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More Than You Ever Needed To Know

Some fun questions so you can get to know me a little better:

1. What books and / or authors are most inspiring to you as a writer?

It’s an eclectic assortment. There are a lot of books that when I read them, I wish desperately to have written them. These are books that carry me away in the characters or the setting so completely that I forget that what I’m reading isn’t reality. They build real people who become my friends.

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdoch. She can take me into the life of one athletic farm girl so completely that I never want to leave.

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt. Just read it. Then you will know.

The Casson Family series by Hilary McKay. I love this writer. I want to go find her and sit next to her while beautiful, real, dry, funny, innocent words fall from her fingers onto the keys of her computer. I also want to go live in England with Rose Casson. These books are pure magic. Go read them, if you’ve ever wanted to fall in love with pretend people.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. Same. I love these children. I love how high stakes can be for children, even while they’re just living their mundane lives. No witches, wizards, or vampires, here.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Pure straight magic. Lots of witches and wizards. Delightful humor. Page-turning plot. A reading experience I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to repeat. The first time in my life waiting with baited breath for every installment.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Not my genre, or so I would have thought. Too violent, or so I would have thought. How did she do what she did to me, and everyone else who has read this book? I need to read it like a textbook.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner – A reminder that not every minute has to be action packed. A reminder that sometimes reading a slow-burning story pays off in amazing ways. Every word is perfect.

I could go on and on. And I have. Those are just a few of my favorite reads.

Add in Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, and On Writing by Stephen King, and I think you’ve got a pretty good reading list.

2. What is your writing background?

I have been filling notebooks with the starts of novels since elementary school. I have wanted to be a writer since I wrote a short story that won an award and some serious teacherly acclaim in the classroom of Max Foran at Midnapore Elementary School in Calgary, Canada.

In high school I wanted to write pioneer romances, and spent hours in Heritage Park, a pioneer village theme park, dreaming up characters and scenes and writing them down. I narrated my sister Kathryn off to sleep every night with my stories.

In college, I majored in French teaching and minored in English teaching and read and wrote entirely too much to think about fiction. Then I taught high school French for three years, and was too busy to think much about writing. But when my first baby was just over a year old, I did my first NaNoWriMo, and wrote 25,000 words of an epic fantasy.

The next year, frustrated by thinking up what to have my characters wear, and what to call their breakfast, I decided to write a Young Adult contemporary novel. With many breaks, and three sets of rewrites, that novel took me six years to complete. But by the time I was finished, I was a serious writer.

From 2009 to 2013 I have completed that novel, co-written a MG contemporary mystery with my husband, and written another YA contemporary. My next project is a MG contemporary. I am now represented by the lovely Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Agency in New York. I am so excited to continue writing. I can’t imagine ever stopping.

3. Describe your writing process / writing schedule.

I write a minimum of fifteen minutes every day, five days a week. I have little children, a photography business, and a lot of housework, gardening, and cooking to keep up with. If I’m not careful, writing will never appear on my schedule. So I make time. My fifteen minutes every day of determined writing means that I always show up, and I’m ready to be inspired and continue my writing.

The only way I can write well is to do it in the morning, so I try to write every day as soon as my one-year-old goes down for his nap. Often that includes my three year old pressed up against my arm while she snuggles and watches a movie. So a zen place with all quiet and no interruptions is a fantasy for me, as I think it is for many authors. Instead of waiting for the perfect time, I write every single day. Most days I write for at least an hour. My personal best is 6200 words in one day. I like to check my word count every day, and report it to my writing group, for accountability.

I’m still learning about my writing process all the time. I generally find that while drafting I can produce about 1200 words in an hour, and that they need editing the next day before I go on.

My one recent breakthrough was a determination to finish a first draft regardless of what I discover on the way there. So if on chapter 6 I decide that my MC is really a dancer instead of a writer, I change from that moment on, and keep writing as though the changes are already made. I feel like you can’t have all the discoveries and breakthroughs that you need until you write all the way through to the end, so I don’t allow any criticism, feedback, or changes derail me from making it through once, changing as I go. Then I go back and rewrite, removing what doesn’t work, and putting in new material now that I know my characters and their arcs.

One more thing I’ll be posting about is the Mechanics of Desire worksheet that I put together during my week-long Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers course with Martine Leavitt. Before I start any novel, I work through my character’s desire lines, and I understand what they really want. It’s only by doing this that I can really understand what will naturally develop in my plot.

4. What is one tip you’d like to give to a writer just starting out?

Two tips?

Know what your character wants more than anything in this world (emotional desire) and know what they want most in the physical/concrete world that parallels this (concrete desire.) Know what your character thinks he/she needs to do to meet his/her emotional needs. (controlling belief.) Once you know this, give your character a big obstacle (man vs. self, man vs. nature, man vs. man) that stands between them and their desires. Amp up the obstacles. And make the stakes high. (What does your character stand to lose if they fail to meet their emotional and concrete desires?) These elements will will interact to create your story in an organic way without a lot of intense, external plot structures. When I finished my rewrite of my first novel, I still didn’t know what my MC wanted. Near-disaster ensued.

Write for at least 15 minutes every day! DO IT!

5. Why do you write? Why do you write what you write (genre, age group, etc.)?

Here’s my short answer. I write because I have to. It fills me up in ways that nothing else does. It’s my personal take on the creative process and I think creativity is a fundamental human need.

Speed Round:

Music or silence while writing?

Silence, or as close as my three children let me get.

Do you act out your scenes for accuracy?

No. But I do read aloud.

Favorite dessert?

Cheesecake. Hands down. Preferably lime-flavored.

Drafting or revising?

I always prefer drafting.

Notebook or computer?

Alphasmart Neo for drafting.

Laptop for editing.

Word or Scrivener?

Scrivener, baby!

Favorite Genre you’ve written in?

YA contemporary.

Favorite Genre you’d like to try?

MG contemporary. (Familial, delicious!)


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