

 

YHL: You’re going to laugh, but I would say exercise more!  You only get one
body, and we don’t yet have the technology to order up replacement
bodies.  Writing is a physical act, and it’s very easy to wreck your
wrists or your posture doing it.


 

CN: (Fun One) You’ve a clear interest in all things space and science fiction. If your fans paid for a “Send Yoon to the Moon” trip for you, what three books would you take with you to read in zero gravity?

 

YHL: Oh gosh, that’s hard.  Right now, I would take Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan
Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky because my daughter told me how good it
is, Tillie Walden’s graphic novel On a Sunbeam, and Tracy Fullerton’s
Game Design Workshop–imagine the kinds of inspiration for games you
could get out in space!

51UAVqQVBtL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_sunbeamGame_Design_Workshop_3rd_Edition_cover


 

CN: What can your fans expect from the next Yoon Ha Lee book(s)?

 

YHL: My current work in progress is Phoenix Extravagant, which is set in a
fantasy version of Korea during the Japanese occupation.  In my
fake!Korea, the fake!Japanese use automata to control the populace, and
the automata are programmed by magical pigments that imbue them with
qualities such as courage or loyalty.  The hero is a collaborationist
painter who not only finds the terrible secret of the automata but ends
up teaming up with a mecha dragon against the colonial government.



 

Myself and Yoon 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.

Don’t forget to follow Yoon Ha Lee on Twitter @motomaratai. You can also visit www.yoonhalee.com to stay up to date with his work!

 

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Querying Tips

Sending out query letters to literary agents is an exciting, yet terrifying, time. Will they love my book? How long until I hear back? What can I do to increase my chances for success?

These questions will at some point cross your mind during the process. The querying stage can be a tough one. There’re plenty of agents out there, and I believe what makes the process even tougher is finding the right one to champion your work. You want an agent who believes in you and your writing. One that can give you confidence, advice, and guidance. You should envision yourself working with an agent for the length of your writing career.

So, no pressure, right?

In truth, it’s easy to fill your mind with doubts during the querying process. Rejections almost always come first, so be prepared to thicken your skin. But don’t despair just yet! Countless authors, even the most successful ones, have been where you are now. Many received dozens of rejections before finding success. (Google some if you need the support)

 

As you prepare to give this process your best, here are a few tips to improve your query letter:

 

  1. Research agents before querying them.

I can’t stress this one enough. The more you know about agents, as in who they represent, what they’re on the lookout for, what they want included in the query letter, the better off you’ll be. I’ve read many blogs / articles written by agents where they describe queries that feel impersonal. Agents want to know why you’re querying them specifically. Typically, you can explain this by revealing how one of their clients inspired your work, or that your story goes hand-in-hand with the kind of book they’re on the lookout for. Anything that shows thought behind your query will help!


 

  1. Query in batches.

I strongly suggest sending no more than 5-7 queries out at one time. The thing is, you don’t want to burn all your bridges at once. Imagine sending a batch of 50 queries out, then later finding some misspelled words, grammatical errors, or that you thought of a better, more compelling, way to pitch your story.

You don’t want that kind of mistake hanging over you.

Also, querying can be a lot like trial-by-error. If your first batch doesn’t deliver any requests for your manuscript, then you may want to revise it before sending the next handful.

Lastly, own your rejections! They sting, sure, but they’re yours. The best thing you can do is learn from them.


 

  1. Allow your peers to read your queries.

Anyone who you trust to give honest feedback should be considered. You want to see if your query hooks them, as in they want to read your book based on the 3-5 sentence pitch. Personally, I suggest finding other authors who are going through / have gone through the querying process to look over your letter as well. They have insights! See if you can pick up on some dos and don’ts.


 

  1. Familiarize yourself with helpful websites.

There’re tons of websites out there that give invaluable information to querying authors. They range from examples of successful query letters to specific wants from agents.

Here are a few I found especially helpful:

 

The MSWL website is a must when you’re trying to land an agent. This site allows you to see what agents are looking for. If you’ve written the next Narnia, then type that in the search bar and BAM! You’ll get a list of agents who say they’re looking for the next Narnia. Also, you can familiarize yourself with editors at publishing houses. They’re on the MSWL website too, and your future agent will appreciate it if you have a couple of editors who may be interested in your book.

 

  • Query Tracker ( www.querytracker.net )

Query Tracker is a great website for learning response times. Many authors post on the website about how long it took to hear back from specific agents. Now, of course this doesn’t mean the agent you’ve queried will take 3 months to respond just because another author experienced that, but it can help with realistic time frames.

Another useful aspect to Query Tracker is authors will post if an agent is currently closed to submissions. You don’t want to query an agent who’s not accepting queries, for that’s an automatic rejection.

 

This one is a big one. Almost every agent has a profile on PM. You can find out an agent’s list of clients, past book deals, current likes and, more important, dislikes, and what he or she requires with each query. I suggest paying for the membership to PM so you can experience all its features.


 

As I said: querying can be exciting and terrifying. Unfortunately, there isn’t a sure-fire formula to get you an offer of representation, but take it from me. The day I signed with my agent was one of the greatest days of my life. It validated the years of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication in a single phone call. Continue writing. Keep fighting. You’ll get there before you know it.


 

Don’t forget to follow Cody on social media to stay up to date with his writing.

The Five Stages of Plotting

Plotting, in my opinion, is one of the most crucial stages when it comes to writing a novel. It’s during this stage a writer can explore their story, characters, world, etc., well before he or she dives into writing it. I know for some, plotting may seem tedious or grueling, but those will feel like pats on your back if it saves you from having to rewrite your novel because of a plot hole, ‘better idea’, or an undeveloped detail.

 

So, how should you plot to avoid making the listed mistakes above? Consider the following tips:

 

First and Foremost:

The very first thing I do to begin plotting is I write the back-cover snippet on the first page of the journal I’m using to plot in. (Yes, I’m old school. Journals over laptop!) I use this as my statue, as the lighthouse to keep my intended path and story arc clear. It can and may change as the plotting continues, but even then, it will be the bare bones of my story. Now, if you’re thinking you don’t know your future story well enough to write the back-cover just yet, that’s 100% okay! I would then suggest leaving the first page blank and returning to write that piece when you’re ready for it.


 

Beginning and Ending:

After writing the back-cover goodies, I then use page two to write 1-2 sentences to describe the opening scene, as well as 1-2 sentences to describe the ending. Clearly these are two vital pieces of a story. If you can’t hold your readers’ attention from page 1, then they’ll probably put your book down long before reaching the ending.


 

Scenes:

Use the next sum of pages to write 1-4 sentences about the scenes, or chapters, of your story, labeling each with a title. Chances are if you feel so strongly about the story in your head to now partake in the prep work that comes before writing it, then you have several major scenes in your head already. Write them down! Don’t worry if they’re half-developed. There’ll be plenty of time to bring it to life later. At this moment, you should be more concerned about not forgetting pieces of your story.

Can you write more than 1-4 sentences about each scene/chapter?

Of course! Typically, the more you write about each scene/chapter, the smoother the writing will be when it’s time to do so. Write as many details as you can.

*Also, don’t worry if your scenes don’t flow chronologically. That’s only a minor issue to fix, which I’ll explain later.


 

Characters and Settings:

After doing, in my opinion, the hardest and longest part of detailing your story by scenes, you’ll then want to explore your characters and settings.

For characters: I suggest making a page for each major character in your story, and a half page for minor ones. Write down the details you know of your character, such as age, descriptions, voice, tendencies, personality, who he or she is related to, birthplace, etc. Pretty much anything you can think of to let you get a feel for your character, as well as putting the finer details of him or her down so you won’t forget them later. If you need more than a page, then use as many as you need. Again, the more you flesh out now, the better off you’ll be later.

For settings: Look back through your scenes/chapters. Any place you listed on these pages should be further detailed here. Try to think of the places your main character(s) will visit/spend time at, and then go from there.


 

Making it Flow:

Here comes the fun part. Now that you’ve explored your story by describing the beginning and ending, detailing the scenes/chapters, and explored both your characters and settings, you’re ready to put the pieces together.

So, with a blank page(s) on hand, write down the titles of your scenes/chapters. Once you have all of them down, try to number them in chronological order. Most likely you’ll see some gaps, some scenes/chapters that don’t flow together. This is good! Because now you can come up with the scenes/chapters that can connect them. Seeing the holes now will prevent them from appearing later. And, my suggestion is, don’t rush this part. Think of ways that will smooth the arc of your story, ways that make sense for your story.

*Personally, I REFUSE to move onto the writing process if I’m not happy with the way my story is laid out. If I can see issues in the plotting stage, then there will certainly be issues during the writing one.


Of course, there’re numerous ways to plot a story. Don’t hesitate to do a little research in order to find the method that best suits you and your style.


 

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October 2018 Q and A

Q1. What inspired you to write flash fiction? And what was the inspiration for Asteroids?

 

While I was waiting to receive my manuscript back from my editor, I didn’t want to stop my daily writing, yet I knew writing another book during the waiting period wasn’t how I operated. I like to finish one story before jumping to the next. It’s a way to keep myself connected to my characters, as well as staying submerged within the world I’m writing about. So, to keep my “writing muscle” strong, I would write daily short stories that incorporated the elements I enjoy writing about. They typically ranged anywhere from 5 to 10 pages. After about a week I began researching avenues that would allow me to share some of the stories I felt were good enough to share, and that’s when I stumbled upon a handful of magazines and websites that paid writers for flash fiction. Now, I had to trim my stories down to meet the requirements. Flash fiction is usually 1,000 words or less, so I had to say farewell to any words that didn’t add to the heart of the story. It was difficult, though I’m usually not one to over describe with flowery language, but my style is definitely more descriptive than what I turned over to the editors of various flash fiction magazines.

 

The idea for Asteroids wasn’t hidden deep within me. The topic of teen suicide prevention has been an aspect in my life since high school. I was involved with a few organizations that did, in my opinion, a tremendous amount for the community, including for the families that lost their children to suicide. I wanted Asteroids to reflect how the smallest of efforts, words, and actions can impact those who may be battling a war within themselves. A war that many, if not all, of us are blind to. Every suicide I can recall, rather it be someone I knew or a celebrity, creates an outburst of the comment (or one similar), “I had no idea he or she was suffering.” And that is the root of Asteroids.

 

 

Q2. What would you say is the hardest aspect of being a writer?

 

My mind instantly began squishing my thoughts into slivers after considering this question! But to pick only one answer. . . . I think training myself to write when my motivation seems to be on an extended vacation is extremely difficult. In my experience, motivation for writing a book comes on strong in the beginning, then quiets once the process starts. Of course I’m thrilled to explore and tell the story that I spent weeks, if not months, plotting, but that alone really only counts for so much drive. It becomes about dedication, work ethic, and the simple act of sitting down and writing when life tempts me with a thousand other things. Also, I feel this is true for many because as the author of the story, you know (or should) what comes next, the twists, and how everything ends. It’s a great thing to know, but if the first page is Point A and the last page is Point B, then digest the idea of running a marathon with the pace of a snail.

 

 

Q3. Do you plot and outline before writing a story?

 

I do! I find the more details I have fleshed out about the story, characters, and setting(s), the faster, and sometimes better, I’m able to write. I do the hard, slower work of crafting how the story will flow before I ever begin writing it, which then allows me to write without the nagging question of “What happens next?” popping into my brain every 5 minutes. What has worked well for me is if I’m not 100% happy with the story after plotting, then I don’t move onto writing it until I am. I’ll spend the time and dissect why I’m not happy with it. Usually I can fix it by editing some of the details, characters and their backstories, etc. I believe I’ve saved myself an abundant amount of time by doing this because the risk of getting 50-75% into the story to find out it just doesn’t seem to work isn’t a worry for me. I know the story works. I know I’m happy with the details and characters because I groomed them during the plotting stage.

 

And yes, I have tried writing by the seat of my pants. It’s a great skill for those who can do it! But I simply couldn’t. I, on multiple drafts of the same story, would get close to finishing the manuscript and realize I had thought of better plot points, characters to add (or take away), and many things in between. And once you change one thing, it can cause the need to change a ton of things.

 

 

Q4. Why do you like to write fantasy?

 

I’ve actually been asked this quite often over the past 8 years. I think those who grew up with me ask this the most because I really wasn’t into fantasy as a child. It wasn’t until I was approaching 20 that my mind became infatuated with magical stories. But to answer your question, I write fantasy because I get to explore new worlds filled with anything my imagination can create. As long as I’m able to make the world make sense to the readers, then nothing is off limits. I get to find out what it’s like to fly on the back of a dragon; how unbreakable a mental bond can be with an intelligent creature of my choice; what magic can be used for.

 

 

Q5. Are you working on a sequel to the book that publishers are currently considering?

 

I am not. The book in question wasn’t written with a sequel in mind, which I believe publishers will see that as well. I do have many, many, many ideas that are similar to the book being considered, though. Some I have already plotted and have no doubt that I’ll write one day, while others need more fine tuning. But I am currently working on a YA fantasy that would technically be somewhat of a prequel to a planned trilogy. I don’t like to give much away, but I promise the world I’ve created is rooted with ancient magics, bonds, and beasts.


 

Thank you all for your support and questions. I look forward to hearing from more of you!

Cody Nowack


 

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