1. When did you start writing?
I wrote my very first story when I was ten. It was eight pages long, which at the time felt about the same size as Moby Dick. It was a story about a girl who was hit by a drunk driver. Don't worry, she survived. In my ten year old brain it was an intense tale of a young woman's painful recover and the triumph of the human spirit. I presented it to my mother as my first novel. She lovingly suggested I try lighter topics. After that I moved on to shorter work and started writing very typical angst-y poetry in high school.
2. Are you a pantser or a planner?
I'm definitely a pantser. Sounds like fun, right? “Woo-hoo look what popped into my head today - let's do that. Cool! Now, let's change it. Let's add a new character! Oh I like him, he's funny. He stays. She goes. Woo-hoo!”
And guess what? It is fun. It's loads of fun. It's the embodiment of creation itself. Until it's time to revise and the not fun part starts bringing with it all the hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing. That's when I put my head on the desk and weep. Why oh why didn't I write a plot summary? I'm quite convinced I could save a solid year of revision if I would become a planner instead. Alas, it has yet to happen.
3. Can you give us an idea of your writing process?
I drag myself out of bed at 5 am. Feed the cat. Make tea. And then climb into my writing closet (it's literally a closet with a desk crammed into it) and I write. I write poetry and stories too, so most mornings I let myself go with whatever feels right. But when I was writing Lizzy it was pretty much all Lizzy all the time. Same is true for my current work in progress. I don't write in a very linear fashion when I first start out (which also adds to my plot problems). In the beginning I write scenes - just moments - that I see so clearly in my head. That's how I find my character's voices. I just sort of play with them like little dolls. Then when I've got them down, I sew all the scenes up, like popcorn on a thread into one long story. Then comes the revision. When they say writing is work - revision is the part they are talking about.
4. Which authors have influenced your work?
The whole list would take up the rest of your blog considering nearly everyone I read (and I read a lot) have somehow added something. But since I wrote a children’s book - I'll stick with the children's authors that have affected me the most:
CS Lewis’ Narnia stories made me want to be a writer. “Wait a second,” says little me, “he got to make up a whole world?? I want to do that.”
Katherine Patterson’s Bridge to Terabithia taught me that a book can be scary and sad and happy and beautiful all at once. And it taught me about the vulnerability of true bravery.
And finally Madeline L’Engle. I read my copy of A Wrinkle in Time over and over again till the cover and the title page disintegrated into dust. For me, it was all about Meg. I loved Meg's awkwardness and her fear. I loved her doubt. She felt scared and small the way I often felt scared and small. She was my first and favorite anti-hero – at least until I moved on to Hamlet.
5. Tell us about your debut!
Love to! Meet Lizzy Speare……a normal twelve year old girl with a talent for writing, who has a very not normal family secret. And when Lizzy’s father vanishes, that secret will change her life in ways unimagined. (Spoiler Alert! It turns out that Lizzy, or Elizabeth S. Speare, is the last living descendant of William Shakespeare. Shhh! Don’t tell anybody!)
Then Lizzy and her best friend Sammy are kidnapped, awakening in the faraway land of Manhattan. Their host is Jonathan Muse, whose job is to protect Lizzy from becoming the latest victim in a family feud going back nearly five hundred years. Is that why the mysterious, eye patch-wearing Dmitri Marlowe is after her? (Spoiler Alert 2—he’s the last living descendant of Christopher Marlowe, a friend and rival of Shakespeare’s. But keep it to yourself!) Is Marlowe after Lizzy’s family fortune rumored to be kept in the tomb of that bald guy with the goatee? Does he seek artistic immortality? Or Revenge (with a capital R) for a death long, long ago? In a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, Lizzy and Sammy are thrust into the realm of the mythical and fantastic—from satyrs and Cyclopses to Middle Eastern cab drivers and Brooklyn hipsters in what is truly “an improbable fiction” as the Bard himself once wrote. Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb is the first book in a series that I’ve (sort of, mostly, kind of) plotted.
6. Any tips for new writers?
If there is only one piece of advice I can give it is this: Read. Read. Read. You’ll learn more about how to write by reading than you will anywhere else. Beyond that - trust yourself. Even when you feel like you don’t know what you are doing keep writing. You'll find your voice. And when you do it will be the first step on an amazing journey. The second step on that journey is discipline. Write every day. Write when you don't want to. Write when you're tired or feel icky or have no good ideas. Just write. And keep everything you write because you never know when that one little line you scribble on a piece of paper, that scrap of dialogue, or that little character sketch, will turn into your first novel.
7. Any tips for old writers?
Plus, remember when you were younger and you didn’t care what anyone thought or if they called you crazy cause you had complete faith in your hair-brained scheme and you knew it would work out? Remember that?
Be that kid again.
Thanks for such a great interview, Ally! I can't wait to read about Lizzy's adventures. Visit Ally's blog to learn more: allymalinenko.com