Interview with McKenzie Gibbons

What is your writing process?
I love to plan and planning comes easier to me than sitting down and actually writing because I'm horribly ADHD and planning takes less focus. I know that it's "uncool" as a writer to say that my process is anything other than free writing and going where the story takes me, but my process is to write out a skeleton so that I know the flow of the story, the plot twists, etc. ahead of time. This helps me because I can catch plot holes and potential shortcomings early. My first real draft of "Breathless" (meaning I wrote it at 17 rather than 10) was abysmal and made no sense because I tried to free write it and wound up with a massive plot hole rather than a beginning, middle, and end. Planning things out in advance just help you to sort out all the small details that pull a novel together and help you to better foreshadow major events down the line.

Once I have my skeleton, I start writing scenes kind of randomly, depending on which scene I'm most excited about depending on the day. So basically I wind up with an outline, random scenes, sometimes a few full chapters, and then I string them together like a puzzle and fill in the blanks.

I know it's not super conventional, but my brain is a scattered place and my work tends to mimic that.
Describe your desk
My dream desk would be organized with a bulletin board above it holding important reminders, sticky notes with ideas scrawled on them, and inspiration pictures. I'd have the essentials- a place for my laptop, a drove of colorful pens, Post-It notes galore, a nice Moleskine notebook for my outlines, and a planner for when I have to start meeting with agents and publishers. Of course, I'd have a cup of hot tea or coffee in a cute mug with a funny saying on it as well. Maybe fairy lights.

My actual desk is me sitting on my bed, propped up with a bunch of pillows, and my laptop on my lap. But hey, I'm only 22, I have time to get it together.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The idea for my novel, "Breathless", actually came from a dream that I had in the fifth grade. I've been writing (not always well, but still writing) since kindergarten so as soon as I had the dream, my ten year old self started writing the novel. Of course, everything about it except for the fundamental plot has evolved over the years as I've gotten older. Most people probably would have let go of a twelve year old novel idea, but I've never been able to shake the concept and the characters, who seem as real to me as any of my favorite protagonists.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy of writing for me is being able to create and escape into a different world and different characters. I love to day dream and writing is like an active form of day dreaming. Just disappearing into my book, forgetting that I'm writing it, and then getting to read what I created while in this almost trance-like state is just really cool.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Work (haha)- gotta keep the lights on somehow. Right now I'm a Customer Service Agent at DISH Network which is actually surprisingly fun so I'm not complaining, although I would like to move on to bigger things in the next year or so.

I also just like spending time with my friends, watching YouTube, creating YouTube videos, listening to music, and running.
How do you approach cover design?
I don't consider myself much of a graphic artist, but I know a thing or two. I usually "cast" my characters and use pictures of actors/actresses as the basis for the cover (or I'll pick a singular object that is meaningful to the plot) and then make the colors and fonts correlate with the feel of the book, i.e. dark tones for a dark plot and light tones for a lighter plot. I've used every picture editing program from PicMonkey to BeFunky to Adobe Photoshop to create my covers. While Adobe products are the most respectable, I've found my best results were through PicMonkey. That site just has a lot of free features which allow you to create and customize just anything your heart desires.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
1) The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

My mom first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to me right before I entered kindergarten and by the end of that year I had read every book in the series (that was published at the time) by myself. I actually would get in trouble for reading Harry Potter at school because my teacher didn't believe that I was really reading it during the mandatory quiet reading time. The Harry Potter series is what inspired my love of reading and writing. J.K. Rowling is just phenomenal and I could gush about her talent for forever. I've read the series all the way through 24 (approaching my 25th) times and I never get bored of it. In fact I feel like each read through I find another Easter egg foreshadowing a major plot point in a later book and it just goes to show what a genius Rowling is. I could write an essay on my Harry Potter obsession, but I'll end it here.

2) The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

I love my books with a badass heroine, some romance, and a lot of blood. Need I say more?

3) The Divergent series by Veronica Roth

Once again, badass heroine, romance, death and chaos. Plus the success Roth has achieved at her age is insanely inspiring. My cousin went to high school with her apparently and I'm still hoping for an introduction one day in the future.

4) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

This is the only stand alone novel in my top five. I first read this book during my senior year of high school after being badgered about reading it for years. I immediately understood the hype. The story is tragic, funny, relatable, and you get to sound like a bit of an "indie douchebag" when you talk about it. I genuinely love this novel. It's slightly cliché but in a really raw way. I was in tears by the end.

5) The Maximum Ride series (1-3) by James Patterson

First off, I think that James Patterson is one of the greatest literary minds to have roamed this planet. The first three books in the Maximum Ride series were phenomenal. I couldn't put them down. However, it felt over after book three. Resolutions had occurred, everything seemed pretty nicely wrapped up, and it ended well. And then a fourth book was announced and it was...well...horrible. And then every single one that followed suit was awful. It was as though Patterson was just trying to squeeze money out of the Maximum Ride fan base, but didn't want to take the time to give us quality reading material in return. All the same, the first three will always be at the top of my recommended reading list and the rest I'll just pretend don't exist.
What do you read for pleasure?
Paranormal is my go to. I love a scary story. But anything that's suspenseful or scary or "life and death" is in my library queue. Sci-fi and Dystopian are great too. I like a romance to root for within my action filled books, but just normal romance isn't my cup of tea. I'm not a huge fan of fantasy either, Harry Potter being the only exception. I find fantasy books often try too hard.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
My iPad or my iPhone if I'm in bed and don't want to risk dropping an entire iPad on my face.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Richmond, VA. While Richmond is a pretty large city, I grew up in its suburbs which consist of your stereotypical picturesque houses full of entitled white children, myself included. Luckily, I've come down from my cloud of privilege just a bit, but you can easily see the influence in my writing. Most of my stories take place in the suburbs and the subject is often an upper middle class female who can get away with talking back to her mother.

I'd love to branch out, but they say to write what you know.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote my first set of stories at five years old. Having been inspired by J.K. Rowling to become a writer, I had asked my parents for this "build your own books" kit for Christmas. It was pretty cool. It came with five, pre-bound books, maybe ten pages a piece. It also came with a set of crappy markers for illustrating your stories. I wound up trading in the sub par markers for my far more superior glitter gel pens.

My series was about a little girl and her dog. The little girl and her dog loved each other very much, but one day the dog bit a neighborhood kid in self defense and was taken away to be put down, forcing the little girl to set out on a journey to find and save her best friend.

All and all, it was a pretty dark book series. The dog didn't make it. It explains a lot.
Who are your favorite authors?
J.K. Rowling is my queen.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Every day I'm working towards my goals and I'd rather be making moves towards my future than sleeping.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I haven't really given this a go yet so we'll see.

However, in college I was an Advertising major with concentrations in Marketing and Creative Writing so I feel pretty knowledgeable in the subject of marketing as a new author.

Social media is your best friend right now. But I'm not just talking about tweeting, "Hey check out my book!" Definitely have an online personality and gain as many followers as possible so that you have a wider reach, but the best technique is to think out of the box.

Take for instance, "The Haunting of Sunshine Girl" written by Paige McKenzie (but mostly, ghost writer, Alyssa Sheinmel). McKenzie, along with her mother (a movie director) and some other creatives devised a brilliant strategy to market her upcoming book and movie project about a teenage girl with the ability to see spirits trapped in limbo and the job of crossing them over. To generate buzz, the group started a YouTube channel, starring Paige McKenzie as Sunshine, the teenage girl living in a haunted house and learning about her powers. The YouTube channel never claimed to be fictional, however, it never (initially) stated that it was a promotional tactic rather than a vlogging channel. Because of this, many viewers believed that the normal looking teen's videos (featuring paranormal phenomenon such as objects moving by themselves and shadows in the night) were real. This, of course, sparked a great deal of conversation and when the book was announced and released, it was an instant hit.

Currently on Twitter, graphic novelist, Adam Ellis (@moby_dickhead) has been chronically a haunting he believes to be happening in his apartment. The Twitter threads are full of Ellis' chilling accounts of the paranormal activity, coupled with pictures and security camera footage that appear to prove that Ellis' version of events are, in fact, true. The Twitter threads have come to be known as "Dear David" as that is supposedly the name of ghost that's haunting Ellis. Twitter users, YouTubers, and other social media fans alike are freaking out over the spooky story, calling it evidence that ghosts exist.

As a paranormal enthusiast myself, I'd love to believe the story is true so that I can show it to all the non-believers in my life with a big "I told you so". Unfortunately, given Ellis' career as a graphic novelist, my belief is that this is all promotion for a book featuring the character of "Dear David". If it is, it's simply genius.

Generating buzz in such an interactive, captivating way is just brilliant, even if it turns out to be a "hoax".

This is the future of marketing for books.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I wouldn't mind branching into mainstream media eventually, but for now, I'm content doing everything myself. With my education and experience, I have the skill set to be independent. This feels like a good starting point.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I'm new, but I'm hoping that it will allow me to play with my brand a little and see if I have what it takes to be a real author.
What do your fans mean to you?
I hate the word "fans"- it sounds pretentious and everyone uses it over in the YouTube realm as well. Really, I'm looking to establish a community more than a fan base. But anyone who supports me means the world to me. Just knowing that other people enjoy what you work hard to create and put out into the world is an incredible feeling. I've experienced it on sites before and I hope that Smashwords provides a similarly positive experience.
What are you working on next?
I have a few other novel ideas. Unfortunately for me, they've become less original in the time that I thought of them originally to now. "Breathless" is my priority for now and once that's finished, I'll probably take a break from writing to work on getting published and on my other hobbies/projects such as growing my YouTube channel. I also have a sequel idea for "Breathless" if the reaction is overwhelmingly positive.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Mostly just online. I like to stumble across things. I'll just Google search usually.
Published 2017-09-18.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.