Risk-taking, trust, and serendipity are key ingredients of joy. Without risk, nothing new ever happens. Without trust, fear creeps in. Without serendipity, there are no surprises. – Rita Golden Gelman
Some time in July I did an interview with Jayshri Patel of Liaisons Magazine. Liaisons is a bi-annual publication of the Romance Writers of New Zealand (RWNZ), and they have kindly allowed me to repost that interview here.
1. How long have you been writing?
For my entire life, it seems. I have loved words for as long as I can remember, and writing begins with words, with reading.
2. What did you read as a child?
Everything. Really, everything. Favorites as a very young child were (and still are) Gene Stratton Porter, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, as well as the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene. As I got older, I soaked in Mark Twain, Annie Dillard, Joseph Campbell, and more. Always, more. I never stop reading.
3. What inspired you to take up writing?
The simple answer is good books and a desire to tell my own stories.
The complicated answer is that writing is very personal, and the whys and hows of it are deeply individual. There are also many different kinds of writing—from non-fiction, to poetry, to keeping a journal that no one ever reads. The key is expression, the desire to put yourself beyond your body. Almost like placing your spirit, your dreams, into some form that you can hold.
So I believe that my inspiration to write was born of a desire to see my dreams outside my head, to make them into something more than just an image or a word or a thought. I wanted them to be solid. I wanted them to have some kind of life beyond just the shell of me.
Which sounds totally melodramatic, but hey.
4. What type of writing did you begin with?
I suppose it would be fiction. During high school I began experimenting with poetry and non-fiction.
5. You now write mainly paranormal romances and science fiction/fantasy stories. How did you choose to write stories with these themes? Or did the stories choose you!
The stories chose me! I have always loved reading tales of the fantastic, and so this feels natural. I suppose that what draws me is the ability to dream the world in ways that are bigger than “reality.”
6. Please tell me a bit about yourself and your background. We readers and authors are always interested in how a person becomes a successful writer!
I don’t know if there is much to tell. I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me. I did not have any siblings, which was another bonus (I think), because I learned how to play by myself, to stare in space and just think about things without interruption. I began reading from an early age, picked up a pencil around the same time, and the rest is history. The key, I think, is that I have always loved life, no matter what curve balls were thrown at me. The world is an endlessly fascinating place, and if you can hold on to your sense of wonder, to your appreciation of the beauty and horror of this existence, it will fuel you in all that you do—including writing.
Becoming a successful writer, though, is a lot more complicated that just the culmination of life experience and background. I think it depends on a combination of talent, luck, and timing. And though I am published, I do not truly feel successful. I’m not sure what it would take for me to feel that way. Hopefully, I never truly will. Hunger, to keep on doing better, to push oneself to to greater heights of excellence, is a good thing.
That does not mean I take for granted everything that has happened to me. Only, that I’m not content to say, “Yes, this is it,” and not try for more. Whatever that is. Life is a journey.
7. Does anything in your background help you in any way with your stories?
I think living a full life helps write rich stories. It’s certainly not a prerequisite, because there is no limit to imagination, but I think it can provide inspiration. For me, being a lawyer, traveling through China, working and studying in Asia, being exposed to different ways of being, was a good thing. Not just as a writer, but as a person. Doing more with your life, even if it’s volunteering at your local hospital or taking long drives down unfamiliar roads, expands your view of the world.
8. What kind of hobbies do you have? What kind of books do you like to read?
I read everything: science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, contemporary, non-fiction, comic books, science books, travel journals, poetry, and so on. I do not believe in limiting oneself when it comes to words – it is anything and everything! As far as hobbies go, I would have once said reading and writing, but I’ve come to realize that those things are more a way of life than a hobby. I do love to knit, though, as well as garden. I paint, I design websites, I take nice long walks down to the pond and listen to the frogs talk.
9. Have you published anything else: newsletter articles, magazine articles, short stories, non-fiction, novellas?
I published a poem in an issue of Cicada, a national magazine for young adults. The poem was later licensed by the Educational Testing Service for use in the California High School Exit exam. I also published a scholarly paper on Joseph Campbell and archetypes within the Chinese classic, ‘Dream of the Red Chamber,’ and I won an award from CSPAN for an essay on politics. I would like to write more non-fiction, as well as short stories. It’s just a matter of finding time and inspiration.
10. What was the first book you had accepted and published and when? How did you feel when that acceptance letter first arrived?
The first book accepted and published was Tiger Eye. I received a very short email from my editor on June 15th 2004, and the book was released in March 2005. My reaction upon receiving that first email was excitement coupled with reservation—because even though I had a feeling the news would be good, I did not know what to expect. And then when I found out for sure, I flipped.
11. What type of writer are you? Do you plan a book or just sit down and write? Are you quite disciplined?
You have to be disciplined when you work on deadline. If you don’t keep some kind of schedule, you will end up in a deep amount of trouble, and as with most professions, that’s a bad thing. Writing is an art, but it is also a business, and that is easy to forget in the heat of the moment, when those words are flowing and you’ve got a story burning in your head.
As far as writing goes, I’m the the kind of girl who just sits down and does it without an outline. The problem is that publishers often want to see some kind of synopsis of your future books, especially if you’re trying to sell something new that you haven’t completely written yet. Certainly, I could wait and sell only when I have a finished book, but because my schedule is currently so tight, that could be a long time coming—and I’m impatient. Which means that in addition to my romance novels, I’m constantly thinking of new ideas that I can expand upon in book form.
12. What kind of atmosphere is your ideal writing space? Do you listen to music when writing?
I’ve learned to write under many different circumstances. Ideally, I would have a quiet space filled with books and paintings, with my computer on a nice empty desk that I can clutter up with post-it notes, flowers, rocks, and whatever else catches my fancy as I write. And music! I do love music when I write, and I listen to everything from Alternative to Classical works. I also tend to mix “soundtracks” for each book, songs that I listen to again and again that seem to capture the mood of the story I’m writing.
13. What advice would you give aspiring writers hoping to get published?
Never give up, never surrender! Read as much as you can, and learn from what you read. Once you’re at the point where you feel ready to submit your story, put as much research into the publishers and their submission guidelines as you did for your fiction. Learn proper manuscript formatting, as well as the dos and don’ts of approaching editors and agents.
But even more important, just write the best the story you possibly can. The rest will eventually fall into place.
14. Recently, which book has been a can�t-put-it-down book for you?
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. It’s so good it makes me ashamed of my own writing.
EDITED TO ADD: Travel Light by Naomi Mitichison, I think, is even better. But in a different way.