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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012 10:04 am
Hostile Questions: Laini Taylor
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

Laini Taylor is perhaps best known for Lips Touch: Three Times and the trilogy beginning with Daughter of Smoke and Bone and the newly released Days of Blood and Starlight. Well, that and the pink hair. Pink hair is hard to pull off. Just ask those authors who have tried and failed: R.L. Stine, Agatha Christie, James Patterson, Toni Morrison–the list of legendary hair-fails goes on and on. Anyhoo, Taylor’s richly invented fantasy worlds have been met with great enthusiasm and acclaim. Well, here’s a fantasy world for you: one where I go hostile and you deal with it!!!

Taylor always hogs the good    parking spaces.

Just who do you think you are?

I think that I am one lucky nerd. I’m living all my writer daydreams and then some. With my fourth and fifth books, it has happened: I’ve found a wonderful publisher who believes in me, and I’ve been able to connect with readers—readers around the world!—in the way I’ve always hoped. It is lavishly fantastic, and I am deeply grateful. True, I write this from the big desk of a fancy hotel while on book tour, on one of the few days of the year when I am enjoying the fruits of my labor rather than doing the actual labor. Writing is still 99% sitting in front of a screen and making the story happen, and certainly that is its own reward (it better be, since it is so overwhelmingly my life), but it is nice to enjoy some perks too.

So I’m a lucky nerd, and I’m a busy mama of a three-year-old, and the very happy wife of a very talented artist, and I’m someone, apparently, who overuses the word “very”… which I think is a symptom of happiness.

Where do you get off?

You mean, like, where do I disembark? I disembark at the mango dock of an imaginary floating city in India, on leg two of my epic Mango World Tour, the purpose of which is to sample every variety of mango on the planet. Leg one was Chiapas, Mexico, four years ago, and I am more than ready to get back to this Very Important Life’s Work. Suggestions for top mango destinations?

Whats the big idea?

The Big Idea, I guess, is Deliciousness. I want my stories to be as rich and delicious as chocolate, as full and juicy as a big grapey wine. I want them to be like the dessert you devour, and then wish you had it to do all over again, more slowly. (The great news is, with books, unlike with desserts, you can do that!)

One of my favorite things about fantasy is how BIG it can be, and how it can deal with epic themes that are so much harder to contextualize believably in “real life.” Like true love, sacrifice, valor, destiny. I want all that—I want meaning—and I want it dressed in color: exotic locations, extraordinary set-pieces, fun, where a school project is a giant puppet show on the Charles Bridge, and a first date might mean flying up to the roof of a cathedral to watch the sun rise and eat hot bread fresh from the bakery window.

The Big Idea is to create rich and magical worlds that are delightful and delicious, but also have substance and … nutrition (to stretch the metaphor) and can make you think.

What is your problem, man?

Oh man. My problem is perfectionism. It sounds like kind of a cute fake-malady, but it’s so real and so un-cute. It amounts to the paralyzing inability to move forward with a project or work, when your mind gets so stuck on any perceived imperfection it can only look back. It is a particular species of fear (of failure, I suppose), and those of us who suffer from it are totally gripped by it. I’ve wanted to be a writer always, but I didn’t manage to finish a novel until I was thirty-five, when I reached a tipping point: it finally became more painful to not do it than to do it. Whew. Now it has gotten somewhat easier, since I’ve developed this whole repertoire of ways to trick my brain into doing what I want it to do, but it’s still far from easy. Writing first drafts is a long, tough process for me, and I have to always be vigilant that I don’t fall back into my natural tendencies.

There is this state of mind that I seek, where my inner-critic vaporizes and I’m just writing with freedom and… thrill. When I can get into this “freewriting” frame of mind of just writing to see what happens, it feels mystical. I understand so clearly how the idea of the muse was born, because in this mindset it feels like there is a kind of magic that happens, something at work outside myself. Ideas materialize out of nowhere, characters start talking with true voices, the story rolls forward, and it is marvelous. It isn’t always right, and it is never “perfect” but it is… better than perfect. It’s alive. It takes me places I would never get to go if I kept a choke-hold on my story out of fear of messing it up. Yeah, often I have to backtrack, and I have to fix things, but the magic is that there is something to fix! And not always the thing I would have predicted. There is a magic that comes when we can master our fears, creatively.

The one upside of perfectionism is that it makes for an avid reviser. I love to revise. It is like playtime for me, after the hard work is done.

Haven’t you done enough?

NEVAH! Never enough. I want to write eighty-thousand more books, which will require that I live approximately eighty-thousand more years, or, well, more, since I haven’t really nailed the book-a-year thing. I would very very much like to live a very very long life (please), and am willing to take extraordinary measures to do so. Like vampirism, say. I would prefer, however, a cycle of reincarnations into cool, winged bodies, a la Days of Blood & Starlight. I’ve already begun my tooth collection… But really, there are so many things I want to do in life — write more books, travel to All the Places, have more kids, and I have recently hit an age where I have to confront the reality that it is not all possible, not all. Oh, I’ll do my best, there are years yet for many books and many travels, hopefully another baby, but… one begins to be able to visualize the wind-down, and it is hopelessly unfair. The fantasist in me sees dozens of possible fixes for this situation (that is, for mortality), but alas, the real-flesh-and-blood-human me has to accept reality… to a degree. One can always daydream.


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