By the way, what is Traska?

For this week’s Writing Wednesday, I’ve decided to give you all a look into the city of Traska, the fictional setting of The Thieves of Traska. The name is actually derived from a couple of real places I’ve visited many times in Michigan: Traverse City and Kalkaska.

I remember being in the car about two years ago, traveling between Michigan and Virginia with my family. All I had was an idea to expand a short story about a thief breaking out of jail — I still needed a new name for that thief, a location, a plot, and just about everything else. Every so often, I wrote down the names of cities and towns we passed through, picking apart the sounds I liked in each. After testing a few options on my family, I decided on Traska.

Even the Toskey River, which cuts through the city, got its name from the petoskey stones my family collects in Michigan. Though the landscape and the names are inspired by my time up north, the city is nothing like what I’ve seen there.

This is a partial image of an unfinished painting of Traska from the earlier drafts. The city was smaller, but still occupied the north and south banks of the Toskey River.

And now, for your reading pleasure, an excerpt from The Thieves of Traska about the city itself. As the book is yet unpublished, the following text is subject to change before being finalized.

Excerpt

Late in the morning, the forest ended abruptly, cut back for farming. The ground sloped upward, a number of farmhouses and villages dotting the countryside. Further ahead, Claire could make out the serene blue of a bay, rounded mountains spanning the horizon, and a river that popped in and out of sight among clumps of forest. If she had to guess, that was the Toskey River, and it fed right into the bay.

And the dark shape next to it could only be Traska.

Before reaching the city proper, they passed through a town that spread along the edge of the bay all the way to the massive stone wall surrounding Traska. According to locals, the area was called Skeggs, though they couldn’t agree on whether it was a town on its own or one of Traska’s districts.

As they neared the gate separating Skeggs from Traska, they entered a swelling stream of people bustling in and out of the gate. Once Claire and Garrison passed under the shadow of the gate, the air had a different charge to it. She could feel the life of the city pulsing around her and in the bluish stones beneath her feet. The sounds of peddlers hawking goods and horse-drawn carts rattling by carried over the crowd from an open marketplace further up the road and echoed off stone and mortar walls. There wasn’t a single building in sight with fewer than two floors; some towered more than twice that further in. The buildings were the same blue-grey as the roads, many of them displaying glittering tiled mosaics on one wall or another.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek into The Thieves of Traska! Be sure to check back on the blog for details on my upcoming giveaway to celebrate the fourth draft.

Writing Process Blog Tour

Dave Higgins invited me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour (and, incidentally, wrote the best bio paragraph of me I’ve ever read). I greatly enjoy Dave’s writing and his input, and I’m glad he’s given me this opportunity to ramble on about my writing process.

What am I working on?

The main focus of my efforts is The Thieves of Traska. I finished the first run-through two months ago and am currently filling in gaps and fixing plot holes.

Last week, I started a side project called Asra the Shade. It centers on one of the side characters in The Thieves of Traska, and was originally going to be a webcomic to help promote the full novel. However, since the all the sequential artists I’ve contacted have fallen through, I decided to turn the story into a novella.

My self-imposed deadline for The Thieves of Traska is fall 2015, but I fully expect to have Asra the Shade done first.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I tend not to peg a genre first. Sometimes it’s obvious (Alien invasion? Smells like science fiction!), but other times I just work with the idea and figure out the genre later. With The Thieves of Traska, I wasn’t clear on what genre it fell into at first. It’s certainly an adventure and it has action, but the locations are all made up. It’s currently resting in fantasy, but I’m a bit hesitant to call it that.

Our protagonist is, as the title implies, a thief. Her successes are all based on breaking laws and doing bad things. Even so, she has a strong moral compass. She still steals things and gets into fights—and doesn’t feel guilty about any of it—but she’s dedicated to doing the right thing for the other thieves, even if they’ll resent her for it.

Why do I write what I do?

I like the antiheroes—the people who do bad things for a (relatively) good reason, but also have something to gain. It creates tension between selfishness and selflessness that’s fun to play with.

With The Thieves of Traska, I really wanted to write about a thief. Instead of having her realize the error of her ways, give up thieving and do something for the greater good of humanity, I wanted her actions to be for the greater good of bad without being “evil.” I spend a lot of time thinking about morality and where the line is in various situations. It’s something I like to put my characters through and see what compromises they make.

How does my writing process work?

Each project begins with some random little inspirational nugget (if you’ve ever had a bug fly into your eye, it feels pretty much like that). After a couple hours, I usually have a name for the main character or some basic idea of who they are and what the main conflict of the story is. Hopefully I have a title, but I’m seldom that lucky.

For The Thieves of Traska, the first half of that inspirational nugget was the name Mackinley. I had a roommate last year with that name, and I really wanted to name a character after her. The second half came when I was walking home from my fiction writing class. I’d been plotting a short story about a thief for my next assignment when it occurred to me that I hadn’t tried writing a full-length novel about a thief. It was kind of mind blowing since I love thief characters.

There’s a lot of writing in my notebook after that. I get a basic outline of the beginning, an idea of where it might end, and I’ve probably changed the main character’s name a few times. (Fun fact: Claire’s name used to be Adelaide. It changed after I read the first chapter aloud and discovered how much I hate saying “Adelaide” repeatedly.)

From there, I just write the scenes in order. I tend to skip over a lot of setting description and the “breather” scenes between plot points. Once I get to the penultimate chapter, I stop writing. I let it sit for a couple weeks, then start revising.

This is when I fix the plot holes, add in descriptions, set up the mood of scenes, add filler bits, etc. Once I’ve gotten through that, I can write the ending.

Hopefully this insight has got you curious and not sent you running for the hills. Time to hand it over to some other writers:

 Jordanna East – Journey of Jordanna East

Jordanna East is a wonderful person and author of the infuriatingly delicious thriller books Blood in the Past and Blood in the Paint. She’s something of a role model for me, and I sincerely hope you’ll mosey on over to her blog and check out the latest with her.

Cassidy Frazee – Wide Awake But Dreaming

Ms. Frazee identifies herself as a Roleplaying God and a bit of a nut, but what writer isn’t? She has delightful posts on her blog, and she can also be found frequently posting in the NaNoWriMo Facebook group. I’m looking forward to seeing what great things she brings us.

Tristan Lueck – The Aberration

old-manTristan is a fellow SCAD student from the writing department, as well as my future roommate in the fall. She’s sent me a bit of her novel-in-progress and I can say I like where it’s going (but I won’t spoil any of it for you!). Blogging is a new practice for her and she’s still getting into the hang of it, but her posts are well worth the wait.

The Next Big Thing: Blog Hop

I was tagged in this Blog Hop business a while ago. I meant to get on it right away, but a few things pushed ahead of it. Now that I’m less busy, I can indulge in this and talk about my own writing. As part of the rules, I have to explain the rules:

Give credit to the person who tagged you. That would be Dave Higgins over at Davetopia. I’m very glad of this; I enjoy reading his blog.

Explain the Rules. Self explanatory.

Answer the ten questions about your current work in progress. Since I’ve started various projects and work on them at different paces, I’ll go with the one I’ve been working on for the longest.

Tag five other people and link to their blogs. Continuing this practice isn’t necessary, but I wouldn’t mind sending some of my readers to blogs I enjoy reading.

Now that the rules are out of the way, I shall get on to the questions. I am hesitant to put any details of my writing in public view, but I have been working on this book for almost six years now.

What is the working title of your book? The new working title is Beholden to None, thanks to a coworker. It had a placeholder name (Bayonets IN SPACE), but I’m glad it has a serious title now.

Where did the idea come from for the book? Randomly, I thought “What if Pandora’s box wasn’t a box, but actually a person?” The story has absolutely nothing to do with that now, but that’s where it started.

What genre does the book fall under? I’m going to go with science fiction.

What actors would you choose to play your characters in the movie rendition? That’s a tough question. I never thought this would be a book anyone would ever want to turn into a movie. I think I could see Arnold Vosloo as my villain.

What is the one-sentence synopsis for your book? As of right now, that would have to be something along the lines of “Civil war has divided an alien planet as they fight for Earth’s fate: enslavement beneath the Secure Empire, or a hostile alliance with the Ahkhar Fleet.” (As I’m sure every writer does, I hate writing a one-sentence synopsis.)

Will your book be self-published or published by an agency? I honestly have no idea. We’ll see what happens when I finish it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? It took me a little under a year for the first draft. The five years since then have been spent on the second and second-and-a-half drafts. (Draft 2.5 happened when I rewrote the plot.)

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Another difficult question. Aside from the previously mentioned thought about Pandora’s box, I’m not certain what inspired me. It could be my failed first attempt at science fiction made me want to write something new that was much better.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I’m not sure about “within my genre,” since I haven’t read as much science fiction as I would like. I like to think I’ve channeled some Brandon Sanderson into my writing, but that might be wishful thinking. There is one place, however, where I noticed a major shift in my writing; the way I handled each character’s emotions made me think I subconsciously tried emulating Monica McCarty (a romance author). I believe I wrote that part when I first discovered her work and then developed a minor obsession.

What else about your book might piqué the reader’s interest?
Two of my characters share a telepathic bond, and the addition of a third person affects their relationship as well as the events of the story. Plus there are giant robot fights (if you’re into that kind of thing).

I’m going to break the rules a bit here and ask Shylock Books to tell us about her project.

An Interview with Jordanna East

Image used with permission of Jordanna East
Image used with permission

Almost every writer I know (and many non-writers, too) want to work in a bookstore. Can’t you just imagine going in to work, surrounded by books, enjoying the peace and quiet, and occasionally helping a customer? Well, Ava Easterby (pen name Jordanna East) did work at a bookstore*. If you follow her blog–and I highly recommend you do–you’ve probably read some of her Jerks & Irks posts that talk about her job at the bookstore. That got me wondering if the dream job of working at a bookstore is really as wonderful as it sounds. Ms. Easterby agreed to answer some questions about her job so you can all get an idea of what it’s like.

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Switzy Thoughts: I mentioned a lot of writers wanting work in or own a bookstore; did you share that feeling at all and did it contribute to your reasons for applying there?

Jordanna East: “It did! I was actually staying home to write, thanks to my generous and supportive Hubby-pants. But we needed an extra push for our upcoming vacation, plus I was nearing the end of my novel and would face the necessary costs of self-publishing: editing, cover art, marketing materials, formatting, etc. I decided a part-time job was in order and as soon as I opened up Craigslist, there it was. An opening at a local bookstore. At the time I thought it was fate. Haha.”

ST: Could you describe the kind of bookstore it is, including the book selection, the way it looks, and the feel of the place?

JE: “It’s a “rinky-dink” bookstore. A large one, but rinky-dink, nonetheless. It’s a tiny chain, several locations, called Bargain Book Warehouse. Basically, we receive overstock that other bookstore chains can’t sell. Older books, older editions, that kind of thing. Once in a while we get newer selections, usually because the book is doing well and the bookstore ordered way, way too many copies from the publisher. We sell the books far below retail price. If you’re a book lover, you adore it. Vast selection of everything. Children’s books, cook books, coffee table books, fiction, non-fiction. Everything except very recent best sellers, really. If you’re looking for something specific, however, you hate it. The books are organized by genre, but not alphabetically by author or title. Things are piled here and stacked on the floor there. It’s a shame people just don’t have more patience. Haha.”

ST: You’ve mentioned hiding behind books while you write on the job; does the bookstore affect your writing ethic at all? If so, how?

JE: “Not if I’m working a shift alone and there isn’t anything pressing to do. There were a couple of gigantic shipments (by our standards) in the months leading up to Christmas and there was always something to put away, something to make room for. Very frustrating. But when there’s nothing going on, I can get a lot of writing done. Outlines and rough drafts in my journals mostly. On especially long shifts though, I can even bring my laptop with me.”

ST: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of working there? (I imagine customers and coworkers are probably on the list of least favorites.)

JE: “I very much hate, loathe even, about 90% of the customers. That’s an accurate percentage. I mentioned wishing people had patience. They don’t. But when I mention that they can easily find what they’re looking for on Amazon or at the Barnes and Noble (which is literally five minutes down the road), they scoff at the possibility of paying full price. You want the bargain, put in the time. Convenience costs money. Geesh. But enough complaining. I like the opportunity to get writing done. I love learning what people read, what’s “in.” I learned of a few authors I wasn’t aware of while on the job. Such as Ted Dekker and Cassandra Clare. And of course, I get 30% off. I read all my fiction on my Kindle Fire, but the discount comes in handy for non-fiction (I prefer physical books for my writing research), cook books, coffee table books, and journals.”

ST: Do you think you’ll still be at that bookstore after your novel has debuted?

JE: “The original plan was not to remain at the bookstore after my novel was released this summer. But life seldom goes according to plan. Technically my husband can keep us afloat, but I happen to like nice things. Weekend getaways. Dinners at fancy restaurants. Anniversary vacations. Therefore I’ll probably stay. Or maybe I’ll beat someone for asking me for an additional discount on a $1 book and go to jail. Hey, I smell a memoir idea!! (I’m just kidding, please don’t call the police.)”

ST: Are you going to try selling your novel there?

JE: “I would like to sell my novel there. On the counter, or with the recent releases. Or even go to Staples and have a banner made for a Local Authors section. The owner is kind of a…word that rhymes with kick…so I don’t know if he’ll go for any of that. But since I use a pen name, I might just withhold the fact that it’s my book. Teehee.”

ST: And if you could move on to a different bookstore–possibly with a more organized system–would you?

JE: “I would adore moving to a different bookstore. Perhaps not a Barnes and Noble. But definitely a Mom & Pop bookstore. The place where I work now is kind of in between. The worst of both worlds, if you will. But I’m sure there are worse jobs.”

ST: Would you say the dream of working in a bookstore isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

JE: “It definitely isn’t. I expected everyone that walked through the door would share the same love of learning and reading that I do. I expected every register transaction to come with a side of witty banter about our latest reading materials. I expected to offer people suggestions and have them heeded. I expected to awe people with the fact that I’m writing a series of books myself. I only get these things about 10% of the time, which comes back to me hating 90% of the customers, I guess. I also didn’t envision being expected to do anything other than ring people up. Haha! How lazy of me, but when I applied I had this whimsical dream of sitting behind the counter writing away in the quiet of the store and occassionally having to ring someone up. Did you know, they actually expect me tidy up? The nerve!”

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Jordanna East is currently working on a full-length novel entitled Blood in the Paint, a psychological thriller in which a seductive female serial killer and the ambitious young cop pursuing her are both seeing the same psychologist, who also has deadly ties to their pasts. The prequel novella, entitled Blood in the Past, follows the events that shaped the characters’ lives ten years prior. It is set for release on March 31, 2013, followed by the novel in the summer of 2013. Jordanna’s married and living happily in Southern New Jersey with her husband and their slightly obsessive love of sports. Visit Jordanna at her blog, her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @JordannaEast.

*I first contacted Jordanna East via email for this interview on December 31, 2012. She notified me at the end of January that she no longer works at the bookstore.

Recommended Reads: The Emperor’s Soul

The Emperor's SoulIt’s no secret that I’m a fan of Brandon Sanderson‘s work. While randomly looking up his latest projects, I discovered this book was due to release soon. I honestly forgot about it until I happened to go to Barnes & Noble.

(This happened while I was at my dorm in Savannah. The nearest B&N is in the mall. For those of us without a car, this means at least a two hour bus ride. It was two and a half hours that day. I feel it’s important that my readers know I endured that–plus the two hour ride back–all for the sake of a book that’s maybe half an inch thick.)

I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I opened the book, but I was impressed. It’s not often I find a book where magic and art are combined. I also haven’t read much fiction with ties to Asian culture, so this was a wonderful new experience.

This short book takes place over 100 days–that’s how much time the main character has to forge a new soul for the emperor. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the action and the emotions. I read it twice in one day because I couldn’t get enough.

As a writer, this is definitely one of those books that helps take the pressure off trying to write some massive novel. As an artist, this reminded me that my family had given me a Chinese calligraphy and painting set. I’d never used it, so I decided to give it a try. For your enjoyment, here are the first two paintings I’ve ever done with a Chinese painting kit: Hush Mountains, Mountain Path

The Janus Affair Book Trailer

You may remember from a little while ago I posted my review of The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel. Well, the book has finally been released! I can’t wait to go buy my own copy. If you haven’t heard about the book yet, read my review. Better yet, watch the book trailer that’s just been released.

Buy it, read it, and pay a visit to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrence’s website!

Recommended Reads: The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

The second installment of this series from Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris flabbergasted me. I was so blown away, I could not write the review simply because it left me speechless. Now that I’ve regained my composure, I know exactly how to describe The Janus Affair.

(I would like to take a moment to inform my readers this book will be available at the end of May; my review is based on an advanced review copy.)

The Janus Affair is a maddening delight that proves impossible to set aside, even when the plot twists knock the wind from you. Agents Books and Braun are even more addictive this time around as we delve into each of their secrets. The new mysteries that arise are as delicious as the ones we receive answers to. Once again, the authors have created an infuriating pleasure that makes me want to beg on hands and knees for the next book.

It breaks my heart to imagine waiting several months–perhaps even a year–for the next installment, but wait I shall. In the meantime, I await the print release so I may purchase my own copy.

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris are greatly responsible for my own interest (sometimes borderline obsession) with steampunk. When I endeavor to write steampunk, I look to them for guidance. Without them, I probably would have remained mostly ignorant of such a wonderous genre, subculture, fashion, and everything else that steampunk is. I will always be grateful to them, and I hope one day I can meet them and express my thanks in person.

You can read my review for the first book, Phoenix Rising, or head over to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences website.