Sunday, June 28, 2009

Maria V. Snyder Interview!

One of FNC's favorite fantasy authors, Maria V. Snyder, was gracious enough to take time from her very busy schedule to answer a few writing-centric questions in our blog's very first author interview!

Snyder has written the fabulous three-book Study series, which transcends both YA and adult labels as it chronicles the story of Yelena Zaltana. You can read more about Yelena and the Study series
here. Her latest release is Storm Glass, the first novel in her Glass series. This Study spin-off series follows glassmaker and magician-in-training Opal Cowan, a character readers first met in Magic Study. Check out our review of Storm Glass here. Snyder fans won't have to wait much longer for Opal's second book -- Sea Glass will be released September 1, 2009, and we can't wait!

Check out the interview below for insights into Snyder's creation process, her life as a "Pantser," the trials of world-building, her road to success, her dream-collaboration with Joss Whedon, and more.

What was your creation process for the Study series? Meaning, what was the original nugget that inspired the books – the character, the job of a food taster, the world of Ixia? How did it develop/evolve from there?

I was reading Orson Scott Card’s book, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. In chapter 3, Card tells the writer to consider some questions before choosing the main character. He wrote, “Too often—particularly in medieval fantasy—writers think their story must be about rulers. Kings and queens, dukes and duchesses—they can be extravagantly powerful, yes, but too often they aren’t free at all. If you understand the workings of power in human societies, you’ll know that the greatest freedom to act in unpredictable ways is usually found away from the centers of power.”

This comment led me to think about a person who was close enough to the center of power to witness important events, yet not be the Prince or Princess. I thought about a food taster and a scene jumped into my mind. I saw a woman tasting food that was most likely poisoned through the eyes of the King. He watched her with heartbreaking horror because he had fallen in love with her. That led me to wonder about this woman. Who was she? Why was she there? Why would a King fall in love with her? And Poison Study was born. Then the Commander came along and assassinated my monarchy so I had to adjust my initial idea :)

When in the process did you realize there would be more than one book? How did you outline the series, and did that affect the plot of the first book?

When I reached the end of Poison Study, I thought I could write another book. My intent had been to write a stand alone book. I didn't start Magic Study because I thought if I couldn't sell Poison, no one would want Magic. When I got “the call” from my first editor, she offered me a two book contract and asked me, “You do have another book right?” I was like, “Yeeeeaaaahhhhh....when do you need it by?” LOL When I finished Magic, I knew I could write one more.

I don't outline. The other books didn't affect the plot of Poison because they came later. I'm a seat of the pants writer (a.k.a Pantser) so I discover the story as I write so that is how one book became three :)

What were the most difficult and best parts of building the world of Ixia and Sitia?

Details are always hard for me. I like action and characters, but don't like writing all the details. When my editor gave me her revision notes, they all were about adding more details to the world. The best part is I am in charge of this world. I set the rules and hire the help and decide on names and uniforms and no one can argue with me. However, once I set the boundaries and laws, I'm stuck with them. As a Pantser, this has gotten me into trouble :)

Did any characters besides Opal gain larger roles than you initially intended for them, either within a series or between the two?

Ari and Janco were just supposed to be stereotypical soldiers and have one or two scenes, but they muscled into way more. The Commander surprised me in many ways. He was supposed to be one of the bad guys and he refused to be pigeonholed and really shocked me near the end of Poison Study. I would love to take these characters and do more with them. I have written two Study short stories, one with Valek as the main protagonist and the other featuring Ari and Janco. I must admit, writing the one with Ari and Janco was a blast. Especially, when I was in Janco's head. Both these short stories are up on my website at: if anyone would like to read them.

What do you see as your greatest strength and your greatest weakness as a writer?

This is a hard question! I've gotten thousands of emails from readers and many comment on my characters and how they've fallen in love with Valek and enjoy the various people in my stories. Weakness is probably I'm light on details and my grammar is horrible! But I counter that one with “It's my style.” ;>

Briefly detail your journey to publication after finishing Poison Study. (Finding an agent, an editor, promoting the book, etc.)

It took me two years to find a home for Poison Study. I submitted it to literary agents first. Collected a stack of about 40 rejections from them. Then I submitted PS to the major publishers like Bantam, Tor, Roc, Ace etc... rejections rolled in. Targeted small presses to earn more rejects. I had made a list of 20 publishers that would look at stories by unagented authors, so I was determined to submit PS to them all. The 18th submission was to LUNA Books - a new (at the time) fantasy imprint of Harlequin. I felt it was a long shot. I did have the strong female protagonist they were looking for, but I wasn’t sure about the romantic sub-plots. But I sent it anyway. Four months later, LUNA calls and offers me a two-book contract. I had about 18 months to write Magic Study, and a two-year wait for Poison to hit the shelves, so I got a website together and printed bookmarks, etc... for promotion. My publisher sent me on a mini book tour to the West Coast.

Your novels have won multiple awards, been chosen as BookSense picks, and received a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly, and Fire Study even made the New York Times bestseller list. What is your current goal as a writer?

A movie deal would be nice. Or even a TV show – directed by Joss Whedon of course :) Otherwise, I'd like to keep selling books and improve as a writer. Getting to the top of the New York Times list would be awesome, but I really can't focus on those type of goals when I'm writing or I would freeze. I try and focus on writing a good story and anything that happens after the book is published is a wonderful bonus.

Want more Maria? Check out Maria's website and her MySpace page.

Storm Glass by Maria V. Snyder

As you've probably noticed based on things we've mentioned in our posts, it's been a chaotic couple of months for our group -- graduations, weddings, world travel, birthdays, new homes, and of course, the constant struggle to write often and write well. This review of Storm Glass has taken awhile for precisely those reasons. Back in May, we met fantasy author Maria V. Snyder (of the Study series fame) on the local leg of her book tour promoting the release of Storm Glass, the first book in her spin-off series. (Read about the book signing and the Study series here.) Storm Glass can be read independently of the Study series, but it does contain spoilers if you want to read both. Either way, it's one of our favorites!

Storm Glass follows Opal Cowan, a young Sitian woman who spent most of her life believing she was no more than a glassmaker of above-average skill. It wasn't until she met Yelena Zaltana that she discovered she infused her glass with magic, an ability she used to help Yelena save Sitia from blood magicians. Now she's attending her fifth and final year of magic school at the Keep and is known to her fellow students as a One-Trick Wonder.

When the Master Magicians tell Opal that someone has sabotaged the Stormdance clan's orbs, killing the stormdancers who use them to harness hurricane-force energy, she is called upon to help the clan investigate. Opal has no idea the danger she will face. She also meets Kade, the strongest stormdancer, whose mercurial nature draws them together, even as he resists their connection. As they try to discover the people behind the sabotage and violence, Opal realizes that she possesses a greater and more terrifying power than she'd ever imagined.

In Storm Glass, Opal proves to be worthy of main-character status. Her complicated past, which includes being kidnapped and tortured, gives her depth and maturity. Readers can empathize with her struggle to better herself and understand her place in the world. She constantly downplays the importance of her ability (she creates magical glass messengers that have revolutionized communication for magicians throughout Sitia), but she eventually begins to acknowledge how much she has to offer. She's not a perfect heroine (much less fierce and fearless than Yelena), but her strength comes from within. It's impossible not to root for her to succeed.

The world of Sitia and its various clans, first introduced in the Study series, are explored in depth in Storm Glass. Snyder has created a vivid reality, but the scenery and politics never overwhelm the plot. One of Snyder's strengths is the ability to weave in a large supporting cast of secondary characters who never appear flat on the page and are distinct enough to hold their own in scenes. Kade is drawn exceptionally well, and his personality is complemented by Ulrick, Opal's other love interest. Fans of the Study series will enjoy the reappearance of some of their favorites, including Fisk, Ari and Janco, and even Yelena.

The faced-paced, complex plot kept me reading, and I didn't grow bored once, despite the nearly 500 pages. When the action slowed, I was drawn in by Opal's personal struggles. Or Snyder would write Kade into a scene (there were never enough!). I felt satisfied (as both reader and writer) by the ending -- Snyder wrapped up the main plot, but she left plenty of things unresolved, and I can't wait to see more of Opal in Sea Glass!

Storm Glass.
Sea Glass.
Maria V. Snyder's

Sara's Wedding!!!

So I just got back from Sara's wedding! And it was sooo much fun. Finally, Donna and I were reunited with our two long lost brides, Sara and Janine-the new Mrs. Burgan. Sara looked so beautiful and romantic and her entire wedding felt very intimate and comfortable, it was just so casual and easygoing, like Sara herself.
And here are some pictures!!

The Newlyweds!!

Beautiful Sara!

Janine is back! Here's Mr. and Mrs. Burgan

Me with Dr. Wertime, one of my favorite writing instructors at Arcadia and his son Geoff, who runs the Gay in Public Blog!
Janine and Donna!
Donna and Steve

It was a perfect day! So Sara go have an awesome honeymoon, but when you come back, we hope you're ready to write!!! :-)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ok I Give Up Sometimes They Do Know What's Best

In my ongoing quest to discover the very core of the mysteries of writing-something that will most definitely remain a mystery until I'm dead and even then I doubt I'll have the answers, there has been another twist in the plot of the ongoing battle between authorial dictatorships, plot and characters.

The battle for Chapter 7 ended in these results- Characters: 0, Frankie: 1
The battle for Chapter 8 ended in these results- Characters: 0, Frankie: 2

Oooh I love when I'm winning things!

Anyway the battle for Chapter 9, 10, was Characters-zilch. Frankie-FOR THE WIN!

Except that ever since I finished chapter 10 I've had this wierd feeling-kind of sad and unsettled, this yucky feeling I get when I don't write or I think my writing is crap or I've just fallen into a plothole and help I can't get out!

I looked over everything twice, made a few modest adjustments but things still didn't feel right. But I figured, whatever plow forward! Full speed ahead, finish this draft at least and then you can make it right.

But it wasn't working and I knew it in my soul! So I took a break, laid down and relaxed and thought and thought and then it came to me!!!! I had all of my events in the wrong order!!!

My romantic leads decided to get a little hot and heavy a few scenes prematurely and this was one case where I felt...yeah...this just seems right and it doesn't destroy what I planned for X Y and Z plot points to follow after. But I was having trouble understanding how they got to this point-like I had missed a step somehow...

And here was my revelation. I was planning to write hot and heavy+X+Y+Z but I was totally wrong! It's supposed to be X+Y+Z+Kiss=perfection. So I guess I have my characters to thank for this because this is one case of them taking things in a slightly off beat and premature direction and then actually showing me that if I listen to them, their way is kind of right.

But I'm still in charge-aren't I?


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Saving the scraps.

One of my most satisfying moments as a writer is taking pieces from discarded drafts and using them in current ones. Sure, 98% of your blood, sweat, tears, coffee, and carpal tunnel is in the garbage, but it's that 2% that makes me feel like it wasn't a complete waste. For example, pieces of my Maddy version of Chapter 10 is now spread among June's Chapter 10 and Nina's Chapter 11, and two scenes will go into Maddy's Chapter 12.

Last night, I took a scene in which Nina and Maddy were on swings in a deserted playground and switched it to Nina's (close third person) perspective. It also shifted in time -- originally, it was two days after the big Halloween party drama of chapter 9... now it's five days later. So their conversation was different, we saw inside Nina's head instead of Maddy's, and I even described the setting differently. That was actually my favorite part - the Maddy-centric narrator mentioned only in passing the "rusty monkey bars and a lone hippopotamus," but my Nina-centric one began: Nina had chosen the deserted playground near Maddy’s house because of the hippopotamus. It always made her smile, with its chipped purple paint and giant butt. It had sass like only a lavender hippopotamus could.

Nina would truly appreciate that hippo.

Anyway, saving the scraps of your discarded drafts is like sifting for diamonds. Finding the line of dialogue or phrase or even just one perfect verb and choosing a new home for it. And what girl doesn't like diamonds?

Confusion Over The Weather

While I spend my days slaving away (well not really) at summer camp in the heat, and my hours consist of being in the sun, going in pools, and drinking lemonade-my nights (lately) have consisted of writing about the fall turning into winter, chilling cold, frosty nights and the onset of snow. And it's seriously messing with my head.

I got so caught up in my November weather that when I signed onto facebook and found someone commenting about the heat, I was like, "WTF? It's cold!" and then I went, "Oooooh!"

And today, I clicked on one of my favorite vegan shoe websites and started looking at and dreaming about new boots....when what I should be looking at are sandals.

Anyway, just wondering what strange experiences you've had concerning getting so lost in your book that when you put the pen down, or remove your hands from the keyboard you're like, "ummm hey what? Excuse me, where am I? Who am I?"

Monday, June 22, 2009

The War Between Authors and Characters

Ok, here are my writing thoughts today.

There is such a thing as plot driven novels, and there are character driven novels.

Plot driven novels rely the most heavily on the plot and character on, you guessed it, the character.

The really awesome novels (well I think they're awesome) are the novels that are character driven but also heavily plotted. But even if you do have a character driven novel, you still have to plot, right?

So what happens when your characters want to run a muck with your plot and totally deviate off course? Do you let them? Or do you say, hey wait a second, I'm in charge here, I'm the one typing at the keyboard.

So speaking from personal experience, I am a heavy heavy plotter, but I also have characters that like to deviate off course and in the past I've let them, completely, to the detriment of all!

And I feel like only just recently was I able to take control and feel like I am absolutely 100% in charge of my story, cutting out these off the cuff moments when my characters walk off the plot to another scene I didn't intend.

It's been working for me-really well, I haven't written myself into a corner or encountered any plot holes.

But then yesterday in my current chapter 8, things kind of went off course-majorly. Not that there were things happening I didn't meant for to happen, but they were all kind of happening at once really quickly and things were escalating with my characters.

So I went back in with my new boss card and returned to the plot. Mostly the chapter is now where it should be, but something feels off about having pulled in the romantic storyline. And I'm thinking that although I've been incredibly bossy this draft ordering my characters around saying you do this, go there and say that-right now!-maybe in this case, they were right and I was wrong.

So...just wondering what your thoughts are on the whole characters coming to life versus the author being always in charge, and where do you draw the line and do you want to? I know this is different for everyone.

Im planning to go back and allow a little more of the romantic story line of chapter 8, but bring it in just a little bit-kind of meet them halfway, and then I hope to write chapter 9 tonight because I've been making progress like whoa-of course having a week off from work can do wonders for your writing. I SO CANNOT WAIT to do this full time!

Happy Monday!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chapter 10, take three. Trust the process...

Because I feel as though my writing has stagnated in the past couple months - which is partially true and partially me being too hard on myself - I decided that I would write my brand-new June-centric Chapter 10 draft in only four days so that Frankie and I could have another mini-critique session on Sunday.

See, I've been super-busy in the non-writing aspects of life - I went on a lovely 5-day Jamaican vacation (see picture!), and I had three freelance proofreading/copyediting jobs in a row (nothing to complain about), and everyone seems to be celebrating something that I am required (and want) to attend. So I sent off my final batch of copyedits Monday night, and when I came home from work Tuesday, I plopped my rear in the computer chair and began typing.

Chapter 10, version 3 has been itching in my brain since prior to Jamaica, but it intimidated me when I sat down to write. Maddy and Nina are not speaking to June in it, so the chapter lacks the group dialogue that I feel is the novel's strength. But I knew I was on the right track with the plot of the chapter, so I plowed forward.

- An aside: If you're wondering about my writing speed - over the past two nights, I wrote ten pages working for a total of 6.5 hours. And that's a good speed for me. Sometimes I can only write a page an hour, because most of that time I'm writing multiple versions of sentences and scenes in my head before finally typing out what I think is the strongest option. As I'm sure we've mentioned, Frankie writes much, much faster than that, but she tends to type multiple full versions of chapters before settling on one.
Also, when I write I prefer to be alone in the room or have it library-silent. If it's noisy and chaotic around me, even if just the TV's on, I have an awful time focusing. Sometimes I want music, sometimes not. I can't listen to pop. It has to be alt-rock or something chill that I can listen to without actually listening to it. If that makes sense. And if you interrupt me I can get a little cranky, because it takes effort to get into my productive zone, and I hate being distracted from it.

Anyway, I finally went to bed after my tenth page, semi-dissatisfied with what I'd written. I didn't want the chapter to be twenty pages of June all whiny and alone. Yes, the situation isn't a happy one for her, but she's not the type to sit and mope. Apparently writing intensely for three hours is equivalent to caffeine for me, since I wasn't able to fall asleep for over an hour. The good news was, in that in-between time, I figured out two things that would liven up the remainder of the chapter. First, I needed June to approach Nina. Because June and Maddy have homeroom and lunch together, they had built-in dramatic scenes. So now June's going to corner Nina in the hallway. But my favorite idea was this - in an effort to get to Nina, June's going to seek out Raemont, Nina's co-worker and semi-love interest, whom June's never met. I'm SO excited to bring these two very different characters together in their own scene. What complicates things more is that Rae's currently not speaking to Nina because she hid something from him. The possibilities!

So why did I write this post? First of all, I knew the track I wanted to follow, but the execution was a little weak. But I pushed forward and figured out a really cool way for the chapter to be more interactive, something I'd never even considered doing. And it's making the three storylines weave more naturally - previously, Rae only had direct interaction with Nina. I can't wait to see how he acts around June (I know it sounds ridiculous, but even though I'm writing it, I don't know yet!).

I'm pretty darn proud of my eureka moment, even if it's something small in the grand scheme of things. And it gives me enough momentum to move forward and trust in my skills a bit more. We'll see what Frankie thinks on Sunday!

Ever have a eureka moment yourself? What was it?
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