A writer like you: Vanessa Rasanen
Meet Vanessa Rasanen, army wife, mom of four, data analyst, and author.
She lives on little sleep and too much coffee. Her debut novel, Soldier On, released in October 2018 with the sequel, Let Them Fall, in the works. She is also in the early stages of working on a young adult pirate fantasy series. When she isn't writing or dreaming of writing, she loves to travel, visit breweries, take pictures, and cook.
In this interview, we talk about reading to free the stuck writer, letting yourself try (and fail), personalizing your writing methods and goals, making your characters come alive, crafting natural dialogue by borrowing how people speak, and building your platform to sell more books.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
What has shaped you into the writer you are today?
A combination of the books I've read and my interactions with the writer/reader community. When I first set out to write Soldier On I stupidly hadn't read enough. I got stuck, unsure how to tell the story effectively. I took years off (as is sometimes necessary because life) and spent that time reading. A lot. Reading not only helped me see what styles appealed to me and how other authors told their stories and shaped their characters, but it also showed me that it could be done. The type of story I had to tell could work on the page. I then went out and asked writers about their processes. We may be an introverted group, but generally we are also a giving and generous and loving community eager to help each other.
What have you learned about writing so far?
There's no single way to do it. You can read all the books on writing by all the greats, and they will each have their own process that works for them. Writing isn't about formulas or checklists or set steps one must follow. Yes, learning others' methods can help shape your own, but each of us has to make it our own. What works for my friends -- even fellow plotters -- may or may not work for me. It's a learn-as-you-go pursuit, a matter of trial and error. Keep what works, leave what doesn't. In the words of Chris Fox, fail faster. The faster you fail, the faster you'll learn and improve.
How do you define writer success?
For me personally? It's finishing a book and seeing it out in the world. For others it might be quitting their day job, getting that publishing contract, hitting the bestseller list, or maybe even just getting a good daily habit of getting words on the page. Just as we each have to determine our methods and process, we each have to set our own goals and work toward those, regardless of what others' goals might be.
Do you have any tips for writing strong characters?
I think most writers will tell you their characters are real to them. That is essential. If they're flat to you, they'll be flat to your reader. Hear them. See them. Feel them. One method I particularly used was to visualize being in their position. I close my eyes, envision being in that scene and let their feelings happen to me. Now, this worked for my contemporary. I don't know how it will work for my pirate fantasy. We shall see. But I think this allowed me to pinpoint how the story affected my characters so I could then describe the tightness in their stomach or the ache in their joints or the tension in their jaw, because I was feeling it with them.
What about realistic dialogue?
Oh man, is there anything worse than clunky dialogue? *Groan* Okay, so some authors probably have a gift for it. Others not so much. When I write, I'm seeing the scene play out in my head like a movie. I hear the characters' inflections and their tone. I work to keep it natural, always asking how would I say this? Or how would someone I know say it? Our characters may not be based on anyone we know IRL, but that doesn't mean you can't borrow from your best friend's sarcasm or your boss's condescending tone as inspiration. We've all heard people talk. Hear it in your head and then use it on the page.
What has worked for you in building your author platform?
I'm still such a small fry. I'm fine with that, for sure. Would I like to be as popular and well-known as Leigh Bardugo or Kristin Hannah? Maybe. Maybe not. But whether our goal is to be the next JK Rowling or if we just want to get our next book published, we all need an author platform. We all have to work to get our name out there if we want to sell to more than just our mom and her cousins. And just like my advice above, we each have to figure out what will work best for us. For me? I've focused on Instagram. This platform is one I thoroughly enjoy. I get to take pretty pictures and talk about books I'm reading. I get to connect with people on a very personal level without the drama or the politics or the discord I've seen on other platforms. I have a mailing list and a professional looking website. Don't skimp on these. Look professional and people will treat you like a professional. But bottom line, you have to get yourself out there and you have to choose an avenue that you enjoy using. If you force yourself to be on twitter, but you hate twitter, well, it's not going to work well. If you hate facebook, but force yourself to be there, you'll be miserable and people will see that. Whatever platform you use, those connections with people are going to be your best way at getting your name out there as people tell their friends about you.
What are you currently working on, and what makes you excited about it?
I have my next contemporary novel in the draft stage, but I had to set it aside due to it being a bit too emotional for me to handle right now. I'm instead focusing on my young adult pirate fantasy series. It's still in the very early stages, but my characters appear to be trapped in a reverse Handmaid's Tale meets Pirates of the Caribbean with an Irish twist. It is insanely fun to be diving into a new genre and tweak my writing process accordingly to allow for more discovery and pantsing as I write.
What authors are inspiring you lately?
Ronie Kendig is my writing hero. Her style is one of my favorites. Her characters and dialogue are perfection. And she writes in multiple genres, which I want to do as well. I'm also devouring YA fantasy novels by Leigh Bardugo and Adrienne Young. These authors have such a gift that makes me want to push myself to improve.
Where can we connect with you?
To free the writer today, take the time to visualize your characters. Close your eyes. Imagine yourself in the scene you are working on. If you were your character, how would you feel? How would you react? What would you say? What would you see? As Vanessa says, if you believe your character is real, your readers will too.