A couple of months ago we were delighted to be asked whether we would like to host part of a conversation blog hop feature between two Bold Strokes authors. As Jane Fletcher is one of the leading lights in UK lesbian fantasy writing and Nora Olsen is a brand new BSB author, we jumped at the chance to have them chatting on the site.
I’m curious about what it’s like to have published a whole lot of books. I’m still a newbie, and every time anything happens I’m overwhelmed with wonder or maybe confusion. When you’ve published ten or more books, is it still really exciting to see your new book cover for the first time? Or is it just business as usual?
I’m not a natural writer. I didn’t keep diaries or write little stories when I was a kid. I wrote my first book mainly to see if I could finish a whole novel, but also partly just to play around with the word processor on my first home PC. My only intended audience was my partner. I certainly had no plans to submit it to a publisher, so there was no pressure on me at all. Nobody else in the world was waiting for it.
Getting published was a year long roundabout of wonderful moments. Sometimes, out of the blue I’d be surprised by the thought “I’m going to have a book published” and I’d have to stop myself from literally jumping up and down with excitement. The peak though, was holding a proper copy of my book in my hands for the first time.
The surprised excitement element has now faded, but the satisfaction when I send the manuscript back to my editor after completing the last round of edits has not dimmed at all.
If I had to be honest, I’d have to say I enjoy having written more than writing. And nothing says “I’ve written” more than getting the copies and holding them – in fact, to be more accurate, the phrase should be cuddling them.
So what has the publishing process been like for you? What have you found the most unexpected part? And what got you writing to start with?
I used to write a lot as a kid–in fact, when I was visiting my mother the other day I found a story that I had written when I was about seven years old called The Fight For Unicron (I was not a good speller at all.) Also a choose-your-own-adventure detective story where one of the options was disguising yourself as a landlord. I don’t know what I thought landlords were supposed to look like.
As an adult I started out trying to write literary fiction, short stories, for grown-ups, which was a total bust. I finally realized that I was writing about teenagers all the time and I should really be writing FOR teenagers. I hit my sweet spot when I started writing specifically for LGBTQ teens. (And anyone else who wants to read my stuff—I’m not picky. But there’s definitely a target audience in my head that I write to.) So far the publishing process has been great for me. I have been blown away by it. The most unexpected thing happened to me recently, when I went to the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC to help out at the Bold Strokes Books table. My book Swans & Klons was not published yet; it still had about a month before it came out. But there my book was, sitting there all glossy and shiny on the table, for sale. I was so surprised and amazed. And then some people bought it, even.
I definitely identify with enjoying “having written” more than actually writing. I think I mentioned before that I like writing the first draft, but editing it so that it’s good enough for an editor to read is torture. However, being done with writing is the most satisfying!
I’ve got set in my own editing routine, which came about from my first book. As I said, I didn’t write it with a view to getting published, but after I’d finished, I decided to put it aside for 6 months, then read it through, in the hope of seeing it with fresh eyes. If I thought it was good enough, I’d send it off.
When I eventually did the reading, what I discovered was that my writing had improved enormously during the course of the book. So I had to edit it, to bring it all up to the same standard – except the same thing happened again.
By the time I’d completely rewritten it six times, my writing was no longer getting better. But by now the novel was too long (250,000 words). However after all the time that had gone by, I had an idea for a shorter novel which I dashed off quickly.
I also let this sit on my hard drive, unread for 6 months – just to be sure. This confirmed my writing had stabilised. However, what I had written wasn’t always the same as what I’d thought I’d had.
When I’m writing, I’m much too close to the story. I need the gap of a few months so I can judge what I’ve written and see how far it’s drifted from what I intended. It’s when I edit that I really learn who my characters are. Their voices become much stronger. I also spot the bits that aren’t working – usually because I had an idea so firmly fixed in my head I didn’t notice when it failed to get onto the paper.
The second shorter novel became The Temple at Landfall. My first marathon effort was not a loss. After yet more editing, it was split in half and became the first two books of the Lyremouth series.
That’s very interesting. I’m fascinated by how different every writer’s process is. It sounds like for you the book has to bake a little bit after it is written, and then you look at it again.
It sounds as if you also had to sit back and evaluate in order to discover who you were writing for. Was there anything more intentionally planned that led you into spec fic? Do you think you’ll stay with it, or do you have plans to explore other genres?
I didn’t really intentionally get into spec fic, except that it’s a genre I’ve always loved, and that’s the kind of idea that tends to occur to me. It’s easier to have a story that’s a little offbeat in spec fic, and I think I can’t help bringing a quirky sensibility to what I write. I would like to explore other genres, but I’m sure I will always want to write spec fic too. I think that LGBTQ spec fic YA is kind of a rare, elusive unicorn—any two of those elements aren’t that hard to find but all three is uncommon. Most LGBTQ YA is set very firmly in our ordinary world. I like the idea that queer teens who enjoy reading dystopian or spec fic novels will be able to see themselves reflected in Swans & Klons.
As a young girl in the 1960s, suitable books had titles like The friendly puppy’s birthday party. Edge of the seat excitement got no more intense than wondering if the sky really would fall on Chicken Little’s head.
Then one day, when I must have been no more than 7, I was allowed to pick my own book from the school library. I got a children’s version (it had big pictures) of the Greek legend of Perseus and Medusa. I can still remember being blown out of my little white cotton socks by a story of a woman with snakes for hair, and a flying hero who cut her head off.
The friendly puppy didn’t get a look in thereafter. I absorbed every scrap of mythology I could find. Which got me, via Arthurian legend, to fantasy and science fiction.
Jane Fletcher is a GCLS award-winning writer and has also been short-listed for the Gaylactic Spectrum and Lambda Literary awards. She is author of two ongoing sets of fantasy/romance novels: the Celaeno series and the Lyremouth Chronicles. As a child, her resolute ambition was to become an archaeologist when she grew up, so it was something of a surprise when she became a software engineer instead. Born in Greenwich, London, in 1956, she now lives in southwest England where she keeps herself busy writing both computer software and fiction, although generally not at the same time.
Nora Olsen was born in 1975 and raised in New York City. Although her mother, a prize-winning author, warned her not to become a writer, Nora didn’t listen. Swans & Klons is her second YA novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Collective Fallout and the anthology Heiresses of Russ 2011: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction. Nora lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her girlfriend, writer Áine Ní Cheallaigh, and their two adorable cats.