Misadventures in the Writing Life: In Which Rune Skelley Answers some Q’s!

Rune Skelley is the name of co-authors and marriage partners Jen and Kent. They write amazing genre fiction together and run a critique group that has been instrumental in my own growth as a writer. They are experts in the fine art of collaboration, which they go into in detail over at the Skelleyverse. But they’ve also graciously agreed to answer questions here.


1) As collaborative authors, what would you say is the key ingredient to a productive creative collaboration?

Kent: Trust. If you don’t have that, nothing works. Your own ideas won’t get voiced if you don’t trust your partner not to dismiss or attack them, and you won’t be able to compromise, to surrender a share of control, to a partner you don’t trust. (There are lots of other things you need, too. We did a couple of posts about some of them, way back when we started our blog.)

Jen: Trust is big, but I think that even bigger is the desire to work together. Writing together entails a lot of compromise, and compromise isn’t always an easy thing. A fruitful collaboration requires both partners to be fully invested in the process, not just the outcome.

2) When did you each first know that you wanted to write? When did you first decide to write together?

Kent: I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t writing. I had teachers early on who encouraged me and built up my confidence, and teachers later on who pushed me and helped me check my ego (an ongoing project…). Role-playing games gave me a lot of training as a storyteller, too. Come to think of it, D&D is a form of collaboration — the DM and the other players are all making it up as they go. The game provides rules and structure, but it still all comes down to people being able to invent a fun narrative as a team.

As far as writing together, the way Kent remembers it: I would write shorts now and then, and I had a novel that I kept adding to, which was eventually going to require the entire known universe for hard-drive space. I thought of writing as “my” thing, because arrogance I suppose. Meanwhile Jen was part of the gaming group, and she wrote a story that I really liked and which she’d asked for my input on. So we had a good sense that we could cooperate well on creative projects. I remember she was the one who got inspired with the image that launched us into our first novel, which was the first writing project that I ever really took seriously.

Jen: I’ve always been a writer, too. I still have some stuff that I wrote in elementary school, like an odd little story about a lion who solves a mystery with his animal friends. Only this lion has 3 eyes. Not for any plot reasons. Apparently I just thought it would be cool.

How we started writing together, the Jen version: I enjoyed the RPG stuff, but always wanted to explore the non-combat parts more than a campaign would allow. So I basically shanghaied Kent into writing stories with me.

3) What comes first? Character or plot?

Kent: Both. (Heh.) Either one can serve as a seed crystal, and we talk about the possibilities and match up a plot and a character that resonate. From my perspective, I feel like I usually start with plot and Jen usually starts with character. We both feel it’s crucial that the end product be character-driven, so if the plot demands certain events that means we must compellingly set up our characters so they’ll do the things that cause those events. (Events which then impact the characters, and the wheel turns on.)

Jen: Around the writing cave, Kent is infamous for coming up with story “ideas” that are more like concepts or pretenses. It’s like, “Hey, babe, I just thought of a great story idea! It’s like the world is the same as this one, only all the molecules are rotated a quarter turn counterclockwise!” And my reply is, “So what happens?” And he rarely has an answer to that. So it’s sort of up to me to find a way into his concepts, and that way is through a character.

4) What, to you, is the most important role that fiction plays in modern life?

Kent: Wow. Escape is important, even though there’s a pejorative connotation to “escapist entertainment.” Life’s hard, and we all need a vacation now and then. I also think fiction can educate, showing us the mistakes of others that we might learn from them in safety. Fiction encompasses filmic media, but written fiction, specifically, serves a vital role of preserving literacy. The ability to synthesize images and feelings that have been encoded as marks on a page or screen protects us from mental atrophy. So, it’s very important. (Plus, it gives our tribal consciousness something cohere to, a set of shared myths that provide a basis of common understanding among humanity.)

Jen: What he said, only less pompous.

5) When did your love of speculative fiction begin?

Kent: On the first page of the first Roger Zelazny book I held in my hand. I read Zelazny without first reading any “hard” SF or “high” fantasy, and so I internalized and fell in love with his seamless blending of tropes before I knew how post-modern-adjacent it all was.

Jen: When I was little I was really into reading about UFOs and other creepy topics, trying to figure out if I believed in any of it. That’s probably where it started for me.

6) Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it? If not, why?

Kent: Um, yes, it’s real. I feel like I’m way out at the lean end of the bell curve for it, that I’ve been fortunate to seldom suffer it, but it’s certainly not a myth. As we’ve posted on our blog, our partnership and process both help to buffer us from blockages. I really like having my work cut out for me, in the original sense of that saying. I like when all the materials are prepped and stacked up within easy reach, when I know how many shoes I must make and what they’re supposed to look like. I guess it’s my belief that writer’s block is 90% lack of preparation, that it has almost nothing to do with whether or not you’re a creative or talented person.

Jen: I think every writer has experienced minor instances of it. I’m lucky enough to have never been bogged down for more than a day or two. I have experienced lack of motivation, which I don’t think is the same thing. Our projects are so complicated that there’s always something besides prose composition to work on. When the words won’t come there’s always editing or other tasks to turn to. That keeps me engaged with the project while my subconscious gets its shit together.

7) Out of the novels you have completed, are there any characters you would love to meet, or run away from?

Kent: I’d run away from most of them. Seriously, even the nice ones, because we give them so many reasons to hate us. (However, I have major crushes on most of the females and would probably make very foolish choices in their presence.) If I had pick someone from our books to travel cross-country with, it’d probably be either James or Bishop. We would find lots to talk about, I’m not confused by my feelings for them, and they seem the least inclined to vengeance. For just hanging out, I gotta say Vesuvius.

Jen: You’re name-dropping characters nobody knows yet!

There are plenty of characters I would avoid. There are some that I would enjoy having a conversation with. And there are one or two that I would chase after if I wasn’t married. And if they didn’t know that I was responsible for all the bad shit in their lives.

8) For someone new to collaborating, what would you say they should look for in a potential writing partner?

Kent: The magic word here is “sympatico.” It’s not going to be enough to be tolerant of one another’s tastes and interests; you have to feel passion for the same things. It’s not that you need a clone of yourself, just that the Venn diagram’s region of overlap must contain the stuff you will be writing about, mostly. You should both be immersed in the project, both kind of obsessed with building *that* world and animating *those* characters. The partnership is bigger than either one of you alone, though. Don’t throw away the stuff in the other parts of the diagram — use it! Teach each other. Trust each other.

Jen: Make sure it’s someone that you really, really enjoy talking to. You’re going to have a ton of conversations, so make sure your partner is someone you like to spend time with. And you have to respect each other.

9) What’s next in the creative life of Rune Skelley?

Kent: We’re about two-thirds of the way through our current first draft. So, working on that for the foreseeable future.

Jen: We are also talking about the next book, which will be a sequel to the Science Novel. Right now we have a ton of ideas, and most of them are incompatible.

Kent:  Those conversations are still in the big-bang stage, coming up with more and more possibilities, after which we’ll see what starts to coalesce. We take notes about these ideas, but I find that the natural filtering process of reviewing things from memory really helps. You don’t like the thought of losing anything, but what you really want is to be able to focus on the very best, which means you have to put aside the other stuff.

The Spotty Blog Interviews Author S Copperstone


S Copperstone is a wordsmith working in the self-publishing mines. We’ve known each other online for… wow… a long time now. We met through the Zoetrope critique boards many moons ago. You can find her novel, The High King’s Embalmer at Amazon. Rumor has it, she’s got some new work brewing, and lest I forget, here is her wordpress blog.

Without further ado, the interview!


Q) So, let’s start at the beginning. What got you started as a fiction writer?

A) I don’t know. Honestly, I can’t remember. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, off and on, and have no idea why. I do know I tend to write more when I am/was stressed so I suspect I use writing as a form of stress-relief. I put my characters through hell sometimes. Readers don’t see everything— I usually have another version of the novel where the poor characters are tortured (either physically or mentally), I tone it down for public consumption.

Normally, since I love history, I’ll immerse myself in anything obscure I can find about the particular era I’m writing about. Sometimes the most unusual (maybe unbelievable) events really had happened and I’ll find them in the most unusual places (i.e. a travel brochure, or a family history, anywhere really).

I’ve been submitting to agents and publishers for many years. I’ve got a file cabinet drawer full of responses. I keep them because it’s proof to me, that yeah, I tried.

Q) In your 2014 release, The High King’s Embalmer, the reader follows the numerous misadventures of Jibade, the title character, who is not only an embalmer but a jackal shape-shifter and heart-eater. I gotta ask, what did you do for research?

A) First of all, I’ve been interested in the ancient Egyptian culture for some time. They were so… different than other cultures of the day, or since, really. I had the idea of “what if the Anubis-creature was real and from another planet?” etc etc. I did a little research on the ancient Egyptian embalming techniques and mythology and added a paranormal element to it. I had thought about attending school to become an embalmer at one point, and had purchased a used book on embalming to prepare… I had to do something with it. 🙂

I feel sorry for Jibade. He was born into a tyrantical situation. He keeps going though and despite what he is (a heart-eating, assassin, mystical embalmer), he has some redeeming qualities and respects the dead. The next book—I’m debating about which book will be next—will be about Anna’s past and future, or, it will be the book about Jibade’s father’s past. Jibade will still be in both books, somewhere.

Q) Since choosing to self-publish, what surprised you about the process?

A) Self-publishing… if I had a choice, I probably wouldn’t do it again. I can’t say I won’t (because I don’t know the future), but I’m pretty jaded at the moment. It’s very time-consuming and a big let-down. I think the only way to make it as a self-published author would be to already be well-known somehow, or rich enough to really push the marketing aspect of it. The hardest part is marketing… it’s very frustrating finding an audience for a book. A few bad reviews can wipe out an unknown writer. Typos seem to appear from no where (those are corrected, by the way). It’s like sometimes a little gremlin walks in and plants a stray letter somewhere or transposes letters. Also, I write unusual things—not the usual mainstream apparently—it’s just how I am, and it seems I’m aways swimming upstream.

Q) On your blog there’s quite a bit about genealogy. What got you interested in the subject? Does it inform your fiction?

A) Genealogy… I got hooked after I worked on the genealogy of one of my characters in a book saga I wrote so long ago (prior to the movie, “Braveheart”!) haven’t published yet. (It’s about a Scottish medieval knight). I was working on his family history and thought , ‘why not do my own?’  I’ve been hooked for years now. I love history and love trying to fit my own ancestors into it, to see how they lived, where they lived, why they moved, etc. Most times, it just leaves more questions without solutions, but it’s still addictive just the same.

Q) When you approach writing a novel, are you a plotter or a pantser, or a combination of both?

A) I guess it depends. Most of the time, I’m a bit of both. Most times I’ll see something, or hear something and it only needs to be a single idea or a sentence that will get me to thinking. A novel can marinate in my mind for years. I’ll always write down the idea and whatever else I think of at the time and when I have the time to write it or the right moment when I feel inspired, I’ll then write the novel. I usually get an idea of the characters in my mind and then I’ll let them determine which direction they want to go it. I’ll have a general outline of where they should go, but most of the time, they end up doing their own thing and I can’t rein them in all the time.

Q) I heard a rumor that you have a novel coming out in August, Bittersweet Tavern. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

A) Yes! The rumor is true. My next soon-to-be-published novel will be out in August 2015 and available for pre-order before that. It was a novel I wrote the fastest (I think I had the basic story down in about a month). It’s a tale of a young widowed barmaid and a widower ship captain who become caught up in the beginning of the American Revolution. It’s called, “Bittersweet Tavern,” and the most of the events are true. The characters were just thrown into the mix. Most of the names are from my own genealogy of that time period: Kezia, Jerusha, Frost, Daniel Stanton, etc. Lovejoy is the name of a road in the area where I lived, but I found out, there was also a family who lived in the Falmouth (Portland) area of Maine during that time.

Q) Where will readers be able to find it?

A) Readers will be able to order Bittersweet Tavern at their local independent book store, or it will be available via the publisher at Bygone Era Books, LTD. (www.bygoneerabooks.com). It will be in e-book and paperback form.

Q) What’s the next project?

A) I’m working on finishing up a cute time-travel that takes place in my current hometown (in the past) and in Detroit, Michigan (present and past). It is similar to the movie, “Somewhere In Time,” sort of… When coming up with the character names for this, I was sitting up in bed with my notebook and asked out loud (thinking I was talking to my cat), “What should I call her?” And the first name that popped into my head was, “Rebecca.” So… the main character’s name is Rebecca. Come to find out, I guess I have a resident ghost in the house that is named Rebecca, so that was cool, and probably her influence. Perhaps she had visited the opera house (where most of my book takes place) herself back in the day.

I’m also going through my medieval saga again and thinking of giving that a try again, to be published. It’s a story about a Scottish knight, his family and friends and misadventures and battles… lots of battles and jousts. It spans the years of the mid 1200s up to current times. (And it’s not a time-travel piece). It was mentioned above briefly.

Q) What’s your favorite kind of butter?

A) Butter? Ha! I like Land-o-Lakes, but I want to try that Kerrygold… I do love their cheese. And, I’m partly Irish, so there’s that too…

Q) What is a piece of advice that you’d offer to a beginning writer that you wish you’d heard when you started?

A) Don’t try to please everyone… just write what you want to write.