Monday, January 11, 2010

Questions, Answers, Quirks!

New blog feature: Questions, answers, and hopefully not too much yammering by me.

Add more questions in the comments, section and I'll update the post to answer them throughout the day. Don't be bashful, ask away :)

Here's one to start us off:

Tricia asks - I'd like to know when you became enamored of wolves. Did you see any in the Northwoods or find them in the pages of books?

I've yet to see a wolf in the wild, though it's one of my life goals. Considering the success of wolf reintroduction in Minnesota and Wisconsin there's a good chance I'll be able to make that goal happen. My dad has seen wolves in the woods by my childhood home, so here's hoping. I was a girl who liked watching National Geographic and Nature as much as My Little Pony; I had several of the episodes memorized and I always loved features on wolves. Julie of the Wolves was one of my favorite books growing up. Wolves were mysterious, intelligent, graceful - embodying both ferocity and restraint. From age 5 to probably 10 I would imagine I had a wolf companion who followed me around, chasing after any car I was in, walking with me through the woods - acting as friend and protector. And I thought I would definitely someday have a husky, because that was the closest you could get in the dog world to having a wolf. (Now I have a pug and a border collie. Go figure.)

Lisa asks - When will you be able to share your cover art?

I could answer this question, but then I'd have to kill you. And, dear Lisa, you are much too valuable of a crit partner to waste. And, just to twist that knife a little more, the cover is awesome.

Kiersten asks (azillion questions, so we'll take them one at a time) - Why don't you like the Beatles?

Okay, here's the deal. It's not that I hate the Beatles, it's not that I don't appreciate their music, or more importantly, the contribution they made to music. I am a music lover. I listen to music constantly. I create soundtracks for all my books. But music has to transport me, it has to grab hold of me and not let go. I have very eclectic taste, listening to everything from hip hop to Chopin, but the Beatles' music has never swept me away. And I resent that it's forced down my throat. This past year, when the Beatles' song book went public, was a tough time for me...

Tricia asks - How long was Nightshade incubating before you wrote it?

Nightshade took me by storm, or rather, Calla did. This book started the way most of mine do with the vision of a character, or that character's voice taking hold of me. Calla showed up in November 2008, while I was finishing up one of my 'practice' novels (see next question). I knew she was a girl and that she was a wolf. I knew she was in trouble. I wandered around wondering 'who is she?' And then when browsing in the bookstore - one of my favorite past times - I came across these lines from a Margaret Atwood poem: 'Not you I fear but that other, she who walks through flesh, queen of the two dimensions.' And that was Calla. I knew she was strong, a leader, and that those very things about her life were coming unraveled, plunging her existence into chaos. The story unfolded from that point. I wrote it in between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2008 and knew it was the book.

Kiersten asks - How many books did you write before you got your book deal?

Writing novels resulted from a blunder involving myself and a horse named Romulus in June 2008, which left me with a broken foot and orders to stay grounded for another eight weeks. It was the summer I turned 30 and my head was full of "what do I really want out of life?" quandaries. I'd always loved writing, but had never given myself permission to pursue it seriously. To me, writers were like rock stars - that was a life you could dream, but not have. The horse accident made it so I had lots and lots of time to think (and not walk), so I turned to writing. Once I started I couldn't stop. I wrote three 'practice' novels before I wrote Nightshade, and the rest is history.

V. S asks - Have you ever dreamed of your characters?

Considering how wacky and vivid my dreams are, I'm surprised to answer 'no,' but I keep expecting to. I have had dreams that I write down as potential ideas for a story, but I haven't yet had a dream that involved characters I was currently writing or in a finished work. But like I said, I'm kind of just waiting for it to happen.

Laura asks - How do you find time to blog?

Blogging is like writing to me. I enjoy it and I can do it relatively quickly. It's always been easy for me to throw myself into things I care about and get them done. I have a hard time finding things to do that I don't like, such as laundry...which I should be doing right now.

Kiersten asks - If you could pick one place to live--knowing you'd have to live there for the rest of your life--where would it be?

I have two answers to this question. My first instinct was to say I'd go home, by which I mean Ashland, Wisconsin. I love Ashland. I love visiting. I think it would be a lovely place to live. But then I remembered that the reason I don't live in Ashland is because it is a four-hour drive to the nearest international airport, and I love to travel.

So my revised answer is San Francisco, which competes with New York and London for my favorite city, but of the three I think I'd like living in San Francisco the most. I love the idea of amazing, fresh produce all year and the scent of the Pacific Ocean rolling in with that thick, sea fog.

Lisa asks - When did you consider yourself an author?

The author/writer distinction irks me a little because it feeds into the whole 'oh you're a writer, what a nice hobby, my brother-in-law is writing a book too, blah-de-blah-blah.' That said it's a good topic of discussion because it does come up a lot in writerly circles. I use writer and author interchangeably now - though I didn't use that label publicly until my book sold mostly to have a clear distinction for readers of the blog, my web site, etc. Many, many people don't realize how hard writing is, that as much as a writer loves her/his work, it is still work. Hard work.

Kiersten asks - Why is your hair so pretty?

Aww shucks *blushes*. Answer - some sort of miracle granted by the powers that be because A) I have no patience for styling and thus B) anything more complicated than a blow dryer becomes a tool of destruction in my hands, but in addition to said miracle, there is also the skill of Brent at Moxie

Brigitte asks - How do you manage your ideas?

Whenever I have an idea I open a new Word document and start writing whatever inspired the idea, whether that's an opening scene, a character description, some dialogue, a short synopsis. I have a folder full of those ideas (backed up on a flash drive) so I can develop them further as I choose. I'll be discussing some of these fledgling ideas with my agents later this week!

Kiersten asks - What if you had to pick one place to vacation for the rest of your life, and you could never vacation anywhere else, ever?

Tuscany. I love the climate, the food, the people. I spent the first week of January in Tuscany four years ago and it was heaven. I would be heartbroken if someone told me I could never go back, so that tells me it should be my vacation spot.

Yvonne asks - Have you ever had trouble with word counts? Too many...not enough?

Fortunately, no. My thoughts are based on observations, but there's competing advice out there on this topic. Word counts matter when you're pitching a book as a debut novelist (whether it's in person at a conference or in a query letter). Counts vary by genre, but generally if you're hitting over 100,000 as a first time author you run the risk of having the agent in question assume you're an overwriter because most novice writers are overwriters. Learning how not to overwrite is a huge part of making the jump from writing pretty well to writing as a craft (a big part of this process is adverb slayage, but that's just the tip of the iceberg). Word counts also change a lot in the revision process. The Nightshade manuscript that sold was ~85,000 words, the final ms that will be published in October 2010 is over ~100,000.

The trick to word counts is to take that phrase literally; to be worth keeping in the ms. each WORD must COUNT. Use the words you need to tell your tale well. And that usually means a few thousand less than you wrote.

Rid yourself of chaff. Have no mercy. The additional 20,000 words of the ms that happened after my book sale were completely new scenes added after awesome editor Jill and I discussed the revision strategy, not just tweaking that added a word here and there throughout the novel. Take-away lesson: if your editor tells you to add stuff, have at it, but if you're the one clinging to that longish word count, for your book's sake let go. It's those pesky words here and there, extras, and hangers-on that need to be eliminated to give you the cleanest manuscript possible.

A great post on word counts is here. If you read the guidelines and think "there's no way I could cut that much out of my 300,000 beauty," repeat after me: You are overwriting, embrace the delete key.

Kiersten asks - And finally, how DO you survive living in a place where you have to wear...shudder...SOCKS?

Are you implying that you own no socks? Does no one in your family own socks? I am intrigued by this possibility. And in answer to your question: if you want to visit sometime between November and April you'll understand why socks are imperative. It also helps if you purchase socks that are either very silly, and thus have an entertainment factor involved, or very fuzzy and thus make your toesies feel snuggled. (But I do prefer the barefoot glory that is June, July, and August.)


  1. That's an awesome story. Kind of like a shaggy imaginary friend! I love it.

    I was serious about the cover art. I'm dying to see it. When will you be able to post it?

  2. Don't worry Lisa - I'm being evil (teasing) and posting answers to one question every hour or so - yours is coming up :) *coughs* you're not gonna like the answer though, sorry!

  3. I'm with you on the Beatles, but I gotta see that cover or I'll just DIE!!!!! *sobs*

  4. Have you ever dreamed of your characters?

  5. About the wolves -- my brother just told me about a wolf sanctuary he visited in Colorado. Apparently he had a timberwolf licked his face... sounds awesome :) I'll try to figure out where it is, so maybe you could take a "research trip" there.

    I have a question: when do you find this much time to blog? I have trouble writing even one post a week!

  6. I have another question. Because it's my blog post today, I stopped by again to see if you call yourself and author. You do. So I'm curious when you started thinking of yourself as an author versus a writer? Or is there no difference in your mind?

    I thought I would think of myself as an author after my book sold, but I'm still struggling with that.

  7. Laura - Cool about the wolf sanctuary, that would be a great trip :)

    Lisa - I'll stop by your blog to post there too

  8. i forgive you for not liking the Beatles. ;D
    i'm not gonna be one of those "OMG HOW CAN YOU, FREAK OF NATURE" kind of people, you know?
    It's the kind of music I grew up with (despite it being way off my era), so I'm not entitled to listen to most of the modern stuff people listen to.
    Doesn't mean I'm not open minded, though!(made my own story's soundtrack as well using music I've never listened to before in my life).

    Hey, Hey, I have a question.
    How do you manage your ideas?

  9. How cool that you had an imaginary wolf companion! You may have been destined to write this story. And, wow, you write fast.
    I loved Julie of the Wolves and can't believe it was a challenged book. I actually lived with hybrid wolves for awhile. It was quite extraordinary to see how they differed from dogs.

  10. Oooo! Come to San Francisco! Really! You wouldn't have to shovel snow anymore and we could hang out!

    I think it's really interesting how much our writing paths have paralleled each other. I started writing in July 2008 (nothing horse related, though) and had 2 novels under my belt before starting Personal Demons in Feb 2009. And now our books are coming out at the same time. I think we were just destined to meet in SF last Feb. =)

  11. Hybrid wolves? Cool!

    Yes, Lisa I agree that the fates had a hand in sending us both to the SF conference last year :)

  12. Has word count ever been an issue for you? Too many....not enough? If so, how did you deal with it? I ask because it seems like every time I see guidelines the magic number shrinks....from 130,000 to 120,000, and so on until a few days ago I saw an agent blogpost calling 100,000 a good word count for an adult novel.

    Oh, and if you want to see wolves, ever thought of visiting Isle Royale?

  13. Good advice on word counts. How interesting that you added with the editor's revision requests. Thanks for sharing that. (So excited to read this when it's released)

  14. I wear socks maybe two or three times a year. And then under protest. Flip-flops forever!

    So I guess I will never visit you during the winter.

    This was fun, by the way ; )

  15. Thank you for the best explanation I've seen of how to examine the word count of a ms. Making sure that each word counts.