1. Tell readers about your latest novel The Hallowed Ones and where the idea came from.
THE HALLOWED ONES is my YA thriller about an Amish girl who must confront not only a massive disaster unfolding in society at large, but also the darkness brewing in her own community – think “Witness” meets “28 Days Later.”
2. What was your journey to publication like? What roadblocks or setbacks did you overcome to get where you are today as an author?
I think that my biggest obstacle to publication was myself. I had been scribbling stories ever since I was old enough to hold a crayon, but it took a long time before I could convince myself that others wanted to read what I’d written.
The hardest part of writing, for me, is putting that story out there, shoving the egg out of the nest. Sometimes it hits the pavement with a splat…but sometimes it takes flight. And that’s the wonderful part.
3. What is the best/worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
There’s an old adage about writing what you know – and that’s a hard thing in fantasy. Most of us who write about creatures that go bump in the night haven’t experienced them.
But I think that the not knowing something can be overcome with research. I spend a lot of time doing research for my books – whether it’s mythology, arson investigation, Amish culture, or particle accelerators.
That research provides grounding for the rest of the work, when I do have to make something up out of thin air. The goal is to make the fantasy bits seem real.
4. What do you feel is the most important lesson for writers?
Finishing is the most important lesson. And doing it over and over again.
Completing a work – any work – always teaches me something. Not all of those manuscripts will see the light of day. But they help me grow and identify my weaknesses. Writing is really a learning-by-doing activity.
5. In your novel Rogue Oracle, Harry and Tara were incredible characters. What do you feel is the best way to create the kind of characters that stick with a reader?
Thank you! As investigators, I wanted them to approach paranormal mysteries from different perspectives. Tara, as a criminal profiler who uses Tarot cards to solve crimes, approaches cases from a very intuitive perspective. Her partner, Agent Harry Li, is more of a pragmatist and only believes what he can quantify.
The important thing in creating believable characters, I think, is to give them flaws. No believable person is perfect and makes all the right choices.
Real people trip and stumble along the way. Oftentimes, a character’s weakness will be the shadow side of his or her greatest strength. That’s fun stuff to play with.
6. Is there a step by step method to research that you use or know that can help other writers?
I think that the best thing that a person can do to research a book is to make a conscious effort to study it. Talk to people who have worked in the field. Read textbooks about the subject. Look at maps. Visit places that strike you as good locations for stories.
I keep a notebook for each project that’s full of article clippings, photographs, and my own notes. By the time a notebook is half full, I have a pretty good idea of where I’m going to go, and I’ve created my own personal reference book for the project.
7. What are the best resource materials that writers can use at their local library?
My day job is working the reference desk at my local library. Libraries have a lot of online and physical resources to assist you in research.
Most libraries now have electronic card catalogs that allow you to search by subject from home and have the books reserved for you at your local branch.
There are also a vast number of online databases that are available through local libraries. Mine includes everything from scholarly articles to genealogy resources.
Ask your reference librarian for help. We love to show people what we have that can help them in their work.
8. Research, especially if there’s a lot of it can grow unwieldy if it’s not organized. What advice do you have for writers who need to organize their research into manageable pieces?
I’m a big fan of keeping a project notebook. All of my research citations and materials go there. It’s a pretty ugly notebook by the time that I’m done with it, but it helps me to gather everything in one place and not lose ideas.
A project can be either physical, like mine, or digital. I know a lot of authors who use word processing programs to organize links and images.
It doesn’t have to be pretty. Scribble in it and don’t be intimidated by it. But keep it legible. It will help you greatly later in the editing process when an editor asks you about a particular aspect of your location: “Can a train really get from point A to point B in an afternoon?” Or when she asks you about part of the procedure: “Why is your arson investigator taking samples and putting them in paint cans?”
Plus, it’s fun to keep a record of what you’ve done. I come across some of my project notebooks years later, and they always bring a smile to my face.
9. What are your favorite research habits/tips?
Be aware of falling down a research rabbit hole. That can be a huge time suck, but also a source of great serendipity. I’ve found a lot of great plot point fodder by following my nose and digging just a bit deeper into the subject matter.
There’s a rational side of research – knowing what you know and what you don’t, and filling in the gaps. But there’s also an intuitive side – browsing the stacks at the library and clicking on links to barely-related subjects. Follow your nose, but write down where you’ve been. Leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs so that you can find your way out of the woods later.
You can read more about Alayna Williams and her exciting books at her website.