The full article first appeared on Elizabeth J. St. John's blog on Feb. 23, 2022.
Can you share with us some of the common traps for aspiring writers?
There are a number of them which I learned from experience and I think almost everyone goes through. The biggest one is thinking it’s easier than it is or that just because you have a good story idea or you’ve taken some classes doesn’t mean you can write at a professional level. It takes a massive amount of hard work and years of honing your craft. And while writing may seem like the world’s most solitary profession, it’s very much a collaborative effort. You need editors, beta readers and more to get it right. Two other common traps are expectations of time and sales. The publishing process can be glacially slow. People need to expect that. And a published book doesn’t automatically mean sales. You’re competing with millions of other titles plus all other forms of entertainment. Most aspiring writers aren’t aware of this, but a huge part of the job is sales and marketing (even if your book is traditionally published).
What does literary success look like to you?
A TV series based on the book series, ideally on a streaming network. Of course, I’d be more than happy with films, but I think TV series are generally better for adaptation since the longer format allows for deeper character development and generally stays truer to the source material.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Sex scenes. It’s one thing to put yourself into somebody’s head. After all, we’re all different and I don’t subscribe to the belief that men do/feel this and women do/feel that. In fact, I try to move past those worn cliches. I put myself into the character’s head, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. But to write physical sensations that I can’t possibly know—that’s a challenge.
What did you edit out of The Prisoner of Paradise?
A huge amount. I wrote about twice as many words than what’s in the published book. Besides unnecessary words, I deleted many scenes (which will be available on my website as bonus content). It all has to do with the narrative and streamlining the story. If a scene or part of a scene doesn’t reveal character or advance the plot, it gets cut.
What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
This is a great question since The Prisoner of Paradise is part historical fiction. As a general rule of thumb, I stay as true to that person as possible, but the essence of drama is conflict. I don’t slander a historical figure but I need to invent dialogue or situations in order to drive the narrative forward. Part of my book is also fantastical, but it’s magical realism. Therefore, it’s very important to me that everything, including historical figures and events, are as accurate as I can make them.
Do you read your book reviews?
Yes. I read all of them. To date, I’ve been fortunate to have primarily positive reviews. There have been a few bad reviews, and that’s fine. Not everybody likes everything and I certainly don’t expect everyone in the world to like my work. I’m a reader, as well. There are plenty of critically acclaimed books, including classics, that I don’t love. I think it’s important for authors (and any type of content creator or entertainer) to read negative reviews so they know what’s not working. Otherwise, you’re working in a bubble. The types of reviews I don’t like are when they’re negative but without a reason, if the reviewer makes it personal (either about the author or themselves), or if the reviewer projects their own viewpoints or believes the author is projecting their viewpoints on a character. Some of my characters commit horrible crimes. That doesn’t mean I’m a criminal.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favourite?
There are two but I can’t describe them without giving away major spoilers. I can say that the first one comes in the middle of the book and involves the antagonist. In this chapter there’s a major twist and we see his true nature, but there’s a lot of gray area to that nature; he’s a very complex character. My other favorite chapter is the climax, which I think has great action, amazing twists/reveals and brings everything to a head.
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