I’ve got another awesome author feature today and I’m very excited to have had the pleasure of interviewing Renee Dugan, whose latest book, Dawnstar is coming out on June 23rd. It is the second book in her Starchaser Saga and she’s given us a sneak peek below!
Can you share what your writing journey has been like? What got you into writing initially and what milestones have you reached along the way?
Oh gosh! Honestly, I feel like I have been writing forever. My mom handed me a pencil one day when I was 5 and it’s been all go ever since! But my journey can ultimately be summed up as growth. I had my milestone of switching from one-paragraph stories to chapter books, from animal books to people-books, and in the past six years I’ve hit milestones like actually finishing a duology, then a trilogy, then a series—and now, being published!
What draws you to high fantasy?
The freedom! I love being able to create my own worlds and make them utterly epic and not have to worry so much about fitting expectations from our world. Ugh, that sounds so bad, haha! But I am not a big history-research buff; I love certain kinds of research, I love creating languages and topography and magic systems, but I’m always so nervous about getting details wrong about our world. I find I’m much more creatively in my element when I make my own rules!
What inspires your writing and style? Are there specific books or stories that have shaped your storytelling?
I think my style, as it is today, had one very major influence: Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. While I haven’t reread it in years, it was the book that got me solidly into high fantasy. Something about the prose style opened my eyes to the magic of what fantasy can be, as did the idea of “superpowers” in fantasy. That kind of style and content has REALLY stayed with me even as I continue to evolve my own prose and dialogue!
You share a lot of helpful resources for writers and discuss building a community for writers. Can you share a bit of helpful information here that writers can take in creating not just a platform but a community as well?
Yes! I love this question! So I think two of the biggest keys to create platform and community are 1) Don’t try to do it all! Pick a platform to engage your future readership where you feel comfortable interacting, and put 80% of your focus there! It’s good to be on multiple social media sites and such, but you have to know where to direct your energy. Especially if publishing isn’t your full time business, you will burn out if you try to be the Queen/King of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Patreon, TikTok, etc. etc. AND still write and publish on a regular schedule AND still hold a day job! Using myself as an example, I do 90% of my platform on Instagram because it fits my needs best. And it is a BLAST! And I do dabble on Twitter and Facebook, but I conserve my energy by having Instagram auto-post to those. It’s a good middle ground!
And 2) For building community, BE AUTHENTIC and HAVE BOUNDARIES. People really want to connect with authors, and connecting back really helps you build not just readership, but friendship! On the other hand, you do not owe people your time; you need to know when to step back and keep your time and heart to yourself so you don’t burn out. Those are the two biggest lessons I’ve learned so far!
You have great resources about the beta process, but what can you teach writers about the CP process?
I should probably do a blog series on CPs, shouldn’t I? Haha! The biggest lesson I want to impart to fellow writers looking to CP is you NEED a CP who KNOWS YOUR GENRE. Your critique partner is there to critique, but you want them to be able to critique on things that make your book fit together seamlessly. If your CP doesn’t know your genre, they might miss things that are crucial or remark on things that don’t really need to be changed!
A few other things: 1) Try to have more than just a working relationship with your CP; try to make it a friendship. I’ve done it both ways and the critique was easier to take AND made more sense with those who knew me/my heart/my stories better! 2) Don’t be afraid to dialogue with your CP about why they suggested a change 3) Like with beta readers, don’t just blanket-accept everything a CP says. None of us are perfect! I have made CP comments that were unfitting to my partner’s vision and I’ve had them given to me. It’s all part of the process! 4) Be gracious and receive gracefully. We all love our stories and are just trying to make them their best, and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to help each other along the way!
What has been your marketing strategy for your books?
Ah, another one I am still learning! Right now, I market almost purely by word of mouth, giveaways, and in-person sales (although that’s been a bit stunted with the 2020 lockdowns!). I also do a lot of selfpromo hashtags on Twitter, which is a great way to be seen! But as of this year I’m starting to get into paid advertising on a budget. I am always nervous about trying new things, but when it’s time, it’s time!
What are some of the challenges or favorite parts of your writing experience so far?
Rewriting, and that’s my answer to both! Haha, this is a new one for me. I had to completely rewrite the last 4 books in my STARCHASER series and it was easily the hardest AND most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I learned more of what I am capable of in this process than anything else to date with writing, but MAN was it tough. I often had to take long breaks between the books. I adore them as they are now, but letting go of the original vision AND not letting myself settle for less because I felt lazy…those were hard hurdles to jump!
What does the editing process look like for you?
It’s multi-layered for sure! I have really five big edits: my speed-edit, immediately after the draft is done, where I catch any huge glaring inconsistencies; my in-depth edit, where I’ve gained some distance and I can now let go of unnecessary content to hone the draft; my editor’s edit, when the editor herself goes over it; my word-cutting edit, where I go back through and cut every unnecessary word, sentence, or paragraph; and last-edit, where I have the printed book and I read it for flow and final typos. Each of these has a gap in between so I gain clarity and don’t go blind to everything—though of course, something ALWAYS slips through!
You mention a love of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. I also love that book and am a “plantser.” Did you stick to the beats fairly strictly or did you make it your own? Why and how did it affect your story?
Plantsers unite! Save the Cat created an interesting conundrum for me this year. The short answer is, yes, I stick fairly strictly to the beats! I plotted two books in January/February using this, and I have a notebook for one book’s outline that is beat-for-beat the Beat Sheet! The problem I discovered was, that was actually too much plotting and not enough pantsing; when I sat down to write those novels, both of them flopped. I was bored right out of the gate! So I would say the effect was that I got bored! This is not the first time this has happened with Save the Cat, so I think in the future I need to make it my own more. I’ll let you all know how that goes! 😉
Do you have any writing routine quirks or interesting tidbits you can share?
I am much too spacey to know whether my habits or quirky or normal! Like, does needing a drink at hand at all times count? But I do almost always need a candle or wax warmer for writing; and if I am stuck, I have the Braveheart soundtrack by James Horner to get me out of a bind! That OST is pure magic!
Also, for tidbits, here’s one I learned recently: I don’t end a writing session with a chapter’s end. I always start the next chapter and get a paragraph or two down; that way I don’t have to start from scratch the next day!
Has COVID-19 changed your writing or routine? If so, how have you dealt with it? If not, how do you stay motivated?
Honestly, COVID changed very little about my writing routine; it was almost an excuse to get back into it after three months away, as a matter of fact! I still get up stupid-early and write before my day job. What helps me stay motivated is I remind myself that before my day really starts, absolutely nothing has changed between quarantine and normal life; I would always get up early to write, and I still do. This allows me to begin every day with a sense of normalcy. Plus it’s very nice to have a familiar world to escape into when life is so crazy out there!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I am so grateful for this interview opportunity and for all the people who love and support me, and who allow me the privilege to speak into their lives and writing journeys and help however I can. This community is amazing, book lovers are amazing, writers are amazing. Thank you all for being YOU!
An Excerpt from Dawnstar
“That’s what you have here. Freedom. If you choose not to face Traisende and Yager, I’ll find some way to convince them on my own.”
“Thank you, Thorne.”
“But,” he added, “you also have the freedom to stand next to me. We can begin to show them a possibility of Talheim and Valgard united. Even if we manage to unseat my father and I ascend to the Judgement Seat, I can still only put the might of our forces behind you for a few months at a time. If you want Valgard to stand with the Middle Kingdom against King Jad, we’ll have to convince the other Chancellors as well. I’ll do what I can to help, but this was always going to come down to you.”
Cistine’s breath caught. “God’s bones. I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
“Politics are complicated, particularly when you’re trying to win the favor of Chancellors. It’s best to start small. And since Yager and Traisende are already sympathetic to our cause, you’ll find no better ears to practice on.”
“But I failed to even get in a word of my plans with Salvotor. He talked right over me. Ashe and Julian were right, I don’t know how to be a princess who negotiates. Even you were manipulating me when we made a truce for my training.”
Thorne shifted awkwardly, bending his head. “True. But what about when Quill was worried for Tatiana, and you still convinced him to train you the next day? Or when you commanded Julian’s respect in Villmark? You weren’t being manipulated then.”
A touch of strength sizzled through Cistine’s body—then dimmed. “But I wasn’t trying to be a princess with them. Quill was my friend, and I wanted to help him. And Julian…Julian infuriated me. He made me want to fight for myself.”
“You’re thinking too much about what being a princess means. Stop imitating nobility, and do the noble thing. The rest will follow.”
Cistine drew a deep breath through her nostrils, straightening up to grip the railing with both hands. “I think I can manage that.”
Renee Dugan is an Indiana-based YA/NA author who grew up reading fantasy books, chasing stray cats, and writing stories full of dashing heroes and evil masterminds. Now with over a decade of professional editing, administrative work, and writing every spare second under her belt, she has authored THE CHAOS CIRCUS, a horror-lite fantasy novel, and THE STARCHASER SAGA, an epic high fantasy series. Living with her husband, dog, and three not-so-stray cats in the magical Midwest, she continues to explore new worlds and spends her time in this one encouraging and helping other writers on their journey to fulfilling their dreams.