Modern Mythmakers: 35 Interviews with Horror & Science Fiction Writers and Filmmakers by Michael McCarty is a gem. A collection of 35 interviews with some of the biggest names in sci-fi and horror fiction and film, this book is chock full of sage advice for those who want to write in these genres, or fans. It gives a down and dirty look at what drives or drove such greats as the late Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, and others who have given us books and films that have become classics.
This is a book that you’ll want to read again and again. It’s now in my reference library, and I proudly award it five stars–only because I can’t give it six.
Starting with this issue, I plan to periodically showcase outstanding Indie authors. R.J. Crayton, who describes herself as a Ninja Mom and author, and who has penned the ‘First Life’ series that can be found on Amazon and other retail book sites. Rather than bore you with my ravings, though, let’s allow R.J. to introduce herself.
1. Tell us about yourself and what you write.
My name is RJ Crayton and I’m your typical All-American gal. I literally come from an All-American city (Peoria, IL, 4-time winner of the “All-America City” award). so far I’ve been writing thrillers with a touch of romance. My first published novels are part of my Life First series. That book is set in a dystopian future whose society lives by the mantra of “Life first.” As such, they put the preservation of life as a whole, above any specific individual and mandated organ donation to needy patients. Kelsey is not game for giving up her kidney, when called upon and flees.
These books were a lot of fun to write, and in them, we really get to know Kelsey, her best friend Susan and Kelsey’s boyfriend Luke. I’m also about to release a short story collection, which is about four different mothers. It’s not really a thriller, but the stories all raise really interesting issues, just like Life First. For example, one story in the collection looks at a woman facing a crisis of faith after her daughter nearly dies from choking, and another looks at a mother-child relationship when the child repeatedly doesn’t live up to the mother’s expectations.
2. What in your life most influences your writing?
They say to write what you know, so I think just everything that’s happened in my life goes into the mix when it comes to writing. Ideas for stories tend to pop into my mind as a kernel or nugget and if it sticks, it will slowly form into a story. My novel Life First was inspired by a news story I saw on a woman who refused to get a c-section because she didn’t want to get “gutted like a pig” and her baby died. There was lots of talk about whether doctors should have done the procedure anyway and the mental stability of the mother, and the like. For me, it led to the question of whose rights do we give precedence to when we’re asking one person to sacrifice their body integrity to save the life of another. Would we ask a man to slice open his body simply to save the life of his child? While the health of an in-utero child and mother are tied to each other, I think the broader question is still applicable. And I wondered what would a society look like if we demanded citizens slice open their bodies and be “gutted like pigs” to save the lives of others. So, Life First was inspired by a news story and my reaction to it. My reaction was probably based, in part, on my own pregnancy, which had some potentially life-threatening complications. Ethically speaking, pregnancy is a really interesting time, because doctors are always measuring the impact of what they do on the health of two people. As a related aside, I’ve been offered morphine twice in my life, and both times were while I was pregnant. Doctors felt my discomfort being alleviated outweighed any potential impacts morphine had on my in-utero baby (I was around 8 months at the time of the offer during each pregnancy). So, life in general impacts the way we process information and think about stories to write.
I’m actually publishing a short story collection next month, and the appendices will discuss my personal connection to each story. For short stories, I tend to write things that are emotionally meaningful to me, rather than riffing off the nugget of an idea I got after reading a news article.
3. What do you enjoy most about writing? What is your biggest challenge?
Most? That’s a tough one to answer. I’ve always loved writing, so I think what I like most is just letting the ideas out, letting what’s in my head flow from me to the keyboard. It’s a nice release. The biggest challenge is editing. It’s always hard to look back over what’s come out and realize it’s not as awesome as it felt coming out. That said, editing is usually where the story starts to shine and really come into its own.
4. Do you outline, or do you just let it flow?
I’m more of a let it flow type. However, when I start a novel, I usually have a general idea of where I want the trajectory to go. I rarely just write without some type of end goal, even if it were to change somewhat by what is written.
5. Where do the ideas for your stories come from?
Hopefully I didn’t misinterpret the earlier question, as I feel like this is touching the same area. But, my ideas tend to just come from life. I’ll just be doing something or reading something, and a thought will come to mind for a cool story. The idea for Life First happened after reading a news article. I have been working on a young adult paranormal story, loosely titled Scented, and the idea came for that when my son (3 at the time) just walked up to me and told me I stank, though I didn’t. It was creepy and weird at the time–at least in my mind; and my mind is all that really matters for the purposes of my writing–and shortly thereafter, I started writing Scented. (Though, I put it aside to write other things; which is good, because it was another 4 years before the other main character in that story emerged in my imagination; That character was also based on a life event).
6. How do you market your work?
Marketing is tough, because it requires platform building and social media and other time-consuming things. I’d prefer to spend time writing, not marketing, but you don’t sell if you don’t market. So, the primary things I do are blog (my own and guests), author interviews, social media (tweeting, facebooking, pinning and recently, tumbling) and the occasional paid advertising. They say the best marketing is to write more books, so I’m trying to do that. It’s one of the reasons I thought I’d release a short story collection.
7. What are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m in a major editing phase. I am editing the third book in the Life First series and I’m editing my short story collection. I need to finish both in the next two weeks. Once I do, I’m going to send my Life First finale (I have yet to give book 3 a name) to beta readers, and the short story collection (called Four Mothers) to an editor. After that, I need to finish writing Scented. I know what I want to happen. I just need to execute it.
8. Where do you see yourself, in terms of your writing, five years from now?
In five years, I hope to have at least 10 books published and to have amassed a good number of readers who enjoy my writing.
9. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think you’ve covered a lot, Charles, so nothing to add by way of general content. However, my dad said it’s always good to close with a joke. So, here’s one my daughter told me the other day. I thought it was cute.
During the month just past, while many of us who are gluttons for punishment struggled to get 50,000 words written for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), there was a ton of comments on just how difficult this is. I managed to do it for the second year in a row, and quite frankly, I found it easier the second time around.
One of the comments that commonly comes up is that novels are so long (45,000 words and up except for the November exercise) that it just seems daunting. Actually, it shouldn’t be. If you stop and think about it, writing a novel, if you are really driven to write, shouldn’t be any more difficult than completing your income tax return – I find it, in fact, a whole lot easier.
If you’re still tentative, let’s look at the math of writing a full length work and see if it can change your mind.
We should start with the basic assumption that almost everyone can type at least 25 words per minute. I know two-finger, hunt-and-peck typists who can do 50 wpm or more, and thanks to a typing class in high school many decades ago, I can still manage 60, but for convenience, let’s use 25 wpm as the starting point.
If, like me, you no longer have a full-time day job to interfere with your creative efforts, that gives you from four to eight hours per day to devote to writing. Let’s use four under the assumption that you haven’t gone completely around the bend. Here then is how the numbers crunch:
– 25 words per minute = 1,500 words per hour. If you write for only four hours per day, you’ll end the day with 6,000 words.
– Assuming you write every day, that gives you 60,000 words in 10 days. If you’ve gone around the bend, and glue yourself to your keyboard for a full eight hours, you get 60,000 words in five days.
That, my friends is the equivalent of a full-length novel in five to ten days.
I know, you’re saying: it doesn’t work that way. Keeping plot threads and characters straight takes time. I have that covered as well. Before you start actually writing the darn thing, I recommend a week to ten days of preparation. Outlining if you swing that way, develop character biographies, plot twists, timelines, etc. Now, you’re ready to write. So, that makes 15 to 25 days to completion. Let it cool off for two days, and then spend another 10 days rewriting and polishing your prose.
In the end, you have your novel in 27 to 37 days from start to finish. I kid you not – the numbers don’t lie.