Graeme: The Pact is my first title, and I’m busy at work on another book now.
Alex: How did you come up with the idea for The Pact? What was your inspiration?
Graeme: The Pact was originally intended as an exercise. Before writing it, I had been working on a long epic and was relentlessly submitting it to agents. I wondered if there was something wrong with my craft, so I took an outlining workshop and learned how to build a story from a basic premise. To be sure I could make it work, I started with something fresh. The following morning, during my walk to work (I was a barista at Starbucks at the time), I searched for a premise. That was when I met Will and Robin (at the time, they had no names). As the week went on I started to write down Will’s story, developing it based on the outlining stages I had been taught, and within a month and a half I had the story finished.
Alex: I’ve had the pleasure of reading The Pact, and I really enjoyed the depth of the characters. Was it easy for you to write them or did it take a lot of work?
Graeme: Writing characters is something I enjoy the most. It’s hard work without the proper tools, but with some careful organization and profiling techniques, I find it’s easy to connect to them. As I built my story, I gave major characters a page where I wrote down things like physical descriptors, events that shaped them, motives, goals, fears, etc. I have a separate page for secondary characters where I tried to describe them quickly, things that stuck out, be it a scar on the eye, a nervous lip-licking habit or a constant frown because of a stiff back.
When it comes time to sit down and write, I spread out the character pages and usually spend about twenty minutes going over outline, setting and character notes – especially those character notes – that way when the writing starts I feel connected to them. Sometimes I’ll stop and try to speak out loud the way they would, until I’m convinced I’ve got it right. Usually the characters are quite a bit more interesting than the notes – the sheets just serve as an entry point, so it’s really an act of trusting the natural process of connecting to a story’s voice, something I believe any writer can learn to develop through commitment to his or her craft.
Alex: Now, I’d like to ask you a few general questions about your writing experience. How long have you known you wanted to be an author? Was there anything that started your love of writing?
Graeme: I’ve been telling stories since I was old enough to talk. I started writing horror stories when I was 8, inspired by the horror movies I watched secretly at my friend’s house. A serious love for writing came, though, when I discovered fantasy, particularly after I got into Lord of the Rings. I wanted to write my own story, and continued to develop a fantasy world. However, I just couldn’t get a book to hold together. Even in my early twenties, when I finally wrote a book, it just didn’t have the zing I wanted. However, the fantasy world continued to develop, so that, when The Pact started to come together, I had an 18-year-old fantasy world ready to be hammered around the tale and finally ready to be revealed through the many stories I now plan to tell.
Alex: What is it like for you when you sit down to write?
Graeme: Getting started is a pain in the butt. It’s rare that this step is ever easy. I usually take a while, and rarely just open up and start typing where I left off. I always bring my black box of outline notes, spread them out around me, and pore over the storyboard, the character profiles, and the settings. Now I have a map, so I look at that as well. Usually, when I feel connected and ready to go, I look at where I left off, read it to try and find where I can jump in. Sometimes I go back ten pages, or a few chapters, sometimes I pick up right where I left off. If there’s ever something bugging me, I use the find feature to go back and make sure everything is consistent. Because I write fantasy, if I make reference to a new custom or world detail, I make sure I record it in the right place so it’s there for future reference. It’s ordered chaos, and the only reason it doesn’t distress me is because I’ve seen that it works out.
Alex: Ordered chaos sounds like it could be a lot of fun, although quite a pain if you weren't used to stress. What has been your experience with publishing? How did you choose the publisher you’re currently with?
Graeme: The experience of trying to get published is something few writers will ever speak fondly of. I've had my own trail of endless rejections, frustrations, and a $2000 mistake called vanity publishing. I considered self-publishing, however I avoided it as I had done a little research into the publishing market to know that trade publishing held an advantage, even if it was harder to break in.
The road to getting published opened up to me when I took the advice of other successful writers: I attended a writing convention. There, I met Ellen, who owns Champagne Books. The following year, I attended again, with The Pact in its polishing stage. I pitched the premise her way and she asked me to submit it. A month later, I was offered my first contract. Ironically, it was my last shift at Starbucks.
Alex: You just became an editor as well. Congratulations! Can I ask you what it’s like when you’re editing you're own work versus someone else’s?
Graeme: I like to think I can edit my own work, but even though I know the rules, that doesn’t mean I catch everything. What’s hard about editing your own work is you are emotionally attached to lots of the things you create, and sometimes, when you’re new at writing, you toil so hard to get a sentence a certain way you might keep it when in fact it is detracting. An editor isn’t in love with your words like you are – an editor wants a clear story and has the reader in mind, so the writer-editor dialogue is about finding that middle ground. That said, at the end of the day, the story is your and you must, first and foremost, be sure you are happy with the story.
I enjoy editing other peoples’ work because it helps me to develop more objectivity when I’m revising, rather than writing and trusting my editor to catch my mistakes. The sharper your book is, the more your editor can push you to make it even better – a book can ALWAYS be better, no matter what. In publishing, you want it to cross the threshold at which point it’s so good that “better” would only be called for by perfectionists. Being an editor and writer helps me to understand that the process of editing and writing are very much intertwined – the only difference is the editing process is a partnership, whereas writing is solitary.
Alex: Do you have any tips or suggestions for aspiring authors?
Graeme: Writing is a continuous process, not an act of vanity. Avoid getting caught up in the dream of being an author with your name on books. You’ll do much better if you can focus on the deeper things that make writing great: connect to your story, bring it to life. Discover your voice. This is the most rewarding thing about being a writer.
How do you do this? Everyone is different, but I found mine when I started reading my work out loud. I couldn’t even read my first manuscript (presently dead, in a box), and occasionally my second made me shiver, but only occasionally. When I put both of those aside and wrote The Pact, I aimed to make every single sentence do that.
You know you've captured the voice of your story when you change and enter some other sort of world when reading it aloud. Sometimes the hairs on your arms stir, your heart beats hard, and your eyes water a little, your throat tingles. You feel it flowing, like some sort of enchanted blood. Then you've got it; then those words are much more than words. That's what you want to aim for. Yeah, you still need to step back and think structure, grammar, and other such things, but those are like the bones that keep your story together. The voice is the blood, and without it, your story is dead.
Alex: Wow! That’s really exciting. I’ve changed a considerable amount so far, as a writer, but nothing so intense. I’m looking forward to perfecting my voice as a writer, and getting into the mindset where I experience those feelings while writing.
Well, thank you for stopping by Graeme.
Graeme: And thank you for having me! I’ve really enjoyed our correspondence, another thing that’s so important with writing – we all inspire each other, and I really appreciate how your input has helped with my own inspiration.