On Writing/Publishing

I am a writer. Can you read my manuscript/help me with my project?

Unfortunately, I have my hands full with my current critique partners and writing projects. But I encourage you to find other writers and form your own critique partnership. SCBWI or another writer’s organization is a good place to start (it’s where I found my critique group).

What advice would you give to beginning writers?

Find a critique group or critique partners that you trust.  Finishing a novel is a lot of work, and having that accountability is really helpful.  Plus, the feedback is essential. Find critique partners who enjoy the genre you’re writing in and give you a good mix of positive and negative feedback.  It also helps if you like their writing as well.

What was it like being a young writer in high school (and then in college!) How did you find time to balance writing with your doctoral studies later?

The nice thing about being a student is that there’s a lot of support for those who want to get better at their writing. I had many English teachers mentor me throughout high school, and I was able to get academic credit for projects I wanted to do. It did get hard for me as an undergraduate. I was a biochemistry major, and between problem sets and laps, I really didn’t get to do much writing at all. I think I could’ve made time for it if it had been a priority though. At that point in my life, I was totally focused on science. Graduate school was actually easier—once you stop taking classes, scheduling becomes much more flexible. It really depends on the lab and your adviser. I had a lot of work in my lab, but I still had evenings and parts of weekends to do my writing.

What made you switch from studying science to writing novels? How did you gain the confidence to make such a big career leap?
It started as a hobby, and a distraction from my research (which I highly recommend in graduate school. It’s important to have stuff going on in your life besides research in order to stay healthy psychologically). And though it seems like a big career leap, for me it felt more like a series of very gradual steps. First I started writing in my free time, then I got a critique group, then I steadily got more serious with my writing, and eventually got a book deal. All the while, I was doing science, and I gradually realized that writing was what I wanted to do. And the timing worked out pretty well for me. I sold my first book a few months before I needed to start looking for postdocs, so it gave me a little more confidence in deciding not to look for one. Also, on a very practical level, I got married at about that time, and my husband’s steady income made it safer financially for me to take on a risky endeavor like writing full time.

How do you compose your novels? Do you outline, or just dive straight in? How much time do you devote to writing per day?
I do a hybrid method. Usually, I sketch out key scenes just here and there, very quickly. It’s all out of order. Then I go in and fill in the scenes in between until I have a general idea of where the book is going. At that point, I usually have about one third of the book written, and I’ll start from the beginning again and write a cleaner draft. As for writing per day, I’d say I spend about 3 to 4 hours actually at the computer drafting. And then besides that, there’s marketing, email, reading, administrative stuff to do.

The road to publication is different for every author. How was your experience? Did you run into a lot of obstacles before achieving success?
Getting published was a lot less stressful for me than for many people. I was lucky. At the time when I was finishing up my novel, the self-publishing revolutionwas just starting. And looking at what Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler had achieved, I had actually intended to self publish Midnight Thief. My writing group was very supportive, but they suggested that I queried some agents just to keep my options open. So I sent out a bunch of queries while doing a last round of edits, and to my surprise, I got offers pretty quickly. And talking to the agents, I realized that they had really good editorial input about my novel, and I decided that I’d be able to write a better book with a traditional publisher than I could by myself. So I signed with my agent, did one round of revision, and then sold it to Disney Hyperion fairly quickly after that.

What are your sources of inspiration?
My inspiration comes from everything. Sometimes there is a key moment or climactic scene that really grabs me. Otherwise, a situation our core conflict, accompanied by a strong emotion. In Midnight Thief, that was the moment of the big reveal that really spoke to me. In Poison Dance, it was the character of James, and wanting to explore how a hardened criminal like him could fall in love. For my short story Lord of Time, the inspiration was a very vivid dream about a priestess in training and a man in pain.

Do you have any special soundtracks or playlists that you listen to while writing?

I don’t listen to music at all while working. I find it too distracting 🙂