Friday, April 11, 2014

Author Spotlight: Icy Sedgwick

Please welcome author Icy Sedgwick, here today to talk about her latest release, THE NECROMANCER'S APPRENTICE.


Though Jyximus Faire lives in a crumbling tenement in the Underground City, he escapes the squalor daily to attend lessons in magic and sorcery at the prestigious Academy in the City Above. 
But the pace isn’t fast enough for Jyx. He wants to learn everything—and he wants to learn it now. Then the dread necromancer general Eufame Delsenza sets her sights on Jyx; she needs a new apprentice, and Jyx fits the bill. When she tasks him with helping to prepare royal mummies for an all-important procession, he realises this might be a chance of a lifetime. 
Will Jyx’s impatience lead to him taking his education into his own inexperienced hands, and can a necromancer’s apprentice really learn to raise the dead—and control them?

What was your initial inspiration for this story?

I’d just watched The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Nicholas Cage and I suddenly thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to do that with a necromancer instead?” Then I sat down and started working out how that could possibly work. It might be a retelling of an existing story but The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Mickey Mouse was a retelling of a poem by Goethe! Besides, authors often borrow narrative patterns, but then populate them with their own characters, and come up with new environments for them. After all, Star Wars is essentially The Searchers in space.

What was the hardest part of the book to write, again without giving too much away?

I think it was actually the section when Jyx first arrives at the House of the Long Dead. So we’ve spent the first part of the book with him at home in the Underground City, then at school at the Academy in the City Above, and then we move to the House where he begins his apprenticeship. It’s a real change of location, and there was a great temptation to just throw descriptions and details at the reader so the House was as ‘real’ to them as it was to me, but it’s more important to drop details where they’re relevant, instead of bombarding people at once.

How long have you been writing and how did you get your start in publishing?

It sounds clich├ęd to say it but I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I did a creative writing course when I was sixteen that gave me a few pointers but it was only really when I was 21 that I started reading books about creative writing, and started writing short stories. I was 25 when I first got a story published online, and a couple of years later I discovered the Friday flash community through Twitter. It was through posting work on my blog that I ended up getting involved in a couple of anthologies, and on the back of those stories I got an email from an indie publisher asking me to write what ended up being my first published title, The Guns of Retribution. It’s all about getting yourself out there.

Tell us a little about your writing process. Are you a pantser or a plotter, and if you’re a plotter what method works best for you?

I’m halfway between the two. I’ve tried just making it up as I go along but I find I wander off the point quite easily, but if I write too rigid an outline I lose interest, as if writing the outline makes me feel like I’ve already told the story and therefore don’t need to actually write it. If I write a loose enough outline that lets me know the major ‘landmarks’ of the plot then I can pants it during the writing process, using these landmarks as signposts from one point to the next. It stops me getting bogged down in irrelevant digressions but it allows me enough freedom to muck about with the story.

What draws you to your genre?

I think The Necromancer’s Apprentice has elements of fantasy and elements of horror, and I think both of them are extremely important. They allow for escapism, yes, and that’s often why they’re looked down on in literary circles, but they also allow you to explore universal themes in a more metaphorical way. Horror explores the darker side of life, and not necessarily in the existential way you might find in a literary tale. Fantasy and horror hold a mirror up to life; they let you peek down the rabbit hole. Plus they’re a lot of fun to write!

Do you need silence while you write or do you listen to music? If you listen to music, what were you listening to while writing this book?

It depends what mood I’m in but I do like to have music on if possible. For this book, I listened to a lot of Nile due to their Egyptian influences, and a lot of movie soundtracks, particularly for The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. I’m not overly keen on listening to music with lyrics as it can be a bit distracting, so I prefer music that’s going to create an atmosphere or a mood.

Do you put much of yourself into your characters? When you do, does that make it easier or harder to write them?

I think writers inevitably put something of themselves into their characters – after all, we know ourselves better than others. That said, we might make a conscious effort to include elements from other characters that we’re familiar with from other fiction or media. I think if you put a lot of yourself into a character then it’s easy to turn them into an idealized version of yourself, which is just dull to read, and it’s harder to do something negative to them. At the same time, you don’t want that character to do anything wrong in case you think it will reflect badly on you. I try to make sure I don’t use too much of myself so I’ve got more freedom in what the characters do, otherwise they’d all just behave in the same way.

Any projects on the horizon for readers to look for?

I’m hoping to write some more short stories in this universe, and there’s at least a serial planned, but I also want to write the sequel. I’m not done with these characters yet! On top of that, I’d like to finish writing the sequel to my novella, The Guns of Retribution – I’m only about 2000 words from the finish line.

Icy Sedgwick was born in the North East of England, and lives and works in Newcastle. She has been writing with a view to doing so professionally for over ten years, and has had several stories included in anthologies, including Short Stack and Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar & Other Stories.

She spends her non-writing time working on a PhD in Film Studies, considering the use of set design in contemporary horror. Icy had her first book, a pulp Western named The Guns of Retribution, published in 2011, and her horror fantasy, The Necromancer’s Apprentice, was released in March 2014.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A very long blog post

I have a lot on my mind, and I need a place to put it. So here goes.

I used to joke about reaching the “carpel tunnel stage” of writing a book. For my current work in progress, it’s changed to “near-constant tension headache stage.” This is not the easiest way to write a book, but I’m doing my best. I’m writing through the burn-out, and the frustration, and my extremely conflicted feelings about publishing right now. The book will get done, and I will have finished a series. That’s a happy thing so I keep it in mind when I feel like sobbing over my keyboard.

As for what comes after, and how to fully vanquish that burn-out feeling, I’ve had a few thoughts. Self-publishing my backlist, particularly the Mojo books, is something I’ve thought about a great deal. But then I go to do my research and once again, want to sob over my keyboard. I can’t really afford to self-publish, it’s a huge workload, and I’m not sure about going it alone. So I can’t make a decision and have done my best to avoid thinking about it, telling myself I’ll figure it out once this current book is done.

Then there’s Bradbury, my old web serial. I was offered a contract for it, and foolishly accepted. Trying to turn a weekly web serial into a series of novellas…let’s just say, it didn’t work out. I couldn’t do it, and trying made me hate my own story. Which in turn made me very sad because Bradbury was something that gave me a great deal of joy to write. I wound up asking to terminate the contract and then about six weeks or so later, the press imploded. I don’t plan to talk about that. Right now I’m waiting to get my rights reversion and I’m actually kind of hopeful that I might start the serial up again. Right now I really need something fun to write.

Which kind of gets into another area that’s been weighing heavily on my mind - goals.

When I was looking at self-publishing I found a lot of blog posts and articles about the business side of it. That makes sense and I have no problem with it. But after coming across some five-year plans that were all about how much money the author wanted to make, I found myself stepping back. I’ve never made a five-year plan. I have trouble planning meals five days in advance. So I found this overwhelming, but I sat down and thought about it and tried to come up with my own five-year mission, er, plan.

I failed. *sigh* I could not come up with a business plan or goals.

What I came up with instead were storytelling goals. Here’s a few, just to give you an idea:

An epic redemption story
A story about two frenemies with benefits who fall in love
A really freaking awesome villain
A portal story, a journey story, a stranger comes to town story
Artificial intelligence, transhumanism, and maybe even space opera

Plus some other stuff that I think would be exciting to explore. Some would be novels, some might be novellas, others might be short stories. I’m not interested in sticking to one genre, which makes things like branding and joining professional organizations a bit dicey.

A note on branding: yeah, I give up. I have no idea how to brand or market myself, even after reading tons of advice. And let’s not even talk about the futility of social networks. Facebook pages don’t reach anyone anymore unless you can afford to pay, and Twitter is like screaming down a well. Occasionally you get an echo, but mostly you get nothing unless you have the time to stay on there all day and the wherewithal to foist yourself on strangers. I have neither.

So what does all this mean? Well, not much. I still have that book to finish, and I will. But I don’t know what comes next, and I don’t like that feeling. I don’t know if I can handle self-publishing the Mojo books, or if I even want to. I don’t know if I’ll be able to pick up Bradbury and write in that world more. If I start something completely new, I don’t know what it would be. Some days giving it all up and only writing SuperSleepy fanfic seems like the best idea.

But then the universe decides to give me a reminder of what was my ultimate goal when I first started writing seriously. Two things happened yesterday, two things that intersected at the crossroads where I happened to find myself loitering.

The first was this: Jack White released an album track from his forthcoming second solo record Lazaretto. It’s called High Ball Stepper, and it is everything. It sounds like a jam session in Hell. It sounds like time travel, and space folding in on itself in a claustrophobic huddle only to explode in a St. Vitus dance. It sounds like someone took vinyls of Electric Mud, Physical Graffiti, and Exile On Main Street, put them into a bubbling cauldron full of black cat bones, Dan Auerbach’s tears, and the sacrificial blood of virgin groupies, and then added gasoline and a lit match to call forth twisting electric blue flames. It sounds like dirty, nasty, chain-smoking, cheap-beer-swilling, unwashed, unrefined, uncouth, glorious blues-rock. It sounds like the calling card of a magician who uses a guitar to cast spells rather than a mere wand.

The other thing was this: a Facebook conversation with a writer friend. (This took place on a profile, not a sadly useless page.) We approach writing in different ways, which leads to some thought-provoking conversations. In this particular one, I basically said that my ultimate goal when I started writing seriously was to be good enough to write a specific book I had in mind. She asked me about it, and this was my response:

 It's what I'd call a "heart book" about music and choices and, well, paying the cost to be the boss, so to speak. All the years, decades even, of being obsessive about Robert Johnson, plus everything I'm still trying to work out in my head about Jack White and others like him, who found a sort of home someplace radically different from where they started. Musical home, that is. Every one of those English teenagers who found something that made sense to them in a Muddy Waters record, a kind of sense that nothing else made. The exiles on Main Street who decided a dirt road was the better path for them, a dirt road that leads to a crossroads at midnight. Sorry if this is scattered, I don't know how to put it in a log line. I couldn't write it ten years ago and even now, mostly I can just feel it. This book is the goal I am working toward. I mean, I stress about sales and contracts and genre conventions and all that other crap because these are the rules I am learning. My crossroads book, for lack of a better thing to call it, is where I will break every rule. The ability to do that and give this book its due is something I feel I have to work toward, because I'm not good enough yet.

I hadn’t thought about that goal in some time, so I’m very grateful to Kim for asking me the question. It’s easy to forget those long-term goals when you’re just trying to keep your head above water, meet deadlines, keep up with all the promotional stuff an author is expected to do now. And, oh yeah, raise a toddler and be a wife and a person and maybe sometimes do something other than write. I don’t do this because I’m bored. I certainly don’t do it for the money. I do it because it’s who I am. Because I can’t and I won’t and I don’t stop. Because I want to tell all kinds of stories, with my crossroads story being my ultimate storytelling goal. It’s not a business plan, or a marketing strategy. I’ll always be behind the eight ball on stuff like that. Those are rules I’m happy to start breaking now. It’s good to remember that I have these other goals, that this crossroads book is waiting for me to be ready for it.

Is there any point to sharing all this? Probably not, ha. If there’s a message I would hope anyone would take away from this insomnia-driven mess, it’s this: this is about more than business plans and marketing strategies, social networking tips and search engine optimization. If you want to immerse yourself in those things, go for it. But it’s okay to lean out from all that, too, and work on being the best storyteller you can be. And I don’t think that’s said often enough.

So when I couldn’t sleep at two o’clock this morning, I decided to say it. I needed to say it to myself, because of all the publishing-related stress I’ve had of late. I decided to share it because, I don’t know, maybe there’s someone in a similar frame of mind who might get something out of it.

I wasn’t kidding about this being a very long blog post.

Jack White, Spirit Guide