Amy Marie Ayres is the Web Editor & Content Fairy at DIY MFA. When she is not in her office writing about terraformed planets, multiple personalities, and Irish folklore, she is hanging with her awesome tech-hubby, stepson, and RubyCat. Visit amymarieayres.com where you can find out more about her private writer’s group Fill the Blank Page. You can sign up for her Newsletter where she sends out motivational tips for new writers and her special brand of humor. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.
What inspired your story and characters? [If multiple books, please write in separate paragraphs].
Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie was inspired by a few things. My interest in what makes people tick, experiences from my own childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and my distaste for certain things people do. I also wanted to make a connection between childhood bullying and the snobbery in academia.
As far as the characters: honestly, Joanna is basically who I would have become if I threw in the towel. The character with DID was actually inspired by anonymous interviews I did with DID patients, because I wanted their side of the story. I blogged about it a few times on my website.
Five Doors was once again inspired by stuff in my life. Places I have lived and travelled, people I have met. Airport experiences. Marilyn is the sort of person I would be if I could live out all my fantasies. The villain is obviously not real, but he is representative of obstacles I have encountered in my own life and some of my self-sabotage.
Star Tribe is me trying out the Sci Fi genre, to be fair. My main character is an introvert in a world where introversion is illegal. And it was inspired by people who find introversion highly unlikable. I won’t say much more than that since it’s still very much a WIP.
How do you come up with character names?
That’s an interesting question. I think sometimes I do put a lot of thought into that, and other times how a name sounds is what clinches it for me.
One thing I tend to do with my characters is give them a name and then subsequent “nicknames” that the other characters call them tend to pop up. That is the case in two of my books. I even wrote a play called “nicknames” where I try to address and explain this phenomena.
Other than your own, what book do you wish you would have written?
I think Landline by Rainbow Rowell is a good example of a book I feel like I could have written but I wasn’t skilled enough as a writer with enough guts to really go for it at that time. Some writers write from an emotional place where I feel I very much live and when I read their writing, I think “Damn, I could have written this!” But they beat me to it.
What inspired you to begin writing?
When I was a young teen my parents liked to drag me to their summer home in the Poconos. I love it up there now (I went there on my honeymoon), but I wasn’t very appreciative at that time of having to leave behind my friends to live in a cabin with no indoor plumbing or cable (pre-internet, people!) It was a timeshare so other families visited and left behind piles of Lit Magazines that I started reading, copies of Nat Geo too. I read those articles and tried to write my own. Same with the stories and poetry in the Lit mags. I was suddenly inspired being in nature and made the best of things. I started taking a Creative Writing class in the fall. The rest is history.
When did you begin writing – what age approximately?
When I was in 5th grade I wrote my first “book” which was basically a picture book with terribly drawn pictures. I didn’t try writing again until around 14-15 years old when I wrote a short play for my friends to act out. Then I went to the mountains with my parents I was 15, 16 years old. I would say in my 20’s I was a full-on “writer.”
What inspires you while writing?
Music. I can be inspired by things like nature, lines from movies/other books, ideas that come from the ether, but nothing gets my neurons firing like music.
I make playlists for my books and it’s a combination of songs that inspired the idea and songs that fit in with the story and songs that build the emotion I need to write a certain story/scene. But on the flipside I love to listen to only Laura Marling when I write. She’s been an influence on my writing for more than a decade now in more ways than I can count at this point.
How do you start a story?
To be honest, something annoys me so much I feel like I have to create something to combat it. It can be something happening in society I disagree with, or just how people treat each other. That has always been a thru line for why I first sit down to write. That’s both the Why and the How I guess.
To break it down: I start with a very specific character in mind, I even have their voice in my head. The protag is usually fighting herself internally and some outlying force she cannot control. I make notes on all those things and then see if there is a story there. There usually is if I can nail down that outlying force and bring it in close to her. If so, I immediately get to writing before I lose steam.
Do you outline your story ahead of time? Or do you just wing it? Why?
I think the pantsing thing is real. I am training my brain to plan more these days, but I do sometimes feel stifled by that. I love when I am on a writing streak and I surprise myself. That’s the fun in writing to me. I will put an outline in front of me and say to myself “Okay, Amy, follow the outline…be good.” But then I can take an idea and go off the rails with it. Structure is important though for meeting goals and finishing things. The kind of structure I like to give myself is deadlines and plot points, but honestly, I love to just roll with it. Probably why I like Improv.
Do you think the movies are better than the books? Why or why not?
Ha, it’s so funny you ask this, because I go back and forth on it. When a book becomes a big budget movie people are going to be disappointed. They are just different mediums and they are produced differently so they are going to be different from each other. Better or worse could be subjective. Some movies are just terrible movies and it’s unfortunate if they were inspired by a really great book. But when you can get around that, you could have a lovely movie with a great story that can be better than the book because it can take you to familiar places that make you feel like you’re in a dream you once had. I think it’s a difficult undertaking, and rare, but in those cases, the movie is better.
What is your relationship like with your characters? Like them, dislike them? Why?
Oof. In the WIP stages, it can get dicey. Sometimes I love them, a little too much, you know? Other times I get so angry at them for not doing the work for me or not telling me enough about themselves and the world to get me inspired I begin to dislike them. But I still read Whatever Happened to Maxwell Charlie and cry. I love all those characters very much, even the baddies. I love my subsequent books and characters too, but just not as much. What can I say? I guess I play favorites 😉
Do you base your characters off of yourself or people you know? Why or why not?
Yes, I do. Both myself and others. I’ll admit that. I feel like better known authors shy away from saying they do because their book is so well known they don’t want to make people uncomfortable. But I think some of the best writing comes from real life. That is part of the premise of the writing group I started: Fill the Blank Page, to get people to stop being afraid to do that which is often what stops them from writing in the first place.
How much of your work is based on real people/events in your own life?
I’d say 85% 😉. If you think about what inspires me to start writing, and then what the characters end up saying to each other, and the things they do—very much inspired by real people and things. But I throw in fantastical things (like magic and space travel) to make it all seem fictional. Even with Maxwell Charlie which has a character with DID (the off kilter/untrue thing), combined with taking memories/scenes from my own life and moving them to unfamiliar places. I like the art of fictionalizing that stuff though, and making people guess what is true and what isn’t. I think that’s also the fun of being a writer.
What is your writing process like? Explain it to us.
I am actually in iteration-mode at the moment, where I am playing around with different processes to see what fits. But when the mood strikes and nothing is in my way, I tend to do 3 things:
- Write down the idea I have before it vanishes from my brain
- Have a conversation about what I am writing about with an unwitting soul (usually my husband-he thinks I do this to torture him, but I do it to regain my sanity and see if my ideas land.)
- Get to work with some type of implement (whichever feels most comfortable) and turn my “idea” into a tangible thing I can start complaining about.
After I start taking it seriously, I tend to throw myself into my work until I have 13ish chapters and then I start feeling like an impostor and stop writing. Then I get inspired somehow to keep going again. Rinse, repeat.
Do you have a favorite character you’ve written?
I am kindred spirits with my protags, but I kind of LOVE my villains, I think because I know how cruel and obnoxious they are, and I love that I could make that happen. I think Reagan in Maxwell Charlie has to be my favorite. She’s just everything wrong with everything and I love it.
Do you have a favorite story you’ve written?
The story itself isn’t my favorite in Maxwell Charlie, oddly enough, but I think that the story of Five Doors is pretty cool.
What is your favorite book?
This changes all the time. Right now, I am reading Um, No Thank You by Samantha Irby and it is AMAZING. I guess I’d pick the Great Gatsby as a good classic. And then David Sedaris was my favorite author for a while.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
The weirdest answer I could give is I wish I knew one author who was the combination of all of my favorites, so I could actually have one favorite.
FUN, RANDOM QUESTIONS:
What’s your favorite genre for books, movies, or TV shows?
I’m still all about Broad City and I love adult cartoons. Historical stuff tends to be my jam too. I like drama that is real and interesting and romance that isn’t cheesy. I love humor and I am a comedy nerd forever. I love sketch comedy groups. I’ll stream sitcoms and sketch shows from the 90’s I still find funny. I rewatched Frasier and Mr. Show for the billionth time if you want insight into my psyche. No shame.
What are some of your hobbies?
Pre-COVID I loved theater and improv. I loved to travel. I used to act and sing, but now I’m pretty much a writer/homebody. Sometimes I draw and paint. Hope to be more interesting soon!