Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
If you had asked me when I was a child and teen what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have said, “Be a writer.” But I lost it somewhere along the way as I was encouraged to get a “real” job, be responsible, etc. I really didn’t have any role models or anyone who even talked to me about being a writer or what a career as a writer would look like. It all seemed very mysterious! By the time I was 29, I was working as a Director of Sales and Marketing for a technology consulting firm. I was making plenty of money, had a house a mile from the beach, a nanny and a housekeeper – and was completely miserable. I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life getting up every morning only to spend ten hours every day doing something that didn’t interest me at all. So I did this crazy thing and sold my house, quite my job, and moved myself, my then-husband, and my four children (who were between the ages of 2 and 9 at the time) 3,000 miles to a small town in New York. It was beautiful, quiet, and most importantly, cheap! The cheap part was crucial, because it meant that I could take a break from being the primary breadwinner and take some time to figure out what I really wanted and who I really was. During the 2-3 years it took me to find my way back to writing, I learned that I didn’t need as much STUFF as I thought I did. I found that I was very happy and fulfilled at home with the woodstove going, baking from scratch, reading with my children, and writing. And finding my writing again was like breathing. It was an epiphany, and I suddenly couldn’t imagine how I’d lived without it for so many years. All of my worldly cares fell away when I was writing, and I had the greatest sense of euphoria. I felt ALIVE for the first time since I was a teenager. I wanted to hang onto that feeling, so I wrote more and more and more.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get a lot of my ideas from ancient myths and legends. Angels and demons are kind of my thing (as you can probably tell from Prophecy), so I read a lot about them. Sometimes nothing happens and I just keep reading, but every now and then, something will spark an idea, and I’ll think, “Waaaaaait a minute!” The initial seed of the story came from the biblical legend of the Watchers, a legion of angels who were said to have been sent to Earth to watch over mankind. In the legend, the angels fell in love with mortal women and were banished from Heaven, after which they were referred to as the Lost Souls. Hearing that phrase – the Lost Souls – was my dun-dun DUN! moment.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
To be honest, I don’t really believe in it. Like any job, there are days when it’s fun and days when it’s not-so-fun. There are times when it comes easy and times when it comes hard. But when I’m under deadline (even a self-imposed one), I keep to my writing schedule whether I’m feeling it or not. I have coping strategies – rereading what I wrote the day before to get in the writing mood is one of them – but they all involve writing. The internet is my enemy during the times when it’s not coming easy, but I force myself to sit at the computer without it until the words start to come. Sometimes my writing during these times feels uninspired, but when it’s all said and done, I can’t tell which passages were written during an uninspired period and which were written during one of my many euphoria-fueled writing jags.
How do you start a new story?
I make a few notes in a pretty haphazard kind of way – just enough to get started, really, and to give me an idea where the story’s going. Then I start writing!
How do you come up with characters? Are they based on real people?
My characters are dictated entirely by the story. I can’t think of a character that I’ve modeled on a real person. They all seem to come fully-formed as part of the story!
How do I get published? How difficult is it?
I’m not gonna lie; it’s not easy. Prophecy of the Sisters was my fifth book, and I wrote 6-8 hours a day for two-and-a-half years before selling it. I tried (and failed) to get an agent with book #1, got an agent with book #2 but didn’t sell it, and finally went out with Prophecy (and had two books in between that no one ever read). If you want to be published with any major, traditional publisher, you really should get an agent first. They represent your interests, advise you on changes that will increase your chances of selling your book, and act as your advocate in all negotiations. After that, your agent will submit your manuscript to editors based on his/her understanding of what each editor is looking to add to their list. Then, it’s all a matter of an editor loving it and being able to sell the rest of the Acquisitions Committee on its potential.
When and where do you write?
In my perfect world, I’d be able to sleep from 2am to 10 am and write whenever I feel like it in between. But because I’m a single mother to four children ages 10 – 17, that’s not very practical! Instead, I do promotional work (interviews, blogging, signing and packaging books for charity, ect.) in the morning while my kids are at school. Then I try to write in the afternoon and again from about 7pm to 10pm (though I take a break to read with my ten-year-old before bed) when I stop to have tea with my fifteen-year-old daughter. I stopped watching TV entirely when I was revising Prophecy with my agent (before it sold), and it was the best decision I ever made. I missed it for about two weeks, but now I have so much time for more important and fulfilling things.
Is it better to outline and plot your novel or go with the flow?
Different things work for different people! I don’t outline because it inhibits my creativity and makes it difficult for me to move forward, but I know many wonderful writers who find outlining crucial to their process. Whatever it takes to get the words down!
Do you set goals for yourself as you write?
I do! I have a weekly goal of 10,000 words when I’m drafting, and I break that down into a daily goal based on my schedule that week. Most of my writing is concentrated Tuesday – Thursday, though, because it’s easiest to focus when my kids are busy with school. If I meet my 10,000-word goal in those three days, I get the next four off to spend time with my family and take care of real-life stuff. If I don’t, I have to work over the weekend until I do.
Which authors inspire you now?
My favorites are White Oleander and Paint It Black by Janet Fitch, Shadow of the Wind and The Angels Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, anything by Sarah Waters (but her newest, The Little Stranger, is my favorite of all), and anything by Stephen King, who was my inspiration to write all through my teenager years. Can you say, “darkness”?
What type of music do you listen to when you write?
Music is a HUGE part of my life and my writing. I listen to film scores while I write, because if I listen to someone else’s words (i.e. lyrics) while I’m writing, they interfere with the voice of my characters. Film scores are largely instrumental, so I choose a score or two with the “feel” I’m trying to create in my book and write to that the entire time. With book one of the Prophecy series, it was the score from the movie The Village. Book Two was the scores from The Lord of the Rings series, and book three was a combination of both. That gives you an idea what each book will “feel” like right there!
What are you working on next?
My next series is a very, very dark contemporary fantasy also based on ancient lore. I think of it as The Dark Knight meets Twilight – minus the vampires! I’m super excited about it and have been working on it on and off since 2007. I also have another Gothic/Steampunk series, set in London this time, that I’m playing with… Stay tuned!
Where do you live?
I live in a small town (about 1500 people) 85 miles northwest of New York City. I love it because it’s very quiet and provides me with a lot of inspiration for my writing. I often look out my windows to see dense fog hanging in the low points and creeping across our field. My house is a 150-year-old converted barn, and the old beams creak when the wind blows hard, which it often does. At the same time, we’re about an hour-and-a-half from the City, so if I feel the need to go to a great restaurant, a museum, etc., it’s not a big deal to drive in or take the train.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Definitely English! I was always math- and science-challenged!
What did you read as you were growing up?
I read everything I could get my hands on! I read 1950s Gothic mysteries from our very small school library, every Stephen King book in my dad’s library, all the smutty Harold Robbins books from my mom’s, and once when I was eleven-years-old and desperate, a non-fiction book called Day of Infamy about Pearl Harbor. I kid you not! It was the only thing I could find to read at the time!
Did you go to college?
I didn’t. Well, I did, but I didn’t finish. I was so fully engaged in my life at that age – working and meeting people and experiencing things – that I had a hard time focusing on the classroom. Life sort of became my university. And you know what? As much as I appreciate and value higher education for some, I’ve come to realize that it’s not for everybody. My education – unconventional as it was – has served me and my writing very well.
You always mention your kids…how many do you have?
I have four! As I write this, they are ages 11 – 18.
Will you read my manuscript?
I love reading the work of other writers. It’s especially important to me to encourage and support young writers, but unfortunately, my own schedule just doesn’t permit me to read for others. I’d love to see a 300-word excerpt of your work on my Thursday Open Mic feature, though! I read every entry, even when I don’t have time to comment!
Do you visit schools, libraries, and bookstores?
I do! It’s one of the best parts of what I do. I love talking to young people about reading, writing, and life.
What do you say to people who want to be writers?
Read and write as much as you can. It’s the best, most important education you’ll ever get. And if you love writing, if it’s part of who you are, if you can’t live without it – don’t let ANYONE tell you it’s impossible. Because that’s a lie. Every day, debut authors sell books. EVERY DAY. Why not you?
Will you ever write a book that’s not YA?
It’s definitely possible. I have a notoriously short attention span and also thrive on learning new things. I’d love to try my hand at an adult novel someday as well as a screenplay.
What do you do for fun?
Spending time with my children is the most fun I ever have. In fact, as a single mother, I often tell people that I won’t date until I find someone whose company I enjoy as much as that of my children. LOL! But we are big film and music fans. We spend most of our time together watching movies, going to concerts, and just talking (sometimes late into the night) about everything under the sun.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Raising my children into the insightful, compassionate people they are today. Without a doubt.
You are stranded on a desert island and can only have three things, what are they?
Assuming my children count as one, I’d say a never-ending pen and a REALLY big notebook.
How do I contact you?
You can find me on Facebook or Twitter. Emails can be sent to email@example.com.
Why set this story in the past?
I’d always wanted to write something Gothic, and I felt like the darkness and sensuality of that era was a perfect backdrop to the story of Lia’s battle with both her sister and the Lost Souls. I also wanted to create a kind of old-fashioned thriller. Lia’s uncovering of the Prophecy’s clues would have been rendered quite different with the use of cell phones and Google!
Prophecies are a strong element of the story. What interested you in them initially?
I wasn’t really interested in prophecies, per se. The story came to me more or less fully formed. And it came with a prophecy!
Why twin sisters?
I’ve always been fascinated with the sibling connection. I have three half-brothers, but no full siblings. It’s such a mysterious connection – to come from the exact same place as someone else – and none more so than twins. I thought it would be a challenge to drop this enormous conflict with apocalyptic consequences for mankind in between these two people who should, by all rights, be closer than any two human beings. It was also a challenge to develop their characters along such totally different arcs when they have in common everything from DNA to their shared history.
Will we ever find out more about Alice?
You will absolutely find out more about Alice, particularly in book three, though you will always see her through Lia’s eyes. I’m always flattered when people want to hear more from Alice, because I think creating a mutli-dimensional villain is a challenge, but this has always been Lia’s story.
How did you find all the strands that work into the prophecy?
Oh, man… one piece at a time! I started with the story of the Watchers and tied everything together from there.
Why wasn’t there more romance?
I love romance as much as the next person, but I don’t believe any element should be used gratuitously. Lia’s romance with James was appropriate given her character, age, and the era in which Prophecy takes place. Making it a more central part of the story would have been to do it a disservice, because James’ role just isn’t critical in the first book. Had I written it that way, it would have been to appeal to the commercial thirst for romance and would have come at the expense of the story’s authenticity. And you know, I think young female readers need more books that are about them. My message to them is; love is wonderful, but it’s not everything. It’s okay to make your life (and the books you read) about YOU. All that said, there is more romance in the next two books, because that romance serves Lia’s development as a character and the evolution of the story as a whole.
Who would you cast if there were a movie version of PotS?
Gah! Too hard! Maybe Dakota Fanning as Lia/Alice. She’d have to dye her hair brown, but she’s such a fantastic actress. I know she has the depth to play such psychologically demanding characters. I also think Amanda Seyfreid would be a good fit. I’m partial to Lucy Hale for Luisa, Anna Sophie Robb for Sonia, and Kate Winslet for Aunt Virginia. Edmund would be Ian McKellen, the eccentric Mr. Wigan would be Michael Cain, and the scandalous Madame Berrier would be Juliette Binoche. And for James? Maybe Steve R. McQueen from the Vampire Diaries.
When is The Guardian and the Gate going to be in stores?
Guardian of the Gate releases August 1st, 2010.
Will you send me an advance reading copy?
Unfortunately, I don’t retain copies of the ARCs. There won’t be advance copies of book three, but you can contact my publicist at Jessica.Kaufman@hbgusa.com regarding ARC requests for Guardian of the Gate.
Is there a PotS playlist?
There is! My son has composed a score for the book, but there is also a contemporary playlist which can be found here.