I've been in the lucky position to know a fantastic author by the name of Maria V. Snyder. 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!