Jessica Leake: Five Things I Learned Writing Arcana
Amid the sumptuous backdrop of the London season in 1905, headstrong Katherine Sinclair must join the ranks of debutantes vying for suitors. Unfortunately for Katherine, she cannot imagine anything more loathsome—or dangerous. To help ease her entrance into society, Katherine’s family has elicited the assistance of the Earl of Thornewood, a friend and London’s most eligible bachelor, to be her constant companion at the endless fetes and balls. But upon her arrival in London, Katherine realizes there will be more to this season than just white gowns and husband hunting.
Through her late mother’s enchanted diary, Katherine receives warning to keep hidden her otherworldly ability to perform arcana, a magic fueled by the power of the sun. Any misstep could mean ruin—and not just for her family name. The Order of the Eternal Sun is everywhere—hunting for those like her, able to feed on arcana with only a touch of the hand.
But society intrigue can be just as perilous as the Order. The machinations of the fashionable elite are a constant threat, and those who covet Katherine’s arcana, seeking the power of her birthright, could be hiding behind the façade of every suitor—even the darkly handsome Earl of Thornewood.
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You can have a lot of babies during the book publishing journey
I wrote Arcana when my first baby was six months old, got pregnant with my second baby while querying, found my amazing agent a few months after my second baby was born, got pregnant with my third baby while on submission, and had the final manuscript due right before my third baby was born. Three years… three babies. ONE book.
This shouldn’t be news to me, really. I’m pretty skilled at moving—I had to move 5 times before I was 11 (Dad was in aviation) and 3 more times after that—but I’d never had to deal with moving not once but twice with two babies, another on the way, and a book deadline. Let me set the scene: my family and I moved back to SC after a brief 4-year stint in Birmingham, AL, but we were renovating a house, so we had to move in with my parents for 6 months until it was ready. My book was out on submission during this time, so I was keeping busy with packing and moving and deciding what should go into storage and oh yeah picking out every detail for our newly renovated home that had been gutted down to the studs…plus caring for a 9-mo-old and a 2-year-old…and then finding out I was pregnant with my third. And that was when my book sold and it was time to move into our new house and decorate and nest and prepare for baby number three and also get Arcana ready for my editor. Looking back, I’m unsure how I didn’t go completely batshit crazy. But I wouldn’t change a thing.
Naptime is a requirement
I’m pretty sure it’ll still be a requirement even when my kids are well past that age. Have you ever tried to write—or concentrate on anything—with a toddler, preschooler, and a baby around? Here’s what you can do to mimic the experience: start writing a scene—really immerse yourself in it—now, in the middle of a beautifully worded sentence, jump up and do random chores—these will signify the numerous requests your children will come up with while you’re trying to write (Where’s my bunny/blankie/favorite toy? I have to go potty. I want some milk. I want some water.) Be sure to wander long enough that the sentence has completely disappeared from your head. Now, sit down and try to pick up where you left off. Type one letter, and then jump up, knock over a glass of milk and clean up the mess. When you finish cleaning it up, start to sit down, and then realize the baby is about to grab a cord to chew on. Scoop up the baby. Now try to write again…maybe another word or two. And now the baby is fussing. He’s hungry. Sadly save your work—all the while trying to soothe your baby—and close your laptop. Know that they have won. Writing while they’re awake is futile.
1k/day is my word count goal of choice
This seems to be the perfect number for me: enough that I feel productive, but not enough that I feel overwhelmed. I write with this goal in mind, but it’s with the understanding that as I get toward the end of my MS, I will write about 5 times that in a day—I will write like a crazed fiend during naptime, bedtime, and every stolen moment in between. Along the same lines, I had to make it a requirement for myself to meet my word count quota for the day before I could do anything fun. New book I couldn’t wait to read? I had to finish writing for the day. Twitter and FB posts to respond to? Not until writing was finished. I’m like any other writer, though—a lot of times I fell into the black hole of social media and squandered my precious writing time on funny memes and cute baby pictures.
Never end the day’s writing session at the end of the chapter
I found that it caused way too much anxiety for the next day’s writing goals if I had to begin the session by starting a brand new chapter. And by anxiety, I mean I dreaded writing the next day—I knew my writing time was limited, and that I couldn’t afford to spend the majority of it staring blankly at my computer screen. With Arcana, I had a loose outline in my head, but I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, so I didn’t have every chapter mapped out from the beginning. I knew I had to get smart about where I ended a writing session for the day—even if it meant going over or under my word count goals. So if I ended the session at the end of a chapter, I would force myself to start the next chapter—sometimes just a few notes to myself, but anything that would make the next session easier.
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Jessica Leake has been in love with historical England ever since her first literary crush: Mr. Darcy. After embarking on a quest to bring her own intriguing and headstrong characters to life, she decided to quit her day job as a clinical therapist and spend her time weaving arcana with words.
She lives in Greenville, SC with her brilliant husband, three painfully cute children, and two mischievous dogs.