Today I’m hanging out with author/actress/comedienne Kate Danley!! Kate has written and independently published three novels. The first is The Woodcutter and if you like fairytales retold with a new and often dark twist then you need to read this book. The others are the first two books in an extremely fun and funny Urban Fantasy series called The Maggie MacKay Magical Tracker series. Maggie For Hire is the first book in the series and the most recent one is Maggie Get Your Gun. I cornered Kate this past weekend and bombarded her with some questions about writing the Maggie series which she graciously answered.
1. Both Maggie For Hire and Maggie Get Your Gun are solidly grounded in the UF genre. What inspired you write a series in the first place and why a UF series?
I was staring down the barrel of National Novel Writing Month and had to come up with something. I absolutely adore urban fantasy – Butcher, Pettersson, Caine, Harrison… you name it, my shelves are groaning from the weight of their books.
I’m a firm believer that writing should be fun. Life will grind you down enough on its own. Writing should be an escape. You, as an author, have the opportunity to create that book you always wished you were reading. So I decided to write what I knew and loved. Immersing myself in a world of beating up vampires and ghouls seemed like a great way to spend the month of November. Don’t judge me.
But as an author, I think it is important to ask yourself what can you add? What is it that you do that is uniquely you? What is your voice? I was pretty deep in the improv, sketch, and standup world at the time and just thought maybe I could bring some humor to the UF genre. You know, sort of Janet Evanovich with bloodsuckers. And thus, Maggie was born.
2. One of the many things I LOVE about the Maggie books is that Maggie has a family and they act the way family does…being nosy, being concerned, sniping, bringing up old jokes and elementary school humiliations. Was that a conscious goal on your part when you started to create the world for Maggie?
Aw! Thank you! You know, I didn’t really start off with the idea of making it a “family” story. It all began with a frustration I had as a reader. There was literary glut of incompetent heroines who stumbled upon solutions, antiheroes and losers who happened to magically “get it right”. Tada!
I wanted a gal who was unapologetically good at her job, a bounty hunter that actually COULD kickass and did it better than everyone around her. I wanted HER to save the day, not some guy she has fallen for or some cops who busted in just as the bad guy had finished tying her up. I wanted to write about a strong woman.
But writing about perfect people gets to be a yawn for readers. So with this tough as nails heroine who isn’t frightened by bad guys and never shirks at her duties, I had to figure out what could bring Maggie to her knees…
And the answer was “family”.
Each character is a foil to one of Maggie’s strengths, an aspect of her personality that they can either create or destroy her. It gave me an arena to show her vulnerability. It is with her family and her past that I found the dimensions to what could have been a very flat character. I was surprised as anyone as it unfolded.
3. What do you find to be most difficult in writing a UF series?
Oh man… I was a poor planner when I started writing Maggie and I didn’t organize myself very well. It is a bear to keep track of all the magical rules you’ve established, as well nitpicky little details you thoughtlessly threw in like what buildings look like or eye color or kitchen décor or middle names. To any aspiring authors reading this, keep a notebook close and write down anything that looks like it might go on Wikipedia.
4. I know you have participated in the last two NaNoWriMo's and that both the Maggie books were born out of that process. Would you share with us what your writing routine is during that intensive month and what is the easiest thing about writing during that month and what is the hardest?
NaNoWriMo is about churning out the words and meeting deadlines. You write in the morning, you write on your lunch break, you write at night, and whenever you’re not writing, you’re thinking about writing. You eat, sleep, and dream your book. For some people, it is hell. For me, it is my favorite month of the year.
A lot of times, to make my daily word count, I would ramble on with any scene that popped into my head, whether it fit into the story or not. I figured I would just deal with story arc when the time rolled around. That method has resulted in about 14,000 words just being trashed. I was about 28,000 words into Maggie Get Your Gun when I realized I was writing two separate stories and then I had to go back and separate them like a surgeon with conjoined twins. Sorting through a tangled spaghetti mound of words is brutal.
But giving yourself the freedom as an author to write and see what happens without planning led to discoveries I never would have come up with any other way. The whole ending of Maggie Get Your Gun? Surprise! And that, to me, is exciting. It is play. Little kids don’t worry whether they are telling a good story or not. They just have fun and follow the thought thread to its conclusion, and they come up with the most amazingly rich worlds. As grown-ups, we have the advantage of knowing how to craft character development and plot structure, and if we can tap the underlying richness of imagination and creativity that was so easy to find when we were kids… Well, it’s better than getting a tree house and roller skates for your birthday!
5. You have this amazing background in live theatre and sketch comedy. You've said that the sketch comedy work really sharpened you writing skills. Can you elaborate on the difference between writing in such a collaborative environment vs. writing a novel?
I’ve done sketch, improv, and standup for over five years now and, truly, thank the stars for each of those forms. Sketch taught me more than anything else how to hit a deadline. Sunday rolls around and you need three brilliantly funny mini-plays for a show on Friday. You learn how to turn on the Muse’s alarm clock and crank out something that won’t embarrass you in front of a paying audience pretty quick.
But more importantly, those comedy forms taught me how to write a joke, structure a scene, develop action, keep up the pacing… I did story form improv for about three years. Each week eight of us would get up on stage and have to improvise a 45-minute soap opera episode. There is no better school to know if you’re hitting things right than an audience. They will let you know and they will let you know immediately.
But there were eight people on that stage trying to read each others’ minds. Sitting down at a keyboard and getting to write a story from beginning to end without someone piping in with their off-the-wall suggestion of “proctologist” was CAKE compared to improv.
I think the best thing about writing novels vs. those other forms is that there is no one is able to screw things up except you. Is that awful to say? There is so much that can go wrong in live theater… Sets can fall over, someone in the audience’s phone can go off in the middle of a punch line, someone can space cadet on a line. Writing 50,000 words is actually a relief. There is so much safety knowing that the only person who can screw up your book is you. And your proctologist.
6. What is your favorite line or moment in Maggie Get Your Gun? 'Cause I am still giggling about "The double white globes of the San Onofre nuclear power plant loomed on the horizon like two boobs of death." Seriously? Best line ever!
Oh jeez… I have no idea what it says about me that my brain can spit that kind of thing out… Actually, I know where it came from, though. There was a golden age of blogging a decade ago and it was glorious. There were no RSS feeds or Google Readers. Finding a blog meant digging around and discovering it. Getting people to follow your blog meant leaving brilliant comments and luring people over to your site with your awesomeness. And truly, the comments folks left were almost funnier than the posts. Language became liquid. It was this sphere of one-upmanship. It was hilariously cutthroat. The blogs I followed then were almost a modern day Vicious Circle, an online Algonquin Round Table. So much of my writing style I attribute to what I learned during that era and those darling bloggers who were way wittier than me.
And my favorite line is, “Killian, put down the pop gun before I pop you one.” It’s dumb. And I don’t care.
7. I was recently chatting with a mutual friend of ours and we were talking about those writers who just stop us in our tracks because what they put down on the page is so heart stoppingly beautiful. Who is that writer for you? The person you just melt over when you read their words.
Pulitzer winner Annie Dillard takes my breath away. I had never even heard of her when a friend recommended “The Writing Life”. I can’t read more than a paragraph at a time because her work is so densely beautiful, I want to commit every line to memory. Whenever I need inspiration, I turn to her words. It is completely swoon worthy!
The other author is Alexandar McCall Smith, specifically his “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency”. When I was younger, one of the most beautiful women I knew was a nun from Kenya named Sister Angela. There was music to every word that came from her mouth. It was like listening to wind chimes or water over river rocks. Her heart was filled with nothing but kindness and love and quiet strength. When I read “No. 1 Ladies”, I hear her voice. Alexandar McCall Smith has done an astonishing job of capturing the rhythms of Africa and he somehow captured the spirit of this woman I knew. It is gorgeous.
So there you have it! A peek into the wonderful world of Kate Danley. Don’t miss the Maggie books folks, seriously loads of fun.
Kate Danley is a twenty year veteran of stage and screen with a B.S. in theatre from Towson University. She was one of four students to be named a Maryland Distinguished Scholar in the Arts in the annual competition.
Her debut novel, The Woodcutter, was honored with the Garcia Award for the Best Fiction Book of the Year, the 1st Place Fantasy Book in the Reader Views Literary Awards, and the winner of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Her plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, and DC Metro area. Her screenplay Fairy Blood won 1st Place in the Breckenridge Festival of Film Screenwriting Competition in the Action/Adventure Category and her screenplay American Privateer was a 2nd Round Choice in the Carl Sautter Memorial Screenwriting Competition.
Her projects The Playhouse, Dog Days, Sock Zombie, SuperPout, and Sports Scents can be seen in festivals and on the internet. She trained in on-camera puppetry with Mr. Snuffleupagus and recently played the head of a 20-foot dinosaur on an NBC pilot.
She lost on Hollywood Squares.