Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Conversation with Kelly Link, Holly Black, and Cassandra Clare

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.


  1. I haven't read these authors yet, but I found this post fascinating. You write with co-workers? That is awesome.
    And I've never actually been to a signing, my little Northern Ontario town doesn't get many big names.
    Great white paper comment! Hilarious.

  2. Great post! Thank you for sharing their nuggets of wisdom with us! :D

  3. You are so lucky!! Cassandra Clare is probably my favorite author. I loved reading this, very encouraging. I've only been to two signings and so I haven't had much chance to show how much of an idiot I am. But what I ask is how they make time for writing (before they were published and lived normal fam and work lives) and any encouragment they want to pass along to those of us not published yet. They both were so kind and helpful and really wanted to help fellow writers. They were Bree Despain and Lisa Mangum.
    Great post!

  4. I just finished City of Bones. I liked it, especially the twist at the end, but I'm hoping it's not true. I don't know what I'd say to a famous author - probably something stupid for sure. T hanks for sharing.

  5. I have a post up now. So sorry to delay. Blogger didn't post when scheduled. Bad blogger. And I have to admit this is an incredibly encouraging post. It's nice to hear the first book is the hardest. And that you can work with co-workers and that you can write and still be funny. And that maybe if you support each other enough you will be surrounded by co-workers and successful writer friends.

  6. Terry--I do have a few blogging friends that gather at the virtual chatting water cooler during the day. It makes me feel less solitary. And collaboration is a wonderful thing!

    I wonder if your own book signing will be your first one?

  7. Valerie--thanks. They were very funny, and had much wisdom to share.

    Crystal--Oh, you were so much more put together than I was! I'll have to remember those two questions. You would think that since I "interview" writers on my blog every Friday, that I would be able to figure out a good question to ask! :)

  8. I haven't read these books, but daughters have and like them..."like" because daughters are incredibly choosy. I do think working with people on books is very helpful, but only when the people you work with TELL THE TRUTH. A lot of critiquers are not completely honest, because they're trying to spare feelings. I went to an author's blog the other day and was nearly blinded by the colors she chose to use on the blog...colors she'd been using a loooong time. I wrote her right away about it, and after she pressed her friends, she was told that, yeah, the colors are harsh. She changed the colors and the blog is soooo much better. More honesty is what we writers need.

  9. Laura--It was my pleasure to share. I'm sure you'd say something respectful and put-together to a famous author. And, CITY OF BONES was pretty awesome!

  10. Tina--Thanks so much for the post--I'm excited to jump into Kelly Link's books. Thanks for being my co-worker! :)

    Anita--I hear you. I have an impossible time reading blogs with red words.

    I think that a culture of honesty is what we all need to get to the next level. I think that crit partners are afraid of how someone will react to honesty. I think there has to be a respectful trust on both ends. I'm so glad you told her about her blog colors.

  11. Thanks for the recap, Heather! It almost made up for the fact that I was too lame to attend. :-) It's so interesting how much all three writers rely on other people; I find that I've been doing that more the longer I write. I guess it takes a while to find the people who really help your writing along.

  12. Thank you for sharing. What a great post.
    I have something for you on my blog. It will be posted on Thursday.

  13. This was a great post! Loved the info you got from them! Thanks, Heather! :)

  14. Heather, your recap was PERFECT, a total gift in terms of things I needed to consider today. Thanks so much for taking such great notes and for sharing it.

  15. I'm embarrassed to say I've never read any of these authors! But it sounds like such a worthwhile, inspiring night!! Thanks for the recommendations and don't you just love seeing a favorite author sign a book just for you?!!

  16. Anna--I think that when you find other writers that help your writing along, I think that you grab on to those people. :) They're special!

  17. Christina--Thanks for the awesome award--it's beautiful!

    Larissa--My pleasure. I was the only there taking copious notes. I don't know why, they said such great stuff!

    Lori--I'm so glad this post hit the spot. The things that those authors said really spoke to me too.

    Kelly--It was so much fun! If only I could get over my tongue-tie-edness. I love book signings.

  18. Oh I am so jealous! My favorite is Cassandra Clare's Immortal Instruments Series. I love her blend of humor and dark fantasy. She sounds seriously funny in person too. I also admire Holly Black and admit I too don't know much about Kelly Link, but I'll have to check her out.

  19. Lisa--I was so impressed with all three. It's so wonderful when people that I admire live up to the admiration when I meet them in person. All three were so nice, and funny, and personable.