This first interview is with Laural Hong. She had to interview someone for a school assignment and wisely chose Rushton!
How hard is it to publish a book?
Here are the hard parts and the easy parts: (Mind you, these are just "hard" and "easy" as I see the world. Someone else might see it the other way around.)
Hard: Getting people to take you seriously. When you say "I'm going to publish a book," people treat you like you're a five-year-old who just said "I want to be Batman." For some reason, people see it as a "dream." I view it as a job. Books are like roads and buildings. They are things people use, and building one is a form of employment, not a dreamy little fantasy. So get away from the people who won't take you seriously and find those who do.
Easy: The printing of it. Getting a book printed is like ordering a pizza. Major publishing companies want you to believe that publishing a book is like planning a trip to the moon. It's not. They just want to own your work and take all the money it makes. The publisher's part is rather simple, actually. You type the book into your computer; set it up in the proper format; transfer it onto a CD and send that CD to a print shop. A month later the print shop will send you several dozen boxes full of books. I even found this easier, as I had a brilliant typesetter, who knew all the right computer formats.
Hard: the proofreading; getting the thing perfect. You read your book twenty or more times, start to finish, and get all the spelling and grammatical errors fixed. (Remember: Your computer can tell you when a word is misspelled, but it can't tell you when you've used the wrong word in the wrong place! If you said "Superman is form Krypton," instead of "Superman is from Krypton," your computer won't correct you!) Finding errors is maddening! I had four very intelligent people read my book before I had it printed. They all found six or seven mistakes... six or seven different mistakes! None of my four readers found the same mistakes. And then I found several more. Proofreading is definitely the hardest part. And it's the most important part. If your book has mistakes, it looks cheap and laughable. Remember what I said about people not taking you seriously? Well, you have to prove to those people that you know your craft. So know your craft. Learn your grammar. Learn what a semi-colon is for.
Hard: When publishing your own book you also have to set up a business. This was something I had to learn and I'm still not very good at it. I'm bad at math and numbers, but my bankers are nice people and they help me out a lot.
Is writing a solid career?
Absolutely not. But what is? My father was an airline pilot. I always thought that was a solid career, but what do I see now? Airlines are going bankrupt; pilots losing their jobs. Nothing is a solid career. Writing is just as shaky as anything else, so be the best you can possibly be. Don't squander time. Make your days count. Work constantly. Be organized. Learn, learn, learn. Get better every day. Don't goof off.
Is it hard when you start out as an author?
Yes. There's not exactly a place to start. I learned my craft by writing plays for a theatre company, and this is something I highly recommend. Writing plays teaches you how to write dialogue (something most novelists -- even the famous ones -- are lousy at!) and it teaches you to write with a deadline. Plays are known for having deadlines. They can't change opening night! Being a playwright taught me to finish things. Most novelists can't get past chapter five in the book that claimed they were dying to write!
What are the education requirements?
None. The only requirements are those that you put on yourself, so make them tough requirements! No school is going to teach you to be a writer. Only you can educate yourself in this. So it's important to read books. And DO NOT make the mistake of reading books to learn how to write! You read books to learn how NOT to write. Read Tolkien, Lewis, Dickens, Shakespeare, Hardy -- all of them, and see what they did WRONG. This is your education. If you can't spot the points where Shakespeare was a lousy writer, then you'll never spot the problems in your own work.
As far as formal education: It's important to know your language inside and out. You have to know grammar perfectly and have a vast vocabulary. If you can do this on your own, great. If you would rather take a college class in English, then do so. But never let a professor tell you that Shakespeare is perfect! Shakespeare's wonderful, but he wrote some really stupid stuff, and if you refuse to see it, then, as I said before, you'll never see your own mistakes.
What required skills are needed?
Know your language. Some young, smart-aleky writers think "I don't need proper grammar, 'cause I'm not writing classical poetry! I'm going to write like real people talk!" Wrong! That's a writer who is born to fail. If you want to write like real people talk, then you need grammar more than anyone! Real people naturally talk in broken sentences, and you have to know when to use a dash, a semi-colon, a comma. It's a craft you need to learn.
Most importantly: You need the ability to set deadlines for yourself. People who want to be "loose" about their writing are never going to get anywhere. I've met way too many people who have written the first five chapters of a book, but nothing after that. They haven't finished it and they never will, because they have no plan. What gets me to finish a book is that I have it outlined and planned out before I start. I know how it's going to end, and I can't wait to get to the ending! I want to write that ending! This helps me speed right along.
You have to be able to daydream in order to write. Let your mind wander. Fantasize. Then you have to be able to shut that daydreaming off and get down to business. You have to have a brain that daydreams on one side and organizes on the other. If you're all organization, then your work will have no spark to it. If you're all daydreams, then your work will never be structured... if you manage to finish it at all!
What do you usually write about?
My favorite topics are childhood (mine was wonderful), the woods (that's where I spent my childhood), rejuvenation (everything can be repaired or reborn in some way), eternity (living forever is a major goal for us all!), heroes (I love those who dive into danger and rush to the rescue!) and... kissing. I simply can't write a book without that sweet agitation of wanting to kiss someone and being too scared to do it. Romance is my favorite topic, especially a romance that the characters hold secretly inside their souls. Love is such a great topic because it changes your characters. It makes them do things they wouldn't otherwise do. It leads them into contradictions, which, in turn, makes them real people.
Why do you write?
The stories I write are all things I came up with in my childhood. Writing them is a way to keep my childhood fantasies alive in my mind. I get to have the same daydreams I had when I was 10. How cool is THAT? (Of course, I said that publishing is a job and not a dream. This is true. Publishing is serious, nuts & bolts stuff. But, writing is where you get to live your dreams. I publish my own work so no one will mess with my dreams and wreck them!)
If you could do another line of work, would you? Why or why not?
I would be an actor. I'm pretty darned good at that, I've been told. It's another form of daydreaming, pretending and storytelling.
I may have more questions later.