Thursday, June 04, 2009

Good Morning

Okay, it's been a couple of days, but the Visiting Dignitary responses have started rolling in. SO, today we're having Anna Katherine -- author of Salt and Silver.

Now folks, Anna and Katherine co-author (much like Cathy and I do), so some of these questions will be answered by her, and others by her co-author. To sort it out, Anna’s answers will have A- in front of them. Katherine’s will have K-.


So, welcome to the blog, ladies. Now there are some pesky rumors that have arisen that I’ve resorted to beating other authors about the head and neck to drag them here. Could you please reassure the readers that you’re here of your own free will and volition?

A: Haha!! Absolutely we are here of our own volition! I am a really big fan of doing interviews, actually--I love answering questions, especially questions about writing and myself!

K: I love doing interviews. Excuses to talk about myself? I could do it for hours. (Note: I did not read Anna’s answer super-carefully. I now see that we are both in it for the “me” questions. Awesome.)

ANYWAY, I’m going to dive right in. Anna before you were a published author, you were an editor at Tor. What did you look for in authors submitting to you?

A: The number one thing I looked for in submissions was voice. I almost always skipped over the cover letter and synopsis and went straight for the text of the submission itself. That's really what matters, when we get down to brass tacks. If the voice of the narrator, or the voices of the characters, were very strong, that almost always drew me right into the story. A strong voice, of course, is not enough--there must also be a strong story and an interesting twist. The majority of books I edited while at Tor, no matter what the genre, had some kind of twist to them that made the story fascinating above and beyond the interesting characters and strong voice.

Another thing that was very important to me was that the author follow the submission guidelines. I bought quite a bit from authors who were unagented, but I never bought from an author who hadn't followed the submission guidelines. I know it sounds a little ridiculous, but the submission guidelines exist for a reason--and when someone followed the submission guidelines, that told me that this author was someone who valued my time and respected the rules, which meant that person might be easier to work with than someone else.

Any favorites you got to work with?

A: I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Madeleine E. Robins on her amazing noir Regency mystery series featuring a female private detective, Sarah Tolerance. Mad is an incredibly amazing writer (I particularly enjoyed her contemporary sf novel The Stone War), and when she and her current editor decided she needed a different editor for the second book in the Sarah Tolerance series, I lobbied to have that editor be me!

How did the editorial background help and/or hurt you in your own writing?

A: I was a writer long before I was an editor, although it was never a goal of mine to be published. (The year I started the paranormal romance imprint at Tor Books was actually my most productive year, writing-wise--I wrote over three hundred thousand words while working an average of eighty hours per week!) While sometimes being an editor has gotten in my way, and I've tripped over my compulsive need for perfect punctuation and a new! Interesting! Brilliant! Incredible! Never done before! story, most of the time I've found that it's served me very well: I am very very familiar with the "rules" of writing, and therefore very skilled at breaking them!

With writing Salt and Silver, I actually didn't have to worry very much about plotting--Kat did most of the heavy lifting there. I just wrote as fast as I could--we only had a month, after all. There was absolutely no leeway in our deadline for my little editorial brain to worry about anything. In a lot of ways, that absolutely was a blessing!

How did you connect with your co-author?

A: Kat and I have been friends for many years. I have always had a great big crush on her amazing brain. She's an incredible writer with a lot of fantastic ideas, a huge capacity for random details and factoids, and the ability to put words together in such a way that no matter what she's writing, I want to read the next sentence. When I first wrote Salt and Silver, it was only 150 pages. After ruminating on it for almost a year, I approached Kat and asked her if she'd like to work with me on breaking it down and making it a longish short story that we could sell to a trade magazine. It was actually only a week or two after teaming up that I was approached by Tor to write a paranormal romance, and my brain immediately offered up Salt and Silver! Talk about timing!

K: Totally untrue. My brain is not at all amazing. What it is, is extremely scattered. I keep notes on everything, because otherwise it all falls out. Like jelly, or some other really gross description. But getting back to the question, as I recall Anna sent me the 150 pages of Salt and Silver, and I kind of drooled all over it and begged that she let me poke at it with sticks. It’s exactly my kind of story, with real magic and hells and consequences, along with Anna’s amazing touch for voice and characters and situations. When she was approached to write it as a full-length, and then she approached me… forget the drooling, this was like Christmas or something. It’s all turned into the most amazing experience.

How do the two of you work out the process of co-authoring a book?

A: The major thing my partnership with Kat has going for it is a huge amount of respect and trust. I really respect Kat's abilities and knowledge, and she respects mine. I trust that if I write something that sucks, she's going to call me on it--and she's going to be able to make it better. If she writes something that sucks, I'm going to do the same for her. We don't need to pull any punches with each other, or worry about ego or hurt feelings. I know that she would never criticize my writing only to hurt my feelings--if she changes something, it's because that thing needs to be changed.

Another great thing we have going for our partnership is the fact that many of our skills and talents are complementary. For example, I am terrible at plotting, while Kat is absolutely amazing at it. I am great at writing sex scenes and emotional confrontations.

(K: --Yes! Whereas I tend to shut my eyes and flail a bit. Though I do go back in and edit, and I think I tend to leave notes for Anna like, “Then they do something emotional here.”)

One of my favorite thing about co-authoring is the ability to skip scenes I don't want to write! I could just write a note in the manuscript like, "[there should be a scene with blah blah blah here]" and not only would Kat know exactly what I meant by "blah blah blah" but she'd write it so I wouldn't have to! And she was able to do the same. We actually were able to write incredibly quickly this way.

K: It’s like there was no such thing as writer’s block, because I’d just send the story back to Anna, and then there’d be more! It was amazing! And kind of like getting to see the book as a reader -- I could read the twists and turns and voices as if they were new to me, because they were. Such a cool sensation.

Is there any one character you’ve written that is your absolute favorite? Why?

A: I really love Ryan and Allie (the main characters in Salt and Silver). I particularly love Allie because when I conceived her, I had been thinking of every single thing I hate about sf/f and romance heroines. I wanted Allie to be a lot more true to life than what I've seen in the past. It's 2009, and Allie is in her late 20s! I wanted her voice to reflect that. I also really hate the reluctant hero, which helped shape Allie's character into someone for whom it's very important to do the right thing and take responsibility for her actions (both her purposeful and inadvertent actions). Allie's had to adjust to a lot of things in her life, and she takes it in stride. She doesn't get hysterical. She doesn't want to be saved--she wants to help save other people. I love that about her.

K: For sheer fun, I definitely love Allie. Writing in her voice, with her inflections and opinions, was beyond addictive -- it threatened to take over! Being Allie, even for such a short time, was just fun.

Writing is hard work! Have you ever had the dread WRITER’S BLOCK? If so, what do you do to get past it?

A: Block is absolutely terrible. I've had it several times, although rarely has it lasted for longer than a week or two. I've found that the best way to get over it is to just put the damn words on the damn page. Any words. My pattern is to get writer's block before I start new projects. I get completely paralyzed and feel like I can't put any words down at all! Sometimes when that happens, I'll start writing in the middle instead of the beginning. Other times, I'll try writing something completely different. I have writer's block right now, actually--so Kat is working on our new novel while I have been writing some nonfiction.

K: I get it, too, and like Anna I tend to slide over to a different project to see if that gets stuff going. Sometimes I know that the words aren’t coming because I haven’t thought through a project as thoroughly as I need to (what with ideas slipping out of my brain, as mentioned earlier), so I go on a train ride or get stuck at a bus stop or something, pull out my notebook, and write essays to myself about whatever’s bothering me about a story or idea. In fact, my favorite notebook for this is one Anna gave me in, what, 2002? Maybe? One of those marbled composition books. One of these days I’ll actually give it back to her.

Almost every author I’ve met gives back to the community by supporting favorite charities. Do you have one? Could you tell me about it? Is there a particular reason why that charity?

A: My favorite charity is Heifer International. Every year for the major gift-giving holidays, instead of buying gifts for people, I donate to Heifer International in their names. Heifer International is devoted to helping communities build sustainable agriculture--they teach animal management and green earth management. When you donate to Heifer International, you can donate toward their schooling programs, or you can donate animals--rabbits, chickens, cows, etc. I think sustainability is so important--not just for the earth, but for the morale of the people being helped.

So, what does your schedule look like for the next few months? I know that Salt and Silver just came out. (And if you haven’t bought it yet, you should.) Will there be a second book in the same series, or is there anything else new coming out that we should keep an eye out for? Tell us a little about it.

A: Right now Kat and I are working on several projects! There is another book set in the Salt and Silver universe--but this one stars vampires as the protagonists. After working so hard in Salt and Silver to make the vampires evil and disgusting, we thought it would be a fun challenge to try to make them sexy. We also have a couple of young adult novels in the pipeline--and Kat's always wanted to write a zombie romance. I'm a little skeptical, but I do think brains are pretty sexy...

K: Zombie romance is a great idea! Think of it: For the living dead, moving and thinking and talking must be incredibly difficult and time-consuming. So what does it mean when one of them learns your name? Saves up breath to laugh with you? We just need to get past that whole rotting-flesh thing, and this idea is golden. (I suspect I’ll be writing a lot of little essays in my notebook before this one gets off the ground…)

What type of books do you read for pleasure? Any favorite authors?

A: I will give any book a shot. Unfortunately, the habit I got into as a full time editor has stuck with me--which means that if I'm not interested in a book by the end of the first page, I rarely bother to keep reading. Luckily there are a lot of good books out there! I read a lot of young adult books of all stripes. My favorite young adult author is Garret Freymann-Weyr; she just released a new book called After the Moment that I really loved. I also always look forward to Linda Howard and Suzanne Brockmann books. My favorite author of all time is poet and science fiction novelist Candas Jane Dorsey. I actually have a line from one of Ms Dorsey's poems tattooed on my arm!

K: I’m much more picky than Anna, though once I start a book I usually give it sixty pages to do something for me. I read a lot of short stories and anthologies, usually sf/f -- I read historicals and historical romances by the bucketful. Space operas, cozies, and urban fantasy are all in there as well. I read a lot of nonfiction these days, too; my favorite author is Vic Gatrell, who I first read when I picked up his City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London. Amazing, thorough, and just as magpie-ish as my own head. It’s a pity that he only has two books to his name, but I would fangirl him in a heartbeat if I could.

Do you have a day job, or do you write full-time?

A: Right now I'm writing full time, although every once in a while I'll take on a freelance editing gig if the project sounds interesting or if I like the author.

K: I work at a nonfiction publisher right now, but I definitely try to make writing a priority. It’s a bit like having two part-time jobs -- if I’m not doing one, I’m doing the other, and at some point I sleep a little.

Do you have any hobbies?

A: I am an avid knitter and crocheter. My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was five or six, and I've been doing it ever since. She also taught me how to knit, but I only really got serious about it in the past few years.

K: I also do the needlecraft thing -- freehand embroidery, hand sewing, and I used to do weaving and tatting. I also doodle, but unlike the needle stuff, I have to sacrifice the writing if I want to draw (and vice versa). Go figure.

OKAY, I’m going to do one of those short MEME things here.

Favorite song:
A: "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi
K: “Jolene,” by Dolly Parton, and every cover thereof

Favorite movie or TV show:
A: My number one favorite movie of all time is Terminator 2! I love me some Sarah Connor! Recently I've also really been enjoying the USA Network's original series Psych. Dule Hill is amazing--and totally hot!
K: Favorite movie is (and this is so embarrassing) the 1990s remake of Sabrina. Favorite TV is currently The Mentalist, though I waffle constantly.

Favorite color:
A: Black
K: Blue.

Favorite food:
A: That's tough... it's either matzo ball soup with lots of celery and onions, or masala dosa.
K: Cha siu baau -- steamed or baked pork buns. Basically I’ll eat any dim sum put in front of me.

Favorite drink:
A: I drink a lot of diet Coke. I also love The Balvenie, which is a type of moderately expensive and 100% delicious scotch--but if I'm at a bar, I'm probably drinking a vodka Collins or a vodka gimlet.
K: Very boring: I love thick chocolate milkshakes. And at the bar, I’m as likely to order a Shirley Temple as anything else.

Is the glass half-full or half-empty:
A: Half-empty
K: Is there milkshake in the glass?

What animal do you think is most like your personality?
A: In the last few years, I have actually been compared the most to "an invading army of cylons"! Does that count? Okay, okay, I am probably the most like a domesticated cat. Picky, vicious, and obsessed with sleeping in the most comfortable spot on the couch!
K: I think I’m a squirrel. A generalist with a cheery manic quality.

A: Witch!
K: Van Helsing!

If you could only give one piece of advice to new or aspiring writers, that would help them in the business, what would it be?

A: Publishing is a business of subjective opinions. Something that couldn't sell in 1999 could be sold in 2009--or vice versa. I really think that the key to surviving in this business is persistence. Persistence and a thick skin.

K: I also think publishing is a business -- not to be confused with a dream, or a “necessity”, or some kind of mystical experience. You want to write? Write. You want to be published? Write something, and then send it out -- and keep doing it until someone buys it.

Now the ladies have graciously offered to supply a signed copy of Salt and Silver to one of the people who comments on the blogs. The way we're going to do it is, you comment here, and the people on MySpace comment there. I take all the names, drop them into my new gray fedora, and pull out the winner, who will then be notified however the heck I can get hold of them.

Fair enough?

Let the games begin!


Chris said...

Hmmm - of course, if A & K were here under duress, would they admit it during the interview?? ;)

I've been hearing great things about Salt and Silver and am looking forward to reading it!

Tammy said...

Welcome ladies.

Salt & Silver sounds awesome, am putting it on the to be read list right now.

Anonymous said...

I had just looked this book up and was heading to a bookstore to buy (as I could not find it as an e-book).

PS Have you been enjoying the Colorado rain.

Regards, Ruth

Yolanda Sfetsos said...

Hi Anna and Katherine! It's great to meet you. Salt and Silver sounds like a very interesting book.

Have a great day!