Friday, April 10, 2015

Indie Author: Virginia McClain

Happy Friday, everyone! Today we have with us the lovely indie author Virginia McClain.

Virginia McClain ~ Blade's Edge

How long have you been writing?
Since the age of five. No, really. I have proof:

Ok. Granted, those are from first grade, so I might have been six or seven then, but that was the first "book" I ever wrote. I'm particularly proud of the absolutely nonsensical spelling. I mean it's not even phonetic, it's just... bad. I like to think my writing has improved quite a bit since then. Sadly, I can confirm that my ability to draw remains completely unchanged. This is why I hire professionals to do the artwork for my books.  
At any rate, I have been making up stories in my head and putting them down on paper for as long as I've known how to write. Sometime in my early teens I decided that I would one day write for a living. Everything since then has been the journey that brought me here (a journey that is far from finished). 
In 2004 I graduated with a degree in Spanish language and linguistics and went into teaching because I thought it would give me time to write. It didn't. However, after the initial shock of sorting out just how difficult teaching really was, I made time to write wherever I could, to save my sanity if for no other reason. 
My first published writing was my review of Georgetown University for The Students' Guide to Colleges 2005 published by Penguin. My first creative published work (and the first writing I was ever paid for) was a short story entitled Off Belay that was published in 2006 in a lit mag called the The First Line. 2007 got me involved in my first NaNoWriMo (that's National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated) and 2008 brought my first ever completion of a first draft full length novel (the one I'd written the first 50,000 words of in November). From there my short stories began to be neglected, but my concept of myself as a writer became much stronger.

What’s the most rewarding thing about going indie?
The creative control is fantastic. Being directly involved in the process surrounding the cover art and design, and knowing that, if nothing else, my book will be beautiful, is really important to me. I see many books, including books that I love, that have horrible covers, or poor formatting, or just don't have the right look or feel to go with the story. When those books are traditionally published I feel bad for the authors because I know that they typically have no input into any of those pieces, and I feel extremely fortunate to have had the chance to control those elements for Blade's Edge. As I was fortunate enough to run a successful Kickstarter to fund the book, I was able to hire an extremely talented artist (Juan Carlos Barquet) and designers ( for the cover. Working with them was incredibly rewarding, as were the results. Doing the interior formatting myself was intense, finicky, and somewhat tedious, but the results were well worth it. 
I learned more about the publishing industry and all of its parts than I had ever known existed during this process and I'm learning more every day. That is also extremely gratifying. 

What inspired your book?
Blade’s Edge was initially inspired by the time I spent wandering around mountain shrines in Japan while I lived there teaching English for two years. 
As I spent more and more time hiking through the local mountains and encountering the various shrines everywhere, I asked myself what the world would be like if all of the shinto spirits existed and were able to interact with the world? That was the initial spark.
From there the story evolved and changed dramatically, and eventually became something that was loosely inspired by feudal Japanese samurai culture, but was, in fact, it’s own imaginary world.   

What’s the blurb for your book?
The Kisōshi, elite warriors with elemental powers, have served as the rulers and protectors of the people of Gensokai for more than a thousand years. Though it is believed throughout Gensokai that there is no such thing as a female Kisōshi, the Rōjū ruling council goes to great lengths to ensure that no one dares ask why. 
Even as young girls, Mishi and Taka know that they risk severe punishment - or worse - if anyone were to discover their powers. This shared secret forms a deep bond between them until, taken from their orphanage home and separated, the two girls must learn to survive in a world where their very existence is a crime. Yet when the girls learn the dark secret of the Rōjū council, they discover that much more than their own survival is at stake.

We wants it, precious! Where can we buy your book?
Muwahahahahahaha... EVERYWHERE! 
Ahem. No, really. It's in the Ingram catalog, so you can walk into any bookstore and order it with my name and the title (Blade's Edge by Virginia McClain) or if you want to get fancy you can use the ISBN: 978-1503057333 
For those who prefer to do their shopping from home (and who could blame you) you can use any of the following links for your favorite retailers: 
Amazon print 
Amazon kindle 
Barnes and Noble 
My Webstore 
It's also on iBooks and a number of other online retailers that I don't have links for at the moment, so if none of the above suit your fancy try searching for it.

What project are you working on now?
I am currently balancing between revisions on the next novel I hope to release this year, and a new story that plays into a series. My goal for April is to finish both the revisions and the first draft of the new story. 
The novel I'm revising is entitled Gwendamned and it is a contemporary fantasy book that's so light on fantasy I'd prefer to call it speculative fiction, but anyway, it's about... 
Hmm... I haven't figured out a spoiler-free one sentence pitch for it yet. I guess I'll have to work on that. It's religious satire... sort of. If that helps? 
And the new story is a contemporary fantasy/sci-fi blend that is inspired by the lost civilization they recently uncovered in Honduras. That's all the spoiler free description I have for that project at the moment. 
Sorry for not having more to share on those. I really need to work on my pitches!  

What are three books that have shaped you as a writer?
You had to ask the hard question! How can I narrow it down to three? Hmmm... Here's my attempt. Keep in mind my answer might change on any given day, but we'll pretend I can actually choose... 
Graceling by Kristin Cashore: Even though I didn't read this until well after I'd written my first three novels it has greatly shaped how I think about writing and how I feel about YA literature, consequently it has played a large part in forming my revisions of those first three books. Reading Graceling was like finally finding the protagonist I had been searching for my entire childhood. I wish the book had existed when I was younger. It made me want to write books that could be that powerful. I don't think I've done that yet, but it's given me a wonderful goal and made me more thoughtful as a writer. 
The Dark Elf Trilogy by RA Salvatore: There are a lot of books in the Dark Elf series, and I love most of them, but I'm specifically referring to Homeland, Exile, and Sojourn in this case. These books are such a splendid blend of action, fantasy, and moral dilemmas. Also, I read them in my teens and thus they were quite formative for my writing. 
The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett: I didn't start reading these books until I was in college, but they have had a substantial impact on my writing. While not the most overt influence on my writing (though more obvious in some of my other books - including the book I hope to release later this year) Sir Pratchett's glorious satire and so very human characters have had a substantial impact on how I write and how I think.

Are you a plotter or a pantser or an all-of-the-above-er? What is your writing process?
I used to be pure pantser. Definitely for my first two NaNos I was all pants no plot (actually I'm pretty good at keeping tabs on plot on the fly, so I wasn't NO plot, but I was... not plotting ahead of time). Then on my third NaNo I turned uber plot and found that my characters suffered for it. All subsequent NaNos have become a mix of pantsing and plotting and I've finally discovered the key for my particular writing process: 
I work best in first draft mode with total pantsing. Everything made up on the go, no research aside from fact checking and plausibility confirming, and plot and characters invented on the spot. That's first draft. In first draft ANYTHING can happen. 
Then, on the rewrite, I get SERIOUSLY plotty. I don't even touch the rewrite until I have a detailed master plan on how I will fix it to make it exactly the book I want it be. I work out how every scene is actually supposed to go, and which scenes need to be axed and which need to be added, and how I will fix every character break, plot hole, and dropped item, and then I go in and fix them all in one swoop. 
I find this method very liberating because it makes both parts of the process a lot more fun. First drafts are always more fun (for me anyway) when the characters can do whatever they want. When they tell me who they are and what they will do because I put them in a ridiculous situation and then they find their way out. When I write a first draft like that, open to everything and only following a vague outline in my head, I find that my characters and world come to life in a way that they don't otherwise. A lot of the fun of writing for me comes from finding out what happens next. If I already know what happens next I don't find it as fun. 
Conversely, when it comes to revision I used to always feel lost because I didn't know where to start, and never had a concrete idea of how to make my story better. I knew I should clean up the prose, and that part was easy enough, but what about the scenes that didn't feel right, or the ending that flopped, or the character that decided she was a villain halfway through? I knew those things should be fixed, but I wasn't sure how. I didn't know how to drive the revision and so it always left me feeling overwhelmed. Then I took the only writing course I've ever paid to take (which was a course purely on revision) and suddenly, I realized that THIS was where detailed plotting worked for me. If I laid out an outline of the exact story I WANTED to tell, I could then apply the pieces of the story I'd already written to it and then see where I needed to fit the other bits. Suddenly revision became a giant puzzle that needed solving and... I LOVE SOLVING PUZZLES! So that transformed it from a process that I used to dread to one that I now attack with relish. 
After that, it's a game of prettying things up with the help of first readers, and then an editor, and then formatting.

What advice would you give to a writer about to take the plunge into indie publishing?
Never ever ever ever ever skimp on hiring a professional editor. In the past year I have read a lot more independent books than I ever used to, and many of those books have contained the cores of great stories but have been in desperate need of a unbiased third party's opinion. The one's that didn't suffer that way had been professionally edited and they easily rose above the crowd for that one simple fact. If you truly can't afford an editor, run a Kickstarter, or an Indiegogo, Pubslush, or Patreon crowdfunding campaign and get the money. While you're at it, raise money for an original cover that you like. You need these things, and too many books get published without them and don't sell at all as a consequence. You need professional editing. Seriously. I'm talking to you. Yes. YOU. (I'm also talking to me so don't take it personally.) 
I don't care how many English degrees your mom/spouse/best friend has, s/he won't give you the objective feedback you need. 
I say this from experience. My mom has a BA in English lit and an MS in linguistics. She will catch all of my comma splices, for which I am quite grateful, but she inevitably gushes about how perfect every single draft is when she gets to the end no matter how bad it actually is. I love how supportive she is, and I definitely keep her corrections on typos and grammar snafus, but she is no help at improving my prose because she cares about me too much. I don't know if she doesn't even see the sentences/paragraphs/scenes that suck, or if she just refuses to tell me about them, but either way, it doesn't get the job done. 
Hire someone. Then listen to them. 
That is all.

How do you take your caffeine?

Tea, coffee, coffee, tea... more coffee? I love both. Coffee is a pleasant ritual in the mornings. Tea is a comfort at any time of day. Lately, I've been enjoying a London Fog (steamed milk with earl grey and vanilla) whenever I feel as though tea should also be a snack.

Thanks so much for taking part in the interview series, Virginia! Best of luck with Blade's Edge and your future projects!


Virginia thinks dangling from the tops of hundred foot cliffs is a good time. She also enjoys hauling a fifty pound backpack all over the Grand Canyon and sleeping under the stars. Sometimes she likes running for miles through the desert, mountains, or wooded flatlands, and she always loves getting lost in new places where she may or may not speak the language.

From surviving earthquakes in Japan, to putting out a small forest fire in Montana, Virginia has been collecting stories from a very young age. She works hard to make her fiction as adventurous as her life and her life as adventurous as her fiction. Both take a lot of imagination.

She recently moved to Winnipeg with her husband and their dog.

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