“I’ve been writing stories all my life, even when I should have been doing other things, like studying Algebra. My first paying job was as Chuck E. Cheese. I worked in theatre for years, and now I’m writing full time, which is my dream job, because I get to work in my pajamas and take a break every afternoon to play Guitar Hero.”
1. As you know, I really loved The Splendor Falls. Sylvie Davis was such a memorable, well-drawn character. How did you so effectively capture the adolescent psyche and what sort of reception have you had from teen fans?
The “how” is a tough question, because it’s not something I consciously think about. It’s not so much about what kids are into these days (texting and YouTube and boys and popularity and whatever) and more about the point of view. I’ve always been drawn to characters who have to prove themselves, who are taking a big step from the known, safe world into a strange, new scary world. Basically that means I was destined to write YA or fantasy. Or both.
Writing a teen protagonist, like any other, is about getting into character: trying to remember (or imagine) what it’s like to look out from her eyes, making decisions and viewing events from her perspective rather than mine. Ironically, I was one of those 13 going on 30 kids: responsible, well-spoken, rarely got into trouble. And you see that in my characters: even though they’re teens, they’ve got responsibilities and big life goals and in some cases, a very healthy sense of perspective. I think where some authors get into trouble is they don’t give teens enough credit for having those things. In fact, they often have big huge dreams and goals, because life hasn’t taught them about Contingency Plans yet.
I’ve had great reception from teens fans–and their mothers! I love getting multi-generational emails.
2. I read in an interview that you wrote your first novel, Prom Dates From Hell, in six weeks, found an agent in six weeks, and sold the book in six weeks. Do you usually work that quickly? How would you describe your creative process, generally?
You know, when you write a book before it sells, there’s a lot of freedom. Freedom from pressure and deadlines and, most of all, from expectations. I’m not complaining about my current situation. (I’m so lucky to get to do what I love!) But it was a LOT easier to turn off internal editor and the Greek Chorus of Doubt that lives my head. (And, to be honest, that was a brief time in my life where I had a lot of freedom from non-writing obligations.)
My writing process is longer now, but my books have gotten longer and more complex. I have a lengthy gestation period. Prom Dates was the exception, but I used a lot of ideas from the “going to write a book someday” file. I think, I write random scenes, character studies, I cast my character and locations with pictures, I vegetate and cogitate. I usually write the beginning slowly, rewrite the middle several times, then when I get to the end I dive in and work without stopping until it’s done. It’s not a very efficient process; with all the rewriting and detours and second guessing, I write and throw out a LOT of words. I keep saying I’m going to stop doing that, but… I’ll let you know how that turns out.
3. You undertook a lot of research for The Splendor Falls. Did you find that process satisfying and is it something you think you’ll continue to do for future books?
Research is one my favorite parts of writing. I LOVE when one thing leads to another thing that ends up being the perfect thing you need to tie everything together in your book. I have to rein myself in, both on the gathering of information and how I work it into the book. Research (and world building are like an iceburg. Only 10 percent should show. Some books more, some books less.
Plus, writing a book, you get to “be” whatever you want. Ballet dancer, archeologist, magician… This is really a great job for someone who couldn’t decide what to be when she grew up.
This is a hard question. The protagonist of my Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil novels is probably my favorite character to spend time with. She’s quirky and resourceful, loveably insecure but brave enough to put her fears aside in a pinch. She’s a heroine you’d want by your side in a fight: in D&D terms, she’s Chaotic Good, capable of breaking rules for the right reason, but her loyalty, once earned, is unshakable. Plus she gets to say all the things I think about the world but am too nice to say.
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