7 Questions With Author Verity A. Buchanan
Verity A. Buchanan lives in the rugged hills of Northern Michigan, where the bitter winters provide vivid inspiration for her writing and plenty of excuses to make hot chocolate. A long-time lover of fantasy, she writes stories of the real and the broken, shot with the light of the Word.
Fantasy shouldn’t have to always be about kings and crowns and evil overlords – the nameless refugees and that blacksmith with the quirky accent matter, too. In all her writing, Verity aims to show the extraordinary hidden in the ordinary: to make the familiar new.
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What’s your definition of the first draft?
There are certainly multiple ways to go about a first draft. Mine is particularly complex, and I’ve never been able to quite define where “plotting” ends and “first draft” begins. My stories sometimes begin with a flash of inspiration, sometimes with a period of brainstorming, but most often are based off roleplay-style situations with my sister.
We have been inventing worlds and characters together since we were kids of eight and ten, and I owe the depth of my fantasy world not only to our story making sessions, but also to her meticulous lore work behind the scenes. Our stories have taken us anywhere from a week to nine months to finish – we create it all out loud, like the narration of the nonexistent script. As kids, we had hours at our disposal for that, but these days, we rarely have two evenings together where we have the time to pick up the thread and add on a little to the current story.
When I actually start writing, I consider all the writing up to the point where I put down “The End” as first draft. This may involve scrapping the book halfway through and starting over, or soldiering on with an altered plot and waiting to fix the earlier parts till second draft. It’s fairly standard procedure for me to do a lot of plot tweaking and editing during the first draft.
Example: The Journey, my debut novel, started out as a satirical mish-mash of time periods and genres. By the time I reached Chapter 12, it had solidified into medieval-esque fantasy with a very different writing style and outline. But I kept writing, rather than go back and change things, and only after I wrote “The End” did I go back and make the first half match the last half.
What are some common stereotypes related to the genre(s) you’re writing in?
Medieval Europe setting. Band of misfit adventurers. Knights and castles. Chosen one. Quests. Can you tell I write high fantasy yet? I embraced the pseudo-medieval-Europe trope a while ago for my fantasy world. Though I actually drew more direct inspiration from historical fiction author Rosemary Sutcliff’s portrayal of Roman-occupied and early medieval Britain.
Quests and chosen ones, however, are less common in my books. I prefer to write on a smaller scale, focusing on people who don’t necessarily rise in society, or make earth-shattering changes, but still have a great story to tell.
Authors vs. Social Media. How do you approach the tools you have at your disposal?
I have an active Instagram account and Facebook page. I give each one a subtly different focus – Instagram gets my efforts at #aesthetic, bookish pictures, and quotes, while Facebook is more of a spontaneous. I-felt-like-sharing this-with-you-right-here-right-now vibe – and I avoid cross-posting, so that people who follow me on multiple platforms don’t get spammed. Of course, that’s not so much a concern for many authors. But with a smaller audience, I feel bad giving 50% of them the same thing 2x a day.
Networking is my favorite aspect of the author side of social media. I love connecting with fellow writers and being able to give them a heartfelt shoutout to my own follower base. I have met so many amazing friends through the wide world of #bookstagram!
While Instagram and Facebook are the only two marketing platforms I have the energy to keep up, I have my presence on quite a few other sites (Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.) with a link to my Instagram. That way, anyone who discovers me there can easily follow me where I am active.
What would you do if you wouldn’t be writing?
As writing isn’t my full-time job, I do have quite a few other activities/jobs in daily life, any of which I’d be happy to take up as a career. But all things being equal, I’d most likely pursue music.
I studied piano for about three years and currently have several students of my own, but would love to take lessons again if I had the time. Much of my time not spent in writing or marketing is in front of my beloved honey-brown Kimball piano.
Now, if I could only read for a living! That would be something…
What should readers expect from your next novel?
My debut novel, The Journey, was the story of three siblings sucked into a journey that not only changed them inwardly and outwardly but dragged them across the world. Its sequel, The Village, now on its way to publication, has a slightly different scope.
The Village is about adjustment, healing, and relationships. It tells the story of a community that isn’t as harmonious as it thinks it is, and needs to learn to look outward instead of inward. Readers can expect a strong focus on the family unit, especially sibling bonds – this is a trademark of virtually anything I write.
This book tackles the themes of being lonely and feeling different. We have all felt misunderstood at some point; The Village highlights the need for sensitivity and patience towards those who may have unknown struggles. It also acknowledges the unhealthy attitudes of resentment and/or self-absorption that can form as a result of ostracism. One character in particular has spent his whole life believing that the world is against him. He interprets anything remotely deprecatory as a malicious slight to his person, and must learn that it is not necessary to return evil for evil.
There is a romance plotline to the story, unlike The Journey which came before it; however, it’s a very sweet, slow-burn romance without much in the way of touchy-feely, so hardcore romance readers may want to steer clear (what can I say? I don’t love reading kiss scenes, much less writing them!).
Finally, readers can expect subtle allusions to a Christian worldview, which I hold, though it is not a direct component to the story’s message. As my intro indicates, I try to shoot my stories full of splinters of the light of Scripture, a light which has dazzled me so deeply I must try to capture it in my own words and hold it somehow for others to see.
Is there anything you learned from reader reviews?
Reader reviews have helped me to see the trademarks of what I write, which in turn helps me better market my book to the right audience. They help me come up with comparison titles – multiple reviewers compared my book to Pilgrim’s Progress, a valid, eye-catching comparison, but one that never crossed my mind beforehand.
They also help me consider my weaknesses and what I might do better in the future. I’ve learned from reviews that I care more about character development than a perfectly watertight plot. While on a level I’m okay with that – my audience is there for the character development, too – it can turn into a pitfall of flimsy plot points, and it’s good to have the reminder to watch out for flaws.
My favorite reader reviews are those that open my eyes to things I wrote into the story without meaning to – things I never realized were there. For instance, one reader said of my debut novel that it reminded her of C.S. Lewis’s Four Loves. I’ve read a lot of C.S. Lewis, but never that specific book, and to hear the reader enthuse about the connections she’d drawn between the two made me excited and eager to read the book myself.
Just how much research is there behind a novel? Tell us how it looks behind the scenes.
There are many authors who make a lot out of research. They will tell you, “I just spent the whole morning researching for my next project!” Kudos to them! But I am not one. My Google search history is not particularly lurid or quirky. I have never taken a field trip to immerse myself in a specific setting for the sake of writing about it. I do not check up on things before I write them; only after. And funnily enough, my intuition usually pays off.
I look at this way: my whole life is research, or better put, exploration. Every book I have read, every interpersonal exchange, every sensation and thought and adventure, and especially every emotion, my brain absorbs and consolidates into the dizzying experience called life. A vast reserve that I can draw upon whenever I write.
Of course, I have to qualify my absolute statement and admit I do the Google searches sometimes. There are a few things I am very finicky about getting just right, and I can’t rely on my intuition or acquired knowledge for them. One of those is travel times. I spent hours during the writing of The Journey poring over my fantasy map and looking up walking speeds and horse speeds, evaluating terrain-related delay, and fine-tuning the dates until I had everything accurately synchronized as much as I could hope to do. I lived in mortal dread of someone holding up my book and saying, “NO WAY THEY COULD HAVE DONE THAT!”
But if it relates at all to emotions, physical sensations, mental processes, or human interaction, I trust my instincts first and cold hard facts second. In fact, I’ll actively avoid research until after I’ve written the part in question, and then check it to see how it measures up. If I start with analysis and checklists, I fear following it too slavishly and not writing rounded, real life.
My mantra: Write by instinct, not by rote.
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She just wanted to mope over her breakup but the universe had other plans for Zoey Mills.
Read the full blurb here.