I understand that many school projects and so forth require students to send questionnaires to writers: asking them about writing as a career, about their personal history, their education, publishing, and so forth.
I apologize for the fact that, as it says on my contact page, due to time constraints I cannot answer these personally. (The same goes for business school interviews, interviews for school newspapers, English papers asking you to do profiles of writers, and, just to cover all the bases, any school project that requires you to send me a list of questions you need answered. )
You are welcome to the questions and answers on this page if you feel they will enhance your project and I apologize for not having time to answer you personally.
I write full time. I don’t have any part time jobs.
What I feel comfortable saying about my childhood is on my bio page.
It was somewhat lonely. I think that’s why I was so attached to my books: they were portable friends.
Like anyone else. It’s slightly more complicated when you set your own schedule, but basically you figure out your priorities, set up a schedule, and avoid distractions.
Well, if I thought the advantages didn’t outweigh the disadvantages, I’d do something else. But basically: the main disadvantage to me is taxes. You have to be incredibly careful with money since it isn’t automatically witheld from your paycheck. You need to keep track of every receipt and business expenses, and you get hammered with high taxes for being self-employed. It’s no fun. All that is outweighed by the enjoyment I get in doing my favorite thing — writing and sharing stories — for a living.
- Did you always want to be a writer? (And this question’s close cousin: What inspired you to be a writer?)
I don’t have a story about meeting a wise old sage who advised me, or seeing a family of helpless manatees rescued by the power of literature. I simply do not remember a time when I did not want to be a writer. I would say that was inspired me to be a writer was reading. I was a passionate reader from the time that I was very young, from a family of passionate readers who respected the power of stories and the hard work it takes to write them. Getting lost in fictional worlds, realizing the power of narrative, made me want to create fictional worlds of my own.
Stresses: It’s not a steady source of income. You always worry how your books will sell, how they will be reviewed, and if people will like them. A book you wrote and are proud of might go out of print tomorrow and there’s generally nothing you can do about that. There’s a lot that is beyond your control, so you have to take it as it comes. As for responsibilities, as a professional writer, you sign contracts promising to turn in work at certain times, on certain dates. Your responsibility is to adhere to your contractual obligations. You may also consider answering fan mail and so forth a responsibility, but that’s personal.
Learn about publishing. Learn about how the industry works. Learn how to format a manuscript for submission, what agents do, how to query an agent, how to submit short stories, what to expect from a contract, what to look for in an editor. There are hundreds of books and thousands of websites you can investigate to learn these things. And read. Read 5 books a week if you can.
English would be the one that jumps out at you. However the truth about writing is that all life experience and all the knowledge you can obtain are useful to a writer’s brain. History, science, social studies, even languages and mathematics help flesh out the world inside your head, and will help you bring more to the writing process.
I have absolutely no idea how much you would earn if you became a writer. You probably could not pick a profession that has a wider range of compensation. Some writers are incredibly rich. Some make a few thousand dollars a year from their writing. There are more of the latter than the former, if that helps. Writers are not “salaried” so the question doesn’t really apply.
No, I cannot recommend specific colleges or programs.
That information, along with my real name, star sign, blood type, parents’ names, economic status, and other bizarre stuff I have been asked for over the years, is personal. Not because it’s fascinating or scandalous in any way, but just because I’m a private person, and because I think all that stuff is totally irrelevant to my books. I am glad if you think my books are interesting, but they are not autobiographical and have nothing to do with my life.
This question is the one every writer hates because it is so difficult to answer. There is no magic formula for getting ideas. The fact is, ideas come from all around you, from everything you experience every day. You see a light on in an abandoned building and you think “I wonder who’s in there and what they’re doing?” The answer to that is an idea for a story. Whether it’s a good story or not is up to you. High-concept ideas, if you ask me, are hugely overvalued. They are not the important part of a story. Everyone has ideas. It’s what you do with them that matters.
I stay motivated because this is my job and if I bailed out on it, I’d be in big trouble considering that I have signed contracts promising to do this work! As for inspiration, much like ideas, I think it’s an overvalued concept. My much longer essay on this topic is here.
Yes, countless writers. Many writers of what’s now considered classic children’s fantasy — Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, Tolkein, CS Lewis, Arthur Ransome, Alan Gardner, Madeleine L’Engle, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, Phillip Pullman and JK Rowling.
The drop-down menus at the top of the page will tell you all about what I've written, and the home page features the books I'm currently working on.
I write because I enjoy writing and I enjoy sharing stories with people, and because I seem to be able to make a living at it for the moment. If there’s a larger metaphysical reason why I ought to keep writing, I have to admit I haven’t thought of it.
When I was about 13, I wrote a 1,000 page romantic epic called The Beautiful Cassandra based on the story Jane Austen wrote about her sister when she was twelve. (You can read it here. The Jane Austen story I mean, not my novel. ) It was terrible, but boy did I have fun writing it (and my friends had fun reading it.)
I have actually answered this question so many times that the memory of the actual incident has gone from my mind — I can only remember telling people about it, but not the incident itself. Strange how that works. Anyway, that question is answered on the FAQ page here (question #6) and on the FAQ page on my Mortal Instruments site.
- Who is your favorite character from the Mortal Instruments series? Which is your favorite of the three books?
I don't have one! It would be like choosing favorite children.
No. I think there are themes in the books about love and sacrifice, tolerance and honor, but I also think it’s up to individual readers to interpret and discover them, and even to disagree with me about what they mean. I don’t believe in “messages.”
I wouldn’t. The whole idea of doing that seems extremely weird to me. Nor do I even think I write in only one style. I try to pick a style appropriate to the story.
- How do you find someone to publish your work(s) and how does the process of getting your book published work?
Please review my Writing Advice, specifically question #13.
- What’s the hardest or most challenging thing about being a writer? What about the most challenging thing about writing the MI series in specific?
This is also answered on the FAQ page, but I would say dealing with how solitary an occupation it is. You can get very lonely and buried in your own head. The hardest part of writing the Mortal Instruments series in specific was teaching myself how to write a novel. I’d never written a full-length novel before. I had to learn the structure of it, and how it worked. The best thing about being done with the first book and starting on the second was thinking, “I’ve done this once now. I can do it again.”
No. That would be like having a favorite child or family member. There are hundreds if not thousands of books that are my favorites and have influenced me, and I can’t list just a few and certainly can’t pick just one.
- Considering that your books are set in the present and the real world, what kind of research did you have to do?
No matter what kind of book you are writing, you still have to do research. I did a lot of reading up on world mythology, especially anything having to do with good and evil spirits. I wanted to make sure multiple types of demonic myth were present, not just the Christian view of them, so you‘ll find Japanese, Indian, Tibetan, and other kinds of demons represented (plus the kind I’ve made up.) I read a lot of old “demonologies” — there was a whole time period where scholars were obsessed with listing every kind of demon and mapping Hell. By the same token, just because I live in New York didn’t mean I didn’t have to do research about the locations I wanted to use. I traveled around the city taking photos for reference and read up on interesting/mysterious places in the NYC area. For instance the smallpox hospital Valentine is using as a hideout in Book One actually exists, but I had to visit it and research its history before I could use it in the book.
- What do you feel like you’ve positively contributed to the world? What positive impact have you had on your community or society?
What I’ve contributed to the world is not for me to judge. Really.
Honestly? No, not on the global scale of what “hardship” actually means. Writing books, making them good, and getting them published is hard and challenging. But it’s not a “hardship.” I’ve been lucky to get a good education, have a supportive family and friends, and be able to support myself while I wrote. I think there’s a strange popular perception that writers have to suffer or have difficult and interesting lives in order to write. This is not actually true. Boring people write interesting stuff all the time.
My personal goals are like my personal religious beliefs — personal. My goals for my books is that I hope they are read and enjoyed by many people. I would like for readers to enjoy my books the way I have enjoyed favorite books in the past.
I am happy that my books are read and enjoyed by many people. I do not in any way think of myself as “done.” Writing is a tough job. Having a few books published, even successful ones, doesn’t in any way guarantee a lifetime career. My hope is to keep writing and keep improving so that I can continue to write and publish for a long time to come.
- What are your qualifications for being a writer? Do you need any specific degrees or schooling to be a writer?
My qualifications are that I write. Really. That’s it. One of the great things about being a writer, I suppose, if you don’t care for school. You do not need any specific degrees or schooling to be a writer, though classes are available and are gone into in more detail on my writing advice page.
City of Bones isn’t the first book I ever wrote. It’s the first book I ever had published. Before that I wrote a lot of novels that never got published because they weren’t good enough to be published. My reason for writing City of Bones was the same as my reason for writing all those other books, and will most likely be my reason for writing all my future books — I thought of a story and I wanted to tell it and share it with other people.
Every writer has their own routine. Some people write a certain amount of words or pages per day. Robert B. Parker, the mystery writer, famously write five pages every day; Stephen King ten pages a day, and Ernest Hemingway 500 words every day. Some writers can only write standing up, some (Truman Capote) can only write lying down. There really is no ‘typical’, there’s just what works for you.
Questions Specific to English Classes
- What is a particular skill you learned in any of your high school English classes that helps you today?
I think one useful skill English class teaches is the process of critical thinking and the ability to express that thought process through writing. That helps me not only with my creative writing but with professional articles and essays.
I’d say foster your own love of reading through reading what appeals to you, whether it be manga, comics, magazines or poetry. The more you’re comfortable with reading, the more you’ll get out of classes.
I wanted to master skills that would help me be successful later, not just professionally but personally and creatively.
Excellent reading comprehension skills allow me to rapidly keep up on developments in the publishing field and to be a useful and instructive critiquer and editor.
Without it, one’s communicative skills are limited, and with limited communicative skills there’s a limit to what you can do in any profession.
- Can you recall an instance in which good English skills played an important part in your career, besides the writing of the story?
Good English skills allowed me to craft a compelling and professional query letter, which helped me get the agent who sold my first novel.
For editing and copyediting, for critiquing and essay-writing, and for answering interview questions. Even the simplest email to an editor or another writer benefits from the clarity and precision good English skills bestow.
- Do you think that your ability to write would be as great if your English skills were not up to par?
I know a lawyer who says, “English skills help me swiftly read documents and journal articles with the maximum comprehension. Not only do I have to be up on the latest in law and have to read and decode complex legal language, but I also have to write briefs that make use of the writing skills I developed in English classes.”
Specific to English Classes