Monday, July 18

Five Things I Learned About Tone Writing The Tree of Souls

By Katrina Archer, @katrinaarcher

Part of the How They Do It Series

It's always a special treat to host folks I've met and cheer their success. I first met Katrina Archer at the Surrey International Writers Conference back in 2007, and it was at that conference that I A) had my heart ripped out during a master class on pitching, and B) was given the kick in the butt that led me to write my debut novel, The Shifter. Katrina was kind enough to offer support to a writer who'd had a very bad day back then, and I'm pleased to say we've both gone on to publish our novels since.

Katrina is the author of dark fantasy The Tree of Souls, YA fantasy Untalented, and nature photography book Shorescapes of Southern British Columbia. A professional engineer, she lives on her sailboat in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Katrina has worked in aerospace, video games, and film, and has been known to copy edit for fun. Her work has been a finalist for the Toronto International Book Fair’s Creation of Stories award. She is an alumnus of the Viable Paradise and Paradise Lost writing workshops, and a member of Codex Writers.

She owns 500 books, four vehicles (none of which is a helicopter), one dog, too many Apple devices, and is tolerated by her cat, who is more famous in Germany than she is.

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Take it away Katrina...

Don't Write When You're Grumpy

I was supposed to be writing something else. A sequel to a YA novel. Something light. Not exactly frothy, but you know, not all doom and gloom. And then a bad thing happened in the world, and I got grumpy, and my YA novel outline got all dark, and while angsty is fine for books aimed at teens, it just wasn't the right tone for THIS book for teens. So I had to set aside that particular story until I felt ready for it. A hard decision, because it felt like quitting.

By All Means, Write When You're Grumpy

However: darkness WAS the right tone for this other idea I had. So I channeled that energy into the story it was meant for, which became The Tree of Souls. The story was calling to me, with all its tormented (and occasionally evil) characters. Sometimes you've gotta go where the mood takes you as a writer. With the caveat that as much as you can, you need to finish what you started.

Grumpy is Hard to Sustain

So yeah, I was in a funk. But eventually, the funk went away. Novels take a heck of a long time to write, though (at least for me), and I still needed to maintain that darker tone in the book, even if everything was suddenly coming up roses in my own life. And it was a struggle, because I'm generally not an unhappy person, and despite a capacity for snippiness, have a pretty positive outlook on life, the universe and everything. I floundered for a while, and wondered if I should set aside the book. But that would have meant setting aside two stories in one year, and that was a trend I didn't like.

You Can Manufacture Grumpy

I tried a lot of things to keep the tone consistent: re-reading pages before starting the day's work, short character studies, etc. But everything started to click again when I discovered THE WRITING PLAYLIST. I had never before been able to work to music (at least not in my software engineering or university student days). I always thought I needed quiet to work. And to a certain extent, that's still true. If I'm at my desk, I don't often have the stereo on or the headphones in. But while out driving, listening to the iPod or the radio, I discovered that certain songs, via either their melodies or lyrics, evoked in me the mood I was looking for. I started adding these songs into a playlist, and putting that playlist on shuffle either during non-writing times, or when writing while traveling (ie, on the ferry). And that simple addition to my process helped me manufacture the right tone, day in and day out.

You Can Get TOO Grumpy

The one catch with the playlist is that listening to these same dark songs ALL THE TIME, and thinking about all the bad things I had to put my characters through, eventually put me back into a bit of a funk. It's possible to overdo things as a writer, and let your book get into your head a bit too much. My first book wasn't as deep an emotional experience for me, so with this one, learning to let go, and get outside my own head, was a big part of the process. Part of that meant enforcing at least one day off a week (because I have a day job, and my writing would often consume my nominal days off). Another part was making sure to spend time with other people. I'd withdrawn a bit from friends and family. The biggest thing was just realizing that the book had taken over. After that, it became much easier to let go.

About The Tree of Souls

A murky past. A forbidden love. A deathly power.

When the river spits Umbra onto its bank, naked and shivering, the only clue to her identity is the arcane brand seared into her skin. A brand hunted by both a murderous necromancer and a handsome stranger. A brand that thrusts Umbra into a simmering conflict between the ascendant Clans and the nomadic Gherza. A brand that may make her the key to averting all-out war.

The Tree of Souls weaves an intimate tale of dark sorcery, doomed love, and implacable revenge, amid an age-old clash of nations, with all the souls of the living hanging in the balance.

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