As I’ve delved more deeply into this writing and authoring thing, I’ve found something quite similar to running. Many are very, very welcoming and it’s like being part of this world-wide club.
“I’m a writer.”
“Ooohhhhh!! ME TOO!”
On my blog, once a month, I will be featuring one of these new writing friends of mine, sharing about them, and posting an interview that they filled out. Each writer will fill out the same questionnaire so that you can pick and choose the things that work for you from what they’ve shared.
So, one of these friends I’ve recently met is Crystal. She is someone who I’d certainly like to meet in real life if a cross country trip ever happened and got me close enough. She’s enthusiastic about life and supremely helpful. She’s quite verbose and that is something I absolutely adore about her. I’ve had the chance to workshop with and for her, and she has incredible and helpful feedback always. She’s happy to help out extra when she can and she is probably right at the top of the kindest people on the internet.
We have her book, Mommy, what is the moon? and it’s a sweet kids book if you’re looking for one. Crystal is also working on a fantasy world and her worldbuilding ideas have given me ideas and her work has inspired me to keep working and to ask big and tough questions.
Reading through these questions on my own, I found myself nodding my head ALL THE TIME to what she was saying. There is SO MUCH writing wisdom here, so in her words, Take. Your. Time. and work through these, especially if you’re a writer. I’d interview her every WEEK about a different writing subject if I could. Ha!
So, without further ado, an interview with Crystal MM Burton.
- Where did you grow up and do you live around there still? What drew you to where you live now?
I grew up in Orlando, Florida, but I haven’t lived there since joining the Navy in 2005. I met my husband while in the service, and when we were both out, we moved back to his family home out here in Texas. I’ve been here ever since, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I definitely don’t miss being called a “Floridiot.” Though that Florida weather was nice.
- Dogs or cats?
Fish and pigs. In the interest of house pets, just the fish, thank you. My pigs are far too large for the house. Not that dogs or cats are bad. I have two “pet” dogs and something like fifteen barn cats, and I love them all. The only one allowed in the house is Jack, my Yorkie. I prefer dogs to be either the size of a cat or the size of a car. One extreme or the other; no middle-sized dogs for me. I prefer the company of cats, but without the hassle of a litter box. Fish are much more peaceful and it’s generally easier to tell what they’re thinking. (Which is, generally, nothing at all.)
- Morning person or night owl?
Morning owl, I should think. Just on the cusp between clever and birdbrained, but the thought of the day makes me tired and all I want to do at night is sleep. I might be more specifically a crepuscular barn owl. That’s a thing, I promise.
- Coffee or apple cider or hot chocolate?
Green tea, because I’m a rebel like that. Though, to be completely honest, the only drink that calms me and lifts my spirits like coffee does for others is actually coconut-taro bubble tea (boba) with tapioca pearls. It makes my heart happy.
- City or country or ‘burbs?
Country all the way. I’ve always wanted to be a country girl, but now that I actually am, I feel like I always have been. It’s nice. Open air, no neighbors, amazing wildlife… Though, the best part is actually the stars. There are so many of them. I’ve lived out here for almost ten years now and it never gets old. I am completely captivated every time I look at the sky at night. The country is 100% the place to be.
- Favorite music to write to? (or silence?)
I absolutely, positively, resolutely, and in all cases cannot write to music with lyrics. Here’s what happens when I try:“No,” she said. “You can’t go. I need you now tonight. And I need you more than ever.”
Jackson sighed and turned around, his bright eyes full of tears. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have a choice. I wish there were something I could say to make this easier on you.” He paused and shook his head slowly. “Nothing I can say, a total eclipse of the heart.”As you can see, lyrics are bad for me. Classical isn’t much better, because the music tells its own story. But silence is too…silent. A comfortable amount of background noise does nicely for setting the writing mood.
- Favorite movie? (It’s okay if there’s a few… I’m not sure I could narrow down to less than 10, haha!)
I watch every genre and have favorites in them all. But here are my top favorites that I watch multiple times in a year and could recognize by the sound alone.
- For providing that comfortable background noise I mentioned, especially when I’m crocheting, knitting, and general arts and crafts, it would be the documentary March of the Penguins, narrated by Morgan Freeman. I could watch it on repeat forever and never get tired of it.
- For a women’s “cry because it’s so true” comedy, it’s Dirty Love starring Jenny McCarthy.
- For a comfortable, curl-up-on-the-couch rom-com, it’s Just Friends with Ryan Reynolds. I’m pretty sure I know this movie word for word.
- My go-to musical is and always will be Moulin Rouge, but Rent is a close second.
- Favorite fantasy (because we all have one) is actually the entire Dune series (including Children of Dune, because hello, James McAvoy!).
- And because I would be remiss to leave off an animated film, Meet the Robinsons (Disney) is the sweetest, funniest, most adorable and all-around loveable animated movie of all time. Rob Thomas’s “Little Wonders” was my ringtone for three years after that movie came out.
- Heels or flats?
I suppose slippers count as flats. I can’t even imagine heeled slippers. Well, I can, but the image is awkward and uncomfortable. I’m a boots kind of girl when I’m out in town, a sneakers kind of girl when I’m on the treadmill, and a flippie-floppies kind of girl when I’m on a boat. (If you understood that reference, we can be friends.)
- What do you do when you’re not writing?
I think the list is shorter when I list what I don’t do when I’m not writing. I do literally everything. I’m a Jackie-of-all-trades and a master of maybe three. The thing I do every moment I’m not writing is fangirl. I’m so good that I even do it in my sleep. Like last night, I had this dream…but, I digress. The other thing I always do, often times even while writing, is learn. I don’t think we ever stop learning in our lifetimes, and if we do, we’re not trying. I usually try to learn more about something I already have some skill at, like crochet, skinning, CSS, Italian, or cooking. But nothing is off-limits when I decide I’m curious.
- Top 3 MUST READ books?
The Count of Monte Cristo, because it’s a wonderful story with every element I believe a good story should have; the Tao te Ching, because regardless of your spiritual or religious path it’s an enlightening guide to life; and if you’ve ever written a journal or diary, that would be the third one to read, because it will give you so much insight into your own life and how far you’ve come, even after a short period of time but especially after many years.
- When did you first know you were a writer? Was there a specific moment when you thought “yes, I want to be a writer” or has it always been part of you?
I’ve always known. The first time I said I was going to write stories, I was around eight years old. When I was twelve, I started writing my first book (even though it got lost before I ever finished). When I was in high school, I wrote poems and songs. In 2012, I attempted to start my first novel but ignored it after a few months. It wasn’t until 2015, ten years after I had graduated, that I finally embraced writing as my life and my future, but it has always been there for me. It’s like I finally took it out of the friend zone!
- When did you decide to pursue writing as a career? How did those closest to you respond?
The year was 2015. One hot July afternoon, a notification came in, inviting me to a writing group on Facebook. My best friend, Michelle, messaged me and told me she was invited into this group and it seemed really good. She’d wanted to get back into writing anyway, and she remembered that I also liked to write, so she figured we could attempt it together. And so it began. Michelle understood what it meant to me. My husband took a little more convincing, since I had (have) a habit of cycling through passions as I learn new things. But he knows now that this one isn’t a phase or another talent to pile onto my collection of skills. This one is a keeper.
- What is your general writing process?
I listen to my muse, record what she says, contemplate it deeply, expand on her thoughts, and plan out the story from there. For short stories, I write out a long summary describing how I picture the story going (this is essentially where I free write my idea); this is written much the same way as if I were telling a friend about a movie I saw. Then I start at the top and flesh it out, turning each telling sentence into paragraphs of showing prose.
For novels, I do much the same thing, but I take my summary and break it up into sections to set the pacing. Each section is labeled with a number between one and thirty, and once the summary has been divvied up, I fill in the remaining numbers with possible transition chapters. These makeshift chapter summaries are only ever a few lines at the most, maybe a paragraph if I’m lucky. When I sit down to write, I start at number one and basically free write the chapter, ensuring that my summary fits into it somehow. The summaries are apt to change as I write, but they’re good guidelines to start with.
- What is your general editing process? How long do you wait between finishing the first draft and starting to edit?
I always recommend people give themselves at least a month before finishing the writing and beginning the editing, but I understand that a lot of people are impatient and just want to finish the damn thing and get it out there (their words). I myself do take at least a month between finishing and editing, because at that point it feels like I’m reading someone else’s story and it makes murdering my darlings so much easier. My editing process is really just as simple as reading through from start to finish, changing anything weird or that might have altered as I went, noting character and setting descriptions to make sure they stay consistent, and tracking the timeline to ensure everything lines up. If I see something that needs to change later on, I make a note of it so I can change it when I get there. I read through at least six times, with beta readers in between a few of them, and once more for luck (my OCD tells me that I have missed something, and it is always right).
- Do you use alpha/beta readers? How do you find them?
I have one person who alpha reads for me consistently, and that is my best friend. Her and I, both of us being writers, have a mostly unspoken (frequently spoken) deal that we will always be completely honest with our feedback to make sure our stories reach their full potential. I do occasionally have another alpha, but no one consistent.
The most beta readers I’ve ever had were during Authors’ Tale workshops, and I cannot get enough of them! I participate every year. Their feedback on my submitted stories helps me grow overall, and I use what I’ve learned and apply it to everything else I write. Outside of the workshop, I have three beta readers. Two of them I went to and asked them to read for me because I trust them; the third one found me, and is now one of my go-to betas. In all honesty, I’m not sure how I will find more betas when the time comes, but based on how lucky I’ve been thus far, I trust the universe to provide me with what I need.
- How many times do you edit your manuscript before sending it off to your editor/publisher?
I don’t think I have a solid number; I think it just depends on the piece. I wrote a short story that I only went through twice and thought, “This is good.” I have another that I went through at least ten times and was never truly happy with it before deciding it was time to pass it on. I think it just depends on the story and whether or not I ever feel like I told it the way I see it in my head.
- How do you determine which subplots you want to follow?
Whichever ones contribute or have some effect on the final outcome of the story and whether or not the main characters reach or achieve the story goal.
For example, in The World Soul series I’m working on, I have an amazing subplot between a Salcean (merfolk) princess and one of my main characters, the pirate First Mate Tennison. It mirrors the common “little mermaid” tale of a mermaid princess who makes a deal with a sea witch to get her legs in exchange for a shot at true love. Sadly for her, Tenny doesn’t love her back because he’s already got his sights on someone else. (This isn’t a romance series, but hey, what’s the harm in a little love triangle?) She has no choice but to follow him across the countryside, because if she ever returns to the water without being loved in return, she will die. (It was a harsh deal.) This subplot might seem like it deviates from the entire main plot line, but in reality, having a royal companion might work out well for my main character, because by the time she gets up to Aki Tl’ys in the north, she could (if her conscience allows her) trade the royal princess in exchange for the Dark Prince’s trust. And we need his trust if we’re ever to discover where he had the Heart of Wind or how he’s using the world soul. So, since that little mermaid of mine is an important plot point overall, her fairy-tale love triangle is one I’ll follow.
- What is your character development method?
I’m not 100% certain I have a method. My characters just sort of happen. Once I have a character in my head, I might ask myself a few of the typical character interview questions you see floating around (there are hundreds) but I don’t feel like the questions help me develop the characters. I feel like the answers were already there and I’m just remembering them, if that makes any sense. Though I do think it’s fun to take online quizzes (especially personality tests) and fill them out from the character’s point of view. Those are always inspiring.
- How do you work your writing/research? Do you write a bit first and then research? Research and then write? Some other combination?
I almost refuse to write something without putting some form of research into it first. Even if it’s something as simple as “What is the typical climate in Sequoia National Park?” or “How many eyes does this particular breed of spider have?” A lot of my writing draws on what I always thought of as “useless” knowledge, but I also know it doesn’t take long for a quick Google search. Not that those searches are ever truly “quick,” because one thing leads to another and before I know it, I’m looking up blood disorders and leech breeds. But, even though I write fantasy, there is always some level of research to it to keep it grounded and “realistic.” Even fantasy should follow basic laws of physics, in my opinion. Or maybe that’s just my overactive logical side talking.
- What is the best piece of writing advice someone gave you?
Don’t let fear stop you from writing what’s in your heart. I’ve always been paranoid and anxious that I would write something “adult” and my parents would read it and I’d be embarrassed. But ultimately, I’ve realized that I need to write my story the way it happens, because life itself is full of adult things (I mean, we are adults for most of our lives, after all) and I’m never going to relate to the real world if everything is all cupcakes and rainbows. (Though, don’t get me wrong, there should always be cupcakes.) I know my parents, and they would be proud of me regardless of what I write, as long as it was worth reading. That’s the true point I should be paranoid and anxious about. Not whether or not my parents will think it’s “adult” but whether or not they’ll think it’s good. And not just my parents, but the world. Think big. Because that doesn’t sound terrifying at all. What are four readers when compared to four billion?
- Do you have a writing mentor? How did you find this person?
Not particularly, no. If I had to assign one, though, I’d say my writing mentor through example—although sadly deceased—is Sara Douglass, fantasy author of the Wayfarer Redemption series, because her books were phenomenal and were part of the inspiration for me to keep writing and building my world. The way she wove her characters and settings, the way everything interacted and affected everything else…and, above all, the way she was able to carry and evolve original themes and races through multiple books and unveil huge twists that just blew my mind completely…and to do this very thing so many times throughout the series…she was just…well, phenomenal. Pure writing magic. The world lost a wonderful creator the day she passed.
- What does your personal writing community look like?
Authors’ Tale on Facebook. That is my one and only writing community. I’ve tried to join other groups and branch out, but nothing else ever sticks. Only in Authors’ Tale have I found people who understand and accept me even though I’m broken. Only there have I felt truly useful. Only there have I watched strangers connected by the internet come together from around the world to help each other learn and grow as writers. The atmosphere is safe, comfortable, and patient. And it doesn’t hurt that everyone loves me there (probably because I’m one of the admins, but I’ll take what I can get).
- What are your go-to ways to overcome writer’s block?
My number one is to not try so hard. I’ve always found that when I force something, it makes it something like 90% harder. Obviously we can’t always just wait for inspiration, or we’d never get anything written, but even when you free write you should let it happen naturally. It’s easy to “direct” a writing flow toward a certain topic, but you can’t force the flow in the first place. My second way to overcome writer’s block is to dream. My dreams are always chock-full of inspiration and ideas. Keep a dream journal by your bed (or on your phone; I have a dream journal blog). When you first wake up, don’t sit up yet. Run through your dream in your head before you ever sit up or roll over. It’s a funny little saying, but someone once told me that your dreams are like liquid gold and if you tilt your head or sit up, it’ll run out your ears. The really funny part is that it seems to be true. The moment I sit up, it’s like someone started a countdown and the dream slips away as the timer reaches zero. So I run through what happened before I ever move, then the moment I sit up, I grab my phone (or journal) and record as much as I can remember. Even doing a voice recording helps! And, I know this doesn’t apply to everyone, but some of the best dreams I’ve had were when I had a deck of tarot cards under my pillow. Writer’s block can’t touch a good dream.
- If you could give starting-out writers a piece of advice, what would you most want to tell them?
Take your time. If there is one thing I have seen that makes me cringe every time, both as a writer and (especially) as an editor, it’s when a writer rushes. This is not a race. The publishing industry is not going to fall apart while you’re still writing. You will not get left behind. Invest the time and money into your story and give it the respect it deserves. Hire the professionals for the edits and the covers. Proof the story. Do not rush. You wouldn’t want to pay someone else for a half-assed job because they were too concerned with getting published than with the quality of their work, so why should someone else pay you for the same? It will be worth the effort. Take. Your. Time.