Do you write what you love to read? Helen Scheurer, the founding editor of Writer’s Edit and YA Fantasy author, discovered early that you should love what you write and write what you love. And what she loves is Fantasy fiction and all of it’s endless possibilities. Her latest novel, Heart of Mist, is a tale of toxic mist and forbidden magic. While it’s not officially published until August 31, she was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to give us a little bit of a sneak peek at her novel and share with us her writing process.
When did you decide to become a writer? Was it something that you’ve always wanted to do? Or did your interest develop over time?
Being a writer is definitely something I’ve always wanted. I wrote my first story when I was seven. It was about a clown and a kitten who were part of a circus. I think I’ve probably still got it somewhere…
What is your favorite genre to write in and why?
It actually took me a long time to realise this, but it’s without a doubt fantasy. Fantasy is fun and it’s absolutely brimming with possibility. It doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the issues it explores, and the ability it has to get people utterly addicted to reading.
Plus, what I’m discovering is that readers in the fantasy community are super active online, so there’s always someone around to talk to about books and fandoms.
What was your favorite book (or books) to read as a child?
Harry Potter. No hesitation there. I remember lining up at the bookstore at 7am the day each one was released. My mum was also super understanding of how important it was to read them without getting spoiled, so the day that a new HP book came out, I was excused from any family commitments and chores 🙂
You’ve traditionally written literary fiction, what made you decide to change it up and take on the world of YA Fantasy?
If I’m totally honest, I think I was writing lit fiction for the wrong reasons. I had done a creative writing degree that had placed lit fic as pride and centre of literature, and I thought that in order to be considered a ‘serious’ writer, I had to write literary fiction.
I was having a super hard time with the previous novel I was working on when I discovered some incredible female fantasy writers. I became utterly obsessed with their books and the genre, I had that lightbulb moment which was… ‘Shouldn’t I be writing what I love reading?’
Your novel, Heart of Mist, is the first in a YA high fantasy trilogy about a girl would is trying to find a cure for her magical powers. What inspired you to write this novel?
At the time, I was in the midst of some very hard edits on a literary fiction manuscript and I needed an escape. I was finding the fantasy books I was reading thrilling and thought-provoking, and as I stepped away from those novels, my own characters and my own world started to form.
All my ideas were so far removed from what I had been writing previously, but they kept growing (and still are!), so I thought it’d be silly not to give it a go.
I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote the first 45,000 words in a month. I absolutely raced through the first draft, and I took that as a sign that I was definitely writing what I was meant to be writing.
In the novel, your young heroine struggles with addiction issues. You don’t see this very often in YA fantasy. Can you tell us about why you chose this as a theme to explore in Heart of Mist?
I don’t think it was a result of a conscious choice to explore addiction as a theme, but rather Bleak, the main character, presented herself to me as someone who struggles with addiction in order to self-medicate. This is definitely a product of seeing many people I know, both when I was a teen and even today, struggling with their own issues and using things like drugs and alcohol to fix a problem in the short-term.
It’s not an issue that’s exclusive to adults by any stretch of the imagination, and in many cases, addiction starts in the more formative, younger years. Once I realised that Bleak had this struggle, I realised that it was something I definitely wanted to keep and explore further in Heart of Mist, because it’s not talked about enough, early enough.
It seems like strong female characters have become more prevalent in YA fiction. Why do you think that is and why is that important?
In recent years, I think it’s become a lot more apparent that as a gender, women aren’t where we want to be, and where we should be, in terms of equality.
For me personally, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve become increasingly aware of the misogyny ingrained in today’s society. For example, I don’t know one woman who hasn’t been subjected to unwanted sexual advances… Victim blaming and rape culture exist now more than ever… And domestic violence against women is a massive problem, the statistics for Australia are shocking. Which is why it’s so important that young adults are presented with strong female characters, who deal with these issues, who talk about them and help people to understand that these things are not okay, are not the norm.
How is writing for young adults different from writing for adults?
It’s not that different for me. The only concern I’ve had once or twice is about the themes explored. There’s often a fair bit of controversy when it comes to how we should write for teens and young adults, particularly with issues like sex and drugs for instance. But when questioning these things, I think back to when I was a teen – the things going on, the issues we talked about and our general curiosity about the world… Explicit language, sex, drugs – they’re just as relevant to young adults as adults, and I think it’s condescending and ignorant to avoid these issues in fiction to ‘protect’ a younger age bracket.
What is your writing process like? Do you have a strict routine? A favorite time of day? How do you stay motivated?
I’m a morning writer. There’s nothing I love more than making a cup of tea and sitting down to write before the rest of the world has really woken up. And yes, I’m all about my routine! Mondays-Wednesdays are my freelance days (though I do try to fit creative writing and Writer’s Edit work around these hours), while Thursday-Friday (and usually Saturday and Sunday) are for my books, marketing and Writer’s Edit work.
Like everyone, I do have days where it’s hard to get motivated. However, for the most part, I am a very driven person, and am usually eager to dive straight into work. Though I should say – I’m in a very fortunate position at the moment where my freelance work supports me enough to work on my creative work, I understand that a lot of writers aren’t in this position and so have to find the time around a regular day job.
What lesson have you had to learn the hard way in your writing career?
I learned to trust my instincts the hard way. Both in terms of dealing with people in the industry and battling myself when it came to what I wanted to write.
As I mentioned, I wrote lit fic to begin with. At this point, I should have had more faith in myself – that I could be a serious author, I could write about important issues, while still writing in a genre that I was super passionate about and that I wrote well in.
I wrote lit fiction for years, and pursued a manuscript that in the end, I fell out of love with. I guess the lesson learned was that it’s okay to change your mind, it’s okay to change genre and that it’s definitely important to trust your gut. Though it took me years to learn it!
How do you find your courage? A lot of new writers are scared of putting themselves out there to be judged. So much so, that many of them never even take the first step. What advice would you give to them?
I think no matter what stage of career a writer is at, this is always a challenge. I know that it took me a really long time to share my work with people, and even more so, to share my work with people I know… I still get nervous just sharing my news to my personal Facebook account.
The most effective thing I do is tell myself: you’re never going to make everyone happy, and that’s okay. If you look on your favourite author’s Goodreads page, there will be terrible reviews alongside the rave reviews. People like different genres, different writing styles, different themes and issues… You’re never going to be able to tackle them all well, and therefore you’ll never please every reader.
It’s easier said than done, but you just need to remember that, and focus on the positive feedback.
You are not just a writer, but the founding editor of the online literary magazine and platform for emerging writers called Writer’s Edit, what led you to create this organization?
That’s right! I started Writer’s Edit almost four years ago now. Initially the dream was for it to become a small press (which it did, less than a year after launching), but the website was a sort of test for myself, to see if I had the dedication and commitment I knew it would take to run a company.
It was also a way of forming a community of writers and readers. I’d done a creative writing degree a few years earlier and missed having a group of people who understood what it was like to be a writer, who wanted to talk about their craft and the books they were reading. Writer’s Edit was a platform for that, and a way to connect with new like-minded writers.
Freelance writing is something we talk about often on our forums here at Literative. It can be a hard industry to break into, what tips can you give our readers who might be looking for a way to find better paying or more rewarding writing jobs?
You’re absolutely right – it’s certainly difficult to break into. In terms of tips… The first thing I’d say is make sure you represent yourself well online: have a professional looking website, and a place where potential clients can easily contact you. You also need to ensure that you have a diverse and impressive portfolio of published work.
As for finding jobs, jobs boards can be quite useful. Writer’s Edit has one that you can access here -> http://writersedit.com/jobs/
Another strategy myself and a number of other freelancers I know have had success with is approaching businesses (for me I’ve always had the most success with e-commerce sites), and pitching your services.
Something I’ve found with freelancing is that once you’ve got a few regular clients, the rest of the work picks up.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers? (publishing dates, sneak peeks at future works, social media links, advice, reading recommendations, etc)
Absolutely! Do take a look at the synopsis of Heart of Mist and add it to your TBR list on Goodreads. It’s out August 31st this year.
If you’d like to read the prequel story ‘Break’, just sign up to my mailing list here.
As for advice, anyone looking for writing tips I strongly recommend they check out Writer’s Edit – there are hundreds of in-depth advice pieces on craft, genre and publishing.
Thanks Helen for the wonderful interview! We look forward to reading Heart of Mist!