Author interview – Bethany A. Tucker
Bethany Tucker lives in the Puget Sound Area, near Seattle in the U.S.A. Previously, she has lived and worked in China, South Korea, and Japan, as well as Ohio, California, and Chicago. She writes fantasy under two pen names and offers editing services to other creative professionals and hobbyists. As a kid, she was the weird one reading grammar texts and studying character arcs with books written for adults. She draws inspiration from travelling, studying history, and her varied experiences amongst the communities she has been fortunate enough to meet. Her personal writing mantra is to leave figurative blood on the page and her readers sometimes hate or love her for what she makes them feel. ‘If I can’t feel it,’ she says, ‘then my readers won’t either.’
When did you start writing, and why?
I started writing between the ages of eight and eleven, but storytelling is something I cannot remember ever not doing. My memory goes back clearly to the age of three, so I’ve been a storyteller since at least then. My mom says it’s the Irish in me.
At what age did you take yourself seriously as a writer?
Eleven, when I sat down with the clear intention of writing and finishing a novel. Though you could argue I really started at five, when I announced to my mother my future occupation, which would be writing novels, starting with a series on a family of horses.
She convinced me I needed to learn reading and writing first, so I agreed school would be necessary. At thirteen, when my father got me a library card, I started studying through the books our local library had on writing fiction and publishing. That was a breakthrough decision. Treating writing like piano lessons or woodworking, like a craft, has made so much of a difference.
I can imagine! How long did it take you to write your first book?
Two years, and it will never see the light of day! Gah! I’m not even sure it was really finished though I did write through to the end, but I decided it was done and took the next two years to write the next one. Which was better, but will still remained locked in my closet.
I have a few projects like that lying around, too, haha! So, what was your last book about?
My last published book is Editing Your Novel’s Structure: Tips, Tricks, and Checklists to Get You from Start to Finish. Which is widely available everywhere except Google Play (for the moment) and available for borrowing through Overdrive at your local library. This wasn’t a book I planned on writing, even though I am an editor. But, Emma Dhesi asked me to speak during her Author Accelerator event on self-editing fiction structure and the project grew from there.
And I’m glad you wrote it! It helped me to finally disentangle the structure of my own Work in Progress. What are you working on right now? More useful non-fiction?
I’m preparing The Queen’s Enforcer under my Ciara Darren pen name for publication and writing the next two Adelaide books as Mustang Rabbit. That should take up most of 2021. I can’t wait. The first three Adelaide books came out in 2020 and I’m rather fascinated by her. So far, she’s tangled and made friends with dragons, pirates, and merfolk. According to her, there’s much more to come.
What is your writing process like? Do you plot or do you just dive in? How many drafts do you go through before the work is final?
I average between three to ten drafts, depending on the project.
Once upon a time, I would dive right in to writing a book, but for the last seven or so years, I draft beats first. Never going back to pantsing, ever. These days, I sit with the story, chew on it, maybe sketch out and play with a first scene to feel the main character. I wash dishes and talk to the character, make playlists of songs that feel ‘right’, and let the story sink into my bones. It’s an intense time but with little obvious progress from the outside.
Then, when I’m ready, creatively and with my schedule, I sit down and write the beats, which is basically short sketches of scenes and events, broken up into what I think will be the future chapters. Roughly, I jot down a paragraph per scene and include any dialogue that shows up. This usually takes about two days of intense work. Once the beats are written, I let it sit, maybe three days, maybe a week max., and then I dive into draft one.
I usually only need one full draft for my shorter books like the Adelaide series. After that, I have one or two touch-up drafts over that, as the outline beats serve to help me avoid most structural issues. For the massive Ciara Darren works though, time is necessary. They are simply too complex and heavy for me to charge through so quickly. I follow a similar process, but with many additional drafts and additional weeks on each step.
If you really want to dig into my process more, Editing Your Novel’s Structure: Tips, Tricks, and Checklists to Get You from Start to Finish will tell you a lot more than I can say in one blog post!
Once my drafts are done, it goes to editors and beta readers. As of now, I have no alpha readers. I’ve tried alpha readers, but I find that input before I reach the end usually stalls the project.
Once the editors have been through my manuscript, I give it another pass or two (more if I’m doing passes for individual issues and correcting all of one issue at the same time while ignoring the others). My final stop is a proof reader. Then I review their marks and format for publishing. Vellum is my friend. What used to take me a week to format for publication now takes hours.
What do you struggle with most as a writer?
Eating and remembering to be active. When I hit flow, I forget to eat and drink or even move. Whatever world I’m working in is so engrossing that I don’t feel my body and that leads to physically crashing. I’ve managed to learn to put enough water bottles, mugs, and cups full of liquid next to me to last several hours, so hydration isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be. I will, however, continue to drink from an empty cup, without realising it, lifting it to my mouth again and again. Eventually, I’ll reach for a drinking container that feels heavier.
As for remembering to move, I’m trying to use a Fitbit this year. Cross my fingers. I’m highly motivated by getting high marks.
As for craft, I’m in a good place right now. I’m really excited about continuing to eliminate all the dialogue tags from my work as I can. I used to use so many!
I get scared with every book, but 2019 was the year of making friends with my fear and I don’t find that it stops me from working anywhere like it used to. I just tell myself, OK, it’s going to be bad, and do it anyway, and it’s usually not bad at all, just in need of another pass or two later.
What advice would you give to writers dealing with the same or similar struggle?
If you need to remember to eat while you’re working, I suggest a reverse harem. Have at least one of your romantic partners be obsessed with making sure you eat. If they also shape-shift as a dragon, even better. It helps if they live with you and are willing to be annoying about feeding you. Now that I think about it, be nice to your partners and make sure you have multiple one’s who enjoy cooking so they can trade off writer-sitting duties.
If multiple partners sounds terrifying, then find someone who thinks food is everything and wants to feed you. Make them move in. Or adopt Garfield the cat and make sure you at least eat when he demands to eat. Do whatever it takes, because, eventually, low blood sugar kills creativity.
Seriously, though, do keep healthy food in the house that comes in ready-to-eat pieces. Put some next to you on the desk. I find that I will eat if I can reach it. I used to feel bad about not making ‘real meals’ while deep in drafting mode but it’s OK. Who gets to decide what a ‘real meal’ is anyway? Just make sure you’re getting all the proper food groups at some point. Sometimes, I put ‘eat green leafies’ on my to do list just to make sure it happens.
When I solve the moving/exercise issue, I’ll let you know. For now, Joanna Penn is my inspiration. She has a book out on the healthy writer. I should read it, but she’s shared a lot of her journey on her podcast, which I shamelessly listen to each week.
Have you always had that struggle or has it changed over time?
My struggles have changed a lot over the years. I used to struggle with guilt over the terrible things I did to my characters. How could I claim to want to be a good person but imagine so many horrible things? It creeps back in, sometimes, but coming to conceptualise myself as a mythmaker has helped me understand why I have to write the warmth and the cold, the hard and the soft, the cutting and the healing. My work is stronger for it.
Do you prefer the term ‘writer’ or ‘author’, and why?
I see writing as a practice and author as the state of having put out to the world that which is in a suitable state to be understood, used, and appreciated by others. So, I am comfortable with both but feel they are different.
Who’s your favourite author?
You want me to pick one? This is absolutely impossible! Writers are so rich
and different. The variants are far too vast.
Some old favourites of mine are Terry Pratchett, Michael Stackpole, Mercedes Lackey, and Judith Tarr.
What’s your favourite book?
Again, I cannot choose one. I’m rather obsessed with the entire Beautiful Monsters by Jex Lane and cannot wait for her to release the fourth book, although I will wait as long as necessary. Jex breaks her characters and puts them back together with vicious purity. I also like She Sings of Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things by Caren J. Werlinger for its poignancy and slow unravelling.
I’m also still sincerely in appreciation of Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade. I will probably reread that book again at some point in the next year or so, for the third time.
Great Stories Don’t Write Themselves by Larry Brooks. Hands down the best book I’ve read on pacing. I recommend it in my own book on self-editing structure. He has charts and everything. Again, Joanna Penn clued me into this wonderful resource, through her podcast, The Creative Penn.
What’s the best writing advice you were ever given?
Write to the end. I learned this from Michael Stackpole’s podcast over nine years ago. I also truly admired his Rogue Squandron in Star Wars. It’s been a while; I should reread them.