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?