We are thrilled to introduce Marissa Meyer, long-time Wrimo and YA fiction writer, who joins us to talk about her debut novel, Cinder, which came out in January from Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan.
Can you tell us a bit about Cinder?
Of course! Cinder is a retelling of the classic Cinderella story, but with a science-fiction twist. Our heroine, Cinder, is a sixteen-year-old cyborg, meaning she’s part-human and part-machine. In a world where cyborgs are considered second-class citizens, Cinder earns her keep in her stepmother’s household by working as a mechanic at the weekly market. Her reputation brings the handsome Prince Kai to her booth one day, and soon Cinder is caught in a political battle of wills between Earth and the Lunars—an evolved species of humans who live on the moon and have developed powers of mind-control and manipulation.
Cinder is the first of what will be a four-book series called The Lunar Chronicles, each of which is inspired by a different fairy tale. Book 2: Scarlet, based on Little Red Riding Hood, will be out in January.
What’s the connection between NaNoWriMo and Cinder?
The first three books in The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress) all started life as NaNoWriMo novels. Actually, they were all drafted out during a single NaNoWriMo. It was 2008 and I had heard about a contest in which the Seattle-area writer who clocked in with the most words during November would win a walk-on role in an upcoming episode of Star Trek. Being both a geek and a chronic overachiever, I knew I had to give it a shot, so I ended up writing the drafts of three novels instead of one. My grand total was 150,011 words. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to win the contest (I came in third place!), but at least I finished with three novels that I was really excited about.
How did you come to find out about NaNoWriMo, and what convinced you to participate?
I wrote Sailor Moon fanfiction for many years, and early one December I decided to start posting my daily word count goals on my blog as a method for motivation. A friend commented that it was too bad I’d just missed NaNoWriMo, and I was like, NaNo-what-o? So she pointed me to your Web site and I immediately started looking forward to the following November when I could join in the festivities. (I would take part and finish two NaNos prior to the one in which I wrote Cinder.)
How complete was your book by the end of the event?
I’d finished the first draft, and then some. Cinder came in at around 70,000 words, the second novel (Scarlet) was right around 50,000, and then I’d gotten 30,000 haphazard words into Cress. However, all three of those novels have had to be completely scrapped and started over from scratch during revisions—which is just fine by me. I may not produce anything of quality during NaNoWriMo, but I always come away with a great roadmap.
What is your writing practice like? Do you tend to plot your writing in advance or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants?
These days, I’m a neurotic outliner. I’ll spend weeks, or even months, brainstorming and plotting and rearranging notecards and making character-arc charts and, just recently, playing around with the color-coding features in Scrivener. Then I start writing. Ironically, everything usually ends up changing about a third of the way through the draft and I have to revise my outline as much as I revise the actual book.
What lessons did you learn from revising Cinder that surprised you? Any revision regimens you swear by?
Although I had some experience revising stories during my fanfiction years, I wasn’t prepared for how much work would go into making something truly publishable. But I’d heard all the statistics about querying agents and going on submission and how difficult it is to get published, so I knew that I didn’t want to send Cinder into the world prematurely. It was important for me to know I’d written the best book I could in order to give it a good shot at success, which in the end took almost two entire rewrites, six or seven revision rounds (including being seen by eight beta readers), and countless polishing and editing drafts.
One revision tactic that’s worked for me is, once the plot is feeling solid, say after the second or third draft, I grade the suspense level of each chapter on a scale of 1 to 10. If there are any chapters beneath a 5 or a 6, I find a way to delete them or increase the tension. I also check that 8s and 9s are followed by calmer “reaction” scenes, or even a comedic interlude, so readers don’t feel frazzled from suspense overload. And of course, if the ultimate climax scene isn’t a 10, there’s a problem.
What was the process of shopping this book like?
After all that time spent polishing it, the submission process went surprisingly fast. I started querying in mid-August 2010, and two months later I had offers of representation from three agents, including the very first agent I’d queried, who I then signed with. She and I worked on our submission package for about two weeks and she sent it to publishers on a Friday afternoon. We had our first offer the following Monday, which happened to be November 1, exactly two years from the day I’d started writing Cinder. A week later, the series went to auction before we accepted the offer from Macmillan’s Feiwel & Friends. From first query to book deal was just under three months, and what a dizzying three months it was!
Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year?
I hope so! I couldn’t participate last year due to my first real deadline, but if all goes well, I’ll be joining in this year with a brand new novel. I have a few ideas for the “next project” that I’m excited for, so I’ll be working very hard over the summer to make sure I can take a break from The Lunar Chronicles to start something new. I can’t wait!