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Author Interview : Dawn Metcalf

I met Dawn Metcalf online only a few months ago and I must say that I feel like I've known her my whole life. She has this amazing infectious energy and is one of the most generous people I've ever had the good fortune to encounter. Her debut book LUMINOUS is about a girl who can step out of her skin. How can you not be intrigued by that? Her sophomore book INDELIBLE comes out in a couple of weeks.

Here's a little bit about Dawn in her own words.

I have no good excuse for the way I write. I lived in a normal, loving, suburban home, studied hard, went to college, went to graduate school, got married, had babies, and settled down in northern Connecticut. Despite this wholesome lifestyle, I was clearly corrupted by fairy tales, puppet visionaries, British humour and graphic novels. As a result, I write dark, quirky, and sometimes humorous speculative fiction.

1. What were you like as a child?
Extremely creative and over-sensitive. Seeing sensationalistic news or other children crying always made me feel very sad and aching to help. I wanted to simultaneously thwart cruel injustice and give everyone a big hug, a feeling somewhere between "magic fairy princess" and "avenging superheroine" existing in a Truman Show-esque universe. I blame this on an over-active imagination and being raised by high school sweethearts from the 60's. I was weird and very tall.

2. Do you remember the book that made you want to become a writer?
No. I just wanted to be a writer. It was how I communicated with my parents when emotions choked me up and I couldn't get the words out. It was a quick trip from reading Dr. Seuss to making up my own poems and stories.

3. Can you share a little on what your novel incubation process is like from the idea to the actual writing?
Mostly an idea will just hit me from out of nowhere: WHAM! I liken this to my Muse whaling on my head with a baseball bat labeled "Epiphany." I hurry to write down the salient details, maybe some characters, a quote or bit of dialogue, and then settle back to doing whatever I was doing at the time (driving, walking, sleeping, etc.) but more often than not, the idea keeps coming or shows up in its entirety and demands to be heard. Right NOW. This is especially difficult when I'm already involved in a work-in-progress and then I must tell my shiny new idea to very kindly shut up and wait patiently until I'm ready. Usually 1-3 chapters and a rough outline will quiet these sparkly inspirations for a spell, but I feel their metaphorical eyes on me, begging me to type faster. I write roughly 2,000-3,000 words a day, but it's nowhere near enough time to get to all of them. I usually have a good cache of 2-3 ideas ready to go at any one time. Of course, I have a "real life" too that includes work, husband, kids, etc. so balancing all of this along with blogs, Facebook, Twitter and such is something I'm still learning to handle before paranoid schizophrenia takes over.

What was that?!?

4. Can you share a little on how the idea for Luminous came about?
Firstly, I am a geek prone to geeky conversations. One such geeky conversation was talking about how heroes, specifically superheroes, have changed over time but show up when history was in real turmoil and problems seemed larger-than-life. This is when writers and artists created larger-than-life characters and storylines to match (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon is a great book about this!) and while the first heroes were squeaky clean patriots (Superman, Captain America, etc.) the next were dark vigilantes, taking justice into their own hands (Batman, Punisher, etc.) and then we had the "everyman" trying to be good and balancing the gray between extremes (Spiderman, The Hulk, etc.). The idea for LUMINOUS was back in the beginning of the war with Afghanistan and Iraq and I pointed out that we were currently in a "patriot-vigilante" period; i.e.: Jack Bauer from 24. This segued into a rant about why there weren't enough good minority superheroes or female superheroines who weren't sexy pin-up girls in spandex? I suddenly remembered a picture of a skeleton in a big, flowered hat (La Calavera Catrina from artist José Guadelupe Posada) and said, "I'd like to see them sex up a girl skeleton!" And there it was: a latina, paranormal superheroine ala Dia de los Muertos. And her story came in a rush. It was one of those, "Whoa...did I just think of that?" moments. And the truth was, it wasn't just me--the best, brightest, most creative ideas come from conversations with other creative, brilliant people inspired by artists, singers, and writers we've known before. I really believe the best art is co-created and have lots of people to thank, directly and indirectly for it.

5. What’s your writing ritual like?
I sit down at my computer when everyone is out of the house or sleeping and I write. I write for hours until I have to go do something else like pick up the kids, get something to eat, or go to karate class. Otherwise, I'd still be there, typing amidst my messy desk full of Post-Its, doodles, and notebooks, madly typing away until I fall asleep on my keyboard.

6. What’s your favorite aspect about writing and what don’t you like?
My favorite thing is sinking into the world so completely that it's like sleep-walking, I'm exploring the world as it unfolds like a kid at a carnival. It's bliss. The one thing I really don't like (besides revising and revising and revising) is how solitary writing is. I'm a very extroverted, social person and being at my computer for too much of the day makes me insular and itchy. I'm fortunate to be part of many writer's groups and communities online, from the Tenners and Elevensies to the Enchanted Inkpot and Fangs, Fur & Fey, Verla Kay's Blueboards, SCBWI.org and my own group of critique partners and friends. However, I long for human contact (I live in a very quaint and quiet part of New England that's...very, very quaint and very, very quiet.) I absolutely crave and adore conference time when I am surrounded by the aforementioned brilliant and creative people talking about books, writing, craft and passion. I need this like oxygen and printer's ink.

7. What are the hardest scenes for you to write and which are the easiest e.g. action scenes, love scenes, etc? How do you overcome the hard scenes?
Anything that is psychologically painful or embarrassingly romantic is often difficult for me. Action? Fine. Angst? Fine. Quirky/sicko/twisted stuff? No problem. But something that confronts me as a woman, a mother, a GLBTQ advocate, and/or a Jewish liberal can often push me to *really* want to do something else...like clean every room in the house or burrow through closets for things to give to charity. Right motivation, wrong time! Learning to separate myself from my characters is part of the writing process for me and allowing characters to have different opinions, thoughts, actions or emotions is part of the letting go. But it isn't always easy.

Sort of like love scenes: I'm a sex educator so I'm not squeamish about anything having to do with sex, but romance? Er... I have a hard time writing something that feels true for me that would also feel true to someone else; the moment is so personal, so visceral, that experiencing it in words seems cliche. The weird thing is I know a lot of writers who do it well and so I try to study how they do it. Mostly it's the build-up to the actual moment more than the moment itself that creates the heart-pounding tension and emotional stakes so I try to remember to pace that into the writing when I know there will be a big romantic element between characters.

8. Of all the books that’s been published which book(s) apart from Harry Potter did you wish you had written and why?
NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman, MINDKILLER by Spider Robinson, and UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld. These were books that so blew me away because they were a) brilliantly written, b) expressing something bigger than the story itself, & c) focused on things I actually was passionate about, too. I remember distinctly putting down UGLIES and saying, "I wish I would have written this book." But, of course, Scott Westerfeld did a masterful job and I could only sit back and fangirl it from afar.

9. Looking back on your journey as a writer, what advice would you give yourself when you were starting out?
Listen to your gut.

10. How has your life changed pre and post agent?
Well, I'll have to get back to you on that because I received my offer directly from my editor, sans agent. I then got an agent, but that relationship didn't work out, so that year was all sorts of shall-not-be-mentioned stress. Now I have a marvelous new agent and he's been wonderful coaching me through the process of this wild and wacky biz! And, with the next book out on sub, he's really getting to show his stuff. I'm very lucky and very grateful. Stay tuned for more pompoms soon!

11. How would you like people to see you as an author?
Hopefully, an approachable one. I love to Pay It Forward and want other people to have as smooth a transition into the world of publishing and the incredible community of writers as possible. There are so many knowledgeable and generous people to whom I owe my remaining sanity that I would like to be considered one of those authors who makes a difference for somebody else, someday.

12. Can you please give us your writing mantra in 15 words or less.
Only if I can borrow some words from other authors:

"Butt In Chair." (Jane Yolen) "Embrace the Suck." (Jackson Pearce) "Don't Forget To Be Awesome!" (John Green) & "You are unstoppable!" (Me)

Thanks so much for the entertaining interview, Dawn. You can learn more about Dawn on her blog.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 20th, 2012 08:04 pm (UTC)
I love those writing mantras and I have yet to read Mindkiller, Uglies , or Neverwhere - I need to do that soon. :)
Jan. 21st, 2012 02:04 am (UTC)
Thanks for stopping by Erica! I love it when authors share writing mantras because it's such an intimate insight to their writing process :D
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )