Kendare Blake, 1001 NaNoWriMo Interviews, No. 3

Kendare Blake is the New York Times bestselling, critically-acclaimed author of the YA fantasy novel Three Dark Crowns. Her other novels include Anna Dressed in Blood (NPR Top 5, Kirkus Top 10), the Goddess War series and more. Kendare is a graduate of Ithaca College and received her masters from Middlesex University in London. She currently lives and writes in Washington with her husband and their many pets. You can connect with her at http://kendareblake.com/.

What is your advice for someone setting out writing their first novel?  

Enjoy it. Love it. Writing your first novel should not feel like work, or an assignment. Focus on the passion. That is not to say it will not be challenging, or have its moments of frustration. But if you find yourself hating writing before you even finish your first one, it may not be the right one. First drafts are for the honeymoon phase.

What did you learn after finishing your first novel? What did you learn through writing the first draft? What did you learn through editing? 

I’m going to answer this in reference to my first PUBLISHED novel, rather than that glorious first, first novel I wrote in a spiral notebook in seventh grade. So, after finishing the first draft of Sleepwalk Society, I realized that first drafts are sometimes mere writing exercises. Exercises in plot, and characterization. Getting to know the world and how the people move in it. Finding the actual story you want to tell.

The first draft of Sleepwalk Society was 103,000 words. The second was 53,000. Nothing except the characters and some basic plot remained from one to the next. But I knew where it started, and how it ended, and with a year of rest in between drafts, I knew how I wanted to tell it. 

How much of an idea do you have before you begin writing? 

I like an idea to be rolling around upstairs for as long as possible before I start. But…one of my most successful books, Anna Dressed in Blood, defied that and demanded to be begun right away. Still, I always want about three chapters worth of stuff happening in my head before I try to set it down on the page. I want to know the major beats. I want to know as much as I can about the characters. 

Do you advance your novel while you’re out working or walking around? Do you advance its plot or its characters? 

Solutions to things come at the strangest times. When I’m zoned out. When I’m on the treadmill. And once I’m actually writing, plot and character meld together. One doesn’t move without the other. 

What form do you write in most? Do you write novels most? 

It depends on the year. I write about two short stories a year, maybe three, and I only do one novel a year, so I guess mostly short stories. But of course novels are 80-100k, and my short stories rarely go much over 5k, so… I do love them both. I want to see more single-author collections of short stories. I hear people say those don’t sell well, but I don’t know why they don’t. Reading a single-author collection is an incredible experience. 

What’s your writing process? 

I don’t really have a process. I think about an idea, about a story. Start seeing it in my head as a movie, start hearing the characters puzzle things out…then I start writing. Then I rest the draft for a few months, and write it again if it needs it. 

Do you have a different process for different forms of writing?  

The process for short stories is just…shorter. I won’t spend more than a day or two actually writing a short story. But I think about them for just as long as I’ll think about my novels, just less frequently. 

What guides you in your writing? How do you pick what to follow and what to leave behind? 

I do what the story wants to do. It is in the driver’s seat. No matter how much “plot” exists in my novels, none of them feel constructed to me as I’m writing them. I don’t sit back with a diagram and a pen and say, “and now…this!” When the writing is going well, it’s much more like channeling. 

Do you write every day? 

Not unless I’m on a deadline. Which lately, has been in the winter and late summer. So in the winter, I’ll write most every day. Early summer I’m off. And then there’s been a short break in the fall this year.  

How many words do you write in a day and why? 

When I’m on deadline, I don’t let myself walk away with less than a thousand words, and I’m happiest when it’s about three thousand. But the only reason for that is the deadline. When I’m not on deadline, I write what I want, when I want. That hasn’t been for a long time though. So maybe I can’t even do it anymore.

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Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns came out September, 2016.

Publisher Comments:

Fans of acclaimed author Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood will devour her latest novel, a dark and inventive fantasy about three sisters who must fight to the death to become queen.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.

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