Welcome to the third post in my Author Spotlight series! Every month, I showcase an indie author and interview them to find out more about their writing life.
This month, the author in the spotlight is Jacquelynn Lyon! Jacquelynn and I work together at Dot and Dash LLC, and I have also edited her short story collection The Soft Landing Collection. Jacquelynn is one of my favorite fantasy and sci-fi authors; her writing is beautiful, her characters are endearing, and her stories make me cry (in a good way).
Bio: Jacquelynn Lyon is an emerging author in fiction and poetry. She was born in Boulder CO and spent several years as an undomesticated child in the Rocky Mountains. She writes fantasy, science fiction, gay romance, and about anything that fills her with wonder. When not writing she spends her time jogging, reading, and watching her cat do a delightful number of cat-things.
Q: What made you want to be a writer?
A: My favorite answer to this question is “spite.” I had a pretty bad case of dyslexia as a child and a second-grade teacher who regarded me as God’s smallest idiot since I was practically illiterate at that age. There is no greater motivation in the world to do something than when someone has decided you can’t.
However, to say I only became interested in writing after I finally learned how to do it would be a lie. When I was around seven, I asked my mom to buy me a tape recorder. Trying to figure out “b’s” and “d’s” still brought me to tears, but my favorite thing in the world was listening to bedtime stories and making up my own. So, I bought a tape recorder to capture that very first story I wanted to tell (it was about a princess who could raise the dead by screaming, and also a dragon).
Q: How do you choose your characters’ names?
A: The way you might name a beloved Sim in the Sims games. I either go to baby names dot com and search up name meanings for two hours or I hit “randomize” and their name is “Smek” for the rest of the story.
You can see this in my published short story collection actually. I have a mermaid named “Paria” which is a real-world inland sea and also sounds like the word “pariah.” Both of these things represent how she is trapped in a zoo, like a sea might be trapped inland, and how she is lonely and otherized in this world.
On the other hand, I also have a princess called “Tuck” in a different story. I wanted there to be a significant difference between her given name and the name she actually goes by in order to represent her disconnect from her royal identity. As in, her nickname would be strange and tomboyish, and her given name would be classical and formal. However, the nickname “Tuck” was a placeholder up until I couldn’t imagine calling her anything else. In short, long live Princess Smek.
Q: Have any of your characters surprised you? If so, how?
A: They all do in one way or another! I’m a pantser by nature (i.e., you write by the seat of your pants) so a lot of writing for me is sitting down, entering a fugue state, and coming back out with a bunch of words on the page. Being surprised at what came out is half the fun!
Q: Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g., lighting a candle before you write, meditating before you write, going for a walk to get ideas)
A: Yes! This last year I’ve been meditating before I write. I set a timer for 3 or 5 minutes and then I close my eyes and focus on the feeling of the piece. I’ve found it helps me write more clearly and powerfully when I know the exact emotion I want to evoke in readers before I start.
Q: How much research do you do, and how long do you spend on research for one book?
A: I research as I go. Whenever I realize I don’t know something, I’ll go to Google and look it up. If I notice that the story is missing details or potentially inaccurate, I’ll also go back and do more research during the editing process. If I ever write something more in-depth or out of my scope of knowledge in the future, I’ll probably do more research before I start.
Q: Do you have any specific authors or books that you've learned from on your writing journey?
A: Yes, absolutely! What is a writer without her mentors? The first book that really inspired me was The Perks of Being Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I had adored certain books before that like Warrior Cats and The Tale of Despereaux, but none of them had really sunk their teeth in up until that point. I was around 15 when I read it, which was the perfect age, and it was this big lightbulb moment.
It wasn’t the story that hooked me so much as the writing style. I had never encountered a narrative approach filled with so much compassion and understanding for both the main character and people in general. I just went “Yes! Yes! That is what I want to write about.” I had this sense of being seen and wanting to see others.
My first “big” piece of writing that got popular online was a story about an insomniac who worked at an all-night grocery store and an overworked corporate assistant. The Perks of Being of Wallflower helped me realize that I wanted to tell that kind of story—the story of awkward, weird, and messed up people. Because, honestly, what other kind of people are there?
Q: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?
A: Unfortunately, it made me slow down a bit. Back when I was just writing for fun, I was much more carefree and would write for entire afternoons without a single thought to it. Of course, many of these pieces were not very good and I hated editing so much that someone once asked in the comments section if English was my second language. Of course, once I started getting “better” and people started saying they liked my work (I posted it on a blog and fanfiction sites) I got a lot more self-conscious and anxious. Expectations are a hell of a thing and that made me slow my pace down a lot.
I have to be much more intentional with my writing now. It’s taken a lot of trial and error, but recently I’ve started making semi-formal contracts with myself. I will write for exactly two hours a day in the exact same spot and without skipping more than one day each week.
It’s worked pretty well for me so far!
Q: What’s your number one tip for tackling imposter syndrome?
A: Embrace it! You tricked a bunch of people into thinking you’re good at something? Amazing, good for you. Faking it until you make is really the only way forward in many cases.
Honestly, self-doubt is normal. Like any emotion you just have to sit down with it, look at it, let it in, and move on. We all feel insecure at points and that’s alright. It helps to remember that even the “greats” are just regular people. They get fired from jobs, forget to floss, write horrible poetry, and sometimes feel stupid for crying at Coca Cola commercials. Everyone you look up to is just some guy. Every famous writer is probably a woman with a horrifying fear of toes or open vents or some such thing.
Everyone is a bit ridiculous in their own way so if you are an “imposter” you’re probably no more or less an imposter than anyone else.
Q: What is your go-to snack and/or drink while writing?
A: I drink so much coffee it should be illegal.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: So many things! One of my true struggles in writing is focusing on one project at a time. The main thing on my mind recently has been a second short story collection. The theme of this one will be Sapphic urban fantasy stories and I already have the first 3 stories completed and picked out.
The first is called “Paper Girl” about a 12-year-old who delivers newspapers to the house of a TV-psychic with a daughter that never leaves the house. It takes place over a number of years as they grow up together and the main character tries to figure out why the girl in the house can’t, or won’t, go outside.
The second one is called “The Phantom in the Lavender Fields” and is set in the rural French countryside. A phantom is often seen haunting the fields and our down-and-out heroine goes to investigate and accidently seems to attract the specter to her in the process. They begin a type of communication.
Finally, I have a story that is currently called “And Death Shall Have No Dominoes.” It’s a more humorous piece (involving pizza) and the title is a play on the phrase “And Death Shall Have No Dominion.” However, very few people have gotten the joke, so I’ll probably have to change the title. It’s an urban fantasy retelling of the “East of the Sun West of the Moon” fairy tale where a pizza delivery girl keeps being called to a creepy apartment.
I am currently working on the final story for the collection, though the damn thing is getting very unruly in length. It’s called “First Born” and is about a human mother outsmarting a witch that she’s promised her first born child to. They sort of end up raising it together.
If any of these sound interesting to you, then definitely follow me on Twitter or Goodreads! I’ll post more updates there. Or check out my previously published short story collection on Amazon, which has similarly strange and delightful stories.
If you'd like to follow Jacquelynn on her writing journey or find out more about her stories, this is where you can find her:
Goodreads: Jacquelynn Lyon
YouTube: Lyon Editing
Tumblr: Insomniac-arrest's Writing Blog