Carrie Gessner writes speculative fiction. She received a BA in English from Carnegie Mellon University and an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She served in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, the influence of which can be seen in her fiction and her tea-drinking habit. Her first novel, The Dying of the Golden Day, was her master’s thesis. The first book in an epic fantasy series, it follows a young woman, the last person to be born with magic, who serves a prince intent on reuniting two kingdoms. Her second novel, The Stroke of Thirteen, is a contemporary fantasy tale. Her short fiction has also appeared online in The Teacup Trail.
She edits fiction, focusing on science fiction and fantasy, and she codirects an author series for a local public library, which hosts a local author every month to discuss writing and fiction. Because she’s particularly interested in representation in popular fiction, she owns and operates Sky Forest Press, a micropress focused on publishing fantasy and science-fiction novels with female protagonists. You can find her online at www.carriegessner.com, on Twitter (@CarrieGessner), on Instagram (www.instagram.com/carriegessner), and on Tumblr (www.carriegessner.tumblr.com). She lives in Pennsylvania, and when she’s not writing or reading, she likes to go for walks in the park with her greyhound.
Featured Author: Carrie Gessner Interview
LHP: How long have you been writing?
Carrie Gessner: Like most writers, I started when I was young. I was definitely writing creatively by middle school, but around college is when I became serious about it. I haven’t stopped since then!
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LHP: What/who inspired you to be a writer?
Carrie Gessner: II can’t pinpoint any one thing or person. My parents read to me a lot, and then once I learned to read, I just didn’t stop. So an early love of stories and encouragement to use my imagination would certainly contribute. Some of my favorite authors are Megan Whalen Turner, Edith Wharton, and Jane Austen. It’s probably easy to see their influences in my work. Back to top >>>
LHP: What genre do you prefer to write in?
Carrie Gessner: My absolute favorite is fantasy, especially epic fantasy. I also really enjoy science fiction and anything that allows me to mash some genres together. Back to top >>>
LHP: Describe your writing process. What comes first–character or plot? Do you “pants” it or outline?
Carrie Gessner: Usually, my ideas start with a seed—a character, a situation, a theme. Then I work to expand it. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, I pursue the story by creating the main character. I like knowing their personality, their main goal(s), and what motivates them. Then comes the outline. I always outline, although sometimes my outlines are a page long and allow me more leeway to explore unexpected threads, and sometimes they’re very long. No matter how long an outline, I try to give myself the freedom to deviate from it. Back to top >>>
LHP: What is your daily/weekly routine as a writer?
Carrie Gessner: I’m a night owl, so I do a lot of my writing at night on my laptop. On the days I write, I try to write 1,000 words, but I give myself days off so I don’t burn myself out. Most of the time I make that goal and go beyond it. I also prefer to listen to music, usually movie soundtracks that can provide some background noise without distracting me. If I’m having particular trouble, I’ll write by hand in a notebook or go back to my outline and add details until I feel like I know where the story needs to go. I also use my work commute to brainstorm or figure out how to plug plot holes. Back to top >>>
LHP: Are there any software tools, resources, or websites you use often while writing?
Carrie Gessner: Most days, Microsoft Word is all I need. If I need a little extra kick, I like to keep myself on track with Pacemaker Planner (www.pacemaker.press). It’s a website that lets you make plans for your writing or editing. You can adjust factors like what days you want to write, how long you want the plan to run, and whether you want to write more at the beginning of your plan or at the end or in the middle. In terms of research, I like Behind the Name (www.behindthename.com), which gives meanings and origins for a ton of names. It’s great for picking character names that are a little bit different than what I can come up with on my own.
LHP: What are some of your biggest challenges you feel like you have to overcome in your writing career?
Carrie Gessner: The biggest challenge I face is getting my name out there and finding readers. It’s tough for any new writer because there’s no secret formula. Marketing requires innovation and patience to try new tactics, see what works, tweak what does, and nix what doesn’t. Rinse and repeat. I’m guilty of neglecting marketing in favor of getting words on the page, but there needs to be a balance. I’m also getting used to the fact that each book presents new challenges. Even if I feel I’ve progressed in certain areas while writing one book, while writing the next, I’ll find other aspects to work on and improve. Back to top >>>
LHP: Do you have a set number of words per day you target? or do you set other goals to meet?
Carrie Gessner: My goals vary with the project. I usually try to hit 1,000 words in a day and 5,000 words a week if I’m working on a new short story or the first draft of a novel. With novels, too, it’s sometimes helpful to set my goals in terms of chapters, so, say, one chapter in five days. If I’m working on revising or editing a draft, I like to shoot for a chapter a day. I try to be flexible with myself, though. If I don’t hit my goal one day, I just try again the next. Sometimes I take an entire week off to recharge my creativity by reading, taking walks, and pursuing my hobbies, like knitting.
LHP: Question: How much time is spent on “the business of writing” – queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?
Carrie Gessner: Not enough! I’m sure this is tough for most writers, but it always leaves me feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’ve been trying different methods of marketing, and I’ll keep trying until I land on something both effective and enjoyable. I do, however, love doing things like author talks at local libraries or connecting with other writers at events. I also try to keep up with my social media, including Twitter and my blog, and use it to discuss fiction and stories in various aspects (like TV, film, and books besides mine). In this way, I try to stick to my strengths. No matter how much time I spend on the business aspect of writing, I always dedicate more time to actually writing.
LHP: Do you prefer short stories or full length novels in your writing?
Carrie Gessner: A year ago, I would’ve said novels. Now, I prefer each in different ways. I love that novels let me explore something in depth, create nuanced characters, and immerse me in a new world. With short stories, I love the challenge of trying to pack an entire story in a relatively small number of pages. I have to be more precise in my word choice as well as my plotting and pacing. If I get stuck while writing a novel, I’ll often start a short story to get my creativity flowing. Or if I’m uncertain about whether to pursue a story idea, I’ll write it as a short story to see if it might have novel legs. Back to top >>>
LHP: Can you give some us some insight into your story, “The Planet of Purple Forests” in Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths Vol.1?
Carrie Gessner: I spent time in Kazakhstan with the Peace Corps. Because of that experience, I’m interested in cultural interaction and culture shock. It bleeds into my writing because I like exploring what happens when a character meets an entirely new culture and they have to readjust their worldview to fit in this new information. It’s a common theme in my writing that seems especially relevant today, and it’s easily seen in “The Planet of Purple Forests.” Back to top >>>
LHP: What advice can you give other writers?
Carrie Gessner: One of my favorite pieces of advice is something I heard in my MFA program: “Write the story that gets your butt in the chair.” If you’re excited about it, that comes through in your writing. Don’t feel like you have to write to the market or write something that will sell. Don’t write for anyone but yourself. Donna Tartt said, “Books are written by the alone for the alone.” Because we often write in a vacuum and we’re stuck in our own heads so much, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that fiction matters to people and our voices matter. Stories help us connect with the world and feel not so alone. I’m sure every write I know has a story about books helping them feel like a part of something. Your book could do the same for someone else. If you need to write it, there will be someone out there who needs to read it. Back to top >>>
Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths Vol.1
Carrie Gessner recently authored “The Planet of Purple Forests” for Beautiful Lies Painful Truths, on sale now on Amazon.com.