Butt in Chair with E.S. Christison
Christina Kann 00:00
Welcome to How Do I Book? with Wildling Press. We like to chat about book writing, book publishing, book marketing, and, of course, book reading. We're trying to help new and experienced authors develop their craft, widen their perspectives, and learn to get a little wild every once in a while. I'm Christina, and I'm really excited because joining us today on the show is one of my favorite authors of all time, ES Christison, author of The Blameless series, and a person who I like a lot. Hey, Liz, thank you so much for joining us.
ES Christison 01:01
Hey, Christina. I'm super excited to be here today.
Follow Christison online:
Christina Kann 01:05
For starters, what are your pronouns?
ES Christison 01:09
She and her.
Christina Kann 01:11
Thank you so much. Tell us a little bit about The Blameless and your other work.
ES Christison 01:18
The Blameless is about a 13-year-old princess named Briana. She lives a safe and happy life in her kingdom, until one night, her kingdom is attacked, her city is overthrown, her family is killed, and she's being hunted. She's on the run. She gets rescued by a group of three mysterious magical people who take her under their wing. They teach her how to use her own magic. It's about her learning how to use her own magical gifts and how she recovers from this devastating loss she's experienced.
Christina Kann 01:56
And let me tell you, listeners: I have been working with this book for a long time, I helped publish it twice -- the first edition and then the second edition. I've read it probably probably going on 10 times now. And I'm not sick of it yet. I think that's incredible. I don't think I've read a book this much besides the first couple of Harry Potter books.
ES Christison 02:19
That's very flattering. Thank you, Christina. Sometimes I shudder to think how The Blameless would have turned out without Christina. She has elevated this book and prodded my brain and helped me so much. You deserve a huge amount of thanks for how it turned out.
Christina Kann 02:37
Oh, my God, thank you. It's just so fun to work on a book that you love so much. So what inspired you to write this story about Brie and her Blameless powers?
ES Christison 02:53
I am actually not a writer by trade. I didn't go to school for writing. I'm a nurse, and I'm a busy person. I've got a large family, so it's not like I didn't have anything to do with my time. But one night, I had this dream, actually. It sounds a little cliche, but I had this dream, and I woke up in the middle of the night. It was about this girl whose family had been killed, and she was in hiding, and someone came and rescued her. I woke up at that point. It was basically the first seven pages of my story, and I couldn't get back to sleep. I normally don't dream in such a detailed way. I just couldn't get it out of my head. I told my husband about it the next morning, and I said it would just make an amazing book. And he said, "Well, sell the idea to Disney and make a movie out of it." He just laughed about that. Then I continued on with my busy life. But the dream didn't leave me. It just stayed with me for months and months and months. I couldn't get this girl out of my head. I wanted to know what happened to her. So then I just decided after about six months that I was going to try to write the story. And since I've been writing, I have fallen in love with it more. I'm very invested in this book and invested in getting this series completed.
Christina Kann 04:17
Tell us about the sequel. I happen to know that there's a sequel in the works.
ES Christison 04:21
Yes, my sequel is called The Tarnished, which is coming out in November 2022. It's Brie's continued journey, and her goal now is to basically avenge her family and take back her kingdom. We're going to read more of that journey in The Tarnished.
Christina Kann 04:40
Yes, I'm so excited. I've read it. It's amazing. Liz, you mentioned a couple of minutes ago that you're a nurse; you have a large family, many children. You got other stuff going on in your life. We're here to talk about "butt in chair"; that's the name of this episode, which is a bit of a PG-rated version of Stephen King's quote. I'll adapt it for our audience. Stephen King has this quote that the the first step to writing is "butt in chair." I think a lot of writers can relate to this. It's so hard to just sit down and get writing. You've managed it, though, with all that you have going on in your life. So I want to talk a little bit today about how you make it happen.
ES Christison 05:28
Sure. The way that I make it happen is, first of all, I've always been lucky to be a night owl. My most productive hours for thinking and doing things is typically in the evening. A lot of that writing has happened in the evenings after work and after my kids are in bed, at least the youngest ones. That's where I spend most of my writing time. However, I also have made it a motto of mine that I'm going to write a little something every day. It has actually happened many times -- or a few times, in any case -- that I've sat down, I've opened up my book, and I've written about a sentence. I've looked at that paragraph and thought, "Okay, I'm done for tonight." So it's not like I have to do huge amounts. My most productive times for writing are probably Saturday mornings when the house is waking up. I sometimes will get up early and work on Saturday mornings. I just have been devoted to being consistent. I listened to a podcast about how to write a book. I think all of us can relate to this: when we open up our story, we start reading what we wrote, and we immediately want to start editing it because we want to tweak it, it doesn't sound quite right. I forced myself to just continue; I just move forward, and I don't go back and reread it and re-tweak it. That's for the second draft. So the first draft is very much a skeleton. If I'm writing along, and I know that I need to have some witty dialogue but it's not coming to me in the moment, then I write in parentheses, (tell a story) or (add dialogue). And then I keep going. Or if I can't think of a character name, I'll just put it in parenthesis, you know, (name the character). And then I just keep going. That first draft is really the skeleton of my book, and then I go back through on the second draft, and I add the meat.
Christina Kann 07:34
A couple episodes back, we talked about writing drunk, editing sober. No alcohol required. It's more about the mindset of just being able to get your first draft down, because that's the hardest part. It's so much easier to fix what's there than it is to produce something from nothing.
ES Christison 07:53
If I'm in the middle of a thing, I'm writing and I'm really passionate about it, then I also occasionally have been known to have my laptop open on the counter. And if I'm cooking dinner, and it's taking a while and it's got to simmer for a while, then I'll click away on the laptop a little bit as I'm cooking. I do squeeze in as many moments as I can, and I really try my hardest to be consistent.
Christina Kann 08:16
I do a lot of reading while I'm cooking, while stuff is simmering. My husband comes home from work, and I'm just leaning against the counter with a book. So, Liz, it's a weekday night, maybe a Saturday morning, and it's time to write. What's your writing routine? Do you do anything to get ready? Do you like to have anything with you?
ES Christison 08:33
I like to have coffee or water, something to drink. Other than that, I try my hardest to be in a quiet environment. Sometimes in the evenings when I'm writing, I'll just sit in the living room with my husband, and he'll have the TV on, so there's a little bit of a distraction, and I am not as productive then. My most productive times are when I'm alone in my room or an office space. If I'm alone and I've got a keyboard and I've got something to drink, I just go. I don't listen to music. I don't really do anything else. I just type.
Christina Kann 09:05
Laser-focused. I love that. You kind of alluded to this: What's your ideal writing environment? You mentioned you write in your room. I guess maybe the living room with a TV on maybe is not your ideal writing environment. What's the ideal?
ES Christison 09:22
Actually sometimes not even in my room is ideal, though, because I have children who often will knock on the door and want to come in. Sometimes I've actually gone to my father's house when he's been gone, and I have sat down and just used his place as a quiet space.
Christina Kann 09:37
Nice. That's awesome.
ES Christison 09:38
Sometimes I have gone to a coffee shop when I have a chapter I really need to finish or an edit I need to finish, and I've got to get it done. Then I will leave my house and try to focus on that. But just a quiet space for me, just an uninterrupted, quiet space.
Christina Kann 09:56
I feel like every time I go to work at a coffee shop, I go with Grace and/or Mary-Peyton, and we end up doing so much more chatting than working, it always backfires. Maybe I should go by myself one day.
ES Christison 10:09
There was actually even one time when I was in my car, and I pulled up my laptop, and I had to finish the scene. I just clicked away there in my car, you know, and finished a really important chapter.
Christina Kann 10:24
People podcast from their cars. Cars are safe spaces.
ES Christison 10:27
They are, they're quiet spaces. When I am alone, my writing speed is probably at least four times as quick as when I am sitting with distractions all around me. But I still get work done that way. I try to focus some of that time with things like maintaining an author presence on social media.
Christina Kann 10:48
That's a great thing to do when you've got the TV on.
ES Christison 10:51
Posting and marketing and emails and things like that.
Christina Kann 10:54
My husband's not a big reader. I'm a big reader. Obviously, I spend a lot of time editing and writing. So my husband knows that if I'm reading or writing in the living room, he can only watch his anime, because it's in Japanese, so it doesn't distract me the way English language does.
ES Christison 11:12
That is priceless. I love that.
Christina Kann 11:16
What motivates you to write when you're not really feeling it? When the creative juices aren't flowing? When you've had a long, hard week, but you gotta get in that little bit every day? What what do you do to motivate yourself?
ES Christison 11:26
First of all, my kids are a huge motivating factor. I feel like I'm kind of doing this for them. That really is the reason I wrote the story, in one way -- to give it to them. They ended up sharing it with their friends. It has spread into something actually a lot bigger than I originally expected it to be, really, honestly. But so they have been a huge motivating factor for me. Also, now that The Blameless has been out in the world for a long time, I have a lot of readers who, every time I see them, they ask me when the next book is coming out. My fans are motivators. I don't want to disappoint my fans. I want to give them this next book in the series.
Christina Kann 12:09
It's really important for authors to take their platform seriously. You can't can't start a story for people and then never finish, George RR Martin! I've given up waiting for his next book. Do you ever get writer's block?
ES Christison 12:26
I do sometimes. It's more like Where am I going to go next? And needing that motivation to use up my mental juices or capacity to try to figure out what it is. Sometimes there's a scene or a moment that I'm struggling with. Those are moments where I will put it down, and I will walk away from it. And I will come back in maybe a week. If I need to, I will just put it down for a minute and focus on some other aspects of being a writer, and then I'll come back to it. In that time when I am not writing, I am mulling over all the possibilities of things, different ways I can take my plot.
Christina Kann 13:08
Yeah, absolutely. I find that when I'm trying to figure out next steps in a story or how to approach a developmental edit with an author, the best ideas always come to me when I'm driving. You're not expecting it; you gotta stop sometimes and let the answer come to you. I have this long series of voice memos -- because you can't write anything down, you're driving! -- a long series of voice memos on my phone that are like, "Wait, I figured it out. What if, in the third act, you learn that they were brothers all along?"
ES Christison 13:38
Yeah, that's incredible. One more thing I do that helps with my writer's block: I have three boys. I call them boys, but they're men. They're in their 20s. Okay. But I have three sons who are into DnD, and they're super creative. Sometimes my husband and I will just go sit down and hash out something. Sometimes, I'll ask my sons' opinions on something and get a little bit of feedback. That's been a lot of fun too, that they have helped me get through plot.
Christina Kann 14:07
DnD is a really wild, different kind of storytelling. It is so immersive, and you have to think on your feet and be so confident of every choice, because there's no going back. I'm sure that their storytelling skills are really refined because of playing Dungeons and Dragons.
ES Christison 14:25
Absolutely. I mean, sometimes they've said to me, "Hey, we're gonna play DnD over Christmas break, or over the holidays," and then the days are ticking by, and I'm like, "When are you playing DnD?" "Mom, we're creating our backstories!" So yeah, it takes days. It's involved.
Christina Kann 14:43
It's a very involved process. Is there anything that discourages you when you're writing or when you're percolating?
ES Christison 14:44
I do put a lot of pressure on myself that it needs to be done quickly. So as far as being discouraged, I sometimes feel like I don't have enough time, or as much time as I feel as necessary to dedicate to it to get it completed. My lack of time is sometimes overwhelming, because I am such a busy person.
Christina Kann 15:20
How do you combat those moments?
ES Christison 15:23
I have to be realistic with myself, and I have to think I can only do what I can do. I can only do so much, and that's got to be enough. That's enough. If my readers like my story, then they'll be patient and wait on it. I have to kind of talk myself off the cliff sometimes. "Don't put this unnatural pressure on yourself. Just do what you can do, and do it as well as you can do it."
Christina Kann 15:50
You gotta keep it fun! If it turns into really hard work that you're not looking forward to -- Oof.
ES Christison 15:58
Yeah. I was not a writer before. I was a nurse. I don't know if you know about nursing documentation, but it is cut and dried, and simple and short, and abbreviations, and very minimalistic. To start writing in a creative way is a huge learning curve for me, but I have really learned to love it. I do enjoy it. It's not so much a burden for me when I sit down and write it. You're exactly right. If it becomes heavy, then why do it? You know, you gotta love what you're doing.
Christina Kann 16:33
I think most writers can probably relate to "I love this craft. And yet, I also dread spending time on it. It makes me so anxious." It's a balance, just like anything else in your life that you care about.
ES Christison 16:48
Also, there's your own self doubt that the work is good enough. I personally have huge amount of imposter syndrome. Sometimes I'm like, "This story isn't good enough. Nobody's gonna like it. The plot's terrible." You know? Sometimes those doubts can come in too.
Christina Kann 17:12
I hope that gets a little bit better every day. Liz, we've been on this journey together. We both were working on this book before many people had read it, before it was out in the world. Both of us were like, "I think this is good! Yeah, I think this is pretty good." But you don't really know for sure until people you don't know start approaching you randomly to talk about it. So every time a new person is like, "I just discovered The Nlameless and I love it!" I'm like, "Really? Oh, my gosh, that's so exciting."
ES Christison 17:44
I know. Every time I hear that, it still blows my mind. Just today, I got a message from a mother who said, "I bought this book for my 13-year-old son, and he's read it twice this week and loves it and can't wait for the sequel!" I was just like, "How did you find out about it?" "Oh, I saw it on on Instagram."
Christina Kann 18:02
Shoutout to everyone who's posting about it on Instagram.
ES Christison 18:05
Yeah, thank you. I feel like I need to say that. Thanks to every single person who has opened their mouth and spread the word and shared things on social media. Thank you.
Christina Kann 18:15
Just because we have a little bit of extra time here at the end, I have a couple fun questions. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you fly by the seat of your pants, or do you plot your story out scene by scene before you get started?
ES Christison 18:29
I am absolutely a pantser. For example, with The Tarnished, I had about six to eight things that I knew had to happen in the book. And I kind of knew chronologically how they would occur. But that's about all I knew. When I sit down at my keyboard, that is really when this story flows for me. I know everyone is different. I have tried my hardest to do a teeny bit more of an outline on the third book, but for the most part, it's coming to me as I type. I'm fortunate that it happens that way.
Christina Kann 19:07
Do you ever find yourself stopping and being like "Wait, I need to figure out where the trajectory of the story is going"? Or is it usually just a "what happens next?" kind of inquiry?
ES Christison 19:19
I haven't typed myself into or written myself into a spot I can't get out of. I kind of know where it's going, and normally I just think, "What's the next phase?"
Christina Kann 19:31
I meant to ask earlier -- but I feel like you kind of addressed this. The question I have written down here is How do you balance writing time with family time? But it seems like you also manage to incorporate the two by writing this book that your kids can enjoy and including your super cool DnD sons in on the storytelling. I feel like that maybe sounded sarcastic, but it's not. I also play DnD.
ES Christison 19:54
It is super important that it can't take over. My writing can't be my priority. I have a lot that needs to go on. I work full time as a nurse, and I have seven children. They range in age from 12 to 25, so it's not like they're babies, they're all fairly self sufficient, but I'm still extremely busy. I'm still very much needed. If I know I have a deadline, for example, then I make sure I spend time with my kids first. We do something first: we maybe go shopping, or we go out to dinner, or we spend a little bit of family time together first, and then I'm like, "Okay, guys, Mom's got to get this done. I'm going to be really busy for the for this weekend. So we can plan other things. We can get you together with your friends. You can have a friend over if you want." And on vacations and things like that, of course, I don't take my book stuff with me. 100% of my focus is on what we're doing in that moment.
Christina Kann 20:56
I feel like I always take work stuff on vacation, and then I ignore it the whole time. And I'm like, "Why did I bring this?"
ES Christison 21:03
It's not worth it. Live in the moment, and enjoy your vacation.
Christina Kann 21:07
Absolutely. Well, Liz, it has been just such a pleasure talking with you today. You know, we chat a lot all the time via email, but I don't often get to talk to your face. So thank you so much for joining us on How Do I Book?
ES Christison 21:21
Thank you so much, Christina. I feel like everyone at Wildling Press is amazing. Your talent is amazing. I love listening to your podcast. And if anyone has any doubts about if Wildling Press can do a good job with publishing their book, they absolutely can.
Christina Kann 21:38
Well, thank you so much, and we feel the same about you. Please, everyone, go grab your copy of The Blameless it's available in paperback, hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. The Tarnished is coming out soon, so you definitely want to get that first installment read so you're ready when the sequel comes out. And that's how you book!
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