Ep. 79: Lindsey Klingele
Original air date: 6/14/16
The original post for this episode can be found here.
Sarah ENNI: Welcome to First Draft, with me, Sarah Enni. Today, I'm talking to Lindsey Klingele, a Young Adult author whose debut novel, THE MARKED GIRL, came out June 7th. [birds chirping] You might remember Lindsey from our second First Draft Live episode, in which she was super smart in talking about fantasy stories and worldbuilding. And, if you listen to that episode, you might remember her talking about her pet dog, a pit bull named Big Head. Well, I consider myself so lucky that Lindsey was kind enough to invite me over to hang out, have an amazing chat about television and portals and the fantasy world that is Los Angeles, and to meet the famed Big Head, who is, let me tell you, accurately named. Lindsey is a nonstop delight, so I'm really excited to share our chat. Grab some tea, and sit by your finest Narnia wardrobe, and enjoy the conversation.
ENNI: Thank you for having me over at your house!
Lindsey KLINGELE: Oh yes, thank you for coming over!
ENNI: Yay! I'm so happy to be here, it's like, such a beautiful day in LA. Um, but let's start way at the beginning, which is where were you born and raised?
KLINGELE: Uh, so I was born in Portage, which is in Michigan. It's a small kind of suburban town in Kalamazoo county, so I just say Kalamazoo.
KLINGELE: Most people have at least heard of that, so.
KLINGELE: Yeah, that's where I was born and raised.
ENNI: That's awesome. Does that mean you were--is that like close to water, is it forest-y?
KLINGELE: Yeah, it's about 45 minutes from Lake Michigan, so we would go there, but it's also got lots of lakes. Both of my parents lived on lakes, the same lake actually, a few houses down from each other.
ENNI: Before your parents met or?
KLINGELE: Well, my parents went to the same high school, my dad's sister is actually my mom's best friend.
ENNI: What?! Is that how they met?
KLINGELE: Yeah! They are divorced now, but...
ENNI: Wow, that's cute, though.
KLINGELE: But yeah.
[dog collar rattles]
ENNI: Oh, hi, buddy! Aww, you have Big Head, though!
KLINGELE: Yes, that's my pit bull.
ENNI: Pit bull with us, yay! So sorry, I just like, I woke him up with my foot.
KLINGELE: He is sweet, but a little jumpy sometimes.
ENNI: It's okay.
KLINGELE: Yeah, so I have a big family back home, like, my dad is one of seven, and pretty much all of my cousins grew up in that area. I went to high school, at one point, with like six of them at a time, so...
ENNI: That is wild. When I think of Michigan, and this is like, such a weird thing, but maybe it's true: I think about a childhood like, running around forests and like--
KLINGELE: Less forests, because I was afraid of the dark, but we definitely did that. We were on our bikes on the time, like, in the summer we would leave, ride our bikes, come home at night.
ENNI: Be gone all day.
KLINGELE: Play catch the flag, kick the can.
ENNI: When you were little, how did reading and writing kind of factor into your life?
KLINGELE: Big! I have always loved reading, it's always been my favorite thing to do. And I've always wanted to write. Like, I don't even remember making the decision. It was just something that I always did as a kid. My mom actually just sent me a little book that I wrote in second grade, which is also a portal fantasy, so I feel like I've had the same idea for 25 years. [laughs]
ENNI: That's amazing.
KLINGELE: Yeah, and then, like I said, I would play outdoors a lot. I'd play with my cousins and my friends, and we'd make up stories, and then I would go and write them down. Or write plays and make my friends act in them. They were not really into that, but it didn't really seem like--it wasn't like, "I'm going to grow up and be an author." 'Cause that seemed like an insane fantasy. It's just what I did to pass the time because I was bad at sports.
ENNI: 'Cause I'm interested in the play thing. That is something that's been really common amongst people who I've talked to in LA who have been in some way sort of associated with entertainment or like, that's an early stage thing, or script thing.
KLINGELE: It's strange 'cause I didn't like, go on to study playwriting or even screenwriting at all, but when I was a kid that was just the best way--like I had this activity that I loved which was making things up. And the only way to get my friends involved was to write parts for them, not that it like, super worked, like they wanted to make up dances and stuff like that. Build forests, they weren't really super into. [laughs] My plays, but yeah, I think that was just a way to make what I loved, to force them to do it too.
ENNI: Kind of collaborative! Which is interesting.
KLINGELE: Yeah, yeah!
ENNI: So, would you consider yourself an extrovert?
ENNI: Totally an introvert, okay.
KLINGELE: Yeah, I was an introvert who just happened to be born surrounded by people, so... Yeah, it was like a big family, the girlfriends that I went to high school with, well elementary school with, like, my best friend was next door. And two others were down the street, so if I had been born somewhere else, I probably would have had zero friends, but like, I just happened to fall into it, fortunately.
ENNI: Forced to socialize!
KLINGELE: Yeah, yeah! I was probably the shyest of my family.
ENNI: Interesting, okay okay, so always were writing stuff down though, and...
KLINGELE: Oh yeah, totally.
ENNI: And binding them, like, this book you were talking about?
KLINGELE: Yeah, well, do you remember teacher stores? Like they have those little white books?
ENNI: Mmm hmm!
KLINGELE: So I would get those and then handwrite stories and illustrate them.
ENNI: That's awesome! Aww! And then your mom saved them?
KLINGELE: Yes, she did, and she likes to mail them to me on occasion. I think she's just like, slowly clearing out all of my old stuff.
ENNI: Yup, this is a mom trick that I recognize.
KLINGELE: Yup! I know, I had completely forgotten about that, and I got that in the mail, and it's like this little book about these two sisters who fall through a portal in their grandma's attic, and like go to another world. And I'm like, "Huh, yeah, this is the same story that I've been writing 25 years."
ENNI: That is hilarious. We're going to come back and talk about it a bunch, but I'd love to hear you talk about the portal story, because I think it's so interesting that that's like, such a draw for you, particularly. So explain what a portal story is.
KLINGELE: Yeah, I mean, a portal story basically is like, THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE is the one, I think maybe the first one I read, but it's kid from our world go to a fantastical world, which I loved, my very favorite story growing up was Peter Pan. I don't know why I like just the thought of just like, leaving my reality and going somewhere else was really entertaining to me.
ENNI: Really appealing!
KLINGELE: Yeah, and my life was pretty good, but, you know, the thought of like, stepping into a fantastical one was, yeah, and that's what reading is, and that's what mostly drew my interest.
ENNI: Yeah, I think it's funny, 'cause I hadn't necessarily, at least not for a while, thought about portal, like the term and like, that sub-genre of stories, and I was recently talking to--I think Amie Kaufman was talking about... She called it a "Shut up and take my money!" list, where she wrote this list of like, stuff where if that's in a story or movie or TV show, she's like, done. I'm in. I don't need to hear anymore. And for me it was like time travel stories, which I think are, in their own way, portal stories. But it was interesting to me when you--I read a couple interviews with you and you were talking about portal stories, and it seemed to me like that must be like, top of the list for what draws you in.
KLINGELE: Yeah! I love portal stories, 'cause reading is like the ultimate escape, it is sort of the fastest way to go through a portal out of your existence and into another one, and I love that, and I love that anything can happen, and you can make up the rules.
ENNI: So you weren't feeling like being an author was a real thing?
[sounds of Big Head licking water]
KLINGELE: Right, I mean... I guess it's hard to connect authors as being people, I think like, it's different now, now that authors have become a bigger presence.
ENNI: We should also say that this is the dog drinking water in the background, not like a random fountain or something. [laughs] Go ahead, sorry.
KLINGELE: Yeah, no, it's okay! I remember like, I read a lot as a kid, and I remember writing fan mail to Ann M. Martin, and being like, "There's no way she's going to read this." Like, not even really thinking that she was a real person who like read letters. So it didn't seem to me like "author" was a real person's job for a long time. And then, you know, it just didn't seem like a feasible career choice, so it wasn't until much later that I thought it would be a possibility.
ENNI: Yeah, maybe give it a try. So what were you--what did you focus on then, when you were?
KLINGELE: I went to college, I thought I would go into publishing. So I went to central Michigan and I studied journalism and creative writing with the thought that I wanted to go into either magazines or book publishing, that was what I wanted to do. So when I graduated, I went to Chicago, and I actually worked for a trade publication there in the meat industry.
KLINGELE: Yeah, it was called Meating Place, like M-E-A-T, and then I started as an assistant--
ENNI: It was a pun?!
KLINGELE: And also Poultry was the sister publication that I worked for.
ENNI: Oh. My. God. That is hilarious.
KLINGELE: So I know a lot about like, how the sausage is made, literally. It was all the processing end of the meat industry, so...
ENNI: So you were reporting on that?
KLINGELE: Yeah, yeah! I started as an administrative assistant, and then I worked up to associate editor and then I was there three years.
ENNI: Wow, that's amazing!
KLINGELE: It was cool
ENNI: My first job out of college was writing about radioactive waste, so I'm with you on this.
ENNI: So niche, so weird. But they were like, good paying jobs, and you could--and they didn't fry you out, usually.
KLINGELE: Yeah, it was definitely like, 9 to 5. Like, a nice first job with a 401k. Haven't had one of those in a while.
ENNI: I know, about that, oooh. Yeah, so you were writing.
KLINGELE: Yes, but I didn't like, love it. Like I had technically had achieved what I thought I wanted to achieve, but I wasn't really happy with it, and I just saw my whole future laid out in Chicago, and then having a 401k and all of that became a bad thing, I guess quarter life crisis what you could say. So I was 25 and didn't know what to do next, and I'd always loved television, I fell in love with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER in high school and thought it was amazing. When I was in Chicago I rented VERONICA MARS from the Hollywood Video down the street.
KLINGELE: And I watched four disks and then I went back the same night to get the next four. And that occurred to me, it clicked in my head like, "Oh, people write this." Like, this is a story and just like books, people write TV. I don't know why it took me 25 years to figure that out, but I went and bought a book about how to write scripts, and then I practiced that, and then I came out to LA on vacation, and I was like, "Oh, this is a place!" Like, it's a real place, and I loved it. I didn't think I would just because of all the stereotypes, but this is a place where you can go to a bar, and people are talking about movies and TV shows and things that I like, and not just like, you know, the Bears.
ENNI: Yeah, oh my god, yes, and meat.
KLINGELE: Or meat, yeah! I do love meat, I don't mind talking about meat.
ENNI: You know so much!
KLINGELE: So I thought, "Oh, this is where I belong," and then I didn't really know anyone out here, but I decided to pack up a U-Haul and come out.
ENNI: Okay, this is crazy! Let's back up just a little bit, because I think it's so fascinating always when people are like... People sort of just like, mostly bumble into publishing, I feel like. Because a lot of us like, didn't think authors were real because we revered them so much. Or we were like, "This is not like a job that responsible adults have," or whatever. But I love that you were like, "I might work in publishing," so you were thinking like, you know that books get made, like you were going to work on that side of it, but still "author" was not a thing.
KLINGELE: Yeah, it seems like a much less likely outcome, and I think part of that is just like, not really believing in my own abilities, and just thinking like, "Well that happens to other people, but there's no way that's my course, that seems really far-fetched."
ENNI: However, to me, in my whole life, it took me so much longer to realize that like, people write TV shows and movies. Like that, to me, I actually had this depressingly recent realization that like, movies aren't perfect. Which sounds dumb, but I was like, "Oh!" Like, I was probably like 25, and I was watching this movie, and I was like, "You know, they probably could've done this a different way." And it was literally the first time that I've ever thought about movies as unimpeachable, which is crazy.
KLINGELE: Disagree with that choice, whoever made that!
ENNI: And they're making choices, this isn't just like... I don't know why, it seemed so kind of separate and different to me.
KLINGELE: Totally! And I think it is 'cause like, there wasn't as much behind the curtains stuff as there is now, like, I didn't grow up--there wasn't podcasts or Twitter or like, Entertainment Weekly was just like interviews with celebrities and not with show-runners. And it was a whole different--like people had to be born into that world or something.
ENNI: Right! Yeah. But it became like, that was something you clicked on, to want to try to do that.
KLINGELE: Yeah, and I also--I wanted a change, I wanted out of Chicago, and it seemed like there was a path to television writing, like, "Oh, okay, I know how to start as an assistant. I know how to start as an intern, I know how to work my way up." That seemed like a much safer route to me still, then writing books.
ENNI: Yeah, there is no infrastructure for that, so much.
KLINGELE: Yeah, you just gotta do it and then hope for the best. Which, actually, when it did come time to sell my book, turned out to be much easier than breaking into television. Which was harder--is harder, remains hard.
ENNI: Exactly, it is not easy for anyone! So when you were then like, "Okay, I want to try this," what kind of stories did you start writing? How did you--was it easy to like, re-access that imaginative side?
KLINGELE: Um, so I had always like, started and stopped things. I never finished anything, but everything that I started, it was always Young Adult focused.
ENNI: Really, okay.
KLINGELE: Yeah, pretty much, or like young women focused. And it always had like, a sort of supernatural element. I wrote a lot about like, people discovering they have powers, I think I wrote one--started one book, or maybe it was a script, about superpowered kids at a boarding school, and then like, "Oh, I'm writing X-Men."
KLINGELE: Yeah, so.
ENNI: Sadly, it's such a good idea, but it's been done.
KLINGELE: I did that a lot, like, accidentally copying ideas and then abandoning them, but I mostly worked on spec scripts and pilots over here, because that's how you get representation. And it was a lot of things starring young women and with the genre aspects.
ENNI: With genre stuff going on with them, that's--that's so--I love that. And when you're talking about trying to write pilots and stuff like that, it's a really different process, because you write the pilot, and then it's like a beginning that has all the potential to be, whatever, seven seasons or something, or at least one, but you really only want to write the one, right? And like, then step back.
KLINGELE: Yeah, I think that's perfect for me, because I like beginnings and I hate endings. I love starting things and I love opening scenes and hooking attention, but then when you have to land it home emotionally, then it's like harder. So I think that's why I kind of love writing pilots, because it's like, "Well, it could go anywhere!" But you get to focus on this fun beginning that sets up a world and these characters. Yeah, I was definitely drawn to that.
ENNI: I love that it was always Young Adult, that's really neat.
KLINGELE: Yeah, I think I was just--I mean those are the things I loved reading as a kid, and yeah, kind of circled back to that. I think I went through a phase where I'm like, "Oh, I have to read adult things." Very literary things, that lasted just a couple years. Meh.
ENNI: Well, you had to read a bunch for--
KLINGELE: In school, yeah, but like, after I graduated school, my first few years in Chicago, I was like, "Oh, now I'm going to read all of these classics, I'm going to read all of these Philip Roth novels," and yeah. I haven't done that in a long time. Like, now I go to the bookstore and the library and whatever, it's usually like YA, because that's just--I love plot-y books. I love books that jump right in and don't waste time and that's just what I love to read, so that's what I like writing.
KLINGELE: I like watching those shows.
ENNI: Yes, yes, and genre stuff, when it's done well, it's so phenomenal
KLINGELE: Yes, yeah! And I really do think that watching a good genre show or reading a good genre book can tell you more about our lives than even a realistic book can. And I love contemporaries too and, but... I don't know, I think that you can find truth in genre in a different way.
ENNI: Yeah, it's almost like you can be sort of aggressively simple with your metaphor if you are doing it in this crazy big world, and then, you know, there's a lot of like, the easy comparison is in high fantasy you can talk about racism in a way that's like, very easy to understand, and it's just like one step separated from our experience, which lets you put the sort of lens of obviousness on it that like, in contemporary stories you kind of aren't allowed to be like, "Let's talk about racism now," like, you have to sort of talk around it, and there's other avenues in it, but in genre and sci-fi you just get the opportunity to be like, "Look at how obvious this is," when you just take one step back.
KLINGELE: True, yeah, and I think you have more space like, there's certain topics that I don't feel qualified to touch, um, and I think that when you go to a more fantastical world then yeah, you can play around more and say things more that you want that affect our world without actually hurting real people who exist in that world, you know? You still have to be careful, but I think, yeah, you have a lot more freedom there to say things without potentially damaging readers.
ENNI: Right, yeah, that's huge, that's really huge. And YA fantasy books are like a refuge for people who are struggling. It just bugs me when people look down on the genre, because it's like...
KLINGELE: Oh my gosh. I try not to like, yell on Facebook, um, like I don't want to get into politics or anything like that, but the one thing when I like, really harp on is when some dumb article comes out like every four months about how like, genre isn't as good or, someone just wrote an article--I don't even remember what publication it was for--but it was a professor, about how GAME OF THRONES is like, a series for children, and people should be watching VINYL. Like, of all things, VINYL?
KLINGELE: I know, and I like, went on this whole scream about it.
ENNI: That is an indefensible position, sir.
KLINGELE: I know. And like, I know why he wrote it, I'm falling right into his trap.
KLINGELE: He wrote this to make me angry specifically, and here's my four paragraph response!
ENNI: Good, good for you! That's frickin' crazy. What the hell.
KLINGELE: Nothing gets me angry--like, things probably should get me angrier than that, but that gets me so angry!
ENNI: It bugs me when people come into, I don't know, when people want to police your, like, free time. It's always a little bit of an element of "Why?" Like.
KLINGELE: That's why, actually, was part of my four paragraph rant, 'cause he's like, "These aren't real adults." And I'm like, "If I pay my bills and treat people well, like, who cares if I'm wearing a Hufflepuff t-shirt?" Like, what do you care?
KLINGELE: Now I'm getting all angry again!
ENNI: I love it, I love it, it gets you riled up! I love it. Okay, um, so, okay. I do want to talk about--I want to talk specifically about Los Angeles when we're talking about THE MARKED GIRL a little bit. So, we'll get back to the move, but I'd love to hear what it was like to start out in a brand new industry and like, hours and working things up and how you found TV writing to be, like, what was that experience like?
KLINGELE: Tricky, but fun! So I have been out here seven years now, I was out here, like I said, I didn't know anyone who moved out here. So I got a job, actually, at a movie theater, The ArcLight Hollywood.
KLINGELE: Yeah, just to meet people and also make money, and during that time I got an internship on Sony, so it was cool just to be able to be on a lot and read a lot of scripts. But, you know, unpaid, and that led to another internship with a reality TV producer, which is an interesting world.
KLINGELE: And then I briefly worked for like, a celebrity gossip magazine.
KLINGELE: Left that very quickly, did not care for that. Um, and then I finally got a job as a writer's production assistant on an ABC Family show, before it was Freeform, called THE LYING GAME.
KLINGELE: And that was sort of like my first introduction into actually being a part, or like, supporting a writer's room, and seeing how TV shows are made, and it was so cool. So they got cancelled, and then I moved over--the show-runner got hired on another ABC Family show called TWISTED.
KLINGELE: So then I went over and I was his assistant and the writer's assistant, and then I was in the room, and seeing them come up with these stories, and it was so cool. And then that show, sadly, got cancelled. And it was right after that that I sold THE MARKED GIRL, so.
KLINGELE: Yeah, but I would definitely love to TV, like that's... I just love being in a room full of people all day, and coming up with story. Like it feels like a dream job, and it was so cool to be a part of that. Even as an assistant, I loved it so much.
ENNI: That is really neat! Well, and I'm super interested in how that plays into your creative process, kind of, because I think a lot of writers who also identify as introverted, and I have been just like basically talking to everyone in my life about how I think writers are control freaks.
KLINGELE: Oh yeah!
ENNI: It's probably not all 100% true, but I feel like--
KLINGELE: I'm a huge control freak, oh my god, it's a problem.
ENNI: I feel like it's kind of a necessary thing to be like, you know, playing god with your novel.
KLINGELE: Yeah! You're literally controlling worlds. So, yeah, definitely.
ENNI: So the collaborative--so when you are an introvert, and you do have, obviously, you excel at this self-driven novel-writing world, but, I love that you are also so energized by this really kind of crazy, chaotic TV writing.
KLINGELE: Yeah, yeah! I haven't really thought about that, like. It is, 'cause there's a lot in TV that you don't have control over, which was really surprising to me. I was a part of that world before I moved over to publishing, so I think I got more used to that first, so like, my boss, Chuck Pratt, who'd worked on MELROSE PLACE, he'd been a show-runner for like, years. And still would have to answer to network executives, and he would write a script, and it would be good and they'd be like "Change this and this and this," and then he'd have to do it in like, two days. And that's just a skill you have to learn, because you have to, you know, you have to do it.
ENNI: You just have to do it, the deadlines are real!
KLINGELE: Yeah, so I think that was really important for me to see how to take those notes well, and how to apply them well, and how to use whatever notes you get, and use them to make that episode better. Whether you agree with them or not, you have to use them to make it better. I think going from that then to you know, selling a book and working with one editor, who's really great, she was like, she sent me my edit letter and I was like, "Okay, okay, I can do this, I can do all these." And she's like, "You know what? These are just suggestions, just a jumping off point." I was like, "No," the thought of ignoring it, though, was very foreign to me by that point, 'cause I like, had ingrained like, "this is going to make it better, so pay attention to what these notes are." And I'm still that way, I think that's a good thing, I don't know.
ENNI: Well, that reminds me a lot of the journalism background, too. That there is a--I think--beneficial amount of losing preciousness that happens when you have to be edited aggressively and on a deadline and all that stuff.
KLINGELE: Yes, definitely! Yeah, and I think that does help to figure out how to give up some of that control, and it also, I think, weirdly helps now that it's time to put it into the world, I feel like, well, it's had eyes on it. It wasn't just me. It's as good as it could be, because it went through this editing process.
ENNI: It would be terrifying to have...
KLINGELE: Oh my god.
ENNI: Something only you had seen be in the world.
KLINGELE: I know, because there's just stuff that you miss!
KLINGELE: Like, you read something eighty times, and there's just stuff you miss, yeah.
ENNI: And people who do books and TV and movies, and how they were talking about--especially TV, because you're on such tight schedules, and things just have to get filmed, and that's how it is--that it would be also a certain degree of like, excepting the imperfectness. And like, having to just be done with something when the time is up, instead of like, "It's perfect."
KLINGELE: Yeah! And I get weirdly defensive when people like, review television shows online, which like, I love reading those reviews. I love talking about TV and I love reading about TV when people are like, "Ugh, that episode, they did that thing." And I'm like, "But you don't know! They might have done that in five hours! They might've argued to do something else and the network said 'no!' The actor might have wanted to change their lines at the last minute," like there's so many things that go into it, so on the one hand, like, one writer can't take all the blame. But they do, you know? And it's great that people are so involved in how their shows work and feel really personally invested in them, but I can see that like, it's also hard, because so much of those decisions are not in any one person's control.
KLINGELE: Or even one small group's control, like, a lot of people work on shows and more people work on movies, so. Yeah.
ENNI: And who knows when things get changed, or why.
KLINGELE: Who--yeah. Yeah.
ENNI: That's so interesting.
KLINGELE: There can be like, the weirdest, smallest things that completely mess up four weeks of story plotting or whatever. But it's kind of like a cool--it can be like running by the seat of your pants and that collaborative experience. It's part of it; it's part of the fun of it.
ENNI: When you're like working your way up, kind of learning from all the TV stuff, when does the idea for the book or the--I mean, when does it then click that like, "Hey, book writing is real and I could do this"?
KLINGELE: I don't know if I had that realization, it just one day was like, "finish one." Because I'd started a bunch, and I'd never finished one, so I started writing THE MARKED GIRL.
ENNI: Well wait, before we get into that, because then I'll want you to intro what it's about and everything, but I love that you were starting things though, so you were, you were aggressively pursuing the TV career.
KLINGELE: I don't know if I'd use the word "aggressively." I was mediocrely...
ENNI: [laughs] Mediocrely pursuing the TV career, but were you writing books or novel-looking things the whole time you were in LA, or?
KLINGELE: Uh, yeah! I think I've always done that on and off, I don't know if I ever had it in my head like, that I would get something published, but I love writing. So it's sort of like, you know, you have a stressful day or you just feel like you're not being like, creatively fulfilled, and then you write five pages and like, you'd feel better. I would feel better, so. That's just something that I always did. And then I was like, "Okay." I was working as a writers' PA, and when you're a writers' PA, you have like, a lot of time, because you're in the front and everyone else is in the back. You just have to answer phone's and get lunch basically, and like collate scripts. So I would have a couple hours here or there like, in the morning before people came, or like, after they all left, and then I was like, "Okay, finish this thing." So I just finished one of them.
ENNI: That's awesome.
KLINGELE: And then yeah, then I'm like, "Okay, now make it better." 'Cause it was like, the first draft, I think, was 150,000 words, which is insane.
KLINGELE: I know, I should've researched how many words books should be before I started it, but I just wanted to finish it.
ENNI: Well, and fantasy books get a pass on being pretty long. That's real long.
KLINGELE: That was like, too long.
ENNI: That's two books!
KLINGELE: That was like 50,000 pages [words] beyond what is borderline acceptable.
ENNI: That's so funny! So, getting the idea for THE MARKED GIRL and--I mean, when you got that idea, was it a combination of "I want to finish something" and also "this idea is so great"?
KLINGELE: Yeah! So I got the idea--my family came to visit me for the first time, and I was showing them around Los Angeles and like all these landmarks that I had already gotten bored of.
ENNI: Yeah, right, right!
KLINGELE: It's like I was seeing them, like, through their eyes for the first time, like, "Oh, this is so neat." But like, LA is--it has so many like, preconceptions. People think it's a certain thing and then they come out here and like discover it was something else. But it is, it's got like kind of fantasy connotations like people think everyone out there is fake. And it's true, people out here make things up for a living, that's why people come here, which I love, but I'm like, "What a weird place for people from a different time period or dimension to come thrown in." My head automatically went to "How would the GAME OF THRONES characters survive here?" or like, what would they do? And that was sort of the genesis of it, and then yeah, I just couldn't stop thinking about it.
ENNI: Yeah! That's so interesting. And it's like absolutely super fascinating to me--and I think so smart to think about the book in that way, it's just this Russian nesting doll of like, your characters are coming from a fantastical world that you created and then coming into LA and it's like, not just getting used to our world but like, this weird heightened specific place within our world.
KLINGELE: Yeah, so it's not just cars but like, why are these swords fake? You know, so--yeah, which I thought was a fun element to it. And then of course people in LA wouldn't be surprised by that, because there's a lot of weird stuff here going on all the time, so.
ENNI: Ah, that's so true! You can get away with some more stuff.
KLINGELE: Right, like if you see people, I mean, actually, we filmed a book trailer for it right outside here, and the actors were all wearing medieval gear like running around with swords. Like, no one asked what we were doing.
ENNI: No one blinks.
KLINGELE: You just assume like, "Oh, some people are making a short film." Like, "Ugh."
ENNI: [laughs] "Stop blocking traffic!"
KLINGELE: I love that sort of juxtaposition of two fantasy worlds kinda colliding.
ENNI: Yeah, that's so neat! Okay, within the context of THE MARKED GIRL's sort of concept, I'd love to hear you talk about what your perception was of LA. Do you remember what kind of were some really big surprises?
KLINGELE: Yeah, I think--I mean, I didn't know a lot about Los Angeles. I think I thought what a lot of people in LA thought, like, when I moved out here one of my aunts was like, "What are you doing?" Like, "Everyone's crazy out there!" Yeah, like it has a sort of perception of dry, like, lost souls or, you know, just kind of strange people. Yeah, but when I came here what I found was that it drew people who are passionate about making things up. People coming out here to work on movie sets, or to work in editing or post-production or marketing like just very driven people that had this like, strong work ethic, and they're like... I don't know, I was really drawn to that. But the whole industry is about stories and storytelling.
ENNI: That's exactly what I found when I moved out here, too. It's just like, "Oh, everybody values what I value."
KLINGELE: Exactly! Fake things!
ENNI: Fake things!
KLINGELE: But not in the way that you think, you think LA like, "Oh people value fake boobs," but it's like, "No, they value fake storylines that are important."
ENNI: That are super important and really interesting and in thoughtful ways, like, obviously people are passionate to make it their living, so. And I like people who find chosen places, that's something I think about a lot, and you had a quote that said, "It's a powerful feeling to love a place enough to call it home." So it really struck me that you found LA home.
KLINGELE [32:30]: Yeah, yeah, that's... You know, it is my home. Michigan's always going to be where I grew up, it'll always be my home, but I found LA and I found my place and I love it here, and it never snows [inaudible], but yeah, that's definitely sort of the overarching theme of THE MAKRED GIRL and it's sequel is figuring out for yourself what your home is and realizing that choosing a new home for yourself doesn't mean you have to like, leave who you were behind.
KLINGELE: Yeah, I do still wish that teleportation existed so I could go back and see my family whenever I wanted, but I get to see them, they're still a big part of my life, I still consider myself a midwesterner, but LA is where I'm meant to be, and that's like... The main character in my book, the one that lives in LA, Liv, is an aspiring filmmaker, and she loves her city, and this is where she wants to be, so... That was sort of my way of talking about how great LA is. I love it.
ENNI: Yeah, yeah, I love it. So I'd love to hear you talk about--as you mentioned like, one of your main characters is in LA, and is like a native, and then meets the rest of the character who are coming from the kind of fantasy world, so how did you, how did you think about the differences there and then like, how to connect them? Because that's kind of crazy.
KLINGELE: Yeah, so, sort of the main point--or something I hope people get from this is like, movies is what connects them. Stories is what connects them. Because Liv, the main character, uses her understanding of stories to kind of relate with the fantastical elements. Like I think a lot of movies, weirdly, you forget the fact that we have this cultural knowledge. Like, let's say a zombie apocalypse was to happen tomorrow. We wouldn't be like, "What's happening?!" We would know what to do because of stories. We would know where to hide out, who not to trust, hopefully. You know, we'd have a blueprint, because we all have this cultural knowledge and like, if people come from another world or like, alien invasion, we'd all kind of know what was going on. We'd go through the motions and know what was happening. So she kind of uses those elements, like, "Oh, this situation reminds me of this movie," and that sort of helps her get through, which I think a lot of us do.
ENNI: Well, that's why stories are--they build empathy, that's what--we learn to cope with things in real life because we know stories, so yeah.
KLINGELE: Yeah, and we learn to prepare for alien invasions, just in case.
ENNI: Absolutely. Well that's why people hire sci-fi writers to think of--what was it, the Defense Department or whatever?
ENNI: There was--I will find the article, or an article to talk about this, but it was not that long ago, like the state--if I remember the Defense Department was like, gathering sci-fi writers and were like, "What should we be worried about?"
KLINGELE: Oh my god, that's awesome.
ENNI: Isn't that amazing? Yeah, it's real, this shit is like... Without STAR TREK we wouldn't have those slide-y open doors. They made that shit up! And then it became real. So it's like goofy shit where it matters.
KLINGELE: Yeah, and I do think there's a huge back-and-forth relationship between what we know of the world and what we know of stories, and yeah, so I really wanted to focus on or highlight that.
ENNI: Yeah, that's cool! So you wrote 150,000 words.
KLINGELE: Uh huh. Yeah, I did.
ENNI: Did you know that it was meant to be more than one book, or how did you?
KLINGELE: Yeah, I think I had it in my head, I thought, "Oh, this will be a trilogy." I mean, not really--I didn't think it would be anything, like, I was just writing. Um, but, you know, when I got an agent I was like, "Oh, this is a trilogy," because I love trilogies, and because I love long-form stories, and because I don't like things to end. My editor was like, "I feel like this is a two book series," or "we want to make it a two book series." Yeah, and that turned out to be really great, like--I mean, it was a lot of work to sort of try and condense the story I had down. But because it worked, they're like "Oh, then clearly the other stuff wasn't necessary." Like if you can cut, and it works, then you should cut.
KLINGELE: I'm really glad.
ENNI: I'm interested in like you--this is the first thing that you finished, and then you're looking at 150,000 words like, where do you go from there? How did you think about grappling with all of that?
KLINGELE: Um, so the first thing I did was really dumb, which is that I started querying. [laughs]
KLINGELE: And I didn't hear back, probably because I said, "I have a 150,000 word manuscript."
KLINGELE: And then I was like, "Well, let me start getting feedback on this." So I gave it to friends to read, and then asked them if they knew anybody, so like friends of friends. And then I incorporated the notes and cut it down a lot, and revised for like a year.
ENNI: Really? Wow, yeah.
KLINGELE: Yeah, so... Then I finally sent it out, and then I did get my agent from that. And then I revised it again before she put it on submission, so it's been worked on quite a bit. But I learned a lot about what's necessary and what's not.
ENNI: What, if anything, were you taking from the writers' room to those revisions? 'Cause I can imagine there's a lot of...
KLINGELE: Oh, well I think working in a writers' room taught me how to be a really detailed outliner, so... That kind of affects how I write, and also both the shows I worked on were very soap opera, story-driven shows that have like, intense act endings, and cliffhangers, so... I really liked to put those in my books, too. And yeah, I think just like, you get into a scene as quickly as possible, and then you get out as quickly as possible. Like, that's how TV writing works, and so like, do you need this first like, four lines of this scene? Do you need for them to talk about this for seven pages? No. And then I have to watch for this, because I, by habit, put a lot of information in dialogue when it doesn't need to be in the book, like. There can be internal monologues that I have to sort of like, pare back on the dialogue that I use. But yeah, just get in get out, give the relevant information, make scenes do more than one thing, all that's very TV heavy.
ENNI: And keeping it plot-driven, and like--that's really, I think it's like, reading books about writing for TV or screenplays I would totally recommend to any writer, because it's a lot of efficiency. And at some point, I think every writer gets to the point where they're like, "I need to like, I need to not spin my wheels so much." Those tricks for efficiency are really really handy to have.
KLINGELE: Yeah, and I think you can tell--like if a scene is boring to write, that's a big sign. Yeah, so it's about efficiency, but also making sure that every single scene is as interesting as possible.
ENNI: Yeah! Ooh, I like that. So, let's see--I love your inspiration of having your family visit and then seeing it through their eyes, that's the best. But it's so interesting to have a portal story then flipped on its head. Then how much of their other world do you see, how much did you know about that, like?
KLINGELE: You don't see a ton in the first book. You see it more in the sequel, and you know, I didn't want to get too much into the specifics of like, the politics and the history of this other world, because, again, that's the kind of story that's boring and gets cut. Like, I had it, but it doesn't add to this particular story that I'm telling in this particular book, what was important to me was that readers knew that these were characters from a medieval type world. And so I hope this works out, I don't know, I tried to make them as trope-y as possible, because that's the joke, like, you want to be able to recognize these guys getting on the bus with a sword, like, oh, they're coming from a medieval world. Like that's, you know, if you start getting into backstory on how many kings there's been and whatever, it just sort of takes away from that joke, so I didn't focus on it a ton in this first book.
ENNI: Well, okay, this is something that I wonder about people who are playing with kind of medieval fantasy stuff. I love that you wanted to lean into tropes, like, almost stereotypical things you'd see in those stories. But did you--did any part of you want to also kind of subvert those and play with those?
KLINGELE: Um, yes, so... It's tricky--I don't want to give away too much, but... So I think there's a trope about a young ruler accepting their destiny and I wanted to explore like, do they have to?
ENNI: Ah, right, right right!
KLINGELE: Like, what is destiny, and who says what we can and cannot be? And I think that plays a lot into Los Angeles, where you can kind of make up the future that you want for yourself. Why does Rob Stark have to rule the north? What if he wanted to bounce and let Sansa do it? Like, why not? I don't know, I thought that was an interesting trope to subvert.
ENNI: Yeah, I like that, and what happens if they make that kind of crazy choice.
KLINGELE: Yeah, 'cause I think there's sort of like, "If you are a good person you have to take up this responsibility." It's like, what if there's someone better? You know? What if you know you're not the best person? I don't know, so I think that I sort of explore...
ENNI: Are you contrasting like, do they have really old fashioned views on things, versus like coming in to a modern world?
KLINGELE: Oh yes. I don't think I leaned too hard into that, but it definitely, like, how they talked was a struggle for me. You don't want to get bogged down in that kind of formal speech, and I think that helps making it another dimension as opposed to like, our own medieval times. No one's like, "That's not how people talked." So I can be like, "It is over there!" Because like, I don't want it to have to like, never use contractions and use all the words they actually used in medieval times that no one knows anymore, and that seems like it would be frustrating for it to read. So yeah, I kind of shorthanded it, just made it a little proper. But it's different in that gender roles are very different; they're not old fashioned in that way. The girls have just as much power and autonomy as the guys do, so I don't really get deep into that, that's just the way that it is. So they are familiar with that, but they do have the old sort of structure of like, there's a king, and he rules, and coming to this world and seeing how different it is here is something that's different, though.
ENNI: Okay, interesting.
KLINGELE: It's hard to like, come up with a unique high fantasy world. I wouldn't even know how to go about like making it completely something that's never been done before. I just walked--I went to The Last Bookstore the other day, and you know their fantasy section? It's like, huge! And there's so many that I've never even heard of, like, most things have been done.
ENNI: Right right right, yeah, oh my god. I know. Trying to think about making anything wholly original is just like a waste of time. There's no way. Give up! I love hearing you say that you kind of--that the book is really about home. I think most people end up feeling like there's themes and they're trying to say something with their books. But not everyone does--anyway, what I'm trying to say is like, recently I've been fortunate to have a bunch of conversations with people who are really thoughtful of what they want to say with their books, and I find that like, so fun to talk to people about. Did you know what you were trying to say when you started?
KLINGELE: No, that's a really good point, and I think that's one of the things that points to how you evolve as a writer. When I started writing scripts out here I was like, "This would be a fun thing to do!" "This would be a fun character to write about!" I didn't give it a lot more thought than that, but the more you read, the things that stick with you are the things that have something to say about the world or that are really emotionally affecting, which is harder. It's a lot harder to do. So I think it was one of my revisions of THE MARKED GIRL and I'm like "What?!" like "Why?! What am I saying?!" Like this is a fun world, and that was my goal, was to create something entertaining, but like, what do I want to say? And the pieces were all there, so I just played into them more heavily to fit into this theme. And then, now I'm working on a standalone, like a book three, and I knew going in like, what do I want this to be about. And it makes it a lot easier. [laughs]
ENNI: Yes! Yeah.
KLINGELE: But also harder because you have to then do that well, like you have to land it, which is tricky, but it makes me more excited to write. A fun thing gets you a good first draft, but it's hard to go back on revision nine and have it still be fun. But if it's still important to you and you feel like "I have to get this right," then when you go back and revise... I don't know, it just adds another level of not just "writing this is fun," but like, "writing this is important," in a way?
ENNI: I completely agree, and I feel like that, to me, is what revisions end up being. I think often--I feel like I'm starting to write something now where I think I know what it's going to be about, and I'm like, I'm guaranteed to be in the third draft and be like, "Oh, actually..." Like, it's so--I feel like I do end up writing to myself. And once I hit the point in revision where it like, the lightbulb goes off, and I'm like, "Oh, this book is really about this," then the revisions change entirely and it becomes fun again in that other way. And like you're saying, then it means more, and you're like, "Okay, there's a target here," like, "I really need--if I want to say this then it has to pull through," and it makes all the choices easier because--and more interesting because you know what they have to lean toward.
KLINGELE: Yes, yeah. And I think that's something that everyone just learns eventually. I don't know if--I never read a writing book that kind of talks about that, I'm sure they're out there, but I feel like that was something that like... That slowly, just by reading a lot and watching a lot, and like--but why do this thing? And that wasn't something that I was just born knowing. It would have been nice, but yeah. It also makes me wonder like, "What'll I learn in ten years about writing that would've made my life easier now?"
ENNI: Oh my god, ugh. Yeah. We can't think about it that way. But I think that's what keeps writing feeling interesting, because the more that you live, the more that you have to say, and the more that you have to draw from. So it's the kind of thing that makes like, whereas when you were writing about the meat industry or something it's like--you know, barring a huge innovation in how we create or eat or distribute meat, like, it's going to be the same thing, and on a weekly deadline, and that was like, hard for me to handle. But books, though we are doing the same thing for years and months at a time, it's still like, there's enough change within that, that I'm like, this is something you can do forever.
KLINGELE: Yeah, and I think that's where you mentioned earlier like, there's no original stories. But like, you're not going to run out of things to say about what it's like to be alive. You might run out of like--fantasy's been done, portal stories have been done, but this particular one saying this particular thing hadn't been done. So you can find any combination of stories to tell if you have something to say. Even if someone else has said that already in a different story, they probably did it in a different way.
ENNI: And I love, I wish that I could remember, there was a great quote I read recently about it, that... Just the concept that like, going in for an original story is very silly to even think that you could do that.
KLINGELE [47:50] : I mean there aren't any, like... It's been done, right? Like [inaudible] what's coming on TV every fall, like, stories have all been done.
ENNI: It just kind of doesn't--it doesn't really happen anymore. What happens is that people have something to say, and that since we as people grow in the sum total of our experiences, everybody's filter that the stories go through is so unique and different that you kind of don't have to worry about it. Like, it's going to be you in spite of yourself. If you try to write a story just like Cormac McCarthy, like, you wouldn't. Because you can't do that. You have your stuff, he has his stuff. Which I think is a really--
KLINGELE: Oh, I feel like I might've tried to do that in college.
ENNI: I think we've all been there, yeah. But it's like--I find a lot of joy in that. Voice and stuff like that is just sort of letting go of trying to be something you're not.
KLINGELE: Yeah, that's a really good way to put it.
ENNI: I'm like, just trying this out on you. I've been thinking about this; what do you think? [laughs]
KLINGELE: I also love that you have the same knowledge for who says quotes as I do--like, "I remember this one time--or maybe I saw it on Twitter, I don't know!" Like, I just know that I didn't make this up.
ENNI: Genuinely can't remember, yeah. I want to give people credit, then I'm like, "I'm going to butcher this quote and I don't remember whose quote it was!"
KLINGELE: I do that all the time, yeah.
ENNI: But it's okay, whoever said that, you're really smart! So I love hearing you say that you still feel like TV could be something you want to do.
KLINGELE: Oh yeah.
ENNI: But how do you... Writing books is a full-time job. And TV is like a crazy full-time job. How do you envision those two--like trying to do those two things?
ENNI: Or do you? Or would it be one or the other?
KLINGELE: I mean... I'd hope to work it out? Yeah, I haven't been fortunate enough to have that problem so far. When I was working on shows, though, they only--the writers' rooms were open for eight months out of the year, and then you go on a three- or four-month hiatus. And then if your show doesn't get cancelled you come back, ideally. So there's--there is downtime. The hours are long. So it'd be harder to write a book on the side. You know, I've never tried it. I'd hope I could--like, I know people do it, but I'd definitely jump on the chance because I just, I love television so much.
KLINGELE: And right now, especially. So many good shows! And every time I look at a new show--you read a synopsis about it or something--and I'm like, "Oh god, I want to write that!"
KLINGELE: "Oh, that's so good! I want to be in that room!"
ENNI: That's the coolest thing about TV is that it is so collaborative, not only in how you write, but also like, someone has this great idea and you can be like, "I want to be in that world," and actually contribute to it.
ENNI: But that's crazy!
ENNI: And so cool.
KLINGELE: Yeah, there is something very cool about coming up with a story with other people--coming up with a whole storyline with other people. Also, again, if other people are there, they can catch things that aren't working, and they can come up with things that I would've never thought of and make something so much better. There's just something really cool about that.
ENNI: Books are wonderful and amazing because they're a singular vision. And TV and movies are so amazing because they're the vision of upwards of hundreds of people.
KLINGELE: Yeah--and generally the show-runner does have a vision, and they have to communicate it. There's a really great podcast called Children of Tendu, where two TV writers talk about the business of it, and they talk about--there's one whole episode about how show-runners have to have--have to be able to have a vision, and then communicate that vision. People have to know the tone, and they have to know where the story--what it's about.
ENNI: Yeah, yeah! So we wrap up with advice, so I'd love to hear, definitely general advice to new writers, and maybe if there is any other lingering thoughts you have about like, what you've learned from TV and stuff that has helped you.
KLINGELE: Yeah. I mean, I think my advice is going to be the same advice that a lot of people give, which is keep doing it. Don't stop if you have an idea that you like and you want to make it a book. Don't stop after thirty pages. Keep going, and once you stop that, keep going to the next step, and then the next step. It's so easy to give up and it's so hard to keep going, but sometimes it works out.
ENNI: And if you keep going, I feel like it's the... Rule of... An object in motion stays in motion or whatever, like, just don't let yourself. Don't let a week go by. If you need to plug away every day just do a little bit every day and keep it going.
KLINGELE: I think that's really important, because if you let yourself stop for a week, I think you can get in a rut. I'm like that with jogging.
ENNI: Ha, yes!
KLINGELE: Like, "Well, maybe I just won't go this morning." And then I don't go every morning, so...
ENNI: Yup yup yup! It's true!
KLINGELE: But if you really want to write something, and if it is important to you, then you have to do it every day, even when you don't want to, even when it sucks, even when you're like, "This page is terrible." Go to the next one, and go back and fix that later. I feel like that's advice that everyone chose, but it's the most basic and true advice.
ENNI: It's really true.
KLINGELE: The only way out is through. You just have to keep going through.
ENNI: Yeah! Anything else from--I mean, scriptwriting and stuff like that is so different, but I do feel like you learn a lot by going back and forth.
KLINGELE: Yeah, I think just learning how to balance character work with more action and stuff is something that you learn in scriptwriting a lot--how to make visual information interesting on the page. I tend to be drawn to more fast-paced stories, so... Someone else asked in an interview how to write action scenes, and I think a really good, just like a rule of thumb to do, is take an episode of your favorite TV show, and write down everything that happens. Write down what they do, write down what people say, and see how quickly it moves. If you absorb that enough, then you can apply it to your writing and be like, "This is how pace works."
ENNI: And it's so different, it really is different to watch it then to see it. Like, reading the first script I was like, "This is so short." And like, "There's so not a lot of dialogue in this." I just watched the new CAPTAIN AMERICA, and at the end of it I was like, super loved it. Was not bored at all. Two and a half hours flew by. And then at the end I was like... "Were there twenty-five lines of dialogue in that whole movie?" It was like, there wasn't a ton of talking in that movie.
KLINGELE: That's a good point.
ENNI: There was so--it was brisk, and every line did three jobs. It was so efficient.
KLINGELE: Yes--Marvel's really good at that. They don't waste time, and that's such a good skill. I want to get so much better at that, like making a line do three things. Because then when you go back--I went back and watched WINTER SOLDIER before this one came out, and you find new things. I love that about Marvel movies. You can watch it three times and pick up on something different every time because they move so fast.
ENNI: And they're so great! WINTER SOLDIER is actually my go-to to have in the background when I'm editing podcasts. So I've watched it a hundred times, but like, not heard it always. So that's been this great thing too, where I'm like, "I know what's going on," like they're showing me what everyone's feeling, thinking, like, they're establishing that even without talking. Which is hyper-visual, and so opposite of books, but I think that you can learn a lot by examining how they do that.
KLINGELE: Yeah, and also how they establish characters so well that you don't need a lot of set up. Like, you know how things effect them.
ENNI: That opening scene with them jogging around the--!
KLINGELE: Oh god, it's so good!
ENNI: It's such a great scene! You know so much about both of them.
KLINGELE: Did you--I think I read an interview where they hadn't had that scene. They'd originally started it on the ship with the mission.
ENNI: Yeah yeah yeah, the first action sequence.
KLINGELE: And then like the--the writers, the director... Again, I have a terrible memory, so I'm bad at telling these sorts of stories. But they're like, "This isn't right. We need this scene to establish what Captain America is doing." And it's just like, him running!
ENNI: And his weird little notebook of stuff to catch up on!
KLINGELE: God that's a great opening.
ENNI: It is!
KLINGELE: It's so quiet, but like, so good.
ENNI: We're just like--let's just do another hour! We're just talking about Marvel movies. Oh, but dude, this has been so fun! Thank you so much!
KLINGELE: Yeah! Thanks for coming over.
[closing music plays]
ENNI [57:30] : Thank you so much to Lindsey. Follow her on Twitter @SisterLindsey, that's "Lindsey" with an "e," and follow the show @FirstDraftPod and me @SarahEnni. You can also follow the show on Facebook and get a sneak peak at future guests by visiting the show's Instagram page. But, for show notes with links to everything we talked about in this episode, as well as my favorite quotes from this and every conversation, check out firstdraftpod.com. If you liked what you heard, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and think about leaving a rating or review there. Every five-star iTunes rating gets me one step closer to the portal world of my dreams. Thanks to Hashbrown for the theme song, and to Colin Keith and Maurene Goo for the logos. And this summer, First Draft Pod has gotten it's very own intern, Sarah DeMont! She's already hard at work helping me clean up some cobwebs and good organizing, which is amazing and overdue. Long overdue. And, of course, as ever, thanks to you, LA vagabonds, for listening.
KLINGELE: And I'm sorry, my dog is eating your backpack!
ENNI: Oh, that's okay! It's delicious!
KLINGELE: Uh, yeah! [laughs]