This interview is part of the Meg Mitchell & The Secret of the Journal Blog Tour
- Can you described yourself, say a little about where you’re located or whatever else you feel is basic info.
My name is actually Amy Williams, but I write for young adults under the pen name Kimberly McNeil. I am a transplanted Texan who lives on my family’s farm in Kansas. No animals right now, other than cats and the occasional opossum. I’ve got a degree in journalism from Wichita State University, but my career has been varied, starting in libraries, moving on to copywriting for a marketing team at a plumbing and heating manufacturer, and finally to self-employment through my novel writing and my latest business venture, teaching creative business owners how to use technology.
- Can you give us an overview of your work? Where to start?
I’ve been writing seriously since I was 11 years old, but the first time I got published “officially” was for a romantic comedy short story that appeared in the now-defunct True Story magazine in 2012 or so. The first author name I published under was A.C. Williams.
I have three books of devotionals under the name A.C. Williams, and all my adult fiction is also published under that name. I have a space opera trilogy, The Destiny Trilogy, and a romantic comedy, Finding Fireflies.
For Meg Mitchell & The Secret of the Journal, I chose to write under the pen name Kimberly McNeil. First, because I wanted to keep the Lightkeeper series separate from my grittier science fiction titles. Second, and this is the cool reason, Kimberly McNeil is actually a character in the book.
So if you want an urban fantasy adventure on a massive scale, Meg Mitchell & The Secret of the Journal is a great place to start. It’s book one in the Legend of the Lightkeepers series.
But if you want something a little more grown up, any of my titles under A.C. Williams will be great for you. Nameless, Namesake, New Name, or Finding Fireflies is designed more for a grown-up audience.
- What genre/genres do you write in and why? Are these the same genres you like to read?
A combination of urban fantasy/space opera is my comfort zone, although I love to weave in variations on other genres as well. So it’s not uncommon to get hints of nearly every genre in my writing. My friends laughingly defined my writing genre as “Kitchen Sink” one time, mainly because I love all kinds of stories. But if I need to nail it down to one, it’ll probably be urban fantasy.
And, yes, I do read urban fantasy. I’m a big Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Dark Tower kind of fan, but I love other genres too. I’m a die hard Jane Austen reader, and I’ve got a soft spot for authors like Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Recently I’m on a huge Craig Johnson kick; his Longmire mystery series just makes me so happy (if Henry Standing Bear were real, I’d want to marry him). And, of course, I adore Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee and Frank Peretti. I just love good stories. It doesn’t matter what genre they fit in.
- How did you come to be interested in writing?
Storytelling has always been a part of my life. It just happened. As children, my brother and I would stage epic adventures with our toys. It was My Little Pony and Barbie versus the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the G.I. Joes, and eventually they had to come together to stop the evil advances of the terrifying, self-aware Tonka tractor. Not even exaggerating. And by the time I hit first grade, I’d started writing down our little stories, melding the universes of all my favorite childhood cartoons with Star Trek or Star Wars.
Here’s the real irony, though. I didn’t even realize that writing was a potential career field until I was in fourth grade or so. I guess I just thought books appeared magically. But once my stubborn Scottish brain figured out that it was something I could actually do, I picked it up and ran, and I haven’t looked back yet.
I have to write. I can’t not. It’s how I think. It’s how I feel.
- Can you tell us about your latest work? Who is it about? What happens?
Well, the latest published work is currently Meg Mitchell & The Secret of the Journal.
Meg and her brother and sister were raised in an alternate dimension, and one day, Meg discovers her biological father’s journal. In it, she reads about a cousin they didn’t know they had. So she, her siblings, and her adoptive mother return to our world, the Terran Dimension, to search for her long lost cousin. But once they arrive, everything goes wrong, and Meg has to ask prodigy teen detectives Barb and Jim Taylor for help.
My latest Word in Progress is the sequel, Barb Taylor & The Mountain of Fire. As a preview, I can tell you that Barb and Jim Taylor come to visit Meg in the alternate dimension, and they end up in the middle of a war with the native Centaurs.
- How do you go about researching for a story? Do you do anything special when you research? Is it all online?
Oh, online. I use the internet for everything. It’s important to find more than one source that has the same information, though. You can’t just trust Wikipedia.
If I’m writing about a local place, I go visit. If I’m writing about a real location that’s within my power to visit, I travel. If I can’t get there in person, I use Google Maps like crazy and walk the streets and sidewalks digitally.
One of the locations you’ll see over and over in the Lightkeepers books is San Francisco. I’ve never been there. I’ve got a trip planned to go visit next year, but until then I make use of Google Maps and local newspaper articles. I look into crime rates, historical buildings, construction projects, weather reports, residential neighborhoods, and the blueprints and floor layouts of homes. Since I haven’t been there in person yet, I have to do the best I can with the resources that are available online.
When it comes to the worlds I make up? Well, the sky’s not even the limit there.
- What appeals to you about writing?
I love living in my characters’ skins. I love being able to go on adventures with them, to see the world through their eyes. Many of them are personality types that fascinate me, and it’s fun to get their perspective. And all of my characters have independent thoughts that always make me want to get to know them better. Even the villains.
Confession: I love my villains. I’ve always been fond of bad guys. I’m not sure what that says about me.
- What do you find the hardest about being a writer? Which parts drag for you?
Emotion. Writing emotion is very difficult for me. It forces me to go to a place in my own heart where I can’t hide from the way I feel. Personally, I don’t like emotions. I know that they’re necessary, and I know that I need them. But they’re inconvenient. It’s something I’m working on personally, just being honest. I’d much rather hide what I’m feeling than let it out into the open, but I am a Feeler personality type. So the more I do that, the more confused I get. So when I get to an emotional scene, I have to mentally prepare myself to shut off my censors and let my characters do and say what they actually feel.
- What is your writing routine? Do you write every day, at a particular time of the day? Is it difficult to discipline yourself?
Because much of my “day job” is writing, I write every day. I just don’t write fiction every day. When I’m on deadline for a novel, I will work on it every day, usually in the morning. But, honestly, I’m the most efficient when I just schedule three days or so and just write from dawn until midnight. It’s like a massive brain dump. But if I can do that, I can finish a 150,000 word novel in two weeks. Of course, I can’t remember how to spell my name when I’m done, but at least I have a new novel.
So, no, it’s not hard to discipline myself to write. But then, I’ve been doing this for a really long time. I finished my first novel (which would become Meg Mitchell & The Secret of the Journal) when I was 11 years old.
- How do you put the story together? Do you write an outline? Start writing and edit later? Wait for the muse to strike? Or something in-between?
I have a hybrid sort of process. I’m an outliner, for sure. I like to plan and organize and sort, because my favorite thing to do with a book is to weave subplots and “aha!” moments all the way through the story. And it’s hard to do that on the fly. So I’ll have every chapter outlined before I start, but I leave room for my characters to dictate the action. I’ve learned that if I try to force them to do something they don’t want to do, I’ll stall out. So while I’m definitely an outliner, I also know my characters well enough to allow them the freedom to do what they want.
- Who are some of your favorite authors? Books that have influenced you?
I may repeat some of my answers from question 3 here. Probably the most influential writer from my childhood was Laura Ingalls Wilder. I must have read the Little House books every year for 10 years. They meant a lot to me because my great grandmother came to Kansas in a covered wagon, and I remember her telling me stories about walking alongside it in the prairie grass. So adventures of a pioneer girl with her family really stuck with me.
But after Laura Ingalls Wilder are authors like Frank Peretti, whose kid’s books defined action and thrilling heroics when I was younger, and Ted Dekker, who challenged me to think outside the box. Dekker was a huge encouragement to me as a young writer too, because after reading about his crazy worlds, I realized that people really would read about alternate dimensions and other “weird” stuff. The same is true with J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, Marcus Sakey, and so many others.
Finally, I love Shakespeare, as odd as that may sound. The man was a genius when it came to dialog and vocabulary. Jane Austen, too, who had the gift of snark before snark was even a word.
I think I said this before, but most recently my favorite books are the Longmire mysteries by Craig Johnson. That man can write. And even though his novels are technically genre fiction, he has such a literary bent that you can read his words and feel like you’re actually experiencing a brutal Wyoming winter. Brilliant.
- Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to be a writer?
Being a writer is one of the most difficult careers you can choose. We open our souls and let our words flow out on to the page. We make ourselves vulnerable by sharing our deepest fears and our darkest secrets. Some people will love it; others will hate it. And, sadly, the world is full of more haters than lovers, so you’ll probably get more criticism than praise. But if you have a purpose and a call that’s bigger than you, it’s easier to endure the naysayers and bullies, because your stories will leave a legacy that will reach people and change hearts long after you’re gone.
So find a purpose that’s bigger than you. And If you want to be a writer, write. You can’t just say “I’m a writer” and spend all day every day watching Netflix or YouTube. Writers have to write. It doesn’t matter if you can only crank out 300 words a day, or if you’re a freak like me and can do 30,000. Writers write. So get busy. ��