Witchfinder — characters shock the writer


(This is part two of a blog series on the discussion between Sarah A. Hoyt and the Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club about Hoyt’s book Witchfinder, the art of writing, and what it is like to publish a book as both a traditional and “indie” author.)

Sandy: So how you keep all of these characters and plot points straight – do you have index cards or something?

Sarah: I tried cards, and notebooks, none of that works for me, because the characters are just themselves. They just show up and do their thing and if I don’t get in the way they are amazingly consistent in themselves.

Another writer said you have to do it this way, find out things about the characters. So I did it, but I wasn’t writing the stories because I was talking to the characters. What I was finding out wasn’t what I needed for the book.

There are things, like when Jonathan reveals himself, takes action and reveals himself, that shocked me, which I think works very well, because it was a shock for the readers too.

I feel very responsible and non-professional doing it that way. Should I pretend I do index cards?

Sandy: No’ I think that is actually fine, I have seen articles and other interviews that say similar things. Everyone has their own style, and whatever works for anyone is great.

Sarah: If you think about it isn’t quite the sane thing to do for a living. I sit down and create elaborate lies.

Sandy: And talk to my imaginary friends.

Sarah: Yes!

Jonathan: You mention Jonathan Blythe several times, and one of my favorite lines was about him near the end of the book. “We’ll send Jonathan Blythe to them, and they’ll end up thinking this was all their own idea.”  I take it that this idea of Jonathan Blythe is where Rogue Magic spins off of. I didn’t exactly see him that way, but it sparked such a wonderful idea is my mind when I read it.

Sarah: Yes, he is like that, although inside his head – because in rogue magic we spend a lot of time inside his head — and oh, is it a messy place! He is not as nearly as suave as he comes across on the outside. There is a lot more hesitation and stuttering, but what comes out of his mouth is very polished.

(From here Sarah segued to a story about the fastest she ever wrote a book – 3 days – in writing Plain Jane – a novel about one of Henry VIII’s wives. The publishing house asked her to be one of several authors each writing about a different wife.

Sarah: They gave me Jane Seymour. This is somewhat of a problem because I have no interest in the woman. She lived a life no one recorded and died giving birth. How do you write a novel about this? So I put it off and put it off. For the first time in my life the publisher was calling.  We have a cover, can we have the book. So I sat down and I just rushed through it in three days and I actually had no clue about what I had just written. But I thought, hey, it’s not under my name (the publishing  house was giving her a Pseudonym). So I sent it in and fully expected them to say what about these chapters in the middle? They never said anything, they published it. It did well, it is still doing well. And about a year ago I actually picked it up and read it. It makes perfect sense – probably one of the best things I have written.

I’m seriously considering writing all my books in three days. Only it almost killed me. When I got done writing it I felt 80 years old. My fingers hurt, the joints on my fingers were about pounded to death. I felt and looked 80, looked like I had just been drained, pale. I came up with all sorts of things, like dividing it into sections, having cool names for the sections.

Sandy: I notice you have a whole wall of books behind you. I have to ask, what is your favorite.

Sarah: The books behind are mostly research. But as an author who I like most everything he writes, that is Pratchett.

Sandy: Yes, he’s my favorite as well.

Sarah: I read Pratchett, I read Agatha Christie, obviously with this book I read Georgette Heyer. Although I didn’t read any of her (Heyer’s) stuff until I was 37. I met my publisher Toni Weiskopf at a con and said I know my plotting needs help — there are cultural reasons for that —  plotting of Portuguese novels are much slower, and that is what I grew up with.

So my novels had these very slow, very inside your head rhythm. And she said: Read Heyer. And I found I liked her romances. Her mysteries are atrocious. There is no life in them. They are like set pieces, just figures moving around.

The ones (authors) I reread are Terry Pratchett, Agatha Christie, Heyer, and Heinlein, but Heinlein is more when I am in a science fiction mode, which I should be right now.

Betsy: (Referring to something on a bookshelf behind Sarah) I was wondering if that was a Lego Batman up there…

Sarah: No, no, this, my younger son, at 4, came to me with this.  The way I bought time to write was have them play on the floor in my office. So he came to me and told me “this is an attack duck. It will protect you when you are writing.”  He is embarrassed that I have kept it all these years. It talks (she moved its mouth and it fell apart, she put it back together). I told him we should have it dipped in resin or something so I don’t have to put it back together. That is my guardian duck, he protects me, which is good because the critters I write about are dangerous. So I have an attack Duck, and have all sorts of things the kids have given me. An origami crane from his Japanese culture class… the one thing I do collect in the junk.


(Next time – more on the “junk” Hoyt collects)


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