Okay, this is how we’re going to do this. This is not a real Frequently Asked Questions. Maybe it will be eventually, but for now it will be a work in progress.
This shall be Part I: On Writing. (There will be a Part II: Not On Writing soon.)
I will eventually put together a real non-blog page for this, but for now it can start here and do feel free to ask additional questions in comments and maybe they can be incorporated.
And, here we go:
Part I: On Writing
To begin… To begin… How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. But I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.
-Charlie Kaufman, Adaptation
About Writing in General
How long have you been writing?
I wrote little random things when I was in junior high and high school but never really thought of myself as a writer. I studied playwriting in college but never finished any plays. Wrote a few pretty good scenes, though. After college I thought about writing for good long while before I started actually putting pen to paper in my mid-twenties.
I do not have an MFA or any other formal writing training. I love adverbs. I still do naughty things with commas.
How did you write a bestseller/how does one write a bestseller/etc?
For any question that boils down to “how did you write a successful novel?” the answer in my case is pretty simple: I wasn’t trying to. I didn’t sit down and aim for the bestseller lists, I didn’t even know much about publishing or the book industry when I started writing, I just had a lot of stuff in my head to get down on paper. I told a story without much thought toward publication, I only wanted to tell it as best I could.
Truthfully, had I been trying to do something I thought would be successful I might not have written the book I wrote. I had a sprawling draft of The Night Circus when I started educating myself about the industry and found things that said “don’t write in present tense” and “never use second person ever” and I thought: oops. But I had written so much already that I figured it couldn’t hurt to just see what happened, and figured at most it would be publishable even if it wasn’t done “properly” and I think it goes to show that rules are more like guidelines.
How did you get an agent?
I sent query letters and sample pages and followed guidelines. I listened to feedback and I revised a lot. The long version of the “how I got a literary agent” saga is chronicled here.
I learned a lot about the querying/publishing process by spending time on the Absolute Write Forums. They’re big and busy but there’s a lot of really useful information and wonderful, smart people over there.
Will you read my manuscript/refer me to your agent/publisher, etc?
No. I’m sorry. Firstly, I don’t have time. Secondly, I am proof positive that cold querying works and you don’t need connections to get published.
Are you working on another novel? When will it be available?
I am working on something new. When I have time, which is proving more difficult to find than I’d like but I am indeed working on it. It is not circusy. It is something completely different, still fantastical but heavily rooted in reality. Probably best described at this point as a film noir-flavored Alice in Wonderland. It is still in messy, non-novel-shape and I don’t know how long it will take to get it novel-shaped.
To give you a very basic time frame: the circus took around five years from when I started working on it to when it was finished and then another year between “finished” and “published.” I don’t think this one will take quite that long to write but it will very likely take the rest of this year at least, and then it will be at least another year after that before it would be published. Also, I want to take the time and get it right, so it might be a bit longer than that.
What advice do you have for writers?
I recycle the best advice I ever heard from an author from Neil Gaiman: Keep Writing and Finish Things. The finishing part is sometimes kind of tricksy, but it’s really important.
And of course, my other best advice for writers: Read. I am also fond of books about writing, particularly Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
On a nuts and bolts level, I recommend a software program called Scrivener. I’ve seen people complain about “writing” software but it’s really more like organizational software. A novel is long and having a program that can organize it and let me look at it in bits and pieces and move things around is something I find invaluable.
About The Night Circus
Was The Night Circus written during National Novel Writing Month?
A very sprawling, very rough draft of The Night Circus was first written in a few different Novembers of NaNoWriMo. Almost the entire book was rewritten and revised before it got from there to the finished version. To give you an idea of how much: Celia isn’t in that first sprawling draft. It is a lot of stuff about the circus but not a lot of plot, but it gave me something to work from.
Will there be a sequel to The Night Circus?
No. Maybe someday I’ll write a circus-set something but it would more likely be a collection of short pieces as there are so many stories floating around the edges. I don’t think it needs a “this is what happened next” sort of sequel. I like that it is one book with a beginning and an end. Not every book needs to be a series.
Will the circus be published in French/Chinese/Russian etc?
There are quite a few foreign editions both already published and forthcoming. I don’t have a full list or publication dates but chances are the answer is yes, and if it’s not available now it will be at some point.
Is there going to be a movie?
Maybe. This will continue to be the answer for a good long time because anything can happen in the strange and mysterious world of film production. The film rights have been optioned by Summit Entertainment, which means they have the option to make The Night Circus into a film. They are indeed working on it but I do not personally know all that much about what’s going on with it at any given point. When there are official updates, I’m sure the internet will know.
PSA: I have very little to do with the movie. Strange but true. I wrote the book, other people will adapt it into a screenplay and handle casting and designing and do all the movie-making things. I cannot tell you how to audition or anything like that, not that it’s even reached that stage yet. Summit is in charge. I’m just along for the ride.
Okay, I think that’s it for Writing/Circus questions but do please let me know if you think I missed anything. Part II will cover all sorts of miscellany, including “Where did you get those shoes?”
Addendum to Part I, Feb 23rd:
What is your writing process like?
Messy. I’m a very visual person so a lot of writing for me is translating spaces and people and scenes in my mind into words, sometimes it’s easier than others. I often have to write a lot to find the description that works best, sometimes I hit on a single word that fits the image and I build from there.
I don’t write in order. The Night Circus was written vignette by vignette and many of them were re-ordered in the revision process. I have an entire section in my Scrivener document for the new novel called “pieces without places” that includes everything from word-sketches of architecture to snippets of dialogue.
I like both books and art with lots of layers, and the best way to accomplish both for myself has been putting down a lot of paint and then refining and bringing out detail. Though with writing I don’t end up with paint in my hair. Usually.
What did you do before you were a writer?
I sat in fluorescent-lit cubicles and made photocopies. Really. I had a string of office jobs and none of them were particularly inspiring. I had a degree in Theatre and didn’t really want to do theatre anymore so I spent most of my 20s filing things and arguing with fax machines and wondering who took my stapler while trying to figure out what to do with my life. I quit a couple of years ago to focus on writing and painting to see if either would take off and now here we are.
Are there particular books that influenced The Night Circus?
The circus had a lot of influences, some of the stronger particular ones were Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and The Prestige by Christopher Priest (as well as the film version of the same).
The vignette format of the book was inspired by Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, one of my favorite books of all time.
In a general flavor sense there’s a heavy dose of Shakespeare and Dickens with a sprinkling of Roald Dahl around the edges and an Edward Gorey aperitif.
May I listen to songs that inspired/remind you of The Night Circus?
Why yes, yes you may. I made a playlist for the circus, it is both on Spotify and 8tracks for countries that are not Spotify-friendly. You can also read explanations of all these songs over here via largehearted boy’s Book Notes.
Do you have discussion questions about The Night Circus for book clubs, etc?
My fabulous publisher does! There’s a great list here. I’m not even sure how I’d answer some of them.