Houghton Mifflin Books For Children, January 3, 2011
Source: NetGalley; ARC provided by Teen Book Scene's booktour
As far as writing is concerned, I call myself the poster child for persistence. Songs of Power, the first novel I sold, was the 5th novel I'd written. When it sold I was working on novel #13. The next to sell, Navohar, was #12, and the next, A Matter of Profit, was #9. The Goblin Wood was #6, Fall of a Kingdom was #15. You get the picture.
My personal life? I was born in Denver in 1958—you can do the math. I'm single and live with my mother, brother and sister-in-law. I used to be a part time reference librarian for a mid-sized public library, but in the beginning of ’05 I achieved a writer’s dream and quit the day job. Librarian turned writer is a very schizophrenic state—when I try to urge people to buy my books, I have to beat down a lifetime of professional reflexes demanding that I tell them to check them out at the library instead.
I enjoy board gaming and fantasy gaming, both table top and live. But my favorite thing to do is the decadent version of camping my mom and I practice. We have a pop-up trailer with a fridge, a sink, a stove and (if electrical hookups are available) a space heater, heating pads and a toaster. Our motto is "No unnecessary work." We don't cook, we don't wash dishes, we don't...you name it. What we do is spend all day, every day, reading and hiking and reading some more. Camping is the only time I can get in enough reading. Well, I take that back—when it comes to reading, there's no such thing as enough. (Taken from Hilari's website)
1. I noticed that a lot of your books are geared more toward middle grade or young teens, and a lot of your protagonists are boys. How was the experience of writing a YA book with a female protagonist different than your previous books?
It's not different--that's the trick of it. I haven't counted, but I think I have about 2 male protagonists for every female, and I can write either with no problem. The place where writers get into trouble with characters of the opposite gender is that they start worrying about making them a "believable woman" or a "typical teenage boy" and they end up with a stereotype that falls flat on the page. The secret is not to try to make your main character a typical whatever, but to make them a person that's different from every other person of their age and gender. Don't ask, What's a teenage boy like? Ask, How is my teenage male protagonist different from every other person in the world? Make him or her a character, make them an individual with their own goals, passions and desires. Make them atypical, and uniquely themselves. And then their gender just falls into place as part of who they are.
2. Your Amazon profile says you drove from Utah to Alaska doing research for this book. In your drive, what was your favorite site to see?
Oh my gosh! I saw so many fabulous things and places. The weirdest and most bizarre place was Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. Everything was black. It was just wild. And Flathead Lake (also Idaho) really is the most beautiful lake I've ever seen. But one of the things that stands out most in my memory was the grizzly bears. Grazing right beside the road, and they didn’t even move away when you pulled up right beside them and started snapping photos. (With my heart pounding, even though I was in the van with the window closed.) A ranger on one of the ferries said that black bears evolved in the woods, so when they feel threatened their first instinct is to climb a tree, but grizzlies evolved on the plains, so when they feel uneasy their instinct is to stand their ground. Which explains a number of really great, close up photos. Taken through the window of the van, because I'm not crazy.
3. Was there any point in writing this book when Kelsa or any other character took the plot in a direction you weren't expecting?
There are two types of writers--the outliners, who figure out where their plot is going before they start writing the book, and the seat-of-the-pants writers, who sit down and start writing with no clue what's going to happen next. I'm an outliner, so no, my characters do what they're told. Not because I'm bossy and they're wimps, but because I know where my plot is going and how it's going to get there. I think it's the pantsers who get surprised. And it's also the pantsers who end up having to throw out half their book and rewrite the beginning because they end up somewhere that makes huge chunks of what they've written irrelevant to the finished story. Both processes do work, but I think pantsers have to do a lot more rewriting than outliners do. That's why I prefer to outline. I don't much like rewriting, and even die-hard pantsers admit they have to put in a more time and effort than the outliners do.
4. What is a piece of writing advice that you don't think gets said often enough (something other than the ubiquitous "practice" or "read.")?
Truly, aside practice and read there's not much that is universal to writing, because every writer works out a process that works for them. I once came up with Bell's Rewrite of Heinlein's Three Rules of Writing: You must write. You must finish what you write. You must submit what you've written to someone who's likely to buy it until someone does. Everything else really is optional. The one thing I will add is: Take joy in the writing itself. There is no greater rush than the feeling you get when you're writing the first draft and the story is coming alive. And though you may not realize how important that is when you're desperately trying to sell your first, or fourth, or twelfth novel, that joy in the story is what matters most.
5. What were some books that influenced you most as a teen?
Boy, I read so much all the time I was growing up. As a teen... Oddly enough, I think it would be Georgette Heyer's regency romances. Though calling them "regency romances" really isn't fair. Did you know that the World Science Fiction Convention which meets every year, always includes a regency ball? Because many of those die-hard science fiction fans are also Georgette Heyer fans. And the reason for that is that Georgette Heyer's novels are less regency romances than incredibly sharp and witty comedies of manners. And I think I'd add Anne McCaffrey, whose books got me into reading science fiction as well as fantasy. And probably a billion others, but those were some books that defined part of my reading--and writing--tastes, so I'd have to give them top billing in terms of "influence."