Happy Thursday, wordsmiths! I hope you’ve had an awesome week and that you’re making steady progress (baby steps count!) toward your writing and/or publishing goals. If you feel unmotivated, uninspired, or just plain “blah” in regard to your WIP, you’ve come to the right place (or should I say “clicked on the right link” :-)).
In this week’s interview, author Kyle Lionheart speaks candidly about his own creative struggles, how he overcomes them, and what drives him to keep going. He also shares excellent tips on productivity (which I always love receiving!), why it’s so important to be yourself online, how to use fear to your advantage, and much more.
Now put on some reading jams, get cozy, and enjoy!
How long have you been writing? Have you always wanted to be an author?
The first moment I ever started writing on a ‘serious’ level was (in all honesty) way back in the second grade! Taking a trip down memory lane, back then, I was obsessed with R.L Stine’s book series “Goosebumps”, which, in essence, was a collection of strange/creepy stories. Well, one fateful Sunday, a journal caught my eye in a bookstore that was themed after it (I still have it, in fact). Long story short, my seven-year old self practically begged my parents for it and they were gracious enough to buy it for me under one rather unique condition…fill out every page with my imagination. Which, I more than happily went on to do over the course of my entire summer vacation.
It sounds cliché, but even WAY back then (chalking my chicken scratch that, sadly, isn’t much better than my handwriting now), I already instinctively knew that one day, more than anything else in the world, I wanted to become a writer. That was my dream. That was my reason. That’s what started my undying optimism for the future – I think I knew, even back then, that if I disciplined myself and worked hard at this each day… maybe, just maybe, I could be great at it.
As a kid, I gained an immediate appreciation and love for story-telling in general and how words had the ability to grasp emotions in a way my seven-year old self couldn’t really define at the time. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that EVERYBODY on this planet has a gift. And you need to use those gifts to HELP people – I really don’t think they knew it at the time (if they did, props), but my parents reinforced to me from that one simple act of kindness that writing was my gift. And ever since I kept writing consistently from that day forth and scratching the surface of my vivid imagination, well… I always wanted to be a writer…. not for fame, or to say, ‘that’s my work’ (although, that WILL be a great feeling someday) – but rather, to be able to ‘give back’ in the only way that makes sense to me. The only way I know how.
I understand that your first novel, Awakening, is largely based on true events that happened in your own life. What made you choose to tell the story in a fantasy novel rather than in a straightforward non-fiction format?
I think the biggest reason I wanted to design the series using a unique hybrid blend of fiction / non-fiction within the setting of a fantasy novel was that I wanted to do something that was completely ‘different’, and yet, relatable at the same time. For instance, diving into the plot of my series… going off on an epic journey to wake up ‘The Seven’ and protect the world from falling apart probably isn’t what a ‘normal’ 20-year-old kid is dealing with… right? And yet, losing a parent or having someone effected by cancer, sadly, is. Those are the things that happen in life that we might not necessarily want to look at… but, if we do, we become emotionally prepared for just about anything in our path.
In so many ways, the character ‘Kyle Lionheart’ (the main character of the series) is a VESSEL to the individual READER. I wanted to use my own personal experiences with some of the heavier things I’ve dealt with in my life in order to encourage anyone else going through difficult times (or with similar scars) that INCREDIBLE things start to happen when you, simply put, ‘don’t give up’… and find or force a way to keep moving forward despite being given a seemingly ‘bad hand’ in life.
The truth is, I’ve always had a wild imagination and I wanted to be able to hone that to the absolute fullest extent over the course of this seven-book series… but, by incorporating real-life friends, family and events into the fantasy picture – you create something real WITHIN the fantasy. And that, more than anything else, is what I’m trying to achieve. I like fantasy that makes you feel something even if you know that not everything is real. And I think when people discover how different of a series this is, they’ll gradually join that club too.
Was it difficult to write such a personal story?
Call it a habit, but I’ve been wearing my heart on my sleeve my entire life. So, in a way… I guess I’m a little more used to opening up than perhaps the average person is – especially, through the essence of writing itself. Having said that, however, yes. The journey of writing Book One was certainly a challenge for much bigger reasons other than getting a word count or seeking to depict a pretty picture on a page.
…The hardest part had to have been writing the ‘Prologue’ of the book itself, which sort of sets up the entire series as a whole in the most naked/vulnerable way I knew how: telling word for word how EVERYTHING happened the day I lost my mother to stage four breast cancer… and every detail of how I had to say goodbye to her at the hospital with my dad during the morning that completely changed my life.
Not a lot of people know this, but I was writing that segment of the book in the moment when everything had just happened. The wound was fresh, so exploring it was… well, kind of like digging through my memories with a dull knife. In other words, it hurt like heck. I needed to do that, though. Because despite how much it hurt to write, I knew that one day, I WOULDN’T feel sad anymore. I WOULDN’T hurt the way I was when I was writing it. And so that internal sunrise I knew was coming someday was what ultimately kept me going – and knowing that what I was doing ‘today’ might help someone else going through something similar ‘tomorrow’.
…looking back on how vulnerable everything was, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. The more personal, the higher the chance it has to make the reader ‘feel’ something. And that’s more than worth it for me. That’s the reason I write in general. I want to make the reader feel something. Otherwise, what’s the point?
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Each book plans to focus on an individually unique/general theme and I think the biggest impression I want to leave with this first one is the idea of HOPE in general. Especially, when it comes to overcoming grief or a difficult stage in life as a whole.
I wanted to make something that was real and honest to the reader. They deserve that much. And they deserve to know that it’s not a fantasy to try and go out and pursue a dream… it’s not a fantasy to get where you want to be in life… especially, when you have so many people you’re doing ‘it’ for.
I want readers to use my scars as fuel for their own individualistic destiny/dream. Because the world needs more of those types of people. And I think the world knows that it needs it too. Now, more than ever.
I guess inspiration is a lot like playing dominos… it just takes one to tip the rest of them over. I’m hoping I can be a force in making something beautiful like that happen. One day at a time. One page at a time. Admittedly, I stare at the ceiling thinking about that every night.
What is your favorite part of the writing process and why?
There are SO many pieces of the process that I absolutely adore! It’s quite hard to pick just one, but… I’d have to say the feeling of ‘accomplishment’ when you finally put a picture that’s been quaking in your head on, well, paper.
That sounds simple, but it’s reaaaaaally NOT. So many of us have ideas that are pulsing to be born, but they rot and decay if we don’t do something with them. It takes a lot of sweat, discipline and focus to bleed that picture on the other side of the page…and I love every second of getting there, don’t get me wrong – but when I’m there looking at it? It might not always be pretty, but it’s real. And it’s in those moments where I feel the most ALIVE when writing. That gives me every bit of reconfirmation that I need for the day when that picture starts to slowly come together.
What is your least favorite part of the writing process and why?
Ah, the other side of the coin. I would definitely say it’s got to be attacking the first page of a chapter. And let me explain why:
It’s absolutely terrifying and intimidating staring at an empty page thinking, “I’ve got to do something here that will make someone want to keep reading”. And then, of course, there’s the overanalyzing of every little word and detail threaded into each mountain of a paragraph. The first page is exhausting, but mainly because it’s such a mental battle with oneself. You have to dismiss all the DOUBT and just attack it head on…knowing that it won’t be perfect, but the sooner you do it, the sooner it can one day, well… be perfect.
It’s a double-edged sword. I love the challenge, but starting off a day that way can definitely bring some anxiety into my mornings. I always feel so much better and at ease mentally when that first wall breaks down.
Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser,” or perhaps a blend of both? Have you tried writing both ways? If a plotter, what is your favorite outlining method?
Oh, definitely a blend of both there! I would say the “plotter” side of me might win a little bit just in the alone fact that I like to create a general ‘blueprint’ (I use a white board) for each chapter before jumping into each one individually…that way, I always have a general idea of “where I’m going” with the story.
And yet, there are so many ideas that are born while I write (or when I take life pauses from writing) that I always try to thread the story with those influences whenever I can. I’m a big believer that those ideas happen for a REASON and sometimes we aren’t meant to see the ENTIRE picture until we figure out a few of the specks first.
That’s one of the things I love most about writers – everybody has their own unique approach and style. There’s no ‘wrong’ way… just new possibilities. I think we can learn a lot from that if we take the time to look from every conceivable angle.
Do you have any writing tricks or tips for productivity?
I actually do and it’s something, admittedly, I so dearly wish I would have discovered upon writing the first book (I’m only discovering it now as I write the second). I like playing the “One page per hour” game, which, is exactly how it sounds:
My mission is to get a new page, start to finish, before each new hour. And keep that pace going until I feel like, at the end of the day, when I’ve poured everything I had… I can still write MORE. Much more.
…that way, when I come back the next day… it’s even easier to pick up right where I left off (having that type of ammunition leftover).
Often times, I might finish before the hour is up. And during those times, I usually let life fill me in for a bit – I go outside and stretch, have a snack, multi-task, etc… but, as soon as that new hour begins, I am back at it in assassin mentality attack-mode. Again.
It’s a pace that I really think is beyond achievable and more than anything, it helps maintain ‘sanity’ during the longer days of writing. It also builds the discipline of being able to write for longer periods of time, which, like any ‘muscle’… will only make you a stronger writer in the days ahead. And, ultimately, make your story stronger too.
What’s one useful craft tip you’ve learned lately that you can share with us?
There’s an excerpt from Gary Provost that I read a few months back that had to do with the idea of making ‘music’ out of your sentences. I took that to heart and ever since then, I’ve tried to VARY my sentence length in writing to be… diverse. You can have the really long sentences – the kind that drags on for a while whenever you want the reader to become more engaged. Then, there’s the short ones. The heavy hitters. One light punch. That’s it.
Having that range in your writing is something I think every writer should strive to achieve… it keeps things interesting and, more than anything else, the reader ENGAGED and CHALLENGED.
Gary said it all when he said:
“Don’t just write words. Write music.”
Keep that in mind while writing and I guarantee you’ll be great.
Where do you go for inspiration when you feel your creativity well is running dry?
It’s not so much ‘where’, but more like the act of stepping out itself. I’ve always been a big believer in taking walks – in fact, it’s one of the first things I subconsciously draw on within Book One, Awakening.
I used to have a rule for myself that whenever I was feeling down about something…I would go out and take a walk. It wouldn’t stop there, however. If I wanted to come back from the walk, I needed to ‘discover’ something while on the walk – it didn’t need to be an EPIPHANY or anything life-altering… just something. A speck of something I could come back with and use to make me feel BETTER.
…I don’t treat it any differently with writing.
I’ll go out on walks and keep moving forward until the well fills up again. Maybe it’s only a drop one night… but then, others, it’s an ocean. You just have to step out and in the words of J.K Rowling, “Fill up on life for a while”.
Which authors do you admire most, and why?
Having been an English major at the University of California, Irvine – I’ve read a lot of literature over the years. I’m so blessed to have that type of ‘catalogue’. I love that. I love that I have so many different perspectives and styles I’ve seen over the years. I wouldn’t trade anything for that experience.
And yet, there are definitely a few that stand out to me the most. The types that have helped me with my own personal writing endeavors.
The author that changed everything for me was someone a close friend of mine recommended: Dave Eggers. He wrote a book entitled, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and I began reading it right when I got to college.
Looking back, I can’t help but smile because that moment of reading it changed things for me. The way he wrote the book was in such a truly unique style that I had NEVER seen before… and it inspired/reminded me that every individual writer HAS a voice and you just have to FOLLOW it. That gave me the courage to follow my own voice and it hasn’t stopped me since. I have to thank Dave Eggers and my friend for introducing me to him for that. Love you, Tim!
To keep things plural, however, Tolkien will always be one of my other greatest influences – I grew up living in that fantasy world and believing it to be true as a child… at least, within my own imagination.
Also, J.K Rowling entered my life right when I needed her to with the Harry Potter series. I grew up reading those books and I saw what dreams could potentially be through her journey in writing that she’s continuing even today. She changed the writing game entirely and I respect/admire that about her so much. I think it gives people hope in their own individual pursuit. And that’s a useful weapon to any writer’s arsenal.
Do you have any marketing tricks or tips for authors who are new to publishing?
So much of it is going to be “trial by fire”, much like everything in life. But, I would certainly say that having a PLAN developed is critical/essential well before you make yourself visible to the rest of the world.
Treat it like you’re writing the story itself. BE YOU. I cannot possibly stress that enough. BE YOU. BE YOU. BE YOU. People don’t want to see anything else! There is nothing more real and honest than that… and that, more than anything else, will ‘separate’ you from the crowd.
Your marketing isn’t a copy/paste. Your marketing is YOU.
…having said that, going back to what I first said – having a plan in place really helps a lot. I like to make a month-by-month calendar of what types of posts/engagement I want to make for my audience. Whether it be promoting my first book, providing some inspirational fuel, or supporting another author (very, VERY important) etc.. it doesn’t matter. The last thing you want to do is wake up each day and “not know” where you’re going for said day.
Know. Plan. It’s easy – and not to mention, it’s exciting too. The bigger your map gets and the more you follow it, the closer you’ll get to where you want to be. My dad always told me, “It’s the journey; not the destination that matters”. And you know what? He was right
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Three Words: Don’t be scared.
It’s as simple as that. There are so many things we overanalyze and problems we create in our own head with writing. Tell your inner doubt to ‘shut up’ and attack what you WANT to be in life head on.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Writing is scary. You have to be brave to do it… so, embrace that fear. Embrace that adrenaline and carve something beautiful out of it. Imagine where we would be as a society if everybody that ever had an idea was “too scared” to write it down – we’d be nowhere.
The ‘Lionheart’ attached to my author alias and main character of the series is there for a reason. Courage, is there for a reason. We ALL have it. We just have to be the one to bring it out – no one else can do that for you.
What’s your favorite writing snack and/or beverage?
Triple espresso, over ice, with a splash of soy. I swear, it’s the perfect amount of caffeine in a bite size taste… not too much, not too little. And it will change your life. Bold words, I know, but take the leap.
Snack-wise, I’ve always been a big fan of protein bars in general. Easy to eat, fills you up – makes the breaks between writing less and less. And that’s okay with me because I love writing. 🙂
To learn more about Kyle, check out his website here:
Also, be sure to check out his debut novel on Amazon.
Summary of The Seven – Awakening:
Struck all at once by a family tragedy and the mysterious sudden disappearance of his father, Kyle Lionheart’s young twenty year old life in Southern California has quickly and most of all, chaotically, become anything other than normal. But when a series of reoccurring nightmares depicting the world’s end begin interrupting his sleep and a psychotic organization bent on ‘starting things over’ rise from beneath the ashes of a forgotten past, Kyle must decide whether to open his eyes to the truth attached to his destiny as “The Awakener”.
The Seven – Awakening,” is the first book in the epic saga between the journey of Kyle and his friends. Inspired by real-life events, people, but most of all, the essence of tragedy itself – Awakening is a truly unique blend of both fictional and non-fictional sstorytelling. Told by the author’s heart. To the reader’s heart.
It is the epic beginning of a story that is just as real emotionally as the power of its pages are imaginatively. There truly is something for everybody.
Follow Kyle on the interwebs:
Email/Contact Information: email@example.com