So the title of this post is a bit of a pun, that you should get by the end of the next sentence. Ryan Dalton‘s new book The Year of Lightning comes out on January 12th. Get it yet? No… rinse, repeat, and read on!
The Year of Lightning is the first in the Time Shift trilogy, about 15 year old twins who end up needing to solve a time-travel related mystery.
But before we got into the plot itself Ryan and I started by discussing the writing process, both for him personally and professionally in terms of the publisher he’s working with for his first book, and how positive it’s all been.
Being his first published work, I asked Ryan how it felt on a scale of “1-awesome” and he called it “double awesome”. A feeling that’s not always present when publishing a book.
There are points obviously that you get so busy you forget to be excited but fortunately the majority is you can take time sit and think ‘this is what I wanted for so long’ and the excitement far out weighs and stress. It’s been great.
Talking about the “stress” Ryan clarified that it’s more from within than anything.
Little bit comes from pressure on yourself to keep delivering and keep giving good stories. I’m editing book two, outlining book three and it’s an internal pressure to continue to give readers a good experience. So that’s not the bad kind of pressure, that’s the fun kind.
On how he got there, Ryan talked about his writing process, explaining that most of it is done in busy environments, out of home, except for emotional scenes.
I don’t like to write at home, it’s too familiar. I’m often in a coffee shop I like the energy around people…especially if it’s an environment where other people are working or being creative. I do a lot of outlining. I actually do a lot of it when I’m driving. I have playlists for every book and I’ll put every playlist on shuffle, and if there’s a song associated with a scene I’ll think about it more. I do the heavier outlining at home… it’s a bunch of sticky notes on my office wall. But when it comes to actually writing I don’t think I did more than a chapter or two of book two at home. It’s only if it’s going to be an emotional scene I’ll be writing at home.
Ryan then got a tad spoilery.
In the first book there’s a scene I won’t say what it is, but it’s a fairly emotional scene and I was writing that in a coffee shop and getting a little teary eyed because they’re essentially saying goodbye to somebody and I’m like this is not good. I think that people thought I was acting weird. And I was like from now on I’m doing these scenes at home.
When it comes to the outlining, I asked if that was a strategy he regularly employs, or if he chose it for this trilogy, because time travel can get tricky.
In general if it’s a novel I’m probably going to outline it. If it’s a short story I’ll just sit and go, because I can keep most of that in my head. For this series especially, not only is there time travel involved, each book has a mystery, and there’s a large cast of characters. In the second book… there are some new ones as well. So for how this… the mystery playing out… just from a practical stand point I couldn’t fly by the seat of my pants, or it would just be this huge mess. I outline probably 75% of the actions and then once I sit down I’ll dialogue… and the outline is fluid… but there are so many moving parts to this series so I knew outlining was the only way to do it justice.
And when it comes specifically to publishing Ryan explained both his desire to go the traditional, rather than the self-publishing, route and how his work with with Jolly Fish Press is primarily and pleasantly collaborative.
I liked the idea of having a partner. Growing up, just as you know a book fan as a kid that was how most of the books were made, the traditional route and self publishing wasn’t as much of a thing. So, to me that was publishing and publishing books. Self publishing can be just as legitimate and it’s growing. I can see myself in the future going like a hybrid approach, but the 8 yr old book nerd in me’s dream was always traditional. On the more practical side having a partner is really nice. It also helps the publishing house that I’m with is a midsize house, being small hungry and go-getters. They include me in the process more than some would.
After describing some of the frustrations that authors can run into with large publishing houses, Ryan added that “it’s been nice working with a house that’s collaborative”.
Turning to the book, Ryan described the urban sci-fi plot as having the tone or feel of something you’d expect from Joss Whedon.
I don’t see a whole lot of urban sci-fi… Nowadays [sci-fi] seems to be either Steampunk-ish or space… I kind of describe my style for this as if Joss Whedon wrote sci-fi instead of supernatural. Or if Buffy was a sci-fi show. There’s a similar mix of danger, feeling stuff and also some snark and quirky characters. As much as I love space sci-fi a lot of my ideas don’t go that way… And back to the Buffy comparison, I like stories that are funny, with action, but also are scary… and when the book can build up a good creepy scene. But not like a ghost story or horror.
When asked about writing for a female character, Valentine, Ryan said that while he takes into consideration a quote of George R R Martin’s and chooses to think of women as people, he also took into consideration the thoughts of his beta readers, some of whom were women, and would let him know if anything started to “ring false”.
I also asked about the fact that the back cover describes things as going from “mysterious to crazy stupid dangerous”, and I wondered (as a horror/sci-fi fan, myself) if that’s more due to circumstances, or characters making poor choices.
I like to write smart main characters against smarter villains. For each book I want to put the main characters up against someone, at least on paper, they cannot defeat. A lot of the danger comes from… the twins and some of their friends that come along, along the way, they’re the only ones seeing this and it’s so ridiculous that nobody’s going to believe them… so they say “we have to figure this out”. Then the rabbit hole goes deeper and deeper, and by the time they realize what they’re up against… they gotta try to do the best they can. Not that there aren’t some unwise decisions, they are teenagers.
And for those who hate to wait between releases of a series I asked if each book can stand alone or if readers would be left with cliffhangers until the final installment.
As far as the plot each book has a satisfying beginning middle and end. But they’re also all part of a larger story. So technically yes. You could pick up book two and it has a beginning, middle, end and a mystery and villain. But at the same time I don’t go back to explain everything that happened before so you would definitely jump into the story. Not that you couldn’t at least get the basics, but book one was really intricate and I didn’t want to lose momentum [and have exposition] with “oh by the way here’s what you missed”. It seemed easier and better to say “this is book two and some things are based on book one”. But I also didn’t want it where each book only gives you a snippet of story… I wanted each book to be worth the money you’re paying for it… and have a satisfying conclusion, but there are seeds that pay off over all.
Finally, I had one last question, that only an OCD nerd would ask. The book is called The Year of Lightning is that an actual year or is this like Age of Ultron where all of the excitement lasts a week-ish? Ryan laughed and thankfully said that it’s not like Age of Ultron.
From opening scene to end of the book is 6 months or less, but you do get that the lightening storms have been happening, you find out that the storms have been going on all of that year.
Look for a review of The Year of Lightning in January, after I’ve had a chance to read it!