We’re thrilled to present to you, LitStackers, a brand new segment to help us celebrate our 10th anniversary. 5 Questions attempts to query your favorite authors, editors, publishers, and agents about their take on the industry, the future of book publishing, and their individual creative processes.
We begin with our friend Delilah S. Dawson.
Delilah S. Dawson is the New York Times bestselling writer of Star Wars: PHASMA, plus Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire, The Secrets of Long Snoot, The Perfect Weapon, and Scorched; the Blud series, Servants of the Storm, the HIT series, Wake of Vultures and the Shadow series (as Lila Bowen), and a variety of short stories in anthologies such as Death & Honey, Robots vs. Fairies, Hellboy: an Assortment of Horrors, Violent Ends, Carniepunk, Three Slices, and Last Night a Superhero Saved My Life. With Kevin Hearne, she is the co-writer of the Tales of Pell series.
Her next projects are MINE, a middle grade horror novel with Delacorte in Fall 2021 and THE VIOLENCE, a generational trauma tale set during a pandemic of random outbreaks of violence, out with Del Rey in 2022.
Her comics credits include the creator-owned Ladycastle #1-4, Sparrowhawk #1-5, Star Pig #1-4, Firefly: The Sting, The X-Files Case Files: Florida Man #1-2, Adventure Time comics #66-69, Rick and Morty Presents: Pickle Rick, and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth 2017 Special from BOOM! Studios, as well as stories in Star Wars Adventures #5, #6, #18, #25, and Star Wars: Forces of Destiny: Rose and Paige for IDW. Her most recent comics project is WELLINGTON, written with Aaron Mahnke of the Lore podcast.
Delilah is the winner of the 2015 Fantasy Book of the Year from RT Book Reviews for WAKE OF VULTURES and the 2013 Steampunk Book of the Year and May Seal of Excellence for WICKED AS SHE WANTS. Her work has earned multiple stars from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal.
She lives in Florida with her family.
LS: For many, the pandemic and resulting isolation have impacted the creative process. What has the past year and a half taught you about your writing?
DD: When the pandemic first started, I was emerging from a year of solid comics work. My creator-owned comic Star Pig, plus Firefly: The Sting, Marvel Action Spider-Man, Rick & Morty Presents, and Wellington, among others. With books, there are big lulls in communication where the writer works or the editors edit, but in comics, it’s a constant daily back-and-forth. I was so busy that I hadn’t written any new novels and was, for the first time since my first book launched, out of contract. It was terrifying, but it seemed to perfectly sync up with the pandemic such that my entire world went from very, very busy to… eerily, uncomfortably quiet.
But my brain doesn’t like to be quiet, so I immediately dove right back into writing. Not IP work, but new worlds of my own and new genres I hadn’t yet explored. It was so freeing! I was able to sink into story during the isolation, happily working in my outdoor office in Florida with my family just a few steps away. I was fortunate to make several sales, and I’m happily busy again, but it was a real psychological hiccup, like going from 60mph to a dead stop. I panicked, I worried my career was dead. But once I started working again, everything fell into place. I learned that the pacing of my career works better for me in prose than it does in comics. I learned that as long as I’m writing, as long as I have hope, I’m going to be okay.
LS: You’ve worked on several Star Wars projects, including Phasma, Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire, The Perfect Weapon, and Scorched. How did your experience as a Star Wars fan influence these stories and your experience writing them?
DD: I’ve been a Star Wars fan since before I really knew what Star Wars was. When I was a kid in the early 80s, you couldn’t just watch a movie any time you wanted, you had to wait until it was in the theater and hope your parents took you to see it, or maybe you could catch it on Sunday at 3pm on Channel 36, where it would be edited for time and bracketed by ads. So Star Wars was always part of the background noise of my life, the topic of my Read Along Books and my favorite bed sheets and the movies my dad and I would watch on Sunday afternoons. I didn’t know I would grow up to be a novelist, and once I was a novelist, I didn’t know how writers got chosen to write for Star Wars, but once I realized it was possible, I did everything in my power to get on that list. I wanted to write Star Wars stories about strong women, complicated villains, new worlds, odd droids, and weird animals. I wanted to write books that spoke to lifelong fans but that could serve as the doorway to the entire library of Star Wars books for new fans, stories that could be picked up by anyone who’d seen a movie or two and enjoyed without too much work. I don’t ever want to be a gatekeeper to Star Wars; I want to welcome all fans in with open arms.
I write the stories I would want to read, stories that should stand both as Delilah S. Dawson books and fit seamlessly into canon. I love Star Wars, and I love sharing that love with other fans.Your writer’s journey began with the publication of Wicked as They Come in 2012. Nine years later, what do you believe is the greatest lesson you’ve learned as a writer?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the only part of my writing career that I can control is the work, and thus my job is to do the work. My job is to grow as a storyteller, to study my edit letters and use them to level up. My job is to relearn my writing process with each story and push myself to make every character unforgettable, to make every sentence sing. I can’t control book sales or the NYT list, but I can control what’s on the page, so that’s where my focus should be. I used to blame myself when my books didn’t do as well as I’d dreamed, but now I know that most of publishing is completely out of my control, so I shouldn’t beat myself up about it. All I can do is write the best book in my power, which keeps me inspired each time I get a new idea. It’s all about forward momentum and falling in love with story all over again.
LS: What is your writing process now as opposed to when you first began writing?
DD: It’s not that different, actually! My biggest struggle when I began writing was that I had two children under 3 who needed constant supervision–and who kept me from getting enough sleep. I had to steal every moment I could to write, often pecking away at the keyboard with a baby on a Boppy in my lap. As writing went from a hobby to a career with deadlines, I had to really prioritize sleep and self care so that I could perform at my best, and I don’t know how I could’ve done it without a supportive spouse. These days, my kids are both over 12, and I’m able to get the proper amount of sleep. The hardest part now is getting interrupted while I write, so when deadlines loom, I need to close the office door or go out to write.
The actual process, however, is much the same. I get an idea and chew on it until I know the setting, main character, and hook. I figure out the beginning, the inciting incident, the main conflict, the climax, and the ending, plus a few signpost moments along the way. Then I write a fast, dirty first draft straight through, front to back. I do a quick second draft to make the back match the front and smooth out any wrinkles. Then I let it rest for a few weeks, if possible, and try to forget about it. That way the third draft is less familiar and I’m better able to read it with an open mind and see any errors or plot holes. Third or fourth draft goes to the agent or editor. I used to dread edit letters and see them as lists of my failures, but now I see them as cheat sheets to help me level up.
LS: How is MINE different from the rest of your published projects?
DD: Although I’ve written in several genres for adults and teens, MINE is my first book for kids. Well, my first book for kids that got published; the second book I ever wrote was a Middle Grade adventure, and it earned my first agent but ultimately didn’t find a buyer. MINE is a ghost story that harkens back to the books that gave me chills when I was in middle school, Ghost Cat, In a Dark Dark Room, and Pet Sematary, among others. It’s set in Florida and includes all sorts of creepy set pieces from my time in Tampa. And I wrote most of it while lying on my back on a heating pad, thanks to a pinched nerve I got at Disney World. Some of it was even dictated, badly, but I soon realized that all the corrections were really just as painful as the typing. And my second Middle Grade book publishes this September– MINECRAFT: MOB SQUAD. It’s a good season for books by me with MINE in the title. 🙂
A twisty, terrifying supernatural mystery about twelve-year-old Lily, her creepy new home in Florida, and the territorial ghost of the young girl who lived there before her.
Lily Horne is a drama queen. It’s helped her rise to stardom in the school play, but it’s also landed her in trouble. Her parents warn her that Florida has to be different. It’s a fresh start. No theatrics. But this time, the drama is coming for her.
Her new house is a real nightmare. . .
The pool is full of slime, the dock is rotten, and the swamp creeps closer every day. But worst of all, the house isn’t empty . . . it’s packed full of trash, memories, and, Lily begins to fear, the ghost of the girl who lived there before her.
And whatever is waiting in the shadows wants to come out to play