Today in the Writer's Corner, we meet Amy Elmore.
Amanda: Hi, Amy. Welcome to the Writer’s Corner, where we talk all things writing in our corner of the world!
Amy: Hi! I’m excited to be here!
Amanda: You’re currently working on your first book. Tell us anything and everything!
Amy: Oh boy, where to start? Blood Rose is the first installment of a series I’ve been working on for almost seventeen years, a contemporary dark fantasy with roots in ancient history, mythology, and fairy tales. It weaves together the stories of a mother and daughter, Cassie and Ranae, as they struggle to free themselves from the sinister curse that has plagued their family for centuries.
Amanda: Have you based any of your characters on real people? Are you going to tell them?
Amy: Most of my characters have a little bit of someone I know in them, but only one is based heavily on a real person. I have a friend who is dying of cancer, and she asked me to write her story after she got the diagnosis. We’ve been through a lot together and she means the world to me, so I promised her I would. At first, I didn’t know how to handle it because I write fantasy, and the story of her life is, by its very nature, grounded in reality. Then I realized I could use the real circumstances in her life as a touchstone, modifying them a little bit to fit my story while still sharing and honoring the truths she wants told about her. When readers meet Marian in Book 3, they’ll be vicariously introduced to my friend Ollie in all her feisty strength and elegance.
Amanda: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Amy: A bit of both. I always start out with a few loosely connected ideas and explore where they take me. As I write the first draft, more and more ideas evolve naturally from what is happening on the page until the characters and story take a firmer shape. It’s almost like the story is telling itself, which is a lot of fun. Eventually, things develop to a point where I’m able to start planning things out, but I still leave plenty of room for flexibility. That’s where the magic happens for me: in discovering what I don’t know yet as the story takes an unexpected turn. Some of my favorite characters and plot twists have been created that way.
Amanda: And what have you edited out of the book?
Amy: A lot, actually! The first draft of Blood Rose weighed in at a hefty 185,000 words, and I had to cut that down to 115,000 to meet publishing industry standards. Most of the trimming came from tightening up the text itself, but I also rearranged the book’s timeline a bit to streamline events and cut a few scenes that turned out to be superfluous. In the end, though, I managed to whittle the book down to size without sacrificing a single element vital to the plot or character arcs. I’m really proud of that.
Amanda: Have you hidden any secrets in the story? Can you give us a little insight to what to look out for?
Amy: Oh, yes. I’ve always loved multilayered stories embedded with subtle clues and symbolism, so that’s what I strive for in my own writing. In this particular series, a lot of the symbolism comes from the language of flowers, although the meaning doesn’t always match standard floriography. There are also clues in allusions to other works of fiction that tell related stories, and even a message in Morse code hiding in one of Ranae’s dream sequences in the first book. Readers don’t need to pick up on these things in order to understand or enjoy the story, but my hope is that the ones who do will be delighted by them the way I’ve adored delving into the complexities of works by Patricia McKillip, David Lynch, and Richard Kennedy.
Amanda: Is writing something you’ve always wanted to do?
Amy: Absolutely. I wrote my first story at the age of four, and by the time I was seven, it was almost impossible to drag me away from the imaginary worlds on the page.
Amanda: And how did you get into editing?
Amy: I started out as a freelance copywriter and editor working with bloggers, entrepreneurs, and regional companies. I enjoyed it well enough and gained a lot of valuable experience, but my real passion has always been fiction. Over the years, I found myself doing more and more work for friends on the side as they prepared their novels for submission or self-publication. Eventually, I decided to focus on editing fiction exclusively, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
Amanda: Now, I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with you, so I already know the answer to this one, but I’m going to ask anyway. What makes you unique as an editor?
Amy: Aw, that’s so sweet of you! Thank you! I think one of the things that makes me unique is how much of myself I bring to the job. I’m very passionate about helping writers, and that passion comes through in everything I do. I’ll always go the extra mile to support someone and make sure they’re thrilled with how their book turns out, whether that means sending a care package while they muddle through revisions or popping in for a late-night brainstorming session when they get stuck.
On the more technical side of things, my editorial superpower is being able to take a bird’s-eye view of a manuscript as a whole, then mentally disassemble its elements and put them back together in various combinations until I find the strongest, most compelling path for the stories and characters to take. It’s something I taught myself to do when revising my own work, and then put into practice with my first official job as a fiction editor to untangle a novel with many complex, interweaving plot lines. I still think of my work on that book, The Suicide of Dandy Granger by Armani Mondragón, as one of my greatest accomplishments as an editor.
Amanda: Is there a special trick in being able to jump from writing to editing?
Amy: I’m not sure if there’s a trick to it, but I’ve found I have no trouble transitioning between copyediting and writing. I think that’s because I always edit my writing as I go, so I’m used to doing both at the same time. On the other hand, if I’ve been immersed in analyzing the plot and characters of someone else’s book for a developmental edit, it takes me a couple of weeks to clear my head before I can go back to my own fiction
Amanda: Have you ever been told any writing advice that changed your practice?
Amy: Yes. When I first started to look at cutting word count, I was distraught because I thought the only way to do that was to cut actual content from the book--whole scenes, perhaps even a subplot or some of the characters. I didn’t see how I could possibly shorten the book enough without gutting it. Then another writer told me it was more about trimming the text by getting rid of filler words, unnecessary phrases and sentences, etc. That was a huge revelation for me. I cut 50,000 words on my first pass through the manuscript that way, and I’ve never looked back.
Amanda: And do you have any advice for writers who are starting out?
Amy: Writing is like any other skill: it takes time and practice to develop. Don’t be surprised or discouraged if your stories don’t wow readers right away. Be willing to put effort into honing your fiction and finding your unique voice as a writer. I promise it will pay off. Absorb as many other stories as possible, and don’t limit yourself to books--movies, graphic novels, and TV shows are valid forms of storytelling as well, and can teach you different things about the craft. Think about what you did or didn’t like about those stories and why the writers made those choices. You can learn a lot even if you disagree with the direction another writer takes their story, especially if you keep an open mind and understand that disagreeing with or disliking something doesn’t necessarily mean the writer made a mistake.
Amanda: Thank you so much, Amy!
Amy: Thank you, Amanda! I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.
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