Welcome to Why Write, a super short podcast that asks writers just that, why they write. Hi, I’m Noè Harsel, a writer and Chair of Writers Victoria, and I’m excited to chat to a diverse group of writers and simply ask, why write? I’m glad you’re here with me.
Today we have Amie Kaufman. Amie is a New York Times, USA Today and internationally best-selling author of science fiction and fantasy. Several of her series are currently in development for film and TV. Raised in Australia, and occasionally Ireland, Amie has degrees in history, literature, law and conflict resolution, and is currently undertaking a PhD in creative writing. She’s also the host of the podcast, Amie Kaufman on Writing.
So welcome to Why Write, Amie. You are truly such an incredibly generous author. I am so thrilled to have you here. Let’s get right to the big question. The reason why we’re here, tell us Amie, why do you write?
Do you know that this question gave me a little bit of a I don’t know, and a little bit of an existential crisis when I knew it was coming. I think I was a little bit like, you know, the centipede that someone says, how on earth do you walk with 100 legs? And as soon as the centipede thinks about it, she’s like, I have no idea. So as I started to think about this, I started to think, why do I write? Because the thing is, it’s instinctive. And it’s actually, you know, it’s like, you know, animals migrate, and, you know, I write, it’s just a thing that I do. And I haven’t given a lot of thought to why, I just followed the instinct for a long time. So thinking about it has been really interesting. And I think for me, it is about capturing the reading under the blanket feeling. My childhood was filled with reading and with this absolute sense of wonder, the tingle when you pick up a book, and there’s endless potential in front of you, it could be anything, it could take you anywhere. That was such a hallmark of my childhood.
And to this day, you know, I mean, I wouldn’t want to pretend that you know, being an author is you know, every day you wake up and you know, Snow White style, you know, birds put your dressing gown on when you sit down and get to it. But it’s pretty great. And I think one of the things that I make sure I do is that I don’t frame my writing, as something I have to do, I frame it in my head is something that I get to do. And each morning when I sit down to get to work, because I’m fortunate enough to be a full time writer, I think to myself, you know, consciously every single morning, I think: I get to do this.
There are 1000 past Amies from very small Amie, to medium-sized Amie, to yesterday’s Amie, who would all be blown away by the idea that I would get to do this. And I want to stay in touch with them and with their amazement at that, because it helps me, I think, reach for the wonder that I want to create. You know, there’s this Terry Pratchett quote that I particularly love, that I’m gonna get the wording wrong, but it’s something like: “it’s still magic, even if you know how it’s done”. And that’s very much how I feel about it. You know, I write to create that sense of wonder and, and potential and anticipation for myself, and I hope to share it with other people.
That is a beautiful, beautiful answer, and I think leads beautifully into something else that makes me think about when I think about you and your writing. So you do a lot of writing for a YA audience, and this sense of wonder and joy and anticipation: can you tell us a little bit about some of those particular challenges and particular freedoms that may allow for you?
I love writing for a YA audience. And it’s funny, sometimes people will say, “Oh, no, do you think you’ll ever write for adults?” And what they mean is a real book? And, you know, I mean, the answer is “perhaps” if I had an idea I thought was helpful for adults, and I might, but I love writing for teenagers, because I think that an unbelievably important audience and you know, the same is true of my middle grade. It’s so important to be talking to them. But it’s also fun to be talking to them. You know, it’s not just about “we must teach the youth”, it’s about, have you talked to the youth lately? They’re great. I want to be having conversations with them. Because, you know, I don’t think you should never set out to teach a lesson with a book. I think it is a very short road from there to being preachy. But I certainly write books to ask questions, I suppose, you know, not just of my readers, but of myself often. And I write books, I suppose to explore ideas. And one of the ideas that I explore most often is the idea that a small group of people can do anything.
A quote that has been attributed to Margaret Mead and to many others, and, you know, it goes something like: “Never doubt that a small determined group of individuals can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And that is something that I really want to communicate to readers, because I think for my, for my teen readers, you know, I always sort of half joke, but not really, that if we can just not destroy the world until our teen readers take over, then they’ll save us all. But I want them to know that. Because they are so extraordinary. And I want them to know that what they do can make a difference. The themes that I seem to find myself coming back to over and over again, you know, are about small groups of people changing the world and about people who reach across the divide, who come from different places, and different, you know, backgrounds and different in my case, different planets, you know, managing to reach out to each other and, and becoming found family, I think that’s the sort of stuff it’s really important to be in conversation with young people about and, you know, those are the sorts of conversations that had were had with me that were really important.
You mentioned as well, about how, when you’re writing, you’re exploring the themes and things are coming up to you and you’re thinking, “Oh, that’s why I wrote that”, and a number of your titles are in a series. And I’m just curious, so, when you’re when you’re in it, is it answering questions as you go like as in like, have you conceived it as a total narrative, and it’s like, “Oh, I see this is going to be X number of books in the series”, or does that develop as you’re going through it?
I would say that I generally have an idea of how long a series will be before it begins. And I generally have an idea of how long the book will be. But you hold that idea lightly, because you would hate to be wrong and not notice, because you were so fixated on this conclusion that you had already reached. And you know, for instance, I just finished the Aurora Series with Jay Kristoff and we completely changed the ending that we had had planned. We had to think, how to say it without spoilers, we had thought that the whole thing would end with a very sort of traditional, you know, it’s a big epic, and we thought it would end with a big traditional battle. And we realised in the end, that for a series that is about the power of individuals to make a difference, and the power of loving people and making them your family, even when they’re different to you, that didn’t really feel like the right way to end the story. And it ended up going in a completely different direction. So, I think you need to hold these things lightly, because if you’re doing it well, you will learn something while you write. And those lessons should then I think, inform what comes later in the book, and in the series. I mean, I’m an outliner, I, I’m pretty organised, I usually have a fairly clear written plan of where the story is going. I mean, awe of people who can sit down and write “once upon a time” and see what happens next. I’m not one of them. But even as an outliner, you know, changing things up is as simple as you know, deleting a sentence and typing another one, it’s not carved in stone,
I love it. I love it. And you’ve mentioned something else that I really do love about you is that you are a collaborator. Amie 8:15 I love collaborating, I really love it, I think we like to joke that choosing a collaborator is a little bit like getting married in that if you pick the one person, it will be an unmitigated disaster for everyone involved. But if you pick the right person, it’s not to say that, you know, everything will always sort of cruise along perfectly, but you will have absolute confidence that you are both trying to get to the same place. And you’ll be interested in why the other person might have a different idea about the path to take, and you’ll want to hear their voice and they’ll want to hear yours. Before I was a writer, I worked as a mediator. And I suppose working as a mediator was entirely about helping warring parties discover that the other person actually had plenty in common with them. And, you know, a good mediation wasn’t everybody walking out slightly disgruntled, but accepting what had happened. A good meditation was everybody shaking hands at the end and meaning it. And I didn’t mean they had to agree on everything, but it meant they now understood. You know, a lot of my colleagues used to think that some kind of witchcraft was going on in the room because they have to be just about escorted in under armed guard. And then they’d walk out and give each other tips about, you know, where to get their parking validated. That has flowed on through my writing in terms of that theme of people coming together across divides. And it’s also you know, something that I bring to my coauthoring that I know how to communicate, and I know how to collaborate and, you know, my co-authors do too.
That’s beautiful. And I think that really shows in everything that you’re doing and why it’s always such a joy to be around you, Amie. Thank you so much for your time today.
Thank you for having me. I can’t wait to listen to the rest of the series.
Thanks for listening. We would love to hear why you write, tell me at whywrite.com.au
Why Write was recorded at Brand Music and engineered by Michael Burrows.
Original Music by Brand Music.