I recently posted a Call to Writers, asking those of you who write to allow me to interview you for a guest spot in my blog. The response was magnificent (and if any of you still want to participate, please contact me for details). I asked thirty-five questions and gave the interviewee the freedom to answer only what they wanted. My friend and fellow-blogger, Amy Doepker, had some very creative and engaging responses which I’m sure you will find as captivating as I did. When you’re done reading the interview, please hop on over to Amy’s blog and make sure you follow her for more entertaining tales. And now, heeeere’s Amy…
1. Please tell us your name (or pen name) and a little bit about yourself:
Amy Doepker (real name. That definitely wouldn’t fly as a pen name). I’m a 28 (almost 29) year-old physical therapist. Writing is my number one activity when I’m not at work, but I also teach physical therapy at a local university, and I’m involved in numerous volunteer organizations. The best way to describe me is something a former co-worker of mine said: Amy, you’re 85 going on 7. Simply put, I’m an old soul, old-fashioned, yet I love Disney movies, kids’ books, playing on swing sets, and having fun with little kids.
2. Please provide the link to your blog (and website, Facebook fan page, Twitter, etc.):
http://www.phantomwriter143.wordpress.com I don’t yet have a Facebook fan page, and I really don’t like Twitter, so I don’t have an account. If a future agent or editor recommends one, I might partake, but it’s unlikely.
3 .How many books have you written?
I have one that is completed and being sent to agencies as we speak. I have about 20 others I’m currently working on.
4. Has any of your work been published yet? If so, please share the link(s) to purchase it:
Not yet published, but hopefully on my way!
5. If you have been published, did you self-publish or use traditional publishing? Why? If you have not been published yet, what are your plans for the future?
I’m currently querying agents for my completed manuscript, which is the first in a series. I’m hoping that will jumpstart my career as an author, and then I’ll be able to do physical therapy on the side, instead of writing.
6. How old were you when you started writing? When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I can’t pinpoint an exact age. All I know is that I’ve been writing and creating stories and characters for as long as I can remember. I even asked my mom this question, and she said “You’ve always been writing and creating. I can’t remember a time when you didn’t.” I knew I wanted to seriously pursue authorship in high school, but my dad and I had a pragmatic conversation about what would pay the bills. So I became a PT to pay the bills, and have been writing to keep me happy.
7. What would you say motivates you to keep writing?
I’d like to say some noble aspiration of greatness, or that I believe my work will someday impact the world. I write for two reasons. First and most important, I write because I HAVE to. I can’t stop it. Even on days when I’d prefer my characters and brain to just SHUT UP, they simply won’t. Even if I never get published, I write because there are stories within me to tell, and I want to know how they turn out.
The second reason is that an old boyfriend told me it was more likely that he would win the lottery than it was for me to get published. That’s statistically incorrect, and obviously, it was a bad relationship. When someone tells me I can’t do something, they’ve thrown down the gauntlet, and I just have to pick it back up and smack them across the face with it.
8. Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you currently reading (or what is the last book you read)?
Favorite authors: L.M. Montgomery, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis (do I have a thing for initials, or what?), Elizabeth Gaskell, Jane Austen, Rene Gutteridge, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Deeanne Gist, Cathy Marie Hake, Francine Rivers… The list is endless, really.
Currently reading: The Bible (always an ongoing project), Day of War by Cliff Graham, Mulieris Dignitatem by Blessed Pope John Paul II, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Spy School by Stuart Gibbs, Raising Dragons by Bryan Davis, Quiet by Susan Cain… again the list could go on. I have a problem with reading only one book at a time.
9. What is your preferred reading method? (i.e., Kindle, Nook, paperback, hardback, etc.) Why?
Paperback, because they’re the easiest to snuggle up with, and because I’m inherently averse to electronic versions of reading. Do I do it? Yes, occasionally, but I don’t like it that much. And hardcover books, aside from being too expensive, are just harder to hold for some reason. I feel like I have to sit upright and act all proper when I’m reading a hardcover book. I don’t know why I feel that.
10. Do you write in first or third person, past or present tense, and why?
Third person, past tense. It helps me to be a bit more objective. I fear that if I were to write in first person, too much of myself would show through. I also think it’s much harder to write in first person, present tense. So I guess I’m just nervous to try it.
11. Do you “always read” or do you take breaks between reading books?
I always have a book with me, no matter where I go. The only time I couldn’t read for more than a day was after I finished the Hunger Games series. It was like ACTION ACTION ACTION!!! And then… done. They were great books, but I didn’t get the sense of completion and was a bit traumatized for about a week. Other than that, I can’t stop reading. It’s too essential to my sanity.
12. How many books would you say you read in a year? How many at any one time?
In a year? At least 100. I’ve read two or three books in a day sometimes. (Rare, since my days are never that open).
At one time? As you’ve probably seen from the question above concerning what I’m reading right now, I’m usually immersed in 10-12 books at one time. It is a rare book that holds my attention from beginning to end in one go. Those books are my favorite, and a good many of them were written by my favorite authors, also listed above.
ABOUT YOUR CURRENT BOOK::
13. What is the title of your current work in progress of the most recent manuscript you’ve completed?
The Phantom Apprentice: Book of the Scribes
14. What is your novel’s genre? Would you say there is a sub-genre? What makes yours different than other books in the same genre?
Upper middle grade fantasy. My book is different because it introduces an entirely new race of magical beings, whose inherent mission is unlike any other I have encountered. The sub-world they live in is also a new creation, although the primary setting is on Earth.
15. What inspired the current or most recent story you’ve completed?
This is a tricky question to answer, as being specific will give away a portion of how the series may end. I’d have to say that Church philosophies and a few secular mythologies influenced it the most.
16. What is your target audience’s age, gender, etc.?
Age is upper middle grade, probably 11-12 and older. Into the young adult genre, but people of all ages will like this story. I’ve had readers ranging from 12 to 65 years old read and review my manuscript and they all loved it. I’m hoping that both genders will want to read it, but since the main character is a girl, I suppose more girls will read it than boys.
17. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your story?
I really don’t want to give too much away, because the arc of the series is so complicated that I’m afraid people will infer too much too soon. That may sound selfish, but I want my readers to be surprised when it’s finally published. But I will give hints.
Ava is the main character. She’s a 12 year-old girl who finds herself as the “royal,” for lack of a better term, of the phantom race. But the “royals” are the most hated family in the phantom world, so she does everything she can to hide her lineage. She, and her young phantom compatriots, are being trained for the mission their race has been called to and, of course, Ava can’t help but get herself into trouble. As the “royal” phantom, evil is always trying to find a way to get her off the throne. The first book is an introduction into Ava’s world, and the world of the phantoms. It’s full of danger, laughter, friendship, and adventure.
ABOUT HOW YOU WRITE::
18. How often do you write?
Usually every day. This past Fall, I went through my worst writer’s block ever, and sometimes, I’d get only a few sentences a week. That was wretched.
19. Approximately how many words do you write at each sitting?
I usually write 500-1,000 words a day, even if it’s only getting down plot points, doing some research, or dictating into my phone. There are rare days when I will write 5,000 to 10,000 words, when the muse just won’t shut up and my fingers fly along the keyboard. Again, those days are rare.
20. Do you do your own editing or send it to someone else?
21. What is your method of writing? (i.e., Do you write the entire manuscript, then go back and make changes? Do you plan chapters as you go along or write the story then go back and add chapters? Do you re-read as you go along or after you are done with the first draft?)
When I had to write papers in college and grad school, I’d meticulously research, write outlines, use notecards, etc. I anticipated that my creative writing would be just the same. I’m a zanily organized person usually, so it struck me as odd that my writing didn’t follow what I thought would be the best method. When I get the inspiration, I just sit down and write, and usually, the story just pours out in some reasonably organized fashion, even without an outline. I do have to be somewhat more on-the-ball when it comes to plotting the arc of my series, but once I have a good idea of where that’s going, I just sit down and write, write, write! And I edit after every few chapters. I can’t help myself. I’m terrible at stream-of-consciousness. The little mistakes bug the heck out of me!
22. Do you have a muse? If so, please elaborate. If not, what inspires you?
Mildred is my muse. She’s mentioned quite frequently in my blog. Mildred is my alter ego, the snappy old lady that takes no prisoners and can say what she likes without getting in trouble. She’s about as far from me as you can get, which is why I love her. I have a massive filter, but Mildred does not.
I also am inspired every day by beautiful scenery, interesting people, the patients I treat, conversations I overhear… it varies every day. Sometimes it’s just a word I see that I haven’t seen in a while, and it inspires me to write an entire page or chapter!
23. How long does it take you to write a full manuscript?
That’s a tough question. It depends. The manuscript I’m sending out took about 10 years to finish because I started it in high school. Needless to say, college and grad school got in the way of my writing (tragic, isn’t it?), so when I started working as a professional, I finally was able to find time to finish it. It went through a LOT of changes during that time, because I changed as I grew older. But now, the second book in the series is coming along much quicker, and I anticipate it being completed by the end of this year. Also, another novel I’m working on (in a completely different genre), I started two months ago, and it’s more than half done. So I really can’t pinpoint exactly how long it takes. Sometimes work gets in the way and I just don’t have any time. It really does depend.
24. Do you give yourself a word limit for each day or a time limit to finish your novel? If so, please elaborate.
I do not do word counts per day because then I feel pressured to complete it instead of basking in the sheer joy of the writing experience. I try to give myself timelines for manuscript completion, but that doesn’t always work, either. I work best when I have external demands for my writing, so I have one of my readers give me a deadline and I try my best to live up to it.
25. How do you come up with your character names and geographic location / business names?
One of my favorite (and most difficult) parts of the writing process is naming characters, locations, settings, etc. I am a huge advocate that names should mean something. I spend a lot of time on www.behindthename.com. I also like to make up my own names, so I use Google’s translate page when I want the root of the name to mean something specific. But again, inspiration can come from anywhere. I’ve snagged a few names from former patients, as well as names from the Bible, mythology, and history. Each character’s name paints a picture of their personality in some way, so it is a painstaking, but always enjoyable, process.
26. How long (or how detailed) are the notes you take before you start writing?
Again, it depends. I may take no notes at all. If an idea pops into my head, or if random characters start talking, I simply write down what they’re saying, or record the vision of the setting and exposition. The notes for my middle grade series are extensive, as I’ve had ten years to compile them. Literally thousands and thousands of pages of notes, pictures, outlines, names, settings, plot, etc. It’s a daunting task, but I need the information because the arc of the series is complicated. (Not to read, but definitely to write). There’s a lot of foreshadowing in the books, so I need to be organized enough to make sure each plot point is leading the reader in the direction they’re supposed to go. (Or lead them into thinking something completely different before I yank the curtain up and shock them all!)
27. Do you have any “must haves” to help you write? (i.e., a full cup of coffee, a view of the ocean, etc.)
Not a one. Pen and paper is preferable, or my laptop, but as long as I have my brain working and some way to record it, I’m golden.
28. Do you only write during a certain time of day or in a certain location? If so, do you make yourself stop after a certain time?
I’ve written massive amounts of prose at any time of the day, but the most consistent time appears to be late afternoon and evening. Which can be unfortunate, because I’m usually an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of person. When I’m all pumped with adrenaline after writing into the evening, I rarely sleep that night.
29. Does your real life ever neglected because of your writing? If so, how do you feel about that?
I wouldn’t say neglected, but it helps that I’m an introvert. I’m not comfortable in big, crowded, noisy places that require a lot of small talk or being shoved around. I’ve never been one to go out and do a lot of social activities on the weekend. All my friends and family know that I write a lot, and if I’m in the midst of something, they understand. But I’ve never missed a birthday, holiday, funeral, wedding, or going to Church because of it. I love to write and it is truly where I’m happiest, but there are some things in life more important than keeping ourselves happy.
30.What is the quirkiest thing you do or have ever done when writing?
That’s another toughie. It’s hard to think of things when asked specifically, but I know I laugh out loud a lot, and often in public places. When I’m writing a particularly funny scene, or a heart-wrenching one that needs a little lightheartedness, something a character says will pop out and I’ll literally chuckle or laugh out loud. I like to write at Barnes & Noble, or a coffee place (although I despise coffee, I love the environment), or even in the library. I get a lot of odd looks, but I’m fine with it.
I’ve also slapped myself in the face and yelled, “Get it together” when I get distracted or am stuck on something that should be insanely simple.
ABOUT YOUR WORK::
31. If you have written more than one novel, which is your favorite and why?
Even though I’ve only finished one manuscript, I’m in the processing of writing 20 others. I usually focus on two or three at a time, and I can honestly say I can’t pick a favorite. I love all my characters, stories, plots, and settings equally, but for different reasons.
32. If you could be one of your own characters for a day, who would it be and why?
I’d probably like to be my main character’s best friend, Ruth. Ruth and I are a lot alike, and I’m just not brave enough to be Ava, the main character. Ava is curious and impetuous, as well as snarky and brash. I’d never be comfortable like that. Ruth is Ava’s calm, and I’d like to be that. Still close to the action and part of the adventure, but on the side of rationality and reason. (Thank God Mildred isn’t like that! She’d be Ava for sure!)
33. If one of your books became a movie, who would you choose for the “perfect cast” of main characters?
Oh boy. I try not to think that grand, but I often use famous people as inspiration for physical mannerisms and appearance. My perfect cast would include:
A teenage Liv Tyler as Ava
Benedict Cumberbatch as the bad guy (I don’t want to reveal his name yet)
Alan Rickman as Ava’s dad
Jennifer Connelly as Ava’s mom
A teenage Emma Stone as Ruth
A teenage Rupert Penry-Jones as Charlie, one of Ava’s friends
A teenage Adrien Brody as Zeke, another of Ava’s friends
Sean Connery as the leader of the phantom society
Daniel Henney as Ava’s mentor, Reginald
Liam Neeson as the head of Ava’s training camp
Quite an eclectic group if I do say so. There are many other celebs I have picked out as the physical inspiration for my characters, but it’d be too long of a list.
34. What is the oddest thing you have ever researched for one of your books?
I honestly can’t remember only one specific thing. I know I’ve researched wind and wave patterns in the northern Atlantic Ocean. I’ve also looked up how to properly clean and store fencing foils and masks. And the fastest fish in the world (a sailfish, by the way). Honestly, there are far too many tidbits of research that definitely sounded odd when I googled them or went to the library in search of the truth. I get a lot of odd looks, I can tell you.
35. What is the most difficult thing you have ever researched for one your books and why?
Again, that question is hard to answer. Probably the most difficult things to research are the properties of plants, as well as tracking down the most “truthful” accounts of ancient mythology. There are so many variations of both of those topics and I want to make sure I’m accurately representing and cataloguing what I find. Most of what I write can be constructed in my imagination, but when the phantoms interact with the real world, the facts need to be correct, otherwise the story won’t work.
As a post-script, I’d like to thank Rachel Carrera for her time, talents, and drive in coordinating these interviews. I’m thankful she allowed me to participate, and am hopeful to soon see her name in print. Thanks, Rachel!
Aww, isn’t she sweet? Thank you, Amy, for allowing me to interview you. I hope everyone else has enjoyed learning about you and your work as much as I have.