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Virginia McClain
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FEATURED AUTHOR 2014 - 2016 > Featured Author Discussion - Virginia McClain - Jan 22 - Feb 4

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message 1: by DigiWriting (new)

DigiWriting | 523 comments Mod
Join us on Wednesday, February 4, 2015, for a special discussion with author Virginia McClain!

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show...

If you have a question for her, please post it in this thread, where Virginia will be discussing her writing and books.

Remember - you can post questions here throughout the duration of the Featured Author Discussion at any time.

Looking forward to the insightful questions and answers!


message 2: by DigiWriting (new)

DigiWriting | 523 comments Mod
Hello Virginia,

Thank you so much for being our featured author this session!

We were wondering what part of the writing process comes the most naturally to you, and what do you find to be more of a challenge. How do you address this challenge when you write?


message 3: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Hey everyone! I'm looking forward to answering everyone's questions from now until the 4th. I'm working on getting my collection of short stories available to short story connect members for free. But I'm accessing internet from my phone right now so that's proving problematic. I will post again in a few hours with an update on getting everyone free copies! And, digiwriting, I will answer your excellent question at that time as well.


message 4: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Ok. Well, I wound up only getting to my computer just now. So, first of all, for those interested in checking out Rain on a Summer's Afteroon: A Collection of Short Stories, you can now download it for free straight from its goodreads page here. Just click download ebook and it will download the PDF that I used for the print book's interior. If you're interested in a format other than PDF feel free to send me a direct message on goodreads and I can email you a .mobi or .epub version of the book.

I released that collection of short stories back in July, but today is the release date of my new full length novel Blade's Edge. There is a sample of it available through goodreads, and all of the purchase links are now live so you can buy it on amazon, barnes and noble, and many other retailers in print or as an ebook.

Thanks so much for taking the time to look at my work and ask questions. I'm looking forward to answering them over the next couple of weeks. To start with I'll answer Digiwriting's question in a separate comment.


message 5: by Virginia (last edited Jan 22, 2015 10:25PM) (new)

Virginia | 73 comments DigiWriting wrote: "We were wondering what part of the writing process comes the most naturally to you, and what do you find to be more of a challenge. How do you address this challenge when you write?"

I find that first drafts come to me most naturally. That point in the process where you're just making things up as you go, and you know you can come back and fix things later is the part for me that flows best.

I find rewriting to be more of a challenge, but it has come to be a challenge that I love. I used to loathe revision, but only because I used to be really inefficient with it. So of course it took a long time, and it seemed clunky, and it felt rather like forcing an unwilling, mud covered puppy to hold still for a bath.... You know it's dirty, and you know you need to clean it, but you're completely lost on which part to hold onto while you wash the rest of it, keep it from running away, and try not to get yourself coated in mud in the process. And, in the meantime, the puppy is adorable, and it's your puppy for goodness sake, and it's making those sad eyes at you and... well, maybe it's ok to leave it covered in mud after all.

In the past few years I've learned how to approach revision much more efficiently, and now it feels like the best kind of problem solving, puzzle building, or a very well organized archaeological dig. You know you've got all the pieces somewhere, or you can make new ones from plaster if you have to, and as you remove dirt and discover bones, or old bits of broken pots you learn all kinds of amazing facts, surmise other odds and ends, and bit by bit put together a freaking gigantic DINOSAUR that amazes everyone, especially you. (Ok so that would be a paleontological dig, but still, you take my meaning.) Rewriting now feels much more systematic and intentional to me, and is fun and enticing instead of a thing I dread.


message 6: by DigiWriting (new)

DigiWriting | 523 comments Mod
Virginia,

It sounds as though you have found an effective revision strategy! What about editing? Do you enjoy this part, as well? What qualities do you find in the best editors?


message 7: by Talia (new)

Talia Crockett  | 52 comments Hi Virginia,

Thank you so much for your offer of the short stories! I am excited to take a look.

I was wondering about your writing routine. Do you always write at the same time and in the same fashion? How do you find time to write?


message 8: by Blue Moon (new)

Blue Moon Publishers (bluemoonpublishers) | 146 comments Mod
Hi Virginia!

How do you select the titles for your stories? Do they grow from your writing, or do you have the title in mind before you start to write?


message 9: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments DigiWriting wrote: "Virginia,

It sounds as though you have found an effective revision strategy! What about editing? Do you enjoy this part, as well? What qualities do you find in the best editors?"


I go through two major rounds of editing (before the infinite loop of final edits that all manuscripts seem to go through in an attempt to catch every piece of errata imaginable). The first is beta readers. I send the manuscript out two five to ten people and have them read the manuscript from start to finish and then write me a very broad letter about what they thought could have been better about the book. This is to catch large scale issues, plot holes, story organization, character development fails etc. Once I get those letters back I do another round of large changes before I send the manuscript off to my editor, who then suggests broad changes if there are any the beta readers missed and then goes through with a fine toothed comb for errata.

I won't say I "enjoy" this part, but it is a great opportunity for learning and growth as a writer. You're asking people to tear your work apart and then you take the pieces and decide which parts actually need to go and which can stay. It teaches you a lot about where you are in your writing versus where you thought you were. :-)

In my mind the qualities to look for in an editor are: a genuine appreciation of the author's work (someone can be an excellent editor, but if they don't enjoy your genre, your style, or your overall plot they aren't going to be useful to you). At the same time they need to have no reservations about telling you which parts of your work are terrible (and there are bound to be some). It's their job to say, "hey, I like what you've done here, but this part right here is a festering pile of dog turds and really needs to go." Although, I suppose the really excellent ones have gotten quite good at being more polite than that. ;-)


message 10: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Talia wrote: "Hi Virginia,

Thank you so much for your offer of the short stories! I am excited to take a look.

I was wondering about your writing routine. Do you always write at the same time and in the same..."


Hey Talia,

Thank you for your interest in my work! I hope you enjoy the short story collection!

I used to find time to write by scheduling in a certain number of hours a day and squeezing it in whenever possible. When I was teaching full time, that meant writing while my students were completing an assessment or project, writing between classes, and squeezing in a few hours here and there at night as well.

However, I am extremely fortunate in that I have recently been able to switch to writing full time. So, I now have the luxury of writing whenever I want (although these days that's sandwiched between marketing and promotional hours). When I'm deep in a project I write all day, much the same way I read, stopping only for food and bathroom breaks. When I'm struggling to put words on paper I work best in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep and I feel like I have the world to myself.

Constants are that I most often write at my standing desk, or at a counter at a cafe that is tall enough to stand in front of. I mostly write on my laptop. I enjoy writing by hand sometimes, but I'm exponentially faster on a keyboard and actually find that I feel less restricted when I work on the computer. I know many authors who feel exactly the opposite about that, so I suppose it's to each his/her own. Generally, I only write by hand when I'm writing while backpacking (which happens a couple times a year generally) or when I feel like a need screen break (which should probably happen more often).


message 11: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Blue Moon wrote: "Hi Virginia!

How do you select the titles for your stories? Do they grow from your writing, or do you have the title in mind before you start to write?"


Good question! To be honest the majority of my titles come to me after the work is finished. I know authors who come up with a title first and the story grows from that, but I've never had any luck with that order of events.

Generally speaking I write out a story (be it a short story or a whole novel) and only once I've finished the manuscript do I feel like I know the story well enough to give it a name.

I think I came up with the title Blade's Edge about three months after I had finished the first draft, when I was moving the file on my computer and realized that the placeholder title I had for it was going to make it really difficult to find. On the spot I decided to call it Blade's Edge and, over time, I decided it really fit the story quite well.


message 12: by Ken (new)

Ken (kendoyle) | 33 comments Hi Virginia,

Since you've published both a short story collection and a novel, which form do you prefer writing and why?


message 13: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Hey Ken,

Great question! I'm not sure that I prefer one over the other. They are such different forms, with their own advantages and drawbacks, and I enjoy them both.

I love the challenge of fitting a compelling plot into a short story, of making the reader care in such a short period of time and ending things in a way that is compelling and yet at least somewhat conclusive. (Though, to be fair, many of my readers have said that my short stories make them "want to read the rest of the book," even when there's no book involved... so it may be safe to say that I'm not very good at short story endings.) :-)

Conversely, I love the challenge of keeping a reader engaged for an entire novel. The challenge of making them care and then to keep them caring for three hundred pages... and the challenge of taking expanded plot lines and tying everything up neatly by the end.

I think I might be somewhat better at writing novels, but it's difficult to look at that objectively, so who knows. Certainly, I still enjoy writing short stories, and I'm sure I'll continue to do so, although the main focus of my writing has switched to novels of late.


message 14: by Ken (new)

Ken (kendoyle) | 33 comments Virginia wrote: "Though, to be fair, many of my readers have said that my short stories make them "want to read the rest of the book," even when there's no book involved... so it may be safe to say that I'm not very good at short story endings.) :-) ..."

I've had similar feedback, so it's not just you :)

Who are some of your favorite short story writers?


message 15: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Ken wrote: "I've had similar feedback, so it's not just you :)

Who are some of your favorite short story writers?"


Haha! Glad it's not just me then.

That's a tough question. I generally read short story collections from multiple authors so I can't think of a single author off the top of my head. But one of my favorite short story publications is called The First Line.

They publish short stories quarterly and each volume is tied together because all of the stories start with the same first line. Submissions have to start with the requisite first line to be considered, but the editors curate the collection to be as eclectic as possible. So while all of the stories start the same way, they all go very different places, across all genres!

I will admit I'm partial to them as they were the first literary magazine to publish any of my short stories (back in 2006), but I also really enjoy reading their collections.


message 16: by Talia (new)

Talia Crockett  | 52 comments Hi Virginia,

I was wondering if you read the same genres as you write, or if you have different tastes when it comes to the works of others?


message 17: by Piper (new)

Piper Templeton (pipertempleton) | 69 comments Hi Virginia,

Where do you get ideas and inspirations for your stories? They're so imaginative!

Cheers,
Piper


message 18: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Talia wrote: "Hi Virginia,

I was wondering if you read the same genres as you write, or if you have different tastes when it comes to the works of others?"


Hey Talia,

I certainly read outside of the genres I write, but I do most of my reading in the same genres I write (fantasy, science fiction, action/adventure).

Still, I enjoy reading lots of nonfiction, historical fiction, mystery, literary fiction, humor, travel... Just about everything as long it's well written and interesting.

To be totally fair, I'd should add that, while I have yet to write any nonfiction, outside of my blog and some freelance articles, I wouldn't say no to writing those things as well. My tastes run all over the board!

:-)


message 19: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Piper wrote: "Hi Virginia,

Where do you get ideas and inspirations for your stories? They're so imaginative!

Cheers,
Piper"


Thanks, Piper! I find inspiration for my work all over the place. Some of it is pure imagination, some of it comes from specific artistic inspiration, some of it is simply wondering, "what if?"

For example in Rain on a Summer's Afternoon: A Collection of Short Stories each story has a very different origin. The Flaming Oak, is a story inspired by an image that I occasionally use as the wallpaper on my laptop. It's a gorgeous picture of a giant red oak in the middle of gently rolling green fields with a raging storm brewing in the distance. That image was created by an artist who renders digital images from scratch. You can find his work at Digital Blasphemy.

Meanwhile in the same collection, the story entitled Pretty Chains came to me when I asked myself the question, "how could someone come to truly loathe a piece of beautiful jewelry?"

And, oddly enough, the remaining stories in that book are all inspired by first lines given by The First Line a literary magazine that publishes quarterly, in which all of the stories for each issue start with the same first line.

Finally, the idea for my newly released novel Blade's Edge came from living in Japan and trying to imagine what that land would be like if all the Shinto gods existed and roamed the place. Of course, the final story line became something very different, but that was the initial inspiration.

So, I suppose that was the long way of saying, "from everything!" :-)


message 20: by DigiWriting (new)

DigiWriting | 523 comments Mod
Hi Virginia,

Do you have any quirky writing habits that you don't mind sharing? A favourite pen, a writing snack, or an inspirational playlist perhaps?


message 21: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments DigiWriting wrote: "Hi Virginia,

Do you have any quirky writing habits that you don't mind sharing? A favourite pen, a writing snack, or an inspirational playlist perhaps?"


Haha! Funny that you mention playlists... I listen to pandora a lot when I'm writing, especially if I'm in a place with a lot of ambient noise that I want to cover up. I tend to work best when I listen to instrumental music, because lyrics just distract me from what I'm doing.

My husband teases me sometimes though, because I tend to listen to violin mixed with dubstep and things of that ilk, (Lindsay Sterling, Glitch Mob etc.) and as I work at a standing desk most of the time... I have a tendency to dance quite a bit while I write. And, of course, as I'm generally wearing headphones while I do this so no one else can hear the music... I imagine it looks pretty funny. I can't say I care though. It works well for me, and music that I can dance to keeps me going!

Otherwise, I think my habits are fairly non-quirky, lots of coffee and tea, fairly normal snacking... yep. Just the dancing to dubstep while typing away that puts me firmly in the "weird" box. ;-)


message 22: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments V.M. wrote: "Question: at what point do you think your short stories become too long to still be considered short stories? Have you ever kept one going into novella or novel territory?"

A number of short stories I've written have turned into novel fodder. I think it can be a difficult line to draw. For example, I once submitted four related short stories to a literary magazine (it's published quarterly and if you submit four stories all together they'll consider publishing them in each issue) and had the editor write me back saying he wasn't going to accept them as short stories, but he wanted to work with me on turning them into a novel. Of course they were already almost 10,000 words all together, but they now exist as a 73,000 word novel that I've almost finished revisions on.

I do tend to get feedback on my short stories suggesting that some of them really just seem like the first chapter of a novel, and a certainly a few of them do feel like the beginning of something larger to me. Strong examples of those are The Flaming Oak and Pretty Chains in Rain on a Summer's Afternoon: A Collection of Short Stories. Both of those stories are complete in their own way, but I feel like they could easily be the beginning to much bigger plot lines.

At some point for me it becomes a question of priorities. Which stories feel like they need to be told the most? Which stories do I enjoy enough to spend the kind of time with that a novel requires?

But some of them are definitely contained units. Off Belay, Irony, and The Wolf Mage don't feel like they need any further exploration from me. Those stories start and end where they need to, and I don't feel compelled to uncover any more of what those characters are doing with their lives.


message 23: by Talia (new)

Talia Crockett  | 52 comments Hi Virginia,

I am fascinated by the idea of a standing desk! Would you recommend it? If so, what are the benefits?


message 24: by Blue Moon (new)

Blue Moon Publishers (bluemoonpublishers) | 146 comments Mod
Thanks Virginia!

Speaking of titles, if someone were new to your writing, what would you start them off with and why?


message 25: by DigiWriting (new)

DigiWriting | 523 comments Mod
Hi Virginia,

Dancing sounds like a wonderful writing habit! Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it something at which you excelled in school?


message 26: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Talia wrote: "Hi Virginia,

I am fascinated by the idea of a standing desk! Would you recommend it? If so, what are the benefits?"


I would certainly recommend it! First of all there's all the recent research that suggests that sitting for long periods of time is as bad for your health as smoking. There are many studies supporting this.

However, long before I knew that was the case, I enjoyed a standing desk simply because it felt better to me. I do my best thinking while walking (I wish I could afford/had space for a walking desk --treadmill with a desk over it essentially), but standing allows for me to move a bit more while I write (as in the aforementioned dancing) and it helps me think.

I found a cheap standing desk on amazon that's allows you to adjust the height, and I love it.


message 27: by Virginia (last edited Feb 04, 2015 08:55AM) (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Blue Moon wrote: "Thanks Virginia!

Speaking of titles, if someone were new to your writing, what would you start them off with and why?"


Hmm... I would say that any of the short stories in Rain on a Summer's Afternoon: A Collection of Short Stories are a decent intro to my work for a low cost, so that's certainly a low commitment place to start. But, I'm quite proud of my debut novel, Blade's Edge, so I would really recommend that people start there.

*ETA: If you're looking for a specific title within Rain on a Summer's Afternoon to start with, I think The Flaming Oak is a good one to start with.


message 28: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments DigiWriting wrote: "Hi Virginia,

Dancing sounds like a wonderful writing habit! Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it something at which you excelled in school?"


I've always enjoyed making up stories. And I've been putting them on paper since I was five or so (yes in crayon, yes they're illegible), but it wasn't until I was about 13 that I realized writing was something I wanted to do for a living. Of course, that was the first time that I realized it was maybe something I could do for a living, as it was the first time that someone complemented me on my creative writing ability (aside from my mom). ;-)

Yes, writing is something I've always been "good" at, if you mean I excelled at written assignments in school. However, my writing has come a long way over the years (as I would hope anyone's would) and I like to think that I'm just starting to actually get "good" at writing. :-)


message 29: by Adam (new)

Adam Mawer | 66 comments Hi Virginia,

Thanks for participating in this discussion. As an author, where do you like to write? Would you rather be at home or do you like the atmosphere of a specific coffee shop?


message 30: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Adam wrote: "Hi Virginia,

Thanks for participating in this discussion. As an author, where do you like to write? Would you rather be at home or do you like the atmosphere of a specific coffee shop?"


Hmm... I do enjoy writing at home, but also enjoy writing in coffee shops, on planes, trains, in the passenger seat of a car, in the park, in a tent in the middle of the wilderness, in the wilderness without the tent, sitting on a large rock with my feet dangling in a creek... I'm rather like the character in Green Eggs and Ham at the end of the story. Only switch Novels and Short Stories for Green Eggs and Ham: "I would write them with a fox, I would write them in a box, I would write them here or there, I would write them anywhere!"

*That last bit was from memory, my apologies if I misquoted Dr. Seuss.

I find that inspiration comes from the unlikeliest places at times and, as long as I have headphones to cut out distractions if necessary, I can write just about anywhere and enjoy it.

That said, I do most of my work at home, using my standing desk, and rocking out to instrumental music.


message 31: by DigiWriting (new)

DigiWriting | 523 comments Mod
What about time? Is there a particular time of day when you find you are most creative?


message 32: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments DigiWriting wrote: "What about time? Is there a particular time of day when you find you are most creative?"

I'm not hugely consistent about when I write, but I often find myself most creative in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep.


message 33: by DigiWriting (new)

DigiWriting | 523 comments Mod
Thank you so much for answering all of our questions, Virginia! We very much enjoyed having you as our featured author this session, and your thoughtful and detailed answers were appreciated. Hope to see you around the group!


message 34: by Virginia (new)

Virginia | 73 comments Thanks for having me! :-)


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