Witchfinder and the art of publishing/writing

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Author Sarah A. Hoyt addressed the Avondale United Methodist Book Club this morning (Saturday, November 22, 2014) to discuss her book Witchfinder, the art of writing and what it is like to publish a book as both a traditional and “indie” author.

The interview was a culmination of the club’s reading and discussing Witchfinder at its regular club meeting earlier this month. Witchfinder is Hoyt’s first indie publication of a new release novel. This blog post, and possibly a few more, will cover what was discussed, and the insights gleaned, during the hour and twenty minutes of rolling conversation.

The interview was conducted by Skype, and this was the first time the book club had attempted to use Skype, so technical issues were encountered. On the Avondale end Mark Keeney, church staff member and husband of church librarian Sandy Keeney, provided tech support to get the sound clearer, while in Colorado Dan Hoyt, Sarah’s husband, provided her with technical support.

So as they were getting things set up, and as we were waiting for people to roll in at Avondale, Dan provided this important note, from his experience at various conferences.

“The best way to handle things at a conference is don’t talk about anything important for the first 10 or 15 minutes.”

“That’s usually where the writers come in” Sarah chimed in, giving us a visual of a half asleep/zombie like writer entering, searching for coffee.

“But that’s usually when you get the fun stuff, when people are off book,” Dan added. The things that everyone remembers happen in those first few minutes.

(And that must be true, since here I am remembering it.)

We had collected questions from the club to start and guide the conversation. As spokesperson, I had divided them into two sets: those about  Witchfinder, and those about publishing in general. I decided to begin with the questions about the book.

Jonathan: How much of this story did you have in mind before you began or how much do the characters write the story and take it where you don’t intend.

Sarah: This book is a bad one to answer that one. Normally I have a very good idea of what I call the high points. I know okay, this is where they meet, this is where it is going to go. I thought I had it planned when I started out. I started this book on my website mostly because I didn’t want to think (what) to post every day. I wanted one day, Friday, where I knew what I was going to write.

(Sarah had actually started the book earlier, as a sort of proposal for her agent, but it ended up in her drawer when the agent didn’t know what sort of book it was to market it.)

Sarah: (She told me) “We don’t know if it is fantasy or science fiction.” At this point I said, “hello, magic, spells, fairyland, what are you talking about.” “But the character is a computer technician, that makes it science fiction.” Ah no.

I started writing a chapter a week. The main reason I chose it was I already had four chapters written. So I started doing a chapter a week. The book was not supposed to be like this at all, it was supposed to be about them having adventures and rescuing people. It was supposed to be about half the size that it is.

But I wrote it over a year. Normally I write my books very fast. Usually in a month or two, tops. This was, by necessity a very long process, and over time it changed, the characters got a life of their own. Then I had to go back and fix things to make sense. Gabriel was supposed to be a very minor character.

Mark W.: That changed a little.

Sarah: So for this book the answer was it wasn’t very well plotted, sort of hit me over the head. Like I was writing along and the book crashed (into) me and ran off with me, hijacked my fingers.  I was very surprised when I finished, I needed to revise, and clean it up. I thought this is going to be very interesting, it probably makes no sense at all. Well, the characters changed, but they made sense, and it needed about as much revision as my normal book. (But) first of all I put it off for six months because I was so scared of it, and then I set aside a whole week just to do just that.

It came out very complex, which I hadn’t meant, and a group novel, which I also hadn’t intended. So you see that wasn’t a simple question.

Jonathan: We have some questions about fairyland and fairies. Where did you pick up the rules for Fairyland in this one, is there some sort of long medieval tradition you are drawing from, or did you come up with most of it yourself?

Sarah: (I used) Medieval, and Rome, and some basic things, the role of myth in all of them. And creatures are very Protean, they change, their shape, they are different.

I had started with the vague idea that it (Fairyland) was a parasite world, and I was 2/3 in before I realized it wasn’t. It was actually some sort of magical engine that propelled the rest of the worlds and gave them magic.

So it was this was a very interesting process (writing a chapter a week). Let’s do something completely different from what I normally do it and see what gets done.  I’m still not decided on whether I like it. It is a mix of all the mythological travels to different realms and how they change you. And then dictates of the book itself, and what it needed. Which is good, but causes problems for the sequels, but that’s okay.

Jonathan: Do these characters appear in any other books, or will they? The mention of sequels seems to say yes.

Sarah: I have started two sequels, one on the Website, called Rogue Magic, featuring Jonathan Blythe — because I have a thing for rogues. And the other one is called the Haunted Air, and it is kind of YA, what happens when Michael, Seraphim’s younger brother, builds a sort of boat, a rowboat, but it is magical and it can go between dimensions and he gets into all sorts of trouble with it. He is 16, so you know, you sort of expect it. He starts by running away from a magical mechanical barber that he created and which is trying to behead him.

To Be Continued …

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