I’m so grateful to Auburn Seal for supporting my work, for encouraging my progress, and listening to my break downs when the Muse flees from me. She’s just released a new book in her Vanishing series and I invited her to share her insights and advice about writing and publishing. Her responses have been lightly edited, only because I can’t seem to help myself.
Tell me about your newest release.
Maya Vanishing is the second book in the historical mystery Vanishing series. Our history-student-turned-heroine Avery Lane is still recovering from the life changing events of book one, Roanoke Vanishing. She is intrigued by the collision of historic civilizations and her modern day world and is ready to set off on a search in the Yucatan to find more clues about the villainous Descendants that she became acquainted with in the first book of the series.
In other words, a nerdy white girl goes to Mexico to solve an ancient mystery and finds herself completely out of her depth.
What’s been the hardest part of writing Maya Vanishing? What’s gotten easier about writing with each book?
Writing the second book in this series has been surprisingly more difficult than writing the first. The challenge has been weaving the plot threads from book one into book two, while looking ahead to book four so that I could continue to foreshadow the things that will happen at the end of the series. Over the course of the four book series, Avery’s life undergoes quite a substantial shift in everything she thought she knew; portraying that change in a realistic way throughout the series is
freaking impossible challenging. The second difficult aspect in completing Maya was conquering my belief deficit. It was a frequent battle to ignore the voices in my head that mocked the very idea that I could write this second book well. Because Roanoke performed extremely well decently, I worried that the second book wouldn’t be received as favorably. I like to think that I’m a “glass is at least half-full” kind of girl, but I lacked optimism from the beginning of this process.
That said, some things did get easier. I had more resources at my disposal during the second book than I did during the writing of Roanoke. Having an editor on speed dial when you’re certain that your book is crap is surprisingly useful. I also knew what to expect from the editing process so those first bits of developmental feedback weren’t so harrowing. Surrounding myself with competent professionals keeps me from veering too far off the path.
Which aspect(s) of the writing process is your favorite? Least favorite?
You know that old saying, “Write drunk, Edit sober”? For me, it’s the opposite. Details make me crazy. I can draft quickly. I learned as a novice writer to banish that inner bitch who likes to rip apart my work while I’m still in the creative, fun, euphoric drafting mode. I’ve got silencing her down to a science. Don’t stop and think. That’s my motto while I’m drafting: “Just let the Muse move me.” Can you tell I love drafting?
What I haven’t dialed in yet is how to let the critical whore out of her cage when I need her for the editing process (without letting her getting a stronghold on my psyche). Working with her is a delicate process. Completing a project takes both of us, but I feel like I have to keep her mostly caged or she will ruin me. You can see why I refer to her as a whore and a bitch. She’s narcissistic, too. I let her out only when I need to (and after I’ve had enough to drink to silence the pain of her harsh critique). I lock her up again as soon as possible. Sometimes that means when the job is done, sometimes it’s when I just can’t stand her anymore. She is me, of course, so, you know, that’s fun. Trying to let out the best parts of yourself in order to create and then bringing out the monster long enough to get the job done right. But only in short doses, or she’ll (I’ll) sabotage me.
That’s a trip across the tight rope that can only be done by the brave or inebriated. Bottoms up.
What’s been the most surprising part of living a writing life?
That I can live through the process and come out the other side not dead. This creative journey brings me to life. The madness gives me a vitality, a connection to myself that I have come to love and depend on. When I’m not writing, I’m insane. Yes, more insane than when I am writing. Don’t you feel bad for my family?
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently listening to Gone Girl on audio because I’m slightly behind the times. But a good friend *wink* recommended it and I can no longer avoid it. She gave me an ultimatum. “Read this damn book, or we are through” [Editor’s note: I don’t remember it being that strongly worded a book recommendation, but it is good. And all of you should read it. Or else]. I respond well to threats of withheld affection, so it worked like a charm. I’m always reading Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering because plotting and story building are my secret passions. I’m also in the middle of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers because I have the delusional idea that if I read enough about editing, someday that process won’t make me squeamish. That and I’m into pain.
Tell me about your next project.
My next independent project—I have so many collaborations going right now that ‘independent project’ almost feels like the ghost of Christmas past—is really just an embryo of an idea. Once I finish the Vanishing series, which is two more books, I plan on digging into a historical paranormal set in Amsterdam. I have no title yet and only the vaguest notion that the city itself will be a character—the main character maybe?—that we get to know over hundreds of years. I have an ancestor from Holland who was a ship’s captain for the Dutch West India Trading Company and I want to play with the idea of his spirit haunting Amsterdam through time, a stacked narrative of sorts. I will ruminate on that idea for the next six months while I finish the early drafts of Vanishing; once those are off to the editor (I call her the Wizard), then I’ll sink my teeth into clarifying the direction I want to take the next project. But I do get a real kick out of combining a paranormal element with historical events. It’s going to be fun to write, whatever it turns out to be.
What advice might you offer to aspiring or beginning writers?
So, I’m all into feelings: how something makes me feel, how I think something I am doing might make others feel. Feeling good about myself is pretty critical to my work. Because that’s how I roll, my biggest piece of fluffy, inspirational advice would be to let yourself go. Give yourself permission to create and don’t let the monster out of her cage prematurely. If you ask that inner editor for her opinion too soon, she’ll eat you alive.
In terms of craft, I would advise getting to know your own style. Do you plot? Do you outline? Do you fly by the seat of your pants? Something in between? Do you need to know everything about your character before you start drafting, or are you like me, unable to really know your character until you write them into a scene? Figure out what you need, and then do that. Don’t try to box yourself into writing the “right” way.
It is my firm belief—and I’m pretty wishy-washy on a lot of things in life—that the right way to write is whichever method gets your story onto paper. Of all the writers I know, none of them go about it in the same manner. So find yourself, trust yourself, and then turn on the afterburners and don’t overthink it. Go, speed racer. Unless you are a turtle. Then by all means, creep. Whatever you need. It’s your journey.
Which writers do you most admire and why?
It’s of course hard to pick only one. If we are talking about being moved, which is the best thing writing can do, then I would say Truman Capote and Anne Frank. Their stories have occupied by brain since I first read them. A long time ago. Stories based in reality that have real pain, real emotion, real violence. As they say in the music business, that’s my jam. Reality. Mostly.
Who shows up most often on your dedication pages?
I was surprised at the answer to this, although I shouldn’t be, considering my interest in the paranormal. Dead people. They are the ones who show up most often in my dedications. From my young friend who committed suicide to my grandma who gave me the best parts of myself—here’s another of my unfailing beliefs—it’s the dead who I write for. It’s ironic that I write for those who will never read my work. I think my brain just exploded a little bit. That’s quite a target audience I’ve picked for myself. Second to the dead folks, though, is my family: my husband and my children. I write for the dead but I live for those who are still with me.
Auburn Seal published her first short story in 2012. Since that time, she has written and published many stories in a variety of fictional worlds. Of Auburn’s titles currently available, only one of them doesn’t include death in some form. It’s not that she is particularly dark, but rather that fictional violence is exceptionally therapeutic. For the record, she wants to announce that she is only a murderous psychopath in her books. In real life, she is a perfectly lovely person with only a slightly twisted mind. Auburn lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family.