I have dozens of hobbies and pretty much want to try every new thing I hear about. I’m a computer geek, built my own house, love working with concrete, quilting, gardening, and hula hooping with fire. This range of interests is reflected in my novels which range from middle-grade historical fiction during the Great Depression, to robots, time travel, and a psychological thriller with a medical twist. An author is always more successful if they can work in a narrow niche, which explains why I’m still working the day job as a full-time senior programmer/systems analyst and part time as the U.S. content writer for Riddle.com. Moving forward I’m learning to narrow this down though and my future to-do list is loaded with thrillers and women’s comedies… which are almost the same genre… right? I’m also a huge social media fan and spend too much time on Twitter. (Tweet me: @cmbrookins)
What does your daily writing routine look like?
My day job has me out the door by 6:30 a.m. which makes morning writing almost impossible. I’m not really a morning person so it suits me well anyhow to spend most of my sleeping hours writing. Most of my writing happens after my youngest son goes to bed around 8:00 p.m. and on long weekend writing binges where I forget to eat and my home library becomes my world.
I also use commute time to make voice notes on my phone or listen to drafts of chapters that I’ve read aloud the night before. I’m a single mom in addition to the jobs, so I’m constantly multitasking—or maybe a better way to say it is that I merge writing and research into every task. I listen to my chapters while I do house and yard work or often switch to audiobooks or podcasts about writing. I tend to be in a constant state of study. Even a lot of my pleasure reading turns into study. I’ve read several books thoroughly by reading every punctuation mark to get a real feel for the style of writers I admire. It takes a bit of patience and strong determination to do this, and if you do it aloud your family will send you outside.
What inspires you to write?
My story ideas often come from a spark of something I hear on the news that launches my mind instantly into a dozen, ‘what ifs’. But an idea isn’t enough of an inspiration to write. Writing is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, and in the low times I have wished I could quit. It isn’t really an option though. Writers write. That inspiration and inner drive comes from someplace much deeper than an idea spark. It’s a combination of an unquenchable stream of life questions and a need to share the pondering of answers with other people. I always feel like my stories ask a lot more questions than they answer and that the reader is part of a discussion I’m having with myself over the unlimited possible answers.
Do you have any strange writing rituals?
I love to light candles or sit by a fire when I write. Fire makes me feel closer to a primitive side of humanity and I hope that strips away some façades of everyday life so my writing becomes more honest by firelight. Besides, when I’m irritated with slow progress the candle inspires me to roll up pieces of post-it notes and roast them as though it’s my muse’s toes. In the heat of summer, I have an amber coloured light I turn on instead. (This creates a nice atmosphere but doesn’t allow for muse torture.) I also tend to mumble to myself when I’m sorting a plot out. I’ve never listened very carefully to what I’m saying, but most likely I’m apologizing to my muse.
How do you start a new story?
The most important part of beginning a novel for me is not to begin writing until I’ve let an idea marinate. I jot down the first wiggles of story structure and characters in a Dropbox folder called, IdeaDump. Then I spend at least a couple of weeks thinking about the story. I’ll drive in silence and run through possibilities on a voice recorder and take the time to daydream about it. I’ll also do some very basic research for relevant news articles and studies that I copy and paste under the story ideas. If I’m still excited about the characters and story after that marinating stage, then I’ll write a few sample pages or a chapter. A novel is a huge commitment. You’re going to spend maybe a year writing it and live with it in your body of work for the rest of your life, it’s worth testing out to make sure I’ll love it past the honeymoon stage! I follow a similar process for ideas that attack me in the middle of writing another novel. They land in my folder for a later date. And when I run across something relevant, I add it to the folder. I have around fifty ideas for novels in this folder now. I hope I find time to write them all.
What has been your greatest struggle as a writer?
Time. I feel the most alive and myself when I am writing, so when I’m doing almost anything else I feel a twinge of guilt, as though I should be writing. All the while I’m aware that if I don’t go out and actually experience life that I won’t have relatable material to write. It’s a crazy Mobius loop. And of course because I have other jobs programming, being a mom, etc, I am always trading something valuable for my writing time. I feel a measure of guilt stealing time from my kids, so most often I steal my own sleeping hours since I feel like they are mine to sacrifice. A second struggle was learning to love editing. I honestly love this stage of perfecting my work now—well, the first twenty-seven times through a novel anyhow—but it took me a long time to appreciate it.
What advice would you have for aspiring novelists?
I would advise two things, first to write like crazy. Compile huge files and stacks of written work. Write short stories, non-fiction, fiction, novels, poems and songs. Write until you feel bad how many trees lost their lives for you. And second, recognize that most of what you wrote really sucks. At least the first couple of trees worth. Much of it can be fixed with what you know now, but it will take dedicated work and it’s going to hurt. Malcolm Gladwell suggests we need about 10,000 hours to become an expert and most people nod that he’s right. But then they aren’t willing to really put that in before self-publishing a first novel. It’s worth it! And 10,000 hours is more than most people realize. Working full time without vacation or sick days, that about five years of forty-hour weeks. So back to step one: write a lot.
What’s next for you?
The book I’m editing now (This is a really good time to remind me that I said I LIKE editing) is a memoir. Nonfiction is really not my favorite place to hang out so it has been a special slice of hell to get this thing down on paper. I’ve actually worked on it now off and on for six and a half years, so to be fair, I’m way past the twenty-seventh edit. The story covers a period of my life where my kids and I were really beat down and destroyed by domestic violence. When I divorced and we were free of that, we decided together to build our own house from the ground up with our own hands. The construction site was a slightly crazy mix of empowerment, comedy, and tragedy. I have a spectacular agent at Dystel and Goderich, Jessica Papin, who has helped me get the proposal in shape. I hope we’ll be announcing a publication date soon. Next I’ll be working on a Voodoo comedy series for women and another psychological thriller.
Blu Tracey grew up isolated in the Appalachian Mountains and is the only child in his family without a genetic abnormality that causes blue skin. But when he discovers his mother intentionally had abnormal children for a reality television show, he becomes the target of a killer. If Blu doesn’t expose someone in his own family as a suspect, his siblings will be exploited for their rare, genetic mutation, and worse they could be the next targets in the killer’s pursuit of fame.