Sunday, August 15, 2010

Guest author Maya Reynolds: Translating Your Inspiration

Maya Reynolds is a management analyst living and working in Dallas, Texas. She’s published two romances through NAL, a division of Penguin, and is currently at work on her third novel.

Rosanne Cash is on book tour for her new memoir, Composed. In the past week I’ve heard three different interviews with her on the radio. I was only half listening to her NPR interview with Diane Rehm on Thursday when she said something that caught my attention.

A woman phoned the show, asking for advice as to how she could help her nephew, a budding musician. Cash responded, “The best advice I ever got was, ‘refine your skills so you can support your instincts’.”

She went on to say that great impulse and passion need to be accompanied by a skill set and discipline. She added, “When inspiration comes, you want to have the tools to translate it.”

This is absolutely terrific advice for any newbie artist, including aspiring writers. If you take the time to learn the rules, you can then twist those rules with impunity or even strike out on your own to explore new territory.

I’ve been thinking about this subject quite a bit … ever since I read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy last month. I came late to Larsson’s books, but made up for it by reading all three over a two-week period. In his first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Larsson ignored lots of rules that newbie writers are warned against breaking. He begins with a prologue, he delights in long info dumps, his heroine doesn’t show up until Page 36, and he solves the mystery 150 pages before the end of the novel, throwing off the entire book’s story arc.

But his prologue was intriguing, the mystery absorbing, and I found Lisbeth Salandar to be the most fascinating anti-hero since Hannibal Lector. It also helped that the second and third books were better written than Dragon Tattoo (or at least better representatives of the thriller genre).

Larsson had been writing fiction since he was 17 and earned his living as a journalist. He died at age 50 before the Trilogy could be published. Two weeks before his death, he gave an interview to the editor-in-chief of a Swedish book trade magazine. Six years later, the editor gave an interview of his own to the UK’s Telegraph. In light of the phenomenal success of the Trilogy, that interview offers some interesting insights for writers.

Larsson described the genesis for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. “‘I considered Pippi Longstocking,’ he said, referring to the most famous creation of the Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren … ‘What would she be like today? What would she be like as an adult? What would you call a person like that, a sociopath? … I’ll make her 25 years old and an outcast … That was my original thought.’ That thought evolved into Larsson’s formidable heroine, Lisbeth Salander.”

Later in the interview, Larsson said: “‘A thing that’s bothered me about crime fiction is that it’s generally about one or two people, but there’s not much about society … I want to get away from that particular pattern … In real life, people are integrated into society. That’s what happens in my books, as well … It’s not an isolated universe.’”

As a professional writer, Larsson had the skill set he needed. Although an avid mystery reader, he also had the confidence to ignore the conventions of the genre in order to carve out his own path. During that interview, he referred to the three books as his “retirement fund.” He knew they’d sell although he didn’t live to see them released.

Last month Larsson became the first author to sell over a million e-books on the Kindle. Altogether his Millennium Trilogy has sold 35 million copies in 40 countries.

Develop your skills and then trust your instincts. And never, ever, give up.

Maya Reynolds

Maya's website:
Her blog:
Her Books: Bad Girl; Bad Boy


Liane Spicer said...

Maya, welcome to Novel Spaces!

I can't stress how important I think having the skill set and refining the tools all the time are to any writer. As Charles mentioned in his post on rules a few days ago, you have to know them in order to break them effectively.

When you haven't mastered your tools you make glaring errors. When you do know them, and work at refining them, you develop the confidence to break them to good, even great, effect.

Charles Gramlich said...

I see too many new writers who don't bother with polishing the tools, and that's why some of the self published work out there just isn't up to professional standards. Good post.

Shauna Roberts said...

I heartily agree. I try to read at least one grammar book a year to keep my skills up.

Thank you for a great post.

Farrah Rochon said...

Honing your writing skills is so very important. A lot of people can tell a good story, but craft is what, in my opinion, turns good storytellers into great writers.

And once you learn your craft, you can start breaking the rules as Larsson did. :)

Thanks for dropping in at Novel Spaces!