I’m so very excited to be featuring interviews with writers again. The format has changed a bit – some fresh questions, some more writing focus – but still, great writers every week. So stay tuned on Saturdays. . . and get your TBR list ready. You’ll want to add these titles.
This week, novelist Missy Wilkinson joins us. Yay!!
Destroying Angel is a Young Adult novel about a girl, Gates, whose mother dies unexpectedly and becomes an organ donor. Grieving, Gates tries to track down the recipient of her mother’s heart and discovers the heart is ensnared in an interstellar drug- and organ-trafficking ring. The title alludes to a type of toxic psychedelic mushroom, the Amanita (which means destroying angel). There’s a lot of shrooming in the book.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I am an editor at an alt-weekly in New Orleans, so the bulk of my time is spent editing writing by other people. I run and bike a lot. I play keyboards and sing backup vocals in a band called Shouts & Murmurs, and I’m trying to pick the tenor saxophone back up, but I really suck because I haven’t played it since high school. Living two blocks from a library feeds my reading habit. I just finished Taipei by Tao Lin, and right now I’m reading Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. I also spend a lot of time watching beauty Youtubers.
Describe the first 2-3 steps of your process in writing your book.
It starts while I’m in the final editing phases of a novel—that’s when I begin thinking about what I’d like to work on next. I consider what would be fun and what excites me. Once I have a clear sense of where I want to go, I write a quick first draft, kind of vomit-style. This doesn’t take more than a couple months, and it’s usually a short manuscript, not more than 60,000 words. I let that draft sit for a while, then go through and hack out bits I hate and fancy up the bits I like.
Once I’ve done this a few times and feel I’ve hit a wall, I send the manuscript to a couple readers. I incorporate their feedback and make more revisions and then hire a freelance editor. Right now I am working with Diane Glazman for my next novel, Spore Girl.
Then I begin shopping the manuscript around. I went with a small press for Destroying Angel, and I hope to sign with an agent and release Spore Girl with a larger publisher.
What’s your philosophy and practice about reading reviews of your work?
I love to read them, especially the negative ones, because they often pinpoint problems in the book that I sensed but couldn’t quit resolve. Truly objective, honest critiques from total strangers are valuable. I haven’t gotten reviews spewing pure vitriol yet, but I welcome those, too, for their entertainment value.
What made you believe you could write a book? How did you dispel doubt as you wrote?
I feel doubt the whole time, but I look at it as a necessary companion to the process, the way a pounding heart is part of the experience of running. I once interviewed this ultramarathoner who trains people for Iron Man races. She said she often gets asked, “Can I run a marathon?” And the answer she always gives is, “Yes. Are you ready to train for one?” So to answer the first part of the question, I believed I could write a book because I am human, I wanted to, and I was ready to train.
Which is more difficult – drafting or revising? Why?
They both suck in their own ways, but for me revising sucks less. Maybe it’s because I’m a Capricorn and like structure, but I feel better when I have my work cut out for me. Revising, I’m working inside an existing structure and that feels comfortable.
What is your favorite part about being a writer?
I never knew how much I appreciated autonomy until I joined a band. There, I’m so dependent on other people’s schedules, whims, and equipment. I love that if I want to write, I can sit down and write without having to answer to anyone. And it’s not expensive. I don’t need people or expensive gear. I just need my brain and some sort of writing utensil.
What is your least favorite part about being a writer?
Have you ever made the mistake of looking at yourself in a mirror while tripping? Confronting your dilated, sugar-glider wide pupils and clammy face with its gaping pores and thinking, “I am grotesque. And I will never be OK”? That’s how I felt every time I sat down to write. For years! Writing made me face my worst self, my most deep-seated insecurities, every time I fired up Word. It was awful.
With the passage of time and many deadlines, this feeling has subsided, for the most part. But I would say it was by far the worst part of being a writer.
How do you balance what will sell with what you want to say?
I don’t make a living from novels, not even close, so I write what I feel like. I write YA because it’s popular, and also YA books are short, and I’m lazy. My living comes from my editor job at the newspaper and from freelancing. The division is fairly clear-cut: when writing for these clients, I write in their voices, and I write what they want me to write. I sometimes pitch stories that are close to my heart and rejoice when I get to write one.
If you could inhabit the setting of one book, where would you live and why?
Is it lame to say New Orleans as it is portrayed in Jitterbug Perfume? (Lame because I already live there, I mean.) I just love it here so much—Louisiana is magic!
Missy Wilkinson is special sections editor at Gambit Weekly and author of Destroying Angel (Prizm/Torquere Press). Her byline has appeared in xoJane, The Bitter Southerner, Thrillist, BRIDES, Neutrons/Protons, Jackson Free Press, Country Living, Fodor’s travel guides, The Independent, and many other publications. A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she lives in New Orleans’ upper 9th ward.