Guest Post

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Michelle Ladner Interview, Part 2

Welcome back, Michelle Ladner.

Lyrical Pens is happy to have Michelle Ladner back with us today. Michelle is a wonderful writer who lives in Ocean Springs, MS, with her husband, Bryan, and a lapful of purr-fect cats.

So, tell us, Michelle, who inspires / motivates you to keep on keeping on.

My husband is an incredible support and inspiration. Not only have I gotten to watch him work at a job he loves, which has taught me the importance of doing something in life that you enjoy, but he’s incredibly supportive: financially, emotionally, and motivationally. I’m lucky that way. Writing can feel very selfish at times, especially when you aren’t pulling in a paycheck or you can’t cull together a list of “respectable” writing credentials when someone asks the dreaded, “what do you do” question. The pursuit of traditional publishing is brimming with opportunities for rejection. That can take a toll on confidence and self-esteem. Having someone in my life that understands the scope of the highs and lows is invaluable.
When you’re creating novels, are you a pantser, plotter, or the newest descriptive, pathfinder (a hybrid who creates a very loose outline then ad libs the plot from that)?
I used to think I was a pantser. That process hasn’t generated a lot of completed first drafts for me, certainly not any marketable ones. My draft shelf is littered with first drafts that are missing good structure. That said, I’m not a meticulous outliner. I think the best way to surprise the reader with unexpected turns and twists is to surprise myself while writing. I lose that ability when the outlining is too detailed—I begin to feel married to my plotting decisions once they are fully formed on paper. Pathfinding is the way I’m finding success. I think now that I’ve discovered that I can do both—plot and write organically—I’m finding my feet in the long form. Pathfinding is instilling more confidence in my ability to tell a good story. I hate that I came so late to the hybrid game, but that’s why I never stop being a student of writing. What you hear and the way you hear it can shake something loose in your process that you need to lose or develop.
What has been your biggest writing challenge?
My biggest challenge has always been (and continues to be) getting too far ahead of myself. All the not-actually-sitting-my-butt–in-the-chair-to-write things are many and ever-changing. I tend to worry about the business and the marketability and the agent and the publisher and the eBook and everything else before I finish the story. My focus on that multitude can, and has, paralyzed my ability to write. I have to force myself to remember that it has to be about the writing. The thing that counts the most is to write the best story I can. If I focus on that, the rest will follow.
Do you have a favorite genre? Do you write in more than one and why/why not? What do you read for pleasure?
I like to read a good fiction story. I do read memoir, biographies, poetry, and short fiction, but I tend toward speculative fiction novels. That said, good writing is good writing. And good fiction is good fiction. So I do venture outside the fantasy sub-genres while reading and writing. I love coming of age stories, and YA is a market I tend toward. I like the pacing and structure of a thriller. I like the big ideas and themes in listed and awarded literary fiction. I get a lot of enjoyment reading a racy romance. JANE EYRE is my favorite book. When I write I tend to weave together all the sub-genre elements that inform me. The largest percentage of what I’ve written to date is urban or alternate reality fantasy. I guess that makes me a fantasy writer at heart. I’ve always had an affinity for the fantastical. I was a kid with a lot of imaginary friends, none of which were human—always talking animals or mystical creatures. The human imagination is a wondrous thing. I love that we have the ability to formulate images and ideas that do not exist in our world or personal experience and put it on the page to tell compelling stories. I like to wallow in that experience.
If you were to host a dinner for your favorite authors, who are the six writers you would include? They don’t have to be living.
Charlotte Bronte, Brent Weeks, Rebecca Cantrell, Neil Gaiman, Neal Shusterman, and J K Rowling—and I’d probably insist that we have Thai food.
Thai food could certainly warm up the evening. What’s next for you and where can readers find out more about you and your work?
What’s next? More manuscripts, more rewrites, and more queries and pitches. I hope to get back into the conference circuit in 2015 after buckling down and doing good strong work on a promising rewrite and a couple first draft projects. It’s become important to me that I only solicit them when I am confident they are written well. I do have a published personal essay up on my website so it’s easy to locate.  You can find me at:, and
Thank you so much, Michelle, for visiting Lyrical Pens. Best wishes from our pens to yours for great writing successes in the future.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Interview with Michelle Ladner, Part 1

Today, Lyrical Pens is delighted to present Part 1 of our interview with Michelle Ladner. Michelle is a multi-faceted artist, is a world traveler who lives in Ocean Springs, MS, and is married to Bryan Ladner who is a micropaleontologist. 

Welcome, Michelle. Thanks for taking the time to be with us today. In addition to being a student of all-things writing (which I know you are), tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m pretty lucky in that my daily focus is being a student of writing. My husband works from home and I do what I can to assist him with his business—but mostly I’m trying to develop a writing lifestyle that works. Anyone who balances even just a couple of other responsibilities alongside being a writer knows what a challenge that can be. Outside of writing and reading as much as I can (because I think you have to be a reader to write well), I have a few of other passions: travel, photography, food and wine, paper art crafts, watching films.
Now for something different: Tell us a tidbit about yourself that you haven’t revealed in another interview.
I ate a cricket when I was two. It’s a story my parents loved to tell at dinner parties and family reunions. I like to think my masterwork at the pinnacle of my writing career will begin with that very line: I ate a cricket when I was two.
Love it! That would make a great opening line. Your current work is titled EMMA. What inspired you to write this particular story?
My work in progress EMMA is a story that, in many ways, is a personal one. After a tragedy and some trouble finding a writing project that would stick, I fell upon this idea as a means of self-therapy and the idea took off. Emma is a young psychologically troubled woman who escapes to a fantasy world in order to avoid the demons of her past. In broad strokes it’s a story any creative soul could relate too. But at its heart, it’s a story about the weight and cost of regret.
The first line of a novel is often called THE all-important hook that draws readers (and prospective agents/publishers) into the story. How did you come up with yours for EMMA?
I’m not sure I’ve crafted the first line of any of my novel projects. I agree that first lines carry weight, so I tend not to settle on them until I’ve finished a project. Since I haven’t reached a publication draft, I think it’s still something that could change. But whenever I start a first draft, I tend to try to begin with something that conveys character, tone, and conflict. If I have done all that in the first line, I feel like I can continue. For example: I ate a cricket when I was two.
What method do you use to get to know your characters?
I’ve recently discovered Scrivener (LP note: A software program for writers) and I think it’s a great tool for character development and research, though I haven’t quite settled on how I will utilize it. I tend to write my way into the character, usually writing ten to twenty pages of stream-of-consciousness in the character’s voice that never sees the draft. Grabbing onto the voice of a point of view character is important, and I think the way to settle on it is to write that voice into existence, read it aloud to hear how it sounds then fine tune it. I think it’s also important to keep a character profile on reference sheets or index cards. More than once I’ve forgotten eye or hair color, and it’s a lot easier to fix those details along the way than it is to comb through an entire novel draft to change or even find it.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Great question. I’d say she’s a little bit of Holden Caulfield and Ester Greenwood combined and paired with Juno Maguff and Hester Prynne. So THE SCARLETT LETTER meets JUNO meets CATCHER IN THE RYE meets THE BELL JAR.
Can’t wait to meet her! What do you consider the most important element of a story?
The most important element of story, I think, is character. A reader has to care about whom everything is happening to.
On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing and where?
I’m in the process of a creating a new writing schedule. In the past, I’ve been a bit of a binge writer. I’d write for several days in twelve to fourteen hour shifts. That doesn’t create a lot of life balance and increases burn out. I don’t recommend it. My hope is to get on a three to four hour a day schedule.
I’m trying out new writing spots also. My favorite is my home office desk, in my pajamas. Sometimes I write on my laptop on the living room. That tends to happen when I’m combating insomnia. I’d like to learn to write in coffee shops. What a cliché, right? I think it’s important to learn to write anywhere because sometimes my writing life puts me on the road. Being able to write with a myriad of voices in the bustle of a new environment has proved an important change I need to make in my writer life.

Please join us tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview with special guest, Michelle Ladner.