Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
I think it was nearly always known that I was a writer, even before that was a concept I could articulate. The moment that the “Writing” grade on my elementary school report cards went to the content of what I wrote rather than my abominable penmanship (it is still awful, thanks to typing), I always had A’s without much effort.
In fifth grade, largely because I did not care to make a schmaltzy card for the bulletin board, I wrote a poem called “Rainbow of Tears” that was composed entirely of things I thought sounded poetic, with no real grasp of the point of poetry. My mother still thinks this is the best thing I have ever written.
When did you first consider yourself as a "writer"?
I always did, it was just a matter of convincing other people. Even once my first novel, We Shadows, was published, it was an uphill battle telling people that I was actually published. No, I didn’t self publish. Yes, Double Dragon is a legitimate publisher and is well respected.
Did it take a long time to get your first book published?
Absolutely. It took at least three years after it was “finished” before I got a positive response. After each rejection, I would refine and revise. The book went through at least a dozen different versions before finding its current form.
Do you work another job as well as your writing work?
I am currently a teacher at a residential facility for adjudicated minors. In essence, somewhere between a reformatory, kiddy jail, and summer camp according to the residents.
What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarise it in less than 20 words what would you say?
Danse Macabre: Two young women find faith in themselves against the backdrop of torture, a diner, demons, a vampire pumpkin, and college.
Do you have a "lucky charm" or "lucky routine" you follow when waiting for your book to be accepted by a publisher?
Not anymore. Now that I have a relationship with Double Dragon, I am confident that any sequels in the Night’s Dreams series will be published within a year. They have been a joy to work with.
Before Double Dragon, I sent it off and hoped for the best. This was not particularly effective, perhaps I should have resorted to voodoo dolls.
How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
I shoot for a book a year, starting during the November National Novel Writing Month. The first book took four to five years to get to this point, simply because I did not know how to write a novel and wouldn't let anyone teach me my method.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have at least three more books planned for the Night's Dream series and there was talk – though it got no further than contracting the rights – of turning We Shadows into a cable movie.
What genre would you place your books into?
Contemporary fantasy, though I've always liked the term "supernatural fiction" or "magical realism". I try to tie my fantasy as close to the real world as possible. Much of the history in my book is reported to have actually happened.
What made you decide to write that genre of book?
We Shadows came about a bit as a response to an associate's suicide, though I think it would have been written even had he decided to live. This level of fantasy is simply how I tend to see the world, the "what if" daydreams that most people seem to forget. What if the odd looking cabbie is actually a vampire trying to survive and keep a low profile? What if some people really are soulless, what would that mean? What if the person ranting on the street corner isn't completely mad, but is instead so overwhelmed by information from the fairy realm that they cannot intelligible communicate? I suppose I am given to magical thinking, but it seems a lot more fun than remaining moored in the concrete.
Do you have a favourite out of the books you have written? If so why is it your favourite?
My favourite book of mine right now is a half written sequel titled Hunter of Shadows. It will tie the first three books together, will sully some characters and redeem others. A lot of the architecture of that novel has been slowly put in place by the first three and I am excited to see what it will look like at the end. I think my favorite of my books would always have to be the one I have yet to finish because it could be anything. Once they are published, it's all a matter of convincing people to buy them, but the creation is over.
Do you have a certain routine you have for writing?
I work best when I am inconvenienced. I used to leave my quiet, private apartment to sit in a crowded cafe. I often write on a wonky PDA from 2003 whose handwriting feature works only at certain angles. In my present apartment, I sit on the floor of a closet to write on a mini-notebook, because I find my living room and laptop too distracting. I am answering this question in a hotel room just before Otakon and I edited my third book on a Kindle Keyboard while my girlfriend drove, intentionally giving myself a headache and a bit of nausea but cutting out a lot that was unnecessary. If I am going to make myself uncomfortable, I will be certain it is worth the effort.
Do you have anybody read your books and give you reviews before you officially release them?
I have a few beta readers right now: my girlfriend, an ex, a woman I met on a dating site who promptly bought and tweeted passages from We Shadows, my father. Incidentally, I highly recommend having an ex as one's beta reader, as they can be the most merciless.
Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
Generally, I read them once and then ignore them because I need to write far more than I need to be scrutinized and obsessive. I never even liked reading papers my teachers handed back in school.
What was the toughest/best review you have ever had?
Though far from the toughest (that would be the aforementioned ex, whom I thank for her frankness so much so that I dedicated my first book to her), my friend Jinx wrote a detailed review of my first book on Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/281048537). A great deal of what I write occurs mostly in my head - very little of my world-building reaches the final product – so I find it a bit startling when someone reads between the lines and fully understands what I am doing.
Would you ever ask a reviewer to change their review if it was not all positive about your book/books?
Never! I welcome reasonable criticism. If a book has nothing but five-star reviews on a site, I get skeptical that it is nothing more than family members and fanboys.
Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
I tend to find the titles when I am meandering through the books. We Shadows was originally called “Deaths Worse Than Fate” and then “Delirious”. Danse Macabre was simply “Red Hook”, after the town where it takes place. I found the title for We Shadows when I was directing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at a boarding school for learning disabled kids. I couldn’t bring myself to change Puck’s final speech to accommodate the actress who played that role and, wandering back to my apartment, it suddenly struck me as exactly what my book is about: the supernatural subtly screwing with the mundane world, generally out of pettiness. Artificial Gods(which was once called “Pine Bush”, again after the town where it takes place) takes its name from the same play.
How do you come up with characters’ names and place names in your books?
The place names are easy as almost all of them are or were real. The college some of my characters attended is a fictionalized amalgam of a few ones in the Hudson Valley (Bard, Vassar, and SUNY New Paltz, primarily), thus why it is Annandale even though it should geographically be Bard College.
The character names generally come from describing a character to a friend or two and seeing if any feel right. I once described the character that became Girl, but no one could offer a name that sounded right. I found it poignant that a character who could manipulate memory did not remember her own name, so she remained Girl. (I have a sequel planned about her going to find her true name, so a whole novel is going to be written because I could not figure out a character’s name.)
Do you decide on character traits before writing the whole book or as you go along?
My writing tends to be fairly organic, so I start with the loosest understanding of my characters and slowly uncover their personalities as I write. In Artificial Gods, the main character’s indifference to dating became a crucial plot point, though it took me months of writing before she explained the purpose of it. Reviewers tend to tell me that my characters seem real despite their fantastic contexts, so I must be doing something right.
How do you market/promote your books?
I had a long running blog that I focused more on my books once I started to get published, so I had a built-in fanbase that I have tried to leverage for publicity if not purchases. Over the last few months, I have tried to have a signing a month to get my latest book in the hands of my readers. Next weekend and in September, I am reading at bookstores in my area, a prospect that somewhat terrifies me.
A great deal of the promotion for my books falls onto my shoulders and, especially after a dismal royalty check or two when I was less active, I do not want to do a poor job of it. Getting published is only the beginning of the battle.
What do you think makes a book a bestseller?
I think a lot of it is luck and publicity more than talent. I can point to a dozen popular books right now that are poorly plotted, abysmally written, and outright boring, but they have sold more as I am typing this sentence than I may ever sell. I’ve met a few authors who are doing incredible, groundbreaking stuff, but they languish in obscurity because they do not have the right agent or connections.
I do not believe, as some claim, that audiences are not interested in more pioneering and original prose. If publishing houses and agencies were a bit more daring, I think the market would prove me right here. However, most of what is currently popular today is designated that because an executive declared it would be popular. If there are a hundred copies in the front of a bookstore with banners and cardboard stand-ups of the characters, a reader is far more likely to spend her money on that book than on one with a silly cover only available online.
Have you ever suffered from a "writer's block"? What did you do to get past the "block"?
I think it happens to every creative person. My secret is several files of unrelated writing I could be doing instead, so I can work on something no matter. Once my fingers get going, I find I have much less of a block.
Failing that, I read. Either I enjoy what I am reading so much I am inspired to write again or it annoys me so much I have to write if just to dilute its effect on the literary canon.
Have you ever based characters on people you know or based events on things that have happened to you?
Almost constantly, which is possibly off-putting given that I write about brutal torture, ritual sacrifices, goblins, and vampires. My character Girl, a supernaturally attuned drug dealer, was based on a close friend. Said friend gradually came to suffer from alcoholism and incoherence until she resembled the character more than Girl did her. Roselyn, my goth Wiccan, has a few formative experiences and attitudes cribbed from my teen years, simply because they seemed to fit her and I wasn't using them anymore.
Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books?
Be careful what you believe in because we shape our own reality.
Is there a certain author that influenced you in writing?
There are a couple (if I may take “author” a bit broadly) who show me worlds close to the one I have created. Neil Gaiman, of course, is a master of this genre. HisSandman series proved that gradually constructive a breathing universe from the ground up until the moment you send it crashing down again can and does work. Bryan Fuller - the mind behind the television shows Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and the only season of Heroes we should pretend existed – showed (albeit briefly, time and again thanks to cancellations) that modern fantasy has a place on network television and that whimsy and darkness do not have to be at odds.
Which format of book do you prefer: ebook, hardback, or paperback?
I would love to be in hardback - it reeks of classiness and it would thrill me to sign one - but I admit to largely reading ebooks because they are cheaper, more convenient, and infinitely more portable.
Do you think ebooks will ever totally replace printed books?
I certainly hope not, they'd be so awkward to sign. Even with my Kindle, my tiny apartment is burdened with literally thousands of hard and soft cover books. Some genres simply don't translate well to ebooks. Also, I cannot envision a world where ebooks are universally preferred over print, if just because a print book never needs charging (and, of course, ebooks will never have that delightful old book smell).
Did you read a lot at school and write lots of stories or is being a writer something newer in your life?
I read constantly, so much so that my seventh grade social studies teacher forbade me from bringing unrelated books to her class because I would finish her work early to have a bit of time to read. So I read the textbook, which I do not think amused her.
Do you have a favourite genre of book?
I am not sure it is a genre, but I love books that balance humor and factual information. My favorites are Tom Robbins, David Sedaris, and of course Bill Bryson (without whose A Short History of Nearly Everything I would know far less science).
Is there anything in your book/books you would change now if you could and what would it be?
I would love if I could go back and revise We Shadows. At the time, it was almost the best I could have done, but it is the novel on which I learned how to write a novel and I can see tears and messy stitching in it that (I hope) are less visible to my readers. It’s still quite good, but I know so much more about writing and the Night's Dream universe that I want to weave in. Also, I ended up cutting out around 60,000 words before submitting to Double Dragon and, though some of those have ended up in other books, I would love to return it closer to my original vision.
What do you think about book trailers?
I think they are a brilliant way to hook new readers so long as the author's true focus remains on the books.
What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
Start writing now, you haven't a moment to spare.
Do you or would you ever use a pen name?
I once joked about starting a second career as a writer of erotica/smut with an aristocratic pseudonym, but I can't imagine otherwise hiding what I've written. My last editor said Danse Macabre made her uncomfortable in crowds, but I am proud of that reaction. This is not to say I would be overly keen to have current students interrogating me about my books...
Where can readers follow you?
Your Web Site?
Your Facebook Page?
Your Goodreads Author Page?
Your Twitter Details?
Hi! This is Thomm Quackenbush. My last name is misspelled on this page and I wondered if you could fix it. Thank you for the interview.ReplyDelete