The Austin-based author PJ Hoover didn’t follow the normal path to publication. Instead, after getting a degree in electrical engineering and then years of designing computer chips, she decided to try her hand at writing. Fast forward a few years later and people around the country are reading her Forgotten Worlds trilogy. We caught up with PJ recently and visited with her about Cub Scouts, field trips and finding inspiration.
Describe a normal “writing” workday.
It starts when the kids are off to school. Normally I make coffee and oatmeal and get my emailing and blogging out of the way. After that, I tend to divide my time into chunks. If I need to work on revisions, I’ll revise most of the day. If marketing is key (for example, when a new book is coming out), I’ll focus on mailing lists, interviews, speeches, or postcard design. When revisions and marketing are out of the way, I get to focus on new projects. Depending on what this entails, I can spend the day researching ancient mythology, touring a museum, or jumping into a fun first draft!
Where do you find inspiration?
Great question! I find inspiration everywhere. In books, TV, nature and art. I think about the pictures my kids draw and see what I can make out of them. I listen to the nonsense worlds they sometimes make up. I take pictures of ironic things in everyday life. I go on field trips (many times with the Cub Scouts; Cub Scouts can get in for tours of so many cool places). I try to picture my characters in cool, off-the-beaten-path places, making decisions or falling in love. I keep my eyes and ears open, and while I’m doing all this, I remember to take the time to throw a penny in a fountain whenever I can. After all, wishes can only come true if they exist.
Who are your favorite writers and why?
There’s always Homer because he was one of the first. The longevity of his epics is…epic. In more modern times, I think Suzanne Collins (author of GREGOR and THE HUNGER GAMES) is brilliant. Ditto Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson fame). Although there are many debut authors whose initial books are wonderful and have made a huge impact, I love seeing authors who are evolving in front of my eyes. These are the authors that have made writing their careers. I can see them grow and succeed which in itself is inspirational.
What do you consider your greatest “creative” success up until now and why?
This would have to be continuing to write. Writing a first book is a great accomplishment, but to keep on writing is even more so. I love that I’ve kept writing. I hope to improve with each book I write. Getting a book published has its share of ups and downs, and to persist in this livelihood is something I am proud of.
What do you consider your greatest “creative” failure up until now and why?
Anything not a direct success is a failure. So my road to success was paved with failure after failure after failure. As for creativity in failures, one key piece of advice I try to keep in mind when things are not going as they should is this: take a negative situation and ask yourself, "How can I use this to my advantage?" Ponder this question as long as it takes, and an answer will almost certainly come to you.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Read a ton in your genre. Write as often as you can. Reading and writing are ways of practicing. And like with anything and everything in life, with practice makes perfect! And on your revisions, take as much time between drafts as you can. A week. A month. A year. The longer you take, the more objective you’ll be when you come back to it.
This interview also appears in the November 2009 edition of The Houston Banner.