Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
Honestly, no! While I always play my books out like scenes in a movie in my head while I’m writing, I never think about the audiobook side of things. I’m SUPER visual, so it’s actually difficult for me to sit down and just LISTEN to anything without also looking at something at the same time (even music). When I was a kid, I loved those audio cassette bags you could check out from the library that came with the book and the audio recording because I could follow along while listening.
How did you select your narrator?
We (my agent, Ben, and I) had a lot of people audition for The Six, actually, so I had options. And Ben was really good about not giving me his opinion until I had a chance to listen to the audition recordings and sift through my own thoughts first. What it really came down to for me was choosing someone who sounded like she understood my voice as the author, my main character’s voice and emotions, someone who had good range (because The Six is the first book in a six-book fantasy series spanning many years and a wide variety of characters, not to mention character development and growth), someone who was pleasing to listen to, and someone who fit the story itself. For example, we had one narrator audition out of somewhere in the UK, and although I’m a bit of an Anglophile, and I adored her accent, the story is a distinctly American story set in Michigan, so it just makes sense to have an American narrator. And it just turns out that Dollcie (my narrator) lives IN the region the story actually takes place! I believe she’s really meant to tell these stories for me.
Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
The Gateway Chronicles (of which The Six is book 1) is based at a real-life camp in Upper Michigan I attended from the time I was a wee baby until I graduated high school. I even went back once in college, and again early in my marriage, and would be attending still if I didn’t live so far away now. Of course, for the story, I changed all the names of everything, and I didn’t import any characters from my real life wholesale into the story, but what I did do was take the essence of my experiences growing up there and transform them into a fantastical story that at once pays homage to my childhood and teen years and at the same time builds something entirely different. I think many of us wished to escape to another world when we were young — wished to discover another world through a magical veil where people expected heroic things of us. I used a very familiar thing — summer camp — as a launching point for greater adventure, and it is both true and untrue in the way all great stories (hopefully) are.
How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
I don’t avoid burn-out, but I never lose my enthusiasm for writing and storytelling. Physically, I hit burn-out all the time — more often than I should. I’m 35, I have four sons, I’ve written twelve-ish novels in the last ten years, and I work as a full-time writer, which means I’m always, always writing. I drink coffee more often than I sleep, and weekends are laughably absent from my existence, but the thing is: I love writing. I love it with every fiber of my being. I probably love it too much. So when it comes to finding balance in my life, I often find I have to force myself to put the writing aside for a bit to focus on other, healthier facets of existence.
What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
I think audiobooks are so, so important. As a former teacher, I’ve obviously seen the struggle many students go through with reading disabilities, and I’m honestly not sure where they would be without audiobooks. Although I’m not personally one who listens to audiobooks very much (my mind wanders if I don’t have eyes on the page), I so appreciate how they have opened up the written word for others — especially those with disabilities. Speaking of my time as a teacher, once upon a time, the oral tradition reigned supreme! In class, I always read aloud to my students — giving them the option to follow along, or just listen, whatever worked best for them. It is in no way “cheating,” it’s actually getting back to the core of a grand human tradition.
What gets you out of a writing slump? What about a reading slump?
I have never really experienced a writing slump, but I do frequently experience reading slumps. I am exceptionally picky about what I read, so I tend to not pick up new novels if I’m afraid they are going to disappoint me (and my free time is so limited I don’t want to waste my time on something bad). I may go months at a time where I’m only writing and not reading. Often what gets me out is someone making me feel convicted about the fact that I’m a writer of fiction who is not reading any fiction, and then I need to buy myself a new book (because once I invest some money into it, I feel like I have to read it). But then I’m an obsessive reader once I start, so I won’t do anything other than read until the book is done, lol. I need to learn better balance in my life.
What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Learn your craft, learn your craft, learn your craft. Don’t just assume that because you know how to put words on the page, you can tell a story. Figure out why your favorite authors are successful — why you admire them — and study how they tell their stories. Read books about writing. Read books about storytelling. Learn how the two are different things and learn to do both well. Your first book (especially the first couple drafts of your first book) is GREAT… for practice. Keep at it and don’t stop. Be teachable. So many aspiring writers are not teachable and waste time thinking they already know what they’re doing when they could be using that time to get better. I’m ten years in to my writing career and still learning new things. Humility and teachability will take you a lot farther in this industry than arrogance and stubbornness.
What’s next for you?
Dollicie and I will next be releasing book 2 of The Gateway Chronicles (The Oracle) on audio, so I’m super excited about that! And my agent and I are working on a couple of new manuscripts. I’m also in the process of re-releasing my YA Dystopian series in paperback and Kindle, so I have PLENTY to keep me busy over the next several months.