I never dream about my characters unless I dream that they are ahead of me in line at the supermarket and they have too many items and I'm annoyed. --Cassandra Clare
Recently I had the pleasure of being in a room with Kelly Link, Holly Black, and Cassandra Clare. I shared the room with many fans and aspiring writers, and with a hat passed around for questions. And the proceeds benefited a local children's hospital, and it took place in the sister store of my favorite Indie bookstore. It really doesn't get much better than that. A couple of things became abundantly clear during the course of the evening. One: These three authors are excellent at what they do. Two: They are each very funny in their own right. Three: They chose to pursue writing not as a solitary effort, but as a career with coworkers.
That last one was an invaluable piece of confirmation for me. Since I started writing with coworkers--and I don't mean Alpha's and Beta's and people who from time-to-time read my writing, and tell me when I've jumped the shark or used passive voice--my writing has really gotten back on track. Our office is a virtual one, but nonetheless, being able to bounce questions and ideas and frustrations off other writers is immensely helpful.
Cassandra Clare, Kelly Link and Holly Black like to share office space with one another, or at least work in the same building. They talked about running ideas past each other before they put words on the paper. About passing notebooks and computers around. About helping each other not get into the solitary writing process that can make you get snagged on a single sentence and not move forward.
Other nuggets of wisdom by the fantastic three:
I think you write the book that you wish someone else had written for you so you wouldn't have to write it yourself.--Holly Black
You wouldn't want to eat a bucket of frosting.--Cassandra Clare (in answer to the question about writing a book based on a secondary character)
And, when someone in the audience asked if writing novels ever gets any easier, Cassandra answered that everyone has that voice that tells you to just give up. That voice never goes away, especially when you try to write something new or different. She expounded on the importance of crit partners and relying on them to tell you when you're writing is going astray. She said that she doesn't believe that it get's any easier, but that if you've finished writing a book, then you are in the top 2% of people out there writing. You can tell yourself that if you've done it once, then you can do it again. Holly Black chimed in to say that the first book is the toughest, since it teaches you how to write a book. She says that it is never that hard again.
Kelly Link talked about how important it is to develop an intuition about what is useful with critiques. To trust your instincts.
Cassandra followed that up by paraphrasing Neil Gaiman, who said that when someone tells you something is wrong, they're probably right. And when they tell you how to fix it, they are probably wrong. I loved that!
I also loved hearing these women talk about their personal writing processes--Cassandra uses only two fingers to type, and outlines using a "micro plot" which goes scene by scene through the book, chronologically, and she bounces these scenes off of other writers. Kelly Link stressed how she likes to talk with other writers about ideas before even starting a story, to pass her computer around, and ask questions to other writers when she hits snags. Holly Black talked about how she writes the first chapter, then revises it, writes the second chapter, then re-revises the first and the second, and then writes the third...and that talking to other writers throughout the process is crucial.
Did I mention that they were really funny, and likened a critique group with fight club?
I have been a big fan of Holly Black's works (as is my oldest son), and Cassandra Clare's first book of The Mortal Instruments, CITY OF BONES was one of my favorite reads of 2009. I didn't know much about Kelly Link, aside from some quick research I did before going to the book signing, but fellow blogger Tina raves about Kelly, and even offered to do a post about her books, so, please check it out!
Did I mention that there were Lindor Truffles (my favorite!) at the signing, and that I won a book bag? Yes, it was an awesome night. My only regrets are that I forgot to snap a picture of these awesome ladies, and that I got all tongue tied when it was my turn to get my books signed. Seriously, I should get out of the blogosphere more often. It was a bit embarrassing. I think I told Kelly Link that her book's pages were just the right shade of white. I mean really?! Honestly, the stress of coming up with something worthwhile to say, coupled with the pressure I feel to not take up too much time out of respect for the people behind me in line, really fries my brain.
So, tell me. What are your favorite books by these three? What do you ask or talk about when you have 30 seconds of an author's ear? What was your biggest author related faux pas? C'mon! Make me feel better!
Heather's disclaimer: I tried to get the quotes as close to verbatim as possible, but I was taking notes with pen and paper. I apologize in advance for any mistakes in the quotes, or in my interpretation of the authors' answers.