Blog Hop – Writing: the What, Why and How

Historical fiction author–and former editor of my all-time favorite magazine Paradox: the Magazine of Historical and Speculative Fiction–Christopher M. Cevasco has invited me to participate in a blog hop, where I answer some questions so you can find out more about what I write, how I write, and why I write. You can read his fascinating answers over here at his blog.

As for my own answers, here we go!

What are you working on?

I’m currently working on two separate projects. My second novel The Bone Flower Queen–sequel to my historical fantasy The Bone Flower Throne–is due to my editor on June 1st of this year, so I’ll begin the final editing and rewriting stage on that shortly. The Bone Flower Trilogy is a retelling of the Pre-Columbian myths of the legendary priest-king Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, an Arthurian-type character who tried to outlaw human sacrifice in the Toltec Empire, but it’s told completely from the point of view of his sister, Quetzalpetlatl.

I’m also working on the final draft of Fugitives of Fate, an alternate history romance novel set in the Aztec empire. With the Spanish Conquest averted, the last Emperor of the Mexica–Cuauhtemoc–works with the infamous La Malinche to bring peace between the various native cities, and stand together again future foreign invasions. Had history unfolded as we know it, Cuauhtemoc and Malinche would have been enemies, but instead they end up fated lovers.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I write in a setting seldom done in fantasy, science fiction, or romance: Aztec history and mythology. There are some fantasy and science fiction works set in similar milieus–Aliette de Bodard and Chris Roberson come to mind–and some paranormal/time travel romances do visit ancient Mexico–namely the Maya civilization, but I’ve never found anything written–neither paranormal nor historical–written in the Aztec Empire, so I’m blazing my own trail with Fugitives of Fate. Fantasy has a tendency to linger in familiar pseudo-medieval European settings, but more and more readers are asking for more diverse settings and characters, asking for things they haven’t seen before, with strong female protagonists who aren’t defined by their physical strength or acting like men.

Why do you write what you do?

I’ve written a bit more in depth about this question already here, but on the most basic level, I have two passions in life: writing, and Aztec history and mythology, and I love combining the two. And because there isn’t that many books out there yet that present SF/F/Romance with Aztec culture, I’ve had to write the books I want to read. It’s also become a goal of mine to present a more nuanced and less stereotypical image of Aztec culture, particularly when it comes to human sacrifice. A lot of authors who use Aztec elements or characters tend to focus very heavily on human sacrifice–and often present it as an unequivocally evil practice, but I’m trying to not only present a different interpretation of human sacrifice, but also to focus on other, far more interesting cultural elements. It’s been difficult to not focus on human sacrifice in The Bone Flower Trilogy, given the myth it’s based upon, but it’s almost completely absent from Fugitives of Fate, and I plan to not mention it at all in any future alt history romances I write. There are so many other cultural accomplishments one could focus on when writing about the Aztecs (or the Maya): they were prolific architects, brilliant horticulturists, and accomplished astronomers. If I can show the reader a fuller, more nuanced world, I consider it mission accomplished.

How does your writing process work?

Oddly enough, both The Bone Flower Trilogy and Fugitives of Fate started as shorter fiction; BFT as a novelette and FoF as a novella, and I expanded them to novel length–or in the case of BFT to trilogy length. I work best with an outline, and even though I had the basic storyline worked out thanks to having written the shorter stories, I still needed to figure out the missing parts to fill it out more completely. I spend a couple days fleshing out the missing parts by doing research, to give me ideas; in the case of The Bone Flower Trilogy, it was rereading the various myths about Topiltzin and picking out new elements I wanted to incorporate, while in the case of Fugitives of Fate, I brushed up on the political history between Tenochtitlan and Tlaxcala, and Tlaxcala’s role in the Conquest, to figure out how the various leaders fit into my new historical scheme.

With my outline in hand, I then crank out a first draft. I like November for doing this, because I find NaNoWriMo to be a good motivator for me, but I can’t wait around all year for that (or Camp NaNoWriMo in the summer), and so will set a deadline for myself and endeavor to keep it. Since I like the daily word counter that NaNoWriMo uses, my loving husband made me an Excel spreadsheet that does the exact same thing. I can typically plow through to a finished draft in three month, sometimes less–I finished the first draft of Fugitives of Fate in twenty-eight days. I never show anyone my first drafts; I let the muse dump anything it likes in, just to see what will happen, so there’s tons of plot holes, over-explaining, character acting out of character, and sudden changes of focus halfway through the book. I work best with something to edit and rewrite, even if it’s completely broken and fractured.

After letting it sit for a few weeks, I do a second draft, focusing on fixing plot holes, streamlining characters and cutting word count. Once I’ve got something I’m comfortable with, I send it off to my critique group, to get their thoughts and suggestions; I have two critique groups, one for science fiction and fantasy manuscripts, and one that focuses on historical romance; it’s important to find critiquers who are familiar with the specific genres I write in so they can make informed comments on my use of conventions and how my manuscript fits in with market expectations.

Finally, with critiques in hand, I do another draft; sometimes it’s a major rewrite while other times it’s just some plot and character tweaking, and fixing weak prose. Then it’s off to my editor and I give it no more thought until he sends me his edit letter.

Thank you Christopher Cevasco for inviting me to participate in this blog hop, and in the spirit of keeping this going, I’ve invited horror writer Stant Litore to join in with his answers to these same questions. He will post his answers on his blog on April 21st. Here’s a bit about him:

STANT LITORE is the author of the acclaimed Zombie Bible series, as well as the novella The Dark Need (part of the Dead Man series). He has an intense love of ancient languages, a fierce admiration for his ancestors, and a fascination with religion and history. He has a PhD in English, and he doesn’t consider his writing a vocation so much as an act of survival. Litore lives in Colorado with his wife and two daughters and is at work on his next book.

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