Author Interview & Book Giveaway: INHERITANCE by Malinda Lo

inheritance-finalcover-525wJust last week, while I was away, the sequel to Malinda Lo‘s heart-pounding, gripping, sexy Adaptation series, Inheritance, entered the world—and now that I’m home I have an interview with Malinda to celebrate its release! I’ve asked Malinda to answer some of my favorite author interview questions, and here’s what she said…

Scroll down to see who won a set of signed hardcovers of Adaptation and Inheritance


NRS: I’ll start with the dreaded question you may be hearing from strangers on elevators, long-lost family members, and your doctor while you’re sitting on the examination table in the paper gown during a checkup: “So what’s your next book about?” 

Inheritance is the sequel to Adaptation. The duology (with bonus ebook-only companion novella Natural Selection!) is an X-Files-inspired science fiction thriller about what happens when birds start attacking airplanes, sending them crashing to the ground. Why are the birds doing that? Why is all the information about the crashes being wiped from the internet? Is the president of the United States telling the truth? And seriously, is that a bisexual love triangle? (Yes. Yes it is.)

So, it’s about crazy birds, conspiracies, secret military bases, and loooooove.

inheritance-finalcover-525wNRS: Did you learn any deep, shocking truths while working on this novel—about writing in general, or about yourself?

ML: I learned that my favorite thing to do as a writer is to set my characters down a path that seems like it’s going really well, and then to completely pull the rug out from beneath them. I think it’s because I had two books and about 900 pages to set them up and knock them down. By the time I got to the climactic portions of Inheritance, I’d been waiting to get there for about 700 pages (counting Adaptation) and I could not contain my evil authorial glee!

I think this is just part of becoming more conscious about my writing, though. With every book I write I become increasingly aware of the tools and techniques I have available to me, and I get really excited about using them.

NRS: Do you ever write fiction snatched from real life—your own, or someone else’s? Is there a secret or not-so-secret piece of this novel that came from something we may not realize is “real”?

ML:  Yes. I don’t get this question much because I’ve written fantasy and science fiction, but of course, parts of my books come straight out of real-life experiences I’ve had. However, I’m not going to tell which parts! I reserve the right to write a memoir someday, and then people can try to match things up if they want.

NRS: What is the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book? How did you overcome it?

ML:  The internet! I have all sorts of tricks for avoiding being sucked into the internet, but mainly I use Mac Freedom, which is this software that disables all access to the internet on my computer for a set amount of time. I’ll set it for up to three hours, and even if I click on my internet browser by accident, no websites will load. Also you can’t disable Mac Freedom once it’s running except by forcing your computer to shut down, and that freaks me out because I’m worried I’ll lose data, so I never do that. I use Mac Freedom all the time.

NRS: Imagine you’re on the subway, or the bus, or sitting in a park somewhere minding your own business… and you look up and see the most perfect person you could imagine devouring your book. This is your ideal reader. Set the scene and describe him or her (or them?) for us.

ML:  It would be Gillian Anderson or David Duchovny reading Adaptation or Inheritance with the cover easily visible, preferably while on a stakeout in a black car, and I would totally photograph them with my phone and tweet it immediately.

(Seriously? I think I’d be super excited to see anyone reading any of my books in public. I’ve never seen that before!)

NRS: What do you know now that you wish you’d known as a debut author? 

ML: Not much. I feel like part of being an author is experiencing a kind of gradual disillusionment with the job that forces you to genuinely engage with why you want to write at all. That sounds grim, but it’s actually not. Most debut authors are filled with a natural enthusiasm and excitement because it’s their first book—and I wouldn’t want to diminish that joy. Having your first novel published is a wonderful thing that should be treasured.

By “disillusionment” I mean coming to understand the nuts and bolts of the business, which can seem really mysterious and sort of fantastical before your first novel comes out. It’s all deal announcements and cover reveals and book tours—until you learn what goes into making a deal, creating that cover, or negotiating those public appearances. It can be quite difficult to deal with all this prosaic, financially minded reality, but the fact is, if you want to be an author with a long career, you’re going to have to learn how to deal with it.

The biggest challenge for me (and probably for many authors) is learning how to balance those often frustrating business matters—plus a lot of public judgment—with nurturing the creativity you need in order to keep writing. Every author has to figure out what works for themselves, and that takes time. It would do no good to know everything at once, and in fact it would probably be terrifying. You need to work your way through it gradually.

NRS: If you had to pick one sentence, and one sentence only, to entice someone to read your book, what would it be? 

ML: This was so hard! In Inheritance most of my favorite sentences are dialogue that either make no sense outside the context of the scene, or are too spoilery for me to post. But I did find one sentence I really like that’s in one of my favorite scenes, and it’s about the liminal space that occurs between choices, and maybe more broadly, the liminal space of adolescence itself. Anyway:

“For a moment it was like being suspended in time—just the two of them in this room, divorced from everything that had come before, poised on the brink of what might come after.”


(Photo by Patty Nason)
(Photo by Patty Nason)

Malinda Lo is the author of several young adult novels including most recently the sci-fi duology Adaptation and Inheritance. Her first novel, Ash, a retelling of Cinderella with a lesbian twist, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, the Andre Norton Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. Her novel Huntress was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Malinda lives in Northern California with her partner and their dog. Her website is www.malindalo.com, and she tweets @malindalo.



ANNOUNCING THE GIVEAWAY WINNER…

inheritance-finalcover-525wOne winner was chosen to receive a set of signed hardcovers of both Adaptation and Inheritance, and that winner is…

Marthapao!

Congrats! I’ll be in touch for your address so you can claim your prize!


If you’re a YA or middle-grade author with a new novel coming out by a traditional publisher and you’d like the chance to answer some of my interview questions to celebrate your release, let me know!

The Two Weeks and the 43,258 Words

I am home now, from a stroke of good luck: a two-week “emergency residency” at the MacDowell Colony, a perfect artists’ colony in New Hampshire. I decided to do something different while there. Instead of my usual slow, plodding pace for writing a first draft of a novel, where I circle in on myself and revise as I go, thus stalling me for weeks on end, I told myself I’d write forward. Only forward. And I’d also try to give myself a daily word count. The word count started off as 2,000 words a day… but things were going so well that I upped it to 3,000.

Every morning in my live-in studio in the woods, I would get up at 6:50 a.m. and walk to Colony Hall for delicious breakfast—I was obsessed with breakfast—then back up my writing from the day before in the library and go back to work through the whole day until dinnertime, at 6:30. After dinner, I’d work, too, which meant I sacrificed so much of what being at a colony is all about (hanging out with other artists, seeing every single presentation, sharing my own work with everyone, which I didn’t do this time, and playing games like Ping-Pong and Scrabble and “PIG” on the pool table, which should be said I am terrible at, but I try very enthusiastically, hey, I try), but I was desperate for words, words, words. That’s why my emergency residency had been approved, after all: My deadline was November 1. And I was determined to write as much as I could.

Oh, wow did I.

Here is a peek at some of the scribbles in my notebook while I was away:

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macd13_scribble5

macd13_scribble6

macd13_scribble7

macd13_scribble8

Final count of new words written, in just two weeks?

43,238

!!!!

I kept track every day, so here’s a breakdown:

all the words biggest

I’m not bragging. I’m just kind of stunned and want to document this. I’ve never written that fast before—and keep in mind, these are first draft words… there will be changes, there will be cuts, many cuts, there will be deep crimson flushes of embarrassment when I read over some of these words later. Even so. Even so! I’ve never written so much in so short a time. I probably never will again. I just want to remember these two short, productive weeks for always.

Another thing I did that I don’t usually do in my writing life at home is map out my book’s plot on the walls. It was only because I walked into my studio (usually a studio used for dancers and photographers) and discovered a GIANT space and white walls with push pins, empty and waiting to be made use of.

(Nef studio, usually used for photographers, artists, and dancers/choreographers.)
(Nef studio, usually used for photographers, artists, and dancers/choreographers.)

So I rearranged the furniture a few times, finally settling on having the desk toward the center of the big space, and did this…

That is a working map of my book’s plot on the wall.

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(Photo taken from the sleeping loft. Not pictured: LOTS of space, including a fireplace and room for dancing and darkroom and cathedral ceiling with exposed wooden beams… It was surreal.)

I posted my word count on Instagram while I was away, and author Beth Revis asked about my process, if I’d done anything different to get all these words. It got me thinking.

Beth said, “I’d love to know more about your process here. What caused such a huge word count? Being in a new place? The ability to focus? A new method?”

And here’s what I answered her:

I think part of it is this place itself… I knew I’d be productive here, which is why I wrote them and requested the emergency time before my Nov. 1 deadline. But I never never expected to be THIS productive. I think it helped that I pushed myself to write forward and not tinker and revise as much as I usually do. I only let myself work on a few pages from the day before to get momentum, then pushed forward. I also gave myself a daily word count. And I also mapped out the book visually on the wall and spent a lot of time looking at it. But the biggest thing was probably this: there is no internet in the studios at the colony (one of the big reasons I wanted to come). No TV either. Just me and my book.

Also! I did a lot of reading (instead of TV watching). During this time of writing all these words, I was hungrily borrowing books from the fellows library, and I read 9 books! On #10 now!

But so much of it was the place. The colony whose motto is “freedom to create.”

(The road to my studio. A beautiful walk during the day. A scary walk in the nighttime because I am afraid of the dark.)
(The road to my studio. A beautiful walk during the day. A scary walk in the nighttime because I am afraid of the dark.)
(The newly renovated fellows library, where I took out all those books and went to check email, as this is the only place at the colony with internet access.)
(The newly renovated and expanded fellows library, where I took out all those books and went to check email, as this is the only place at the colony with wifi access.)
(What windows.)
(What windows.)
(No MacDowell Colony blog post is complete without mention of the lunches... delicious lunches... that they deliver to your door each day in a picnic basket.)
(No MacDowell Colony blog post is complete without mention of the lunches… delicious lunches… that they deliver to your door each day in a picnic basket.)
(Every night the artists gather for dinner in Colony Hall. The dinner bell rings at 6:30.)
(Every night the artists gather for dinner in Colony Hall. The dinner bell rings at 6:30.)
(The nights were dark. If a building wasn't nearby, it was absolute darkness.)
(The nights were dark. If a building wasn’t nearby, it was absolute darkness.)
(Every studio has its own set of tombstones, signed by the artists who've stayed there.)
(Every studio has its own set of tombstones, signed by the artists who’ve stayed there. I was excited to discover Lucy Puls’s name… she’s an incredible artist who I met at Yaddo in 2010!)
(I enjoyed visiting the chickens—i.e., "the ladies"—each morning.)
(I enjoyed visiting the chickens—i.e., “the ladies”—each morning.)
(This gang of wild turkeys would wander the colony. Years ago, on my first visit to the MacDowell Colony in 2005, I was surrounded by a flock of wild turkeys that followed me up to the door of my studio in a tight bunch and I called E in a panic. I stayed away from them this time... wary.)
(This gang of wild turkeys would wander the colony. Years ago, on my first visit to the MacDowell Colony in 2005, I was surrounded by a flock of wild turkeys that followed me up to the door of my studio in a tight bunch and I called E in a panic. He cracked up. I stayed away from them this time… wary.)
(I was so busy writing, I didn't get to see even one moose or bear! A group of artists saw a bobcat outside the library before dinner one night and I was terribly envious.)
(I was so busy writing, I didn’t get to see even one moose or bear! A group of artists saw a bobcat outside the library before dinner one night and I was terribly envious.)
(My favorite photographer. She did a residency at the MacDowell Colony in July 1980.)
(My favorite photographer. She did a residency at the MacDowell Colony in July 1980.)
(Here's a photo of me from my last breakfast—strawberry-banana pancakes! Photo taken by my composer friend Alvin. Look how dazed and happy I am about all the words I wrote!)
(Here’s a photo of me from my last breakfast—strawberry-banana pancakes! Photo taken by my composer friend Alvin. Look how dazed and happy I am about all the words I wrote!)

I am forever grateful to the kind and generous people in admissions who approved my emergency residency and made room for me for two weeks in this heavenly place. I feel like I was hit by a miracle, and still can’t believe all the words I wrote.

Most. Productive. Residency. EVER. When I die, I’m giving my fortunes (ha) to the MacDowell Colony so I can help gift weeks like this to future writers.

Now here is the moment you decide to apply:

APPLY TO THE MAGICAL MACDOWELL COLONY

MacDowellWordMark

A Gift from the Writing Gods: The Emergency Writing Cave

tombstone 1

I am writing my book.

I have been writing my book for months and months.

My book—the first draft—is due November 1.

I’ve tried to make it easier on myself this time around… I can’t tell you that’s working. Why? BECAUSE NO BOOK IS EASY TO WRITE WHAT WAS I THINKING.

I went away and hid in the woods.

I came back home and had setbacks.

I kept a lot of things offline because I don’t think you need to know any of it.

I had good moments with the book, too. And I believe in it.

But my deadline is fast approaching and I desperately needed a cave to escape to.

Then E—who was witnessing all of this—made a suggestion. I took a chance and asked for something.

And the answer came back a YES.

more tombstones

I’m about to leave on a last-minute two-week what they call “emergency” residency at the MacDowell Colony. I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for the time.

The first time I visited the MacDowell Colony, I had not yet published any books. I was so horrifically shy, I couldn’t even look Michael Chabon in the eyes because I admired his writing too much. (He was then a writer in residence; now he’s chairman of the board of directors.) I stayed in a composer’s studio with a chandelier. I wrote pages of a book that never ended up being published and my heart was about to be broken over it, but I didn’t know that yet.

Fast forward years.

The second time I visited the MacDowell Colony, it was winter, months before Imaginary Girls came out. I was about to publish the book of my heart, and I was terrified, and I had every right to be. I stayed in a little fairy-tale cabin with a green door. I came out of my shell a little, made a fool of myself attempting to play pool, and made some wonderful friends. I wrote pages of a book that was published earlier this year.

Now I’ll have the opportunity to be at MacDowell for a third time, at the exact perfect moment, and I can’t even believe it.

I love the place so much, and I am so amazed and touched that they came through for me and gave me this emergency residency, that I am fully expecting to be writing the MacDowell Colony into my will. Let’s hope I become more successful so I can afford to leave them more than a piece of IKEA furniture.

I leave at 4:45 in the morning on Monday for the bus. There is no internet in the studios, so I will be mostly offline while I’m away. I will go to the library to check email once a day most likely, but I may not be replying to emails unless they are urgent.

I am going to immerse myself in this book like you’ve never seen. Oh, many of you are writers. I am sure you have seen. So you know what’s awaiting me.

I may just build a writing tent.

If you want to snail-mail me a good-luck, happy-writing letter or postcard while I am away, email me this weekend for the mailing address. I might send you a MacDowell Colony happy-writing-right-back-at-you postcard in thanks.

I will be back home in action in the corner of the local café on September 25. Until then.