Historical Novelist Kip Wilson On History As Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

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Today's guest for the WHAT is Kip Wilson author of White Rose, is a historical about anti-Nazi political activist Sophie Scholl. Kip holds a Ph.D. in German Literature, is the poetry editor at YARN (Young Adult Review Network).

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I actually had two specific origin points for this book. The first came when I first heard about the White Rose resistance group in high school German class. I was inspired by the group’s bravery and determined to learn more about its members. I wasn’t a writer yet at the time, but I remained interested in Sophie Scholl and the group for years, ordering new books about them as they were published and even taking a trip to Munich and Ulm, Germany to find out more. I first tried to write the book as nonfiction, but it just wasn’t working, and I set the project aside. Only years later did I hit the second origin point. During a chat with two verse novelists, I figured out that writing the story in verse might be the very thing it needed. I got to work on it the very next day.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I kept as close as possible to the known historical facts about the group, so the plot was already there, with plenty of conflict, twists, and stakes built in. The challenge was more about deciding which facts, which details to include and how exactly to present the story.

I do work best alone with only the sounds of nature outside my window, so I get my best work done at #5amwritersclub..png

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

In the case of White Rose, the plot was predetermined by the history, but the way I presented the timeline of events changed during revision. I originally told the story in reverse order, but through revision I settled on a version with two timelines, one close to the original ending and one starting years before that.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Ideas come all the time, but unfortunately an idea isn’t enough to decide for me to decide if the story has mettle. I have to spend some time with the idea, do some research, get to know the characters, and above all, dive in to that time and setting to see if it’s something I simply must explore.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

It is hard to choose! Because I write historical fiction, a lot of the work (and the fun!) is in the research, so I’m often doing background research on one project while drafting another or doing some fact-checking on one while revising another. But if I’m passionate about the time period and setting, I’ll definitely at least place it on my back burner for someday.

I have many cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I have ten-year-old twins, and they both love to read and write, so sometimes we do those things together. We all share one computer, so I sometimes end up in my notebook instead of at the keyboard when they’re around. Still, I do work best alone with only the sounds of nature outside my window, so I get my best work done at #5amwritersclub.

Courtney Brandt On Always Being Alert for Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Courtney Brandt author of seven YA novels, including The Queen of England: Coronation. She also writes adult works under the pen name Ann Benjamin.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Promise not to laugh? I was out for my birthday in 2014 and had, to put it delicately, a few too many glasses of champagne. At some point the next morning, I was having a lie in, and as my brain was wandering, it focused on the topic of British royalty (as one does) and I somehow wondered what the United Kingdom might be without Queen Victoria. I was lucky enough to hold onto that thread, and sometime later began the first draft of what would become The Queen of England: Coronation. Ideas drop in like this from time to time, it’s just important to listen and be alert.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

The book was always going to be driven by my protagonist, Queen Juliette. Here is this poor girl, made Queen of England, with her country under attack and she really has no idea what she’s supposed to do. Juliette needed to find out who was behind the death of Victoria, and plan for her coronation. Those were the concrete plot points I had in place. From there, I was able to build in supporting characters and other plot points.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

In this instance, I thought the coronation was going to serve as the final action in the book, only to be surprised when it ended up in the second act. How Juliette works through her ‘chaos coronation’ is the foundation for her real role as Queen. As much as I wanted to use the coronation as the grand finale, it wasn’t going to happen. In the second and third books of the trilogy, there’s been a bit of moving around, but for the most part, I’ve followed the original plot.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I’m fortunate in that ideas come to me all the time. I have three novels waiting to be written at the moment, and am still quite active in certain fandoms (I got my start by writing fanfiction).

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How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Excellent question. For example, I usually write a novel a year, and I really thought 2018’s was going to be one I’ve had in my mind for two or three years (sorry, A.U.!). Then, out of nowhere, late last year a new, more timely idea, popped in my head and it’s going to be this year’s book. I’m looking forward to both projects, but there is something about my new novel that seems more relevant. An exception to this is when I’m working on a series…and tend to work those out before moving onto another project. However, I wrote my first series out of order, which I realize that makes almost no sense.

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I have an old lady cat who has a basket on my desk. I’ve written in all kinds of environments, but for now, I love my desk top and a twenty-two year old Japanese bobtail. I also have a dear author friend who lives in Texas, quite a few hours behind me in Dubai. We don’t check in every day, but we touch base when big projects are nearing completion.

Kim Rendfeld On Leaving Your Debut Behind

Welcome to another of my fabulous acronym-based interviews. The second novel is no easy feat, and with that in mind I put together a series of questions for debuts who are tackling the second obstacle in their career path. I call it the SNOB - Second Novel Omnipresent Blues. Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie.

Today's guest for the SNOB is Kim Rendfeld, who has a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and legends, which set her on her quest to write The Cross and the Dragon, her debut novel. She grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, with a minor in French. In 2007 she joined the marketing and communications team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She gets paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoys it.

Her second novel, The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar is set in the wake of Charlemagne in the year 772. Set against a backdrop of historic events, including the destruction of the Irminsul, it explores faith, friendship, and justice. This companion to Kim Rendfeld’s acclaimed The Cross and the Dragon tells the story of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances. You can read the first few chapters of both Kim's books on her site for free!

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

Everyone has their own way to decide on when to start book No. 2. Whenever I finish writing a manuscript, I go through a form of grief, one that can be remedied only by starting on another book. So The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar was the only way I could cope with leaving The Cross and the Dragon behind. Working on another project also took some of the anxiety out the query process. It gave me something else to concentrate on besides all those rejections.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?

It took so long to get Cross and Dragon published that I had gone through three major drafts of Ashes and started on a third manuscript. Still, once my debut was published, I focused on promotion for three months. Then I realized promotion is never really done, and I simply needed to get back to the manuscript.

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

I don’t have a particular audience in mind when I’m writing fiction. I’m mainly focused on telling a good story with characters who are true to their time – the early Middle Ages in this case – but still appealing and relatable to modern readers. Even with book No. 3 (tentatively titled Lady Queen Fastrada), my first priority is the story.

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

I was busy even before publication – a full-time job, a blog, a social media presence, and oh yes, my novel. In addition, I enjoy gardening and do some volunteer work at my local library. So time management feels like a juggling act. Each night and weekend, I must ask myself what gets priority: a blog post, publicity, my work in progress, critique of a friend’s work. In other words, what do I put off for another night? Sometimes the answer is deadline driven. My crutch is my handwritten lists. Note the plural.

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

I wrote most of the second manuscript while I was still unpublished, so the writing process wasn’t that different. However, one thing I got to skip in this go-around was the query process, and that is liberating. Of course, Fireship Press needed to review the finished manuscript before making an offer, but to have a publisher truly interested in your work is a great feeling and a boost in confidence. It allowed me to focus on polishing the manuscript rather than agonizing over a cover letter.

On the publishing and promotion side, there was a four-month wait between sending the finished book to the printer and releasing it for sale. The reason was to allow time to arrange the virtual book tour and other publicity. I am very grateful to Fireship Press for believing in my work to make such an investment. I didn’t mind the wait. In fact, it gave me time to write guest posts, work on novel No. 3, even take a vacation or two to see family.