Today’s writer is an eloquent lady with a lovely turn of phrase hailing from the Netherlands. I met her through the Warriors Facebook group that I belong to and have enjoyed all her wise posts. She may not post as often on the group as I know she is busy on her latest story, but when she does post or post a link through to her blog, I always take note of what she says. She is a writer that not only knows about her craft and has succeeded at having a career in writing but also has a vast resume of writing related paths from being an intern at a top publishing house to editing to ghost-writing. If you think that you find it impossible to just find enough time to write for a hour every day, Mina adds one more item to her resume by being a teacher of creative writing at schools. She started off wanting to be an architect but in the end decided to follow the path of destiny and followed the way of the words to become a writer. They say everything happens for a reason and I am glad that destiny changed her pathway from architecture to writing. Otherwise we would have missed out on enjoying her talent and her wisdom.
Now without further ado, I will let Mina tell you and I a little more about herself as she lets us into the world of:
Mina Witteman – Writer…
Welcome Mina…I know it is a long way from home but I hope you enjoy your short visit with me on Dragonfly Scrolls…Take a seat in the comfy couch. The kettle is on and the readers are waiting…
girl with a quill: Tell us a little about you.
Mina: I was born and grew up in a small village in the south of the Netherlands. My dad was an architect and for a long time I thought I was destined to be one as well, as I inherited his math genes. But I hadn’t counted on my mom’s genes. She had a great imagination and she was a storyteller pur sang. She planted the storytelling seed in me. It took its time to grow, even after I found out that my favorite subject in school was… detention. Detention meant writing essays and I loved writing essays even more than I loved math, physics and chemistry.
I did study architecture, but never finished it. After dropping out of polytechnic, I wandered around for quite some years until I couldn’t ignore the need to get all the stories out anymore. I followed some courses creative writing and the four-year course Writing Prose For Children. I also did the editor’s minor at the University of Amsterdam and an internship at one of the major publishing houses in the Netherlands. By now I’m not only a writer, but also a seasoned freelance copy-editor. In addition to writing and editing, I write reviews for Booktunes, the site that brings your favorite books and music together and I occasionally teach creative writing to high school students.
girl with a quill: Do you remember the moment you wanted to become a writer?
Mina: After my son was born and I, again, got hold of all those exciting books I used to read when I was young, books taking you with them on adventures you couldn’t even dream of. I realized I had to do more than read. I signed up for some creative writing classes (I’m a bit of a perfectionist) and at one of the classes, Writing for Children, everything suddenly fitted, like finding your true vocation.
girl with a quill: What inspires you to write and why?
Mina: Every day inspires me to write. Even the tiniest event can light the fire, because behind every event, every single step you take in life there is a whole world of stories. What if you didn’t take that step? What if you went into the other direction? What you see is what you get, people often say, but what if it’s not?
girl with a quill: Where do you do write?
Mina: Home is where I write. I have an office on the second floor where I’m surrounded by paintings and books. From my window I look at one of Amsterdam’s main canals, lined with trees and beautiful 18th century houses. A great view if you have to sit and think, which is what writers do a lot.
girl with a quill: How do your stories find you? Are they character-driven or story-driven?
Mina: I think most of the stories are already in me. They just need to find their way out. Others come to me when I travel, like THE SUN SPIRIT. That one hit me when I was traveling through Arizona and the Navajo Nation: the thunderstorms, the flash floods, the intriguingly mysterious red monoliths. You could feel the adventure in every breath of air, in every grain of sand, in every sudden shadow that darkened the world for a moment.
Most of my stories are a mix of character- and story-driven. The story, the adventure is the main pillar on which a telling is built, but every story needs strong characters, too.
girl with a quill: Once you have your story, take us through your preparation stage. Tell us a little about your writing process.
Mina: The preparation stage is usually a long one, as the story first needs to form in my head. As soon as the basic shape is there, as soon as I’m well acquainted with my protagonist, I can start writing. First a draw a blueprint on the whiteboard next to my desk, next I start writing the manuscript. I am a linear writer, and I usually write a book from the beginning to the end in one go (don’t worry, I do go to sleep at night J). Only my debut, DEEDEE’S REVENGE, was written differently. Circumstances forced me to write some of the individual scenes first and “weld” them together in a later stage. I can still see those seams. They might be invisible for the reader, but they are there. When writing THE SUN SPIRIT I found my preferred modus operandi, so… linear it is.
When I’m done writing I put the manuscript away for a week or so to let it all sink in. Then I read it and start revising the first time. After the first revision I give it to my proofreader. She is a friend of my son’s (16 by now). She wants to be a writer herself and she is a very strict and uncompromising editor, and she’s able to single out most of the flaws. I find it invaluable to have a target reader as my proofreader. With her reader’s report at hand I revise the manuscript for the second time. After that, and only when I am truly satisfied with the end result, I hand the manuscript in.
girl with a quill: You write YA. What led you into this form of writing?
Mina: I know YA is the name, but I see my stories more as coming-of-age stories. Sometimes my protagonist is 10 or 12, sometimes he is a little older, like the one in the new book I’m working on. He’s 16. What they all have in common is that they go through an adventure that will change their lives forever.
YA is the major part of what I write, but I also write thrillers for adults and short read-aloud stories for the very young. The thrillers are a logic continuation of writing YA – or at least it feels that way. The short stories work as etudes. Writing them hones my craft and keeps me on my toes if it comes to keeping the “fanning out” in check. Short stories force you to be brief and to the point, but at the same time every sentence, every word needs to be in flow with the next sentence and the next word.
girl with a quill: Do you have a favourite out of your stories or your books? Can you tell us why?
Mina: That is a hard question. I love DEEDEE’S REVENGE (DE WRAAK VAN DEEDEE), not only because it was my debut, but it also because it is a bit about me. DEEDEE’S REVENGE is about Deedee and her pesky brother Matthias. One day Matthias crosses the line with one of his pranks and Deedee swears she will get back at him. It’s a bit about me getting back at my brother, at last, for one of the pranks he pulled on me when I was young. It’s also the only book I’ve written that has a female protagonist.
girl with a quill: Do you have a favourite character from your books?
Can you tell us who/what and why?
Mina: I think Tom, my protagonist in the Warriors Of The Sun series, is my favorite character. He’s been with me for three books now (of which two have been published so far). I love him and the way he carefully treads through life, getting bolder and more confident with every book.
girl with a quill: Do you find that all of your stories are smoothly written once started or have some of them been challenging?
Mina: So far it has been easy “writes”, if there is anything like an easy “write”. In a way every manuscript is a challenge, as you never know beforehand if it will work out, but most of the time the writing is smooth. It’s the editing and revising part that bothers me more. That part compels a lot of self-discipline as you have to be able to be ruthless in killing your darlings.
girl with a quill: Have you ever written in any other genre? If you haven’t, would you want to and what genre would you choose?
Mina: Up till now I have written short read-aloud stories for the very young, adventure (low) fantasy for MG/YA and I just finished the revision of my first thriller for adults. You might think that is different genres, but it’s not. All my stories are spine-chilling adventures, even the short stories (although those aren’t as scary as the stories for my older audience). I don’t think I will ever divert from this adventure genre. It fits me like glove.
girl with a quill: You have published your books in Dutch. Have you had your books translated into English?
Mina: Three of my books and about 30 short stories have been published in Dutch, none of them have been translated. Yet!
girl with a quill: What is your opinion on books being translated?
Do you find that it is a positive or a negative to the story?
Does anything get “lost in translation?
Mina: In the Netherlands we grow up with translated literature. Our publishers have a long tradition of bringing translated books to the public. Partly because there are a lot of good books out there that should be read, but also because of our traders’ mentality: why shouldn’t you publish a book that is successful abroad here as well and make some money in the process?
For the story it’s not always a blessing. As an editor I have copy-edited quite some translations, and yes, things can definitely get lost in translation. It takes an outstanding translator to capture not only the story, but also the voice of the author and even then it’s inevitable that some things get lost in translation because of the mere fact that one language isn’t the other.
Dutch books are less often translated into other languages. I suspect that it being such a small language area and the corresponding lack of translators from Dutch might be responsible for that, as it makes the translation process a rather costly matter.
girl with a quill: Tell us about the process of publication in the Netherlands? Do you have to have an agent or do you work directly with a publisher?
Mina: The agent system is slowly gaining ground here, but only for adult literature. Writers usually deal directly with the publishers. That might also be due to the smaller market. The sales figures for midlist writers a not spectacular and if you have to split the already proceeds with an agent… But I’m very much for an agent system. Most writers are not sales people, agents are. It pays to have someone dedicated to your books deal for you. I have an agent (Paul Sebes of Sebes & Van Gelderen Literary Agency) for my thriller.
girl with a quill: Have you / Would you submit to any US publishers or UK publishers?
Mina: I have not submitted to US publishers or UK publishers. Again: yet! I have signed a contract with literary agent Erzsi Deàk of the Hen & Ink. She will handle all rights for my children’s books, not only the ones that have been published in the Netherlands, but the future ones, too. I am very, very happy with Erzsi. She gives me the opportunity to spread my wings and to become true member of our ever-globalizing world.
girl with a quill: Considering the boom of the e-book industry,
Would you consider publishing in E-book format?
Mina: I am totally addicted to my e-reader. I love the concept and the possibilities it offers to both reader and writer. Thankfully, the Netherlands is slowly but surely picking up the advantages of the e-reader.
girl with a quill: Are you working on a new story right now?
Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Mina: Yes, I am working on a new story. This time it’s a YA-thriller that keeps me glued to my desk. It’s about 16-year old Dorian who desperately wants to be independent. He has two important features that keep him from being independent: he’s 16 and he has a growing disorder, burdening him with the body of a 10-year old. While skipping school Dorian meets a group of hackers who live in a former squat house. As hacking doesn’t make you a living, they rent out a floor to a group of criminals who turned the floor into a pot growing plant. It sparks off some ideas in Dorian. Lucrative but dangerous ideas, as it turns out…
girl with a quill: You have a website, a blog and a twitter id.
Do you find social network platforms important to a writer’s platform? If so, why and how?
Mina: I have mixed feelings about social network platforms. Yes, they are important as they give you a more direct way of interacting with your audience and with your peer group. It keeps you informed. One of the earlier Warriors you interviewed aptly named Facebook ‘her water cooler’. That is exactly how I feel about it. Writing can be a very lonely business. It’s good to meet your peers and your audience at the ‘water cooler’ every now and again.
The downside, of course, is that it takes away time from your core business: writing. You have to exercise quite some discipline to keep the every now and again really every now and again and not all the time.
girl with a quill: If you could choose 5 famous creative people to have dinner with, who would you choose and why?
Mina: I would love to have dinner with Jennifer Donnelly, Frank Lloyd Wright, Panamarenko, Yukio Mishima and Harper Lee. Jennifer wrote this intense YA-novel REVOLUTION and I would love to talk about to her our craft and the agony it causes us sometimes and how to overcome that. Frank Lloyd Wright is on the list, because designed the most beautiful houses in the world, houses that – to me – are like stories. I wish he could tell me about the lines he sees and how he was able to put those lines down on paper and shape them into houses. Panamarenko is a Belgian artist. Every single piece of art he makes is a novel in itself. During dinner I would have him tell me everything about how math can marry art. John Irving is one of my favorite writers. I wish he would tell me all about the construction of a story. Finally Harper Lee, the writer of my all-time favorite novel. She only wrote one and I wish she could tell me why.
girl with a quill: If you could have a dinner party with 5 of your favourite fictional characters? Who would they be and why would you invite them?
Mina: Mizoguchi, the deeply troubled acolyte from Yukio Mishima’s THE TEMPLE OF THE GOLDEN PAVILION, Scout (Jean Louise Finch) from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Bod Pa, the old shaman in the Dutch coming-of-age novel HET BOEK VAN BOD PA (Bod Pa’s Book) by Anton Quintana, Pepto Bismo, Panamarenko’s statue of a modern day Icarus, and Begochiddy, messengers of the Navajo spirits. I would love to meet them, because they all are out of the ordinary, the stand out in loneliness, in strength, in being different. Somehow they all feel as kindred spirits (I’m not going to burn a temple, though J).
girl with a quill: Who has had the greatest influence on you as a writer?
Mina: That would be Anton Quintana, a Dutch writer of children’s books and thrillers. His children’s books are the ones I admire most. They all have that extra in them, that thing that tells you that there is more to this world than meets the eye.
girl with a quill: What is your favourite classic book? And why?
Mina: My favorite classic is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. I know I’m not alone here, but the book is so intense. It reached right into my soul, it questioned my values and it left me with the rather desolate feeling that in the end we’re all alone.
girl with a quill: What is your favourite contemporary book? And why?
Mina: That is another hard question. There are so many good books coming out. For now, I’ll go with Jennifer Donnelly’s REVOLUTION. It is just as intense as Harper Lee’s book, but on a different level. Donnelly has accomplished, that if you read it, you almost literally can feel the pain of the protagonist, Andi Alpers, whose life was shattered after the death of her younger brother.
girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you would give to yourself as a young writer?
Mina: Have faith!
girl with a quill: What in the one piece of writing advice you would give to yourself 10 years from now?
Mina: Keep honing your craft.
girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy as a writer to be?
Mina: I hope people will read my books.
girl with a quill: Can you tell us where we can find on the Web?
Thank you Mina for that look into your life as a writer. Now it looks like you are just about ready for another cuppa. Tell me more about the adventures that Dorian gets up to in your latest thriller…Readers if you want to know more you will just have to wait for the book.
Remember wield your quill with wit and wisdom for
The Quill is swifter than the Rapier,
Ink imbrues deeper than Blood…
~ girl with a quill
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