Thursday, April 20, 2006

Five Questions With....C. E. Murphy

Back with us today is C. E. Murphy!!! Without further delay...


Describe your writing process a bit. Do you plot each and every arc? Do you use music to help set the mood? How do you get through any rough patches? Is your focus limited to 1 manuscript or do you multi-task?

Okay, that's like five questions right there! Lemme take 'em one at a time...

My *typical* writing process goes something like this:

I blow through the first third of a book--doesn't matter how long; can be 80K, can be 150K; the way I process a book is in thirds, and so no matter the length, I typically go charging through the first third, then run up against a wall like there's no tomorrow. That means I've done something wrong. 9 times out of 10, I've made something too easy for my main character. At that point, I have to go back and fix what I've done before I can go on. The writing tends to slow down a little as I slog toward the 2/3rds or 3/4ths mark. By that time, I'm usually wondering if 1. I've got enough story to get to the wordcount I need, and 2. if I've got enough wordcount to get to the end of the story. (Yes, I realize those are diametrically opposed statements. Let us not be bogged down by the details.) I've discovered in the last several books I've written that I'm skipping the penultimate and sometimes antepenultimate, writing the final chapter, then going back and writing those last few in between ones after I've gone through the whole manuscript and fixed all the problems I can see in it. By that time, I'm usually pretty satisfied with the state of the thing--I tend to regard that last stage as my third draft--and at that point I generally send it to my editor and agent, who more or less inevitably point out the things that would make it a better book. Things I just can't see at that juncture, so it's insanely helpful.

Not all books go like that, of course, but that's fairly typical.

I do write synopses, these days. I don't plot each and every story arc, and things that surprise me always crop up in the story. Most of the time I go with them--for me, going with the gut instinct is usually the right thing to do. It's when I don't that I find myself against those walls. I try to remember to keep the synopsis open, because even if I don't follow it exactly (which I never do), having sat down and worked out at least a general idea of how to get to the end of the book is very helpful, and if I get stuck I can go look and say, "Ah! That's what I wanted to have happen next! How can I do that?" and go from there.

Very nearly the only time I write to music is when there are so many other things going on I need something to block out the sounds. I grew up a dancer, and my relationship with music is apparently unlike other people's. I *really* *listen* to music when it's playing, which is very distracting when I'm trying to write. I tend to type the words from the songs. :)

That said, I did most of the revisions for HEART OF STONE (the first in the new Luna trilogy coming out in late 2007) to a Bon Jovi playlist, I have a slowly-increasing stack of Elizabethan-era music to listen to when I start work on THE QUEEN'S BASTARD (the new Del Rey title due out in Fall 2007), and nothing beats Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf for writing action-adventure romance, so that's Alisha's soundtrack. Honestly, Jo likes old movies, so if she's got a soundtrack, it probably includes, like, Cole Porter and Gene Kelly musicals, which I don't own enough of! Jazz and blues, all that kind of thing. :)

My favorite way of getting through rough patches is to take my husband out to lunch, say, "I'm stuck; this is where I am, this is where I need to be," and let him throw ideas out at me until something sticks. He's a plot machine (every writer should have one), and the best part is he doesn't get offended if I say something won't work. He just keeps coming up with new ideas until one clicks. And he loves that part, because evidently I get this certain *look* when something strikes me as Just Right, and then he knows he's hit a home run. :)

I'm capable of multi-tasking, but *mostly* I work on just one book. I have, um, 8 more books due over the next 2 years, so let's hope the one at a time thing works!

What inspired you to write URBAN SHAMAN? How did the character of Joanne Walker arrive on the scene (i. e., your brain)?

See that bit up there where I said my husband's a plot machine...?

We were flying into Seattle *very* early one morning and Ted looked out the window, then said, all thoughtful-like, "Wouldn't it be interesting if you were flying into a city like this and looked down and saw somebody running for her life? With something after her, like maybe the Wild Hunt or something? What would you do?"

Hence Joanne was born. Ethnically, she's a mix of Ted and myself--I'm Irish and he's got a trace of Cherokee blood in him--and when I began looking at the whole idea of that character, what I looked at was not only what I wanted to do, but also what other people had done. I wrote the book in Y2K, and at that point Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, with wizard Harry Dresden, were out, as, of course, were Laurell K. Hamilton's first several Anita Blake books. So what struck me immediately were two things: one, I wanted to do something that separated my story from that pack, and with the Native American heritage I had with the character, shamanism came to mind right away.

The second thing that struck me was that these characters--Harry and Anita--were already full-fledged wizards and necromancers when we met them. They knew what they were doing. They were part of this magical, mystical world. In Anita's world, everybody knew it existed; in Harry's, only a few did, but in both cases they were part and parcel of that scene. I thought, "Well, why hasn't somebody done a story with a character who lives in a completely normal, rational world, and is pulled into this mystical one and has to find some way to cope?" I thought that would not only be interesting to write, but that it'd give the reader a good in with the character: Jo's learning the ropes at the same time the reader is. So there you go. That's how it all got started!

Your website features titles by C. E. Murphy and Cate Dermoody. Why did you feel you needed to keep the genres separate?

Aaah! Yes, an oft-asked question. Well, it's an issue of branding. I know enough writers who have tried to cross genres and who've found themselves shelved in their original genre regardless of the genre of the new title that I thought it would be good to simply separate out the genres at the beginning. Since I was fortunate enough to sell in more than one genre early in my career, it wasn't like there was any kind of financial hit associated with changing my name. So when you pick up a C.E. Murphy book, you'll know you're getting a fantasy or science fiction novel, and if you pick up a Cate Dermody book, you'll know you're getting action-adventure romance (heavier, I admit, on the action-adventure than the romance!).
In the longer term, I hope to develop a couple more brand names, but we'll see how that works. I've kind of got my next couple years already cut out for me!

Another thing about your website -- it's a tease!! You list two more series (The Old Races Trilogy and The Dragon's Laughter) but you don't tell the reader what these books are about. Is that all part of your e-v-i-l plan to elicit more site traffic (*wink*) or do you just not know what they will be about until they're complete?

Oh, no, I know exactly what they're about. I'm just so bleeding busy writing the books I haven't had time to update the webpage! This is one of the flaws with doing your own site... :) But here, I'll tell you now and then I'll cut and paste it over to the website sometime, uh, soon. :)

The Old Races are another urban fantasy series, set this time in New York City. My pitch line for HEART OF STONE, the first book in the series, has been Lawyer Margrit Knight has met the perfect man--only he's a gargoyle, and wanted for murder.

Throughout the series as a while, well, once exposed to one of the self-named Old Races, Margrit finds herself drawn into a layer of society she never knew existed. Peopled by creatures out of human legend, the members of the Old Races wage their own kind of battle for dominance, not in the human world, but amongst themselves. Still, as many of them have successful human personas, their actions affect the ordinary world as well, and Margrit is caught in a position as an ambassador between her world and the one her gargoyle lover belongs to. As she becomes more valuable to crimelords and kingpins within the Old Races, she has to decide which world she wants to belong to--and figure out if she still has any choice in the matter.


The Dragon's Laughter is such a tentative series title I'm not even sure I should use it here. That series--there are currently two sold, with a third one planned (so everybody remember to go buy the first two as they come out in 2007 and 2008!) is what I would call epic science-fantasy (the first book particularly reads like fantasy, but as the trilogy goes on, it becomes more science-fictiony. Kind of like C.S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy.) with an erotic bent. The first book, THE QUEEN'S BASTARD, is about Belinda Primrose, the illegitimate daughter of a Reformation-era queen. Belinda grows up in the shadows, trained as an assassin, her mother's most deadly and least acknowledged weapon, but when alien blood in her heritage--her father's gift to his bastard child--allows her to begin influencing the people around her, she becomes a player on a political stage she was never meant to be a part of.

I'm enormously looking forward to working on this, as it's totally different from anything you'll have seen from me so far, and I think people will like it. Gives me a chance to stretch my wings a bit, and for a writer, that's always a good thing!

What's up next in your writing career? Any interesting characters trying to find their way onto paper?

Oh, my, yes. Endless numbers of them. But for the time being, I've got four series coming out over the next two years, and I'm not looking at any more sales for a while, I hope! I would like to eventually develop a few ongoing mystery series, and write some young adult stuff, but right now I've just got to keep my head down and keep writing!

In the immediate future, look for THUNDERBIRD FALLS by C.E. Murphy in May 2006, and THE FIREBIRD DECEPTION by Cate Dermody in June 2006!

Thank you so much, C. E.!!!

Jana's Note: Blogger is still being a pain. I am going to post these pictures because C. E.'s covers are just too awesome to remain hidden!


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