After Yesterday’s Post – I’m sure you’re eager to finally meet my critique partner!
Now get ready to meet my critique partner, the fabulous Danielle Behr…
Tell us a little about your writing background.
I began outlining my first novel several years ago, while I was still teaching. However, I didn’t have the time to actually start writing until I left teaching two years ago. Since then, I’ve written two complete novels and have recently begun writing my third.
What are you working on right now?
No Man’s Land is about a colony of women living on Venus. It explores how women live and act in a society without men. The plot of the story begins when a young man arrives on the planet. One girl decides to protect him, and she becomes something like a Prometheus character, fighting for change against titans who would punish her if they could.
What inspired the idea for your current project?
My husband works for NASA, so the setting was inspired by him. I don’t know where I got the idea of creating an all-female society. It’s been a thought-experiment of mine for some time, trying to pick apart nature vs. nurture and figure out how women might be different if they were isolated from men and held complete control over themselves.
Let’s talk a little about Critique Partners…
What’s your definition of the term Critique Partner?
A critique partner is someone who offers advice during story development, offers support and encouragement during the writing process, and provides a knowledgeable critique of finished work. It’s a reciprocal relationship, which means I help my CP in the same ways she helps me. A CP is like a cheerleader, coach, and colleague all at the same time.
What have been the benefits of having a CP?
When I first found Poppy, my favorite thing about our correspondence was simple understanding. She knew the books I knew, she knew the writing process, she had the same concerns about her work as I did. We both have such a passion for stories, that we immediately got excited about each other’s work. It was encouraging, to have someone else invested in my work, someone else who has faith in it. Later, it became helpful to have someone give advice and lend suggestions when I was having problems. I think it’s going to be invaluable to get Poppy’s feedback on my actual draft. I look forward to reading and critiquing her work as well, especially since I feel so invested in her characters.
Has having a CP affected your writing?
I have more confidence in my writing decisions because I get stamps of approval from someone who knows what they’re talking about. Less self-doubt is a great benefit. It’s also been nice to have someone suggest different directions for my plot and characters, things I may not have considered. And finally, it’s been very valuable to have someone to run my more controversial ideas by. This goes back to the self-doubt thing, but it’s important because this is an area where if I did a bad job, I could offend or turn off readers. Finally, knowing that Poppy is working hard on her book keeps me motivated to work on mine. We started drafting on the same date and I hope to have us finish our drafts around the same time. It certainly beats having to make up and adhere to your own schedule with absolutely no one keeping you accountable.
Let’s talk a little about your writing process…
I know how much you love research…What do you enjoy about it?
I love researching! It’s so inspiring, and I love when I come across an article or a TED talk that gives a new dimension to my work. Research is about exploring possibilities, about creating a cloud of ideas and ultimately reducing that cloud to something that’s complex but coherent.
What’s your favorite time of day to write?
Right after lunch, so around 1PM until 5PM, when my husband gets home. I can’t write when anyone else is in the house, and I usually devote my mornings to cleaning, errands, and all of the various projects I create for myself. My current project is embroidering various Scottish tartans.
Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what type/artist?
Lately I’ve been listening to this weird new genre of music that’s a combination of swing and dubstep. It’s lots tons of energy, but no lyrics to distract me. Parov Stelar and Caravan Palace are the two artists I’ve been listening to the most.
Where do you write?
I used to write at the local Coffee Bean and I loved it! I got to know all the employees by name, they occasionally slipped me free croissants, it was kind of like hanging out with friends. But then the screen on my laptop broke. The laptop was several years old anyway, so Derek and I decided to replace it, and I went with a big-ass iMac. I love the width of the screen, but it’s not exactly mobile.
One thing I’m learning as a writer is how important it is to keep reading. What are you currently reading?
I have a fear of reading other people’s work while I’m writing first drafts because I’ve noticed that when I do, the other author’s style of writing creeps into my own work. The most hilarious example of this was when I re-read Emma a few months ago and all of a sudden I was writing sentences the lengths of paragraphs. The most recent book I read was Susan Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly. The next book I’m looking forward to reading is David’s Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I’m very eager to see how he manages to weave six different stories into a cohesive narrative.
We’re both writing young adult books. Why did you choose YA?
I like teenagers as characters because they don’t have the blinders and emotional baggage that adults have. They’re not stuck in their ways, they’re open to new experiences, and they’re generally much braver than adults because they think less about risks and consequences. For a setting as complex as an all-female colony on Venus, I needed the clean, clear perspective of a teenager. An adult’s version of the story would be too tainted with opinions and fears.
How does your current manuscript stand out in the YA crowd?
It seems like everyone is clamoring for “strong female characters” but nobody is really pushing the boundaries of that archetype. In most of the books I read, even the strongest female characters play second fiddle to a male character, or they shy away when the real action starts, or they allow their romantic counterpart to push them around. There are exceptions, of course, but there still aren’t any books that take a look at this problem head-on. My book is about this problem, about the agency of women and what they’re really capable of doing. In the beginning of the book, the women on the colony are self-sufficient. They don’t need men. But when men show up, the women realize they might like to choose to live among men. And that’s exactly what feminism is about: women making their own choices. I want readers to realize that any decision a woman makes is empowering so long as she’s the one making it.
What are some of your recent Ya favorites?
I recently read Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard. I also enjoyed Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, and most of all, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I absolutely adored The Night Circus. It has the most beautiful, whimsical setting. That book is so unique because although the characters are compelling, the setting itself feels like the real protagonist.
Thanks so much to Danielle for letting me delve into her brain. Don’t forget that you can follow Danielle’s writing progress over at her blog Learning to Write. Here are some other ways to connect with her:
Thanks for reading…