Today on the blog I’m talking with Claire Caterer, author of the middle grade novel THE KEY AND THE FLAME (Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster April 2, 2013) and fellow member of The Lucky 13s, an awesome group of children’s and young adult authors with novels debuting in 2013.

Claire Caterer

Talk a little bit about your journey toward becoming an author. When did you decide you wanted to write for a middle grade audience?

My journey has been a pretty long one! I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was quite small. I wrote scads of stories for kids when I was a kid, and then when I got to be a teenager I decided to write Serious Books for Serious Adults.

I wrote four novels that way, but ultimately none of them were published.

So a few years ago, I started again on a Serious Book, but I just couldn’t get it off the ground. I remembered an idea I’d had for a middle-grade fantasy and decided I’d write a book for fun instead. That’s when I realized I’d come home. I just love this age group and the stories we tell for them.

Tell us about the The Key and the Flame. Did you know from the start you wanted it to be a five-part series?

At the very beginning, no, but early on in the process of fleshing out the idea I realized the story was bigger than one book. I liked the idea of building each book around the theme of a different element—fire, water, earth, air, and aether—because Elemental beings play a large part in the story.

The Flame and the Key

Do you work from an outline?

To some degree, I do. I like to know the story arc and how it will end—the big plot points. But I don’t outline every detail. I always outline a few chapters ahead so I know where I’m going, but the whole thing is likely to take a new direction somewhere midstream.

How do your stories come to you? Do you begin with a character? A concept? A plotline?

Usually, an interesting image will come to me—for example, a tree in a forest serving as a portal to another world. Characters come very quickly thereafter. The concept doesn’t interest me much unless I know the people involved.

What time of day do you write? Do you have a certain process?

I love to write first thing in the morning. If the weather is nice, I’ll sit outside in the early morning with a cup of coffee and my journal, and then before the sun gets high I’ll head to my desk and start writing. That time outdoors helps fuel the process.

What does a good day of writing for you look like? How about a bad day?

A good day is getting started early and going like the wind for a couple of hours straight. I’m so immersed in the fictional world that I don’t notice the time or my growling stomach. Suddenly I look up and I’ve written 10 pages.

On a bad day I get sidetracked easily. I check the email and then fall down the rabbit hole. I try to get back to the work and something about it just isn’t flowing, so I keep standing up, pacing, finding excuses to empty the dishwasher … it’s an awful feeling.

How do you strike a balance between writing and promotion?

I’m still learning to do that. Now that I have a few systems in place, I hope the balance will be better.

It’s best to dedicate a day to one thing. If it’s a writing day, then I write, and I don’t do promotional work. Promotion is a much more public, extravert endeavor, and I need to nourish my introvert self if I’m going to write.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Keep at it, and be patient. Write a lot, and rewrite even more.

What books inspired you as a young reader?

There are so many: the writings of Roald Dahl; the Chronicles of Narnia; books by E. L. Konigsburg and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Charlotte’s Web. The Hobbit.

Tell us what’s next? What are you working on now?

I’m working on the edits for the second book in the series, which is scheduled to come out summer of 2014. I’m also getting started on the third book.

Where can people find you?

More info about me is available on my website, along with some fun photos and facts about castles and knights. Readers can connect with me on Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook, or email me at readerchat [at] cmcaterer [dot] com. I also send out a monthly newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.