About Arie Farnam:
Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.
What inspires you to write?
I write because I cannot stop. If I don’t write due to time constraints, I get depressed. I don’t generally suffer from writer’s block. I have good writing days and great writing days and days when I’m too tired (so I make a lot of typos). But I write on all days and then I edit more later if it wasn’t a great day. Writing is the one hard discipline that is a joy even during the daily grind. I draw inspiration from emotionally charged events, from the international news, from music, from other stories and authors and from people watching.
Tell us about your writing process.
When I start a book have a general idea how and where it will end and the main effects on the characters. The primary conflict is in place. However, I often don’t know exactly how I will get there. The world of my fantasy series was very deeply and intricately developed before I started writing the first book. As a result, I have more freedom in the way I write.
Because the world of the story is so strongly developed, I have been able to let the characters take over when I begin writing. I begin a scene by preparing myself mentally and putting myself in the place of the character currently speaking. I enter the world and see the events as if I was watching from the perspective of one character. Then I let the words through and they appear on the screen before me. I have been typing for so many years that I don’t notice my hands. It is as if there was a direct connection between my thoughts and the words on the screen.
My connection to the characters and the emotion of the story is strong. There are intense scenes that have left me shaking and exhausted as if I was undergoing the events of the story. These also tend to be scenes that readers experience most viscerally. I rarely have to edit much in such scenes because the description has just the right amount of detail and the actions flow at a pace that naturally sweeps the reader along. If I am not feeling in complete connection with the characters and the story, I do need to edit more–sometimes adding or cutting certain parts to make the description sing and to fine-tune the pace. I can’t always live so completely in a story, but my fantasy Kyrennei Series has been the strongest in this regard. I wrote the first drafts of the first three books in only three months. It was incredibly intense work, and while I don’t want every month of my life to be as terrifying as those months, I am grateful for whatever helps me write in this way.
In technical terms, I use the Scrivener software. I keep track of chapters and edit to keep chapters and POVs consistent and in a stable rhythm. I also keep extensive notes on the world, characters, fictional languages and the many issues I have to research outside my own imagination in the research section of Scrivener documents. I am extremely nearsighted, so although I like graphic displays, it doesn’t work for me to use white boards or displays of sticky-notes as many authors do. I have used Scrivener’s digital sticky-note system to check the plot points and pacing of my books and to get ideas for any areas that needed tightening or expanding. But this is part of the editing process.
I write scenes primarily. They must fit into an overall plot in the end. However, when writing sensory scenes is the paramount issue, one can always go back and add or subtract scenes in order to correct issues of plot or character arc. In my view, excellent writing is that which almost makes the reader not care about plot. The individual scenes are so vibrant and satisfying, that the reader will focus on them without judgment of the plot. But this can’t be taken by writers to mean that excellent prose will carry you over weak plot. On the contrary, that type of absorbing writing is a symptom of excellent plot. It is simply that the reader doesn’t consciously realize they are being played into a plot and believes they are absorbed only in one scene at a time. It is a delicate art that has a lot in common with throwing pots on a pottery wheel and with flying a kite at the same time.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
My first fiction characters were born of my teenage fantasies, except they didn’t go away when I became an adult. Instead they deepened and took on a life of their own. They became very close to real. It took twenty years to develop my first cast of vividly living characters. At first I was terrified of trying to develop new characters because I thought that it would again take many years to get such real beings. But I suppose there is some truth in the idea of training creative muscles because my later characters have been every bit as successful and they have taken a fraction of the time to develop.
I can easily take on the role of any of my major character and I often develop tricky dialogue scenes by standing up and talking through the scene as one of the characters, including motions and gestures as well as spoken words. I do this in private because even my children might be disturbed by it.
While I am not my characters, I have a deep emotional connection to them. When I am doing other things I often find myself thinking of how one of my characters would react to a situation and smiling a bit over it, as if they were a real friend of mine.
I have a strange double-attitude toward things that are extremely painful for my characters. The thought of their pain makes me truly sad, even though they have to undergo terrible things in order for the story to work. And at the same time, when I come up with something particularly diabolical for a story, I feel the elation of success in the creative task. Then the events become set in stone and I have to comfort and help my characters through it as best I can. I am not the kind of person who delights in the mishaps of others and I have never been able to relate to the idea of glee over the misfortune of another, so I find this dichotomy slightly disturbing. But one comes from a logical and analytical part of me where I plan stories. Once the terrible events are planned, I simply enter the scenes and struggle against the inevitable events in emotional connection with the characters.
What advice would you give other writers?
Write because you want to and write what you are passionate about. Yes, you need to work with genre expectations and markets, but figure out what will work with those issues AND inspire you. If you try to write just what you think will sell when it doesn’t really arouse your passion it will never have the necessary emotional impact. And today, unless you are already industry-connected, you have to be spectacular and have the punch of an Olympic boxer to have a ghost of a chance in the market. Even incredibly talented writers are struggling today. There are a lot of people out there making money off of the myth that this is a wonderful time to make money writing, when the reality is that it is harder than ever to make money but it is easier to get your feet wet. Yes, you will see a lot of lame books that are traditionally published and moderately successful, but those authors have connections, platform or finances that most of us never will. For the bootstrapping author passion is mandatory.
Beyond that, my advice is practical and about marketing, with one exception. Get Scrivener. I know I argued about it too. Just bite the bullet. Otherwise, get a real website. Don’t rely on a secondary-domain blog. This is crucial. Get a mailing list, even if you aren’t really ready to develop it. Start it and post interesting stuff even if you can only do so irregularly. Learn graphic design if you can. Even if you can’t, learn the rules of how to work with Creative Commons images legally and use them on your website and newsletter. Images matter in online content a lot. Read stuff about marketing and writing all the time. You will have a good strategy and in one month you’ll have to change it because conditions, platforms or rules change.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I was a journalist for national newspapers and magazines for several years in my twenties and I have a fair amount of experience with query letters and the media world. I didn’t relish the idea of returning to that rat race in publishing fiction. But I was able to get a contract with a prominent New York agent for my first book. She was a successful agent with a small elite client list, so I felt very fortunate and thought I had publishing in the bag. But she spent several months approaching 42 publishers with my book and she was turned away from each of them with statements such as, “This is a great book,” and “I couldn’t put it down.” She sent me copies of some of the emails. She said none of the publishers really had anything negative to say about the book. But they each turned her down because “the author’s name is completely unknown.”
Even after having been a journalist at national publications, I wasn’t well-known. I covered social issues and wasn’t in the midst of any big scandal. I had the social media presence and blog of a normal person, rather than a celebrity. And this is what matters to publishers. There was no other consideration of comparable value.
I was very resistant to the idea of self-publishing at first because I didn’t believe it was real publishing. And like many professionals, I have no patience for amateurish writing and vanity publishing. But when it became clear that the publishing doors are closed to unknowns who are not involved in a titillating scandal or media event and that the quality of writing craft is of minimal importance in the publishing industry, I let myself be convinced by friends. I was partly persuaded by the idea that even with a lower sales level, one could make enough to buy the time to write (i.e. to avoid working multiple jobs to support one’s family while writing at night) because of the higher percentages paid to the author in self-publishing.
Partly due to serious health problems from 2006 to 2012 and partly due to my own resistance to the idea, I came late to the self-publishing world, publishing my first book in 2014. I have as of yet not heard of a single non-celebrity, self-published author who started after 2012 who has since gained an ability to buy the time to write (let alone become known in any way). I am concerned that the door here is now closed to unknowns as well. The way our media systems work today strongly favors a celebrity over quality and makes it exceedingly difficult for unknown voices to be heard.
My work finds excellent standing in any test of craft quality and reader approval (with a 4.8-star average in reader reviews on Amazon at this writing). I continue to write because I have readers begging for more and because I have to write for my own well-being. The personal costs of such a way of life are high, but there is no alternative at the moment for those with a genuine passion and craft.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
Despite my generally pessimistic view of publishing at the moment, I do see theoretical possibilities for improvement. There is a gaping hole in the market, which could be filled by an organization, agency or business that set it as their goal to weed through self-published and traditionally published work and provide reputable, unbiased reviews based on the interests of real readers. In order for this to work this would have to be the “go to” service for readers where consumers would usually go to find new books (such as the role of Amazon today). Or such a business could function like a literary agency of old, finding talented writers with excellent craft and ideas and taking a cut of the profits in exchange for the real marketing that would actually reach readers (a rare and illusive thing in this day and age).
Kirkus Reviews can be helpful in providing a respected, somewhat impartial review for those publishing stand-alone novels and particularly more literary works. However, it is difficult and extremely expensive for self-published authors to even become seriously considered for review there. And getting a good review from Kirkus doesn’t have a great impact on book sales because readers don’t go to Kirkus to get their books. It is more of a badge of prestige in the industry.
Advertising through truly competitive services such as BookBub can have a significant effect and it lifted some authors out of the slush pile during the open-window period of Self-publishing from 2009 to 2012. Non-selective services do not help in this regard because their “readership” Is made up primarily of the accounts of authors who once wanted to promote through their service and readers looking for good books quickly burn out on sifting through their lists of unedited books. BookBub attempts to be selective, but through unknown processes it now automatically rejects unknown books with an undisclosed low number of reviews. And thus BookBub too is becoming a recycler of the already successful and does not seriously consider those without significant following or industry connections.
If any organization or business can become widely known and trusted among readers while also reviewing vast quantities of books, it could become the new gold-standard of the publishing world. And while it might require authors to pay fees and wait months for review, such a test of quality could seriously change the publishing paradigm, forcing even celebrity authors to improve their craft in order to compete with an ever-renewed supply of talented new writers. A system for readers to search that was primarily based on writing craft and reader approval, rather than previous popularity, previous wealth and media celebrity would mean great experiences for readers and true opportunities for talented and hard-working writers. I don’t know when this system may come but unless it is actively blocked by financial interests that prefer the status quo, I believe it will come.
What do you use?: Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: Epic fantasy, urban fantasy, dystopia, alternative history, contemporary fantasy, thriller, sci fi fantasy, literary fiction, religion/inspirational (Pagan), memoir, children’s mid-grade books, political, non-fiction how-to (herbs, urban homesteading and parenting)
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit, to allow you, the reader, to hear the author in their own voice.