Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Author Interview: Heather Wardell

It's Day #2 of 3 of the Week of Heather Wardell! It's the Blank Slate Kate blog blitz this week and I've already reviewed it (check out my review here). Now we're onto the interview portion of the week! Heather was kind enough to answer some questions I thought up...even though she told me I was evil for making her think :) She thought hard and came up with some amazing answers. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did. Stay tuned for a guest post from Heather later this week!

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? 

Heather Wardell: They come to me in many different ways. Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many (free this week on Kindle!) came from a moment where I saw a TV commercial for "Survivor" and thought how much worse the experience of being on Survivor would be if your fellow castaways were all your exes. Live Out Loud was originally sparked by wondering what a woman who believed she had created her masterpiece, the work she'd been put on earth to make, would do next. The book itself didn't end up being about that but that's where I started.
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?

I used to look at the books on the shelves in my writing room and steal authors' names, but I've used pretty much all of those! My current favorite method is the US Government census website. I figure out the approximate year in which a character is born and then go look at the top 1000 names for that year. So far, I've never failed to find one there that works for me.
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?

When I don't feel motivated. I love my characters and their stories and yet there are days I just can't seem to get myself into my chair to work. Over the years (I've been writing full-time since 2005) I have gotten better at handling this, usually by leaving the apartment and going to Starbucks instead. I always work well there. It does my waistline no favors but at least I get my writing done. :)

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.com/contact.shtml if you'd like to send me one! :). And I love all the cool people I've met because I'm an author, such as lovely bloggers like you! :) (Aw. But it's true!)

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?
I love the way you worded this because it lets me answer like this: Kegan from Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo did it. :) When I was working on Go Small or Go Home, I sent my main characters Tess and Forrest to a restaurant. Since Forrest is a hockey player I figured they'd go to a sports bar, but that didn't feel right. I then realized he might not want to be surrounded by sports fans who would criticize his playing. So they had to go somewhere else. Before I knew it, they were at Kegan's restaurant and it turned out Forrest knew Kegan since he'd played hockey with Kegan's brother. It amused me and my early readers to have Kegan reappear, and I just kept doing it because it still amuses me and also because it helps to build a sense of the books' "world" continuing through time.

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!)?

Good job! It is most definitely Magma, the restaurant that opened in Stir Until Thoroughly Confused. :) I don't want to always have my characters going to the same two restaurants, since there are lots of options in Toronto, but in this case it felt like the right thing to do. (And I'm glad you love that scene - it was one of those 'flash of brilliance' things I mentioned above and it's probably my second-favorite moment in the book. First favorite being a tie between the beginning and the ending. :)

BE: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read as much and as widely as you can, because you'll get a stronger sense of what you do and don't like in a book.
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?

I read, of course: 114 books last year and I'm gunning for 120 this year. I play clarinet, and two years ago I started playing drums and am in the pit orchestra for the musical "Fame" in February. (I have to drum along to a rap. I am, to put it mildly, not a rapper. This is a challenge. :) I love crocheting and spend most of my evenings cuddling the cat and crocheting and watching as my husband plays video games. (Sometimes I read at the same time. :) (And I also like to overuse smilies, apparently!)

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? 

I have three books in progress at the moment, so they all have codenames so I don't get confused. Flying Squirrel, currently in second draft, is about a doormat of a woman who develops inner and outer strength via the marathon. Gemstone, finished in first draft and awaiting its turn to be edited, features an Internet columnist undertaking a project to be "good to herself" for thirty days and realizing she has no idea what truly counts as good. In Hippo, currently in first draft, a woman arrives on what's to be her wedding cruise only to realize she's dated both her fiance's brothers and still has feelings for them both. My intent is to release all three of these books in 2012, and I'd love to also do a fourth if I can manage it! Thank you so much, Kaley! :) I'm honored that you gave me a space to ramble, and I'll be checking in between writing sessions to see if any of your readers have questions or comments for me.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview Kaley! You're getting good at these :)


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