Here’s a compilation of the questions I most commonly hear from readers and aspiring authors. Do you have a question I didn’t answer? Let me know by sending me an email with the subject line “FAQ.” Thanks!
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Birth name: Emily Deborah Laybourne
Birthplace: Somerville, NJ
Children: Ellie and Rex
Education: BA in English, Vassar College ‘93. MFA in Screenwriting, UCLA 2006.
Oh honey, I wish I could, but I just can’t. Between being a novelist and being a mom, I’m lucky if I find the time to read my own dang work!
Right now I am developing both M14 and Berserker for TV. I have to tell you we’re not anywhere near the audition stage. However, when we get a green-light, the first thing I will do is request open national casting calls. Will I get what I want? I’m not sure. But if you are truly interested in auditioning for any of my projects the first step is to subscribe to my newsletter. It’s where I announce all news about adaptations of my work. If you read my newsletter you will be the first to know about any casting opportunities.
Right now I don’t have plans to write another book in the series, but I’m toying with the idea of writing a novella about one of the characters who goes missing in Savage Drift (I won’t say who because spoiler).
I think the seed of the Monument 14 series comes from two of my great loves: survivalist planning and superstores. I love to wander the aisles of superstores, checking out the goods and seeing how I would set up camp in the store if I had to. And I’ve always enjoyed “worst case scenario” thinking. It’s the worrier in me, but I’m always thinking of how I will save my kids’ lives if we’re in some terrible crisis…
I put those together and there was the central idea of Monument 14—fourteen kids stranded in a superstore while civilization collapses.
Here was my process: I decided to write a book set in the 1880s – just out of my sheer love for the time period. I also knew that I wanted the book to have a paranormal element and some romance.
I started thinking about who was in America at this time and what was going on, focusing on the homesteaders. My people on my mother’s side were Norwegian immigrants who settled in North Dakota and became potato farmers. The mid-west was flooded with Scandinavian immigrants. I started thinking about what these Scandinavians brought with them in terms of mythology. First I went to trolls, and I thought, Man, I really do not want to write a book with a troll/human romance in it. Then I hit on the Vikings. Vikings! It was a huge aha moment for me!
I realized that while our knowledge of Norse mythology is pretty extensive, we don’t really have an explanation for why the Vikings were as fierce and successful as they were. I started wondering, What if there was a system of magic behind the Viking’s power? The Nytte was born in that moment – I saw the Nytte as gifts from the creative and mysterious Odin, designed to empower his people and to conquer all those who did not follow the ways of the old Gods.
I’m a huge Kristin Cashore fan, and I absolutely love the way the books in the Graceling series relate to each other, without being strict sequels. I was also really intrigued by the character of Sissel. Not only is she frail and the youngest sibling, but she’s also the only Hemstad who doesn’t have ancient powers. I really became fascinated with how bitter and left out she must feel, and I wanted to see how she would react when given a tremendous gift. I have to say, I really loved writing her – Sissel might be my favorite character I’ve written. Except… there’s Max, from Monument 14, he still has a tender place in my heart.
With Sweet, the premise of the book came first. It’s often this way with me. I’m hit with a flash of an idea. In this case it was, “What about a book about a substance that seems innocuous but turns out to be highly addictive?” And then I thought, “And it seems really harmless, like caffeine or sugar, but it’s not harmless. It turns people into monsters.”
Once I was developing the premise I realized that if I made the substance a weight-loss drug I could also investigate issues of body image and our obsession with weight. I care deeply about these issues, as well as food addiction, so I was pretty excited when I realized how many different discussions the book might be able to initiate. With issues of weight and body, which are so emotional and deeply-felt, I’m not looking to provide answers, but to raise questions. I encourage you to read my letter to the readers of Sweet.
I know. The ending of Sweet really begs for a sequel, but I’m sorry, my friend, I won’t be writing another book set in this world. There are just so many other books I want to write. I encourage you to go crazy with some fan fiction if you have some ideas about what is going to happen to Laurel and Tom next…
I once saw a piece on the news about volunteers who go into the hospital and hold babies who are born prematurely. The infants need to be held as much as possible, for their health. I would take that job in a heartbeat. I can’t imagine a better job than holding newborn babies all day.
There are two causes for writer’s block in my experience. The first is that you’ve actually made a mistake in your writing the day before. You forced something. Maybe you made two characters kiss who aren’t ready for it, or you glossed over an important moment that needs to be fleshed out. You did something that’s just not right and your story is letting you know by slumping to the floor like a protesting toddler.
As soon as you go back in and find the error and take it out, the story will perk up and want to be written again. This has happened to me countless times!
The other, more sinister reason I get writer’s block is when my inner critic acts up. I tell you, that guy is such a jerk. When I write, I need to turn off my inner critic completely.
Hear me when I say this: you cannot create and judge at the same time. To be specific for writers, this means you can’t draft new material and edit at the same time.
Writing and judging at the same time is like driving a car with your foot on the gas and your foot on the brake. You won’t get anywhere.
Oh my goodness – plotter all the way! First of all, I love story structure. I’ve spent years studying how story works, and reading a ton of books about it – some of my favorite resources are Hal Ackerman’s Write Screenplays That Sell, all the Save The Cat! books by Blake Snyder, especially the new installment in that series—Save The Cat! Writes a Novel by my dear friend Jessica Brody, and Story Maps by Dan Calvisi.
Oh my goodness – plotter all the way! First of all, I love story structure. I’ve spent years studying how story works, and reading a ton of books about it – some of my favorite resources are Hal Ackerman’s Write Screenplays That Sell, all the Save The Cat books by Blake Snyder, especially the new installment in that series — Save The Cat! Writes a Novel by my dear friend Jessica Brody, and Story Maps by Dan Calvisi.
I start any project with a beat sheet, which I then expand into note cards on a big board, and then I go to an outline. My goal is to have a really robust, detailed outline, so that I can get the shape of the whole novel just the way I want it, before I start drafting.
Once I’ve shown this outline to a few trusted friends and allies, and I’ve revised it based on their notes, I start to write. Each day, as I finish work for the day, I read about the scene I’ll be working on the next day. That way, as I go about my family life in the afternoon, and get ready for bed in the evening, the scene is playing out in the back of my mind. When I get to my office in the morning, the scene is almost always ready to be written!
LESS FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I’m going to have to go with Marie Lu, here. Now there are tons of lovely YA authors out in the world and I’ve had the great fortune of meeting many of the American ones, but Marie Lu really takes the cake. She’s kind, gracious and generous. Here’s why I can feel confident making this proclamation – if you asked any OTHER YA author, they would also name Marie. I feel certain of this.
Like, yeah, as if I would go there.
He is a dream. A dreamy, sweet man who makes every scene better because he always plays it real.
I had the pleasure of working with The Rock on a short-lived NBC sitcom called DAG. Dwayne is the perfect professional and is a kind and grounded guy. I sincerely hope he’ll go into politics!
I only got to improvise with Amy a couple times back in the day, but OMG, she is fiercely funny. She has the best intuition of any actor I ever knew. You always knew, watching her, that she was going to be a star, because she just shone so brilliantly.
I’m a down to earth gal. I really like to have fun and make people laugh. If you saw me in the grocery store you’d think, “Oh, there goes someone’s mom.” If you saw me on a panel or on stage you’d think, “That lady is pretty funny. Who is she, anyway?”
I write because I have a backlog of stories I want to tell in my mind. If I do not write them down and get them out into the living, breathing world, I will feel like I’ve failed them.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf. This achingly beautiful portrait of small town people living in rural Colorado breaks my heart every time I read it. I have to buy it in multiples, because I’m forever giving it away to people who visit me.
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. I love the heroine of this book, Harry Crewe, aka Harimad-sol. She’s stoic and brave, though many heroes are, but she’s also thoughtful and humble. It’s the best fantasy I’ve ever read.
On The Banks Of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read and re-read the Little House books dozens of times as a child. Though I like them all, this one if my favorite. I love the dugout house, I love the morning glories that Laura inspects each morning, I love the big crayfish in the creek, who bites Nellie Oleson on her bratty little toes!
Because I got my start as an actor, I have a bunch of tools that other authors don’t usually use. For example, when I am creating characters, I will sometimes go to the mall and stalk people. I follow them, at a distance, and copy their gait. It helps me to key in on how a character moves in the world. Weird, I know! But very fun. Try it – but don’t get caught!
I like the word “avuncular” quite a lot. I don’t know that I’ve ever found a way to use it without sounding like a jackass. I love the words, “foursquare” and “hardscrabble.” I also am a fan of “untoward.”
In my recent book, Berserker, part of the story is told by Owen Bennett, a young, down-on-his-luck cowboy. I really enjoyed writing for Owen, especially because I got to flavor his part of the narrative with just a bit of cowboy language. Here are two sentences I like:
“The whiskey, Owen discovered, burned like blazes going down, but once the fire of it reached his gut, he rather liked the feeling. In fact he very much enjoyed the feeling.”
SINCE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR, LET’S HAVE A LIGHTNING ROUND…
- The feel of new socks
- Watching one of my kids perform in a play or during a recital
- The smell of the plains in Colorado right before it rains
- How my husband cooks steak
- When we go around the table at Thanksgiving and say what we’re grateful for. I can live on that shit for a year
- Wearing high heels
- Forgetting someone’s name
- When my dog rolls in turkey poop
- The flu
- Skydive (tandem, fer sure)
- Walk on the set of a TV show or movie based on one of my books
- Live abroad for a year (Europe sounds pretty good)
- Collaborate with an artist on a picture book or graphic novel
- Drink scotch in Scotland