I found Hyatt Bass on Twitter, and was thoroughly impressed by her debut novel, The Embers, an honest and compelling look at the tragedies and imperfections of a New England family. Ms. Bass is hard at work on her next novel, but was kind enough to come up for air to answer some of my questions. For more information on Hyatt, visit her website at http://hyattbass.com/.
1. Your stark, realistic portrayal of a family—with all of its angst and flaws—is what most drew me in to The Embers. When you begin writing, do you start with the characters or the plot?
I start with whatever comes to mind, which is usually a random collection of characters, places, situations, and plot-lines. After I’ve spent some time gathering all of these ideas, I start trying to see how I can weave them all together and create a story that works as a whole. Of course I have to throw some things out. But I really enjoy that early part of the process when I am still figuring out what my story is and who my characters are. Then, once I start writing, I often have to stop and flesh out the story and the characters a bit more. So it’s really a situation where the characters shape the story and vice versa, and that continues through the entire process for me.
2. You’ve been involved in film in the past, working as a screenwriter, producer, and director. When did you decide to write a novel? Which form do you prefer?
I actually started writing The Embers as a screenplay. I had just finished my film, 75 Degrees in July, and I thought I’d like to make a film about an unlikely friendship between an adolescent girl and an older man. The whole screenplay revolved around those characters (Joe and Ingrid in the book), but I kept feeling like I wanted to expand upon it, and explore everything I’d written more fully than I felt I could in a screenplay. When I switched to writing the story as a novel, it was really liberating. I was no longer restricted by the page count or by the necessity of telling everything in action and dialogue. Suddenly Joe’s family grew around him, and the book became about that family. I really liked being able to write from each character’s point of view so that the whole thing felt like a sculpture that was constantly turning, allowing the reader to constantly view the story from a different angle. I definitely prefer writing novels and plan to stick with it.
3. Writers in today’s market can no longer just hide in their caves and write. How do you manage social media, marketing, writing, and your life outside of writing? Do you have any routines?
Being online has been a fantastic experience because I’ve gotten to meet so many authors, bloggers, reviewers, booksellers, and other book lovers. It’s a very supportive community, and we all cheer each other on, share writing anxieties, and discuss books we’re reading. The only problem is that it’s so easy to get caught up in conversation online that my writing routine suffers sometimes. I’m trying not to go online now until I’ve finished my writing – or at least a good chunk of it – for the day.
4. As you begin the drafting phase of your second novel, what do you find most challenging? How do you wrestle with the Muse?
The most challenging thing about the second book is that I now know the way my agent, editor, publisher & marketing people think about books, so I’m constantly battling with thoughts about who the book will appeal to, and that sort of thing, which I don’t find very constructive. I try not to judge my first draft, just get it down, and then refine it later – but this time, the judgement keeps creeping in and really slowing me down. As far as wrestling with the muse, I just have to keep writing. Sometimes I feel completely uninspired when I start, and then out of nowhere comes some great idea. It’s a lot about persistence and blind faith.
5. Can you tell me anything about your new book?
Well, I’ve been telling people that unlike The Embers, this new book follows one person and is a love story. But I’m starting to find that the book is changing as I write it… So I’m not sure, it may follow a few different characters whose stories are intertwined. And although there is a large love story component, the book also focuses a great deal on family.
You have a lifelong fan in me, and I wish you much success!
Thank you so much, Erika. That really means a lot. I appreciate it.