The Writing Process and J.Kathleen Cheney

And now, debut author J.Kathleen Cheney shares her writing process.

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?

Kathleen: I’ll have to say that for the first couple of novels I wrote, I had no process. I’m now actually working on my 7th. By now, I’m finally forming a process.
1) I take a couple of weeks to do initial research and do my preliminary outline.
2) I start writing, more or less straight through the novel.
3) Once I reach the end, I re-outline, and then rewrite.
4) Once I reach the end, I re-outline, and then rewrite. (I do this twice.)
5) I let someone read it.
6) I clean it up, considering their input.
7) I submit it (to agent and editor).

Tamago: Is your writing process the same for short stories as it is for novels?

Kathleen: Surprisingly, not much different.

Tamago: Which part of writing–drafting, revising, critique from others–do you enjoy the most? Why? The least? Why?< ?em>

Kathleen: Revising. I could do that endlessly. I enjoy shaping words into what I want them to say, and every pass seems to make the meaning clearer. I dislike the outlining phase the most. It seems so unproductive, even though I know it needs to be done.

Tamago: Do you belong to a writer’s group, or do you work solo? Why do you follow the approach that you do?

Kathleen: Sadly, I work solo. I am a member of several writers groups, but I don’t have those people critique my work. It’s difficult to find the right balance in critiquing. I did have a great first reader, but she passed away recently. So for now, I’m pretty much just running things past my husband, and then turning them in.

Tamago: How many drafts of a project will you write? What do you do in each draft?

Kathleen: Draft 0: I do the raw writing, mostly the action and dialog with minimal description.
Draft 1: I reconsider my outline and then clean up the 0 draft, filling in holes in that draft and correcting any problems that I’ve noticed along the way.
Draft 2: I usually do this after Draft 1 has been read by my husband. I fix whatever problems he noted, and then work on setting and description (my big weaknesses.).

Tamago: What has been your favorite project to date? Why?

Kathleen: It’s not published, but my second novel was called Dreaming Death. The main character, Shironne Anjir, appears in one of my published short stories (“Touching the Dead”, first published in Jim Baen’s Universe, April 2007) She’s a pleasure to write. She’s blind, but spunky, and is extremely sensitive to things around her: she’s both an empath and has a hyper-developed sense of touch. It’s a great challenge to keep all her little quirks in mind while I write her.

I do hope this novel (and its sequels) see publication someday. My mother says it’s her favorite, so it must be good.

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

Kathleen: I tend to think of things as not working for a certain audience. I have one story that a lot of people tell me is from the wrong character’s POV, but I disagree. It’s just not found the right audience yet. (Actually, if it was told from the POV of the other character, there would be no surprise or mystery. He IS the mystery, so…)
This is not to imply that I never get it wrong. I’ve got one story that I wrote as a challenge to myself that no one likes. Not even me. I do think some audiences would appreciate the bleak pointlessness of that story, but I’m not sure I ever want that story to represent me in print. So, yes, it’s sitting in my trunk. I also have some novels that I need to rewrite, but I suspect I could put them up on Amazon as is and a few people would like them. But if they’re going to be published under my name, I’d like to patch them up first.

Tamago: Many of your novels involve historical settings. How do you go about researching and gathering materials for your work?

Kathleen: I truly enjoy researching, even when it’s complicated and frustrating. (A lot of the research on my current series has had to be done in Portuguese, so I actually had to study the language before I could access some things. Thank heavens for translation sites!) I generally start with the public library and hunting for things on the internet. (I have pretty good GoogleFu.). Then I start collecting sources. I buy a lot of research books (often used, I confess) and maps and DVDs. I like reading novels, journals, and texts from the period.

And I keep hunting, even once I’ve finished the novel. I can still fix things up to the bitter end! I discovered a mistake in one of my novels after I’d turned it back in to my editor. There are two churches with exactly the same name, one in Portugal and one in Brazil, and I realized I’d described the Brazilian one in my book, not the Portuguese one! On the next edit pass I managed to fix the description. Whew!

Tamago: There seems to be an element of romance in many of your pieces. What attracts you to the romantic angle of characters in your writing?

Kathleen: When I look back at the books I read as a kid, my favorite element in those novels, whether historical, fantasy, or science fiction, was their romantic element. Those were the scenes I would go back and read over and over. The Witch of Blackbird Pond? Johnny Tremain? A Wrinkle in Time? Those are hot romance novels! That was what I decided was missing in Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH. It’s a great book, but there’s no romance! (I suspect there’s someone out there writing mouse-rat fan-fic to change that.)
So early on I knew that the romantic element was important for me as a reader. I’m not sure exactly what attracts me to that, but it does.

Now as writer, I’m writing for people who look for that element in their reading. It may not be the primary theme of the books they read, but they still want to find it in there somewhere.

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?

Kathleen: OK, this may sound weird, but it’s working with editors. I may curse under my breath during the process (especially on the first reading of their commentary), but I quickly get over that snit and move on. I’m one of those people who believes the editor is honestly trying to help my story be better. I don’t always agree with their suggestions, but if I know the reason for those suggestions (I will ask them if I don’t know) it helps me see the book from an outside point of view. And the collaborative nature of the work makes me feel…well, professional.

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.

2 thoughts on “The Writing Process and J.Kathleen Cheney”

  1. Great interview! The revision process has always been my favorite part of writing as well. And wow, talk about dodging a bullet when it comes to the Portuguese and Brazilian churches!

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