This weekend I spoke with self-published author J. Z. N. McCauley about writing, and her new book Oak and Mistletoe with was inspired by Celtric druid rituals. Keep reading to hear how she motivates herself, pushes through writer’s block and does her research. Oak and Mistletoe will be released on the 11th of October!
1. Introduce yourself! Who are you? What do you write / what genre? What are you currently working on? Do you have any published works?
Hi! I’m J.Z.N. McCauley, author of Oak & Mistletoe and A Bell Sound Everlasting. The genres I write are fantasy, new adult, and young adult. I will be writing other genres in the future, including some historical fiction. I’m currently working on Oak & Mistletoe’s sequel called The Oathing Stone (releasing Fall 2017), and a YA fantasy series that will start to be released from the end of 2017 through 2018.
You can find the Goodreads for Oak and Mistletoe here!
2. When did you first start writing and what motivated you to start?
I first began writing when I was around 12 years old. I always did essays and such. But it was then that I wrote my first fantasy story that was never finished. (I didn’t like it, so I didn’t continue.) I then wrote some fan fiction and continued on from there after breaks in between to pursue other interests and talents.
I think the motivation was from an artistic desire to create with the written word as I had a love for reading it. Other authors inspired me, and as I read their amazing stories they motivated me to always want to be a writer someday. I wasn’t able to be serious about it until a couple of years ago and continuous hard work began from there.
3. What inspires you to write? Can you tell us about the inspiration for any specific pieces of writing you have completed / are working on?
What inspires me to write is sort of something unexplainable. It’s just inside my head or heart. When I’m not in a good mood, but on a schedule, I still write because I’m devoted. However, the stories come from that spot inside my heart, where all the emotion and gut feelings begin and spread throughout the rest of my spirit. In other words, it’s a very emotional and personal place which springs forth my inspiration to write. I never have to go looking for inspiration to get myself to write, it’s always there from that.
My inspiration specifically for Oak & Mistletoe was from reading ancient and Roman history one day, where I came across the ancient Celtic druid’s ritual of oak and mistletoe. It was truly fascinating. It all fell into place in my mind as soon as I read about the ritual. I saw Catherine and Bowen. The basic plot.
4. How important is the planning stage for you? Do you like to plan everything before you start or do you simply start writing with a vague idea in mind?
That depends on the story. A Bell Sound Everlasting was a vague idea at first, it took forever to figure out what I was imagining. It actually felt like I was looking at it through a light fog for years until it cleared and I was able to finally do it. For Oak & Mistletoe, I planned most of it before I began writing. As I wrote it though, I liked some new ideas that came to mind. So I suppose the answer is that I like to plan in general, but sometimes (especially if in some sort of writer’s block) I do write with a vague idea and figure it out as I go. I’m pretty flexible, as long as the story gets done.
5. What is your writing process like?
Well, I write down all my ideas in crazy random notes. After I have enough of them, I try to organize the papers or electronic notes into one spot. Then I brainstorm a firm plot to write down. From there I do a basic outline, then a detailed one. Once that’s completed I just write it, while checking off the steps as I finish. Then comes the many drafts of revisions and edits until the final draft emerges.
6. What are your writing essentials / what do you use when you write?
I always have to have many pens and pencils, varying in colors. I also have a ton of sticky notes and notebooks. I mostly use the sticky notes, though. I think the notebooks are there to help me visually for some strange reason I can’t explain. As for what I use to write, I use a computer (though I would like to try a typewriter method someday) and I’ve mostly used Word. To help me organize a bit differently and in my opinion better, I’ve been trying out some creative writing specific software. I’m delighted there are lots to try and I’m looking forward to finding the best one that works for me!
7. What is your favourite thing to write? E.g. Dialogue, action scenes, saucy scenes…
Dialogue and the villain scenes. I like to see the characters banter in my mind so that’s what makes the dialogue fun. Villain scenes are just exciting, whether they are crazy in a hilarious way, or chilling and I’m like “wow” by the end of it.
8. What do you think is the most difficult part of writing?
For me, I’d say it’s the stress. It’s so much work, and it takes so much time. Life is busy, and if you want to be a writer then it gets so much busier. That can be overwhelming for many reasons.
Never give up on your dream to write! Just because something can be a struggle, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Learn from your mistakes, give it time and keep working for your dream to come true!
9. It is always interesting to know what other writers listen to when writing. Do you listen to music whilst you write? If so, let us know some of the songs which have inspired you the most!
Yes, I do listen to music most of the time while I write. It’s mostly classical, Celtic, and musical soundtracks. Sometimes I listen to J-Pop, K-Pop or J-Rock (because I like it from my time living in Japan for school, and I’m a nerd. Haha.) I don’t have any specific songs because it’s several playlists I just randomly click. I will say though that I very much love Zooey Deschanel’s and M. Ward’s band She & Him.
10. Do you ever struggle with writer’s block? What do you do to overcome it?
Yes, but thankfully not often. I usually overcome it by just pushing through and writing regardless. What you write doesn’t have to be great, just something to exercise with and get the mind off a serious project. Often I would watch a comedy sitcom I love on Netflix or take a day or two off from writing to restart basically.
11. How do you go about researching for a new book? Do you have any tips for others who are researching for a book?
Oh, well that all depends on what you’re researching for. Like most, I use Google a lot. But I also often look through my own books that I have already or buy on the subjects I need. (This helps if it’s a subject you love, so you can always use yet another book on it!)
In the case of Oak & Mistletoe, one of my best friends is Irish, and has always lived in Ireland. They were so awesome and helped me out a lot when I had questions I didn’t know the answers to myself from my own experiences and times there. So it helps to know people, or if not then meet people who are pretty much experts on subjects you need to include in your book.
Another tip, if you didn’t gather it from what I said already, is to see if it’s something you can experience before you try to write it. If you want to write about someone playing soccer, then go play a game as well as watch a few. I wouldn’t recommend just looking up the rules of it and going from there. Many details you can only find out from doing something.
12. Where do you find your inspiration for character names and place names? Do you ever name characters after people you know?
So far I haven’t really had to work very hard to figure out character or place names. I think about each situation and character before I decide. If it’s a character from a certain time period or place, then I look up specific lists of names to choose from. In Oak & Mistletoe, I named Bella after someone I know.
13. What are your future plans when it comes to writing or even publishing?
Well, I plan to release at least 6 more books in the next two years. I’m super excited! After that, I have several stories lined up, and more keep coming every day. My plan is to write my whole life, and I’ll keep publishing as I go. I will always self-publish some if not all of my books. For some books down the road, I’d like to go the traditional route eventually.
14. As we all love books I wondered, what are your five favourite books?
- The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (first and last)
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (all seven)
- The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.
- The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
15. Can you tell us a little more about your experience with self-publishing? And do you have any advice for others planning to self publish?
My experience with self-publishing has been a learning one. Everything kept changing and since the beginning, I’ve been constantly researching and learning as much as I can. I use a distributor to publish my books. The first one I used was my first attempt at publishing which was for my novella A Bell Sound Everlasting. I didn’t like that experience with that specific company, and honestly, I didn’t know very much about the business or the process at the time either. It was a huge learning experience. I’m actually going to fix my novella up and republish it as a novel in 2017.
My advice is to ask other authors what worked best for them, their recommended companies/people can work out wonderfully! Do lots of research into what works best for you and what you’re looking for. You really need to think about how much control you do or don’t want before you make a decision. Check everything out before you settle down on your route to self-publish. You can always change it, yes, but having everything be great the first time is preferable!
16. Finally, where can we find you on social media?
- Twitter – JZNMcCauley
- Facebook – facebook.com/JZNMcCauley
- Instagram – JZNMcCauley
- Website – jznmccauley.com
- Also, you can subscribe to my mailing list for news on releases, appearances, and giveaways at www.jznmccauley.com/subscribe
I hope you enjoyed this weekend’s writer interview. I can’t wait to start reading Oak and Mistletoe, it sounds like my ideal book! I hope you found this interview as motivational as I did, it was great to hear about her experience with self publishing.