Author Chat with Michelle Zink
On to the interview!
On Prophecy of the Sisters:
We're always told as writers to "write what we know." Did anything in your life inspired Prophecy of the Sisters?
Actually, no. And that's usually the case with me. I'm more inspired by myths and legends, especially those that involve angels, demons, and anything supernatural or paranormal. I do have a knack for writing with a dark voice, though, so maybe that *is* writing what I know!
Prophecy is set in a Gothic Era and is wonderfully depicted. How’d you decide on that Era? And how much research did you do on the time period?
I wanted a fitting backdrop for the darkness of the story, and I thought that era was perfect. All those creaking floors and candlelight! All that howling wind and spiritualism! I don't do any more research than I need, though, because for me, the historical details should never be at the forefront. I want the story to take center stage. Especially in YA, I worry that too much detail will bore, so I make a point to only add the details necessary to make the story realistic and set the scene.
Prophecy also centers on twins. One of the Treehouse Gang members is a twin and she very much enjoyed how you displayed them compared to other books. Did you talk to/observe any sets of twins for inspiration?
I didn't. I detailed the relationship as it came to me (most of my characters just sort of pop into my head), though I HAVE always thought it was silly to assume that twins are exactly alike on the inside just because they're alike on the outside.
Book 3, Circle of Fire, is the last of Lia and Alice’s story. It’s a bittersweet thing for fans, who want to know the ending but don’t want to leave the world. How does it feel for you? Similar? Have anything else planned after the trilogy?
Oh, it's definitely bittersweet! Lia and Alice have changed my life. They've been with since 2006, through some very dark days. And the world is one that I see and feel so clearly in my mind. It's almost as real to me as the one we walk in every day. But I do think readers will be very satisfied with the final book. My editor called it "one of the most satisfying endings to any series I've ever read", and I get that feeling when I read, too. Like, "Yes. That's how it ends." On the plus side, there are always more stories to tell! If anything, I have an overabundance of ideas. I never lack for books to write, and I do have a new series planned. The first book will be released by Penguin/Dial in the Spring of 2012. I can't announce the title yet, but I think readers who enjoyed Prophecy will LOVE this new one! I'm super excited to have TWO books to share with my readers in a six month time period, because the new book will be out about six months after Circle of Fire. Stay tuned to my website for more details.
All of the characters are unique. Do you have a favorite?
That would be like picking a favorite child! Impossible! They all have a special place in my heart for different reasons (and if that's not a mother's answer, nothing is!).
Where is your favorite place to write?
I like to write in my office, which is upstairs next to my bedroom. For the longest time, I didn't have a designated writing place. I managed to write around my kids with headphones on to drown out the noise. But after my husband and I separated, I appropriated an extra bedroom he had been using for his clothes. I felt a little Diva-ish at first, to be honest! But I have to say that having my own work space is a lifesaver. It's very cozy and quiet up there. I also use it as a yoga/meditation space, so my mind pretty much associates it with everything awesome and relaxing. It used to be more spare, but over the past few months I've added a rug, a desktop water fountain, candles, etc. Best of all, my kids know that when I'm in my office with the door closed, I'm working and they should try not to interrupt.
What's your favorite part about writing?
The total immersion. I have a very busy, chaotic mind. I already told you that I have a ton of ideas. That's true, and it's also a reflection of how my mind works in general. It's a 24/7 Think Tank in there! I get the same feeling when I write that I get when I read an amazing book. For awhile, I am so lost in that world that I don't have room to think about anything else. Other than sleeping (which only works sometimes), writing is the only mental relief I get. I'd go insane without it.
Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
You know, I don't really believe in writer's block. Some days my job is easy and fun and others it's difficult, just like everyone else's job. But Phillip Pullman said it best when he said that people in other professions can't use a "block" as a reason not to work. No one gets Plumbers block! So, I just go to work on schedule no matter what. When I'm having trouble moving forward, I try to figure out why or I challenge myself to write just the next scene. Sometimes I re-read what I wrote last to try and shake something loose. But ultimately, I sit down and WRITE, because that's what my readers expect and I never take their faith in me for granted.
Beyond reading and writing as much as you can (good advice that everyone gives!), my advice is to FINISH something. If you want to write short stories, finish one, complete short. If you want to write novels, finish one, complete novel. Finishing my first book (which was not Prophecy) was a turning point for me in my writing career. The process of writing a complete book through all the doubt, trials, and hardship taught me more than everything else I'd learned, heard, and read put together. And it taught me that I COULD DO IT! I could write roughly 90,000 words that sort of made sense together. What usually happens with writers is we get an idea, write until we're blocked, and then abandon that idea for a shiny, new one. But finishing something is one of the things that separates writers who will eventually be published with writers who won't. You can't be published if you don't have anything to sell.
When you start a story/novel, do you write with an audience in mind or do you start and see where it goes?
I always know which audience I'm writing for and, in general, what's going to happen and how it will end. But I don't outline, because I do like to give the story room to breathe and grow and take on a life of its own. I might have big milestones in advance, but I fill in the details as I work and I always allow for the possibility that something may change. The awful thing that happens at the end of Prophecy of the Sisters (no spoilers!) wasn't planned. It was just something that felt RIGHT as I neared the end. Now, when people ask me why I did it, I'm always a little surprised. Part of me feels like I DIDN'T. Like that's just what happened. Just how the story ended.
What about habits? Do you do anything special to keep you focused on your work? Routines?
My worst habit is eating Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish. So bad! I hope my books keep selling so I can afford the dentistry bills that are probably in my future! Other than that, I cue up some film score music that fits the mood of what I'm trying to write. That usually gets my head in the right place.
Just for Fun:
Book(s): The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, Forever by Peter Hamill, The Passage by Justin Cronin, and White Oleander by Janet Fitch.
Movies(s): Impossible! We're crazy movie fanatics! But some of my favorites are The Lord of the Rings movies, The Dark Knight, The Matrix movies, Almost Famous, and anything scary.
Show(s): I don't watch TV. I had to give it up when I was revising to try and sell Prophecy, because there was only so much time in a day. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Hobbies(s): Reading, walking in nature, yoga, and I'm trying to learn how to work my awesome new camera!
Food(s): I'm such a foodie that this is hard! I'd say Mexican and Thai foods of any variety, but I love to cook and eat anything good.
This or That?
Vanilla or Chocolate? Chocolate, preferably dark.
Movies or Television? Movies, without a doubt.
Summer or Winter? Winter.
Outlines or Free Write? Free Write, even though I pay for it later.
Describe a day in your life in 5 words:
Calm, relaxing and intellectually stimulating!
Have you ever screamed during a scary movie? Totally! Especially in the Paranormal Activity movies. But I do love being scared!
If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to do?
I probably would have been an actress or musician. I did a lot of acting when I was younger and I just love movies in general. And after a great story, music is the thing that moves me most.
Thanks so much to Michelle! And hope everyone goes out and gets her books! They're fantastic reads!