Here’s Darice! She completes our set of Viable Paradise XIII interviews here at the Tamago. Please enjoy!
Tamago: How long have you wanted to be a writer?
Darice: I think my mother still has the first book I wrote, when I was five—it was about a cat and a mouse, and owed quite a bit to the Looney Tunes school of plots. I always enjoyed writing and wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t get serious about it until I was in graduate school and wrote my first (execrable) novel, because I figured I’d better stop talking about writing and just do it. A lesson I still need to relearn every once in a while.
Tamago: Who are your creative influences?
Darice: Madeleine L’Engle’s books made me want to be a writer and taught me about balancing the everyday and the fantastic (my daughter is named Meg for a reason…). When I was a teen, Tamora Pierce’s and Robin McKinley’s books brought me into fantasy.
These days, I turn a lot to Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men—not just because it’s a cracking good read (my entire family loves it), but also because it’s a lesson in writing, both overtly and through example, and I learn something new every time I read it. (That narrativium really works.)
Another influence is Connie Willis, who plunges me into her characters’ lives so effectively that I never quite leave them behind (having worked in the corporate world for a while, I have a weird soft spot for Bellwether). And I wish I’d discovered Diana Wynne Jones when I was a teen; I found her books as an adult, and Dark Lord of Derkholm is my favorite epic quest/family/coming of age/parody novel ever.
Tamago: What do you find interesting about writing young adult fiction?
Darice: YA’s protagonists are (obviously) teenaged characters—which means, by definition, that they are discovering their adult selves and the wider world, and grappling with the big questions for the first time. Those questions fascinate me (I’m still grappling with them, and I’m 40), and working with characters in that age range means seeing the questions through fresh perspectives.
Tamago: In addition to being an author, you are an accomplished knitter. What do you enjoy about knitting?
Darice: I love the process of knitting—how each row builds on the last, and each stitch is dependent on its neighbor stitches to make the pattern. You can slowly, slowly build up something really enormous and complex, one stitch at a time.
I also love that knitting is a tangible, portable process that results in a thing. The rewards of writing are pretty much intangible (until you get that contract, and even then . . .), so I like making something I can touch.
Tamago: I know that you engage in freelance editing. Does that affect your fiction writing in any way?
Darice:I copyedit and proofread nonfiction books and academic journals, and it has had both a positive and negative effect on my writing. The negative effect is time—I work from home after my kids are in bed, which leaves me with less time to write. The positive, though, is that every copyediting job has something to teach me. I was trying to work out a magic system for one story, and began editing a book on the treatment of industrial wastewater. About halfway through the book, I had a flash of insight about how the wastewater process and the magic system were similar — it really helped!
Tamago: Has being a parent influenced your writing?
Darice: I find parenthood means that I’m more protective of my characters — like I would be of my kids! So I have to turn off the parenting thing if I want to put my characters in peril. Since I write a lot of YA, that usually means letting my characters make decisions without complete knowledge of what’s going on and without any adults around to tell them to put on the brakes.
Tamago: What are you working on right now?
Darice:I’m trying to focus on short stories, because my time is limited and it’s hard for me to leap in and out of a novel. But I’m not a natural short story writer, so it’s been difficult. I’m hoping that when my son (who turns 4 in January) goes to kindergarten, I’ll be able to dedicate more time to long-form writing again.
Every so often I threaten to run away for a long weekend and pull the Michael Moorcock “Write a Novel in Three Days” thing, but I haven’t done it. Yet. (I suspect it would result in yet another first draft that would languish, waiting for an overhaul.)
Tamago: Talk about your Viable Paradise experience. Would you recommend it to writers? What did you gain from studying there?
Darice:Viable Paradise was one of the best things I could do for myself as a writer, because it was a place where everyone was truly invested in not only writing as art and craft, but also as employment. The faculty are all dedicated to ensuring that the students know not only how to write the best book possible, but also how to navigate the publishing industry. And my fellow students are fantastic, too. The discussions and lectures were incredibly informative (I still reference my scribbled-up notebook) and feedback I got was incredibly helpful, but even more helpful is being part of the VP XIII crew, a talented bunch of folks who had as much to teach me as the faculty did.
Tamago: What would be your dream writing project?
Darice: At this point, my dream writing project is to work on my favorite novel idea, the one that is set in the Georgian era, with magical/scientific concepts and characters I really love. But I have to get the science/history right or the whole thing will fall flat! So I’m reading up on the time period and the history of scientific discovery at the time.
Tamago: What advice would you give someone who wants to start writing?
Darice: Read. Read in the field/genre you want to write in, but read outside that field too. The more you read, the more substance you have to draw on.
Write. Write a lot. Keep the early awful stuff so you can laugh at it later (and see how far you’ve come). Find ways to make writing part of your everyday life, even if it’s just keeping a notebook to scribble down ideas or reactions to the things around you.
Listen. Listen to the people in the business who are willing to teach you the ropes. Listen to people in general, especially people with different opinions from yours, and learn to recognize where they’re coming from, because they’ll be your characters someday and you don’t want to have one-dimensional cardboard cutouts.
And hit TVTropes.org every once in a while, to see whether your Great Concept has been done to death and how to avoid the pitfalls. But set a timer before you go in or you might be there for days.