Q&A with Author Amanda Cherry

As World War II rages, accidental immortal Pepper Elizabeth Jones is on the run from government agents on both sides of the Atlantic — The Dragon Stone Conspiracy A Strowlers Novel by @MandaTheGinger

Author Q&A

What are your top 10 favorite books/authors? 

This is hard and I can’t do it. I do maintain that my favorite book is FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLESTOP CAFÉ by Fannie Flagg. But I have so many “favorites” I could not possibly come up with ten and just ten!

I love a lot of the old STAR TREK: TNG books (especially the ones by Peter David), and both new and old books in the STAR WARS franchise (Timothy Zahn, Claudia Gray, Rebecca Roanhorse, & Delilah S. Dawson are among the favorites). The OCTOBER DAYE books by Seanan McGuire are a master class in urban fantasy. 

I have favorites in every genre and of every length.

What book do you think everyone should read?

I don’t think such a book exists. It feels like a trap to try and come up with a single book that’s good and right for all people. This is the kind of thing that leads to the concept of “literary canon” as constructed by moneyed white men and by which all things not created by moneyed white men are judged inferior. And I call humbug. I have been assigned to read many a book that someone with power somewhere in academia deemed to be a must-read for all that I absolutely hated and got nothing from (except maybe a bad grade for admitting I did not finish the book because it was not for me).

Books are personal.

The experience of a book for a reader is an alchemical combination of the words on the page and the life that reader brings with them when they enter into the world of the story. The same story can hit a person differently in different seasons of life. And something that speaks to me powerfully may not resonate with you at all. Engaging with a book should never be a chore, and reading something another person says “everyone should” read can so easily become that.

The book everyone should read is the book that speaks to them in the moment. The book everyone should read is the one where they see themselves represented authentically and positively. The book everyone should read is one they enjoy and that will make them want to keep reading. 

How long have you been writing? 

I wrote my first (very bad and terribly illustrated) book at age 6. My dad had it printed and bound with ribbon and gave copies out to his friends. I haven’t stopped since then—although there was a period when I didn’t show my writing to my parents for fear of a repeat bookbinding.

Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write? 

A little from column A, a little from Column B. I always have my main cast in mind before I start writing. But inevitably, those preplanned people meet with folks in their world who I have to make up as I go. Sometimes those Johnnys-on-the-spot turn out to be very interesting and wind up having their presence expanded as the book evolves from draft to finished product.

What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book? 

That one’s hard because: what counts as research? And what counts as before? I do my best to try and set myself up for success, so if there are things (either in-universe or in real life) I know I need to know before I start a draft, I may look those up and take a few notes. But I’m much more likely to just start putting words on a page and then stopping to look things up at the moment I need the info. I’m mostly a “pantser”—someone who doesn’t do a whole heckofalot of pre-planning. So it’s hard to know ahead of time what I’m going to need to research. If I’m trying to speed-draft, then I’m likely to leave myself a note in brackets to go back and research during my first revision pass, but most of the time I will just pause and go internet spelunking until I get what I need for the scene.

This is called “prepcrastination,” by the way, and it’s not actually recommended. It’s a great way to get zero writing done while feeling like you’re still 100% on task.

Do you see writing as a career? 

Yes. Which is a weird shift, since it was my hobby for so long.

What do you think about the current publishing market? 

I try hard not to. Overthinking the market is a recipe for misery in my experience. All I can do is to write the books I can write, and to be the author I can be—and whatever that means to the market is what it is. My agent does a great job of knowing me and what I write and where that’s going to fit.

The one thing I am sure about and grateful for, is that publishing is more accessible and open to people of marginalized backgrounds than ever before. I hope that trend continues forward. 

Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre? 

I love to read, and wish I had more time for it! I like urban fantasy, space opera, and media tie-in books from franchises like STAR WARS, STAR TREK, and SHADOWRUN.

Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why? 

Here’s where I am a weirdo. Ready? Both. I need both. At the same time. How is this possible? Well, I need some sound. Some noise, and it can’t be music—I’m a musician and if there’s music I’m going to wind up listening to it and not working. So usually I put on some TV show I’ve seen before or don’t care much about. BUT: conversations between real people, someone walking from one room to another in my house, a door opening, the slightest wiggle from my little dog, anything in the real world that can make even the tiniest noise is such a colossal disruption that it drives me absolutely bananas to even try and write in the same building as other people. So: Very Background noise=yes; anything Real= NO.

Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time? 

I usually have a few things happening at once, but there’s always a hierarchy of tasks—something on deadline, something the beta reader is waiting for, something a collaborator needs, etc. Right now I’ve got a novel in the re-drafting stage, a novella collaboration that goes back and forth between myself and a co-author, a screenplay in the draft stage, a screenplay in the revision stage, some nonfiction pitches that will get priority if they come back approved, a few panel pitches I’m refining for an online convention, and a lot of time-sensitive book launch related essays, Q&A’s, etc. 

If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose? 

I have a tongue-in-cheek response that’s along the lines of “I’d be the author of Silas Marner and do literally anything with my time other than write that book thereby sparing my 8th grade self the worst reading experience ever”. But that’s not nice, as I am sure there has been someone, sometime, who has liked that book—and I’m not one to yuck someone else’s yum. There are a few other books I’d similarly want to erase from existence for one reason or another.

But as for a book I love that I wish I’d been the one to come up with…? WICKED, Maybe? The villain-centered retelling is a genre I’m really into and I could see that being an idea I’d have had at some point if it hadn’t already been realized.

Mostly I’m thrilled just to have written the books I wrote!

Pen or type writer or computer? 

Yes. I do not own a typewriter currently, but am in the market for one. I wrote some of my favorite sentences on a typewriter and would definitely appreciate having access to one again.

I do all of me work on my little Surface Go because I have tiny hands and it’s just the right size for me. But I have discovered that, for some unknown reason, my brain works differently while typing than it does while writing by hand. And sometimes closing the machine and picking up one of the many notebooks I keep within arm’s reach at all times is just the thing to get the story back flowing.

I’m also one of those writers who gets random strokes of story at odd hours, and when those moments strike me, I am 100% more likely to pick up a pen than I am a computer.

Tell us about a favorite character from a book. 

I love Scarlett O’Hara with all my heart. Her book is my forever problematic fave. She is and does and perseveres in all the ways a woman wasn’t expected to be successful both in the time of her story and the time of her creation. She’s clever and shrewd and smarter than everyone and she uses every advantage she has to manage whatever crisis is in front of her (and boy howdy do those crises keep coming). She finds her own way to navigate the world she lives in—a world that’s not often kind to women. She is a bada** and an icon and I will love her with all my heart (despite all the things that make her book hard for me to read as an adult).

What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision? 

I’ve always been a storyteller. Whether that was making up adventures with my stuffed toys or Barbie dolls, leading my friends in make-believe games, running sessions of D&D or Star Frontiers, or spinning up fan fiction of my favorite franchises, I have never not been a person who tell stories. Acting is storytelling, too—only from a very limited perspective and always with the full cooperation of a scene partner. And writing became an extension of that penchant for storytelling very early in my life.

The decision to “become an author” is honestly not one I actually made. I kind of fell backwards into doing this as a career. I sold my first story almost by accident, and I had my debut novel approved by a publisher based on an impromptu elevator pitch and subsequent conversation. From there I auditioned for, and got hired to write for a Role Play Game (ACUTE PARANOIA), which earned me a membership in SFWA (the professional organization for writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and other Speculative fiction). From there I found my agent, signed the contract for THE DRAGON STONE CONSPIRACY, and just kept writing. 

I’m glad things are what they are and I’m glad I am where I am. I’ve always been a person who likes to see where life takes me, and I think it’s taken me where I’m supposed to be—but I’m not sure I ever really made a decision.

A day in the life of the author? 

Right now, in the pan-dangit times, my weekdays are 100% dictated by my second grader. I get up, brush my teeth, get dressed, and get coffee in time to be set up in the family room to monitor virtual school by 10:30, which is when my husband’s first meeting of the day is most days. I am a naturally late sleeper and have been living with ME/CFS since my teens, so the fact my partner can take the early morning shift with the kiddo is important to my health and sanity. I sit with the kid from 10:30-11:00 and am usually able to check emails and do other small busines tasks in that time.

Kiddo goes on break at 11, and I try to spend at least an hour head-down while he plays outside. Then I get up, make him lunch, and try to get a little more work done while he eats.

It’s back to school at 1:00 and I have to be really engaged with him because he doesn’t enjoy some of the classes he has in that time block, so he needs the encouragement. School is out at 3:30 and I try and spend another hour or two writing. Some days I even make it upstairs to my office! But most days I’m just there on the loveseat until time to cook dinner. 

Then I cook, we eat, and my husband takes the parenting reins again. By 7:00 or so I’m someplace behind a closed door. During NaNoWriMo I was averaging 2000 words per day with this schedule. These days it’s… less. But every word is a win in these strange days, and I’m glad for each and every one.

Advice they would give new authors? 

Write the book you want to read. That’s it. That’s the thing. Don’t write the book you think someone else will want to read—because there’s no way to get inside anyone’s head to figure out what makes them love a book. But you know what makes YOU love a book. Write that.

When you write what you want to read, with characters you want to meet, who have experiences you recognize and want to see portrayed on the page, then you’re writing something authentic that will resonate with people. Don’t try to chase the market (believe me: whatever’s hot right now will be Over or close to it by the time your book comes out because the publication pipeline takes a LONG TIME). And don’t try to chase awards. Those things will meet you where you are, or they won’t. But they can’t find you if you’re not in your own space.

Write YOUR book. It’s the one thing you can do better than anyone else.

Describe your writing style. 

I describe my writing as pretty-but-approachable. I’m not particularly literary, but I’m also not a minimalist. I try and skirt the line between conversational/commercial writing and stylized fantasy writing. And I think I do ok at it. 😉

What makes a good story? 

A good story is one that resonates. It makes you want to root for (or against!) the character. It makes you give a damn. Maybe it makes you hopeful, or happy; maybe it makes you feel gutted, bereft, despondent. Maybe it sends you into fits of anger, overwhelming surprise, or immense satisfaction. And the best stories give you several of these in differing measures. 

What are they currently reading? 

ROMANCING THE BEAT: STORY STRUCTURE FOR ROMANCE NOVELS (HOW TO WRITE A KISSING BOOK) By Gwen Hayes. I’m trying to improve this particular corner of my craft.

What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters fist? 

I am, in me heart, a “pantser”. I like to get to know a character and then to let her run free through the vast peaks and valleys of my imagination and see where we are when she gets to the other side. But I have learned that for anything longer than a novella, I’m not so great at weaving threads as I go. If I’ve got more than an A and B plot, then I’m going to need to do a little bit of planning in order to make sure the pacing makes sense.

So I like to write a simple beat-by-beat treatment of what’s going to happen. That way, I can be sure the plots all come together in a way that works. And it gives me the bonus advantage of being able to try plugging in the inevitable new things (pantser!) to the treatment to see if/how/where they work before ripping up a draft to try and shoehorn them in. This strategy comes in really handy when working in IP because there are people who need to approve your story, and if they take issue with anything, it’s a lot better to know about that before you’ve gone and written a whole book.

For novellas and shorter work, though. Still a pantser.

And I tend to write dialogue first. My stories are all very character-driven, so those intense conversations tend to be the lodestar moments. I’ll write some of those scenes out of order, too, as it’s better to be writing the things that move me—the moments that made the book worth putting on the page to begin with—than forcing myself to write all in chronological order.

I make one start-to-finish draft and keep a separate document for out-of-order scenes. I know I’m getting close to the end of a draft when all the out-of-order scenes have been cut and pasted into their proper place in the main manuscript.

What are common traps for aspiring writers? 

Chasing the market is a big one. You cannot, and there is no way to stress this enough, CANNOT guess what’s going to be the new hotness when your book is poised to come out. You just can’t. Unless you’ve got a fully-functioning crystal ball hidden somewhere you can’t see two or more years into publishing’s future (yes, really that’s a realistic timeline) to know what’s going to be the big seller when it’s your turn to have a new book on the shelf.

The other major one I see is that pre-published authors sometimes get really hung up on getting their book published and forget that the first and foremost thing a person needs to do in order to get their book published is to have written the best book they can write.

What is your writing Kryptonite? 

Other people. Movement. Commotion. Anything that takes even an iota of my attention out of the world of the story and back into reality.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want? 

I haven’t the foggiest idea what readers want. I can only presume that writing a book *I* want to read will equate to having also written a book that some other people will also want to read. So that’s my strategy. I just write what I want to read.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? 

When people tell you they don’t think you can be successful at the things you aspire to, that is much more of a commentary on them than it is on you. What they’re most likely saying isn’t that they don’t think you personally can’t be what you want to be, but rather that they don’t believe that’s a thing anyone can be successful doing. And that’s largely because they’ve never seen anybody do it.

But just because they’ve never seen it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. I’ve never seen the Taj Mahal, but I believe it exists.

You have the talent. Now do the work. You can and will get where you’re aiming to go.

OH! And one day you’ll get paid to write about STAR TREK!

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? 

How long on average does it take you to write a book? 

Oh, this one’s a loaded question! Pre-pan-dangit I would have said—at most eight to twelve weeks for a first draft, another four to six for a self-edit/primary revision with a reasonable turn-in around the four-month mark from beginning work in earnest. But now it’s anyone’s guess. THE DRAGON STONE CONSPIRACY took over a year to write and revise to the point of turning it in and another several months in revisions. It turns out that every book has its own timeline and takes exactly as long as it takes.

This is a humbling business, y’all. 

Do you believe in writer’s block? 

Sort of. The experience of writer’s block is very, very real, but I don’t think of it as a condition, per se. I see it, rather, as a catch-all term pertaining to any number of things that keep the creativity from flowing. The truth I’ve found is that, if I feel like I’m blocked, I only have two options: try and wait it out (which is not a thing that works when there are deadlines, btw) or find strategies to claw my way through it and get to the other side.

Sometimes it’s a story problem. That can be a real challenge for the seat-of-your-pants writer. If I don’t know where the story is going next then I may just be stuck in the moment. Usually, when that happens, I’ll skip ahead to someplace way later in the story—maybe the next major event I’m sure of. I can always come back to weave the connective tissue later. 

And sometimes it’s an author problem. Real life can do things to the brain that keep it from accessing creativity. That can be physical pain, distraction, hectic life events, or—you know—a global pandemic. In those cases all I can do is force myself to write one sentence per day per project. Most of those sentences will be bad, but bad writing can always be fixed in an edit. A blank page today will still be a blank page tomorrow, and there’s nothing an editor can do with that.

The longer I work in this business, the more craft I am able to employ to keep the dreaded writer’s block from plaguing me. But there are definitely days when every word on the page feels like a miracle.

The Dragon Stone Conspiracy
A Strowlers Novel
by Amanda Cherry
Genre: Historical Fantasy

When the Fäe go to war with a Nazi cult, one woman will protect humanity’s future.
As World War II rages, accidental immortal Pepper Elizabeth Jones is on the run from government agents on both sides of the Atlantic. Hidden in neutral Ireland, she is summoned to meet with a mysterious general, The Righ, who tasks her to save magic itself from the Nazis. Now, she must race against the clock to stop an evil ritual and prevent the Nazis from gaining a world-shattering supernatural power.
Pepper Jones and the Dragon’s Stone is part of the Strowlers Shared Cinematic Universe, a collaborative global story that anyone can join.
Tell your story. Change the world.
Goodreads * Amazon

Amanda Cherry is a native of Pensacola, FL and an alumnus of UNLV who hasn’t been thoroughly warm since moving to the Seattle area in 2003. Amanda’s first love was performing, and she has had a successful career as a theatre, television, and film actress.Amanda’s first book was penned in her family’s den and published by her father in time for Christmas in 1985, she was six years old. After the limited success of that first outing, Amanda turned to writing stories for fun. She spent the next twenty-odd years doing just that.A lifelong nerd, Amanda joined the staff at her favorite Star Wars site, Tosche Station, as a contributing writer in 2016 and discovered that letting other people read what she’d written was actually pretty fun. Thanks to the encouragement of a friend, she was invited to submit to Cobalt City Christmas: Christmas Harder in 2016 while living overseas in Berlin, Germany. When she learned that her story was bought, she cried.Capitalizing on the success of that publication, Amanda’s pitch for a follow-up novel was accepted. The rest is, as they say, history.Amanda once again lives in the Seattle area with her husband of ten years and four year-old son. In her free time, she enjoys driving her little blue convertible and officiating flat track roller derby.
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Bookbub * Amazon * Goodreads

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