Laini Taylor is the author of the bestselling Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The novel tells the story of 17-year-old Karou, who’s an art student in Prague … when she’s not running around the world collecting teeth for Brimstone, the mysterious, monstrous creature who raised her. In Daughter, Karou discovered a massive secret about her past, entangling her in an ancient rivalry between her people, the chimaera, and their enemies, the angels. If the ending of Smoke and Bone left you breathless, never fear: The sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, is out now!
You took to the forums with your questions for the all-star author, and she answered some of the best below!
Do you have any advice about how to “make the setting a character”? Did you go to Prague to research? Do you think it’s possible for someone to write an accurate story set someplace they’ve never been? – Laura
I had been to Prague twice, and one of those times had been to research a book, but it wasn’t this book. It helped to have my own personal feelings and recollections of the atmosphere to draw from, certainly. I have written scenes and stories set in places I haven’t been, and it’s harder, but it can be done through research. I hadn’t been to Marrakesh when I wrote those scenes in Daughter of Smoke & Bone, but I had read a lot and watched YouTube videos, so I had some sense of place. I did go after, and I can say that there is no substitute for actually going to a place. My feelings weren’t all that I expected them to be, and if Marrakesh had been more than a minor location in the book—if I had needed more depth—it would have been really hard to create from afar. I have often had the thought that it would be great if there was a grant writers could apply for that would help them travel to the places where their books are set. (Any rich philanthropists reading this? ☺)
How do you write in more than one point of view without annoying readers? – Derpette Derpington
This question interests me because of the premise that multiple viewpoints are annoying to readers. I wonder, how many of you agree? Certainly I don’t. I vastly prefer third person to first, and multiple viewpoints to single—as both a reader and a writer. So, I can’t answer the question as asked, because I can’t imagine being annoyed by this style, but I can tell you why I prefer it. Well, there are a bunch of reasons. Here are some:
1. It’s like the difference between filming a movie with one fixed camera angle or shifting at will to create the most dynamic and interesting scene possible. With every scene, I have the opportunity to evaluate the optimal way of showing and telling it. For example, will it be more awesome if we’re Karou’s head, feeling it all, or if we’re outside of her, seeing it happen to her? The effect is very different: which do I want?
2. get to know other characters thoroughly, and through them, I can create a much fuller and more nuanced world than if I were constrained to one character. In Days of Blood & Starlight there are short forays into varied characters like a chimaera child slave, a doomed seraph palace guard, the villain (one of them, briefly), etc. This is so helpful in creating one of my central motifs: the idea that in this war (as in most wars), there is no “good side” and no “bad side,” but only people, a real mixed bag.
3. I can cut between p.o.v. characters to generate suspense. It’s an old trick that I love to hate as a reader, and employ freely as a writer. You end a chapter on a cliffhanger … and shift to another parallel storyline in the next chapter. If it’s done well, it is a delicious ARG! If done poorly, it’s just ARG! with no deliciousness. Sometimes as a reader I am weak and flip ahead to satisfy my need to know. But generally I try to savor the suspense and keep reading breathlessly.
How did you get the idea for Karou’s hand tattoos? – Haleigh Posey
It’s kind of silly. When I was seventeen, I traveled around Europe by myself for several months. A few times, when I was bored waiting for trains, or riding on trains, I would doodle on myself, usually drawing these eyes on the tops of my bare feet, and then amuse myself by pretending they were watching people. Some people would become a little unsettled or annoyed. In the earliest freewriting exercise I did where Karou was first born, her eyes were on her feet!
Did you take any classes or major in college in writing? Do you think they helped at all? – Lilian Scathorn
I was an English major but not a creative writing major. I took one writing workshop, and it definitely helped, in that the only stories I wrote in college I wrote for that class! It made me work, and I really needed the push. Structure and discipline are so important to anyone who wishes to pursue a creative career: you have to learn how to motivate yourself, and sometimes the easiest way is to deadlines and due dates.
Did you find it hard to write in the voice of a teen? – Kira the Raven
Well, I guess my question to you would be: do you think I did it well? I hope so, because I really enjoy it. The first time I wrote contemporary teen characters was in “Goblin Fruit,” the first story in my book Lips Touch, and it was so much fun! Kizzy is really me at seventeen (emotionally, anyway; I don’t have a weird gypsy family). I was channeling my own teen self, and found it surprisingly easy, like teen-me was very near the surface. With Karou and Zuzana, the same thing. I love writing their dialogue scenes. It’s like a chance to rewrite my own younger life, in a funnier and more interesting way!
What was the process of getting an agent and getting published like for you? Any tips? – Kaden A. Ross
The Society of Children’s Book Authors & Illustrators (SCBWI) was 100% how I got published. I went to the national conference in L.A. for four years in a row, learning everything I could, starting with how to make my book really good. (That is the part of the publishing process that people often try to gloss over!) I met my agent Jane Putch there as a direct result of putting myself out there, trying to learn. I’ve had three different editors now (at Penguin, Scholastic, and Little Brown) and I had heard all of them speak at SCBWI before submitting to them. Because of the conference, and luck, I had an easy road. I never had to query an agent. We met face-to-face first and clicked. And when she subbed my first book around, we got an immediate response. This, of course, came after four years of learning through conferences, and really hard work! I just didn’t sub till I was really ready.
Do you usually plan your novels before you write them, or do you just write and see where the process takes you? – Kritika
Both. I used to have to plan everything, even if it ended up changing along the way, just to feel a measure of security as I wrote forward. It’s scary not knowing where you’re going! I’ve heard it called “flying into the mist” (by Jane Yolen, I think) and that’s it, flying blind. You could crash! And yet, over-planning can be the kiss of death to creativity. I have found, over time, that the most fruitful and magical state of mind by far (for me) is when I don’t plan, when I “freewrite” and let loose the reins on my imagination so it can follow any whim or impulse of storytelling. The results are not always “right” but they are alive in a way that carefully planned stuff isn’t. I couldn’t write a whole novel without any planning though, so I kind of dance back and forth between these opposing mindsets: control and creativity. Both are important! I need to have a vague sense of direction, like I’m wandering in the right direction in a bazaar, but not a designated path, because then there would be no joy of discovery along the way. It is possible to shift back and forth, scene by scene. Take the scene at hand, write it freely, making every effort to tap into that magical place where creativity flows. After, figure out what works and makes sense and what doesn’t. Fix it, then proceed. Repeat repeat repeat ad infinitum. At least, that is what I do.
Do you ever lose inspiration or motivation when writing? If so, how do you convince yourself to keep writing until the novel is done? – Mojodaisy47
No, never. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaa! Um, God yes. That’s why, though I have wanted to be a writer all my life, I didn’t finish a novel until I was 35! I see this as the biggest overall challenge to would-be writers. How to stay inspired? You can’t. Okay, most people can’t; there are those lucky freaks of nature! But for most of us there is a natural ebb and flow of inspiration. The question and pursuit needs to be: how do you re-inspire yourself? For me, the process of writing a novel is a long series of re-inspirations. When things bog down, when you lose the sense of magic and possibility … generate more. It’s up to you. From personal experience, I have found that it is almost always possible. (It is also possible that you are writing the wrong book, and only you can determine that.)
My two tools are: brainstorming and freewriting.
In brainstorming, I’m writing about the writing at hand, just trying to juice up some thoughts. What might happen next? What would my character be thinking/feeling here, and what would those thoughts/feelings lead them to do? I try to look at the story from all angles; I think of it as “twisting the kaleidoscope.” Maybe the answer hasn’t presented itself yet because I’m looking at it from the wrong angle. Twist it and keep twisting it until it looks fresh and new. Really, I think a lot of new writers don’t do this. They don’t really work that hard at the thinking. I know that was me. I just wanted the story to spill out in a tidy fashion, please thank you. Ha! I have learned to work a lot harder. Hard work is almost always the secret!
In freewriting, as I said in an above response, I’m trying to access a different part of my consciousness, this strange and wonderful state where a kind of magic happens, where the creativity flows and it almost can feel like a force beyond oneself is tossing ideas into the mix. I am convinced that this state of mind is the origin of the idea of the muse. It really can feel mystical. I can’t always make this happen; my perfectionism gets in the way, but I am always in pursuit of it.
How did you get your hair that shade of pink? (because my hair won’t even tint when I dye it!) – Haley Lynn
Ah, the hair question! Well, I don’t do it myself. My hair stylist does it. It has to be bleached first (my natural color is medium brown), and then dyed with Elumen by Goldwell, which is an awesome product and doesn’t leach out onto pillows and clothes, and doesn’t fade very much. It’s all a matter of chemistry.