Welcome to my weekly series Author Interviews.
This is where I get to interview authors to find out more about the person behind the book and gain some insight on being a writer.
I am very excited as author Chris Mentzer has come all the way from Arizona to sit in my red chair. Chris always makes me smile with his comments on my blog posts so I was eager for him to sit in my chair.
Tell my readers about yourself and the book / books you have written
I was born and raised in Ohio and moved out to Arizona in 1991 to get away from the snow. I first became interested in writing stories from an assignment by my English Teacher in the 9th grade. (No, you can’t ask how long ago that was.)
I was a fan of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and David Eddings’ Belgariad series. They are the ones who inspired me to write Fantasy. The Askinar Towers is a Fantasy trilogy which is more along the lines of a Multi-verse concept. I got the idea from Sylvester McCoy’s story, Paradise Towers from the series, Doctor Who and John DeChancie’s novel series, Castle Perilous.
The story centers on these two young girls who obtain a special key and find themselves in a world dominated by four towers. The goal is to find the legendary fifth tower so that they can return home. Along the way they have many adventures and join up with various traveling companions. It’s like The Wizard of Oz meets Lord of the Rings.
I work in the retail industry as a means of support (and something to do in between my days off) and it’s been a great source of story fodder.
When did you write your first book?
I began The Askinar Towers in early 2005 with the intention of writing the great all-American novel; the one everyone wanted to read and wanted to ask me about it and so on and so forth.
A friend of mine introduced me to the idea of the National Novel Writing Month challenge which takes place every November. 50,000 words in 30 days. At the time, I had another idea in mind for NaNoWriMo but when I realized exactly how long 50,000 words really was, I went back to my fantasy story instead. I chose to pick up where I left off and write for the challenge then. However, I only wrote 25,000 which isn’t bad for my first try.
How long did it take to write your first book?
I wrote the majority of it during the NaNoWriMo challenge of November 2005 but it was a couple years later that I revisited it, when I decided in order to keep it off of my personal slush pile, I had to turn my idea into a trilogy.
Going back over the manuscript I realized I had ¾ of book one complete. I just needed to insert one extra story idea and then it would be finished. In the meantime, I wrote the foundation for book 2 in November 2007. Book three followed in 2009.
What was your motivation to write your first book?
My daughters were my motivation and my main characters, Sara and Erika, are based on them. It was my original goal to write one story each year, for each daughter until they were able to read them. By 2005, I hadn’t started on any yet and so I decided it was best if I wrote one which featured both of them as characters. To this day, though, neither of them has read any of my stories but that’s teenagers for you.
What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
During the NaNo challenge, it was all about getting the words on paper or laptop if you will. So I’d get up early and go to bed late. The problem though is it made me very cranky and my family suffered a little for it. So I convinced myself that sleep was important and I managed to change things a little. I even took a notebook to work and wrote my story longhand at lunch time to get in some extra word count.
Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
As I was writing away, I would get stuck and couldn’t figure out what came next so rather than sit there and wait for inspiration, I jumped to the next portion of my book and continued on writing. When I got stuck again, I’d do the same thing and move on to the next section.
Eventually I would go back and fill in the other scenes as inspiration came. When something happened later in the story, it allowed me to go back and set up that scene giving the readers a little foreshadowing of things to come.
Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
I’m a combination of a Plotter and Panster. I never got the hang of writing the traditional outline, so I made a list of all of the places that my main characters would visit in each book and who else would be present for that section of the story.
That was my advantage of overcoming writer’s block that I mentioned above. When I ran out of ideas, I jump to the next section and continue writing. I already knew what characters were involved and where they were going so it was a lot easier to keep going.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
To me the best thing is to be able to put my ideas down on paper into stories and share them with people. I would rather have my stories read and reviewed than to simple make a lot of money off of them. Not that I don’t want to make money, mind you, but my goal is just to be read and have my stories shared with others.
I wrote a few shorts stories to try and introduce my madness creativity to people before they commit to my full-length novels. That way if they don’t like my writing, they won’t lose a lot of money and then they can move on to someone else.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
Coming up with ideas faster than I can put them in story form. I’ll be working on something and an incident will happen at work and I’ll think to myself, “that would make a great scene for this other story…” then I’ll end up thinking about that story instead. Lucy, I believe you discussed that problem in one of your recent articles.
Have you ever considered quitting writing, and if so how have you worked through this?
Yes, I have considered quitting. Once I put out all three books of the trilogy I thought for sure that hundreds of people would buy them and there would be demands for more stories, contracts for movie rights, etc. etc. etc. When none of this happened I thought about giving up writing. Of course, none of that happened because I’m not well-known nor am I spending a lot of time promoting myself. And besides that, Sam Raimi won’t return my phone calls. I think the words “stalker” and “restraining order” were bandied about but I can’t be sure.
I worked through it by reminding myself that I am a writer of stories first and foremost and I just can’t stop writing because I have too many stories that I want to share. And as I stated before, my goal is not the movie deals and book tours, which of course would be nice, I just want to get my stories read by people.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Unfortunately there is no typical writing day for me. My basic day has me up at 3am, at work from 4 until 1pm, then I either come home or spend two hours at the library on the internet, and by the time I actually do come home, I’m usually too tired to write. On my days off, though I manage to get in a few hundred words on a current writing project. I have usually have coffee nearby to keep my fueled.
Even at work, though, I’m thinking about my current WIP and trying to solve story problems that may have come up. As a personal shopper in retail, I can both work and allow my mind to wander to my stories and fix problems. Sometimes a co-worker or customer may say or do something that will click in my mind for a story idea. Yes, I do put people I know in my books. Authors don’t just say it, they do it! Muwahahaha!!
Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
Hello, my name is Chris Mentzer and I’m a charter member of the Procrastinating Writer’s club. Actually that’s true about me; I’m part of this exclusive list on Twitter of which was created by fellow writer, Rayne Hall. I’d attend the meetings but I just keep putting it off.
How do I handle it? Oh quite well. I mostly binge watch TV episodes of my favorite programs. Currently I’m watching Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Love that series.
Wait, what? Oh, how do I overcome it? When I do, you’ll be the first to know. In all seriousness, procrastination is one of the evils of being a writer (that and the inner editor).
When we convince ourselves that we will sit down and write, all of a sudden everything else that we’ve been ignoring becomes incredibly important instead. We’re happy to ignore that mystery stain in the hallway until we want to write, it’s at that point the stain becomes the biggest concern for us.
Yes, I know I still haven’t answered the question, I get to it later.
Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
It’s a combination of both, but I lean more towards characters being important as they are what drive your plot. Oftentimes I am writing away on a story, knowing what comes next and then one of my characters will say or do something contrary to the plot and, instead of killing off the character or screaming at them, I allow them to continue and see what develops from it. Sometimes my characters know my story better than I do which is fairly scary but it’s all a part of being a writer.
What have been your 3 biggest learnings during your writing career?
“Learnings”? You know what, I’ll let that slide.
1. Time is not on your side. Regardless of what you think, it’s not your friend. One minute you begin a story then 4 years later you return to it.
2. Editing will age you considerably. It may not appear so on the outside but inside you generally whither a little as you make each pass of your story.
3. If you don’t get on social media and talk to your potential readers and fans, no one will know you exist. That’s includes Grandma.
How do you manage social media as a writer?
When I was initially accepted by a small press publisher I went to the library and got a book on the publishing process and it was there I learned about the Writer’s Platform. That’s when I went to the internet and began building my own platform. I was already on Facebook with a basic profile but I added an Author Page; I then got on Twitter, Pinterest, began a blog on WordPress, and most recently joined Instagram.
Even though I had to break my contract with the small press company, I still had my platform and connections with other writers. They helped me through the ordeal and encouraged me to publish my work on my own.
Although I don’t have a lot of time for social media, because of work, I try to be active on all of the sites generating interest in “Who I am” and “What I’m about”. I believe it’s more important for people to become a fan of the author rather than a fan of their books, especially if it’s a series. The reason I say that is when the series is over, you may lose those fans and no one will care what you write next.
Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
Read, read, read! The more books you read, the better a writer you will become. Do not stick primarily to your genre either. Read something that’s completely out of your comfort zone as you may pick up some ideas for your own writing.
The other advice I give is, put together your own Writer’s Platform long before your first book is finished. Get the fans interested in you, the author; so that when your book is finished and becomes available, you already have a group lined up ready to buy it.
Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?
I suffer from writer’s block almost as much as procrastination and sometimes they go hand-in-hand. If I’m stumped I will put it off intentionally to avoid it. There are other times when I will walk away from my story for a couple days and think over the situation at hand. Usually I can talk through a writer’s block (aloud of course) and figure out how to get to the next point in the story. Yes, people will look at you weird but if they haven’t been doing that all along, just yell, “I’m a writer, leave me alone!” and the world will make sense again. Come to think of it, none of that may any sense whatsoever.
Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
YES! That’s one of the reasons why I have trouble completing the current story. My mind is working away in background with what happens to this character or that character when they leave the story. Can they come back? Can they have a book of their own? Do they get married? And so on.
Several years ago I was working on a story which was to be a stand-alone idea, but before I even finished chapter 1, I had ideas for 3 more books! That’s the trouble with getting ideas faster than you can write.
What do you wear to write?
My, we are getting a little personal. We don’t really know each other that well, do we? In all fairness, I just wear what I usually do on a typical day when I’m not at work. I haven’t found any type clothing or combination that increases word productivity.
Living out here in the desert I usually wear T-shirts and shorts year ‘round (indoors of course), so I wear whatever is comfortable. I can’t say that I’ve ever written while wearing a tuxedo, though I might try that down the line. I have given thought to wearing a costume while writing, but I’ve been told that inspires some people.
If readers want to get in touch how do they contact you?
Here’s a list of my links…
Facebook Fan Page: facebook.com/Mentzer.
I’m primarily on Facebook so that’s the best way to reach me. I have my books available on other sites like Barnes and Noble’s NOOK, iTunes, KOBO, and others. Just let me know if you need access there and I’ll shoot you a link.
Thanks Chris, a great interview and you left no biscuit crumbs in my chair…unlike some authors!
I love how your daughters were your motivation to write your book. I also love how you write to share with others. Your learnings made me smile especially how editing can age you. Just looked at myself in the mirror and I think I have done too much editing in my time lol! I think your tips are valuable; reading is vital and like you, I think establishing a writer platform is important.
Next week author Shelley Wilson will be gracing my red chair.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/79577679@N00/5448848999″>the chair in the attic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>