Meet the Authors: An Interview with Author J.R. Vaineo
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Hi everyone! My name is J.R. Vaineo, indie author of Kings of Muraine. In case you’re wondering what the ‘J’ stands for, it’s Julie. Even though my parents insist on calling me by my given name of Julianna, I prefer Julie. It’s short and fun. Kind of like me. I was once called “my short friend” at the gym, by one of my friends. Thankfully, I have a good sense of humor and don’t get easily offended. Anymore, that is. Life’s just too draining, to be humorless and offended for much of your time. If there’s one thing Jessie, my husband, has taught me, it’s that. Enjoy life! And don’t hold grudges. He makes it look easy. But believe me, it’s not. It takes lots of practice to let go of slights and betrayals, but contentment waits at the end. So, obviously, it’s worth practicing.
While other people went to public or private schools, I was homeschooled from Kindergarten through Twelfth grade. I admit, it was a little lonely. Especially after my older brother graduated and moved away when I was fourteen. Growing up, I still had friends of course. But I never got to experience firsthand what it was like being surrounded by peers and schoolteachers, for nine out of twelve months of the year. I had one teacher, my mom, always there to help when I needed it. I’m used to figuring out a lot on my own, though. That’s how it’s been for much of my life. I’m used to being a team of one. Me. Lol! The benefit now, I guess, is that I’m self-motivated to get work done. As an author, this is a necessity. Self-motivation. Long lists and day planners help keep me focused, too. Along the road, I’ve had to learn to let others help me. It feels so odd. But, again, it’s worth the trouble of learning something new.
I love inspirational stories and I love magic, dragons, vampires—anything to do with fantasy, really. I’m a huge fan of Tolkien. His writing is the closest thing to perfection I’ve ever read. But it didn’t start off that way. I read The Hobbit when I was twelve. But I could not bear the descriptiveness Fellowship of the Ring has. Then, a couple of years ago I changed a lot. It was more of a personality change, rather than altering a few habits and mindsets here and there. As a result, my tastes in almost everything changed—books, movies, hobbies, dreams. Even my fears are different. But, overall, I’m happier. Still incredibly indecisive, but happy.
When did you realise that you wanted to write and publish a book?
I’ve always been very imaginative, but I didn’t fall in love with writing until I was fifteen. A creative writing assignment turned into the beginning idea for what is now my debut novel. Sure, I dreamed of publishing it around the time of graduation. But that didn’t happen. And I’m glad, now, that it didn’t happen. I chose to major in psychology for my Associates degree, instead. Then I got married, moved to another state, and things just came crashing down around that time. I started changing, and a career in psychology never panned out. I was lost, transitioning from job to job. Never quite happy. But I always had this story to fall back on. In the end, publishing my first book was a need. Not a want. See, I started the story for me. Some might say for vanity. However, I finished the book—edited and a published it—in order to dedicate it to a guy I grew up with. He passed away at the end of 2014, and the loss just broke something in me. Amid all that, I had this thought. Books are kind of immortal. They live on, long past the lives of their authors. If just one of mine is dedicated to him, does that make him immortal? The image was powerful enough to keep me going. To encourage me to keep writing, even when it hurts. And believe me, it can hurt laying myself bare on paper for others to pick apart. It’s a good pain, though, I guess.
Okay, so you have decided to write a book, where did you start? Research? A scene that came to you? A character that you dreamed up? Tell us what got the ball rolling.
The writing assignment was more of a “writing prompt,” now that I think about it. Start with a question, and write a story that answers the question. I chose the question: What if horses had wings and could fly? Fifteen-year-old me wrote, “A boy named Tyler Craven once found a white horse that had wings, and this is their story.” The resulting story, the first of the first drafts, was garbage. Yet I still have that school notebook, oddly enough. Too sentimental to get rid of the evidence of my horrible writing, I guess. As a kid, even a teenager, I was obsessed with horses and trees and mysteries. So, that was the setting of the original story. A kid found a young winged-horse, in the woods close to his home. No evidence of where she came from. But he couldn’t just leave her there. After deciding to take her home, chaos followed. Over the years, it has changed a lot. I barely recognize the story I have now, in comparison to where it started.
Once you had started, how long did the process take?
Too long… Or just long enough. It’s all a matter of perspective, really. I started the story when I was fifteen. The next year, my parents enrolled me in a creative writing course, through the Institute of Children’s Literature. It was a through-the-mail type of course. That’s partly why it took two years to complete. I finished around the time of graduation. I didn’t feel a pull then, to choose writing as a lifetime career. I wanted it as a hobby. Not a job. This was before the explosion of kindle, ebooks, and self-publishing options. All through getting my Associates degree, which also took me too long to complete, I added multiple races; over a hundred characters—their names, abilities, etc; social structures; new landscapes; and so much more to that original story. At some point, I changed the winged-horse to a dragon-horse, having the bloodlines of five different “horse” species and seven dragon races. I probably spent an hour—three nights a week—for four years, fiddling with the story. I didn’t settle down and really start the hard work of organizing eight years worth of chaos, until 2013. It was the year I graduated with my AA degree, moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and “lost” myself. The next year, 2014, was spent weeding out more inconsistencies, deepening the story, enhancing the magic, and building the mystery. I got through three chapters. Then that guy I grew up with passed away. I lost a lot of motivation to do anything, except for what was necessary. In March or April of 2015, I picked up the story again. I finished the outline in about six months. Then I powered through 100,000 words. My life in November was on repeat. Write, work, eat, sleep. Not always in that order, though. I was desperate to get that story published. But I knew I needed feedback. I got some beta readers to help. Only two read it cover to cover. Another is perhaps the pickiest person, when it comes to stories. He drove me crazy. But in a good sort of way. After three years of going in what felt like circles, I finally published my book. From the afterthought of a fifteen-year-old to a dream to my accomplishment of 2018, it was thirteen years.
What were the things along the way that both helped and hindered you during the writing of this book?
Loss. Every year was an emotional battle. In the short five years Jessie and I have been married, we’ve had to say goodbye to his grandmothers and sister. My aunt, uncle, and close friend, too. In 2017, we almost lost his dad, as well. I used to think these battles hindered my emerging dream of being a writer. But then writing became my therapy. My escape. The place to let my deep emotions bleed out. It’s where I could rise to the greatest happiness I’ve ever known, and sink to the lowest darkness I’ve ever felt.
On a less dramatic note, my beta readers helped me a lot. One beta reader fell in love with Ben of Yharss-Rawshuen. So, I gave him a much bigger role. Now, I couldn’t imagine him any other way. I definitely take note of the ones my betas say they like or love. Then I sometimes adjust course, to include or deepen that character more. It’s a give and take sort of thing.
As far as books on writing and self-editing go, Sol Stein’s work is a powerhouse of truly helpful information. Instead of giving you a list of “don’t do this” or the generic “try this or that,” he shows you how to write better. I’ve read both Stein on Writing and How to Grow a Novel. They’re amazing! If you’re a writer, you must add these to your reading list. Another author I’m a fan of is June Casagrande. And if you’re struggling to deepen your characters and make their reactions more believable, I recommend Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman’s coauthored Thesaurus series. I think there are five, maybe six. I love the Emotion Thesaurus. After I powered through Stein and Casagrande’s books, and tried my best at applying their advice, my picky beta reader noticed a HUGE improvement in my writing. It was definitely a night and day difference. Although, my writing did kind of turn into something quirky. Even my editor mentioned that my style is very different.
Did the process of writing this book come naturally to you? Did it run smoothly? Or was it an uphill battle?
The process mostly came naturally. It just took a long time. Most of the battle was finding the mental and physical energy to just sit down and write it. Having a list and/or day planner is how I trick my brain into cooperation. See, I love crossing things off. It switches my mind from distracted and tired, into determined to conquer that list. Doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s on that “list” written on Monday, it will most likely be done by Sunday.
Set the scene. When you sat down to write, where were you? What did you need to help you? Did you have a routine with your writing? Tell us what was conducive to a successful writing session.
Well, in each place I’ve lived at, within Salt Lake City, I’ve always set aside a spot dedicated to writing. In the basement level of a house we were renting, it was the dining room table. In a super tiny, two-bedroom apartment, it was a little black desk surrounded by a chaotic mess. Hey, it happens when you shift from about 1400 square feet to 840. Haha! And that is why I love bookcases. The custodians of clutter. Tall and thin, they save me a speck of my sanity. Now, I’ve graduated to having a room all to myself. And a fancy office chair, too. Still the same black desk, though. The very one I bought, during my first semester of college.
Each and every successful writing session usually starts with me exercising and/or stretching for at least thirty minutes. During that time, I think about the story: information I have, what I need to know, and how to connect the dots. I’ve had to work up to having this routine, but it works. To be able withstand the sometimes long 10 to 12 hour days of writing, I have to get moving beforehand, and have a few breaks in between. I just end up crippled by the end, if I skip out on this part. During the warm up, and all through the writing session, I listen to music on my headphones. Since switching to wireless headphones, I can’t go back to the headphone “leash.” For intense and/or violent scenes, I usually listen to Wardruna, Heiling, or Two Steps from Hell. For other parts, it’s usually just music that fits the mood of what I’m writing.
Lastly, my routine must include coffee and Coke Zero. Lots of Coke Zero. My husband even joked to a friend that his contribution to my book was a Coke Zero fund. Lol! In fact, just recently, he got to witness me having my first Coke Zero of the day. He stopped mid-sentence, before saying, “Someone enjoying their Coke?” My reply? “Oh, I do that with every first sip of Coke Zero for the day. You’re usually not here to see it, though.” Apparently, I look like those people in movies enjoying their alcohol of choice, after some major letdown or triumph.
What parts of the story did you find the hardest to write?
Chapter 21: To the Festival.
This was the chapter where I really started feeling disturbed by one of my antagonists—Soren. I had to write this entire chapter in the dark, with only my lamp and computer screen providing some semblance of light. I don’t recommend taking this type of measure, but I just lost the entire scene and mood with the light on. So, I had to wait for nighttime to write it. I could’ve bought blackout curtains. But then there would be the hassle of putting up a curtain rod without a drill… Thankfully, editing this chapter was easier. And less strenuous on my eyes.
Chapter 29: Of My Eyes was a very hard chapter to write. The scene where Madeleine dies, in particular. That was a mirror of me reliving watching Jessie’s grandmother pass away. I was all alone with her. No nurses. No other family members. The room was dimly lit, and it was late at night. What happens in that scene with Madeleine is what I think many people wish could happen, with their loved ones passing away. To be able to bring them back from the edge of death, even if it means making them forget a portion of their life.
Chapter 32: Across the Pages of Time.
It’s the last chapter, in Kings of Muraine. When I sat down to write it, I had no idea it would be the last chapter. I was literally two paragraphs away from the end—a massive cliffhanger—when I just knew that’s where it should stop. Tyler had some resolution in seeing his dad again, which was inspired by my picky beta reader saying he likes the character of LanSoren: Tyler’s dad. It was a heartfelt moment. One I had been working toward, for the entire book. And it just felt right to end it where I did. I wrestled with other ideas, other endings. But none left me with my heart pounding, wondering “What happens next? I must know.” If I must know, then readers must know. It was a gamble. And I’ve yet to discover if it was a good gamble.
Did you enjoy the process and is it something that you plan to do again?
It’s a love and hate relationship, with the process of writing and editing. I’m constantly trying to get from point A to point B, sometimes with reroutes through C and D. It’s a blast, some days. Other days, I’d rather do anything, except sit down and write, rewrite, or edit. I’m taking the routines that worked for writing my first book, and applying them to the second one. In six months, I’ll know if I made a good choice or if I need some new routines.
Whilst you were writing the book, what inspired you? What made you keep at it and not push delete?
The need to finish kept me going. I kept envisioning my success, which was publishing my first book. That dedication page in particular. It means the world to me, to have something to dedicate to Luke. I wish he could’ve read it. He was the brutally honest type. If something had his approval—books, movies, video games—they were good. If he didn’t like something, chances are a lot of other people wouldn’t either. That was my perception of him and his opinion, anyway.
Another reason I kept pushing toward the finish/publish line was that I didn’t really have a choice. While at a job I had, working as part of a store’s freight team, I injured my neck. To shorten a very long story, I kept transitioning from job to job, trying to find something that wouldn’t make my injury flare up. Then I reinjured my neck at the beginning of 2017. That was… fun. Lol! No, not really. So, that’s when I finally told myself, “Screw it! I’m going to do the physical therapy exercises I already know how to do, and I’m going to rewrite my whole book. With any luck, I’ll publish it in 2018.” And that’s what I did. I deleted a lot. I’ve estimated that only 35,000 to 40,000 out of the 124,000 words from that 2015 November draft made it into the final product.
Writing, for me, is an interesting thing. I had all that physical pain, while working other jobs. But then I got in my “author’s” chair. Once the gears were turning, the pain just… disappeared. There were some days in 2017, I started around nine in the morning and didn’t stop until well past midnight. I’d give myself an hour for lunch, house cleaning, and what not. Two to three hours were spent on dinner and time with Jessie. Then it was right back to writing. The pain relief it gives me is incredible. I know that meditation and yoga can be that way. I’d never heard of writing being the same. Maybe the music and warm up help…? I don’t know. But I’ll take it because, hey, writing is free. Pills, doctor visits, and therapists are not. They might come with some nasty side effects, too. Writing side effects? Only healing, and fighting to better myself and my craft.
Now the book is written, finished and published, is there anything looking back that you would have done differently?
I would’ve told myself to relax more. And I would’ve talked more about my book, sooner than I actually did. People in my own family didn’t know how much time I spent writing, until I was less than a year away from publishing. Oh! And I would’ve read everything I could of Nick Stephenson’s newsletter emails. In case you haven’t heard of him, he’s an indie author totally killing it in this field. I confess, I’m a bit addicted to getting his automated emails. I understand how the algorithms work. If one of his emails appears in my inbox, I open it. Doesn’t matter if I have time to read it right then or not. This keeps me in his “active” subscribers’ list. Like clockwork, I receive more emails. Currently, there are 22 (yes, I actually counted them) waiting to be read. I keep meaning to binge read them, while in bed because, well, it’s relaxing to read nonfiction before bed. So relaxing, in fact, that I wind down to sleep mode before making it through one complete email and attached blog post.
I also would’ve turned off the –ly adverb kill-mode I ended up in (this is the WORST writing advice you can find on blogs, in articles. So many places. Do not fall for it). I kid you not, there were absolutely no –ly adverbs in the 2015 November draft. In 2016, I sought out and destroyed all of them. When I did the rewrite in 2017, I added them back in. What a relief! Third best decision I ever made.
Did you find the cover design part of the process difficult or enjoyable? And what were the feelings and emotions of handing your creation over to someone else to have the cover designed?
It was very enjoyable! I was going out of my mind, trying to find a cover designer. That was the difficult part. The one I was going to contact went out of business. After a lengthy search, I found Dissect Designs on one of Joanna Penn’s web pages. Things just fell into place, from there. Initially, I was a little nervous about the process (this goes back to me still practicing letting other people help me). But I quickly realized that Tim wouldn’t let me down. He knows what makes a good book cover, and the questions to ask in order to take “author ideas” and translate them into something truly amazing. Even now, looking at the final product, I’m still captivated by it. My friends and family are captivated by it. Even near strangers get this wide-eyed shock on their faces, when I show my book to them. It’s like magic! I’m looking forward to the next cover design adventure, for sure.
Is there any advice that you would like to offer anybody reading this who is currently writing, or thinking of writing a book?
Don't give up. And take "writing advice" with a grain of salt. Ultimately, you have to find your voice, your rhythm, and that one story only you're capable of telling. It takes time. Don't rush it. Or you will deeply regret it. I can't tell you how many books I've started reading and never finished, because I was disappointed in the realization that the author(s) didn't wait long enough for their story to mature. Either that, or I felt they didn't care one iota for their generic characters. If authors don't know nor care for their characters, why should I? Perhaps that's harsh, but it's the truth. Unless you're a medication, generic always fades into the background over time. If you're looking for a few good books to help with writing, any nonfiction book by Sol Stein will be worth reading. Some other authors to try out are June Casagrande, and any coauthored by Angela Ackerman & Becca Pulglisi. Oh! And you should sign up for Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 Readers newsletter. Then you will see firsthand why I’m such a fan of his.
Check out the amazing debut novel by J.R. Vaineo and find out why everyone is talking about it!
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Cover design by DISSECT DESIGNS
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