New Voice: Suzanne Lazear on Innocent Darkness

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Suzanne Lazear is the first-time author of Innocent Darkness (Book 1, The Aether Chronicles)(Flux, 2012)(author blog), a YA fairytale steampunk story. From the promotional copy:

Wish. Love. Desire. Live. 

Sixteen-year-old Noli
Braddock’s hoyden ways land her in an abusive reform school far from
home. On mid-summer’s eve she wishes to be anyplace but that dreadful
school. Her wish sends her tumbling into the Otherworld. 

A mysterious
man from the Realm of Faerie rescues her, only to reveal that she must
be sacrificed, otherwise, the entire Otherworld civilization will perish.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

Way back in graduate school I wanted to write a story about a girl who moves into a falling apart house with a crazy old tree and gets sucked into the Realm of Faerie. I was going to call it “Queen of the Broken Tree.” The very first manuscript I ever finished started with that premise and ended up a story about an elven princess, a vampire, and a human sorceress going to Harvard. (I think only one person has ever read that particular story.)

I still really wanted to write that original premise, so a few years later I went back to it and created the story that would eventually become Innocent Darkness. That was where Noli (my main character), V (her best friend), and Kevighn (the anti-hero), first emerged.

They’ve always been Noli, Steven (the nickname V came later), and Kevighn, even before the story was steampunk and named “Innocent Darkness.” (For all those wondering, Kevighn is pronounced like Kevin).

But it wasn’t until I sat down and actually wrote the first draft that I discovered so many things about them. Noli really changed personality wise, and I discovered she wanted to be a botanist.

When I first started writing, I had no idea Kevighn had a sister, that V loves the book Nicomachean Ethics, or that Noli’s older brother was an air-pirate. I just love discovering things about my characters as I write—it’s like magic.

The first draft was also where I got to know James and Charlotte, two secondary characters that I adore, one of which didn’t even exist before I started writing the story on paper.

Innocent Darkness still isn’t really that exact original premise – though it does involve a big tree and the Realm of Faerie. Queen of the Broken Tree just didn’t fit as a title either, but one day, maybe I’ll write a story that does fit it.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. Every single day. Regardless of whether you want to or not. Even if it’s only fifteen minutes. It’s the only way you’re going to do it.

I have a family, a full time job, and three hours of commuting every day. I also write every single day.

It comes down to priorities. Obviously, some things have to give. Only you can decide that things you’re willing to cut out to make time for writing (and your family) when you’re not working. For me it was TV, pleasure reading (which hurt, but I couldn’t read one or two books a week and still write. I traded them for audio books to listen to in the car), and house cleaning.

I never really liked house cleaning anyway. Okay, I do clean; someone has to.

I write at lunch, every day, taking my lunch box and my laptop to a quiet corner instead of going out or being social. Often it’s the only good writing I get done during the week.

On Saturdays everyone knows that’s Mommy’s Day to write in her PJs until noon, then we do stuff as a family, housework, etc. I do some writing at night after my daughter goes to bed, but I make time for the hubby, too. A lot of it is about creative time management and balance. I plot and drive (so don’t drive behind me, okay?).

Discover what works for you, because what works for one person may not work for another, and go for it. Try to set a daily goal that works for you, where it’s writing for an hour, writing five pages, or writing 1,000 words.

Also, don’t neglect your family—even on deadline. Make them understand that Mommy needs to get work done, but schedule time for them, too. I do a lot of, “let me finish this chapter, then we’ll color.” Or “how about I take my laptop outside and write while you climb the tree.” (Timers are your friend).

They’re your biggest fans, writing is tough work and you need them.

Another thing I learned is to forgive yourself. If you don’t meet your goal for the day, it’s okay. But, the next day you have to get back to it. Keep going and don’t compare yourself to other people.

Most of all, don’t give up. It might take awhile, but you can do it.

Cynsational Notes

Suzanne Lazear writes steampunk stories for adults and teens. She always plays with swords, is never described as normal, and has been known to run with bustles. Suzanne lives in Southern California with her daughter, the hubby, a hermit crab, and two chickens, where she’s currently attempting to make a ray gun to match her ballgown.

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