Amanda Cherry: Five Things I Learned Writing Rites & Desires

Ruby Killingsworth relies on magic to keep her entertainment empire on top. When a ritual gone wrong robbed her of this magic, she wasn’t about to take it lying down. Enlisting Loki’s aid and commanding the band of supernatural henchmen he’s proffered, Ruby embarks to capture the magic of an ancient African gem.

While endeavoring to regain her powers, Ruby must also contend with the daily business of Goblin Records, her romantic designs on her billionaire neighbor, and the unwanted attention of the newly elected U.S. president. The return of her power and a relationship with the city’s most prominent citizen would give Ruby all she ever desired. But magic comes with a price, politics are a dirty business—doubly so when a trickster god gets involved—and Loki is never on anyone’s side but his own.

EVERYONE’S THE HERO OF THEIR OWN STORY, BUT VILLAINS ARE SURPRISINGLY RELATABLE

In genre fiction, the hero is always easy to spot. He’s the guy (usually) who always acts in the interest of the greatest good. He’s selfless, he’s altruistic, he’s interested in doing the right thing for the world at large no matter how much or how little he stands to personally benefit.

Oftentimes, villains are built to be nothing more than anti-THAT. They are there to serve the purpose of antagonist. They wake up in the morning, twirl their moustaches and wonder what eeeeeevil they can perpetrate on the world before the sun sets. Villains tend to be built only to serve the hero’s narrative.

But that’s not the kind of villain we see in the real world. Having a villain as my protagonist allowed me to really examine what constitutes wickedness when it isn’t borne of antagonism—when the villain serves her own agenda instead of just hoping to foil the hero. What does a wicked person do when left to her own devices? Modern day, real life bad people are apt to be shrewd, unscrupulous, self-centered, and lacking empathy. They act in their own self-interest with no regard for what the fallout will be for anyone else. They spend their time, money, and energy furthering their own agenda irrespective of the greatest good or the bigger picture.

In a way, I think, that’s far more insidious. When a person is unaware they’re doing wrong—because by every measure that matters to them they’re doing right—their motivations can resonate with the worst in all of us. I think you’ll recognize shades of many well-known billionaires in Ruby Killingsworth.

THE JOB OF AN AUTHOR, IT TURNS OUT, ISN’T JUST TO WRITE A BOOK

When I first set out to do the authoring thing, I thought I was just going to be writing a book. Ok. Sure.

I needed to craft a relatable character, place her in compelling circumstances, figure out what she wants and how badly, craft interesting obstacles for her to meet along the way, and determine the resolution of her story. Then I needed to write all that up in an approachable and entertaining way, all the while weaving in a cast of supporting characters and a few intriguing sub-plots.

I didn’t think it would be an easy job. But I thought that was the job. It turns out that’s like… half the job.

Because: yes—obviously as an author you have to do those things. But what nobody tells you (well, what nobody told me, but I’m telling you so you’ll be ahead) is that then you have to go back and do it again. What you wrote the first time, you sweet summer child, was not the book. It was the First Draft—the proto-book as it were.  Primordial word ooze.

I had to go back to the beginning—and chapter-by-chapter, then sentence-by-sentence, then word-by-word—take stock of everything I’d written and make decisions about it. Some scenes got moved. Some scenes got added, a wonderful exchange about the recurring bass line in Jesus Christ Superstar got cut altogether. Things changed. And then… then… just when I finally thought this book was perfect and super duper ready for primetime, I sent it to my editor. Who thought differently.

So then I had to go through the whole book again, this time reading and accepting (or not, there were a few cases of not, but I’ll get to that later) changes and comments. And I sent that back. And she sent it back. And so on and so forth until we agreed we had a book we could both live with.

And then it was on to back cover copy, acknowledgements, dedication, author bio… the list goes on. This author stuff is hard work, y’all. After that it’s been guest blog posts, interviews, convention appearances, and all the things it takes to sell the book to readers. It’s been some serious on-the-job training!

DARLINGS SHOW UP WHERE YOU LEAST EXPECT

Every aspiring writer has at some point been given the advice “kill your darlings”. And I get it. I do. Nothing is sacred. Every element of the story—from favorite characters to favorite lines of dialog—sits on the perpetual chopping block in service of the overall narrative.

But, dang, y’all: this is much harder to say than to do. Because just when you think it’s safe to go in for edits, a darling appears. Maybe it’s a side character, a sub-plot, or a super-adorable scene between the protagonist and the love interest wherein they discuss their oddly-similar backgrounds to the strains of Jesus Christ Superstar.  These are things you LOVE, things that you thought really, really added to the story when you were furiously poking keys hoping to turn your various ideas into a readable manuscript (and maybe they even did!).

I got seriously blindsided by what one of those darlings turned out to be.

The authors in the crowd will be unsurprised when I disclose that the title of my book is not the title I wrote it under. I, however, was devastated when I was encouraged strongly to change it. Nobody warned me that book titles as conceived by the author are subject to change (seasoned authors are rather cavalier about this—I was a wreck). This was the biggest change to the whole book, and it turns out I was really married to that old title. Alas, that darling was indeed ripe for slaughter. And the book is better for it. That’ll teach me to get attached!

BUT NOT ALL DARLINGS HAVE TO DIE; SOME OF THEM ARE WORTH FIGHTING FOR

Yes. Really. “Um… but Manda, didn’t you just talk about killing your darlings? What the bleep is this?”

Look: darlings must be on the chopping block in order for the story to find its best iteration. But that doesn’t mean everything you love has to be struck down. This is true even if your editor tries to cut it.

Seriously.

There is a line in the book, in the protagonist’s inner monolog, that my editor DID NOT WANT. But I knew it belonged there. It’s a terrible thought. TERRIBLE. But this is a woman with a Terrible Mind (see what I did there?). This line was one of the greatest examples of how truly awful this woman is. I felt very strongly that the line needed to stay.

We went back and forth a few times, but I ultimately won. The final exchange of comments went as follows:

EDITOR: you can keep the line, but I hate it

ME: good. And you’re supposed to hate it

Learning what to chop and what to fight for, what’s a darling that needs killing (see above mentioned scene with the Superstar soundtrack involved), and what hills to die on is a skill I did not have prior to this undertaking and I’m super glad I developed it in time to get this book out the door.

“THAT” IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD

We English speaking humans tend to use the word “that” a lot. A lot lot. A sort of ridiculous amount. And I, perhaps, am chief among the offenders. I was told early in the process that my editor would be going through my manuscript and cutting nearly every instance of the word that. So I thought that I’d just go ahead and do it for her. I went through the manuscript once during the rewrite process (long before I ever let my editor clap eyes on it) and cut that out. I felt strongly that every instance of “that” that remained was a critical and proper use of the word.

Ha!

There were still 1280 instances of that. I was allowed to keep 1259. I cannot tell you how many instances that I cut before sending in the manuscript, but it was no small number. The fact is that even after the personal purge, I was still 21 thats over the necessary number.

So if you’re looking for a way to improve your narrative prose: THAT is my best piece of advice.

And that is all I have to say about that.

* * *

Amanda Cherry is a wife and mom, an actor, and an author loving life in the suburbs of Seattle, WA. She’s an alumnus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas whose biggest claim to fame is having once co-starred with a Gecko in an insurance commercial. Having made several short fiction sales in 2016-2017, Amanda dared to try her hand at novel writing. It turns out, she was kind of good at it. Her debut novel, Rites & Desires is on sale as of March 20th and she is still pinching herself. Amanda is a giant nerd, and a contributing writer to the Star Wars and geek culture blog Tosche Station (www.tosche-station.net). She still enjoys performing and hopes to one day be as comfortable reading her own words in front of a crowd as she is with other people’s.

Amanda Cherry: Website | Twitter

Rites & Desires: Indiebound | Amazon