I sent M.R. Merrick a couple of questions a few days ago because I had just finished reading his debut novel Exiled and I loved it. I just had to know more about him, his writing process, and where he gets his great ideas. As someone that very much admires authors and what they do, this type of information is always interesting to me. So here are the questions, which is followed by the giveaway!
What is your writing process like? Outlines? Music? Time of day? Where do you write? That type of thing.
My writing process is strange, probably because it’s still in progress. With EXILED, I just wrote. No outline, no real idea where things were going. Now, I’m definitely an outline writer.
I start by writing the first draft, from Chapter 1 to the end. I don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or character development. I just throw the story on the page.
Next, I edit, smoothing out the story to make sure I haven’t left any major plot holes. Then I take a break, 1 – 4 weeks depending on how much time away I think I need to come back and look at the story objectively.
When I think I’m ready, I’ll read the entire story, making a mountain of notes. Where does dialogue need work? How do the chapters and paragraphs transition? What do I need to work on with my characters? During this process I’m usually very much back and forth between excitement for the new story, and frustration with how much my writing sucks. I make notes for myself, and sometimes they’re not very friendly.
Once I have my notes, I start the second round edits and tear the book apart. I’ll start at the beginning and do one chapter at a time. Sometimes the chapter only takes a few hours, sometimes a week. I clean up all the dialogue, focus on character development, cut the fat, add the muscle, and make each page as flawless as I can.
This is a major edit. It’s where all the descriptions are improved, characters come to life in their unique ways, and every aspect of the story – including spelling and grammar – get overhauled, until the result is something that looks like a book.
Once round two edits are done, I send the book off to beta readers and tape my hands behind my back. This step is essential; it prevents major hair loss by way of my hands, and stops me from bombarding my gracious readers with e-mails. Here, I also repeat the roller coaster of emotions that is the love/hate relationship I have with my ability to write.
Once the beta readers get back to me, I’ll look over their thoughts, decide what works best for the story, and do another edit.
If need be, I’ll repeat the above step with a second round of beta readers, if not, I’ll fearfully send it to a professional editor and work with them from that point forward.
With the first draft of a book, I always listen to music. Always. Often times I have a playlist for the book, and I make sub playlists for certain scenes. I don’t want hard rock blaring in my ears when I’m writing an emotional scene. With edits however, it depends. If I’m working on spelling/grammar, or more professional aspects of the book, I don’t use music. I find it breaks my focus. If I’m working on character development, music is a total asset.
I always write on my laptop at the kitchen table. I edit here as well, often times with a salad bowl full of cereal between me and the keyboard. I’m not a paper and pen editor. I can’t read my own writing on the best of days, so attempting to edit an entire manuscript that way doesn’t work for me.
When I write is random. EXILED was written almost entirely at night. I worked days, my wife worked nights, and so once the kids were in bed, it was my creative time. Now she’s home with a new baby, so my schedule has been very sporadic. I still try to work at night and on weekends, but family comes first, of course. And I can’t spend all my free time writing, otherwise there would be no time for cartoons, and Mortal Kombat.
Where did you get the ideas for your characters and setting?
The idea for the story has always been there. I’ve spent many a nights in bed, dreaming of what it would be like if I could control the elements. What I’d be capable of doing, what each element represented. So that part of the story was always a quiet obsession for me.
The characters are a different story. Some are loosely based on me, how I view myself, and how my personality works in different scenarios. That probably sounds really conceited… oh well. A lot of the characters I just made up based on what type of people/creatures I thought would complement and work well with certain characters. I’m not sure it’s wise to tell you which characters are based on parts of me, and which came from my mind. I’ll leave that to your imagination.
Did you go to college? What did you major in?
I did not go to college. I didn’t even finish high school. I was always very much involved with the Drama program in high school, and I worked full-time. When grade 12 rolled around, I was informed I had to give up acting and focus on the main curriculum or I wouldn’t have the right courses to graduate. The course load I needed was very heavy and required a lot of after class work. Instead of quitting my job, and focusing on that, I took my final acting class, kept my job, and dropped out. It’s not a choice I recommend, but I was lucky enough to develop a solid work ethic, and gain the experience I needed to quickly advance within the companies I was employed.
Ironically, I never took any classes above grade 10 English, which I’m pretty sure I passed only because the teacher didn’t want to see me for another year. Our personalities… conflicted, to say the least.
At what age did you figure out you wanted to be a writer? Is there anything else you want to do besides write?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I never thought I’d be a writer per say. This all happened by accident (more on that later). An accident I feel so lucky to be a part of. What I really wanted to do was act and/or sing. Both were passions I still love. Now I get my singing fix through Karaoke, although I haven’t acted since high school. The only other thing I wanted to do was be a police officer. I don’t know why, maybe because they got to have guns. Okay, not maybe, it was because of that. And I thought I’d get to chase bad guys down carelessly like Will Smith in Bad Boys. Anyways, I never pursued that outside of my imagination.
Which classics are your favorites, if any? Why? What other books are your favorites? Are there any authors that influence your writing?
Up until 5 years ago, I could count on 1 hand how many books I’d read cover to cover. That includes school as well. I was very good a fudging my way through things with writing. That being said, since then, I’ve enjoyed:
The Merry Gentry series by Laurell K. Hamilton. I loved the first 7 – or so – books in the Anita Blake series as well, but some of it became a little overwhelming for my tastes.
I loved the first three books in The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, but I have yet to read the next in the series.
Last but not least, J.K. Rowling. Loved the Harry Potter stories, and she’s a huge inspiration for me. Her world building is truly impressive.
Favorite band? What do you do when you aren’t writing? What’s the best book you have read lately?
Picking a favourite band is tough for me. That’s like asking me to pick only one box of cereal from the cereal aisle. I’m eclectic when it comes to music. As long as it’s not death metal, I will probably enjoy it. A few favourites from totally different genres: Sublime, Everclear, Eminem, Paramore, Otis Redding, The Corrs, Brad Paisley. The list can really go on.
Finally talk about your book. Obviously. What was difficult about writing it? Easy? Can you talk about your next project?
I never intended to write a book. It happened by accident. For me, writing has always been a means of venting life’s frustrations, but as I sat down to write one day, I realized I didn’t want to vent, I wanted to escape. So I started to write about other people in another world. Seven hours later, I realized there was a story here.
I spent the next few hours talking with my wife about this idea – and by talking, I mean she sat there and listened, while I blabbered incessantly. For the next six months, I sat down every night for 4 – 8 hours and wrote. It took me six months to write that first draft, and that was only the beginning. I had no idea what I was getting into.
When it comes to writing, the easy part – for me – is building the characters and the world. It’s easy for me to come up with new magic, or monsters. I love taking classic myth and monsters, and putting my own spin on things. The Vampires in EXILED were one of my favorites to create. All this isn’t to say I never struggle with it, but closing my eyes and describing what I see has always come naturally to me.
When it comes to the “not so easy,” it was the reality of the publishing industry and making a career from writing. I had done so much research, and at this point, Amazon hadn’t broken out their publishing model yet. I struggled so very hard with this reality, and the query letter. I couldn’t condense my entire story into 150 words. It was impossible – or so I thought.
In writing SHIFT, the sequel to EXILED, I used an outline. It helped me immensely, but I struggled with it at first, just as I struggled to condense my novel into a query. I didn’t realize the rules weren’t rules, but guidelines. Once I did that, it was easier to summarize my story. I learned this was my story, and I didn’t have to follow the outline, or the rules exactly. I could do whatever I wanted.
This all has been an incredible journey. Exiled is out there, and the reader response is overwhelmingly positive. Something I hoped for, but never actually expected would happen. When I got my first handful of reviews and they were all 5-Stars, I thought I was in another world, but I quickly learned, having great reviews doesn’t sell your book for you. You have to find a way to get that book into the hands of readers. That’s another part of the process I still struggle with. I hate marketing. I hate posting links to my book on Twitter, and I’m sure I annoy people with it. The reality is: it’s a necessary evil. Does it work? I have no idea. All I know is, writing quickly became a passion for me, and I can’t wait for everyone to see what happens next.
There is a lot coming down the line from me. I have the sequel, SHIFT, ready for second round edits, which I’ll start on right away. I was hoping to have it release in December, but professional editing and cover art do not come cheap.
I’ve got pages of notes for the third book in the series, and I need to start on that outline. Originally, this was going to be a trilogy, but after a turn of events that occurred in my mind, I’ve realize there may be a grander scale to things now. If the outline works out, the series could run longer, if not, a trilogy it shall remain. Only time will tell.
I’m constantly making notes for different story ideas, and after reviewing some of them over the past few weeks, I think by combining some of them, there could be an entirely new series on the way, but not until I’m finished with this one. I’m kind of obsessive in which I have to finish one task at a time. I’m not a high caliber writer who can work on two different stories at once.
I also get a lot of readers asking for independent stories, based on their favourite characters from EXILED, so there may be something along those lines in the works. I can’t really talk about it; it’s very hush, hush.
Anything else you want to know? Let me know in the comments and I’ll be checking in throughout the day and night!
Thanks so much to Kara for having me! I’m so glad you enjoyed EXILED and I can’t wait for you to read SHIFT.
Now for the giveaway. I have one paperback copy of Exiled up for grabs, and two ebooks. There will be three winners. I’m going to make this really easy.
Here are the rules for entry:
~You must be 13 or older.
~The paperback copy is for US/CA only. Ebooks are International.
~Let me know in the comment whether you want to be entered to win the paperback, ebooks, or both.
~Please leave me a comment with your name and email.
Extra entries can be earned by(+1):
~Being a follower of this blog, let me know how you follow in the comments
~Following me on twitter @Kara_Malinczak
~Following M.R. Merrick on twitter @MrMerrick
~Tweeting the giveaway(please leave direct link in the comments).
Please let me know any extra entries you may have, but do it all in ONE comment.
Contest will run until 9/21/2011. I will notify the winners by email that same day. Winners will be chosen by random.org. Good luck!