You know what is exciting? TODAY IS EXCITING. Because I have the bestselling and famous author Michael Grant himself here for a guest post on his writing process! (No I’m not freaking out YOU’RE FREAKING OUT.) I’ve been addicted to Grant books ever since I found the Gone trilogy back 703 years ago. So I’m super excited to be on the blog tour for his latest book FRONT LINES, which is set in WWII and all about the women who served and is, basically, fantastic.
What to expect from today’s glorious post?
- a guest post from Michael Grant (!!!!)
- a review of Front Lines (which is a book that you should eat immediately by the way)
- giveaway of 2 x copies of Front Lines!
An enormous thank you to Hardie Grant for this opportunity!
Michael Grant always been fast paced. He’s lived in almost 50 different homes in 14 US states, and moved in with his wife Katherine Applegate, after knowing her for less than 24 hours. His long list of previous occupations includes cartoonist, waiter, law librarian, bowling alley mechanic, restaurant reviewer, documentary film producer and political media consultant.
Michael and Katherine of have co-authored more than 150 books, including the massive hit series Animorphs, which has sold more than 35 million copies. Working solo, Michael is the author of the internationally bestselling GONE series, the groundbreaking transmedia trilogy BZRK and the MESSENGER OF FEAR series. Michael, Katherine, and their two children live in the San Francisco Bay Area, not far from Silicon Valley.
MICHAEL GRANT’S WRITING PROCESS
First, you need coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. Then you need sunlight, and a nice fat cigar. . . But I suppose you could get by on tea, rain and a lollipop, too. The point being that this post is about how I do it. Me. If you want to write for a living you’ll have to find your own way to do it, because every writer does it their way, and there is only one criterion to judge the success of your method: did it result in a published book and an advance payment? It did? Then whatever you did was obviously right. If it takes sacrificing a goat to Satan to get you through the writing process, well, I understand goat meat is perfectly edible if you season it right, and all the best writers will be in Hell anyway.
So, all that said, this is how I do it:
- I have an idea. Here’s how that works for me. I think, “Hmm, I should be thinking of an idea.” And eventually out pops something like, “Kids turn into animals,” or, “Teen-age Grim Reaper,” or, “Lost with superpowers, or “Women in World War 2.” From there I tease the idea out. I sort of weigh it for story potential. Does it feel like a lot of story? Too much? One book? Three? This is a mix of instinct and experience. You can’t learn the first, you just have to have it. And experience, sadly, involves a whole lot of typing. At this point I do a memory check with some Google help, trying to see if my concept or my title are already out there. If not – and they never have been – I start putting together the Series Bible.
- The Holy Series Bible. It is part brainstorming session, part sales tool, part bluff. Putting it together sort of forces my brain to get to the next level of detail. At this point I’m mostly still convincing myself that I have something, but I do it in a sort of imaginary dialogue with an editor. I guess what she’ll need to hear from me. I guess what she’ll need in order to take this concept into a meeting and make the sale. I anticipate what the sales force will say.
- Step one of the Series Bible is to write a tag line and/or elevator pitch. In a single sentence, what is this concept about? I make it catchy, because again, I’m not just thinking through the book, I’m thinking through the pitch and the marketing.
- Next, I start thinking characters. Certain character ‘slots’ are dictated by the idea of the book. There will be a lead, male or female. The lead will need someone to talk to, otherwise, no dialog. This number two person can be a love interest or a friend. In GONE I built it in groups of three because that gives you a feeling of openness. Sam/Astrid/Quinn. Caine/Diana/Drake. But again, this is not chiseled in stone.
- Anyway, what I do next is start pulling up head shots on Google Images, searching “Teen boy,” “African-American girl,” whatever. (For God’s sake put on Safe Search first, because the first, oh, billion or so hits are not what you’re looking for.) At this point I may have half a dozen characters sort of vaguely in mind, and I’m looking for faces that will make that character pop for me. Other times I discover a face and decide to build a character around the face. This is how Dekka from GONE came to be. Pretty soon I’ve got seventy or eighty head shots or candid’s.
- Now I start building the characters. This is all about detail. I will eventually know a lot more detail about the characters than will be in the book, but for now I’m sketching personalities, feeling my way around this made-up person. I wonder, “How do they dress?” “What’s on the walls of their room?” “What’s on their playlists?” I decide on half a dozen things about the character, and include those in the Bible. I slap in the picture, and add descriptions – physical, psychological, their key relationships maybe. So I sketch for the Bible, but at the same time this person, this made-up person, is starting to take on some weight in my mind. I’m getting to know them. And this is important because Law Number One: character first. I don’t care how much it screws up your plot, or complicates things, always, always be true to the characters. Remember: it’s not you the reader loves, it’s your characters.
- With characters more or less sketched in and growing like little brain tumours in my fevered subconscious, I move on to environment. You thought I was going to say plot, didn’t you? No. Everything you’re writing has to feel real, and the more you’ve thought through the physical setting and the rules that govern your little universe, the more real it feels to readers.
- Now, it’s time to think story. I already have the core concept, I know the layout, I know the main characters, so now it is time to convince my editor that I have some idea what the story is about. Some people are great at outlining. I am not. All my outlines are about 50% b.s. I don’t like outlines, I don’t use them, but editors need something to show in the meeting, so I write an outline. (Only for the first book if it’s a series.)
- Now my Series Bible has a tag line, character pics and descriptions, maybe some pics of locations, maybe a map, and a reasonably convincing outline. Now comes the bluff — I want to convince editors (and myself) that I know what the hell I’m talking about. So I add some sections on where I think your book goes in the market, I prattle a bit about the psychology that undergirds my world, maybe talk space ships or aliens, if I have any of those. Basically, I lard up the Bible a bit to look as if I’ve got it all worked out. I fire it off to my editor and she says, “Okay, but I can’t pay much,” and I say, “Yeah, well, we’ll see about that.”
- Wait, what? I hear you cry. What about agents and submission letters and all of that? Remember how I said this is how I do it? This is how I do it because I’m way into this career by now, and I don’t have to jump through those hoops. But if you’re reading this then you probably do, and I’ll leave that to someone who knows more about it than I do.
- Finally, I have my deal, and now I sit down to write. I start to type. I work maybe three hours a day, not writing in discrete drafts but circling back, again and again, whenever the anxiety builds and I’m feeling the need to fix something. The early chapters have always been re-written many times before I submit, with later chapters being more on-point and thus rewritten less. And about six months later, I’m done.
- Now, I will tell you the secret to why I have been able to get 150 plus books published. It’s not that I am a great prose stylist. I’m not. It’s not that I have a great imagination, though I do, or that despite being a misanthrope I’m told I do well with character. Anyone who makes a living at this has talent, that’s a given. But I also have something very boring: great work habits. I am never seriously late. I never hand in a bad manuscript —I seldom have more than a single, relatively light revision. I never need anyone to hold my hand, and I take complete responsibility for my work. I am, in short, utterly reliable. Never forget: editors are busy and work hard. The easier you make their lives, the longer you stay in this business.
And that exhausts my store of wisdom. Just remember: this is how I do it. Maybe it works for you, maybe not. There’s always still the goat thing to try.
REVIEW OF THE AWESOME FRONT LINES
Every time I see Michael Grant has a new book out, my first thought is always “I NEED THIS IMMEDIATELY.” I’m an entirely hopeless fan of the Gone series and Messenger of Fear. Soooo, I totally was excited to try Front Lines. It did feel very DIFFERENT to all other previous Grant books I’ve read but IT WAS STILL GOOD.
I really loved how it was all focused on the girls. HUZZAH FOR WOMEN. But oh oh it was extremely historically accurate on the sexism — which made it hard to read at times. My heart STIRS WITH RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION. It focuses on 3 girls enlisting (voluntarily!!) into the army and they are constantly given grief for it. And misjudged. And dismissed. AND YET THEY WERE CONTINUOUSLY AWESOME. #heroes
- RIO: She’s probably the mainest of the mainy characters. And she is my favourite…just because she went to war as a naive but well-intending girl, and grows into something tough and sharp edged. Character development = A+
- FRANGIE: She’s African-American and had to battle sexism and racism constantly. I absolutely admire her. She goes the medic route when she enlists.
- RAINY: She’s a Jewish girl who is super super smart and enlists in like the special forces.
It’s VERY warrish. So like tons of lingo and explanations. I enjoyed that part from the historical viewpoint and I felt like a learned a lot. Especially about the conditions and the attitudes and how they trained the recruits. But…it took them 300 pages to even get to the war. So it IS quite slow.
Ultimately: A SOLIDLY GOOD BOOK! It reminded me of Code Name Verity! And while it felt different to Michael Grant’s previous paranormal-ish-horror-ish books, I learnt a lot from Front Lines and I’m just gonna sit here and GAPE at the amazingness of women in WWII, okay?! OKAY.
1942. World War II. The most terrible war in human history. Millions are dead; millions more are still to die. The Nazis rampage across Europe and eye far-off America.
The green, untested American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled—the armed forces of Nazi Germany.
But something has changed. A court decision makes females subject to the draft and eligible for service. So in this World War II, women and girls fight, too.
As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves. Each has her own reasons for volunteering. Not one expects to see actual combat. Not one expects to be on the front lines.
Rio, Frangie, and Rainy will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. They will fear and they will rage; they will suffer and they will inflict suffering; they will hate and they will love. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.
GIVEAWAY? HUZZAH GIVEAWAY!
- 2 x copies of FRONT LINES to win
- Will be sent from the publishers
- AUSTRALIAN only