Interview with Rebecca P Minor

This month’s interview is with Rebecca P Minor, whom Donald and Kristin have gotten to know through the annual Realm Makers conference. Running the conference is only one of the many things keeping her busy, though; she’s also a fantasy author and artist. Read on to learn more about her work, and about why you should consider coming to Realm Makers this year!

How would you describe your spiritual and/or religious beliefs, and how would you say they influence your writing?

I am a Christian of a moderately conservative bent, a faith I embraced when I was about 18 years old. Although I was raised in a Catholic family, the reality of my need for Christ’s saving work on the cross did not become clear to me until after high school, and at that point, I embraced a non-denominational protestant worldview.

This worldview underpins my writing in that I choose to create stories where the universe owes its existence to a single creator God who desires connection to the people he has created. There is a definite sense of absolute right and wrong in this world, which pits good against evil. Even if the mortal people in my stories don’t always “get it right” in choosing behaviors that adhere to their side of the moral spectrum, my stories reflect upon character behavior from a traditional moral context.

Why do you think you became a writer, and why speculative fiction?

I became a writer because storytelling in one form or another has always been woven into the fiber of who I am. Whether that meant relaying spooky stories to kids on the bus, singing, giving guided tours, making animated films, or writing novels, I have always felt most in accord with my talents when I am using them to unpack characters and drama.

Speculative fiction has also always been the area of storytelling that has captivated my imagination. Stories that ask the question “What if…” and answer it in ways that go far beyond everyday experience give me the most joy in reading and writing.

What do you think are some of the most important themes in the stories you write?

I tend to gravitate toward stories that encourage the heroes to discover their inherent gifts and use them to the benefit of those they touch. Contributing to the greater good has always been an important pursuit to me. I also tend to discuss the damage, whether direct or collateral, that comes about when people harbor false assumptions about others. My characters in the books I’m working through now also have a lot of work to do on their own perceptions, fears, and emotional wounds, that I feel they must conquer in order to achieve their potential.

What books or authors most influenced you when you first started writing? What are some of your favorites now?

When I first started writing, I was pretty heavily influenced by a mix of J.R.R. Tolkien, Tracy Hickman, Madeleine L’Engle, and Terry Brooks. While those influences are still with me, I am currently studying the work of Brandon Sanderson (The Stormlight Archive) and Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind.) While I have no illusions my worldbuilding or plot complexity will ever rival Sanderson’s, and I could only hope to absorb a little of Rothfuss’s storytelling and wordsmithing, I still strive to learn from those juggernauts of the current fantasy arena whose stories I enjoy.

What can you tell us about your fantasy series, The Windrider Saga? What would you say is unique about it?

The Windrider Saga seeks to tap into the resonance old-school traditional fantasy has with so many readers. At the same time, I try to put my own spin on those tropes by centering my plot on a society of elves that is in its prime. These elves aren’t withdrawn and unapproachable, but visceral, drinking in life and experiencing its joys and pains with intensity. I also mix in a good dose of snarky banter, since my protagonist is one of those guys who rarely edits before he speaks, so his frustration and disdain often erupt in humorous ways.

We’ve noticed that you’re releasing pages of a Windrider Saga graphic novel. How does the graphic novel relate to the other books—is it a new installment, or an illustrated retelling of the earlier material?

The first graphic novel I’m working on—horribly slowly, I might add—is a visual retelling of the first book in the series, Divine Summons. Divine Summons is a short work for a novel, so it’s the most realistic story to tackle in the graphic novel format. It’s an experiment, to say the least. As I continue to chip away at it, I will see whether producing graphic novels is sustainable with everything else I have going on.

What’s it like to tell a story through a graphic novel? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages, compared to writing a regular novel?

Graphic novels force you to the action of a scene really quickly, and they are really adept at pointing out when people are doing way too much talking and far too little “doing.” A paragraph I may have spent setting the scene in a novel might be summed up in a single image. However, where it would take me twenty minutes to write that paragraph, it might take me 8 hours to draw and ink it. So, while the graphic novel’s end product is efficient and brisk in terms of telling the story, they are FAR more labor intensive to produce.

The advantage of a graphic novel, as I see it, is an expansion of the types of readers who I can introduce to my story world. With a novel, though, I feel I am able to get inside the characters’ heads with more depth, and call attention to certain details through pacing and word choice. Since I am a very visual person, being an artist, the graphic novel gives me an outlet to show my readers how I see my story world.

We had the opportunity to get to know you through Realm Makers. How would you describe Realm Makers, for those of our readers who aren’t familiar with it?

Realm Makers is something I call a “pilgrimage of the geeks” when I’m referring to it in a shorthand kind of way. Once a year, we strive to offer an event that Christian story makers can’t wait to attend, both for the sake of connecting with their tribe, and learning new tools to take the next steps in their writing journeys.

Because we focus solely on speculative fiction, the conference has a very different vibe than a multi-genre Christian writer’s conference. Another factor that changes the feel of Realm Makers is that we do our best to bridge the gaps between Christian publishing and general market publishing, as well as the space between traditional and independent publishing. We acknowledge that no one path of getting books to readers is right for every author, and that you’re no less professional or Christian if you choose an independent or general market route.

What inspired you to start Realm Makers?

I began Realm Makers because I saw a need among Christians who write speculative fiction to have an environment where they felt at home, not like the weirdo outsiders. Because we are a small percentage of the writing community, it doesn’t make business sense for other conferences to focus on our unique needs, so I decided it was time to forge a conference that would serve the Christian spec-fic writer in particular.

What does Realm Makers offer that other conferences and science fiction conventions do not?

Realm Makers offers more intensive writing training than you’ll find at many fantasy and science fiction cons, while also affirming a Christian worldview. At other Christian conferences, you won’t typically find conversations about the use of futuristic technology or how to build believable creatures.

Authors also won’t find opportunities to meet with publishers that aren’t specifically branded as Christian at a lot of Christian conferences, but we feel these opportunities are essential, for a couple of reasons. First, there simply aren’t enough spots in Christian publishers’ book lists to accommodate all the amazing stories Realmies are writing. Second, we feel strongly that we should not eliminate Christian voices from the wider artistic marketplace.

What do you see Realm Makers doing next?

One of our current goals for the future is finding the best types of events to make our Mobile Bookstore a viable business entity. To counter the limited exposure available to most Christian speculative books, we want to make sure we’re finding as many ways as possible to raise reader awareness of what’s available. We’re attending homeschool conventions, book fairs, outdoor festivals, and comic conventions to determine the right combination of destinations to sell as many books as necessary to fund the Mobile Bookstore’s operations.

It is possible we’ll be dipping our toe into publishing down the road as well. Since I’m independently publishing my own books, we’ll be learning the tools of publication, which we’d like to consider applying to future RealmScapes anthologies. Novel publication could follow, if we find the momentum is leading us there.

Do you have a day job besides writing, and organizing conferences for writers? If so, what is it, and how do you think it influences your writing?

Ha, um, sort of? I don’t work full-time at any one thing. I’m a freelance illustrator for children’s books sometimes, a maker of my own fantasy art when I can fit it in, and a few nights a week, I work as a Paint-and-Sip instructor. Most of these tend to cause a bit of a tug of war in allocating time to each pursuit, so they influence my writing most by stealing time from it! Frankly, though, the Paint-and-Sip job has done a lot to help smooth my nervousness when speaking in front of groups, which helps a lot when there’s a room of 300 authors staring up at you on a conference stage!

How much time would you estimate that you spend writing in an average week?

If I’m on deadline with an illustration project, I may go weeks without writing anything, which is hard, but the reality of keeping clients happy and paying the bills. But when I am writing, I would say I put about 15 hours a week in. Once I have books out again, I’m hoping I can actually make them a revenue stream for the sake of justifying more time at the writing desk,

Do you tend to plot out your stories first, or just start writing and see where they go?

I write mostly by the seat of my pants, but I always have a few guideposts in place so I at least know what my protagonist is up against and what the climax of the book will involve. But those guideposts don’t even begin to resemble what real outliners put in place before writing. I’m thankful for my film school training pounding three act structure into my bones, because even though I’m pantsing my way along, I typically seem to manage to hit the big structural changes at about the right place. The training I received in an intensive workshop with Dave Farland a few years back has also made me more cognizant of making sure I’m hitting emotional beats, writing scenes that broaden or deepen the conflict, and employing hooks far better than I did when I began writing. So at least I waste a lot fewer words now than I once did.

What’s the first thing you do after you finish the first draft of a story? Do you start revising right away, or wait? Do you have a critique group or beta readers?

I tend to revise at least a time or two before I pass my work to anyone else to take a look. I have a small group of folks who beta read for me, but we’re all getting so busy with our own projects that I need to get more formal about exchanging critiques again. Otherwise, we all WANT to help with each other’s stories, but we can’t seem to squeeze in the time to give and take feedback.

Do you have any stories you want to write someday, but aren’t yet ready to?

Definitely. I have a story about handmaidens trying to escape a prison camp that is going to be quite gritty, and I haven’t gotten the nerve to write more than the first few pages. I believe the story has a lot of potential, though. My Windrider books eventually intersect with my other series, The Risen Age Archive, and send the Windrider protagonist on his Big Quest, that all of the adventures of his youth have been preparing him for. That book is tentatively titled Idol Slayer, and I know I don’t have the chops to write it yet. Plus, I have to finish the three books of the Risen Age Archive and maybe write a couple more Windrider books before I can even think about Idol Slayer. Maybe I’ll have figured out how to write and sell fiction by then. J

What are you working on now?

Right now, I am in re-release mode. My entire body of work was published by small presses that have shut their doors or restructured, so I am working through new edits of three Windrider Saga books as well as another novel called Curse Bearer. Over the next year to 18 months, I hope to have all of those books back into circulation, and to have finished writing two more books that follow Curse Bearer. I also have a collection of my short works sitting in Vellum, ready to publish, but I want to wait until the second Windrider book, at least, is available before I send the collection to print. All of the books and stories exist in the same story world, so some of the information the stories in the collection reveal is more interesting and integral if readers discover those details in a certain order.

What advice would you give to authors who’d like to see their work published but aren’t there yet?

I would tell the unpublished author that there’s really no hurry to get your current book “out there.” Just because you see people around you having book releases doesn’t mean anything about your work, so take the time to polish the books you have and don’t rush into a publishing agreement you aren’t absolutely thrilled with. There are many, many ways to get published and regret it in hindsight.

On the other hand, though, try your best to finish projects and then write the next book. The only way you really get better at writing is to keep writing. Rewriting has some value, but not as much as crafting a totally new story. If you’re shopping a manuscript to publishers, write something new (not a sequel to the one you’re shopping) while you wait for responses. The old saying that you need to write a million words of dreck before you start writing anything worth reading isn’t very far off, at least for those of us who aren’t top-of-the-NYTimes-bestseller prodigies. When one of your books DOES get picked up for publication, then look! You have a huge list of other stuff that publisher may want later.

Oh, and come to Realm Makers.

Rebecca P Minor plays a lot of different roles any given day, but the thread that connects them all is a love of great stories. She is the author of two fantasy series, The Risen Age Archive and The Windrider Saga, as well as multiple short stories set in the same story world as her novels. Besides writing, Rebecca also weaves fantastic tales with artwork, ranging from traditional animation to graphic novel illustration. When she’s not writing or drawing, she’s working to bring her fellow authors together at an annual writer’s conference called Realm Makers, of which she is the founder and director. All these pursuits combined serve to remind her how truly fortunate she is to be able to pursue her love of the arts every day. She and her husband Scott live with their three boys in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where they’re endeavoring to reach and equip readers and writers alike, one geek at a time.

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