FAQ

  1. Contact and Other Oddities
    • How can I contact you?
    • How can I get a signed book?
    • Are you going to come to my town/state/country?
    • Will you take a look at my Great American Novel/Epic Poem/Oscar-Worthy Screenplay?
    • How do I pronounce your last name?
    • How can I find you on the social network of my choice?
    • Where is the best place to buy your books?
    • Who is your agent?
  2. Process
    • What authors are your strongest influences?
    • Where do your ideas come from?
    • How many languages do you speak?
    • What environment do you require for writing or inspiration?
    • Do you have any writing rituals?
    • Did I hear you say somewhere that you write novels in 30 days? How is this possible? (Are you a robot?)
    • How many hours per day do you spend on writing, and do you do the majority of it in the morning or at night?
  3. Nature of the Beast
    • How much of write you write is “autobiographical?”
    • Your work draws on a lot of mythic archetypes, what are some of the archetypes that you find yourself repeatedly using in your writing?
    • Which landscape is more important to your writing: the physical or the emotional?
    • Are there any tricks you have for getting yourself to put your butt in that chair and write? Do you do any writing exercises?
    • Do you enjoy giving readings, or would you prefer to just sit and write?
    • How do you manage the transition from writing poetry to writing prose?
    • Why did you write The Orphan’s Tales/Palimpsest/Fairyland/Deathless/etc that way?
  4. Media
    • What role has the internet played in promoting your work? How important do you think the internet is as a tool for promoting new writers?
    • Have you considered writing for TV/movies/graphic novels/video games?
    • Advice for new writers?

Contact and Other Oddities

How can I contact you?

Please direct all inquiries, fan mail, hate mail, and idle gossip to

How can I get a signed book?

Email me. If you send me a book and a postage-paid return envelope, I will be happy to sign it. Or, find me at a convention or a signing (see the Appearances widget on the front page).

Are you going to come to my town/state/country?

Check the Appearances page for my tour schedule. I generally bounce all over the place, but if you want me to come to your town specifically and you don’t have a major convention nearby, the best way to make it happen is to talk to your local independent bookseller about arranging a reading.

Will you take a look at my Great American Novel/Epic Poem/Oscar-Worthy Screenplay?

I’m pretty busy these days. Please do not send me material without querying. However, if you are very nice and ask me first, I may be able to look at some short pieces or excerpts. I regularly teach workshops at conventions and around the country, which might be a better option for both of us.
Before you ask, however, I would highly suggest reading my novels and asking yourself whether you really want me to critique your work. Do we value the same things in writing? Do you have a thick skin? Broach the subject at your own risk.

How Do I Pronounce Your Last Name?

Val-EN-tee. Val-en-TAY is an enormously common mispronunciation. Just think of us sitting down to a nice cup of tea together. Or pretend it ends in “i.”

How Do I Find You On the Social Network of My Choice?

I’m @catvalente on Twitter, yuki-onna on Liverjournal and Dreamwidth, Catherynne Valente on Facebook and Google+, and thelearnedcat on Ravelry.

Where is the best place to buy your books?

I am often asked where readers can buy books such that I get the best royalty rate, or at least the most benefit. As for royalties, I get the same rate so long as you buy the book new. For best benefit, buy from your local independent brick and mortar bookseller, so that they get your business and keep my books on order. But really, if you buy it at all, you are supporting me. I thank you for it, deeply. And if you buy it used–well, good. I’m happy you’re reading it. But if your goal is to apply your dollars most directly to my career, the trick is to buy it the first week it comes out from a brick and mortar store.
If you want to do something more direct, feel free to buy me a cup of coffee or dinner through the nifty widget at the bottom of the page.

Who Is Your Agent?

Howard Morhaim of the Morhaim Literary Agency. Please direct all rights inquiries to him.

Common Interview Questions

What authors are your strongest influences?

Because of my love of language, many of my influences are poets:
Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, Federico Garcia Lorca, Sappho, Neruda, Diane Wakoski, Anna Ahkmatova, Christopher Logue, Karl Shapiro, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas, Bob Hicok, and Anne Sexton.
In fiction there is:
Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Clarice Lispector, Milorad Pavic, Italo Calvino, Jeanette Winterson, Jeff Vandermeer, Theodora Goss, Jacob Clifton, Kelly Link, Stephen King, Michael Ende, A.S. Byatt, Jorge Luis Borges, Umberto Eco, Lewis Carroll, Jack Kerouac, Sonya Taaffe, Paul Verhelst, and Virginia Woolf.

Film-makers and painters whose visual style has influenced me include:
Dali, Magritte, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Hieronymous Bosch, Peter Greenaway, Julie Taymor, Jim Henson, David Lynch, and Shaun Tan.

Where do your ideas come from?

Electrical impulses in my brain-meats!

How many languages do you speak?

I “speak” Latin, Ancient Greek, and I dabble in a little English. Even Middle English if I need some extra fiber in my diet. Classical languages are not really spoken tongues anymore, so it is more accurate to say I read them. Yes, they show up in my novels. No, you don’t have to learn them just to please me. But they’re like spinach: they taste a little funny but they’re good for you. And they make you grow huge muscles, attract bookish women, and say things like “ayuck yuck yuck.”
The truth is I’m quite rusty in the Latin and the Greek at this point. I need my dictionaries around me and I’m definitely not at my fighting weight when it comes to my aorists. See: riding a bike.

What environment do you require for writing or inspiration?

I wish I didn’t, but I need a clean house. Which often requires me to clean my house. Beyond that, give me something to type on and I’m happy. I make notes in a pretty golden Moleskine notebook with a Parker Comfort Grip pen (I love the smoothness of the ink and the size of the pen — I like a pen with heft, like a club or a hammer), but when it comes to the actual composition, it’s just too slow. I type very fast, and sometimes even that lags behind my brain. I have a Mac Air named Mr. Hex, an old Mac desktop that does not go on the internet so that I am not distracted named Leda, and in the winter, I have a little empty museum by the sea to write in. I use Scrivener and I drink a lot of coffee. I like to have icons around my work area: Ganesha, Kwan-Yin, Julian the Blessed, the TARDIS, Hello Kitty. Your average panoply of modern gods.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I wish I did. I always want to have them, they seem so nice. But in the end it always seems easier to me to write the book than to come up with the ritual.

How many hours per day do you spend on writing, and do you do the majority of it in the morning or at night?

Sometimes 12-15. Sometimes 0. Some days I tear through pages, sometimes I’m lucky to get one out. I tend to write in spurts: I will produce a huge amount of material in a short time, then soak up like a camel until the next rush comes. The per diem definitely soars under deadline.

Did I hear you say somewhere that you write novels in 30 days? How is this possible? (Are you a robot?)

You may have read it in my essay, How to Write a Novel in 30 Days. Or heard that I sometimes teach a workshop on how to do it. Writing quickly is not for everyone, but it can be developed like any skill. I tend to produce a novel in 4-6 weeks, however, it takes me a year or so of sitting with an idea and nurturing it and steeping it before I’m ready for that marathon. It’s grueling, but exhilarating, and in the end I just don’t know how to write a book any other way.

(Yes. Don’t tell anyone.)

Nature of the Beast

How much of write you write is “autobiographical?”

All of it. None of it. At some level all writing begins in experience — but I tend to go so far from that base that it’s hard to pinpoint after the fact what originates in my external life and what has roots in my internal world. It’s hard enough for me to separate the two off the page. In surrealism, or any non-realist writing, it’s an even more peculiar alchemy. I don’t generally believe in the biographical approach to literature — it’s called a fallacy for a reason. If writing didn’t go beyond life there would be no need for it: we would simply live and die without commentary. All of this comes with the proviso that if you know me personally, and find something in my work which you think is based on you, please kindly assume it’s not, and keep walking. Nothing to see here.

Your work draws on a lot of mythic archetypes, what are some of the archetypes that you find yourself repeatedly using in your writing?

I do so love my witches and wicked queens. I find myself drawn to feminine archetypes that previous generations have found threatening or dangerous: crones, oracles, madwomen, Amazons, virgins who aren’t helpless, bad mothers. I love to give the vagina dentata voice. It so rarely gets to speak for itself.

Which landscape is more important to your writing: the physical or the emotional?

I don’t think there is so much difference between them. That’s part of the joy of literature — the physical and the emotional are unified in a way that life doesn’t always provide. If I were forced to choose I would say the physical — I live in a body, so do you. Experience begins in the flesh, and so does art — in the chthonic, under-skin places we don’t talk about.

Are there any tricks you have for getting yourself to put your butt in that chair and write? Do you do any writing exercises?

Deadlines and calendars give me structure and discipline — I need that deadline. I’m best under pressure. It’s the perpetual grad student in me; that’s our natural state. Beyond that I just hope every morning that my higher instincts override my lower ones, i.e. my desire to write versus my desire to eat pizza and watch Angel reruns.

Do you enjoy giving readings, or would you prefer to just sit and write?

I love giving readings, and going to conventions. That said, I always feel like vomiting up my spleen beforehand and when I’m up there I thank my lucky stars that all those years as an actress gave me a voice which can cover up panic and terror and sound intelligent when I am, in fact, a gooey puddle of fear. Also known as the ability to lie like a dog.
However, speaking and reading and panels and promotion are exhausting, and I often needs months to recover after a tour. It’s a trade off–you expend energy for the book, but then you don’t have it, and have to get it back before you write the next one.

How do you manage the transition from writing poetry to writing prose?

I don’t think there has to be such a strong divide between the genres as we are told. My prose contains a lot of poetic devices and retains the richness of language that poetry has — so much so that people seem a little accusatory when they tell me that it’s “not fiction, really, it’s prose-poetry,” as though I somehow tricked them into reading poetry and must now be shot. But that’s not really the case. Poetry is more concentrated, more pure, more intimate–and more fleeting. It does not require the long-term planning of a novel, and a novel requires a narrative in a way a poem can avoid. They are distinct forms, but can be combined to great effect. As Salman Rushdie said, novels could have the same intensity and concern for language as poems if novelists cared enough to weigh each word with the attention of a poet. The difference not between a cyclist and a diver, but between a marathon runner and a sprinter.
But it is sometimes good to take a few days between writing heavily in one or the other to cleanse the palate.

Why did you write The Orphan’s Tales/Palimpsest/Fairyland/Deathless/etc that way?

This is probably the most commonly asked question for me, believe it or not. Why this structure or that subject, why this choice and not that one?
The answer is not very satisfying, I suspect. I love strange structures, and for me they inform the story intimately. Each book has its own intimate origin story, but I write weirdly and at a slant because I am weird, and slanted. I could not have written the books other than as I did, and I could not have written books other than the ones I did. I did not make those choices, or choose those structures, or use that language, in an attempt to be deliberately obscure–on the contrary, I am still learning, and have been as clear as I could be at the time, while adhering to what I believe is necessary in books: beauty, even in darkness, honesty, and bravery. I try for these things. Sometimes I touch them, sometimes I fail. So it goes, as the man said.

Media

What role has the internet played in promoting your work? How important do you think the internet is as a tool for promoting new writers?

Like it or not, we live in a world dominated by the internet. To ask how the internet has helped my work is like asking how the printing press helped authors in the past. It has allowed me to develop an audience and form connections all over the world — in that it has been invaluable. It has allowed me to experiment with crowdfunding and direct publishing. I do believe it is a vital tool for writers, both emerging and established. In the end, it is a conduit through which literature can reach even more minds — and that is always a great thing, possibly the greatest thing the internet does.

Have you considered writing for TV/movies/graphic novels/video games?

I have, in fact, written for video games and enjoyed it greatly. I have no plans to write scripts at the moment, but if you’re hiring, well, plans change. I’m open to all media, really, so long as it’s interesting and challenging. I’d love to do a graphic novel one day, if an artist wanted to work with me. The future is infinitely and wonderfully unpredictable.

Advice for new writers?

Just write. And read. Read often and in as many styles, genres, and periods as you can. And remember that while the publication thing is nice, it is not the be all and end all of your life as a literary person. If you have talent, if you are driven, sooner or later it will happen for you. There are plenty of people more than willing to tell you all about query letters, agents, foreign rights, advances, and how we never get paid as much as we deserve. Listen to them, learn what you can, because it is a very tough business and it isn’t for everyone. But in the end, the writing is all that matters. Write well, write every day, and write passionately. If you aren’t passionate about it, why should anyone else be?


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