Michele wears many hats in the course of a year. She’s a wife, a mother, a teacher, and a writer. When she’s not busy with one of those roles, she’s most likely sleeping or thinking of more ways to stretch her obligations.
Visit her website at: www.michelezurloauthor.com
Q. What do you think makes a good story?
A. In Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine, she has a whole chapter dedicated to explaining why main characters must suffer. Great characters experience lots of meaningful emotional pain. A skilled writer can do a lot with suffering.
Q. How do you pull out of writer’s block?
A. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in planner’s block, which results from poor planning. If each scene in a story is well-planned, then the words flow. It becomes difficult to do anything else because I’m a bit obsessive (and impulsive- it could be a new disorder.) When I get a good story in my head, I can’t stop thinking about it and I can’t stop writing it. When I come to a screeching halt in my writing, it’s usually because I don’t have a good plan or because I realized the story/ character development isn’t very good. (Or because football season is in full swing. I’m hopelessly addicted to football. I love the Colts, but I’ll watch any good game.)
During those times, I take a break. Sometimes I completely re-envision the story or the characters. Sometimes I just need to revise a scene. Sometimes I put the story aside and move on to something else. If I wrote a good scene in a bad story, I adapt it for use in a good story. I’m always working on multiple stories.
Q. How did growing up in the Midwest impact your writing style?
A. It’s a setting thing. (When I refer to the ‘West Coast,’ I’m talking about the sandy shores of Lake Michigan.) My stories take place in the places where I’ve lived/worked/hung out a lot. Jonas is a teacher at my old high school. He and Sabrina live in the city where I currently work. There really is a City Club, but it’s in Detroit, not Southfield, and it’s a dance club, not a bondage club. (And it’s definitely NOT high-end. It might get a half-star rating out of pity. I enjoyed a few dissolute years partying there.)
Q. What are some qualities you cannot help giving to your main character?
A. My heroines must be smart and strong. They need to have vulnerabilities they keep hidden from the world at large. I like my heroines to be emotionally complex. That complexity will contribute to the conflict, which will ultimately lead them to grow as people. Once I create an interesting character, I get to know her thoughts, her feelings, her social and emotional issues, and mundane details about her life. I create a full backstory, going as far back into her childhood as needed. It makes her real to me, and it reveals her story to me along the way.
My heroes must have the same qualities. I don’t want a guy who says, ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner.’ I want a guy who helps Baby realize that her name is Frances and that she has the power to get out of that corner on her own. He’ll be there to support her and cheer her on. He’ll be the shoulder she needs and he might even create the impetus she needs to make changes in her life. And she does the same for him.
While I don’t necessarily believe in love at first sight, I do believe that our soul mates are the people who make our flaws look like harmless quirks or who help us see them as positive attributes.
Q. What kinds of books do you like to read?
A. I like all kinds of books. As long as the writing is good, the plot is engaging and the characters are complex, I’ll read it. Because I teach language arts to tweens, I read a lot of YA stuff. The only books I can’t muddle through are ones that feature animals as the main characters. I blame my 7th grade reading teacher, who loved making us read those stories and who made me (the shortest, shyest kid in the school) sit next to the biggest, meanest bully in the entire school. Mostly, I associate intense fear and the need to flee with those kinds of stories.
Q. What is your favorite thing to do?
A. Nap. I have a spouse who lets me get in a nap almost every weekend. Mostly, I use that time to envision the next scene I want to write or to think through my approach to a character or a problem (until I fall asleep.) I also do this in the shower and when I drive to work (not the sleeping part.)
Q. What do you do when you’re not writing?
A. I have a spouse, twin girls, and a demanding job. Writing is how I relax.
Q. Who are your favorite authors?
A. In the YA category, I love Jonathan Stroud, Richelle Mead and Rick Riordan. There are many others, but those are the books I recommend over and over to my students. (All including, not coincidentally, strong female characters.) In the adult category, I love Anne Rice and Richelle Mead.
Q. How did I get into reading/writing romance?
A. When I was twelve, my aunt gave me the Johanna Lindsay book, A Gentle Feuding. When I got over the shock that my aunt would hand me a novel that was more explicit than I would ever be comfortable with my kids reading at that age, I got my hands on the rest of her books. This same aunt also gave me other adult romance novels. (It’s literally how I learned history.)
Years later, a student of mine won an essay contest. One of the prizes was a laptop for his teacher, which happened to be me. I looked at this brand-new, shiny laptop and wondered what I was going to do with it. It didn’t have games on it, and I was cursed with dial-up and a lack of patience. My impulsivity kicked in, and I began to write novels with strong romantic elements. (I am a sucker for romance.)
Q. Who has supported you most on your journey?
A. I have a wonderfully supportive spouse (with the sexiest brown eyes I’ve ever seen) and a good friend who reads my drafts.
Q. Who do you look up to?
A. Nearly everyone. I’m short.
Q. Given your commitments to teaching and your family, how long does it take you to write a book?
A. The first draft can take between three weeks and three months, depending on the time of year. I obviously have more free time in the late spring and summer. I write on weekends, early in the morning before I have to get ready for work, and during breaks from school. Sometimes I burn a sick day to stay home and write. I have to put a completed draft aside for about a month. I revise much better when the story isn’t fresh in my head. All told, the complete process can take six months, not counting the ‘time off’ I take to revise, work on other stuff, and submit manuscripts for publication consideration.
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