Here’s an interview with Sara Mueller, whose taken a few moments away from working on her fantasy/historical Bone Orchard to answer a few questions.
Tamago: Tell me about when you knew you wanted to be a writer.
Sara: I don’t remember when I didn’t enjoy telling stories, but I didn’t really set my sights on writing a book until twelve years ago or so.
Tamago: What is your composing process usually like?
Sara: I come up with a character and situation. Once I have those, I tend to write Chapter One more or less immediately because the first inklings I have about the world are part and parcel of the character and situation.
Then I stop and think about a rough plot, and write on from there. I write in a sort of spiral process, with dialogue and a few very rough descriptions, then the next day I go back, fill in the descriptions, tighten up the dialogue, and go on from there.
I run my work past some prereaders or my writer’s groups as I go along, so I have continuing feedback to keep me going. I find well done critique extremely inspiring while I’m in process.
At about three quarters of the way through, my original ending will implode and I write a better one than I planned on.
I usually compose on computer, but if I’m not at the computer and have a notebook and writing instrument (which I try to always have) I often rough out scenes longhand. And if I’m really stuck, I go back to longhand and no matter how bad it is, I can usually get some momentum again there.
Tamago: How do you know when a project is working?
Sara: I know it’s working when the characters are really alive in my head.
Tamago: Do you prefer working with the initial draft, or do you prefer the revising process? Why?
Sara: Drafting is great in the early going, because it’s so organic and I’m really excited about the story. Theeeeen at about three quarters of the way in, it starts to be work because now I have to make it all come to a satisfying end. At that point, revising is my favorite thing, because it gets me excited about the particular story again and how to tell the story in the best possible way.
Tamago: Your novel The Bone Orchard is set in a steampunk universe, but seems patterned on European history. How much research do you do for your fantasy work?
Sara: Depends on the novel, really. Bone Orchard was a lot of research into dissociated identities (multiple personality), but on the research scale I didn’t need to do much more because I was pretty familiar with the period I was borrowing from.
For my alternate history, Lily Crown, I ended up doing masses of historical research because while I do have a pretty solid grip on English history of the 16th c., my story was set in France during that period. I knew a little, but as it became clear that the story needed to center in France I had to do a LOT of reading up.
Tamago: Which writers are your influences?
Sara: Oh good heavens, lol. Honestly the list is endless and depends on what I’m writing. For Bone Orchard it was obviously Frankenstein, and a lot of other Victorian work. Edith Wharton and Anthony Trollope, for two.
Tamago: How did you come to apply to Taos Toolbox?
Sara: David Levine talked about it, and I was looking specifically for a novel workshop. There are plenty of short story workshops, but Taos Toolbox is aimed specifically at novels.
Tamago: What advice would you give to a writer who might be considering a workshop?
Sara: Read up on it, check out blogs written by participants, and if you can, correspond with them politely and ask questions. And when you go, leave your ego at the door with the hat check lady. You’re there to make your writing better. It’s not about you, it’s about the writing.
Tamago: What are you working on right now?
Sara: I have two projects running. I’m working on another book in the Bone Orchard universe, and an urban fantasy. I haven’t written urban fantasy, but I had a character, a bad situation, and a world in my head so…
Tamago: Given all the obligations in your life, how do you balance, family, work, and writing?
Sara: I’m extremely fortunate that my husband and son support my writing. I write while I’m waiting at my son’s fencing lessons, I write in doctors’ waiting rooms, I’ve been known to jot down notes at the dinner table. Writing is the thing that’s always cooking in the background.
Tamago: What advice would you give to people who would like to write?
Sara: Write. Helpful, right? But seriously, the best way to learn to write is to DO IT. Read your work out loud, even if it’s just to the cat. You’re going to fail, and make a lot of beginner errors at first because beginners do that. The manuscript you end up with my look nothing at all like the one you started, but if it serves the characters and the story it’s because you learned how to do that better along the way.
Tamago: Where can people find your work?
Sara: Heh. Toughie, as I’m not a prolific short story writer and don’t have a book out. I cowrote a story with David D. Levine that appears in his anthology ‘Space Magic’. I have another in ‘Healing Waves’, which is a charity ebook for tsumani victims in Japan.