I enjoyed MISTWOOD so much, Leah! It’s great to have a chance to ask you some questions about your book, your writing habits, and your dark personal secrets (i.e. the ice cream cone story – but we’ll get to that later).
First some MISTWOOD questions for you. What was the germ of this story for you? Did you start with a character? some scene that wouldn’t leave your brain alone? an image?
It was an image… of a supernatural creature in a misty forest, being hunted by men on horseback. I started writing without knowing any more than that.
Some people count drafts – other people lose count. Do you have any idea of how many drafts of MISTWOOD you have produced?
I have a vague idea. At least four drafts before I started submitting it, then another four rounds of revision with my editor. But I must stress the words vague and at least.
Isabel is in a terrible bind at the beginning of the book: she doesn’t know who or what she is, she doesn’t know how powerful (or how bound) she is, and yet she is thrown – immediately! -- into a messy, complicated situation where she has to pretend she understands what’s going on. She has to act (in both senses of the word), and she has to act fast. You do such a lovely job of conveying her ignorance, her vulnerability, and her quick-thinking courage, but it must be hard to keep your main character and your readers in the dark for so long! When you were plotting the book, how did you decide what Isabel should know when?
Thank you! I’m very much a seat-of-the-pants writer, so for a lot of the book I myself didn’t know the things that Isabel didn’t know. I made most of it up as I went along, though by the time I was about halfway through I pretty much knew where I was going.
After my first draft, I switched around some scenes so that the order in which secrets were revealed would make sense both logistically and thematically. The main decision I struggled with was when Isabel should find out the truth about who and what she is. In my original draft, I had her finding out in the final climactic scene; but ultimately I decided that it made sense for her to find out before that, so the knowledge could sink in before she had to make her most difficult choice.
This was one of those rare books where I really didn’t know which way the story was going to go. Did you know all along? Many of your negative characters are actually pretty appealing, you know! It wasn’t at all clear to me who the good guys were! As a writer, what tricks do you use to keep us guessing?
Okay, now I’m grinning, because it was quite important to me to convey that Isabel could have gone either way. My favorite critiques were always the ones that said, “I thought it was going to end the other way!” (Even though some of those were negative critiques from people who thought it should have ended the other way.)
I don’t know that I had any tricks, though. I myself didn’t know how the book would end until I had written about half of it; and even once I did know, I stayed close to Isabel’s POV, and she had no idea. It probably helps that I don’t think of any of my characters as negative (well, except for perhaps one) – they are all shaped by the circumstances of their lives. Though some let circumstances shape them more than others.
You’ve mentioned the old growth forest of Seward Park, Seattle, as a model for your Mistwood. Are there other forests that call to you?
I have to say, that was my favorite forest ever, though I love almost every forest I’ve ever hiked through. My second favorite is Denali National Park in Alaska, and the Banyas Nature Reserve in northern Israel is a very close third.
Might we some day hear more about Mistwood itself, its creatures and its magic?
You might… *looks mysterious*
What is your writing routine (if you have a routine)? Do you need a mug of something warm? Do you work at a desk? Does the time of day matter? Do you listen to music? How do you get yourself out of a rut when you feel stuck?
I wrote Mistwood over the course of seven years, during which my writing “routine” changed from:
* Law student: Write from midnight to 3 a.m., then sleep in and miss class the next day.
* Lawyer: Know exactly what subway door will get me to a seat so I can write on morning commute to work.
* Full-time writer: Bike to idyllic park and write while sitting on a towel on the grass (for one blissful year!)
* Parent of infant: Write while child sleeps and until I collapse from exhaustion myself.
* Parent of toddler: Write while child plays at playground and other playground moms brand you as antisocial.
* Parent of 2 kids: Write while children destroy the apartment, figuring we can retile the floor later and in the meantime at least they’re occupied
The only common theme there is that I never worked at a desk!
Time of day doesn’t matter much… I used to write best at night, but now I’m pretty exhausted at night and I write best in the morning. But I can really write at any time. I usually don’t listen to music, and what I do when I’m stuck is move on to another project for a few months and then come back and see if I can get unstuck. Which partly explains why it took me seven years to write Mistwood (and why I finished another two books during those seven years).
OK, and about that poor ice cream cone! Is it true that your first story was about an ice cream cone being eaten? A tragedy? A comedy? Was the ice cream cone the narrator? Golly! Any other childhood writings you’d like to ‘fess up to?
It’s true; my parents still have a copy and are saving it for when it’s worth millions on ebay. (I have assured them that this will happen.) The ice cream cone was the narrator, and it ends with something like “and then I am all gone” – so I guess a tragedy? – or maybe a philosophical treatise on the futility of existence. Shortly after that, though, I became sadly commercial, and most of my stories through the rest of elementary school were about horses. Except for the “Cindy & Sandy” series, about two gymnastics-performing, horse-riding twins who solved crimes.
What can you tell us about what you're working on now?
Several things, as you may have guessed. One of them is a companion novel to Mistwood, which I’m revising with my editor right now. I also have ideas for several other novels set in that world.
Thank you so much, Leah! I loved MISTWOOD, and I know the Inkpot crowd will love it, too!