Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Author Bites - Cinda Williams Chima on Keeping a Map of Those Murdered Darlings

I am absolutely in love with Cinda Williams Chima's The Seven Realms novels. If you haven't read The Demon King, then you need to go out right now and get it. And then pre-order The Exiled Queen. I think Cinda is an amazing writer and I asked if she would divulge some of her processes behind this series and her writing in general. She graciously handed over some words and what is quite possibly my favorite author quote ever. See if you can spot it. Thank you for stopping by, Cinda!

Publishing is a fickle and frustrating business—and nobody knows it better than writers. We always feel like we are at the bottom of the food chain. Many of us write for years and years, hundreds of thousands of words that will never see a wider audience than our friends, lovers, and long-suffering critique groups.

Even though I always say you shouldn’t be a writer unless you love the process, it seems like such a waste of our creative youth!

And yet—my first writing teacher always said, “Nothing is wasted. Everything you write makes you a better writer.”

More and more, I believe that’s true. Not only that, some of that “practice” writing can be improved, recycled and repurposed. Some of those ideas are keepers, even if the craft wasn’t there to begin with.

Be ruthless in your editing, be savage in revision. By all means, kill your darlings--but know where the bodies are buried. Recycle and reuse—that’s environmentally responsible, right?

The first novel I managed to finish as an adult was The Warrior Heir, a contemporary YA fantasy novel set in Ohio. I was so enthralled with the magical system and the characters, I wrote a second novel, The Wizard Heir. While I shopped the two Heir books, I launched into a very ambitious project—a high fantasy trilogy for adults.

It was called The Star-Marked Warder, and by the time I finished two of the three books, I had more than 500,000 words. These were giant books, even by fantasy standards.

It reminds me of a topic tag on the Editorial Anonymous blog http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/search/label/how%20to%20tell%20you%27re%20never%20going%20to%20get%20published
—“How To Tell You’ll Never Be Published.” Here’s one possibility—write a 750,000-word high fantasy trilogy for your fiction debut.

But I loved those books I wrote. I loved those characters—flawed and star-crossed as they were. I loved the ruthless politics of the warring peoples of the queendom of the Fells. I loved the magical systems—the powerful green magic of the upland Clans and the dangerous high magic of the Northern Island wizards.

I loved the world I’d created—the world of the Seven Realms. I even had a map—a lame rendering that I laboriously copied over and over as I added cities and landmarks and details to my burgeoning world. More importantly, even my endlessly-patient critique group loved my world and my characters. Years later, they still remember scenes in amazing detail. Some keep hinting that maybe I should just go ahead and finish it. What’s 250,000 more words, after all?

The Star Marked Warder got me an agent, who undertook the impossible task of selling it. After a year of trying, she said, “Um. Didn’t you have a young adult project, too?”

And so I dusted off The Warrior Heir, and revised it yet again, using everything I’d learned from writing SMW. And it sold. I revised The Wizard Heir, removing a flashback scene I knew my editor wouldn’t like. And it sold. So, I wrote a third, The Dragon Heir, that made the series a best-seller.

When I considered what to write next, I knew I wanted to write more fantasy for teens. But what? My thoughts returned to the series I’d abandoned.

I knew the Seven Realms were full of stories. So I chose two of my favorite characters from SMW—the streetwise thief Han Alister and Princess Raisa ana’Marianna—the strong-willed heir to the throne. I went back to when they were sixteen years old, to when their stories really began--to when they transformed themselves. And that was the birth of the Seven Realms series. I aimed to make these books leaner and more accessible—as all good fiction should be. The series will total four books of—ahem—more manageable size.

And if there’s ever a need for a sequel, well…I’m ready to revise.

Oh! Remember that chapter I cut from The Wizard Heir? Revised, repurposed, and retitled “The Trader,” it’s being published this fall in The Way of the Wizard, a fantasy anthology edited by John Joseph Adams. It will be my first short fiction publication.

Revise, recycle, repurpose—we call that “evergreen” writing.


Ninja 007 said...

Wow, i love your posts!! Would you like to participate in my Bookish Ninja blog thingy? I'm here to personally invite you.


Shauna said...

I am not sure what your favorite quote is but I sure loved this:

"By all means, kill your darlings--but know where the bodies are buried."

Donna said...

Shauna, that is THE line! Love it!

Sab H. said...

How I LOVE this series! So cool to learn the story behind it. :)

Thank you SO much for posting this, Donna! I'm so glad there's finally another blogger who raves about this series as much as I *should* be raving. I swear, it rocked my socks like very few books do. :P

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