More Infrequently Asked Questions from my reading club friend, Susan:
Q: Do you start writing with an end in mind or just work your way through as you write?
I’m what’s called an “organic” writer, which means that I don’t “plot” or outline. I also don’t write consecutive scenes – just whatever comes to me, and over time I fill in the blanks. I wrote the end of Irish Firebrands two years before I was done with the rest of it.
Q: I’d be interested in what a writing session is like; ie. typewriter or computer; morning sessions or when the spirit moves you?
A: I started out writing Irish Firebrands by taking notes on the scenes I was seeing – in longhand, using an old-fashioned No. 2 pencil and notebook paper. I write mainly on the computer, now, but I still use lots of pencils and paper to jot down stuff when I’m away from the keyboard.
I prepare for writing by having music playing very quietly when I’m asleep, which usually helps me get up in the morning with new scenes playing in my head. I also listen to music while I write: classical, soundtracks and Irish traditional music.
I’m predominantly a night writer. In daylight, creative stuff just dribbles out of me, so that’s when I mainly do research and edit prior work. After dark is when I get the most new material written. My prime writing time is 10 pm-2 am.
Q: Do you have a goal for each session to develop a certain idea or character plot point?
I don’t set “goals” for this, because it’s not really “my” story – it’s my characters’ story, so I have to let them live it. My job is to observe them and write down what happens when they get into trouble and how they try to solve their problems. It’s as if people from a parallel universe are holding my head hostage until I tell their story for them, except sometimes they’re not in the mood to show me what they’re up to. I prowl around the building they’re in, but the doors and windows are locked and the blinds are drawn. I can tell they’re talking, but I can’t hear what they’re saying. Then, one day, the blinds are left open and I can see part of what’s going on, although I still can’t hear a word. Or else, a window is left open a crack, and I can hear the dialogue and write it down. Then later on, somebody leaves a door ajar and I can sneak in to watch and listen, putting together the action and the words. Finding the right way to describe what I’m seeing is the hard work. It’s easy to get it wrong.
Q: How attached do you get to your characters while you are writing? Do you always like them or do you purposefully try to create characters with diverse personalities?
I suppose you could say that my characters are my imaginary friends, and like most friendships, we have our ups and downs. They are all individuals with distinct personalities that they created on their own out of the bits and pieces of facts, perceptions and opinions that got stuck in my brain over a lifetime on this planet.
I think Lana’s a “piece of work,” although much of her rubbish isn’t her fault. Dillon definitely has his share of baggage (and it’s not pretty), but when he dances in my head, I just have to smile. For a long time, I avoided writing scenes with Frank in them, because I really didn’t like him. Then I decided that I needed to know why he acts the way he does – and when the Muse told me, it was an “Aha!” moment, and I understood the reasons for his behavior. I still don’t like the things Frank does, but I developed sympathy for him.
On the other hand, in my new book, I started out writing the scenes where the bad guy is doing his gnarly worst. I wanted him to get his comeuppance, but while I could see that scene happening, it was like watching a movie with the sound turned off. Then, about two weeks into the project, I heard much of the dialogue, so I finally got to write it down and say, “Take THAT, you creep!” I know why he acted the way he did, but I still detest him.
One pleasant character we hear about in the book is the cat Dillon remembers growing up with. That cameo is a composite of my Kitty, and the lives of Spats and Sherbet; the latter two now gone to the Happy Hunting Ground.
Q: You are working on a new book. Can you give a preview of what this work is about?
The Passions of Patriots is a project I did for National Novel Writing Month, a worldwide program held each November, and the goal of which is to write 50,000 words of a new novel—and I’m one of the winners! The Passions of Patriots is a historical novel about the adventures of Dillon Carroll’s ancestors, from 1906 – 1936, a period during which they get enmeshed in the Irish Ranch War, the Home Rule controversy, the Dublin Lockout, the First World War, the Easter Rising, the Anglo-Irish War, and the Irish Civil War, among other trials and tribulations.