Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Each One Teach One" Interview - YA/MG Author Kathleen Duey talks Research and Setting.

We’re finishing the second half of our Interview with Children’s/YA amazing Author Kathleen Duey this week. Kathleen has written more than 80 books for children, middle graders and teens.  Last week and this week we’re using Kathleens’ dark YA Trilogy “A Resurrection of Magic” – the first book of which is the fabulous Skin Hunger – as our textbook as we discuss the craft of writing. J So, welcome! Let’s jump back in:

Kathleen, how would you recommend that writers can keep track of the various aspects of a complex fantasy world? For example, in this trilogy, how do you remember what the caves look like, and how far apart things are, and what the travel is like between places? I see a lot of little notes and visuals all around you in your office in the photo above.  What kind of notes or visuals do you create to help keep all the details of your story straight? Can you recommend a system?

I don’t have any systems.  Every book seems to need different things. I often draw maps that include distance scales when the venue is too big to remember—as this current one is. The cliffs in these books are a massive honeycomb of passages and chambers, the result of centuries of magicians living there and they reflect centuries of the progression of what magic can do.  Maps and sketches are usually part of my development process, regardless of genre. Drawing seems to help me discover things making a list wouldn’t have. I wrote a timeline for this trilogy, too, just to keep things straight.

Timelines and maps. It sounds like you use a lot of visuals. That reminds  me of what  Tolkien did for his very complicated Lord of the Rings Trilogy too.  As a reader I was always fascinated by the maps of the lands that the publisher actually  included in the books to help readers keep track visually of the distance between places as well. Great suggestion on visuals!

 On a separate theme, I know you’ve done quite a bit of research which has helped you make these books believable and realistic, and has helped us as readers find your book "worlds" believable.  Some of us love and others hate research.  Yet research is so very important to bring believability to fiction.  Just for fun, can you give us a list of some of the topics you researched in order to write this trilogy? (I know you’ve also studied up on many other topics for some of the other 70-some children’s books you have written J)!

I like research.  No.  I LOVE research. My middle grade books are often historicals. Research almost always suggests character or plot details. I also draw from my own life, like every other writer on the planet. Some of the topics below were researched online, others involved interviewing random strangers on airplanes or by phone or email.  Some included buying and reading old musty books.

Partial Research List:

Effects of sleep and light deprivation

Cheese making

Goat breeds

Utopian communities/communes

Long term effects of memory loss

Buskers and Street performers


Flight dynamics

Stick and Sword fighting

Gender identity

Crowd hypnosis

Near death experiences

Contemporary magicians

Circular breathing

Contact juggling

Oh my! So, is `contact juggling' what people do at night when they’re removing the contacts from their eyes and putting them into little white case with the solution? Or does that mean people actually juggling other people? J Either way it sounds very tricky!  Also, exactly how many breeds of goats did you actually used in your story?  What fun topics! 

 Here’s another question: You do a great job of mixing in dialogue and action in combination with descriptions of the setting (for example in pages 1-5 of Skin Hunger - read them here by clicking the book and selecting "first pages"). Can you give any tips on knowing when too much description is way too much, and when we need to start sticking in some action?

 Thank you again!  I have gotten better at this, I think. I would love to rewrite that passage and trim a little more…. This is something I almost always address with the people I critique/consult. A created world gives the writer WAY too many excuses to describe things that stop the story, and muddle/obscure/drown out  the character’s real voice—but I have read long, detailed descriptions of contemporary high schools that do the same thing.
I don’t have a set of rules about any part of writing, and for some writers and readers, lyrical description is a sign of literary merit.  I think that anything that makes the reader remember they are reading is probably a bad idea, even if they step out of the story to admire my prose. If writing long graceful description helps you see and feel the story, do it. Consider deleting a lot of it in your second drafts to better serve the story itself.

Wow – great advice! I love the last two lines you wrote there -- "if it helps you see and feel the story, do it," and then later consider deleting a lot of it. That's a great technique and reminds us that that story is really all about the readers in the end.  This has been very helpful. Thanks Kathleen!

Is there an additional gem of wisdom that you’d like to give to other authors about writing or logistics of the profession? 
Yes.  No one expects an artist to sell his first painting to a museum collection. Or his twentieth. None of us think amazing musicians practiced alone in their rooms for six months, then went on tour. Find teachers. Read about your art. Go to conferences and workshops. Expect a 5-10 year learning curve. The market is drowning in books that aren’t ready and there are way too many broken-hearted writers. Take care of yourself.  Learn. Work hard, don’t rush.

Wow! That was said perfectly!  I knew there was a reason I liked you, Kathleen!
So, how old were you when you first started writing? Will you tell us about one of your first writing attempts – even if you were just 8 years old? J  How did it go? 

My  4th grade teacher was my first “reader.” I brought her overly-dramatic stories about heroic girls and their horses, usually near the end of the world or in a terrible snowstorm.  She told me that if I worked hard all the way through school and beyond, and if I got lucky and managed not to give up, she thought I might be able to publish a book one day.  Encouragement and reality.  Oh how grateful I am for both, Mrs. Fredericksen.  Thank you.

Tell us about one of your favorite current or recent projects that you’ve worked on.

I am very excited about this Resurrection of Magic trilogy . I will cry when I send it off, which will be SOON. I am on chapter 77 as I write this, with 2 or 3 more chapters to go. (You can be notified about the release of the book here. ) I will then start two new projects, one for YA and one for MG.  Both are distinct and weird and will be hard to write.  Can’t wait!!!  

Distinct and Weird.  Those sound great! We’ll look forward to reading them!

Huge congrats on finishing of the Resurrection of Magic Trilogy.  I’m sure that ending the series is a wonderful high and also will feel like letting a part of your soul walk out the door to the publishing house when the unpublished manuscript leaves your desk for the last time!  We look forward to seeing how it all turns out in the end!  Fingers crossed, Sadima!
Thanks  again for a great interview. Kathleen!  Not only did we cover “world building” as description of place, but you showed us how the characters and the world impact each other and can and should be seamlessly woven together! Now we're all going to run off and try to do that!

Next Saturday I'll be at the SCBWI Carolinas 20th Anniversary Conference in Charlotte, NC., and will send out a brief report from there, including names of the winners of our great book give-away!  Keep your eyes peeled for more great author interviews coming up after the conference. Experienced authors will continue sharing with us on specific themes, and we'll all learn together. 

Thanks again, so much, Kathleen, for your great tips on World Building, Research, and mixing action and characterization properly amidst description of place.  You're awesome! 

For those readers who want to learn more about Kathleen's books and her craft don't forget to check out her fabulous website and blog, or follow her on facebook. See you next week!
- Janelle


Carol Baldwin said...

Janelle and Kathleen-
Thanks for a great interview and for linking to Kathleen's book. I bookmarked it so that I could study how exposition and dialogue were combined. Kathleen- you are a great writer and I still have some of your "earliest" (I think) words autographed to my now-grown children. Thanks for the 5-10 year learning curve stat. That's where I'm at!
Janelle-- I'm excited to meet you in person next weekend. Make sure you introduce yourself to me!!

Pam Zollman said...

Enjoyed the interview. Thanks, Janelle and Kathleen, for sharing it. There's some great advice for beginning writers, and I'll point my students to this post. I just discovered this blog, and I plan to return soon.

Pam Zollman

Janelle said...

Hi Carol, thanks so much for your continued fabulous support of this interview series. Everytime I turn around I see you spreading the word on facebook or elsewhere. So thank you!:)

Janelle said...

Hi Pam! Thrilled to have you here! Thanks for passing the news on to your students!

Yes, I agree that Kathleen really has given some great advice here -- even for those of us who are no longer 'beginners'. lol.

Linda A. said...

Thumbs up and thanks to Kathleen and Janelle. Well done.