About Michele Kwasniewski:
After graduating from Loyola Marymount University with a BA in Technical Theater, Michele Kwasniewski spent over fifteen years in film and television production. Starting out as a film set assistant on movies such as INDEPENDENCE DAY, FACE/OFF, PRIMAL FEAR, and EVITA. Michele eventually switched to the small screen and worked her way up the ladder to production manager, gaining experience on television shows such as BIG BROTHER, ADOPTION STORIES, EXTRA YARDAGE and MEET THE PANDAS. She is also a proud member of the Producers Guild of America. Michele's colorful experiences in the industry inspired her to write THE RISE AND FALL OF DANI TRUEHART series. Michele lives in San Clemente, California with her husband, their son, and their disobedient dachshund.
RISING STAR was awarded Finalist in the category of YOUNG ADULT FICTION for the 2021 BEST BOOK AWARDS and 2022 INTERNATONAL BOOK AWARDS. RISING STAR was awarded Finalist in the categories of GENERAL FICTION and YOUNG ADULT FICTION in the 2022 AMERICAN FICTION AWARDS.
What inspires you to write?
I’ve always been curious about "the why". Why do people think the way they do? What motivates people’s good or bad behavior? Why do things happen in the world? In real life you often don’t get concrete answers for those "whys". But in my books I get to come up with my own answers. That is the reason why I write. I love telling stories, building believable worlds and creating nuanced characters that connect with readers. If I can create a story that engulfs a reader to the point that they are rooting for the main character or maybe they despise the antagonist so much that they can’t stop reading until they know what happens next, I know I’ve done my job well. It’s something I strive for with each project I write and I hope I am getting better with every story.
What authors do you read when you aren’t writing?
Too many to count! A few of my favorites are: Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Edgar Allan Poe, Kazuo Ishiguro, Laura Purcell, Ruth Ware, Michael Faber, Patrick McGrath, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Gabriel García Márquez just to name a few. I love anything from thrillers, to chick-lit if it’s well-written. These authors are my go-to whenever I’m in a library or bookstore browsing for something to read.
Tell us about your writing process.
Normally I am definitely a “fly by the seat of my pants” type of writer. I wrote the first two books in my YA series THE RISE AND FALL OF DANI TRUEHART with no outline. I usually prefer not to use an outline because I find not having a carefully laid out plan lets the story flow naturally and there’s a broad world of choices for my story and characters. But in all honesty, I ended up overwriting a ton, so editing the books down was hell. For my latest book I was overwhelmed trying to wrap up the series and the story just wasn’t flowing. I needed to try something new. I saw a TikTok about creating ‘a story spine’ (so much to learn on TikTok if you have the patience to find it) and it really cast a helpful light on what I needed to do to complete the book as well as the series. The spine gave me a roadmap to figure out what plot points I wanted to hit and what storylines I needed to resolve without having to spend a bunch of time fleshing out each story point. It sparked my creativity and I was able to finish the book with confidence. After the spine was complete, I would consult it occasionally as I wrote to ensure I was on track with the plot points I had laid out. It was also a helpful tool for closing any gaps in the story. The origins of the spine are murky, some say a story artist from Pixar came up with it, and others say a teacher named Brian McDonald created it. But I wanted to share this with you since I found the story spine so helpful in finishing my last book. Just fill in the blanks and Ta Da! – your book is outlined.
Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Absolutely. If I’m not talking to my characters, it means they’re boring and I need to rewrite them. I bounce ideas off my characters as I write, kind of spit-balling out loud. I read my writing aloud, sometimes as I’m putting the words down on the pages, which is why you won't usually find me writing in public. I find that reading my work out loud helps ensure that each character has their own voice. It's important that every character’s cadence of speech and word choice is different; I definitely don’t want them using the same slang or speech patterns. The longer I am writing a particular character, the more they start to develop their own of personality. I often find myself writing something and only after I read it out loud, do I realize the character wouldn’t do or say such a thing. It’s all much less bizarre than it sounds, I swear; I am not hearing voices in my head or anything. But knowing who my characters are helps me set them on a believable path. Sometimes they surprise me and I find a storyline I had set out to write won’t work with the character. It’s frustrating and I often find myself venting to my characters. But I’ve found that if I try to keep what I want and disregard what the character would naturally do, it usually results in stilted or forced story telling. For me, a lot of writing is getting just out of the way so the story can tell itself. Whenever I try to force something to happen, it usually doesn’t work well. Which goes back to my other answer about why I am not a fan out outlining. I like to be open to whatever possibility pops up and see what it takes the story and characters.
What advice would you give other writers?
Just write. Show up every day, even if you only have an hour to spare. Like any talent or skill, you cannot improve your writing or storytelling if you do not practice. I think reading is also important – knowing how you like a story to be told, what makes you love or hate a particular book or genre is important. Being a lifelong reader has been wonderful preparation for becoming an author. Not having been formally trained, I might not know all the jargon for the writing process, but reading has shown me what works in a story, what happens when tension isn’t present or there are too many details that slow the pacing. Sometimes reading a good (or not so good) book can inspire you. Finally, open yourself up to constructive criticism. After all, if you’re not just writing for yourself, eventually other people will read your work and they will definitely have opinions. Only by listening to other people’s thoughts and impressions of your work will you learn if you have effectively gotten your point across. It can be hard to know what advice to listen to and what comments to ignore, but solid criticism from readers I trust has only made my books better.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I knew it was a long shot for an unknown writer to snag an agent (let alone a publisher), but I really wanted to give traditional publishing a try. I wanted to know without a doubt if my YA series was as good as I thought or if I was just being delusional. I figured I could always self-publish if no one picked me up. I didn’t want to be left wondering if I could have made it as a traditionally published author because I never had the guts to try. The worst thing anyone could say was no, right? I had given little thought to the gut-wrenching process of querying for an agent. I had no clue how much it hurt to have total strangers reject my manuscript (my “literary baby”) over and over again. But I likened the process to finding someone to fall in love with. You don’t connect with everyone you date, right? So all I needed was one brilliant person to fall in love with my story. I eventually found that person in my agent, Diane Nine. She got my story, and the series, and has been advocating for me ever since. I like having an agent on my side to walk me through aspects of the publishing world that I don’t understand, offer advice and help me move my career forward. She found my wonderful publisher, Rand-Smith. The publishing process has been much less stressful having them on my team. Self-published authors don’t get the credit they deserve – they are doing all the same things I am doing, but they are doing it on their own, without the experts I have fighting for me and guiding me. I have massive respect for anyone who publishes independently. There are enough readers out there that there is room for all authors, no matter how we publish, to be a success.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I really don’t know how to answer this one. I keep hearing how traditional publishing is dying out, the big publishing houses are merging together and there are fewer and fewer options for being traditionally published. But for me, like I said before, I enjoy being traditionally published. I’m not sure how I would thrive in a self-publishing world if the traditional publishing disappears. I think there are millions of readers out there always looking for new books to read, so there will always be a market demand for books. But with programs like Kindle Unlimited, where books can cost so little or are free, I wonder how traditional publishing will thrive. There are people I know who only read KU or free books and as a writer, it’s a kick to the gut that someone would refuse to pay for something you labored so hard to create. I don’t know what the answer is. I hope there is a way that authors can be compensated fairly for their work while readers have the option to read all the books they want for an affordable price. I’ll wish for world peace and the Cubs to win the World Series while I’m at it.
What genres do you write?: Young Adult
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print, Audiobook
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit to allow you the reader to hear the author in their own voice.