When and why did you become a writer? I decided to become a writer nearly 20 years ago midway through seventh grade after completing an English assignment. What was that assignment? To write a short sequel to Watership Down by Richard Adams. At the time, I considered it a long project - a total of 13.5 pages! - but found it exhilarating and identity-affirming. From there, I transitioned into the world of YA fiction and fell in love with Tamora Pierce and Philip Pullman. Through their writing I discovered the power of the narrative and how it could give a voice to anyone - an ancient and gnarled man, a warrior woman, or a societal outcast. I learned that stories could be vast and all-encompassing or set in a single room. The craft of creative writing allowed emotions and the complex psychology of characters to be expressed and analyzed. I fell in love with every aspect of it.
Where do you get your ideas? My ideas often stem from abstract concepts and are inspired by music. I studied music extensively throughout the first part of my life and even contemplated going into music theory and composition. So, musical expression really speaks to me. Soundtracks, music from indie artists, and compositions from foreign composers greatly influence my writing as music is another art form that can express emotion (an abstract concept) and convey it on an intimate level. If I hear a piece of music that showcases a fast tempo, pulsing rhythm and percussion, and a variety of melodies, I instantly see images in my mind, almost as though I'm watching a movie. The challenge is converting those "movie scenes" into writing!
What's your process for writing a novel? First, come up with a concept. Even the simplest idea can evolve into something grand. For instance, when brainstorming for Rhys of Earth, I knew I wanted to convey a sense of wonder and uncertainty. I wanted a protagonist who knew almost nothing to experience what it meant to be alive, to be human. The origins of this particular idea came very simply from teaching my advanced ESL classes. If I as an experienced teacher was having a difficult time explaining complicated concepts to a group of ESL adults, what would it be like to teach what it meant to be human to someone who knew nothing of Earth.
After you have a concept, come up with a main character and ask this one question - "What does he/she want more than anything in the world?" This will dictate their actions, their dialogue, and their place in the plot. Ask this question of every single character.
Can you give me some writing tips? Aside from the tips shared in the above question, I would offer this piece of advice - keep it real. No, I don't mean you can't write about some fictitious race conquering a fantastical world of elves. I mean, keep your characters real, keep their reactions real. Study the real-life people around you. How do they act in conflict? How do they move when they speak? Are they confident or weak-willed? Maybe they are introverted but become emboldened by friends. Study your friends and try to describe their personalities, their weaknesses and strengths. Keep it real. It's been said that writers reveal their own struggles, fears, dreams, etc. through their work. Which of your novels reveals the most about you? Every novel represents a part of me; every protagonist - male or female - embodies some of my personal qualities. As I age as a writer, my books reflect the trials and struggles of that time in my life. I wrote in The Empress' Consul and The Regent's Daughter extensively about coming-of-age from the viewpoint of an adolescent girl. The Assassin's Apprentice and The Emperor's Raven showcased a character whose identity was under attack; additionally, the concept of betrayal was significantly explored. Rhys of Earth focused on the conflicts that arise through religious differences and intolerance while its sequel, Rhys of Quadrant Six, reflected the chaos of current events in the real world. Ronan of Space centered on the parent-child relationship and the development of individuality.
Did you take any college creative writing courses? I took some creative writing classes in high school but none in college or graduate school. To be honest, though I won't ever dissuade anyone from taking such courses as they do offer fundamentals and tips, I found the best teacher to be life itself. All writing matures with age and experience. As you are exposed to more joys, conflicts, painful experiences, and people, you gain perspective and objectivity.
If you haven't taken some creative writing courses, then I encourage you to do so. But, don't forget to live and love.