I recently had the opportunity to do a fun Q&A session with a lovely group of writers on Goodreads. This a great group that supports and encourages each other, and I was happy to be included in this discussion regarding writing. Below is the full Q&A, I will also leave a link to the Goodreads group at the bottom of the post for anyone interested in looking into this group further. A special thank you to Tinath Zaeba for putting this Q&A together!
1) What was the best thing about writing this book?
It’s hard to pick just one thing! I suppose my favorite part has been seeing how positively readers are reacting to the poetry in the novel. I had to fight to keep it in—there was a lot of concern about whether or not YA audiences would embrace poetry—but I really felt strongly that it was essential to revealing Noa’s character. As someone who was a young, secret poet myself, the reception has been like a hug into the past, which is quite an amazing feeling.
2) How did you feel when it got published and received positive reviews?
Everyone loves a good review! This business is very hard because there is so much rejection—you hear ‘no’ and ‘not for us’ a million times for every person who finally says ‘yes,’ so it’s been a relief for me to feel, finally, that my perseverance hasn’t all been just an act of stubborn insanity. Shattered Blue has the common history of many debut novels of having been rejected by many agents before landing at the wonderful, wonderful Skyscape publishing house, so for a while there I was fighting for it all on my own, trying not to wonder “Am I deluding myself completely here? Should I just give up?”. And then to have it receive such love from readers all around the world! It’s like some amazing dream I never want to end!
3) Do you think that age matters when it comes to talented writing?
Absolutely not. I was writing stories before I could even write—I would tell them to my mom and make her write them down for me. Imagination does not have an age minimum and in fact, can often become less expansive the older you grow. True, your craft will change and refine itself as life happens to you, as you read more, as your experiences open you to new sensations and feelings, but that just means you change shape as a writer, not that you suddenly become a more worthy one. At every age you have a unique perspective to tell stories, so write as much as you can all the time. Your pieces will be like time capsules and character snapshots you can access again and mine later.
4) What’s your ideal book?
One that makes me feel like it is somehow my own true experience even as it is the author’s as well!
5) What is the worst thing about writing?
I would say the most difficult thing is the business side of writing. Having to put up your armor and deal with rejection, or bad reviews, or worry about things like sales numbers, agents, distribution statistics, etc. The wonderful part of writing is the inside part, the vulnerable part, the part that exposes you— but as a result many writers (definitely ME) have a very very sensitive core that can be eviscerated in the outside business world they’re not vigilant.
Anonymous Member#2 asked:
1) Was Shattered Blue your sole project at the time you were writing it? Or did you have others? Did you have conflicts on devoting time on which?
I am never, ever working on just one project at a time. I think I would go mad! I need to be able to change between things in order to keep projects fresh, and you would be surprised at how many times seemingly unrelated pieces end up inspiring new things in one another. I also have many different writer voices that need to be expressed pretty much concurrently—my poet self is very dark and often troubling, and needs to be let out; my novel self is kind of crazy and adventures and calculating, constantly hatching twists and turns; my screenwriter self is the airy dreamer, always trying to conjure something for visual manifestation; my short story voices are varied and eccentric, embodying characters as different as waves in the sea. In my daily writing sessions, I tend to listen to whoever is screaming the loudest at that time. It’s the way I manage the constant twittering in my head!
When I’m on a deadline, however, obviously I need to devote a certain amount of hours and focus to a specific task. Revising Shattered Blue for publication, or getting a script ready for production—at those times, I can get tunnel-vision for a few weeks to meet a deadline. But even then, I try to set aside at least forty minutes or so of just free-form writing a day in order to let out my other little voices, just so they don’t get too boisterous up there 🙂
1) What’s the hardest thing about developing your characters?
It is very important to me as a writer that every character I write be neither hero nor villain, but a mixture of both. For drama’s sake, sometimes it is necessary to push a character more toward one end of the spectrum or the other—like Thorn in Shattered Blue, who is as close to a ‘villain’ as you will find in my work. I actually find characters like Thorn the most difficult to write—not the big mythic antagonists, but the somewhat smaller characters who have less space in the narrative in which to really explore the whys of their limitations. It is always a battle to keep these types of characters from becoming too unrelatable or ‘cartoony’ (as I think of it). I find it much easier to create the big mythic ‘big villains’ (like Darius or Kells in SB) because so often, they are simply limited people, twisted or pushed or magnified, whose delicate psychologies can be explored and understood. It sounds weird, but the more I can relate to my villains, the better and more living they feel to me—and the less ‘pure villain’ they become.
2) For those with around 20 stories, what is your advice for them?
Keep it up! It’s great to have a big arsenal of stories—each one expands your creative brain and lets your discover new things about yourself as a writer! Every word you write makes you better. And remember, stories don’t have a “use by” date like perishable food—you can always go back to them, re-enter those worlds, visit and change and enjoy them again. You never know when a particular project will be right for a particular platform or time in your life, so having a full shelf is always a good resource.
3) When it came to adding poetry in your novel, was it difficult? I’ve tried to do the same but it didn’t come out right. What is your advice?
It’s interesting—I didn’t actually set out to write a novel that blended forms the way I did in Shattered Blue; I just knew I wanted to write about a girl who was a secret poet, the way I was growing up. I didn’t know Noa’s actual poems would become a part of the narrative until I started writing the book, and Noa’s voice actually started to whisper them in my ear. I felt more like a stenographer than an author, basically recording them for her on paper! Many of the poems were never revised because they came out just in the way Noa wanted to say them. The original draft of Shattered had to be dramatically cut for length, so many of her poems hit the chopping block, but I am so happy I decided to keep a few in. I feel like they show her voice a lot better than I could ever have described in the narrative prose.
So I suppose what I am saying is, I’m not really sure how to advise you because the poem/prose blend kind of surprised me organically in this case. In general I think it would be difficult to set out with the intention of incorporating my own poetry (rather than a character’s, in this case ‘Noa’s’) into a novel, simply because my personal Poet Voice is a very, very specific identity which I do not usually write from in my other work. My personal poetry (as you can read on my site) is actually quite dark and often unsettling, and I’m not sure that I, when I’m in that voice, would be capable of writing prose to go with them. There is something about the opaque abruptness of poetry that really lends itself to that part of my soul—the unwillingness to explain, the terse density of impact, the rebellious and defiant nature. It would be hard to create a novel in which to place those Lauren Bird Horowitz poems, because that Lauren Bird Horowitz would never write outside of poetry.
4) Do you believe writing as a group helps? / Is co-writing ever a good idea for those better writing solo?
I’ve blended these questions because they are similar—and I have a difficult time figuring out how to answer them both! I suppose first I have to say that for me, writing is so intensely personal, and such a primal, almost self-eviscerating experience, I cannot imagine being able to experience that with another person in terms of actually creating together. I am sure if there is enough trust between writers it would be possible—and indeed I can imagine there might be a wholly different, even more explosive kind of collaborative catharsis involved— but I’m not sure I (right now anyway) am capable of trusting someone that much during the writing phase. Of course, I hope that readers feel the intensity, the passion, the devastating sincerity of my experience when they read what I’ve mined—I want them too access and feel it all! It’s the entire point of writing!—but during the actual creation process, could I be so brutal, honest, even torturous with another person? I can’t imagine it.
That being said, there are other parts of being a writer that I definitely think benefit from being in a group. First of all, writers MUST support one another! It is a solitary and often emotionally draining way of life—both creatively and in the business itself, where there is so much rejection—and writers need to be teammates, not competitors. In general I am a huge believer in artists supporting artists. Who else knows, so intimately, the struggle it is to share yourself artistically with the world? So yes, use your writer friends as beta readers, as editors, as sounding boards, as therapists! Throw ideas around, ask them for advice. And remember to give back to them as well—advise, support, cheer them on too! And be careful with constructive criticism. You, after all, know very well how vulnerable your work can make you feel .
5) Which actress do you think would be best to play Noa?
SUCH a fun question. I don’t know, I feel like she should be some unknown girl somewhere, just waiting to shine her light! But if I were to choose now from actresses I know, I adore Saoirse Ronan, who absolutely killed it in Hanna. I also really like Rowan Blanchard (she’d have to dye her hair for the role), who seems to have that courageous, survivor, girl-beast spirit to her. Some readers have suggested a young actress names Alexandra Daddario, though I am not familiar with her work.
6) Which theme fits the story?
Like any story, I hope that Shattered Blue explores many themes and blends them in new ways! The best books, in my opinion, are the ones that kind bend expectation and defy category. Shattered Blue has a lot of exploration of family, love, loss, brotherhood, sisterhood, history. What it means to write your own story. What it means to have your own voice. The power of language and magic of writing, the natural human ‘magic’ we all have inside us, the pain of growing up… the list goes on.
7) Have you ever received negative reviews about your story? How’d you handle it?
Of course! Everyone, everyone, everyone gets negative reviews. I’m sure there are people out there who hate Harry Potter. And Monet, that beautiful genius painter, died thinking the world ridiculed his work as trash and garbage. Art is SUBJECTIVE!!!
It’s hard for any writer to read bad reviews, and you have to constantly remember that you have two identities—the writer artist you, who is vulnerable and exposed and exquisitely sensistive—and the public author you, who has ARMOR and does not listen to criticism with her heart. You cannot please everyone, and not everyone will like what you do, especially if you are doing something new and different. With Shattered Blue, I very quickly learned that I simply don’t need to read the negative reviews. It’s better for my psyche. You never want a self-consciousness or doubt to creep into your writing thoughts because then you won’t be able to create anything at all, well received or not!
8) What’s the one genre you cannot tolerate?
I don’t know if there is something I can’t tolerate—that seems like a very strong choice of word (and we all know I take words verrrry seriously). I would hope I could learn something from every kind of writing, and find something to stretch my own mind from any writer. But as a reader, I’m not a huge over-the-top romance fan, to be honest. I’m not sure why. I think it must be my inner dark side. I’m also currently a tiny bit burned out on crime books. I went through a surge of them for a while and I think I need a break.
10 ) What is your advice when it comes to love triangles?
I have NO PROBLEM with love triangles, lol. Or love parallelograms or love polygons for that matter! Look, real life is messy. People have feelings for the wrong people at the wrong time and love and interest breed competition and confusion. Shakespeare was a huge, huge miner of mismatched love hijinks. Can you really argue with Shakespeare? Methinks not.
11 ) Do you believe that every protagonist should have The Gods and Goddess Syndrome? i. e. does it mean they always have to beautiful/different?
Well, I believe every human is beautiful/different in his or her own way, so yes. Every person could be a protagonist (and is, in his or her own life). Every story is worth telling. Sometimes I am very wary of literary theory (and I studied literature at Harvard, so I’ve read a bunch of it) because it seems to overcomplicate simple ideas. Why is it a God or Goddess syndrome to explore the unique facets of a protagonist? Wouldn’t any character worth anything in terms of realism have beautiful and different qualities if you took a minute to explore them?
12 ) Do you believe in antagonist sympathy?
I believe in human sympathy. No story goes one way. No one is JUST a villain, JUST a hero, JUST an anything. We all play different roles in different stories, or even in the same story told from different perspectives. This is essential to the core spirit of Shattered Blue. We learn histories and secrets from certain characters at certain times that cast other characters in a particular light—Good Brother, Bad Brother, Hero, Criminal, Powerless, Powerful—and then new narrative threads are revealed that turn the everything upside down. You have to find the sympathy for every single character, antagonist or hero, because who knows? They may switch roles at any moment. Just like we all do in real life. Compassion is human, not a judgment or award.
1) What is your writing schedule?
I write every day. I have to, in order to keep what I write from becoming ‘too precious.’ If I write every day, then writing becomes ordinary and I don’t judge every word as I am writing it. If I wait and only write rarely, my inner OCD demon gets very loud and worries that EVERY WORD MUST BE PERFECT BECAUSE OMG I ONLY HAVE THIS LITTLE WINDOW! That’s not good for anyone! I try to write something—prose, work on a novel, a poem, work on a screenplay, short story—each morning to start my day. It actually helps me calm and organize my mind!
I also really believe in learning how to ‘write’ when you are not actually writing. When I am out for a walk, or playing Frisbee with my pup Ninja, I always carry a little voice recorder with me to record things that come to me when I am out in the world. Amazingly, this is how I write almost all my poems! Inspiration can hit anywhere, and very often the best inspiration comes when you are doing something other than looking at a computer screen or blank notebook. I wrote ‘Lost Girls’ from Shattered Blue entirely on the beach playing with the Ninj. Noa just started speaking it in my ear and I had to record it all in that moment! This kind of non-writing writing is also helpful as a reminder that writers don’t have to dwell only in dark rooms with coffee cups and computers as their only friends 🙂
2. What are the obstacles you faced while writing?
The biggest obstacle was when I didn’t write often enough, so I became too precious about my work when I did get to write, and thus impeded myself from getting anything out. It’s so much better to have writing not be a sacred activity, just something you do all the time, so you stop judging yourself so much as you go. Allowing yourself to be free and experiment is exceptionally important—it is how you arrive at some of your best and most creative work!
The other big obstacle every writer faces—if they want to make a career out of writing, not just have it as a passion—is learning how to separate your Inner Artist from your outward Author Self. Your Inner Artist must be exquisitely sensitive and vulnerable to tap into what will make your writing true. Your Author Self, however, must have Impenetrable, Impermeable Armor, the thickest of skins and hardest of shells, in order to survive the masses of rejection EVERY SINGLE WRITER FACES. For every ‘yes,’ you will hear a million ‘no’s’. For every bit of praise, you will remember, with echoing force, a million criticisms. You cannot let the outside world become an echo chamber that rattles your confidence or conviction. You must be the opposite of your artist self to really take your work and let it fly, come what may.
3. If you were given a chance to rewrite your books, how would you change them?
Wow, this is a tough question. For my debut novel Shattered Blue, I was given a VERY strict word count to meet. The original draft was something like 630,000 words, and my limit was 90,000 words max! It was a Herculean effort to cut it, and I ended up losing some things I really loved, including several more of Noa’s poems and a big part of how Callum and Noa’s relationship evolved. As a result, some readers have felt Noa and Callum got together too quickly, but I had to make the cuts somewhere… So I suppose if I could go back, I would want to have a little more breathing space to add in some of the parts I had to take out.
4. Do you maintain a journal?
I absolutely did when I was in high school and college, but I don’t these days because as a working writer, I have my hands full with projects I need to get done each day. I’m currently working on a TV pilot for the CW called Familia and that is taking most of my focus, while at the same time I always have a slate of promotional interviews and blog posts to get finished for Shattered Blue, and I am at the same time in the process of editing the second book of The Light Trilogy (the Red volume). However I do always, no matter what, write poetry, which helps me to cope with my emotions and process the challenges in my life. I think at this point my poems basically serve as my journal. Poetry is really the language of my soul.
5. Would you like your books to one day turn into a movie/show?
I would love it! I already do a lot of screenwriting—in addition to the pilot for the CW called Familia, I am also in development on two feature films. Screenwriting is a completely different sort of process, but one I also like because you get to make your words literally come to life. I think The Light Trilogy would make an excellent series of movies, and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t already fantasy-casted them in my head!
1. When did you write your first story? How old were you then?
I cannot even remember. I have stories that are written in toddler scrawl that is barely decipherable—it’s like trying to read a secret language! My mom was a big supporter of mine and bound all my little stories into ‘books’ that we still have. I just ran across some of my first poems the other day—one is called “Frustration Poem” and has a line “it bugs me when everyone yells at me cause im the youngest! It really bugs me!” It makes me laugh. Many of my childhood stories featured sea otters, all named Milk Dud for some reason. It’s fitting then that otters show up in my first published novel, Shattered Blue!
2. “An author writes a book he wants to read.”
I think it would be very hard to write something you didn’t want to read yourself… why would you want to share it with others unless it meant something to you? For me, I relate mostly to works I experience as true and sincere (even if in a metaphorical sense, in terms of fiction), and so I have a difficult time imagining that I would want to write something I couldn’t feel myself.
3. After publishing your own book, do you think your genre preferences have changed?
I don’t think they have changed—maybe just grown! I’ve always been an omnivorous reader. I like it all, at different times—fiction and poetry, non-fiction and journalism, biographies, plays, screenplays… I often find it useful, however, to be reading a different genre for pleasure than whatever I am currently ‘working’ on. This helps to keep reading as a nice break from my work life, and lets my mind relax a little while I shift gears.
4. Do any of your characters resembled a real life friend or relative of yours?
Of course! Writers tend to write what they know, and I definitely do. Every character I create draws on people I know in real life; that’s what helps to make characters live and breathe. Some are big amalgamations of people (like Miles in Shattered Blue, who is a blend of my eight guy roommates from Harvard!) and some are very closely tied to a particular person (like Olivia, who is very, very similar to my real life BFF Janet). My family gets used (and abused) the most of course. They have been in every single one of my pieces in some form or other. It’s lucky they have to love me because I don’t always paint the most flattering portraits! Flaws and limits fascinate me. They also make characters real.
5. Which role do you like more : author or reader?
Definitely author. I am an avid reader, don’t get me wrong, and there is nothing quite like connecting with something you’re reading in a soul-moving way, but for me there is such catharsis in writing. It can be painful or joyous or wretched or exciting—but it is always vibrant and immediate and visceral. I tried to show a little of that in Shattered Blue by making Noa a poet herself: “Noa’s writing was messy, words bursting wetly from inside. Sometimes it was painful, bloody; sometimes not like words at all. But it was always true.” And now, as a published author, I get to experience the connection with readers from the other side—and wow, it is pretty amazing.
I loved this Q&A!!! I would love to read your books! I haven’t had the chance yet but I will, I promise!! I hope your books will be translated and published in Italy very soon!! All the best and kisses from Italy
I love to get in the minds of writers! I wish I was that creative!
I am looking forward to reading Shattered Blue! It’s amazing reading books by various authors and seeing the differences in writing styles!
It’s always amazing to get to know the authors of the books you love better!
Seems like you are a very down-to-earth author. There are some very inspirational words of encouragement for aspiring writers.
Absolutely love your give away option n chance to win I am a huge book worm and im always looking for new authors to check out plus i collect my books so thank you for the oppertunity to win some great stiff