Launch Day Interviews: Mindy Klasky/Kelly McCullough

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Mindy Klasky SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL

1) What was your inspiration for writing SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL?

When I wrote GIRL’S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, my theme song should have been “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. That book was completely light and fluffy, a fun escape from a busy work week, family commitments, etc. When I had the opportunity to write another Jane Madison story, I wanted to dig a little deeper – to look at the decisions that we make with regard to friends and jobs, the tough calls that force us to decide what is important to us. (I wasn’t willing to give up on the fun, though :-) )

2) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

When I was growing up, I read a lot of classic fantasy – J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Anne McCaffrey?. I devoured Patricia McKillip?‘s books, and I practically memorized every word of Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series.

Now, I read much more broadly, alternating between genre fiction for fun (my favorites in the past year have been Scott Westerfeld’s UGLIES/PRETTIES/SPECIALS trilogy) and literary fiction for musing(most recently, Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN). I also read a lot of non-fiction, especially popular non-fiction on narrow topics, like COD and SALT.

3) What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

I’ve always enjoyed the sense of possibility in speculative fiction, the ability to explore other ways of thinking, other ways of being. Even as my own writing has shifted from classic fantasy (SEASON OF SACRIFICE and the Glasswright Series) to paranormal romance, I’ve continued to draw on the Sense of Wonder that first addicted me to reading.

4) Why did you decide to make Jane Madison a librarian?

I work as a librarian in my day-job, managing seven libraries for a fourteen-office nationwide law firm. In the course of that job, I’ve met hundreds of librarians who live fascinating lives. Yet, in the eyes of the public, librarians are still the people who say “shhhhh”. I wanted to write about Jane Madison to make people realize that there’s a lot more out there beyond the stereotype.

5) What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

I spend a lot of time watching baseball – I married into Red Sox fandom. To justify the time I spend in front of the television, I quilt – entirely hand-pieced and hand-quilted wall hangings, with a bias toward traditional patchwork patterns.

6) What sort of research did you do to write this book?/What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?

When I start a novel, I create a spreadsheet. One column lists, in a few sentences, what happens in each chapter. The other columns track the number of pages, the number of words, and the date that the chapter was last modified.

When I’m ready to start writing, I just roll up my sleeves and go. I conduct a fair amount of spot research as I’m working. My characters tend to be much more fashion conscious than I am; I often need to check the name of a designer or a color of make-up. I also find myself regularly tracking down the qualities of various crystals and plants — the essential “props” for Jane’s witchcraft.

7) Jane and her best friend, Melissa, quote Shakespeare to each other frequently. Are you a fan of Shakespeare?

For years, I’ve held season tickets to the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C. They do a phenomenal job with their productions — even when the plays are not my favorite (and they present a wide range of classical theater, not just Shakespeare), their sets, costumes, and lighting design are spectacular. I used to stage manage plays in college, and Jane’s love of Shakespeare brings that avocation back to me.

8) If you were Jane Madison, and you discovered that you were a witch, what would you do?

I probably wouldn’t handle the situation a whole lot more gracefully than Jane does. She reaches out to her best friend right away. I would probably try to keep my powers a secret for as long as possible, because I’d always sort of worry, in the very back of my mind, that I was absolutely, totally, completely insane.

9) What are you writing now?

I’m hard at work on the third novel in Jane’s series, MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL (which will be in bookstores in October 2008). After that, I have a new series for Red Dress Ink, about a stage manager who discovers a genie in a magic lantern.

10) Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

When I was in seventh grade, my best friend and I decided that we would spend our spring break writing a sequel to the LORD OF THE RINGS. (Oddly enough, we didn’t get it finished in nine days.) I learned, though, that I loved creating characters, building their personalities and then tossing them into challenging situations. I wrote off and on all through high school but fell away from writing in college. When I started law school, though, I was desperate for something to balance the dry cases that I was reading. I wrote my first published novel while I was working as a trademark and copyright litigator at a major law firm. Eventually, I quit practicing law to become a librarian (in part, so that I would have more time to write!)

11) What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

In a perfect world, I wake up each morning at 6:00, work out until 7:00, write until 8:00, then eat breakfast, shower, and get ready for work. (I have to be in the office by 9:30.)

In the real world, I travel a lot for my day-job, and publicity and promotion tend to sponge up my weekly writing time. I usually set aside one or both days of the weekend to write for three or four straight hours. When deadlines are approaching, I forfeit a week of vacation from the day-job, using the nine days (work-week, plus two weekends) to pound out around 35,000 words (approximately a third of a novel.)

12) Where do you write?

I have a home office on the ground floor of my three-story townhouse. I sit at a desk that I bought at IKEA about 15 years ago; it looks like leftover hardware from the space shuttle, but it has the best ergonomics of any computer desk I’ve ever used. I use a five-year-old Dell desktop computer, running Windows XP, and I write using WordPerfect? 10. I keep an Excel spreadsheet to track my story outline.

(When I’m traveling, all bets are off – I write on a hotel bed, on a couch, on a chaise lounge, wherever I can find a surface to balance the laptop I’m using — which might be my own, a friend’s, or a loaner.)

13) What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

I have a very difficult time starting a new chapter – the blank screen intimidates me, and I find a hundred and one excuses to keep from writing. (I have forbidden myself from playing FreeCell?, and I had to remove Tetris from my computer entirely.)

I love editing chapters that are already drafted – I truly enjoy reviewing the flow of the language. On my final pass of editing, I read everything out loud, so that I can make sure the sound is as close to perfect as I can make it.

14) This isn’t your first book, tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

I have six traditional fantasy novels – SEASON OF SACRIFICE (a stand-alone novel about twins who are kidnapped from their medieval fishing village and taken to an inland town, where they are expected to participate in a terrifying religious ceremony) and the Glasswrights Series (GLASSWRIGHTS’ APPRENTICE, GLASSWRIGHTS’ PROGRESS, GLASSWRIGHTS’ JOURNEYMAN, GLASSWRIGHTS’ TEST, and GLASSWRIGHTS’ MASTER.) The series tells the story of Rani Trader, an apprentice in the stained glass makers’ guild who witnesses a murder and is accused of being the killer. She’s forced to go under cover in her society’s strict castes to unmask the true assassin.

I also have one other paranormal romance, the first of Jane Madison’s stories, GIRL’S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT. It’s about a librarian who finds out that she’s a witch. But you probably knew that already :-)

15) What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?

Different genre publications have different purposes. Some are truly written to entertain, to take us away from the cares and worries of our daily lives. Others are written as cautionary tales, to warn us about the dangers of politics, of science, of society, of whatever. Still others are written as elegies, reminding us of great men and woman, of leaders who may have never lived. The best genre fiction combines many (or all) of these functions.

Part of the purpose of the Jane Madison books is to raise money for First Book – www.firstbook.org – a national charity with the mission of giving underprivileged children their first books to own. I donate 10% of my profits on both GIRL’S GUIDE and SORCERY to First Book.

Kelly McCullough CYBERMANCY

1) What was your inspiration for writing Cybermancy?

There are a number of reasons I wanted to write this. First, I wanted to write something else in the WebMage universe (this was before WebMage sold) because I really like hanging out with these fun, funny characters, and I love the world. Second, there was unfinished business left over from WebMage, most notably Shara’s injury/death which happens off screen. Finally, and maybe most important for the arc of this book, the Persephone myth has always made me terribly angry. Here is a young goddess who is condemned to be eternally bound to her abductor and rapist, Hades the god of the dead. It’s appalling and the injustice of it something that I found that I really wanted to write about.

2) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

I was raised on Tolkien and Asimov and Shakespeare, and I still love them all, particularly the Lord of the Rings, Richard III and a Midsummer Night’s Dream. I discovered Roger Zelazney and H. Beam Piper when I was a little older, and Zelazney is certainly one of my strongest influences. My favorite writer as a writer myself is probably Tim Powers. I always learn something when I reread him.

3) What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

The fact that the genre puts no limits on my creativity. What I’m most drawn to as a writer is world. I love to invent whole worlds with their own internal logic and rules, and realistcally where else do you have to scope to do that? I also love both as a reader and a writer the sense of being taken completely out of the here and now.

4) Why did you decide to make Ravirn a hacker/sorcerer?

I started the WebMage series from the idea of a magical internet that tied worlds together like webpages and used code for spells. If I wanted to really explore that concept in depth I needed someone who could do more than just use the magical equivalent of web-browser, I needed someone who really understood how the coding worked. That meant a hacker and in the context of the world I was writing, that automatically made him a sorcerer too.

5) What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

Well, writing really is near the top of my list for play as well as being my job. I really enjoy sitting down to work every day. But I also love walking and biking with my wife. I’m an avid videogamer, mostly role-playing stuff like Final Fantasy, but also puzzle games and stuff like Ratchet and Clank, all of which I play with my wife. Like most writers, I’m an avid reader, though more non-fiction than fiction these days.

6) What sort of research did you do to write this book?/What kind of
preparation do you do when you are writing?

I didn’t need to do an enormous amount of new research for Cybermancy, since it’s the second book in a series. I did do a refresher on my general Greek Mythology and especially on the details of Hades and the Persephone story. I also have to constantly update my computer knowledge base, but that’s just part of my ongoing non-fiction reading. I really do more general research than I do specific stuff for any given book. As a part of being a writer I try to have at least a couple of serious non-fiction books going along with keeping up general and scientific news. That’s probably a good two hours of every day, often more and part of what I think of as my job.

7) Ravirn loves hacking and cracking. Is that your favorite activity too?

Actually no, I’m aware of programming and hacking (my mother’s a computer geek as are a number of my close friends), but I’ve never been much interested in the mechanics of how my computer works.

8) In Cybermancy, Ravirn finds himself breaking into Hades to bring back a dead friend in the mode of Orpheus. How do you put yourself in situations like that as a writer to try to make them believable?

It’s tough sometimes. Ravirn is stronger faster and more durable than I am. Many of the things he attempts would pretty much kill me. On the other hand, since he’s a figment of my imagination and hence only a part of me, I like to think I’m smarter. I also get to manipulate the world he lives in to make things harder or easier as seems appropriate. The other thing to remember is that believable and real are not necessarily the same things. There are all sorts of things that happen in fantastic fiction that are completely unreal but believable in the context of the imagined world. There’s a shorter answer and maybe I should have given this first: I really like playing make-believe.

9) What are you writing now?

Two things actively, with a third hovering off to one side. My main project is MythOS which is the fourth book in the WebMage series and will be out in 2009. I’m also writing the first book in a new contemporary fantasy series. I was really inspired by a recent trip to Halifax and this book is the result of that trip. I’m trying to get the first three chapters down while the experience is still fresh. It’s kind of a reward. Once I’ve got my WebMage done for the day (never less than 1,000 words) it’s kind of fun to play with some other characters. I’ve also got the second book in YA fantasy set in World War II that I’ve been playing with. The first book went to my agent a few months ago, and I really love the idea, but I promised myself not to start until I’ve finished MythOS.

10) Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

No. If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I was between the age of 11-22 I’d have said an actor or a stunt man or maybe set designer. My degree is theater and I grew up on and around the stage. But then I met the woman who I would later marry and realized that between the hours and the travel, theater wasn’t entirely compatible with having a happy home life. At about that same time I got my first computer. One day I was kind of trying to figure out what I could do with my life if I gave up theater, and it occurred to me that it might be fun to writer a novel. So I did. I’m no working on 12th and 13th and I’ve never looked back.

11) What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

On a good day I get up around 8:00, hop on the treadmill and use my laptop to read the news while I put in 3-5 miles. Then breakfast and a shower and off to my office for 5-8 hours of writing time. I do that five days a week with occasional variations for research days, editing, dealing with promotion, that kind of thing.

12) Where do you write?

In summer I work in a second floor screen porch overlooking a really lovely park in the small town where I live. In winter I sit in our south-facing TV room and soak up the sunshine reflecting off the wood floors. That’s the routine, but I’ll write anywhere and have, including tucked into a corner at the Air and Space Museum in D.C., on planes, in coffee shops, etc. My real office is my laptop.

13) What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

The easiest thing is world. My brain is really wired to create large-scale magical systems and the historical structures that go with them. Hardest is character. I’m not a natural character writer and I’ve really worked hard to get where I am with it.

14) Cybermancy isn’t your first book, tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

Right now, it’s really only WebMage and some short stories in various magazines and anthologies-a couple of those are available for free reads at my website, kellymccullough.com. I’ve also got a collection of hard science fiction short stories in an illustrated collection called Chronicles of the Wandering Star, but that only available to teachers since it’s part of a middle-school science curriculum. The funny thing about that is that since it’s in a number of large school systems, probably more people have read that than all my other stuff combined despite the fact that you can’t really buy it.

15) What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?

Two things really. One is true of both F&SF and Fantasy, the other is true of SF alone. The first, to carry us out of ourselves. I think one of the greatest services fiction does is to allow you to be someone else someplace else for a while. It allows you to transcend the day-to-day and that’s really important for the human psyche. The second, to explicate and advocate reason and science. The methodology that
is science is one of humanity’s most powerful tools and SF is the fiction of science. It can both generate a sense of wonder in the reader about subjects scientific and put those same subjects into story which can help a reader make sense of the ideas.

Thanks for reading!

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Author Information

Kelly McCullough

Kelly McCullough is a fantasy and science fiction author. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series—Penguin/ACE. His short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Writers of the Future and Weird Tales. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star—part of an NSF-funded science curriculum—and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited—funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Visit site.

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