I’m compiling some of the most common questions I’ve gotten asked over the years about me and the writing process. The answers that needed updating, I’ve updated.
When did you know that you wanted a career as a writer?
Yasmine: I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was three years old. I learned to read early, and I actually remember that it suddenly dawned on me that people made the books that I was learning to read. I was like, “People actually make those. They don’t just appear.” Right at that moment, that’s when I knew I wanted to make books. And so, I wanted to become a writer from the very beginning and I kept that goal through life. I wanted to do other things too, but the writing was always there and it was always the first choice. Over the years, as I grew up, I started writing more. I wrote short stories, from the very beginning. Before I could event print, I was making up stories. I remember the very first story I ever told my mom was about a pair of green curtains in some shop. All the other curtains were being sold and the green curtains were green with envy because they wanted to go to a home, too. Finally, the green curtains were sold and were very happy. That was the first story I wrote. I started writing poetry when I was about 8 or 9. I had a very abusive childhood, and writing gave me a place to escape. And, I loved to read. I read, continually. I would lose myself in my books. I would hide myself in my room and just read and write. I started professionally writing when I was 13, and made my first sale when I was 15. It was a poem. Right then, I was like, “Okay, I can do it! It’s just going to take time.” So, I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a pencil.
Have you had any formal training?
Yasmine: I skipped high school and started college when I was 15. I just couldn’t deal with the stress of the cliques. Where I lived, you were either in or out, and I was definitely not in. With my home life being as bad as it was and the pressure at school, I couldn’t handle both, so I ended up being taken out of high school after three days and put into college. Then, I really perked up. My grades got a lot better. I was happier. I started working in the theater, and I actually got my degree in drama and theatrical management, but the writing was always there. I loved theater because it brought me out of my shell. I learned how to speak in public, and it gave me more confidence, so it was good for me. I didn’t want to be a teacher and I figured that, if I majored in English, I’d probably end up as a teacher, on the side. So, I just decided to do what I wanted and enjoy school and learn as much as I could about everything that I wanted to. Since I’d already been writing for so long, I knew that it would be there, training or not, so I didn’t really train for it. I took some writing programs, and I took a lot of English classes and some literature classes. I was in journalism for two years at the community college.
I took an entire 16-credit program in poetry at Evergreen State College, and that was probably the most intense quarter I spent. I learned how to critique and how to take critique in that class, and that’s something that a lot of writers don’t come to until later on. We would have one almost all-day session on Fridays. We had to submit six poems each week, and then we would pick one for the all-day session. The class would gather and the teacher would read the poem, and then everybody would critique it, but the person who wrote it could not say a single word in their defense, or explain it. They had to learn to just sit there and listen to the critique. At one point or another, everybody ended up just crying their eyes out, but it taught us how to listen and take critique, and it taught us how to give critique because if you wanted a balanced critique in return, you had to give it. We were not allowed to trash something. We had to prove our points, as to why we were critiquing, if we were being harsh about something.
By the end of that quarter, I was able to sit and listen to criticism of my work, and I wasn’t nearly as defensive as I had been. So, I will forever thank that professor for teaching me that. It was probably the most valuable thing I learned in school, as far as writing. If you’re going to be an artist of any sort, whether it’s writing or acting or music, you have to be able to handle massive rejection. The truth is — and this is something a lot of people don’t want to hear — not everybody has the talent to do something like writing or acting. It’s an in-born ability that you can nurture, and you have to nurture the skill and learn how to use it. Not everybody has the basic ability to do everything they would like to do. I could never be an Olympic gymnast. I could never be an extreme snowboarder. I love watching it and I think, “Oh, gee, I wish I could do that.” I can’t sing. You don’t want to hear me sing, and yet I really wish I had the talent. No matter how hard I try, even if I took voice lessons, I will never be a musician because I don’t have the basic talent, and I’ve accepted that. Almost everybody who is functionally literate can sit down and write a letter, but that doesn’t qualify you to be a writer. However, if you have a modicum of talent, you can nurture it into more.
Where do you think the confidence came from that enabled you to sit down and write your first novel?
Yasmine I just always knew inside that I could do it. Plus, it was a drive that I just couldn’t ignore. I will go nuts if I don’t write. If I stop writing for any more than a few days at a time, I get a little wiggy and I’m unpleasant to be around because I have all these ideas in my head that just won’t shut up and won’t stop. Unless I can get my ideas on paper, I get antsy and restless and irritable. I wrote my first novel back in 1988. I have seven novels in the closet that will never see the light of day. They will never be published. Sometimes, I plunder them for ideas because there were some good ideas in there, but they simply weren’t good enough or ready enough to be published. I’d have to rewrite from scratch, if I were to ever hope to see them on the shelf, so I use them for idea banks. There were actually two that I wrote before that one that I ended up throwing away because of my ex. He was very jealous of anybody with talent. He had a talent for drawing and he could have been a great illustrator, but he didn’t believe it, so anybody else who had talent and was really working on building that up, he got really nasty around. He was an abusive person. The first novel I wrote was called Tales of the Fae Queen, and it was back in ‘85. I wrote it off of some ideas I’d been playing with in Dungeons & Dragons. I had this whole world built up in my mind, so I decided that I might as well write it down. I think it ended up being 400 pages of tiny type with hardly any margins. I have no idea how many words it was, but it was fun. It was something I loved. It was what I wanted to do, and I figured that, if I didn’t start somewhere, I’d never end up achieving what I wanted. You can’t win, if you don’t enter a contest. You can’t sell, if you don’t write something to sell. So, the next logical step was to write the book and start trying to submit, because this was long before indie publishing was a viable, respectable choice.
Was it difficult to finish those first books, without wanting to continually self-edit them?
Yasmine: I have pretty much always been the type of person who writes most of the book before I start editing. The way I work now, because of the time crunch I’m in with writing as much as I do, I usually write the first chapter at least two or three times, maybe four times. Then, I write about 250 pages of the book. Then, I go back and edit it, usually just lightly, to remind myself of what I’ve done on the book. And then, I finish it, and I go back and revise it. I don’t have a problem with self-editing anymore. I used to feel a lot less confident. Even when I turned in my first few books to my editor (when I was with Berkley), I sat there just in terror, wondering, “Is she going to like it?” And, every time, she was like, “This is great! It’s better than the last one.” That helped build up my confidence. That’s just a process of coming to know where you’re at with your own work and feeling confident enough in your own abilities that you’re not sitting on the edge of your seat going, “Oh, my god, did I do that right? Did I not do that right?”
I’m not going to say I conquered it because I never say that I’ve conquered anything, but I don’t have as much problem with self-editing as I used to, and I think that’s just a matter of continual practice and work. All writers have doubts. All writers go through insecurity. Every single time I start a new book, there’s that little feeling of, “Can I do it again?” One of the things that I tell writers is to accept that your first novel may not sell, and that makes it a whole lot easier to finish it. If you take the pressure off and stop thinking, “I have to sell this first novel!” then you can write it and learn from it. Maybe it will sell, but if it doesn’t, you’re not sitting there going, “Is it good enough yet?” I have not met a writer yet who doesn’t have some insecurity, or doesn’t at some point wonder, “Am I really a fraud? I’ve got 10 books on the shelf, but am I really good enough?” And then, I went through a period where I thought, “Oh, this must just be before you sell a book. Once I sell a book, everything will be okay and I’ll feel secure and I’ll feel like everything is great!” Then, I sold my first book, back in ‘96, and I thought, “Was it a fluke? Can I do it again? Was it just a stroke of luck?” I sold the second one and thought, “Okay, I did it again. That was a bit better, but what about a third time?” I realized that, even though it mutes a bit after awhile, that insecurity is still going to be there. It’s human nature.
You weave mystery, fantasy and magic together very seamlessly in your work. When did you become interested in those aspects of your writing, and is that something you’ve always wanted to do?
Yasmine: I started out wanting to be a science fiction and fantasy author. That was my dream for many, many years, so that aspect has always been there. When I was a kid, I was reading Asimov, Clark and Bradbury. Luckily, our library did not divide the books into adult and children’s, in terms of what you could check out. I was allowed to check out anything I wanted, so I was over just plundering the science fiction shelves in the adult section of the library, like crazy. I remember, one summer, I kept track of how many books I read, and I read 90 books that summer, just one after another, and all of them were pretty much fantasy and science fiction — anything I could get my hands on that seemed remotely in that vein. I never once dreamed that I could be a mystery writer. I really had no clue that I had the ability to write mystery. Now, I think all books have some mystery in them, to some degree. There’s always the discovery of underlying factors, and the discovery of what’s fueling the characters.
How did you make the transition from publishing non-fiction to publishing fiction?
Yasmine: In the year 2000, things started going downhill. I had sold seven non-fiction books and, in November of that year, my husband was told he had a terminal condition. It was a mis-diagnosis, but we didn’t know that for a little while, which petrified us. That’s happened twice to him and seventeen years later, he’s still alive, so go figure.
Right after that, within the week, my husband lost his job because of the dot com fallout, and so we had no money coming in. And, my mother was dying, at that point. She’d been battling cancer for two years. So, within the space of three weeks, my husband was told he was terminal, he lost his job, my mother died and, right after that, we found out that he wasn’t terminal, which at least took some of the stress off. I was offered my non-fiction book contract, and they wanted it in six weeks.
I was totally burned out, but we needed the money from the advance, so I took the contract and I wrote the book. I basically turned off my emotions, and everything extraneous. I have no memory of writing that book. I remember walking into my office and I remember walking out, at the end of the day, but I have no memory of writing the book. My husband told me that, during that time period, I was like a zombie. Only the gods know what I was running on because there wasn’t anything left. He did get another job, shortly thereafter, which helped too, but by the time I finished writing the book and turned it in, I was so burned out that I couldn’t handle even the slightest scritchy comment from anybody. I was like, “While I’m proud of the non-fiction I’ve done, I can’t write any more. I’m burned out on it. I’m tired of it. I miss writing fiction. That’s what I’ve always wanted to write.”
When I started getting the energy to write again, which took a few weeks, I needed to write something that I could have fun with. So, I sat down at the computer and I just started goofing around, and I wrote three pages of something that started out with this woman, waking up and finding a ghost at the end of her bed, who told her that she’d been murdered by her husband and she needed help proving it. I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting,” so I showed my husband and he started to laugh. So, I played some more with it, and I got about three chapters done. I had a friend who was an agent, so I sent it to him and said, “What do you think of this? I have no idea what to think of it.” And, he wrote back going, “My god, your writing has taken a huge leap!” He line edited it down to one chapter, so I re-wrote it. And then, I wrote a couple more chapters and sent it off to him, and he edited those and sent them back, and I re-wrote those.
By the time I finished, I realized it was a mystery. So, I sent the book to him and he was very, very kind and very helpful. He line edited the entire book for me and showed me what I’d done wrong, and how I’d screwed up the pacing. He showed me why motivations didn’t work in some places, and he explained why they didn’t. All of a sudden, I got it. Something clicked and it was like, “Oh, I’ve got to do this here. Of course, she wouldn’t be thinking that there because this just happened, so she’d be focused on this.” He managed to make it make sense to me. So, I re-wrote the book three or four more times. He doesn’t represent mysteries, so he didn’t take me on, and I really didn’t expect him to. I was just grateful for all the help he’d given me. But, a friend said, “Well, my agent represents mysteries, so why don’t I give you a referral to her?” So, I wrote a query letter to the agent and blurbed the book, and she asked to see it. She read the first hundred pages and called me the next week and said, “I want to take you on as a client.” Within two and a half weeks after that, she got me a three-book contract with Berkley and I was suddenly a mystery writer.
Your characters are kick-ass, but still very vulnerable. Was it a conscious effort to include both of those aspects?
Yasmine: That’s the way I see people, in general. I grew up in a very abusive home and I had a nine-year abusive marriage before the one I’m in now, which is wonderful. I knew what it was like to be trampled, to be hit and to be hurt. I had to grow strong out of that. I had to grow a backbone. A lot of times, when you have a very strong person or character, there’s going to be vulnerabilities under there from the past, from insecurities and from baggage. I do not believe in perfection. I do not believe that you can have someone that is just totally pulled together. Everybody I’ve talked to, no matter how strong they seem, always seems to have some part of themselves that they’re insecure about. I see that as the basic nature of existence. I don’t believe in omnipotence, omniscience, or invulnerability. There are things that are very, very strong, but there’s always going to be some vulnerability. The most fascinating parts of a character are the parts that don’t quite work right, and are the parts where they fall down a little.
When you write books like this, how do you find the right balance between telling the story and the romance aspects, so that you’re not too heavy with one or the other?
Yasmine: I’m not a romance writer. Not in the traditional way. I don’t object to the title, because I respect romances and those writers who write them. I simply don’t write HEA endings (Happily ever after), and my main focus is the action. However…I always add relationships and–usually–explicit sex to the books. If I feel like I’m straining to write a scene or struggling to find a way to make it work, then I know there’s something wrong with it.
For the sex, I’m not a person who likes to close the bedroom door on characters. To me, sex is part of life, it’s part of who we are as a species, and it’s definitely part of the fae. However, it needs to fit where they’re at in the story arc, for me to put it in. I’m not going to have them be in the middle of an action scene, and then, all of a sudden, drop to go screw in the corner.
There’s got to be a method to the pacing, where it actually works. That’s nebulous, but it is a nebulous thing. I look at it and I go, “Does it feel like it fits here? Is there a reason for it here?” If it fits, great. If it doesn’t, then we take it out. There are a few times where I actually do shut the bedroom door because we just had a great sex scene four chapters ago, and there may be one in the future, and right then we need to get onto the next scene. It’s a balancing act. You’re just constantly compensating to find that midpoint range.
Has writing the sex scenes been easy for you, or did you have to learn to become more bold with them, over time?
Yasmine: I have never had a problem writing sex scenes. I’m probably not a person who could write an erotic novel because I like writing action and spooky stuff along with sex. I love good erotica, but I just don’t think I could write it. I don’t have a hang-up about sex, but I prefer my scenes to be explicit. If it’s a cock, I call it a cock. I know that some people get a little bit chagrined about my language, but I believe in calling things what they are. Hell, I wrote a nonfiction book on sex magick. I had to get over blushing.
Do you do much research, or do you prefer to draw totally from your imagination?
Yasmine: A lot of my research has been done over the years, in my study of the metaphysical realm and mythology, so I’m drawing on years of research that I’ve already done. There are times where something will pop up that I need to go look up, but for the most part, a lot of it is already up in my head. I have eight non-fiction metaphysical books out there, and I’ve been in the craft since 1980, so I’ve got a long background of that.
How are you with reading reviews? Is that something that you do or don’t like to do?
Yasmine: Over the years, as my popularity grew, so did my detractors. I have my share of haters. *grins* When you have a bigger audience, you get more nasty comments. I’ve had so much good response, but I have been trashed so much I’m surprised I don’t wake up in a dumpster.
I’ve been trash-talked. There are always going to be people who say, “I can’t believe you did this with vampires! I can’t believe you made a werecat act like that!” Or “I hate your work” or “You’re writing pornography now, why???” I’ve been called a slut, a whore, a back-stabbing bitch, and one of my favorites, “A Mary-Sue pornographer.” One reviewer on Goodreads went ballistic (she hated one of my books) and put a thread up with my picture, encouraging people to take pot-shots at my looks. That was a flamewar, I’ll tell you, and I didn’t say ONE word in it. I tried to calm down my readers who saw it and encourage them to ignore the trolls.
But, it was still a shock when I first began getting the letters and notes, which is why I finally broke myself of the habit of reading reviews. It was for my own sanity’s sake. You get to a point where you just have to go, “Okay, well, I’m sorry you didn’t like it. Go find another author, and I hope you find one you really enjoy.” I’m not going to change my writing style just to please other people because then you’re going to bland it down so bad nobody will want to read it. You can’t change your inherent style to please other people. You can listen and, if the comments are the same, over and over again, maybe you need to take that under advisement. But, when they’re so disparate and they get so angry, then you start thinking, “Well, maybe I’m just pushing their buttons and it’s their problem, not mine.”
What authors have influenced your work over the years?
Yasmine: My biggest influence would be Ray Bradbury. He’s also my favorite author. His work spoke to me from a young age, and still does. It reads more like poetry than prose at times, and his ‘word pictures’ are so brilliant that they practically sing off the page. One of my favorite books is Rebecca, so Daphne du Maurier had an influence on me. I loved the brooding gothic mood in most of her work. And my favorite book of all time is Watership Down by Richard Adams, which encapsulates the “heroes journey”–the quest. A small band of relatively weak characters who are out to win against the odds. Tolkien, of course. Just…LOTR, what can I say? Some of my other authors/series I really like: Diane Mott Davidson’s culinary mystery series. Guy Gavriel Kay’s work. Tad Williams. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. I absolutely loved Anne Rice’s The Vampire LeStat, the Mummy, and the Witching Hour. I love the Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs and Jack Chalker’s Well of Souls Series. Amy Tan’s books speak to me, my favorite is The Hundred Secret Senses. I like a lot of Stephen King’s work–my favorite will always remain the Shining. I love Greg Bear’s writing. Other authors I really like: Anne McCaffrey, Joan D. Vinge, Maeve Binchy, LaVyrle Spencer, Michael Crichton, Arthur C. Clarke, Kate Danley, Donna Augustine, Tanith Lee, Sara Paretsky, JA Jance, and so many others.