Why did you start writing?
Writing has always pulled at me, and I wanted to be a writer since I was maybe eight years old. And I loved books. I read for hours every day as a child. I know that I loved my father’s writing and that he inspired me. I’m sure I also had romantic notions of a starving genius writing by candlelight in a garret. So, there has rarely been a time in my life that I didn’t want to be a writer or think about writing.
But I thought about writing a lot more than I ever wrote. For years I couldn’t find the time, and I couldn’t finish anything. In my early twenties, I got sick of the struggle and decided that I was not going to be a writer. Making a living as a writer just wasn’t realistic, and I was going to do other things with my life.
But, I kept writing (and thinking about writing) just as much as I ever had.
Finally, a few years later, I decided that I was already a writer – just a poor and infrequent one – and there was really nothing I could do about either side of that equation. And that was when I started to make progress. I’ve never stopped being an infrequent writer (I still fail to write more days than not), but now I’m finishing books, and my craft is improving.
Do any of the people you know find their way into your books?
Definitely. In all sorts of ways.
First off, for nearly every noteworthy character, I think of someone I know who provides the essence of the character’s personality or feeling. I try not to borrow their essence plus their personality traits plus their appearance – the whole person – that’s too much to take. I’ll take one person’s essence and mix it up with other people’s personality traits and physical characteristics. But thinking of a particular friend (or foe) helps make the character real to me. I’m quite visual as a writer, so I also use photographs of real people I have or find online that I feel represent how I want the character to look; I look at the picture as I write the person’s actions and dialogues.
And then there are more hidden and secret ways where people can work their way in. Such as, I’ve named characters after people who let me interview them in their area of expertise. Or if a friend helps me develop a scene idea, now they’re present in the book in a way – they’ve had their impact.
What would your utopia be like?
Amusingly, I just updated my bio to say “writes dystopian fiction… and lives a pretty utopian life (at the moment, anyway).” I have friends, family, a great spouse, a great kid, a great cat, an apartment I’m quite fond of, work I love and the freedom to pursue it, and my physical and mental health.
But it’s not utopia unless everyone shares it. I daydream of someday having enough wealth to become a philanthropist. (I just gave that dream to a character in my current project.)
What advice would you give someone reading your work for the first time?
I think books speak for themselves, generally. I suppose if the book presented some radical new idea in literature, readers might need advice about it. If it were like Finnegan’s Wake, definitely! I enjoyed Joyce’s earlier books, but the next time I take a crack at Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake, I will need to be armed with a study guide and a dictionary. My books, however, are dystopian thrillers set in worlds – and written in a style – that I think readers will find recognizable and approachable.
Who are your favorite authors?
As a kid, along with kids’ books like Pippi Longstocking and Nancy Drew, I read classics. My two favorite books when I was around age ten were Moby Dick (unabridged) and Jane Eyre.
Then as an early teen I started reading Heinlein, Huxley, Orwell, Herbert, Asimov, etc., which I believe influenced my tendency to write dystopian stories. But I also read C.S. Lewis and Tolkein and Madeleine L’Engle. My favorite series for a very long time was The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper – I memorized all of the verses of the intro poem. As I grew up, I read many of the standard sci-fi and fantasy books by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Robert Jordan, Glenn Cook, R.A. Salvatore, etc.
In the last ten years or so, I adored Harry Potter (and will not deny dressing up as Tonks and Hermione to go see the movies). And who doesn’t love Terry Pratchett? The man was an absolute genius. I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I loved The Hunger Games, even though the final book wrecked me. I could go on.
How does your environment influence your writing?
I have ADHD, so in order to be productive, I need a pretty specific amount of chaos in my environment. If I’m not able to write at a busy coffeeshop with music in the background, I’ll turn on Coffitivity.com, which has coffeeshop soundtracks, and Google Music or Pandora. But I don’t think my environment affects the content or mood of what I’m writing. I go inward to write.
What is your favorite color?
I have a hard time with this question. I’m a wanna-be artist, so I can’t imagine choosing just one color any more than I could choose one favorite word. It’s all in how they’re used, how they combine, to create a beautiful effect. Brown is one of my favorite colors, but not by itself. Generally, I like soft but rich colors. If hard-pressed to choose, I might go with dark red. Or gold. Possibly deep blue. Sometimes forest green…
Which comes first for you: Your world or your characters?
It really depends. For The Lightbringers, it was the world first. I wanted to explore three possible realities: a positive-thinking utopia, an utterly dystopian underground given over to the shadow self, and a third way – a middle way – of truth and compassion.
For Absence of Mind, it was the setting. One night, while falling asleep, I thought about how great it would be to have my smartphone implanted in my head, and I decided to write a world where people get to have that.
And for my current novel, it was the plot. A character learns that she’s going to die and decides to become a Robin Hood type to right the wrongs of her dystopian society.
So far, characters have come last for me. But that doesn’t mean I think of them as least important – on the contrary, they’re the most important element. I’ve put a lot of effort into making them real enough and interesting enough and sympathetic enough to carry the work I’ve given them.
What is your favorite part about writing novels?
For me, writing can be quite frustrating. It’s perhaps 50% frustration. I’ll even briefly convince myself that I hate writing and I’m quitting – and then I’ll laugh at myself and go on writing.
But I would say that there are a number of specific wonderful moments that occur in each novel’s writing process. In the idea generation phase, feeling thoughts tumble through my mind as fast as I can write them in my notebook and the thrill of connecting those ideas into something that just might be awesome. Looking around the coffeeshop and reveling in the thought that I’m not in an office. Pacing my apartment, talking through plot problems to my cat while she’s trying to sleep. Rereading something I’ve written and thinking, “Hey, this is actually pretty good.” Gazing admiringly at cover art. Typing “The End.” There’s something about the exhilaration of finishing a novel and having the book released.
What do you wish every reader knew?
That the single most important way to support indie authors is to post a review of the book. It’s actually more valuable than purchasing a copy. Reviews can be as short as a few words and they can certainly be honest, but books need a hundred reviews as quickly as possible in order to thrive.
Do you give autographs?