What advice do you have for beginning writers?
I’m going to say what probably every other writer has said ad nauseum. Write, read, and write some more. The only way you can become better is to keep practicing. And if you want to write professionally, give some thought to what it means to be a professional. Attend conventions and see what you like (and dislike) about the behavior there. Realize that while writing is an art, it’s also a business. Be prepared for how you will deal with that down the road. I believe very strongly that the right combination of perseverance, observation, talent, and flexibility will pay off. If writing is in your bones, nothing will stop you.
Who are your influences?
I tend to crave intricacy, mystery, and the sublime. I think the first person who instilled this in me was probably the naturalist Sir David Attenborough in his “Life on Earth” series, which I recall watching as a very young child. From there, I moved on to fairy- and folktales, with a special fondness for Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Uncle Remus, and Thornton W. Burgess. I discovered Poe, Byron, and many more of the Gothic and Romantic writers in my teens. As far as fantasy goes, I especially was enamored of Robin McKinley, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Jane Yolen, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula Le Guin, and of course J.R.R. Tolkien.
I studied environmental literature throughout college and became fascinated with Chinese writers like Xue Tao, Lao Tzu, Li Po, and many others. I especially loved many of the Chinese classics including Outlaws of the Marsh, Dream of the Red Chamber, Story of the Stone, and Journey to the West. Frank Herbert’s Dune became a huge influence. Other books that were influential to me in my teens and twenties were Ru Emerson’s Tales of Nedao series, Sydney J. Van Scyoc’s Deepwater Dreams, and Jennifer Roberson’s Cheysuli series. I discovered Patricia McKillip relatively late but consider her a prime source of inspiration and wisdom over the last several years. More recent idols have been Frances Hardinge (Fly By Night, The Lost Conspiracy), Philip Reeve (The Hungry City Chronicles), and Catherine Fisher (Incarceron).
Where do your ideas come from?
The mother of all questions. Everywhere is really the best answer. Dreams, newspapers, snippets of conversation, quotations, biographies. Just recently, I got two story ideas watching the Antique Road Show! I try to keep files or notebooks for all my ideas, but it’s often hard to keep track.
Can you offer advice on my manuscript?
Unless we're working together in a workshop setting or at a writing panel, I simply can’t. There are many reasons for this. Legal issues, first and foremost. But I also may not be the right audience for you. We may not share the same creative aesthetic and therefore my thoughts may not be applicable or achievable, for that matter. And between my dayjob, writing, and reading responsibilities, I can't give the time and energy your manuscript deserves. I highly recommend finding a critique partner or founding a critique group. There are many opportunities online and at conferences, depending on your genre of interest.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing and knew I wanted to be a writer since I was nine.
Have you won any awards or honors for your work?
I won several awards in high school, including the Edmond Hamilton/Leigh Brackett Creative Writing Scholarship for best short story. I received my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana in 1999. My first book was published in 2007 and was a BookSense (IndieBound) Pick for Autumn 2007 as well as a New York Public Library Book of the Teen Age 2008. My draft of Fossil Raiders, the secret history of Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle, won the 2008 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant. I also write literary nonfiction and have several publications in journals, newspapers, and magazines. Awards include the 1997 AWP Intro to Journals award, the 2002 Goldfarb Fellowship for Nonfiction, and a Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership Fellowship.
What are you working on now?
I am at work on a YA dystopia, an MG (middle-grade) book involving Poe, and the aforementioned Darwin book.
Tell us more about THE UNNATURALISTS.
The premise is that one of Tesla's secret scientific experiments has trapped people and parts of London in Fairyland. Using Science, they've carved a living out of a world made of magic. But fifteen-year-old Vespa Nyx is about to find out that things aren't as they seem in New London. Whether she and an outcast boy named Syrus Reed can work together to stop the Creeping Waste threatening their world is at the heart of this steampunk adventure.
What is steampunk?
Different people have different definitions regarding steampunk, and people either seem to love or hate it. To me, steampunk is an alternative history that stems from mid- to late-19th-century steam-powered technologies (though admittedly, one could argue that some 18th-century technologies might be apropos) and has as its influences novelists like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. While many people interpret steampunk as being an exclusively Western notion, I believe that steampunk belongs to more than just the West. There are fascinating possibilities for it in numerous cultures and places, and I look forward to seeing them all explored. I'm interested in steampunk precisely because of the opportunities it provides for exploring possible futures nestled in our shared past.
What was the inspiration for the HALLOWMERE series?
Several things. First, growing up Southern meant that the American Civil War was always in the background. I spent several summers in Gettysburg and became very familiar with Civil War history when I was young. I also loved the fairytale "The Marsh King's Daughter" by Hans Christian Andersen, reading it over and over to myself as a child. Spending a weekend with a friend in Charleston, South Carolina, I was mesmerized by the old slave market and the Gullah culture. A ghost tour and Blue Roots: African-American Folk Magic of the Gullah People melded with my love of fairytale and the seeds of HALLOWMERE were sown.
Will there be future books in the HALLOWMERE series?
As far as I know at this time, Book 6, Oracle of the Morrigan, is the last book in the series. Wizards of the Coast canceled the series in 2008. Some fans have been writing letters and starting petitions to continue the series. I’m eternally grateful for their enthusiasm and hope one day their passion will be rewarded.
What else have you published?
"Blackwater Baby," Magic in the Mirrorstone- A short story that is both a re-telling of the "Marsh King's Daughter" and the origin of Mara, one of the central characters in HALLOWMERE. Suitable for young adults.
"The Vampire, the Witch, and the Yenko,"Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance 2 (titled Love Bites in the UK) - Short story involving vampires, witches, and muscle cars. Adult. Many nonfiction articles, essays, and a poem or two.
Do you write to music? What music did you listen to while writing HALLOWMERE?
Music definitely gets me in the mood to write. Movie soundtracks are great because they tend to have a dramatic arc, which really helps me with building tension and thinking through plots. I use several key soundtracks, but the song that came to represent Corrine for me, especially in the first book, was Rachael Yamagata's "Paper Doll." Soundtracks I find useful: Gladiator, The Village, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Duchess, and Braveheart, among others.