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How To Write 25 Books
An Interview with Madeleine Roux
I have been working with Madeleine Roux for about 14 years. In that time, she has written 24 books, including the New York Times best selling series Asylum (over a million copies in print!) and for major franchises like Star Wars, World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons, Critical Role, and a forthcoming Marvel book. She’s written for adults and kids, from zombies to Regency romance. She also happens to be funny, wonderful, and a fantastic cosplayer. (I seriously envy her sewing and crafting skills.)
I didn’t sign Maddie up because I knew she was going to have a long and fruitful career. As agents, we always hope for this, but our crystal balls are faulty. I signed her up because my brother sent me an email. He said hey you have to read this blog. This was back in the Blogger days, and he’d found Maddie’s fictional blog where she was chronicling the zombie apocalypse barricaded in a bookstore. Posts were titled Things Fall Apart and such. It was riveting. But also, people were playing along in the comments. They said things like Don’t come to SF. We’re overrun. Or It’s safe here in New Mexico! And I thought either this author is seeding the comments to further create this world (genius) or is so convincing that people are naturally playing along (also genius) or both. But there was no contact info on the blog!!!! So I made a non-work email address and posted a comment that said something like “Allison, I need your help but I can’t post here. Email me: <address.>”
And she sent me this:
In character!!!!! I replied something like Oh hi. I’m an agent and just didn’t want to ruin your story. Please tell me you’re writing a novel! and the rest is history.
Twenty-four books later, I asked Maddie some questions about what she’s learned and honestly, it’s some of the smartest writing talk I’ve ever heard. I’m so happy I get to share it with you.
Kate: You have published 24 books. Holy Shit. How does it feel to look at those stacks of books?
Maddie: It used to feel surreal, but now I try to let it be a source of motivation and pride. Not every day is a super productive writing day, and sometimes it takes a little kick to get moving, so it’s nice to walk by the shelf, see them all lined up, and think: “Yeah, I did that.” It fosters a belief in my own capabilities that helps put butt in seat and fingers on keyboard.
K: Does it feel different writing different genres? How do you manage transitioning from one project to the next? Do you have music or location cues?
M: Approaching each genre for me becomes about envisioning the person I think will end up with that book in their hands. If I’m writing epic fantasy for kids, I sit and recall what I loved about those books when I was little, and what kind of experience made me the happiest or the most engaged. I’ll do that for whatever genre it happens to be, imagining the customer experience but also asking: What don’t you see very often in this genre? How can I make this fresh?
Music and research certainly help, but for me it’s about the mental headspace, the brain vibes that help me zero in on what makes that genre special and appealing.
K: Is there anything you've learned from writing that you carry forward with each book?
M: Last year I hit a hard period of burnout. Around that same time, I got diagnosed with ADHD, CPTSD, and soon after suffered a sudden death in my family. All those things hitting me at once forced me to take a hard look at the way I had been working. I had to make some huge changes, but I think it was healthy to examine the way I approached writing books and find a more sustainable system. For me, it’s just become so, so important to put serious time into “preproduction” so I’m setting myself up for success when I sit down to draft the novel. I make extremely detailed outlines, and I won’t start drafting until I know exactly what I need to accomplish in each act, and exactly what journey I want each character to go on emotionally. Even on a day-to-day basis, I do daily little preproduction sessions, which includes a review of that outline, and then a mini outline for the chapter or chapters I’m tackling. Having multiple, clear roadmaps to work from has made the process so much less chaotic and stressful for me. Doing that “dry” stuff ahead of the actual writing sessions allows me to enjoy the work more, and to be more immersed artistically when I’m drafting. It’s been very rewarding to test out this system and find that it works for me, and that’s something I get to carry forward to make writing this many books more sustainable and enjoyable.
K: Is there an aspect of writing you've found gets easier over time? Anything get harder or never let up?
M: The answer to both is confidence. Staring down a blank Word document is still intimidating, and I still get that How do I do this? Am I actually any good at this? series of jitters each time. Keeps you on your toes! But! I also get over that anxiety very quickly now, because I know there will come a time in the book where everything clicks and suddenly the confidence concerns vanish. I can get from Oh my God this is impossible to Hey this is working within a few chapters, so that’s something. That ability to self-soothe and self-motivate becomes easier over time. I suppose it helps that I can walk out into my living room, look at all my books lined up, and say: You’ve done this 24 times, so you can do it a 25th, but I think that applies to less experienced writers, too. If you can write a short story, you can write two. If you can write one novel, you can do another one. You have to allow space for those small victories to snowball into larger ones.
K: What's the genre or format you haven't tackled yet that you really want to?
M: I’ve had a gladiator book cooking in my notes for a few years, so I suppose that would be military historical fiction. It’s an idea I love enough that it might have to happen soon!
Here’s to 24 more books, Maddie. I’m so proud to work with you.