We write. We rant. We wrestle the magic.
The Caged Blog Tour winds its way through the interwebs and stops at my (very) humble corner today. The book is already receiving rave reviews so I’m particularly fortunate that the author herself, J.A. Belfield, took the time to answer my jabs in the shape of questions. The author, now roughly seven books into her Holloway Pack series, talks craft, earning a decent living and the benefits of working while still in her pj’s in our slightly unbalanced interview.
The Stabby Pen: Writing is kind of terrible right?
J.A. Belfield: Ha! Depends from which aspect, I guess. 😉
How often do your friends have to pay for your groceries?
Ah, that aspect. Yeah, unfortunately, unless you’re one of those sensations who just happens to get noticed in all the right places at all the right times by all the right people, reaching the point of shareable* income can take some time (or even never happen at all). You planning on being an author because you want money? Get over it. Get a proper job. It’s faster, easier, and you’ll lose less hair.
*shareable, as in not too embarrassed to tell folk when they ask. Because they ALWAYS ask, right? Though I think it’s more a curiosity because so many outside of the industry base the vision of being an author on the J.K. Rowling’s and Steph Meyer’s of the bookish world rather than because they believe they have the right to know what you’re earning.
You’re three (ish) books into the series. How have your characters (Ethan, Sean and Jem) evolved over time? In your mind and on the page.
Hmmm, interesting question. I think Jem and Sean have evolved a lot in themselves as individuals, but also as a couple. Jem didn’t really understand the concept of assertiveness in the first Holloway Pack novel, but she’s more than happy to stand up for herself now. And Sean no longer lives life as though his decisions are his own to make, but as though they are those of a tied team. The romantic aspect of their relationship has definitely grown, too, and the bond is stronger, and more vibrant for readers to see.
As for Ethan, he’s grown in ‘size’ to me. Think Matrix: “Because I’m taller than you …” kinda grown. He started out as a mere side character. No more than Sean’s brother. I never intended for readers to fall for him—they were supposed to fall for Sean. The wittiness of his character, as well as his gruffness, didn’t happen as an accident, per se, but more as a subconscious effort. He sounded that way in my head, so I wrote him that way in my book. It’s been great to show the development of his relationship with Jem, and his acceptance of her, especially through Blue Moon—I mean, he tried to kick her off the property the first time they met. Whilst they don’t have as much chance to interact in Caged, there’s enough Jem and Ethan time to show how their relationship has grown deeper still.
This is what I love about choosing to give each of the pack members (aside from Sean) their own novels, so the readers can finally get to fully see and understand what each of them are all about on the inside, which we lose a little of from others’ POVs.
How do you keep readers believing that the dangers you throw at your titular characters pose a real threat? How do you avoid that sense of manufactured danger?
A little like with the birth of Ethan’s character. Mostly, my story is just a story inside my head. A concept. A brief idea. And I start writing and don’t stop until the muscled wolfy howls (<<see what I did there?). I don’t consciously attempt to inject pain, or fear, or emotion, or danger into a situation. It’s just the story to me. I write it how it sounds in my head, just let the muse take over, switch off to my conscious thoughts and give my subconscious the reins now and again. Those are often the best moments for me. Because when my head lets me go this deep, the read-through I do the following day usually results in a lot lotta: Dude! Did I write this? I love surprising even myself.
Hmm, did I even answer the question?
Pick a color and a feeling that coincides with your inspiration. What are they and how long do they last?
I think the colour likely changes with each book. For Darkness & Light, there was a lot of grey, until Jem finally figured out her definition of darkness & light was skewed. For Blue Moon, there was a lot of mustard for jealousy and hurt, and midnight for the despair, and plenty of crimson for the rage. For Caged, though, Ethan was all about the red, because his desperation and determination and anything else he feels does a pretty decent job of fueling his temper.
As for a ‘feeling’, for all of my books, an underlying hint of desperation is definitely lurking—but that’s probably for me, and the desperation that drives me to work through it and achieve nurturing what’s no more than an inkling of an idea into a full-scale creation, as well as the desperation I try to instil in my character for their situations bleeding through to affect my easily-affected mind.
All of these remain with me for weeks after I’ve completed the novels. Then they all re-emerge when it’s time for those suckers called edits.
Admit it, it’s all in your head right?
Ha! It’s funny you should say this. When I discuss with others what I do for a living, a lot of folk have asked me: Do you enjoy it? and I always tell them: I get to stay home, in my PJ’s if I feel like it, and spend the day making s*** up. What do you think?
Obviously, there’s way more to writing a full-bodied book than that, but it always gets a giggle.
When were your most anxious times writing Caged? Your most triumphant?
Oh, wow. Tough question. I think my most anxious time was around the 70% mark. I’d written a few action scenes by that point. I usually mingle my action with romance when it comes to Jem’s POV, which I couldn’t do so much for Caged because … well, you’ll have to read and see. Anyhoo, I was getting exhausted from writing all the CAPOW!ing—I get inside my peeps’ heads pretty deep, you know?—and I knew I still had more action to come, as well as a heap-load of emotional meltdown (thanks to putting my MC through the wringer) … and I convinced myself I couldn’t do it. I wanted to delete the entire manuscript and forget I’d even had the idea to write stories for all my male Holloway Pack members. Quit whilst I was ahead.
A couple of writer buddies of mine went CRAZY at me when I hinted where my head was at in a kind of demonic version of: DON’T YOU DAAAAAAAAARRRRRRREEEEEE!!!!!! By that point, the first reviews were coming in for Darkness & Light, too, and the encouragement of my fledgling readers helped me buck my ideas up, pull up my socks, and stop being such a defeatist.
As for the most triumphant? Actually, most of the way through. Ethan’s POV was my first full length novel for a male, so the book in its entirety was a challenge. Keeping up his personality for an entire novel was pretty exhausting, too. So, pretty much every time I completed a chapter, and, with it, another little phase of the book, I sat back, sighed, and thought: yes!
William Faulkner once said, “you have to learn to kill your darlings” in regard to writing. What do you think?
I agree. Want proof? Here are my figures for word count:
Darkness & Light 1st draft: 161,000 – Darkness & Light published copy: 113,000 (approx).
Blue Moon 1st draft: 159,000 – Blue Moon Published copy: 99,000
I’m a big believer of telling the story in as few words as possibly (something I had to learn with practice), because it heightens the pace and pushes the story forward faster. Also, when I wrote my short story: Escort into Insanity for the Make Believe anthology, I realised at one point my muse wouldn’t work because he (yes: he) didn’t like the direction I was trying to take the story. I deleted about a quarter of my tale, and started again from the point I’d last been sure of the way. Luckily, by Caged and Unnatural, I kinda got my act together, but I did delete a scene from Caged, and then patched the story up around it, at my editors request. So, yep: lose those unnecessary blighters.