Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Interview with Michelle Hodkin

Today I get to interview one of my favorite people. I met Michelle Hodkin on twitter forever ago. I knew her before I even lived in Boston. But I got to meet her in person at the Teen Author Carnival, and she was completely amazing. We had some fantastic conversations when we ran into each other all week at BEA and her bubbly smile, positive attitude and super awesome hugs made me love her. Plus, she wrote this little book--you may have heard of it--called The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. It releases next month and it's superb. In fact, this little blurb completely captures all the reasons it's so remarkable.
"The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer strikes a rare balance of darkly funny, deliciously creepy and genuinely thoughtful. One minute I was laughing out loud, and the next, I was so scared I wanted to turn on all the lights and hide under the covers. Michelle Hodkin's talent and range are obvious, from her chilling descriptions to romantic scenes that almost crackled on the page. I've never read anything quite like it."--Veronica Roth, New York Times bestselling author of Divergent
It was pretty easy for me to decide who I'd want to interview. You can connect with Michelle on her blog or on twitter! I hope you enjoy this interview of writerly proportions as much as I enjoyed it.

How do you get to know your characters?
This is so hard to answer, because in some ways, I feel like they simply exist. The book began with the characters, so I knew who they were in some cases before I even knew what would happen to them.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why/how does that approach help/hurt you?
A pantser, but I wish I wasn’t. For THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER, I began with a very vague premise based on the true events that inspired the story, but that was all. And so I found that 3/4 of the way in, the book was going in a very different direction than it needed to, and so I threw out 60,000 words. Several times over. For the sequel, I actually had a vague outline since I had to write a synopsis for the auction, but I’ve deviated from it significantly. I love being surprised by the words that end up on the page, and I think for me that’s part of what keeps me interested.

What's the most surprising thing about writing a book? How does a sequel differ from a debut?
The most surprising thing about writing a book is still the fact that I’ve written a book! Two, counting the sequel, though I’m still revising the second one. But I never in a million years expected to be a writer, so to find out that I am? And that I love it? It’s the most surprising (and most wonderful) thing about this whole experience.

Writing the sequel was a different process than writing THE UNBECOMING. Originally, I had no idea my story was going to be published, so I felt very free to put anything on those blank pages. Not only didn’t I care if it was good or bad, I didn’t even really know the difference. Which made it pretty fun. Then, of course, I fixed the book during revisions. Many revisions. But for the sequel, I’ve been so much more self-conscious about the words I’ve written, even during the rough draft stage, because I know that it’s going to be read by everyone from my agent to my editor to the wonderful people at Simon & Schuster to total strangers, and that’s actually kind of scary in a way. I want every word to be perfect for them, but of course that’s not possible for a rough draft. So I think the biggest challenge for the sequel was simply getting out of my own way.

Which aspect of craft is your weakest and how do you overcome that?
Probably structure. I find structure to be sort of mathematical, and I suck at math. Which is why I go to one of my brothers for his help and advice whenever I’m having a structure issue, and one of the reasons I had many different types of first readers take a look at THE UNBECOMING for me, to help catch my weaknesses and reinforce my strengths.

What's something that keeps you encouraged? (Especially back before you had a book deal and an agent.)
For THE UNBECOMING, it was, simply, the need to write the story. I couldn’t not write it—the idea took me hostage. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so, so important when you’re writing to write the story you have to write and to tell the story that only you can tell. No matter what publishing trends are, no matter what the market looks like, if your book is a true passion project, finishing won’t be a choice. It will be an obsession.

In MARA you do a great job of building suspense and mystery. How do you maintain that throughout a whole novel? Is it something you plan from the beginning?
Let’s be best friends? :D

I’m honestly not sure I can say that I consciously planned it; the story itself is bursting with tension, so I feel like I wrote it the only way it could be written. Also, I’m a huge fan of Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and John Grisham, authors of incredibly suspenseful novels with pages that beg to be turned, and I believe in the advice that you should write the type of book that you love to read. 

What's the best and worst piece of writing advice you've ever been given?
Best: Finish the book.
Worst: Never spend more than a page on a single scene.

This is a blog for writers but we don't give advice. So I'm not going to ask you to do that either. I will ask: what's something you know now that you didn't know when you began writing?
That not having confidence can be almost as damaging as having too much confidence.

THANK YOU so much for taking some time out of your insane schedule to do this interview. I'm glad to have you as my official first guest here.

And now I'm opening up a contest for you lovelies. 

--ONE grand prize winner will receive a signed (personalized) finished copy of THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER. (available after the release date)

How to enter: 

--YOU MUST leave a comment with your email address & your favorite part of the interview.

For extra entries: Tweet, follow us and fill out this form! 


  1. Munnaza

    My favorite part of this interview was Michelle's writing advice. "Never spend more than a page on a single scene." As a writer, I think this is helpful, and incredibly important. I also love what she said about confidence. Too much becomes arrogance, and too little makes you drown in self doubt.

    Thank you so much for this giveaway and this interview!

  2. That was her BAD advice!! Scene is super important to a story. The longer you establish a reader in one place, the more connected the reader is.

  3. I love this interview. My favorite parts were when she said that you should write the type of book that you love to read, and also the part when she talked about having a good amount of confidence being important.

    Thanks for the interview and the giveaway

  4. Great interview! :) I always love the plotter vs. pantser question and this time is no different. I'm definitely a plotter but for my latest project, I've been letting it tell itself and so far, it's awesome. I also liked her mentioning her first-readers and how they played on her weaknesses and strengths. Thanks! :)


  5. Oh! I loved this! Now I have major sticky fingers for this book!! Love the cover too!

    The entire interview rocked, but I loved how she said it would be an obsession to finish it! I couldn't agree more. That's how I know I've got something. I just can't stop writing or thinking about it.

    Oh, and I loved the part about how the characters simply exist. I totally connected with that too!

    Great! Thanks all!

  6. I fell in love with this book the first time i saw the cover. I said: it's got a nice name, an extraordinary cover, I don't care what's it about, I am going to read it!
    It's great to know that the author is so lovely and I think I have the same problem she did with writing a sequel, only I have it with my first book. Self-consciousness is my writing issue. That's my fave part of the interview, knowing someone has overcame it sure helps. :P
    Thanks for the great interview- really, the questions are truly good!
    And also, why don't you have more followers??

  7. The entire interview was great! I can't pick a favorite part. But cutting 60,000 words? Oh, the horror. Thanks for the chance to win this wonderful book.

  8. Awesome interview!

    My favorite part is this: "I couldn’t not write it—the idea took me hostage. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so, so important when you’re writing to write the story you have to write and to tell the story that only you can tell." It shows how passionate Ms. Hodkin is about her writing!

    Thanks for the chance to win! boundanddetermined2read[at]gmail[dot]com

    My Blog

  9. Very great interview!!! I love Mitchelle. <3