Interviews / Novelists

Interview with Ann Aguirre: “Write what speaks to your heart.”

Ann Aguirre is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has lived an eclectic life, having worked as a clown, clerk, and savior of stray kittens, as well as a voice actress.

Born and raised in a yellow house across from a cornfield, she now resides in Mexico with her family. Her passion for writing began at the age of eight when she wrote her first “book” and entered it in the National Young Authors Conference, where she won for her school and met Shel Silverstein.

Despite years of rejections, Ann never gave up and went on to write over 50 novels across various genres, including fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and romance, with a love story always at the heart of her stories. She has made various bestseller lists and tours regularly.

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Hi Ann! We’re delighted to have you as a guest on Famous Writing Routines. For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, could you please give us a brief introduction to yourself?

Hey, thanks so much for having me on the site. A bit about me, okay, let’s see. I’ve always wanted to be a writer from the time I understood that writing was a real job. Which is kind of a fun story. 

I wrote my first “book” at eight, a riveting mystery called The Secret of the Golden Doubloon, and it was about two kids busting treasure smugglers while on vacation in Florida. I illustrated and bound it myself, and I entered this magnum opus in the National Young Authors Conference.

I won for my school and went to state, where I got the privilege of meeting Shel Silverstein. As I sat on my carpet square listening to him, I realized that someone had paid him to put his words in the book and he might even be getting paid to read to us. Then and there, I decided that was my dream. 

And I never gave up, despite long years and myriad rejections. I wrote so many books that went nowhere, until I finally sold Grimspace to Ace in May of 2007. Since then, I’ve written and published more than 50 novels. I’ve made various bestseller lists and gone on tour. I write across many genres (fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and romance), though my stories always have a love story baked in somewhere.

That’s probably enough, right? So let’s commence the interview.

Your bio mentions that you now live in Mexico with your family. How has living in a new cultural environment affected your writing and creativity?

I’ve lived here for almost twenty years. Adjusting was somewhat challenging when I moved in 2005, primarily due to conducting all business in a second language. Fortunately I took Spanish in high school, and I enrolled in additional language classes.

I’m still not 100% fluent, but my comprehension is 90% and I speak Spanish at a high conversational level. I can always say what I need to and make myself understood, but I sometimes get the grammar and verb tenses wrong. Otherwise, living here is great because I have my own office, and I can retreat there to work anytime I need to focus. 

You’ve had a variety of jobs in the past, from being a clown to a voice actress. How has your diverse background influenced your writing and the stories you tell?

Hmm. I haven’t had a day job since before we moved, and that was in the early 2000s. There are stories from my past that do find their way into my work, of course, but that’s not limited to jobs I’ve held. Sometimes snippets of conversation stick in my memory, or I see someone in passing who enlivens my imagination, and they inspire a character in one of my stories. 

However, I will say that my work as a clown found its way into a book that’s currently on submission, but I can’t say too much about that right now. I hope to have good news soon on that front. Fingers crossed, because the book is adorable and hilarious. 

Can you discuss your creative process and how you come up with ideas for your stories?

It depends. When I’m co-writing with someone, we brainstorm until we’re both delighted and excited by all the ideas. And when I’m writing for a particular editor, I’ll often brainstorm with them regarding our next project. We come to a consensus on the gist of the idea, then I flesh it out and turn in a proposal, which consists of a synopsis and sample chapters.

If it’s a completely fresh idea, I usually run it past my agent to see if she thinks it’s worth pursuing. Usually, I listen to her advice, but if it’s a story I really, really want to write, sometimes I’ll write it even if she says it’s not sellable. These days the traditional market isn’t the entire ballgame.

One of my most successful books ever, I wrote because I loved the idea, and I was too excited to desist. That was Strange Love, an adorable sci-fi romance with a truly alien love interest. It’s the book that just keeps going, selling steadily through word of mouth.

People really, really love it, and I’m so glad I followed my heart and wrote it. Which is the moral of this story. Just because someone tells you a story won’t sell to the traditional market, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Write what speaks to your heart. Those stories are valuable. 

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What does a typical writing day look like for you?

I get up late, have some food, take care of the dog, then make my way to my office. I tend to stay there until I meet my word count, which can take a couple of hours or eight, depending on how well the words are flowing. I stop when I’m done. My office has a mini fridge and snacks so once I sequester, I’m there until I meet my goal. At which point, I rejoin my family, fix dinner, and become social again. 

Can you tell us about any daily habits or rituals you have that help you stay productive and focused while writing?

Other than retreating to my office, I tend to play music on loop. The song varies from project to project. Some people have whole playlists for their books, but for me it’s usually one song that encapsulates the feeling I’m trying to evoke. For instance, when I was writing the last book in my Ars Numina series, I played “Capsize” by Frenship and Emily Warren on repeat. 

And when I can’t concentrate, I use Reading Music to Concentrate—Ambient Study Music. Hopefully, it will help someone else as much as it does me. For some reason, it settles my brain, and I stop feeling so distracted. 

If you could have a conversation with an author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be and why? 

I was fortunate in that I was able to meet and get to know my idol, Sharon Shinn. I have been reading and admiring her work since her first novel, The Shape Changer’s Wife. She inspired me because she was a woman from the Midwest, who didn’t seem to have any connections to famous people, and she gave me hope that I could follow in her footsteps. She’s the reason I didn’t give up on my dreams, and that I’m here writing today. They say one shouldn’t meet their heroes, but in this case, she’s every bit as wonderful as I imagined and hoped. 

What have been some of your favourite reads recently? 

  • The Shuddering City by Sharon Shinn
  • Secrets, Lies, and Crawfish Pies by Abby L. Vandiver
  • Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher
  • The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein
  • Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon

What does your current writing workspace look like?

It’s a lovely office with lots of light. Eventually we plan to renovate it to make it completely self-contained, a little studio apartment where I can do full writing retreats and not even leave to cook quick meals. But don’t take my word for it. I’ll include some pictures! 

Photo courtesy of the author

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