A Conversation with C.S. Lakin
C.S. Lakin is a prolific author, blogger and advocate for writers, with her website Live Write Thrive (http://livewritethrive.com/ which is aptly named), writing workshops and critiquing/editing services. As an author of fairy tales for adults, she combines Christian scripture with myth and fairy tale to evoke fascinating worlds.
It is a treat to experience her work, fiction or nonfiction, because of the heart behind her words. It was a pleasure to chat with her about her Gates of Heaven series, her upcoming workshop and how-to book – Shoot Your Novel – and to get a broader perspective on writing and engaging with others in this digital, fast-paced age.
Interviewer: Joanna Celeste
Q: As an author of fairy tales for adults, you manage to employ recurring themes and rich textures without upsetting the balance between too much or too little description and the messages don’t become overly repetitive. How do you weave these aspects into your stories?
A: Thanks for the compliment on my writing.
I always start with themes, since those are the most important to me. And once I have themes, I try to come up with some motifs, which can be ideas or quotes, that are repeated by the characters throughout. As far as textures go, I’m all about beautiful language and imagery—the more the better.
I’ve been writing novels for nearly 30 years. I have over a million words in print. So it’s just putting that requisite 10,000 hours in to become proficient as a writer. I feel like it takes about 4-5 novels to get a voice, a style, a rhythm. I think craft/skill is 95% and the other 5% is inspiration and creativity. That’s why a lot of untalented people can write good, successful books without really having talent. My agent told me that—only 5% is talent. But sometimes that 5% is amazing and stands out. But overall, writing is like learning anything. It’s a skill anyone can learn if they put their mind to it. I’ve just developed my style through practice, such that I rarely ever write past a first draft. I usually edit and proofread my first draft and it’s done. I plot extensively but also listen to my intuition. I just wrote a blog post on that. And now I have a series on mind mapping and brainstorming, and I do that a lot.
Q: What is your favorite method of research for your Gates of Heaven series?
A: I read fairy tales. Hundreds of them. I’m finishing the last book, though, and I am so happy with the variety of themes and topics and characters. I feel I have created a wonderful, amazing world.
Q: Even as a series, each book stands alone. Does your process of writing change with a Gates of Heaven book from your process of writing your contemporary fiction or other fiction such as Time Sniffers?
A: Hmm, if you are talking about the difference between writing a series and a stand-alone, there can be huge differences. With a seven-book series like mine, I have one overarching world with overlapping locales and characters, but with a complete fairy tale in the story. Since I decided to have seven sites in seven places, I had to create almost a new world for each book. It’s been a challenge but the last book is like the final curtain, bringing all the main characters from the first six books together, although I’m trying to also make it a stand-alone book. And it’s a story within a story within a story, so that’s a huge challenge.
Q: Wow! That will be fascinating to see how you create that, when the books are already multi-layered.
You have held a series of “Writing for Life” workshops for writers earlier this year, with your next event scheduled for December (“Sizzling Scenes”). What do you enjoy most with these workshops?
A: I love teaching these workshops and seeing how these new perspectives help writers become better writers. All the material I teach is also on my blog, Live Write Thrive.
Q: What can we expect from “Sizzling Scenes”?
A: I created this workshop because I see as the biggest problem with my critique and editing clients that few writers know how to correctly craft a scene. There really are “rules” to structuring scenes, and I like to liken it to preparing a meal, with many different entrees. A dish must have spices, have a surprise, leave a specific aftertaste, etc. You’ll just have to take the workshop to get the whole flavor!
Q: I love that analogy. Among your posts on Live Write Thrive are those about “shooting your novel,” some of which will be included in your upcoming how-to. What inspired you to approach novel-writing in the context of film technique?
A: I was raised in the TV industry and spent my growing-up years reading scripts and on sets. So I have a cinematic take on writing fiction. Some of the best novelists were first screenwriters. It’s crucial to make scenes visual in a way the reader can picture events unfolding in real time. Readers are so accustomed to movies and TV that they expect book scenes to also have this technique. This entire year covers all this movie technique. The book, Shoot Your Novel, will hopefully be out soon!
Q: On Live Write Thrive you share your critique checklist and different paid options for your critique services. What is the most challenging, and the most rewarding, aspect to critiquing the works of others?
A: I love the challenge of working on every kind of genre with clients in six continents. It’s so fun and exciting. The reward is in seeing writers grow in their love of writing and their ability. I’ve watched so many writers I’ve coached go from writing a train wreck of a novel to a masterpiece that sells big or wins awards. I love helping writers as much as I love writing, so I’m always torn between wanting to do both. Right now I work full-time doing critiques and edits, and still write two novels a year. It’s a challenge but I don’t want to cut back on either activity.
Q: That’s amazing! How do you manage to juggle everything?
A: I get up early, run two miles on my treadmill at about 6:30, spend most of the morning working in between throwing the Frisbee for the lab. I go to the library from 11-5. I write fast because I’ve learned to do that. I don’t rush my editing, though.
Q: Smart to have a schedule like that. You share many articles and guest posts on your site, and you have built quite a large social media presence. There is a fine line between being engaged and becoming overloaded–how do you navigate that?
I was taught the best way to draw fans and readers and clients is to share as much free information as possible, and I love to do that, so I dedicate a lot of my time to my blog. I write about 150,000 words a year on my blog, the equivalent of a couple of novels. I also tweet my posts, put on Facebook, and share with about 30 LinkedIn groups. I love how discussions ensue and people write me every day to thank me for the great info. Basically I felt I wasted twenty years as a writer floundering around not knowing what I was doing, so my hope is to teach methods in a way that will spare other writers the grief I went through.
Q: Much appreciated! On your site, you offer your editing services. How would you say editing others has strengthened you as a writer?
A: Editing definitely helps me as a writer, especially reading so many beginning novels and noting what is missing or wrong.
Q: How did you develop as an editor—were you an editor first, or did you learn as you wrote and worked with other editors?
A: I’ve been writing novels for nearly thirty years. I’ve also been editing a while but didn’t begin taking it seriously, in terms of learning Chicago style and making book editing my career, until five years ago. I was still writing novels full-time, but in the last two years moved to full-time editing. Since I’ve written about fourteen novels, in a half-dozen genres, I began to specialize in critiques, since most editors aren’t novelists, so now about 90% of my work is critiques—I do about 200 a year of various lengths. I have a couple of great copyeditors on my team who often do the initial content editing for my clients, but I always have my hands and eyes on the projects and do all the final proofreading. I’ve never “worked” with other editors, but I am on editing loops and groups and learn from others as well as share my insights with them.
Q: That’s great. Your website (cslakin.com) notes “In all her books she seeks to journey to the heart of human motivation, to uncover unmet needs, and show the path to healing and grace.” When and how did you determine this was what you wanted to evoke with your writing?
I’ve been through a lot of pain and misery in my life, spiritually and emotionally. Like many, I’ve used my writing as a cathartic way to understand and process those experiences. I’ve always been fascinated by the human psyche, and love how complex people are. I’m a very character-driven novelist and most of my books are relational dramas or journeys of the heart for my characters.
Q: Yes, I enjoy that about your work. Is there anything else you would like to say?
A: I don’t sleep (just kidding). Really, although people look at what I do and are astonished, I look at some of my other author friends and they make me feel like I’m downright lazy. Meaning, don’t compare yourself with other writers. Their journey is their own, and yours is your own. Write because you love it. Cherish the freedom you have to write, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, and remember there are a lot of other people like you out there trying to be the best writer they can be. They are not your competition. Let them be your inspiration. God has a plan for your life and your writing. He won’t tell you what it is, and more than likely, it will not look like the plan you have. That’s how He works. I’m trying to live in that place in peace. It’s not easy, but if you focus on the joy of telling a story and be there to encourage and help others, the journey will be an utter blast! Take off!