SP: Hey Gillian! So glad to have you here on the Spinning Pen. 🙂 Before we get started, we want to hear about YOU and your writing journey! What made you want to write and what’s a fun fact you don’t mind sharing?
Thanks for having me here! Growing up, I always had a book in hand, whether I was doing chores, climbing a tree, or riding my horse. (Yes, my sweet old horse let me read on his back while he grazed.) My older sister and I would act out our favorite stories, which morphed into creating our own characters and plots for our play time in the woods, which eventually morphed into writing down those stories. So, the transition between reading to writing felt like it happened naturally, and I always had a story that I was working on. But it wasn’t until I was in high school and stumbled across an author’s blog that I realized authors were normal people who wrote books (as opposed to strange and magical creatures) and maybe I could be one. That’s the moment the dream sparked! What kept it alive was the hope that I could tell stories about characters like the ones that had shaped, encouraged, and inspired me growing up!
Fun fact about me? Just about every pet I’ve owned (other than my horse) has had a literary name of some sort—most of them from the Lord of the Rings.
SP: Let’s talk publishing for a second. What was your path to publication like? Any tips for the rest of us telling Santa, yet again, that all we want for Christmas is a book deal?
Once I graduated high school, I started reading all the writing blogs, websites, and books I could find. The first project I completed was a novella which I submitted to a tiny indie press that accepted it for publication. The contract ended up falling through—which worked out for the best—but that initial taste of success spurred me on. So, I submitted to contests, finished my first full length novel, signed up for a writer’s conference, and pitched to editors and agents resulting in some positive feedback and interest that led me to sign with an agent. Fast forward a bit, and that project, The Songkeeper Chronicles, eventually ended up with Enclave Publishing!
Summarized like that, it sounds fast, but the whole process took several years. And once my first book released, I learned so much through the process of writing the sequel—especially because it was only my second full length project and I now had to do it on deadline. That was quite the challenge. So, honestly, I think my tip for writers is to keep writing! Start something new while your manuscript is on submission and train yourself to work on deadline before you have to. That’s not advice on how to get a book deal, but it is something I wish I’d known back then!
SP: Now, for the exciting stuff. Tell us about your Songkeeper Chronicles!! We want all the deets!
The Songkeeper Chronicles is a YA fantasy story where music is magic and one girl’s song could shape or break her world. When her song attracts the attention of the warlord who rules her country, she teams up with a traveling peddler and a streetwise thief to escape his grip and discover the purpose behind her music. The series is full of fantastic creatures, musical battles, fun characters, and intense action sequences. Those are the sorts of things I love to write most, so naturally, I packed the story full of them.
SP: The world of Leira seems very robust and built out. How did this world come to you? What’s your process for world building?
The world of Leira started with the concept of a girl who could hear a song no one else could. Once I started digging into that, I realized this song was what had been used to create her world. That’s about all I had when I started drafting, so I had to discover the rest along the way—which is probably why it took five full drafts to get the book publishable. But discovering the world while writing was quite fun, and I felt like I was adventuring with my characters.
I now have far more of a process but it’s still fairly organic and fluid. Usually, I’m drawing upon tons of different pieces of inspiration, and then asking a lot of “What if” questions so I can tease out the ripple effects of each element. I spend hours brainstorming on my enormous whiteboard, scribbling out notes on culture, naming traditions, magic systems, environment, history, customs, food, clothing, weapons, transportation, religion, etc. Ideally, they’re all interconnected in some way. Because I am part outliner and part discovery writer, by the time I actually start writing, most of the worldbuilding is still only “penciled in” in my mind, and the writing process refines it and determines what I’ll actually “ink in” the story itself.
SP: Any tips to our readers on how to create memorable and realistic worlds?
When it comes to creating realistic worlds, I love thinking about limitations and the effects of time. This comes from one of Brandon Sanderson’s rules of magic, where he talks about the importance of knowing the limits to magical skills. I think it applies to just about every element of world building as well. So not just knowing what fruits and vegetables exist in the world, but knowing when they are in and out of season and where they’re accessible. Not just showing what resources your character has access to but what resources she doesn’t. Showing clothing wearing out, archers running out of arrows, devices breaking, and history affecting the future.
Limitations and the wear and tear of time are things we’re all so familiar with, so when we run across them in even the most mind-bending book setting, it feels relatable. So, bring all the flashy magic systems, ethereal fantasy worlds, and the farthest reaches of space, and root them in time, giving your characters flat tires, thrown horse shoes, and dead cell phone batteries, shoes that squeak, and food that’s long past its expiration date. Those are some of the details that I think help readers feel the grit and grime of a world and make it seem truly inhabited.
SP: Your books have won several awards. Congrats! What’s your secret???
Coffee. It is, after all, the magical elixir of life.
Seriously, though, I’m just thrilled any time I meet a reader who has resonated with my books in some way. The opportunity to tell stories feels like such an incredible gift, and I’m grateful for every reader who picks one of my books off the shelf.
SP: What has been the hardest part of writing for you? What’s helped you overcome that?
Since releasing my first book, I have struggled majorly with imposter syndrome and feeling like I don’t belong in the room. It usually comes and goes in waves and often hits harder at various part of the writing and editing processes. Once a draft gets past the shiny stage. Once a manuscript is off and awaiting edits. Once edits come in. Once the book is about to release. There are so many moments where it’s easy to feel small and inadequate, and that feeling can taint every word you put on the page until it seems like you’re incapable of creating anything good. Having been through the cycle enough times now, I can remember that is a cycle and I will get past it! But I don’t need to do it alone. Surrounding myself with an uplifting and encouraging community of writing friends has made the biggest difference in my ability to press on through imposter syndrome and find the joy of creating again.
SP: Sadly, we’re running out of time here. 🙂 Last question before the lightening round! What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Don’t try to go it all alone! For years, I was a lone wolf writer. I went to conferences, wrote, and suffered through dry spells, imposter syndrome, and creative block on my own. Since then, I’ve been blessed to make some wonderful writing friends, and it’s made all the difference. I love being able to look back over recent projects and see how that community has shaped and flavored what I’ve written. It’s a really beautiful thing! This writing business is tough without friends there to have your back, be your fellowship of faithful companions, and spur you on. So, my encouragement is to make finding that for yourself and being that for others a priority. It can be vulnerable and scary to reach out in search of that, but it’s well worth it!
SP: Lightening round time! Favorite or most interesting pet?
Took, my dog. I’ve had him for a year, and we’re inseparable. And Ariat, my horse. I’ve had him for twelve years, and he’s always been a fantastic friend.
SP: Coffee or tea?
SP: Word you can never spell? This may be a trick question…
Rhythm. I can spell it now but it used to get me every time.
SP: Trilogy or duology?
Trilogies. All the way.
SP: Time’s up! We’re so sad to see you go! Womp. Womp. Where can we go to read more from you??
My instagram is where I hang out the most and love interacting with fellow writers and readers! You can find links to my books and website there.
SP: Alright, thanks for your time! We’ll be thinking of you whenever we see magical looking creatures. Keep writing more adventures!