Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Author Interview: Cidney Swanson of Rippler

Today we have Ms. Cidney Swanson, author of Rippler and Chameleon, with us.  {Read my review of Rippler here.}

Cidney Swanson is the author of The Ripple Series. She began writing at age seven; her first novel began with “Ouch,” and her characters have been suffering ever since. Cidney lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, three kids, two cats, one dog, and entirely too much rain.

Welcome to Struggles of a (Maybe) Teen Author!  I'm so glad you were able to be with us today, because frankly, your book is one of the best books I've reviewed.  Let's get started!
 

How long have you been writing?  I started writing stories literally as soon as teachers taught me how to form letters using pencil and paper.

Why did you start writing?  Have you always wanted to be a writer?  Starting? I can’t really remember other than to say that I liked words as a very (very) young child and that I liked stories as well.  And yes, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.

It sounds like you've had a lot of practice and experience!  I started rather young, but not that young.

Who or what has had the most influence on you as a writer?  This might sound strange, but possibly Shakespeare. I started going to plays with my parents while I was pretty young. I liked the rhythms and sounds of what I heard. I didn’t know it was supposed to be "hard to understand." I mean, when you are seven, all adults are hard to understand. I just found Shakespeare’s speech to be more interesting than that of most adults, so I listened carefully and understood it pretty well. There’s a playful quality to Shakespeare’s writing that I still love. Word order is all over the place and the guy freaking made up words! Lots of them.

That's not strange at all - if a writer never read something of Shakespeare's, he would be in bad shape.  And it's my opinion that all the greats made up words - Shakespeare, Dr. Suess, Lewis Carroll.  My favorite made-up words are elbow (Shakespeare) and nerd (Dr. Seuss).  Few people realize just how many of our common words are straight from Shakespeare's mind.  (The actual number of words he invented is over 1700!)

How much research do you usually put into your books?  Oh, I’m so glad you asked! Tons! And tons! I don’t feel like I can include factoids in my book unless I’ve researched the heck out of them. I’ll get lost for an hour or two looking for obscure information.

Do you base events or people in your books off of your life, or your friends' and family's lives?  I don’t do this intentionally, although, like all writers, I definitely write from what I know. I know the central California foothills, so that became a natural setting for me to use for Rippler. I intentionally visited places I wanted to use as locations for Chameleon so that you’d have a feeling you were really there. (Hopefully!) But people? Not so much. The characters in my head are more interesting to me!

All that research definitely paid off.  Your place descriptions are amazing!

What do you do when you're not writing?  I love to read. I enjoy movies with my family. And I like to cook. I’m a picky eater. I don’t like "faux" food (processed and packaged) so that means lots of cooking from scratch. Hey, there’s something from my life! Will cooks from scratch because it is cheap and healthy to do so. He got that from me!

Haha, I guess all of us have pieces of our lives sprinkled through our work - be it intentional or not.  (My boyfriend and I still want to try Will's pizza - it sounded heavenly!)

What was your favorite book or author as a teen? What's your favorite now?  My absolute fave writer as a teen was JRR Tolkien. Reading Lord of the Rings for the first time was a transformative experience. I don’t write high fantasy, but that book rocked my world. Right now I’m enjoying reading Audrey Niffenegger, Maggie Stiefvater, Daniel Silva, Stephen Lawhead . . . I’m sure I’m leaving out some major faves . . . Markus Zusak, Colleen Houck . . . My favorite book of the year was The Scorpio Races.

What was the biggest obstacle to getting published for the first time, and how did you overcome it?  The biggest obstacle (assuming you have written the best novel you can) is simply time. The submission process looked like this, for me:

1) query an agent, including one page or so of my completed novel,

2) wait 3-6 months for them to get back to me and request 1-3 chapters,

3) wait another 3-6 months for them to get back to me and ask for the full manuscript,

4) wait another 1-6 months for them to get back to me about what they liked/didn’t like and ask if I had anything else they could look at, as the first manuscript had marketability issues; and

5) Rinse and repeat with multiple agents.

Agents are very busy individuals. And very hard-working. Their first obligation is, naturally, to their current clients. So that means that the road to a traditional publishing contract is typically a very long one. Sure, you have writers like Stephenie Meyer, but her story is an exception. So, for me, with The Ripple Series, it made more sense to start a small press and publish my manuscript outside of that process once I’d heard back from multiple agents who didn’t think the manuscript would work for them. They praised my skill as a writer, which gave me confidence, but they didn’t feel they could sell Rippler. I had a feeling there was a market for it, and luckily, there has been! I’m still working on submissions (with other novels) through the traditional route as well, but I know that I need to let that take time. Lots of time.

I find it interesting that all the best (and best-selling) books are those that agents and publicators usually reject.  I mean, look at Harry Potter (12 rejections, I believe) or The Help (60 rejections!).  I'm glad you followed their leads and refused to give up.

What is your writing process?  Do you write regularly at certain times or just when inspiration hits?  I would be waiting a long time if I waited until inspiration stopped in to say hi. I have found that inspiration follows labor. I am very disciplined about my writing time. In general, I’m not a disciplined person, so I had to learn to be diligent in this area. Fortunately, I love writing, so it’s pretty easy to "force" myself to check in for work everyday. I write in the mornings and then I do email responses, FB, blogging, interviews, etc. in the afternoon. I’m more creative in the morning before my editorial brain has woken up. Of course, when I’m in revisions (editor-mode) this routine changes. I’m writing new stuff in the AM and doing editing/revision stuff in the PM, and I don’t get much play-time.

What keeps you motivated?  The love of words. Readers writing to tell me they loved my stories. My kids begging for the next chapter. (Ha! It’s true!)

I can easily believe that.  My friends and Grandma are always on my case, begging for the next installment or commanding me to finish the book already.  My brother Jon can get that way sometimes, too.

Are there any books you wish you'd written?  I wish I’d written Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. That story rips your heart out, performs open-heart surgery on you, and then leaves you with a huge zipper scar. Seriously, though, it also leaves you with a softer heart. I love the poetry of that book, the characters, the story arc, oh, just everything. I want to write a book like that.

I haven't read that book, but I understand the feeling.   Speaking of books I wish I'd written, let's get to the specifics of your book.

What is Rippler about?  Rippler is about a girl who can turn invisible, the boy she is falling for, and an evil geneticist who is after them both.
What inspired this book?  In my mind, I saw an image of this girl staring at the Merced River and then disappearing. She didn’t know she’d disappeared. I immediately had to know (1) why did she disappear? and (2) why didn’t she notice she’d turned invisible? I had to write her story to find the answers.

Do you have any advice for aspiring teen authors like myself - or any age, for that matter?  Read. Read. Read. Read really good books. Practice crafting sentences that are like the ones you like best from your favorite book. You know how in art class, sometimes they make you copy the great masters? Do that for writing. Write. Write. Write. This helps you to find your own voice, because ultimately you don’t want to sound like a version of a great master: you want to sound like you. And to do this, you must be disciplined. Specifically, you must park your behind in a chair and write on a regular basis.

My mom says I do a little too much parking and not enough writing at times... I suppose I lack discipline.  Anyway, thanks for coming, Ms. Swanson!  I enjoyed talking with you.  Readers, come back tomorrow for another great giveaway!

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