Tuesday, 7 December 2010

INTERVIEW: Christina Henry

In a world purportedly without magic its always a wonder how an author can weave thier own and take the reader away to a seperate reality, where time has no meaning.

Here we had chance to chat to Christina about her debut and discover a bit more about her, from wise cracking fallen angels through to popcorn munching gargoyls and discover her inner most torment, Adam Richman...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Christina Henry: I don’t know if I was afflicted with writing but it was something that I’ve always wanted to do. When I was 12 years old I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” for the first time and decided then and there to be a writer. I’ve never really wanted to do anything else.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

CH: I think that some writers have a real mastery of the short form and others are better at the long form. Only a few writers (Stephen King and Robert Louis Stevenson come to mind) are really good at both.

I believe that short stories require a lot of precision. You have to establish your world, your characters and your problems in just a few sentences. I’m not that great at this kind of precision – I like to see how things unspool when I’m writing – so I think that I’m a much better novel writer than I am a short story writer. No one was ever interested in publishing my short stories but I got my first novel published so I guess I’m not the only one who thinks so!

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

CH: I would define it as an urban fantasy with a little bit of humor, a little bit of mystery, a little bit of romance and a lot of action. I think (I hope!) it’s different from most UF’s in that it doesn’t prominently feature vampires or werewolves.

Maddy Black is an Agent of death, which is basically a crummy inherited job that involves transitioning souls from life to death. It also does not pay. She’s broke, she’s stressed and she’s got to rent the apartment in her building if she wants to have some income. She takes on a new tenant who winds up bringing a whole host of new supernatural problems with him. She’s also got a very mouthy gargoyle with a bad popcorn habit who loves to express his opinion on everything.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

CH: If you want a fun paranormal read with and you’re looking for something new then Black Wings is for you!

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

CH: Jim Butcher, Stephen King, Charlaine Harris and Neil Gaiman are all must-reads for me.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

CH: I’m an extremely organized, Type-A person about everything except my writing. I block out a work schedule for the week with the number of pages or scenes that I want to complete, but I never plan what I’m going to be writing more than a chapter or two ahead.

I always know the overall arc of the plot – what has to happen at the beginning and at the end – but I never really know what going to happen in the middle. I like to write my way through and kind of see how things unfold.

This can be a really fun way of writing because sometimes I surprise myself while I’m working, but sometimes it’s really horrible because I write myself into a corner and end up having to toss a couple of chapters because they aren’t working.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

CH: I usually relax by reading or running. I find running to be very meditative – I get into a zone
where I just kind of let thoughts flow freely and don’t concentrate on any one thing. A lot of times dialogue for an upcoming scene in a book will occur to me while I’m out running.

I also like to bake, which is I usually do when I’m at a slow point in my writing or as an afternoon activity when my son comes home from school.

Recently I’ve read “Side Jobs” by Jim Butcher, a collection of short stories from his Dresden
Files. Butcher is one of my favorite writers and it was nice to get a little something extra from the world of Harry Dresden before the next novel comes out in the spring.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

CH: Watching Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel. I just cannot look away from the spectacle of this guy eating crazy amounts of food.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

CH: I actually don’t have a pet, but we are planning on getting a dog when my son turns five.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

CH: Beezle! He’s always good for some comic relief. Whenever I feel like the narrative is getting too heavy I bring him back onstage.

Also, he’s great to have around so that Maddy has someone to talk to. In a first-person narrative there’s always some danger that you’ll spend too much time lurking in the protagonist’s head, so Beezle gives me an opportunity to break up the continuous stream of thoughts from Maddy.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

CH: Well, Maddy is short like me – mostly because I have no idea what the world looks like when you can actually reach things on shelves. And I think I have a little bit of the same attitude that she does. But Maddy is a lot more socially inept than I am (I hope) and she’s very sheltered in some ways. Also, I don’t have magical powers – unfortunately :)

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

CH: I like to run, I like to read and I like to watch movies. Reading and film-watching are obviously great because I get a lot of ideas about how to pace a story, how to develop characters and so on by seeing how other writers have successfully dealt with these issues.

Running is good for me because it lets me work out a lot of writing-related stress. Plus, it gives me goals to reach that are separate from writing – like completing a certain race distance or trying to reach a certain pace per mile. Since I work from home it’s easy to let the work take over my life, so running gets me out of the house and doing something that’s good for my mind and my body.

FT: Where do you get your ideas from?

CH: I think that ideas come from everywhere, and usually my best ideas come when I’m thinking about something else – when I’m baking, or running, or just grocery shopping with my iPod on. Those are the “a-ha!” moments. Once I have an “a-ha!” moment a lot of story will flow easily from that point.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

CH: I can’t say that I’ve ever had writer’s block. I’ve had points where the story is maybe not flowing as easily as it normally does but I find if I keep writing then something will happen. Maybe it won’t be the greatest writing I’ve ever done but I think the best thing to do is just keep working.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

CH: I have a four-year-old who gets up very early in the morning so I definitely cannot stay up late writing. He goes to preschool 2 ½ hours a day so I try to squeeze in as much work as I can during that time. If I haven’t hit my page count for the day (usually 5-8 pages) then I finish up the pages that evening after he goes to bed.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

CH: A carefully composed playlist is actually an essential part of my writing process. Once I’ve put together the correct combination of songs that particular playlist will come to embody the overall tone of the book. Sometimes the songs influence the book and sometimes it’s the other way around, but either way the playlist eventually comes to epitomize the feeling of the book to me.

Usually I start off with an 8-10 song playlist and then I add to it as I get further into the novel until I’ve got about 20-25 songs that I listen to while I write. Every time I sit down at my laptop that playlist brings me right back into the story and the overall emotional arc of Maddy’s character. When I get to a point where the writing feels stale, I’ll put the playlist on my iPod and just listen to the music while I run errands or bake something in the kitchen. If I let my mind wander while still staying inside Maddy’s world through the music the next piece of the story will usually occur to me.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

CH: I actually think that I had a good idea of what to expect when I got started. I had done a lot of research, gone to conferences, talked to writers and agents, spent some time reading agent blogs and so on. I knew that the process takes a long time, that you will be rejected before you are accepted, etc.

I think having a healthy attitude is important. I went into the process believing in the book and knowing that it was saleable, but also knowing that it would take a little while for it to get sold.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

CH: I can tell you that the world will open up some, and that you will be introduced to some new creatures and characters that will become important in Maddy’s world. I can also tell you that her romantic relationships become more instead of less complicated, Beezle eats a lot more doughnuts, and that the ending of the book surprised me when I was writing it, so I hope it surprises you when you read it!

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

CH: Runner’s World, Cooking Light, Dark Central Station, Borders and The Hockey News.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

CH: I did my master’s degree in fiction writing and the teaching of writing at Columbia College Chicago. It’s a workshop format so you have a lot of opportunities to generate writing and get feedback on what’s working.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

CH: I always tried to have an open mind when I was criticized. Sometimes you think the criticism is valid and sometimes you don’t, but if you shut off all criticism then you’ll miss useful feedback. You have to take what works for you and not worry about the rest.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

CH: Writing gives me a chance to be a stay-at-home mom and still generate a little income, which is great. It’s nice to be able to pick my son up from preschool and spend the afternoon with him.

The worst part is that because I work from home it’s easy to let the work take over your life. I have to make a real conscious decision to work only at certain times of the day and not let writing interfere with normal family life.

Thanks so much for having me here today!

1 comment:

Pat Hollett said...

What a fascinating person and an interesting interview. Very insightful and nice to get to know the author. Great questions and informative answers. :)