A Writers’s Life Part II with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree G.J. Reilly

Garrith OReilly BRAG II’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree G.J. Reilly to Layered Pages. Back in July we talked about his writing process, how writing has impacted his life and where his ideas come from.  Today we talk further in-depth about his emotions as a writer, goals, boundaries and so on…

By day, G. J. Reilly is a teacher of (mostly) ICT and Computing in the South Wales valleys, where he lives with his long-suffering wife and 2.4 cats. 

He has an eclectic selection of hobbies, from playing a number of musical instruments with varying degrees of competence to learning the art of contact juggling and teaching sword-based martial arts. Having gained his degree, he spent ten years working in industry, before deciding to change career and head into education.

With an interest in high fantasy, contemporary fantasy and science fiction from a young age, it comes as no surprise that his first work falls into the young adult contemporary fantasy genre.

What are your goals as a writer?

At the moment, my goal is to write stories that readers remember and enjoy. If it leads to bigger things in the future, I’ll be happy with that.

What are the boundaries you push as a writer?

At the moment, it feels like just about everything is a boundary for writers unless you’re the type that enjoys the potential for controversy. We seem to have entered a period of heightened social awareness (fairly recently), where just about anything can be taken out of context or be offensive to somebody. There seems to be a confused state of what is acceptable, where any personal opinion made public needs to be sanitized first, or risk the wrath of thousands. For example, if I were to publish the language used by John Steinbeck in ‘Of Mice and Men’ nowadays, I’d be close to committing professional suicide for the backlash it would invite.

InquestorWith the ‘Book of Jerrick’ series, I’m trying to challenge this pervasive sense of moral superiority that’s crept into daily life. ‘We are better than them because …’ and ‘You can’t say that because …’ have become the mantra of social media in everything from politics to religion. So, by creating two factions that share a common ancestry, I hope I can illustrate how we are one as bad the other in the atrocities we commit, but equally as good as each other for our acts of kindness and civility. Or to put it another way, our history is important for the lessons it teaches us, but it’s how we live in the present that defines us.

It’s not exactly a great shove in the direction of social reform (like books on the civil rights movement, or stories about the heroines of women’s liberation); it’s more a passive statement of dissatisfaction about the current state of affairs, aimed at the generations that will shape the future and buried in enough subtext that it doesn’t spoil what I hope is a good story.

What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?

From the point of view of the story, I can wholeheartedly say that I try to empathize with my characters as much as possible. I’ve always felt that investing emotionally as an author helps readers to do the same. What that means (to me anyway), is writing from experience. In instances where I don’t have the experience to draw on – like the horror of killing someone for example – I try to imagine myself in that situation and translate how I would feel to the page. I suppose it’s how I would imagine what life is like as a method actor, but instead of one character at a time, there are hosts of them running around in my head, all needing the same attention to detail to make them pop. It can be an exhausting process, especially if I’m writing two or three different scenes at a time. And it can be just as exhausting away from the keyboard too. There’s the excitement of a great idea, or solving a problem I’ve been thinking about for days and the trepidation of how the story is going to be received. It’s a wonder most writers don’t end up a hot mess in a corner somewhere, gibbering insanely!

What are your personal motivations in story-telling?

Piper_altFor me, it’s mostly about reciprocation. I used to love being read to as a child, but there’s little better about a good book than discovering it in your own voice and in your own time. I consider myself to have been extraordinarily privileged to have had access to some amazing stories, told by some exceptional wordsmiths. Giving that experience to somebody else would be a dream come true for me.

My favorite stories are the ones that move me in some way, whether they make me feel happy, or sad, or angry, it doesn’t matter. But, to have the gift to be able to move someone you’ve never met to tears, or laughter, without them ever really knowing the sound of your voice … it fascinates me. You can always tell when an author’s doing it right if you look at the face of someone who’s engrossed in their book. To me, that is what story-telling is all about: allowing readers to take a trip outside of themselves if only for the length of a chapter each time and giving back a little of the joy I’ve had in the worlds of other authors.

Define your writing style.

I’m not sure I can answer that. I think the best thing to do would be to ask the people who have read my work. All I can tell you is that you’ll probably find echoes of a number of authors and various styles in there. I read as widely as I can, even textbooks from time to time, so I’d be surprised if none of that experience has influenced my writing in some way. I think it would be sad to think that it hadn’t.  It’s definitely my voice, however. If we had ever spoken face to face, I’m sure you’d recognize the intonation (even without the valleys accent on words like ‘hear’ and ‘year’).

Five sentences that describe your craft.

To me, writing is a magical mishmash of personal experience and an overactive imagination.  It’s a real pain in the butt when I’m trying to get a good night’s sleep. It’s an intimate look at what goes on inside my head – but only the best bits. It’s also the easiest thing in the world to practice and the hardest to try to master. And it can be long, hard, lonely work sometimes … but it’s worth it!

Check out these other great posts with G.J. Reilly!

B.R.A.G. Interview

 A Writer’s Life Part I

 Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experience

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A Writer’s Life with G.J. Reilly

Garrith OReilly BRAG II’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree  G.J. Reilly to Layered Pages! By day, G. J. Reilly is a teacher of (mostly) ICT and Computing in the South Wales valleys, where he lives with his long-suffering wife and 2.4 cats. 

He has an eclectic selection of hobbies, from playing a number of musical instruments with varying degrees of competence to learning the art of contact juggling and teaching sword-based martial arts. Having gained his degree, he spent ten years working in industry, before deciding to change career and head into education.

With an interest in high fantasy, contemporary fantasy and science fiction from a young age, it comes as no surprise that his first work falls into the young adult contemporary fantasy genre.

Why do you write?

I’ve always used writing as an escape, even when I was young. There’s something about being able to disappear into my own little world for an hour or two that helps to settle my mind. It’s like trying to think about an ear-worm – you know, those snippets of music that get stuck in your head, but can’t remember the name of for days … then suddenly it comes to you? No matter what the problem, a few hours writing and suddenly I’m so much closer to the solution.

What is your writing process?

So far, it’s always begun with a good long chat with my wife. Some of my best ideas have germinated from conversations over a glass (or two) or something nice at a restaurant or a café. Once those ideas have been given a little flesh, I write the outline for the first half of the story chapter by chapter, with a view to how I want my story to end. I won’t outline the second half until the first is on the page and I’m happy with it. Once the first draft is finished, it goes away for anything up to six weeks before I touch it again. Then all the work begins.

I’m not one of those writers who seem to effortlessly plow out a perfect first draft of their story outline. Heck, I won’t even look at grammar or pace until I’ve redrafted the manuscript to correct errors in the plot. The second draft also gets a cursory edit for anything obvious, then it goes to my wife for a first read. Inevitably there are changes to make before I go to work on the semantics and grammar.

Another two drafts later and it might be finished. By this time I’ve probably read and re-read it some fifteen/twenty times, so, for the sake of my sanity, it goes to my wonderfully patient editor. Once all of the edits have been completed, it goes out to the first set of beta readers who scrutinize it for any missed errors. Only once they’re satisfied do I begin formatting and aesthetics before starting on the blurb and other pre-release sundries.

How has writing impacted your life?

It hasn’t quite taken over completely … not yet anyway. I’m fortunate enough to have a very understanding wife who prefers early mornings to late nights. That leaves me a few quiet hours before bed to work. Family time has always been important to me, so I don’t let the writing interfere with personal plans … ever! Other than that, I pretty much obsess over characters, story arcs, ideas, covers … and everything else … every chance I get.

Other than the actual business of writing, it’s also helped me to meet some incredibly interesting people. Writing can be a very lonely pastime, especially when you’re at a passage that sticks, or if you suffer from a block, but I’ve found some wonderful groups where I can talk to other writers and readers who understand and offer the right sort of advice. They also offer an escape from the page and somewhere to blow off steam. If anything, writing has made me great deal more social.

InquestorWhen do your best ideas come to you for a story?

When I least expect them. I suppose it sounds a little corny put that way, but it’s true. I can be anywhere, doing pretty much anything and suddenly it’s there. Thank heavens for mobile technology because at least it means that I don’t have to carry a pen and paper with me everywhere I go. My next series, for example, is entirely based on the most ludicrous idea about a girl who … well, you’re going to have to wait, but it’s a lovely, playful idea that appeals to me as a storyteller. The idea for that series came from two words in a discussion about something completely different that caught my imagination.

When I first began the ‘Book of Jerrick’ series, I was terrified that it would be my first and last good idea, but since then, I’ve been introduced to flash fiction and drabbles in particular. I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve never heard of a drabble before, I hadn’t. They’re stories of exactly 100 words, which can be a challenge in itself, but after I’d read my first few to get the hang of the style, I found myself completely addicted to them and have since published some 20 or so in the last year through a fantastic online site for indie book lovers called BookHippo. As strange as it sounds, since I became hooked on them I see stories in just about everything. Whether they’d make good novels is another question, but you’d be amazed by how much you can pack into so few words. One of my favourites was a story about an old man who repairs books. The idea came to me whilst I was helping out at a school and came across a battered copy of the complete works of Charles Dickens that was missing its appendix – which really appealed to my sense of humour. But it just goes to show that even the ordinary and mundane can be inspiring if you look at it the right way. I’ve added it here, just as an example.

Caretaker

When I found her, her spine was cracked. All but broken, she was a real mess; dirty and dishevelled.

Wet from the rain, I dried her carefully, patting her down and laying her near the fire but not so close as to burn her. I wondered what she could tell me. I wondered what her story was, but I didn’t pry until she was ready.

It took a good few days before she was fit enough; but I enjoyed Rebecca’s company immensely, before placing her on the shelf next to my Dickens compendium, whose appendix had been so inexpertly removed.

Piper_alt How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?

I’d like to think that I respond to both in the same way, but I’m as human as the next writer and probably don’t.  Everybody likes positive reviews. They help us to validate all of the hard work and efforts we’ve put into our writing. On the other hand, negative reviews can cut to the bone, making us feel inadequate and often frustrated that the reader hasn’t connected with the story in the way that we’d hoped. Positive or negative, I try to see constructive criticism in both (although, it takes a few hours before I can see the bright side of a negative review). What I try to remember is that these are people’s opinions and, good or bad, they are entitled to express them, which makes one review as valid as another.

Where they differ, however, is that I will try to leave a ‘thank you’ note for a positive review, to let the reader know how much I appreciate their comments. That’s not possible for a negative review, however well meant. No matter how hard you try, whether as a writer, artist, musician or chef or as anyone who opens up their work to public consumption, you will never please all of the people all of the time. As a writer, all I can do is take negative comments on board and decide whether I can accommodate them in my next publication. If I can’t, then at least I know that I’ve considered them and hope that the reader will consider joining me for a different story sometime in the future.

What advice would you give a beginner writer?

As a beginner writer myself, I’m not overly qualified to give advice, but this is what I’ve learned:

Read everything – pamphlets, leaflets, blogs, crisp packets (err … potato chips for those of you outside the UK), it doesn’t matter what it is. If it has information to give, study the way it’s offered to the audience.

If you’re set on a particular genre, read everything in that genre that you can get your paws on. Go back as far into the history of that genre as you can and pay attention as you go. Learn everything you can from them.

Admire other authors, don’t emulate them. Find your own voice and pace.

Don’t be afraid of what other people might think, write your story your way and find out what they really think. If it sucks, write another and another and another. Practice makes perfect.

Find a group of people somewhere, anywhere, who write in your genre and learn from them. Remember, when someone offers you advice, take it on board. Look at their back catalogue because they’ve probably written a whole lot more than you have!

And lastly: you’re only limited by your own imagination; nurture it, expand it, but above all, share it.

A Writer’s Life-Part II with Valerie Biel

Valerie Biel BRAG II

I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Valerie Biel to Layered Pages to talk about-further in-depth-her life as a writer.

Valerie, what are your goals as a writer?

Initially, I had no goals. I had a far-off idea that someday I would write all the stories building up in my mind, but I put it off. I was busy. I had a job. I had kids, a husband, a house, laundry . . . I meant to write but I let all these things override that desire, along with the self-defeating voice in my head that told me my writing was unimportant in the vast sea of amazing writers in the world.

Then in 2003, my oldest sister died after a one-year battle with terminal cancer. At the time, of course, we were just devastated, but never thought that this very rare cancer would recur in our family. Fast forward to 2008 and a second sister is diagnosed with the same terminal cancer. My siblings and I quickly realized that this cancer had a genetic component, making us all potentially susceptible. Even without the possibility that this cancer could strike at any time, the loss of two siblings caused me to reflect on my priorities.

I made a life-affirming decision to embrace my writing, and all the opportunities in front of me. I decided that my dreams couldn’t wait any longer. I decided that it didn’t matter if I ever made the New York Times’ Bestseller list. I would write for me—just for the satisfaction of sharing my thoughts, my ideas, and my stories.

In 2009, I made this vow and began that elusive novel. I didn’t tell anyone other my closest family members I was writing it. Internally, I had a five-year plan to publication, but I didn’t voice this either. I completed the novel in 2010. I was encouraged by early critiques and contest accolades and kept going. For the next three and a half years, the manuscript was alternately being edited and marinating while I wrote two middle-grade novels. Finally, in 2014 I achieved my goal of publishing my debut novel Circle of Nine – Beltany.

Now, my goal is to write as much as possible every day. I have story ideas stacked up and waiting for my attention.

What are the boundaries you push as a writer?

I wouldn’t have said that I was pushing any boundaries (other than the amount of sleep I need each night) until I received a few mixed reactions from particularly religious friends. My Circle of Nine series highlights a Celtic pagan culture akin to modern-day Wicca. Some of my plot-lines also address the conflict between the early Christian church and pagan customs and the subjugation of women by a patriarchal society. Oh yes, and there’s magic! Lots and lots of magic. What’s funny is that I never set out to push boundaries. I set out to tell a certain story the best way that I could.

What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?

Ha – this is funny. I once saw a cartoon that highlighted the emotion of an author throughout the day and it went something like this.

I really suck.

Hey, this isn’t so bad!

This is brilliant. I rock!

Nope. My writing sucks.

That about sums it up. In seriousness though, we all go through bouts of self-doubt no matter what occupation we’re in, but I think it is harder in the arts when you are creating something that is so personal to you. I am much more confident at promoting myself and my writing now than I was when I first started. And I have a much thicker skin when it comes to criticism. You will never please everyone! When I get down about things, I can look to my successes and feel quite good about what I’ve accomplished. I know writers always say they write because they have to write. A better way for me to put this is that I am my whole person when I write. Allowing myself to embrace my need to be creative, brings a lightness to my world and a feeling of self-worth that is different from the other areas of accomplishment in my life.

Circle of Nine Valerie Biel II

What are your personal motivations in story-telling?

My main motivation is to write the very best story I can, which means that I work hard to create something that is both entertaining and intriguing and possibly makes the reader see the world just a little bit differently.

Define your writing style.

That one is hard for me. Hmmmm – define my writing style.

When writing fiction, I try to keep my modern-story style very true to the rhythm of current conversation patterns – particularly teen dialog when writing YA. The historical portions of my stories require more thought. The formality with which I construct the sentences becomes much more deliberate to convey the correct sense of time and place. I am very particular about word choice in my historical stories and double check that certain phrases would indeed have been used in that era.

I have this “thing” about including educational-type details in my stories . . . mostly this is a matter of good research and (I feel) gives my stories an authenticity about the era.

I use the word just too much and usually take out half (or more) of the “justs” when editing.

I don’t use commas enough. Thank goodness for my critique partners who are excellent grammarians.

I like writing in first person and third person equally well, but I always write in past tense. I’ve written one piece of flash fiction just recently in present tense and it won an award, so maybe I should try that more.

I wish I lived in England so I could spell favourite and colour this way because it looks so much cooler. And, because I want to call my cell phone my mobile.

Five sentences that describe your craft.

I have a vivid recollection of what it felt like to be different ages, which is why I like writing for teens and tweens so much.

Writing allows me the freedom to indulge my love of history through the research needed for my stories set in different eras.

Asking the question “why?” is as important as asking the question “why not?” whether in life or in story construction.

I attempt to create accessible stories that transport the reader to another world or place or time, entertaining and possibly enlightening them along the way.

I write the stories that I want to read.

Valerie Biel’s love for travel inspires her novels for teens and adults. When she’s not writing or traveling, she’s wrangling her overgrown garden, doing publicity work for the local community theatre, and reading everything she can get her hands on. She lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and three children and dreams regularly of a beautiful cottage on the Irish coast where she can write and write and write.

Her debut novel Circle of Nine – Beltany has been honored as a 2015 Kindle Book Award Finalist, a finalist in the Gotham Writers’ YA Novel Discovery Contest and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Contest as well as being a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree.

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