When and how did you start writing?
I’ve always been a writer. In high school, I wrote terrible poetry, but that didn’t stop me from becoming the editor of the literary magazine. (It was a really small school.) In college, I applied for a spot in a poetry workshop and got in. The professor made us submit our work to poetry magazines, and I was amazed when mine was published.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
Kay Thompson’s ELOISE. Look at a photo of me in second grade and you’d say, ‘Separated at birth!’ I was dying to live in the Plaza and ride the elevator and order room service and have a dog named Weenie and a turtle named Skipperdee. Eloise had adventures and wasn’t well-behaved, and I loved her.
My other love was horses, and I read every horse book I could find, especially Marguerite Henry’s. My absolute favorite book of hers was THE WHITE STALLIONS OF LIPIZZA about Hans, a baker’s son who drives his delivery cart through the streets of Vienna and watches the dressage horses walk from their stables to the Spanish Riding School. Hans wants more than anything to become one of the riders. It’s an impossible dream, but Hans has a way with horses, and he is hard-working and resourceful and is given a chance. Even now I still want to go to Vienna and see the Spanish Riding School.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
My writing nook on the second floor overlooks my garden with windows all around. A hummingbird has claimed my yard and the neighbor’s as his territory. Wild parrots roam our neighborhood, and a young falcon has lingered on the perimeter of our pool.
Morning is my time to write. I often awake before the alarm and mull over my characters in the dark. When I’m not fully conscious, I realize things I didn’t see before.
I write for 2-3 hours, unless it’s a weekend and I’m on a roll. I don’t give myself a daily word count. I usually begin by rereading a scene or two to get back into the story, and I’m always asking myself what the characters are feeling.
I don’t look for inspiration--it kind of smacks me when I least expect it.
Can you tell us about what’s coming next for you?
I’m working on a companion novella about Wren, a character in A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS. My plan is to make it an e-short. Writing this has let me explore Wren’s story, because I needed to know why she did what she did. I was surprised when I realized what Wren had gone through--which I think is a good example of how you create a character, but he or she has a life of their own. It’s also been fun to explore the world of ‘Debutante Auctions’ that is only hinted at in A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS.
We’re also talking about a possible sequel to A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS. The ending concludes Avie’s adventure, but all sorts of things could happen next--some romantic-- some threatening.
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers looking to get published?
Remember that writing a great book and getting published are two different things. Getting published means offering a publisher a book that holds commercial promise. Publishers invest in books, and they need to feel that your book will attract an audience big enough to pay back what they invested.
It’s hard, because you have to write the book that tugs at your heart. You can’t not be who you are inside.
However, if getting published is important to you, then you need to understand what makes books appeal to a broad audience and see if perhaps you can re-imagine your story to enhance those elements. It may mean strengthening a romance or upping the tension or making a character irresistible.
So read, read, read in the genre you write for. Spend time in a bookstore, checking out what’s on the shelves.
Can you describe three aspects of the writing craft that have been most important to you as you’ve developed as a writer?
‘What does your character want?’ always confused me, because characters don’t always know--consciously--what they want. But then I read FROM WHERE YOU DREAM by Robert Olen Butler, and he has this amazing chapter about longing, and it clicked. A character can long for something, and it moves him or her to act without necessarily knowing why. But I, the author, have to know what the character doesn’t, because satisfying that longing is the character’s journey.
Understanding every character’s motivation and how that affects the story. If I understand what moves a character, even ones with minimal screen time, they become more real. It’s especially important when portraying an antagonist. If you don’t want the villain to come off as a cardboard cutout, the villain has to have plausible, realistic desires and motivations even from their twisted villainous point of view. It’s much scarier when you see someone who is rational in their totally demented way.
Pacing is the thing I struggle with most, and thank God, I have an editor. Lots of YA authors don’t realize that pacing is critical. Move too slow and the reader gets bored and that is death.
What favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?
First, I would never invite authors to a dinner party, because I’d much rather have a chance to talk one on one. Instead, I’d invite Mary Roach to go out for barbecue, because I loved her books STIFF and PACKING FOR MARS, and I’d want to hear all about her latest project. And if Oliver Sacks had time, I’d love to have coffee with him, because he explains weird brain things so clearly anyone can understand them.