Today I'm delighted to bring you a guest post from Jo Thomas, author of the Elkie Bernstein trilogy, who's going to share a little bit about her writing process with us. Hi, I'm Jo Thomas (the sff one, not the romance writer, the geologist or the historian. Other Jo Thomases are also available) and Shona invited me to write a little bit about my writing process so I figured I'd actually tell you about it in a bit of a roundabout way. In other words, you're going to get the process behind my recently released Fool If You Think It's Over and the ideas that led to it. As I'm not above selling my books, I'll include Amazon.co.uk links at the bottom.
As anyone who knows me, or my email or social media accounts, can testify, werewolves have been turning up in my conversation for some time. I did not start out intending to get obsessed. I first started taking writing seriously in 2007 - this is not to say I didn't write before but I didn't sit down with the intention of writing a whole anything and actually achieve it before then. Werewolves turned up in conversation at about the same time. I've even found my first email mention dated March 2007 sent to Nick Marsh:
I also have a few other ideas kicking around in my head, waiting impatiently for me to get round to them. One of them being the obligatory fantasy trilogy. But it's going to involve werewolves. Sort of.
Which somewhat belies my usual stance that I never intended to write a trilogy about werewolves. Which I did (25 Ways To Kill A Werewolf, A Pack of Lies, Fool If You Think It's Over). However, I'm pretty sure they weren't the werewolves I was originally looking for as I've got notes in a pad about faux-medieval fantasy.
Being the proud owner of a developing Hellhound started to make me think differently about what a werewolf is perceived to be and what, in actuality, they would be. In the early stages, I - like many others - thought one became a werewolf to escape humanity and break the rules. In fact, most of my werewolves still do. They just don't realise there's more to it than that. Having observed Finn (my Hellhound) attempting to be just human enough to fit in with what I wanted, and have access to the good food, I was starting to consider that werewolves were actually an attempt for humans to move more towards wolves. Not the excuse to act like idiots but to fit in with a different pack or social group. Except few men with dreams of being an alpha are likely to have time for that, so there was still the classic rampaging man-beast thing going on.
In 2008, I wrote a story called "Half-Breed" that was about a girl called Alex who was the child of a werewolf... and a dog. I'll wait while you go clean your brain out from the implications of that idea. Alex continued to have a number of short story adventures and was the main source of my werewolf references over several years. Her world was building from my original thought of a sliding scale between fully human and fully canine that actually allowed the two to meet magically in the middle to a world with rules and consequences to actions. (Not all of these got published, of course.) Alex is the closest to being the original trilogy idea I had but the tales she wanted to be involved in were strictly short stories.
Then there were several in-person conversations about chosen ones and only one way to kill any particular monster - which resulted in a joke about a self-help book called "25 Ways To Kill A Werewolf". I actually started writing this, and I have the statement of intent I emailed my writing friend Dylan Fox in April 2010 that became the opening prologue. And, within the first few chapters, realised I didn't really have much of a choice about fitting it in the world I had already developed. Mainly because I hadn't actually given much thought to this new world and it was easier to pick up the bits I needed from Alex's stories.
The self-help book found its home with Fox Spirit Books in March 2013 and was published August 2014. About a year before it was actually accepted, I started to realise I should be doing more with the main character, Elkie Bernstein. Like subjecting her to more pain and heartbreak, as any other author will tell you is the whole point of creating characters. More precisely, I realised that, given the world is bigger than one person ever sees, it would be nice to move around it with Elkie to see how her experiences and knowledge were different from Alex's.
However, I didn't start writing the next book until February 2012 and I didn't really consider a book 3 until I realised how much I wanted to do with Elkie and how much writing that would require. My working titles for these two books were A Pack of Lies (which stuck) and Brothers Under The Skin (which didn't as this is now Fool If You Think It's Over).
Although this doesn't cover the actual activity of sitting down and writing, it does basically cover my idea process:
- Stories are a collection of ideas that fit together enough for me to want to explore them. I generally need a few to intersect before I start wanting to go after them (in this case, how dogs fit in with humans and how werewolves don't fit in with wolves) but they pack up in their own combinations after running around my brain for a while.
- I usually need to a point of view character I can share my brain with to help me explore the world these ideas create. A character whose thinking I have problems with still makes my longer works sputter to a halt.
- A working title that encapsulates my intent, at least to me. I used to be more attached to them but I have (eventually) accepted that these can change over the process and for the finished product.
- I am not a huge plotter. I have a rough idea of where I want to end up. I usually have some idea of what the next few chapters is going to do. I'm actually more bothered about making sure consequences experienced fit with character actions. I don't always achieve this.