Q and A

Mindy KlaskyMindy Klasky
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I’ve been spending a lot of time the last couple of months promoting my middle grade fantasy novel, DARKBEAST.  That promotion has included going into a lot of schools and speaking many classes about books in general, the life of a writer, DARKBEAST in particular, etc.  At each appearance, I take several dozen questions from the audience.  A handful of questions is unique; however, most are variations on a few themes:

  • How much money do you make on your books?
  • When are they going to make a movie out of your book?
  • How did you decide what to draw for the cover of your book?
  • Do you know J.K. Rowling/Jeff Kinney/Stephenie Meyer/Other Uber-Popular Author?

I love school visits — mostly because kids have such relaxed filters.  They’re willing to say almost anything, without consideration fro propriety, my feelings, etc.

I do try to teach some lessons with my visits.  I try to stress the importance of perseverance, telling the kids how long it took to sell my first novel, and how I kept writing during those lean years.  I try to emphasize the need for editing — not just rewriting my text more neatly, but actively, aggressively ripping things apart and putting them back together in better ways.  I try to tell the writing classes to read, and read some more, and still more.

And then there are the questions about process.  Several of those also get repeated from class to class, but I think they’re more important than the (somewhat predictable) questions above.  I thought I’d summarize my answers here:

Q:  What do you do when you get bored while you’re writing?

A:  I try to think of the most difficult thing I can make my characters do, and then I write that.  For example, when Keara runs away from home to join a troupe of traveling actors and the actors reject her, the easy thing for her to do is to turn around and go back home to her loving mother.  The next easiest thing for her to do is to go on to the next village, and convince them to take her in.  The most difficult thing is for her to stand up to the actors, dig in her heels, and convince them to accept her.  So that’s what I had her do, which made the writing challenging and interesting and fun.

Q:  How do you decide what to write, from all the ideas you have?

A:  I try to figure out the ideas where I’m the best person in the world to write them, and then I focus on telling those stories.  For example, there are lots of books about dragons, and lots of books about kids with magic, and fewer (but still lots) of books about libraries.  I’m currently working on a middle grade novel, DRAGON CODE, that combines all of those elements in a unique way that plays to my strengths as a librarian, a person who was an outsider kid, and, um, an owner of dragons.  Okay, a wannabe owner of dragons.  If CODE turns out the way I think it will, I’ll be the only person in the world who would think to combine those elements in precisely the way that I’m combining them, and the story will be the strongest story I can tell.  CODE will be worth my time to write because of that unique combination.

Q:  How do you decide whether to tell your story in first, second, or third person?

A:  I never (ever, ever, ever, ever) tell a story in second person.  I find second person unbearably pretentious to read, and I can’t imagine that I’ll ever write it.  Between first and third, I tend to opt for first, because I think first-person stories best convey heightened emotion.  They’re also more effective at conveying humor, at least the sort of self-deprecating humor that I usually incorporate.  First person forces me to focus my storytelling, so that I streamline the events to what my narrator knows; I can’t take shortcuts or make assumptions.  I reserve third person for the stories that require multiple points of view and — occasionally — for the stories where I want to ratchet up the stakes by revealing what’s happening in another corner of the world, unbeknownst to my main characters.

So.  How would you answer these questions?  Or, if they’re not interesting to you, what questions would you ask of a visiting author?  Why?

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12 comments to Q and A

  • Okay, I’ll answer these questions as an unpublished, unprofessional writer.

    What do you do when you get bored while you’re writing?
    Lots of different things. I play with my mini-slinky and wait for something exciting to pop into my head. I get on the Internet and surf around until it’s time for dinner. Sometimes, if I stay bored long enough, I go grade papers and do the laundry.

    Q:How do you decide what to write, from all the ideas you have?
    Decide? I don’t decide! I just write down every idea that pops into my head on a scrap of paper or type it into the computer. At any given moment, I’m working on 20 or more ideas. Sometimes instead of starting a new story when I have an idea, I just try to cram that new idea into an old story. Which, now that I think about it, should be added to my answer for the boredom question.

    Q: How do you decide whether to tell your story in first, second, or third person?
    Decide? I don’t decide! Okay, I admit I repeated that to be funny, but it’s also sort of true. For my current WIP, I have 4 different openings with various points of view. Now, writing different openings like that is fine because it can be helpful to see which point of view works best for the story. It’s not so fine when, months later, you still haven’t decided which one is best. (I slipped into second person there but I’m never likely to use that in a story. Unless I change my mind. Wonder what my WIP would sound like in second person?)

    So there are my answers. And while I might have exaggerated slightly for humorous effect, those answers are disturbing close to the truth.

    And now I’ll get back to grading those papers.

  • SiSi – Exaggerating for humorous effect is the perfect way to get past boredom, to decide what to write, and to decide what POV to use :-) Thanks for playing along. (And yes, boredom with writing often leads to my completing the most not-writing errands around this place!)

  • Razziecat

    This is a fun post, and not just for the questions. DRAGON CODE sounds fascinating!

    Hmm, also unpublished writer here, so here are my answers:

    Getting bored – I always have something else to work on, sometimes to the current WIP’s detriment, as it’s hard to resist the new shiny. But, if I’m stuck, I sometimes do a little backstory scene just to get my brain working. I can save those scenes and possibly work them into a short story later. If something in my WIP seems boring, I redo it to try to make it more exciting.

    Deciding what to write – Sometimes I’m very logical: I look at my ideas and work on the one that seems most developed. Other times I just work on whatever catches my interest. I do think I need to be more organized and more disciplined about this. Having a bunch of unfinished stories doesn’t put me closer to publication.

    POV – Depends on the characters and how they first came to me. In my WIP, there are seven very important characters; that would be too many first person POVs to expect a reader to follow, so I’m using third. On the other hand, I’m working on an unrelated short story in first person, because it just seemed natural to do so with the MC. I also have yet another idea that will probably eventually alternate between two MCs, each in first person. Side note: I like to use first person POV as an exercise to get into the character’s head; it’s fun, gives me some insight into the character, and sometimes generates ideas for other stories.

  • Q. What do you do when you get bored while you’re writing?
    Usually when this happens it’s a sign that I need to radically rethink a scene or the plot direction. If I’m bored, the readers will be really bored. I go back and rethink (often by stepping away from the computer – dishwashing is good for this) and re-imagine what could happen in the scene, how it could be bigger, tenser, scarier, how it could accomplish something more. I look for ways to throw in a monkey wrench until I find the scene interesting again. If I can’t then I have to ask if the scene needs to exist at all. Usually, I cut it entirely and the story goes on happily without it.

    Q:How do you decide what to write, from all the ideas you have?
    Time management is an issue. I try to not let the new shiny stop me from finishing what I’m already working on. Short stories I almost always write on impulse. Novels I write because the idea won’t go away. If it persists and grows, there’s probably a story there worth all the work to dig it out.

    Q: How do you decide whether to tell your story in first, second, or third person?
    I’m with Mindy on the second person. There may be pieces of flash where it’s useful but otherwise it’s an novelty trick that has worn out its novelty. I usually write in the 3rd person limited because I have multiple POV characters and 3rd makes switching between them more coherent for the reader. Multiple POV first person can be done, but I’m not that good yet. Often my flash fiction is first person because it’s a tightly focused story on one characters voice.

    Thanks Mindy! I’m enjoying reading the others’ responses as well as yours.

  • What is a “middle-grade” fantasy novel?

  • Razziecat – Thanks for your kind words about DRAGON CODE. We’ll see how it pulls together! (And thanks, too, for your answers to The Question!)

    Sarah – You say that dishwashing is good for thinking – I find that showering, or driving long distances provides the same much-needed mental disconnect. Your point about POV, and the number of main characters is also very interesting – I tend to write with relatively few MCs, so I hadn’t thought of that, in terms of choosing voice!

    CrucibleofWords – “Middle grade” is for kids who are reading more sophisticated books than chapter books (the earliest books, with chapters, that kids read after picture books), but who aren’t yet ready for the intensity of novels for young adults. As a practical matter, this usually means “novels for kids age 8 to 12″.

  • sagablessed

    So, pretending to be a rich and famous author like Mindy……

    Q: What do you do when you get bored with writing?
    A: I never do. I hate having to stop because my brain and heart feel like they are going to explode from the stories needing to be told.

    Q: How do you decide what to write, from all the ideas you have?
    A: Usually one idea just stomps around in my brain-pan until the rattling makes me write. If I have multiple ideas, I jot notes on them all and see which one takes off. The others are still there, but the current WIP shouts at them to shut up. If I get stuck, chocolate and a walk helps. I also have a puppy who insists daddy needs to play. Often time with my Monster (that is his name, btw, ‘Monster’ and he is daddy’s pride and joy) clears my head so I can write more.

    Q: How do you decide whether to tell your story in first, second, or third person?
    A: Depends on the story. One WIP was all third, current WIP is a mix. (I like to live dangerously.) I tried seond once, and it sucked. Will never do so again. I think third is a fal back. First is good for helping reader connect to a specific charater. I like the mix as allows me more freedom, and can create more tension. The reader connects to a character, but wonder how MC will find out all this stuff reader knows. Does it work? I will find out if an agent likes or not when I finish.

    What would I like to ask a visiting author and why? Hmmm……..
    Mindy, what do you feel make the difference between Y/A and ‘Adult’ novels? And why did you choose to write ‘DarkBeast’ as a middle-grade instead of Y/A?

  • Q: What do you do when you get bored while you’re writing?

    A: I rarely get bored while I’m writing, but I do get stuck at times. When that happens, I tend to step away from the work and go pace in the dining room and talk it out. Really. If people saw me through the window, they’d think I was crazy. I pace back and forth, audibly talking to myself, sometimes in different voices if I’m working through a character conversation. Or I’ll soak in the tub. That’s another good place to think something through. I occasionally do a chore, like dishes or cleaning the yard, though probably less than I should. ;) I’m too linear in the writing to skip the scene so I just have to think it through. Usually it’s just something simple I’m missing, or I didn’t put enough thought into the scene when I started. And then there’s those times when I write character scenes just for fun that will never make it into the book. Call ‘em outtakes. (And I write romance… ;) ) Oh, and there have been times where I’ve written short stories about a character, like a prequel, to figure out more about that character’s past so that I can understand them better. Usually, where I get bored is researching things for a story instead and there’s not much I do about that except either step away or press through it.

    Q: How do you decide what to write, from all the ideas you have?

    A: One at a time. I’ve learned that if I don’t, I’ll have hundreds of beginnings and nothing finished. If something else enters my noggin while I’m writing a novel, I’ll jot the idea down and do a quick brainstorm, then set it aside and keep going on the novel. I can always go back to it after I’m finished with the first piece. Still, there are times when I just feel like doing a sci-fi, or an epic fantasy, or a horror, and I’ll run with one of those ideas first. Still, I finish what I start.

    Q: How do you decide whether to tell your story in first, second, or third person?

    A: It tells me. It really does. I know that sounds a little strange, but they just feel natural to me one way or the other. I’ve only rarely written in second person, usually for RPGs and such. Sometimes, it’s how the character presents itself to me that tells me, how they speak in my head out of the gate. That’s not to say I’ve never made a conscious choice for one or the other, but quite frequently I just run with what feels right.

  • sagablessed

    Daniel: I know you. You are crazy. :)

  • In case anyone is checking back here… (Apologies for replying late – I was traveling for Thanksgiving, with limited Internet access!)

    Sagablessed – YA novels always have young protagonists, and those protagonists are usually exploring the costs and benefits of assuming adult responsibility. Adult novels may have protagonists of different ages, and the themes can be more wide-ranging, without the notion of self-discovery and/or defining a role in society. I wrote DARKBEAST as a middle grade novel, because I wanted to focus on an even younger protagonist (MG tops out at 12), and I wanted to look at a limited set of motivations for my characters (for example, no romance.)

    Daniel – Just think of the chores all of us writers could complete, if we always used chores as a trigger to work out plot problems! We could build a business — AuthorCorps — or something like that!