Emily Colin shares how her creativity helps her write

Emily Colin is the author of Siege of the Seven Sins. Her novel follows rogue bellators Eva Marteinn and Ari Westergaard who have escaped the restrictive world of the Commonwealth and would like nothing more than to leave it behind forever. The books explores relationships, secrets, and much more. Originally from Brooklyn, Emily lives in coastal North Carolina with her family. YEM was able to speak with Emily about when she knew she wanted to become a writer, her writing process, and advice she has for young writers.

Young Entertainment Mag: Do you remember the moment you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Emily Colin: I’ve always written, for as long as I can remember. I was the kid whose bedroom floor was strewn with handwritten pages of my novel-in-progress rather than clothes. When I got together with my best friend in middle school, we co-wrote a (terrible) novel rather than doing makeup tutorials or shopping or going to the movies. In the fourth grade, I wrote my very first romance novel. It was called Page 17, because the sexy action (or whatever I thought was sexy in fourth grade) happened on…you guessed it, the 17th page. All the kids passed it around in class, reading it inside their textbooks when we were supposed to be paying attention to our incredibly strict teacher, Mrs. Dorinson. Luckily, she never caught us.

I kept writing all through middle and high school, and then ground to a halt in the middle of college. This is because, in the one and only creative writing class I took, I had a professor who insisted on belittling me for my love of popular fiction. I made the mistake of mentioning I liked Anne Rice at the beginning of the semester, and he never let me live it down. Any time someone in class wrote a piece he deemed inferior, this professor would turn to me and say, in stentorian tones, “So, what do you think … Anne Rice?”

I was determined not to let him bully me into dropping the class—but even though I stuck it out, I completely lost faith in my own writing. I decided that maybe I was meant to be an editor instead, and spent years helping others develop their own creative visions. Then, I became the associate director of a youth arts nonprofit. We had a teaching artist meeting, during which the artists were doing what they do best—have conversations filled with creative inspiration that have absolutely nothing to do with administrative tasks. In the midst of this, one of the instructors turned to me and apologized. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “As such an organized arts administrator, you must find dealing with all of us so frustrating.”

She meant it sincerely, even as a compliment—but for me, it was like a little thorny barb to the heart. Oh my God, I thought. Everyone here knows me as a strategic planner and grant writer. No one has any idea that I used to write books—that it was my passion.

Right there, I gave myself an ultimatum. I decided I would build up my freelance editing career enough to be able to step away and focus on writing a book. I’d give myself a year, do the best I could, and … well … we’d just see what happened.

The book I wrote that year was The Memory Thief, which became a New York Times bestseller and Target Emerging Authors Pick. And I’ll always be grateful to that teaching artist for giving me the bucket-of-cold-water-to-the-face I needed to challenge myself and take a chance.

YEM: What do you love the most about writing?

Emily: I love immersing myself in my characters, envisioning all of the different paths I could’ve taken (or not!) and then living those lives vicariously through those characters. So far, my alter egos have included a mountain climber, a ghost with an attitude problem, an archaeologist who can kick some serious butt, a time traveling botanist with Daddy issues, an epigeneticist desperate to solve a ninety-year-old mystery, a computer hacker who’s horrified to realize she’s a genius with

a sword, and a shapeshifter queen whose heart belongs to a baker’s murderous son. Name another job that would make that possible!

YEM: Who is your favorite character to write for?

Emily: Ohhhh, this is a tough question—I think because it shifts with every book I write. In The Memory Thief, it was probably J.C. (even though we didn’t see the story from his perspective). In The Dream Keeper’s Daughter, it was Ryan (another side character). In The Seven Sins, I’ve got a few: Ari, Gentian, and Cordelia (whose perspective we get to see in the short story collection, Shadows of the Seven Sins). And in my current adult fiction work in progress, I’ve got two favorites: a character known only as the Ghost Girl, and my main male character, Theo.

YEM: How has your writing process changed from when you started writing to now?

Emily: Hahahahahahaha. No, really…bwahahahahahaha.

I laugh because in the beginning, I didn’t have a process. I just … wrote. I never worried about character arcs, plotting, or pacing. I just had an idea, sat down, and poured it onto the page. Often, I wrote scenes out of order and then pasted them together at the end.

I was lucky that this worked for The Memory Thief—but it didn’t work for the manuscript I wrote between that book and The Dream Keeper’s Daughter, which was (generously speaking) a hot freaking mess. It was too long, the conflict was muddy, the characters’ goals were abstract at best—in short, it was a disaster. So, despite the fact that I was a sworn pantser—so-called because you fly by the seat of your pants as you write—I decided to sit down and learn about story structure. Now, I have a series of key points I figure out about my characters before I write a word, plus I outline every book I write. It’s a longer lead-in, that’s for sure … but it’s made me a far better writer.

YEM: What was your favorite book growing up?

Emily: In elementary school? Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery.

In middle school? A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle.

In high school? The Lives of the Mayfair Witches, by—you guessed it—Anne Rice. In your face, college professor!

YEM: Who inspired you to write?

Emily: I truly don’t know the answer to this question. But I will say that ever since I started reading at age three, I haven’t been able to stop. I consume books like candy—or, if you’re me, like iced mochas on an especially sunny day. I can distinctly remember being five years old and sitting in my kindergarten classroom during free time, wondering why all the other kids were running around screaming and pelting each other with Play-Doh when they could be sitting still, reading a perfectly good book. And I think it was just a natural extension of my love of reading that made me want to write. So many words were pouring into my mind—they had to get out somehow, and since I was profoundly shy, there was only one option: the page.

I guess the real answer to this question is, who inspired me to read? And that would be my mother. She surrounded me with books, read to me, took me to see plays, and even wrote down the poems I dictated to her when I was too young to put pen to paper. Heck, she even named me after Emily Dickinson. When you think of it that way, I’m not sure I had any other choice but to write!

YEM: What is something that helps you to get creative with your writing?

Emily: Hmmm—so many different things. I listen to music—in fact, I develop a playlist for each book I write. I consume other art forms—movies, TV shows, paintings and photography—and I read voraciously across a wide range of genres. When I hit a block, I often go for a walk. Being in nature helps to clear my head and often jars loose a sticky plot point!

YEM: What is a piece of advice you would give to young writers?

Emily: Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about yourself and your writing. If being a published author is your dream, pursue it. Do the hard work, put in the energy into research, writing, and revision … but don’t let anyone tear you down. When you give yourself the time, space, and permission to fulfill your dream, you never know where it may take you.

YEM: What is something you hope that readers can take away from reading your books?

Emily: In his book Coraline, Neil Gaiman, whose work I adore, paraphrased a sentiment by G.K. Chesterton to write: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” The first time I read that quote, I had to stop and really digest it. And the more I thought about it, the more I agreed.

In all of my books, my characters are struggling. They’re facing terrible conflicts, both in their wider world and within themselves. And while we might not live in a society where our every move is governed by High Priests who enforce the mandates of the Seven Deadly Sins, or be an aspiring computer coder who winds up wielding a blade instead of a keyboard—most of us know what it’s like to feel demeaned, limited, or have someone in a position of power stomp all over our dreams. We know what it’s like to lose something or someone we love, or to wind up in a position where standing up for what we believe in might cost us everything … but failing to do so might cost us ourselves. It’s my hope that when people read my books, they can see themselves in the characters’ struggles, and draw strength from what they read. That perhaps my stories may find them while they’re in a dark place in their lives, and shine a little light into the cracks; or be companions for them when they’re lonely; or offer them escape when life gets a little too hard. For me, any of those things are, as we say, #authorgoals.

YEM: What is the best part of writing a series and creating a world within it?

Emily: The Seven Sins is the first series I’ve ever written, and I’ve loved getting to know the characters on a deeper level, having the chance to stay with them for multiple books as they grow and change. I especially had a lot of fun with writing the short stories in Shadows of the Seven Sins,

since it gave me a chance to explore the backstories of characters who only play a minor role in the main books. I discovered so many new things about the world I created, and I’m pouring them all into Book Three as I write!

YEM: Is there someone that always reads your work first before anyone else?

Emily: Usually my critique partner, Lisa Amowitz. Her strengths as a writer are my weaknesses, and if she had a battle cry, it would be, “Up the stakes!” We joke that she’s always torturing her characters more than is necessary, and my characters are always bantering and kissing when they should be sinking deeper into misery. What can I say? I’m a big fan of romantic intrigue and snarky repartee. Combine the two, and I’d be happy to live in that headspace forever.

YEM: Where and when is your favorite place to write?

Emily: I write best in the mornings, before I’ve gotten distracted by everything else I have to do during the day. Usually I sit in a cozy little corner of my couch, right next to a side table that holds my coffee. The sun streams in through these giant windows that are right behind me, so it’s nice and warm. I cue up my playlist, slip in my earbuds, and I’m ready to go.

YEM: Favorite quote from the book?

Emily: Here are two! The first is from Shadows of the Seven Sins, the short story collection that releases June 1st. The second is from Siege of the Seven Sins, book two in the series, which comes out August 3rd. Put them together, and you’ve got a front-row seat to my aforementioned love of snarky banter and kissing in all its glory!

“Would you care to convey this secret of yours in an alleyway? I know a rather convenient one.”

… and …

“She is the temptation I’ve spent my life fighting, the secret I would give anything not to keep.”

 

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