Analyzing Your Ideas Against Existing Trends: Kalyn Josephson

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 Kalyn Josephson, author of The Storm Crow, a YA Fantasy novel out with SourcebooksFire July 2019. Kalyn currently works as a Technical Writer in Silicon Valley, which leaves room for too many bad puns about technically being a writer. .

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?

Yes! I’d read an article about a little girl who fed her neighborhood crows. In return, they brought her trinkets. People christened her The Crow Queen, a title that really stuck with me. It gave me the idea for a fairytale-esque story about a girl trapped in a tower (naturally) and the crows who brought her pieces of the world. I’d always loved crows, and couldn’t get the imagery from the story out of my mind. Eventually it expanded into a larger world, until The Storm Crow was born. 

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

The first thing I ironed out was the 8 types of crows (Shadow, Sun, Battle, Storm, Fire, Water, Wind, Earth). From there, I built a world centered on their integration in society. Then I asked: what happens if they all disappear? How does that impact the world? The people? For my MC, Anthia, it had a very personal impact, and the story follows her struggle to deal with it.

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

Usually I’m pretty good at sticking to my outlines. But sometimes I’d reach a point and realize what I had planned won’t work. Either because it doesn’t fit the characters, or it’s not coming together on paper like it did in my head.

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

Story ideas pop into my head pretty frequently, and I keep a notebook of everything. Not all of them are good enough to be the kernel for a new world, and a lot of times I end up combining ideas. You always have to analyze new ideas for how similar they are to existing books and trends, but especially in the YA Fantasy market, which is heavily inundated. I’ve had to scrap a lot of ideas I loved that were too similar to existing books. 

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

Whichever one won’t leave me alone. I have a long drive to work, which is pretty much my only free, uninterrupted alone time. A lot of my brainstorming is done then (so much so that I bought a tape recorder that I leave running so I can dictate ideas). Often, a lot of tiny ideas will pop up, and they’ll all fit nicely into a larger WIP. When that starts happening, I know it’s a story I want to focus on.

I have 5 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?

5 is impressive! I have 2 little black cats I adopted, Snags and El. El is a lap kitten that keeps me company while I write; Snags only pops up on my desk around dinner time to ensure I don’t forget. 

 Snags (left) and El (right)

Debut Author Samantha Hastings on Setting in Historical Fiction

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 Samantha Hastings, who has degrees from Brigham Young University, the University of Reading (Berkshire, England), and the University of North Texas. The Last Word is her debut novel.

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 was living in Reading, England and attending graduate school there. I began reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters—a very thick Victorian novel. I was almost to the end of the book and I started to get concerned; instead of wrapping up plotlines, it continued to spin new ones. Then I turned the last page and there was a note from her editor saying that the author had died. The editor assured the reader that the two main characters did eventually get together, but I didn’t get to read it happening. I was so disappointed. I had no idea that the book was unfinished when I started reading it. And I wondered how Elizabeth Gaskell’s original fans felt never being able to read the last words of her book. Especially, after reading it serially for two whole years! 

In The Last Word, my main character, Lucinda Leavitt, has a similar experience when her favorite author, Mrs. Smith, dies before finishing the serialized version of her book. Mrs. Smith’s editor does not tell the reader how the love triangle worked out. Lucinda sets out to find out who Mrs. Smith really was and how she would have finished her story.     

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

The plot was the hard part! It took me fifteen years before I had a story to tell with my original idea. Mrs. Smith, the dead authoress, at the beginning of the story is an anonymous person. Lucinda Leavitt doesn’t even know her first name or anything about who she was, where she lived, her family, etc. Lucinda only has one clue to find her and that’s the last address where the publisher sent her royalties.

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

Definitely. The more research that I do about a historical era, the more the time period itself becomes a character. The clothes, food, transportation, historical events, all seem to find a way into the story, which alters the plotline. The plot for me is always a puzzle and piecing it together is what makes writing so much fun—and really hard. 

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

I have more ideas than I do manuscripts. I find inspiration for “fresh material” by reading nonfiction books about people or time periods. I typically like to hone in on unique people and lesser known historical events.  

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

 This happens to me all of the time. Sometimes it feels like having to pick a favorite among your children. It’s difficult. How I ultimately decide on one, is the idea that is keeping me up at night thinking about it. That idea always becomes my next project.  

 I have 5 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’m allergic to pet dander—I can’t breathe and I get all covered in spots. So, my writing buddies are Skinny Pop popcorn and Diet Dr. Pepper.

Shannon Schuren On Inspiration & Rewriting

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 is Shannon Schuren, author of The Virtue of Sin, releasing June 25th. Her short stories have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Big Pulp, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and The Binnacle Ultra-Short Edition, among others

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?

Two, actually. The first was a vacation to Koreshan State Park in Florida, which is the site of an abandoned Utopian community. Many of the buildings are still standing, and I wandered around the grounds and took a lot of pictures and made notes for a story idea which I filed away and promptly forgot. Then a couple of months later, I had a very vivid dream that ended up becoming one of the first scenes in the book. It wasn’t until I was almost through the first draft that I found those old story notes. Of course, the plot of the novel bears almost no resemblance to that original idea, but the roots—closed community, cult leader, toxic patriarchy—are all there.

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

Lots and lots of brainstorming and writing. And rewriting. And rewriting again. Honestly, I had a very hard time nailing down this plot. In fact, I originally thought the story might be dystopian. I abandoned that idea early on, mostly because the thought of building an entire society was too overwhelming. Little did I know that creating my own cult was going to be almost as hard! 

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

The story changed from draft to draft. But I didn’t a firm plot in mind when I started writing. I began with the spark of an idea and a couple of characters, and just wrote. Had I plotted first, it might not have taken me so many drafts, but then I wouldn’t have had the fun of unraveling those plot twists! Lucky for me, I also have a fantastic editor who has a gift for zeroing in on the important plot points.

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

Ideas come to me frequently, but whether or not they are novel-worthy is another question.

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

I do struggle with this. I’ve even started the wrong story a few times, only to abandon it a few weeks in. I’m learning to listen to my gut and go with the idea that I am most curious about. That’s usually the one that is going to keep me entertained and yield the richest story.

I have 5 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?

Up until this week, the answer was no. But we just adopted a kitten for my daughter’s birthday, and he is serious and adorable and quite curious about everything, so I foresee a writing buddy in my future!