TQ: Writing quirks! What are some of yours?
Doyce: I have a very lovely desk with a very nice desktop computer on it. Roomy, comfortable, ergonomic keyboard, the latest word processing software -- a fine collection of bells and/or whistles.
And I never use it for writing.
Editing and revisions, yes, but I never first-draft any stories at that desk. Instead, I have a four year old Asus eeePC netbook with the most basic of writing software on it -- donationware called Writemonkey that feels like writing on an old VAX terminal. It tracks what I need to to track, plays well with Dropbox backups, exports to more advanced word processing formats when I'm done with the draft and ready for editing, and doesn't distract me with little red lines under words the dictionary doesn't know yet.
I have a little lap desk, and the netbook sits on that, and I find a comfortable chair where I can sit with my headphones on and fill up the screen while my big desk collects dust.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Doyce: My favorite authors are a bit like my favorite foods -- I take them in small doses, or over time, so I don't overdose and make myself sick. Steven King and Neil Gaiman are perennial favorites (though with King I usually need to hit the gym for a few weeks in preparation for carrying his latest book around). Terry Pratchett is a favorite as well, though I have to be very careful about him -- if I read too much, the whole world starts looking as ridiculous as it probably is. Rounding things out, there's Roger Zelazny, Steven Brust, and (of course) Tolkien, all for different reasons.
Of those, I'd say the strongest influences are Zelazny -- I admire the spare, straightforward nature of his prose; King -- I love the way he handles his characters and gives them room to breath; and Gaiman -- he has such a light yet casual touch with the way he approaches the strange and magical in his stories.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Doyce: I used to be a pantser. The first draft of Hidden Things was definitely a seat-of-the-pants story -- I dove into it, kicked up a cloud of dust, and staggered away 30 days later, not entirely sure what I'd tackled and tied down. In later revisions I paid for that a bit, because it's a story with a very tight timeline and I played merry hell trying to sort out any conflicts and finding the space to expand some of the sections that deserved some more attention and time.
More recently, I've been doing different kinds of outline methods. The current outline I'm working from is a sort of "one sentence per scene" summary, written from the point of view of the main character -- sort of a what you'd get if he'd been updating a twitter account the whole time. It's a bit weird, but so far it's working, and really helped me nail down the protagonist's voice before I got into the actual story.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Doyce: Starting. Once I've sat down, dropped that netbook in my lap, and typed up the first sentence, I'm good to go, but getting to that point is a challenge -- there's always something else clamoring for attention, or just trying to distract you. I've found deadlines are fantastic motivators, and (for once) I don't mean that sarcastically. They keep my mind on the story, and remind me that isn't some stamp-collecting hobby, it's work. The best kind of work in the whole world, if you're someone like me, but still work that requires responsibility.
TQ: Describe Hidden Things in 140 characters or less.
Doyce: Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, with a midwestern sunburn.
(That's not what I set out to write, certainly, but it's pretty fair for a one-line summary -- no one reading that should find the book too far from their expectation.)
TQ: What inspired you to write Hidden Things?
Doyce: As with most reckless undertakings in my life, Hidden Things was born out of a dare.
My friends and I were sitting around discussing our favorite books, and one of them, De, commented: "It really sucks that there's no weird, magical, fantasy stuff set in the Midwest."
I, secure in my role as the snarky South Dakota expat, replied: "That's because nothing magical happens in the Midwest." I paused. "Ever."
"And that," De countered, "is your fault."
I coughed on the soda I'd been drinking. "Really."
"Yup." She pointed at me. "Fixing that needs to be your next book."
"And write a female lead this time," said the-friend-who-would-always-rather-read-female-leads.
"And make her a private detective!" called out the-friend-who-likes-mysteries from the kitchen.
"I dare you," De finished.
And thus, my fate was sealed, Calliope Jenkins was born, and her feet were set on a path that neither of us knew very much about, except its eventual, inevitable destination.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Hidden Things?
Doyce: The story in Hidden Things takes place over the course of a road trip from Los Angeles to eastern Iowa, and because I wanted to get the timing right, I spent a little time figuring out travel times and checking out place names (to refresh my memory more than anything else). At various points, I also found myself looking up (or calling up friends I knew who could tell me about) proper word use in Lakota, Hungarian, Greek, Aramaic, German, and probably a few more I'm forgetting about.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
Doyce: Calliope and... Calliope. In initial drafts, Calliope was a complete breeze to write. She has a very natural voice and personality for me -- one I could easily access. She has that in common with Vikous, actually -- both are very easy for me to write.
In later revisions, though, my editor pushed me to let the readers inside Calliope's head more and more as the story progressed. She would see Calliope make some sort of odd facial expression, and ask "But what is she feeling here? What's going on inside?"
"But what is she FEELING?" may be the most often repeated note I got from my editor during our line edits, and definitely took the most work on my part. The challenge (as I saw it) was to open Calliope up without making it trite and mirror-gazey.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Hidden Things?
Doyce: The scenes where Calliope sings. I can't really go into more detail than that without spoiling things, but those scenes are each very special to me for different reasons.
TQ: What's next?
Doyce: The story I'm working on right now, Adrift, is a hard science fiction story mixed in with the fairy tales the main character used to tell his little girl at bedtime; it's a bit like switching the camera back and forth between Blade Runner and Redwall from chapter to chapter, and it makes me very happy.
I strongly suspect that after that I'll go back to the Hidden Lands; something's going on there, and I should probably figure it out before things get out of hand.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Doyce: Thank you for having me!
About Hidden Things
Harper Voyager, August 21, 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
Watch out for the hidden things . . . That's the last thing Calliope Jenkins's best friend says to her before ending a two a.m. phone call from Iowa, where he's working a case she knows little about. Seven hours later, she gets a visit from the police. Josh has been found dead, and foul play is suspected. Calliope is stunned. Especially since Josh left a message on her phone an hour after his body was found. Spurred by grief and suspicion, Calli heads to Iowa herself, accompanied by a stranger who claims to know something about what happened to Josh and who can— maybe—help her get him back. But the road home is not quite the straight shot she imagined . . .
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What: One commenter will win a copy of Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman from The Qwillery.
How: Leave a comment answering the following question:
Are there 'hidden things' where you live?
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