What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Honestly, I have never been on…oh wait, yes, I have. I’m not a mystery writer, but I did get some amusement from finding myself at the house that inspired Agatha Christie’s country manors.
I’m more likely to go somewhere that allows me to do stuff my characters might do.
What is the first book that made you cry?
I think it was Watership Down. We give kids some pretty depressing books sometimes, and when Hazel went with Death at the end, yeah, there were definitely some tears.
I’d still give that book to a child. It’s still a classic.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
I’m energized while I’m writing, then tend to crash afterwards. What really energizes me is writing “The End” on a novel – it’s an awesome feeling.
Surprisingly, editing energizes me too. I know a lot of writers who find editing a slog. Unfortunately, I’m energized more when editing something somebody else wrote.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Getting too bogged down in the “rules” of writing. Either you end up not writing anything or you try and throw out too many rules before you are ready to.
There are no rules. There are only helpful guidelines, and your story may or may not need you to break them. I’m a huge fan of prologues, and my books tend to need them; the one time I left one out my editor told me to add one in.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Marketing. Absolutely, and definitely marketing. It’s an entire other job and skillset and I’m still working on it. I get very nervous and uncertain when I try to blow my own trumpet and make myself sound good.
I am good. It’s just hard to admit it.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I actually have a whole bunch of authors I hang out with at cons and online, although most of them aren’t close friends. But I’m going to call out the entire Balticon crew anyway, because they’ve all helped me come up with an idea at some point and they did find me the best cover artist.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
It motivated me. Once you know you can finish a book and get it publishable, trust me, the subsequent ones get easier and faster each time. And better.
Other than that, it didn’t change my process so much as solidify it. Now I know what works for me and I can tweak it and improve it.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Oh, tough one. But probably my lightweight netbook that allows me to write when I’m traveling. I can’t afford a full featured laptop, but the netbook is great, and because it’s cheap and stores everything in the cloud I’m not as worried about it being lost or damaged.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I think probably the first time I picked up and looked at one of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s a horrible cliché, but anyone who writes in the English language needs to watch Shakespeare. Or failing that read it. It gives a strong lesson in how language can convey meaning, assist memory, and how it changes over time…and that’s okay.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I would say it’s a book called Ascension by a writer called Jacqueline Koyanagi. It’s a small press novel that deserves much more attention than it gets…amazing plot, beautiful characterization.
But there are a lot of under-appreciated novels out there that people miss because they aren’t on the front table at Barnes & Noble or being discussed when award season rolls around.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Oh, probably a cat. They’re cranky and they like to be alone for hours. I know that’s a really obvious one, but writers and cats go together for a very good reason.
What does literary success look like to you?
Seeing somebody reading my book in the wild. Knowing people are reading and enjoying my work. One of my best career moments was somebody who walked up to me with a copy of Transpecial and exclaimed “I hate you!” I won’t say what she was mad with me about because it’s a spoiler, but…let’s just say it wasn’t a negative I hate you at all.
Success is about making people feel something with your work, getting them to tell all their friends about it. Sadly, in today’s world, we do have to worry about money, but if you get readers that problem will solve itself.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Honestly, I have never had any difficulty writing male characters. I often think it’s easier for women to write from a male POV than the reverse, especially older women. Growing up, we pretty much had to read so many books starring boys.
If I have to pick a difficult thing, it’s the worry that it won’t be convincing.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Oh, hrm…hrm…another tricky one. I think I’m going to go on a slightly negative path here, because what I’m now thinking of is a book I read as a child. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the title or the author. (I can remember a title, but all my research indicates it’s not the right title).
It was a kids book that had a picture of Herne the Hunter on the cover. The protagonist is on the train to summer vacation, and there are all these shenanigans with Celtic deities and cryptids, and a magical artifact. All this fun fantasy stuff.
Then he woke up still on the train.
This was the first time in my life I got angry with a book and an author. And the lesson I learned from it:
Don’t trick your readers. Fiction needs to have a certain honesty to it. You absolutely can have it turn out at the end of the book that you’re on Mars, not Earth. (I won’t say which book because spoilers), but you need to set this up. It was all a dream/all a hallucination in the looney bin/all made up by the protagonist is always going to be a trick and it never works.
Fantasy, in particular, needs to be very true to itself.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Depends. If I’m writing short fiction, or for minor characters, random name generators are my friend. I’ve also been known to drop into a writer chat and go “Help! I need to name a corpse.”
If it’s a protagonist for a book, a character I’m going to spend a lot of time with, then I’ll do research, try out different names, make sure I’m not accidentally naming them after a real person.
I also do use census data a lot if I’m naming a character of a specific ethnicity. There are also charts of names through time, which are great if you’re writing historical.
For names that aren’t based off of English, I come up with a few rules about names (for example, Ky’iin names have a gender-based suffix) and then just make them sound good.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I don’t think I’ve ever consciously inserted any Easter eggs, no.
What was your hardest scene to write?
It’s a scene towards the end of Risen Day, where the characters have to open a portal to Hell, and it involves doing something pretty awful.
Even knowing that it was all going to work out in the end, instead of merely hoping like my poor protagonist, it was still harrowing to write. I was glad it was close to the end of the book…I had to blitz through the end and then take a break. It was artistically necessary, but man…
What is your favorite childhood book?
Out of the box, but the book that started me on my journey as a writer was, of all things, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne. It was the book that made me go “I want to write, and I want to write science fiction.” I do write almost more fantasy these days, but I still owe it to Verne.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Starting a new book. Getting the idea solidly into the form I need it to be. I’m a gardener, but I still have to have a solid vision of where I’m going, even if it ends up changing later.
When you die – what would you like the universe to say to you as you walk into the next life?
“It was worth it.”
Sometimes I get a little bit of depression here and there and question whether my life is, indeed, worth it. I think a lot of writers do. (And does anyone here not have imposter syndrome?)
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