Seattle author Lish McBride has written two fabulously humorous YA urban fantasy novels and has a third coming out this fall. Her first novel, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, won a Washington State Book Award and was a William C. Morris Debut Award finalist. Lish tweets funny things about her love of naps (and sometimes kittens) at @TeamDamnation, and she is, in general, a lovely human being. She made time in her busy schedule to answer a few questions for me.
You have written two awesome YA novels about a teenager named Sam who learns he can commune with the dead. When you were writing Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, did you have in mind that there would be a second book?
Since I was writing it as my MFA thesis, I wasn’t sure if the first one would even get published, but I always knew it would be part of a series…I just hoped that someone would let me publish it!
You got your MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans (as did I!), so I know that some of the professors tend to frown upon writing fantasy and YA. How did your thesis go over in this environment?
A lot of MFA programs feel this way, which I think is weird. The focus should be on becoming a better writer, not what genre you plan to write in. You can find great (and terrible) writing in every section of the bookstore.
Some teachers were more into it than others. One of my professors asked that I try to write what I call “straight fiction” for my first year because he wanted me to focus on the form and the basics, and I tried to do that. In some ways, it was hard, because my brain doesn’t think of regular stories very often. But it was a good exercise for me. Writers should always push themselves to do things that are hard or uncomfortable when it comes to writing.
What did you take away from your MFA?
I did learn that not everyone will like what you’re into, and that’s okay. Sometimes I had to argue for the validity of what I was writing, but if you don’t feel passionately enough to argue, you shouldn’t be doing it. So I learned a lot even when things didn’t go my way. Ultimately, I think it helped make me a better writer and gave me a great group of writing friends that I still rely on. I also met my agent through my thesis advisor…so really, it did me a great deal of good. Plus, I got to live in New Orleans.
Tell us more about your agent.
I sort of lucked into my agent. My thesis advisor asked her agent if he knew anyone who handled the kind of stuff I was doing, and he offered up Jason Anthony, another agent in his firm. I sent Jason my thesis, and two days later, he called me to talk over changes he wanted me to make and offer suggestions. I got off the phone and realized he never actually said he wanted to represent me. I had to email and ask! It was funny. So I only queried one agent, and it wasn’t even a real query.
Jason is very hands-on. We usually do a few rounds of editing before we send something to my editor. Jason is always good about explaining things to me and answering questions, and he’s pretty patient. Plus, we have a similar sense of humor, so we communicate well.
You have a new book coming out in September, Firebug, about a girl who can start fires with her mind. How is this book different from your first two?
Well, it’s set on a different coast (rural Maine versus Seattle), and it is entirely first person. The book follows Ava, the firebug character, and her friends. That being said, it’s set in the same world as my other books, and I think the humor is similar. It has a lot of strange creatures (like were-hares) and it was fun writing from a character who’s…well, not as nice as Sam. Ava is snarky and a little socially awkward. It’s hard to make friends when you’re a seventeen year old assassin, you know? We’re doing two books with Ava, and then I’m hoping to bring the two groups together for a book or two.
You work full-time at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, and you have a rambunctious son. (Actually, I don’t know if he’s rambunctious…I just assume so.) How do you find time to write?
He is quite rambunctious. I also volunteer one day a week at 826 Seattle. I have to consciously make time to write. I dislike the term “finding time” because it makes it seem like time is just sitting around for you to bump into it. It’s sort of like waiting for the muse to strike. I don’t find either to be a particularly good system for getting work done. I schedule in time for writing. There’s always laundry and dishes and that book you want to read…so I leave my house. I meet up with other writers once a week for a writing date.
What advice do you have for people trying to find… I mean make… the time to write?
Treat it like a job (which it is) or an appointment. If you can only manage 15 minutes, then do your best to write what you can in that time. Not everything will be gold, but that’s what editing is for. Set goals for yourself. Some writers do page count, some do word count–anything should be considered a victory against the blank page. Chuck Wendig has a great post about this. A lot of writers blog about this stuff, so see what they suggest. Sometimes it helps to know that the “professionals” you admire struggle with the same stuff you do.
It helps if your family or friends are supportive, too. I have friends that will take my son to the park if they know I have deadlines. My partner, Adam, is great about picking up the slack around the house (we split chores), or running errands for me if I’m getting overloaded. It’s hard and it makes for long days. Sometimes I work before I go to my bookstore job and then work more when I get home. Other days I recognize I need a break and take a day off to recharge. But in general I work seven days a week. It’s just what I have to do right now. It’s not forever (I hope), and as my mom likes to remind me, you can do anything for a little while.
I always see you tweeting about going to fantasy conferences. What’s that like? What are your fans like?
Each event is different, whether it’s a con or a library event or whatever. Conventions are fun because you get to meet other writers and see friends (and sometimes there are costumes!) but in general the fan base is the same.
My fans are great! They tend to be weird and awkward and enthusiastic and I love them. It’s strange to go to high schools and see teens that act or look like you or your friends did, and you want to hug them and let them know that they’ll turn out alright, but you can’t because they’d think you are strange.
I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fan thing. It’s weird to go to events and realize I’m considered an authority on something. I’m probably biased, but I think my readers are the coolest. Sometimes they send me kitten stickers, and one nice person drew a picture of me riding a pony and wearing a cape. Which is how I picture myself ALL THE TIME.
Is there any chance that there will be a Hold Me Closer, Necromancer movie? Because I think there should be.
Who knows? We’ve sold the TV rights before, but then we got them back. Hollywood is a strange beast. There’s nothing in the works right now, but that might change. I tend to focus on the books and deal with the rest when it comes.
Any other words of advice for budding writers and/or the world at large?
Read as much as you can–whatever you want. It all goes into the pot, you know? Build your brain. Go outside. Observe. It’s hard to write about the world if you don’t get out into it. Even if you only get to know your own hometown better, that’s great. Stories are built on experiences and observation.
Write as much as you can; allow yourself to fail. Failing is how you learn. Don’t beat yourself up if it sucks at first. Allow the suck to happen. Anything can be fixed in editing, and I see no reason to abuse yourself during the drafting process. There are people in this world who will line up to criticize you and your work, and I see no particular reason why you should help them. Even people who win awards write crappy pages. Keep that in mind.
Don’t be afraid to show your work to people. Start out with people you trust and go outward. That’s the only way people will read you. It’s okay if people don’t like your writing. There are lots of different books for lots of different readers. So what I’m saying is, don’t take someone putting your book down as a personal blow. Not everyone loves the books that you love, right? It’s just about preference. That being said, learn to listen to criticism objectively. If a reader says the book isn’t working, maybe it isn’t. Ask follow up questions to find out how you can fix things. Editing is just as important as the actual writing.
Good advice! Anything else?
While it’s good to know what the trends are, don’t follow them. By the time you’re hearing about it, the publishing houses have already moved on to the next big thing. Better to write what you love and what you want to read than chase something so ephemeral. And you better love it — you’re going to be writing and rewriting that book for a while!