Q&A with M.J. Kuhn
After he died we just got all the Good Guys teaming up like the freaking Avengers. Blech. (No hate on the actual Avengers, though, to be clear). As far as actual devastation goes, though, I have to say Brienne of Tarth in the books. IT WAS A FAKE OUT, I know that now. But I genuinely cried when I read that passage. She was my favorite in the books and in the show, and I was so upset when I thought GRRM killed her off.
So, my current only-child cat’s name is Thorin Oakenshield (after the Tolkien character, of course). If I got a second cat I would name her Tali’Zorah, after everyone’s favorite quarian from Mass Effect! If my husband gets his way Tali will end up being a puppy, which sounds pretty great to me too!
"If I got a second cat I would name her Tali’Zorah, after everyone’s favorite quarian from Mass Effect!"
I recently read a blog post you wrote about the required (and/or forcibly acquired) virtue of patience as a writer. As you shared in your post, you are not a particularly patient person, nor am I. Yet we somehow managed to survive the publication process! What are some tips for writers in the ‘weary middle’ of this grueling journey?
Oof, let me just say, writers, if you’re in that ‘weary middle’ right now, I feel you. Though, let’s be honest, there are about fifteen ‘weary middles’ throughout the writing and publishing process. You wait for feedback from beta readers, responses from agents you’ve queried, responses from editors you’ve been subbed to, the list goes on. My best tip is always to keep busy. Sink yourself into something new. For me it’s always a new writing project - something else I can fall in love with and let myself get distracted by while I’m waiting for [insert part of the process here].
"Oof, let me just say, writers, if you’re in that ‘weary middle’ right now, I feel you. Though, let’s be honest,
But there’s the other half of patience too - the half where you’re being patient with yourself. Brainstorming/Drafting/Editing a novel takes time - weeks and months and years of it. So I think it’s also important to have hobbies outside of writing to help reset your brain a little bit. For me it’s fitness - kickboxing, weightlifting, all that good stuff. Maybe for you it’s the same, or maybe it’s running! Or knitting! Or puzzles! Whatever it is, my advice is to find something else you can sink yourself into aside from writing.
"But there’s the other half of patience too - the half where you’re being patient with yourself. Brainstorming/Drafting/Editing a novel takes time - weeks and months and years of it."
Time management can be a huge issue for writers. I constantly hear newer writers complain that they would write if they could only find the time. How do you manage to balance your career, your personal life, and writing schedule?
I am super lucky to have a really supportive husband who viewed my writing as a second job long before I even got an agent, which makes things easier. I also don’t have any kids, which I know makes things way easier.
So, to sum up, no one has the time, everyone has to make the time. But the great part is, if you write for eight hours every day, sure, you will end up with a book. But if you only write for one hour? Twenty minutes? You can still end up with a book if you keep at it long enough! Write however much you can fit in without going absolutely crazy or shirking other important responsibilities, and don’t let other people bully you into thinking you’re “not a real writer” if you can’t squeeze in some massive, arbitrary word count every single day.
Fantasy, as a genre, has historically struggled with diversity of representation. How does diversity play into your character cast and what advice might you give to writers who struggle with implementing this in a meaningful way?
This is such an important question. I’ll start by saying I think this ties in with the world-building question below. Part of building a vivid and realistic world is populating it with vivid and realistic people. If all your fictional people look and sound the same, I think it’s safe to say you’re not doing that. The main cast of Among Thieves is made up of characters from every corner of my fictional world.
"Part of building a vivid and realistic world is populating it with vivid and realistic people. If all your fictional people look and sound the same, I think it’s safe to say you’re not doing that."
My biggest advice to other writers, though, would be to make sure you’re reading broadly in the genre. In other words, if all the fantasy authors you’re reading look a lot like me… you need to expand your selection. There are so many awesome fantasy authors of color out there! N.K. Jemisin, Sabaa Tahir, Tomi Adeyemi, R.F. Kuang, I could go on naming all day. I also think it is important to remember to make sure you're telling a story that's yours to tell. Ask yourself if you’re really the right person to be writing the story you’re thinking of writing. Lastly, make sure you seek criticism on your work early and often to make sure the representation present in your story is not harmful.
Your first novel, Among Thieves, is set to be released in 2021 by Saga Press. It takes place in the Five kingdoms of Thamorr where Ryia Cautella is deftly navigating the criminal underworld of the port city of Carrowick. What inspired this story and what kinds of feelings are you hoping to awaken in readers?
Not to give too much away, but Among Thieves involves a high-stakes heist. I personally love a good heist in any genre. What tips do you have for building the mystery and suspense around a heist without letting it detract from the overall narrative?
Let me tell you, it’s a tough balance, haha. You want to give enough info that the reader can follow what is happening without giving away all of the fun. The heist elements in Thieves went through about… ten(?) full rewrites to try to get that balance right. And god, I hope I got it in the end! My best tip for any story that has several complicated webs woven together (like a heist) is to outline.
For Thieves I had a giant Excel spreadsheet with tons of rows and columns for all my plots and subplots, planning out every aspect of the heist. That meant having solid plans for how each individual character wanted each step of the heist to go so I could make sure their motivations and actions would be clearly blocked out and fit together with each major plot point. Then, of course, I made sure to have a solid plan for how things actually turn out.
"For Thieves I had a giant Excel spreadsheet with tons of rows and columns for all my plots and subplots,
Moral of the story, the most important part of building mystery is making sure you know all the secrets yourself. That way you can pick and choose which parts of the puzzle to reveal when.
I don’t let any Fantasy writer get through a Q&A with me without talking about world-building. Talk us through your world-building process for the book. What were its evolutionary stages? How did it evolve? What was the greatest challenge you had and how was it resolved?
Where on the map is this particular kingdom located? What are some of the customs here? What sport or game is most popular? What kind of foods do they prepare? Holidays, religions, rulers, kingdoms they’re allied with - all of these things are crucial. Even if the details never make it into the pages of the actual book, you can’t make a world feel real to a reader if it doesn’t feel real to you.
"Even if the details never make it into the pages of the actual book,
For the world of Thamorr (the world in which Among Thieves is set) I actually had done a good portion of the world-building before I even started this particular story idea. The basis of the magic system and a good part of the geography actually comes from an old, dead project of mine. I’m a big fan of cannibalizing old projects for parts. The plot of that old story was not workable, but there were parts of this world that I still loved, so I stole them and built them up to ultimately create the world of Thamorr!
The biggest struggle for me was deciding which pieces actually appear on the page and which don’t. I always want to put too much in the MS, which can get info-dumpy. Then I usually reel it back too much in my early edits and beta readers have no idea what is happening. Finding that balance is always a challenge for me.
"The biggest struggle for me was deciding which pieces actually appear on the page and which don’t."
Where can readers find more information about the release of Among Thieves and about your future works?
Among Thieves is scheduled for release in early 2021, but does not have an official release date yet! I will keep everyone posted about Thieves and any future projects on my website, on my Facebook page, or my Twitter account.
Also, don't forget to add Among Thieves to your Goodreads!
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Joshua Gillingham is an author, editor, and game designer from Vancouver Island, Canada.