Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Meredith Stoddard about her love of folklore, what inspires her to write her stories, and the creative work that went into her new book, Nothing Good Gets Away.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Thank you so much for having me. I write folklore-inspired fiction. That spans multiple genres, but it all starts with some legend, or folktale, or song. My most extensive writing so far is my Once & Future Series which blends Arthurian legends, Scottish and American folklore with modern life. It follows the adventures of a folklorist who starts her journey trying to trace a Gaelic song that her grandmother taught her when she was a girl. Beyond that I’m a mom of two wonderful teenagers. I live in Virginia, with my family and pets.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I have always been a storyteller. Even before I learned how to read, I was making up stories about my imaginary friends. Now, I just get to hang out with them and write down what they say.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I think I have always been writing. I wrote short stories and poems all through school. I used to keep two notebooks in class, one for taking notes about the subject I was studying and one for jotting down story ideas as they came to me. I first started publishing those stories around 2011.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
15 years. I wrote the first fifty pages of The River Maiden in 1999, but day job and children and life drew me away from writing for years. Then I got laid off after the market crash in 2008, and my husband and I decided that I should stay home with the kids who were young at the time. That gave me time to dust off those fifty pages and dedicate some serious time to finishing that book, which promptly snowballed into a series.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Well, I was on track to finish it within six months from when I started writing to publication. Then the pandemic hit and suddenly I was in charge of virtual school and everyone was at home. That cut into my quiet writing time quite a bit. In the end the book, Nothing Good Gets Away, the fourth in my fantasy series, took about a year longer than I planned.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Nothing Good Gets Away?
I think like most writers, I write because I don’t know how not to write. These characters talk to me, and I feel compelled to tell their stories. It doesn’t feel good to keep those stories bottled up in my head. My latest is the fourth book in my contemporary fantasy series, and my characters have a lot more story to tell. Also, I am lucky enough to have some loyal readers who nudge me regularly for the next installment. Knowing that readers are waiting is a great incentive to keep going.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Nothing Good Gets Away?
My biggest challenge is always getting that first draft written. Not because the writing is hard, but as a mother I have a lot of interruptions. It’s hard to get into the mindset for writing fiction with constant interruptions. So, the last year with my kids in virtual school and my husband working from home writing was difficult. I work to overcome it using writing sprints, and occasional retreats to get away for uninterrupted writing time. We even built a writing shed in the backyard so that I can get away.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Most books start with a ‘what if’. In the case of the Once & Future Series, I asked myself, “What if the future part of the ‘once and future king’ happened now?” And who would the king’s mother be? I became fascinated with the idea of a modern independent woman caught up in that particular prophecy. What would she be like? How would this disrupt her life? That’s how I came up with Sarah’s sensibilities and her attitude. But she also needed some connection to the old world, or in Sarah’s case the Other World, that would give her the tools to uncover the prophecy and its origin. That’s when I decided to make her a folklorist. She is steeped in legends, especially Gaelic lore from her grandmother’s home in Scotland.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
There are multiple antagonists in this series. In the first book, the antagonist is Sarah’s roommate’s new boyfriend, Ryan. Right from the start Sarah is suspicious of him, but she can’t quite put her finger on why. I think a lot of us have had that experience when a friend starts seeing someone that gives us a bad feeling. He might be loosely based on a guy that one of my housemates dated in college. Fortunately, my housemate’s boyfriend didn’t turn out to be as bad as Ryan in the book.
What is the inciting incident of Nothing Good Gets Away?
When we first meet Sarah, she is a graduate student who is doing her dissertation on Gaelic folklore in the New World. The inciting incident happens when she meets a fellow folklore student from Scotland who is studying the same thing. She can’t decide if he could be helpful in her research or if he’s going to steal her work and take the credit. Sarah has some trust issues, so sparks start to fly.
What is the main conflict of your book?
In the first book, The River Maiden, the main conflict is really within Sarah herself. We learn in the course of the book about some trauma that she suffered in her childhood. Her mother struggled with mental illness and Sarah is perpetually worried that she will have similar problems. It has left her unable to trust people, and sometimes unable to trust herself. She second guesses herself a lot, which makes dealing with the other minor conflicts in her life much more difficult.
Did you plot Nothing Good Gets Away in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I am an unabashed plotter. I need a roadmap to show me where the story is going. Otherwise, I can get lost in the middle. There are plenty of surprises along the way, and I’m happy to follow plot bunnies down rabbit holes, but I need the route laid out so that when I finish a subplot, I know where to pick things up again.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did your book need?
I’m funny about showing my drafts to anyone. My husband reads things before anyone else, and every draft goes through multiple revisions before he sees it. After his feedback, I do get help with editing. I have worked with a professional editor, and sometimes with a team of volunteer beta readers who help me immensely. Their feedback is invaluable.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Read. Read a lot, especially in the genre that you want to write in. Pay attention to the choices the authors make. Why are they choosing the words they’re choosing? What is the theme of the story? How does the action serve the theme? What is the rhythm of the writing? Observe every detail you can and learn everything you can from them.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Well, I have two books in the works right now. First, there is Thistle & Lion, the fifth book in the Once & Future Series. I am working on the first draft of that now. Then I am also revising a women’s fiction novel that is a spin-off from the Once & Future Series that follows one of the secondary characters.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
So worth it. If nothing else, just to see my imaginary friends’ adventures in print. But the reader response has also been incredible. Sarah and Dermot have some dedicated fans and it’s enormously gratifying to see other people care as much about them as I do.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
The River Maiden: Once & Future Book 1
Cauldron: Once & Future Book 2
Thrice to Thine: Once & Future Book 3
Nothing Good Gets Away: Once & Future Book 4
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