Well, we certainly have much to talk about. This interview seriously has been a long time coming. Courtney is the very first signee to Sakura Publishing, way back when Derek didn’t know anything at all. She is a prolific and talented author and has a real flair for fiction. Her book, WHEN HEAVEN CALLS, is available for purchase at Sakura books and on Amazon. Do yourself a favor, buy it. The story is twisted and dark and really incredibly well written. Courtney is currently working on a sequel to this fantastic piece. Here, she sits down with Sakura to talk about her life and her writing:
Where did the idea for When heaven Calls come from?
Actually, I think the idea came together sometime in late 2009 or early 2010. A friend of mine asked me what stories I was working on lately, and I told her, among other stories, about a girl that could spontaneously heal herself so she went out into the streets taking abuse for others, and about a man who could fly only when he was emotionally empty. She remarked on the fact that there were two stories in there about people who had secret powers. I thought, and maybe even said, “Yeah, I bet those two characters would like each other.” And off my brain pitter-pattered with that concept, and eventually the love affair between Leila and Gregor was born.
This also began a new way of crafting my stories. I always found myself sitting in front of a computer screen about 40 pages into a story, completely bored, not wanting to plod along til the conclusion. By combining a few different ideas that were clunking around in my head into one story I managed to keep my enthusiasm fresh. These days it’s a hobby of mine to have a new idea dawn on me and stitch it together with another one I’ve had floating around for a while to make a fuse. One more idea might come along out of the blue (often while sleeping, in the shower, or on a hike) and blamo. Story born.
Gregor and Leila were like dynamite from the word go. Something about the two of them just worked, but it seemed quite clear to me at the time they were a burn bright and fast couple. It’s in their personalities. Gregor is more of a low simmer, with a lot of pent up, repressed emotion, while Leila’s a fast burn. You can’t put those two together and expect babies and cake.
Gregor came first, in his own story, up on the hill as in the first scene in When Heaven Calls. He had become kind of a basket case in my head, but not yet on paper: a bit OCD, a little Asperger’s. He struggled to relate to the world around him because he had such a dynamic internal universe. As the story unfolded, I kept some of his awkwardness, but let go a lot of what I had built him up to be in my head. Leila was still just an idea but I hadn’t written anything about her yet. There was that concept, that Gregor needed to have his heart broken to learn how to fly, and Leila just fit there like a key in a lock.
People always ask me about the ending. Open or closed. It’s open. I love Gregor and Leila. They were my sun, my moon and my air for about a year, and apparently I can’t shake them easily. I’m in the process of writing a follow-up.
Why do you write?
I write out of necessity. I am one of those compulsive-type writers that always has something rattling around in her brain that won’t stop until it is out on paper. I can ignore the urge, like if it’s a half-formed idea, and it will roll around and gather dirt, bits of outside information, and snowball until it’s robust enough to write down.
Everything comes in scenes, eventually fully-formed visual scenes in my head, and then I describe what I’m seeing. I can’t say where my style comes from, why I put certain words together, but I have accidentally written the same scene twice in the past, months apart, and come up with very similar turns of phrase. So I suppose I do have a certain style. I think I go for cadence over anything else. If a tiny word sounds better than a big one, I’ll use it.
I also write because I want to create something. I love to wander and collect up all of this external data, process it, and come up with something new. Plus, no one else will ever see things quite like me (just like anyone else) and it feels good to get something that has only lived inside my own head out for others to see.
What’s your process for writing?
I always say “once the idea is born, it’s only a matter of time before I get it down on paper.” And that’s pretty true. There are always lots of ideas in my head, my only real constraint is finding the time to actually sit, or stand, and write it all down. I do occasionally take solo vacations just to go to a nice, natural place and write.
While I am one of those people who walks around with a notebook in my bag, I’m not the kind of person that jots down ideas for stories as they come. The pad of paper (or sometimes the back of my hand) is usually for grocery lists or things I need to remember for work. The story ideas stick. If they don’t stick, they weren’t worth remembering. I will sometimes forget about something for months, but when I get to the right place in a story, it pops right back to the forefront. I think I talk often about memories as threads. You tug a little bit over here, something else moves.
I write best in relative quiet. Relative is important. If it’s silent, I can’t think. The best noise is white noise, like trees rustling, or a fan running, but low-volume TV works fine. I always have the TV on, even if it’s on mute or I’m in the other room, as I need multiple stimuli to focus. I can sit and write for long periods without moving when I’m inspired and uninterrupted, but a lot of it comes in short bursts because I have other things to do. There’s nothing like dedicating a Sunday to going to the library, doing laundry and writing. I can’t think of a better day.
Inspiration comes from anywhere. I’m currently watching a lot of Dr. Who so I have allowed my ideas to become a bit more fanciful lately — written correctly the fantasy moments in no way detract from the emotional ones. But usually ideas come out of some visual stimuli for me. I think a lot about perception, the way we see others, the way we see the world. It can’t all be as simple as we think it is.
After the inspiration it’s just the will to get it on paper. That can be a struggle, but somehow any writer will find a way. I am personally driven by compulsion. Getting words out and on paper (or in a computer) is cathartic.
I think I mentioned that I pull a few different ideas together before I really begin writing. Epiphanies sometime strike in the process of writing a story, but they usually have to do with the details. The larger plot points I lay out in my mind from the very beginning. The ending is paramount. Without having an ending in place there is nothing to work toward and a story is likely to just sort of…run out somewhere without purpose. I have a beginning, an ending, a sprinkle of plot points in the middle, and then I let the characters do whatever they want. I don’t generally work from an outline. Every now and then I may write out my plot points if I’m feeling particularly distracted or off-point. I’m not afraid to erase a few pages and start over. The last thing I do is put in chapter breaks, and very last, I come up with a title. I am terrible at titles.
6 Quick Questions for you:
1. Currently reading?: Unexpectedly Milo by Matthew Dicks
2. Favorite book?: Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
3. Favorite movies/fave TV shows?: 28 Days Later, Little Miss Sunshine, Stranger Than Fiction / Parks and Rec, Suburgatory, Dr. Who
4. Favorite place on Earth?: Annadel State Park in Sonoma County, CA. However, I’m fond of Austin, Portland and parts of Atlanta (L5P, lookin’ at you).
5. How does one cultivate story ideas?: It’s different for everyone. I’d say to write what you know, and write what interests you, not necessarily what you think will be popular. If you love a story, if you love your characters, it not only makes the writing easier but your affection will bleed through the pages and enthrall your readers.
6. E-Book or Hard copy?: I think e-books are the wave of the future. They’re faster, cost less, and if enough people realize it, it can revolutionize the publishing game. I do, however, love a trip to the library. The smell of books. Maybe a mixed bag…like buy an e-book and you have the option of ordering a hard copy on-demand, much like getting a digital copy of a movie when you buy a DVD. So hard-copy nerds like me can have a physical book at home, but others can hug their Kindle at night.