7 Questions With Author E.J. Stillings
E.J. Stillings is the self-published author of The Crying Bird, The Caged Man and the Witch, and Milton McMicey —Detective Mouse!
She believes in kindness and courage and learning something new every day, and often turns to nature for inspiration. When she’s not writing, she can be found googling something, observing nature, reading, or taking pictures of her many rescue cats. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her life partner, in a neighborhood with wild peacocks.
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Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Pantser, definitely. I’m all over the place in the beginning. My ideas usually start with a feeling from either a title or a type of person + situation for growth. The first draft, for me, is like a voyage into a newly-discovered cave. It’s exciting. This cave is not damp and scary, it’s warm and inviting with the potential for treasure.
Like a good explorer, I document every nook and turn, but there are always shiny objects in the walls. If it looks like a gem, I either make a note to inspect it later, or backtrack to incorporate it into the story (which is made easier with the writing program I use: Scrivener).
By the time the first draft is finished, I’ve got a plethora of notes, highlighted sections, and in-line comments to sort through, fixing as I go, relying heavily on the ‘find word’ feature. I love the next step, the shaping of the mud and shiny things I’m left with when I exit the cave. Hopefully, it becomes a gleaming sculpture of words, a treasure that I am happy to share with everyone.
In truth, I’ve tried plotting and, it just feels sterile. Maybe one day I will learn how to make it work for me, but, right now, I end up squinting too much, trying too hard, and writing too little. I do, however, applaud any and all who can plot their stories first.
What are some common stereotypes related to the genre(s) you’re writing in?
Medieval Romantic Fantasy is my most recent genre (I write in several). The main stereotypes I tried to avoid are the wicked witch, the beautiful-but-helpless woman, and the handsome man who saves the day. So, to run in the opposite direction of those character types, my witches are essentially good (like any other human), they’re beautiful AND smart and have their own internal struggles (they might do something awful—but they think it is for a good reason).
My main character is indeed a handsome man, but he’s more the helpless one throughout the story (he’s imprisoned for most of it), with his own internal struggle, and when he takes part in ‘saving the day’, so to speak, it is because he was temporarily given the ability to do so. The Caged Man and the Witch is a novella and is available on Amazon.
My debut novel, The Crying Bird, is Contemporary Women’s Fiction about healing from grief with the help of a bird. A common stereotype is a grieving widow who finds new, romantic love. I didn’t want to go in that direction. My main character finds love, but it is not for the people she would’ve expected.
Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your journey?
Don’t overthink it! But, in my case, that’s like telling a bird not to fly. I’m a detail-oriented person who enjoys analyzing things. At least now, I’ve graduated from picking every word to death, to focusing on writing a good story, and finishing it. I still have to pull myself out of the abyss regularly, but if I would have written, ‘Don’t overthink it!’ on a post-it note and stuck it to my forehead back when I started, perhaps I could have graduated early.
What should readers expect from your next novel?
I have several stories in the works, but the next one will probably be The Peach and the Putz (Contemporary Women’s Fiction) since that one is nearest the finish line.
Whichever story makes it to Amazon next, readers can be sure it will be emotionally driven, have little to no profanity, and definitely no smut. Apparently, I like to include birds in my books too. I am a fan of symbolism, and I often see ‘signs’ in my own life, so it’s understandable they make their way into my creative expression.
What’s the best advice/feedback on writing you’ve ever received?
It’s hard work, but it’s worth it—so long as you’re not looking to gain instant fame and millions of dollars. Honestly? I am so proud of myself. If you will feel proud of yourself for learning and completing whatever project you set out to do, then any amount of hard work is worth it. As you continue to learn and grow, it will feel easier, and one day, maybe you will wake up and realize you’re making a living doing what you love.
Does the genre you normally read have a direct influence on your writing?
Definitely. I’m an empath, so I’m like a sponge. The world, the vibe, the emotions, I feel it all, and it’s hard to shake. It’s the same with movies, and people I’m around.
Although I am better now than when I was younger at shielding myself from negativity, and I typically avoid depressing stories, it’s still hard. In my stories, bad things can happen, but I want my characters to learn and grow, and for the emphasis to be on kindness and courage and love, so I try to find similar stories to indulge in.
Just how much research is there behind a novel? Tell us how it looks behind the scenes.
I google and research everything anyway. If I see a word I don’t know, I look up the definition. If I hear chirping in the bushes at night, I will find and listen to sound clips to see if I can figure out what the hidden creature is. One of my all-time favorite characters is Sherlock Holmes. Not so much his attitude or ego, but I admire his brain. I even have the hat. Sometimes, I wear it while I go sleuthing on the internet for some nugget of information for the story.
First things first, I am a pantser and try to write as much of the story without stopping, relying on instinct, emotion, and characters. I highlight sections, make in-line comments, and scribble notes for details that need research.
If something big catches my eye that prevents my knowing whether to go left or right in the story, I stop and dive into a bit of research—usually looking into human behavior for the time period, or if something should even exist, things like that. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I flit around verifying, tweaking, or eliminating details.
During research, I typically have ten thousand tabs open on my browser, my desk is littered with index cards and post-it notes, and, in the end, my brain has turned to mush. It’s all worth it though when the pieces of the story fit just right, and, after a good sleep, I have new factoids to get me through small-talk.
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And check out Lost in Amber: An Out Of This World Paranormal Romance if enjoy girl power, adventure & a toe-curling love story.
She just wanted to mope over her breakup but the universe had other plans for Zoey Mills.
Read the full blurb here.