Welcome to Part Two of Calico In Conversation with Maria V. Snyder. If you missed Part One: Eye Candy, feel free to click here to catch up!
Editor’s Note: this interview was originally conducted in March through April of 2016.
So I have to say, you are one of the most prolific writers that I know personally. I think you average about a book a year. Can you talk about what your schedule is like and what you have to do to meet those deadlines?
I do average a book a year and try to write short stories in between. I write every night from 10 pm to 3 am from Sunday to Thursday. I set a minimum word count goal for each evening. I can’t go to bed unless I write at least 1000 words. Most nights I exceed that count. I also do a writing retreat twice a year where I go to a cabin at a state park with an author friend and we write all day. When my deadline is looming and I’m falling behind, I’ll write on Friday and Saturday nights and even during the day if I’m desperate. Right now I’m trying to get Dawn Study finished before I jet off to Australia in April and I still have 15,000 words to go! Next week, I believe I’m gonna be desperate! [Maria’s note: Sadly, I didn’t get Dawn Study done before leaving. I’m just finishing it up now and it’s the end of May!]
Your schedule seems surprisingly doable to me. I’m assuming you no longer have to work the “dreaded” day job?
Yes, I quit the day job long ago when I had my daughter. However, it took me about 5 years of selling books to earn enough income to support my family. My husband took up the slack during those years between and now he’s retired 🙂 Besides writing, I also do promotion and marketing and I try to limit that to the afternoons. And then there’s my SHU students I mentor, and all my daughter’s activities so I’m pretty busy.
Do you mind talking about the Seton Hill program? What is it like now compared to when you were a student (SHU now offers an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction instead of an MA), and what are your roles in the program?
The MFA program at SHU is a low residency program, which means students are only required to be on campus twice a year for 5 days, and the rest of the semester is done online. It focuses on Writing Popular Fiction (WPF), meaning the students are all writing genre novels like mystery, horror, sf, fantasy, and romance. The big difference between the MA degree and the MFA is the extra semester needed to graduate and the Reading in the Genre (RIG) online classes. And the benefit is the MFA is a terminal degree, so our students could teach at the college/university level.
My role in the program is two-fold. I’m a mentor, which means I have students who I work with one-on-one regarding their thesis manuscripts. They send me pages every month and I critique them and give feedback on how to make the story stronger and better. It’s very rewarding. When a student “gets it” and jumps to the next level in skill, I get goosebumps! I also teach modules at our bi-annual residencies. They’re three-hour workshops. I’ve taught fun ones like “Weapons for Writers”, “The YA Voice”, “Believable Villains”, and some required ones like “Characters and Dialogue,” and “Setting and Research.”
Ah, I miss those days! How many students have you mentored that have graduated?
I’ve mentored thirteen graduates. Right now I have two current students and one who is still in the program, but working with another mentor. The students get two mentors during the program.
And have any of your students gone on to publish?
Yes, they’ve published short stories, but no one has sold their thesis novels…yet! I’m ever hopeful!
I don’t blame you! SHU writers are publishing more and more these days, it seems. So keeping on this same sort of topic: pretend you’re at a party and you strike up a conservation with a stranger. During this conversation, you learn this person is an aspiring writer/novelist, but is just now maybe trying to take their craft seriously. What’s the one piece of advice you want to give that person?
Persistence. Writing is hard, finishing is harder. I’ve met lots of people who were “writing a novel.” They assured me that they needed to have “perfected” the first 3 or 4 chapters before continuing with the story. What has happened is they hit the cold hard slog that is the middle of the book. After the excitement of the opening chapters is gone, then the hard work sets in. Persistence is what gets me through it for each of my novels. And, no, it doesn’t get any easier the more novels I write. It gets harder.
Great advice, and it’s advice I sure need to hear. Will you be my mentor? Ha ha! Okay, seriously, I officially want to ask you ALL THE QUESTIONS. First and foremost, I’m terribly interested in your process: when you finish a book, do you send it straight-away to an agent? An editor? Beta-readers? What are your stages, from start to the editor giving you the thumbs up?
LOL – When I finish a book, I have to do a revision first before anyone can read it! I discover the story as I go, so things change as I write and I’ll just jot a note down to change something from the early chapters. I resist the temptation to revise as I go. Then when I finish, I go back and do all those changes so the beginning matches the end and I’ve fixed all the inconsistencies and cut out those subplots that went nowhere. After that, I send the book to my editor, agent, and three beta-readers. When I get comments back from everyone, I do another revision and this time only send it to my editor. That’s usually when I get the thumbs up. I still tweak the story as the book goes through copy edits and a final look before publication.
How long does this process take, from start to finish? And do you take notes as you write so you know exactly what to do when you go back to do that first pass, or do you have to sit down, re-read, and then take notes?
It takes me about 9 months total. I print out my chapters as I go and I’ll jot notes down on the actual pages. I also keep a notebook for each of my novels, and if I’m going to do a major change, I’ll write it out in the notebook so I don’t forget. I also re-read as I’m doing the first pass and clean up all the other stuff.
Interesting. Process interests me because I’m re-evaluating the way I’ve gone about my own, so thank you so much for sharing. I’ve already asked you about favorite covers, but I have to ask, do you have a favorite out of your books? I know, I know, parents don’t have favorites, but is there one you’re particularly proud of, maybe because it was hardest to write, or receive more praise than you thought it would?
When you put it that way…I’d have to say Poison Study is my favorite. It was my first book written and published. It started my career and it’s earned the most praise. The hardest book for me to write was Spy Glass – my main character had to make a big decision and she was conflicted and so was I!
I was still book-blogging when Spy Glass was released, and there was a lot of controversy about your main character’s decision! Which actually leads me to ask: you know how we see a lot of BluRay/DVD releases marked as “Director’s Cut” or an “Extended Edition”? Do you ever wish you could go back and do a similar thing with one of your published novels? Or do you have any regrets with choices you made in them, and simply wish for a do-over?
There were a few upset readers and they emailed me and let me know! 🙂 But when I explained about Devlen’s addiction to magic being very similar to a drug addiction, they understood better. I have one reader, though, who still hates him. I don’t have any regrets about any of my books. They’re done. Okay – I will admit I wish I could correct the spelling of the bo staff in the first three Study books (I have it written as bow). When I wrote Poison Study, I owned one and I can fight with one, but I never saw it in writing – just heard it from my teacher. I should have checked it. It’s fixed in the eBook and all the new Study books are correct, but my publisher won’t fix the print editions.
You’d think when they go to press again, they’d get fixed. That seems like a silly thing not to fix!
You would think that, but you would be wrong. I tried, but the file at the printer must be different than the eBook file. I also tried to get my publisher to tell Barnes & Nobles that my books are not romance and shouldn’t be shelved in the romance section, but yesterday when I was there, Fire Study was in romance and Shadow Study was in fantasy/science fiction. Sigh.
That’s frustrating. I know when I was book blogging, one of my pet peeves was when others mislabeled the genre of the book. In my mind, it was very clear cut. Don’t call a book YA that’s not published by a YA publisher, that sort of thing. Of course, your publisher is predominantly known for Romance, right?
Yes, Harlequin is a big romance publisher, but they have branched out into fantasy, suspense/thriller, and YA.
Rightly or wrongly, because you do get shelved in Romance, do you have have readers write in and complain that you aren’t Romance-y enough? That you don’t follow the right formula or use the right tropes?
I do get a few complaints that my readers want more sex! 😉 I tend to fade to black when it comes to sex scenes. But no one is like I was fooled or ripped off because the book was in the wrong section.
Speaking of how things are shelved, I was reviewing your backlist and noticed a single stand-alone novel: Storm Watcher. Can you tell me more about it? It’s on my Kindle, but I haven’t read it yet, and I imagine many of your fans may not be aware it’s out there!
Storm Watcher is a middle grade novel for readers ages 8 to 14 (although I’ve had many of my adult readers tell me they’ve enjoyed it as well). It’s about a young boy named Luke who is 13 and who is afraid of storms – his mother died during a bad thunderstorm. He gets a summer job working at a dog kennel to earn money for a new puppy – his father does search and rescue with bloodhounds and Luke can get a pup on his 13th birthday – problem is Luke doesn’t want a bloodhound puppy, he wants a Papillon. In this story I was able to combine my love of storms with my love of dogs!
It’s not your usual SF/F story, is it?
No – Storm Watcher isn’t my usual SF/F at all! My son didn’t like fantasy when he was younger so I thought I’d write a story for him about a boy named Luke (also my son’s name!).
Very cute. Though I will say: the cover needs more dogs. How’d Luke like it?
Luke liked the book for the humor and the fact that the names of his friends, cousins, and teachers were in the book 🙂 There’s drawings of dogs in the book, including one I did of [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS!], and also included is an appendix (so teachers could use the book as well) titled, “Luke’s Weather Notebook” – it’s filled with a bunch of fun weather facts and mini articles about things like how hurricanes got their names and what to do when you’re caught outside in a thunderstorm. I even have a website for the book where readers can take a personality quiz and find out what type of storm they are.
Next week on June 21st: Maria talks about why she returned to Yelena and Valek’s world in the Study Universe, what she’s writing about next when Soulfinder series wraps up, her travels to Australia, and some of her favorite books, movies, and television shows!