It may seem like an easy to answer question but for most writer’s it is a multi faceted one. I have answered with:
Word or picture prompts
Overheard snippets of conversation
An idea popped into my head randomly
A personal interest
A topic of conversation
A couple of examples:
My children’s picture book, Rumble’s First Scare was a Halloween prompt, which I turned upside down. It is the monster’s point of view of Halloween and his first scare adventure with his Mum.
The Rython Kingdom began as a series of prompts that gelled together to form a story by pure chance.
It is not so clear cut as these to be honest but it helps a non-writer understand the creativity side of our brains a little easier.
I presented a workshop on how to formulate an idea into a novel at the WFSC writer’s conference in the spring. From that initial spark to compiling a story line/arc, creating a plot arc, introducing characters, and finding the correct conclusion for the genre. It was a fun experience.
In 2017, soon after Firstborn released, I met with my publisher in New York to talk about what was next. I had a short list of favorite story concepts—the idea of a cult escapee starting over and a pandemic rising from the permafrost (an idea straight from the headlines) among six or seven others. My publisher said, “I like both of those. I think you should put them together!”
It worked out very well! I wish I could take credit for the combination, but it was my publisher’s idea.
How did you come up with the title?
There is this theme through the book about crossing lines from one life, or one realm, into another. It’s also about the thin line between so many things including sanity and madness, faith and apostasy, safety and danger.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There are certainly themes built into each of my books—in this case, climate change, sexual harassment, and leaps of faith. But what I hope readers will take from my books is always first and foremost a great experience and engrossing journey—the escape we turn to fiction for.
How much of the book is realistic?
I’ve been told it’s frighteningly realistic, due mostly to the fact that it’s inspired by real events—a disease re-emerging from the permafrost, and a cyber attack on the electrical grid. I left details about these events in my author’s note at the end for those interested.
Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Except for a couple small cameos I gave my dad, sister, and I in my first novel, DEMON, they’re all fictional. I name characters after people I know, fans, and family sometimes, though. The main character in THE LINE BETWEEN, Wynter, is named after my step-daughter.
Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog?
Yes! I’ve got a blog on my website at toscalee.com, which is also where you can find links to my social media and my newsletter, including my newsletter just for writers.
Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
The sequel, A SINGLE LIGHT releases this September and picks up right where THE LINE BETWEEN ends. It comes out September 17, and is up for pre-order now!
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?
There’s a character in A SINGLE LIGHT who is one of my favourite characters I’ve ever written. He’s sweet, quirky, and often hilarious. I can’t wait to introduce him to the world!
Do you favor one type of genre or do you dabble in more than one?
I write thrillers, some of which are slightly supernatural, some dystopian books, and historical novels.
Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer?
I have to have at least a loose outline. I learned that the hard way.
What is your best marketing tip?
Do the parts that are most interesting to you and keep it fun.
Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance?
Both. It’s great for staying in touch with readers and sharing updates. But it’s very time-consuming!
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Being able to set my own schedule and write in my pajamas!
What age did you start writing stories/poems?
What genre are you currently reading?
Do you read for pleasure or research or both?
Who is your best supporter/mentor/encourager?
Do you see writing as a career?
I write full-time. When people ask me about how I stay motivated the answer is easy: I like to eat. 😀
Do you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food?
Cheetos and buttered popcorn! Neither one is good for keyboards.
What reward do you give yourself for making a deadline?
I clean closets. That probably doesn’t sound like a reward, but I find it very therapeutic.
Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of ten novels including THE LINE BETWEEN, THE PROGENY, FIRSTBORN, THE LEGEND OF SHEBA, ISCARIOT, and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestseller Ted Dekker. Her work has been translated into seventeen languages and been optioned for TV and film. A notorious night-owl, she loves movies, playing football with her kids, and sending cheesy texts to her husband.
You can find Tosca at ToscaLee.com, on social media, or hanging around the snack table. A SINGLE LIGHT, Tosca’s highly-anticipated sequel to THE LINE BETWEEN, releases September 2019 and is available for preorder now.
About THE LINE BETWEEN:
In this frighteningly believable thriller from New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee, an extinct disease re-emerges from the melting Alaskan permafrost to cause madness in its victims. For recent apocalyptic cult escapee Wynter Roth, it’s the end she’d always been told was coming.
When Wynter Roth is turned out of New Earth, a self-contained doomsday cult on the American prairie, she emerges into a world poised on the brink of madness as a mysterious outbreak of rapid early onset dementia spreads across the nation.
As Wynter struggles to start over in a world she’s been taught to regard as evil, she finds herself face-to-face with the apocalypse she’s feared all her life—until the night her sister shows up at her doorstep with a set of medical samples. That night, Wynter learns there’s something far more sinister at play and that these samples are key to understanding the disease.
Now, as the power grid fails and the nation descends into chaos, Wynter must find a way to get the samples to a lab in Colorado. Uncertain who to trust, she takes up with former military man Chase Miller, who has his own reasons for wanting to get close to the samples in her possession, and to Wynter herself.
Filled with action, conspiracy, romance, and questions of whom—and what—to believe, The Line Between is a high-octane story of survival and love in a world on the brink of madness.
Thank you to everyone who has joined in this month’s conversation on genre. We have indeed covered all aspects of genre from writing it to marketing it.
Today’s question is: How much of your ‘personality should you put into your narrative? In other words do you, or should you, utilize family memories, personal history or ‘local’ knowledge to create a realistic tale?
Some genres may not readily seem to avail themselves to personal input but even sci-fi or fantasy has interactions where you need to think what reaction a character would have in that situation.
I am excited to read your thoughts on this question. Please click on the post headings & then scroll to the comment section.
Last week’s responses:
biancarowena As a ‘pantser’ I tent to write whatever I feel and see in my mind’s eye, then edit later. This makes for a lot of editing, as compared to planners. I know how time consuming reconstructing a story can be. So I’d personally recommend knowing your genre before writing the story, and sticking to it. Publishers what to know how to categorize your story. It’s not to limit you but to help them know who your target audience is. They know which genre is in demand and are looking for specific things. If your genre is too vague or you don’t stick to one then your book is less marketable, in a publisher’s view. I think for the sake of not having to rewrite your entire story (if your genre is not clear or shifts), it’s best to know your genre before delving in, and sticking to it.
When I was writing my book I was calling it historical fiction as it was based on a true story but with some fictionalizing. When it was accepted for publication, my publisher changed it to non-fiction, based on a true story. What happens with that in bookstores (not the independents), is that the book is shelved with research, resource, history and since my name begins with W it is on the bottom shelf near the floor and is crowded out by the other larger resource books. Browsers never see it, and anyone looking for it has a difficult time finding it. The next time I write a book I am using my maiden name that begins with M.
I tend to follow formula and am happy doing so. However, if well written, the unexpected can work well. But if not handled with care, can be a book you want to toss into a wall.
The prompt today is to use this zen garden as your inspiration.
Here is my response:
Shoulders slumped, feet heavy on the glistening pavement, Jocelyn makes her way home in light rain, which gradually soaks through her jacket and trickles down her back. The grey drizzle matches her mood, yet another day stuck inside the call center, reading by rote the same sales pitch over and over again. This hadn’t been her dream, she had believed she could find a career designing and tending gardens but no-one would hire an inexperienced student so she had make do with the first job offered and there she had stayed. Even after paying rent and all her bills she had a surplus, which was reflected in her savings account but she had nowhere to spend it. Holidays alone did not appeal, a fancy car would stayed parked in the under ground garage most of the time as she could walk to work in less than ten minutes and she wasn’t into fashion. She had made her small apartment a Japanese inspired haven with rich colours and objects; this was where she was happy. Opening the door she placed her lunch bag on the kitchen counter and headed straight for the shower, the warm water soothed her, her silk kimono feeling luxurious against her skin. After a light supper, she sat redefining her Zen garden, comforted by the slow motion of the small wooden tools, watching the fine grains of sand move and the careful placing of the miniature stones.
The sudden ring of the phone breaks her peaceful meditation.
“Is this Jocelyn Woo?”
“This is Jocelyn, who is calling?”
“Hello Jocelyn, my name is Harry Kyoto, I was given your number by George Ita at the Sumay Garden Center. He told me you were very talented at design when you worked with him in your summer holidays from college”.
“That was a while ago Mr. Kyoto but I do continue to design gardens in my spare time”.
“Yes, George has shown me some of your designs and that is why I am calling. I would like to offer you a job. Would you consider it?”
“Mr. Kyoto I would be absolutely delighted to accept. What position are you offering?”
“Well garden designer, of course, what else?”
Jocelyn felt dizzy with excitement, her heart was pounding – a dream come true when she had been at her lowest since moving to the city.
“When do you need me to start Mr. Kyoto? I only need to give two weeks notice”.
“That’s excellent news Jocelyn. So shall we say you will start on the sixteenth?”
“Thank you so much Mr. Kyoto, I’m really overwhelmed at your offer”.
“Well from the designs George showed me I think I am the lucky one, Jocelyn. Take care and I’ll see you soon”.
As she replaced the mouth piece, she couldn’t contain her excitement and let out a yell of pure joy – no more stuffy crowded tower block office with the constant gabble of voices saying the same thing over and over. She would be living her dream in two short weeks.
I would love to read your poem or short story inspired by this prompt – leave it in the comments.
Writing is one activity which energizes me. The process of creating characters and the stories in which they interact is an exercise for my imagination.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Editing is my Kryptonite because as much as I want to start reviewing the characters motivations and the grammar, giving in to the urge in the early stages of my writing process stifles the creativity and overall potential of the final product.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes I have considered writing under a pseudonym but as I write in the YA and nonfiction genres, I didn’t feel a need to have distance or different identity, or anonymity associated between myself and my work.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
As I experience a disability, it was important that my books always have a character experiencing a disability in them. The disabled characters can be secondary characters but must not represent incorrect disability beliefs and stereotypes.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The best money I have spent as a writer has been for any books or classes in which have helped me to build my writer’s skill toolkit. There are so many facets to the success of creating and marketing as a writer, that any money spent learning is returned with each completed project.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I currently have one book in which I’m finish the third draft, two which are finished the first draft, one children’s picture book and one YA sequel which are waiting to be written.
What does literary success look like to you?
Literary success for myself is when I receive reader feedback about how my books have affected them. While it would be wonderful to be on bestseller lists and be financially sustained from writing only, realistically if I have enough success to continue to write and publish books which find audiences, that is success to me.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Research is a part of the writing process which I complete at the beginning, during and also when my manuscript is completed. In order to build realistic characters and circumstances in which they negotiate, it is important for me to construct a realistic world. That said, I am working on a science fiction book right now and so while the characters are moving around in the real world, human anatomy, ethics, energy and time are areas which need exploring. As much of the one character comes from the future and the mission needed to be completed to save humanity from their own extinction, as much as I can base the fictitious elements from reality should help build legitimacy for my readers.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
The time I spend greatly varies but I am for an hour and a half a week editing and three hours writing or working on activities to grow the manuscript content.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Sometimes I will hear a name that I really like but usually I look on baby name websites for the names and origins to see if they fit with my characters.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
The genres in which I write are Young Adult, Memoir, and Plays. Usually my writing projects become the one in which draws me to write. I chose YA because I wanted to write the books I was searching for when I was the age of the audience. Memoir was because I had read several and found I had something I wanted to share that was the truth as I remember it. Plays are because I love theatre and found limited opportunities for persons experiencing a disability to act or have a voice in the theatre community. When in the creation process, the genre in which the story can best be told balances which area I write and work in. As for balance, the project which I am most eager and energized to write is the one I select.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing poetry, lyrics and screen plays when I was in my teens. Writing manuscripts with the intention of publishing has been only in the past few years. I still consider myself as an emerging writer as I fell there is so much for me learning to be a lifelong experience.
What inspires you?
Life is my inspiration. Sounds weird but being in the world and interacting with people provides me sparks of interest which act as a jumping board for creation of my stories and characters.
How do you find or make time to write? Just like with most activities, I have to schedule in the time to write to ensure that there is a space and time where I’m able to do so.
What projects are you working on at the present?
In the draft stages of my sci-fi book.
What do your plans for future projects include?
My future plans include brainstorming and writing the next children’s picture book in my friends and family series.
Alison Neuman lives in Alberta, Canada, where she works as a freelance writer. Her debut novel Ice Rose: A Young Adult Spy Novel, a YA book integrating her love of gadgetry with the broad imaginative license afforded by the secret agent genre, features a female protagonist in a wheelchair and was published in 2010 by Fireside Publications.
Alison’s work has appeared in MacEwan Today,Westword, and the EdmontonJournal, and on three tracks of the CD release, Outside the Window.
Alison was honoured in 2011 for her human rights work in advocating for the rights of persons experiencing disabilities and in 2013 she won the Glenrose Courage Award. One of her greatest achievements was the founding of Camp Mission Access, an integrative camp for children from all walks of life—both with and without disabilities. Her memoir, Searching for Normal, was released in 2013, and a musical of the same debuted in the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival in 2014. Don’t Eat Family and Help From Friends, in her children’s Friends and Family series were published through Dream Write Publications.
Her play, The Sunset Syndrome was selected for Walterdale Theatre’s 2016 “From Cradle to Stage New Works Festival” and produced in the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival in 2017. Don’t Eat Family and Help From Friends, in her children’s Friends and Family series were published through Dream Write Publishing.
Alison is currently working towards her Master of Arts in Integrated Studies through Athabasca University.