What Now? Five Things I’ve Learned about Writing

832 days.

Exactly the number of days that elapsed between publication of the first book and completion of the sequel’s first full draft. That works out to 2 years and 102 days, most of spent not writing anything at all.

Anyhoodle, I wouldn’t call 832 days a long time (I mean, Anne Boleyn had a longer stint in her famously short reign as Queen of England), but it was during this period that I learned a good deal about writing, and about the kind of writer I am.

Here are five of them for a start.  Continue reading

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The Storybook Villain

Image via Pinterest

So I’m twelve chapters into my sequel and something is bothering me—there is no obvious villain in the story. Or should I say I still haven’t decided who, among the many characters, I want to assign the role to.

Literature is littered with too many cases of cardboard villains who, for reasons unknown, have decided to exist solely for the pleasure of thwarting or doing harm to the protagonist. These days, however, it’s hardly enough to be a baddie, just because. One’s gotta be a good baddie, complete with a credible backstory, unjustifiable yet understandable motivations, a dangerous but persuasive personality, an underlying vulnerability, and so on.

Given the implications, and how I’ve grown to care deeply about every single character, no matter how minor or major a part they play in the story, I’m going back and forth on several possible scenarios. Even the possibility that the baddie is everyone and no one.

Stop overthinking it, just write, I tell myself. But to pull off a convincing showdown between opposing forces, I first have to be convinced—and I’m struggling with the struggle because I’m a toughass critic when it comes to these things.

Because here’s the thing: I don’t want to have a villain simply for the sake of having a villain, especially the sort that everybody loves to hate. And then I wonder, more generally: in life, do we even need villains in order to overcome obstacles? Granted there are many irritating people in our lives who’ve made difficult situations almost unbearable—but are they the issue itself or just the catalyst that forces us to face a more significant, pre-existing problem?

Pondering on the subject of villains has got me a little introspective, I’ll have to admit. Revisiting my history of run-ins with ‘baddies’—and dredging up memories that are tied to specific times and places—has not been easy. Also, in order for me to reframe these unpleasant individuals within a larger narrative, a fair bit of reconditioning is involved.

That’s been an interesting exercise, to say the least.

As I unpacked my memories (especially ones I’d much rather forget) and reconsidered their place within my mental catalog, I was able to detach them from the emotions that went with the particular encounters. As a result, many horrible people of my past started to look less like the powerful and enigmatic villains I’d made them out to be, and more like, well, people. Yes, they were manipulative, calculating, opportunistic, and mean-spirited, but still just people.

And as I examined the various instances in which various ‘baddies’ made my life hell, I noticed that my fears and insecurities—and how I responded to them—were a common thread.

These same fears and insecurities were the real villains, whose rules everyone played by, me and my tormentors included. The ‘bad guys’ only won because they recognized this fact, and I didn’t. As a result, even if I believed myself to be on the side of ‘good,’ I lost. Every single time.

As someone who grew up reading any book she could get her hands on, and being thoroughly acquainted with every storybook villain imaginable, I always assumed the bad guys came to bad endings. The evil character was always, always vanquished, no matter how seemingly weak the protagonist was. Because that’s how it is in fiction. Good always wins.

But frankly, since I began to write my own books, this whole villain conundrum has made me think twice. Why did I always assume a novel’s main character was ‘good’ just because they narrated the story, and that the antagonist was someone outside themselves?

So what happens if the villain lies both without and within? I guess I’ll have to keep writing to find out.

Authors Series: Guest Post by Andy Mulberry

About 1 and a half years ago, I did a Q&A with Andy Mulberry, fellow middle-grade author who blogs on the wacky Something Smells Fishy Here! She’s just released her third book in her Skycastle books series, with the fourth fast on its way. Fearless and adventure-loving readers are in for a real treat!

Today, I’m thrilled and honored to have Andy on my little space again. Ever wondered what an author gets up to when she isn’t busy writing stories? Andy, for one, loves taking roadtrips. In this Guest Post, she takes us on her recent jaunt to Southern California. Thank you, Andy, for sharing!


Thank you for having me, Rachel! Grab a cup of tea and put on your jammies, I’ll take you on a journey to, not Belzerac, but to Southern California, by way of snapshots taken with my trusted smartphone. ‘Cause if I’m not writing or reading or taking a nap, I like taking roadtrips along the coast and up to the mountains.

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Laguna Beach, California

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Laguna Beach, California

These are snapshots from Laguna Beach, California. A quaint and eclectic town, Laguna Beach is an active artist community with countless art galleries. I like to come here for fish tacos and to watch the surfers do their thing—but even better are the early mornings when the beach is deserted except for the seagulls that try to steal your breakfast croissant.

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Those darn seagulls! Always hungry.

I took the below shot while driving to Idyllwild, which is nestled in the San Jacinto mountains. I come here for the tall pines, the cedars and the awesome hiking trails. No seagulls here, but beware the black bears that probably would want you for breakfast, not just your croissant. (Full disclosure: I’ve yet to see a bear during hiking; I’m starting to believe they’re just a myth.)

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On my way to Idyllwild, California

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View from Runyon Canyon Hiking Trail, Los Angeles, California

While we’re in the midst of winter, I regret to inform that it is currently 67F and sunny here. For someone like me who loves clouds, autumn rain and blustery winds, living in Southern California can be tough indeed. And if you’re ever around, let me know and I’ll buy you a cup of tea 🙂

In the meantime, you can connect with me on Twitter, Goodreads or my blog.

Andy Mulberry writes middle-grade fiction and lives in Southern California with her scowling teenager, a chubby blue cat-beast, an imaginary dog and one leaky roof. Her latest release, the third in a middle-grade series aimed at reluctant readers (boys!), is out now. Ask her for free review copies!

Skycastle Book 3 Cover