Kristina Elyse Butke
50 Good Questions to Ask an Author
Today's post content comes courtesy of John Fox, who came up with these questions on his website. I think this assumes you should ask these of published authors who have a modicum of success, but I'm just going to answer these myself and fake it 'til I make it.
✧･ﾟ: *✧･ﾟ:* *:･ﾟ✧*:･ﾟ✧
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
When I visited England in 2004 I went to a couple places where Harry Potter was filmed, and I also went to Oxford University and explored it. In Wales the same year I visited a few locations important to Dylan Thomas. Someday I'd like to go to Baltimore for Edgar Allan Poe. However, I wouldn't consider these pilgrimages, per se.
I tend to go on what I like to call "mythology pilgrimages," where I visit places where famous stories took place. While I've lived in Japan, I've visited shrines and nearby locations where myths from the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki took place. If there are stories about gods, I'm there.
The major mythology pilgrimage I went on November 2019, right before COVID-19 struck. I went to Izumo in Shimane Prefecture, where I visited many locations centered around the stories of the gods Susanoo and Ōkuninushi. I also visited the Door to Yomi (the underworld), which was a very sad and lonely place. It's where Izanami dwells and where she went after she died.
What is the first book that made you cry?
This is just a wild guess, but it was probably something like E.B. White's Charlotte's Web.
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Twitter is my source for this, so take this with a grain of salt, and I don't know if it's unethical, but it certainly seems wrong: everyone's trying to squeeze authors dry--splitting payments up and disbursing them over longer periods of time; putting the onus on authors to publicize their works themselves; Disney not paying authors...and I heard it's been really rough for editors and similar staff, too. I just want people to get paid, and publishing circles on the Twitterverse make it sound like it's getting harder and harder to.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
When I was younger, it used to energize me. For the last 11 years or so, it exhausts me, and sadly, I don't see that changing. I wish it would.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Trying to do what everyone else is doing. I'm referring more to the "rules" that writers tend to espouse, or the writing routines "successful" people adhere to. Maybe I should also include focusing too much on writing to market or writing what's trendy. From what I understand, things change all the time.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I admit, for a long time I had a really big ego about my writing, and grad school broke me out of that (although I still have some "moments" that crop up occasionally). I think having a big ego hurt me. It messed with how well I took criticism, made me jealous of other writers (and sometimes I looked down on them), and made me isolated. I didn't really flash my ego in public (maybe when I was a playwright, though), but in private I would let it all out, and it was harmful. Especially when I compared myself to others.
Writing takes a lot of work and you actually need help from many people--editors, beta readers, and more--and you won't make any good relationships if you're an asshole. You'll also miss out on what you need to do to make your work better.
We're all in this together. We need to uplift each other. This business is hard, and no matter what, everyone has their own story to tell. There's no need to compete with each other when we have our own words and our own voices.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I believe it's my crippling self-doubt that comes from caring too much about what others think.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Frequently. When I was younger I could read many books, and quickly! But ever since I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my twenties, my brain just can't handle books like it used to. It takes a lot of effort and concentration, and I move very slowly. I believe my longest book block was eight years, and I only recently broke out of that.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I really like the BL genre/yaoi. I have a pseudonym I've already used when I was a proofreader for a very, very naughty yaoi game. If I ever decide to write BL, I will use that same name and publish under it. However, I'm not very good at writing romance so this might never happen.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I try to fulfill the genre contract. In romance, readers expect the HEA (happily ever after), or else it doesn't fulfill the genre requirement. I write fantasy, so there are things inherent in the genre that I have to follow, like "promoting a sense of wonder." I'm still trying to figure out what that means, but I know that readers expect certain things to happen, and will stop reading if they don't get it. This doesn't mean that a story is unoriginal because it satisfies the readers' needs, though.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I think feeling emotions strongly helps you empathize with your characters more, but I don't think it's a requirement. Just because someone doesn't feel emotions strongly doesn't mean they don't feel emotions at all.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I am friendly with a lot of people from Seton Hill (my alma mater) like Jennifer Loring, Allan Cornelius, and Katie Kenyhercz, and I'll also gotten writing help from people like Tim Waggoner, Scott A. Johnson, Patrick Picciarelli, and Juliette Wade. They've all helped me in so many ways that I can't list them all. Basically anyone who has offered to help me is someone I count as a friend.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I want my books to stand on their own, unless of course I'm writing a trilogy or something! But I have a feeling standalones are going to dominate my oeuvre.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would tell myself to go to the doctor and get on meds earlier. In hindsight we think my bipolar symptoms started appearing as early as high school given some weird behaviors I had back then, and meds have provided me with so much clarity about my work. While I don't write at manic speed anymore (and it is something I miss), the sacrifice of that is worth it when it comes to how much better and more focused my writing has become.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Ok, so...haven't published my first book yet. I've published poetry and have written articles for Speculative Chic...and when I was active in that, I can say that deadlines really helped me with producing work, and although it was more stressful, I got stuff done.
I know I shouldn't assume things, but I'm guessing publishing my first book will teach me to be better at revisions and hopefully push me to write faster.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The laptop I currently have is pretty freaking amazing.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I don't grow into writers I don't like. I stop reading their books.
What did you do with your first advance?
Haven't been paid for writing yet (with the exception of my musical Melancholia, and I paid bills with that money). Likely I will pay bills of some kind and maybe treat myself to something small. Probably more books!
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I wrote my first play in middle school. My teacher had students write letters to me about it and it was the first time I felt like my writing mattered. Somewhere in my house in the USA I still have those letters!
What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
I always subscribed to Writer's Digest, The Writer, and Poets and Writers. But I'm sure it helps to subscribe to magazines that print fiction, too.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I mentioned this in a recent book tag, but Diana Pinguicha's A Curse of Roses needs more love. It only has 61 reviews on Amazon and I've never heard anyone talk about it.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I think a variance between light and dark scenes help. And I think content warnings are a good way to prepare the reader for heavier subject matter. It's an easy way to take care of your readers from the get-go. I wish I would've used them earlier in my life.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I'd like to think of things more in the way of patron saints. I don't know who the actual patron saint of writers is in Christianity, but with Shinto, there are two gods involved with writing or creativity that I like to pay homage to whenever I go to shrines: Benzaiten and Tenjin.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Respect and care. Earlier in my life, when I was a playwright, I based characters off of real people in order to process my emotions around some really heavy stuff going on in my life. I thought I did enough to hide their identities, but looking back, I didn't really treat them well, and of course some people closely involved figured things out. I definitely "let them have it" in my stories, and in hindsight, I think I disrespected them and did not treat them with care.
And I've also had this done to me. I realized that when you control someone else's narrative, they have no way to defend themselves, especially when you've gotten that narrative wrong. You've taken away their voice. The person who wrote about me straight up fabricated something I said and misrepresented me. It made me angry. Now I know how it feels to have done the same thing to other people. I felt like I wrote my truth, but what if it wasn't the truth? So, I will never write from real life again. Even if I approach it with care and respect, I don't like the idea of taking voices away in order to give them my own.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Two unpublished books and one 1/3-finished book written in pieces and parts.
What does literary success look like to you?
Making enough money to write full-time and not starve.
What’s the best way to market your books?
See, I don't have this figured out yet! We're really pushed to market ourselves. I have this website; I'm on tons of social media where I get next to no interaction...I don't have this figured out. And being engaged with an audience all the time scares me.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I base my fantasy around time periods without explicitly stating what they are in my books--I hope some clues, like clothing and other things, helps people figure it out. So I'll do some initial research on the culture of a time period. Other than that, I find myself researching while writing, whenever something pop ups that I need to figure out in that moment of drafting.
Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
I've never really thought about this before, but I guess so. It certainly prompts me to talk to God more and pray for guidance and help.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I love writing male characters. But I always worry about the authenticity of their voice.
How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
I'm not a full-time writer, WAAAAAHHHH!
How many hours a day do you write?
I don't write everyday. During the week I'm exhausted from work so I usually don't touch my PC. I do scribble a little in a notebook every day, but that's not writing the manuscript; it's more like brainstorming. I tend to write on the weekend anywhere from 3 to 6 hours per day in one sitting.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
Based on the novels I've written, it seems like I focus on ages 18-21. Each book has also featured younger siblings who are still children.
What did you edit out of this book?
If I think of Son of the Siren, I removed all the gods and goddesses, tweaked the magic system, removed the murderous Sleeping Beauty figure, removed the collection of the princess dresses (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel), changed the animals the children transform into, changed the nature of the curse, cut most of what was going to happen with the father, completely redid my trickster character...I think I cut 78 pages in one go, then continued on cutting here and there where I saw fit.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Margaret Rogerson's books made me think differently about the type of YA fiction I want to write. She's now one of my role models.
What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
I don't see this differently from my answering about writing about real people. Approach with respect and care.
How do you select the names of your characters?
A lot of it has to do with meaning coupled with how the name sounds when you say it. I usually go by sound first, then if I'm stumped, refer to Behind the Name for meanings.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I'd probably keep teaching in some compacity. Although teaching exhausts me, and I have some horror stories from when I taught college...so maybe I should be an editor instead. I edited for Speculative Chic and really enjoyed it.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I am a weak person. I don't think I'd be strong enough to keep myself from reading reviews. I sort of got reviews when I received my beta reading reports back from IBR. The readers gave me star ratings, broke down what they liked, and what they didn't like. And...I didn't take it so well. The responses were inconsistent in terms of what they didn't like, and that has made revisions hard for me. So...I don't think I have any advice or opinion on how to deal with reviews, except to never respond to them.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
No. I don't have the wherewithal to do something like that! I'm not that clever!
What was your hardest scene to write?
In Son of the Siren, the scenes where the Queen attacks Lirien were quite difficult to write. They were painful and brought up a lot of trauma for me, but also made it a challenge to determine what was appropriate for YA and to make sure I didn't cross any lines. One beta reader said I handled it well; one beta reader said I didn't; and one beta reader didn't comment on it at all. I definitely was confused by those responses, which has also made revisions of those scenes difficult.
Do you Google yourself?
Yes. I do this to check on privacy (I hate those sites that aggregate all of your personal information so you can be tracked) but also to make sure my website and social media are my top hits. I also check to see how well my published works pop up in search engines.
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
I need to find a way to do it, but I'm willing to give up more of my time.
What are your favorite literary journals?
I rarely read them...but I'm happy to shout out to The Kenyon Review.
What is your favorite childhood book?
I loved the Bad News Ballet books by Jahnna N. Malcom growing up. This is largely because I was a ballet dancer. But the books were also hilarious.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Plotting!!!! I'm so bad at coming up with enough things for characters to do! It's so hard for me to make a plan for characters to go from point A to point B, and this largely happens in the middle of the book.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
Yes. Sometimes I feel like a burden to them because I need talk therapy from them whenever I hit a rough patch...and there are a lot of rough patches!
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
I would have sought out a mentorship and gotten more feedback.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
At the rate I'm going, 2-3 years. This is not sustainable!
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes. It's simply an obstacle that stops you from writing temporarily. I think many people run into it.
✧･ﾟ: *✧･ﾟ:* *:･ﾟ✧*:･ﾟ✧
Y'all are troopers for making it this far. Thank you so much for reading, and as always, feel free to answer these questions on your own blog. You can link back to your post in the comments! I look forward to reading your answers!