Lynn Flewelling was born in 1958 and grew up in Presque Isle, a small town in northern Maine, not far from the New Brunswick border, and often crossed over to visit relatives in southern Canada, and to vacation there. (She’s a quarter Canadian, on her dad’s side.) An “Anne of Green Gables” fan, she has very fond memories of Prince Edward Island. She also watched a lot of Canadian TV and knows Mr. Dressup, the Beachcombers, Junior Forest Rangers, and the Friendly Giant as well as she does US childhood icons.
She grew up playing in the woods, hunting, fishing, camping and daydreaming. Many scenes and people in her books are based on these early experiences. Later she went to university and earn a degree in English literature and teaching, studied veterinary medicine and did all sorts of different jobs, including house painter, teacher, and journalist, but what she really wanted was to be a writer. But in her part of the world being a writer wasn’t considered a “realistic” goal and so she tried to be a teacher instead. But some dreams just don’t let go, so she wrote anyway and at last became a newspaper writer, and then a novelist.
Her first novel, Luck in the Shadows, was published in the US in 1995. Stalking Darkness and Traitor’s Moon soon followed in what has become the ongoing Nightrunner Series. More recently she has completed the Tamir Triad: The Bone Doll’s Twin, Hidden Warrior, and The Oracle’s Queen. In her books she likes to pose questions about identity, and what it means to be male and female, strong and weak, good and bad. The answers aren’t always easy, or happy.
Her books have found an audience worldwide and are currently in print in thirteen languages, including Russian and Japanese. She recently moved to southern California and is now working on two new Nightrunner books. She enjoys talking to young writers and all creative people.
What made you want to become a writer?
I was always a reader, but when I was in sixth grade a friend gave me Ray Bradbury’s book, The Illustrated Man, and I was blown away by his rich, evocative style. Something clicked in my mind and I suddenly thought “I want to do that!” I was a kid who loved to play “let’s pretend” too. I guess writing is a way of doing that all the time.
Was the journey difficult?
Writing wasn’t considered a realistic goal where I grew up. Writing was something other people in other places did. I should think in terms of a “real job”. And in the early ’70’s in northern man, a girl who was really good a writing was encouraged to be a teacher. I didn’t know any better so I tried that, but by the time I was done student teaching in college, I knew it wasn’t for me. I was already writing short stories by then. I didn’t have much direction though, and still thought writing wasn’t a realistic way to make a living, so I tried other things, like ad copy-writing and veterinary school, but writing kept getting in the way and distracting me. After a while I just gave in and started doing it seriously, but still with no expectation of ever getting published. I had been working on the manuscript that would eventually become Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness when by chance I took a writing workshop with a writer I really admired, Cathy Pelletier. She’s from northern Maine, too, and is simply amazing. I was rather shy, since I write fantasy, which many literary writers look down their nose at, and she wrote more “serious” books. But she loved my work! It really changed my perspective and gave me the confidence to pursue publishing. I owe her a lot, and the only thing she ever asked of me in return was to pass on that kind of support to other young writers. I’ve always tried to do that.
When I finally finished what I thought was my first book (after about ten years of writing and rewriting) I had to learn how to sell a book, a whole separate skill in itself. That was a learning experience, and one I have since written articles about. Ultimately, I got good advice along the way, connected with a very good literary agent, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been a full time writer since 1995.
Any lessons learned on your writer’s journey?
Many, many lessons! You have to be confident in yourself, but you also have to be open to learning from those who know more than you do. You have to be willing to do the hard work it takes to become good at your craft, and you have to be able to weather criticism without being destroyed by it.
Where does that inner drive to write come from?
I honestly don’t know. It’s just always been there and I’m lucky that I learned how to harness it and work with it. I have a natural drive to create, but unfortunately cannot draw or paint very well, and I’m too self conscious to be an actress
. Instead, I have to do it with words on a page.
How do you keep readers turning pages?
The short answer is, I tell a good story. You have to first create characters that readers care about. They don’t necessarily have to be nice people, but they have to be interesting, and they have to change and grow as the story goes on. There have to be events that challenge them. There has to be some sort of journey, literally or figuratively, for them to lead the reader along. By the end of the book, both reader and characters must be changed in some way. There are just so many different ways of doing this! I use mystery, dramatic tension, humor, horror–lots of different devices, but all of them must serve to move the story forward and aide in the tale to be told. You can’t just throw things in for shock value. That’s a cheat and the reader will catch on and not like it.
How often will you revise and re-write your work?
Many, many, many, many times. That first draft is just that: a first draft. A place to begin. I hate first drafts myself. It’s hard, getting the plot hammered out. But once I’ve gotten the main structure of the story in place, the bones, it’s fun to go back and add on details, changes, foreshadowings, all the fun, fiddley bits that really make it come alive.
What are some creative ways you’ve learned to generate ideas?
I daydream. And when I get the first inspiration for a new project, I buy a pretty new notebook, a really nice one that “feels” right for the project, and write down every new idea that comes to me. Inspiration comes from living life. Everything that’s every happened to me, everything I’ve ever read or seen on TV or in a movie or out a train window– it all goes into the great subconscious brain we writer’s draw from. When I show up at the page to work, very often scenes come shooting out my fingertips that I never anticipated or planned. It just happens as you work and trust.
What are some practical solutions for writer’s block?
That’s a tough question. Some writers never get writers block. I do, and sometimes it can get pretty bad. There are so many reasons, and so many degrees that it would be impossible to give a short answer to that. But here are a few suggestions. Sometimes you’re trying to push the story in the wrong direction. Step back in ask yourself if the reason the scene won’t come is because it’s just wrong. Sometimes the brain is tired and needs a rest. Go do something else. Take a walk. Go shopping. Watch a movie. Make something. Use a different part of the brain, one that doesn’t have to generate words. I find photography very refreshing. The worst case, is when you’re fearful of doing it wrong. That takes work and understanding. If possible, set small, attainable work goals. Show up at the page. Write a little bit, anything, and give yourself permission for it to be complete and utter crap, just so long as you show up to work.
Do you have a favorite book?
Oh, I have lots, but the Sherlock Holmes stories are high on the list. I have read them many times, so the mysteries are not an element anymore, but I love the characters. There’s quite a bit of Sherlock Holmes in my hero, Seregil.
Do you have a favorite time of day when you like to write?
My brain often works best between 2 and 6 p.m.. I have no idea why.
What is one saying or proverb you live by?
“Respect the dignity of every human being.”
What advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in writing?
1. Read, read, read, and read some more! Novels, short stories, plays, especially the sort of literature you want to write. And as you do, ask yourself things like “How is this writer capturing my interest?” or “Why don’t I like this story?” Reading does many things. It shows you how writing works. I learned a lot about creating characters from people like Conan Doyle, Tolkien, Anne Rice, Robertson Davies, John Steinbeck, and Dostoyevsky. I learned about dramatic tension from Stephen King, Henry James, Joyce Carol Oates and Shirley Jackson. I learned about atmosphere from writers like Bram Stoker, Ray Bradbury, and William Faulkner. Those are just a few examples, but it gives you an idea of how diverse my reading tastes are. That’s important. You shouldn’t read just one kind of literature, any more than you should eat only one kind of food. Fish may be very healthy, but you won’t live long eating only fish! Variety is the spice of life, and creative people thrive on variety and diversity and change. Life is our scrapbook and the more we experience, the more we have to draw on for our work.
2. Know your tools. Grammar, spelling, parts of speech, vocabulary? Boring! Yeah, I know. But those are the tools of a writer’s trade and you have to know them so well that you can use them without even thinking about them. It’s just like playing a musical instrument or driving a car. It takes a lot of practice but after a while it becomes instinctive.
3. Write. Write without expectation, too. Your early work will most likely be terrible. Everyone’s is! But you don’t get better by waiting to be good. You have to write and write and write, practice, practice, practice, to improve. Don’t worry about publishing. Just worry about become a good writer and the rest will come in time.
4. Write what you love. Writing is hard work, especially for those of us who do it for a living, on deadline. If you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s misery. Explore what you love and do that. It might be short fiction, or essays, or ad copy, or science fiction, comics, or gritty political satire. Doesn’t matter. If you love it, do it! Follow your bliss. I can’t promise you riches, but you’re more likely to find personal satisfaction.
Where can parents and kids find out more about your work?
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