In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing
victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Michelle Diener is the author of Banquet of Lies, an historical novel exploring the life of a young noblewoman who flees to London to escape a murderer. A perfect book to cozy up with this fall season. Here is what Michelle had to say about reading, writing, and how growing up in KwaZulu-Natal influenced her life.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
My name is Michelle Diener, and I while I now live in Australia, I was born in London and grew up in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I think having to adjust to new places often influences the way I write, and so it’s probably not surprising I love to write about characters who find themselves out of their comfort zone and I also love playing with the theme of people not being what they appear. I currently have five historical novels published, with Banquet of Lies, coming out on October 22nd, being number six, but I have written a fantasy novel based on the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and that should be out at the end of this year.
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?
I like to have a very rough outline before I start writing, and when I get stuck, I tend to get out of it by writing rough scene outlines. I also like to shake myself out of a rut by going to work in the library or in a cafe from time to time, and generally find I get a lot of pages written that way. Baking is pretty essential to my process. When I need to work through a plot point or try to think a way forward for my characters, I will almost always either go for a long walk or bake something.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?
I am reading a book called Between the Wars 1919-1930: The Cartoonist’s Vision by Roy Douglas as part of the research I’m doing for the book I plan to start after the book I’m writing now is done. I usually start researching my next book when I have about 50 pages of my current work-in-progress to go, to get my sub-conscious working on the next book in advance. I love the science fiction works of Iain M. Banks, the fantasy of Terry Pratchett, the romances of Jayne Anne Krentz and the urban fantasy of Patricia Briggs, to name a few. I love to read widely, and always have, even before I started writing seriously. I don’t think my writing has changed the way I read, but it does sometimes get in the way of my reading. I see the constructs and what the author is trying to do more easily, and I absolutely love finding a book that sucks me in and I forget about the mechanics of the work and just enjoy it like a pure reader.
Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?
I love reading while I’m writing, but I find I am hyper-critial, especially towards the end of my book. I’m finishing off a manuscript now and every book I’ve picked up recently I haven’t made it through more than three chapters. I do love re-reading old favorites when I get to this point, though. I also make a point of reading outside the genre I’m writing while I’m busy writing a book.
In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?
I have two children, and I typically get them ready for school and walk them over, and then keep going. I try to walk around four to five kilometres a day. I like to concentrate on what I plan to write that day as I walk. Then I come home, shower and try to jump straight into the writing, but I sometimes have to deal with emails first. I work on and off, with breaks for checking facts in my research until its time to fetch my children in the afternoon. I seldom have a chance to write after this because of after-school activities, homework and then dinner, but I sometimes get more writing in after the kids are in bed.
Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?
For once, this title is totally my idea :). My other books through Simon & Schuster have never ended up being the ones I originally called the book, but this one, everyone loved my title and it stuck.
Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?
I do sometimes dip back into my older work. Some of it still resonates with me, and I think when I have the opportunity, it would be good to totally rewrite it. I have definitely evolved as a writer. I have worked hard to improve my craft, and I like to think I’m constantly working to improve it.
What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?
I read books from the moment I learned how and really have never stopped. I don’t think there was one single moment where I decided I wanted to be a writer, I think it was the feeling of well-being and happiness I got after each great book that made me want to produce that feeling in others. Share the love 🙂
How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?
At the moment I’ve got one book close to completion, another half-done and numerous ones which have the first chapter or so written. When I get a very strong idea for a book, I generally pause what I’m doing and write as much as I can down before going back to my current WIP. I like to concentrate on one book at a time, and at this point, it is more deadlines that dictate what I’m working on. Because I always work out a rough one or two page outline before I start a book, I never go into a book I don’t plan to finish.
Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?
I am lucky to have a number of great writers living near me. Shona Husk, who writes paranormal romance, is a particular friend, as is Christina Phillips, who writes erotic historicals and now paranormal romances as well. Nikki Logan, Leah Ashton, Jennie Jones, Jenny Schwartz and Rachel Johns all write Australian set romances for Australian publishers, and I love getting together with all of them.
Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?
In Banquet of Lies, Giselle, my heroine, was my favorite character to write. She is forthright, perhaps a little impatient and resourceful. She was great to write because she caused quite a bit of conflict in the novel and conflict is always interesting to write.
Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?
I do a lot of research. I research a lot in advance, but then find myself needing to go back and look things up or find out new things as I get deeper into the story.
Banquet of Lies is connected to my November 2012 release The Emperor’s Conspiracy (read my review), with some characters from The Emperor’s Conspiracy making an appearance in Banquet of Lies. The novel I’m finishing off at the moment is also connected, although I don’t have a title yet. I also have a fantasy novel, Mistress of the Wind, which is due out at the end of this year. It’s based on the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Readers of Banquet of Lies will notice how much I love folklore, as I wove it in throughout the novel, and so writing a fantasy based on a fairy tale is a natural direction for me.
Thanks for having me.
About: Michelle was born in London, grew up in South Africa and currently lives in Australia with her husband and two children.When she’s not writing, or driving her kids from activity to activity, you can find her blogging at Magical Musings, or online at Twitter and Facebook.
Photo Credit: Veronika Kahrmadji