Since I previously wrote about why I like to set my work in slightly fictionalized locales, I'd like to take on the problem with using exclusively using real places and products in my writing.
Sure my characters love all things Apple (I am writing this post on a MacBook Air with my iPhone within reach, so they come by it naturally), and they drive real cars (whether your character drives a new BMW sports coupe or a 10-year-old Honda Accord tells you something about him or her), but I tend to avoid real places and things when I can for three reasons.
First, I think using real places tends to make me lazy. I can describe the iconic red-and-white interior of In-N-Out and detail their precision-crafted menu, but I'd rather introduce you to Glenn's Burgers, with an owner might be modeled after a friend of mine and whose menu is from another place I used to love when I didn't care as much about calories or carbs as I do now.
Second, if I feature real places too much it feels likes I am doing an advertisement for them. In my most recent novel, Disneyland was part of the storyline, but I found myself trimming down much of the section that described which rides people rode and in what order. I'm a novelist, not a tour guide.
Third, bad stuff tends to happen in my books and I'd rather not make our local landmark doughnut shop, for example, the scene of a grisly triple homicide. They've got these amazing strawberry doughnuts and there's no way I'm giving up my access to those on the rare occasions I frequent the old haunt .
It's just not worth the risk.
As creatives, people often think we express ourselves through just one form of art. Sure we often have a medium through which we channel our best efforts, but usually we’re are not the one-trick ponies who can be categorized into just fiction writing or poetry, or music, for example. In the case of Hannah Thomas, she is skilled at all three. The craft she is working on with the most determined focus at the moment is her writing. When she reads from her work, particularly from a draft of her fantasy novel, you are transported to the knee of the master storyteller who is weaving a tale that captures the heart as well as the imagination. I can’t wait to hear the whole story.
When did you first realize you were a storyteller?
At the age of one, I sat in my highchair at Christmastime, playing with my great-grandmother’s nativity set, moving the figures around and babbling to myself—so the official family line is that I’ve been telling stories since before I could technically talk, and I haven’t stopped since. My primary form of play as a kid was sitting in my room with my “characters”—which is what I called the various animals in my plastic menagerie—telling myself stories with them. In third or fourth grade, I gave a friend a collection of my own short stories for a birthday present. In the seventh or eighth grade, having recently exhausted all of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books (again) I decided to write one of my own. I think that project made it up to twenty-three (typed) pages, which sadly I no longer have.
What do you love about the writing process?
When it’s going well, writing sometimes feels more like discovering something than like creating it. It’s as if these characters and their story already exist, and I’m uncovering it bit by bit. I’ll write something down that doesn’t make immediate sense—and then find out later why that detail was important. I love this. It feels like finding out that (in a good way) magic is real.
What is the hardest part of being a writer?
The Tyranny of the Urgent. My stories do not pay the bills at this point, so it’s easy to set them aside in favor of the things that do. Also, when I’m under a lot of stress, it can feel like a Herculean effort just to sit down and open the right file. I pour myself out when I write, and it’s easy to feel like a failure after enough days when the jar is empty.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I have encountered two kinds of inspiration, as it were. One kind comes in quick flashes when I’m not expecting it. The project I’m focusing on now started my sophomore year of college. I had just had an argument with my roommate about film adaptations of books we love. I got fed up and left, and walked down the street railing at God—out loud (because I am auditory). I realized that some people I knew were walking down the street close enough behind me to hear, minimally, that I was talking to myself, and, being in no mood to explain, I turned a corner, ran, and hid behind a tree until they passed by (because I am a mature, thoughtful adult). As I leaned against that tree getting sap all over my back, a picture and a short sentence flashed into my head. I ran back to my apartment, banged out a page of dialogue depicting that scene, and then read it to my roommate. We both got super excited; the argument was over, and I’ve been working on this project ever since.
The other kind of inspiration I’ve experienced comes from the work itself—and from the people who make it possible for the work to get done. I cannot count how many times I’ve gotten stuck and asked someone—my dad; my mom; a good friend—for input. Usually, they’ll ask a few questions and we’ll bat ideas back and forth for a while, and when the conversation is over, I will know not only how to move past the thing I was stuck on, but I’ll have other exciting ideas that make me eager to get back to work. This is the kind of inspiration that makes the hard slog of finishing projects possible.
What are you working on right now?
My first novel. This is the project that started with a fight with my roommate. I’ll say it falls under “swords-and-horses fantasy;” its working title is The Ruler’s Mark. I’m hoping to have the second draft finished by the end of this year. The first draft, incidentally, was complete (meaning that it told the whole story) at 291 pages. The current one is over 400 pages and as I said, it’s not done yet. Turns out there’s a lot I knew about this story that I hadn’t managed to get on paper—and a lot more I didn’t know that the characters have been good enough to explain to me during the writing of this draft. And I am confident there will be at least one more draft after this.
I also blog occasionally, and, if new story ideas knock on my door, I try to find somewhere safe for them to rest while they wait for me to be ready for them.
There is one other project that I’ve written 40-some-odd pages of because I couldn’t help myself, but I’m not sure yet whether it will ever leave the house. It’s swords-and-horses fantasy too, but not in the same world. I have absolutely fallen in love with two or three of its characters—but I know almost nothing about its plot.
You can find out more about Hannah's passion and her mission on her website, By The Lion Arts.
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.