In kindergarten, Laurence MacNaughton decided that he wanted to be a scientist when he grew up. “What kind of scientist?” the teacher asked. “A mad scientist,” he declared, “the kind that makes monsters!” Unfortunately, mad science presented limited career opportunities, so instead he turned to writing. His books include Conspiracy of Angels, The Spider Thief, and the Jazzy St. Clare urban fantasy mysteries. To learn more, please visit http://laurencemacnaughton.com/.
What inspires you to write?
I’ve created stories all my life. As a teenager, I met an African storyteller who traveled around the world, writing down oral stories to preserve them before they vanished forever.
That fired my imagination, the idea that stories are fragile things that can change or disappear. But even more important, stories are universal. They’re inherently human.
I love to write because it’s a way to talk about universal experiences that we all have: growing up, falling in love, confronting death, finding purpose, making hard choices that we have to live with.
All of these experiences shape who we are. And being able to vicariously relive them in a story gives us a chance to reflect on our own lives. That’s what I love about reading.
Every day, I’m thankful that I write for a living. When the going gets tough, I remind myself that it’s all worth it. Because in the end, you have the opportunity to create stories that move people. And that’s what makes it meaningful.
Tell us about your writing process.
I plan out everything in my books beforehand. But I don’t create a rigid, ironclad outline. It’s more like a weather forecast. In other words, I write down what I think will happen. But things might not turn out the way I expected. If I find a better inspiration along the way, I’ll go with that.
A few years ago, I wrote an e-book called “Instant Plot: Planning Your Novel the Easy Way” and it turned into a pretty popular class at writing conferences. (Note: you can still get the free e-book at http://laurencemacnaughton.com/get-a-professional-writing-critique/)
In a nutshell, here’s my theory of Instant Plot. Practically any story in the world follows the acronym FICTION:
F = Flaw. What’s already wrong in a relationship, situation, or character?
I = Incident. What sudden change threatens the lead character’s “world”?
C = Choice. What’s the lead character’s plan to fix this new situation?
T = Trouble. Who and what stands in the lead character’s way?
I = In Vain. What happens when all seems lost? What does the lead character finally realize?
O = Overcome. How does the lead character finally solve the problem?
N = New Normal. What does the “after” picture look like?
There. Now I just told you how to outline your next book. You’re welcome.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I once got to hear Orson Scott Card talk about his writing method. He went on at great length about how the voices of his characters talked to him. The voices told him to do this, he said, the voices told him to do that.
As he droned on, a friend leaned over to me and said in a stage whisper, “My voices are telling me to kill!”
The audience cracked up. Orson Scott Card was not amused.
But the thing is, that really is how it works. You hear the characters in your head, the same way you can hear the voices of your parents or your friends. You know what they would say in a certain situation. And when you’re writing a book, you can turn that into the story.
What advice would you give other writers?
An aspiring author recently asked me for advice on hitting the “big time.” So I asked him a question:
If you do the same things that big-time authors do, then doesn’t it stand to reason that you’ll get the same results that big-time authors get?
If we want to be skinny, then we need to do what skinny people do. Not what we imagine they do — not with some crash diet or weird supplement — but what they actually do. Eat healthy foods, exercise, break up with Little Debbie.
Same thing if we want to be rich. We need to get out of debt, live on less than we earn, invest wisely, read the Wall Street Journal, follow all of the behaviors of America’s millionaires (and there are ten million of them today).
Writing is no different. To become a big author, you need to do the same things big authors do.
I’ve interviewed dozens of best-selling authors, and almost every single one has told me that they write every day. Most of them piled up a stack of manuscripts before they finally got one published – and then they wrote another half-dozen or dozen books before they hit the bestseller list.
So the lesson is clear. First, write every day. Second, don’t worry so much about any one manuscript.
Your career is a process, not a destination. If you want to hit the big time, you need to constantly write new books and market them. It’s dirt simple.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. But it is simple.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I’d love to be able to say that there is one clear-cut answer to whether an author should self-publish or sign with a traditional publisher. But every case is unique.
For instance, look at my friend Hugh Howey, who couldn’t get the time of day from traditional publishers. He kept self-publishing, and when Wool took off, publishers came pounding down his door. But they all wanted the electronic rights, in addition to print rights. And that just wouldn’t have been a good deal for him, because that would have meant giving up the e-book success he had worked so hard to build.
Luckily, he teamed up with my literary agent, the unstoppable Kristin Nelson. She negotiated an absolutely outstanding deal from Hugh’s perspective — he got to keep the lucrative electronic rights, and got a major publisher on board to do the print edition.
The lesson here is that you need to weigh your options carefully, and team up with smart people. Don’t jump to a decision, and don’t try to do it completely alone.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
There has never been a more interesting time to be an author. Not just because of e-books, but because of the potential to collaborate with publishing professionals all around the world, instantly. As an author, you now have the option to put together the very best team for your particular project.
It’s an exciting time for readers, too. Anyone can now enjoy your stories in any format: paper book, e-book, audiobook, whatever they prefer. And it’s all available instantly. Plus, readers can enjoy new emerging technologies like Booktrack.com, where you can read an e-book enhanced with sound effects and music.
Those trends will only accelerate. New technologies, greater collaboration, and easier access to your favorite authors. The future looks bright.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
Thrillers, Suspense, Urban Fantasy, Mystery
What formats are your books in?
eBook, Print, Both eBook and Print