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Guest Post | Courtney Schafer Holding onto Joy

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Guest Post | Courtney Schafer Holding onto Joy

There will always be a special place in my heart for Courtney Schafer's The Whitefire Crossing. It's the first book I reviewed as a blogger that felt like discovery. I was the first blogger to review it (I think), and I absolutely adored it. Complete with a setting that shines in Schafer's experienced mountain climber hands, Whitefire is a charming chase novel that promises a much deeper plot in future novels.

I should mention that Schafer took a real risk with Whitefire's narration, swapping between first and third person depending on the point of view. It's a tough thing to do for any author, especially an author in her debut, but Schafer pulls it off with aplomb, further evidence to the fact that she'll be in this business for a long time. I hope anyone who reads this post will give her a shot.

Here's Courtney Schafer...


I’ve heard some authors say their second published novel came easier than their first. To which I say: you lucky, lucky bastards! But since I’ve already talked elsewhere about why carving the Taj Mahal out of marble with my fingernails might’ve been easier than writing The Tainted City, I won’t rehash the details here. I’ll just say that I think many of the difficulties of writing a second novel can be summed up with this: before publication, writing is an escape from stress. After publication, writing becomes a source of stress. Learning to manage the stress while maintaining the joy is a different process for every author, and the solution isn’t always easy to find.

Anyway, now that The Tainted City is in copyedits and about to leave my hands at last, I don’t want to focus on the authorial agonies of getting here. I’d much rather celebrate the good parts of the process! So here are three lessons I learned that helped me hold onto the fun of writing even on days when finishing the book felt as impossible as summiting K2 in the dead of winter.

1. There’s nothing so exciting as a challenge

Okay, this one wasn’t exactly news to me. After all, I’m a mountaineer who thinks struggling up some insanely steep peak is the height of a good time. So I was delighted to tackle The Tainted City, because it’s a far more complex story than its predecessor The Whitefire Crossing
Much of Whitefire’s story was fairly straightforward: a mage and a smuggler who can’t trust each other must travel the wilderness together and face dangers both physical and magical along the way. My two main characters Dev and Kiran mostly interacted with each other, and the journey gave the novel a natural structure that made writing the first draft a breeze. 
But in The Tainted City, while Dev and Kiran remain the POV characters, they interact with a far larger cast of secondary characters - all of whom have their own motivations and agendas (hidden or otherwise!). Plus, while the book certainly has some scenes of mountain adventure – come on, you think I’d write a sequel to Whitefire without sneaking in some ice climbing and glissading? – they come late in the story, and this time it’s magic, intrigue, and murder that form the backbone of the plot.

The larger cast of characters in particular made both plotting and dialogue scenes much harder – I tell you, I’ve got a whole new appreciation for authors who handle ensemble cast scenes with aplomb! – but I really enjoyed stretching my writerly muscles to try something new.

2. All work and no play makes your writing suck 

When you’re a slow writer with scant free time and a looming deadline , it’s easy to panic and vow to spend EVERY SPARE SECOND on the book. No more speaking to friends! No more reading for pleasure! No more mocking bad SF shows with my husband! No more hikes, no matter how short! If I’m not caring for my son or working my day job, I will be WRITING, I said.

And so I did. After a few months, I found that not only was my husband getting increasingly cranky (“Hello, do I even HAVE a wife?”), but somehow I seemed to be writing slower and slower, even as my stress levels skyrocketed. Plot problems took longer to puzzle through, scenes were more difficult to write…I felt like those precious words “The End” got further away every day.

Thank God, my husband finally lost patience and demanded I step away from the computer. Reluctantly, I took a weekend off writing – and hey, guess what? Afterward not only did I feel better, but the writing flowed much easier again. Seems so obvious, right? Our brains need regular chances to recharge to work at their best. Yet when you’re caught up in deadline fever, it’s so terribly easy to insist, “I can’t possibly afford even a moment away – I’ll recover when the book is done.” But at least for me, progress came much faster if I actually gave myself a little time off each week. Besides, if you want to get inspired for writing an adventure fantasy, there’s nothing better than actually getting out and having some adventures of your own.

3. Love really does conquer all 

When I hear people say, “Write what you love,” I give a hearty AMEN. Writing a book is hard. Not only that, it’s time-consuming beyond all reason, and the publishing industry is crazier than a barrel full of clowns on crack. But if you love your story enough, none of that matters worth a damn.

I remember when Whitefire first went on submission, I couldn’t bring myself to take the sage advice that says “Never write a sequel until the first book sells.” I started work on The Tainted City, hell with what made the most sense career-wise, because the Shattered Sigil books were the story I wanted to tell. I loved my characters and world far too much to leave the story unfinished, even if the series never saw the light of day.

In the end, it’s that passion for the story that kept my butt in the computer chair for all the countless hours over the last year. And the best part is: I still love this story. Truly, madly, deeply. So much so that once again I intend to move right ahead to work on the third and final book in the series, even though it’s not yet under contract. I’ll put the book out myself if I have to; but no way will I leave this story unfinished. I’m having way too much fun. And if you decide to check out The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City, I hope you will too.


You can find Courtney Schafer on her website and Twitter. Be sure to visit the former to learn more about the Shattered Sigil series. Schafer is an avid lover of the outdoors and an experienced climber. She's also an electrical engineer. Strangely enough, all three of those things are evident in her work.

Come back later today for an excerpt from The Tainted City!

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At July 19, 2012 at 7:14 AM , Anonymous Elspeth Cooper said...

Oh yes, lesson #2. In spades. Plus, I suspect our husbands might be related. Great post, Courtney!

At July 19, 2012 at 7:24 AM , Blogger T. Frohock said...

Stepping back -- definitely! My best thoughts often come when I'm not staring at words on the screen. You inspire me, Courtney!

At July 19, 2012 at 7:25 AM , Blogger Justin said...

I wonder... there's an equally likely chance my wife would kill me for writing too much, or kill me for not writing hard enough. I suspect no matter which I chose, the killing would commence ;)

At July 19, 2012 at 8:11 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Plus, while the book certainly has some scenes of mountain adventure – come on, you think I’d write a sequel to Whitefire without sneaking in some ice climbing and glissading?

I thought this was going to be strictly "urban" fantasy!

I've been looking forward to Tainted City since I read Whitefire Crossing. Very excited. (and I love that cover)

At July 19, 2012 at 8:12 AM , Blogger Anne Lyle said...

I'm with you on all three - but I need to bear 2 in mind, especially in the coming months. Maybe I'll pin them up by my computer...

It's funny, though, how we all have different challenges. For years I stalled in my attempts to finish novels, because I find it hard to stretch out a story that long with only two characters. A multi-pov ensemble cast is so much easier for me because I never get stuck for something to write about!

At July 19, 2012 at 8:34 AM , Anonymous Courtney Schafer said...

Elspeth - haha, I often think there should be an online hangout or convention or something for the spouses & significant others of writers, so they could get together and moan over the trials and tribulations they face as our better halves!

Teresa - yes, I think #2 was the most important thing I learned through this whole process!

Paul - Ha, it's a new hybrid: urban/mountain fantasy! :) If you read the 1st chapter later today, you'll also see a little canyon climbing (gotta start the book off right).

Anne - Yes, I always find it fascinating how different every writers' experience is! Whitefire of course had more characters than just my 2 main guys, but scenes tended to be limited to 2 or 3 characters at a time - what I found most difficult in handling an ensemble cast was writing scenes with 3+ characters without some getting "lost" in the conversation, or the scene dragging on too long. (Plus handling all the little subplots without turning the book into a total doorstopper!)

Justin - Yes, you were indeed the 1st blogger to review Whitefire! Ironicially enough, in the old Night Bazaar post about writing the 2nd novel that I linked to above, at the end I'm all giddy over my very first review: yours.

At July 19, 2012 at 8:38 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

*If* I read the first chapter, Courtney? ;)

At July 19, 2012 at 8:44 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

I had to check...yeah, Justin beat me by nearly two months to reviewing Whitefire...

At July 20, 2012 at 5:41 AM , Blogger Steve MC said...

All work and no play is definitely a creative killer. And it's not good on your body, either. Got to get out and get that air.

And glad there's a bit of hiking in this one - last autumn I was in physical therapy for ITBS, and the only hiking I could do was in the Whitefire Mountains. It helped my mood a good deal, so thanks for that.

At July 23, 2012 at 9:24 AM , Anonymous Courtney Schafer said...

Always glad to help out with virtual hiking. :) Hope your IT band is feeling better these days!

(I had a bout of ITBS myself way back when I was in grad school and had taken running up for exercise. It flared up on the 1st day of a 7-day backpack trip in the Grand Canyon - which made the next 6 days an exercise in limping endurance, ugh. The doc who examined me afterward said my bone structure meant I was predisposed to IT band troubles, but I could avoid further problems once I finished PT by: a) giving up running, b) always using trekking poles for steep descents on hikes, c) never carrying more than 1/3 of my body weight while backpacking. I hadn't much liked running anyway, so I took his advice...and yup, never had another problem (trekking poles *rule*). Would've been harder if I liked running, though.)

At July 23, 2012 at 4:04 PM , Blogger Shauna Roberts said...

Hi, Courtney! I'm glad to hear about The Tainted City coming out in October because I've been impatient for your next book since reading The Whitefire Crossing.

At July 24, 2012 at 6:27 AM , Anonymous Courtney Schafer said...

Shauna - yay! That's always music to an author's ears. :) Hey, it was great meeting you at WFC last year - hope you're coming to Toronto this fall!

At July 27, 2012 at 11:57 AM , Blogger dfvsdvsd said...

"...before publication, writing is an escape from stress. After publication, writing becomes a source of stress." I don't think I've ever seen this put so succinctly before. Very, very true. And I love the premise of Whitefire Crossing - going to pick up a copy and check it out.

At July 28, 2012 at 8:19 AM , Anonymous Courtney Schafer said...

Thanks, Philip - hope you enjoy Whitefire if you give it a try!

At September 6, 2012 at 5:20 PM , Blogger Max Moreno said...

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