Apparently, an outline is a very good thing and the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City is more than just a great place to meet awesome writer friends.
Eleni Sakellis: What inspired you to write “The Masked Songbird”?
Emmie Mears: I was sitting in a movie theater and a trailer for “The Amazing Spiderman” came on. I remember feeling the oddest sense of deja vu -- the Tobey Maguire trilogy isn't exactly ancient history -- and wondering why they kept rebooting the male superhero movies over and over again when we've still never seen Storm or Wonder Woman on the silver screen as the star. I was tired of seeing damseling all over the place, and Gwen Maule just sort of...happened.
I've spent a lot of time in Scotland, and the referendum for independence is something I remember hoping to see in my lifetime way back when I first visited. My family always had a long oral history about our heritage. It made me want to get to know the country we came from, and in doing so, I really fell in love. With Gwen (an unintentional or subconscious callback to Spiderman's Gwen Stacy) I wanted to tell the story not only of a nascent superhero, but of a woman used to being stepped on learning what really makes a hero -- and learning what she really wants for herself and for her country.
ES: Scottish nationalism is central to the book. With the referendum coming up in September and a sequel to “The Masked Songbird” already in the works, will the outcome of the vote change the plot of Book 2?
EM: While the SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party) did spearhead the referendum, I look at the debate surrounding Scottish independence as being based in self-determination above simple nationalism. The ability for Scotland to make her own decisions. For Scotland's people to decide on the fundamental aspects of their government, rather than getting stuck with a government that they didn't vote for and policies most Scots disagree with. (I'm not actually digressing that much, I promise.)
Those issues are the current that flows beneath the surface of Gwen's story. The ability to make one's own choices and getting stuck sometimes under powers outside one's control...as well as what people do in those situations. “The Masked Songbird” deals with deciding what you want; its sequel will explore what happens next, whether you've gotten what you want or not. Regardless of how the Scots choose to cast their votes on September 18, the next book will be more about a continuing journey than an outcome. Whether Yes or No, September 19 will bring the question of where Scotland will go from there, and that's a question the characters will have to ask themselves as well.
ES: You’re a blogger as well as a novelist. How do you budget your time between blogging and writing novels?
EM: I stole Hermione Granger's time turner.
Just kidding. I work long double shifts at my day job. When I get a break, I often write blog posts longhand in a notebook I keep with me. It's nice because I don't have the comfort of home and its myriad distractions. I usually get those done about a week in advance and schedule them then. Novel writing bounces back and forth; I have four or five projects in development right now, and I'm usually drafting or revising (or both) in any given week. I also have a great group of writers on Twitter with whom I do word wars and writing sprints -- though the rest of them are all a bit more functional in the mornings than I am.
ES: What’s your novel writing regime? Do you outline?
EM: I used to be a pantser to the grave -- or so I thought. When I realized my first completed novel was a crumbling mess (and the second and half of the third with it, because they were dubiously destined to be a trilogy), I sat down and had a long think. I'd gotten some blunt feedback from a New York Times bestselling author I know, I'd spent a couple months learning about novel structure after attending the Writer's Digest Conference in NYC, and both of those things were catalysts for a major writing epiphany.
While I had been able to intuit some of the structure norms that exist, Larry Brooks's book “Story Engineering” was like an entire marquee lighting up above my head. I sat down in May of 2012 and plotted out a little book, then wrote it in six weeks. Fastest draft I'd ever done. I knew when I finished it that there was something different about that one. That book was “The Masked Songbird”--eight months later I had an agent, and we got the offer from Harlequin almost a year to the day after I sent my first query.
That experience was a bit of a splash of water to the face. I couldn't go back to just winging things. I don't fully outline even now, but I make sure I set down the major plot points and have as strong a sense of my antagonizing force as I do for my protagonist. I work best when I draft quickly; ever since “The Masked Songbird”, I've pretty much gotten most of a manuscript done within two months. For me, it helps me keep the style and voice consistent. Once I finish a draft, I bury it for a few weeks before going back to revise. That way I get some semblance of fresh eyes and can see what needs fixing a bit better. After a round or two of revisions, I pop it in the inboxes of my beta readers, then work in their feedback as well as my own thoughts again before sending it off to my agent.
ES: Thanks so much for the interview. Best of luck with “The Masked Songbird” and all your upcoming projects!
Emmie Mears is represented by Jessica Negrón of Talcott Notch Literary Services.
She is also the editor and Grand Pooh-Bah of Searching for SuperWomen, a geek hub focused on furthering the conversation about the role of women in geekdom and loving awesome things in the process.
Harlequin is set to release “The Masked Songbird” July 1, 2014.
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