Author Interview Series: Conversations with YA Fantasy Author Breeana Puttroff
by Shannon Leigh Rivera
Thanks for stopping by, Breeana! I’m so glad to have you on the Fantasy Fix. Let’s start off with some questions so my readers can learn a little bit about you. I’ll start with the basics. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer? Do you feel like it chose you or you chose?
So, first, I define “writer” differently than “author.” I don’t think I ever decided to be a writer. I just was one. Making up stories is just what my brain does, and has done, from my earliest memories. It’s how I put myself to sleep at night, it’s even how I dream half the time. I’ll literally dream stories that I’ve never read, and will never write down. I couldn’t have chosen to do it any more than I can choose not to do it.
I started writing down some of the stories as soon as I learned how to write the letters, so… when I was five?
I agree with that notion. I think many writers feel the same way. What is it about being a writer that you love? Anything that you aren’t particularly fond of?
My favorite part is watching stories actually form on the paper, to see these ideas that have just been floating in bits and pieces in my mind come together and make something solid, something that can be shared with others. And then… when someone else reads it and actually sees what I see – that’s as close as we ever come to magic.
I dislike that it’s work sometimes. Sometimes it’s just plain effort to sit and actually get the words down on paper, and overcome the self-doubt and the idea that it’s all terrible and I have no idea what I’m doing. The WORK of writing is different than staring at the wall and talking to these characters in my mind. But it’s worth it.
I believe that self-doubt can be very crippling. Some of what I believe attributes to self-doubt is a lack of real planning or foresight when it comes to developing characters and stories. I tell my young writers that stories take time to develop if they want to write them well. Do you usually plan your characters and worlds ahead of time or are you a pantser? What advice would you give young writers when they are first starting out?
I would define myself as a pantser. Most of the time, when I sit down to write, I only have a vague idea of what’s actually going to come out on the page. I’m not very effective at outlines or extensive notes. But yet, I DO plan. I do sit for long periods of time with these characters and worlds in my mind long before they ever come out on the paper. I plot a LOT while I’m driving or walking or in the shower. Sometimes, I know I’m REALLY in a writing groove, because I find myself out of the chair, doing the dishes while I work out a conversation in my head.
But it does take time. I can’t just sit down on the spot and write a story out of nothing and have it be something worthwhile. My planning process might not always be written (and there are times I SERIOUSLY regret not having written down something fabulous I came up with), but there is one, and it takes a lot of time and work to make something I feel proud of.
Well, you certainly have some very intricate stories! I am sure that took a lot of time and hard work. Speaking of hard things, did you come up against any opposition when you started your career, whether from people or other forces (money, self-doubt, etc.)? If so, how did you overcome those hurdles?
I actually kind of started my writing career by accident. My first career love was teaching. I was an elementary school teacher/literacy specialist for eleven years. I wrote during that time, of course, but spent a lot more time teaching little minds to love reading and writing. Actually writing a novel was something I started one year over winter break just as a way to de-stress. I’d had this idea I wanted to explore, and I enjoyed playing around with it. I wanted to finish a book, but I had no idea if my writing was really publishable, and I wasn’t sure I ever planned on doing anything with it.
I finished the novel in the middle of 2011, which was just at the time digital self-publishing really began to take off. After checking out some of the self-published books on offer, I kind of thought, “Well, I have this book. I’m not sure it’s good, but I’m not sure it’s worse than some of the other things out there – maybe I should give it a go.” I figured I would get at least some kind of answer. Either the negative reviews would start pouring in and nobody would buy it, or maybe some people would like it.
Getting my first five-star review from a completely random reader who’d just picked my book out on Amazon was a huge shock. Finding there were readers waiting for the next book was even more incredible. Plenty of self-doubt and financial hurdles came up later, but I think that’s all just a permanent part of the deal for authors, and I just push through it.
That had to be an amazing feeling. I know that there is nothing better for a writer to have their work loved and appreciated by others. Since you started the process of writing a series, have you developed any writing habits that you feel have been beneficial to your career? Maybe you also have a particular place or time of day that you do your best writing?
I have a goal of “write every day”, at least 1,000 words. I find if I do this, then I can write. If I slack off for a few days, then I’ll find myself struggling to write 25 words in an entire day. But after a few days of consistently hitting the 1k goal (even if I have to pull teeth to get those), then it just flows, and a thousand words appear on the page as if by magic, sometimes doubling or tripling that number with little effort.
As far as time and place – no. I’m a single mom, and I homeschool, and sometimes I take care of other people’s children, too. Writing time is squeezed in between a million other things. But it always comes back to the same thing. My best writing comes after I START WRITING.
As a mother of four who homeschools, I totally get what you are saying! This past month I have had the priviledge to teach a NaNoWriMo Youth Writing Program class. They are a great group of kids, but they do struggle with the process of making time to write. What advice would you give to young writers about making time to write?
You will never “have” time to write. There will always be something else you could be doing. Social media, a game, places to go. Sometimes the distraction will be “thinking about writing”, endlessly planning, searching the Internet for pictures of your characters. There will always be something you could be doing besides writing. If you want to write, you have to make time for it. You have to choose it, and then just put yourself in the chair and put the words on the paper.
I couldn’t agree more. Motivation is also important. Is there anything in particular that motivates you to keep writing?
More than anything, I’m motivated by wanting to know what happens next!
It’s like being left on a cliffhanger, isn’t it?! I think sometimes, I tend to get caught in slumps when I am writing, even if I want to know what happens next. Do you ever feel like you hit a slump? If so, how do you get through those moments? Do you have any recommendations for others on what they can do if they are feeling in the drudges?
I do hit slumps. I’ve been struggling really badly with one this year. A lot of it has to do with starting something completely new, but even more of it has to do with just dealing with the realities of constantly interrupted writing time and other stresses that come with parenthood. The only way over it, for me, is to write. Sometimes I have to employ a lot of tricks. I use the Freedom app to block Facebook – that’s the one rabbit-hole I can stay down all day and lose everything. So I block it. I also use the app Write or Die when I really can’t get started. Just the focus of doing nothing but writing for even fifteen minutes can sometimes get me going again.
I’m also a huge fan of writing sprints and word wars with other writers. The competition and encouragement really help a lot, especially through slumps. When I find myself drifting from those communities, I also find my writing mojo slides.
That sounds like something a lot of us could learn from. I know I tend to get sucked into social media,especially since I have a lot of sites up and running for my blog. But, I also get to run into people who I admire and respect, and people who motivate me. Balance is key! Speaking of influences, if you had to pick an influence, who would you say are your top writing motivators? People who, perhaps, speak to you or encourage you or motivate you to do what you do?
I really don’t have just one. I’ve always been even more a reader than I am a writer, so there are a lot of books that I’ll just become obsessed with and read over and over again when I need to get some of the inspiration back. But it never stays on just one. I’ll discover something new and do the same thing all over again. For me, I need the magic constantly, and then it spurs me on to try to make some of my own.
As a fellow Biblophile, I totally understand! So a little bit of an off-the-topic question, if you were stranded on a deserted island with three people, real or imagined, historical or alive today, who would they be and why? This can include your characters or characters from other books.
I hate this question for two reasons – one, I almost can never pick things in absolutes. Two, I’m a genuine introvert, and the idea of being stuck on an island with people I had to deal with – or who had to deal with me — ALL THE TIME is terrifying to me, no matter who they are.
I would take my daughter of course. She’s pretty awesome, and I can’t imagine being stranded somewhere away from her. And then, if I could, I’d pick two other people who’d keep her entertained and happy, so I could spend time with fictional people who weren’t actually there.
If I had to choose one of my own characters, I’d probably take Nathaniel. He’s useful, actually around my age, a decent guy, and an introvert himself, so, he’d probably be okay giving me the space I like.
Fair enough! I like to think that I would just hate to be stranded anywhere. But since I have read the Dusk Gate Chronicles and I know who Nathaniel is, I think he would be a great person to be trapped on an island with. Speaking of the Dust Gate Chronicles, I wanted to let my readers know about this series. I actually picked up copies of all the full-length novels after meeting you on Scribophile. I love to support other authors and so it seemed like a good investment. I have to tell you, I was totally blown away!You write such vivid worlds and characters. How much planning went into the seven novels and three novellas that make up the Dusk Gate Chronicle series? Did you have an overall idea of how the whole series would end or were you more flexible with the outcome and where you saw the books headed?
The original story I planned for the books ends at the end of Book Four, Blooms of Consequence. That is the culmination of the story arc I set up in Seeds of Discovery. A lot of planning went into those four books, with the setup of the worlds, but there were a lot of things I wasn’t sure of at the beginning that sort of fell into place after I’d really started writing and getting to know the characters. I really started with just a few solid ideas.
I knew from the beginning who Quinn was, in relation to certain people (I’m trying not to give too many spoilers), and I also knew who she would eventually choose as a partner, even though in the beginning of the series she has several good choices. I also knew sort of the “theme” of the story was about who Quinn was as a person and watching her make these really challenging choices while staying true to herself.
I also knew who William was and what kind of family he came from, and who his parents were, both as parents and the kind of children they were raising and what kind of rulers they are to this kingdom that’s also in their keeping.
Pretty much everything else was up for grabs when I started. I had an idea of the direction, but in the beginning, I wasn’t even sure what choice Quinn would eventually make, or how she would get there.
I made a LOT of changes over time as the characters kind of came into their own and started dictating things.
After book four, each book has been written on a sort of case-by-case basis. Each time, I’ve said I was finished, and then each time, the characters came back to me after a while and said, “No, there’s more to the story. I still have things I want to say, and there are still issues we need to explore.”
Right now, I’m at, “There’s not going to be a full-on Book Eight, but there will almost definitely be more short stories and/or novellas.” But lately, I’ve been hearing those whispers again – from Thomas in particular.
Well, I think this is good news for fans of the series, especially fans of Thomas! One of the biggest reasons I was immediately sucked into the series was those strong characters you mention. Quinn, of course, being the strong central character. Despite her age and the fact that she sees and experiences many difficult things throughout the series, she really holds onto that strength. Did you have a particular influence in her design, maybe a person or several people on which you based her? Do you see a bit of yourself in Quinn or do you feel like in writing her, you learned more about yourself?
I started writing Seeds of Discovery about a year after my mom died. It was the first holiday season that I wasn’t just deep in grief (she died near the holidays the year before), and there I was, alone really as a single mom with this precious little toddler, contemplating the morbid fact that my mom died young, and my mom’s mom died even younger.
When I first started writing, there was no audience, save for this little girl I loved more than anything, and my mind was on the fact that someday – hopefully not too soon – the words I gave her might be the only tangible connection she had to me. I dearly wish I had a piece of my own mom like that.
So, Quinn is based on my daughter – or, rather, this imagined future version of her – a strong, loving, determined girl who fights the hard battles for the things that matter, even when it seems impossible. Who someday chooses a partner for those battles who deserves her, to fight by her side and loves her for who she actually is and not just for who they want her to be.
In reality, Quinn pales in comparison to the fierce and wonderful young lady my daughter is turning into, but still I hope that someday these books will give her a tiny glimpse of what I hope for her – though hopefully with a little less drama! 😉
I am very sorry to hear about your loss. I know that couldn’t be easy to go through, let alone share with others. I believe that it is very inspirational to hear that you were able to take that negative and channel it into something beautiful.
Another beauty in your books are the other memorable characters, particularly the twins, Linnea and Thomas. Did you find it hard to have them go through so much heartache and difficulties? Do you think the end result for them, as characters, was worth all the trouble you put them through? Why?
Torturing Linnea and Thomas has always been excruciating for me. They’re both such loving, wonderful characters who really deserve only wonderful things. But they’re both also so willing to jump into things and stand for what they believe in that… well… Life isn’t always easy for heroes. I do think it’s been worth it, in terms of how those difficult things have shaped them, and also for the story progression.
Having lived through many dark things in my life, I have to say that is a definite truth. Difficult times really do define us. In writing, I think this is also true.
One thing that really caught my eye with your series was the time travel. I have read a few other travel books that have characters going to alternative universes that are parallel or connected with Earth in some fashion or another. What gave you the idea for this particular means of travel into another world, and how did you come up with the ideas of difference in time from one world to another (10:1 ratio)?
So, this is my example of how, when you’re a writer, the ideas can be anywhere, even in the simplest things, and, also, as important as it is to just sit in the chair and write, not all writing happens on paper.
I live in Colorado, where parts of the story are based (though not the same part of Colorado.) One afternoon, my dad and I took my daughter out for a little day-hike/picnic in the mountains, just at this little pull-off picnic area by a river, and there was a broken bridge. Or, at least, that’s the best I could figure it once was. A foundation on one side, literally nothing but rock on the other, though you could see the old bolts and concrete where the bridge had once connected. I’m sure the thing once had a purpose, but for me it was a story. I didn’t know WHAT story that day, but I knew it was one, the instant I saw it.
The time differences… that was an arbitrary decision, really. I knew there needed to be a time difference, and at some point, I settled on that one best serving the story at the time I came up with it. (Not everything in writing is glamorous.)
That could be said about parenting life too, can’t it! Maybe even love life or anything else we go through or choose to do. Whether intentional or not, there are other aspects that seem very intentional. The relationship advice in the stories, for example. What was your inspiration for adding these into the story? Are these ideas that you were taught or ones that you have experienced in life personally? I think one of my favorites is the coin with the weeds and the rose. Do you have a story behind that anecdote?
Is it weird if I say I’m really not sure where some of it comes from? So often, these scenes just sort of poured themselves out on the paper when I was in a good stream of writing, out of the minds of the characters, not mine. The coin is all William.
Whatever part of it is my advice you can probably chalk up to my primary audience: my daughter. There are a lot of things in the books that I want her to know someday.
Well, there are plenty of beautiful metaphors and similes and simple pieces of advice that I know she will be able to read over when she is older and think “wow, my mom is amazing!”
On a different note, I also noticed that medicine is a huge part of your books. There is a lot of terminology and things happening with the medical profession in general. Do you have an interest in these things or was it something that you had to spend a lot of time researching?
I have an interest in medical things and terminology, but no special training or knowledge. These are scenes I’ve always spent a great deal of time researching – and being thankful that William and Nathaniel are able to take some license in the way things are done in their world vs. ours.
Well, I can agree with that! There are a lot of things that go on in Deusterros that make our world seem like a very easy place to live.
Well, my last question might seem like a given! At the end of the series, many readers probably feel like there is so much more to tell with the world and characters. Do you have plans to write more adventures in the world of Deusterros? Who might we look forward to hearing from in the future?
I think I answered this one above. I’m not sure exactly what form it will take, but I’m definitely not finished with these characters yet.
In the meantime, I am working on the first book in a new series that is quite related to Dusk Gate. I haven’t yet decided if it’s close enough to call it a spin-off series, but it does feature one familiar face as a prominent character. I’m hoping to finish the first draft of Traveler in December.
That sounds amazing, Breeana! I know that your fans are excited to see what you come out with next. You are such an inspirational writer, mom, teacher, and all-around person! Thank you for stopping by to answer some questions. I wish you the best of luck with your next series and any works that you have planned for the future. Perhaps we can have you back after the new series is launched! You are always welcome on the Fantasy Fix <3
Breeana Puttroff is a YA Fantasy Author of The Dusk Gate Chronicles and Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter.
She has loved making up stories since she could talk. For many years, her biggest audience for those stories was the fantastic students she had the privilege of teaching. One summer afternoon, while she was picnicking in the beautiful mountains of her Colorado home with her little girl, she saw an old, broken stone bridge, and she just knew there was a story inside. Six months later, the Dusk Gate Chronicles was born.
These days, she runs a small business and writes from home while planning math lessons, digging caterpillars out of garbage disposals (oops!), discovering how to make new colors out of crayons melted in the dryer, and drinking lots of coffee (and occasionally tea).
She loves it when readers connect with her on Facebook or Twitter, especially if they have new recipes for disastrously good times with kids.
Breeana holds a B.A. in English from the University of Northern Colorado, and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction and Literacy from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.
You can learn more, and connect with other readers of The Dusk Gate Chronicles by visiting here at the following: