Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality
Fri Apr 16 2010

Author Interview: Todd Newton, Part 2

For those of you who missed it, Part 1 of this interview “aired” on Wednesday.

Aaand we’re back. So, Todd, let’s hear how 9A finally got from brain to bookshelf.

The Ninth Avatar started as an idea for a trilogy, and once I had the first “book” written (what became the first “half” of 9A) and ran it through a few rounds of edits and beta-reads, I did what a lot of writers do. I went straight into the query process.

Not that this is an outright mistake or anything, but I can say now that neither I nor the work was ready. We each needed more of a chance to mature. My numerous synopses and query letters were pretty lame, so I got a lot of form rejections. I wasn’t just sitting on my hands, though, because I wanted to continue the story into “book 2” and I also had another project I was working on (which eventually became my religious satire, Thomas Redpool Goes To Hell).

About halfway through writing “book 2,” I realized I didn’t have enough story for a “book 3.” This may sound odd, but it was one of those instinctual notions; I didn’t want to try to stretch the story, I wanted to keep it tense and coherent. So, two books became one, and I wrote all the way to the ending I thought it deserved. After a few more rounds of edits, I figured it was time to submit again.

I got more of a reaction this time, but it was mixed. One agent thought the MS was too long (at 154,000 words) which is a valid concern, especially for a debut author, and I received some more form rejections. I decided that, while I continued to work on other projects, the best way to move this one forward was to self-publish it. I figured the worst case would be a few people might read it, and maybe it would get my name out there. I never meant for self-publishing to be my “ultimate” goal, merely a stepping stone to other things, but I put as much effort into it as I could.

Months later, through a contact at my critique group I heard about Trapdoor Books and contacted the head of the startup publisher directly. He read both of my completed works, Thomas Redpool and The Ninth Avatar, then had others read them as well, and offered to acquire and publish the latter. After more rounds of edits, a new cover, design treatment, and months of discussion, the final version of the book is in its first print run of 5000 copies (including both trade paperback and hardcover) It’s also available in various electronic formats.

The story’s come quite a ways from being nothing but a hand-drawn map, a ton of concept art, and a meandering “summary” of chapters, and hopefully still has a long journey ahead of it.

Whew, I’ll say! But it seems to be well on its way. ^_^

Now that you can look back on this whole crazy journey, what was the hardest part of writing 9A?

The constant creeping suspicion that I had no idea what I was doing. More than anything else, we writers need confidence in our project and our process. I’m very lucky to have people around me who push me forward, like my wife and other writers, but during your first novel there is a lot of room for doubts like, “Can I really do this?” I obsessed about a lot of things that, in retrospect, proved to be far less important than people in the industry purport them to be. I should have been focusing on just getting it done.

Mmm, I definitely hear that… Well, on the flip side, what was the best part of writing 9A?

For me, the best part is when people read my work and have some kind of emotional reaction. Whether it is a resonance with the characters, agreement or disagreement with the concepts and conclusions, or just plain honest criticism, nothing beats the accomplishment of having created a coherent story that people respond to. Smaller victories include nailing a scene, not just getting excited that I wrote something the way it came together in my head but also that elation of “Now I get to have the character do this!” Writing is and always should be fun, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. That’s just the bottom line.

Writing is always fun, eh? I must be doing something wrong… Help me! What is your process like?

Disorganized. I am the epitome of a Type B personality, so I tend to write “organically,” which is a nice way of saying “by the seat of my pants.” Expanding on ideas as they come, focusing on the creativity aspect of writing; these are a few of my favorite things. I’m terrible at outlining, and I tend to under-write during my first draft, many times ignoring my responsibility to “describe” a scene in favor of just getting to the point. To write, all I need is a comfortable chair, my laptop & headphones, and a place that minimizes distraction. It also helps if I don’t have access to the Internet, which is why you can find me a Starbucks when I really want to get some work done on a project.

Ah, now I know the secret!

Well, hopefully this isn’t a secret: Do you have any other books or projects in the works?

Now that The Ninth Avatar is finished, the marketing push is ready to begin. The publisher and I will be posting on the Trapdoor Books blog with news and updates, and hopefully there will be something to tell soon about a possible “alternate reality game” as well as an iPhone app. But these are still under development.

My second book, Thomas Redpool Goes To Hell, is finished but not published in any form just yet. I’m kicking around the idea of doing a Podiobooks version of it. I’m also working on another Fantasy novel, a standalone separate from 9A’s universe, called Scions of the Shade. It’s coming along, but don’t get the idea that subsequent books get any easier to write (or finish!).

I do plan to return to 9A’s universe, though. After I finish Scions, I want to try my hand at writing a prequel & sequel in tandem, to be released that way as well. It should be fun and a challenge, which is everything a writer needs.

Indeed! Thanks again, Todd, for taking the time to tell us about your debut novel and all the hard (but fun!) work that went into it. I’m really excited for you, and I know 9A’s going to do great!

Readers, if you have any questions for Todd, I’m sure he’d be happy to field them in the comments section. Don’t forget to visit him on the web and/or order your copy of The Ninth Avatar!

filed Guest Blog/Interview
Comments
  1. sarah says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 8:52 AM

    Hi! Just wanted to say that this interview has really encouraged me because I’m a “type B” personality too…and I also underwrite, trying to get to the point of each scene. I must say that reading your book right now, it doesn’t feel underwritten or rushed or “fly by the seat of your pants.” I think that’s an incredible journey!
    .-= • Recent post by sarah: breaking down with my bad self =-.

  2. MicahDL says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 9:34 AM

    He killed my favorite character (I won’t ruin any surprises) and I was PISSED. That’s when he said, “You made a connection with [the character]…that’s good!”

    It’s true though. When you write something that resonates with a reader, that’s when you know you’ve accomplished something.

  3. Todd Newton says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 9:38 AM

    @Sarah
    Believe me, you wouldn’t say that if you’d read the first draft. Under-writing can create a lot of continuity issues (as you flesh things out more later) which you said you were already dealing with… just be prepared for a lot of edits. They are fun, though!

    @Micah
    It WAS good that you were pissed. And I can’t promise it won’t happen again! HA!
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: Interview with Kristan Hoffman, Part 1 (of 2) =-.

  4. Les says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 10:32 AM

    @Todd in response to yesterday’s question, that’s the only site I have :p it’s fairly new so there isn’t a heck of a lot about me up there but in short, I’m an avid female gamer, fantasy & sci-fi reader, and a Denver transplant (originally from Canada). I’m 60k into a fantasy first draft… but right now life keeps getting in the way :(
    .-= • Recent post by Les: Happy Friday! =-.

  5. Todd Newton says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 10:45 AM

    @Les
    Increase your web presence! :)
    Also, I love Canada! My wife is half-Canadian, in fact. I’d love to hear more about your WIP, and what games you’re into.
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: Interview with Kristan Hoffman, Part 1 (of 2) =-.

  6. Les says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 10:52 AM

    @Todd as far as games go, the entire Final Fantasy series, especially the earlier ones and the online ones… Devil May Cry, anything to do with Super Mario, Raving Rabbids on the Wii, most racing games… there’s a ton really. I’ve been playing video games since I could hold a controller pretty much, thanks to my older brother.

    As for the WIP, I wish I could explain it but I’m a bit stuck. I have great characters but the plot is struggling, and most of what I have written right now feels like it could fit 3-4 different story lines. It’s a bit frustrating!
    .-= • Recent post by Les: Happy Friday! =-.

  7. Todd Newton says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 10:59 AM

    @Les
    We LOVE Raving Rabbids!! I stopped loving Final Fantasy after #8, though #7 will probably always be my favorite. The right game at the right time. FF9 was too kiddish, and FF10 was too mediocre, and FF12 did not grab me at all in the first 10-15 hours. I really enjoyed the first DMC, but DMC2 took away all the challenge so it soured me on the franchise. Now mostly I just play Warriors Orochi (bought it while I was in Japan, the game will never be release in an NA version).

    Regarding your WIP, it sounds like you need to circle the wagons and camp on it for a bit until you figure out a plan. I’ve been at that point (multiple times) with my current WIP, and now it’s quite close to being a finished first draft. Don’t give up!
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: Interview with Kristan Hoffman, Part 1 (of 2) =-.

  8. Les says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 11:13 AM

    @Todd my husband loves 13. I haven’t played much since 10 but I still enjoy watching him play. 4 (North American 2) was my all time favorite, I’m kind of old school haha. I did love DMC4 though.

    I haven’t given up yet, and I’ve “scrapped” probably close to 60K words worth of story that just wasn’t functioning. I’m having issues thinking of a Fantasy plot that hasn’t been overdone, if that makes any sense. It kills me because I love writing and I can write, but I can’t think of a darned plot!
    .-= • Recent post by Les: Happy Friday! =-.

  9. Todd Newton says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 11:27 AM

    @Les
    I have heard good things about 13, so I may check it out eventually. FF6 (NA 3) is close to my favorite… I don’t know how many times I beat that game, but it’s a lot. I have love for the old SNES titles of my middle-school days. DMC4 looks really cool, as does Bayonetta and a few other DMC rip-offs; it’s just hard for me to return to that genre.

    Scrapping is good. Trying to think of something that hasn’t been overdone might take you awhile, as pretty much everything has been overdone these days. Or at least that’s what they say. Just remember that if your characters’ lives are easy, ur doin it wrong.
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: Interview with Kristan Hoffman, Part 1 (of 2) =-.

  10. Les says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 11:35 AM

    @Todd re: doin it wrong… bahahaha… so very, very true ;) I must be doing something right then because three of them just love to jerk me around.
    .-= • Recent post by Les: Happy Friday! =-.

  11. T.S. Bazelli says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 11:35 AM

    Shoot, and I was really hoping writing the next book would be easier! I completely agree that writing should be fun. For a while I was painfully slugging through “because I had to” but that didn’t work at all.

    Great interview!
    .-= • Recent post by T.S. Bazelli: What is Sword and Sorcery? =-.

  12. Todd Newton says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 11:36 AM

    @Les
    Just kill one. You’ll feel better, I promise.
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: Interview with Kristan Hoffman, Part 1 (of 2) =-.

  13. Kristan says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 11:38 AM

    LOL Todd, you are heartless!

  14. Todd Newton says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 11:44 AM

    @T.S.
    Some parts are easier, I don’t want it to sound all doom and gloom, but every project has its own challenges. “Having to” is good and bad… good because it can supply motivation, bad because it can make you feel like a complete failure (and we writers don’t need any help to hurt our confidence).

    @Kristan
    I am! But hey, if you’re stuck, killing a character is a great way to move the plot along, since people can’t exactly stand around afterward, whistling like nothing ever happened. It was just a suggestion (meaning please don’t assume that I kill off characters willy-nilly, DESPITE what Micah said above).
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: Interview with Kristan Hoffman, Part 1 (of 2) =-.

  15. Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 12:16 PM

    So what types of things did you obsess over in your first draft that later turned out not to be such deal breakers in the industry after all? Sometimes I feel paralyzed by all the rules and tips and cliches and guidelines that I can barely move forward.

    Thanks for the interview, Kristan!
    .-= • Recent post by Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist: From baseball to beer to books =-.

  16. Todd Newton says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 12:25 PM

    @Rebecca
    Speaking purely from a “first draft” perspective, I’d say one of the major obsessions was word count. It had to be 50k or it had to be 80k, or some other arbitrary number. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so the “dare to suck” philosophy of NaNoWriMo didn’t go down so well at first (this wasn’t a NaNo project, but I did buy the No Plot? No Problem! book for some instruction and encouragement). It’s not going to be perfect on the first try, and the word count is flexible since it’s not static and there’s no “magic number” to reach. Manuscript formatting was also a big deal… “Do I need to have my name in the header? The title? Which font do I use?”

    Ultimately, it just doesn’t pay to obsess. Just write it. Focus on your plot and characters, and you can work on the rest later.
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: Interview with Kristan Hoffman, Part 1 (of 2) =-.

  17. sarah says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 12:30 PM

    @Micah and Todd–Main characters die in this thing?!? Okay, I’m not reading any further. :) Starka better not die. or Cairos. Wan Du…he’s probably not expendable either. Alright, I’m just going to go read already!
    .-= • Recent post by sarah: breaking down with my bad self =-.

  18. Todd Newton says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 12:31 PM

    @Sarah
    Muhahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahaaaaa (evil laugh)
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: Interview with Kristan Hoffman, Part 1 (of 2) =-.

  19. Sonja says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 12:34 PM

    I just had this same exact experience a week ago: “it was one of those instinctual notions; I didn’t want to try to stretch the story, I wanted to keep it tense and coherent.” I had it in my mind that my WIP was going to be 70k, and last weekend, I felt ready to move to the wind down of the story, but I realized that would likely take 10k words to accomplish, and I was only at 50k. I was trying to figure out how to “stretch” the story – or really just to kill time for 10k words. Then I was like, who said this was supposed to be 70k anyway? Me! And as it turns out, I’m fine with 60k. Then I got right back to it. I’m glad I was able to do that rather than doggedly sticking to an idea that only would have hurt my story.

    As I mentioned in the comments to the last post, I’ve ordered your book. You said that it’s “available in various electronic formats.” Which ones? I prefer e-books (no more shelf space!), but it didn’t seem to be available for Kindle or Apple’s new iBookstore.

    Also, have you considered giving copies of 9A to amazon’s “vine” program? It’s a way to get some more people to read it and review it for the amazon site.

    9A should arrive at my house tomorrow. I’ll let you know when I’m done with it. I probably won’t start it for another month (I don’t like to read fiction while I’m writing fiction), but I’ll definitely get to it this summer.
    .-= • Recent post by Sonja: In which my feelings about the dentist speak volumes about my feelings about my life =-.

  20. Todd Newton says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 12:44 PM

    @Sonja
    60k is a great number. Having more text isn’t always better, especially when you have to “stall” the ending. You can’t fool the readers, but you can fool yourself.

    According to my publisher, all of the common electronic formats are available. My understanding is that they just put them all in a zip file rather than have you just order the one that might be compatible for your device. This might not last forever, since Amazon and Sony could get upset that their formats are being bundled, but Trapdoor’s view is that they want to make sure you can read the book in whatever format you prefer. Definitely send an email to Chris (his email is at the bottom of the site, under Contact Us) if you have any questions on purchasing or whatnot. Guess it’s a little too late, though, but at least my book will look attractive on your shelf ;)

    I will ask about the Vine program. I don’t know how tied we are to Amazon’s services, at the moment, so we’ll see what happens.

    Definitely let me know what you think of the book when you finish, if you want. Praise makes me feel better, and criticism makes me write better, so either (or both) is perfectly acceptable. Thanks for checking it out.
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: Interview with Kristan Hoffman, Part 1 (of 2) =-.

  21. Kristan says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 1:09 PM

    “Praise makes me feel better, and criticism makes me write better, so either (or both) is perfectly acceptable.”

    I love that mentality!

  22. Les says:
    Fri Apr 16 2010 at 2:54 PM

    I’m still laughing at “kill one”. I HAVE TRIED, how she survived is beyond me… *cough*
    .-= • Recent post by Les: Happy Friday! =-.

  23. Jon says:
    Mon Apr 19 2010 at 1:23 AM

    I’m curious about how you are writing the prequel and the sequel at the same time. How mapped out is the universe? Are you still developing and expanding it, and how much of it existed in the first book?
    .-= • Recent post by Jon: Writing Down the Bones =-.

  24. Todd Newton says:
    Mon Apr 19 2010 at 10:01 AM

    @Jon
    The prequel/sequel project is daunting, but considering how much concept-type stuff I outlined for its “video game” version, I think I have an advantage. There are a lot of places and events that I mention in 9A that I didn’t really get a chance to expound upon, so yes the projects are (after a fashion) mapped out. One of the most valuable concept docs I made was a timeline; even before I finished the first book I knew what came before and what would come after. This isn’t an outline, mind you, but just a series of abstract markers to show when X war ended or when Y city was destroyed.

    I fear the biggest problem with this dual-project is going to be the enormous cast of characters. I had 9 total viewpoints in The Ninth Avatar, and those were just the major characters. Creating ~18 more distinct voices, even if I “recycle” a few for the sequel, is going to be the toughest part.
    .-= • Recent post by Todd Newton: Interview with Kristan Hoffman, Part 1 (of 2) =-.

  25. Samantha Bennett says:
    Tue Apr 20 2010 at 9:39 AM

    I so relate with your writing process. I’m going to steal your use of “organically” as a fancy-pants way to describe the chaos. :)
    .-= • Recent post by Samantha Bennett: Girl on a Hot Shed Roof =-.

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