Author Interview: Scott Hawkins

Hey everyone!

A few months ago, Penguin Random House ask if I wanted to interview Scott Hawkins and read his book. I finished his book two weeks ago (I am extremely behind on reviews) and it was incredible! I am so happy I had the opportunity to interview him about his book! 

About Scott Hawkins: Born in Idaho in 1969, Scott grew up in South Carolina. Scott graduated from the University of South Carolina with a B.S.C.S. in computer science in 1991 and an M.S. in 1993.

Since then Scott has worked a variety of computer jobs, usually having something to do with Unix / Linux, though there have been occasional forays into Windows development.

For fun Scott reads, of course, and watches a lot of movies. Scott also like cooking and woodwork. Scott is not very musical, but he does a ton of audiobooks. 

About The Library at Mount Char

A missing God.

A library with the secrets to the universe.
A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.

Carolyn’s not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts.

After all, she was a normal American herself once.
That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.

In the years since then, Carolyn hasn’t had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient customs. They’ve studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.

Now, Father is missing–perhaps even dead–and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own.

But Carolyn has accounted for this.

And Carolyn has a plan.

The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she’s forgotten to protect the things that make her human. 

Interview:

 1. How did you come up with the title of your book?

Oh, god. I knew somebody was going to ask me this eventually. So, my habit is to come up with the most random thing I can think of as a title, then write the book around it. The working title of this one was “the Library at Mount Sammich.” When I started, those five words were all that I had. 
I figured out pretty quick that the ‘library’ part was going to be a magic library. And I figured it would be interesting to tell a story of the librarians who lived and worked there. The ‘Mount Sammich’ part was more of a struggle. I eventually figured out how to make that work too.

We changed the title from ‘Mount Sammich’ to ‘Mount Char’ fairly late in the game. I think the way my editor presented it to me was “When I go to editorial meetings, all the other editors laugh at me. When I tell people my current projects the first thing they ask is ‘what are you changing the title to?’” I think he might have been a little worried that I would throw a fit, but I didn’t have a problem with it. I’m amazed that that title made it as far as it did, honestly. 

Fun fact: before I got published or even had an agent, I put the first chapter up for critique on sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com. No less a person than Elizabeth Bear—really, it was her–told me that the title would not fly. A little while later I did a workshop where this was seconded by Nancy Kress, and I think Walter Jon Williams as well. The argument against ‘Mount Sammich’ was that it sounded too kids-y, which the book most decidedly is not. I don’t disagree.

In case you’re wondering, the working title of the book I’m writing now is “That Isn’t A Giraffe.” I would be kind of surprised if it made it to book stores with that on the cover (he said dryly). 

2. Which character(s) can you relate to most in the novel?

For me, Carolyn is the most relatable. I’ve been really surprised at how many reviewers on amazon and goodreads said they found her unsympathetic. I mean, it’s a minority of people, but I was surprised that anyone said it at all. To me, Carolyn is the only one of the librarians who is really admirable—the other ones all kind of gave up. Not her. To me, that core stubbornness is the To be fair, she’s maybe not the warmest person who ever drew breath. 
3. Who was the hardest character to write about in your book and why?

Steve, weirdly, ended up being the hardest character to write. Carolyn was tricky at first—this was the first time I’d tried to tell a story from a woman’s point of view. After a couple of false starts I decided to stay away from romantic subplots. After that everything fell into place. 
Steve, though—he kept wanting to turn into a half-baked action hero. The whole point of him is that he’s sort of inept at that sort of thing. But I’ve been conditioned by 20+ years of action movies to have every male character be a killing machine. It took real work to make that not happen. Sad but true. 

4. What is it like being an author? What is scary about it? What is great?

Mount Char is the fourth novel I wrote, but the first to actually be published. Even when a book isn’t published, there’s a real sense of accomplishment in creating a story from scratch, holding a novel-length manuscript. The writing process is also a lot of fun.
I’m not sure if scary is the right word, but when I’m talking with professionals in the publishing industry—my agent, editor, publicists—I’m always acutely aware of this metaphorical hayseed poking out of my mouth. My agent always sounds like she’s about to go to a party in the Hamptons or have lunch with Salman Rushdie. I sound like a minor character on an episode of Beavis and Butthead.  

Kind of in that same vein, I had a revelatory moment when we were doing the first pass edits on the manuscript. The first draft of the book was way too long. I just about killed myself trying to squeeze it from 155k words down to 110. I didn’t make it; it ended up being submitted at around 117. But in the process I thought I’d cut out pretty much every single unnecessary dot and comma. I would have sworn on a stack of bibles that there was nothing left to cut. Then, when I was doing the first round of edits at Crown, my editor Julian pointed to a particular scene and said ‘I think this can go, it doesn’t do much.’ And he was absolutely right. That wasn’t so much scary as “holy shit, these guys are really good.”

Hands-down, the best part is hearing from people who enjoyed the book. That’s why I got into writing in the first place. A couple months before the book came out I had gone to see a movie—it was Kingsman, I’ll never forget this—and I came out of the movie and checked my email. There was an email from a lady who just loved the book. It really seemed like for her this was going to be something she’d remember, that it just knocked her socks off. That was the first time I ever got a letter like that. It was nice. 

5. Do you have a specific writing style?

Not in any way that I consciously think about. I think style emerges naturally from the things you’ve practiced over the years. I focus on different things in different drafts. I do at least twenty or thirty passes on a manuscript—sometimes I focus on eliminating passive constructions, sometimes I’m breaking up run-on sentences, sometimes I’m focusing on making dialogue snappy. All that stuff kind of adds up.

6. What advice do you have to give to new authors?

Here’s one I don’t see mentioned as often as I should. Publishing is a weirdly small world, and writers love to gossip. There is a grapevine. Don’t be a jerk. 
Read how-to-write books. I’ll buy pretty much anything I see along those lines. I’m looking at a stack of maybe thirty of them right now. Some are better than others, but every single one I’ve read has something worthwhile to say. Two of my favorites are Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. 

If you want to be traditionally published, you need to learn how the industry works. There are a ton of resources available for this—books, Writer’s Digest magazine, absolutewrite.com, writing conferences. A lot of agents keep blogs where they write about publishing topics. The literary agent Janet Reed has a blog called Query Shark where she critiques queries from aspiring writers.

Join a critique group, either on-line or physical. 

It is a long and difficult path to publication. It took me, no joke, thirty years. But it was soooooooo worth it.   

7. What would you like to say to your readers?

I am really happy that you read my book. Seriously. Thanks a bunch. 

8. As a blogger, is it hard managing your blog while writing your novels?

I am a terrible blogger. That’s been a huge challenge for me. The problem is I don’t really do all that much besides write, cook, and go to movies once a week. I don’t like to talk about a project while I’m working on it, so that doesn’t leave me with much to say about writing. I think it’s a safe bet that the people who come to my blog aren’t there to watch me mangle recipes. And I hate to talk bad about other people’s work, which somewhat limits my ability to do a movie blog.

I’m thinking I might blog about my dogs’ adventures fighting the squirrels. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got.

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