It’s time to meet the 16th featured author of the SSS! Introducing…Lisa Maxwell!
What was your favorite childhood book? (I know, it’s a tough question)
My favorite books were what a lot of people might consider “boy” books (which just goes to show how stupid those labels are). WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS and MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN and THE BLACK STALLION were books I read over and over and over.
What has been the biggest difference when writing UNHOOKED compared to your other books?
UNHOOKED was actually my first (and possibly my only) attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m very much a plot and outline first, and then write and revise as I go type of writer, but UNHOOKED was my third attempt at a book, and I wanted to try something new, so I wrote 60k words in November of 2011. And then I spent the next three years trying to fix them.
What’s your favorite food? (Curious minds want to know 😉 )
Oh, that’s a hard one, because I do love food. Chocolate? Or can I just say dessert?
All of your books appear to be deep, dark, and have some sort of horror-type feeling to them. Why is that? Also, do you think that you will ever write a light-hearted book in the future?
You know, that is an excellent question and I have no idea. Honestly, I set out to write romances, and then people just kind of started to die in them. I’m not sure that I have light-hearted in me, when it comes to writing. I love a funny book, and I always admire the people who can write funny or light-hearted books, but I usually feel more of a draw to the darker elements.
But I always want the dark parts of the book to be beautiful. I try to make any element that I include that might be considered verging on horror into something that is lushly described. I want the reader to feel the darkness, but I don’t tend to go for the gross-out factor. I want the darkness to be something almost compelling.
With the darker themes in your books, is there room for sweetness?
Sure! I think in SWEET UNREST, you see a lot of tenderness between the characters–not just the romantic leads, but everyone.
In UNHOOKED, the characters are in this really dangerous world, where everything could possibly kill them, but even my roguish pirate has a sweet streak that comes through when he’s working with his younger crew members. And the love story that develops in that book is really sweet, in that the hero could at any time easily take advantage of Gwen, but he never does. He’s constantly holding himself back because he feels unworthy of her.
Would you describe your world building process?
For UNHOOKED, I didn’t do a lot of formal world building before I wrote. I took a lot of my incarnation of Neverland from textual hints in J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, especially a lot of the descriptions of Neverland that don’t make it into the Disney-fied versions of the story. I really wanted the book to be a return to what Barrie wrote as much as it could be. But after I sold the book, my lovely editor made me really re-look at the world building and come up with the reasons for the way the magic in the book works, and that has fundamentally changed how I approach world building now.
My 2017 book is slated to have a lot of fantasy elements, and I basically took all summer coming up with them. It was a much different process than writing UNHOOKED did a TON of research about the historical period the book is being set in and a TON of research about different types of “real” magical systems or beliefs in our world, because I wanted a fantasy world that felt like it could have actually existed side-by-side with reality all along. I’ve written backstories for the characters and the history of magic, and now I feel much more anchored in writing it. I can’t imagine not doing that kind of development now.
What is your hardest challenge when writing?
Starting. Just making myself start those first few chapters is the biggest hurdle. Once I have some things down, and the book is something more than a blank page, it’s a lot easier to look at it like a job instead of like a thing I’ll never get right.
Do you ever have writer’s block? How do you push through it?
I don’t know that I believe in writer’s block. I believe you can be scared to write, or scared to admit what needs to be written. I think you can psyche yourself out, and it can feel like you can’t write. I just kind of force myself. Before I had deadlines, I had a certain desperation to make something stick. Now that I have deadlines, I have a desperate fear of looking unprofessional, and usually that fear overrides the fear of writing.
What was the hardest scene to write in UNHOOKED?
By far, the hardest scene was the moment when Gwen is stolen from her bed and taken by the dark creatures. There isn’t a whole lot of action–they come, she struggles, she (obviously) loses–but trying to capture the skin-creeping dread of being kidnapped was really hard to get just right.
What are you working on now?
I have a middle grade that I’ve been revising. It’s a strange little story about a boy who wants to be an ornithologist, of all things, with a Roald Dahl-eque feel. And I’ve been hard at work drafting what should be my 2017 book with Simon Pulse. I’m not sure how much I can say about that now, but I pitched it as Gangs of New York with Magic.
Lisa Maxwell is the author of Sweet Unrest, Gathering Deep (Flux, Fall 2015) and The Stars Turned Away (Simon Pulse, Spring 2016). When she’s not writing books, she’s an English professor at a local college. She lives near DC with her very patient husband and two not-so patient boys.