Today, I’m joined by D.S. Thornton. She’s a plantser, a T.V. addict, and an eclectic author. I hope you enjoy getting to know her!
1. When did you start writing?
Except for travel pieces for the San Francisco Examiner (Hearst years) and some book reviews for another Bay Area paper, I put writing aside, probably after college I’d say, because life got in the way. Raised a son, had a career in graphic design, ran a business for 20 years, became a magazine art director, blah blah blah. It wasn’t until my son was a teen that I took up the pen again. And then my first novel (about a ghost stuck in an apartment building) took ten years. TEN. YEARS. It’s stashed away in a drawer right now, but I really would like to revisit it at some point. After that, I did a picture book (I’m an illustrator, too), then a middle-grade fantasy, and most recently, YA scifi humor. So you’d need a calculator to figure out just how long ago I started. I’m too afraid. Let’s just say: June. We just won’t say what year.
2. Are you a pantser or a planner?
I’m a plantser. No matter how much I TRY to plan, I’m constantly reassessing. Characters do unexpected things or I have a plot revelation or any number of things. Stuff happens. So I usually have a vague roadmap. I know certain things are going to happen (or at least I want them to), I just might not know when they’ll happen or how they’ll happen. In the end, they may not happen at all.
I try to get out the whole story first. The first draft is probably more akin to a movie script than a novel. Only then, after the story is finished, do I add in the details. I write.
I print out the ms. and make hand edits — I COVER the thing in ink! — then input the changes. I wait a few days or a few weeks, then do it again. I do this about a gazillion more times. The longer I wait between rewrites, the more clearly I see it.
I’ve broken the process down into more detail here: http://www.thorntonarts.com/writing/?page_id=799#outlinewing
All that said, I’ve also gone the seat-of-my-pants route. This became MARVIN PLOTNIK AND THE SANDY RIVERS HILLTOP RANCH FOR WAYWARD YOUTH, JUVENILES, AND YOUNG ADULTS, a book in which I digressed to my heart’s content and had a ball doing it. I riffed on everything from Shakespeare to the rings of Saturn. I even pointed out when I was in the middle of a plot summary. And I often did it by way of footnotes (because I mean, c’mon, what’s funnier than a footnote, right?).
3. Can you give us an idea of your writing process?
I assume you mean the daily routine? Because I’m an author and an illustrator, it depends on the day. I can’t do either until the caffeine’s kicked in (and I’ve completed the daily crossword), and that takes until 10 or 11 am. I’m also limited because of hand and arm problems (damn you, Photoshop!), so I can’t spend too many hours at the keyboard. I have to break up my keyboard time by working on a painting, or working in the garden. Or taking a well-deserved nap.
I never write at night. Night-time is TV time. (“My name is D. S. Thornton, and I’m a television addict.”) At 11 or so, I read until I fall asleep.
4. Which authors have influenced your work?
I think any writer would say that all writers influence their work, even the bad ones. (They just influence it in a different way, like, “Oh my God! I hope I didn’t do that in my manuscript!”) There are writers (and illustrators) whose work sticks with me, or who I go back to time and again: John Steinbeck (you do realize how phenomenal he was, right?), Neil Gaiman, William Goldman, Philip Pullman, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Paul Shipton, Roald Dahl, Rod Serling, Art Spiegelman, Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, Dalton Trumbo, Donald Westlake, Chuck Palahniuk, Grant & Naylor (“Red Dwarf”), Isaac Asimov, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, Daniel Pinkwater, Dr. Seuss, Quentin Blake, James Thurber, Harlan Ellison, and Mr. Charles Dickens, who just might have been the best damn writer ever.
5. What are you plans/future projects/new releases that we should be aware of?
Right now, I’m concentrating on art (watercolors and illustration) and am working on a 32-page allegorical story that will appeal to young and old. (Can’t talk about it because I don’t want to jinx the mojo.) In the meantime, my agent is shopping around my middle-grade novel, SCRAP CITY.
6. Any tips for new writers?
Boy, do I have tips. I also have a confession. I thought I’d have a handful, but the list I put together for you ended up so long, I’d feel guilty taking up your blog space! So I posted them on my on own page: http://www.thorntonarts.com/writing/?page_id=799#advicewrite I have a feeling it’s going to be a never-ending list, so I hope folks will check by often to see if it’s been updated. If I can save one other writer from spinning their wheels like I’ve done over the years (See: “When did you start writing?,” above), my job here is done.
The short list:
• Get the whole story out before you start perfecting it. That’s key.
• Don’t explain it; show it.
• Write in scenes.
• Vary everything: Open one chapter with dialog, for instance, and the next with a description. Start one graf with a line of dialog, the next with an action. Long sentence, short sentence; short sentence, short sentence, long sentence. Listen to the cadence.
• Every page should have something interesting on it.
• Study other writing. Read a book once for the story; read it again to see how they did it.
• Keep track of where your characters are and what they know.
• Make your characters come alive by having them do something.
• Avoid beginner’s tropes (like having your character look in a mirror just so you can describe him).
• Balance dialog, action, and description.
• Make your readers worry about your characters (e.g., give your protagonist more than one conflict to deal with).
• Don’t waste precious writing time writing things that aren’t your book. (Facebook, anyone?)
• And finally: Spelling counts. (So does grammar and punctuation.)
7. Any tips for old writers?
Try new processes. Break out of your old formulas. Make your second or third or fourth book as complex and nuanced as your first.
Thanks, Jen, for having me. I enjoyed answering. Now let’s see how many of these I can stick to!
You can find author/illustrator D. S. Thornton on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DSThorntonIllustwriter, on Twitter at @D_S_Thornton https://twitter.com/D_S_Thornton, and on the web at http://www.thorntonarts.com