Horror Writers Association

Know a Nominee Part Thirty: Kami Garcia

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And so we’ve come to the last edition in this year’s “Know a Nominee” interview series. Thank you to everyone who has followed along, and my deepest gratitude to all of the nominees who have generously shared their time and insights — I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I have. Today’s update features Kami Garcia, nominated in the category of Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel for Unbreakable (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers).

 

 

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DM: Can you please describe the genesis for the idea that eventually became the work for which you’ve been nominated?

KG: After writing the Beautiful Creatures novels, with my coauthor Margaret Stohl, I wanted to stay away from Southern Gothic and the Beautiful Creatures territory. So I set my solo novel Unbreakable in the Washington, D.C. area, where I grew up. Aside from that, I really had no idea what I going to write about. My solution? I took everything I was interested in—haunted places, demons, superstition, voodoo, secret societies, ghost hunting, conspiracy theories, and serial killers—and combined them to create The Legion Series. In Unbreakable, my protagonist, Kennedy, loses her mom and discovers that she was a member of a secret society responsible for protecting the world from a demon. Kennedy has to decide if she is going to take her mother’s place in the Legion and help the other members search for the only weapon capable of destroying the demon.

I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, but I didn’t want to write about a girl who was already brave and strong. I wanted to explore how an insecure and broken girl might react in life-or-death situations that she is completely unprepared for. I’m also a sucker for an ensemble, so the secret society Kennedy joins has four other members—a mechanical engineer who designs their weapons, a hacker and code-breaker, a specialist in protective wards and spells, and a combat fighter. I have zero skills in common with three out of those four characters, and I bet you would be surprised to learn which one is the exception.

 

DM: What was the most challenging part of bringing your idea to fruition? The most rewarding aspect of the process?

KG: I love research, and one of the reasons I gravitate toward urban fantasy is because I enjoy blurring the line between fact and fiction. Unbreakable and the upcoming sequel, Unmarked, both required an insane amount of research—some of which will most likely land me on at least one government watch list. The topics I dedicated the most time to were: haunted places located on the East Coast; ghost hunting equipment and procedures; the history of secret societies, the Illuminati, and the Vatican; demonology; Haitian Creole voodoo; and concept weapon design (luckily, my husband made video games for years and my little brother still works on the Call of Duty games, so they were really helpful in that area). While I love research, I’m superstitious and afraid of everything (including ghosts and haunted houses); terrible at math, puzzles, and codes; and I can’t even assemble a Lego set—so some of the research required research of its own.

The most rewarding part of writing Unbreakable was the fact that I got to write about so many topics that interest me. After writing four novels and an e-novella with a writing partner, Unbreakable was the first novel I wrote by myself, which was also a huge sense of accomplishment.

 

DM: What do you think good horror/dark fiction should achieve? How do you feel the work for which you’ve been nominated fits into that ideal?

KG: To me, the best (and most terrifying) horror novels are the ones that feel like they could actually happen. When you ground at least some aspect the story in reality, it’s much easier for readers to imagine the situation—and fear it. Reading dark fantasy and horror offers us a safe way to experience and explore our fears. It’s the ultimate dress rehearsal for worst-case scenario situations, at least for someone who is scared of everything like I am.

 

DM: I’m curious about your writing and/or editing process. Is there a certain setting or set of circumstances that help to move things along? Where do you often find yourself getting stuck, and why?

KG: I didn’t start out as a writer. I was a teacher for seventeen years, but I was an art major in college before that, so I’m very visual, and the inspiration for my books and stories always begins with imagery. I collect photos, artwork, quotes, pages from books—basically, anything that inspires me—and create a huge inspiration board on one wall of my office (and my Pinterest boards online). Right now, that wall is about 4’x7’, and it’s covered with imagery for Unbreakable and The Legion Series. Once I can visualize the mood and the setting, my characters begin to form in my mind. As I learn about my characters, more images go up on the wall, and I start writing down everything I know about them—from their greatest fear and deepest wound to the kind of music they like and how they dress.

I start with the plot when I’m building a story, and I rely heavily on a beat sheet and an outline process that’s a hybrid of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, and James Scott Bell’s methodology in his book Plot & Structure. (In the end, for me, everything ultimately boils down to the hero’s journey and Star Wars.) Once I have an outline, I put everything on index cards so I can move the pieces around, because my outline always ends up changing. Then I start drafting, and I’m pretty linear. I’m not a great typist; I use three fingers that sort of float above the keyboard in what has been described by some of my friends as creepy. Or, I handwrite everything and beg my brilliant part-time assistant to type it for me. Must-haves: I’m a laptop girl (Mac, not PC); noise-cancelling headphones, Diet Coke, and a lot of Baskin Robbins ice cream.

Usually, when I get stuck, it means something isn’t working. I type “WRITE STUFF HERE” in that spot and move on to the next scene. I’ve also found that switching to longhand helps because it makes it harder to stop and edit, which forces me to keep writing.

 

DM: As you probably know, many of our readers are writers themselves. What is the most valuable piece of advice you can share with someone who may be struggling to make their way in this life?

KG: Here’s the best writing advice that I’ve been given and I like to pass along:

1. Writers write. Being a writer has nothing to do with getting published or selling books; it has to do with writing. If you want to be a writer, you have to write, and if you want to become a better writer, you have to write A LOT.
2. Reading is equally important. The best writers I know read as much as they can. I was a teacher and a reading specialist, so I actually fell in love with books and reading long before I became a writer.
3. You don’t need an MFA or a fancy degree to be a writer. You just need an idea and a pen (and hopefully you’ve dedicated some time to learning your craft, even if it’s not in a college classroom).
4. Don’t wait for the muse. Just like there is no magical college degree or set of experiences that makes you great writer, there isn’t a muse that descends down from the writing heavens and sprinkles magical ideas all over you. Most of the writers I know (including me) struggle with ideas and self-doubt as they write. None of them have a muse, but if you do, please send her to my house.

 
DM: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Bram Stoker Awards/WHC?

KG: I am a huge geek and a science fiction, fantasy, and horror fan. One of the first things I did when I started writing professionally was join HWA and SFWA. The idea of voting on the Stoker, Hugo, and Nebula Awards, which feature so many authors I love and whose books and stories I’ve taught, is truly an honor. I’m looking forward to attending the convention and meeting the community of writers whose work I love reading. It feels like I’ve been invited to a dark party full of people I can’t wait to hang out with.

 

most valuable piece of advice you can share with someone who may be struggling to make their way in this life?

KG: Here’s the best writing advice that I’ve been given and I like to pass along:

1. Writers write. Being a writer has nothing to do with getting published or selling books; it has to do with writing. If you want to be a writer, you have to write, and if you want to become a better writer, you have to write A LOT.
2. Reading is equally important. The best writers I know read as much as they can. I was a teacher and a reading specialist, so I actually fell in love with books and reading long before I became a writer.
3. You don’t need an MFA or a fancy degree to be a writer. You just need an idea and a pen (and hopefully you’ve dedicated some time to learning your craft, even if it’s not in a college classroom).
4. Don’t wait for the muse. Just like there is no magical college degree or set of experiences that makes you great writer, there isn’t a muse that descends down from the writing heavens and sprinkles magical ideas all over you. Most of the writers I know (including me) struggle with ideas and self-doubt as they write. None of them have a muse, but if you do, please send her to my house.

DM: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Bram Stoker Awards/WHC?

KG: I am a huge geek and a science fiction, fantasy, and horror fan. One of the first things I did when I started writing professionally was join HWA and SFWA. The idea of voting on the Stoker, Hugo, and Nebula Awards, which feature so many authors I love and whose books and stories I’ve taught, is truly an honor. I’m looking forward to attending the convention and meeting the community of writers whose work I love reading. It feels like I’ve been invited to a dark party full of people I can’t wait to hang out with.

 

 

 

About Kami Garcia
Kami Garcia is the #1 New York Times bestselling co-author of the Beautiful Creatures & Dangerous Creatures series & the author of the instant New York Times bestseller and Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel Unbreakable, in the Legion Series. The sequel Unmarked releases on September 30, 2014.
Kami is fascinated by the paranormal, and she’s very superstitious. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found watching disaster movies, listening to Soundgarden, or drinking Diet Coke. She lives in Maryland with her family, and their dogs Spike and Oz (named after characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Learn more about Kami and her books at www.KamiGarcia.com & www.TheLegionSeries.com and follow her on Twitter: @kamigarcia.

 

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