Why did you write The Paper Magician?
I was getting close to finishing up my current project, so my mind had already put out feelers for what my next story would be about. And then I went on a road trip, and road trips tend to spur thinking.
I had always liked the idea of having a character do paper-based magic, but I’d always considered them as a quirky side character. I’d tried once before to invent a magic system big enough that would have paper manipulation as a branch, but I never came up with anything. Then, whilst on the long road between Moscow, ID and Salt Lake City, I thought, Why make it a side? Why not have the book be about paper-based magic? And it bloomed from there.
What is it about this project that makes you happy or proud?
I felt like I had created an interesting and truly succinct plot for perhaps the first time ever, ha. I felt the idea, or at least its execution was fairly original, and I really liked my character. After writing The Paper Magician, I thought, this is it. This is the book that gets me an agent. Turned out I was right. :)
What was one of the first books to inspire your interest in this genre?
Oh gosh, I really don’t know book-wise. Lame as is sounds, it was actually an anime I watched when I was thirteen (I had no idea what anime was at the time) that made me want to write fantastical books. And though I’m not much in Japanese cartoons anymore, I recommend Tenkou no Escaflowne to anyone. Great storyline, no silliness.
Who influenced your voice as a writer?
As far as The Paper Magician and its sequels are concerned, the wondrous workings of Diana Wynne Jones, specifically Howl’s Moving Castle, really influenced my voice. I think The Paper Magician sounds just a little bit different from all my previous works.
How did you learn how to write? How did you develop your style?
Well, for a long time I just wrote. I started writing at thirteen and wrote a lot of (unfinished) crappy books and a lot of fanfiction that still haunts the Internet.
I took my first real writing classes in high school and had a great teacher. Then I started reading books (I believe my first was Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy). Then I started attending conventions and taking writing courses in college. And I read, a lot. In my genre and out.
I think my style more or less developed on its own. I feel I owe a great debt to Brandon Sanderson, whose writing course at Brigham Young University I attended for two semesters. Best writing class I’ve ever taken. He was my mentor.
What is your process when you begin a new project?
I usually have an idea that brews in my mind for a long time—months to years. When it finally clicks in my head and flips the passion switch, I bust out one of my handy-dandy mini notebooks and start writing notes, generally in the order ideas come to my mind. Character sketches, maps, scenes, setting, whatever. When the notebook fills up to the point where I have the bones of a story, I make an outline. When the outline is sound, I start writing.
What are some writing tips or tricks that work for you?
I think carrying around a notebook in your pocket or purse is great for writing down ideas—they can strike you anywhere.
Making a daily word count goal helped me immensely. It made me get serious about the profession and made me actually finish books.
With writing fantasy, I often come up with the magic system first. My entire story will circulate around how the magic works.
Something interesting David Farland once told me was to treat my manuscript like a movie, and interview different people to play my characters. It helps to get a good idea of what personalities will work best with the tale you want to tell.
Alpha and beta readers. I have two sets of critique partners—writers and non-writers. The writers, or the “alpha” readers, get my first draft. Once I fix everything and make draft two, my non-writers, or the “beta” readers, get the book. They give me readerly feedback that helps me fix the smaller things. Having two sets of readers makes for more drafting, but I think my books turn out stronger that way.
What advice do you have for people who want to become writers?
Write. I know that sounds stupid, but once you actually finish a book, you’re already above 95% of aspiring writers.
Take criticism. Take all you can, and don’t take it personally. Good news is great for the ego, but bad news is better for the craft. However, take it with a grain of salt. Brandon Sanderson once told me you’ll only use about 1/3 of the criticism you receive, and I find that to be true. Unless more than one person (assuming you use multiple readers) has a problem with an issue you’re not sure about changing, don’t change it. It’s your story.
What upcoming projects are you working on?
I’m finishing up The Glass Magician right now, which is the sequel to The Paper Magician. On the horizon is the final book to the trilogy, as well as an epic fantasy titled Horizon Drop that’s more or less about seamonsters. I’m excited to dip my toes back into the epic subgenre (it’s been a while).
Meanwhile I’m working on selling two other novels that I wrote before getting my agent, and dabbling in some short fiction as well. :)
You're in heaven (so anything is possible) and you own your own television network. What shows are on your channel?
30 Rock, Seinfeld, every single Star Trek series, a whole bunch of NEW Star Trek series, various cooking shows, and America’s Next Top Model (I know, I’m a horrible person).
What is your favorite pen to write with?
Whichever one happens to be working…
Favorite beverage while writing?
Just water. :)
Name five books you love.
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (uh… that’s technically like, 16 books. I’d take the first one. Or the ninth. Or the 14th.) Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and… how about Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt.
Leather bound editions or paperbacks with a great pulp fiction covers?
I’m pleading the 5th on this one… ;)
Tell us about your favorite teacher and how he or she influenced you.
Writing teacher is Brandon Sanderson. He had the most knowledge and was willing to just throw it at us. He let people audit his class for free. He told me how the industry itself works, not just how to string together a sentence. He made being published achievable.
What is your favorite quote about writing?