Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Guest Post: Naomi Blass

As we know, writing can be a lonely, solitary process. Thanks to the magics of the interwebs, writers have more ways than ever of connecting with one another, learning from one another, and finding our "people" out there in cyberspace.

In the coming weeks, I'm going to introduce you to three of my writing people: my critique partners. I like the number three for critique partners; if just one person disagrees with me, I'm never sure whether they are right and I should change something, or whether they just didn't "get" it; with two, they may completely disagree with one another ("You should totally cut that scene out," "You should totally make that scene longer,"); with three there is always a tie-breaker, and if more than one -- or all three -- say the same thing about a particular scene or short story, I know I can trust them.

Having a good critique partner isn't easy. It's a give-and-take process that requires an enormous deal of trust, communication and respect. The three people I'm spotlighting are writers whose work I genuinely enjoy reading, who are somewhere around the same place I am with regards to experience and position in trying to get published, and whose advice I take to heart.

Last week I introduced you all to my longest-running critique partnership; this week meet my newest critique partner, Naomi. She found me on Twitter a couple of months ago and I quickly discovered that we had a lot in common: we both write historical fantasy, we both love Doctor Who, we both bake, she's a lawyer and I'm married to a lawyer, we're both MOT. I decided we are Twitter Twins. Thus a new writing partnership was born. 

If I dig into the past for my work, Naomi digs into the past-past: Ancient Greece. Her first novel takes on the legend of Medusa, she of the snakey hair and stoney gaze, and from the first four chapters I've read so far I can honestly say it's well-written and a really amazing premise.

I asked Naomi five questions and she graciously answered. Check her out on Twitter at NayWrites.

What is it about historical fiction that attracts you? Do you read and watch a lot of historical fiction as well?

I am naturally drawn to the past. Due to WWII, I grew up not knowing my family’s history and that deeply impacted my formative years. I think it’s what drives my interest in historical fiction.
Also, I think for many writers there is a general sense of belonging to another time period. Or at least a natural affinity to a romanticized version of a certain time period and its ethos and aesthetics.

Books and TV--Why, yes, yes I do. And I’ll read just about anything, from Morgan Llywelyn and Leon Uris, to the prolific Bernard Cornwell, to newer authors like David Benioff’s City of Thieves and Nicola Griffith’s Hild.  

It’s fair to say that I’m also a voracious watcher of historical non-fiction. I’d be completely satisfied with only four TV channels: BBC America, The Smithsonian Channel, The History Channel and National Geographic TV. 

As for historical fiction on TV, I’m thrilled to see so many new series, with or without fantasy/paranormal cross-over. NBC’s Dracula won me over from the start and I was disappointed that the network cancelled Season Two. Crossbones with John Malkovich might win me back, though. I genuinely can’t wait to see the BBC’s The Musketeers as I’m a huge Alexandre Dumas fan. I love The Count of Monte Cristo. I would give my eye-teeth to see that as a mini-series. Hello, BBC?

Why did you choose Ancient Greece for your novel?

My first love was and is Greek mythology. It came as no surprise to me that The Big Idea for the novel would spring from that seed.

What resources do you use for your historical setting?

Honestly, anything I thought might help world-build, I sniffed it out. I’ve used everything from Homer’s The Odyssey and Herodotus’ The Histories to a professor who is an expert in the Greek myth I’m working on … to all the resources Al Gore’s Internet has to offer: anything from to YouTube videos of road tripping through the Greek islands to get a better sense of place to Pinterest for character picture collages; academic journal articles on ancient Greek society and religion; databases on the flora and fauna of the Greek isles: what’s in bloom when, in what type of soil surrounded by what kind of native animals and insects.  My favorite, though, was Theresa Karas Tianilos’ The Complete Greek Cookbook: The Best from 3000 Years of Greek Cooking. When I suffer for my work, I do it with red wine and lamb, thank you very much.  [No wonder we're friends. –MM]

Do you think there is a natural relationship between fantasy and history, or is it difficult to insert fantastical elements into historical time periods?

Yes and No. There is a natural relationship as all story-telling is fantasy in its most basic sense. We are writers, not journalists. I don’t have a time machine or TARDIS (pity, that). So, whether I choose to be a historical purist or add elements of the fantastic appropriate (or not) to my historical fiction, it’s all fantasy. Just about every culture has a folklore or mythology that can be sprinkled into a story or bridged from others. You want a lost djinn in Victorian England? Go for it. So, speaking of Victorian England, Dracula is a great example. Remember, too, that the paranormal in general and séances in particular were popular then, so often there is no need to deliberately insert fantasy into history. It’s there already. You just need to know where to look--and be sure to look beyond your cultural comfort zone.  Every writer worth her weight in ink is a good thief.

What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter (outlines) or a pantser (fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants?)

My daily process is as follows: Coffee. Exercise, eat, shower, and then write. I do my best brainstorming and problem solving while working out or in the shower.

My larger process is as follows: I’m panster and a plotter at different times in my process. I’m a pantser while I’m searching for ideas. I’ll try out any number of potential storylines and combination of elements until the jig-saw puzzle of it sticks together. By sticks, I mean, I can’t stop thinking about it--that the idea has enough energy to sustain itself independent of me over the long haul. It has to be interesting enough that I want to stay wedded to it (and hopefully the readers will, too!). Once I’m committed to an idea, I’m a hardcore plotter.  Chapter by chapter, scene by scene, on little, white 4X6 cards. If I can’t figure out a scene, I drill down: I go for a run or take a shower or brainstorm on paper with lots of pretty circles and arrows until the knot is untangled. When all else fails, I step away for a day or two at most. 

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