The reality of fantasy is hard work

Malinda Anderson balances life as a successful author and a mom with two young children while imagining and writing fantasy novels
Ozaukee Press staff

Like many authors, Malinda Andrews goes through a number of steps before her work reaches readers’ hands.

Research, writing, editing, rewriting, rewriting some more ­— the list goes on.

As grueling as the writing process is, the Grafton resident said, it isn’t her biggest challenge in self-publishing. It’s marketing.

“It’s hard for me to unabashedly put myself out there,” Andrews said.

She has been concocting stories since she was a child —­ her mother still has handmade books from when Andrews was 7 years old. After her father gave her “The Elfstones of Shannara” by Terry Brooks when she was 13, she thought, “I could do that.”

Andrews took newly offered creative writing classes at Grafton High School before graduating in 2008, then earned a degree in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Promoting her own work, essentially creating her own brand, is a different world than the ones she takes readers to her in fantasy novels.

Andrews knows a couple of the keys to hooking new readers. It’s the same thing that piques her interest in a story.

“If I pick up a book and the back cover looks good, OK, let’s go,” she said.

Those summaries designed to make people get out their wallets are difficult to compose. What to include and leave out isn’t easy.

Andrews found help in the Ozaukee County Writers Group, whose members provide feedback on each other’s copy and serve as one another’s cheerleaders.

“It’s invaluable,” Andrews said.

Book titles don’t come easily either, and cover art is important in a competitive world where buyers’ decisions are quickly made. Andrews has a friend who is a graphic artist and recently redid the cover of her first book, “Into the Mountains.”

She started that book when she was 16 and published it at 25.

 “Really, only people who write and publish know how much work goes into it,” Andrews said.

Her ideal time to write is 10 a.m., she said, but that doesn’t jibe with having a 4-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter.

She ends up writing shortly after she gets up at 4:30 a.m. A mug of hot chocolate or tea accompany her and her laptop, as does some kind of music. Violinist Lindsey Stirling has basically provided a soundtrack to Andrews’ fantasy novels, she said.

Her own writing impacts her as well. She has made herself cry developing scenes, despite knowing they were coming. Her ex-husband would sometimes step into the room and ask if she was OK.

Andrews has written books of fantasy,  paranormal romance and contemporary romance, and has ideas for as many as 70 books in more genres, essentially fulfilling her tagline “a story for all.”

Inspiration, she said, doesn’t turn off, hence she keeps a notebook by her bed and takes notes on her phone. Ideas often come while doing mundane tasks when the subconscious gets busy.

One idea for a romance story came while she was with her mother on a ferry going from Belfast to the Isle of Skye in Ireland. Andrews wrote about a woman whose friend sent her to visit a cousin in Ireland because she was moping around after being left at the altar.

Another came from an Instagram handle, “Thisgirlisasquirrel.” Andrews decided a squirrel would fall in love with a prince in a crumbling kingdom and help him out.

While writing, Andrews stays organized. She has scene cards that get shuffled to the back of the pack when completed and color-coded tabs for each character to easily see who is getting the most time.

“I’m what we call a plotter,” she said. “I tend to be very organized. It makes the editing process much smoother.”

Andrews also has a binder for each character she calls a book bible that ensures their eye color or other details don’t change in future books.

She always writes in trilogies.

“You’re getting readers and keeping them,” she said. “Humans like things grouped in threes.”

Andrews can finish 3,000 words in a hour or two and will “fast draft” her stories — going back and filling in details later — then not touch them for a month.

“You want fresh eyes,” she said.

She goes through her work three times before even her fellow author friends get to see it.

Reading other people’s stories, she said, helps improve her own, especially works that she likes.

“How did they do this?” she’ll ask of a favorite passage or plotline, then works backward to figure it out.

Ultimately, “it’s all in the phrasing,” she said. “If it’s easy reading, it’s hard writing.”

Research to set the scene can run the gamut, especially for fantasy novels that occur in different places, Andrews said. She determines the types of clothing and housing by the climate in which her stories take place.

“You need to have enough reality and detail for readers to get that suspension of disbelief,” she said.

Writer’s block, she said, usually occurs when something isn’t working earlier in a story. Once she fixes it, she has an easier time continuing.

Stories, regardless of genre, she said, boil down to one thing.

“It’s about people and their relationships. The scenery may just change,” Andrews said.

For those contemplating writing a book, Andrews suggests writing, reading and joining an editing group. Andrews’ favorite authors are Jim Butcher, Nora Roberts and Kathy Reichs, whose books were the basis for the “Bones” TV show. Andrews said she will read any genres except horror and erotica.

“It’s kind of cliche. If you want to write, you have to write and read,” she said.

It helps, she said, to develop a thick skin, which Andrews did in college.

“You have to learn your creative work is not you,” she said.

Andrews’ books are available on Amazon.

For more information, visit



Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login