Interview: Maria V. Snyder

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I've been in the lucky position to know a fantastic author by the name of Maria V. Snyder. maria3 If you read fantasy novels, you might be familiar with her first two books, Poison Study and Magic Study. If you're not familiar with them, you should be! They're fantastic. Maria's new novel, Fire Study, is coming out on March 1. Check out the Q&A!

What was your inspiration for writing Fire Study? I wanted to explore the uses and abuses of power in this book. Poison Study, which is the first in the Study series, concentrated on Yelena’s inner conflicts and her self-confidence, and only touched briefly on magic. Magic Study focused on discovering the extent and type of powers Yelena possesses. In the third book, I wanted to show the extent some magicians will go to gain power over others. Using magic to solve problems can be addicting, and, in Fire Study Yelena realizes how much she depends on her magical abilities. She must learn how to balance the use of her power with more mundane methods and to discover that completely turning your back on magic isn’t the right answer.

Where do you find your inspiration? It can be from anywhere. I get ideas from newspaper and magazine articles, from something I see on television, from something that comes up in conversation, from dreams, or from something my children say or do. I tend not to lack for ideas just time!  

Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up? Currently my favorite authors all have humor in their books. Since my life is so stress-filled and complicated, I’ve been enjoying light and fluffy reading with Mary Janice Davidson’s vampire series and her new mermaid series, Connie Willis is another favorite of mine, and I’ve recently discover the mystery/suspense thrillers of Harlan Coben. Growing up, I started with mysteries because that is what my mother enjoyed. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were my favorites before I graduated to Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Robert B. Parker, Barbara Vine, and Ed McBain.  

Who has influenced you in your writing? I read a ton of mystery novels growing up. My favorite mystery author is Dick Francis and his books have influenced my writing style. I also use first person point of view and try to keep the story’s pace moving. My cliff hanger endings are a direct result from his books; I can never stop reading one of his books at a chapter break. My favorite fantasy writers all have strong female protagonists and interesting characters in common. Barbara Hambly’s books have a nice mix of action, character and humor – all essential elements to what I consider good fiction.

What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you? As a writer, the attraction is in exploring new settings and characters and not having to worry too much about what is physically possible or not. I make my own rules about my world and, as long as I stick to them, can explore various problems generated by the unique setting and situation. As a reader, I enjoy traveling beyond my everyday world to a new place full of wonder and surprises.

What sort of research did you do to write this book? In order to write the scenes with Opal, a glass artist in the book, I needed to enroll in glass blowing classes. The teacher made it look so easy to gather a slug of glass. But when it was my turn – yikes! It was HOT! The big vat of molten glass was kept in a rip roaring furnace at a toasty 2100 degrees Fahrenheit. I held a metal rod, and, while squinting through an eye-melting orange light, I dipped the end into the thick goo and spun it, gathering a glob of glass onto the end. The incandescent glob glowed as if alive. Once acquired, the slug then needed to be quickly shaped. Glass cooled at a rapid pace, and, even though heat waves pulsed from the slug, it didn’t stay pliable for long. My first paperweight was a misshapened blob. After hours of practice, my ability improved, and I created a paperweight worthy to hold down my next novel’s manuscript pages. I learned that working with glass required deft coordination, arm strength, tons of patience, and a good partner—it’s a good thing I have a day job!

What (besides writing) do you do for fun? I love to travel with my family. Exploring new places and meeting new people and experiencing other cultures are wonderful for the writer’s soul J I also enjoy playing volleyball, reading and I dabble with photography.

What are you writing now? I’m writing the fourth book based in the Study world titled, Storm Glass. Set five years after Fire Study, Storm Glass has a new protagonist and she’s the reason for the new series title. Storm Glass will be out December 2008. Here is the cover copy of the book: “As a glassmaker and a magician-in-training, Opal Cowen understands trial by fire. Now it’s time to test her mettle. Someone has sabotaged the Stormdancer clan’s glass orbs, killing their most powerful magicians. The Stormdancers—particularly the mysterious and mercurial Kade—require Opal’s unique talents to prevent it happening again. But when the mission goes awry, Opal must tap into a new kind of magic as stunningly potent as it is frightening. And the further she delves into the intrigue behind the glass and magic, the more distorted things appear. With lives hanging in the balance—including her own—Opal must control powers she never knew she possessed…powers that might lead to disaster beyond anything she’s ever known.”

Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now? I started writing because of boredom! My first job after college was as a Meteorologist for an environmental consulting firm. The amount of work came in waves, and we were either extremely busy or very bored. During the slow times, I started writing a short story. Ideas were always floating around in my mind, but that was when I began using them. I submitted my first short story for critique at a writing conference in Philadelphia, and when the workshop leader gave me 7 out of 10, I thought that was pretty good for a first effort and decided to stick with writing for a while. After my son was born and I only had about one hour a day to myself, I had to decide what was important enough to spend that precious time on. Most days writing won.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing? 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, I’m very productive, but once summer comes along I can only do revisions.

What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer? Dialogue is the easiest and the most fun to write. I struggle with details. I tend to go light on details, preferring to focus on action and dialogue. Also describing emotions without using clichés is very difficult for me, finding something fresh is hard, but when I do—it’s like hitting the lottery.

This isn't your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there? The first and second books in the series are still available. In Poison Study, Yelena starts her adventure in a dungeon, waiting to be executed for murder. She is given a choice of the noose or to become the new food taster for the Commander of Ixia—a military dictator paranoid of being poisoned. She chooses the job, and learns how to taste foods for poisons without dying. Life in the castle is full of hazards, the General, whose son she killed, wants revenge, rebels plot to seize Ixia, and Yelena develops magic she can’t control—magic which is forbidden in Ixia and punishable by death. As she searches for a way to freedom, Yelena is faced with more choices, but this time the outcomes aren’t so clear. In Magic Study, Yelena is on her way to be reunited with the family she'd been stolen from long ago. Although she has gained her freedom, she can't help feeling isolated in Sitia. Her Ixian background has changed her in many ways, and her newfound friends and relatives don't think it's for the better. Despite the turmoil, she's eager to start her magical training. But her plans take a radical turn when she becomes involved with a plot to reclaim Ixia's throne for a lost prince, and gets entangled in powerful rivalries with her fellow magicians. If that wasn't bad enough, it appears her brother would love to see her dead. Luckily, Yelena has some old friends to help her with her new enemies.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Persistence is my biggest advice. I’d been writing for ten years and submitting for eight before I sold anything. Learn the craft of writing as well as the business of writing and attend writer’s conferences and classes if you can. Consider that time an apprenticeship. 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!

You've enjoyed some phenomenal success in your career. Your hard work is evident! Recently I posted about rejection in the writing journey. Have you had much rejection in your writing career? If you have, how do you deal with it on a personal level, as well as on a professional level in terms of the writing/submission process? Yes – plenty of rejections in my career! My own experience with rejection spans eight years. I started looking at rejections as a necessary step towards eventual publication. Each form letter, sticker on my submission with “return to sender,” and two words scribbled (always “no thanks”) on my own cover letter was a step in that staircase to heaven…er…publication. I would send out a submission and then prepare the cover letter and envelope for my next market – so when a reject came in, I could glance at it and then stuff the story into the next envelop and mail it out before I could think about it too much. With my novel, Poison Study, I tried to get an agent without any luck (40 rejects, well actually 36 rejects and 4 didn't bother to reply). Then I contacted publishers that would look at it without an agent. I made a list of every single publisher and was determined to send the manuscript (or three chapters and a synopsis) out to them all before I threw in the towel and put the novel away. I received some very good rejections – you know the ones that want to see your whole manuscript only to reject it after you paid for all that shipping. One editor even called, said his company would most likely publish it – just had a few questions about the plot – only to reject it in the end. And let me tell you, those types of rejections – the ones where you actually get your hopes – up are the worst. If I didn’t have my list and my “I’m going to send it out no matter what” stubbornness, I would have stopped submitting Poison Study that day. After 17 publishers said no – I finally, finally got a yes! And although I was thrilled to have an acceptance, there was a small (tiny, really) part of me that thought (with a smidgen of disappointment), “But I still have three publishers on my list!” And with all those rejects – I couldn’t help but feel the story was deficient in some way – I worried about how the book would be received. So I was very surprised when Poison Study earned a Starred review in Publishers' Weekly magazine and was nominated for four awards, winning two.

So there you have it! I'd like to thank Maria for being so forthright and inspirational! Maria has said she'll pop in and answer any questions folks might have, so now's your chance to drop a comment and get some straight answers from a successful author!

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Tina Russell
    February 25, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tina Russell

  • Reply
    Kevin
    February 25, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Well, first thank you for this post Venessa! I have been looking for a new fiction book to read and you just offered me three. They sound good too, so I am going to look into purchasing them now. 🙂

    Questions..so many questions, where should I begin? Well, first of all, how did you find out where to send manuscripts, or chapters, and your synopsis without having an agent?

    I have two books written already, just started another, and I am finally ready to pursue it, and I am unsure of how to get started on that. I have a cover letter written for one already, along with a synopsis too.

    Thanks for any feedback !

  • Reply
    Mewie
    February 25, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    Wow, this blog is truly inspiring.

    I never heard of Maria Snyder before but from reading this interview, I am encouraged to pick up her book. Her advice is exactly what I needed to hear.

    It’s very tough to balance out my writing with my full-time 9-5 job as a marketing professional. I notice that most of my energy and creativity is spent already during the daytime since I copywrite and design marketing communications for most of the week. Combine that with newlywed and church life, writing is a secondary thing for me these days.

    But wow. Maria Snyder’s advice about persistence is something I’ll be thinking seriously about. Thanks Venessa for introducing her work to me. Take care!

  • Reply
    Maria V.
    February 25, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Waving hello! I’d like to first thank Venessa for posting this interview and helping to spread the word about my books 🙂 THANK YOU!

    I can also answer Kevin’s question about how to start. First off – you need to write a really excellent query letter and synopsis – I learned how to do this from my bible when I finished Poison Study. Buy this book you won’t regret it: Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract, The Complete Guide to Writing Query Letters, Synopses and Proposals for AGents and Editors by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook.

    Go to your local big box bookstore and find a copy of the 2008 Writer’s Market.

    What’s a Market?? It’s a place to SELL your story to. Book publishers, magazines, newspapers, and websites are all markets for your writing.

    Now take a look through the book. You can even sit down in the coffee shop and copy out information from its pages. What it will tell you is the name of the editor, address of the book publisher (or magazine) and what type of books/stories they publish. Also how they want you to send your story – via email, snail mail – or that they only accept agented submissions (from agents).

    For example, if you have a mystery short story – you’ll want to look in the book for all the magazines that will publish mystery short stories. The Writer’s Market will list the magazine’s address etc… and the magazine’s guidelines. Always send them what they ask for. Always! No, don’t argue with me – I’m right on this one ;> Also – call the receptionist – yes, you’re allowed. Confirm the address, editor’s name (they tend to change jobs – frequently) and that they’re still accepting submissions. Or check their website – many post this info online – although it can be out of date.

    The best way to sell a story to a specific magazine is to read about 6 issues of it (libraries keep back issues of the more popular magazines or you can spend more time at B&N). Same goes for book publishers – try and find books published by them and edited by the editor you’re targeting (read the author’s acknowledgements – we tend to thank our editors in this section).

    Why do this? Because if you have a quaint cozy mystery story and Editor Q at Mysteries R Us only likes to publish vampire slasher mysteries – you’re wasting postage and Q’s time. I have more details about the submission process on my website at Maria’s Tips – in the essay titled, The Publishing Labyrinth.

    If you find the Writers Market to be invaluable – then I would suggest you sign up for the online version of it at: Writer’s Market. It costs about the same as the book, but gives you updated information. The book is already out of date the day after it’s printed. If you only need a few publishers to send your work to – you can copy the info from the book at B&N – or the library – some libraries have the book in their reference sections. Again make sure if you’re using the info from the book that you call the market and check to see if the address etc. is current.

    REMEMBER – if anyone is ASKING you for money for your writing – that’s a BAD sign – they should pay you to publish your stories. You can self-publish – but you need to find a reputable printing company and avoid those vanity presses like Publish America. Check out SFWA’s Author’s Beware site – SFWA and Preditors and Editors site for publishers to avoid: Preditors and Editors

    If you have anymore questions, please feel free to email me at maria@mariavsnyder.com 🙂

    To Mewie – making time for writing is hard – to avoid feeling so overwhelmed – make short term goals – like 5 pages a week or a page a day. It helped me finish Poison Study. I made my goal one chapter a month.

  • Reply
    Kevin
    February 26, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Thank you so much for the response, I wrote down the names of those books and will be taking a look as soon as I can get to the book store. Thanks a lot!

    I took down your email also, just in case I have more questions. 🙂

  • Reply
    Sharp Words
    February 26, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Great interview, Venessa & Maria – and I’ll definitely be looking out for Maria’s novels. They sound like the sort of thing I like reading in the bath!
    Now, to get going on my own novels-in-progress again…

  • Reply
    Mewie
    February 26, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks you very much, Maria.

    Writing a few pages a week… that’s actually doable! Baby steps… makes total sense. Thanks again.

  • Reply
    Martha Alderson
    March 5, 2008 at 12:03 am

    I really like what you said about treating the time you spend on learning the craft of writing like an apprenticeship. Just because we can put words on a page, does not mean we are writers….

    I hope you might comment on:
    http://plotwhisperer.blogspot.com/

    Writers helping other writers……..

    Thanks for such a great blog,

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