Today I have the pleasure of interviewing a good friend of mine and fellow writer E.M. Whittaker. EM and I both started our writing journey around the same time. She’s been a huge encouragement to me throughout the process. We’ve learned a lot of the same lessons, and I can’t wait to see where her writing takes her.
Hey, EM, tell us a little about yourself and your background?
My name is E.M. Whittaker and I write urban fantasy/paranormal mystery with different elements, such as dark fantasy, horror and crime. Some of this stems from going to school for criminal justice – other elements are taken from real life experiences, which make the characters more realistic about their decisions and backgrounds.
I started writing back in middle school with fanfiction stories, but transitioned into writing fiction in 2012. After five drafts and several short story acceptances, my first book will release on December 3, 2016.
What genre are your books?
Urban fantasy/paranormal. Depending on the material, it can contain elements of dark fantasy, horror, crime, suspense and romance.
My first series will not focus on romance, simply because the main characters are finding closure about their spouses. My second series definitely has this factor incorporated, but it won’t be X-rated or erotica proportions.
So, what have you written?
Right now, I only have Turbulence, and it’s releasing on December 3rd, 2016.
Drift is pending release between late March and early April of 2017, after editing is complete. However, Holly Heisey’s done some amazing stuff with my covers, and you can see the comparison for branding. Both covers received excellent feedback from readers.
In addition to my two book releases between December and March of 2017, I’m also involved in several anthologies. An NDA prevents me from promoting some projects, but I can show you ones I’ve been given permission to advertise and discuss.
The first one is called Black Magic Massacre. Cover art drawn by Stephen Cooney, and edited by John Ledger.
The story is about 10,000 words, but this focuses on another character who’s featured in her own series after The Renegades Saga ends called The Soulstealer Chronicles.
Soulstealer: The Dark Mistresses’ Enigma, features a hybrid mage/shifter named Eileen Fraser and her demonic symbiote, Ilda Lovox. They are Keith Travis’ antagonists in Injustice, his prequel story releasing sometime in 2017. Known as Soulstealer, Eileen’s backstory begins after her memories and identity were wiped and sealed away to serve the Sect’s needs. After a chance encounter in her previous kingdom, one entity reminds her of her purpose and her quest for redemption begins.
(This story does not have zombies, I promise.)
Eileen becomes a support character in book three, but the short story ends as Travis is spying on Aviere in Chapter Ten of Turbulence. So it’s a tie-in for the series, but it worked out well.
The other anthology is also with JEA Press called Nocturnal Nightmares.
The story featured is called Phantasm, which also ties directly into my first series, The Renegades Saga.
Phantasm features Keith Travis, the male protagonist assigned with a female mafia mistress to stop their rivals from destroying Charm City. However, this anthology focused on nightmares, and it was more horror based. So I took from an instance inside Travis’ backstory, which was shorter than I intended.
Since this short was accepted, I’ve decided to feature a standalone based on this character at the request of beta readers from my first book. If you want to hear an excerpt, I did a reading for Wicked Little Things: Nocturnal Nightmares Before Christmas, which you can listen to on the computer.
If this book is part of a series, tell us a little about it.
Turbulence is book one of five in The Renegades Saga, featuring Aviere Mye, a previous donna of the mafia looking for closure about her loved one’s disappearances after losing her own territory. When she starts her own investigation, she is a capodecina – a person who runs a unit of ten or less and can be specialized in performing assassinations. She’s also the famous Poisoner of Charm City, which earned her a less than favorable reputation, despite being the best at her profession.
Her dream is to become a professional street racer like her mother and leave the life of crime behind her; but when a copycat murders her bosses using her methods, Aviere’s forced to work for her hated nemesis for protection.
This single action begins her journey into finding answers into her loved one’s disappearances while trying to balance her family life, her dreams, aspirations and keeping her enemies at bay—including her new partners, Keith Travis and Shawn Peters.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
In this series, I have two main characters, because their stories tie close together.
Aviere Mye’s special because she’s a catgirl with a genetic mutation and no hope of a cure, yet continuously struggles to live life to the fullest. Her plate’s pretty full, considering she’s constantly a target for everyone she encounters. But she’s managed so much in a short span of time, despite the hardships she and her family endure, such as perfecting her craft, pulling people together and accepting everyone despite their racial and cultural differences.
Oh, and her night job – racing the streets for money so she can make expensive medicine for herself and others in need.
She becomes the “unofficial” leader in her three-man cell, comprising of a mage, a shifter and a human – three factions constantly at war within Baltimore City (or Charm City, if you prefer).
Keith Travis became a main character by accident, because he was Aviere’s antagonist. He still is, but it depends on the situation. As someone working on the opposite side of the law, his boss forces him with Aviere for protection, but his experiences with shifters remains jaded after a series of bad events. Because he’s the mage in this situation, he’s required to balance the use of his powers with the skills from his job in law enforcement.
I think the reason he’s special is because he offsets everything Aviere’s cast aside as she became cold and reckless. He’s the type of person who’s willing to accept changes as necessary and finds that she becomes a beacon of hope in his dark-infested world. Over time, he shifts from wanting to use her to helping her – despite history repeating itself at the last book. Just as Aviere forces Travis to hone on his weaknesses he fears and to embrace his strengths, he does the same for her. It takes a special person to allow someone to fall and constantly pull them up, allowing them to draw strength when they have none left to give and learn from their mistakes.
The two share a bond laced with tragedy and turned it into something important – one where romantic bonds aren’t necessary. Good stories don’t need romance to draw readers in and make them care about their blight. With the loss of their spouses comes the need to survive, and that’s what I wanted to show. Character development is important, not just romance at the first man who passes, even if the protagonist and antagonist hate their guts.
To read more about Aviere Mye and her talents, please reference the Duel to the Death post Andy made on his website.
What’s more important: characters or plot?
I find the best stories contain both of these elements. A perfect story contains these in an equal balance. Without one, there cannot be an epic story.
If you have too much characterization, you may risk info dumping a backstory and readers will grow bored. If you have too much plot, the reader can’t get to know the characters for themselves or associate with them. Sure, you can have a plot driven book, but I’m reading it because I CARE about the characters, not to just see the plot end. A good book will have you emotional and attached to the characters at the end of the story, leaving you with either satisfaction or demanding more.
So in essence, my goal is to achieve this balance and have readers enjoy my work, which is why my answer remains as such.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Since this was a first book, I have quite a few things I surprised myself with. I’m talking mistakes, because everyone messes up their first book.
I found I write sentences backwards and don’t notice typos that aren’t highlighted. I mean, I replaced shut the door with sh*t so many times, someone joked about it while reading it once. I was mortified, but it’s stuck with me and one reason I decided to hire an editor and proofreader.
I also found that some topics are not worth researching, and others you need specific key words for. Don’t ever look up crotch rocket on Google for motorcycles unless you’re prepared for some racy pictures. True story.
Last, I blew my first cover and it was a flop. Lighting issues made it impossible to read as an ebook cover, so I had to commission someone else to redo the entire thing. Holly Heisey was the best investment I’ve made, and she’s agreed to do the covers for the rest of my series and standalones. I’m impressed with the detailed covers and how she also managed to work in awesome page break illustrations to fit the theme for my series.
We’re also planning to overhaul the cast page sometime next year when she has openings, since she books quickly.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I use a working outline, meaning I write my major plot points (about 2-3 per chapter) and then write the first draft. Sometimes, the actions may not work while others fit like a puzzle. When this happens, I can step back and use what’s working to incorporate more of those elements into those that don’t mesh together.
However, the characters don’t always behave. This depends on if they evolved throughout other chapters or not. I found that my second draft of Drift, several characters started showing themselves more, which means the book will be longer than the first. Some evolutions stay while others go, such as if the humor fits the dynamic or if the action fits that character’s reaction. This might change a chapter or two, but changing stuff works if it moves the story and motivates your readers.
What are you working on right now?
I’m in the process of editing Drift, which is book two. Hopefully I won’t need five drafts this time, but I only anticipate two. I’ve got a deadline to hand this in by January for a March/April release. I learned with Turbulence that rushing editing’s a bad idea, so I’m giving myself more time to perfect this story. I used this for NaNoWriMo instead of my original idea.
In January, I’m planning on drafting Break (book three) while I’m waiting for edits. From there, it’s a matter of picking which standalone novel I want to work on, since I can’t work on just one series of characters for a certain amount of time. Basically, I sprinkle it out a little so I don’t burn myself out.
The standalone I wanted to write for NaNo isn’t ready, because I have to go back five years before the series begins, where a character’s mindset is completely different than portrayed inside The Renegades Saga. Once I’m past Drift, I should be able to write Travis’ story effectively, since it’s a subplot in the second book and the two characters involved are almost opposite personalities verses where they stand in the current universe.
I anticipate a 2017 release for Injustice – just not sure when, because this was the question posed the most by beta readers.
Also, I’d like to release a personalized collection of short stories in an anthology within the universe, because there were some ideas that didn’t make it into the book. Readers love learning information about characters, especially ones they can associate with, so it’s really a treat for them.
For other projects, check out my status page – I’m updating it as projects are completed.
On top of my workload, I’m still continuing to write short story submissions and query around to build up my portfolio. So I’m always busy with a project – there’s never a real day off in my home.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read, of course. What writer doesn’t like reading? I tend to read paranormal, urban fantasy, sci-fi, fantasy and dark fantasy. I’m also into intellectual stuff, so every once in a while, I read psychological books and self-help.
Drawing’s another. In fact, you can check out my doodles. It’s one way I conceptualize characters.
I found I like cooking, too. Since learning about gluten/dairy intolerance, I’ve learned to make my own food and lost weight doing it. It wasn’t always fun, but it’s a great way to let out anxiety when I’m having a bad day.
I also like gaming. RPGs and hack/slash are my thing, but I hang out on Final Fantasy 14, too. My current guilty pleasure is Hyrule Warriors.