Hypable: I read that you always knew that you wanted to be a writer. Can you talk about how that developed from being an aspiration into a reality?
LT: It took a long time. I’ve always, always wanted to be a writer, and believed I would be, and had faith that it would work out even when, for years, I wasn’t actually making myself do any writing. It’s sort of funny how I believed that I would come back to it, and had faith that I really was a writer, even though I didn’t write. It was back in my early 30s – I had dabbled, but I had really stopped to do art instead, because I had not been having fun writing, I hadn’t found my voice.
Then in my early 30s it gradually started dawning on me that if I was going to do it, I would have to at some point actually start doing it. It had to become more painful not to do it than to do it, and I hit that point. I started going to writers conferences, and just started learning how to be strict with myself and overcome the creative issues. Over the course of a few years I finally focused, and chose one of my ideas, and finished it, and wrote a novel.
Hypable: So for you it was more about putting in some kind of structure for yourself?
LT: Yeah, it was really hard for me, as it is for many people. I love to revise, and first drafts are really hard, so I didn’t really have any strategies for coping with that. I slowly started developing them over the course of that first novel. Like, “I’m going to do it, other people do it, I can do it too.” And then trying different things – anything except staring at a blank screen. I gradually cobbled together some strategies that I am still refining and still changing. It’s not that it’s easy now, but I have a lot of things I can try if it gets hard.
Hypable: You have more of a process now. Were there any particular writers from those conferences who were especially influential or helpful?
LT: What I was specifically going to was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) annual conference in Los Angeles. The one I remember being the most critical in helping me frame and finish my first novel, which was a middle-grade book, was an author named Dan Greenburg who writes even younger than that, middle-grade series. I wasn’t really familiar with him as a writer, but his workshop was just so good in giving you a way to think about your process in a helpful way, and make it better.
I think a lot of people when they go to writers conferences, they want to know how to get published, they’re not worried about craft so much. They’re like, “who can I meet,” whereas I realised the true value was in workshops were you learn how to make your book better, and that the publishing pieces all fall into place when you’ve got a good book, so that’s what you need to focus on. It’s the craft of writing. So I did.
I think actually hearing writers speaking about craft ended up being the most valuable thing, but I did meet my agent there at that same conference, over the course of several years going to it. And every editor that I’ve ended up working with I heard speak at that same conference, so I knew what books they were looking for and what they were like. I knew who I wanted to send the manuscripts to.
Hypable: So your specific advice for people who share your dream of being a writer would be, “just do it”?
LT: Just do it! Learn to finish things, that’s really important. If you can go to conferences, it really makes it feel like a real career. In the early days, not being around other writers, it didn’t feel like a real job, it felt like a fantasy. But when you go to a conference, you’re surrounded by people who are making a living, and editors who are actually looking for books, and it was really inspiring. You just want to be that person that breaks through. And also, you meet your soul mates – your kindred spirits – and get a writers group together. Learning to finish things, and learning to revise, and learning to write a good book.
Hypable: That might be easier said than done. As you mentioned, you have your graphic novel with your husband, and some new book ideas – what is next for you?
LT: I have a young adult book that I’m writing that’s very different. It’s science fiction with a historical setting in 1960s New York City. I can’t really talk more about it, it’s too early. I can never talk about books in any detail when it’s this early. I freak myself out, so that’s it. Then also, there’s an adult book I’d like to write – or I have been off and on writing. That will be my next book after this one.
Hypable: How far into the process are you for the historical young adult?
LT: I’ve been playing with it for a while. I sold it in the spring. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and doing that early development writing, trying to figure out who the characters are. I’ve sort of started, over the years, to think of those early days as generating raw material, rather than “this is chapter one.” Where I start writing never ends up being the beginning of the book – it’s chapter 11, or even later. So just trying to start getting a feel for it, I’ve been doing that for a while, and doing research.
Hypable: I was curious when I was reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone, does your research ever culminate as “oh, I need to go to Prague and spend a lot of time there”?
LT: No. I had been to Prague years before I decided to use it as a setting, but I wasn’t able to justify going back. And then I hadn’t been to Morocco, I went after. I haven’t actually chosen a setting and then gone there, but the adult book, after having gone to Mexico last winter – I already knew what the book was going to be, but I decided to set part of it at least in this house I stayed in. So that was cool, but again, it was the result of having gone. I definitely can imagine wanting to go somewhere and then setting a book there.
Hypable: Oh, I know authors who have done that.
LT: I think it’s a great reason!
Hypable: Do your characters ever surprise you?
LT: Yes. It didn’t used to happen. This trilogy has ben an education in that for me. I used to hold on so tight and be so carefully planned that nothing surprised me, because I was in control. Then Daughter of Smoke and Bone came – I had begun very consciously to do free writing exercises, and I had cofounded an online writing community in 2006 to do more free writing. I was really trying to loosen up, and have more fun, and generate ideas, and all those things I knew I needed to do as a writer. Over the course of that I was writing stories that I had so much fun doing, and that became my book Lips Touch, as well as other stories.
Then I sat down just to have a day of fun writing, and Karou and Brimstone appeared. Some of those ideas, like the teeth, came from other free writing exercises. So it was really the culmination of purposeful free writing and trying to get into that. That was the first time I had characters that really just appeared and started guiding the story. It was so great, it was so fun, so now I am always trying to make that happen. Trying to get in a place where the characters do come alive and direct the story, and I’m trying to get out of the way and let it happen.