Eleven Questions for: Rebecca Chastain

Magic of the GargoylesWell folks, we are in for a treat today, because not only is Rebecca Chastain awesome, but she tells us how to make “healthy” chocolate turtles! This enables you to make a whole tray of them and eat them all at once at your desk, because they’re not bad for you. Naturally I tried this as I was putting together this post, in the name of research.

Rebecca’s got two great urban fantasy series going right now, Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles and Madison Fox, Illuminant Enforcer. Here’s the description of Magic of the Gargoyles, to whet your appetite:

To help a baby gargoyle, Mika will risk everything.
Mika Stillwater is a mid-level earth elemental with ambitions of becoming a quartz artisan, and her hard work is starting to get noticed. But when a panicked baby gargoyle bursts into her studio, insisting Mika is the only person she’ll trust with her desperate mission, Mika’s carefully constructed five-year plan is shattered.
Swept into the gritty criminal underworld of Terra Haven, Mika must jeopardize everything she’s worked so hard for to save the baby gargoyle from the machinations of a monster—and to stay alive…

 
Now on to the questions!
 
Q:
You’ve recently released the third Gargoyle Guardian book, and a new Madison Fox book is coming this fall. Do you have trouble changing gears between series, or do you find the variety energizes you?
A:
Six months ago, I would have told you that bouncing between series was energizing, but then I wrote Curse of the Gargoyles and Secret of the Gargoyles back-to-back, and it was heady stuff! A whole bunch of ideas for other adventures in that world started filling my notebook, but I have an obligation (and desire) to get back to the Madison Fox series and couldn’t pursue them (at least not yet). I think I’m better off sticking with one series until it’s done, or at least a major arc is wrapped up.

Q:
I’m a plotter like you, and I could not write without an outline. What can’t you write without?
A:
I definitely couldn’t write without my main outline. I also need my scene outlines, which are short, jotted notes to keep me on track hour by hour. I suppose if I were trapped on a desert island but could still publish books, I might be able to get by without Scrivener or my ergonomic keyboard, but I wouldn’t want to.

Q:
You get to pull one literary character through the fabric of reality to stay with you for a week. Who do you choose, and why?
A:
Any dragon from Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. I would love to pick the brain of a telepathic dragon, and if he or she were so inclined, go for a ride. I can’t think of a more thrilling experience than being dragonback in flight! I imagine it would cause hysteria among the people (and dogs) in my neighborhood, but it’d be worth it.

Q:
You’re a gamer. Madison Fox is not a fan. What game would you introduce her to to win her over?
A:
You know when you eat MSG-filled food, and when you start thinking about it later, you drool? If my brain could drool, it would at every mention of Portal. It’s a super-fun first-person puzzle game that I find absolutely addictive. Madison would enjoy the fact that the game isn’t sexist and doesn’t involve complicated button sequences. After she was hooked, I’d introduce her to Chariot, a great one- or two-person side-scroller that involves way more timed jumping than I’m qualified for but is so much fun.

Q:
In a sea of vampires and shifters, elementals and gargoyles stand out. What drew you to these characters?
A:
Before I wrote Magic of the Gargoyles, I had never read a book where the magic system was based solely on the elements. The idea actually came to me when I was trying to feng shui my house. Balancing the elements in each room was a frustrating task, and I thought it would be so much easier if I could distill the elements into their essences—and the magic system was born. I don’t remember what made me consider gargoyles as a main fantastical creature, but the moment I pictured a baby gargoyle, I knew I had a story to write. Gargoyles ended up being so much fun, too. I could make them any shape I wanted, and once I decided on quartz for their body types, I could make them almost any variation of color. The possibilities were endless!

Q:
Best dessert of all time?
A:
Chocolate turtles! They’re very easy to make: take half a medjool date, stuff it with walnuts, drizzle it with melted dark chocolate, sprinkle it with sea salt, and then put it in the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens. It’s snack-sized and almost healthy.

Q:
What books most influenced you to want to become a writer yourself?
A:
Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books (no surprise, since I want her dragons to come to life), Piers Anthony’s silly Xanth books, and Robert Jordan’s epic fantasies. I loved getting to experience their magical worlds, and it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that I’d write down my extensive daydreams. I got serious about writing in the seventh grade, and since then my school and career decisions were all geared toward becoming a full-time author. (I didn’t achieve my dream for another two decades, which shows how powerful my desire was…or how persistent I can be.)

Q:
For fantasy writers, the old adage “write what you know” isn’t always something you can take literally. What do you have in common with Mika and Madison?
A:
When I wrote Magic of the Gargoyles, I was in Mika’s position: trying to leave a dead-end job (in the corporate world, not a quarry) to pursue my dream job (being an author), and I was doing a lot of freelance editing to make the transition. I intimately understood Mika’s dream of freedom, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how readers have empathized with her plight, too, especially when she has to put all her hard work and her dreams on the line.

Madison and I have a lot more specific life details in common. I wrote the first draft in a month for NaNo WriMo, with only the sketchiest of outlines, so I didn’t have time to do world building. Which is why Madison lives not only in my hometown, but also in my old apartment. She works in the same building I used to, and her cat’s vet is my cat’s vet. However, that’s where the similarities end. She’s got that whole “I can use my soul as a weapon” thing going for her, and I’ve got “I can hide really well from the UPS guy” thing going for me.

Q:
Is there a genre you don’t write in, but have considered trying?
A:
I don’t know that I could write a book that didn’t have magic in it. The closest I came was Tiny Glitches, and that still is heavy with magical realism. I have a tentative idea for a paranormal romance, but I feel like the line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance is blurring, so I don’t know if that counts.

Q:
Music while writing, or silence?
A:
Music, but only songs I know.

Q:
After the third Madison Fox book, what comes next? How far ahead do you plan?
A:
I plan to write through book 5 in the Madison Fox series before turning to something else. However, while I plot individual novels with a manic obsession, I plan series like a pantser, so I have no idea where that’ll leave the series right now. If it feels like a natural pause point, I’ll turn to one of three other series ideas I have. If not, I’ll keep going with Madison Fox.

 

RebeccaChastainRebecca Chastain is the internationally bestselling author of the Madison Fox, Illuminant Enforcer series and the Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles, among others works. She has found seven four-leaf clovers to date, won a purebred Arabian horse in a drawing, and once tamed a blackbird for a day. Writing stories designed to amuse and entertain has been her passion since she was eleven years old. She lives in Northern California with her wonderful husband and three bossy cats.

Website: http://www.rebeccachastain.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rebeccachastainnovels
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Author_Rebecca
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5660379.Rebecca_Chastain
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Rebecca-Chastain/e/B00MW89XB0/

Everyone hail to the pumpkin song

Eleven things for Halloween:

1. The post title, of course, comes from the song “This is Halloween” in A Nightmare Before Christmas. This was the correct answer to the October poll asking for the best Halloween movie. Fifty percent of you got it right.

2. The other half of you chose It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which is certainly a good one. But you’re still doing Halloween wrong if you don’t know Jack Skellington is the pumpkin king.

3. Nobody chose either Halloween or Night of the Living Dead. I was especially surprised that Michael Myers did not garner a single vote, although I quite agree with you. (By the way, there is no November poll because mah book is being released next week and will be occupying the sidebar space where the poll normally sits. But I’m sure we can all agree that the best Thanksgiving pie is cherry anyway. Shut up with your pumpkin.)

4. ahsclownAmerican Horror Story, which was maybe the least scary thing on TV last year, is the scariest it’s been since Season 1 this year, and maybe even scarier. You really can’t beat a creepy clown when it comes to scares, and John Carroll Lynch is giving us the creepiest one since Tim Curry played Pennywise.

5. The adaptation of It in which Tim Curry played Pennywise was not scary, despite Curry doing a fantastic job. The production values were… not high. So there’s no point in watching that for Halloween, but you might consider reading it, because it still wins my scariest book ever award.

6. ‘Salem’s Lot and Pet Sematary are my runners up for scariest Stephen King books. His son Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is also really scary.

7. That family hasn’t got the corner on scary, of course. The Haunting of Hill House is a classic that stands up, and Poe will always be the master. I haven’t read much lately that genuinely scared me, though. (By all means, give me your recommendations in comments.)

8. If you want a movie instead, my personal picks for scariest movies are Seven and Silence of the Lambs.

9. Last year’s The Conjuring deserves a mention too, because it brought the scary back to scary movies. We need less of that nauseating found footage nonsense, and more good old fashioned scares.

10. I’m going to say it one more time, movie people: startle does not equal scare. Don’t just make me jump and call it a day. I’m not going to have nightmares about being startled. You’ve got to disturb me.

11. My fun sized candy bar of choice this year is Almond Joy. Yours?

The North remembers that winter is coming in April

Goodness, but April is a busy month, what with the launch of ESO and Camp NaNoWriMo. I haven’t got much to say about either. Yes, the launch is buggy, because that’s what a launch is. The bugs aren’t what matters. What matters is, how many more times am I going to create, delete, and recreate my character because I change my mind about her hair?

As for NaNo, this is my first year at camp. I set my goal at 30k because what I’m doing is really more of an extended outline than actual writing, full of things like: And then she arrives in town. Describe town. And sees the ghost. Describe ghost. But that’s okay. My goal for April is just to get the story straight in my head from beginning to end, work out what my characters would do or how they would react to certain things, and flesh out some scenes if and where I can. I’ll actually write the thing, um, later.

But none of these activities, nor the activities of normal non-April life, can compete with what happens on Sunday:

Game of Thrones is back, and the North remembers, bitches!

Obviously some lemon cakes are in order, at the very least. The ones in A Feast of Ice and Fire are delicious. (I use the traditional recipe because frankly, the modern one looks harder.) If you haven’t got A Feast of Ice and Fire, time is running out to get it before you have to make something icy and/or fiery for Sunday, so you’d better get going on that.

Am also considering making a pie of a certain flavor, even though this isn’t the season for it. That may make no sense to some of you, but the book readers, they know.

Will you be watching? Are you doing anything special for the premiere?

In which I briefly come up for air

As I wrap up my NaNo – I estimate I have about 4k to go – I’m looking around at all the things I’ve let slide in November, as I always do, every November. I see I haven’t blogged in almost three weeks, but neglected social media is the least of my problems. You should see the dust around this place. Thanksgiving is in what? Four days? Egads, I say.

But that’s as it should be. Networking and maintaining connections is important. Dusting is important. Making pie for all these people is important. Outlining and researching and editing are all important. You couldn’t neglect those things year-round the way you do during NaNo, which is why NaNo is only once a year. But while things like research and social media and pie can all support your writing, nothing supports it so well as actually, you know, writing. By which I mean, writing actual words in an actual document, which as it turns out, is not the same thing as thinking about writing or talking about writing or intending to write when you have the time. If NaNo is about nothing else, it’s about reconnecting with that one simple, yet sometimes elusive, concept.

Lots of people want to be writers. Less actually want to write. Fewer still are willing to make sacrifices to do it. Congratulations to all the people who made time to write this November, however painfully, and at whatever cost to the cleanliness of your clothing.

I expect to resurface after Thanksgiving with the self-absorbed posts about NaNoWriMo behind me, clearing the way for self-absorbed posts about a variety of other topics. American Horror Story is wrapping up. The Following is coming again soon, and it was such a disappointment the last time around that I may take my revenge by watching it again just so I can say mean things about it. Catching Fire is upon us. And get ready people, because The Desolation of Smaug is! Finally! Coming!

How to win at caffeine

Just in time for NaNo, I tried brewing some Republic Chai the proper way this morning:

  1. Bring 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of water just to a boil, reduce heat
  2. Stir in a gob (sorry so technical) of honey until melted – their chai honey is a good choice, but any honey will do
  3. Add 2 but so heaping that it’s really 3 teaspoons of chai leaves
  4. Simmer 4 minutes
  5. Strain – if you haven’t got a tea strainer, any fine strainer will work, as this tea hasn’t got a ton of tiny particles

That makes 2 cups, which I strained into my 3 cup pot. Then I was sad that I didn’t make 3. If I can’t hit 80-100k with this on my desk… actually, it doesn’t matter, because I still get yummy chai so I WIN.

They ship in two days, so you have plenty of time to get some before Friday even if you can’t find it locally. Seriously. You can thank me later.

What would Illidan say to you?

As of this writing, the countdown timer in my sidebar says I have 7 days and 8 hours until NaNo begins, and, well… this is me.

I suspect this first draft will contain lots of passages about what everyone is eating and characters who don’t grow personalities until some time in January. But there’s not a lot I can do about that in 7 days and 8 hours. I need to choose my battles wisely. Whatever prep time I can carve out around Halloween and all the other goings-on over the next week needs to be dedicated to those things that are absolute critical path items.

Okay then. I already have tea, candy, and Tastykakes. So:

  1. Wine
  2. Plot

Well, that’s not so bad. It’s only two.

How about you, fellow writers and wrimos? Are you ready? What last minute preparations are you making?

NaNoWriMo: the planning that isn’t plotting

It’s T-minus-45 to NaNoWriMo. The debate between plotters and pantsers will be raging, as it does every year, in forums and blogs across the writerverse. People will be vehemently defending the merits of outlining in advance/discovering their novel as they write it, and in many cases judging the other side, even going so far as to declare how “real writers” do it.

I think a lot of time is wasted on this argument that could otherwise be spent on important pre-NaNo activities like shopping for the best price on Fun Size Baby Ruths. The way I see it, you’re probably going to fall naturally into one category or the other, and letting your brain work how it works is more important than how someone else wants to tell you to do it, or how your favorite writer happens to do it. So just figure out which one you are, and be that.

But plotter or pantser, NaNo requires a lot of preparation that has nothing to do with the actual content of your story. There are two reasons you don’t write at this pace year-round. The first is that it’s only suited to first drafts, and if all you ever wrote were first drafts you wouldn’t be getting very far. The second is: you don’t have time.

Well, you don’t have time in November either. That’s why you need to spend time beforehand setting up as many things as you can to run on auto-pilot. Things like:

Soundtrack
You’re going to need a playlist that can, among other things, energize you when you realize how much your novel sucks and don’t see the point in typing another word of it. How big a job this is depends on how much you think your novel will suck, but it never hurts to be on the safe side and get your music in place ahead of time. I like to have theme songs for all my characters, and a theme song for the story itself, and then some theme songs that are just for snacks.

Speaking of snacks
Stocking up on candy and caffeine is of course the top priority, but it can’t be the only one. Some of us have families depending on us for their survival, and all of us have ourselves depending on us for our survival. Take it from someone who’s been there: if week 2 finds you weeping softly in a junk-food-and-takeout-induced stupor, unable to focus enough even to remember your protagonist’s name, or your dog’s name, or your own name, this is bad for your word count. Somewhere along the line you’ll want to mix in something healthy and home-cooked. Something with vegetables.

I use a nifty app called MealBoard to plan my meals in advance and then generate shopping lists for me on the fly. When November 1 hits, I know what’s for dinner all 30 days, I’ve bought as many ingredients ahead as freshness will allow for, and I can get the rest each week with a list generated in the grocery store parking lot, solving plot problems as I walk up and down the aisles rather than thinking about what I need.

Also, NaNoWriMo is just one of the many experiences that can be improved by a slow cooker. Cooking Light has a great list of slow cooker recipes that I go back to again and again. But if even reading a recipe is too time-consuming, that’s fine too. Just throw in a slab of meat and whatever vegetables are in your fridge, add a cup or two of liquid (wine, beer, cider, and stock are all your friends here), shake in whatever spices strike your fancy, and there you are. You can do all that while your morning tea is steeping, and that’s the last time you have to think about your dinner until you’re actually eating it.

Household maintenance
This one is easy: clean really, really well right before Halloween. Then adjust your definition of “clean” for 30 days. If you’ve got a family member or roommate who objects to the new standard, be sure they know where the vacuum is kept.

Oh and by the way, it’s holiday season
If you’re American, maybe you’ll be hosting Thanksgiving dinner or traveling for the holiday. If you celebrate Christmas, maybe you’ll type your last word only to look up and discover, with much panic, that it’s only 3 weeks away. Plan, book, and buy what you can in October.

And speaking of holidays, Halloween is an important one for NaNo. Have more candy than trick-or-treaters. Apply leftovers to noveling.

So get moving, people. November, much like winter, is coming.

Fall is for fantasy

51io0QNtvmL._SX260_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_Maybe because the Renaissance Festival comes to my region in the fall, or because the weather gets cooler and it’s a great time to curl up with a book, or just because of Halloween and haunted houses and witches. Whatever combination of these factors makes it so, this is a time of swords and sorcery and castles and stuff.

And not just books either. All sorts of things, including food. Back when more of my family played WoW together, we’d have Azeroth themed nights in which our adventures were preceded by some Westfall stew (because fall is also for stew) and homemade cherry pie. Come to think of it, why hasn’t anyone written a Warcraft cookbook? Or have they and I just don’t know about it? We need one of these.

And then sometimes we do a Harry Potter thing at Halloween, with pumpkin pasties and cauldron cakes and so forth. Harry Potter is great for the sweets. Not much in the way of stew though.

For this year, I just ordered A Feast of Ice and Fire. I’m thinking: October. Crisp air, crunchy leaves. And lemon cakes. Then more lemon cakes. I haven’t got much farther in my planning than that. Because when you think of Westerosi food, lemon cakes is the first thing, right? Come on. THEY’RE HER FAVORITE. Fiery Dornish peppers comes a close second though. I’d actually like to see some stats on how often these phrases are mentioned.

According to the description, one of the clever things about this cookbook is that it includes both medieval and modern versions of many recipes, and suggested substitutions for those things you just don’t tend to stock in a normal kitchen in the real world. I kind of wish there’d been something like that when I was making those gooey spider cakes.

More on A Feast of Ice and Fire when I’ve actually made one.