This round, the Blog Ring of Power is talking to Bonnie Milani. I get to discuss her creative process, but see the links below for the other parts of the interview:
The Writing Life--Emily--9/6
About Your Current Work--Vicki--9/10
Words of Wisdom--Terri--9/11
Where do you get your story ideas?
Good question. 'Home World' - the entire Home World universe - grew out of a recurrent dream I had waaaaayyyy too many years ago. In it, a young woman in a highly decorated military uniform was chained to a dungeon wall. Now, I am emphatically NOT into S & M, so the imagery in the dream both shocked & fascinated me. I kept coming back to the dreamscape, trying to figure out just how a sensible, combat vet of a woman could wind up in such a situation. Once I got the WHO &WHY worked out I had figure out the HOW. By the time I was finished, I'd interviewed the head of the raptor section of the LA Zoo ( a wonderful man who was also Steven Spielberg's consultant for the raptor behaviors in Jurassic Park); sat with a professor of genetic engineering to work out a viable model for the genetic engineering that proved to be the core technology in the story.
How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I'm lucky enough to have been trained by folks like Syd Fields in structure so I'm a BIG believer it working out the key plot points in outline first. As the saying goes, ya gotta know where you're going if you hope to get there. That's especially true when it comes to novels. However, as I used to try to pound home to my students in my writing classes, NOTHING in the outline is set in stone. I find that as the story develops, WHAT happens doesn't change so much as WHY it happens.
I think as writers we have a gut feeling for the real power points of the plot line; the problem generally is convincing our characters they want to go through all that pain and suffering. So I've learned to let my characters develop the plot by pursuing their own ends. Turns out I seem to create some fairly bloody-minded sorts so there's rarely a problem with getting them to do stuff to each other.
Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser” (do you plan/outline the story ahead of time or write “by the seat of your pants”)?
I'm probably a combination of the two. I definitely work out the plot line first; I learned the hard way to force myself to tell myself the whole bluidy story with the novel, just so I could see who was doing what to whom; when; why. But all that is really just to develop the through line that sets up the protagonist's character arc; the story's ultimate denouement. Past that, the key thing is to figure out what each of the main characters really wants, and WHY they want it. After that, it's a matter of turning 'em loose in my mind & letting 'em go for it.
Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Why or why not?
Yes, absolutely! Without the critiques and competition I get from seeing or hearing others' work and being on a submission deadline I would never get anything written at all. EVERY writer MUST learn to endure constructive critiques. It's the only way to learn how to craft a story. Once the story's as finished as you can make it, you need the beta readers to go through and spot the flaws in your plot logic or character behavior, or anything of the dozens of things that can sabotage a good story, because by the time you've typed 'the end', you as the writer can no longer see those flaws yourself. And we're not even starting on the brain farts...
That said, I've seen an awful lot of aspiring writers do truly savage critiques of fundamentally good stories. When I was running a writer's group, I made sure to lay out ground rules specifically prohibiting any kind of personal or disrespectful comments in a critique. The people who behave that way don't just injure the poor soul being savaged; they damage themselves as writers even more. Producing a good, thoughtful critique is HARD because you have to lay out what works, what doesn't, explain WHY that particular element doesn't work for you and then - if you're doing it right - come up with a possible way to fix the problem. DO it right and you'll teach yourself how to step back and look at your own work objectively enough to start seeing the structural problems in your stories. It's the very best way to learn the craft of fiction writing.
How much time do you spend on research? What type of research do you do?
As much as necessary. When I started out, there was no internet to provide quick'n not-necessarily-correct answers to just about any question in the universe. It was library time & interviews. Made learning a whole lot more time consuming, but also a whole lot more fun - and you pick up a tremendous amount of wonderful extra info in an interview that you won't get on-line. Still, I'd say the rule of thumb remains the same: you research everything you can find until you stop turning up new info. When every answer you find is one you're already familiar with - you're ready.
Bonnie has taken what might be called the sandwich approach to writing. She started writing early, winning state-wide writing contests in grammar school, publishing an environmental fairy tale under the aegis of the NJ Board of Education in college. After earning her M.A. in Communication at Stanford, Bonnie freelanced feature articles for East Coast newspapers and regional magazines, from Mankind and Peninsula to Science Digest as well as how to articles for the late & much lamented fanzine Speculations. She stopped writing completely after marriage while building a pair of businesses with her husband. It was only with the successive deaths of each member of her family that she reclaimed her love of story-telling. Home World is the result. Today, Bonnie lives with her husband of thirty-six years in Los Angeles. She is still a full-time benefits broker, specializing in employee benefits for entrepreneurs and micro-businesses.
HOME WORLD: Amid the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Waikiki, Jezekiah Van Buren thinks he’s found a way to restore Earth – Home World to the other worlds of the human Commonwealth – to her lost glory.
Ingenious even by the standards of the genetically enhanced Great Family Van Buren, Jezekiah has achieved the impossible: he has arranged a treaty that will convert Earth's ancient enemies, the Lupans, to her most powerful allies. Not only will the treaty terms make Earth rich again, it will let him escape the Ring that condemns him to be Earth's next ruler. Best of all, the treaty leaves him free to marry Keiko Yakamoto, the Samuari-trained woman he loves. Everything’s set. All Jezekiah has to do is convince his xenophobic sister to accept the Lupan's alpha warlord in marriage. Before, that is, the assassin she's put on his tail succeeds in killing him. Or the interstellar crime ring called Ho Tong succeed in raising another rebellion. Or before his ruling relatives on competing worlds manage to execute him for treason.
But Jezekiah was bred for politics and trained to rule. He’s got it all under control. Until his Lupan warlord-partner reaches Earth. And suddenly these two most powerful men find themselves in love with the same woman. A woman who just may be the most deadly assassin of them all.
Home World will launch later this month, but in the meantime, you can connect with Bonnie on Facebook.