Lindsay Eagar is an author who currently writes middle grade fiction. She lives in Utah.
Lindsay Eagar is published by Candlewick. Her debut novel, HOUR OF THE BEES, was published to considerable acclaim. Her second novel, RACE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, publishes in 2017 – with more books under contract.
She lives in the mountains of Utah with her husband and young daughters. She has a BA in English from UVU and is now working towards her BS in History. Lindsay is a classically trained pianist and an un-classically trained rock guitarist.
When and how did you start writing?
Storytelling has always been in my blood. When I was seven, I read LITTLE WOMEN, and my heart thumped at double time when Jo slipped into her writing frenzies. That was me, that was exactly how I felt--like I had stories I needed to fall into.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
When I think of childhood books that made an impact, Roald Dahl's books parade through my mind: THE BFG, GEORGE'S MARVELOUS MEDICINE, THE WITCHES, MATILDA AND FANTASTIC MR. FOX were read and re-read until the spines fell off. But my favorite book (of all time) is Dahl's DANNY, THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. It's not your typical zany Dahl book: no made-up words, or invented candies or machines, or wacky villains. It's simple and quiet and sincere.
Other authors I read: Beverly Cleary, Lemony Snicket, Judy Blume, Sharon Creech, and, of course, J.K. Rowling.
Teenaged and young adult Lindsay loved CAT'S CRADLE by Kurt Vonnegut, GEEK LOVE by Katherine Dunn, THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas, FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley, and anything by Neil Gaiman.
My storytelling hero was my dad. Bedtime reading was a ritual, but he also distilled many a Greek myth or Conan the Barbarian comic into entertainment during yard work or a road trip. As I got older, he put so many books in my hands: GREAT EXPECTATIONS, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, LORD OF THE RINGS, THE FOUNTAINHEAD... We still toss books to each other--right now he's getting schooled in the current offerings of YA fantasy.
Can you talk us through your career so far? Highlights?
I decided to seriously work on my writing craft in 2009, when my daughter was born. (Becoming in charge of another human's survival has changed many a person's perspective!) I was out of excuses--I knew I hadn't put in the work required to be the boss-level writer I'd always dreamed of being.
So I stumbled through a first novel, and it was vomit-inducing. My second book was almost readable, but still dreadful. My third book was bad, but instead of shelving it, I revised. And revised. And revised. I rewrote it six or seven times, and with each draft, I got better (cue hallelujah chorus).
HOUR OF THE BEES was my fourth novel. When I wrote the last chapter, I was giddy. I'd finally written something that wasn't crap.
This is only the beginning of what I hope will be a long, adventurous career as a writer, but the highlight so far was signing with Sarah. During our first phone call, I was so nervous, I turned into a star-struck, bumbling fool. But the words she used to describe my manuscript--strange, luminous, dreamlike, arresting--gave me a wave of calm. This was a person who understood what I was trying to do with my book, and she worked so hard, guiding me along revisions, helping me stretch BEES to its potential. When she sent a nine-page editorial letter plucking my book apart to get it ready for submission, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. She's truly special.
Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?
I got my agent the old-fashioned way: the slush pile.
I didn't query until I was ready, which meant trunking the book I thought would get me an agent and writing another one (HOUR OF THE BEES). I spent a year as a remote intern for another literary agent, which meant I read client manuscripts, read requested materials (fulls and partials), and read queries. It was an amazing education! When I finally wrote my query, I knew what it was like on the other side, and I made sure my manuscript and query were as good as I could make them.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time?
I write with cheap blue Bic pens (always blue!) in lined notebooks, where I ignore the lines. When I edit, I use a hard copy and lots of Post-its. I write longhand for several reasons:
It slows down my brain, forcing me to be thoughtful with every word. Plus, I catch more mistakes when reading on paper.
It's portable. No batteries or electricity required, and paper is less fragile than a laptop or tablet.
It's easy to jot down a sentence or two when I have five spare minutes.
My eyes refuse to adapt to modern technology and have a hard time staring at screens.
I don't have a special time carved out for writing. Instead I steal little bits of time throughout my day and am amazed at how quickly sentences add up.
Speaking of time, I'm learning there are times in my writing process to think, and times to write. The trick is for me not to write when it's time to think, and not to think when it's time to write.
Music is an important part of my creative process. During those times I need to think, and not write, I plug in headphones and lie on the floor, or go for a run, or drive around aimlessly with music cranked, usually U2, Vampire Weekend, or bagpipes.
During the times I need to write, and not think, I assign songs or playlists to my works-in-progress. The music anchors me to my story, to the mood, and to the original thoughts and feelings I had back before the book was written, when it was just a little kernel of an idea. For HOUR OF THE BEES, I listened exclusively to Clint Mansell's hauntingly gorgeous score for The Fountain. It's been played on my iTunes over four hundred times, but I don't care! It's the perfect sonic companion to my book.
Where do you look for inspiration?
This is such a massive answer, so I'll offer just one specific.
Plants. No lie. Most of the time, the little spark for my book ideas come from plants, flowers, or trees. I'm not a gardener or anything--I have no connection to plants other than just being human on a planet full of things that grow. I think it mostly stems (hee hee, stems) from the fact that my settings and worlds come first. History, geography, learning something new about a culture I thought I understood... All of these are ripe with ideas for the plucking, and for whatever reason, the flora comes first. (No surprises that HOUR OF THE BEES features a very significant tree.)
Also, the same repeating theme seems to crop up in all my stories: death, or rather, the complex relationship between living and dying. I get all carpe diem in everything I work on.
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
1) Read. Reading puts fuel in your writing tank. It's studying the masters.
2) Learn the industry. I learned about publishing through Google University. That's where I found an internship for a literary agent, where I learned even more about the children's market, the querying process, and what differentiated a great manuscript from one that was red-hot.
3) Be willing to work harder than what will show. Your finished book might be only 50k words, and you'll know you wrote a lot more words than that to get to that point, words that were tried and tested, but deemed not good enough, and were cut and thrown away without a proper memorial... Nobody will understand how hard you really worked to bring a good book to fruition. It doesn't matter. Sometimes you have to write the wrong words to get to the right ones. Be willing to go through that process. If you think it's a lot of work... It's more than you can even imagine.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you've developed as an author?
1) Less is more. If you think of writing as a gnarly fishtail braid, then the less strands you have to hold onto, the easier it will be to weave together. This applies to prose, plotting, dialogue, adjectives, everything.
2) Pick one or two things that are the un-negotiable core, or heartbeat, of your book, and be willing to trash anything else that isn't working. Storytelling is supposed to be fluid. Changeable. Flexible. Not everything can be off-limits from the ax.
3) Character is king. Usually when I'm having a problem with my plot, it's because I've forgotten to treat my character like a 3D person, with choices, preferences, anger, fears, things that excite them, the ability to lie, etc. Plot cannot be forced; it must come organically from the characters you've created, or else readers can sense the author tugging the strings above the stage.
What favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party?
Erin Morgenstern would bartend.
Laini Taylor would decorate.
Daniel Handler would be the stoic, tuxedoed host who never breaks character.
Christopher Hitchens would sit in the corner and drink, saying smart things which, I'd realize later, were actually insults.
Maggie Stiefvater would valet park all the cars... Oh, wait, that's probably not a good idea.
It'd be a heck of a party, is what I'm saying.
What fictional character do you wish you'd invented?
Pippi Longstocking. Her name alone just boasts of color and strength and fun.
I also covet Ian Malcolm, Bartholomew Cubbins, Long John Silver, Miss Honey from Matilda, and everyone in Peter Pan.