Author Interview : Saundra Mitchell
Today I’m very excited to share our first author interview on Books in Bloom, featuring Saundra Mitchell!
Saundra is the author of Shadowed Summer, The Vespertine, and upcoming Springsweet (for my review of The Vespertine and Springsweet, click here). She is passionate about writing and helping others realize their writing potential (click here to see the Tools for Writers page on her website). Saundra is also a screenwriter and enjoys studying history, papermaking, and spending time with her husband and kids. To learn more about Saundra, visit her website.
Where did you come up with the idea of using the four elements as powers?
When I first started The Vespertine, the one thing I knew was that Amelia could see the future, but only at sunset. That was the original idea, and it took me a while to figure out how that worked. Was it the time of day? Was it the color of the light?
But one phrase kept coming back to me—she can see the future in the fires of sunset. So I thought, well, what if it’s the fire that’s key here? It turns out that the classical elements have personality and humors attached to them, and the more I read, the more it seemed to me that Amelia was very fire-like.
Once I realized that, I knew Nathaniel had to embody air, because it’s complementary. I can’t help it; I like things to be matchy-matchy.
The first and most important reason is that they’re very different stories. The Vespertine was about a sheltered girl discovering herself. You can’t decide what kind of woman you want to be until you’ve seen the examples of women that are. What better place to get a glimpse of all kinds of people than in a bustling port city like Baltimore?
The Springsweet is about a worldly girl realizing how privileged she’s been, even in her grief. That was something that had to happen away from the glitter of Baltimore, and it happened that the first Oklahoma Land Rush had just taken place. Homesteading on the unforgiving plains seemed ideal for that transformation. There’s a big difference between worrying about how many cakes you have to take to tea and whether you’re going to get to eat that day.
The second reason is that setting can be its own character. I feel like where we live—the land and the language and even the kinds of flowers we see out our back windows—inform the kind of people we become. Building off that, that I wanted to write books that didn’t happen to be set in Baltimore or Oklahoma, but books that couldn’t have happened anywhere else.
Exploring that idea has been my challenge to myself with these novels; I hope I’ve succeeded!
I just have to know: Are there other people in Amelia and Zora’s world that share these powers? Or are your main characters the only ones?
There are lots of them, all over the world—and they don’t all have the same abilities. For example, Amelia can see the future in the fires of sunset, but another Fire can send messages through embers. Nathaniel can come and go on the air, but another Air can make the wind speak with any voice of her choosing. Which are spoilers for the third book, actually…
Awww, thank you! There are three in this set; I’m so pleased to say the final book in this trilogy comes out Spring 2013, and it’s called Aetherborne. I also have secret plans for at least one novella, and since there are plenty of elementals and 8000 years of human history to explore, you never know what else may come!
What made you go from writing screenplays to YA literature?
I love writing movies, but in filmmaking, the script is just the beginning of the finished piece. A screenwriter hands off the pages, and then a casting director populates them, the director and cinematographer design the look of the world, the actors breathe life into them, the editor brings it all together with their own pace and style. As much as I love writing movies, I wanted to write something that was mine from beginning to end.
How do the two formats differ in writing style? How are they similar?
Both have dialogue, plots and stories—and there the similarities end! As a screenwriter, I couldn’t ever write about how people felt, or what they were thinking. If you can’t see it in a movie, you can’t write it—that’s the rule. And setting changed based on what was available. If the production couldn’t get a permit to shoot in a big spooky house, the whole movie had to be reset to take place in a big spooky warehouse. And characterization was something that belonged to the actors—as a screenwriter, you have to leave the actors room to interpret their characters.
On the other hand, writing novels is like the wild west! There’s no strict format. There are no rules. You have a blank page, and short of typing the same word over and over, you can do anything you want. While the freedom can be liberating, it’s daunting to have to figure out every single thing on your own. There’s no fade out, no dissolve. You don’t get to segue ten years into the future without actually figuring out how that works.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I used to have tons. In my early 20s, I had to write at night, I had to have a candle; I needed cold cans of Cocola [sic] within reach. Oh, and the right kind of music had to be playing. If any of these things were missing, then I just couldn’t write. But when I became a working writer, all that had to change.
For my health, I quit drinking soda; I’m allergic to scented candles now, so those are out, too. My kids can’t be nocturnal, so I write whenever I can instead of waiting for a perfect moonlit night. I still like to have music but it’s not an absolute requirement.
The only thing that’s ritual now is 1000 words. When I’m working on a book, I have to write 1000 words a day whether I want to or not.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read. Read, read, read, read, read! Other people’s books teach you to write your own. If you want to be a writer, you absolutely must be a reader first.
What’s the one book you couldn’t live without?
This is an impossible question! I need all of them. All the books! But if absolutely forced to pick one OR ELSE, I think I would need The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. That was one of the first books to make me feel less alone in the world. I would be heartbroken if I could never read it again.
If you were a flower, what kind of flower would you be?
This is really hard, because I love orchids. I love them like whoa; they’re my favorite flower, there is nothing I don’t love about them. Their lovely, freckled blossoms, their alien grace, the strange shades they come in—the fact that vanilla, delicious, delicious vanilla, is actually an orchid’s seed pod. I LOVE ORCHIDS.
But that’s what I love; that’s not really what I am. I’m probably a marigold. They’re sturdy; they bloom in the fall. They’re hard to kill, and they are relentlessly alive, even in the middle of an early frost or snow. My writing ritual is every day, no matter what, and that’s really my personality. I keep going, every day, no matter what. And so do marigolds.
Thanks again for taking the time for this interview!
Thank you so much for having me! It was a pleasure!