With All Your Heart – by Juliana Spink Mills

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve made a blog post. Maybe I’ll find a few cobwebs here!

But after reading Heart Blade, I just couldn’t resist asking Juliana Spink Mills if she’d be a guest on my blog to tell us all a little about The Blade Hunt Series and her thoughts on writing in general. I really enjoyed book 1, Heart Blade, and I have book 2, Night Blade, in my book collection, waiting to be read. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as much as the first!

Juliana Spink Mills was born in England, but grew up in Brazil. Now she lives in Connecticut, and writes science fiction and fantasy. She is the author of Heart Blade and Night Blade, the first two books in the young adult Blade Hunt Chronicles urban fantasy series. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and online publications. Besides writing, Juliana works as a Portuguese/English translator, and as a teen library assistant.

You can find Juliana online at www.jspinkmills.com or on Twitter @JSpinkMills

Over to you, Juliana:

With All Your Heart

Recently, I took part in a library author event. All us participating writer types were given a five-minute slot to talk about our work. I’d practiced a short piece from my first book, Heart Blade, as most of the authors were doing a reading. But as my allotted spotlight moment approached, I found myself wanting to do something different. So I grabbed the program sheet and frantically scribbled some last minute notes on the back. And this is what I ended up with…

Three things I’ve learned about writing:

1. Take Your Time. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. When I started writing ‘for real’, one of the first things I did was read a lot of bios and websites for authors I admired. To my surprise, there were very few true ‘overnight success’ stories. One author took ten years to be published, another five. Another more than that combined. Some writers didn’t become household names until their third, or fifth, or seventh book.

Beginner-writer-me found this hugely reassuring. If other people could do it, so could I. If I had to put in the time to learn the craft and get it right, then so be it. I wouldn’t be the first, or the last, to take a deep breath and tell myself, “As long as it takes.” I knew this was something I loved, and that I was prepared to be in it for the long haul. I just had to jump in, and keep going.

2. Make Mistakes. Also known as: you have nothing to prove. I’d always planned on becoming a writer ‘someday’. Perhaps when I ‘grew up’. But somehow, I never got around to it. Probably because I had this weird notion that writers sat down in their perfect writing spaces and dashed out the Next Big Classic all in one go. Yes, I really was that naive! I knew nothing about messy first drafts, or that it takes rewrites, revisions, and a whole lot of elbow grease to produce something halfway decent. So of course, with that sort of self-inflicted pressure, inevitably I was terrified of starting and failing.

When I figured out that the writing business was a long-distance event (see number 1), this led to the realization that nothing had to be perfect right away. I could allow myself time to work things out, to back my story into corners and fall into plot holes. I could get things wrong, and dust myself off, and rewrite, and get it wrong again, as many times as necessary. The only thing I couldn’t do, was let the fear of failure hold me back from trying.

3. Have Fun! Along with realization number 2, came the awareness that I didn’t actually want to write the Next Big Classic. I wasn’t fussed about literary immortality, or having my books on required reading lists. I couldn’t care less whether my prose was gorgeously poetic. Instead, I wanted to enjoy my writing. I wanted to fill my pages with fight scenes, and daring escapes, and fireballs. Maybe a breathless first kiss or two. I was an 80’s teen, and all those hours spent watching the likes of Star Wars, Die Hard, Back to the Future, and The Goonies had to impact my writer’s soul somehow. Once I figured out the sort of things I enjoyed writing, the stories took off and the words just flowed. I was having fun, and I never ever wanted to stop.

Of course, these discoveries may have worked for me, but may not work for you. Find the small bits of wisdom that inspire you, personally, and use them to keep going on the dark days. We all have those days – beginner writer or seasoned pro – and sometimes you just need to remind yourself of why and how you got started in the first place. And then get up, dust yourself off, and jump back in with all your heart.

~ ~ ~

Thank you, Juliana. A really interesting read.

You can find Night Blade, the latest book in Juliana’s series here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Night-Blade-Hunt-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B076P1ZYNK

If you like the sound of Juliana’s books, but haven’t read the first one yet, here’s a link to Heart Blade to get you hooked started on the series: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01N22UGJT/ref=series_rw_dp_sw

Virtual cake and writing

Writers are, in general, a friendly bunch, giving support to each other. I discovered this quite early on when I first discovered the SFF Chronicles forum. Mutual support can be anything from critiquing, beta reading, discussions on forums and Facebook, to offering a virtual cup of coffee and a piece of cake (or even real cake – thank you, Shellie) to celebrate a book launch, or even hugs to commiserate when a story is rejected.

I’ve given interviews for writers’ blogs, and at the Humber SFF meeting in Hull Library, I read from my book and answered questions. To all the wonderful authors and readers who have given me their support: a big thank you!

Receiving reviews has been wonderful! It makes it all real, knowing my book is out in the big wide world and being read and enjoyed. Also the private messages from people telling me how much they have loved The Beguiler. It’s made my heart sing. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

But support has also arrived from closer to home. I was asked if I’d like to take part in an authors’ day at the library. Of course I was delighted! My book had not been published then: it was due out in the near future. I was thrilled to be asked, and met up with other authors as well as some lovely local readers and a good time was had by all.

Gaining encouragement, and a little bit of bravery, I mentioned I’d written a book to the lady in the garden centre where I visit quite often. To my surprise and delight, I was told they would take a few books to sell in their book section. How wonderful, to get support like that! I was totally overwhelmed. And then support from the local furniture shop, and the cheese shop, and also a restaurant out of town. I was amazed to receive such an interest. Flyers have been displayed in their shop windows or on tables. Books put on display.

Thank you, everyone, for the support you’ve given me. I appreciate it so much.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a piece of critiquing to do for a member of my online writing group.

Buttercups and dragons

Before I became a writer, I read fantasy and science fiction books without even thinking about the names for plants and animals that the author had chosen, or even the name of the language used—it just felt right, worked for the world created. Some authors used familiar plants and names from our own world, some not. It wasn’t until after I began to write my story that I found myself wondering what to do. Made up names for plants, or real? Which should I use? And what about other things too? Is a dog still a dog? Or a dragon still a dragon, for that matter?

I found myself avoiding names altogether. A plant was a blue flower, rather than a bluebell, another, a yellow flower, rather than a buttercup. It seemed as if my characters did not know their world at all – I’d taken out the personal in fear of getting it wrong. It was the creation of a tree that solved the problem for me, made me decide which direction to go. Anything I created would have an imaginary name, but a buttercup would be just that: a buttercup.

Early on in The Beguiler Rebecca, the heroine, is poisoned by the sap of the banz tree, which enters the bloodstream via sharp thorns. I imagined the sort of bush we might use for a protective hedge: pyracantha, for instance, or even the prickly bramble, or a rambling rose. But I already had trees and plants that were true to our world and they didn’t have magical properties, and I felt I needed some consistency. I decided the banz tree needed to fit in to the landscape, a made up tree that slotted in amongst trees we might know well. The leaves needed to be large enough to obscure the sight of most of the thorns, to make the tree look innocent. The branches needed to be sturdy enough to take Rebecca’s weight. And if a made up tree then a made up name became necessary. Problem solved.

Voices, voices, everywhere – by Jo Zebedee

When I was contemplating how to start my blog, I asked Jo Zebedee if she’d write a blog post about how to get started. So without further ado let me introduce Jo, a good friend and author.

Today, I’m joining my great writing mate, Sue Jackson, on her blog. I’m here, partly, because Sue has been brainstorming with me about how to start a blog, what people want to read in it, and, crucially, how to get the first post out.

I’ve been blogging for about four years now, first on a private forum blog, and then on an older blogger account, and finally at my jozebwrites account for about three years. I usually thrash something out at least once a week.

I had an advantage over Sue when I started, though. I had no book out. No one was one bit interested in what I was waffling on about. I truly wrote it only for myself, not anyone else – and for about 18 months, only a handful of people read it, mostly known to me. It was my sandpit, my place to rant and rave and have a bit of craic. Had I started the blog with the intention to sound writerly and clever, or even to use it to promote my writing, or have a purpose outside of my own observations on the writing business, I think I would have frozen.

As it panned out, though, by the time anyone did find my blog (and I have a surprising number of readers now, with a hit-number far in excess of any expectations) I’d kind of nailed how I like to write a blog, and it’s so far removed from the rest of my writing processes, it’s freeing. Why.

  1. I don’t edit. Sure, I’ll do a quick check for typos, but, mostly, what goes on the page is what I was thinking, the way I thought it. It’s often different than what I first set out to write, and it often takes me down thought-paths I hadn’t planned, but that’s okay for me. I like that. I’m not a theorist or reflector, I’m a pragmatist. As I type, I learn. So, my blog is my learning to be a writer in action, and, as such, I like it to be live and reflective of that moment in development.

  1. I don’t worry too much about whether it’s what people want to read. I’ve found, when I do, I get less interest anyway. People don’t seem to want to read – from me, anyhow – subjects that have been contrived to deliver a message. They seem to quite like that the blog can be a little random (although mostly about my writing journey one way or another.)

  1. I like that I feel I know the people who read it (I don’t, anymore, and always jump a little when I see a comment from someone I don’t know). Actually, this ties in with my whole Social Media presence/platform/choose any hideous description you like. Yesterday, I mused on facebook about dividing my writing and personal timeline (mostly to refrain from boring everyone in sight) and got pretty roundly told that’s not what people want. We’re friends, and I like that. I know, of course, my profile gets visited by more than just my friends (I know that from my blog hits) but I like that it’s not me being some sort of standaloof writerly type in a glass house, thinking I’m all important and have to be just-so (falls off my chair laughing) to my reading-audience (for what that’s worth, I’m hardly JK Rowling or Stephen King…) but that’s it more a reflection of the real me.

  1. I don’t promote on it. Sure, I talk about my writing, and I make reference to my books, but I don’t try to sell books through it. For two reasons – one, it doesn’t work. I doubt I’ve sold more than one or two books through it, even on the odd blog that might be seen to be a bit promo-ish. Two, I can’t be bothered. I’d be bored writing promo blogs in a week – and readers would be bored in a day. It’s not the vehicle. Sure, use a blog – if you enjoy writing one – as part of your writing brand (another concept I hate but I do recognise, at 5 books in and counting, that’s a valid thing to take on board, that I might be the only Jo Zebedee in the sff village), but not to sell your book. Share your interests, your research, your thoughts and maybe, just maybe, someone will be interested enough in you to want to read more. But they might not be. And that’s equally fine.

  1. Voice. I know, it took me 700 words to get to the point (I did say these things go off where I don’t expect them to or plan for). I write for a living these days (sort of – I still don’t get much pay for it, but it is growing and I hope, one day, to have more time to write and need to work-work less.) I write in my characters’ voices. I take care to stay in them. I analyse their voices, I subsume my own into theirs. On the blog, it’s just me. My voice. My words. Nothing else.

And that is the crux of any thoughts I have about writing blogs. Write it as yourself, to yourself, and don’t worry about sounding smart, or funny, or clever. Enjoy writing for the sake of nothing more than letting your mind wander. Don’t overthink it (yes, sure, you might put up something you regret later, but there’s always a delete button, or a draft function if you’re not sure and want to sit on something a little.)

And enjoy it. Always enjoy it.

Thank you, Jo.

For anyone who’d like to read Jo’s work, here is link to her latest book.



A Guiding Light

I’m writing my next book. It’s exciting to be working on something new, a story I’m discovering as I go along, although maybe not discovering it in quite the same way as I did when I wrote The Beguiler. I’m finding I’m outlining a little bit more, which I didn’t expect to do.

I’ve never been a planner. A character has always appeared in a story, acted their part, directing me, like someone standing at the side of a stage when I’ve forgotten my lines, or got stuck. It’s a weird but wonderful feeling when half of my brain produces a scene the other half knows nothing about. It’s exciting: and also, at times, damn right scary.

Scary because it’s easy to get lost—sometimes characters lie to me. Thousands of words can be written, only later for me to discover I’ve taken a wrong turn. To find that the bad guy, who I’ve hated all this time, actually is not so bad after all. And I knew that, if I’d just listened to my instincts. My character, hands on hips, says, “I told you this. Way back in chapter two—you just wouldn’t listen.” Going back. Filling in the blanks. Trying not to worry that it’s never actually going to turn into anything readable. But the characters seem to know. They always do. I just need to trust them.

And that’s the hard part.

I am a little envious of writers who can outline a story from start to finish. How wonderful to know exactly where to go. Have no solid walls that my characters can’t get beyond, or long roads that lead to nowhere. And I’ve tried planning it all out. For me it takes the edge off the writing. My characters (and I) know what’s coming. I don’t write with enthusiasm – after all, I’ve written it before – I know what to expect.

It’s been a bit of a surprise, therefore, to find I’m outlining more. Maybe it’s a sign I’ve grown as a writer, or my characters are different and for them, working this way is fine. It might be I’ll go completely off track and have to follow the characters to find the plot. But that’s one of the joys of writing, at least for me. The wondrous step by step of discovery.

Where will my characters take me? A dead end? I hope not. I have some idea of the outline, but not all – the ending is still a long way off. But I’m going to enjoy the journey. I’ll still listen to my characters and let them lead the way, even if sometimes I’ll have to un-write several thousand words. I’ll allow them to light the path. A lantern of guidance.

Are you a planner, or an explorer? A pantser or an outliner? Or a bit of both?

I’d love to know.