Hypable: That’s really interesting. I wondered when I read this series, if, because it is so complexly developed, it would start the other way, with the world coming first and then that inspiring the characters.
LT: Yeah, it so didn’t. I used to always do my world building up front. I would happily spend weeks and weeks, because then I didn’t have to do the hard part, which was the storytelling. I never let myself do that with this. I would wait until I needed to know something and then I would decide what I needed to know. I didn’t even know, it was always question driven.
From that first day, Brimstone had a wishbone around his neck that she wasn’t allowed to touch, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t know what he did with the teeth. I had questions, and I tried to answer them, and it started to come into focus. I didn’t know what was on the other side of his locked door. So then I followed all those questions.
In Days of Blood and Starlight, a new character is introduced towards the end. I knew her as a queen of another culture and I knew she would become important in Dreams, but I didn’t make myself decide what she would be like until she appeared in a scene. Because you can decide, a character is going to be like this and come up with a list of adjectives, but it’s so much better to start writing a scene and give them something to do and interact with. That’s one of the most memorable moments of writing Dreams of Gods and Monsters, just writing her a scene and seeing what happens.
Hypable: You don’t make decisions about characters until they are at a point when they need to do something.
LT: Well there are things I know, there are story beats that I know. But if I try to decide everything upfront, I think there’s a limit to what your imagination could do on any given day. So over the course of a year and a half of writing a book, if I tried to decide everything that was going to happen in January, that’s cutting off everything I might create in February, March, April. I leave it, it’s a problem for another day until I can fully sink my brain into it.
Hypable: So how does that affect your view of the characters outside of the narrative? Because there seems to be two very set points of view, which I think of as the J.K. Rowling view, where you can ask her any question about any character, and she can tell you exactly what they are doing after the series. Then there’s the John Green point of view, which says the book is finished, and anything after that is up to the reader. Where do you fall on that spectrum?
LT: I’m more in the John Green I guess. I didn’t know that he had said that. But I think it’s more interesting to leave it to the reader to decide. I had a reader ask me sort of angrily why I ended Dreams of Gods and Monsters where I did, why didn’t I let it go on for another hour. “What exactly are Karou and Akiva doing?” Well, first of all, it’s a YA book. But it’s not even a question of that. I think you feel it instinctively and intuitively, where is the ending. After a certain point, it feels gratuitous, it feels anti-climactic, you’ve already finished.
And as a reader, I’ll often want to see that next scene, but I can imagine it. It’s more interesting that way, and as a writer, it’s self-indulgent, I guess, to keep going after you’ve done what you set out to do, just because you want to see the characters kiss again or whatever. You need to know where to end it. For me, it’s always a matter of instinct, like this feels like the end of the story. Obviously it keeps going, but I can’t.
Hypable: Do you feel like that self-indulgence extends if you were to answer a reader if they asked you what did happen after the book ended?
LT: Yeah I would never – well, I don’t know. I have a sense of things, but even if I did think I knew, I wouldn’t tell. There is a little bit of a clue, and hints in the epilogue of Dreams of Gods and Monsters of what they go on to do, so I think we know. Maybe I’ll tell that story, but I don’t think I’d tell it through Karou and Akiva’s point of view – I don’t think, maybe I would. Never say never. I wouldn’t attempt to tell it because I am a writer. Things develop for me in words on a screen, not, you know-
Hypable: In a conversation.
Hypable: Okay, a few quick questions to finish. We have one from twitter:
— Cecily Tiernan (@CecilyGrace) September 3, 2014
LT: That was one of the hardest parts. I could imagine what an individual person’s response would be, but I felt a little out of my depth trying to figure out what the political and military response would be, because I don’t know. What would the world leaders do if that happened? I didn’t really want to focus on that too much anyway, I just wanted it to try and seem plausible, like maybe this is what they would do. But I guess I’m always just trying to figure out what would really happen.
I don’t know that I always get it right, but that’s what I’m trying to figure out. It was really important to me to view that experience through a human’s eyes, so that’s where the character of Eliza came from initially. Initially she was just a human viewpoint character through which to witness the arrival. I had a sense that she should have a larger role than that, but I didn’t know what that would be, and then it really look on a life of its own.
Hypable: If you could have any wish, what would it be?
LT: Any wish? Well, I guess it would be that I, and all of my loved ones, would live 500 years at least.
Hypable: What about a fun one, if everything was taken care of.
LT: Everyone’s healthy? Flying.
Hypable: Flying or wings?
LT: Oh, wings.
Hypable: Basically the best cosplay you could ever have.
LT: I know, right?
Hypable: And I read that you’re a big Harry Potter fan, well, who isn’t? I thought, we should sort some of your characters into Hogwarts houses.
LT: Well let’s see. I think Karou is pretty obviously a Gryffindor. Zuzana, I don’t know. She could maybe be Slytherin, or Gryffindor. She’s like Harry, she could go either way. Who else? Mik’s maybe a Hufflepuff. Akiva is a Gryffindor, I think.
Hypable: Not Slytherin? Why Ravenclaw?
LT: Because he’s a scholar. He’s not evil!
Hypable: Slytherins aren’t all evil!
LT: Kind of.
Hypable: No way.
LT: Oh, you’re a Slytherin! Cunning, then. No, I think he’s Ravenclaw.
Hypable: And what are you?