We are in for a treat today! Christopher Bailey’s new book Whisper just hit shelves and he has taken time out of his very busy schedule to tell us about his writing life. Christopher Bailey is the author of many books including the Starjumper Legacy YA sci-fi series and Without Chance.
As I mentioned in my previous post Exciting Firsts, this is the first of a series of upcoming author interviews and what a fun and informative interview it is!
Let’s get started:
We met at a writer’s social meet-up, so let’s start off with: When did you first know you were a writer?
In the third grade, I was given a school assignment to write my own Greek myth. It didn’t have to be long, only 200 words, but I was dreading it. I complained and fussed about it until my mother finally made me sit down and get it done.
What I ended up with was a thousand-word short story about the God of Lost Socks, the one who was responsible for the disappearance of single lost socks all throughout the world, leaving its mated pair only to taunt you.
It was creative, it was funny, and to my third-grade mind, it was brilliant. I turned it in to my teacher the next day with more pride than I’d ever had in an assignment before or since. It was filled with errors and problems, but my teacher raved about it. Instead of berating me for the problems, she loudly praised my creativity and originality. She constructively showed me how to fix the problems, and then gave me an A on the assignment.
I was hooked, and haven’t stopped writing since.
Do you write every day? Tell us a little about your writing practice.
I wish. Seriously, I’m currently working on arranging my schedule to allow for this, but at the moment I write only a couple of times a week. Usually binge-writing, if I’m being honest. I’ll sit down on a Saturday morning and write non-stop for ten straight hours.
Luckily, my wife is a candidate for sainthood, and interrupts only occasionally to bring me food and give me kisses. Both are required to keep up my writing flow you understand, so those interruptions are welcome.
Countless times I’ve been told by other writers that I should write every day, but it’s just not possible right now in my life.
My best advice to writers struggling to write every day is this: write when you can, and don’t feel guilty when you can’t. Make sure you’re getting some time in, but it’s far better to write once or twice a week than not at all.
Are you a plotter or a pantser (someone who outlines and plans or someone who writes by the seat of her pants)?
Definitely a pantser. I plot only a start point, an end point, and maybe one or two key points along the way. My characters and worlds live so vividly within my mind that they inevitably stray from any planned course if I get more rigid than that.
When writing my first novel, I tried a trick one of my favorite authors told me about at his book signing. He writes out the major theme for each chapter on index cards, and sorts and reorganizes them until he has the best flow. Then for each chapter, he writes another set of business cards with major points he wants to hit in that chapter, and then does the same organizing and reorganizing procedure. Then he sits and writes it exactly as scripted.
I’ll be honest, I made it halfway through step one of that process, and I almost gave up writing for good. It was only after I realized that there were two different types of writers, plotters and pantsers, that I understood I could still write a full novel without scripting every single nuance before ever sitting down to write the story.
What is your best trick for getting more words on the page?
Detailed descriptions added in the first round edit. My rough drafts are never too short of my intended goal, since I’m a chronic over-writer anyway, but the best way I’ve found to push that word count up is to flesh out my descriptions during my own first round edit.
Changing “He pushed opened the creaky door,” to “He slowly pushed open the ancient, cracked wooden door and winced at the ominous creak,” only adds a few words to the sentence, but it adds a great deal of flavor, and will significantly contribute to your final word count when you do it to a few hundred sentences throughout the manuscript.
In my push to get the story out, I find I often miss opportunities to add flavorful descriptions like that in my initial rough draft. I just have to be careful not to overdo it.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
Like most artists, I draw inspiration from the world I see around me.
With my Starjumper Legacy trilogy:Starjumper Legacy: The Crystal Key, Starjumper Legacy: The Vanishing Sun and Starjumper Legacy: The Plague of Dawn for example, the idea originated from an argument between a pair of fourth graders I had been working with. They were arguing the advantages of magic over science and vice-versa, and I couldn’t help but point out that magic is simply science we don’t understand yet. The discussion that grew between the two children eventually became the idea for Starjumper Legacy.
My standalone Without Chance was inspired by a difficult situation I helped a friend through many years ago, as his parents threatened to disown him when he came out as gay.
Whisper, my newest standalone novel, came from a news story I had been watching about a kidnapping victim, and from a girl I dated in my teens who was schizophrenic.
Of course, once the initial concepts take hold, the stories themselves take on a life of their own and grow into something far beyond what I’d ever initially envisioned.
Life is such a wonderful, terrible, beautiful, ugly thing, that there are no limits to creative inspirations for stories of any kind if you’re willing to look for them in your own life.
Who have you found most influential to your writing?
My brother, Jeff. Since we were little, we’ve loved reading many of the same books and analyzing the stories to death. We look at everything, from the broad concept of the plot to the delicate nuances of character, right down to any hidden subtexts we can discern. We then debate the finer points potentially for hours on end. Our shared love of the written word has been a huge influence on my life, and most especially in my writing.
Do you listen to music while you write? What do you listen to? Do you create playlists?
Absolutely. I can’t write without music playing. I don’t create custom playlists, but rather add a few artists to a Pandora station and let it take over from there. My musical tastes are greatly varied, and I love everything from Beethoven to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, from Michael Bublé to Metallica.
Interestingly, when I write I prefer heavy metal. I’ve tried a dozen different styles during my writing, including changing styles to suit the scene. For me, it breaks my flow to change styles, and anything other than the hard-driving metal seems to negatively impact both my flow, and the power of my writing. Some favorites include Samael, Rob Zombie, and Celldweller.
Who are your favorite authors?
Wow, this is a hard question. All right, some favorites that come first to mind would be Dean Koontz, Bruce Coville, Robert Heinlein, Brandon Sanderson, Terry Pratchett, Mercedes Lackey, Brian Lumley, and R.A. Salvatore. This is by no means a complete list.
What are your favorite books?
As above, this list could go on forever. There have been a few that have really changed my perspective, though.
I read Homeland by R.A. Salvatore as a youth, and the theme of a young man fighting to be a virtuous soul despite the darkness of his upbringing really resonated with me. I’ve carried that message with me my entire life, and attribute a great deal of who I am today to that book.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein almost literally rocked my world. His ability to take social norms and spin them so completely to force the reader to look at them from a completely outside perspective is staggering. So many things about our world that we simply take for granted. This book shook them all up for me.
Hogfather: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett is, I maintain, one of the finest pieces of literature ever created. The entire Discworld series is great, but this book in particular was absolute genius.
What three writer’s blogs do you visit most often?
http://thewritepractice.com/ is great for tips and tricks on the more technical aspects of writing.
http://www.thecreativepenn.com/ has some amazing information on marketing.
And of course, https://experiencewriting.com/.
Ha. Ha. Thank you very much. What three writer’s websites do you visit most often?
http://rebeccaconnolly.com/ This is a personal friend of mine and while I openly admit I’m not a big romance fan, her books are genuinely fun to read. It’s always interesting to see what she’s up to, since she always has some reader-participation game going.
http://brandonsanderson.com/ This guy is a brilliant writer in the Fantasy and YA Fiction categories, and I have yet to read one of his books I didn’t appreciate.
http://www.deankoontz.com/ Dean Koontz has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, and I’ve read more of his work than possibly any other single author. The Odd Thomas series is among my favorites.
Let’s talk about your book:
What inspired you to write Whisper ?
Whisper was inspired by a combination of a news story I read about a kidnapping victim who had recently been rescued, and an experience I had with a girl I dated in high school who was schizophrenic. Sounds like an odd combination, but in my mind the pairing just clicked and the story came alive in my mind.
What was the hardest part to write? How did you push through?
The most difficult part to write was the part of the book where Jackson is in the mental institution for treatment of his schizophrenia. I had second-hand experience with schizophrenia, thanks to the girl I mentioned above, but have no personal experience in a place like that.
Wanting to get this part right was important to me, so I interviewed a number of people who had spent time in institutions just like the one now in the book. Some readers may have had different experiences than that portrayed in the final book, but that part is based closely on the personal experiences of several people who’ve spent significant time in a variety of hospitals and institutions.
Following that, the difficulty was in not allowing the darkness and hopelessness in many of those places from overwhelming the greater story. It was a tricky balance, keeping the realism of his experience there while not detracting from the story I was trying to tell.
When you’re not writing, what is your favorite thing to do?
I sort of collect hobbies. I paint, play guitar, do some low-grade woodwork and leatherwork, all sorts of random things.
That said, my two favorite things in the entire world are curling up next to my wife with a good book, and playing with my daughter.
Are you a dog person or a cat person?
I’m very much a dog person. They make sense to me, and I relate well to them. My wife teases me a little about this because she says I behave much more like a cat. Funny thing is, she behaves much more like a dog and is very much a cat person. Perhaps that’s why we’re such a good fit.
What bit of wisdom would you share with new writers?
Writing is an art form. Like any art form, nearly nobody starts off brilliant. We all start from the bottom, learning the tools of our trade and the techniques of our craft. Even the masters have things they are still learning.
Don’t get discouraged if your first piece isn’t a masterpiece. Nobody’s is. Practice, refine, listen to constructive criticism and tell those who offer only nonconstructive criticism where they can shove their unfounded opinions.
No matter what, keep writing. Brilliant or not, marketable or not, popular or not, pursue it because you love it. Write because the stories live in your mind and need release. Write because it is a passion, a freedom, and an outlet.
Just keep writing.