Feb 27, 2012

QA with Wren Emerson! (Part 1)

I forgot how warm it gets in Georgia. It’s been a while since I was back, but oh, how the humidity embraced me like an old friend. You know, one of those old friends with no concept of personal space.  l missed the thunderstorms. Wow. Lightning for days. But hey, I’m not here to discuss the weather, am I? No ma’am. I’m here to have a chat with my new favorite internet sensation, author Wren Emerson.

She was kind enough to tear herself away from writing (though I’m pretty sure she tweeted several times while I wasn’t paying attention, but that doesn’t really count) to sit down with me across a pair of oh-my-god-delicious nachos at Nacho Mama’s in downtown Augusta. She tossed them back with a coke, but since I had nowhere else to be, I ordered up a margarita. I would’ve gone with the Guinness, but the Margarita won the coin toss.

Once the noms slow to a steady enough rhythm, we make small talk. Seth Green dominates the early parts of the conversation.
She admits to finding a strong connection to Janeane Garofalo’s character in The Truth About Cats and Dogs, which breaks the ice almost instantly. “I AM the under-appreciated friend with the snarky sense of humor,” she says evenly. I find it impossible to argue the point, because I am already a fan of both Wren and Janeane. This is going to be a nice chat.
The conversation also touches briefly on music, where I learn that she began her music collection by picking up “Regulators” by Warren G and “Crazy Sexy Cool” by TLC. I try to get her to show off her TLC dance moves, but she gives me a look that chills my spine and I politely withdraw the request. Damn this margarita.

Her youth found her in Kansas – the sort of Midwest environment which can be an undeniably fertile ground for the creative sorts of people. Nothing like tornadoes and being landlocked to make you seek out other worlds, I suppose. What, specifically, did it teach her? “I would say that I learned a lot about loyalty and being true to your roots. I'm still friends with a lot of the people I went to school with. If I ever made it "Twilight big", I really don't think that would change anything. I'm married to a man that I've known since I was 13. Even if I forgot my humility, he'd be there to ground me and remind me that I'm still the same gawky, awkward girl inside that I was in middle school.”

And in Wren’s case, family also played a major part in setting her on the path to writing.  “I remember my maternal grandmother reading nursery rhymes from my set of Childcraft books while I acted them out,” she recalls. “Old Mother Hubbard was a favorite. That crazy dog was always up to some shenanigans.” 
So how did you transfer from reading stories to actually telling them? Did you always want to be a writer?

She laughed at that, so I braced myself for an epic journey. I wasn’t disappointed.

“At different points in early childhood I have wanted to be president, a professional football player, and a science teacher. Around 6th grade I finally figured out that I wanted to be an author. I started writing stories (awful) and wrote articles for a family newspaper (moderately bad). Around high school I started to carry around a spiral bound notebook and constantly worked on a high fantasy story that was heavily influenced by the Dragonlance series and my involvement in table top RPGs.”

Me: Ah, yes, Dragonlance. I was always in camp Tasslehoff, personally. (I pause here and consider getting my full geek on, but I show restraint.) So, literary-wise, what happened next?

Wren: “When I was about 12 years old I got my hands on a copy of Stephen King's It. I don't think my family even realized what I was reading. I spent all summer reading and rereading it. It captured my imagination in a way that other books hadn't. I think it was the fact that for half the book the main protagonists were my age, but it wasn't written in a way that made the kids seem stupid, which most of the stuff I was reading that was geared to YA did.
“It was that connection to the characters that made me want to do that myself. I'm not saying I'm the next Stephen King, but I hope that I've been successful in writing a book with a YA protagonist that doesn't make the teens reading it feel as though I'm talking down to them.”
 Me: That’s incredibly important, I agree! I could always tell when authors weren’t taking me seriously as a reader. Ugh. Annoying. (as an aside, I still can't finish "It". I'm such a wuss with that book.) So where are you at now in your resolve? How do you feel about where you’re at as an author?
Wren: I view writing as an activity that's both personally fulfilling, but also a viable career. I've luckily never been a position where I've had to compromise my artistic urges due external pressure. I went directly into indie publishing so I've never had anyone tell me that what I'm doing is wrong and I should change it all. The things I want to write are commercially viable so it's not a choice between my art and my mortgage either. I'm very fortunate.
Me: There’s definitely a tradeoff about being the first one to land on an alien planet like self-publishing. It’s still pretty early in its development, so most people are still working out what works and what doesn’t. Hats off to you at figuring it out so soon!  So, how do you get yourself ready to write? 
Wren: I make very elaborate outlines before I start any long work of fiction. With short stories I will write several paragraphs of summary, but with a novel I have a scene by scene background of every single event that needs to happen and since I write in series, I also know what's coming up in future books too.
Once I have my outline (which I make based on notes that I create using a software for Mac called Curio), I start writing. I have a set in stone word goal for every day and I use a spreadsheet to make sure that I'm keeping on track. I've been writing lately in a program called MacJournal. It's been great for short stories so we'll see how it holds up to writing a novel.
And that's my process. Pretty simple, really. I always listen to music while I write. I don't really hear it, but I can't seem to write without it.
Me: Oh, I’m the same way - gotta have a playlist going, or my brain just doesn’t know what to do. How often do you write; how long do you usually spend at a time? 
Wren: I try to write every day, but I don't always make my goal. If I could improve only one aspect of my writing it would be my self discipline. You can pick up everything else you need to know with enough practice.
When I write I set a timer and work in blocks of 50 minutes. When the timer goes off, I take a 10 minute break and that's when I get to check Facebook or answer emails. Ideally, because I think of writing as my job, I try to spend at least 5 hours a day on writing. Eventually, I'd like to work my way up to spending a full 8 hours a day.
Me: And that’s where it does truly become a full-time job, but it’s like they say, you find a way to get paid at what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.  What's your favorite genre to write in - if you have a favorite one, that is?
Wren: Right now I'm really drawn to paranormal/urban fantasy concepts. I'm very much a dreamer. I want to live in a world where magic exists and the man you love might surprise you one day by turning into a wolf. Even in the horror I've been writing there is an element of the fantastic. I have a short list of projects to tackle in the upcoming months and every single one of them has a supernatural spin on them.
Me: Now, one thing I noticed about you, your books tend to span multiple genres - do you find this to be a natural part of your storytelling process, or is it by design?
Wren: I get these really compelling ideas for stories. I can't limit it to just one kind of idea so I write whatever speaks to me at the moment. That's why I love the short story format. I can explore ideas that I normally wouldn't want to work with because there's not much risk. I'm only committed for a few days as opposed to months spent working on a novel.
Me: I can totally appreciate the way you seem to approach your writing; it’s hard not to admire someone for grabbing the stories they want to tell and just making it work under their own steam. And speaking of that sort of DIY approach to publishing, your books are currently published through Lakehouse Press. Could you talk about how that came about? 
Wren: Lakehouse Press is a venture that my friend Courtney Cole and I started last year when we were both publishing our debut titles. At this point it's just a two man operation, but we've discussed the idea of setting up some sort of structure for helping other new indies who would rather have someone else tackle the business end of things so they can focus on writing.

Me: Very nice. So, there you are, creating a press and putting out your first novel. Let's talk about "I Wish" - - when did that story begin for you? Where did the inspiration come from, and how long did you spend developing and writing it? 
Wren: I feel like I could say writing I Wish took 2 years or that it took 2 weeks and both are true. The original idea was something I started playing with a couple of years ago. It's based on my paternal grandmother. She was very much the matriarch of our family. She was a hard woman. I never doubted that she loved me, but she was not a milk and cookies kind of lady.

It wasn't a stretch to imagine what would happen if you got a whole town full of ladies like grandma together. Of course, they are heavily fictionalized versions of grandma. I swear, she's actually a really sweet lady once you get to know her.
When I heard about indie publishing I decided right then I'd finally found a reason to give up my excuses. I was going to write a novel, dammit, and I knew I already have a great idea. I hadn't done anything with it beyond the world building. So I spent a week populating my town with characters, determining the "rules" of the world and the magic they use there, and writing an outline. I was so enthused that it's all I thought about from the minute I woke up until I went to sleep (usually hours after I went to bed because my brain just wouldn't shut down).

When I started writing I Wish, I had a word goal that I met every day. And I wrote every single day, even weekends. I finished it around 2 weeks. I think it was 16 days, but I'd have to check my blog to be sure. Of course, it was less than 50k words and I later went in and added 12k more words, but the core of that story was done in days. This is why I'm such a huge fan of working from an outline. Once you've determined the story, it becomes a matter of putting words on the page.
Me: Wow! That’s pretty impressive! Please tell my readers a little something about the book, beyond the description over on Amazon and the Lakehouse Press website.

Wren: I Wish is Thistle Nettlebottom's story. It's told in first person point of view with a generous helping of snark and sarcasm. She feels like the only sane girl in one strange situation after another. She grows up on the road with a dysfunctional family unit: her emotionally detached mother, her cold (and oftentimes cruel) grandmother, and Shep, who is part body guard, part personal driver.
They go to a town named Desire where she's evidently from, but she has no memories of it. The people there are weird. The women seem to hate her on sight and the men are all a little too eager to get to know her. She thinks her life is wrecked when her grandmother tells her that they are going to stick around, but that's nothing compared to how she feels when she finds out that she, like everyone else in Desire, is an actual broomstick-riding,  cat-having, drop-a-house-on-her-head, genuine witch. That's a bad day for anyone, but add in a tough choice between sweet and sexy Evan or dark and broody Ben and the fact that someone wants her dead and you can understand why Thistle is rethinking her wish to finally have a place to settle down.
Me: It's been online for close to a year, now, and seems to be doing very well - - what are your plans for a follow-up novel?
Wren: I Wish is the first book in the Witches of Desire trilogy. Book 2, Your Word is My Bond has an anticipated release date of April 2012 and Book 3, Reality Bender, is scheduled for June or July.
Me: Can’t wait! What are your other projects in the works?
Wren: I have been working on a series of short stories that delve into the backstories of some of my favorite characters from the WoD universe. Those will be coming out in the coming weeks. I have plans to write a series of short stories about a "zombie" apocalypse that is heavily inspired by the movie 28 Days Later and the comic book series Crossed, but there are no plans to expand that past short stories at this time. As for novel length works? I have plans for a new urban fantasy series based in the world I used in the Witches of Desire books. I'd like to see that ready around August of 2012, but no promises.
Me: You had me at Zombies. We’ll talk about that when the recorder’s off, yes?
Wren: *smiles conspiratorially*

The interior of Nacho Mama’s started getting a bit crazy about this time – small wonder why this place is so popular, I can’t even remember eating my nachos, and yet they’re GONE – so we decide to wander over to the Metro, which Wren assures me is a pretty cool coffee shop. I can never turn down cool coffee shops, so I’m in. This also gives me a chance to turn off the recorder so Wren and I can talk about zombies. And I know you wish you got to hear all of that, but you’re going to have to wait.

To be continued!

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