Thursday, December 4, 2008

FAQs, the Universe, and Beyond

The gorgeous image on the right is a composite Hubble/IRTF image of storms on Jupiter. I got it here and you can read more about it here. Lest you be impressed with the ease with which I fling around high-tech telescope-y terms (like telescope-y), be assured that I have no idea what I'm talking about. But I like the pretty pictures.

A piece of news: Graceling is one of School Library Journal's Best Books of 2008. yAt!

And now, a few more FAQs.

Spoiler Status: The following FAQs are spoiler-free.

1. When you start a book, what is it like? Is the book just sitting in your head, mostly formed? Where does it come from?
What a great question. For me, when I start a book, I've got parts of it formed in my head -- pivotal, dramatic tension between characters that hasn't necessarily formed itself into clear scenes with dialog and action yet, but that will form itself as I continue to mull it over. I guess what I have at the beginning is the feeling of my characters, and the feeling of their relationships with each other.

What I don't have is the plot, and that's where the serious, plodding, trial-and-error, tedious work comes in. I have to figure out the story that fills in the spaces around all of these feelings. I have to make up a story that will explain the feelings, support the feelings, make the feelings believable. And make logical and structural sense; and pull the reader in; and NOT be boring.

I guess every writer is different. For me, characters tend to come kind of naturally, but plotting takes tons of work!

2. How did you learn about fighting, weapons, and everything else?
Ha ha! In a lot of cases, by reading, both fiction (Tamora Pierce, Hilari Bell, Vivian Vande Velde, for example) and nonfiction (books about horses, martial arts, the history of warfare; encyclopedia articles about swords or the history of medicine). In other cases, by asking oddly specific questions of the right people. For example, I'm lucky to have a general surgeon and wound specialist in my life who wouldn't even blink if I were to say to him, "Uncle Walter, if I were shot in the gut at close range with a steel-tipped arrow and then ran up four flights of stairs, would I be likely to faint? And how long before I'd be able to climb down the tree outside my window into my lover's embrace again?"

Anything I get wrong is my own fault, of course, not the fault of my sources of information. I take a lot of creative liberties with reality sometimes...

3. I have a lot of trouble coming up with fantasy names. How did you come up with your names?
Heh. I sympathize. Fantasy names are really tricky, and frankly, often kind of silly -- I mean, let's face it, basically we're making up a bunch of silly words. And for me, they always seem to end with the letter "N." (Giddon, Raffin, Murgon, Drowden, Thigpen, Birn, Silvern, Ashen -- and wait 'til you read Fire! Hee hee) Why do I do this? It's SILLY! Why not just name everyone nice, simple names, like David and Julia? Sigh, I don't know.

For some reason -- maybe because I think of Lienid as a place full of color -- Lienid names always have some sort of color base, or at least a visual reference. (Ashen, Bitterblue, Silvern, Skye, Faun, Patch; Po's real name is Greening.) For monikers in the rest of my kingdoms, however, I basically try to come up with names that have the right sound when they hit my ear. Sometimes I'll read the credits of movies carefully, looking for real-life last names that would make good fantasy first names. Sometimes I catch myself reading exit signs on the highway. For the book I'm writing now, I had three men working together named Ambler, Runnemede, and Darby -- until it occurred to me that anyone living in the Philadelphia suburbs might find themselves thinking, Ah, yes, and no doubt Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Upper Darby will come along at any moment... :o)

4. Are your characters based off of anyone you know personally?
No, never. Or at least, not intentionally! I don't recall ever having an actual person in mind while building one of my characters. Of course, the stuff of my imagination includes characteristics of people I know (including myself), characters from books I've read, character from movies I've seen, so nothing is ever completely original. But I certainly can't point to a real-life person Katsa reminds me of, for example.

5. When did you start writing? Did you want to become a writer when you were younger? I can never think of a subject to write about! Were you that way, too?
Oh my goodness, yes. I was COMPLETELY that way! I always wanted to write, but I was always too out-of-my-mind busy doing other things, plus, I didn't have any plots in my head. What changed that was the act of making myself sit down to write every day. Sure, I was a bit dry of ideas in the beginning, but the more you poke around and write little, meaningless, no-pressure, practice things, the more ideas start to bubble up. It's a thing that responds -- grows and becomes fertile -- when you give it attention. (Or at least, that was my experience. No doubt other writers have different experiences to relate -- which they should feel free to do in the comments!) Oh, and I started doing serious critical writing when I was about 25, and serious creative writing around the age of 27. I'm 32 now.

I think that sometimes people think that writers are inspired by story ideas, and if you haven't been inspired, then there's no hope for you as a writer. Whatever. Sometimes coming up with a story takes plain-old work. So don't despair if you don't know (YET) what to write about! Just keep at it. Never surrender!

6. Are galaxies uniformly distributed in the universe?
(Okay. I confess that maybe not all of my FAQs are always things I'm frequently asked. But, come on, outer space! Way cooler than my dumb book! ^_^)

No, galaxies are not uniformly distributed in the universe. Galaxies "collect into vast clusters and sheets and walls... interspersed with large voids in which very few galaxies seem to exist." Or so I learned the other day from the Atlas of the Universe (thanks, MTP, for leading me to it). Check out that website to get a sense of how small we are. And then go here to see some Hubble photos of the wonder that is our home...

15 comments:

Amanda said...

as usual, great questions and answers. i always like to learn more about your writing process and whatnot. thanks, kristin:)

tinkandalissa said...

So...I have to warn you ahead of time, as you have probably gathered from my other comments, I can not tell a short story! I apologize in advance.
I'm working on my 1st novel and similar to you, my characters came to me first and then the story sort of followed suit. I made sure I really developed the characters first (certainly open to them changing and developing further as my story progresses). I put all the things down that I thought were important about each character and then filled in things that werent so important but that made them more real to me. Birthdays, favorite colors, etc. I'm 29 and never seriously written anything other than what I was asked to for school. I just decided one day that I loved all the books I was reading, but there were things that didnt happen like I wanted them to or things that didnt happen at all. So, I figured, why not write my own so that everything can happen like I want it to...and so, my characters were born and gave me my novel idea (which I hope to make a trilogy). Since I have no previous experience, I have no idea what I am doing. At all. So, I carry a notebook w/me everywhere I go just in case. I write anything and everything down that pops into my head. I then attempt to put it into some kind of order and type it up, knowing that I will fill in the gaps later to keep the plot rolling. Names are tricky for me also. I am using a few friends names just so they can feel special and famous if/when I ever get published. I find that I may use characteristics of people I know, but never totally base a character on any one person. The more I try to write my main story, the more ideas flood my brain for unrelated stories. It is quite frustrating. Not that I dont think that's great, but I am becoming very ADD trying to focus. I have all these people and creatures scratching to get out! I've already got good solid ideas for 2 children's series' (which was never my focus) and ideas for 4 more YA novels! I just hope I can write them before someone else does! I may go mad in the process...but I am sure going to try like hell to plug through and get something accomplished!
Thanks, Kristin for telling how you write and come up with ideas!! I have your book and as soon as I finish the series I am on, plan on reading yours! I can't wait! Wow, I sure have a lot of !'s for someone who honestly isnt very enthusiastic...tee-hee.

BeyondTheIcyWalls said...

All I have to say is that those pictures of the universe are AMAZING!! Oh and thanks for more FAQs.

Courtney said...

I heard from an astronomer that the ratio of the entire universe (as in, everything everywhere) to the known universe (as in, everything that has ever been seen on any picture anywhere) is the same as the ratio of the known universe to the head of a pin. Crazy!

For me, when I write I have the entire plot first. I have so many plotlines in my head! My favorite part is making big timelines and charts and stuff. But my characters feel dull and monotonous.

Annie said...

Omigosh, the Sombrero Galaxy! I only know it's called that because I saw "Amazing Space Photos" on AIM a few hours ago! ;) But seriously, I only found out about it recently, and now it ranks higher than the Whirlpool Galaxy in my favorite galaxies! But I think my mom's Whirlpool Bathtub Galaxy is better than that, so that isn't saying much. =D

Annie said...

May I ask what yAt! means?

gnomicutterance said...

The universe is awesome. yAt! indeed. Also, I love that you don't end all female character names with 'A'.

lasrisas said...

I'm reading your book right now, picked it up when I read some good reviews.

It's great so far! :) Loving Katsa's character.

Charly said...

Oh... What pretty pictures! I've never been all that into space, but my grandma often sends me news of interesting space-related happenings. Did you hear of the alignment of the moon and Venus and Jupiter (I think that's what it was)? One of my friends in Israel remarked on how it looked like a Turkish flag and it was kinda cool to know what is going on. Science is pretty fantastic. :]

#5 gives me hope. I have long had interest in writing writing a story (though I hate writing essays), I think at least ever since I read the Abby Hayes books. I have tried to write my own stories - I have a documentation of one attempt - but most of the time I can't think up plots or characters well enough. I thought of writing down my dreams for inspiration, but I haven't had many recently. Only one that I can vaguely remember. Anyway, as long as I keep trying, you say? This is good news. :) I may try some more soon.

mrmorse said...

The conjunction of the moon, Venus, and Jupiter was pretty amazing. See Astronomy Picture of the Day for a photo. Also see this before and after shot of the moon eclipsing Venus.

(I regularly use images from APoD as my desktop background.)

tinkandalissa said...

Yeah...what does yA+ mean??

Anonymous said...

wow, i just discovered Graceling and it is already my favorite book. i wish other authors had so much talent. Keep up the good work and talk to me if you need someone to read Fire beforehand =). Graceling is a new book, but when people have time to discover it it will be read everywhere.
Maddie

cindy said...

kristin, are you saying there isn't a little bit of yourself in katsa? =)
thanks again for the faq! and i start with scenes in my mind, too.

plot...argh.

The Art of Kim Kincaid said...

As a mother of a daughter with two different colored eyes, I had to read your book when I came upon it on Amazon. Nearly blew a deadline because your book had me so enthralled and I had diffiulty pulling myself away from it in order to paint. Thank you for a wonderful story. I will pass the recommend on to others and will look forward to the next one.

kristin cashore said...

tinkandalissa: there were things that didnt happen like I wanted them to or things that didnt happen at all. So, I figured, why not write my own... -- that's kid of what got me writing, too. Good for you! Keep plugging at it, as long as you continue to enjoy it! :o)

Courtney, cool statistic, and Beyond -- yeah, I love the pics, too!

Annie -- hee hee -- yAt is just my favorite way of mispelling Yay on purpose :o)

Charly, just keep a mustard seed of faith in yourself! That's what I tell myself sometimes. I don't need to be exploding with confidence, I just need a tiny little bit that I can cling to hard.

Mr M, thanks for that -- I've forwarded those pics on to others, and friended the pic of the day. Gorgeous stuff.

Cindy, I might admit to having a temper like Katsa's.... ;D

Thanks and HI to new readers of Graceling! I love to hear from you! (And Kim, love your artwork!)

(*waves to Amanda and gnomic-u*) ^_^