Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
K.M. Weiland Interview
3/16/2010 7:05:54 AM
Katie Weiland discusses her novels and the business of writing.
Since first becoming acquainted on Twitter with this fabulously talented writer, I’ve been waiting to introduce you to K. M. Weiland. Katie is the indie author of ‘A Man Called Outlaw’ and her latest novel, set during the Third Crusade, is called ‘Behold the Dawn’.
I’d like to begin with having you share a little information about yourself with our readers. I understand you grew up in western Nebraska. Did your surroundings serve to fuel your imagination and did it inspire you to write?
KMW: Definitely. I’m always very aware of my surroundings when creating. The weather and the landscape often have a direct bearing on the shape of scenes. But, for obvious reasons, Midwestern America has a greater impact on some stories than it does on others. A Man Called Outlaw is set in Wyoming (another state in which I spent a lot of time while growing up), and it’s much closer to my Nebraskan roots than Behold the Dawn, which is set primarily in what is now Syria.
Has writing stories always been a part of your life and becoming a published author a life long dream?
KMW: Stories have been a part of the fabric of my life for as long as I can remember. I was a voracious reader from a very young age, but even before that I was making up my own stories. In fact, my earliest memory is of myself sitting in a tree house when I was about three, imagining some wild story about rescuing my family from bad guys. So it’s really rather surprising that writing was something I almost just stumbled into. I had no ambitions of being an author; I started writing simply because I didn’t want to forget the stories in my head. Once I started, I was hooked!
I understand your debut novel ‘A Man Called Outlaw’ and your new book, ‘Behold the Dawn’ are two very different stories, both of which have been receiving wonderful reviews. What was the inspiration behind them and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonists Shane Lassiter and Marcus Annan? Both men are forced to confront an inescapable past, but what makes these two characters different?
KMW: They are very different, and yet they do share some common ties. Outlaw is about a young man who has to make a choice between protecting the people he loves and doing the right thing. For him, the past is a catalyst: an example and an inspiration to live up to his full potential. On the other hand, Behold is about a renegade knight’s lifetime burden of guilt and how sometimes we have to release the past in order to move forward.
Outlaw was directly inspired by a ballad written by a friend, but really it was an outgrowth of my lifetime love affair with the Old West and classic western films. Behold sprang to life after I flipped through a children’s book about William Marshall, “the greatest knight who ever lived.” He earned his fame fighting in the gladiatorial tourneys and eventually became regent of England.
I love fiction that is steeped in history! Knights, chivalry and warfare are all subjects I find so fascinating. For this reason, I’d like to focus attention on ‘Behold the Dawn’. Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open this book?
KMW: Most of my books are what I term “blood and thunder” stories. Behold follows the famed tourneyer Marcus Annan from the tourney fields of Italy to the Third Crusade in the Holy Land, where he agrees to escort the widow of a dying friend to safety in France. Their escape (along with Annan’s smart-aleck servant Peregrine Marek) is dogged by the ghosts of his past, including a mysterious monk, a conflicted Knight Templar, and a bishop with his own secrets to hide. It’s a hard-hitting tale of redemption, with a love story at its heart.
Before you began writing ‘Behold the Dawn’, did it require a lot of time and attention in terms of research for historical accuracy? And what is the greatest source for information for you? At a conference I was attending, author Diana Gabaldon said she prefers to do research the old-fashioned way: at the library. Is that true for you as well? Or do you prefer to use the Internet?
KMW: I spent three months doing nothing but research for this project. I usually begin my historical pieces with at least a basic knowledge of the time period, and I use that knowledge to get me through my rather intensive outlining phase. By that point, I know where the story’s going and what questions I need to answer during the research. Like Gabaldon, I do the majority of my research the old-fashioned way. The first thing I do is run several searches through my libraries’ online card catalogs. My goal is to pick up every book my libraries have available on my subject, so I try to be as thorough in my keywords as possible. After evaluating whatever I’ve come up with, I’ll complete my research library with the necessary purchases. If I have any blanks remaining once I’ve finished my books, I’ll utilize the Internet—although it should go without saying that you have to be careful about the reliability of Internet sources.
The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the writer struggling to become a published author?
KMW: I think it’s important to realize that, wonderful as it is, publication isn’t the point of the writing process. It’s just a road stop along the way. Writing is more about the journey than the destination. As award-winning author Anne Lamott points out, “Being published isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Writing is.” So don’t let your non-published status get you down. Just enjoy where you’re at right now. But while you’re waiting for that big call telling you you’re “in,” realize that your work isn’t perfect and that there is always room for improvement. Just keep writing, polishing, reading, learning, and growing.
Excellent advice, Katie. Now, on your website (which everyone should check out after reading this interview) you are said to be a firm believer in Peter de Vries’ claim: “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” Can you tell our readers exactly what this means to you?
KMW: “Inspiration” is a very slippery concept. You can’t force it, but you can put yourself in a position where you’ll be more likely to receive it. If you’re sitting at your desk, fingers over the keyboard, the lightning is much more likely to strike than if you’re plopped on the couch, eating Doritos. It’s kind of like that old Benjamin Franklin quote, “God helps those who help themselves.” If you want to be a serious writer, you have to be serious about writing. Treat it like a job. Show up at your desk every day for a specific amount of time and don’t let yourself get up until you’re finished. Discipline is easily the most important ingredient in inspiration.
Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
KMW: Oh, a plotter, definitely. My writing flows much easier when I have a roadmap to follow. I need to know where I’m headed if I’m going to reach my destination. My outlining process has evolved into a pretty time-intensive routine that usually takes about six months. I do all my outlining longhand in a notebook, simply because something about my sloppy handwriting seems to free my creativity. I start out by jotting down what I already know about my story (which has typically been kicking around in my head for a couple years already) and then asking myself “what if” questions to fill in the blanks. Then I progress to character sketches, using a list of “interview questions” I’ve collected over the years. (Anyone interested in the interview sheet can find it in my free ebook Crafting Unforgettable Characters, available on my blog.) Then I progress to a lengthy, plot-point-by-plot-point outline. Once that’s done, I organize it using the free writing software yWriter—and move on to researching.
Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
KMW: It’s difficult for me to immediately switch gears from my busy schedule to writing, so I take about thirty minutes every day to warm up. My warm ups include a quick prayer, scribbling in my writing journal, reading an instructive article on the craft, going over character and research notes, watching a related music video, and proofreading what I wrote the day before.
At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
KMW: I actually don’t believe in writer’s block. I think we’ve turned the idea of writer’s block into this epic monster. Yes, we all get stuck for inspiration and motivation from time to time, but too often writer’s block is an excuse for not buckling down and writing our way out of a hole. I’ve never been seriously blocked, and I credit that to the fact that I write every single day, whether I feel like it or not. If I’m absolutely stuck on a scene, to the point of banging my head on my keyboard, I take a break and stop thinking about the problem. Almost inevitably, my subconscious has things figured out by the time I return to the computer the next day.
Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
KMW: I’m infatuated with Patrick O’Brian these days. His Aubrey/Maturin series contains some of the most brilliant writing I’ve ever experienced. It’s flawless—and that’s a word I pass around about as often as Ebenezer Scrooge sends his mom Mother’s Day cards. I don’t know that O’Brian has necessarily influenced my style or genre choice anymore than the other authors I’ve read. Everything you read influences you in some way, and your resulting style is just cumulative effect of a lifetime of growth.
What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
KMW: I am constantly touched by the emails I receive every week from readers, telling me how much they appreciate my work. To have impacted someone enough that they’re moved to take the time to write me is an incredible gift. I write because I love it, because it’s a deeply personal creative itch that must be scratched; I would write even without an audience. So to have the added benefit of enthusiastic and generous readers is amazing.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
KMW: Don’t scrimp on the small stuff. Understanding the details of your craft—and the publishing industry—is what sets the pros apart from the amateurs. If you’re really serious about selling stories, perfectionism needs to be a constant goal. In a cutthroat market such as we have today, nailing the small details will make all the difference.
What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
KMW: I’m just about to start Enchantment by Orson Scott Card. I’m a huge fan of his Ender series, so when I saw him tackling the surprising subject matter of Sleeping Beauty, I couldn’t resist!
What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and, being such a gifted writer capable of handling various genres, what do you plan to tackle next? YA Fantasy or a biography perhaps?
KMW: Well, another published book, hopefully! My next book, Dreamers Come, is scheduled for Fall 2012. I am admittedly a bit of a Mexican jumping bean when it comes to genre. I love trying new things. Dreamers is my first foray into fantasy. After that, I hope to return to the historical genre with a story set in World War I. And I have stories hopping around in my brain that span the gamut from steampunk to time travel to space opera.
Can your fans expect a sequel to ‘A Man Called Outlaw’? And because I love stories about the knighthood, how about a sequel to ‘Behold the Dawn’?
KMW: People are always asking me about sequels, and much as I’d like to oblige them, I always have to answer, “Probably not.” As a reader, I’ve never been a fan of sequels. I like stories that are complete unto themselves. Plus, I have so many new ideas begging for attention that I just haven’t the time to revisit the old ones.
Thank you for taking the time to discuss your novels and writing experience, Katie!
For more information about K. M. Weiland as well her writing blog and novels, check out:
Follow on Twitter: .KMWeiland
Where to buy the book: www.kmweiland.com/books.php
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