Sometimes people ask me questions. Sometimes I answer them with another question. Example: Q: “Were the characters in The Gemma Doyle trilogy inspired by real people?” A: “Are you going to eat that?”
The question I am asked the most is, “Will you get me water/food/a napkin/fill in blank since you’re up?” But that’s beside the point. Unless you, too, live in my house and I just haven’t noticed you yet.
Anyway. You ask; I answer…ish.
Q: What was your inspiration for writing the Gemma Doyle Trilogy?
A: I wanted to save the whales. I feel that if my writing can save even one large sea creature, then by golly, let me at that laptop.
Q: You’re kind of weird, aren’t you?
A: Yes. It’s only going to get weirder from here. You are warned.
Q: Seriously, what was your inspiration?
A: It wasn’t the whales? They’ll be so disappointed. (Such fragile egos for such large mammals.) I wanted to write a gothic creepfest of a Victorian story with a heroine who could kick butt and take names all in a crinoline and corset—sort of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” meets Henry James and Charlotte Brontë. Whales don’t wear corsets by the way. Just in case that comes up on a test.
Q: Where do your ideas come from?
A: From Ideaworld! It’s the big mega-idea mart on the edge of town. I take my cart and roll down the aisles picking up plot, metaphor, simile, character, theme, whatever I need. Sadly, they are almost always out of stock on everything except the Enormo-Box of 100% Suck, which I already have plenty of. So then I am forced to pull ideas from everywhere—my iPod, books/newspapers/magazines/cereal boxes, urban and/or nature walks, people watching, the cats, art museums, everyday human interaction, everyday alien interaction, etc. Then I dust off the old imagination and work my bum off to try to make it into palatable story bits.
Q: Will you make your books into movies?
A: No. Not personally. I can’t even operate my camera. But somebody might perhaps make movies of the books someday. In the meantime, they seem to really enjoy being books. They’re kind of self-actualized that way, really. That therapy really paid off.
Q: If they make movies of your books, can you make sure they don’t screw it up?
A: If it will make you happy, I will promise to suck the marrow from the bones of anyone who adds a hot-oil girl fight in slow-mo.
Q: Can I be in the movie?
A: You can do whatever you like. Personally, I have cast myself as Dr. Who many, many times, but they keep using these British actor types. It mystifies me. For the record, I have less-than-zero control over ANY ASPECT of movie-making. In fact, I can’t even locate Hollywood on a map. It’s out west somewhere, they tell me, in a land of palm trees, small dogs, and unnaturally white teeth.
Q: Are the characters in the your books based on anybody you know?
A: I will never divulge that information! Never! Actually, that’s not true. You could offer me a cupcake and I’d tell you anything you wanted to know. The characters are not based on anyone I know, per se, though it’s reasonable to assume that since I do not live in a cone of silence beneath the earth–well, not all of the time–and I have family, friends, acquaintances, and periodic conversations with everyone from my mail carrier to Jan, who keeps me in Slurpees at the local 7-11, some of the characteristics of my fellow humans might work their way into various characters I write. But I find that once I start writing, the characters become people who are entirely different from what I had originally imagined. You know, kind of like in life.
Q: If you were stuck on a deserted island like in BEAUTY QUEENS, what three things would you bring with you?
A: Hmmm. That question assumes planning. If I’m tipped off ahead of time that I’m going to crash on a deserted island, I’m probably not taking that particular flight, if you know what I mean. But hypothetically, it’s:
1. Water. (Dehydration is no fun.)
2. Toilet paper. (Is that leaf poisonous? You know, the one you just wiped with?)
3. Someone who can get me off that freaking island. Because I am not equipped for survival outside of New York City.
Q: Why did you do what you did at the end of The Sweet Far Thing? You know what I’m talking about.
A: Because I am made from the cloth of evil and sewn with the thread of unrelenting heartbreak.
Q: I know you say that we should imagine what happens next to the characters after the end of The Sweet Far Thing, but come on, what really happens to them?
A: That thing that you’re imagining.
Q: Are you going to write a fourth Gemma book?
A: No, but Scott Westerfeld is. It’s going to be called The Extra Special Great and Terrible Beauty.
Q: Can you stop being so annoying and answer the question?
A: I have no plans to write a fourth Gemma book right now, but never say never. It could happen. The thing is, I don’t want to write a Gemma book just to write a Gemma book, you know? It would need to be a story I’m dying to tell, as happened with the trilogy. I will concede that there is one idea that intrigues me and someday, I may just start writing and see where it goes. I’ll keep you posted. Will you let go of my arm now? Uncle!
Q: What do you like most about writing?
A: The panic. I like to know that my fight-or-flight response is primed and ready for the eventual zombie apocalypse.
Q: What do you like least about writing?
A: The zombies never show up.
Q: How do I get you to come to my school?
A: Offer me free food.
I don’t get to do a lot of school visits because of family and writing commitments, but I really enjoy it when I’m able to do so. So, if you want to start a campaign to get me to come to your school/library/bookstore/sock hop, you can have your teacher/librarian/bookstore rep/sock hop DJ contact my outrageously efficient and just plain awesome assistant Tricia at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also accepts small gifts in the form of fudge or I Love Lucy memorabilia.
Q: Can I be in the movie?
A: Why not? Let’s all be in the movie! I want my corset bedazzled with the words, “Sir not appearing in this movie.” (Extra points if you know that reference.)
Q: Did you really let Maureen Johnson touch your fake eye?
A: Yes, I did. I was hoping some of her greatness would rub off on me. Also, I enjoyed watching her shudder. Such a delicate little fox, my Maureen.
Q: Will you answer X, Y, Z for my homework assignment and can you do it in Spanish because it’s also for Spanish class and can you get it done by 2:00 today because it’s due tomorrow?
A: It was nearly impossible to get me to do my own homework when I was in school so I can’t see starting over now with someone else’s. We all need guiding principles in our lives. That’s mine and I’m sticking to it. Hopefully, between the links, bio, silly questions, et al, there’s enough here to help with any assignment you might have. And if you have one burning question not answered here, like, “Where do you get your laser eye serviced?” you can always leave me a message here (Hint: It’s under “Contact”) message me on Facebook (Libba Bray…so don’t leave a message for Gayle Forman and expect me to respond) or @libbabray on Twitter—or you can leave me a note on my blog. Hopefully, you will leave this message on a day when I am not buried under the Deadline That Ate My Brain. (Just a helpful hint: It’s always good to give me a long lead time and several polite prompts.) Of course, you can always try this: “Dear Teacher X, I am sorry that I did not do the required assignment. Yesterday afternoon, I began to grow a twin from my pancreas, and this required a rather sudden trip to the mall for clothes with an emerging twin pouch. Thank you for your understanding. Sincerely, Name. Plus Twin.” The good thing is, you can get your new twin to serve detention for you.
Q: What is your writing process?
A: Drink coffee. Eat bagel. Open laptop. Google useless factoids and pictures of cute baby animals playing instruments. Whine vigorously. Plunge in with absolutely no plan whatsoever. Write while singing a little song, “Who’s gonna kick some writing butt today? I am! I am!” Stop to pet cat. Read over words just written. Feel hopeless and panicky. Avoid calls from editor. Vow to organize thoughts in outline. Feel taunted by outline, which tells me I dress funny. Remember I am not good at linear thought. Abandon outline. Turn outline into origami one-winged swan-bear-teapot…thing. Plunge in again. Stare at bookshelves containing works from good writers. Weep silently in envy. Start over. Manage to barf up words without stopping for several hours or until thoughts turn toward food. Note time. Grumble. Quit for the day. Reward self with cookie. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Q: Can I send you my work to read?
A: Sadly, the constraints of my less-than-glamorous life make it impossible for me to do so. In addition to writing, researching, blogging, mothering, playing in Tiger Beat, slaying the occasional dust bunny, meeting various obligations, and trying to develop superpowers in my underground lab, I also attempt to shower regularly and make up obnoxious songs about my friends so that I can torture them at parties. This leaves very little time for other endeavors. But please do keep writing.
Q: What’s the best advice you can give an aspiring writer?
A: Read everything. A lot.
Q: Okay. I’ve written a book. How can I get it published?
A: Huzzah! That is awesome. The first thing you should do is put it in a drawer for a month, then come back to it and read it again. It should make you cringe in parts. If it doesn’t, leave it in the drawer for another month. When you read it with both love and disdain, you’re ready to revise. Work on your revision. A lot. THEN you can send it out.
Many publishing houses have contests for first-time authors. You can go to websites for various publishing houses and see if they have contests or guidelines for submission.
You should also get yourself an agent. Agents are the Alfred to your Batman. Sometimes they are the Batman to your Alfred. You need one is what I am saying. How do you find an agent? Look them up in The Writer’s Market for Agents. This is a huge, doorstop of a book that you would not want to drop on anybody’s head—or not the heads of people you like—and it lists every agency and agent, what they like, don’t like, whether they will turn you into a newt for typos, etc. You can find it at your local bookseller. You can also do a Google search for agents. I Googled “YA Literary Agents” and got, like, a gazillion links. Do you know how many zeroes are in a gazillion? Neither do I. A lot, though.
It’s really, really, REALLY important to pay attention to the agent/publishing house’s edicts about submissions. You don’t ever want to give someone a reason to chunk your stuff in the rubbish bin just because you failed to keep your synopsis to one page or you sent the whole manuscript when they clearly state they will only accept the first three chapters. Similarly, if an agent says he/she is only interested in dark, edgy novels and you send him/her your light-as-a-three-egg white-omelet novel about a girl who sings at a nursing home and suddenly becomes an overnight sensation and falls in love with the boy next door and they save puppies and plant daisies in everybody’s yards so the world will be filled with bright, bright color, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. (Actually, if you write that book, there might be a line of people wanting to do the shooting for you.) Read what they say and FOLLOW IT TO THE LETTER. Good luck!
Q: Speaking of agents, what’s it like to be married to your agent, Barry Goldblatt?
A: I haven’t been married to any other literary agents for comparison’s sake, but I think he’s pretty cool. Of course, it does get annoying when I ask him to take out the trash and he says, “That’ll be fifteen percent.”
Q: Do you ever doubt yourself when you’re writing?
A: At least once every fifteen minutes. That’s what chocolate is for.
Q: How do you keep going when you’re stuck?
A: It’s awful, isn’t it? And the answer is…you keep going. I mean, nobody answers the question, “How do you keep swimming when you’re tired but you haven’t reached the other side?” with “Oh, just stop swimming.” That would be a bad answer. The truth is, you just write, even if you hate everything you write. Even if you suddenly go off on a tangent about llamas who long to put on a high school musical. Even if it makes you cringe with every word. Even if you’re bored or filled with seething hate for your WIP. Just keep going. Eventually, you will reach the other side. And I’d really like to read that book about the llamas. So few llama musical novels these days.
Q: Can you please please PLEASE write a fourth Gemma book?
A: I was actually thinking of just skipping ahead and writing a sixth Gemma novel. Do you think that would be confusing?
Q: What can we expect from THE DIVINERS series?
Q: No, really.
A: THE DIVINERS is a four-book, supernatural historical series set in 1920’s New York City. It’s taking me back to my love of horror and sprawling, historical dramas. By that I mean that when I realized my historical story was becoming a sprawling mess, I felt a sense of true horror. It is filled with all of the things I love: creepy things, politics, history, serial storytelling, New York City, and good versus evil. Stay tuned, campers.
Q: Will we see more from Mr. Fantastic Fiction?
A: Oh-ho! As surely as the rain falls from the sky in the way in which rain falls, which is to say in a heavy, borscht-thick stream the minute you realize you have locked yourself out of your car and you are wearing that new simul-pleather jacket you special ordered from SeriousWritersWearJackets.com and all you can say is “Balls!”
Q: What about the Evil Author Overlord and Mr. Bubbles Kitty?
A: Zere is always time for evil. Ven you don’t make time for evil, it still makes time for you. Isn’t zat right, Mr. Bubbles Kitty? Mwaor.
Q: Whom do you hope they cast in the movie?
A: Trained, singing meerkats who are making the leap from a teen meerkat TV show. Because above all, I admire a teen meerkat with ambition.
Q: Can I be in your movie? I’m better than trained meerkats.
A: Now you’ve done it. You’ve pissed off the meerkats. Sleep with one eye open, my friend.
Q: What’s next?
A: I was thinking about making a sandwich. Oh, you meant writing-wise. Got it. I am working on the next book in THE DIVINERS series. That will be my standard answer for the next, oh, five or six years. Good Lord. Somebody please bring me a cookie and a juice box STAT!
Q: Why do people put up with you?
A: I honestly have no idea.