Interview with DISCIPLE Series Author L. Blankenship

I enjoy reading author interviews. The authors often reveal interesting things about themselves or their stories that you won’t find anywhere else. When I offered to host L. Blankenship for her DISCIPLE, Part V blog tour, we decided on an author interview because I already had a post from her on her magic system. I’m glad it worked out that way.

We had plenty of time before the scheduled publication date, so I suggested a different interview format than usual. Rather than send her a canned set of questions, I suggested that we do the interview as a back-and-forth email conversation. My theory was that the interview would flow more naturally that way. She agreed to give it a try.

You can be the judge for yourself as to whether or not it was a good idea, but I’m thrilled with how the interview turned out. I hope you enjoy it as well.

~ Daniel

Interview with L. Blankenship

My interview questions are in bold, and Louise’s responses follow. When we had additional comments to each other, they are prefixed with either “Daniel Says” or “Louise Says.” Have fun!

What was your vision for the DISCIPLE series when you started writing it, and how has that vision evolved as you’ve progressed?

When I started Disciple, I was actually reinventing a novel that had been trunked for many years. I’d known that the previous incarnation had serious flaws and I had given up on it. But then it suddenly exploded back into my mind and after a flurry of brainstorming and a heavy overhaul of the background world, I started writing DISCIPLE, PART I. At the time, I thought I was going to follow the general line of the previous incarnation, but as things progressed DISCIPLE began to wander pretty far from that. Which was a good thing. By the time I got to PART V, only one little thread of the original story remained: Kate’s winter alone with her baby, at her lowest ebb before the big finale begins.

The grand vision of learning what you are capable of has not actually changed, though. Only how it’s done.

Daniel says: The nice thing about a theme is that there are an infinite number of ways to realize it. Smile

Did you expand your story world as you moved forward with the series, or was your overhaul for the first book fairly comprehensive?

I’m a plotter, but I do like to let things develop as organically as possible. If that makes sense. The world grew into the framework I set up, as I wrote the series, and along the way some odd things bloomed and some expected things withered — which is all good. It created some challenges when it became obvious that things I meant to do suddenly didn’t make sense anymore. That’s all part of the writing process, though.

Daniels says: Organic planning does make sense to me. I’m a planner too, but I like to say that no plan survives first contact with the keyboard. I know the ending and the major beats, but the path between them often zigs and zags. I can’t plan down to the scene level and expect the scene list to remain intact.

Louise says: Very true that plans never survive first contact. 🙂

I loved your comment, "The world grew into the framework I set up." Would you be willing to share an example of one thing that bloomed and one that withered?

One of the most obvious places where elements withered away was on the character list. The biggest structural change to DISCIPLE’s world was the magic system, and while it’s easy to see how that would impact the mentor figures (for example) the repercussions actually reached much further than that. Two secondary characters disappeared entirely. Others had their "jobs" redistributed and turned into background characters.

Of the blossoms, the most interesting ones concerned the matriarchal culture of the neighboring kingdom. I’m not the sort of person who believes a matriarchy would be sweetness, light, and singing kumbaya every night (unless that were an enforced-conformity sort of thing.) DISCIPLE gave me a chance to ponder why a true matriarchy might exist and what it would look like after many generations in place.

You mentioned how some characters had their "jobs" redistributed as the story world evolved. I’ve had that experience as well, sometimes while writing an individual story. Did you have any characters become more significant than you originally expected or intended? Perhaps someone you enjoyed writing so much that you gave the character a larger role in the story?

Yes, there were a few characters that I didn’t have any particular plans for when I first sketched them. The one who surprised me the most was Teleri, who is a high-ranking officer in the neighboring kingdom that my characters desperately need an alliance with. Teleri quickly stepped into a linchpin role that spans the second half of DISCIPLE: she’s caught between her loyalty to her queen and to her duty. The choices she makes provide an interesting counter-example to the choices that my main characters make.

Daniel says: I think you nailed it. Characters spark our imaginations because their internal conflict is fascinating. We want to know how they resolve their internal crisis while dealing with the crisis inherent in the story. The perfect resolution is a synergy of the character arcs and the story arc.

You mentioned sketching characters like Teleri in advance. Did you develop DISCIPLE by conceiving the characters first and then figuring out what you wanted to do with them? Or did you start with a story in mind that you then populated with likely characters?

For me, stories usually start with characters in distress. Or maybe doing something amazing. That’s the bolt of lightning that hits me first, and then I work out how and why the story got to that situation. What happens afterward. What it all means in the grand scale of things. With DISCIPLE, I saw a few crucial points in the story first and those haunted me until I could build the story out to support them.

None of those scenes are in PART V, though. Of all the six parts of DISCIPLE, this was the most challenging to write.

Daniel says: I think I’ve noted this before, but your process seems similar to mine. A new series is usually sparked by a specific scene involving a specific character, and I build it out from there. Most of my notes for future books start off that way. It’s difficult to say whether the character was the genesis for the idea or if it was the plot that lay behind the character’s circumstances in the scene. Once I start building on that first scene or scenes, the expanded context inspires new character ideas and the passions and motivations of those characters inspire new plot ideas. Most of the time, I just keep asking, "Why?" until a story and a story world develop.

Louise says: Character and plot are so entwined, I know just what you mean. It’s hard to say which truly came first!

How did the DISCIPLE series end up with six volumes? Was that planned from the beginning?

It was semi-planned. The placement of the large events in the story made it clear that six parts would work, so I ran with it. As the writing progressed, there was some hacking and sawing necessary but the six parts came together pretty easily.

The task before you now is Part VI, the final book of the DISCIPLE series.  What are your feelings going into this last volume? Are you looking forward to wrapping up the series and moving on to other things? Are you sad to be writing the final words of a saga that has been the focus of your creative energy for five published books?

Actually, I wrote the first draft of Part VI back in… wow, in late 2012. I remember how it felt, though: Part VI was a headlong plunge that needed to happen in the most visceral way. I was worried about making it "big" enough, I was worried about wrapping up the ending in a satisfactory way, and afterward the characters and I sort of collapsed in exhaustion. It was good to be finished. We needed time off from each other, by that point.

We still talk, of course. 🙂 Revising the series has been a long process of its own and they’ve been gracious about that—but not ready to talk about what happened after the series ended. Not yet.

Daniel says: Thanks for the interview, Louise. This was a lot of fun. I hope the Disciple Series does well for you.

About Disciple, Part V

Disciple-PartV-cover300Disciple is a six-part, gritty fantasy romance — the fifth part of the series has just hit the electronic bookshelves. Kate Carpenter is a peasant girl determined to serve her homeland as a healer in wartime. She never thought the crown prince and a ne’er-do-well knight would notice her along the way.

From the back cover of Disciple, Part V

Kate faces winter with a broken heart: betrayed by one lover, the other lost to her.

Kiefan will not give up on the alliance his kingdom desperately needs — even though the Caer queen refuses to speak to him.

Anders, alone and despairing, faces the Empress’s seductive offers of power and privilege.

Each of them must carry the ongoing war in their own way, whether cold, alone, or backed into a corner. Each must patch together a broken heart as best they can. Duty will throw them together soon enough and they must be ready.

On sale now!

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Read Disciple, Part I for FREE

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Disciple, Part VI ends the series early next year!

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