I would like to welcome the talented young writer Whitney Moore, author of the recently published Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe, to the Different Outcomes blog. She was kind enough to grant us an interview in which she discusses her new book and also shares some of her ideas on writing.
Tell the readers a little about yourself.
I’ve been writing for a long time. I was born in Greensboro, NC and there’s really nothing else to do here. I’m vegetarian and I love animals, music, art and organic gardening.
How did you get into writing? Who are your favorite authors and/or books?
I started writing when I was 9. I always loved to write and draw so I drew a series of comic books called Cat Crusader which starred characters based on all my pets I had at the time. I used to tell people I wanted to be an artist from the beginning. But I really got heavy into writing when I was in middle school and discovered Douglas Adams because I was always into comedy and by then I had discovered Monty Python and some other British comedy (British everything really). I’m also heavily influenced by music and I was going to be a rock star at first. My favourite authors I would have to say are Douglas Adams, Oscar Wilde and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m starting to read H.P. Lovecraft as well and I used to love Stephen King and Michael Crichton—who didn’t love Jurassic Park?!
I notice you list your genres as Sci-Fi and Horror. What do you like about these genres? I know from reading Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe that your Sci-Fi writing is humorous; do your horror books contain humor as well?
I’m hoping to write some horror/comedy someday but I haven’t gotten there. My first two novels were so far removed from either of my preferred genre’s that I really am just starting to settle into my place in the writing world. I have a strange relationship with Horror. I don’t like many Horror films because they’re really cliche’d and I end up finding them really funny. At the same time when I write a short story most of the time it ends up being something closer to Horror. So far all my Horror has been consolidated to short stories which will be out soon though. Sci-Fi is kind of the same thing I don’t love a lot of the Sci-Fi that goes mainstream but I like Doctor Who. I like Sci-Fi and comedy together because I think a lot of Sci-Fi gets taken way too seriously. I mean I get being really passionate about stuff and loving something that inspires you but some people are super serious about it and I just want to say to them; “You realise you’re forty and dressed as a Wizard, right? Laugh about it!” I think all Sci-Fi should be Comedy at this point. It’s not the 50′s anymore.
What was the inspiration for writing Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe? Are you a plotter or a pantser, i.e. did you write an extensive outline or did it just come together as you went along?
I am definitely a pantser. I hate outlines. Of course I don’t mean I hate books written with outlines because most things would never get written without them. When I’m writing if I write an outline first it kills it. I feel like I’ve already written it. If anything I make more notes about it after I’ve written the first draft to keep track of it for interviews and editing. I started Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe last November for National Novel Writing Month. It was the fourth time I had attempted it (obviously I finished it this time) and I vowed that I would never try it again if I didn’t finish this time. I just got this idea out of nowhere about a month before I started on it “What if the Centre of the Universe wasn’t a place but a person?” and it just took off from there. Also I’m in a state of constant existential crisis so that pretty much wrote itself.
There are some really funny parts and great lines in Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe. Where do you get ideas for your humor? Do people think of you as the comedian in the group?
Thanks! I think humor is just the way my brain works. I must have a hamster in there reciting limericks while he’s on the wheel in there. I grew up with lots of comedy around. Some of my earliest memories are of watching old Saturday Night Live episodes. They are extremely old now because they were considered re-runs then! They were people like Steve Martin and Bill Murray and then I love stand up a lot. Eddie Izzard is a recent favourite. I discovered Monty Python when I was ten and I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen. I memorized things from that and of course there were no DVD’s or internet then so I’ve just recently seen all of the Monty Python series about two years ago and it still blows me away. My dad gets credit for all of that. My mom was mostly against me discovering Monty Python when I was that young but it didn’t work. Although my mom is very funny as well and both of them have been super supportive of my writing too.
I think I am considered the comedian of whatever group I’m in but it’s touch and go sometimes because if I feel like someone next to me is funnier I get very moody and quiet—it’s quite funny for the people who know me actually.
I love the tri-fold dynamic between your main characters. It keeps the dialogue and action moving and interesting at all times. In addition, there is the wonderful character, Bob. Tell us a little about your characters and what it was like creating them. Do you have a favorite?
I actually didn’t notice that Sonya Baker was a baker until I was editing! Actually when I started writing it John Doe was the main character but as it progressed Sonya stepped in there and made her voice heard so I re-wrote the beginning. Greg was interesting to write because he does have such a heavy job as Centre of the Universe and I was constantly asking myself what I would do if I was in that position. I think that’s the reason he’s so depressive. I think if I had that much pressure on me I wouldn’t be able to do anything but curl up in the foetal position so he’s much stronger than me. Bob was great. He came from the Lord of the Rings when Gandolf gets Shadowfax in The Return of the King (or The Two Towers? I second guess everything) that’s why he’s immortal. Writing for a moose is quite challenging actually even if he does talk. But I think that has more to do with putting him in a bouncy castle in space.
Bob is probably my favourite. Either him or the Edge of the Universe I liked that whole scene with Greg and the Edge.
There are many great scenes in Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe. I especially liked the scene where they are watching the crashed ship in the circus tent from up on the hill. Can you tell us how that scene came about and maybe a little about your writing technique, i.e. how is a scene born, what is your creative process?
I loved that scene as well. I was surprised to end up liking it because I thought it was going to be a filler scene! So I’m glad you liked it.
My writing process in the beginning is to keep it moving. I always start out with a ton of ideas and I write super fast at the beginning but by the time I make the characters sit down I’ve pretty much crossed over my depression threshold and just have to write something. It’s great for me to have deadlines which is something that used to paralyze me but I’m slowly getting used to them. I’m trying to learn how to set them for myself so maybe I can write two novels in a year instead of just one but that may never happen. Usually I have a picture in my head first. Basically every scene is playing my head like a film and I’m just there describing the scene as I see it.
I can tell you one thing I have always tried to do that just doesn’t work for me is casting my characters using real people. I love and hate doing that. I just write so much better if I have my own picture of what they look like. I recently tried to do this with something that was a little more dramatic but I got so intimidated by seeing these celebrities in my story that I just froze and couldn’t write! I just have to freestyle everything.
The dialogue in Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe is fantastic. Do you like writing dialogue? Does it come easily for you as a writer?
It comes easy for me as long as I have description to go with it. In High School I was really into musical theatre and film. I tried to do screenwriting for a while but I never felt like a script was truly finished because you have to see it for it to really be finished and without a budget to make the film you just have nothing at the end of a script. The other thing I found to be limiting with me and screenwriting was lack of description compared to the description you can have in a novel or a short story. I need a certain amount of space to really get the picture across. Description helps greatly with dialog because I can make the reader really see what the character’s are saying with little gestures and things like that.
Comedy dialogue is relatively easy it’s when I’m trying to write drama or romance that I start to feel silly and like I’m wasting time. If it doesn’t feel valuable to me then I can’t write it.
It is funny, in my books I find that I write quite a lot about food, although I never set out to do so. You have some great food references in Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe. How did the Cupcake theme come about? Also, I liked the part about IHOP, did you do extensive research at IHOP in preparation for this scene (definitely a rich environment for story ideas)?
I remember when I was younger thinking that characters in films and some books never ate anything! I thought the logic of this was absurd. It destroyed the realism for me when I noticed that. Not so much now but I’m slightly obsessed with food. I think it’s a great backdrop for a lot of things. Dinner parties are great places to write awkward things into because everyone knows the rules of eating together and I think everyone has a general idea of what food is and that’s why it’s such a good prop or subject for writing.
I like your food references too by the way. I think fast food in particular is quite a good subject and it’s a shame I didn’t get that existentialism connection when I was writing this.
The last time I went to IHOP was for my 26th birthday so it’s been about two years since I’ve been to one but I like the diner-type setting especially just to have an excuse for the characters to sit down and talk to each other if they’re not in a house.
The definition of existentialism at the start of Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe creates a good focus for the book. I consider myself a bit of a philosopher so I enjoyed this aspect of the book. Are you an existentialist? Are there existentialists or other thinkers that inspire you, or of whom you were thinking while writing Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe?
I have always struggled with existentialism even when I didn’t know what to call it. I have always wondered why I exist. I went through a long period right after college when I wondered why anything existed and I kind of ended up feeling like everything was worthless which is a horrible way to live. Now I’m completely the opposite and even if something seems frivolous I think that it matters because it does to someone somewhere which is a far more humbling way to live. Also everything does matter to me. I can’t really live without loving everything.
Philosophy is a great area for comedy and surrealism. I really want my books to be considered art in that respect. Kafka was great for all that. So was Oscar Wilde to a certain degree.
You maintain a great level of energy in Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe. This is a super thing to be able to create in a book! How do you do it?
I’m glad I did! I worry myself to death over things like that because the writing process can seem so long and slow it can be a challenge not to reflect this in the story. Every time I started to write I told myself that I had to keep the story moving. Some days it was like climbing a hill and some days it was like running down the other side. It really had to be a conscious decision. I think the fact that they were on a quest helped a lot because that meant they had to change location it was just a matter of me thinking of where the next one would be.
Are you going to write a sequel or a prequel to Cupcakes and the Centre of the Universe? What are you working on right now?
Right now I am working on putting a short story collection together. It’s got some comedy/Sci-Fi and some Horror stories so I’m sure I’ll be surprised by which stories cross over. It’s going to be called The Little Book of Alarming Things and it will be out some time this fall. I have thought of writing a prequel involving Bob and Greg before he was the Centre of the Universe but I haven’t really decided yet. If another book happens it will be a while and hopefully not out of desperation!
What advice would you give to kids who want to be a writer when they grow up?
Thank you, Whitney, for a fascinating interview that I am sure writers and readers alike will enjoy. We eagerly await your short story collection!