Aspiring Voices is delighted to welcome Krista Quintana to the interview chair this week. I asked Krista about finding theme in her writing, dreams as story fodder, and the special role of color to her life and work.
Paul: So I noticed that color seems to play a big role in your site and in the way you organize information; even referring to your in-progress novels by a color coding. Has a colorful aesthetic always been something you’re drawn to or is this a newer development? Do you use color as a theme or motif within your writing or is it more of a trait external to the writing itself?
Krista: I think color has always been very integral in my life. When I was younger (less so now), I classified memories and people by color. And important memories are still to me, red, black, whatever emotions it evokes. With people, as I got to know them, I began to think of them as a specific color. It never really had any meaning, it just was what they ‘were.’ My mom used to be able to see people’s aura’s, and my dad had perfect pitch, assigning each note with a different color. So I think I was really destined to think in colors.
I have used color quite often in writing, often without realizing it. Probably the first novel that I wrote, I had a whole society separated in classes by what color they wore. When I edit, I have to use a lot of colors, and I’ve color coded my editing as well. Using a specific type of blue to focus on to be verbs, or a green to focus on dialogue. By the end, my page is colored and crazy, but it makes sense to me.
Paul: In that novel, was the color a matter of assignment, or a societal division based on choice? Do colors have consistent mappings to you? For example, you mentioned blue being for verbs; does the color blue always have action, motion, kinetic associations in your mind, or does it depend on the context?
Krista: In the novel, it was a matter of social division based on assignment. In fact, everyone had to wear a ‘stripe’ with the color of the person directly above them in the social pyramid, just to remind them of their status.
No, colors actually don’t have a consistent meaning. I switched it up between drafts, and it really depended on whatever I felt like at that moment. Sometimes, I would even switch it up between scenes.
Paul: That’s an interesting concept, of not just being assigned a role or a place in society, but also forced to confront the structure of that on a daily basis. Almost taking the “us vs them” mentality of, say, Jews being forced to wear yellow badges in Nazi Germany, to the next level. What do you think the implications would be to not just explicitly structuring social classes, but also forcing those classes to be plainly identified in such a way?
Krista: I think the biggest implication is that when a person is classified before they’re even known, they get stuck. It’s like the social classes of the ancient feudal system. A person knows their place, and they can’t get out. We still deal with it to some extent. We’re all judged by who we are by how we look, what we wear, even where we live. How many people wear designer clothes because they’re comfortable? How many people scrape every cent to get their children into the right schools?
This just takes it to the next level. And it’s a thought that I think we need to consider.
Paul: Do you find yourself drawn to big ideas or wider social issues when you’re comping up with story ideas, or do the themes—social or not—sort of spring forth naturally from the conflicts you’re inserting into the narratives?
Krista: You know, I never intend to write social issues, but it always seems to creep up. In another one of my works, the entire theme of the importance of education, as well as neglecting the education of children crops up. I didn’t even realize that was my theme until I finished. I think for me, that’s how I see conflict. There’s always that underlying problem in a society, the beliefs that are so ingrained that we sometimes can’t even see them from where we’re standing. It’s so normal we don’t notice it.
And I don’t know that I really stopped to think about it until now.
Paul: Do you find that’s typical of your writing, where you fish the themes out after the fact? I’m sure some writers go in with a specific theme or set of themes in mind and write directly to that, but I know I tend to focus on the story first and then go back when it’s done and say, “Oh, okay, that’s what I was talking about.”
Krista: I never start out with a theme. For me, it’s all about the characters and their stories. And somehow, there’s always been some kind of theme that emerges after the fact, and it’s usually the idea of what the characters are fighting for.
Paul: Do you find you typically have the ideas for the characters first and then their desires and struggles define the conflict, or do you more often think of sort of plot ideas and then develop characters that would be interesting foils to maneuver through that set of obstacles? How much of a discovery writer are you?
Krista: Actually, it’s quite interesting. I tend to have romances within each of my stories (though they’re never the focus), and I always get the idea of these two people meeting. In fact, in my red WIP [work-in-progress—ed.], I think it was a dream, I really don’t know, but I saw a man come into a bakery and the baker ask him if she’d met him before. After that, I had to find out how they knew each other and why it was important. And that’s how the whole story on the importance of education came about.
Paul: Do you find your dreams fertile soil for story ideas, or is this a fairly uncommon occurrence? How similar or dissimilar is your waking inspiration from the “wake from a dream and look for a notepad” effect? By that I mean, do you find fully realized ideas sort of zap into your head or is it more a matter of intentionally piecing together elements until you get something that feels worth pursuing?
Krista: I think that for me, when I allow inspiration to flow, it’s much more natural, but I never get a whole idea all at once. I actually don’t remember most of my dreams, so that one occurrence was quite an interesting experience, and I actually love the story that evolved from that one moment that came into my head. And even then, I didn’t actually go for a notepad. I just kind of let them sit in my brain for awhile, letting them evolve. I guess I’m not really a note taker when it comes to that.
But usually, it’s something external that will inspire a story for me. For example, listening to a childhood song, I heard a woman singing it to a baby, and an entire story evolved from that one moment. Or after watching Beauty and the Beast, I started thinking about what I wished I could change in that story, and eventually created a story from that.
Almost always, I just get that snippet of an idea, one that I have to nurture and patiently wait until it really comes to full realization. Sometimes that can take weeks, or even months as the characters develop as well as the plot. However, once it’s all there, and completely thought out, I can transfer it onto paper quite quickly. For my Red WIP, it only took me two weeks to write my first draft – at about 50,000 words.
Only once have I attempted to force the story out, and that WIP has been sitting on the shelf, collecting dust for almost four years while I work on others that feel much more natural to me.
Paul: I actually envy you for being able to hold story ideas and elements in your head. I’ve lost more ideas than I’ve been able to hang onto because my mind is like a steel sieve.
You mentioned the shelved project that you tried to force. Do you think you’ll ever return to it? At some point does it become a dead concept and you just give up on it? Do you think writers ever completely abandon ideas?
Krista: I honestly don’t know at this point. There are some points that I wish I could continue, but there are so many other ideas at this point that I haven’t gotten back to it.
What I think it needs is a bit of ‘major surgery’, but I still don’t know exactly what needs fixing in it. I also haven’t given the time and energy that it needs. However, I don’t think that it’s completely abandoned, I still see its potential, it just needs a little more ‘lovin’ than I can give it right now.
Paul: Where do you see your writing career in twelve months? Do you have particular goals or a long-term plan or are you more taking it one day at a time right now?
Krista: To be honest, this is a question that I’ve never been brave enough to ask myself until recently. I’m trying not to put a timeline on anything, but as long as I’m always moving forward, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, then I feel as though I’m accomplishing my dream. I would someday like to be published, and I’m just starting to send out WIP’s to agents, which I never thought I’d do.
So I guess I’m still taking it one day at a time, but still trying to look forward.
Paul: Tell me about the last great book you read.
Krista: That’s a hard question, since there’s so many good ones! I have to say though, recently I reread Lucy M Montgommery’s Tangled Web, and I was once again blown away by the way that she wove her story together. Her characters are all fighting their own demons, focused on their own lives, but everything just intertwines. If you haven’t read it, you really should. I know her Anne series is really famous, but I think that her other books are even better.
Krista is a writer and a nurse with so many more interests that it would be difficult to list them all. She writes YA fantasy and loves retellings of fairy tales. Her blog, Color Coordinated follows her thoughts on writing and literature, and everything in between.
Another good interview. Found it interesting how you say the theme emerges after the fact. That’s what I’m finding too. It kind of helps bring the story together in an unexpected way.