Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Interview with Pearl North

I was lucky enough to have Pearl North (that's her pseudonym, by the way - I know the secret of her real name, bwahahahaha!) as my mentor while in my Seton Hill writing program where she dished out some indispensable advice that I still use today.  I often smirk when a particular moment in the movie Serenity shows up.  But now you get to know a little bit about her as well, and at the end of this interview she offers the kind of writing advice you can't ignore.

Pearl North is the author of a trilogy of YA science fiction novels: Libyrinth, The Boy From Ilysies (a Norton Award Finalist), and The Book of the Night. A firm believer in human decency, she loves writing and reading about characters that transcend the limits of who they think they are and what they think is possible. She mentors graduate students in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction MFA program, and writes in other genres under different names. A native and life-long resident of the Detroit area, she has never lived more than two miles from Woodward Avenue in her life.

1. Where did the idea of Libyrinth, and ultimately the trilogy, come from?

From a very early age, I was captivated by the idea of a girl who hears the voices of books. I wrote Libyrinth as a standalone, and then, at my editor's insistence, I wrote The Boy from Ilysies and The Book of the Night. He was adamant that I had more to say about that world, and it turns out he was right.

2. So – are you a plotter or a pantser?

I'd say my career trajectory is from pantser to plotter, and at the time I wrote The Book of the Night, I was about midway along that spectrum. I'd plot out the first few chapters, write them, and then plot some more. Nowadays, I'm doing a lot more planning ahead. We'll see how that goes.

3. If there was one – okay, two – great books you would give to every aspiring author, what would they be?

Ha ha! I bet you already know my answer. The first book, and only if there could only be one, would be Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. Sure his attitudes toward female characters are hopelessly sexist and dated, but what he has to say about the building blocks of story changed my whole approach to writing, and made me a better, more productive, and happier writer in the process. If I had two, I'd go with Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King. It's a great companion to the Swain book, because where he focuses on story mechanics, they focus on the mechanics of language. I don't think you have to be a slave to everything they say, but it's good solid information.

4. What are some of your favorite books?  Words?  Desserts?

One caveat: Other interviewers have also asked me what my favorite books are. Every time I get this question, I have different answers. But they are all true. So, today: Freedom and Necessity by Emma Bull and Steven Brust, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin,  Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander books, which are really one twenty-volume novel.

5. Do you actually own all the books quoted in the trilogy or are some of those the results of perusing your local library/bookstore?

Almost all of them. I gave some thought to how I was going to handle the books mentioned in the trilogy. I knew I couldn't hope to offer a representative sample of world literature. I didn't try. I needed some sort of limiting parameter on my selections so what I went with was the books on my own shelves at home. That was my selection base. Except for a few instances where for plot purposes I needed to use a specific book that I did not own. But those are rare.

6. What were some of the *best* scenes to write in the Libyrinth trilogy?

I guess I must be a sadist because the first scenes that pop into my head are the ones where my protagonists have been captured and are being tortured by the villains. There's the scene where Haly and Clauda are tied up in the Vault, and the one where Queen Thela makes Po -- oh wait, that's in the new book, better not mention it. But I do have a tender side too. I love the interaction between Haly and Gyneth as they move from antagonists to friends and then to more than friends in Libyrinth, and in The Book of the Night, there are some scenes between Clauda and Selene that I like very much and that I hope will be satisfying for those readers who have been patiently waiting for them.

7. When you started out in your writing career, was teen fiction on the table as something you thought you’d write?

Not really. I was all about science fiction at that time. My father and brother both read sf and they talked about it around the dinner table when I was a kid. It influenced me profoundly. When I decided I wanted to write, I just naturally though I'd write sf, because to me, that's what books were. But then I read more out of genre and I found that I like all kinds of things. So now I write in other genres under other names as well.

8. How do you crack writer’s block?

Well, deadlines are a wonderful tool for that. I find that when someone else is expecting me to turn something in at a certain time  it's amazing what I can get done. I've shocked myself a few times like that. However, if I'm writing on spec, and I don't have that external reinforcer, then sometimes I employ what I call blast drafting. I close my eyes and just type like mad, whatever comes into my head goes out my fingers. It can be nonsense at first, but after a little while I usually find that I'm working on something coherent. Well, apart from all the typos, that is.

9. Do you have any muses that really kick-start your writing power (whether or not you have writer’s block)?

I'm often inspired by performances in movies or TV shows, but it's not specific to any one actor or program, just what strikes a nerve with me at the moment. Those experiences can sometimes help me identify an emotion or a state of mind that I wanted to create in a character but had not yet defined for myself.

10.  When you’re not writing what do you like to do?

I do love to read. I also like to get outside and do things, run with my dog, or go kayaking. I live in Michigan, and we have a lot of beautiful lakes. Summer is my favorite season because I get to do all of that fun stuff. In fact, my pseudonym, Pearl North, comes from a place my husband and I visit every year. It's called Pearl Lake and it's in northern Michigan. When I got the offer from Tor for the Libyrinth books, I was up there. And my agent needed to know what pseudonym I wanted to use right away because she needed it for the contract. I came up with Pearl North on the spot.

11.  Is there anything you’re working on now that fans of the Libyrinth trilogy should be looking forward to in the future?

That's hard to say. I have no immediate plans for another Pearl North book, but I also write in other genres. At the moment, I'm working on a science fiction romance.

12.  Quick!  Dish out your last minute advice to writers!


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