Do you write full time?
For me, writing is a full time job which includes (hopefully) three hours of writing. The other five hours include critiquing (my UW online writing students, In Print’s Prompt Club, Tuesdays with Story—my Madison critique group, and WOW--my Rockford critique group), web content writing for Beyond Indigo, book marketing/social networking, and reading (how-to books and just great fiction and nonfiction).
What's the best advice you've ever received? What's the worst?
The best advice I've received is to just finish the book. Which seems simple, but it’s not. When writers are creating a book, we question everything—should I rearrange the chapters? Is it too long/too short? Should I change it from third person to first? We also procrastinate probably more than people in other professions. We say we’ll get the book done after reading one more how-to book or taking one more writing course or we've got a “real” job that takes up too much time or there’s dirty laundry to get to, errands to run, favorite shows to watch, naps to take. Writers are experts at excuses. Since no one pays us to sit at desk to write our novels (unless we have a great three-book deal), we tend not to have the discipline to do it ourselves. Fortunately, my Rockford critique group, formerly called “Chicks of the Trade” now called “WOW (Women of Words), keeps me on task. If it hadn't been for them, I’d probably still be working on the first draft of my first book.
The worst advice I've received is that writing has to be done a certain way. For instance, the inciting incident has to be the first line of your book. When I began to write Carpe Diem, Illinois, I looked for these rules, something where you can plug in a character, a setting, and a situation and a bestseller pops out. I became frustrated when good teachers wouldn't simply tell me how to do that. Isn't there a formula? Then I realized that the good teachers were giving me all the guidance they could to help me pull the story out of myself. Writing is such an organic thing that it really can’t adhere to strict rules. So now when someone tells me that writing has to be done a certain way, I immediately think of five or six examples where authors have done the complete opposite and shelve this advice.
Do you outline your books, or just write?
I don’t outline. I’m a pantser, I write by the seat of my pants. This is actually scary for me because I’m pretty anal retentive in the rest of my life, an organizer, so to just sit down without a plan seems counter intuitive. But it works for me. Before I write a book, I pick an overriding theme and the protagonist, but that’s about it. In Carpe Diem, Illinois, I wanted to expose the world to unschooling in an entertaining, non-preachy manner. Leo, my protagonist, was a good choice because he could explore the unschooling world without a lot of preconceptions. My second book, God on Mayhem Street, deals with intolerance in families and in society and when, or if, it’s acceptable to be intolerant. Leo’s back, but this time the story’s more personal to him. So I begin with a theme and then start writing. The characters lead me through the story which, to non-writers, sounds a little schizophrenic, but it’s true.
Please tell us about your current release My current release is Carpe Diem, Illinois and it’s the first novel in the Leo Townsend series. I’ll cheat and give you my back cover blurb:
For decades, the small town of Carpe Diem, Illinois has quietly unschooled its children, eschewing tests and classrooms for real-life experiences. Now, long-smoldering political feuds – and deep personal secrets – threaten to explode. When her mother is hospitalized in Carpe Diem after an auto accident, teenager Tali Shaw, the daughter of a powerful state senator, finds herself at the heart of a vicious conspiracy to bring Carpe Diem down. Can prize-winning Chicago Examiner reporter Leo Townsend overcome his own demons and expose those behind the scheme before it’s too late? And when the truth is finally revealed, can Carpe Diem ever be the same?
What inspired you to write this book?
Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 which has no resemblance to Carpe Diem, Illinois. I was listening to Mr. Bradbury’s book in my car and I thought about how great it would be to write about a different society. But, unlike the society in Bradbury’s book, a society that was better than our own. All the literary societies that I could think of were terrible places and now that’s even more true with the YA Dystopian genre being so popular. I also wanted to expose people to the unschooling lifestyle through fiction (there are enough nonfiction homeschooling books).
How did you come up with the title?
Unschoolers are experts at carpe diem, seizing the day. Unschooling is child-led learning, so children decide what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, and how to go about it. Learning occurs naturally, through day-to-day experiences, so every minute has a potential “ah ha!” moment. It just seemed natural that people who have this philosophy would name their town Carpe Diem. I didn't add “Illinois” to the title until later. I did some research and found that there are twenty or more books with the title Carpe Diem. Not very original, so I added “Illinois.” I think adding the “Illinois” makes the title more intriguing, making the reader question what the story is about and then hopefully they’ll want to read more.
If this book is part of a series, what is your next book? Any details you can share?
My next book is the second novel in the Leo Townsend series titled God on Mayhem Street. Another blurb:
Chicago Examiner reporter Leo Townsend has landed the interview of a lifetime with openly gay, front-running US presidential candidate Griffin Carlisle. But when Leo is forced to abandon the interview to rush to the side of his estranged father, who has suffered a near-fatal heart attack, his personal and professional words collide. When Griffin offers to visit the Townsend farm for an interview, secrets are exposed that jeopardize not just Leo’s family, but an entire nation.
All time favorite book?
I don’t have an all-time favorite novel, there are many: The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver; The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein; The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (a new favorite); Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane; and anything written by Jane Austen, Stephen King, John Grisham, and Carl Hiaasen. My nonfiction favorites: Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig; The God Part of the Brain, by Matthew Alper; anything by Allison Weir; and The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler.
What fuels you as an author to write?
The idea that I can play God. Seriously. I love that I can create people, places, and situations and then figure out how they will get out of them. Also, good books, music, interesting life experiences and people, inspire me. Oh, and my daughters made a Carpe Diem, Illinois soundtrack for me based upon the music mentioned throughout the book. This tape fuels my writing. It always makes me think of Leo.
Good luck to Kristin with her Leo Townsend series!!