Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Interview with Joseph McGee

This is an interview with Joseph McGee. Joseph is a hardworking young author who is brimming with ideas and always has time to talk to his fans and readers. Check out his website at www.josephmcgee.net. Thanks Joe!

1. I devoured books when I was little, especially ones with a bit of comedy and a bit of fantasy. Now I mainly write in those genres. How did horror writing come to you?

Telling tales of terror is not always about the practice of dark literature. It's entertainment. I don't do it to try and scare people. If I did, I might want to check myself into a hospital for some tests, right?

Writing stories that have a bit of suspense and supernatural elements, dazzled with horrific scenes are what I do. I tell a story to the best of my ability, and I'm very lucky that readers have found me worth enough to top some bestseller lists here and there, win awards when I can - or at least get a nomination or recommendation.

Writing with such things in your mind is a job. That's how you have to see it. I love it. I want to keep doing it. I want to cement myself here. And I will, whether this year or in fifty years - I will.

2. When did you realize you were a writer and how did your family and friends react?

I guess I was a freshman in high school, so about 14 or 15.Writing is a business, and if you're good at it, its a very lucrative business. People are always supportive on the new kid on the block when it comes to writing professionally. A lot of people never start out writing full-time. They lead normal loves and work normal jobs with normal families. Normalcy is almost built into their genes somehow.

I started out working full-time as a writer, living mostly off of my savings that I've had from working a job that paid nearly $1200/week, and for a seventeen-eighteen year old kid, that's not a half-bad job, right?

My family has always been supportive. Truth is, I've done more stuff as a writer than I would've done nearly anywhere else.

I would, however, never self-publish myself. I feel that if publisher will not sign me, then I need to work at it until I get it right.

3. Do you have family members who introduce you as a writer? Have people in your family and social circles come to label you primarily as a writer/author?

No. To everyone else I'm just Joe - the average Joe, so to speak. I don't introduce myself as an author, either. I never go up to someone, shake there hand and say "How ya doin'? I'm Author-Joe."

4. Have you written outside the horror genre, and if so, what kind of story was it?

I guess I have. Doesn't everyone here and there? I've written stories that would be hard to classify. I guess it'd be under the categories of: Romantic-Suspense, Crime, etc. I'm even dipping into a bit of fantasy.

5. How many books a week do you usually read? What was the last book you read?

I can usually carry about 25-30 books/ a year. I can't read while I write or it'd throw me all off.I will be starting to read 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

6. I feel like reading should do double-duty. It entertains and teaches- it's hard to turn off my writer's brain. I note things I like and dislike about books. Do you do that? What was the last book you wish you could have changed somehow?

Each book is unique and each book is the author's imagination and therefore cannot be wrong.

7. If there was one famous book that you wish you'd written first, what would it be?

I was always a big fan of Dreamcatcher by Stephen King, and of course, The Shining. Masterful tales. And let's not forget about Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series.

8. Some authors, like Stephen King, write many novels and stories, while some of our greatest authors only wrote one or two novels in a lifetime. Which would you lean more towards, ideally?

I would write as much as I possible could until my fingers drew blood or fell off - and just because these one or two-time published authors have limited work published does not mean that's all they wrote.

9. What was your best experience with one of your readers?

I have great experience with all my readers, but my first was in January 2007. My first book signing at Barnes and Noble. This very nice couple sat down and stayed a while, talked to me about the book and how it was so great that someone so young was being published professionally.

It was a good feeling that two people really enjoyed the book so much that they bought it, read it and wanted me to sign it and meet me.

10. What type of writing would you like to try that you haven't yet?

How many types of writing are there? I'd like to continue what I'm doing in the genre and all. It's not about writing scary stories but about writing stories. Period.

11. Would you rather have one of your stories expanded into a miniseries or boiled down into a song?

Mini-series. You really can't boil these stories into a three minute song, can you? As a matter of fact, I might have something in the works.

12. Which of your characters do you feel closest to (but not necessarily the most similar to)?

I would say Kyle (from Snow Hill). He's still trying to figure out who he is, and now he's alone in the world with his beautiful girlfriend, but he's also trying to solve the mystery himself. He's stubborn with a sense of heroics and a good heart.

13. What music encourages you to write? Is there a song, album or artist that you regularly reach for when you need inspiration?

No. Sometimes I can have music on, most times I can't.

14. What was your first booksigning like? Do you enjoy booksignings?

January 2007; Barnes & Noble.

I love book signings. They're awesome! You get to meet your constant readers and maybe make some new believers in some people. It's a great way to relax, talk about your craft and meet some pretty cool readers at the same time.

15. Have you ever drawn ideas for books from your dreams? Do you tend to dream in story-terms or about more day-to-day matters?

Asking a question like this is like asking do you prefer to write at night or in the day. It really comes down to you and how you want to start writing. Dreams can always factor in - always. I've written stories I've just seen glimpses off in my head.

Take Phil's Place for example. I wrote that story in three days (of course I went over it a few more times afterwards). All I did was picture some kind of wicked snow storm and BAM! - I drew out this whole horrific mystery that someone must solve. Just from a tiny glimpse of a snow storm, mind you it was November and during a snow storm, but the image stuck in; I started it Saturday, finished it Monday.

And now it's in an award race.

16. A starry-eyed young author comes up to you and asks what your best advice for a new author would be. What would you say?

Just do it!You're gonna fail the first time at bat. We all did at one time or another. But you get back up to the plate and swing for the fences again. You never give up, and you write your heart out.You must have a certain kind of love for writing, for reading, for creating new worlds and envisioning people. Without that, you may not have much of shot. But never, ever give up.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Quick Note

Hey everyone! I apologize for not having the next interview up... I plan to have it up within the next few days though and thank you for your patience. Bad weather this week and a very very busy weekend have forced a short postponement, but we'll have our next interview up ASAP, featuring horror novelist Joseph McGee!

Check back soon and happy writing!


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cynthia Smith on Fantasy, YA and Vampires

Our very first interview is with Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Tantalize. Her website is http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/ and her deliciously dark YA novel is on store shelves now. Check it out!

Hey, thanks for being a part of this, Cynthia. It’s very exciting to have you involved!

1. Not all heroes are created equal of course, and some of the heroes in my novels seem to last with me longer than others. Have you had any heroes that wouldn’t leave your mind?

Of my own characters, Cassidy Rain of Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) has lingered longest as a dominant voice so far. It was six years between that debut novel and my latest, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008)(Walker UK 2008)(Listening Library, 2008). I suspect it's because the first book is sort of the one you have to write before you can move on to anything else. Rain is poetic and quietly hopeful. She has a gentle humor. In some ways, staying in her mindset was a safe, reassuring place to be. I finally had to start by trying to write a voice opposite to Rain's, whatever that might be, and then fight to launch Quincie's (of Tantalize) voice from that exercise.It's interesting because I was able to write several short stories and a couple of picture books (Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006)(Holler Loudy (Dutton, 2009) between the two novels, but there's something about really settling in with a first-person protagonist. It's a much bigger commitment. You have to really fall in love for it to work.

2. I love seeing strong female characters in fiction, but I especially love seeing strong ‘every day’ women sprinkled in too. Not every lady can be tall, thin and gorgeous with a perfect complexion… some of us just have to be the lady in the grocery store or the funny one at Blockbuster. What is your take on females in YA fiction right now? Are we seeing a lot of the ‘perfect’ females, a lot of the ‘every day’ females or more of a mix?

Strong protagonists are the norm in YA literary trade fiction—if they're going to be the character that drives the story, they need some momentum behind them. As for looks, my feeling is that, manuscript-wise, the girls tend to look like girls you'd see in real life. But of course the market pressures on cover-art designers are immense, beauty sells, and it's typical to see a girl on a cover who looks entirely different (and far more conventionally attractive) than the author ever imagined her.In Rain Is Not My Indian Name, the protagonist talks about how her brother was the good-looking one, that the local cheerleaders would cruise their small-town street for a chance to whistle at him. Granted, adolescent girls often tend to underestimate their own appeal, but still… When I got the cover art, Rain looked like Queen Amidala. I remember saying to my husband, "Wow. What do you think her brother looks like?"

3. Do you feel that researching fantasy and supernatural elements is harder than researching the things we might call ‘facts’? Somewhere in your journey to write Tantalize, did you find yourself ‘researching’?

I spent an extraordinary amount of time researching; see my bibliographies: http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/CLS/cyn_books/tantalize/tantalize_biblios.html I don't know that it's harder because you have more power to make a judgment call (your "take" on, say, a werecat can't really be disproved), though researching real-life cats will make your guess more educated and therefore plausible. In terms of the body of literature, I do think it's illuminating to know what's come before—not for sales—but to make a thoughtful contribution to the conversation of books. Because Tantalize is a genre bender—a suspense Gothic fantasy with strong elements of romance, mystery, and humor—I have a wide diversity of readers. Those who are long-time horror fans are the ones who get the nods and subtext about the literary tradition as a whole. Don't get me wrong, the rest can follow the story, but "insiders" appreciate it on an additional level.

4. When I picked up Interview with the Vampire for the first time, I was shocked to realize that the vampires felt more human than most humans in fiction. Their struggles, moral decisions, pasts, family relationships, dealings with money… all of it felt very, very real. And very important. (I remember when I saw pictures of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, thinking for a moment that Louis would be devastated with what had happened to his city. Now that’s a case of a character that sticks with you!)You’ve said that you felt monsters and vampires could be very symbolic of adolescence, something that shapes most of the rest of our lives. Do you think that’s what drew so many people to books like Interview with the Vampire? Was it the freedom to express things through another point of view, specifically a fantastical point of view?

Excellent question (and I'm a Rice fan, too). The depiction of a fantasy creature or world can really free one up to go more directly to the heart of humanity. You can write with less subtlety because that fantasy layer already gives the reader enough distance to see more clearly. Say you're talking about a hero feeling as if she's on verge of damnation. In a fantasy novel, you can go ahead and show the literal gates of hell.

5. Writing involves a degree of method acting… thinking as the characters would think and writing what they would say. How was it to get into the mind of an immortal? Did you learn anything new there?

As with Rice's work, there's a modern tendency to show the vampire as sympathetic, which lends itself to richer fiction. In my own fiction, I'm likewise inclined to create layered characters. The neophytes in particular are soul sick, haunted by the sensibility and morality (or lack thereof) of their human lives. But even my fiends can be honorable at times.That said, I don't show vampires as simply misunderstood. That can be done well, and I've read some really fun, kicky chick lit that uses the approach. But what fascinates me most about magic is not its power but its costs. What would we give up for this ability, and what price would be too high? For that price to matter, it must be more than superficial. It must somehow fundamentally affect who the character is.

6. I know you’ve mentioned a love for movie soundtracks (I look at my collection and wince because I have about thirty and counting!). Movie soundtracks have a natural cinematic rise and fall and every emotion in between. Some of my favorites are “Finding Neverland”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”, and “Moulin Rouge.” And it looks like we have something in common- “Xanadu”! What are some of your very favorite movie soundtracks? (And was it as hard for you as it was for me, to find “Xanadu”?)

I'm a fan of "My Fair Lady," "Grease," "The Blues Brothers," and "Rocky IV"—all great albums for the treadmill. I also find "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" hysterical. (I've been a huge Dolly Parton fan ever since I saw her on an elementary field trip to the American Royal Rodeo in Kansas City.) There's this amazing Barbra Streisand movie, "On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever," in which a rather mousy modern young woman returns to her glorious aristocratic past (and love) via hypnosis/memory retrieval. The transformation is completely over the top, and the songs are the kind that you can only sing in the shower (unless you have Streisand's voice, range, and aplomb), but the internal arc and juxtaposition are highly entertaining.And oddly, I've always had "Xanadu," like a blankie or something. I bought the record and then CD when it was first released. I've also found that dancing in the dark to that soundtrack is the ultimate writer's-block buster.

7. The 80’s seemed to give us a lot of movies with fantasy or Gothic themes, like “The Labyrinth”, “Willow”, “Legend”, “The Princess Bride”, “The Neverending Story”, “The Bride”… were any of these movies inspiration for you while working on your novel? And come on, how did you REALLY feel about Sting as Dr. Frankenstein?

The main influences on Tantalize (a full list is in the author's note) were the classic Bram Stoker novel Dracula and the play/film "My Fair Lady." With Stoker's work, I was intrigued by his choice to cast a Texan as one of Van Helsing's original vampire hunters and consequently inspired to bring the mythology "home" to Texas. With "My Fair Lady," it was that scene at the Embassy Ball when Eliza dances with the Prince of Transylvania. I saw it on stage at the Paramount Theater here in Austin while I was working on the manuscript and knew at that moment that my vampire novel should be a Pygmalion, or makeover, story. As for Sting, I'm a fan, but I generally prefer the old Universal Studios monster movies to most of the remakes (not that I'd miss one).

8. Have you branched out into other ‘writing’ forms, besides novels? Have you tried your hand at poetry or songwriting, for instance?

I write for most of the age categories in youth literature. In addition to YA novels, I'm published in the picture book, chapter book, and 'tween novel as well as middle grade and YA short stories. I've also done a number of critical articles and journalistic pieces.

9. I seem to collect names everywhere… the names of people I’ve met, places I’ve been, street names, food names… Do you have a similar habit? How important do you feel a character’s name is to a story?

I'm fond of stealing waiters' names. I've had the name of a girl who attended one of my signings for years—I just need a character worthy of it. A name's meaning and the way it sounds are quite important, as are the juxtaposition of the names of the full cast. One piece of advice for beginners is to vary your names my number of syllables, vowels, etc. to help your reader better track your key characters. Or if you really want a couple of characters to blur, give them very similar names.

10. How much fun did you have with menus in Tantalize? It seems like it should be a lot of fun to not only make up the vampire themed restaurant in the novel, but to get to build a menu too! And having a history working in restaurants, was this a little like your wish list of fun?

It was hysterical. My sometimes co-author and husband (who's the family cook) and I poured through cookbooks and historic references—old-school Romanian, Italian, and Texan. Call it fusion! We had stacks and stacks of materials and spent several days working on it and tweaking the final list. Working in restaurants, I was always intrigued by their theatrical aspect. Think about it: you walk into a themed otherworld with costumes and music and menus. Essentially, you step on stage. Plus the opportunities for sensory detail are extensive, and the vampire is very much about sensuality.

10. I read your fascinating advice, to write at least one scene from the point of view of your antagonist. If there was one real life antagonist (living or dead) that you could get into the mind of and figure out, who would it be?

Vlad Tepes Dracul of course.

Question from Derek Windle, songwriter: What's the future of the Vampire in literature...doomed or saved?

The vampire is (to work in the title of my next book) Eternal (Candlewick, 2009). The fashions of his/her depiction will vary over time, but the traditionally suggested themes of sensuality, selfishness, endless youth, being both in-and outside the world, redemption (or lack thereof), the mysterious/dangerous/foreign "other," and an existence outside the rules… These are themes that—for better and worse—endure.

Welcome to Writers Interviewing Writers!

For a long time I've thought that many interviews with writers are a little dry, a little predictable. It seems that we see the same set of questions (where do you get your ideas? How did you get published?) over and over. Certainly these questions are important and life-affirming for new writers that want to hear the stories of the lucky ones who 'got an idea' and 'got published." But there are many writers who would like to hear more about the specific tricks of style and promotion. Inspiration and polishing. Who better to ask these questions but curious writers?

This blog will feature interviews between writers in different genres, in different fields. We'll feature song writers, YA novelists, writers of fantastical short stories, fan fiction gurus, PR specialists and heroes of the role playing realms, among other things. Much in the style of Interview magazine, the interviews will be a source of inspiration and insight for writers and readers alike.

If you would like to be a featured writer- or would like to interview a writer- for this blog, please contact me!

Thank you for visiting and I hope you find this a sparkling and fun spot for creativity. Happy writing!