I’ve always been curious about what inspires my favorite writers. Whether they are bloggers, freelancers, scriptwriters, TV writers or novelists, they have to draw inspiration from something. I want to thank all of you who contributed your questions and I hope you enjoy this special edition of Seven Questions. If you want to see your favorite blogger/writer interviewed, contact me.
Her Impact on Me: Michelle and I have been working together for 3 1/2 years. Her dedication to her writing is insane as she continues to type ferociously on a daily basis. I’m proud to say I helped with the creation of this blog and I’m happy to help her celebrate it’s relaunch on October 24th.
Person of Letters: Why did you start writing/blogging? Was it for personal or for professional reasons?
Michelle Timian: There’s not a definite moment when I thought to myself, I am going to be a writer! I’ve always known it. I remember being five and making picture books for ridiculously swiping epics. But it wasn’t until my disastrous first semester in college when I realized biology was not the major for me and that I really should change my major to English and Creative Writing. That’s when I knew I had hit the “no turning back” point. And it’s been great! Since graduating college, I’ve been working on one project/idea or another.
My novel CURSED, while it’s still a very new project (unlike some that’s been with me for years and several different format incarnations (comic books anyone?)), has been my greatest success so far. A great deal of that stems from the cursedthenovel blog, which allows me to post pages of my novel online. I’ve never created a blog before, so it’s been an exciting experience, especially seeing how many people have read my novel because of it. My plan in the future is to use the cursedthenovel blog to talk about more than just page updates: I have ideas of discussing the inspirations behind CURSED, where the character’s names come from, what countries inspired Ladamay, etc.
POL: How long do you think about what you are going to write before you write?
MT: Years. Literally. At least, that’s when I feel like I am writing at my best. For my novel The Elevator, it took me about five years to reach the point where the heroes Jason and Samantha visit a character I’ve been planning since the idea for the novel struck me in 2004. I really like getting a very specific plan for everything happening in a novel, which is essential when working on a long epic fantasy series like Elevator, and that takes a while (for me, at least!).
For CURSED, things are different. I’ve had the idea for this book in my head since March of this year before I started writing it in May. I spent two months really plotting out the whole story, gaining an understanding of the emotional growth the characters go through, where I want the story to eventually end up at, and what needed to be done to get to that point. So when I started in May, I had a pretty good idea where I was going. An outline. For example, when I planned the scene I will post on October 24th, my plan was “Treve and Leo are interrupted from talking; Treve goes to the prison temple.” I had no clue how to get between these ideas until I was in the process of writing, and the answer was a huge surprise!
That really is the best part about writing. I definitely love having a plan, but I also keep my expectations loose enough for the story to take me whenever it needs to go. I like being as surprised and excited about my novel as the reader.
POL: Is there something you carry with you at all times to write ideas that may pop in your head? If so, what is its? A notebook, your smartphone, a scrap of paper?
MT: I have a creative journal with me at all times, but it’s not really vital to me; if I lose it, I won’t lose all of my ideas. For CURSED, I have notes such as “Treve wears purple a lot” and “Remember the white mule.” If these details don’t make it into the novel, it won’t be a catastrophe or create a plot hole…it’s just things that are so small that I might forget them. Everything else is in my head.
The only time I have gone crazy with taking notes was when I was traveling through the Slovenian countryside. The moment I left Ljubljanain route to Zagreb,Croatia, I knew this was the landscape I wanted CURSED to be based in. I kept writing down details I saw (such as the red, red soil and rocky meadows) and what buildings looked like and how the country people were dressed. Pictures didn’t do it justice and I didn’t want to forget anything. I mean, I wrote down what birds I saw and the color of trees.
On the far end of note-taking, I can never write out a whole summary before writing a novel. To me, that’s like creating the whole story. The thrill of creation is gone. So I go over plot points in my head, over and over again, until it comes to the point where I write them. It means I do a lot of thinking for my books, but I couldn’t have it any other way!
POL: How do you battle writers block?
MT: I let it run its course. I never force a moment in the story if it doesn’t want to come, because I believe either something better is brewing in my subconscious or I just haven’t reached the point where I could write it. I’ve never had a problem putting a story on hold to let it stew a while. If I am desperate for something to write, though, I usually turn to something silly and pointless to get words on paper: stories that never get finished. Eventually I get back to the “real” writing.
POL: What is your favorite book/blog? Do you draw inspiration from it?
MT: Hands down, The Lies of Locke Lamora. For writers of any genre, but especially for fantasy writers, this book is simply amazing to get inspiration from. The dialogue is the most sickeningly, wonderfully, well-crafted dialogue I have ever come across anywhere (except Shantaram, which is a lesson in making each character talk and sound completely different from one another). His characters are so finely developed I have on several occasions felt afraid for their well-being. The world-building is the best I’ve seen anywhere…to the point where I’ve noticed literary agents actually requesting works with as much flawless details as Lamora. Plus, best part is…its fun. It’s silly. It’s hilarious, clever and so easy to get pulled into. It’s about con men who aren’t really the nicest of people but they are so easy to root for.
Any time I pick this book up, I keep analyzing it to see at what point I utterly believe in these characters, at what point they and their world become real…its amazing. If I can ever achieve this level of perfection, I can call myself a good writer.
POL: Along the same lines of the previous question, which writers from the past have inspired you? (more points for naming obscure writers)
MT: One author I can never get enough of is Mervyn Peake. He isn’t a favorite author of mine, but his novels are so incredibly whimsical, powerful and just plain bizarre (think Neverending Story soap opera) that I fall under his spell any time I pick up his books. The world-building is so perfectly done, it’s fantastic. I challenge anyone to read Titus Groan and not feel like you’ve actually entered some other world…everything Peake writes carries that kind of conviction. I’m always inspired by it (and Lynch’s world-building too) that I would love to reach those same heights myself.
I am also a HUGE fan of Hergé’s style of adventure and always try to capture something similar in my own stories…something that can be just plain fun and exciting and sweeping without throwing too much angst into the mix, which is what turns me off of so many novels and comic books out nowadays. I just want a fun book!
When I was a young writer, I really wanted to make something IMPORTANT and SERIOUS that would wow readers with how great my writing was. I would only read the most literary books I could find and scoffed at anything that wasn’t a Pulitzer Prize winner or literature bestseller. I read Roots when I was 11. So you can imagine just how terrible and self-important my writing was back when I first started putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) in high school.
Then I went to college. After 4 years of reading nothing but classics and heavily important literary works and discussing all sorts of themes, I had enough. I needed something light, fun, airy. That was really when my writing turned around. Some of the most eye-opening reads were William Goldman, T. H. White and especially Lawrence Block’s Hitman series. Oh, and Wodehouse. Which is a perfect read to start taking yourself less seriously. It was almost a relief to find out that you can still make readers fall in love with the characters (Goldman), still have moral issues (Block) and still have an amazingly beautiful lessons to teach (White)….and still be silly. Those are my goals for my own writing.
POL: Tell us something about you and your writing that we might not know.
MT: None of my characters have ever been based on real people. You know, like cameos of friends, family, oddballs… Instead, all my characters are based on myself. I take some small aspect of my personality (good or bad) and make it a character’s defining quirk. It makes it so much easier to write them!!