Leo Valiquette – WIP Interview

leoLeo Valiquette is the author of The Sword and the Skull, an adult epic fantasy that he is currently pitching to agents. Leo was brave enough to submit the first chapter of his novel to a cross-blog critique event this blog participated in. I must admit I was seriously impressed! Next step: an in-depth interview on writing processes, aspirations and how monetizing your writing can improve your physique!

Leo, thank you for being here. Before we talk about your WIP, why don’t you tell us a few things about yourself?  

I live in Ottawa, Canada, with my wife and nine-year-old son. I’m going to cite the old writer’s cliché that I have a fairly boring life. When not writing, I am trying to keep up with my reading. I keep a 65-gallon fish tank. I’ve also tried my hand at sword classes and making my own chain mail and leatherwork as research for my writing.

These days, I’m a freelance writer and marketing and public relations consultant. Much of what I do is helping businesses market their products and services, through content marketing. I was a journalist and a newspaper editor; those experiences have definitely helped with the discipline required to just sit down and write, and take constructive feedback. 

Exercise in lean writing: give us a synopsis of your current WIP in under 200 words.

To quote my query letter:

A disgraced soldier and the blind witch he loves find themselves on the run, carrying the fate of their world in a nondescript canvas sack that bishop, warlock, and sorcerer alike would kill to possess.

Since fleeing the Holy Clerisy, Ryn and Josalind have tried to build a quiet life as dealers in religious relics. When the haunted skull of the evil demigod Zang arrives on their doorstep, Josalind is convinced it’s her destiny to prevent Zang’s return.

After Zang’s worshippers capture Josalind and the skull, Ryn has one desperate chance to save her and prevent the demigod’s resurrection. He must steal the Clerisy’s holiest relic, a sentient sword that can enslave its wielder. The sword’s thirst for a final victory over Zang could break Ryn’s mind and cost thousands of innocent lives.

Are you happy with the pace of your work? Do you aim at a specific word count each day?

I’m in that Limbo right now between projects. The Sword and the Skull is technically my fifth novel, but it’s the one in which I have made the greatest strides to improve as a writer. So it’s been a learning tool as well as a WIP with the intent to publish. Aside from some shorter stuff, it’s been my principal focus for several years.

And now that I am “done” and querying the MS, I’d have to say I’m not happy with the pace of my work at all. Revising and tweaking is far less daunting than starting from scratch with a blank page. I need to muster the ambition to start the next project. If I can average 1,000 words a day, I’ll be happy.

Plotter, pantser or both?

Half of one, three quarters of the other, I’d say. I need to know in a general sense where I am going in order to start the journey, but not to any great detail.

What’s your worst enemy in getting that first draft finished?

Time. What else? I have the advantage of being self-employed. This gives me the flexibility to juggle personal writing and client work in the course of a normal workday, depending on how busy with client work I am.

When I punched a clock for an employer, my only available writing time was of course evenings and weekends. So, while having that flexibility during the day now may seem like a godsend, it’s also led me to slip out of the habit of writing in the evening before bed. When I’m in my busy seasons for client work and don’t have the time during the day, it takes a lot to keep my writing from sliding off the radar and get back into that nighttime groove.

Have you ever experienced lack of inspiration or drive to write? If so, how do you motivate yourself?

Healthy eating and exercise is the sovereign cure. Seriously. About 16 months ago, I took a fitness challenge with a personal training gym, and I haven’t looked back. My blood pressure and cholesterol are the lowest they’ve ever been. My body fat percentage went from 28 to 16. I’m 44, and in the best shape of my life. I have more energy, more focus. And because of my skills as a writer and content marketer, I am exchanging services with the gym instead of paying for what is a premium service. Never forget – a strong writing skill is a currency all its own, even if you never make the New York Times best seller list.

That’s a new one! A healthier lifestyle to combat writer’s block. Could we take a look at your workspace? Is there a particular place you find inspiring for writing?

Leo's officePicture of my home workspace attached, complete with swords and skulls.

Here is a panoramic of my favorite local coffee shop: http://bit.ly/1pLgB8H

Very cozy! Now your workspace is pinned on my Featured Writers’ Workspace board on Pinterest! Apart from Word and Google, do you use any other writing or research tools and apps?

Not really. Unless the Lord of the Rings soundtrack counts 🙂

I’m sure it does! How do you celebrate writing “The End” on your draft?

I take a break to read a book. I find it hard to focus on reading for pleasure when I’m drafting.

Would you consider self-publishing if the process of acquiring an agent takes too long?

That’s a tough one. I’m only now at the point where I truly believe I’ve learned enough, and gained enough insight into my own writing, to have a marketable product. I know there are many writers out there who are excellent writers and self-published successes. But I know too, there are many people who have succumbed to their own impatience and self-published works that just weren’t ready. I still see reputable agents as the gatekeepers of quality, and as business partners and advocates to shoulder the administrative burden of managing a career.

But it is a highly subjective business, and if the agent route continues to disappoint, I might very well decide to self-publish. If I do, I will make sure to invest in professional editing and original cover design. You need every edge you can get.

Do you have any marketing or professional tips you’d like to share?

I’ve often drawn the comparison between a writer seeking publication and an entrepreneur trying to bring a product to market. You have to treat this as a business. As with any business venture, you must be prepared for failure, and you must see every failure as a learning opportunity.

The sooner you can accept your weaknesses, the quicker you can move past them and be the better for it. You can’t become a better writer without checking your ego at the door and taking to heart the most eagle-eyed and frank criticism you can find. Usually, this means someone who has been through the ringer with agents and publishers.

So after you’ve accomplished all you can with the kind of feedback you get from friends, family and your writing group, it’s time to cultivate a more battle-scarred network of people. Go to conferences. Attend workshops. Socialize online. Even pay for professional editing and MS assessments – BUT research carefully to ensure you are dealing with a reputable individual who will give you good value for your money. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there looking to fleece you.

As every successful entrepreneur knows, the key to marketing is to have a compelling product your audience wants. It’s practically impossible to create that in a vacuum, locked away from the rest of the world.

Is epic fantasy the genre you will brand yourself with or do you see yourself branching out in the future?

I’ve got a few different directions I want to go. The Sword and the Skull is the first in a planned series. But I have also written shorter works – 6,000 to 12,000 words – that will be the basis for books in different genres. One is an adult sci-fi dystopian, set in my part of Canada. Another is a contemporary dark fantasy.

Would you like to share with us links where we can find you and your work?

I am on Twitter: @LeoValiquette

You can find the first chapter of The Sword and the Skull at wattpad.com: http://www.wattpad.com/66499562-the-sword-and-the-skull-chapter-one?d=ud

Thank you for sharing your work process and workspace and best of luck securing an agent for The Sword and the Skull!

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