Today we have a tour stop and interview from author Makayla Yokley, who's talking about her new steampunk fantasy novel, The Ruby Curse
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes... though they're not usually escaped convicts. Seventeen-year-old Violet Seymour is the only person to ever escape the highest maximum security prison in the steam-and-clockwork powered nation of Arcova. She is also a link in an ancient bloodline of heroes. When mages start going missing, Violet is the only person who can find them.
So, first off, when did you know you were a writer?
I don’t think I ever really “became” a writer. Writing has been something I did automatically, like breathing, since before I can even remember. Even back in elementary school I was the kid who was coming up with all these stories and writing them down in a notebook.
As I got older I started identifying this compulsion with a career, but even now it still doesn’t feel like that’s what this is. I do this for fun and because I can’t imagine filling my day with anything else. Sometimes I look at people who don’t write and can’t figure out how they manage to keep themselves entertained for a whole day. I do have other hobbies, but none of them are as satisfying as sitting down in front of a computer and spinning a tale about people whose lives are so extraordinary that it’s hard not to be enthralled.
Being identified as a writer is something other people do to describe me, I think, but for me it’s just something fun. Opening up my Word program and typing out these stories is entertaining and never really registers as “writing”.
How did you come up with the idea for The Ruby Curse?
The Ruby Curse actually came out of a Tolkein-esque fantasy that I tried to do and failed. I wasn’t able to get deep enough into the world no matter how much I tried to redo it, but the plot and some of the characters I liked. Once I started learning what steampunk was (having heard the word in an online interview with an agent whose name I don’t remember anymore), I realized I could recycle the plot and a few of the characters (Ethan and Aurora) and let them play in this new world. Everything started working out better and it was much easier to get into this new world.
Violet was the true basis for The Ruby Curse though. In a story that played on the concept of the quintessential fairy tale “heroes”, I wanted an anti-hero to take center stage. Someone who has done quite a few terrible things herself; someone you wouldn’t expect to be a hero. Not only did that make the story more fun, but it gave me some interesting ways to play with the common themes within fairytales; something that plays a big part in the series as a whole. Like, for example, what if the hero wasn’t interested in saving anyone else and was only interested in achieving things to her own end? What if the hero lost all faith in humanity and had been forced to grow up much faster than everyone else, leaving her somewhat bitter about the way things were? Was this someone who would only do what heroes usually do (namely save people or help solve a conflict) if her interests and the interests of those around her happen to overlap?
It was this kind of thought process that truly birthed The Ruby Curse. Something that started out as an experiment in a new genre has evolved into something else almost entirely. It’s a living, breathing thing that I have no real control over. I can give it ideas, suggest it move in a different direction, but ultimately I’m just someone who types.
Are you the kind of writer who follows a certain schedule or do you just scribble things down whenever you get the chance?
I definitely just sit down and write whenever I can. Sometimes whenever it works out that I can sit down and write it tends to be at the same times every day. I don’t like calling it a schedule because it’s subject to so much change, but I guess sometimes it kind of works out to be a schedule.
Usually, if I’m able to work the coffee bar at work, I have time to write in-between customers. There are some days when I’m working the coffee bar that I hardly get more than three or four customers in the whole two hour span that I work, and during that time I’m usually scribbling something down in a notebook I brought with me or something.
I almost always write when I come home from school and work though. I come home, make something to eat, and when I’m done eating I start trying to type. Things are slow at first, very little usually getting done until after four thirty or five unless I’m really in the zone or in a good part.
On that note, there are sometimes days when I don’t write at all. I hate those days, they kind of feel unproductive (and for good reason!) and somewhat wasted. For some reason, though, if I have long dry spells I can usually come back and write a whole bunch without even realizing it. I guess it’s sort of like experiencing a drought and then being drenched in the storm, beginning the rainy season.
Do you plan out the whole book before you start writing or do you just write and see what comes?
Write and see what comes, without a doubt. Sometimes I try to plan out a book before I write it but somehow that kills the romance of a new idea. I like to let everything come to me naturally and let it evolve along with how things are already progressing. Sometimes I write myself into a corner and sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised with what comes out of nothing. Sometimes it even fixes a problem I might’ve been having before, giving the story a new layer of dimension that I think would’ve been lost if I tried to plan it out beforehand.
No, the planning starts after the first draft. That’s when I’ve been introduced to the plot, what works and what doesn’t, and what works but needs to be adjusted or improved on. That’s when I start doing scene/setting cards, something I learned about in Kurt Hickman’s book Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness. For setting cards, you decide all the basic stuff: whose in the scene, what scene it is, where it takes place, how it moves the plot forward or moves a character forward… that sort of stuff. For setting cards you look at each setting and decide what kind of atmosphere you want from it. After that it’s mostly just using the senses: taste, touch, smell, sound, sight, ect, and finding ways to make the description create the atmosphere you wanted. Then I do character archs on Excel, taking each major scene and finding a way to move the character along their arch. I find this a good way to keep the character growth from feeling forced or fake. You can see how each character reacts in the scene, even if you don’t see it in the narrative, and how that makes them into a person who is better or worse from where they started.
What do you do when you’re not writing? Have any other hobbies?
I like to paint and do crafts. I’m a huge DIY kind of person, finding that if I want something that either doesn’t exist or is too expensive to buy, I try and make it myself. Clothes and sewing stuff doesn’t usually go well unless I can hand-sew it, but stuff that I can paint or glue together usually comes out looking fine.
I also like to play video games, but I’m by no means a gamer. I have no actual skill unless I’ve played the game a hundred times before. No, I’m not a gamer, but playing games relaxes me for some reason and helps me turn off my brain for a little while. Sometimes it’s that turning off of my brain that helps me with a problem I’m having in my work. Like, for example, when I’m playing my Sims 3 game I’m able to write without much of a problem. I’ve been told because it takes away a “sense of urgency” and that makes just about as much sense as anything else, so why not believe that?
What do you like most about Steampunk?
The creative freedom. In steampunk, while there are some set rules about what is and what isn’t steampunk, it’s mostly left to speculation (which is why it’s under the umbrella of “Speculative Fiction”) and allows the people who are interested in it to twist it to meet their ends.
In my series I was able to use it to create a sense of excess among the upper classes. They don’t have to do much for themselves because of how much technology has evolved and made its way into the “average” home. People don’t need to plant flowers anymore if they can afford robotic flowers, they don’t need to hire many servants because robots can run an average household— things like that.
Steampunk also gave me a way to fill in the gap that the real Victorian Era lacked from a medical standpoint. People who work in the mines, for example, sometimes lose their limbs. With steam power and the medical achievements it’s created, those with lost limbs are able to have them replaced with robotic prosthetics, which are crude looking at best. While this new technology offers new ways for medicine to help people, it comes with a price. The more a person has replaced with technology, the more it starts to destroy their sanity.
Admit it, all writers are quirky! Do you have any quirks when you write, like favorite music or snacks?
For some reason, when I’m having an especially hard time writing, I listen to Disney music. Songs from movies like The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, ect. are able to help me around whatever problem I might be having.
Who are your favorite authors?
Laurell K. Hamilton without a doubt. I especially love her “Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter” series. F. Scott Fitzgerald and “Great Gatsby”, Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, J.K. Rowling… man, I have so many it’s hard to keep track!
So what comes next for you? Tell us a little about your works in progress.
Right now I’m working on the second book “Briar Light” which will feature the same characters and progress the story that gets set up in “The Ruby Curse”. We learn some new stuff about our characters’ backgrounds, meet new characters, learn secrets about some minor characters from “the Ruby Curse”, and all that good stuff!
I’ve also got a few side projects that are so far in their incubation stage that they aren’t even worth mentioning at this point.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing in a good book?
Characters are definitely a key point in what makes a good book. These are the people you’re going to be following throughout the story, the ones you’re supposed to empathize with and the ones who are supposed to be able to move you to tears. I like characters who are deep, who have believable motivations and who I can feel good about having become for as long as it took to read the novel.
What is the best advice you could give to young, aspiring writers?
Don’t quit. I can’t tell you how many times I threatened to quit but never could. Don’t even think about quitting because its nothing but a slow poison in your veins. When you sit down to write, believe that you can do it and you will.
Edit! Edit! Edit! Editing was always the bane of my existence, so I tried to write the first draft perfectly so I wouldn’t have to. Not only did this not work, it never will no matter who you are. F. Scott Fitzgerald rewrote The Great Gatsby seventeen times before publishing. Now, that might be a bit much, but it shows that even the classics who we all know and love had to edit their work repeatedly because the original draft wasn’t good enough. Don’t skip this important step!
Join a writer’s group and/or a critique group. Joining my writer’s group was one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ve been improving ever since and have met a wonderful bunch of people who only want to encourage each other and see each other succeed. That’s the kind of environment that a writer needs, as solitary as the work can get. Don’t box yourself up in a room and expect genius. You need the experience of being around people who know exactly what you’re going through.
Makayla Yokley is a college student who lives in Kansas with her somewhat evil cat named Cujo. She likes to write fiction of all genres. Currently she is majoring in Liberal Arts.
(Fan page on Facebook) http://www.facebook.com/pages/Makayla-Yokley/231164716982029
Buy a copy of “The Ruby Curse” at:
(Paperback and Kindle) http://www.amazon.com/The-Ruby-Curse-Makayla-Yokley/dp/1479117471/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_t_1
Clearfall, Ethan’s village, was Heaven. The earth breathed light, pouring it out from every tree and blade of grass that flowed against the gentle breeze. From over the horizon the sun touched the day with its golden fingers, sliding them between the clouds overhead as if through strands of hair. Skinny, white trunked trees stood above the fields of wheat, grass, and flowers; their leafy arms stretched wide to welcome the warmth.
Dainty little blue and white flowers peeked out from behind the blades of grass like shy children in awe of the world around them; and a sparrow offered a single term in the distance. Being here was just like being lost in an ethereal dream, walking a spiritual path with eyes closed. I felt free here, the shackles of city life shaken away and wings unfolding from a cocoon. I was filled with an unfamiliar sense of peace and happiness just by breathing the fresh air and feeling it pour through me, rejuvenating every cell and drop of blood beneath my skin. It was euphoric.
“You don’t need those.” Ethan said, tapping the side of his face in an indication that he meant my goggles. He must’ve seen that I had lifted one side to get a look at my surroundings without having even a single detail filtered through a blue-tinted lens. Question was, how long had he been watching me?
Makayla will award a free digital copy of The Ruby Curse via Smashwords to one commenter at every stop so make sure you comment for a chance to win!