The Writing Process and L. Jagi Lamplighter

L. Jagi Lamplighter kindly took some time out of her schedule to answer a few questions about her drafting process. She looks to be the first marathon drafter that we’ve interviewed at the Tamago. Read on…

Tamago: Do you have a regular drafting process, or does your drafting process vary from book to book. Can you describe it to us generally, or at least for one project?

Jagi: Hmm. Well, it goes something like this. I want to write. I putter around for a few hours. Then I write really hard much later into the evening than I should, ignoring house, hubby, and children. Then, around 6:30, I am shocked to discover that there is this thing called “dinner” I was supposed to have prepared.

Then I do this again and again for days.

When I am writing hard, I don’t read or want to watch movies or anything like that. This can go on for months. Then, when I finish the draft, I spend a few months, reading, remembering that I have kids, enjoying life, and touching up the project. Going back over it. Adding a scene. Picking up a dropped plot thread and weaving it back in. Stuff like that.

It’s been pretty much the same process for each book, except that I am getting better and doing slightly less revising than I used to.

Tamago: How much research do you undertake for a project?

Jagi: Depends on the project. Many of my projects require creative invention time, rather than research. Or, occasionally, what I call creative research. Creative research is when you need fuel to make something up, but the particulars don’t have to be the same, because you are putting the details into another world or some counter-factual setting. You don’t need to worry about details, but you do need to have an authentic feel. So, one researches a similar thing, but copies down what is inspiring rather than dates and facts. This makes the research really fun, because you can use what you grasp easily without worrying about getting something wrong.

The Prospero books were a bit different. They had historical flashbacks that required actual research. I did most of my research online, but occasionally, I went to the library for more solid information. I wouldn’t say that I spent a lot of time—at least a few hours per historical flashback, sometimes a day or two.

I also do research for settings. Miranda’s travels over the glacier, the lava fields, and the bogs all took research. In each case, at first I imagined something rather simple, but after researching it, I found out that these landscapes were complex and fascinating. I really enjoyed learning about these places.

Tamago: The Prospero books are clearly one long story. How did you decide to write three books, and how did you make the decision to divide the books as you did?

Jagi: Prospero Lost was designed to end when at the Wintergarden scene, when Miranda found out what her father had been up to when he vanished. That turned out to be too long a chuck. So I had to end it earlier. The spot I picked wasn’t particularly ideal, but it was the right distance from the beginning. Sigh.

The second book was even harder. It was also too long, so the decision was made to add material and turn it into two books. I had a great deal of trouble deciding whether to scatter the family at the end of Prospero In Hell or at the beginning of Prospero Regained. I hated ending on a cliffhanger, but having the reader expect that they were on their way, just to have them scattered at the beginning of the next book, seemed worse, somehow.

So…that’s how the ends came about.

Tamago: Do you perceive any special challenges in writing about existing historical or literary characters? What, if any, are there?

Jagi: There would be a great deal more challenges if the Orbis Suleimani were not on my side. In the Prospero books the Orbis Suleimani, or Circle of Solomon, is a secret organization that hides evidence of magic by changes our records of the past. Thanks to their existence, I was able to fudge figures a bit. When the dates for the birth of the man I established was Prospero’s father made him too young, for instance, I blamed it on the Orbis Suleimani and said that they changed the records.

Having a history changing power freed me up a bit, but there was still plenty of struggling to match historic events with story events in such as way as to keep as closely to the original as possible.

As far as literary figures go, I did not have any special challenges with Shakespeare’s characters because I did not try to make them like the original. I felt that a distance of 500 years would have meant major changes for Miranda and Caliban, who were both young in the original. I did try to make Prospero and Antonio men who could have been the same individual as the one who appeared in The Tempest.

In general, though, I think the challenge is to honor the original without being so limited by it that you can’t write your own story.

Tamago: Are you involved with a writing group, or do you get feedback on your drafts in another way?

Jagi: I am a member of a couple of online writing groups, including one I am the secretary for that only convenes sporadically nowadays, but used to be quite active about ten years ago. For the most part, though, I find particularly individuals who are willing to read it and give me feedback. I have been very lucky in that I had two really good friends who would do this and, when their schedules changes and they were no longer available, I found a few more.

I also have the valuable opportunity to read my work aloud to my mother and brother. My brother is disabled. Each week, I visit him and read him a chapter. The process of reading aloud is useful for catching mistakes and awkward phrasing. The input of my mother and brother I also very valuable.

Tamago: Do you discuss your initial ideas or drafts with others? Why or why not?

Jagi: All the time. Mainly with John. My husband, John C. Wright, is also a science fiction/fantasy writer, so we discuss our ideas with each other all the time. John often opines that he doesn’t know how a writer who is not married to another writers produces anything worth reading.

However, I sometimes find that if I get a really good idea I am burning to write down, I have to be quiet about it and just go write it. Otherwise, the act of talking about it relieves the desire to share it, and I lose the impetus to write. As I get more experienced, I am getting better at identifying what I can share and what I need to keep to myself. Or, if I am lucky enough to have another reader waiting to read my drafts, I can sometimes tell John and use my eagerness to share the scene with the third person to fuel my writing enthusiasm.

I want to pause a moment to emphasize this, though, because it took me a long time to learn it. Not only can telling someone my ideas be dangerous, outlining can be dangerous. I had to freeze up and be unable to continue a work a number of times before I learned not to outline ahead of time. And I have noticed that some friends who outline extensively lose interest in their projects. So, if you can outline and write, do! Outlines make writing easier.

If when you write an outline, you don’t go on and do the project…it is worth it to try it next time without an outline!

Tamago: What’s been your favorite project to date and why?

Jagi: I would say that would be the Visions of Arhyalon series. It is based on a role playing game my husband started in 1986. I have been involved since 1987. It also stars my favorite character of all time.

It took me a long time to find the right vehicle for this story. I started thirteen different versions and threw out over 1000 pages. But, finally, the first book of this is done and in the hands of my editor.

Why do I like it? Many, many reasons. The relentless optimism of the main character, who is practical and idealistic at the same time. The intricacy and difficulty of the moral quandaries. The vast and glorious scope of the background, which is a multi-verse with everything you can imagine. To give you an idea of the vastness, the Prospero family, minus Miranda, is from that background, and they are merely a small slice of the myriad of intriguing characters present.

My one problem with it is that it is very so vast and complicated that it is very difficult to describe. A short version might be: When a dragon attacks Washington DC, Victoria Woods discovers that the stories her missing friends wrote are coming true. Armed with the secrets from those stories, she sets out to rescue her friends and to discover what the stakes are in the new, greater world beyond our own.

Tamago: How long is a writing session for you? How many words do you write? Are you likely to keep those words?

Jagi: I try to write while the children are at school. Life seems to interfere a great deal, and I am very slow about getting started. So it is hard to say how much writing I actually get done, but the longer a period I can write at a stretch, the more I get into the flow of it. I try to do long six hour stretches when I am able.

I fear I have no idea how many words I write. Some weeks, I finish two chapters (maybe 20 to 30 pages.) Other weeks, I am lucky to finish two paragraphs.

Am I likely to keep those words? Hmm. It used to be that the answer was no. I had to revise everything. Nowadays, the answer is more like: yes, but not necessarily in the same form they are in. I tend to write a scene quickly and then add the interesting bits during the rewrites. I don’t really care for writing first drafts. I love the editing process.

Tamago: How do you know when something you’re writing isn’t working?

The first way would be if one of my many beta readers tells me, “Jagi, this stinks!” To date, no one has actually said that in so many words. However, I am often set right by a friend or family member who points out that something is not working.

Did I mention that I really appreciate my beta readers? I do not think my books would be worth reading without them.

Beyond that, however, I am getting better at noticing when something is not working. When I am hard at work on a project, I review it in my mind over and over. As I get more experience, I find I can spot places where the threads of the story are snarled. Also, when something in the story stands out to me, that is often a sign that something is not quite right about it. I reexamine passages that stick in my mind to see if there is a reason that my subconscious is flagging me. Often, there is.

Tamago: After the initial break-in moment (your first book, agent, or assignment), what are the moments/accomplishments that you feel define you as a writer?

Jagi: Hmm…my ‘initial break-in’ took forever. LOL

I would have to say having Prospero Regained win the title of Best Book of 2011 from the March Madness Book Tournament at Book Spot Central (bookspotcentral.com). I started out as one of 64 books. In the end, my little novel tied against huge fan favorite Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning. I thought I had absolutely no chance in this contest. The first round, they put me up against A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin. Yet, somehow, my novel negotiated its way to the top!

I am still dazed with amazement.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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