Today we’re welcoming Dannie Morin to the Greenhouse family! I’m thrilled to be working with Dannie on her debut y.a. ARROW & NIGHT, a rad, gender-flipped contemporary retelling of Robin Hood set on the U.S. / Mexican border.
Yeah. I KNOW.
Dannie is an addictions therapist by day, as well as a freelance editor, book blogger, and regular mentor/co-host in Brenda Drake‘s pitch contests. You can check out Dannie’s blog here, and follow her on twitter.
When and how did you start writing?
Dannie: I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. In early elementary school I won some sort of writing contest and had my epic ten-sentence story “How the Dog Got His Tail” published in the school anthology (complete with illustrations of tailless, stick-figure dogs). I wrote my first novel–an unabashedly shameless boy band fan fiction–in fifth grade. It was a big hit with my best friend and about five girls in my homeroom class. All through school I was involved in writing—the first writer on my middle school newspaper staff to ever have an article banned by school administration, editor for my high school’s literary magazine, and that token obnoxious freshman in my upper-level creative writing classes in college. It wasn’t until I married my husband that he suggested I was serious about it. So I got serious about it.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
The first book I remember connecting with was THE UGLY DUCKLING. And it’s sort of a perfect metaphor for writing, isn’t it? When we start writing we have no idea where we belong, what we’re doing, who we are. And once we figure it out, writing life is pretty awesomesauce.
When I was a little older, I had this amazing teacher, Mrs. Altenburg, who read books aloud to us that were way too advanced for our reading level. We would lie around on the floor in her classroom and listen to her read and it was absolutely my favorite thing about school. So I got really into THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA in third or fourth grade. I was convinced there was a world hidden inside my closet. It turns out it was just a bunch of old dance recital costumes and broken tap shoes. But I loved C.S. Lewis’ world-building.
Can you talk us through the writing of ARROW & NIGHT? What were the key moments?
I’d wanted to write a reimagining for a while but I also wanted to stay true to who I am as a writer—gritty contemporary and maybe a little controversial. I was at SCBWI Carolinas about a year ago when the idea of a Robin Hood retelling set at the US/Mexico border popped into my head, fully-formed. I spent October 2013 plotting and wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo. That was as exhausting as it sounds, so I put it away for about four months before I started revising. I started querying in August and here we are.
Was it hard to get an agent?
I actually wish there was less focus on that phrase in our community—“get an agent.” It’s more important that you find the right agent for you, who can champion your career and not just one book. Not any agent can do that. The harder parts of this journey have been finding the right agent who not only falls in love with the book I’m pitching, but gets me as a writer. Someone I can see myself building a career with, a partnership that’s going to last for a long time. And I am so stoked to have found that in John Cusick. But it wasn’t easy. Finding the right agent is something entirely different from writing itself, and for me it took a sort of bravery that was definitely outside my comfort zone. And maybe a little magic and fate and higher powers and whatnot, too.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time?
My writing time fluctuates. I work a full-time job ten months a year. I also have a two-year-old and I do some freelance writing and editing as well. Basically I don’t sleep. Seriously though, I write when I can. I think the biggest advantage to being a plotter is that I can write a story completely out of order as the mood strikes, and it makes sense when I put the puzzle pieces together at the end of the draft. So if I please the traffic gods and make it to a meeting 20 minutes early, I’m on my phone dictating narrative into Evernote or frantically typing an email to myself before I forget a bit of dialogue that struck me. Probably 25 percent of ARROW AND NIGHT was written on my phone in spare moments. And I’ve been known to roll over in the middle of the night, draft a scene, and not remember doing it when I wake up in the morning. But I’m also blessed to have the most amazing husband who supports my writing 500%. He takes our daughter out every Sunday, and I get a couple hours of solid writing time. And my kid is pretty awesome, too. She’s a great sleeper, so I have some time between her bedtime and my bedtime most nights. But I have to be the one to dedicate that time for writing.
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
Don’t worry about what other writers are doing. Your journey is yours. Keep writing. Keep reading. And when it comes to querying–do it scared.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?
Plot structure–Before I started taking publishing seriously, I thought a needed a beginning and an end and what happened in the middle was pretty much anything goes. A few years ago I discovered Larry Brooks’ series on story architecture and it has truly changed the way I think about plot. It was a lot to process and digest but my writing is ten thousand times stronger for it.
Voice–I’ve read in a few places that voice is something that can’t be taught, but I disagree. Or at least I think it can be learned. One of the things I hear from my CPs is that I have great voice, but that definitely was not always the case. I used to think voice was something that characters had, the ways they spoke in dialogue, but not something that was important in narration. I think becoming a more intentional consumer of kidlit really helped me in that respect.
Balancing backstory and forward momentum–One thing I still struggle with is remembering that the reader doesn’t need to know everything I know about a character. I make a lot of notes on characterization before I start writing. And I used to try to incorporate as many of those notes as possible into the story itself, which leads to mass quantities of infodump and unnecessary backstory. I was reading an interview JK Rowling gave and she was talking about Dean Thomas’ parents, whom you never really hear about in the books. But not knowing those things didn’t negatively impact Rowling’s storytelling. It just gave her something interesting to talk about in interviews.
Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?
I would love to have dinner with Matthew Quick. He has the most fantastic characterization and voice skills and he gives voice to people who need more heroes like themselves in books. I think dinner with Rae Carson would be a blast. She’s so funny and personable and I love, love, love her world-building skills. It would be fun to have dinner with John Green, too, because we both ‘did time’ in Winter Park, Florida growing up, and because his deep empathy and understanding of adolescents is so apparent in his writing.
As for a character I wish I’d invented, the storyteller is as important to making the character unique as the character’s personality and quirks and motivations. If anyone but Veronica Roth wrote Tris Prior, she wouldn’t be Tris Prior. But if I had to pick, I would probably choose Dolores Umbridge. She is so wonderfully obnoxious—the sort of antagonist you love to hate—and I really think it would be fun to plug her into various scenarios and torture her to the delight of readers.