What have you found to be your favorite part of the writing process?
I love that feeling when you discover a new idea and characters and you really get to dive in and figure out what this new world is going to be about. But I also think that each book has a different ‘favorite’ part. For my debut, drafting was absolutely my favorite. I’m working on the sequel now and it’s a totally different animal and the drafting is hard.
Is there a specific practice that helps you write?
I read this great newsletter by Susan Dennard. She does amazing newsletters for writers and she wrote about how sometimes you burn out, and you have to step away, and it's really important to refill your creative well, so sometimes when I get stuck I try not to berate myself too much, which is nice because before this I didn't really have deadlines. But I think stepping away and giving your brain a rest, playing video games if you like that, watching your favorite movies, just letting the storytelling part of your mind take a chill pill for a little bit. After that, if I come back with fresh eyes, it helps a lot. Sometimes I watch upcoming movie trailers, which is kind of hard now because of the virus, but I love watching movie trailers. I think they're amazing, they're like two minute pitches for books. Sometimes you see trailers and the movies end up sucking, but the trailer was so good! I like to use that as inspiration, like, if my book was a trailer, what would happen now? Usually I just do little things like that to try and get myself back into creative brain mode, but the most important thing is to take breaks.
To get a bit more of your thoughts on craft, what’s most important to you in a book— plot, characters, theme, setting — and why?
In a book I’m reading, I’d say compelling characters and plot are the most important. Mainly because I’ll read just about anything to find out what happens. In a book I’m writing, it’s hard to pick the most important thing! They’re all necessary to pull off a strong story and they all have to work together, otherwise the story will fall flat. To me, one’s not more important than the other. (But themes are probably the one I’m constantly working on. I feel like my high school English classes have not helped me enough with that!)
If you could swap places with a character (or many) who would it be?
Ahh, such a hard question! Someone with super powers or magic for sure! Is there a character who can create books magically without spending months in anguish over them? I’d like to be that character!
How do you manage life and other responsibilities alongside your writing? Many of us balance academics, work, etc with writing, so sometimes it can definitely get stressing. Are there any tips you have?
It is hard! The best tip I have is find what works for you and your brain. If you’re a list person, make lists! If you like time management tools, then use those. I find that what works for me is to have a set time for writing where I remove all distractions - no TV, no music, just writing. For drafting my last two books, I set aside 30 minutes to an hour as soon as I wake up first thing in the morning to do nothing but write. That way I can spend the rest of my day focused on work projects and other things (and I won’t feel guilty for not working on my writing!)
Whether drafting or revising, I usually set myself a goal and try to stick to it whether it’s writing a specific scene or revising one whole chapter. I also like to work in 20 minute sprints. I’ll do 20 minutes of my real job, then 20 minutes of writing. When I have multiple work projects (because I also pick up side gigs on top of my full time job), I usually do one task for a set amount of time, then switch to something else. Some days, I stick to it and other days are messier. I try not to beat myself up about the messy days!
Are there any messages you would want young writers to know? Like how to keep writing when it gets tough, how to deal with rejection, etc?
Writing (and life) do get tough and it’s important to take breaks for your own mental health. Listen to your needs! Writing is wonderful and fun but as a career it’s going to come with lots of rejection and opinions, that’s the nature of being in a creative career. You will get rejections. I think I got around 90 or so query rejections. Sadly, this is normal for writers trying to do traditional publishing.
Remember, there’s always going to be books you love and books you didn’t love. And that goes for readers of your own work. Some people are not going to resonate with your writing while others will become your biggest fans. Don’t write for the haters. Write for yourself, write for the people who love and support your work. Take rejections in stride. It’s totally okay to feel mad or upset or sad or any kind of way when you get a rejection. But don’t let those rejections stop you from writing what you love.
What inspired you to become an author?
I always loved to read. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a comic book creator because I loved stories and I loved to draw. Sadly, life and college and jobs took over and I sort of lost my passion for drawing. It took me a long time to get back into writing! When I moved back to the States after living abroad, I started reading more and more YA books about the same time as YA started getting bigger and bigger. This was right around the time of Percy Jackson and the Hunger Games. There were so many complex heroines and fascinating worlds. That’s what really inspired me. To create amazing and fun worlds and characters like the ones I was reading about.
For a base of young writers: when did you start writing? What genres have you written in before?
I only started seriously writing around 2014 so I was already in my late twenties! I guess my message is it’s never too early or too late to start. Being a writer doesn’t depend on age in the least; anyone can learn to write a story at any age. Some of my favorite writers are very young or started out very young. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re “too young” to be a good writer. That’s just not true (and rude!) As for genres, I’ve written YA fantasy and scifi books as well as adult mystery. I’m contemplating writing middle grade but still not sure about it!
What were some trials you faced in getting to this point, and what would you say to those who worry about those same obstacles?
The biggest obstacle for me was getting over the fear of sharing my work. It took quite a bit for me to show my stories to people other than my immediate family. Then I went to a writing conference and signed up to pitch my very first book to agents. Seriously, what was I thinking?! I’d written one book and had no idea what revisions were. I was absolutely so nervous. But somehow I managed to talk to them and after that sharing my work became a lot less scary. But the more people who share it with outside of your family or friend group, the better writer you will be for it. Find a critique partner or a beta reader! There are lots of online forums to find them on Twitter and on Instagram. You can look on the #writingcommunity or #findmywritingcommunity hashtags. It will be scary but you can do it.
Other obstacles were trying to figure out the best way to learn craft and also learn what resonates with my brain. I didn’t buy any craft books at first, I just learned everything I could by searching online. There are a TON of free resources out there! I saved money for a writing conference which totally changed my life but I know isn’t an option for everyone. You don’t need conferences or workshops or a degree to be a good writer. The more you learn about story from whatever resources you can, the better writer you’ll become. If you try one method and don’t get very far, keep reading. Keep trying. There is no one way to be a writer.
What first drew you to the science fiction genre?
I love classic sci-fi movies like Aliens and Terminator. I grew up reading Dune with my dad and watching 80s - 90s anime movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. My favorite TV show from high school is Dark Angel with Jessica Alba. So, science fiction played a huge part of my development growing up. There’s just something about sci-fi to me that’s so fun to write; you can do anything, go anywhere, be anyone. I actually started Cold the Night as a fantasy but I couldn’t figure out the heart of the story. When I switched it to sci-fi, the whole world suddenly fell into place and I got to play with all those fun tropes I grew up on.
Where did you draw inspiration for Cold the Night Fast the Wolves?
It all started with a tweet actually! Blair Braverman is an Iditarod sled racer and posts these great story threads about her experiences on the trail. (She also posts hundreds of adorable dog photos and stories too!) She described this one dark night where it seemed she was being chased by a demon and that image really stuck with me. Then when I started developing a story around this girl sled-racing with her wolf, I pulled in elements from books about wolves and humans I’d read growing up: Call of the Wild, Stone Fox, White Fang, so many!
What kind of research did you put into developing this world?
I watched a lot of YouTube videos on dog sledding and the Iditarod as well as documentaries about the Iditarod. I read accounts of sledders on the trail and the types of dangers and trials they face. I learned as much as I could about how far dogs can pull a sled in a day, how much weight they can bear, what the different parts of sleds are. I was living in Louisiana at the time where it never snows so I watched lots of videos of people just filming themselves as they go dog sledding in the icy wilderness. I researched hypothermia, how to treat injuries in freezing conditions, how to survive in the tundra. If you’re stuck in the snow with no food or water, don’t eat the snow! It will only make you colder!
How did it feel to achieve something sometimes thought of as miraculous — getting published with the exciting venture of a two-book deal?
It’s funny, I was riding high on the elation from the book deal -- that more than six years of hard work finally paid off -- for at least a month. Then reality set in and I realized that the hard work never stops. All of the steps to traditional publishing are just steps to new levels. Getting an agent usually means more revisions then months of anguish while on submission with publishers. Then, if your book sells (which is miraculous!), there are more revisions and work to be done with your editor. Then, it’s working on the next book to sell (which might not!) As a career choice, trying to break into traditional publishing is extremely risky. I don’t say that to discourage writers, I say that to help them realize that nothing about this process is easy. You have to love it and accept that it will be hard and full of rejection. Always keep writing, keep working towards that next book. The only way you won’t succeed, is if you give up.
What do you hope young people pull from your debut?
I hope young people get inspired by the science fiction elements! There’s so much fantasy in YA and not enough sci-fi and I’d be honored if my book helps expose people to a genre they might not normally read! As for the story itself, Sena’s journey is about finding a family when she’s lost everything, even though that family doesn’t look like what she expects it to. Hint, it shows up in the form of a very cranky wolf named Iska. It’s about Sena finding strength within herself to conquer whatever crazy things the ice planet full of predators might throw at her. Things like ice goblins and evil gangsters and giant bears! I hope readers enjoy the wild ride and I really hope that Sena and Iska’s story resonates with young people.
What makes writing rewarding for you?
I love imagining made up places. I think that's what starts it, just creating things and imagining a world where there's magic or spaceships or genetically hybrid wolves, whatever you like. And once you get into it, I think it's really rewarding to have other people read your work and say, "This is great! This made me feel things, I love it." That is part of it, but it's not the only thing. I don't just live for people to tell me that it's good, I love it for myself. If I make myself feel something then I've accomplished the goal.
What would you say to like people who feel that way that they're not good enough to write?
It's really hard not to compare. Even as I sold my debut this year, some of my friends have made three sales. One of my friends sold a trilogy and a middle grade, and it's really hard for me not to feel like a failure, like I might not be selling enough, but those thoughts are normal. They're going to happen, and every time they do I let them go by for a little bit and then I tell myself everybody's different. It's not my journey, that's their journey, and I am happy, I'm always happy for them. I always remind myself that that's okay, maybe I'll sell a book next year and that'll be fun. but it's not a competition. Writing isn't a competition, there is room for everybody. The more people that we have that are writing interesting, diverse new stories, the better everybody gets. It's a matter of accepting those thoughts and pushing them aside and reminding yourself that it's not a competition. Just because somebody else sells a bunch of books, it doesn't mean that my book isn't going to sell.
Do you have any other works in progress right now?
I have a couple of novel ideas that I'm plotting on the side that I hope, once I finish my sequel, I'll be able to jump into. I want to write like an adult thriller, I want to write more sci fi, and spy stuff. We'll see. I drafted a book over quarantine. That was about Dracula so who knows. Vampires are making a comeback, I think.
By Jacqueline Lan, Thanisha Chowdhury, Jade Butler, and Paris LeClaire