The first Friday in August bodes another day of heat and no rain…just like the last, uh, I can’t remember how many. The weather girl on WHO Radio is bored out of her mind because the forecast never changes.
So, I’m off to pick up this week’s featured author and we transport to what she calls her wonderland. (Again, I don’t know the actual destination because she wouldn’t let me see the coordinates.) Anyway, the structure is a pseudo-Versailles palace. Tea is served in fine porcelain cups. The warm breeze blows through large open windows. Somewhere behind us is a harpist. We’re sitting on pink and white furniture with white walls around us and exquisite crystal chandeliers overhead.
I’m about to doze off with all the luxury, but then remember I have an interview to conduct.
1. Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?
I think that, while I may not be the most fascinating person in my city, I like to think that I am in my own way. I’ve been told that sometimes I have whole conversations in my head, only to say the last part of it out loud and fully expect everyone to know what I’m talking about. I’m a super girly-girl and don’t much like going out where I know there will be a good amount of bugs and dirt. So while I’m sure there are a ton of people more interesting than I am, I’m perfectly okay with that because I’m happy to learn from those people and broaden my spectrum of thinking.
2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m terrified of frogs and, for some reason, contact lenses (I’m in a good place with my glasses, especially after “Final Destination 5”!). Once, when I was taking a high school biology class and we had to dissect a frog, I was so terrified of it that I had to get one of my friends in the class to bring it over to my table for me, and every time I thought it moved I would scream. Another friend who sat at the same lab table as me took his frog and made it look like it was jumping at me. I screamed so loud that someone in the class shouted “Who keeps screaming?” to which I responded “I do! He scared me!” In the end me and my best friend (Who I was partnered with to do the dissection, but the actual act of dissecting made her queasy) got to watch another group dissect theirs instead. The contact lenses thing doesn’t make much sense, really. I just don’t like the idea of sticking myself in the eye with something that might get stuck behind my eye, or get lost, or something that would make a hypochondriac like me freak out.
3. What interested you to be become a writer rather than something else such as a Broadway star?
I can’t sing to save my life! Not without the song playing in the background anyway. I could be a Karaoke star, I suppose, but not a Broadway star. Plus, I’ve got a really bad memory so I could never memorize all those lines!
I think I wanted to become a writer because I feel things so much deeper than I’m sure most people do (That makes sense, doesn’t it?). When I’m thinking about my characters and the struggles I put them through, I sometimes get really emotionally invested. Recently, while I was working on the sequel to “The Ruby Curse”, I was writing a scene that actually almost made me start to cry a little. It wasn’t nearly the saddest scene that I’m planning, but I really had a deep feeling for the characters in the scene and it really made me sad. While that might sound like a bad thing, I’m so happy that I’m able to put myself in their shoes and feel the same emotional turmoil that they do. It makes them feel so much more real to me. By the time I was finished writing “the Ruby Curse” all the way through (edits, rewrites, etcetera.) I began to know my main character, Violet, as if she were someone I could pick up the phone and call. She had really become an old friend of mine, since I’d been working with her for almost two years before I published on Smashwords. If I’d kept going until around October, I think, it would’ve been a full two years.
Writing has also been a source of catharsis for me. It allows me to separate myself from reality and relax. I become my very own version of Alice, returning each day to my wonderland retreat to join Violet and my other characters on their adventure. This series especially (I have a bunch in mind, but most of my focus has been on my Violet Chronicles series) has forced me to sit down and think about certain things that I really hadn’t put much thought into before. Like, what’s best for one person versus what’s best for the majority; how deeply true friendship/love can tie you to certain people, and what they would be willing to do for you; the lengths to which a person is able to survive against the hardships in their lives; etcetera, etcetera. I think I’ve matured a lot since I started writing this series back when I was still getting my feet wet with the college business, having just stepped out of high school only a handful of months ago.
4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?
Laurell K. Hamilton for sure! I think I would invite her over with Edgar Allan Poe. Since he was also her inspiration, I think the two would get along fabulously while we dine over a batch of red velvet cupcakes and glasses of milk. Of course I’d invite Stephen King over as well and, after I have him sign my copy of “Bag of Bones”, everyone would probably get into a very deep, somewhat disturbing discussion over horror. That is, until Novala Takemoto showed up and he and I talked about our shared interest in the Lolita fashion. F. Scott Fitzgerald would be invited too, but he would be one of those people who I couldn’t have been sure if he would show up or not. I made him a place just in case. Jack Kerouac would be invited too! And Lemony Snicket! His was the first series I’d read to a near entirety. It goes without saying that J.K. Rowling would be invited too. She would probably bring everyone an English treat. Naturally chaos would ensue from all the mixtures of personalities, and it would probably end up in a really deep discussion of some sort.
5. If I were stranded on a deserted island (or suffering a four hour layover at the airport), why would your book(s) be great company?
Since “The Ruby Curse” is an adventure story as well as a steampunk fantasy, I think that it would make good company because it might help take your mind off the long four hour layover or the hungry alligator watching you off the banks of the island you’re stranded on. It’ll hopefully immerse the reader in the world that I’ve built that they wouldn’t feel like they’ve been sitting idle for however long, but instead had gone on a big adventure through a world that is powered by steam and clockwork. It’s a pretty easy read and Violet’s voice is very engaging (and incredibly snarky!), or so I’ve been told by the people who have read it already.
6. Share your process of writing in regards to: idea and character development, story outline, research (do you Google, visit places/people or make it up on the spot?), writing schedule, editing, and number of rewrites.
-cracks fingers- Okay! Well, my writing process…
My ideas come from just about everywhere, I guess. I once got an idea for a novel while playing my “The Sims 3” game based on the family I made. The villain for “The Ruby Curse” came from a Russian Fairy Tale called “The Witch”, and I won’t say anything more about that lest I accidentally spoil the whole thing. When I first came up with the idea for “the Ruby Curse” I had actually just recycled an old plot I’d come up with for a traditional, Tolkien-esque fantasy that never really took off in my mind and added more steam power and robotics to the mix. I had also reworked the hero, since I had been thinking to myself “it would be pretty cool to have a hero that’s actually a criminal”. I remember I came up with the idea around the time I was still interested in traditional publishing and had decided that since a bunch of steampunk stories were getting published that I would throw my hat into that ring, as it were, and see what I could come up with. Back then I really didn’t have a good understanding of what steampunk was, so I did a little research and almost two years later, that attempted bandwagon jump evolved into something I’m really, really proud of and really love. In the idea department, never think that because an idea didn’t work one way that it’s completely useless. I can’t remember how many times I’ve recycled heroes, villains, base characters, settings, plots, ect. And just reworked it to fit with something new and having it work three times as better the new way.
Characterization, in my opinion, is my best ability. Sometimes I’m guilty of making really stereotypical characters, but as I start working them out a little I begin to flesh them out until they’re only a stereotype on the surface. Through the first draft I usually just go with my gut instinct for a character, even if it ends up not making sense by the time I’m done. After the first draft I do a character development questionnaire for my characters and flesh them out as deeply as I can. They usually make you think about things that you never would’ve before, like what is the most traumatic moment in your character’s childhood/life/ whatever. It doesn’t always have to be a tragedy either, but the point is to think about it and do the best you can to make them as real as you can. By doing that, I get really attached to my characters and it makes things easier when the time comes to write them again for the second, third, fourth, however many drafts it takes.
The story outline part really goes along with writing the first draft, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll go without being edited itself. I learned a method called ‘scene cards’ and ‘setting cards’ from Kirt Hickman’s book “Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness” and even though it might add some extra work, it’s definitely worth it in the end because when you get ready to work on your subsequent drafts, it makes it easier to keep the scenes straight and to describe the setting in greater detail. During my first drafts, before I have my scene and setting cards filled out, I sometimes have scenes that make absolutely no sense or have no place, or settings that are only described as deeply as I can think of in the process.
Research is done almost one hundred percent through Google. Sometimes I am able to find books I use for research (for example, “The Steampunk Bible” by Jeff Vandermeer was a great research tool when I was first trying to figure out Steampunk in its essence. Now I can’t imagine writing my Violet Chronicals series without it!) But Google is mostly what I use. It’s just the best research tool a person can ask for, whether your writing or need information for a school research paper.
Writing schedule? –Laughs- I have none. My writing schedule is pretty much just when I’ve got time to do it and if I’m not stuck behind a writer’s block. I’ve heard people say that a writer needs to treat writing like an actual job, which means sitting down and doing it at the same time every day regardless of if the juices are flowing or not. That’s actually really good advice, I’m just not able to do it as consistently as I’d like.
The number of rewrites I do really depends on how happy I am with the final product. Whether you go through traditional or epublishing in the end, the main point is that you’re happy with what you’ve done and that you like it. I had to do almost four drafts before I was happy with what I wrote, and one of those drafts I had written out each individual chapter in its own file. Then I went back, reread what I wrote in my head, reread it again in my head, reread it out loud, then reread it again. After a few chapters that got to be really tiring, but the point was that I made sure I was happy with it personally before putting it out there for the world.
7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”
Do it anyway. Just pick a place to start and go with it. Try not to restart too often because then you get bogged down with trying to get the beginning just right, when the point of the first draft is just to get the ideas down. When I first started “The Ruby Curse”, the book opened with a scene where Violet is robbing a bakery. By the time I was ready to publish, that scene had all been cut from the book. Instead, it became a minor thought in the narrative.
8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read ‘Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” What is your philosophy of life?
That’s a good question. I guess my philosophy of life is that if you’ve got enough, you should share it. I once heard Laurell K. Hamilton say something to that effect in one of her interviews and I absolutely agree. If I ever make enough money in my lifetime to be able to donate a portion of it, I fully intend to. I want to be one of those people who, if they’ve been lucky enough to make it in the world, give something back to those less fortunate than myself. I think that kind of thing really says a lot about a person. I’ve been watching “Celebrity Apprentice” for the last two seasons and sometimes it really touches me how deeply these people care about their charities and the people they’re helping.
9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?
-laughs- no, I’m not. Even though I may threaten to in times of frustration, I don’t think I could ever really do it. Not without my brain exploding from all the ideas I have swimming around in it. I’m currently working on the second book in my Violet Chronicles series. I’m not sure how many books will be in the series exactly, but I hope to get these fragments of scenes in my head arranged accordingly within the series, however many books that takes (No more than five, I hope).
10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?
I’ve got a fanpage on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Makayla-Yokley/231164716982029
And my Smashwords store: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/makaylayokley