Greetings, fellow blogospherians! This is Leah Cypess!
Hi! I’m Leah Cypess, author of two Young Adult fantasy novels: MISTWOOD, published by HarperCollins in 2010, and NIGHTSPELL, to be published in May 2011.
I happen to be married to a doctor, to whom I often address such questions as, “So if someone is stabbed in the shoulder, and then he pulls the dagger out and does a quick wrap-up of the wound, would he be able to continue fighting without fainting from blood loss?” To which he often replies, “Can you ask me what would happen if he was injected with insulin? Because that I could answer.”
Tell us about your work!
Mistwood is a high fantasy novel about an ancient shapeshifter bound by a spell to protect the kings of a certain dynasty. And of a confused girl found in a forest who is told she is that ancient shapeshifter, even though she can’t remember anything about her past.
Possibly they’re the same story… possibly not. She’ll have to figure it out while protecting the current prince, navigating his intrigue-filled court, and making sure nobody finds out that she has lost both her memory and her powers.
Nightspell isn’t available yet, but briefly: It is about a kingdom where the living and the dead uneasily coexist… until the balance of power between them is shattered by the arrival of a barbarian princess who thinks the dead should be allowed to move on.
And now for the interview questions:
Tell us something about you that would surprise us.
Well, since all you know about me is what I’ve written above, I guess one surprising thing would be: at a certain point in my life, I vowed never to date another doctor. (Obviously, I have recanted. Don’t be offended.)
(I’m not. 😀 )
What’s the best writing advice anyone has ever given you? What’s the worst?
The best writing advice I’ve ever seen is actually a quote: “The only way to write is well and how you do it is your own damn business.” — A.J. Liebling
This is related to the worst writing advice I ever received, which was when I was 14 and trying out this new “internet” thing. I logged onto a bunch of writing forums and tried to get involved in the discussions. For the most part it was a positive experience, until I made the mistake of disagreeing with someone who said that if you want to be a “real” writer, you have to sit down at 9 a.m. and write until 5 p.m. every day, just as if it was a regular job. I said that I couldn’t imagine writing that way, and was immediately subjected to a storm of invective to the effect that I was an amateur (quite true, at 14) and that I would never, ever make it as a real writer with that attitude (well, HA, I say!)
I still don’t force myself to write at times when it’s like pulling teeth, and rarely write for more than two straight hours at a time, and that works fine for me. Obviously, other people like a more structured approach; see “best writing advice” above.
How far/tightly are your stories planned?
I’m not much of a planner. With Mistwood, I started with a first scene and began writing with no idea at all of where I was going. I didn’t even know if I was writing a short story or a novel. With Nightspell, that approach got me into trouble… about a third of the way in, I was so bogged down in unnecessary complications that I gave the project up, only to revisit it almost ten years later. I did do a little more planning that time around, because the skeleton of the plot was already there, and I had to figure out where it had gone wrong.
In regards to backstory – how much is too much? I have read about some agents and editors who wish to be plunged into a narrative with no setup, while others seem to think that a world building introduction is key.
Although I originally thought of both Mistwood and Nightspell as adult fantasy novels, they were eventually published as Young Adult, and there are different expectations there. My editor was fairly ruthless in pulling out any worldbuilding that didn’t serve the story. That doesn’t necessarily mean minimal worldbuilding – Nightspell, for example, has much more than Mistwood, because the story requires it. But I think because Young Adult books are expected to move quickly, you won’t see much extraneous world-building in that genre. (I’ve seen people comment on this as a difference between Paolo Bacigalupi’s two books, one of which is adult and one of which is Young Adult.)
How much research do you do on a subject you are sketchy on? (For instance, medical stuff. I’m an electrician, not a doctor, so the extent of my knowledge is my CPR and AED certification.)
It depends on how much I need. I’m the kind of person who can feel like she has to read all 50 available books on a subject if I’m going to include one line about it in a manuscript; obviously, this is not a good way to get anything done, and at that point the research is coming from fear of making a mistake rather than from trying to get things right. For some things, all I need is a simple answer (i.e. what would a knife sound like as it plunked into a door?) – and let me tell you, the internet, especially youtube, is priceless. For other
things, i.e. medieval hunting, you need to get more in depth, but there’s also a limit to how much information you’re going to be able to find.
Do you have any non-writing-related projects going on in your life? How do you balance them with each other and with your writing?
I have two kids. As for balance, I’m not sure I do. I find the most important thing is to try to be flexible. On some days my kids will discover some new activity and be completely involved with it for an hour – then it’s time to write. On other days they’re doing nothing but fight with each other and demanding my attention – then it’s not time to write, even if I have a great idea that’s pulling at me, or if I’m on deadline.
I’m also trying hard to prioritize those two “projects,” and let other projects – like, you know, having clean clothes or being able to see the living room floor – fall by the wayside.
What is your superpower?
The ability to ignore an amount of mess that would send other people (i.e. my husband, my mother) screaming into the night.
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