Friday, March 22, 2013

Kick Butt Characters Hop


I want to welcome Ellen Oh who is interviewing Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan!



Interview with Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan Authors of Wasteland


Welcome to the Wasteland. Where all the adults are long gone, and now no one lives past the age of nineteen. Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan’s post-apocalyptic debut is the first of a trilogy in which everyone is forced to live under the looming threat of rampant disease and brutal attacks by the Variants —hermaphroditic outcasts that live on the outskirts of Prin. Esther thinks there’s more to life than toiling at harvesting, gleaning, and excavating, day after day under the relentless sun, just hoping to make it to the next day. But then Caleb, a mysterious stranger, arrives in town, and Esther begins to question who she can trust. As shady pasts unravel into the present and new romances develop, Caleb and Esther realize that they must team together to fight for their lives and for the freedom of Prin.

Ello - This is one horrible and brutal world you guys have created! You’ve got this world where there are no adults, only children, and you throw in strange hermaphroditic creatures called the variants. How did this all come to you?

SK: Actually, it started as an idea Laurence had a few years ago and grew from there. We both grew up in families where the kids lived in a very separate world from the adults; honestly, on weekends and after school, I would just head out the door and not come back until dinnertime. During the summer, I would be gone all day. Unsupervised kid world is incredibly different from the supervised kind; there are all kind of crazy power dynamics, superstitions, big personalities, strange alliances, and a certain magic that occurs when adults aren’t watching and you’re not reporting back to them. But it can also be a little scary, lonely, and intense. Those are just some of the feelings that lie at the bottom of this book, beneath the futuristic dystopian trappings.

LK: Only living until you’re nineteen is also a metaphor for everybody’s teenage years, which can seem a complete lifetime in themselves, for good and for bad. There’s an intensity during them that comes only once. Some people say, thank god. I’m more positive about it.

Ello - Now you two have been writing together for a while. How did you first start writing together and how do you make it work?

SK: We were both writers long before we started working together: Laurence more with fiction and me with TV. And we both write plays; we first met at a theatre conference. We didn’t consciously set out to write together; we were having dinner one night and I was talking about an elderly friend of mine who grew up in NYC during the 2nd World War. Laurence immediately said, “that would make a great screenplay!” And we just stayed there late talking it out, taking notes on the paper tablecloth. And that became our first graphic novel.

LK: The process usually works this way: we outline it together, very thoroughly. Then we divvy up sections and write them. Then we switch off and each rewrites the other, with a lot of screaming and crying. That’s a joke: it’s just a little screaming and crying. We do several drafts that way. Finally, by the end, we’re reading it word for word, side by side.

SK: Of course, that makes it sound easy… the actual writing-together part was (and is) hard! I like to say that the ideal co-author has four traits: talent, professionalism, sanity, and discipline. A good sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either! Having worked with people who have only had one or two, I’m thrilled to be with Laurence, who has all five. (I hope he thinks I come close, too!)

LK: Now I have to say so. But it’s true!

Ello – How different has it been writing YA versus screenplays and your graphic novels?

LK: Writing YA fiction is harder, to be honest. Graphic novels are scripts and mostly about the story and the structure: no audience will ever read your stage directions. In other words, they don’t have to be that well written! But in a novel, every word is going to be read by a stranger. So all the words have to be good. And when two writers have to agree on every word, it can be, to use a pleasant euphemism, challenging.

SK: See what I mean? Collaboration is really hard, especially in fiction!

Ello - I LOVE Caleb and Esther! They are such fantastic characters! But let’s talk about Esther first. I love that she is this normal rebellious teen acting out in this harsh world. It felt right to me, even to the point that it causes her grave troubles. And her relationship with her older sister, Sarah, who seems so pious at first, but then ends up being quite complicated, felt real to me. Sarah had that right blend of older sister, mothering aspect and Esther was the typical rebellious younger sibling. I liked seeing that normalcy, but then the consequences were intense and severe.

SK: For the record, I actually have a very close relationship with my sister. (She’s a children’s librarian, by the way… which means we always have plenty to talk about!) But there is something about the Esther/Sarah thing that’s very close to my heart. I guess it’s no surprise that I identify mostly with Esther – her impatience, her rebellion – but I also know what it’s like to care so deeply about someone, your love can comes across as controlling and judgmental. What’s most moving to me is that these two have so much in common, yet are so busy acting out and feeling victimized, they don’t get to open up and realize that they’re allies for a very long time. That strikes me as a very familiar and sad dynamic in so many families…

LK: That was the point, of course, to show identifiable feelings in an extreme environment. You’d still be yourself, after all, even in a world like this. And it was intentional not to make Esther a super-hero. We like super-heroes, but it seemed more interesting to make her fight herself, as well as other people. And to screw up, as well as succeed.

Ello – Ok now turning to Caleb. First of all, I want to say that Wasteland read like a post-apocalyptic western to me. I kept picturing Caleb as a young Clint Eastwood. Were you guys thinking western?

LK: Well, we don’t like to reveal the trade secrets of how we get inspired—mostly so we don’t get self-conscious about it—but the movies and books Susan and I have seen and read definitely came into play, including Westerns. If you pictured Clint Eastwood, that’s great, though I’d prefer a better actor. No offense to Clint.

SK: The fact is, we both read a lot, and we also watch a lot of movies and plays. And together, we have kind of eclectic tastes: everything from Westerns, literary fiction, romantic comedies, children’s literature, classic cinema, horror, documentaries, poetry, Hong Kong action movies, biographies, 70s dramas. We always talk about what we’ve just read or watched, too… and after a while, it all just kind of seeps into and informs your work. So it’s really kind of a mishmash of many influences.

Ello – Caleb is a really complicated character. Not the clear good guy, which again, reminded me of Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti westerns. I loved that about him.

LK: With Caleb, we were working in the tradition of the male anti-hero, characters who used to be common in movies and books. These guys were both good and bad; as opposed to today, where characters tend to be either/or. (Except on cable TV, where characters are allowed to have more gray areas.) If you start a hero with real flaws or even villainous aspects, then it’s more dramatic when you see the better side of him. We wanted Esther (and maybe the reader) to have real misgivings about Caleb, so her journey toward him would be more interesting.

SK: Exactly. It’s not only more dramatic, it’s more interesting.

Ello – So I find it near impossible to talk about your bad guy, Levi, without spoiling the story because he is such an integral part of the plot. But I can say that I found him quite charming and I admit to constantly hoping that he wouldn’t be all bad.

LK: It’s a (true) cliché that the better the villain, the better the story. Levi was the most fun to write because we could express the rotten parts of ourselves through him. Also, that he had a good if distorted reason for doing what he does (which we won’t spoil, either) makes you realize that there are only so many emotions: some people use them well and others horribly. Seeing your own drives and resentments in a villain can be eye-opening and revelatory—not just about him but about yourself.

SK: I actually really like Levi, too! And he’s not all bad in that as Laurence says, he has a reason for his behavior. But like everyone in fiction and life, he has choices, and the decisions he makes have ramification. He’s flawed, but human.

Ello - I have to tell you that I think you need to write a whole other book just on the variants. I’ll even settle for a short story. I’m just so fascinated by them. What were they based on?

SK: To give you the heady answer, we were intrigued by the idea of discrimination in this world. It seems that people have always needed some other group to look down on and treat horribly… so what better than an entire people who are themselves victims of the environment? We also love the gender flexibility of Skar and her people – the idea that instead of hiding your hermaphroditism, you wear it proudly. It’s part of your identity. As a group, the variants represent a lot of good things– they’re disciplined, proud, and brilliant hunter/warriors – but we don’t sentimentalize them, either. They’re also suspicious, opportunistic, occasionally cruel, and hierarchical.

LK: Again, the notion of complexity in all the characters, so the audience doesn’t always know who to trust.

Ello – Would you be surprised if I told you that there was a biblical feel to your story? Very old testament. (we can take this question out if we don’t want to put any hint of religion in it.)

SK: It’s funny; we didn’t set out to create a Biblical story, but because it’s such a harsh and basic world, certain themes -- family relationships, limited resources, people wandering in the wilderness – just came up that seemed that way. As for some of the names – Sarah, Joseph, Levi, and so on – we were thinking about children having children who have children, and what they would still be naming them after thirty or so years. We thought the Bible would be an important book during apocalyptic times, and that might be reflected in the names people gave their offspring.

LK: These names would still be in the air, long after people would have forgotten the book they came from.

Ello – Please, please, can you give us a little teaser for what’s to come in the next books?

LK: No, we’re sorry. I’m just being silly; we can say this: the second book is a physical journey for Esther and other characters and the third book is their destination. Nothing goes smoothly and time is short.

SK: LOTS of surprises in both books… involving not only Esther, Caleb, Skar, and their friends, but new people they meet along the way. Even our editor was totally taken off guard!

Thank you so much!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


70 comments:

  1. Which character is the most frustrating to write?

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    1. "Frustrating" may not be the word, but Caleb was the most challenging, because he had so many different qualities and we wanted readers to understand all of him. Thanks for asking!

      Susan & Laurence

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  2. Which are your personal favorite authors?

    Thanks! :)

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    1. A great question, but a hard one to answer! Here are our answers as of this very second:

      Susan: Stephen King, Philip Pulman, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Richard Yates

      Laurence: Joseph Conrad, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Berger, and Philip K. Dick

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  3. What a fantastic interview! Thank you for facilitating this! And Ellen Oh asked some GREAT questions (I wish I was as good at thinking of interview questions!). Now I want to read this book even more than I already did!

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    1. Thanks, Kelley... we hope you like it!

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  4. +JMJ+

    This is such a great interview! It sells the book so well! Whether or not I win the giveaway, you can bet I'll try to get a copy of Wasteland! =D

    I know that Susan and Laurence have said they don't want to be self-conscious about their influences and sources of inspiration, but I'd really like to know how they'd react if I told them their descriptions of the story reminded me of the movie adaptation of Stephen King's Children of the Corn.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

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    1. Being compared to Stephen King is always a compliment... thanks for your question! But Laurence never saw the movie and Susan saw it a really long time ago. So any resemblance is coincidental! (We're going to rent it this weekend.)

      Susan & Laurence

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  5. Replies
    1. Susan: A REALLY hard question, but I'd have to say, "Alice in Wonderland."

      Laurence: Same here, there are so many, but maybe "Huckleberry Finn."

      We might change our minds tomorrow, though... ;-)
      Thanks for asking!

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  6. Hi,

    do we get to find out how this civilization came to be?

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    1. Yes, we do reveal how the world came to be in this terrible state in the second book—the character Joseph finds out. But we don't want to spoil it!

      Thanks for asking, Mary!

      - Susan & Laurence

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  7. I'm not sure what I would ask since I haven't yet had the pleasure of reading their work. But as soon as I do, I'll probably have tons of questions.

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    1. :-)

      We'll be standing by and ready to answer 'em!

      - Susan & Laurence

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  8. What's your favorite writing snack? Do you have any go to foods that help you out on the writing front?

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    1. Writing snacks are important! Here are our answers:

      LAURENCE: I usually have a banana if I'm feeling healthy and a piece of candy if I don't care if I live or die.

      SUSAN: I used to eat an entire bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and a pint of sour cream (blarghh), but even I eventually decided that was pretty gross. Now, I usually have either a little piece of cake and some peppermint tea, or else a big handful of trail mix.

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  9. What do the two of you do when you have writer's block? Also do the both of you write side by side or away from each other? Like at your own houses.

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    1. Thanks for your question, Lisa... you sound like you know about writer's block! Neither of us has the horrible kind when you can't write anything at all, but maybe that's because we're usually on some kind of deadline. On bad days, we just try to get a little bit done... it's better than nothing.

      We always outline together, but eventually in the process go off to our separate places to write. After several drafts working like this, we go over it side by side. The side-by-side thing is important but kind of hard in that Laurence is MUCH more disciplined, and Susan is usually antsy and wants to do something else.

      - Susan & Laurence

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  10. What's your favorite Western movie?

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    1. Good question, bn100! Here are our answers:

      LAURENCE: There are lots of great Westerns, but I probably like "Shane" the best. When I was a kid, I loved "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

      SUSAN: I have to say, I think “High Noon” is just amazing. If you haven’t seen it, you should… it has two really interesting and strong female characters.

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  11. After you finish this series together, what are your plans writing wise?

    susanmplatt AT hotmail DOT com

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    1. Thanks for asking, Susan... you sound like our agent! ;-)

      from Laurence: I have a book of short stories for adults coming out next year and a play in development in New York. And Susan and I would love to write more together, whether it's YA fiction or graphic novels!

      from Susan: I write horror stories (I had one this fall in "Black Static"), but as Laurence says, I'd love to write more with him. And I actually write a lot of kids' TV (I just finished working on a new PBS show called "Peg + Cat"), so I'll hopefully be on a new show, too.

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  12. Replies
    1. We know... can you imagine how that would have changed your life? And nineteen is the high end, too. It's virtually impossible to avoid the disease any longer than that.

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  13. Will yall continue to right together, or write your own? Or both?

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    1. Both, we hope! The stuff we write together we couldn't write on our own. So it's fun to mix it up.

      Thanks for your question!
      Susan & Laurence

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  14. What is your favorite TV show?
    Thanks for the chance to win!

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    1. Laurence: I like "Mad Men" and the old "Alfred Hitchcock" shows in black-and-white reruns. I also get a kick out of "Cult," though I may be the only one.

      Susan: My favorite EVER was "The Sopranos," although that was a few years ago. Right now, I feel like I'm just "dating" a few shows... nothing serious yet. :-)

      Thanks for asking!

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  15. Do you think it's easier or harder to write with someone else? Thanks for this amazing giveaway - I would love to win this book!

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    1. We've found that it's definitely harder to write with someone else. But you end up with something so different from what you would have written on your own, it's definitely worth it.

      Thanks for asking, Suz... and good luck!
      Susan & Laurence

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  16. I would ask them what their biggest struggle has been being an author, that is something I am always curious about.
    oddball2003 at hotmail dot com

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    1. LAURENCE: I would say continuing your commitment when things aren't going so well. Remembering that you like doing it no matter what anyone says.

      SUSAN: I agree... if you've ever written yourself, you know it's very scary writing stuff and having people to respond to it! (which is why I'm NEVER mean to anyone's work). I also think it's tough making a living, whether through your writing or not. Writing takes time, and sometimes you get paid very little, or not at all. You have to stay true to it and find the time for it, which is super hard.

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  17. It's hard to come up with a question -- the interview is quite thorough!

    Maybe - how do you two write together?

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    1. Hi Leeanna --

      We always outline together, then split up to do separate sections. Then we hand off to rewrite the other. In the end, we go over everything side by side. This whole process, by the way, takes MONTHS. It's both fun, but really hard, too.

      Thanks for asking!
      - Susan & Laurence

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  18. Wow it's hard to come up with a question with such a thorough interview but maybe I'll go with an easy kind of silly one: What are your favorite colors?
    Thanks for the giveaway!
    Ashley A
    ash_app(at)hotmail(dot)com

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    1. That's not a silly question! But it's a funny one because Laurence is a guy and Susan is female.

      Laurence: Umm... purple?

      Susan: Do you mean to wear? For some reason, I really love wearing orange... it makes me happy! And burgundy red. Although I love looking at blues, especially blue-greens. Then again, bright yellow is awesome, especially in autumn. (This is kind of a non-answer... I'm sorry, Ashley!)

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  19. Wow! This sounds wonderful. And really amazing to hear the story behind the story. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Melissa... nice to hear from you!

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  20. Hard to think of a question, all the main ones I can think of were asked. How about, what do you think about self publishing?

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    1. That's a really good question, Lisa. Obviously self-publishing can be huge, since some books done that way have broken out into the mainstream in a major way. But it seems you'd have to be very good at promoting yourself, which not everyone is. Still, it's always better to get your work out than not. And maybe it creates more opportunities for people who aren't necessarily connected or living in big cities or whatever.

      Thanks for asking!
      Susan & Laurence

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  21. Who is your favorite Kick-Butt Character?
    Thank you for the chance to win this book it sounds great! (=

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    1. We both have a soft spot for the character of Hit Girl in "Kick Ass"... she was righteous!

      Thanks for your question, Sarah!
      Susan & Laurence

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  22. Ah! Id already be dead T_T

    Dystopian is a really hot genre right now. What sets your book apart from all the others?

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    1. We think because the characters' lives are so short, that their emotions are more full and heightened, and just as consequential as adults' when it comes to life, death, love, revenge. Also, the secondary characters are extremely important, which means we follow their points of view, as well.

      Thanks for asking, Kirsten (and we'd so totally be dead, too! ;-) )
      Susan & Laurence

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  23. What character did they have the hardest time writing and relating too thanks for the giveaway

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    1. Great question, Casi!

      It was helpful to us that Esther and Caleb had negative qualities, because it's always more fun to write about stuff like pride, vanity, and greed, say, than just goodness. So believe it or not, heroes are always a little more frustrating to write than villains!

      Thanks for asking --
      Susan & Laurence

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  24. This book looks so amazing, and the interview...I am prolly too interested in the book right now, that or you asked all the questions I had, but either way, this book looks fantastic, I will be adding it to my GR to read list for sure.

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    1. Thanks, Jessica... we appreciate it and hope you like it!

      Susan & Laurence

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  25. How do you work it out that you can write together? What kind of planning does it take?

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    1. It takes a HUGE amount of planning! We spend several months just outlining each book, which means coming up with ideas, arguing, and constantly rewriting until we like the basic story. Then we break it down into sections. Each of us writes one or two chapters (we're both writing at the same time, but in our separate homes). Then we trade our work and rewrite. It goes back and forth like that until the end, at which point we eventually sit side and side and rewrite it all together.

      Thanks for asking, Brooke!
      Susan & Laurence

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  26. My friend and I are both writers and we are considering writing a short story together. Any advice for us? By the way, we have very different writing habits: one of us is disciplined and the other is not.

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    1. It's good that at least one of you is disciplined... you'll need it! :-)

      Each person should be honest about what he/she is bringing (or not bringing) to the partnership. Pick your battles. And sublimate your egos to the story itself. Those things have worked for us--but not without the occasional screaming and crying, so be prepared.

      Good luck, Stacy!

      - Susan & Laurence

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  27. boy - I had this as going up on the 27th! My brain is fried! But I do think the interview looks great! And how cool is it that Susan and Laurence are answering questions too!! They are awesome! Wasteland is awesome! And Cari is awesome!!!

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    1. And you're awesome, too, Ellen!!

      Seriously... this has been so much fun and we LOVE Cari's readers! Thanks so much for introducing AND interviewing us... you're the best!

      - Susan & Laurence

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  28. Thank you Ellen for the interview and Cari for hosting!

    What are some of your writing quirks? Any good luck charms?

    A big thanks for answering our questions and comments. Wasteland is definitely now on my to-read pile.

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    1. Are you kidding, Linda? We LOVE hearing from readers!! :-)

      Re. your question:
      Susan: I wear the absolutely most comfortable clothing I can: gigantic T-shirts, sweat pants, old slippers. And I make a giant pot of peppermint tea, which I drink all day. I'm between cats right now :-( but I usually love writing with a cat in my lap, too... VERY inspiring, relaxing, and keeps my head on straight. (Although my cat Claude used to put his chin on the space bar when I wasn't looking...)

      Laurence: I give myself treats at various points, to keep on going. Awhile back, it used to be a cigarette, I'm sorry to say. Now it's a piece of candy or fruit or something less toxic.

      Thanks for asking!

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  29. I'm not sure if this question was asked, but do you listen to music while writing, and if so, what,or do you prefer quiet? I love the premise of the book and will definitely read it!
    Bonnie Hilligoss/bonhill@speakeasy.net

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    1. Susan: I love music, but it's too intense (or maybe I just stink at doing two things at one time!) Not only can I NOT listen to music when I write, I find any noise incredibly distracting and usually write with earplugs.

      Laurence: I find that listening to music before or at a break in writing can be inspirational. But during writing, it slows things down, so I write in silence, too.

      Thanks for your question!

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  30. How do you plot out your stories??

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    1. That's actually the fun part! We spend a lot of time just talking about our characters and their world. If you ever told stories as a kid, you know what that's like... you have ideas and things come to you. We write everything down and of course, it's kind of a mess. But the more we discuss it, the clearer the central story becomes and that becomes our outline. Actually writing it out changes things, too... even after the editor reads it. So the plotting goes on, on some level, all the way until it's finished.

      Thanks for asking, Michele!
      Susan & Laurence

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  31. Great interview, and great book I would love to read it!
    My question I guess would be would you ever like to see your book as a tv show or Movie?

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    1. Sure, Sarah... that would be awesome! :- )

      Thanks for writing in --
      Susan & Laurence

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  32. I can't imagine trying to collaborate with someone else. Do you find that sometimes one of you has more input than the other? Is there a leader and a follower? Is the story based on an idea from both of you or just one of you?

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    1. Very good question, Cindi! In fact, we both take turns... sometimes, one of us has a better feel for a character or has an inspired idea about how a chapter should play out. Most of the time, we're both pretty good about this... although of course, once in a while we both feel strongly about something, and then we have to stop and really talk it through. Or fight. Or in Susan's case, cry.

      (And to be 100% honest, the germ of the idea came from Laurence. But who's counting? ;- ) )

      best,
      Susan & Laurence

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  33. What did you find the most challenging to write in this novel - the hope or despair? I have not read the novel, but due to the subject matter I am guessing both would play an integral part. Thank you for sharing with us and for this treat of a giveaway opportunity.

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    1. Both emotions are challenging, because you don't want to be too depressing or too sappy. The key is to be sincere in portraying both and not to rely on either irony or sentimentality. Super question--thanks for asking, Denise!

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  34. Please enter me in your Kick Butt Characters Hop Giveaway.
    It would be great to win An
    ARC Of Wasteland by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan.
    In response to your question of
    What question would you ask Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan?
    I would ask What made you want to start writing books?
    Thank you for having this giveaway!!!!!!

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    1. Laurence: It's hard to say, but I started making up stories as a small kid, perhaps to alleviate anxiety and find order. Writing books and stories are a private way of expressing yourself, but I like writing scripts to be performed in public, too.

      Susan: I would definitely say loving stories led to making up my own... and I'm talking from a really young age, even before I could read on my own. I started writing in a much more focused way when I was a teenager... mostly because I was bored, to be honest!

      Thanks for asking, Wayne!

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  35. I want to thank Ellen, Susan and Laurence for this wonderful interview and for taking time to answer all the fan questions! One of the best experiences on my blog! A million thanks!

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    1. We had an AWESOME time... you have the best readers, Cari! Thanks to you and the fabulous Ellen Oh for letting us hang out with you guys!

      - Susan & Laurence

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