I was introduced to E.J. Wenstrom by the wonderful Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA and as soon as we started talking I fell in love with the concept of her debut fantasy novel, MUD. Luckily she agreed to do an interview and chat about how she came up with it.
Please give E.J. Wenstrom a warm welcome!
- Can you tell us a bit about your novel, MUD?
My debut novel, MUD, is a dystopian fantasy that follows the quest of a golem who is so desperate to get a soul he’s willing to do almost anything. So when an angel comes to him offering to make him human, he takes his chance and doesn’t ask questions. The deal they make takes him on a quest into the Underworld to steal a soul … and puts the whole realm in jeopardy in the process. It’s a character-driven story with a soulful narrative and a lot of great action.
- What part of the story came to you first?
The main character’s voice. I was flipping through some lesser-known monster descriptions—as one does—and came across golems among them. Something about golems just grabbed me. As I mulled it over, Adem’s voice started talking to me in my mind, showing me little pieces of his heart. It was so sad, so desperate, I just knew I had to tell his story.
- How much planning did you do before starting Mud?
Not much! Wish I’d done more, honestly. I tried to outline before I started drafting, but inspiration took over. So I ended up writing as far as I could see the plot, pausing to plan, and then writing some more.
It was not the most efficient process, and one I don’t home to repeat. But it was my first novel, and I think on some level planning out an entire novel felt like too much to take on all at once.
As I work on MUD’s sequel and another sci-fi novel now, I’m trying to plan out at least the big tentpole moments of plot and character development better, ahead of the actual writing. I’m more a punster than a plotter naturally, but I think the best approach is somewhere in the middle.
- What is the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?
I’m a VERY slow writer. MUD took me five years to write. I get frustrated with how long it takes, feeling like the work I put in doesn’t even make a dent into what still needs to be done.
It helps when I write every day though, because even if my daily contribution is a tiny drop in the bucket, I can at least take comfort in the knowledge that those drops are adding up to something.
I’ve also been working to increase my daily word count—I used to only be able to write for about 45 minutes before work, so I’d average 250-500 words a day. Now that I’m freelancing, I have a little more flexibility, so I make myself stay put until I hit 1200 words.
Interestingly, it usually only takes 60-75 minutes to hit my word count, even though it’s proportionally much more words than that. I guess that’s either evidence that I’m becoming a better writer … or (more likely) just the psychology of setting goals and making yourself stick to them.
- Do you believe in writer’s block? Why/why not?
I don’t. Coming from a career in the creative industry, you don’t get that luxury of waiting around for an idea when there is a client deadline coming up—you learn ways to make creativity a habit and tap into that inspiration regardless of your mood. I’ve applied the same mentality to my personal work, including writing fiction.
If I feel stuck, I just start asking myself questions—why do I feel stuck? What’s missing in the story? What’s the logical next step? When faced with an open-ended question, my brain can’t help but try to answer it, and the wheels start turning again.
- You’re also the social media mastermind at DIY MFA. How did you get involved with this awesome community?
This is something I love to talk about, because it ties back to being involved in the writing community. I first got involved with DIY MFA by guest posting. I loved the site and the perspective on writing it advocated, and so I read it. Then I pitched a guest post in an effort to build an audience for my own blog. Then I guest posted a couple times more.
When the blog posted that it was looking for columnists, I knew I wanted in, so I pitched a concept that brought together my passion for writing with my professional experience (social media platforming). Now I run the social media for DIY MFA, too. All because I was engaged in the writing community and platforming for myself years before I had a book to promote.
This is only one of many incredible relationships I’ve grown that started with guest posting. I wish I could tell every author—just get involved, just start giving to the online writing community. Start your own blog, even if only as an excuse to approach other blogs with guest post pitches. When you finally reach a point where you have a book releasing or something else to get out to the world, you’ll be amazed how those posts you’ve contributed come back in dividends.
- What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned working at DIY MFA?
It’s been so cool to watch how Gabriela works. She’s got such an incredible community built around DIY MFA, and as I’ve collaborated with her more, I’ve gotten to see behind the scenes a little at how she does it. I’ve learned the importance of sharing your passion, only offering the highest quality resources, and protecting your brand rigorously.
- How do you balance leisure time, working for DIY MFA and your own personal writing/marketing?
Right. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
But seriously—for me, it’s come down to knowing what’s most urgent, and also knowing what’s most important, and what can be put off or cut altogether. I try to do certain types of work at the times of day I’m in the best mindset for it.
For creative writing, that means 5:30am; for workouts that means about 7pm; I freelance now but I’ve mostly maintained my old office work schedule because it helps me to have the structure of maintaining “open hours.” Most of all, I rely on the power of habit.
And honestly, it’s not uncommon for me to work some long hours. It’s been said to death, but it really does help when you love what you’re doing.
- If you could give an aspiring author only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Usually I’d want to say simply, “write,” but that advice is out there already, so I’ll go to my expertise and say, start platforming NOW. Act like you are published. Create an author website, get a professional headshot, and start collecting an email list. It seems like it’ll never come, but once that publishing contract comes through, or your novel is ready for self-publishing, everything is going to start moving in fast-forward. You’ll really wish you had these pieces already in place—so just do it. The earlier you start, the more time you have a to grow an audience (and learn).
- What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
A few things! I’ve got a novella in the works that will be a fun little prequel to MUD and offer some backstory to the larger world the series is set in. That will be free for my email subscribers, probably starting in May.
I’m also working on the sequel to MUD, and while I was waiting to get MUD published I started a totally separate sci-fi YA story about two sisters in a world where your death date is printed on your wrist when you’re born, and how that world starts to unravel when one of them doesn’t die on their assigned date.
It sounds like a lot when I type it all out like that, but it doesn’t feel like it when I’m working on them.
E.J. Wenstrom is a fantasy and science fiction author living in Cape Canaveral, FL. Her debut book, the dystopian fantasy novel MUD, was published by City Owl Press. When she’s not writing fiction, E. J. drinks coffee, runs, and has long conversations with her dog. Ray Bradbury is her hero.
Do you have more questions for E.J.? Think MUD sounds like a great novel? Tell us in the comments section below!