As promised tomorrow, today I’m hosting a terrific interview with Michelle Zink. I first got to know Michelle through Twitter and her other online haunts. Then, I won a copy of her book, Prophesy of the Sisters, on Lee Verdey’s blog. As I paid attention to her interaction with her friends and fan online, I was struck with how nice and approachable she seemed. I remember thinking, if I make as a writer and have Lacrimosa or other books published, I want to be as approachable and kind as Michelle seems.
After reading Prophesy of the Sisters (admittedly a LONG time after I won it), I can say that Michelle is someone I wanted to get to know. Our writing process, style and voice are similar in a number of ways. Most similar, is where we draw our inspiration for our stories. But that is a post for another time.
For today, here’s the incredible Michelle Zink:
CF: Why did you begin writing?
MZ: Writing was a return to myself. If you had asked me when I was a child and teen what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have said, “Be a writer.” But I lost it somewhere along the way as I was encouraged to get a “real” job, be responsible, etc. I really didn’t have any role models or anyone who even talked to me about being a writer or what a career as a writer would look like. It all seemed very mysterious! By the time I was 29, I was working as a Director of Sales and Marketing for a technology consulting firm. I was making plenty of money, had a house a mile from the beach, a nanny and a housekeeper – and was completely miserable. I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life getting up every morning only to spend ten hours of every day doing something that didn’t interest me at all. So I did this crazy thing and sold my house, quite my job, and moved myself, my then-husband, and my four children (who were between the ages of 2 and 9 at the time) 3,000 miles to a small town in New York. It was beautiful, quaint, and most importantly, cheap! The cheap part was crucial, because it meant that I could take a break from being the primary breadwinner and take some time to figure out what I really wanted and who I really was. During the 2-3 years it took me to find my way back to writing, I learned that I didn’t need as much STUFF as I thought I did. I found that I was very happy and fulfilled at home with the woodstove going, baking from scratch, reading with my children, and writing. Finding my writing again was like breathing. It was an epiphany, and I suddenly couldn’t imagine how I’d lived without it for so many years. All of my worldly cares fell away when I was writing, and I had the greatest sense of euphoria. I felt ALIVE for the first time since I was a teenager. I wanted to hang onto that feeling, so I wrote more and more and more.
CF: How long have you been writing?
MZ: I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but I didn’t seriously start writing to get published until 2004. When I finally decided to take myself seriously, I wrote 6-8 hours a day for two-and-a-half years, finishing six books in that time before Prophecy of the Sisters (number FIVE!) sold to Little Brown in 2007.
CF: Tell me a little about your personal writing process?
MZ: I write my first drafts in a crazy two-and-a-half month, obsessive frenzy, averaging about 3,000 words a day. I aim to write books that are extremely atmospheric, and I just can’t get the darkness that I want if I have to start-and-stop, picking away at it 1,000 words at a time. Honestly, if I didn’t have to eat, sleep, or take care of my four children, I’d probably be one of those crazy authors shuffling around in their bathrobe and shoveling food into their mouths over the kitchen sink, because when I’m drafting, all I want to do is to be immersed in that world.
Once I’m done with the draft, I spend as long as it takes editing and revising. That can take weeks or months, depending in part on how long it takes my editor to get back to me. I usually start a new book, though, within a week or two of ending one. I just don’t feel like myself when I’m not writing.
CF: What is the hardest part aspect of being a writer?
MZ: Honestly, I really don’t feel I can complain about any of it. I just feel so blessed to be doing something I love so much for a living and to be able to share my stories with the world. If I had to name one thing, I’d say that it’s tough, especially now, to have so much played out so publicly. I love my online friends so much, but there’s also this whole scary aspect of having people develop opinions about you based on what they perceive to be true or based on something they heard out of context. It’s scary, because as an author, I feel like it’s really important to be professional, so I make a point of ignoring anything negative, at least outwardly. But at the same time, it’s hard not to say, “Wait! I didn’t say that!” or “That’s not what I meant!” In the end, though, I just try to do the right thing and hope everyone gives me the benefit of the doubt. And I try to do the same for everybody else.
CF: How do you manage to balance the role as wife, mother, and author?
MZ: It’s not easy! I’m actually not a wife at the moment, as my soon-to-be ex-husband and I have been separated for two years and are getting a divorce. I do have four children ages 10 to 17, and I’m their soul caregiver and guardian, 24/7. It’s difficult sometimes to feel like I’m doing a good job at any of the things I’m doing, but I try to tell myself that I’m doing the very best I can. I don’t date at the moment, and I have only a few very close personal friends with whom I spend time and/or talk to on the phone. Everything else is for my family and my writing, because they’re the two most important things in the world to me, in that order. Sometimes it means the house isn’t as clean as I’d like or we have to have Ramen for dinner (again), but I try to remind myself that my children are healthy and happy and insightful and compassionate, and my writing life is thriving. Nothing else really matters. And the thing is, my children are so amazing and understanding and supportive, they make it easy, relatively speaking! I work on promotional stuff, updating my blog, etc., on the mornings when I don’t have errands or grocery shopping (or my Friday movie matinée with my seventeen-year-old son who’s homeschooled). Then, I work a little between 4pm and about 6pm (after school and before dinner) and again from 7pm – 10pm (except for the 30 minutes I read with my ten-year-old each night). At 10pm, I stop and have tea with my fifteen-year-old daughter while we read or chat. Then I read myself before going to bed about midnight. I stopped watching TV altogether when I was working on Prophecy revisions with my agent, and that frees up an incredible amount of time for more important and satisfying things. My days start at 6am and end around midnight, but honestly, they’re filled with everything wonderful! I wouldn’t dare complain!
CF: Where do you find your inspiration?
MZ: I get a lot of my ideas from ancient myths and legends. Angels and demons are kind of my thing (as you can probably tell from Prophecy), so I read a lot about them. Sometimes nothing happens and I just keep reading, but every now and then, something will spark an idea, and I’ll think, “Waaaaaait a minute!”
CF: What inspired PROPHESY OF THE SISTERS?
MZ: The initial seed of the story came from the biblical legend of the Watchers, a legion of angels who were said to have been sent to Earth to watch over mankind. In the legend, the angels fell in love with mortal women and were banished from Heaven, after which they were referred to as the Lost Souls. I’ve always been fascinated with the sibling connection. I have three half-brothers, but no full siblings. It’s such a mysterious connection – to come from the exact same place as someone else – and none more so than twins. I thought it would be a challenge to drop this enormous conflict with apocalyptic consequences for mankind in between these two people who should, by all rights, be closer than any two human beings. It was also a challenge to develop their characters along such totally different arcs when they have in common everything from DNA to their shared history.
CF: Are any of the characters in that story like you?
MZ: That’s a good question! And kind of tough to answer. I never set out to pattern my characters after myself. More often, they end up with characteristics that I WISH I had. I so admire Lia’s strength and unwavering goodness (though some of this changes as the story progresses in books two and three). She is so brave in the face of such danger. I can only hope I’d be that courageous!
CF: What can you share about some of your future projects?
MZ: My next series is a very, very dark contemporary fantasy also based on ancient biblical lore. I think of it as The Dark Knight meets Twilight – minus the vampires! I’m super excited about it and have been working on it on and off since 2007. I also have another Gothic/Steampunk series, set in London this time, that I’m playing with… Stay tuned!
CF: Tell us one random fact about you.
MZ: I’m the Coupon Queen! You should see me go! I’m a crazy coupon shopper and take ridiculous pride in making sure my family lives well on a budget. Every Sunday, I spend about two hours getting all my coupons together and comparing the circulars from four different grocery stores so I can plot a shopping route for Monday. When we have something different in the house, my children say, “Was it on sale?” Lol!
CF: Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about you or your books?
MZ: Well, for a long time I was living someone else’s version of what my life should look like. I thought I wanted to be successful and afford nice things, and in a way, I had to get what I wanted to realize I didn’t want it after all. When I talk to teenagers all over the country, the most important thing I tell them is, “Be who you are.” Not who other people want you to be or who they think you should be. Who you ARE. There’s no happiness without it, and the most responsible thing you can do in this world is to carry yourself forward with purpose and meaning and passion. There are always people who want to tell you that it can’t be done (whatever “it” is!). That the odds are too high. The path too difficult. But you know what? ‘m just like you. I tuned out the noise and kept my head down and kept writing, because I KNEW I could do it. And I know you can, too, whatever your “it” may be.
Wow! What a terrific interview! Thanks Michelle, for spending a little time of my blog and letting us all get to know you better.