Today I'm happy to be interviewing fellow writer and blogger Jenelle Schmidt!
Jenelle Schmidt is the author of a genre she likes to call “Family Friendly Fantasy.” She grew up hearing stories come to life through her father’s voice reading out loud at bedtimes, and she aspires to create stories that other families can read out loud together. Stories filled with adventure, heroism, excitement, and fantastic characters, but also free of objectionable material. She has published two books, which are part of her Minstrel’s Song series, which when finished will boast four novels in all.
Jenelle is a voracious reader, her favorite genres are fantasy and sci-fi, though she branches out from time to time and does enjoy other genres of all types. She is also a homeschooling mom of three young children, which takes up pretty much all of her life. She wouldn’t trade it for the world, though!
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1. (Heidi) Some differences and similarities you see between the three major forms of storytelling—literature, music, and film?
(Jenelle) This is a fantastic and truly difficult question! Thinking mostly about film vs literature for a moment, there are some obvious similarities: they both tell stories through characters and plots.
However, a movie lets you watch a story unfold. It’s like you’re looking through a window. You grow to love the characters as you watch them on their various adventures. But a book lets you ride around inside a character’s heart. You get to hear their thoughts and feel their emotions as if they’re your own - which is the main reason I think movies based off of books are so hard to capture correctly. I especially think this is why movies based on books written in first-person sometimes leave the audience feeling like something is missing.
Music tells a story in a completely different way. It doesn’t always need words or pictures to touch your heart, though it can use both at times. My sister is a musician and it is incredible to me how she can tell a complete story with so few lines of text, and how much the melody and instruments play into how the story feels and the impression it leaves on the listener.
I love books, movies, and music. I tend to visualize a lot of things in my books in my mind’s eye and then try to describe them as if I can see them. It doesn’t always work out well, because what works on screen doesn’t always work well in print - but it’s a good place to start.
I also sometimes listen to music when I’m writing or editing. Mostly instrumental. Usually Celtic or just something pretty and soothing like “Song for Sienna” by Brian Crane (I could listen to that song on repeat all day!) But if I get true writer’s block, then I’ll switch to Christmas music. I know that sounds weird, but it’s never let me down!
3. When and how did you first begin writing?
I started writing stories so early I can’t even really remember how it began. Storytelling is just a part of who I am as a person. I recently found a box in the attic with stories of mine that dated all the way back to when I was 6 years old (my mom saved them for me!) I continued writing stories throughout my childhood. I wrote a novella about two girls and a horse when I was in jr. high (happily, I do not believe any copies of that remain in existence). And I co-authored a series of stories about two dogs named “Rogtu” and “Scamper” with a friend.
In high school, another friend and I co-authored a really horrible space opera, and that was the first novel-length piece of writing I’d ever completed. I took a creative writing class my Senior year and really learned a lot about writing.
But it wasn’t until college when my dad challenged me with “If you want to be a writer, you should be writing,” that I got really serious about the idea of “being an author.” The summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years was the summer I spent frantically writing the first draft of King’s Warrior, ten pages a day so that my dad would have something to read out loud to the family each night!
4. What are you currently working on?
I am currently in the middle of several projects. I am finalizing the edits on the third book in the Minstrel’s Song: Yorien’s Hand. I am also diving into the content edits for the fourth and final book in that series. And I am in the middle of writing a sequel to an entirely different series of books I’m getting ready to announce in the near future.
5. Particular author/s who have influenced you?
I think every author I’ve ever read has influenced me in some way. But the ones who have left a lasting impression are J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Stephen R. Lawhead, Timothy Zahn, Albert Payson Terhune, Madeleine L’Engle, Jack London, and more recently Anne Elisabeth Stengl.
I think all of my non-writing activities shape my writing. Everything I see or experience goes into my mental filing cabinet for future reference. Describing a sunset, a day at the park, what it’s like climbing a mountain or riding a horse, the sound of a gurgling stream as it burbles its way over the rocks, the way sand stings your bare legs like a billion tiny needles entering your skin when you visit the beach on a superbly windy day... I’m a mom of three. My life is wrapped up in fairly normal family-related-activities, and there’s not a lot of time or money for extra hobbies that are just mine.
7. Your opinion on the advantages and disadvantages of digital books?
Digital books have made it very easy for authors to get their books into readers’ hands. Which could be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on how you look at the saturation of indie-published books on the market today. E-reading devices are obviously very nice for traveling and for trying out books at less of an expense.
Personally, however, I just can’t read a book on a screen. I need the weight and sound and feel and smell of paper pages. I like being able to look at the entire book cover, front and back. I like the memories they inspire and the history they contain. And I like that they force me off the computer. I spend so much time in front of a screen: writing, editing, social media, blogging, watching movies... I appreciate how opening a book, a real book, makes me slow down and pull away from the chaos of the cyber-world that can sometimes feel as though it is attempting to assault my senses and bludgeon me senseless.
8. Do you ever do graphic design to help with your writing?
Haha! No. Whatever the opposite of someone who is talented at art... that’s me! I can trace with the best of them, but drawing and graphic design is completely beyond me. I’m extremely jealous of anyone who can draw AND write.
9. Do you outline? If so, in a general way or very detailed?
I do outline. The amount of detail often depends on the story. If it’s giving me a hard time and I’m not sure where to go next, I will work on the outline. I used to be a pantser (someone who just writes the story as it happens and doesn’t outline at all), but the amount of editing work with that sort of writing is enormous. Nowadays I do a ton of plotting and world-building and brainstorming with my husband before I ever start writing the story. The outline itself is usually fairly basic and general, I still like to let the story unfold and surprise me a bit, but the world and the characters and much much more is firmly in place before I start writing.
Yes. I don’t go crazy on this, but my rough draft is usually more like a second or third draft. I tweak and rewrite a little as I go. Usually a writing session involves going over the last few pages or paragraphs I wrote last time and refining them a bit before I start writing new stuff for the day.
12. Certain themes you see surfacing and resurfacing in your work?
A theme that comes up a lot because I write fantasy is Good vs. Evil.
A lot of my work also includes family-relationships: brothers, parents, sisters. Often there’s a theme of growing up or coming-of-age. Willow trees tend to sneak their way into a lot of my work, it’s not intentional, but I realized recently that they make fairly regular appearances. Forgiveness and redemption are some other big themes that recur in my stories.
People not being what they seem also crops up a lot. Sometimes it’s a mix of “don’t judge a book by its cover” and the idea that everyone has depths to them that cannot be easily seen at first glance.
13. A particular aspect of writing you struggle with or a challenge you’ve overcome?
I recently realized that I really struggle with narrative. I don’t like using it, and sometimes tend to write myself into a corner because I am so loath to use it. I believe that perhaps I learned the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule a bit too well, and have had to learn that narrative can be done well and is sometimes necessary. I’m working on that.
14. How do you deal with feedback—particularly negative feedback?
I try to learn from it. Negative feedback is never fun, but it can be helpful. If it’s just unkind, like a one-star review that states, “I just didn’t like it, didn’t even try to finish it” then my reaction is to go read a bunch of one-star reviews for something like “The Lord of the Rings.” It’s comforting, in a weird sort of way.
If it’s real feedback, though, meant to critique and help me refine my work, then I absorb it and try to figure out how I can use it to make the story better.
15. One thing you’ve learned from other writers?
Only one? I think the most helpful thing I’ve learned from other writers recently is the importance of continuing to write. Marketing is important and blogging is fun, but what will really set you apart from the myriad of other self-published authors is a body of work that is deeper than a single book or even a single series.
A site detailing the different types of historical food: http://cookit.e2bn.org/historycookbook/27-315-normans-medieval-Food-facts.html
A glossary of castle terms: http://www.castlesontheweb.com/glossary.html
A list of noble titles and ranks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_titles
A list of medieval jobs and occupations: http://hkcarms.tripod.com/occ.html
These are all places I tend to go to for researching what life was like in medieval times or the middle ages. I also borrowed a marvelous textbook from a friend called “Survey of Historic Costume” to get ideas of what various clothing looked like in different time periods.
However, the research is often only to get a baseline idea. My fantasy stories do not occur in our world (so far!), but rather in completely made-up worlds and realms. So, while it can be fun to have something be historically accurate to our own middle ages, I don’t always see it as necessary. Chicken and dumplings might not have been invented until the Great Depression in our world... but that doesn’t mean they can’t exist in my own Aom-igh or Llycaelon... just because life there is more akin to our own middle ages!
17. What do you consider one of the single most important things to remember (i.e. an attitude or technique)?
For me, the most important thing is to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. It won’t happen as quickly as I want, but it’s important to take the time to do it right and not rush through important stages like editing and proof-reading.
It’s also important for me to remember why I’m doing this: to glorify God and use the talent He gave me in a way that would honor him.
18. A word of encouragement for fellow writers?
Don’t quit! There will be parts of the process that you love, and parts that you hate, but keep on trudging. Find a group of authors you can talk to and ask questions of and bounce ideas around with. And keep writing. Write what you know. Write what you don’t know. Not all of it will be brilliant, but some of it might be, so keep writing, keep editing, keep working towards that dream.
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