Q&A with Laini Taylor

Posted by Goodreads on March 13, 2017
Three years can feel like an eternity. Just ask Laini Taylor's fans. They've been waiting for a new book from the beloved author since the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series concluded in 2014.

Well, the wait is almost over! On March 28, Strange the Dreamer hits bookshelves, kicking off an epic fantasy series. Nowhere is the anticipation more palpable than on Goodreads: Strange the Dreamer is the most popular new release on our site this month.

What can readers expect from this new series? Monsters, of course (would it be a Laini Taylor story without at least one?), mythic heroes, and a powerful struggle between good and evil, love and carnage. At the center of it all is Lazlo, war orphan and junior librarian, who chases a dream in the aftermath of a war between gods and men.

Taylor answers your questions about daydreams that become novel ideas, her slight obsession with the color blue ("What's with Laini and blue?"), and the approximately 80,000 drafts she writes for every book.

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Jennifer: I've had Strange the Dreamer on preorder since the week it was announced and can't wait to read it! You're kind of my hero—and definitely my favorite author. Your lovely books restored my faith in YA fantasy. Even more importantly, your work inspired me to return to my own writing. Do you have any tips for finding the time to work on a novel while juggling day-to-day life?

Laini Taylor: Thank you so much, Jennifer! That's so wonderful to hear. As for your question…. Oh man, time. I remember having this idea, in the past, of managing writing like a normal workday.

That seems hilarious to me now. I don't know why, but every day it seems like life finds a dozen ways to thwart my nice, tidy plan! Of course, everyone's circumstances are different, and so everybody needs to figure this out for themselves. But it boils down to priorities and believing that you deserve it. If it's a dream of yours to write, then don't let anybody—yourself included—diminish its importance in your life. When you're "prepublished," it's hard to feel like you're a "real writer." It's really hard to ask other people to prioritize and possibly sacrifice for your dream. But you have to.

Micaela: What's Strange the Dreamer's origin story? What was the moment you thought, "This could be great…. I want to write about it!"

LT: Years and years ago I tried to write a story about a strange, lonely, and cruel girl who lived in a tower high above a city. Her job was to send nightmares to the people who lived there. I didn't manage to write the story—I didn't manage to write any of my stories; it took me ages to learn how to finish anything—but the idea stayed with me and met up with other drifting ideas.

After I finished the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, I had this wonderful opportunity to decide what I wanted to write next after spending five years with the same characters. I wrote out all the ideas that were floating around in my head and narrowed it down to three. The nightmare girl was one of them. I was on a retreat in Mexico with writer friends. I brainstormed all about my ideas and tried to whip them into narrative form. It had always been about this girl, for years. But once I started writing it, I discovered (through much frustrating trial and error) that it was, in fact, somebody else's story: Lazlo's. So that was a surprise!

Amy: Karou has blue hair in Daughter of Smoke & Bone, and now I see we have a new blue-skinned goddess in Strange the Dreamer. Can you tell us a little about using color to create your unique characters?

LT: Hi, Amy, thanks for the question! Ahh, the blue hair/blue skin. I considered not giving the godspawn blue skin because of Karou's hair—what's with Laini and blue?—but I went with what the story called for. It was important to me that the godspawn couldn't possibly pass as human, and showing their otherness through skin color felt like the right option. Once that was decided, the only real color choice was blue! I mean, red equals demon. Green equals alien. What other choices are there, really? And on top of that, there is already a rich tradition of depicting gods as blue in Hinduism, so blue is a divine color. So that's where that came from.

Peter: It was very nice to meet you at the presentation you attended at the Yarborough Library in Austin, Texas! When you tried writing your first book, did you ever have doubts about the quality of your writing? If so, what helped you deal with those doubts?

LT: I think I speak for most writers when I say yes. A thousand times yes. I still have doubts every day.

I will also say, though, that the language-craft aspect of writing was always a fairly comfortable place for me. I love to tinker with words and sentences. I could do it all day! That wasn't where doubt came in for me. The bigger challenge was in learning storytelling and figuring out how to create characters and a narrative that moves forward. I so vividly remember all the stalled-out stories where I just couldn't figure out what would happen, so I gave up. (In this, I know I'm not alone. I hear from people all the time that they start, then stall—over and over and over. Something I know all about!)

But I kept at it because I just wanted to write books so badly! I wasn't an early bloomer. I was 35 before I finally finished a novel. At that point, the thing that got me through—that broke my habit of not finishing things—was that it finally became more painful for me not to finish a book than it was to finish a book! I came up with real strategies to keep myself writing, no matter what. And when I typed "the end" at the end of my first book, I burst into tears.

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Victoria: Your Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy does not take place in a Western setting, unlike a lot of popular fantasy/paranormal YA books. I've often wondered a) if this was a conscious decision on your part and b) if you have ever traveled to the places you wrote about in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy—like Prague or Morocco?

LT: Hi, Victoria! It was a conscious decision. I'm obsessed with travel and fascinating, faraway places. All else being equal, I'll choose a book with a cool setting every time. I lived in Europe as a kid (I was a Navy brat), so I've been extremely lucky to have such familiarity with European settings. (Places that are farther afield and farther removed from Western culture require more research!)

My husband, Jim, and I went to Prague in 2004 to research a vampire graphic novel we wanted to do together. We spent nine days basically exploring the city as a book setting: taking pictures, making notes, sketching. But then we never did that book!

Flash forward to September 2008. I'd started writing this "new weird thing," as I was calling it on my blog (or NWT, which then became "the newt"), about a blue-haired girl raised by monsters, and I didn't know where to set it. I thought of Venice first, then New York, and finally Prague. All that research from several years earlier was just waiting. We had even gone on a ghost tour of Prague, which was the inspiration for Kaz's job. And puppets, of course. Prague is brimming with puppets. So everything clicked. The story found its proper home and started to grow to fill it.

Shahzoda: How many drafts does it usually take you to get a book to a place where you're happy to publish it?

LT: This is a tricky question because I think it rests on this idea that writers write complete drafts, one after another, powering through each one from beginning to end—especially that first one, the "fast first draft." I know a lot of writers who do this. A lot of amazing books are written this way.

But I can't do it. I'm constantly revising as I go. I'll get 50 pages in and then start over. I'll spend months finding the right beginning. I'll rewrite a chapter eight times before I move on. (Then maybe I'll delete it entirely.) I have to love the whole thing as I go, even down to the sentence level. It's really extreme and kind of insane, but hey, that's the brain I've got.

So how many drafts do I write? In one sense, I write three. In another sense, 80,000! I submit a first draft to my editor, get notes on it, write a second draft, get notes on that, and then write the final draft. Which sounds really civilized! But the "first draft" that I submit has been relentlessly revised…and not in any kind of orderly way that would enable me to count versions. All the crazy is hidden away in my writing room, for my eyes only!

Kaitlin: I'm planning on rereading Daughter of Smoke & Bone this year. Are there any characters, scenes, or easy-to-miss details that I should pay extra special attention to this time around?

LT: Interesting question! *ponders* Well, one thing you can think about while rereading, I guess, is the clues you might have missed the first time. What I'm always aiming for in the mysteries at the heart of my books—the experience I'm hoping to create—is for readers not to guess the reveal but to discover, on rereading, that the clues were there all along. I want it to be something that in retrospect you realize was there before you. I know there are some readers who figure it out on the first read, but my hope is that most don't. It's the same with Strange the Dreamer. I hope readers don't figure out the twists but later see that they could have!

Raquel: What do you like to do when you are not writing? Do your hobbies and other personal experiences ever influence the characters or worlds that you are building?

LT: Hi, Raquel! I love to travel and to plan trips and to daydream about traveling. I spend enough time browsing châteaux for sale in France that it could practically qualify as a hobby! I read a lot, of course. I'm a latecomer to manga, having fallen in love with it only about three years ago.

As for personal experiences influencing my writing, sure—at every level. I went to art school, which certainly informed Karou's character (though I can't also claim to know martial arts or speak dozens of languages, damn it). There are little things, too, like this brief mention in my story Goblin Fruit in Lips Touch, where Kizzy's uncle has been cleaning a deer and shoves his bloody hand right into her popcorn bowl. That's something that happened to my mom when she was a kid, and I pilfered it.

A lot of my books are wish fulfillment: I wish I had portals to other cities. I wish my hair grew out of my scalp in the color of my choice. I wish I was multilingual and had wishes at my disposal to use in petty ways against my enemies—my many, many enemies! Mwahaha!

Sid: Hi, Laini! If you could assign a cake flavor to the main characters in Strange the Dreamer, what flavors would you choose?

LT: Ha! Cake flavor. Wow, I don't know! *feels pressure to be clever* I think Lazlo would be a cake that's plain to look at and maybe not perfectly presented—homemade, not from a bakery display case!—but rich and delicious in a straightforward way. Like a dense, moist almond cake. Not the fanciest, but so good. Sarai's cake would be beautifully iced and more complex, with a center of deep, ultra-dark chocolate that's so pure, it's almost bitter.

I'm pretty sure I've managed to put cake into all my books, actually. My characters always manage to find time for cake, even if it's only in their dreams!

Hailey: What's a quote (either one of yours or someone else's!) that describes your life right now?

LT: Ooh, so many choices!! I love quotations. In my bygone days as an artist, I created a line of greeting cards and ornaments that highlighted my favorite quotes. Today I have to go with this one by the amazing Mary Oliver:

"I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings."

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Angelito (new)

Angelito Espinoza Que llegue pronto el 28!!!

message 2: by Aryane (new)

Aryane Marques soo nice, I love Laini's personality , great interview! <3

myriad obsessions It was nice to reminded that even the best of authors have doubts about their writing. I'm an aspiring writer, and it gets so frustrating because I have all of these ideas in my head but when I actually put them down onto paper (technically a google doc, but whatever) I feel like it's nothing compared to other people's writing. Doesn't help that I'm horrible at grammar and I hate it.

message 4: by Sandy (new)

Sandy Loved the questions and the answers!

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