Indie Author: 10 Quick Questions with Laura M Hughes
For another of the 10 quick questions I've picked... erm... asked one of Fantasy-Faction SPFBO judges to talk about her writing. If you're a member of the FF facebook group, you'll have seen her name mentioned more often as people recommend you read her novelette. Without further ado, here we go.
GRM: Tell us about your book.
LMH: Whoa – straight to the point. I like it!
Danse Macabre is a novelette (more on that later) that I originally had no intention of publishing. It’s a non-linear tale about innocence and sin, grief and revenge, death and hope, written in third person and loosely structured around the Ten Commandments. As you probably gathered, it isn’t epic fantasy but rather a horror-fantasy-contemporary lit hybrid.
At the time, Danse Macabre was the first piece of fiction I’d ever managed to not only finish but also polish until I felt comfortable letting others read it. I’m a real introvert, so sharing was hard at first! But the positive responses I’ve received from readers have really boosted my confidence in my own writing, which has been awesome.
GRM: Where did your inspiration come from?
LMH: In general, a lot of what I write is sparked by the random and the mundane. Just the other day, inspiration struck after I came across a neighbour’s cat sitting in the middle of the road, staring down oncoming cars like Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-Dum; and a WWE wrestler named Finn Balor has (metaphorically) birthed an entire race of badass six-armed Predator-esque humanoids in my WIP.
Most recently, a sinister subplot sprang into being from the comments in my village’s Facebook group. There’s this local urban legend about a pike that lives in the lake, and it’s become a running joke that whenever a petty crime’s been committed but nobody owns up to it . . . well, it must’ve been the pike!
But the idea for Danse Macabre just sort of fell into place, beginning with a short
story competition run by the lovely folks over on bookclubforum.com. The theme was ‘Ten’, hence the whole Ten Commandments idea (original, right?). At the time I’d not long since re-read Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson, which just happens to feature a certain girl named Kettle who lives in a graveyard (of sorts) and murders any unsuspecting ‘bad’ men who threaten her friends.
GMA: Why did you choose to go Self-Published?
LMH: I wasn’t really sure what else I could do. Danse Macabre is an unusual length. It’s too long to be classed as a short story, and it’s too short to label as a novella. Too bad I only found this out when researching magazines and collections to submit to . . .
There were a couple of places that seemed hopeful; but once the rejections came back saying that it “just wasn’t right” for them I decided to go ahead and stick it on Amazon. I realised that I needed constructive critique and impartial feedback on my writing, and decided that self-publishing would provide the best possible platform for me to get my story ‘out there’.
GRM: What was the hardest part about taking this route?
LMH: Eugh. This is so hard to answer without sounding like I’m whingeing, because there were so many aspects of the process that I struggled with. Deciding how to classify Danse Macabre; bigging myself up on social media; having no money to invest in an editor or cover artist and having to do everything myself; etc.
But I’d say that the hardest (and most dispiriting) part of all was The Void. Putting myself out there – exposing myself, in a way: writing is intimate, and sharing is hard – and getting next to nothing in response was really, really disheartening.
I used KDP select to make my story free to download; I advertised it on as many free promotion sites as I could; and later I made it available for Kobo and Nook. Now, it’s been nearly ten months since I first published Danse Macabre . . . and it has a grand total of eight reviews.
But d’you know what? I’m proud of every single one of those reviews. The very first unsolicited review came from a complete stranger, and her enthusiastic comments kept me going. As has every review I’ve had since.
GRM: Morning, afternoon or evening writer?
LMH: Anything I can manage, though I tend to write best early in the morning and (sometimes) late at night. On workdays I set my alarm for 5am, which gives me at least two hours - once I’m showered and dressed and breakfasted – to write/edit before going to work.
GRM: Architect or Gardener? Planner or Pantser?
LMH: I’ll come straight out and admit it: I’m a planning addict, and Scrivener is my enabler.
Seriously. I have four separate Scrivener projects for my main WIP. The notes alone comprise roughly 180k words.
I find it difficult to write a full scene without structure, background, and direction. I don’t just need to know what happens in the scene; I need to know why it’s taking place at all, what it’s going to achieve, etc. At the very least I’ll run through the scene in my mind first, writing up bullet points and adding/changing bits as I go.
I also enjoy writing cryptic hints and double meanings, red herrings and foreshadowing, so I like to have a detailed overall picture before I get down to the individual scenes. In fact, I probably spent as much time planning Danse Macabre as I did writing it!
One downside of being an ‘architect’ is that I often find myself second-guessing scenes and characters that I haven’t even written yet. On the other hand, the majority of my story ideas have grown organically as a result of wondering “what if…?” whilst researching economics, ecosystems, politics and capital punishment. As long as I can make my fondness for planning a strength and not a weakness, I reckon I’ll be fine.
GRM: Silence, music or what when writing?
LMH: In an ideal world, silence. I can’t function when there are LOUD THINGS happening nearby, and I also get distracted fairly easily (particularly by TV, or songs with lyrics). Occasionally I’ll have a listen to some soundtrack-type stuff – Final Fantasy, Dragon Age, Lord of the Rings, Pacific Rim, Apocalyptica – but generally this is just to set the tone and get the ideas flowing when I first sit down to write.
Of course, in the actual world I live next door to a Jack Russell owner in a small terraced house with thin walls and a husband with ADHD. On the rare occasions when he isn’t listening to music, watching TV, playing a game and singing – all at the same time – our three mental cats are chasing each other around, yowling and fighting and knocking things over. Which is all fine . . . but not exactly conducive to productivity!
GRM: What’s the weirdest fact or piece of information you had to research in order to write the book?
LMH: That depends on what you class as ‘weird’, G.R. Is it ‘weird’ that I’ve searched for information on how long a dead body takes to decompose in a wardrobe? Or details on how undertakers deal with ‘excited’ (ahem!) corpses? What about how long it takes for someone to strangle to death? Or--
Oh. Wait. For the book? Erm . . .
I can’t say I did very much fact-finding for Danse Macabre. I wanted the story to be deliberately vague in terms of setting and general details; and so, aside from a bit of surface research about biblical tales and bumblebees, I have nothing to offer.
My current works-in-progress, however, are a different matter. I won’t crush you with the weird and wonderful contents of my internet search history . . . but here’s my favourite awesome thing I’ve researched for my novel:
Mantis shrimps – also known as prawn-killers, sea locusts and thumb-splitters – have a disproportionately enormous claw. They can use this to bash snails and clams, and are notorious for breaking thick aquarium glass (which is terrifying). But the coolest part is that they snap their claws together so quickly that they create cavitation bubbles, which they shoot at their prey to stun it . . . which is why they’re also sometimes referred to as pistol shrimps. And that’s why my WIP features a much bigger version of the mantis shrimp as a key part of the local sealife.
God, I love research.
GRM: To steal (paraphrase) from Rod Stewart, what do you wish that you know now, you knew when you started the journey to a finished and published book?
LMH: You know, G.R., I really wish I’d learned how to give concise answers to interview questions. That way we wouldn’t be in this awkward position where I’ve written more today about myself than I have on my WIP.
Aside from this, I really wish I’d approached a beta reader or two. I didn’t properly begin to engage with the online fantasy writing community until after I’d self-published Danse Macabre. Up until that point (and beyond, to some extent) I didn’t feel confident enough to refer to myself as a ‘writer’; and I was worried about wasting ‘proper’ writers’ time.
That’s changed a bit now, obviously, and I have a very small but awesome circle of mutual beta readers whose opinions I can trust. Talking to like-minded people about my own writing is the best form of therapy ever; and I’ve found that critiquing others’ work is a wonderful way of developing the requisite skills to make my own manuscript better on a daily basis.
GRM: You’re on a deserted island with enough food and water to survive. There no building materials around so you must wait for rescue. What three books would you have with you, to help you pass the time?
LMH: Hmm. I think in that situation I’d want three totally different books to suit different moods.
For something cathartic, I’d probably go for Deadhouse Gates or Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson. Both are spectacular, both are best enjoyed when you have lots of time to devote to them . . . and neither have ever failed to make me cry.
Of course, then I’d need a book by an author who makes me laugh. There are few who manage this as consistently as the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett, and so my second book would most likely be a Discworld adventure. Going Postal, perhaps. Or maybe Wyrd Sisters.
But although I love rereads, I’d probably make the third book something I haven’t read before. The Gunslinger, maybe, or Lord Foul’s Bane. Or perhaps . . . wait. Actually, let’s say Firefall by Peter Watts. I’ve been meaning to get around to it since a good friend sent it to me last year – but it’s HUGE!
Definitely nothing scary, though. If I were stuck on an island, the last thing I’d need is to be worrying about zombies staggering out of the water and trying to eat my brainz . . . or worse, nick my books.
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There are more Indie authors lined up, ready to answer the questions and tell you all about themselves. Check back when you can. (Mantis Shrimp from futurism.com)