Friday, November 29, 2013

An interview with author Michelle Zink

Back in 2009 the Borders Staff had the privilege of meeting author Michelle Zink.  Her first book The Prophecy of the Sisters was about to launch and she wanted to use our bookstore for her launch party.  As the Assistant Manager it was my job to make sure the event went off without a hitch.  What I didn't realize was that I would end up becoming friends with her.  She became a huge part of our Borders family.  She again came to our store for the release of The Guardian of the Gate.  We had an event set up for the final book in the Prophecy series when the bad news came down that we were liquidating.  

I actually found out Borders was closing from her twitter feed, which was devastating to me.  She came to support us during our last week of business, bringing us goodies to cheer us up. Michelle is truly a special member of the Borders family and we try to do what we can to support her as an author and a friend.  I miss talking shop with her like we used to.  We would stand in the middle of the Young Adult section and just talk about what authors were doing well and what wasn't.  

Part of this interview was supposed to be published back in April 2012, but unfortunately due to issues on both ends (including the early birth of my daughter) it never got done.

So here is our interview with Michelle.  and when you're done reading this, make sure to enter our giveaway for her latest book This Wicked Game.  

1) Alan: If someone (let’s just say it’s a middle aged man who reads a lot of mystery/thrillers and suspense - not that I can think of anyone like that off the top of my head) asked you to recommend one of your own books, which one would you pick, and why? 

Lol. ;) Right now I'd probably suggest starting with Prophecy of the Sisters. It's very much a classical fantasy/mystery in the vein of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, with a paranormal twist, and the next two books, Guardian of the Gate and Circle of Fire, have a quest-type element a la Lord of the Rings. That said, I have a couple of thrillers in the works that haven't been announced yet. 

2) Claire: Could you explain the process you go through while writing a book?

Drafting is such an organic process for me that it's hard to quantify, but let me see if I can try. Once I have an idea, I start by fleshing out the main character -- their motivation, appearance, psychology, etc. After that I look at the inciting incident and surrounding events, which helps me figure out where the book should be begin. In YA especially, you really don't have the luxury of a big build up. I try to start my books as close to the inciting incident as possible to draw the reader in quickly. Once I have all of that nailed, I move onto supporting characters, major plot points, and themes, if any (sometimes a theme doesn't reveal itself to me until I begin writing). The last thing I do before I begin drafting is create a Sequence of Events. This is a list of big things that must happen to get me from the beginning of the book to the end (I often have the last line in my mind before I even start writing). The sequence of events has been transformative. By allowing me to see all the big things that must happen, the book kind of reveals itself as I figure out how to get as expeditiously as possible from one major thing to the next. 

3) Claire: Where do your ideas come from and how exactly do you turn them into stories?

Now THAT is organic. I get ideas everywhere, nearly everyday. They can come from movies, stories in the newspaper, things I see my teenagers go through, memories of my own adolescence, and sometimes out of thin air. 

4) Claire: What is next on your agenda?
I have a book/TV option with ABC that I can't talk about, two new books coming out with HarperCollins (2015 and 2016), an adult book in process, and several YA ideas that I'm toying with. I've also been lucky enough to have some out-of-the-box opportunities, like writing for app companies and working on companion novels or "punch ups" of book/TV tie ins (a punch up is where one person writes a book or script and another is hired to make it better, or "punch it up"). I'd love to write literary fiction for adults, but right now I'm focusing on the projects in front of me. I'm also toying with the idea of trying my hand at self-publishing and/or writing more semi-erotic fiction (as in my Shadowguard novella series). Sorry you asked yet? :)

5) Jenn N: After reading your biography I noticed that you started writing later in life. What gave you the courage to pursue a new, challenging career and what advice can you give to other 30 somethings wishing they weren’t stuck behind a desk all day?

I've always been a writer, I just lost my way trying to make a living. Lol. First and foremost, determine if there's any way you can give yourself more time to pursue your goal. Can you downsize your lifestyle at all? Live less expensively so that you might work a less demanding job? I sold my house in California and moved my family to an inexpensive rural town, then sold antiques online to make a living while I wrote. It was terrifying but I was very determined not to spend my life doing something I didn't enjoy. That might not be possible for everyone, but in almost every case, compromises CAN be made to make more time an achievable goal. If that's not possible, create a schedule that sets aside time for your goal every single day. I live and die by mine, and I always have. Back when my kids were small and I had to sell antiques to make a living (which involved spending a lot of time at auctions, taking pictures, listing stuff, packing stuff, etc.), I wrote every night from 9pm to 3am. I gave up TV in 2006 when I was revising Prophecy of the Sisters, because I was determined to become published and just couldn't justify the time away from achieving my goal ( I wrote five books in two and a half years that way. Prophecy was the fifth). Even if you're working a day job, you can build in an hour for yourself every day. That hour should be sacred -- no TV, no social networking, no email. Just focus on doing something to meet your goal for on hour (or however much time you can eek out) a day. With writing, you can write 1,000 words an hour once you get in the habit. That's a book every 2-3 months working one hour a day. Lastly, don't let anyone tell you it isn't possible. It is never too late to reinvent yourself.

6) Rebecca: I know your kids are pretty involved in promoting and such. I was wondering how much they are involved and what they think about having a mom who writes young adult. Also how does having teenagers in the house impact your writing. Do you draw inspiration from them and their friends?

My older two kids are in college now, and they're very busy with their own projects (art and writing respectively). My younger two are less interested (one of them is a political junkie and the other an aspiring filmmaker). Plus, I think the novelty of having an author for a mom has worn off in the face of the not-very-glamourous reality (deadlines, work in your pajamas, mass quantities of caffeine and candy, etc.). They absolutely inspire my writing, even if it's just a seed from something that happens to them or something I hear them talking about. I try to be careful not to pilfer directly, but I do gain inspiration by being around young people so much, and I find that I have more New Adult ideas now that my older two are in college. 

7) Jessica P: Which of your books is your favorite?

The Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy is really the story of my heart. It has the most of me in it, and it's the book that changed my life. 

Jessica P: Do any of your books stand out as being easy or hard to write?

Alice in Prophecy of the Sisters and Raum in A Temptation of Angeles were both challenging. I don't like to create cookie-cutter villains, so I really worked to make them nuanced and human and three-dimensional. One of the things I'm most proud of is Alice winning Best Villain against Lord Voldemort in the Teen Reads Awards, not just because of the award, but because even as people were truly afraid of her, I received emails almost daily from readers who said they felt sorry for her. I consider that a writing win. 

9) Jessica P: Which character from your books would you invite to dinner, and why?

There is a very mysterious character in my upcoming 2015 book with whom I'd love to chat. ;)

10) Jessica P: Are there any authors out there who inspired your writing at all?

So many! Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Janet Fitch, Margaret Atwood, Michael Koryta, Sarah Waters, Lois Duncan. The list goes on! 

11)  What is your favorite tv show?

Six Feet Under will forever and always have my heart.

12)  What type of movie do you like to watch?

We're movie fanatics! I like movies that do something different, which makes Indies a favorite. Lately I've loved Beasts of the Southern Wild, Cloud Atlas, Prisoners, The Master, Twelve Years a Slave. I'm also a sucker for a good inspirational film or tear jerker (Invictus, The Blind Side) and enjoy the occasional smart comedy. 

13) Do you ever get influenced by music while you are writing?

All the time! I purposefully choose film scores that mimic the atmosphere I want in the book I'm writing. They become the "soundtrack" of that novel, and it really helps me stay true to my original vision for the book. 

14) What would be your perfect last meal?

Some kind of mexican food. 

15)  Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Plenty! I love the occasional trashy erotic romance (Black Dagger Brotherhood anyone?), HGTV while I wrap Christmas presents with my girls, A "fruit salad" that my grandmother used to make in the midwest that is little more than apples, oranges, bananas, walnuts and mayonnaise (don't judge!), and probably worst of all, Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos. ;) 

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