Tag Archives: J. Kathleen Cheney

Guest J. Kathleen Cheney On Where Writing Takes You (And Dogs Driving Cars)

November is just rolling along, isn’t it? I’ve been down for the count a lot, but at least I’m resting? Enough about me though – today we have J. Kathleen Cheney back with us! Remember she celebrated her special day with us earlier? This time it’s about books! ūüôā

Sometimes They Come Out of Nowhere…

The Golden CityWhen I originally outlined the story behind my novel The Golden City, I had a woman–Oriana–in an uncomfortable situation: she’d survived an attempt to take her life, but couldn’t go to the police because she’s in the city illegally. My planned story revolved around her attempt to bring the man responsible to justice without the help of the law.

Then I started typing.  Three paragraphs in, I had a nameless character walk on and begin asking Oriana some rather innocuous questions.  He was supposed to spew out some plot exposition and then go away, never to be seen again.  And about halfway through his spiel, I realized he should at least have a name.  One name.  So I gave in and named him Duilio.

I moved on. ¬†I typed a few more paragraphs, having Duilio natter on and on about a piece of art. ¬†And that’s when I realized he had an ulterior motive in being there. ¬†His inane chatter wasn’t as vacuous as it seemed. ¬†He was questioning her–because he wasn’t sure whether she was a victim or an accomplice.

And from there it spun out of control. ¬†I kept typing, by that time having gleefully abandoned my outline. ¬†(OK, I wasn’t gleeful. ¬†I was a bit perturbed.) ¬†I decided just to see where it went. ¬†And that’s how I ended up with The Golden City.

Now I’ve written stories before that don’t have a male lead, so I’m not sure why this one seemed to need Duilio. ¬†I suppose that things had simply gone so wrong for Oriana that I felt a bit sorry for her. ¬†I wanted her to have someone helping her out.

As a writer, sometimes the best ideas show up this way. ¬†You’ll be going along and blammo! ¬†There it is on the page. ¬†Sometimes the characters who pop up that way turn out to be the most fun. ¬†And that makes me wonder if my subconscious isn’t a better (or at least more enjoyable) storyteller than I am.

Of course, that’s a bit like saying that I’m going to let my dog Penny drive the car to doggy daycare. ¬†Penny often tries to get in the driver’s seat and I always make her get out of it. ¬†¬†My first consideration is that she’s not licensed to drive in this state, nor is she insured. ¬†But there’s also the problem that she just doesn’t know what she’s doing behind the wheel. ¬†And then there’s that pesky lack of thumbs. ¬†(Note that I don’t mention letting her brother Al drive. ¬†No way that’s happening.)

Sure, I could let my subconscious drive all my writing.  Unfortunately, I suspect that my subconscious, even though it might be enthusiastic, still has no thumbs.

So it’s a kind of balance, I suppose. ¬†I like listening to that crazy voice that drives me off my outlines and into strange waters. ¬†Sometimes it works out. ¬†Sometimes I end up in blind alleys. ¬†In the case of Duilio’s appearance, it was a gold mine, with a second book (The Seat of Magic) coming next summer and a third one in the works. ¬†¬†But I still have to plan, too‚Ķ

So what are some things that unexpectedly cropped up that worked for you?

As bonus incentive to answer Ms. Cheney’s question, she’s also offering a giveaway! Whee!

Birthday Girl J. Kathleen Cheney

Well my dears, we have a wealth of posts today! A while back I was asking if anyone wanted to guest at ALBTALBS and J. Kathleen Cheney contacted me. ūüôā We began talking about the type of posts we have here, and birthday ones came up – and guess what? Today is her birthday! So she was all “I totally want to do that!” Whee! Everyone remember to wish J. Kathleen a very happy birthday. (And also check out Has’s reader post – she’s one of us. :D)

The Golden CityHello, there! ¬†Limecello invited me to do a guest post on my birthday, and here I am. ¬†This year is a special one for me. ¬†Not because of the number (although 49 is 7 squared, which is cool!) ¬†Instead, I’ve got a bigger present coming, a novel coming out in less than a month.

What’s that got to do with birthdays?

Birthdays are the days we reassess our lives. ¬†In Spanish (and other languages) they say “Feliz Cumplea√Īos!” which when roughly translated means “Happy Completed Year.” ¬†You’ve got another complete one under your belt, and what do you have to show for it? ¬†What goal did you accomplish?

Now, admittedly, I usually have something regarding my weight on that punchlist. ¬†And I usually haven’t met it. ¬†I often have a lofty goal involving exercise or education or spirituality, and have achieved them with varying degrees of success. ¬†But there’s one that’s been bugging me for many a long year: ¬†getting that book contract.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but never had the time. ¬†I had a career as a department store buyer (which is surprisingly time-intensive). ¬†When I left that job, I switched to teaching, erroneously thinking, “Ooh, I’ll have plenty of time to write.” ¬†Well, any teacher can tell you that’s idiotic. ¬†For me, writing in spare moments never worked. ¬†I always felt guilty for taking time and attention from my ‘real’ job (especially when students were involved.)

But one of my favorite writers published her first book at 27 or so, and that set my mental goalpost. ¬†For years I felt bad every time my birthday rolled around. ¬†My age increased but I still didn’t have that coveted book contract. ¬†27 came and went, then I was 30, then 40, and still‚Ķ.no time.

And then one year I finally had all the kinks worked out and when my birthday came around, I had it. ¬†That book contract I’d been kicking myself over for years–well, decades, honestly–I had it. ¬†I could hit that completed year mark with the satisfaction of having achieved one of my major lifetime goals. ¬†Whew! ¬†There’s an amazing rush when you get one of the big ones under your belt. ¬†(That sounded really dirty, but I didn’t mean it that way.)

It’s lovely to have goals and to achieve them. ¬†So what’s the thing that you keep planning to do, and every year find it still undone?

BIO: J. Kathleen Cheney is a former math teacher who’s taught everything from 7th grade Math to Calculus. ¬†Her short fiction has been published in several magazines and anthologies, and her novella “Iron Shoes” went on to be a Nebula Finalist in 2010. ¬†Her novel The Golden City will be out from Penguin on November 5th, with the sequel The Seat of Magic following in July 2014.

Happy birthday Ms. Cheney! Thanks for visiting with us on your special day!