Wednesday, November 18, 2015

New Voice: Christine Hayes on Mothman’s Curse

Mothman Selfie Sheet
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Christine Hayes is the first-time author of Mothman's Curse, illustrated by James K. Hindle (Roaring Brook, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Josie may live in the most haunted town in America, but the only strange thing she ever sees is the parade of oddball customers that comes through her family’s auction house each week. 

But when she and her brothers discover a Polaroid camera that prints pictures of the ghost of local recluse John Goodrich, they are drawn into a mystery dating back over a hundred years. 

A desperate spirit, cursed jewelry, natural disasters, and the horrible specter of Mothman all weave in and out of the puzzle that Josie must solve to break the curse and save her own life.

How do you psyche yourself up to write, to keep writing, and to do the revision necessary to bring your manuscript to a competitive level? What, for you, are the special challenges in achieving this goal? What techniques have worked best and why?

I so envy writers who are able to follow a set routine. That would be the ideal. I’d love to be more productive, more disciplined! But the truth is, while I try to spend time every day writing or revising, I often end up staring at the computer screen, reworking the same passage over and over, or finding jobs to do around the house that could easily wait.

If I go several days without any forward writing progress—and to me that can include blogging or marketing efforts—then I become anxious and unsettled.

Christine's work space
I find I have to set small, measurable goals and break big projects up into bite-size pieces to fool myself into not feeling overwhelmed. I’ll mark a deadline on the calendar, then work backward to determine how much I have to get done each day. Even imaginary deadlines can be valuable motivators!

Then I try to follow through in unconventional ways, mixing up my routine from day to day. I’ll work a few days at home at the kitchen table, another day sitting in the car at the park, another at a local café. On a few occasions when I was facing critical deadlines, I checked into a hotel to sharpen my focus and cut down on distractions.

For first drafts, I get the most done with a notebook and pen, writing things out by hand. Later, as I type what I’ve written, I’m able to self-edit, adding or cutting as needed. It’s an effective way to shape the story early on.

For the next round of revisions I often print out a chapter at a time and use a red pen to mark it up. Sometimes there are only a few usable sentences left per page once the ink dries. It’s tough to watch the word count shrink, but satisfying to see those few sentences that are able to withstand a more intense level of scrutiny.

As far as making a manuscript competitive—polished, professional—I think it’s a dichotomy. You can’t compare your work to others, because you will always feel like you fall short.

Christine's pottery collection
I love the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I see this with my kids all the time. If I were to give them each a cupcake, they’d be happy for a minute or two, but they would inevitably notice that a sibling has more frosting or less frosting or a better color of frosting or whatever. As adults, we never quite grow out of this.

At the same time, you should be reading every day—books both in and out of your genre, news articles, magazines, something. Not to compare, but to fill your mind with words of all kinds, drinking in what’s beautifully done, learning lessons from work that’s perhaps less polished, clichéd, poorly paced, etc.

Set a high standard for yourself. Maybe six months ago you wrote something and said, “This is my best work.” But then you write something new and when you revisit your earlier work you realize that you’ve grown as a writer. It’s a beautiful and amazing process.

I struggle with procrastination and self-doubt. I also tend to overthink, to tinker with passages too much, but at some point I have to stop fussing and just let go. The gauge for me is feeling like it’s the best I can produce in that moment in time, until my agent or editor gently points out the many ways a piece can be improved!

As a paranormal writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time paranormal reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

I’ve been fascinated with the paranormal since grade school. As a young teen, I would check out stacks of ghost story anthologies from the library. I had mostly given up on kids’ novels at that point. I found it so disappointing when I would choose a book that seemed like it was about a ghostly mystery, only to discover that the “ghost” was a fake, dreamed up by the bad guy to hide some evil plot. I craved books that celebrated the unexplained.

One book I do remember falling in love with was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (FSG, 1963). Though not precisely a paranormal story, it was full of wonder and possibility.

I had the same teacher, Mrs. Tapscott, for both fourth and fifth grades. She read to us every day, and one of the books she read was A Wrinkle in Time. She had this sweet southern voice, and she had no patience for kids who thought they were too cool to listen during reading time.

She also read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (George Allen & Unwin, 1937), The Cay by Theodore Taylor (Avon, 1969), and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (Dutton, 1959). She was an incredible lady.

I also remember seeing commercials for a series of Time Life books called Mysteries of the Unknown. I wanted so badly to own every volume. A few years ago I found one at a garage sale for a dollar. Of course I snapped it right up! Isn’t it funny, the things we carry with us from childhood?

Outside of books, one specific influence that stands out in my memory is the show “In Search Of,” hosted by Leonard Nimoy in the late 70s/early 80s. Each week they would explore an aspect of the unexplained: the Bermuda Triangle, aliens, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster. I ate it up.

Then, of course, were the slumber parties where we watched movies like "Psycho" and "The Lady in White." It was delicious, that shared feeling of fear: hiding behind our pillows, imagining footsteps outside the window—because in fact we were perfectly safe. We were seeing new facets of the world, exploring what it meant to be brave.

I think spooky books are appealing because they offer adventure, escape—a vicarious experience in a parallel world. They allow kids to view fear through a lens that hopefully makes their real-world problems a little less scary, a little easier to face.

These days I love "M Night Shyamalan" movies and the show "Supernatural." I even watch the occasional episode of "Ghost Hunters." My husband teases me about my “creepy side.” But I’ve never enjoyed slasher movies or anything gory, especially zombies. They give me nightmares!

It’s probably why I write middle grade. I love a good scare, but nothing graphic. I think what you don’t show can be even scarier than spelling out the grisly details. The movie "The Village" comes to mind here. It wasn’t well-received by critics, but it created an almost tangible atmosphere on the screen. It had gorgeous, enticing cinematography, a washed-out color palette with hints of red (“the bad color”), and an epic soundtrack. I thought it was beautifully done.

I’m also fascinated by old things and abandoned places. Every broken-down barn or rusting piece of junk tells a story. You can almost feel the history there as you imagine the ghosts that might be lingering. It’s my go-to source for inspiration.

1 comment:

Donna said...

Christine, you are speaking to the creepier side of my heart. "Mothman's Curse" just made it to the top of my 'to read' list. Cheers - to much success!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...