Monday, August 6, 2012

Meet Michelle Davidson Argyle

Gorgeous Michelle
Michelle Davidson Argyle is the author of several novels, novellas and short stories. Her most recent novel, The Breakaway (YA suspense) was released earlier this year, and Bonded, her omnibus of three fairy-tale retellings, will be released on November 1, 2012. I met Michelle back in January at Marissa Meyer’s author signing for Cinder, and we’ve been fast friends ever since.

Michelle, you write in a wide variety of genres. What drives you to write a particular story, and are you concerned with building a brand for yourself as an author?

I am concerned with building a brand for myself, yes, but it's probably not the type of brand one might expect. I don't necessarily want a brand centered around a specific genre. Instead, I'm interested in building a brand more tightly knit with my name. Fans who love one of my books will most likely find that they enjoy most of the books I write, no matter in which genre they land. I tend to stick with similar themes, a similar voice, and a similar drive for a specific type of character-driven tension. I've always said that I write stories, not genres. In the future, I might stick more closely to one type of genre than another, but I have a feeling I will move in cycles. Publishing, these days, has given freedom for more authors to explore and publish in different genres. I think it's a very exciting time to be writing.

You are married to an actor and have a very cute and active five-year-old daughter. How do you juggle your writing career with being a wife and young mother?

It is very tough, but sometimes I'll look at other stay-at-home mothers who write, and they have many more children than I do. I don't know how they do it. I think everyone functions differently. What has saved me lately is to make sure I meet specific goals every day, and to make those my priority past other basic things like taking care of my family. I have to treat my writing career as just that: a career. That often means telling friends and family I can't do things because I have to work.

Tell me a bit about your process for outlining/structuring a novel, and how often you veer from that as you draft.

I have written seven novels to date and am working on my eighth. I have written every single book differently, including the planning process. Recently, however, I have been sticking with a more streamlined outlining process that seems to suit my style really well. It includes a very loose sort of outlining that is simple to change and does not make me feel like I have put the story in a box. About halfway through the first draft, I almost always end up re-outlining the last half of the book. I don't freak out when this happens. To me, it feels like a natural, more organic process that also gives me direction and structure. Most of my outlines follow a basic three-act structure, but I have veered away from this several times.

You love revising more than drafting (a girl after my own heart). Can you explain your revision process and the things you especially keep an eye out for as you rework your novel?

My revision process includes beta readers (readers who give me feedback on the first drafts). Without them, I'd be a bit lost. I rely heavily on time away from the book, as well, so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes. Revisions always feel a bit stressful, but like a sculptor with clay, I finally have something to work with. That first draft, no matter how much of a mess, is like that piece of clay. It is is something to work with, and that is why I like revising more than drafting. When I rework a novel, I look especially for inconsistencies, plot holes, believability issues, and strengthening my characters as much as possible. I also focus on refining my prose. Getting rid of redundant or confusing phrases, extra descriptions that add nothing to the forward movement of the plot, etc.

What character of your own creation do you most identify with and why?


That is a tough question! I'd have to say I identify with the characters most readers seem to find frustrating. I'm not sure what that says about me, but probably that I put most of my insecurities and issues into my favorite characters because I want to learn something about myself as I write them. One of my favorite characters is Naomi from The Breakaway. She comes off as a very weak character in many ways, but when I step back and view her, I see someone with a more quiet sort of strength than most ... a type of strength that can easily be misunderstood.

You have a large circle of published author friends. How do you strive to not compare yourself to others?


Honestly, it's something I constantly struggle with. It is, however, getting better. As I've watched friends around me succeed, I've realized that success is not getting published. It's not getting an agent, signing a huge deal on a book, or making the NYT bestseller list. Success is me sitting my butt in a chair and writing more books. It's building a fan base impatiently waiting for me to finish my next book. It's selling more and more copies of my work. It's testing myself against myself and writing one better book after another. Anytime I find myself spiraling down too far, I step back and remind myself of what I have, of how far I have come, and that my path is mine and mine alone. Keeping my eyes on my own paper and following my own path is the only way to succeed. And while I'm doing that, I rejoice in others around me doing the same thing.

I love that answer! All right, moving on. If you could travel back in time two years, what advice would you give yourself as a writer?
To never get comfortable with where I am. Good writing always tests the writer, and good writing can only happen with consistent work.

Some of your novels have taken a considerable time to write, while others, such as your latest manuscript, A Curse So Deep, were written in a relatively short period of time. Why have some stories taken longer, and what are you doing to speed up the process?

I think with the more books I write, the more I'm building a sense -- intuition, if you will -- of what will work and won't work. Instead of spending time on a scene that I intuitively know will not work, I simply abandon it and move on. Before, I would have stubbornly written the scene, worked it into the book, ruined several other scenes because of it, and spent at least two weeks in revisions trying to fix it. Another huge factor of writing faster is that I have learned a system of outlining that works best for me. For right now, anyway. The key, I have found, is flexibility. I can't force a book to be written a certain way. I have to listen and allow myself to follow the path it needs, even if that is writing it differently than I have written other books. Listening instead of pushing against my instincts is one of the best things I have learned as a writer.

One more factor in writing more quickly is that I set the goal to write at least 1,000 words a day on the novel, no matter what, until I had a finished first draft. Doing this, I finished the first draft -- including outlining and researching -- in about 14 weeks. It is what worked for that book, but it is far from finished. It still needs some extensive revisions, which are currently on hold for a few reasons.

You self-published a novella, Cinders (which will now be included in a traditionally-published and soon-to-be-released omnibus, Bonded). What drove you to self-publish this story, what did you learn from the experience, and would you do it again?

My publishing story for Cinders is pretty long and involved, but essentially, I wrote the book to self-publish it. It is a novella, and at the time, I did not plan on writing any other novellas to go along with it. It was an experiment of sorts, a way to find out what all this self-publishing hype was about. It was also the first book I had written well enough to put out into the world. At the time, I knew I didn't want to self-publish for my career, but I thought experimenting on a novella was a fun and relatively harmless way to put my foot in the water and see what I could learn. I am a designer, so I designed my own cover. I knew layout from college, and I hired an editor friend of mine to edit it. The entire book cost $1,200 to produce, and I made a total of $1,600 in a 14-month period. So, in all truth, I only made $400. The book sold about 700 copies. It wasn't a huge success compared to many, but it was successful for me at the time. The most successful part is that I found my publisher, Rhemalda Publishing, because of Cinders. You ask if I would do it all over again, and the answer is yes, I would. Through my experience, I learned enough about publishing to say that my knowledge gained through the experience has been absolutely priceless.

What advice would you give to authors seeking publication?

My advice is PATIENCE. So many authors see publication as some coveted brass ring, a sort of prize to be won. In reality, when you reach publication status, you have essentially begun your own business. If you're serious about that business, your journey is only starting, and it's a heck of a lot of work. And yes, it's still starting your own business no matter how you publish (self, small publisher, or large or mid-size publisher). Patience is key because publishing is not the glittering, unicorn-filled, cupcake-eating land so many authors seem to think it is. I think it's important to be properly prepared for the workload publishing can bring on, and not rush into it. The most important thing I have learned -- and not only from my own experience, but friends of mine as well -- is that publishing will not make you happy, even it if makes you rich. Making enough of a living to keep writing is what will make you happy. Notice the phrase "keep writing" in that last part.

Thank you, Michelle! I hope you readers have enjoyed learning more about one of the coolest people I know. To learn even more about Michelle, go to www.michelledavidsonargyle.com or follow her on Twitter via @ladyglamis. Her books may be ordered through any major bookseller or through her publisher's website: www.rhemalda.com

12 comments:

  1. Yay, Michelle! You are so talented and always have the best insights into the publishing world. Great interview.

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    1. Aww, thank you! We all have different insights that are so helpful to each other. I love that we can share them with each other. :)

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  2. Thank you so much for hosting and interviewing me on your blog today! :D

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    1. You're welcome, dear friend! Thank YOU for answering all my crazy questions. :-)

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  3. As usual, you've managed to inspire me and remind me of why I write, Michelle. Thanks for being such a positive advocate of pursuing a passion (definitely writing for me too)! I'm so thrilled for your successes.

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    1. Shannon, thank you! And thank you for stopping by to read. It's so important to remember why we do this because it's such an intense and all-consuming job that requires sacrifices. I want to make sure I'm just making the right sacrifices. :)

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  4. Great Interview and good advice. Glad I stopped in and read it.

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    1. Thanks, Brandon! And thank you for coming by. :)

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  5. Monarch is TOTALLY on my TBR list! In fact I'm adding it to Goodreads right now so I don't forget.

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    1. Angela, thanks for coming by! I really hope you like MONARCH. :)

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  6. Wonderful blog, and great advice. Loved the interview!

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    1. Thanks for reading, and good luck with your writing!

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