Tell us about your current project.
I just released a brand spankin’ new book: Dragon Flight. It’s the sequel to my first book, Dragon Slippers. It was fun to get to write more about my dragons!
What are the highlights of your journey to publication?
Oh, golly! I had been trying to get a novel published for nine years. I’d written six books, and been rejected 187 times. Then I wrote Dragon Slippers, and within days of finishing it I went to a writers’ conference where I met my editor. She loved the idea of the book, and I sent it to her immediately. No rejection, no months and months of waiting to hear anything. I gave it to her in mid-September, and by mid-November she called to tell me yes! After I got off the phone I jumped up and down and screamed and cried and called everyone I knew!
Why do you write for young people?
I don’t know! After writing six books for adults, and having no luck getting published, I suddenly had an idea for Dragon Slippers, which was clearly for younger readers. It just sparked something in my head. Since then, all my ideas have been for teen or middle grade books. My husband thinks it’s the obvious thing for me to write, since most of my favorite books are teen books.
What fiction most influenced your childhood, and what effect did those stories have on your writing?
Oh, how I loved fun fantasies like Diana Wynne Jones’ Dogsbody and Chrestomanci books. Robin McKinley, Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. I love books that are funny as well as being adventurous, and that the type of book I’m trying to write.
What prepared you to write for children?
I’m not really a grown up. Sssh! It’s a secret!
What are a few of your all-time favorite books?
As above: Dogsbody, by Jones. Robin McKinley’s Beauty, The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Jane Yolen’s Pit Dragon trilogy, and Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark books, just to name a few!
What’s the best or worst advice (or both) you’ve heard on writing for young adults?
Worst advice: You’re writing for kids! You need to make sure it’s down to their level! UGH! You should NEVER ‘dumb down’ your vocabulary or grammar because you are writing for young adults. They’re not stupid. My best advice is: Just write a good story.
What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?
This is terrible, but I always see how many pages there are (being careful to not read any of the ending). Even when I’m enjoying a book, I like to know when I’ve hit the middle, and then the ‘home stretch’.
Why do you think fantasy is such a popular genre right now?
I think it has very broad appeal. We can relate to the characters, because they are feeling the same things we feel even though their situation is so different. It highlights the things we all have in common. Also, it’s good to get your mind off things like school, work, and everyday stress, and imagine what it would be like to fly!
How much publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?
Er. I’m bad at this kind of thing. I do school visits, and booksignings, both of which are usually set up by the store, so it’s mostly local. I just let stores in the area know when I have a book coming out, and they let schools know when they’re planning book fairs and such. My publisher takes me to the bigger conferences.
Do you have a favorite quote related to writing?
Cicero- A room without books is like a body without a soul. (Don’t you just ADORE that?)
What aspect of a story is most challenging for you: strong setting, vivid characters, engaging voices, delicious prose? How do you develop your weak areas?
Romance. I have a really hard time writing romantic relationships, and I have been struggling with that in my dragon books. I have a friend who is a writer and big on romance read my manuscripts, and give me pointers in those areas.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
My favorite thing is to sit down and start a new story! There’s no writer’s block, I haven’t hit a sticky spot in the middle yet, it’s just all new and exciting. My least favorite part is having a good idea in my head, and not getting the time to write it!
How do you breathe fresh life into an old tale, as with your fairytale retelling, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow?
I tried to “fill in the blanks” and it just brought the story to life. There are little things in every fairy tale that are never answered: people aren’t given names or its never explained why a mother would give her child to a polar bear! Coming up with your own explanations of these things is what makes the story unique.
Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?
Ha ha ha! I have a toddler: there is no typical! After lunch, if I’m lucky, he will still take a nap or at the very least lay down to watch a movie for a couple of hours. Then I grab my laptop and try to get as much writing crammed in as possible. On Saturdays, if there is nothing pressing, I go to Barnes & Noble (quieter than the library!) and sit in their café and write for two to three hours. Usually once I get going, I get into a groove, so even if I’m interrupted by the end of naptime, I can keep working. I leave my laptop with the document open on the kitchen counter, and any time I have a spare minute, I type a sentence or two. But I always need at least an hour to myself to get the ol’ juices flowing.
If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?
Tad Williams’ characters are so real that after a chapter you feel like you know them. You even care deeply about his villains, because they are so human and three dimensional. I would love to be able to write characters like that. Fifteen years after first reading his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, I still remember Miriamele’s favorite color. He has an amazing gift with character, and I would steal it in a heartbeat!
Your current work in progress is …
I’m in the process of editing a retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses that will be out in January 2009, and writing the rough draft of a sequel to it, very loosely based on Cinderella. We can’t decide on titles for either one, so I won’t even try to tell you what they’ll be called!
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of, and why?
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is my baby. I still feel a little glow when I think about it. Norway is my favorite place on earth, and writing book set there, based on my favorite fairy tale, thrilled me to my toes.
Do you have a dream, something you’d love to achieve with your writing?
Oh, let’s just say it: New York Times Bestseller List, baby!
There’s always time for reading!