Lauren Roy: Five Things I Learned Writing Night Owls

Night Owls bookstore is the one spot on campus open late enough to help out even the most practiced slacker. The employees’ penchant for fighting the evil creatures of the night is just a perk…

Valerie McTeague’s business model is simple: provide the students of Edgewood College with a late-night study haven and stay as far away as possible from the underworld conflicts of her vampire brethren. She’s experienced that life, and the price she paid was far too high for her to ever want to return.

Elly Garrett hasn’t known any life except that of fighting the supernatural beings known as Creeps or Jackals. But she always had her mentor and foster father by her side—until he gave his life protecting a book that the Creeps desperately want to get their hands on.

When the book gets stashed at Night Owls for safekeeping, those Val holds nearest and dearest are put in mortal peril. Now Val and Elly will have to team up, along with a mismatched crew of humans, vampires, and lesbian succubi, to stop the Jackals from getting their claws on the book and unleashing unnamed horrors…

[Personal note from Chuck: I met Lauren a couple years ago at WorldCon, and I remember her telling me a little about the book and her journey as a writer and it’s incredibly exciting now to actually see this book exist in the world. Lauren rocks. Check out the book! Monster hunters working in a bookstore? I mean, you know you want that.]

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LOSERS CAN WIN.

I lose NaNoWriMo. A lot.

I first participated in 2003 or 2004, and while I’ve become a more disciplined writer over the years, never have I “won” NaNo. I made it about halfway once, but 50,000 words in a month, with a full-time day job and other non-writing commitments is, for me, not feasible. The year Night Owls was my NaNo project, I got partway through, fell behind, tried catching up, realized I was spiralling into useless, infodumpy backstory, and put it back down.

For several years.

Finally, my friend and writing partner Hillary suggested I ought to go back and revisit “that one with the vampire in the bookstore,” and I figured, y’know, maybe it’s time.

The bones of the story were there. The characters had stayed with me. I knew how the first confrontation with the monsters (who would later become the Jackals) would go, what they wanted, and why that was a problem for the heroes. I got to work.

Six months later I had a completed first draft.

Which means: don’t abandon those stories, cats ‘n’ kittens. NaNo has no clause stating you’ll chuck any unfinished projects into the recycle bin come December 1st. “Losing” NaNo — or failing to place in any other writing-related event — does not mean you should give up. Keep writing.

GO WITH YOUR EPHIPHANIES.

My pantser-plotter nature means lots of smaller-scale revelations make themselves clear as I go, but two major ones shook up Night Owls’ plot and structure something fierce.

Around the same time I was wondering so what the hell is this book about, anyway? I was poking at a short story about a girl fleeing from a monster. My short stories have this terrible habit of turning into longer projects, so on one hand I was trying desperately to rein this one in.

On the other, I wondered if maybe, just maybe, the two plots existed in the same world, and the monster ended up at Night Owls because it chased the girl from the short story into town. It didn’t take too much thinky-time for me to say Yes! I am brilliant! and interweave Elly’s story with Val’s. Instead of one POV character I had two. New subplots! New character arcs! Writing is awesome!

The second realization caused much anguish and gnashing of teeth: things needed to happen during the day that Val couldn’t be around for, and Elly wouldn’t be around for. That meant introducing another POV character to bridge those gaps, but I was already a third or more of the way through the book. I spent a couple of days playing should-I-or-shouldn’t-I, because let’s face it, revising is daunting enough without having to rip the stitches out of whole chapters and rewrite them from someone else’s perspective.

Eventually I told myself, as our newest Disney princess advises, to let it go. (To those of you I’ve just earwormed, I’m only sort of sorry.) Drafts are where you try things out, and if they don’t work, you fix them in edits. I jotted notes of what to seed in for Chaz in earlier chapters, marked scenes I could switch from Val’s or Elly’s POV to his, but I refused to lose momentum by going back and rewriting mid-draft.

I won’t lie, it was a ton of work when it came to revising, but finding Chazí voice was easy, and I liked writing for him. In the end, I think it made for a stronger book.

SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO WALK AWAY.

I don’t mean giving in to table-flipping writer-rage, or a flounce and a dramatic sigh accompanied by a wail of Writing is so haaaaard. (I mean, it is, you guys. Writing is haaaaard sometimes and you should shower writers you know in sympathy chocolate or coffee or pictures of adorable kittens to help get us through.)

I’m talking about the times when my brain stops braining: I’ve been staring at a sentence too long, or picking over a plot point, or pondering how to get the characters from point A to point B in a way that makes sense. Then that obnoxious, nasty voice inside starts suggesting you can’t figure this out because the whole thing is terrible. Delete it all. Print it out and burn it. Stop writing forever because you are a complete and utter hack.

Yeah, those times when Imposter Syndrome gets shouty and kicks productivity in the shins.

That’s my signal to get away from the keyboard. I go for a walk. I fold laundry. Anything is fair game, as long as it keeps me occupied but lets my mind cruise along in neutral. This is important: clicking around on Twitter/Tumblr etc, listening to podcasts, catching up on TV shows, sticking my nose in a book, those all require active concentration, and that’s not what I want.

I don’t know why it works, but more often than not it causes those story knots to untangle themselves. Then I put my butt back in the chair and, y’know, write that shit down while the ideas are still fresh.

CHARACTER BIBLES ARE YOUR FRIEND.

I’m still figuring this one out, really. Not the statement itself, but how to organize one in a way that works best for me. Spreadsheet? Document? Three-ring binder? Ctrl-F, a bottle of whiskey, and copious tears?

I don’t know the answer quite yet, but especially when working on a series, it’s useful to have a place to go where you can find out the answers to burning questions like What color are Elly’s eyes? Is Val taller than Chaz or is it the other way around? Who the hell is this guy?

So far I’ve got a spreadsheet for basic physical descriptions and a document for deeper details, but I still do keep the manuscript open and searchable. My copyeditor listed character descriptions as part of the style sheet. (Copyeditors, you guys. I knew they rocked, but that gave me a whole new appreciation right there.)

I’d love to hear about other writers’ systems, if they’re your thing. Hint, hint. /waggles eyebrows at comments.

Point is, the one huge blinking beacon of a lesson I’ve learned for sure about character bibles so far is to have one. Because I like this cast. I want to write a whole lot of books about them, and that means keeping their details straight.

TALKING ABOUT MYSELF IS HAAAARD.

Growing up, I was taught talking about yourself is rude. If the spotlight shines on me, instinct kicks in and I start looking for the fastest way to make the conversation about, well, not-me. So now that author interviews and guest posts and occasional promotional tweets are part of my jobÖ erm. Thatís thirty-something years of habit I have to break.

An odd kind of stage fright comes along with it, too: what if Iím not witty enough? What if my interview answers bore the reader? Did I nail ìcharming and fun,î or did I go straight past it into ìflighty mess?î If the subject is ME ME ME, I will spend far too much time composing that single tweet. Finding my charactersí voices, easy. Finding my own? Eep.

Presumably, itís one of those skills Iíll develop with time. Thatíll start coming more naturally. Maybe by book three Iíll stop taking note of the furniture placement in the room, just in case I need to dive behind the couch and hide. Until then, come find me on twitter and weíll chat about space geekery and games and cat pictures and what books weíre loving, and maybe, every now and then, Iíll mention this neat stuff I wrote.

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Lauren Roy spends her days selling books to booksellers, and her nights scratching out stories of her own. The Night Owls crew will continue their adventures in early 2015.

Lauren Roy: Website | Twitter

Night Owls: Indiebound | B&N | Amazon | Goodreads