Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What Exactly Do You Write, Rachel?

The title of this post is a question I get often. If you follow me on Twitter and kindly put up with my barrage of tweets come #pitmad, you probably have an idea, but some of my IRL friends have recently asked this, because, well, outside of this blog, I actually don't talk about my work that often.

Well, why not?

Mostly because you don't talk about narrative techniques and antagonist death scenes during social gatherings. Well, I don't. If you do, more power to you.

However, I do get asked what I write at social gatherings. Usually the conversation goes like this:

"So you like to write?"

"Yeah, I've been doing it for a while now."

"So, like short stories? Or poetry?"

"No, more like 80,000 word novels."


Yes, I do. Let's break it down into a nice list, because I like nice lists. It's a plotter thing :D

What I Write:

I write novels. My shortest is 30,000 words long (about as long as one of the Narnia books) and my longest is about 90,000 (about as long as FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING). In all, since 2013 I have written an estimated total of half a million words (about the length of LES MISERABLES or WAR AND PEACE).

All of my books except two are some form of speculative fiction, meaning fantasy, sci-fi, or magical realism. Out of my completed novels, I have one Young Adult space opera, a YA urban fantasy trilogy (that is about to be overhauled), a YA/Adult Historical Fantasy (that I'm working toward getting published), a YA epic fantasy, and a Middle Grade adventure fantasy.

In the books I'm currently working on, I have a YA/Adult Historical Fantasy (sequel to the one previously mentioned), a YA tragic weird western set in the 1920s, a MG urban fantasy about Jack the Giant Slayer's enter-a-million-greats-granddaughter, a YA contemporary, and another YA epic fantasy. I also have plans for a light YA urban fantasy involving pirates set in Charleston, a dark YA Time Travel, a YA magical realism featuring a Les Mis fan fiction writer set in Tulsa, and a Women's Fiction historical comedy set in the Dutch Baroque.

My work tends to be the fantastic grounded in reality. All my fantasy worlds are based on historical cultures.

I also have written some short stories and short plays for contests and have won awards for them.

Me with the awesome cast of my short play Viral back in 2013

How I Write:

Either downstairs in the dining room or up in my room, either late morning or mid-evening. I always have scene-appropriate music playing through my headphones, and I always eat beforehand. I write about a thousand words a day, six days a week, or at least try to. Some of my books I handwrite first (those of you who have been to my house know this by the massive stacks of notebooks by my bed), and then type. A lot of people tell writers these days to just sit down and write, and not worry about perfection: I can't do that. I'm rather meticulous with word choice, which means I take a lot longer to finish projects.
A photo posted by Rachel Stevenson (@rachelstevensonwsw) on

My writing spot. That's my YA/Adult Historical Fantasy right there. And there's Carolina raspberry tea in the mug, if you were wondering :D

I'm a flexible plotter and write down plotlines, character concepts, and world build before writing. Many of my ideas stay in my head for about a year (sometimes two) before I put them down at all.

My itsy-bitsy handwriting in the margins to save paper.

What Inspires Me:

History. Light. Landscapes. Cultures. Studying what drives people to do what they do. People in general. Usually my books start with a picture in my head of a character in a setting and a story that builds around it. What if? It's the speculative writer's favorite question.

Some random pictures in my inspiration folder:

Some music I've listened to most recently while writing:

Mirie It Is  (This WILL get stuck in your head)

I gravitate toward soundtrack and classical. The King's Speech, The Adventures of Tintin, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Hugo, The Chronicles of Narnia, and BBC's Emma are all favorite go-to's of mine. 

Well, that's all for now. If you'd like to ask me any questions, I'm going to be having a Q+A vlog sometime soon, so feel free to ask! :D

And of course, when people ask me about my writing, they usually ask for me to send some of it to them. If you ask me this, please don't be hurt if I don't! I'm probably still polishing it, which takes a long time and a lot of mental elbow grease. But since you all do ask me this, here's a sample from my current YA weird western work-in-progress, UNIVERSITY BESIEGED:

I hate pomp and circumstance, even on the Emmie level.

Darby sits across from me, twirling her spoon in her maple syrup as the others laugh through their breakfast. The long line of pushed-together tables, of mismatched heights under one bubbled tablecloth, bumps up and down under my elbows. I reach over others’ hats and dishes for chili sauce and spoon some over my wiggling eggs.

Breakfast at Ladybird Diner and General Store. That’s our Emmie outlet’s idea of pomp and circumstance. I thought maybe just my squad would be there for the send off, but I show up and not only do I hear that we’ve got two other girl students joining us en route, but the whole dadgum outlet’s here. Woohoo.

“A toast,” says the outlet captain, shoving his squealing chair back over the dirty tile floor.

He punches the air with his orange juice and waves at me and Darby. Darby smiles weakly. A bunch of weatherworn faces, butter and crumbs clinging to the corners of their grins, turn in our direction, but especially me. They know I hate this.

I’d like to melt into my eggs, now, please.

“To Bobby and Darby, our Ladybird U entrants!”

They all start whooping and clapping and slopping juice and coffee over the table and each other’s sleeves. Marty’s down toward the end chanting something I’m glad I can’t hear.

Darby smirks and clinks her glass on my mug. “Here to, classmate of mine.”

Noise, noise, noise. We’re getting sidelong looks from regulars in corners from over the edges of their newspapers. The newspaper headlines screech, “HAROLD TOWN DEVOURED,” and “LADYBIRD UNIVERSITY SEND OFF PUSHED FORWARD DUE TO SAND.”

I swallow coffee and let it scorch my throat, pretending it’s the most preoccupying thing in the world. But then this beanpole ginger Fish girl I had seen working the General Store counter comes rushing over with laden trays, squawking, “All right, all right, fellas, that’s enough rowdiness. You’ll scare my customers.”

“If anyone’s scary, it’s them,” says Marty in classic Marty poor comeback attempt.

The Fish girl glares at him as she slams down her delivery of crockery. She straightens both her back and her pinned mop of unusually long hair, faces us with arms akimbo, and says, crystal-clear and dignified, “Anything more you gents and dolls gonna be needing?”

“No thanks, Miss Juliet. Jist maybe clear off some of this stuff,” says the outlet captain.

“Right,” says Juliet.

I recognize her name. She’s one of the University entrants. Marty delivered her letter, so no wonder I didn’t know her face.

“She coming with us?” I ask Darby.

“Reckon so.”

“Ginga!” yells Juliet, yanking her sleeves up and marching off back to the General Store Counter, where stacks of guys with stupid raises to their eyebrows are crowding round.

“How do, Miss Juliet?” asks one too slickly.

“You shut up,” she says.

But then out from the kitchen comes a Nudge girl covered in flour, blanching her dark skin. Exhaustion and irritation drips from her face as she makes for our table, pushing past other chairs. The fellas are piling up dishes for her and passing them down.

“You people the Emmie send-off party?” she asks, cocking her head.

“Yes, we are,” outlet captain says, and then points at me. “Bobby and Darby are our send-offs.”

“I think I’m going with you all,” Ginga says, rolling plates into her wide grasp.

There’s an awkward pause, like none of us know what to say next. I genuinely don’t, but I know some of the others have feelings about Nudges that aren’t kosher. You can hear their thoughts floating over their heads.

You? How’d you get in?

But watching her work and the fire in her eyes as she lugs a stack of dining residue taller than her into the kitchen without even anyone’s offer to help, I know one thing. That girl is determined, maybe even moreso than Juliet who was slapping words with her flirty customers behind her counter.

“All right,” says the outlet captain, as soon as Juliet snatches up his check and dashes back into the kitchen, hollering, “Ginga, Ginga!”

He stands up again, cueing us to do the same. I feel my breakfast settle in my stomach as I sling my hat over my hair and my lone pack of things over my shoulder. As we slowly start filing out of the place, ignoring “good riddance” faces from the other diners, Juliet and Ginga come tumbling out after us.

Juliet sidles between me and Darby, shouldering her trunks. Someone in our crew takes one for her, she thanks them, and turns towards us. “You an Emmie, too?” she asks Darby.

Darby responds levelly, “Mhm.”

I skirt away from them. The Nudge girl Ginga is eyeing me, dragging her suitcase along behind her, but I ignore her too.

Around my neck and half-under my collar is Shot’s hair, knotted into a clumsy braid. On it’s tied one of Step-Momma’s rings, Daddy’s punched bullet shells, and a small Ijjer wood charm Marty carved me. I had painstakingly painted Momma’s initials on it the night prior, and showed the whole kaboodle to Daddy that early morning when I set out from our shack.

He had stood there leaning on the doorway, pipe in hand, watching me go. His last words to me were, “Walk on, son. You walk on, Bobby MacFarlane.”

Daddy never cried. He didn’t then. Wish I could say the same for me, but I didn’t let him see.

I’m fine now. Just don’t wanna hear none of Darby and Juliet’s chat.

I breathe. Ladybird University, here I come.

None of us really know where we’re going. We get instructions in our acceptance letters, cuz the University’s so hidden. I think of Mr. Johnny Marker and his dreadlocks and wonder what his life is like, being a University instructor.

The instructions? Wait at the train station. So we do. We all huddle on the platform, a clump of dirty, mismatched life, most of us half or fullbloody Ijjers, and the few other people hanging around the freshly painted station giving us the same looks as the people in the diner.

Darby comes and stands next to me, her lips twisted as we stare at empty, dusty track leading out into glaring plains.

“Geez and crums. That Juliet girl talks,” she says.

I laugh softly and bump her elbow.

And we wait. We wait till Juliet’s sitting with her legs dangling off the platform, Ginga’s leaning on a pole by a bucket of half-hearted petunias, and some of our Emmies apologetically leave with just as half-hearted congrats. Soon only we four are hanging around, eyes to the west.

It’s not a train we’re looking for.

We’ve read the University novels.

And then something shimmery flickers on the swimming horizon. Juliet jack-in-the-boxes up and exclaims, “I see it! I think I see it!”

Eyes squint from under hands.

“’Bout time,” says Ginga sourly.

Juliet flings her hands up over her mop of pinned carrot hair and shrieks, waving, “Yay! Y’all, we’re going to Ladybird University!”

“Is it it, Bobby?” Darby asks me, ignoring the other girls.

“I think so.”

The curtain of dusty wind finally fiddles out of the way, and chrome glints in our direction.

“There it is!” Juliet is howling.

There it is. The Ladybird University trolley car, striped navy blue and white and candy pink with a fresh silver roof, rattling down the tracks. I know it has twenty-one seats, one for me.

And we’re gonna ride it, just like the heroes of the University novels.


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  2. Oh my goodness, Rachel you have made my life! I drink raspberry tea while writing too, I kinda flipped out when I read that you drink raspberry tea.

    1. I know! I love fangirling about weird things like tea! =^.^=

  3. This is interesting! I was listening to an interview with N. D. Wilson recently and apparently he used to write 3,000 words a day when he first tried novels. And yay for the Houses of Healing!

    1. I love N.D. Wilson!! I don't know if I could handle 3,000 words a day, though. And Houses of Healing is one of my favorite pieces <3 Thanks for reading!!

  4. **prepare yourselves for a rather long comment**
    Oh, my! This is the first post of yours that I have read, but I'm already very interested! Quite a captivating post (yes, I found this post captivating)!

    I am also an author, though I've only ever finished 1 novel, which has 21,227 words; not nearly as many as yours, but it was my first novel, so, I'm pleased with myself.
    I don't have a specific "spot" where I write, but the two places where I write are either (a) sitting up on my bed with my laptop, or (b) sitting at my desk in front of a window.
    Inspiration folder...? Ooh! I should make one of those! I drink Cinnamon-Apple Tea while I write, and--depending on the genre of the story--I listen to classical music or dubstep, but never anything with words (I have a horrible tendency to write/type down what I hear).
    Ah, yes. People asking for some of my "work" (that's the only word I could think of, but it makes me sound rather--eh, snooty?) is something that happens to me as well. However, I like sending people my drafts so that they can give me much-needed critique. My problem is my chronic Writer's Block, making me take long stops from my writing. Hence, my friends will repeatedly ask to see my stories, and I'll feel like I'm letting them down by not having anything to give them.

    As for the story itself, I can only think of one word to describe it, and this may be spelled wrong; SUPERCALLIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS!

    Again, I loved your post! I'll check out some more posts, but I'm 97.6% sure you just got yourself another follower :D!

    Over excitedly,
    ~Bekah the Bookworm

    1. Hello! I'm so glad you enjoyed reading! :D And yes, I have a hard time listening to music with words while writing, too. And oh, isn't writer's block the worst?

      Thanks so much again! :D Your comment made my day!

  5. How could I NOT enjoy reading? It was wonderful! And, yes, Writer's Block is TERRIBLE.

    No problem! I'm glad my comment made you happy :)

    ~Bekah the Bookworm