Interview with Writer Lia Keyes

Lia Keyes was born in the basement of a house that no longer exists, in a part of London called World’s End. It’s no wonder she writes fantasy!

Lia is represented by Laura Rennert of AndreaBrown Literary Agency, is founder of The Sreampunk Writers Artists Guild, and Creative Strategist for the non-profit, VentanaSierra, founded by Ellen Hopkins.

Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?

Can I cheat and share a video of Ira Glass talking about the gap between your storytelling taste and your ability? Because I love that one and replay it often!

If you could go back in time, what piece of knowledge would you take back with you into the future?

Ooh, that is an interesting question! Early civilizations understood so much and it sometimes took us over a thousand years to rediscover the same knowledge—that we live in an atomic world, for one—but perhaps a simple appreciation for how to use time well is something we could learn from the past. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology we have more leisure time than ever before, but there is a persistent sense of unease in the rushed, materialistic society that has resulted; a loss of spirit and meaning and craftsmanship. So perhaps the knowledge that I’d bring back to the future is that building things of qualityin relationships, in what we contribute to the world, in what we take from it, and in what we leave behindis better than building disposable things in quantity. It’s a question of legacy. What kind of ancestor would you like to be?


Your specialty is fantasy. What bit of advice do you hear over and over about how to build a world of fantasy? Also, what’s one piece of advice you’ve heard on this subject that was rare and resonated with you?

Building an imaginary world that feels deep and unique is a huge task; you have to think about everything from geography to customs, trade, daily life, and social organization. There’s an amazing list of questions about this on the SFWA’s website.

But none of this is worth diddly squat if it’s just window dressing. During an interview on my blog with world-building guru Kevin Mowrer, he told me… 

“The thing that we all strive for in good storytelling is human authenticity. The world itself must be crafted to have meaning and metaphor that is aligned and contributing to all characters and themes in every way possible. The world births and shapes our characters.” 

That resonated deeply with me and informs every choice I make.

In your writing career, who’s had the biggest influence on you?  What did they do to inspire you to keep writing?

A tough question! Influence comes from so many quarters—from the books that carried me out of dark times and gave me hope for a better life, to my two children, who need proof that choosing a creative path doesn’t have to mean destitution, and my mentor, Ellen Hopkins, who offered me a home when I lost mine and demonstrates every day what it takes to be a successful professional writer.

If you could be any hero, real or make believe, who would it be and why?

If I’m being serious, the answer would be the incurably curious figures of history, who sought the truth of how the world works, despite religious or political oppression – Paracelsus, Galileo, yes, but really any seeker.

And if I’m being light-hearted, then Robin Hood, because he was unselfish, irreverent, merry, and valued his friends.
If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?

Scatter-brained. Wait, is that one word or two?

That quote by Kevin Mowrer is a powerful one, thank you, Lia! It was more than a pleasure to interview you, it was an honor! 

If you would like to find out more about Lia, please visit her website and check out all the wonderful things she has to say/share on Twitter.  

Interview with Eric Elfman

Eric Elfman is the award-winning author of twelve books, including three offbeat almanacs published by Random House, one of which, Almanac of the Gross, Disgusting & Totally Repulsive, was named an “ALA Recommended Book for Reluctant Readers” and is now in its sixth printing. Eric also wrote three YA X-Filesnovels for HarperCollins and two collections of scary short stories (Three Minutes Thrillers and More Three Minute Thrillers) for Lowell House. Eric is now co-writing Tesla’s Attic with Neal Shusterman, a series of three middle grade novels that will be published by Hyperion starting in 2013.

Also a writing coach, Eric has worked with more than a hundred writers, many of whom have since had their books published (including four so far in 2012). For the past seven years, Eric has been on the faculty of the Big Sur Children’s Writers Workshop, sponsored by the Henry Miller Library and directed by Andrea Brown.
Many of Eric’s books have been optioned by Hollywood. His Three Minute Thrillersseries was optioned by Merv Griffin Enterprises, and The Almanac of the Gross has been developed as a magazine-style TV show for kids. Also a screenwriter, Eric wrote a movie for Intersound Pictures, and with Neal, co-wrote an adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It for Walden Media. Eric and Neal sold CLASS ACT, an original pitch based on a true story, to Revolution Studios. After they wrote the screenplay, the project was set up at Dreamworks with Halle Berry attached to star.
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
“Dream the scene.” It’s a line of dialogue from Pat Hobby: Teamed With Genius, a TV movie based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It starred Christopher Lloyd as a hack screenwriter teamed with a hot young British playwright played by a very young Colin Firth. “Dream the scene” is how the young playwright describes his writing process to the older screenwriter. Lloyd’s no-nonsense has-been has no idea what Firth is talking about, because it’s too poetic, too deep. But it always speaks to me: when I’m having difficulty writing a scene, I “dream” it, taking myself out of it and imagining the moment as fully as I can, watching the sequence of events between my characters and their environment. Only then can I write it down, describing the actions and exploring the feelings of my characters.
What piece of advice do you find yourself offering most to writers?
Aside from “avoid the passive voice,” it’s this: make sure your protagonist is driving your story. Time and again I read manuscripts from my coaching clients where the protagonist is, essentially, a passenger in the story. Perhaps this comes from the writers not fully committing to the stories they’re telling. Or maybe it’s because most writers are by nature observers, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of building a story around an observer. It won’t work.
The essence of story is this: your protagonist urgently wants something, and someone or something stands in their way. That’s it. That’s story. Drama equals conflict. If your protagonist simply floats through the manuscript, describing events around them and being handed the things they need — then you have a travelogue, not a story. Your protagonist has to earn the reward at the end of the road.
I’ve heard many rave about your world building skills. Could you take us in your mind for a moment and show us how you build a world?
This is hard to answer because every situation, every world, is unique. My writing partner and I were hired as World Builders (the actual job title!) for a Dreamworks film and a Disney project. And of course every screenplay, every novel, even those set in the “real” world, require world building.
It helps to have a good imagination, that’s for sure. If you’re creating fantastic other worlds, they better be fantastic! But it ultimately depends on how you layer in your details. As the writer, as the creator of the world of the story, you need to know that world in intimate detail — but you also have to decide which are the relevant details, the ones that best reveal the world to the reader. Because the realworld building occurs in the reader’s mind. (Oh, and remember your own rules for the world you create. Nothing shatters the reader’s delicate suspension of disbelief more quickly than violating the way you’ve told us your world works!)
In your career who’s had the biggest influence on you? What did they do to inspire you?
I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful teachers, friends and business relationships over the years. But I would have to choose my friend and writing partner, Neal Shusterman. He helped me get my first book contracts; we wrote a spec screenplay together, UNDERWHERE, which led to pitch meetings with every studio in Hollywood and three film deals; and now we’re writing our book series Tesla’s Attic together. Every time I sit down to write with Neal, it’s like taking a Master Class in creative writing. I am able to discuss story problems, characters, conflict with a master who understands these things almost instinctively. If the pace is sagging, we solve it by adding more tension; if the story goal becomes too easy, we add more obstacles. I try to take back everything I learn to my own writing.
If you could send your younger self one tweet, what would you say?
Be good in the room. Writing biz not just words on page, u also have to sell yourself.
If at all possible, could you pick one book that has deeply affected you? If so, what was it that moved you about it?
Wow. This is such a tough question! When I was in junior high, I was such a voracious reader it became a running joke that I would bring a different book to school each day. Usually mysteries. In all the books I read when I was younger, there are so many meaningful ones, from The Count of Monte Cristo to The Princess Bride to Winter’s Tale. (Ha! I slipped in a few extra!) But if I had to pick only one…it would be The Hobbit, simply because it was the first book that I quite literallydidn’t want to end — there was a sadness permeating my being as I reached the closing chapters, from knowing that I was going to have to say goodbye to people who had become friends of mine, a feeling that I still feel to this day when I think about it.
When you’re having moments when nothing seems to fit, how do you find what you are looking for and make a story come to life?
When my “dream the scene” technique above doesn’t work, or I’m having a difficult time working out a knotty story problem, I go for a run. It sounds almost too simple, but the physical and mental reaction as blood starts bringing much-needed fuel to my oxygen-starved brain — it’s about the closest thing I’ve found to actual magic. After a two mile run, I’m able to see my way through thickets of story problems that once seemed insoluble.
If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Another toughie! How can you ask a wordsmith for a single word (optimistic)? I waded through dozens (observant, persistent, patient), and I don’t know if this one is perfect (insouciant, supportive), but it will have to do: Happy.
Thank you, Eric! You’re definitely a skilled wordsmith and I completely agree with the one word you picked! Your happiness in life and writing spreads into many, thank you for that! 

For more information about Eric’s coaching, visit his site:

For Eric’s book:
He tweets (when he has something to say) at @Eric_Elfman

Interview with Author and Editor Lorin Oberweger

LORIN OBERWEGER is a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter with almost twenty-five years experience in publishing. Her company, Free Expressions, offers writing seminars nationwide with literary agent Donald Maass and others, as well as the acclaimed Novel Crafting Retreats–intensive story development weekends for writers in all genres of fiction.
Lorin’s students and clients have millions of books in print and have been published by imprints of HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Scholastic, and other mainstream and independent presses. They have also gained representation with some of the industry’s leading literary agents.

An award-winning author, Lorin’s poetry, short fiction, and articles have appeared in well over one-hundred periodicals, including THE MONTSERRAT REVIEW, STORYQUARTERLY, and the bestselling regional anthology FRENCH QUARTER FICTION. Recently, an excerpt of her novel-in-progress, ITCH, was awarded “Best of Workshop” at Writers in Paradise, co-founded by author Dennis Lehane. She is represented by Tracey Adams at Adams Literary.

Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote?  If so, why is it your favorite?

I’m a quote hoarder, so picking one is almost physically painful, but I keep a quote from Neil Gaiman pinned above my desk, and it comes closest to describing my ongoing desires for my own life and for those I love (and like):
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”  Neil Gaiman

Everyone in the industry raves about your keen eye and editing skills! What piece of advice do you find yourself offering the most to writers?

Too often, I find that writers take an externalized, cinematic approach to their characters. They SEE them on the page, move them about like chess pieces as dictated by the mechanical constructs of the plot they’ve created. But they don’t truly live and breathe their characters; they don’t become their characters to the extent that they understand them on an instinctive, visceral level. This can result in episodic novels with oddly inert characters.

So, I urge folks to truly get inside their characters, to understand their motivations, their goals and desires. Understand, in as organic a way as possible, what DRIVES your protagonist forward in life. That desire should be something practical and observable (with a subset emotional desire, as well), and it should serve as the propulsive force of your novel. Without that driving force, that fire in a character’s belly, it’s really tough to create a dynamic, satisfying tale.

In your career as a writer and editor, who’s had the biggest influence on you?  What did they do to inspire you?

Putting aside all of the absolutely amazing authors who’ve taught me so, so, SO much and made me a fiend for the written word, AND putting aside my clients who impress and inspire me each and every day, I’d have to give a ton of credit to the late Gary Provost. (With props to the incomparable Don Maass who is a master instructor, as well.)

Gary was known as “the writer’s writer.” He wrote phenomenal books on craft (some of which are still available), and he was also a warm, inspiring, funny, and brilliant teacher. When in my twenties, I sought out a workshop and a mentor, he was the first I found, and he absolutely changed the course of my writing and professional life. And my personal life, too, as I’ve made some of the best friends of my life through workshops and editing!

Not only did he inspire me via a fantastic education in the nuts and bolts of fiction craft, but he and his wife Gail taught me so much about how to treat writers, how to help and inspire, not demean or bully. His accessibility, his breadth of knowledge, his warmth: all really inspired me, and still inspire me, to do what I can to support writers at all stages of their careers.

If you could send your younger self one tweet, what would you say?

Risk more, sooner.

If at all possible, could you pick one book that has deeply affected you? If so, what was it that moved you about it?

Ack! That is like the Sophie’s Choice of questions for a writer!  I already regret any answer I’ll give because I know I’ll want about forty-six “do-overs.”
BUT…I’m going to go way, way, back and pick the children’s book THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, by Norton Juster. I love everything about the story—its wit and wordplay; its characters; its wonderful illustrations by Jules Feiffer; and most of all its themes, which have everything to do with imagination and limitless possibilities.

I’m mumble-mumble years old, and I STILL try to read it at least once a year.  (Also, if anyone wants to bribe me for any reason, I still don’t have the special 50thanniversary edition. Hint, hint.)

When you are having moments when nothing seems to fit, how do you find what you are looking for and make a story come to life?

I try to drill down to two questions: What made me love this story in the first place, and where is the awesome?

Where the first one is concerned, that means getting in touch with what inspired the novel: Was it the world? Was it the character? Some thematic element? The voice? Some inherent mystery I wanted to solve for myself?

Then I take a look at the scene I’m writing and compare it to that original inspiration. I ask how I’m serving that kernel element. Have I gone too far afield? Or, conversely, am I serving that original element too slavishly when what I need to do is thank it for the inspiration and then jet off in new directions? I try to find some way to fan that initial flame and see what catches fire in the current scene. 

The second idea is a complementary one, of course. It has to do with looking at a scene or a section of the book and challenging myself to really BRING THE AWESOME!

This means daring myself to go further, dramatically, to push a character beyond his or her limits, to push the plot beyond my original, safe ideas for it. It means having my protagonist kick butt in some way or sink to absolutely terrible (but awesome) depths. It means having an antagonist force be absolutely AWESOME at being absolutely terrible.

Again, awesome can be a broad term, and it can apply to any aspect of a scene: character, action, setting, voice, etc. Awesome can mean awful; it can mean deep or fearless or wretched; it can mean astonishing or sexy or bizarre. But it has to create an excitement in me, an internal giddiness that tells me that the character, the writing, or the story is risking SOMETHING.

If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?

(Also LUCKY!)

Wow, Lorin! Thank you for doing this interview and sharing some truly priceless advice with us–you’re amazing! 

If you would like to find out more about Lorin, please do visit her website! 
You can also find her on Twitter.