I love to travel and try to incorporate research/pilgrimages into my wandering.My favorite one is to Florence to Dante Alighieri’s house, but I have been plenty of other places: to Glamis Castle (Macbeth), to Kells, all over the sites of Cuhulann, all around where Outlander is set. My most recent one was to Venice where Othello begins, but I inadvertently ended up staying near the birthplace of Casanova. If you haven’t read his memoirs, you should. He is quite modern in his approach to women and their sexuality.
What is the first book that made you cry?
A Summer to Die by Lois Lowery. I wept when I read it at the age of 12. I cried again when I had to read it for Adolescent Lit in college. I’d probably cry if I read it now. The funny thing is, I’m not a crier by nature.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
The actual creation of a story energizes me. It’s the rest of the process that is exhausting.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
The biggest one I have seen working with young writers is not understanding the sheer amount of revision that needs to happen to a work. It’s never quite finished. The second is that they don’t understand that writing and revising is just part of the process, next comes the synopsis, blurb, query letter, and so on. It’s a daunting endeavor, and I fear many will quit without guidance and support. The third is understanding that rejection will happen. It’s a part of the game.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
If you mean the one thing that keeps me from writing, it’s self-doubt. I honestly thought that once I was published, I’d feel good enough—whatever that means. I struggle with thinking that everything I create is drivel, pablum, crap, however you want to put it. As a result, I don’t see why I should write. That’s a giant hurdle for me.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
From day one with eXtasy/Devine Destinies, I have been surrounded by supportive people. The ones I most often talk to are Maggie Blackbird, V. J. Allison, Cameron Allie, and Taryn Jameson. They act as sounding boards when I need it and keep me focused on the idea that I need to put words on the page. They have also been cheerleaders when I need them, and they share such remarkable resources.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
At first, I simply vomited words onto the page. (There’s an image for you.) Such a writing process has its merit: it gets drafts done, but I ended up with manuscripts that were verbose, uneven, and too long. Revising these manuscripts is like taking a machete to a jungle of vines. I have to cut much before I can begin to fine tune a work. Now, I am much more cognizant of my evolving style. Most advice is to turn off your internal editor. I’ve had to turn mine back on part way.
On a more practical level, I’ve largely abandoned the use of dialogue tags and deepened my POV.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
On good bourbon.
Just kidding. Sort of.
The best money I have spent has been on creating an office for myself. My family—and I—treat writing as work, a job, not just something Mom does in her spare time. I can be more focused and more serious about my work.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I have always been in love with words, after all, isn’t magic created using them?
I can’t cite one specific instance, but I do remember being first confused, then pleased, with the notion that my older cousin didn’t know one of the words I was using. It gave me power he didn’t have.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
That’s tough because there are way too many of them. I’m going to half-answer the question.
My favorite under-appreciated genre is graphic novels, though they are gaining respectability and gravitas. Too many people think that graphic novels are trash, poorly written penny-dreadfuls, but that’s far from the truth. I have had my mind blown on more than one occasion. Is there awful stuff out there? Of course, but the same is true for any genre.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A cat. A Ragdoll, to be specific. I own one, and Mr. Darcy might seem all fluffy, cute floppiness, but he’ll suddenly take off on a tear and dash around the house, followed by a good nap. That’s kind of how I write. He also has wicked sharp claws—which he rarely uses—but they’re there. Same for me, metaphorically speaking.
What does literary success look like to you?
Like every author, I’d love to be a NYT Bestseller, but really, having someone connect with my work is enough. The two or three times someone has told me they cried over a scene has made me so happy. I once had a beta reader email me several months after reading a manuscript to tell me she was thinking about my main characters because they felt so real to her. Those incidents give me hope that maybe one day I’ll achieve literary fame.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
The hardest part is avoiding falling into clichés and over-used tropes. To be honest, I don’t understand how men think, which is why I never write from their point of view. I can’t stand it when a male writes from a female POV and misses the mark completely. I don’t want to be one of those writers.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
No one thing has made me think differently about fiction. Each book I read adds a different texture to how I perceive the world. I think the trick is to read widely and in areas outside of my comfort zone. Read both so-called great writers and not so great. It all becomes a part of me as a person and a writer.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I have lists of names pinned on Pinterest, and I’ll search through them until I find one that feels right. For last names, I frequently looked up and scanned the classroom for one I liked. I guess there are perks to being a teacher.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Yes! I think of them as Easter eggs, like in a video game or movie. In Inferno, there are tons of references to Dante’s work. The more you know Dante, the more you will see in my novel, from names to places to events. In my other novels, I often cross reference other works of mine and sometimes other works of literature. I have even had characters appear in other works.
What was your hardest scene to write?
In God of the Sea, Gareth has to leave Ellie behind. (I’m trying not to put spoilers in here.) It feels like a break-up because on many levels, it is. I cried the entire time I wrote that scene. I didn’t want them to be apart, but that’s what had to happen. I felt gratified when a reader messaged me to say she bawled over that scene, too.
What is your favorite childhood book?
I am a voracious reader and always have been, so this is a terribly difficult question. I suppose I will have to define “favorite” as a book I have returned to time and time again and one I have shared with my children. That would have to be Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. It was the first chapter book I remember reading and the first I read to my kids. Even though it is somewhat dated, it perfectly captures being an older sibling.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Not getting distracted by life and plot bunnies. I have so much I want to do that it is overwhelming some days.
When you die – what would you like the universe to say to you as you walk into the next life?
“You did good.” That can be the universe being grammatically incorrect or completely correct. I’ll take either.
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