Wednesday, October 29, 2008

q and a day

I've been doing more than a few interviews this week, and I thought I'd put a few of the better questions and answers up on the old blog today.

So, here goes:

1. Are there any writers, teachers, or other individuals that have had a major influence on your writing or helped you further in your career?

I honestly think there were a couple high school and undergraduate writing instructors who taught me what I needed to know to get started. But that education is dwarfed by what I learned from my agent, Laura Rennert, and my editor, Liz Szabla. My writing “influences” are many… and I know I’ll think of a dozen more after I answer this, but I would list major influences as Hemingway, Faulkner, Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain. Okay… you can call me ethnocentric, but I just happen to think American writers are the best. I will say, though, that I also consider myself to be influenced by Hardy, Dostoevsky, and the great author Octavio Paz, all of whom I mention in Ghost Medicine.

I would also like to say that my dear friend from high school, Kelly Milner Halls, a Middle Grade Non-Fiction author of more than a dozen books, gave me critical advice that helped me steer clear of the damaging mistakes that newbie writers inflict on themselves.

2. Can you briefly describe the process you go through when writing a novel or book? Where do you get your inspiration?

I am a firm believer that there is no substitute for experience; that people may want to write, but if they haven’t lived yet, what they produce will be less than genuine. So I lived through enough wild and reckless experiences in my life to fill at least fifty novels, and that’s where my inspiration comes from. For example, in my youth, during a time when I was really into Hemingway, I camped out, by myself, for a month in what was then Yugoslavia. One day I know I’ll weave that experience into a book. My writing process begins with thinking… for a long time. Then I usually write down some notes on characters and the first few pages of the manuscript. Next, I put that away, sometimes for months, and let the ideas stew in my head. When I’m ready, I write. In that phase I write sometimes as much as ten hours per day until I am finished… completely finished, with no revisions or changes to come. That part drives my family crazy, and, I will admit, it’s probably a little self-destructive, too. But it’s how I do it.

3. You’ve created some very interesting characters. What is the character development process like for you?

I start with names and descriptions. I keep these in my notes file. I like to think that all my novels are intensely character-driven, so it is very important to me that my characters are as real, believable, and individual as possible. One of the things I do is I keep a file on the characters in each novel, and I find photographs for every one of them. I do this by just randomly searching around on the internet until I find a picture of a person who really looks like I imagine my character. From time to time, I’ll pull that picture out and try to visualize how that character would phrase things, or how he or she would react to certain events… how their faces might change when they encounter stress. I haven’t heard any other writers say they go through this process, and maybe it’s crazy, but it works for me. And before anyone asks, no, I will not show the pictures I used to create any of my characters.

Okay... so there you go.