25
Jul
08

6 Questions with Justine Musk

I have been looking forward to the release of Lord of Bones ever since I found out that there would be a sequel to Bloodangel. And now it’s out, though I’ve been unlucky thus far in my search for a copy. That’s mostly why I’m going to giveaway an ebook copy of Uninvited.

1. On a scale of one to ten, rank your current level of insanity–where ten is belongs-in-lunatic-asylum insane–and tell us why.

Oh God. I’d say I’d range from 7 to 15, depending on the day. I’m going through some tough stuff right now that I’d love to blog about but as a favor to the other party involved will keep entirely private unless given a reason not to. Ahem.

2. Lord of Bones is being released almost three years after your debut with Blood Angel. Care to share us the story of what happened during the interim?

This is kind of a two part answer, so first: My husband and I decided to try and give our twin boys a little baby sister. So again we did the IVF route, this time with sex selection, and instead of one girl ended up with triplet boys. I kid you not. It seems the sex-selection process was faulty. Thankfully my husband is one of those visionary genius types whose talents tend to meet with extraordinary financial rewards, so we have all the help we need – like they say, it takes a village, in this case a village of nannies – but I wrote the first two drafts of Lord of Bones in the last trimester of pregnancy and then while recovering from a C-section, which meant I wrote while stoned on painkillers. I was also nursing the triplets, whom the baby nurses would bring me one at a time, during which I would somehow tap away at my laptop with my iPod plugged into my ears. Not surprisingly, the draft turned out to be terrible. Terrible. I had to throw out about three quarters of it and start over – so instead of a final rewrite I was basically writing a whole new book. On top of that, I had surgery to correct the kind of damage that twins and triplets will do to you physically, no matter how fit you are or how successfully you manage to lose the baby weight. I had a massive hernia, so my stomach muscles had to get stitched back together, and recovering from that took the longest of all. And, of course, more painkillers.
The second part is a lot less dramatic – for whatever reason I went through kind of a dry spell. Writing became difficult and the ideas just weren’t there. I hadn’t really thought of the story beyond BLOODANGEL, except for a few things I knew about the characters and their mysterious connections to each other. The sequel just took an extremely long time to come together, possibly because this time I really was thinking in terms of an actual series and how each book could still be a complete saga on its own while still leading into the next one. In sharp contrast to that, I expect to finish the next book in the series – tentatively called SOULSTICE – within a few months. I knew from the beginning where I need to go with this one.
So while wrestling with story ideas for LORD OF BONES, I went ahead and wrote UNINVITED, which became my second published novel with a different publisher. It was an idea I’d been kicking around since high school and really wanted to get out of my head. I also felt the need to write something short and fast-paced – the kind of book you could finish on an airplane ride – after the epic multiple-perspective plot of BLOODANGEL.

3. Last year, you published a young-adult novel with MTV, Uninvited. At least for me, it was very different, and not simply because it’s a young adult novel. If it didn’t say Justine Musk on the cover, I would not have thought you wrote it. It just reads so differently. It doesn’t read like a YA novel for me either, except that Kelly is in the right age group. So what do you think makes a novel a YA novel versus something else?

It’s interesting that you would say that – UNINVITED is in many ways a book I wrote to and for my much younger self, the same self who dreamed up that story in the first place. Although the villain in that book – who became one of my favorite characters, actually, and I plan to use him again at some point – was in some ways a rehearsal for the villain in LORD OF BONES (although he is a much more dangerous piece of work and not someone I’d ever want to encounter in any way under any circumstances whatsoever).

Some readers really love that book and some readers don’t. BLOODANGEL tends to elicit that kind of reaction too – for the most part the response was extremely positive, but there are readers out there who just hated it. I also have a few friends who just couldn’t handle BLOODANGEL because they found the opening chapters too intense and scary. But at the same time they really did want to read something of mine, so they were happy (or maybe relieved) to get UNINVITED, which one of those friends not only whipped through but emailed me an ongoing commentary of the experience. It was worth writing the book just for that.

In my mind UNINVITED was always a young adult novel, maybe because the protagonist is a teenager and it’s a coming-of-age story, as YA novels usually tend to be in one way or another. And YA novels tend to be short and maybe a bit more linear than adult novels, although certainly not always. Other than that, I never saw much of a difference. Especially in this genre. In fact, when I was a teenager there really weren’t any YA supernatural thrillers – it was mostly realist or problem novels or romances – so you had to ‘read up’ into adult fiction if that kind of genre was what you wanted. And I did.

In fact, it turns out there’s so much reader crossover, or at least seems to be – so many adults telling me they enjoyed UNINVITED and so many teens passing around copies of BLOODANGEL– that there doesn’t seem to be much of a point labeling me one thing or the other. Which is one of the things you learn after you publish – who your audience is, which is not always the audience you expected. For example, I was surprised (and delighted) to hear from so many guys who read my first book. I thought my audience would be mostly female, which doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Which maybe shouldn’t have surprised me so much, given that I actually do write from the perspectives of several male characters, but still. I also didn’t realize that Ramsey would be by far the most popular character, or that the demon Del, who appears very briefly, would get such a great response from readers that I actually went out of my way to figure out how to include him in the next books. Which I’m really glad I did, because he brings a neat dimension to the tale.

4. Since you have twin boys of your own, do you have any insight as to why people are often so fascinated by them? It’s such a common trope in fantasy that I swear that every writer must have written about twins or have an idea filed away somewhere starring twins.

Heh. I’m not immune to that – I play a little bit with the twins trope in LORD OF BONES and when I was a teenager I wrote a novel about twins who can communicate telepathically with each other, and then one of them gets kidnapped. As the mother of twins, I can say that it’s just a neat relationship to watch unfold. There was never a time when either twin knew life without the other – I have a photograph of the two of them, 4 years old, watching TV together on the edge of my bed. The photo is of their backs and how their seated bodies just fit so neatly and nonchalantly into each other, like pieces of a jigsaw. I think it’s that idea of closeness, of intimacy, that really fascinates – it seems natural to imagine that that kind of knowledge of each other extends into the preternatural – they know each other’s thoughts, have a mysterious mode of communication, that kind of thing. Or that they come into the world already made complete by each other. We’re kind of a lonely species, when you get down to it – trapped inside ourselves. The idea of twinship opens up this possibility that maybe there’s this alternative way of being. So behind the sheer fun of the idea – the cool image of it – I think there’s some wish-fulfillment involved about being that strongly connected to another person…or even just the narcissistic fantasy of having this other you walking around.

5. One of the reasons why your blog is such a good read because it’s a mix of you and the people you see, meet etc. Do you think the whole ‘writers are boring’ thing is a cliché, or true most of the time?

Thank you! The blog kind of took on a life of its own. I really thought it would be much more of a writer’s journal, talking about craft, etc. , and maybe it will become more that way. But I’ve always enjoyed describing the people and events I see around me – observing, analyzing. When I was an exchange student in Australia or away at college I would write extremely long, detailed letters to a small handful of individuals. Which is probably, I realize now, when I first started to develop what eventually became the voice of the blog — it’s a very different voice from my novels, influenced by a different group of writers, the sharp-witted social observers like Edith Wharton or F. Scott Fitzgerald or a much more contemporary favorite, Paul Theroux. There’s a part of me that was always drawn to that kind of writing, of bearing witness. So landing in this life in Los Angeles and blogging about the less-private parts of it was inevitable, I think, and took my ‘writer’s journal’ in a completely different direction.

What I want to do at some point is bring both those voices together – the blog voice, the dark-thriller voice – in some fiction. There are a couple of novels I’m planning that are set in an LA milieu based on the one described in my blog and I think those will be a lot of fun. Although I still need to soak up more of LA and the people here and creatively digest my experiences a little more to get some really compelling fiction out of it.

Do I think writers are boring? Not at all. I’d much rather listen to a writer or director talk about a movie than any of the actors who starred in it… a successful writer is someone who spends a lot of time reading and really thinking things through and has the ability to take a personal experience and make it interesting and relevant to other people by finding the universal aspect of it. In contrast, I’ve met people who have lived through experiences that seem so amazing and fascinating…if only they could process, analyze and express those experiences in an interesting way. You can lead an extremely exciting life and still manage to bore the crap out of people…I think the reason why writing about writers has gotten such a bad rap – to the point where one of the ‘rules’ of making fiction is that you’re not, apparently, supposed to write about a character who writes fiction — is because it’s so easy to do it so badly. When it’s done well, I think it’s great. Stephen King wrote one of his best books, MISERY, about a writer, the process of writing…. Writers are a quirky breed with some truly wild inner lives. There’s nothing boring about that.

6. You are one of the most mysterious authors I’ve ever interviewed who has an online presence. If you had to write your bio in five minutes, what would you write?

Here’s the bio I just wrote – in a hurry – for the San Diego Comic Con:

Justine Musk grew up in Ontario, Canada and started writing at age eight when her parents refused to buy her a dog. She entered her self-conscious and perilous adolescence planning to be either an actress, a vet, or a writer of fine literature like the Sweet Valley High novels.

Then she discovered Stephen King.

Thanks partly to a less-than-stellar social life, Justine wrote her first few novels before graduating high school. She attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where she was rejected — twice — from the school’s lone creative-writing workshop, which she didn’t want to join anyway. Really. After living abroad in Australia and Japan she made her way west, as a young woman should, to California. She is the author of the dark-fantasy novels Bloodangel and Lord of Bones, about a race of men and women descended from fallen angels who go to war against demons, and sometimes each other, as well as the YA supernatural thriller Uninvited.

Justine lives and writes in Los Angeles, where she blogs about living and writing in Los Angeles. She also likes to Twitter.

I really do recommend reading her blog, and she’s quite fun on Twitter too–though I am also a Twitter addict and hence understand the liking Twitter part.

As to the contest, the usual rules apply. Comment to enter. Either way, go buy Lord of Bones! There’s going to be a third book!


2 Responses to “6 Questions with Justine Musk”


  1. July 25, 2008 at 1:46 am

    Totally commenting to enter ;-)

    Thanks for the interview, you two, and have a lovely day! :-)

  2. 2 lys
    July 29, 2008 at 1:14 am

    Count me in!


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