Amie Irene Winters is a former park ranger turned YA Fantasy author. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and holds degrees in anthropology, religious studies, and environmental leadership. When not conjuring up other worlds, she can be found hiking, antiquing, traveling, or painting. Strange Luck is her first novel, and she is currently working on the next book in the Strange Luck series. Look for it in 2016.
What inspires you to write?
I get a lot of good thinking done when I’m driving and since I drive by a cemetery nearly every day, I often think about memories, regrets, life, and profound experiences. Having as many experiences as possible has always been a personal goal of mine – don’t even get me started on my mile-long bucket list. One day, my mind wandered to the idea of collecting the most cherished memories possible and that’s when I got the idea for a story about just that.
Strange Luck was a lot of fun to write because it allowed me the unique opportunity to explore how I feel about the mind, memories, and what it means to be a good human. Having discourse with my husband, who is a philosophy teacher, also helped me to think through a lot of these concepts. And, because I’m a huge fantasy fiction and magical realism fan, I decided to weave in lots of magical and supernatural elements, too.
Tell us about your writing process.
There isn’t a single path or author playbook that you need to follow. It’s all about exploring the diversity of options out there and doing what works best for you. Here are some tips to help you discover the keys to unlocking your writing success:
Timing is Everything: Make writing a priority by assessing the time of day you’re most creative and fit your writing time into your schedule accordingly. I’m freshest in the mornings, so I try my best to schedule everything around it. It might take some experimenting to get the time right, and it might not always work due to life circumstances, but once you discover your writing sweet spot, it will be that much easier to actually write.
Inspiration: Blocked? Head over to Pinterest for some vivid imagery or create your own board. Still blocked? Go for a walk, talk with a friend, or go see a movie. Studies show that distractions can actually be good for creative thinking. Write when you’re inspired. Write when you’re not inspired. What you write in the beginning doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. You’ll edit later.
The Notebook: It’s about being prepared for ideas, which can strike you at any time—be it your initial story idea (I got my story idea listening to music while cooking dinner), a character name, perfectly worded description, or how to kill off someone. Good ideas can hit you anywhere, which is why it’s important to make sure you’re ready for them.
Pay attention to where you tend to be most creative and make that environment “brainstorming friendly.” For example, I wrote a lot of Strange Luck while commuting three hours to work each day, so I had a lot of time to brainstorm story ideas. I always kept a notepad and pen on the passenger side seat and sometimes I had Siri take voice Notes on my iPhone when I couldn’t write. When I was out and about, I wrote ideas in a little notebook I kept in my purse, on post-it-notes, or the back of receipts in a pinch. If you tend to get a lot of good thinking done in the shower, get Aqua Notes—a waterproof notepad and pencil set that you stick in the shower. Wherever you are, make sure you have a reliable method to record your thoughts.
Time to Draft: When it comes time to start drafting, the important thing to remember is to not get too attached to what you’ve planned, because it WILL change. Even if you draft your entire book with full character maps and all, it WILL change. This is actually a good thing. As you write, you may realize that an idea may not work, or better yet, you come up with something way better. Everything you write in the drafting stage is really just to get your ideas down and to formulate your story.
How I Draft:
-I loosely write out some story ideas, potential character names and traits, and a few plot points in my super cute notebook. Since this is a very nice hardbound notebook, it’s more special to me than just a cheap spiral notebook, so it really pushes me organize my thoughts and ideas. I might spend days or weeks thinking about the story before I actually write anything in it.
-When I feel like I have enough ideas to start my story, I create a master manuscript Word doc and type up the notes from the hardbound notebook. This gives me another chance to re-evaluate my ideas, add to them, and adjust accordingly.
-My favorite part of writing is creative free flow, so I’ll literally write Chapter 1 and dive right in, always spacing my notes I had input earlier to the next page. This is advantageous for two reasons: It allows me to “free flow” without being influenced by my previous ideas; and it allows me to easily reference important info if needed (e.g., age of a character or hair color). The notes are like training wheels—there if I need them.
-Every time I sit down to work on my master doc, I always re-read what I had written the previous time before adding any new ideas. I never read more than a chapter or two back. Although this method is debated, I like it because it gives me an opportunity to re-read the story with a fresh eye and get into the proper mindset to continue writing. It’s also a good opportunity to remind myself of important plot points. Then, I go through each one of my notes line by line and input them into the story accordingly. I cross off each idea when I’m done.
-I work on a chapter as much as I can before moving on to the next. If I need to add something to the previous chapter, I’ll simply go back and add it. Ctrl-F (the PC find button) is my best friend when I need to locate a section of the story quickly.
-Once I’ve written down all of my ideas and have the bare bones of each chapter, I start right back at Chapter 1 and go through everything I wrote, adding “meat” to the story and editing along the way. I’ll literally do this a dozen or more times until I feel like I have all of the pieces of the story and have gotten it as close as possible to what I want.
Setting Goals: The key to actually finishing your novel is setting goals. If you get bored easily, make new daily goals. If you like a challenge, see how far you can push yourself. I get bored easily and I like a challenge, so I always mix it up. One day I’ll tell myself that I can’t get up from my desk until I write one paragraph. The next day, not until I finish a chapter. Sometimes I’ll even throw in a reward, like once I finish writing for X amount of time, I’ll treat myself to a cupcake (yum!). It really just depends on how I feel that day. It’s all about setting boundaries that work for you.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Of course. I try my best to get into the mindset of each character as much as possible. The best way to do this is by reading what they say aloud. I’ll do accents, men’s voices, the whole shebang. Hopefully no one is listening 🙂
Who are your favorite authors?
Joanne Harris inspired me to become a writer. Having only seen the movie, I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up a copy of Chocolat nearly a decade ago, but I instantly fell in love with it. I absolutely adore the whimsical world that Joanne Harris creates, the hints of magic, and especially the sweetness she sprinkles throughout. She remains one of my favorite authors of all time. I also adore Neil Gaiman, Sarah Addison Allen, J.K. Rowling, Alan Bradley, and Erin Morgenstern. Although I didn’t actually read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende until very recently, it is definitely one of my favorite books of all time (and it’s so much better than the movie).
How did you decide how to publish your books?
It was the hardest decision I ever made, and the easiest, and it was decided by a fortune cookie. It said, ‘Trust Your Intuition.’ My intuition to self-publish that is. It all started when I met a woman at the post office who self-published her novel and she couldn’t say enough amazing things about the experience. She loved being in complete control of her vision and overseeing all aspects of her novel from start to finish. But how in the world would I, Amie Irene Winters, ever complete such an enormous undertaking while working full-time, being a devoted wife, maintaining a household, and having a life? It seemed impossible!
As time went on, self-publishing made more and more sense, but I was still too afraid to do anything about it. For a year, I tried the traditional route of querying agents, but grew tired of waiting, and waiting, and more waiting. My fate was eventually decided over Chinese food with a friend. I joked, “Let the fortune cookie decide what I should do,” and as soon as I read ‘Trust Your Intuition,’ something clicked and I knew what I had to do. I got to work that night, remembering Crowley’s inspirational quote: “If you believe passionately in your will to do something then power to achieve it will accrue to you.” Somehow, all the pieces seemed to fall into place and I’ve never looked back. Here’s how I did it:
-Read, Re-Read, and Read Some More: I must’ve re-read my final manuscript at least a dozen times on my laptop and a dozen more printed out. Over the course of 1 1/2 years, I took lots of breaks from the book so that I’d always come back with a fresh eye and perspective. When I was happy with it, I worked with an awesome editor who helped me polish it to perfection.
-Research Your Platform: There are a lot of self-publishing companies out there so it’s important to first understand what exactly you want to accomplish. I wanted control over everything and the option to hire someone if I wanted to. I didn’t want to be forced to pay for services I could very well do. CreateSpace Independent Publishing was the perfect solution for me. They have tons of helpful resources, videos, community forums, etc. on how to do everything from formatting to making the perfect cover. I decided to do all of the formatting myself and work with an independent graphic designer for the cover via 99Designs.
-See What It Looks Like: Over the course of 2 months, I ordered 3 different proofs before I submitted the final version of my book and design. I shared it with family and friends and made the necessary tweaks. I read and rigorously reviewed the entire proof each time to make sure everything was perfect.
-Utilize Resources: CreateSpace makes it super easy to set up your book for Amazon and extended distribution channels. They even offer PR tips for a successful book launch. And, the best part is that it’s all free.
There are a wide variety of ways to publish your book traditionally or through self-publishing. If you go the traditional literary agent route, I highly recommend you check out Predators & Editors. For me, it just made sense to self-publish and I feel like the whole experience has made me that much more connected to my story. Whatever you decide to do, know that it’s truly an amazing feeling to be able to share your story with the world. My advice is to listen to the cookie – trust your intuition.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think that many more people will start taking advantage of the benefits that self-publishing has to offer.
What genres do you write?
Young Adult, Fantasy, Fiction
What formats are your books in?