Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Interview with M.E. Breen

Today I'm hosting M.E. Breen on her blog tour for Darkwood, a fantasy novel for tweens and teens. You can visit her on the web at her official site.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your journey towards becoming a published author?

I was in a PhD program in English Lit and failing miserably at it. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Everyone in my family has a PhD in English Lit. I started writing Darkwood and it felt like stepping on a train headed in a direction I wanted to go. I’m still not sure where that is, exactly. But – bear with me, I’m from California: I trust the process. I’m not on the train alone. My agent, my editor, my family and my friends are all fellow passengers. Maybe my agent is the station agent and my editor is the conductor? I guess this analogy makes me the engineer.

What inspired you to write Darkwood?

A Rorschach blot that I thought looked like a wolf. I saw wolves all over those inkblots and it got me thinking about the forms that imagination gives to the things we fear, and also to the things we want. Sometimes, of course, those things are the same.

What came first, the premise or the characters? How important was it for you to have resonating characters that readers care about?

The premise, since I had this idea about a world of sudden and terrifying darkness populated by wolfish creatures. But right away I needed someone to navigate that world, to discover it as I did. So Annie and Howland developed together, an internal landscape and an external one, I guess you could say. This is my first novel, and, as many first books are, it’s sort of autobiographical, though obviously more in emotional content than action. I have never met a kinderstalk, but there is a guy I run into walking my plump yellow mutt who has a dog he swears is three quarters wolf. It looks it. But to answer your question: it’s incredibly important to me to create characters readers care about. Sympathy has always been the main joy of reading for me. I don’t know if I always manage it. If a genie gave me three wishes, that would be one of them.

Do you have a favorite scene or a favorite quote from the novel? What is your favorite bit that you're extra-proud to have written?

Devour the witch!

What was your first impression of the cover art for Darkwood?

Heart attack. My experience writing Annie was essentially the experience of dreaming, where you are always the main character, though sometimes in a body other than your own. Sometimes you see yourself from the outside, but not in a physically detailed way. The parts of Annie I could really picture were things she would see about herself without a mirror: the end of her braid, scratches on the backs of her hands. So seeing the cover art was sort of like looking in the mirror for the first time. I was surprised by how beautiful she is. I love the woods. I really love the cats. Alexander Jansson, the cover artist, is a very talented guy.

What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?

Writing is the only thing I do alone that makes me unself-conscious. I value that more than I can say. The easiest part, what I would call the most natural part, is thinking up weird plants and creatures. I love doing that. I’ve had to work on dialogue. My first draft had almost no dialogue because I didn’t know how to write it. I’m a better inventor than I am a listener.

How do you find the time--do you find the time--to keep reading? Do you have any recent favorites?

Almost every night I read a comic book or a fairy tale or a few picture books. Hooray for Pig! and Pudding is Nice are both on my bedside table now. I just finished the second issue of the book The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. It’s about a grown-up, Harry Potter-esque character in the real world – sort of. It’s scary and great. I’m perpetually reading Moby Dick. I’ll get to a part with too much man-on-whale violence and have to put it down for six weeks. I just started Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. I open Ovid’s Metamorphoses at random pretty often. It’s nutty, over the top, beautiful. As a rule of thumb, if something has monsters in it, I like it.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless amount of money, what would you want to do?

The Ray Bradbury story “A Sound of Thunder” scared the pants off me in seventh grade and the idea of time travel still makes me nervous. So here’s what I’d do: I’d jerry-rig the time machine to take me into Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe. I love 18th century England. The empire waist is my friend, for one thing, but I also think that was a bizarre, unsettled, fascinating time for literature, with the novel just being born and not knowing what to do with itself. Crusoe would let me be in England and also on a sunny island with cats and goats. I’d probably live across the way from Robinson – he’s not my favorite guy. I’d keep a diary and find out what kind of a survivor I really am.

Other stops on the tour:

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

You asked a lot of questions I was curious about, Becky, so I really enjoyed reading your interview. It must be terribly difficult to be a writer, in my opinion, and the process would be a fascinating one. I'm still thinking about "Devour the witch" as a favorite line because the witch was a sudden surprise/unreal character for me.

Zibilee said...

Great interview! I think my daughter would love Darkwood. She loves all things animal, especially wolf, so this would be right up her alley. Thanks!

M.E. Breen said...

Thanks for hosting me, Becky. It was a pleasure to answer these questions, especially the one about the time machine. All the best, M.E.