Author Laura Nichols Talks About Writing Fantasy and the Realities of Publishing
By Lori DeBoer, BWW Director
Laura Nichols writes paranormal fantasy novels. An avid fantasy reader as a child, Laura has been writing since she was a teenager. Her 2011 novel The Edge of Svarta is the first book in the series The Souls of Rhamiel. She is currently working on the second book in the series, which is expected to be released in the fall of 2012.
Tell us about writing in fantasy; what attracted you to the genre?
Dragons, monsters, the age of heroes and evil wizards and magic have attracted me since I was a child. I’ve read fantasy and sci-fi books since I was a kid and in 4th grade I read the Lord of the Rings. That pretty much sealed me into the fantasy genre for life.
What writers influenced your work?
I’d have to say Michael Scott, JRR Tolkien, Cassandra Claire, Anne McCaffrey, Orson Scott Card, Lilith Saintcrow. There are so many others that have shaped my thinking and beliefs over the years, but these are the ones that have directly influenced my writing style.
Your story world is interesting and complex. How did you come up with the concept and characters?
I’ve been working on it for so long it feels like they just came into my head one day. It was less of a process than it was a revelation on what I needed to write. After that I had some great colleagues to bounce ideas off of and the world became real.
Do you pay more attention to world building or building characters?
I really enjoy building characters the most. It’s the biggest part of my writing. My characters are definitely the focus. The world is important, but I use it as a background for what the characters are experiencing.
When did you first start writing the book and how did it change in the process?
I started writing this book about 5 years ago. It’s changed immensely in the process as it started out as a vendetta against extremist religious factions. I decided that was too harsh, I mean the book is about enlightenment, so I decided I needed to be more tolerant. The writing was a learning process for me, not only in writing, but also in spirituality as I had to research so much. So now, even though Iris definitely has some issues with her upbringing in the Catholic Church, it’s more a book about a girl who’s trying to discover the truth of the meaning of life and come to terms with her childhood fanatical religious experiences.
Did you plot out the book beforehand or did it just emerge organically?
A little bit of both. Sometimes the characters decide they don’t really want to go where I had thought they would go. They kind of take on a life of their own and I find myself writing something that I hadn’t planned at all. So when that happens, I take a look at my outline and shift it. When this happens sometimes new ideas emerge that make the book more interesting.
What does it take, in your opinion, to move from one work into a trilogy, or even a series?
I think to write a trilogy the writer needs to have a very complex world and the characters need to have a lot of depth. For a series, there has to be the idea of a life after the hero wins whatever it is she’s fighting against. I think that moving into a series is difficult as new challenges have to continue to arise for the characters. Keeping it fresh over a series of more than 4 books would definitely be a challenge.
What do you feel you’ve added to your genre? What makes your book stand out?
The Souls of Rhamiel series is more than just a fun fantasy adventure. The deeper spiritual undertones and learning that the characters go through in their quests for enlightenment can benefit each and every human to be a better, more compassionate person. I feel that if everyone found the deeper meaning in the books as they follow Iris in her journey of spiritual awakening, it would awaken them to a deeper spirituality, more compassion, or at least make them think about a different point of view.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your writing process? Do you have a particular schedule you stick to, for example, and how long does it take you before you are ready to submit.
I don’t have a schedule. Because I do still have a full time job, I write when I have time which is usually evenings and weekends. It seems to take me about 18 months to be ready to submit.
How do you balance writing with everything else you do?
That is the trick question and as the question states, balance is the key word. Balance is precarious, so some days I don’t get to write, some days I write and don’t get to do the other things I love. Most days the house is not clean.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
My characters keep me motivated. They call to me in my head telling me I need to go write about them so I can find out what they’re going to do next.
You’ve tucked into your second book now; what are you doing differently this time around? What are you doing that’s the same?
I’m more focused this time around. The Edge of Svarta was my first book, so it was a process of learning how to write, learning about my characters and what motivated them. Plus, I have the plot more solidified in my head. Not that I think I’ll ever be done learning how to write, but now that I have more experience the second book just flowed out of me easily. Also, I know my characters better now, so I know what they would or wouldn’t do. This makes things much easier.
What’s your biggest writing challenge and what steps have you taken to overcome that challenge?
Knowing when it’s done and to stop tweaking it. I fiddle with scenes so much trying to make them the best they can be. Sometimes it’s just time to say it’s done, but how do you know? I’ve been reading a lot of books on writing technique hoping this will help me get a scene where I want it to be quicker, and know when it’s really done.
Can you tell us about your decision to self-publish. Why did you decide to go that route instead of working with an agent and publisher? What do you feel the advantages and disadvantages have been?
I decided to self-publish because I get to control everything. I determine my marketing, my distribution, and my book. I also get more royalties. The disadvantage is that I have to do all my own marketing, which is time consuming and takes away from the precious little time I have to write.
Do you think you’ll ever decide to go with a traditional publisher?
Yes, I think if I found the right agent and publisher that could offer me what I needed, like helping with marketing and not wanting to change my story, I would consider traditionally publishing my book.
How did you go about converting your book to e-books?
I downloaded a template from CreateSpace and used it to format my book. Then it became trial and error, uploading that file to my Nook and using the online previewers to see if it looked good. Sending it to friends with Kindles. It took me several tries and a lot of deep breathing to control the urge to throw my laptop across the room in frustration. I’m hoping next time will be easier.
What’s your opinion on print versus electronic books?
I love e-books. I own a Nook and love the flexibility of having my entire library with me wherever I go. That said, there’s something to be said about print, the feel of the paper, being able to flip through the book, staring at them on the shelf. Reveling in the cover art. I love both and I purchase print books of my favorites.
Since you’re doing your own marketing, do you have methods that you think work the best or that you prefer?
I enjoy Facebook and blogging the most. I maintain my blog at http://blog.lauranichols.net and have an author page on Facebook. I feel I need to do more marketing in my local community at book stores, newspapers, and magazines.
How much attention do you think authors should pay to writing their books as opposed to how much attention they should pay to marketing them?
Writing is key. If you don’t have a good novel, people won’t finish it. I think marketing tends to take up more of your time if you let it, so balance is the key. I try not to let it take up more than 20% of my time, but sometimes feel that I need to do more to get the book out there and in people’s hands. It’s just hard to pull myself away from writing sometimes.
You’ve talked about having a great critique group and you have joined the Boulder Writers’ Workshop as a Professional Member. How important is to be a part of a community of writers and what kinds of support do you think is important to offer our fellow writers?
Being a member of a community of writers is very important to me. Surrounding myself with others that are going through the same struggles, being able to share their successes, getting advice on my writing and the continual learning that’s had can only make me a better writer. Critique groups and the Boulder Writer’s Workshop continue to help me grow in my craft and provide for me the network to help get my books out in the market.
What’s your hope for your books?
I want people to read the book and hopefully, through it, open their eyes to the path of enlightenment that the characters are on. This is what motivated me to start writing this series in the first place. If I could make enough royalties to live off my writing, then I’d be able to write even more and get my message out to more people in different ways.
What should we look for next from you?
Definitely the sequels to The Edge of Svarta. I’m targeting the second book to be out by this fall. I have some other ideas I’m cultivating also in the paranormal fantasy genre, some for young adult, some that contain more adult topics and situations.
What’s your best piece of writing advice?
Write for you, not anyone else. What’s important is the book that’s in you, no matter if anyone ever reads it.