Writer Spotlight: R.K. Brainerd

Hello, dear readers!

We’re so excited for our first ever Writer Spotlight! This month, we’re featuring a writer who is near and dear to our hearts. Friends with one of our Muses, R.K. first appeared on here when she agreed to be a guest writer, featuring her thrilling story, Icarunite. We are thrilled to welcome her back for this interview, where she graciously shares insight on her writing process, her publication journey with a small press and shares details about her upcoming debut release, PRIDEM.

1. Please introduce yourself: who you are, how long you’ve been writing and anything else you want new readers to know!

Hello! My name is Rebekkah, I write under R.K. Brainerd, and I’ve been writing since I was 12. Always a daydreamer and a lover of fantasy, the actual writing bit was inspired after I dreamt of going to the same place as the same person several nights in a row. I decided that was pretty damn cool and that I should keep writing like my consciousness traveled to another world while I slept.

My first ‘book’ I started at about 14, starring an orphan dragon stuck in human form who discovers her lineage and then has to prevent two parallel universes from colliding. Wow, that manuscript went through so many revisions it’s unrecognizable from its start. Eventually I put that series (two books written, a third started!) on backburner for my latest series, the one that’s being published by the end of this year (!!!!).

INITIUM took about 5 years to write, and is a result of a whole confluence of ideas.

  1. In it’s very first nugget form, I was 16 and wanted to explore romantic relationships, as purely as I could write them. And for me that meant a fiercely trusting and loyal friendship/partnership…with benefits.
  2. I’ve got to credit my father for some of this. He told me one day, while we were discussing writing and story ideas, that all things needed to have a weakness. So I set out to write a character without weakness and without flaws. *insert laughter* Guess what…that didn’t work. But without that initial challenge I’m not sure my hero, Daimyn, would exist.
  3. My main character, Fairian, really only completely solidified in the past few years. Her final development probably stems from some pretty difficult situations from my teenage years. I’m still discovering elements of things I didn’t realize I’d been processing through writing this story.
  4. When I started seriously writing INITIUM, I found that I wanted to push the limits of my writing skills, using what I’d learned from my dragon story. So I dove into this thing with one big idea: tell the reader information only when they needed it, keep them guessing, and keep the mystery alive. That mystery element remains, though it’s more subtle now and not mystery in the genre sense.
  5. The final pillar of this series came around when I finally turned to world building. I’d been writing and experimenting with characters and writing skills, but finally realized I wouldn’t get anywhere unless I knew where this was actually happening. So the INITIUM world began with several ‘What Ifs’:

I’d always loved the idea of magical creatures existing in the European middle ages, with all of the rich mythology and folklore about that era. So…what if magical creatures did thrive in the middle ages in Europe, but for some reason, had to rapidly leave in a mass exodus?

What if they fled to the Americas? What if they made a deal with the Native Peoples there, that they would protect their continents from being discovered from the European invaders in return for being able to stay?

Then I came across an article (I was in college at this point) that the discovery of the Americas allowed Europe to stem overpopulation by “exporting” people as well as being able to steal food and resources in return…and without those things, Europe might have collapsed.

WELL. That gave me my next What If: What if ecosystem in Europe collapsed not long after the Industrial Revolution, due to overpopulation and pollution and whatever else?

And that…is how I built the world for INITIUM and the Obsidian Divide series. It took years to really hone what all of that looked liked and how it would present itself in this story, but it started from a few crucial ideas that took off and blended to become something I’m pretty damn proud of.

Anyway, I realize that was a LONG backstory. But I’ve led you through this for a reason. I think there’s this pressure in the writing community that your first book will be THE ONE, or that first drafts need to be perfect, or that you’ll know exactly what you’re doing right off the bat. And I don’t think any of that’s true. Writing, even for those with a natural inclination or “talent” (as I supposedly did), is a craft that must be practiced and improved. You can only improve your writing by writing, so that often involves a lot of…writing.

I wrote for years before I even started the book that got me a publishing deal. And then it took many more years to turn book shaped. But once I knew that shape…I wrote three books in three years and got my publishing contract only a few years after I finished that first book in the Obsidian Divide Series.

So if you’re looking for some reassurance why your story is just not coming out right or it feels like you don’t know what you’re doing or maybe you’re frustrated the dang book keeps changing over and over…view this as permission that this process is totally normal and you are a damn rockstar for keeping with it.

2. Tell us about your publishing journey and about your debut!

I initially started querying the dragon story I mentioned above. As I learned a lot about writing from those books, I learned a lot about querying from them as well: how to hone it down, how to phrase things, what a hook really is. It forced me to go through the process and really get the practice I needed to query INITIUM.

Anyway, fast forward. I queried agents for INITIUM for about two years. Mostly I received form rejections or nothing at all. The few personal responses I did receive were from an agent I met personally at a conference, and brand new agents that were actively building their list. I didn’t get a lot of advice that was all that helpful per se, as it was mostly personal preference reasons for rejection, but the positive things they had to say were incredibly helpful and encouraging.

I participated in Twitter contests as well, which was not only a huge learning experience, but I met a lot of really great friends and contacts in the industry. After about a year I opened my horizons to small presses as well as agents. I pitched to one locally in my area at a writer’s conference and got an ask for pages, though they didn’t ask for a full manuscript till almost a year later. (By that time I’d decided I wouldn’t continue with them as they seemed too new and inexperienced, and their very delayed response made me leary that they would take forever to do anything, which is a situation I was hoping to avoid with a small press.) I received a few rejections from other small presses I was curious about (and oddly enough, they generally wrote back more personal but very stinging remarks!).

Then, in early 2016, one of the twitter contests (#P2P), brought me in contact with my eventual publisher, Glass House Press. It took a few months for them to make a decision, and then a few weeks for negotiating the contract… and by October, I had my own publishing contract for the first three books into my series starring my heroes Fairian and Daimyn.

In early 2017 my editor decided that, due to the complexity of my character’s backstory and the intricacy of the world, I needed to write a prequel to ease readers into the story. PRIDEM came out of that, which follows Fairian during one of the main events that helps her become the epic character that she is. PRIDEM will be my debut.

3. What is your favorite thing about writing?

That’s an excellent question. The answer keeps changing, honestly. A year ago I would have said the initial rush of inspiration, the passion that seizes you and seems to take a mind of its own, that holds your brain hostage. Now, however…I’m finding an incredible satisfaction out of the editing process. Taking the initial draft, in all its flaws, and finding much better ways to express and write things is mind blowing. I guess part of that is being pushed to challenge my limits through critically analyzing what I’ve written. I particularly love taking a situation and finding some way to give it even more depth — either positive or negative. I’ve found that sometimes I’ll hold back in first drafts (for whatever reason), and going back through and making everything so much worse (or better) often brings out whole new elements and levels of depth.

4. What is the one writing habit that you’ve stuck to all this time?

Thaaaaat’s hard to answer, because I seem to be in this weird flux where everything about my writing process is changing. Part of that is because my work habits have shifted completely and my time has been severely cut down.

Music tends to be pretty critical to the inspiration process for me. Also, I can’t seem to write in the same place all the time. Maybe it’s because I can’t sit still for very long, but I’ll write in all sorts of ridiculous positions and places and shift around several times a writing session.

Recently I’ve gone back to a habit I’d fallen out of practice: making sure I have a poignant scene fully envisioned in my head before I write it out. I’ll run through it, over and over, until I have it crystal clear in my head, and then I’ll write it out. This seems to help a lot in letting the emotion and imagery of the story fuel the scene instead of letting the words and editing brain get in the way.

5. How do you cope with rejections?

Ha! Honestly, how does anyone? I guess the first thing I do is take a step back and take a breath. Rejection and criticism can both very easily feel like being hit in the face, but often times it’s not personal at all.

With both rejection and criticism, I usually read something once, give it a few days, and then come back if I need to and look at it more objectively. I try to take helpful advice from it, while giving myself permission to ignore some — or a lot — as not helpful at all. Because not everyone is the same, not everything views the same subject or character the right way, and much of this industry is so subjective.

I remember one rejection from a small press that called Fairian “unlikeable” and “unrealistic.” The next rejection I got said that they LOVED my characters and obvious writing talent, but didn’t connect with the world and weren’t sure it was marketable. So that was eyeopening if mostly unhelpful.

It can get overwhelming and frustrating. And if needed, there should be no shame in stepping back for a while. (Here’s where I keep preachy, fair warning.)

Don’t overload yourself into making yourself quit, or dislike your love of writing. Don’t let the process of selling your books kill your creativity. Sometimes it’s hard to see clearly through all the hits of rejection. Don’t lose sight or why you write, or who you’re writing for. Because a lot in this industry will threaten to do that, so give yourself loving and overwhelming permission to do what you need to for your health and your writing career. There are so many ways to get your writing in the world, with all of their pros and cons — you just have to find the one that’s right for you.

6. What is one piece of writing advice you go back to every time the writing isn’t going so well? 

Writing advice is such a funny subject. Art in itself is such a subjective process with unique meanings to all of us, and it gets infinitely more complicated when we do things like try to mass market our art.

This is relatively new advice for me, but it’s something I think has been impacting me a lot lately: keep writing and selling books completely apart. Don’t even think about them together. Write your story, write from your heart. Get it done. Don’t think about anybody but yourself and what you’re trying to say.

ONLY THEN, edit the manuscript to turn it into something you can query and sell. But don’t be writing and thinking of selling at the same time, or you’re probably going to grind to an abrupt halt. (Or at least I do.)

The other biggest piece of advice I go back to is to take a break when I’m feeling stuck or uninspired — but intentionally take a break. I’m very much one of those people who has to “fill up” before I can “output.” Reading and watching well written and inspiring stories is usually my go-to. And that way, I can hold off the guilt that I’m not writing because I am being productive.

I don’t like the advice to write everyday. I used to like it, because it would force me to put butt in chair and take writing seriously — and often, once I started writing, things got a lot easier and it would start to flow. Unfortunately, writing every day is not possible for everyone, depending on your work and life situations. But I think I figured out a secret to that advice: the intent behind the advice is to take yourself seriously, and to challenge yourself.

And if that’s the case, as long as you are actively taking your writing and your challenges as seriously as your life allows, then you’re golden.

Writers aren’t all built the same, despite how much we share in common. Everyone one of us writers use different stimuli, habits, creative fuel — and cultivating writing creativity is pretty much a lifelong journey that never quits. The things I’ve mentioned above work for me, and hell, I hope they give you some inspiration and guidance. But only you are going to know how to cultivate your own creativity and career. And that means learning about yourself and the industry and taking yourself seriously.

7. Any advice for other debut authors? Or writers who are still fighting to break into the industry?

This one is hard. Because I think that every person is going to need different advice. It’s so easy to become so discouraged, and I remember wanting to kick authors who already had publishing contracts telling me to ‘never give up’ and ‘your time will come.’ So I don’t want to say that (even though it’s true).

I do want to say if you feel discouraged and frustrated and like you’re one tiny fish in a sea of millions, that’s completely valid. This becomes especially so, and for additional reasons, if you’re PoC or of a marginalized group. I have hope the industry is changing, but it’s going to be a while before all of the -isms are rooted out. Don’t feel bad if you need to take a step back and rally yourself for a while.

That being said, I think there is a piece of advice I can share: don’t hold yourself to expectations that others or the industry have for you. Don’t think you need an agent, a particular advance, or a particular book deal to be successful. Don’t think that your first novel has to be the one that gets you your first deal, and don’t think that your first draft will be perfect. Don’t think that your career hinges on one book, or even two. This industry is such in a state of flux with new opportunities, and don’t be afraid to grab the one that works for you, no matter if others don’t get it at first.

We all want it: the superstar agent, thousands of dollars advance, and so much marketing power behind our book to rocket us to the top. But the reality is that publishers are risk-averse, often prejudiced, and stuck in a lot of outdated norms when it comes to buying books. So…don’t be afraid to let yourself start small and build up until they can no longer ignore you.

8. Anything else you’d like people to know or want to talk about that we didn’t cover here?

Start learning everything you can about publishing now. That means marketing. That means publishing contracts. That means the ins and outs of what inspires you, how your creativity works under pressure, and knowing yourself. That means all the things that seem scary as hell, but really aren’t once you know a thing or two about them. The more you know, the more prepared you’ll be for your own publishing contract — and your career success. Be curious. Keep learning. There is a lot of advice and many well-meaning experts out there — find a process that resonates with you and helps you grow. (Though, at the same time, be cautious and careful, there are predatory people out there. Always get second opinions.)

And finally, find your people. Find your community that will keep you upright when everything seems like total crap, and who you can lift up in return. One of the best things about this industry is when one of us succeeds, we all do. I was very much a recluse when I started this journey, and was pretty nervous about getting close to people. Since then, I have met some amazing friends who I am thankful for every day. Like anything, please be cautious and careful of toxic people, but also consider being open for real friendships that will come your way. They will only help you succeed.

RKBrainerd_headshotR. K. Brainerd writes multi-genre fantasy and alternate history and does her best to make categorizing her novels pretty much impossible. Her characters are always clamoring for attention in her head, which make her a notorious daydreamer and she can often be found staring at a wall. She loves the rain and despises direct sunlight, raises big floppy-eared dairy goats, and wants to be a dragon.

PRIDEM, the prequel to the forthcoming OBSIDIAN DIVIDE series, is set to debut end of 2018. A dark alternate history fantasy, it sets the stage for an epic journey filled with magic, politics, and fierce love, following Fairian Leynthall as she carves a place for herself in a world filled with danger of all kinds.

Her website hosts all sorts of goodies: www.awakedragon.wordpress.com. And samples of her writing can be found here: https://awakedragon.wordpress.com/free-stories-hell-yeah/.

Thank you so much again to our awesome guest, R.K., for sharing everything your knowledge and experience with us! We’re so excited to check out your books once they hit the shelves! Readers, feel like helping a debut author out? Go check out her book on Goodreads and follow her on social media, as well as her blog, linked above.

This is one author you’re not going to want to miss.

Love,
Your Muses


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