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LJ Hayward's Writing Process

Just for fun, I'm reposting my writer friend LJ Hayward's writing process blog post, which she wrote back on 11 July, after I tagged her. And a warning - her book Blood Work, and the sequel Demon Dei, are seriously fastmoving and clever and funny and fingernail-bitingly suspenseful. And, unlike most horror/suspense writers, she REALLY knows about blood!

Over to LJ!!!
What are you working on at the moment?

Well, right this very moment, this post. Haha. (Honestly, the funny bits in my book are better than this.) (Well, maybe not. I guess it’s all up to personal taste, right?)

Seriously, currently I’m battling through the first draft of Night Call #3. It’s being a contrary beast at the moment. I say one thing and the characters say something different. I point this way and they go that way. In between bouts with NC3, I’m dribbling out bits and pieces on another super-secret project (once again with characters who think they have a right to their own lives. Silly, silly characters), thinking about an altogether different project and finally trying to put together thoughts on yet another project. Yes, folks, that four different things banging and crashing in my head at once. It’s loud and messy and confusing. Fingers crossed that one of them will win the rumble and force me to concentrate on it.

Non-writing wise, I’m also making moves toward publishing the second Night Call book, Demon Dei. The cover is in the works and hopefully I’ll have something to show off soonish. In the meantime, here’s the blurb… (spoilers for Blood Work):

A cop, a physicist and… an angel (!?) walk into a bar…
At first it all seems like a bad joke to Matt Hawkins, vampire slayer extraordinaire. After taking down a vampire Primal, he’s prepared for serious backlash from the supernatural community. A mob of vampires seeking vengeance or some other Old World nasty thinking to make a name for themselves by taking Matt out. Yeah, nothing of the sort happens. It seems, against the odds, Matt’s managed to scare the baddies into leaving town.
But things are never that simple and Matt should know better than to think otherwise.
When Matt gets a call from PI Erin McRea’s assistant, asking for his help in a personal matter, he knows he should turn it down. Erin doesn’t like him or his dark world of mythical monsters. Work, however, is scarce and Mercy’s getting lazy. So he throws himself, Mercy and Erin into a murder mystery with a suspect straight out of… Hell?
And somehow, Matt has to find the time to help a guy with his not-properly-dead girlfriend…

How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?

First and foremost, my urban fantasy is set in Australia. And not in Melbourne! In a market flooded with US/UK centric settings, I hope Australia offers up something different to potentially jaded readers. Yes, I picked Brisbane as my urban playground because I live there, but that’s just coincidental. ;)

I like to think I strive to look at the world of the story from a different angle to the obvious. When deciding to use vampires as a main foundation for Night Call, I used science, specifically blood properties, as a base for their driving characterisation. I didn’t want a version of the modern vampire—vegetarian, romantic or tragically understood. I wanted a beast, something to be afraid of. Even the tame vampire in the book isn’t to be completely trusted.

In secondary worlds, I look for something that hasn’t been used before, or use something familiar in a different way. Fairies that are pests. Unicorns more goatish than equine. Instead of focusing on wolves or hawks or lions, why not have a shark as the mystical messenger of the hero’s lesson? Instead of a venerable old wizard, why not a funky Whoopie Goldberg-esk woman who makes mistakes as readily as the next person? Instead of a soldier in a war, why not a crazy doctor protesting anything and everything that comes his way? An immortal man who’s barely lived a hundred of his thousand years, jaded yet innocent?

But I think true differences come from the characters. It’s the characters who carry the story, regardless of the world. Thus an ordinary guy who puts himself in the middle of a supernatural world he knows diddlysquat about. A ghost hunter who doesn’t believe in ghosts. A warrior goddess who fears wars. A conceited arse presented with a chance to become a better person and doesn’t take it. A peace-orientated doctor befriending an immortal soldier. An assassin who’s target embraces him instead of fearing him. A woman presented with a chance to save the world, but kills it instead.

Why do you write what you write?

It’s what I like, basically. I like the (I’m going to say it) escapism of fantasy in all its forms. There’s just something about the extraordinary that makes the ordinary… extra interesting, I guess. ;)

I think a deeper answer might be something along the lines of ‘it’s wish-fulfilment’. In my younger years, as I would read a book, my thoughts would fly ahead of the printed word, extrapolating the story in directions I wanted it to go in. When the stories invariably didn’t go the way I’d planned, I would get a bit cranky. A lot of my early scratchings were an effort to make up for this supposed short-fall. Not so much fan fiction as a desire to fill a gap in my own perception of the genre as a whole.

To an extent, what I write now is, as well. Hopefully a bit more well-disguised and done with much improved technique. ;)

What’s your writing process, and how does it work?

I’m a pantser. I think that’s the jargon for someone who doesn’t do a detailed plan, as in ‘by the seat of my pants’. Mostly, I get an idea for a world or setting first. With Blood Work it was the idea of blood properties influencing vampires. Characters begin to drop in next, basic outlines only. Then a hint of a conflict. These ingredients percolate for a while in the back-brain, then one day, something will spark off the flint in my brain and away we go. Flesh gets added to the bones of the world, characters and conflict as the words appear on the screen. New angles and dimensions develop as required. Somewhere in this mix, a plot is born and by the time the end is reached, there’s suddenly a story!

This style necessitates a lot of revision. Alongside my main document, I have another one entitled ‘Things to fix in blah blah’, where I jot down little changes or additions to the early parts of the story so it meshes with what happens in the end sections. Those are the first revisions I make. After this, I try to put the story aside for as long as I can stand, to hopefully forget all the nitty gritty. I’ll immerse myself in something else. Meanwhile, that back-brain keeps turning things over and I keep making notes on further changes. All things going to plan, I’ll pull out the first draft after at least a couple of months, then work on it again. Very rarely do I make any major changes at this stage. Structure, plot and character wise, it stays relatively unchanged. Motivations might shift, scenes will be deleted or added, characters cut, but basically, the original plot remains. If I can find some suckers… eh, very lovely and generous people to read it, I’ll make whatever changes they suggest (if I agree with them), then let it sit again. Fingers crossed, it will now mature into something worthy of being released into the wild.

I am constantly surprised that this actually works for me. It’s not unusual for me, going into those first dozen or so chapters, to wonder if I’ll be able to pull it off. Will I get a full length story out of these half-arsed ideas? If I do, will it be pathetic or half-way decent? Will this be the project that finally fails, thus proving I can’t actually do this thing called writing? Hopefully, I’ll manage to pull it off a few more times at least…