Author interview: Chris Mandeville on writer’s block and fiction v/s non-fiction

On the eve of the release of her book ‘Quake’, here’s an interview with our guest writer, American sci-fi/ fantasy novelist Chris Mandeville. After growing up in California and graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, Chris married a U.S. Air Force officer and moved from state to state, as well as to British Columbia, before settling in Colorado, USA. She now lives in the woods of the Rocky Mountains with her family and her service dog, Finn.

Chris writes science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories, as well as non-fiction books for writers. She’s a member of The Sparkling Hammers, a critique group of eclectic writers that provides inspiration, support, and friendship essential to her writing process. Her published works include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure, Undercurrents: an Anthology of What Lies Beneath, and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block. 

In her guest post, she wrote about the inspiration for her first novel, Seeds. In today’s author interview with Human Writes, Chris talks writer’s block, how to choose genres, and fiction versus non-fiction.

You’ve held loads of writing workshops and contribute to various websites. What are you currently involved in?

Right now I’m the co-director of Superstars Writing Seminars (www.superstarswriting.com). I develop new programming, oversee the curriculum, help select speakers, and manage the logistics of the conference. I also participate by teaching workshops, speaking on panels, and leading the popular “First Pages Party” where I help critique other authors’ work.

How does your own writing rhythm fit into these duties? Do you have a writing ritual?

I like to write in “binges” rather than for a set amount each day, so a typical writing day for me is to tank up on coffee at breakfast, then write all day until something forces me to stop (sometimes that’s making dinner or sometimes I’ll write late into the evening). It’s not uncommon for me to put in more than eight hours on a writing day, and lately I’ve been writing four days a week.

On non-writing days I take care of my duties for the Superstars conference, work on marketing my own books, and handle non-writing responsibilities like grocery shopping. If I’m on a tight writing deadline, I’ll sneak in an hour or two of writing on a non-writing day, but typically I prefer to binge-write on writing days and not write at all on the other days.

I don’t have any writing rituals. The only essentials—besides time—are coffee and my laptop, though it never hurts to have a dog sleeping at my feet!

How did you choose science fiction and fantasy as your genres?

I didn’t set out to write in science fiction or fantasy. SF/F kind of chose me. My writing process usually begins with a “what if” question or a scenario, and all my ideas seem to fall under the umbrella of “speculative fiction.”

I’ve tried writing in other genres, but those stories invariably fizzle out. Now that I have multiple publications in SF/F, I’m planning to stick with it so I can keep my reader base happy. Plus writing SF/F makes me happy, too.

unstuck-book

Your book 52 Ways to Get Unstuck got quite a few writers out of a rut.

52 Ways to Get Unstuck is a comprehensive guide to overcoming writer’s block, including suggestions for how to prevent it from occurring. It includes innovative exercises, anecdotes, and advice from dozens of authors.

I believe that being “stuck” as a writer can mean lots of different things. It can mean not knowing what to do next in the plot or when to reveal a critical clue. It can mean not knowing how the heroine should react when she meets the hero. It can mean writing words you hate and subsequently delete. It can mean the inability to get in The Zone where the words flow easily. It might mean being stuck on a specific element, or it might refer to a general feeling of “everything I write is wrong.” It can mean sitting down to write and no words will come.

The reasons for being stuck are also varied, including having an overly critical inner editor, feeling too “in love” with our own words, and being unable to focus.

My theory is that it’s not essential to know how you’re stuck or why in order to get unstuck. The exercises in 52 Ways to Get Unstuck can help regardless of the details of your personal version of writer’s block. In fact, I think that when you do know the exact reason you’re stuck, attacking that problem head-on can sometimes be less effective than coming at it sideways with a random exercise.

What advice would you give to writers at a crossroads about choosing their fiction genre?

I strongly recommend choosing a genre you love because you’re going to be spending a lot of time in it! It doesn’t have to be your favorite genre to read—my favorite is mystery—but it should be a genre you enjoy. If you’re not already widely read in your chosen genre, familiarize yourself with the seminal works, as well as current bestsellers, so you have a good understanding of the field, the tropes, and reader expectations.

Which book are you working on next?

Right now I’m writing a young adult time travel series, In Real Time. The first book, Quake, will be released May-end.

FINAL COVER QUAKE E-FINAL.jpg

[Here’s the description:

Time traveling thieves. A stolen kiss. A wormhole to the heist of the century.

Fifteen-year-old Allie Bennett is a con artist, a pickpocket, and on her last chance at an end-of-the-line foster home. On a normal day of ditching school and pulling cons, she learns her mom—who disappeared when she was ten—isn’t a crazy but is actually a time traveler. And Allie’s one, too.

When Allie is kidnapped by a Mean Girl who heads a crew of time traveling thieves, she thinks she’s hit the jackpot—she gets to travel back to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to pull the heist of the century and find her mom.

Only things don’t go quite as planned.

It turns out that time travelers are hunted, her crew might be killers, and everyone has a secret agenda. As she races to find her mom, she must stay ahead of the governors who’ll do anything to keep her from changing history. She has to pull off the con of her life if she’s going to make it out alive.]

For any blog readers interested in this story, I’m offering a free e-book of Quake. Simply click on this link and follow the instructions to join my Advance Reader Team: http://eepurl.com/dufpZn

Talk about fiction versus non-fiction; the challenges and the advantages.

For me, writing fiction and writing non-fiction are very different processes. I enjoy both, but in different ways. Maybe it’s clichéd to say, but I feel like writing fiction uses a different part of my brain—a more creative part—than writing non-fiction.

With my non-fiction writing, the process is quite structured and planned out. I typically do an immense amount of research. I love research! Also I find the predictability of my non-fiction writing process to be comfortable and enjoyable. I feel very much at home writing non-fiction.

For fiction writing, while I do plan, research, and keep structure in mind, the process is more free-form and driven by creativity. I personally find writing fiction to be more challenging than writing non-fiction. I also find it to be more fun and rewarding, perhaps because it’s more challenging, or perhaps because for me the process is more rich creatively.

The advantages and challenges for writing fiction versus non-fiction are personal to each writer. For me, going back and forth between the two is my biggest challenge—I do better when I stick to one and finish a project before switching gears and moving to the other.

Which are your favourite books on writing?

  1. GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon
  2. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
  3. Writing the Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCutcheon

Was it a conscious decision to live a quiet life in the forest

My husband and I chose to live in the woods primarily so we could provide a healthy outdoor environment for our children, but it has proved to be the perfect spot for writing. I can write almost anywhere, but living in the woods gives me the solitude, privacy, and peace I need to immerse myself in my work. My usual writing spot is a comfy chair where I have a great view of the outdoors, the only sound is the wind in the trees, and my coffee cup is within reach.

Learn more and become a member of her reader group at chrismandeville.com

On the subject of authors, here are some inspiring posts from other bloggers you might enjoy:

The 2018 Author Interview Series Featuring D. Wallace Peach

Update – Richard M Ankers

All authors need help – Entertaining stories

Ten questions never to ask an author – John W Howell

Intro to Author & Blogger: Marco Etheridge

One thought on “Author interview: Chris Mandeville on writer’s block and fiction v/s non-fiction

  1. I like Chris’s assessment of what it means to be stuck and how “stuckness” can be for a variety of reasons. I write through it with sheer grit and determination and find that the muse loosens up a bit when I do. Thanks for the link too to my interview. Much appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

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