A big thank you to Heather for taking the time to answer these questions for Books Etc.!
Books Etc.: How do you come up with your story ideas?
While most of the books start with a random thing I saw or heard, or a question I want to answer for myself (like "is there a right amount of selfishness?" which I'm exploring in a current work-in-progress), I also keep a list of ideas and interesting phrases that I use when I need a little inspiration. In the early stages of Blank Slate Kate I checked that list and found a line like "I woke up next to him and couldn't remember his name." I don't remember adding that to the list but I was probably thinking of a one-night-stand situation. When I saw it, though, it occurred to me that if the next line was "I couldn't remember my own name" there could be something interesting going on, and the book evolved out of that.
BE: There are many amnesia stories out there. How did you try to make Blank Slate Kate different?
Most of the novels I found involved what I call 'convenient amnesia' - the heroine forgets all the bad stuff when she doesn't need it then remembers everything at the exact moment she needs to know who her handsome hero really is. I did research on amnesia (some of which I'll reveal here in my guest post on Thursday) and learned that the retrieval of lost memories is almost never that clean and easy. Many sufferers of serious amnesia in fact don't ever regain everything they've lost. I wanted Kate's attempts to rediscover her identity to be realistic, and the ultimate cause of her amnesia is also realistic based on my research. (I never aim to write a textbook but I do think it's better to have at least a little fact in my fiction. :)
BE: You have to name a lot of characters in Blank Slate Kate - real names, new identities, potential baby names. How do you come up with your character's names?
The name just has to feel right to me. If it doesn't seem to suit the character I'm building, it will change. Amy in Live Out Loudwas Mindy for a while but it never really clicked with me so I kept looking until I found Amethyst and nicknamed her Amy.
I do not usually use the names of people I know, although Jen in Go Small or Go Home and Stir Until Thoroughly Confusedwas named after my cousin-in-law and shares her spirit and attitude. (I asked first. :) While these aren't people names, the seven women on the opposing team in Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many are all named after golden retrievers my parents own or have owned. (If you need a cuteness fix, check out their dogs at http://www.setherwood.com)
BE: What's your least favourite thing about being an author?
BE: What about your favourite thing?Just about everything else. :) I love when I reread something and think, "Really? That came from my fingertips on the keyboard?" I love getting a flash of brilliance for a book in the shower or while driving - it's such a neat feeling, not at all like I'm thinking things up but like they're appearing for me like gifts from above. I love getting email from readers (http://www.heatherwardell.
BE: You're known for revisiting characters in your books and I love that. Did you start doing that consciously or did it just happen?
BE: On the same line, and purely to satisfy my own curiosity, in Blank Slate Kate do Ryan and Kate go to Magma? Or is it just a regular old restaurant that they go to (and then leave before eating but take the bread...love that scene!)?
BE: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write your first drafts as fast as you can, because you can't edit a blank page so you need to get the story out where you can see what you've got. (They always seem MUCH prettier in my head than on the page in first draft. :) On the same note, do not compare your first drafts to anyone's finished work, including your own. In my early planning notes for nearly all of my books is a lament on how crappy this idea seems compared to the beauty of the previous book (the notes for which, of course, have the same lament about ITS previous book). Don't do this to yourself. :) My husband tells me that I am my own most important reader, and it's such a great concept. You absolutely have to write what you love. If your most important reader doesn't like the book, it's not right. Make sure you love it, and there will be other people who do too. (Related: don't try to write to "the market". You can't hit a bullseye on a moving target. Write what you love and it will find its readers.) Listen to yourself. Over the years I've come to recognize what I call "the oogh": a cold sick feeling just under my ribs when I go off-track in a book. When I feel it, I backtrack and figure out where it's gone wrong. I have never yet been led astray by the oogh and some of the best moments in my books have come from following it in a completely different direction than I'd intended to go. However your version of "the oogh" manifests, learn it and listen for it. I do outline my books, and that helps me tremendously, but I'm always willing to change the outline if the oogh demands it. (I feel compelled to add, "Don't worry if you sound insane" to my advice for authors. :) Creativity is a strange and weird thing, and if being a little strange and weird makes it flow better I am fine with seeming a little odd. :)
BE: What kinds of things do you like to do when you're not writing?
BE: And finally, a look to the future. I know you're always working on something - what can we expect from you in the next little while?