Long and Short Reviews welcomes Maria V. Snyder, whose latest book Touch of Power, the first book in the Healer series, was released in January. Maria is giving away an autographed copy of Touch of Power to one random commenter on today's interview.
Maria has finished the first draft of the second book in her Healer series, Scent of Magic, which picks up almost immediately after Touch of Power ended.
Avry, the main character of both books, is in a unique position at the end of Touch of Power, and she plans to use that to her advantage. Her biggest goal is to repair her relationship with her sister, so she returns to Estrid's army, but this time on her terms. Meanwhile, Kerrick has rejoined Prince Ryne and they’re about to march south to hook up with Estrid's army when trouble from the north causes them to split their forces. The unique thing about SOM is there will be scenes from Kerrick's point of view so the reader will be able to keep track of him while Avry's dealing with Jael and Estrid as they prepare for war with Tohon.
Maria started to write out of boredom. Her 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 bored. During the slow times, I started writing a short story," she explained. "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."
This was in 1990, and Maria dabbled with short stories until she started her first novel, Poison Study, in 1996. She finished writing and revising it around 2001, but it took her two years to sell it and aother two years for her publisher to publish it. Since that first release in 2005, she's had at least one book released a year—sometimes two.
For her first book, the plot came first.
"I had this idea about a person who was the food taster for a monarch and I figured someone would try and poison the monarch and my food taster would be involved in solving the mystery," she said. "Then I had to think about who would want that job."
Maria will get an idea for a character in a situation, and she'll have a vague notion about how it's going to end. But, apart from that, she's very much a pantser.
"I do write a synopsis for my editor’s approval, but I never stick to it," she admitted. "It can be very scary because I usually spend the first half of the book convinced I won’t have enough for a novel, and then I spend the second half of the book worried I have too much. But then the plots all come together and I’m wrapping it up around 100K. You would think I’d trust the process after ten books, but nope – I feel the same way. The best part of being a pantser is when my characters do something to surprise me or there’s a twist I wasn’t expecting. When those happen – it’s such a great feeling!"
Occasionally, she will get stuck and not know what happens next in the story—one of the drawbacks to being a pantser vs. a plotter. There are a few things she does to help get unstuck. First, she takes a break—she will take a long walk or a shower or just do something else for a while. It normally helps her recharge her creative batteries. If that doesn't work, however, she has a writing partner who will read what she's written so far—then they talk on the phone.
"She saved me when I was writing Storm Glass," Maria told me. "Brainstorming sessions with my fellow writers are also wonderful for untangling knots."
In Maria's opinion, the one most important element in writing is characterization.
"If your readers don't care about your characters all the fancy language, clever plots, and surprise endings won't matter because they probably have put the book down after the first thirty pages," she said. "As a reader, when I reach page thirty or so, I ask myself, 'Do I care? If the main protagonist dies in the next scene, will I be upset?' If the answer is no, then I close the book and start another."
I asked Maria to describe her writing space for us.
"I have my own office in my house. My husband built all the furniture in it with cherry wood from the farm he grew up on. I have a custom desk that’s U-shaped and with cabinets high enough that I can hide behind them. He installed built-in bookcases in two of the walls. I have an odd collection of toys scattered on my desk – they help me think – honest! And I also have weapons stashed about to help me write those action scenes. Let’s just say, if a burglar were to break in while I’m in my office, the guy’s toast!"
She tries to write every night when she's under a deadline, including weekends, but it doesn't always happen. She will write from 10 pm to 3 or 4 am, then she sleeps until 11 am.
"I’ve always been a night owl and hated mornings. Night time is my most creative part of the day. Plus no one is calling or texting or bothering me because they’re all asleep. Once my kids were old enough to get up and get on the bus without me, I switched over and haven’t regretted it," she told me.
"Do you hear from your readers much?" I asked her. "What do they say?"
"I hear from readers all the time. They email me and comment on my Facebook pages. Ninety-nine percent is positive – they love the books, love my characters, and encourage me to write faster. They’re inspired by my stories and have sent me poems, paintings, pictures, videos and comic strips all based on my books and characters. I’ve been interviewed by a number of them for blogs and school papers (so far, everyone who has done a paper on me has gotten an A – just saying," she told me with a wink. "And one particular dear girl even told me she was inspired by my character’s ability to overcome hardship so much she decided not to commit suicide! We have since become close friends and nothing – not awards, bestseller rankings, money can compare to that. If I never sell another book, it won’t matter because this beautiful girl is alive. After that, who cares about bad reviews? Not me." She smiled. "I respond to all my reader’s emails and comments – it might take me a month during deadline season, but I will answer."
Finally, I asked, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"
"Persistence is my biggest advice. I’d been writing for thirteen years 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!"
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Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan absorbs their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Fifteen Realms, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos.
Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life….