An Interview with A. M. Kuska

About the Author

1) What prompted you to start writing?

Originally? I was jealous of my sister (as a wee small girl of…three…) because she was getting all the attention from the parental units do to her difficulties with reading. She got rewards and praise every time she used a crayon or whatever to make a specific mark on a piece of paper. I thought to myself, “That’s not so hard.” And did it myself. It worked! I got attention, and I liked it. Now I’m brain-washed into thinking writing = good.

2) What were some of your first characters like?

Many, many years after the first writing incident my sister (now an avid reader and writer) asked me to join a roleplay with her online.

She explained to me that you make up a pretend person, and act as them with other people acting as their pretend people, based on a scenario that yet another person wrote. I invented for myself a shape-changing child ruler with an allergy to the metal silver, and found myself hooked on roleplaying. When no one made up the story I wanted to tell with her, I started writing my first book. It was about 10,000 words long. I thought it was an epic.

3) How did you find character details?

I never base a character on an actual person, but I am always observing people to make my characters more lifelike. Sometimes I witness a person, be it friend, family, or stranger, doing something so remarkable that I feel that action needs to become the basis of a character.

As an example, my husband and I went to a Taco Bell late one night to get a quick bite to eat before heading home. The whole place was packed, including the drive-through, so he just parked the car and went in. I watched from outside while he went in and put in his order.

He saw that the cashiers were slammed, every chef working frantically to get food out, and even with every employee working their fastest, there was still a long wait.

Did he get mad? No. He started picking up the trash slobs were leaving all over the place, and returning trays, because he knew the employees didn’t have time.

That’s the sort of thing I observe that will become a character detail one day. It’s my way of taking a snapshot of life.

4) What are some of the supports you’ve had to help you become a better writer?

As an author, you don’t get supported unless you seek it out. Most people laugh at the idea of someone wanting to write. Thankfully, I’ve gotten very lucky in that department. I found critiquecircle Holly Lisle’s website, the amazing Lazette Gifford who you can see at lazette (I cannot say enough about her. Check out Vision for enough writing advice to clog your brain for years) and more recently a live critique group. Shannon Winslow was kind enough to invite me to participate in her group, and I’ve loved every second of it.

5) What would you recommend to another aspiring writer?

Care about everything, and everyone. I know that sounds corny, but that is the only way to get ahead as a writer. Yes, you can “network” by spamming your link all over other people’s blogs, but you’ll get a lot farther if you read those bloggers and care about who they are. I read about 75 bloggers regularly. I know about 300 people on Twitter well enough to interact with them. I don’t always comment, but I read them because I can learn from them and enjoy what they have to say. I think they know that, and that will go a lot farther than just using other blogs or twitter people as convenient advertising.

Care about your work too. If you care enough to make each word matter, you won’t have a crappy book. If you care about every part of the writing business, I think it will pay off.

About the Book

1) How did you come up with the idea behind Ordinary?

Ordinary has shifted so much from its original draft, it’s really hard to say. It was a NaNoWriMo novel, and I meant it to be about oppression and about a misguided bad guy who wanted to free the people, and just ended up cursing everyone horribly. There are still elements of that in there, but once I cleaned it up a lot changed.

As for where THAT idea came from…I have no idea. It’s NaNoWriMo. I had a bog monster lecturing my heroine about fire safety in the middle of a swamp in the original. Alas, it was just too creative for the story itself. (NaNoWriMo is a national writing contest during the month of November.)

2) Are there any real life people that you based characters on?

Heheh…no. As mentioned earlier, I will use a captured moment in time to base a character on, but never a detailed person. The reason being:

I’m absolutely terrified that person will recognize themselves and come after me with a baseball bat. I don’t do nice things to my characters.

3) Your characters are very in depth. It feels almost like you know them. How did you do that?

While none of these characters were ever roleplayed, I learned how to slide into a character by doing so. With a new character, I’ll pick out a scenario and write with that character in that scenario, regardless of whether it will work in the story I plan for him/her or not. By stretching the character’s boundaries, I know what they will or will not do.

4) How did you develop the kingdom and world your characters are living in?

In the original NaNoWriMo, I shamelessly borrowed a pre-existing kingdom I’d made up years earlier for a roleplay. It grew into a completely different kingdom from there.

Character Information

6) Where did the idea that snow would be a catalyst for Amy come from?

NaNoWriMo. It was a dare, and I needed a catalyst.

7) Rat’s true identity was a real surprise. Did you know he was [SPOILER DELETION] from the beginning or did he have to tell you that?

I read this book by Donald Maass called, “Writing the Breakout Novel” and also the handbook of the same name. In it he suggests condensing characters to make things more exciting. At the time, Rat was dangerously close to getting the axe because except for to help show bits of important beginning information, he had no real use.

Beta-readers all screamed, “NOOOOOOOOOO! WE LOVE RAT! *cry*” so I knew I couldn’t get rid of him. The Duke’s son was important toward the end, but had no presence in the beginning. I just decided to combine the two, and it worked out so well I put a bookmark tag on that page in the Donald Maass book for future novels.

7) Once Bernard [SPOILER DELETION], was it forever, or just for the time being?

*claps hand over interviewer’s mouth* You’re gonna give everything away!

8) I’ve always liked to know what happens next, even on the last page. Do you have any new books planned?

Bernard: No. She doesn’t!

Amy: Oh my god. Don’t encourage her. She’ll do something worse.

I don’t have a plot formed in my head. If there is a huge demand for another book however, I know exactly which character buttons to press to get them moving. Rat after all, is a very young child with a very big city to rule. There’s all sorts of things that could go wrong with that!

Rat: You see what you did? You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?