Frequently Asked Questions: Collected from various surveys

  1. What kinds of writing do you do?  Mostly novels (usually SF/Fantasy), but I also like writing essays, articles, and short stories.
  1. What do you like most about writing? The first draft—discovering what’s going to happen and learning these characters from the inside.
  1. What do you like least about writing? Editing and making it “marketable.”
  1. What do you struggle with most in your writing? Setting, probably. I don’t do much worldbuilding.  My stories tend to be character-oriented, so the environment around them can seem empty or stale.  That and—obviously—word count.
  1. What comes easily to you in writing? Realistic characters; connecting to them emotionally (and helping the reader share that connection).  I also do well with dialogue.  And spelling.
  1. How do you decide what to write about? Where do your ideas come from? I have no idea—as Katherine Anne Porter says, “Now and again thousands of memories converge, harmonize, arrange themselves around a central idea in a coherent form and I write a story.”  I don’t usually base them on anything or plan them.  This comic deals with this question.
  1. Do you outline/plan/research first, or just start writing? Usually the latter.  I do have to do research along the way sometimes (of course), but I never outline.  I find out how it’s going to end when I write the ending.
  1. Do you write every day?  I don’t write on a novel every day, no.  I don’t have a regular writing schedule.  Some writers will condescend and insist that you can’t possibly be a dedicated, serious writer if you don’t write every day or give yourself word ultimatums, but that’s just not how I work best.  I’m a binge writer.  I’m not going to go along with anyone who says I’d somehow do better if I regarded it as a required daily activity, because for me that would make it a chore.
  1. Do you edit as you go along?  What is your editing process?  I don’t tend to edit while I’m still writing a piece.  After I’ve completed it, I go back and do a few self-edits.  Then I call for a test audience and send it out for feedback, and then I incorporate the feedback.  That might happen a couple times before I’m ready to submit.
  1. How long does it take you to write a book?  I’m a really quick writer.  The fastest I’ve written a book was 14 days (155,000 words); I also once wrote a 255,000-word book in five weeks.  However, I don’t usually do that.  If it takes me more than a few weeks to write a book, though, I’ve put it on hold for some reason.
  1. How long are your books usually?  What’s the longest one you’ve written?  The shortest?  My books tend to run long for their genre, whatever that may be.  Then I try to hack them down.  The longest book I ever wrote was 255,000 words.  (That was the original Bad Fairy.  I cut it into trilogy bits.)  Bad Fairy Book 2, the shortest completed novel I have so far (besides the one I wrote when I was 14), is under 100,000 words, and it is fantasy.  If I ever finish Joint Custody, it will probably be shorter because it is Middle Grade.
  1. What’s your advice for people who want to be writers?  I think we all answer this the same way.  Read a lot.  And maybe try writing about what you read; join a review site and try explaining to people WHY you liked what you liked and WHY you hated what you hated.  You’ll learn what habits to incorporate into your own stuff.  And then . . . write a lot.  There are no “rules” for how you “must” do it.  Find what works for you; carry it out so you actually write; and if you want to be a published writer, share your work with trusted parties for critique.  Listen to the critique.  I wish all the time that there had been an Internet for me to find critique partners on when I was younger; it’s pushed me forward so much!  . . . Oh, and don’t do it thinking it’s a great way to make money.  It isn’t.
  1. How many years have you been writing?  When I was six, I participated in the Young Authors Convention sharing a book I’d created in kindergarten.  I recently found a stapled-together “book” called “The Hard Workers” whose illustrations look like they were from a little earlier.  I’ve written poetry and stories just about forever, and was already answering the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question with “an author!” when I was in elementary school.  My first novel that ended up going somewhere was written in 2003.
  1. How much do you read?  How many books have you read this year?  Sadly, I don’t read as much as I used to or as much as I should.  I have a huge to-read list and I’ll dive back in when things are less hectic.  My latest reads are here.
  1. What are your favorite books? Too many to list here, so I’ll direct you to my section for it.
  1. What writing questions shouldn’t I ask?  Oh, please never ask me to write a book about you (or base a character on you); never ask me to read your manuscript if we’re not on corresponding/friendly terms; never ask me why I don’t just put my writing on the Internet instead of pursuing traditional publication for it; never ask me to justify writing stories in terms of whether they “accomplish anything.”
  1. Do you prefer to write about males or females?   I have a slight preference for female characters, but my current projects have an even split.  Bad Fairy and Finding Mulligan have female protagonists, and Joint Custody and Stupid Questions have male protagonists.
  1. How do you come up with names for characters (and for places if you’re writing about fictional places)?  Baby name books and websites are popular with me for choosing character names, but a lot of them I just make up, and I really enjoy it.  Fictional places are harder for me.  If it’s a real-world story I’ll just make up a name that sounds like it could be a real place, like I did for my fictional city Ridgefield, North Carolina.  If it’s a fantasy world I use what I know of the people’s history and come up with something reasonable, like I did for the riverside communities in Bad Fairy (Belkin, Augun, and Deegan Mills).  I’ve had to name places in fictional languages, too, and that involved knowing the basics of my invented language (like in Negative One, my webcomic, alternate dimension dwellers from the world of Shio have named other dimensions Ailashuo, Thee-ileo, and Win-shilao; turns out the “o” on the end indicates a place name, and I know what vowel and consonant sounds the aliens can make, so I pick from those in naming places and people).
  1. How much are your characters based on yourself?  They’re generally not.  I’ve never written someone I thought was similar to me.  But they all tend to be a bit cerebral like me, and they occasionally incorporate interests or opinions of mine.  Unfortunately some readers assume that authors only write characters as their own avatars, after which they pull the puppet strings and make the characters parrot their philosophies.  I do resent it if a reader tells me that a) my characters are “revealing” what I really feel and believe; or b) if I don’t share a character’s experience, that I have no right to write it or am incapable of doing it authentically.
  1. Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!  My first attempt to write a novel was in elementary school.  It was entitled A Girl Named Michelle.  Michelle had two bratty younger siblings and was friends with everyone.  Her story was just her everyday life going to gymnastics and hanging out with her friends and fighting with her brother and sister.  I made her group of friends embarrassingly tokenized representations of their various ethnic backgrounds because TV usually presented groups of children this way in order to try to be inclusive.
  1. Where are you most comfortable writing?  I write at my desk, on the computer.
  1. What time of day do you write?  Any time, literally, but I tend to do the most during the wee hours of the morning.
  1. Do you listen to music while you write? What kind? Are there any songs you like to relate/apply to your characters?  I do not listen to music while writing.  I need complete silence.  I think it’s because I love music so much that I can’t both listen to it and write sentences; my attention is always drawn by music.  I definitely relate stories to characters.  They each have entire playlists.  Cassie from Finding Mulligan is best represented by “One Sweet Love” by Sara Bareilles and “The Faraway Nearby” by Cyndi Lauper.  Delia from Bad Fairy fits with “Silence Be Heard” by Delta Goodrem and “Darkness” by Darren Hayes.  Baby Ivy from Negative One is “I Am” by Hilary Duff.
  1. Who is your favorite character to write? Least favorite?  That’s like asking a mom to choose a favorite kid, I think.  They each have their issues.  Delia is dramatic.  Cassie is emotional.  Nick is analytical.  Bay is really cerebral for a kid.  I have trouble with all of them and I love all of them.
  1. How do you map out locations, if needed? I don’t really do this.  The closest I’ve come was making a floor plan of a house to figure out who was whose roommate.
  1. Do you write romantic relationships? How do you do with those, and how “far” are you willing to go in your writing?  Yeah, I have plenty of romantic stuff in my books.  Probably all of them except the middle-grade book.  But I don’t write explicit sex.  I do well with relationships even though they’re not something I engage in.
  1. Do any of your characters have children? How well do you write them?  Meri Lin from Negative One is the only major first-person character I’ve written who is a parent.  Considering people who read my webcomic have written to me assuming that I am a mother too, I’m assuming I did it convincingly.  I write from the child’s point of view too, and I think it’s convincing.
  1. How willing are you to kill your characters if the plot so demands it? What’s the most interesting way you’ve killed someone?  I don’t write a lot of life-and-death stuff.  Though Delia’s interactions with dead people in the later books of Bad Fairy are interesting.  The most interesting way I’ve killed someone was probably in my short story “The Curse.”  An old man was beaten over the head with a stick and set on fire by a teenage messiah.
  1. Do any of your characters have pets? Tell us about them.  My characters mostly aren’t pet people, just like me.  Bay from Joint Custody is an animal lover, though.  He has a dog and a rabbit.
  1. Do you cry, shout, or otherwise react outwardly because of events in your writing?  Of course.  I talk back to characters and cry over them like they don’t live in my brain.
  1. Do you draw your characters? Do others draw them?  I draw them all the time.  And all of my stories have fanart.  Quite a lot of it.  But I don’t post much of it on this site.
  1. Have you ever written a character with physical or mental disabilities?  I’ve written a character with autism, a character with epilepsy, a character who lost the use of her legs in a car crash (but will be able to walk again after rehab), two characters with dyslexia, a character who cannot speak, three characters with an intellectual disability (one of whom has Down’s Syndrome), a character with a profound memory loss issue, and . . . well, Cassie from Finding Mulligan, whom some might term schizophrenic, though I’m not sure I would.
  1. How often do you think about writing? How often does the real world remind you of your story/characters?  If I’m not doing something else I’m probably thinking about writing; it’s pretty constant.  Riding my bike, taking a shower, falling asleep at night . . . and yeah, things in real life consistently remind me of my writing.  I even made a comic about it.
  1. Do you write for children or adults?  Both.  Fantasy is actually an adult genre that can be enjoyed by more mature children and teens, and I think my YA fantasy/romance would be appealing to some adults.  I even think some adults would like my MG book.  I write for people who like to read.
  1. Why did you decide to get an agent and aim for traditional publishing instead of vanity/self-publishing?  Why not self publishing: a) I’m not a marketer and I’m not good at selling myself; b) most self-published authors get very few readers/sell very few copies; c) I respect the publishing industry and I’d love to work with its masters to get my book into the hands of eager readers.  It was an obvious choice for me to deal with the heartache inherent in being rejected by agents when faced with the alternative.
  1. How did you get an agent?  Querying!  Just plain querying.  I’ve tried a couple personal contacts and a couple of contests, but straight-up querying was the only way I ever got asked to send my whole book to anyone, and it’s ultimately how I snagged their interest.  No gimmicks; I just followed the rules, and it worked out for me.
  1. Did you major in English or Creative Writing?  No, I majored in music and education.
  1. Have you ever had a writing class?  Not unless high school AP English counts.  I’ve never even taken a college English class because the AP gave me enough credits to opt out.
  1. Do you belong to a writing group or critique circle?  Nope.  I’ve never done that.  I don’t play well with others when it comes to creativity.  I solicit my test readers and get their early opinions, but it’s not a writing group vibe.
  1. Have you ever gone to a writing convention, symposium, or conference?  Not as of this writing.
  1. Do you think your books will be movies one day?  No.  But it’s possible.  I wouldn’t be opposed to that, but I wouldn’t say I “think it’s going to happen.”
  1. How many unfinished novels do you have? Four, I guess.  One won’t be finished because I wrote it in high school and quit.  Two of them are in my sort-of-abandoned-because-I’m-doing-a-webcomic-based-on-it series The House That Ivy Built; I never finished Book 0 or Book 5.  And Joint Custody is still unfinished, but I consider that “in progress.”
  1. Do you believe in the serial comma?  YES.  Oxford comma all the way.


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