Monday, October 14, 2013

Blog Ring of Power--Katherine Lampe

Today on the Blog Ring of Power, we're in the middle of an interview with Katherine Lampe. Here's the schedule for the rest of the interview:

Part One (About You)--Theresa--10/10
Part Two (The Writing Life)--Emily--10/11
Part Four (About Your Current Work)--Vicki--10/15
Part Five (Words of Wisdom)--Terri--10/16

For now, let's learn about Katherine's creative process:

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I have a three-step process for dealing with writer’s block. The first step is not to let myself freak out. This can be really hard, because of my tendency to let myself spiral away from the simple fact of not writing (or not writing anything I see as worthwhile) into the morass of, “Oh my god, that’s it, I’m NEVER going to be able to write again! My life as I have come to know it is over! No—my WHOLE life is over! I have nothing!” Blah, Blah, Blah ad infinitum. So the first thing is to disengage from that thought process as much as possible, acknowledge the fear that it comes from and understand that it’s natural to experience it but that it’s only fear, not necessarily truth.

The second part is to back off. I—and I think a lot of other writers—have a tendency when I’m feeling stuck to over-think and pick and let my mind dwell on the problem I’m having, whether it be the lack of any idea, or the lack of motivation to write, or whatever. You see of lists out there, “So-and-so’s ten rules for writing,” and like that, and almost always once of the top entries on the list is “Write EVERY DAY! Whether you feel like it or not!” And I personally feel this is very bad advice, because it encourages a person to operate at a level opposite to his or her true experience. It promotes the idea that you have to prove yourself as a writer by conforming to a particular standard which someone else selected. People who are writers are going to write; even if they’re away from it for a while, they’ll go back, they’ll challenge themselves and seek to improve. They don’t need some rule to tell them to do it. And forcing yourself to go back to your desk or your pen and ink or whatever when the energy just isn’t there is actually damaging. It can make what you love hateful and frustrating, and make a temporary setback last longer than it otherwise would. So my second technique is to let it go, get away, do something else or as long as it takes before the urge comes back and the ideas start to flow again.

The third part is, once you’ve got the necessary detachment, figure out what the block is trying to tell you. For me, writer’s block is almost always a message that I need to change direction (sometimes in my personal life, not just my work, but I’m not going to go into detail about that here). The more I try to muscle through, sticking to an idea or system that doesn’t work for me—and I believe that if creative artists listen to and trust themselves, they always know inside what does and doesn’t work—the worse it gets and the worse I feel. After I wrote A Maid in Bedlam, the third book in my Caitlin Ross series, I tried to launch right into the next book, or what I thought was the next book. And I got about 400 manuscript pages into it, and it stank; it didn’t work. I put it away and didn’t write another word for almost two years. I couldn’t. I kept trying to think how to make this unworkable idea work, and of course I couldn’t come up with a solution. Eighteen months later, after I finished The Parting Glass, I went back to it. I cut 200 pages and started a new plot. It still didn’t work, so I cut everything except the first two chapters and tried again. That didn’t work, either. So I started over, new plot, new characters, everything. I got 400 pages into that, and realized I hated it.

For the next twenty-four hours, I was convinced my career was over. Then I remembered this idea I’d had for the series ever since I’d started it. It happened at a point in the series timeline I was trying to skip over. I’d made a conscious decision not to implement the idea because it involved some personal issues for me, and I didn’t want to cope with them. But I realized I needed to write that book, to deal with that piece of the timeline and not just say, “ten months later…” When I figured that out, my writer’s block vanished. I got what it had been trying to tell me.

How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?

Character has always been easy for me. I’m a character and dialog-based author more than anything, although I see facial expression and body language pretty well, too. They might come from some visceral sensation of my own, but for the most part it seems like they just show up and tell me about themselves. It’s like talking to the people who hang around at a party after everyone else has gone home, when you get into deep topics of personality and hopes and fears, but not so much about events. You simultaneously find out everything about who they are and nothing at all about what they’ve done.

Plot is much more difficult. For the longest time, I had no idea of how to build a plot. Or maybe I had an idea, but I didn’t like any of the common ways people go about plot building. The fact that I write fantasy even makes it harder, because I have personal views that don’t jibe with fantasy themes like The Struggle With Ultimate Evil or even Ignoramus Discovers Magic. And I hate the kind of stupidity you often see in characters who pursue courses and make decisions that no person with half a brain would consider, simply to make a dumb mistake to advance the plot. I actually didn’t begin to be able to come up with decent plots of my own until I spent a year reading every Cozy in the library and looking at how they were put together. And though I ultimately didn’t end up writing Cozies—not really—it helped me simplify and define what I do write. Essentially every one of my books has the same basic plot: Main characters solve a magical puzzle in the context of their interpersonal relationships. That premise goes a long way. Aside from that, I don’t stick to a formula. I tried it, when I was struggling with writer’s block for that long time period. I thought, “Okay, all the books have these particular elements, so I’ll shove as many in there as possible.” And it did give me a plot of a sort, but it was ultimately unsatisfying.

I do have one conceit: the title of every book in the series is the title of a song in traditional Irish or Scottish music. It’s in keeping with the main characters being musicians.

Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser” (do you plan/outline the story ahead of time or write “by the seat of your pants”)?

A little bit of both. I don’t write detailed outlines, the way some people do, but I usually have a better than general idea what’s going to happen in a book going in, and I add to and adapt the idea as I go along. Often I make a list plot, a list of single sentences describing significant events. 1. S. shows up and asks for C.’s help; 2. S. vanishes; 3. T. comes looking for S.; he and C. fight about it. That kind of thing. And I almost always know how the book ends right from the beginning, and where the chapter breaks come. But stories have their own lives, and I like to leave room for them to grow. When you’ve planned everything in advance, it’s very difficult to let go of that when the plot takes an unexpected turn.

Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Why or why not?

Critique is invaluable. No matter how many times an author goes back and edits, there are going to be typos, awkward paragraphs, and things that just won’t make sense to a reader who isn’t living with the story and characters day in and day out for months at a time. You need an outside eye to clue you into those things. That being said, getting good critique is like pulling a dragon’s teeth without benefit of anesthesia. I’ve looked for it from writing groups both in “real” life and on line, and probably 95% of the critique I’ve gotten from those sources has been worthless. People don’t know how to give or receive critique, or they’re only really interested in being told their own work is wonderful and not in giving an honest response to anyone else’s, or they insist on telling you what story you “should” have written instead of addressing the story you submitted. And, unfortunately, some people seem invested in just being mean for no apparent reason, as if they believe giving critique is the same as being overwhelmingly negative about everything. Beta readers also have a tendency to disappear (at least in my experience). They get through the first few chapters of your manuscript and then you never hear from them again.

My best critique partner is my husband. He’s a high school English teacher, so he knows his details. He’s familiar with my style and my world, so he isn’t going to suggest changes that don’t fit in with either of those things. He’s smart and creative himself, and he’s probably not going to disappear on me. But he still misses things, simply because he is familiar with the same stuff I am. So I have a couple other faithful Beta readers I can trust to pick up on the details he misses. It makes the writing life a great deal less lonely.

How much time do you spend on research? What type of research do you do?

It’s hard to say how much time I spend on research. I get a lot of ideas from personal experience, and I’ve always studied how people think and act and find ways to live in the world, so in that sense you could say I’m always doing research. Everything goes into a big compost pile in my brain, and when it’s cooked long enough pieces of stories come out. But there are also times when I’m writing, or planning on writing, something, and I need to find out more about it. So I might ask someone who knows, or read a book on the topic, or spend a few hours on the Internet looking into it. I use forums where I can ask authorities on the particular subject wherever possible; it’s just more real to me to get people’s personal stories. I use Google Maps quite a lot when I’ve set a story in a place I’m less familiar with, just to refresh my memory of how things are laid out and put together. Sometimes my husband and I have gone on trips so I can scout things out in person. I’m going to need to take a trip to Scotland somewhere down the line.

About the Author

When she was twelve years old, Katherine Lampe was thrown out of Sunday School class by her minister father for advancing a symbolist interpretation of the story of the expulsion from Eden. This marked the beginning of her career as an Iconoclast, which she pursues on a daily basis by asking difficult questions until people run away in terror. As a writer, she is a staunch proponent of the Independent movement and is outspoken against the sexism, classism, and narcissism often found in traditional publishing. Her Caitlin Ross series of paranormal novels follow the adventures of a witch married to a shaman in Colorado, and explore problems ranging from abuse of power to dysfunctional families. The fifth in the series, The Cruel Mother, was released in September, 2013, and Katherine is currently working on the sixth, to be titled Demon Lover.

THE CRUEL MOTHER: When Caitlin Ross was fifteen, her mother had her committed to a mental institution in hopes of curing her of magic. After a sympathetic psychiatrist helped Caitlin secure her release, she left her family, and ever since she has kept as much distance between herself and them as possible.
But when her sister calls to tell Caitlin her mother is dying, she yearns for some kind of reconciliation and chooses to return to her childhood home. In Detroit, Caitlin runs into her former psychiatrist, who asks for her help with one of his patients, a troubled teenaged girl. Although Caitlin at first refuses to get involved, escalating family tensions drive her to visit the girl as an escape. Discovering the source of the girl’s problems will lead Caitlin into a world she’s only imagined, one that holds a startling revelation about her own origins.

Please let us know where your readers can stalk you:

Website: is my official website, but I actually am terrible at keeping it up. If anyone wants to take on web design, please contact me!
Facebook page:
Goodreads author page:

What format is your book(s) available in (print, e-book, audio book, etc.)?

All my books are available in both print and electronic format.


Beth Overmyer said...

Very interesting interview, guys. As far as writer's block goes, I'm with you. Writing through the block is probably not the best idea. It's like when you can't think of something important, and the more you dwell on it, the more the memory of it slips away. "Leave them alone and they'll come home, wagging their tails (or should I say "tales"?) behind them."

Best of luck with you books!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The title of a Scottish or Irish song - clever.

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