I am really pleased to offer, for your delectation, an interview with Maria V Snyder who has the patience and perseverance of a saint.
Read the review I did for her first book Poison Study to hit the UK here.
MFB: Describe your writing day for us – are you a “I have to write 2000 words a day” kind of gall or do you write until you can’t focus anymore?
Maria: I sit down at my computer after my children leave for school. After answering email and procrastinating for an hour, I start writing and only stop briefly for lunch and continue until my son comes home around 3:30 p.m. During the school year (September through June), I’m very productive, but once summer comes along I can only do revisions.
I don’t write every day. Most weeks, I’ll have a school visit or other promotional event to attend or prepare for. I try to limit marketing and publicity to one day a week and weekends, but it doesn’t always work that way.
When my deadline nears, I’ll go back to my computer after dinner and write until I can’t focus anymore.
MFB: Are you a tidy writer or do you thrive in chaos?
Maria: My desk and office will start out being tidy and organized. As my current writing project advances, so does the chaos and by June my office is a disaster area.
MFB: What motivated you in the dark days when the words wouldn’t come?
Maria: Deadlines tend to motivate me, and sometimes I just have to take my dog for a walk or call my critique partner and brainstorm ideas with her. At various times during a writing session, I’ll be stuck on wanting to find the perfect word or sentence. At those times, I have to remind myself I’m writing a first draft and can change it later. Half the time when I review the section, I’m happy with what is there.
MFB: Have you ever attended any writing courses or conference?
Maria: Yes, many. When I first started writing, I attended a couple of writing conferences and learned a lot about the field. Once I had a finished novel, I pitched my novel to editors and agents at those writing conferences. I also attended a series of creative writing classes.
Eventually, I had enough knowledge and information that I started teaching writing classes at the local library and college. I enjoy teaching so much that I earned a Master of Arts degree in Writing from Seton Hill University and now teach at Seton Hill and have been invited to those writing conferences I used to attend, but now I lead workshops and panels. I’ve come full circle
MFB: What prompted you to write Poison Study?
Maria: 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 centre 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.
MFB: How much world building did you do in the end or did you base the society on an existing albeit older system?
I had originally intended to base my society on medieval Europe and have a monarchy. But the Commander had other ideas. He was tired of reading fantasies with monarchies, and assassinated the entire family.
The Commander isn’t a stereotypical dictator. His simple policy is based on a more equalitarian view. Everyone in Ixia wears a uniform, including him. He is not corrupted by the power of his position and lives as he rules. The centre of government is in a castle, but the throne room has been converted into a mass of desks for his officers, and all opulence has been stripped from the walls.
When my sister read an early draft, she told me Ixia was M&M/Mars (who manufacture M&Ms, Dove, Snickers etc…), which is the company she had worked for, and it’s also my husband’s current employer. In their factories, everyone wears a uniform even the plant manager, and their desks are all out in the open, including all the managers’. No one has a special parking space or any extra perks because they’re a manager versus a worker on the candy line. I guess I really admired the way the company treated its associates and I unconsciously used it for Ixia.
MFB: It is good fun watching Yelena grow during the first book. Did you plan that meticulously or did you let her grow organically on her own and did she ever surprise you?
Maria: I don’t plan anything meticulously. I’m what is known as a seat-of-the-pants writer. I have an idea for a beginning and know where I’m headed, but don’t outline or plan out the middle. To me, my characters start out like a Polaroid picture, grey and undefined. As I write, they become clearer.
All of my characters surprise me at least once during a course of writing the Study books, except Yelena. I know her so well that all her reactions and actions made perfect sense to me.
MFB: How hard was it to keep Yelena from becoming too big for her shoes? As I mentioned before, she grows admirably as a person and it is fun to watch. But I assume it was quite hard keeping her – for a lack of a better word – naïve but still tough and likeable at the same time.
Maria: For Poison Study it wasn’t hard. I wanted to show her going from a victim who didn’t trust anyone to being empowered and able to form friendships. It was very hard to keep her more modest in Magic Study. After I wrote the first draft of Magic Study, I realized she was this all-powerful super-girl and I needed to do some major revisions.
MFB: I know that Magic Study recently has been released here in the UK – are you prepared to give us a sneak peak of what you’ve got in store for Yelena?
Maria: I love the tag line for Magic Study – You know your life is bad when you miss your days as a poison taster. Poor Yelena does not get a break. In Magic Study, Yelena has an execution order on her head and has to escape to Sitia, the land of her birth. She needs to begin learning about her magic and travels to the Magician’s Keep. But nothing in Sitia is familiar to her. Not the family to whom she is a stranger. Not the unsettling new facets of her magic. Not the brother who resents her return. Magic Study chronicles her struggle to understand where she belongs and where her loyalties lie. She also needs to control her powers. With all this going on, a rogue magician who is murdering young magicians emerges, and Yelena catches his eye.
MFB: Are you a meticulous planner, when it comes to writing and do you stick to those outlines or do you allow yourself to meander?
Maria: I meander. I do have to write a synopsis for a new book for my editor to approve the project, which is harder than writing the book. But I don’t follow it past the beginning.
MFB: I did notice that you said you enjoyed the chocolate tasting you did as part of your research for the books – what other research did you do?
Maria: For Poison Study, I also learned how to pick a lock the right way and not the Hollywood way. And I had nothing to do with that rash of break-ins in my neighbourhood last year. Honest!
I also applied my knowledge of martial arts. I have a brown belt in Issinryu karate so all the fight scenes, self-defence moves, and Yelena’s use of the bo staff is correct. I found a class on the broadsword and rapier and learned how to attack and defend with them both. I enjoyed the straight and simple moves of the broad sword better than the more finesse needed to fight with a rapier, which was similar to using a foil. I had gotten some experience with the foil, sabre and epee when I signed up for a fencing class.
For Magic Study, I learned how to ride and care for a horse. Growing up in the major city of Philadelphia, I knew horses from pictures and on television. They’re a lot bigger in person and, I’m no longer that young and fearless. It was an…interesting experience, but I’m glad I overcame my terror.
MFB: What was the first thing you did when you realised that your hard work is to be rewarded with a publishing deal?
Maria: I danced around the house. Afterwards I called my husband at work to tell him the good news.
MFB: Did you struggle to write from any of the characters point of view?
Maria: I write mostly in first person point of view (POV) and didn’t have too much trouble with that viewpoint. I did write two short stories with characters from the Study world in third person POV. They were a little harder, but it was fun to do something different. Both those stories, Assassin Study and Power Study are on my website at:
Assassin Study is from Valek’s POV and Power Study has Ari and Janco’s.
MFB: Who are your literary heroes?
Maria: I really don’t have any. I admire the authors more than their characters, and must admit I’m not a fan of the classics. My favourite authors, listed by genre are: Fantasy: Barbara Hambly, C.E. Murphy, Lynn Flewelling, Naomi Novik, David Eddings and George R.R. Martin. Science Fiction: Kate Elliott, Orson Scott Card, Vernor Vinge, and Connie Willis. Mystery: Dick Francis, and Barbara Vine. Other: Harlan Coben, Sebastian Junger, Barbara Kingsolver, and Stephenie Meyer.
MFB: Can you name five (or more) books on writing or websites that you have found invaluable in your work?
From Aaron to Zoe, 15,000 Great Baby Names, by Daniel Avram Richman.
Your Novel Proposal, From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook.
On Writing, by Stephen King.
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card.
http://www.writersmarket.com (a searchable database of markets and agents to send your stories to. Does have a fee).
http://www.sfwa.org/beware (writers beware site)
http://www.anotherrealm.com/preditors (Predators and Editors – good resource for a list of publishers and agents and marks the ones to avoid)
http://www.locusmag.com (Locus Magazine)
I have a more extensive list of useful sites on my website at: http://www.mariavsnyder.com/tips/links.php
MFB: Any advice to struggling writers out there?
Maria: Persistence is my biggest advice. I’d been writing for ten years and submitting for eight before I sold anything. Poison Study was rejected many times, but I kept submitting the book and had planned to submit until I ran out of publishers to send it to. I also tell writers to be wary of predators, if someone is asking you for money proceed with the utmost caution. Get feedback on your stories from fellow writers before submitting. Joining a critique group is very helpful. I also find that if I let a story sit on my desk for a few weeks I can pick out all the problems, typos and inconsistencies easier. And I agree whole heartily with Stephen King’s advice in his book, On Writing. He wrote, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And don’t give up! Ever! That’s more than one piece, but I think it’s very important. I even have writing tips on my website at www.mariavsnyder.com/tips and a series of writing advice on my blog at http://blog.myspace.com/mariavsnyder
Both Poison Study and Magic Study is available to purchase from Mira Books.