The Hardest Part of Writing…

A few years ago I would have said that editing was the hardest part of writing. Today, however, editing is one of my favorite parts of the process because I’ve learned how to accept that a rough draft is crappy no matter what.

So much red ink…

Accepting that fact has freed me to laugh at myself when I find typo’s in a work, and to scratch out passages that aren’t fitting right.

So, editing is not the hardest part of writing anymore. (At least for me, other writers may feel differently.)

Writing the synopsis is and always will be a freak show that makes me hide under my desk. Crunching down a novel into its bare essentials and trying to make it sound interesting at the same time feels a bit like taking a potato peeler to raw skin.

But, the synopsis only comes toward the end of the writing process. I’ve heard of people who write them first, but my endings are always up in the air when I start so that doesn’t work for me.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that my “muse” has to be present in order for me to get work done, so catering to her (I’ve always imagined her as a glittery wood sprite hiding in my plants, don’t ask me why) isn’t a part of my daily writing regime either. I put my batoosh in a chair and I start working. Sometimes she shows up. Most of the time I’m just arranging words on the page and praying they make sense.

The Pest who probably ate my muse.

Finding ideas isn’t hard either. Ideas are everywhere, I just have to pay attention.

So what is the hardest part of writing?

Today I’m going to say… beginnings.

Beginnings have to engage the reader and convince them to keep reading. They have to set the tone of the story, introduce the main character, hint at the main conflict – or at least a starting conflict – and avoid backstory like the plague.

Endings are hard too but beginnings are what make or break you.

And nobody can agree on how to successfully begin a story, either.

“Start in the middle of the action!”

“No! Don’t start in the middle of the action! Give us some set up so we care about who the action is happening to!”

“Do both at the same time!”

“Start where the story begins.” – AKA – No prologues, please.

Now, if you’re an author, please don’t feel discouraged. Beginnings are hard, but they are also editable. So if you begin your story and it’s not doing what you want it to, revise it on the next round.

Sedition went through five beginnings. FIVE.

Persona had three.

And right now I’m dealing with a new novel that has managed to go through two beginnings already and I only started working on it this month. (Hence the blog post about beginnings.)

So if you’re struggling with your beginning today, rest assured that you’re not the only one. We all go through it. The difference between a writer and a hobbyist is whether or not they’re willing to scratch it all and rewrite.


Let’s Talk About Fantasy

My writing career started with Sedition, a fantasy novel about a pair of brothers trying to Sedition-WEBrescue their mother. The book went through several revisions – and so many titles it hurts my head to think about  – but in January of 2011 its story line was set in stone.

(Mostly because the publishing house would have smacked me if I tried altering anything after the Galley Proofs were done.) 

When I first started writing it, I was doing it for fun. I enjoyed stories and wanted to tell one, so I started writing snippets on 3×5 cards that I carried with me wherever I went.

Fans of the novel might be surprised to learn that Trenna Croften was not the original hero. In fact, the book began with Brigetta Isleen Chridhe – the woman magically abducted from home and dropped in the middle of a political war between a King and his sons.

I learned about Kiavana – the kingdom where the first book takes place – through Brigetta because she was just as new to the stage as I was. At the time I knew very little about writing, so I stumbled through the countryside right along with Brigetta, encountering senile knights who continually “squired” whoever happened to be the most helpful, and a prince who hid his motivations under a veneer of disinterest and materialism.

As I began to uncover the secrets of the world I was creating, Trenna Croften emerged. In fact, her first appearance was the scene where she interrupted an assassination attempt on the eldest prince. When she asked if assassins were paid well, she made me laugh, and essentially stole the book from there.

Saboteur-WEBOr… well… a whole series, as it turns out.

Saboteur, the sequel to Sedition, was released in January of 2012 and in February we will see Usurper make its way onto virtual shelves.

While Brigetta may have been reduced to a minor character in the original novel, I’m happy to report that she has a much larger role in Usurper. I had thought that writing her would be easy since I knew so much about her origins, but as it turns out I was wrong.

For the timeline of the novels, it has been over 20 years since we last saw Brigetta and she has undergone quite a few changes. She’s a Blood Mage, for one, and for another… she married an assassin. (Because apparently I can’t get away from assassins in these novels.) Her voice is different because she has changed as a character, so I had to re-learn who she was in order to portray her correctly.

Now, I recognize that it has been many years since Saboteur was released and I do UC front cover-sample-2apologize for that. Usurper was a joy to write, it truly was. But between school and being a full-time single-parent and working full-time and… ahem… my other novels (Is it weird I feel like I cheated by writing all that science fiction in the interim?)… I just didn’t have enough time to do it all.

I should take this moment to mention that there is at least one other book – Warpath – that I am constructing. It isn’t on the list for this year, but will be next year. The good news is that much of Warpath is already done because part of my problem with Usurper was that I was trying to pack two books into one.



Birthday Shenanigans and Release Buzz

I know, I know. I probably should have mentioned all the birthday shenanigans over the last week but … Hey, I was busy doing fun things.

Like visiting Craters of the Moon and going to the movies and eating steak and having pie. (I maintain that pie is better than cake.)

But in the middle of all of that, I also have been reminding people about Persona’s May 1st release date. 

Persona took me over a decade to write.

That’s right, over a decade. I started writing it when I was 19-20 years old and then life happened and I stopped writing and while this could have been considered a “trunk novel” … I just couldn’t let it go.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a “trunk novel” I’ll go ahead and explain. You see, there are many professionals out there who say you need to write a couple of novels to get the feel of storytelling and learn the mechanics of the writing craft. These beloved little first creations are known as “trunk novels” because they are supposed to be buried inside a trunk and never see the light of publication.

The general consensus seems to be 5 trunk novels, with the 6th novel you write coming close to publication quality. And once those five are written, you bury them and/or burn said trunk, thereby assuring that your terrible first-tries never tempt you into touching them again.

Persona, whose title underwent many changes over the last decade, would have been my 2nd attempt at novel writing.

Now, I’m not vain enough to say that the early drafts of this book were any good. In fact, they were awful. So very, very awful. And if I were going solely on the plot concept, this book would have been burnt with the other trunk novels.

But … Megan was too compelling a character for me.

She is an independent, strong character without moving into the cliches of the woman-warrior. In fact, she doesn’t fight … not physically, anyway.

Her choices are what make her strong.

So, back in 2013, I decided to pick her up again. While I kept the novel based in WWII, 98% of the plot was altered. I kept only Megan and a handful of characters from the first work, which I imagine means I burnt the trunk novel after all.

I’m not sure what I did here could be considered a “rewrite” given how much of the story changed. Still, her beginnings were in my youth and I remember those first attempts with a great deal of fondness.

Writing Persona taught me quite a lot about being an author. I learned to cut things I held dear and to dig deeper into the minds of my characters – even the ones I never gave a true voice in the work.

I am proud of Persona, both because I love the story and because it is a clear map of my improvement as an author. I hope many other people can be inspired by Megan’s journey to understand herself and the world around her.


AJMaguire-PersonaCoverArt-ChrisHoward_rev28_ART_ONLYNothing is more important than who you choose to be, and for Megan Shepherd that choice has never been more important or more terrifying. In the middle of WWII, her ship is sunk in the Atlantic and all of her hopes and dreams for a new life translating papers for the JTLS in Britain sink with it. When she’s picked up by Germans she discovers that her understanding of the language is the only thing keeping her alive.

While under the scrutiny of the local SS, Megan’s plot to escape the country is derailed when escaped POW Sam Layton lands on her doorstep.  As the Allied Advance begins to box in the Third Reich, Megan and Sam make a mad dash for the Swiss border. But the truth never stays buried for long and those Megan has tricked are out for vengeance.

Fact vs. Fiction – Historical Novels

Persona is my first attempt at the historical fiction genre and while I love history, I found writing within the confines of known facts difficult. This isn’t too surprising given all my other novels are fantasy or science fiction, but it was still an eye-opener for me.

Take, for instance, the very first chapter of the novel.

Without giving too many spoilers, I can tell you that my main character – whose name underwent several changes throughout the editing process – is traveling to England. Young Megan Shepherd couldn’t stay home, not with her father breathing down her neck about the engagement she just called off, so she answers the call to help translate papers for the war effort in Europe.

The very first version of this novel had Megan in a big, noisy, military airplane.

Said airplane was shot down. There was a lot of action in that first chapter. It was exciting and fun and I loved it.

But …

Given that Megan is not in the military, she would not have been on such a plane. And even if she had been in the military, they did not often fly personnel like Megan to and from their respective workplaces.

SO … I had to change it.

Thus, the opening chapter of Persona has Megan on board a boat – the SS Ceramic.

And yes, that’s a real boat. I know the name is a trifle alarming. I’m not certain I would have boarded a boat called Ceramic, but it existed and it became one of the wonderful things I learned about while researching for this book.

Still, this serves as an example of one of the things History made me change about the novel. While I was able to stretch a few things elsewhere in the book or gloss over some of the others, I couldn’t risk losing the reader’s trust in the very first chapter of the novel. I had to find an alternative, something to show that I really had done my homework and that I was going to be respectful both to the history I was working in and to the reader’s intelligence.

I admit that historical fiction feels like more of a gamble to me than many of the other genres. When we’re dealing with science or fantasy, readers automatically walk into it with the sense that they are going to “suspend disbelief” for a portion of the book. They accept that they are walking into the fictional world and want to see what we can make of it.

Not so with historical fiction, and especially not so with something as well known and documented as World War II. While I need the reader to suspend disbelief a little, to accept that Megan Shepherd is not a real person, many of the events she walks through ARE real. And I had to treat them real.

Because people died there.

A lot of people died there, actually. And to treat it with anything less than the utmost respect would have been wrong.

Persona is scheduled to be released on May 2, 2017


Old School Textbooks

Alright, so I graduated in 2014 and the textbooks aren’t that old. Still, I did graduate (cum laude, thank you very much)  and I haven’t touched them since. In fact, the whole school thing feels very distant to me now.

Did I really manage to go to school for three straight years, no summer breaks, all while holding down a full-time job, caring for my child as a single parent, and somehow finding the time to write?

How in blazes did I do that?

I must be a superhero, seriously. Or I had divine Grace on my side.

It’s probably divine Grace.

Anyway, I decided to pick up one of the old history books this week and start re-reading it, this time for fun.

Yes, reading a textbook can be fun. And in this case, it was both fun AND inspiring. While reading The Heritage of World Civilizations, I stumbled over one sentence that threw my creative muse into a whirlwind.

It was about plastered skulls as memorial art in the Neolithic Period and I decided I had to use that somewhere. It has become a detail I’ll be putting in Swans (the Fantasy I’ve been working on) and with a little brainstorming with a very handsome and intelligent man, I have sealed it into the outline.

One line in a history book and suddenly I have a really cool, fun detail and sequence of events to follow through my novel.

Old textbooks are fun. Really. If you have some lingering at home you should pick one up. I’m not sure how Accounting 101 or Trigonometry might help in a novel, but I have every faith in your creative powers. There might be something in there you can use, you just have to take the time to look.

A More Textured Story

Stories are not just about the characters on the page. True, they hold the bulk of our attention, but they would not exist outside of the world in which they live. We’re taught as authors that in order to sell the books that we write, we have to have character and conflict.

There are even formulas we are given while attempting to write query letters that focus solely on the character and the plot. But when push comes to shove, a lot of us aren’t reading a novel to see character and plot.

No, we’re there to experience a new culture. We’re there to meet more than just the protagonist, we’re there to see the kind of world that only the author could dream up.

We want to explore big ideas, such as the Trappist system that was just discovered by NASA. How many people are already imagining what it might be like to live there?

I certainly know I am.

But then, I did the same thing with Gliese – which is about 20 light years away from Earth and has several little planets orbiting it.

Gliese became the “shadow of the Big Bad” for my book Tapped. Rather than Earth being the host of civilization, I moved humanity to Gliese and made Earth a backwater town.

I have plans for Gliese. Big plans. Epic plans that I’m excited to implement in the coming novels. (And with Trappist just being discovered and all, you can bet I’ll be finding a way to nudge them into the Tapped series too.)

But beyond exploring new places, novels are also supposed to highlight the complexities of human nature. We read them to help us understand ourselves and the world around us. We just get to do it while jumping from planet to planet or befriending a dragon.

The texture of our stories is what makes them memorable. Harry Potter would not be nearly as memorable without Hogwarts and its talking paintings, moving stairwells, and history. Sure, we got a story about good vs. evil, but we got on broomsticks and with wands.

So how do you create this texture in a novel without info-dumping or making the book so long nobody will dare pick it up?

Well … I can tell you what I do.

I write the first draft.

And I don’t think about how long it is. I just write it. Anything and everything. Flashbacks, lengthy info-dumps, whatever I need to understand the depth of my own story.

And then … I edit.


Problem Characters and How to Negotiate

Since beginning Usurper I have had one character in particular who troubles me; Evaliana Auliere Dyngannon.

Nice long name, I know. She goes by Liana, for obvious reasons. Who wants that mouthful every time you’re being spoken to?

Liana and I constantly have issues, which I know makes me sound insane but I’m an author so I’m allowed. (I hope.) But when push comes to shove, every time I try to write in her point of view I end up hating the scene.

Loathing the scene.

It’s too shallow.

There’s not enough oomph to the character.

I don’t know her the way I know Trenna (her mother) or Nelek (her father) or even Kaden (her brother). She’s this … anomaly outside of her family.

Or inside it, however you want to look at it.

She is … angsty.

And I hate angsty.

Seriously, I avoid angsty with all my power.

But as I’m going through this edit I’ve come to the understanding that … I’m going to have to deal with angst. In order for Liana to be a three dimensional character on the page, she has to be allowed to explain why she’s so … arrrgh! About everything.

So …

I keep her scenes fairly brief.

I just have to. For my own sanity.

Until she grows up and gets over herself, she has a limited word count. (This is part of the reason I don’t do the Young Adult market all that well, can you tell?)

In return, I let her angst all she wants for that limited word count.

And then, once the angst has been written/edited/dealt with in some manner, I get chocolate.


Those are my negotiations … with my fictional character … who only lives in my head and on the page …

Yeah, I know how crazy it sounds.