Thursday, 8 December 2011

An interview with Ardyth DeBruyn

I'm very happy to be able to post another interview today, this time with Ardyth DeBruyn, a superb writer I met through Critique Circle. She's a Children's/Young Adult writer and take it from me, her books are well worth having a look at. I've included some links at the end of the interview. Don't go away without checking them out, will you? 

So who is Ardyth DeBruyn?
I’m the oldest of eight children, born in Portland, Oregon, USA. I come from an incredibly creative family. My mother (Monica DeBruyn) was a children’s book illustrator in the 1970s. My father is a composer and hymnal editor. And two of my brothers have done illustration work for my novels.

I got my college degree in Anthropology and am fascinated by other cultures. I’ve walked about 2000 km of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage trail across Europe and the subject of my thesis for graduation. If I ever have the money, I’d love to do something like that again, but in some new part of the world I’ve not seen yet.

As far as jobs that aren’t writing, I’ve worked with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Currently though, I’m writing full time.

When did you decide that you wanted to become a writer?
I’ve always loved storytelling, but most of my early storytelling was in drawings or orally as a child. I found writing laborious. The ideas would flash out of me and my pencil couldn’t keep up, so it wasn’t worth it. I would entertain my younger siblings with stories aloud instead or spend hours imagining them in my head.

After I finally learned to type properly for school papers in junior high my essay writing rapidly improved, but for some reason I kept writing all my fiction by hand, I don’t know why. Perhaps because I’d always done it that way. While I wanted to write fiction, I still found it slow and frustrating, although I managed over 100 pages of handwritten novel in a notebook.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered that I could not only write fiction on a computer, but it actually worked better that way. Then again, I also actually owned a computer for the first time as well instead of being forced to share one with my siblings, so that might have had something to do with it.

While I always loved storytelling and wanted it part of my life, for years I always thought of it as a hobby. It wasn’t until much later I decided I wanted to be a career author. That happened when I went on a field study after college to gear up for going to grad school. Instead of learning Spanish during my study, I wrote two children’s novels in all my spare time, and decided to put grad school on hold indefinitely and pursue writing instead.

Has there been any one person/writer who has influenced you more than any other?
I would say George McDonald. My parents loved all his writing and named me after the title character in “The Princess and the Goblin” (my middle name is Irene). I grew up constantly listening to his fairytales and novels. With all that, it was natural that as a storyteller I wanted to be just like him. The greatest compliment I ever received in a critique group was when one of my crit partners spontaneously compared my writing to his. I aspire to reach someday his sense of wonder and depth of meaning and characterization.

Can you tell us a little about your books?
My first novel is “Chosen Sister” and centers around the relationship between a brother and sister. When a rather traditional looking Gold Wizard announces to their village that Austyn is the child warrior, big sister Reina is both jealous and afraid for him. He’s only six, and she’s suspicious the wizard isn’t capable of taking care of him. Trouble is, it’s “against the rules” for anyone to go with him. Austyn, in typical six-year-old brilliance, throws a crying fit about how scared he is, clinging to his sister, in front of the whole town. Naturally the impatient wizard allows her to come along to help take care of him. It turns out things are even more suspect than Reina originally thought.

I wrote this novel for my baby sister as a present originally, but I drew more on my own experiences as an older sister to write it. I often felt out-matched by them artistically, which is my inspiration for Reina’s jealousy over Austyn’s magic, but the moment they were in trouble I’d be right there, willing to beat someone up on the playground to keep them safe from bullying.

My second novel “A School for Villains” is about a boy whose father decides to send him to Dark Lord Academy, to become a villain. Danny’s older brother inherits the family business, and his younger brother gets to be a hero, because that’s only open to third sons. Danny doesn’t like the idea of being a villain, but he doesn’t figure out how to get out of it fast enough, and ends up at the school. Getting in, however, is a lot harder than getting out.

I wrote this one because I loved “Harry Potter” but also couldn’t resist poking fun at all the typical fantasy cliches. Satire has always appealed to me and many of my books have satirical elements (all those colored wizards in “Chosen Sister” are a nod to “Lord of the Rings”) but here I let myself go whole hog with the satire and run away with it. I had a great deal of fun.

Why children’s/Young Adults books?
First, because I never grew out of fairy tales, animal stories, and Newberry winners. As I grew older, my tastes widened to include young adult books and the occasional adult novel, but I always check out the children’s section of a library or bookstore first. It’s natural to want to write what I enjoy reading best.

Second, because I love children and want to inspire them in creativity and learning and books seem a natural way to do that. While I donate to literacy causes and spend volunteer time teaching children, there’s nothing quite so special as inspiring a child through a story and touching their imagination.

Why did you decide to publish an ebook?
I was pursuing traditional publication, and got back my first agent rejection of a partial request. In a fit of dissatisfaction, I thought, well, my next novel will be better, what don’t I need an agent for? I sent it off to an epublisher, expecting another rejection. To my surprise, three days later they asked if I’d like to sign with them. I’d only been half-serious, but when I looked into it, I realized that ebooks were a growing market and I decided I’d try epublishing as well as traditional publishing and decided to let them publish the book.

I decided to go indie with this section book because I wanted more control of the art in the book, not just the cover but to have pictures inside the book like a print middle grade novel would have. Art, however, is expensive, so I might go with an epublisher for some of my other work, depending on how it goes.

What, in your opinion, makes a good book?
I think at its core, it’s a story that sticks in your head and doesn’t let you forget it for some reason. The reason varies from novel to novel… the vivid world it creates, the fascinating ideas it raises, the dynamic characters and personalities, or the exciting plot, but something about the novel is remarkable.

I don’t think it has to be the same aspect for every novel, which is why it’s so hard to define at times what makes a good book. It doesn’t help that taste also is a large part of that. For example, I love “Harry Potter,” but found “Twilight” awful. Both books were hugely popular, so if you look at sheer numbers, lots of people would call both a “good book,” but I’m only able to call the first one a good book from my experience with reading them.

I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to define what helps make a book good, I think the final and most important ingredient is that it resonates with you in that unforgettable way. From listening to “Twilight” fans, I get the impression it was the characters that really gripped most readers, and they didn’t me, but it sounds like that’s the aspect of the book that was strongest. While I feel like “Harry Potter’s” strength was the world building… all those delightful descriptive and satirical moments that made the world come alive.

Where do your ideas come from?
My brain is constantly busy looking for ideas. Whenever I have a spare moment it starts playing around with an existing novel or coming up with brand new ideas. Conversations, experiences, an interesting view, artwork, just about anything can morph into a new idea. Sometimes debating what I like or don’t like about a book or movie I just saw can inspire me. I keep lists of ideas on my computer, waiting for enough other ideas that fit to get mashed together into enough to make a novel. Usually I need several ideas woven together to be ready to write a book. I have never had a lack of ideas.

What other writing projects do you have under way?
Too many. My latest rough draft from Nanowrimo is a middle grade novel entitled “Mortal Friends.” It’s about a goblin who becomes friends with the captive Princess he is supposed to be guarding. But I haven’t decided if I’m going to edit next or let it sit and go back to working on my historical YA novel, “Paladin Honor” which I’d like to start querying next year. There’s at least five or ten or twenty other things I’d also like to get to.

I tend to have a do everything approach with a whole list of novels I’d like to finish and have various plans and hopes for. I also want to write a sequel to “A School for Villains” this coming year and publish it as an ebook.

What do you most like to do when you’re not writing?
I assume for enjoyment… not things like laundry, cooking dinner, and driving my husband to and from work. Mostly reading. I read quickly and if I let myself I’ll read several books a day and not do anything else, so I limit myself. If I’m not reading, I’m likely role-playing, doing cooperative writing projects for fun, or critiquing other people’s books. As you can see, writing themed items tends to take over my life! When I have money, I go cruising second-hand stores for interesting items. I do a little bit of art, mostly wychinanki, which is Polish papercutting, and enjoy hiking.

Thanks for having me on your blog!

Thanks for being on my blog Ardyth! If you'd like to check out Ardyth's work, here are some useful links -

A School for Villains:
Chosen Sister


Margie said...

Wonderful interview...thank you Ardyth and Katie. Now I have some more books to add to my pile. Retirement is looking better and better.

Kate said...

Thanks for visiting, Margie. You'll definitely enjoy Ardyth's books!

Krispy said...

Thanks for the interview, ladies! I met Ardyth through Critique Circle too, and it's great to see her work out there. :)

Julia Hones said...

Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

Kate said...

Thanks, Krispy and Julia!