In 2010, Pyr Books decided to start a line of Young Adult novels. Today’s guest’s debut novel was chosen as the first release. Lightbringer released in 2011 followed by Reaper this fall and KD McEntire has been going ever since. A young mom with an infant and toddler, KD lives near Kansas City with her husband and boys and is finishing Never due out in 2013. Born in Florida, she’s lived in Missouri, Texas, and California, amongst other states, and now Kansas. She taught herself to read at age 3 and by 5 declared she’d grow up to be either a teacher, a writer or a nun. After quitting teaching for computer science and then getting married and pregnant, she resorted to writing – to our good fortune. Someday God and the Mother Superior will forgive her.
KD McEntire There’s a ten year difference between myself and my closest sibling. Books were my main friends. SF/F was the perfect escape. I spent many years holed up in my bedroom exploring… well everywhere not South Texas.
SFFWRTCHT: Who are some of your favorite authors and books that inspire you?
KDM: Stephen King is the closest thing I have to a favorite author. I tend to read whatever looks good at the time. As for inspiration, I’m inspired by good writing and fantastic prose. Kris Reisz, Holly Black, these are YA authors I’ll go to over and over again for inspiration and for intense, lovely language.
KDM: I’ve always told stories, even when I was little. I was grounded a lot (my stepdad was strict about straight A’s) so all I did was read and think. I started off with mental fan fiction – putting myself in the stories I read – and, later, moved on to making up my own characters and stories. I was writing stories down at seven and by seventeen I’d written my first (terrible) novel. It took me to twenty-seven to really land on editor’s desks. So, yeah, I’d say I was in it for the long haul.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you still have the first novel in a drawer or did you burn it?
KDM: That first novel? My husband printed it for me as a Valentine’s gift one year!
SFFWRTCHT: Ahhhh so it’s still around for the embarrassing reveal, etc. then?
KDM: I want to be dead before that first book is ever released.
SFFWRTCHT: How did you get started learning your craft? Study in school? Learn as you go? Workshop? Bribe a genie?
KDM: I always did love Aladdin growing up! No, I think workshops are awesome but I have never been much of a ‘joiner’. I learned the basic rules in school like everyone else. I can even recall a teacher making fun of my stories in 2nd grade because I didn’t follow the writing rules she was teaching. She wanted us to vary how we started each sentence and I thought she meant for us to purposefully start each sentence the same. She read my story aloud and mocked me – I went home, cried, and learned very early on to 1) learn from your mistakes, 2) listen to critics, 3) but only listen to critics so far. The craft of writing just came from reading, reading, and reading some more. Listening to what other authors had to say and picking and choosing what suited my own style. You have to know the rules in order to break them.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you sell your first piece? What was your big break?
KDM: My big break was meeting my first agent, Nadia Cornier of Firebrand Agency through my husband, Jake. He was doing a website thing for her and he asked if she’d read a few chapters and tell me what I was doing wrong with my queries. She read my stuff and actually liked it, so offered to represent me. I take back what I said earlier about learning mostly on my own. Nadia taught me a lot about what is marketable in publishing. When she left Firebrand, she gave me a letter of introduction to my current agent, Joe Monti and he is the one who’s been busting butt to get me seen. (Big claps for Joe!) As for when I sold Lightbringer, it was sometime in the Fall of 2010. I’d have a better reply for that, but I was in the midst of firstborn baby haze at that point and remember very little about years 2010-… well, now. As for Jake.. yeah, none of this would be possible without him!
SFFWRTCHT: Is your approach character-based, plot based, thematic, cinematic? Do you have an ending before you start?
KDM: I tend not to think critically about my approach – theme-based, etc. I just go with what feels right for the story, for the characters, and if something needs changing or tweaking later, I do so. I do tend to know how it’s going to finish about halfway through sometimes earlier.
SFFWRTCHT: Where’d the idea for Lightbringer and the Never come from?
KDM: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Musical: Once More With Feeling – specifically Spike’s song “Rest in Peace.” He sings, “Whisper in a dead man’s ear/ doesn’t make it real” and it just clicked for me. I was driving to work a few weeks before I had to move to California, and it was snowing and dark out, and I was listening to the musical and, for some reason, thinking of Peter Pan and the two combined in really interesting ways.
SFFWRTCHT: It’s the story of a girl who has the gift of sending unsettled ghosts to their final rest, right? Tell us a bit about that. What is a Lightbringer and what are Riders and Walkers?
KDM: Well, it’s not so much unsettled ghosts. Some of them have chosen to stay, true, but some just never found the Light for whatever reason. Some purposefully turned their backs on the Light out of fear or love. Wendy’s job, and more importantly, her duty, is to send them into the Light. They rot otherwise. The soul can’t stand that long an existence without an infusion of willpower, of light, or strength. It fades (at best) or grows rancid. Ultimately, Wendy is an unreliable narrator. She does what she does because that’s what her mom taught her to do. She has no idea if it’s right or wrong or even where the souls go. The Lightbringer (Wendy) is a young girl who appears to be a monster to the dead, a being made of Light. She sends the souls of the dead stuck in the Never (limbo) to their proper afterlife. Riders: A group of teenaged dead who protect the Lost (dead children) from another group of the dead (Walkers). Walkers: Cannibal ghosts. They like to eat dead kids for their unspent/unlived years to keep existing.
SFFWRTCHT: Which came first-plot or characters? Theme? World?
KDM: Which came first? The Never, the world. Basically a grey and crumbling limbo. Then I imagined a twisted, dead Piotr (Peter Pan) and Wendy came later.
SFFWRTCHT: You know somehow I missed that Peter Pan parallel the first time through.
KDM: You’d be surprised how many people miss that.
SFFWRTCHT: Well, tell Jake I am totally picturing him swinging through branches in green tights now. How long does a typical novel take you to write?
KDM: Before kids, I could write a novel in about a month. After kids… longer. Much, much longer. On a good night, when they get to bed early, I can get in a 4k word count. Unless I stay up all night, which is how I get the bulk of my writing done these days. Then I can knock out 10k-12k in a night but it takes over a week to recover from and I’m useless the next day. It’s easy when you’ve got 8-10 hours to work with. You just sit down at the computer and don’t stop. The easy way to do is means turning off the internet. You can read a post about it: http://t.co/yLcvu0Zl.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you envision it as a trilogy or series or did that come later?
KDM: I wanted Lightbringer to mostly be a standalone, but I knew there was more to the story.
KDM: I may have just bombed the interview!
SFFWRTCHT: Yep, they stopped reading, shut off the internet and went to write. Sigh.
KDM: (slaps palm to forhead) I know, that’s what I just realized.Everyone’s wanting to up their word count now! It wasn’t a decision so much as a calling. I read a lot of YA, and I love it. It feels right.
SFFWRTCHT: What do you think are the core elements of a good ya novel? What about a good urban fantasy novel?
KDM: A good YA novel, or just one that sells well? I think, ultimately, that a good YA novel is about problems that circle being a teenager. A mistake a lot of writers make is to assume that YA readers are “stupid teenagers” which grinds my gears, but they can also go in the opposite direction and make the teens too self-reliant and not uncertain enough. Being a teenager is a tightrope – one day you want the safety net of friends and family, and the next you want to do it on your own. Good YA respects that balance and doesn’t make the adult swoop in to be the savior. The protagonist might have adult help but ultimately the teen has to figure it out on their own.
SFFWRTCHT: Outliner or pantser? I believe I recall you telling me you write the ending first and work your way back?
KDM: Pantser for the first half of a book. Outliner for the second half. I love writing backwards when I get stuck.
SFFWRTCHT: What about language choices? Very different in YA?
KDM: Language tends to be slightly more informal but not by much. You get a more fluid feel to the prose. What I really like messing around with is diction and dialogue. It’s not so subtle with some characters (Elle, Piotr) but generally, watch the way I craft HOW they say things. Lily rarely uses contractions, for example. Eddie likes to drop his g’s. Wendy uses cursing as a stand-in for expressing her emotions.The White Lady (one of the antagonists) is portrayed as crazy… but when you listen to her talk she’s crazy like a fox – lots of sing-song, lots of get-under-your-skin pointed comments.
SFFWRTCHT: You also told me you think about sartorial and hairstyle issues to inspire character personalities?
KDM: I usually start with the hair. Different styles and colors speak very loudly for teens, so it’s a good place to start. Yep, Short is no-nonsense, busy. Longer – for a teen – takes longer to take care of, to style. It’s fussier unless the character makes a point of always pulling it back. Then they’re sportier or more physical. Same thing with clothing. People don’t realize how much stock they put in clothing even if they don’t mean to. Short skirts are flirty, long skirts are more earthy. With male characters this isn’t quite as true, and with period books it all goes out the window, but for modern stories it fits. As I go along. I feel for the characters and maybe a short-haired character gets longer hair later but in general it’s a jumping off point.
SFFWRTCHT: In Reaper, the story continues when Wendy learns that she is part of a powerful and ancient family of Reapers. Tell us a bit about that? And did you struggle at all with writing a middle book?
KDM: Yep, she’s learning that she’s not as alone as she thought she was; that all these things she learned by the seat of her pants she was actually doing mega-wrong and putting people in danger. It’s very humbling. It’s like hitting your twenties and realizing that your folks were right all along! I struggled a lot with Reaper. I was pregnant and dealing with my toddler so I was tired all the time. I couldn’t concentrate, I had no time for myself, no time to read and decompress. And there’s this deadline staring me in the face. I actually finished up edits for Reaper about 36 hours before I went into labor with my second kid. I think he was waiting for me to not be so stressed out to arrive. So I’m dealing with family stuff in real life as well as in the book. And it bled over into the book.
SFFWRTCHT: Any writing rituals or tools? Scrivener? Word? Something else? Do you write to music or does silence reign?
KDM: I like Scrivener in theory but it’s hard to use when the muse (hah) is upon me. Generally I just open Word and go. Some days I need music, some days I need silence. Depends on the chapter.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like-specific block? Write `til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?
KDM: All over the place right now. It’s getting easier as my kids get older, I’m getting steadier blocks. But normally? Catch as catch can. My toddler eschews naps now. Big hit to my productivity.
SFFWRTCHT: What can we expect from book 3, Never, and when? How many books will there be?
KDM: Three books in the Lightbringer series. Never gives the backstory – Piotr’s, the Never, where the Reapers come from, the whole shebang.
SFFWRTCHT: Doesn’t personal life bleed over into every person’s writing? Or every book?
KDM: Depends on the author. For me? Yes. Other writers are better at compartmentalizing. Never is written and turned in but going through edits off my desk right now.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
KDM: The exact same piece of advice. “Write for two hours every day.” It’s the best when you don’t have 20k other things to do. It’s the worst when you do have 20k other things to do. Some people say, “Well, if you love it, make the time.” And I say, “Well, I can write or I can sleep,” because, ultimately, that’s what I have to give up to write. But some people can’t afford to give up sleep. What can they do? It’s a balancing act.
SFFWRTCHT: You just got back from Dragon Con. How was that experience?
KDM: It was amazing. I got to meet incredible folks – EC Meyers, Sam Sykes, Lou Anders and the wonderful Susan and Clay Griffith. Plus all the other Pyr authors I’m scared I’ll misspell. Plus I got to meet some real fans, which was just… boggling to me. Awesome and scary and squee-inducing all at once. I squeed at them, actually. I made them take pics with me. My first fans! I was the first one to sell out this year, which was mind-blowing. I immediately bragged to Jen from People I Want to Punch in the Throat (blog). She’s doing a giveaway/review later this month and I was all, Check me Out, lady! When you’ve got a husband accosting people with sneaky sales tactics for you, selling out is awesome.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you know how many copies they brought?
KDM: You know, I have no idea how many copies they brought. I know we had to go digging for more at one point. And I would have sold more on days three and four but we were out of Lightbringer. Though Reaper did move all alone a few times.
SFFWRTCHT: Very cool. What’s it like to go to a Con like that as an author? What do you do?
KDM: I spent all my time at the booth and met a lot of people. Only one squee, and I upset a Daniel because of the end of Lightbringer. But, in general, it kicked all sorts of ass… and I just realized maybe you’d prefer I didn’t curse, so sorry about that.
SFFWRTCHT: Damn you for that #$#&!!! So What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to? What comes after Never?
KDM: I’ve got several light SF projects going right now. One I’m writing, one sitting on desks. I’ve got a retelling of a fairy tale and I’ve got a children’s book idea waiting in the wings for the time to tell it. I also got a sort of offer at the con that I need to discuss with my agent. So that’s exciting.
SFFWRTCHT: Very cool. Don’t you have a story in an anthology I heard about?
KDM: I do! Thank you for reminding me. http://t.co/WPCzpLCJ - I wrote “Heels,” which is all about the sassy sidekick to a funny meglomaniac.
SFFWRTCHT: I was also honored to be asked to blurb Reaper. Only the second time that’s happened. The other was Brenda Cooper.That came out summer 2012, so Never should be out next summer. I heard your mom was hoping you had “an in” so she could read it early.
KDM: Yeah. She was very mad that Never wasn’t out yet when she finished Reaper. (laughs)
SFFWRTCHT: Always good to know people are anxiously awaiting it. Thanks for chatting with us.
AND NOW…THE FRONT COVER FOR NEVER
Editor of Blue Shift Magazine,Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.