Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Interview with Leah Cypess: Mistwood

Today's interview is with Leah Cypess, debut author of Mistwood, which launches today (April 27th).

Everyone tells Isabel that she is the Shifter – the ancient shape-shifting creature who has protected the kings of Samorna for centuries. They need her to be the Shifter. Prince Rokan risked everything when he rode into the Mistwood to summon her to his side; Ven, the magician's apprentice, has devoted his life to studying her legend; and even Princess Clarisse, who fears and hates her, depends on Isabel's powers to further her own plans.

But Isabel doesn't feel like the Shifter. She feels like a lonely human girl, beset by flashes of memory that do more to confuse than to help her. If she is the Shifter, why can't she change her shape? Why doesn't she remember what made her flee the castle so many years ago? As she is drawn deeper into a web of magic and assassination, Isabel will have no choice but to look for answers. But her search will lead her to the one question the Shifter hasn't faced in a thousand years: where does she come from, and what does she really want?

Hey Leah! Tell us a little about yourself as a writer – do you outline, or wing it? Do you write daily, or in snatches?

I definitely wing it. At certain points in my writing process – often about halfway through the book -- I'll sometimes try to write an outline. But then I change the outline at least twice while I'm writing the rest of the book.

I try to give myself time to write daily, but I don't force it. If the ideas aren't flowing, I'll go do something else, and try again later that day or the next day. And when the ideas are flowing, I tend to write every in every snatch of time I can grab.

When – and why – did you begin writing?

According to my parents, I began writing fiction when I was in first grade. Since that was also when I learned to write in the first place, I'm guessing it was an inborn trait.

What was your process writing this book? What did you have trouble with, and what inspired you?

I tend to start writing without any idea of where the story is going. Usually I write about the first third of the book straight through, and then I start writing scenes out of order; very often, I'll write the end of the book at that point, and then fill in the middle. With Mistwood, the process was complicated by the fact that I graduated from law school and began working as a lawyer while I was writing the book; the only time I had to write was usually on my morning commute, so not only were my scenes out of order, they were on torn-out looseleaf pages and scattered throughout various notebooks. Piecing it all together was quite an undertaking.

What did it take to get Mistwood on bookshelves?

Mistwood was the fourth manuscript I submitted to publishers, so by the time it was finished, I had a list of editors who I knew liked my work and had asked me to send more. The submission process for Mistwood itself was surprisingly fast -- I had an offer only two months after sending my query letter!

After that there were several rounds of revision, copyediting, and proofreading, not to mention cover design... and now my manuscript is indeed a book, and on bookshelves. Needless to say, I'm extraordinarily excited about this.

Name one minor character you like particularly, and why.

Just for fun, let me go with one of the most minor characters in the book -- the guard outside Isabel's bedroom who tried to stop her from leaving. Poor kid. He was obviously a raw new recruit, which was why he was assigned the supposedly easy task of guarding a noblewoman's room. He didn't stand a chance.

Your main character in Mistwood is a shape-shifter, a creature pretty unrepresented in today’s book world of vampires/angels/demons/fey. So talk to us about shifters. What drew you to write one?

I love animals. When I was younger, I used to go to the library and take out nothing but books about how to care for various animals. Dogs, cats, gerbils, horses, baby tigers... I didn't care how slim the chances were that I'd ever have one (and since my mother was not thrilled about the idea, the chance of my having anything but a goldfish was zero). When I exhausted that particular genre, I moved on to books about animals in the wild. As a teenager, I watched every National Geographic video I could get my hands on; I can't even count the number of times I've watched a lion bring down prey.

Animals are awesome. They have senses we don't, they can do things we can't, they're beautiful and graceful and powerful. The idea of being able to change into an animal -- but to still be human (because beautiful as animals are, their lives are also brutal, violent, and usually short) -- is intrinsically appealing to me.

Here on Headdesk, I have a minor obsession with the rules of writing. Is there any particular rule you write by?

There really isn't. I tend to write mostly by following my subconscious around, so for the most part it's a free-for-all process. I have plenty of rules for revising, but that's another story.

If knew you a teenager who aspired to be a novelist, what would you say to them?

That they should read a lot, and write a lot, and not worry about publication until they're confident that they've found their voice. (After which, they should join a critique group to make sure their voice is intelligible to other people.)

How have you grown as a writer, and how do you hope to see yourself grow in the future?

A lot of my growth has come through critique groups; it's very valuable to have other people point out deficiencies in your work (as long as you don't take everything they say as gospel). For example, one area I used to be very weak in was physical description. After this was pointed out to me by several people, I started carrying a notebook around with me everywhere I went and writing descriptions whenever I had a few free moments -- of a scene I came across when hiking, of other people on the subway, of a particularly gorgeous sunset, basically of anything that seemed like it could be described.

I invented an exercise where I would write three descriptions of any one thing -- first a page-long description, then a paragraph-long description, and then a one-line description. I learned a lot from those attempts.

It took a while, but eventually I got a critique from someone I trusted who said, "You have a real talent for description," and that was a proud moment for me. I hope that I continue to discover the flaws in my writing, and that I am able not only to overcome them, but to turn them into strengths.

Mmm. That is some really good advice. So tell us, what’s next for Leah Cypess?

There will be a companion book to Mistwood coming out in 2011. After that -- more books, I hope! I have lots of ideas just waiting to be turned into novels.

Thanks for dropping by, Leah. Enjoy your launch!

Leah is a member of "The Tenners," a group of authors debuting in 2010. Leah got her degree in biology and became a lawyer, before quitting the practice and moving to Boston. Leah wrote her first story in first grade. The narrator was an ice-cream cone in the process of being eaten. In high school, she published her first short story, and started submitting her first (completely unpublishable) book to editors. A mere 15 or so years later, MISTWOOD will be Leah’s very first published novel. She lives in Boston with her husband and two-year-old daughter. To learn more about Leah Cypess, check out her website, or the Tenner's blog.


Heather Zundel said...

Great interview. I'm glad you asked about why she/you chose to write about shapeshifters. Definitely an underrepresented group in the paranormal bunch.

Dork Vader said...

Woah! I really like the idea behind this one! I'll be sure to pick up a copy :D

Creative A said...

Thanks guys! I was really excited to have Leah over, because I've been wanting to read her book as well. Glad you all enjoyed her answers as much as I did.


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