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May 18 2014

Writing superheroes: Courtney Hall

Superpowers from sugar–I love that idea! Read on and find out more…

superhero copy

 If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

The opening scene in my origins episode would be a 6-year-old me reading my first poem, an ode to autumn, over the elementary school’s intercom system. My teacher was very impressed. The principal, not so much – he insisted I’d plagiarized it. Follow-up scenes would include my stints over two summers in the Delaware County Young Authors’ Project for elementary and middle school students, the Keystone Awards from the Pennsylvania School Press Association that I won in high school, and publication of some seriously melodramatic poems and short stories in a few little-known literary magazines during college.

As for whether or not any of this stuff still exists – yes, much of it does. My autumn poem will live on in my head until the day I die or lose my memory, whichever comes first. I’ll recite it in exchange for wine or cookies. The features and short stories that caught the notice of the PSPA were published in my high school literary magazine and I saved copies of each issue in which I was published. And though I’d like to remove any and all instances of embarrassing college melodrama, I can’t, because apparently those poems and stories have found a permanent home on the internet. Every once in a while I Google myself to see if they’ve disappeared, and they don’t. Fortunately, though, I wrote them under a different name. So for now, my secrets are (somewhat) safe.

Courtney J Hall

All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

She’s a homebody with a small but tight group of friends and a boring day job that luckily doesn’t infringe on her superhero time. She’s close to her family, takes in stray cats and when she isn’t out doing superhero things, she’s cooking and baking.

 

Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My critique partners, definitely – Ariadne Apostolou and C.P. Lesley. I wouldn’t be a superhero at all without them, and our superpowers complement each other nicely. They are insanely good at spotting plot holes and inconsistencies, characterization, coming up with ideas and just knowing what needs to be done to make something the best it can be.

 

Where do you get your superpowers from?

Sugar. Definitely sugar. Doesn’t matter what form – stirred into tea or coffee, baked into cookies or scones, mixed into chocolate, or fermented from grapes, sugar gets the juices flowing. Reading a lot helps too. Keeps the superpowers from getting too unwieldy.

 

Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

My lair is portable and because of that it’s luckily pretty easy to keep a secret! Sometimes it’s my dining room table, sometimes my bed. Sometimes it’s a desk at the library or a table at Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. Sometimes it’s even my car. Mostly, though, it’s my desk at my day job. I’ve been using it as my lair for six years now and they have yet to catch on.

 

What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

I spend a lot of time talking to my partners in crime, running ideas by them and asking their opinions. I have had some pretty crazy world-saving ideas that might have ended in tragedy if they hadn’t pulled me back. And again, reading always helps. If I ever have a question about how to use my powers, chances are there’s a book out there that will answer it.

 

Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

A cape made of book pages worn over pajama pants and a tank top, and of course I’m armed with a cup of coffee and a chocolate bar!

 

What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

My tendency to pants over plot. It took me five years to write the rough draft of my first novel and it’s nothing like the story I first envisioned (trust me, that’s a good thing). I thought it would be enough to have an idea of the beginning, middle and end and a brief description of my two main characters. But it was so not so! Even now that I know that, and I know it would make revisions easier if I sketched them out, I still have trouble not just flying by the seat of my pants.

 

What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

Procrastination, and I have yet to entirely vanquish him. We still fight on a daily basis. Lately, however, I’ve been winning more battles than I’ve been losing. I chalk it up to learning how to put my foot down and, as they say, butt in chair.

 

What important lessons have you learned along the way?

Outline. Outline! Know not only your beginning, middle and end but how you’re going to get there. You don’t have to have a line for every single little tiny thing that will happen. Just know the path your story will take. It also helps if you know your characters well. Yes, they will hold things back from you at first, revealing bits of themselves as you write. But if you know your characters as well as you possibly can before you set to putting their stories on paper, it will save lots of time and aggravation since you won’t be trying to force them to do things they don’t want to do.

Also, it really helps to have a supportive group around you. Not just other writers, although those are invaluable, but people who want to see you succeed. People who won’t shy away from asking you “Is your book done yet?” (Although, make sure these people are already friends – there’s nothing worse than a relative stranger asking this question, except maybe “What’s your book about?”)

Finally, if you want to write, just do it. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike, don’t say “I’ll start as soon as I beat this level of Candy Crush”, don’t put it off until after dinner or the weekend. You don’t know what will happen. Although it might not seem like it, inspiration is just as likely to strike you in front of your computer as it is while you’re driving, showering, or watching TV. Games like Candy Crush are time suckers and will leave you with nothing to show for all the hours you spent on them. And you never know when your divorced upstairs neighbor might have to watch his kid and you’re forced to spend what you hoped to be your writing time listening to a child drag furniture around before he decides it’s a better idea to play drums on a hardwood floor and sing “We Will Rock You” at the top of his lungs for several hours. Believe me, when that happens nobody wins, except maybe the loud child.

 

What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

Hands down, the best experience was finding my critique partners. I had sought out other critique groups before, trying some Yahoo groups and other websites, but I never really felt like I clicked. But one day I had the wild idea to look on Craigslist to see if there were any local writing groups that might be looking for members. I e-mailed the first group I found, had an immediate response, and I’m so lucky that they thought I was worth their time and effort. Without them I never would have made it past chapter 6 and if I had, the finished product would not be fit for human consumption. I also would have missed out on making some very good friends.

I also got really excited when I won National Novel Writing Month in 2012. I was what they call a “rebel” – the rules of NaNo state that you’re supposed to write a completely new novel, but instead I took the opportunity to try and finish mine. I started with 60,000 words and ended with just over 110,000, which didn’t finish it, but put me darn close. I was able to ride out the momentum of NaNo and finished the rough draft in January with a total of 140,000 words. Revisions have taken longer than I would wish but without NaNo I would probably still be slogging along on that first draft. And I really liked being able to print out a Winner certificate.

Finally, the inception of our writers’ cooperative, Five Direction Press, opened me to an entirely new world of publishing. Thanks to 5DP I was able to decide on a path for my novel. And with the publishing landscape changing as rapidly as it is, it’s nice to have a foothold in an area that might be getting a lot more attention in the months and years to come.

 

If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

I would outline, definitely. It would have been nice to see ahead of time that the plot I came up with was totally unworkable, rather than having it hit me 50,000 words in. I would spend more time with my characters and let them open up to me on their own time instead of me trying to force them out of their shells. I would do more research before writing, to make sure that certain plot points were plausible. And I would spend every possible moment writing, rather than allowing Lord Procrastination to have his way with me and my goals.

I would still seek out a critique group, and hopefully end up with the one I’m in. I can’t say enough about how much they’ve helped me and how much I value their presence in my life. I would still do NaNo, because there is just something to be said for the utter satisfaction of hitting that 50,000 word mark. Other than that – let’s just say I definitely learned how not to write a book, so there isn’t much I would keep the same given the opportunity for a do-over!

 

What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why?

Write what you don’t know. I’m aware that “write what you know” gets tossed around a lot, but really, if we all wrote only what we knew, how bored would we get? I know I would.

 

Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

My book, Some Rise By Sin, is set at the end of the Marian reign – a period which is overlooked by a lot of Tudor fiction in favor of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. It deals with a group of young Catholic nobles struggling to find themselves while figuring out how to keep from burning once Elizabeth takes the throne.

 

What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

Some Rise By Sin will be published in mid-2014 by Five Directions Press. After that I’ll start researching and working on its companion, Some By Virtue Fall. I have a few ideas for its plot – namely, I know where it begins and where it ends – but it will take some serious brainstorming sessions and lots of research before I have a solid middle. I’m hoping to have a rough draft of it finished at some point in 2015. There’s also a minor character from Some Rise By Sin that’s come knocking a few times, and I have an inkling that she wants her story told. She’ll have to get a lot more verbose, though, before I have a book for her.

 

  You can find Courtney at:

Goodreads~Facebook~Website~Twitter

 

 

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