When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Self-awareness (that I was a writer) hit me when I was seven and published my first poem. I got serious about writing novels when I turned thirty and it took me almost seven years to see a book in print. The irony is that I sat on the manuscript for Iona for almost two years because it was ‘different’ and I was reluctant to share it, even with my agent… Naturally, this was the one that sold—and within only a couple of weeks of finally handing it over to my agent. Just think—those two extra years of suffering were unnecessary.
Which do you prefer to write Paranormals or Historicals or Mysteries and why?
They are all fun, but I have to admit to a soft spot for paranormals. It’s a matter of having everything be possible—of having no limits. This especially true in the Narcoscape series which combine mystery with fantasy. One can always use a historical setting or characters into the Narcoscape.
Which come first? The plot or the characters? Which drives the story for you?
It depends on the story. Sometimes, the bare outlines of a plot will suggest themselves. But usually it’s characters first. And my stories are definitely character-driven. It is the only way that stories make sense to me.
Do you plot it yourself or do the characters come alive and take “control”? Do you write in pieces or straight through?
I haven’t been in control since about 1997. It used to be that I could exert enough discipline to write a story straight through, but now the characters get pushy and have definite ideas about when they want scenes written. This isn’t a bad thing, but care must be taken when stringing these vignettes together or the plot can get a bit incoherent.
How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing?
Way more than I am comfortable admitting to. I think is inevitable that some aspects of a writer’s personality will show up in her work. And thank heavens for it! After all, it is this individual experience and personality that makes each writer’s voice unique. I have argued before that is you handed a dozen writers an outline and said: write this book! You would still get twelve entirely different stories.
What are the elements of a great novel for you?
This will sound odd. But I think what makes a timeless novel is one that is able to reach out and touch people regardless of age, culture– or even gender. I wouldn’t have thought of the last item except that I have so many letters from male readers. It has made me believe that stories can be so much broader than we ever previously expected. After all, the human condition– at its core– is not subject to fashionable whim. There are many wonderful writers who can reach across all these borders and draw in readers from all over the world and all walks of life. I think of them as being earth-based writers (as opposed to the whole women are from Venus and men are from Mars thing that narrows a book’s focus). I think it is these books–these stories that are able to touch a wide variety of people– that make for something that is lasting.
What kind of research do you do?
Extensive and painstaking. I think the local library has lustful impulses toward my collection of reference books. It is important to get details right when dealing with historical events or characters especially. It helps the reader feel grounded and trust is necessary if you are drawing the reader into an unfamiliar environment.
Do you have advice to writers struggling for that first break?
Don’t give up. This race isn’t to the swift, it’s to the sure. And the stubborn.