Caitlin Lochner is a nerd, traveler, and architecture enthusiast who worked as an assistant English teacher in Tokyo for three years before earning her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Florida. She loves reading and writing anything with magic, adventure, and complex found family relationships. She can typically be found absorbed in books, games, or manga, or else obsessing over said books, games, and manga. A Soldier and a Liar is her debut novel, and its sequel, An Outcast an Ally, is out now.
Voyage: What was the inspiration behind your novel, A Soldier and a Liar? What made you want to tell this story?
Caitlin Lochner: My inspiration for this book came around when superhero movies were first getting big. I don’t know if it was necessarily one movie that did it (or if it was, I can’t remember which one anymore), but I watched a lot of them and one day thought, “Huh. I really want to write a book with superpowers. But instead of all the characters being good people or heroes, what if they were all a little warped somehow because of these powers? What if there’s no clear answer as to whether they’re ‘good’ or ‘bad?’” Not all of my characters ended up being that morally gray (there’s one in particular who’s just got a heart of gold and wears it on his sleeve), but it was fun to experiment within the initial drafting stages! And there are still plenty of questionable moral decisions and questions of right vs. wrong in the book.
V: When you write your stories, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away?
CL: I feel like the overall takeaway really varies depending on the story I’m working on, but a consistent theme I always love to write and hope readers will pick up on is the messiness of friendship. I find the process of who we choose to become our found family so much fun to write about, explore, and test. I like to write about people who make mistakes, friends who both fight and communicate, and ride-or-die friendships that develop between unlikely people who’ve come to rely on and trust one another (usually after a very rocky start). Sometimes I like to counter these friendships with relationships that characters need to leave because they’re only harmful—or else have characters call each other’s (sometimes unintentionally) hurtful behavior out. Because not every friendship is worth it, and people shouldn’t stay in toxic relationships of any kind. But I’ve always been in love with friendships and how people decide who we keep in our lives, and which relationships we’re willing to fight for—and how far.
V: What was the hardest scene of A Soldier and a Liar to write?
CL: This is a hard question! But without giving any spoilers away, there’s a scene near the end where Lai and another character are having a heart-to-heart after not get getting along for basically the entire book. I worried that despite all my best efforts, the slow-burn buildup of their friendship wasn’t strong enough for this scene, or that their conversation might come off as silly. But it’s also a scene I love very much and had a ton of fun writing. Payoff tastes so very sweet after a lot of hard work.
V: If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
CL: It feels like the cliché answer, but it’s also the most honest one I have: Keep writing, keep honing your craft, keep submitting. Don’t stop, no matter how discouraging the process may be, or hard it gets, or how many rejections you receive. A Soldier and a Liar was the sixth full book I wrote, and I received 60-70 rejections from agents before I found a home for it. The process can be incredibly disheartening at times, and I nearly stopped at several points. But if I had, I wouldn’t have learned how to become a better writer, and this story I love so very much wouldn’t be published (which still feels so surreal!).
V: What are your writing must-haves?
CL: Haha, time to reveal all my weird writing habits and just how bad at staying focused I am! I always have to be listening to music while I write (but need silence when I’m editing), usually one song on repeat. Playlists can sometimes break me out of my writing zone if the next song to come on isn’t one I’m feeling in the moment. Kind of on that same track, I love using my noise-canceling Skullcandy headphones when I’m writing to minimize outside distractions. I also almost always have a drink on hand while I’m writing, preferably coffee during the daytime or else something noncaffeinated and sweet at night. Sometimes I need my wrist braces if my carpal tunnel starts acting up.
Because I have a hard time staying focused sometimes, I also have two apps that I often use when I sit down to write (especially these days). The first is an app on my phone called Forest. Basically, you choose an amount of time and plant a virtual seed. If you’re on your phone during that time, your seed dies (which is actually really sad??), but if you successfully go that amount of time without opening your phone/apps, then you have a nice little tree or flower at the end of it! I use this anytime I notice I’m procrastinating by constantly refreshing apps on my phone or playing games instead of doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be working on. Not wanting my seed to die is weirdly good motivation to stay off my phone—and, added bonus, you earn coins for every successful session that you can save up to spend on planting real trees (or pretty imaginary ones for the forest you grow)!
The other app I use is on my computer, called Write or Die. There are some crazy modes on the app, but I use the reward mode, so this is how that basically works: I choose a set amount of time and a word count goal, and once I start the session, there’s a bar at the bottom that shows if I’m on target or behind on that goal. I usually end up getting competitive with myself trying to stay ahead of the goal, and it almost always ends up with me gradually getting immersed in whatever scene I’m writing. Sometimes it takes me a bit to get to that point, but the accountability of sorts really helps me stay focused and not go open a bunch of tabs so I can “just go check this ooone thing real quick” and then find myself on the other end of a TV Tropes rabbit hole two hours later.