Learning: Always Ask Questions

Houck, Viguie, Holder, and Dessen at the MBFI

I mentioned yesterday that one of the best ways to gather reliable information is to directly question experts in the field. When you’re talking about something as subjective as writing, though, who can really be considered an “expert”? Do they need a degree? Does having one book published make you an expert or do you not gain expert status until your publications number in the double digits? Who knows? I definitely don’t and it’s probably not a good idea to waste time trying to come up with a universally acceptable definition.

You won’t always be able to meet face to face with a published author, but luckily you have the internet! The internet houses places like the Booktopia Blog which has a list of Ten Terrifying Questions and a huge list of authors who have taken the time to answer them. Browse through the list and you may be surprised by the names you’ll find. Fiction, mystery, romance, young adult, and pretty much everything else are represented on this list and you can learn a lot by looking through the answers they give. Below I’ve copied the answers of young adult author Lauren Kate who wrote Fallen, Torment, and the upcoming Passion.

And, just an fyi, I will be taking the next three days off, but look for a new post on Tuesday! The first of the new year!

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Dayton, Ohio, but moved to Dallas, Texas when I was two. I grew up in Dallas (where my family still lives, so it’s technically “home” to me). When I was eighteen, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia to go to Emory University. Emory is not far from Savannah (where Fallen is set). Since then, I’ve lived in New York City, Paris, a farm in Northern California, and Los Angeles (where I live now).

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve, I wanted to be a ballerina. I have twenty years of formal ballet training, but I gave it up after college when I was broke and living in New York and couldn’t afford lessons anymore. Plus, as many a ballet teacher told me, I never had the right shaped feet.
When I was eighteen, I wanted to be a writer. I’d started publishing short stories in my high school literary magazine, and wrote my college application essays about being a writer. Still working on that one!
I turn thirty next year, but I already know what I want to be next: A chef. Of some sort. I’m looking into culinary schools and would love to someday work in a restaurant.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
One thing I remember feeling very strongly about at eighteen was that I wanted to always stay friends with my ex-boyfriends. HA! I guess I realize now that it’s okay to let people in and out of your life.

4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer? 
There’s a sculpture by Camille Claudel called La Vague in the Rodin museum in Paris. I used to live very close by and I think I’ve probably spent more time looking at that sculpture than any other piece of art. It’s as if the artist has frozen the climax of a novel—it shows so much about pacing and drama and tension. And it’s just so beautiful.
My favourite novel is White Noise by Don De Lillo. It’s the book that made me want to be a writer. I read it first when I was eighteen and I try to reread it every year.
I played the song “You Look So Young” by the Jayhawks on repeat just about the entire time I was revising Torment. It’s so torturously beautiful and something about it speaks to the relationship I’m trying to create between Luce and Daniel.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I was never conscious that I was choosing anything. I just wrote. I wrote songs and poems and stories for a while and then I realized I was much better at the longer stuff. I always had a hard time coming out of a short story. Plus I hate writing endings—the less of them I have to write, the better. So novels it was!

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The novel I just finished writing is called Torment. It’s a sequel to my novel, Fallen, and it picks up the romantic saga right where Fallen left off. Luce is beginning to grasp the scope of her relationship with Daniel, her fallen angel boyfriend, and she’s looking forward to happy days in love. But of course, she’s in for a few more surprises before she gets her happily ever after…

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I love to read stories that have humour and heart, stories that take me on some sort of unexpected journey. So I hope those are the kinds of stories that I write.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I love F. Scott Fitzgerald for the brevity and punch of his character descriptions. The way he writes Daisy in The Great Gatsby blows me away every single time I read it.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Well, at one point, I wanted to publish a novel before I turned thirty. It looks like I’ll have published four of them by the time I hit the big 3-0. Achieving goals is a wonderful feeling, of course, and I consider myself quite ambitious, but in reality, success and accomplishments never really look the way you thought they were going to in your fantasies. Some things that used to seem really important no longer matter—or is no longer possible. And that’s okay. It helps me to be adaptable and laid back and not expect things to turn out exactly the way I’d envisioned. Some times things even turn out better!

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Live curiously. Make the whole world your muse. Never let yourself get bored—instead: eavesdrop, ask questions, try to learn as much as you can about as many things and as many people as you can. If you live your whole life like a curious person, you’ll never be at a loss for things to write about.

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